Cabin in the Lacandon jungle

In the Lacandon Jungle: “Cabanas de Jaguares”

The taxi driver we nicknamed Senior Speedy drove us through the Lacandon jungle out from Bonampak, almost as fast as he drove us in. In our broken Spanish we asked him if he knew of a hotel in the vicinity. It was getting late, and we had no plans for the night.

Driving through the Lacandon Area

Our original half-baked plan was to spend the night at Frontera Corozal, a town by the Usumacinta River, gateway to Yaxchilan. We knew they had at least one hotel there, by the river where we thought we would spend the night. The town was only about 30 km away, but after our “short” drive from Palenque turned a few hours longer than expected because of old roads and lots of topes, we thought it would be safer to find a place close-by. Driving these old roads in the dark was not our idea of fun. Well, maybe…

Part of me liked these roads since it reminded me of the old days of our travels through Mexico. Nostalgia set in, at first I was enjoying the ride. Even the oversized topes popping up unexpectedly around each bend didn’t bother me. Easy for me to enjoy it, I wasn’t driving.

It wasn’t much fun for my husband though, trying to keep the rental car in one piece by not hitting those speed bumps too hard. We panicked when we looked at the clock and realized how long this “short” ride was taking us. We were back in gringo mode.

One reason I love Mexico is the total chaotic disregard of precise timing. If something doesn’t get done in two hours, it will be done in five; if we go on an adventure with a local, we can count on spending as much or as little time as we need. Time is irrelevant.

Unless you want to get to a specific site before its closing time. Bonampak would close at 5, and we were nearing 4 while still on the road, surrounded by the Lacandon jungle, with no sign of how much longer we would need to go.

We made it, thanks to a young taxi driver whose name I forgot, but remember the nickname we gave him, earned by the speed with which he got us to the ruins. He even gave us enough time to enjoy the visit before closing time. I still wonder how he kept his car in one piece through the rough ride.

We didn’t want to repeat the driving adventure from Bonampak back to Palenque in the dark. So when we asked him about hotels in the area, we hoped he would point us to one. Knowing where we were, we knew it wasn’t likely. Still, we tried.

No Hotel, but No Problem

“No hotel,” he said.

“But just one km up the road you’ll find some cabanas,” he added.

When we got out of his taxi, he pointed to the road we would need to follow.

Surrounded by the Lacandon jungle
Surrounded by the Lacandon jungle

We were driving in the middle of nowhere again, in the Lacandon jungle, on a narrow road, with not even a settlement in sight. We’ve been on this road for more than a km and saw no sign of any cabanas. Confident that it would be there, somewhere, we kept going. Finally, I noticed a sign “Cabanas de Jaguares”, pointing to a dirt track. Getting off the road, we followed it in the direction it was pointing.

The Cabanas

We kept driving, surrounded by vegetation, on this narrow dirt track that seemed to go nowhere. Then it suddenly stopped, in front of a traditional Maya hut. Well, if the road stopped, so did we, since we were already in a family’s backyard.

The backyard of our host in the Lacandon jungle
The backyard of our host in the Lacandon jungle

We got out and looked around. Waited. We knew we were in Lacandon territory, so I thought the polite thing to do was to wait until someone came out to greet us. At least that’s what I learned about the traditional Navajos that they expect you to do. But either this family wasn’t home or the Lacandon Mayas don’t have the same expectations as the Diné in the Southwest, but no one came out. The wooden hut in front of us had a sign on it that said “Cocina”, kitchen. So I knocked on the door. And waited some more.

A Place to Sleep at Night

A young Lacandon Maya woman came out from somewhere behind the hut.

“Cabanas?” I asked. ” Habitation por una noche?”

“Si,” she answered as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Then asked me if I wanted one with a bathroom or without. With a bathroom, I answered, though wasn’t sure that’s what she asked. Seeing my confusion, she said, “I’ll show you.” She went back inside, got a key, and asked me to follow her. We walked back through her yard, by her enclosed chickens, followed by a dog and a kitten.

Cabin in the Lacandon jungle
Cabin in the Lacandon jungle

A few stand-alone structures, rooms, with metal roofs, stood in the back of her yard, next to a few bathroom stalls. Ok, so the bathroom is outside of the rooms, I thought. No problem.

But the “cabana” she opened for me had two rooms with a bed in each, and a bathroom. Sure, the toilet had no seat, the shower head was rusted, and the sink was outside, but we had enough room for all four of us, and the bedsheets were crispy clean. Perfect.

Cabana des Jaguares
Cabana des Jaguares

“We’ll take it,” I said. I didn’t think we had a choice. Besides, I liked her. And my daughter already made friends with her kitten.

Dinner. Choices

“Do you want dinner?” she asked.

This was more than I had hoped for.

“Si,” of course we did.

“What time do you want to eat?” she asked.

Given that we were her only guests, and it didn’t seem to be a real restaurant on the premises, it was a reasonable question. But I had no idea what time it was.

“En una hora,” I said.

“Si,” she said, but stood, trying to figure out how to ask the next question.

“Pollo frito o pechuga?”

I could not remember what pechuga was, though I heard the word before.

“Pollo frito,” I answered, at least I understood that option.

“Quatro?”

“Si.”

My husband joined me and I told him I ordered dinner for us. He looked at me like it was not my best idea of the day.

“What did you order?”

I told him, then he asked if we had any other choices. Yes, but I didn’t understand our other choice, I said. So we asked the girl who was still standing there, waiting to see if we wanted anything else. She repeated our choices.

“Pechuga is chicken breast,” my husband told me. When it really counts, he understands Spanish better than me. Then we better order that, at least for the girls, we said. So what’s the difference, if they are both chicken dishes, I wondered. But trying to ask and understand the answer seemed too much brainwork, so I let it go. We’ll see when we eat. But we knew we had to change the order and get the white meat for the girls.

“How about two of each?” my husband asked our host.

“Si. En la cocina,” she said, pointing towards the building we first saw. “Una hora”.

In the kitchen, in an hour, we would be fed. Sounded good.

I felt bad when I thought about it; we didn’t need to ask them to make us two different meals. But I didn’t want to go after her and try to figure out how to tell her we changed our minds. We were all struggling with our Spanish and I spoke no more Lacandon Maya than she spoke English, so I let it go.

They made us a delicious dinner, but so much food, we could’ve fed a small army.

Pollo frito was fried chicken, as I suspected, thighs and legs. Pechuga was the chicken breast, without the skin. Either they came across picky eaters before, or kids are the same, no matter where they live; they knew what to make for our girls.

An older lady, who seemed to be her mother, cooked in the kitchen, and they both came out at different times to ask us questions, try to communicate with us. We laughed a lot more than talked but it was such a relaxed atmosphere, the lack of communication didn’t seem like a huge deal.

The Lacandon kitten
We didn’t encounter jaguars in the Jaguar Cabanas, only this kitten, who became our friend. Behind the kitchen building.

A Good Night Sleep

That night I decided two things: I would improve my Spanish and I would learn some Maya before my next trip to this land. It wasn’t the first time I met locals whose first language wasn’t Spanish and I would’ve loved to communicate with them in their own language.

But for now, we settled in for the night. In a shack in a Lacandon family’s backyard, surrounded by the sounds of jungle, chickens and a rooster who thought it was morning every two hours, I slept better than I had in months.

In the Lacandon Jungle Cabanas del Jaguares

9 thoughts on “In the Lacandon Jungle: “Cabanas de Jaguares””

    1. Yes, I saw you guys had a lot of snow this year; I can only send you virtual warmth, I know it’s not helping you right now; hope the freezing temperatures won’t last too much longer there.

  1. How wonderfully tropical and what a great experiece! Well done for trying your Spanish. Communicating with others who speak different languages is all part of the travel experience! We usually end up gesturing like a game of charades!

    1. You are absolutely right; communicating with locals in their own languages – or gestures, is part of the experience. Gesturing is a lot of fun though, we do our share of it, too, and locals love it. We share a lot of laughs with it.

  2. What a fantastic experience. One you’ll treasure always. Sometimes having to communicate without one another’s language can actually be quite fun. It sounds like it was for you here.

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