Reflections on Living in a Mayan Pueblo

By: Mari Pintkowski, May 2008

pool hammock
As I sway back and forth in the hammock strung over the cenote-style swimming pool, I think of the day, only four years ago, that we finished building our house in Macario Gomez.

The Mayan village of Macario Gomez spreads out on unpaved and wandering streets on either side of the Tulum-Cobá Road at kilometer marker twenty. It spans about two miles in length with three tope stops. There are several small restaurants with one to three tables that offer inexpensive tacos, several mini-markets, a liquor store, several churches, a pre-school and an elementary school, a community building, a park, and the Delegado’s( Director’s) office where official town business takes place. A handful of rustic, artesian shops are also scattered along the highway selling wood carvings, blankets, hammocks and other souvenirs. The community also has a honey store where they sell local honey products, including jars of golden nectar gathered from hives in the local milpas. Some homes are made of wood saplings, while others are constructed of concrete block and stone. All of the casas are topped with palapa and wood roofs.

Our only neighbors, even after four years, are Maria and Cristóbal and their children. Their parenting styles, based on their own cultures (New Zealand and Mexico), seem to have meshed well when you meet their three well-mannered, intelligent, and playful children. They are each other’s best friends. Each member of the family is always willing to share his knowledge, friendship, and stories with us.

A few Italian, Dutch, Spanish, English, American and other non-Mexicans are buying property around Macario Gomez and starting to clear the land to build their homes here. A few enterprising local women set up a taco stand on Saturday in front of the liquor store to sell food to the workmen on their way home from their jobs along the Riviera Maya. Trucks, cars and taxis line up in the parking lot as the recently-paid men stock up on provisions for their homeward journey along the road to Chemax and beyond. Unfortunately, with each departure the mounting pile of trash grows.

The local Mayan people know that the land that was handed down to them from their parents is becoming very desirable and the prices are starting to escalate. We wondered if the money they receive from the sale of land improves their lives, or do they just buy TVs, stereos and other toys that will give them more exposure to the outside world and eventually make subtle changes?

Before we built paths that encircle our hectare at La Selva Mariposa, we spent many mornings jogging on the back streets of the pueblo and around the ball field. There is a large cenote, adjacent to the sports field, that fills up in the rainy season with a few inches of water, but unfortunately is does not retain enough water to serve as a community swimming pool.

Most of the village streets stretch two or three blocks into what seems like dense jungle on each side of the paved Cobá road. The homes are bustling with life, among the multi-generational family members that seem to move at a very slow, yet steady pace. The primary school, tucked away in one of the neighborhoods, beckons the children in the morning with a loud speaker blasting festive music that can be heard in every corner of the town. This is the alarm clock for the village.

The baseball and soccer fields are located near the back edge of town. The cheering of the crowds from the ballpark can be heard far and near on Sunday afternoon. This is a “guy thing” and Lou has been invited many times to come watch the games. Many of the workers who built our house play on one of the teams. This year the Diablos won the state championship! On a quiet Sunday afternoon, you know that there is an away-game.

There are several hundred residents in Macario and we suspect that many of them are related. Alfredo, who continued on for a year as our helper after the house was finished, has five brothers and two sisters and many of them are married and have an armful of young children to contribute to the growing population. One sister in particular has eight children who range in age from one to twelve years old. One day we asked Alfredo, “Do you know anyone who can do our laundry?” Within minutes he took off on his bicycle with the bag of dirty clothes over his shoulder. It took a few days to find out what was going on with the laundry, as we had a difficult time communicating with Alfredo who spoke a mixture of Spanish and Mayan. It turned out that his sister, Norma, was washing our clothes.

She and an assortment of her children and siblings would come over to pick up the laundry, and when they bought it back we always had a special treat of tea or fresh juice and snacks to offer them. On some days, we would watch a music video and dance with our musical instruments, or play in the pond in front of the house. On other days they would pore over our photo albums, most of all delighting in the photos of the construction phases of the house where they saw pictures of their dads or uncles.

Lou had an idea and presented it to Norma, “If you come back tomorrow, we will take photos of you and the kids with our camera.”

They seemed to understand and all the kids arrived on the day of the photo shoot. I brought out my collection of hats which added to the fun of the evening. When the photos were developed, they oohed and aahed but took only the ones they liked and left the others for us. We were making friends and somehow communicating with one another. This brought to mind the quote of John Denver that hangs in our entry way, “We are all on the same path, no matter what language we speak.”

One Friday afternoon, Alfredo told us he was going to visit the family of his new wife and would be back on Monday. A week went by and he did not return, so we went to search for him and were told he was in his wife’s pueblo and they did not know when he would return. We needed help, so we hired the young man, Julio, who lived across the street from Alfredo. Julio, who was fifteen at the time and had recently finished school, was willing to work. We trained him to do all the gardening and housecleaning and he was an enthusiastic learner. One day after several months passed, Alfredo returned and asked for his job back. We were not willing to replace Julio and reward Alfredo for his absence without notice. Julio is still our main worker today, and is married and the father of a one-year old boy.

Life, before we added two more casitas and opened a boutique hotel, La Selva Mariposa, was simple and gave me time to write a book, Embarking on the Mariposa Trial, of our passionate adventure of buying land on Tulum beach and in the jungle that borders a Mayan pueblo.


Mari Pintkowski’s book is available at and local book stores in the Riviera Maya. She and her husband, Lou, operate their Boutique Hotel:Las Selva Mariposa.

moe may 08