Chanchen: Modern Mayan Village

In our first month here in Mexico we met an amazing woman named Yara, who told us the fascinating story of her project, an ankle accessory called Mayan Ook. She moved here to Playa del Carmen from Mexico city, where she was a successful lawyer, and got an idea to support and empower women in local secluded Mayan communities. These villages are very small, and men normally have to leave home to find work in bigger towns, while women stay with children and have no means of bringing income into their families. Yara found a Mayan interpreter and went to one of these villages called Chanchen. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight: members of these communities have learned over the years to be very careful with non-Mayan outsiders, but Yara managed to win their trust, and now the women are able to generate income creating a fantastic product while staying home to take care of their children.

I loved this idea and offered my photographic skills to support and promote the project, and the very next day we were on our way to the village. We went along the coast to Tulum, and then turned off to the right and drove past the Coba ruins. There is no mobile network in the village, and there is no way to warn them when we are coming. Sometimes it might be inconvenient, but this time it was perfect for my photos. We showed up unannounced and saw their lifestyle, their homes and their clothes the way it all is when no strangers are looking.

Their homes are made of two buildings – a living room/bedroom/workshop and a kitchen with a fireplace. Paulina warmly greeted us and fed us with what was available – delicious bean soup, fried egg and amazing handmade tortillas, fried right there on the fire. She even sent some home with me, so I could share them with David, and we both agreed that we’ve never had such great tortillas anywhere else!

Written by Dasha Gaian