Caracas, Venezuela — Friday, November 19th

Perseverance rewarded

A group of sixteen devotees — men, women and children — arrive early in the afternoon at Purujit Prabhu's house, where we are staying, to see Srila Gurudeva. They have come from neighboring Colombia and Peru on the west coast.

They arrive just after Srila Gurudeva has awoken from his afternoon nap. The house is quiet; most of the devotees have left after the rather busy and tiring morning for Srila Gurudeva, who initiated another ten devotees into the family of Krishna with the harinama maha-mantra, and then performed forty-two second initiations, giving the gayatri mantra to twenty-four male and eighteen female devotees.

While what remains of the ceremonial fire sacrifice still smolders in the yard outside, the sixteen devotees are introduced to Srila Gurudeva. We learn that they had tried to come to see Srila Gurudeva a week ago, but were held up at the Colombian/Venezuelan border for seven days before all their papers and visas were deemed to be in order.

If I had been delayed on my travels — especially on my way to see Srila Gurudeva — my mood would be black and I would be complaining long and loud, so I am struck by how serene the group is as they deferentially pay their obeisance and patiently wait to be introduced to Srila Gurudeva by Sripad Janardan Maharaj. The seven-day delay is forgotten, and they are happy to at last get the opportunity to have Srila Gurudeva's darshan.

They do not know it, but the week-long delay has worked in their favor; had they arrived earlier, as planned, they would have been part of the crowd, absorbed by the throngs trying to see Srila Gurudeva, but because they have arrived on the afternoon of our last day here in Venezuela (we leave for Mexico early tomorrow morning) no activities are scheduled for Srila Gurudeva and so they are able to get his exclusive darshan for almost two hours.

They present Srila Gurudeva with three pamphlets and four booklets — The Divine Message, Inner Fulfillment, The Original Source, and an abridged version of Guardian of Devotion — that they have printed in Colombia, in Spanish. They also give Srila Gurudeva lots of little gifts and pose for photographs with His Divine Grace. Srila Gurudeva is very happy to see them, and is pleased with their service and devotion.

I am reminded of the story in the Mahabharata that Srila Guru Maharaj tells, how when Sukadev Goswami went to see King Janaka he was detained for seven days at each of the seven gates of the capital...

We may be separated from our Gurudeva for some time (some of these devotees have not seen Srila Gurudeva since he last visited Colombia in 1993) and so many obstacles may prevent us from getting his holy darshan, but if we persevere in our attempt, if we are sincere, the reward will be far greater than we could ever imagine.

Veracruz, Mexico — Saturday, November 20th

A grand reception

Early in the morning, at 5:00 a.m., we leave the home of our gracious hosts in Caracas, Purujit Prabhu and Amita Shakti Devi Dasi. We have been in Venezuela for ten days: the next stop on Srila Gurudeva's 21st World Tour is Veracruz, Mexico.

Even at this early hour, there are well over a hundred devotees at the airport to see Srila Gurudeva for one last time before he leaves. The airport reverberates with their tumultuous kirtan. All the devotees here have charmed Srila Gurudeva with their service and devotion, and he promises to return if his health permits.

Our plane takes off over the Caribbean Sea and the Andes mountains — which stretch 5000 miles (8000 kilometers), from Caracas all the way around and down the west coast of South America to the southernmost tip of the continent in Argentina — recedes behind the scattered clouds...

Soon we are flying past Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and on into Mexico. We land in Mexico City shortly after eleven o' clock local time (two hours behind Venezuelan time and two hours ahead of California time).

At the airport, we are met by Sripad Ashram Maharaj, Laksmirani Devi Dasi, and a small party of devotees, who usher us in to a private VIP lounge where Srila Gurudeva is welcomed by, and introduced to the National Director of Religious Affairs, Alvaro Castro Estrada, and his Personal Assistant, Luis Enrique Perez Bedolla.

A couple of hours later, we take off for Veracruz (where we will stay for the next ten days). No sooner do we get into the air than the service cart comes out, we are given soda/juice and a bag of peanuts, and we barely have time to gulp the soda down before the cart is rolled away and we begin our descent into Veracruz.

In Veracruz, we are met by Madhuchanda Devi Dasi and her husband, Raghunandana Prabhu, and Srila Gurudeva is introduced to the Director of Religious Affairs for the State of Veracruz and his wife.

While we wait in the VIP lounge for the luggage to arrive, Srila Gurudeva is also introduced to the three plainclothes State policemen who have been assigned by the Governor of Veracruz, Julio Aleman, to be Srila Gurudeva's bodyguards (!) for the duration of His Divine Grace's visit. These tall, broad-shouldered gentlemen — whose previous assignment was to escort the opera singer, Luciano Pavarotti, on his recent tour of Mexico — are quite affable, but you just know that nobody is going to mess with them.

And all the while, in the background, the multitudinous chorus of voices in the kirtan of the devotees waiting outside for a long-awaited glimpse of Srila Gurudeva grows louder and louder.

When Srila Gurudeva finally takes my arm to support himself and we step through the double doors into the airport arrival hall, the tumult is stupendous as hundreds of devotees surge forward with cries of "Jai Srila Gurudeva!" and cameras flash as Srila Gurudeva is garlanded and bemused travelers crane their necks to see what all the commotion is about.

This is my first visit to Mexico. I have been all around the world, on six continents, but I must say that I have never, ever, seen a reception quite like this. The reception party even includes a (very good!) mariachi band to fete Srila Gurudeva — Ai, yi, yi yi!

Veracruz, Mexico — Sunday, November 21st

A revelation at the new temple

Srila Gurudeva gets up early this morning. He says that he is feeling good, and he certainly looks and sounds good — especially if you consider that His Divine Grace spent fourteen hours yesterday traveling from Caracas to Mexico City to Veracruz.

Shortly after sunrise, Srila Gurudeva and his entourage, escorted by the plainclothes police bodyguards assigned to him, drive a few blocks down the road to see the new temple for the first time.

Srimati Madhuchanda Devi Dasi, who wholeheartedly assumed the responsibility for constructing the temple here in Veracruz, informs Srila Gurudeva that construction of the temple began exactly one year ago today. Everybody is amazed at how much of the construction has been completed in such a short time.

After inspecting his bedroom and the other rooms grouped around the prasadam room and the reception area downstairs, Srila Gurudeva climbs the spiral staircase to the kitchen and the temple proper on the next floor. In the temple room, Srila Gurudeva reveals that he "had a dream" early this morning, and that the new Deities that will manifest here in the future will be called Sri Sri Gandharva Nandanandana.

We drive back to the large rented house that we are staying in. Srila Gurudeva does look good, and as if to prove it, he has an unusually big breakfast — two soapés (which look and tastes like mini Mexican pizzas) with avocado, chickpeas, and some papaya, pear and yogurt!

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