The Egyptians built less than a 100 pyramids; the Maya built thousands. But what was their significance? Determined to solve the meaning of the Mayan pyramids, Josh explores ancient tombs, dives in flooded caverns, and shoots whitewater rapids. Finally, he reaches a secret place in the high jungle of Guatemala where a mountain, a cave, and a river converge. It's here, according to the Maya, that the world was born, and it's this mystical place upon which all Mayan pyramids are modeled today.
The Maya & Their Pyramids: "When I began this journey, I didn't realize how important the pyramid was to Mayan culture and how MANY pyramids they built. I'm told there are about 100 Egyptian pyramids. The Maya have over 1000! So it's a fairly good question to ask 'Why were they so important?' Something must have been going on here."
Palenque: "About 10 years ago, I spent 5 days exploring the ruins of the Yucatan and I desperately wanted to go to Palenque but time didn't permit it. So I began researching running a BOSS course there, working with local guides and archeologists, one of whom was Palenque expert Moises Morales. He's like the 'Zahi Hawass' of Palenque and has spent a lifetime exploring the ruins. What an honor that I finally get to meet Moises and spend the day talking with his son Alfonso about the significance of Palenque!"
Temple of the Inscriptions: "Lord Pakal revolutionized Mayan architecture, and this Temple was his crown achievement. The steps that go down into the 'cave' or chamber where his body is still buried are VERY slippery and Alfonso and I have to take them one at a time for safety. Like the pyramids of Egypt, the limestone walls and steps allow for condensation to collect and make everything slick. Look carefully as you watch Alfonso and I descend with our flashlights. You'll notice on the left side of the staircase (right side of the screen) a stone, square tube going up along the base of the stairs. Alfonso's flashlight hits it briefly... This is a hollow shaft called the 'Psychoduct' that goes all the way from the sarcophagus, up the stairs, to the top of the Temple. They say that Pakal believed his priests would be able to speak into this shaft and communicate with Pakal while he was making his journey into the Underworld!"
Cenote Diving: "For this series, I have rappelled into volcanoes, hiked across glaciers, and horse-raced across the Giza Plateau. But of all the activities, cenote diving in the Yucatan was my favorite! Not just because I love diving, but because the clear blue cenotes are so much fun to explore. Before this trip to Mexico, I had my Advanced Open Water certification. In order to do some of these dives with Pablo, I completed a 3-day Cavern Diver certification course with Pablo so I'd be competent and comfortable moving through the other-worldly terrain of the cenotes. If you ever have a chance to dive in these cenotes, do it!"
Chichen Itza: "The sacred cenote of Chichen Itza looks, to me, like a giant cauldron of pea soup. The thought of ancient Maya priests throwing their children into this cenote to appease the gods is shocking, and I can only imagine what Edward Thompson felt as he pulled up that first load of bones and skulls."
"My favorite structure at Chichen Itza is the Pyramid of Kukulkán. It has 91 steps on each side, which means 364 steps total. Add the one on the top and you get 365—one for each day of the year. What's even cooler, though, is that the alignment of the pyramid is such that on the spring and autumnal equinox, the shadow of the sun on the steps creates the illusion of a snake slithering down the pyramid toward the sacred cenote. Unfortunately, I wasn't there at the right time, but I've heard it's incredible. (Oh, and for those interested in such things, you'll notice my climbing the Pyramid of Kukulkán here at Chichen Itza is part of the opening graphic for the show. In fact, this episode has quite a few images that were built into the opening sequence...)"
The Halocline: "Cenote diving is amazing, but passing through the halocline is even more amazing. Looking at the halocline, it appears like a shimmering wall of water, only you're already IN the water. It reminds me of the scene in The Abyss, when Ed Harris' character is looking at those aliens. Sort of a 'whoa, what's this?' feeling, and then you swim through it! Going through it is no big deal—it's just water. Although Pablo told me there are other cenotes where you can swim through layers of Hydrogen Sulfide and come out a bit tarnished (Hydrogen Sulfide makes silver turn black). In any case, I really enjoyed this part of the journey. I doubt a Maya person could have made the dive this deep, but I suppose it's possible..."
Chichicastenango: "Okay, I've been to markets before. Peru, Egypt, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Israel... I'm not a stranger to local handicrafts. But I have to say that the markets in "ChiChi" are my favorite. I could spend days here, enjoying the colors, the fabrics, and the exotic foods. Again, if you have the chance, go!"
Arthur Demarest: "You gotta love Arthur. He's eccentric and brilliant, and we got along great. In addition to a love for adventure and education, we both drink the same scotch (Lagavulin). So I truly enjoyed our time together and hearing his theories about Cancuen. The whole theory of 'Cave, River, Mountain' actually comes from Arthur, which is why it was great to wrap the show with him."
White Water Kayaking: "I've been told that this is a Class IV rapid, which for me (never kayaked before this) was pretty intense. What made it even more intense was that if Benicio and I failed to follow the right course, we'd end up in a Class VI rapid, which means death. No one has successfully kayaked through a Class VI rapid. (At least, not this one in Guatemala.) Bumps and bruises aside, it was a thrill and I'd do it again. Maybe."
Candeleria: "And then there's the cave itself. THE cave that many believe is the source of Maya religion and the entrance to the underworld. Words can't really do justice to the feeling of sacredness that comes from this place. It's not hard to see and feel why this place has held special meaning for so many people for so long. If ever there was a natural sanctuary for prayer and connection to a Higher Spirit, this is it. And having reached it after such a long journey, it was even more meaningful to me."