The Yucatan: Math, Ruins and Fun

By Thomas W. ’19
Photos by Mrs. Bonner

Going into the 2017 Maya Math Trip, our group of 15 students and 2 teachers knew each other at least somewhat, but those acquaintances immediately started to become close friends from our very first bus ride to the airport. Despite the early hour and cold weather, we spent the drive talking and playing games and soon we were on our way to the warm beaches and ancient ruins of the Yucatan Peninsula. As soon as we stepped out of the plane in Cancun, the blast of heat from the Mexican afternoon replaced all thoughts of snow with dreams of the ocean.

We spent our first two days in Playa del Carmen, a city about an hour south of Cancun. Our hotel was close to the ocean, so our first night we headed down to the beach in our flip-flops to splash and chat. It almost didn’t seem real; it was dark, but there was just enough light to see everyone. There was the sound of the waves, with the warm water washing over everyone’s feet, and of live music playing behind us. It was a magical start to our adventure.

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The next day we returned to the beach but also began to learn about the Maya with lectures on their number system, calendar and religious practices from our extremely knowledgeable guide, Dr. Heather Teague. 

That evening, we walked through the city to a restaurant where we ate authentic Mexican quesadillas and tacos. Chipotle burritos might be good, but nothing beats the small but delicious and filling tacos from Mexico. Food became a memorable part of the trip, as it seemed we could try a new delectable dish at every meal. By the end of that first day, we were so physically tired from the beach and mentally loaded from our lectures that it felt like we had already been there for a while. 

The next three days we spent touring three different ancient Maya sites. We went to Cobá, Chichén Itzá, and Uxmal. One might think that they would be very similar, but the architecture and experiences at all three were unique. 

On our first day of ruins exploration, we rode bikes through Cobá, with stops for pictures and learning about the ruins. This was the setting for one of my favorite memories. We were walking a little ways on a busy tree-lined trail when we saw what seemed like a mountain of stone on our left. When we stepped into a mildly crowded opening, we saw that the mountain was actually an absolutely massive temple. We later learned that it is the largest in the entire Yucatan. Naturally our next question was, “Are we going to climb it?” and to our delight, we did. 

The satisfaction of finally reaching the top after over 100 steep, narrow steps was further amplified by the amazing view from the top. You could see over the sea of trees for miles and miles. Over the next two days we had similarly awe-inspiring tours of the ruins at Chichén Itzá and Uxmal. We learned about the intricate math and astronomy the Maya used in the construction of temple Kukulkan in Chichén Itzá and admired the stone likenesses of the rain god, Chacmool, in Uxmal. These sites provided us with amazing views, knowledge, and friendship, as we experienced these breathtaking ancient ruins together.

Sprinkled into the itinerary were trips to three cenotes, which are holes in the limestone bedrock filled with water from underground aquifers. Just like the ruins, each was unique, but all were tons of fun. Whether it was jumping into 150-foot deep water, playing a spontaneous game of “King of the Hill” over a kayak, or watching little fish nibble at our feet, the cenotes were for many of us one of our favorite experiences. They were also a much welcome break from the Mexican heat.

During the last few days of the trip, we did more than our share of shopping and wandering, experiencing the authentic feel of Mexico. We returned to Playa del Carmen, but not before stopping in Valladolid, an old Spanish colonial town, to shop with our now close friends around a beautiful cathedral and bright green plaza. 

Once back in Playa del Carmen, we swam, wandered, ate, and shopped some more. As we headed back to Pennsylvania, everyone was utterly exhausted by our busy schedule and plentiful walking, but we could look back and know that our excitement was well deserved, and that we all had an unforgettable experience that bound us closer together and taught us amazing things about the Maya and one another.

LCDS Global Programs include a robust, curricular, experiential learning travel program and a diverse international student community. For more information on our travel opportunities or learning about the rewards of hosting an international student, please contact  Heather Woodbridge, Director of Global Programs

Love and Chili Warm Hearts

Jim Phipps’ chili ruled our bellies at the Ice Festival, while love (and chocolate) ruled our hearts on Balloon Day.

The Ice Festival did more than just liven up an ordinary winter Wednesday. Through the efforts of everyone who supported the Festival and Chili Cook-Off, Country Day raised more than $1,600 for Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity.

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Squash Comes Home

History teacher Allen Miller has spent eight years at the helm of Country Day squash, and during his tenure the team has doubled in size from 20 in 2009 to 40 today. His roster includes both boys and girls, and spans the widest age range in Country Day athletics.

“They’re a tightly knit group,” Miller said

“I love that we compete against some of the best schools,” Miller said. “Sometimes we get crushed, but playing strong opponents is great for us. Not only does it force us to play up to that level, but once kids have faced that kind of competition once, they’re not fazed by it when they show up at Nationals.”

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“There’s no ceiling to the program,” Miller said, relishing the prospect of boundless improvement for his squad.

For its entire 10-year history, Country Day squash has had to contend with the perennial challenge of relying on others for court time. So while the Hamilton Club and Franklin & Marshall College have been accommodating in sharing their courts, they’re still their courts and their own players and matches take precedence.

In practice, this means that the team has never been able to have any consistent practice schedule, and has played nearly every single match as the visiting team.

That’s about to change.

Next season, the team will play and practice on the school’s own courts, giving the home team a real home. Part of the larger Room to Grow athletics upgrade, the new squash courts will allow the squad to become a proper varsity/junior varsity outfit that means more players will receive more focused coaching.

“Our emphasis is on developing a whole variety of life skills,” Miller said. “If you teach commitment and hard work and poise, then winning takes care of itself.”

Going Around Spreading ‘Rumors’

Director Kristin Wolanin loves Neil Simon, but she has a penchant for presenting audiences with some of the least-known works of one of America’s best-known playwrights.

The first play she directed as the head of Country Day’s theater program in 2014 was “Fools,” a quirky comedy Simon supposedly wrote as an intentional flop, as part of a divorce settlement. This time around, Wolanin and her devoted brood will show off their comedic chops in “Rumors,” a farce that opens Thursday at 7 p.m. There will be three more performances: 7 p.m. Friday, a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, and the final show at 7 Saturday night. Tickets are $7 in advance online, or $10 at the door.

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“This play has always been near and dear to my heart,” said Wolanin, who directed an acclaimed version of the show at her former school, Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Orlando, Fla. They were one of the finalists in the Florida State Thespians competition, featuring more than 10,000 students. Wolanin’s ensemble never got a chance to stage their performance for the judges, however, because their set was too large for the theatre.

Now Wolanin has a new ensemble, featuring 10 cast members and a crew of 26, and she simply cannot contain her pride and confidence in them.

“This is a tricky play, but I knew we could pull off this ridiculous farce,” she said. “You need a cast that has chemistry, comedic timing, and that trusts one another. Without that, a play like this would just come apart before it started.”

Her students have put in a lot of hours rehearsing, and some of them have worked with Wolanin, affectionately nicknamed Mama K., in one form or another since she came to Country Day.

The progress is unmistakable.

“We couldn’t have done this show three years ago,” Wolanin said.

All three dress rehearsals went as well as anyone could have hoped, but the final piece is still missing.

“They’re dying for an audience,” Wolanin said. “A good rehearsal is great, but they won’t get to the next level without an audience. The way the show is delivered, you need that feedback.

“The energy of a live audience and that give-and-take between the actors on stage and the people in the seats, that’s the magic part.

What: Neil Simon’s “Rumors”
Where: The Steinman Theatre
When: 7 p.m. November 3, 4, and 5, as well as a 2 p.m. matinee Nov. 5. Advanced tickets are $7. Click here to purchase online. Tickets $10 at the door.