Photo: Dave stands next to (one of many) signs in the lobby of the Mayaland hotel promoting the showing of “Tales of the Maya Skies.” Photo provided by Dave Bloch.
OK, the big day of the Maya Long Count Calendar rolling over after 5,125 years happened back on December 21, and the world didn’t end, and that’s old news. It was great to be there on that day, with 10,000 people (official numbers) visiting the ancient city. Many were drawn there for spiritual reasons, some were just curious, some happened to be in Yucatan on a holiday vacation, and I’m sure there were some just looking for a big party. But it was a happy, friendly and quite mellow bunch of people from around the world who saw the sun come up over the Yucatecan jungle that day.
We happened to wander into the Mayaland Hotel the day before. The Mayaland was the first hotel ever built by an archaeological site in Mexico, the start in 1921 of fulfilling a dream of Fernando Barbachano Peón to bring people from around the world to see the remains of the Maya civilization in Yucatan. The hotel complex abuts the boundary of Chichen Itza, and has its own entrance into the historic city.
Imagine my surprise when, upon going through the front doors, the first thing I saw was a large sign advertising the showing of “Tales of the Maya Skies” at the hotel. Maya Skies is a full-dome planetarium show produced by the Chabot Space & Science Center right here in the East Bay. (I wrote in this space back on December 20 about how Chabot would have a special Maya cultural day on Saturday the December 22; that was a great success, by the way.) My wife and I were with two friends who had never seen the show, so we immediately bought tickets to the English-language show to run the following night. What a trip to see that show, from Oakland, in Chichen Itza, on this very special day!
But a planetarium in a hotel? I figured they probably rented something; it is possible to rent temporary dome structures that can be placed outside or in a large, high room like hotels sometimes have.
We arrived the next night, after a wonderful but exhausting day inside Chichen Itza. We walked from the upper parking lot, down winding paths between beautifully landscaped grounds and the thatched-roof bungalows that the hotel is famous for. We figured we’d head for the main lobby and be directed to whatever room they had erected the dome screen in.
But between some trees, we suddenly saw a round building, lit from below with blue lighting. There was no mistaking it; the building was almost identical to one that appears in Maya Skies — it is the artist’s and researchers’ rendition of the “Caracol,” the famous observatory building at Chichen Itza (of which you have an unobstructed view from the front doors of the hotel). This was obviously the planetarium, and it had to be built specifically for the showing of our program, "Tales of the Maya Skies."
It is a very small planetarium, to be sure. Perhaps 100 seats are arranged in a few circular rows all the way around the inside, and a small projector sits on a cart in the center. The small size means the images get warped a bit more than they do in a large facility like we have at Chabot, but the intimacy more than makes up for that. An American in the audience, staying at the hotel, told me that three days before there were still construction workers finishing up the building, so they pushed hard to get it finished by the big day!
I am still trying to find out more about how this building came into existence. Mayaland purchased the show from Chabot, and built this building from a design in the show, so my best guess is that “Tales of the Maya Skies” is going to become part of the advertised Chichen Itza visitor experience for a very long time. Not bad for our neighborhood science museum!
NEXT WEEK: The “Maritime Report” returns with a story and photos from the New Year's Day Alameda Island Circumnavigation!