The Visit Mexico Ruta Maya sims are sponsored by the Mexican Tourism Board. And they've done a great job -- so many sponsored sites are like someone has tried to create a real-world expo and transport it to Second Life. Visit Mexico Ruta Maya is not like that at all. It presents a solid Second Life experience, that happens to make you want to go to Mexico and find out what it's like with scent, touch and taste.
The intended entry point is a Mayan stone ruin -- the Yucatan Peninsula's Chichen Itza (a couple of hours from Cancun). In that ruin are orientation posters and a gift -- royal Mayan clothing, for male and female avatars. There's an orientation notecard, with a list of the site's activities. There's also a poster explaining how to turn on your music (if it's off) so you can listen to their streaming music. Unfortunately, our connection just wasn't up to the task.
As well as the actual activities, VM:RM has some relaxation spots. We took a moment to relax in a hammock and type up some notes. We envied our avatar -- she looked so comfortable. And the hammock's animations are well done and quite realistic.
Mayan ruins are all around the site, letting you get a feel for the scale of those ruins - the Mayan edifices are awe-inspiring and huge. Even some of the smaller and 'lesser' ruins and Mayan artifacts are impressive - there are some unexplained stone faces north of the the entry platform, which were intriguing beyond reckoning.
VM:RM has two temple complexes, displaying two of the types of major edifice the Mayans constructed. One is open-roofed at the top and has only one entry stair, the avenue to which is flanked by many columns. The other has an entry stair on each face, and a closed-roof temple at the top. Being there is magnificent, and impressive.
Perhaps less impressively, you can also get a feel for the behavior of other humans. When we were there, there was a shout: "i am on top baby of the pyrmaid [sic]." People are people everywhere.
Elsewhere in the complex is a tomb ziggurat. It's different in many subtle ways: the stairs are steeper, the stone a different shade and different texture. You can go inside the tomb, and see the sarcophagus inside. The remains, however, are not present.
Near many of the archeological structures are signboards, which provide notecards with information and history about the structure (though one large complex of ruins near the tomb ziggurat has no such explanatory signboard). Our best guess is that it was once a palace, or a large residential complex.
One of the best things about VM:RM is that you can do things you'd never dream of doing in the physical world. We went swimming in the cenote (cenote: say-NO-tay: a kind of limestone well) -- something that would ordinarily constitute a grim kind of sin against archaeological principles. The digital structures also provide a feeling and give a clearer idea of shape and scale than you can get in photographs or film. We'd never truly understood how cenotes were constructed before (while a cenote is initially a natural formation, both temporal and spiritual significance of them in Mayan society led to considerable modification and adaptation of the structures).
Another option is the game of Juego de Pelota. Grab a few friends, find the court (near the two major ziggurats), switch into Mouselook and play. The game is similar to basketball, and the setting (and different rules) makes it an exotic and interesting experience.
The Mayans had sweat lodges; structures which, from the look of their SL analogs, are constructed in plaster or adobe-mud. Inside the sweat lodges, your avatar is invited to lie back and relax, journeying in a classic sweat house meditation.
The site also gives a good feeling for the flora and fauna of the area. Some of the fauna is static, but there are also a lot of mobile birds and insects. The river that runs through the site empties onto a small coral reef: in fact, everywhere there is ocean within the site's boundaries, there is sea-life of some sort.
It's worth spending time just wandering. We found a monkey and some bananas, many different snakes, bats, some sort of anteater, and a wide variety of birds, insects, and plants -- and waterfalls. The site is positively packed to repletion with subtle effects and details.
There is also some impressive geography: especially a massive rock complex to the western border of the first simulator where it meets the second. And, of course, the almost inevitable waterfalls. They've taken the time to make an interesting coastline along the northern border of sim 1, and the southern borders of 2 and 3; and they've ensured that the 'ground' of VM:RM is not boringly smooth, but interestingly 'natural'.
There is a section in the south of sim 3 which is much more modern. A modern Mexican village, with homes, parks, shops, market carts, and (of course) a church. The architecture is distinctive, the colors all pastel and white, the shapes spare and geometric. Within the homes are Mexican and Mexican-inspired furnishings and their goods, some of which are yet more freebies, others are for sale or have landmarks to the shops of their creators. At the edge of town, you can the old Fuerte de San Miguel - St Michael's fort. Nearby is a tall ship - one of the old three-masted sailing ships.
As well as the archeological, ecological and cultural material, there are tourist spots. There are a number of relaxation areas scattered through the site, some as picnic areas, some as fireplaces, and several hammocks.
There's a dancing area, set beside an adobe house. Inside the house is a jacuzzi and several other conversation areas, outside is a dance floor with a variety of dance poseballs, a bar, and dancing lights. Switch your environment settings to midnight and dance the night away.
There is a shopping area in the same location as a historical Mayan market -- though this shopping area is more tourist-oriented than the market would have been. Some of the shops in the shopping area, of course, are stalls with showpieces of their owners' work, and landmarks for their owners' main shop.
To the south and east of the site, there is a stable. You can 'rent' a horse for free and ride her around the VM:RM sims. Do make sure you turn your animation overrider off, or you'll be walking with a horse attached to you -- as we did at first. However, with the overrider off, the horse-riding animations are pretty nifty.
The largest beach area is the northern border of sim 1 -- if resting on the beach is your thing, go there and find your spot. There is also beach on the southern border of sims 2 and 3.
At the top of one of the taller waterfalls is hang-glider rental; and also a series of chairs on ropes. Getting up to the top is the tricky part -- getting down is really kind of fun!
VM:RM makes effective use of screening flora and height. It manages to get a great many sections and areas into the set of sims, without having them seem jammed up against each other. Each time you approach a section, it's as if the only place near it is the one you've just come from.
One of the few flaws with the build is the explanations: more precisely, that there aren't enough of them. For some of the minor ruins and stone buildings, the visitor is left to guess 'this must be a house': if there was one of those notecard-dispensing explanation signs beside it, the card could provide at least the name of that type of house. Curious visitors (like us) could then easily do a Web-search and learn more about it.
Even some of the major ruins don't have notecards. Locals doubtless know all abut the temple structures; and it's logical to assume that people from the Americas have learned at least the basic elements of continental history. But this is Second Life. Visitors from Giza may wish to compare pyramid architecture.
Another -- albeit minor -- flaw is that the interior spaces of many buildings are dark until you have fully entered and the scene has more or less fully loaded.
Still, despite the flaws, the site is very entertaining -- and definitely does a good job of interesting you in the meatspace version of Mexico. Anyone happen to have a plane ticket to Mexico they're not using? Anyone?