My favorite destinations when traveling in a foreign country are either beautiful nature or archeological sites. Both will make you rethink about your existence in this world, make you feel small, but at the same time calling you to do things bigger than yourself. In Mexico, I took a 2-hour journey from Cancun to the state of Yucatan to visit one of the most famous archeological sites in the world, dubbed one of the new 7 wonders of the world: Chichen Itza.
Remember all the havoc back in 2012, propagated by Hollywood that the world is going to end? It stems from here, Chichen Itza, built by the Mayans, where their numbered calendar ends at the year 2012. But according to our guide, the Mayans never said the world was going to end in 2012. For them, 2012 marks the end of an era.
The Chichen Itza was most probably built around 7th century AD, during the golden age of Mayan culture. At the height of their civilization, the Mayans must have thought that their civilization would last until 2012, which then a new era will arrive. But it is a mystery to both them and us, how, having created the most unique written language, sophisticated art, architecture, mathematical and astronomical systems, the civilization disappear without a trace.
As an example of the Mayan's extraordinary mathematical, astronomical and architectural feat, the four faces of the temple of Kukulkan have stairways with 91 steps each, which makes 364 steps total. Combined with a base platform on top of the pyramid that unites all four stairways, it comes to 365, the exact number of days in a solar year. Then At about 3 pm on March 20th and September 22nd the sunlight casts a series of shadows against the western balustrade of the main stairway, which creates an optical illusion of a 37-meter-long snake that follows the sun "slithering" down to its own head carved at the base of the staircase.
When the Spanish conquerors came to discover this ancient site, and came in contact with the surviving Mayan people around the area who seem so humble and shows no evidence of sophisticated mathematical, astronomical or architectural knowledge, the first thing that came to their mind was that the Romans or Egyptians must have been here. For them, it is impossible for these people who seem to know nothing to build such a magnificent architectural masterpiece.
Our tour guide went on to explain that the enemy of the Mayans are Mayans themselves. The Mayans divide themselves into different settlements, and there was no effort to unite them all. Fighting off each other might be the reason how they perished. He also mentioned that the decay in society might also be the cause, political tremors, greed, lust for power, etc, which today's society are also guilty of. Sometimes we are so proud of our achievements, but look at how our society is decaying? Chichen Itza serves as an evidence of how no achievements lasts in this world, even the most advanced civilization of an era. Everything is beautifully summed up in the Holy Quran, Surah As-Sajdah, Verse 26:
Has it not become clear to them how many generations We destroyed before them, [as] they walk among their dwellings? Indeed in that are signs; then do they not hear?
The people of the great Mayan civilization may have perished, but what lives on is their knowledge, passed down to generations until it is still used today. Perhaps knowledge is something which we humans are bound to discover and carry on from one generation to another. It is from our Creator, and never belongs to someone or a particular civilization. That is why I love traveling to places like this. It reminds us that no matter how smart we think we are, every single knowledge never belongs to us. So never be too proud, but keep on advancing knowledge. In the words of a Sufi poet, never let success go too much into your head, but don't let failure go too much into your heart.