Trip Start Sep 28, 2012
11Trip End Apr 09, 2013
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Where I stayed
Saraswati Ahimsa Vana
Plantas y Blancos Hostal
-- Do what is right, come what may. --
At the beginning of the month I stepped off the plane excited for what adventures lay ahead in the ecologically, geographically, and culturally diverse country of Ecuador. I'll admit I was nervous starting this leg of the journey, but this country opens its arms to visitors with welcome.
Spent a few days in the capital, Quito, allowing acclimatization time (at almost 10,000 feet!), lucky to have sidestepped altitude sickness (a few hostelers were down for the count), and got my entire wardrobe machine washed after over a month of manual scrubbing (best $3 spent yet!). Then embarked on the 4 bus adventure to my next destination near Talag, Ecuador. With clean clothes on my back, I spent a day navigating the surprisingly excellent nation-wide bus system. You can get anywhere in the country within a day! My 7 hour, 4 bus journey only cost a total of $6.75, great value! Many a nail-biting switchback later (I was crossing fingers AND toes!) and after asking many a confused question in my improving Spanglish, I'd made it to Saraswati Ahimsa Vana (more simply known as Wisdom Forest =)
WISDOM FOREST - CHALLENGES I'VE NEVER FACED:
Coming into Wisdom Forest, I knew it was going to try me in ways far outside my comfort zone. As an ashram following Vedic principles, practicing Bhakti yoga, maintaining a permaculture farm and living communally outdoors the majority of the time, I anticipated there would be a great amount to learn and new things to experience, and boy was there ever! The setting is beautiful as the centre is located among almost 60 acres of Amazon forest. THE FREAKIN AMAZON JUNGLE!! Wowza!! I never thought I'd be able to go to the Amazon!
I decided to throw myself in head first to the new lifestyle at Wisdom Forest to learn as much as possible. Here is what my average day was like:
4:55am - wakeup
5:00am - mantra meditation
6:00am - Bhakti yoga session (surprisingly intense!)
7:30am - prasadam (breakfast: help make, eat, clean-up)
8:00am - 1:00pm - farmwork (heavy duty! Tasks included: compost hauling, planting and digging on the slopes and in the forest, rock-hauling, and other manual labour, a definite challenge!)
1:30pm - prasadam (lunch: help make, eat, clean-up)
2:30pm - no specific duties (but by this point, pretty exhausted! Trips to town, more yoga, readings on Vedas, etc...)
6:30pm - 8:00pm - prasadam (dinner: help make, eat, clean-up)
8:30pm - 9:00pm - bed time (not an issue as I was so ready to hit the pillow by this point!)
My mind was constantly processing everything I was trying to take in: rituals, mantras, crazy yoga poses, Vedic laws (including refraining from using meat, eggs, onion, or garlic in cooking; separate sinks for washing cooking dishes and eating dishes; offering food to Krishna before consumption; and not tasting food as you cook - hardest one to remember!) It was fascinating learning this new way of life, but I soon began to feel really overwhelmed.
Whew! By the end of my first week at Wisdom Forest I had learned a LOT, but I knew I was in trouble :) I had experienced some more great things: using machetes on the farm, making chocolate from raw bean to molded deliciousness, stargazing in complete darkness, swimming in an oasis by the river, and learning new vegetarian recipes! I felt, however, the 5 hours of labour work during the heat of the day was slowly eating away at me. It might sound weird, but I felt my internal fire was being doused, by what precisely I'm not sure, but it didn't feel right. I would go to bed at night feeling dizzy and ready to collapse from exhaustion and fatigue. I was really frustrated with myself. Why wasn't my body and mind holding up? My environment contained all the ingredients for personal, spiritual, and physical growth, but my body just kept saying no!
I had quite the battle going on with myself! Part of me wanted to push through and suck it up to see if I could make it through this, but another part of me was saying that this wasn't the moment to force it upon myself. Where my head, heart and health were at (didn't help I was getting flu symptoms!) I wasn't contributing to the best I my ability as a volunteer, and in turn I wasn't benefitting from the knowledge and experience that surrounded me. I carried some guilt knowing that I may not be able to uphold my commitment of staying a few more weeks. I also realized, that this might be a hidden lesson for me, in learning that sometimes it's OK to make decisions based on what is best for you. This was my internal battle.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN:
Aw man! Now I have the Willie Nelson song stuck in my head :P
Wisdom Forest had taught me many new things, but I knew I needed to continue on my journey and that my path led elsewhere. With no plans, just hope in fate, I said farewell to the Talag/Tena and boarded a bus to another town to see where life would take me!
TO WANDER. To feel the sting of uncertainty pierce your conscience in the landscape of an endless fog. To feel directionless, lost, in another world outside the boundaries of control - so familiar, so secure. To live without expectation of what will come, or what will follow in a haze of undistinguishable continuity. One without identifiable goals, just the knowing your spirit is searching for something. It is living a mystery of unknowns and leaving the gates open to the discoveries that coincide with this beauty. It is preventing the natural defense system from overpowering the freedom of letting yourself go, of not living the life of constant fear of failure, of mistake, of consequence.
To wander. To forge the way your soul is magnetized toward, both physically and psychologically. To know its ok to to have a ruled line, that its the valleys and summits that create the journey. It is acknowledging confusion as a process that in turn has the capacity and capability to expand the synonym. It is honoring these things as not only possible, but ingredients to a process. A process that is unique to everyone, but is always impactful both in major and minor ways.
To wander is liberating. Is scary. Is heart pounding. Is challenging. Is painful. Is about learning. And I am learning something every step of the way.
B-B-B-B-B-BAÑOS! (Of course not the bathroom! .....The town!)
Quite the gem of a spot I'd say! The bus I took brought me to Baños, a town surrounded by mountains, a volcano, river, and waterfalls. It's famous for the thermal baths (hence the name!) which are similar to the hot springs we have back home. But its also a crazy town with go carts on the streets and a garbage truck that plays ice-cream-truck-style music! I've plopped myself in a hostel and have been enjoying wandering this quant spot filled with cafes, local food spots, markets, corner shops, parks, and more. I've loved visiting the marketplace to haggle for fresh veggies and fruit and fetching other ingredients before cooking up meals in the hostel's communal kitchen. Sometimes it's nice to just get to to know the locals, discover hidden places, and explore. My time here has also made me realize that I really am traveling alone. It's nice to have complete freedom over what you do, but at other times I think how nice it'd be to have company and perhaps a second brain to run ideas past!
UNEXPECTED GOOD TIMES:
It's when you're not looking for it that you stumble upon moments that make great memories of a place.
Yesterday I hiked a few hours with a fellow traveller and we stumbled upon a spot called Casa Del Arbol (aka Treehouse) near the top of one of the surrounding green mountains. Not only did the super friendly owner tell us everything to know about the area and volcano, pet the worlds cutest kittens, ad almost get head-butted by a cow, but we also took a swing over what felt like the edge of the world! A feeling unlike any other!
I have also loved chatting and practicing Spanish with folks on the bus, spontaneously deciding to learn to make empanadas with someone at the hostel then sharing our experiments with everyone staying here (got a glorious response!), cozying up in a hammock by the fire pit with a cup of tea and good book, cooking a gigantic meal with a group of Irishmen motor biking their way from Alaska to Argentina then eating the feast family style, hiking around the surrounding mountains - enjoying the views, and getting lost with another traveller searching for a waterfall but finding extraordinary countryside instead, soaking in the steaming waters of the thermal springs before braving the cold plunges, found and am now cherishing dearly my first jar of peanut butter since being on this trip (a very difficult commodity to come by!) and discovering the talent of local artists - I'm still in complete aw at their work! Baños has been b-b-b-b-beautiful!
A great big Thank you for all the kind words from back home. I know I've said it before, but I want you to know how much your love and support means to me. THANK YOU! <3
As I am sitting here on a rooftop terrace, surrounded by a small section of the Andes, basking in the sunshine of this equatorial nation, I feel the need to pinch myself to ensure I'm not dreaming!
Well I may not literally be dreaming, but I feel blessed to be living out one of my dreams :)
Ciao for now! Speaking of that, I think it's chow time! Peanut butter anyone ;)