I thought they’d been expecting me, so I didn’t know what to do when the car drove off into the hills and I found the place empty.
Earlier that day, over lunch (a plate of chicken and rice served at a card table on the sidewalk of the nearest town), I thought about what the Eco-Farm might be like. Based entirely on the stories a couple of friends had come back with after WWOOFing in Argentina, I pictured a noisy, free-spirited group of volunteers weeding gardens or constructing a chicken coop or perhaps cheerfully stirring big pots of vegetarian food on the stove, indulging their inner hippies with morning yoga sessions.
But the main lodge was dim, cool and deserted, and I wondered if I’d showed up on the wrong day, or maybe at the wrong place. I set my bag next to the long wooden table in the middle of the room and looked around. I saw a kitchen to the right, and some stairs wound upwards to the left. Everything seemed orderly, but…where was everyone?
“Hola?” I called, and two guys appeared from around the corner, bored expressions suggesting that they weren’t surprised to see me. The first wore a long white tunic over baggy pants. Around his neck hung a string of prayer beads, and one longish lock of hair stuck off the back of his buzzed head. The other was entirely bald, dressed in floor-length orange robes. A black dog sat at their feet, tail thumping the floor.
“Is this the farm?”
“We’re an ashram, really,” the guy in white told me. “Do you know about Krishna?”
Excuse me? Well, OK. “Is anybody else here?” I asked, dodging the Krishna question.
“You’re the only one right now,” he replied.
“What are you guys working on?”
“We don’t really have any projects going on at the moment.”
The Hindu god Krishna (img: Balaji.B)
The orange-robed monk turned out to be from Colombia. He seemed nice enough, but a speech impediment on top of the already mystifying paisa accent killed any potential conversation. The guy with the lock of hair and the prayer beads was the one who ran the place, and therefore our official host.
He showed me to my small room on the second story. “Good, then. I’ll let you settle in.” he said, and left.
I weighed my options, wondering what I was supposed to do. Should I go downstairs? No, the small talk had faded. Offer to help out with something? No, they said there wasn’t really much I could do. Stay here? But I didn’t want to be antisocial. No option seemed any less awkward than the others, so I decided to ignore the whole situation and play a game on my iPod.
Several thousand points later I heard an unfamiliar voice coming from the front door. A new guest? I peeked over the balcony. Sure enough, somebody else had showed up, a Finnish girl whom the host guys showed to a room before quickly fading back into the woodwork. She’d been living in Chile, it turned out, and knew about the whole Hare Krishna thing.
It was then that I heard circus music.
Faint at first, then growing louder and louder, and then a chiva appeared in front of the lodge. A chiva is a brightly painted, customized bus that usually has its own nickname. I’d only ever seen them taking groups of tourists and pub crawlers around big cities…so, what was it doing here, and – question of the day – why was it nearly empty? Aside from the guy driving, there was just one girl sitting in the back row.
A chiva. (img: jlascar)
“Is this the guesthouse?” the man asked. He was a Texan called Lucho, and his passenger was Clara, a French girl who had come for the farming and yoga like I had. Hearing that the farm was also an ashram didn’t seem to faze her, but Lucho looked suspicious of the whole setup. He said he was going to take a drive and see if he couldn’t find a different sort of guesthouse, and would we like a ride in the chiva?
The three of us climbed in the back and we set off down the dirt road, circus music blaring. Lucho checked in at a place down the road and we all decided to go for a beer.
I’d imagined the hippie farming experience to be a sort of detox, an atmosphere where I might experience a week in the life of a teetotaling vegetarian who does yoga every morning. But I’d already accidentally showed up at an ashram only to take a ride on the world’s most unexpected party bus, and and didn’t I deserve a drink after all that?
Ecuador’s beer of choice. (img: alfinaldeesteviaje)
So we sat down at a nearby restaurant built on the bank of a stream. It was lively inside, actually almost full, and the waitresses were bringing out big metal platters piled high with delicious-looking fried trout. One of them passed by our table.
“How much is the trout?” I asked.
“Oh, we don’t serve that,” she replied.
“What do you mean?” I asked, looking at how every other person in the restaurant was eating trout.
“We don’t have any food in the kitchen, but if you want to go catch something yourself, we’ll fry it up for you.”
Really now? A restaurant that doesn’t serve any food you don’t bring through the door in raw form?
“Oh. Just some beer then,” I told her.
Lucho then dropped us off back at the ashram, where our host waved us over. “The ceremony is just starting,” he told us, leading us to a small temple I hadn’t noticed before. Inside was an elaborate altar, a statue of Krishna surrounded by decorations and offerings. Above it hung a carved sign (kinda like this one, I don’t have a picture of the real deal:)
Hare Krishna mantra (img: CoreForce)
Our host directed the three of us to sit on donut-shaped pillows in front of the altar, blowing into a conch shell to begin the ceremony. We watched as he held up various offerings to the Krishna statue, a flame, a flower, dinging a miniature bell in between each. Then he pointed to the sign and began to chant.
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna…” I wavered. Since there were only four of us, I could hear my own voice, and I felt foolish. I tried to tell myself that this was a good opportunity to learn about a religion I knew nothing about, but…I couldn’t help but feel a little silly!
I spent dinner sitting silently opposite the orange-robed monk, who also led our morning yoga session.
After yoga came the moment when I was supposed to say whether I wanted to go or stay on. They were nice people, but when I thought about the chanting and the way we were summoned to meals with a conch shell despite there being only three of us, I said I’d be on my way.
Clara and I walked back towards the nearest town with our host. He was dressed in regular clothes this time, but had a blue bag hanging sling-like around his neck. He kept one hand in it the whole time and I could see him passing the prayer beads through his fingers as he walked.
He thumbed a ride for Clara and me from the next pickup truck that passed by, waving goodbye with his free hand, and that was that.
Have you ever showed up somewhere that turned out different than you expected it to be?