Recreating a Mayan Pilgrimage:
The Sacred Mayan Journey or Travesia Sagrada Maya in Spanish, is an event that takes place every year in May in the Riviera Maya near Cancun. This event is the recreation of an ancient Mayan custom in which pilgrims would row across the Cozumel channel from the mainland to visit the shrine of the goddess IxChel on Cozumel island to pay tribute, and then return to the mainland. It is about a 50 mile journey (25 miles each way). The event is organized mainly by Xcaret Park, though many other organizations and businesses are also involved.
Dates of the Sacred Mayan Journey:
This event has taken place every year since 2007 and is always held in mid-May. Activities take place over three days. In 2014, it will be held from May 22 to 24.
I attended the Sacred Mayan Journey in 2013. In recognition of the fact that it was the first time the event was held in the new era of the Mayan calendar, the theme was "The Great Beginning," and the trajectory the rowers took was changed a bit from previous years. The regular route has the rowers departing from Xcaret to Cozumel and ending their journey in Playa del Carmen, whereas on this year they departed from Xel-Há and ended their journey in Xcaret. In the coming years the rowers will decide which route they will take, taking into account the traditional routes of the ancient Maya.
On the afternoon of the first day there is an interactive Mayan market, or "Kii'Wik" held at Xcaret, formerly the Mayan port town of Polé, and the inauguration, which is a ceremony and show that explains the story of the pilgrimages. At dawn on the following day the rowers receive a blessing at XelHa park and then depart on their journey, arriving at Cozumel in the late afternoon. On the final day of the event they make the return journey to the mainland.
Participants in the Sacred Mayan Journey:
Over 300 rowers make the journey to Cozumel and back in about 30 dugout canoes. The rowers who participate in the Sacred Mayan Journey are volunteers. Many of them are from the community, but there are also participants from other areas of Mexico and around the world who take part in the event. Participants must be in excellent physical condition and undergo intense training in the months leading up to the event in order to have the condition necessary to make the journey.
Kii'Wik Market and Inauguration:
The prelude to the Sacred Mayan Journey is held at Xcaret Park. Called Kii'Wik, the Maya word for market, this is a reenactment of a Mayan marketplace from the late Post Classic period. Using cacao beans as currency, visitors may purchase handicrafts or food items, get their face painted, or hold a snake, while being immersed in the ancient Maya world. See photos of the Kii'Wik Interactive Market. Following the interactive market, the inauguration ceremony is held on the beach at Xcaret. Temporary bleachers and seating are set up for the occasion and the audience is treated to a program of traditional music, colorful purification rituals and dances that depict the history and meaning of the pilgrimage to Ixchel's shrine in Cozumel.
Journey to Cozumel:
At dawn on the following day crowds gather to watch as the rowers receive a blessing from shamans, known as Bataoobs, from Polé (Xcaret) and Xamanhá (Playa del Carmen) and bid farewell to the rowers as they depart for Cuzamil (Cozumel) to worship the goddess Ixchel. Depending on the currents and weather conditions it will take them from 5 to 8 hours. Upon their arrival in Cozumel, islanders receive the weary rowers and offer them food and drink.
Consulting the Oracle:
On the evening of the rowers' arrival in Cuzamil, they will go to the Sanctuary of the goddess Ixchel at Chankanaab Park. There they will honor and present offerings to Ixchel and then ask the goddess for her blessings. They will receive a message from Ixchel's Oracle which they will take back with them the next day to share with everyone on the mainland. The people of Cozumel celebrate the rowers with music and dancing.
Return to the Mainland:
On the following morning the rowers make the return journey to the mainland. They will again depart at dawn, and arrive in Xcaret Park at mid-day. They are greeted enthusiastically with dancing and music and the rowers share the message from Ixchel.
About IxChel and the Sacred Mayan Journey:
IxChel is the Mayan goddess of fertility and medicine. She is the companion of the supreme god, Itzamna. She is depicted alternatively as a young woman or as an old crone. She is associated with the moon, weaving and painting. Her sanctuary in Cozumel was an important place of pilgrimage for the Maya of the Post Classic period.
The Sacred Mayan Journey combines athleticism, cultural traditions and tourism in one amazing yearly event that promotes knowledge and pride in local traditions. The event recalls the height of the Mayan civilization and its great cultural legacy. If you wish to attend any of the events, be sure to purchase tickets in advance because they do sell out.
More information about the Sacred Mayan Journey:
For more information about the Travesia Sagrada Maya, for current dates and program, consult the website: www.travesiasagradamaya.com.mx.
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