An interesting aspect of our excursion was something called a Temazcal. When our booking agent mentioned this, I immediately asked, "What is a Temazcal?"
He said, "For Mayans, cenotes are sacred openings to the underworld. Only royalty were able to swim into them. The Temazcal ceremony is an ancient Mayan ritual that asks permission from the gods to enter the sacred realm."
This ritual began with the lighting of incense. Our guide held a small clay pot that she crushed herbs into. Then, she lit a match and allowed the mixture to begin smoking. When the smoke had begun permeating our group, she called us over, one by one, to surround ourselves with the smoke. She would spin us around in front of her while waving the incense over us. Then she'd motion for us to enter the sweat lodge (which, itself, is called a temazcal).
The inside of the lodge was dark. In the center of the hut was an area for stones to be heated atop a fire. There were simple benches arranged in a tight semicircle, just enough for the 7 of us to sit comfortably.
When we'd all entered, our guide, July, explained the significance of a temazcal. The goal is to sweat out bad energies and illness, even addictions and depression. I was surprised to learn that the practice of temazcal is still widely accepted in Mexico. The guide's own aunt participates frequently for various things.
July explained that in addition to the steam that rises up from the stones, the water used is full of medicinal herbs. Having been allowed to steep in the water before it is thrown over the heated stones, the medicinal benefits of these plants can be breathed in through the steam.
At the end of the steaming, participants are instructed to stand up, hold hands, and shout, releasing any pent up frustration, anger, anxiety or upset. Those in my group chose to let out primal yells twice. John and Frank... characters.
That, in short, was our brief experience with the Mayan ritual of Temazcal. Bonus, for us, was the fact that this was something reserved for Mayan royalty. In effect, John mused we were now Mayan royalty. Ha!
So in addition to sitting by the pool or ocean, I was able to convince a few folks from our group to go on an excursion with me.
When I go to a different country, I want to explore. I want to see things I'll never see anywhere else; do things I won't do anywhere else.
I was pleasantly surprised to find an excursion that bundled four things I've never done before but always wanted to try:
Once we got to the excursion site, the boys were noticeably antsy. They later admitted to us that, from the sight of the dilapidated building, we were about to be murdered. They seriously thought that. Then again, reflecting back, I can understand their concern. Our driver hadn't really said anything to us in the time between the hotel and the excursion site, and the site, itself, was something out of a horror movie.
The inside was a single, empty room (save for a few tools strewn across the floor, a hammock in the corner, and a few cinder blocks for sitting on). I didn't mind it at all, but John and Frank were unsettled because it didn't seem "proper." That is, of course, until a little dog named Oscar came trotting in to sit with us.
This little sweetie came right up to me for some love. You can see the cinder blocks in the background and the unfinished cement floor. Again, I didn't mind this at all. I didn't even think twice about it, but it was enough to give the boys cause to plot amongst themselves how to best protect Chrissy and I should Leather Face make an appearance.
Of course, everything was fine and we were soon beginning our adventure with a ride through the jungle on personal ATVs. Here's a photo of Chrissy with one of our guides:
The ATV ride was so much fun! However, I was driving one-handed because I stupidly decided to take video along the way. Steering an ATV with one hand while trying to hold your other arm steady while bumping over massive rocks, dips and craters in the road was MUCH more difficult than I'd bargained. That being said, it was totally worth it because now I can experience a bit of the jungle again via video. :)
After the 20 minute trip through the forest, we arrived at a small campground that served as a welcome station for explorers. It was here that we suited up for our training. First up, rappelling!
Rappelling when you attach yourself to various ropes and hooks to lower yourself down the side of a cliff, ravine or mountain. We rappelled off a small cliff into a ravine which was pretty cool. The guy you see pretending to be scared is one of our guys, Leo. He was a card. I kept shouting ridiculous things to him over my shoulder, and he responded in kind with jests of his own. All of the guides through Maya Adventure were fun, personable and attentive to safety.
After we'd finished rappelling, we were taught how to use the zip lines. I had really been looking forward to this. I'd ALWAYS wanted to try zip lining, and now I was about to do it over a Mayan jungle! Doesn't get much cooler than that.
This is John making the most ridiculous face he could muster as he zoomed past the photographer. Looking at it makes me giggle uncontrollably. He's such a clown, and Vincent takes after him in this regard. :)
We all took turns zipping down the line, and it was SO MUCH FUN! They showed us how to go forwards and backwards. I thought it would be somewhat scary, but it wasn't. It was a similar sensation to being in the car with the windows rolled down. You're not SUPER speedy, but the wind in your face makes you feel like you're going faster than you are. The views were incredible, though. What a fun experience!
Finally, after the zip lining, we were instructed to change into our swim suits, rinse off under their outside showers and head towards a small hut behind the welcome camp. It was here that we experienced a Temazcal. I'll discuss this more in my next entry, but suffice to say this ancient ritual prepares the mind, body and spirit of adventurers to take part in the unique experience of swimming in a cenote (which is basically an underground cave full of water).
Just behind the rocks we're standing at, the ground drops out and you must swim the rest of the way. You can just make out the dark waterway that connects the front of the cenote (where John and I are) to the actual cavern we went splashing around in.
The cavern was alive with fish, bats and bugs. It was fresh water, not salty, and felt cool and refreshing. The cave, itself, was beautiful. So many unique formations carved by years of erosion... it was amazing.
So we swam through the narrow waterway which cut us off from light. We relied on tiny flashlights that, in my opinion, were annoying. I gave mine to John because I didn't want to be burdened with holding onto it. I wasn't afraid of the darkness. I wasn't afraid of the bats above us or the fish that nibbled at our legs. I just wanted to thrust myself fully into the experience of being surrounded by such pristine, natural beauty, and it was such a rush. By far, this was my favorite experience of the entire trip.
Our guide, July, reached into the sand and handed us the sediment to do a brief exfoliation. Since the sediment was so rich in minerals, it acted as a natural exfoliant. I enjoyed that.
Finally, however, it was time to head back. We were given a snack of home-cooked salsa (made with fresh tuna, vegetables and herbs) and baked tortillas. One of our guides had cooked it up while we were diving. It was so delicious!
But soon we were on our ATVs to travel back to the original starting point. From there, we were given drinks for the ride home. All in all, it was my favorite part of the entire trip. Adventure, new experiences, gorgeous pictures, and wonderful memories. Here are some additional photos:
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