Rainy Day Cancun

A Shot in the Rain: Cancun, Mexico

A rainy day at the beach in Cancun, Mexico
Photo by Kayte Deioma

People go to Cancun to swim and snorkel in the super-blue water of the Caribbean and sun themselves on the white sand beaches. A trip into the jungle to explore ancient pyramids may be on the agenda, but rain is rarely calculated into the plan. But guess what? Cancun has a nice long rainy season, which coincides with the summer months when most Americans take their vacations. Just because it’s the rainy season, doesn’t mean it will rain every day or all day. There is still likely to be plenty of sunshine. However, chances are, if you are in town for a week, it will rain at some point.If you are staying at a megalithic all-inclusive resort, you may have a movie theatre or dance hall that gets roped into use as daytime entertainment when it rains. For everyone else, it’s a great opportunity to explore some of the area’s indoor and wet attractions.

In this issue, we’ll visit the Museum of Mexican Folk Art, swim with the dolphins at the Interactive Aquarium, go beyond shopping at Kukulcan Plaza mall, take a cooking class at the Ritz-Carlton Culinary Center and enjoy the magic of the Xcaret Night Spectacular.

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Xcaret Eco Park: History, Culture, Ecology and Water Play

story and photos by Kayte Deioma

Although much of what Xcaret Ecological and Archaeological Park has to offer is outdoors, there are a variety of indoor activities that can keep you dry on a rainy day, and you won’t care if it’s raining if you are in the water.

Architect Miguel Quintana Pali came up with the idea of building a theme park around some of the Mayan Riviera’s natural wonders and archaeological ruins, which would give people access to these resources, while educating them about the dangers we humans pose to the natural world.

Xcaret, Mayan for small inlet, was once a significant port. Ruins from the ancient village have been restored by the National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH) with funding from Xcaret and are incorporated into the park.

There is a natural inlet with turquoise blue water, which has become a tropical playground surrounded by beaches with rock formations to explore. You can swim through underground rivers, where on a crowded day, you may find yourself bumper to butt with others on the same dark journey between patches of open daylight.

For an additional fee you can try Snuba diving (attached to an air hose) or Sea Trekking with a weighted air helmet in cenotes, which are underwater sinkholes formed when the roofs of underwater caves were eroded away. There is also an independent vendor providing the opportunity to swim with the dolphins.

All of these activities continue under normal rain conditions, but they may be cancelled if there are strong winds.

The wildlife in the park, which includes deer, panthers and jaguars, howler monkeys, birds and butterflies, to name a few, will probably take cover, but you can always find plenty going on inside the Coral Reef Aquarium.

For a decadent and relaxing escape from a sudden shower, a massage under a palapa or in a river cave at the Xpa could do the trick. A little pink boat rows you across the river to the cave. Overhanging green tree branches separate you from a waterfall, whose constant symphony drowns out any other sounds from park visitors.

The outdoor shows, like the Mexican Charreria cow girls, the Mayan fire dancers and the Papantla Flyers may be cancelled if there is significant rain, but the evening Xcaret Spectacular Night Show will go on in the indoor Grand Tlachco theatre and ball court.
The Xcaret Night Spectacular is worth the trip to Xcaret, even if you don’t spend the day at the park. The show is included with the cost of admission, or for an additional fee you can have a three course dinner during the show, which was one of my favorite meals of the trip.

Although the narration is all in Spanish, you won’t have any trouble understanding the historic presentation. The show begins with Mayan children enacting the legend of the story of creation. Offerings to a leopard-skin-clad dignitary from a citizenry of painted men in elaborate headdresses and women in colorfully embroidered robes provide the prize for the winners of the ancient ball games.
Team scores a goal in the Mayan game of Pok ta'pok during the Xcaret night Spectacular.The first pre-Hispanic game, called Pok ta’ pok, is played by barefoot men wrapped in leather and fabric loincloths, each with unique body paint, bearing carved and feathered creatures on their heads. The goal of the 3000-year-old game is to get the rubber ball through a vertical stone hoop by hitting it with just the hip. Although it appears to be a team sport, just one man is honored as a winner at the end.

The pre-Hispanic burning ball game, Uarhukua at the Xcaret Night Spectacular. In the Burning Ball Game, or Uarhukua, from the Purépecha people of Michoacan, they light a wooden ball on fire, then use hockey-like sticks to propel it though the same stone hoops. The fireball represents the sun and honors the god of fire in this ritualistic sport. Despite also being barefoot, I was glad to see that these players wore a much thicker protective layer of leather around their midsections displaying team colors.

The ball games are followed by the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, which begins peacefully and escalates into battle. Spanish knights on horseback accompany monks in brown robes to convert the Mayans to Christianity. The indigenous people and Spaniards intermingle once more creating the Mexican culture.

The second half of the program on Mestizo Mexico is a showcase of regional Mexican folk music and dance from around the country. A colorful array of costumes, music and dancing take you from the Gualeguetza of Oaxaca, to the Vaqueria of the Yucatan. The Old Men Dance represents Michoacan, while Veracruz celebrates its Carnaval with feather-clad showgirls. Papantla fliers swing from the rafters. Sinaloans dance a polka; and drummers beat out a peasant tune from Tabasco. Mariachis, a flirtatious Jarabe Tapatio dance and rope tricks from Jalisco round out the cultural tour. The grand finale brings them all back together, with giant puppets leading the parade. It is a really impressive exhibition of Mexico’s cultural heritage.

Xcaret is located just south of Playa Del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera. At publication, prices start at $69 for adults and $34 for children 40″-50″ tall for basic park entry, 10% off for online purchase. Packages are available including meals and transportation. Xcaret may be included or have special rates from some all-inclusive Cancun or Mayan Riviera resorts. For more information and current prices visit www.Xcaret.com.

Mexican Folk Art Museum: The Art of Hands

story and photos by Kayte Deioma

Life-size figures were modeled after real people from indiginous cultures all over Mexico and dressed in costumes of the region.The Casa de Arte Popular Mexicano or Mexican Folk Art Shop and Museum, is an enchanting excursion into the diversity of Mexican folk art traditions. Located in an upstairs storefront in the Embarcadero shopping center, it seems more shop than museum at first glance, especially because you enter through the gift shop.

Admission includes the use of an audio cassette tour, available in Spanish, English and French, that is absolutely critical for understanding what A visitor admires the life-size figures in the chapel created at the Mexican Folk Art Museum.you’re seeing. Every inch of available surface and wall space is used for display, with no room left for interpretive panels. Although the density gives it a bit of a cluttered feel, the exhibits are artfully arranged by theme.

The museum’s curators scoured the country to find the best examples of each of Mexico’s indigenous folk art traditions, at times commissioning pieces from the top artists in a particular medium. So the artifacts are a combination of historic pieces and new works.
Musical instruments, from pre-Hispanic to modern, at the Mexican Folk Art Museum.In the first gallery, musical instruments like pre-Hispanic gourd rattles, rain sticks, primitive xylophones and drums of logs and gourds are arranged together on a platform of large adobe bricks. Hand-crafted stringed instruments from tortoise-shell, gourd and armadillo skin guitars to inlaid, painted and beaded instruments adorn the back wall.

A Mexican flag, created with tiny ceramic cups, at the Mexican Folk Art Museum in Cancun, Mexico.The eagle, serpent and cactus from the Mexican flag are painted on ceramic plates and pots in the styles of different regions, carved from wood, beaded in bright patterns and laid out in mosaics in the political and patriotic exhibit.

Hundreds of masks from across Mexico are on display at the Mexican Folk Art Museum in Cancun.Almost 300 masks cover the opposite wall from floor to ceiling – smooth or hairy animal masks, carved or paper Mache devils and demons, blond, blue-eyed Mardi Gras giants and theatrical characters, and calavera skull masks for Day of the Dead. Each genre shows representations from different parts of Mexico.

A colorfully beaded gourd rests among a mountain of painted and plain vessels at the Mexican Folk Art Museum in Cancun.The tour continues into a larger gallery where you’re greeted by a mountain of gourd art piled atop an incredible network of tree roots. The versatile squash becomes bowls, urns, canteens, rattles and wind chimes. Some have simple line art, more are elaborately painted in varying styles, others are intricately beaded with tiny colored glass beads. Among the gourds and roots, wooden or woven snakes, alligators and turtles cavort.
The Mexican Marketplace Exhibit at the Mexican Museum of Folk Art.A corner of a marketplace has been recreated to the right, with life-size figures of women in traditional garb selling clay pots, rice, eggs, dried beans, fruits, vegetables and other miscellaneous goods. A painted mural backdrop continues the scene into the distance.

To the left, we find a typical Purépecha house from Michoacan, where a father uses an olotera made of dried corn husks to rub the kernels off an ear of corn while his son looks on and his wife weaves on a suspended loom.

The Puebla Kitchen at the Mexican Folk Art Museum in Cancun.Beyond the Purépecha home is a Puebla kitchen with counters and walls detailed with ornamental Talavera tiles and pottery from the region. The arched ceiling and alcoves reflect the Moorish influence Spanish settlers brought to the area. A stove, sink and limestone water filter are built into the counter. A rack of molinillos, carved wooden whisks used for frothing chocolate milk, hangs on a wall. Heart and bird-shaped stone mortar and pestle sets called molcajetes and a stone metate for grinding corn are on display. Beaten copper pots find homes on the stove, wall and suspended from the ceiling. The dinner table, with multicolored, hand-painted chairs, is laden with representations of typical foods and tableware.

A nativity scene at the Mexican Folk Art Museum.A nativity exhibit uses tree stumps as pedestals for dozens of crčches in different artistic styles from around Mexico, from tiny sets you could hold in the palm of your hand to three-foot ceramic figures. The holy family is represented as European, Mexican or Indiginous people, from monochrome to multihued, in materials including clay, tin, wood, sea shells, straw, papier-Mâché, fabric, beads and wire.

A colorful exhibit of churches at the Casa de Arte Popular in Cancun, Mexico.Other religious symbols include crucifixes made of everything from roots and branches to bottle caps, brightly colored or naturally toned churches, angels and Virgin of Guadalupe figures. A recreated chapel is populated with a life-size congregation of fiberglass citizens modeled from real people representative of the various indigenous groups in Mexico. Each is clothed in appropriate regional attire.

The wedding scene from Tiburcio Soteno's Tree of Life at the Mexican Folk Art Museum in Cancun.On the altar, Jesus is suspended within the wood frame outline of a cross, backed by dozens of tin luminarias. The cross is flanked on either side by elaborate hand-painted clay “Trees of Life” that each consist of hundreds of individual characters and details telling a particular life story. One incredible Tree of Life by Tiburcio Soteno tells the life story of a skeleton character with all his skeletal family and friends, from birth through marriage and death. Another is filled with mermaids surrounded by hundreds of vibrantly colored fish and other sea creatures.

The toy exhibit at the Mexican Folk Art Museum.A final side gallery is devoted to toys. Dolls and clay figures, mechanical toys and games, doll houses and miniature musical instruments, toy trucks, cars and buses piled high with produce on top, are all a delight to the eye. On one side, a girl has lined up all her dolls on toy chairs to watch her brother put on a puppet show.

The gift shop at the Mexican Folk Art Museum.The audio tour is 45 minutes if you listen to it straight through, but I found myself stopping the tape often to spend more time admiring the examples of different styles of craftsmanship in each exhibit. Once you’ve finished the tour, the gift shop is choc full of the work of some of the best folk artists from around the country. It’s worth a little extra time to explore, even if you are not buying, because most things are really one of a kind art works (even if there are variations) rather than replicas of pieces in the museum.

La Casa del Arte Popular Mexicano (Mexican Folk Art Museum)
Boulevard Kukulcán Km. 4, El Embarcadero
Zona Hotelera, Cancún
Phone: (998) 849 43 32 or (998) 849 55 83
www.museoartepopularmexicano.org