Health & Beauty

Within the World’s Driest Desert, Historic Knowledge Blooms Everlasting

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I used to be seated with 9 different artists in the course of the Chilean desert, with volcanic Andean peaks forward of me and the Cordillera de la Sal, or Salt Mountains, behind me. I squinted towards the early morning solar reaching over the peaks, feeling small because it started to mild up the desert in each path. Carlos, our host, had laid out a blanket on the nice and cozy sand and was now setting down a bottle of pink wine, a bowl of coca leaves and 4 cups.

As a gaggle we made plates of natural choices — edible fruit pods from an algarrobo, or carob, tree; chañar seeds; a couple of slices of apple and orange — earlier than taking turns kneeling within the grime, filling the cups with coca leaves and wine in a specific order. The cups on the correct represented ladies, life, whereas these on the left represented males, demise — all the time a duality. We then moved over a small gap dug within the floor representing the boca de Madre Tierra, the mouth of Mom Earth, to go away our choices and communicate along with her as we wished.

Right here, among the many Lickanantay, the world’s Indigenous individuals, we had been taking part in a reciprocity ceremony known as Ayni, a customary providing made to Mom Earth to ask for her invitation and safety upon our arrival. Carlos, a Lickanantay yatiri, or religious and medicinal healer, led us by way of the ritual, which was too sacred to be photographed.

I had arrived the day earlier than within the tiny group of Coyo, in a dusty nook of the Atacama Desert, in northern Chile, after having been accepted right into a three-week artist-in-residency program with La Wayaka Current, a corporation that focuses on the atmosphere, group and up to date artwork. I used to be there to be taught from and take part within the Lickanantay tradition and {photograph} my expertise. Burned out from life in New York Metropolis, I used to be seeking to perceive how historic knowledge thrives on this a part of the world, and the way I may honor these values in my very own existence.

Coyo isn’t fairly a city; it’s extra a group of winding grime roads with homes fabricated from clay, rocks and branches which were pulled from the encircling panorama. To get there, I’d flown from New York to the northern Chilean metropolis of Calama, the place 9 stranders and I boarded a bus and headed out into the desert.

As we approached Coyo, Dago, a geologist who served as our driver and information, advised us that the air right here would “limpiar tus pulmones” — clear our lungs.

I took time after the Ayni ceremony to stroll the streets of the group, feeling the temperature start to rise because the solar burned away the morning clouds. At first look, the homes may need appeared worn and uncared for, with cracks and crevices that uncovered their inhabitants to the skin world. However I noticed them extra tenderly: Every was made with palms that had been deeply rooted within the earth. The ceilings had been supported with rocks and sticks, the fences tied along with plastic rope. Canine saved the dwellings safe.

My thoughts roamed to my dwelling in New York, to my condominium filled with trinkets and furnishings collected through the years, pictures amassing mud. I reside in a Brooklyn brownstone, the place the skyline of Decrease Manhattan is mirrored in my bed room mirror. I do not know whose palms constructed that metropolis.

Pulled again to Coyo by the sounds of barking canine, I discovered it exhausting to reconcile the truth that, some other place on the earth, a metropolis was thriving with skyscrapers and lights that by no means dim. In New York, I noticed, I transfer by way of life in a method that’s alien to this group. And whereas that life exists, this group — within the driest desert on the earth — asks Mom Earth if we might go on. Could we come to you for solutions, Madre Tierra?

Time was hazy within the desert. Days swirled from one to the following. I measured its passage in sunsets and sunrises, within the walks I’d taken, within the individuals I’d met. Sandra, Carlos’s spouse, wove out and in of my days. Her power was contagious, and every little thing about her was vibrant: her garments, her laughter, her energy.

Sandra comes from a protracted line of shepherds. We spent a day shepherding along with her, speaking about life as we walked llamas and sheep throughout the desert. Every day, she and Carlos stroll underneath the blistering solar for hours to feed their animals, trekking on both facet of the pack, whistling to maintain them in line. Sandra carried Gaspar, her grandson, wrapped tightly on her again.

In the future, we paused underneath the shade of timber, brushing the bottom freed from thorns and thistles to take a seat whereas the animals grazed. Sandra advised us that our base in Coyo was their dwelling. Within the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, nonetheless, she and Carlos had determined to maneuver to the place they lived now, a 15-minute drive from Coyo, a spot reserved for shepherding households with miles of open land and timber that drop seeds for the animals to eat. With no electrical energy, sizzling water and little to no mobile service, the group of households there swimming pools its cash collectively to have potable water usually delivered.

Though Coyo is a humble desert group, it was a consolation to Sandra and Carlos. I, too, had come to grasp this consolation. Sandra advised us that adjusting to a brand new lifestyle was tough at first, however that they now felt extra linked to nature. As Sandra spoke, Gaspar rolled round within the grime, bringing rocks to his mouth to style them.

Once more, I thought of my life in New York, with its comparable comforts and conveniences — a spot the place we’ve traded connection and respect for different beings for a specific type of bounty. However this life is bountiful, too. Sandra and Carlos stroll by way of the desert every day by alternative, feeling linked to the bottom beneath and the sky above. In Brooklyn I’d seen a mom reprimand her son for stopping to choose up sticks off the bottom. I considered Gaspar, of how fortunate he was to play with the earth so freely.

In keeping with the Lickanantay, yatiris like Carlos are chosen beings who’ve been struck by lightning, awakening their religious talents that the remainder of us can achieve entry to solely with the usage of hallucinogens. Carlos was stillborn, he advised us, till his mom felt lightning strike by way of the hospital partitions in San Pedro, which introduced forth his earthly cry.

In Lickanantay tradition, the time period “pachakuti” refers to a interval of societal upheaval and transformation. The photo voltaic eclipse in 2017 welcomed us into the fifth pachakuti, Carlos advised us. For hundreds of years, the dominant social order had been that of the Western conqueror, to cover and disgrace the knowledge of Indigenous communities. This new pachakuti rids us of that power, he mentioned, and renews us with Indigenous data to carry again into existence a concord with Mom Earth and all her beings.

The Atacama Desert, ample in minerals, can be full of mines — for lithium, copper, magnesium, potassium. Specifically, the extraction of lithium, which is used for electric-vehicle batteries and is crucial to the world’s transition to renewable power, has been on the middle of ongoing debates about mining pursuits, local weather change and Indigenous rights.

We drove for miles down bumpy roads to marvel on the panorama — the desert, the lithium-rich salt flats, the mines themselves. Nothing, nothing, till all of a sudden the panorama opened up and you possibly can see salt for miles, dusting the desert like contemporary snow. We parked the van, and I climbed up a craggy ledge to take a seat with this panorama, watching because the solar dipped behind the Cordillera de la Sal, turning the desert and the snow-capped mountains pink.

One morning the skies opened up. At first it was just some raindrops — however then the winds grew stronger and the skies grayer, and the rain started falling relentlessly. A gaggle of us threw on our raincoats and ran again out into the streets, arms outstretched, to let the rain patter off our sleeves.

I inhaled deeply, permitting the sweet-smelling air to fill my lungs — to wash them, as Dago had advised us it might. This, I lastly understood, was what he’d meant.

Irjaliina Paavonpera is a photographer who now lives between Sydney, Australia, and Paxos, Greece. You may observe her work on Instagram.