Yucatan and Chiapas

You are currently browsing the archive for the Yucatan and Chiapas category.

Last month California Native founder and president Lee Klein, again attended ATMEX, the premier Adventure Travel event in Mexico held in Chiapas, quickly becoming renowned as the adventure capital of Mexico. It was a great opportunity to meet again with adventure tour providers in Mexico and develop future partnerships for providing California Native adventures in this exciting and beautiful state.

Along with friends in the adventure travel industry, Lee visited Santiago Comaltepec, village of Chinantla, Santa Cruz Tepetotutla, Rio Soyolapam and the pyramids in Palenque.

ATMEX Convention 2015

ATMEX Convention 2015

ATMEX Convention 2015

ATMEX Convention 2015

Church in the village of Santa Cruz Tepetotutla, Oaxaca

Church in the village of Santa Cruz Tepetotutla, Oaxaca

Friendly locals in the village of Santa Cruz Tepetotutla, Oaxaca

Friendly locals in the village of Santa Cruz Tepetotutla, Oaxaca

Rio Soyolapam

Rio Soyolapam

Los secretos de chinantla, oaxaca - The secrets of chinantla, oaxaca

Los secretos de chinantla, oaxaca – The secrets of chinantla, oaxaca

Lee visits the waterfalls at Santiago Comaltepec

Lee visits the waterfalls at Santiago Comaltepec

The waterfalls at Santiago Comaltepec

The waterfalls at Santiago Comaltepec

Pyramids in Palenque

Pyramids in Palenque

One of the destinations we here at The California Native love to travel to is Mexico. On a recent trip to the Yucatan Peninsula, our own Lee Klein visited the archeological site of Tulúm.

Tulúm is the site of a Pre-Columbian Maya walled city which served as a major port for Cobá (large ruined city of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization). The Maya site, formerly known by the name Zama (meaning City of Dawn), stands on a bluff 12-meters tall, along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea. Tulúm was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayas; reaching it’s peak between the 13th and 15th centuries and surviving about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. It appears diseases brought by the Spanish settlers were the cause of Tulúm’s demise. Today Tulúm is one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites and a popular location for tourists.

You can visit both Tulúm and Cobá on our 7-day Exclusive Yucatan Adventure.

Lee Klein standing by "El Castillo" (The Castle)

Lee Klein standing by “El Castillo” (The Castle)

El Castillo (The Castle), the largest structure of Tulum

El Castillo (The Castle), the largest structure of Tulum

Side view of El Castillo (The Castle) and the Caribbean Sea.

Side view of El Castillo (The Castle) and the Caribbean Sea.

The Palace - the largest residential building in Tulum which was inhabited by the upper echelons (nobles, spiritual leaders) of Maya society.

The Palace – the largest residential building in Tulum which was inhabited by the upper echelons (nobles, spiritual leaders) of Maya society.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Penny Mackrory and Heather Bullen, from Mogale City, South Africa, wrote us this short letter about their recent adventure in the Yucatan:

Hello Dave

We are back from out trip to Mexico and had a wonderful time.  Thank you for your wonderful organisation.  We enjoyed the food, hotels and everything on the itinerary.  The arrangement in Mexico were excellent.  Please thank your team there for all they did to make out team a success. I have now achieved my seven wonders dream and will have to decide on a new bucket list.

Thank you all at the Californian Native

Penny Mackrory and Heather Bullen
Mogale City, South Africa

"El Castillo", Chichen Itza

El Castillo is a Mesoamerican step-pyramid that dominates the center of the Chichen Itza archaeological site in the Mexican state of Yucatán.

Colors set our mood and add an important dimension to our feelings and memories of the places we visit. I thought it might be fun to group some of the photos from our library of California Native images by their predominant colors. Our first collection was based on the color yellow.

This, our second collection is based on the color blue. Blue is the color of the sky and the ocean. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, and truth.

“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true”—Lyman Frank Baum

“Mozart has the classic purity of light and the blue ocean”—Henri-Frédéric Amiel, 18th century Swiss philosopher

Beautiful, blue Agua Azul falls, located 40 miles from the Mayan ruins of Palenque, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, tumble down from the jungle in a series of cascades where they have carved out delighful limestone swimming holes.

blue-agua-azul

Photographed from an aircraft, the dark blue hues of Mount Popocatépetl, located in central Mexico, are highlighted by the blue sky just before sunset. Popocatépetl, which can be seen from Mexico City is a very active volcano, whose last eruption was just last year (May, 2013).

blue-popocatepetl

Wearing blue aprons and caps, Chinese ladies go home from work in Yunnan Province.

Wearing blue aprons and caps, Chinese ladies go home from work in Yunnan Province/></td>
</tr>
</tbody>
</table>
<table border=

Falls cascade down into the refreshing lagoon in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park.

venezuela-canaima
patagonia-glacier

The blue of this Patagonian glacier looks almost unreal as it glistens in the sunlight near the bottom of the world.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last summer, Bonnie Brunt from Spokane, Washington, enjoyed our tour to Chiapas and Yucatan.

I wanted to write you a quick note to let you know how thoroughly this trip surpassed my expectations. It really was a magical trip for all of us—one that we will never forget—and much of that was due to the services of our amazing tour guide Javier. He really was a great match for our group of bright, professional, well-traveled women. His knowledge of the Mayan civilization and culture was profound, his passion for the subject deep, and his explanations, articulate. He was extremely professional and personable (good-natured, kind, sensitive to the needs and desires of the group). In addition, he was really good at organizing our time such that we were in the right places at the right time, taking into consideration the weather, the size of the crowds, etc.  We just could not have been more happy with him.

Thanks for all you did to make this trip so special for all of us!

Bonnie Brunt
Dean, Visual & Performing Arts
Spokane Falls Community College

 Flamingos in Yucatan, Mexico

Flamingos flock at an estuary near the beach at Progreso, Yucatan.

Misol Ha Falls in Chiapas, Mexico

Misol Ha Falls in Chiapas, Mexico

Exploring the Mayan ruins of Palenque

Exploring the Mayan ruins of Palenque

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last summer, Mardis Nenno from Spokane, Washington traveled with us to Chiapas and Yucatan and had this to report:

I want to thank you for providing an excellent tour. The six of us were impressed by the scope of the itinerary, the variety of experiences and the professional way in which the tour was conducted. The accommodations were well chosen and very comfortable.

We so enjoyed the luxury of sitting back and relaxing as each new day unfolded. And each day brought a new adventure — thanks to our wonderful guide, Javier. His knowledge of Maya history, architecture and culture is extensive and his fluency in English is remarkable. He was patient, unhurried and always courteous. He went out of his way to make sure that we had a positive experience and came away with a deeper knowledge of the Maya people’s past and their lives today.

This was a trip I’ll never forget. I had an extraordinary experience in Chiapas and Yucatan and hope to return to continue to study and improve my Spanish! In a very significant way the success of it was due to the excellent service and professionalism provided by CalNative.

Best Regards,

Mardis Nenno
Instructor, Fine Arts
School of Design and Construction
Spokane Falls Community College

Agua Azul Falls in Chiapas

Beautiful Aqua Azul Falls in the Mexican state of Chiapas are located 40 miles from the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Palenque.

Weaver in Chiapas

A young lady weaves patterns on a hand loom in Mexico’s state of Chiapas

Market in San Cristobal de las Casas

Sunday is market day in the lovely town of San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico’s Chiapas state.

The Mayan archaeological site of Yaxchilan

The Mayan archaeological site of Yaxchilan is accessed by a boat ride up the Usumacinto River which is the border between Mexico and Guatemala.

A few weeks ago, as guests of the Mexican Tourist Board, we traveled to the city of Merida, the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan, to attend the 5th Annual Feria Turistica del Mundo Maya, Mayan World Tourism Fair, a trade show which featured tourism vendors from the area that once was the Mayan Empire. Now this rain forested terrain encompasses Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras and the Mexican states of Yucatán, Tabasco, Campeche, Quintana Roo and Chiapas.

We met with regional tour operators, tourism boards, hoteliers and other vendors, and visited many sites where we had not previously explored.

New to us was the Mayan archaeological site of Dzibilchaltun, a lesser visited site not far from Merida which was inhabited since around 500 B.C. We climbed around its temple, plaza and other structures, and were quite impressed with its museum of artifacts from throughout the Mayan world.

We then traveled to the town of Palenque, in the state of Chiapas. After driving through the jungle we boated up the Usumacinta River to the ruins of Yaxchilan, capital of one of the most powerful Maya states in the region and a rival to Palenque and Tikal. The site contains many impressive ruins, with palaces and temples bordering a large plaza above the Usumacinta River. Throughout the ruins are impressive hieroglyphics depicting the history of the kingdom.

South of Yaxchilan, on the border of Guatemala, we explored the ruins of Bonampak, another Mayan city, noted for its vivid 8th century murals.

In the near future we will be offering these Mayan sites as add-on options to our Yucatan adventures.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last July, Judy Theodorson, from Spokane, Washington, traveled with us on our Yucatan & Chiapas Adventure.

Dear Lee,

Overall, I could not be more pleased with this trip. Just abut everything exceeded my expectations. While I have extensive travel experience, I have never before used services of packaged/guided tour. This trip taught me the value of utilizing the experts.

Highlights are many. Perhaps the most memorable stop was the church in Chemula where we saw an amalgamate of Mayan and Catholic practices. My academic area is architecture, so I was delighted by the Mayan ruins, in particular, I enjoyed those less traveled—Calakmul, Edzna, and Uxmal. In the future, I hope to visit more of the smaller ones. I was also pleased by the opportunities to experience the natural world—rivers, jungles, beaches—which helped to contextualize the ecological foundations of this impressive place.

I appreciated that our group was able to customize the tour to meet our needs. I hope to do another trip in the future with students that will require even more customization.

The hotels were fine. Several—San Cristobal, Merida, Chichen Itza—were unexpectedly wonderful in terms of both architecture and comforts.

The absolute highlight of our trip was our guide, Javier Sosa Pacheco, who was perfectly matched to our group. I must sing his praises—foremost is his deep knowledge in many subjects including archaeology, anthropology, architecture, Mayan beliefs, history and natural history. He is a natural teacher, delivering the knowledge with clarity, with stories, and with a point of view. By the end, he had done a beautiful job of tying our experiences into a coherent and memorable whole. Furthermore, he is professional in every way—on time, courteous, attentive—and gifted with patience and humor. Importantly, he took the initiative to massage the itinerary so that we had the best experiences possible, for instance, visiting Chichen Itza early in the morning rather than late on a busy day. Finally, he was a great driver.

My experience overall is so positive that I’m already planning another trip to the Yucatan peninsula.

Sincerely yours,

Judy Theodorson, M.Arch, RA
Assistant Professor Interior Design
School of Design and Construction
Washington State University

Mayan ruins of Palenque in Mexico's Chiapas State.

In the jungles of the Mexican state of Chiapas, the ruins of Palenque contain some of the finest architecture, sculpture, and bas-relief carvings that the Mayans produced.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last month, Olga Muratova and her family members from New York and Los Angeles traveled with us to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and reported this:

My family took a California Native vacation in Yucatan between June 15 and 21, 2013. First of all, I want to thank your company for a wonderful trip that it organized for us. Secondly, I would like to take this opportunity to express my family’s admiration with Mr. Javier Sosa, our tour guide and care-taker in Mexico. Mr. Sosa’s high professionalism, vast knowledge of Mayan culture, engaging narrator’s qualities, impeccable manners, affable and personable attitude, and exceptionally agreeable nature made our trip very pleasant and memorable.

Best,

Olga Muratova

Chichén Itzá width=

Dramatic clouds frame the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, a huge archaeological zone, and one of many visited on The California Native’s Yucatan Adventures.

Last week we returned from Morelia, Mexico where we attended the third annual Feria Mundial de Turismo Cultural, the World Cultural Tourism Fair and trade show. There, we met with Mexican tour operators and representatives from all of the states of Mexico as well as representatives of the federal government.

Looking for more unique destinations to offer our California Native guests, we visited several colonial cities which have been designated Pueblos Magicos, magic towns. These towns have been chosen for their natural beauty, cultural riches, and historical relevance and are said to offer visitors a “magical experience.” Among those we visited were Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Pátzcuaro, Cuitzeo and Santa Clara del Cobre.

California Native's Ellen Klein strolls along the street in Guanajuato, Mexico.

California Native's Ellen Klein strolls along the street in Guanajuato, Mexico.


Don Quixote greets visitors at the Cervantes Museum in Guanajuato, Mexico.

Don Quixote greets visitors at the Cervantes Museum in Guanajuato, Mexico.


Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, addresses attendees at World Travel Fair.

Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, addresses attendees at World Travel Fair.


California Native president, Lee Klein, discusses travel with Mexico's Minister of Tourism, Gloria Guevara.

California Native president, Lee Klein, discusses travel with Mexico's Minister of Tourism Gloria Guevara at World Travel Fair in Morelia, Mexico.

Last week I attended ATMEX, the Adventure Travel Event in the State of Veracruz, Mexico. It was a great opportunity to meet with adventure tour providers in Mexico and lay the groundwork for future partnerships to develop California Native tours to this beautiful region. We joined with Mexico Verde Expeditions and rafted down the Rio Antigua, zip-lined and mountain biked in the rainforest nearby the village of Jolcomulco. The State of Veracruz offers a plethora of historic and cultural destinations in addition to its wonderful opportunities for outdoor recreation. Please let me know if you are interested in joining us on future tours to the historic and wildly scenic State of Veracruz.

California Native President Lee Klein and Mexico's Minister of Tourism Gloria Guevara at ATMEX.

California Native President Lee Klein and Mexico's Minister of Tourism Gloria Guevara at ATMEX.


White water rafting on Mexico's Rio Antigua

White water rafting on Mexico's Rio Antigua with Mexico Verde Expeditions. California Native founder Lee Klein is the guy in front wearing sunglasses.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Jim Whilden, from Bethleham, Pennsylvania, just returned from his Yucatan Adventure and had this to report:

Everything worked exactly as it should have. It is always great to be met at the airport by someone who is expecting you and can speak your language! When that occurs the trip is always great. Our guide even seemed glad to see us.

Guillermo, the guide, was superb! He not only explained the tourist sites but answered every question about Mexico’s government, areas, culture, language, etc. He helped us find things we read about in our guide books.

Uxmal, Valladolid, Campeche were wonderful. I loved clinbing the pyramid steps.

The trip really included everything—even specialty shops (ice cream in Merida). The hotels were wonderful and the food was great, especially in the small restaurants and cafes.

Where else can I travel with The California Native?

James G. Whildin, Jr.

It's a long way down from the top of a Mayan pyramid

It's a long way down from the top of a Mayan pyramid on a California Native adventure in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

Mayan Ruins at Uxmal

The Nunnery Quadrangle, at the ruins of Uxmal, was named by a 16th-century Spanish priest because it reminded him of a convent in Spain. It may have been a military academy, royal school or palace complex.

Lee at a Mayan ruin in Mexico's Yucatan.

California native founder, Lee Klein, at a Mayan ruin in Mexico's Yucatan. What a way to make a living.

This June we are celebrating our 30th Anniversary—30 years of leading fantastic trips to exotic destinations around the world.

This anniversary comes as a proud moment for our company’s founder, Lee Klein, who continues to scout new locations world-wide in search of new destinations for the active traveler. Klein, who holds an MBA in Management and a BS in International Marketing, spent more than two decades as a corporate manager and college professor until, in 1983, while climbing Ayer’s Rock in the Australian Outback, he decided to drop out of the corporate world, take off his suit and tie, and create an adventure travel company based on the lessons he taught his students on how to succeed in business: “keep the quality high, keep it affordable, and treat people the way you would like to be treated.”

Lee and Ellen on Patagonia's Perito Moreno Glacier.

Lee and Ellen Klein hiking on Patagonia's Perito Moreno Glacier.

The initial offering from The California Native was a tour billed as “The Other Los Angeles.” This day-long excursion traced the route of the San Andreas Fault from the Mojave Desert to the San Gabriel Mountains without ever leaving Los Angeles County. The tours became so popular that colleges in three California counties offered them as part of their community-education programs. From this, the company expanded its offerings to include tours to the Channel Islands, Death Valley, Yosemite, and other uniquely California destinations, as well as white-water rafting, ballooning, spelunking (caving), sailplane gliding, and other outdoor adventures. “My family has lived in Los Angeles for generations,” writes Klein in the company newsletter, “hence the name The California Native.”

California Native founder, Lee Klein, rappelling in Argentina

Lee rappelling in Argentina. Hey, this is research.

Satisfying the growing client base led to the development of The California Native’s most popular destination—Mexico’s Copper Canyon. These escorted and independent tours feature the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad (labeled as one of the most spectacular train rides in the western hemisphere) and highlight one of the most primitive indigenous cultures still subsisting in North America—the Tarahumara Indians. The California Native has become a leading source of information on this remote area and the company and it’s guides are known throughout the area for their work with the Tarahumara.

Today, The California Native offers a wide selection of tours to destinations including Costa Rica, Yucatan, Patagonia, Peru, the Galapagos, Ireland, Bhutan, Myanmar, and China, and more destinations are in the planning stages.

Tarahumara lady and baby in Mexico's Copper Canyon

The Tarahumara inhabit the same region they have for centuries—the rugged Sierra Madre of northern Mexico, known as Copper Canyon.

A recent post on the blog “never stop traveling, the source for travelers 50 and beyond,” listed the top tourism destinations in Mexico, as reported by the Mexico Tourism Board.

They noted that although there has been much coverage by the US media of the crime situation in some areas of Mexico, millions of US and Canadian citizens visit Mexico each year, and many live there year-round.

Among the destinations listed as Top Ten are Copper Canyon, Yucatan and Chiapas, all places which The California Native has specialized in for the past thirty years. We would love for you to join us.

The film, "Mexico: The Royal Tour," premier in Los Angeles

The film, “Mexico: The Royal Tour,” premier in Los Angeles.

Last night we attended a VIP Reception and Premiere showing of Mexico: A Royal Tour, a film by Peter Greenberg for PBS.

In the film, President Calderón takes Greenberg on a tour of Mexico—but not your average tour. It’s a spectacular visit to many beautiful and unusual places with lots of adventure, including zip-lining, scuba and more. The President and his family clearly enjoy being the tour guides, and showing off these fabulous and interesting places, well-known and not so well-known. There is also discussion of the current security misconceptions. In the end, you will want to get on the next flight south.

California Native President, Lee Klein, and Mexican President, Felipe Calderon

California Native President, Lee Klein, and Mexican President, Felipe Calderon.

We arrived at the JW Marriott at LA Live in downtown LA, were given wrist bands, checked off several security lists, then passed through a metal detector and into a small ballroom. We enjoyed drinks and conversation with other celebrities such as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism, Gloria Guevara, other dignitaries associated with both Mexico and the film, and entertainment icons including George Lopez, Russell Brand, Lionel Richie, James Caan, and Cindy Crawford. Then there was a buzz, lots more security, and the arrival of President Felipe Calderón and his wife, Margarita Zavala. After the camera flashes subsided, we were able chat with the President for a few minutes—our second meeting.

California Native's Lee Klein and Mexico's Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevara

California Native’s Lee Klein and Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism, Gloria Guevara.

We moved on to the movie theater, and found seats with our names on them directly behind the President, the Mexican dignitaries and Greenberg, and next to the film’s director. After some speeches, the film began and we were entranced.

Afterward, talking to the Director, we learned that Mexico’s Copper Canyon was to have been part of the tour, but there were some weather issues on the days slated for filming so they did not film there. From previous conversations with President Calderón, we know that Copper Canyon is one of his favorite places in Mexico.

California Native's Ellen Klein and singer Lionel Richie

California Native’s Ellen Klein and singer Lionel Richie.

The movie premieres on Thursday, September 22, 2011 on many local PBS station (check listings for time) and will air several times in the next couple of weeks.

After the movie, check out our website and join us for a wonderful adventure in Mexico.

Francisco "Pancho" Villa and Ricardo Gonzalez

Ricardo Gonzalez, great uncle of Bessie "Crickett" Quijada.

A few weeks ago we received a very interesting comment from Bessie "Crickett" Quijada regarding our article, A Visit With Mrs. Pancho Villa. I contacted her and she agreed to share some of her photos with us.

In her comment Mrs. Quijada told us “My grand mother’s brother, Ricardo Gonzales, rode with The General Pancho Villa. In the Military Classics Illustrated (News Letter) there is a photo of My great uncle Ricardo on horseback along with Pancho Villa and about 5 or 6 other riders. My uncle is to Pancho Villas left. I have a photo of my uncle with Mrs Pancho Villa (Dona Luz) taken at La Quinta Manor where she lived until her death. The Villa’s manor is a museum in Chihuahua, MX. In the Military Classics Illustrated along with the photo of my uncle with Pancho Villa there is an article titled, The Villistas: Soldiers in Sombreros and Suit Coats By Don Fuchik.”

The author she refers to, Don Fuchik, was a very close friend of mine from the time we were 13-years old until his death a few years ago. He was also a consultant for The California Native and led many of our trips through Mexico’s Copper Canyon.

Pancho Villa and Luz Corral de Villa Dona Luz Corral de Villa with Ricardo Gonzalez
Pancho Villa and his wife, Luz Corral de Villa, in 1914. Dona Luz Corral de Villa with Ricardo Gonzalez in 1967.

Crickett was born in Denver, Colorado and grew up in Stockton, California. She now lives in Fresno. She describes herself as being 67 going on 12, and never wants to grow up. She has eight children, two which she adopted, and two male pet hooded rats whom she adores (she claims that rats make great pets). Her nickname is Crickett and that is what she prefers to be called.

The Sacred Well of Chichen-Itza

Maidens were sacrificed to the Rain God Chac in Chichen-Itza's Sacred Well.

My first introduction to the Mayans was in a grammar school textbook where our fourth grade class read a story titled “The Sacred Well of Chichen Itza.” I was fascinated with the tale of the young maidens being thrown into the well to be sacrificed to the Rain God Chac. This was back in the 1940’s and more than 20 years passed before I first traveled to Chichen Itza and stood before that very same well—too late to rescue a maiden but a wonderful time to conjure up visions of a past when exotic civilizations populated the Americas.

The jaguar throne of Kukulkan

In an inner chamber of Chichen-Itza's largest pyramid sits the jade-eyed jaguar throne of Kukulkan.

The Yucatan Peninsula is the homeland of the Mayan people, whose mighty empire lasted over a thousand years. Throughout the peninsula are the amazing archaeological ruins of their great cities—Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Edzna and many more—a fantastic place to take a time-traveling vacation. In addition, there are lovely colonial cities, forts designed to protect against Caribbean pirates and beautiful beaches.

Pyramid El Castillo in Chichen-Itza

The El Castillo pyramid dominates the ruins of the Mayan city of Chichen-Itza

After leaving the sacred well, I climbed a passageway cut into the great pyramid called “El Castillo” into an older pyramid covered by “El Castillo.” Here in an inside chamber I gazed upon Kukilkan’s red jaguar throne, its eyes and spots glittering with jade and its fangs glowing with pyrite. After exiting with the tourists I wandered alone in the ruins where I found a little entrance in the side of a pyramid and entered a narrow passage. Gradually the outside light from the entrance grew dimmer and dimmer and then my little pocket flashlight stopped working. I found myself alone in the pitch-black. Very creepy. I felt my way back up the tunnel, imagining the possibility of getting lost in an underground labyrinth and was very happy when I emerged into the sunlight—Indiana Jones would have been proud.

Olmec Head

Olmec head, perhaps representing a chief, wears what is believed to be a ballplayers helmet.

Spring has sprung, Little League players are swinging their bats and baseball is in the air. Baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer (called football in the rest of the world), these are the games most North Americans think of when the subject of sports comes up. But team sports is not a concept which arrived in the Americas with the landing of Columbus. For almost 3000 years before the coming of the Europeans, teams in Mesoamerica, the region which extends from what is now Mexico south through Nicaragua, were playing ball in a game that was truly was a matter of life or death.

Stone vertical hoop in the ruins of a Mesoamerican ballfield.

A stone vertical hoop is still prominent in the ruins of a Mesoamerican ballfield.

Today, when visiting the ruins of these ancient cultures, travelers can see the courts where these ballgames, considered to be the world’s oldest team sport, were played. Like modern superdomes, these ball courts were a major part of a city’s infrastructure and came to represent its wealth and power. Two high walls composed an alley with end zones making the court resemble the capital letter ‘I’.

Although not much is known about how the sport was enacted, it is speculated that two opposing teams attempted to have the rubber ball penetrate the defense’s end zone without using their hands. As the sport evolved, giant stone rings in the walls of the alley provided more obstacles to pass the ball through in hope of scoring. The balls varied in size from softball to beachball and could weigh up to eight pounds. Some relics of balls have been found with skulls in the middle and were thought to bounce even higher having a hollow core. The earliest rubber ball was found at the Olmec site of El Manati, in the Mexican state of Vera Cruz. It is estimated to be 3600 years old!

Workers work on restoration of a Mayan ballfield.

Workers work on restoration of a Mayan ballfield.

The stakes were high for the athletes in these games. Their belief systems were based on a balance of forces. These ancient people wanted to keep their gods happy in order to keep the sun rising in the east and rain pouring on their crops. And to keep this balance level, cities would often sacrifice members of the losing team, making the incentive to win greater than any trophy.

Two cultures that were significant in the development of the Ballgame were the Olmec and the Maya. The Olmec are generally thought to be the mother culture from which all other Mesoamerican cultures were derived. The name Olmec means “people of the land of rubber.” Their huge helmeted stone heads, weighing up to 40 tons, are speculated to be portraits of famous ball players.

Succeeding the Olmecs, the Mayan Civilization thrived from 250 AD to 1400 AD. Their zest for the ballgame is evident from the many ruins of their ball courts including the giant court at Chichen Itza, the largest of all the sites. The game was so popular that aspects of the sport are found in the Mayan Creation Story which tells the story of two hero twins who were players. The ballgame was so rooted in the culture that “ballplayer” is used as a ceremonial title of kings.

Like modern sports, the uniform was an essential part of the game. The athletes entered the court wearing their finest jewels, animal skins, and feathered headdresses. The players did not compete in this garb as the fast-paced nature of the game required agility and the aggressive action required protective equipment. Uniforms consisted mainly of a loincloth, sometimes with leather hip guards, a thick girdle made of wood or wicker covered in leather or fabric, and a decorative stone accessory worn on the girdle. Knee guards and helmets were also worn in some communities. A decorative carved stone was sometimes used to hit the ball like a bat or a stick. The balls were made of rubber, produced from plants indigenous to the area.

The rise of Christianity in the Mesoamerican world led to the end of the ballgame. The Spanish viewed the event as pagan ritual and outlawed the sport. Disease, forced labor and massacre, diminished the native populations, taking with them the world’s first team sport. The modern game of Ulamu, played in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, is thought to be its closest equivalent.

We invite you to come with us on a tour of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and visit these ancient sports stadiums and many other archaeological sites of these unique cultures. Can you hear the whispered call of the ancient Mesoamerican equivalent of “Play ball?”

Mexican Flag

On February 24, Mexico celebrates Dia de la Bandera, or Flag Day, a civic holiday with parades and festivities to honor the Mexican Flag. On that date in 1821, the Plan de Iguala, which proclaimed Mexico as an independent country, was signed.

The green, white and red flag was adopted at that time and although it has undergone some revisions since, the basic design has remained. Its stripes are green for hope and victory (or Independence), white is for the purity of ideals (or Roman Catholicism), and red for the blood of national heroes (or for the Union).

In the center of the flag is the National Coat of Arms which features an eagle with a snake in it’s claws. According to legend, the Aztecs, who were the original inhabitants of Mexico, were told by their gods to find an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus and holding a snake. At this location they would build their permanent city. The story goes that they saw this eagle on an island in the middle of a lake, and built their city, now known as México City, around the island.

Throughout all of Mexico, you will see that the most respected symbol among the Mexican people, is their national flag. ¡Viva México!

No date for Valentine’s Day this year? No problem if you are in Mexico.Happy Valentine's Day from The California Native.

Although St. Valentine’s Day probably started as a pre-Christian observance, it later became a minor religious holiday honoring St. Valentine. It was celebrated in Europe privately as a day near the end of winter and the beginning of Spring to express romance. It started to become a more public holiday in the U.S. in the mid 1800’s when a Massachusetts stationer started mass producing Valentine’s Day cards and selling them in her shop. It has grown and grown and is now celebrated in most countries of the world as a day of love and romance (seemingly not at all private!).

In Mexico, the day is called día del amor y la amistad, which means day of love AND friendship. It has evolved as a day to show appreciation for people you care about—and that doesn’t mean it has to be your significant other—it can be anyone you care about, from your teacher, your co-worker or best friend. Flowers, poems, gifts and food are exchanged as much with friends as with lovers. So, think about taking your significant other to enjoy the friendship of Mexico on Valentine’s Day or any time of year. Or join us on one of our tours to Mexico’s Copper Canyon or Yucatan.

Happy Valentine’s day to all our California Native friends!

« Older entries