Feb 10th Saturday
On the outskirts of Baricharra, Jorge has a Temazcal a Sweat Lodge in his Garden: a bamboo framed tent about four or five metres diameter and a metre high. I planned to sit in my briefs since I lost my swim shorts somewhere between Santa Marta and Aloha Ke Akua but the dress code demanded shorts so I emptied the pockets of the canvas shorts I was wearing and removed my Tshirt. I was ready
Our community from La Finca Nuevos Horizontes sits in two concentric circles around a fire pit. The pit is loaded with volcanic rocks that glow orange in the dark. Herbs and plants are scattered upon them and fill the space with thin smoke and thick, sacred aromas. The door is closed and water is splashed over the rocks and the moist heat builds rapidly. I feel claustrophobic as the hot humidity closes in upon me in the blackness of the lodge, and sense panic rising within. I have the urge to escape but I choke it down with reason: for fear of looking bad.
I had been in saunas before bit I’d never attended a sweat lodge. these are not the same. There is no ceremony to a sauna and you can move about and leave when you want, and there is light. In a Temazcal, you are there for the duration of the ceremony…
How long would I be trapped in this oppressive heat and darkness? I trust that I am safe amongst friends and resolve to endure it as long as necessary. Part of the ceremony is to introduce your self and your parents out loud and state your intention. My intention followed on from the recent Ayahuasca experiences: to maintain connection to the great spirit and gratitude to the ancestors. 4 songs are sung one after another to the beat of a drum. The sweat drips down my bowed forehead off the end of my nose onto my thighs. My canvas shorts are already soaking from the rivulets rolling down my torso. The earthen floor feels cool and it’s tempting to lay down. The songs finish and the door is thankfully opened and I blink in the light and gasp at the cool air that drifts to meet my skin.
More rocks are introduced and we are again consumed by darkness and more heat but the initial fear has now melted away into the darkness, the lodge is representative of the womb of our mothers. The thought makes the experience less uncomfortable and something to welcome. More songs, the heat consumes me. When the door is opened, I relent and lie on the floor next to my companeros. The cover is lifted at the back of the lodge to let a breeze through. It feels so good, even though lying down feels like succumbing to a weakness. We resume our positions when the third set of rocks are introduced. More plants smoulder on the rocks and fill the lodge with wild fragrances.
Mitchell seems to be struggling with the heat and moves away from the rocks pushing me against the wall. I feel OK in myself now, engaging more in the process, and at the start of the fourth round, I exchange places and move into his space in the inner circle. There is heat here radiated off the stones as well as the steamy convection circulating around the lodge. I face the stones resolved to keep focussed on my intention knowing that this opportunity will soon pass. I’m here now and, whatever I do, I will emerge from the lodge whenever the ceremony is complete in time – I may as well give it my all.
The fourth session completes more quickly than expected and we emerge into the Colombian breeze drenched and muddy. Edward, the young 18-year-old from the UK had been laying down and looked as if he’d just been dug out of a potato patch: King Edward.
Whatever my preconceptions were of the sweat lodge, I emerged filled with peace and gratitude. This was more than a ceremonial sauna, it was a spiritual rite and I felt even more bonded to this community, La Familia… I took a shower and washed the mud off my canvas shorts and hung them up in the breeze as long as possible, and wandered around in my t-shirt and underwear, while eating fresh pineapple and Strawberries, before experience the chill of putting damp canvas shorts back on. They aren’t cold for long. Things dry fast in this part of the world.
There are strangers in the headlamps as we approach the entrance to the farm in the valley below. There is an exchange in Spanish between Luis and the stranger. There has been a fire. It’s dark and we cannot yet see the extent of it. Below the mountain track down to the camp, I see the glow of what looks like a charcoal fire but it’s not in the location of the charcoal pit that Peter had been using down by the river.
The air smelt burnt but cool. When we reach the kitchen, we can see little damage to the camp but the surrounding brush is thinned and blackened and two or three isolated fires can be seen flickering in the trees up in the mountain near the pines at the top of the ridge. There is not much we can do in the darkness. Peter is distraught.
His charcoal burning was the source of the blaze which caught the tinder-dry grass not far from the charcoal pit. There had been no rain for over a month; this was the dry season. Luis lit a cigar and prayed for rain to come before the cigar was finished. I was Skeptical, as usual, even after all the spiritual ceremonies I had immersed myself in. Before the cigar was finished, it started to rain. Coincidence? The timing was immaculate but admittedly the rainfall wasn’t heavy enough to douse the fires. We went to bed trusting all would be OK. Although the power of Peter’s remorse kept him up and checking the mountains in the night.
Odd! We are all away for a day to be purified using fire and water and returned to a purification of another kind on the land. What was there to be concerned about?
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