On March 3, 2006, I woke up before dawn to the roosters crowing GUAT-E-MAA-LAAA! in the town of Tolliman on Lake Atitlan. The air was crisp and smoky from the cooking fires of the village. Our group of birding tourism professionals ate a sleepy breakfast, slurped down some rich, dark cafe, and boarded a small boat, headed west across the lake for a trip into the highlands.
My fellow travelers and our Guatemalan hosts, anticipating my special day, had already sung me "Happy Birthday" the previous night, but throughout the day, at every meal or snack, they again sang "Happy Birthday" or "Feliz cumpleanos a ti...." and produced some sort of cake or treat. I was flattered.
We spent the day with several stops for low-key birding, including Corazon del Bosque where we spent quality time with some pink-headed warblers, one of the world's most stunning birds. As we made the long drive back east to Guatemala City and our farewell dinner, we enjoyed a frosty cold Gallo cerveza. A guitar was dug out of the back of the bus and I played and we sang songs and laughed all the way home. I thought "what a great way to spend my birthday!"
Back at the Hotel Intercontinental, we were to clean up and meet in the lobby for dinner at 7:30. While waiting for the rest of our group to arrive, we went to the bar. At some point I heard music coming from out in the lobby, just outside the door to the bar. I went out to investigate--it was a jazz quartet, and they were kicking it with some tasty Bossa Nova. Flute, piano, bass, drums--all four players were Guatemalan musicians. It was sad that no one was listening except me. So when they finished the song, I clapped loudly and complimented them in my basic Spanish.
The flute player: "Thank you, amigo. You like jazz? We take requests!"
Me: "You guys sound great! How about "Black Orpheus?"
All: "Hey! Good song!"
Bassist: "You play jazz?"
Me: "Well, yes, I play in a trio in los Estados Unidos..."
Bassist: "You must sit in, amigo! Please?"
Me: "Oh, no I.... OK!"
We proceeded to kick out the jazz jams. Oh man was I on a high! I know music is the universal language, but this was actual proof of that assertion. These guys could really play, too. And I was surprised to see that they used the same jazz "fake" (music) book that we use for our regular gigs. It's a small world.
"I'm known for me solos!"
Two jazz bass players from different parts of the world.
Like I said, what a great way to spend my birthday.