If sleeping with a legend is something you’ve always wanted to do (or even if it isn’t!) then Genesis Retreat, an eco-oasis tucked in the interior of the Yucatan in Mexico, is your cup of herbal tea - or maybe a freshly-concocted margarita tamarindo.
One of the eight cozy and unique cabañas in a secure environment at Genesis is the Ixtabay and therein lies a fabled story. An ancient Mayan legend warns young men out walking at night of an enchanting spirit that takes the form of a beautiful woman and lures them to their death. The name of this siren-like spirit is the Xtabay (pronounced Ish-ta-buy).
Owner/manager Lee Christie, a Canadian and former journalist/publisher who fled the rat race and founded the peaceful sanctuary, explains why she has a cabaña called Ixtabay. While Genesis was being built, a carpenter stayed in the room. One night he reported a visitation from a woman in black with long black hair. He swore it was not a dream. The following day, a guest in the adjoining cabaña heard a woman cry, “preparar!” After that a local shaman performed a purification ceremony and the apparition never returned. However, the apparition is remembered with the room named after her.
Lee offers a chance to live a simple, satisfying life even if it has to be condensed into a few days during a short vacation from the fast lane. Here, in the Maya village of Ek Balam (Black Jaguar), only 300 metres from the world-class archaeological site of Ek Balam, we are off the beaten track and in the hands of a seasoned naturalist.
Eight years ago, Lee, exhausted from working too hard and too fast, left Calgary, Canada for Mexico. In founding Genesis, this ecologically and culturally aware woman has transformed an acre of rocky land into a balanced eco system: a lush haven of indigenous trees and shrubs that attract beautiful tropical birds. As a result, mosquitoes are not a problem here. The turquoise waters of the natural swimming pool are bio-filtered with a minimum use of chemicals and filled by tapping into the system of pristine underground river water at 40 meters down.
In the programs she offers, Lee respects the traditions of her village neighbours and endorses sustainable tourism. “Low impact tourism is about supporting what already works for the people here instead of introducing wide-scale changes based on external cultural norms.” She can arrange a visit to learn how to make corn tortillas by hand in the traditional way. Or visit the women who continually weave colourful hammocks outside their Maya homes. My husband and I chose to be spiritually purified by a Maya healer who used herbs, intonations and incense to cleanse our inner selves. Walking around the village, we were greeted by friendly, smiling people and curious, shy children.
The meals Lee and her small local staff prepare use local produce. Some of the many tasty dishes, like lasagne and omelettes, feature the beneficial green vegetable called chaya which is used much like spinach. Chaya was a favourite garden plant of the ancient Maya and is reputed to have better nutritional qualities than Popeye’s favourite food. Chaya is especially rich in calcium, and its protein, mineral, calcium, iron and vitamin content surpasses that of spinach. Lee owns a ranch a few kilometres away where she grows her own chaya and other vegetables and raises chickens for eggs, along with a few cows.
And just in case you are wondering, I can vouch for the margarita tamarindo. The Genesis staff cooks, strains and sweetens the pulp of the tamarind seedpod to make a distinctive sweet and sour drink. The tamarind plant has both nutritional and medicinal qualities. When mixed with local 100% agave tequila and served with a rim of sweet chili, the result is… ay caramba!