The Riviera Maya is a pretty special place. And because of that, as we’ve mentioned, the population in the area is growing at a pretty rapid rate. Last I heard, Playa del Carmen is the fastest growing city in Latin America. That kind of growth brings lots of opportunities to the area, including lots of jobs and lots of money all based around tourism. Currently, though, the tourism seems to only stretch so far and is managed (and profited from) primarily by big corporations. There are large sections and people of the Yucatan Peninsula going ignored and undiscovered. Which is a huge shame because there are people and cultures and communities with stories to tell, experiences to share and hand made goods to purchase if people are willing to step just a bit off the beaten path.

Recently we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to take a step off that beaten path and visit a community in the Maya Zone of the Riviera Maya called Señor. Yes, the name of the town is Mr. (I would say it’s the best town name I’ve come across here but a few weeks ago we drove through the town of Poop, so for now it gets second place). In addition to the really cool name, we found out that it’s also a really cool place to visit. Señor is located about a 2.5 hour drive from Playa del Carmen so to make it a single day trip we had to head out super early.

Exploring the Maya Zone
Off the beaten path, indeed. We passed through Felipe Carillo Puerto on the way to Señor, one of the main crossroad cities of the Maya Zone in the Yucatan.

Our trip was organized through Ojos Mayas, an organization that is trying to revitalize community tourism by connecting tourists and travelers directly with the communities and people in the Maya Zone. The goal of community tourism is to make sure that the money generated from tourism goes directly to the people who are providing the services. Our small group of 8 was led by our guide Marcos who spoke Mayan, Spanish and a little bit of English. Thankfully we also had an English translator, and not just because I’m learning Spanish at a very slow pace. Have you ever heard Mayan spoken? Very cool sounding, but also very hard to understand.

Angel and Marcos
Marcos taught us several Mayan words. There was a test at the end to see who remembered. Not to brag…but I totally dominated.
Moto Taxis in Señor
Once we got to Señor we traveled around in these sweet rides.

First stop was at the local doctor’s office. And by doctor, I mean the local healer. The closest doctor that offers westernized medicine is more than 30 minutes away and can be an expensive trip via cab or bus. So everyone in town visits the traditional healer. She claims she has plants and herbs that can cure everything from bad breath and smelly armpits to snake bites and breast cancer. One plant that she shared with us was extremely poisonous. She told us that for teeth problems a tiny dot was applied to the hurt tooth. which makes it immediately stop hurting. Sounds great right? Then she told us that several days later tooth basically breaks apart and falls out. Well, I guess that’s one way to deal with a cavity.

Healer in Senor
The local doctor. She’s a wise woman and very much revered and respected in the Señor community. I can see why. She sure intimidated me.
Senor Pharmacy
This is the pharmacy. I’m really not kidding. Everything used for medical treatments is grown right here.

Next we headed to the home of Don Abundio, an elder in the town. He estimates his age at 94 or 95, there’s no record of his birth so he’s not sure. His secret to longevity? He told us he doesn’t drink any Coke and doesn’t eat azucar (sugar). I ignored the cigarettes that were never far from his hand, I figure if you can make it to that age you can do pretty much whatever you want.  He sat in his hammock and gave us an oral history of the area dating back to the Caste War fought between the Spanish, Mexican and Mayans. I had no idea, but the Yucatan area was not actually part of Mexico until relatively recently – recently being the 1900s. Truly fascinating and eye-opening stuff. His Dad actually fought in the battles. While some of his stories seemed a bit….stretched…he is a natural born storyteller and gave a good historical perspective and struggles of the area.

Senor Elder
At less than half his age (Probably? Maybe?) I’m pretty sure I don’t have half the memory and physical ability he still does.
Caste war photo
This photo he showed us was dated 1901 on the back. An amazing artifact.

The one thing that Jason really wishes we had in our apartment? A hammock. Fortunately we met this guy who showed us how one is made. It’s woven out of sisal, a variety of the agave plant. So hammocks and tequila come from the same category of plant. Genius. This just makes so much sense.

Making sisal
I tried to pay close attention, Jason’s birthday is coming up and I was thinking homemade hammock. Come to find out it’s not so easy to create rope from a plant.

The community also has melipona (stingless) bees for honey production.

Honeycomb in Senor
The honey that comes out of this is like gold. We were told a teaspoon a day helps allergies, the common cold and rubbing it on a wound heals it right up.

The area is also awash in cenotes and freshwater lakes. We stopped by nearby Laguna Azul to cool off. I’ll admit, for a moment I got a little homesick, it is strikingly familiar to a lake we used to spend a lot of time at back in the United States (palm trees aside).

Laguna Azul
A rocky shore, some hills in the distance and a freshwater lake.

After all of that we had worked up quite an appetite and headed to a lunch prepared by the locals. And oh my god, the food that they served? Amazing. Eggs, beans, vegetables and freshly-made tortillas. So simple and so delicious.

Lunch
The eggs were mixed with chaya, a vegetable that is similar in color and texture to spinach.
Lunch in Senor
The freshly-made tortillas were still hot. And delicious.

Before we left we took a moment to check out some of the items that the people in the area have created using the goods and tools we had just learned about. Beautifully crafted and the best part about purchasing things here is that the money went directly to the person who had created them – no middle man.

Hand made items in Señor
I got a new purse, some honey and best of all? I met the people who made both.

When we were driving back to Playa (while everyone else was sound asleep) I was thinking about the hundred other towns that we have driven through on our adventures throughout Mexico. I have no doubt each one of them has a story to tell and an experience to share. While we couldn’t stop in all of them, I’m wishing we had stopped in at least a couple of them (especially Poop). Ojos Mayas is planning to add additional destinations to communities in the Maya Zone in the near future. I can’t wait, sign us up!

The Ojos Mayas tour to Señor is $1500 MX and includes round-trip transportation, guide, the tour and lunch. A good deal that goes to a great cause.