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Meet Anna and Dave, the Permacyclists

Permacyclists

Meet Dave and Anna, the Permacyclists.

She was a corporate lawyer from Brussels; he was a sociologist from New York. Neither of them was happy with their chosen profession, and after a great deal of soul searching, they decided to do what many dream of but few actually do: They quit their jobs, studied permaculture, bought bicycles and headed off across Africa, pedaling and working their way through 12 countries, 12,000 kilometers and 16 months from organic farm to organic farm, sharing what they’d learned along the way.

Now they’ve landed in Mexico and are launching a Phase 2 of their journey, but with a difference. This time they’re bringing a video camera and sound equipment, and documenting the stories of people working on solutions to the many environmental problems they have learned about in their travels. Their goal is to make it to the Earth Summit in Rio in June 2012. And this time they’re going by bus, instead of bike, to give them time to do reporting, writing and producing for their blog.

I was inspired by their story and by their plan, since in some ways it parallels my own – so we got together and shared stories. Here’s a little bit of theirs.


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Women’s Planting Day at the Kalpulli

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The planning had taken a long time, and the date had been postponed three days in a row – rain, problems with the tractor, but Friday night, the word went out: The next morning would be the Siembra de Mujeres.

There had been collective plantings before, but it was the first time at Teopantli Kalpulli that the women joined to plant their own milpa, the traditional planting of corn, beans and squash. I have never planted a milpa before, and I was excited to join them. At 7:30 I was waiting in front of the temple, my brand new coa in hand (the coa, I had learned from these women, is a beautiful and ancient agricultural tool that opens the ground easily and smoothly for the insertion of a few seeds, without the planter needing to bend down).

The morning was fresh and bright, with a veil of clouds draped around the crowns of the mountains in the distance. The sun shone on an aromatic earth abundant with the rains of the previous week, but dry enough to crumble easily in the hands. It was indeed a good day to plant.
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Rains of sadness, rains of joy

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A beautiful and proud, but probably very guilty, neighborhood rooster

TEOPANTLI KALPULLI – I was watering my wilted sunflower seedlings when the first rains came. First one fat drop, and then two, and then a whole scattering. I laughed and ran to shut off the faucet, delighted that I had been wrong. I’d listened to the rolling thunder in the distance with wry skepticism. Better water those seedlings, I said to myself, the scant handful that had survived this week’s scorching sun. Maybe that will make it rain. And then it did.
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The first rains in six months – I relished the exhilaration, the feel of the delicious drops falling on my face, pearly orange sky, rolling thunder in the distance. And then I remembered. Shades of Hiroshima, thousands dead, millions exposed to the assassin molecules that hover in the air in the wake of a nuclear disaster. I recalled what Marisol, the little girl next door, had said about the first rain: “When the rains come, they will be radioactive, and anybody who eats the fruit from the trees will get cancer,” she reported. I stopped smiling and ran for cover.

Official government reports on the fallout from the nuclear disaster in Japan are reassuring; the only hard data I am finding online, however, confirm that the rains reaching our side of the Earth are testing for radiation at levels higher than what the EPA considers safe. So, what to do?
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From sierra to sea: Huichols make their mark on Cancun

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CANCUN – “Arriving at the ocean is very important; you can’t just walk up to it like it’s a common thing,” Antonio told us as we bumped along through the night on our way to Isla Blanca. “We consider the sea to be sacred; we come from the sea. We have to ask permission to be here.”

That’s how I found myself standing at the edge of the gleaming surf, saying a prayer of gratitude and tossing a chocolate cookie along with a 5-peso coin into the Caribbean along with my prayer. Antonio made an eloquent petition to the great spirits of the ocean and of the five directions sacred to the Wixarika people, asking for special attention during the climate summit proceedings – that everything go well for all of humanity, for those attending the COP-16 events, and for all the Earth.

The candle was offered to the sea as well, and a last gleaming spark scooted downwind along the edge of the surf: earth, wind, fire, water. There couldn’t have been a more perfect way to begin our mission, or the first visit to the Yucatan for all five of us.
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Eagle and condor meet in visionary gathering of souls

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CHALMITA, Mexico State, Mexico – Long before the sun appears over the towering white cliffs all around us, this temporary village comes to life. The guardians of the ceremonial fire are stoking the flames for the temezcal; the kitchen crew is chopping and peeling and stirring; smoke is rising from the women’s tipi. Suddenly the resonant call of the conch rings out over the valley, calling us to the salutation of the sun, and the cry of an eagle pierces the air like a blessing.

We are gathered in this enchanted valley for the Call of the Eagle, the tenth intercontinental gathering of a group of dreamers and doers who are quietly changing the world from the inside out: the Consejo de Visiones – Guardianes de la Tierra (Vision Council – Guardians of the Earth).

Some 500 visitors from as far as Australia and as near as neighboring Chalmita – filmmakers and farmers, psychologists and shamans, artists and teachers, spiky-haired punks and lyrical poets – are learning to live together under the blue skies and bright stars of an itinerant ecovillage conceived more than a decade ago under the banner of the Rainbow Caravan for Peace and the Mexican Bioregional Movement. By the end of the week, this event will have touched the lives of more than 1,000.
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El Salvador proves fertile ground for permaculturists

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By Tracy L. Barnett

SUCHITOTO, El Salvador – A gentle breeze ruffles the thatched roof of the hilltop shelter here at the Permaculture Institute. An electric-blue morpho butterfly flits past, a sharp accent against the muted blue of Volcano Guazapa in the background. An incongruously peaceful backdrop for the violence, massacres, scorched earth and forced evacuation that razed this region less than two decades ago.

That mountain, the hideout for guerilla forces for miles around, was bombed daily and burned repeatedly; the town of Suchitoto itself became a battlefield. Hundred of tons of artillery, white phosphorus and napalm rained down on the once lush jungles of these lands, drying up even the springs where people once retrieved their water.

But the Earth has a way of healing herself, and her inhabitants, and this land and the people who work it are living proof of that reality. Continue reading

Rain of ashes in Guatemala

PANAJACHEL, Guatemala – Atitlan, the sparkling lake of legends and lore, glistens a slatey grey today. Clouds drape the mountaintops on all sides; boats are making their way across, one by one, taking their places at the rickety wooden docks where they will soon be ferrying people to villages across the water.

“It’s a sad day in Guatemala,” remarks Juan, manager of Restaurante Lago Azul, where I’ve stopped in my morning walk to enjoy a cup of coffee and a hearty desayuno chapin, a traditional Guatemalan breakfast with eggs, black beans, fresh cheese and corn tortillas and crispy, sweet plantains, fried to perfection.

“Yes, it seems like the rain is going to be here for awhile,” I answered, thinking he was referring to the dreary weather.

But he wasn’t – instead, he was referring to the eruption of Pacaya Volcano yesterday just south of the capital city, which took the life of a journalist and apparently also two children.

The city is still in chaos after a rain of ash fell for miles around, with over a thousand people evacuated to shelters, traffic accidents resulting from streets and highways covered in up to three inches of ash, and air traffic diverted south to El Salvador.

Very strange. I could have very well been climbing that volcano myself this week. I was feeling very compelled to do so – and many tourists do. Instead, I got too busy with work and canceled the trip to catch up on writing assignments.

Lo que sucede, conviene, as a Cuban friend once said. I suppose this is one time where not getting my wish might have been the best thing.