The ‘Authentic’ Mayan Village.
In my previous blog post I mentioned my experience at an ‘authentic Mayan village’. Well, upon arrival at the ‘village’ we were met with an empty car park and what appeared to be a large warehouse. The four of us clambered out of the comfort of our air conditioned van and were herded towards a line of ‘local Mayans’ who were going to demonstrate some of their crafts.
Now, on the way here our tour guide had told us to buy our crafts from authentic places, like the one we were going to, as there were so many fake/over priced items in various other shops. He vouched over and over again for the authenticity of these items, as well as the amazing, cannot be beaten prices. As I was only a couple of days into my holiday and suffering from jet lag (I am standing by this!) I took our tour guides words as golden (rookie mistake). I wanted to help the locals and so I had decided that I would buy a small craft from the ‘village’. I am a sucker for tourist tat so figured, as I was going to buy something anyway, I may as well buy it from here.
We were greeted with shots of various tequilas to try (it was about 9am!) as they demonstrated the uses of the Agave plant. We were then ushered along to a washing up bowl filled with water, and some black statues lined up along the side of the bowl. These intricate statues were made of Obsidian and had been carved into various Mayan gods and symbols. The ‘Mayans’ proceeded to demonstrate how you can tell the difference between real and fake obsidian, a problem which Mexicans have encountered in the tourist trade.
We were then given 15 minutes to wander around the large warehouse which had been converted into a shop, displaying all their handicrafts. As I wandered around the ‘shop’, I realized that nothing had prices on them. In addition to this, we were all followed around by one of the locals, plied with more tequila and pushed into buying something. From a sales point of view, they were bang on. From my point of view, it was a recipe for disaster!
Ultimately, I settled on a small obsidian statue of the Jaguar god. I asked the man, who was following me around, how much it was, and instead he gave me a long story about what it stood for and the positive effects having such a statue would have. None of which I can remember now. He eventually told me the price and although it seemed steep, I could feel the 9am tequila shots combined with the jet lag kicking in, and agreed to buy it. Idiot.
On arrival at the till, I realised I didn’t have enough cash, and thought I would have to return the statue to its original place, however, the credit card machine was quickly shoved in front of me and before I realised what I was doing, it was too late. The transaction was done.
I wandered back to the van in a haze and as we continued our journey towards Chichen Itza, it began to dawn on me what had just happened. I had just spent £150 on a statue that was merely 5cm tall. I had been truly and utterly had. What a mug.
At the time I had been so caught up in the tequila, and the experience, that I had not calculated quite how much the equivalent in pounds it was. It always sounds a lot as, for example, 200 pesos is £10. I should really have cottoned on to how much it was when I realised I hadn’t brought enough cash.
This story became quite the cautionary tale, as I met with various other travellers. Many of them either laughed at my stupidity, or shared in my pain.
Anyway, as if I was not already reeling from my disastrous shopping experience, I then witnessed the same thing all over again. On another trip, this time to Ek Balam, where we were again taken to an ‘authentic Mayan village’.
Although this time it did resemble more of a village, and I actually enjoyed the hour or so we spent here. We were fed a delicious lunch of pork, rice, tortillas and a scrumptious cinnamon topped rice pudding. This was accompanied by ladies dressed in traditional Mayan dress performing various dances, including one with trays of tequila shots balanced on their heads.
Again, this trip was laced with tequila from start to finish, regardless of the time of day and I was beginning to suspect that this was all part of the ploy. We were ushered along to another hut and again I experienced the demonstration of how to spot fake obsidian and the uses of the Agave plant.
My other half and I were laughing to ourselves at the fact that it was the exact same people here as were at the other, completely different ‘Mayan village’ and we soon cottoned on to what was going on. This however, did not make me feel any better about the overpriced statue debacle.
The tour guide gave the same spiel about how good the prices were here and encouraging us to help out the local Mayan community. I watched as others were taken in by this, and felt slightly comforted that I was not the only one who had fallen for this.
Now, from what I have gathered, few people visit more than one set of ruins, which is a real shame as they are all different in their setting, history and character but, this is what the tour companies rely on, and had I not have been on a similar experience (with the exact same ‘Mayan people’) I would have been none the wiser to this.
I did really enjoy the tours I went on, and I found the trip to the second ‘Mayan village’ more enjoyable and there are some gorgeous handmade gifts which you can buy, but beware the price and convert into your currency before you buy!
The statue now takes pride of place in the house (it did cost £150 after all!) and is a constant reminder of that fateful day and the lesson I will never forget.
Have you ever fallen victim to overpriced tourist ‘tat’? It would be comforting to know that I am not the only one!