With only a half moon to guide me, I could only half see in the early morning hours. The village of Conkal slept as I set out on my pilgrimage to Dzibilchaltún to witness the spring equinox.

My goal was to reach the House of the Seven Dolls before the break of dawn. This day is special because, on the spring and fall equinoxes, the sun shines perfectly through the windows and doors of the ruin, which align perfectly with the course of the sun. I had awaited this moment for quite some time, and I was almost convinced by laziness and the fear of something happening to me on a dark country road to miss the equinox.

Mexicans believe 3:00 a.m. to be a time during which evil spirits roam about and dark powers are at work, and I agreed that it a bad time to start the 16-kilometer trek from Conkal to the site of the Mayan ruins. As I walked, cocks started crowing until they crescendoed into a blood curling orchestra. I didn’t want to know what they crowed for.

Yucatan, Mexico, cemetery

Trekking past a cemetery at 3 a.m. is not one of the most pleasant experiences.

It didn’t help that at the end of the village, I passed next to an old cemetery. It’s a bad time to pass by a cemetery so far into the night. I snapped a picture and stayed well clear of it. Just in case.

The tightly packed jungle brush and dense vegetation around me scared me out of my wits. The night was full of the strange calls of unknown animals, which the primal parts of my brain transformed into jaguars and other night lurkers.

As I leave the last traces of the village behind me, a rickshaw, which the locals call a mototaxi, passed me by, the sound of its motor tore through the night silence conspicuously. I thought of flagging it down but I decided not to. This was a pilgrimage for me, a spiritual journey where I beat my fears and reach a site where I will unlock a great power within myself. Pilgrims don’t take taxis.

Thus I steel myself and enter the dark country road. The smell of manure is everywhere, it fills my nostrils, but I don’t mind. Far to my left, the distant lights of Mérida shine. The stars above me twinkle and keep me company on my lonely journey.

Sound carries a long way in the dark. I turn on my flashlight for a moment, but soon decide I don’t really need it. Instead, I let my eyes adapt to the dark. The crunch of gravel and stones beneath my boots feels odd amidst such silence. For protection, I only carry a wooden staff, you never know when you’re going to need to fend off a wild animal of the two-legged kind.

Yucatan, Mexico

Trekking to Dzibilchaltun

On the road, the sky opens up before me and, for the moment at least, I feel the world is mine. The stars and planets keep watch over my path, beckoning me ever onwards on my journey.

Walking along in the gloom, I have a lot of time to think. My mind buzzes with questions. Why am I going to the equinox? Why is this so important to me? Such are the ponderings of my mind.

Ever since I was told about the spring equinox I have felt drawn to see it, like a magnet which pulls the heavy iron I carry within me. It becomes a need, a calling within me for renovation and a fresh start. Life calls upon life to break the shackles of winter and usher in the fresh aromas of spring.

Yes, I think, that must be it, I want to be reborn, to bloom afresh. I want to go back to my origins on that never-ending journey back to where we started.

I reached the town of Chablekal. Tents and stalls were set up in the central plaza and bright colored paper hung across the streets as if the town were prepared for a fiesta. Nonetheless, in the early morning gloom, the empty streets give the entire scene a dejected look. A place without its people is a lonely sight indeed.

I paused to take a picture of the church, which stood guard over the plaza and headed on my way. By now, peasants, workers and all sorts of early risers were awake, walking to their bus stops or sweeping the street in front of their houses. I passed by two old crones, dressed in the white dresses with colorful flowers stitched into them. Since I am an outsider, a stranger to them, they stare at me, trying to determine who and what I am. I extend my open palm and greet them with cheer, bidding them a good morning. Toothy grins spread across their faces and they smile with their eyes; they warm my heart like rays of sunshine.

Yucatan, Mexico

The Chablekal Church at night.

Crossing the small town did not take much time, and many of these pueblos are the same. A central plaza, around which crowds the town hall, the church, some shops and a few houses. The dwellings here are made of limestone, which can be found in abundant quantities in the region, or cement. Here and there, a dog (or three) will snarl and bark at you from behind a thin fence. They are the local equivalent of an alarm system or a doorbell. These houses usually have a large yard where tubs, cars, and all manner of items needed for life lie around waiting to be used, which sometimes never happens. Country people here are reluctant to part with anything, even if it’s broken down or haven’t been used in years. Life is hard and the wages low; things are hard to come by for them.

Slowly, I left behind the houses of Chablekal and was once again on the road. I was now no more than a two-kilometer walk from Dzibilchaltún. I looked behind me at the flaming hues of color behind me, as if some giant were firing up coals over the horizon. My heart skipped a beat: dawn was close and I was still a considerable distance from the ruins.

I started trotting and soon broke out into a full run. I threw my staff away, as it encumbered me. My feet felt sore and my mountain boots weighed me down. I kept up this pace for the better part of ten minutes and, before long, I saw the glimmer of car lights in the distance. It was the entrance to the ruins. Buses and cars lined both sides of the road and I saw a crowd of people, about three hundred in total, huddled outside the gate to the ruins. I had made it!

Or so I thought… because the gate was closed.

I arrived at about 5:50 a.m. and sunrise was supposed to be at 6:12 a.m. The keepers of the ruins had the gates chained up. The crowd, which included locals from the nearby city and visitors from as far as Europe and Asia, started getting riled up as is usual in Mexico whenever the government handles a situation clumsily. Old women hurled insults at the guards like banshees and some people were even climbing over the gate and making a run for the ruins. The guards were powerless to stop them. They would have a riot on their hands, and soon.

I feared that my spiritual journey would be cut short by the indifference of other men, that I had come so far only to be turned back so close to the end of my journey. More and more people were climbing over the walls and running in, until the head archaeologist came out and tried to calm the crowd down, explaining that the site did not have the capacity to allow so many people inside. The masses responded by hurling insults and threats.

Time was growing short, the equinox would start in less than ten minutes, and I was growing tired of the incessant, useless bickering, so I whistled loudly and called on the crowd to shut up and let the archaeologist escort us in an orderly fashion inside. The crowd fell silent and the poor man thanked me. He then directed the guards to open the gates, to the claps and cheers of the horde of visitors.

We all made a run for it, as the sun was starting to peek over the skyline. It would be daybreak at any moment. I reached the end of the ruins just a minute or two before. I had made it!

The House of the Seven Dolls, an ancient square house which rose over a small platform and steps, stood majestically before us as it had for hundreds of years. Its dark form was silhouetted against the orange glow of dawn behind it. Stray rays of the sun shone through the door in the middle and the two windows which flanked it on either side. In front of the House of the Seven Dolls, there was a lower platform with a stone stele or monolith, on which the sun would shine at any moment.

I sat down in front of the scene, watching the beautiful sight unfold before my eyes. My heart beat fast in anticipation (or from the sprint from the gates). The crowd slowly gathered behind me, whispering in hushed murmurs of excitement and awe. I kept my gaze fixed on the ruins, drinking in the sight.

“Here it comes! Here it comes!” someone shouted behind me.

Slowly, bit by bit, the sun climbed out from over the horizon. It ascended slowly, almost languorously, and its first rays shone through the left window of the house. It looked as if the house had opened its eye and was beholding you with a look of fire. Then, as slowly as it had come, the sun disappeared from the window.

This is the moment! I thought. The time which I had looked forward to for days and walked so much distance to see was nearly here. Then, a small beam of light appeared from the doorway of the house as the sun assumed its position, until its rays shone perfectly upon the stone monolith. The House of the Seven Dolls had become a dragon which spat sunfire onto the pilgrims. It showered us with the energy of a new season and blessing us with the strength to bloom anew.

The dawn as seen through the House of the Seven Dolls during the Spring Equinox.

Spring has arrived.

I breathed deeply and drank in the sight, attempting to burn the image into my memory. I felt recharged, motivated, and prepared to face whatever the future would bring. All around me people relished in the sunlight, others stared into the sun and meditated, while still others lifted their palms to receive the energy of the sun.

Yucatan, Mexico, Dzibilchaltun, Maya, Spring Equinox

Right after the equinox phenomenon.

Everyone gave different meanings to the same event we witnessed. Some, like me, came seeking to start a new part of our lives fresh, others came for a glimpse of otherworldly beauty or to be energized by the special moment. I guess everyone lives different realities and reacts differently, even to the same things.

And yet, we all share the journey to wherever it is we’re going, and it is that journey which is spiritual in itself. It is not so much about where we are going so much as the fact that we are going.

Magic happens on the road.