Costa Rica Archives - Page 2 of 6 - This American Girl
A New Moon

A New Moon

New Moon - 01

 

It swooped above me, frantically flying in circles with incredible velocity. I froze. Despite living in Costa Rica off and on for years, I had never dealt with bats and was unsure how to proceed.

 

New Moon - 02

 

“Grab a broom,” I thought.

“No, definitely not, what if it bites me?”

“I wonder if it has rabies…”
“Ok, open the door and wait it out.”

“I’m pretty cold in this bikini now that it’s dark.”

“I’ll go in and grab some clothes.”

“No, definitely not, what if it bites me?”

“Ok, open the door and wait it out.”

 

My mind and the bat continued their circular patterns.

 

New Moon - 03

 

What confused me most was how it got into my bedroom in the first place. Like most homes in Costa Rican beach towns, I had an open living and kitchen area with an enclosed bedroom. I kept the windows closed in the day, the screens sealed at night, and the door was always locked. How did the bat get in?

 

New Moon - 04

 

While the Pacific Coast entered its dry season, rain hailed on the Caribbean. For days I had holed myself up at home to work like a maniac on my eBook, promote the hell out of my social media pages, return to regular blogging, and plan my upcoming press trip to Europe.

 

I felt a long forgotten, yet all too familiar, anxiety that accompanied overworking and the stress of deadlines. Who was I and who was I becoming? Someone who goes on press trips in cold, expensive countries instead of traveling independently in developing ones and spends more time working at her computer than playing like a mermaid on the beach? Someone who writes about “pura vida” while biting all of her fingernails off?

 

At times I felt like I was going crazy. I wasn’t sure if it came from the blinding glow of my laptop or from my insomnia.

 

New Moon - 05

 

For several nights prior to the bat break-in I had barely slept from the squeaking I now realized was bats; however I hadn’t seen a trace of them. So when I got home from my sunset beach walk that evening and went to unlock my bedroom door, I was shocked to see one flying over my head.

I scanned the room to look for an opening where the bat could have entered but I saw none. “How on earth did it get in here?!” I wondered. In my attempt to reveal the mystery I did what any American girl living in Costa Rica would do; I researched the shamanic meaning of bats as spirit guides. If I ever wondered whether Costa Rica had indeed transformed me into a full-fledged jungle hippie, I received my definitive answer then and there.

 

New Moon - 06

 

Outside on my porch, away from the bat and under the light of the full moon, this is what I read:

 

“A bat flying into your life signifies that transformation of the ego self is about to occur. It’s the end of one way of life and the start of another. This transition can be very frightening for many, even just to think about, but you will not grow spiritually until you let go of these old parts of you that are not needed. Facing the darkness before you will help you find the light in rebirth. The bat gives you the wisdom required to make the appropriate changes for the birthing of your new identity.”

 

I walked back to my bedroom and the bat had gone. I searched to see if it had just taken a rest, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. For the days that followed I received even more messages, but the bat never returned.

 

New Moon - 07

 

The heavy rains brought with them plenty of other critters. Poisonous fuzzy white caterpillars covered the almond trees that lined the beach in Playa Chiquita and I ran towards the tide as they fell from the leaves and branches onto the sand. Caterpillars, a metaphor for the potential of new life after the surrender into metamorphosis.

 

One evening I took a long walk from Punta Uva to Arrecife. While walking up the muddy vine covered cliff that separates the two, a blue morpho butterfly crossed my path. For me, the blue morpho is the most beautiful butterfly in the entire world with electric blue wings and a movement that appears more like bouncing than flight. While certainly prevalent in Costa Rica, I saw them so infrequently that being beside one still felt special. It guided my path all the way to Arrecife before it disappeared. Many times a day after that occurrence I would see the blue morpho, and remembered that it too was once a caterpillar.

 

New Moon - 08

 

On my last night in Puerto Viejo before flying back to Seattle I went to a restorative yoga class at Om Yoga taught by a new teacher there, and a very sweet reader of mine, Trey. The room was lit with candles, a soft lullaby played in the background, and Trey invited each of us to draw a card from a deck of Louise Hay’s Wisdom Cards.

 

Mine had the image of a blue butterfly with the mantra, “I am willing to change.”

“I am willing to change,” I repeated silently.

 

New Moon - 09

 

I’m writing to you tonight bundled in a sweater in Seattle on the darkest night of the year. The Winter Solstice. This time of unknown, while I anticipate the next phase of my life, has felt blindingly dark. I feel like I’m working all of the time and I’m not even sure what it’s for. I feel like I’m losing sight of who I am and what I value. Again, I’m not even sure what for. I feel lost in the darkness.

 

New Moon - 10

 

In a few short weeks I will be in Finland attending a blogger conference, meeting with tourism boards, marketing my brand, and traveling with another human being. My eBook will be on the market, I’ll be working with sponsors, and turning my blog into a business. At this point I’m confused as to why. Why am I doing this when I know that I feel happy all by myself with nothing but a backpack and rags for clothes in tropical developing countries? When I can just teach yoga classes and live on the trading economy and close my computer and disconnect from the internet forever.

 

New Moon - 11

 

I suppose because some part of me needs to experience this or I wouldn’t be here. As much as I want to resist the change, a stronger voice within me knows that I need to expand.

 

The thing is, the change is coming whether I accept it or not. The change is inevitable. I can’t control an uncontrollable force. Like the bat foretold, I have to face this darkness and surrender into the unknown. If the sun and the moon and the cosmos can do it, I suppose I can too.

 

New Moon - 12

 

Tonight may be dark, but darkness makes way for light. Darkness creates space for new light. Darkness encourages us to look to our own inner light. We walk the soft edge between darkness and light that encourages us to simultaneously sit with the unknown while developing our intentions for this next phase of life.

 

This year the Winter Solstice coincides with the New Moon, supercharging its cosmic effects. People everywhere feel the movement towards change. A change not only within our personal beings, but a change that sheds light on the entire world. This is a powerful time for setting intentions and planting seeds. It’s a powerful time for each of us to ask,

“How can I evolve?”

“What stories am I enacting that I can transform for greater healing and growth?”

 

New Moon - 13

 

With the new moon and the new year, I’m writing a new story for myself. A story where I don’t have to sacrifice integrity for financial abundance. Where I don’t have to sacrifice authenticity for popularity. Where I can be independent and whole and happy and have someone else beside me in that journey. For me, this new moon represents not only embracing the darkness and the light, it represents embracing everything. As I move away from the darkness I’m remembering that no matter the choices I make, I am still me.

 

A butterfly or a caterpillar or a frantic bat in the night, no matter how I transform, I am always me.

 

 

Why Do We Pave Paradise?

Why Do We Pave Paradise?

Playa Cocles

 

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” ~ Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

 

Costa Rica

 

My mom has always been a huge Joni Mitchell fan. Maybe because they share the same name, because my Mom was a flower child in the 60s, or because Joni Mitchell is unarguably brilliant. Whatever the reason, she played Joni in our house a lot growing up. Back in those days, when I teased my Mom for listening to a woman who sounded like a twelve year old choir boy, I had no idea that a Joni Mitchell song would one day become the soundtrack for my life.

 

Pave Paradise  - 03

 

Living in the Pacific Northwest my family took me hiking and camping every summer. On the trails my Dad taught me about plants, trees, and animals. We ate wild huckleberries, stargazed, and bathed in shivering cold lakes. At home we recycled vigilantly, my Mom composted before it was trendy, and we even grew some of our own food.

 

Pave Paradise  - 04

 

Yet most of my life I spent in the city. Where I needed a car and a smart phone and fancy shoes. Despite the attempts of my parents to bring me into nature on the weekends, I had no idea how much I loved the earth until I went to the South Caribbean of Costa Rica. I felt like a kid again skipping down deserted beaches, lounging on palm trees, eating food from the jungle, and sleeping to the sounds of creatures in the wild.

 

Bangkok

 

It wasn’t until I arrived in Southeast Asia that I realized I had been living in a bubble.

 

Hanoi

 

I searched for organic produce in countries like Vietnam with soil contaminated from years of war. I begged to refill my plastic water bottle and recycle in a part of the world that dumps trash into the ocean. I longed for privacy on the beach in places that develop resorts and casinos right on the shoreline. I considered that perhaps concepts like sustainability and environmentalism are luxuries reserved for first world hippies like myself.

 

Koh Rong

 

Then finally, I found it. Paradise. They called it Koh Rong, I called it so right. It had dozens of jaw droppingly gorgeous hidden beaches. It had wild untamed jungle. It had no roads and no cars. Over a matter of days I felt myself feeling good again. I felt happier than I had been since I left Costa Rica. The nature began to heal me without me doing anything but allowing it to.

 

koh rong

 

Based on the government plans for Koh Rong, I knew that this paradise too would be lost. Just like the once mythical islands in Thailand. They plan to model it after Koh Samui with an international airport, resorts, and casinos.

 

Koh Rong

 

While I swam completely alone in the clearest water I’ve ever seen in my life on a beach with sand as white as snow, I tried to savor every moment knowing that one day it might be gone.

 

Koh Rong

 

Just a few months later when I came back to Cambodia, I knew I had to go back to Koh Rong. I considered living there for a few months to savor it even longer. But it was already lost. The number of guesthouses on the harbor already quadrupled and the once rough boat ride was replaced with speedboats and daytrippers on snorkeling tours coming several times a day. Wasted backpackers took drugs openly in the middle of the day and that powder white beach where I once swam alone was covered in tourists. I couldn’t wait to leave. It broke my heart.

 

Playa Cocles

 

Experiences like this reminded me how much I missed Costa Rica. I believed that kind of mistreatment of the land would never happen here. Though many people tell me it already happened to Jaco and Tamarindo. I’ve always avoided these overdeveloped party towns because of it. I knew Costa Rica through deserted beaches. I knew Costa Rica as a place where one could be alone with the sound of the waves.

 

Pave Paradise  - 06

 

So I came back to Puerto Viejo more than a year later during what people once called the “low season.” Three months later and just a few weeks away from the holidays and I’m still waiting for low season to begin.

 

Playa Cocles

 

My secret spots where I would go to be alone with nature are now always occupied. Where I once swam naked in the ocean there are always tourists walking by. In the past I rarely met someone who had heard of Puerto Viejo let alone been here, and now my inbox is flooded with messages from readers heading here every day. Big shot New York investors who recently purchased an Eco Lodge outside of town approached me about helping them build a location down on the beach. Nature Air recently announced regular flights from San Jose to the nearby Limon airport. Most shockingly of all, on a press trip that I took through the Costa Rica Tourism Board, the only beach town we visited was Puerto Viejo.

 

Playa Cocles

 

It’s as if Costa Rica’s red headed stepchild suddenly had her braces removed and grew boobs. Now the whole world wants a piece of her.

 

Manzanillo

 

I’ve been hearing that Manzanillo, the wildest place in the South Caribbean where you still hear more Patois than Spanish and the jungle will eat you if you don’t take care, has recently had a facelift. The trails where I slipped in the mud and jumped intrepidly into coral caves are being cultivated to accommodate the comforts of tourists. Specifically paths have been created with gravel and steps and an entire bridge and deck was built around the lookout point to make it “safer.” Admittedly I’ve been too afraid to go and see it for myself. Pretty soon they’ll even charge an admission fee.

 

Playa Cocles

 

Friends of mine who have lived here for ten years or more tell me stories of a time before the road was paved when you could swim out from the beach with sea turtles. When the Afro Caribbean culture reigned and you could hear Calypso and smell curry on every corner. I can only imagine that Puerto Viejo in my dreams.

 

Playa Cocles

 

A well established business owner in the community raised the very valid point that those of us with nothing more tethering us to Costa Rica than our tourist stamp and a rusty bicycle have no right to have an opinion on what happens here. That it’s up to the registered voters of Costa Rica and the officials they have elected. And that’s true and valid and I respect that opinion.

 

Playa Cocles

 

But as a child of the earth don’t I have a right to hurt when I see the chopping down of trees? As a citizen of the world don’t I have a right to want a few places on earth where I can still see nature not rearranged by a man?

 

Pave Paradise  - 07

 

Besides, I’ve seen how flawed Democracy can be and how environmental preservation hardly interests the money hungry. Places where I see tourism booming I mostly see an elite few profiting. I don’t see an improvement in the overall standard of living of the people.

 

Pave Paradise  - 14

 

And what does a higher standard of living even mean in a tropical paradise like Costa Rica? That now everyone can afford to have iPhones? At what cost? At the cost of being able to independently feed ourselves? So that people can buy white bread and hydrogenated peanut butter because the trees no longer bear fruit and the sea no longer has life?

 

Pave Paradise  - 16

 

A laywer in New York City could get laid off and find himself homeless and starving on the street because there’s nothing alive in the city to support him. But in Puerto Viejo it’s different. You could live naked in a tree, drink out of coconuts, eat fish right out of the ocean, and forage for fruits and vegetables in the forest. You could spend absolutely no money and live a beautiful life.

 

Playa Cocles

 

I wonder how much longer that will be the case here. I wonder how much longer that will be the case anywhere.

 

Pave Paradise  - 14

 

We seem to be so blinded by the falsehood that we don’t have enough electronics, or designer shoes, or whatever it is that we think that we need that at the end of the day might be fun but doesn’t feed us physically, emotionally, or spiritually. The more we create a world where we “need” more of these material things the more we destroy the intricate system created by nature that actually provides us with everything that we need. When we tear down a forest to build condos we actually take away our habitat. When we destroy nature we destroy our ability as animals to survive.

 

Pave Paradise  - 18

 

What so many of us seem to forget when we screen ourselves off from the bugs, separate our feet from the dirt, and look at the world from behind a screen, is that we are not in fact living in reality. And what makes a jaguar majestic, what makes a beach stunning, what makes an adventure life changing is that it is wild. It cannot be controlled. It forces us to surrender. And by not bending to our will it challenges us to see who we really are. When we try to capture and control and domesticate what is wild, we destroy it. We take away the very essence of what we loved in the first place.

 

Pave Paradise  - 21

 

In trying to create a manufactured paradise we destroy the real one.

 

Pave Paradise  - 20

 

Yet here I am writing this from my MacBook Pro, in my comfortable bed, in my comfortable house, eating almonds imported from California. And I have to ask myself, how am I influencing this development? How are we all influencing the spread of resorts when we ask for wifi and hot water and a/c?

 

Pave Paradise  - 22

 

How am I as a travel writer responsible? How have I affected the future of Puerto Viejo simply by writing about it? How have I influenced things just by being a foreigner and coming here to begin with?

 

Pave Paradise  - 23

 

One might say that makes me a hypocrite. I believe it makes me a human. So instead of pointing the blame onto government, or society, or developers, or anyone else, realizing I’m a part of this system too, I will ask myself why. Why do I need to pave paradise?

 

Playa Cocles

 

Maybe when each of us asks ourselves that question we will finally wake up and see.

 

 

How Nature Heals Me

How Nature Heals Me

Run Like a Girl - 01

 

Nature could care less what you do for a living.

 

Run Like a Girl - 02

 

It doesn’t mind how much money you make, how many awards you’ve received, or how many possessions you own.

 

Run Like a Girl - 03

 

A thorn will prick you just as sharply no matter how much you’ve invested in your 401K. A muddy trail will happily swallow your shoes no matter how many employees you manage and how many zeros appear on your paycheck. A jaguar can still kill you no matter if you have 3,000,000 followers on Instagram or 300. A hornet does not withhold its stinger for the less “successful”, the less “beautiful”, or the less “important “of us.

 

Run Like a Girl - 04

 

Nature doesn’t give a damn about your ego.

And that is precisely why it heals.

 

Run Like a Girl - 05

 

When I first came to Costa Rica in February 2012, I prepared myself for the jungle with brand new white dresses and a hair iron. Tropical Caribbean chic I thought as I spent nearly a thousand dollars on designer clothes.

 

Run Like a Girl - 06

 

The first time I tried styling my hair I walked out the door for dinner and was immediately drenched by a tropical storm. I tried again when the sky was clear, but the heat and humidity turned each strand into a curl within fifteen minutes. My clothes were covered in mud splatters, sand, gecko poop, or mildew by the end of the first week.

 

Run Like a Girl - 07

 

Between the ocean’s strong currents, the temperamental weather, and the abundance of insects in my home, I discovered quickly that nature’s will would always supersede my own. In my extreme discomfort I chose to surrender to nature’s force instead of fight it. That was the first time I understood what it meant to relax.

 

Run Like a Girl - 08

 

The process of surrendering to nature healed my unresolved relationships with others and my relationship with myself. It showed me what made me feel good. It showed me who I truly was.

 

Run Like a Girl - 09

 

But even in a place like Costa Rica where birds sing louder than twitter notifications and there’s more jungle than concrete, one can still find herself diverging from the harmony of nature.

 

Run Like a Girl - 10

 

Two months ago I returned to Costa Rica’s South Caribbean, the place I consider home, intending to settle in, relax, and reconnect with the healing energy of nature. Yet somehow since the moment I arrived I fought against it. I moved houses eleven times, spent a week in four different hotels in Panama, and traveled to six different towns in Costa Rica in six days. In addition to maintaining this blog I was designing websites, writing articles for multiple publications, managing the social media pages of other organizations, teaching public yoga classes, planning press trips, and organizing numerous events in the community. I spread myself so thin that I barely had the energy to breathe.

 

Run Like a Girl - 11

 

I spent more time engaging in small talk than I did in silence in nature and I felt more connected to my ego than I did to my soul. Perhaps in part because by creating This American Girl, I created a persona with a life of its own. I couldn’t check into a hostel, walk down the street, sit in a café, or teach a yoga class in Puerto Viejo without being stopped at least twice a day by people who recognized me from the blog. Messages flooded my inbox from readers who were on their way to Costa Rica and wanted to meet me.

 

Run Like a Girl - 12

 

And I know what you’re thinking. How fortunate I am. How amazing it is to touch so many people. How reinforcing it is to receive praise. And it is. It is so amazing and I am still so floored every time someone recognizes me from my blog.

 

Run Like a Girl - 13

 

But it’s also been hard. To feel like I have to not only give in my writing but that I also have to give every moment while I’m just trying to live. That if I’m having a bad day or feeling introverted or tired I still have to wear a smile and answer questions about my travels, my profession, and my life.

 

puerto viejo

 

Not to mention that given the deeply personal nature of my blog it’s awkward to meet people who have read it. Hello. You know the deepest gushiest most vulnerable parts of me and I know absolutely nothing about you. Nice to meet you too.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 21

 

My recent post about being physically harmed by someone in the community here led many readers and friends to approach me and offer their concern. Which is so generous and kind and loving of them. It’s also overwhelming. It’s also been a reminder that when I’m here in the tiny community of Puerto Viejo perhaps I can’t write as candidly as I could when I was nobody in the bustling streets of Bangkok.

 

Run Like a Girl - 14

 

So despite already feeling spread thin, despite already feeling uprooted and overwhelmed, I packed up all of my belongings and I got on the bus to San Jose to embark on a retreat in the mountains of Costa Rica.

 

Run Like a Girl - 15

 

A reader of mine, Hailey, who created the empowerment through fitness community Run Like a Girl, invited me to join their first Adventure Camp in Costa Rica. With everything I had going on in my life the opportunity to simply escape seemed like a divine gift. The itinerary included waterfall rappelling, tree climbing, hiking to a summit, and sleeping in a treehouse with no electricity, wifi, or cellular connection.

 

Run Like a Girl - 16

 

Bear in mind that my only possessions include bikinis, flip flops, and spandex dresses. That the women on this trip were marathon runners and athletes and my form of exercise includes long walks on the beach and yoga. And that the last time I spent a day without opening my laptop was nearly two years ago.

 

Run Like a Girl - 17

 

I was way out of my comfort zone.

 

However seeking a fresh perspective and the ability to be completely anonymous I made my way to the retreat longing for the same connection I felt the first time I came to Costa Rica. I needed to allow nature to heal me.

 

I reminded myself of this as I walked uphill for three miles in the pouring rain.

 

Run Like a Girl - 18

 

We had just left the small mountain town of San Jeronimo where we began our journey volunteering at a local school. I helped repaint a twenty-year-old mural on the facade of the building with green mountains, giant trees, a rushing waterfall, and exotic animals. It amazed me that in this town in the middle of nowhere the kids were learning about alternative energy sources and living in harmony with nature.

 

Run Like a Girl - 19

 

Pura vida,” I laughed, shivering in my soaking wet windbreaker, trudging through flooded gravel roads in running shoes without socks.

 

Run Like a Girl - 20

 

Finally we arrived at La Chakra Tent Lodge, nestled between two of Costa Rica’s most important national parks: Chirripo and La Amistad. There were no people, no cars, no telephone poles, no wires. Only trees and birds and rivers and sky.

 

Run Like a Girl - 21

 

Rain continued to hail and after showering off the mud, various women in the group showered me with warm clothes. “You don’t have socks?” Maria the yoga teacher asked. “You will not survive,” she said as she handed me a pair of hers. Hailey gifted me a cozy sweatshirt and a sleeping bag and one of the girls offered her jacket.

 

Run Like a Girl - 22

 

It was humbling allowing myself to receive all that they offered. In Puerto Viejo I was This American Girl, but in the mountains I was this American girl who didn’t have any appropriate clothes.

 

Run Like a Girl - 23

 

Darkness fell and we entered the yoga space surrounded by glowing candles, delicious incense, and the sounds of birds singing from the trees. I made way back to the familiar space of my mat, crossed my legs, and closed my eyes.

 

Maria invited us to join her in a chant.

 

Run Like a Girl - 24

 

“Pacha Mama. Madre Tierra. Pacha Mama. Madre Tierra. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Gran Espiritu. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Gran Espiritu.” Again and again we sang. The chant strangely felt like a song I had known forever despite hearing it only for the first time. Had I heard it before? I still wonder in retrospect.

 

Run Like a Girl - 25

 

The phrases Pacha Mama and Madre Tierra mean the same thing just in two languages. Madre Tierra translates from Spanish into mother earth. Pacha Mama comes from the ancient indigenous tribes. Wiricuta and Gran Espiritu refer to the great spirit of nature. This chant intends to heal our separation from the earth that we came from.

 

Run Like a Girl - 26

 

We gathered in a circle after closing our practice and I watched women open their hearts and offer their emotions with the freedom of a flowing river. Twelve hours ago we left San Jose but it felt like a lifetime had passed. We transcended the world of men and had entered the womb of Mother Nature.

 

Run Like a Girl - 27

 

Over the days that followed I played in nature, snuggled in warm clothing, felt an adrenaline rush walking down the side of a cliff on a rappel, and bonded more with these women in three days than I knew I could. All the while in the background I hummed, “Pacha Mama. Madre Tierra. Pacha Mama. Madre Tierra. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Gran Espiritu. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Gran Espiritu.” I was cold and wet and dirty but I felt so happy and free.

 

Run Like a Girl - 28

 

Then came the challenge.

 

Run Like a Girl - 29

 

The sky was still dark when my alarm told me to wake. That day I would hike 32 kilometers to one of the highest ridges in Costa Rica at an elevation of over 10,000 feet.

 

Run Like a Girl - 30

 

I trekked up rocky switchbacks, crossed rushing rivers on slick logs, eased through grassy fields full of grazing cattle, nearly lost my shoes in mud trenches, and ate more energy bars than one might deem humanly possible. This was only by the midway point. I felt exhausted and winded, but I had to keep going. I had to keep moving. When my mind told me to give up I focused it by chanting, “Pacha Mama. Madre Tierra. Pacha Mama. Madre Tierra. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Gran Espiritu. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Gran Espiritu.” And my feet moved, one step in front of the other.

 

Run Like a Girl - 31

 

After six hours of uphill we reached the summit.

 

Run Like a Girl - 32

 

The vegetation turned from towering trees and jungle vines to delicate shrubs and succulents covering the arid ground. It was how I’d imagine being on the moon. Few tourists had ever placed their feet on this Earth and I felt blessed to even stand there. I shivered at the top watching the misty clouds roll in. We still had to go down.

 

Run Like a Girl - 33

 

Initially the downhill felt like a blessing. Easy after huffing up to the summit. Then my knees began to speak and my blisters rubbed raw. Each step impacted my joints like two colliding logs. I sunk deeply into the mud and grabbed onto tree roots to keep from falling. I fell to the back of the group. We arrived at a “short cut” and took the path into gardens blanketed in a sea of mist. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

 

Run Like a Girl - 34

 

We talked about pumas, how I had seen one in the wild, and Maria told me that there were pumas killing dogs around the village where she intended to move. Our Costa Rican guide from Real Costa Rica Adventures told a story about park rangers hunting one down because it came too close to humans.

 

“If you decide to hunt a puma you should have to do it with your bare hands.” I said self-righteously.

 

Run Like a Girl - 35

 

Just then I smacked my leg so hard against a log that I kneeled over in pain. Tears filled my eyes and for a moment I couldn’t speak. Then the pain subsided and I kept walking. “Wake up,” the woods told me.

 

Run Like a Girl - 36

 

We entered denser gardens and the bushes and thorns tore at my fragile skin. I slipped and fell over numerous rocks, struggling to see where the path even was. The “short cut” was my undoing.

 

Run Like a Girl - 37

 

When we finally emerged back onto the dirt trail I found myself wanting to blame someone for the discomfort that I felt. Who could I blame? Who could I blame? Could I blame my guide for making me go this way? Could I blame Run Like a Girl for inviting me knowing that I didn’t even own a pair of hiking boots? Could I blame myself for agreeing to go knowing that I wasn’t in good shape?

 

Run Like a Girl - 38

 

But there was no one to blame. There was just me and the trail. Nothing else mattered and nothing else existed. I had to keep walking not because of the opinions of others but because every day the sun decides to go down and bring darkness. I had to keep moving because I had no habitat here on this trail in these woods. I had to keep moving because I had already drank all of my water and eaten all of my energy bars.

 

Run Like a Girl - 39

 

I remembered that the same way I couldn’t blame my mother or my father or my ex boyfriend or my best friend for the stains on my clothes and the sand on my feet and the ants in my bathroom in Puerto Viejo, I couldn’t blame anyone here for my current discomfort here in the mountains.

 

Run Like a Girl - 40

 

So I kept moving. I kept moving by chanting “Pacha Mama. Madre Tierra. Pacha Mama. Madre Tierra. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Gran Espiritu. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Gran Espiritu.” And then I started running. The faster I ran the easier all of it felt. I ran the muddy rocky trail until I found myself again at the front of the group.

 

Run Like a Girl - 41

 

The sun set between the hills and colored the sky pink by the time I reached the base of the road back to camp. Uphill felt like rest after all of the impact on my knees. Rain trickled and then pounded on me. Could I stop now? I wondered. What would happen if I stopped now?

 

Run Like a Girl - 42

 

Climbing the hill without collapsing onto all fours required an incredible amount of willpower. I fought against every urge within me to give up. Yet somehow this level of force also felt like complete surrender. Nature decided whether to bake me in sun or freeze me in fog or drench me in rain. Nature decided whether my path was smooth or slick or steep or flat. No matter how much I pushed, nature always decided. And because nature decided that it was almost dark, I decided to keep going.

 

Run Like a Girl - 43

 

With each step I chanted, “Pacha Mama. Madre Tierra. Pacha Mama. Madre Tierra. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Gran Espiritu. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Gran Espiritu.” Just as darkness fell I arrived back at the camp.

 

Run Like a Girl - 44

 

I could barely walk the next day as we journeyed back to the bus in San Jeronimo. Could it be that only four days prior I walked up this hill instead of down? This time the sun blazed and we chatted excitedly about the next leg of our journey at the beach in Manuel Antonio.

 

Run Like a Girl - 45

 

When we arrived at the hotel I scrubbed myself in the hot shower and checked every social media account on the planet from my iPhone. I put on makeup and jewelry and responded to blog comments at lightening speed. Almost immediately I noticed a shift in myself. My teeth ripped my nails to nubs and I felt simultaneously wired and exhausted. The world of technology sucked me back into its web.

 

Run Like a Girl - 46

 

I noticed a shift in everyone. I felt less connected to everyone. At dinner some of us connected to wifi and stared at the screen. In the national park in Manuel Antonio we walked gravel paths and “wild” monkeys and raccoons ran up and stole our belongings on the crowded beach. We seemed disoriented and disharmonious and each went in different directions. The high vibration of nature that once surrounded us faded from memory as we slumped into the low vibration of development.

 

Run Like a Girl - 47

 

Suddenly it felt difficult to shine my light. I was back in mermaid land on a jungle backed beach but it felt difficult to be the girl who giggled and skipped and played.

 

Run Like a Girl - 48

 

The last day after most of the Adventure Campers had departed for their flights, a small group of us went to the public beach in Manuel Antonio. Day trippers smoked cigarettes and played loud music and beach hawkers approached us incessantly. I felt too stimulated to feel. I missed Chakra Camp.

 

Run Like a Girl - 49

 

I couldn’t bring myself back to Chakra, but I could bring Chakra back to me. So we gathered together under the shade of an almond tree and we chanted, “Pacha Mama. Madre Tierra. Pacha Mama. Madre Tierra. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Gran Espiritu. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Wiricuta. Gran Espiritu.”

 

Run Like a Girl - 50

 

We laughed and ran wildly into the ocean and cleansed ourselves of the energy that brought us down.

 

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I told myself the truest thing that I know.

 

That I am forever connected to nature. Even when I don’t feel it or I don’t see it, it’s still there. Because it lives inside of me. Beyond being Camille or This American Girl or a yoga teacher or a writer or a woman, I am the Earth and the Earth is me.

 

Run Like a Girl - 52

 

The key is simply remembering.

 

If you’d like to have your own off the grid experience at La Chakra Camp, Run Like a Girl is offering $150 off of their next Adventure Camp in February for everyone who uses the offer code “this american girl.” 

 

Why I Practice Love

Why I Practice Love

(Before reading this post, I recommend you read A Karmic Love Story and There are Many Shades of Black for context.)

 

Puerto Viejo

 

The thing about any skill is that in order to maintain it, you need to do it consistently. You need to do it over and over and again. That’s why it’s called a practice.

 

Love is no different.

 

Playa Cocles

 

A few months ago I began practicing love. Specifically I began practicing metta. By repeating words of loving-kindness in meditation, metta works to inspire feelings of loving-kindness from deep within. Rather than the grasping “love” that often resembles attachment or desire, loving-kindness is pure, perfect, and unlimited. Metta intends to shed light on the illusion of fear by expanding our capacity to connect with our true loving nature and to radiate that love to the world around us. We can send it to ourselves, our loved ones, our community, strangers, and even our perceived enemies.

 

le cameleon puerto viejo

 

Metta became part of my meditation practice during my yoga teacher training to heal my insecurities and grow my self-love. I began including the Sanskrit chant of metta at the end of my yoga practice, reciting, “loka samastha sukhino bhavantu.” In my training we interpreted this chant to mean: “may you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be free from suffering.”

 

Practicing metta I noticed scarred spaces within me soften.

 

But when I left my training and returned to Puerto Viejo, I felt challenged faced by familiar faces and the memories they carried. Puerto Viejo haunted me with my unresolved feelings for a man who hurt me years ago.

 

playa cocles

 

In response I attempted to create a protective barrier. I hid by staying outside of town and avoided the places where I might see him.

 

I continued to send myself metta, though I missed an integral component of what it means to practice love. Containing the love I cultivated within myself limited my ability to love and carrying anger towards him, I carried anger towards myself.

 

puerto viejo

 

Then one morning I changed my perspective. I challenged my rational mind that believed this man and most of the men in this town were malicious spineless pieces of shit by opening to the possibility of something else. I opened to the possibility of love and compassion.

 

I considered how I might heal myself, how much more I could love myself, if instead of hating him or hiding from him I sent him metta.

 

puerto viejo

 

When I woke up in the morning, when I rode my bicycle down the road into town, when my mind began to wander in bed at night, I recited “may you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be free from suffering.” Even when I didn’t feel it or believe it, I kept practicing.

 

Seeing him slowly felt easier. Over time the words felt true. The thing about sending someone love, pure love, is that it simultaneously dissolves your anger towards them and your desire for them. Your feelings become ones of simple kindness.

 

My practice towards sending myself love progressed as well. Working with a holistic health coach I developed mantras and exercises for self-empowerment. She invited me to continually ask myself, “how can I turn fear into love?”

 

Why I Practice Love - 09

 

One night I went out dancing with a group of friends and the bar was just empty enough for me to feel awkward that he was there. It felt absurd that neither of us acknowledged the other’s presence. I felt myself shrinking. I felt myself wanting to be small. Believing in my inadequacies more than my brilliance. Feeding my insecurities more than my perfection. This was the time to turn to my practice.

 

Dancing in my circle of friends I closed my eyes and challenged myself to come into my radiance. I challenged myself to rise above. “I am love,” I breathed. “I am love.” “I am love.” Like magic these words melted the tension, the insecurity, the fear. With love fear could not live. With no fear only love lived.

 

puerto viejo

 

When I turned to go inside, for a moment our eyes accidentally met. But instead of looking away, this time I stayed. I held the eye contact and I smiled. The smile said, “We are so much bigger than this because you are me and I am you and we are love. I can rise above this. You can rise above this. The hurt I blame you for and the hurt you blame me for is nothing because love is everything.” I poured the warmth and the love from my heart his way. I sent him love free from wanting or desire or attachment or heartache or pain. I sent him nothing more than simple kindness.

 

I felt free of him.

 

puerto viejo

 

The next day I went to Bocas del Toro to spend a week island hopping with my friend, the holistic health coach who empowered me to practice love. We did yoga and napped in hammocks and dined on seafood and played on deserted beaches.

 

When she left I danced all night in bars and befriended sailors and yoga teachers. I went on to travel around Costa Rica on a whirlwind press trip where I spent hours a day in the car, in conversation with other bloggers, and eating more than I’ve possibly ever eaten in my entire life. I spent my mornings checking Facebook instead of meditating and my afternoons being on camera instead of reflecting in my journal.

 

In focusing on these experiences, I slipped away from my practice. By the time I got back to Puerto Viejo I nearly forgot he existed. The universe reminded me.

 

puerto viejo

 

Riding my bicycle back from the beach I approached the grocery store to pick up a snack before teaching my yoga class. For the last twenty minutes I had fantasized about tearing open the package of raw almonds I’d buy, pressing each one onto a piece of ripe banana and popping them bite by bite into my mouth.

 

Just before I turned to cross the road I heard a car coming from behind. It was him. And sure enough he pulled into the grocery store lot first. I really wanted those almonds, but if I pulled over now it might look like I had gone into the grocery store because of him. Fear convinced me to keep pedaling. So, I guess no almonds and banana then.

 

Despite the strides I had made I still needed to practice. “Loka samastha sukhino bhavantu,” I chanted. “May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you be free from suffering.”

 

punta uva

 

The next day I noticed all of the small ways that I acted from a place of fear. As many times as I smiled at a stranger I also looked away. When I felt insecure I responded defensively in conversation. I wore my attitude like a veil in the presence of men to let them know where they stood: on the outside.

 

In all of these situations I asked myself how I could practice love. When I woke up in the morning, “I am love,” I meditated. “I am love.”

 

There’s a saying that the universe only delivers what you’re ready to face. According to that principle, this past Saturday I was ready for an incredible opportunity to practice love.

 

playa cocles

 

After having a candlelit dinner of wine and ceviche with one of my dear friends, the two of us went to a nearby reggae bar. As the only patrons we threw off our shoes and danced barefoot in the sand looking at the ocean. My kind of party, though I cut it short and suggested we head over to the popular tourist haunt to grab some of our other friends and bring them to the reggae bar.

 

When we reached the tourist bar I saw him. I felt awkward. I didn’t feel the urge to smile like I had the last time. I no longer felt kindness, I felt the desire for his validation. I talked with friends standing near him, met some new faces, and felt the energy of his anger emanate towards me.

 

“I am love,” I meditated. “I am love. I am love. I am love.”

 

manzanillo

 

I found a friend who I’d been trying to catch up with for days and the two of us made our way to a piece of driftwood just outside the bar on the beach. We had a heart to heart while watching the lightening storm on the horizon. The connection felt special and beautiful and so full of love. Just as I was about to give her a heartfelt piece of advice, a woman I had never seen before, twice my size, in a skin tight leopard print dress, approached us.

 

She looked down and asked me in a thick Caribbean accent if I knew the man who I had been sending metta towards.

 

puerto viejo

 

“Yes, I know him,” I confirmed.

“So why you talkin’ shit bout my bruddah?!” she screamed.

“I’m not,” I replied plainly.

She continued to ask, “why you talkin’ shit bout my burddah?!”

“I’m not,” I said again.

She then asked if I knew the mother of his child, whom I knew nothing about until almost a year after I met him. The woman who found out about me only months ago. A woman who I have still never seen nor met.

 

puerto viejo

 

“No, actually I don’t know her,” again I calmly replied.

She asked me again.

“I’ve never met her,” I explained.

Then she raised her hand and slapped me so hard across the face that I flew off of the piece of driftwood and into the sand.

 

punta uva

 

“Hey! What the fuck?!” my friend yelled.

The woman threatened her before turning back to me and screaming again, “Why you talkin’ shit bout my bruddah?!”

“It wasn’t like that,” I said with such composure I surprised myself, “do you want to know what really happened?”

 

She slapped me on the other side this time.

 

puerto viejo

 

Afraid of what might happen next, I hopped up and started walking away. She followed and I started to run like a deer being chased by a hunter. I’m sure I passed him along the way but I was an animal and an animal only knows its predator. I slid beneath the bar and snaked around the bartenders who looked at me in disbelief. I can only imagine they thought I was a crazy drunk girl who lost her way. Shaking I grabbed the owner and said something nonsensical before going into the back room.

 

Shocked, I started to cry. My mind raced and felt frozen at the same time. What I remember most was the thought, “will I have to leave Puerto Viejo?” Coming to this town for years I’ve heard stories of locals threatening someone’s life to make them leave. Years later I’ve yet to see those people return. You can call Puerto Viejo home all that you want but a gringa will always be a gringa in their eyes.

 

puerto viejo

 

My face stung but what hurt most was the idea that someone I loved wanted to see me hurt. He couldn’t express his anger to my face but he felt justified in sending a messenger to smack it.

 

I felt anger ignite within me. I felt the desire to retaliate. To walk across the bar and slap him across the face. To give him what I thought he deserved. I wanted to toss the blame back over to him like a hot potato.

 

At my core I felt utterly humiliated.

 

Why I Practice Love - 20

 

I saw myself with the same choice as when I passed a stranger on the street, met a more beautiful woman, or entered any situation that left me feeling fifty shades of unworthy. Fear or love.

 

I could retaliate, use information I have against him, I could even go up and slap him. I could stay hiding in the back for the remainder of the night. I could ask one of my many friends at the bar to protect me. I could hide from this reality. I could leave Puerto Viejo forever.

 

Or I could hold my head up high, leave my ego in that back room, dance with my friends, and continue to send him, myself, and the situation pure, unadulterated love.

 

I chose love.

 

puerto viejo

 

In a world where so often we choose to blame, what if instead we eradicated blame altogether? What if we eradicated fear altogether? If we did, what would remain is simply love. Imagine how our thoughts could change, how our experiences could change, how our lives could change, how the world could change, if everything that we did came from that place of love?

 

So I choose love. I choose to be love.

Because anything else is just an illusion.

In my reality, love is all there is.

 

 

 

My Metta Meditation:

 

Come to a comfortable seat by crossing your legs or sitting back on your heels. Place your hands on your lap or at your knees and gently close your eyes. Lengthen your spine, sit tall, and feel the crown of your head float towards the sky. Allow your face to soften. Begin to draw your awareness towards your breath and by focusing on your breath, see if you can bring your mind into the present moment.

 

Decide who you’d like to direct your compassion towards and spend a moment imagining that person. It can be a loved one, a stranger, a community, a situation, yourself, or perhaps someone who has hurt or angered you. Keeping this person in mind, begin to chant the mantra “loka samastha sukhino bhavantu” or simply chant the mantra mentally. Repeat the mantra as long as it serves you.

 

You can then transition the mantra into “May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you be free from suffering.” “May I be happy. May I be at peace. May I be free from suffering.” “May all beings be happy. May all beings be at peace. May all beings be free from suffering.”

 

Continue to chant or mentally recite the mantra as much as necessary. For the strongest effects, practice this meditation daily. 

 

 

Is Puerto Viejo Safe?

Is Puerto Viejo Safe?

Manzanillo

 

I remember having Chinese dumplings in an upscale shopping mall with my ex boyfriend and excitedly telling him about my plans to rip off my high heels and go live in the Caribbean jungle. Riding the wave of attachment and detachment from this man for the last three years, Costa Rica emerged as a life raft on my horizon.

 

Brightly colored wooden houses, coconut palm lined jungle beaches, Rastafarian culture, reggae music, and fresh seafood smothered in coconut milk all sounded too incredible to be real. Puerto Viejo sounded like paradise.

 

Is Puerto Viejo Safe - 02

 

Upon hearing this news, he turned to me and said, “I’m pretty sure Costa Rica’s Caribbean is the rape and kidnapping capitol of the world.”

 

Sobered by his words, I went home and I did what any twenty something who had barely traveled and been told by her on again off again ex boyfriend that she had already booked a flight and paid a housing deposit in an incredibly dangerous place would do. I turned to Google and asked, “is Puerto Viejo safe?”

 

Is Puerto Viejo Safe - 03

 

A recent story in the news came up first, about a tourist living in Punta Uva, who walking home late one night was thrown into a car, driven for an hour up the coast, gang raped on the beach, and left behind until a beach vendor discovered her in the morning. I read another story about a man who was murdered while sitting on the beach in the middle of the day. As I scrolled, terrifying stories surfaced one after the other.

 

Google told me that no, Puerto Viejo was not safe.

 

Is Puerto Viejo Safe - 04

 

I felt equally scared and committed. My fantasies of Caribbean living had blossomed so fully that a jungle vine invisibly tethered my heart. In an attempt to control what sounded like an uncontrollable situation, I went to my travel companion Andie and I laid out some ground rules. They read as follows:

 

1. We will never take an unmarked taxi.

2. We will never tell anyone where we live.

3. We will never have more than two drinks in public.

4. We will dress modestly to not draw attention to ourselves.

 

Is Puerto Viejo Safe - 05

 

Reading the rules now, I laugh.

 

Puerto Viejo doesn’t have marked taxis. They are all gypsy cabs. In fact you’re lucky if you find one with a door that locks or a seatbelt that functions. This is a small town where people talk, people watch, and people will likely know where you live… in fact one of their relatives is probably already your neighbor. The laid back Rasta lifestyle lends itself to a sunset cervasa and the bumping Reggaeton parties often lure you into dancing and drinking until morning. And when you’re on holiday in a hot sweaty tropical beach town you will probably want to be naked as often as possible.

 

Is Puerto Viejo Safe - 06

 

In other words, after one hour in Puerto Viejo we threw all of our rules out the window. We even did some things that in retrospect I would never recommend to any of you. But nothing bad really happened. We were never robbed. We were never physically harmed. We had an amazing time.

 

This is not the case for everyone.

 

Punta Uva

 

Two years ago while I was living in Puerto Viejo, masked men were breaking into homes with guns. One day they ran down the beach with machetes robbing people midday. A friend of mine worked for the Spanish school where every single computer, including her Macbook Pro, was stolen. A few weeks later I was pushed off my bicycle and robbed by men in a car on my way to the beach at eleven am. I’m pretty sure an acquaintance of mine stole my iPhone and money out of my pocket one night at the bar. Friends of mine have been mugged, jumped, and even raped at all times of night and day.

 

Even paradise has darkness.

 

Is Puerto Viejo Safe - 08

 

Returning from Southeast Asia I wondered how dangerous Puerto Viejo might feel to me. While I take precautions that I never took in Thailand and monitor my belongings with a far more watchful eye, I see the safety in Puerto Viejo shifting. Police now patrol the road and the beach regularly, community members installed security cameras on popular getaway roads for thieves, and the bars where drug dealers once peddled seem to all be closing down. Still, a few days ago a tourist who took my yoga class showed up with a bloody lip after getting mugged walking home after a party.

 

Is Puerto Viejo Safe - 10

 

So when people come to me instead of Google to ask if Puerto Viejo is safe, I often feel uncertain how to answer. Unfortunately, crime is a reality here. But isn’t it everywhere in the world? Can’t any place at any time be safe or scary? How many people are victims of crime every single day in the United States of America? Is it that we think that when we’re on holiday these unfortunate realities shouldn’t exist?

 

Is Puerto Viejo Safe - 11

 

I practice facing and addressing my fears rather than living in them. However pragmatically speaking certain decisions lead to danger more than others. As a solo traveler I consider these dangers and behave consciously to keep myself as safe as I can.

 

Rather than determine whether Puerto Viejo is a “dangerous” place, which ultimately I cannot control, instead I focus on what I can do. Here are my tips for how to live and travel safely in Puerto Viejo:

 

 

Take a Taxi After Dark

 

Nearly every incident I hear about in Puerto Viejo takes place on the main road after dark. The jungle road that connects the different beach communities has long stretches of complete darkness and when you walk you become quite vulnerable. My personal rule is absolutely no walking outside of town after dark, even if it’s as early as 7pm and you have a group. Occasionally I will ride my bicycle after dark early in the evening, however never with valuables.

 

The safest option, one I always recommend, is to take a taxi at night. Most locals will advise the same. It’s nice to know a taxi driver you can trust, so ask a restaurant or your hotel to call you a taxi and then ask the driver for his phone number so that you can call him in the future.

 

 

Stay Off of the Beach After Dark

 

Few things feel more romantic to me than sitting on the beach under the stars and swimming in the ocean under the moon. However unless you’re with a large group, in Puerto Viejo I advise against it. The dense jungle that guards the beaches keeps them very dark and the crashing waves drown out all sounds. That aside, I rarely hear stories of incidences on the beach, but personally I feel too vulnerable when I’m out there alone.

 

 

Pay Respect to the Waves

 

The entire coastline has some seriously strong currents. Every year people drown after getting caught in riptides. Exercise caution especially if you’re not a strong swimmer.

 

 

Lock Your Valuables in a Safe

 

Break ins do happen but most hotels and hostels have safes that you can lock your valuables in. Use them. Better safe than sorry.

 

 

Watch for Critters

 

This is the jungle.  I repeat, this is the jungle. There are wild animals, poisonous snakes, and all kinds of insects. Be aware of where you place your foot and if you’re walking in deep jungle, you may want to wear rubber boots. You can avoid encounters with tarantulas and scorpions by keeping your belongings clean and off of the floor and checking your bedsheets and night. Use coconut oil on your skin to ward off mosquitos and keep sand fleas from biting you on the beach. Resist the urge to scratch your insect bites and always keep them clean with soap, water, and perhaps some tea tree oil to prevent infection.

 

 

Don’t Go Home With Someone You Don’t Know

 

It’s shocking to me how seldom people practice this everywhere in the world. I strongly advise against taking a stranger home with you or going home with a stranger, not only in Puerto Viejo but anywhere. I know of one man in Puerto Viejo who invited women to his house for dinner, an offer from him that I repeatedly declined, and later heard that he date raped a friend. Some locals also carry the reputation of sleeping with tourists and then robbing them in the morning. These have not been my personal experiences, but be aware that when you invite someone into your home you offer them your trust. Choose wisely.

 

 

Only Take What You Need

 

The fact that you need so little to enjoy yourself is one of the best things about Puerto Viejo. For the beach a sarong, a water bottle, and a few dollars will suffice. At night tuck the money you intend to spend in a hidden place on your body and leave everything else at home. Take less, use less, and you stand to lose less.

 

 

Be Discreet

 

Consider that in Costa Rica most workers earn around $2 per hour and the least expensive meal in a restaurant costs $5. Costa Rica has an extremely high cost of living particularly relative to what most people earn. Most Westerners make more in one hour than a local in Puerto Viejo earns in an entire day. Yet when you walk into the grocery store, the prices are all the same.

 

You can imagine how this disparity could lead to resentment. A tourist doesn’t need his iPhone, he need only call AT&T and get it replaced after being stolen. She doesn’t need that extra cash in her pocket, there’s plenty more available inside the ATM. The more you show what you have, the more likely you are to be a target. Someone who feels like they have nothing and sees that you have everything might not think twice about taking what you have. Why do you deserve it, after all?

 

I recommend keeping your electronics tucked away, your fancy jewelry at home (the sea air will destroy them anyway), and your wealth statistics to yourself.

 

 

Educate Yourself

 

Many lifetimes weave the story that becomes a culture. Why people behave the way that they do individually and in societies is so layered and intricate you could spend your lifetime simply attempting to understand your own. However few things offer greater fulfillment in travel than seeking to understand as much as possible. As visitors it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on our new environment to both protect ourselves and give our respect.

 

I’ve been to Puerto Viejo nine times in the last three years and every day I unfold a new level of understanding about the culture that surrounds me. Afro Caribbean roots, indigenous communities, Costa Rican nationalism, and North American and European transplants lend color and texture to the elaborate cultural fabric.

 

Do research, ask questions, and listen. The more you seek to understand where you are and the people who live there, the easier it becomes for you to live in harmony with your surroundings, and the more your surroundings serve to protect you.

 

 

Trust Your Instincts

 

Beyond research, advice, and this article lives an inner voice with the wisdom to always keep you safe. Listen to that voice, trust that voice, and follow that voice. It will not fail you.

 

Want to create your own magical trip to Costa Rica? Check out my eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica!

 

ultimateguidecostarica

 

 

This is What Makes Me Whole

This is What Makes Me Whole

Manzanillo

 

Everything owns an opposite.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 02

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 03

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 04

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 05

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 06

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 07

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 08

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 09

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 10

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 11

 

In Southeast Asia, all of it confronted me.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 14

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 16

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 13

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 15

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 17

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 20

 

After that, returning to Puerto Viejo shocked my system.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 21

 

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.

 

I hid.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 22

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 18

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 23

 

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?

 

This Jungle Knows Me - 14

 

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.

 

Puerto Viejo

 

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.

 

What Makes Me Whole - 25

 

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.