Published May 27, 2008 - (Updated Dec 5, 2012)
Step under the gaily striped awning of “Hikuri” at Coral 66 in the fishing village of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and enter an extraordinary world – a microcosm created by Aruna Piroshki, Wayland Combe-Wright and their daughter, Kaerolik. Delightful aromas of French food and fresh coffee from the new “Le Rêve” restaurant fill the air, not quite reaching the gallery filled with a combination of Huichol art pieces and jewelry designed and produced by a resident artist from France. Inviting tables dappled with sunlight filtering through mature trees fill the garden patio, and a small stage is ready to host local talent in the evenings. In one corner upstairs, fine screen-print T-shirts are being produced while, in another, Wayland may be sanding another piece of handsome furniture for the garden. Whatever you have come for, you’ll be made to feel welcome!
“We think of ourselves as a pair of performance artists – always making something and creating an ambiance,” explains Aruna. The pair met as architecture students in London in the early 1970s, but became the “Star Crossed Travelers,” using bicycles to haul a cart and huge starry umbrella. From the cart, “Transport of Delight,” they first sold Malaysian snacks, and eventually produced what they believe were the first tacos in London, using their own invented tortillas.
A wagon and a horse show soon followed. Starting with a horse burdened with saddles, stirrups and spurs, Aruna ended up bareback, just holding the mane, demonstrating to delighted crowds in London squares how man and horse can work together. Then, while searching Europe by motorcycle for additional animals, they heard about wonderful horses in Oregon and decided to set off for America.
Tools and equipment had to go with them, so the pair decided to travel by boat – not an ocean liner, but their own craft! A proper vessel in their price range proved impossible, so they built it themselves. “We’d built a cart already, so why not a boat?” they reasoned. Months of research and models followed. For the two years required to develop and construct the boat, home was an abandoned station house scheduled for demolition. Indeed, timbers from their shelter went into the boat, and Wayland proudly points out that this wood is now being used in homes in La Cruz.
Wayland designed the boat as a wooden frame, like a basket, covered with canvas, strong paper and impermeable tar; the wing sails were also his innovation, planned to easily be taken down in bad weather. In 1982, they departed from Cornwall, England, with their five-month-old daughter, a ham radio and parts of their precious wooden cart onboard.
The trip across the Atlantic, as far as Mexico, took eight years, including a four-year stop in Costa Rica and another two years in Nicaragua. Along the way, they read about Mexico and became fascinated by the Huichol people, so the west coast of Mexico came next.
Attempting to preserve the craft of traditional Huichol art, using wool instead of synthetics, they began constructing spinning wheels and teaching the Indians how to spin and dye wool. Silk-screened T-shirts were next, first with Huichol designs. Now, businesses from around the bay come to them for finely printed clothing.
These artists of life have been settled in La Cruz for 18 years now, and aren’t going to Oregon, although they still plan to build a new cart using the wood they carried across the sea and expect to add to their stable of horses here. “We have roots here now,” says Aruna, adding, “We still want to travel, but this will always be home base.” Indeed, these two have helped create a special community here, giving to it in many ways: as founding members of APERCH, a group that works with concerned citizens and businesses to make the town a more inviting place; and as organizers of a summer program for children, which has grown each year; but most importantly, by opening their home and their lives to people.