The Riviera Maya is one of the most enchanting destinations in Mexico. There, in the middle of the jungle and together with the water of the Caribbean sea Pac-Chén is hidden, another way of living the ancestral Mayan culture. You have to see it!
I finally found the place. A group of people formed a circle to participate in a very important Mayan ritual. The chamán purifies tourists through prayer and copal smoke before entering the cenote (underground river) as this is the door to the underworld for the Mayans, a portal where living beings can communicate with the mythical beings through rituals and offerings.
Culminating this ceremony is the action. A hole in the floor one meter by one meter was the entrance to the Cenote of the Jaguar, named for the optical illusion that produces light that penetrates the entrance in total darkness of the cave. With special equipment to descend, I went down 13 meters to the water, so fresh like crystal. Passing into a world almost entirely dark is a strange experience. It’s worth it to make a stop half way down to get used to the view and to realise that you are hanging in the middle of a huge hole with a base of water and above is only a massive limestone rock.
Below, we floated some tyres to sit on and enjoy the majestic panorama, on pure and crystal clean water. In order to get out there were two alternatives, the first and most adventurous consisted of climbing a wooden staircase until the surface (secured by the harness). The other, more comfortable, is to be pulled by two or three Mayans with a pulley system known as the ‘Mayan elevator’.
Another short walk through the jungle, that never stops being a special experience, I arrived to the other cenote. This one, compared to the other, was open and resembled a circular lagoon. This place is known as the Cenote of the Caiman, for the animals that inhabit it. The vault was an intense blue of the sky and 2 zip lines of 100 meters traversed from one side to another. Flying over a cenote is also something unique (more so when you know it is populated by some caimans). With a harness and special equipment I hooked myself onto the cable and jumped, I felt the wind in my face and the water pass by quickly under my feet. Suddenly, the dream of flying was interrupted by the brake that softens the arrival to the other side of the cenote.
To shake up the mode of transport and to complete the adventure we climbed into a canoe to cross the lagoon to the community. It made me happy knowing we were going directly to eat. After cooking for hours underground, the traditional cochinita pibil (pork) was dug up and served. Various women dressed in their typical outfits prepared corn tortillas and flavored water with hibiscus and tamarind.
From the table you could see the lagoon. Before serving the food, another shaman or medicine man stood in front of the altar decorated with plants, colored candles and copal to bless us. The pork had a special flavor that I had never before tasted; the meat was extremely tender, truly delicious.
The people of Pac-Chén always smiled. Could it be they had found the balance between their traditional system and a moderate model of ecotourism that gives them a tranquil and happy life? Under this regime a self-sustainable community is moving forward, far from the ball games and sacrifices of their ancestors but near to a model that seems to be suitable against a system that tends to incorporate a price of rootlessness in their culture.
“Pac-Chén. Rituales místicos y ecoturismo en la Riviera Maya”, by Marcos Ferro, mexicodesconocido.com.mx