Try to learn something about everything

Living With the Hare Krishna

I know there’s lots of other things I could tell you about (like Peru), but we spent last week at a Hare Krishna temple/farm in the Ecuadorian jungle at that’s gonna be today’s story.

First off, if you want to know more about the Hare Krishna, head of to Wikipedia and read about Vaishnavism. How did we come up with the idea of staying there? Well, P. read a blog post by a Canadian woman who stayed for a while at the Eco Truly Park close to Lima, Peru. What she wrote sounded interesting, so we considered going there. For various reasons we didn’t though, so we decided to go to a place that’s part of the same network, namely the Finca Vrindavan close to Rio Negro in Ecuador.

I have to admit, before we got there I was rather skeptical. I’m not exactly a religious person (actually far from it), and I have a strong dislike for pseudo-hippies who spend too much time talking about “energy”. But I was willing to give it a try, and I’m glad I did. The few permanent residents of the place were believers from various countries (Ecuador, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Chile to be precise) and generally were extremely friendly and welcoming. Also, and that was important to me, they never tried to convert any of us volunteers, but were always up for answering questions about their believes if one cared to ask, which I did a lot. They did impose a few rules on us though, but they were easy to follow, especially for only a week:

  • All the food was lacto-vegetarian (basically only sweets) or vegan (most other food), no meat or eggs allowed on the premises.

  • No smoking, alcohol, drugs or intoxicants of any type, including caffeine.

As a vegetarian, this was great, for an entire week I could eat every single meal, without embarking on an epic hunt beforehand and knowing that there wouldn’t be any nasty surprises (“It’s not meat, only chicken…”). Also, everybody in the place, residents and volunteers alike, was so nice, open and welcoming, that we never really felt like we had to watch our belongings or lock our room (most people didn’t).

A typical day at the Finca looked like this:

  • 6:30am: Morning prayers. I don’t know of anyone who attended them, but I’m sure some of the more devout Hare Krishnas went there, although one guy explicitly said that he prefers sleeping in instead.

  • 7am: Yoga classes. Since I don’t practice Yoga I didn’t bother waking up that early, but a lot of the other volunteers really enjoyed the Hatha and Kundalini Yoga classes.

  • Around 8:30am: Breakfast. This consisted of cereals with fruit (no milk) and herbal teas.

  • Until lunch (around 1-2pm): Work. Depending on the day, we did between 3 and 4.5h of work every day (except Sunday, which is the free day). I ended up cleaning quite a lot, which isn’t my favorite task, but needed to be done. I also did a day of construction work, where we built new lanterns for one of the forest walking paths and cooked lunch on another. Besides that I generally did more than was asked of us (like help with preparing breakfast or washing dishes) because there was a strong community feeling that really made me feel like contributing. In the process I also learned to make my own gluten, which was rather cool. P. spent most of her time working in the garden and the greenhouse, while others worked on installing new showers in the second house or similar tasks.

  • Afternoons: Free time. Most people spent that time studying or chatting to other volunteers or the Hare Krishna. Some also gave impromptu classes on topics they know something about, so I ended up doing one on Qi Gong and Chinese philosophy. I loved the afternoons at the Finca! I read a lot, but also had some great conversations with the many interesting people there, which was rather inspiring.

  • 6:30pm: The evening ceremony. While we were never pushed to attend, the ceremony was open to everyone, and I did attend most of the days. As you’d imagine the Hare Krishna spend a lot of their prayer time with singing and chanting mantras, but they also set aside time for a discussion on more philosophical matters, which were also interesting for the non-religious folk.

  • Dinner (around 8pm): Another communal vegetarian meal, usually followed by a movie in the library/home cinema (yes, it was a rather modern place). Most of the time I didn’t bother with the films but chatted to people or read instead, but occasionally it was nice to just drop in a beanbag and watch something.

And this is basically how we spent the entire week, in a kind of soothing regularity that had a good mix of meaningful work and idle/study time. I’m not sure I could live like this forever, but I certainly could do it for a lot longer than 1 week. It definitely wasn’t easy going back to a city after our farm life, and I still miss the calm that permeated the entire place.