I pride myself as being a veteran world explorer, having traveled extensively throughout Thailand and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Mexico, Costa Rica and Central America and having journeyed to parts of West Africa and South America. However, after reviewing the recently proclaimed ’ New 7 Wonders of the World” - Chichén ItzÃ¡ (Mexico), Christ The Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) The Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu (Peru), Petra (Jordan), The Roman Coliseum (Italy) and The Taj Mahal in India - I realize how truly impoverished I am in the travel department.
I admit to having visited only one of these legendary historical sites. In January 1974, while traveling through Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, I took a day tour from Merida to the nearby Mayan archaeological site of Chichen Itza. This huge spiritual-metropolis complex was the heart of the Mayan empire during its postclassical era in the 9th century. While 1974 seems like another lifetime, I remember my day at Chichen Itza as if it was yesterday. As part of a mixed Gringo-Mexican tour group (mostly tourists from Mexico City), we were led around the site by a tour guide who gave us his canned narration of the history of the site and of the Mayan empire. The guide gave the whole spiel in Spanish; fortunately one of the gals from Mexico City gave me the translation in English. We walked the length of the famous ball court and climbed up the steep stairs to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun where we had a birdseye view of this massive complex which towered high above the rainforest. I imagined myself being one of the human sacrifices to the Sun God, my heart being torn out by the one of the Mayan Shamans. By the way, did you see Apocalypto, Mel Gibson’s film?
Needless to say, I was quite impressed with the grandeur and history of this ancient city-temple complex. One thing that I was quite disturbed about was the number of large tour buses in the parking lot. Hey, if Chichen Itza was a tourist trap in 1974, I can only imagine in the ensuing 33 years, how its popularity has truly gone off the charts. If there were 20 tour buses in the parking lot in 1974, I can easily imagine 60-100 tour buses sitting there in 2007. The old Mayan Gods would literally be salivating at the chops if they saw their old spiritual stomping grounds being overrun by gringo tourists. More sacrificial lambs to choose from. Talking about the Kathmandu Syndrome, this is an excellent example how tourism has spoiled and desecrated a place of magnificent grandeur. Oh well……
In my humble opinion, Angkor Wat, the massive Hindu-Buddhist archaeological complex located in the jungles of Northwestern Cambodia, was even more impressive than Chichen Itza. The city of Angkor was built in the 12th century and was the capital of the powerful Khmer Empire in Southeast Asia. There are over 100 temples in a 10-20 mile radius - that number is literally astounding. The Khmers were the mother culture of this region and have significantly influenced all the civilizations that followed in its wake. Angkor Wat was nominated as one of the finalists for the 7 new wonders of the world but for some reason it failed to make the top seven. While visiting Angkor Wat in November 2005, I was literally awestruck by its magnificence and grandeur.
OK, I have visited two of the seven wonders - that leaves me five more to visit before I leave this planet for good. The good news - I am going to Peru and Ecuador in late August, and of course this intrepid traveler will explore both the legendary Incan capital of Machu Picchu located high in the Peruvian Andes as well as the Galapagos Islands. Stay Tuned…
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