There are experiences in life that touch your heart in an unspeakable way and leave an unforgettable imprint on your heart & soul that subtly changes you; I have recently been blessed to have one of these much needed & desired experiences.
"We travel because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same but something inside our minds has changed and that changes everything." Travel is transforming and I believe that is one reason I love it so much. There is always something to learn about the world, other people and cultures, about ourselves & how we fit into it all Staying in one place limits one to see the vast diversity of the planet and diversity of people we share it with. I would rather die with a penny in my pocket and a book full of stories & memories filled with writings of all the places, people & experiences that made up my one cherished life. Call me crazy, but that is the truth.
I'll never forget the first time I traveled to Oaxaca and adventured up into Los Pueblos Mancomunados; 8 villages that lie in the Sierra Norte Mountain Range outside of the city of Oaxaca. Driving out of the chaos of the city always gives my heart a little sigh of relief even though it is a place that brings me much joy; seems that my mountain girl roots always seem to trump the city life in the end. The sounds and noises of the city faded while we winded up the curvy mountain road to Cuajimoloyas. The air cooled and became light, crisp & sweet as the city dimmed into the distance as we wrapped around the mountain and entered into the forest of Pinon Pine, Agave Cactus & Wildflowers. A few two hours later, we arrived to the village life of simplicity & tranquility amoungst some of the kindest most peaceful people I have encountered.
These eight villages work cooperatively together and have created a sustainable eco-tourism project filled with pride & love to share village life with visitors while being able to preserve their way of life. Each community member serves one year of service work towards the project. Each members efforts allows them to benefit and share the financial earnings that the eco-tourism brings in so that they do not need to leave their villages in search of work else where. .
Two years ago I experienced the beauty of this project solely as a tourist and now have found myself back living in Oaxaca and supporting this eco-tourism project by bringing women to the villages to Mountain Bike and experience the magic of these pueblos through Womens Radical Pursuits trips. I love being able to share something so special and unique with other women who love adventuring and exploring new mountains, cultures, and off the beaten track experiences.
Last week, I had the honor to be a part of the Spring Equinox Ceremony of one of my favorite pueblos called Lachatao. It's one of the furthest villages to get to and worth the drive to get there. Lachatao is a very spiritual place which speaks to me loudly as I have a strong spiritual connection to nature and something greater; to God. I was invited with a group of women to contribute to the Healing & Well-being of the community. I was asked to offer a type of healing service to the community in some way. The ladies I went with are massage therapists and energy workers. They offered their services and I, not a massage therapist, offered to teach the children Yoga and Mindfulness. In exchange for our services, we were invited to attend the Spring Equinox Ceremony, stay in the cabins, and eat in the comedors without cost. They were incredibly generous to us and we were invited into the ceremony with open arms, smiles & amazing food and beverages!
Upon arriving to the village, we embarked upon a 45 minute hike with all of our stuff to sleep on the "Cerro del Jaguar." (Jaguar Mountain) At the top of this mountain was a beautiful ceremonial grounds where they celebrated the equinoxes and other rituals & ceremonies the Zapotec People honor and respect. We arrived to witness the village Shaman leading the ceremony with community members and children all around. The sacred ground was breathtaking amongst the mountains and colorfully lit sky as sunset snuck up upon us. I was let into the sacred circle and walked out on the plank to the fire that was in the middle of the '4 Elements' circle. The Shaman guided me as I approached the fire that first I had to state my full name and honor the names of my parents. To them I asked for forgiveness for something I had done that warranted forgiveness and afterwards I offered my gratitude and blessings to the 4 Elements & Spirit/God, along with something I was needing support with in my life. I will just say; this moment was very powerful and not taken lightly....
After the ceremony, we left the grounds and walked down the hill to an area where the community members had little food stands set up along with tents, live music & plenty of Mezcal to keep us warm through the night! There were dogs, donkeys & kids playing soccer amongst families sharing time, stories, food, and laughter. Later on there was even a theatre performance and more live music to follow up until the wee hours of the night! We laid out blankets and sleeping bags and snuggled up together all 7 of us under the star filled sky and peacefully drifted to sleep.
The morning greeted us with a beautiful orange, pink, and purple lit sky; coffee, tlayudas, bread and more connections with the lovely community members of Lachatao hearing stories of the significance of the sacred ground and how it was found and discovered from one of the leaders of the village. After we finished packing our sleeping gear we walked back to Lachatao and started preparing for the Temezcal; an ancient cleansing bath that originated from the Mayan & Zapotec Indiginous tribes.
Behind the community center & comedor, there was a little building in back that had inside a stone hut which looked just like an igloo where we would be inside of for 2 hours during the the temezcal. The community members made a fire using river rocks outside getting the rocks hot enough to then move inside the little brick hut. In the meantime, we cut and prepared herbs to cleanse our bodies and spirits with and then waited until all was ready. Lorena, a beautiful native Zapotec woman led us through the ceremony and cleansed us before entering. Seven of us entered the Temezcal and the ceremony started. I will admit, I was a little nervous not knowing what to expect, but it was an unforgettable, powerful, and an experience I will never forget. After getting everyone in and Lorena explaining how it would all go, the door was closed and it was pitch dark. She slowly started pouring water on the rocks to heat it up slowly. It was during that time that I recognized fear of the unknown creeping in and it became so easy to see that this fear of the unknown, is a familiar thought that comes into my mind with almost everything I do. That was one lesson I was able to look at and take away. In the moment, I took at deep breath, closed my eyes, and focused on my breathing knowing that everything, would be ok. And it certainly was...
Surprisingly, the two hours we spent in the Temezcal flew by and I felt as though I could have stayed two more hours. Lorena led us through a beautiful ceremony that honored the 4 Elements and with each one, she prompted us to share individually; offering forgiveness, gratitude, a blessing and something that we each asked the element to take away from us. Wind; let it blow away, Fire; to burn, Water; to wash away, and Earth; to cover. The whole thing was surreal and this is not even scratching the surface to what it all entailed, but I don't want to reveal all of it in hopes that you; my reader, will be intrigued and interested in experiencing one yourself 🙂 They are all different and it depends on who facilitates the ceremony. I would highly recommend seeking out a Zapotec or Mayan guide.
After exiting the temezcal, we went outside and got sprayed off with shockingly cold water and collapsed in the grass under the sun. Once back to life, we trodded on to the comedor for a delicious dinner. I ate fast as the kiddos from the village arrived to attend my Yoga/Mindfulness class that took place in the grass under a big shade tree next to the stunning and colonial cathedral of Lachatao. The kids ranged from 5 years old to 13 and were just precious. It was the first time they had heard of or practiced Yoga and Mindfulness and they were really engaged, respectful, peaceful little warriors! I taught them to connect to their breath, mindful presence, gratitude & practicing loving kindness to others. I taught them to be mountains, trees, and warriors (Yoga poses) and then led them through a few rounds of Sun Salutations. They did an amazing job and were able to move through the salutation without me at the end. All of this took place with lots of little smiles and giggles which warmed my heart. After all said and done, we concluded the class with a game of duck duck goose and then proceeded to play in the grass until parents came to collect them! It was an hour of teaching that lit my heart & soul on fire and I realized; my role as a teacher is not over... I tapped into my niche and something I am passionate about sharing with children. We'll see where this goes!
If an experience like this calls to you, I encourage you to make the journey down. The beauty of Oaxaca will not leave you disappointed... there is so much to see, experience & take in. And if the Sierra Norte Mountains call, get ready to step back in time to a place of simplicity& peace and to connect your body, mind & spirit to the magic of Oaxaca that will be sure to move you.