For the full photo diary for this part of the tour please click here
Tierra de Sol, the Permaculture farm I’ve been living and working at these past weeks has stolen a sizable chunk of my heart. The place is a little spot of paradise, an enclave from the pointlessness of the world. Here there is purpose, and without oil guzzling machines, plenty of it too. It might come as no surprise that a long distance cycle tourist should enjoy physical work and the sense of achievement that follows in its wake. The difference here has been that my energies have been invested in a cause far more worthwhile and altruistic. I have learnt one hell of a lot on the farm and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. It has been intense and physically demanding but given me plenty to be thinking about when I remount Shermy in a couple of days time. It’s not all been work though, I managed to find time to cycle the 13 miles back to Oaxaca and spend a couple of days with some friends from back home in England.
Tierra del Sol was started 14 years ago by its inspirational owner, Pablo. Having satisfied childhood dreams of becoming a commercial airline pilot at an early age, Pablo was steered towards his current calling after a visit to indigenous communities in the mountains around Oaxaca. This trip opened his eyes to the joys to be derived from simple purpose and reconnection with mother nature. Now the farm is a productive 8 acre site but still in Pablos eyes very much a work in progress. It is easy for me to see where Pablos inspiration came from, it’s an urge I have long recognised in myself and as such I consider myself very lucky to have the products of his experience from which to learn and nourish my ambitions.
Farm life is unsurprisingly built around the rhythms and requirements of nature. I joined Miguel who hails from Campeche and Enrique, a longer term worker originally from Mexico City, when I arrived to offer my services. Volunteers are expected to work six days a week, taking Sunday off for rest and recuperation. This does not mean Sunday brings a lie-in, when there are animals around there are always things to attend to. Every day we’re up before 7am to muck-out and feed the rabbits, chickens and milk Simona the cow. For me that has usually meant a heavy session in the field cutting the Alfalfa grass that the rabbits and cow feast on. Out there with a scythe in my hand and the sun rising over the mountains, I have been hit by countless waves of satisfied romanticism, a smug indulgence in my current freedoms. After that its back down to earth with breakfast and a brief rest before the real work begins.
Over the course of my time here I have learnt any number of skills and done things I’ve never come close to approaching before. From the simple art of scything Alfalfa every morning to the more exhausting practice of unearthing tree roots, I’ve encountered skills and techniques that prove to me that machines are not essential for small scale farming. My days have been varied and satisfying with other tasks including: harvesting and processing the Amaranth crop (I’d never even heard of Amaranth before reaching Mexico), weeding, chopping and clearing various lucky plants, mulching, making compost, cutting timbers for a new rabbit hutch, planting trees, searching for an escaped cow and a plethora of other smaller chores. All this in a location of enviable beauty, surrounded by stunning mountains and other less sustainably farmed plots. The sky here is huge bringing an unceasingly fascinating stream of clouds and weather patterns. Sometimes it hasn’t rained for a few days, at other times its rained all day, but the usual practice has been for afternoon showers/deluges following bright sunny mornings, pretty much what you’d expect from the rainy season.
Mid way through my stay here I was thrilled to discover that some friends from home would be passing though Oaxaca on their way up to Mexico City. Lucy and Giles are in the closing stages of their own epic journey, one that has taken them around the world from Africa to Asia and then all the way up the Americas from Argentina. They have been traveling in the traditional backpacking mode and as such have managed to cover an incredible amount of the globe. During my time with them they celebrated a year on the road, but did so in the knowledge that in a few days time they will fly out of Mexico City and back to the charming reality of Bristol, UK. Aside from my parents joining me in San Francisco last year, Lucy and Giles are the first friends I’ve met up with on my travels and the time we had really served me well. Much fun was had bumbling around Oaxaca doing nothing in particular but just being there, their presence and incredible travel tales really serving to energize me. A timely reminder of the value of home and the people that make it, they also managed to plant a new curiosity with Africa in my thoughts. Good luck back in your jobs guys!
My experience of agriculture was non existent before I arrived at Tierra del Sol. Although 3 weeks cannot teach you the true intricacies of establishing and sustaining a Permaculture based agricultural project, it can provide an overview of the main principles at work. My glimpse into this world has really enticed me, drawing me towards the possibilities of a life that ticks all the boxes I’ve discovered bring me happiness. On the farm there is always purpose, zero let-up and a tight bond with the Earths pulse. Such callings provoke a physical existence, one rewarded by tangible results, obvious in their significance to the labor invested and part within the bigger picture of goal and ambition. It all makes so much sense; you find a suitable plot, organise it in line with the resources available, select crops and livestock that compliment the environment, the labor available and lifestyle choices and then work hard to bring those hopes and investments into reality. Although financial issues are never far around the corner, on this scale of production there is no need for Earth raping machinery and more significantly for me, no need to dig through a swamp of bureaucracy and capitalist detritus to unearth the meaning and personal value to be derived from the toil.
I shall miss Miguel, Enrique, Pablo and Simona when I pedal off east. This has been a very different interlude to the previous breaks I’ve had from the bike and one that I think may stick with me for a while. Central America is only a few days off and with it the start of a new chapter for my tour. I fully intend to gather some inertia and spend the next few weeks cycling… if things happen as I intend it will make a nice change after my stop-start progress through Mexico.