Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Tale of Too Many Cities...and Buses... and Planes

Catching up
Time has marched on, once again, and I’m well behind in my blog maintenance. The challenge I have with blogging is the expectation that regular updates will be posted – an expectation of myself, at least, and presumably at least the hope of those who read it regularly. It seems that many a travel blogger are far more dedicated than I am to writing regularly. I’m sure I have as much to write about as anyone else, but life seems to carry me away and I lose track of time. Or something like that.

Anyway, here’s the Coles notes version of the last couple of months:

Some time in early January, we left Ecuador and crossed into Peru. We had originally intended to make our way toward Iquitos, in the heart of the Amazon, but our plans changed (as they often do). We spent around a week or thereabouts in the vicinity of Chiclayo and another week or so in Lima. And then, suddenly, we were in Mexico again, heading to Tulan-of-our-hearts for the final 7:7:7:7 gathering.

When we first decided to head to South America, it seemed obvious that Mexico was not on the agenda this winter. South America and Mexico aren’t really close together, and it’s expensive to get from one to the other. We discussed it at length in November, and rather regretfully agreed that we would not be in attendance at 7:7:7:7 this year. It was a somewhat painful decision. The gathering has a special significance for us; it was there we began our journeys in January 2010 and is the coming-together of many people we love. Add that to the fact that the event was in its seventh and final year and you can see how difficult a decision it was. However, we had good reasons for choosing to go further south, so the decision was made and off we went. Or so we thought.

Despite having reached the decision not to go, the subject kept coming up. We’d skim over it, not really looking too closely at why it kept coming up, and agree once again that it didn’t make much sense to veer off to Mexico, then carry on.

And then, suddenly, everything changed.

The Back Story
When Sam and I decided in November to embark on a new journey to Peru, we had essentially two objectives in mind. Our primary purpose was to strengthen our relationship – to work together on aspects of ourselves as individuals and as a couple that we wanted to change or let go and on other aspects that we wanted to strengthen and develop. We chose Peru partly because we wanted to explore a place that was new to both of us. Our secondary purpose for this trip was to journey into the heart of the Amazon jungle and experience traditional spiritual and healing ceremony with an indigenous curandero (healer) or shaman.

In the first of the blog posts for this journey, back in December, I touched on that primary purpose briefly. Sam and I had found ourselves stuck in a rut, in our personal development, in our relationship, in our quest for spiritual growth. We have a good relationship that allows us to show each other our best and our worst, to express conflict as well as love and laughter, but had found ourselves expressing somewhat more conflict and less love and laughter than either one of us found enjoyable. Yet at the same time, we both really believed that we are good for each other and that we have a tremendous potential to find, live, create, and express beauty and joy and love and compassion wherever we go. We had a commitment to each other that we weren’t ready to break. We decided to head to a new land with the intention of really focusing on fixing or releasing what wasn’t working and making the good parts better.

The secondary purpose, to journey to the Amazon and experience ceremony together, seemed to me to be the less complicated aspect of the journey, though I recognized it would not be without its challenges too. The trip up the Amazon to Iquitos is not for the faint of heart – a minimum of four days on a boat up the river under what I consider less-than-ideal conditions (unless, of course, one takes the easy way out and flies, but where’s the fun in that?). Once you arrive in Iquitos, you’re in the heart of the jungle. It’s hot. And humid, something like 100% humidity. There are bugs and snakes and plants that attack. Anyway, it’s an adventure, but one that we fully intended to embark upon, embracing the challenges and getting the maximum benefit that comes with overcoming said challenges.

We crossed from Ecuador into Peru, and after one night in Piura (which we hated, except for the amazing, lovely, kind, generous people we met), we headed to Chiclayo, from where we would go to Tarapoto, then to Yurimaguas to find a boat. On our first night in Chiclayo, which we liked much better than Piura, we met a young artisan who, it turns out, is also a curandero, learning traditional ceremony of a pre-Incan culture indigenous to the Lambayeque area of Peru. He invited us to participate in a ceremony at full moon, which was in two days’ time.

We had just eaten dinner, so we began our fast to prepare for ceremony the next day, and the day following we met our new friend and headed out of the city. He has some friends who live in a small village outside Chiclayo who had offered the use of their sizeable fruit plantation for our ceremony. We loaded up our camping gear, storing everything else at our hostel, and hiked for about an hour under the midday sun to our camping place. We set up camp, rested in the shade, hiked to the river to swim and cool off, and at sunset, created our ceremonial circle and altar. We spent the night in ritual ceremony and quiet contemplation under a full moon, breaking our fast in the morning with fresh fruit from the land.

It is customary in this type of ceremony to set an intention for what you hope to gain from the experience, a sort of mantra on which to meditate. In keeping with the spirit of our journey to Peru, I focused on opening my heart and being more open to both giving and receiving love. Our curandero said that the medicine of this ceremony will stay with us for many months, working quietly and subtly, but always there. I emerged from the ceremony feeling tranquil, open, serene, though not transformed or enlightened. I was tired and very, very dirty after spending a night sitting or lying in the dust, but happy to have been a part of something so unique and beautiful. It is not a common experience for North American travelers to happen across curanderos on the street who invite them to participate in traditional ceremony under the full moon. I would call it luck, but I don’t actually believe that. It’s serendipity, if you will. It’s fate, and it’s beautiful, and I’m so grateful for the experience.

Several days later, we were at a hostel in a beach town near Chiclayo, and I pulled an intercostal muscle on the left side of my chest. It hurt like you wouldn’t believe. Then about a week later, I pulled another intercostal muscle on the right side. It was a bizarre happening the first time, and even more bizarre the second – but synchronicities do occur and I do not believe it a coincidence that I pulled chest muscles within 10 days of participating in a ceremony during which I meditated on the idea of heart-opening.

When we met our young artisan friend, we also met another artisan who was heading toward Iquitos a few days later and invited us to join him. As this met our intention of journeying to the jungle, we tentatively arranged to meet with him and his friends after we returned from our ceremonial excursion. After that experience, however, I realized that I was in no way emotionally, mentally or physically prepared for the rigors of the trip into the Amazon. For one thing, I wilted like a delicate flower when hiking an hour with less than half the weight of my usual full backpack in a hot but far less humid climate than that of the Amazon. I have vivid memories of complaining bitterly on every hike my parents “subjected” me to as a child and neither Sam nor I had any wish to experience me at my most whiny. For another, I realized after our ceremony that I was not spiritually prepared for the work involved in the ceremonial aspects of such a journey, which I do not take lightly.

And thus it was that we found ourselves on a horrible 12-hour overnight bus to Lima instead of a bus to Tarapoto. I was in excruciating pain from my pulled muscle and Sam was sick as a dog. We spent a night, miserable and uncomfortable, cramped in a bus with no leg room, people in South America being somewhat smaller than us giants from up north. After a night in a really crappy hotel in downtown Lima, I packed up and herded my still-sick beloved into a taxi to a new hotel. I hadn’t quite realized how gigantic Lima is, however. After about an hour of driving around looking for the hotel on a street that our taxi driver didn’t believe existed (it does, I found it a few days later) I finally asked our driver to take us to an affordable, nice-ish, quiet hotel nearby. He did, and though it was somewhat more expensive than we’d hoped, it was beautiful. They had only one room left, a Jacuzzi suite. It was a real Jacuzzi, with jets and everything. It was spotless. The bed was comfortable, the room was quiet (mostly, anyway), and all the services we needed (like food and a bank) were a short walk away. (It’s called Hotel Fenix in Lima 18, in case you’re ever in Lima and need a nice place to stay. It cost approximately $40 per night, I think). This room became our home for nearly a week. Within a few days, Sam was back on his feet and we explored as big an area as we could manage on foot. We did not ever try out the transit system and we avoided the long, long taxi rides again, so we never made it back downtown to Lima’s centre. I expect we missed every major tourist attraction in the entire area.

The Proposal
At any rate, here we were in Lima, feeling healthy, happy, and enjoying each other’s company immensely. In fact, we had been noticing for weeks (I think the subject first came up in Cuenca, Ecuador) that we were finding ourselves more in love than we’d ever felt before. Since our full moon ceremony, that “lovin’ feelin’” amplified. We had set out to South America to rejuvenate and reconnect to all the good in our relationship, and somehow, we had succeeded – without even realizing that we’d started doing the work we needed to do. And that’s how we found ourselves at a cozy, romantic Italian restaurant somewhere in the Miraflores district of Lima, sharing some wine, drunk on love – and engaged. Yep, you read that right. While basking in the glow of candlelight on our corner table on the balcony, I proposed to my beloved, and he said yes. It was, to say the least, unplanned. I doubt there’s ever been a more spontaneous proposal. But there it was – we always knew we were committed to each other and our relationship and that we would do whatever we needed to make it strong, but I don’t think either one of us had any idea what would emerge from our journey south.

The next morning, we lounged in our room, and I asked again – just to make sure it was, in fact, the love and not the wine that led to my asking and his accepting. As we talked and laughed and hugged and giggled about the craziness of the whole idea, I suddenly blurted out, “I want to go to Tulan. I want to get married at 7:7:7:7 and I want Chris to perform the ceremony,” (Chris being our dear friend and the organizer of the event). This was on Saturday. The event was starting in two days, and we were a continent or so away. The cheapest flight I could find was as far from cheap as we could imagine. It was madness of a whole other sort.

Not being known for our sanity, we packed up our madness and our backpacks, and the next morning we were on a flight to Mexico City. We left our hotel in Lima at about 7:00am, landed in Mexico City at around 4:00pm, took a taxi to one of the bus terminals, got on a bus to Guadalajara, arriving there at about 2:00am. Long day. We were in Tepic the next afternoon, arriving – we thought – just on time to catch the ride with dinner up to Tulan. Alas, the truck had departed a couple of hours earlier and we were stuck in Tepic for the night.

We checked ourselves into a hotel, dropped our packs on the floor, and wearily wondered what we were doing there. Were we actually crazy? We had just spent a huge part of our travel budget spontaneously flying from Lima to Mexico to surprise our friends at an event and possibly to hold a wedding ceremony. We must be crazy! Are we ready for this step? What if we aren’t welcomed back up there? We haven’t been dedicated to our spiritual practice for a long time. What if our friends don’t support us getting married? How could we ask them to fit such a ceremony into the already-full schedule of the gathering?

We discussed these not-unreasonable questions and ideas for quite some time, and at last, we reached a state of contentment. We were doing the right thing. We chose to follow our hearts instead of our bank account, listening to our intuition instead of our fears. Our friends would be happy to see us and if there was no room on the schedule for us to have our ceremony, we’d still be so glad to be there in Tulan with our loved ones. Everything would be perfect.

And it was. We caught our ride up the mountain the next afternoon and were greeted with so much love and joy from our friends that it was almost overwhelming. We got our camp set up before the sun went down and were whisked off to a Navajo teepee ceremony that lasted until about noon the next day, and spent the rest of the week encircled by the profound love of a family that created itself through a shared commitment to spirit, to love, to nature and to creating a more harmonious world. The gathering, as always, closed with a traditional Huichol ceremony, where we all gather around a fire at sunset and dance and sing and pray and meditate and dance some more until the sun rises. (The Huicholes are a pre-Hispanic indigenous nation in Nayarit, Mexico.)

After the close of the Huichol ceremony, Sam and I sat with some of our very closest friends in Tulan and planned a quiet ceremony for ourselves. Twenty minutes later, we closed the final 7:7:7:7 gathering, surrounded by our tribe, with an almost-spontaneous, totally unique handfasting ceremony, receiving the blessings of our friends and elders, and making a commitment before them all on the sacred land of our heart’s home, Tulan. One tradition of handfasting is that it is a commitment to be married. The commitment lasts for one year and a day, and after that, the marriage is to take place.

We chose to hold this ceremony in Tulan for a number of reasons. It is sacred land, part of the traditional lands of the Huichol people, and rich in their spiritual and cultural heritage. It is, as I mentioned earlier, the place where we began our travels together two years ago. It is where we have gathered with friends, our spiritual family, to learn from each other, to explore diverse spiritual and cultural traditions, to meditate, to dance and sing and drum and laugh together. It is the place where our beloved elder and spiritual teacher Setting Sun White Bear chose to leave this earthly plane, and where we held a four-day funeral ceremony in his tradition. We wanted to celebrate our love and commitment to each other where we feel White Bear’s spirit so strongly. We wanted to bring that love and commitment to the gathering, to remember that there is love and life, as well as death, in Tulan. We wanted to share the celebration of our love with our tribe, to remind everyone that a true, loving relationship requires commitment, that it’s work. That giving up after a short time because things are hard is not “ a sign from the Universe that it isn’t meant to be,” because the Universe expects us to do our part. We wanted to share our belief that some of the best spiritual work is done in partnership, where we see ourselves reflected in the mirror of our partner and grow from that.

We had an amazing, incredible, joyous, beautiful, wondrous experience as we gathered around the fire that day. We are incredibly blessed to have each other, to have made this commitment to each other, and to have shared it in the special, unique way we did. We can’t wait to celebrate our marriage with the rest of our family and friends next year.

After we came down from the mountain, we joined several of our friends at a mansion in Sayulita (literally a mansion. It was huge, and had a pool, and a view of the ocean. So lovely). We followed that with a week or so of holidaying in Puerto Vallarta, a tourist haven but also a city we love, and from there we headed to San Jose del Cabo on the peninsula of southern Baja California. We had thought to spend a couple of months or so in San Jose, the home of one of our friends. He had invited us to investigate volunteer and work trade opportunities at http://raicesybrazos.com/, a retreat centre offering yoga (and other) classes, a vegetarian restaurant, and affiliated with La Semilla, an organic farm project that supplies the food for the restaurant. It sounded wonderful (and it is!) yet for some reason when we got there, it just didn’t feel right. Increasingly, we felt like it was time to head north, though the idea of going home in winter wasn’t exactly an incentive for action!

However, true to form, we followed our intuition and so here we are, back in BC, staying at my parents’ place for the time being. We are fortunate that there is a basement suite here where we can be independent, and so grateful for the use of it. We hope to sort ourselves out quickly and so not infringe on that hospitality too long.

It was a relatively short trip south this time; we were gone just under three months. Yet, I have learned not to mark our lives by linear time alone. The changes in our lives and the tremendous growth we experienced together are far more significant than the number of weeks that passed. Once again, I am so grateful for the circumstances that have allowed me to travel and live such a full, beautiful life. Now, I will focus on making a transition from travel to something resembling “stability” and strive to maintain the beauty and the richness I experience when travelling.

Life is grand and it’s good to be back. But will someone please turn up the heat?


  1. Thanks for the beautiful story Leah. Congratulations to you both!

    Love Caroline

  2. Thanks for the beautiful story Leah. Congratulations to you both!