By , April 10, 2012 11:45 am

I might just as well say this right up front. The subject of this post was probably the greatest thing I’ve done in my life. It’s a game changer for Ashley and I. Since we left home in search of ourselves nine months ago, we have slowly weened ourselves off of material attachment, meat, and alcohol (mostly for financial reasons at first).  We’ve spent hours observing people, reading books, and discussing the workings of society among travellers the world over.  Probably the most important factor for us has been our detachment from the “system” by which I mean not having to go to work 5 days a week and discussing all of the talking points our modern media has laid out for us to discuss ad nauseam.  Unfortunately, you don’t have the benefit of our experience, so please read this with an open mind.

Sorry for the overly lengthy introduction.  What I really want to talk about is the 11 day “retreat” Ashley and I had at an El Salvadorian organic farm located about half way between the cities of San Salvador and Santa Ana. We discovered it through a website called HelpX, but you could find them just as easily yourself through WWOOF, Couch Surfing, or even stumble across their blog at http://organicelsalvador.blogspot.com/

The farm is run by Gloria and Mauricio. Mauricio is originally from El Salvador and Gloria is from Columbia. They met at university in the United States where they had the brilliant idea to move to Central America and start a project to help local kids. After travelling Central America for three years looking for the perfect place, they established this organic farm four years ago and have been living the dream ever since.

Welcome to the Farm

The farm itself has no animals, so some might call it a garden. Being part of the wwoofing program, volunteers are expected to work in exchange for room and board. We put in four hour days working 9:00AM to 11:00AM and again between 4:00PM and 6:00PM. Work consisted of a mixture of various projects including decorative projects, recycle projects (I built most of a bed out of scrap wood), harvesting, planting, baking whole wheat bread, shelling cashews, climbing fruit trees, and working with the local kids. They also asked for a monetary donation to help cover the costs of the children’s program which we were happy enough to pay. The donation is a set price, and is on a sliding scale becoming cheaper the longer you stay. Our donation averaged out to $16 per day for the two of us.

The children’s program is really a cultural exchange of sorts. The kids come to learn how to farm without the use of chemicals in a sustainable manner, and to interact with us gringos. Gloria and Mauricio teach them formal English classes, feed them, teach them to cook healthy food and provide money for transportation to and from the farm, while us volunteers work with them on various projects. In this way, we were able to practice our Spanish, which improved immensely, and the kids were able to practice their English. It was a very worthwhile project. The kids got a lot out of it, and so did we.

Working on the Bed

As for meals, we were provided three fully vegan meals a day, and all the fresh fruit we could stomach. There was never any shortage of food, and best of all it was some of the most delicious food either of us have ever eaten. Beyond just providing us with food, we were shown how to prepare various dishes. Naturally we walked away with a pile of new recipes, and a reasonable understanding of how subsist upon, and enjoy, a vegetarian diet.

We were also offered a free Spanish lesson each week.  If desired, more could have be purchased at minimal cost.

Outside of the 4 hour work day, there was plenty going on to help us develop mentally and spiritually. The day started off with free yoga. From there, Mauricio was more than willing to discuss his thoughts on self awareness and transcendence (both Mauricio and Gloria are part of the Hare Krishna movement). In fact, their house was a Hare Krishna temple before the civil war in El Salvador and still contains a small altar in a meditation room that we were encouraged to use. Mauricio keeps a good collection of books; all of them were free to read during our stay.  He has started to collect thought provoking documentaries which we watched as a group on a regular basis.

Why It Is a Game Changer

To get your head in the right place for this, I’m going to prescribe some documentaries that you have to watch. This is mandatory homework.

Okay, you finished your homework, right? Oh, not yet… Well that’s okay, there’s a lot of it. Just grab a pen and paper and write down the titles. You can download  buy them when you get a chance and watch them over the next couple of weeks. Just don’t forget.

So here’s the truth. We lived 11 days on a vegan diet eating healthy organically grown food, working only 4 hours per day, practising yoga, meditating, and expanding our current view of the world through books, documentaries, and discussions. In only 11 days we had more energy, we felt healthier, and we were way happier than we had ever been.

Organic Food Enthusiasts:

The first thing we noticed was the food. Organic food is more delicious, and full of flavour than the stuff produced by the “green revolution”, chemical rich farming that we are accustomed to. This is because the plants have the time and environmental stimulus needed to develop a whole host of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial chemicals that we as humans should be eating. I’m entirely convinced that the addition of these vitamins to our diet contributed immensely to the way we feel. It is now our goal to supply ourselves with organic food as much as possible.  When we say organic food, we are not talking about the “Certified Organic” stuff that you can pay a premium for and purchase from just about any grocery store.  We are talking about plants grown from organic seeds in a “natural” environment with all the proper stimulus (birds, insects, disease, the works).

Vegetarians:

Being vegetarian is an ethical issue for us. Now that our eyes have been opened to the way the animals we eat are treated, we just can’t go back to eating meat in the vast quantities that we were before we started this trip.  As they say, some things when learned can’t be unlearned. Now don’t get us wrong, we don’t actually have a problem with killing animals and eating them.  Our problem lies with the way factory farm operations treat the animals from birth until death, confining them to cages, feeding them food that would kill them except for the copious amounts of antibiotics it’s loaded with, etc.  Some of the worst offenders are dairy cows and even more so, egg laying chickens.  I’m not quite sure how this will all shake out yet, but for now we have cut out meat and are trying our best to reduce our consumption of milk/egg products.

What it is All About

No Longer Slaves:

The modern day fiat monetary system creates more debt then real currency because of interest. It’s therefore impossible for the world to get out of debt.  Looking at it another way, the world will always owe more money than exists, creating in practice a form of modern day slavery that will always require unsustainable growth in consumption and borrowing to keep the system from collapsing.

As an ex politician, I see now that politics are futile.  This stems from the realization that politicians don’t have the power to make the decisions that need to be made to “fix” our broken system. The real decisions are made by those who control the media, fund the election campaigns, and decide what industrial projects are undertaken by approving bank loans. Our society can not be fixed, it needs to be abandoned.

Our laws do not just allow, but require companies to maximize profits at the expense of the earth’s resources and it’s people. Scarcity and exploitation are good for profits. We will never live in a world where our basic necessities are plentiful, and our lifestyles are sustainable unless the focus is removed from profitability.

Our food system produces unnatural/unhealthy garbage to put it politely.

But there is a way out, and we intend to take it. All we need to do is quit society.  What life beyond society will look like is a subject that we will be exploring for the next little while.  To give you some idea of what we are talking about, one of the plans we are considering is to purchase a piece of fertile land about 2 acres in size. With that, we could produce our own organic food, return to a 4 hour work day, connect with nature, and live rich and rewarding lives far superior to what we could possibly hope to find inside the “system”.

Mauricio’s farm… this could be our future

When we look to the future, we see ourselves not as reclusive hermits, but as a part of a community of like minded people. An organic community filled with people who are also fed up with “the greatest invention of man kind” (society) and want to live richer fuller happier lives. At this point, we don’t know where we’ll end up (geographically), or what we will end up doing.  In fact there is a tonne that we don’t know just yet, so in the interim, we are going to keep travelling, explore more of the world, connect with more people, and research. But the day will come where we will have our F-R-E-E-D-O-M!

What do you think? Surprised? Think we are idiots? Wish you could join us? Please, Please, Please all comments, suggestions, and criticisms are welcome. This is not a small step for us, and we want your help in considering it fully. Please add your comments to the discussion.

28 Responses to “Organic El Salvador”

  1. Shari says:

    Nice post, although you do not need to travel to El Salvador to change your life around. Being from the UK we have been on an organic diet for over 3 years, yes it can be a little more expensive but as you said it tastes better! Although we are not vegetarians we only eat meat about once a week and only organically grown as we think it only fair the animal should have a nice and healthy life before being used as nutrition for us. This can be a challenge when eating out so we tend to go as “vegans” as I refuse to eat dairy due to its implications on not only the planet but our health, and we have also found it especially hard when travelling through Mexico. However, my point is that responsibility should start at home and continue wherever you go, there is no way the world can substantiate our current “appetite” as well as the unnecessary pain caused to the animals for our “benefit”, and not to mention the mass contamination on the planet to produce ever increasing crops of food.

    • Mike Lenzen says:

      Thanks Shari,

      I agree entirely that we can make changes at home, it just never crossed our mind when we lived at home. That’s one of the beautiful things about travel, is the time you have to think, reflect, and observe.

      Central America just happened to be the part of the journey that helped us to figure out we need to be doing different.

  2. Talon says:

    Excellent post! Glad to hear you enjoyed your time there and got so much out of it! I’m really not surprised at all with what you’ve discovered for yourselves and can totally picture both of you VERY happy with that lifestyle. YAY!

    • Mike Lenzen says:

      We felt it suited us pretty well too, obviously. It’s really reassuring that people who know us (AKA you) think it suits us too. We were kind of worried we’d be shunned they way you might shun a bunch of dope smoking hippies who do nothing but waste their lives away. I hope we don’t come across that way.

  3. Nils & Ilona says:

    Sounds good! We are curious where the end of this trip will take you.

    • Mike Lenzen says:

      So are we. We’ve definitely entered the leg of the trip where we are seriously thinking about what things are going to look like for us when it’s all over. Who knows, maybe in a year or two we’ll finally know.

  4. Karen says:

    Not everyone treats their animals cruelly – we raise chickens and we don’t treat them with cruelty. There is not enough land for everyone in the world to have 2 acres of productive land and many people would end up starving based on this model. Governments have a responsibility to provide health care, an immunization program, and infrastructure. Water treatment and sewage disposal is crucial to keep a population healthy. Yes, most people in North America are not eating properly and should eat less meat to be healthy but it is very difficult to get enough calcium to maintain healthy bone density without dairy products. Will you take a supplement – again something made by a pharmaceutical company. Even with sunlight our bodies after the age of 50 do not process enough vitamin D from the sun so we need supplements. What happens when you are sick or injured if there are no governments to provide standards, medical research at University’s, training of health professionals. What about all the immunization programs and the vaccines that are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies or would you rather not be immunized and take your chances on vaccine preventable disease. We do not have smallpox in our world because of companies that made vaccines, health professionals that delivered the vaccine on roads that were built by other people and so on and so forth. Everyone is connected – how can one quit society.

    • Mike Lenzen says:

      It’s a conundrum. I’m well aware that not everyone treats their
      animals badly, and who knows, if we could find a “humane” source of meat, we may even go back to eating it in moderation. But that’s not going to happen while we are travelling.

      As far as land is concerned, it takes about an acre (totally rough number averaged from a few books and documentaries) per person to sustain our diet now. So the land is there. Whether people want to live on it and farm it themselves, or hand it over to someone else to farm is their own decision. Personally I think it would be a rewarding lifestyle for us.

      We are currently taking supplements, as our diet is very disorderly while we are travelling. When we have good food available to us, we hope to just eat properly and leave the supplements behind. It would be much easier if we could just find the right food in the store, but in Central America, some things can be rare.

      Society means our current system of establishments that have been developing since the cradle of civilization. Our money system, our legal system, our political system, our education system. The whole thing worked well when we were spreading out and conquering the globe. Now it’s leading to over population, pollution, wage slavery, and a whole host of other problems.

      When I say quit society, I’m not talking about becoming hermits, I’m talking about interacting with the world in a more natural way, a way that will hopefully allow humans to continue to exist for millions of years, just as we have existed for the past 3 million years or so.

      Finally, just some food for thought, one of the surprising
      observations I’ve made in Central America are the large numbers of elderly people who are still active, mobile, and generally healthy.

      They live mostly on a diet of beans, corn tortillas, and rarely
      consume milk or eat meat. It’s not the typical diet of the youth here anymore, but it is how the elderly ate their whole lives, and they seem to be doing quite well, at least when compared to the elderly back home.

      Your comments really help. We are trying really hard to take a critical look at what we are talking about. Every opinion we take in shapes our thoughts little by little. Hopefully for the better.

      • Karen says:

        Actually Mike you have your figures wrong. We feed 146 people per acre per year on our farm. Yes in some parts of the world it takes 1 acre to feed one person but this is not the case in all parts of the world. Canada provides food to many people. In fact we would probably be starving if it took 1 acre to feed each person in the world – think about it – there are several billion people in the world – there is not enough land in the world to feed that many people if each person needed one acre of land. Also it is comforting to know that one can rely on food supply from other sources than their own in case of crop failure. I have raised my own food for many, many years – but two years ago I had a complete crop failure in my tomatoes due to a blight – the same blight that caused the potatoe famine in Ireland where many, many, people starved. Fortunately I live in a time where I don’t have to completely rely on my own food – I didn’t starve. Last year due to the blight problem from the year before, I was watching carefully for it and I was able to treat for blight – no different than giving medicine to your dog or cat if they were ill or to your child or yourself if ill. Some food for thought. I had beautiful tomatoes – I have just a few left in my freezer. Over population is due to lack of education. When people have access to education, birth rates decrease.

        • Karen says:

          I wanted to also comment on your observation of elderly people. This is not based on good research Mike. Many people actually look older than what they actually are – this is due to the effects of the sun, smoking and just living in poverty. Life expectancy for a male in El Salvador is 68 – in Canada it is 79. Most elderly in Canada do very well – most are living on their own and are not in nursing homes. The very old tend to be in care homes – but many are in their own homes into their 90’s. So be careful about just looking at evidence as observed – this is what is called anecdotal evidence and is not reliable. I agree that on the whole we eat too much meat – we do need to cut down on that, and eat more fruits, vegs, whole grains. Still need dairy or calcium from another source. – not sure where except an artificial supplement. – And we need to exercise more (we as the general population). Your organic foods would taste better – picked fresh and eaten right away – but that is how all garden produce is , isn’t it – there is nothing like picking your vegetables and eating fresh – didn’t you garden at home? However, I can’t grow citrus here or good grapes – so I’m glad to import.

          • Mike Lenzen says:

            Yep, anecdotal evidence is not reliable. I just find it interesting. It’s like how the USA has 10 times the population of Canada, yet we meet 10 Canadians for every American when travelling. No hard science here, just an interesting observation.

            It may be the same with my comment about the elderly. We may have a much higher percentage of the population that is elderly and healthy in Canada, yet you see more elderly working in public and on the streets in Central America than we ever did at home.

            Thanks again for your comments. I’m not looking to lead a revolution in the world, I just want to have a more rewarding lifestyle for myself. I suppose that makes me selfish. Much more research is required on my part, I realize that, and thank you for your help in expanding my critical thinking. You’ve given me a few more ideas to think about and research, which is a good thing.

        • Mike Lenzen says:

          Interesting thoughts. I agree with the ideas of diversification and trade being comforting. In the past this was called community and was practised widely on a small geographic scale.

          With modern day mono-culture, and globalization/trade, I can see how it may seem difficult to imagine the same protection available to us within just a few kilometres of where we live. But it could be.

          As for the farm acres debate, there are actually just over 12 billion agricultural acres in the world. A bit more than we need, but than again we feed enough food to sustain the entire human race just to our cattle. It’s easy to twist stats, a farmer who grew nothing but cucumbers would have a very low number of people he could feed per acre (assuming we are talking about calories)

  5. Rhonda says:

    Excellent post & I can’t wait to volunteer there myself! My husband & I took 15mths off in 2007-2008 to backpack around the world and it changed our lives forever. We are next leaving in approx. 2years to drive the Pan American and beyond. We too, want to disconnect from modern US / western society and get back to what is really important…it can be difficult to make conscious decisions about how you live and eat but not only do we feel better when we do, but I believe we’re helping the world as a whole.
    Keep up the traveling and great posts. We’ll enjoying following your trip as we prepare for our own.

    • Mike Lenzen says:

      I’m glad to hear there are others out there who have been changed by travel like we have. Out of curiosity, during your travels did you find one place that you thought would be a perfect home to escape Western Society? We are trying to figure out where we should be pointing our compass. Our time in Central America is up today!

      • Rhonda says:

        Hi Mike. We found several spots that we think we’d love to live. One being New Zealand….that wouldn’t really be escaping westernized society but the fantastic food, natural wonders, loads of activities and friendly people would make it a lovely place to live.
        Even though we haven’t explored most of Central/South America yet, hence our upcoming road trip, we sort of have figured for years we’d end up living in Mexico or Central America. We have spent a great deal of time in Mexico and We like the culture and it’s close enough to friends & family in the US that it’s easy to get here if necessary, and they still have good healthcare.
        I can also see some places in SE Asia being super easy to call home….very inexpensive and excellent food & culture- however at this point, with our older parents still alive, that is a bit further away.
        I think there are probably a lot of potentially great places to hang your hat. Maybe something will suit you now and then you could always move on to a new place in a few years if you needed to change things up.

  6. Skott says:

    Mike – this is the best post I have read in awhile… very thought-provoking. I will be sure to check out the videos you have suggested when I have a little bit of time. You guys have clearly done an amazing amount of research…. I suspect there are many people who can think in a similar fashion to what you guys do, but don’t have the courage/strength to actually walk the walk. It is possible that I would lump myself in that category as well.

    This El Salvador retreat looks amazing…outstanding. You can bet we will be checking it out if we do make it down to El Salvador (or is that up?)…I told you the four of us just should have taken this journey together!!

    Weaning yourself off of material attachment… this all sounds very Buddhist.

    Anyways, incredible writing…. stay awesome.

    PS. Central America has treated you well… you look much prettier than when you left Regina. :)

    PPS. What if the beer was organic? Then could I buy you a round?

  7. Quachie says:

    While I agree that our system does seem to be heading towards a collapse in the future, I just can’t see myself living outside the system. Perhaps it’s because I have been conditioned for so long that such a drastic change seriously frightens me.

    I have thought about trying to be a vegetarian, but I love meat too much. That’s all I will say about that subject. Even though I know I have to change my diet to be healthier.

    Back to the freedom topic and living outside the system. I am too attached and enjoy technology and all it’s perks too much. However….on that note, there has been one thing that I have been wanting to do and has been on the back of my mind since I was a child that would be close to what both of you are looking at possibly doing and that would be becoming a monk and living at the Shaolin Temple in China. I know that dream won’t happen, but if there was something I would be willing to give up my tie to society for would be that. Becoming a vegetarian, helping people, no material attachments and my favorite part of it all and only reason to do it, my love of the martial arts.

    PS. Miss you guys, tomorrow will be another uncelebrated BLAD. I am trying to save up money for a trip to come see you guys this year, but with the car and saving up for a house, it’s getting tight. Perhaps sometime in October would be best at the rate I am saving up funds. Any idea where you guys will be around that time??

    • Mike Lenzen says:

      Happy uncelibrated BLAD! I really can’t say where we’ll end up in October for certain. Best guesses: Turkey, East Europe, Africa… It would be really cool to meet up with you on the road.

      I wonder if the Shaolin Temple accepts old white guys that don’t speak Chinese on a trial basis. I could see myself living your dream too :)

  8. Dawn says:

    I’m starting my travel journey in June and stumbled across your blog while looking for C.A. travel stories. I’ve really been enjoying your posts (and all your stats!). Recently I started browsing HelpX for a volunteer opportunity to kick off my trip. Fitting timing. After your glowing review, I’m inspired to check out this organic farm.

    • Mike Lenzen says:

      Dawn, best try to contact them soon. I know they have travel plans of their own starting in April.

      The big 30 is coming up soon for both of us. I really enjoyed the bio on your website, reminds me of myself. When you are planning your RTW, just remember to take things slow, be flexible, and give yourself the time/experiences to figure yourself out.

      Good luck.

  9. lindsay says:

    Killer post! I love the “Oprah Ah-Hah moment” nature of it!

    Your recent posts have made me rethink my itinerary–I may just want to devote more time to El Salvador…and I will definitely be checking out that farm/WOOFing opportunity.

    • Mike Lenzen says:

      We loved El Salvador, it’s a very friendly place. Just try to take things slow. We ourselves have been changing slowly over the last 9 to 10 months now. Had we started our vacation on this farm, I doubt it would have had the same effect as it did. We likely would have left thinking it was an interesting way of living, and filed it under “strange – not really our thing”. It’s taken a lot of time for us to get over some of our society brainwashing, this experience was just the last push.

      All that said, if you are interested in Woofing, do it. We had a lot of fun, and learned a tonne. Great experience. We’ll be doing something similar again.

  10. […] for a few weeks.  I found this opportunity on helpx.net and found a great review on this travel blog I’ve been following.  It should be another great chance to meet new people and learn more […]

  11. Alex says:

    Your post was great because you were actually able to blend well with the people around you and learn spanish which is not easy at all to learn. Its good you have also appreciated organic food better than what you get usually but from what I see, it wasnt just the organic that made you happy but the experience of finding something new with someone special by your side. My opinion! great post!!

  12. Dana says:

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon this…..I have been looking into this place for months now. So wonderful to hear a great testimonial about it, it feels right. Any chance you would have anymore pictures? What were the nearby towns like?

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