Painting memories and thoughts by the sea

In the last few days I’ve been enjoying the pleasures of life by the sea. I’m in the caribbean coast of my birth country Colombia, and in one of my favourite places: the city of Santa Marta, at the edge of the mighty Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a place of wisdom, nature and magic. Many years ago, in my hippy life, I went into a huge questioning of the university life and I decided to wander across the country. In this perambulation I went to the caribbean coast, invited by my friends Nelson Pinilla (biologist) and Marta Prado (anthropologist) who were doing some work there in the mystical Sierra Nevada.

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Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.  Sketchbook. Beatriz Acevedo 2014

I travelled first around the coast, exploring the beautiful Tayrona Park, staying in Santa Marta with the beautiful Tatiana Cartwright and my friends Marta Lucia Prado (anthropologist) and Nelson Pinilla (biologist). The initial idea was to see the Sierra Nevada but to get there you really need time and fitness… it takes around 3 days walking over steep hills and uncertain roads to get to the camp bases of the fundacion Sierra Nevada.  So what I thought would be one month of visit, became the six most formative months of my life: the simplicity and wisdom of the indigenous communities of koguis and arhuacos, living relatively untouched by the the white people, has been something I’ve held dear in my own believes and way of life. Indeed, by helping my friends Marta and Nelson Pinilla in their work on ethnobotanic and uses of plants by indigenous communities koguis and arhuacos, I started drawing (see my first Botanic Exhibition).

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Tayrona Rocks. Sketchbook, Beatriz Acevedo. 2014

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Tayrona Rocks. Sketchbook, Beatriz Acevedo. 2014

The koguis believe that we come from the sea, from Aluna, the Mother, and their message refers to live in harmony with this Mother. They warn us about how we are destroying the Mother’s children (nature, animals, plants) and their mission as elder brothers is to warn us and to teach us -the younger brothers- how to live in peace with nature.

 

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Aluna, Sketchbook. Beatriz Acevedo 2014

Their myths are like poetry: profound and musical.

Primero estaba el mar,
At the beginning there was the Sea

Todo estaba oscuro.
No había sol, ni luna, ni
gente, ni animales, ni plantas.
El mar estaba en todas
partes.

Everything was dark
There was not sun, nor moon, no people,
no animals, nor plants
the sea was everwhere

El mar era la madre.
La madre no era gente, ni
nada, ni cosa alguna.

the sea was the Mother
the Mother was not human,
it was nothing, or anything

Ella era el espíritu de lo que
iba a venir y ella era
pensamiento y memoria.

She was the spirit of
the times to come
she was memory and thought

 

The anthropologist Reichel-Dolmatoff documented the traditions and myths of these indigenous groups, who remained “lost” in history. As a matter of fact, it was only until the 1970s that this great civilization was revealed: the Lost City, at the top of the sierra, was a complex architectonic place, with symbols and roads, and places for worshipping, planning and political participation. Some young people riding on the wave of the flower power and the search for alternative ways of civilisation, went to learn from these “elder brothers” and created communities and families, commonly known as the “hippy-koguis”. Around 1991 I was travelling by the Tayrona Park  and I went to live with the hippy koguis: I had the pleasure to meet great people like Simungey, el Jate, and other great people, they welcome me and my boyfriend at the time with the only condition of us to be open minded and share the community labour. We first lived in the area of Loscuisi, where I had a great time learning how to live from nature, spending our days gathering fruit (basically banana and avocados, and the ocassional treat of pineapple), drawing, cooking and taking long baths in the nearby river. Later we moved to Sangueka, where there was a larger community and more food! There I learned how to weave the traditional mochila and we had the opportunity to learn much more of the traditions adapted by the hippy koguis. To live with so little and to enjoy so much was one of the biggest lessons of my life… also the experience of living in such a raw conditions was so formative, I now now that I can live anywhere… Notwithstanding, I feel that after the years I’ve lost this skill: of being in the here and now, appreciating every single moment and simple pleasures. Is that what we mean as spiritual path? Somehow I feel I’ve lost it….

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Flying Fish. Sketchbook, Beatriz Acevedo. 2014

Hence, coming back to this place, more than 20 years after and without so much thinking was truly meaningful. This time I came with my parents and my husband as part of my biannual visit to Colombia. We rented a flat in the beautiful Zuana “beach resort”, a plan that we normally shunned because of being too touristic, but somehow, it offered the necessary comfort for my eldery parents and a base for exploring the area.

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Santa Marta. Tayrona Rocks. Sketchbook, Beatriz Acevedo. 2014

 

The previous week had been absolutely chaotic: Bogota, a capital city, can be terribly messy and stressful. My heart pressure was by the roof, to the horror of my GP, and I was trying to deal with the high altitude; even worst, I had not been able to paint or to draw! Then my husband arrived, bringing some nice letters from my friend Donna Ladkin, and her phrase of allowing Colombia to nurture my Colombian side was so spot on! Travelling to santa marta was also a great gift of new and remembered images, of colours and warm weather, of golden sands and blue sea. The journey brought back that young idealistic woman, travelling through these landscapes, trying to understand more about herself, her country, her spiritual journey.

One of the defining facts of that period of my life was how I dived into drawing. First in 1991, in my 6 months residence with the hippy koguis, and later in 1997 when I visited the mythical Lost City. I kept some visual diaries that somehow i lost in my many travels and every time i come to my parents house i try to recover, but they remain elusive. This time i decided to re-draw some of the landscapes, specially those in the Tayrona park: the curly sea of infinite blue, adorned by huge rocks like prehistoric eggs, the palms and tress, the climbers and the light! I was so sad to have lost those notebooks, but perhaps, as the “Twelve wandering tales” (Doce Cuentos Peregrinos) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the lost sketches and my desire for recovering them were an excuse to remember who i was then and who am i now. As it often happens the memories were more vivid than the reality, but the sights before my eyes were as worthy as my memories of the place… looking with my eyes now I simply let my heart to guide me….

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Flying Heart and Lover. Tayrona Rocks. Sketchbook, Beatriz Acevedo. 2014

This connection between what one feels, thinks and does, is according to the Chinese medicine practised by my friend Carolina Duarte (who i had the pleasure to see this time in santa marta) is very difficult to achieve and any unbalance can be the root of illnesses and ailments! i wonder how y blood pressure and the stress of the last few years have become a normal thing that justifies my irritability and swinging moods? of course being on holidays allow you to “see” and to realise that stopping and idleness are necessary (if not crucial) aspects of our lives. its not only about health but also idleness creates space for creativity! While reflecting on all of that i drew and drew and saw and looked, filling my eyes with lines and shaoes, harmonies and landscapes, and soothing my soul and accelerated heart! sharing with my beloved family was also such a cherished and healing medicine and with the days i felt that the weight of (self imposed) burdens was getting lighter.

The drawings tell it all!

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