‘Are you wearing anti mosquito spray?’ Cris asked suddenly in a curt manner, ‘because we don’t do that here, we’re an organic farm’. I flinched. Yes, it had been one of the occasions that I had used some of the dreaded DEET, but feeling ill and in real need of a hug, this question felt like an attack that put me into a naughty child headspace. This happy, hippy experience was threatening to be a whole lot less healing than I had hoped.
Twenty minutes earlier, together with four other travellers, I was dropped off after a two-hour journey on the verge of the Santa Cruz-Cochabamba Highway alongside a lone motorbike and a handcrafted sign set against a backdrop of red rock face mountains. We crossed a rickety wooden bridge that hung lazily across the Bermejo River, the gateway to a scattering of habitations, pretty mud pathways and a little organic idyll known as Ginger’s Paradise.
We dropped our bags at a deserted, colourful house and, following instructions left pinned to the front door, walked deeper into a jungly landscape that started to twinkle with fireflies as dusk set in.
Cristobel, dressed in off-whites dirtied with smudges of soil met us along the path. His work on the land was nearly over for the day and he welcomed us with a smile and a handshake. And that cutting comment. I had to make a conscious decision not to let it affect my stay and my judgements, which was actually fairly easy because I did understand why it mattered.
During my short stay in Ginger’s Paradise I ate great, wholesome food and sung along silently to well-known songs and improvised guitar strums in the evenings. I listened to the chatter of insects and to the stories of my host and other travellers. I bathed in the river, dunked my head in fresh water and watched locals wobble across the bridge on their way to school and work. I got my elbows deep into soapy suds whilst I washed a stack load of sheets to part-pay my stay, and I played dominos with one of the children and a gentle, volunteering French couple.
Before I had decided to go to Ginger’s Paradise I did a little research on the place and most reviews I read were damning.
To clear a few things up, there is a cow that you can milk at the farm and chickens run around the grounds. There are compost toilets on site that are cleaned every day and as electricity is generated by solar and a bike hooked up to a charger, at times it can be temperamental. There isn’t a shower easily available (and it is a bit awkward to ask to use the shower in the main family house) but providing you embrace this rustic lifestyle, the river really is a beautiful place for a refreshing, calm morning wash. Foodwise I really can only be positive: I ate three hearty meals per day with predominantly home-grown and homemade ingredients.
Cris and Sol (the couple who run the place) are friendly but I assume that the constant turnaround of visitors has meant that at times they have to be direct, however, once you get involved and show some interest in what’s going on, they are chatty and warm and interested in people’s journeys.
Some people online complained about the constant pushing of products and activities that demanded an additional payment. There are indeed extras that you can buy and do at Ginger’s Paradise, including chocolate, Lulu hairwraps and jewellery lessons, and there is an additional cost for these. If you expect this, it’s less of a surprise or a problem.
Cris himself has come under some criticism. In response: he is undoubtedly a talented musician, he does love his chess, and in many respects he is pro-drugs, possessing a considerable understanding of weed culture.
Being so far from civilisation with a guy who declared his admiration for the serial killer Charles Manson (stating that he understood Manson’s reasons for killing soap stars in an effort to stop the dumbing down of society) was not something that made me particularly comfortable, but I quickly realised that Cris seemed to get a kick out of being controversial. It certainly stirred up conversation. Really, in my humble opinion, his heart is in the right place, even if he indulged in playing Devil’s advocate. Some critics have been pretty harsh. I say just open your mind to different people and enjoy the eccentricity.
Some people stay a good few weeks or months working and living at Ginger’s Paradise, something Sol and Cris suggested helps one to really experience the spiritual and lifestyle benefits of the place.
A few days was the right amount of time for me. For now.
And the DEET spray didn’t make a reappearance during the rest of my stay there, although I did leave with some fat, raised mystery itches the width of my arm.