Ellen Frazer-Jameson reports from her latest cruise on the Norwegian Gem out of
Miami to Central America. The next port of call on a Central American itinerary is
Costa Maya, Mexico.
Welcome to Mexico – Norwegian Gem Cruises into Costa Maya Port
Costa Maya is the first Caribbean port designed exclusively for the cruise ship industry and is strategically located just hours from Cancun on Mexico’s Southern
Yucatan Peninsula. Resembling an ancient Mayan City, Costa Maya, is able to berth three ships at once. However, in these early days of a gradual return to full capacity, even at one ship at a time, the port enthusiastically welcomes seafarers.
The colourful and lively port aims to entertain visitors at a destination that showcases the ancient and colonial heritage of the Mexican Caribbean with all of today’s modern conveniences. Ships dock right alongside Costa Maya’s purpose-built facilities and the pier-side village features a number of swimming pools, one of which is huge with a swim-up bar. Foot-tapping Mexican music spills into the street from local restaurants and bars and shops sell brightly painted pottery, Mexican blankets and hand-made jewellery. There is even a small rocky beach offering ultimate hammock relaxation for those who choose to snooze away shore days under the shelter of an outsized sombrero.
Majahual is the nearest small town to the port and for a few dollars taxi ride, cruisers can visit and experience a typical Mexican neighbourhood which houses about 600 inhabitants. Constructed after a hurricane over a decade ago, there is a one-and-a half-mile promenade which features retail and plenty of places.
Close by are classic examples of Mayan ruins and though they do not feature towering sky-high edifices, these more modest structures are recognizable as Mayan temples with multi levels of stairs leading to an altar at the summit.
Limones village, 5 miles from Cancun and 4 miles from Cozumel, is home to whole families of descendants of the original Mayans and they endeavour to preserve the language and culture of their ancestors.
Few young people speak Mayan but the older generation guard the ancient traditions. The largest group of this indigenous people is In Central America and the Mayan population is estimated at almost six million.
Classic Mayan civilisation reached its peak 250AD to 900AD and the civilisation built great stone cities and towering monuments. Carved in stone, the Calendar Round, a sophisticated and elaborate Mayan calendar which began on a fixed date in 3114BC, calculated dates based on two interlocking cycle, a moon and solar cycle coupled with a sacred year. Recorded dates of the calendar, which for thousands of years had reset according to a Grand Cycle equal to approximately 5,139 solar years, was said by some scholars, destined to end on December 22nd 2012. Across the continents, cults and worshippers warned that the world would end on that date. One belief states that the Mayans were following extra terrestrial instructions when they developed their calendar.
Today’s Mayan’s live largely in rural areas and some still work the land which was given to the indigenous people by the government.
A religious people, Mayan villages typically have a church, a small school and a community meeting place. Ancient Mayan’s devotion to the god’s revolved around sacrificial rituals and the priests chose the most beautiful young girls to be sacrificed. There were said to be nine levels of attainment to reach a spiritual hierarchy.
At Casita Maya in Limones village, Donya Claudia, dressed in a traditional embroidered white floor length dress, and her son Mario work 20 acres of land, plant corn and vegetables, raise chickens and tend mango trees. Their compound is built around a deep cooking pit in the centre of the village and though they have no running water, they do have satellite television.
Lunch at their home, a palm fringed circular hut, comprises of tacos made in a flour tortilla and spread with hot tomato, spicy pepper, salsa and guacamole. Washed down with Coca-Cola. Not one bottle of tequila in sight.
Mayans embrace a religious and spiritual life and on the garden washing line hangs a brightly coloured cushion cover honouring a deity. A flower filled shrine in the home pays devotion to the goddess, a combination of Mayan belief and Roman Catholic tradition. A priest visits weekly to hold services in the small wooden church.
“We have all the services we need,” our guide informs us. “The priest takes care of our spiritual health and for our physical conditions we have a village doctor and one ambulance.”
For effect, he pauses, “The doctor is not working today and neither is the ambulance driver. I am the doctor and the driver of your tour bus drives our ambulance.
Now, it is time to drive you good people back to your ship and we go back to our day jobs.”
Back on board, after a sail away party on deck, our ship sails overnight to Cozumel, Mexico en-route for the end of the roundtrip cruise in Miami. As every other evening, a starry line up of singers, dancers and speciality performers are in the Stardust Theatre to entertain. Production values are Broadway standard but the shows are original and the high energy young dance team and super talented singers deliver show-stopping renditions of all genres of music from ballads to pop to country to swing. An aerial and acrobatic show featuring married couple, American Megan Wilson and Brit Andy Parrish, called Duo Quintessence, thrill the audience with a cirque-style show of sky-high balletic artistry.
Norwegian Gem on this cruise, attracted mature and appreciative cruisers, almost exclusively American, as international borders are still closed, and the traditional ship with a period feel in its elegantly polished wooden interiors and sparkling chandeliers provides a cruise experience more smooth sailing than party city.
Captain Kim Klasson, a Finlander, in a Q and A session, thanked the passengers.
“Our guests are very grateful to be back on board, “ he said, ” and we have many less complaints than usual, for which we are very happy.”
Thank you, Captain, thank you, NCL, thank you the cruise industry. You have done a phenomenal job of getting travellers back to sea, safely on a ship with 100% fully vaccinated passengers and crew. Freedom to experience and enjoy all that the floating luxury hotels ships have to offer has returned the world is open to travellers again. Hop aboard.
Ellen Frazer-Jameson is a journalist, author, actress. theater producer and drama coach. She co hosted the largest live late night radio show in Europe for the BBC and has appeared on national TV shows and taken leading roles on stage. She lives in Miami and London and loves to dance Argentine tango.