It seems like everyone knows someone with a Manu Chao story. Now I have one too!
Okay, if my gushing, glowing reports of how happy and perfect everything is haven’t annoyed you already, this is sure to test your patience. I am laughing out loud about what a cartoon my life is, and how frikkiing righteous Life’s choreographer has been to me lately. It is hard to write, because I am still not done shaking my head in charmed disbelief.
Ok. So I am in Ecuador (again!!) with Kevin (those of you who know him are saying “aw” because you love him so much… those of you who don’t know him… well, he is really great and smiles a lot and is a pleasure to be around, so just go ahead and say “aw”). We just had an adventure. When I found out that he and I would be in Ecuador at the same time, and that Manu Chao was playing a rare concert in Colombia, I instantly recruited Kevin to be my partner in crime. “Oh my god, we have to hitchhike to Bogota and see Manu Chao!!” I told him. If he had any reservations or protests I really wasn’t listening, because I am just a little bit obsessed with Manu Chao, and there is nothing that would stand in my way. Lucky for me, Kevin’s defining characteristic is his coolness, so he agreed to hitchhike several days with me through Colombia, a place not necessarily renown for its safety, to go to a concert we didn’t even have tickets for.
Of course, Colombia is one of the most gorgeous places on the planet. Any fears quickly melted away and were replaced by breathtaking views that left us poking each other and pointing in appreciation. The food is so good that no meal ended without us groaning. And best of all are the people, who smile so quickly and make you feel embraced. It was a lovely little voyage. All the while my stomach was swirling with giddy butterflies because we were going to see MANU CHAO……. Eeee!
So (to be brief) Somewhere along the way we met up with a bunch of other Manu Chao heads who were also making the long trip. There were eight of us all together, coming from Ecuador and the border region. We were excitable little pilgrims. It is the first time I ever met anyone who dorked out over Manu Chao more than me. So we formed a little tribe and crossed the mountains together, suffering through the endless rain and military checkpoints. Uncountable hours later, we arrived in Bogota. It was already dark, and the rain made our teeth chatter. The stomach butterflies turned to sharks and we scrambled to get tickets. Kevin and I managed to get in to the show a few songs late, but sadly, some of our group, after such a long journey, were left outside.
Of course the show was incredible. I am showing great restraint by not pontificating on the million reasons why it was great. But it was awesome. I thrust my arms out and pogoed and shouted out every lyric in unison with ten thousand other voices. Once again in my life I found myself surrounded by shirtless, sweaty, drunk foreign men singing that song: ¨”Oleee ole ole ole OOOleeeeeOOOleeeEEEEE!!” I was blissed out. It was worth the trip. Mission accomplished.
But wait, there is more! This is where it gets funny and marvelous. Rewind a day or two, and you will see Kevin and I waiting by the side of the Pan Americana, by the Colombian border. The sun is beaming, the road is steep and curvy, and the cars aren’t stopping. But we are standing up to our ankles in smiling dandelions. It is a little field of white fluffy make-a-wish flowers. I grab the fluffiest of the bunch and take a deep breath. I wish that we make it to Bogota safely in time for the show, and that we get tickets. The white propellers of fluff go spinning. Kevin makes a wish too. We are happy. We picked up our bags and get ready to walk, but then I decide to be greedy and make one more wish. Given all the pet unicorns with pegasus wings that I wished for in my childhood that were never delivered, I don’t necessarily have a lot of faith. But I wish big anyway. I wished to meet Manu Chao.
And of course you see where this story is going. My wishes came true in technicolor. My life is ridiculous. It is a marshmallow pie. I am about to smash my own face into it. After the show, our sweaty happy tribe of 8 regrouped and hugged and made all sorts of exclamations of joy (and pity for those left outside). We were all radiant with the news that the band had decided to add a second show! Not wanting the moment to end, we lingered a little long inside the stadium…just long enough to meet Majid, the guitarist. Taken by our joy, and impressed by how far we had traveled, Majid invited us back stage. And there he was, Manu Chao. Out of the six billion people on earth, here was the one I most wanted to meet. He is as peaceful and radiant (and tiny) as everyone says. I got a kiss on both cheeks. (Now is the part where I am again showing great restraint by not gushing on for pages)
Well, to make a long story short, the band was as cool as everyone has always said they are. They shared their food and beer and small talk. Then they put us on the guest list for the next show! And gave us backstage passes! We were officially guests of Manu Chao. E gads!!!
So the next night I was front row center, crushing everyone around me with my enthusiasm. (I just sighed really loudly as I wrote, let that say it all!) Again I got to sing Oleee Ole OlE oLeeeEEE! And there was no denying that life is good.
When we went back stage after the show. There were a bunch of people there, but the manager waved us forward, referring to us as “Los Ecuatorianos”. We were told to wait, because Manu had a present for us….Then we were handed a wad of cold hard cash! Several hundred dollars worth. Manu wanted us to be his guests, and gave us all this money to pay for our trip and tickets. HUH!!!!?????? Can you believe that? A fistful of money from Manu Chao…it was… well, WRONG!
Kevin and I immediately looked at each other and vowed to make a project of giving this money away to the people of Ecuador. We are going to reach into our pockets every time a beggar stretches out a hand and give with a new found joy. And we are going to take Fausto (a crazy, amazing, Jesus obsessed street artist) on a shopping spree to buy new art supplies. And, well, I have spent this money a million times over in my head, but always with the same spirit in which it was given. What an amazing gift! It is the cherry on top of our gluttonous sundae.
Before leaving Bogota we shared some goodbye hugs with the band at their hotel. At this point I was so saturated that I wanted to sleep for a week. There is a blur of a journey back to Quito. Somewhere in these days all the rain and travel took its toll on me, and I got really sick. I had the worst migraine of my life. Fever and chills. In the middle of the night as I clutched a toilet and vomited bile, my nose 1 centimeter away from some stranger’s stray pubic hair, I had one very clear, singular thought: I AM SO HAPPY!
Thank you to Kevin Muth for most of these Photos! www.kevinmuthphotography.com
I wrote this story a few years ago, and now I laugh at what a dork I was. Since that trip to Colombia I have crossed paths with Manu and his friendly band many, many more times, and I have other anecdotes and adventures with them that make this story seem kind of silly and starry eyed. They are all just very friendly people. It has been interesting to get to know rock-stars who you held on a pedestal and realize that what you like the most about them is how pleasingly normal they are. Whatever corner of the world i travel to, their music is sure to pop up on some rusty radio in the middle of nowhere. I love that now when I hear it, it feels like old friends saying hello.