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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Memories from the Travesia Sagrada Maya night by Jeff Pelling

Anyone who’s travelled a bit, inevitably becomes a little wary of “local cultural experiences”: dodgy costumes, tired dancing and slightly embarrassed looks on everyone’s faces. Snap some pictures to show the folks back home and in return buy an overpriced “traditional” beverage. Tick another box on the gringo trail checklist.

Travasia Sagrada Maya was nothing like this. From the first moments when we joined a hushed and respectful procession, the ritual cleansing by walking barefoot over palm leaves, the multi-media presentations and the powerful storytelling on a stage resembling a Mayan village by the shore to the final blessing of the boat crews as they leave to face the open sea at dawn, it was clear this was more than just a sound and light show for the tourists.

Though there’s nothing to stop you having a quiet drink over the course of the night, the festival isn’t a night long party. After all, there’s all that and more back in Playa. And because of this the event felt very safe; the atmosphere welcoming. We joined families, all dressed in white, (Remember that: wear white) and wandered through Xcaret and let ourselves be guided to the different events by friendly hosts all carrying placards asking for good weather.

The ritual asking for fair weather and fortune, the love story set in a Mayan village and the dances were all presented brilliantly, but arguably the highlight of the festival is the blessing of the boat crews: crews who have trained for months to attempt the crossing to Cozumel. Their excitement and anticipation was felt by all in the watching crowd; admiration coupled with “Rather them than me” informed the applause and cheers that greeted each crew as they paddled out into the sea: a six man crew and a dug out canoe.

If you can, stay until 6:00am to watch the boats leave, maybe bringing a blanket to wrap up in when the early hours arrive. Whatever, make sure you go with an open mind. Yes it’s all in Spanish; yes it can be difficult to follow. And yes, you and a few thousand other people will discover it is a perfect opportunity to take some great pictures or shoot some video. You’d be mad not to. But unlike some other “experiences”, this one isn’t designed to take your money (it’s free to enter,) is authentic and quite spectacular in execution, and more importantly gives you an insight into the spirit of the Maya: a spirit very much alive in today’s Mexico.