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Living Off-grid in the Mayan Mountains

 Only a year before I arrived at Sattva Land, the Garofalo family packed up life in freezing Canada for a newly purchased patch of wild and uncleared jungle in the Mayan Mountains.

They cleared through the jungle for five months straight, bathed in the river nearby, dug swale trenches in the rain and slept a family of five in one small hut. It’s times like those, I imagined, would test your faith to live out such an elaborate vision in its raw and imperfect reality.

To get to Sattva Land, I hopped aboard a yellow chicken bus in Belize City and headed south on Hummingbird Highway for a couple of hours. There was only an hour of sun left and nothing but jungle and the odd hut for miles. There were no hostels or hotels to stay at if we landed at the wrong stop and we had no camping gear, so we crossed our fingers and prayed we wouldn't have to sleep on the side of the road that night. 

A local man on the bus that worked for the family signalled us to get off the bus at Sattva Land. The driver's assistant threw our bags off the bus and left us in what looked like the middle of nowhere. We walked half a mile before reaching the iron gates where Clauco was moving the fields. We introduced ourselves and he guided us down a stone path to a pond alive with lotus flowers and lillies and dived in, explaining as he emerged that he'd made it himself. We met his sister Gloria laying down on a bench by the pond as hundreds of dragonflies circled above her at dusk. 

The next few weeks was marked by a descent into the rhythms of nature; the cycles of the moon, the patterns of the weather and its influence on the jungle. The Garofalo family had accumulated most of their knowledge from the locals they employed, who'd already been living in the jungle their entire lives. The locals taught them how to wield a machete, classify and utilize plants and thrive in the harsh and wet conditions of the jungle.

Wholistic Educator and Designer at Sattva Land; Gloria teaches yoga to locals and visitors in a large thatched roof Shala with 365 degree views of the jungle, often leading dancing and healing sessions there too. Her sister Giulia was turning only 21 when I visited and yet she had such an advanced knowledge of permaculture that she'd often single-handedly direct the landscaping of Sattva Land. One of the most amazing things showed us was a plant called‘la planta sensitiva,’ (the sensitive plant), that got its name because its leaves close immediately when you touch it, it reinforced for me how dynamic and alive plants really are, they just move at slower rate than the human eye can see. 

A lot less sleep was needed while staying in the jungle, which I attributed to the fact that everything is so alive. The jungle is abundant and quickly-growing, the air is fresh, there's no radiation, no pollution. The food is organic by default and grown on fertile soil – everything is healthy and vital. We ventured into the jungle in search of Cahoon trees; the mother of the jungle and provider of so many good things; Cahoon nuts that you can eat and make milk from, its fertile soil, its seeds shaped like spoons and its huge leaves used for thatched roofs and hanging flower pots. 

Clauco and his father with their experience in carpentry drive much of the heavier workload with long but purposeful days fuelled by food from the land, deliciously prepared on wood fire oven in their outdoor kitchen. Pots and pans hang artfully around the kitchen, jars of dried grains and spices labelled and stacked high on the shelf, freshly loaf of bread is always sitting on the kitchen bench and a coconut is cracked every day for its milk, flesh and its shell for making tools – food is in abundance here and its amazing to witness its journey from seed to plate. I'd began to appreciate how long it takes for our food to grow and how much of a true gift it is, something I was otherwise so detached from. This lifestyle seems to incorporate the perfect balance of everything a human needs to feels happy and even the act of gardening became a way to meditate, relax and re-connect, as well as a form of daily physical exertion. 

One morning, Clauco took us on a tour to see the families houses under construction, they each had their own house on their own handpicked piece of land. On the way we filled ourselves with sugar cane, passing pineapples, banana and cacao fields until finally reaching Clauco’s beautiful cylindrical double story house, still unfinished and inhabited with fruit bats for the time being.

Having grown up in a small city, everything was brand new and novel to me and I soaked in every detail. Discovering fruits and veggies I'd never heard of, like Coco Yams, Cahooon Nuts and Hikoma. Cooking was an opportunity for creativity and experimentation, much like everything else at Sattva Land. We roasted coco yams (they're like potatoes but they're creamy and taste like coconut) and made ‘jungle sushi’ from its leaves. It was amazing to see not only how nothing was wasted, how much more effective and practical it was to live that way. Dishes were cleaned with the ashes from the wood fire oven which I noticed would keep pans cleaner than using detergent and there was no need to use a scourer because it exfoliated everything off the pan. Left over wood-chips from construction sit in a wooden barrel next to the outhouse and are scooped with a ladle made from coconut shell to ‘flush’ which kept the bathroom smelling fresh and the resulting matter is used for fertiliser. 

I noticed beauty is priority at Sattva Land - whether it was through inspiring words on a chalkboard, fresh flowers on the bench tops, hanging handmade sculptures made from jungle matter, gardens, paintings and murals. The little things were treated with as much importance as the big things; from small rituals, taking the time to make something beautiful and practice creativity. Each morning we'd gather at the outdoor dining table and eat a breakfast of fresh bread baked by Pina - the mother of Sattva Land - French press coffee, herbal tea and chia seed pudding. Each night at dinner, we'd laugh, tell stories and have thoughtful conversations and it was opportunity to learn more about this incredibly brave and tenacious family with a big vision. Just being around them made me feel more courageous and willing to take risks.

If you're passing through Belize, I would highly recommend stopping by Sattva Land and meeting the Garofalo's. There door is always open to people from all over the world to come work, stay learn and experience that return to nature that we've likely all felt the need for.