I got reconnected with Joe Rodgriguez via FB not too long ago. We had met years ago through a mutual friend, but lost touch. When we reconnected, he mentioned he was working on a 3-D documentary on the Maya, which they were filming near Ciudad del Carmen (about an hour east of Cancun), and asked if I was interested to be a part of it. I jokingly said “only as the still photographer”. Turns out, they needed one and voila! That was about a month ago. The production company had already planned a trip down there for scouting and I went along.
We stayed at this all-inclusive resort (my room is the second balcony from the right facing the water on the right side of the image), although I didn’t get to enjoy it much because I was working the entire time.A word (or two) about the weather – Turkish sauna. I literally sweat about a gallon a day. Just breathing caused rivulets to run down my face, back and chest, and I was running all over the arena and adjacent Xcaret park, lugging my camera bag. I would leave drips behind me as I went… The documentary includes a spectacular show at this arena:
The plan was to arrive the first night and go straight to the show to determine the game plan, but our flight arrive late and we missed the first half. But I knew at once that the place was so huge, that taking pictures from the seats, even from the first rows – was not going to produce anything memorable. The really awesome part of traveling with a production company is having access to the local management, who assigned us two production assistants to facilitate all our movements both at the arena and in Xcaret (more on that in a minute). I asked one of them if the next evening we could get access to the backstage, the wings at ground level, and the catwalk I had noticed – 70 feet above the stage. They said yes to everything.
The following day, they gave us a tour of Xcaret, showing us (among many other wonders) snorkeling and underground river floating, archaeological ruins, dolphin swims, mushroom and orchid farms, aquarium, the flying men of Papantla, and my favorite – a little flamingo parade:
During the evening show, I spent the first half on the 3 stairs in the ground level pit, at the bottom of which there is a pool of water. I had to keep remembering not to step backwards or I’d have ended up in the drink, camera and all. The show includes a Maya ball game resembling field hockey, but using a flaming, 10-lb ball. Nets are raised around the stage to protect the audience from stray balls, and as I was essentially sitting behind the “goal”, had three come straight at me and my camera. I would have quite literally been toast without that net. Horses came galloping out mere inches from where I sat. Then we ran up to the roof of the sound booth to try to capture an eagle they release at the end of the act.
For the second half, my assistant and I donned harnesses and helmets (which further increased the flow of sweat…), and clambered up the 7 flights of steps to the catwalk, where we hooked ourselves (and my camera) up to the safety line. What a view!! There were also tiny bats were living in the rafters just a couple of feet above us – we could hear them squeaking all through the performance – and see them flying between us and the audience far below. Although it was even hotter up there than on the ground below, it was possibly the most exciting part of this trip. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get my assistant to take a picture of me up there in my gear.
The third day we took a day trip to the ruins of Ek’-Balam and Chichen-Itza, and to the Ik’Kil cenote, ending the day in a production meeting with the show’s executive producer. On the last day, I ran around the park shooting everything I’d missed during the first visit, and reshooting stuff I wasn’t pleased with from the previous day. Among my discoveries was a spectacular underground church with its altar in a grotto, and a labarynth of tunnels which led from it to, among other places, the wine cellar.
This trip represented everything I had hoped for in my photography career: travel to exotic locations, unfettered access to fabulous vantage points, and an opportunity to capture exciting and beautiful people and places. Universe, bring me much more of the same!!!