Superior Saunas Research Extravaganza
Mexico & Guatemala Research Trip - Video Highlights
BONAMPAK OR BUST
The next stop on the Superior Sauna expedition landed the crew at the ancient Mayan city of Bonampak, located near the Usumacinta River. Upon arrival, the team was greeted by security guards who refused to allow them to bring in their camera equipment. They took a quick tour through the site and captured some photos and video clips on their cell phones instead before heading back to their van.
They learned that Bonampak’s Great Plaza is one of the most spacious in the region, measuring 90 by 110 yards. As you walk across the plaza and approach the acropolis, you're struck by how monumental the City is. The purpose of their trip to Bonampak was not to see the steam rooms (there actually aren’t any at this location); rather, they were seeking the famous murals that were found inside these small chambers near the acropolis. Superior Saunas will begin replicating the artwork from the chamber into their new product line.
THE MURALS OF BONAMPAK
According to a number of researchers, the three small rooms are made up of four individual storylines.
- Presentation of Chan Muhan II’s Heir (Room 1)
- The War and Taking of Prisoners (Room 2)
- Presentations and Sacrifices of Prisoners (Room 2)
- Sacrificial Ceremony and Dance on the Great Basement (Room 3)
The rooms were filled with beautiful red and orange murals painted over a thick coat of limestone and powdered stone plaster. Various mineral and vegetable pigments were used to achieve such vibrant colors. The rooms contain a total of 108 hieroglyphic texts, 270 human figures and 30 godlike figures – all telling the story of peace, war, and sacrifice during the times of King Chan Muhan II’s life.
Alfonso came to the rescue, providing the team with an in-depth interview outside the site where we had photos of the murals that he used to tell the story.
“The action shots you see in the rooms tell many different stories. One of which depicted the story of captives being brought in to be sacrificed. After they were restrained, a slow death came upon them. The paintings showed the people begging the king not to kill them, but the captives clearly had no power,” said Alfonso.
The murals showed the different stages of death, spectated by a large crowd of onlookers that was made up of warriors and other noble figures. The blood from the captives was used to bless the temple.
Amid the morbidity, one fun fact they learned was that the artist who painted the murals was named Och, which translates to opossum in English. He was from Yaxchilan and was sometimes referred to as the “Michelangelo of the Mayans”. In one of the murals, you’ll find that Och had painted himself into the mural!
INTO THE NIGHT
The crew ended the day with a phenomenal dinner at Cabanas el “Buho” where they sat next to a babbling creek. They stayed overnight near Bonampak in a small hostel so they could have a jumpstart on their drive to Pedras Negras the next morning.
At the hostel, they partook in their first temazcal ceremony which was performed by a local shaman. The temazcal ritual was known for its incredible healing and therapeutic properties. The cleansing ritual was used to purify one’s body and soul - spiritually and physically. Each temazcal ceremony is unique and personal. This one consisted of guided prayers of protection, rebuking bad energy and shouting their praises to the gods.
Prayers of protection from the underworld and cleansing of one’s soul were mentioned before the participants stepped foot into the steam room where they went to sweat out negative energy and harmful toxins. Various plants and herbs were used during the ceremony, filling the room with soothing aromas.
After the ceremony, the crew retired to bed so they could get a good night’s sleep before departing for Pedras Negras at 3am.
- Elliot Wood
THE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE OF YAXCHILAN
THE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE OF YAXCHILAN
The Superior Sauna team hit the road at 6am yesterday morning, this time heading southeast to the Archaeological site of Yaxchilan. The site is located on the border of Mexico and Guatemala along the Usumacinta River. The research team arrived at the boat launch at approximately 10am and piled into a gondola-style boat called a ‘lancha’. From there, they traveled an hour to the site - passing alligators and a dead cow drifting down the river along the way.
Upon their arrival, the team hiked 800 meters to find the ancient Mayan city of Yaxchilan. The rugged hiking trail had remains from an ancient stone pathway that was once home to shops and trading centers running beside the river, leading the way to the sacred location.
The first report of Yaxchilan was by a young explorer, Juan Galindo in 1833, published by the Royal Geographical Society in 1881; however, the first documented experience was in 1892 AD by Maudsley when he came and stole lentils from the abandoned city. Maudsley had permission to take lentils from the Guatemala side but happened upon Yaxchilan where he struck gold – and by gold we mean lentils. Sometime later, Charnay arrived at the site and was believed to be the first explorer to discover the ruins until he happened upon Maudsley and his crew. Charnay had high hopes to name the city and stake his claim, so in order to accomplish his mission, he made a deal with Maudsley and promised not to turn him in for stealing if he could claim to be the first explorer to discover the land. In the end, Yaxchilan received its name from a small creek that ran by the town and into the river.
One of the reasons Yaxchilan is so famous is because of its location. Like most Mayan sites, this one was constructed in a place where the river boasted roaring rapids and tended to be quite difficult to navigate. Why would the Mayans build on a place such as this? Because they realized travelers would have to stop at some point. They used this challenge to their advantage by taxing travelers that would pass through.
THE YAXCHILAN STEAM ROOM
As you enter the city plaza, one of the first ruins you’ll spot is the steam room - also referred to as “pipinas”, which means the house underground. Travelers would stop there to bathe and cleanse their bodies and souls before entering the holy land. This steam room was believed to have been built for religious ceremonies, hygiene, and to enhance one’s overall health and wellness.
One would bathe in the steam room after traveling for weeks on the river. The same techniques that were used in Palenque were also utilized here – a combination of hot stones, water, and a blend of herbs and plants to heal various ailments. Some patrons would utilize the site for religious ceremonies, offerings, and prayer. The goal was to be blessed and purified before entering the city and being in the presence of the gods.
One of the team’s guides, Alberto Gomez-Cruz, is of Mayan descent and gave an outstanding interview in his native Mayan tongue, and graciously translated to English for the video.
“We can see that this Mayan city is very close to the river. This steam bath is how we would talk to our ancestors and do our rituals. This wasn’t merely a shower or an opportunity to simply relax your body, it was so much more. It connects you to the gods and enhances your spiritual life. You go in to mediate and consent to your mind. It truly becomes a spiritual connection to the gods. We’ve seen women who were pregnant go in before and after birth to bless their unborn child and heal their bodies after delivery. In some ways, many of the rituals are still used. When you go where the gods are you should be shiny and pure,” says Alberto.
This particular steam room was measured at 6’ 10” x 6’ 3”. It featured one large room that had a stone altar in the middle, which was most likely where the stones were placed. In Palenque, the steam room was located in an administrative building, but in Yaxchilan the room stood alone, having space for more people. There have been no reports to show what organics were used in the steam room because no one has done the research to see what pollen residue was left. We know eucalyptus, pepper, rosemary, and mullein are among some popular herbs and plants that they would use, but we also know that each shaman would grow their own gardens full of plants that were only to be used in the steam rooms.
None of the hot stones were left behind at this site, either. Alfonso is confident that they used volcanic rock due to its ability to withstand such high temperatures. If you were to heat limestone, it would explode, so the type of rock that was used was extremely important.
INTO THE NIGHT
As the crew wrapped up their filming for the day, they packed up and headed back to the boat launch, where the dead cow they had passed at the beginning of the trip had finally caught up to them. Mark pointed out some toucans soaring above the team in the trees, and James Netz captured an amazing shot of an alligator with butterflies resting on its head. They arrived back at Chan-Kah Resort Village late that night, where they rested for their next adventure to Bonampak the next morning.
THE ROAD TO PALENQUE
THE ROAD TO PALENQUE
The Superior Sauna research team started their journey with an 8-hour shuttle ride to the Mayan treasure of Chiapas, also known as Palenque. Arriving late into the night and in the midst of a thunderstorm, the crew unpacked their luggage and hustled to their bungalows at Chan-Kah Resort Village.
They started their expedition touring one of the most important ruins in Mayan culture - the Palenque Archaeological Zone. There they met their guide, archaeologist, and translator Alfonso Morales who led them through the historical site. Morales has dedicated his life to researching Mayan culture and received his PhD in Archaeology from the University of Texas in Austin. He has spent much of his life traveling between Mexico and America, having dual citizenship with family on both sides of the border.
EXPLORING THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL ZONE OF PALENQUE
This unique city was believed to be populated from 226 BC up until 799 AD. What made the city famous was the discovery of the tomb of King K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, the “holy lord of B’aakal” and ruler of Palenque. Pakal is among the most memorable Maya individuals today due to the discovery of his tomb, his artistic representations of Palenque, and the extensive hieroglyphic texts that walk you through his life and death. He began ruling Palenque at the age of 12 and lived to be 80 years old. Upon his death, his son Kan B’ahlam II ascended the throne.
“The site is very special for a couple of reasons. First, because of the beautiful art. Second, because of the extensive writings. We can interpret about 80% of the history here which is extremely impressive,” says Morales.
The structural designs and artwork were inspired by the individual rulers which has helped archaeologists determine what each king looked like. The tomb that Pakal was buried in shows us that the king had a long and well-defined nose with his lower lip hanging down. Pakal was extremely knowledgeable in mathematics, astronomy, and architecture. This knowledge helped to enhance the beauty and art that went into the ruins.
PALENQUE STEAM ROOMS
By the time the ruins had been discovered by the Spanish priests in 1576 AD, much of the information regarding the steam rooms had washed away. What we know is that there were steam rooms on site that were used for three primary health and wellness reasons: ceremonial, spiritual, and healing purposes. The rooms were heated by volcanic rocks with steam that was produced by pouring water over the rocks. Before entering the steam room, one would have to wash their body in preparation for their souls to be cleansed.
The shaman leading the ceremony would use various blends of plants and herbs to heal different ailments. Plants such as eucalyptus leaves, rosemary, mullein, and pepper were sprinkled over the rocks during the cleansing. The plant oils would vaporize and soak into the bather’s pores. It would end with cold water being poured on their bodies to close their pores.
The rooms were designed for more of a practical use versus ritual – they were longer lengths but shorter in height with holes drilled into the ground for the water to run underground. The stones were estimated to weigh 8 kilos; however, these have yet to be found.
INTO THE NIGHT
Upon returning to the Chan-Kah Resort Village, the team took some time to sit down and recap the day during dinner. On their walk back to their rooms, they wound up finding a family of howler monkeys up above in the trees. Elliot happened upon a scorpion in his room and Kassie discovered two large spiders near her shoes. Jim pointed out a Peccary that was searching for fruits near his room.
Their next stop is Yaxchilan, which is located right on the border of Mexico and Guatemala.
- Elliot Wood
SUPERIOR SAUNA TRAVELS TO MEXICO TO STUDY ANCIENT STEAM ROOMS
SUPERIOR SAUNA HEADS SOUTH
A team from Superior Sauna & Steam will embark on a 12-day journey early next week to research and document the techniques that were once used in ancient steam rooms in Mexico and Guatemala. They will bring what they’ve learned back home to Ashland, Wisconsin where they will incorporate these ancient techniques into their current, cutting-edge sauna building technologies - all in an effort to bring their customers a new and innovative product that is backed by thousands of years of traditions.
Chuck Porter, owner and managing partner of Superior Saunas, has one mission: to help educate others on how they can live out their best lives - with saunaing being a major factor in one’s health and wellness journey.
“I’ve dedicated my life to helping others extend their own,” says Porter.
THE CREW AND THE JOURNEY
The crew is made up of six individuals: owner and founder of Superior Saunas, Chuck Porter; videographer and photographer, James Netz; Sauna Technician, Elliot Wood; Investor and part-owner, Colonel Mark Follett; on-screen talent and Mexico native, Olga Vargas; and blogger, Kassie Dalsveen. They will start their expedition in the small town of Palenque, Mexico, where they will visit one of the most important archaeological zones of Maya Culture, Palenque. They will then spend the next few days exploring Yaxchilan, Bonampak, and Piedras Negas in Guatemala.
“We are essentially going on a safari in the jungles of southern Mexico and Guatemala. We’ll visit five Mayan and Aztec ancient cities, all with the help of an archaeologist who will serve as our guide and translator along the way,” explained Porter. “Our goal is to use what we learn to create a sauna experience that uses a combination of ancient healing techniques along with the modern-day technologies that we have access to here now.”
IS IT WORTH THE SWEAT?
For centuries, saunas have been enjoyed around the world for various health benefits. Saunas are known for being a major stress reliever.They help soothe sore muscles and joints, improve blood circulation, burn calories, and flush toxins from the body through sweating.
The sauna bath is a holistic experience which produces a psychosomatic event. There are measurable and predictable physical, psychic and social impacts. Additionally, the sauna leads to relaxation, enjoyment and a feeling of well-being. While there are many physical and mental benefits, a primary outcome is simple pleasure. In the sauna, psychic and somatic elements come together in a unified experience. The sauna can provide a needed escape and refuge and is a place where bathers leave the rational mind, unnecessary analysis and criticism on the outside.
The crew will document their experience along the way through daily blogs and filming every step of the way. Stay tuned for more updates as the team prepares for departure.
Established 18 years ago, Superior Saunas is a leading manufacturer and distributor of custom and prefabricated saunas located on the beautiful shores of Lake Superior in Ashland, Wisconsin. Our saunas are sold worldwide. Superior Saunas is a health and wellness company that is dedicated to helping people live their best lives.