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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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.

To the wonder of every moment

Attitude of Gratitude:

I’m thankful for the opportunity to immerse myself in nature. I’m thankful to live among incredible creatures. I’m thankful that I’m part of the work exchange program at Rancho Margot. (These thanks are part of my attitude of gratitude series I’ll be including on my blog. Find out why by reading this blog post.)

You never know what you’ll see or what you’ll learn here at the ranch.

When I took off my shoes in the garden, Abilio, the ranch’s agricultural engineer who I like to call Abuelo, told me to take off my socks too. He encouraged me to dig my toes into the dirt. He grabbed a handful, smelt it and said, “This is life.” Everyday I’m learning something new about this life, about living in harmony with nature.

One afternoon the other tour guides taught me about pollination. As they explained flower gender and hummingbirds as subconscious matchmakers, I felt overcome with emotion. In this strange way I felt like crying without precisely knowing why. So intensely I felt the connection to all the plants around me, how everything lives inside of us, how deep our roots run, how nature is constantly living this cycle without our help. Learning what seemed like for the first time how flowers function and how we as humans relate to that. It was like I was the only one missing out on a giant secret. I wanted to kiss every single flower, thank every single tree. On any given day here I get wrapped up in the beauty and wonder of it all.

Everyday I see at least one hummingbird. I’ve gotten used to waking up to the mono congos howling, the pigs squealing or the cows moo-ing.

On the way to la casona after work one day I walked past this in the medicinal garden:
boa

It was my first time seeing a boa constrictor in nature and not in a museum. We placed it in a burlap sack and freed it by the river. When it opened its mouth the hiss was phenomenal, like a projection from the depth of a human throat. boa

boaAnother day I looked out the window of my room and saw a lime green anole run up the tree. When I pass them on the trail, they look like miniature Tyrannosaurus rexs, awkwardly hobbling along with arms dangling. It let us watch it for awhile on the tree.

Anole

anole

Then it leapt to a branch and changed color to blend in. It chameleoned right before our eyes.

anoleI’d rather watch that than a television anyday. I’m constantly amazed by what I see in nature everyday.

A family of ants crossing the street while carrying leaves.

If you look close enough you’ll see that those green leaves are being carried across the street by a family of ants.

Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the singing bird will come

A dirt road has taken me everywhere I’ve been in Costa Rica. The road to Rancho Margot, a mostly self-sufficient eco-resort in the cloud rain forest in the western province of Alajuela, was no different. Except after Rancho Margot there’s only forest and mountains.

The road ends at Rancho Margot where new life begins.

The road ends at Rancho Margot where new life begins.

I’ve committed to a work-exchange program at Rancho Margot for at least one month. I found Rancho Margot by googling ‘yoga retreats and farms in Costa Rica.’ I was torn between what farm to volunteer at first, and then I met someone who had been to the ranch. After a yoga workshop I took in New Jersey, I talked to one of the yoga teachers, Jo Ann Jones. She had a pamphlet in her hand about Costa Rica. Farming came up in conversation and Jo Ann mentioned Rancho Margot. “You have to go. It’s a magical place,” Jo Ann said. My decision was made then and there.

Rancho Margot overlooks Volcano Arenal, which was Costa Rica’s most active volcano up until 2010 and Lago Arenal, Costa Rica’s biggest lake. At the 400-acre ranch we produce our own electricity with hydroturbines; we heat the shower water with compost; we create our own methane gas from animal waste; we grow food without chemicals; we make our own soap and furniture and so much more. Learning about the sustainable steps the ranch implements, makes me wonder why more people and organizations don’t follow suit. There are simple ways to live in symbiosis with nature all while nourishing and preserving the Earth.

The owner of the ranch, Juan Sostheim, opened the first Burger King in Europe and owned a chemical factory in Holland. While vacationing in Costa Rica he stumbled upon a barren horse and cattle pasture. For the past nine years he has been reforesting that land, which is now the ranch, and turning it into a model for sustainability.

At the ranch there’s about 50 workers and a rotating cast of anywhere from 5 to 10 volunteers. I sleep in la casona, in a bunkbed in the voluntarias room. I work a 6-hour day in the vegetable garden and when the tour guides need help, I give tours to guests and visitors. I take daily yoga classes at the outdoor studio on the ranch. I love working in the garden, surrounded by green, being a part of the process of cultivating life. I love giving tours and educating people about our sustainable practices, learning more and more about plants and wildlife all the time.

garden above

View of the garden from above

Part of the vegetable garden

Part of the vegetable garden

path

Part of the path I walk everyday

La Casona

La Casona, where the volunteers and workers stay

Baston del Emperador

Baston del Emperador, the King’s Stick.

Heliconia, we have tons of  species of these on the ranch. I've seen them in other parts of Costa Rica too.

Heliconia. We have tons of species of these on the ranch. I’ve seen them in other parts of Costa Rica too.

So far everywhere I’ve been in Costa Rica has bordered a body of water. I can always hear the vital life force rushing, always moving. At the Nicoya Peninsula it was the ocean. Here it’s the Caño Negro Rio that’s along the ranch. Instead of the rush of traffic, it’s the rush of a river. Instead of the wail of sirens, it’s the wail of birds. Instead of gray concrete buildings, it’s green growing plants. This presence of nature is always something I want to surround myself with, something I always want to keep alive in my heart.

Do what you will, while you’re able. Find what it is that you seek. Only I’ll fly, fly, fly above the ocean. I will fly so high above the sea

I’ll admit, I was nervous booking a hostel and a shuttle service from the airport in another country via email for my first time traveling to another country alone.

Right after I arrived in Costa Rica and went through customs, I still had butterflies as I searched for my driver among the crowd of taxi drivers holding signs for different hotels, resorts and hostels. But as soon as my driver greeted me, “April, hi, nice to meet you,” in a slow, relaxed tone, my nerves slightly sunk away. He said, “First time here and you picked Solo Bueno Hostel? You picked a good place. Only the crazy people go there.” (Sidenote: Sometimes I see him in town. He remembers my name and always greets me with a hug and kiss on the cheek.) He led me to a different driver who drove me all the way to my hostel.

Once I got in the shuttle, Marvin, the driver, handed me a map of Nosara and said, “Your first present in Costa Rica.” As we passed sugar cane fields and mango trees throughout Nosara, Marvin kept saying how beautiful everything in Costa Rica was and especially how beautiful Guanacaste was. “Guanacaste es que lindas,” Marvin would say and bring his fingers to his mouth to blow a kiss in the air.

Guanacaste is a province (similar to a state) located in the northwestern part of Costa Rica.  Nicoya is a canton (similar to a county) in Guanacaste. Nosara is a city in Nicoya. Guiones is a beach town that’s part of Nosara. So Playa Guiones is in Nosara, which is in Nicoya, which is in Guanacaste. And that’s where I started my Costa Rican journey.

About 22 miles from Playa Guiones (pronounced ge-oh-nays) we turned down an unpaved rocky road that led to the town. All the street signs were covered in dust and there were no street lines painted on the streets. There were no street lights either.

I arrived at the hostel minutes before sunset. I walked right into the common room of the hostel. There wasn’t a front desk or sign-in area. Kimberly, the the woman-in-charge of the hostel spoke to me from the kitchen,

“These are the rules: No smoking tobacco in the house. I don’t care about pot. And we’re having a feast tonight.”

I jumped on Kimberly’s golf cart, and she drove us to the beach where we watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. When I woke up in the morning, Kimberly handed me a cup of the best coffee I’ve ever had. It came from her friend’s farm in the mountains. Everything still felt like a dream.

***

I’ve been in Guiones for 12 days now. As I walked around town on my first full day here, excitement ran through me as I giggled like a schoolgirl with a new crush. I still feel this giddiness when I look around me and realize that I’m living in Paradise. It’s like being at a music festival or Burning Man; it’s like falling in love.

As ticos, (nickname for Costa Ricans) would say, it’s Pura Vida, which translates to pure life, and means any variety of: this is living, all is good, life is amazing. Ticos often greet each other with this saying or slip it into casual conversation.

In Guiones I wake up when I hear the birds chatting or when the sun comes up. I spend the majority of my days outside. I spend each moment doing what it is I want to do at that moment. I take yoga classes everyday. I explore. I ride my rented bicycle. I walk through the jungle. I swim in the ocean. I drink fresh coconuts from the beach stand. The only time I follow time is to make sure I make the yoga class on time. Other than that there’s no need to. I eat when I’m hungry and go to sleep when I’m tired.

I’ve had some really incredible days here. I’ve met people, been in certain situations and had certain conversations that I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t alone. I’ve met people on the street just by smiling and waving. I’ve done things I wouldn’t have time to do at home. Each day I’m learning to quiet the voice in my head that wants to constantly be busy, that feels compelled to always be in motion. With each moment that passes I’ve been falling into a tranquilo state of doing what comes naturally and not worrying too much about anything else.