A Day at Aldea Feliz

Cathy Holt
13 min readFeb 20, 2024
Carlos, Marta and Gladys

I woke up to a moist, cloudy, peaceful morning, the ducks swimming slowly across the green lake, leaving complex patterns of ripples. I relaxed and focused on healing my ears, improving my hearing and Spanish comprehension, and how my comprehension can be helped through deeper intuition of meanings. This is where my Silva method practice has been leading me. Then I focused on my Course in Miracles lesson, about offering joy and peace to everyone in order to claim them for myself.

After a shower, I made myself breakfast: a scrambled egg with tomato and cheese, toast and coffee. Sitting with Valentina, a volunteer who is also an artist and a weaver, we talked about weeding the gardens. Although it was cloudy and cool, I had a river date with Gladys and Marta, ages 70 and 60. So I had my swimsuit under my sleeveless dress, and we headed down to the river via a steep, somewhat muddy path. They showed me several gardens, growing corn, arugula, tomatoes, mustard greens, and a reddish type of lettuce. Some of the gardens are in need of weeding. The friendly yellow and white cat accompanied us there and back.

After a good walkabout we decided not to go swimming, but back at Marta’s place (with the amazing golden Buddha painting), she gave us strong rich coffee and some crackers spread with organic jam. I’m learning so much about this place: how Marta’s house is in some danger of slippage down the steep hill; how Gladys was helping feed the mama and baby ducks, because she’s part of the “cell” or team that does animal care. Gladys insisted that I take some black beans for lunch, because I mentioned to her that there wasn’t always a protein for the vegetarians at the big group lunches. So thoughtful!

Lunch was a big production by José and Dante, the young volunteer from Argentina with the difficult (for me) accent; they cooked a few large yuca roots, harvested on the recent workday, up into a chicken sancochostew, and a quinoa one for the vegetarians, plus rice, mango chunks, avocadoes, other raw vegetables, and fresh fruit juice. To top it off, Carlos Hurtado produced a dessert: saltine crackers spread with a generous portion of his healthier version of “Nutella,” a creamy concoction of cacao, coconut oil and panela (brown sugar). Whenever people greet each other, there are hugs and kisses. I love the “rotation” — a weekday group meal that includes a few parents and children from outside the community, who attend the school here — as many as 28 people participate. We adults take turns making the meal, and there are around 9 days of different people cooking in pairs. The substantial 2pm lunch is the main meal of the day and costs less than $3 per day, based on what Nelly and I spent when we made the lunch.

Jose mentioned that the next day there was another minga at a nearby farm, just from around 8 to 10 am, so we should be ready to leave at 7, with gloves, boots and warm clothes.

After lunch, I pulled a few weeds, then washed a bit of laundry by hand, to tide me over until Saturday when I can use the machine. Just down the hill from the laundry, I could see the mama duck and her little yellow ducklings waddling about in their protective enclosure, eating corn. {Apparently the male adults tend to attack the baby males, so this enclosure helps them survive.)

Marta had invited Gladys and me out to “Alguito” (a little something), a divine artisanal bakery/restaurant in San Francisco, and she drove us there in the late afternoon. Gladys was looking elegant in her tight gray leggings, elaborately embroidered white shirt, and fancy little gray boots. On the street we saw Carlos Hurtado again, the transpersonal therapist who I talked with the previous day about A Course in Miracles (ACIM). He has worked with and led groups in ACIM for 12 years, and has even written a book based on his experiences with recovery from an eating disorder and the Course, and about the ray of light that each person is. He joined us for a treat at Alguito.

There we drank mugs of perfect, not too sweet chai with foamy almond milk. Marta got a chocolate truffle, Gladys a lemon muffin, and I — a slice of maracuya cake with chocolate chips! We also bought some great-looking breads, plus I got some dark chocolate treats and a bar of medicinal soap.

Our conversation, about transcendent experiences, was most intriguing. Gladys shared memories from her near-death experience two years ago from Covid, followed by 12 days in a coma. These memories were detailed, clear and remarkable…one was of spinning rapidly in a merkaba, in another there was a devil looking like a fierce goat, then there were cockroaches all around her everywhere. Abruptly, she recalled, the Divine Mother called her back, lifted her out of the “dense” realm, and pulled her through a wall! She had trained for years in the Violet Flame of St. Germain, and in her experience she was involuntarily remembering to do 17 conscious respirations, helping her enter a blue light and then the violet rays. She had memory after intact memory! Gladys spoke of the sharp, intense pain of re-entering her body.

Marta, who is also a transpersonal therapist, recounted some of her lucid dreams, which brought her to past lives. She saw herself dying in a car accident in one. In another, she was in Africa and was confronted face to face with a huge black panther; her last memory, her mother’s scream as the panther pounced. She told us how she had studied Carlos Castaneda’s work and the shamanism of Don Juan, using peyote and other plant medicines.

Carlos told us a fascinating story of being extremely angry and frustrated one day years ago, and deciding to sit with his rage, not to distract or push it away. He had the sense of a tremendous breakthrough into the present moment of infinite space, total presence, seeing from another perspective completely. He felt the presence and essence of a Bonsai tree. At another very dark moment in his life, he found himself feeling like a victim of his anxiety, broke, powerless, alone. He wondered, “What do I have to offer?” Suddenly his heart opened, he was bathed in love, and realized that he could offer his love; and that was a turning point in his recovery. He went on to tell us about the “unedited” version of a Course in Miracles, where in many places Jesus told of his errors, such as being in too much of a rush, of mistakes made…these parts let us see the human side of Christ, but were edited out in the original Foundation for Inner Peace publication. Yet these are the very moments when we can identify with Jesus instead of putting him on an unreachable pedestal.

When asked some of my spiritual experiences, I shared about the 6-pointed star/sun/snowflake, alternately glowing with golden light, or crystalline white/silver, which I sometimes am able to see even with eyes open, and which may announce an insight; the constantly changing and evolving nature of reality (“God is Change,” thank you Octavia Butler); and the birds that speak English. One recently said to me, “Forgive, forgive, forgive.” Carlos picked up on the theme in ACIM: Forgive the “wrongs” done to us (what the ego has projected, and which is unreal). “The world we see is our invention,” I added, quoting ACIM. As I was talking, Gladys noted that a frog commented, “Que si!” (Yeah!) This bit of validation tickled me no end.

Carlos spoke of a synchronistic visit by a blue dragonfly, up very close, as he was thinking about the maloka (a round building in the indigenous style here, although with a more durable roof than the usual straw, to handle the heavy rains). Looking up the symbolic meaning of Dragonfly, he read to us: transformation and metamorphosis (change of physical form, from birth in water to maturity in air); transcendence; adaptation; shape-shifting; joy and freedom in the present moment; self-realization. And more, on the theme of indigeneity.

We four agreed to go together to the minga the next day.

The rain started up around 7 pm. What an amazing day! And, I’m celebrating that I could understand so much more Spanish now than I used to, even in a group of 4 people!


Blanca’s inviting back deck above the river


Although Aldea Feliz is like a dream in some ways, as in that magical day I just recounted, there are other realities. By the end of my time there, I was frustrated by the lack of easy access to the internet there, even just using my phone to send a WhatsApp message. The power could go off four times in a night. The weather had become mostly cloudy, with a few short bursts of sunlight, almost daily rains, and so cold at night that I needed an extra blanket and wrapped my head in a scarf. I no longer even wanted to swim in the beautiful river. My body went through some difficult changes: first, getting the flu following a visit to Mi Tribu, at a higher altitude. I had a bad headache, cough, and diarrhea. Shortly after getting over that, my skin broke out in a poison ivy style rash which spread, and after my somewhat stressful trip to Bogota to get my computer repaired, I caught a worse cold, with ears totally plugged. My body seemed to be telling me that this was not the right place for me.

After getting to know a little about the functioning of the community, I could see that a better candidate for membership would be a young couple or family. There were already 3 women in my age range there; certainly no need for another old single lady, one who doesn’t even understand the language well! Young people are better able to do the work, and are less likely to need caring for. I felt my oddity in Colombia, as a childless old woman with no one to take care of me in my old age. I think people may have even felt sorry for me. In the application process at AF, there were already “aspirants”, but Jose and others still encouraged me to apply. Long-term rentals are not easy to find in the aldea; José assured me that there were two undeveloped lots as yet, if I wanted to build a house. That didn’t appeal to me so much.

Matilda makes a presentation on permaculture plans.

My hearing loss together with poor comprehension were very troublesome to me at times…A fascinating conversation could be happening, about things I care about, but I would feel like a person sitting under the table at a banquet, just catching the merest scraps of the feast. This was how I felt at a Women’s Gathering, where intimate things were shared but I caught only fragments of the conversation. This was after my ear blockage had occurred.

So rather than continue looking for “the best ecovillage for me,” as I had initially thought, I realized that it was time for a change in plan. Somehow I had been in denial of these rather obvious strikes against me. And I did feel physically uncomfortable with the cool raininess that prevailed.


Some of the best parts of my experience: I admired the beauty and ingenuity of many of the buildings, most designed by Carlos Rojas, who lives in the community with his young wife Matilda and their baby, Sima. Long poles of thick guadua, a relative of bamboo that grows fast and is very strong, formed the supports for houses, acting like stilts, making building on steep slopes possible. Camila’s house featured cob walls with colorful wine bottles embedded as small windows. Underneath a flight of stairs, a set of built-in drawers had been cleverly fashioned. Every house I saw had some sort of a deck; many looked out upon trees, birds, and even the lovely sight of white water and distant the roar of the San Miguel river. It was like a little village of tiny houses on stilts, on steep slopes, connected with walkways and often steps fashioned from old rubber tires filled with cement.

Gladys, whom I’d met in Barichara through Mar Luz, was visiting for the first time in 3 years. She was temporarily sharing a house with Blanca, the mother of Carlos Rojas. Blanca, a cheerful woman in her 70s with short gray hair, cultivated bromeliads and orchids outside her home, and her charming back deck with comfy chairs was a marvelous place to sit and converse. With good sun, her home was much warmer than my “shelter” known as Xandalu. Xandalu was where Gladys usually stayed during her visits. She was very kind, inviting me for a meal on a weekend when no lunch was being served, often inviting me over to have coffee or go to the river.

Some of the birds I got to see were exquisitely beautiful: bright crimson and black birds, gray-black birds with sky-blue heads and chests.

The gardens needed some care. I provided weeding, a little mulching with dry leaves I gathered, and some supports for gangly tomato vines. There was a community minga to work on the greenhouse, much needed due to excess rain and cold, especially for tomato plants. There will ultimately be plastic sides, to keep down the insect population as well as raise the temperature. The framework had been constructed of guadua; it was much taller, more attractive, and sturdier than a typical plastic hoop-house. In the workday, some men on ladders fixed plastic into a roof, while the rest of us cleared away weeds, shoveled and leveled the ground, and gathered stones for a slight wall to hold the earth in place. Matilda allowed her baby, Sima, to climb a ladder, making sure he was protected. She joked about what an intrepid explorer he is! It was beautiful to see rich-looking black earth, though disappointing to note in most of the gardens, poor growth in the plants and a lot of insect damage. On a second workday, I helped carry some guadua left over from the construction of Jose’s new cabaña, right next to mine, to help build raised garden beds.

Matias is the teenaged son of Tatiana, and it was delightful to watch him play with Matilda’s baby. Sima was on his little plastic play-cart, with Matias pushing him as fast as possible along the walkways, Sima shrieking louder in glee the faster they went.

School children painting outdoors

Other bits of wonder: looking out over the pond every morning and eventually seeing the mama duck and eight bright yellow ducklings out there swimming among the lily pads! At times, the pond’s surface was so still, and at others, a breeze would create slight undulations, or a swimming duck would trace diverging lines on the green surface. The sight of children seated outdoors at their school easels, painting. The wooden signs located all around the property, with words like “liberty, consciousness, happiness, acceptance.” At the river, seeing the weeping water-maiden rock, tears and water washing her face, with long white frothy hair flowing…

The way people were so helpful, even offering to go shopping for me to save me a trip into town, was very touching. Carlos, always with a smile, showed easy willingness to hang out and offer a ride home if we encountered him in the town. José, the busiest person there, was always ready to answer a question.

I was curious about the vermiculture composting system, and finally got José to spend a few minutes telling me about his new system for separate gray- and black-water treatment. The graywater goes to a cement square enclosure filled with gravel, above which a certain water-loving plant that absorbs nutrients was planted; the cleaner water leaving the enclosure goes through a perforated pipe below a planting bed. The blackwater system is more elaborate. It flows through a bed with wood-shavings and worms, who digest the poop, and from there the vermiculture-enriched water goes through a perforated pipe covered in geomembrane within a layer of larger rocks, then smaller gravel sized stones, and sand. Above it is a soil layer where ornamentals will be planted, as well as banana trees.

To me, one of the best aspects of my stay was the shared weekday meals, where the cooking rotated. If meat was served, there was generally a vegetarian alternative. One day we had “make-your-own burritos” with all the fixings; there were Asian-inspired meals such as “poke,” with rice, a variety of raw vegetables including carrots, tomato, red onions, peppers, avocado, mango, hardboiled eggs, sesame seeds and soy sauce; twice we had veggie lasagna filled with zucchini (grown onsite), onions, bell peppers and mozzarella. There was always a fruit juice, and sometimes the salads had fruit in them. Occasional desserts included a maracuya pudding, a fabulous cake with chocolate chunks, and obleas (flat traditional wafers spread with “arequipe” or caramel). After lunch, the residents lingered conversing over cups of black coffee from the aldea.

Over all, it’s a beautiful little community, conscientious about environmental impacts, and a tightly knit group with many loving connections. I didn’t get to see much of the decision-making happening or witness the process of any of the teams; also I realized that I would not be able to follow a lot of what was being said in such groups. The rhythms of daily life were such that most of the time, I was left to myself after the 2pm meal, unless I sought someone out or hung with one of the two volunteers (Dante and Valentina), with the occasional fire circle or other group at 6pm. The cloudy, rainy afternoons were conducive to more solo time. I did miss the freedom and diversity of living in a walkable small town like Barichara, where one could always go to a shop or a restaurant, or visit a view spot or a friend without having to take transportation. Hence, the 3.5 hectares of land felt a little restrictive. At the same time, the depth of personal connections felt greater there than in Barichara.



Cathy Holt

Cathy has been living in Colombia for 2 years. She’s passionate about regenerating landscapes with water retention, agro-forestry, and biogas digestors.