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  • Writer's pictureAnuj Chaman

Latisha and Juan Pablo - Bacalar, Mexico

Updated: Feb 6, 2022

What makes travel special?

Is it the place you visit? The adventures and experiences? The food you eat? Maybe it's correlated with the amount of sunsets; watching colours you've never seen crest over foreign horizons.


All important factors without a doubt, but I'd argue most memorable aspects of any trip are the people you meet; the strangers you share spontaneous moments with. The moments that forge connections and those connections lay the foundation for new friendships. If you're lucky, these friendships are gifts that extend past the borders of the place you leave behind.


This was exactly the case in be-friending Latisha (Letty) and Juan Pablo (JP); a mother and son team that owned and operated the accommodations I called home during a visit to Bacalar, Mexico in January 2021. Bacalar is a sleepy town of just ten thousand people in the southeast of Mexico with Belize bordering its south. A place without any real significant attraction other than a peaceful lagoon it hugs to its east.


I had the pleasure of sitting down with Latisha and Juan Pablo and get to know more about them and their aspirations to build their lovely property. I've used my camera in the past to open a portal into the lives of others. This was the first time I gave those in the shots a voice. Why bother? I believe that everyone has a story to tell and the capacity to inspire others. And more simply, life is about connecting with and understanding others. This one hour deepening my connection with them and learning their story was a highlight of my time in Bacalar.


I learnt their story, appreciated their creative passions and was inspired by their vision for their business. More so, I was inspired by their conviction to bring that vision to life. And you can see the realization of that vision in the work they've put into their rental properties (@JunglaBacalar).


Letty primarily spoke Spanish and with the limited I knew, I found myself translating back to English for JP to confirm I understood her responses. Whenever we got lost in translation, JP, who spoke more English, translated as best he could. This in itself, being able to connect across language barriers, was a very special experience in itself.


Below are exerts and photos from my chat with them. To retain the essence of the conversation I've refrained from word-smithing much of what was recorded live.


AC: Please introduce yourself


Letty: My name is Latisha Espinosa Medrano.

JP: My name is Juan Pablo Paris Espinosa.


AC: And what's your relationship to each other?


JP: She's my mom.

Letty: And he's my son. Someone who shares a lot of his creativity with me for this place (their rental units).


AC: Tell me about yourselves? Feel free to mention anything you feel compelled to share.


JP: Music and art are my life. I really appreciate how beautiful life is and know that having and sharing love is the most important thing about living a fulfilling life. I use what I create to share good vibes and love with everyone. I feel that I am a star in my own way and I love being able to share my art with those around me.


I like hispanic, Indian and medicinal music - which I make myself. Sharing my creations is my outlet to share my love.


AC: And you Latisha (right) - tell me about yourself?


Latisha: I came to Bacalar a year ago to start this business with my son. Life here has been very different than where I grew up in Guadalajara. I feel more creative here and freer to share that creativity through this place (referring to her business). For example, I taught myself macramé. You can see some examples all over this place. It feels more fun than work. (more examples of her macrame on @JunglaBacalar.)


AC: What about macrame do you like?


Latisha: Doing macrame is like meditating. I get into a flow, let my mind go and let my creativity surprise me. Sometimes its easy and I can finish a piece pretty quickly the way I originally envisioned. Other times I start off with one vision in mind and by the end it's become something completely different entirely.


AC: What about Bacalar to you love?


JP: The lagoon and jungle. It gives this place it's charm and feeling of paradise. It's a very relaxed and peaceful place.


When I first came to Bacalar two years ago and started to meet more people I quickly came to realize how chill Bacalar is. I immediately knew I wanted to find a place here to make my own. When I started this business it was nothing. No walls or plants whatsoever. We built this place up from scratch. And since day one there's always been something to do. Whether it's a repair here or painting a wall or starting a garden. Whatever it is, we're always putting energy into this place.


Latisha: When JP first showed me photos of Bacalar I was like, "wow this place is paradise." Guadalajara on the other hand is more of a rat race. My day consisted of me waking up and rushing to work, working and coming home at 11 at night. Even biking around was hectic with all the traffic and people. Conversely, here in Bacalar, my bicycle feels like my own personal horse that takes me to magical places.


When I saw photos of how happy he (JP) was here it just made sense to move here myself. This place started out as only one room. We had other families living on either side of us. We slowly grew, buying more and more space and building it out more. Little by little we expanded this place one to 11 rooms for rent.


AC: What made you interested in starting a hospitality business?


Latisha: I have a friend I used to help run a 10-suite Airbnb back in Guadalajara. I learned this business from her and saw the joy it brought her in creating a beautiful place and the beautiful guests it attracted. She encouraged me that I could start my own. I could be my own manager, host and bring joy to guests too and hire help out to do the rest like cleaning and repairs.


AC: What is your inspiration?


JP: I have three inspirations. First is to see this place 100% completed like we envision. It's going to be a lot of work and money but little by little with our energy and commitment we'll get there.


My second inspiration is my construction project in Buenavista where I host temazcal ceremonies and share things about the Mayan culture with visitors.


My last inspiration is to become an expert musician and guitarist. I want to be good enough to travel and preform for crowds of people. Okay.. my last last inspiration, my newest one, is my unborn son.


guitar, travel portrait, happiness
Happy Juan Pablo & his guitar

Latisha: My inspiration is the potential of this place. When we started this business it wasn't much. It lacked love and didn't attract much life like all the dogs you see around in town. After putting in our energy and love that all changed. As this place grew so did our family. It also brought us Lova, Kyla, Coco, Fe and Flako (stray neighbourhood dogs that now live with JP and Letty).


Latisha, JP and their furry family of Lova, Kyla, Coco and Flako (missing: Gari)

I want people to be wowed when they visit this place. My son and I are a great creative team and I want them to appreciate all the creativity and art like you would when you visit a museum. I will make this place into "un casa de los suenos" (House of Dreams). When people will think of Bacalar they'll think of Casa Iguana and they'll come just just to visit this special place. I want this place to also inspire people to explore more of Mexico. And I believe it has to be any more expensive for it to be special.


My goal is to complete this place in three years. When I'm done, I want to travel, relax and have time to start something else. Maybe get a camper van with a little bed, bathroom and kitchen so I can travel all over Mexico for months. And then after Mexico the rest of the world.


And maybe in the future I'll be famous for my art and can travel and share my passion with others.

Happy Latisha

AC: What is the most important key to living a fulfilled life?


JP: "La Fe"


AC: Whats that? "La Fe"


JP: Yo no se en ingles


Anuj: Faith??


JP: It's difficult to describe. Like the spirit... the fight? (as JP checks his smartphone for the translation)


Anuj: (As I look over on his smartphone to confirm)..Ohh yes I was correct - "faith!"


JP: Faith and spirit are the most important to my life. I work with medicinal plants and have had moments that have awakened me and revealed things you can't learn in school.


Latisha: The school of life is the best school.


JP: I stopped school after my 12th grade and life and work have been my teachers.


AC: Anything else that you'd like to share?


JP: We all must learn more about plants and their benefits. It's something I only recently learned about and started appreciating myself in the last 3-4 years. Plants, fruits and veggies are beneficial for our bodies in so many ways. In our temazcal ceremony we use natural plants like, mint, lemon, salvia and tree resins to cleanse the spirit, ground you and open your awareness to both your outer and inner worlds.


---


After chatting, I followed JP and Latisha around to take some more photos. JP invited us to to a cabana (treehouse) he had been building himself in the back of the property. It has since become yet another extension to the property. I asked him to bring an item that he resonated with for some photos. He brought a small drum that he messed around with and put a little show on for us. His talent speaks for itself. It was the best parting gift.

Latisha & Juan Pablo

Thank you for sharing this moment, your story and your spirits with me Latisha and Juan Pablo.


- Anuj Chaman



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