Indigenous Sustainability Program Explores Eco-Tourism Opportunities
When I boarded a plane bound for Buenos Aires last month, I had no idea what was in store for me in the wilds of Argentina. As President and Co-Founder of the Four Bridges Traveling Permaculture Institute, I embarked on a mission to explore opportunities to develop an eco-tourism segment for our non-profit organization.
While it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer sky is sizzling in Buenos Aires. I stepped off the plane in full winter gear to sweltering 100 degree temperatures. After an uneventful pass through customs, I made my way to a taxi stand where a little yellow taxi whisked me off to Navarro, a village whose hidden jewel is the Ecovilla GAIA. GAIA is a non profit organization, founded in December 1992. Its mission is the promotion of sustainable societies, mainly by creating human settlements based on the practice of permaculture systems and methods.
The origin of this project comes from the voice of Gaia (the name given to mother earth by the ancient Greeks). It is our own voice and impels us to wake up from the dream in which the system has submerged us. They have proposed to develop small human settlements based on communitarian, ecological and spiritual principles, or Ecovillages. Residents and transitory inhabitants live in an environment that is in total harmony with nature and the evolutionary process of life. This does not deny reality, on the contrary, it connects one with a huge network of people who are also working to lead the world in a sustainable way of life.
The project encourages work as a communal ritual. It is a space to contact ones inner self, to create and collaborate with GAIA’s process. The deep aim within the Ecovillage is service oriented to generate real solutions for the global crisis and for impoverished societies within Argentina. These Ecovillages are not places to run away from society, or set up small Edens. They will be places that will function as living laboratories, an attempt to transform the links with each other, with work and with life itself.
I spent three glorious days at GAIA, housed in a lovely round pink adobe hut topped with a grass roof. The bathroom came complete with a compost toilet, sink, and shower with running water warmed by the sun. The lights were powered by solar. Everything in this village is sustainable, and developed within the permaculture model. The entire village consists of several private huts, a community kitchen and dining house, and a large hut that is used for classes and community meetings. Several gardens, and wooded areas are scattered throughout the property with sustainable innovations that collect or transport water, create energy, provide food, offer shelter, or pose entertainment opportunities. Sylvia and Gustavo, co-founders of this wonderful organization, were my gracious hosts. While my co-founder, and partner Emigdio Ballon directed lessons in seed saving, plant diversity, and permaculture to a class of 15 students, I spoke of spirituality in agriculture and conducted a moon ceremony by the light of a beautiful Luna de Amarilla.
From GAIA, we traveled back to Buenos Aires for a connecting bus to our next destination. The city is filled with historical sites, cultural activities and of course, Tango halls. We spent two days, and one night in the city before boarding our bus for a ten hour ride to Cordoba, the birth place of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. We rode all night long, arriving in Cordoba just as the sun was rising on a new day. Unfortunately there was no time to enjoy this charming city, as we had work to do, and directly boarded a bus of lower means for a four hour ride to our next destination, San Marcos.
The ride took us up in the Mountains to a village of unpaved roads, and modest architecture. There is no terminal in this festive village, passengers embark on a dusty path in front of a small shopping plaza. “Hippies,” as the locals call them, are performing, painting, and selling their wares in the village square. We are immersed in a cloud of dust as the bus departs, and when it settles, we catch a glimpse of our friend Alejandro.
Ale is eager to show us the birthing center that his mid-wife sister, Anna is building up the road. It is a hopeful place, with lush greenery, rocky paths, a babbling brook, and an unfinished building begging to be completed. Mothers, ripe with child, are meandering about, sharing in their sisterhood of maternity, and enjoying this place of peace. It is a beautiful site indeed. We take notes, and promise to return another day with whatever support we can muster.
After twenty-four hours taking in the flavor of San Marcos, we board another bus into the darkness for our final participation in a permaculture course in Buda Traslasierra, near the village of Nono. Another charming eco-village, run by Ivan and Clarissa, Buda offers a jungle setting in the mountains blessed with amazing colorful parrots, countless wild herbs, and a refreshing waterfall.
Here we receive as much as we offer to these people of the hills. Courses we provided were similar to those at GAIA, adding the strength of Alejandro’s ancient knowledge of the Andes, and other regions of South America. What we took away from Buda, were strong new friendships, and many ideas on sustainable practices. I learned how to make a flashlight from an old tin can, a candle, and a piece of wire. I learned that petroleum sucking hot water heaters can be placed outside to reap the benefits of the sun. With the mechanical components removed, there is a space to build a wood fire to heat the water on cloudy days. An outside oven was built from an old 50 gallon drum, and adobe bricks and mud. Outside showers and compost toilets are easily built with some reused plumbing supplies, a few well placed stakes, and bamboo panels.
After three days of sharing in this close knit community, the time had come to return home. Another 4 hour bus ride in the dark brings us to a convenient hostel near the Cordoba bus terminal. As the morning dawned on my day of departure, I knew I was leaving behind a collection of new friends and fellow permaculturists. I promised to return, with scores of students ready to learn.
Four Bridges Traveling Permaculture Institute is a non-profit organization established to address the needs of indigenous communities around the globe. In essence our “four bridges” reach out in all directions to establish a network of people addressing global issues in all of our communities. We are accomplishing this goal by first addressing the poverty, and lack of healthy sustainable living practices in these communities.
In an effort to become more sustainable, and less reliant on grants and donations, Four Bridges is exploring ways in which we can help support the non-profit work we do at home and abroad. Our trip to Argentina was a maiden voyage to explore possibilities for student exchange, service learning trips, and eco-tourism. We are now working out the details for our first group trip to Buda Traslasierra in August of 2012. Information will soon be available on our website at http://www.4bridges.org.