The Kukulkan pyramid in Chichén Itzá

by Julián Herbert

Am Mittelmeer. Menschen auf neuen Wegen (Ausgabe III/2012)

I was 28 years old, had given up coke, quit my job in a director's office and had run away with a minor. That's when my father moved to Mexico City. On the way there, he would drive through the southern states of Quintana Roo, Yucatán, Campeche, Tabasco, Veracruz and Puebla. Since we had nothing else to do, my girlfriend and I decided to accompany him and his wife Marta on the long journey.

Our first stop was Chichén Itzá. It was September and the Mayan ruined city was teeming with tourists. On that day, as happens every year, a strange spectacle would take place. A snake of light and shadow would crawl over the stone slabs of one of the two remaining steps of the pyramid. A tail of two-coloured scales would reach up to the head of Kukulkan. Kukulkan is what the Maya call a figure from the Nahuatl mythology, better known as Quetzalcoatl, the feathered snake.

At first sight, the central building of the complex did not particularly impress me. Too often I had seen the outline of the pyramid printed on postcards, T-shirts and matchboxes. However, my attitude towards "the castle" changed as the hours passed. The sun reflecting on the side of a staircase created an extraordinary, well-calculated optical effect of fanning shadows. Suddenly I saw Kukulkan meandering down from the altar of the pyramid to its base.

I decided to climb up the stairs. I was overcome by a dizziness that I remember to this day. I had the impression that the stone steps on which I was walking liquefied. They opened like the Red Sea before Moses. The pyramid exchanged its hard skin for something organic and fluid: a reptile of light.

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