Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sticks and Mud in San Roque, Peru

San Roque de Cumbaza, San Martin, Peru.
A view here in San Roque.

A pleasant river wraps between small mud houses covered in grey Shapaja palm leaves surrounded by the misty mountains of the high jungle. It´s not to hard to like San Roque at first site. Each day, however, reveals more secrets tucked in to the hidden corners of the land: pottery of the Lamistas, Cacoa and coffee chacras, mystical medicinal plants, high waterfalls, fireflies, monkeys, and of course the beautiful people who greet you with an hola and a warm smile always. I have been here going on 3 months now and below are some of the projects I have been involved or learned about here.

San Roque bridge
Mishkiyacu eco community here in San Roque
6 hour hike to insane waterfalls here.

Sachaqa Centro de Arte.

Sachaqa website

I first heard about this area through Trina´s art center. A sustainable artist’s retreat in the amazon, you say? Heck yeah I am going there. Trina, from England, has run the center for over 4 years bringing people from all over to have a beautiful and therapeutic place to practice art. Trina showed me how to make natural paints out of the river rocks, something that has been a dream of mine for a long time.

A new art center was being built as a part of a larger sustainable community. I happened to be very fortunate that they were just beginning to build this and another house out of the traditional local method called Quincha. The exact type of project I had been hoping to get my hands dirty in on my trip.

The Sustainable Community

Ana, a mother of three, is helping Trina add her art studio to a growing sustainable community on her land.

Joey, another volunteer, helps Luna go to the river to collects rocks to build.

Sachaqa Art Center
Just the frame of Trina's art center.

Almost finished!

The view isn't bad.


Quincha is a traditional method of using caña brave to make an earthquake-proof frame covered in mud to build a light airy house perfect for the warm humid climate here.

Quincha Recipe:

  • A pile of Dirt
  • 1/3 water
  • rice leaves
  • banana palm stems shredded
  • Directions: mix all together and mash well with feet.

Long soft bricks can then be made by slapping globs of it into the mud until they are nice and thick. The long bricks are then hung over the caña brava and smoothed into a wall. Once dry another layer of mud and rice leaves is smoothed over. And there your have your eco house. Trina and Daniel hope to have the art center done soon to invite artists to this new site within the community.

Mashing mud

Wood secured with strips of bark
The caña brava frame is earth-quake proof
windows help lighten the monolithic structure
Glass bottle windows are a cheap upcycled way to get some light in too
Securing glass bottle windows in between the caña brava

Chirapa Manta

Javier and Claudia´s eco center, Chirapa Manta, is the other house we have been building out of mud. Even though it is out of mud, this is pretty luxurious eco-housing. There is a group of people here who are all friends and are striving to start green enterprises like this one to keep San Roque clean and sustainable and also help educate the people of Peru about the importance of our earth.

Javier says: “Here we all are teachers and we learn from everybody, even from the animals and plants... here there is no master, we are all together going through this beautiful adventure…”

The large structure is also caña brava

Artistic Details
Designs in the mud give it some glamour :)

Glass designs in the doorway.

Ñawpa Runa Non-Profit Project

Ñawpa Runa Facebook

Trina´s husband Daniel is very involved in the arts, music, dance and traditions of the area. His Non-profit, Ñawpa Runa aims at preserving the indigenous traditions in ceramic works, handicraft such as: basket weaving, embroidery, knitting and folk dances, as well as the need to preserve the Quechua language. There is a women here with knowledge of local medicinal plants, healing ailments such as, arthritis, rheumatism, infections, intestinal worms, diarrhea, cancer, diabetes etc. She would like to teach people and have help documenting her knowledge. He also strives to teach practical topics in the production of Cacao, Honey, Coffee, Cotton, Beans, Riceon the local farms.

In the culture of these indigeneous people the basic element consists not in “development” but living in “equilibrium” within the numerous ecosystems and the order that exists between species of the great biodiversity that exist in the Amazon region.

Chazuta at susnset

A woman of 90 years works on the pottery in Chazuta, which is some of the most well made in the San Martin area.


The medicinal plants around Hunab-ku

The roomy bamboo and thatched roof loft I have been living in is a part of Hunab-Ku, a spiritual center surrounded by a botanical garden with Amazonian medicinal plants. The construction of the center was realized according to the laws of sacred geometry using local and natural materials. I was told also that the elements of construction were meant to bring forth your path and especially for women your intuition. I have to say that I had a lot of vivid dreams here and everyone who slept here said the same .

Activies at Hunab-Ku

Bake day with the orno at Huab-Ku.

Shamanism, Ancient wisdom and the Origins of Life

San Roque is known for it’s traditional ayahuasca ceremonies. People from many countries fly here for a weekend just to have a ceremony. " Ayahuasca " is Quechua for "spirit vine" or "vine of the souls". It is a brew of the giant forest plant banisteriopis caapi mixed with psychotria virdis. Brewed for hours together, they have strong hallucinogenic properties that have been historically consumed by the western half of the Amazon valley and isolated tribes on the pacific slopes of the Ecuadorian and Colombian Andes. Unlike San Pedro, which deals more with the outer world of nature, ayahuasca is done at night and taps into cleansing your inner self which can be a terrifying experience revealing and releasing bad energy people hold inside. I have heard many things about the different experiences and revelations of those using ayahuasca as a therapy.

Most are struck immediately by vived hallucinations, some see images of the universe, the earth before life, the veins in their hand as the same as the veins in a leaf, a feeling of connection to all things, a clear vision of who they are, and almost all see terrifuing twisting snakes. They say that the snake is the mother of the ayahuasca .

Much of indigenous mythology claim to have come from auywaska visions as well as their unbelievably complex medicines created without access to modern science. The indiginous say the auywaska revealed many secrets of medicine to them.

A current belief is that somehow the plant allowed shamans to gain acess to biomelecular information. Most the images that appear over an over in indigenous mythology, which comes from ayahuasca visions, can be connected to the discoveries of modern science. According to Jeremy Narby´s book, The cosmic serpent: DNA and the origins of knowedge, imagery of twisting snakes occures over and over in visons and mythology as a symbol of the vital life force that the indiginous believe permeates every living thing. Narby sees this as metaphorical imagery of the double helix of DNA. Often this vital life force is seen as arrivng to earth from another place. An account from anthropologist in Peru during auywaska vision said they saw the world before life and how life came from cosmic origin of twin snakes landing on earth and mutating into many forms. The widley held belief that life spontanelously created itself on earth is also challenged by Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA. He wrote in Life Itself: Its origin and nature: That probability of change emergence of a single protein need to create DNA are in the odds of one in 20 to the 200th, this is enormously greater than the number of atoms in the observable universe (estimated at 10to the 80th)- Crick resolves that life “cannot have arisen by pure chance”. This evidence of life emerging from out side of earth struck me as very interesting. Whether or not the twisitng serpants truly represnt an ancient knowledge of DNA and that life came from another place is anybodys guess. However, it is undeniable that the indiginous have a deep understaning that there is a vital life force that connects us all and an incredible knowledge of the medicinal power of plants that cannot be lost.

A section of Auywaska growing in Hunab-Ku like twisitng snakes.

After learning a lot about shamanism and ayahuasca ceremonies I came to realize that most of it I had already learned in a few seconds from viewing one of Trinas paintings.

I talked with many people who have tried these cleanses and all said they found answers to something. It was reveled to a mother who had little time to play with her kids to look in their eyes deeply to make that connection with them. Others todl me stories that they were shown who they were and who they would be which helped greatly on there path of life.

OK mom and dad, before you get scared and think that I am wigging out on strange halluanagenic drugs in the jungle, don’t worry. I haven’t taken any. I feel that my path of enlightenment doesn’t include external medicines at this point in my life but other practices internal in myself. I believe that everyone has their own way and the ancient medicinal plants of the jungle are a fascinating history to learn about.

Indiginous of San Martin area

I have had some really great opportunities to work on some of the local farms and spend time with some indiginous families here. They still speak Quechua, the native dialect, and still tend the land like they have been for centuries. Below is Pantronilla, a Lamista who showed me the traditional technique of making pottery.

Here they don't have fancy wheels, they make rools and pinch each layer of clay together.
After the pot is done it is fired for a week.
Patronilla and I.

Patronilla with Marybelle in her traditional clothes.

Patronilla is 63 and still a hard worker.

The family invited me to stay for lunch.
The menu: farm fresh chicken soup, beans and plantains
Abuela linda

Selling pottery in the castle in Lamas

Really so much to see and do in San Roque though at first glance a sleepy little town tucked in the jungle. I will have more info on my art with natural paints soon!


  1. Hello,

    I don't know if you still check this blog? I'm an English Landscape Architect who came across your website and I'm fascinated about your travel pursuits through South America looking at sustainable construction. I have lots of questions I'd love to ask you about your experience. If you don't mind - I can give you my email address.

    Best wishes,


  2. Hi!
    Im not sure if my last comment posted, but I am inspired by your travels :) I am planning on visiting Sachaqa centro de arte, and would also love to stay at Hunab Ku, but cant seem to find any contact info for them. Do you happen to have an email address?
    Thanks so much!!