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

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