Cold showers, dry toilets, no mirror, and almost no wifi… back to a volunteering experience at the Finca Prema Mandala, which felt like being back to the essential and was beneficial for me.
The Finca Prema Mandal is a property located about half an hour from Concepción, in the West of Chili. A vast domain with an organic garden, two cows, a sheep, cats and Antu, an adorable dog (second volunteering with a white lovely and gorgeous dog, will there be a third one in the future?!)
Two families live there, Shanti and Advaita with their two daughters, and Vaishnava and Visnu with their three little boys, including a three-month old baby. This community follows the rules of the Krsna religion (a branch of Hinduism, pronounce it “Krishna”). They receive many volunteers to helps them in their daily life and regularly organize events to contribute to the development of the property.
Life if simple there (as mentioned above, cold showers etc.), the vegetarians (or even vegan) meals always tasty and alcohol and tobacco are prohibited. The countryside around the property is a blessing to go walking, taking photos of the sunset and running: a small gravel road going up and down through valleys, fields and forests, all illuminated with a golden light in the mornings and evenings… you can’t get tired of it!
Life is organized around a central house where is the kitchen, a vast common room and their temple at the first floor, while each family has its own house and the volunteers a small wooden house aside.
The finca itself would be perfect it was not located along such a noisy highway… this really made me wonder if I would stay long when I arrived there, and I could definitely not live long in these conditions!
The Escuela Reberde
I arrived on Friday 26th January at the end of the day, while the whole property was buzzing, as a workshop about organic agriculture was going to be held. A lot of participants were already there (they would camp on the domain). Colby and Bianca, a lovely Canadian couple, was volunteering there since a few days; thus they explained me a bit more about the place and how it works.
For the whole weekend, we helped in the kitchen (preparing food for about fifty people can not be improvised!) and I could also take a lot of pictures of the event. The participants worked in the morning in the garden and had classes in the afternoon, did mandalas (with wooden sticks and wool, very easy to do and so nice in the end!), prepared “seeds bombs” (small balls of earth with seeds inside, that would be disposed in the garden and develop later on).
There was a nice energy all along this weekend, with participants of all ages, globally all here in the same dynamic, turned around the respect of the environment, interest in yoga/meditation, personal development… but once again my conversations were limited with my Spanish, especially with this terribly hard Chilean accent!
Discovery of the Krishna community
On the following Monday, we went with the two families to Concepción, where they would celebrate a birthday in the evening at their community’s temple. We spent the afternoon on our side with Colby and Bianca (who had decided to then stay in Concepción and finish earlier their volunteering) and had a walk in the city, but it really has nothing special to see!
In the evening, we joined them at the temple, where the ceremony would be held. Between songs, dances and moments of recollection and philosophy… I completely discovered this religion which main principles are turned around the respect of the planet and the human, the benefits of yoga, mantras… I especially like their songs and dances, with many percussions and a very positive and contagious energy.
Daily life at the finca
After this busy weekend and special Monday, it took about two days before normal life was back at the finca and for me to find my place there. First I was sick these two days, but also I had some troubles to find my feet. On the one side, being isolated and having a digital detox – which is what I was looking for before leaving – and having time for me (to run, meditate and read) in the mornings and evenings were good for me. On the other side, even when I was with the families, I really felt alone as I really struggled to understand their conversations. Luckily I had very enriching talks with Vaishnava and Visnu, who talked more slowly, and even more when I was alone with them.
My missions were a lot of help to clean the property; a bit to cook and I spent the last four days cutting trees in the river behind the finca. It is dry at this time of the year (summer is very hot and dry there) but it overflows in winter (where it rains a lot every day) if it was not well maintained before. The kind of physical task that is good to empty one’s mind and that I like!
I could only go once helping in the garden, which is grown respecting the permaculture rules and is sacred. They only work there in the morning, cultivate it depending on the moon phases; they talk to the plants because they believe in the words vibration… I was already used to all these notions but I can imagine that a lot of people would be sceptical about them!
I also learnt more about the role and virtues of a lot of medicinal herbs that they grow in their garden (rosemary, mint, sage, rosa musqueda, fennel, boldo…) with Visnu. This knowledge reinforces what I had already discovered with the essential oils and will always be useful!
Finally, I could attend two yoga classes with Vaishnava, who is a hatha yoga teacher. Once again, these were notions I already knew but it felt good to practice in an appropriate place and with a personal teacher!
I initially intended to stay more than two weeks at the finca but I finally stayed only eleven days. I sincerely wondered if I would stay there on my arrival when I saw the proximity to the highway and this trouble to find my place there. The language barrier didn’t help and I didn’t really agree with some of their logics.
Indeed their religion forbids them to taste the food while cooking in the kitchen, that the utensils used for the service touch the plates or glasses or that the food already served gets reused after… and moreover most of the food they prepare isn’t kept in the fridge and their fruits and vegetables get damaged with all the flies that invade the kitchen. All of this makes them throw away a lot of food, which is paradoxical with their gratefulness towards Mother Earth to provide us all the products that are necessary for our health! Of course they have compost but this is only a solution for the fruits and vegetables that were not cooked yet.
I was also surprised that don’t have a system to collect the rainwater. It could work very well with the very rainy winters that they benefit in the region and would be very helpful given the quantity of water that they use to water the garden every evening.
Fortunately, I was able to talk about all these observations with Visnu, who was attentive. Chicken and goats could be a good solution to limit the food waste; as for the rainwater, it is a long-term project for the property, which grows and gets better step by step.
I don’t regret this experience, which gave me a lot of time for me and was an immersion into a community with a religion, which I didn’t know about. Their food was always very tasty and I discovered excellent ideas of vegetarian meals. I think it is always good to broaden my perspectives and get the opportunity to see which ways of life could be good for me or not.
For now, I decided to go back to Puerto Varas, which I had appreciated so much, so to have a few days catching up on the blog and determining the following of the trip.
To be continued…
Tips & practical infos
Bus Puerto Varas – Concepcion : $15 700 – 20€ with ETM. 8h-trip
Open to everybody, but there is a daily cost of $6 300 for the food (three meals a day) and about 4h of work. I would rather recommend it to people in a vegetarian, eco-friendly and spiritual mind-set and that like nature, so to find there place there. More info on Helpx or Workaway.