Here in Part Two I discuss how I changed and what the surprises were whilst living seven weeks at at Kadagaya Project in the high jungles of Peru over late Feb to early April. Part One discusses what it was like and what I did.
How did I change?
8pm means bedtime, 6:30am means wake time in the jungle, although no one told us to go to bed this early and wake up at this time, we all easily fell into this habit especially when the lights went out early. It was truly blissful to sleep with the sun’s rhythms and have no internet, screens or artificial lights to distract us! I came in with fairly low energy levels, perhaps even more drained from the heat and humidity and went from being comfortable lying around reading all day to wanting to work like a maniac all day, even in the heat!
My tastes changed. The food is all unprocessed at Kadagaya, directly from the earth, and I slowly became accustomed to less and less intense tastes. Anyone who knows me knows I like to start a ‘party in the mouth’ and do ‘carnival rides of tastes’ in my food, but I gradually craved simpler and simpler food, being comfortable with not eating salt altogether! (There was no sugar at Kadagaya so that probably contributed too.) I got to the point where I would not even feel like making salads and just munch my way slowly through plain carrots, celery or beetroot or lettuce very happily all afternoon, without cutting them up and doing anything fancy with them. I also tend not to be much of a breakfast or dinner person so adjusting to three meals a day was definitely a task in itself – I usually have smoothies, teas, juices, protein shakes and the odd bit of fruit or nuts in the mornings and the same in the evenings – but I came to enjoy breakfast. Although the best dinner for me is usually something liquid like a soup as well. I realised the only way to eat this many meals in a day and not get constipated or feel overly stuffed was actually just to exercise a lot as well, so it all worked out! I also was already in the process of change with regards to grains/beans before coming and having the chance to experiment and see these food generally make me feel sluggish, gassy or constipated was another nail in the coffin for them for the most part. And I decided to come in very open minded with regards to animal foods, embracing eggs on the first breakfast, and had a wonderful breakthrough! I love Julie’s idea of ‘eating meat medicinally,’ had a definite moment in which I realised, I’m not vegan/vegetarian anymore, and was inspired by Weston A. Price’s work, Nourishing Traditions, Denise Minger’s Raw Food SOS blog (anyone who loves geeky statistics applied to nutrition and humour like I do will adore this), and, of course, The Vegetarian Myth – topic for another blog post sometime (and I’ll probably lose most of my friends over that one). All in all, I changed immensely and not very much at the same time – I still probably eat 70-80% raw vegetables and fruits (which makes me mostly raw vegan?), rest works itself out amongst the various other food groups including tubers (yacon, yucca, exploding potatoes and sweet potato are current favourites), grains (quinoa, red/black rice remain favourites and little of anything else), and animal foods (only high quality, organic, local, nutrient-dense things, otherwise I don’t bother considering it). I thought I’d always be going in to Pichanaki to buy decent food for myself but was just easier and more fun adjusting to whatever they ate and didn’t really want to go to Pichanaki either and be in the dusty, hot, terribly developed city with roaring moto-taxis.
I could devote a whole blog post to pooping, given my crappy digestive system. Suffice to say, I went from cheating and sitting on the toilet-seat-on-a-wooden-frame thing parked over the long drop hole to being a pro at squatting, rescuing my hip flexibility and digestive system in the process (and destroying my ankles, given the toilet flies).
I had already lived in the jungles of Bolivia for two months so was excited about cold showers on hot summer days – what I didn’t realise was how freezing they are during the night! Sometimes I’d work so hard that I’d need to have them twice a day, but I came to love to cobblestone shower stalls outside and gave up getting changed inside them, preferring to zip out in a towel, which somehow became everyone else’s preferred method too after a while. I also used soap about three or four times all up for showering in the seven weeks I was there.
Feels nicer despite mozzie bites and my smell changed too and became sweeter and milkier (only once had sunburn which felt like fire ants crawling all over my back). I hadn’t seen my face in seven weeks in the mirror so when I got to Pichanaki market toilets and caught my reflection in the mirror for the first time, I almost did a double take, stunned to see my face was much smoother. The jungle works wonders for health!
I LOVE walking around in gumboots and dirty work clothes and jeans –which I used to hate!!
Computer and internet
Now I just use for what I need and don’t feel glued to it like I was before; if wi fi was on, I just stopped caring for personal message replying – only the research I need to do. This had a huge effect on my general happiness levels going up and anxiousness going down. I was talking more in English than Spanish so my brain switched back BUT realised I can easily talk in Spanish and French and English simultaneously switching between them, which was a relief.
For the whole seven weeks, I refused to go into Pichanaki unless absolutely necessary – which it never was as there was always someone else willing to go. So I avoided mad cities, cars, hyperactive jungle towns, flashing lights, billboards, honking taxis, dust and general city-vibe stress and was rewarded with some deep stillness mentally also.
At Kadagaya, you problems are so small – your issues here are things that don’t really cause you stress or worry of anxiety. It’s wonderful to be liberated from the woes and worries we think are so important in the cities.
How was my health?
Well, I already mentioned being constipated in the early days; I also felt fairly tired and sluggish in the first week I arrived, which is a process I’ve now seen every volunteer go through, so it seems to be pretty standard for entering the hot, humid jungle that zaps the life out of you! I had the distinct pleasure of digging out a black parasite that had laid slimy white eggs right in the side of a toenail in my foot after a week or ten days of pottering about the house wondering why it felt like I’d stubbed my toe really badly – a few days before my birthday, I just sort of gritted my teeth and got right in there with a needle and tweezers and dug it out. Every time we had lentils, chickpeas and beans of any kind, I was uncomfortable and gassy – and my birthday, where we had falafel, was probably the worst offender! Muscles-wise, I had some minor back discomfort that disappeared quickly, and one day woke up unable to move my right arm nor properly bend my right leg or fold my right hand into a fist, all of which Julie put down to me swinging a pick like a madwoman making that banana circle – most of it’s fine except my fist (which, at time of writing over a month after leaving Kadagaya, is still actually hard to fold thanks to my ring finger being somewhat stuck). I was easily able to drink 3-4 L of water every day – it is the jungle after all!
There wasn’t really much exercise beyond the daily tasks I did, but I loved walking to Miricharo, where we somehow always spent 1.5 hours for the return journey, despite it only being about 20 minutes away! Walking along a winding dirt road through the forest and pineapple fields in gumboots, dirty jeans and a clay covered old long-sleeved shirt with a sack slung over one shoulder was a great feeling – the only thing that was missing was a machete and I would have looked seriously like something out of a wild west movie! Just occasionally I managaed to coax (coerce?) a poor volunteer into partner stretching or ground acrobatics with me.
What surprised me?
I never thought I’d seriously consider slash and burn as a way to start permaculture.
I never thought I’d lose the magic of ferns I so adored in New Zealand and only feel satisfied after macheting them for hours.
I never thought I’d learn to make coconut oil.
I never thought I’d suddenly decide to not be vegan/vegetarian anymore.
I never thought I’d learn how to play with babies and come to love it!
I never thought I’d love wearing jeans in 30 deg C heat outside to work.
I never thought I’d learn how to make concrete.
I never thought I’d rip this many pairs of pants and shirts in a matter of weeks.
I never thought I’d one day be able to eat 3 meals a day again.
I never thought I wouldn’t care when wifi went on or chance to charge devices.
I never thought I’d become this good with a machete – a nice lightweight machete that gives me no arm pain now.
I never thought I’d get used to waking up at 6 or earlier and spring out of bed.
I never I’d obsess about poo this much – or go walking through a whole town looking for animal dung, shout at the goat lady’s house outside at night for some bags of poop.
I never thought I’d stick my hand in the earth / in the rainforest full of unknown stuff.
I never thought I’d come to accept aquaponics.
I never thought the jungle would be this cold at night!
What surprised me about Vladimir and Julie:
I guess I always walk into an intentional community space expecting, well, Joanna Macy style facilitated spaces for deep sharing so it was a wee bit hilarious teasing around the lovable awkwardness of Julie but so rewarding to hear her stories and have her friendship in the end. There was little talk of feelings when I started but we ended up sharing intimately after 9 or 10 hours of NVC at the end! I was pretty surprised by Vladi’s enthusiasm for work everyday – despite all the setbacks, he’s always into it with a smile, and sometimes even goes up and down three times everyday from the river! For scientists and physicists, there was an awful lot of life and colour in their house, which was also exciting. I was also amazed that they do not have a cooking or cleaning roster, or even ask anyone who comes to do anything for that matter – it all just happens organically. Julie and Vladi really embody the gifting spirit of Workaway and RBEs – they do not boss volunteers around and volunteers usually have to ask if and when they are ready to do things for what needs to be done. I totally did not expect to see a hand-built internet tower poking its head above the jungle, but lo and behold – that is their commitment to research and dissemination! I was also surprised to see they did not have so much contact with the outside community, to the point of not knowing the food truck arrives in Miricharo on a Tuesday or Friday, or the existence of the fruit truck that goes to Condado, after having lived here for two years – but also understandable given all the things they’ve been juggling in this time! I was also happily surprised to discover Julie and I shared a mad love of kitchen spices and that the house was well stocked with a fabulous array of herbs and spices from all over the world.