In Mexico many years ago strange ceremonies took place in cities of stone hidden in the jungles.
You could lose your life if your ball team lost the game to another team they were playing in the ball court. Or, you might find yourself being offered to the gods on top a big pyramid so the sun would keep coming up.
But, like thousands of others, you had to go to one of these spots. Perhaps you just wanted to see the ceremonies, or the lovely things that were being sold in a big plaza, or you had things of your own you wanted to sell.
To get to these ancient cities you walked along a six-lane dirt road. These roads, called Sakbes, went up and down the coast of Mexico and Central America.
It was quite exciting. Until one day, no one came anymore and the jungles swallowed up the pyramids and temples where priests had once paid honor to the gods.
But centuries later, two explorers found some of these overgrown temples and pyramids. An artist drew pictures of them. People from over the world saw the scenes he’d drawn of the ruins and were fascinated. They began going to see them.
Then the stone cities were ready for new blood.
Cody Clark, a sixth grade student, and his mother, Becca, have a sad
reason to be at one of these ancient cities. Cody’s Dad died a few months ago. His Mother planned their trip here during the Christmas vacation. She thought it might help them forget just for a little while how much they miss him.
To Cody, he was the best. His Dad made him feel he was a smart kid. If he had a problem, his Dad would ask, “Cody, if you knew the answer, what would it be?” And then, Cody could figure out most any problem.
When his Dad came home from a business trip, he’d always bring him a surprise. The last thing he gave Cody was a small, red race car. Now, Cody keeps the car in one of his pockets.
That’s important. Cody and Becca are now in Chichen Itza in Mexico at Chichen Itza (Che-chen-it-za) where scary things often happen. Cody may need to call on all his wits and do a lot of rubbing on the race car to get the answers they need to make their way out safely.
The ruins are among the most famous. The ancient city is sixty miles or so southeast of Merida (Mer-ee-da), the capitol of the Yucatan State of Mexico.
The Clarks left their home near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in a snow storm yesterday to board one of the first of two planes that took them to the Yucatan. It was below zero when they left Iowa. Maybe that’s why the day after they’ve arrived they’re enjoying this hot, steaming afternoon on the grounds of Chichen Itza.
Cody sits with George, their tour guide, under the shade of a large tree. He wears black shorts and black Hawkeye T-shirt, black baseball cap with gold lettering that spells the name of the University of Iowa.
Right now he’s counting the steps that lead up to the top of a huge pyramid. He stops doing that when he sees his mother go up to one of the vendors near the entrance. She’s there to buy cold drinks. Boy, it’s hot. He wonders what kind of cold beverage she’ll bring him.
Becca stands out in the crush of people at the booth, not only because she’s pretty in her matching yellow shorts outfit but because she’s taller than the other tourists, almost six foot. Her short, brown, curly hair is all tucked under a wide-brimmed straw hat and she’s reaching to give money to the man at the booth.
Cody returns to his count of the rugged steps. Dozens of people are climbing between the large platforms at the bottom of the pyramid to get to the smallest platform at its very top.
Along the sides of the big gray-white pyramid, he spots snakes carved into the stones. The reptiles look as if they’re also climbing to the top. The sight of them crawling gives him a strange feeling.
“Seventy-three,” he calls out.. “That’s a lot of tall steps to get to the top!” He wants to ignore the snakes. Then he wonders to the guide, “Anything inside that pyramid, Senor Hor-Hay. . . the one those people are climb over there? ”
The man’s name in English is George. He wears a white shirt and pants and a big straw hat. He’s not much taller than Cody who at eleven years old is big for his age. George has a wide face, a big nose, straight, black hair, and eyes so dark that when you look at them they seem to disappear.
George pulls a postcard from his shirt pocket. He hands it to Cody. “What do you see?”
“Some kind of animal. . . never saw one of these before. Big as a cougar, I’d bet. A strange red coat of fur, too.”
Cody’s Mother, Becca, walks over. She hands Cody and George each a can of soda. “What are you looking at, Cody?” she asks, and he hands her the postcard.
“It’s the Red Jaguar!” she exclaims as she looks at the postcard. “Is it still inside that pyramid?” she asks George. He nods his head.
“I was fascinated when I first saw the statue of the Red Jaguar years ago. I was about your age, Cody, when my Aunt Edna brought me here. As you can see, the little jaguar is made of red stone. Its eyes are green. They are very curious because they appear to be real.”
George calls their attention to the tall pyramid where a little boy is almost to the top. Many people are already standing on the small, square platform at the top. They are staring out into the jungle that surrounds the temples, plazas, ball courts and smaller pyramids.
The little boy struggles to take his last big step onto the top. The stones are almost as big as he is tall. There are no hand rails to hold onto, unless you count the big man’s hand that he holds as being a safety rail. Anyone of any age can make a misstep and go crashing down to the bottom.
Becca whispers, “That little boy can’t be more than three years old!”
Cody thinks, He’s made it up there safely because he’s with his Dad. Cody feels sad because he doesn’t have a dad anymore.
“Not many people inside the pyramid now,” says George, yawning. “If you want to see the Red Jaguar, its best you go now.”
“Are you coming?” Cody asks.
“No, Senor Clark. You don’t get lost in there. Only one way to go and that’s up.” With that, George yawns again, stretches out on the grass and pulls his straw hat down over his face.
A man and woman enter the pyramid through a small door. Becca and Cody see where they’ve entered. They walk over and follow them inside.