Volunteering Collections: Costa Rica

For those of you that read my latest post, you’ll know that I have been hesitant to share too many of my ‘highlights’ in an effort to keep things realistic in a world full of perfect media platforms. I have forever been a big emoter and find deep value in representing the full gambit of ups and downs in any situation. As Khalil Gibron says in The Prophet, seeking out ONLY life’s pleasures will leave you “into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.” This poem is one of my most treasured, and though it speaks specifically on love, I find that it applies to so many of the dualities we experience day after day. Before I go too far down that magnificent and bottomless rabbit hole, today I would like to share some of the incredulously normal things I’ve been up to- the good, the hard, and the biggest takeaways of my travels thus far (updated as I go!)

Stop #1: Rancho Margot, near Arenal Volcano,Costa Rica

In a previous post (accessible here) I spoke a bit about the mission and processes of Rancho Margot. If you asked me to boil down the experience into a sentence or two, you’d be awfully disappointed because I don’t think I could do it. It is a complex and wonderful paradise off the grid, steeped in the mission to experiment with nonconventional, natural living. The deal went something like this: work 6 hours per day, 6 days per week, and in return we had a place to lay our head and 3 amazing meals, 80% of which was grown on the farm (sometimes by us!).

  • My favorite part was the opportunity to be fully immersed in a natural learning environment- self study, reading, nature, farming, ecotourism, agrotourism, entrepreneurship, culture, language, yoga, sustainability, food cultivation….you name it, I learned it bit by bit each day. Another major attribute was living off the grid. We were about two miles of dirt road from the nearest town and had little to no internet access, cold showers, and the darkest night sky you can imagine. I enjoyed walks into town and occasionally shelled out some cash for a drink and a burrito (the BEST you’ll ever have…amazing), but to do so I had to reallllly want it. On most days, we just read or visited with other volunteers instead.
  • The hardest part of the entire five week stint was the weather. We had RAIN every. single. day. The first 10 days or so it rained with a vengeance, pouring buckets on all of our belongings and chilling us to the bone. Eventually we saw some sun and our spirits were lifted, but our clothes stayed mildly wet (and STINKY) throughout the entire stay.
  • Biggest takeaway? I had a lot of time to be with myself, away from distraction. Busy is a good word to describe the state of mind I brought with me, and though I haven’t quite ditched that habit, I’m working hard to overwrite it. The ranch taught me a lot about cycles, about humans in nature, and how to be a more natural human.
  • Must see/do: Hot Springs river at night! Although the La Fortuna area is riddled with Hot Springs tourism and resorts, there is free access to Rio Chollin (an entire HOT RIVER) just outside the Tabacon. One crystal clear night, 14 of the volunteers and staff pooled (*pun intended*) our resources and rented a shuttle to watch the stars from a hot, rapid river. It was unforgettable- a pitch black night, hot water rushing around you, floating in natural and bubbly minerals and gazing up at the stars. I lost track of what was water and what was air as I watched the trees move like seaweed in the wind agains the backdrop of an endless sky. That night we all slept like rocks as the minerals that were not to be washed off nourished our skin and spirit. Pure Magic.

 

Stop #2: Puerto Viejo (de Limon), Costa Rica

 

Traveling in Costa Rica has been very simple and pleasant, but you have to have the mental chutzpa to handle the bus system if you don’t want to spend all of your money on private shuttles. Generally speaking, you can get across the country for less than 15 bucks per person if you take the public bus system- but don’t expect to have a seat and be prepared for a FULL day of slow, sticky, travel. So, when we found out that a common way to travel from Arenal to Puerto Viejo is by white water raft, we were GAME. The Pacuare River is equidistant from three major cities, so they offer a free shuttle to and from the river. The trip includes breakfast and lunch, plus a full day of rafting Class III and IV rapids on the 4th best river in the world! They keep your luggage safe while you raft, and afterwards you grab your things and take the proper shuttle. Said and done, the trip costs $99/person, which is only about $25 more than a shuttle would have cost. The public bus would have been an easy $20 or less per person, but we would have needed to connect 3 buses over the course of a 10-12 hour trip. Given the circumstances, we splurged a bit and chose Rafting.

  • My favorite part was renting bicycles and staying just outside of town in Playa Chiquita. Chiquita is about halfway between the first beach (Playa Negra) and the last (Manzanilla). It is quieter than downtown Puerto Viejo but a quick 6km bike ride to the heart of the party if you want it. We had quiet nights and peaceful mornings, lots of yoga, and plenty of beach time. It rained a lot while we were here too, but we had at least a bit of sun each day.
  • The hardest part was certainly $$$$$. We spent a week here as a beach buffer between volunteer gigs, so this was completely on our own dime. Having been out in the wild for 5 weeks meant we were a bit too eager to shell out $5-6 for a craft beer. Everything in PV is for sale, and if you like the boho, carefree, surfstyle, you’ll want to buy it all. It took a lot of discipline and an acute awareness of the space in my backpack to avoid spending all of my money here. Oh yeah, and also this is when my two wisdom teeth started to come in, making it extraordinarily difficult to open my mouth and shooting pain down into my neck, ear, and jaw all day. Nothing some beach time couldn’t help!
  • Biggest Takeaway? Fresh food (besides fruit) in PV is hard to come by, so cooking our own meals was key. Find a fisherman (or go to Mopri Market) and get yourself some fresh fish. Make a simple flour/spice dusting on the outside of the fish and flash fry it in a skillet until flakey. All in all, we fed ourselves for a week on five fish (snapper, green jack, grouper), a massive pot of rice and lentils, and lots of fruit and chocolate. One night we went out for a sushi buffet at Chili Rojo….save your money.
  • Must see/do: Honestly, I really wanted our time at the beach to be completely unstructured and unattached- I didn’t want to have that feeling of “should” be doing something all the time…no one needs that FOMO, especially not on vacation. There is certainly a plethora of activities, shopping, and wildlife to experience, but my must see advice is to just CHILL with the PV vibe. Do Less. See Less. But definitely rent a bike 🙂

 

Stop #3: Hacienda Sur- Parrita, Costa Rica

Hacienda Sur is an Artisan Beef farm, specializing in the intersection of top quality dry-aged beef and cutting-edge sustainability. Our first task as volunteers was Cut Day, involving the preparation, packaging, and cleaning of nearly 700 steaks and over 200kg of ground steak over the course of a 15 hour day. Talk about an experience. Watching this small family-run operation work their well oiled machine (spoiler alert, its their own able hands!) is something to witness for sure. As we continue to find ourselves in a world divided by the horrors of factory farming and evangelistic veganism, I am happy to be learning about the good neighbor farms on the forgotten side of the documentaries. One major theme of volunteering on sustainable farms is that just as humans can be wildly destructive to the environment, so can we be supportive.

I have written and rewritten this section a handful of times, but can’t seem to figure out how to say it. The meat and potatoes is that meat and potatoes are becoming deeply divided on the plate- it’s hard to talk about meat production in a way that doesn’t severely offend most of the people interested in sustainability practices. What I can say is this: what is good for the environment and the animal is also good for the production of meat. Businesses that take extra care to take care of the environment are naturally going to have a better product. Though we may disagree and feel an emotional response to referring to and consuming an animal as a product, we also must refrain from generalizing too quickly. Whether or not you agree with meat consumption, you want more farms like Hacienda Sur out there. Even if the farmer’s intention is simply to create a higher quality product, his byproduct (and therefore what affects us directly) is clean and sustainable land stewardship. His deep knowledge of the grass and gentle eco-systems that go along with it will do more for this land than any protest we organize against him. The cows at Hacienda Sur are indubitably the happiest, healthiest cows I have ever observed (and I’ve seen a LOT). They frolic and romp with each other, explore the hundreds of acres of grass selected specifically for their nutritional needs, and live in an environment created to reduce as much stress as possible. They are cared for by three wonderful men and a rotation of eager volunteers life myself.

Though I’m on the brink of once again deleting the above, I’ll leave it for now. Perhaps I’ll write more later, or on its own page. But for now, I’ll open it to your thoughts, questions, ideas, opinions. I want to talk about it! One of the reasons we find it difficult to write on such divisive topics- and indeed one of the reasons they are so divisive- is that we don’t talk about it. So please, you know how to do it: comment below or send an email. The discussion is open.

Stop 4: Nosara, Nicoya Peninsula

If you are dying to see Costa Rica but afraid to be leaving behind your beloved American culture, look no further than Nosara. Playa Guiones, the popular stretch of pristine surf, is a part of a development known as the American Project. It is the only area of Costa Rica I’ve been to that has street names and addresses. Populated primarily by expats and surf tourists, Guiones has everything your organic/vegan/yoga/surf/party soul could want…as long as you’re willing to pay the price. We were lucky enough to be visiting a Nica friend who has been living there for seven years, so we had access to some of the cheaper, slightly more local hookups.

  • My favorite part was the sunset at Playa Pelada, just around the bend from Playa Guiones. There is one little bar and one nice restaurant on the beach, but it is much less inhabited compared to the tourist hotspot of Guiones. Grab a few beers and pony up to a bit of driftwood to enjoy the show.
  • The hardest part, again would have to be the $$$$. The town almost had an Austin-like vibe, full of young active people that do a lot of yoga, except here they also surf every morning. It amazes me that anyone can survive here with that cost of living. Oh, and the roads. Everything is dirt road, so getting there is nothing short of a mother*&^%. The bus from Samara to Nosara, at just 12km distance, takes nearly 2 hours on a hot and sweaty bus. To get here you have to really want it, but you’ll be glad you did.
  • Biggest take away: The vibe here is very laid back. Still a small town with all dirt roads and few cars (most people use dirtbikes or quads), everyone knows everyone…and looks after each other. As eluded to above, it is hard to comprehend how to make ends meet, yet most people seem to be extremely relaxed though underemployed. This combination brings a bit of peace to the mind that we can all survive on much less than we think, and a life that prioritizes peace and play will always trump a life spent worrying about income.
  • Must see/do: If you’re there, and you want a bit of boujeee….check out Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort. A drop in will be at least $15, but it is truly beautiful and well staffed with knowledgeable folks. It’s pretty easy to sneak in to their pool as well, so you can potentially get your money’s worth. We did a lot of home-cooking here too, so skip the expensive food and save your money for the 2×1 happy hour cocktails or aforementioned yoga class. Do not leave the city without trying some of Chocolate Dave’s chocolate at Pura Vida Raw Foods. You’ll also have an endless supply of healthy, organic, raw, vegan yummies at just about any restaurant in town.

Pura Vida, Month #2

Today, February 18th, marks two months since I stopped, dropped, and rolled out of employment. On December 18th, I finished my last day of work in a hurry and without goodbyes after receiving word that my father’s business had caught fire and burned to the ground. Two days later I loaded my car with as much as I could and left Austin for the last time as a resident. Two weeks later I totaled said car and two weeks after that I said see ya later to New York too. I guess you could say I was shedding some layers, making some space. A lot of people will look at this life and say that I am lucky. And I am, for so many things. I’m lucky that my family didn’t suffer a more tragic loss when the Dairy Supply burned. I’m lucky that no one was hurt when I wrecked my car. I’m lucky for all of the love and support I have received with each decision I make. Most of all, I am lucky to have embraced the many opportunities to learn from my obstacles. Luck did not bring me here, my learning opportunities did.

The five weeks I spent at Rancho Margot were full of learning, internal and otherwise. As a yoga teacher, I had a pretty wonderful routine. My responsibility was the yoga space- creating it, cleaning it, opening it to the guests. I was given all the time and room I needed to practice, meditate, and prepare for public classes with few other duties. When I wasn’t teaching, I was finding new places to hang my hammock to read, journal, and ponder. I taught my first real yin class…and then I taught one every evening, sometimes followed by yoga nidra or meditation. By the time I left, even my vinyasa classes were starting to feel fairly yin-y, a fairly new and welcomed concept for me. Each day started before six in the shala, and each night saw me asleep before nine. My belly seldom saw sugar or meat, and processed foods dropped out of recognition. I often visited with guests, volunteers, and staff to soak up a bit of their story. Days off were spent hiking, riding horses, and adventuring in the jungle. It was lovely and it was quiet and it was simple- exactly what I wanted. Despite all of this perfection, I spent a lot of time feeling lousy.

I want to make it abundantly clear that the experience I have had thus far is unequivocally, deeply positive; Positive in that I have found a deeper understanding of meaningful living; Positive in that I have experienced a wide variety of emotions, including the unattractive ones; Positive in that I have found and lost and found inspiration. It is wildly complex and wonderfully beautiful. So when I say that I was feeling lousy, please don’t assume I wanted it any other way. It is all part of this process of learning, of understanding, of self-discovery. Its so easy to get swept up with the highlights, the story of the girl that quit the rat race to teach yoga in the jungle with her lover. I think it is important to share the less glamorous stories too, because in a lot of ways, a lack of ugliness in our collective story leads to our own increasingly negative feelings about our situation. It’s easy to think that if you do what others do, you’ll feel the as happy as they look. And then when you get there and you feel lousy, you think something is wrong with you. The problem isn’t you, it’s the us, collectively. In refusing to feel the backswing of the pendulum- the ugly, the dark, the negative- we are limiting our ability to feel the contrary- the thrill, the high, the elation- drawing us into a stale and unseasoned existence that we then dull with distraction.

 

Now that I am reflecting on my first good chunk of time out here, it is clear that some of the lousiness I felt stemmed from my own expectations. Out of nothing but naiveté, I assumed that the time and space awarded to me by this expedition would make clear what I was wanting- time to think about life and really just figure it out (in a matter of weeks). I craved the courage other travelers had, with their steadfast commitment to the lifestyle and fearlessness of the future. My expectation was to gain a bit of this simply by doing it too. I forgot that I am still me, and before I can emulate that same courage, confidence, and fearlessness, I need to spend some of the hard, ugly, dark times with myself to uncover my own needs. In my two months of liberation, I’ve boiled those needs down to the following:

  • Food Autonomy. I like to choose my food, cook my food, and I like to decide when and how to eat it. When I am given food, though I am immensely grateful, I feel powerless and a lack of control over a very big part of me.
  • Variable Work. When my days are filled with the exact same activities or a lot of free time, I get lethargic and deeply uninspired. Routine isn’t the problem per se, as long as I have different things to do each day. I have always been this way, but never realized why. I spend a lot of time thinking that my exhaustion was coming from taking too many classes in school or having too many jobs. I am starting to see that this variability actually gives me energy. Now the task is to find the path that benefits from this quality without abusing it.
  • Stimulus. I am a slow mover, and without stimulation, can get stuck in a low place. I enjoy doing things that force me to come out of that low place and get active early on. Once moving, I can keep the fire burning and the upward cycle begins.
  • Learning. I am most stimulated and inspired when I am in the learning process- whether it’s learning about someone, something, or somewhere, I crave it and it feeds me.
  • Alone time…together. I am very sensitive to the needs of others, and will often fall into the patterns described by the martyr archetype by sacrificing my needs to meet theirs, even if (and especially when) their needs are figments of my imagination. Spending time with my guy helps me work through this tendency and cultivate a healthier empathy that protects against emotional burnout. I am forever grateful for his ability to ground this heart- a process I find to be one of the most important qualities we can foster in each other, especially those working in emotionally charged jobs. After five weeks without any real alone time together, I found myself completely burned out and unable to listen empathetically. I was short tempered, irritable, and fiery as hell. Big thanks to my main squeeze for always supporting me, even in that.

As I begin to identify these needs, I feel that I am tending to my seeds of growth and transformation. I can feel a weight lift as I name each one, but also the burden of releasing that blissful ignorance. The biggest learning opportunity of all is the one you take to understand your needs. Now the real work begins. I cannot simply identify my needs and then ignore the situations that come up when I deny myself of them. It is now my responsibility to make sure my needs are met, and to take action when they are not. It is empowering and intimidating, but I intend to continue identifying and working to balance each and every one so that I may be forever cultivating, transforming, and honoring my very best self. Pura Vida, Month #2.

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be here (for) now: poco a poco

Little by little, this little life sneaks by us.
Little by little, these little moments stack up.
Little by little, the little things we do become the large stories we tell.
Little by little.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking (and therefore, talking) about the way this season impacts the little moments that become our days. Nature is slowing down and curling upon herself for the winter ahead. The slowing of the natural world highlights the wild pace at which we live. While it may be easy to blame our chaos on “holiday madness,” what we’re really feeling is the whiplash that results from ignoring Nature’s hints to slow with her. As a kid I used to spend hours at the park with friends on a merry-go-round, pushing each other as fast as we could and jumping off into the grass to see who could keep their balance the longest. Oddly reminiscent.

Flash forward to current moment, and I’m struggling to stay grounded when all I want is to be swept up with the excitement of the season. I’m fortunate because I have a lot that I’m looking forward to. Every day feels like the first day or two of a week-long vacation…so much to do and see, so much anticipation, but also the desire to soak up every moment. It’s the edge of a cliff that you are so excited to jump off that you forget to stop and take in the view from the top.

Three weeks from tomorrow my bags will be packed, my tears will be flowing, and my heart will be bursting as I make my way from my beloved adopted home in Austin to my treasured first one in the forests of New York. I’ll spend another three weeks there saturating myself with the love and warmth of family and lifelong friends, and then set sail for an untamed and unplanned journey to the jungle with my main squeeze. After years of talking, thinking, and dreaming, we finally pulled the trigger and started making the real changes that would enable us to live a life on the road. My toes are so close to the edge of that cliff that I can feel the breeze caressing my face every time I close my eyes.

But then I open my eyes again, and the real work begins. How can I keep these daydreaming eyes wide open for the last few weeks of this chapter? Rather than rushing ahead to the next chapter and speed reading until I find out what happens to the girl (!)…I am slowing down. Reveling in each sentence, each word. Reading the details between the lines of each moment that will ultimately foreshadow the future. It’s hard work, but it’s work that I choose. Choosing to slow when I want to move fast, when others want me to move fast, I move slow.

It’s not easy, and I get distracted easily. I’m busy prepping my bags and cleaning out my closets; mundane work that is fueled by reveries of waterfalls and soundscapes of the wild. But then I remind myself, Be here…for now. Be present in these little moments. Feel the hot Texas sun on your bones. Enjoy your morning stroll, rich in appreciation for your neighbors near and far. Blast some tunes as loud as you can when you clean the kitchen. Turn the radio off and roll the windows down on your commute. Say yes to dinner with friends on a work night. Say no to the things that lower your vibration. When I began practicing this little bit of mindfulness, my energy shot through the roof. I had been spending so much time on the merry-go-round of routine that I felt depleted and depressed. Once I jumped off, caught my balance, and sat in the grass looking up at the sky, the energy started flowing. Little by little, the daily practice of staying present began to feed my inspiration. I’m still working on it, but little by little, I know it will become my freedom, my refuge, and the springboard to my next big chapter. But don’t worry, I’ll take my time getting there. Little by little, I’m building my story.