It is one of my last days at Las Tierras de Avalon, and it is raining outside. A tropical downpour. The sound of water thumping on the roof enters the room through its many cracks and nooks; thunder breaks outside. But inside, where I am meditating, it is peaceful. I am at peace.
Such peace has been rare during my first few weeks in South America. Backpacking is a logistical exercise in balancing your interests, your time and your budget. So trust yo girl when I say traveling can be ex-haus-ting.
Luckily, travel is also a testimony to “seek and you shall find”.
My search for a little exercise and some tranquility brought me to Las Tierras de Avalon, an oasis of peace hidden in plain sight. It is snuggled tightly between Buenos Aires and its airport, a mere hour and a half out of the Argentinian capital. But despite its convenient location and the fact that it’s only a Google search away, one gets the sense that no one winds up here by accident.
The Creation of Las Tierras de Avalon
Juan Laso and Carla Weimberg are hosting me during my brief stay in paradise. He instructs yoga, she teaches dance. Together, they built Las Tierras de Avalon from scratch. This was no accident either
Juan and Carla had been organising yoga retreats to the Argentine country side for years, before they started constructing their own place. “The premise of our trips was simple: one could practise yoga in a group, in the middle of nature, all while eating sustainable food.” While the demand for these retreats was high, the facilities were limited and often improvised.
“That’s what inspired us to create Las Tierras de Avalon.” It would become the first of its kind in Argentina, a place where they could really practise what they preached. “We already did a lot in the city. We planted our own vegetables, composted, and tried to reduce our waste production. But this has multiplied many times over in Las Tierras de Avalon.”
The vision that gave birth to Las Tierras de Avalon is much older. When Juan was 16 years old, he did a theatrical exercise called “Un Día Imaginario”, an imaginary day. He was asked to imagine a day in his life and to write it down. Juan described an imagined community.
“I wrote about a stream, about a garden. I also wrote about music, a campfire, sharing.”
At the time he reacted with “Uh, mira que loco!”, look how crazy. But this is the community Juan and Carla have been building. A community with sustainable food, daily yoga practises and international campfires.
Having a garden of their own has always been part of Juan and Carla’s vision for Las Tierras de Avalon.
“From the start, we wanted to build a place that has the same generosity as nature. Nature is so generous: when a tree is old enough it can feed a lot of people. It provides so much fruit, so many seeds, flowers, and pollen. In the same way, we try to do work that benefits our ecosystem. That means that what we do is not just for the benefit of the humans that visit us, but for the birds and the butterflies as well. ”
Now that their orchard is filled with vegetables, they are reaping what they’ve sown. And what biodiversity! I don’t think there is anything that this family can’t produce.
I helped harvest bags of tomato, but they cultivate so much more. Corn, peppers, cabbage, eggplants, pumpkins, and many different kinds of lettuce, all for domestic use or to sell to their community. If you want to add some flavour to what you’re cooking, you can simply walk around the house and collect some of the many herbs they grow there. And all eggs are organic and fresh out of their garden.
It was very humbling and encouraging to see permaculture work so well. As some of you know, I am always interested in examples of how sustainability works in practise. The best part was that Juan had loads of digital information about permaculture that he was happy to share it with me. HMU if you’re curious as well.
On Friday, I helped with the packaging of honey that Juan and a friend had harvested during late summer. It was by far my favourite day at Las Tierras de Avalon. I loved learning about the process, and how important beekeeping is now that bees are disappearing massively.
Juan hopes to have a harvest of 100 kg of honey next year. And while this is a very small scale production, I found it beautiful to think how many people would get pure, pesticide and herbicide free honey thanks to their small harvest. How humbling to have been part of that, even in the smallest possible way.
Yoga and Inner Peace
Juan has been teaching yoga for 20 years, almost my entire life. So I was a little intimidated to practise yoga with him every day, often twice a day.
The first day was telling. Halfway through the second practise my muscles gave in; I could barely support my own bodyweight. It was em-bar-rass-ing.
But by day three, I was feeling the advantages that had attracted me to yoga in the first place. I was more relaxed. I had more focus, and my wandering mind was easier to tame. My body was sore, but I felt alive.
See, I am in the bad habit of reducing my existence to my thoughts. “I think, therefore I am” has dominated my vision of myself for as long as I can remember. The unfortunate side effect of that is that I easily ignore my intuition, and forget to cater to my physical and emotional needs.
But with yoga, it is different. Translated from Sanskrit yoga means union. And Juan preaches and practises a yoga that is union between the mind, the body and the soul. Approaching my practise in this way has made it easy to find the peace that I was looking for when I arrived at the gates of Las Tierras de Avalon. It is a lesson I will keep for life.
Despite the delicious homegrown food and the undeniable benefits of doing yoga twice a day, it was the social dimension of Las Tierras de Avalon that I enjoyed the most.
For a week, I felt part of a community. My meals were shared with amazing people from all latitudes, occasionally around a campfire. Anyone who has ever traveled knows that this is fertile ground for sharing and learning.
“Now that it is harder for Carla and I to travel in the literal sense of the word, we get to travel by receiving people from many different latitudes. It’s a beautiful way of sharing.” It’s no wonder their daughters wished us “bon appetite” in five languages every evening.
These beautiful people pulled me entirely out of my comfort zone. On my first day, I took one of Carla’s belly dancing classes with five other women. It made me feel so empowered and connected to the beautiful women around me. By the end of the class we were saying goodbye with hugs and kisses.
I had really beautiful conversations with Emma and Martin, other guests who had find Las Tierras de Avalon during their search for peace. I also cycled 40 km’s one day. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is an incredibly exceptional and unlikely feat.
Perhaps the most unexpected experience of that week was learning to shoot with a bow and arrow. I missed the bullseye every. single. time. And yet it was rewarding to see my improvement all the same.
My week at Las Tierras de Avalon was a truly transformative experience. This is exactly what Juan and Carla hope to achieve by welcoming guests from all over the world into their little corner of paradise.
“We would like to show those that only stay with us for a short while that it is possible to change. That the revolution should happen in our hearts. And if many of us realise how necessary it is to protect our home, the Earth, well then maybe we can create a better world.
“We hope that those who pass through here, leave with the desire to contribute to this better world. In their actions, in their choices, in their lives.”
The revolution in my heart gained pace with the peace that I acquired there. When I boarded my flight to Santiago after a week in paradise and a night at the airport (another example of the perils of backpacking) I knew one thing. Inside, where I am meditating, it is peaceful. I am at peace.
It is a peace that has stayed with me even when Daniël got his backpack stolen and we had to travel back to Santiago, starting our logistical exercise all over again.
Before I left, I asked Juan whether or not he feels like Las Tierras de Avalon matches the vision he had as a teenager. He smiled. “With Las Tierras de Avalon I am achieving the life I envisioned for myself as a 16 year old. We give meaning to this vision through the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Las Tierras de Avalon is perfectly aligned with the way I have always enjoyed living in the world.”
And his vision is contagious. I left Las Tierras de Avalon full of peace and the desire to contribute to a better world.