Travel Photographer / Writer
chasing the essence
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Maya Calendar Mystery
Apocalypse or beginning of a new era? The Mayan calendar controversy of December 21, 2012 fuelled scientific study, speculation and fear around the world. But having visited the Mayan region of México recently, I witnessed no end-of-world predictions.
Quite the opposite: the designated tourist region of ‘Riviera Maya’ on the south Caribbean coast of the Yucatán Peninsula is experiencing a surge of growth. Development proceeds apace with an impressive example of sustainable ecotourism and luxury amid lush rainforests, subterranean caves and archaeological ruins.
Pursuing a path of eco-consciousness seems appropriate considering the possibility that Mayan civilization may have died out from the effects of deforestation and subsequent climate change (drought) due partly to overpopulation. Increased social tensions and warfare were also thought to have been factors. The world could take note.
The arrival of Spanish conquistadores and their diseases in the 16th century was merely the coup de grâce for any power held by the remaining 10% of the population. The jungle reclaimed Mayan cities, with centuries of knowledge in architecture, astronomy and philosophy lost to the world until being uncovered in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Elements of Indiana Jones adventures permeate the region — from luminous limestone caverns and isolated jungle pyramids to bizarre human rituals — based on fact, fiction and legends from this previously forgotten part of the world.
Mayan culture and traditions have survived in the villages, with local tours such as those offered by Tres Reyes pueblo www.alltournative.com which include a walk through a sink hole, blessing by a shaman and limited rappelling — a strange combination, to be sure.
Large modern family oriented theme parks such as Xcaret www.xcaret.com offer a wide-ranging view of the country’s biodiversity and cultural history, especially with the not-to-be-missed evening show, México Espectacular. Nature sanctuaries like Xcaret, Xel-Há, Xplor (3 outdoor adventure parks) and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve www.siankaantours.org plunge visitors (literally, at water parks) into a world of tropical exotica.
But what about that calendar? December 21, 2012 marked the end of the 5,125-year Maya Long Count Calendar era and the beginning of the next. The Maya regard this as a favourable change rather than a catastrophic end to the world. Another mystery explained.
Riviera Maya is experiencing a tourism boom, and with the opening of an archaeological Mayan Museum in nearby Cancun, the region is looking back only to move forward with no end in sight. As for me, I’m still buying green bananas.
Riviera Maya www.rivieramaya.com
Hotel Hacienda Tres Rios www.haciendatresrios.com
Hotel Grand Velas Riviera Maya http://rivieramaya.grandvelas.com/
* Riviera Maya wins Travel Weekly Readers Choice Award for 2014 Best
Tourism Destination in Mexico
* Grand Velas Resorts' Chef Xavier Pérez Stone takes home top prize
in 2014 Iron Chef International competition held in Toronto
* Grand Velas receives 2015 AAA 5 Diamond Award