Mayan Arches at Uxmal

One of the most distinctive features found in Mayan architecture is the Mayan arch, a corbelled arch that spans entrances and vaults. As the Maya never discovered the true arch, the Maya were limited to construct single storey buildings with narrow, if sometimes long, rooms.

The Mayan arch can only support a limited amount of weight and requires significantly thickened walls and an abutment of other stone or fill to counteract the effects of gravity and to avoid each side of the archway to collapse inwards.

The description in the dictionary of a Mayan arch is not easy to comprehend: a corbel arch is constructed by offsetting successive courses of stone at the springline of the walls so that they project towards the archway’s center from each supporting side, until the courses meet at the apex of the archway, often capped with flat stones.

A picture paints a thousand words, so rather than trying to explain or visualise the Mayan Arch from this string of words, I have selected a set of images of Mayan Arches taken at our last visit to Uxmal to illustrate the Mayan Arch and it’s construction.

It is worthwhile to view the above image of the Mayan Arch at the House of Pigeons in full screen mode, and to zoom in and navigate around.

Is it a squirrel? Is it a cuckoo?

First, the facts. The squirrel cuckoo or ‘kip cho’ in Mayan or ‘cuco ardilla’ in Spanish is a largish bird measuring up to 50cm in length, has reddish plumage on the upper parts and grey on the lower, and is characterised by it’s long tail with white markings.

While admiring the massive crocodiles (from a very safe distance of course!) found at Lake Cobá, I heard an unusual bird song coming from the nearby jungle. Not that an unusual bird song is out of the ordinary, as the song of nearly all the birds in the Yucatán are alien to me. So I decided to turn my back on the crocodile to sneak to a hole in the stone wall on the edge of the jungle with the aim to find the source of the sound.

I spotted the singing bird with a striking long tail on some rocks in the undergrowth very quickly. Unfortunately, it was shy and hiding just too far away from me within the jungle to get anything other than a heavily cropped ‘evidence’ or ‘identification’ shot (below, middle). While listening to the bird’s song and hoping that it would come closer, I noticed a slight movement in my peripheral vision.

With a quick refocus, I spotted it’s mate on a branch close by. Luckily I got a brief but very welcome opportunity to take a couple of shots (bottom left and top) of this cuckoo hopping from one branch to another, before it flew to a branch close to it’s mate (below right) before the pair disappeared out of sight, deeper into the jungle.

The Mayan people

What better to do at Christmas when the wind howls through the chimney and the rain lashes against the windows than to look at pictures from our travels to warmer climates. In other words, an opportunity, or should I say another attempt, to finally sort through the 2,500 images from our visit to the Yucatán and Ciudad de México last Christmas.

These three images of Mayan people will be the start in a series of posts covering our travels through México in December 2010. With our travels through the Yucatán we were partly retracing our steps from January 2001, so I will attempt to find some of the old photos to show you the fenominal change this region has gone through in a decade.

I took the image of the Mayan women with a young child at the market on Plaza Major in Mérida, a colonial city founded by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo. Over the past decade, Mérida has changed from a characterful, quiet colonial town  to an extremely noise, dirty city with the bustle of a multi million population.

The old Mayan women was folding the hand embroidered handkerchiefs that she was selling to the tourists in the shade beside the great ball court at archaeological site at Chichén-Itzá. We brought a massive smile to her face by buying half a dozen of these traditional coloured souvenirs without haggling too much.

One of the most notable scenes in the Yucatán is to see the children play happily on the street wherever you go. I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw boys play football on the the streets in Glasgow, a sad enditement to our changed society dominated by computer games. These bare footed boys and girl with flip flops were playing football on the road leading from the Villas Arqueológicas to the historical site at Cobá.

House of the pigeons

The House of the Pigeons. The name was given because the fretwork of the cresting resembles a pigeon house. At the centre of the cluster, there is a patio which was surrounded by palace-like buildings, of which only a part of the North building remains. On it one can observe a cresting made up of nine stepped triangular units with fretwork resting upon a row of pillars which used to be covered with painted stucco bas-reliefs representing human figures reclining on pedestals. V. Segovia investigated the astronomical functions of this building which dates between 900 – 1000 A.D.

Catedral Metropolitana

Catedral Metropolitana, Ciudad de México

Or in English, the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City.

Mexican sanderlings

I simply sat down on the beech in Tulum with my camera and watched the sanderlings wander along the shoreline searching for crustaceans. Amazing how these lovely little birds were completely unperturbed, not just with passing very closely by me, but also with the noisy flocks of tourists on the beech.