After dropping my new hammock and wooden Mayan carving off in the car, we headed back towards the main square at the Tulum Ruins Market. We were excited to get on the open-air tram that would take us through the jungle to the ruins at the sea, but I didn’t know what wonderful experience I was in store for around the corner.
As we hustled through the bustling market the wonderful smell of ‘copal’ smoke greeted our senses.
Copal is a dried tree sap that is burned in all Mayan ceremonies. It is the fresh version of the sap that originally created the rock hard ambar with bugs and insects of the past.
The Mayans believe the billowing white smoke of the yellow sap cleanses the soul. I cannot even describe the smell as it isn’t similar to anything we burn up north. It is vaguely reminiscent of burning a glob of cedar sap with an added sweetness. All I know is I love it.
We heard the piercing wail of a wood flute joining the low bass drone of a conch shell being played. These two organic instruments make up the most familiar sound of Mayan music and combined with the smoky smell of the copal had me swooning with excitement in anticipation of walking through the ruins of the thousand year old Mayan monastery.
The Mayan teenagers were dressed in warrior outfits made with leather and roughly woven hemp fabric. All had large headdresses carved from wood with feathers and painted with the famous Mayan indigo blue. They had covered their dark bodies with charcoal soot with white paint designs of animals and flowers.
One teen had the largest and most ferocious headdress, and was leading the group in a dancing circle around the burning ceramic pot of copal in the center.
I lost all sense of time and space as the delicious smoke and music encircled us. As the young teen played the flute, I felt lulled into a swoon. The music built to a crescendo as the beat of the conch shell increased and the wail of the flute became piercing, as if warning us of an approaching threat….
That’s when I heard another long piercing wail coming up behind us…