100 things for sale during breakfast

9 de Julio, Salta, Argentina´s beautiful central plaza is abuzz with activity most mornings and late, post-siesta afternoons.  Sundays are the glaring exception; a ghost town takes over Salta.  Young kids in school uniforms invade every inch of the main square, seemingly all day long though they must be on break.  They eat candy and browse the internet on mini laptops courtesy of the plaza´s free wi-fi, blare reggaeton through their phones and tease each other incessantly. Other sounds include the occasional idle of a truck or passing motorist, squeaky bicyclists, quiet chitter chatter from the numerous outdoor cafés and daytime birdsong.  The plaza smells like exhaust and pastries, as usual, and sometimes citrus; hundreds of orange trees outline the plaza.  To my discontent they are fiercely sour, though perhaps they are premature or just past their prime… I´m hopeful that most of them were, are, or will be wonderful!

Sitting in the sun at one of the numerous outdoor cafés for a late breakfast – café cortado and my Argentine obsession, medialunas (mini crescent croissants) with avocado and cheese – I am approached about 36 times by street vendors eager to hack their innumerable goods.  Here´s a list of many of the items for sale as I ate breakfast that morning:

– Figs
– Avocado
– Oranges
– Socks
– Rosaries
– Jewelry
– Chocolate
– Incense
– Purses
– A quick shoeshine
– Coca leaves
– Strawberries
– Angel statues
– Paintings
and Children´s books

A pretty typical, albeit great day in South America.

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Mushrooms! – of the Amazon Rainforest!

Down here in the Peruvian Amazon, not far south of the equator, my fascination with mushrooms continues of course…

Upon heading to South America I was eager to see what types of mushrooms I might discover deep in the jungle and I got a small taste (not literally) of what exists.  Because the area surrounding Iquitos is mostly new growth forest, I didn`t get to venture deep, deep into la selva (the jungle) where I`m sure the more exotic species thrive, but nonetheless I got to see several interesting mushrooms (the best of which I somehow didn`t manage to photograph).  Take a look:

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Cusco, Peru (Sights, Sounds, Smells)

Cusco, Peru is a constant buzz of activity.  The sensory experience of walking down Cusco´s narrow streets explain it best…

Cusco is high: 3,400m. / 11,200ft.
Inevitably you will drag yourself up and down its cobbled streets, huffing and puffing uncontrollably, several times each day.
Imagine you are walking up. up, up, up.
The streets are mostly narrow, cobbled with huge stones, walls made of plaster and stone, large tiles depict each Quechua street name:
Choquechaca, Pumacurca, Tambopata, Tullumayo, Hatunrumyoc, SuytuQhatu, Atoqsaycuchi, Concebidayoc, Teqsecocha.
Pera.
Taxis whip around tight corners, rattle and bump and squeal and beep.
Pedestrians walk along tiny raised sidewalks, huff, puff, clomp, chatter.
The air is filled with exhaust and pastries, dampness and cold.
Gangs of gnarly, dreadlocked street dogs howl and bark and dig through bags of rubbish, chomping away at anything they can find.

The sound of Cusco is hawking. Hawking and honking and church bells and school girls laughing.
“Massages, señorita, massage. pedicure, manicure, waxing”
(No, gracias)
“Pinturas, pictures. free to look, only one sol”
(No, gracias)
“Hello, hello, sunglasses”
(No, gracias)
“Tour Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, good price”
(No, gracias)
“100% baby alpaca, come on miss, good price for you”
“¿De que pais? Where are you from? Cal-i-for-nia?”
“Restaurant, good price, menù s/15, pizza, Mexican, traditional food”
“Massages lady? good price”
(to the men) “Massages Mr., extra services”
“que buscando? bananas, mangoes, naranjas, manzanas, maricuya?”
“Take my picture miss, 1 sol”

NO GRACIAS!

Eventually you just say no.
Often you just say nothing, learn to block it all out.
When it rains, or the sun begins to set, or well after dark it is often quiet, if only for a few moments.

In the markets it smells of sweetly of fruit, intensely of meats. Every color of the rainbow and beyond is present (and just about every product one can imagine).

(Mostly) live frogs next to bowls of blood-red cranberries.
San Pedro cactus and Ayuhuasca root and sweet-smelling Palo Santo wood.

Hundreds of bottles of remedies for every ailment.
Pollo, carne, cuy, pescado, tocino, saltado – and every last toe and head.
Mushrooms and cheese rounds and 50 types of nuts.

Raisins, corn, granola, bread, spicy peppers galore.
Wheat, pasta, oats, quinoa, amaranth, rice, and beans.
Onions, tomatoes, carrots, cilantro, mint, basil, lemongrass,
Maricuya, platanos, mangoes, manzanas, naranjas, uvas, higos, paltas, and squash 3 times the size of your head.

Coca leaves and prickly pear cactus.

Cusco is a whirlwind, an attack on the senses, a chilly, rainy, cloudy, chit-chatting city. It´s also wonderfully romantic, charming and filled with cultural riches. You may leave with a few stuffed llamas, rainbow patchwork pants, fluorescent leg warmers, finger puppets, alpaca sweaters and 100 or so other things you never intended to buy, but the truth is, it was worth every second of the olfactory, auditory and monetary onslaught.

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Reflections on the jungle, from the desert

Sitting here in an internet cafe in Arequipa, Peru – the second largest city in the country with a population of around 900,000 located in the desert foothills of the Andes – I find myself reminiscing of the jungle. 

Traveling down the Pan-American highway, stretching along the entire West coast of Peru and turning inland to reach major destinations cities including Ica and Nazca, the scenery is dusty, orangish-red, mountainous.  You can sense the dryness and heat, even from within a double-decker bus, even in the middle of the night.  It continually strikes me as odd to be in the heat and scorching sun of the desert while right next to the misty sea; two expansive natural phenomenas butting up alongside one another.

The jungle is totally different.  Every inch is crowded by a million shades of green, a thousand competing odors, the chirp-crow-ribbet-caw-click-clack-beep-howl-thump-rumble-pitter-patter-and thunder clap of life.  A general chorus of jungle bugs and other creatures of the Amazon grows in intensity as the sun fades, their songs sung loudest in the dead of night.  When the rain comes you can sense it for miles away.  The air begins to whirl and a slight chill fills the air and you can almost hear the rain before it starts to hit the ground.  Suddenly, the entire sky opens and the rains come down as if there was no tomorrow.  Lighting and thunder are a near daily presence, reinforcing the intensity of the storm.  Tropical rain is the best kind of rain there is.  So confident, powerful, reassuring.  The jungle is like a love affair, pulling at your heart strings; a tender embrace, a delicate balance.  The jungle is life, growth, death, birth, renewal, motion, sound.  The jungle is in charge and it will make sure you know it, one way or another.

(100 or so bites per leg being one such indicator).

Considering I was in the jungle to study permaculture and practice sacred medicine, the jungle was more than just the jungle itself.  It was an intentional community, a space for learning, a place for meditation and reflection.  No phones, no internet, no electricty.  Dinner by candlelight.  Sleep under a mosquito net.  Farming and mapping and measuring under a thick coat of sweat and caked-on clay body masks to stop the constant itch of a thousand bites.  San Pedro ceremonies in the daylight, Ayahuasca ceremonies in the night. Trekking through the jungle, listening to nature, floating down the River Italia along a white sand beach.  Eating hot pink ice cream treats from the bike-riding ice cream and bread man who honks his horn along the road two times each day. 

A little under three weeks which felt like a lifetime. 

Sunrise

Sunlight touching the forest floor

Rainstorm in the jungle

River Italia

Garden Beds, mostly empty at the moment

My Jungle Family

Home

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first thoughts on Peru

I arrived in Peru on February 7th, a little over a month ago today, and it´s already been one crazy adventure.

What exactly it was that brought me here, how long I´ll stay, what I´m hoping to discover – these are all questions I can´t quite answer at the moment, though I´m excited for the thrill of endless possibility (as unsettling as it can be).

In just over a month I´ve spent time in Lima, Iquitos, and Cusco/the Sacred Valley, three strikingly diverse regions of Peru.

Lima, located along the Western coast and situated high on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean is modern, international, hip, expensive, fast-paced. It´s hot and dry, green, romantic. Though often loud and intense, it´s simultaneously tranquil, down to Earth, and refreshingly clean. Parks, flowers, and tropical trees beckon from every inch of the city and the climate is nearly perfect.

Traveling by air to the largest remote city in the world, Iquitos is located in the Amazon rainforest, bordered by Columbia to the North and Brazil to the East. The city of Iquitos is dirty, dingy, rundown, loud, fast, cheap, spontaneous. Surrounded by tributaries of the Amazon River and a backdrop of the jungle it can be quite panoramic and beautiful from the right perspective. Most of my time in Iquitos, however, was actually spent an hour from the city on 100 acres of remote Amazonian jungle. In comparison, the jungle is hot, humid, wild, alive, intense, boisterous. It exists in the hyper-present moment, demanding attention and instinct. It´s beautiful, sensual, vibrant, flamboyant and emotional. It´s a difficult place to live, yet even more difficult to leave.

High up in the mountains situated at a breathless 3,400m (11,200ft.) above sea level, Cusco is one of the most important tourist destinations in Peru as the historic capital of the Inca Empire and close by to major tourist attraction Machu Picchu. Cusco is slow-paced, romantic, charming, breathtaking (literally). It has maintained its old school aesthetic appeal, apparent in the beautiful churches, central squares, narrow cobbled streets and traditional Andean dress. From a s/4 menú or set meal (around $1.50) including mate (tea), a huge bowl of soup and a traditional Peruvian meal, to $10 one-hour massages, Cusco will win your heart immediately (and not necessarily take your wallet with it)!

All in all, Peru is an extraordinarily diverse country, captivatingly beautiful and worth a few months of your time to explore. Feel free to come down and visit me!

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Grow Your Own (Organic) Food: A Brief How To

Once you have decided to grow your own food, there are a few different directions you might go in as far as first steps are concerned.  In my opinion, before you start looking at seed catalogs or sketching out where to plant what, consider speaking with gardeners and/or farmers who live nearby; they may very well be the best resource you will find for getting started and successfully growing your own food.  Try doing a google search for gardeners near you or organizations which work to promote local food sourcing and healthy eating.  Discovering other gardeners near where you live can help you visualize what you might be able to create in your own garden, demonstrate what types of food grow well, and provide you with a great source of advice (and often free seeds or maybe even some used tools and a helping hand!)  Finding organizations which promote local, healthy, organic food will connect you with other like-minded people nearby and may provide new inspiration for growing food (such as teaching local kids about farming or donating extra produce to a food bank or soup kitchen).   Another good first step?  Visit your local farmer´s market.  There you will find lots of local farmers, inspiration for growing your own food, and additionally, lots of potted herbs and vegetables which you might consider replanting in your own garden – a great way to get started, especially for beginners.

Don´t have a lot of space or time to commit to planning and/or managing a garden plot?  Consider planting a container garden or renting a community garden plot.  Container gardening can be as easy as picking up a few herbs or tomato plants from your local nursery or farmer´s market, buying a good potting mix and compost, and putting the two together in a pot, whereas gardening in a community space can be a great way to connect with your community and get advice on how to get started.

Interested in working on a small farm before you attempt to grow your own food at home?  Consider joining World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), an awesome organization which will connect you to thousands of other farmers around the globe.  Through WWOOF, you as an interested (but generally inexperienced farmer) volunteer your time in exchange for food and lodging at farms all over the world.  If you don´t have full-time hours to commit, local farmers (connected with WWOOF or not) are always eager for helping hands and can show you the ropes for getting started in the art and lifestyle of growing food.

Have more space and/or time to commit to your new food gardening project?  Check out the vegetable patch for lots of advice on how to get started, where to position your garden, and how to compost your food and yard scraps.  Also check out my previous blog on how to start seeds, especially for larger garden/farm projects.

While deciding to start your own food garden may seem like a daunting task, there are countless resources out there to help get you started – take advantage!  As not to overwhelm I´ll leave you with the resources listed above and wish you the best… good luck, and get growing!

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STILL in need of a New Year’s Resolution? Grow Your Own Food

Still haven’t made a New Year’s Resolution?  Don’t believe in resolutions, but want to do something to improve your life this year?  Here’s an idea which you can accomplish and which will benefit your health, happiness, community, and wallet while also helping to achieve greater environmental sustainability, social justice and food security (among the myriad benefits). . . this year, learn to grow your own organic food.

Why bother?
Here’s a long list of reasons for why growing your own food can vastly improve your life:

1) Growing your own food reconnects you to the natural environment, an environment that we are increasingly disconnected from in our too-busy, technological, and largely artificial lives.  (Although it often doesn’t feel like it, we are very much part of and dependent on the interconnected world around us, not outside it).  2) Growing food teaches us and those around us where food really comes from, and expands our horizons as we learn about the vast variety of food we are able to grow (and often not buy) in almost any climate.  3) Eating food you have grown means you are eating the freshest and healthiest food available, grown not only locally, but hyper-locally in the area surrounding the area you call home.  4) Growing your own food means there are no transportation costs associated with (at least some of) the food you are eating, and no transportation costs means a healthier natural environment for everyone’s benefit.

Remember as a kid how much fun it was to play in the dirt?  5) Growing food allows you this joy once again; healthy soil is the most important factor in growing healthy food and getting your hands dirty feels just as great as it did when you were a kid.  If you’re a kid who wants to grow food, dig in!

6) Engaging manually – with the soil, with seeds, with compost and mulch, with flowers as they bloom and vegetables and fruits once they mature and ripen – a sometimes methodical, sometimes spontaneous act, produces a sense of euphoria and calm, while inspiring awe and humility.  7) All of these feelings uplift the human spirit, make us feel alive, create a sense of joy that the ho-hum of modern life often doesn’t provide.

8) Growing food saves you money because you can avoid the grocery store, and all of the products you might have shopped for which don’t really count as food anyways.  9) Growing food teaches us about simplicity and living closer to the land, yet demonstrates for us how little control over nature we really have.  It’s enlightening.  10) When we grow our own food, we create security for ourselves, our families, and anyone else we share this food with because we have enabled our own access to healthy food.  11) When we grow food as a community or in public spaces we affirm the importance of health, social and environmental justice, local sustainability and the beautification and pride in where and how we chose to live.  12) When we grow organically, we protect our health from exposure to pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and hormones, and we help prevent everyone and everything else from exposure too.  13) If we share the responsibilities of growing food with others we also get to reap the benefits with them – more quality face-to-face time, less time on Facebook.  14) Growing food means getting outside – in the sun, in the rain – whatever the weather; who doesn’t love an excuse to leave the confines of the indoors?

This list could go on and on, but I’ll leave you with this:  15) grow your own food because it will open the door of reality to all of the important, natural, real, turned-off, tuned-out experiences we are allowing to slip away from us as humans; growing your own food might just enable you to (re)prioritize your life for the better.

(Oh, also do it because it tastes real damn good.)

Convinced and ready to get started?  Tips and ideas for how to begin growing your own food coming up in the next post… stay tuned.

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