Portraits from an Exploration: Maya Traditions in Mexico
I have just returned from an exhilarating two-week journey to Mexico with 12 fantastic fellow adventurers. When I try to describe the riches of the trip, I am almost overwhelmed by all the revelations and lessons—about culture, history, landscape, cuisine, and communities past and present—that the journey bestowed.
I’ll be writing more about specific parts of the trip in weeks to come, but for this first post, I wanted to present a small gallery of portraits of some of the people we met in Chiapas, the southern Mexico state that was the focus of our journey.
Our explorations wove a wonderfully illuminating tapestry, from ancient, jungly Maya ruins to contemporary villages where age-old rites and beliefs still abide, to a cosmopolitan city where traditional practices and ingredients are being utilized in new ways. We met shamans and chefs, artists and entrepreneurs, and members of a Lacandón rain forest settlement who led us on a magical journey to a leaf- and vine-shrouded site.
Here are some of the people who enriched our adventure.
We began our trip in the highland city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, where communities of indigenous people, mestizos, and expats swirl in an engaging mix. One highlight of our stay was a culinary adventure at the restaurant Belil, where charismatic owner Ricardo Hernandez guided us on a feast of special dishes that fused traditional ingredients and practices with a modern flair.
Another highlight in San Cristóbal was a cleansing ceremony performed by a local shaman at the illuminating Maya Museum of Medicine. Candles were lit, copal incense was burned, and the shaman cleansed each member of our group by brushing us from head to toe with bouquets of aromatic basil.
A day-trip from San Cristóbal led us to the village of Amatenango del Valle and the backyard studio of renowned artisan Juana Gómez. To celebrate our arrival, Gómez fashioned her first-ever hippopotamus! Later, with one of her students, she showed us the venerable techniques used to create their extraordinary ceramic art.
On the way from San Cristóbal to Palenque and other western archaeological sites, we paused in Ocosingo for a deliciously curated coffee lesson. Master coffee-maker Miguel Gutiérrez led us on a tour and tasting, explaining the special characteristics of the beans and terroirs that produce the celebrated café de Chiapas.
On an excursion to a jungle ruin in the Lacandón rain forest, we were accompanied by this striking young man, who wore his tribe’s traditional white tunic. As one more lesson of the trip, his father, who guided our journey, preferred to wear olive-green trekking pants and a purple t-shirt.
Our local guides, Roberto and Mina, were among the great treasures of our journey. Extremely knowledgeable and personable, they deeply enriched our understanding and appreciation of the history, culture, and heart of Chiapas.
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