Lacan-ha Lacandon jungle and its inhabitants
Nichim tours gave me the opportunity to visit the Lacan-ha Lacandon jungle and its inhabitants in Mexico. I was not familiar with the word Lacandon jungle until I was offered a 3 day trip there in May 2011. And it was one of my best time spent in Mexico.
Lacandon jungle is the biggest rainforest in North America. It stretches from the Mexican state of Chiapas to the Yucatan peninsula and Northern Guatemala. It is the home of lots of different species, including trees, jaguars, butterflies, birds and howler monkeys among them. I’m both happy and upset about not having met a jaguar there, but at least did see many lovely butterflies, played with howler monkeys and got energy from 1,500 tree species.
Apart from visiting the three most famous places of Lacandon jungle – the Mayan archeological sites of Palenque, Bonampak and Yaxchilan, I got a chance to learn a lot about the Lacandon inhabitants, their life and habits without the modern technology we can’t imagine our life without any more.
Lacandon jungle is still mostly inhabited by Lacandon Maya, descendants of the ancient Maya people, who speak their own version of Mayan language.
Lacandon Mayan language is one of 29 Mayan varieties of Mexico, and together with other Mayan languages in Guatemala, Belize and Honduras are spoken by more than 6 million indigenous Maya (which is more than 6 million Slovaks speaking my mother tongue!)
All the other people living in Lacandon jungle now, including other indigenous and non-indigenous population, migrated to the jungle in the 20th and 21st ct.
For a night and two days I experienced intense living with the Lacandon Maya in one of their communities LACAN-HA, called as well LACANJA CHANSAYAB. Lacandon Maya refer to themselves as HACH WINIK = TRUE PEOPLE.
Lacandon Maya have been living in the Lacandon jungle for hundreds of years. Since the Spanish conquest of Yucatan, the Lacandons lived out of contact with the rest of the world until the mid-20 ct when the Bloms couple with the Lacandon activist Chan Kin convinced the Lacandons to develope their culture and the ecotourism. Nowaydays, there are around dozen villages of altogether 600 – 1000 Lacandons.
I did not expect anything modern before I came there. I was staying over in a cabaña like the one at the photo and was really surprised about what I saw when I entered. Absolutely great new room, three beds just for myself and the bathroom! All in natural wood and stone. Taking a shower and listening to the noise of the jungle around me was the goosebumps experience. And it was just the beginning.
I was taken care of the whole Lacandon family. It was a proper service. I love eating so much you can’t imagine. To be honest, I was really scared of what we were going to eat in the jungle for two days. Big ants? Or hunting in the morning to get some food for the day?
Thank God no… the family cooked for us chicken and fish, and had traditional Mexican breakfast with scrambled eggs. We could even enjoy chips/french fries when relaxing in a hammock.
Everything was cooked by young girls of 12 to 15 years. This is the way it works in Lacandon families. The girls have to learn to cook as soon as possible, because they usually get married at that age. And not just that, they have children at the same age, too!
I honestly couldn’t imagine having a baby when I was 22, so what about when you are 12 like them! But the life in the jungle is hard. The girl serving us was 14 years old and she was not the member of the family. She left her family in other community, left the school and came here to work. She was the only girl I met there not married yet at her age. We spoke about it and she said she didn’t want yet, she had to learn to cook and be a good wife first.
But the family where I slept were the typical example of how Lacandon families live. The mother although being very cute, with a big smile not disappearing from her face, she looked much older than her age. I guess it’s been the rough life’s fault.
We had long talks with her.She got married when 12 and by her 46 now, she was already grand grandma with the oldest grand grandchild of 6. I rolled my eyes after hearing that; she was younger than my mom while my mom was not even a grandma yet!
Then all the manual work to survive – work at la milpa – in the fields, take care of animals, all the work around the house and artesanías to sell (handicrafts, mostly beaded art, natural jewelry, wood carvings, pottery, drums).
Most of the Lacandon men are tour guides. They tour the tourists through the ruins and the jungle (walking on in the kayaks), and help the women with the handicrafts or agricultural work. And they keep long hair. It is not a rule or a must, you have the right to decide nowadays, but most of them still prefer not to cut it. It makes it difficult to differentiate small children then, some boys with long hair have such a cute face they look like girls. The 6-year old grand grandchild was one of them.
While the Lacandon women wear usually more modern skirts and T-shirts, the big majority of the men still use the white undyed tunic called a xikul. The children go to school inside their community to learn Spanish. There’s just one mixed class for all the primary school children, then one for the secondary school if there are some still want to go to school. The children do speak really good Spanish. Even the adults had to learn Spanish now with more and more tourists coming to visit. But men speak better as they are more in touch with the Spanish while working as tour guides.
One of the modern things a visitor at Lacandona jungle find is that most of the families turned Presbyterians. There is no mobile phone signal, but it is possible to find a telephone box to call. The father of the family where I stayed was in charge of the telephone box in Lacan-ha community. There was even internet connection in a small shop close. And the family had a very small TV in the kitchen, all day covered with a tablecloth. The TV was used just in the evenings by the girls, if they’ve done everything necessary that day, to watch the telenovelas (to improve their Spanish and learn more about the life outside the jungle.)
Lacandon jungle inhabitants are very interesting people. They taught me such a simple thing most of us never realize – we do not have to own a lot to be happy. Their attitude to life, like of the many Mexicans I met, is the total opposite of the Europeans who are always complaining.
My trip to Lacan-ha Lacandon jungle was a press trip done by NICHIM TOURS. Check out their second website Chiapas tours y expediciones to experience the jungle and the ruins in Chiapas. However, all the opinions in the post are honest and just mine.