Guatemala: Lake Atitlán & The Integral Heart Foundation in Antigua

THE JOURNEY TO LAKE ATITLÁN

It’s been a while since my last travel blog and I’m definitely skipping over months of my journeys in 2017. I’ll get to them at some point, so bare with me.

Fast forward a half a dozen months since I flew into Cancun back in late January and my 180 day Mexico tourist visa has expired and I need to leave Mexico for a bit. What better excuse to go and visit the neighboring country of Guatemala! Luckily for me, my friend Luke lives in a house overlooking the mile-high Lake Atitlán in the active volcano town of San Marcos, Guatemala. It’s good to have friends in high places!

After the 12 hour overnight bus ride to San Cristobal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas, I stayed at the most recommended hostel from my fellow travelers: Hostal Puerta Viaja. It’s basically an enormous re-purposed colonial mansion located in the heart of the city. Every night they have a very affordable dinner available for their guests as well as nighttime musical entertainment in house.

Puerta-Vieja

My stay in San Cristobal this time around was short lived as I had booked a 5:30am bus ride to Panahachel, Guatemala the next morning so I could be in San Marcos before nightfall.

After arriving in Panajachel, the main port of Lake Atitlán, I immediately hopped on a boat to San Marcos to meet my friend Luke at his home, Lush Atitlán, on the lake.

SO… WHO IS LUKE?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself since he and I met back in the summer of 2016. I’ve heard and seen bits and pieces of his life and the more I get to know about him, the more interesting of a human being he becomes. He’s traveled to over forty countries, helped with the Founding of the Integral Heart Foundation and written multiple books; one of which is a novel he’s been working on over the past few years and was nearly finished with it by the time of my visit.

Below is a photo of him working on his current passion project, a novel entitled “Jerry the Hamster”.

Needless to say he has a unique writing technique.

He and I first met a little over a year ago while I was general manager of The Sanctuary in Puerto Escondido. One morning, he walked in to our 6:45am meditation session with an expression on his face that I knew all too well. Without revealing any intimate details of his life, I’ll simply say that he was going through a difficult relationship situation. Over the past decade of my life, I too have visited the same realm of despair and heartache more often than I’d like to admit. We became fast friends and have been following each other’s adventures in life ever since. Seeing his new home on the Lake in San Marcos and his work with the Integral Heart Foundation made me grow curious of who this guy really was and his vision regarding how he lives his life. While exponentially more people have been reaching out to me lately on how I have drastically transitioned from the corporate life to traveling and living abroad, I have been looking to Luke for my own guidance. I couldn’t think of a better way to truly understand a person than by living in their world for a while; so I did… and I was not disappointed.

MY FIRST FULL DAY ON LAKE ATITLÁN

“THE DAY OUT OF TIME”

I woke up early to meditate by the lake before venturing out. Around 9:00am there was a knock at the door. When Luke opened it, he was greeted by his friend Niels who joyfully exclaimed “Today is the day out of time!” Both perplexed, we pushed him for clarification. So he explained:

“The Day out of Time” is always synchronized with July 25th. Based on The Galactic Calendar, this is the 365th day of the year, but this day is no day of the month, and no day of the week. This is a day for sacred pause and celebration before the dawning of The Galactic New Year which is always July 26th!

Obviously the timing of my visit to the lake could not be better. So… how does one respond to news like this? You invite the man in for a joint and a guitar/drum circle of course! Not a bad start to the day out of time in my opinion. The rest of my day refused to disappoint as well.

Afterward Luke and I headed to Circles Cafe and Hostel to satisfy our munchies and my caffeine addiction. This incredible place was the logical next stop in our journey through the day out of time. I love my coffee, so having the below setting as my place to enjoy it only magnified my sipping experience.

 

After our food and my caffeine needs were satisfied, we wandered through the town meeting Luke’s friends, practiced counting to 10 in Mayan with the local children and catching up on all that’s been happening in our lives since we met last year. While exploring this new city, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the incredible artistry at every turn.

Save_the_World

Later on that evening, we headed to an outdoor improv class hosted by a friend of Luke’s.

To end the night, we had dinner at a restaurant that also happened to have a temezcal-like sauna. We went in for four doors, three of which lasted for 108 chants of our favorite mantras.

That more or less sums up the activities in our day out of time.

The following day was more productive and less eventful as I spent most of my time doing work for my recently launched business concept: P2P Puerto Escondido. Being in such a gorgeous and relaxing setting was perfect for me to put all my focus into the finishing touches for the company launch party back on August 12th.

The day after began with a fun twist on two very relaxing past-times/hobbies. It was called “Marijuana Yoga”. I don’t think I need to explain how this works, but just in case, I’ve provided a simple flow chart below.

Smoke marijuana -> Do Yoga -> Acquire food and coffee afterward

Not too long after coffee and breakfast, I received a message from my friend Miguel from Spain that I met several months earlier in Puerto Escondido while staying in Vivo Escondido Hostel. His message was pretty simple. See photo and caption below.

Are you here?

Indeed, Miguel.

SAN PEDRO (PART 1)

He just left San Marcos and was across the Lake in San Pedro. Being that I planned on heading over there at some point, I figured, why not now? The fun thing about being on the lake is that anytime you want to go to a different town, all you need to do is head over to the dock and wait 20 minutes or less for the next boat to come around. So I took the 6:00pm boat to San Marcos and checked in to Mikaso Hotel y Restaurante. When Miguel told me there was a jacuzzi on the roof I was sold.

Hotel_Mikaso_San_Pedro

Real quick thing to note before I go any further. San Marcos is the chill/hippie/spiritual/mindful/zen town on the lake while San Pedro is the party town. I do enjoy balance in my life. That evening we went for dinner and drinks at Bar Sublime, which is in a gorgeous location surrounded by local flora right on the lake. Shortly after we finished dinner, the DJ started playing. Long story short, I was both buzzed off the beer and displeased with the music so I inquired with the bartender regarding any openings for a DJ next weekend. He pointed me in the right direction and boom… I’m hired for next Friday.

The next day was spent relaxing in the rooftop hot tub and wandering around the city before returning to San Marcos.

BACK TO SAN MARCOS

After staying at Luke’s place for my first few nights, I decided to try out some new scenery… for less than $10/night why not? I stayed down the road in Hostel San Marcos for a couple nights. In a word: ‘meh’. Afterwards I checked myself into Hostal del Lago, it was easy to see that’s where I’d be spending the remainder of my time in San Marcos.

With an incredible staff, yoga available several times a day, fun night time group activities like drum circles, movie night, live music and karaoke, it is clear why this is the best hostel in San Marcos… possibly the best one on the lake. Oh, did I mention the views?

Hostal-del-Lago-San-Marcos-Pano

Aside from the place itself, it definitely attracted some incredibly interesting travelers with whom I made fast friends with. One of which was a traveling photographer from Chechnya who I was lucky enough to get some free professional DJ head shots from in an incredible setting.

Another was a traveling guitarist from Detroit. He and another hostel guest had a jam session one night. Good times.😎

YOGA FOREST

The day after checking in to Hostel del Lago, Luke asked me “Do you want to go to a cacao ceremony and ecstatic dance a little ways up the mountain?” Since he has been living on the lake for about seven months at this point, he has become quite privy to the more interesting happenings in the area. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot regarding proper traveling. My preferred method is most definitely having a friend that you met and connected well with in your travels that now lives in the place you want to visit. I highly recommend doing this whenever possible.

The day began with a visually stunning half hour trek up the mountain to the Yoga Forest. I had no expectations on what this place would look like before going, but if I did they would have been surpassed.

IMG_8365

Upon arrival, we were each handed our cup of hot cacao and sat in a circle with the rest of the group as ambient music played in the background. After a while, people rose from their sitting positions and started moving slowly to the music. The cacao was kicking in! Soon enough the group of roughly 30 people started dancing in tribal-like fashion to the music for several hours.

​Everything was more enjoyable than I imagined it would be. A combination of the natural high from the cacao, being half way up a mountain in the forest surrounded with incredible people from all over the world and views overlooking the lake easily made it one of the major highlights of my visit to Guatemala.

FINAL DAY IN SAN MARCOS: CACAO CEREMONY AND BHAKTI AT THE FUNGI ACADEMY

Yeah… my curiosity piqued when I found out that a Fungi Academy existed as well. Feeling adventurous one night, Miguel and I decided to climb up the mountain in the dark to see what it was all about. When we arrived at 9:00pm the mostly German inhabitants of the Fungi Academy were shocked that we made it all the way up the hill in the dark… and me in flip-flops. We chatted with them to get some information on the academy before heading back down the hill and they let us know of yet another cacao ceremony… this one with with Bhakti afterwards. So of course we got the info on that and climbed back up the mountain a couple days later with our new group of friends from Hostel del Lago.

We had some time to relax and enjoy the views while they were setting up the ceremony space, so we decided to get creative with some panoramic photos.

San_Marcos_Panorama

Morgan_Pano

German_Pano

Not too long after, we were called inside for a quick tour of the academy. I learned more about medicinal mushrooms in the next half hour than I have in all my life.

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When class was out of session, we all made our way to the ceremonial space, created another circle similar to the yoga forest and sipped our cacao while we all sang and chanted various songs and mantras primarily in English, Hindi and Sanskrit. It has only been about a year and a half since I incorporated chanting mantras into my weekly schedule. There is something to be said about the resonance and intention behind them that always leaves me feeling like some major shift happened within my body once I am finished. Doing it in large groups only magnifies this feeling.

BACK TO SAN PEDRO

By the time we finished chanting our last mantra in the Fungi Academy, we had about 2 hours to catch the last boat to San Pedro and about 3 hours until my DJ gig at Bar Sublime began. This was the first time I took a motorized boat across a lake in order to get to a gig. This is something I could definitely get used to, especially at sunset.

Before heading to Bar Sublime, I checked into what is known as the biggest party hostel on the lake… Hostel Fe. Before I was given the keys to my room, the bartender poured two shots of tequila, handed me one and said “Welcome to Hostel Fe!” It was easy to see how my stay here was going to go.

Off to my gig… just a two minute walk down the road from the hostel, how convenient. The interesting thing about Guatemala is that all music needs to be shut off by 11:00pm. Yes, ridiculous I know, but those are the laws and they are heavily enforced. Starting a nighttime gig at 8:00pm was interesting… and once the legendary trivia night was finished back at Hostel Fe, the crowd poured in and the last hour of my gig was the highest energy crowd I’ve had since La Piedra de la Iguana back in Puerto Escondido about a month prior.

VIDEO BELOW

The next day my new friends and I mostly hung out around the hostel, laughed as we recapped the happenings of the previous night and listened to music on the balcony. Other than that, things were mostly uneventful until the next day when Luke and I headed to Antigua to visit the children and staff at the Integral Heart Education Center.

THE INTEGRAL HEART EDUCATION CENTER IN ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA

So I’ll be upfront. This school was my main reason for coming to Guatemala. Don’t get me wrong, getting my visa renewed, visiting Luke, experiencing Lake Atitlán and connecting with dozens of extraordinary people were amazing add-ons, but I’ve felt called to visit this school the moment I saw Luke first talk about it in a video I saw of his last year.

I don’t believe in coincidences anymore, but I strongly believe in following signs. While I was still in the corporate world, shortly after I made my decision to leave New York and head to Mexico, I heard about a lunch and learn down the street from my office at the CBS corporate office known as “Black Rock“. After reading the communications e-mail from CBS about the lunch and learn, I was intrigued.

Come to a lunch and learn with New York native entrepreneur, philanthropist and author to learn how he turned an initial investment of $25 into more than 200 schools around the world.

You have my attention. This man turned out to be Adam Braun, the founder of Pencils of Promise and he is 5 months younger than me. On my 12,500 mile road trip through North America back in 2015-2016, this was the first book I read and I loved every page and chapter/(mantra) of it. Where did he get his original inspiration to begin this global organization? You guessed it: Guatemala. That’s when the seed was planted in my subconscious. Now let’s get back to our visit to the Integral Heart Center in Antigua.

Luke and I stayed just a few minutes walking distance from the center and when we arrived, the younger kids were in the middle of English class and upon entering a dozen or so of them began shouting “Luuuuuuuuke”. It was easy to see that he is popular with the kids here.

I was given a quick tour of the school, sat in on and participated in some of the classroom games and activities then was told the story of some of the kids. Hearing the story of the Hernandez children really hit me in the heart. Below is the video I made that helped to raise over $1,500 during my visit.

Though we’ve had support from a little under 200 individual donors throughout the world, we are nearing the end of October and are a little more than $21,000 short of our goal for 2017 to keep the school going. We’ll be doing some very hard pushing to get the money needed to ensure that these kids have a chance at life. It won’t be easy by any means, but we do not see failure as an option.

I’ve asked before. I’m asking now. And I’ll keep asking until we find sustainable funding and don’t need to ask individuals any longer. Anyone who has the means to donate, knows someone who can help or has any input on how we can achieve sustainable funding to give these 80 kids a real chance at life, please, please do so. Donate, share or reach out to me, Luke or Mick with any way you think you can help.

AFTER GUATEMALA

At the time of this article’s publication I have been out of the corporate world for just over two years. I’ve traveled extensively throughout much of North & Central America and have learned more about myself and the people that inhabit our world then I have in the 32 years prior. I’ve learned some of the greatest life lessons in my past two years and one profound lesson during my time in Guatemala that I’ll share now.

“Bucket lists” are not for me. I don’t have a list of places that I need to check off some imaginary list in my mind before I die. I started doing that while traveling and found it to be immensely unfulfilling. Looking back, the most memorable moments I’ve had in my life wasn’t witnessing the power of Niagra Falls, hiking through the narrows at Zion National Park in Utah, kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland or camping out on the cliffs of Meat Cove in the northern most point of Nova Scotia. Don’t get me wrong, they were all incredible experiences, except maybe the Blarney Stone… I heard the locals get drunk and piss on it at night. Sorry for ruining the magic for anyone reading this.

What I’ve found in over two years of traveling is that creating deep lasting connections with some of the most incredibly inspirational people I have ever met in my life is what has filled my soul more than anything. I’ve left places on my journey that didn’t resonate with me and stayed longer at those that did. Because of these intuition-driven choices I’ve built deep purposeful relationships with the people who live there and now feel as if I have many places on this planet where I can call “home.” I now see home as a feeling rather than a place.

SO WHAT’S NEXT?

From the time of my visit to Guatemala to this post’s publishing, many things have happened. I have returned to Mexico, test-launched a business concept (P2P Puerto Escondido) and abruptly left for central Florida to help a friend settle insurance claims after Hurricane Irma rolled through the middle of the state back on September 10th. My path has taken plenty of unexpected turns and if there’s one lesson I’ve learned it’s this: Life has some crazy fucking plan for me and my only job is not pay attention to the signs, stay on the path and not fuck it up.

Having faith that everything will work out for the best even in my darkest moments has proven to be the greatest challenge thus far. I would without a doubt be completely and utterly lost without the help and guidance from those I have met along the way. They have been the ones to help me open up to the beauty of the unknown. I am beyond grateful that I made the decision to take the road less traveled; there is no doubt in my mind that it has in fact made all the difference.

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