Come With us on a Mayan Adventure
Magic Carpet Journals takes you with Maxine on an adventure into the Mayan Jungle. There she learned to trust the people and respect their ingenuity.Story by M. Maxine George. Pictures of Maxine by Kim Coffman.
The azure blue waters of the Caribbean, with white sandy beaches, sunny skies and warm breezes are enough to attract a lot of Canadians to Cancun. We are told that 80% of their visitors are either Canadian or American. However, for those who are looking for a little more adventure, the Yucatan Peninsula can offer some surprises.
A Mayan Encounter Tour by Alltournative sounded different. The itinerary said, “Discover Coba and climb Nohoch Muul, the tallest pyramid in the Northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula.” Now that intrigued me. I am fascinated by the archeological ruins that have been unearthed in various places around the world. Next the itinerary said, “Visit a Mayan village.” The opportunity to visit a people who trace their civilization to Pre-Hispanic days also intrigued me. However, also included in this itinerary was paddling a kayak on a Mayan lagoon, rappelling into a cenote, and flying on a zip line! My immediate response to those activities was “Forget it. Those aren’t for me!” I will just watch. However, one day after receiving the itinerary, an e-mail came in that happened to have a picture of a zip line at Whistler, B.C. When I read that it was constructed with a steel cable, I began to rethink my immediate response. Instead of downright refusal to consider the idea, I decided to reserve my decision until I saw what it was all about. I certainly wanted to see the pyramid and the other archeological discoveries at Coba, and I wanted the opportunity to visit the Mayan people, and we would have to wait and see what the rest was all about.
We had an early start that morning. Our guide, Ricardo Cortez, turned out to be a very versatile and personable young man. He was also our driver, who gave us a running commentary of what we were seeing and going to see on the two-hour drive to our destination. He took charge of our safety and became the cheer leader for those who overcame their fears and tested their abilities throughout the day.
The drive took us out to the jungle home of the indigenous Mayan people. These people’s ancestors have a long history in this part of the world. They were the only people here until the Toltecs, from Central Mexico, conquered them over a thousand years ago. As we drove through the villages it was apparent that many of the people still live as their ancestors did centuries ago. Their homes are still made of bamboo poles, standing in a loose frame, without nails, held only by several horizontal poles and roofed with a thatch of palm leaves. I was informed that the palm leaves are waterproof, and will last about ten years. They use white stucco on the inside, and the houses are sparsely furnished. The people sleep on hammocks, either individual ones or larger ones that can sleep up to five people. They prefer the hammocks because they are much cooler in this hot climate. Approximately 80% of the population is Catholic so many homes have an altar at one end of the home. They may also have a fire for cooking, with an opening in the roof and a few poles at the side removed to allow the smoke to leave. Nowadays, there may sometimes be a car on the property. We were told that burials took place in the centre of these one-room structures. I gather sometimes that the smell from the corpses could drive the people to move outside temporarily. I am unsure if this practice still takes place.
After passing through several villages, we drove off onto a rougher road that took us into the Mayan jungle. Eventually we came to a stop near a small dock at the edge of a lagoon. Here, several men were waiting for us. We were immediately offered lifejackets. Then we set off in kayaks, in groups of two. Paddling through the first open lagoon, we entered a channel which took us through tall, thick, green reeds. Second in a line of inexperienced kayakers, we were soon heading for the mass of tall reeds. Correcting our direction before being enclosed in the greenery became imperative. I would paddle furiously, hoping to keep the boat on course, however some of the time our momentum would take us into the reeds before we could correct. Sitting in the front of the boat, it would then be my responsibility to push the boat back out with the oar. Sometimes, if we were paddling well and maintaining our direction, we would begin to overtake the preceding boat that was heading into the reeds. In the narrow channel, this was not a desired result. Before long, our kayaks broke out into the second open lagoon and our destination, a dock on the far side, came into view. Soon we were all gathered on the other shore.
Our tour guide, Ricardo, gathered us all together, and led us onto the trail leading up a hill to sacred Mayan grounds. Here we were met by a Shaman who performed a ceremony with smoke to cleanse any spirits that might have been joining us. After the ceremony we went into a narrow tunnel, down a series of steps, into an underground cave where we found a “Cenote”, or underground pool of clear, sparkling water that bubbles up through the limestone. It was incredibly beautiful, with weird shaped stalagmites decorating the walls of the cave. We were told there are fish in the cenote that are blind as they have never seen daylight. While some of our group swam, I sat on the steps in the refreshing, cool, clear water. Two of the men splashed me, apologizing for their actions, but stating that I would feel much better once I was cooled off by the water. Their words were so true!
Our next adventure came when we reached a platform on the side of the hill, overlooking the lagoon. A steel cable was strung down across the jungle lagoons to the other side. It looked to be a long way across! I decided at last, I was not going to chicken out at this opportunity to zip line. I had developed a real trust in our guide Ricardo. He said he didn’t see any reason for me not to try it, after all someone aged 65 years old had already done it! I decided to go for it. Ricardo gave us all the instructions. Each of us was given a hooked stick to be used as a brake.
I was the third to be harnessed up, and after Dick and Nancy went across, I pushed off! In seconds, I was free of the platform and flying through the air across the first lagoon, at an exhilarating speed. I let my arms out, and felt the air rush by. The view was incredible. I did not see any alligators, although I hear there could have been some down there! Ricardo had instructed us not to apply our brake until we reached the second lagoon, as we would slow our progress too much. As I flew through the air, I spun 180 degrees around so that when I went to apply the brake, I found I had it in the wrong hand. Wasting no time, I changed hands and pulled down on the line, only to find the brake was having little effect on my propulsion towards the dock. Pulling still harder, did not seem to be slowing my progress appreciably! I could see two stocky, muscular Mayan men waiting on the dock and could envision myself barreling between them at break-neck speed! As I came flying up to the dock the two men stepped forward and grabbed me, bringing me to a safe stop, a much welcomed relief. I was elated to think that I had conjured the nerve to try a zip line in the jungle. I had allowed myself to experience something so unique and wonderful.
Our next stop along our way, was in a Mayan village. Here, we were led down a street to a small fence, behind which we found a few steps leading down to small landing. Here again we were to be challenged. The landing was at the top of a precipice, a very steep rock face. Again, several strong Mayan men were waiting to help us with a new experience. This time Ricardo fastened me into a harness and explained what my responsibilities would be as I descended down to the cenote below. A series of ropes and pulleys would allow me to rappel safely over the cliff. Here I had more difficulty, because I knew that I would be letting the rope out as I went down, and also I would be kicking off the rock face as I dropped. Ricardo assured us that the men were our back-up, and would keep us from ascending too quickly. Again, I was the third one over the edge. True to Ricardo’s word, I was not into freefall, but slowly descended according to the amount of rope I released. What an empowering experience! I quickly passed the rock face and was soon dropping openly down to the base, where another Mayan man was waiting to insure my safe landing. A small pool or cenote was right there at the base of the cliff. A big frog was sitting on a rock near the edge of the pool watching the whole performance. I waited and took pictures of several of my companions as they rappelled over the cliff, before following the path that led me up out of the cenote. Again, I was elated to have achieved a physical (and mental) accomplishment that had seemed impossible to me only a short time before.
After all the exercise, we were taken to a covered picnic area, where tables and benches surrounded a tile covered stone counter with a brazier. Here, the local Mayan women laid out a buffet luncheon they had prepared for us. The food was delicious, and the fruit drink was very tasty. Dressed in their traditional white, colorfully embroidered dresses, they carried steaming pots of food from the nearby building. After the excitement of the day, I was ready for the good meal.
Once finished our lunch, we walked back towards the building where our tour van was parked. Inside this building, we noticed a wall lined with pictures. Upon closer inspection we discovered that the pictures had been taken of us as we flew on the zip line and rappelled down the cliff. The Mayan people had put technology to work. Using digital cameras to record their visitor’s accomplishments, then with computers and printers a group of them industriously produced these special mementos of the occasion. In the same room, they had t-shirts and craftwork made by local people, displayed for sale. With this ingenious way, these people had produced a product for tourists, and improved their local economy.
I left admiring the Mayan people. They are still a proud and honourable civilization.
Our next stop was Coba, which was once the trading centre of a massive population. This site is one of Mexico’s more recently discovered ancient ruins, and was only recently unearthed in the 1980’s. A Mayan government guide explained the site’s history, and took us to explore some of the nearby ruins. Spread over a large area, we had the option of riding bicycles to Nohoch Muul, or being conveyed in two rider pedal-powered vehicles operated by a Mayan youth. After our strenuous day, we all opted for the piloted drive through the green park-like setting. As we proceeded closer towards our destination, more ruins appeared in the foliage. Soon, Nohoch Muul stood before us. One hundred and twenty stone steps ascended steeply to the top, where a small stone room was barely visible. For safety’s sake, a rope was strung through metal eyes, down the centre of the steps. Eagerly, my friends and I began to climb. I stayed close to the rope, using it to help pull myself up the steep steps. The rope was pulled quite taut, as the others were using it too. It proved to be unstable for that purpose though. Within a dozen steps, all the others let go and the rope abruptly went slack. I lost my balance, fortunately falling only to one side. Others watched in horror, and I heard voices call out, “Are you all right Maxine?” from above and below me. I responded to reassure them, and began again to climb the remaining steps to the top, staying near the rope, but no longer holding it. I found that frequent rest stops along the way enabled me to continue the climb without becoming too overtired and out of breath. The closer I got to the top, the more determined I was to complete the climb. Before long, hands were reaching out to help me over the lip of the last few steps. What a feeling of exhilaration it was to reach the pinnacle of my climb up the pyramid. The small room at the top gave us a cool respite. We took pictures, congratulated each other, and admired the view. Then came the trip down. Little thought had been given to the return journey. I began stepping down carefully. Before the bottom, Ricardo joined me, holding out his hand for me, and together we descended the steps, standing tall.
What a day it had been for me. The day had been approached with trepidation, and ended with a tremendous feeling of personal accomplishment.
Story by M. Maxine George
Pictures of Maxine courtesy of Kim Coffman
Second rappelling picture and final zip-line picture by Alltournative
Nohoch Muul and Mayan pictures by Maxine George
Last Updated June 8, 2021 by Matthew George – Webmaster