From Mexico to Bristol via Guatemala and Geneva

I travelled to Mexico on New Year’s Day. It was not as cold in the UK as it is as today as I finally write this in Bristol on 3rd March, where I have been snowed in for a couple of days. The city came to a standstill yesterday as the snow and blizzards hit us. All the trains and buses were cancelled and there hardly any cars were out. Most people were walking. What a transformation of a city into a very Yin reflective space.

Victoria Park, Bristol in the snow

I had come to Mexico to be with my daughter Rosa, who has been there since September.  As I had only 3 weeks I came mostly to be with her and with the nature and not so much to study, like on my trip this time last year to Thailand. I also wanted to experience some Yang, sun energy, although not too strong. It was an ideal climate for me: around 26 to 28 degrees most of the time.

It was my first trip to Mexico, but not to South America. Back in the early 80’s when I was still studying shiatsu, I spent 6 months in Nicaragua, with a month in Cuba, working with women in the fishing village of Puerto Morazán which is twinned with Bristol.  It’s wonderful to see that the link is still alive and running over 30 years later.

I learnt some Spanish then, which wasn’t so hard after having studied Italian and French at Bristol University. As I don’t speak much Italian or Spanish, apart from my courses in those countries, it took me a while to get back into speaking it. However, it was wonderful to be able to chat to local people: something I had not been able to do in Thailand.

We spent our first few days, visiting Mayan ruins: which made me question how much our modern buildings have evolved in terms of aesthetics, in some ways! They are such beautiful spaces. We visited one place near the sea (Tulum) and one in the jungle. (Palenque)

Palenque Mayan ruins

We also swam in the cenotes, which are pits in the earth. Some people say they are made when meteorites hit the earth.  The firsts ones we swam in were in the middle of woods, near Tulum

Cenote near Tulum

but we also swam in some in the lagoon of Bacalar. They are beautiful natural places, and some were probably used for Mayan ceremonies.

 

Lagoon of Bacalar

Water was a theme for the trip for me: I do love being near water. The ruins in Palenque were in woods which had some wonderful waterfalls and we also went to visit some amazing waterfalls nearby: Aqua Azul and Rolando Barrios.

Waterfall in Palenque

Agua Azul

Agua Azul

I have never seen so many huge waterfalls together: it was very magical and cleansing. Water is such a powerful element to be in.  We didn’t spend much time by the sea near Tulum as it as busy, but we finished our trip staying at lake Atitlan in northern Guatemala. It was a magical and peaceful place where I discovered that in Mayan astrology I am a Crocodile (Xmox), a water sign. This is interesting as in western astrology I am a Pisces star sign. Rosa and I did a ceremony with a shaman by the lake and he said that I should thank the water every day.

Lake Atitlan

At the end of our time in Mexico we also spent time near the mountains: in the lovely village of San Cristobal. Here it was surprisingly cold. We saw how the local Mayan traditions had been absorbed into Catholic traditions when we visited a local church (San Juan Chamula).  It was impressive to go inside where the floor was covered with pine needles and people were burning candles in small groups and doing ceremonies. One group had even got a live chicken, presumably to sacrifice later! We were so fascinated by wanting to understand what was going on that we got a local guide to explain. He told us how the church, as in Europe, was built on a traditional Mayan sacred site, by a well. The Catholics integrated Mayan traditions within the Church. The doorway contained sacred Mayan symbols and people were allowed to continue their ceremonies in the church. The different coloured candles signified different elements in Mayan culture and I was interested with how much overlap with Chinese medicine, especially in relating colours to aspects of nature: even if there are some differences too. I made this chart also adding in some significances the shaman we met in Guatemala made. They both said however, and this is my experience of Chinese medicine too, that  they are a focus, a finger pointing and not to take them too literally.

Colour Mayan significance Chinese medicine significance
Red Day, blood, protection from accident Fire, Blood
Black Night, protection from death Water, Yin, night
Yellow Sun: protection from spirits and where water comes from to give yellow fruit colour Earth/Fire, day
White Moon, purity, air Metal; clarity
Blue Heart of the sky Water; ancestral energy
Green Life, heart of the earth Wood: new life
Cream Earth Orange/yellow is earth
Mixed colours Protection of life destiny Not a special connection

 

This shows how much the way of life and healing systems were, and still are, connected to nature: we are a microcosm of the universe. We are only part of the whole and it is important to respect and honour our place and to respect and honour the earth which nourishes us.

With the shaman in Guatemala, we did a ceremony by lake Atitlan, which was essentially about honouring our connection to nature and cleansing our body. He built a small fire with different elements like special wood, chocolate, a form of incense and candles and called in the four directions before he lit the fire. We then gave thanks to all the different signs and days in the Mayan calendar and then finished with a water purifying cleansing of our body, where he also tapped quite deeply all over our body. I felt very clear afterwards.

Fire with candles

Now I am back in Bristol, I am experiencing the more Yin nature of water: snow, ice, although it is rapidly melting. Connecting to nature is important to me, especially as I live in a town.  I was teaching last week in Geneva and decided to spend some time in the mountains, connecting even more with Yin, and skiing.

Villars

So, I wish that you can all find your special nature places. Do you connect more with water or fire, or earth or other elements? I connect with them all in different ways, but I think water has a special place in my heart.

 

  1. Jessica Johnson on 04/03/2018 at 10:23 am

    Hi Suzanne
    I am most envious of your trip – I lived in Mexico for some years (in the last century!!) and have also visited the wonderful Lake Atitlan a couple of times (unfortunately ringed by rich and armed US millionaire homes) so recognise many of your colourful photos – most welcome in this now semi-whiteout.
    You may be interested to hear that you are not the first to note the overlaps between the two cultures. There is an excellent book entitled “WInd in the Blood: Mayan Healing and Chinese Medicine” (Garcia, Sierra and Balam) which was produced initially as a handbook to build a bridge of understanding between Mayan traditional Medicine and its implicit world view and that of the West. There are indeed – as in any functioning healing modalities built on lived experience – enormous overlaps between the two but very interesting ones that the book explores in depth. From my own experience in Mexico I was surprised to find that they used moxibustion (I used to have some very painful sessions with a curandera friend!) as well as putting much emphasis on hot and cold foods. It is a fascinating book.
    May your Yang prosper after so much Yin nurturing!
    Love Jessica

    • suzanneyates on 05/03/2018 at 5:32 pm

      thank you for this Jessica. Ah yes I do remember now that you lived in Mexico for a while. Yes it was a shame that Atitlan has so many millionaire homes: as the owner of where we stayed said it is like a micro cosm of the world. Everything from the rich to those changing wanting to change the world in different ways as with yoga, ceremonies, chanting and so on…..

  2. Kalandar on 06/03/2018 at 11:26 pm

    for me i’ve enjoyed reading your travelog and also on reflecting your sense of the city of Bristol having a rest and of becoming more quiet while in the external world, there was a (definitely Yang) transport crisis and sort of echoes of stockpiling milk and bread for the hard time ahead ! Lovely to get this other reflection of peace and stillness – but as with everything there are so many different responses and one was a business one with milk being poured down the drain.
    I thought of ice being more yang than the water so this is a new take on the element
    All in all i wished i’d spent a bit longer in the snow than i actually did from reading your blog !
    also i love waterfalls too – cataratas !
    Good stuff and thanks

    • suzanneyates on 07/03/2018 at 2:58 pm

      thank you for your comments. Yes there are always many different ways of responding to the same situation. Yes for me ice is the most Yin form of water: ie most condensed, and cold! And the most Yang form of water is steam! That could be a whole discussion in itself as even thought some elements are more Yin and some more Yang, there is always a Yin aspect to a Yang element (eg Fire Yin: candle, Wood Yin, the roots of the tree) and a Yang aspect to the Yin ( ie metal: space and expansion into the air) . Suzanne

  3. Jutta Banholzer on 08/03/2018 at 11:02 am

    Thank you Suzanne for sharing your impressions and experinces with us. About 20 years ago I spent 9 weeks travelling by bike from Cancun through the South of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. Reading your blog many memories have come back, very magical. It’s like breathing the air again, feeling the water on my skin, being in those special Maya Places. We spent a few days at the Lagoon of Baccalar which was very special. We were impressed of rich people living next to very poor people. I don’t know if this still works. … Swimming in the glass-clear water, so wonderful (I can’t find the best words in english) And you haven’t mentioned the food, which is so special, the colours on the market … EARTH. Also we made great experiences with people, they were so kindful. Greetings from “Winter-Germany” (but the snow is melting today) Jutta Banholzer

    • suzanneyates on 13/03/2018 at 9:37 pm

      thank you Jutta for sharing your impression of the South of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. I am glad that my blog helped reconnect with your time there. Yes there are still rich people living next to poor people. And yes the water is so wonderful. And yes the food is really special.. and all the colours..I wish I had had 9 weeks and it must have been magical cycling! Suzanne

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