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Fyllis: Cozumel
Temazcal Sweat Lodge in Cozumel:
A Mayan Tradition that Connects You to Its History as Well as Your Own

Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photos by Victor Block

am sweating profusely. My pores are so over-run with liquid that I fear I will float away in a river of my own perspiration. Since I am molting inside a sweat lodge, I figure I can't go very far. Temporarily reassured.

And the ritual itself started off innocently enough, despite warnings not to eat or drink to excess beforehand, with Shaman Jesus Eduardo introducing us to Temazcal, a Mayan tradition dating back thousands of years and devoted to purifying the mind, body and spirit. This Temazcal comes compliments of the Presidente Intercontinental Hotel in Cozumel, the only resort on the island to offer exposure to the Mayan ceremony.

Jesus's initial introduction involves a lot of things related to the number four. The four directions of the compass, for example. Then the elements – Earth, Wind, Water and Fire; the four stages of life (childhood 5-11, youth 12-32, adulthood 33-70, and old age – which being 70 myself, I took personal offense to, but the Mayan gods didn't seem to notice... ); and four life goals (courage, love, wisdom and silence).The objective is to find a balance between these different aspects and call upon their mythological representatives daily to help guide us through life. Although I may not totally grasp the multiple layers of "four," their guiding principles of gratefulness, seizing the day and moving forward I am able to understand.

Shaman Jesus Eduardo explaining the basics of Temazcal

The Temazcal ritual is touted to do many things – the aforementioned purification of mind, body and spirit which includes detoxification of the skin, improvement of the nervous system, elimination of stress, relief of muscle tension, improved circulation, activation of immune system and overall rejuvenation of the mind and body. Okay – so it's supposed to be a miracle cure. For me, though, its main value is a very personal reconnection with self – a fairly heady experience in and of itself.

shaman calling to spirit guides

We are seated in a pitch black sweat lodge around hot volcanic rocks that are periodically splashed with water, which represent the warmth of either Mother Earth or all grandmothers past – or both. Hard to say. Grandma is invoked with every added rock. Aromatic herbs and tree resins occasionally are added to help flush toxins from body and skin. The fire pit resounds like the ocean whenever water is thrown upon it but the sparks of hot water sizzling on my bare skin remind me otherwise.

Jesus's initial focus is on the first stage of life. "What do you most remember from your childhood," he asks, and he doesn't settle for easy answers. He pushes us to connect with the child within us, how did we feel growing up, what emotions most represented our childhoods. My father's death as always looms large – the most significant negative event of my childhood – but I also internalized my mother's love and even more than that the respect I always experienced from her as my most meaningful positive take-away. Sort of the Yin and Yang of my whole personality. No one's ever asked me before to connect so meaningfully to the often scared little girl inside of me. Powerful stuff.

And then our youth, ages 12-32 – a period of exploration, perhaps. He gives us a cord and instructs us to tie it in multiple knots and with each knot to speak to our past relationships, while repeating, "I forgive you, please forgive me, I love you, and good-bye." He urges us to let go of all the hurt, the pain, the regrets of the past – and to move on. To release the past so it doesn't negatively infuse the present.

inside the Temazcal sweat lodge

We all deal with sorrow, regret and hurt in our lives. For me, they take the form of divorce and death – not only my father's but that of my brother's far more recent passing. I am perfectly happy to be able to put aside all the pain, the abandonment, the anger associated with those parts of my life.

And although I recognize the exercise as a process of letting go of those who had caused me pain or loss, of negative past experiences, I instead find myself embracing them. It feels like a way of saying thank you to those relationships of the past – thank you for what you gave me then – even though I have moved on. Maybe it's the same thing – but it feels different. I feel not so much free of the hurt and regret but rather reconnected to the richness of what those relationships had been to me. I know that isn't the plan, but it is what I come away with. I feel grateful for what I had received from them, which in no way takes away from how very thankful I am for what my husband and I have in the here and now.

I can almost physically feel my skeptical husband beside me pass through the hokey stage to possibly being remotely affected himself by the process of connecting. Then again, maybe not… he's pretty skeptical.

And still the fire pit sizzles; sounds, smells and smoke surround. Repetitive chanting, though in Spanish, is a calming sensation, providing almost a spiritual bond. Jesus instructs us to lie down as he goes through a cleansing exercise over each of us, expunging toxins and rejuvenating mind, body and spirit through implied touch.

Shaman Jesus Eduardo

Onto adulthood, a time of maturity, although our shaman admits that he himself has never reached it. Nothing like a little comic relief… He asks us to think about our lives, what we're grateful for and how we express it to the ones we love. He speaks of being appreciative, and encourages us to be gentle with words; to not take from others. "Don't assume negativity and keep the best of yourself for those you love. Appreciate every new day," he advises. Again, he admonishes: "Let everything from yesterday die so that your todays may be happier." And cautions: "There are no mistakes in life, only lessons. Learn from them and move on." I'm somewhat overwhelmed by all the instructions. I know I already didn't do so well with the letting go part.

after crawling out of the lodge backward, symbolizing a re-entry to the world

He then invites us to crawl out of the lodge backward, symbolizing a re-entry to the world, a rebirth. But that re-entry into modernity does not diminish our contact with Mayan culture. Throughout the hotel itself are reminders that the Mayans are still alive and well and relaxing at the Presidente Intercontinental. Employees, hand on heart, greet you with "M'alob K'iin," meaning good day, good sun. Mayan signs announce the lobby bar as Bin K'iin which represents sunset and the adult pool is called Sayab, translated as Oasis of Tranquility. At night, in lieu of chocolates, we receive different Mayan legends on our pillow. A large wooden box in the room containing hotel info is decorated with Mayan art and traditional Mayan dishes are served in the restaurant. The sense of immersion with Mayan ancestry and connectedness with my own past remain with me as the highlights of my stay in Cozumel.

For more information, visit www.intercontinentalcozumel.com/english. The 90-minute Temazcal experience costs $104 per person.

Related Articles:
Amazon Tour, Ecuador; Amazon Jungle ; Costa Rica Adventure; Dominica; Playa del Carmen; Aruba; Cozumel, Mexico

(Posted 5-8-2015)



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Let Fyllis know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Gullah Culture

I think a lot of the plantation enslaved Africans began with a variety of African languages and little contact with English speakers. Even today some of the speech patterns of modern descents of the enslaved hold onto this language or some of the patterns even after being away from the area for generations. That's what we heard in N Carolina.

-- Barbara, Mill Creek, WA

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Thank you for your extensive and accurate story of a remarkable, resilient culture!

-- Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook, Ph.D. – Charleston, SC

And Marlene – thank you so very much for your comment. Nothing makes a writer feel better than hearing something like that!!!

Fyllis

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Nice story thanks, however there are also Gullah speak in southern Belize and Honduras coast to Trujillo, been all over both thanks.

-- Michael Johnson – Myrtle Beach, SC

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your comment. However, I think what you're referring to in the Belize/Honduras region is more accurately characterized as the Garifuna culture and language, which somewhat parallels the Gullah. If you'd like more information about that, please read my November 2011 story in travelingboy.com about the Garifuna.

Fyllis

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Toooooooo cooooooool Now I want to go to Florida!!!!

-- Kathy Marianelli – Columbia, Maryland

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Feedback for Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

I'm a Vietnamese and I can't help but went through all of your pictures. They are beautiful, both the couples and the natural sceneries. Vietnam is such a beautiful place, I love it. I have been to Ha Long Bay once, in fact, I have been too all places that you took pictures of. I love your pictures and certainly will comeback for more. Thank you for these wonderful images of Vietnam and its people.

-- Quyen

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Feedback for Family Magic in Orlando

Great article!!! Makes me want to go back and experience it ALL all over again.

-- Ariane – Chicago

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Feedback for Mohonk

I love your signature and the writing (in "Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance")... but the place is a bit expensive... more like the Romney types! Is Vic a "photographer" or does he just take pretty good pictures?

-- John Strauss – Campton Hills, IL

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Much appreciated! Yes, I do know Mohonk is expensive -- as is true for so many of the fine resorts -- but it is a historical structure that has been in operation for so many years and offers so many activity options for the whole family without nickel and diming the guest, that for those who can afford it, it actually is somewhat of a bargain.

And no, Vic is not a "real" photographer as much as he is a travel writer in his own right, but sometimes, as he says, he does get lucky.

Again, thanks for your feedback.

Fyllis

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Feedback for the Road to Hana

We enjoyed seeing the Road to Hana from a helicopter! After you get to Hana you've still got to make the return journey. Thanks but no thanks!

-- Betsy Tuel – Rosendale, NY

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Feedback for Dominican Republic

Thank you, Fyllis, for this engaging tour. For years I thought the Dominican Republic was all-tourists, all-the-time. You just made me want to go there! (those waterfall adventures look like great fun)

-- Richard F. – Saugerties

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Feedback for Traveling the Canadian Rockies

We (our family) also took The Rocky Mountaineer (gold leaf) in early June 2011. Great memories! Great food! Great service! I am sorry to hear about this labor dispute, as clearly, the attendants were a HUGE part of the experience. They felt like friends by the end of the trip. Good luck to all employees!

-- Susie – Hana

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Hi Fyllis,

I am one of the locked out onboard attendants. I enjoyed reading your lovely writing based on the trip you took with the level of service that was delivered until June 22, 2011. It is misleading to share this review at this time. Many current guests are dismayed when they experience the low level of service which does not live up to what this blog post boasts. The company is not even responding to the complaints of their guests who have paid top dollar, and are now consistently ignored when they write to ask for a refund. If you do not believe me, go to Trip Advisor and read the recent reviews. There are a few good ones, and they are almost all from pre-lock out dates. Many of those are from complimentary trips and the company seems to be pressuring them to post positive reviews. If you are unaware of what is happening, please consider visiting a site which has many news stories and letters of support from guests and local politicians.

--- City: onboard – Vancouver

Can I ask when this article was written? One of the managers onboard would have been travelling on it for more than 6 years by now...last I heard Shauna was in Edmonton.

--- tnoakes – Edmonton, Alberta

Dear Whomever --

I am so very sorry to hear about the lockout and the bad feelings that have been engendered between management and employees. It was not a situation I knew anything about and realize the timing of my article indeed was unfortunate.

What I wrote about was based totally on my personal experience and only reflects my trip at that time. Please accept my apologies for the difficulties current and former employees are now experiencing and the apparent disparate levels of service experienced by me and more recent guests. It was not something I had any knowledge of.

Fyllis, TravelingBoy



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