I walked in the mountains on the border of Switzerland and Italy. It was an amazing experience to welcome spring in the mountain forest. I saw the landscape changing everyday slowly. When I reached there, it was brown with tree trunks and dried leaves. Everyday, leaf by leaf, branch by branch, tree by tree, green started to take over. From light green to full green. It was beautiful start of the spring. A lot of people told me about the beauty of summer in Tuscany. I searched few projects and selected the one with highlights of permaculture farming and meditation groups. When I contacted them, the person was very kind and careful to inform me about what activities they do. He made sure that I know the place and I won’t feel out-of-place or uncomfortable once I reach there. He also told me that the days when I am there, they will have a ritual in which people will go to forest and they will not eat and drink for 4 days and 4 nights! I was bit scared. But, as he told me that I will only be supporting this ritual and not actual doing it, I was relaxed and immediately sent my agreement to the place. I was in Switzerland before this place, having a good time with my friends, taking and playing. The day came and I took the train to this small village near Florence with a stopover in Milan. A new experience was waiting.
|Bus stop with memories of Vespa|
The place is a small village that does not have its own train station. Closest station is about half way between Florence and Pisa and about 8 km of walk from the village. When you get down at this station, you need a taxi to reach the place. There is no taxi stand, but a number is written on the wall. After the call taxi was there in Italian 10 min 🙂 . I saw the landscape change on my bus journey from Milan to Florence. I was suddenly surrounded by hills covered with trees or farm land. This small village as well sits on a small hill. The taxi took turns and left the village behind. My host was just on the edge of hill from where there is a beautiful view to the valley. When I reached, the man was already in action with other volunteers. They had also just arrived a couple of days before. After few hugs, I was in my room shared with 2 more people. It was nice clean room with a comfortable bed. Host gave me overview of the place, with guest rooms, meditation room, kitchen, dining room, garden and the forest. The garden is recent and the man is building using permaculture and other organic techniques. Water is recycled and uses an organic processing system, before it is used in the garden. The place had a lots of variety of vegetation; from apples and cherries to olives on the other hand from salad to zucchini that we ate a lot. Small walk beyond the olive trees, one would reach forest that is available for short walks and also some rituals are held there. The whole place is beautifully decorated and cleaned on daily basis. It is just a place to be.
|At a local fest in nearby village|
Place is managed by just two people; the man and the lady. I was welcomed by the man by smiles and hugs when I reached there. He is a very funny person, who smiles, laughs, sings, play music and make people dance. He is very careful with work planning and ensures that everyone gets equal work and not too much. He will explain all the details of the house and work and won’t mind explaining again and again (well of course to a limit). He is full of energy and just keep on going from one work to another. Be it organizing, coordinating the work in the morning, cleaning, cooking, gardening, working with event participants or leader, he is all over. He is always happy to teach whatever he knows from permaculture farming to EM, from compost building to, water re-use to music and so on. We had lots of conversations over the activities at the place and in general. These were happy and fun filled interactions with him.
The lady of the house was away and came after a week. She is a strong personality and do a lot of organizing, guest and guest-house organization. She is also an amazing cook and mostly a fun person till someone press the nerve :). I also met other volunteers there. Some were special and active in the work and some casual, but all were fun to have around in their own ways. I got a change to meet a lot of other people as well, who came there to take part in various events.
The main activities were to take care of the house and help in the garden. In the garden I helped in different ways; taking out weeds with weed whacker, by hands and big cutter for bushes; giving
manure to the plants; ensuring the young plants have enough breathing place while earth is protected; helping move the compost as needed and also helped build up bamboo structure for climber plants. I ended up as the person to setup the breakfast table as I was usually up early, unless it was event time when everything followed a given schedule and responsibility. Help in the kitchen was occasional as I was no match as a cook to the hosts themselves. House maintenance responsibilities were distributed always. The man would organize the work usually at the breakfast table. When there was an event, we knew schedule a night before and mostly it all worked very well. For one event we had to organize some places in the forest and build some blind spots from the main walking path. We worked together to collect branches from trees to strengthen already build fences from last year. Apart from the work activities, I got a chance to go to a local music event, to the nearby beach and play bowling after a long time, all organized by the host. We had a lots of fun while the work kept on happening in-between.
|Kheer served in special way|
This was a special experience not just from the people and place perspective, but also due to the exposure to completely new rituals and healing methods. I had a chance to witness a special native-American ritual called “vision quest”. For me it was a surprise to see people coming to special event to stay hungry and thirsty in the forest for 4 days and 4 nights to get an answer to their vision/questions/confusions of life. It was a really intense week for the main participants filled with various rituals. After 4 days when the participants came back from their quest, they were completely transformed physically. But after some recovery time and over night sleep, they all looked happier, relaxed and content. It was a special experience from my observation standpoint, as I could not connect with whole idea. But at the end the people who went through the journey had a smile on their face. Isn’t that more valuable than 3rd person alignment to their idea? I just hope that whatever they experienced stays with them and change their life for good. I also got to learn about new healing technique “sound-healing“. It was a weekend event organized for an Indian healer who runs an association while training people all over the world. The courses are divided in different levels, moving from beginners to professional. The concept is to use sound vibrations at specific frequencies and positions to heal different problems. I got a chance to be part of one group healing session. I cannot say if anything got healed, but it was very relaxing hour and a half. Apart from the exposure to these two completely new experiences, we also shared many wonderful moments together. We meditated together with different techniques, did trance dance and also did special heart focused session lead by the lady of the house. I think, I made my best drawings that day, but unfortunately I missed to take photos of those. Be it eating pizza together, sharing a cup of tea or listening again how we missed to follow a certain protocol, it was all “tranquilo”. Almost at the end, I also happened to be a part of drone based video making of the place.
|Fields just a walk away|
I stayed at this place for a month and got a chance to visit Pisa. I think more than anything the “leaning tower of Pisa” was the way to identify Italy for me. I also came to learn about another place, Lucca, which apparently holds the biggest comic and games convention in Europe. I made some nice walks in both cities and around the place of stay. Before I knew it was the time to say good bye. Couple of days before I left, the new volunteers had already arrived. We had a chance to handover the baton from old to new. We celebrated all together with a game of bowling and shared smiles, laughter and jokes. The host came to drop me at the station, we shared our last hugs and smiles of my stay. I hope warmth of those hugs and curves of the smiles stay for long. Hope we meet again, before they fade away with time.