Wednesday, April 20, 2011
The Last Pass.
The pass through the Andes from Chiclayo on the coast to the Northern “eyebrow of the jungle” bring you through coastal ocean air, over the misty cloudy high mountain pass, and descending into the humid layers of rain and tropical foliage.
Sitting at the front of our bus looking through the panoramic window in the front seat, my favorite moments of this journey included driving past beautiful people on the side of the road as we passed through their tiny towns, sometimes a population of several homes. The literal connection eye to eye with someone I would never otherwise encounter in my entire life—and for just this one small passing micro moment in time, we took one another in. So many thoughts passed through my mind about their lives and what it felt like to be in their skin and shine through their soul. Pondering the rivers they walk wrapped into these mountains, the pineapple stand woman on the roadside, the 5 year old girl holding guard for a small bathroom fee to use the covered hole in the ground, a pregnant woman with a walking stick on the rocky edge of the high hazy path, the dark brown shades of their skin from the powerful equator sun. In these instants, just a real and complete thought about all of these amazing lives, and wondering as they looked through those large windows at me glowing by the light of my IPOD, did they wonder at all? Such it was driving through the valleys of the great divide.
To protect the location of the majestic cacao project, I won’t use names of the towns where we wandered. We arrived to the base of the high jungle with sheets of warm rain falling from the sky. This was a very different energetic shift for me after years of working in the high mountain culture of the Andes. We descended deeper for about two hours into the gorgeous tints of the lands, literally driving into breathtaking roadside tropical flora as if we melted into a painting. We passed by a roadside shack for a fresh machete-hacked coconut and drank the glorious water so chock full of life. Through a neighboring town we kept our speed to evade the local “bandilla” (gang), and at a slow high curve on the path encountered the informal security team who took on the policing of a pass that was once wrought with robberies. The local guards even donned their own camo shirts and strapped guns to their bodies. The price for their labor to keep you safe was tipping them 30 cents as we passed by.
At the literal end of the road, we came to a rushing river, one of the many tributaries of the Great Amazon River. Two big floats made from wood planks were connected to cables that plunged into the rock cliffs on both sides of the roaring water. With a push from a team of men who managed the floats, the wood raft would move across the water connected to the cable as the guide (almost like a zip line from ground to cable high up in the air). Without electricity, the angle of the cables was directed perfectly by the flow of the water current and slowly but surely, the raft would arrive at the other side of the river. It is seriously amazing what creativity comes out of people! These floats were typically used to bring a car/moto to pass to the communities on the other side of the river, since the other side would otherwise be impenetrable within Peru as the road functioned like a jungle dead end. We crossed the river in the usual people fashion, sitting in wooden row boats balanced in the middle of our seats to stabilize (mind you, with modern luggage against rustic wood, it was a sight I am sure!). The other side of the river functioned as our “home base” for the next three days. Here we entered the sleepy 4 block pueblo with a dusty road running through the middle of ramshackle concrete.
Rolling my small travel bag down the middle of the town, I was met with stares and wonderment, inviting smiles. Several girls came up and stood next to me, staring. I wondered if they had ever had a seriously white blond ghost like me stumbling through their streets. I felt safe and cradled in this small place where people definitely CHOOSE to come into. HOME. It made me think of the transient people we are in the U.S.—many of us finding several different homes in different places over the course of a lifetime. These small towns I have visited in Peru (and developing world in general) are usually places that people stay for their lifetimes. The pulse of community is very deep and strong, and how you show up in this community is known to all.
After some mud oven fired bread and a cup of Criollo coffee made from beans picked, roasted, and mashed right from the land—we were off to visit the magical lands that surrounded these thick brushy hills for as far as the eye could see. Driving out into the small rocky paths through rice fields with lime-emerald-jade-greens that almost blinded the eyes, tropical trees with of coconut, lime, grapefruit, and bananas, framed the muddy road. Leaves of all shapes and sizes scraped against the bed of the truck as we whipped by with six of us bouncing around in back against the metal bed.
We first stopped at Noë’s family farm. Noë is the head of the agricultural association of more than 300 cacao (chocolate bean) growing farmers in the surrounding communities. Noë has the most honest round brown eyes and a big smile with a large gap between his two front teeth. He is an observer and watches. Noë has been described as a savant of sorts related to the cacao tree; he was the sole farmer who invited my friends Brian and Dan of Marañon Chocolate to come to this area, telling them that the trees on these farms were bearing special fruit. Noë described that he could see the auras off the trees and that these farms had something quite different compared to farms that were growing modern strains of cacao introduced by USAID. Brian and Dan listened and when they began opening cacao pods back in 2009 (chocolate beans grow in beautiful pods that look like fruit, see picture!), the pods were partially full of white beans. Cacao beans are normally purple in color, and so white signified a genetic mutation over time (like an albino child). As they began searching, white beans filled pods in most of the nearby farms—later verified by agricultural scientists that this sort of genetic mutation would signify years of change over the long-term and the frequency of white beans showing up meant that the trees may be over 1000 years old!! Noë knew what he was talking about indeed…
This is the magic that we stepped into. This meant that for countless years these trees had lived, adapted, and created. In fact, they adapted so much that unlike a normal modern cacao plant variety, these trees actually created their own ability to impregnate themselves! On the branches, you could see the tiny new pods no bigger than the size of a pinkie nail sitting 4 inches from the open female flower—pollinated by a tiny jungle fly. Evolution is seriously amazing. Well the magic of Spirit is too!!
Bottom line is…this is where we walked all day, charged by ancient history. I loved the feeling of walking in the haze of sunlight misting through the trees, being so far away from the usual buzz of the world and plugged into a different stream of energy that nature provides. We stopped to knock coconuts off other trees and hacked them with machetes…that life giving water just pouring into you and getting sticky on your cheeks. I ran my hair through the falling streams to cut the heat and humidity coating my skin. This was pure and celestial.
For lunch, Noë’s wife and mom prepared cuy (guinea pig) for everyone. This is a delicacy and was surely their symbol of caring and gifting for us. I was prepared for this as this is often a special meal shared with those deemed as important guests, and to say no to an invitation like this is an insult especially when a family is giving you more than they would do for themselves. Being a vegetarian and knowing I would probably truly vomit if I ate the guinea pig, I ate my rice and mashed lentil beans and swapped the bones of Brian’s cuy carcass for my fresh meat. In situations like this, the local family will eat in a different room and allow the visitors to dine together. This allowed me the space to pull this off. Right or wrong…I always struggle with this as part of the journey and regardless, I made it through lunch with an empty plate of bones and joy.
Noë’s Mom truly impressed me. She came into the room when we asked to thank her and half of the right side of the front of her head was gone from an aneurism she had. It was truly a miracle that after more than 20 hours in a truck, boat, bus…she lived through an operation in Lima. The farmers from the lands all over pitched in to pay what they could of her surgery. I sense she is a Mother energy to many of them. She came out of the fire lit, steaming kitchen with the brightest smile and sat by my side after a round of several thank you’s and applause. We talked about how she was glad to have a little more time with her children, and that she was not fearful of death. She said every new day she got to share with her family was important and warmed her heart. I couldn’t help but to think of how graced I was to share one of these special times with her and her family…blessed to eat from the labor of her hands and heart and spirit (I think I got it, even minus the cuy!)
Each evening when we returned from the field at about 6pm included a debriefing of the day as a team. A full bucket shower of cool water accented the day’s end. Carly (NPR reporter) and I shared a mattress with our mosquito net hovering over us like those fancy queen like bedroom sets with cascading curtains. I called our bed the “Queendom” and we laughed laying down the first night how we had known each other for about 12 hours. We made an agreement not to try and move too much on the bed during the night. I think we both felt like frozen robots—trying not to bother each other in the total heat of the night, sweat drenched under our PJ pants and long sleeves.
Another amazing stop we made was on the farmland of the Fortunato family. The chocolate being made from all these majestic beans in this area (processed by a Swiss chocolate maker) has been named Fortunato No 4. Last year, Brian and Dan sent samples of these trees to the USDA Agricultural group and the results came back astounding…that the number 4 sample became the new benchmark for purest sample of cacao in the entire world registry, with all their other samples hovering close to it. Hence, number 4 sample from Fortunato’s farm…Fortunato No 4.
Fortunato is a humble and quiet man who has lived his entire life on these sacred lands. His mom lived to over 100 and his dad to over 90 farming the same earth. Campesinos (farmers) are often in incredible shape from the constant physical labor on their land and eating the purest forms of food they grow. Weathered and leathered from the sun, Fortunato didn’t talk very much, but kept a steady closed lip grin that accentuated his deep face wrinkles and stared with pensive caramel eyes from under the brim of a hat. His land was indeed his best friend…and provided conversation for him as he walked around looking, machete pruning with care, and talking to the nature around him—surely nature conversing back with him. One of the most beautiful things was to watch Fortunato and his wife meander together through the groves of trees. They walked in such comfort side by side, occasionally glancing at one another. Slowly sauntering, they talked of history, children, joking gently with one another, and glowing with HOME for each other, a place where Love was flowing.
I couldn’t help but think of Fortunato and his family and the double meaning of his name (Fortune). Here was the most docile of people who had farmed their land for generations. As we sat together next to the No 4 sample tree, the purest mother genetically to all other trees around it, I touched it thinking of how life emerges. Part of me couldn’t help but see our photo snapping group of gringos with our camera extensions as conquistadores, but yet I heard and saw the gratitude in Fortunato for getting nearly 50% more for his beans than a big company would pay if he sourced them the usual route. Without even trying, Fortunato found himself a star…and all that this brings with it. For better or worse, or both.
During these journeys into the farmlands, I also had the goal of gathering women to talk about microcredit. I said before in previous writings that the “pasa la voz” (pass the voice) method of sending information works like magic. This is a place where cell phones don’t exist (that is, there was one phone booth in the 3 block pueblo that was operated by someone. You couldn’t make any calls, you could only receive calls. If someone called for you, the operator of the booth would use a loud megaphone speaker to announce to the town that you just got a call. The person who called would be calling back in 10 minutes, so you have to get to the booth!) In this kind of a communication system, the concept of passing information works like it did for people during the Incan times…word would literally travel from person to person through the mountains to reach villages of people.
I told 10 women about the microcredit meeting I was having at 4pm on Friday, and when I walked to the home of the woman who hosted us in her back yard of dirt and animals, nearly 40 women from four different pueblos showed up. It was awesome! There we sat as dusk fell and shared some pop and talked about microcredit + training. It was clear to me they were thirsty for growth of business for their families. We spent two hours laughing, questioning, explaining, and sharing. As dusk fell, I was amazed watching the native women innately KNOW when the tiniest weight of a mosquito was landing on their skin. They would pick them off effortlessly and with precision. I started feeling some bites and the fear of disease crept into my head. I pulled out my REI 35% DEET and they were all looking at me with wonder and I couldn’t help but laugh at myself in a bright white shirt melting from the heat, putting poison on my skin from somewhere so far away…sitting with these people who had adapted to nature over many years.
La Barbie as they called me…sitting under the drops of rain. I watched them work in unison, holding each others children, sharing ideas for business. For me, it left a residue of possibility and pure joy. The world was moving in slow motion and just watching the power of these ladies. I wish they could have understood even an ounce of what Love they modeled for me.
As I make the last pass of this journey approaching Austin, I just want to say that these stories find their meaning in you and through you. This is the gift we give each other. In every word you’ve read, you’ve affirmed the lives of every person connected here.
Love is truly infinite.
Signing off. Safe and Sound. Loved beyond words.