Eco Yoga Village. Sounds intriguing, huh? That’s what I thought, too. They existed all over South America, with several in Chile. From the looks of their website and subsequent pictures, it seemed like they offered the opportunity to work on a farm, practice yoga, and eat delicious vegetarian food. That sounded like a dream for me!
On last Wednesday I headed to Eka Chakra (the eco yoga village). It is only an hour and a half away from Santiago, outside of the small town of Catemu. Upon arriving I realized that Eka Chakra was not exactly what I had anticipated it would be. It became apparent very quickly that there was a strong religious preference, some sort of Indian religion as far as I could tell. The men wear their hair shaved except for a top knot of longer hair, and many sport long robes. The women wear long saris with pants underneath. As a greeting, one puts their hands in prayer at their chest and says to the other “Hare Bol” or “Hare Krishna”. My first day at Eka Chakra I asked a lot of questions as I helped cook food, bake bread, and eat meals. After these conversations and some quick Googling, I learned that Eka Chakra is not only a farm, but also, and more importantly, a monastery for Hare Krishna devotees.
Turns out, the religious life is the main focus of Eka Chakra. The things I had most anticipated, farm work and yoga, were a disappointment. I never got to do farm work, only cooking and some construction. And the yoga was sub-par and not my preferred style. Despite all this, I took my time at Eka Chakra as an interesting cultural exchange.
Hare Krishna devotees have many rituals surrounding food, eating, and cooking. They only consume vegetarian food. Alcohol and caffeine consumption is prohibited. Additionally, onions and garlic are not used in cooking because they are considered an aphrodisiac (sex is forbidden besides procreation within marriage). Prior to entering the kitchen, one must wash their mouth and hands. Eating is not allowed inside the kitchen. If you want to taste a dish before serving it, you must leave the kitchen, taste it, and wash your mouth before re-entering the kitchen. Before food is served, an offering is made at an altar to Krishna while chanting and ringing a bell. One devotee I cooked with swore that the food tasted better because it was blessed. The food was really good.
Everyone I met and worked with at the farm were genuinely good and kind people. Most were from Chile, though I met volunteers from Venezuela, Argentina, and the USA. Because of this, I got to be immersed almost completely in Spanish and practice my language skills more than I have for most of the trip. At times, though, I wished we spoke the same language so I could ask more questions about people’s religious beliefs. Everyone was so willing to share about their beliefs, and I heard almost every single person’s story about how they became a Krishna devotee.
After the first day, I realized I was an odd duck out. I really like beer and coffee, and I even eat meat now. Devoting my life to Krishna is not something I’m particularly interested in. Feeling like an outsider combined with the fact that I didn’t get to do farm work or much yoga made me ready to leave. I had planned to stay longer, but it wasn’t a great fit. I learned a lot, had lots of great conversations, got outside my comfort zone, spoke Spanish, spent time in nature, and ate like a queen. It was a different experience than I had in mind, but I suppose that’s how unplanned foreign travel goes – you never know exactly where you’ll end up!
Now I am back in Santiago and headed towards Valparaiso, and anxiously awaiting Willie as he heads south!