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.

Envisionary Enlightenment

Attitude of Gratitude:

I’m thankful that I’ve been spending the winter at various beach towns away from snow.

I’m thankful for strangers who lend me their computers so I can blog.

I’m thankful for every single thing that happened to me since leaving the La Fortuna area.

Sometimes in life things happen so fast that they don´t even feel like they´re happening. After three weeks of volunteering at Rancho Margot I left to venture to Envision, a music, arts and movement festival in Bahia, Costa Rica. I didn´t have a ticket and I wasn´t registered to volunteer, but I knew I didn´t have anything to lose. Sometimes all you have to do is show up. I don´t think we give ourselves enough credit for showing up. If one thing doesn´t work out, something else will. As long as we enter situations with an open mind and an open heart, things will be all right.

The day we left the ranch (I tagged along with another ranch volunteer who was set to volunteer at Envision), we spent most of the day traveling to Jaco. When we passed through San Jose I felt like someone picked me up and dropped me onto a spinning top. After weeks of solitude at the ranch, the movement,  litter and concrete of the city was overwhelming to say the least. We arrived in Jaco around sunset, ate, slept and caught the 6 a.m. bus to Uvita. When we arrived to Envision, I lined up with all the volunteers to sign-in. I asked them if they needed any extra help, said I was willing to do anything and they signed me up for the Envision Cafe and Tea Lounge. I was ecstatic with the way things were working out.

As the festival went on it quickly became one of my favorite festivals. Part of Envision’s mission is to elevate people to live a more conscious lifestyle through education, music, art and sacred movement. Throughout the day there were countless yoga and dance classes and all sorts of informative workshops on topics like healing plants, building community and feeling empowered. The music (mostly electronic) started at 5 p.m. and went on until 7:30 in the morning. The crowd was a mix of like-minded travelers, festival lovers, Burners and ticos. It was set deep in the jungle with multiple types of palms outlining the grounds  and the nighttime hum of cicadas.

Envision highlights: showing up without a ticket and being able to volunteer, serving people at the Envision Cafe and Tea Lounge, Random Rab’s sunrise set, seeing Rising Appalachia for the first time, discovering a divine love for jackfruit, taking a contemporary dance workshop with the performers of Quixotic, the question and answer session with Alex and Allyson Grey, randomly running into friends from the States and recieving some of the best hugs I’ve ever had.

After Envision I spent two nights in Bahia then joined the rest of the Envisionaries in Dominical which quickly turned into an Envision after-party. The street along the beach usually has typical beach vendors selling towels, jewerly and art, but after Envision many craftsmen joined the vendor row. People camped right behind the vendors and on various spots along the beach. Post-Envision transformed into Occupy Dominical. At any given moment interesting characters swayed and stumbled along that vendor road.

We arrived just before sunset, found an open room for the two of us that transformed to six in Bahia and went straight to the beach. I’ve never seen so many people on one area of the beach for sunset before. Three of us sat close to the water and meditated as a man played his trumpet and the sun sank below the horizon. Everyone clapped and cheered. People drummed, hooped, spun fire, threw sticks, danced.

Dominical

Sunset

French loves

IMG_9083

I spent the next few days falling in love with everything and everyone around me. I had so many great conversations with people I just met. And the beautiful people were everywhere: on the streets, on the beach, at the supermarket, at the hostel. After the festival it was so nice to still see festival friends. It was a chance to get to know them outside the festival while letting go and sayin nos vemos at the same time. A slow, easy transition back to the “real world.” Even though for most of us traveling the real world is a bit like festival life. The festival just gave us a gathering space to merge together.

After Dominical I went to San Jose to regroup while visiting a friend and now I’m writing this from an island in Panama. Life has been filled with so much sweetness.