Is it the connections that we make with others in this life that really shape the legacy we leave?
The morning I spent learning about the fascinating lives of Frans and Trudi Blom was a timely reminder that leaving a mark in this world isn’t necessarily about the things we create or own, but instead the lives that intertwine with ours along the way.
Na Bolom, once their home, now tells their story. One of explorations, discovery and success that has at the heart of it all, the human connections that they made with the Lacandon Maya.
The house itself was a derelict monastery when the couple moved to San Cristobal de las Casas in 1951. Over the years they began running it as a hotel to fund their explorations of ancient sites in the locality. Today, its perfectly renovated walls face onto a sunny central courtyard that still has guest rooms and a small restaurant. Through each archway, every room tells a story. Some hold Trudi’s photography of the Lacandon people, others artefacts from more than one hundred Maya sites that Frans is accredited with discovering.
Born in 1893, Frans was originally from Copenhagen but after various travels moved to Mexico to start work in the oil business. This gave him an interest in the remote Maya sites that had yet to be explored. His talent for archaeology got him a place at Harvard and then work as a university professor where he undertook several trips to Central America. After suffering from alcohol addiction, he moved to Mexico City where he continued his exploration of several of the regions most important Maya sites.
Trudi, originally from Switzerland and an outspoken supporter of the anti-fascist movement, had already been working as a journalist in Paris. She decided to flee Europe with many other immigrants who were welcomed with open arms by Mexico during the 1940s. She arrived in her new country with a passionate interest in social wellbeing across cultures that would later show itself in her sensitive photography projects.
Frans and Trudi’s lives finally collided when they found themselves on the same government-funded expedition to study the Lacandon Maya community in Chiapas. In the years that followed, they continued to explore these jungle communities and become firm friends with the spiritual leaders of the Lacandon, even setting up their own jungle camp.
After Frans’ death in 1973, the accumulation of Trudi’s time spent in the selva (jungle) led her to start campaigning against deforestation. She was one of the first environmental campaigners and lobbied the Mexican government on their deforestation policies for many years. Within the walls of Na Bolom, she founded El Vivero – giving out trees for planting and continuing to highlight the worthy cause through photography and documentaries.
My favourite room in the museum was one dedicated to Trudi. It housed some of her jewellery and intimate objects such as her glasses and books, however one photo jumped out at me: Trudi as an older lady, walking arm in arm down a jungle path with a member of the Lacandon community. I couldn’t see who it was, but made the assumption that it could be who she described as her best friend and the community’s spiritual leader, Chan K’in Viejo.
In 2011 Frans and Trudi finally got their last wish: to be buried in Naha. Their bodies were transported from San Cristobal de las Casas to the jungle village that had brought them together and to which they both felt a strong connection throughout their lives.
A perfect ending to their story in that for them, it was perhaps their friendships with the Lacandon people that were the driving force behind their passion for Maya discovery across Mexico.