It’s 6AM and behind the hooded, hypnotic DJ, the sky fills with light like a perfectly poured tequila sunrise.
Techno beats with psychedelic twists grace the air as we slide to the lake’s edge to witness dawn’s dramatic unveiling of Volcan Atitlán.
WHERE: Lake Atitlán, Guatemala WHEN: 8-11 February 2019
Wachalal Festival is set on Guatemala’s mystical Lake Atitlán, a place described by Lonely Planet as ‘the closest thing to Eden on Earth’. This massive water-filled volcanic crater, the largest in Central America, was formed by an eruption 84,000 years ago.
Known for its incredible sacred energy, Atitlán has been home to over a dozen indigenous Maya groups for millennia. The name of this new three-day festival derives from ancient Mayan language, and means brother or brotherhood. A sense of family is definitely apparent here.
When we arrive at Wachalal Lake Lodge for the warm up session, we’re wrapped in welcome hugs, set to the sound of traditional Guatemalan marimba music.
A colourful Maya mamma serves us a bowl of soul-satisfying chicken pepian (a traditional Guatemalan dish of chicken in spicy pumpkin and sesame sauce with rice) as the crowd participates in a gleeful sing-along hip hop performance in indigenous tongue. After this we watch on as the curious opening fire ceremony invites a beautiful sunset.
Day one closes with an uplifting ‘Wachajam’ by some of the organising family. So neat it is that I later ask if they’d rehearsed much, to which co-founder Eduardo Otxoa coolly says, “actually no, it was freestyle; we haven’t played together for four years.” I’m impressed but somehow not surprised. Each member of this crew can produce/mix/strum/tap/sing or all of the above; I’m cetain thei veins run with small musical notes.
The festival intends to celebrate the practices of the native indigenous cultures here, and what we’ve witnessed so far feels authentic and special. OK, to some people my pictures might appear to depict something of a neo-hippie hell, but it honestly couldn’t have felt further than that. Loin-cloths and fire-spells aside, this was – put simply – a fun gathering of chill people. The calm before the psychedelic storm, if you like.