April 15, 2013

the oldest church in latin america



last august some friends approached us about going on a vacation together. they had found a bloomspot deal for a 4 day, 3 night catamaran trip along the mayan riviera. obviously we were interested, but we were nervous. first, it was a lot of money and we had to pay the money up front for a vacation that wouldn't happen for another six months. so we did a lot of research and read a lot reviews so we could determine if it was a good idea. but there was a second thing i was personally nervous about --  i've never been on a couple's vacation. nor had i ever even met the couple we would be vacationing with.* (stress.) despite our reservations, we decided to give it a go. and i'm so glad that we did. 

* i did make sure that i met the couple before our trip though, and they're lovely. so much less stress.

 

before we went on our catamaran trip, we spent a couple of days in tulum seeing the ruins and the gran cenote, and a couple of days in puerto morelos, a small city near cancun. all the while wondering what our trip on a boat for four days would be like. we had an idea of the things we would see -- isla mujeres, deep sea fishing, and snorkeling -- but we really weren't sure of the specifics. but as we took our taxi to the cancun marina we were excited for the adventure.



at the dock we were introduced to dianne, our 45 foot catamaran, and the two men who would be manning it, a chef and a captain. and then we found out our itinerary for the next four days -- isla mujeres, isla blanca, the oldest church in latin america, and some snorkeling. awesome. 

wait, what? back up. 

oldest church in latin america? explain further.

according to legend, spanish pirates found a secluded lagoon on isla holbox and founded a catholic church in the same location as an old mayan swimming pool. the spanish built a large church using the old stones from mayan buildings that had already  been abandoned. 


 


on the third day of our catamaran trip we got up early and took a little dingy through the lagoon to la iglesia. we rode for approximately 30 minutes through less than 2 feet deep fresh water and mangroves sighting horseshoe crabs, eagle rays, and barracuda as we drove. the water was crystal clear, and the mangroves were close on either side of us as we rode. 

 

 

when we got off the dingy, we walked a short ways to a 300 year old house that backs up onto a old mayan graveyard. the ceilings were covered with soot from long forgotten fires and the floors were covered with hundreds of years of bat guano. 


we walked a little further and the jungle opened up to this view: 


the oldest church in latin america.

crazy amazing.


 

at one time, the church was built in the traditional fashion of a cross. but after years of neglect, the only remaining structure was the altar and chapels on either side. these buildings too were overrun with bats and their feces, but it was just so spectacular to see an abandoned, four hundred year structure that was still somewhat intact. and to know that we were standing in the same spot as worshipers from hundreds of years ago. 



 

the thing that was strangest for us was the fact that there is this amazing structure and the accompanying history and no one knows about it. i checked our guide book and there was no mention of this lagoon or the church, and it had clearly been abandoned for years. but why? why wasn't mexico attempting to preserve this historical site? a lot of local fisherman (and fish) go into the lagoon during hurricanes to escape some of the wind and crazy waves. and there was a path to the church, so people had been there recently, and our captain knew about it, so it's obviously not a secret. so why wasn't there some organization taking better care of the building? it's definitely an out of the way site -- you can only reach it by dingy -- but it's a piece of mexican history, one would think they would at least want to preserve it and learn from it, if not take that further and turn into a tourist destination and make money off of it.