The Riviera Maya on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is best known for its beach resorts. Most notably Cancun. But there is so much more to this area than just the white sandy beaches, numerous bars, and crystal blue waters. Enough to bring us back over and over again. But leave the tourist road and you will discover a side to the area that is all the more intriguing. We were invited on just such a tour by our guide, Volker, who has been living in the area for 20 years.
The German immigrant tends to view the world from a different angle. You can see things from the surface, or dig a little deeper, immerse yourself in the culture, and find something all together different and authentic. This is exactly how he lives his life, and how he came to know the Mayan Riviera on a more intimate level. He wandered around towns or Pueblas that tourists don’t visit, met the locals and not only made friends with the people he met but also took an orphanage under his wing. He also lived for brief periods of time in Mayan jungle camps, learning the language and how they survive off of the land even today. So given the opportunity to visit Mexico with such a guide is one that we felt very fortunate to have.
We started by visiting a primitive working jungle camp only about 30 minutes away from the high-rise hotels of Cancun. When first entering the camp you see on the surface what is the week day bachelor existence of the men who work here. The facilities are rustic at the very least.
The men who live here, called “chicleros,” harvest sap from Chico Zapote Trees. They score the tree with a machete and collect the sap, later to be boiled down and made into gum. The Mayans have been using gum as a way to clean their teeth for centuries. This has become an important income source for the workers, who have been forced to travel further and further into the jungle in order to locate trees that they can tap.
Despite the primitive conditions, our guide points out these men really love it here and have built everything they need to live. There are palapa structures for living and sleeping, cooking facilities, and a makeshift shower. Volker spent several days at a time over the period of years with the Mayans who work here during the week and return home to their families on the weekends. He learned (or from his account has 50% learned) the Mayan language. By doing so he learned that these highly intelligent people live very closely to the land as they always have, making some of the luxuries and “advances” of modern society unnecessary.
For example, Volker recanted a story about trekking through the jungle and leaning against a tree whose sap burned his skin. He went to a medical clinic and applied ointment to the burns for weeks. When visiting with his Mayan friends he unfortunately came in contact with the same tree. The Mayans told him that for each ailment inflicted by nature, a remedy is also close by. They used a leaf from a tree several yards away that took away the stinging burn in 30 minutes.
Volker also pointed out that there are plenty for the Mayans to subsist on and live comfortably, if you only know where to look.
Out guide’s respect for the Mayans was very evident. He goes as far as to credit their teaching to saving his life. He told us about consulting a Mayan medic after being diagnosed with cancer when traditional medicine failed to cure him. Following their teachings, including learning what foods to eat, how to specifically prepare them, and adjust his temperament, he has been cancer free for years. He readily discussed his experiences and they were fascinating and eye-opening. But that was just the beginning….
Contact Volker’s Private Tours in order to book this tour, view his other tours, or to design your own private tour of the Riviera Maya
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We were hosted by Volker’s Private Tours, but our opinions, as always, are our own.