The afternoon show is in Zona 18 on a flat soccer field, not quite as dusty as yesterdays’ railroad tracks. Its our first full group show due to transportation backups in Livingston where the river boat broke down and part of our expedition (Tortell, Montse Johnny Rainbow and Neil) were unable to get back to Puerto Bario in time to catch the last bus. Speaking of buses, on the road today on a two lane highway headed for Chichicastenango, we almost get run off the road by diesel belching dueling buses. They are painted in bright colors with Religious slogans decaled on the windshields in glitter letters. The ticket man of the first bus is hanging way out the doorway waving wildly at us as they pass us flying fast and forcing oncoming traffic onto the dirt shoulder in order to avoid disaster. We watch as the two buses push on ahead of us, the ticket man angrily facing front fist shaking as the buses weave in and out of lanes in true Hollywood fashion, the first to the next stop winning the prize of waiting passengers.
Nebaj – morning workshops. Round two. Last time we worked with teachers of older kids. This time we work with 40 educators and teachers, most of whom work with three to six year olds. I do a Qi-Gong type warm-up including voice and mime exercises. The women, some of whom have babies strapped to their backs, can’t stretch their feet wide because of their tight red ‘cortes’ wraps. However the whole group plunges into it with occasional fits of laughter as they explore a completely foreign world, much to the surprise of my skeptical colleagues. I finish with the A-En-Ih-O-Umm (Shintaido) exercise that I learned from the Japanese master in San Francisco and when we finish we are totally in synch, all finishing exactly at the same time, followed by a moment of meditative silence. We are all amazed by the sense of harmony of the group.
The rest of the morning they play games that we hope they will be able to use with their students. In the afternoon we teach juggling, make-up and stilt walking. Afterwards Ramon, Jaume, Montse and Anna go to Acul to try and buy the type of hat that I had found on our previous excursion, and there is a nice moment that evening when Ramon walks into the house wearing a stack of a dozen of the hats on his head. Everyone explodes with laughter.
The late evening is filled again with the constant dog barking and rooster crowing that comes and goes in waves and tides, sometimes close and sometimes far off.
A change: a stretch of paved streets in the small town of Aguacatal where we stop for lunch. We are on our way to Todos Santos about to cross over the highest mountain range in Central America. . We hit the road after the morning show in Nebaj, in the Parque Central. The road is too bumpy to write as we climb deep dust sloped roads (terraseria) up towards the Altiplano. The rutted road offers incredible vistas of beiges and olive greens contrasted by the ever colorful traditional dress of the locals we pass walking the roads.
The 9Am Nebaj show starts with a parade from the MSF house to the market where we dance before leading another trail of peoples to the stage in the parque central. A white stucco wall with arches, the remains of some former structure, stands alone as the backdrop to the four foot high cement stage we perform on, it’s origins lost in the history of the town. We play to what seems a sea of faces, over 1000, then it’s a rush job to get out of town, knowing that we have six hours of four wheeling ahead. It’s a good show although the public doesn’t show their excitement, or applaud all that much, but the absorbed faces are wide-eyed open, and giggles from the kids explode easily. I improvise with the cigarette left on stage from Circ Confetti’ volunteer (they hit it out of his mouth with a juggling club as they pass clubs around him), disappearing it, then sneezing it out my nose to great delight.
The morning is full-Pasqual’s wife is expecting her second child any day, which doesn’t stop her from cooking up a big meal in the kitchen. Pasqual is trying to clear out the plugged up kitchen sink ladling out smelly sewage then straightening out a thick wire to clear the pipe that leads to the street. The plumbers snake has yet to reach this part of the world, yet they sell Ray-O-Vac batteries at isolated little shed-stores with straw roofs lost on deserted Altiplano roads.
Todos Santos, our destination, is cradled in the first valley cup after descending from the peak of the Altiplano range. We descend into a sea of fog after crossing a wide windswept plateau of bleak brown and sparse settlements. On one mountainside is a Hollywood like sign that spells TODOS SANTOS, but it is made of painted white stones on the ground, no fancy billboard structure here.
The houses on the way vary widely from wood with thatch straw roofs to the mud/straw brick variety to crude log cabins. As we get close to Todos Santos the traditional style veers to lean-to type structures, wooden plank walls joined at weird angle that offer little logic until you consider high wind parameters.
Last night was the big party at Casa 2 of the Ninos, Refugios del Mundo, which ends in lots of late night dancing. These hard working humanitarian workers love to dance and laugh, a healthy way to let off some of the stress surrounding them. I’m quite beat now after the five hours of terraseria, full of thin air high altitude wilderness. At one point it smelled like Colorado, pine trees and small streams following the road, or rather the other way around, with Bermuda green grass surrounding . In the Altiplano the landscape plays various shades of brown and fields of boulders with huge cactus lines define pathways and separations, varying in degrees of curves and straight lines.
As we get close to Todos Santos, the traditional dress changes. The men are wearing red pants with white stripes and small round straw hats with embroidered bands. The collars of the shirts are similar, very wide full of complex multicolor embroidered patterns. Some wear western style jackets against the cold fog descending into the valley. Jauma is playing my ukulele as we sit around the table of the Canada house where we spend the night before our morning performance.
I’m trying to catch the beauty of the smiles that keep blessing me, but my camera is not me and the faces become more serious when the camera angles in on them. We play this morning after some serious negotiating with the church committee. At first they refuse to let us play on the raised area in front of the church in Todos Santos’s main square, a vacant stretch of earth off the road that leads through town. All of the area’s the schools come down and we play to a sea of faces again, fully delighted kids who after the show raise clouds of dust as they excitedly chase then get chased by Ramon’s Gigantica. A huge circle around him that continually changes shape as the kid’s rush in laughing then run out screaming.
We’re finally back on the smooth road again, out of the mountains and headed back to the capital, still five hours to go, though. In Huehuetenango, we have reached a second-world mixed pastel town full of two story stucco town houses. There is no more traditional dress to be seen or thatched hut farms on deserted mountainsides. I return to this morning’s conversations trying to convince the Mayan priest to let us perform on the church steps. Luckily Roman from MSF shows up and knows how to talk to him, and follows a pointed finger placing a folded twenty quetzal note in the donation box. We then listen to the priest tell us how the Catholic church is the oldest religion, the number one religion, the most important. And this is not the Italian father who is off in Chichitenango but an indigenous man with a red and yellow flower bandana wrapped around his head pirate style, communicating through his cohort, a man in traditional dress with a cataract white eye. Of all things a photographer from the Magnum agency, John Vink from Belgium, and his German girlfriend, are there clicking away, both with Leicas shooting TMAX 400. But the ‘catechista’ does not want me to take photographs.
Carla (Veterinarians Without Borders) tells us a story about highway bandits who dress as clowns. I remember how none of the educators at the Nebaj workshop had ever seen anyone juggle before. Carla is explaining the whole Theater/Circus world of Guatemala which sounds pretty slim, used to be bigger but… an all too familiar story. We’re in pine covered mountains passing through a valley settlement. Coming out the other side we pass two groups of women coming out of the forest carrying huge bundles of branches on their backs. supported by headbands. Gathering of firewood, a common but ever surprising sight to my foreign eyes. The burdens seem bigger than they are, families, three generations carrying including several kids with only slightly smaller bundles moving in bright colors.
Billboards appear roadside as we approach Quetzaltenango.
More hillsides of brown, some with deep plowed lines, others sparsely covered in dead maize stalks. Delineated dirt brown climbing up and over rounded mountains. Occasional solitary trees and green patches distinguished more by relief than color. We pass near Solidad, where the men’s traditional is a pink/red shirt with brown wool skirts with small white polka dots tied what seems Balinese style. We’re done with the rough dirt roads but the pavement is so full of potholes that it’s like running an obstacle course and we keep on flying onto the dirt shoulder kicking up dust storms as we avoid the holes.