Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wisdom Forest/ Saraswati Ahimsa Vana

While I was in Banos I saw a flyer on the wall at Rusta guy’s veggie restaurant for Wisdom Forest, a Hare Krishna, vegetarian, eco yoga farm that you could volunteer at. I thought this would be nice to do after Merazonia and it is on the way to Quito (I don't like backtracking). I sent the owner an email and that was that. I took a bus from Puyo to Tena then a local bus to Wisdom Forest, which is also located in the Amazon Jungle.

It was on one of these buses, or bus stations, or the internet café in Tena near the bus station, where my phone was stolen. So, I had no camera and have relied on other people taking photos and sending them to me (thank you Bernd – my email harassment paid off and Annie for the ones on Facebook) and stealing them from Facebook.

Every morning at 6.30am there is yoga, currently led by the owner of the farm (and an English school, and now Tena’s one and only vegetarian restaurant. He's a busy man!). It is really nice doing yoga overlooking the farm and the jungle. And I discovered I'm much better at doing standing balances in the morning since my mind is not filled with the day's events yet. I even led a couple of Ashtanga sessions, one in English and one in bad Spanish. I should learn the Sanskrit names of the yoga postures cos that would make it much easier.

Anyway, yoga on day one introduced us to the resident tarantulas (which are not mentioned on the website I might add). There appear to be three that live here. There is a big grey one that may or may not be the mother of the other two. She didn’t really move around much from her cranny in the ceiling. Then there was the smaller one. He didn’t really go very far either. But the big one liked to go walkabout all the time, which was a concern.

She was in the kitchen cupboard one morning and then in the bathroom for two days. That freaked me out a lot and I had to use the other one until she left except one time when that was occupied. Scariest. Toilet. Ever.

Then one night we were sitting there and she was walking along the beam (upside down) two storeys up and fell onto the floor below right near where we were sitting. 

Another 30cm along and she would have landed on someone’s head! Interestingly she landed right side up and was not injured at all. Then she sat there a minute to regain her composure and crawled off.

One day I was on house duty (i.e. cleaning) and she was sitting in the middle of a yoga mat. While they freak me out big time, they are also funny cos I think they think you can’t see them if they stay perfectly still. So she just sat there on the mat and I cleaned around her (obviously trying not to get to close).

Spider pose:

On the first day, me and the two English Sophies (who also arrived the same day) were on composting with a Colombian guy Juan. Step 1 involved removing all the compost that was ready from around the hot water pipes and shovelling it around the plants/ trees at the farm. Step 2 was putting sacks of fresh or semi rotting vegetable scraps and sawdust around the hot water pipes to make new compost and hot water. The hot water is made by having plastic pipes inside one of the composting thingys. As the waste decomposes it gets really hot, which then heats the water. It’s so cool and it is basically free hot water. We made hot water! The only downside is, the shower smells a bit like compost for the first minute the water runs. No, the water does not have compost in it. The plastic just absorbs the smell, which isn't great but not revolting either.

This is it when it was first built:

Our second day involved more composting. Except this time we made a big pile out of rotting fruit and vegetables and sawdust. Mmm, it smelt really nice! The farm doesn't create enough waste to make its own compost so they need to buy additional food (plant) waste from the markets. Interestingly the sacks of veggie waste seem to have a lot of plastic thrown in and fucking nappies which take like 500 years or something ridiculous to decompose (another good reason not have children) and are gross. We had to sift this out. Seriously people, separate your rubbish. It’s not bloody hard!

Composting was hard work but I felt like carrying bags of rocks and sand at Merazonia had prepared me well. And unlike Merazonia the afternoons are free so once you’ve had lunch, you’re done for the day.

You can go swimming in the river:

Or laze about in a hammock and watch the sunset over the farm:

Usually every second day I’d head into Tena (about 30 mins on the bus) to use the internet. The first day was with the Sophies. Thankfully I think the fucker who stole my phone had not got into it and Facebook raped me or got into my email. I changed all my passwords anyway. I also hitchhiked into Tena with Juan a few times in the back of a ute. While the hitchhiking part felt reasonably safe, sitting in the back of a ute did not. But it’s South America so when in Rome… 

Another day I went with my friend Jessie (here we are on lunch duty):

We decided to go to the touristy end of Tena for something different. This then turned into two beers (since the last bus is at 6.30pm). You can’t drink, smoke or take drugs at Wisdom Forest, but you could get pissed outside of the farm if you wanted, and that's pretty much fine.

The food here is amazing. It’s mostly vegan since Hare Krishnas do not eat eggs and there wasn’t really a lot of milk or cheese around. Each meal is made by the volunteers and this is included as work on the farm. I liked the cooking shifts the best. In my time there I made veggie burgers twice. The first time cos I just really wanted veggie burgers, and the second time was by request since I did such a good job the first time. And interestingly they did not contain garlic or onions since Hare Krishnas do not eat these either.

Here we are having granola and and freshly made chocolate banana cake for breakfast!

I also had another attempt at the "hostel curry", which included freshly made coconut milk and herbs from the garden. It was the best curry I’ve made so far over here. Although this kitchen is much better than a hostel, so there's that. I also made a vegan banana cake/ slice thingy for dessert, since you can get banana flour here. It’s so yummy and the banana acts as a natural binder so you don’t need eggs. The downside of it is everything you put it in ends up tasting fairly similar.

Since Anzac Day occurred during my stay, I made Anzac biscuits. However, the key ingredient Golden Syrup doesn’t exist here so I was not off to a great start. Then we didn’t have enough plain flour so I had to top it up with a bit of banana flour, giving them a banana flavour. They were pretty tasty, but more of a "not Anzac biscuit" than Anzac biscuit in the end.

The volunteers also make their own chocolate from scratch. On the day I arrived there was a huge batch from a few days before. It was delicious but obviously didn’t last long given how many chocolate loving women there were in the house at the time. 

On some of the other days, I contributed to future chocolate making by harvesting ripe cacao pods using a machete of course.

Then cracking open the pods, which contain a fruity white substance on the outside of the cacao bean, which is delicious. 

So this part of the chocolate making process involves sucking off the fruity stuff and then spitting the beans on a mat, which then go into the greenhouse to ferment for 4 days or so. Well you don't have to eat it. You can just put them straight onto the mat. And this might might sound gross, but the actual cacao seed used in the chocolate is protected by a shell, so you aren’t eating other people’s germs when you eat chocolate.

To get the cacao, you need to roast the beans after they’ve fermented, peel the shell off, then grind them. This takes like half the afternoon.

But, once you've done that, you're on the home stretch and can make chocolate!!!

The next step is to push the cacao and cacao butter (bought) through a high-end juicer (yes juicer). I think you then can mix in your flavours (e.g. mint, vanilla) and panella (sugar) to sweeten it. When we got to this step, the juicer broke and we couldn’t make it. We made some in a pan, and it was nice enough but not as good as the juice extracted stuff.

One of the other jobs I did while I was here was collect giant snails. There is a bit of an infestation going on in South America right now, which is not good. Since Hare Krishnas do not kill things, we round them up, put them in a bucket and the owner takes them into Tena and releases them in a park surrounded by busy roads. If they try and leave, they'll probably get run over. I don't know how I feel about shifting the problem to somewhere else and I am not really sure what the best solution to this problem is. However, I did enjoy finding really huge snails. It became a personal challenge to see if I could find an even bigger one next time.

This is two stuck together:

There are two Norwegian guys (not travelling together) here at the moment. Let's call them stoner Norwegian and Tommy. Tommy is building a jungle house at the farm. Just cos he wants to. One of my work shifts involved carrying wood from the shed to his house through the mud. Again, Merazonia training came in handy and again, I realised I am not built for carrying heavy objects. Anyway, I asked him how much a jungle house cost and he said $400. I have shoes that cost more than this. Like these beauties from my Melbourne trip a few years ago.

Sigh! My Jimmy Choos. I miss you. And my Vitamix. 

One night, Tommy and I discussed backpacking with the Blendtec (which apparently is lighter than the Vitamix. Here is a comparison) and renting it out to vegans in hostels. I seriously think he's onto something. Do it!

Over the weekend I was there a local guy named David (that name seems popular in every country) that goes to the English school in Tena arrived for a few days. He is training to become a jungle guide and he took me and the stoner Norwegian on a jungle tour to teach us about medicinal plants. Obviously stoner Norwegian was most interested in the ones you can smoke and get high off. In the time I was there, he smoked most of the oregano and all of Tommy's coco leaves, despite there being a no smoking policy at the house. Anyway, David also showed us how to make hats out of ferns--which conveniently stopped our heads from getting sunburnt while we were planting yukas--and a traditional bag like this:

This bag is one that was made earlier, but which I saw in a museum in Quito and accurately represents the one that David made.

And that pretty much sums up what I did at Wisdom Forest. I really enjoyed the experience, and the volunteers I met during my two weeks were all really lovely people. I do not think this will be last time on a hippy yoga farm.

Julian Assange's new home?
Pros: yoga, chocolate, veggie food, beautiful place, awesome people.

Cons: no internet except in Tena (which is boring, does not have express laundry only 24 hour laundry, and the the ugliest street dogs I've seen so far), getting up early every day, tarantulas.