I thought that maybe this was some kind of Mayan game but after I went to the famous Earth Lodge, outside of Antigua, I found out differently.
I’d wanted to visit the Earth Lodge for several years except I knew that access wasn’t easy, since I walk everywhere and I’d been driven past the entrance many times without seeing any signs. Given the chance to see just what a corn hole tournament consisted of, and a shuttle ride from Antigua for $1.80, why not?
What started out as a warm and sunny Sunday morning quickly turned grey later, thanks to one of our active volcanoes going off nearby. Sitting at 8733 feet, Pacaya erupted more spectacularly than usual, and there was a long grey cloud of ash and smoke that dimmed the skies as it blew westerly.
The ride up the twisting and mostly concrete road to the northeast of Antigua is advertised as being about twenty minutes in length and we turned left onto a barely noticeable side road in the small village of El Hato. The inevitable grey and scrawny dog had to move out of the way. After a few yards of cobblestones, the road became dirt and dusty, until reaching the drop-off point. A small sign above the spring-fed communal washing tubs announced that we were near.
The four other passengers, all young women with back packs, found the dirt trail and the entrance to the Lodge. The trail was steep, with occasional sections of hand-carved steps, held in place with wooden cross pieces. The first sign read that we were ‘close’ with only another 300 meters or a thousand feet to go. The girls literally left me in the dust, but I stopped for a photo or two. By now what had been a drifting horizontal plume of grey smoke and ash from Pacaya to the southeast was floating over the Panchoy valley below us, ruining what might have a panoramic view of our other three volcanoes and the villages below on the valley floor. If the valley floor is roughly at a thousand feet in altitude, I was at least a thousand feet higher.
Onward and further downward to the Lodge, a few more steps, until the green stucco exterior and rustic wooden tables and chairs announced that I was ‘there’...where ever there was. To the left were three or four small wooden rectangles on the dry lawn, with one man pacing off distances to locate a playing field of sorts. The wooden tables were two by four feet long, with a five or six inch hole at the upper end, and constructed so that the further end had a slightly elevating framework underneath.
Beanbags, in red and blue cloth coverings flew through the air, some hitting the distant target, some missing to land in the yellowish dry lawn: this wasn’t a Mayan game. This was just a game of drinking beer in the sun and throwing bean bags. For the fuller details, go to www.cornhole.com and the origins are murky. Some say that it was played by the Blackhawks in Illinois, or invented by an obscure farmer in Ohio named Jeremiah McGillicuddy. Take your pick, as it doesn’t really matter. The scoring is simple, with 3 points for going through the hole and one point for staying on the board. Teams are formed, everyone gets four bags and the end is when either 11 or 21 points are tallied. Today was an 11 point day.
The Lodge also functions as an avocado farm, with 8 acres being utilized out of the original forty, with some 390 trees bearing fruit in January and July. It was acquired in November of 2003, by two young people, one from Canada the other from California and each with minimal experience in the hospitality business and none in the construction trades. There was no water, electricity or builders but by July of 2004, they had their opening. Today there are eight units scattered about, in the trees or surrounded by trees, all with stunning valley views. There is a capacity for thirty four guests, a playground for children and a primitive but effective stone sauna. The meals are communal and vegetarian, except on the weekend barbeques.
The pricing? Expect to pay a minimum of $25 a day, with larger units plus food and beverages adding up to the mid $30 dollar range. You’ll pack in (or down) what you’ll need, just as the Lodge does. All supplies are brought in down the dusty 1000 foot trail, either by the workers or Fortuna, the pack mule. If you’ve ever lived on a commune, back in the 60’s (I did) this is an amusing time warp, aside from the great selection at the bar. There’s no TV, cats and dogs lounge around in the shade and there’s usually live music on the weekends. Call from town for transportation and they’ll pick you up for $6 or less. For full information, their website is www. earthlodgeguatemala.com
For the most current information on Antigua, go to www.amazon.com/author/michaelsherer and order a copy of Our Man in Antigua, also available in town at selected stores.