Sian Ka' an...Birthplace of the Sky
Monday, 29 June 2009 08:29
The lodge itself is perched on the tip of a narrow coastal island on the southern edge of Ascension Bay. It also happens to be in the center of one of the world's largest protected wild areas...the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. This pristine reserve covers over 1.3 million acres and completely surrounds Casa Blanca. Sian Ka'an has also been designated by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site.
The Mayan name "Sian Ka'an" literally means "the birthplace of the sky". The local Mayans say that their ancestors believed, that in the beginning of time, the sky was created in the area surrounding Casa Blanca. In fact, you can see evidence of the Mayan temples which once stood where Casa Blanca stands today. Several others dot the island. After spending some time at Casa Blanca, on the bay and on the beaches, with their immense expanse of sky and clouds and turquoise waters, you will see why the Mayans held it so dear.
The reserve contains 22 registered archaeological sites. Two of these are just down the beach from Casa Blanca. Both have small, "late" Mayan temples which are believed to have been built around 600 to 900 A.D. One site is named Chac Mool. It overlooks the beach on the Caribbean side of the island and consists of two temples and several other buildings which appear ceremonial in nature. The other temple, Tupak, was built on the water and can only be reached by wading through the mangroves and lagoons which surround it. Its foundation is made of ancient conch shells and coral rock which elevate it just above the water. Other residential sites are scattered throughout the jungle.
The abundance of marine and wildlife in the Sian Ka'an, also, is hard to imagine until you have seen it for yourself. You can find over 325 species of birds, from Hummingbirds to the rare six foot tall Jabiru, the world's largest flighted bird. In the back of the bay are manatee. Four different marine turtles nest on the beaches: Loggerhead, Green Sea Turtle, Hawksbill and Leatherback. The species of fish in Ascension Bay and on the barrier reef are too numerous to name. One visiting writer was so amazed by an afternoon in the bay, that he compared it to wading in knee deep aquarium. The fishing is not bad either.
At the height of the Mayan Empire, there were separate "dynasties" stretching from Yucatan to El Salvador and Honduras. The total population has been estimated as high as 15 million. Unfortunately, the proliferation of the Mayan culture was to be cut short by the European "discovery" of the New World. The Spanish conquest almost completely destroyed the Mayan communities and for all practical purposes the entire civilization. In their quest for gold, the Spanish ruthlessly killed large numbers of Mayans, but, the real conqueror of the Mayans was not really the Conquistadors. It was the European diseases they carried. Since the Mayans had never before been exposed to European diseases, they had virtually no natural immunity. It has been estimated that some 8 to 10 million Mayans died from plagues of small pox, measles and other infections.
Today, Quintana Roo is home to the last remnants of the Mayan culture. Many locals still speak a dialect which is very similar to that spoken before the Spanish conquest. There is even a local radio station, Radio Maya, which broadcasts in Mayan several days a week. Since there wasn't a road connecting the Yucatan Peninsula to Mexico City until the 1930's, the area evolved somewhat independently from the rest of the country. The culture is more Caribbean than Mexican. Many of the locals think of themselves as Yucatecas first and Mexicans second. This is not to say that they are not patriotic Mexicans, but rather, that Yucatecas possess an independent point of view. Once, when a well known American writer asked one of Casa Blanca's Mayan guides if he had ever been to the U.S., the guide replied that he "had not" and that, in fact, he had "never even been to Mexico"