Experiencing a Temazcal

San Cristobal, a city located in the heart of Chiapas lands, is still well connected with Maya’s traditions, in spite of the colonization and a recent massive arrival of European people. Thus, some villages are still really traditional, like San Juan Chamula, and some traditions are really alive. The temazcal is one of them, though its use spread all over the Indian communities in north and central America. In fact, the word Temazcal comes from the Nahuatl temazcalli which means “home of heat”. It has different forms in the other communities, like the famous tipi for example. As the Mayas were sedentary people, their temazcal were made of stones, so you still can find some traces nowadays, in different archeological sites in Mexico, such as Yakchilan.

For the Mayas, this practice was a way to purify yourself, communicate with the gods, and a symbolism of reborn. Back in time, Mayan soldiers used it before fights and other occasions.

In these days, you can do it in a closed room (or tent) in a garden. In a big fire settled outside are put a lots of stones to be warmed. Next to the tent is the cross and under it one can put his offerings. In general, the offerings are made of fruits, water and other food or personal objects.

Getting ready to enter (photo google)

Right before entering the temazcal, the Chaman wash you. Once clean, you can enter the tent, enunciating the ritual formula “permiso para entrar por todos mis relaciones”, then sit and wait that everyone is ready. Then the experience really begin…

The fire is now ready and the stones warm enough. The Chaman, or his “assistant”, put them into a hole situated inside the tent… and then watered them, so a lot of steam comes out. The tent is now closed and it’s all dark inside, the ground is humid. Species are also used, that give a specific smell and build this unique atmosphere. Your body now start burning, the closest parts to the fire hurt, your legs, your feet. You are now trying to move away from the stones. But even your nose, your throat hurt when breathing. During this process, all the participants, one after the other, are enunciating their requests or their feelings. Generally, all the participants are introducing themselves during the first round. And so it goes. After the round is completed, the entrance door is opened, so a bit o fresh air enter the tent, finally. As the temperature got so high, most of the participants are just lying on the ground, chasing some oxygen and the freshness of the humid soil. After relaxing a few minutes, new stones are added, and another time the door is closed, the stones watered, and the ceremony carries on. The process goes through this different steps called « doors », so it can last few hours. As one also bring instruments in the tent, during each door, the participants are free to play, sing or pray. Actually, the Chaman leading the ceremony, is deciding on how many, depending on how important the requests are. Part of the ritual is the pipe too. The Chaman first bless it, then light it and pass it to the participants, one after the other, thanking the divinities. This is usually the conclusion of the ceremony.

Temazcal (photo google)

You then exit the tent using the formula “permiso para salir”. Everyone is now greeting each other, calling themselves brother and sister, and that’s true that the temazcal is really an experience you share with people, and as it goes really personal and intense, you really feel closer from the other participants. After rinsing yourself from the mud and the sweat, you come back around the fire and all share the offerings brought and blessed by the Chaman, though one part goes to the fire for the divinities.

I participated to a temazcal with a friend and some Mexicans. The experience was really unique, as I couldn’t imagine the strength of the heat, the specificity of the ritual and the all atmosphere. I hope this description would help you figure out, but this is something you definitely need to experience on your own. You’re coming out, physically tired, mentally released, purified…





The good-practices exchange

As we have two projects in Mexico, one in Chiapas (Sendasur), and the other in Yucatan (Chac-Lol) both focused on eco-tourism, we decided to take the chance of the midterm-training to exchange on our different experiences. We thus took extra-days and gathered to see what our two organisations could build together.

Late june, after our trip to Isla Mujeres, I went back to Chac-Lol with Chloé and Rosalba, to visit the area, and work on the planification of different solidarity-based trips for Pistes-Solidaires’s french groups.

At this occasion we spend a day visiting oxkintok first (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxkintok) and then the Calcehtok’s caves.

Mayan arch

Chloé & Rosalba in Oxkintok

Oxkintok’s pyramide

The first site is a maya ruin located on the Puuc road, dated from 475 after JC. The second one is an amazing network of natural caves, more than 180 meters deep, which at the time hosted more than 2000 mayas.

Entering the Calcehtok’s caves

We then work on the tour we could offer to young people from Marseille, trying to involve them with local communities. As a solidarity-based tour, we imagine activities such as footbal tornament, dance exchange : Hip hop/Salsa, and other activities, like painting a local bakery, or cleaning a garden and planting trees in the community, for example.

The girls then come to San Cristobal to discover what kind of tours Sendasur is offering. On their first days in San Cristobal, we have a one-hour class of meditation, in the bouddhiste center of San Cristobal. We then go to visit San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan, two indigenous villages located at 10 kilometers from San Cristobal, with specific churches, own rituals and handcraft markets.

Children in Zinacantan
Church of Zinacantan
Traditional clothes

We also have some nice diners, including trying the home-made tamales of saturday night, and nice evenings. And on sunday, we go to a temazcal, a traditional-maya ritual, spread in a lot of indians communities of North America (see more details in the next post).



We then have the chance to take a five-days tour in the jungle, including kayak, rafting, and visits of Bonampak, Yakchilan and Palenque. We stay at the Lacandon’s community, and thus the girls from Yucatan got to know « indigenas chiapatecas » and a bit of the wonderful region of Chiapas, and particularly the jungle of Lacanja. Thanks to Explora (member of Sendasur that is giving the tours), and Alejandro,our guide, we had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the experience.

Alejandro, our guide (Palenque)

We are coming back to San Cristobal with a lots of unforgettable memories, right before going to Guatemala in order to renew our six-months visa…

Louise – Sendasur



Lunch for disadvantaged children at Burmese Learning Center

The 90 students of the Burmese learning center in Kuraburi need our help.

As a result of their parents’ poverty, most children’s nutrition is very unhealthy.
While a few get packed lunch, many eat sweets for breakfast and dry instant noodles for lunch.
The Kuraburi area, and southern Thailand in general, is home to a large population of Burmese migrant workers. These hardworking people often come illegally in the hope of finding income and a better life. Their children mostly lack access to education and adequate nutrition. Unlike so many other areas, Burmese children living near the Kuraburi pier are able to take classes at a learning center. The dedicated teachers at the center have requested our help in providing lunch for the children. Without a food budget, and barely able to cover teacher salary, the center needs our help to make sure the kids have a healthy lunch.
It costs less than $1 USD per day to make a difference.
Financial support is needed for cooking equipment plus ingredients for 90 meals a day, 5 days a week, for the nine month school year. The teachers would prepare the food which, and would receive semi-annual cooking stipends of 1,000 baht per month, shared between the cooks.
The lunch program will:
 guarantee that children have one healthy nutritious meal a day
 create community by bringing together teachers and volunteers to cook and then share a meal with the children
 give the children an opportunity to learn roles and responsibilities during cooking, eating, and cleanup
 alleviate the financial burden on already struggling parents



In total, we are aiming to raise at least 9 months (one school year) worth of lunch money. The cost of feeding the children for a month is $1,250 (960 Euro), meaning we hope to raise a total of $11,000 (8,500 Euro).

Please contribute whatever you can, and together, we can do it!




The amazing maya ruins in Chiapas

The Yucatan Peninsula is rich of ancient Mayan city ruins. Basicly you can find mayan cities in this part of Mexico and Guatemala. For more transparency here yo have a map:

The first mayan ruin I’ve ever visited is Tenam Puente, which is located close to Comitán.

(Comitán is the fourth most important city in Chiapas State)

The archeological site Tenam  Puente is located in the  border of the Mayan empire.

This city doesn’t has that much importance, but it’s good to start to understand Mayan architecture.

Mayans always used the facilities of the nature, so in Tenam Puente they used the hills to construct their city.


The next ruin to visit is Bonampak. Bonampak is located in the Lacandon Jungle, close to the town called San Javier y Lacanjá Chansayab. Boonam Pak’ means painted wall in modern maya. While the site is not overly impressive in terms of spatial or architectural size, it is well-known o it’s murals. This city is quite the only place where the murals were conserved.













In this mural you can see one of the sacrificial rites of the aristocracy. In the ancient maya world only the aristocracy were aloud to make sacrificies. In this pics the women are piercing their tongue and the men their penis. Then blood is collected in a pot and offered to the Underworld Goods.






My next Mayan ruins to be visited was Yaxchilán. Yaxchilán is located on the bank of the Ucumacinta River. Ucumacinta means mono aullador in Spanish, and Howler monkey in English. This river is a natural border between Mexico and Guatemala. It also the largest river in Mexico and Guatemala by volume. To get to the arqueological site, you have to take a boat from the town called Frontera Corozal, the river journey is around 45 minutes, and you can abserve howler monkey, birds and crocodiles. Yaxchilán means “green stone” in Mayan language. In the Late Classic period  this city was one of the most powerful states along the Ucumacinta region. There is a theory that a bridge was leading across the river to the Guatemalan side, where the folk lived. Aristocracy lived in the Mexican site.



In Lacandon jungle there is a story about goblins. Lacandon people belives that goblins exist. Goblins are small creatures, they look like children, and they are talking in their own language. They say that normaly they don’t harm people, they are only playful, and they like to rob things from the people. But if you get lost in the jungle, is an other story. Basicly there is no diference if you are found by canibals or goblins, as there are stories about lost people found by goblins, who were fattened and then eaten by goblins.



The last ruins I visited in Chiapas is Palenque. This Maya city was flourished in the seventh century. After its decline it was absorbed into the jungle, but has been excavated and restored. The most famous ruler of Palenque is Pakal the Great whose tomb has been found and excavated in the temple of the inscriptions. Is very interesting, that going to the top of this temple there are 68 steps, the same number as the years Pakal was ruling this place. To go down to his tomb you have to descend 69 steps, one step more. Near to this temple you can find the tomb of the Red Queen, who was the wife of Pakal.



My next Mayan ruins to be visited was Yaxchilán. Yaxchilán is located on the bank of the Ucumacinta River. Ucumacinta means mono aullador in Spanish, and Howler monkey in English. This river is a natural border between Mexico and Guatemala. It also the largest river in Mexico and Guatemala by volume. To get to the arqueological site, you have to take a boat from the town called Frontera Corozal, the river journey is around 45 minutes, and you can abserve howler monkey, birds and crocodiles. Yaxchilán means “green stone” in Mayan language. In the Late Classic period  this city was one of the most powerful states along the Ucumacinta region. There is a theory that a bridge was leading across the river to the Guatemalan side, where the folk lived. Aristocracy lived in the Mexican site.


Mid-term training for the mexicans’girls !

Filed under: EVS GLOBAL CHANGE, Mexico, Chiapas volunteers, Mexico, Yucatan volunteers — evs global change @ 02:09

Return of Alix to Mexico, in Yucatan this time, for the mid-term training of the two Youth in Action projects : Sendasur – Chiapas and Chac Lol – Yucatan.

After 14 hours bus, 1 hour collectivo, and a ride, we finally make it to Chac Lol, in a heat close to 40° at 10 o’clock in the morning !

By chance, a breakfast is waiting for us, and we spend the afternoon visiting the surroundings, including a “cenote”, a natural cave filled with water.

We then spend our first night in the Chac Lol’s cabans under a sky full of shooting stars, and among some “gekos”, scorpions and spiders (ok, those were just small ones).

On the next morning, we start the training, looking back at ours first fears and hopes, and things we like and dislike most so far. We then think about solutions to face the problems we met.

In between we have lunch, enjoying some of the delicious yucatan’s specialties : panuchos, pollo pibil, Pop chuc.

Then come the 17th of june 2010, historical date, Mexico – Francia football worldcup game !!! With three fans from Marseille, the atmosphere is obviously hot 🙂 One hour and a half later, the french team just go back to work, with a bottle of pastis as a compensation price… We have individuals interviews with Alix, and prepare at the same time our calendar of tasks for the 4 months to come. At seven, we decide to go to see the « lights and sounds » given at the Uxmal site. The show, taking place in the antic mayan’s city, over 1000 years old, is just unbelievable, iluminating the sacred sculptures and giving life to Kukulkan, the plumed serpent.

We go back home, a lot of mystical stories in mind… Arriving in Chac-Lol, Rosalba, the italian (napolitan) volunteer give us the chance to taste her famous Carbonaras ! The diner perfectly finish with a delicious french chocolate cake, made by Alix !

Friday is dedicated to the competencies that we already gained and the one we still think we can develop. We work by pairs for this exercise, and we then exchange on our daily tasks, seing what’s commun to the both projects or what’s different.

On saturday, we concentrate ourselfs on the commun projects that we have : sending a french group of tourists in Chiapas and Yucatan. We also finish our calendar of tasks, that we present to the other team. And as it is the 19th of june, we got the chance to celebrate properly Chloé’s birthday, with numerous cakes.

After this last night, it’s already time to leave… Alix is going back to Marseille, with her regulatory kilo of tortillas and liter of tequila 🙂 while we, all volunteers, are going together to Isla Mujeres, an heavenly beach located in front of Cancun !

But this would be the purpose of another post …

Louise – Sendasur – Mexico
more information : http://www.facebook.com/album.php?id=1278378694&aid=66806&s=20&hash=de8aaf82d96212faec931ebe2cd99a2a#!/profile.php?id=1278378694


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Filed under: EVS GLOBAL CHANGE — evs global change @ 20:42

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