A Traveler's Dairy: Costa Rica

a bunch of wooden surf boards standing up against dark green ivy.

By Sabrina Wu.

I remember it like yesterday.

The hot sun scorched the tops of my thighs as I sat overlooking the rail of the ferry into the open sea. The breeze tangled my hair while conversations and chatter surrounded me. It was a beautiful day to be in Costa Rica. 

It was day 2 of my 9 day vacation. I was on route to a small beach town, Montezuma. I had flown into San Jose International Airport the night before and stayed overnight in a town called Alajuela. It was my first time travelling solo. The first night was a little hard for me. I felt very much alone.

Day 2 turned out to be much better. For starters, my environment changed from a secluded hotel room to sipping fresh watermelon juice by the beach. I mean, how can you not enjoy that? I started meeting people who I could relate to and talk to. By day 3, I was beginning to really like this solo travel thing. 

I chose to go to Costa Rica because of a book I read called Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World by Judith Schwartz. It goes into detail about the global water crisis and the impact that water (or the lack of water) has on all ecological structures in the world. I wanted to explore this idea, and see how people were manipulating water, and other natural resources, to positively influence the world around them. Permaculture came up a lot in my searches. I found a farm in Montezuma called Rancho Delicioso that offered an integrated 5 day yoga/permaculture course program. I was sold. They had me at yoga.

Which brings me to day 3, the first day of the five day program at Rancho Delicioso. The first thing I did when I arrived was nap. I had spent all morning hiking to a waterfall with some people I met at a hostel. Coupled with the hot afternoon sun, by the time I arrived at the ranch, I was out like a light.

When I woke, I was greeted by an army of fire ants marching across my pillow. Unfortunately, it was not a dream. The searing pain from their bites made sure of that. At least they woke me up in time for dinner, which was served at the Ranch’s in-house Wonderland Farm Restaurant. It was at dinner that I met the instructors and the other five participants in the program, Alieka from Canada, Jacques and Belen from the UK, and Alejandro and Lucas, a father-son duo from Argentina.

During my stay at Rancho Delicioso, the itinerary for each day went something like this:

  1. Farm duties (feeding the horse, goats, chickens, and aquaponic fish)
  2. Yoga
  3. Breakfast
  4. Permaculture class
  5. Lunch
  6. Activity (surfing/exploring/beach/waterfalls/etc)
  7. Permaculture class
  8. Dinner
  9. Free time
  10. Bed

The classes included some discussion based topics like introduction to permaculture, propagating plants, compost, food forests, etc. There were also instructional classes on how to make chocolate, kombucha, and tinctures and ointments. On one of the days, we visited a cob house and helped build a sustainable home out of mud and plastic waste.

One of my favourite moments during this trip was when one of the instructors, Irene, brought me to a local river. The others in the group were surfing (they signed up for the surf/permaculture program) and she wanted to keep me company since I was the only one who didn’t sign up for the surfing option.

beautiful waterfall in costa rica

She had come to this river many times as a child. She knew every inch of the landscape like the back of her hand. We hopped from rock to rock upstream, periodically stopping to check things out along the way. After a little while we reached a small but powerful waterfall. She invited me to sit under it with her.

Sitting under that waterfall was one of the most exhilarating things I had ever experienced. I had never felt anything like that before. The water thundered down on my head, plastering my hair onto my skin. The roar from the stream made my heart pound. It was so revitalizing, I felt like I had become a new person. As we both shared the moment together, two human beings so very much alive in the moment, I couldn't help but laugh. It was such a raw moment. I had never felt so much joy in my entire life.

On the last full day of the program, I got to participate in building a community garden in Montezuma. The area which the garden was built on was originally a dumping spot for the town’s litter. The intention of the project was to bring the community together to create a sense purpose for the space. And that’s exactly what happened. It surprised me to see people from all walks of life come together to help build this garden, despite the scorching heat and the (wretched) fire ants. It was enriching and I was so grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of it.

That’s actually how I felt about the entire program. At this time, I was in the midst of completing a two year Environmental Landscape Management program and I was learning a lot about all the things that we, humans, are doing wrong for the environment. Global warming, water crises, plastic overload, extinctions, you name it. From the perspective of a 20-something year nobody, it was enough to make me feel helpless and overwhelmed.

These five days of learning about permaculture gave me hope. It gave me perspective to see that we aren’t helpless. But we do need to change our paradigm.

Currently, we are living in a parasitic relationship with the Earth. Parasites are self-destructive. They destroy their host, and unless they can find another host to infect, they die. There’s no life for humans if we continue in this current state of living. 

Earth can provide everything that we need for life. However if we take too much output without returning enough input, it limits those resources until there’s nothing left. This is what we’re seeing with many of the environmental crises in the world. The only way that we can sustain life on Earth is if we tap into a harmonious relationship with Earth. That’s what permaculture is all about.

a wave starting to crest with mountains in the background

This perspective is invaluable. It’s the same perspective presented in Judith Schwartz’s book, and as naive or stupid as it may sound, I believe that this perspective, on a collective level, is going to save the world.

On the last night, I laid under the stars while one of the instructor’s dogs, Rocko, laid beside me. I felt sad to be leaving the next morning. Under the vast night sky I felt insignificant. I felt obligated to bring these new ideas back home and create change but I didn’t know how I would even start.

As I left Montezuma, I reluctantly said goodbye to the laid-back beach culture and sea breeze. As palm trees turned into apartment buildings, I re-entered the realm of pedestrians, cars and city life.

Before I knew it, I was back at home in Toronto, arriving on a cold November night, and getting picked up by my boyfriend at the airport. Back to reality. 

But I didn’t go back empty-handed. Aside from the trinkets and souvenirs I bought for friends and family, I also took with me the best possible lesson I could have ever learned from this experience:

To live largely and tread lightly – That there’s no amount of things in this world that can ever fulfill me if I am not living fully. And what I’ve come to realize is that when I do choose to live fully, there aren’t many things that I actually need.

As Lao Tze so wisely said, "when you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

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