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The Bird Of ParadiseI have been at Boca de Cielo, a primitive island/peninsula just off the Pacific coast in southern Chiapas, Mexico, for several weeks, preparing myself for what I know will be an arduous trip to both the Chiapas Rain Forest as well as the northern Peten region of Guatemala, on the Rio Usamacinta. I have spent a year preparing for what is to be my seventh annual visit to this region. Never before have I had such ambitious plans; I am to enter the rain forest from both directions in the same season, on my mission to protect the Macaw parrot by establishing a breeding program, while at the same time collecting their molted feathers for Hopi and Zuni ceremonies.
I drive up to San Cristobal de las Casas in my old Ford station wagon, along with my friend, Pedro Galindo Reyes. We get to San Cristobal and check into our room and then drive off to visit our pilot, to make final arrangements to fly into Lacanja to procure the feathers they have hopefully been saving for me all year. This visit turns into a four hour session of drinking pulke, the local home brew corn whiskey. Going home I end up on a one way street, going the wrong way. I am half blind by the pulke and can barely feel my arms on the wheel. I bump into a parked Volkswagen and just kept going. I park on the street and go blindly to my room.
Next morning I come out; my car has been opened and emptied of all my jungle survival equipment, along with a year's worth of collected trade goods; like Swiss army knives, good fishing line and strong hooks, surplus army ponchos. Knowing I am not a victim, but am receiving due karma for last nights hit and run; I painfully absorb my need to change plans, and abort the trip to Lacanja. I am disappointed, almost devastated; but, know that I have to return to Boca de Cielo to regroup.
I sit on the beach for a few days, meditating on my situation and finally make the decision to try to re-outfit myself in Guatemala City for a second attempt to go in via the Rio Passion near Sayaxe, by Flores, Peten. A few days later, we arrive in Guatemala City and pull together some basic items for the trip. We park the car on the street and go eat at our favorite fried chicken restaurant near 5th Ave. When we get back to the car it has again been emptied out. By now I am feeling very paranoid and fearful; wondering what is really happening, I feel death close by, circling around me.
My entire year's plan has been undermined and I am in shock. I know that I have to do something but my thinking is confused. I still have a little money and decide to go up to a small town near Quetzeltenango, called San Francisco El Alto, which has a great Thursday Market. There is a weaver who sometimes comes there from an even smaller village called Momostenango, with some very special goat hair blankets that I like.
Well, as I go into the crowded throng moving toward the Plaza, I feel it squeezing me from both the front and the rear; people pressing me in tightly from both directions, very gradually, not all at once. For a moment I feel incredibly oppressed by the crowd, and the next thing I know the crowd begins to break up quickly, while simultaneously a tiny old woman scoots out from between my legs. It is at that moment that I feel my pocket and my wallet is gone with the last of my money.
Back in my room in Quetzaltenango, shaking with fear, I believe my demise is close at hand. Once in the room I weep for fear of my life, feeling the three violations too deeply to describe. I sit in my room for the entire day; finally going out to the Plaza late to get an orange with lime, chile and pumpkinseed powder that I have been craving.
Realizing that my entire year's plan has failed miserably; my mission unfulfilled, I begin to make plans to return to the States, to regroup for another year. I go back to Guatemala City and find a place to park the car, using the bus system for my local transport. I find myself sitting on a bus, reading a local newspaper that someone has left on my seat. My eyes immediately focus in on an article talking about an old Mayan “myth”. It says, very simply, that before anything existed on Earth, there was the Macaw parrot. All colors that we know come from this birds plumage; and, when the Macaw parrot, the original bird of paradise, ceases to exist, the world will no longer exist. This message immediately strikes a cord deep within me and I know right away that this entire set of mishaps has been designed for me to be on this bus, at this time in space, to read this story; and I will tell you why.
The Hopi believe that the fertile rains that are so scarce on the Hopi mesas, are generated from deep within the old Mayan tropical rain forest, way to the south. For this reason, one of their most highly valued prestige items has always been the tail feathers of the scarlet Macaw. The feathers are said to bring the fertile climate from the south that will nurture the Hopi corn and bean fields. The vegetation in the jungle breathes, purifying the air we breathe on the American continent. If the macaw no longer exists it can mean only one thing: that the rain forest has ceased to exist. The political and economic powers that be have long been decimating the rain forest by selling off its valuable resources, piece by piece; to oil drillers; mahogany loggers; cattle barons growing burgers for McDonalds, while leaching chemical fertilizer into the water supply; farmers ultimately dissipating their fields of all nutrients through the slash and burn methods of land rejuvenation.
Their habitat is disappearing. Their breeding grounds are being cut down for Patio furniture. Their water is being polluted by leaks in the drilling equipment. This is happening from the Rio Usamacinta to the Amazon River, leaving both the original human inhabitants, as well the wildlife of the rain forest, with no home?and nowhere to go. Where will it end? When will it end? How will it end?
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