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My First Week in Barichara

By Tyler Hruby

I have now been in Barichara for one week, and what a week it has been! But before I get into my time down here, I think it would be helpful to provide some context as to how I came to be here in the first place. I initially came to Earth Regenerators on the January learning journey because I was concerned with the state of the planet and wanted to learn from those who were working to address this crisis. When I began to become engaged in the community, though, I learned that “addressing this crisis” involved much more than attending to ecological issues and actually encompasses every aspect of our relationship to ourselves, others, and the environment. Surprisingly for me, I learned this primarily through the deeply embodied and authentic people and relationships I found here and not just through the educational content of videos and essays (though I did learn a great deal from this material as well!). This deep connection through authentic relationships was something that had been missing from my life in general and my learning in specific, so I began to explore more and continued to meet wonderful new people here in Earth Regenerators. Eight months in, and this community had greatly impacted the way I viewed the world. As I reached a transition point in my life, a moment opened up to try to experience this connection physically by coming to Barichara, so I gladly took the opportunity.

There is almost a surreal quality to being in Barichara after hearing so much about it. I’ve never been to South America, and Barichara really seems to exemplify the best of Colombia, both its natural beauty and the warmth of its people. Finally meeting Joe and the other Earth Regenerators here in person has felt similarly unreal. Penny’s warmth and kindness really made me feel welcomed into the community I have found here. I have learned much from Liliane, a facilitator on my first learning journey and one of the first people I met through Earth Regenerators, who has deep knowledge of trauma healing and prosocial relationships. Cathy’s good nature provides a groundedness for our shared space at Margarita’s house. I share a room with Jakob who is in his twenties like me but possesses an amount of wisdom and openness that surpasses his age. We’ve had some truly great conversations, and I feel thankful to have the opportunity to learn from him while I’m here. Of course, I’ve also learned a tremendous amount from Joe; I feel truly grateful to be able to have one-on-one conversations with him and hold a dialogue around many of my most pertinent questions surrounding life and regeneration. Finally, I’ve spent good time in the Bioparque with Elise, Joe’s daughter, where we’ve played and she’s helped me with pulling grass. It’s amazing how much you can learn about life by watching how children move throughout the world so freely. Kind, intelligent, and authentic is the best way I can describe the people I’ve met here.

The entrance to the Bioparque

I’ve already managed to get involved with a good number of projects and hope to continue helping out in any way that I can. I was most looking forward to seeing the Bioparque after hearing so much about it, and it did not disappoint. The Bioparque is beautiful and is not the single area I had imagined but more of a varied space with multiple different plots of land. There are different entrances to different sections, but generally when walking up, the west side of the Bioparque offers a stunning view of the Andes with walking trails between various labelled plant species. Standing here really gives you a sense of the territory and makes the dream of territorial regeneration feel less abstract and much more concrete and possible. Toward the east is where the syntropic agroforestry system has been set up, an impressive site especially given the short amount of time it was created in.

The syntropic agroforestry area of the Bioparque where we've been pulling grass

This syntropic agroforestry site is where we’ve been working pulling grass every day. The grass (Brachiaria) really dominates the entire area making up the Bioparque; it has spread everywhere, so you get the acute sense of just how important it is to remove it to begin any sort of regenerative work. Due to its fast-growing nature, it quickly covers the land and its short but thick roots prevent other plants from becoming established. This, in turn, prevents good soil from forming, making growing anything else even more difficult. I’ve learned a lot already about the ways in which all of these elements of life interplay to either the land's detriment or its benefit depending on the conditions being fostered. I’m all relatively new to this work, so it has proved to be very eye-opening seeing just how connected all these natural systems really are.

I was told that pulling grass could be a very meditative process. If the grass is too deeply rooted to be pulled by hand, you must use a pickaxe. When you do this, you have to be careful to aim your pickaxe to get at the base and pull the roots out completely or else the grass will grow back. Once pulled, there is a layer of soil clumped to the roots that is important to shake off back onto the ground to provide a layer of higher quality soil. The grass is then laid in a pile to be used as mulch for the plants in the syntropic agroforestry system. The whole process does end up being rather meditative, and I’ve come to enjoy it.

Origen del Agua

I’ve also participated in in some regenerative work in Orígen del Agua which is being spearheaded by Joe’s ex-wife Jessica and her partner Oswaldo, an expert on native birds, ecological restoration, and the territory as a whole. The goal for the day was to transport various plants from Oswaldo and Jessica’s houses to Orígen del Agua via truck. This proved to be no simple task as we ran into road construction and streets blocked by cars, delaying our intended arrival. These sorts of interruptions seem fairly typical for Colombia, which is not so strict with schedules like in the United States, so I viewed it all as a bit of a cultural learning opportunity. Lifting and moving all the heavy bags of plants potted in soil was difficult work, but this sort of hard work was what I was hoping to do in Barichara. Putting some real physical energy into regenerative work felt really great after having talked so much about it for the last eight months in Earth Regenerators; there really is no replacement for actually getting out there and physically doing the work of regeneration.

Jessica was another great individual to meet with a lot of knowledge about the land and regenerative work. Communication with Oswaldo, who only spoke Spanish, was a bit more difficult, and Jessica had to serve as translator. When she wasn’t there, it led to some pretty hilarious situations with me trying to figure out what I was being directed to do by Oswaldo. Even using the most basic Spanish, I sometimes still couldn’t quite figure out what was being said, but it was still all good fun. Despite the language barrier, I could tell the deep knowledge of this territory that Oswaldo held and was very appreciative to be able to help out with this important work. Still, I highly recommend learning at least a bit of Spanish if you come here; the more the better.

Jakob and me at the Bioparque after pulling grass

My approach in coming to Barichara was the same as my engagement with Earth Regenerators: go with the flow, see what emerges, and move towards where you feel you can best lend your support. So far, this has felt like it has worked well, and much more has happened here than what I could fit into an already long post. I have met so many wonderfully interesting and authentic individuals and had so many deep and important conversations.

On the night I first got here, Penny and Joe took me out to dinner, and one of the things we discussed was the deep importance of feeling embodied, both within oneself and with the land. This has always been something I have had difficulty with, and I am attempting to use my opportunity here to learn to feel into this sort of groundedness. I have begun to work on this by spending time alone in the Bioparque just sitting in awareness of all the complexity that is around me. This has already helped in ways I had not fully expected. I have felt moments of deep connectedness that I have never experienced before, and I’m working to deepen this awareness every day. This is truly a magical place with magical people doing magical work and I feel beyond grateful that I am able to play even a small part in the work being done here. If it is within your ability, I highly recommend coming here; there is just so much to learn.

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