Learning How to Love Chocolate

I have a confession to make: I don’t really like chocolate. This single taste preference has excluded me from many crucial bonding moments with other females. I’ve never devoured away my pain in a pint of chocolate ice cream or bought a chocolate bar when it’s that time of the month. I’ve never spontaneously bought a chocolate bar in the grocery store line or willingly chose chocolate cake at a birthday party. When I’ve received chocolate for various holidays, I’ve always given it away.

I’ve felt like this about chocolate for as long as I can remember. So when people have offered me some, I’ve politely declined. But recently I’ve learned that chocolate isn’t just one set thing. Chocolate comes in all different shapes and sizes. I’ve learned that even though I don’t like chocolate, I love cacao.

Cacao, chocolate before it’s processed, originates in Latin America. In its purest form chocolate is not sweet; it’s bitter. In the United States and Europe chocolate is inundated with milk and sugar, and most often, the ceremonial aspect of cacao is forgotten about. Until I went to Central America I had no idea that people used cacao as a plant-based medicine in ceremonies. Until I went to Central America I had no idea that chocolate is a plant, that chocolate grows on trees. Continue reading

24 Hours in San Pedro

San Pedro La Laguna is a town on the southwest shore of Lago Atitlán that sits beneath Volcan San Pedro. With a population of about 13,000 people, it’s primarily inhibited by Tz’utujil Mayans, expats and backpackers.

From the farm a group of us took a private boat to San Pedro and got dropped off at the west side dock: muelle municipal. This is also the dock where boats, lanchas in Spanish, arrive from and depart to Panajachel. Continue reading

Market Life in Santiago Atitlán

Hoy was mi primero tiempo going to the mercado in Santiago Atitlán. Santiago is the town diagonally across the lake from the Mystical Yoga Farm. To get to any other towns from the farm (other then the village of Chacaya), we have to take a boat to Santiago first.

Santiago is a mostly indigenous Mayan community of around 50,000 people on Lake Atitlán. The locals speak Tz’utujil (pronounced two-two-hill). There are a handful of ex-pats who also live in Santiago.  Women and most of the young females wear traditional woven stripped long skirts and huipiles, shirts embroidered with colorful birds and flowers. Continue reading

Life lead me to the Mystical Yoga Farm

Inca Medicine Wheel

Inca Medicine Wheel

Update: The day I posted this blog was the last day of the year of the snake in the Chinese tradition. I found out the next day. So when I arrived the farm not only was it the cycle of the serpent, it was also the rounding up of all the remaining snake energy.

When I arrived at the Mystical Yoga Farm on January 5th, it was the day of the serpent. The farm follows the Peruvian Inca Medicine Wheel where an animal represents each cardinal point. The direction of the wind and the animal that compliments that direction guide the cycle of life at the farm. The serpent is the wind of the south who teaches us the way to walk on the earth with gentleness, beauty and care, who teaches us to shed our past and egos, who is the primary life force, who drives deep into the darkest places, and who is healer and helps us return to innocence. Instantly, this serpent energy spoke to me.

I came to the Mystical Yoga Farm to deepen my journey inward, to strengthen my physical body, to live in harmony with everything around me, to break down walls within me and to stare truth in the eyes. I came to make important changes within myself so that I can be the best version of myself possible and shine my fullest light. I came to grow into the best anchor for others and to life a live where I bring positivity to all.

Many things lead me here. Life lead me here. Sometimes it feels like everything lead me here.

The entrance to the Mystical Yoga Farm

The entrance to the Mystical Yoga Farm

For years I’ve known that I want to dedicate a huge portion of my time studying at an Ashram and living at a spiritual community. This past year at Burning Man, I had a huge wake-up call as to how I was living my life. Saturday morning at Burning Man I rode my bike to the Temple, tears streaming down my face as soon as it was in view. Everything that made me feel happy and complete flooded my mind: health and wellness, eating wholesome food, being outside, practicing yoga, traveling, writing, reading, helping others, fulfilling relationships and connections with people and on and on. After crying and meditating at the Temple, I realized that I was ready to devote myself to practicing yoga and reaching a higher spiritual state. I was ready to connect with my true self and live life through her.

I knew I was ready I just didn’t know where to go. I want to go to India at some point, but at the time I didn’t feel ready to take that step. After traveling in Costa Rica and falling in love with Latin America a few months prior, I wanted to continue learning Spanish. So I knew in my heart I wanted to go back to Latin America.
volcanoes across from farm

A couple weeks after Burning Man I volunteered at Symbiosis, a conscious-awareness music, yoga, art, and dance festival in California. The first day of the festival I talked to some volunteers about studying yoga.

“Then you should definitely check out the Mystical Yoga Farm in Guatemala,” one girl said. Those combination of words: Mystical. Yoga. Farm. Guatemala. were enough to pull me in. Shortly after that I met another girl who recommended the same place. Then I ran into some traveling friends who I hadn’t seen since Costa Rica. They couldn’t stop raving about Guatemala. I’ve always felt called to Guatemala, and then everything was aligned.

The Mystical Yoga Farm is an intentional spiritual community that focuses on self-sustainability, growing fresh organic food and growing healthy yogi’s, teachers and practitioners. Off the grid in a roadless forest along Lago de Atitlán, the only way to access the Mystical Yoga Farm is by boat. The farm blends into the beauty around it. When approaching by boat, you’d miss the farm if you didn’t know it was there. The beauty surrounding the farm is endless.

The path we walk everyday

The path we walk everyday

We sit at the base of Volcán San Pedro, like a dog sits at its master’s feet and we stare directly at Volcán Atitlán. We’re right along one of the most magical lakes in Central America, a lake that’s steeped in Mayan history and culture. Grandfather Rock, a Mayan spiritual land monument, backdrops and shelters us. Mayans
believe that shamans’ souls come here when they die. Lush jungle plants and coffee trees grow around us. They call this part of Guatemala the land of eternal spring. Mornings and nights are chilly, but days are sunny and warm.

Grandfather Rock

Grandfather Rock

We use solar panels for electricity and composting toilets for the bathroom. At night we barely use electricity and instead stick with candles. The internet is spotty and slow, and we don’t use it often.

The Farm holds yoga teacher trainings through SchoolYoga Institute, hosts retreats, welcomes guests for the day, night or multiple nights, and has an active community of volunteers (karma yogi’s) who contribute through various projects. I’m staying on the farm as a Karma Yogi with the Ayani Harmony Tribe. As a member of the Ayani Harmony Tribe I’m a hostess for the farm. I greet guests when they arrive, show them around, and set up their rooms. I help with house-keeping duties, cooking, and gardening. I help with whatever projects are needed. Other than house-keeping duties, I’ve created space for a bench, painted the bench, painted trash bins, learned how to saw steel, and stained bamboo since I’ve been here. Soon I’ll be helping out with editing and social media.

As a Karma Yogi I also get to participate in the daily life of the farm. We meditate and practice yoga in the morning, have a lecture or workshop in the late afternoon and gather for satsang (community reflection usually involving singing) at night. It’s been an incredible experience so far, and I fall more in love with my surroundings each moment.

Want some Mystical Yoga Farm in your life? Hop on a boat!

From Santiago a private boat should cost no more than Q40 cuarenta quetzals.

Here we are in the grand scheme of the lake:
Getting to Mystical Yoga FarmThe closest village is Chacaya, a ten-to-fifteen minute walk along the lake. The closest boat ride is from Santiago. Check out the farm’s website for the getting to the farm guide.
The farm’s website also has tons of information about retreats, visits and volunteering. The volunteer commitment is for one month. If I wasn’t at the farm volunteering, I’d definitely visit as a guest. It’s the perfect place to relax, reflect and go deep within yourself.

My view at the farm as I was writing this blog post.

My view at the farm as I was writing this blog post.

Since the internet is spotty at the farm, I took a boat across the lake to Restaurante Bambú. Here’s my  current view as I post this blog:

The view from Restaurante Bambú.

The view from Restaurante Bambú.

Ah, life is so good.

Guatemalan Beginnings

On the fourth day of 2014 I left the United States to begin a life in Guatemala. A year prior I left the US around the same time to live in Costa Rica. The past two years for me have begun by migrating south for exploration, for warmth, for discovery and for freedom. After falling in love with Latin America, I couldn’t wait to return and fall deeper.
falling

My United Airlines flight was oversold and filled with primarily Guatemalan families. I was among the very few native English-speaking passengers. I sat next to a nine-year-old Guatemalan girl and her mother who was in her twenties. Between hearing Spanish all around me, sharing my snacks with the girl sitting next to me and helping her pick televisions shows to watch, my immersion began before I arrived in Guatemala. After months of not speaking Spanish, I was so thankful for this ease into the language.

When I arrived at the airport in Guatemala City I was surprised to see multiple signs first written in English and then Spanish written underneath in a smaller type. After exiting the plane, there weren’t separate lines for Guatemalan citizens and foreigners. Everyone went to the same line to meet the same Immigration officers. As a US citizen without a visa you’re only allowed to remain in Guatemala for 90 days. I fly back to the US after 90 days. As I walked toward the officer I felt my heart race, and nervousness set in. I memorized Spanish phrases, “Cuantos dias en Guatemala? Cuando es su vuelo de vuelta?”and repeated the responses in my head. “Relax. Remain confident,” I told myself. When I slid my passport through the officer’s window I said, “Hola, buenos noches.” He didn’t say one word. He just stamped my passport, and I was on my way.

A crowd of Guatemalans stood outside the airport doors. People of all ages circled the gate. My host told me later that going to the airport in Guatemala is like going to the market. “When someone flies back to Guatemala, their whole family comes to the airport to pick them up: their grandparents, aunts, cousins,” he said.

I spent my first night in Guatemala City at G-22, an environmental non-profit that educates people about sustainability and hosts guests. The director, Alfredo Maul, picked me up from the airport and explained some of G-22’s projects as we drove through the city. Before he even told me that some parts of Guatemala City were Americanized, I sensed it from seeing establishments like Dominos Pizza and a Shell Gas Station almost immediately after leaving the airport.

Guatemala City at night

Guatemala City at night

At G-22 Alfredo cooked me a delicious vegetarian dinner. “Everything you see here has a story,” Alfredo said as he poured me loose leaf black tea from somewhere in Guatemalan mountains and then poured white citrus honey into my cup. “You won’t find these items anywhere else.” I loved the way he gave life to the food and items we were using by saying, “Everything here has a story.”

We talked about his degree in Architecture and how he wants to spread sustainability to urban life and show people how to live simpler lives. I felt really connected to G-22 and their goals. I have strong interests in sustainability, especially when it comes to urban life. In a similar regard, I’m passionate about living a simpler life by being conscious of my purchases, reusing as much as I can, and giving new life to things I already have.

G-22

G-22

The next morning I left Guatemala City to begin my story at the Mystical Yoga Farm.

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.