Day 8: Chichen Itza and the Maya Dollar

Okay, so in Changes, the 12th book in the Dresden Files, Harry Dresden finds out that the daughter he didn’t know he had is going be sacrificed by the vampires of the Red Court as a part of a powerful bloodline curse. Harry, of course, immediately does everything he can to save her. He calls in every favor owed him in the supernatural world, brings all his considerable strength to bear, and, when that’s not enough, forces himself to compromise his values to gain a darker power.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, you see, the final epic battle in this book took place at Chichen Itza, an ancient Maya city. The same Chichen Itza that we went to on this day.

Needless to say, I geeked out a lot.

But I mean, who wouldn't? This beautiful building was the first thing we saw walking out of the main road.
But I mean, who wouldn’t? This beautiful building was the first thing we saw walking out of the main road.

Like always, we left as early as we could manage to beat the rush of tourists that would be arriving by the bus-fuls by the afternoon. I’m glad we did that because by the time we left, all that bare ground you see up there was just covered by mounds of brightly covered American and Chinese flesh. It was as if a giant god had vomited up a colorful mixture of lumps with hats and selfie sticks all over the grounds of the city.

Okay, I’ll stop. I shouldn’t speak about tourists with such disgust, considering I’m one of them. But still.

Anyway.

The building that we had first walked into is called the Temple of Kukulkan and is definitely the main attraction. At first, it doesn’t seem that imposing. I think it’s because it doesn’t shoot up vertically in the air like a skyscraper does and thus doesn’t seem to tower over you. But once you get closer, you realize the sheer size of the thing and how massive it really is.

Imagine climbing all those stairs. Without any guardrails either.
Imagine climbing all those stairs. Without any guardrails either.

Actually, Harry Dresden did have to climb up those stairs, fighting off bloodthirsty vampires the entire way, only to reach the top and…

Okay, okay, you’re not interested. But I was imagining the whole battle in my head while I stared up at the temple. And it was fucking incredible.

Whatever, I’ll move on, you bunch of haters.

Remember that ball game from my previous post where you can't use your hands and feet? Yeah, this is the same game except the field is about twenty times bigger.
Remember that ball game from my previous post where you can’t use your hands and feet? Yeah, this is the same game except the field is about twenty times bigger. Look at how tiny that hoop is.
The Skull Platform is where they, well, put the skulls. The skulls of enemies, political dissidents, and people who chew too loudly.
The Skull Platform is where they, well, put the skulls. The skulls of enemies, political dissidents, and people who chew too loudly.
This is the Temple of the Warriors. If you look closely, you can see Steph Curry carved into the second pillar from the left
This is the Temple of the Warriors. If you look closely, you can see Steph Curry carved into the second pillar from the left.
The Maya were very into astronomy and time-keeping as you can tell from this observatory. Remember when stupid people thought that the world would end in 2012 because of a Maya calendar?
The Maya were very into astronomy and time-keeping as you can tell from this observatory. Remember when stupid people thought that the world would end in 2012 because of a Maya calendar? It was just 4 years early. 
This is the Sacred Cenote, The Maya believed that this particular sinkhole led to the underworld, so they constantly threw in sacrifices such as jade, gold, and small children. Just kidding. They threw in adults too.
This is the Sacred Cenote, The Maya believed that this particular sinkhole led to the underworld, so they constantly threw in sacrifices such as jade, gold, and small children. Just kidding. They threw in adults too.
And here's a picture of a lizard on a stone serpent.
And here’s a picture of a lizard on a stone serpent.

Pictures do not do this place justice. I mean, they rarely do, especially when they’re taken by a complete photography amateur like me, but even so. I simply walked around for a couple of hours, enjoying myself and the incredible views.

Eventually, however, I broke out of the spell and allowed myself to finally listen to one of the salesmen that had been calling out to me constantly for the entire walk-around.

Look at all these trinkets.
They would call out “One dollar! One dollar, everything one dollar!” And when you fell into their trap, they would inform you that they meant it was a “Mayan dollar” and the actual price would be somewhere between 20 and 1000 pesos. Sneaky.

Now, of course I had a vague idea that when you deal with street vendors, especially in touristy areas, you have to haggle. Unfortunately, I have little to no experience haggling and was unsure of how to go about it. Also, I had drifted away from Chan who was decidedly more experienced in these matters.

The local merchant I first walked up to immediately knew I was an innocent little lamb.

“You like that pipe?” he asked.

“Yeah, I do,” I replied like an idiot. “How much?”

“300 pesos,” he said, grinning, “It’s real bone! I carved it myself.”

“Hmm…” I pondered, unconvincingly.

“For you, I’ll take 200,” the merchant said.

“Deal,” I said happily. You should’ve seen my dumb face, so proud of my bargaining skills.

Ten minutes later, I saw almost the exact same pipe at a different stall. The starting price was 150 pesos.

So yeah, I suck at haggling.

But I got better, especially with Chan’s help. He taught me the process. You have to master the incredulous ‘pffft’ you do when you hear their starting price, which immediately makes them say ‘But for you, 10 pesos off!’ Then you laugh it off and say no thanks, but keep the item in your hands, looking it over. That’s when the merchant throws up his hands and asks for your best price. Now, this is the tricky part. You squint your eyes, checking the item for flaws, you ‘hmm’ and stroke your chin and finally you give them a price that is roughly a third of their original price. Of course, they will scoff and laugh at your funny joke of a price and say no way. Then, a counteroffer. In this way, you both move slowly towards a price in between. And finally, when there’s only a slight gap but the salesman won’t budge, that’s when you pull out the finishing move. You put the item back in its place, thank the merchant for his time, and begin to walk away. Don’t flinch. Just keep walking and walking…until he finally calls out and agrees to your price. You turn back and smile.

Congratulations, you’ve gotten a souvenir for half the original price or lower.

It’s an art. A verbal dance, if you will, and I’m still not the greatest at it. But with Chan’s help, I was eventually able to grow from a sweet naive lamb to a fierce cynical, uh, sheep. Or something. I got souvenirs is what I’m saying.

Finally, with bags filled with trinkets and legs sore from walking, we left Chichen Itza. We had spent 5 hours and a decent chunk of money there. It was worth it.

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