Category: Slow Tourism

On a mission in Tulum

Meet Shira, the oldest dog alive in Mexico. She lives in La Cigana, a cute little hostel in Tulum, where she spends most of the day sleeping in funny positions. Like in San Cristobal, one of the reasons I instantly liked this hostel when I found it was due to the way the staff treat their animals.

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After getting to know the dogs and people in La Cigana, I went on a mission to find a suitable accommodation on the beach for the next three days. Thing is Tulum is a small town in the middle of the jungle. Downtown Tulum is said to be cool, but beachside Tulum is said to be awesome. Staying there however is very pricy, hence I biked my way to the beach to discover it, in particular looking for the camping sites.

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Twenty minutes later I was there – a “there,” meaning “by the beach” because the Tulum beach isn’t like other beaches where you have a promenade alongside the coastline where you can bike or stroll down it enjoying the beautiful sea view while feeling the sea breeze. The Tulum beach is presented by a three kilometer long road in between gorgeous and lush gardens, which all are inhabited by gated resorts and restaurants.

This means you actually don’t see the sea from the road by the beach, but have to choose a place through where you enter in order to get to the actual beach. While biking down the road I couldn’t stop thinking about how this feels for local people in the area that would like to go for a day on the beach. I mean, although the resorts and restaurants aren’t closed to public per se, they definitely give the impression of more than anything welcoming money strong people who wants to enjoy a day at “this or that specific private piece” of the beach.

Far down the road I finally found Camping Chavez, one of the places I’ve been recommended to stay at as a budget traveler. Entering from the road it looks something like this.

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The atmosphere is friendly, the tents and posts about community spirit and recycling many. But it’s not that crazy cheap: Camping in a tent is rated at 90 pesos and for the less sandy alternatives you can get a simple beach hut for 400 pesos per night (which makes it a perfect option for a company of two or more).

You reach the beach by walking through the camp, and from the other side it looks like this:

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For a little while I was suddenly back to Burning man, and dreamed of continuing camping in the sand surrounded by free-spirited people. Also, a delightful difference is that at Camping Chavez you get the beautiful beach and sea straight on your door way.

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Yes! In the picture is Daniela, the nice girl I told about yesterday that invited me to hang out today. She brought an Australian friend that also has fallen in love with Tulum and moved here for good. Good times!

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After some time on the beach the Aussie took us to one of the hot spots in Tulum, what food and live music concerns. Puro Corazon. What’s funny is that the man in my hostel already had told me about the good vibes here.

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And good vibes I found. Two Happy-hour cocktails lead to four, a delicious Mexican fusion dinner during a brilliant folklore concert with three young artists, followed by a round of Mezcal at the bar together with the super chill chef, Balam.

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Naturally, I completely forgot about the initial mission of finding a place on the beach: Now, writing this I’ve actually just come home from a craaaaazy night out downtown with my new Mexican friends. The main road in Tulum is full of fun places, not to mention people and good music.

Quite strategical then living near by, so I may leave this place alone for now, though it looks wicked.

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Searching for a Shaman

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and the Gipsy Giraffe is one heck of an unforgettable experience richer!

Remember I told you that San Cristobal de las Casas has a special spirituality to it, and that the city is surrounded by mountains where people live more unconventional lives and hold workshops in meditation, yoga, human energies and so forth?

Well, now I’ve been there. And it was amazing. It was mind blowing in a way I don’t know if Ill be able to explain yet, so for now I’ll explain the journey it was searching for the Shaman.

First I was about to go up there alone, but then through talking to people I’ve met in town throughout this week, three new friends came along. The Australian couple from my hostel, and a young Mexican guy that just moved here searching for meaning. All three very friendly, open-minded and adorable people.

Before going we had tried to find some info about upcoming events, and could only trust a Facebook page that mentioned something called Instalaciones familiares. By the time we had reached the city center to grab a bus, it had started raining heavily. Suddenly we bumped into Gustavo on the main street downtown, an older gentleman (standing to the right in the below pic) I met the first night I was out on a Mezcal riot in a very popular bar called Revolucion.

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First Gustavo laughed at us wanting to go see Lauro (the main shaman of a spiritual community in the mountain) as he meant it all had become too commercial. Then he said Lauro has become an old man, besides that he supposedly is out of town.

Two of which statements I was already aware of through having talked to a guy in my hostel that had been to the mountain, and some random people on the streets (yes, Cristobal de las Casas is like that! Everybody speaks to everybody).

Furthermore he claimed that we should trust that we have all the spirituality we are seeking for within ourselves as opposed to finding it through a Shaman (yes, Gustavo is one of the interesting personalities whose beautiful saying I already told about here). I listened to him with polite interest, yet explained that we wanted to go there of various reasons and interests he might not have inside due to his specific life experiences and the fact that he is a resident. He seemed to grasp that.

The rain kept poring down and soon the soaking wet Aussies – that don’t speak Spanish – looked more and more inpatient while I tried my best to translate Gustavo’s well-meaning opinions. We thanked him and told him to meet us later to hear how our experience turned out. Arch, you can’t go walking in the mountain in this rain. Ill take you there. Vamonos! he said suddenly and pointed us towards the street where his car was parked.

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Out of the city we went. Through narrow streets with more and more worn out houses the further we got. We passed a lively fruit and clothes market with cages of live hens, and soon went up the hills towards the mountain of el Señor Lauro. All the way we sat listening to Gustavo singing to Joe Cocker from beneath a big cowboy hat, with his grey curly hair dancing to the tunes.

Gustavo left us in the mud outside of the famous Lauro’s retreat haven, where two women welcomed us and confirmed that Lauro unfortunately wasn’t present at the moment. They told us we had thirty minutes to discover the site or walk up the mountain before the Shaman would start his session Instalaciones familiares. Despite of the rain and one of the Aussies being barefoot, we decided to walk up to the mountain to check out its famous energy and see the city from there. Everyone we met on the way greeted us with a smile and Buenas tardes. One man told us where we would get the best view.

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Some houses and dogs later, we had to cross a hill on a tiny path covered with trees and huge cactus plants before we finally reached a good spot to see San Cristobal from another angle. A tiny cliff revealed itself in front of a huge rock and the four of us agreed this has to be the best offered view over the city. We lined up together and agreed without a word that the rather dangerous way up here was worth it. We stood there for a while in silence, yet in awe, and it seemed to me we had one wish in common: To stand here forever and let the pouring rain wash of our faces. It might have been placebo of course, but I´d argue one could feel something in the air up here. I felt as if I saw faces of this place´s ancestors painted on the mountains and got a weird sensation of all the destinies I don´t even know of whom exist in between the buildings on the ground. I got high on nature and high on a feeling of being united with a place I didn´t even know I needed to unite with.

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But we couldn’t stand forever. We were on a mission to meet a Shaman, and the lady had told us to be back in thirty minutes. On the way down to el Lauro, the Mexican guy told in our group me he has never met a Shaman either, but that he has dreamed about it since he arrived to the city. He´s the kind of guy that loves experimenting with anything spiritual and recreational, and told me about an epic journey on Cayote he recently did while we where on our way down. Oh, Mexico.

Down at Lauro’s place we walked around in silence in the beautiful garden, all soaked wet and rather cold. Then we were told the Shaman was ready to see us in a wooden house well hidden behind some enormous trees.

Get the story about what happened next.

This is America, the rest is a lie (part II)

I’ll tell you all about our wonderful time in Yosemite national park A S A P – but first Ill take you on a visual journey of the road trip getting there from Fresno.

Starting with a breakfast at a good old American diner.

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In places like these (I refer to the more remote, local diners) pancakes are pretty much the only veggie option (if you remember to tell them to skip the bacon).. And they are yummy! Our waiter (also from Mexico) even told us they’re healthy!?

Next on the bucket list before departure was to find a bike for Burning Man, thus we Googled markets in the area, and sure thing; Every weekend there are two separate (flee) markets in little Fresno. We only made it to one of them, which was enough as it was a huge Mexican market with dream bargains. We got ourselves a cowboy hat, zebra scarf, socks and a BIKE.

Walking around on the market was practically impossible due to the heath (35 degrees and no shade to hide in), but when I got to the – in my view surprisingly large – bird sale section I had to stop for some serious purchase considerations.

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Why not take some of these poor birds to Yosemite or even Burning Man, and free them free, I thought. After discussing whether they’re better of in these cages hoping for new kind owners, or in the Nevada dessert, we decided to trust the salesmen saying “They are happy birds.”

“So are we” I told myself  when we next hit the road for a three hour long journey towards Yosemite National park.

 

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Things we saw on the way:

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Oh, America, you little clown.

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The last picture is from Nevada, very close to the Black Rock desert where we soon will enter what everybody tells us will change our lives, the Burning Man festival.

Peace & Love

Back to my summer job

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Finally I’m back to what I call “the farm” or “my mum’s farm” for my summer job. This will be the third summer I work here. A brilliant way for someone with my lifestyle to be close to family while earning much money after all (and before the next) traveling, besides doing something meaningful.

The farm is actually not my mum’s, nor is it just a farm, but a rehab institution that my mum happens to manage. She has now lived here for over 10 years, and it’s pretty much impossible to me (and her) to even imagine anything else. She is perfect for this place and such an inspirational person in terms of her compassion. So are many of the others working here, and the ideology of the institution. It belongs to a foundation called Stiftelsen Sollia kollektivet in Norwegian (read more here if you understand Norwegian).

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Sollia kollektivet was founded in 1970, and is partly private, partly state owned. Translated from Norwegian, the cornerstone of the foundation is Equality in work, responsibility and economy. An important principle is self- sufficiency to both provide economical empowerment and empowerment of the students that learn a whole lot of agronomy and construction work.

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As you can see its location is breathtakingly beautiful. Surrounded by huge fields and other small and medium sized farms and the best of it all: Norway’s biggest lake Mjøsa. Every time I come back here, whatever season, the smell overwhelms me the very moment I get off the bus on top of the road. Sometimes I almost start weeping, but out of joy. It’s a mix of feelings of ‘home’, the joy of being close to my mum again, the beauty and meaning of the jobs that are done here, the excitement of seeing the students (the people living here due to substance addiction) after yet another journey of mine, having them sharing from their lives with trust and openness.

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The ideology of meaningful community work and consequent enforcement of drug prohibition have been basic since the foundation’s commence. Here we work together as equals, treat each others with respect and interest – in order for the students (and others of course) to improve their lives and grow.

The farm is 100% ecological and 50% self sustained. We grow several types of vegetables and fruits and got our own animals that provide us with eggs, meet and wool. Products like milk and cheese, coffee and tea, and on occasions meet, as well as ingredients to make bread and desserts are bought in weekly.

Every day we eat three meals together, which on good summer days often looks like this:

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Part from offering substance addicts rehabilitation and therapy, the foundation requires that the “students” work from the day they arrive. Until 8 students and 7 employees work together every day from 8- 16 (part from the weekends where one student is in charge of the animals and one worker in charge of transport and general contact with everybody), and are divided in two groups; one in the kitchen and one outdoor in the garden, fields and with maintenance. Who works where rotate from month to month to make sure everybody get to practice all tasks.

My friends often ask me what I’m doing while here, and the answers are “hanging out with the students, chatting and doing everything together from:

Harvesting

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to picking berries

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and checking on our sheep herd up in the hill

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feeding our rabbits

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 eating waffles…

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coping with pranks…

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and inventing pranks..

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To me the best about the farm is its peace and location, it is a perfect place to stop and think for a while, far away from other things I give importance in life. When I’m here it’s like the world outside is put on hold. It’s easier to be present and to pay attention to other people’s best interest rather than my own. Besides, it is a gift to be let in to the students’ life histories, dreams and self-development, and I’m humbly aware of how time here means empowering self-development for me too.

Here there is plenty of time for walks in the forest…

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cuddle pets

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and do yoga on the beach.. 🙂

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playing with my family

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having visitors from abroad

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taking the boat out ‘to sea’…

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Enough said! As you understand I can’t wait to suck in another 4 weeks here.

Mozambique, please make us tick..

Yesterday, Monday, when five intensive days with Richie Hawtin and his crew were over we found out we were so high on it all. On life, music, love, township-love, surprising fun, a successful event, new motivation, inspirational people and great feedback.. Still, we were tired, and we knew this was the time for a litte break the two of us.

We have talked for long about going to one of S.A’s neighbouring countries, and I’ve always been keen on some desert trekking in Namibia as well as to see and feel how that country differs from S.A…

However, in the end we got convinced to go to Mozambique by more than one person and after reading a guidebook about it the last week I’ve become more and more curious about this country.

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I’m obviously curious about any country in this region really, and would love to have more time (and money) to travel around discovering much more. But as we went to Jo-burg the last day of Richie’s tour, and that happens to be fairly close to Mozambique rather than to Namibia, and we found out these current days probably are the only one we will be on this side of the country for now, we decided to come to Mozambique.

After reading and talking to people we’ve also heard Mozambique is completely different to S.A and Namibia in so many ways; just starting with the country’s colony history and its heritage due to being Portuguese and not British or Dutch.

So, there we found ourselves on the hotel bed with sore feets late Monday night; in a typical V&J style: happy after finally taking a decision, ruined by having purchased the flight tickets way too last minute, nervous and delighted with the first malaria pill placed in the stomach.

Of we went early morning.

This is what first waited us when getting of the plane:

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The smallest airport we’ve ever seen in life.

As we had not researched shit, we found out upon arrival that Mozambique requires VISA. They did of course not accept bank cards and we did of course not have enough cash – of any currency – so our first adventure was to get a taxi driver to take us back and forth to an ATM so that we could pay the freaking VISA.

Just the way I love starting an impulsive holiday really.

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This picture is from the first local bar we saw in the street were we took out money, but actually I took it due to the coconuts hanging everywhere – just like that –, a simple, yet so beautiful reality that …yeah.. makes me nuts because I LOVE coconuts… And they love my camera here in Mozam it seems. They are everywhere!

Unfortunately I didn’t dare to take a picture of our driver, but he was amazing! He spoke three words English so our conversations were held in Portanyol – a good mix of Portuguese and Spanish – and we bonded instantly. He was super cute, a typical mellizo mix as they call it in South America, of white colonizers and brown or black indigenous people. This privilege had given him features like a black person but with golden coloured skin and red afro hair as well as cute freckles. Argh! Why didn’t I take that picture?

Anyway, he got us safe and sound back and forth to the airport, and then all the way to Tofo where our already booked 4 star romantic hotel (that we surprised ourselves by having managed to book and that we felt we deserved)..

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Here’s mr. Valo by the computer that we unfortunately already had to take out as we unfortunately have some work although we’ve agreed this is a small holiday in between the crazy BfM events, in which we deserve to chill. The hotel however, has a very good WIFI connection (something that is not too common in Tofu) and that makes it all easier as sending a couple of emails and blogging goes smoothly.

But now, my friends it is time to go for a swim.

I’m thrilled by our view, this hotel and its romance potentials and I’m also thrilled as I’ve just chugged in to this little treasure

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and feel so damn happy to just be somewhere far away, and so very different than what we expected. We actually think we are in a state of culture shock and already laugh at people calling South Africa Africa…

Now, we must remember that Africa is a continent and people tend to forget all the beautiful and varied cultures, religions, histories and countries that are mashed together over a vast area. Even I. And today, when we arrived here in Mozambique, I really giggled to myself. “This is Africa, baby… and townships? Informal settlements? Uhm, Ive hardly seen anything part form that between the airport and the city, then again on the way to Tofo – a tiny and beautiful but so worn out – village.

Apparently there are many things yet to discover for a naive Northern European like myself. Even with a recent delivered Masters in freaking tourism… I’m open to learn, realise, understand. More.

Starting with this small, weird, overly expensive and utterly beautiful fisher village and surfer mecca, Tofo.

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To be continued..

Top 3 in Stellenbosch

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It never stops surprising me that one of the world’s most stunning wine districts exists less than an hour outside of Cape Town. You can leave the hectic metropolitan city behind just to shortly after enter into a completely different world of green fields as far as the eye can see. A lush countryside region where new & old, huge & small creatively architectonic farms are surrounded by square kilometers after square kilometers of grape bushes.

And when you know Cape Town’s more downsidy features of traffic jams, floating litter, striking poverty and worn down townships, Stellenbosch – with its peace and order – stands in sharp contrast to it all.

Now, I tend to enjoy contrast, besides I know there’s no such place like heaven. But I got plenty of imaginations about it and occasionally Stellenbosch represents heaven to me.

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Still, there are a couple of tings to point a finger at in Stellenbosch too. There are undeniably some cruel things going on of labour exploitation and underpayment of colored and black people under the beautiful modern farming‘s surface. But then again, Stellenbosch is also part of this still-a-very-long-way-to-go-before-people-are-equal country called South Africa. You find racism everywhere here. But that’s for another post.

Now, let’s look at what Stellenbosch has to offer a hungry and thirsty traveler. With respect to the concerns mentioned above, I’ve done some research to find out which wine farms have outstanding social (and environmental) responsibility schemes, so that you can make a small difference by going there.

Because you know, it’s not all about the wine (though that’s an important part of it).

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I’ll mention four companies that stand out with regard to social responsibility; each and every of them discovered through personal visits, among many other stunning wine farms that also have delicious food and wine and outstanding service (all of which is very common in Stellenbosch actually).

The wine farms I’m about to highlight however has that extra touch of feelgood due to their outspoken social responsibility in addition to the brilliant wine, food and service they offer.  Not to mention the beauty of the sites.

Let’s go!

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The wine states are: A) Solms Delta    B) Spier    C) Clos Malverne

The three wine farms each cover areas of large land, and are located far away from each other. While it might not be totally correct to say the first I’ve listed as in Stellenbosch, it does actually have a Stellenbosch address. If you plan to go to Stellenbosch over several days, or perhaps spend a day or two in Franschoek – the neighborhing wine land– it may be a better option to visit Solms Delta then.

Either way, the three places are all reachable within a day, meaning they could be perfect for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a wine tasting in each. 🙂 Click on the names above the pictures below and you’ll get to each company’s social responsibility communication.

As for Spier they are undeniably a pioneer in the region on everything that has to do with sustainability throughout the whole production circle. Sustainability is also implemented in every corner of their supply chain. Their garden and kitchen (and wine) is perhaps also the fanciest, and a couple of hours here (often with live music) in between the mountains is really like a retreat of meditation.

Solms Delta is also very beautiful, but a much more low key place. Their garden is more closed than the two others, but in change they have their own museum and probably the happiest staff you’ll find in Stellenbosch. The owner truly is an inspiration and every time I go here I make new friends (among the staff). Also, their food is delicious! All in all I’d say they are my favorite, especially what concerns their social development commitment. They also arrange live music events in the weekends so check their calendar.

Clos Malverne is one of the places where I’ve eaten the best food in Stellenbosch. No wonder maybe they are ranked among the top 3 restaurants in the area. The service is outstanding and so is the wine. Besides, it’s such a good value for the money!

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Clos Malverne

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There are hundreds of other places and many of whom deserve a blog post for various reasons. This however was an attempt to highlight three of the places that I’ve always really enjoyed in this gorgeous place on earth where time just pauses.

Enjoy your time in Stellenbosch!

Visiting a monastery

Yesterday I promised to write about the monastery visit in Gran Can. Here it is:

To get to the monastery you can’t necessarily rely on the signs around the village of Santa Brigada, and should rather ask some people on the streets. Most people know about it and eventually when you start climbing a hill nearby (google it first, or go with a map) you’ll see a small sign.

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The road up to the building takes you three minutes in a car so for the brave it’s possible to do it walking too. The moment you step out of the car you’ll notice an appealing silence only interrupted by the cliche-like reality of birds singing from all angles.

We didn’t have any appointment to get in or anything and all of the sudden we got a bit worried it may be inappropriate to just step up at a monastery like that as curious tourists. However, although I didn’t have a personal agenda other than visit a monastery for the first time in my life, I was in this case together with two people working for a Christian organisation on the other side of the island. They might know about us, the island isn’t that big, Hilde said while we were waiting at the doorway.

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After knocking twice on the massive wooden door, two young monks dressed in black appeared with calm faces (just the way I would expect a munk to look like). Hilde presented the reason why we wanted to visit them, and before she even finished they welcomed us in with an arm move and whispering voices. After introducing us briefly inside of a small what looked to me as a waiting room with paintings of Maria and crosses on the walls, the monk named Valentin asked us to join him on a tour.

Valentin was born on one of the other Canary islands, but had moved here at the age of 17 to develop his life as a monk. He constantly talked with a whispering voice and held an impressive amount of details about the monastery, its history, how to become a monk, what kind of people that apply to become one, monk life, the suit and their study rituals.

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This is a picture from the ‘patio’, a small garden in the middle of the building, where the monks often walk around in circles praying, or meditate. On the picture is one of the (currently) older monks of this monastery.

After an hour we felt a very good connection with the guide, he told us to take pictures whenever we wanted to and ask questions of any kind. Just like big-eyed kids we went after him from room to room asking all kinds of “myth related” questions.

At 6.30 the bells rang and he told us he had to go to service. That service is one of the many different sessions where the 9 monks, the ‘father’ and the priest gather, sing, read and pray together in church. We were invited to watch it and grabbed some bibles from a book shell. A lady that apparently wasn’t there for her first time told us what pages to look up. Personally it’s a while in between each time I’m participating in a service, whatever the religious institution, but somehow I understood by now that this was one I couldn’t miss.

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Waiting for it to begin

The nine monks entered the room separately and gathered around the alter where one monk was standing lighting up the candles on top of it. Then one monk after the other moved forward and lit up more candles before they sat down on their chairs towards the walls, facing each other with a distance of 1,5 meter. One of the younger monks suddenly started halfly reading/singing a verse from the bible, soon accompanied by another monk or the whole group according to how they’d learned the various texts.

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The sound of it instantly gave me goosebumps and when I looked over to Hilde and Arild I could see they were in the same state as well. The monks took us on a spiritual journey that for a while felt like lasted forever, but never in the sense of getting boring. I was stunned by the feelings that ran through my body during the time I sat there listening, and my eyes went wet on several occasions.

Though they are hard to explain in written form, I will never forget the sound of their voices. Due to the acoustics in the room it also sounded very loud, yet perfectly tuned and I promised myself I’ll look into monk music from now on to listen to whenever I feel like I need some extra peace. And that was what they all had, and that was what they explained through their singing: Peace. Just like that.

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Picture of the alter – taken before the service

I know now that each and every of them had their specific task throughout the ritual and that it clearly wasn’t the first time the monks were singing together. And thinking about all the time and effort they put into these simple rituals every day, really stands to me as something admirable. Although I’m not religious I’ve never doubted that when it comes to love, hope and dreams we are all the same as human beings. And soon Valentin was going to show us more of the monastery’s work in this very respect.

Because straight after the service he wanted to show us more (eager guy)! And by then we could tell he is of the cheerful types, from how he highlighted details about what monks do to have fun and ‘loosen up’ after the long days of studies, prayer and work. He also repeatedly mentioned how social and family alike it is in the monastery and used the words solidarity, democracy and community.

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Sometimes it was a handful to take in all the details of monk living in Spanish before trying to translate it correctly to Norwegian.

We were invited to see the kitchen, where two monks came out and laughed at themselves due to the aprons over their monk suits. Kitchen duty is part of the monks’ various ‘work tasks’ on the monastery for it to go round. Valentin introduced another monk as the organ player of the service that day, while another instantly said that what we’d heard under the service was recorded, and not live.

Everybody burst into laughter and the organ player said we could get a glass of wine. Valentin cut him off with a smile: “I’m trying to do my work showing these people our house”, and took us with him. Giggling at the whole incident and going up the stairs Valentin said “be careful with that guy (the organ player), he’s very passionate about life, when he starts, he’s on forever”.

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View from one of the rooms people stay in

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Where the guests at the monastery have their meals.

By the end of the tour I admitted to myself my ignorance of not ever having thought much or doubted the ‘myths’ related to monks’ lives. Or better said, Ive hardly thought about it, but Ive definitely somehow assumed they all live in silence and pray all day long, hardly laugh or see their families, nor talking to people from the outside. Fail!

The tour turned out to be not only educative meaningful, but social and friendly, and thanks to Valentin, very funny in a cute way. Before saying goodbye we stood on the parking lot and one monk came out searching for the monastery’s cat. Valentin asked him to take a picture of the 4 of us. Before hitting the trigger the photographer monk had a shy looking expression on his face. As if he had a confession to make, he said it was important for him to tell us that “the joke about the organ play not being live, wasn’t true”.

Ah. Sweetheart! I went straight over and kissed him on his forehead (in my thoughts).

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When leaving the monastery we’d been almost 4 hours with the monks, and had to open the windows to get out some of the energy we filled the car with. We were amazed by the experience, our guide, the feeling around them all and of discovering how our old presumptions changed. Besides I was thrilled to have discovered the monastery offers rooms for a very cheap rent. Apparently they’re very popular among poor students. So, as a student and as I’m here I thought to try it before traveling North. If not, it’s a good mention for others to know about.

A visit to the monastery in Santa Brigada, Gran Canaria is highly recommended!