The Secret is Clay

By: Mari Pintkowski

Maria Hurley, present-day beauty therapist and physiatrist, grew up in New Zealand and was always fascinated with the Maori people and their use of boiling mud/clay for healing purposes. This childhood impression has remained a part of Maria’s life, and she has recently opened a skin care studio at Km. 8 on Tulum’s south beach, where she sells her hand-crafted Mayan Clay and specializes in spa treatments using this natural curative substance.

Clay therapy, one of the oldest forms of healing known to man, can be likened to an “energy pill.” Toxins and metals like lead, mercury, preservatives, alcohol, and cigarette smoke are absorbed by the clay and the skin absorbs minerals from the clay. The clay, applied to the skin, acts as an exfoliant and regenerates the tissue. One-hundred-percent Mayan green clay contains magnesium, silicon, zinc, copper, and chromium that help to reduce inflammation in skin lesions, mosquito and other insect bites, sun burn, rashes, and it even helps calm acne. Add the application of clay to your daily beauty regime and you will see how it magically refines wrinkles, reduces bags under the eyes, and conditions your hair. A complete body mask of clay, balances the electro-magnetic energy field of the body.

As a young woman, Maria studied massage and skin care at a new professional school, the first of its kind in New Zealand, under Joyce Block who originated from Holland. Joyce was a certified Physiatrist and Cosmetologist. The students at the school experimented with the curative properties of clay and other natural botanicals by making facial masks to suit the individual clients they were assigned to work on each week on “Clinic Day” at the school.

When her year-long course was completed, Maria got a job in a clinic in urban Auckland and for three or four years studied under the watchful eye of Judy West, who became one of Maria’s first mentors. On many occasions, Maria consulted with the dermatologist who had an office in the same building. The doctor often whispered to Maria, “The secret is clay.”

It wasn’t long before Maria’s life took a sudden turn when she won a trip to Mexico, and found herself immersed in a language that had a warm and musical sound. It was there that she met her husband–to-be who offered her a one-year scholarship to study natural healing and herbal remedies and techniques among the native people of Mexico. Maria began to observe the curanderos (native healers) who used clay to make abdominal and frontal packs for their clients. She studied their every move and incorporated this into her current massage techniques.

The country-side was her classroom in those days, and Maria collected clay to experiment with as she traveled through the different environmental zones in Mexico; from deserts to rainforests, before settling with her partner in Tepotzlan. The treasured clay that she gathered from the earth was tucked into her backpack and used for facial masks or poultices for her and the friends that she met on their journey.

“Tepotzlan, often referred to as a mystical energy center, was like an observatory of life to Cristobal and me in those days. He was a great teacher and mentor. We studied and experimented with different forms of natural healing, raised our three children, and met an array of characters that still filter in and out of our lives in Tulum,” revealed Maria.

“Together we literally surrounded ourselves with clay. The Huicol Indians constructed an authentic native house on a hill side and our kitchen was built of red clay; even the chairs and table were formed from clay. We were immersing ourselves in “Geotherapy,” one of the oldest forms of healing. Cristobal carved a bathtub on the clay hillside where we preformed curative clay baths for ourselves and our friends. There was a limited supply of water in Tepotzlan, so buckets had to be carried up the hillside from the reservoir to fill the tub.”

“This was not an easy task, but when you are engrossed in the search for knowledge with the words, “The secret is clay,” stuck in your head, it all seems worthwhile.”

One night, when the children were in bed and Cristobal was abroad, Maria stretched out in her small snug quarters and began to consider the last ten years of her life in Tepotzlan and realized that something was missing. She was exhausted and seeking direction when she reached over and grabbed a book off the shelf. It was on Geotherapy, healing with clay. This was no coincidence! She read on into the night until she shouted to the stars, “I’ve got the plan!”

When Cristobal returned from Sweden, she shared her enthusiasm and dream for the future. While in Europe, Cristobal had seen many families traveling with young children and felt it was a fantastic idea to embark on an adventure toward the Caribbean coast of Mexico. The Riviera Maya was prospering, and Tulum was the next place for explosive growth to take place. There would be people there with progressive ideas and opportunities to make money beside the silky sands and turquoise water, and Maria had “the plan.”

This plan, though vague, included doing “tours” in the shadows of sacred ruin sites that culminated in some sort of healing clay therapy. She was searching for a location to create a natural place of healing that was abundant in the four essential elements: air, water, fire and earth. Maria envisioned a place where people from all over the world would come to rejuvenate their body, mind, and spirit.

The first stop on their journey to Tulum was the ruins of Palenque. It was there that the family settled in Mayabel, one of the camping sites near the ruins. Life was easy in this backpacker’s paradise where friendships happen quickly and no one seems to think about tomorrow. Cristobal took tours into the neighboring Lacandon community and the ruins of Yaxchilan and Bonampak, and the campground provided him with a place to make contacts while giving the children a new playground to explore in the tropical rainforest. But Maria was focused on making her plan take shape.

One night, she dressed in her most elegant clothes and walked out into the cool damp night and headed to one of the exclusive tourist hotels that catered to stylish clientele. With a basket of simple black and white, hand-made flyers, Maria searched the lobby for clients for her first tour group. There was a convention on natural medicine taking place at the hotel, and Maria approached one of the doctors with her idea of a specialized tour. He was intrigued and was familiar with the curative qualities of using clay, but had never contemplated its use externally. Together they signed up eight people who pre-paid, and were ready to proceed the next day on a “back-door tour” of Palenque ruins.

The tour involved a search for a clay source among the ancient stone structures and enormous rainforest trees in a place where you could sense the spirits of ancient Mayan people. Each member of the group gathered a sample of the clay and proceeded to the river and cascading falls to learn techniques for applying clay to the body and exploring its curative properties.

That night Maria knew she was on to something and wanted to continue her plan to go to Tulum, where a larger clientle base was waiting. She found a source of dry clay in Palenque, and packed as much as she was able to carry. Cristobal remained behind and returned to Tepotzlan with their oldest child to continue his endeavors and hold down the fort until Maria returned home with the other two children. He did not imagine she would remain away for long.

Once in Tulum, Maria found schools and child care for her two young children and gradually slipped into the rhythm of life and began to create her own clinics in nature. She rode her bicycle to Grand Cenote, a place that nurtured human life, and hung out there for the day, observing guests and offering curative treatments when the opportunity presented itself.

When reality set in, she knew she needed a bit more of a steady income and a friend put her in touch with the folks at Maya Tulum. They were impressed with her ideas and offered her a massage table under a palm tree on which to perform clay therapy. Her idea of a “tour” evolved into a 1 ½ hour Geotherapy treatment that ended with a Watzu massage in a place with the elements of fire (sun), air, earth (clay), and water at her fingertips.

She guarded the secrets of her treatments and sources of the clay supply, and when she needed to return to Tepotzlan to put closure on her life there, the spa director asked her to leave some clay to sell in their shop. She agreed, and quickly prepared and packaged her first forty jars of Mayan clay. When she returned to Maya Tulum, all forty jars had been sold!

Other massage therapists in the area knew about curative properties of clay, and word spread that Maria was using it for massage. They also wanted to buy the product to use in their work. She had located a source of good green clay in the state of Yucatan and knew she needed to set up a workshop to process and bottle the Mayan clay to fill these requests.

In 2001, Maria and Cristobal bought property 20 km inland from Tulum in Macario Gomez. This is where her first substantial Mayan Clay production center was built and is still functioning today. This paradise in the jungle, only 15 minutes from Tulum’s mystic shore, inhabited by tropical birds and multi-colored butterflies, will someday fulfill a dream to house a spa and skin care studio. For now, Maria has exposure for her products and curative Geotherapy treatments set up under a towering palapa on her property across from Om Hotel, at Km 8, in one of the rapidly developing hotel zones on Tulum’s south beaches. When you visit the skin studio you will find the massage and shower area