Friday, March 12, 2010

Notes from the Jungle

So last time I wrote, I was staying in a palapa on the beach, enjoying el aire libre during the day and attempting to both sleep and stay warm at night - not an easy task when you´re up against a mattress shaped like a Pringle, a pillow seemingly stuffed with packing peanuts, and walls that are, in all reality, not walls so much as closely positioned poles. Still, it was Paradise, and there are many a common luxury lucky gringas like myself will go without in exchange for a chance to lounge on the beach and eat coconuts all day.
Much enamored with this simple life, I took to napping during the day. At night, I coiled myself into a multi-layered fabric tamale and rolled around on the Mattress of Doom listening to the booming surf and the Spring Break crowd party it up several hotels away. For privacy, I hung up a few blankets and sarongs; ambient touches that lent the place a delightfully exotic Gilligan´s Island feel, especially coupled with the palm-thatched roof.

Did you know there are scorpions that live in palm thatch? Because I didn´t know there were scorpions. Hell, I didn´t even know about the geckos.

There are lots of things I don´t know about Mexico, but there are other things I´ve learned rather quickly: Salsa dancing changes your internal rhythm. If you don´t bargain, you´re worth cheating. There are no such thing as too many popsicles, but there sure is too much tequila. And finally, most importantly, "she who wanders alone wanders best."
Having figured out the last one barely a day before we were scheduled to fly to Mexico City, I bit the bullet and parted ways with my former traveling companion (he of the travel itinerary, generous wallet and Spanish-speaking skills) in favor of finding my own adventures. And find them I have.

If anyone would like to visit me here (and you´d better do so quickly, because I´m leaving for even more adventures in 4 days), here´s how to do it:
Pack a flashlight, some bug spray, a sleeping bag, and your passport, and take the next Air Mexicana flight into Cancun.
From Cancun, grab the Mayab bus to Tulum.
When you get to Tulum, walk across the street to the popsicle shop and buy a fresh kiwi or mango or guava popsicle, and eat it under the tamarind tree.
Go back to the bus station and buy a ticket to a barely-there town called Manuel Antonio Hay. Tell the bus driver to let you out at kilometro veinte y seis.
When he opens the door, walk towards the brightly painted building - the only building - and keep walking until you come to a small path.
Ignore the rooster and follow the path. Look for a break in the trees on your right, through which you´ll see a small building made out of very loosely assembled sticks.
Call my name.
If you´re really lucky, a very tan (or very dirty; it´s hard to tell) woman with dark hair and muddy clothes will come out, look very shocked for a few seconds, and then hug you like you´ve never been hugged before.
Congratulations, you´ve found the bruja verde of El Alebrije.

Of course, I´m only the temporary green witch of El Alebrije, an intentional community in the Mayan jungle based around green living, yoga, and the Mayan calendar. In a few days, I´m going to another country to study Spanish for two whole weeks and continue teaching -and learning- about herbs. For now, though, I´m getting ready to teach an herbal medicine 101 class on the day of the Women´s Sweat Lodge, and I´ve traded in my ocean-side palapa for an even more ramshackle hut in the woods, where I spend my days surrounded by plants and my nights swinging to sleep in a hammock - and boy, was that part an adventure in and of itself.
It took me a week and some crazy maneuverings, but I´ve finally gotten it all figured out.

Picture this: it´s my first night in the jungle, and I have yet to figure out that the palapa has electricity. I have one candle and a flashlight. It´s very cold. As I listen to the moist crunching sound of thousands of insects chewing through (and around, and above, and inside...) my new abode, I feel very exposed. And cold. And alone. And vulnerable. And there are lots of animal noises happening very, very close, right outside the non-walls. My friend has mentioned monkeys and scorpions, and I am pretty sure that if this unfinished hut has a mosquito net hanging over the hammock when there isn´t even a floor yet, it´s probably for a damn good reason.
So. I blow out the candle, place the flashlight in my mouth (so my hands are free), and begin an event so ridiculous, it rivals the Great Squirrel Incident of aught nine. Double-bagging my sleeping bag with a second one for warmth, I wrap a blanket around my shoulders and hold them all in place with one hand while pushing the mosquito netting aside with the other. Awkward, but so far, so good.
Step two (climbing onto a moving net butt-first and hands-free) was a little trickier, but still feasable. Steps three through eight hundred and seventy three (wrap one side of the hammock over the top of your head, lean back until you´re completely prone, lift off the ground, tuck your knees to your chest, kick your feet out straight so they -and all the bedding around them- are enclosed in one side of the hammock, while your head -and its bedding- stays firmly enclosed by the other, and wriggle around until you´re comfortable) eluded me.
All night long.
For several days.
Once, it eluded me so well, I found myself upside down on the dirt floor with my feet tangled in the hammock, my body trapped in the sleeping bags, and the now-filthy mosquito net falling in graceful swathes around my head. It was the most comfortable I´d been all night.
As far as I´m concerned, the hammock-and-blankets combo is the Black Diamond of Mexican sleeping arangements. Go figure.

Still. I´m learning an awful lot and having a blast. It took me a few days, but I slept like a baby last night. I cooked black bean soup over an open fire while the rooster (aptly named Romeo) watched amorously nearby. I go grocery shopping by myself, and I usually know what I get. And I´ve made some amazing friends.
Julie is origionally from the States, but she´s been here long enough to have an accent as beautiful as she is. She reminds me a lot of Emily, with the same kind of gentle strength and warm spirit that emenate from all her interactions with the world. She´s teaching me about some of the local plants and Reiki. I´m teaching her as much as I can about herbal formulas and permaculture so she can start her own business and make the community sustainable.

The other night our shaman, Francisco, held a temezcal (a Mayan sweat lodge). It was a really magical night; intense and full of shifting energy. Francisco asked to use some of my herbs and oils in the steams, and it was a blessing and honor to smell them inside the Lodge and remember when and where I´d harvested and bought them on my last journey- all of them were procured with joy, and used for good. Praise the goodness that flows through all!
That night I gave energy adjustments to over fifteen people. I´ve been honing the work I do with peoples´bodies and energy, working to align and strengthen their energy flow, straightening out the kinks or jams and opening up the blocked channels. As I start to learn about Reiki, I´m looking forward to seeing how that changes and advances what I feel and know (and let myself know).
The night of the Lodge, I started out doing one adjustment, and when I looked up, there was a small crowd of interested, hopeful faces watching, so I just kept going. Francisco and Onassis (our resident farmer and Julie´s boyfriend) tended the fire and led the ceremonies, which lasted for over five hours! It was so hot and powerful, and by the end of it we were all covered completely in mud and aloe and each others´sweat and all felt very much alive. I missed a lot because it was all in Spanish and Mayan (there´s lots of Mayan languages, but people just say Mayan for short, and it doesn´t seem to be rude), but I got the main parts.
I especially loved the chant we sang:
La tierra es cuelpo. El agua es la sangre. El viento es el aliento. El fuego es el espíritu.
The earth is the body, the water is the blood. The wind is the breath, the fire is the spirit.

In addition to all the energy and plant work (and research and cooking and just generally being on vacation) I´ve also been playing vet to one very small, very sweet little white and black puppy. She and her eight brothers and sisters just opened their eyes 2 days ago, and while they´re all now about twice as big as she is, I´m pleased to report that she´s recovering very well from what our Mayan friend Antonio thinks were two tarantula bites. I met her the first day I came to the community, and though it wasn´t obvious (to me) what the cause of her distress was, it was clear that without some assistance la pequiña perrita was probably not going to make it. Tatiana (owner of both land and puppies, and salsa dancer nonpareil) looked very squeemish.
Not being one to balk at the idea of stabbing a newborn critter for a good cause (and eager to endear myself to my new landlady), I decided to take the healing thing to a new, minor surgery sort of level, and returned to Tatiana´s house moments later armed with the best medical supplies my backback can provide - namely, my first aid kit and a pocket knife.
It turns out there isn´t much you can´t do with hot water, a clean cloth, some herbs, and a sharp knife. I´m pretty sure babies have been delivered with a lot less. I´ll spare everyone the details, but as messy as it was, it was useful, and doable, and if all is as I left it this morning, the pup is doing well and probably nursing even as you read this.

That´s all the news from the jungle. I probably won´t post much -if at all- until I get back, but I love you all, and am sending sweet energy to everyone up North.... Many blessings,

-Blackbird´s Daughter

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