Well hello there fellow humans!
This post comes to you from a shamanic ashram called Planeta de Luz, tucked away on the outskirts of Quillacollo near Cochabamba, central Bolivia. I’m typing away from beneath a canopy of artfully intertwining branches, looking out onto a splendid view of sun-drenched grass verges, cascading, kaleidoscopic vines and squat, thatched huts. My nostrils are treated to a medley of exquisite scents from flowers that I wish I could name, while birdsong and the buzz of bees fill the air with energy and endeavour. A hummingbird appears sporadically in a rush of vibrating wings, methodically burrowing its beak into each flower that it encounters. A comical duo of llamas wanders lazily through the grounds, their expressions permanently registering mild, dozy intrigue in their surroundings, while several semi-feral cats skulk around the flowerbeds in search of rich pickings. Oh and there’s a dog somewhere. And a pair of parrots.
I feel that my descriptive writing skills are failing me somewhat this morning… but if you remember that bit near the end of The Secret Garden (when Colin’s uncle discovers the garden brought back to life) then you should get a mental image comparable to my current view (minus the llamas and parrots). Hoping the photos do it some justice too.
The ashram feels as though it is contained inside a paperweight, a bubble of tranquillity sealed off from the world of hooting vehicles and bustling market places down the road, which I am pretty relieved to have left behind for a while! That said, Planeta de Luz has masterfully managed to blend modernity with times gone by; we wash our clothes by hand and help to re-thatch the hut roofs before the rainy season begins, but are also hooked up to an impressively fast internet connection and wash in solar-powered outdoor showers. Hoorah for renewables!
Planeta de Luz was built a decade or so ago by a shaman named Chamalú, whose latest musings I am currently translating into English in exchange for eating and sleeping here. Volunteers come from all four corners of the globe, and contribute either by translating the shaman’s works into their own languages, or by working out in the grounds on whatever needs doing. Everyone works from 8am until 1pm, leaving the rest of the day free to read, draw, chat, meditate or generally lounge about contemplating the beautiful surroundings.
Tunari. A group of us decided to venture out of our paradisical bubble the other day and take on one of the local peaks. The crew consisted of myself, Bolivian Álvaro, Californian couple Ian and Nicole and Italian buds Florian and Stefano. Stefano, incidentally, is perhaps the most outrageously Italian guy I have ever met. Verbatim quote from him yesterday (complete with theatrical arm-flailing): “Katriiiina I confess I have aaaaall of the vices – I cannot help it – for me life is about good food, good wine and making love to beautiful women!!!” And this followed by much cheek-stroking and general exuberance. But I digress.
We were up at the crack of dawn in order to start the hike in good time. Tunari peak stands at a whopping 5030m (16,500ft) above sea level, and the high altitude meant that progress at some points was slow; despite previous high-altitude climbs, I found myself gasping for air every few paces. We reached the summit after about 4 hours of picking our way up the rocky mountainside, and were rewarded with a staggering view over the wild Bolivian landscape. Bloody windy up there too, to which the pictures attest!
Meeting the shaman. Chamalú paid his first visit to the ashram since my arrival here yesterday afternoon. We all gathered in the meeting hut, wedging ourselves together around the circular walls and murmuring in anticipation. When he appeared in the doorway, my initial thought was that he would best be described as Dumbledore meets Scar out of The Lion King (I realise that Dumbledore has featured as a figure of comparison more than once in this blog – he is just such a universal go-to!). He also had shades of Rasputin about him – a long sheet of dark hair, silver beard and twinkly blue-grey eyes which I imagine could succeed in bewitching you should they choose to lock onto yours for too long…
His meditation was on the ancient and sacred power of women, whom he declared to be superior to men in all but brute strength, and then stated that female leadership was the only way through the current global mess that has resulted from male-centred conflict and greed. Tick tick tick, much nodding in approval. I must say that I have found his writings somewhat lacking in intellectual rigour during my hours of translation this week (rambling declarations about the status quo that lack qualification, big conceptual nouns like “love”, “happiness” and “truth” which are never properly defined, references to “ancestral knowledge” without explaining what this might be…). HOWEVER, I find his concern for the natural world and social responsibility uplifting and refreshing, and I do think that the indigenous voices that he represents have gone unheard for far too long. To my mind, as long as he can help people to lead harmonious lives and to respect the natural world as a priority, then the benevolent Rasputin of Bolivia he shall remain!
That’s all for now, folks. Next moves: Sucre, Uyuni and the Salt Flats, then onwards across the Chilean border! Truly never a dull moment.
Love, light and laughter homies x x x