Scaling A Pyramid


After scoping out pyramid after pyramid, where the local jefes sensibly kept the mobs off of their ancient relics in the interest of preservation, as well as preventing some klutz from falling and bashing their brain pans in, I finally got to climb one of them.

Click on any picture for a bigger view.

I’d begun to wonder if it was in the cards. Although I’d seen pictures of folks atop this pyramid or that, including a few in places we’d already been, for us they were all roped off like a crime scene. And who knows, maybe some idiot with a spray can did commit a crime at some popular spot, ruining it for the rest of us.

In any case, once we got to a little town called Izamal a bit off of the beaten path between Merida and Chichen Itza, fate dealt us a full house. No crime scene rope.

Admittedly, at first view, the pyramid didn’t seem like much.

Pirámide Kinich Kakmó

This was in part because I didn’t realize that the slope I’d climbed to get to this point was actually part of the beast. What you see above is merely the bridge on the battleship. Given the view from 50,000 feet (Google Maps satellite view), you get a better notion of the big picture.

The big red square is the perimeter of the full pyramid base, and the red X in the middle of the plateau is where the last picture was taken, looking toward the top of this shot. The blue circle is the pyramid in the first shot, and the blue X at the bottom is an entrance to be seen later.

The pyramid looks bigger now, doesn’t it? But even climbing the “bridge” turned out more challenging than one might think.

If you look at that first shot, it looks like a typical stepped pyramid with stairs up the side. But while the initial set of stairs was in good shape, most of them were nonexistent. This made the ascent more like a steep mountain scramble, where the three points of contact and/or butt-surfing methods were sometimes called for. The fact I had a somewhat pricey camera swinging from its strap when I bent over, doing its best the crash into the nearest rock didn’t simplify the process.

But ultimately I got to the top and enjoyed the view from the heights.

From the top, the view is a sea of green, a Yucatan jungle that seems flat as a billard table with a horizon that goes on forever. Nowhere to be seen are other overgrown pyramids, nor lakes and rivers, leading one to wonder how all that flora gets a drink.

The trees would have to be hardy, with roots that could reach deep into the water table. For some even that would be a luxury – consider the trees that covered and still cover most Mayan pyramids and other structures. No water table there, only the hope for a rainy season and the certainty of months of no rain. Still, they were strong enough to grow on top of and into the pyramids, reducing stairs and walls to rubble.

In the distance, town center is dominated by the Convent and Church of San Antonio de Padua. The raised platform it sits on also used to be a pyramid. As was their habit, the conquistadors shaved the top off it and used the materials to build the church and convent. It was finished in 1561.

View from the top of Kinich Kakmó, with a telephoto lens.
View from the town square
Shops along the square

Next to the town square, a line of buggies play the Izamal version of cabbies, no doubt aimed at the tourists. But the horses seem cool with it.

The courtyard at the convent is massive. It is, in fact, second only to the Vatican’s. Pope John Paul II visited the city as part of a Mexican tour in 1993 – maybe he was checking out the competition.

You may have noticed the yellow motif. It is common to the entire town of Izamal, to the point where the burg is known as The Yellow City. While some visitors come to see a town wearing a yellow and white uniform, upon review I had a tendency to see it in black and white.

An entry and lower levels of Pirámide Kinich Kakmó

As for the Mayan history, it’s a long one. We’ll skip the gruesome details, beyond the impression that Izamal was one of the bigger players during its heyday (200 B.C.-600 A.D.). That’s a lot of hey and quite a few days.

So was climbing a pyramid a life changing experience? No. Maybe if I could have pulled it off, Ply on the wall style, circa AD 200 to see it in its glory, in the midst of full ceremony it would have been something to write home about.

Um, wait a sec…


21 thoughts on “Scaling A Pyramid

  1. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d tackle the climb. Or maybe I would. Maybe. The photo of the shops along the plaza reminded me of Santa Fe. There was a postage stamp issued to commemorate the Kearny expedition into Santa Fe, and the plaza shown on it sure did look similar. It makes sense, I suppose; the Spanish influence and all that. (My dad collected postage stamps, and I’ve spent some hours going through his collection.)

    All those yellow buildings remind me of certain contemporary motel chains that have made some unfortunate color choices for their buildings. The black and white photos appeal to me more than the actual color.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Definitely an amazing place, Dave. I’d have to climb that pyramid, too! And what you say about all those trees covering other pyramids and lost cities – I’m always astonished by the power of the vegetable kingdom to simply take root and reduce everything else to rubble over the years.

    And, as always, the black and white pictures are the best!

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  3. As entertaining as always and the photos tell the story so well. Good for you for climbing up there – I didn’t know there was that much vegetation on Mayan pyramids. But it makes sense that there would be plants that take advantage of every nook and cranny. The black and white photos are nice, especially the last one – terrific!

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    1. I understand one of the challenges associated with the already excavated Mayan ruins is the cost of ongoing maintenance – new plants keep trying to grow in excavated spots! And Lidar images suggest there are extensive unexplored ruins under the canopy. Even given GPS coordinates to where an unexplored one might be, they can be hard to ID – they just look like a mound covered in plant life.

      But I suppose if you consider some of the cliffs trees hang off of up in your neighborhood, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise if trees and such can grow on a pyramid.

      I’ve been enjoying doing the b/w. I was actually thinking the last one was a bit dark – glad you liked it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, those plants, give ’em a little rain and they’re off! 😉 The last photo IS dark but I think the dark-light contrast is what makes it strong. And the composition – lots of interesting things that all work together.

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  4. I’d have to climb that thing, for sure. I’m glad you included the aerial view to show the scale, these guys really like to pile it high. Was the huge courtyard for nun conventions, or some sort of mass gatherings of the faithful? I don’t mind that kind of ocher-yellow, even if I wouldn’t paint my house that way. Lots of great shots, I like one looking up at the rock-butt-surfers trying to come down in one piece!

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    1. I’m not sure why the courtyard is so big. It looks like the parade ground at some old timey forts I’ve visited – maybe they were militant nuns. 😉 It’d be hard to believe the original pyramid it was built on was that big, but maybe they expanded the boundaries when they shaved off the top.

      Yeah, I tried to find the steepest spot to shoot the butt surfer picture for a slight sense of exaggeration. Still, would take a mountain goat to just prance down nonchalantly.

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  5. Glad you got your pyramid climb in Dave. And a bit of butt surfing. Peggy is an expert at that, btw. It’s got her off of many a rock. I have the photos for proof.

    Having second thoughts about being on top pf the pyramid in 200 AD for a full blown ceremony makes good sense, especially if you were donating your heart to the cause.

    We made it to Chichen Itza on our honeymoon, way back when. We found a small motel right next to the site and had it almost to ourselves that night after all of the tourists went home. Of course we had to climb the pyramid. We were free to go where ever we wanted.

    Enjoyed your photos. The black and whites were special. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a heartless comment (hopefully for the other guy.) Cool you could climb Chichen Itza. I think most of the time it’s a mob scene now, so you’d probably need to be part of a special group to enjoy that option – after the tourist hoard has left.
      Seems like the B/W’s have a lot of fans. Guess I’ll need to keep them coming.


      1. Heartless, indeed, Dave. Chacmool always seemed to have a place in his lap for missing hearts. A kind god, for sure. We were lucky at Chichen Itza, which is exactly how I will always remember it. I like to throw in the occasional black and white as well.I think it adds a different type of class.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting how a change of direction can completely change your perspective. Height is a thing, even for folks who are fine hovering next to a wall in the ocean, suspended over hundreds of feet of nothing but water.

      Did you do the pyramids in Egypt? (And they let you climb them?)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think my issue is that one misstep on the way down and it’s curtains. And I know it’s going to hurt. LOL!

        The pyramids and temples I visited in Egypt didn’t allow climbing. Some places didn’t even allow flash photography. The Egyptians are pretty serious about their assets.

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