For thousands of years, the ancient Mayans went on a sacred pilgrimage to worship and pay respect to Ixchel. Also known as Ixchebelyax, she was the goddess of fertility, water, health, and vegetation. Fertility of the lands was one of the most sacred things for the Mayan civilization, as they lived off their lands both for trading and for survival. In the Travesia Sagrada Maya, an annual ritual where brave oarsmen and women crossed the ocean, they brought offerings to Ixchel in exchange for granting special favors for their lands and families.
The chosen people to embark on the journey were priests and elderly women. Children, young women, and other priests or men did not take part. Painted in black (for fasting), white, yellow, blue (for sacrifice), and red (for war), they got ready early morning as the sun barely rose. Their journey started in Polé main shipping port (which is what we know today as Xcaret).
The word Polé derived from the Mayan word for merchandise (p’ol). The port was were the trade networking happened, making it one of the most important places for the Yucatan Mayan civilization. It was also used as a harbor to conquer inland and a starting point for the sea routes they developed.
From Polé, they would navigate for hours until reaching Kozumil (known today as the island of Cozumel). The journey itself was a transition for the oarsmen and eldery women involved. The ocean, just like the cenotes, was an entryway to Xibalba, or the underworld, which would represent a “transition to the beyond” for those sailing. The Caribbean Ocean’s importance went beyond that, as it was the greatest source of transportation and food for the ancient civilization.
The rituals had a specific structure which was not to be broken. Food deprivation, insomnia and sexual abstinence (in other words, fasting) were the sacrifices made in order to purify the soul. The priest or oracle at the time would determine the date and time the ritual would take place. He would also decide which members (other priests) would participate in this spiritual celebration.
The ceremony was celebrated with steam baths, alcoholic beverages (Balché and Chicha), prayers, perfuming with incense, devotion, music, singing, dancing, special food (corn, turkey, dog meat and cacao, mostly), and the sacrifice of a living being (whether it be animal or human), amongst other things. The sacrifice was of upmost importance, because this would link men with the divine gods, making the journey sacred.
The canoes in which they rowed were filled with offerings for Ixchel. Offerings ranged from foods, plants, animals and humans. The importance of Ixchel was grand, as without fertility existed no agriculture, and agriculture was the base of a civilization that was wealthy and valuable.
For years after the Mayans slowly disappeared, their traditions went uncelebrated. However, nine years ago, Xcaret decided to relive the sacred Mayan journeys experience and the spirituality that was once so sacred to their ancestors. Aiming to create a link between the cultural identity and today’s inhabitants of the Yucatan Peninsula, they have reestablished the ancient practice of the Travesia Sagrada Maya or Sacred Mayan Journey.
Hundreds of brave oarsmen, from children to elderly, locals and foreigners, train for six long months, physically and mentally, in order to row for hours until reaching Cozumel. They will depart on Friday 22nd of May, at 6am, as the first rays of sun rise over the horizon and will arrive in Cozumel around 1 or 2pm. A sacred ceremony celebrating the Lady of the Moon (also Ixchel), will take place that night in Cozumel.
Their early departure from Cozumel back to Xcaret will take place on Saturday 23rd of May, and Xcaret will be expecting their return at 1pm with a celebratory and spiritual ceremony to commemorate the oarsmen, the goddess Ixchel, and the ancient civilization that taught us this practice.
You can be a part of the celebration, as well, by being present at the farewell and welcoming (plus, you get to enjoy the park!). You can read all about the program and how to be a part of it here.
And to bid farewell and a safe journey to the participants who are devoting their strength, emotion, and spirit to what was once the most sacred journey of the Mayans, here is a poem written by C. Hawthorne Flaherty called “Diary of an Oarsman” (source).
fire in our muscles,
salt in our eyes,
wind at our bow,
and sun on our skin.
We burn and burn, until we have nothing more to burn.
We row and row until we can’t row any longer – then we row on.
We row and row beyond the vigor of our bodies until we row only with our hearts.
We row and row beyond the courage of our hearts until we row only with our souls.
We row and row beyond the spirit of our souls – beyond ourselves – until we row only with each other.
Each and every stroke is one moment of choice – one choice after the other – we transcend the limits of what was impossible just one stroke before.
You are not the Rutter-man for 13 hours of the journey.
You are not the Rutter-man for 156 hours of training.
You are the Rutter-man in moments.
You are the Rutter-man in the moments when you have lost sight of land and still you choose a course.
You are the Rutter-man when, despite absolute exhaustion, you hold the line against the current.
You are the Rutter-man when you have nothing left, but you still give. When you find laughter in tears, find joy in suffering, the will to persevere when others have lost heart.
You aren’t the Rutter-man when you think you can’t do it; you are the Rutter-man when you do.”
Top Mexico Real Estate is a local American-owned real estate company, leader in its field in the Riviera Maya. If you are looking to retire or find a second home in paradise, feel free to contact one of our Top Buyer’s Representatives who will gladly help you, just like they have helped hundreds before, to find your very own slice of paradise.
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