Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Three Steps to Inner Peace in Veracruz, Mexico

Letting in the peace in Nanciyaga

Inner peace. Cheesy phrase really, overused by many and the true meaning of the words elude most people, myself included. I don't know that I have ever set out in search of "inner peace", but on my recent trip to Veracruz for the ATMEX convention, it kind of found me.

The last few years of my life have been...well..."chaotic".  My personal growth was stunted and I was trapped in a cycle of negativity and self-doubt that seemed endless. My life situation has been improving over the last year, IMMENSELY actually, but I still hadn't found that light inside of myself that allowed me to breathe with ease and truly enjoy the good things I have in my life.

On my departure for Veracruz, I looked forward to adventure and business contacts and a break from my routine. What I did not foresee was the spiritual voyage I was embarking on. Reading the agenda for the government sponsored fam trip with 50 travel professionals, I certainly didn't anticipate a life changing experience, but that's exactly what I encountered.

Writing this is actually harder than I thought, though I have been mulling it over for more than a month. How exactly to put into words all the happened to me in that week? I guess I will try to keep it simple, the "Three Easy Steps to Inner Peace in Veracruz".  And here we go.

Step One-Temazcal

Temazcal in Nanciyaga (no photo of the one in Mexico Verde, oops!)

After a day of adventure at Mexico Verde, riding mountain bikes and zooming along ziplines, we were scheduled to participate in the ancient tradition of the "temazcal". Much like a Native Canadian sweat lodge, the ritual has been used for centuries by many cultures in Mexico as a form of cleansing and communicating with the gods. Ten of us entered the pitch black dome with the wise man/healer. At first there were giggles and titters, uncomfortable moments with the unknown. As the healer began to pile on the hot stones and pour water over them, the enclosure filled with steam and we began to sweat. Profusely. And we began to share. Our hopes. Jokes. Love. The healer asked us to make our hands into fists, as tight as we could and to tense our bodies. I could feel the pressure of the years, the negative energies built up inside of me. We were then told to scream, to release it all, let it all hang out and to release the tension. And again. And again. Until I felt limp. I felt like for the first time in a long time, I was beginning to relax, making a space inside of me for something new, something positive, something light. The temazcal was getting hotter and hotter, I was sweating as though someone had poured a bucket of water over me, yet I felt light and free and in touch with the universe. As we exited the space into the fresh night air, I looked up to the stars and smiled.

Step Two- The Shamana

The next evening we found ourselves in Catemaco, Veracruz, enjoying a welcome cocktail and snacks. We were informed that our hosts had brought in some local shamans to do private cleansings. A few of us made our way to the shore of the lake where we waited our turns to speak with the wise people. It turned out that the shamans did not speak English and most of the guests did not speak Spanish, so I stepped forward to translate. These were "basic cleansings" mostly, the usual (this was not my first rodeo as they say). Ask the gods to protect, clean out negative energies, invite positive energies, tada, five or ten minutes max. When my turn rolled around, I stepped before Rosalia, she began the basics and stopped. Stopped cold. And looked into my eyes for what seemed like forever. She then reached her hand out to touch my heart and said "You are blocked here". She moved her hand to my stomach and said "And you are carrying sadness here". And she informed me that she could not continue with the regular cleansing until we had dealt with some issues.

Rosalia and I

She then proceeded to tell me about my past and my present situations...in spooky detail. I began to cry. She KNEW things. Specific things. My relationships, experiences, and my character traits, good and bad. She knew I have a bad back and that it has troubled me for 20 years. She knew that I was recovering from a bad relationship of seven years. She knew I had a son. She knew I had a new love. She KNEW. She offered me guidance, hope, insight, tools for the future. She released me and opened me up and began to fill the spaces I had created in the temazcal with light. I walked away feeling dizzy, overwhelmed and realized I had been speaking with her for more than 45 minutes. I looked in the sky to see the moon over the lake, red as blood, I kid you not. (The photos came out blurry, but the blood red moon was definitely not a figment of my imagination). A powerful and magical experience.

Lousy photo of an awesome red moon

Step Three- Dancing with the Goddess in the Clearing

The next morning we set out across the lake as the sun was rising over the mountains, destined for the nature reserve of Nanciyaga. It is known as a place where the white witches gather, full of powerful positive forces. The scenery was spectacular, magical in its own right, watching the ball of fire burst over the peaks left me speechless. We enjoyed a light breakfast, had a tour of the forest, a natural mud mask and made our way to a clearing in the trees. And then there was light. We danced. We sang. We chanted to the goddess of nature, to earth, to the cardinal points. We were cleansed by shamans as a woman sang and played the harp. And I cried. And cried. I couldn't stop myself, it was mildly embarrassing really, but it didn't matter, these were happy tears. I was being filled. I had rid myself of the negativity and the stress and the fear and the pressure and I was finally allowing myself to embrace.....ME. The positive me, the loving me, the talented and intelligent and beautiful me. Filled with light and love and joy. ME. And inner peace. The cheesy "cursi" word, but there it was. And I didn't even know I was looking for it.

So this tale is long and it's not even complete, to share it with you fully we would need to share a couple of hammocks, a cooler full of beer and a night-long chat. The story continues of course, I must take what I learned and apply it to my daily life, remember these moments when I begin to fall and share it with those who could use a lift. It's a personal tale and I thank you for listening, er, reading, I hope that it may offer inspiration or at the very least a few moments of entertainment. Cheesy or not, it's a gift that I now accept and hope to pass on. Namaste my friends, namaste.

More Nanciyaga photos here

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Market 23 Cancun

Fresh meat

"Cheaper than Walmart!" "One dollar, one dollar!" "I rip you off less!"

The typical phrases of the vendors in the touristy markets of Cancun like Mercado 28 and Coral Negro, hawking their t-shirts and shot glasses to sunburnt travellers and trying to make a few pesos to feed their families. Unfortunately most tourists think that these are traditional Mexican markets, but in a real market you won't hear those shouts, certainly not in English. 

"El Granero", the place for party and piñata supplies

A "real" market is a place where locals gather to purchase fresh vegetables, cheeses, meats and fish, in addition to various gew gaws, decorations, art and of course piñatas and religious relics.

Everyone needs a religious dolly

The local market in Cancun is called "Mercado 23", a lively and colourful place where you'll find few if any tourists. The twisty-turny paths may at first seem random, but after a couple of visits you'll discover the butcher path, vegetable row and where to find the shamans, dry goods, jewelers and the best stores to buy a huge yellow lace and satin dress for your quincenara.

¨Chicharon¨, deep fried pig skin

The aromas of fish and incense mingle with the smell of flowers and deep fried pig skin. Looking to beat up Justin Bieber with a stick, just head to "El Granero" where they will design and make a piñata in just about any form. Need an ¨amarre¨ (love spell), pay a visit to the "healers" to pick up everything you need to make that special someone fall head over heels, even against their will.

Candles for all manners of spells

The best time to visit is in the morning, of course, while everything is fresh. Weekends are busy times, families out together to do their weekly shopping. Anyone visiting Cancun in the days before "Day of the Dead" will be treated to incredible displays of "Zempoalxochitl" (marigolds), sugar skulls, "papel picado", calaveras and "Catrinas", candles and a plethora of statues of saints and religious icons. It's a great place to find a souvenir completely unique and authentic to take back home for Aunt Sally instead of a "Made in China" Cancun ashtray. 

¨Day of the Dead¨ art

The market is safe to visit, though you may want to bring a Spanish speaking friend with you. It's located around the intersections of Tulum and Chichen Itza (the streets, not the archaelogical sites!) in downtown Cancun. Next time you visit Cancun, skip the Walmart and the tourist plazas and have yourself a real market experience in Mercado 23!

More photos of Mercado 23 here....

Cancun Airlines

Monday, October 1, 2012

Cenote Jardin del Eden in the Riviera Maya

"Mommy, PLEEEEASE let me jump from the tree, PLEASE!"

Max looking on enviously at the girl in the tree

Uhhh, no. I rarely stop Max from doing something adventurous, but as the cliff was over 4 meters high and the tree added at least another 2, I felt it was my motherly duty to say "no" to a 6 meter leap into a cenote. I love that he is daring (like his mom), but I suppose I have to draw the line somewhere (don't I?).

To his credit, he accepted the "no" with only a minor grumble and proceeded to jump from the cliff. Over and over and over again. People were lined up on the top to take their turn, many hesitating for a long time, some deciding they did not have the courage. Max embarrassed a few "chickens" into making the jump, their friends mocking them saying "The little kid has done it a hundred times, just do it once!"

Playing with the new camera, the "Half in, Half Out" shot

Gorgeous fishies (though they tend to fight!)

I made my leap, then donned my mask and snorkel and proceeded to take a few vueltas around the cenote. Jardin del Eden is one of the prettiest cenotes I've seen, an open cenote with gorgeous underwater rock formations that make it seem like you are looking at the surface of the moon. The fish life is abundant here, not just the little toe nippers and catfish I've seen at other cenotes, but some multi-coloured beauties with big back fins that fan out when they fight with each other, neon yellow plant eaters, tiger-striped bottom dwellers and a plethora of others. We witnessed a cave diving lesson in the open part of cenote, the guide-lines laid out on the bottom teaching the student how to navigate. There are caves leading off from this cenote, I've seen divers appear out of nowhere from openings you cannot see from the surface. The area around the cenote is green and lush, clean and well kept with a couple of palapas set up with tables and chairs, a few hammocks strung around and BIG iguanas who are not shy about approaching humans who are eating and begging for bread.

Max the dolphin

Torpedo Mike

We spent the whole day jumping, snorkeling, swimming, diving deep, reading under the palapa and experimenting with the new camera. I'm learning what works and what doesn't with the new toy (Nikon Coolpix AW100), overall I am really happy with it, just have to nail down my own techniques. Don't move too fast while shooting video, get as close to your subject as possible underwater (sediment interferes big time) and just shoot shoot shoot, something good will eventually pop out. Max and Mike are super models (fierce!) underwater, you would almost think they have gills. Actually, I'm pretty sure Max is growing some, he's happier in the water than out. Just like his Ma.

(Cenote Jardin del Eden is located exactly 100 kms south of Cancun, just a little north of Playa Xpu Ha. The entrance fee is 50 pesos adults, 35 pesos children, open from 7 am to 5 pm, closed on Saturdays. No alcohol allowed, bring your own food and beverages, there are no concessions here. Get there early, once the crowds arrive, the sediment gets stirred up a bit. Please do your part in keeping the cenote and area clean, don't litter, don't damage the plants or interfere with the wildlife! Do NOT wear sunblock or bug repellant, it's really not necessary and can really harm the environment.)

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