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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Atheist Life Hacks: How To Find The Sacrificial Altar At Chichen Itza

GM Note: I wrote the following in 2009, sitting atop the flat rock that overlooked the sacrificial cenote at Chichen Itza; the rock where humans were slaughtered and tossed, as offerings, into the waters below. I have changed it slightly to protect the anonymity of my family. I also edited it, as I used to write in a very stream-of-conscious sort of way, with no shits given for punctuation or capitalization. 

Cenote Sagrado
Cenote Sagrado – the portal to Xibalba

I’m sitting at Chichen Itza looking out over a 200 ft diameter cenote. There’s an altar next to it, where they used to sacrifice people and throw them in the water. It is entirely fucked up… and the ride here was no different.

I left the baby with his daddy and got on the bus. There’s this guy behind me, one of those people who’ve studied the day’s itinerary backwards and forwards and just have to make sure everyone knows what we’re doing down to the last minute. A know-it-all.

First thing he asks me is where I’m from. I tell him Vancouver and he says he wants to live there one day. I tell him that I live in Playa Del Carmen. He doesn’t believe me. He thinks I’m just another gringo, I suppose. Then, he immediately tells me he won’t get married until 2012. Just out of the blue, like I’d asked or something. I respond, “ok” and turn away.

As I’m staring out the window at this jungle road, palms fanning out over the highway, vines hanging from them, like tarzan vines, double-fuck behind me whips out his cell phone and starts playing a deliciously lovely repeated mix of Celine Dion, System of a Down, Aerosmith & Guns & Roses. Oh, and a little Bon Jovi. He’s one of those fidgety people always grunting to himself, singing along to the wrong lyrics, playing with his phone, his camera, rummaging through his bag. He’s got one of those fucking Nextel walkie talkies and the noise, that fucking Nextel noise is just going off every 3 seconds. He’s sitting next to a couple from Spain who are constantly having to move to make room for this widget to fidget. I’m about to turn around and yank his flavour-saver so hard his head bounces off the back of my chair… but I refrain, hold my breath, hum along to Livin’ on a Prayer.

Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza

We stop at a store briefly for bathrooms and there’s a fortune teller out front, telling fortunes kind of like that Edwards freak from TV, yelling out something and asking if anyone knows anything about it. I’m watching this bullshit for a while and then she yells either, “You’re going to prison” or “You went to prison.” I couldn’t quite decipher in my shit español. Naturally, I’m curious to see if anyone pipes up and claims that one. but I think the crowd was all mostly French and she was, obviously, speaking Spanish. No one says anything. She sort of mumbles, “Yes, prison” like she’s talking to someone in front of her and then looks up and yells “veinte doce, veinte doce!” 2012, 2012. She looks right at me, I swear. I duck into the vanbus dilly and bury myself in Moby Dick which I am reading again for the umpteenth time.

Back on the bus; back to Dude Looks Like a Lady followed by some ear-shattering Celine Dion ditty. Scrappy Doo behind me is fidgeting so much I think his seat may have come off the brackets. Staring out the window again, watching the tiny little Mexican towns go by. We’re slowing down through one and I suddenly notice we’re driving by a prison. New thing for me. A Mexican prison. I almost wanted the bus to stop there… but that’s just me and my save-everything-hippie-bullshit.

Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza

On to Chichen Itza. Stepping out onto the grounds, the air evacuates my lungs and my knees get weak. You see it in pictures and read about it but it is seriously fucking insane to be standing there at one of the new wonders of the world, where heads rolled, blood was spilled and everything is in perfect solar, lunar and astronomical alignment. The pyramid is so much bigger in real life than you think. Looming over you like some Mexican demigod pointing to Heaven. It was built to echo what is said at its base, so we try clapping and the echo sounds like a scream coming from the opposite direction of the pyramid. A blood-curdling scream that wakes up the hairs on the back of my neck.

I wander away from my group for a minute to look at a table selling obsidian. The shiny black objects look like portals to an empty and unending abyss. I stare into the blackness and imagine what it might have been like to be a Mayan in Chichen Itza, being marched to the Cenote Sagrado, knowing all too well your blood is about to colour the waters as an offering to Chaac, the god of rain. The terror that must have flowed through this ancient city; the despair that must have been felt. Bound and marching to certain death, marching to the afterlife, marching to the fearsome Mayan underworld, Xibalba, awaiting the wrath of the gods of death.

My heart pounds. I blink and come back to 2009 and the slippery little piece of black glass in my hand, never more glad to be an ex-pat Canadian mom.

Beside the table selling obsidian was a blind dude, another fortune teller I assume and as I walked by he said “your heart is broken” in Spanish. I said, “perdon?”

“Su corazon está roto!”

I just kind of stood there staring at a tree to the left of the guy.

“Roto, su corazon está roto” and then, oddly, he says “veinte doce.” 20 fuckin’ 12.

Now, I realize that I am in the religious center of the Mayan world. I also am well aware of the fact that their calendar ends in 2012. I can also buy the idea that perhaps they might play that up a little in order to freak people out and have them believe and spend money on things that may soothe their worries, like the idols and the calendars, etc. but – and this is not too much to ask – why the fuck do they have to fuck with me? Do it to the gringos, the passers-through, the boisterous & burnt Europeans. Don’t fuck with me. Seriously.

Whatever. So, here I sit overlooking a cenote which, under the water, is surely filled with skeletons.

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