Quintana Roo, Mexico
Fancy a different cenote experience? Come here for an ancient sweat bath with shaman rituals, followed by a swim in a cave.
This cenote is not on the popularity list, yet you can get one of the best experiences here. So that makes it rather special. The Maya sweat bath is called temazcal. In essence, it is a sauna experience. Here it takes place in an earthen dome, in the middle of the jungle. Or you can just come for a dive. If you want the temazcal experience, you will have to book in advance. If you come just for diving, most likely your diving instructor will bring you here.
As we all know, sweating has long been used as a therapy. The people of Finland have known it for thousands of years, and so did the Maya. It can help people to unwind and relax. It benefits your heart health, as long as you practise it safely. Since ancient times, it has been used for healing the sick, improving health (also for women to give birth). And as for the priest's ceremony? The temazcal ritual prepares you to harmonise your inner energy with cosmic influences. Rather special.
The cenote is on the ejido (communal) land of the Maya. The land was granted to them by presidential decree. You will see such communities all over Yucatán. They have the right to live on the land and to use it for farming or any other purposes. Those who have a cenote on their land, offer it to tourists. This makes their village sustainable and is the source of their income. And they do a proper job here, making sure your experience is great and safe. The village is small, with about 30 inhabitants. It is a great chance to meet the Maya villagers and observe their way of life. They still live in wooden houses in the middle of the jungle, as their ancestors did. They cook their tortillas on an open fire, as their ancestors did. They do the temazcal, as their ancestors did. Except they don't offer you hallucinogenic substances, haha.
The word temazcal comes from the Nahual language of the Aztecs and it means 'house of heat'. Today some hotels offer this experience. But frankly, that is not as authentic as the jungle temazcal. I can personally vouch for this one. You don't need an organised tour, just call Eduardo (see the phone number below) or send him a message on Facebook. This way it will be much cheaper. To get the best price, you would need to be a group, of six or more.
When you arrive, the caretaker welcomes you. You will see a circular dome between their wooden houses. It is an enclosed space with a sacred centre, filled with burning hot rock during the ceremony. It is like an igloo, but not built of snow.
A spiritual cleansing ritual takes place before you are allowed into the dome. First they will teach you how to blow a conch shell. It is a special skill, not as easy as it looks at first sight. You have to blow through your pressed lips, causing them to vibrate, so that they 'buzz'. The Maya associated conch shells with the Underworld and used them as trumpets during rituals to recall ancestors or supernaturals. And that is what the priest does during this cleansing ritual. He calls the ancestors (grandmother, grandfather) and the sources of nature (the earth and the cardinal points). I came here with a group of about 15 people, the visit organised specially for us. Out of all of us, only three people managed to learn how to blow the conch properly.
After this initial exercise, the Maya priest then arrived and started the ritual, asking the Maya gods for our well-being and health. The Maya priests are called Ah Men. We refer to them as shamans but that is actually a word adopted from Siberian shamans. Our Ah Men then offered us a honey drink and he cleansed our bodies with Siipilche branches (Malpighia glabra). He passed them over our bodies, while we were standing around a bonfire. Once cleansed, we went inside the dome.
Using a pitchfork, his assistant passed the burning hot rocks into the centre of the temazcal, while we spread a leaf of Aloe Vera over our skin. The Ah Men then closed the thick blanket over the entrance to the temazcal and encouraged us to breathe slowly and allow ourselves to be purified and healed. In darkness, we listened to his chants and songs and we were encouraged to sing along. We had a few Spanish speakers, so they did join in the singing. I was just humming the tune, to get into the spirit of the cleansing process. The ceremony lasted more than half an hour and some of us crawled outside before the end of it. This is absolutely fine and we were encouraged to do so, if we felt that the heat was too much for us. The temperature gets up to about 80°C.
We ended with one joint scream, that echoed around the small igloo, to get rid of the negative energy. I will never forget that scream; it was so powerful, due to the echo in a small rounded space. I felt like a part of mankind, wishing that the people of our planet could get better, not just myself, and that we can get rid of all the bad practices in our world. I am not that spiritual, but that is how the ceremony impacted on me at that moment. I came out feeling cleaner, both physically and mentally, and feeling that our world could and would be better.
The ceremony culminated with a refreshing swim in the cenote to close your pores again and make you feel renewed. It is a semi-open sinkhole but it felt like a closed cave, given the complete darkness. It was my first and only time so far to be in a cenote at night. I noted two palm trees in the centre and realised that this is where the cenote Dos Palmas got its name. The swim cooled us down instantly. I felt pretty high, as if I had used hallucinogens. Mind you, after the swim we had a delicious meal in the village restaurant, local Yucatec specialties. I had one beer with it and felt rather drunk. Oh, the powers of nature! And the steam. And a ritual!
You will never forget this experience; you will feel very pure, both physically and mentally. An affordable and unforgettable experience! Even brides and grooms come here for their weddings; that is how powerful it is.
How to get there:
The cenote is about a 15-minute drive from Tulum, to the north. You will enter the same entrance as for the famous Dos Ojos cenote. Once you pass it, after a couple of minutes' drive along a dirt road you will arrive at a village with the sign Dos Palomas.
To book, call Eduardo Reyes: 984 156 5441 or message on Facebook: Cenote Dos Palmas. The price depends on the size of your group.
Mix & Match:
The best is to come here for half a day, in the afternoon. In the morning you can go to Xpu Há beach, for example. But I would not recommend combining this experience with another physical activity on the same day.