Laguna Eco Lodge gazes out across a 1000 foot deep calderas into a portal created between mist covered Volcanoes. Planning my Guatemalan sojourn several months in advance of my travels to the land, I was reminded, as I searched through a myriad of internet photos, of another gateway I had travelled through years earlier. Kata Juta. This Central Australian mountain range had boasted a gateway which, at the time had epitomized for me on all levels of body, mind and spirit, a transitioning, a birthing into a new life. I recall before collapsing into a field of purple flowers at the base of these ranges how much that passage had reminded me of a birth canal. As I lay there catching my breath, watching a white eagle soar and circle, blessing us with its creativity, focus and vision, I felt both the exhaustion of a labor and delivery process and the exhilaration of the accomplishment. It had been a difficult climb of pushing through rocky cliffs and swatting away sticky flies. Not unlike my life leading up to my trip to the Outback.
Interestingly enough, as I lay in that Color Purple reflecting on the metaphor and symbology of Mother Nature, I noticed a young woman, clearly immersed in her own sacred time, meandering through the avenue of cliffs and birds in the opposite direction to the course I had chosen. As I dialogued with this 30 something woman I discovered that she witnessed her self journey, not from a birth canal but into the nurturing bosom of a Great Mother. She saw breasts. For her, Kata Juta was a return to the breast grounded in stone and the nurturance of earth. I remember smiling. Two different perspectives and yet both transforming on a life's journey. Nature is like that. It takes us as we are and asks us to embrace the sign and the message locked within.
So with a time before sacred Earth image percolating in my heart and mind, I speculated on that which I might find in the belly of a volcanic Atitlan temperament. Would I see breasts to nurture me, a canal to pass through or a belly to create from? Would I be as altered as I was when I walked Kata Juta and stood on the most ancient forms of energy, the stone people? Would I sense the sacrifice it would take to embrace yet again another wave of living and learning in an about to be life altered red road? Would I act upon the energy and knowledge I received, if I was indeed blessed with such an encounter, or would I suffocate the enlightenment in past sorrow, lost opportunities or what if's and if only's? These and many more questions I pondered as I flipped through the photos on the Internet of an eco resort named Laguna lodge.
The only thing I knew for certain as I left my home in the darkness of pre dawn light was that I was ready for adventure. I was ready for Mystery. I was ready for LIGHT. When the United airline took off from RDU at 6:00 AM and rosy fingered dawn was slowly creeping over the horizon, the stress, sorrow and fatigue that had lodged its way into my gut and my mind's eye, was at that moment beginning to seep away from me. I had no preconceived notions of what my Destination Transformation adventure might entail but I was fairly certain that it would not take my entrails with it, which is sometimes what one can feel as a hospice nurse.
After a near delay in Houston from 2 foot flooding the evening before that had shut the city down and the airport full of leftovers, we landed in Guatemala city! I had chatted up a flight attendant as I boarded the plane asking him if they served champagne on the flight. "Yes," he replied cheerfully, " but only in first class." Bummer! Methinks! So while I consider myself first class material I might not to be considered thus by the attendants, sitting as I was so close to the toilets! However, FATE intervened! The attendant must have noticed my downcast and disappointed gaze for he immediately reassured me that he would bring me some of the bubbly elixir from the front once we air lifted. Sure enough he arrived at my seat about 30,000 feet above sea level and had the desired fruit of the vine in a plastic glass!
Good thing he managed this feat when he did because shortly thereafter the weather took a page or should I say line, out of the movie, All About Eve: "Look out you're in for a bumpy ride!" Turned out "bumpy ride" became the motif for the rest of the flight and no liquor or beverages anywhere on the plane were served for we dipped and dived, twisted and turned. The "unexpected" champagne it seemed to me as I look back now set the tone for the rest of my story!!
At the Guatemalan airport we wound our way past foreign tongues and strange signs pointing to an exit and the airport pickup zone. We spotted our driver, Pedro almost immediately and a van marked, "Tourismo" bound for Laguna Lodge. Once aboard, we chugged our way through traffic reminiscent of Tokyo or Toronto gridlocks. Smothered with Beijing type smog choking our lungs we finally arrived at the Dock of the Bay and crisp clean air and dark blue Atitlan lake water! As the hotel boat pulled into our pick up port, the sky darkened and we were more than a little sprinkled with fresh and stinging rain. Thunder roared and lightening hit the shore line. In fact one could even say, "It was a dark and stormy night...."
We climbed onto the boat followed by our luggage slung over by boatswains. The water spray, fresh and sharp against my skin, my glasses covered in wet dots and my hair bedraggled I felt invigorated! I hung over the side of the boat so I could be dowsed in the watery spirits from the lake mist and Sky Father!
Our Mayan guide later informed us that according to Mayan tradition and sacred thought the winds and water come every evening to wash away and cleanse the people of the burdens of their day and that every evening this Natural Gift came to purify. It was working! I was feeling purified of difficult patient overloads and long stress filled hours in a 'not soon enough' dying system that sucks the life out of its workers. (Ummm, I wonder how I really felt!)
All of us welcomed the supporting arms of our resort staff who stood on the dock to lift us onto its timbers. "Shiver me timbers". I now know where that expression came from!
As we were shown our rooms, and the 5 course all organic, non-GMO, vegan menu for the evening, we somehow all knew that we had come home. The resort was ultimately a fortress for our spirits, holy ground for weary feet and clean food for our bodies. Sighs snuck out from our lips un-coaxed and peace surrounded our physical and energetic forms. Like Sam in The Return of the Ring we knew we were with the faeries and were safe. The dinner was beyond expectation and the hot tub soothing and exhilarating. I only managed to break one candle holder during the entire experience of floating in steamy water watching muscle by muscle un-wind and relax.
Falling into the 1000 thread count cotton sheets that first night and pulling the yummy comforter over me I felt sandwiched in a cloud of fluffy white. Plans of the next day ringing in my ears I drifted into ever- ever land to dream of an all inclusive breakfast with juice made from oranges picked the day before, of mangoes and bananas, of hummingbirds humming and vultures doing what they do best. I dreamt of hiking and swimming and holistic massages with nary a chemical on site!
Wednesday: Nature Reserve, Pool and Bookings
When I awakened early the following morning, I awoke to mist hovering over Lake Atitlan, the pink sun attempting to peak through the volcanic edges of a mystical land and colorfully dressed fisherman rowing to their place of employment, namely the lake. I stretched my way off the mattress and was thankful for the Great Mystery that had brought us to this land. Dressing quickly so we could get to our included breakfast, my roomie and I walked over stone paths and along a corridor into a dining room where the windows were open to the day just as our hearts were.
Breakfast boasted fresh local fruit, Omelet's or French toast, yogurt, freshly baked whole wheat toast, real butter, French pressed Guatemalan coffee and service with a smile. The perfect way to begin a noble adventure before us. So, filled with locally grown eggs and foods, we set out to climb the Nature Reserve. To say the least, it was an up hill battle! Beautiful and spectacular, while good words in themselves, do little to describe the vista's of harbors and distant villages, of the 3 volcanoes, and a calm lake, of the colors -soft blues and vibrant greens and browns, of the sounds of the winged ones, vultures championing their young and squawking their protests. Butterflies flitting. There was a hum in the air! It might have been our hearts singing!
The walk took around 2 1/2 hours and ended with an adventure of another sort. Two of my friends falling into the arms of Guatemalan rescuers! But that is their story! The discomfort of sore limbs lubricated by margarita's and a swim in the pool was soon forgotten and the thought of another 5 course meal permeated those energetic bodies and healed those muscles and bruised thighs. We booked the next day to travel to Santiago and the Lord Maximon.
San Juan- Maximon-Truck ride: Thursday
We began our Thursday with our guide, Humberto. As he led us through the streets of Santiago and taught us local history and Guatemalan ways I was glad that we had hired him. He was so knowledgeable and spirited. The vegetable and fruit markets were for me a highlight of this day. Well actually everything was a highlight! Women gathered at the market place within a cacophony of noisy exchanges to sell their garden produce or lake catch. Shrimps, Tilapia, peppers, cocoa, coffee, oranges and bananas! Bleached meat hanging in butcher shop windows was perhaps a little less appetizing. The association of marketers was a place lively with children, mothers and tourists all laughing and talking simultaneously. It could appear to be pandemonium but somehow the clamor was like a rock concert. Vibrant paintings hung in stalls outside the market environ and everywhere teemed with color and sound!
We visited the oldest church in the town and heard about the Guatemalan military revolution and the killing of a local hero, the village priest Father Stanley in 1981. Leaving the churchyard and the church we were swarmed by local sales people with wares that now hang on my curtains in the kitchen. What kitchen can NOT be decorated with glowing red and blue glass hummingbirds! Rhetorical! No need to answer.
We, in time and after time and before time, finished our walk about the town and were ready to meet the famous reprobate Lord Maximon. To fully appreciate the uniqueness of this deity, here is a succinct report from the internet:
Depending on who you ask, Maximón is Satan, a Catholic saint, or a relic of the pre-colonial Mayan religion. Everyone can agree on what he looks like, at least: He’s a dapper, mustachioed gentleman in a black suit and sombrero. You'll never mistake him because he's always smoking a cigarette or large cigar, and his houses of worship are filled with burning candles, bottles of rum or Quetzalteca grain alcohol, and other offerings from his supplicants.... The deity’s statue is looked after by a group of men who take turns housing it; every year a different private house is converted into a sanctuary for Maximón.
Since Maximón is both a remnant of an old faith and a figure venerated by many Catholics, his altars are crowded with all kinds of conflicting imagery—icons of the Virgin Mary, but also taxidermied animals hanging from the low ceiling. The priests who speak to him in the Tz'utujil Maya dialect remain constantly drunk off of Quetzalteca (a necessary part of the process), and the air is choked with cigar and cigarette smoke.
To get to the home of Maximon we needed to travel in the open back of a truck. The ride was exhilarating. The wind spirits blew through our hair and the dust of Mother Earth filled our nostrils. We were shaken out of our druthers and thrown into the extraordinary in the ordinary. What fun. Lodged in the back streets and a courtyard, the reformed debaucherous Maximon was surrounded by flashing lights and a crypt where lay a rendition of Jesus the Christ; bottles of liquor, and ties around the neck of Maximon left by pilgrims before us adorned the altar of this lord. Chickens roamed the courtyard and children ran up and down the lane narrowly escaping the red roosters scurrying in front of the sacred monument. Yearly a family selects someone to care for the spirit of Maximon, a prayerful overseer if you will who holds the spirit of the community in his prayers. Daily he is joined by other family members who guard and protect that which needs to be guarded and protected. Maximon travels around the community, not found in one particular location. To describe him as an enigma is to not put too fine a point on his character.
Compare Maximon to the martyred local Catholic priest, and one is left pondering the exquisite mystery and dichotomy of tradition, folklore, religion, and spirituality.
After our walk through the village, observing the local culture, pulsating interchanges, and visiting the local Lord, we ate at a restaurant that was safe and had good beer. Belly full and hearts exhausted, we took the boat back from Santiago to our home.
The only way to get anywhere on Lake Atitlan is by boat. There are paths but no roads. Every evening then the waters become choppy and bless folks with the washing away of burdens. Thunder claps intermittently and the gods of the mountains speak bringing with thunder's loud cries the prospects of fertility and energy, of change and the possibility of rain. The skies turn 50 shades of grey and the water darkens. It is like being in a black and white photo. Light hurled off the waves and glanced off the metal on our boat. Totally magnetic and mesmerizing.
Even though we were headed back to the lodge, my day was far from complete. I had booked a massage appointment for the late PM. Booked of course before our regularly scheduled margarita! I was not disappointed in either the massage or the margarita. The massage room itself was set in stone. The floors and the walls exuded old energy from the mountains and the ancestors. With the sounds of Thor (I do not know the Mayan name for Thunder) in the distance and the rain pummeling the tin roof the lucky recipient lying on the massage table, namely "moi," felt anointed by the hands of sacred and natural energy, blessed by the gods so to speak. The therapist herself presented her body as a vehicle for healing energy and pulsed in a rhythmic manner my muscles and nerves to the point of relaxation and love. Along with the natural scents and energies of local and essential oils applied to your body by an expert, you understood your self to have been touched by the medicine of the ALL THAT IS . I shuffled to my room weak with joy and cellular excitement. It was all I could do to get to the hotel bar to join my comrades for the nightly imbibing of local 'spiritual' elixirs . But some things one must push through!
Dinner that night was a delight -Mediterranean salad and key lime pie -as we sat at our table surrounded by neighbors from foreign lands and neighboring states- and basked in the cool evening breezes caressing our bodies. I loved that dining area. Open windows that let in rather than keep out nature.
It is interesting to note that many lodge guests haled from Guatemala itself. If the locals come here I mused it must be a good place to relax and lay down past concerns and challenges in order to live in moments of sensual pleasures.
We went to bed that night after an evening full moon ritual on our deck designed to prepare our inner spaces for the pending sacred ceremony the next morning. We had booked a fire ceremony with a local Mayan Shaman in San Juan but first wanted to honor and show respect for the Keeper of our Creator's Dreams, namely Grandmother Moon . We slept in the mystery of just being open to blessings, healings and whatever might show up for us at the ceremony.
The boat with our boatswain arrived at 9 AM Friday AM and off we went to explore and experience this sacred ceremony. What was delicious to discover before the boat even left the dock however was that our group of 4 had all the elemental spirits represented within it - air, water, earth and fire.
As we stood on the dock and prepared to leap onto the rocking boat our guide, Humberto, to whom we had given our birthdates the night prior, read to us from the Mayan calendar, the positive qualities of each of our signs. To make a long story bearable, as my friend Kate would say, he concluded his universal personality expose with the negative qualities that occasionally might run amuck within us. It turns out we all had basically similar characteristics in the negative realm; hovering over us was either anger, resentfulness, long memory or vengefulness. It would appear that we were indeed lucky to be together on this trip. All bitches! What a relief! As Lisa stated, " You'd better watch your back around this crowd!" We all laughed and appreciated that we were now a perfect community!
The water was calm as we boated away from the dock. It was a 30 minute ride with the sun on our backs and the water on our lenses. As we approached San Juan there to my right was a blue heron in one of the denuded lake trees. Shades of the winged ones! There was a family member of my totem bird, the Sandhill crane. The boat man got us in as close as he could so we could photograph this magnificent creature. The winged critter showed his best profile and then his expansive wings. I felt anointed by this appearance and wondered about it showing up before we climbed the hill for a mountain top experience. So why a heron? And why now?
This bird, at home in the elements of water, air and earth, could just be giving me some finely tuned instructions on life I considered. I do indeed have one foot on the land and one in the water. I understand the heron to mean I can be in more than one space at a time. I think that it was also teaching me to live in the present and to embrace patience.
The heron is a solitary creature and solitude can be healthy but when it is time to build a home for this long necked bird the work is performed as teamwork. What does this tell me: that while I may be fiercely independent some areas of life do require a partnership, a community. Life is all about balance.
Later in the morning as we prepared to walk up the mountain for the sacred ceremony the lesson of teamwork, the lesson from heron would exert its teaching energy calling us to remember that sometimes we do "need a little help from our friends."
The elder member of our tribe was attempting a difficult stretch of the rocky path when she missed a step. She considered it impossible to get to the ceremonial space, way too difficult. With the assistance of her stick, our guide Humberto and the shaman however she was prayed her way to the top. She pushed through -albeit slowly - to participate in the ancient Mayan fire ceremony. While there are times of safety and times to turn back, this was not to be one of them. She succeeded in her quest to be present to ceremony. She pushed through. There is a lesson in this for all of us and for me it was mostly about trust.
The fire ceremony became a mountain top experience for me. It was like going to the opera and not knowing the words but still getting the message of the drama. What is it Eliot once said. You can have the experience but miss the meaning. Not so in this instance. I had both! The experience and the meaning! Now I might have needed some interpretation to understand what the shaman was saying but none the less one could sense the presence of spirit in the winds, in the words that took flight from the shaman's lips and more importantly in the power of the fire itself.
The ceremonial ground was laid with flowers and the air was alive with ancestral life. Vultures swooped nearby helping to cleanse us and remind us that death was being eaten away from us. Butterflies fluttered and darted around the circle of participants implying that in death there is life. There is metamorphosis.
As we gathered and were introduced to the shaman, he instructed us from our birth dates about some of our traits both the positive and the negative. Listening to him describe our negative qualities it was confirmed by a religious authority this time, we were the 'B' word! What comfort! We chortled with laughter and appreciation of his intuition into our characters and careers.
There were rituals to follow and we were guided every step of the way. Different colored candles for each of us were to be placed here or there on the fire. Cornmeal and cocoa were offered to fire and the spirits. The shaman blessed us individually with water and spirits and prayed over us. I even heard him say to Umberto as he blessed me, "This one like the strength of cedar." Of course that needed to be interpreted for me. A friend of mine suggests that I might need to make a T shirt with this inscription!
The ceremonial fire was VERY hot! No hotter than it has been with the fire at Blackfoot sweat lodges, but the ground was burning my feet. Even my phone read, " You can no longer use this phone /camera until it cools down," and I was a good 15 feet away from the fire's core.
The walk down the mountain on Tijax, the time of knowledge on the last day of the traditional Mayan Calendar and the day I was named after, granted us the time to assimilate the blessings obtained. I may need more time to soak up the meanings and joy of the ceremony but it was indeed either breasts or a birth canal. May be both! We came back to the hotel with the wind and the rain at our beckon and hummingbirds darting from flower to flower.
Hummingbirds awaken the medicine of the plant they zero in on. In conjunction with the woodpecker that kept me awake one night methinks I am making the right choices to do more teaching and awakening, both for myself and for others.
Hummingbirds also make me consider how I am expending my energy. Am I expending it on pointless endeavors like too much system, business style hospice nursing at this time of my life? It may be time to conserve energy- so if this is the case reducing my days per week to 2 instead of 3 is a blessed choice for now. Hummingbirds also remind us to love ourselves enough to go for the very best nectar life offers. For the Aztecs the hummingbird is revered as a sacred solar creature. Yikes, so much to contemplate! And all this at the time of a full moon.
Saturday: A Walk , a Bloody Mary and a Mayan Ruin
We began our day with a walk to a nearby village, past houses situated on the sides of mountains, wild flowers along the path and gnarled rooted trees nestled above the Lake Atitlan waters. The day broke once again without rain. Every evening around the dinner table we would glance at the weather forecast for the next day and it always said, "100% rain." While we were indeed anointed with rain in the late afternoons we were able to enjoy our excursions without the natural blessings that may have slightly interfered with our explorations or dampened our spirits.
There is a peace that passes all understanding and for me I certainly found it on this land. The Mayan Ruin side trip was filled with ancestral energies as well and the gift of a black feather. Black. The color of mystery and going deep. Of eating death. Not like in Harry Potter with the death-eaters but of being on a battlefield and of "peeling off the flesh of fallen warriors without expiring yourself. Crows or black birds are friends with death. It is time for me to befriend death as well and let go of that which no longer serves me.
So was this a birth or a breast experience. It was both. I feel nourishment from the breast of Mother Earth and the blessings of Father Sky, Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Stone. I feel an appetite satisfied in the clarity of the star people and lessons of the winged ones, of the anointing of plants and the transparencies of daylight and night light. After the hard labor of self discovery, I have emerged into a new life and now sit in the mystery of what that yet means more fully for me. There is so much more to unfold. So I am grateful!