I stare at the ball, mesmerized by the fire blazing menacingly from it.
It flies through the air and comes to an abrupt stop on the outreaching player's hockey stick. He turns that stick and, with great dexterity, quickly launches the flaming ball into the air again.
It travels in a blaze of light to one player in tribal costume, who is eagerly standing, waiting for it, far down the concrete passage-way nestled between two ramps. Without skipping a beat, that player catches the fiery ball with his hockey stick and sends it on to the next ball player.
All this while, the audience stares in disbelief, and gasps, when the blazing items rolls over a player's foot or comes close to touching the festive loin cloths the men are wearing.
Yet never once does the fire touch them.
This is how one typical ballgame used to be played in ancient Mayan times. This hockey-like version is just one of the two sports we got to see.
The other is similar to a game of soccer, but the ball is hit with the hip and not with the foot (a kind of "hipball" rather than a "football") and the "goal" is a small, round, hole up in the middle of the ramp.
It looks impossible for the ball to be hit through the hole, but with skill, the players are surprisingly able to do it.
This is what you can expect to see during the Day of the Dead celebration which lasts for four days, in XCaret, Mexico. This festival should not be missed. It has different activities being performed ever day for the four days it is on.
You will enjoy music, dancing, face-painting (just half of the face is in the guise of a skeleton, the other half is normal, since one half depicts death and the other, life), as well as altars with flowers and pictures of the dead.
There are also replicas of the tombs where, once a year, relatives take the bones of their loved ones out, wash them, and put them back into boxes where they sit until the washing ritual happens again the following year.
Don't miss it. The Mexicans are not sad over death, in fact they take the occasion and celebrate it. You'll actually find that the Day of the Dead in Mexico, especially in XCaret, Cancun, has a whole lot of joyful life to it!
San Francisco world travelers can reach XCaret by flying from SFO International Airport to Cancun. The park is around an hour away. Stay at the Hotel Grand Occidental while you are there, it's a mere 5 minute walk to the park.
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See this article by Sheila:
See also her article on the 2012 Cancun-Riviera Maya Food and Wine Festival
Enjoy the slideshow and video.