Words by: Hakim Davy
Images provided by: Aire Libre
I don’t really know where to start with this tale of adventure. Exploring culture, food, and land that looks like it has been untouched by corruption and greed really was a mind melt. It felt like a far cry away from the crazy streets of Koreatown, Los Angeles. It was an experience that I will never forget due to these crazy individuals at Aire Libre.
From the first time I spoke to these guys I realized I had a divine connection with them that would transcend running and in essence it really did.
My first night in Mexico I not only had the honor of running with the folks at Aire Libre but I also got to run with some of the premier runners of Mexico which included my very good friends at the mighty DROMO RUN CREW. Being that I’ve lived in LA which is below sea level, the altitude of CDMX fucked me up from the very first minute my foot hit the pavement. It was no joke and something that I did not take lightly when I started training for my return to Mexico next week in Oaxaca.
After the first 15 minutes, I slowly started to regulate my breath and began to take control of all facets of my running. Breathing, cadence, stride patterns, everything started to become in sync. Running with 70-80 runners in the heart of the beautiful Roma district was breathtaking, and the runners were really enjoying each other’s company which made the shake out even more auspicious.
I almost forgot, we also did some Qi Gong in the middle of Roma in front of about 8-10 cops. At first the cops were a little taken aback and confused, but by 20 mins in they were quite peaceful and looked like they wanted to follow along with us – the power of Qi can penetrate the hardest of souls.
Having an evening like this really shaped the momentum of the trip and the experience; now it was all about the next day and meeting all the folks in Chiapas for the next chapter of this adventure.
Flying into Tuxtla Gutiérrez, I could see the huge dynamic shift of culture from leaving CDMX and descending into the jungles and rugged terrain of deep southern Mexico. Even looking at the facial features of the locals, I could tell I was coming into some sacred indigenous lands to not only the Aztecs but the Mayans and the Toltecs too, it was so noticeable and beautiful at the same time.
Driving through Chiapas and the mass wilderness was a sight to behold. Every now and again you would ride past a bunch of stores selling roasted corn, fruits, veggies, chickens, textiles, candles, then it would be hills and caverns for 50 miles, then you might pass an elder herding goats or sheep with dogs and several kids in tow – this was nothing like LA.
I’m writing this and thinking to myself how can I truly tell the story of this incredible life changing adventure without writing a novel. I literally could, but I will try and reduce it in such a way as to give you all a real sense of what was going on throughout these pivotal moments on this journey through Chiapas, Guatemala, Tziscao and beyond.
One thing I forgot to add was that not only was I the only BLACK body on this adventure, everyone else was white and from Canada, so not only am I now having to navigate through spaces in which I am very foreign to what the locals are used to, I also know nothing of Canadians and Canadian culture, so this was going to make for an interesting trip.
The man who was conducting everything was Daniel, this tall skinny prototypical ultrarunner looking dude. He looked more like a surfer than a runner and looked so American but spoke eloquent Spanish which was mind blowing. Daniel ran the show alongside Rebecca, his right-hand woman, agent, security, and money holder. She was like the manager who held the entire operation together, which was no small feat. Eme and Mau, the other two founders of Aire Libre, were not able to make it due to the company growing. Nevertheless, Dan curated a mindblowing experience, and allowed me to add components of Tai ji, Qi Gong, and meditation, before, during, and after the run. I like to think this contribution of mine truly added another layer and dimension to this already mystic adventure. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I came into the picture, to add a framework of insight and metta practice within the guidelines of this retreat.
The first day was just a cultural explosion of goodness. Running into a local town which was celebrating a festival in ode of St. Sebastian, with our marvelous and enigmatic guide Shun, we would weave through jungles, stray dogs, and mountainous terrain. We then embarked on a tour of the town and the different festivities going on. Being that most of these people subscribed to Roman Catholicism, most of these traditions and rituals were older than the whole group and then some, and were bathed with many different herbs being spread amongst the floors of the churches as well as being burnt with nopal and frankincense. On this day, we would also pay our respects to the dead, the ancestors, and drive to two different villages and witness more beautiful and vibrant cultures.
On this day we would also break bread with a family of 7-8 women consisting of mothers, aunts, grandmothers and sisters who were all skilled in artisan fabric weaving and textiles.
In what felt like a cold factor of 35-40 degrees F, a bunch of runners were in one room with one door and a little window, with a whole family cooking for us on a makeshift stove of wood and twigs. It was incredibly humbling and satisfying at the same time. Watching the incredibly strong women cook for a whole tribe together, it was beautiful in its simplicity and I can tell you that throughout the week, we met so many powerful families like this. Families that worked really hard in the field and never demanded recognition for their work and artisanship.
The second day consisted of me nearly not making it out of bed due to a 24hr stomach virus that had me all screwed up. Despite this, our day consisted of a mystic tale of hills, mountains, running up a volcano, reaching the top and touching Heaven. Followed by rescuing a dog that we would later name “Conchita” from dying of starvation and poor habitat, and fighting off a guard dog that looked like something from Pet Sematary.
From there our adventure took us to a family owned coffee plantation. Because of this experience, touching the coffee bean, tasting it, watching the process of bean to coffee – I essentially became the coffee snob everyone loves to hate. It blew my mind and tasted so good… After 44 years I have now become a coffee snob. Still can’t believe it.
Needless to say after a grueling run/hike 10,000 ft above sea level, a run past a rabid dog who was reared in Hell and getting to touch the sky like we did, coffee was just an icing on the cake.
After running volcanos and picking and brewing coffee, we would enter a vortex like no other. We did something called a Temezcal ceremony that I’m just going to flat out tell you was like being in some ancient Egyptian mystery school meets sweat lodge.
It was a purge on overdrive to the point I was seeing my ancestors in this tiny cement situation, and as it got hotter, I would go into pranayama breathing to be in line with my ancestors and whoever else was guiding my spirit at that moment in time. It was crazy because you never know what the body is capable of, but I know after that day I could achieve anything. From when Dan asked if I was going to make it at 7 am, to the point where I was in the mountains looking up and thinking WTF did I sign up for, to sweating out all my demons in the Temezcal ritual. It was life showing me very valuable lessons and I was going to take the time to pay heed to the spirits that guided me through it all.
After that day I felt that the team became a lot closer. Walls were coming down, vulnerability was on full display and we had a healthy respect for each other’s trials and tribulations. It wasn’t just a bunch of runners in their cool Ciele caps, flashy run shoes and fancy hydration vests – it was bigger than that. The spiritual practice of Qi Gong became pivotal for all of us as a form of physical and spiritual recovery. Along with sunrise and sunset Tai ji sessions, and moments of silent meditation to help ease the mind, these practices became such a valuable component of our days. Especially considering the fact that we were all in uncharted territories mentally and physically.
I could go on and touch on so much more that happened on this trip. But I hope that I have given you a little snapshot into the amazing adventures that Aire Libre provided me and my fellow runners. We also have some fantastic pictures that I hope convey how this truly was the experience and chance of a lifetime.