Today we would like to talk about a small Mayan community of 700 inhabitants called Yaxunah, in the municipality of Yaxcabá, Yucatan.
Yaxunah in Maya can be interpreted as the "first house" or "green house" and is only a 25-minute ride from the famous city of Chichen Itzá, the most visited archaeological site in Yucatan and one of the most famous in Mexico. Yaxunah is an excellent option to take as a base and explore different archaeological ruins of the area; In fact, 1 kilometre away from town, you can visit the archaeological zone of the same name, which was linked to Cobá through the great Sac-bé or white road, the longest known in the Mayan world.
As soon as we arrived in the community we felt welcome. Holga, Margarita, Noemi, Filomena and Lucio were waiting for us at the Parador Turístico (tourist camp) to introduce us to all the initiatives that have been carried out in the last three years. The group of tourism as they call it today is the result of the union of three groups of the community that previously worked separately and were united upon the initiative of the Haciendas del Mundo Maya Foundation, an organization that supported them with different projects and encouraged them to work hand by hand. As they told us, thanks to receiving visitors they have been "losing their fear" to communicate and are enjoying the cultural exchange that happens when welcoming tourists.
Ecotourism offer at Yaxunah
Among the services offered by the tourism group are lodging in 3 double-bed cabins at the tourist camp, food and different cultural and culinary experiences that can be combined in a full day tour or spread over several days. To live an experience of complete immersion in the Mayan culture, it is possible to stay in the homes of families, who take turns to benefit the greatest number of families. As for the meals, this service can be provided in the family homes or in the restaurant of the tourist camp.
The tourist options are varied and represent typical activities of the daily life of the Mayan families. In the "Immersion to the Corn" tour, a sustainable milpa (cornfield) is visited, where Don Francisco will teach you about the complete process of corn production, from cleaning the land, sowing and harvesting, to the current challenges due to the climate change and pests. Then you can enjoy a tasting of corn-based drinks, called pozoles and atoles. In our visit we could taste 8 varieties, including those drinks that are taken on special occasions, such as Pinole (in Maya baptism or hetzmek) and Pozole de maíz (Saká or sacred pozol, part of offerings to Dios Chaak to ask for rain).
Another interesting activity is the preparation of the succulent cochinita pibil, which consists of preparing the recado (condiments) by grinding its ingredients in a metate and cooking the meat in a traditional Pib oven, that is to say underground, wrapping the food in banana leaves. The food is cooked slowly thanks to the hot stones that are placed around it and covered with soil and leaves to keep the heat. It is possible to combine this activity with the Immersion to the Corn, thus leaving the dish slowly preparing to enjoy it when you return from the cornfield.
The tourist offer of Yaxunah is completed with other cultural activities, such as the visit to the Community Cultural Center, with its museum and botanical garden, and the craft workshop using bull horn, another novel idea proposed by Haciendas del Mundo Maya, to diversify the type of crafts in town and impose less pressure on local trees such as the Chacá that are used for wood crafts.
Community-based tourism as a tool for women empowerment
One of the main challenges not only in Mexico but also in several Latin American countries is to demystify the role of women as exclusively responsible for household chores and children. In Yaxunah they have solved this challenge with great success. Here women have a central role and have organized themselves in different ways to develop their skills and add an income to their homes.
Within the tourism group are eight women and two men; Holga is one of the coordinators in charge of managing the reservations and other women are cultural promoters, an innovative figure who acts as a guide and host of the community. Thanks to the support of the Haciendas del Mundo Maya Foundation, the women also organized the hammock weaving workshop to preserve this ancestral trade that was being lost. The workshop has been running now for four years and there are 18 women who actively participate, with a demand that increases, selling both to the tourists who visit them and for orders they receive from other cities.
Another initiative of women is the rental of hammocks, bed linen and towels for tourists who come to stay in family homes and require these services. Finally, the embroidery, by hand or machine, of traditional blouses or hipiles (dresses) with their typical floral motifs represents another additional source of income and is a must-have souvenir to take home.
The archaeological site of Yaxunah
Of course, you cannot miss the Yaxunah archaeological site. This site is maintained by the same community that has taken a proactive role and has organized to clean the site, charging a small entrance fee as a contribution to maintenance. It is worth visiting and feel the first one to be there. You can easily reach the site by walk or taking one of the bicycles available for rent at the tourist camp, accompanied by a cultural promoter. To cool off on your return, the Cenote Lol-ha is an excellent alternative in the centre of town. It is an open cenote of crystalline waters, about 30 meters deep, surrounded by lush vegetation.
Yaxunah is an open and organized community and its inhabitants are eager to share their Mayan cultural heritage with visitors. Its model of women leadership is an example to follow for many communities where traditional gender roles are still very marked. Undoubtedly, a destination not to be missed when visiting the Yucatan Peninsula.