Love As Fermentation

“Food tastes better when someone else feeds it to you, that’s what they say in Ethiopia. So before someone takes a bite they prepare the best bite and feed it to someone else,” you tell me as you prepare a fork of Indian food to feed me at a restaurant in New York City. It’s the gift of giving and receiving. Being willing to receive without quite knowing what you’re going to get. You were the first person to tell me that as we shared Indian food in a city far away from Ethiopia, far away from here. You told me stories about traveling in Latin America, sleeping in hammocks, sailing from Central America to South America, working at a hostel on the beach, teaching English in the Andes. You were the first person I met who traveled through Latin America, who followed your heart and the spirit of adventure.

You didn’t tell me the part about giving and receiving. I figured that out on my own later. But this act of feeding, of giving to another person, giving the best bite you called it, the best piece you can give, the best part of yourself. This Ethiopian custom became one I passed on to other lovers, to friends, to anyone I shared food and nourishment with. Passing you on everywhere I went. Now at a fermentation class in Asheville, 6 years later, this same Ethiopian custom comes out the teacher’s mouth.

Pulled between watching the cooking demonstrations and the greater need of sleep, I hazily remember that first night we spent together. I start writing before I even realize I’m thinking of you.

“In order for a seed to germinate it has to be warm, moist and slightly acidic,” every so often the teacher says something that speaks directly to my thoughts. A seed needs warmth in order to grow. We need warmth.

“It’s a wrap,” I just glanced at the worksheet and notice the title of the workshop. It’ a wrap: our story. Maybe not our story per see, but the romance between us, the things I’ve created in my head, the you I’ve longed for . I chuckle out loud as the reality of fermentation hits: slow process. Do something, create something and then let it sit and do its own thing. Slow food. Just like the drawn out process of our relationship: slow, over many moons and years, different lessons and growth with every encounter. Fermenting. Fermentation tastes better. It adds flavor. Fermenting grains lets you get the most nutrition out of them.

How can we get the most nourishment out of something? You could never give me the best bite, the best of yourself. But I’ve finally realized that it’s okay. I’ll give the best of me to others instead. I’ll give the best of me to myself.

Next I attend the workshop, “Gardens That Give
and Give.” A garden
I’ve been
relentlessly tangled around the idea
of you.
Perennials come back
year after year,
are more self-maintaining
over time. You’ve become
the perennial in my mind.
With deep root systems
I want to fall in love
and remain there.
“You’re helping me thrive; let me help you thrive,”
the teacher says and then shows us another slide. Strawberries.
You taste so bitter and you taste
so sweet. Love
ripped away at the seams.
Fresh and ripe and destroyed.
Always falling; I’m ready to land.
And still be on my feet.
Are these connections only meant to last in fleeting moments?
Six years. Six weekends. So many muddled thoughts in between.
Slow process.
Create something
and then
it takes on its own life.

This is part of the Choosing Vulnerability Series. Read more about it here. This is an unedited excerpt from the notes I took while I was at the Organic Grower’s School in Asheville. Sometimes out of nowhere, in the most unexpected places, a former lover finds their way into my heart again.

 

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I release so I can recieve

I manifested a sexy man to make out with at Envision Festival. But he ended up being a jerk. Then I learned to be more specific in what I ask the Universe for.

Let’s just call him “dream body.” That’s what I told my friends, “I met my dream body.” As soon as I saw him I knew Continue reading

The Death and Evolution of My First Love or My Changing Perspective on Music Festivals

***This post has been published in a slightly different version at elephant journal! Read the article here.

There’s something you need to know about me: I love music festivals. I love folk, world, bluegrass, indie rock, psychedelic dance, weekend-long, week-long, camping, non-camping, you-name-it music festivals. But recently this love felt different. I attended one of my favorite music festivals and didn’t feel the all-encompassing, “oh my goodness my life is altered,” riding on the waves of bliss kind of love and pure joy that I usually feel. Instead Envision Festival left me feeling jaded, sad and heartbroken in ways that I couldn’t quite understand.

Envision Festival is a four day camping, music, yoga, art and movement festival in the Costa Rican jungle alongside a beach. Over the past few years there’s been an emergence in music festivals that are centered on conscious community and transformation, Envision included. Throughout the day at Envision there are multiple yoga classes, permaculture discussions and healing workshops. At night and through the sunrise hours there’s live music (mostly electronic).

I love music festivals because of moments like this: a group hug at Random Rab's sunrise set.

I love music festivals because of moments like this: a group hug at Random Rab’s sunrise set.

This year I went to Envision straight from living at the Mystical Yoga Farm, an intentional yoga community in Guatemala. It was my first time leaving the lake and leaving the farm for more than 24 hours. It was also my first time in a long time being around thousands of intoxicated people.

Many magic moments happened at Envision. Nahko and Medicine for the People’s set fueled me with energy for days. Ayla Nereo inspired me to not waste time in following my heart. Suzanne Sterling’s yoga class brought me to my knees in prayer, love and tears.

Suzanne Sterling's class. Photo courtesy of Envision.

Losing ourselves to ecstatic dance in Suzanne Sterling’s class. Photo courtesy of Envision.

Running into the ocean naked revitalized and invigorated me. I made connections with people who helped me to see with clarity. I connected with my tribe of festival friends from around the world. I overheard a toddler call to their friend over and over, “I love you so much. Bye. I love you so much. Bye.” These words echoed throughout the night.

Many beautiful things happened. But I didn’t feel cradled in community. I didn’t feel supported. I connected with people when I needed, but those were mostly fleeting connections. I was slightly overwhelmed by all that was going on. I saw the warped connections that occur once it gets dark and people start taking too many drugs. Especially since I’ve been living at a drug and alcohol free community, I felt ultra-heightened to these bizarre hours of the night and day when shit just gets weird.

I didn’t feel jaded because of my personal experience (more on that in a different blog post), but overall something seemed missing. I came to realize that what I really felt was a lack in overall intention. The Envision program reads, “Together we are here to celebrate our spirits, heal our bodies and minds, and revitalize our souls…” Yes, I do think Envision provides a space for that, but it also provides a space for people to partake in and possibly abuse drugs and alcohol. Depending on the music festival, drug and alcohol use are going to occur, but I think there can be a stronger balance with drug use and wellness. Even though there were yoga classes and there was a healing area, I’d like to see a greater space devoted to wellness and connection at these types of events.

After Envision I spontaneously landed at Tribal Alliance Retreat, a visionary leadership immersion in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle. Once Tribal Alliance was in full swing I realized why Envision left me jaded and upset.

At its core Tribal Alliance was a journey into the heart of community, sacred celebration, regenerative culture, rites of passage, empowerment, and embodying the vision of a new Earth. All this and more at an alcohol-free event with limited participant space and three vegetarian meals daily led to an intimate, inspirational gathering. At Tribal Alliance people were united in their intentions to be vulnerable, to go deeper, to build and maintain lasting connections and to remain centered on ultimate wellness and love. Focused on the more engaging, learning, grounding aspects of community, Tribal Alliance bridged the gap between music festival culture and tangible aspects of health, wellness and permaculture.

Where music festivals provide a plethora of options to partake in at all times, Tribal Alliance provided one workshop at a time. Where music festivals provide multiple stages with multiple musicians playing at once, Tribal Alliance provided one stage with one band playing at a time; there were no overlapping sets. Where music festivals provide a space to be pulled in a million directions, Tribal Alliance provided a space to be grounded and to be a part of community.

Another important aspect to Tribal Alliance: the food. The event included three vegetarian meals a day, and we all ate together. Eating with others and connecting over a meal is a beautiful bonding experience. I love being able to share the joy and fortune of food with others. There was live music every night, but it ended at 1 a.m. It was easier to rest when I didn’t have to worry about missing any late night music or have the remnants of late night partyers stomp through the campground.

Meal time at Tribal Alliance

Meal time at Tribal Alliance

I still think there’s a place and need for music festivals and I always will, but my personal needs are changing. As my life becomes more focused on health and wellness, I find myself questioning how nourishment fits into being at a four day party without getting the best rest or eating properly. As I become more myself, my values are changing. I value getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, looking people in the eyes, mindfully eating, learning who people really are, practicing yoga daily, connecting to people without the influence of drugs or alcohol and carrying an awareness while remaining grounded.

The more immersed I am in community, the more I realize how important a support group is. The more time I dedicate to yoga and health, the better I feel in every way. I want to live life as intentionally and mindfully as possible without fogging my perspective with drugs or alcohol. But at the same time, I love live music. I love dancing all night until past sunrise. I love the magic that can only occur at music festivals. How does all this balance? Where does it fit? At Tribal Alliance I felt the balance. I experienced how nourishing, healthy transformational events are possible.

Right after Envision I realized I was slightly heartbroken because at Envision a piece of myself died, a piece of myself who I’ve been for years, a piece of myself that was so intertwined with my identity. At Tribal Alliance I realized it didn’t die; it evolved.

So will I always be in love with music festivals? I can’t say for sure, but I know I’ll always love them in a special way. They’ve shaped my life tremendously. I’m constantly growing more into the person I want to be, more into the person I am. I’m recognizing what I really want out of life and how events like Tribal Alliance combine my interests in the most positive, meaningful way. I want to bring concepts and ideas from events like Tribal Alliance into music festival culture. I want to attend and be a part of events where ultimate wellness involving mind, body, spirit, land and community is the root.

This is my last blog post under the name ‘aprilsfestivals.’ I’m keeping the blog, but I’m ready to make the official transition to Smile and Be Free. Smile and Be Free represents the evolution of my love of music festivals and my ideas on life.

What are your thoughts on this emergence of “transformational” music festivals? Where do healing, yoga and permaculture fit into music festivals? How can we foster lasting positive change at these events? How do you remain present, grounded and mindful at music festivals when the chaos spins all around you?

Montezuma: Be a light unto yourself

Attitude of Gratitude:

I’m thankful for these objects and people that keep coming into my life at exactly the right moment. I’m thankful that I’ve had full days to do nothing but read. I’m thankful to have the power of both no-thingness and alone-ness. I’m thankful for all the lessons I continue to learn along the way.

One of my first days walking the beach in Montezuma I found a semilla ojo de buey, eye of the bull seed, washed along shore.

semillas

These seeds drift all over the world, getting picked up and tossed around by the ocean’s pull, but are native to the tropics. Sometimes they spend years drifting along. They are good luck charms with healing properties that help develop strength to face change. I read somewhere that,  “When we know we have to deal with something that requires great effort, this seed gives us all the energy we need.” I instantly felt like I was meant to find the semilla ojo de buey.

In my previous post about Montezuma, I wrote about mine and Elizabeth’s conversation about the people who are drawn to Montezuma. At the end of our conversation she said, “And then I wonder if people look at me and think these things. I’m lost, but I’m purposefully lost.”

Montezuma is the perfect place to be purposefully lost.

While in Montezuma I spent full days doing nothing but reading. I spent a lot of time alone contemplating what it means to be purposefully lost, and I found out more about myself.

Afterall part of the reason I also came to Costa Rica was to be purposefully lost. I was drained from constant years of schooling, taking 16 to 20 credits every semester while working two jobs and maintaining internships, scheduling hangout dates with friends between lunch breaks, going from one relationship to the next, and feeling like my life was turning into a never-ending to-do-list. Since being in Costa Rica for the past four months, I’ve definitely learned a lot about slowing down, being comfortable with doing nothing, and finding the courage to be alone, sometimes with only the roar of the ocean drifting into my ears.

After revealing a few things about myself to my roommate Nolita, she told me I needed to speak my truth more. “You are a powerful being when you speak your truth.” But what does that mean exactly? She said that the Universe keeps putting certain patterns into my life so I can realize that they are happening and deal with them. She told me to shift perspective and be in gratitude for things that happened instead of picking them apart. There’s that gratitude, once again showing up in some form of my travels.

Speaking your truth means standing your ground, not giving up, not giving in, and sticking up for what you believe in no matter what.

The next day at Devaya Yoga I picked a card from a deck similar to a Tarot card and it said,

“Growth comes not by fighting with what it wrong, but by loving what is right.”

Instead of looking at a situation and thinking about everything that went wrong, remember what went right. What went wrong antagonizes you. While this can act as a driving force of change for you to be better, you need to also focus on what you know is already true in your heart, what is already right for you. If the reason for why things went wrong has been a similar pattern in your life, then be in gratitude that that pattern presented itself once again, and move forward with what is right. This can also be applied to people and relationships. Learn to love what is right about someone instead of picking apart their flaws. Of course all of this is easier said than done, but another lesson in growth is good for all of us.

03

A few days later at the 03 Institute I picked some Osho Zen Tarot cards. Lately anxiety kicked into my brain as I thought about the future and life post-Costa Rica. The present moment slipped away as my mind constantly wandered to the nonexistent, the future. Before I knew what the Osho Zen Tarot cards were, I picked a card from the top of the deck to look at it. It was completely black and said in white type, “No-thingness.” I thought that was a little weird so I put it back and walked away. Later I shuffled the deck and picked the card, “Alone-ness.” I laughed, showed Nolita and she said, “There’s another one in there that seems bad too,” and showed me “No-thingness.” I couldn’t get away from this card.

No-thingness says, “Relax into the nothingness of not knowing. Treasure each empty moment of the experience. Something sacred is about to be born. The nothing is not just nothing, it is all. It is vibrant with all possibilities. It is potential, absolute potential. It is unmanifest yet, but it contains all. Why in the middle become so worried, anxious, why create such despair? Nothingness to nothingness is the whole journey.”

It’s okay to not know what comes next. In Western culture we are taught the opposite. We are pushed into college straight from high school and then pushed into careers and family life. We often have plans far in advance. We have family and friends who nag us about what we’re doing with our lives. The future looms over us. What we forget to realize is that, it’s okay not to know. It’s okay to let the Universe unfold exactly as it should. It’s okay to not be in control of every little thing that happens to you. It’s okay to let go. Everything, even the nothingness, is part of the experience.

Which goes hand in hand with Alone-ness:

“When there is no significant other in our lives we can either be lonely, or enjoy the freedom that solitude brings. We can either feel isolated and bitter, or celebrate the fact that our vision is strong enough even to survive the powerful human need for the approval of family, friends or colleagues. Take responsibility for the choice you have made. The humble figure in this card glows with a light that emanates from within. Gautam Buddha said, ‘Be a light unto yourself.’ Ultimately each of us must develop within ourselves the capacity to make our way through the darkness without any companions, maps or guides. There is a tremendous difference between loneliness and aloneness. Loneliness is absence of the other. Aloneness is the presence of oneself. Aloneness is very positive. It is a presence, overflowing presence. You are so full of presence that you can fill the whole universe with your presence and there is no need for anybody.”

Remember that being alone is okay. Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely. Remember that each one of us carries a light inside of us. We can access this light, this power, anytime.

Learn to feel joy in solitude. Learn to know the thoughts that flutter through your mind when no one else is there to influence them. Learn to know how you want to spend the day when the choice is completely up to you. Learn to feel comfortable with nothing but your presence and your breath on your skin. Learn to sit in silence and observe. Then you’ll see how beautiful everything can truly be.

anamaya

Montezuma Attracts

Attitude of Gratitude:

I’m thankful that no matter where I go in Costa Rica I somehow end up seeing a familiar face. I’m thankful for natural tidal pools. I’m thankful for Montezuma.

In my hostel one night my roommate Elizabeth and I started talking about Montezuma. She said, “I’ve been to so many places in the world, and I’ve heard here more than anywhere else people say, ‘That person is so weird. That person is a little off.’ I’ve never heard people say that so many times in one day before. This place definitely attracts people who are a little lost.”

Montezuma

Right after this conversation my Tico friend Andrei picked me up to get dinner. I asked him about his day, and he shook his head as he said, “Oh man I just got stuck in a two hour conversation with this guy. He just got divorced, and he kept talking about burning things. Crazy people here.”

Montezuma attracts lost souls.

One day on the street I overheard a guy say to two women in a stopped car, “There are no rules here. We’re the rulebreakers and the black sheep of our families.” Days later at the Saturday market I saw him with a wheelbarrow full of coconuts. He kept muttering, cursing and pointing fingers at no one in particular. Andrei later told me that that man, Jack of the Jungle, took too much Reina de la Noche and never came back.

Montezuma attracts spiritual-seekers, yogis, health-conscious folks, healers, people who need to be healed, creators, kindred spirits, backpackers and all kinds of alternative types.

A few times a week I took vinyasa flow classes at Montezuma Yoga, a beautiful outdoor terrace studio at Los Mangos hotel. There I met like-minded people who I saw at the community farmers’ market and other events around town. I also took classes at Devaya Yoga, right in town. One day I was the only one who showed up, so Devaya, the owner, gave me a “healing bodywork” session. In between talking fast about her own life, she’d say random things about my life like, “Continue to use your non-dominant hand. You’re not going to be a journalist, but you’re going to write something. Writing and beauty will dominate your life. You’re traveling alone, aren’t you? Brave for a Libra.”

Montezuma Yoga

Montezuma Yoga

Montezuma Yoga

Montezuma Yoga

One of my favorite yoga classes was on the beach for a Full Moon Rise class outside of Ylang Ylang Beach Resort led by Ireni Stamou. It was one of the best yoga classes I’ve ever taken. After Shavasana the full moon hung low in the sky over the ocean illuminating all of us.

Because there was a retreat happening I was never able to take a class there, but another yoga attraction in Montezuma is Anamaya. It’s a body, mind and spirit resort on top of the hill with spectacular views. I would love to go to a retreat there someday.

View from Anamaya

View from Anamaya

Almost every day in Montezuma I ran into someone I knew. My first night in Montezuma I saw my manager from the outdoor store I worked at in New Jersey. He just happened to be in the middle of the street, right across from my line of vision. I knew he was going to be in Costa Rica, but I didn’t expect to see him in the middle of the street on my first night in Montezuma.

I ran into three people who also volunteered at Rancho Margot. One of them, Jennifer, told me, “You’re gonna love it here. Happy, healthy people.” She’s studying with Dr. Teodoro, a naturopath, at the 03 Institute in Delicias, which is up the hill a bit from Montezuma on the way to Santa Teresa. The 03 is a spa, wellness and healing center. I did the sauna and cold plunge there and also got a facial. I highly recommend this place for everyone, even if you think you don’t need any kind of treatment. It’s a beautiful, tranquil place just to be.

O3

O3

Montezuma attracts love. 

When I was in Santa Teresa my hostel roommate there said that Montezuma was thee place to fall in love. Her and her boyfriend were having problems, and Montezuma changed everything. A guy I met in Montezuma told me, “Montezuma is special for relationships. There’s something about it that makes you fall in love.”

Some say it’s because of the waterfalls.

I got this picture from google because the day I was there the water was brown from the mud.

I got this picture from google because the day I was there the water was brown from the mud.

Andrei said Montezuma is his favorite place in Costa Rica. “I think it has something to do with the waterfalls. Something about them affects your wellbeing and your spiritually. It releases something in your mind,” Andrei said. “Montezuma just maximizes whatever you’re feeling. Here I just feel things. I stop thinking and start feeling.” Cesar, the co-director of my hostel, told me he originally moved to Montezuma because of the waterfalls.

Others will tell you it’s because Montezuma is one of the Blue Zones of the world. A Blue Zone is an area where scientists have found that people live longer and know how to be happier. The whole Nicoya Peninsula is considered a Blue Zone. In 2004, the man behind the Blue Zone concept, Dan Buettner, teamed up with National Geographic and hired the world’s best longevity researchers to identify places around the world where people lived measurably better.  In these Blue Zones they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States. Find out more information about Blue Zones here.

Montezuma attracted me.

Before I came to Costa Rica everyone that had been to Costa Rica told me that I had to go to Montezuma. They all got the same dreamy look in their eyes and sheepish grin as they talked about it. Before I came, it was one of the only towns in Costa Rica I knew about. I was hoping to go right away, but didn’t make it until April. In Costa Rica different people I met had opinions about Montezuma that went from one side of the spectrum to the complete opposite. While I was in Puerto Viejo, I felt really called to Montezuma. I knew it was time to head there.

The first few days I spent in Montezuma I didn’t see what all the hype was about. For starters the prices of everything from clothing and souvenirs to food were the most expensive I’d seen in the whole country. Most casados cost anywhere from 3500 to 4000. But I did find one for 2500 at El Capitan, a hostel/restaurant in town. There are places in Costa Rica with a similar vibe that have cheaper price tags. But by two weeks in, I too started to develop that dreamy look in my eyes and fell under Montezuma’s spell. I abandoned my ideas to explore other parts of the country and decided to stay in Montezuma longer.

Montezuma is on the eastern side of the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. The sunrise side. The sun rises in Montezuma and sets in Mal Pais/Santa Teresa, about 19 km away. To get to Montezuma you drive down steep hills that never seem to stop winding. Between the trees, azure water sparkles in the distance, but it doesn’t seem like anything else can exist down there.

Is there anything down there?

Is there anything down there?

Most of the restaurants, travel agencies and souvenir shops run along the two perpendicular streets along the beach. The Nicoya Peninsula’s information website says, “Montezuma’s town center, with charming old wood houses, itinerant artists, and vivid street life has an almost Caribbean flair and feels like the open-air living room of the community where a continuous mellow party takes place.” There is no post office or bank, but there’s an ATM. There are plenty of vegetarian eateries in town and quite a few places to get vegan food as well. The party night in town is Thursday when Chico’s Bar hosts Reggae Night. The street is blocked off for performers and firedancers.

One street in town

One street in town

The  other street in town

The other street in town

In Montezuma I was instantly greeted with kindness and remembered how friendly the locals on the Nicoya Peninsula are. A huge part of that is thanks to Kerri Bowers and Cesar Benavides, the founders of Proyecto Montezuma, a nonprofit organization which provides free English classes for locals, TEFL training, a tour agency, a hostel, and more, all in one. I ended up staying at Proyecto Montezuma for 16 days when I originally thought I’d spend a week at the most.

The hostel, on a ledge overlooking the ocean with two accesible beaches and natural tidal pools, is the perfect place to relax. It’s about a seven minute walk from downtown and a two minute walk from the waterfalls. It’s perfect for people who want a quieter stay, away from the hustle and bustle of town.

The side of Proyecto Lodge that faces the water

The side of Proyecto Lodge that faces the water

The view on the right of the hostel with the tidal pools.

The view on the right of the hostel with the tidal pools.

The left side of Proyecto

The view on the left side of the hostel.

That is what I had right at my fingertips day in and day out. Life just continues to get better.

Smile You’re in the Caribbean

That was the first rule at my hostel on the Caribbean side. As I explored the town, I continued to see this mantra everywhere.

Attitude of Gratitude:

I’m thankful that despite what everyone said, I explored the Carribbean side. I’m thankful for the wonderful community of people I met in Playa Chiquita and that community exists. I’m thankful for spiders.

The first night I arrived on the Caribbean side calypso music breezed through the windows of the cultural center in downtown Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. (The locals drop the de Talamanca and refer to it as Puerto Viejo. There’s another Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí.) Musicians wearing brightly colored sarongs swayed in the front of the room as people served traditional Caribbean food in the back. I arrived just in time for Gran Feria Cultural: Casa De La Cultura,  an Afro-Caribbean culture festival. As I danced to the calypso rhythms at the free event, I knew I was going to like it in Puerto Viejo. Back at my hostel they were hosting mud wrestling. There was already plenty to smile about.

I started my Costa Rican journey on the Pacific side and most people I met said the Caribbean side was nothing much, to put it nicely. I feel like some people in the States are also like that, always thinking their side of the coast is better. When I got to the Caribbean side and explored Puerto Viejo and every beach south, I realized that no one knew what they were talking about. Regardless of what people say about a place, you can never judge it until you’ve been there yourself. Until you experience something yourself, you never really know. Each day in the Caribbean side I found something new to love.

The Caribbean side pulses with life.

So many of these beauties everywhere

So many of these beauties everywhere

Bright blue morpho butterflies flutter right past your face sometimes. Neon orb-weaver spiders weave webs all through the jungle and between the power lines of the road.  Some say that the Caribbean side lacks a dry season. It rained most days I was there, but most of the rain poured during the night. In turn, lush green vegetation swallows you up. Leaves of trees seem to reach out and cling to you.

Caribbean trees

The Caribbean side is a mixture of all different types of people and cultures that includes indigenous tribes like Cabecar and Bribri Indians. Artisans sell jewerly and clothing all along the road, which adds to the vibrant colors you see everywhere.

Bob Marley music can always be heard somewhere. The jungle path pushes right up to the beach in Puerto Viejo and Cocles. There are restaurants in Puerto Viejo for every price range with a wide list of options from typical sodas to Thai and Italian.

In Puerto Viejo, there’s always something to do. There’s a farmers market on Saturday mornings. Lazy Mon hosts an open mic night on Sundays. Tasty Waves has trivia nights on Tuesdays. OM Yoga has a community class on Wednesdays. Jessy Chick performs at EZ Times on Wednesdays. There are tons of shops with really cute clothing and great souviners.

My favorite store in town is Luluberlu. It’s on one of the side roads and is a must-go-to if you’re in town. Just look at all these colorful things:

Luluberlu

Luluberlu

Luluberlu

When you talk to most backpackers about Puerto Viejo, they’ll suggest the hostel Rocking J’s. Most people I talked to didn’t really know anything else. But there are plenty more options. I knew Rocking J’s was a party hostel, primarily targeted at the 16- to 21-year-old crowd. I don’t mind partying every once in awhile, but I didn’t want to be living in the party. Rocking J’s is a great place to visit though. They have tons of beautiful mosaics.

Good VibesLife's so good

A guy I met at the bus station in Nicoya told me to go to a place called La Ruka instead. The name stuck with me as I traveled throughout Costa Rica. I ended up spending 16 days at La Ruka, my longest stay since volunteering at the ranch. When driving from the center of town, La Ruka is on the right, just before Rocking J’s. The couple that runs the hostel were extremely welcoming and accommodating. It’s one of those hostels where the other guests become your family. By foot, it’s around 5- to 10- minutes from the center of town.

One of the main differences of Puerto Viejo than most of the other places I’ve visited in Costa Rica is the paved road. The paved road added a whole new dimension to things. For one, people drove much faster than on the rocky, dusty roads.

Puerto Viejo is a bit seedier and rougher than most places I’ve been in Costa Rica. There are many places where you don’t want to walk or ride your bike at night regardless if you’re alone or not. Danni, the co-runner of La Ruka, told me, “When you walk at night be confident, and shine your light out.” I think this roughness is part of the reason Puerto Viejo gets a bad reputation. It’s not like people are murdering people in the streets. It’s mainly petty crime like people stealing your belongings. I’ve heard of worse things happening in Santa Teresa.

Like when traveling anywhere else, if you go out at night, be sensible. Don’t walk alone in the dark. Don’t carry anything valuable on you. And most importantly, shine your light out.

In Puerto Viejo people will openly offer you marijuana. More people ask, “Do you smoke?” in Puerto Viejo than any other place I’ve been in Costa Rica. I can see people being put off by that, but it’s as simple as saying, “No, gracias,” and walking away. The locals also have a favorite go-to line, “Hey girl, where you from?” It’s like they memorized that English question and nothing else.

While Puerto Viejo is nice for going out, the true gems of the Caribbean lie south of Puerto Viejo. I think another reason people dismiss the Caribbean side is because they get to Puerto Viejo and stop there. Keep going. Always keep exploring. The small beach towns past the main town are the heart of the Caribbean side.

After Puerto Viejo there’s Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva and Manzanillo. I loved the jungle feel of the places along the main road.

A cafe along the road

A cafe

The town's welcome sign

The town’s welcome sign

You never know when you'll need a little jungle love.

You never know when you’ll need a little jungle love.

cafe

Outdoor dining in the Caribbean

My suggestions as always: rent a bicycle and explore. The day I rode south of PV, I really started to fall in love. I felt like each passing sight and sign was written for me, especially in Playa Chiquita. I’m pretty sure I could stay there forever.

“Chocolate tours, vegan and vegetarian food, kundalini yoga, save the forest, and plant trees,” are just a few of the signs  I rode past.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, we pulled into the beach Punta Uva.

Punta Uva Punta Uva

This instantly became my favorite beach in Costa Rica.

And this ledge on Punta Uva’s beach instantly became my favorite place to practice yoga and one of my favorite places in the world.

Yoga Punta Uva

In Playa Chiquita my favorite place is La Botantica Organica, a vegetarian, vegan and raw foods cafe with a store that offers all kinds of sustainable, eco-friendly, and local products. While I was in Puerto Viejo they hosted a community movie night and community art showcase night.

At La Botantica Organica I met happy, healthy people who were facilitaing community in every sense of the word. I was so tempted to never leave so I could grow in community with them. But now I know I have a Puerto Viejo family I can always go back to.

I walked into Panama

Attitude of Gratitude:

I’m thankful that I’m no longer getting bit by Panamanian bugs. I’m thankful for the days I’ve been starting with delicious, balanced, home-cooked breakfasts. I’m thankful that I overheard my British friend and her Mom skyping about knickers and the laughing that ensued. Read my previous blog post here to learn about my attitude of gratitude.

I’ve always loved the idea of suspension. Of being in two places at once, of being between two ideas, two realities. Crossing the border from Costa Rica to Panama on foot on a rainy day over an unstable, slippery bridge wasn’t as romantic as my thoughts of suspension. The wooden bridge had an old railroad track down the middle with wide open gaps between some steps. Boards shook when you stepped on them. Between the gaps the dirty river raged below.

Here I am bracing the bridge

Here I am walking into another country. Good thing I wore my hiking boots.

Entering y Exiting Costa Rica:

As a United States citizen you don’t need a visa to enter Costa Rica. All you need is your passport and proof of leaving within 90 days. Once the 90 day mark comes, you need to leave the country for 72 hours before you can return. For more information about traveling to Costa Rica as a United States citizen head to the U.S. Department of State’s page here.

Many people recommended Bocas del Toro, islands of the  northwest coast of Panama, and my friend from the States was heading there, so it was perfect time for a border run.

Logistics of a border run:

My friend and I started in Cahuita, a town on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. If starting in Cahuita, make sure you have colones at the bus station to pay for a bus ticket. They wouldn’t accept American dollars. We missed the bus because of this. But also make sure you have American dollars before you enter Panama because that’s the currency in Panama.

From Cahuita we took the 10 a.m. bus to the border town of Sixaola. We were confused because we heard people say Sixaola and thought they were saying six hours. It took two hours to get to Sixaola from Cahuita. The bus deposited us at the bottom of the hill at the end of town. The only way to go was forward, towards the bridge. Before walking across the bridge we had to go to the immigration office on the right. We had to fill out an immigration form and get an exit stamp from Costa Rica. Once in Panama we could have walked right into the country without anyone stopping us. We walked into another country like we were walking home from a neighbor’s house.

Once off the bridge there’s a border office to the left to get an entrance stamp. Like Costa Rica, in order to enter Panama you need proof that you’re leaving. I was able to show my flight out of Costa Rica as proof. My friend had to buy a bus ticket from the stand down the stairs on the side of the big building. For $14 he bought a ticket that was valid for a year. He had to write his name and passport number on the ticket. The whole border process took about an hour. There was no fee to enter Panama.

The stand to buy a bus ticket is behind the white van.

One of my first glimpses of Panama. The stand to buy a bus ticket is behind the white van.

On the Panama side there were a lot of people just hanging around, watching. I didn’t feel threatened but it was a little unnerving. Most of them seemed like they were just trying to make money by helping. We took a van(one of the men hanging around was advertising the shuttle service) for $10 to the port where we took a boat for $4 to Bocas Town. Once we got into the van, the soundtrack of old school Ja Rule and 50 Cent gave me hope for the way things were working out. But once we got to Bocas Town, I quickly learned that it wasn’t where I wanted to spend my time.

Bocas Town, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Bocas Town is a small slice of a town at the bottom of Isla Colón. It’s the most developed and most visited area of the six islands that make up the Archipiélago of Bocas del Toro. Isla Colón is named after Christopher Columbus, who sailed to Bocas del Toro in 1502. The islands eventually turned into Chiquita banana plantations. Workers came from Jamaica and the West Indies, which increased the Caribbean vibe. Now there are hotels along the water, homes raised on stilts that are painted vibrant colors with a mix of tropical and colonial porches, and tons of water-activity based tours to go on.

Who names paradise?

For the first time in my travels I experienced what people deem “paradise” right alongside stark poverty. Being in Bocas Town made me feel sad and uncomfortable. Being there made me feel like I should be doing something to help instead of bar-hopping like most people. I started thinking about who deems a certain place paradise and how someone else could experience it completely differently. It looked like the locals were getting pushed out to construct hotels and places for visitors. Many areas were littered with trash and many locals homes were just piles of wood planked together. Are the locals enjoying the islands for the turquoise water and pristine beaches or are foreigners the only ones able to enjoy all the paradisiacal activity? It was also my first stop that wasn’t a backpackers’ town and instead a place where wealthy people vacation. I wasn’t used to not seeing smiling passer-bys on the street, not being able to find a decently priced meal containing vegetables and not freely going up to strangers to chat.

Here are some homes in Bocas Town:

There were places I enjoyed in Bocas Town, but I think three days is enough to experience what Bocas Town has to offer.

My suggestions:

-Rent a bicycle and ride out of Bocas Town towards the main part of the island. Ride towards Playa Bluff. Before the beach there’s a cool lounge on the water called Paki Point. Great place to chill, eat, drink. Playa Bluff was one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve been to.

-For food: Bocas Blended. A food truck two doors down from Tropical Markets, next to a house with a sign that says Marisqueria. It’s on the road along the water. I had a Mediterranean veggie wrap, Thai salad and mojito lemonade for $7. Any combination of wrap, salad and drink is $7. So fresh and delicious. I would definitely go again.

Bocas Blended

Bocas Blended

La Casbah: Located on Av. Norte between Calles 3 and 4. Very fresh food and reasonably priced. I had a falafel plate with pita and veggies on the side for $6.50. Split bruschetta for $5.50. Great atmosphere.

La Buga: on the water. Had good veggie options for lunch.

Cosmic Crab: on Isla Carenero. Need to take a $1 water taxi from Bocas Town. Right on water. Great place to go for sunset. Good specials.

Favorite store: Island Traders. Two doors down from police station. They have traditional mola patches, unique jewelry, beautiful displays of local art, among other things.

My favorite store on the island

My favorite store on the island

Favorite place to take yoga: Bocas Yoga. In a big purple house. For $5 you can’t beat it.

Cool hostels in Bocas Town:

Casa Verde (right on the water), Mondo Taitu (a party hostel), Mare Iguana (not in the center of town), Hostel Hansi

The inevitable thing in Bocas:

I can’t blog about Bocas without writing about the bugs there. I’m naturally prone to bug bites, so I might be a little biased. But out of all the years of my life of constant bites, swelling and infections, I’ve never experienced bites to the degree that I did in Bocas. Bocas is known for its invasion of no-see-ums or sand flies. In clusters they attacked my ankles and pretty much every part of my body. After itching them they would burn for hours. This hasn’t happened to me with other bites. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to partake in scratch-a-thons. I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. No bug spray or medicine helped. I did use a relief oil that I bought on the island. “Stop Scratchin Bite Relief” had jackass bitters, mataratton, aloe vera, coconut oil and beeswax. This helped but I had to apply it constantly.

If you have any questions at all about more information in Bocas or want to know more specific details about what I mentioned, message me or leave a comment and I’d be happy to help.

One last thing

I can’t write about Bocas without mentioning Sweet Love. Sweet Love was graffitied everywhere. You couldn’t walk down the street without it making an appearance. I’m not exactly sure why or where it came from, but there’s no denying that sweet love makes everything better. Here’s hoping there’s more sweet love for all of us.

I hope all your days are filled with sweet, sweet love.

I hope all your days are filled with sweet, sweet love.