I think 9th grade was the first time I actually wrote a research paper about the Maya, though I remember checking out library books on them long before that. That paper was 25 pages, doublespaced. Then I didn't do another one until I was a freshmen at BYU. I took a 300-level class called Mesoamerican Archaeology from Professor Stephen Houston, a world-famous Mayan expert. I was unaware of his reputation for being such a hard professor, and I think it impressed him that I was brave enough to take his class the first semester. When it came to paper time we had to discuss our idea with him for further advice. I wanted to write on the ruins in Tikal, in my mind, the most magnificent because they harbored the tallest Mayan pyramid. So he suggested a set written by Michael Coe based on his excavation work there. Later, I walked away from the library with all 14 volumes, half in my backpack, and half in my arms. I bore through page after page of reports that sounded like recipes--recordings of how many meters or centimeters of dirt had been removed and in which 1 meter x 1 meter quadrangle a certain piece of wall had been found. But eventually I devoured the chapters on the Temple of the Giant Jaguar and found plenty of good stuff for my paper. The history of the building, the architectural technique and style, the message of the carvings, etc and I wrote my paper on that.
I learned more about other Maya sites in the class too, Palenque, Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Bonampak and more. I took another class in Maya art, the symbols in their writings and in their carvings, the historic records of battles and successions. The more disgusting the information I learned, the more fascinated I was. I guess nothing makes me feel quite more alive than all that thinking about blood, though I'd feel guilty describing them as not much more than brutal tribes because they were skilled astronomers, mathematicians, artisans and more.
So upon finally visiting my first Mayan site, I recognized some of the carvings I'd studied. Chichen Itza is, I believe, the ruins with the most buildings remaining standing, though I know there are many uncovered mounds and buildings throughout Yucatan and the rest of Maya land. It was so much fun to explore the area with Tyler and actually see and touch some of the buildings. Much to my chagrin, we weren't able to climb the pyramid, but other buildings we were allowed on and there was plenty to see.
As for the rest of our vacation, Tyler is writing some great detailed day-to-day reports so check out his blog here
And I think I resisted any overseas shopping blunders, but am sad that many of the souvenir gifts I bought ended up broken in pieces in my luggage.