According to those analyzing the Mayan calendar, we are in for some pretty crazy events in the next couple of years. One should consider carefully where they want to be, especially on December 21, 2012, just in case any of these prognostications come true. An obvious place would be here in the land of the Mayans themselves – Guatemala – ground zero for safe passage into the future. As I realized on my last trip here in 2008, it would be a beautiful place to end your days if that so be the case. I’d happily wrap myself in colorful cotton cloth, feast on beans and corn tortillas, listen to the stories coming out of the rumbling volcanoes, and enjoy these brown people who will continue to call each other “amigo” even as the lights fade out.
I expect that strong Mayan spirit will be rising steadily to meet the challenges inherent in global chaos, aided by their experience over millennia of surviving environmental and social hardships. So I have returned to Guatemala to check out the preparations for 2012 before the big crowds come.
I left Wolf back in the hospital Blanco Cervantes in San José in good form, relatively speaking. He’s having physical therapy and feeling strong enough that he told me to go and have a good time, he wasn’t going anywhere. I heard from Stefany, his nurse, that the day after I left his blood sugar and pressure were all over the place, but that is part of the struggle, trying to regulate Wolf’s aged and problematic system – or maybe he just missed me. Latest word is that he should truly be going home soon!
In early January, as my ninety-day visa run out of Costa Rica was approaching, I knew I had to consider where to go for at least three days to be legal again. As it turned out, all the planets aligned themselves for this trip: I’ve been staying with Lorena and Edín, he the guitarist of Éditus, and they told me that in February they were playing a concert opening an arts festival in Antigua. I then contacted my friends Rick and Treeza in San Pedro on stunning Lake Atitlan who had been talking about coming down to see me in Cahuita. They’ve just built a house and have had too much company to consider taking the trip right now so they said why don’t I come and visit them? And the final sign came when I checked airplane prices and there was a great sale on. The winds practically blew me to Guatemala.
We all flew on the same day. Lorena and I, along with violinist Ricardo’s wife Moy and percussionist Tapado’s girlfriend Monica, came together on the same flight. The band – with their two stage hands and techies Chino and Eric – arrived shortly after. It was the beginning of two days of living la vida dulce as a groupie in magical Antigua.
Of course Éditus had lodging in a very nice hotel befitting rockstars courtesy of the festival organizers. I, the lowly gypsy, stayed about a five minute walk away at the Villa Esthela, a charming little pension that cost me $10 for a private room (I splurged as there were shared rooms for $6). The best part of the place was the rooftop. When I went to Antigua before, I had spent a couple nights in a place with a rooftop (Hotel San Vicente – nice but too expensive for me now) and one night in a place without and realized that having access to the sky is a desirable feature.
If I can’t afford to stay in one of the many spectacular hotels in the city, at least I can sit on the rooftop of my humble abode and feel rich in the sunshine or privileged under the stars, surrounded by volcanoes and ancient churches. Villa Esthela was super comfortable, everything worked (though the only three-prong outlet for my laptop I found was up on that rooftop, a convenient inconvenience), the bed was comfortable, there’s a kitchen, and Daniella, the Dutch woman who runs the place, was very accommodating and friendly. Highly recommended.
Although I slept there and visited the rooftop day and night, I also spent a lot of time with the others at their hotel and out and about across Antigua. One of the best places was Casa Santo Domingo, an ancient village within the ancient city: stoned walls in various stages of decay and refurbish (sounds like old rockstars, no?), a candle shop, a museum, a hotel, a restaurant and a spectacular open theatre where there was a wedding rehearsal going on – it turns out that Éditus played there a couple of years ago.
We ate dinner outside under the rising moon at Angie Angie, the restaurant of “the local loca Argentinian beauty” with live music, funky art, succulent parrilla and a super-suave Crème Brulee. Lorena, Monica and I cruised the streets throughout Antigua where every corner directs you to another magical sight. We checked out the textiles at Nimpot, the huge store of traditional huipiles and masks already advertising for Maya Y2K12 (only 830 shopping days until…)
The main attraction in Antigua was the concert at La Ermita de la Santa Crúz, a convent built in the 1600s and destroyed various times by earthquakes. I’ve spoken many times in this blog about Éditus. They started out as a classical acoustic duo – Ricardo Ramírez on violin and Edín Solís on guitar. They added Carlos Vargas – lovingly and respectfully known as Tapado – on percussion, and their music moved into jazz fusion/new age colored by classical influences and upswept with Latino rhythms.
With their great friend, Rubén Blades, they received Grammy’s for Best Latin Pop Recording, Best World Music Recording and Best Contemporary Latin Recording. They are spectacular whether playing as an acoustic duo, a modern jazz trio, a classical quartet, or as the quintet EDITUS360 – an electronic world music version of their former selves. I’ve known them as friends since the 90s when they played often in Monteverde, and I cooked and cared for them during the music festival there.
They have been friends with the musicians of Alux Nahual for years and shared the stage before. Alux is a Guatemalan rock band legend, founded by singer Alvaro Alguilar and his brother Plubio in 1979, that has undergone various transformations. The band members switch up the lead vocals and their instruments throughout the concert – from guitars to cello to flute to keyboards to drums,.
On this night, Éditus opened the concert with a mix of pieces from various Latin American composers, their music perfectly blending with the heavy religious overtones of the site and the ethereal modern light and smoke show.
The audience received the music enthusiastically – Éditus’ violin and guitar solos seared the clear night air and Tapado’s always fluid river of percussive rhythms poured over us. Although I was only slightly familiar with a couple of the songs of Alux Nahual, the audience knew every word and sang along to what were obviously anthems in this country – lyrics that speak of justice, peace and equality.
Tapado filled the musical bridge between the bands as Alux Nahual took the stage. The Costa Ricans accompanied the Guatemaltecos on several pieces, the audience loving it all.
Their drummer Lenin Fernandez was a very friendly and amusing host over the weekend, as was Gloria Cáceres, a Guatemalan singer who accompanied Éditus on Esta tarde vi llover by Mexican songwriter Armando Manzanero.
There was some backstage drama when the organizers explained that Éditus shouldn’t sell CDs because there were representatives of an agency present who could confiscate their products since they didn’t have proper permission nor receipts. They still opened a backstage table to sign autographs and it took more than an hour for the line of fans to pass through, requesting photos with the rockstars. We had about eight heavily armed policemen around us and fortunately nothing happened to excite them.
Gloria then invited us to a late night gathering at the house of one of the older wealthier families of Guatemala – the Zacapa Rum family. We wound down dark, almost empty cobble streets well after midnight to arrive at a walled-off building that took up most of a central block.
When the heavy wooden door was pulled open, it revealed a preserved mansion behind the walls. There were courtyards with fountains and rooms full of heavy wooden antiques gilded with gold, brocade upholstery intact, crystal shining on the shelves.
We were night time wanderers in this marvelous place, amazed at what ancient luxury was hidden beyond the walls. Though everyone was tired, the atmosphere, the wine and a spectacular chickenpaté kept us awake and amused.
While we were playing in the day, and as Éditus played through the night, the roadies Eric and Chino worked setting up the stage and managing the lights and sound. Chino – Andres, Tapado’s brother – has been the stage technician for Éditus for years – as well as for many other bands and events in Costa Rica. He has a look that fits well amongst hippies and artists (and tends to attract crazy people in the streets), but it would appear he could also be a lord-of-the-rings-type if the opportunity presented itself.
It was a beautiful time we had in Antigua. Lorena and Edín have been very welcoming and generous with me at their home in Chepe over the last month while I’ve been on Wolf-duty. They were very kind to invite me along and I thank them. I’m a willing and enthusiastic groupie and love the Éditus maestros, their music, their lovely women, and their comical roadies. Gracias a todos ustedes por un viaje magico en Antigua.
I left the others behind on their last day in Guatemala and headed to Lake Atitlan. That’s the next blog…I’ll pass on to you what I find out regarding the end of the world, right from the mouth of the Mayans. Recently, I was told by someone who is studying literature about 2012 that the land I have in Cahuita, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and tucked into the foothills of the Talamanca Mountains, will also be a great place to spend that momentous time watching the pendulum swing between the past and the future. Talamanca is considered one of the best places on earth to survive massive physical and social upheavals. It’s out of the path of some of the treacherous fault lines, not too close to active volcanoes, sparsely populated but loaded with native fruits to live off of, and with a spiritual native intelligence that will guide those of us who manage to survive into the next epoch – if one should want to linger around after all that mass destruction.
So I may be staying home in Cahuita that month after all, prepared to head out by foot to higher ground if and when the tsunami horn sounds. But that’s a question to ponder another day…here on the shores of magical Lake Atitlan, I’m reading the seeds and studying the currents, looking for more signs….