We love visiting Mérida, Mexico and found out that a temple nearby was purpose-built for the equinox. We visited in the fall, but as we struggled to find information prior to our experience, it seemed prudent to post about it now ahead of the spring equinox. Here’s how we nearly botched it all together.
Confusion Around Dates
While the first day of Fall is September 21st and the first day of Spring is March 21st, these are not actually the equinox. That happens the day before, on the 20th of the respective months. While we had planned our visit around the 21st, foolishly, using Google to look it up after someone had mentioned we had the wrong date, saved the day. Adding insult to injury, had we gone the day after we would have been turned away as the site only opens before dawn on the equinox, twice annually.
The ruins were approximately a 30-minute drive during day time traffic from our favorite Airbnb (that my wife may or may not have damaged.) We would reach out to an Uber driver about 10 minutes before we were ready to go to ensure an on-time departure. There was buffer space all over our timeline, without traffic it should have taken us just 20 minutes to get to Dzibilchaltún, the home of the Temple of the Seven Dolls.
I set no less than a dozen alarms all annoyingly spaced together. Not a single one of us is a morning person, though we all got to bed much earlier than normal the night prior. Out of anxiety that I would sleep through the critical first 11 alarms, I woke up sporadically every 20 minutes from about 3 AM onward.
This did not prohibit a late departure.
We had hoped to leave by 5:45 AM, arriving at 6:15 ahead of a 6:45 sunrise. Instead, we left at 6:01 and I stared menacingly at the Uber GPS that places our arrival at 6:41, then 6:39, then 6:37. Bear in mind that once we arrive at the gates we still have a substantial half mile or so to cover before we would be in position. Even if Carly and I could run a ten-minute mile (and I’m not saying we could), the distance for Lucy would feel much farther.
The Slowest Uber Driver In The World
The Uber driver approached our Airbnb from halfway down the block, creeping along with flashers on. I should have canceled the ride right then. We crawled through Centro, then Santiago, Mérida before making our way to the open highway.
It’s not his fault we were late leaving. He did nothing wrong by driving as slow as we could walk alongside the car. It’s just that usually we find a younger Uber driver that has a little more ‘apudité’. It finally registered with him that we were up against it and he put his foot on the gas towards the end but at that point, it was 6:29 AM and we had limited options.
Then he missed his turn.
I watched him miss his turn. I raised my finger to point that we should take the turn but didn’t say anything, he’s the driver, he has GPS, he has over 100 five-star rides and he lives here – certainly, I should be a passenger and keep my mouth shut.
The veins on my forehead must have been visible because he blazed down a country road and came to a roundabout where he nearly missed the turn again. This time I was less polite in my suggestion of which turn to make nearly putting my finger through the glass tapping to turn. He obliged and turned at the correct spot.
One thing that held me back in this instance from being more insistent is that Uber introduced user rating penalties in some countries. He started to put some hustle on the drive when he realized how important it was and how late we had become. I give him credit for correcting his mistake the best he could.
Having visited this site once before (but being rained out upon arrival), we knew where to go and that it would still be a journey by foot.
My wife initially scooped up my daughter while I finished up with the driver before handing her off to me as we ran to the ticket counter on a gravel walkway. The correct change would have been helpful. I grabbed for a fistful of bills and found a 500 peso note, extending it across and telling my daughter to get a head start within eyesight of the next leg of our journey. A woman we had passed on the path joined us in running once the urgency reached her as well. She ran along with us after getting tickets and we found the path to the former Mayan city, founded in around 300 BC. We accidentally bought her ticket, she ran us down to pay us for it, we were oblivious to it in our haste.
Turning left down a half-mile pathway to the Temple of the Seven Dolls (Templo de las siete muñecas) we realized how terribly out of shape we were as we raced the rising sun which had already burned the sky a shade of warm tangerine.
The sun had risen as we were running (at 6:45), we stopped in a field in front of the structure at about 6:50 fearing that our planning, getting up early, money for Uber and tickets at the gate were all wasted.
The Temple Height Saves The Day
While the sun had risen minutes before we stopped in the field in front of the temple, it had not risen to the point where it shines through the temple yet. The temple is, of course, raised off the ground and the height of sunrise gives late arrivals like ourselves, a chance to see it. Standing in the sparsely populated field among other revelers, we were able to see the sun shine directly through the temple, erected some 2400 years ago without modern engineering and astronomy of today.
With Lucy on my shoulders, we were able to see the near, but somehow not exactly, blinding light come directly through the temple. It was 6:58 AM – for those that are not morning people like ourselves, you have a 13-minute grace period from sunrise.
Will We Do It Again?
Lucy wasn’t a fan initially, it seemed like a lot of work to start the day, but before we left the ruins she had found ways to enjoy herself.
It was great to see once and we would recommend it to others. It was particularly special because the occurrence only happens at equinox and not also at the solstice, meaning that it had only happened at most 4800 times since its construction. If you do plan on going, heed our warnings about arrival time and you may want to bring a swimsuit and head to the cenote afterward.
Have you seen the equinox at Dzibilchaltún? Have you experienced similar events at other Mayan/Aztecan sites?