Jungles, rainbow mountains and other utopian places


The bus driver finally decides to slowly put the bus back in order to make way for the truck. Certainly the driver is already used to these maneuvers, but I am dizzy with fear. As the rest of the passengers start screaming, "Open the doors immediately so we can get out! We do not want to die! ",

03.November 2018- El Bolson, Argentina

Over a shaky wood we descend from the small steamer, with which we drove down to here after our canoe adventure from Tabatinga. As soon as we have solid ground under our feet, we are fully sucked into the city life. Cars, motorcycles and buses humming past us hectic, traders loudly praise their fruits and vegetables.

Manaus - a city of millions in the middle of the jungle. The town had its heyday during the rubber boom when it mainly North American and European traders, often through exploitation of people and nature, their business. After the boom was over and the city sank into poverty, the government of Manaus at the end of the 1920s declared the duty-free zone to boost the economy.

In the 19th century, the city was also called "Paris of the tropics". With the inflowing funds of the rubber boom buildings were built on the European model.
When the rubber tree seeds were smuggled to Asia , the area lost its trade monopoly. The city fell into poverty.
Despite its history and isolated location, today's Manaus is the cultural hub of the with a great cultural offer.

Marcelo, Franklin, Raquel and Maria are part of the Tupiniqueens, a group of young LGBTQ people from Manaus who fight together for a more open and free society. In 2017, 445 people in Brazil died as victims of homophobia, the highest death rate in years. Lisa stayed in Manaus a month longer to find out more about the young artists.

Manaus is our last stop on the journey through the From here I leave the river and continue across the country towards Bolivia. Lisa will stay in Manaus for a while and come to Buenos Aires a few weeks later. First, I'm considering hitchhiking the 800-kilometer route via Porto Velho, which actually leads through the jungle to the Bolivian border.

As Jessica, where we stayed in Manaus, but asks me "What street do you mean? I have never heard of it! "I decide to take a bus instead. Apparently the road is hardly busy and hitchhiking right through the uninhabited jungle could take a few days or even weeks. And indeed. During the 24-hour bus ride we hardly ever meet a car, the road is dusty and full of potholes. Only very slowly, the bus torments over this seemingly endless dirt road ...

Last hug before it goes by bus to Bolivia for me. Lisa will stay in Manaus for another month before meeting again in Buenos Aires.

In the middle of the night, the bus stops on the bank of a river that interrupts the road. Here we all get off and wait for the small ferry to bring us and the bus on the other side. As we wait, the moon slowly emerges from behind a thick, tropical rain cloud, dipping the dense forest into dull, silver light. Suddenly the silent black superficiality of the river breaks through and a family of pink dolphins appears snorting.

The whole scenery captivates me: it seems like the jungle wants to present itself again in all its beauty and mysticism, a kind of last farewell greeting, before it goes further up high mountains.

The next day we arrive at dusk in the Brazilian city of Porto Velho. For the bus here is terminus. Today I will not get any further. So it's time to find a place to sleep. The bus station is a bit out of the way, in a kind of industrial area, here and there a few dark figures sneak through the haze of the night. In the distance I see the word "MOTEL" glowing yellow. Maybe I can find a shelter there. No problem - for 4 Real (about one euro) I can pitch my tent in the courtyard.

The long, dusty dirt road from Manaus to Porto Velho covers more than 800 kilometers through virtually uninhabited territory. In the rainy season, this route is not passable because it turns into a pure mud puddle.

Then we continue on the border town "Guajará-Merin" on the Bolivian side towards La Paz. Slowly but steadily the landscape changes. It gets drier, the green splendor of the jungle runs and slowly turns into a steppe landscape. Soon, the mountains of the Andean forerunners are visible on the horizon and snow-capped peaks become visible.

The densely wooded Yungas mountains in northern Bolivia.

In the meantime, we only drive on narrow highland roads. Suddenly, in a bend, a fully loaded truck comes to meet us. Concentrated but skilfully, the heavy truck slowly feels its way along the rock face which limits the road to the left. On the right, it goes steeply downhill. There is no guardrail, nothing. Our bus stops. Where should we dodge?

The bus driver finally decides to slowly put the bus back in order to make way for the truck. Certainly the driver is already used to these maneuvers, but I am dizzy with fear. As the rest of the passengers start screaming, "Open the doors immediately so we can get out! We do not want to die! ", I realize that maybe my fear is not so unjustified. We get out and walk a few meters until the dangerous piece is over. Meanwhile, the two maneuver their vehicles skillfully past each other. Then we get back in and the journey continues.

The unpaved, narrow highland road leads without guardrails on steep slopes. When the truck comes to meet us, I'm in mortal fear.

Finally we reach La Paz in Bolivia. A magical city, as from another planet. At about four thousand meters, it lies nestled between sharp, gray mountain slopes. On the first day I am knocked out: the height, the chaos, the cold, the hustle and bustle.

I have to arrive first in this new scenery.

La Paz: the highest administrative capital in the world.
At more than 4000 meters above sea level lies the district "El Alto". Here is one of the largest markets in the world.

Only a few days I stay in the small country. Because actually I want to go to Buenos Aires. On the way we had heard that there should be a small community near the university: Velatropa.

So I continue on the border through the north of Argentina, past meter-high cacti, colorful "siete colores" mountains, marked on the pillar of the Tropic of Capricorn and continue through seemingly endless land.

Extensive, mountainous landscape in the north of Argentina.

Magical and seemingly painted, the colorful mountains rise out of the dry, barren countryside.

In almost every car I am invited by the drivers to a "Mate". Mate tea consists of small cut leaves, which are poured in a drinking vessel (originally the hollowed out and dried shell of a pumpkin) with hot water and drunk through a metal straw. The drink is as indispensable here as in Italy the café.

Coca leaves, which are chewed in higher regions, especially against the symptoms of altitude sickness, are very popular here in the north next to the mate. Eduardo, in whose truck I've been traveling for a few hours, has stowed a whole bag under his seat and regularly goes in to put a new helping in his cheeks. "Would you like to try it?" He asks, holding out a handful of papers. "You have to chew the leaves and then leave them in your cheek. Keep awake and suppress the feeling of hunger. "

Later, he confesses to me that under his official cargo there are a few kilos of coca leaves hidden away that he wants to sell further south to top up his scant salary. Coca leaves for personal consumption are allowed here, but amounts beyond that are illegal. Serenely, he holds out his papers to the police when we come under control. He continues with a grin on his face as the police wave him through. "They never notice anything. Do not worry…"

On the way to Buenos Aires I make a stop in San Marcos Sierras. The small village is known for the fact that dropouts and hippies settled here in the 1940s and have since given the village its own character. In the village's "Hippie Musem" you can learn more about the history of the village and the hippie culture.

I need a total of five days from the Bolivian / Argentine border to Buenos Aires. In the evening I set up my tent somewhere in a suitable place and do not hurry until morning, in daylight.

Welcome to Velatropaland - a small universe in the heart of Buenos Aires

Velatropa : A small universe on the university campus in the middle of the 14 million metropolis of Buenos Aires. Where now people live and nature can develop freely again, was a few years ago, a gray, grim concrete place. Residual waste, construction debris, and municipal waste were dumped here until a group of students cleared the place of garbage and created a green oasis. Part of the group has created the community "Velatropa". For more than ten years now students, artists, travelers ... live here. It is a place to learn, live and experiment.

The open kitchen and the small house in the main square: here everyone meets for food, making music, etc.

The numerous small tree cuttings and offshoots await the coming spring. Then they are planted either on the Velatropa site or in the nearby nature reserve.

It's already afternoon when I arrive in the community. A few people gathered around the fire in plenary in the main square. I am greeted with warm hugs and invited to join in the round. Agustin reaches for a mate and we get into conversation quickly. He tells me that Velatropa is currently in a difficult situation: "The university wants us to clear the field. They want to build a parking space here. The fact that we as students here have a place where we can apply our knowledge directly in the garden or in the forest, that we have created habitat for animals, plants and people here, does not interest them. "This is also the big topic in plenary today : How should it continue? What if the police approach to clear the place?

Breakfast in front of the "temple".

After the plenary, Dani shows me in the small forest next to the garden, a place where I can pitch my tent. Here, hidden among the dense green of the trees, are the other tents where some of the Velatropians live. Otherwise, there are a few inhabited, made of natural materials or bulky waste cottage on the site. For example, the so-called "temple", a construction in the entrance area, which consists entirely of old wooden beams, windows, tires, fenders, doors - everything that would have landed in the city otherwise on the landfill.

Old window frames, wooden beams and everything else you can find on the bulky refuse serve as building material for the little houses.
Because no one here has a car, we pull the "building material" with a converted shopping cart through the city.

The "casita de techo verde" - the house with the green roof is made of recycled wood, glass bottles, straw, stones and clay.

The next day crawl out of the sleeping bag and make my way to the kitchen. The "kitchen" is actually more of an open, corrugated-roofed space with two hearths - the heart of the community. Here everyone meets for breakfast, lunch, to the Matetrinken, to the plenary or to making music in the evening.

Yesterday at the campfire, I talked to Cesar about organizing daily tasks such as cooking, collecting wood, etc. Because Velatropa sees itself as a non-hierarchical place, without leaders, hierarchies or fixed rules, the motto is "If you see a task, it's yours!"

Together we prepare lunch. There are no fixed plans or task allocation. If you come by, join and help.
Fresh herb salad from the garden. The majority of Velatropians eat vegetarian food and no meat is prepared in the kitchen. Anyone who wants to eat meat or drink alcohol does so outside the common areas.

I join the small group standing around the hearth preparing breakfast. Leyda is announcing a permaculture workshop to which he invites us on Friday. Especially at weekends workshops and activities take place here, eg common gardening, yoga, production of natural colors or courses on the topic of ecological building and renewable energies.

"Julia, do you want to print a few T-shirts and fabrics with me right away?" Asks Maca, who has already spread her silkscreen material on a table. Cesar suggests that we first meet in the vicinity of the river for yoga.

Here's how it works: In the morning, you do not know what to expect. Everything flows, everything is created in the moment in which it arises.

Screenprint with maca
Lucy visits the community for a few days and spontaneously offers an Agroyoga lesson in the afternoon

Over time, I get to know the inhabitants better and start to immerse myself in the colorful Velatropauniversum. At the moment there are around twenty-five people between 18 and 45 years old. All with the same vision: Creating a place where nature and people can freely unfold, where a conscious, sustainable life is lived. A life free of exploitation, constraints, authority and consumerism. Velatropa is a place to experiment: with renewable energy, permaculture, horticulture, sustainable construction, music, art and community life.

Seeds are grown in the small greenhouse and small seedlings are kept until they are planted in the garden. Part of the permaculture concept of the community is the renunciation of chemical fertilizers and the planting so that they can support each other.
Regular workshops, courses and lectures on horticulture, permaculture and sustainable agriculture take place.

" You have the money, but we have the imagination !!"

In the afternoon, Velatropa invites to a variety show: artists, musicians, clowns and jugglers come by. Francisco has spread a lot of colorful acrylic paints on the floor, painting our faces.

Roaring, the planes fly over us. There are more than fifty in the daytime approaching to the nearby airport. It's hard for me to get used to the noise.

In front, on the small stage, the clown builds a plane, but made of wood and a Hulahupreifen. He yells after the big steel birds with his raised hand: "You have the money, but we have the imagination!". Everyone's laughing. Yes, we have the imagination. - that's how this place lives. Here life pulsates in bright colors. The moment is everything. And every moment is a new surprise.

In the evening, just before the shops close, we go into town and ask in the shops if there is something left over today that would otherwise end up in the garbage: fruit, vegetables, bread, cakes, boiled. Everytime there is something. Sometimes more sometimes less. On some evenings, we come back to the community with a whole shopping cart filled with "recycled" food. Because not much has to be bought, we pay only 100 pesos per person, which is just over two euros a week, into the collective food bank.

We, more than twenty-five people, feed on what others would throw in the dustbin.

A shopping cart full of containerized fruits and vegetables. Once the tomato, cabbage or apple has a small moldy or brown spot, they are no longer suitable for sale and usually end up in garbage.

When we come back a few people are sitting around the fire playing guitar. Meanwhile, the question of who is supposed to live in the house, of which there are five on the whole site, is discussed. Because Velatropa sees itself as a non-hierarchical and self-organized place, decisions in plenary are made on the basis of consensus, which requires time and patience. We discuss a lot about this question, come to no conclusion. At some point, the group will find a solution, after some discussions, reunions, plenary sessions ..

Living in community requires patience, honesty - especially with self-understanding and even more that takes time to develop. Velatropa is an experiment. Not just to watch and experiment as nature slowly recovers from a concrete pit. But also to engage as an individual with oneself and with life in community.

To the end of the world: Let's go to Patagonia!

Time seems to fly. Lisa arrived in Velatropa a few days ago and today is the eleventh of September on the calendar, the day our sister Michelle will visit here in Argentina and travel with us for a few weeks.

With a heavy heart, but I look forward to the coming time, I say goodbye to Velatropa and we are heading south to Patagonia ....

  1. Jungle I associate with freedom!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. markiert. Required fields are marked with * .