Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Calling of Colombian Ecoaldeas

tatiana de la tierra

The mountain called and I came, along with just over a hundred Pachamama-loving souls. We made our way through the Colombian countryside into the mountains in the Vereda Palo Grande Alto in Salento-Quindío for “El llamado de la montaña,” the fifth annual ecovillage gathering. Ecoaldeas, ecologically-based alternative communities, caught my imagination from the moment I’d heard of them.

It wasn’t just the solar kitchens, waterless bathrooms, houses made of recycled bottles, and organic gardens that rang in my ears. I’m all for that—it’s high time to implement ecological concepts worldwide. It was also the people, many of them educated city dwellers like myself, who would do such a thing.

To live off the land, that’s a fantasy that’s never left me. I remember being transfixed to the television set when Phil Donahue interviewed hippies who lived on The Farm in Tennessee in the seventies. I got a transcript of the show and a copy of The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook (which explains why I cook up some mean tofu) but I couldn’t figure out how to escape to the commune from Florida while just 14-years old. Later on, as a lesbian in the eighties, my long-term goal was to retreat into nature with a bunch of Amazon women so we could frolic together in our female-centered goddess-worshipping paradise.

So it’s just natural that I’d fall for Colombian ecoaldeas, and I aimed to check them out at the gathering. Colombia is overflowing with my kind of spirituality—earth-based rituals, chanting, plant medicine, fire circles—and I knew that some ecoaldeas incorporate spiritual practices into their agenda.

My curiosity factor was high, but first, I had to deal with my huge heavy suitcase and other excess bags of stuff I considered necessary for five days of roughing it. I traveled in a Jeep with friends from Cali, but, due to heavy rains, we had to leave the car parked and continue 45 minutes on foot with all our belongings. Let me rephrase that and say that my heavy bags made it down the mountain thanks to my friends’ community-conscious ecoaldea spirit.

Spirit. You gotta have it when you’re out in the mountains and it rains just about every day, making the ground sticky, slippery and sludgy. When you walk in the mud, every step is a danger and a miracle. In contrast to my brassy stomping on city sidewalks, I found myself waddling, hesitating, measuring every step, my eyes stuck to the floor, trying to move forward without careening into mother earth. And everything involved walking. Ecological bathrooms and showers were downhill. Workshops were up in one of the tepees, in the centrally-located Colibrí (hummingbird) tarp, or way down the mountain in the Abalgamalüe ceremonial maloca. “Servicio amoroso,” the kindly-worded obligatory community chores, took place in the kitchen, uphill with the goats, down in the vegetable gardens, or all over the place if you were on cleaning crew. (Hmmmm. Let’s just say I did my duty in the kitchen, even happily volunteering extra shifts there, but slouched out on the goats.)

Caught up in my personal drama of muddy clothes, wet feet, shivering cold, and not having a dry space to sleep due to a bad call on my part, I almost lost sight of my vision. I wanted to split, go off to seek flat land and dry shelter. It was a little girl full of light who smiled huge when we crossed paths that brought me back. And the people who blew up my air mattress with pure lung power the night I was freezing and losing it. And the healers who let me spend the night in the healing tepee and then did Reiki, acupuncture, moxa and chanting with me in the morning. The wonder of watching my fingers turn purple while grating warm beets with my bare hands. Eating hot vegetarian meals. Chatting with friends. Chanting. Listening. Being.

I stayed.

The gathering took place at Ecoaldea Anthakarana, which was founded in 2007 by the Rivera Susa family on 11 acres in Colombia’s prized coffee-growing region. A family of performance artists, they sang and danced in costume at a jubilant grand opening, ceremoniously lighting the tall multi-colored candle that would stay on continuously throughout the 5-day gathering. We danced around the altar that first night, digging our feet into the raw earth.

That was just the beginning of dancing, singing and circling, which happened every day at different moments. The conch shell announced the start of meals, events and workshops. Among the offerings were energetic mornings with yoga, chakra breathing, and dancing with the wind. Ecoaldea members did presentations on ritual, permaculture, children’s education, and the dreaming and designing involved in creating eco-families and villages. Workshops included techniques for raising one’s vibration, education during times of transition, dancing to the five elements, mandala construction, and a sacred creative writing workshop that I concocted. We did Dances of Universal Peace one night and a Magical Night the next, with magic tricks, storytelling, poetry, singing and dancing.

A cultural highlight was the Rivera Susa family’s performance, “El llamado del maíz.” Written by Deyanira Susa Monroy, the play is about the history of corn in the Americas. It was performed outside in the rain around huge colorful mandalas representing different varieties of corn in ritual theatre form, with actors alternately wearing robes, masks and stilts, echoing lines like “Corn is the song of the birds, the flight of dreams whispering in the countryside” (El maíz es el canto de los pájaros, el vuelo de los sueños que susurra en los campos). I had a feeling that I was watching something from another time and place.

Ecoaldeas are part of the movement of going back, back to nature, in order to go forward. As Bahamar from Anthakarana said, “An ecoaldea exists from a dream.”

It’s a big dream and, as I learned, the dream is, at this point, bigger than the reality. While there are over a dozen officially registered ecoaldeas in Colombia, there are loads more in the making, all over the country. I’d heard the names of many eco-villages and was surprised to discover that some of them are mere philosophical constructs. In some cases, the land is already purchased but people are not living there yet. In others, there are groups of people with shared vision looking for land to acquire. Or the ecoaldea is a handful of people living out in the country, hoping to lure others to join them. Jumping off the cliff without a parachute into ecologically-balanced communal living with mother nature and letting go of economic stability and social commitments isn’t for everyone.

But it is for some, thankfully. And yes, there are ecovillages in physical existence in Colombia and elsewhere, of many sizes and flavors. Ecoaldeas and alternative communities represented at the Fifth Annual Call of the Mountain include Ecocirco, Corasoma, Asociación Semilla del Sol, Aldeafeliz, Atlántida, Arcadia, Pachamama, Anthakarana, Asociación Juan María Céspedes, Change the World, Echasu Colombia 2012, Proyecto Ecoaldea Terranova, Transitional Minds, Shambala, Velatropa and Villamaga. As evidence that Colombia’s ecovillages are part of an international movement, participants came from all over Colombia as well as from Chile, Argentina, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Finland and the U.S.

In the days that I spent being with and observing ecoaldeanos I tried to grab a hold of what it means to really do that teenage and lesbian fantasy thing of living off the land. To me, ecoaldeanos are resourceful, free-thinking, practical, skilled, creative, kind, community-minded, hard-working, family-focused, spiritually-conscious people with a lot of gumption. They build houses with their own hands, grow their own food, respect the earth, do theatre, circus acts, ritual, and sing and dance a lot.

I’m not sure I have what it takes to do all that hard work, but I’m pretty good at singing and dancing and jumping off cliffs and seeing what happens. Now I just need a bunch of Amazons to do it with me.

Videos of some Colombian ecoaldeas produced by Transitional Minds are available on youtube.






Diane said...

I'd been wondering how you managed all the hiking with luggage and am relieved you found loving companions! This sounds at times challenging, but always beautiful. Thank you for posting it.

Olga said...

Yo quiero ir!

Colleen Dunham said...

a very good writer on a very cool subject. gracias, tatiana de la tierra!

persephone said...

ay voy!