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Riviera Maya, Mexico
Earth, Wind and Fire…
And Chocolate –

A Unique Sensory Encounter

Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photos courtesy of Hacienda Tres Rios/Sunset World Resorts

hen I was first blindfolded, I felt disoriented, out of control, with the added annoying question lurking in the back of my head: I am a travel writer, how am I supposed to take notes? But our Mayan guide propelled me back into the moment by explaining that when our sight – our main sense in relating to the world around us – is cut off, the others senses are expanded. And I had better start paying attention.

Thus began our Sense Adventure Tour, part of a larger eco-oriented nature park and sustainable tourism program at the Hacienda Tres Rios Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico.

So I initially sensed the jungle, rather than saw it.

blindfolded tourists at the Hacienda Tres Rios Resort walking in line at the jungle

Nothing can hurt you, we were reassured. Just trust in yourself and follow your senses. Do not talk, please – communicate only with yourself. And become one with the universe. How does one do that?

First came the sounds. Were they cymbals? Triangles? What did they mean? Were they supposed to mean something? But I didn't have time to ponder before the next sensory assault – this time different textures caressing my feet as we proceeded blindfolded and bare foot, one hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us. From gravel to burlap, wooden slats to smooth slate to soft rug, we moved about our mini-jungle over an hour's time. Then a baby laughed – or was it crying – followed by a clash of thunder and then the sounds stopped being a focus and just began to wash over me, as did the bucket of pebbles dumped on my head. I felt like I was being buried. Was that it? Were the baby's cries rebirth? I had no idea.

The only time the blindfold was removed was within a tent with constellations of stars twinkling overhead – the universe we're supposed to feel a part of. Blindfold back in place, the avalanche of sensory overload continued – smells, textures, taste, sounds. All the senses were challenged, often in conjunction with one another, sometimes competing, sometimes complimentary – should I pay attention to the Native American chants or focus on the pebbles pored over my body or the cinnamon under my nose or just give in to the swaying of my body being encouraged by the guides.

blindfolded tourist  with pebbles over her body

blindfolded tourists smelling oil

Periodically, the guides placed our hands on our heart, reminding us to breathe – the theme repeated - listen to your heart beat – this is what keeps us alive. Feel the universe living and moving inside you.

More sounds, this time a beating drum, ever increasing tempo – guides moved various body parts where they wanted them, hands in front one moment to smell a splash of oil, waving about another in time to the rhythm of the beat. Now chanting once again – feel small seeds flowing through my fingers, taste a sliver of chocolate melt upon my tongue, gravel this time beneath my feet. I'm somewhat annoyed with myself for thinking I'm pretty sure I'm going to find a bunch of pebbles in my underwear later that night. Such a plebian thought feels antithetical to the experience. I refocus – hear a semblance of a heartbeat in the background. I'm not sure whether it's mine or theirs.

Then I felt the coldness of a small candle holder in one hand and heat generated by it as my other hand passed over it. The transient thought of how do they do that passed through only to be overshadowed by the incongruous reality itself. And shortly thereafter, I was once again moving to the sounds – I lost track of what they were – but I knew I was simulating the flying motions of a bird. Even though I had no idea what ritual I was taking part in, I felt a sense of belonging – that I was somehow connected to something that was important in some past culture.

blindfolded guests with candles in their hands

I didn't know how it was done but it was not important – I breathed in – I exhaled – I moved my arms and swayed my body – I was alone yet part of a larger whole – and it all felt right. And again, my hands were placed on my heart. When not floating in air or touching my heart, my hands were on the shoulder of the person in front of me, traversing about our own private world, wondering what tactile surprise lay ahead.

Sounds again – fire, thunder, rain, birds, planes and wind – and of course, the repetitive chanting – but with maracas in hand now, I could share in the experience directly. And yes, this was my dance – with that of the others – whoever the others might be – everyone moved to their own rhythm – somehow in concert with each other – and I could feel that even through the blindfold.

blindfolded guests with maracas

I was given a smooth stone soft to the touch with which I was told to caress my face – supplemented by a more rigid scraggly conch shell which I could easily identify. I couldn't resist holding it to my ear to try to hear the ocean – but then I realized the sounds were coming from behind me – crashing waves. And now, I felt the rainwater I only heard before – icy cold and down my back. It was the only time I heard collective sounds of first shock and then guffaws from my compatriots.

Thunder abounded – and then the raindrops flowed – followed by a windstorm. Somehow I knew that it was all being manufactured, but I didn't care – it felt real. Now I was asked to clang the smooth stone and the rugged conch shell together to make some more native music, and yet again, the hands are returned to the heart – of course. I started to welcome the gesture as a way of coming home – feeling grounded.

wet, blindfolded tourist holding a conch shell to his ear

I followed all the instructions as the guides moved my body, arms and hands in different directions and knew I had the choice – I could resist and ask why – or acquiesce and say why not? I feel both on a personal journey and part of a larger connection, as though I was attuned to some greater Mayan or Native American or whatever other culture I sensed was behind it. I felt connected with the elements, with nature.

"And so nature comes to say to us the earth is my body, the water is my blood, the air is my breath, the fire is my spirit," so sayeth the guide as we near the end. "In front of you is a mirror. See your reflection and know that somewhere inside you, if you have a question, you will find an answer. All the universe is inside you."

As I removed my blindfold and gazed upon my reflection in the cenote pool in front of me, I was not sure I felt one with the universe but I certainly felt I had experienced a very unique part of it in a magical hour's time.

For more information, visit www.haciendatresrios.com/riviera-maya/nature-park/nature-park-activities where you will find not only the Sense Adventure, but a number of other unusual activities such as snorkeling and kayaking in a cenote, an Xtreme Adventure tour, Segway rides and Hobie Cat outings, and an introductory tour of the many trend-setting sustainable tourism aspects of the hotel. Hacienda Tres Rios was constructed only on areas of low-environmental value with the least adverse impact, and includes water-saving techniques that don't sacrifice pressure, rooms that are "intelligently designed" to be both high tech and high comfort but low impact, with 120 varieties of native plants in the park that do not require much in the way of water, fertilizer, or pesticides. It has recently been named to TripAdvisor's 2014 list of the Top 25 Resorts for Families.

Related Articles:
Mayan Outtakes; Playa del Carmen; La Paz, Baja California Sur; Cozumel, Mexico: Puerto Vallarta; Costa Rica; Exploring the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu & Incan Cities; Belize

(Posted 5-2-2014)



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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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