When I was first blindfolded, I felt disoriented, out of control, with the added annoying question lurking in the back of my head: I am a travel writer, how am I supposed to take notes? But our Mayan guide propelled me back into the moment by explaining that when our sight -– our main sense in relating to the world around us –- is cut off, the others senses are expanded. And I had better start paying attention.
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Thus began our Sense Adventure Tour, part of a larger eco-oriented nature park and sustainable tourism program at the Hacienda Tres Rios Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico.

So I initially sensed the jungle, rather than saw it.

Nothing can hurt you, we were reassured. Just trust in yourself and follow your senses. Do not talk, please – communicate only with yourself. And become one with the universe. How does one do that?
First came the sounds. Were they cymbals? Triangles? What did they mean? Were they supposed to mean something? But I didn’t have time to ponder before the next sensory assault — this time different textures caressing my feet as we proceeded blindfolded and bare foot, one hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us. From gravel to burlap, wooden slats to smooth slate to soft rug, we moved about our mini-jungle over an hour’s time. Then a baby laughed – or was it crying – followed by a clash of thunder and then the sounds stopped being a focus and just began to wash over me, as did the bucket of pebbles dumped on my head. I felt like I was being buried. Was that it? Were the baby’s cries rebirth? I had no idea.
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The only time the blindfold was removed was within a tent with constellations of stars twinkling overhead — the universe we’re supposed to feel a part of. Blindfold back in place, the avalanche of sensory overload continued – smells, textures, taste, sounds. All the senses were challenged, often in conjunction with one another, sometimes competing, sometimes complimentary – should I pay attention to the Native American chants or focus on the pebbles pored over my body or the cinnamon under my nose or just give in to the swaying of my body being encouraged by the guides.

Periodically, the guides placed our hands on our heart, reminding us to breathe – the theme repeated – listen to your heart beat – this is what keeps us alive. Feel the universe living and moving inside you.

More sounds, this time a beating drum, ever increasing tempo – guides moved various body parts where they wanted them, hands in front one moment to smell a splash of oil, waving about another in time to the rhythm of the beat. Now chanting once again — feel small seeds flowing through my fingers, taste a sliver of chocolate melt upon my tongue, gravel this time beneath my feet. I’m somewhat annoyed with myself for thinking I’m pretty sure I’m going to find a bunch of pebbles in my underwear later that night. Such a plebian thought feels antithetical to the experience. I refocus – hear a semblance of a heartbeat in the background. I’m not sure whether it’s mine or theirs.
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Then I felt the coldness of a small candle holder in one hand and heat generated by it as my other hand passed over it. The transient thought of how do they do that passed through only to be overshadowed by the incongruous reality itself. And shortly thereafter, I was once again moving to the sounds – I lost track of what they were – but I knew I was simulating the flying motions of a bird. Even though I had no idea what ritual I was taking part in, I felt a sense of belonging – that I was somehow connected to something that was important in some past culture.
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I didn’t know how it was done but it was not important – I breathed in – I exhaled – I moved my arms and swayed my body – I was alone yet part of a larger whole – and it all felt right. And again, my hands were placed on my heart. When not floating in air or touching my heart, my hands were on the shoulder of the person in front of me, traversing about our own private world, wondering what tactile surprise lay ahead.

Sounds again – fire, thunder, rain, birds, planes and wind – and of course, the repetitive chanting – but with maracas in hand now, I could share in the experience directly. And yes, this was my dance – with that of the others – whoever the others might be – everyone moved to their own rhythm – somehow in concert with each other – and I could feel that even through the blindfold.
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I was given a smooth stone soft to the touch with which I was told to caress my face – supplemented by a more rigid scraggly conch shell which I could easily identify. I couldn’t resist holding it to my ear to try to hear the ocean – but then I realized the sounds were coming from behind me – crashing waves. And now, I felt the rainwater I only heard before – icy cold and down my back. It was the only time I heard collective sounds of first shock and then guffaws from my compatriots.

Thunder abounded – and then the raindrops flowed – followed by a windstorm. Somehow I knew that it was all being manufactured, but I didn’t care – it felt real. Now I was asked to clang the smooth stone and the rugged conch shell together to make some more native music, and yet again, the hands are returned to the heart – of course. I started to welcome the gesture as a way of coming home – feeling grounded.

I followed all the instructions as the guides moved my body, arms and hands in different directions and knew I had the choice – I could resist and ask why – or acquiesce and say why not? I feel both on a personal journey and part of a larger connection, as though I was attuned to some greater Mayan or Native American or whatever other culture I sensed was behind it. I felt connected with the elements, with nature.

“And so nature comes to say to us the earth is my body, the water is my blood, the air is my breath, the fire is my spirit,” so sayeth the guide as we near the end. “In front of you is a mirror. See your reflection and know that somewhere inside you, if you have a question, you will find an answer. All the universe is inside you.”

As I removed my blindfold and gazed upon my reflection in the cenote pool in front of me, I was not sure I felt one with the universe but I certainly felt I had experienced a very unique part of it in a magical hour’s time.

For more information, visit http://www.haciendatresrios.com/riviera-maya/nature-park/nature-park-activities where you will find not only the Sense Adventure, but a number of other unusual activities such as snorkeling and kayaking in a cenote, an Xtreme Adventure tour, Segway rides and Hobie Cat outings, and an introductory tour of the many trend-setting sustainable tourism aspects of the hotel. Hacienda Tres Rios was constructed only on areas of low-environmental value with the least adverse impact, and includes water-saving techniques that don’t sacrifice pressure, rooms that are “intelligently designed” to be both high tech and high comfort but low impact, with 120 varieties of native plants in the park that do not require much in the way of water, fertilizer, or pesticides. It has recently been named to TripAdvisor’s 2014 list of the Top 25 Resorts For Families.

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