Goodbye Pearl of the Pacific and hello Quintana Roo!
I can not stress the importance of moving to the middle of the Sian Ka'an and what an absolute life changing experience it became. Not only because of this little town's geographical location on the map, but the community and cultural heritage is something I now admire, love and respect even more than ever before and a little special thank you has to go to the wonderful Catherine Gray along with her husband Pedro Esquivel both co-directors and founders of Na'atik Language and Culture Institute for taking the chance and hiring me. By the end of the academic year it would become something I would be forever grateful for and a time I will always treasure throughout my life.
Arriving via Chetumal in a combi (mini-van) I already noticed the change of climate, losing what felt like a litre of water per minute. Having no idea where I was going, jumping in a taxi was my best option to find my new place of employment. Some small talk in Spanglish and 2 minutes later I arrived outside Na'atik. Although tired from traveling I couldn't of been more excited to meet Catherine and the staff at the institute. After nearly a year of hostel life in Brazil and the Pacific coast of Mexico it was the perfect time to get serious about something I loved; not only working as an English teacher again, but to explore the history and culture of the Maya in this area.
Felipe Carrillo Puerto in a glance
Also known as the "Town of the Warriors" this little place is the perfect if you want to experience a quiet Maya life and this "Pueblo con Encanto" Town with Charm is for you. Established in 1850 and once a hiding place during The Caste War it now serves a delight for anyone visiting the Yucatan without all the noise. Surrounded by jungle and lagoons, steeped in Maya traditions and history, museums and cultural centres I found this place to be a diamond in the rough. A one-hour drive from the Tulum ruins and passing Muyil on route, a few days here with a host family, learning some Maya or Spanish and eating every Maya delicacy during your stay will give you something to really go back home with.
Sitting in the middle of the Sian Ka'an this wonderful non-profit language institute has become the heart and soul of the community in Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Its affordable English language programs and scholarships for the locals through donations and its Spanish and Maya programs for the foreigners; Na'atk offers a truly cross-cultural immersion for everyone and is an especially important place for students around the area to home in on their English Language skills. English is sometimes the only way to get a well paid job or to get in to higher education in the region and thanks to Catherine and Pedro's hard work students and the community get the chance to do that. So check it out and go visit.
Whilst working at Na'atik and although I loved my classes and was giving absolute freedom to get creative, one of my favourite achievements was to help takeover the design and theme of the library that was built just before I arrived. With a little help I was given the freedom to create something inspiring and a place of joy for the children to use. Finally I had something to give back to the community for the wonderful hospitality I was shown in FCP and one of my proudest accomplishments today.
People of Carrillo
From my experience Mexicans are some of or if not the most warmest people I have ever met and again it feels like I will always have a home in Carrillo. With the town itself having a population of around 35,000 it has a real small town feel about it and a wonderful sense of community who are proud to be Maya first and then Mexican. They are good people willing to show you everything about the Maya culture and will always have the door open for you.
The other thing I noticed is that they always have a smile on their faces no matter their circumstances. It's very rare in Europe to see so many individuals who are happy and not complaining about everything. You will see the women wearing traditional clothes and you will hear many speaking Maya at home.
In a nutshell people here are warm, joyful and tough. Felipe Carrillo Puerto might not be everyone's cup of tea, but the knowledge, history and culture of the Maya lives here and that is a wealth of experience in itself.
As someone once told me "when you get to the jungle turn back". As mentioned, FCP isn't that big and getting around it is so easy, personally I suggest hiring a bicycle for your time there and enjoy the freedom of no rules for a little while. If not you can take a taxi from one side to the other for just 20 pesos, in fact anywhere in Carrillo was 20 pesos. Around town there are a number of basketball courts, a skate park, outdoor gyms and a track and field so if you are energetic all of these are outdoors and open to the public; including the local swimming pool, and you will also find a few boxing clubs in this area too.
Hitting the city centre (not night clubs) most nights seems to be the normal here and everyone is super-relaxed and just enjoying their time with their children or meeting friends that live on the other side of town and unlike my home town the youth here are respectful and not there to just get wasted.
As for safety, like I said it's a small town and community so if someone does wrong it's bad for everyone. It doesn't matter if it's 3 in the morning or just after dark nobody here is out to rob you. If you do visit here you will notice that everyone has their door open. It is a peaceful place in that sense, but be warned there is no noise pollution law here so be prepared to listen to jarana, bolero or banda at anytime of the day or night.
When in Carrillo
A must for anyone who wants to experience and indulge in FCP is to visit the cultural centre (Case del la Cultura) with its wonderful art exhibitions, workshops and local produce all on show. It is a brilliant insight to life of the Maya in this urban environment. Another point of interest for me personally is the Santuario de la Cruz Parlante (The Talking Cross) an iconic part of the revolution for the Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula with Mass starting at 4am and performed with Maya priests. I was lucky enough to have a tour of this sacred site with a complete rundown of the history and importance with students from the TecNM - Technology Institute and thanks to them I would highly recommend it.
Fascinated with wildlife, it was only a matter of time before I headed off into the jungle on my bicycle following a dirt track. Three hours later I realised this is jaguar country and not one soul knew I was there! Once I arrived back to my port I checked out Google maps and found that this track takes you all the way to a dock where you could contract a small boat to Punta Allen, so keep that in mind as Punta Allen is quite famous here.
Ocom just minutes down the road. It is a highlight with 7 interconnected lagoons and the Ecotourism centres Balam Nah and Siijil Not Ha will not disappoint you, so make sure you check out the watch tower over looking the jungle canopy, grab a kayak for a few hours and even spend the night there in a cabin.
I am not going to tell you where to eat. I recommend eating anywhere here, everyone seems to put a little bit of there soul into the food so most of the time its always good or try your best to find some classes and cook the Maya way.
Hire a bicycle for a few days. Go get lost in the jungle, explore the town, enjoy that sense of adventure and forget some of that luxury lifestyle you have been used to.
A must visit and is definitely on our bucket list is Ocom (insert link here). If you are a nature lover, into bird watching, fond of bumping into a Jaguar then this is for you.
Study and live with a host family for a week or two. Check out Na'atik's programs for studying Maya and Spanish (where you'll also get a cooking class), and it's probably the best opportunity to get to know the locals and the town.
Book yourself a little tour guide. Felipe Carrillo Puerto has a lot of hidden gems, so if you want an authentic feel and really want to get to know the history of the Maya civilisation then this would be your best way.
Favourite Eats - Antigua Taqueria Hermanos Gomez
Favourite Bar - El Ruedo Snack Bar
This is a wonderful part of the Yucatan Peninsula if you are looking for an authentic experience and want to be immersed into a different culture. It really is the perfect gateway to the Maya way of life.
If you are looking for more details about the Yucatan Peninsula then check out my other featured post
Land of the Maya.
Peace, love and travel.