It’s the first day of 2011.
“Sweetie, aaaaaask himmmm …” I mouth out the words, pointing to the moustached man behind the front desk.
Flashback to the night before: we’re sitting at a table overlooking the observatory of Chichen Itza, one of the world’s new seven wonders; we’ve just finished an entire bottle of complimentary sparkling wine, a bottle we’ve been saving for this night, a birthday mistake delivered to our room, our first night at a swanky four star all inclusive hotel (Thank you Mrs Paju). We talk about our dreams for the new year, where we see ourselves, what we’d like to do. We talk about the mighty Mayan civilization and how grounded we feel here in this place, amidst the humdrum of the tourist crowds, pictures of Jackie O hanging all around the hotel lobby walls, the $389 USD a night, private suite named after Pavaratti. As we reminisce, the husband tells a story about a ceremony in Guatamala performed by Mayan priests…and the realization of finding something similar here?? A way to kick off the year! Why not! A fantastic idea, CLINK! our glass collide, the red glow on our faces, we’re all smiles and giggles….Until the next day, in the sobering light and heat, as we lay in bed wondering if we ought to follow through with it or....
“Senor, your receipt. Is there anything we can help you with to make sure you have a pleasant trip?” moustache man asks.
”Well, yes, there is one thing. Do you know of say, a Mayan priest, we could talk to, maybe by chance he’s walking around the grounds, communing with the sacred Pachamama, blessing wild orchids or talking to a mystical parrot or doing some sort of special new year’s ceremony not intended for the gringos, maybe we could…have a little peak…and then we could be blessed ourselves. That sort of thing.”
“Yes senor? What would you like to ask?”
“Yes, um there is just one thing my wife and I want to do before we leave Chichen Itza. “Is there”…. The husband leans in closer, “any Maya new year ceremonies going on today?”
“Maya ceremonies? We’re not planning anything at the hotel…but there could be something in the town that I could check on. Would you like me to look into it?”
One more try.
“I mean, maybe there are special Maya ceremonies led by priests.”
“I’m sorry senor. I don’t know what you mean. If you ask any of the other Maya staff they might know. Feliz ano.”
Devastated we retreat back to the bar area where we start to vulturize all the staff with seemingly Mayan credentials?
“Maybe he would know”, I nudge my head sheepishly toward Aurelio.
Aurelio, a man of 5’2. On check-in day, he carries both our 50 lb suitcases as if it weighs of pillows.
“Oh, you mean a limpia, a cleansing? Says Aurelio when he finally pieces together what our words are trying to mean.
“There’s a priest right outside the hotel. He’ll be there throughout the day. Next to the cenote.”
The hotel sign starts to materialize in front of me now, underneath Today’s Specials, “Ritual Healing. Go straight ahead, pass the parking, next to the water hole. Don't forget to tip!”
As we walk to the cenote, or a “big pool of water”, I start to recall the chapter from the Yucatan – Chichen Itza, Lonely Planet.
Cenotes were used as a source of irrigation and as sacred places where rituals were performed. Believing that these pools were gateways to the next life, the Maya often made offerings…
Gold, yesterday’s roasted peacock sandwich, grandma?
We arrive at the scared pool; there’s an altar, a white table with an arch adnored with leaves. 24 hours ago, I’d spotted the very same altar when we started our walking tour of ancient ruins…except it looked more like old patio furniture someone forgot to throw way. Who knew it was in fact, well a portal into the spiritual world? There were bowls of leaves, a repurposed Aquafina bottle containing swamp water. Maybe, we needed to be stripped naked and have herbs rubbed all over us. Maybe were going to chant ancient maya text or…
Maybe we were interrupting two men discussing what they had for breakfast.
One was an elderly man with a wizened face, the color of bark. The other was a younger man dressed in the white hotel uniform, brown sash and name-tag.
We face the old man.
“Good day, senor. My name is Cedric. I am originally from France and my wife from Vietnam. We wish to have a blessing on this auspicious day.”
“Oh, you want a limpia?”
“Yes, that is exactly what we would like!”
“Well then, why don’t you ask him?”
We turn around and face the hotel employee who is severely....cross-eyed.
Considered a sign of beauty and nobility, Maya believed that being cross-eyed was attractive. So they tied a bead on the front of a child's head so it dangled between their eyes. The child would become cross-eyes by looking at the bead.
“Oh, hello. Yes, my wife and I would like a cleansing. We don’t know how it works. We would provide you with an offering? How much would we give?”
“You can give what ever you want. It doesn’t really matter.” He says gently.
He smiles and guides us to the altar. He signals for us to sit on the ground and close our eyes.
I hear him pick up the tree branch. He’s chanting. I feel the branches being placed on top of my head and on my shoulders. It smells of, I sniff instinctively like a trained Beagal on duty at the airport, yes, it smells familiar, like bay leaves, pepper, minty...
The light is flashing in my eyes. And I can feel the tiny brush head against my teeth….”Try to floss whenever I can”, I say. “But it’s been so busy lately…yes, tea, a couple cups a day now. Yes, I should do a better job…” And the liquid suction rubs against my tongue. The dentist blots my dry lips with the…peppermint chapstick…
I hear something placed next to my ear. What is it? It’s driving me crazy, what is he doing? I can’t help it and I take a peek at the shaman standing in front of the makeshift altar, the sun is above us now and I can see the light shining through his pristine white hotel uniform….are those fruit of the loon white briefs?? He turns around. And I quickly close my eyes as he comes back to us to continue the ritual. Avoid the eyes. I smell alcohol. It’s sprinkled on my head.
And he tells us to open our eyes and it’s over. In the time it takes to brush my teeth, the limpia is complete.
11:30 AM, 2011. Breakfast, check, check-out, check, cleansing ritual by a Mayan priest, check.
We find a nearby tree to expend the moment. I try and meditate for a little while before the ants start biting, tunneling their way underneath my jeans.
Four months have passed now. Back home in San Francisco. Things are changing. So quickly in 2011. I realize that it’s mostly internal things that I’ve started to cleaned out. It’s not because of a miracle or magic. It's internal work, I do willingly, mainly because I’m older, officially entering midlife (oh damn!). I've realized that it's time to clear out the old and make room for the new….so I start letting go…mostly things that aren’t as important, even shedding light into old haunting shadows and broken pieces here and there. Then there's making space for stillness and dreams that one day can come true if given enough focus and attention. And why not? Life is too short.
I don’t know what happened that day, but I can feel the shift inside me like finding a new voice that I never thought I had. It’s the desire to claim my life again. A life that is too easily taken for granted or easily preoccupied by distractions, indulging in the harmful or stagnant tendencies because it’s safe and predictable. The role we keep because they were given to us.
Maybe there is some truth to what William Blake wrote more than two centuries ago.
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narow chinks of his cavern.
It’s early spring again. It smells of cherry blossoms and ocean mist. One evening, we’re in the Latin, hipster district called the Mission.
“Look…” The husband points at a coin-up laundry mat. It’s called “Super Duper Limpio.”
“Super Duper Limpio!" I love it. Maybe I'll be ready to ask for it next time.
By Mai Brehaut