Years ago, our dear friend, Carol Hewitt introduced us to the concept of ‘Slow Money‘… an ingenuitive alternative to conventional money lending from banks. ‘Slow Money’ is driven by private citizens who sponsor local projects, often in the realms of farming and food by providing loans to be paid off slowly over time with low interest rates. Indeed ‘Slow Money’ enabled us to purchase a walk-behind tractor which gave a huge boost to our farm business and especially our rice growing project at the time. And certainly ‘Slow Money’ played in beautifully with the ‘Slow Food’ nature of Edible Earthscapes. ‘Slow Food‘ blossomed into an international movement over 30 years ago as a counterpoint to the fast food industry’s increasing presence around the globe. ‘Slow Food’ as an organization, provides education and support for businesses like Edible Earthscapes in what is literally a food revolution to take back our food systems. It represents a return to a more traditional and certainly slowed down approach to producing, preparing and consuming food.
As Edible Earthscapes evolves from a farm/edible landscaping biz and into a 2 person, global traveling crew, we carry on with the values of ‘Slow Money’ and ‘Slow Food’, and embrace all things ‘Slow’. ‘Slow’, as we see it implies mindfulness within everything we do, and it turns travel into a deep, contemplative and fully conscious experience. In the past when we embarked upon lengthy travels, it was about covering as much ground as possible and squeezing as many sights and experiences as we could into any given country. This time around, our focus is on delving deep into each location we visit, cultivating relationships with the people we meet and absorbing the fine nuances of the cuisines and the cultures of each magical spot we happen upon…. Slow Travel.
Our short stay in Puebla was a mixed bag. On the one hand, this big, bustling city is full of color and creativity around almost every corner, and the cuisine here is some of the tastiest in the whole country. On the other hand, there is an undeniable accumulation of poverty and filth throughout the city, and at least for us, there was a large dollop of misinformation. Never in my life have I encountered so much false information in one place by so many different people in such a short period of time. None of these cases did us any real harm, and I doubt that any of these people had any ill intentions, but so many different folks all over the city fed us stories that soon after we got the information, we were able to confirm it as complete nonsense. Haruka and I now affectionately refer to Puebla as ‘The City of Misinformation’.
After a week of healing our weary bellies on the white sand beaches of Playa Estacahuite, we were ready for a change of pace. For the past two weeks, Oaxaca has been giving that to us in abundance. I find this place to have a very unique energy. It’s lively yet mellow, gritty but safe. It’s steeped in tradition, but it’s on the cutting edge of cool, and it’s food and drink are legendary. For us, it was the culinary delights that drew us in and kept us anything but bored during our stay here. There are multitudes of restaurants and street food vendors, and it would take years to discover them all. We made a decent dent over our relatively short visit, but what really impressed us and kept sucking us back in day after day, deeper each time, were the markets.
Oaxaca has at least eight major mercados spread out all over the city, but for geographical reasons, we focused our attention primarily on three of those. By far the largest market in the city is Mercado De Abastos. You can find anything here from high heels to iguanas, toasted grasshoppers to sofas, cell phones to bicycles and everything in between. A great deal of this market focuses on wholesale, and seems to be more geared toward locals than travelers. That and the fact that it’s on the exact opposite side of town from our stylish, little Airbnb made it not one of our mainstay markets.
One of the first things we do when we land in a developing country is to secure our drinking water. Most countries like Guatemala do not filter their tap water so it can be full of parasites and bacteria. We need to use filtered water even to brush our teeth and remember to close our mouth when taking a shower.
During the dry season in Guatemala, it doesn’t really rain for six months. Farmers pump water from the lake to water their crops and there are water basins holding water to clean dishes and clothes with.
I think about how it is a luxury and a privilege to be able to twist the tap and have fresh clean water gushing out into the sink.
It saddens me that even though we are connected by the web and have brilliant people working with high technology we still lack access to clean water for millions of people around the world.
Our entry into Mexico started with a week in the quaint, small city of San Cristobal De Las Casas. This artisan center offers a colorful smorgasbord of art, crafts and food within a gorgeous valley setting that is punctuated each morning and evening by luscious sunrises and sunsets. The walled grid of cobblestone streets provides a rich playground for exploration, and we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this city.
Our home base for the week was an Airbnb in a modest home on a steep hillside overlooking farmland in a lively neighborhood on the East side of town. Our hosts Sophie and Lalo were very accommodating and generous. Sophie works with a local indigenous community, finding ways to enrich their lives and Lalo recently purchased a plot of land outside of town where he is building the permaculture homestead of his dreams. One day, Lalo took us to his land to see the progress on his homestead. It was a joy to walk the land with him, dreaming and scheming about the possibilities and offering some pro-bono consultation, which he soaked up like a sponge.
Early March finds us in the picturesque city of San Cristobal De Las Casas, Mexico. Many of you may recall that we had planned to go to El Salvador and Nicaragua after Guatemala for about a month and then back up to Guatemala so that I could take a Permaculture Design Course on Lake Atitlan, and then on to Mexico for a month or so before heading to Europe this summer. Well, that was the plan, but our reality is shaping up differently, and that is what I truly love about this style of travel…nothing is set in stone until you actually do it (kinda).
For certain, we’d like to make it to El Salvador, Nicaragua and other parts of Latin America someday, but that will have to wait for another time as Mexico is calling us at the moment. We did visit the farm where the PDC takes place on Lake Atitlan, and it was a cool set-up with groovy people, but I felt it in my heart that it wasn’t the right step for me at this point in time.
A big part of our decision to head north rather than south was rooted in the many acquaintances we made with folks who had just been through Mexico and were raving about the many sweet spots in this country. Indeed word-of-mouth is a crucial reference source when traveling with an open ended schedule, as it gives us up-to-date insight that guidebooks can’t touch. Incidentally, we’re not using any guidebooks at this point in our travels, as the internet provides us with all of the info we need that direct contact with other travelers doesn’t cover.
Milpa refers to the ancient, Mayan agricultural practice of companion planting corn with beans and squash. Maize and beans are the two main staples throughout Mesoamerica, and within this planting scheme that westerners often refer to as ‘the 3 sisters’, these two crops enjoy a very symbiotic relationship. Corn grows a tall stalk quite quickly, but it’s also tough on the soil, depleting its nutrients rapidly and thoroughly. Beans are legumes that fix nitrogen and restore nutrients in the soil, while providing a nice protein source in the Mayan diet. They are climbers that benefit from a trellis, which is where the corn comes in to provide a natural trellis even after the cobs have been harvested and the stalks are dry. Squash completes the trifecta by providing another abundant, nutritious food source while serving as a ground cover around the corn and bean plants to keep weeds out and keep moisture in the soil. They also benefit from the nitrogen fixing tendencies of the beans and the natural trellises provided by the corn.
Permaculture is a term and a philosophy that has picked up a lot of steam in the world of sustainable agriculture since it’s inception nearly 40 years ago. And indeed Milpa is a popular component in modern permaculture, even though it’s been in practice for centuries in Mesoamerica. I find it interesting that most Mayans I’ve encountered have never even heard the term ‘permaculture’, but most of them are practicing it every day, just like many generations before them. The garden of the Spanish school we’re staying at is literally a food forest with over 50 tree species in a one acre space, most of which provide edible fruits, medicinal value and/or pollination, but Antonio has no idea that his garden is a model of permaculture…it’s just the only way he knows how to do things.