When the Jungle Burned Me
(Read Part One: A Return to the Wild)
My first two days back in the jungle were blissfully easy.
While I felt trepidation as I left Seattle, uncertain how Puerto Viejo may have changed or how I might see it through my new eyes, it actually felt so much better than when I left.
The construction had completely stopped and the jungle had overtaken the sides of the road they once mowed down. Land plots once cleared returned to their wildness. Heavy rains cleansed the heavy energy and beautified the area with so much new life. The sun lit up the Caribbean sea like turquoise glass and stars littered the sky in the darkness of the New Moon. When I left, Puerto Viejo felt turbulent; now it felt calm.
I returned to the beach house I’ve rented six times in six years, the one physical dwelling space in the whole wide world that felt like mine. Walked that little familiar path from my house down to the ocean for sunset and danced with all the fireflies on my way back. I was home.
I wondered if perhaps Puerto Viejo would not be changing the way I had previously feared it would. This thought brought me a sense of ease. Though an unfamiliar feeling also resided within me: detachment. It felt strange to return to such beauty, and feel such peace, contentment, and love, yet feel utterly unattached to a place I once connected with through an umbilical cord. It felt liberating… but also like… loss.
A lot had shifted within me since I left seven months prior. I took a facilitator training at a tantric permaculture center in Nicaragua, lived in a treehouse on a tiny island in the Andaman sea, danced into different dimensions for six weeks in Chiang Mai, turned 30 with the full moon, led my first retreat outside of Puerto Viejo, backpacked all over Sri Lanka recollecting treasures I left behind lifetimes ago, created my first online course and showed myself to the world through video, and went through such deep inner healing in every process.
So as I always do, I came back to Puerto Viejo as a new woman. Which meant, Puerto Viejo was going to give me a new experience. Because she does this for me every single time I come home. And as always, I was curious what that experience would be.
My first day back was one of those perfect Caribbean days. I woke up to a tropical rainstorm and watched it pass from the sanctuary of my hammock. The sky cleared and I rode my bicycle to town, reconnected with friends at the farmer’s market, and stocked up on organic greens and a million coconuts. The day turned sunny and hot, and I swam in the tidepools in Playa Chiquita and napped under an almond tree. Late afternoon I made myself frozen banana cacao “nicecream” and walked the beach at sunset just at the end of my road.
I’ve always had the gift of throwing parties, back when I lived in Seattle I was known for it and I had assumed a similar role among friends in the jungle. Naturally, to welcome myself home, I hosted a gathering that night.
A couple dozen of my friends came over with beautiful salads and curries and dips and desserts made from the jungle’s abundance and we ate off of banana leaves while lounging on my candlelit wooden porch. I felt, love, support, and so much joy in the presence of those who had become my chosen family, in my chosen home.
After everyone left and the quiet symphony of the wild took over, I had a realization, “I’m no longer in a codependent relationship with Puerto Viejo. I cut the cord when I left for Thailand, and now I get to just be here and enjoy it. No more attachment, no more suffering.”
Perhaps in that moment I gave the jungle permission to test me.
Before we go further, it’s relevant that I mention, that there was a strange occurence my first night back. My house had one of those showers they call “suicide showers” where all of the wires are exposed that heat up the water right at the head. These are very common in Puerto Viejo and despite the ominous name I’d never had a problem with one before.
Well, my first night back I certainly did. It started out actually quite nice. The water was hotter than I had ever experienced it before. Awesome water pressure, great heat, an unexpected luxury down here in the jungle. But then it got really hot. Like, way way too hot. So hot I could hardly stand it no matter how much cold I turned on. I turned both knobs off, but the water kept coming out. Then the head started to vibrate and release steam. I exited the bathroom and watched from a distance as it literally exploded and the pipe popped out of the wall.
When you’ve lived in Costa Rica as long as I have, things like this hardly faze you anymore.
The shower still hadn’t been fixed my second night back, so when I got home from the beach, slightly sunburned from adjusting my skin to the equatorial sun, I just rinsed off in the cold outdoor sand shower before my friends arrived for the party. By the end of the night I was pretty red, but I know how this goes when I first come back to town. I get a bit burned, the next day I’m brown, and all is well.
The next morning, per usual the burn had faded and I had a beautiful golden glow. Except for one part of my body. About eight square inches of my right thigh was covered in huge red streaks. Heat rose up from it like a blazing bonfire. It f&*ing burned.
I figured it was some sort of heat rash, a sign of transitioning back into the jungle elements. I rubbed a bunch of lavender essential oil on it and went on with my day. Though by that evening, it had turned dark purple. I went to bed with an ice pack because the pain had gotten so intense I could hardly sleep.
In the morning, it looked worse. Blisters began to bubble up all over my skin and my hip was very swollen. I had planned to meet with my friend to film the rest of the yoga videos for my online community The Freedom Tribe, and I had to reschedule because I was in so much pain I could hardly walk let alone do a downward dog. She told me to call our friend who makes plant medicines, but I kept thinking it was just some sort of heat rash and it would soon go away.
Well, it got exponentially worse. One of the blisters swelled to the size of a golf ball and that’s when I called our friend the witch doctor. While I did not have a clue what had caused it, she was convinced it was a venomous plant burn, though the worst she had ever seen, and gave me an antivenom. “Wtf,” I thought, “the jungle actually burned me?”
For the days that followed I used massive amounts of aloe vera, colloidal silver, and anything natural I could think of. I doubled my probiotics and drank so much turmeric I thought I might turn yellow. But, it didn’t really get better.
As you can imagine, this turned my entire life upside down. I was so swollen I couldn’t walk and so terrified of infection I did not leave the house. I’m used to going to the beach and swimming in the ocean every day, getting lots of exercise, and constantly using my body.There was none of that. Instead, I had to just be with myself. Inside the container of my four walls.
My house sat within yards of one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and I couldn’t even walk down to it. The sun blazed and I sweat in front of a fan with my leg elevated slathered in gooey aloe instead of bathing in the Caribbean sea. It was like the place I had detached myself from decided to detach herself from me. I was in Puerto Viejo, but I wasn’t in Puerto Viejo, ya know?
There was a glimmer of hope, however, because the blisters were all fully intact. They were keeping my wound fully sterilized and safe from all the jungle bacteria. If I just continued to use the herbs and the aloe, apparently eventually I’d be ok without any scarring.
The unfortunate thing about these blisters, however, was that they were so big that I couldn’t put pants on without smashing them, which meant I couldn’t go anywhere and be protected at the same time. So I did something very uncomfortable, and very unfamiliar… I relied on other people.
This… this was hard. Very hard.
Despite knowing basically everyone here and having a huge community of friends, in that moment I felt completely alone. The thought of asking friends for basic things I needed… drinking water, groceries, bandages, medicine… was incredibly uncomfortable.
When it came to hosting a party, I had dozens of friends. I had a family. When it came to needing help, I had no one. Literally, I didn’t think that there was anyone who I could call. I realized the sobering truth that… I didn’t have any friends, because I didn’t know how to let anyone in.
But then there are those friends who force their way in and crack your heart right open.
And I do have friends like that.
One of whom came to my house every day to bring me bandages, aloe, and treats, and insisted on supporting me in every way possible. Another who I met just days before and rode her bicycle in the heat to town, to buy me organic veggies from the market. Another who wandered in the jungle to find different herbs and plants and made all kinds of tinctures and medicines to help me to heal. Another who came in a rainstorm at ten o’clock at night with a huge jug of water when I ran out. And so many others who supported me when I didn’t know how to ask or receive.
With nowhere to go and nothing to do, unable to shift the energy through my body with yoga or dance or running, I sat in my hammock and reflected on why it was so hard for me to receive. I contemplated why I seemed to push others away. Why it was easy to give or to take care or to host or to offer, but it was so hard for me to ever let anyone truly come close.
I didn’t have this quality before I left to go travel. In those days I always had a romantic partner, spent lots of time with friends, was always with my family, and barely found myself alone. But now here I was, 30 years old, coming up on seven years single, four years celibate, divided from my family by borders, and in a place where I didn’t even think I had friends. I was alone.
Then one night, something clicked.
I realized that I kept people at a distance, so they wouldn’t ever have to see my shadow, and neither would I.
This shadow dominated my life until five years ago when I flooded it with light living on the beaches of Costa Rica and backpacking the world on on my own. This shadow I called: neediness.
By exploring the world with no one to take care of me but me, I had learned to no longer be controlled by my neediness and fall into co-dependent relationships. But my strategy was a pretty limited one: aloneness. If I was alone, there wasn’t anyone to be needy with. So all sorts of relationships were very, very, very scary for me.
No wonder I was exclusively attracted to men who already had girlfriends, felt most comfortable with friends who were very busy or always traveling, and adamantly lived alone. There was no opportunity for me to be needy.
But why was I needy? Was it a personality trait? Was it because my Moon is in Leo? Was it because my parents are divorced? Or because my heart had been broken so many times? Or because of that time when my friends bullied me? Or because and because and because?
Oh right… of course. It dawned on me.
I’m needy, because I am human and humans have needs.
The most obvious yet most profound realization shattered me like a force cracks a seed so far open it can never go back, it can only grow.
I realized that I felt needy, because despite doing yoga, dancing, cleansing, cooking for myself, traveling the world, chasing my dreams, taking trainings and workshops, reading all the self love books, and on and on and on… I had neglected my most core human needs.
I had abandoned the child inside of me who was constantly looking for the mother that only I could possibly be.
So I had to make my way all the way back to the beginning.
If I truly wanted to detach myself from the jungle, I had to start mothering myself the way the jungle had once mothered me.
She showed me how to be a child from the moment my feet kissed her skin
and now she was showing me how to be a mother.
That’s when I started talking to myself.
Yep, I was in my house, all alone, hobbling around with aloe dripping down my leg, talking to myself out loud. And yet, I felt more sane than ever. I’d ask myself questions like… “So, how are you?” and I would just wait for an answer. The answers always surprised me. They were spontaneous, emotional, very simple, and totally unfiltered. It was actually so much easier than the constant analyzing and figuring out I had grown so accustomed to.
“How are you?”
“I’m really sad! I’m still hurt about you know who and I’m hungry. I want you to cook for me and stop trying to control me.”
“Ok, let’s make a salad and then we can go snuggle and talk about it. How does that sound sweetie?”
Even more basic than that, I focused on loving and caring for myself through my body. I reasoned that my constant strep throat and bronchitis as a kid, sickness and injuries while traveling, and now totally inexplicably caused burn, were my body’s way of crying out for the attention that I would only give it in times of crisis. I needed to learn how to love my body more deeply than ever before, so it didn’t have to be abused first.
That realization, of course, came in a moment of crisis. I mentioned before that my saving grace was that the wound remained closed and safe from infection. Until it wasn’t. One morning, the biggest blister popped and the skin completely tore. Very much in my character, I had no form of first aid kit or even disinfectant in the house, so I just put some essential oil and aloe on it.
It rapidly got infected, and no matter how many different plants or colloidal silver tinctures or kinds of essential oils I used, the infection did not go away. I started to freak out. It had been at least ten days since the burn arrived and I wondered if I would ever be able to go into the ocean again. I wondered if I was ever going to heal.
Finally, my inner mother spoke up and said, “Camille, we’re going to the pharmacy!” HELLO PRIDE, Western Medicine exists for a reason, and thank God and bless it fully. It was like spending the whole day looking for a key that had been hanging around my neck. Yes, duh, antiseptic wash and burn cream. Taking care of my body was more important in that moment than taking care of my self righteous ego.
The awesome thing about the blister popping was that I could finally wrap my leg up and wear pants to leave the house. I still hobbled from the swelling, but I was able to ride my bicycle into town that night and go to the pharmacy for cream. Getting out of the house even for half an hour was tremendously liberating. My inner child was so excited you’d think we were buying ice cream.
But as I cycled home through the darkness under the stars, a familiar sadness greeted me. The sadness of unrequited love and a romance that I clung to so tightly despite knowing logically again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, that it didn’t make any damn sense at all. This time the sadness had another flavor though. It tasted like grief. Which meant that even though it still hurt, I was letting go.
In my garden, where I had so many ceremonies and channelings and greetings in the past, I wept for the piece of myself I tied to him. Without even understanding it and doing everything I could not to intellectually judge it. But just to feel it and let myself grieve it.
And even though writing these words seems so dramatic it’s almost embarrassing, and to him, myself, and so many I’m delusional and unjustified, it is what feels true to my child. So in honor of whatever she decides to feel, I say it here now to you: I wept for the loss of my king. The lion to my lioness. My twin flame.
The next morning my wound had completely transformed. All of the blisters deflated and the infection was totally gone. That said, the medicine from the pharmacy smelled more toxic than anything I’ve ever put onto my body, and had actually formed a layer on my skin that seemed like plastic. I decided that one use was enough and now that the infection was gone I’d go back to natural. Only this time, I would fully devote my energy into loving and caring for my body like a newborn baby.
I massaged myself with castor oil and different herbs, covered my wound in healing balms, gave myself reiki, and took care of my entire body like a temple. It became my nightly ritual, massaging even my feet and toes with different oils and treating myself as beautifully as I deserved.
As my body healed I noticed other rapid transformations. Despite not leaving the house nor exercising at all for ten days, I had lost a significant amount of weight. It was like my body finally had the permission to let go simply because I decided to love it. For the first time since getting sick years ago traveling, I no longer felt bloated. It was like coming home to a body that I forgot I once had.
Creatively I felt more flow than ever. Everything became crystal clear. Writing was effortless. My message became potent. My dreams started manifesting at rapid speed. It was like I was… superhuman.
And to my delight, my leg had healed enough that I felt ready to go greet the world. The ocean was still a ways off, but I could go and teach my yoga class in town. So when it came time, I bandaged up my leg, put on my compression leggings, and rode off.
On the way, I remember passing this teenager on the street in front of the blue Caribbean shack affectionately called “the house of thieves.” He made some sort of kissing noise or derogatory comment, and I silently blessed him (because otherwise I’d go crazy in this world), and pedaled on. Sad but true, I’m so used to this from traveling alone as a woman that I hardly gave it a second thought.
After yoga I offered DANCEmandala while the sky sobbed and roared. It was one of those intense Caribbean rainstorms where it almost sounds like the world might end. We called in the wildness in our steps and released like the rain with our sweat and our tears. By the time we held hands in our closing circle the storm stopped and the cicadas had taken over.
It was dark when I turned down the path to my house; my belly groaned and my body begged for rest. I planned to make myself soup and have an early bedtime, but life had other plans. From the garden I could see that the door to my house and been kicked down and immediately I knew, they took everything.
My jungle hazing hadn’t ended, it had in fact just begun.
(To be continued next week…)