Costa Rica

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I could always hear the Sea calling, the ebb and flow of the waves, playing like an omnipresent lullabye; gently humming in the background of every significant scene of my life.

The death of my mother, the long talks with my father, birthdays and kisses, even heartbreaks.

My heart had been broken before, but this last time was different somehow. Perhaps it was because I was at a crossroad with my life and keenly aware that each decision (or non decision) I made would define my future. Somewhere along the way I ceased to marvel at life’s fleeting moments and I needed to be awed by simple pleasures again. Each day blended into the next with no spice or flavor to proclaim the novelty of existence to the point I could not find evidence, except the pain of heartbreak, that I wasn’t lost in a dream.

 

I had to escape.

 

It was time to go and and it was instinctual like a child knows the sound of it’s mother voice or the acceptance that tomorrow is never promised.

The prison I’d designed was built from baseless fears surrounding survival and security and it was rooted down deep in my psyche.

Freedom isn’t convenient and doesn’t offer any comfort of the familiar, nor assurance of a safe return. Explorers and travelers know that choosing freedom means confronting the very makeup of ones soul and that such a journey will inevitably change every molecule of one’s entire being.

 

On impulse I bought a one way ticket to Costa Rica.

 

I wanted to release my clutter, I gave away all my worldly possessions. I visited my mother’s grave to ask for her blessings on a sunny day, while hummingbirds whizzed past my head.

Hummingbirds are the messenger of spirits, I read somewhere once, I took it as a good sign and that gave me courage.

 

Waiting for the plane, my fears played upon my emotions and resulted in a racing heart and sweaty palms. As a young woman traveling solo for the first time out of the United States, there were a plethora of fears to choose from and I danced around each as a dancer around a fire.

 

What if the hostel I booked fell through? What if I get lonely? What if get hurt? What if…

 

“Fear attracts predators,” I remember my father once said. “Even if everything is falling apart around you, wear a smile, play a guitar and relax and you’ll attract adventurers.”

 

Once my foot hit the sand of Cocles Beach in Puerto Viejo, Limon, I crumbled before the vision of the sea, like shipwreck survivor finally arriving on land. The sun was setting so magnificently I forgot to breathe and I looked down to process the moment. I saw peeking from the white sand, a shiny 500 colones, as if to say, “congratulations brave one, wonders await.”


I laid in the sand until the stars replaced the clouds and the flies began to bite me. I belonged to the sea now, fully and completely and knew I could no longer live a conventional life as I had before. I had no plans, but just to be present in the moment and reflect upon acquiring peace and worshiping the beauty of my surroundings.  

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When she announced to my sister and me that we were going on a family vacation to Costa Rica, our mother didn’t lead with the possibility of seeing the still-active Arenal Vocano glowing in the evenings, nor the country’s vivid wildlife, nor even the opportunity to learn to surf on the beaches of Tamarindo. Instead, because the mere thought of our renting a car to transverse the knotty roads though the rain forest gave her the vapors, mom’s take on the novelty of our all-girls holiday was to be found in these two words: “private driver.”

 

Thus it was that the three of us we were buckled into a large mini-van by Alejandro, the cheerful driver charged with taking us the 4 hour drive from landlocked La Fortuna to the Pacific coast. As the road climbed up and down around Lake Arenal, our itinerary promised sweeping vistas of green and blue, plummeting waterfalls, and the occasional glimpse of a monkey or sloth.

 

But Alejandro had other plans for amusing his guests. Once we were away, he pressed a button extending a small screen from the van’s ceiling. Picked up from the airport in a similar van a few days earlier, we’d watched a welcome video offering us a few useful phrases in Costa Rican Spanish, and assumed we were in for more of the same. We continued to stare out the windows with our cameras in hand, reveling in the equatorial landscape and scrutinizing the tops of tall trees for swinging mammalian shapes.

 

Then Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” flooded the speakers, and George Michael’s 80’s pompadour filled the screen on the van’s ceiling. The hairdo had pulsed through only a single chorus before it was replaced by Blondie’s Debbie Harry urging “Call Me,” a sentiment barely uttered before it was replaced by Cindy Lauper’s maxim that “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” We stopped looking for sloths.

 

Over the next 3 hours, as our van chugged its way though the ends of the rainforest, past farms and fields and the provincial capital of Liberia, the Costa Rican scenery competed with singing along to the best of English New Wave. The Human League, Culture Club, and Modern English all took their brief turns, punctuated occasionally by Meat Loaf or Celine Dion telling us that their hearts will go on or that they’d do anything for love.

 

And, conducted by our trusty private driver, we sang through it all. The tourist’s incongruities were palpable: instead of properly appreciating colonial architecture, we belted out “we’re only human – born to make mistakes”; instead of stopping to explore small villages in the 90 degree heat, we crooned “we’ll stop the world and melt with you” from the comforts of our air-conditioned minivan. In favor of bopping along to “Karma Chameleon,” we missed countless opportunities to spot local reptiles clinging to the trees.

 

We perhaps did not do justice to the beauties of Costa Rica in that four-hour drive. But mom was right – that private driver was worth every penny.

 

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Among the people who planted trees, Costa Rica

A woman is working for an international organization in Geneva and married to a great scientist based at CERN. She feels happy, living a dream. One day waking up she learns that the marriage is over. There is a suitcase at the door and another woman taking her husband away. The whole world seems to fall apart. What happens next? A memoir of braveness by Lubi Guindon

I thought this is the end. The end of my life, the end of the world, of everything. Days would pass like high speed cars on a highway. I was a ghost rider with nowhere to go. Waiting for a green signal. And one day it came. The greenest signal of all, in the form of a volunteering opportunity in Costa Rica.  I collected my brave broken pieces of heart and said yes. It took about six months to prepare my Slovak family, my mom, sister and her little children for the fact that I am packing a backpack and going to plant trees in Costa Rica for a year. The first step of braveness when you present a big decision to your family knowing they have a completely different idea about your life and will think you are crazy.

On the plane, I kept repeating to myself, I am flying to Costa Rica. I am moving there. It is happening, it is real. I arrived in the middle of the rain season. San José was busy dirty and loud, just like any other bigger city. No sign of trees or forests. Neither of my backpack which didn’t make the connection in Madrid.

But I had everything I needed; bravery, clear and peaceful mind and openness to every person, situation or place I will encounter. In fact, I had no idea what to expect! The place I would start calling home was Hojancha, a well-hidden jewel surrounded by hills and forests. It was a small town, more of a community where everyone knows everyone and nothing extraordinary ever happens, on the first sight. As I soon learnt, about 30 years ago there was almost no tree! Hard to imagine that people seeing their drying streams of water would come together to plant trees. And they continued for many years passing on the story of their lives.

They created the paradise with their own actions. When life got hard, water scarce and sun too hot, many decided to run away to bigger cities, but those who stayed put hands together and got to  work. They were the actors on the stage performing a dramatic shadow theatre play of trees. And the life continued to roll its wheels. Only their smiles got bigger when they would sit down in the evenings to tell the story of planting trees in Monte Alto hills.

Everywhere I went I was thinking of trees. There were so many varieties, most beautiful flowers, fruits and butterflies. One couldn’t learn all their names. Each tree had its own story. Each could tell seeds of wisdom in peoples hearts if they only listen to its whispers. The seasons were changing.

It was amazing to experience the strength and power of the story of Hojancha.  With every sip of water coming from the reforested hills, I felt more brave in my life. I could do anything. My indigenous mentor in Costa Rica who spent his entire life planting trees once told me “Those who wash their hands with soil, remain clean.”  I carried the words in my heart when running through the forests of Hojancha.

With more time passing, I got caught between two worlds. The New and Old Continent. It takes courage and a brave heart to heal and choose a new life. Take the step into new unknown future. But between planting trees and listening to the rain and wind dancing in their canopies. I was peaceful, daydreaming about all the possibilities, my life may bring. My new life only began. I was brave once and it inspired my new seed in my soul to grow. And as the main hero of the story, I wouldn’t wish to change it for anything else. I was on the road less traveled but it led me to the most beautiful places within. Once I got lost in the forest but discover a treasure.

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Bravery on the Beach in Costa Rica

When I think about a place that really inspired me to be brave, the first place that pops into my mind is Playa Camaronal, in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The reason I chose this place is not because of the massive waves that challenge even the most advanced surfers, but rather because of the creatures that inhabit the beach. These creatures are baby sea turtles, and I was fortunate to have watched as they took their first steps in this world, each step fraught with danger as they struggled into the waves.

I traveled through Central America for 3 months with a group of students through a program called Carpe Diem Education. We traveled through Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras, all the while learning new lessons and meeting new people.

We drove down to Costa Rica from Nicaragua on a public bus, finally ending up in Guanacaste, at Playa Camaronal. The beach was quite large (3 kilometers total), and was held by a small river on the West side and a large cliff to the East. The waves were incredible for surfing, as many locals and foreigners drove out to the reserve to challenge the breakwater.

We met our director, Massimo, right when we stepped off the bus. He informed us that we would be working that first night with the tortugas (turtles).

Each night consisted of several groups combing the beach for signs of the turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. In the event that we found a turtle digging a hole in which to lay its eggs, we would quietly go up to it, put gloves on, and pick up the eggs and put them in a bag to bury later.

We were fortunate to be able to release the tortuguitas (baby turtles) into the waves on the third day. There were roughly 70 baby turtles to release, and Massimo carefully emptied the turtles onto the beach, where they made their way into the waves. It took them several tries before they were caught by the waves and dragged into the ocean. What an amazing species!

The turtle eggs faced many challenges when they were buried without our assistance. The local crabs would consume them as part of their diet, as did raccoons. Poachers were also quite common, as the eggs buried on the beach were often stolen in the middle of the night.

The reason I’m inspired by these animals to be brave is because of the odds that stand against them –  only 1 in 1000 baby sea turtles survive into adulthood. These turtles have inspired me to beat the odds as well. Of the nearly 500,000 high school baseball players in the United States, only 11.5% go on to play at the next level. As a Division III recruit, I have made it farther than 95% of high school baseball players. I am proud that my work ethic and commitment to improvement helped me get to where I am today.

When I was traveling in Central America, I saw exotic animals everywhere I went. One in particular stood out: the turtles of Playa Camaronal, Costa Rica. The turtles face many obstacles and threats, just as I overcame many obstacles to become a college baseball player. As I look back at my experiences in Central America, I’m thankful to have encountered the turtles, as they inspired me to overcome the odds and flourish, not only as a future college baseball player, but also as a person.

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Stepping Off

 

I placed a check mark underneath canopy tour.  It sounds so benign.  I abruptly walk away, my heart thundering in my chest, a queasy sensation in my stomach.  I’m in Costa Rica on a writer’s retreat.  I had promised myself before leaving home that I’d zip line, ignoring the cortisol in my body that screamed “don’t”.

 

I’ve always been afraid of jumping off.  Swimming lessons as a child.  My first dive was effortless, then my brain kicked in and I registered that I was launching myself into the unknown, into that space of nothingness, and I panicked.  My patient instructor cajoled, reassured, repeatedly told me I can do this.  I knew how to dive.  I did.  He was right.  I would assume the pose and for all the on-lookers, my six year old peers, and my disappointed mother, it would seem that this time, at last, I would dive.  At the last second I would jump into the water, my instructor turning his head to avoid the splash of water.

 

I’m attracted to adventure.  I routinely place myself in adventure’s way, and then midstream my brain catches up, I register what I’m doing and the fear, if not terror, sets in.  I watch the crew dive off the roof of our cruise ship in the Galapagos.  They’re transformed into little boys, calling out to each other, hooting their delight.  I scramble up on the roof to join them.  Their eyes widen to see a gringa on the roof. Perched on the edge of the listing ship, I freeze.  My brain kicks in. Ultimately, I scramble down to the next level and finally jump – the sickening river of terror thundering through my veins overshadows any sense of enjoyment.

 

I’m in Malaysia and read about a suspension bridge strung across the jungle.  I know immediately I want to do this.  I take a bus, then a tram car up a mountain.  I first have lunch on a hotel balcony that has a hand printed sign to be aware of the snakes.  I look up towards the vines above my head, and stare at the bright green and yellow snake that is taking in his?her? afternoon sun.  My breath catches.  I’m grateful I’m not scared of snakes.

After lunch I walk a short way and pay a pittance to obtain entrance onto the suspension bridge.  I’m the only walker.  Halfway across the bridge my brain kicks in. I’m on a swaying rope bridge, eight inches in width, kilometers off the ground, a bridge that no one tests or maintains.  My racing brain catalogues the amount of humidity, rain, that a tropical environment endures.  I stare at the girth of the rope, calculate rates of deterioration, my legs shake so badly I wonder if I may just collapse and tumble off crashing through the canopy I’m supposed to be oohing and awing over.   I think about my family, friends, who have no idea where I am, what I’m doing.  How long it will be before they discover I’m dead.  I realize that either way I am walking back to the start (the walk of shame) or finishing this walk that has all of a sudden been labeled interminable by my brain. But walk I must, remaining frozen is not an option. I finish.  I make it, if I had less pride I would have kissed the ground, it seemed a little too dramatic.

 

I’m at home, rural northern B.C., three years into a job where I provide counselling to Aboriginal children who have been permanently removed from their homes.  Survivors of neglect, trauma, abandonment, little ones whose stories shatter my trauma seasoned heart.  There is a child I have counselled for three years, who due to her experiences of abuse and neglect plus ten failed placements, fundamentally believes she is bad and unlovable.  Her whole life, she has never lived anywhere for longer than two years.

 

I step off into the unknown.  At fifty-two years of age, I let go of my safe, independent life and apply to be her parent. In two months time, I will be a single parent to a twelve year old girl who I have loved for years.  My brain will kick in, and I know to face my fears and carry on anyway.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Pura Vida and Freedom; Why Costa Rica Makes Me Brave

The mere name sounds simple and exotic; just as the people that inhabit this small paradise located in Central America. A few days ago, my life changed completely and the benefactor of such turn was this marvelous and green little country.

I used to live in Mexico City, one of the most densely populated cities and a large urban landscape at its finest. For me, stress, traffic, violence, snobbism and pollution were as much part of my life as my everyday meal. This was life; I called home being stuck in traffic jams for two hours, eternal social charades and barely no contact with nature Little did I know that, in a matter of days, my life would change forever.

One fine day, I got an email with an offer, one I couldn’t refuse even though it was quite scary. It was an open invitation to completely shift my world, asking me to reply within three days. With a bit of determination alongside with the ever enduring love of my family, I decided to grab my passport, pack whatever seemed relevant, say goodbye to a few darling people and fly off south of the border.

Honestly, I had no clue of what to expect. One hears good and bad reviews about everything, but it’s practically needless to say that nothing is conclusive. I must say that, ever since I got here, it’s been magical; everyday ending with stunning the sunsets, followed by weekends spent enjoying the view; the incredible landscapes. Everything is so refreshing.

I find myself, unexpectedly, having conversations here and there, enjoying the knowledge of its youth and its elders. Everyone keeps on wishing “pura vida” (“pure life”) to everyone. The peace that the whole place brings is simply life-changing. My soul feels completely recharged.

But, you may ask yourself, why is it making this woman brave? There are millions of astonishing places in the world. Everywhere we go, somehow, becomes a part of us. After we go somewhere else, we will never be the same since we have unraveled yet another of our deepest mysteries. We have the fortune of inhabiting a planet full of secrets and beauty.

But there’s just something about Costa Rica. The whole philosophy of respect and equality among humans and other species is refreshing. I must say that I’m in love, and that love is precisely what is making me brave.

Everyday I’m standing up against my demons. I’m challenging myself at every waking moment. I’m placing myself in front of the mirror, enjoying what I see since nature is so wonderful and I’m part of it. I’m no longer a simple spectator. Costa Rica has made me feel like I’m part of the world; I’m white, indigenous, black – I’m everyone;  I’m the sea; I’m the animals, the trees, the river and the sky; I’m the sunsets, the cold and the heat; I’m the volcano and the forest. That makes me humble, and yet, powerful. That makes me conscious and brave.

Now, I have accepted that I will never be the same again. Mexico is my homeland, my roots,which I will always adore and honor; but my heart has found a place. It has found a sanctuary in the most unimaginable place. Costa Rica, I conclude, is the land where people become free and brave.

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He said “watch out for the ants,” as we walked down the dirt path towards the river.  Halted by confusion I looked down and saw a distinct moving line of greens and yellows cutting through our path.  I stared in amazement as the leaf cutter ants moved in sync with one another, forming a line that was at least three feet long. I was entranced by a minor act of nature that was almost looked over.  This small but surprising event was one of the many memories formed from my trip to La Fortuna, Costa Rica.

                Carefully stepping over the ants we continued on the path leading us down to the river, where our raft awaited. As we wobbled our way into the raft, we gently glided across the murky water to begin our tour. Gazing up at the sky we transcended under a canopy of trees hanging over us, awakened by the buzzing sounds of the forest. A sense of peace fell upon me as I entered this unfamiliar world.

                As we started along our river tour we were welcomed by the animals that appeared along the river bank. The bright green colored Jesus Christ lizard, who shyly stayed at the edge of the river bank.  The birds were next to present themselves. First greeted by the crane and then we saw the rare Tucan birds, which are known as a sign of good luck. As we moved further along the river, our guide mentioned to us that we might come across some crocodiles.  We wondered if he was joking until a few minutes down the river there it was. A crocodile around 100 feet away from us sat peacefully basking in the sun.  About half way through our journey we slowed down our pace and the tour guide began smacking the water with his paddle.  He then made a howling sound and in reply the trees came alive.  Hovering over us in the trees were the howler monkeys, voicing their presence with a deep echoing sound. My senses were overwhelmed with fascination. My ears rang with glee from being introduced to this unique sound.

Passing the monkeys overhead we took a stop on our tour to a farm originally owned by a gentleman who lived until he was 103. As we walked up about 50 steps that were all hand built, we walked straight into a home with dirt floors, limited walls that only formed a few small rooms, and every piece of furniture  was made from wood off the land. We were greeted by the family with plantains, coffee and cheese. As we sat and ate we learned about the history of the farm. We learned that for years the family started each day by walking up alongside the sun rise. And up until a few years ago they have lived without the use of electricity. They’ve grown organic foods and everything they have needed was grown and made from the farm.  A simplified way of life that is very foreign to my city lifestyle.  Although we visited for only a short time, I got a sense of the calmness the family must have felt almost every day on the farm

 There is a freedom that comes with being in nature that one cannot find within the concrete world of a city.  Being amongst nature in Costa Rica I was constantly gazing at the surrounding beauty, from the colors in a flower to the shapes of tree. There were no advertisements or distracting sounds, just tranquility. This calmness has helped me to reflect on who I am, allowing me to simply exist and not feel pressured to fit into the roles that society creates.  The Costa Rican people have such respect and value for their ecosystem that I am forever grateful to have discovered a place where a sense of harmony exist. I am grateful to have soaked up some of that harmony to carry with me throughout my life.  My gratitude extends pass having a mere experience in nature but to have had the time to rediscover myself. In Costa Rica, they have a saying “ Pura Vida”, meaning pure life. Being in Costa Rica is, Pura Vida.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Our last few days in Costa Rica were spent at a wonderful place. It was not a resort next to the beach; it was nowhere near civilization. As a matter of fact, we did not even have electricity for most of our time there. However, of our entire stay in Costa Rica, Jose’s farm, a far and remote place named Hacienda Rio Carara, left in me the deepest of impressions.

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Jose at his farm

Jose had an adventurous life. At the age of 20, he sold everything he owned and bought a ticket to Africa. What was supposed to be a six-months trip turned into four years of traveling across multiple continents. Afterwards, Jose literally drifted around for seventeen more years, having worked his way up from crew to captain on luxury yachts. Somehow, during his years of traveling, Jose earned a degree in Agricultural Engineering and now, after two decades, he finally decided to settle down in his home country to build his idea of a sustainable farm.

Listening of Jose talk is a treat. I’ve never met anyone so knowledgeable about nature. Walking around his farm is like getting a tour around an arboretum, where all the trees bear fruits and your tour guide planted everything growing out of the ground. Like many people accustomed to city living, I have never seriously thought about the origin of my food, and seeing these fruits, herbs, and spices in their natural habitat was wholly revelatory.

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A different species of cilantro in Jose’s backyard

Perhaps the most intriguing was the variety on Jose’s farm. The practice of agriculture is in many ways inherently destructive to natural biodiversity since it forces only a few species of plants to be grown on one plot of land. What’s unique about Jose’s farm is it’s more like a big agricultural experiment than a commercial farm. Instead of growing cash crops, Jose chose multiplicity. After having planted everything from turmeric to oranges to sugarcane, he’s only getting started. Nothing is neatly organized in rows, and there is no plot of land used for specific plants. The entire farm looks like a part of the rainforest surrounding it, and that’s just how Jose envisioned it.

What I found the most interesting about Jose was his ideas towards the environmental movement. To him, words like “organic” and “eco” do much more harm than good. He explained how yielding the same amount of “organic” crops sometimes takes five times the resources required, and how “fair-trade” can also cause deforestation when the farmers cut down tree to grow coffee beans. Right or wrong, Jose is a man of opinions, and his opinions are backed by his observations and his own philosophies on sustainability. To Jose, it’s not about following certain doctrines, but rather using nature to its maximum efficiency. There is no dogma, and everything can be attempted as long as it doesn’t violate his fundamental principle of letting nature do its own work. Even GMO, a touchy subject to many in the environmental movement, is not beyond discussion. On paper, his vision looks like the musing of an idealist, but in reality he is deeply practical. What I realized about Jose is that he is, at heart, an engineer and an innovator, and like all engineers, the prospect of trying something new is intoxicating.

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We share a meal with Jose next to candle light

After all he’s seen and done, Jose wants to live a simple lifestyle. It’s hard to imagine such a gentle person was once a sea captain, and for the most part he just smiles and crack jokes. But, when the topic of farming and sustainability comes up, a light bulb switches on. Suddenly this mild-mannered man becomes so excited he could hardly wait to get his ideas out. Every word leads to a new id, and Jose can (and did) talk for hours on his visions.

I don’t know what Jose’s farm will be like in a few years; I don’t think he does either. That’s really what’s the most exciting, and I feel fortunate to have witnessed this beautiful dream in its infancy. After years working on yachts, Jose said the goal of the farm is to “share, not to serve”. I like that, and I look forward to what he’ll share with me the next time I visit.

Click here to check out our Million Ways to Live episode and learn more about Hacienda Rio Carara!

 

monteverde_panoTo those who have visited,Costa Rica embodies the idea of a simple lifestyle and easy living, or as the locals say, Pura Vida. But for me, the true spirit of Costa Rica was not found at its sandy beaches, but up high in its mountains and cloud forests. Away from the crowds, removed from the noises, I found a sense of Pura Vida in a place called Monteverde, from a most unexpected group.

To many Costa Ricans, Monteverde is a bit of an enigma, maybe even a little confusing. Aside from the locals who’ve been there since the time immemorial, in this remote region in Central America, abundant in resources with 6% of the world’s biodiversity, quietly resides a vibrant Quaker community.

The goats on Benito's dairy farm
The goats on Benito’s dairy farm

In the 1950’s, a small population of Quakers from Fairbanks, Alabama, in order to escape the violent social environment brought on by the Korean War, immigrated to Costa Rica. They brought with them the age-old practice of dairy farming as a means of income as well as a vision of a society founded on the principles of Peace, Equality, Simplicity, and Truth. Now, sixty years later, the community has not only planted its roots deeply in this area, but has helped transformed Monteverde into an internationally renowned destination for ecological tourism and research.

We were fortunate enough to have been introduced to this community and was invited to attend a Sunday meeting. Not being familiar with the Quaker ways, many of the activities we observed were fascinating. This society of “friends”, as they call their members, holds a social structure so lacking in hierarchy it looks almost anarchistic. A consensus is reached, but not by explicit voting. Instead, it’s an implicit agreement of group feeling the Quakers call “sense of the meeting”. There is no person or group with executive power, only administrative abilities to make sure the decisions are carried out.

The emphasis on equality permeates throughout every aspect of the community. Instead of a governing body, there are committees; instead of elected leaders, there are clerks and overseers, whose main job is to end assemblies when they run for too long. There are no debates that determine courses of action for the community, instead there are “meetings”, where no one is obligated to speak, and in between speakers it is common to have a minute or two of silence for people to reflect. The clerks and overseers are not chosen based on an electoral process, but instead by appointments of three years cycles, usually to people actively involvements in the community.

In a world where it’s routine to see leaders pander to their constituents, where complex problems are reduced to catch phrases devoid of all nuisances, where people are often either too apathetic or too cynical about government to want to participate, a society of “friends” whose idea of a policy debate is a two hour meeting where one hour is spent sitting in silence seems almost comically out of place. Yet, decisions are made in a timely manner, each person’s opinions are equally respected, and no one feels the pressure to conform to ideas shouted by loud and obtrusive individuals. Amongst Monteverde’s strikingly beautiful landscape and surprisingly cool weather, the Quakers have lived a quiet, peaceful lifestyle since their first establishment. Their traditions and values may have evolved over the years, but the core remains intact.

The Costa Rican phrase of Pura Vida carries with it a longing for simplicity. As one puts it, “Eat well, sleep well, shit well, that’s it.” Yet, as tourism boomed, so too did these words change from a cultural adage describing a way of living to a catch phrase used to entice and entertain. Today, the Pura Vida lifestyle is hardly seen in San Jose or Tamarindo. There, I see the same hustle and bustle as any other big cities and popular tourist destinations. It’s hard to argue with economic development, but it’s even harder to get what Pura Vida really means standing next to a sign for Black Friday. The cloud forest of Monteverde was an escape, and the people there made it a more than memorable one.

Click here to watch our Million Ways to Live episode at Benito’s farm from Monteverde!

 

I enter online contests all the time.  I never expect to win but my way of thinking is if I don’t enter, I definitely won’t win!  At some point during the spring or summer of 2012, I entered a contest to win a week long stay at a yoga retreat in Montezuma, Costa Rica.  In the fall of that same year, I received an email informing me I had won.

I didn’t know a thing about yoga or meditation when I replied to the email asking for my preferred travel dates.  All I cared about was going on a free trip to a country I had always wanted to visit.  The yoga classes and other activities were optional so I wasn’t even obligated to participate if I didn’t want to and my plan was to skip all that and spend that week learning to surf and lying on the beach.

After a long trip by air, sea and land, I finally made it to Anamaya Yoga Retreat atop a hill overlooking a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding coastline.  After a brief introduction to the place and the people I would be spending the week with, I unpacked, settled into my shared room and slipped into the salt-water infinity pool to relax.  I later glanced at the week’s scheduled events and decided that attending that evening’s group discussion and dinner would be the appropriate thing to do…at least for the first night.

Introductions were brief but personal.  Each person said their name and their reason for attending the retreat.  I felt awkward stating that I was only there because I won the trip so I lied and said I was there to get some well-deserved relaxation and learn more about yoga.  The words just rolled off my tongue and I immediately realized what that meant for me; there would be no early-morning treks to the beach or late nights partying in the town below.  I had just committed myself to 7am yoga classes for the entire week.

Dinner was beyond my expectations.  I’d stayed at all-inclusive resorts before and the food was always just ok.  But Anamaya was not your typical all-inclusive resort.  All participants sat at a huge dinner table complete with yoga-inspired décor and candles that shed a relaxing ambiance over the room.  Light music made sitting with a group of strangers to have a meal even more relaxing.  The meal itself consisted of three courses – soup and appetizers, the main course and desert – and everything was healthy, fresh and organic with all the vegetables and dairy products coming from a nearby farm.

Getting up at 6am the next morning wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be; my bed faced a huge glass door that overlooked the Pacific and the early morning sunrise was so spectacular, I just couldn’t bear to sleep through it.  After a light snack consisting of various fruit, I joined the group for our first yoga class.  This being my first attempt at yoga, I was both embarrassed and intimidated at my lack of ability in comparison to the other more seasoned yogis in the class and I failed miserably. I was unable to do more than half the poses and I ended up in severe pain for the rest of the day.

After breakfast, we gathered around in a circle to discuss our lives more in depth.  I am not used to opening up about my private life in such a setting but everyone was so at ease at doing so that I relaxed and began to open up too.  I instantly felt comfortable in that group of people from all over the world, each with his or her own goals, aspirations, failed relationships, moments of enlightenment and hopes for the future.  Every single person in that circle was there at that moment because they had had something bad happen in their lives and had reached a point where they wanted to change for the better and move forward in a more positive direction.  That was the first time I had ever been surrounded by a group of people who were not afraid to admit they had fallen and wanted to get back up.  Before that, it always seemed that everyone’s lives were perfect and I was the only one who was falling.  We laughed, we cried and we hugged as we shared our inner-most secrets.  Later that day, I received another gift that I have been carrying around with me since that magical, life-changing week in Montezuma; a lesson in living what native Costa Ricans call the Pura Vida.  Translation? Living simply, happily and purely.

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