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


I've been struggling over this post for week - 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-clown 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 farmer's 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 around 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 the trees above.



The communal kitchen is at the heart of Pedro's plans for Espiral de Luz and although the roof wasn't finished yet, it's a great refuge from the rain and a comfortable hub to gather the community in. Built of earth, clay, stones, straw and sticks from the land, there was 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 grew 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; 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 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 as we waited for it to pass.



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 dough, kneading for thirty minutes 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. Although 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's 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. Thank-you Pedro.


Espiral de Luz ecovillage, Bolivia
Espiral de Luz ecovillage, Bolivia


This article was written in 2015. Pedro sold Espiral de Luz in March 2020.


If you enjoyed this entry, you might like to read about El Vergel permaculture farm, camping and accomodation, Sorata, Bolivia 


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