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Just Visiting

I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with Southern and Central America and the cultures surrounding it, so my trip to Mexico recently was especially awesome for this reason as well as the Sun and relaxation that it provided.

I’m not 100% sure where this interest in the Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, Olmecs etc came from but I have a feeling it may have been in some way inspired by my childhood love of “Mysterious Cities of Gold.”



Whilst in Mexico we went on a trip to Coba, a lesser known Mayan site than Chichén Itza but equally impressive, and in some ways more so, in that it is still located in the middle of the jungle and unlike Chichén Itza has not been cleared away. As it stands you are also still allowed to climb to the top of the Pyramid at least until the end of this year, which you cannot do at Chichén Itza.















The second part of this trip was visiting a traditional Mayan community, Mayans who still live the life that their ancestors lived, in the jungle living off the land.

This was a part of the trip that when I read about it I was particularly looking forward to, with my interest in the Mayan culture I was really excited to see people still holding on to the “old ways.”

Unfortunately this part of the trip turned out to be equal parts disappointing and awkward.

As we drove towards the community I was surprised by the number of modern concrete buildings that surround it, at this point it looked pretty much like any other Mexican town that we had passed on our journey, and the guide explained that these areas were where the School, college and doctors surgery where located and that these along with other amenities had been provided by the government as well concrete houses for the Mayans to live in, (which she told us none of them did as they prefer their own made houses.   She explained some of the cultural differences such as how a Mayan man would choose a wife and the process that the two families would then go through to organise a wedding, explained that having children was a large part of any marriage, the two women who we were going to meet at the community where both mid 30’s and had 10 children each!

Eventually we turned off down a dirt track and heading a little more into the jungle and came to a stop and got out for a brief walk to the actual village itself.

This is where I found the disappointing part of my experience, whilst the community did still live in the traditional houses that they had built themselves, signs of “modern life” where abundant, the concrete houses that the government had provided as well as other modern conveniences. Now first off don’t think that I have any problem with this, I was just disappointed that the community we were visiting wasn’t as it had been sold, I did however find it frustrating that a majority of this modern influence had never been asked for, but instead been forced on them by the modern world, it felt a little bit like it was a case of “taming the savages.”

Anyways I could deal with disappointment, however the uneasy and uncomfortable feeling that I had for the remainder of the trip was not so easy to shake.

Their was about 40 of us and to start with it wasn’t to bad, we walked up through the “garden” and the guide pointed out some of the plants and herbs that the Mayans used for both cooking and medicinal purposes, showed us the well they used to get water etc and taught us the Mayan for both hello and thank you. Whilst she was speaking the various children of the village where running around, playing and generally having a good time, this is where the unease started to creep in.

It wasn’t the children that caused it, but the actions of my fellow tourists. I started to literally feel like I was visiting a Zoo, cameras’ where clicking all over the place, not of the surroundings, the village or the houses but of the children, like they where some kind of cute monkey, based on people’s behaviour and the comments made both by the guide and the other tourists, you wouldn’t for a minute have believed that these where other human beings and their homes that we where seeing.

Already feeling uncomfortable we where then led into and through the house of the particular family that we had come to see, 40 people trampling through this poor woman’s house and into her Kitchen, where she was making Tortillas for her kids, something that our guide informed us was how she spent a large part of her day, not surprising with 10 kids to feed!

This poor women was then surrounded by 40 strangers watching her make dinner, she understandably didn’t speak English and only a word or two of Spanish, obviously her first language was Mayan, to add insult to what was most likely injury the guide then invited one of the guests to “have a go” at making some Tortillas.

From here we where then taken to another families house, where a lady was making Hammocks, which she then sold at the local craft shop for tourists at a local Cenote.  I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t really notice, but Wife pointed out that as soon as we entered the house the lady stopped what she was doing, sat down and pointedly gazed out the door avoiding eye contact, clearly uncomfortable and wanting us to leave.

We were then taken to see a Shaman who performed a traditional blessing, interesting as the combination of the Mayan and Catholic Religions where, my unease increased. As Wife put it, “first we have invaded these people’s homes and now we have turned their religion into a parlour trick.”

I think the saddest thing for me was that the guide told us that it is believed that even these modern influenced “traditional” communities will all be gone within the next 20 years or so, as the kids are seeing the Mobiles, Cameras’ and designer clothes etc that are out there and are wondering why they can’t have those things.  It seemed lost on her that trips such as this are probably the number one reason for the children being exposed to these modern trappings.

All in all it was an experience that I would rather forget and to be honest has put me off visiting any other traditional communities in what ever countries I visit in the future, it’s easy to forget when visiting such places that interesting and unique as they are, they are also homes, communities and populated by real people.

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