Letting loose with mezcal in Mexico

mezcal 2A year ago I moved to Mexico to make some desired changes in my life, among other ambitious goals that required traveling beyond the familiar borders of my native country (the US). A year later, after consuming many delicious tacos and Corona beers, shacking up with a Mexican man, and enjoying countless hours of siesta in a hammock, I now consider myself to be more Mexican than American, a conscious choice of which I am proud. Here in Mexico, we live happily amidst colorful fiestas, piñatas and miles of Pacific coastline, but what is overlooked by most non-Mexicans is that we earn pesos, which means we must live frugally.

People find all kinds of creative, resourceful ways to save and scrimp their pesos, which often means cutting corners where they shouldn’t necessarily be cut. As incisive as this observation may be, the fact is that I live in this community, and I must therefore be exposed to the often negative consequences of budget-wise prudence. For example, a few months ago, I inadvertently inhaled toxic smoke fumes from my neighbors’ yard, where they were burning a huge pile of trash instead of paying for it to be hauled away and handled properly. I stubbornly stayed in the vicinity despite the noxious fumes wafting over into my bedroom window, and I breathed in the smoke for longer than I should have.

For a week I suffered from a persistent sore throat, a body-wracking, hacking cough, nausea and a hazy mind that couldn’t focus, not to mention the exhaustion. I took to my bed and rested as much as possible until I finally stopped hacking after several days. A friend gifted me her organic eucalyptus essential oil inhaler that she had brought down from north of the border, where such specialty products can be readily obtained, unlike here in not-so-convenient, yet exotic places like the Oaxaca coast of Mexico.

Mexico’s Oaxaca [Wah-haw-kah] is a popular tourist destination for its impressive culinary delights, not excluding the famous mole sauce, stringy Oaxacan cheese and tlayudas, to name a few, as well as mezcal—the richly sweet, alcoholic beverage made from the agave plant. Mezcal is traditionally served in a shot glass with lime slices and chile powder for the equivalent of about two US dollars, a small price to pay for the flavor sensation that it delivers.

Upon sharing my respiratory distress, many people told me I should drink a mezcal, the regional panacea of fermented cactus that rids you of all your problems in one sip, as the local saying goes: Para todo mal, toma mescal. Para todo bien, también. (For all disease, drink mezcal. For your own good, drink mezcal.) And it’s true. The plant medicine worked magic on me in no time. “It will loosen the phlegm in your chest,” they told me, “and you’ll feel better.” I forgot about the mezcal for days and resorted instead to sufficient bed rest and water, but in retrospect, I should’ve just gone straight for the cure-all mezcal. Every Mexican casa in Oaxaca has at least one bottle of it in the cabinet.

As a resident of Mexico, I enjoy the benefit of the traditional hours-long afternoon siesta in between my morning and evening work shifts. Walking past the neighborhood tiendita (convenience store) on my way home, the shopkeeper, a middle-aged, round-faced, loud-mouthed Mexican woman with dozens of grandchildren, called out, “Krista! Ven acá!” (“Come here!”) in a voice I’d never heard her use before. I walked into the veranda and saw her sitting there with two other Mexican ladies gathered around a small table strewn with half empty glasses of vodka mixed with maracuyá (passion fruit) juice, an opened bottle of mezcal and a radio blasting traditional Mexican music that can only be sung along to while getting drunk. These women did not hold back from bellowing out the lyrics that I could only pretend to know and appreciate the same way they seemed to.

Somehow it all fit together: the drunken ladies, the corner store, me taking my afternoon siesta to escape from the intense heat of the midday sun in June, and then the shopkeeper poured me a shot glass full of mezcal infused with the local fruit, nancé, a tart, yellowish berry that sweetens as it ripens in the sun. “Toma un mezcalito,” the grandmother said, “y ya no regreses a la escuela” (“Have a little bit of mezcal, and don’t go back to work”), she said laughing. I paused and considered it for a moment, then took off my backpack, pulled up a chair and thanked her. The other two women, neighbors I’d seen but hadn’t met before, introduced themselves and got on with their vodka. I settled in for an entertaining social hour with the drunken women—all of them grandmothers.

Loud, raucous laughter and shoulder slaps, table thumping and belly rolling ensued as we emptied the bottles and told jokes. In keeping with the theme and tenor of the day (healing from toxic smoke inhalation), I expelled years of accumulated phlegm with each deep belly laugh and then, to really make the scene perfect, one woman started to cry. The other one grabbed ahold of her shoulder, leaned in toward her and murmured, “Sácalo, todo. Hay que sacarlo todo” (“Get it out, all of it. You have to get it all out”.) I sat there quietly, sipping my mezcal and witnessing the woman shed tears of stuff that she seemed to be trying to hold inside. No one bothered to ask why she cried, the other woman just held her hand on her shoulder and let her cry, and I sat there with my mezcal watching the scene like some kind of telenovela (Mexican soap opera), yet I could see myself in the protagonist, all hunched over her glass of vodka, covering her eyes with the fold of her shirt, embarrassed to be so vulnerable and still so able to cry. I considered getting up at that moment with the excuse that I had to go back to work, but something told me to stay, to be a welcomed part of this glorious emptying of years of pent-up emotion.

I sat there in silence and emptied the mezcal bottle for what seemed like an eternity until the shopkeeper produced the next bottle, a pinkish cream mezcal that reminded me of Pepto-Bismol, and I remembered a friend’s recent advice: “Go get a mezcal. Just one,” and at that moment I got up with a polite smile and thanks, bought myself a few unripe bananas and left for the sanctuary of my tiny little room in a thatched roof cabana by the sea, where I now write and listen to the crashing waves and wonder how I got myself here, after everything I denied myself, everything I’ve given up, lost, all the places and people I’ve met, how did I end up here, pleasantly buzzed and having just given myself exactly what I needed—an afternoon of rest and the palpable presence of my Aunt Rose, the one who worked hard all her life, lived alone, refused to do anyone else’s laundry and kept mostly to herself unless she was visiting with a few trusted friends.

We get exactly what we deserve at the precise moment we need it, the Maya shaman, Grandfather Jaguar, once taught me, and I’ll never forget his words. Even my students are the gifts I need now: When I thanked them this morning for their efforts in class, one of them said, “Thank you for you,” and it filled me.

“Enjoy the independent life you live,” my father had written me earlier this week, “a lot of people wish they could be as free as you.” And yet, I wake up startled in the middle of the night, I hear the tumult of the surf, and I drown myself in fear that I might someday die alone with no partner, no children… What then? What happens when I get old and sick? Who will take care of me then? A wave of nausea bowls me over at the thought, so maybe better not to entertain such thoughts. Maybe better to treat myself to a mezcal more often, to surround myself with friends, to sit with boisterous women who cry and laugh, because they’re here and this is where I am.

As soon as I’d decided to give myself the afternoon off to rest—an indulgence of which I rarely partake—the ocean invited me into her cool, calm water, gentle waves that lapped instead of crashed, and today was the first time in days I’ve been able to float and bob atop a tranquil sea at low tide.

I luxuriated in the soak of warm seawater for longer than normal, stretched out like a starfish into all directions and thought about the Mexican women, my students, my empty office at work, the house I built in Belize that is now lived in by a young couple and their newborn. I sighed at the thought of things and people I’ve left behind. I want to give birth, too, I know, to create something new that only I can create, and maybe better for it not to be an infant, but something more freeing for my spirit, fulfilling for my soul. Like the mezcal that cured me, my Aunt Rose’s blood courses in my veins, reminding me that I am complete within myself. I already have everything I need to be as happy as I want to be, and here in Mexico, the land of miracle mezcal, happiness is easy to find.

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No machismo en mi casa: My man does the housework

Unlike most women, I am childless by choice at age 42 after a decade of traveling solo in Central America. I am an intensely independent woman who loves her freedom and gets off on an insatiable thirst for adventure. I don’t want to be tied down, which means I probably don’t want to get pregnant. After moving a year ago from tropical-wet Belize to the tropical-arid Oaxaca coast of Mexico, my sensual wetness dried up almost entirely when I looked around at the paucity of potential suitors. I told myself that I’d given up on having a Mexican boyfriend, as much as I’d given up on the Belizean men: all they wanted were babies and a dutiful housewife. No, thanks. I’ve got other plans.

Like one in four women, I have been the target of physical and verbal abuse by former male partners, ranging from near-death by strangulation to invectives and subtle manipulation, leaving me with many dramatic stories to tell. After two decades of downright failures and otherwise mere approximations at shacking up with a good guy, I am now partnered with a peaceful Mexican man who is not abusive. He is far beyond the “machismo” male typically associated with his culture, as depicted in the recent drama film “Roma”, which illustrates the plight of two Mexican women partnered with machismo Mexican men. Things don’t go swimmingly for either of them, as they are relegated to single motherhood and shouldering the heavy load of daily housework, not excluding the task of shoveling up dog poop from the driveway, and, to top that off, being abused and disrespected on a daily basis. On the contrary, my Mexican man is not at all like these “pendejos” (jerks), although there seem to be plenty of them to go around.

With my preference for long hours of voluntary solitude, meditation, yoga and constant travel to new places, I simply don’t fit the profile that most Latino men seem to prefer—kitchen-bound and pregnant. A year after making the bold move to live and work full time in Mexico, I am delighted that these cultural norms don’t apply to my current partnership with a strapping, middle-aged Mexican man, a fisherman and lover of the sea, born and raised on the Oaxaca coast. He owns and operates a coconut palm tree-shaded hotel and restaurant that he built himself on the beach. He has an impressively full range of useful, practical skills: lifeguard, construction worker, landscaper, plumber, electrician, cook, housekeeper…. This dude defies the stereotypes about Mexican men: He’s not into soccer, and he seems happy doing the housework—cooking, cleaning, shopping, and more. Don’t get me wrong; he is a straight male with a healthy, intact libido. Again, don’t get me wrong; this guy is by no means an opportunist, using me for a green card to the US, a place he says he’d be crazy to go, unless he were to be overcome by his own death wish. Neither living nor visiting the US interests him in the least bit, and I join him whole-heartedly in our shared preference to live and work south of Trump’s hostile border wall.

I’m a white Caucasian American transplant to this rural part of Mexico, where smiling, brown people in sombreros abound in a land of delicious tacos and Corona beer. Needless to say, my whiteness stands out in our small community, especially when I’m arm-in-arm with my handsome, dark partner. We capture the attention of our neighbors, mostly divorced Mexican women who stare as we stroll by, silently stewing in jealousy and wishing they too could find a “good man”, as I hope someday they do. Maybe then, we would get fewer envy-laden glares from the local women. We are the “chisme” (talk of the town) in our newfound cohabiting happiness.

Evidently, our relationship is fascinating to these women, because they can’t imagine a man voluntarily doing the chores. My guy knows he’s under the watchful eye of our catty neighbors, but he doesn’t care. At sunrise he takes out the trash and sweeps the front walkway, while I don jogging gear and enjoy a half hour jaunt up and down the length of the beach with our dog before heading to work all day. As soon as I return home, he (and the dog) are there to greet me at the door with a resplendent smile, dinner already cooking on the stove and the laundry done. He has folded my clothes in a neat pile by my bedside. I have gotten into the habit of showing up with a cold bottle of beer at the end of the day to “reward” him for his domestic triumph and show my appreciation for his readiness to rebel against his own culture’s norms.

We live (and sleep) together in biracial bliss, but our daily paid work obliges us to fill very different roles. Every day, while he stays home, tends to his hotel guests and handles the housework, maintenance and repairs, among other odd jobs; I earn a steady paycheck in pesos. He does the heavy lifting and sweats profusely in the intense tropical heat, while I take on a more “intellectual” role in our dynamic duo. I enjoy the privilege of a Mexican version of the ivory tower of academia, comfortably ensconced most of the day writing and reading in my cozy office whenever I’m not teaching Mexican university students how to read, speak and write as fluently as possible in English or teaching yoga classes.

We have achieved a collaborative effort to earn a respectable, decent living in a part of the world where the average household income is around $500 US dollars. (Yes, you read that correctly: five-hundred US dollars. Per month. And we live comfortably on that amount). Even if I were not here, my man would be financially stable without me, and vice versa. I have a Master’s degree and a diverse, marketable skill set; he has his own thriving business in a popular tourist destination. And he definitely wouldn’t miss my help around the house. I tell him half-jokingly, “you cook the food; I’ll buy the groceries.” Mostly, I’m serious about that. I don’t take to the kitchen very readily, and if I do, it’s mostly to clean the dishes. Occasionally, there are exceptions and we reverse these roles, depending on our needs and those of the people around us; but for the most part, we stick to a mutually agreed upon division of labor with the goal of staying in love—and keeping separate bank accounts.

To make our partnership all the more countercultural, he doesn’t even get jealous when I put my hands all over other men’s bodies, which I enjoy doing several times a week. (Seriously!) As a licensed, certified massage therapist, I have butt-naked men in close quarters regularly, and I deliver up what I know to be a wallop of professionally delivered relief from stress and tension, with absolutely no sex involved or solicited by neither me nor my clients. Most working class people in Mexico—myself included—rely on more than one skill set and find ways to live resourcefully. In addition to my daily work at the university, I enjoy my side gig as a massage therapist in this small community, where rumors spread quickly. If I were not entirely professional in my therapeutic services, everyone here would know within an hour or two. My partner actually encourages me to keep rubbing on his friends, because he knows it helps them, and he knows how much I love to help people with my unique style of therapeutic massage. Eventually, he says, I will be able to open my own business here. I can help you, he tells me. While I am grateful for his help, I know I can do that myself. I’m fluent in Spanish, highly skilled and not afraid to go out and get what I want.

I moved to Mexico as a single woman on a mission to find my man (among other personal goals), and within a month or so, I knew that I didn’t want a typical Mexican male as a partner. That’s why I chose this guy. He has already fulfilled his biological imperative to procreate: He has two grown sons and a five-year-old granddaughter, in addition to three thriving businesses. So far, he seems to need nothing from me other than my companionship. As a career-oriented, ambitious woman who spends over an hour every day in advanced yoga postures and eschews the ephemeral, I need a man who isn’t afraid to sweep or do the laundry. When I clock out of my full-time university gig, I want to come home to a happy partner, a clean house and a cooked dinner. (I sound like such a misogynist…. Wait. I’m a woman!) Achieving such an atypical domestic arrangement is my own dream come true, and it stretches the limits of what I thought were possible with any man, let alone a Mexican.

Last night when I got home late from work, he had an enormous plate of oysters on display with sliced limes that he picked from the backyard, and the oysters?—well, they are plentiful here in the Pacific Ocean along the Oaxaca coastline, and he is happy to do the precarious work of maneuvering the rocks and dangerous current to select the best ones, pry them open and clean them out. Oysters can only be eaten by sucking and slurping, and yes, they definitely get you in the mood. Loaded with milky white juices rich in vitamins and minerals, oysters are a natural aphrodisiac.

Today he’s going fishing, and for dinner, he says, we’ll have fresh fish with steamed vegetables. After dinner, I’ll give him a massage on the veranda under the coconut palm trees. I’d say I’ve got it made in a tropical paradise with the man of my dreams, and I know he’d say the same about me—in Spanish. After all, we live on Playa del Amor (Beach of Love), and there is plenty of love to be made every day.

https://youtu.be/rs6Y4kZ8qtw

Enjoy the ferris wheel ride of your life

ferris wheelI received a request for a Life Reading from J.J., who asked the following question:

I am here on a mission and I wonder if you get any impressions on that. I feel unsure as to what I am here to do. I do so many different things, I can’t seem to pick just one. I survived a near death experience, at which time I was told that I was here on a mission. I wonder if you can help me to more clearly define the mission. I have many natural talents, including the fact that I am psychic. 

Will I find a man who will love and be loved? Someone who cares about the spiritual aspects of existence like myself? Someone to laugh with and teach with?

The Ferris Wheel

Throughout our evolution we’ve become experts at wrapping ourselves around belief structures, socially constructed concepts and patterns of behavior. Some people are born with the gift of seeing beyond these rigid structures to a more expansive, evolved point of view. These are known as our shamans, our healers, our psychics. We are attuned to a more expansive energy that goes beyond our limited egos and we perceive time-space as a complex, interconnected matrix in which all possibilities exist at once, because we are multidimensional beings. The select few of us who incarnate with the gift of psychic perception are endowed with the capacity to uplift humanity at a time of urgent need for everyone to open their hearts and recognize universal love, compassion and forgiveness. This can often “feel” like an impossible mission, maybe too overwhelming, because so many people are in need.

The mission is realized each and every day in the way that presents itself effortlessly. You do not need to “look” for how to realize your mission, because life naturally presents it to you in each and every moment, through the people you meet, your daily interactions, right down to the conversations you have with yourself in your own head.

Imagine yourself as the center point of an enormous ferris wheel. Each cart holds one aspect of your personality, like a holographic self, that keeps going around and around this wheel of life—your life cycle on this earthly plane. All your little selves, all the parts of you, combine to form a whole and your real self is always at the center, observing it all from a place of full realization, without judgment, just simply there. Each aspect of you keeps going around – sometimes enjoying the ride, sometimes fearful, frustrated, or bored… All ages of you from infant to adolescent to adult to elder: Each one has its time and place on the ferris wheel and each one has a different perspective at each moment. The center point sees and knows all. This is who you are. Pure consciousness.

When your soul was ready to incarnate into this life, you signed up for your own ferris wheel ride and so the best thing you can do is enjoy it. Love it. Self-love is essential for the ones who wish to experience life fully without imposing limitations in the form of judgments, negative thoughts, and even so far as harboring a rigid opinion about oneself or someone else. A healer can help people move beyond self-limitation by facilitating an awakening into a more expansive consciousness.

You will attract your partner to you when your soul is ready to share your unique gifts. There is no need to go “looking” or to feel pressure to find that special someone, because he or she will appear when the timing is right in your life. In the meantime, enjoy your life and find richness deep within yourself.

“Grow a Beard”

Wizards grew long beards because they wanted their words—their wisdom—to tumble out of their mouths across their hearts and down into the earth, where the vibrational frequency of their words would be grounded into manifest reality. This is the same reason for long dresses and skirts—to allow this wisdom to flow through and around oneself, to receive from the earth and allow it to flow down as a giving back.

campfireAccept and honor yourself as a healer in your community. Allow your style of clothing to be an expression of your gifts: Find one that is all your own; your favorite colors, fabrics, patterns and textures. Take time every day to sit quietly in nature and receive. Find a balance between alone time and social time. Do not sacrifice yourself to social pressures or expectations of others. Take time for yourself to find your voice.

Campfire Stories

Be a story teller. Find people you can sit with in a sacred circle—a campfire—not a party atmosphere, but rather, a kind of ceremony where the intention is to listen and express oneself authentically from the heart. Tell your story. Let it flow freely and try not to censor what you say. Don’t be afraid of other peoples’ reactions: surprise, tears, laughter… because they are on their own ferris wheel ride and can  only understand your ferris wheel relative to their own. So, their reactions should not deter you from telling your story and letting it flow like the words of a wizard tumbling down to the earth.

We need your story.

If telling stories heals you, then it will heal the world. It is a possible mission, simple, really. Just keep showing up. Don’t hide. Your minor health problems will subside because you will stop repressing yourself out of concern for other peoples’ opinions and reactions. This has been holding you back and this has been the source of your discomfort.

Grow a beard and let it flow.

If you would like to request a Life Reading, please click here. Find me on Facebook @ParamaWilliams

Happy homesteading in Belize

 

Nothing worthwhile comes easily. After dedicating the past five years of my life to steady, focused work; I now have my own thatched roof hut on a fenced acre of fertile land, two puppies, a garden, and what’s beginning to look a lot more like a farm here in Belize. It hasn’t been easy, but it certainly has been worthwhile. I’ve discovered the happiness of homesteading.

Recently, I’ve delighted in the happiness of homesteading alongside my happy homesteading partner who happens to have been born and raised here in Punta Gorda, Belize, a tiny town where fishing and farming are still how most people make their living.

The indigenous Garifuna, known for their rhythmic drumming and lively dancing, are skilled fishermen and farmers, as these traditions have been passed down through the generations. “My father used to go out and fish all day,” he told me one night as we shared a pot of fresh caught fish that he’d brought me from the Caribbean Sea, just a ten-minute walk down the dirt road from my house. “My father used to catch so much fish, he would hand out fish to everybody.”

When I first arrived over five years ago in Belize, I spent the first two years volunteering on friends’ farms before I decided to start my own. I learned about Belizean culture and made friends with many local people, including the Garifuna. While visiting a friend, I saw a framed picture hanging on his wall of a black Jesus surrounded by black disciples with dreadlocks flowing down to their waists. I stared at the photo and re-evaluated my white Anglo-Saxon upbringing and the photos of Jesus I had seen in church: you know, the ones that make Jesus look like a blue-eyed surfer boy. As I stared at the picture of the black Jesus, I knew in my heart that Jesus must have been a black man, and his disciples probably were, too.

When I first met the Garifuna people of Belize, I was overcome by their beauty, grace, strength, simplicity, and depth of spirit. I decided that Jesus must have been Garifuna. I didn’t know that years later, I would meet my beautiful Garifuna partner at the local ice cream shop, of all places, fulfilling my wildest dreams of making a happy homestead here in Belize. One year after the completion of my thatched roof hut, I’ve planted my roots and essentially kissed my former life in the US goodbye, as returning to the States presents more obstacles than benefits to my happy homesteading life, as it is now.

I am home. Here in Belize, I have my hands—and my heart—full. I live simply and enjoy the bounty of a good harvest every day, in the midst of the most skilled fishermen and farmers on the planet. It has been a lot more enjoyable to share the joy with a homesteading partner, especially considering that he is the son of a fisherman and grandson of an herbal medicine wisdom keeper of the indigenous Garifuna culture. This morning he served me a steaming cup of freshly brewed jackass bitters, the leaf from a tree that grows on his ancestral farm. “My grandfather used to drink jackass bitters every day,” he said, “It will fight off any infection in your body.” I’ve found this to be true: At the first sign of the sniffles or a sore throat, a cup of jackass bitters usually nips it in the bud.

Last week, with the help of my favorite building contractor (the esteemed Mr. Jose Bo, a Mayan man from the neighboring village), we surrounded my acre property with a barbed wire fence and over one-hundred sapodilla posts. Sapodilla is a hardwood tree harvested locally that will allegedly last over fifteen years without succumbing to the elements, which here include termites, heavy rainfall and tropical humidity.

During the entire first year of living in my thatched roof hut, I lavished myself with plenty of leisure time to get used to being a homeowner. I spent an inordinate amount of time relaxing in my hammock, dreaming of all the awesome projects that I would one day accomplish. I made detailed, ambitious lists and stared longingly at them while lying in my hammock. One year later, I am now sufficiently motivated and courageous enough to put on my work boots, don my straw hat, and grab a shovel. I drop an inordinate amount of sweat under the hot Belizean sun in so doing, but like I said, nothing worthwhile is easy. I can always look forward to the coolness of evening, when my partner and I cook dinner with herbs and vegetables from our farm, light the kerosene lantern and gaze at the millions of stars visible in our unprecedented starlit sky.

 

Chaya, a highly nutritious, leafy green that is similar to spinach when steamed

There’s nothing like the feeling of eating a home cooked meal with vegetables from your own garden. Nothing. It’s the kind of satisfaction that can only be understood by someone who has had the same kind of experience, which is why I’ve learned to share homesteading success stories with other happy homesteaders who can relate to my hard-earned payoff.

I was most proud of my successful installation of door handles to my wooden door, which I’d grown tired of awkwardly grasping around the frame. I realized that I could only install the handle after purchasing a Phillips head screwdriver, the first one I’ve bought specifically for the purpose of making home improvements. As I happily wielded my new screwdriver and door handle, I smiled at the thought that only a strong, determined woman could move across two borders, build herself a house, and cultivate a happy homesteading partnership here in Belize. Only someone like me could handle what it takes. Our two puppies agree.

 

Visit us at The Farm School

Vintage winemaking in Belize: turning chocolate beans into wine

Did you know that the beans used to make chocolate can also be used to make a delicious wine? At Cotton Tree Lodge in Belize, Central America, we are turning cacao beans into wine every day!

Cotton Tree Lodge is an eco-lodge nestled deep in the tropical jungle of southern Belize beside the flowing Moho River, where guests can experience a unique adventure with sustainable tourism to local Mayan ruins, waterfalls, underwater caves, as well as a variety of cultural activities. Not only is Cotton Tree Lodge a destination for tourists seeking a peaceful getaway surrounded by pristine nature — it is also the site for some of the world’s most unique, locally sourced products; namely, Cotton Tree chocolate bars and a new product currently in development: cacao wine.

Cotton Tree Lodge’s sprawling hundred-acre property has dozens of mature cacao trees from which we get the beans for making our award-winning Cotton Tree chocolate.

Our experienced farmers harvest ripe pods and break them open to reveal a hidden jewel: white beans surrounded by a juicy white flesh. Historically, the ancient Maya once used these cacao beans as a currency, and today, farmers still strive to sell the best quality cacao beans for the most competitive price on the market.

The cacao beans are extracted and placed into burlap bags, delivered to our processing facility, where we collect the fruity-tasting juice. It is from this deliciously sweet, fruity juice that cacao wine is then made through a fermentation process that our resident food scientist intern, Hali, a recent graduate from Pennsylvania State University, is currently researching and developing at our processing facility at Cotton Tree Lodge.

After earning her Bachelor of Science in Food Science with a minor in International Agriculture, Hali knew she wanted to gain some valuable work experience that would set her apart from others. “I didn’t want to go get just any run-of-the-mill internship like everybody else was doing,” she related in a recent interview inside the thatched roof facility where she has been perfecting the fermentation process daily through trial and error–and a lot of patience, persistence and research.

Hali had traveled to Belize in 2014, where she bought a Cotton Tree chocolate bar in the airport. “I had to spend the rest of my Belizean dollars,” she said, “and I remember how good the chocolate was. So when I graduated, I emailed the owner and asked if he needed an intern in food science.”

It just so happened that Hali’s bold, back-door approach gained her entry into the world of bean-to-bar chocolate making in what some call the “chocolate center of the universe” — the southernmost district of Belize, Central America, where the rainfall and soil content are ideal for cultivating cacao saplings into mature, fruit-bearing trees within 3 to 6 years, depending on the variety.

Once Hali completes her three-month internship researching and developing cacao wine in Belize, she will return home to work as an assistant winemaker in Pennsylvania. “Since I interned at the winery back home,” Hali said, “I was invited to take on this project here in Belize.”

The cacao fruit juice is a by-product of chocolate making that–were it not for the creativity, resourcefulness and commitment to zero waste at Cotton Tree Lodge’s farm-to-table restaurant and resort–the cacao juice would simply drain off and go unused.

Hali works alongside a local Belizean farmer who is responsible for fermenting and drying the cacao beans, which will then be used to make Cotton Tree chocolate.

“Fermenting cacao juice into wine is like making any other fruit wine,” said Hali, who can be found avidly researching online whenever she is not busy testing out her process inside the facility. “You have to make sure the sugar is at a high enough level so you have enough alcohol for it to be classified as wine.”

Hali, with the help of her skilled assistant, a local Belizean farmer, is able to turn the cacao juice into wine through a fermentation process that takes about 4 to 6 days, depending on the ambient temperature, which is typically 85 degrees Fahrenheit or more on most days of the year. “It’s been cold here lately,” said Hali, “so some of our recent batches have been taking longer to ferment.”

The winemaking process represents Cotton Tree Chocolate company’s dedication to wise, sustainable use of local resources, because the cacao juice that is used to make the wine would otherwise go to waste.

“Normally, when farmers sell cacao, they harvest it the day before it is sold, put it into a burlap bag, and all the juice drains out,” food scientist Hali explained. “Whoever buys cacao isn’t buying the juice. They’re just buying wet cacao beans and whatever pulp is still around them.

“What we’re doing is buying wet cacao, putting wet beans into a perforated bucket and collecting the juice.”

After a month of trial and error, the process has become more productive and successful. Each week, the facility receives 30 buckets of wet cacao beans. Out of that, Hali is now able to produce about 6 buckets of cacao wine.

“By the time we get the beans here, the juice is already draining off,” Hali said, “so we get what we’re calling the first day juice. We let them sit overnight. It’s better, when you’re fermenting beans for chocolate, to have them kind of dry. You don’t want all that moisture. So we’ve been collecting the second day juice too.”

While the process is still in the research and development phase, the most recent guests at Cotton Tree Lodge who have been fortunate to taste test the first few batches of cacao wine gave it a thumbs up with helpful suggestions for improvement. Hali commented, “In the future, we hope to try and add something to sweeten the wine so it’s not quite so dry.”

“The cacao juice itself tastes sweet and slightly floral,” Hali said while the small, stingless Mayan bees hovered nearby, pollinating the nearby cacao trees and making honey. “The wine kind of carries that flavor over. Normally you want to let a white wine age 6 months to balance everything out. Right now, a lot of our batches taste acidic because the flavors haven’t had enough time to mingle. We are still trying to iron out some details about how we are going about filtering and letting things settle out.”

Good-tasting cacao wine will be a new, unique product for Belize. Some other cacao wines on the market taste too much like vinegar, according to the latest market research. “I hope that with a set process and standards of cleanliness and sanitation, we will produce a good fruit wine. It will be the first of its kind in Belize,” said Hali.

When you come stay with us at Cotton Tree Lodge, be sure to order a glass of our cacao wine from our friendly bartenders, and be on the lookout for our delicious, bottled cacao wine on the local market!

Click here to book your stay at Cotton Tree Lodge and try our new cacao wine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Money can’t buy me self-realization, so why should I pay for yoga?

Baba Hari Dass, master yoga teacher

In our modern, capitalistic society, what we call “yoga” has now become a multimillion dollar industry in which yoga teachers brand themselves, compete with each other and earn money; instead of the real yoga: a sacred, ancient tradition designed to be passed down from a master teacher (guru) to sincere, eager students (disciples) who wish to be self-realized. An authentic wish for self-realization should not be motivated by the desire to earn money, fame or recognition. Yet, we have acquiesced to allow what was once the pure tradition of yoga to be made into something it was never meant to be.

Yoga master Baba Hari Dass during a satsang gathering on Halloween

Yoga was never designed to be made into a brand and offered for sale. The understanding of yoga is meant to be transmitted from teacher to student through a process of surrender and dedicated practice. My yoga guru, Baba Hari Dass, took a lifelong vow of silence and didn’t utter a word for most of his life. Yet, he has trained thousands of students in the ancient tradition of yoga. He is an extraordinary, living example of what yoga is really meant to be: a lifelong practice of requiring sincere focus, fiery dedication and relentless love for self and others.

Today, we see thousands of different brands of yoga invented by modern yoga teachers who have the hubris to think they’re creating something new under the sun. Maybe they are. But that doesn’t make it real yoga. It just makes it yet another product that must be sold and advertised.

This article is not meant to be a criticism of the thousands of yoga teachers who are out there teaching excellent classes and charging money for what they do; actually, the purpose of my writing is to suggest that maybe there might be a different way of learning and teaching yoga — a way that aligns more with the origin of yoga as an ancient tradition.

The modern age of yoga is replete with self-proclaimed experts shamelessly making grandiose marketing claims like “Transform your life!” … I’m not saying there’s no place for marketing. Obviously, there is. For products that need to be sold. I am suggesting that yoga should be taken as a lifestyle and not a product; therefore, it doesn’t need to be sold. Or bought. Yoga is kind of like love: It’s something I practice because I know it improves my qualify of life. It’s not like a pill I can buy over the counter. Yet that’s the way yoga is being treated all over the world today — like a consumable commodity.

If a teacher charges for her yoga class, then it’s probably because the yoga studio owner is charging her for rent. Or, if she’s the yoga studio owner, then she has to pay overhead costs like advertising, employees, insurance, business taxes; not to mention the cost of yoga teacher certification, which can be priced as high as $10,000 in the U.S., depending on the brand of yoga.

One could argue that if you have to pay thousands of dollars to earn a yoga teacher certification (as I once did), then you should be able to charge for your yoga class, especially once you feel confident and can attract a following of students. I think that’s the justification most modern yoga teachers use for why they charge to teach yoga (as I once did): “Hey, I paid for my yoga teacher certification, and I dedicated years of my life to studying yoga…”

Over 15 years ago, I earned my 200-hour yoga teacher certification in the Boston area. I have since taken countless hours of workshops, seminars and classes to hone my craft and learn from many different teachers. In the past, I myself have opened my own yoga studio, charged money for my yoga classes, and Ah, hell, why not? created my own brand of yoga that I call “Parama Yoga Method”. But the truth is, I did not invent anything new that I didn’t learn from my own teachers. Maybe I just changed around some sequences, sketched my own line drawings of some yoga postures and took some nice yoga selfie photos on the beach. Aside from that, I try to keep the ancient yoga tradition alive by doing what my teachers taught me, honoring the sacred lineages, and integrating any of my own realizations into what has always and will always be the one true yoga of self-realization. Only a dedicated practitioner learning from a master teacher can understand this.

Let’s consider for a moment what “yoga” actually means. “Yoga” is the ancient Sanskrit word meaning “union” — union of body, mind and spirit. While I can’t claim to have achieved perfect union of my body, my mind and my spirit, I can say that such a practice is a profoundly spiritual one that has nothing to do with buying and selling. Union of body, mind and spirit probably can’t be bought — or sold, for that matter. Union of body, mind and spirit is probably what the gurus call “self-realization”. Let me reiterate the point I made previously: An authentic wish for self-realization should not be motivated by the need or desire to earn — or spend — money. As one of my teachers once said, “The best things in life are free.”

I would like to see many more free yoga teacher training programs led by master teachers. I would like to see less certification and more authentic practice. I would like to see more eager students sincerely wishing to earn what can only be gained through dedicated practice: self-realization. There’s no price for that. Like the Beatles said, “Money can’t buy me love.”

Come join me for sunrise yoga classes in my riverside bungalow at a charming jungle eco-lodge in southern Belize, where I offer daily classes (for free) in exchange for room and board. Over 5 years ago, I quit my full-time, high-paying job in the U.S. and moved to Central America. I bought an acre of land and built my own off grid homestead. Here, the cost of living is relatively low and I can enjoy a simple lifestyle, albeit without most modern conveniences. Overall, I’ve discovered more resourceful ways to meet my basic needs, thereby giving me more time to practice yoga. I’m not saying this makes me better than anybody else; it just makes me… unique. And different. Unlike most yoga teachers. But who cares?

Click here to buy one of my books on Amazon. It will transform your life! (That was a joke). Buying one of my books will support me as I continue to teach yoga for free. (That wasn’t a joke).

 

 

 

 

Ethnic “white privilege”: Maybe we are the “poor” people

Can you…

Weave your own clothes?…Build your own house in a day from materials straight out of your own back yard?… Cultivate your own field of corn, rice and beans?… Build your own canoe from the trunk of a tree?

Well… Can you?

I bet that if you’re a privileged, white person from one of the “First World” nations, you probably answered “no” to most or all of these questions.

You might be thinking, “Who can do all these things?”

The indigenous people of Central America can. They’ve been doing it for centuries, and they will continue to pass these skills onto their future generations, unless their habitat and natural resources are destroyed due to the insane agenda of my country of birth (the U.S.), among other First World nations who are hell-bent on exploiting the natural resources of the world as fast as possible.

Unlike most of my fellow Americans, I was willing to admit that my life of privilege in the U.S. meant that I agreed to consume more than I needed as well as fund wars every time I paid my taxes. In my mid-thirties, I abandoned my life of privilege in exchange for a humbler, simpler life. I packed my bags, quit my job, donated most of my belongings to a charity, and came to southern Belize, Central America … sight unseen.

I’m not mentally handicapped or mentally ill, as many of my friends and family have insisted I must be (“Why would you quit your job?”… “You ruined your career” … “You must be crazy”…). I’ve already reflected and written about this here.

I exchanged my career, my cushy job, my new car, my proximity to family and Walmart and fancy movie theaters for the life I’m now living, which is much more sane than the life I would be living, had I stayed in my country of birth and continued serving the ruling elite in their agenda of planetary destruction. I chose to live a principled life instead of the privileged life I was handed by virtue of my birth and heritage.

Within a year of moving to Belize, I’d purchased an acre of fertile land on the outskirts of a small town where I found other counter-cultural ex-pats who shared my values: We’d left behind our lives of privilege in the First World to learn how to grow our own food, live off the grid in simple, thatch-roof houses, and attempt to acculturate in a Third World country.

Over the past five years, I’ve wanted to give up many times. But I made friends with the locals and learned from them. I improved my Spanish fluency to the point where I could joke around with the locals and haggle in the street markets. I learned how to be more resourceful and get by with less.

I’m glad I persisted, though I often feel uncomfortable and inconvenienced—sometimes terrified—every day. But I’m definitely not bored. In spite of the obvious challenges of living as a white woman in a Third World country, I choose to live a life based on principle instead of a life of privilege.

I now have my own small, thatch-roof hut with no electricity or municipal services. I now have a small garden of fruits and vegetables. I can now say that I prefer to live south of the border than in my country of birth.

I still have a lot to learn.

When I lived in the U.S., I used to think that I should come down here and “help” the poor people. In my blind state of privilege and hubris, I thought I had something valuable to offer. Then I actually came down here, to the Third World, and I gradually realized that instead of trying to “help” the indigenous people, what I actually needed to do was learn from them. After all, I’d been pushing pencils my entire life as an academic seated at a desk in air-conditioned rooms. I hadn’t gotten my hands dirty, hauled buckets of water, or any of the other forms of manual labor that are part of the fabric of life here.

I’d hammered a nail into a piece of wood … mmmm, maybe once?… Suffice it to say: I had a lot to learn. I had the sense enough to get over my pride and get humble enough to learn from the indigenous people.

Locals with whom I’ve had the pleasure to become friends have kindly and patiently taught me a lot of skills I otherwise wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t come down here and been willing to learn: how to plant rice, how to sharpen a machete, how to build a thatch roof, how to milk a cow, how to cultivate coconut trees, etc., etc…. The skills I’ve learned over the course of five years have enriched my life to the point where I no longer consider the local people to be “poor”; on the contrary, I now consider people in privileged, First World nations to be the poor ones, while the indigenous people are rich beyond our understanding.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend from the U.S. She told me that she had to put her mother, age 89, in a nursing home, because everybody in her family was too busy with their jobs to take care of her.

“That’s unheard of down here,” I told her. “Nursing homes don’t exist in Central America, unless they’re funded and built by Americans who value such a thing. The people down here don’t understand the concept of putting their elders in a nursing home.”

She said, “I can understand why you like living down there.”

I replied, “It’s a saner culture.”

Here, old people live in multi-generational homes, usually in one room where everybody sleeps beside each other, wakes up together, cooks together, eats together, and celebrates … together.

The fact is that vast majority of people in the world live on less than 10 dollars a day in a state of what we would call “poverty”, but when you look at it from a certain standpoint, maybe we privileged white people from the First World are the “poor” ones.

It’s a Faustian bargain: We white people live a life of privilege in the First World in exchange for living in a rat race where we barely have time to talk to each other. If it’s hot outside, we close ourselves off from nature in air-conditioned rooms and complain about the heat whenever we have to walk to our fancy cars. We spend more time on our fancy tablets and smart phones than we do talking to our kids and our elders. We eat poor quality fast food, get sick and don’t have time to exercise. We bury ourselves in debt until we die and get buried in fancy cemeteries. We rely on specialists instead of learning how to do basic skills ourselves.

On and on and on… We privileged people are an abomination: We’re indulgent and spoiled without even realizing it. We’ve sold our souls to the devil, and the devil would have us believe that we are the best. That we have it all.

In a desperate, vain attempt to assuage our deep-seated guilt, we take trips to foreign countries and make donations to good causes. Sorry Charlie, but that’s not enough. It was never enough and will never be enough.

A friend of mine, a reluctant messiah of a message that no one wants to hear, points out in his incisive writings that we should have dismantled the whole rat race and stopped being hamster cogs in the giant wheel a long time ago. But in our selfishness and denial of reality, we failed to do so. We settled for a life of privilege in exchange for destroying our own planet. To deny it is to ignore the undeniable facts.

From an economic standpoint, Third World countries are poor because of the disparity created by First World domination and appropriation of resources. In a saner arrangement, we’d all have enough, and we’d all be living like the indigenous people of the Third World: getting by on less than 10 dollars a day, building our own houses, healing our bodies with medicine from the plants we cultivate in our own back yards.

I don’t know where we privileged white people get off thinking that we can come down to Third World countries and redeem ourselves by leaving stuff behind as donations and then returning to our jobs, our big houses, our big cars….

I suppose I can have compassion for the hubris of white people who think they need to “help” the poor, indigenous people. I’m guilty of it, too. I came to Belize, Central America over five years ago with the same pompous attitude. I was born and bred in a culture of privilege where I never had to pick up a broom or pull weeds out of the garden or get my hands dirty, unless I was playing in a sand box in my school playground. I understand the mentality of trying to help people who are less privileged than me. Yet, I no longer participate in it. Instead, I left my life of privilege behind and chose to live and work with the indigenous people, gradually developing appreciation, respect and admiration.

Here, indigenous people learn how to survive without industrial inputs before they learn to walk. Meanwhile, we privileged white people show up in Third World countries in large tour groups, in shiny vans with shiny, new suitcases and shiny, new shoes, determined to save the world with a few donations of shiny, new “stuff” that we assume the villagers need.

An indigenous wisdom keeper once shared a story with me from her childhood. She remembered how a bunch of volunteers from the U.S. showed up in her ancestral village in Honduras with a truckload of shoes for all the children. It was a custom in her village for the indigenous people to walk around barefoot, because they believe that our feet are our “soul”: When we walk barefoot, we stay connected to the earth.

After the white people had dropped off the shoes and left the village, all the people gathered, threw the shoes into a large pile and set it on fire. My friend recalled with a smile how she stood there beside her mother, watching the shoes burn for hours.

Reality check: The villagers have been getting by just fine without these shiny, new things for centuries, and they’ll keep getting by, with or without us.

If one is willing to slow down and examine what lies at the root of our predicament, as I do daily in quiet, seated meditation, I can clearly see that fear is the primary motivation. We privileged, white people are afraid that we are not good enough. That we don’t have enough. We believe we are not enough. So, we desperately build more… faster, better, bigger, more … more … more…. on and on and on.

It’s a culture of insanity rooted in a culturally inherited inferiority complex that would have us assert our dominance over nature and other less developed nations, thereby proving to ourselves that we are better. Bigger. Faster. More.

Fear is, ultimately, like a raging river fed by rivulets of comparing oneself to others. Fear motivates all kinds of insane, disordered behavior and activities designed to deceive oneself into becoming better or more than what we thought we were before.

What if I’m enough, right now, just as I am? What if I don’t have to race like a rat in a maze designed to keep me confused and busy? What if I can slow down and enjoy my life?

What if I accept that I have enough… I am enough…. There is enough… for everybody?

If I am willing to accept reality as it is, without the overlay of my culturally inherited inferiority complex and concomitant disordered behavior and thinking, then I might start living more like the indigenous people of the Third world. Getting by with less. Being satisfied with less. Living well with the natural resources that surround me. Without needing to assert my dominance over nature, other humans, or other species.

Please, do yourself and the world a favor. Don’t go on a weeklong excursion to a foreign country in the Third World thinking that you can drop off a load of toothbrushes and parasite medicine and then return to the U.S. feeling good about yourself. The indigenous people are likely to forget about the toothbrushes, and the parasites will be back in two months, anyway. Besides, the herbs and plants in their gardens can do a much better job of getting rid of parasites than your medicine. Like I mentioned already, they’ve been getting by just fine for centuries with or without us sticking our long, European noses into their simple, humble lives.

We privileged white people assume that we are helping indigenous people with handouts, when our charity might actually be harmful, or at the very least, unnecessary….. Consider for a moment that indigenous people know how to do most everything themselves, while we rely on paid specialists and laborers to do most everything for us: mow our lawns, build our houses, take care of our animals, grow our food. If you’re a white person living in a First World country, when’s the last time you did any of that yourself without complaining or paying somebody to do it for you?

I’d suggest you try what you might consider impossible, or at least, more challenging: Stay here for longer than a week. Get to know the people. Live with them. Get your hands dirty learning from them instead of just leaving your money behind and getting on a plane to get back to your job, your big house, your mortgage payments, etc, etc….

Stop thinking you’re not good enough, and look inside of yourself to realize that you already have enough. Stop acquiescing to the agenda of people who would have you believe that you need the next best product… faster, better, bigger… more.

I am enough.

I have everything I need, right here, right now.

I don’t need to go looking outside of myself.

I enjoy my life.