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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Tourists and Turtles

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Story and photos by Melissa Gaskill

This blog frequently covers travel that makes a difference – trips that incorporate volunteering, are culturally sensitive, support local businesses, and respect the human and natural environment – or all of the above. I wrote a guest post about such a trip about a year ago, Turtle Rescue on the Eco Side of Baja. More and more places, particularly in developing countries, see this kind of tourism as a sustainable way to protect sea turtles. At the 31st Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, held in San Diego April 12-16, several presentations reported on programs that have seen success, so I thought I’d share them here.

SEE Turtles, a US based non-profit, promotes travel that supports conservation, organizing its own trips to Baja California, Costa Rica and Trinidad.

“We know tourism can be bad for people and animals, especially when done in an unplanned and uncontrolled way,” director Brad Nahill told symposium attendees. “Or it can have positive impacts, including direct financing of conservation and research, reduced dependency on direct use of resources (such as eating sea turtle eggs), increased monitoring, and an increased local constituency. We use local businesses, share commissions, and do additional fundraising, education, volunteer recruiting, and advocacy.”
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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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Earth, fire and why I’m here

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TEOPANTLI KALPULLI, Jalisco, Mexico – I live at the corner of Earth and Fire streets, around the corner from a pyramid. I wake each morning to the crowing of roosters and the lowing of cattle. On Sundays I join my neighbors in kneeling and entering the womb of my mother in the form of a temezcal, the sacred indigenous sweat lodge ceremony, to sing and pray and to burn away the impurities of body and spirit.

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I’ve been here for a little over a month, and the time has come to answer the question of my friend Ruhksana, whose voice came to me over a great distance when I announced my decision to move here.

Why Mexico? She wanted to know. After traveling for a year the length of Latin America, why did you choose to settle there? There are ecovillages everywhere. Why did you choose that one?

The question is a big one, and the answer is a forked river of tributaries that have carved their way through the landscape of my life all these many years. I will forge my way up one of those streams and see where it takes us.

My relationship with this particular piece of land began a little over a year ago, at the beginning of my journey through Latin America, reporting on sustainability initiatives for The Esperanza Project. I began my project in Mexico City with members of the Vision Council and the Rainbow Peace Caravan, a loosely interwoven band of activists, performers, permaculturists and visionaries who have waged a colorful, creative and loving battle for a better world throughout the hemisphere – and in some cases, throughout the world – for nearly two decades.

This network inspired, informed, and in some ways guided my journey, and one of the nodes on that network was here at Teopantli Kalpulli, whose name means “village of the sacred standard”. In the midst of my whirlwind of Guadalajara interviews, I spent half a day here with Levi Rios, a young architect and permaculturist who grew up here and serves as a sort of spokesman for the community.

I was impressed with what I saw: Mexico’s oldest intentional community, located here on a piece of dry and overgrazed farmland 18 years ago, nurtured into a shady and compact village with a bakery, a school, a house of worship, a huge garden and a cluster of temezcals, where sweat lodge ceremonies drawing people from around the region were conducted periodically.

The community was founded by a group of spiritual seekers, practitioners of yoga and vegetarianism who sought a simple life, close to the land. Soon, as Levi explains it, they began to realize that their own indigenous traditions held a wisdom as deep and as powerful as those that had been carried over from the East, and they began reaching out to teachers of those traditions.

Those inquiries brought to the Kalpulli the first calihuey – the house of worship of the Huichol or Wixarika people. It also brought indigenous leaders from the north, Lakota and Navajo medicine men, carriers of traditions that some say originated here in Mexico – the Sun Dance and the temezcal – but were fiercely repressed by the Spanish conquest. Instead of disappearing, these traditions were carried north and kept alive by indigenous groups throughout the States. In 1983, Tigre Perez, a Chicano activist from Laredo descended from Purepecha Indians from Michoacan, completed the cycle. Perez had studied with Lakota medicine men and Sun Dancers and came to the Kalpulli in 1983, shortly after its founding. It was here that Perez first brought his Kanto de la Tierra, song of the earth, back to its ancestral home.

That tradition continues alive today. And although I didn’t know it at the time, it was that energy that called me back here.

(to be continued….)


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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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Esperanza Means Hope