Day of the Dead – Sandos Caracol Eco Experience Resort

The Catrina at Sandos Caracol Eco Experience Resort

The Catrina at Sandos Caracol Eco Experience Resort

by Susanna Starr

When we think of Halloween we often associate children dressed up in costume, shepherded by an accompanying adult, their oversize bags clutched in small hands ready to receive holiday candy.

In Mexico this holiday is celebrated differently. Throughout the country the Day of the Dead celebration pays tribute to the deceased on November 1st and 2nd rather than the October 31st celebration in their neighboring country. The first day is to welcome back the spirits of the children. The altars are decorated  specifically for them. The next day is to welcome back the spirits of the adults with an expanded altar.

Everywhere there are flowers, candles, photos of the defuntos and tributes to the loved ones with trips to the cemeteries to party one more time with the departed.

Sandos Caracol Eco Experience Resort is holding a two day celebration of this important and colorful holiday with a variety of special events. It will not only afford the opportunity to enjoy this time in the beautiful Riviera Maya, but to appreciate an important cultural experience that is sure to stay in mind and memory.

Sandos Caracol Eco Experience Resort Splashes Riviera Maya with Color and Festivities during the Celebration of Life and Death

(RIVIERA MAYA, MEXICO – Sept. 22, 2014) The first days of November will shine bright with twinkling candlelight and brilliant costumes as Sandos Caracol Eco Experience Resort celebrates the fascinating Day of the Dead holiday. Through a variety of traditional activities spanning over 48 festive hours from November 1-2, guests will discover how Mexico honors the Celebration of Life and Death.

During this special time of the year, the Sandos Caracol location takes pride in highlighting the rich traditions of this Mexican holiday through a series of demonstrative and interactive events that directly tie into the cultural experience. The staff, or “Sandistas”, of Sandos Caracol will guide guests on a walkthrough of the resort highlighting each of the following Day of the Dead activities.

The most important element of this celebration, the Day of the Dead Altars, will be created by the Sandistas and be displayed throughout the resort. Guests will then experience the vibrant colors of a traditional Mexican Cemetery and feel the positive energy expressed in honor of the dead. Customary music, food and prayers are offered as candles are lit to illuminate the way for the souls of the deceased. At nightfall, guests will gather around the Cenote Cristalino for a Candle Tribute where the symbol of death will appear to be prowling in the glow of small candles glistening in the water.

The breathtaking Catrina, as the center piece of Sandos’ Catrina Parade, will come out for a stroll around the property to show off her colorful and dazzling personality all set to the rhythm of drums. A Photo Exhibit will follow, offering guests the opportunity to pose and take photos with this breathtaking character, Mexico’s most intriguing representation of death.

During the Calaverita (Mexican Trick-or-Treat), the children of the Kids’ Club will march through the resort, greeting guests and asking them for coins or treats followed by an exchange of Calaveritas Poems. This tradition of sharing mock obituaries has become part of Mexican folklore as a dedication to friends and family in a fun and satirical manner.

The Night Legends Tour will share the best local legends about culture and ancient beliefs that still exist today in Riviera Maya. Through two alluring performances, The Legend of “La Llorona” reveals what drove “La Llorona” to live in eternal tragedy while The Legend of Xtabay details how the beautiful Xtabay created fear among the Mexican men with her charm and unexpected surprises.

In the final Fire Show ceremony, the Shaman, surrounded by the intense heat of the flames, gives thanks for the sacred elements of Water, Sun, Wind, Earth and Life. As the villagers dance to the beating drums, the entire Xcalacoco community unites in a prayer for harmony and participants will promise to continue feeding the Fire of Life.

The resort is currently offering a “Celebration of Life and Death” promotion with rooms up to 45 percent off. Beginning October, rates for double occupancy start at $162 per night and are subject to change depending on dates and availability.

For more information on Sandos Caracol Eco Experience Resort, please visit:

About Sandos Hotel & Resorts

Sandos Hotels & Resorts is a leader in creating innovative and sustainable all-inclusive resorts. The brand includes a collection of properties in both Spain and Mexico and prides itself on providing outstanding service, quality accommodations and extraordinary value to guests while maintaining a deep commitment to the environment. With an extensive portfolio of properties, the brand features three distinct experiences (luxury, beach and eco) which offer vacations that range from high-end escapes and relaxing retreats on the world’s most spectacular beaches to eco-focused getaways. For more information, visit


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My new book is now available

Our Book is Now Available


by Susanna Starr  with Photographs by John Lamkin
is now available through Starr Interiors Gallery in Taos, New Mexico

Front Cover - Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers

Front Cover – Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers

Back Cover - Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers

Back Cover – Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec Weavers

I hope this story serves as a reminder that business is not a negative word. Trading is as old as human history, whether for goods or services. It doesn’t have to be exploitative nor impersonal to be successful. Rather, if it is infused with joy and happiness, it can provide a vital, important and enriching aspect of our lives.  –  Susanna Starr, Taos, NM

Advance Praise:

“OUR INTERWOVEN LIVES WITH THE ZAPOTEC WEAVERS is a beautiful book, both the writing and photographs.  I own a Zapotec rug and appreciate the work of these artists. This book gives them credit where credit is long overdue.” –Tom Aageson, Executive Director, Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship

“A must read for anyone who wants to do well by doing good in the world . This improbable story about an American “hippie” and traditional weavers in the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico will fire your Imagination and touch your heart. Susanna Starr’s life story proves that love, respect, learning and success in business can go hand in hand.–Judith Fein, Author of LIFE IS A TRIP: The Transformative Magic of Travel and THE SPOON FROM MINKOWITZ: A Bittersweet Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands

Pages: 136

Hardback (gloss laminate)                
 Price: $29.95 
Paperback (gloss perfect bound)                                     Price: $19.95
Publisher: Paloma Blanca Press
Pub. Date:   June 2014 (available now through Starr Interiors)

One of life’s memorable intersections…

OUR INTERWOVEN LIVES WITH THE ZAPOTEC WEAVERS: An Odyssey of Heart celebrates American entrepreneur and gallery owner Susanna Starr’s forty years of working with the Zapotec weavers of the Oaxaca Valley in Mexico. Starr  takes us back to the moment when she first navigated dirt roads into the remote village of Teotitlan in the 70s, and fell in Heart with the vibrant Zapotec hand-loomed weavings and the warmth of the weavers themselves. She leads us on a three-generational trek of mind and spirit, as the Zapotec families and her own grow in parallels of symbiotic prosperity and mutual respect that reminds us that “business” does not have to be a negative word.
Susanna Starr is the owner of Starr Interiors in Taos, New Mexico, which began as La Unica Cosa in 1974, and features hand-dyed 100% wool rugs, wall hangings, and pillows traditionally dyed and loomed by the Zapotec weavers.
OUR INTERWOVEN LIVES WITH THE ZAPOTEC WEAVERS: An Odyssey of Heart reflects Starr’s philosophy that business need not be kept separate, but can be an integral and meaningful part of everyday lives.
“I hope this story serves as a reminder that business is not a negative word,” says Starr. “Trading is as old as human history, whether for goods or services. It need not be exploitative or impersonal to be successful. Rather, if it is infused with joy and happiness, it can provide a vital, important and enriching aspect of our lives.
The weavings have been purchased by numerous celebrities including Paul Simon, Sting and Diana Ross, and featured in style magazines such as “Architectural Digest.”
With Love it began…With Love it flourished…And with Love it continues.
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Mayan Ruins and a Journey of Discovery

story and photos by Susanna Starr

The mouth of the dragon-Chiccana Mayan ruins © Susanna Starr

The mouth of the dragon-Chiccana Mayan ruins © Susanna Starr

I’ve just celebrated my fortieth year of visiting the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Starting from the first year of 1973 when my young children went scampering up the archaeological sites of Chichen Itza, Tulum and others, we were virtually the only ones there. As the years went by and we returned to our “paradise” we found that the area was developing in a serious way. Twelve years later we moved to the southern part of the Yucatan and settled on Laguna Bacalar where we were to build a small eco/retreat resort we called Rancho Encantado. During the years I’ve visited many archaeological sites. Most of them were still being excavated and mapped out by the archaeologists  I hiked through the jungle and climbed up steep pyramids which, at the time, were mostly high mounds although some of them like Dzibanche and Kohunlich had been in their early stages of restoration. We sought out the undiscovered (except by archaeologists  and experienced the thrill of discovery known to very few others.

Becan Mayan Ruins © Susanna Starr

Becan Mayan Ruins © Susanna Starr

The day after the archaeological site of Calakmul in the adjoining state of Campeche was opened to the public, Luis, who was our manager and now a tour guide, was contacted by the archaeological people of INAH informing him of the new status. Within a few days, he took us to see this site along with my entire family who were visiting at the time. It was thrilling, with newly discovered Calakmul reputed to rival some of the most major and already well-known sites of the Mayan empire. By this time my children were grown and with spouses and partners, and my grandchildren were now the ages of what my children had been in the early seventies. At the insistence of Luis and my son, Roy, who promised to help me, I climbed the highest pyramid, walking along ledges that I had only experienced in dreams. It was an amazing trip with the voices of howler monkeys in the background and spider monkeys cavorting in the branches above us.

During the nineties, we were visited by Gerry and George Andrews who was a professor of architecture and a specialist of Mayan archaeological sites. His renderings of his own interpretations of what the sites looked like originally were precisely calculated from notes and measurements he and his wife took themselves. With them we went to many unexplored sites using old maps from his collection. We were impressed not only by their delightful personalities but by their energy and enthusiasm. Gerry, a yoga teacher was in her seventies and George was in his early eighties. While they climbed mounds of rock and dirt, strewn with roots and tree stumps, he was with his measuring tapes and maps while she took precise notes. They were great excursions and he was a fount of information as well as being so highly enthusiastic He definitely did hands-on research.

Now, after decades of living in this area of the ancient Maya, having visited more sites than I can count on my fingers, many of them a number of times, I thought I was done with those adventures. Over the years we had visited sites where the archaeologists were working, sometimes seeing artifacts that had been unearthed only days before. I’ve climbed to heights that were dizzying, looked down at the jungle, mountains and valleys and recapturing in the mind’s eye, the way these buildings had been constructed and laid out around a large paved plaza, peopled with thousands who had come to the markets or to conduct business as well as to attend the spectacular celebrations. I really thought that I was finished exploring newly discovered sites and climbing steep pyramids.

Recently discovered Mayan fresco behind glass - Becan Ruins © Susanna Starr

Recently discovered Mayan fresco behind glass – Becan Ruins © Susanna Starr

Today, however, we were once more with Luis, driving through the jungle with the guide from INAH (Instituto Nacional de la Antropologia y Historia)and the  two young boys who were accompanying us, with the special one-time only permit in hand. Since 1995, Luis Tellez has been a professional guide in addition to being a fine photographer and birding expert. We were not permitted, however, to take any photos until the site was further mapped and then opened to the public.

Actually, I had been to this site almost twenty years ago, when we were accompanied by Don Julio who was working for us at Rancho Encantado and his friend and mentor, Don Mellan who was in his late seventies at that time. We were told that it was an important site, but since no excavation had been done, we had to climb up the steep incline that was completely covered by trees, rocks, roots and dirt. I remember Don Mellan pointing to a tree whose leaves, he told us, made a good shampoo. As many of the contemporary Maya, he still knew the healing and useful qualities of trees, leaves, barks, roots and branches and although all the trees looked much alike to me, he recognized each of them.

Later, a little less than five years ago, John and I and another couple who live in Bacalar tried to visit the site of Ichkabal. We went prepared with coolers of food and drinks, knowing that it could be a long, hot and arduous day. But it turned out, after two flat tires on pot-holed roads that were only then just being hacked out of the jungle, that we had to abort the trip. Once again, our friend Luis was our guide and we were accompanied by the same Don Mellan of the earlier trip. Since he grew up in Bacalar, he was familiar with the surrounding terrain and knew where the pyramids were. But this time we just couldn’t make it.

John, however, was not willing to give up on visiting the site. For a number of years we’ve been told by people in state tourism, including a former president of the entire municipality of which Bacalar and Ichkabal were a part, that they were working on the site and it was expected to be open to the public soon. Like archaeological projects everywhere in the world, funding is always difficult and despite high hopes for initial or continuing stages of excavation, the projects always take longer than expected. Here, in the southern part of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, there are many thousands of sites to be explored and even those that are known to have been very important to the ancient Maya have to struggle for funding. Anyway, Luis was able to secure the one-time only permit that allowed us to try once again today to visit the site.

This trip was different from the first two in that the roads were clear and passable, it wasn’t raining, and enough excavation and restoration had already been done to provide a glimpse of what was begun about 250 B.C. How could I not climb to the top of these pyramids, even though I thought I had been finished with that kind of thing? At one point, when everyone climbed the “Mirador” which had an altitude of approximately forty meters, I decided that I would wait on the level that had been the platform. But, after a while, I decided to go on ahead, feeling somewhat confident since there was a guide rope to hang onto.

Although John, Luis, our guide from INAH and the two boys were already at the top, it still felt that I was doing this alone. Knowing that they were not that far away that they couldn’t hear me if I fell and screamed, I forged ahead. It was worth it when I joined them at the top and looked out at the panorama. I knew where we were in relation to several other well known archeological sites of Dzibanche and Kohunlich and just 11 kilometers from KinichNa.  The distances between these other sites, however, were covered with jungle growth so none of them could be seen. What could be seen though, through imagination, was the slight glimmering of understanding the extent of the Mayan Empire and how the many sites that we see as individual ones, were actually centers for a vast population with smaller city-states surrounding these large central cities, connected by stone causeways known to the Maya as sac be.

When we descended and walked to the main plaza, I had to ask our INAH guide to reiterate, once again, the parameters of the central plaza which looked so enormous. Although the entire central plaza has not yet been worked on, the estimation is that it was about 200×500 meters. No wonder it looked so enormous – it was! Obviously, judging from the height of the buildings we had ascended, this was a major city of great importance to the ancient Maya. Just trying to envision the plaza being filled with people and commerce was another insight of the magnitude of the central space of the city. At that time, the floor of this plaza was paved and its entire surface painted. The temples, too, were stuccoed and painted red. At the first site we visited, we saw that the bottom row of stones was indented and were told that it was painted a darker red than the rest of the pyramid which was also plastered with a smooth coat of stucco, finished with a coat of red dye, the traces of which still can be seen.

The impact of this must have been spectacular, much as modern day skyscrapers. But no equipment was used for these constructions. From hacking through the jungle, clearing out enormous spaces filled with trees, bushes and vegetal growth, to creating the building blocks from the limestone below the earth’s surface took vast labor forces and many generations of work. Then, to place each stone in the exact position with clearly defined corners, with Mayan arches, with openings for tombs, with living and working areas, was another amazing feat which undoubtedly involved most of the populace.

And, it went on……after some of the temples were constructed by one or more reigning dynasties, succeeding dynasties would build on top of them, never destroying what was created before them. Considering that the start of this city was reputed to be 200-250 years B.C. and that the decline was probably around 700-900 AD, they lasted for fifteen hundred years or more. In spite of what some “new agers” like to say, there is no evidence that the ancient Maya were visited by an advanced civilization from outer space. Rather, they were intelligent enough to do amazing engineering projects that have endured for more than a millennium without the help of machinery or even the wheel. The designs were intricate and the temples were built on a massive scale. The positions of the temples were carefully calculated to align with constellations, as they were superb astronomers as well as amazing engineers and architects. All the stone work is hand cut and precisely fitted together without the use of mortar. There was probably no unemployment.

At the entrance to this site of Ichkabal, there is a large reservoir that is man-made, being perfectly rectangular. Today, it’s inhabited by crocodiles and turtles, covered with a thick growth of water plants which send their roots deep into the water. It provides water for visiting animals, like deer and javelina (wild pig), jaguar and ocelot, monkeys and a host of smaller animals. But at one time it helped sustain a large population. This very sustainable civilization relied upon people who carefully thought out their methods of everyday living, exchanging goods and services and honoring their gods. They had a hierarchy similar to the kingdoms in other civilizations of their time.

The Maya are still very much alive and well today. Speculations abound as to their apparent disappearance just before the Spanish arrived but so far only theories exist. The contemporary Maya continue to live in the same areas as their ancestors inhabited, although the ancient cities have long been abandoned and buried. Many of the present day Maya look as though they could have stepped out of a painting, with a specific type nose and flat forehead, high cheekbones and straight black hair that are such defining characteristics.

Sunrise, Laguna Bacalar - near archaeological zone  © Susanna Starr

Sunrise, Laguna Bacalar – near archaeological zone © Susanna Starr

As with most civilizations, there has been a lot of intermarriage. In the capitol city of Chetumal there stands a magnificent statue of the “first mestizo family” honoring the combined marriage between the Spanish and the Maya that describe many of the people of today. Unearthing their heritage and reconstructing some of the major archaeological sites like Ichkabal has been a work of great importance and provides a greater understanding of the magnificence of this ancient civilization not only for their descendants, but for the world.

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Mis Recuerdos, My Memories, of Oaxaca

Story and photos by Susanna Starr

Santo Domingo Church, Oaxaca © Susanna Starr

It’s been more than 35 years that I’ve been living and working in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico and in the small outlying villages. Most of my work with the weavers, both buying and designing pieces that will be sold in my New Mexico gallery, is done in a small Zapotec weaving village outside of Oaxaca.

We are now working with the third generation of weavers from that village where we first began, almost four decades ago. Although the weaving village is my main focus, there are always other villages engaged in a craft specific to each of them to visit and explore. Read more at Global Writes

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So You Want to be a Travel Writer

by Susanna Starr

Mayan Fresco recently discovered - behind glass. Becan Mayan Ruins, Campeche, Mexico ©Susanna Starr

Mayan Fresco recently discovered - behind glass. Becan Mayan Ruins, Campeche, Mexico ©Susanna Starr

Becoming a travel writer is certainly a personal decision and, although there may be some common denominators, we each hope to satisfy something within ourselves that calls to us. Some of the advantages in being a travel writer are obvious ones — seeing new places, FAM (familiarization) trips and discounts on travel and lodging and just the sheer enjoyment of travel.

Just as important as these general motivations, it might be worth your time to ponder on a few more abstract benefits of being a travel writer. For one thing, it provides a practice of connection. No longer will you be a tourist, passing through, but someone who is genuinely interested in new places and people. The mindfulness that you embrace becomes a necessity, because it´s the only way to really ¨be there¨ in a meaningful way. Along with this is the awareness and attention which are part of the whole idea of being mindful in all that you do. Being a travel writer heightens your sense of awareness as a good condiment heightens your sense of taste and smell. The attention you pay to what people are saying and doing, as well as the attention to your surroundings are something that is part of a travel writer´s way of making that important, personal connection.

So much of travel writing is in the details. Once you start writing, you´ll find yourself noticing so many more of the details that might escape just an ordinary visitor (can I say ¨tourist¨without being condescending?). Tuning into people you might have simply passed by can yield the fruit of a rich personal exchange. Hearing other people´s stories connects you in the most authentic way possible. Being able to convey that to others is the gift of the travel writer that transcends mere reporting.

Last, but not least……..minimizing what you carry as a travel writer can be a metaphor for life. By eliminating all the excess baggage and superfluous clothing and miscellaneous extras that are not really needed, it allows you the opportunity to lighten your load. At the airport, next time, notice how much baggage the ordinary traveler carries and what you, as a travel writer, has stripped down to. Unless there´s a real reason to carry something, you´ll find yourself pared down to only the

So, if you have a flair for or a love of writing coupled with the interest and desire to travel and explore new places and cultures, travel writing can be for you. It´s work, to be sure, and not the kind that will be financially rewarding, but the reward you receive will be on an altogether different level that will often exceed any expectation you might have. Have fun!!

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