My journey so far through central America has been full of serendipitous experiences. You know you are on the right path when beautiful connections just happen, when people come into your life without you having to find them. That has happened constantly on my journey so far and it happened when I got to Panajachel in Guatemala. Justin, a friend from London, put me in touch with Matt, a friend of his since his uni days. Matt invited me over that evening for wine and weed in front of a fire with some of his friends. I told Matt of my plans, something I am yet to write about but I will, and he told me that I would love to attend a permaculture design course on his land and project in Lanquín, central Guatemala.
Matt has been in Guatemala for over 20 years and he set up this project up in 2016. It’s called Tuq’Tu’Quilal and it’s aim is to regenerate the land, learn from the local Mayan population, teach permaculture and regenerative practices, and help the local cacao farmers to earn a decent living. Tuq’Tu’Quilal means harmony or flow in the local Mayan language, Q’eqchi’. The project employs many locals to help create cacao related products such as artisanal chocolate, cacao honey, cacao juice and ceremonial cacao. There’s lots you can do with cacao and they plan to make cacao wine which I am very much looking forward to trying.
Here’s a few photos of the place.
Guatemala is a stunningly beautiful country and I have fallen totally in love with it. And Lanquín is utterly gorgeous too. We had the honor of visiting one of the growers the day before the course started. The walk up the mountain was fairly hard work but the walk down was harder and I ended up on my arse on one occasion and had to take my shoes off to negotiate the sleep incline. Here are some of the many photos I took.
At the top of the mountain was a small community of cacao growers. And here are some of the photos I took of cacao pods on the trees.
The cacao beans taste very different straight out of the pod. They are covered in this sweet gooey white stuff that is delicious, and the beans are nutty and not bitter like they are once they are dried.
Some of the guys went to visit a couple of other cacao growers but it was really tiring for me climbing that mountain so I chose not to join them. Instead Matt suggested we go tubing down the river. This appealed to me as well as quite a few of the others. The river that runs through Tuq’Tu’Quilal comes out of a mountain a few kilometers up stream. Rain water seeps through the mountain and comes gushing out of a cave. It looks amazing and I wish I had taken a photo but I didn’t. It’s a powerful river and it’s called Rio Lanquín. This was to be my first tubing experience and was very pleasant until I hit an innocuous looking branch that was sticking out from the bank. As air quickly exited my tube I looked around at the options I had. I wasn’t far from the bank and so I tried to swim that way. I got close and got my feet on solid ground but then took a step and slipped on a rock. This sent under the water and into the slip stream, which was very strong, and because I still had the now deflated inner tube around my neck, I struggled to swim which made me panic for a few seconds before I realised that I needed to get rid of the inner tube to keep me safe. Once that was off me I managed to swim to the bank and get myself to a place where I could climb up to the road. Thankfully I was close to Tuq’Tu’Quilal. I escaped with a few grazes and a sore leg but it could have been much worse so I am very grateful.
The Permaculture Design Course
My reason for being in Lanquin was to do this permaculture design course that Matt was putting on. I’ve been interested in the whole concept of permaculture for decades now but had not immersed myself in it yet and now was my chance. The course was being run by Neal Hegarty an Irishman living in Lake Atitlán. Neal has years of experience in the subject so I knew we were in good hands. I’ve included Neal’s website at the end of this article.
The course started on the Thursday morning with a lecture describing the general permaculture principles. Permaculture is basically a common sense way of working with nature to create balance, harmonious ecosystems. In the afternoon we took a tour of the cacao processing area at Tuq’Tu’Quilal and then made our own chocolate. That was a lot of fun and the results were so tasty. Here’s some shots of the cacao processing and making our own chocolate.
The next day we gathered at the site of the proposed eco-village. For the course we were to design the basic structure of this village and so we were shown the area and using an A-frame we were shown how to mark the contours of the land. The land here is hilly and so understanding how to mark these contours is vital to knowing the land.
After studying the land and discussing ways we can use it we trekked to the waterfall. The way down was challenging and a lot of fun.
On the Saturday we worked in teams creating the designs for the eco-village and also improvements to Tuq’Tu’Quilal’s cacao processing structure. That evening we had a talent show which was a lot of fun and then on the Sunday we presented the designs by the river. Here they are.
After the presentation, and lunch, we went for another tubing experience. I was absolutely determined to get to the end this time and I did. Victory was mine.
On the Monday we went to Semuc Champey, a place of outstanding natural beauty. Here are my photos.
So that was my 10 day trip to Lanquín. It’s a fantastic place, and so beautiful. I am considering investing in the community project there and I may well end up living in the eco village at some point in the future. We’ll see but it will be an amazing place to live for whoever takes the plunge.
For more information about the Tuq’Tu’Quilal project go to tuqtuquilal.com.
Our permaculture teacher for this course, Neal Hegarty, has an organic farm built using permaculture principles in Tzununá, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala where you can stay. Check out his website: granjatzikin.com