First few days

March 15, 2007

After some technical difficulties, I’m now able to post to the blog, so I’ll post a few days’ worth all at once.

We spent most of Sunday getting briefed, and getting psyched.  After a breakfast with Janice where she left us with extra batteries, lots of wisdom, and a power cord for Magdalena, we realized we were on our own.  Luckily we had Heber on hand to tell us newbies about what he’d learned over the past week.  We’re also feeling lucky to have Dustin with us, making sure we bond properly and have a chance to get ready for our mission, and such a great location…

Team building!


Monday we had an early start for Señor, first meeting up with our contact Don Julio in Carillo Puerto, the only town of any size between Tulum and Señor (which is fairly deep in the jungle).  Don Julio works closely with the UN and is coordinating about 70 developmental and environmental projects in the region, so we’re only going to get a fraction of his time over the next two weeks, but we already have a lot of questions for him.  Originally from Spain, Don Julio is highly respected by the Mayans in the region for his work, and we believe that he will help us sort through some of the community politics that Janice and Heber briefed us on.  However, it turns out we’re not going to be able to see him until the evening for dinner, so we head to Señor on our own.

In Señor we are met by Marcos and Santos, who are the force behind Xyaat.  After a quick pit stop in the Xyaat building, we are on the way to the Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon) on the back of their truck—some of us dangling right off it (Dustin and I decided to be gracious and allow others the more authentic experience, so we sat inside the cab).  After a surprise meeting with some of the leaders in the Ejido who have had tensions with Marcos in the past, we set off for our nature walk.  While everything was explained to us in Spanish, it was surprisingly easy for us to understand and even the non-Spanish speakers needed less translation help than they’d expected.  Marcos took us up a tower for a great view of the lagoon, and told us about the medicinal properties of the local flora.  He’s clearly passionate about the local environment.

Laguna Azul, from the tower







After our walk, Marcos and Santos take us on another tour in a town about an hour away.  When I’m told that the plan is to take mountain bikes to a cave where we can see bats, snakes, and hang out in really tight enclosed spaces, I’m a little less than thrilled as none of these are on my top-10 list.  But it really was an incredible experience, especially for the brave souls who crawled into the scariest part of the cave and really…interacted with the snakes and bats.  Like Magdalena, I will choose to let those folks explain their adventure in detail.

The snake tour 


When we finally rolled back to Carillo Puerto for dinner, we were pretty tired, and some of us were fairly well coated in whatever was on the floor of the cave.  But we met up with Don Julio, and all had a great dinner in town and a nice sleep in Carillo Puerto (until 5:30 am when the birds began to regale us!).

On Tuesday, we met up with Don Julio for breakfast and spent a long time discussing the program with him.  We told him about our concerns about attracting tourists all the way to Señor, especially since the Xyaat folks don’t provide transportation, and discussed possibilities for attracting other types of customers such as university students, school groups, and domestic tourists.  We also talked about long term potential and scale—for example in addition to the short-term needs at Xyaat, we are thinking that it might be more impactful for Xyaat to work with other community-based tour operators in the region to share resources such as transportation and to market themselves more effectively by working collectively.  Don Julio cautioned us to ask Marcos and Santos what they want for their business before making any prescriptions.

After breakfast we went back to Señor for the cultural tour.  There we saw—in the context of people’s real homes—how people lived and some of their traditions.  We saw bee-keeping in hollowed-out logs, heard Mayan storytelling, smelled the herbs in a medicinal garden, touched traditional embroidery and a hammock in the loom, and learned how to make a slingshot out of rope fibers pulled from a plant that looked like a giant aloe vera bush.  Then we came back to Xyaat and had an amazing Mayan feast (dishes that would normally be served at a festival to please the rain god—a chicken stew in a gourd that had been hollowed out and dried, served with a bread that was multiple thick tortillas sandwiched with a pumpkin seed paste between them, preceded by a beautiful salad and followed by two decadent coconut and plantain desserts).  We spoke to Marcos and Santos about how much business they actually wanted–and it turns out they’d only like to have a few tours a week until they can get more help, since they don’t want to give up the rest of their lives just to do this.

Traditional beekeeping








Last night we said goodbye to Heber and began to plan our individual activities.  This morning we awoke to discover our conference room had become a construction zone, but we simply relocated to the lobby for the morning and used the wifi to regroup.  Tonight, we plan to do some recon work on competitive products in the marketplace.


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