Waking up in the cloud forest was amazing experience. The night of our campout, I walked about half an hour alone into the forest before lying down to sleep. When the sun rose, I was delighted to see the colors return to the bromeliads and orchids in the canopy above. I gathered my belongings and walked over the valleys and ridges to our campsite, where we all waited for Teacher Alan to join us. The five of us did our yoga and meditation for the last time, and took a couple minutes to reflect on how this practice had worked for us over the two weeks. We then walked back to the house, did our chores, and ate a final delicious breakfast. The sun flower seedlings are looking awesome, and the beets are coming along great as well! We also took time to create a video encouraging other Quaker schools to switch to green energy, and Teacher Alan and I returned to the forest to water the Chicalaba seedlings we had planted a few days before. After lunch and rest, we drank a couple last-minute glasses of water and loaded our belongings into the truck. We drove to the top of campus, where we met our apprentice friends, Angel and his family, and Eduardo and Mauricio. We all rode together to the original cloud forest, and even got to meet the legendary Ricardo, founder of Las Cañadas! Together, we did a final moral imagination exercise in a circle of stumps where we imagined how our descendants would view the climate warriors of today. We practiced holding hands and acknowledging the life and power of other people. After this emotional moment, it was time for the sweat lodge!
The sweat lodge was one of the craziest experiences of my life. First we prepared verbally for the ritual, and then faced the four cardinal directions to the sound of Ricardo’s drum. The sweat lodge has a door in facing in each direction that corresponds both to natural elements and aspects of a person’s life and character. We then lined up and received small pieces of wood to pour anything we hoped to rid our lives of into. We each received a smudging from Ricardo before throwing our stick into the fire and entering the lodge. At first the sweat lodge was very dark and cool. Banana leaves carpeted the floor and flowers hung from the ceiling. We filed in a sat in a circle against the small igloo-like walls. Ricardo explained what would happen, and then the rocks were brought in, each one glowing red hot like it was from the core of the earth. The rocks were so beautiful! We greeted each rock, closed the door, and then began singing, imagining, and laughing as we cycled through first the Door of Earth and then the Door of Air. After the Door of Air, it was time to bring more rocks in. This time they were small boulders! It was at this point that I started to get really hot. Ricardo poured water on the rocks to make steam infused with the most delicious herbs I have ever smelled. We were all very, very sweaty at this point. At the Door of Water, the memories start to get a bit fuzzy for me. I remember my heart racing, my whole body being covered in sweat, and a sudden realization that I definitely had lungs and had better use them. We were splashed with water, given a chance to share our prayers and feelings, and hammered with hotter and hotter air in a beautiful mix of joy and pain. Then it was time for the Door of Fire. The Door of Fire is the hottest door of the sweat lodge. At this point I was lying flat on my back, very hot and completing unable to form most coherent thoughts. I have never felt so weak and strong at the same time. We were invited to think of a goal for our lives, and share anything we wanted to throw into the fire and rid from our lives. Reflecting on my determination to help the Earth and need to abandon my feelings of inadequacy felt like the culmination of everything I had learned in Mexico. The top door of the lodge was lifted, and our steam and feelings went flying up into much, much cooler air.
After the sweat lodge, I remember sitting in the river to cool off, lying on the grass and watching the sky spin above me, and realizing that I had momentarily lost my ability to speak Spanish. I felt very tired, very much part of a community, and strangely, very clean. I eventually walked into the cloud forest to change my clothes and had an encounter with some very large ants. I hope I did not disturb them too much. We rode the bus back up to the top of campus, and sadly said goodbye to Angel and our apprentice friends. We then drove to Orizaba, ate dinner together, and had a chance to walk around a different Mexican city. Over dinner, we gave each other compliments and appreciations for our roles during the trip. We stopped by Teacher Alan’s hotel room to receive new Angel Cards with values we hoped to embody on our post-Mexico journeys. I got Obedience, which I can only interpret as obedience to my commitment to enjoy every moment of my life as an environmentalist. After a wait at the bus station, we said goodbye to Teacher Alan and boarded our 1am bus for Ciudad de Mexico. Teacher Paula and I said goodbye to the others at JFK Airport, and then had an adventure involving several train rides, subways, broken phones, a lot of culture shock, and a period of looking for my parents at random train platforms in New Jersey. We finally found them and made it home safely, which was quite a relief!
After a week back in the USA, I’ve been trying to reflect on my experience at Las Cañadas. While I think it will take me years to process it fully, there are a few things I am sure of right now. One is that there are so many options for interacting with the Earth and others, and that the most rewarding involve being fully alive, taking risks, and being unafraid to really love something. Another is that helping the environment and living sustainably are incredibly fun and rewarding. I know that I’ve gained some self confidence and validation about what I want to do with my life, and that I will remember the amazing Mexicans I met for years to come. I think most importantly, I learned that even though the world and environment are incredibly messed up right now, there are so many options for fixing it and so many people across the world who genuinely care. I know I’m not alone.
With profound gratitude to Teacher Alan, Teacher Paula, Angel, Alba, Gloria, Ester, Eduardo, Mauricio, Daniel, Juan, Daniel, Dany, Yolanda, Tyde, Ricardo, Mishel, Hector, Pati, Julia, Concha, Carlos, Nuco, Juan José, and wonderful, wonderful Eugenio,
Note: We are still having trouble posting the pictures! Hopefully we will get some posted in the next week. Thank you for your patience!