Monday, June 2, 2014

Travesia Sagrada Maya 2014: From a Canoeros POV

The Travesia Sagrada Maya is an annual event presented by Xcaret Park in the Riviera Maya,a recreation of the ancient crossing of the Maya from the mainland to the island of Cozumel to make offerings to the goddess Ixchel. It is an homage to culture, history and the perseverance of the human spirit, rowing more than 30 kms in open sea and returning again the next day. I am always humbled and moved by the experience (I always cry!) and this year was even more emotional for me. Someone very important in my life participated as a "canoero", his journey inspired me so much that I thought I would share his story instead of mine. Here are his words...

It all started when I was present at the arrival of the canoes in the 2013 edition. All that passion, the families awaiting their loved ones, the amazing energy they brought from the sea...I just felt like I had to be part of it no matter how.

(not a real canoe)

Training for the TSM was without doubt one of the most intense experiences in my life, our coach led us with discipline and experience, letting us discover new limits of our own bodies, minds and spirits everyday, and he did it for one fact that turned out to be true: the stronger we trained, the more we would enjoy the Sacred Mayan Journey when it happened. 

It is amazing how by breaking a physical limit, like rowing when I thought I couldn't row anymore, from soreness or exhaustion, I also unbound myself from previous conceptions I had about myself in other aspects of my life. 

Canoes loaded with offerings for Ixchel

It was a collection of very deep, strong feelings and thoughts before, during and after the journey. 

Before the crossing, there was this immense amount of energy collected through six months of training, my mind and soul only asking one wish to God and myself: to row as hard as I could, without stopping, without leaving a drop of energy unspent: to give everything. Fortunately, that wish came true.

A blessing before the journey begins
We were in the open sea rowing through what we called a "blender" sea: waves constantly reaching the canoe from the side making it advance sideways and shuffle intermittently. That meant we rowers had to constantly shift our weight to avoid tipping, while the coxswain had to exert an immense amount of strength to keep the canoe on course.

Despite the effort, many canoes tipped, including mine. We recovered quickly once, and a second wave hit us making us tumble again just seconds later. We recovered as we did dozens of times during training: we had that already embedded in our physical memory. One thing I can clearly recall is me crying in happiness, rowing as hard as I could, as we managed to recover from that tumble, encouraged by words from our coach given providentially from the support boat, and reaching the main group, even passing some other canoes. We were not competing, but that simple feeling of recovering, giving everything and making up for almost ten minutes of delay (which translated to almost a quarter of a mile in distance from the group) was just overwhelming. 

The canoes depart at dawn

The arrival to Cozumel after six hours of rowing was mostly physically intense, as I arrived very conscious, stable and aware. I made my offer to the goddess Ixchel, for I embraced the reasons and the traditions that engulfed the Sacred Mayan Journey itself, and went to rest for that night. But nothing prepared me to the arrival back home, to the port of Polé, at Xcaret. I did not realize how much energy I had contained throughout all the time we trained, all those hours rowing, until we approached, full speed ahead, rowing with strength and spirit that came from an unknown place, and arrived to meet a cheering crowd, the rumbling drums, the dancing men, women and children at the shore, and my family, reunited after months of not seeing them. It is something I won't ever, ever forget.

Canoeros return (photo by my son Max)

I desire to do it again, if the universe allows it. Maybe this time I will take the challenge of being the fore rower, who has to set the pace for the rest of the canoe and aids the coxswain in the navigation. For the ones who want to participate, I can just give one piece of advice: commit and embrace it as a way to discover themselves, so it has the effect that Mayans expected from that spiritual pilgrimage five hundred years ago: one person goes, and a greater, different person returns.

Emotional return (photo by LisaLove)

Mike Garcia is a talented illustrator and artist, originally from Mexico City and now living in Cancun. He is one of the finest human beings I have ever known. :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sustainable Tourism - Xelha Park Riviera Maya Receives EarthCheck Gold Certification

"Sustainable tourism -Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities"  (via UNWTO)

Anyone who has visited Cancun or the Riviera Maya on more than one occasion has certainly noted the massive growth of the region and the rapid development of new hotels, condos, entertainment parks and housing. In my ten plus years of living here, I've witnessed huge changes in my little piece of paradise. Each time I see a new building going up, it makes me a little sad to wonder what effect it will have on the future of the Mexican Caribbean's environment and communities. Many companies like to throw around the terms "eco-friendly" or "sustainable" in their marketing, so it is always a pleasure to witness real dedication to these important matters and not just the use of the words for publicity.

Press conference Xelha Park

In my work in social media in Cancun, I have had the good fortune to collaborate frequently with Xperiencias Xcaret in all of their attractions (Xcaret Park, XelHa Park, Xplor, Xoximilco). Spending time at each of them and meeting their teams of environmentalists and community outreach specialists, I can say without hesitation that this is a company that is walking the walk of sustainability and responsible tourism. My opinion is one thing of course, but what sets the organization apart is the world-wide recognition it is receiving for its dedication to sustainability.

EarthCheck Gold Award

This past weekend, I was invited to XelHa on World Water Day to celebrate the park's latest award, the EarthCheck Gold certification. XelHa is the first theme park in the world to receive this distinction, a great honour and highly deserved. What is EarthCheck you say? 

From the Xelha blog

"For starters, EarthCheck is a international certification program for tourism businesses to promote best environmental and social practices that specifically evaluates ten lines of action: 

-greenhouse gas emissions 
-energy efficiency 
-drinking water 
-ecosystem conservation 
-social and cultural issues 
-administrative land use planning 
-protection of air quality and noise control 
-wastewater management 
-solid waste management 
-storage of substances harmful to the environment"

Xelha Park meets and exceeds the standards of EarthCheck in each of these categories, going above and beyond to ensure the future of the ecosystems and the community. For the "eco-conscious" traveler, this means you can rest assured that a visit to Xelha will not only provide you with a fabulous encounter in paradise, but that you are supporting an organization that truly cares about being responsible to the planet. Muchas felicidades, big congratulations to the team at Xelha!

Please take a moment for a virtual trip to paradise by watching this video, it's magnificent! For more photos of my day at Xelha (of course I enjoyed the park after the press conference!), please see the Xelha Flickr set.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Riviera Maya Film Festival 2014

"El Cine Nos Une"..."Film Unites Us", the theme of the 2014 edition of the Riviera Maya Film Festival is all about bringing people together to share in the art of cinema. For years people have complained about a lack of culture in Cancun, but that is rapidly changing as projects like the RMFF continue to grow and experience success. This is the third year for the festival and it just keeps getting better and better, providing a world-class cinematic experience for the residents and visitors of Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

The 2014 festival kicks off on March 9 and runs until March 15 in Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. The films will be screened on the beach, in public parks, in cinemas and at their own drive-in. What? That's right, dig your toes in the sand while you enjoy the Latin American premiere of Lars Von Trier's "Nymphomaniac", the long-awaited film "Hard to be a God" from the late Russian director Aleksei German, "Why Don't You Play in Hell?" from Japanese director Sion Sono or "Oldboy" the Spike Lee remake of a South Korean cult film. 

The Riviera Maya Film Festival is not only bringing international films to the region, but is celebrating Mexican film makers and new artists. They support new talent in the "RivieraLab" program, showcasing up and comers and assisting them in getting their projects made and seen. Past participants of the program have gone on to find success in other arenas and it is a real pleasure to see a local festival encouraging and assisting new talent.

I am eager to get out and enjoy a cinematic experience, I invite all local residents and people visiting during this time to come out and do the same. The events are FREE (yes, free!), please check out the RMFF 2014 Facebook page or website for details of screening times and locations. See you at the movies (I'll bring popcorn).