Category Archives: Travel

The Earth Sanctuary on Whidbey Island

This year, I visited the Earth Sanctuary, retreat center, sacred ground and a not-for-profit nature reserve. Situated a mile outside of Freeland  and before Langley, on the south end of Whidbey Island.

   

Wooden benches situated at the sides of the pond invited contemplation and a reflective moment while watching the mist rising from the still water. Bird calls and sounds of flapping wings filled my ears. It is evident that this is was a refuge and habit for local wildlife. The intentional art and sculptures were discovered around turns of the path and  prayer wheels called me back in to meditation.

The meandering 2 miles of trails led me through an old growth forest and an arborerum;  a recent project and restoration site for many native plants. The arboretum intends a return to old growth forest by replanting a variety of native trees including Fir, Cedar, Birch, Spruce, Redwoods .

       

I am called down the labyrinth path and discover a natural a salal hedge labyrinth intended for contemplation in walking meditation, a metaphor for representing life’s journey.  The labrynth

Labyrinth by WellFedSpirit.org

has a single continuous path leading inward to the center – a metaphor for lifes journey, the only thing to do is travel forward, one step in front of the other, until reaching ones goal.  An arrival at the center occurs before  turning outwards again to complete the journey and attain the goal.  A walking meditation is both an inward and outward journey, there is the activation of the left and right brain through movement and stimulation of our bodies circulation and lymphatic systems; during the walking contemplation ones awareness moves inward to finally reach a calm center;  the core of our be-ing and connection with the inner realms of our mind and oneness in our body.  A labyrinth can represent a sort of pilgrimage for those who are unable to take a longer sacred journey or pilgrimage like the camino de santiago, vipassana meditation or  the kumbh mela. An interesting piece of trivia is that there are labyrinth patters found throughout the world in various cultures and also found in basket weaving designs, paintings, drawings and hedge borders.

Above is a visual of a labrinth by the website: http://wellfedspirit.org/labyrinth_pages/graphics.html

Down another path I discover the Fen Pond stone circles. I am reminded of the sacred stones in the popular television series Outlander, a ceremonial circle used for prayer, intention setting and giving thanks. Not much is known about stone circles today; however many have suggested that these circles are sacred sites intended for prayer with precise astrological alignment to the movements of the sun and moon, combined with sacred geometry.

Pairs of stones are aligned in true north and south, also to the winter solstice sunset and to the  run rising and setting in the summer; connecting one back to the 4 directions and grounding into the land, interweaving ritual back into daily life while connecting with the greater mystery.

A reminder of the interconnectness of all things; interweaving nature, the sun and skies and mother earth into all life. Stonehenge in Great Britain perhaps being one of the most well known sites. There is an informative website called The Stone Circle Theory by Simon Hedger who offers additional reflections. For more information: http://www.stonecircletheory.com/

Further on the path a meadow opens up into the Cottonwood Stone Circle and I marvel at the  12 majestic stones towering 11 feet high.

The grounds have been a home to Ospreys with educational artwork found along the path. Ospreys are able to breed on almost every continent except near the South Pole. Apparently Ospreys can live for 10-12 years, however these birds were once on the endangered list (although now listed as a threatened species) – according to the New York Department of Conservation, largely their population had decreased due to the insecticide Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, DDT – more commonly known — which caused reproductive issues and thinning of egg shells  in the newly laid eggs. DDT is classified in a group of chemicals called Persistent Organic Pollutants aka chemical substances that stay in our soil and  the environment, bio-accumulate through the entire food chain,  posing health risks to humans and animals in our food chain and the all of the natural world. Used previously in agriculture, DDT has now been banned from agricultural use in the United States, as it has shown to impact human health including being linked to infertility, breast cancer and other endocrine health issues. Take note, this insecticide has a half life of 25-30 years – meaning once DDT is in the soil it stays there for a very long time.

By no means am I am expert on the history of Buddhist monuments however I immediately recognized and appreciated their presence, Having once been gifted a prayer wheel myself – I will share my limited knowledge of the Tibetan prayer wheel  or Mani wheel found along a bend in the path… A Prayer Wheel provides an opportunity to spread spiritual well-being and blessings while spinning the wheel. Spinning the prayer wheel is done with the proper intentions. Holding elevated intentions for the well-being, spiritual blessings and highest outcome of all beings is essential while using the prayer wheel; incorporating visualizations and mantra will align one with the Body, Speech and Mind of the Buddha.

Set your intention setting while spinning a prayer wheel.  Intend on strengthening the mind and contemplate offerings such as :

  • “May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering.”
  • Reciting a prayer or a mantra can also be done while spinning the wheel to align ones spirit with the on loving kindness and equanimity for all sentient beings.
  • Om Mani Padme Hung, the  mantra of loving kindness and compassion is often written on the outside of the wheel in Sanskrit.

A stupa is situated on a hill – a sacred mound intended for enlightenment and created for various purposes (from a burial ground to marking an profound event or created as a receptacle for offerings). A clockwise walking meditation around the stupa is done in reverence or reflection to radiate spiritual blessings and for specific meditation practices. Prayer flags are found around the paths.

Also on the nature reserve was a tall dolmen -a megalithic tomb of two or more, upright stones set with a space between and set with a horizontal stone on top, which could serve as a meditation room  or in the Hindu tradition represents “the cave of the heart”, a protected place for reflection.

       

The most sacred space for me was the First Nations Medicine Wheel used for prayer and healing. The significance of  this prayer wheel reminds one again of connection to all that is, all our relations, the 4 directions, the 4 seasons, mother earth, our grandfathers and grandmothers, and the elements. So much can be remembered through strengthening connection to all that sustains us on planet earth.

What a serene way to enjoy the afternoon in this birth and wildlife sanctuary. In 2008, the visionary and designer and founder of Earth Sanctuary, Chuck Pettis, was recognized in the September 2008 issue of Science of Mind magazine as one of 12 people making a difference in the world. If you are on Whidbey island, this space is worth a stop.

Much of the restoration is being done by the University of Washington ecology students to complete projects in this remarkable site. A huge thank you to all those who have contributed to such a stunning serene location. Until I return again…

Jardin Botanico ~ Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marin- Puerto Moreles, Mexico

Tulum 008One of the very top highlights about being an herbalist is learning about plant medicine and the diverse variation of plant species found in every country. The learning never ends, and since it is a learning which I am passionate about… “double bonus!!” When I travel I welcome the opportunity to visit local botanical gardens. There are ALWAYS more medicinal plants to discover and learn of their traditional application.

This particular journey took me to the lush Mayan jungle where I looked forward to visiting one of the largest botanical gardens in Mexico, Jardin Botanico, named after ethnobotanical researcher Alfredo Barrera Marin, a cultural expert in Mayan and Nahuatl history. Established in 1982 outside of Puerto Morelos, on the coast of Quintana Roo, in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

Tulum 015This 160 acre reserve contains kilometers of meandering trails, intermingled with mayan ruins; the lush jungle and mangroves are home to a vast selection of endangered  plant species and is a conservation project intended to protect regional flora and conserve biodiversity in the Yucatan Peninsula. The plant collection was rumored to contain more than half of the plant species identified in the Yucatan Peninsula, both ornamental and medicinal. I was excited to visit the garden to see orchids, palms, ferns, and a huge selection of cactus and over 60 species of medicinal plants used in traditional Mayan herbal medicine. A herbalists dream! In fact many of the conserved plants, such as palm leaves were used for crafts, preservation of food and the roofs of houses. And many species are now endangered.

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Jardin Botanico is one of  the featured gardens of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). The BGCI provides recognition for all botanic gardens worldwide and is one of the largest plant conservation network in the world (featuring over 500 botanical gardens in over 100 countries), taking care to preserve and grow some of the world’s endangered plant species.The BGCI  botanical gardens provide a collection of extensive plants from a local region, supplies seed banks and is a knowledge network focusing on aspects of plant conservation including  education. Its mission is “To mobilise botanic gardens and engage partners in securing plant diversity for the well-being of people and the planet”.

plantSo preparing to visit the Gardens early morning- before the heat became the focus of the day. I was awoken early in my tiny stone and clay mayan hut to the sound of a odd bird – clearly pretending to be a rooster (and did I mention that it was early?) – in short order other harmonies of various birds chirped in to welcome the new day and then finally a real rooster. It was still early – way before my alarm. The morning sun was now just starting to peak. Time to get up and begin the adventure.

There was a rumor that the botanical garden also holds a large animal population, including the only coastal troops of curious spider monkeys still left in the region, colorful birds, sunning iguanas and wild boars. As I love monkeys, I was hope-filled to spot some and inquired about their general location on the kilometers of meandering trails.

On the path I discovered a traditional mayan house- an example of traditional architecture and also archaeological Mayan ruins of an alter dating back to 1400 AD. Various sink holes are also  visible, and scattered shells from sea life visible underneath…. and a special collection of Mayan Medicinal Plants. I am not certain if I visited off season- but I was disappointed by the lack of selection of flourishing plants in the medicinal garden.

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Tulum 114As I neared the last third of the walk, my heart began to sink… there were still no monkeys. I was holding back my disappointment and kept my hears open. Rounding a corner I startled a shy wild boar, who ran for the exit … still no monkeys.Tulum 117

 

 

Another turn in the path and I discovered an amazing mushroom and I stopped to take some photos of this impressive fungi.

Once quiet I could hear some rustling in the far off distance… could it be a troop of monkeys? I wait, quiet, not moving…. strangely after a time, I begin to feel like I am being watched and I have a sense to look up above my head into the towering trees.

There is a monkey- quietly sitting in branches directly above my head -observing me.  I bring out my camera and begin taking photographs – thrilled that my wish was granted.

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The last section of the garden consists of the evergreen tropical forest reaching up to  25 meters in height. With a 130-foot suspension bridge (or wooden slat bridge), which climbed up to a scenic tower overlooking a panoramic view of one of the last preserved areas of mangrove in the region. Off in the distance impending construction and development can be seen.

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So when I speak of jungles and mangroves… I need to emphasize, this is one area is of the LAST conserved forest areas between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. And this is also one of the last undisturbed ecosystems and homes to thousands of rare animal species (including black spiny-tailed iguanas, leopard frogs, and swamp crocodiles.

During my entire stay I read and hear of protests from locals over the large amount hectares of jungle which are being destroyed IN A DAY to make room for concrete developments of condos and tourist properties at the cost of the  homes of rare animal ecosystems and plant biodiversity. Protesters make note to mention that no animals were re-located, instead they were simply a part of the bulldozed mix of destruction.

Over the past 40 years, the coastal state of Quintana Roo has lost nearly 55 percent of its mangroves to developers in real estate and tourism. The village of Puerto Morelos had 409 hotel beds in 2003; now it has over10,000. Referenced from Mother Jones. In 2016, Santiago Tello from the Riviera Maya News quotes local biologists and environmentalists observing the growing extent of deforestation in northern Quintana Roo, “We went from 3,429 hectares of mangrove to 1,569 hectares” in 1976 to 2013. Countless acres of mangrove forests on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast have been lost — to make way for tourism chain hotels.

Trauma, Rest and the Role of Nature in Resetting the Nervous System

Having recent opportunity to teach in the certificate program “The Holistic Approach to Trauma,” at Langara College in Vancouver BC. The impact of extreme stress and the chain reaction that stress has on the body is fresh in my mind.

PSTD can be triggered from a traumatic event which creates emotional upheaval, flashbacks and anxiety which is re-lived again and again in both the mind and the body.  Rather than integrating the experience and moving forward – which is our bodies normal way of adapting, the trauma of a stress filled event can overwhelm the body, impacting resiliency and ones ability to cope; creating a looping state where the body re-lives an event which occurred in the past. PSTD and chronic stress can create a domino effect, impacting all endocrine  hormones throughout the body, altering immune system, hormones, thyroid function (the bodies motor for functioning) and adrenal health and can trigger inflammatory conditions leading to chronic dis-ease.

Finding my own self in urgent need of rest after a unique year, I sought out the most possible peace filled environment I could imagine. A small cabana hut, complete with a book and a hammock right on the ocean. Time to reconnect with nature and simply exhale.

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My temporary home, a one room hut with a thatched palm roof and outside my door was nothing but a wide stretch of  pristine white sand beach (noted to be some of the most beautiful in the world) and awe inspiring, magnificent views of  turquoise waters.

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Perhaps the very best therapy for trauma (or simply overload from stress) is the quiet calm, the lush green, serene stillness of NATURE. The simplicity of nature assists in our remembering that we are all connected and mother earth is our playground and a healer on this journey called life.

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Studies have been conducted on immersion in nature and its benefits for individuals suffering from stress and extended trauma. Nature can play a fundamental role in the photo 3restoration of a healthy nervous system, providing an opportunity to re-set a hyper functioning overly sensitive state. Immersion in nature is hugely beneficial for those suffering from PSTD. It matters not where ones makes contact with nature to experience the healing offered through contact with her trees, plants and the earth – gifts of mother natures and her green allies. Contact with nature can occur in ones garden, a local community park, or in the countryside, a meadow or at ocean level; remote wilderness, a jungle or high up in the mountains.  It is the benefit that fresh clean air, stunning beauty, walking barefoot in the soil, hugging a tree and experiencing the soothing sounds of mother nature. There is growing evidence that our green friends – trees, plants, flowers can improve our health and well being and reminds us of the connection we have to inhabitants  on this planet -plants, animals as well as each other. We are a part of a larger community.

photo 1 (2)In my soon to be released book “The Good Living Guide to Natural and Herbal Remedies” I speak of the urgent importance of recognizing mother nature and all she provides as necessary for the health of all life on this planet.  Mother nature provides plants which are our nourishment, our foods and our medicines – plants are our healing allies – we co exist together on this planet. We could not exist on this planet without plants. It is essential that we recognise her essential value in our life and seek to protect her gifts which are disappearing at a rapid rate. 

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IMG_0270The beach road outside of Tulum, Mexico is known for its bohemian new age feel, live music, plenty of yoga, juice bars, plenty of ecologically conscious retreats and small boutique hotels – a far removed sanctuary from sprawling busy resort hotels miles away; this lush beach front is still largely surrounded by palm trees, green jungle plants, mangroves and animals. No pressure to do anything except to enjoy the sparkling Caribbean Sea and stunning shoreline. The first night I took in some late night music therapy – feeling the reverberations of vibration soothe my tired soul.

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Further south of the Riviera Maya,  past the Tulum Playa coastline, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere is a world renowned Ecological Reserve and designated World Heritage Site (UNESCO); extending roughly 120 kilometers of coastline, and over 400,000 hectares of land. Sian Ka’an currently is the largest protected area in the Mexican Carribean. This biosphere reserve contains tropical jungle forests, marshes and wetlands, freshwater lagoons and mangrove forests, palm savannah and intersects  the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the second largest barrier reef in the world) with its white beaches and sand dunes.  It is the home for an thousands of plant and animal species, a habitat for more than 300 species of birds, (including the great blue heron, jabiru, ocelot, margay and wood stork, American flamingo, toucan, vultures, ) spider black howler monkey, crocodile, black iguana, puma,  jaguar, brown pelican, puma, ocelot, tamandua and tapir, It also is home to a great diversity of marine life: nesting marine turtles, rays, coral fish and numerous fish species.

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Studies confirm that peace filled green environments such as those found in nature have an impact on mental well being, reducing fears, anxiety, anger, tension and depression.  Recognizing the challenges and stressors of daily living in our western industrialized society, nature can provide the needed reset button and perhaps may just influence our own future choices and the direction – if we recognize mother nature as valuable we might be more likely to fight to preserve her own health.

Continued and frequent contact with mother nature may be a necessary contact to sustain IMG_0297balance – sustainable and ecological friendly practices for tourism are desperately needed. New levels of ecological tourism are needed to prevent the destruction of the beauty which tourists flock to enjoy; currently at the cost of the plant life and animal species that call this backdrop home.  Perhaps it is a timely call for mutual healing – for both ourselves – humans suffering the consequences of our industrialized lifestyle – insomnia, hypertension, plagued by anxiety and worry.  And our own active involvement the natural world, ensuring she is flourishing, healthy and well for our mutual growth/ nourishment on this planet.

Yet during my stay I was aware of the urgent need for more environmental conservation practices in the Yucatan Peninsula to sustain this exquisite environment.  This very land which provides such great beauty and deep healing is in desperate need of saving, as large resorts and fast moving developments destroy miles of mangroves creating irreversible destruction to the fragile ecosystem of this land.

What we do to the planet we do to ourselves. It is time that we take responsibility for the state of the environment and make personal and conscious choices for its improvement.

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When I awoke in the morning, and took my first morning ocean swim, I could SEE the truth of the situation! Before the local beach groomers had swept the beach to remove the proof -at night the ocean would deposit ALL that was being held in her waters – plastic, plastic, and more plastic! Bottles, containers, plastic chips, hundreds of colored plastic bits littered the beach. Resembling little colored fish, I could imagine larger fish ingesting these plastic parts thinking they were nourishment. An example of xenoestrogens and a visual example of the impact that tiny bits of plastic can have on marine life and aquatic species.

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Ecotourism and the issues surrounding growing coastal urbanization is a focus as locals seek to preserve the beauty of the environment and retain the biodiversity of plant and animal species in the Yucatan. Environmental groups are committed to protecting the local areas and fragile ecosystem and attempt to slow down or prevent the ecological problems that have already taken hold in Cancun and Playa Del Carmen.

 

Many smaller hotels are conscious of the need for sustainable tourism and take steps to  minimize the environmental impact on this fragile ecosystem, supporting existing conservation projects to help preservation for future generations. Some of the challenges of this area:

  • there are well-documented garbage and sewage problems: septic tanks from larger (and even smaller) hotels may be dumping soap water from their laundries into the mangroves or nearby cenotes polluting the underground river system.
  • chlorophenoxy herbicides from pesticides and chemical fertilisers used in green lawn areas and golf courses are now major threats to the fragile barrier reef
  • due to a lack of proper man made drainage, the hydrological cycle is short, and over time the vegetation in existing mangroves ends up dying
  • contamination of drinking water and ocean life from both untreated sewage and containing byproducts found in human urine (containing traces of pharmaceutical medication (such as xenoestrogen chemicals found in birth control pills, premarin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen and residue from beauty care products containing plastic beads, antiseptics (aka antibiotics such as triclosan) are a major problem
  • traces of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) have also been found in ocean water and has an impact on coral and marine life
  • documented climate change, raising temperatures and water levels, pollution and contamination has damaged local mangroves and reefs

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Taking small steps to be  eco-friendly, many smaller boutique hotels have no electricity past midnight. Toilet paper is not flushed  and it is requested that water and other resources be used sparingly. Many showers are refreshing one tap cold ocean water rinses. Solar panels provide electricity and many hotels take steps to reuse and recycle offering filtered water (refills) rather than selling bottled water containers.  Many environmental agencies make recommendations such as the use of impermeable liners beneath golf courses, improved wastewater treatment infrastructure, prohibition of dumping treated sewage into saltwater and protection of remaining mangrove habitat, which buffer coastal areas from pollution.

Centro Ecológico Akumal is a non-governmental organization that focuses on sustainability-related issues and improving ecosystem management in and around Akumal.

Statistics from the Mexican government state the the mayan riviera is the fastest gowing resort area in the world. Mangroves that once covered all of the coastal area, have now been bulldozed and paved over. A jarring example of how NOT to create a sustainable tourist area. Scientists now believe that mangrove forests can help slow climate change, by purifying the water from human wastes and pollutants, and in doing so, coral reefs are less effected. The roots of mangroves act to trap sediments that would otherwise be washed back out by the waves. Moreover, mangroves provide a habitat for many different species of animals and suck a large amount of industrial carbon out of the atmosphere and bury it deep within the underground network of roots.

Mother natures offers us her gifts – nature is a stunning reprieve from hectic city life. It is essential that we recognize and preserve her qualities and  value her continued existence and seek to protect her gifts which are disappearing at a rapid rate. 

For more information and information reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/dec/09/cancun-mangrove-paradise-megasprawl

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-mangroves-idUSTRE6AN0YH20101125http://voicesmotherearth.blogspot.ca/2016/02/cancun-quintana-roo-commercial-property.html

S.A.V.E (Society of Akumal Vital Ecology) a non profit organisation involved in preventing construction over mangrove swamps in Puerto Morelos, creation of natural reservex in Xcacel-Xcelito and protection of hundreds of marine turtle nests. http://www.cenotes.com/save/

The Oldest Herb Shop in Barcelona


Barcelona 435The Herbal del Rei or Herbolari del Rei in Spanish, is a stunning gemBarcelona 446
 of a herb shop found hidden in the stone side streets of the ancient Gothic district of Barcelona – walking distance from La Rambla.  It is located thru a side passage near to the Royal Square / Plaza Real in the Street of Glass # 1. or Carrer del Vidre, 1, 08002 or through the street Carrer de Ferran. It was apparently created in 1818 and moved to its present location in 1823, and is dedicated to the sale of medicinal plants and natural products. As one of the oldest shops in Barcelona, thankfully it has been declared a  site of Culture and Local Interest and hopefully it will remain open for more people to visit and enjoy.

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Barcelona 442Inside the herb shop is beautiful and needs to be experienced in person for the full impression ( but you can also click on the pictures for a larger view). Decoration is Elizabethan style, dating back to 1857 – with a glass roof, old spanish wooden hand painted drawers housing ancient secrets, arched wood panels, statues, oil paintings and lovely old watercolors; in the center of the shop is a marble fountain (apparently once used for preserving leeches)  and beautiful hand painted tiles of medicinal plants can be found tucked away throughout the shop and then of course there are the Barcelona 461Barcelona 441herbal medicines stored inside glass shelves. An assortment of Catalan herbal products, spices, dried herbs, beeswax candles, teas, licorice and other natural products are found filling every inch of the shop.

Trinidad Sabatés is the shop owner, who Barcelona 457
was honored as a master on Medicinal plants by the Generalitat de Catalunya. When visiting we were fortunateBarcelona 459 to meet both Trinidad and her husband, who spoke more english and offered a lengthy commentary in both english and catalan (thankfully I had a translator) on the history of the shop and herbal medicine and the unfortunate tight regulations of herbal medicines in Spain.

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If you are planning to visit- confirm their business hours first – (Currently they are only open from Tuesday to Friday from 4 pm to 8 pm and on Saturday from 10 am  to 8 pm) and double check the address (google maps) – as it took 3 separate trips to the area to discover the actual address and then find the shop open (the store hours, shop name and address seem only to be located on the inside of the doors and shutters, only visible Barcelona 453when the shop is actually open)… but that is the fun of discovering new places in a new country. Herbolari del Rei is also on facebook and offers periodic classes and tours through the historical enchanting shop – unfortunately the tours are only in Catalan or Spanish- so bring a spanish friend like I did!

Traditional Herb Shops of Paris

One of the things I love most about travelling is the opportunity to check out herbal medicine shops and products in other countries – especially the old herbal apothecaries of europe. During a trip to Paris, I  had the pleasure of visiting two traditional herb shops: Herboristerie de la Place Clichy and Herboristerie d’Hippocrate.

My search for Herboristerie d’Hippocrate at 42, rue Saint Andre des Arts -75006 ParisP1030077

– occurred during an unexpected torrential spring down pour – as I wandered through the narrow winding cobblestone streets of the Latin Quarter in search of the correct address. As luck would have it, I arrived during their lunch time and the shop was closed – but found a small cafe and warmed up/ dried out while I waited for their 2 pm opening.
P1030089The wait was worth it and the shop was delightful. Numerous species of dry herbs, dozens of liquid extracts of herbal medicines and traditional recipes for various ailments. Antique hand painted herb containers, dried flowers and a high ceiling decorated in a traditional french style.

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P1030086  Herboristerie de la Place Clichy was another delight – the oldest and largest herb shop in Paris- established in 1880 (that makes it older than the Eiffel Tower). The boutique is located at 87 Rue D’Amsterdam 75008 in North Paris.

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I had the pleasure of meeting one of the owners, Nicole, a pharmacist P1030065who had  purchased the shop  in 1993 and we shared stories of herbs and compared experiences from our differing countries. She kindly gifted me a french herbal medicine reference book “La Phytotherapie” by Dr Jean Valnet – a valuable reference text full of traditional french herbal recipes, actions and indications. I am grateful that the Latin names of herbal medicines are consistent regardless of what language and what country one is visiting- thus the book has been a fantastic reference and comparative tool.P1030074

P1030087Exploring the shop I felt right at home looking at the various remedies and herbal blends for numerous ailments such as: Combat les troubles de la Prostate, Combat la Colite, Digestion Difficile, Combat l’Acne. The shop stocks over 900 species of plant medicine in various forms, dried, extracts, aromatherapy, massage oils and hydrosols.

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The Amazon Jungle


At the dock, we catch our speedboat to head down the Amazon River; a freighter like tanker was also transporting people traveling to various villages… a very different kind of transportation, hammocks appeared to be the visible option for lying down, looped up and tied in the main foyer, perhaps enough hammocks for 30 passengers. I was as fascinated by the boat, the sleeping quarters and the passengers, as they are of me.The Amazon River is muddy brown coloured, the strong smell of petrol and fish overpower my olfactory senses yet surprisingly, florescent bright pink dolphins also live in these waters and periodically show their bright colors framed against the grey backdrop.


At the edge of the jungle, the lush green of the foliage, heat and out-of-control humidity introduce me to ‘just the beginning’ of the rich jungle life…butterflies, crazy looking bugs, papaya trees, huge mounds of bananas, monkeys, roosters, chickens and foreign insects sporting florescent red, black, bright yellow and indian red colours (with intricate ancient designs on their wings) whiz by. Anthills and ant crossings, with some serious traffic congestion crossour path and huge brown mud-caked-like termite nests are spotted in the lush green tropical trees..

My translator and guide explains that termites are known by the villagers to have insect repellent properties and individuals that reside in the jungle often gather the termites on their arms and rub the insects right in to their skin (apparently, I am told, the termites do not bite humans!). The locals also believe that eating termites is a good treatment for a sore throat. That is a traditional remedy that I will not be trying!

Lunch at the jungle lodge is simple yet delicious…cerviche, camu camu juice (a subtle pink juice, refreshing like our lemonade, but naturally sweet) fried plantains (maduro), steamed yucca, heart of palm (or palmito), rice and beans… a guitarist plays Spanish ballads and traditional Andean tunes…

The jungle is alive with sounds…nature’s orchestra…completely alive and pulsating to its own rhythm… I stop to think, if man believes he has dominance over nature, has mastered and can exert controlover mother earth, then he should spenda night in the jungle!

The Life Force here is awesome, trees are known to slowly move their roots in the direction of moisture and shift their towering tree trunks towards the light and some particularly sensitive jungle plants actually recoil at the contact of a foreign human hand. Then there are the jungle sounds…chirping, cawing, trilling, cooing, a low pitched growling…an endless chatter of community. WOW! Man is but a tiny force (and small voice) compared to the majestic, pulsating life force and strength of voice found in the jungle.

We visit an animal reserve: anacondas, toucans, monkeys, rattlesnakes and alligators. I pick up a tiny alligator, about 2 feet long in length from head to toe…what a nice pet. : )

 I fall in love with a sloth (perhaps one of the slowest animal species in existence), a relatively uninspired-looking koala bear type, with huge friendly eyes and a permanent half grin on its face. Being a vegetarian, it becomes all too evident that the sloths only focus is on eating leaves, which it inhales with great speed compared to all other slow, plodding movements.

After picking one up and petting her wiry, wig-like pelt, I set the sloth back down on the ground; taking advantage of her getaway moment, she begins to move in very slow-motion, arms and legs branched out like a spiders….her half crawling motion is slower than a turtle.

Jungle Markets of Iquitos- Peru

An early morning walk into the market of Iquitos (known to Peruvians as the City of Love), the entrance to the Amazon Jungle; the market area is known in tourist guide books as the’slums’ of Belen but I prefer to think ofthis charming districtas the magical ‘floating city’ of Belen….the community is buzzing with life, morning chatter, live animals and fresh produce of all sorts and colours.

There are 2 seasons in Iquitos, the wet season, or more accurately named, the high water season and the dry season or low water season. Depending largely on the snow melting and the amount of rainfall in the Andean mountains.

In Belen, single room homes with palm tree roofs are built on either basala logs, which float as the water rises, or homes built on stilts to prevent flooding during the rainy or “wet” season; there is no running water or electricity in Belen….

I learn that in the high water season, as the water floods the muddy river banks, Belen is transformed to a floating city; families here typically have 2 canoes which they use to travel from their stilt homes…1 canoe for the parents and the other canoe for the small children, to boat to school.

Wandering into the marketplace, definitely the heart of the city, bustling with life at 6:30 am…WOW….papayas, pineapple, fried plantains, huge avocados and yams the size of an adult thigh, enormous soup pots simmering on open fires, live catfish (cara chama) in wicker baskets and a little old lady singing while twisting the necks of the fish…freshly pressed juices, condiments and powdered herbs stored in plastic bags…

I find the people in the market to be warm, friendly, happy spirits who, of course, are very curious. I doubt that many had ever seen a camera before, let alone seen their picture on a digital camera. After asking permission to take photos, I show them their pictures captured on camera; the results were warm smiles, laughter, looks of surprise and glee. Many women gestured to have pictures taken of their friends and one stall merchant demanded the camera be brought over his way, insisting that his picture be taken also.

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Then I find my dream… I turn a corner into a narrow side street and discover the herb market district! Pasaje Paquito. Herbal Medicine of all forms, cats claw, ginger, cinnamon, cactus bulk herbs, tonics, bottles, potions… dried powders and various jungle medicines….

I befriend an herb merchant and his son. He invites me into his small outdoor stall and shows me myrrh gum, paulo santo (a fragrant resinous wood which is burned as incense), potions and amulettes de amore * love potions…

I show the herb merchant my insect bites, memories of some foreign insect attack; the bites still very swollen and red on my leg… he rushes off to find an herbal ointment which he smears on my calf… instantly I feel relief and purchase his ointment…a great interaction / my leg has not felt this good in 4 days!

I later discover that families who live in the Amazon jungle or who fish in the Amazon river can travel up to 1 week in tiny wooden boats (sometimes with 4-5 children on the small boat), camping on the banks of the Amazon river at night -the destination is the large market in Iquitos where theysell their wares, often crates of live fish, bananas, heart of palm or yams.

Andean Mountains: The Sacred Valley of Peru

We have been taking day trips into the Andean mountains… today, on route in our journey; the taxi stopped in the middle of nowhere and went to speak to some people on the side of the road. The taxi driver was gone for awhile then came back, rolling a spare tire that he had borrowed from someone building an adobe house… that sets me up for an optimistic drive into the mountain back roads of the Sacred Valley…

The pavement far behind us, we continue gaining elevation on the steep, bumpy boulder roads, the air thick with dust and the one lane traffic winding through the mountains higher and higher until finally, there were no more mountain peaks looming above us, we were driving on the top of the mountain range….

We finally arrive at a small village -a textile community which rarely sees tourists (my kind of traveling)…The community was dressed in their traditional colours, felt hats for the women and woven beaded hats the colours of the rainbow for the men, colourful cloths to carry their bambinos (babies)…The whole community was like a big family, they weave together, about 50 or so adults…their weaving looms set up in the center of a common yard. Someone is responsible forwinding wool into thread, a section of the yard was set up for dying the lama wool various earthy colours (they use salt and men’s urine to cure or set the colour in the wool) …I will never look at another hand woven cloth the same again….

The community is more like an interdependent family… everyone helps each other, and everyone is responsible for taking care of the village elders. It is a sign of respect to great the elderly as mama and papa, as everyone elder is considered everyone’s mother and father.-Back to the textile community…baby lambs were bleating, puppies and a rooster were roaming around with the numerous small children laughing and playing…When the village stopped working to eat lunch…a large soup pot was carried out of a common room, the whole community was fed, and we were served the smoked soup also… (a clear broth withquinoa, wheat berries, some chewy meat and vegetables)… I was told it was called -in translation… old hen soup….  a rooster was hanging around the soup pot and an older lady kept chasing it away from the soup… hmmm. I wonder if the roosters’ relative ended up in the daily soup??We did get a flat tire on the bumpytravels back to the valley… glad our driver had the foresight to imagine that his thin tires would not last for the journey home.

The Andean People of the Sacred Valley in Peru


I was honored to witness an Andean celebration yesterday, with the procession line heading through the town market of Pisaq, everyone adorned in various colours of sacred dress, the elders and tribal healers wearing proud ceremonial headdresses of feathers, bones, leather and beads… Men and young boys playing wood flutes and young girls wearing woven headbands, huge smiles and carrying armfuls of sage.

I have met so many amazing people in Peru… a wise older woman, bent from years of living, perhaps 4 feet tall, her face lined from the sun and from the memories of a long life… and her eyes….I approached her and made connection, her eyes drew me in….she allowed me to photograph her… not in a way in which she was posing, but instead she connected with some distant memory and truth inside of her, gently smiled and let that truth show through the photo…

There are many children in the market, dressing up in their traditional clothing holding baby lambs or a tiny dog, who want to sell a picture… we pay them to capture the ‘traditional’ looking moment.

The Andean people are so striking, beautiful, their woven alpaca and wool clothing, traditional felt hats (women wear flowers in their hats if they are single and looking for a suitor!), gentle eyes, quick to smile and faces full of character… I often see them traveling with enormous packs on their backs, carrying a pile of eucalyptus leaves tied together, or a child under a colourful blanket.

It is common for the women to travel daily, (from high up in the mountains, down the steep mountain slopes) to the village in the valley, every day to sell their wares…Extremely fit and used to the high altitude, they can almost run up and down the mountains, traveling light footed on the tips of the narrow, steep stairs, (which have been painfully carved out of rock and set into the mountain over many years) They do not fight to balance like me, as I rest my feet carefully on the flat steps themselves (and at times stumble from the steep grade), but instead these skilled hikers balance on the point of the stair and run resting their feet only on the tips of the stairs… definitely Andean acrobatics and sure footing.

Contemplations on Faith in India

In India the spirit and the intellect are considered separate; here it is believed that our thoughts areshadu small2 simply the stairs to reach the terrace of truth, but instead we stop on the stairs and say “this is truth”. We can start searching for right things by knowing right things in our heart. In the pure heart there is no attachment to thought, thus it is impossible to know hurt. It is the egos attachment to our thoughts (to having things Be a certain way) that creates hurt. Yet we think low thoughts, believethem as truth and live in the reality which is self-created through these low frequency mental thoughts.

Words spoken by Swamiji, to know truth of the Great One, silence the mind and open to truth residing within the heart. “The existence of God is beyond reasoning and logic. Reasoning can get you to the edge of the mind, but reason will not make you experience God. Intelligence can select the path one will take on their spiritual journey, yet to see TRUTH, one needs to simply accept in FAITH beyond logic and reason.”

The presumption that God (or Source Energy)is NOT here, is simply an assumption based on logic. It is our convictions that accept the logic of our mind as our truth, and therefore it is the only truth which we see in our lives.

As we become full with our own thoughts, the ego transcends- it is then that one looses hearing of universal truth. Once full, our head stops the inward flow of other possibilities. Keep an open mind. It is important to be flexible through the ability to change our thoughts and decisions. Thought is a neutral tool, simply an instrument.

The swamis last words were spoken of unity within the world “In a global sense, human beings cannot be united at the ‘thought’ level as every head has different thoughts. It is through the voice of the heart that connection truly occurs.”

Humbly, Swamiji closed his modest talk. Gratitude for sharing his teachings was met with “I am only an instrument of thy Truth. You deserve this.

sun smallAnd with a meeting of his palms in the common greeting of Namaste: translated  – I honor the spirit in you. I honor the same spirit residing in me also. We are but one. The divine in me greats the divine in you.

For more musings on my India experiences, please check out the Spring 2007 issue of the online magazine Mirth and Reverence

For a colleagues experiences in both Tibet and India, please visit the following blog.