Travel Synchronicities Bring Us Home: A Potato Called Compass, a Homesteader's Tale

in ecotrain •  last year  (edited)

This is a tale from our relative Beginning.. one that is very close to my heart.

It is a tale before we made it to the land we now caretake... of the synchronicities pointing the way...


Once upon a time in Peru...

We were looking for a compass..

Our search for a compass started in Huaraz, Peru as we were preparing to do the Santa Cruz trek, a ~5 day hike through the Cordillera Blanca in the center of the country. We didn’t end up getting a compass at this point, and didn’t need one, after all, to do this hike over a 15,000 ft pass and around turquoise lakes and verdant Andean mountains…

(A Mountain called Taulliraju)

The other day we went into the mountains a short ride from Pisaq. We’d chosen to have a San Pedro (a sacred medicine cactus long used for healing in this region) ceremony with a guide and a few other people, hiking through these sacred mountains, apus as they are called, and lakes, one of which is so high and clean we were promised we could drink straight from it.

The hike started brilliantly; it was windy and sheerly beautiful. The people of the land flow like water in their region, creating trails like streams do. We walked along these in awe of the sparse and harsh beauty of the region.

(Small mountain village we passed on our trek)

The people of this land are amazing and I am humbled by them- so sure of footstep, sturdy and strong in body to withstand each day’s earthen workload, tending sheep or llama, planting potatoes or other grains, weaving, cooking, transporting goods… They are hearty and healthy and pure, and able to endure surprising and demanding elements.


The lakes amazed me that day as I sipped from the final one directly with my mouth, like an animal or a human before industrialization muddied all the waters.

It was the only waters I recollect feeling safe to drink straight from, and this thought made me both thankful and sad.

Why are all of our waters polluted? How sad that as creatures of the earth, the waters of the earth, ~70+% of our bodies, are not fit for us to drink straight from…

Yet the way the waves looked on the water that day, the wonder in their ripple and sheen from the slight sun rays, returned me to awe again and again.


As we returned to the house we started from with the promise of hearth and hot food, I realized how much I am not made for a climate like this. And how much I desire home and security, a place to root and cook and garden; a place to rest my head and stay warm. For the sun had hardly shone on us that day, throughout our ceremonies and on our camino. In fact, it had gotten gustier and a foggy rain had taken over the mountainous valleys.


When we returned to the house, we were greeted with the warm smiles of some of the people indigenous to the place, people generations deep in their relationship with this land.

We were also greeted with potatoes, a rich soup and an amazing green sauce to sprinkle atop the potatoes (this we all fawned over, yet it was a secret recipe). Soon we were feeling warm again and more grounded. One of the campesinos (local farmer) started to interpret for us some of their facts about potatoes and other foods they grow.

And this is when I became so humbled. This man, Mario, set 12 different potatoes in front of us on a wooden table in this small adobe-walled room, and began to tell us that his father and his father’s father and his father’s father’s father… had also lived in this town and cultivated potatoes. They had a potato for every climate and storage need and altitude… some for when it didn’t rain and also for when it poured. And this man spoke so humbly and yet proudly about his papas.

Next he brought out 7 bowls of grain: barley, wheat, tarwi, favas, 2 types of corn, and quinoa. All of these were grown in their community as well, in the same way they had been for generations. I was so humbled. Here in the west, in the United States, there is huge talk of being sustainable, of growing more and more of our own food. I talk of this desire a lot too and of the necessity of it- and here are these humble mountain folk who have been growing a variety of grains to sustain themselves for GENERATIONS, without chemicals, on 7 year crop rotations and only with their hands.


At this point I am so touched and humbled, tears started to pour from a source within me beyond my control.

Why did I not have this very basic of human rights?! Why do most humans from where I hail also not prioritize seed security and community food sustainability at this most basic of levels? I distinctly feel my loss in this way and tears continue to cleanse me. Mario is worried at my tears and I tell him not to worry. I am just so touched by your story, I say. This is what I dream of, and here you all are doing it! You have been doing it for generations.

I am just so humbled and thankful to witness this; to be in your presence.

After the potato and grains presentation comes to an end, Ini and I ask him where we can get some seeds and he says, Here let me share with you. He gives us some tarwi because we are so excited about this Andean Lupine and starts to select 4 different high altitude potatoes which we insist we cannot grow.

Which is when he reaches for a small round one and says, This one can grow everywhere. It is called Compass. Here, let me get you one.

Scarcely able to believe my ears, I stammer out, Compass…?

Si, compass, Mario confirms.

Incredulous, I glance at Ini with incredible wonder in my heart. This, a potato, is our compass. This, a potato, will lead us on our way home.


This originally appeared (with a few more edits here & photos!) on our blog at, which we don't update anymore.

I can say, nearly 5 years after this event happened and now on the land, that this dream Mario and his generations-deep community set inside of me and helped me see and believe in is very much alive!

Seed security is one of the most important aspects of being a human on the land. What rich treasure to pass seeds on from generation to generation that perfectly fit the landscape, with stories to tell, with such power it blows us away!

Hope this inspired you!!


This post was written by a passenger on the #ecotrain! Check out #ecotrain for more juicy and wondrous tales.


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I am always amazed to hear about these ancient customs for living and growing. It makes me feel good to hear you be so grateful and humble for the experience. I enjoy seeing the pictures of far away lands. I love your little rosey cheeks also. Looking forward to more of your travels.

ah thank you <3 ... this was one of the most humbling experiences of my life...literally got into my bones <3 ... and yes i always get the rosy little cheeks :) hehe

i have to admit - i got emotional reading this, especially right near the end. the gratitude you have is so easily sensed, and it's beautiful.

thank you for sharing this powerful memory. it's inspiring!

thank you <3 <3 <3 it was so touching being in their presence.. made me realize i had lost something i didn't even know i didn't have....

and that last bit is totally hitting home right now! right in the heart!

<3 <3 <3

<3 <3 <3

Nicely composed
Still perplexed how 70+% of the water is not fit to drink from.
We still have much to do

yes we still have much to do <3 ... it's heartbreaking we can't drink out of our streams! it's so much a part and blessing of being human...


Wow I just got crazy goosebumps. What a wonderful story!!!!

Beautiful post @mountainjewel! Being so involved in food generation feels like an ancient naturalness that is lacking from my life. I would like to have it there one day.

Thank you. I like the way you frame ancient naturalness... Everything you ever need is already inside of you, connection to place is in our genetics.

Thank you for sharing this awe-inspiring story. I got teary eyed at the end too.

It's important to be seen, thank you for witnessing and enjoying it. Reliving it through writing definitely brings up that tenderness of the experience.

Wow thanks for sharing, I loved your story. Mario seems like a nice guy and I love the kindness of strangers =] I feel what your saying about the polluted waters, it is a shame. I've been living in China for the past four years and everything is polluted here, it does make me extremely sad. Peru is definitely on my bucket list so thanks for sharing your inspiring story :D

Seed security and these ancient practices of caring for the soul is so very important. We have so many resources and technology available yet overall modern societies are malnourished. Even those who do purchase vegetables at the grocery store are getting sub-par products with a fraction of the nutrients they should be and it comes down to irresponsible farming. Thanks for sharing your beautiful experience.

A moving story, thank you so much for sharing :-)