Dos Palmas – by Irene Butler
The narrow road was lit only by our van headlights. Rustling and low murmuring eerily drifted from the surrounding tangle of jungle. I, along with six other Mayan culture enthusiasts, and our guide, Claudia, were on our way to the Mayan village of Dos Palmas to heal body and spirit in a sacred Temazcal (sweat lodge) ceremony to be reborn as warriors.
Dos Palmas is located in the Riviera Maya region of Quintana Roo State (120 km south of Cancun). As an ecotourism project, tourism and community are developed with environmental preservation. It allows the village families, who run the project, to earn incomes while staying together in their community (instead of leaving for cleaning positions in city hotels).
What an ideal setting to glean insight into the beliefs and traditions of the ancient Maya civilization. Rivalled only by the ancient Egyptians, the Mayas reached their zenith during the classic period (250-900 AD) building magnificent cities, developing a sophisticated writing system, an astrological calendar of astonishing accuracy, as well as inventing the concept zero in mathematics.
Upon our arrival at the village consisting of palapa-style houses, we were whisked down a path past romping monkeys to test our skill at conch shell blowing. A former trumpet player in our group blasted out sound with ease. For all my effort, verging on hyperventilation, I only managed a few feeble squeaks.
Ready or not, Claudia led us to the ritual site altar filled with flowers and statues of gods.
My eyes zeroed in on the craggy chiseled face of Polo, the Grandfather Shaman, who had witnessed 95 summer solstices. Rising from his chair, this spiritual sage greeted us in Mayan. He then nodded to his eldest son and two younger siblings to commence the rituals before he retired for the night.
Smoke from the burning sap of the sacred copal tree spiraled upward from a receptacle on the altar. Claudia translated the young Shaman’s message, “He is asking the gods to enlighten us and give us strength.”
We moved behind the altar to a low circular rock wall with a blazing fire in the middle piled high with heating lava rocks. Conch shells were sounded by group members in turn from each of the four entries into the circular wall asking permission from the gods to enter the Temazcal that loomed to the right of the circle.
To the south we summoned the serpent, representing water, to make us one with Mother Nature and the world. The eagle was called from the east for the breath of life and the winds that bring rain and good harvest weather. From the west we hailed the deer, symbolizing the earth, and the wisdom of the grandfathers. To the north we called upon the Jaguar, denoting fire, to give us the spirit of a warrior.
Shedding the outerwear that covered our bathing suits, one by one we were fanned with the purifying copal incense to help us focus on the action of the healing ceremony. We were each given a small lava rock to toss into the fire with “good wishes for others, including our enemies”.
Crawling through the low doorway into the sweat lodge, we positioned ourselves on the palm leaf covered dirt floor. Four shovels of red-hot lava rocks were passed in succession through the door and into a central pit. Each time we greeted the stones as grandfathers coming into our midst. The door was closed. In the blackness the Shaman threw water infused with basil and rosemary onto the glowing rocks. I became drenched in the blasting billows of sanative steam. I breathed in the soothing warmth.
The Shaman’s soft tapping on a skinned instrument and his healing words were mesmerizing. “We are here to shed our problems and worries and be reborn from the womb of the Temazcal. In closing he called out, “Cry, shout, laugh, yell to release your tension.” Not one of us uttered a “boo”. He asked this again. Silence. A scream shattered the mute atmosphere across from me. Then a loud squeal to my left, followed by my own shocked yelp as cold water the Shaman threw on the upper wall rained down on my head. Laughter interspersed yells around the circle until his pail was empty. Needless to say, there was a lot of good-humoured “releasing”.
My buoyed spirit dragged my limp body out into the night air. Extending our gratitude, we bid farewell to our esteemed hosts.
Donning our sweat suits, we followed Claudia to a dimly lit cavern for a dip in the cenote (sinkhole). Bats flitted overhead. Stalactites splattered droplets into the fresh water below. After the first breath-catching moments I found the water temperature both comfortable and reviving; and so translucent stalagmites could be seen when treading at a 10 foot depth.
An estimated 4,000 cenotes dot the Yucatan Peninsula. Under a veneer of thin soil and vegetation the whole peninsula rests on a porous limestone shelf. Rainwater seeps through the limestone forming a massive network of underground rivers that eventually flow to the ocean. Cracks in the limestone, making these rivers accessible from above, are known as cenotes.
We did not need to be called twice to the feast prepared for us by the village women. Corn tortillas were brought to our table moments after sizzling on a pan over an open fire. Bowls of succulent chicken simmered in traditional achiote spices, flavourful fried beans and rice were passed around until we could hold no more.
The monkeys were huddled in sleep around the base of trees on our way back to our vehicle. The black jungle swallowed us once more. The Temazcal left me deeply moved and filled with valuable messages of our oneness with nature. I knew I would forever relish the thrill of living the legendary ritualistic rebirth of a Mayan warrior, though at that moment my heavy lids and the soggy faces around me indicated a bunch of very tired warriors indeed.
For Direct Reservations:
Dos Palmas, Ecotours
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo
phone: 52 (984) 80 32462
cell: 52 (984) 7450413