Falling down the rabbit hole- life in the woods at Espiral de Luz, Samaipata, Bolivia.


I've been struggling for weeks over this post- how to explain my two month hiatus, how to cobble my words and photographs into describing my total infatuation with this little patch of woodland. It's been twenty-six days since we were forced to leave, but I still wake up expecting to hear the sound of insects, before realising the sad truth and missing the beautiful simplicity of that life. I'm finding it hard to move on, to step forward into modernity and realise I don't like the way the world is going, but lets start at the beginning.



It's first important to understand how marginally desperate our situation was. With just over a hundred pounds between us and five weeks left before our flight, Dan and I couldn't continue travelling in any normal fashion. After heading to Samaipata (hippy-mecca of Bolivia) to search for volunteer jobs, we were open to any opportunity that might have come our way. Naturally, when our campsite was visited by a bread-selling hippy who invited us to stay with him in the woods, we set off the next day.



Reaching Espiral de Luz (the whimsical name of Pedro's fledgling eco-village) isn't simple on your own. The nearby village of Paredones is half an hour from Samaipata by taxi (or twenty minutes and an hour long walk down from the highway if you're broke). From here our directions were to cross the hanging bridge then head upstream along the river, crossing a couple of times and following the path.  


As we soon found out, the rain and risen river had made this original route impossible and after a few false starts we tried instead to find our way through a neighbor farmers land. The forest was thick and as we clambered over knotted roots and pushed through spiky branches with our backpacks, I wondered where we were heading. As the darkness crept up on us I was relieved to come across a gateway, Pedro and the haphazardly organised woodland inside.


Espiral de Luz has none of the amenities we've come to expect from the modern world (electricity, plumbing, walls, windows and doors...), but having been built with love and attention to detail, the alternatives are practical and slowly began to feel more natural than life in the 'real' world.



After many soggy, rock-littered camping spots, I was pleasantly surprised to find a flat space with an effective water drainage trench and even a little shelter from trees above.



The communal kitchen is at the heart of Pedro's plans for Espiral de Luz and although the roof isn't finished yet, it's a great refuge from the rain when it comes and a comfortable hub to gather the community in. Built of earth, clay, stones, straw and sticks from the land, there is a superbly efficient oven and practically designed fire trench for cooking. To eat we sat on benches built into the walls around a table made from foresters' off-cuts. Our food was shared and simple, usually costing around 60 to 100 Bolivianos (£6-£10) a week and supplemented with edible plants from the woodland- pica-pica, a sort of giant stinging nettle is great with potatoes and we made tea from lemon-grass or the medicinal mateco that grows abundantly.


By far the least negotiable benefit of Pedro's plot of land was a clean source of water running down from the mountain. The muddy river below was great for bathing, but with a village upstream, the other clear-water trickle was far more important and as long as it was running clear, we were eternally thankful. 



The longer we stayed, the less I felt like ever returning to the world beyond the highway. Having a rhythm of life dependent on the weather, we soon began to check the sky before sleeping. Without a looming storm, it was littered with stars and a moon so bright that when full it ruined our night vision. At other times the clouds were so obstructive we could barely see each-other. After a couple of weeks, I felt like I could just smell when rain was on its way. When it came, never a light shower, all we could do was hunker down, try to protect the camp and play cards in the mean time.



After the weather was cleared enough to explore again, the river ran fast and red from sand upstream. Strange colonies of toadstools formed and the insects emerged to soak up the returning heat. 



On a sunny day, the forest felt like a fantasy world with tree roots winding around house sized boulders and five meter tall cacti with woody trunks. Lying down in a clearing the sky above, dotted with butterflies and soaring birds of prey, seemed unnaturally blue.  



Though we were supposed to be working between breakfast and lunch, it was hard to give back as much as Pedro helped us. We finally had a chance to build with stones and mud, something we've both been interested in for a long time, helped with the roof and made a little food garden up behind the kitchen. Mainly though, Pedro rescued our dwindling funds by inviting us to join him in the whole-grain bread cooperative. Though baking isn't really my thing, Dan took to it like the proverbial duck to water and was soon learning the recipe, bashing through three giant batches of thirty minute kneading a couple of times a week and generally being a successful baker's apprentice. Dressing up smart and selling it together in Samaipata, I could never have imagined how successful we would be. Though our Spanish was dodgy, people were kind and we always managed to sell our seventeen loaves even if it took all day.



Sharing the atmosphere of Espiral de Luz is hard in writing. It is most effectively summerised by Pedro's scolding reply whenever we wanted his permission to do something- 'Don't ask me! I'm just a member of the eco-village like you. Do whatever you think is best.' We did yoga before breakfast, relaxed in the afternoons and spent the holiday season (including Christmas and Pedro's birthday) having fun by the river.



After saying goodbye to a series of other passing travellers, it was finally our time before I could bear to accept it. Five weeks had passed but I'd never missed the luxuries of showering or flushing toilets, even the lack of wi-fi had hardly crossed my mind. Occupied by the constant, ever changing necessities of that simple life and dazzled by its setting I'd never needed more. With our departure I felt like a goldfish accidentally flopped out of its bowl, floundering in the excessive, uncertain space around me and unsure how to recreate that previous sense of contented security. Nearly a month on, as the magic begins to fade away, my feelings of displacement are turning to gratefulness and a simple knowledge that one day we'll be back. Thank-you Espiral de Luz!


To contact Pedro and arrange your own time (for a night or the rest of your life) at Espiral de Luz, use the following links:


If you enjoyed this entry, you might like to read about El Vergel permaculture farm, camping and accomodation, Sorata, Bolivia or for other wild places...


Write a comment

Comments: 14
  • #1

    Nathan Anderson (Monday, 26 January 2015 20:03)

    Katie, this place looks absolutely amazing! I got two separate instances of goosebumps reading this, how much this place meant to you really comes through in your writing. It sounds like a great spot to get away and commune with the elements for a spell :-)

  • #2

    Paige (Monday, 26 January 2015 20:12)

    Words cannot convey how much I love this post. Thank you!

  • #3

    Franca (Tuesday, 27 January 2015 10:49)

    Katie your experience is so inspiring. I've never had anything quite like that, I'm more a city girl even though every now and then I do enjoy getting lost in the nature without having anything to think about. I like how you got completely disconnected from the everyday tasks and world we usually live into. I think I would need to experience something like that too, to recharge my batteries and get away from the consumerist world.

  • #4

    featherytravels (Tuesday, 27 January 2015 12:13)

    Thank-you for the lovely comments everyone. Really kind! :)

  • #5

    Becky Padmore (Tuesday, 27 January 2015 13:24)

    Looks like paradise! I love the photos!

  • #6

    featherytravels (Tuesday, 27 January 2015 14:47)

    Thank-you! I think it was. :)

  • #7

    Leanne Allard (Wednesday, 28 January 2015 00:50)

    This is beyond amazing!!!! You are beyond amazing!!!
    Big Love gorgeous girl! xxxxx

  • #8

    Ryan Biddulph (Friday, 30 January 2015 23:30)

    Katie, awesomeness! I know the feeling fairly well; maybe we haven't been SO off the beaten path but we have hit spots where we were remoted-out-there, like last year in Fiji. Once we left paradise we felt a bit too connected, too rushed, with too much stuff around us. Now I look back with a sense of devout gratitude, feeling the experience as one of the most freeing in my life.

    I love your writing AND your pictures. Keep on inspiring Katie! And hey, you made me add Bolivia to my travel list ;)


  • #9

    featherytravels (Saturday, 31 January 2015 14:27)

    Thank-you! I'm really glad you both enjoyed it. Interesting that you felt the same Ryan. It's strange trying to settle down for a bit!

  • #10

    Taran Ramshaw (Monday, 02 February 2015 20:07)

    Awesome!! I wanted to go do something like this before we made our plans for Oz, but you've sparked my interest in it again :) Will defo save the details just incase we are ever in that area :)

  • #11

    Mary{The World Is A Book} (Wednesday, 04 February 2015 06:37)

    What an absolutely beautiful place! I can certainly understand why you stayed there for that long and didn't want to leave. It must feel so liberating to be away from civilization and all the comforts we're used to. Kudos to you guys for getting through it! Lovely photos!

  • #12

    featherytravels (Friday, 06 February 2015 15:18)

    I hope you manage it Taran!

    Mary, thank-you for the kind comment. :) We didn't actually find it very difficult living there. It's been much harder coming back to Europe actually, but maybe that's just because I have to find a job now!

  • #13

    Prue (Tuesday, 15 December 2015 01:11)

    Katie, I haven't been reading too many blogs lately, I've been so caught up with everything that's going on in my world and haven't been inspired to. When I saw this post of yours pop up in my feed I was lying in bed looking for a story to keep me there rather than get up and start the day and so I read your story. I've missed your writing, I really have. You know how to tell one and you sucked me in. For 10 minutes I was in your world, leaning about a place, an eco village and group of people I've never heard of but felt immediately connect to. Thank you for being awesome. Miss your words, in fact I'm going on Katie binge right how ya!

  • #14

    Katie Featherstone (Sunday, 03 January 2016 21:43)

    This is the nicest comment ever Prue. :D

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