Sunday, November 9, 2008

Why Chichen Itza and not someplace else?

Back in 1996, the framed poster of the huge terraced pyramid with staircases running down the center of each side was one that had caught my eye. I had just joined as an employee of a major US airline and for the first few weeks I was walking around in intimidation and awe. That framed poster used to hang right in front of our credit union. All airlines have clever posters that make people want to visit destinations. I soon realized that the posters worked just as effectively on employees like me.

The poster was untitled, and so it took me a few weeks to figure out what it was. The Web was very much around in ’96, but it wasn’t as easy to search for things in it. Eventually, I learned that it was of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.

My desire to go visit this place was born directly as a result of looking at that poster whenever I went to deposit a check at our employee credit union. Of late, and for reasons I haven’t yet fully understood, I am enamored by one particular aspect of wanderlust: when do we first decide to go visit a place and why? (I posted about this re. Kazakhstan as well.)

Chichen Itza is now one of the New Seven wonders of the world. That would be reason enough to go see it, but I didn’t know that until I was in Yucatan. My wife and I made several plans to go visit Chichen Itza, but they never panned out. So it took me twelve years to go visit the grand pyramid (El Castillo).

It was educational, it was great, and yes, it was crowded. It would be easy for me to say that I ended up disappointed. But these days, we are all post-modern travelers. We expect to be disappointed in marquee sights like the Eiffel, the Taj or Machu Pichu. The reality of viewing them can never match our unrealistic expectations nurtured over decades.

But this letdown is not always a bad thing. On its flip side is something quite positive. In places and towns where we don’t know enough to look forward to anything, we are almost always pleasantly surprised.

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