TULUM, Mexico — Tulum is not out first rodeo. We'd seen "ruins" before this stop. It is our third rodeo, now that you ask, and all three ruins (Chacchoben and Altun Ha) have been in the Yucatan Peninsula and all have been left behind by the Maya. If nothing else, we're consistent. Friends are starting to wonder if we're going to buy into the end-of-the-world thing…from two months ago.
That's one misconception about the Mayas. They did not predict the world would end on December 21, 2012, only that it marked the end of their calendar (left). Nobody thought to mention that the calendar would start over again, but the marketing of December 21 took over, and everybody has to make a buck, right.
Even if it is at the expense of the Maya.
Did you notice the "n" is missing? That's another misconception about these people of the past in North and Central America. They are Mayas, not Mayans. Tulum and places like it are Maya Ruins, not Mayan Ruins. It is the Maya language…and so on…and the source of this is Juan Manuel Trejo, who would be Maya except half of him is Spanish, and that makes him Mestizo, which is a nice way of saying a "mixed race."
"There is no 'n' in Maya," he says. "If it says Mayan, it is because of English."
After we left the Crown Princess in Cozumel, Juan was the tour guide in Tulum. In our two previous "rodeos" we never had a tour guide like him. He is absolutely passionate about everything Maya. He wears two necklaces, one bearing the name of his wife (Gloria) and the other of his daughter (Alexandra). Their names are imbedded on the necklaces in Maya.
Juan is also a bright guy. He probably does this for other cruise lines, but Princess is lucky to have him doing Maya tours for passengers who get off the Crown Princess in Cozumel. The busload he educates and entertains on this day return to the ship shaking their heads at his knowledge, his turn of phrase and most importantly his passion for his past.
"I am 60 per cent Maya," he says. "I didn't really learn this until I went to school to be a tour guide, but when I learned it I realized that I already knew. I was taught by my father, and my grandmother, about the Maya."
What he knows (as much as anyone can KNOW something that virtually disappeared as a civilization 300 years ago) is that the Mayas were ahead of their time in writing, in astronomy and in developing a calendar…they just didn't have the foresight all those centuries ago to create one going beyond 2012.
"The greatest accomplishment of the Maya civilization is the writing," says Juan. "Of all the native Americans people, they were the only ones who knew how to read and write."
His explanation of the Maya calendar is fascinating. It's too long to explain here but after hearing it visitors can't get into a souvenir stop fast enough to buy something, anything, with the calendar on it (us included). Okay, so maybe Juan's a good salesman, too.
He refers to Tulum as the Notre Dame of the Maya, the San Pedro of the Maya or the Stonehedge of the Maya — all three analogies were invoked at various parts of Juan's tour. He is almost grateful to be doing what he does.
"Tourists go to Cancun," says Juan. "Travellers go to Tulum."
There was only one question Juan Manuel Trejo could not answer. There is no "n" in Maya, yet on the sleeve of his tour-guide shirt promoting what he does were these words:
Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
May 31, 2013
Miami (return): Coco Cay, Nassau
Cost per day: $89