We’re in Coba; a small Mayan town just two hours drive south from Cancun. This is the ancient home of the Mayans. We’ve come to learn about their life and traditions in their natural world – amongst the Cenotes and Coba Mayan Ruins. The city of Coba is a self-sufficient Mayan community living among the region’s underground Cenote and cave system.
The 1,500 year old ancestral city of Coba is hidden deep inside the rain forest of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Our itinerary for the ‘Coba Mayan Ruins and Jungle Encounter’ is with ‘AllTournative’. Our activities include rappelling, ziplining, kayaking and climbing the ancient pyramids.
This is going to be an exciting day. We have never ziplined, rappelled – or eaten a Mayan feast before so here goes… today’s the day!
Its early morning and we’re picked up and introduced to our fellow bloggers; Indi from ‘Indiana June’ and Amelia and Jason from ‘The Everyday Journey’
We immediately connect with our new friends, and soon find ourselves swapping adventure stories all the way to Coba. Two hours later we find ourselves in the jungle, and ready for our Mayan Encounter. Our guide ‘Israel’ is a local ‘born and bred’ Mayan, and it’s his village we’re visiting.
Fitted with hard hats, harnesses and buckles… I feel like some sort of expeditioner as we take a short hike through the rugged jungle to the first zip line.
I’m taking in the jungle view; then comes the call…’So who wants to go first?’ I need to watch someone first, then I’ll go…
A few minutes later, and it’s my turn… Next thing I know, I’m holding onto the rope for dear life – with hands clenched tight! Of course, once it was all over I then realised I didn’t need to – I was completely strapped to the line, top and bottom.
I had worn my “over bikini dress” (yes; a dress is a bad idea on a zipline!)… but I managed to tuck it into my togs and all was well.
So here I am, dangling in a harness, looking straight down the hill… Zikes!
Next time the call comes to ‘GO’ … I’m off, flying…
Wheeee, this is so cool. I’m soaring over the breathtaking jungle canopy like a bird… flying through the pristine rainforest, and over beautiful lagoons. The terrain is nothing short of breathtaking.
Of course, now I have the hang of it, I love it, and I want to go again and again…
All too soon it ends; we’ve exhausted the all ziplines…
We find ourselves deeper in the jungle – everything is quiet; now it’s time to meet our ‘Shaman’.
Next on our itinerary, is swimming in a sacred ‘cenote’.
Here in Mexico, particularly the Yucatan, we’re engrossed in the history of the ancient Mayan culture; in particular the Mayan blessings.
Before entering this sacred cenote it’s important to receive a blessing from a ‘Mayan Shaman’.
We enter a small clearing; it’s thick with the smoke of smell of copal incense… I can’t help but feel a sense of mystery, and magic here. Then out of the smoke, our shaman quietly appears.
He ushers us all into a circle, then asks each of us, ‘where are you from?’ He proceeds with his ritual blessing in traditional Mayan language; face-to-face with each of us – calling out our country in his ritual.
Our shaman is purifying us physically and mentally – balancing us, so we may we enter the cenote.
In Maya tradition cenotes are passageways to the underworld so it is important to enter free of any negative energy.
Sacred, is sacred; so in order to protect the sacred waters it’s prohibited to wear any perfume, sunscreen or deodorants… we are asked to shower before entering.
So now for the entering the Cenote… I mean ‘actually rappelling down into the cenote.’ Yes, that means lowering ourselves down fifty feet, into a black hole in the ground… from a suspended platform, gently with ropes!
Strapped in a harness and tied, I look down… bad idea, its pitch black…
Where do I put my feet?
Oh my god! I don’t know if I can do this…
‘It’s Ok’… said the guide; you’re not going to fall. Just lean back, pull on the rope, and feed it out slowly as you go lower.’
‘Take your time…’ that’s all very easy for him to say – he’s standing on solid ground above.
Des and I were rappelling down together, so that was some relief… together we lowered ourselves carefully; and with each movement, the light disappeared into the black darkness.
It was a long, steep drop, and at the end – just black – all black. The blackness within this rock’s hole was impermeable.
My toes touch the cool water, and I slip my body in… Almost instantly, I’m overcome with a feeling of humility. It hits me when I’m underground. I’m humbled by nature’s intricate and secret architecture.
A cavernous room; alight only with the few sunbeams that made it through a small hole in the cave’s ceiling above.
I’m floating in the chilly water, feeling more peaceful than I remember ever feeling in recent history… perplexed by the groups of black fish, frogs and bats that scurried away at each movement or sound. I float on my back in the beautiful water… and take it all in.
In an instant, I understand why cenotes were such an important part of the ancient Mayan culture… both as their source of clean water and as an entryway to the underworld. The ancient Mayans visited cenotes to communicate with the gods and their ancestors.
Offerings were thrown into these waters; sometimes the sacrifices were human. Human skulls have been uncovered at many sites.
Cenotes are still an important part of life for the modern Maya and all Yucatan residents. Rivers in the Yucatan run underground. These rivers cut through the limestone, creating caverns and filling the cenotes with one of life’s most precious commodities, water. Our guide tells us there are somewhere around 30,000 [estimated] cenotes in the Yucatan – with only around half of them being explored.
Sure, I’m not the first to explore this quiet, empty cavern… but its giving me a glimpse into the ‘standstill awe’ that the ancient Maya must have felt when they first discovered these otherworldly places.
Rappelling into the cenote was an added exhilaration bonus. At first, it looked really scary to me; but in the end, I can’t believe just how easy it actually was.
We’re back walking in the jungle again; still buzzing from our zip lining and rappelling experience… Now we jump into a canoe and paddle across the lagoon. We arrive to a lovely dining setting, where we’re served a delicious Mayan feast cooked by the local village women. We feast on chicken cooked with the traditional Mayan ingredients; along with vegetable soup, rice, beans, potatoes, pasta, empanadas, and hand-made tortillas.
With our lunch devoured we head off to the Coba Mayan Ruins to climb one of the tallest Pyramids in the Yucatan – Nohoch Muul.
While the Coba ruins themselves aren’t that impressive looking, the sheer size of the Nohoch Muul left us speechless.
This is one of the few Mayan Pyramids that you can still climb (as of 2014)… So you better do it before you can’t. There’s just something special about climbing an ancient pyramid that you’re drawn too.
Most other ancient pyramids like Chichen Itza are closed to climbing due to safety.
Next, comes the climb…
An almost vertical challenge to the top of ‘Nohoch Muul‘ …made even more challenging by a little rain. It’s hot out here, really hot. The pyramid steps are steep, small, worn with age… and now slippery with rain. I can’t help but think of the hundreds of thousands of Maya that have climbed these sacred steps.
Half way up and we stop to take in the view. Looking down we see two lines of people tightly clutching the safety rope; one side up, the other for down… nice, simple and safe. Certainly a ‘cake-walk’ for us after repelling into a cenote!
Finally, we reach the top; positioning ourselves away from the steps and throng of selfie-stick tourists…
It’s peaceful up here; it feels like it’s just us and the jungle below… it almost feels like we going back in time. We can’t help but revel in the pristine beauty and immeasurable vastness of the sub-tropical rainforest surrounding Coba.
Standing on grounds where ancient cultures thrived more than a thousand years ago – that’s a special moment for us… we can feel it, we soak it in the energy of it all.
One Mayan ritual I’m really curious about is the legendary ‘Ball Game’ – where one of the teams is sacrificed to the Gods. It’s still unclear, even today, whether it’s the winner, or the loser… it really makes you think, doesn’t it. Yes, human sacrifice is an ancient and honoured ritual tradition of the Mayans at Coba.
The Mayan people competed against each by playing what has been called the Ball Game. They used a rubber ball about 20 inches in diameter, and played on a stone “court”. The court had two high walls that sloped inward, and hanging high on the walls were stone rings.
The game was played by passing the ball around with your hips – yes, your hips – imagine that. And without having it touch your hands, you then had to get the ball to pass through one of the rings. Since the rings were so high and players were not allowed to use their hands, it must have been extremely difficult to score.
Like the mighty pyramid; time has eroded the full understanding of tradition. It’s thought that when a player managed to get a ball through a ring – that usually ended the game. Otherwise the game ended when the ball touched the ground.
The Mayan Ball Game was a solemn experience, filled with ritual importance. Religious leaders attended, as did most chieftains and other government leaders.
Some say the winners of the game were treated as heroes and given a great feast… and the penalty for losing a game was sometimes unusually harsh – sometimes death. Others say the reverse.
The theme of sacrifice fits in with the Mayan belief that human sacrifice was necessary for the continued success of the peoples’ agriculture, trade, and overall health.
If you get the opportunity visit Mexico; then do take the time to go to the cenotes, ruins and explore the Mayan culture. You will not regret it!
Alltournative is a great company for this trip. We love how they have partnered with the Mayan people in a sustainable and not a ‘made for tourist’ type of way.
Their partnership helps preserve the Mayan culture, and allows people an opportunity to work while remaining a part of the culture they grew up in. The Mayan people clearly take pride in their culture, and were happy to share it with us. Too often as expansion occurs native people, and cultures are lost to “progress and development.”
It was wonderful to be able to experience parts of the Mayan culture, at the same time supporting its people.
While we ate what the Mayans ate, drunk hibiscus juice like the Mayans, dropped into cenotes like the Mayans, had blessings like the Mayans… we drew the line at playing their ‘legendary Ball Game’ which inevitably ends in human sacrifice.
We would lose for sure!
We were grateful guests of AllTournative Tours on this magical day trip from Cancun and as always the opinions are our own.