INAH has been closing monuments to public
The Mayan pyramids usually have steep stairways rising to the top, where there is often a temple or, at least, an altar. In the past, millions of tourists used to climb these pyramids. From its tops, the jungle looks like a living green carpet.
In recent years, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has been closing monuments to the public. While visitors can walk around them, they can no longer climb them or go inside their chambers.
In the future, it is likely that no Maya pyramid will be available for the public to climb.
Climbing pyramids, especially El Castillo, used to be up on “things you should do before you die” lists. With this in mind, disappointed tourists often demanded to know why they couldn’t climb on them.
Unfortunately, the issues have arisen from the sheer number of tourists who wanted to experience the climb and the views. Over a million people, annually, used to climb pyramids. Within decades, the effect was obvious.
Tourists, triumphant in reaching the summit, had left their mark in the form of graffiti. The stone steps, which had survived centuries, were already showing signs of rapid erosion. Letting people up there was severely damaging the pyramid itself.
The climb was already steep, but the crowds rendered the steps shiny with wear. It was hot and not easy work getting up there, so sweat poured off them onto the stone, adding another slippery layer.
As more and more people flooded into the site, the ascent was generally made with huge groups of people clambering up together, knocking into each other. It was becoming way too dangerous for those attempting the climb.
In Chichen Itza, an ambulance was on permanent standby at the foot of the El Castillo, the Great Pyramid of Chichen Itza. Most injuries were fairly minor, but there was an alarming number that was a little more serious.
Then came a tragic event that was a lot more serious. On January 5th, 2006, an 80-year-old tourist lady decided to climb the 91 steps of the famous pyramid. Tragically, Mrs. Black slipped and fell despite attempting to grab the guide rope.
Immediate medical assistance was provided, but Mrs. Black passed away in the hospital.
What had occurred with Mrs. Black had been an accident waiting to happen, and now it had actually happened. The decision was made, for the safety of visitors and the preservation of the structures, to prohibit public climbing on the pyramids.
Meanwhile, owners of other archaeological sites took note. Some places, like Tulúm, had also been suffering from graffiti and erosion, and they didn’t wait for a tragedy similar to the Chichen Itza accident to occur within their premises.
The owners of several archaeological sites also started to rope off pyramids.
Previously, pyramids could barely be seen under the press of tourists climbing all over them. Now they are there in all their glory. The magnificent buildings look more like they did in pictures, which had enticed visitors here in the first place.
There is still plenty to see and do at places like Chichén Itzá and Tulúm. They are still world-class heritage sites, with stunning vistas and a sense of the mysterious. They are just a whole lot safer now for their visitors.
For those who, despite all of this, still wish to experience that climb, then Cobá, alongside the smaller sites of Dzibilchaltún, Ek’ Balam, El Meco, El Rey, Itzamal, and Uxmal, are waiting for you. However, please do hurry.
There’s no telling how long those pyramids will remain accessible for the climb. The only certainty is that they too will eventually be forced to rope off their structures, in order to maintain the safety of their visitors.
Over Christmas 2005, eighty-year-old Adeline Lorraine Schiller Black was on vacation, with family and friends, in Mexico City. Mrs. Black by all accounts, was a fit, healthy, inspirational woman, with a zest for life.
She spent a lot of her latter years canyoneering. She was already planning her next vacation, even while on this one.
After three weeks in Mexico, Mrs. Black and her family were due to return home to Clairemont, San Diego, USA, but there was one last day for an adventure. On January 5th, 2006, Mrs. Black and her family chose to travel down to Chichén Itzá.
Once there, Mrs. Black did not want to miss out on the experience of a lifetime, so she climbed the 91 steps of El Castillo.
All was well on the way up, but the descent is famously difficult. It was also noon, so the temperature was soaring, even for January. Around the 46th step, 18 meters above the ground, Mrs. Black slipped. She tried but failed, to grab the guide rope.
In front of a crowd of horrified, helpless staff and tourists, Mrs. Black fell down the remaining steps of the pyramid.
Medical assistance was immediate. The ambulance, permanently stationed at the foot of El Castillo, was mobilized. Its crew administered aid at the scene and then rushed her to the nearby Regional de Valladolid Hospital.
Unfortunately, the lady’s head and neck injuries were too severe.
Despite the best efforts of the hospital personnel there, Mrs. Black died four hours later.
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