Return To Paradise – A Nosara Resident’s Quest to Become a Modern Day Hunter Gatherer
Imagine spending your life in perfect accord with your natural surroundings, and sustaining oneself only by the food growing in your immediate environment. For millions of years this was the way humankind existed. As foragers, searching out the kind of food that takes the term “fresh produce” to a long forgotten level.
Nowadays, the concept of “hunting and gathering” likely involves a trip to Whole Foods or the local farmers market. However, slowly but surely, things are changing. As public awareness regarding GMO’s, additives, and other potentially hazardous aspects of mass food production goes mainstream the global demand for organic produce has skyrocketed. More and more people are waking up to the fact that the only way to ensure a healthy, nutritious diet is by abandoning the behemoth, profit-driven food manufacturers, and sourcing the food themselves. This may explain why farmers markets are popping up everywhere and horticultural book sales are at an all time high. However, one Nosara resident is taking this pursuit to a whole new degree.
Originally from Alabama near the gulf of Mexico John Fellers, AKA “Ceibo” knows a thing or two about agriculture. Ceibo spent his youth in an area famed for food production. When he wasn’t earning extra cash picking corn his time was spent exploring tannin-stained creeks and gulf tributaries. Upon leaving school Ceibo embarked on a rewarding career working for North Face in the outdoor gear retail industry. Along the way he got married and had two children. Fast forward 25 years and Ceibo (an avid surfer) and his yoga instructor wife Alison decided it was time to strike out in pursuit of their true passions. With it’s consistent waves and strong yoga connections Costa Rica was the obvious choice. Costa Rica, which is home to some of the most fertile landscapes on the planet, would also provide the perfect platform for Ceibo to build upon his extensive knowledge of horticulture.
“I’d always been interested in sustainable food production” says Ceibo between sips of his freshly felled coconut. “I found out the same guys who ran the Envision festival had also set up a perma-culture school on the Caribbean coast and so I signed up. I’d already completed a rewilding course in Portland, Oregon. Both courses taught me much more about working in harmony with ones environment. This applies to everything from the way you design your garden, or your house, even your office. It’s all relevant, but it’s main focus is on working with the earth in a renewable way.” On completion of a permaculture course most people would come away and be satisfied simply trying to integrate this knew found knowledge into their lifestyle. However for Ceibo, it didn’t go far enough. He wanted to immerse himself in the concept as deeply as he could. Eventually his quest for knowledge turned him on to the concept of “rewilding”.
“Following permaculture school I embarked on a period in which my food was strictly sourced according to it’s organic value” he says. “These sources included the organic market, food producing families I’d befriended in the mountains, and above all foraging, both in my garden and in the surrounding area. It’s important to remember we live in an area where this is available if you know where to look. Shortly after, my physical energy levels soared. It was then that the practice evolved from a hobby into a conscious, permanent lifestyle choice. I haven’t looked back since.”
“Rewilding is a study of the ways of the hunter-gatherer” says Ceibo. “It’s a concept that nowadays, sadly, is as alien to many modern cultures as it was familiar to the nomad tribes that roamed the earth prior to the agricultural revolution. These humans never took more than they could give back. They didn’t over forage in certain areas, and they didn’t over hunt. They had a deep connection with the land and animals. ”
Although the ‘connection’ Ceibo refers to may at first seem elusive, references to it can be found in the earliest literature known to mankind. Here’s an example: once upon a time a guy named Adam lived in eternal harmony with his partner, Eve, in a mythical earthly paradise. They ran around butt naked in perfect ‘connection’ with the plants and animals and wanted for nothing. The admission price of this subliminal existence was as strict as it was simple: “Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil”. Everything else was theirs, but to dine from this single tree would spell eternal banishment. In a serious breech of divine contract Eve devoured it regardless, and God, true to his word sends them packing.
For Adam and Eve, paradise is now a painful memory in the rear view mirror on the road to perdition. Unsurprisingly, the couple discover that permanent ‘disconnection’ from paradise sucks. In a bid to cushion the blow they decide to spawn a family. Eve gives birth to two sons; Abel, the Shepherd and hunter-gatherer, and Cain, the crop farmer, city builder, iron smith and keen disciple of the new agrarian ways. In a twist that historians unanimously agree to be a metaphorical record of the land-grabbing farmers genocidal campaign against the hunter-gatherers, the hunter-gatherer (Abel) is brutally slayed by the farmer (Cain) who is then doomed to wander the earth a broken man. Modern anthropologists also agree that this entire tale can be traced back to the oral tradition of a dying hunter-gatherer culture attempting to articulate mankind’s unfolding ‘disconnection’ with nature.
Rigorous academic analysis has concluded (sorry creationists) that Adam and Eves’ rapport with the plants and animals symbolizes the finely attuned, natural balance of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Furthermore, it is widely agreed that the knowledge conferred upon Adam and Eve by the ‘fruit’ from The Tree symbolized the agricultural know-how that would form the basis of modern civilization. The short version goes like this: They eat the fruit, they gain the agricultural knowledge, they lose their affinity with the land and animals. Finally, their agriculturally adept son kills his hunter gatherer sibling, signaling the end of the naturally balanced nomadic cultures.
There, in a nutshell, you have a narrative which religious scribes would later twist into the Adam and Eve story in order to promote their own agenda. After the re-branding was complete it was presented to the people as the divine, infallible, factual description of “The Fall of Man.” The rest is history, the written part of which (anything paying heed to the old ways) was burnt, requisitioned and outlawed by the burgeoning Abrahamic religions and patriarchal hierarchies that emerged from the blood soaked vacuum. Followers of the old practices the disciples of the old ways such as medicine women (witches) and nomads were denounced as ‘pagans’ and burnt at the stake.
In the wake of the agricultural revolution tales concerning the once intrinsic human “connection” with nature became consigned to western mythology. This ancient knowledge became the sole domain of tribal groups that remained isolated from western society for thousands of years – tribes such as those who had departed the Eurasian continent for America tens of thousands of years previously. Here, many of the early settlers continued to hunt, gather, and enact the kind of lifestyles they had been living for millions of years. In the 15th century the first European invaders landed on the shores of continental America and came face to face with their long lost nomadic cousins. Despite the cultural genocide enacted against native peoples by these ‘civilized societies’, indigenous knowledge of how to live in equilibrium with nature survived. Nowhere was this knowledge better preserved than among the inhabitants of countries in south and central America; countries like Costa Rica.
“Costa Rica is the perfect place to learn about these life-ways” says Ceibo from the shady terrace that overlooks the huge array of edible plants growing naturally in his garden. “Many of the ticos, particularly the older guys have a wealth of knowledge on this subject. They’ve been some of my greatest teachers. They come from a culture where they’d simply walk up to a plant and know if, how, when, and why it should be eaten. The return is immediate, and this remains by far the most nutritional way of sourcing food.”
We live in an era when the scientists, artists, and even religions identify mankind’s lost connection with nature as ground zero for the vast majority of problems we face as a species. Ceibo thinks a great way to begin addressing these problems is through ‘rewilding’. “This stuff is more important today than ever before” he says. “Sickness rates and mental health issues are skyrocketing. Whether that’s down to living in high rises, or constantly eating processed food, or rarely even setting foot on a blade of grass, or a combination of all of that and more, it comes down to one thing – a loss of connection with nature. If I can help, even just a little, by educating myself and others on how to consume more naturally then it’s worth every moment of my time.” Ceibo readily admits he is fortunate to live in a place where he can practice a lifestyle that isn’t easily accessible to everyone. He is also aware that his teachings have a long way to go before they hit the mainstream. However nowadays, as more and more people wise up to the crises we face as a species people like Ceibo are becoming more than just lone voices in the wilderness. What sets him apart from the rest is this; instead of communicating the message via writing or lectures, Ceibo has come up with a unique, hands-on experience named “the edible journey.”
I came up with the idea of the edible journey one day working in the garden with my friend Roble. At lunch time I went round the garden with a jicaro bowl. I picked some cuadrados and boiled them with some herbs, spices and peppers we’d foraged. We sat on the terrace and discussed the experience. During the conversation I jokingly mentioned that we’d been on an edible journey. After that friends came by and I’d take them around the garden to pick food. Eventually it became a thing. Friends would come over for lunch. We’d explore the garden collecting and smelling herbs, tasting the food, and doing some wild craft (foraging for wild edibles and herbs.) The “edible journey” name caught on and it became something that people began to really dig. That was a while ago, and since then I’ve lead about 15-20 of these journeys.
So what exactly does the ‘edible journey” consist of?
In Ceibo’s own words the experience unfolds something like this: “The Edible Journey is essentially a yogic experience. It focuses on mindful and meditative permaculture and the indigenous practices of hunter/gathers. It begins with an introductory talk on indigenous life-ways while sipping on foraged garden teas. And after that we go foraging in my personal garden with jicaro bowls. This provides great insight into permaculture practices and indigenous life ways, all of which are discussed as we experience aromatic herbs, plant tastings, and tincture sipping. Following that, we convert the fruits of our labor into a feast that includes herbs, in-season organic fruits and special sauces. In addition, this is accompanied by music and culinary art. We then add a spiritual dimension to the journey in the form of a savasana and sound journey. I have found the journey resonates strongly with people looking to rediscover the practice of mindful living. Additionally, it teaches a new appreciation for plant medicine, general awareness, and the spiritual awakening that a connection to everyday plants and edibles offers.”
Each edible journey requires significant planning and preparation, and can accommodate 4-8 people. Although there are no time limits participants can expect the journey to last between 3-4 hours. Ceibo conducts the journeys in his garden. The cost per person is $75 and $50 for Costa Rican Nationals. To find out more email Ceibo: firstname.lastname@example.org