Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ek Balam Archaeological Site- It's NOT A RUIN!

I've become really adverse to the term "ruins". I don't use it, I don't like it, it's just so...ugly. When I visit an archaeological site I see beauty, incredible architecture that has survived for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years, not the destruction that the word "ruin" implies. The Kukulkán Pyramid at Chichén Itzá is hardly a pile of rubble, nor are the stunning structures of Uxmal, Cobá, Tulum and so many others that rise from the Yucatan jungle in testament to their hearty Maya construction and ingenuity.

The site of Ek Balam is one of the best examples of my "Not a Ruin!!" obsession. The stunningly well-preserved buildings look more like Hollywood movie sets than post-Apocalyptic ruins. (Let's not get into the impending "apocalypse" debate of Dec. 21, m'kay?) I visited Ek Balam for the first time recently and while the phrase may be overused in travel writing, I must say it was "breathtaking". Literally. Seriously, I was left feeling winded when I first viewed the immaculate facade of the Acropolis. It may have been the thousands (yep, I'm sure it was thousands) of stairs we climbed to reach the platform, but more likely it was the art itself that sucked the air from my lungs when I first saw it. I kept repeating one phrase over and over as I gazed upon the detailed statues, carvings and scenes carved into the glowing white rock...."No manches. No manches. OMG, no manches,*" It appeared to have been made yesterday by imagineers of Maya Disney, it was simply THAT good that I couldn't believe it was 2000 years old.

Ek Balam is a very "young" city in one regard, investigations into the site only began in 1997 (unlike other sites in the Yucatán Peninsula that were plundered researched in the 1800's). There is still much to explore and learn from the site and most of the research is still not published or publicly available. It is essential to hire a guide for this experience, the locals have worked closely with the archaeologists and have information that you won't find anywhere else. (I personally believe that seeing an archaeological site without a guide is like watching a movie with the sound muted, pretty pictures, but the story is lacking). The site is not well-visited, you will not find hordes of camera-toting, gawking tourists in socks-with-sandals style or vendors hawking their goods made in China. It is a peaceful place, the ancient energy permeating the earth and air, hippies sitting in lotus position dot the grounds as they try to connect with the vibe, man. And even the not-so-hippy folks will feel it.

I won't tell you how to get there, I'm going to keep it my little secret. (Well ok, Google if you must, the info is out there.) Visit soon, before the bus tours find it. Don't rush, take your time. Spend the weekend in the pueblito of Ek Balam at the charming Genesis Retreat. And most importantly, please take the word "ruin" out of your vocabulary when discussing the ancient Maya cities (unless doomsday** really is upon us and the world is turned to rubble, then use it to your zombie heart's content!)

* "No manches" is Mexican slang for "No way! I can't believe it! You're kidding!"
**note, I do not believe the world is ending on Dec. 21

For more photos, please see my Ek Balam Pinterest board

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Genesis Eco-Retreat, Ek Balam, Yucatan

Quirquiriqui, quiquiriqui, quiquiriqui!

For those of you are Spanish/bird-speak impaired, that is the sound a rooster makes in Mexico. The small pueblo of Ek Balam, Yucatan echoes with the alerts of the roosters as I lie in bed at the Genesis Retreat, the only sound apart from the barking dogs in the early morning hours. Their compelling calls urge me to get out of bed, though we still cannot see the light of the sun. I continue my repose and despite the urgency of the roosters and the dogs cries, I find myself enjoying a rather peaceful moment. 

It is difficult not to be at peace at the Genesis Retreat. Tucked away in the small village of Ek Balam, just off the grounds of the archaeological site of the same name, it is a refuge for people looking for a escape from the hustle bustle of big city life. Backpackers, writers, artists and history lovers gather to soak in the atmosphere and take a moment to breathe and reinvigorate, create and relax. The charming cabañas and rooms all have their own character, tucked away in the lush gardens that seem to overtake the inn. A litter of pups keep us entertained during our stay, one sweet little blind puppy almost convinced us to take her home. The house cat made her way into my bed (with some encouragement from me of course) and we had ourselves a little snuggle while listening to the roosters.

I had been itching to see the archaeological site of Ek Balam for quite some time and when I stumbled upon the website for Genesis it seemed an ideal place for us to make our home-base during our weekend trip. I had first considered staying in nearby Valladolid, but I was keen to see something new. It was settled when I discovered that Lee, the owner of the Genesis, was from my own hometown in Canada and was a journalist who had decided to leave it all behind and make the move to Mexico (sounds familiar). She invited us to join her to discover what life is like in a very small town.

We had a very busy weekend, visiting Valladolid, the art collection at Casa de los Venados, the cacao museum, the agave distillery and of course the ruins. And each time we returned to Genesis, our pace slowed down and we simply chilled. The food was a treat, particularly as Lee has her own organic ranch to supply the retreat with fresh eggs, chaya and fruit. One of the highlights of the weekend was a tour of the ranch, seeing the citrus orchard, meeting chickens and ducks, cows and donkeys (Frida and Diego, love their names) and pigs and being truly unplugged from the world. In the totally "off the grid" farm we enjoyed the BEST pancakes I have ever had in my life while learning about organic farming and meeting the Belgian tourists who were enjoying a tour around Yucatan. I had a good "chin wag" (Canadian-ism for conversation) with the lovely Lee, discussing the joys/pains of being an ex-pat, the differences between small town Yucatan/big city Cancun and the ups and downs of tourism in Mexico.

Overall, I simply loved the Genesis, the ranch, the pueblo, the whole weekend. I was somewhat envious of Lee and her small-town life, though I know that she has a tough row to hoe, running a business and a huge ranch is NOT an easy endeavour, but she manages it with aplomb, a smile and charm. I will be returning for another visit, while I am usually on the hunt for something new, there are just some places that call you back. The Genesis Retreat is one of those places.

For more photos, check out my Genesis Retreat Pinterest board!

--Disclosure, my stay at the Genesis was provided free of charge as a travel writer, all opinions are my own.

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