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A Maya woman shows visitors her home where she lives without electricity or other modern amenities. // (c) 2013 Kelly Rosenfeld
Before I started working in the travel industry, my main conception of Maya culture was of an ancient people whose practices and lifestyle had probably disappeared long ago. Uninformed? Absolutely. Uncommon? Maybe not entirely, at least among those who have not spent much time in Mexico.
Thankfully, there are many efforts underway to bring greater exposure and understanding to the Maya culture __ a living, breathing culture that, even to this day, includes people maintaining a traditional lifestyle.
On a recent trip to the Rivera Maya, I was lucky enough to witness this firsthand through a visit to a Maya household. Our car pulled off the road and into a small clearing in the tropical forest, where we were instructed to exit the car __ we had to hike the rest of the way to the house. After a short hike along what could loosely be described as a trail, we reached a small hut where a tiny Maya woman greeted us from the doorway. Our guide explained that she did not speak Spanish, but she taught us the Maya word for "hello" as she greeted each of us individually.
We then proceeded on a short tour of the grounds, learning that the family has no electricity, running water or modern conveniences of any kind. The property includes a few small, traditional huts made from local trees and plants. The high roofs and leafy construction of the hut keep it surprisingly cool inside, offering the only relief from the hot, humid environment. Hammocks, instead of beds, filled the hut, which is a better option for sleeping in the heat.
The family here lives entirely off the land, farming crops such as papaya, banana, guava, sugar cane and corn, and raising animals such as turkeys and chickens. They use natural remedies derived from local plants and all their resources come from the surrounding forest and a nearby body of water, just steps from the hut's back door. At one point, we were led to a small wooden overlook, from which we could see the family's huge expanse of land __ with literally no signs of modern civilization in sight. Not a common view, at least in my everyday life.
This chance to see an ancient culture sticking to its most traditional ways of life was truly an eye-opening experience, and one I won't soon forget.