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It’s a Pirate’s Life

Evan Upchurch | March 4th, 2021

In Bacalar, Quintana Roo, there’s a history of piracy. In the 17th century, rugged pirates from England, Holland, and France made their way to the lagoon’s crystalline waters through canals looking not for gold and jewels but for logwood – a precious raw material and Bacalar’s treasure at the time. Today, the Lagoon of Seven Colors is home to a rare gem, a new treasure calling out to the world. Its name is Galeón Pirata, an independent cultural center that offers much more than riches can buy. The collective provides public access to culture and art, gives artists a space to freely create, and embodies a sense of community and connection in a destination that is continuously transforming. 

In 2021, Bacalar is set to become one of Habitas’s many homes, and it’s essential for us to know who’s leading important missions in the community. We caught up with Adrián Herrera, one of Galeón Pirata’s original founders and operating directors, to talk more about the arts and community. An avid traveler in his twenties, Adrián joined a theater troupe that performed across Latin America, from Argentina to Mexico. But in 2010, Adrián went to Bacalar to work at his uncle’s hotel for a few weeks and never left. When paradise invites you home, staying is the only option. 

Galeón Pirata was founded in March 2014. It began as a restaurant-bar with circus and theater performances and no clear mission. But after a few years, with Adrián and the rest of the team’s dedication, more diverse programming emerged: concerts, literary circles, and even festivals. Adrián told us, “Since the day we opened, there have been cultural activities at Galeón Pirata. The money we make from the bar and restaurant pays the team, but more importantly, it pays the artists. It’s important to defend the artist’s right to make a living. Us paying artists started a bit of a movement in Bacalar. Before us, restaurants and bars didn’t pay artists to perform; now they do.” 

Today, the cultural center’s primary mission is to act as an artistic platform, a place to amplify talent and creativity. But along their path, they’ve found another purpose: developing strong ties with indigenous and farming communities in the region.

Bacalar is changing and developing in terms of tourism. This can be a slippery slope for local communities, especially when economic and social segregation occurs. Locals shouldn’t be pushed out, and independent cultural centers can play a crucial role in connecting worlds and promoting responsible tourism. “Take the ADN Maya movement. Kids from the region are reclaiming the Mayan language through hip hop and rap – a style that originated in the United State’s Black communities. Imagine a Mayan rapper meets a French rapper who then helps him get a record deal and tour the world. That’s what can happen at Galeón.” 

Galeón Pirata’s cultural activities are not just about connecting diverse worlds. The collective is also focused on the sustainable growth and education of the local community. “For example, there is a mismanagement of the waters in the Yucatán peninsula and the farmlands. You can see the consequences. However, activities that bring together art, culture, science, and pedagogy are opportunities for the local community to understand where they live and how humans connect with nature. The type of art that we promote at Galeón is an art that questions and helps develop critical thinking.” 

From one day to the next, the pandemic brought Galeón Pirata’s operations to a standstill, but where there’s a dedicated community, there’s a way. In the weeks following the shutdown, Galeón TV was created for Facebook and YouTube, with at least three events per week. “This pandemic has also served as a time of reflection for our collective. When events start up again this month, Galeón Pirata will be even more conscious regarding the importance of collectivity.” 

In Bacalar lies a historic seed of art. The Mayan people were known as poets, musicians, sculptors, and architects, and it’s no surprise. The southern Mexico is graced with breathtaking natural beauty and vibrant life. In Bacalar, the lagoon’s changing colors inspire everyone in its vicinity. It creates a space for anyone to become an artist and connect with our essence. We are all temporary on this Earth, but the importance and impact of art is as timeless as Bacalar itself.  

 

Photography by: Raciel Manríquez