Purpose, long-term travel adventures must have purpose. Aside from all the wonder that comes with traveling, being on the road can also be hard, tiresome, uncomfortable, un-glamorous, and smelly. Eventually, washing the armpits of your shirts over the sink translates into doing laundry. A four-bed dorm room at a hostel is synonym for a 4 star hotel. A two-dollar, three-course meal at the market sounds like a fancy meal, sleeping on buses and at airports becomes routine. Your clothes are worn at least 3 times before moving on to the next shirt/pants, everything you own seems to have this not-necessarily-bad, but certainly unique backpack smell. You see… not a fancy life, but with purpose, it is a wonderful one.
When Doug and I embarked on this journey, we knew we wanted to have a balance between touristic travel and deeper experiences that allowed us to connect with the local culture. Our love of traveling comes from really enjoying the process of learning from different cultures, perspectives, and people. We believe that learning from those who are different from us enriches our lives, makes us better, more wholesome, and happier. We thought that finding short-term work opportunities would be a perfect way to dive into the local culture, with the added bonus of reducing our cost of living (thus extending the number of months we can travel). On top of that, finding short term work would be an opportunity to explore things we hadn’t experienced, to grow, and maybe even to discover hidden talents/passions.
After a couple of months of travel, we found ourselves in one of the most expensive countries we’ve been so far: Costa Rica, which is as beautiful as it is expensive. After traveling in the country for just a week (mostly staying at friend’s houses), our suspicions were confirmed: Costa Rica was outside our budget. On top of that, we knew that Semana Santa (Holy Week) was coming, and everyone we met had told us that was THE most expensive week to travel in Central America. With this mind, we knew we needed to either find work or get out of the country as quickly as possible. Costa Rica being as beautiful as it is, we preferred the former option. Our conclusion: apply for short-term jobs through WorkAway ASAP.
After a few applications, we got a couple of job offers. The one that interested us most was close to a town called Uvita. The job description wasn’t terribly descriptive. We knew we would be working in the kitchen for a yoga retreat, but very little beyond that. We would eventually come to know the place, Selva Armonia, as a magical spot deep in the jungle. But, when we were traveling there we knew very little. In fact, we were a bit uncertain as to how to even get to the place. We were traveling to Uvita from Orosi, which proved to be no easy feat. On top of that, we were traveling smack in the middle of Semana Santa. Some buses were not running, schedules had changed, and no one seemed to be able to help us figure out a route. Eventually, after a few missteps, we made it to Uvita. The bus station is not quite a bus station, it was more like a large parking lot outside a restaurant. There, we waited for a taxi for quite some time, until we realized none were coming. I asked the security guard if he could help us find a taxi, which he did by calling a friend. After thanking him profusely, we were on our way to the jungle. We arrived just in time for sunset, which was beautiful.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Yery and Leluna. Yery was the chef at the retreat and our boss for the upcoming weeks. Leluna was in charge of running the retreat and became a good friend. Both of them were incredibly kind and welcoming. Before our arrival, Leluna had set up our sleeping quarters. As we were walking to the tent that would be our home for the upcoming weeks, it finally dawned on me that I was in the jungle. On top of that, I would be sleeping in a tent in the jungle. I am a city rat and this sudden realization made my heart skip a beat. As the last rays of light of the day faded away, we had just enough time to drop our things and get our flashlights out. As night fell, the jungle began to wake up. The toads came out, the spiders awoke, snakes surfaced, and I…. I… I freaked the fuck out! What had I done?! What kind of idiot accepts a job before asking where she would be sleeping?! I cursed myself just a bit and faced the daunting reality that I would live in a tent the jungle for just under a month. “I can do this. I love animals and wildlife. I might not love it when creepy crawlies touch me, but I not a cry baby. I can do this. It’s a tent, it would be very hard for any insect to crawl inside. I’ll be fine. How poisonous can the local snakes be? (Extremely is the answer) It’s all in your head, self-control Andrea, self-control.” As I talked to myself, I began to calm down. The people around me were just wonderful. And then…. as I brushed my teeth, a GIANT grasshopper jumped in the sink. That hopping friend was beyond large. All the calm I had collected after an hour of talking to myself was gone. POOFF ! I was again painfully aware of the fact that I was in the jungle.
You never forget your first night in the jungle. Monkeys howl, toads create a singing orchestra while they fornicate, and fruit and other things suddenly fall from the sky. You hear roars, songs, the flapping of wings, and countless things I have no idea what they were (thank god). It is beautiful, intimidating, and just a bit terrifying. I lied on my bed listening to the jungle for quite a while. I felt safe inside the tent, even though the material is so thin and many of the things outside could easily break it. The power of illusions. The second night, I woke up at 3:00 AM with an urgent need to pee. Having seen a poisonous snake outside our tent just minutes before going to sleep, I could not muster the courage to go to the bathroom by myself. So… I had to wake Douglas up to ask him to walk me to the bathroom. I knew I sounded ridiculous, but I was terrified of the deep darkness outside and all the things that hid within it. Doug laughed and asked if I was being serious, after seeing my face he knew I was, and kindly walked with me to the bathroom. Beyond ridiculous, I know. But that’s love! The ability to show your weaknesses while knowing the other person will help fill the void. The ability to show yourself flawed and vulnerable, and know you won’t be judged – you might get laughed at (rightfully so), but you won’t be judged.
The second day we began our work. The first thing on the agenda was to clean the kitchen from top to bottom. Apparently gecko poop is extremely toxic and that meant cleaning EVERYTHING. Who knew there were SOOOOO many geckos in the jungle? I certainly didn’t. It was quite fun getting to know Yery and our new workplace. Being occupied kept my mind from thinking about the jungle. Plus, since there were no guests yet, we got to improvise a bit in the kitchen. If you know me, you know I LOVE cooking. It felt great to have a decent space to work, to invent recipes, and to learn from a great cook. The food was mostly vegan, and a good portion of it came from the gardens on the property. I was super excited for the work to come, and so was Doug.
The next few weeks flew by, the guests came and left in the blink of an eye. We had such fun cooking, plus the team at Selva was just wonderful. It felt like being at home with family. Everyone was so kind and loving to one another. We met some amazing people and I am grateful for our new friends. We worked long hours. I had never cooked for so many people before, but it really is a full-time job. Fruit in the morning, then breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was exhausted and happy by the end of every day. We got to go into town and to the beach a few times. Uvita and the whale’s tale are stunning. We also got to go on a few hikes to the waterfalls nearby. The hikes were as jaw-droppingly beautiful as they were nerve-racking. Why you may ask? Snakes, spiders and wildcats.
As we spent time in the jungle, I slowly grew accustomed to my new surroundings, but I also grew more aware of the animals around me. Maycol, one of the groundskeepers, made sure I knew my snakes and spiders. While it is true that most animals want to avoid you just as much as you want to avoid them, sometimes accidents do happen. A good way to avoid them is to walk slowly, to announce your presence to the jungle as a humble visitor by clapping, and to really embrace that humility and respect for the creatures around you. The energy from the jungle is like nothing I’ve experienced before. So much life, so much happening around you all the time. While hiking, the trails were covered by dead leaves, which happens to be a preferred habitat for snakes. I was terrified of stepping on a Fer-de-lance and losing a leg, or worse! Eventually my fear dissipated and all that remained was respect and humility, but man, that first week was hard.
By the time our experience at Selva was ending, I didn’t want to leave. I knew I would miss my friends, picking fruit from the trees, that wonderful kitchen, the sunsets over the ocean, showering while looking at the stars, the walks in the jungle. Hell, I would even miss my nightly jungle concerts. As we got in the car to go into town and catch a bus, I collected one last spider bite and took a myriad of mental pictures of a place that had become home.
Selva was the best first short-term work we could have ever hoped for. We laughed, we learned, we made friends, we were challenged, I changed my hair style, we were loved by our new friends and we loved them back. Hasta la proxima!