Sacred Mayan Journey, a self journey…

The urge to know more about the place were I live, brought me to path to investigate about the  7th Sacred Mayan Journey that is celebrated this year from May 23th to May 25th 2013.

I started asking the locals about it, but they only told me that it was a recreation of something our ancestors did to worship Ixchél goddess of the moon, from Xcaret to Cozumel Island.

This information was not clear at all for me but guided to know who could be the perfect guide to learn more about it. My searching started looking for an oarsman who is participating this May 23th.

I found Carlos, he is one of the oarsman this year, we met a coffee and I shocked with all the information he had about this topic. He began explaining how this started, 1000 years ago, yearly pilgrimage was made, exchanging products at a Kii’ wiik wich means marketplace, that after will be offer to the goddess.

My question: Why Ixchel Goddes? Carlos explain that she ruled over fertility, health, water and vegetation, represented by the Moon. Who takes care of the Caribbean Ocean, source of food, transportation and the Cenotes which represents the entrance of Xilbaba (The Underworld).

"300 oarsmen this year"

“300 oarsmen this year”300 Oarsmen in 30 canoes are participating this year, departing from Xel-há and arriving at Chankanaab in Cozumel, and then finishing their journey in Xcaret. This have not been easy for the participants who have been training since 6 months ago.

They start at dusk with a ceremony to bless, they are welcome at Cozumel and at night the oarsmen visit Ixchel Sanctuary to present their offerings also to hear her message: “Should live in peace and harmony, care for their life and of the living beings around them”.

The next day they will meet at shore, to cross toward Xcaret, before the Ruler of the Land of Cozumel, will bless them and remind them Ixchel message:  Inside us we carry strength, hope, life and seeds of corn that we must share with those close to us.

The Chief of land of Cozuel Island, reminds the oarsmen the message of Ixchel Goddess

The Chief of land of Cozuel Island, reminds the oarsmen the message of Ixchel Goddess

The oarsmen arrive to Xcaret, and will be welcome with the wise words of Batab ( the chief) telling them that the corn was taken to the 4 corners of the world in 4 different colors, so the sacred nourishment will never been lacking.

 painting sacredI was completely amazed with this story, making me think hours later after I say goodbye to Carlos, that maybe we are not physically making the journey to Cozumel, but everyone is making a full journey inside of our self’s, this is a new era, a new opportunity to start over, create a new world, and a different story, as better beings, bearers of the seed of a new life. So plant this seed in others, so in a couple of years our descendants can pick up the crops.

 

Why get married at the Riviera Maya?

While I was waking down the shore, I was surprised by a lovely wedding right on the beach. A couple meters later I found another one, so I started thinking about how many couples were getting married by day, week, month here at Playa del Carmen.

If this was a trend to get married on the beach or if it was cheaper?

Today, 15 percent of couples tie the knot at — actually on — a tropical location, as opposed to the more traditional, walk-down-the-aisle-inside-the-church wedding. There are wonderful, memorable benefits to getting married on a beautiful beach strand, and here on Playa del Carmen, we have the most beautiful beach around. So if your big day is on the horizon and being a bride on the beach sounds good to you, here are some things to consider as you’re kicking off your shoes.

“The turquoise sea, the perfect background”

Weddings on the beach tend to be a whole lot (40 percent!) less expensive than those held elsewhere. Very little money needs to be spent on decorations; the sea, the sand and the setting sun are your backdrop. You don’t have to buy shoes — well, maybe flip-flops — and you can plan to have a weddingmoon — a combination wedding and honeymoon, which will save you money on traveling.

"At the end of the ceremony, all the guest throw flower petals to the bride and groomPlaya del Carmen is located over sacred Mayan land so is pretty common that couples are choosing to have a more spiritual and interactive Mayan ceremony, you might think that a Mayan Wedding will be involved with face painted man wearing feathers, jumping and dancing around among drums.

But is a ceremony right in front of the sea in balance with Nature, with the 4 basic elements (Fire, Earth, Water and Air) and the Universe. The Shaman will bless your union setting an altar for the Mayan gods with flowers, fruits, seeds and fire.

But saving some dough is secondary when compared to the memories, the photographs, the fun, the adventure and the pure romance of saying your vows with the echo of the surf in the background. Interested? I’m Just need to find the perfect prince charming!

Mexican Breakfast in Playa del Carmen… Would You Join Me?

Audrey is my sister’s best friend. They met years ago at a summer camp in L.A. She has never been in Mexico before she arrived last week to Playa del Carmen for her vacation. She called me to ask for some recommendations for the best beaches and activities at Playa del Carmen but mostly, she wanted to talk about Mexican food. Since this was her first time in Mexico, and she had no clue about our gastronomy, I gave her a Playa del Carmen tour and showed her my favorite places for breakfast.

Normally, her breakfast is cereal with milk or juice, and a toast with peanut butter and jelly, and on weekends she normally eats scrambled eggs with bacon and pancakes. If that’s your normal breakfast as well, and you want to try something different, you have to visit Playa del Carmen and join us on the Mexican food tour!

If I’m thinking about a natural setting among vegetation and trees plus Mexican natural food, my first thought is La Cueva del Chango (The Monkey’s Cave), located on 5th Avenue and 38th Street a few blocks from Condo Hotels. Don’t forget to bring your swimming suit, because Shangri-La beach is just a few steps away from this restaurant.

 

La Cueva del Chango Playa del Carmen

La Cueva del Chango

La Cueva del Chango is a very special place, because almost everything is homemade, even tortillas are “hechas en casa.” The typical Mexican breakfast is chilaquiles (tortilla with tomato sauce, chicken or egg, served with cream, onion and fresh coriander). We ordered chilaquiles with chicken and achiote (seasoning mixture from Yucatán) sauce served with onion and habanero chilli. We asked for a natural kiwi juice, and were given several options of fresh seasonal fruit juice, such as orange, watermelon, grapefruit, papaya, pineapple, melon, banana, chaya, lemon, and carrot.

 

I have to admit, the chilaquiles breakfast was very Mexican, but also quite spicy, so not for everyone. If you’re looking for something less spicy, you have to try the molletes, a homemade wheat bread with refried beans and cheese gratin with pico de gallo salsa on top (chopped tomatoes, onion and jalapeno chilli) – this sauce is not so spicy, because the chilli flavor is very subtle when mixed in the sauce.

Beautiful Playa del Carmen

After all that food we still wanted a dessert, and the waiter offered us a natural vanilla flan (a baked dish consisting of an open-top pastry with a sweet filling), served with an orange sauce. If you are a dessert lover, please don’t miss this flan!

On another note, bring cash to La Cueva del Chango, because they do not accept credit cards.

 

After this delicious breakfast Audrey and I went to Shangri-La beach, a really beautiful and peaceful white sand paradise with crystal turquoise water. We lay down in the shade of a palm tree, relaxed and listened to the ocean. Audrey was amazed with the view and I reminded her that the Mexican Caribbean looks like that that everyday… She couldn’t wait to plunge into the magnificent ocean.

Beaches in Playa del Carmen

Shangri-La Beach

 

After the day of swimming and sun, I took Audrey to my favorite coffee shop – Ah Cacao that also sells premium quality real chocolate from the Mayan lands of Mexico. It’s located on 5th Avenue and 30th Street (the other location is on Constituyentes Avenue and 5Th Avenue). They have a wide variety of hot and cold drinks, cookies, cakes and homemade bread – the perfect combination for your drinks.

 

Ah Cacao in Playa del Carmen

Ah Cacao

I ordered an Iced Coffee Americano, and Audrey took a Chocolate Frappe with real homemade chocolate – you must try this one if you are a chocolate lover!..

Delicious Frappe in Playa del Carmen

Delicious Frappe

These are two of my favorite places in Playa del Carmen for authentic Mexican breakfast and coffee– so enjoy the morning at the beach and Bon Appétit!

Playa del Carmen Tour: At the Mouth of the Well of Itza

Last Saturday, I woke up at 6:00 AM, and quickly got ready for my next adventure – it’s not every day that we have an opportunity to visit the 7th Wonder of the World! I put on my sneakers, shorts, a T-shirt, and packed my sunscreen and umbrella. Don’t forget to rest before you go there, because you will walk a lot!

The pick-up of this tour was at 7 AM from Condo Hotels Playa del Carmen. They gave us a small breakfast at the bus that includes juice, coffee, bread, fruit and a sandwich. If you’re traveling with kids though or if you want to take a lot of pictures, I recommend not taking a tour, but renting a car, and once at the ruins, hire a guide to take you through this amazing ancient Mayan city.

Chichen Itza Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza Aerial View

You might be thinking what is the meaning of my story’s title, so I’m going to explain it through my experience at Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza means “at the mouth of the well of Itza.” According to Wikipedia, this derives from chi’, meaning “mouth” or “edge”, and ch’en or ch’e'en, meaning “well.” Itzá is the name of an ethnic-lineage group that gained political and economic dominance of the northern peninsula. One possible translation for Itza is “enchanter (or enchantment) of the water”, from its “sorcerer”, and ha, “water”.

Valladolid Downtown

It’s an ancient Mayan city, located on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, between Valladolid and Merida, two hours from Playa del Carmen. It has been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, mostly because of its spectacular and symbolic Kukulcan or El Castillo, the most impressive pyramid. The Maya name “Chichen Itza” means “At the mouth of the well of the Itza.”

The road to the ruins was very comfortable, and our bus made one little stop at small colonial village, Valladolid, where you can buy Mexican art craft and traditional jewelry.

The next stop was Chichen Itza! I prepared my bottle water and umbrella, because the sun was very bright and it was really hot.

Kukulcan's Pyramid Playa del Carmen
In front ok Kukulcan’s Pyramid

The guide explained that the ruins had different sections, Kukulcan pyramid being the most important and well-known. The temple has 365 steps (one for each day of the year.) Each of the four sides has 91 steps, and the top platform makes the 365th.

Mayan historical sources mention that a man who called himself Kukulcan arrived in Chichen Itza from the west (“Kukul” means “feathered” and “kan” means “serpent”) in the period that ended in 987 AD.

Equinox Playa del Carmen
Equinox

Twice a year, during the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, a fantastic phenomenon happens – at around 3:00 PM, the sunlight bathes the pyramid’s main stairway. It causes an optical effect imitating the body of a serpent going down, until it gets to the huge serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway.

One of the other impressive mysteries of this place is how the temple transforms echoes into sounds of nature. If you stand at the base of the staircase and clap your hands, some lucky clappers will hear bird-like sounds, which will be the voice of a quetzal – a sacred bird in Mayan culture.

Great Court Ball Playa del Carmen
Great Court Ball

After this, we continued our journey to the Great Ball Court, measuring 554 feet (168 meters) long and 231 feet (70 meters) wide, and totally open to the blue skies. In Mayan culture, the players tried to hit a 12-pound rubber ball through stone hoops set high on the court walls. As scary as it sounds, the losing captain was being decapitated in the spring renewal ritual.

The last place to visit was the observatory called El Caracol (the snail), because it has an interior staircase that spirals upward like a snail’s shell. One of the theories is that the Mayans used this place to calibrate their astronomical observations.

Mayaland Playa del Carmen Restaurant
Mayaland Restaurant

After this long but very interesting walk I was starving, and the guide took us to the Mayaland restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious buffet that included Mexican food like cochinita pibil (slow roasted pork tacos), accompanied by a small folkloric dance show.

And this was still not the end of the adventure! Our last stop was the Ik Kil cenote, a big open natural water sink hole in the jungle, with a stairway down to the swimming platform. It’s a good idea to rent a lifevest, because the cenote is really deep. We stayed there just for half an hour, but it was so refreshing to submerge ourselves in the cool water after the long day of walking in the sun.

Ik Kil Cenote Playa del Carmen
Ik Kil Cenote

Next time you come to Playa del Carmen, don’t forget to visit this magical ancient place, and judge yourself why it was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!

A Day of Adventure at the Heaven on Earth

Ivette is our new social media assistant and she would like to share a story about her trip to the magical Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, surrounded by jungle and wilderness, where lagoon meets the Caribbean Sea in all its natural glory.

-Blog Managers

Sian Ka’an  Biosphere Reserve

I was at my office and I read a couple of interesting things about Sian Ka’an, so I talked to the Condo Hotels’ concierge and arranged a wildlife tour for me and my friends.

The tour operator picked us up here at the beautiful El Taj hotel in a gray Jeep Wrangler, and our adventure began.

The Biosphere Reserve, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, is at two hours from Playa del Carmen. It’s a long way, so I recommend you take your IPod with your favorite playlist and sing along all the way!

You shouldn’t also forget to bring some purified water to drink and to keep your Jeep’s tank full, because you won’t find any gas stations or convenience stores along the way.

But getting there is an adventure in itself. You can admire how different colors of the sea change from blue to turquoise, and see all the rich variety of tropical plants along the path. The other reason why you won’t get bored is that the road is not paved (remember that is a nature reserve) so you will find a lot of bumps, just be ready for the adventure… and try no to eat too much before your tour!

The road to Sian Ka'an

Sian Ka’an means Beginning of the Sky, and it’s a natural reserve with amazing mangroves and the Coral Reef, the second largest in the world. You can also find great beaches with white sand and more than 300 species of birds!

This tour included a boat ride and snorkeling, so once we got to Punta Allen, we went straight to the boats, and they gave us our snorkeling equipment and took us by boat to the sea.

Boat to the snorkeling spot

Just before we got under the water to snorkel, I saw a beautiful view right in front of my eyes – it was a family of dolphins swimming around the boat! We continued our way to snorkeling, and, believe or not, we saw a manatee, also right in front of our eyes! It was amazing to see these mammals so close and in their natural habitat.

The snorkeling was amazing, too. After all, it’s the second largest coral reef in the world, in its most pristine part. We saw a lot of marine animals – starfishes, barracudas, squid, ocean surgeonfish and other colorful species.

Heaven on earth!!!

After that our tour guide took us to the seashore, and there were no words to describe how beautiful it’s natural beauty…  We were surrounded by nothing else but white sand, palms and turqoise water…  If you are looking for inspiration, you’re definitely going to find it here, it’s like heaven on earth.

 

When we were back on the land, we were starving, so we entered a small local restaurant, and ordered some fresh fish and lobster. We enjoyed an interesting little talk, magnificent sunset, delicious lobster and white wine. That was our day in paradise.

 

 

 

 

 

Delicious food at La Sirena Mar y Barrio

Hello everyone!

This time I went to La Sirena Mar y Barrio, one of the best seafood restaurants in Playa del Carmen. Delicious, believe me, absolutely DELICIOUS food. 

The staff was also very welcoming and accommodating. Soon we were in a perfect and relaxed mood, because ambiance of the quiet street and relaxing restaurant, though right next to the bustling 5th Avenue. So we decided that there could hardly be anything better for a typical Playa lunch or dinner. 

I still dream about the grilled shrimp in tangerine sauce or fresh tuna fillet on the grill with tomato, saffron, white wine and champagne. We were licking our fingers… 

Discover La Sirena with me and Max, the owner and our host. Thank you, Max!

Tip: Located at our Porto Playa property. If you are our guest at Condo Hotels, present your privilege card and receive a discount.

Hi, Ken Schmidt – Condo Hotels Playa del Carmen. I’m here today with Max from La Sirena.

Ken: Hi Max, how are you?

Max: How are you?

Ken: Great. I see you poured me a couple of tequila drinks. What exactly are these?

Max: Yes, this is a favorite drink at La Sirena. It’s our creation. It’s tequila, mango, natural mango, it comes with a little bit of grenadine, and the blue one is curaçao.

Ken: Awesome! Let’s take get a quick drink before we start to make this interesting.

Max: Make it better for today.

Ken: All right Max, now tell me a little bit about La Sirena. And why did you come to Playa del Carmen?

Max: Well, I been living here for two years. I fell in love with Playa del Carmen. I used to live in Cancun, since then I came back here. I invested and we decide to re-open La Sirena.

Ken: Wonderful! So now, what kind of food can you get at La Sirena?

Max: Well, you can find all kinds of sea food, Mediterranean cuisine or Mayan cuisine.

Ken: Perfect, can you bring me some plates and we will take some pictures and some videos.

Max: Exactly.

Ken: All right! So, what is the signature dish – if I want to tell people to come to Playa del Carmen and to go to La Sirena? What should they come to La Sirena for so that when they walk away, they go: WOW, that was fantastic!

Max: The fresh fish.

Ken: Here we go!

Max: It’s fantastic. We receive fresh fish every day. The catch of the day. We don’t have any special for today, we have a sea bass or red snapper. We buy fresh fish every day.

Ken: Oh, that’s awesome!

Max: Yes, it’s great! It’s very good! We can cook it in many ways – we can make it fried or we can cook it in the charcoal or with our recipe of cooking chicken. It’s very good!

Ken: Awesome! Sounds wonderful! and…. is food coming soon?

Ken: OK Max, I see the chef is here, bring us our food, you want to… Oh! OK, a bee! You want to go ahead and describe what he is bringing us?

Max: Yes, of course. Please. This is a sample, so you can see our best dishes.

Ken: Go ahead, Max.

Max: This one is our champion. This one is…. oops!

Ken: Go ahead! 

Max: These ones are fish tacos, pastor style. They are the champions. The tacos have  pineapple, onion and our special sauce.

Ken: Perfect.

Max: This is a fish ceviche, the best selling here – the people’s choice. It’s a fresh tuna tostada (fried tortilla), and it comes with a chipotle mayonnaise (kind of Mexican chile), caramel onion and black sesame seeds. It’s great! And these ones are from Yucatan – the special from the chef. It’s cochinita, which is a homemade (slowly roasted pork). The tortilla is open in the middle and filled up with black beans, cloves…. cooking cochinita takes like… How many hours?

Chef: 5 hours.

Ken: 5 hours, I’m ready to jump in! What’s the chef’s name?

Chef: Ruben Lopez.

Ken: How are you doing Ruben?

Max: He is from Merida.

Ken: He is from Merida. OK, awesome!

Max: From Sisal Puerto in Merida.

Chef: Sisal Puerto, beautiful beach.

Ken: Fantastic. I can’t wait to dig in.

Chef: Please, taste.

Ken: OK, let me start. You said, which one is the best? This one is the best. 

Max: This one.

Ken: OK, this is the best. Here we go! Are you ready? Nothing like me eating on camera.

Max: Please enjoy!

Ken: Mmmmm!.. That is…. FANTASTIC! All right. Now we have to shut off the camera so Claudia can come help me finish these. Thank you so much, Max.

Max: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

Ken: See you very soon. I can’t thank you enough for this great food! 

Max: Welcome anytime!

Ken: OK, so now Max brought out another surprise, I was ready to go ….. some more delicious food so… I’m calling people everywhere. Come help, help, help. Fred, help….. So, go ahead, explain what do you brought us.

Max: OK, this is from the dinner menu. This is our favorite. It’s grilled shrimp in tangerine sauce. This is great!

Ken: Wow!

Max: This one is beautiful. It’s a fresh tuna, a fillet from the grill, the way you liked it cooked, with a sauce from tomato, saffron, white wine and champagne. This is a broccoli puree. It‘s delicious. You have to try it.

Ken: I’m going to try. No questions

Max: And this one is one of our fresh fish fillet in a barrio sauce. Barrio sauce includes capers, olives, and fresh tomato. What else, chef?

Chef: Basil.

Max: And olive oil. This is beautiful, very fresh.

Ken: This looks delicious! Oh my God! OK, one more here.

Max: This is beef.

Ken: For the beef people.

Max: Underneath is a portobello mushroom with a fried pepper sauce.

Ken: Oh! Looks incredible!

Max: This is great!

Ken: Fantastic! Thank you again. Max! Looks fantastic! 

Max: Please enjoy it.

Ken: All right.

 

A First-Timer: How Rick Discovered his Favorite Playa del Carmen Condo

Hello everyone!

I would like to introduce Rick, our guest blogger of today. He agreed to share with us how he first discovered El Taj, which he claims is his favorite Playa del Carmen hotel. Read on!
-Ken

I’m a planner, especially when it comes to vacations. I’m actually kind of obsessive about it – a fact to which my family will attest.

Vacations are for me a reward. I like shopping and planning and buying our vacation in advance, because when it’s all set up and on the calendar, it gives all of us something to look forward to. I got in the habit when I was doing a lot of business travel and accumulating hotel and airline points by the bucketful. But using those points – getting the right flight, the right hotel, avoiding black-out days – required planning and dexterity.

Our trip to Playa del Carmen vacation actually began with my mother. She was in a nursing home in early 2011 (at the ripe old age of 92), and I would visit every Saturday. I brought a portable DVD player with videos of my family, and we’d sit, watch and munch on her favorite cookies. Her favorite videos were of our vacations, many of which were to Mexico.

In 1994 our family vacation was two weeks in the Yucatan. One week touring (and climbing) the pyramids at Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Labna, Sayil and others, along with exploration of the Lol Tun caves, the Dzitnup Cenote and a couple days in Merida. Then we came to the beach for a hotel-points-driven stay at the Cancun Hilton.

When mom and I watched the video of the 1994 Yucatan vacation, she said “you know buster, if you’re going back, you should do it while you still can.” She was, as mothers will do, rather bluntly referencing my advancing age (I was 61 at the time). So I came home, talked to my wife Jane, and emailed everybody who was on that 1994 jaunt: Jane’s sisters Bobbi and Sue, and Ricky and his fiance (Ange wasn’t on the 1994 trip, of course). We wanted to schedule the vacation before Bobbi and Sue had to return to their teaching jobs, and to celebrate Jane’s and my 40th Wedding Anniversary. So we settled on sometime in August.

We figured that everybody’s work schedules and budgets couldn’t handle two weeks, so we shortened the trip to eight days; four at the Pyramids, and four at the beach. It didn’t take long to realize that Cancun had exploded since we had last been there in 1994, and it really wasn’t someplace that we wanted to return to. The hotel selections at the Pyramids was easy – The Villas Arqueologica at Chichen Itza and Uxmal were still there, and had plenty of availability. But when it came to our beach stay, I turned to TripAdvisor.

I’ve been a TripAdvisor contributor and user since 2006, and find it to be an invaluable resource for vacation planning. Like I said, I’m sorta obsessive.

I scanned around Playa del Carmen hotels on TripAdvisor, and kept coming back to El Taj. And after reading the reviews, I knew we had found our spot. Now the trick was, could they handle six adults? When I went to the El Taj web site (www.eltaj.com), I found I could actually see each and every unit, with lots of pictures, and if I went to the El Taj “purchase” page I could even see floor plans. So being one who likes to go to sleep listening to the ocean, and since we had six people contributing to the budget, we decided on Unit 336: Oceanfront, top floor with private roof, 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.

I called the reservation number and found there was availability within our window. So working backwards, I first reserved the room at El Taj, and then the rooms at the Pyramids, and then started working with airline reservations (with a combination of points and dollars). It all worked out for August 21-28, 2011.

Fast forward to August: after blowing out our knees and sweat glands at the Pyramids, we drove East with a swim in the Dzitnup Cenote, a  final climb at Coba (the highest Pyramid in the Yucatan) and a stroll around Tulum, arriving at Playa del Carmen in the early evening.

Our first view of El Taj was the Buddah to the right of the front door. I guess in all my research, I didn’t realize that the decor of El Taj is inspired by Bali (where we did a short vacation in 1991). We checked in quickly, parked the car in the underground parking, and RAN to our room. We were hot, sweaty, exhausted and when we got to our room . . . speechless. Truly. We all just stood on the balcony looking at the beautiful blue Caribbean and didn’t – couldn’t – say a word.

We were transfixed. We were at El Taj, the most amazing of all Playa del Carmen hotels. And I’ll tell the rest of the story next time: the magic of El Taj, shopping in Playa del Carmen, our favorite restaurants, the night Rocio came to cook dinner for us, the morning Ricky proposed to Ange.   Everything. Next time.

Rick Howe
July, 2012