My journey into the Lacandon jungle along the Usumacinta River that is the boundary between Mexico and Guatemala began simply with a top-of-the-list visit to Na Bolom (Jaguar House) in San Cristobal de las Casas. Here I was fascinated by Gertrude (Trudi) Duby-Blom’s descriptive black and white photos shot in the mid-1950’s of Lacondon people. Na Bolom is dedicated to the Lacandones, who retreated deep into the rainforest to preserve their ancient practices in the face of the Spanish conquest.
The Selva Lacandon, a dense jungle rainforest, is where you will find Yaxchilan and Bonampak — two glorious and significant Mayan archeological sites. To get there isn’t easy. It’s three hours southeast of Palenque by van. Palenque is five hours north of San Cristobal de las Casas IF you take a direct bus and don’t sign up for the tourist trip that stops at Agua Azul and Cascada del Misol-Ha along the way (extending the trip to eight hours one-way). But I digress.
The day before I was set to leave for Palenque, Fay and I were on Real Guadalupe pedestrian avenue window-shopping. I noticed an indigenous man and woman in the doorway of one of the shops who looked familiar, as if I had seen them somewhere before. I asked the shopkeeper which indigenous group they belonged to and she said Lacandones. I stepped into the shop and approached them with a “buenos dias.”
Carmela Chan Ak In and Cayhum Yuk Masha introduced themselves and told me that they lived in the jungle and had been friends with Trudi Blom. I asked if I could take their photos and he agreed. They requested and I agreed to send email copies to their nephew who has correo electronico. As I set my lens, I realized that they may be the same people who were the primary subjects of the photos I had seen at Na Bolom and in the published books — taken at least 40 years ago. Our conversation ended with an invitation to me to visit their village.
Just yesterday, as I exited Bonampak, I met Daniel Chank In, a Lacandon native and registered eco-tourism guide who takes visitors through the jungle and arranges overnight stays. Daniel is part of a Lacandona owned/operated eco-tourism cooperative called Jaguar Ojo Anudado certified by the Mexican Tourist Board. He knows Carmela and Cayhum and says they live about 2 km from the ancient ruins and told me that, yes, they had been friends with the Bloms and subjects of her photography.
If you are interested in a guided visit with overnight stays (I highly recommend this, since one day to see both Yaxchilan and Bonampak are not enough), please contact Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.jaguarojoanodado2.com.mx
Daniel introduced me to his wife, Victoria Chank In Chana Bor, his son Esteban Daniel (males wear white tunics, females wear floral tunics), and their newborn son wrapped and sleeping close to his mother’s heartbeat.