INFORMATION FOR TOUR OPERATORS:
Don Jeronimo’s offers an ecological / spiritual tour package of one week’s duration (but it can be done in fewer days, or extended at will; the following is merely a suggestion) of Coban and the Alta Verapaz of Guatemala. It is preferable that the tour group already have been to Tikal and have done the 9 Mayan gods ceremony in Tikal’s Complex Q. Doing this ritual at the start of the tour invokes a blessing on the rest of the journey. The trip from Tikal to Don Jeronimo’s takes about 6 hours on a good road. It is assumed that you provide a tour leader and transportation. If you don’t have transportation, we can put you in touch with reliable minivan operators and conductors. We can also arrange a traditional Mayan fire ceremony with a Mayan priest (this costs Q1200 to pay for fire ingredients, luncheon, and priest's fee, and must be paid in advance. See the article Mayan Ceremonies for further information).
Hotel Don Jeronimo’s is located 15 km. (30 minutes’ drive) from Coban, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala: km. 5.4 Carretera Chamil, Aldea Santa Cecilia, San Juan Chamelco, A.V. (one kilometer before the Rey Marcos Cave).
Phone: (502) 5301-3191 E-mail (note that e-mails are only picked up in town once a week: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tour Package: 6 pax minimum excluding leader; 11 pax maximum. There are four (in a pinch, five) double rooms and one single room available, with an extra little room for the tour leader (3 double bungalows with private bathrooms with hot water showers and kitchenettes with coffee/tea making capability; 2 double rooms and one single room with communal hot water bathroom in main house). Accomodations are rustic but comfortable and the surrounding grounds are picturesque (Don Jeronimo’s is a working blueberry farm located in a rural K’ekchi Mayan community).
Cost: US$20 /pax/day. Milly Hernandez’ demonstration fee is $100; Fire ceremony with Mayan priest costs Q1200. The US$20 includes lodging, 3 vegetarian meals, and all recreational activities: mountain hike, swimming and tubing. Tour of the nearby (1 km away) Rey Marcos Cave costs Q30 (about $4) extra.
One-Week Suggested Itinerary:
Day 1: Arrival at Don Jeronimo’s, settling in.
Day 2: Hike to scenic lookout point in mountains.
Day 4: Tour to Semuc Champey and back.
Day 5 am: primicia ritual (invocation of 9 Mayan gods) or fire ceremony with Mayan priest; pm: demonstration of energy healing by Milly Hernandez.
Day 6: Luncheon of K’ekchi food in a K’ekchi home.
Day 7: Leave after breakfast.
Every day: if sunny: swimming or tubing on river; relaxing in a hammock.
if rainy: ping-pong; extensive video library and book library on all subjects in English.
Instruction in how to channel one’s spirit guides (angels) and how to work with nature spirits is available gratis for those interested.
Two-Week Suggested Itinerary:
Day 1: Arrival in Guatemala City
Day 2: Fly to Tikal; 9 Mayans ceremony in Complex Q
Day 3: Tikal
Day 4: Yaxha or other activities such as canopy tour
Day 5: Drive to Coban (i.e. same as Day 1 above)
Day 11: Leave Coban, drive to Lake Atitlan
Day 12: Lake Atitlan
Day 13: am: drive to Antigua: shopping and sightseeing
Day 14: Fly home
What is Spiritual Tourism?
Bob Makransky, email@example.com
What is spiritual tourism? What is a spiritual tour? As spiritual tour operators and leaders we must understand what the tourists who come to us are seeking, and how we can fulfil their hopes. This is a business, we are doing this principally for the money, which means that we must offer a popular product. But we are also involved in spiritual tourism to try to help the tourists who come to us make their own connections to the world around them. Spiritual tourism also involves doing what we can to help the earth and the native peoples in the areas which we visit.
I will use Guatemala as my example in all which follows, since this is the area in which I work and with which I am most familiar. We can formulate a model of what spiritual tourism should mean by comparing it to the standard tour model.
The standard tour model is a breathless race across Guatemala to cram as many sights and attractions into the shortest possible time. And the usual standard tourist travels in first-world comfort, with a minimum of interaction with the squalid environment of Guatemala or its squalid people. In other words, the standard tour model is like a three-dimensional television show, seen through a minivan or 5-star hotel room window darkly.
When people come to a foreign country, especially one with a deep spiritual tradition such as Guatemala, they automatically enter into a state of altered consciousness. In travelling they have broken their accustomed routines, are in a strange, ineffable environment, and are open to new impressions and ideas. They are seeking adventure. They are more willing to suspend judgment and go with the flow than they are in their normal, everyday lives.
A spiritual tour isn’t about doing rituals or visiting power places or learning shamanic techniques (although the tour can include such things) but rather it means spending time alone, feeling one’s own feelings, getting in touch with oneself, listening to one’s own heart. The itinerary is kept really loose, slowing everything down, slowing everything way down. The tourists who come to us have already broken their quotidian routines and are in an open frame of mind; now we must slow them down even more for the magic to operate. Spirits take advantage of this openness and vulnerability to teach people lessons at places like Tikal. Even non-believers who visit Tikal receive blessings and lessons from the spirits who reside there.
In the spiritual tour model, a journey of two weeks really is a minimum. It takes three days for the average tourist to get over the stress of the flight and dislocation. First night in Guatemala City is unavoidable, but then it should be fly to Tikal and camp there for a few days. Maybe a side trip to Yaxha. Options. Let some people just chill at their hotel in the jungle if they want to. Tourists can only plug into their neighborhood and immediate environment if they live in the same place for a few days at a time. Then they can explore at leisure and find their own pace and niche. They slow down, relax, and make themselves at home. In other words, they find themselves, where they belong. They can never do this if they are running their heads off and being herded about like sheep.
Spiritual tourism involves giving people the opportunity to be alone out in nature, and with the local people. It’s a mistake to think that you have to keep tourists occupied every minute. Let people do their own thing, that’s what a spiritual tour is all about. Assume that people are mature enough that they don’t need their hands held every minute. You just take them to a spiritual place or out to nature and leave them alone and let the magic work. The tourists, assisted by the local spirits, will figure it out for themselves. Part of the philosophy of the spiritual tour model is that the tourists should take responsibility for themselves; that the tour leader doesn’t so much point things out as help the tourists discover things for themselves.
The point is, that when you’re running a spiritual tour, you can’t be racing across Guatemala at breakneck speed. You have to slow down and plug in. I don’t think a spiritual tour of Guatemala can or should be done in only one week; but if so, it should be confined to one geographic area, such as Tikal area or Lake Atitlan area or Coban area (of course with shopping in Antigua on the last day before flying out). Racing from place to place basically reduces the freedom from routine which travel should entail to just another routine. In that case, what are the tourists doing here? Also, tour groups shouldn’t include too many people, which is difficult for the average person to integrate.
I recommend that spiritual tours of Guatemala start in Tikal rather than end there, as is usual in standard tours (since Tikal is the climax), both because Tikal and its surroundings are beautiful and exotic and infinitely relaxing; and also because it is possible to invoke Mayan spirits at Tikal with a simple ritual which guarantees a blessing on the rest of the journey.
Invoking the help and blessings of local spirits is the gist of a spiritual tour, and this is not hard to do. This is how true spiritual connection to a place is made. If you follow this model of spiritual tourism, then you have to be open to what happens as you go along rather than stick to a fixed itinerary. As an example, when New Native tours brought a group to Guatemala several years ago, they did the invocation at Tikal at the beginning of their trip, and after leaving Tikal they ran into some Mayan priests who took them into their homes and showed them some neat things; and later in Chamelco, by an amazing “coincidence”, they found themselves in the midst of a folkloric pageant that they didn’t know in advance was going to happen.
The point is that spiritual tours are not like standard tours which operate on a strict schedule. Spiritual tourism is not merely an adaptation of the standard tour model incorporating “spiritual” destinations and attractions, such as shamans doing rituals or classes in spiritual subjects: “7 am meditation and 8 am breakfast and 9 am Mayan religion lecture and 10 am Mayan ceremony at power place.” etc. Of course it is necessary to book hotels in advance. But beyond that you have to keep pretty flexible and open to what comes your way. You invoke the spirits and let them worry about the itinerary. Don’t worry, they are delighted to do this. And it works.
Guatemala’s squalor is also a part of the spiritual tour experience. It’s important for tourists to see how most of the world lives; that money isn’t the be-all-end-all of existence; that these people are somehow managing to live without all the conveniences and riches of the first world; and yet they are incredibly dignified and command our due respect. We learn that they have something of value in their lives which we have lost in our hustle/bustle to make money and fit in – something honest, humble, and true – and maybe we can learn something of value from them.
At the same time, these people are pathetically naïve about the way the modern world works, and we can perhaps be instrumental in facilitating their entry into modern society as empowered agents of change rather than as helpless victims. Tourists should learn that there’s no need to feel ashamed before poor people: that dignity has nothing to do with riches, that they’re not accusing you of anything, you need make no excuses. But they can use your help.
If it can be arranged for the tour to have a meal in a Mayan home, this is ideal; if not, perhaps a group luncheon prepared by indigenous people – some way that the tourists relate at some point on their journey with locals on a sharing-a-meal level. This is because the Mayans regard sharing food as the basic social ice-breaker; if they are sharing food with someone, or at least serving their own food to someone in their home, then a better eyeball contact can be made than when the main interaction is between seller and buyer, or servant and master.
The spiritual tour model of Guatemala coincides with the standard tour model in spending the last day of the trip shopping and sightseeing in Antigua. Not only is this an expected part of any tour of Guatemala, but also it helps to plug the tourists back into the “real”, urban world preparatory to their flying back to wherever they came from. A day in Antigua is a reality check, a decompression chamber or half-way house, between the jungles of Peten and green mountains of Coban on the one hand, and Amsterdam, Zurich, or Chicago on the other.
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