Having been half abandoned for some obscure reason, the place is a kind of Lost meets Aztec level on shoot-em-up Timesplitters 2 meets the Secret Garden; full of hidden passageways, indigenous sculptures, a couple of bad-tempered parrots, a couple of llamas who give you this ‘one step closer and I’ll fucking hoof you’ look if you try and pet them, and an abandoned open-air gym (I discovered on my 5th day – now just a few pictures of beach-ready-bodies, a thatched roof and some weights lying around). Aside from the gym, the only fixture which doesn’t fit in to the authentically Bolivian auto construct, is a disco-ball in what I imagine was once a events-space, which I like to imagine was the idea of the mystical Columbian coordinator who also happens to be a Reggaeton aficionado.
When somebody is welcomed into the community we literally hold hands round a circle and sway and dance, an experience which, depending on your disposition, is bound to be either liberating, amusing or deeply uncomfortable. Of course you come in without being told about this, so you’re just left a bit speechless. I just love the idea that at some point some dude was just like ‘shall we just hold hands and dance round a candle?’ And everyone else thought it was a great idea. I thought, travelling with my long hair and guitar that I’d successfully reached the apogee of the hippy stereotype, but had clearly forgotten the further gradations, where trees talk and Merlin the Wizard is part of the factual history of England.
The place was founded two years before my birth by a Shaman named Chamalú, whose 60th book ‘Existential Intelligence’ I’ve been translating into English to earn my keep. On his website you can find pictures of him with Noam Chomsky and Deepak Chopra, and I struggle to figure out where he lies on the spectrum between the two. His book is somewhat despairingly critical of a ‘they’ who have hidden true education, the meaning of life and ‘the mission’ in a culture of consumption and meaningless, and is similarly contemptuous of full stops. It is nonetheless very poetically written and with a clear, coherent philosophy which revalues many important but neglected areas in education.
All of this creates very interesting terrain in this self-proclaimed school of life, which is seeking, as it’s next step, to gain autonomy from Bolivia. I find the encouragement to periodically re-evaluate life choices and social ‘truths’ – such as questioning the 9-5 work existence as the only viable one – very healthy, and I admire the capability of some of the residents to learn through intuition, sensibility and spirituality, and while I certainly value these extra-rational modes of learning, I worry that if I open my mind too much then my brain might fall out. I also wonder if the all-encompassing positivity and gardens of paradise create a sort of womb effect that makes it very difficult leave your comfort zone and explore the outer world where Bolivia lies.
However, I would be doing the place a massive injustice if I didn’t make clear that what has been achieved and maintained in the place is nothing short of inspirational – for a person to coordinate the construction of a 10-building, 5 hectare commune/complex and for it to be maintained for decades by volunteers to successfully preserve a pure internal gift economy, where people all over the world are exposed to a genuinely radical way of organising communal life. It’s always easy to criticize, but to actually produce the incarnation of an anti-capitalist alternative is an incredible feat that few manage to achieve. If you ever go to Bolivia, I’ll be more than happy to put you in contact 🙂