May 22-24

After six months of arduous dawn training sessions, more than 350 oarsmen and women from Cancún, Xcaret, Xel-Há and Cozumel are ready to embark on the 2014 Sacred Mayan Journey from May 22 to 24. They will be following the challenging maritime route taken by ancient pilgrims who made the crossing to the sacred island of Cozumel (Kuzamil – the place of swallows) to worship at the shrine of Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility, childbirth and the moon, patroness of fishermen, painting and weavers.

   This is the eighth year of the Sacred Mayan Journey, which evokes a pre-Hispanic ritual from the Late Post-Classic period of Mayan history (A.D. 1250-1519. The event originated as an initiative from the Experiencias Xcaret group to restore an ancient tradition and has been embraced by the people of the Mexican Caribbean. 

   In Mayan times Xcaret was known as Polé and was an important port on the Caribbean trade routes and the departure point for pilgrimages to Cozumel. Pilgrims from all over the Yucatán Peninsula made their way to Polé and Xaman-Há (now Playa del Carmen) bound for the island.

   The canoes making the perilous crossing today are still carved from hollowed out tree trunks using traditional techniques and every aspect of the Sacred Mayan Journey has been carefully reconstructed with the help of archaeologists and anthropologists. This includes the ancient garb worn by the priests, the symbols of the gods and divine creatures such as the turtle and the dances and rituals reenacted. 

Sights & Sounds of an Ancient Market, May 22

The Sacred Mayan Journey begins the night of May 22 in Xcaret Park with a journey back in time to the Kii’wik or Mayan Market of Polé. Visitors watch merchants unloading their wares and inhabitants bartering for prized trade goods such as cotton cloth, jade, shells and colorful feathers used for jewelry, headdresses and clothing for the elite and as offerings to the gods, salt, copal incense, fruit, dried fish, corn and honey. Cacao was used throughout the Maya World as money and merchants would always have been on the lookout for counterfeit clay beans.   

   The heady fragrance of copal and the sound of conches and drums summon the audience to the beach where they witness a ritual in honor of Ixchel. The Maya believed that the goddess controlled the tides and priests lay offerings on the altar and pray that she will grant the pilgrims safe passage. They then light the fire of creation and bless the sacred turtles that the pilgrims will bear with them to Cozumel. Listening to the chants, the waves breaking on the shoreline and then silence, watching the flickering flames and looking up at the star-studded Mayan heavens, this is a moment for reflection. 

Dawn Departure for the Oarsmen, May 23

With the first rays of the rising sun on May 23, the crowd watches as the priests and the Bataoobs or local chiefs bless the pilgrims and the canoes depart for Cozumel under a hot sun. They are bound for the shrine of Ixchel in the caleta or inlet at Chankaanab Park. 

   At around 1 p.m., the exhausted oarsmen land on Cozumel and are welcomed by the supreme ruler of the island or Halach Uinic and his subjects. They go to the shrine of the goddess to worship and watch as priests make offerings and dance in her honor. They hear the words of wisdom that Ixchel has for them as they gaze into the flames of the eternal fire.

Returning to the Mainland, May 24

The morning of May 24, priests honor Ixchel and the pahuantunes, the gods of the four cardinal points, requesting divine protection for the oarsmen on their return journey to the mainland. The islanders gather to bid farewell to the visitors.

   At 1 p.m. the canoes approach the port of Polé and are welcomed by the local population who are eager to hear the message of hope the pilgrims bear from Ixchel.

If you will be in Cancún or the Riviera Maya in May and would like to witness the Sacred Mayan Journey contact Thomas More Travel.