|Genny and Ingo’s house|
As I piss against a tree it all comes splashing back. Less than a year ago my work involved a lot of sitting down and a lot of typing, as did Emma’s. We had all of these ideas.. On those cold winter days with numb hands and heavy heads on the way to work,
Tonight, I have drunk a couple of beers and so I have the time to break these recollections and take in the environment around me. Beyond the tree I know that the black chasm is really a large drop down to a stretch of land that houses one hundred chickens, a small herd of goats and Annie the dog-lamb. Beyond them is the river, which makes me feel like the god of urination, water thundering through the valley and against this tree (and, admittedly, my feet and shins). I can only see the silhouette of the mountains on the other side, which I know to be coated with innumerable amounts and types of trees. Ingo said it best:
“Every so often, I look at those hills and I see something I have never seen before.” And he has lived here for over a year now.
|Boots and baas|
Behind me, I know, is the large, beautiful wooden house that provides shelter for Ingo and Genny, a German/Ecuadorian/French couple, and their German/French/Ecuadorian/English daughters Elisa, Emily and Laia. Also in the house are five more volunteers and my Emma. Behind that house are vegetable gardens, bee houses, a pig pen, a wormery, and then the hills, up into the jungle and off into the imagination. Up there, in there, another river flows, amongst so many huge plants and trees. Between those trees roam monkeys, pumas, ocelots and more birds than I can even imagine. And then there are the fireflies, a constant, visceral, pulsing reminder that I am in a place of beauty, of importance; a state of awe and wonder. I watch them beaming and beating and pulsing in the night, astonished at the power of their glow. Above them, above all of this, above it all, there lays- to my utter bewilderment- the Milky Way.
There it is. Real. Completely real, laid out before my eyes like a code, a conundrum. Back in Europe we followed the Milky Way from France to the western cost of Spain. The Camino de Santiago is really the Camino de Estrellas: The Way of the Stars. Way before Christianity, pilgrims followed the Milky Way to Finisterre (Land’s End) and stood on the edge of the world, staring out to sea and darkness. There are things out there that we cannot know, cannot imagine. The river winds through the jungle, the puma slinks between the trees. We will walk soon down that river and see those trees. We’ll even see the excrement of some big cat, but to look at it you’d be hard pressed to fathom the paws, the teeth, the eyes.
Since we began travelling I’ve seen the Milky Way a lot more than when I lived in towns and cities in England. I know it’s there, but I forget. Somehow, every time I look up at it I am surprised.
To think, I’d spent the last thirty minutes or so wondering whether I could even be bothered to get up and take a leak.
Tomorrow I will wake up and eat a delicious breakfast of home-baked bread slathered with honey from the bees that we fed earlier today. Toucans will sing in the gaining day. We will all pass each other food and jams across the big, full table. Then we will help to build a terrace on the house of these wonderful people who have let us into their home. Emma will design and build a garden. Yesterday and in the days to come Ingo and Genny will teach us things that will help us to build our own future together. They will teach us to turn trees into fences and houses for chickens and bees, to use llama and goat poo to fertilise the new trees that many other volunteers have planted here. They will show us how to care for animals, animals that are very much living and dying in front of our eyes. Ingo will share with us herbs that they have grown here, on this land, and we will talk as the darkness rises around us and the fireflies continue their performance. And they will teach us more than I can relay here.
All across South America, all over the world, there are places like this. Places where people will teach you, will trust you and bring you into their homes, will let you build them and teach you how to cultivate their land, alongside them. They will cut their hands on the same things you will. They will feed you and talk away hours and hours with you and will never even mention money. Here, especially at Genny and Ingo’s house, interest, hard work and unity are currency enough. They save no money having volunteers at their house every day of the year, but they tell us that they gain so much. And anyone that passes through here stands to gain a great deal.
But all of this is for the morning and the days to come. There are ways and paths and roads and rivers between here and there, between everywhere. All of it pulsing and jutting and flowing day and night under the Milky Way- within the Milky Way. And we all know where the Milky Way is.
I’m tired, body and mind. My shoulder hurts from carrying huge planks of wood, my hands are blistered from digging and slashing with a machete. I have spines from various plants in various parts of my body. Down below, with the animals, and up here near the house we have built things that we didn’t know how to just days ago. This is our work now. And in that house is my Emma, tired just the same and cut and bruised too. We are learning so much.
My feet may be a little wet but I fall back to sleep as the house creaks around us all and the bugs go on and on, just like everything else, in the dark of the night.
|Emma and Annie|
|Building the terrace|
|My first taste of beekeeping|
|Another artistic turn from Emma|