16 Year Anniversary: A Retrospective

RAINBOW CAFÉ and READING ROOM (7a avenida sur #8, La Antigua)

Behind every successful business are people who conceived and toiled over it, fretted and rejoiced … Philippa Meyers and Ted Lindland are two such people. Here they are, to share some memories of the Rainbow.

Philippa, at age 21, completed a clothing production course at the London College of Fashion, and “with absolutely no clue what to do in life set off to Guatemala with an unruly boyfriend for a six-month trip to Central America. After a few adventures in El Salvador, and having dropped the boyfriend, I came back to La Antigua, which I had hated the first time round, (because it was) a place where I felt I could connect with other fellow ‘gringo’ travelers.” There she met Ted Lindland who told her about his idea to open a second-hand bookstore/reading room (Which is a story unto itself!) The two became partners and began making plans for action.

Philippa remembers, “I returned to the UK, very excited at having found a way out of the ‘rat race’. I sold my car and my few worldly possessions and flew to Philadelphia, PA, to meet Ted.  We bought an old green Ford van, went from flea market to flea market picking out second-hand books.  After a few weeks and many books later, we loaded the van, and we were off to Antigua and on to what would become the Rainbow Café and Reading Room.”

They signed a lease in August 1992 on the property at 7a avenida sur #8 which is still the home of the Rainbow Café and Reading Room. “This was my first experience of the meaning of ‘community’ … the word got out that two back-packers were setting up a ‘hang-out’ place, and people came knocking on our door, offering their services to help clean, paint, install electrical wiring, build bookshelves … the feeling of community was exhilarating! Ted would play music every evening around our patio camp fire. The music scene was definitely happening, as musicians came to jam with us every night.”

Ted’s recollections: “I loved Antigua and decided to move here for a number of reasons … Willie Gomez had a wonderful little place at the time called La Boheme.  He played music there with his brothers, Ricardo and Jorge, and Jorge’s wife, Margie. They called themselves Gato Negro, and they were fabulous!

I took to hanging out with them, occasionally playing percussion. Then I began playing folk and country music on certain nights. With a poet from New York City, Kathy Price, I organized a poetry night as well. I realized I could be happy in Antigua. But how would I make a living?”

The Rainbow Café and Reading Room opened in October of 1992. Admitting that they knew nothing about running a business, much less a café, Philippa says that coupled with locals “telling us that we were way off the center of town … not to mention Ted’s hippie persona and my youth, long hair under a knit beret and pierced nose, we were probably not likely candidates for success.”

“However, locals and travelers did find us. I believe they liked the relaxed atmosphere, the inexpensive food, the great music scene and a good selection of used books, as well as Ted’s friendly greeting when they arrived.”

Ted says, “It took us months to find the right place and months to get it ready; we had lots of help from a hoard of international friends, who all loved the idea. Every night, even well before we opened, we’d sit around a campfire in the patio, playing music, talking, eating, drinking, sharing; what developed over the course of those months, before we opened, sustained us, and made it all much easier than it might have been. When we finally did open, we had built-in customers, a loyal following who sustained us throughout the early years.

Speaking for myself, I made friends during the early 90s at the Rainbow who remain some of my closest friends to this day. It was a magical time.”

By the mid-90s, things had changed— partnerships are difficult. “Philippa and I quit the partnership before it ruined our friendship. We are friends to this day. I moved to Panajachel, where I have a home. I stop by the Rainbow whenever I’m in Antigua, and I always feel like I am coming home. I can close my eyes and still see the smoky campfire, the circle of friends, hear the strains of I Shall Be Released and Blowin’ Down That Long Dusty Road on the banjo and guitar, with a dozen voices joining in.”

Probably the most obvious change through the years at the Rainbow Café is the clientele. Philippa points out, “No longer are we just the hippie scene, we have tourists of all ages, students, locals and families … children are very welcome.” The café’s menu accommodates gluten-free diets, vegetarians and meat/poultry dishes. Desserts are rich and yummy, “my particular favorite is the Banoffee Pie, a biscuit crust, generously layered with toffee, cream and bananas.”

“We have also expanded culturally, with the Guatemala Lecture Evening on Tuesday nights at 5pm, where our guest speakers talk on subjects related to Guatemala.  We continue with live music every night, and the bookshop is still going strong.”

“As we begin our 17th year, I want to thank the many, many people who have come through our lives and have put their personal touch on the Rainbow Café and Reading Room.”

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