The Institute for Meso-American Permaculture is situated at the base of a peninsula that stretches out into beautiful Lake Atitilan; but it is more than just a place to swim after a tiring afternoon. IMAP for short, The Institute for Meso-American Permaculture is located right outside the city of San Lucas La Laguna and is also a place for the practice and teaching of the Mayan and Meso-American traditions relating to permaculture. In short, permaculture is the conjoining of everyday life and nature in a harmonious manner. For ancient Mayans, it was a way to fulfill their needs while respecting their surroundings. We spent a lot of time at IMAP learning about this and how IMAP was preserving the ways that the indigenous people of Meso-America accomplished it.
We first arrived at IMAP on the afternoon of a sunny Saturday and were immediately taken aback by its lush greenness and glassy water. We were shown to our rooms; the directors house for the girls, and a bamboo attic situated on top of the always noisy kitchen for the lads. Taking in the beauty of our surroundings and the fact that we had real beds for the next three nights was a little overwhelming but we all settled in by the tour. The tour, directed by lead educator, Christian Gonzalez, brought us around the the many different projects, creations, and ploys that IMAP uses in the name of permaculture. Whether it was a spiral that conserved water, or a garden in the shape of a mandala to maximize the efficiency of the sunlight, IMAP had plenty of creations in the name of conserving natural recourses. Once the hunger in our stomachs grew too large, we broke off and prepared for dinner. Meeting in the dinning area that would also be the venue for many activities later in out stay, the space was filled with excited yet hungry chatter; it had been a arduous three days and all of us were ravenous for calories in any form they took. It was a contrasty quiet dinner as our mouths were perpetually filled with food, but we all knew what the person next to us were thinking. As goes the camaraderie gained on a difficult hike. Wary of our impending post-meal combination of exhaustion and grumpiness, the instructors sent us to bed; and without reaching for a book or clock, the most of us rocked ourselves into a fitful sleep soon after.
The first day full day we spent at IMAP was a busy one. The morning we spent learning about the intricacies of Mayan Cosmovision, Ecocentric vs anthropocentric world views, the Mayan calendar, and how nature and the world around them were so important to the Mayans were also covered in the morning. A quick break for delicious lunch and we went right into the hands on process of learning the journey that a plant takes, from compost to planting. That shifted into our free time in the afternoon which we would learn to relish. Swimming was the main activity that took place during this time. At the edge of the peninsula there was a great place to swim and lay on rocks. Parker, uncovered a slack-line in his bag and set it up and the group had a fun time failing at it. What followed was a totally botched attempt at fitting everyone into the sauna in the girls house while still enjoying ourselves and although some tempers flared in the process, the great pacifier dinner came along and harmony was again wrought on the boughs of rice and beans. After returning to their respective rooms and houses, everyone enjoyed time winding down with a book or journal in hand and soon there was quiet again to be had in IMAP.
Our second full day was of site and into the forests that surround San Lucas. The first location that we visited was an organized forest with coffee plants everywhere. As we moved past more corn fields, we pasted into one of the oldest forests in Guatemala. Estimated to be around a thousand years old, this forest was dense and was teeming with life. At the top of the small mountain at the entrance to the forest, out guide, Gregorio, told us a story about why the nearby volcanoes had flat tops. A little bit of a farther drive an we arrived at a small food farm. Near the road there were many beans planted, but further in was a dense patchwork of fruit trees. After Gregorio allowed us to sample a couple we planted some sweet potatoes and we were of to lunch. We ate lunch at a local restaurant and were delivered the crushing news that France had beaten Belgium 1-0. After returning to IMAP with full bellies, we did more manual labor, and were again released to free time. More swimming and more relaxing preceded another delicious dinner. That night both genders had a chance to bond and everybody had a good laugh.
On our final day we headed to a small community on the outskirts of San Lucas where fishing was the occupation of many residents. We spent most of our time in a small resort type place and were able to swim in pools fed by the freezing cold water. Before we could do that however we were given a tour of the resorts fish and snail farming operations where tilapia was being raised from egg to plate. At lunch we had a chance to try these fished and I think it is safe to say we all enjoyed lunch. A little more sunbathed reading and we had to go. Hoping back on out truck we were dropped back of at IMAP where we grabbed our clothes and other belongings, said goodbye to the cute dogs, and headed the the main road to wait with the chicken bus. The rest of the travel to San Juan was a breeze and so ended our adventure in IMAP.
IMAP taught our group many lessons. They taught us about physical methods for merging our way of life with nature but they also taught us to question our place in this universe. Who were we to take what we think we need from the natural world around us and force it to suffer for our pleasure? What can we do to lessen our consumption of precious natural resources? IMAP was an incredibly eye opening experience that we all gathered significant knowledge from. Thanks IMAP!