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Medio de la Nada


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As we arrived to the town of Mariana when it was still dark, we had to wait for the taxi drivers to wake up, before catching a ride to Samaipata.
Samaipata is a small, laid back town, set in beautiful, tropical forest covered mountains, and filled with people leading green, ecological lives.
We started our search for work-asking if anyone knew of any opportunities nearby-in anything permaculture, agriculture, building, or generally green related. After a couple of false starts, and a few unnecessarily walked kilometres, we made our way to a campsite, with just the intention of pitching our tent.
During a conversation with the owner, who seemed to know everyone in town who might need help building something, Pedro arrived. With his bare feet, floppy knitted hat, and a basketful of freshly baked bread, it turned out he was just the person we were unknowingly searching for! After a chat with Juan (which I mostly followed) Pedro drew us a tiny map, and sent us on our way. We were in search of Ecoaldea Espiral de Luz, Pedro's home, an ecovillage "somewhere near the football pitch of Paredones..."
We began by buying ingredients to make bread, after being promised the use of the bread oven! And then tracked down a taxi willing to take us as close to our destination as possible.

A couple of kms out of town, 8 kms down into a valley on a very muddy, holey road, we got to a river. With only a pedestrian bridge, the taxi could go no further, the rest we had to walk. Now following Pedro's map we headed down the side of the football pitch, and set off along the river. We had been told to keep an eye out for red markers painted on to various trees/rocks, so we followed these faithfully, including twice across the river. I mean, through the river, no bridges here. At thigh deep for me, this made for an interesting crossing, complete with mochilas, tent, guitar, food supplies...!
1 km downstream and we arrived at the gate at the edge of Pedro's land. We passed a couple of large tents, before seeing the sole building of the 'village', the communal kitchen. The pride and joy of Pedro, this open-sided structure housed a 'horno Chileano' for the bread, a rocket stove for cooking, a brand new 'fridge', a table, and a few benches.Lovingly constructed, but still not quite complete, this kitchen was the heart of Pedro's dream.
Nothing else but forest, the river and the birds. The middle of nowhere, but a little slice of heaven.

Until we heard vague noises and human voices, we thought we were alone, as Pedro was not returning for 3 days. We followed the sound to the river (under a sign which read 'washing machine') and found...Jaco and Maud! A lovely couple, from Italy and France respectively, they had been at Pedro's for one month, so quickly showed us around and helped us settle into this foresty paradise.

We pitched our tent under one of the large blue tents, which gave us extra protection from the rain and dripping trees. Food was cooked by candle and torch light, over fire on a rocket stove. The toilet was a channel dug into the ground. The shower was, wonderfully, the river! Trees all around provided the daily dose of tangerines and limas (a cross between a lime and a lemon?!) plus any number of shrubs for tea or medicine making.
We made pizza and cookies with our bread ingredients. And drank enough mate to hydrate a small army.
There was a huge rock overhanging the river, with just about enough flat surface for yoga and meditation. There was also a specially cleared and designated 'meditation space' which I used when the rain made the rock less enjoyable!

Unfortunately, here was where I first got ill! Not the most ideal place. Having to rush up the hill to the toilet-channel was not particularly pleasant. I think this was down to the water, which I had been warned about in Bolivia! Have I mentioned already that the only way to get water was to walk back along the river to the school, next to the football pitch, fill up your bottles, and then make the return journey?! The river water was not an option as it was raining a lot so the water was completely dirty. And we didn´t have enough buckets to collect the rain water. (Something Pedro should really get in place!) Dodgy stomach was promtly followed by a urine infection (yay!) probably because I wasn´t drinking enough water! Juan and Pedro were determined to cure me of this with an assortment of natural medicines*; it was too much effort to get into town for medicine really! So I obediently drank all of the plant-based concoctions, and chewed all of the leaves that were passed to me.

  • *I have to admit, as soon as we reached a city again, I ran straight to the pharmacy for some pills. Lima leaves were just not cutting it for me!

As much as Juan and I were keen to help out as much as possible, we quickly realised that Pedro´s motivation seemed to be somewhat lacking. He had had the land for over 3 years, and still was yet to complete the kitchen, the dry toilet, a more permanent home for himself...Three years of living in a tent, and a rented room in town. We understood that the process of building in this location was rather more challenging than in ordinary circumstances, but both felt a lot more could have (should have) been done already. It seems as though Pedro had rather lost faith in his dream, which was incredibly sad to see, as it could be an incredible project.

We offered to work on the dry toilet, and set to work finishing the floor. But after a day or so work, and discussions between ourselves, decided that it was sadly a waste of our time/energy to carry on. Instead, we decided to simply enjoy the atmosphere, energy and tranquillity of the forest, (and made hypothetical plans for the village of course!)

I would have loved to have shared photos of this beautiful place with you, but as yet haven´t managed to get the photos from my camera onto a computer. I only have this photo from my phone....
Dont´be fooled, that tan is just a weeks worth of dirt (okay maybe slightly more than a week, the river was cold okay!!)

Dont´be fooled, that tan is just a weeks worth of dirt (okay maybe slightly more than a week, the river was cold okay!!)

This was just after a very sweaty climb to the top of a mountain, which gave us fantastic views further up the river and down the valley. I forgot my camera on the first occasion, so later set out by myself so that I could take pictures. Although we had initially followed a well trodden path, somehow I wandered off of this, and ended up fighting my way through bushes, following the cow path, and at one point, scaling a tree to get myself out of an unexpected ravine. (Again, sorry Mum!)

So it was with heavy hearts (and heavy bags) that we decided to leave Pedro´s place, and make our way back to civilisation. Juan had a flight back to Colombia from La Paz, in about a weeks time, leaving us with just enough days to get up to Lake Titicaca...

Posted by rcally 10:42 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

In Transit

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Arriving in Cochabamba very early in the morning, we straight away started trying to find out where the ashram was. We had of course been in contact with them, weeks previously, but had not heard anything back. We asked around, and googled as though our lives depended on it, but to no avail!

So after lunch (you get 2 or 3 courses here for around 1 GBP) we made the decision to head straight to Samaipata, where we were hoping we could find some more work/volunteering. We happily returned to the bus station, only to be told that the next bus to Samaipata wasn´t until the morning. Bum. Juan got chatting to a bus driver, who informed us we could take a bus to a place called Mainara, the next town along from Samaipata, and hey, there´s one leaving in an hour! Back to the ticket office, to hear that the bus was full, except for 2 reserved tickets. The lady told us if we hung around and the passengers didn´t show up, we could have the last 2 seats. Thankfully, they were a no show, and we were on our way to Samaipata! Honestly, at this point I couldn´t believe the number of chances and coincidences that we were managing to get by on, whoever said you need to plan a trip?!

12 hours on a bus with no toilet, (but who needs a toilet when you can go anywhere on the side of the mountain in the middle of the night!) and we arrived in Mainara at 4am. My favourite time to arrive anywhere...

Posted by rcally 10:41 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

The Long and Winding Road..

*with mochilas

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And so began our sad departure from Purmamarca, amidst lots of promises to return one day!

We started our journey heading in slightly the wrong direction after being picked up by an American couple, who then didn{t understand we wanted to be dropped off at the main road junction, and continued driving south before we finally convinced them to stop. Crossed the road, and managed to flag down a guy who was driving all the way to our destination: Humahuaca. Perfect! I promptly fell asleep in the car, but am told the scenery was amazing...

Humahuaca is home to the hill of 32 colours! (Purmamarca is 7 colours) so we were really keen to see this. But, when we arrived we realised it{s a 4 hour walk from the town, and you have to pay a silly amount of money to view the mountain... Maybe I{ll swing by when I return...

side note: sorry for the { weird punctuation, none of the punctuations marks are in the right place on this keyboard and I can{t find the apostrophe!!

After a brief pause in Humahuaca, we decided to catch a bus straight up to the town of Iruya and spend a couple of nights there. Our 2 hour journey, slowly turned into 4.5 hours, as we drove most of the winding mountain roads at less than 20mph. This time I managed to stay awake and appreciate the incredible mountains, valleys, and rivers of northern Argentina. We arrived in Iruya just as it was getting dark, but could just about make out the small town, which is nestled in the mountains up above a mostly-dry river bed. Barely before we had our bags on our backs we were met by several ladies offering accommodation, and were promptly ushered across the bridge to the other side of Iruya.

We found ourselves in Casa de Abby, where we had a dorm for 8 all to ourselves. Complete with roof terrace overlooking the river and Iruya, outside cooking facilities, an almost hot shower (inside Abby´s house) and a hundred and one cats. I had a wonderful surprise the first night, when I was woken by the tiniest kitten crawling up my leg under the covers. He proceeded to snuggle up under my chin to sleep, amidst a few scratches/mewlings, so I was rather happy with this addition to my bed.

We spent just the one day in Iruya, rather lazily, with just a bit of exploring the small town to pass the time. We left Casa de Abby early, I mean 5am early, on the 12th May to catch the bus back towards Humahuaca, in order to get to the border. We even managed to get up and pre-cook ourselves some lunch to take with us on the road! Nicely packed into a couple of re-sealable food bags (knew those would come in handy!) I could smell our spaghetti all the way back on the bus.

We jumped off the bus as soon as it reached the main road, and after a few miserable minutes of attempting to hitch a ride (it was bloody freezing) we managed to flag down a passing bus, LOL. *Hitch hiking is for fair weather only.
We reached the border town of La Quiaca and walked towards the bridge which serves as the border crossing into Bolivia (after a brief interlude to eat our pasta-in-a-bag). The border between Bolivia and Argentina at this point is simply a river, separating La Quiaca from Villazon, in Bolivia. We quickly realised this border crossing might not be quite so straight forward due to the large number of backpackers seemingly camped out on the pavement. It turned out a protest on the Bolivian side of the bridge meant we were unable to cross. Although Argentina were happy for us to leave, we would have had to simply wait in the middle of the bridge until we were able to cross... Many people were simply walking across the river 100m away from the official crossing (tight security here) but we did not for a second consider doing this, I swear Mum...

After a couple hours of waiting, it appeared a few tourists were beginning to trickle through, so we thought we´d try our luck. Thankfully Juan can talk his way into/out of anything (a gift of Colombians´ I am learning) and we were waved through fairly easily. After a squeeze through the barricades the other side, we had made it into Bolivia! Yay!

Quickly replaced by, oh..shit...what now? Strikes across the south of Bolivia meant complete shut down; no open roads, no buses, no trains, no shops, and no accommodation. A group of forlorn backpackers gathered at the desolate train station, and we together decided to walk to the next town, not far we had been assured! Strength in numbers, and all that, we set off down the empty road, passing blockade after blockade, and hastily slapping on sun cream in the midday heat. A not-so-heavy-backpack quickly turns into your worst enemy when walking, especially when you have no idea where your destination is. Needless to say, "just a couple of kilometres" was a hell of a lot further than that friendly-sounding distance. But we had no choice at this point so plodded on, and on, and on... We managed a couple of times to flag down a lone passing truck, which we gratefully piled into, only to be thrown out several hundred metres down the road at the next blockade.

At one point, we had secured two cars who promised to drop us at the next town (for a small price obviously). I was in the lead car, and we were all somewhat annoyed when the driver stopped halfway up a hill and refused to take us further. We grudgingly removed ourselves, and backpacks, and began walking again, looking out for the second car, and the other half of our group. It soon drove past us, with confused faces looking out at us as we shrugged and waved them on. Only seconds later, the car shot back towards us in reverse, closely followed by a group of men brandishing sticks, poles, oh and a few machetes. Our group jumped out, and we all turned tail and attempted to run, (have you ever run with a full backpack?!) before realising the men were actually just angry at the driver, not us poor, unfortunate tourists!

After a total of 3 hours walking, we collapsed, and Juan and I began considering where to pitch our tent, just kidding. At this point, the roads suddenly sprang back into life, with lorries and cars roaring past us. We grabbed a couple of taxis and asked them to take us to the nearest town. This was still an hours drive away, so if the blocks hadn´t been lifted, we would have been walking for hours (days)!!!

I can´t even remember the town we arrived to, but we made straight for the bus terminal, and booked ourselves the overnight bus to Cochabamba. We were hoping to find an ashram/yoga retreat, the perfect antidote to our first, somewhat hectic, day in Bolivia!

Posted by rcally 11:49 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Gracias por la vida

So this is a little different post, not so much of an update, but a sharing of something else I wrote. This was actually from atop El Morrado, the mountain we climbed in Purmamarca, written whilst lying in the sun, with Juan playing guitar in the background. A pretty perfect way to write if you ask me...

Thank you to this life
Which I have been allowed to live
For every lesson I can take
There's a thousand more to give

Thank you to this life
For which I have the chance
To learn the songs of the world
And how always I can dance

Thank you to this life
And all the other beautiful souls
I have had the good fortune to meet
And in my heart will forever hold

Thank you to this life
For allowing me to grow
And showing me all the things
I never knew I needed to know

Thank you to this life
For teaching me how to love
Even when my heart is broken
The pain is human enough

Thank you to this life
For bathing me every day in the sun's light
And for the moon and all the stars
That enchant my every night

Thank you to this life
And for these eyes with which I see
These ears with which I listen, and learn
How to be the best I can be

Thank you to this life
For always reminding me
That my life is mine alone
Not a reflection of what others see

Thank you to this life
For my mind which can think free
For my body which carries me always
And the very soul that is me.

Next update coming soon I promise!!

Posted by rcally 16:18 Comments (0)

It's Not All Sun and Games...

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So I could kid you all into believing the next couple of weeks we spent in Purmamarca were hideously hard and unenjoyable, but that would be lying! So yes, it wasn't just games, and it definitely wasn't all sun (although the one day the sun did appear my poor nose was destroyed) but it was still two incredible weeks, just slightly different from your average travelling tales. After meeting aforementioned Felipe and Diego, Juan and I approached a couple who were working in town on a bioconstuction project, building a little casita, using all natural materials. Juan has a lot of experience with this type of construction work, so was able to convince them to take us on as additional workers, despite me having nothing more to offer than enthusiasm! In exchange for working, we had our own little trailer to sleep in (therefore could leave Pato's floor) and were given more than enough money for food.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Work was physically a bit demanding, but I loved every bit of it. The second or third day I had a bit of a wobble, when the altitude combined with alot of heavy lifting, suddenly got to my head and I nearly fainted. But chewing on coca leaves from then on soon sorted me out. It was lots of carrying buckets up and down the mountain, shovelling dirt, chopping hay for the barro mix (with a machete weee!) mixing barro for the walls, mixing cement...

But the biggest task was finishing the walls, which meant learning the fine art of applying barro. A process described to me as "con FUERZA, y con amor/with FORCE, and then with love" meaning throw a lump of mud as hard as you can at the wall so it sticks, and then you smooth it over with your hand. Needless to say, you end up wearing a fair bit more mud than the wall... And before someone asks, no, I had no safety equipment, (although gloves were provided if you didn't want to stick your hands in the freezing cold mud!) Several times I found myself balancing (read wobbling) up a ladder, which was balanced on a plank, propped up by a couple of rocks, bucket between my knees, stretching to shove mud into a hole half a metre above my head with one hand, bottle of water to wet the walls in the other, plasterers' trowel clenched between my teeth...only slightly kidding...health and safety say whaattt?!

Finishing the outside walls

Finishing the outside walls

Juan-a more practised technique

Juan-a more practised technique

As well as throwing mud around, I learned a lot about the 'art' of bioconstruction, from both the couple who were running the project, and from Juan, and the other builders. I picked up many useful words in Spanish for things like bucket, spade, sand, pliers, nails etc so my vocabulary is ever expanding! Although my mind seemed to go blank everytime someone asked me for the English translation?! We shared a lot of laughs, and a LOT of yerba mate!

Workplace view

Workplace view

Every day I paused for lunch a little bit early, so that I could go to the local shop to buy food, and get cooking in our little trailer. It is amazing how little food costs, especially when buying together, so during these two weeks we actually managed to save a fair bit of money from what we were given. In the second week we were joined by an Australian woofer, Patrick, who quickly decided the trailer was too small for 3 of us (he is standard aussie 6ft plus height) and moved into the storage room to sleep! Far more comfortable apparently...

As well as working, we spent a lot of time with Pato, who I now call a very firm friend, (despite having a few communication barriers!) and just generally soaking up Purma's atmosphere and energy. I found Purma a very healing place and I know I will go back there when I return to Argentina. It was also very inspiring creatively and I wrote and wrote and wrote whilst there, some of which I have decided I will share here, but I'll save that for a future post!

In our last few days we decided we simply had to climb the huge mountain that faced us every day, before we left. So on our penultimate day, Juan, Pato and I set off to scale El Morrado. I have no idea if that is it's actual name, but for some reason or other that is what we called it. We took plenty of snacks, water, clothes, and I'm sure you'll all be pleased to know that Juan managed to bring his guitar too (?!?!). It started out as a gentle stroll, albeit with very heavy breathing thanks to the altitude, up a well marked path, along the first ridge of the small mountain in front of El Morrado. This path quickly petered out into a dry river bed, which we faithfully clambered up. We then reached the point where the main river was joined by lots of little rivers, which pour straight down the mountain in various canyons. So it was then a matter of deciding which canyon we could scramble up to get to the top! The boys took this opportunity to sit in the sun, whilst I tried out a couple of options...third time lucky! It took us maybe 2 hours of climbing before we broke out of the canyon onto the open summit of the mountain. Huge cactuses greeted us at the top, and we were treated to the sight of two condors soaring above us. The views from this place were incredible, but I'm afraid you'll have to wait for photos as they are all on my camera and I am yet to upload any... We then had an incredibly treacherous descent (sorry Mama) and were all ridiculously relieved when we made it to the bottom.

Private show at the summit

Private show at the summit

So that marked the end of our stay in Purmamarca and it was a beautiful way to finish. (I will definitely be going back if anyone wants to join me...)

Onwards and upwards- towards the town of Iruya...

Posted by rcally 13:00 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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