Monday, February 8, 2010

Mother Lode

Well, I'm back in civilization for a few days, and I'm sure everyone has been anxiously awaiting my news, so here's a very long update about my life over the last few weeks. I started writing it a few days ago while still in Tulan so some of the present tense might be a few days out of date. Enjoy the update!

I suddenly understand why there are so many travel writers and bloggers. There’s just so much to write about. I’ve been gone now about 3 ½ weeks, nearly 4, and I have so many stories to tell that it’s hard to know where to start. The people, the place, the life I’ve been living, the way the community functions… everything is the same and very different and definitely fascinating.

I know I talked a bit about my adventures so far in the last post but I think I’ll repeat myself somewhat in order to give more detail about what we’ve been up to since we came to Mexico. So: Tulan.

Tulan, as I’ve mentioned, is an 800-acre ranch in the hills of San Juan, north of Tepic, Nayarit, which is about 3 hours from Puerto Vallarta. It’s sub-tropical rainforest, legally owned by a few men who wanted to protect the land from development and/or over-use. It’s considered a very sacred, highly spiritual place by all who come here and certainly the men who own this land believe themselves more as caretakers than landowners. No one owns God’s country. We’re in indigenous territory, largely Huichol land in this area, but there are many traditions represented in this place. The ranch is surrounded by 7 peaks, pyramids, believed to have been sacred temples in bygone days. The hike up to two of those pyramids was a highlight of the journey thus far. It’s easy to believe, when climbing those mountains, that this is indeed sacred land and that spirits reign supreme in this place.

Our first two weeks in Tulan were spent surrounded by people. We arrived for the event we attended a few days early, and the majority of participants stayed for a few extra days after the event officially ended. I don’t think I talked much about the event last time so I’ll tell you a bit about it now. (One challenge I face is that I’m living in a place with no electricity, and certainly no internet access, so I can’t access my blog to see what I’ve already written. Sorry about repetitions, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me.)

The event is called 7:7:7:7, organized by an old friend of Sam’s, arising from his spiritual path in a shamanic tradition. It’s held for 7 days in the 7th moon (based on the 13 moon calendar of Dreamspell, which is a modified Mayan calendar, as opposed to the 12-month Gregorian calendar most of us follow) for 7 years (this was year 5, the last year is 2012) for 7 generations (i.e. planting seeds of hope and community-building for future generations). Most of the people who attended the event, and certainly the ones who stayed on in Tulan, have some interest in living a different kind of life. Two references frequently made here are to “the 12:60” – which refers to the 12-month calendar and the frequency generated by living by that calendar in a society dominated by electricity and technology – and to “the Matrix” – which of course refers to the movie and the idea that here, in Tulan, we are outside the Matrix, we are aware that what other people perceive as reality is in fact an illusion.

The 13-moon calendar (the “13:20” frequency) is considered a more natural way of keeping time, based on lunar cycles. On average, a lunar cycle (from full moon to full moon) runs 28 days. There are 13 lunar cycles per year, at 28 days each, which totals 364 days, leaving one “day out of time”. The theory is that the body, mind & spirit flow more naturally when we follow the natural rhythms of the sun and the moon. The Gregorian calendar – the 12:60 – is viewed as artificial and it’s believed by many to be damaging to our bodies and souls to force ourselves into that rhythm.

At any rate, now that you have some background on the belief structure of many folks who attended the event, I can move on. The event itself, as I said, lasted 7 days. It wasn’t an overly structured event, more of a loose gathering of like-minded folks, coming together to share ideas, knowledge and spiritual ceremony in a beautiful, sacred space. There were usually a couple of workshops each day. For example, I participated in a workshop facilitated by Setting Sun White Bear (Steve), a medicine man from an Ojibway tradition in the Thunder Bay area. We learned his traditional teachings of the sweat lodge, then we built one, and then we held the sweat lodge ceremony. While it is possible to participate in sweat lodges (temezcal, in Espanol) at home, the chance to learn how to build one was an opportunity I didn’t want to let slip by. Other workshops included teachings on Sufi chanting & dancing, holotropic rebirth, history of Mayan tradition and culture (facilitated by a Mayan elder), among others. I attended some, and some I missed in favour of other activities.
(At one point during that week, as I reflected on what I would write about when I had the chance to update the blog and all the things that were happening here, I distinctly heard a certain friend’s voice in my head saying, “oh, Leah went to hippie church for a week.” It’s pretty much true. Hee hee – I’m just thinking now how many of you reading this are assuming I’m referring to you as that certain friend!)

The truth is that, while I didn’t noise it about too much in political and work circles, I’m a deeply spiritual person and I’ve never found that there’s much room for that within “the movement.” We tend to write off all spirituality as fundamentalism (I realize that’s a broad, blanket statement, but it’s been my perception and my experience, with exceptions as always). At any rate, I have been feeling the lack of spiritual expression in my life over the years (at least until the last year or so when I ventured out and found a group of like-minded souls), and this year of travel is at least in part an expression of my spiritual beliefs. It’s a journey into my own spirit and heart and a chance to learn about the beliefs of people I meet along the way.

The 7:7:7:7 event and Tulan more generally has been an ideal landing spot for Sam and me. For one thing, it’s given me a chance to get used to the idea of travel, of living more simply, of integrating with other cultures and belief systems. There have been many Mexican nationals with whom to interact and practice my Spanish (which I can safely say is progressing, but oh-so-slowly!). It’s clean and safe, giving me a chance to venture out on my own (such as going for a hike or just mingling with other people living here, not going too far) so that I can get used to the idea of being at least somewhat independent. Sam is an excellent guide – his fluency in Spanish and years of travel experience, not to mention the fact that he seems to be able to light a fire under any circumstance, are invaluable to me – but I don’t want to rely so heavily on him that I become afraid to try anything on my own or that I become burdensome to him.

To that end, I’m practicing my Spanish more and more with the Mexican guys who are also living here, Sam and I are camped in different spots so that we have a bit of time apart when we want it and I have my own little campfire (I was a Girl Guide, after all, and am perfectly capable of managing my own fire), and I’m taking an active role in our little community.

After the event ended, we headed into Tepic for a couple of days to do laundry, check emails, and have a hot shower. We came back up to Tulan a little over a week ago, to a much smaller, simpler community than the event we’d left behind. There have been between 5 and 8 of us over the last 8 or 9 days, with so much work to do that it’s nearly impossible to know where to begin. There are anywhere from 3 to 5 Mexican guys who spend as much time here as they can, working the land, building the garden, etc. Then there’s a young American woman and Sam and I. A vanload of folks who’d been at the event just arrived, bumping our numbers back up to about 8 from the five we’d dwindled down to

My participation in the community has largely focused on the kitchen. I cook for everyone who’s working in the garden, clean the kitchen, and have lots of time to wash my clothes, dig in my own little garden at my campsite, forage for firewood, etc. I haven’t been taking nearly as much time for yoga and meditation as I have intended but I get it in where I can.

Cooking for 6-8 people over a small fire in a barely-functional kitchen is a challenge that I think I can proudly claim to have met with success. Because there’s no electricity, we rely on foods that don’t go bad too quickly – lots of rice, beans, lentils, tortillas, guacamole and salsa, supplemented by the foods that grow here, like chayote and ojasanta, a leafy green vegetable that is highly nutritious and has a strong flavour with a hint of anise. I don’t seem to be suffering from the lack of meat in my diet (pause for the smug gloating of the veggies in the crowd, and the sceptical raised eyebrow of Tones…) Those of you who want to live without dairy, sugar, or wheat/gluten would also find the food here ideal. I’ve learned how to make salsa properly (at least, the way Juan likes it) and my guacamole seems to have been good enough already. The trick to salsa, for you foodies out there, is to burn the vegetables in the fire first – tomatoes, onions, cloves of garlic and jalapenos – then mash them with the mortar and pestle. The cilantro and salt get added after the fact, along with a bit of water to ensure there’s enough to go around (or maybe it’s a crucial ingredient, I should really ask about that). I have not yet mastered the art of making a decent tortilla, but to be fair to myself, I’ve only tried once. We have masa, instead tortilla mix (basically corn flour, just add water) and a tortilla making machine- place a ball of the dough on the wooden thingy (I have no idea what it’s called, but it looks a little bit like a waffle iron or one of those sandwich makers, but it’s smaller, square, wooden, and has a handle on it). Then close the top wooden square over the bottom one, push down on the handle and open it up – voila! A tortilla. Of course, the amount of pressure is important, as I discovered when my first attempt looked more like a crepe. My second attempt wasn’t nearly big enough. It’s not as easy as it appeared. Anyway, once the shape and thickness are appropriate, carefully remove the tortilla and place it on the comal (the hot, iron flat pan sitting on the fire waiting to cook your tortillas). This is also not as easy as I had assumed. My tortilla slid down awkwardly and did not lie flat. The last piece of information I will share about tortilla-making is not to walk away after you put it on the fire, as it will burn. Note: this is not appreciated by hungry Mexican men when it is the very last tortilla in the house. Oops.

I have adjusted to life without electricity and hot water very easily. I think it helps that I love camping so much so I’m not unfamiliar with this way of life. I’ve never camped this long, but we do have a house, a kitchen, and running water, so I can bathe and wash my clothes as often as I feel necessary. Generally, I wash myself in the creek every day – except the last 3 days, when it has poured rain in unseasonably torrential downpours. I figure as long as I can get into town for a hot shower every couple of weeks to give my hair a proper wash, I am content. That said, as I write this, I have no idea how long we’ll stay here. Now that the rain has stopped and the sun has returned (oh, blessed, beautiful sun!) Sam and I are preparing to head to the beach for a few days. We don’t know exactly when or where or for how long we’ll go. Probably we’ll head down in the morning, catch a bus to somewhere and stay as long as we feel like staying. Right now, the biggest decision is whether we pack up all our gear or leave most of it here. There are advantages to both. Obviously, the less we bring, the less we have to carry. But if we take it all with us, we are free to go wherever the wind blows us without having to worry about coming back to Tulan to get stuff. I am discovering, in living life as a vagabond, that you never really know what opportunities will come your way. We could meet a caravan of people off on an exciting adventure that we want to join, but if we don’t have all our stuff, we’ll miss that chance. That means carrying everything, though, and we are very high up and will likely have to walk down to the village of La Yerba with everything we’re bringing on our backs. Unless we get lucky and a vehicle appears. You just never know around here.

We arrived in San Blas Saturday. Fortune held and we got a ride here with Gustavo, another regular at Tulan. Gus comes once a week to bring supplies and work around the ranch. He and his partner were coming to the beach for the weekend, so the timing was excellent. They’ve left now, leaving Sam and I in a beautiful cabana on the beach, and Erica camping underneath our cabana.

I’m sitting on the balcony of our cabana, watching the sunset and a group of young folk play beach volleyball. The mosquitoes are fierce. So small they can barely seen, but they have a nasty ability to do damage. Sam just got a bite on his eyelid. Ouch. However, once it gets dark, they should disappear again.

This seems ridiculously long, so I'll leave it here for now. 'til next time!


  1. The friend was Tones, right? Not me?

  2. mmmmm, matrix. so coool. say hi to keanu! and bring back some mean tortilla making skills. you're making me hungry! we miss you. love you. glad sam is helpful and you're both safe. i encourage you to get going on the spanish. it's good to have sam talking but it's very eye opening to have local conversations with folks in another language. fun too! xoxoxox get dreads! hahahahahah xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox hugs to you both!

  3. Its called a tortilla press.

    Yes, I did have to comment to teach you kitchen terminology.

  4. Your comments make me smile Leah.