South America – Part Three

Anchorage, Alaska 2/8/18 – continuing posts about our January in remote parts of South America

Each morning at 6, we go out to the hexagonal gazebo out back and meditate for half an hour as it gets light. The dawn brings with it a loud chorus of birds that joins with the existing Los Molles soundscape of running water and horse noises.


If the weather is clear, Cerro de Champaqui stands in front of the house like a wall of rock, all 2800 meters of her, the peak maybe 20 kilometers away. “Do you see that she is a pregnant woman lying on her back?” Of course I do. The lens in my cellphone couldn’t capture the lines of green below her belly, but they didn’t used to be there. Those are the trees that have been planted over the years to increase the water captured from the clouds.

The rainy season is short here, the dry season long. “Milking the clouds” pays off with more water in the arroyo in the dry season. Often you will see clouds brushing the top of the mountain, and one morning in January we saw them literally forming a cloud waterfall all along the ridge.

“It can really get severe up there,” said Christian, one of the members of the reforestation crew. “One minute you’re in the sun, the next minute you can’t see anything and you’re soaking wet. You need to be able to get to shelter and warm yourself or it can be life threatening, with all that wind.” We had expected to be part of the crew for this expedition, brought all the gear for it, but it didn’t work out that way. The scheduling had to shift to accommodate a film crew that went up with them to shoot, and because it takes several days to get up there with the seedlings and at least two days to get back with all the pack animals, our departure time made it impossible for us.

The visuals the crew shot will be used on the foundation’s website, which is the project we worked on. We looked at all their past visuals and worked on the still-being-finalized crowdfunding posts for Champa Tea (I think they are making one word of it “ChampaTea.”) And we sat with Pablo and his sister Lucia, who speaks very nice English, and we worked on what he called the “themes” – ideas to help the film crew structure their narrative and strategize their efforts, given the limits of their equipment, logistics and time. We set up interviews for them, and we met with them to discuss these themes.

Our method was largely taken from the “synergetic work” and “creative work” approaches developed decades ago at Synergia Ranch in New Mexico, in which a crew brings divergent strengths to bear on a common task, which could be creating and performing a daily theatrical production, or maybe cleaning out stables, or maybe both. Johanna and Pablo and the others are already experienced at this. It was more of a challenge for the film crew. Pablo is diplomatic with them, Christian, who makes his living in Buenos Aires marketing on the web, is helpful. It takes a while for people to climb down off their egoes, but when they (we) do, that’s when the process goes into the familiar overdrive we remember from past synergetic work.

Ultimately, it is realized that the graphic design and label content already paid for by the ChampaTea grant is really good and can be a template for the film products. Its slogan “Be the Mountain” can lead to such ideas as what a person who drinks tea of the mountain could be. I keep pushing the metaphor of the water that makes the tea – the cycle from the seed gathering expedition to the greenhouses to the seedlings to the seedling expedition to the growing cloud forest to the water in the arroyo, headed to the millions below. And the virtual community that forms to help this effort and gets to drink the tea.

The Facebook posts I did during the expedition cover some aspects of the shoot. I look forward to the outcome.

For those who want the scientific details, the tree is Tabaquillo, Poyepsis Australis, a kind of rose, as you can see by the leaf pattern.


Also another tree, a form of mesquite, at a lower elevation. As for the tea itself, it’s basically a mate blended with other herbs, some unique to the place. If the brand were to catch on beyond the crowdfunding distribution, it would basically add to the economic base for the gatherers.

We interviewed one gaucho, whose family once made a living gathering from the mountain. He said over the years the availability of the herbs of his childhood declined, due to droughts and fires. But he said in recent years they have been coming back.




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