Summer, 2018: a Different Kind of Pilgrimage, to Beloved BABA
in His Lovers and Others in Latin America
A Small Baba gathering in La Plata, Argentina
Trying Something New!
As the summer of 2018 approached, the thought came to me to make a different kind of pilgrimage—to Latin America, to Baba in people whom I’d met and
become friends with in India or in some cases online. I remembered Baba’s words in His last message on the alphabet board: “…realize Truth by being bound to each other with internal
Slowly, with much correspondence and study of airline schedules, an itinerary emerged. In late July, I set out for Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. A longtime Baba friend, Jay Mohler, had moved there a year or so before. I’d been enthralled by photos he’d shared on Facebook of a garden city filled with glorious art, architecture, and weaving.
Left: Jay Mohler, longtime Baba-lover and resident of Oaxaca, Mexico, is a widely-known creator of "Ojos de Dios" yarn mandalas.
Right: The Zocalo, or central plaza, of Oaxaca, where the author and Jay sat for several hours one morning and exchanged stories about their years with Baba.
It was a joy to say prayers at the little shrine in Jay’s guest room, then to spend five days exploring the region together, as well as wandering solo at times. I
nearly always wore my beret with a huge Baba button affixed to the front. If someone asked “Who is that?” I handed them a Baba card, said (my Spanish being poor)—“He’s someone very
great,” and suggested a Google search.
Meher Baba, of course, never set foot in Latin America, although Sam Cohen, a close disciple, went to Mexico in the 1937 on Baba’s Order, and Baba also once sent Delia De Leon, whose family came from
Panama, to that country. There may have been other emissaries of whom I’m not aware.
Baba would have enjoyed Oaxaca, a city of art, gardens, gentle people, and brightly-colored houses. The city, in fact, reminded me of the Pune of my 1978 visit, before the current growth spurt quadrupled its population.
The beautiful Palacia de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, housing the work of Diego Rivera and other great muralists.
A Baba rendezvous in Mexico City
From Oaxaca, I flew to Mexico City. My 2 ½ days there included a rendezvous with Rafael Villafane, whom I’d met in India in 1996.
My first impression of the capital city from the air was one of its enormity, but nevertheless of charm rather than chaos. Riding into the “Centro Historico” district from the airport, however, I saw homeless people, warehouses, and factories. As I set out from my hotel to explore, the sort of “grey” impression continued to dominate.
That changed as I approached the Palacio Des Bellas Artes to view the magnificent (but somber) paintings of the famous Mexican muralists. I suddenly came upon a colorful and vibrant Mexico City. There were lovely plazas, parks, and crowds of people enjoying themselves!
Continuing my walk after leaving the art museum, I stumbled upon an institution I feel would have pleased Meher Baba, the Museum of Memory and Tolerance. It’s a meticulously-documented photo and film archive of the genocides of the past century, as well as of positive progress in human rights. The founders felt that awareness is necessary to help people growing up today to act with kindness and compassion.
Left: the lively Avenida Benito Juarez, near the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Right: part of the facade of the Museum of Tolerance and Forgetting
My second day in Mexico City, Rafael sent an Uber to my hotel for the 40-minute ride to his home in suburban Huixquilucan. He greeted me at the door and showed me his beautiful Baba paintings by the Otts and others. Rafael hosts monthly Baba meetings. I was sorry that I was not able to synchronize one with my visit.
In the living room, we talked about our lives with Baba over these many years. Then Rafael took me to a sliding glass door that opens to his backyard. Admonishing me not to put a hand or foot out past the aluminum door-runner, he called out to Mayita, the full-grown jaguar to whom he has given a home since she was a baby.
Mayita was originally a birthday present from a friend. When Rafael protested that it was cruel to remove such an animal from its jungle habitat, the friend told him that she was an orphan and would never be able to survive in the wild. Fortunately, Rafael had the kind of yard that could support a jaguar. For the past decade, has devoted a great deal of his life to this inter-species friendship, and in support of endangered species.
Left: Rafael plays with Mayita in a local part (part of an Animal Planet video) Right: A beautiful painting by Lyn and Phyllis Ott that hangs in Rafael's home.
On to South America
After three days in Mexico City, I boarded a plane bound for Montevideo, Uruguay. I didn’t know of any Baba-Lovers there, but flying directly into Buenos Aires
involved long layovers at airports along the way. I spent a day exploring Montevideo and visiting its wonderful art museum, and the next morning took a ferry 100 miles down the Rio de la
Plata to Argentina’s capital.
Left: Carlos and the author at a pizzeria in Buenos Aires. Right: Eruch Jessawala, on the left, with Eduardo "Qui Qui" Nunez, who "brought Meher Baba to Argentina" after learning of Him in New York in the '60s.
For four days I explored Buenos Aires. In a cafe' there, I experienced the most cheerful "Baba recognition" of the many on my trip.
This young lady had asked about Baba while serving me, and had also given me directions to an Art Museum. When I asked to take a photo of the cafe' staff, she spontaneously pulled out the DON'T WORRY BE HAPPY card I had given her.
La Plata, the Hub of Argentine Baba Activity
A bus brought me to La Plata, a lovely, substantial city, even though it is dwarfed by its larger neighbor. Here, during the four days of my stay, I got to
meet some of the other Baba-lovers, as well as Carlos’ family.
I attended a rehearsal of Carlos’ jazz band and walked with him around the city. He showed me the lovely city park, whose attractions included “the temple in the forest” (translation: “soccer
stadium”!). During our walks, I also learned something of Argentina’s sobering past history, as Carlos told me about close run-ins both he and his father had with the government in the days of
the military dictatorship.
In all, I spent five delicious days in this lovely city.
A Different Kind of Stay, in Peru
On my last afternoon in La Plata, I sat in the plaza across from my hotel, wanting to freeze the delicious moment. The last leg of my journey would be different.
I would be flying to Lima, Peru, and from there to Iquitos on the Amazon River, the largest city in the world reachable only by plane or boat. I would be staying in a small village called Padre Cocha, half an hour up the Rio Nanay from Iquitos, in a compound dominated by a large, handsome Peruvian “maloca” with a palm-leaf roof.
My host and guide would be Claire Mataira, a longtime Baba-lover from the Netherlands who had lived much of her adult life in Australia. There, she had been a popular Baba artist and had created the covers of many issues of the quarterly magazine, MEHER BABA AUSTRALIA.
Left: A view of part of Casa Inti (House of the Sun), Claire’s compound, where she has lived since 2007. Right: Claire and Guillermo, a neighbor and colleague.
A few years after the turn of the millennium, Claire had begun to feel Baba was calling her to South America. She did not really want to go, but as the feeling of this call persisted for a year, she ended up making an exploratory excursion to Bolivia. From the time of her first check-in to a hotel, not even knowing Spanish at the time, Claire felt guided to the purpose she believed Baba had for her: the study of shamanism.
Claire, who was always an intuitive artist, began to feel “psychic” propensities during this period. She came to feel that the Beloved was asking her to finish some work that she had begun in
other lifetimes long, long ago.
I spent a delightful week with Claire as my guide. She took me to the Amazon and to jungle animal refuges. She sent me to stay in a hotel in Iquitos to witness the Saturday night festivities during which people take their families out on the town and performers work the Boulevard, the esplanade above the river.
We were also companions. Mornings, we would sing Baba songs, recite prayers, and read Baba stories aloud. At night, we sat in the lodge and shared about our lives.
I saw Claire interact with many villagers in Padre Cocha, as well as with boatmen, taxi drivers, restaurant workers, and others in the city. I noted the way she takes care of her workers and
others. Many people would brighten as they approached, and then embrace her. I felt I was in the presence of Baba’s Love.
Claire will always be controversial in the Meher Baba world. She sees herself as a “medicine woman.” With some people, she administers a tea made from the ayahuasca plant, which she considers to be “like a soap that can help people wash off their traumas.” Meher Baba, in His 1960’s Messages on psychedelics, said that such substances do have therapeutic properties, but that attempts to use them as an ongoing spiritual method is “harmful physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
I can only say that for me, Claire was a friendly, caring host, and I would not be honest if I did not say that I had a “Baba-ful” time with her as my guide. I had told her in advance that I was not interested in taking ayahuasca, and she respected my decision.
After 3 ½ weeks of travel, I returned to my home in Walnut Creek, California, and to my wife, Barbara, feeling that I had indeed had Baba’s Darshan in Latin America.