Welcome to Chambalabamba!
If you can afford to retire, you can afford to start your own eco-community.
Garden Party #1 - Amy Ross
My life is so full that often I fall asleep before 9 p.m. and miss all the activities at night. Every day is different, filled with challenges and excitement. It is fascinating—and at the same time almost always tranquil. I live in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador, where the weather is springlike all year round. There is a drinkable river along one side of the property, which is level and filled with fruit trees and gardens and a swimming lake. The air is fresh, having come from the ocean and over the jungle and mountains to get here. I am surrounded by people I love.
We are constantly engaged in interesting projects and activities: an alternative school for 2- to 6-year-olds, events on our outdoor stage (fully equipped for music and circus), our recording studio, our circus school for children, our various workshops, ecstatic dance, constructing a waterfall. We have a huge carpentry shop and are always making things. Our houses are mainly bioconstruction (using earth, sand, and dry plant material to make walls), and we have become expert builders. We live in a world of infinite possibilities. I am living my dream.
It is necessary to work, and life isn’t always easy. Things break, problems arise, the same as it is for everyone. It probably is easier to live outside a community than in one, but the opportunities to fulfill one’s dreams and to grow in one’s spiritual and emotional development are much greater living in an authentic community. I am pretty tranquilo, and I believe in living virtuously and with personal integrity. I am also a radical anarchist from way back, and the community I founded—Chambalabamba—is a model of anarchy.
No one has authority here. All community decisions are made by consensus (100 percent). We have no rules, only agreements. We all agree to maintain and uphold harmony, unity, and personal integrity. We are self-organizing. We rarely have conflicts. It is important that life is good for everyone, or people will leave. We are constantly evolving and learning. If there is any kind of crisis, the community needs to resolve it in the most loving, judicious, and effective way. This makes the community grow stronger, and if not, the community weakens.
Our relationships are the foundation for everything. I share this with you because I hope that more people will do what I am doing, but in your own way.
How It Began
My name is Mofwoofoo, which came to me one day when I was on my motorcycle. I thought it was such a funny name that I would keep it for myself. It means if you take yourself too seriously, I probably won’t take you too seriously—and it also applies to myself. It also means nothing—existential nothing—which everyone knows (wink) means the nothing that is beyond your imagination.
I am 73 years old, but I don’t identify with my age. My father was a neurosurgeon and I had a fairly privileged upbringing. I worked with Food Not Bombs in San Francisco for many years, feeding the homeless in front of the government buildings and getting arrested for it. I entered a spiritual path in my early 20s, thanks to my LSD experiences. I had an antique clothing store in San Francisco from 1969 through 1972—it was possibly the first antique clothing store in the world. In the 1990s, I had a website on sustainability and self-reliance, which has always been a passion—and that passion would lead me to search for the perfect community.
My house in San Francisco multiplied in value by six times from 1995 to 2006, so I made a lot of money when I sold it before the crash. I could have done nothing, but I was interested in intentional communities: I visited many and lived in one on the border of Holland and Germany for five years. That is how I got a feel for what is good and what is bad for communities.
I came to Vilcabamba in Ecuador to join a community, but immediately saw that it wasn’t what I was looking for, so I decided to start my own in my own way. The idea here, which is a little unusual, is that one person finances the community until it can earn money on its own. No partner, because that can become a problem—just one person with the means. This increases the possibility of success, since money is often the downfall of many communities. This model won’t work if you are a control freak.
It took me 18 months to find the right property. I had a clear idea of the parameters I was looking for: water, fertile soil, flat land, fruit trees, near to town (but not too near), natural beauty. I wanted a community of artists and clowns that was mostly Latino, with Spanish being the first language.
In December 2011, I bought the first seven acres for $207,000. In December 2012, I moved into my tree house. The next day, a family showed up—and so it began. After three years, I paid $200,000 for two adjoining properties to accommodate more people and to construct a road. We now have 14 adults, many kids, and typically about eight volunteers living on roughly 13 acres. The adults are mostly in their 30s, 20s, and some 40s. My girlfriend is 53.
I have financed a good portion of everything. The community pays for food, Wi-Fi, electricity, and water. Soon, hopefully, the community will be able to make enough money through workshops, retreats, events, and other means to become independent of my financial support. I have set up a foundation, so that when I die, the community owns the property in perpetuity and it is not salable. I want my dream to last.
Fruiting Bodies - Amy Ross
Anything Can Happen
And it usually does. One day, a man in his 30s appeared. He told us that he hurt his foot and couldn’t walk back. This was when the only way to get here was to walk about 20 minutes down a curvy trail. He was a rather unpleasant fellow (and almost always, only pleasant people ever come here) and we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have a place to put him, and he couldn’t walk. Finally, Lucio, a resident, offered to take care of him. So he set up a tent outside his teepee (today he has a beautiful bioconstructed house) and took him his food, walked him to the compost toilet, and took care of him. Eventually, he would come up to the maloka, a round building with no walls and a kitchen, where we eat lunch together. He would sit outside the circle, eating and watching us. After about a month, his demeanor had improved a bit, and he said, “I didn’t realize that you were such a cool community,” and he was finally able to leave.
Sometimes mysterious, inexplicable things happen. A good example is the Great Chocolate Mystery. We were having a meeting in the evening, sitting around a campfire, when a volunteer from France, who was the best cook in the community (everyone here is a good cook, except me), stated that he had made chocolate desserts for all of us and stashed them in a basket covered with blankets. Each night, for three nights in a row, when he went to get them they were gone—all of them. The blankets were always placed back on the basket, so he knew it wasn’t an animal. Then he turned to a young volunteer and said to her, “I know who took them.” But she said no, she hadn’t, and kept her composure. He explained that one night the whole community was doing a clown workshop except for her, and she was hanging out in the maloka, right next to where he had hid the desserts. It had to be her. Then someone added that she had mentioned having a food addiction. It seemed a solid case, and it was such a deviation from the norm, that we could only feel compassion for someone who had such a strong compulsion. But she wouldn’t admit it. So it remains a mystery. I have also wondered why the cook would put the desserts in the same place in the same way, after having them stolen twice before. And that too remains a mystery.
Fruiting Bodies - Amy Ross
Most of the eight houses that we have built cost under $5,000 each because they are bioconstruction, and outside labor is very cheap (about $20/day). The houses are beautiful, comfortable, and strong. If anyone decides to leave, the house belongs to the community.
We hardly use the city water ($2/month) because we are connected high up on the mountain and receive clean water for free. Property taxes are very cheap. Electricity costs about $150/month because of the refrigerators and washing machines. (We have a plan to make our own electricity from the river.) Wi-Fi is $92/month for the entire property.
We are vegetarians and agree to have no alcohol here. We have many gardens, a food forest, and now hundreds of fruit trees that produce more and more fruit. Still, the community spends about $100 per week at the Sunday market for our shared lunches, which residents take turns cooking. For dinner, everyone is on their own, though often the volunteers cook together. People can harvest from the gardens and fruit trees and can buy in town items that we don’t have.
Even with me financing the big things, there is always a tension between individuals having to work outside or not. The community needs people to be in the community to do the daily chores, but members must also find ways to generate income for their monthly expenses. So it is important for the community to make enough money to cover the expenses of the community as well as those of the members. Our place is ideal for retreats, and we hope to create retreats to help others follow their dreams as we continue to build ours.
What to Identify With . . .
Many more profound things have happened. The believable ones are that people have fallen in love and that four babies have been born in teepees. There have been many personal transformations as well—in the gardens, by the river, cooking meals. It seems that for one to be transformed, one must have cultivated humility and the courage to be vulnerable—and humility is very high on our totem pole. It is my belief that it is better not to identify with anything substantive, anything that is a noun, but rather with a verb—and the verb is “to love.”
I really don’t know how we got the beautiful people who have come here. We never solicited for people. I rather believe that the better person I am, the better will be the people who come. So I am highly motivated to maintain and deepen my personal integrity, and I believe that happiness and personal integrity are directly related. Self-delusion is always a possibility, and therefore it seems sensible to always be open to discovering a more accurate understanding of things—to always keep an open mind.
Garden Pixies - Amy Ross
The Constant Challenge
In some ways it’s more difficult to live in an ecoaldea, compared to living separately in a city. The difference in obligations is vast. In a city, one’s taxes pay for other people to take care of everything outside your home or apartment: garbage collection, water systems, roads, parks. In an ecovillage, the people in the village are obliged to take care of all these things and more: growing food, caring for the land, and the necessity to fix things when they are broken.
It is good to understand this before moving into an intentional community: the need to notice what needs to be cared for and the need to act. It means noticing a young tree being choked by weeds and stopping to pull them, or picking up garbage on the ground, or noticing a puddle of water and finding the leak. If one’s eyes are not open, many things that need care will be missed and the situation will worsen for everyone.
Managing relations can be a challenge. It really helps to have deep connections and comprehensions of one another, along with couples and families. It’s really important that we get along well. We are living in a flux state. Things are constantly moving, changing, growing, and dying. There is a dynamic that we all need to be tuned in to.
Is the community really a community, or is it a lie? What is a “real” community? It seems to fluctuate. Sometimes the community feeling is palpable, while at other times it can disappear. Always, some people are more into it than others. Is it really a big family, a tribe, not made up of separate egos, but made up of open hearts? With time, community becomes more real and connected, like two lovers, or it can be more and more separate, isolated, convenient. Most people are not used to or ready to share themselves with so many others. But why not? Life is about relations, and we want authentic, rich ones. Sharing experiences, working together, playing together, eating together, making decisions together, helping one another, enjoying one another, planning together, creating together: There are endless dynamics to be explored and lived. And there is always time to be alone.
We get to practice love every day. Living in community is about giving to the whole—everything one does for others, for the community, is an act of love. Being generous-hearted, supporting one another, with kindness and consideration, leaving things clean for the next person: All of this is practice for opening one’s heart more and more. One need worry less about meeting one’s own needs because all the others are doing it for you. The cabala speaks of this as the “way to God”: together in a group such as this, and not alone.
Care to Join Us?
There is no fee to enter our community or to live here. To become a resident, there is a trial period where visitors volunteer to work about four hours a day, Monday through Friday, and pay $20 per week for food and space in the volunteer house (for eight people) or in a tent. The minimum stay is one month. If the visitor integrates into the community and everyone feels a big yes—and the visitor who wants to enter also feels a big yes—then they stay. There is no vote. It happens when it feels right on all sides. At this point, we have space for about 15 more adults. We need people with open hearts and open minds. We need more strong musicians, acrobats, technical people, good farmers, improvisers, a good sound engineer and video editor, maybe a good scriptwriter. We need people who are enthusiastic about contributing their skills and energy. It helps a lot to speak Spanish.