I’m now back in San José, Costa Rica. Let’s get straight to the good news: two days ago, Wolf was released from the hospital. He is now very happily at his home in Monteverde. He is free of infection – may he remain that way for a very long time. He is taking medications that are keeping him alert and relatively clear but also allowing sleep (for everyone). I have spoken with him a couple of times and he is full of plans and optimistic.
On the book front, I have been snarled in the red tape of dealing with a big company, Café Britt, in Costa Rica. My contact there has been very helpful and most supportive, but there are procedures that one can’t get around regarding details like commercial invoices. With the help of the exceptionally wonderful Deb Hamilton in Monteverde (of Chunches Bookstore and the Bellbird Conservation Project) I think I have jumped through the last hoop to get the books into the airport stores for the thirty day trial. As soon as I know they are on the shelves, barring any more unforeseen issues, I will let y’all know so that you can hopefully spread the word to travelers who may be able to buy a copy and help us secure a bigger contract.
Next week I will continue working with Lester Gomez, who is editing the Spanish translation of the book. We spent several hours together before I went to Guatemala and have many more days of work to finish. He is very keen about the project, even more so after talking directly with me about Wolf, Monteverde and this great project of love. He has become a valuable part of the team that keeps Wolf’s stories spreading further. I think the published book is beginning to come to a boil.
But it is really Guatemala that I want to write about. After those great few days in beautiful Antigua with EDITUS, I went up to San Pedro la Laguna on magical Lake Atitlan. There are other ways of describing this place – spiritual, serene, stunning – but magical is how it seems to me. The clouds and light and winds are constantly shifting. Tinkling laughter floats past, voices of ancient tongues rise then disperse, the spirits of the ancestors linger by the shore caught between the old world of their existence and the new world of change.
Owners of land within one hundred meters of the lake edge keep an eye on the rising water that has already drowned many individuals’ concrete dreams. All eyes are on the Mayan calendar that marks only twenty-two more months before turning its final page and we head precariously into the next five thousand years.
I was visiting my friends Treeza and Rick who built a comfortable beautiful home last year. Their property originally ran from the walking path down to the water’s edge – about 150 feet. In this last year they have lost more than fifty of those precious feet. They had a concrete gateway that is now in the water, their property line moved back substantially.
The good news is they now have waterfront property with American coots and other water birds floating in the marsh, men harvesting tule (reeds used for mats and baskets) from their wooden kayaks, local women washing their endless piles of clothes just over the bamboo fence that surrounds their property.
I was told that the lake, a cauldron surrounded by volcanoes whose slopes host several indigenous villages, has no natural outlet. It is a catch basin and, in the same extreme weather period that the whole world is experiencing, heavy rainfall has kept the lake on a steady rise. It is already the deepest lake in Central America and, it would seem, it’s getting deeper each rainy season.
Last year, the lake and all the living creatures that depend on its benevolence suffered from a serious outbreak of a Lyngbya microorganism (or cyanobacteria) which spread rapidly, forming mats of fibrous scum that floated on the surface. This was fed by the high levels of phosphorous and nitrogen that are in the fertilizers being used around the lake for the coffee crops as well as the wide variety of farm crops – corn, onions, lettuce, strawberries, cabbage and on and on. Untreated sewage flowing directly into the lake from the growing communities, introduced fish species that have diminished populations of endemic feeders, and a rising water temperature (that ol’ global warming) have created an environmental disaster that has affected every aspect of life on this beautiful landscape.
The Kaqchikel and Tz’utujil people continue their subsistence farming, speak their Mayan languages and wear their colourful traditional clothing. The culture is strong but change is everywhere led by these environmental challenges and tourism. Like in all places dependent on that fickle industry, the rise and fall of tourist numbers either over-stresses people and systems at its height or leaves boats empty and vendors’ stalls abandoned when numbers drop. After millennia of clean water supplies, the communities are now warned not to drink the water that alone bathe in it.
Groups of women and children worked together to remove the mats of scum. There was little of it apparent last week so it is either under control or conditions are less favourable right now. The day Rick and I went out in a kayak, we returned to find a large group of local Mayan fishermen cleaning up the trash – both plastic and natural – along the shore. With the problems they are encountering, it will take a village – as well as a reluctant government’s money and international aid – to take care of this priceless aquatic and volcanic heaven.
People I met when I was in San Pedro two years ago told me that this last year was very hard for the lack of business due to the harsh weather and the bacteria-story keeping tourists away, besides the devastation caused by the rising water level. Then there were the serious landslides that washed many homes down in a river of mud and rock. If there is any truth to the prophesy that there will be mass confusion and disasters in the lead up to 2012, San Pedro may be a micro-example of what is to come.
A Canadian who has been in San Pedro for many years, Dave, lost his home and two of his dogs to a landslide last year. He closed one restaurant and then reopened a new one with new partners called Bubuluski’s. On Friday nights they have “white table cloth dinners” – fixed menu theme dinners. I was there for Romanian night. Felicia, a co-partner in the restaurant and a Romanian, created a beautiful menu of cabbage rolls (sarmale), a vegetable casserole (ghiveci) and tochitura which is tasty roasted pork in wine sauce. There was a fantastic beef salad as an appetizer and a chocolate desert. All this for about $7.50! Food in Guatemala is so cheap and in San Pedro, fantastic food abounds.
I went on a hike one morning with Dave, his two dogs Can Can and Mimi, and Steve, a sweet man from Oregon, through the community of T’zununa to a waterfall. As almost every day at this time of the year is on the lake, it was hot and sunny. We walked in searing sunlight up an exposed rocky trail. I felt the elevation – about 3500 meters or twice that of Monteverde – in my breathing. Arriving to the cool mist of this fresh mountain water stream was a just reward.
Another day I went by boat with another lovely man from Oregon, Michael, to the town of Santiago. I had seen the textiles from this town that feature beautiful embroidered birds and so I went to buy myself a bag with birds on it. Michael is old friends with Dave, the owner of the Posada de Santiago, a hotel and restaurant that’s been growing for 35 years. I have to say that I had a glorious French Onion Soup (of which I’m a connoisseur) for lunch, a tasty Caesar salad and excellent Bloody Mary. Next time on the lake, I’ll return to this restaurant for its great food and the possibility of hearing live music, something it is renowned for.
One of the hottest food tickets in San Pedro happens only on Sundays. A big red-headed character named Nestor Castillo has created Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ. He started a couple of years ago with his own line of salsas and smoked meats and it has grown into BBQ gone wild! Held at la Piscina – a happening bar and swimming pool scene I wrote a lot about two years ago – Nestor keeps the BBQ hot for a huge menu until he runs out. People now come from all over the lake for his excellent products – meat, chicken and tuna steaks augmented by several sides of salads and vegetable dishes. I think this guy should be on the Food Channel and it is only a matter of time until somebody discovers him both for the great food he makes and his kinda crazy manner, that alone the cool order delivery system he has – a wire strung between where his wife sits at the bar taking orders and Nestor controlling the fire. She slings a clothes-peg carrying the little order paper across the yard with a “whhhhhinggggg” to Nestor. If you go to San pedro, don’t miss it!
Another thing not to miss is this – the finest hot stone massage you could ask for – two hours of slippery rock bliss, herbal seduction and the magic hands of Andrea, another Canadian living the good life in San Pedro. Follow the signs that are on the eastern side of town. For just over $25 US, you can’t beat the rub and you’ll float home to dream of sliding over rocks in a stream of soft fragrant oil.
I want to recommend a nice little hotel – $7 will get you a private room with cable TV and wireless. Hotel San Antonio is along the path heading east from the Pana-dock (where boats come in from Panajachel). I only stayed a couple of nights there as I wanted to be closer to Rick and Treeza’s, but would have been very happy there for ages. Nice people, beautiful rooms, and a little café downstairs open early for all your caffeine needs.
As I wrote in an earlier blog, I was going to try to find out what the expectations for 2012 were in the center of this Mayan world. I spent awhile talking with a local ashuan, Juan. He has just come back from a tour, attending conferences and gatherings, speaking as a messenger of Mayan thought, and history and prediction. He is also the owner of Big Foot Travel and an expert on things local, touristy, and popular. Another character not to be missed.
I asked him about the changes in his community, on the lake, and the upcoming calendar climax. He is a very funny rather irreverent guy, but speaks about the Mayan prophecy quite seriously. The elders have been predicting much of what is happening – the rising lake, the sliding slopes – but so many people haven’t listened.
Juan’s main message was this – 2012 will be a year of great celebration. Party, as we’ve made it this far and life will go on after! Yes, there will be upheavals, and there will be collapsed systems. The further you are from the natural world and the more dependent on the false gods of money and materialism, the more you may suffer. But the closer you are to Gaia, the Mother Earth, and to the power at the center of the universe – whether you call that power Allah, Manitou, God or Self – the closer you will be to the biggest fiesta of our time.
It seems to me that we have about twenty-two more months to figure some things out. Maybe I’ll make it back to beautiful Lake Atitlan before…I love seeing Rick and Treeza and their friends and appreciate everyone’s hospitality. Thanks guys! In the meantime, it’s back to the jungle for me….