Everything owns an opposite.
The more I travel the more I see this truth. Sailing across a blanket of turquoise that spans forever. Watching the sunrise over rolling desert hills of terracotta sand. Dancing blissfully in the breeze under the stars. Being burned after jumping through a ring of fire. Sharing a meal with generous locals in Cambodia. Getting scammed by con artists in Thailand.
The more I see these extremes, the more I crave these extremes. Sometimes I wonder if I’m addicted to them.
Maybe this is why Puerto Viejo is my paradise. It’s life in extremes. It’s a place to cure your own cancer or drink yourself to death. To heal your own heart or to hand it to someone you know will shatter it. To manifest your greatest dreams or to become a hammock lazing stoner beach bum.
You can do anything you want here. You can be anyone you want here.
In my life before becoming a nomad I never imagined this kind of freedom existed. I operated in a world with one way of living. One moral code. One path. One truth.
I had spent most of my life believing that I’d work in a fancy office, wear fancy outfits, drive a fancy car, marry a fancy man, and live a fancy life. I followed a career path I had no passion for. I spent all of my money on pretty objects, craft cocktails, and fine dining. I believed in the fairytale romances I saw in chick flicks and tried to force my relationships to fit into their mold.
Puerto Viejo smashed the fine china I thought I wanted and reassembled it into a beautiful, messy mosaic.
I lived in sand and saltwater. I barely ever wore shoes. I shared my bathroom with cockroaches. I tossed away my snobbery. I threw back shots of unpalatable liquor. I danced in filthy bars. I ate rice and beans. A lot. And most uncharacteristically of all I started a relationship with someone I knew I had no future with, because he was beautiful and made me laugh and I thought, why not?
I hopped from one extreme to the other.
In this place, living this way, I felt happy. So I abandoned everything that I had before and all that I was before. She, the woman who wore stilettos and silk and ate in fancy restaurants and always had serious boyfriends was unhappy. I didn’t want to be anything like her again. I rejected her so that I could become someone else.
When I returned to the states I brought the mermaid hippie back with me. Wearing flip flops and mini dresses in Seattle in the Spring. I got a lot of stares. Buying mango and papaya from the grocery store and complaining about how flavorless it was. Forcing my friends to go to the meat market dance clubs we always cringed at and take shots of tequila with me. Traveling across Europe and Morocco and Colombia and not enjoying any of it as much as I could have because I wanted everywhere to be more like Puerto Viejo.
So I kept going back to Puerto Viejo. Over and over again.
But eventually the lifestyle that once served me there just didn’t anymore. The deception and disappointment that followed from falling in love with a local left me questioning love altogether. Excessive partying caught up with me and I started getting hangovers and a chronic cough. I wanted friends beyond a Friday night. And I had food poisoning, like all of the time.
Practicing yoga began to take greater precedence in my life and the more time I spent on the mat the less I spent at the bar. People I once got low with on the dance floor gave me heat for staying home most nights of the week. I started cleansing and fasting and did shamanic healing in an Indian Sweatlodge.
Feeling physically clean and spiritually connected, again I pulled away from who I once was. This time I didn’t want to be the reckless attention seeker who danced so fiercely people thought she took ecstasy. That girl lived and loved too dangerously. That girl got hurt. If I rejected her and all that she did, maybe I wouldn’t get hurt again.
When I returned to the states some friends accused me of being obsessed with health. Others of being a nun. I wouldn’t touch anything that wasn’t organic and grain free and I wouldn’t touch a man unless I was certain he wouldn’t hurt me. That eliminated mostly everything.
In Southeast Asia, all of it confronted me.
Hippie chic looked homeless in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Eating organic was virtually impossible in countries bombed by Agent Orange, addicted to white sugar and MSG. Sleeping in hostels in busy, polluted cities did not lend itself well to practicing yoga asana regularly. I felt tired and depleted and I started wanting first world luxuries like clean white sheets and new clothes.
I couldn’t rely on what once made me happy because in this new environment it didn’t exist.
Away from the loving embrace of the jungle trees in Puerto Viejo I didn’t know who I was. I questioned everything about my lifestyle. It shocked me to realize that maybe I didn’t even want to be a backpacker anymore. I gave myself to a guy who I knew couldn’t give me what I needed because some part of me needed that and needed him.
Finding my way back to my yoga practice on Gili Air in Indonesia I began to remember what I practiced from within, beyond spirulina and coffee enemas and celibacy and unmaterialistic living, that truly felt good. I started doing that. Without the pressure of trying to be who I once was I could be who I really was in the present moment.
Could I let Cambodia be Cambodia and let myself be Camille in Cambodia when in Cambodia? Could I be someone who stayed in a five star hotel and slept in a wooden shack on the beach and in both cases feel happy? Could I drink my green smoothie and eat my street noodles and be nourished either way? Could I be modest and respectful and still feel sexy and beautiful? Could I want it all and have it all?
I played with this idea. In the process I fell in love with Southeast Asia. I never wanted to leave.
Eventually I landed back in Costa Rica. I missed the culture and the chaos of Indochina but I wanted to breathe clean air and feel the energy of abundant nature. Most of all I wanted to find my way back to yoga. I came to complete my yoga teacher training.
In the sacred container of a yoga retreat feeling good had never felt so easy. Every day unfolded a beautiful routine: waking up at sunrise, practicing yoga for hours upon hours, disconnecting from the online working world, focusing all of my energy towards personal self growth, interacting only with others who were on the same path.
After that, returning to Puerto Viejo shocked my system.
How could I keep myself in my yoga retreat container despite my new environment, I wondered? Among friends caught up in drama, parties every night of the week, blog readers approaching me daily, and the guy who always made being in Puerto Viejo hard.
Perhaps Playa Chiquita could offer that container. Going to bed early instead of socializing with friends I could wake up at sunrise and walk for hours on the deserted beach. The trees knew me and loved me and never complicated who I thought I was.
I let myself live in that container. Burrowing into self-introspection while the waves rushed around me.
Then finally, one day I felt ready to face it. Instead of fearing the man who I still felt for I sent him my compassion. More importantly, I sent the cells of myself that breathed in the moments leading up to this moment my compassion.
The layers of my cocoon slowly fell away. I felt social again. I stopped hiding. I let myself have fun, be silly, go a little wild.
I noticed the pattern that I had enacted for so long. Did the suffering come from attaching to what I believed made me happy and rejecting everything that I believed didn’t make me happy? From residing in the extreme dualities of good and bad, right and wrong, happy and unhappy? Was this why I struggled when I made visits back to the US or found myself in strange cities without beaches and yoga studios?
What greater bliss might I discover if instead of seeking what once served me, I embraced everything? What greater possibility might unfold? What deeper dimensions could I explore within myself when I looked less to my past and more to my present?
Could every experience in Puerto Viejo be beautiful? The dark ones, the light ones, the shallow ones, the deep ones? Could every experience in life be beautiful?
Maybe it’s not about always enacting a rigid ritual and routine, maybe it’s about embracing where I am when I’m there. There is not one way of living. One moral code. One path. One truth. Everything that exists is truth.
One day I may want to be in town instead of alone with the trees. Or write at my computer for hours no matter how bright the sun shines. Or take a break from working and blogging altogether. Teach yoga, practice yoga, make space for myself away from yoga. Be somber, lonely, introspective, deep. Drink heavily, eat decadently, dance recklessly. I may chant under the full moon and I may belt Rihanna under a disco ball. Allow myself to receive luxuries in glitzy cities and feel content with nothing all alone in the jungle.
I don’t have to choose between being a wealthy workaholic or a poor free spirited world traveler. I don’t have to choose between being an attention whore or a nun. I don’t have to choose between being a yoga teacher and a dancing queen. I don’t have to choose between being a co-dependant woman in a relationship or a perpetually solo female.
I can be and do anything that I want, when I want. I can embrace all that is and everything that I am. I can see that the world is whole. And in that moment, I see that I am whole.