16 Jan 2010

Three days ago we ended our second community stay in Urkupata.  I wrote an awesome journal entry last night but it got deleted when the internet timed out.

The second community stay was more labor-intensive than the last.  We spent time tilling soil in a remote chacra.  The village was nearly completely empty of people, which was very different from Solo.

We worked on a chacra and learned about the bioheurta project and the making of tierra negra.

Two more days left… :(

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Communidad Nativo Solo

Jan 6, 2010

Today we returned from the native community of Solo.  This was the first of two sessions of community stays. Our group of sixteen split into two groups of eight.  Half of us went to Solo and the other half went to Urkupata.

In Solo, we were welcomed by live music and a community celebration.  The people were dressed in Kechwa clothing and celebrated us with such enthusiasm.  I felt completely welcome and safe.  We participated in a lot of community activities and crafts.  The men and women of our group were often separated, as some jobs are culturally gender specific.  Living amongst such a constant, patriarchal system has been difficult.

The native women taught us how to weave belts, shape clay pots, and dance.  The belt has been a challenge.  I’ve broken several pieces and strings already but I was always surrounded by about five women who were quick to help me or fix the problem.  The belt is almost done!

As gringos in the community, we were constantly being watched.  The kids followed us everywhere and peeked in through the reed walls of our sleeping room.  People watched us eat and watched us sleep.  It was weird to be a minority in the community but to still be clearly in a position of superiority.

What was even more amazing was the hospitality.  These people live with so little.  Nearly everything they own is handmade by someone in the community, except for the children’s clothes which are clearly purchased from somewhere.  The women carry their babies with them everywhere they go.  Some of the men carry guns but there does not appear to be tension within the community members. We were always made to feel wanted and welcomed.

Communidad Nativo SoloMy favorite picture from Peru, this old man was so proud to have his picture taken with his son and grandchildren
Communidad Nativo Solo
My favorite picture from Peru, this old man was so proud to have his picture taken with his son and grandchildren

In order for our class to live in Solo, a Tambo was built for us to sleep in, two composting toilets were created, two outdoor showers and a sink.  The weather was extremely hot. We cooled off at least once a day in the Rio de Mayo which borders the edge of the community.  For a while, sitting out in the sun under the shade of a palm tree overlooking the river, I felt like I was completely isolated in a pleasant, peaceful bubble of people living harmoniously off the land.  Then I would hear a car horn from the highway which was less than five hundred yards away and I would instantly realize how precious this land is to the native people.  The Peruvian government refuses to recognize a large percent of indigenous communities and as a result, more and more land is being taken all of the time.  The communities need the land, not only to live on but also to plant their chacras (the place where they grow crops).  Their struggle to be recognized and respected is one of the focuses of our program.  By living in the community, even for a short while, I am more aware of the necessity of their battle and the good that can come from it.

While in the community we watched video footage of the massacre at Bagua that took place last June.  The Kechwas set up a road block in response to the government’s involvement with the Free Trade Agreement and the illegal concession of native land to multinational corporations.  The police brutality in the situation was obviously undeserved but the pride of the native people was fierce.  The tension in the room as we watched the movie was almost tangible; the community members were transfixed by the images.

It is nice to be back at Sachamama, although we are once again without running water.  Hopefully it will rain soon.

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Over the River and through the Jungle

Jan 1, 2010

Do you remember the mermaid lagoon in Peter Pan?  Or the beach on Gilligan’s Island?  That’s where I went today, only it was much better.

We drove the half hour to Tarapoto in a ‘combi’ which was one of the best thrill rides I’ve been on in a while.  Sixteen people plus a driver crammed into a four-row van climbing up the edge of a cliff on a dirt road.  Awesome.

Then we spent an hour hiking through the jungle.  The vegetation was wild, it grew everywhere.  The trek was long, hot, and tricky but so beautiful.  We found a guide in the small town at the trail head.  He ran home to get a machete and a papaya and then he led us all the way through the jungle, at quite a quick pace.  He was barefoot the whole time.

We criss-crossed the river about three times but finally came to the most picturesque sight I have ever encountered.  The waterfall was tall, clear, and spilled into this natural pool, bordered by smooth, circular rocks.  The sun was overheard, peaking in through the treetops and warming the water.  The water was clean and deep and there was even a rainbow which I learned can be caused by air molecules mixing with the water and hitting the sun at the right angle.  I swam in a rainbow.

Then, I climbed to the top of the waterfall with our guide and another student.  Being at the mouth of the waterfall was incredible.  What was even better was that the guide then led the two of us to another waterfall, deeper into the jungle.  I’m not an athletic person, by far, and this trek was rigorous.  There was rock skipping, water wading, log climbing, and cliff hugging.  There were times when I was literally hanging from a vine.  I don’t think I could even imagine myself doing this before the trip.

When we got to the second waterfall it was beautiful.  It all looked completely untouched.  There were no other people and the giant jet of water just spilled into this perfectly serene pool, landscaped by natural rock formations.  There were no signs of people, no wires or stairs or cement or cars.

Today I sunbathed at the base of waterfall, hiked through the Amazon jungle, and floated in a lagoon.  What did you do today?

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Biocultural Regeneration

Dec 29, 2009

Yesterday we had our first seminar.  The learning experience is very different from the traditional college or university pedagogy.  Today we had two sessions.  The readings were about fair trade, Shamanism, biocultural regeneration, and other indigenous topics.

Last night we were visited by a youth group who performed an indigenous dance for us, with musicians, and then showed us a wrestling exercise.  The dress for both the women and the men was very colorful, meant to represent the colors of the forest.  One musician played both the flute and the drum at the same time.  I’m very glad that we have had the opportunity to meet and greet so many people from the community.

Before I continue I want to clarify a statement I made in my first journal entry.  Casa Sangapilla is not a resort by any means.  And if it was a resort it would be horrible.  But I was so shocked by the beauty and the natural elegance that I did not know how to express myself when I first sat down to write.

The energy of this place is incredible.  I feel much more aware of energy in general and I have had very interesting and challenging conversations with other students on the trip.  Our first Shamanic ritual is tonight.

The food is great.  I’ve tasted so many fruits and vegetables and all kinds of beans and rice.  The juice is fresh, made right here, and the coffee and chocolate put any brand from America to shame.

I wish I could describe the weather effectively.  It’s almost like being at the beach without the salt air.  Yes, it is warm and noon time is hot and the sun is brutal if you are exposed for long periods of time.  But the breeze is cooling and the shade is plentiful.  The smell from all the flowers and the cooking adds flavor.  The humidity has not been strong at all.  We have only had a sprinkling of rain, although we’ve been told that rain storms will certainly happen at some time.

Every morning I wake up to a gorgeous view of the Andes.  The mountains and the green is spectacular.  The plants and the trees are so unlike anything in the US.  Overall, it feels like I’ve been here for weeks.  I hope the time moves slowly; I have no desire to leave.

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Flights and First Night

Dec 27, 2009

I left Leominster at 3:00 pm on Saturday. I didn’t breathe fresh air until 12:00 noon on Sunday. It took three flights, several hours of layover, and a crazy cab ride to get to Center Sachamama, or Casa Sangapilla. Arriving at the final airport in Tarapoto I expected to step outside the plane onto a ramp that led straight to the airport. But when I rounded the corner I stepped on to a staircase that led right down to the tarmac. The fresh air was brilliant and the sun and the warmth made all of the flights and craziness worth while. Outside the airport, there was a slight confusion with the taxi service but it our professor sorted the issues.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no traffic rules in Peru, at least not in Tarapoto or Lamas. The taxi drivers are in a perpetual race with one another, competing with motorcycles, scooters, and pedestrians for their part of the road. It was like being inside Mario Cart. And it was awesome. The town of Lamas reminds me a lot of Rincon, Puerto Rico, where I was two years ago. There are lots of abandoned and dilapidated buildings, stray dogs, and misplaced trash. But the people are all very friendly, smiling, and numerous. I haven’t been downtown to the mestizo part of Lamas yet; we are going tomorrow.

Once off the taxi I stepped into a tropical paradise. Casa Sangapilla is gorgeous. It’s a Disney World resort, it’s a cabin in the woods, it’s a picture-perfect slice of solitude. The main house is beautiful and colorful, with a large balcony on the second floor, which my room looks out on. There are three hammocks hanging from the beams, the best place to sit. The floor and walls are made of clay and sandstone, painted with natural paint from the soil. I’m sharing the room with another girl. We have a good deal of space, nice beds, and some shelving. On the grounds are two separate dorm huts for the guys. There is also the dining tambo, a large pavilion with long tables and a kitchen. Then there is the guard’s house, an extra bathroom, a volley ball court, a giant stone oven, a chicken coop, a rabbit pen, a garden, lots of trees, and just pure natural beauty.

It’s amazing here and I can’t believe it will be our home for three weeks (almost). The food, both lunch and dinner, were amazing. The fruit is so fresh and flavorful. I’ve already eaten several things that I can’t name and have never tried before. We drink fresh fruit smoothies and great coffee. The staff on the casa are natives, many of them with university degrees. Obviously there is a lot of Spanish speaking, everywhere. Within our group of students only one of is fluent but we are all getting by. I tried to speak Spanish in the airport, didn’t work. I wish I brought my laptop.

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