The balloon crate had arrived on time in “Mayaland.” Our trip was direct from Lima to Merida and Chichen Itza via Mexico City. During the flight from Mexico City to Merida, I noticed with surprise how close nature is to this mega-city of Mexico, with two gigantic volcanoes poking out of the clouds as near as an hour’s drive away. And as we finished crossing over the Gulf of Mexico, the shoreline of Yucatan was another surprise, with crystal azure beaches combined with green-pink swamps leading into deep green forest inland. The landing at Merida reminded me of landing in the Cambodian jungle, where we asked ourselves – where in this world the plane is going to land? Our hotel: “Mayaland,” again an owner-operated hotel and another highlight of our World Tour.
Over four years ago, the younger son of the Mayaland’s owner had written me in an email that he loved the New7Wonders project and that he would like to help and assist wherever he could and that his family owns Chichen Itza …owns Chichen Itza, in his dreams, I thought … but history and discovery is still very tangible here at Chichen Itza and in fact I was amazed to confirm the story right now. His great-grandfather had purchased the land and grounds, including the pyramid lovingly called “El Castillo” by the locals, when nobody was interested in a pile of old rocks on top of each other!
So it was an exceptional pleasure to meet him and his father, Fernando Barbachano, who now heads the family empire of hotels that pay special attention not only to service, but also to cultural tourism that is environmentally sustainable. 95 % of the employees are Mayan workers who visibly show their pride … and that make all the difference. Many of them speak Maya and some do not speak Spanish – only Maya. As a guest, you can feel this cultural pride and identity strongly.
Again, the weather was with us – during the past week, it had rained constantly in Yucatan, but the day after our arrival gave us perfect filming and photography conditions to capture this unique monument. Unique, because this pyramid or “El Castillo” is not only a beautiful structure respecting the “Divine Ration” or “golden cut,” as we call it in German, but its division of steps and floors are a crystallization of the Mayan calendar and studies of the solar system. Its shape contains an amazing amount of information and knowledge. Or as our “guardian angel” of Mexico, Alberto, a native Mayan, stated, it is an ancient super-computer.
The event day began with a magical morning mist and, as we deployed the envelope of the N7W balloon, the sun slowly burning through the mist made the atmosphere around the Mayan structures even more dramatic. Perfect pictures and films pay tribute to this majestic monument.
The well-attended press conference at the visitor’s center started the afternoon program, which then continued with the governor of Yucatan, Patricio Patrón Laviada, and his beautiful wife accepting the certificate. We (lots of interesting people, scholars and officials) then enjoyed a full evening of Maya and Yucateca music and dance which ended with an incredible light show on the pyramid.
The INAH, Mexico’s Archaeological and Historic Institue, which looks after more then 110 thousand (!!) monuments and archaeological sites in Mexico went a long way out of its way to allow for the New7Wonders celebration, with a large stage built for the event which even heads of states did not enjoy on their official visits before, Governor Laviada told me.
Of course, with the large number of tourists today and even more to come, a sustainable tourism strategy must be found and managed. The INAH basically wanting to close the sites on one side and the tourism authorities needing them to promote cultural tourism – two sides of the same coin which have a hard time finding the middle ground. I do sincerely hope that the N7W campaign contributes to their unification in the diversified and rich country of Mexico and that the understanding and collaboration between the INAH and the Ministry of Tourism brings about a good and sensible balance. One first great gesture was made during the second colorful and musical press conference in Mexico City, to my big surprise, when – in front of over one hundred journalists – the Director-General of the Mexico Tourism Board, Francisco López Mena, spontaneously handed his N7W candidate certificate to the Director-General of INAH, Alfonso de Maria y Campos!