Glimpses of Maya Ways of Life in Tulum 2: Cancha Maya

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This is part two of a series of glipses from my ethnographic eye. I choose to give you small unanalysed stories from my fieldwork that I find have something interesting about them. Remark that I write Maya Ways (plural). I want to underline that there are many ways to to be, feel or act Maya. Unlike what many believe, there is a flourishing culture of people who define themselves as Maya, and I find it important that we recognize their own explanations of Maya identity rather that putting them into a box of what we believe Mayas are supposed to be like. Feel free to comment below

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When I arrived in Tulum with the purpose of doing ethnographic fieldwork about how tourism is percieved by locals, preferably Mayas, I had no clue about where to look for the Mayan population, but as I walked and biked about town and introduced my project and myself, I was advised to find the Cancha Maya. I had no idea about what or where the Cancha Maya was, but it turned out to be the square where the Mayan church is located.

Three men were relaxing in hammocks by the entrance to the church. One of them got up, and gave me and a friend of mine a guided tour of the church. I asked the guard if I could come to mass one day. He told me that the church was open for everyone, and then he gave me the schedule and told me to bring food and a candle. He asked me to come early to have the process of the service explained. When I told him about my project, the guard warned me that the Mayan community is a closed one.

The following day, I woke up at 5am to go to mass. I cut half a melon into peaces, and arranged them on a plate. Then I put a white candle in my purse. Outside the gekkoes sang in the darkness. The heat and humidity quickly made me sweat. A few people were already on the street, but it was quit besides from the a few barks from dogs. Close to the church two big busses with Mexican looking people passed me, and by the market several men seemed as if they were waiting on another buss. On the plaza where the church is located, a woman and a man were sweeping leaves away from the ground. the church looked closed. Two men sat on a bench in front of the church as I approached them I heard that they were speaking Maya. The clouds on the sky looked like they had been painted. Part of them were dark blue, part of them were white. They were beautiful. A woman In her late teens or start twenties passed by. She wore short that only covered part of a thighs, a T-shirt and a backpack. Another young woman who wore the same passed by few minutes later, and then a young man with a backpack, cap, cell phone in his hands.
At 6.10 a police officer came out of the gate to the church. Shortly after, the guard I talked to the day before came out. He commed his hair as he crossed the plaza. When he came back, I asked him if there would be a mass, and he told me that would in a little time, when el señor would arive. A few raindops fell on my skin, and the birds became noisy. People had talked about how a tornado forming in the Atlantic. The by 6.20 it wasalmost light. The rain stopped.

I asked the guard what he though about tourism in Tulum. He told me that the tourists bring a bit of money. According to the guard the ancestors have predicted that a time of change would come, and that the children would live in a time of wealth with cars and stuff. He told me that more changes will come.
He asked me what I had brought. I showed him the melon.I asked if it was good, and he extended his sí. Maybe that means no.

A man with a big nude belly came out to the gate of the church. He told me that I could enter, but that I was not allowed to take photos. He seemed very serious. I was the only one there besides from two guards. Apparently, I had misunderstood the schedule. I tried to tell them that they did not have to do the mass just for me, but they insisted. I placed my shoes by the entrance, and walked through a room only illuminated by the early rays of sun and some candles the guards had put on the alter at the 4am mass. The leading guard placed the melon I had brought on the alter. I lit my candle and placed it next to the others, as I was told to do, and sat down on a small wooden chair in front of the alter. The room was peaceful, almost magic. The leading guard did the prayers; the other stood in the doorway and showed me what to do. The one who did the prayers rang a small golden bell from time to time. He repeated the same verse over and over again while he touched a rosary. The sweat ran down my legs, and my back hurt from sitting on the stool. With time, I found it hard to concentrate. My eyes flickered, and I fought to not fall asleep due to the heat. A few times, I was given signs to stand up and to kneel, and so I did. The guard called on Jesus, Mother Mary and the Santa Cruzes in Spanish. The Santa Cruzes are worshiped in the Mayan religion la Cruz Parlante [The Talking Cross]. I thought to myself, “This is an excellent example of syncretism”. The last part of the service was in Maya language.

After mass, the guards asked for my opinion, and I told them that it had been beautiful, but a bit hot. They told me that it was hot for them as well. Caressed by the breeze in the entrance, we enjoyed chicha, a drink made of maize, served in a jicara, and some of the melon I had brought. Those were the two offerings of the morning. The guards asked if I would come back. I told them I would, and then I told them that I was an anthropologist interested in the changes that tourism had caused in Tulum. At first, they were quiet, but then they started to teach me a few words in Maya and to tell me about how another “nice Gringa” had married a Mayan man. “Gringa” is an emic term for a fair-skinned person.

Try Ya’ax’s new menu when you are in Tulum

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My lovely friends at Ya’ax has made a new and mouth-watering menu!
(Avenida Principal, near ADO)
As something new they now offer juices and sandwiches to go. Forget oxxo and make your bustrip healthy;-)

If you are in Tulum, please eat for me as well;-)

I can highly recommend juice nr. 7!!! I have asked for it so many times that it has now made the official menu:-)

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My Rock

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From my rock I can enjoy the sight of the endless ocean that connects the world.

From my rock I can gaze at the beautiful mountains that streches towards Heaven with a sturdy willpower.

On my rock I hide sweet secrets. On my rock I have looked into my heart. I have watched whales and flying fish dancing across the surface of the sea. I have watched the sun rays dress up the water in sparkles and glitter.

I have seen beauty.

My rock will never disappear. It is strong and it is ancient, and its wisdom will forever stay in my heart.

The Road to an Open Heart

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Four months ago, I began my journey. A journey in geography as well as a journey in my own being.

 

The first month, I was on my own in Peru and Bolivia. I did exactly what my heart leaded me to do, without worrying about anybody else. I truly met some amazing people on my way, but as I have written in an earlier blog entry, the hearts of people who backpack on their own are to a certain extend protected by a close down mechanism that says, “We can be friends for the moment, but do not get to close to my feelings of loving you”.

I hiked and hiked, and the wonders of nature became my medicine, my drug. I was high on nature and especially on the Andean altitude. The Andes cured me, they gave me a reason to wake up in the mornings.

 

In August, I moved Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico to do ethnographic fieldwork. In Tulum the streets were always bright from the smiles of its people. I made a great effort to create contact with locals, as ethnographers do. At first I got to know the external and internal migrants. Since I was an external migrant myself, the contact with that group was sort of given in the cards. Both types of migrants had moved to Tulum in the search of the good life. They had primarily moved to Tulum because they found it easier to find jobs there, or to live in close contact with the nature of the area. These people, who soon became my friends, were eager to show me the attractions and secret spots of Tulum. They made me feel welcome and supported right from the beginning.

 

My initial goal for my ethnographic project was to work with the Mayans who had grown up in Tulum. At an early point I was about to give up this goal, because I found the Mayan community rather closed and hidden. Luckily I continued to try. The breaking point was when I met three women at the Mayan church, who allowed me to visit there private home. One of these women became my “Mamá Maya”. I visited her house almost every day, and when I did not visit, the family asked me where I had been. Sooner or later, she called me “her adopted daughter”. The house of my Mamá Maya was a meeting place for the Mayan men, and they were all very interested in talking to me. At the house I came to know a man, who invited me to his cenote. My mamá said that he was a good guy, hence I went. I got to know his family, and they told me I could always come by. One of his daughters became a close friend of mine. She took me too see baby turtles at night, which I never will forget. Through her I became introduced to more girls on my own age. Though the contact I made with the Mayans will be the foundation of my thesis, I certainly do not see them as mere objects of study! Each and every one of them have given me incredible memories, they have shared their food, their culture, their stories and their secrets with me. They have a big place in my heart because they opened their hearts to me. In a way I feel bad, for making them be my friends and then leave. If I would have seen them as pure objects of study it would not have been so hard to leave the field. I cried the days before I left, I cried all the way to the airport, in the airport, and on both air planes to Los Cabos. Giving and receiving is the foundation for society as Mauss points out. I now believe that an open heart is the biggest gift of all. The people of Tulum, Mayans and Nonmayans, softened my heart. I feel so grateful for the friendships, and honored by the many messages I received from my friends from Tulum while I traveled to Baja California. When I backpacked, I did not want to make myself vulnerable, but I have now come to acknowledge that I would rather open my heart and potentially be hurt when I leave people I feel a close connection to, than to isolate myself from the feeling of loving and being loved. The “hasta luego tears” make me feel human. I know that no matter the distance these special people will forever stay in my heart. I believe that by thinking about each other and the memories we share the warm, compassionate and loving feelings will sustain.

 

The last month of my journey, I have lived on Yandara Yoga Insitute near Todos Santos in Baja California. I can now call myself a RYT 200 and a Reiki practitioner. Sleeping in a tent, I awoke and went to bed to the sound of the waves of the Pacific Ocean drumming against the shore. As in Tulum the night sky was adorned with millions of starts, and often shooting stars enchanted us all. I saw whales, turtles and flying fish. With my new yogi friends I celebrated new beginning under the full moon that arose from behind the mountains to protect us with is magic glow. On the night of soft and protective female energy, we burned our skeletons and fears, and sent our new manifestations out in the Universe. With this group of people I shared my biggest fears and worries as well as my success. I learned that by sharing openly from the heart, we grow strong together. By sharing how we feel the heavy weight of emotions becomes lighter, and judgement ceases as we discover how similar we all are. This leads to compassion, and with compassion, love and support we all grow strong. With compassion and support our fears break down, and we find into our true selves. When we are brave to feel, listen to and follow our hearts we become happier people. On the school I learned about “sandwich feedback” which is the practice of reaching out to another person with a positive comment before a constructive critique, and follow the critique (or room for improvement) with another positive comment. This wave of positivity is something I will take with my in life. It is a way of communicating that minimizes the chance of what Goffman calls to lose face. Last but not least I have learned that a hug should last at least 30 seconds; that is the time it take for its effect to kick in. Back in real society, I have realized that human contact is superficial. Touch and eye contact is sparse. Again this might be a protective mechanism. But what if we all opened our hearts to give and receive love and compassion? …What a world it would be!

 

My personal goal is to keep my own heart open, and to show others how beneficial it can be. During my teacher training I received the attunement and knowledge of the 1st and 2nd level of Reiki. Reiki is the Loving and Compassionate Universal Energy. I will from now on call on Reiki to assist me spreading love to myself and the world, and to heal people from physical and emotional pain for the purpose of the higher good. I will let me be guided by Divine Love by listening more to my heart than my brain. I will do my best to think, speak and act like the Divine Mother. If you see me I am surely more emotional than I were, but as I wrote earlier I will rather be a warm loving human who shares my vulnerability, than a cold robot like person who seems to have everything working.

 

I am excited to begin my life as a yoga teacher and I hope you are open to receive what I have to give!

 

Ahum Prema, Unconditional love ❤

Maria

Cenote Kalimba

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Cenote Kalimba is a hidden treasure only a bike ride from El Pueblo de Tulum!

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You do not see much with a snorkle, but if you are a cave diver you can swim into the subriver system.

Yet, this cenote stole my heart! It is sourrounded by fruit trees, so you feel you are in the jungle. Carved Mayan figues decorates the place. Inside the cave dripstones hang from the cealing. A big opening and several smaller let daylight enter. When I went for a swim inbetween the dripstones a sound reached my ears. It was the sound of water drumming against the dripstones, creating varying deep tones. My friend showed me that by hitting certain dripstones gently he could almost play them as an instrument. We had the place for ourselves, which made the experience even more unique.

Kalimba seems magic to me. When I entered I regained the facitation for Tulum, I had felt the first weeks I was here. Sometimes I loose it in my daily whereabouts, but when two amazing friends shares this piece of heaven with me, how can I not feel like I am among the luckiest persons alive? Tulum is in my heart exactly for its warm hearted people and its unique nature.

My friend, who’s family owns the place, told me that when it was excavated 15 years ago, they found little cave houses inside the cave. He is sure that Mayan people have lived the in the past.

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My friend’s dad places food and flowers on a beautiful altar to keep the eluces, a type of dwarfs, happy.

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Travel the Yucatan Peninsula

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Tulum

Of cause you should see my new hometown.
On the blog you find loads of descriptions of Tulum and its cenotes and turtles, do not miss it! Take trips to Akumal, Muyil, xcacel, Tankah and Cobà.

Dance Salsa at el zebra Sunday at 9pm.

Smile to the residents and you will get smiles back 🙂 ask them questions and they will fill you in. Tulum runs on Karma.

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The ruins

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See crocodiles in El puente in Sian Ka’an.

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Public beaches: Punta Piedra, Santa Fe and Paraíso.
If you buy drinks or food you can use the beach in front of hotels as well. Eufemia is etc. a popular place to hang out.

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Explore murals

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Shop souvenirs or dine in El pueblo

Go to the beach at night to watch the stars! They will take your breath away.


Uxmal

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One of my favorite ruin sites. I only met few other tourists.
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Bacalar

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There is a reason this place is called “laguna de 7 colores”. The colors of the water are breathtaking. Unfortunately it rained all days I was there.

Explore the fort to learn about the history of the place. The history of Bacalar included pirates and Maya rebels.
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Chichen Itza

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This is one of the most visited ruin sites. Vendors are appoaching you everywhere, which can be a bit annoying in the long run. It you take your time to talk to them instead of just running away, you will more than likely get some interesting stories. This is also a good place to buy cheep silver.
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Holbox

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Do a tour in lancha! You will see flamingoes, eagles, an ojo de agua, cucarachas del Mar.

I was a bit disapointed to find out that there were trucks and many polluting and noicy golfcars on the so called “carless Island”. I had expected to find a hippie, reegae laid back place with lots of veggies and green juices – maybe it was because I came in the low season.