The first rays of the sun touch the shores of the bay in Xcaret Park in the Riviera Maya and the sound of drums, flutes and conch horns reaches a crescendo. Mayan priests chant their salute to the dawn and clouds of aromatic copal incense waft through the air. Witnesses to a scene from ancient times, the audience watches Mayan oarsmen receive the blessing of the gods. They will be embarking on a perilous canoe journey to the sacred island of Cozumel to worship at the shrine of Ixchel, the goddess of fertility. It is the Travesia Sagrada Maya, the Sacred Mayan Journey, which takes place on May 25 and 26 at Xcaret and Cozumel.
The temples of the ancient Mayan port of Polé lie within the boundaries of Xcaret Park. Once a trade center on the Caribbean maritime route, Polé was also one of the departure points for pilgrimages to Cozumel. On May 25, the canoes will depart for Cozumel once more, as they did over a thousand years ago. As the pilgrims’ families bid farewell, a flock of scarlet macaws flies overhead in a salute to the rising sun. A fitting tribute as macaws and parrots were sacred birds in the Maya and other Mesoamerican cultures and were associated with the sun god.
Depending on the weather and sea conditions, the Travesia Sagrada Maya crossing will take between six and eight hours. The pilgrims make landfall on Cozumel at Chankanaab Park at around 1 p.m. and walk to the shrine of Ixchel where they pray and leave offerings for the goddess.
The morning of May 26, they set sail again heading for the mainland with Polé in their sights. A cheer goes up from the shores of the bay when the first canoe of returning pilgrims is spotted and they are greeted with great joy and celebrations for their safe homecoming.
A journey of faith
After six months of arduous dawn training sessions, 377 oarsmen and women are ready to board their canoes for the Travesia Sagrada Maya. They will be following the sea route taken by ancient Mayan pilgrims who traveled from all over the Yucatan Peninsula to the sacred island of Cozumel (Kuzamil) to worship at the shrine of Ixchel, the goddess of fertility, childbirth and the moon and tides. Depicted as an old woman or a beautiful young maiden and also known as Ixchebelyax, Ix Hunic or Ix Hunieta, Ixchel was also the patron of fishing, painting and weaving.
This is the twelfth year of the Sacred Mayan Journey, which is the representation of a pilgrimage dating from the Late Post-Classic period of Mayan history (A.D. 1250-1519). From the backdrop of a Kii’wik or bustling Mayan market where trade goods were bartered and rituals in honor of Ixchel to the clothing, headdresses and face paint worn by the priests and priestesses, the nobility, dancers and oarsmen, everything has been carefully researched to make it as authentic as possible.
The Travesia Sagrada Maya originated as an initiative from the Experiencias Xcaret group to restore an ancient tradition and has been enthusiastically embraced by the people of the Mexican Caribbean as has the Festival of Life and Death at Xcaret, which showcases Mexico’s Day of the Dead traditions, October 30 to November 1 and 2.
The oarsmen come from the Riviera Maya, Cozumel, Cancun, Yucatan and other parts of Mexico and they are joined by expats that have chosen to make their home here. This year, 35 crew members are from Argentina, Canada, United States, Colombia, Venezuela, United Kingdom, France, Slovakia, Spain and Italy.
Some 218 dancers and musicians from Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, the Zona Maya in southern Quintana Roo and Xcaret reenact ancient rituals in Polé and Cozumel, portraying the goddess Ixchel, priests and priestesses, the ruler and his court, merchants and villagers.
If you would like to witness the Travesia Sagrada Maya or Sacred Mayan Journey ask at the Thomas More Travel desk about trips to Xcaret.
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