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Updated: Apr 12, 2018

After seven months of travel through four countries, finally a chance to slow down and spend time with the new pup as the trip had crossed its halfway point.

backpacking in cabo de la vela

May 05, 2016

To look deep into the eyes of a 10 week old pup, that sees you with an equal and uncompromising reflection

I am on a journey. And as I have seen many people state, it's always about the ride, not where you are going. So, I have forgotten, given up, released myself on trying to define what the destination is. I don't know what it will look like, or even know it when I've arrived. It's just too hard to figure. Whether I find myself transplanted into rural Costa Rica hosing down pigs due to an irregular internet result or deterred to the coast of Ecuador after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake aiding in the immediate relief efforts; It's something unknown to me just yet.

Or perhaps its because and about Love. Finding and losing it time and time again. Maybe its finding out who I am when tested in the most difficult and literally foreign circumstances. Could be to know what it feels like to stand in a maloka after a long and arduous bout with the Mother Plant, Ayahuasca. To experience such vulnerability and stand amongst a crowd of strangers and dance to the rhythm of a collective and spiritual heartbeat. Or to be stuck at sea and have my life completely reliant upon the good will of people I've never met to house, feed and help me along my way. To look deep into the eyes of a 10 week old pup, that sees me with an equal and uncompromising reflection of my own self. There's not a definitive answer to what set this trip into motion or what has allowed it to have continued for seven uninterrupted months. There just is no answer to that. It can only be revealed by looking back one day. One day when my little mammalian brain has unclogged itself, clarity emerges and I say to myself, "Ah yes! This is what the Universe had wanted to show me!"

July 03, 2016 - "Departing from Purgatory"

Valley of Fertility

It's been quite some time since where I last left off. I had altered my hat from serving as a volunteer in the wake of a devastating earthquake to broadening my agricultural knowledge as a volunteer at a permaculture farm in Vilcabamba, Ecuador.

Unfortunately, my learnings came in the form of what not to do and my experience with the farm hosts became rife with tension, disrespect, disorder and lacked that of a heartfelt encounter. Frankly, I did not get my money's worth.

Instead, I had to (to no fault of anyone, but myself) serve as an indentured servant to an expat couple that had established themselves in the 'Sacred Valley of Fertility'. I selected them from the workaway website. There were a few other operations in the same area, but this one in particular had a series of ongoing projects that would give ample chances to learn about the broad category of permaculture.

To attempt to define this word, permaculture, I see it as a system of design that optimizes land usage for the most efficient gains in output, waste production and has high regard for conservation of resources. I say it was an unfortunate experience because, after a month of actually paying for an internship position, I left there unable to wholly define these methods due to a lack of guidance I received.

The problem I was noticing in this little, but growing ex-pat community was the infamous gringo resistance to adapting to their foreign environment and its result was instead changing said environment. I saw resistance to the language by gringos who after many years of living abroad were not even attempting to speak the native tongue and snarling at the ones who dared speak to them in such devious dictations. It wasn't pleasant to see this and I often squirmed in my seat as I witnessed these all too repetitive atrocities towards the humble, soft-spoken natives. Natives who have such an endearing culture and watching it be wiped clear to suit the gringos and their lofty needs. For example, it's all too ridiculous to think you're saving the planet by chastising a person in harshness for bringing you a straw in your drink because you are concerned about society's reliance upon plastics, but fail to recognize the loss in advancements you made in human compassion while attempting it with such cruelty.

The other exploitation I was witnessing was the simple fact that labor is cheap and it's a 'great' way to cut costs. Okay, it's a real benefit of these countries that things tend to be a little cheaper as a whole (imports aside), but cheap can be a slippery slope when we start to think of what fifty cents means to us that have come here with millions of them and what it can mean to a person fixing your boots or asking for a little more in wages to support their family. The minimum wage, as info, in Ecuador is $2.80/hour and for a gringo looking to hire that's the golden ticket to kicking back and watching the work get while the bank account stays full. I asked countless questions to the hosts about how things were done, why they were done and always the answer was, well that was the way the maestro had done it and they don't know why or how it was done. And when asked about what would be some farming goals, I said I wanted something simple, small and capable of being a starting out point to learn and grow my understanding. Well, they suggested to go into production to make money and if you didn't know how to do something, to just hire someone. Great for feeding the economy and helping folks out with jobs, yes, but I want to learn and I wouldn't travel a continent to see it in the hands of someone else and I never grow from it!

I did spend a great deal of time working alongside two locals, Enma who helped out in the gardens and with the Saturday market and Victor, a maestro of all things from Saraguro who was there mostly to construct a casita using natural materials such as bamboo, Fica limbs, clay, sand, straw, horse poop and his intuitive skills to handle any problem that could come up. Both were phenomenal individuals for what experience and wisdom they shared. I could feel these people instantly letting me into their lives, being a part of their world no matter how long or for what loss or gain there might be.

So, for me, it was unfortunate because at the end of the day, I went to sleep feeling used by the hosts and seen simply for my energy, and despite the tremendously hard 8-9 hours work I put into each day, I never saw it be enough for them. I admit to a bit of unkindness as I referred to them as monsters when venting and explaining our ridiculous hardships to the friends I made in town, but that type of devouring beast was what I saw these expats in this city becoming or had already become.

As a gringo myself, I got a lot of stiff looks and harsh tones in return when I said hello or asked questions in tiendas, but underneath it there was still that intrinsically kind and flourishing compassion, it just had become calloused here. And this was rare!

(Tiendas are small convenience or grocery stores)

Throughout my travels I felt overwhelming generosity or an unquestioning pause in someone's schedule to help out a person, because that's inherently known to be the foundation for building up a strong, inter-connected, no-one's-a-stranger community.

It was this ravishing, forever unsatisfied need that just perpetuated instead of what commonly flourished. I saw it as the early formations of some emotionally starved ex-pat colony. And for what gains did they receive by leaving wherever and coming here? Simply to grow a big long white beard, wear flowing pants with weird socks, or was it to have everything they wanted for cheap so that they could afford to simply import more things? Or was it to be just stubborn enough to force the community to adapt to suit their tastes and their likes in lieu of becoming indigenous themselves and liking what was already in place.

I struggled with this lack of adaptation. I do believe and have met a few who also believe in this great Condor (S. America) and Eagle (N. America) alliance, but I am skeptical if it can be pulled off because of how devouring the Eagle culture can be and how humble and generous the Condors nature is.

I had the fantastic opportunity to travel by invite to Victors hometown of Saraguro, a renowned pueblo for spirituality and festivals to return the gratitude to Pachamama for all she has given. I would be attending their three day ceremony for the Summer Solstice. An event filled with dancing, music, celebrations, honoring, giving thanks, right of passages and an all around strengthening of that tight-knit community I was coming to recognize and admire.

(Inti Raymi comes from Incan traditions and translates to Sun Festival in Quechua. It's a celebration to the god Inti, and marks the end of Winter (June). Pachamama is another Incan deity and still very much revered as the mother of all beings.)

The weather was muy mal (very bad) and the town was the pits, covered in a soupy slop of splashy mud, but it was all well worth the hardships to witness a community practicing something age-old. When I arrived the people were already walking around wearing their best garb. The women in their long black skirts with colorfully embroidered hems, fancy shoes (despite the mud), black shawls over their ornately embroidered blusas, their finest bedazzled beaded necklaces, with long chains and a very typical and exclusive to this region pin that held the shawl. Their hair in the cleanest of braids and the typical round pressed cardboard hats with cow prints revealed beneath the brim when it was upturned. This decor was seen on every child, adult and grandmother. The boys and men had their usual short pants with white tops, black jackets and a felt 'Panama' style hat. Some had the fantastically metal smithed leather belts. It was beauty in every direction and I could sense that they felt proud to put these traditional clothes on.

What happened here was pure magic. I felt transplanted into another time with day long ceremonies and ancestral traditions. The days were filled with processions through town, speeches given by the elders of the communities, choreographed dances, presentations of gifts, offerings and awards for outstanding members of the community. At midnight, I participated in a procession to the baños to be cleansed.

(Baños, in this instance were referring to the waterfalls as showers)

The walk was accompanied by musicians and periodic breaks where we would dance around in a circle, howling and shouting "Pu-yi-yi Inti Raymi!" It was a grand ol' time. At the waterfalls, practically everyone that made the trek stripped down and walked along a bamboo ladder running along the side of the carved out rocks. It bounced and wiggled with each person coming or going as frigid, mountain river water gushed past beneath. Some of the men were standing in the water up to their waists helping to either hold flash lights for the ones going into the pool or assisting those when they were passing back on the return. It was total darkness all around, but the rocks reflecting the glare of the lights and the illuminated mist of the cascading water mixing with the holy smoke of prayer offerings being burnt made for a time warp of scenery. I dipped myself under the water three times and came up feeling empowered by each one more and more.

Before exiting the river, the Taita was there to bless you with tobacco smoke and holy water. It was a great celebration. The general vibe of this entire event was celebratory and most people you saw were going to their hearts extent in either singing, dancing, playing instruments or simply bouncing from one festivity to the next for 3 or 4 days.

(Taita in Quechua refers to Father, and is usually an established ceremonial leader)

By the last day I was feeling a bit put off by the mist and constant mud soup I had been walking around in everywhere, but still felt I had witnessed a really great thing.

The days ceremonies were cute with the school's children performing a dance they had all worked together on. It was long and very involving. What a spectacle and it was great to imagine them preparing for this. I listened in as best I could for a standing ceremony where a cigar was passed around for various members of the community to give speeches and receive gifts. It was very heartfelt and I could see the people waiting patiently for the words to flow from their heart as they spoke. Time and generations might seemingly put distance between their ancestors and people of today, but the practice and devotion to these rituals remain to be a thoughtful and spiritual event. It was really good to be away from the snooty expat camp and see such a humble and connecting community. Ecuador's indigenous people have made remarkable strides in coming together and being a presence in their country's culture.

The time came to head back and soon I was back at my current, camping homestead recovering from the weekends festivities. I hadn't much time left as a servant, but I did my best to maintain civility. I wasn't open much to rekindling anything with the hosts, but I did operate in their program as best as I could. Where I found work, I did it and when I needed to cook, I did so. I knew the time there was shortening and soon I would be packed up and back on the road again. There was actually an argument about which day I wanted to leave, as they thought they were to get every scrap of energy from me for an exactly full thirty one days. Well, I wanted out so I simply said, I am were leaving on such and such day. It curdles my stomach to think of the conversations I had to have. I will say, I took with me a pretty good idea of some methods and practices to consider for future use, but mainly I picked up on the signs of when a community is rapidly turning into an ex-pat colony.

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