Tag Archives: adventure

The Philosophy of Pura Vida; A Tribute to my Last Month in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Oh hello there, everyone. You have found me in the SJO airport waiting to catch a flight to Cancun, Mexico, drinking one last Pilsen and reminiscing on my last almost four months spent in Costa Rica. After leaving Finca Las Hormigas I made my way up to Monteverde to be reunited with my family after over a year of being apart. We split the holidays between the Monteverde rainforest and Samara beach. In Monteverde we explored the eco-diverse cloud forest, being so lucky as to sneak up on the mystical Resplendent Quetzal bird, a tapir, a coati, multiple species of hummingbird, and, to my mom’s absolute delight, the famous blue morpho butterfly.

Standing beneath a Strangler Fig tree
The Resplendent Quetzal

I can’t express enough here my gratitude to have been with my family for the holidays. On New Years Eve a fellow backpacker inquired about my favorite moment of 2020. Without thinking twice I responded that it was looking up from a coffee at the treehouse restaurant in Monteverde to see, to my absolute surprise, my mom, sister and brother looking around for a place to sit (my dad was parking the rental car). Since none of them had had any data, and I’d had no contact with them for the last few hours, I had begun to worry. Apparently I’d had some reason to worry since on their way from the airport to Santa Elena, Monteverde, they had managed to get into an accident with a motorcycle on a very steep and narrow road. My poor brother who’d been asleep in the backseat had awoken to a man on the windshield. In the end, the man and my family were fine, and the rental car got away with only a dent in the left head light.

Our assaulted rental car and the treehouse restaurant!
Me and the sibs

My sister had been drawn by mere instinct, some sisterly supernatural phenomenon, to the same restaurant that I was sitting at; hence my surprise when I looked up to see them, flustered and with a mirrored expression of surprise. That night we celebrated our reunion and their aliveness over Casado and beer on tap. 

Before I go further, I want to acknowledge how fortunate I am in a time like this to have been reunited with my family. As the saga of the coronavirus pandemic oscillates, and I watch from my backpacker bubble as most of the world grapples with isolation and separation from loved ones, it does not escape me that my globetrotting may not be looked upon so sympathetically. My world of connecting to other travelers and experiencing culture outside of my own; of hopping from hostel to hostel, sleeping in bunk beds crammed into tiny rooms without air conditioning and bumping up and down in buses cozied up to jaw dropping cliffs, is anything but relatable to my friends back home.

This acknowledgement aside, and with all of my sympathy for those who are suffering from illness, isolation, or job insecurity, I would still like to offer a window into my reality; the strangeness of being an adventurous young adult exploring Latin America during a world-wide pandemic.

Since I have been living in the land of pura vida, which is the common catch phrase in Costa Rica used heavily in casual conversation either as a greeting or farewell, or to describe the chillness of a situation or to offset it’s misfortune, I think it is time to dive deeper into its philosophy. In English, it is directly translated as “pure life.” 

Isla Chora in the back!

As an example of one of its uses, when my family and I went on a guided ocean kayak trip to Isla Chora in Samara, I cornered our tour guide and nit picked him for any information he had on the strikes that had been happening earlier in September and October. For those of you not so up to date on Costa Rican politics, there erupted out of the injustice of a raise in government taxes during a time of financial despair for most Costa Ricans, a plethora of strikes. These strikes caused road blockages for weeks, some buses to stop running altogether, and many stores to be closed down. During the peak of these strikes I was in San Vito working at the farm Los Patos Suertudos and wondering to myself if I would ever be leaving the top of that isolated mountain.

To my inquiry, the kayak guide replied that yes Costa Ricans have been struggling economically, and yet, it is still all “pura vida.” As he said this he motioned all around him at the rocky island, the lush jungles, the palm trees, the families with young children screeching for joy as they plunged into the ocean…you get the picture. 

Later one night as I was sitting around the hostel living area, I listened in on a conversation a Canadian was having with two Costa Ricans. The Canadian had been in Samara for some weeks and was jokingly asking what he had to do to become more “Tico”, which is the affectionate term for the locals of Costa Rica. To this the Ticos replied, “you gotta stop thinking about tomorrow man- the Ticos, we enjoy the color in the sunsets, we don’t know if we will have tomorrow,” and with that they clinked their cacique shot glasses, shouted “pura vida”, and threw their heads back. 

I have seen pura vida stuck onto the bumpers of dusty volvos, heard it called out between strangers across the street, as the name of restaurants, woven into beach blankets and tattooed into tanned arms; it is ingrained in everything. 

In 2005, the term “blue zone” first appeared in a cover story of the National Geographic naming five places in the world where people live the longest. Unsurprisingly, Costa Rica was among the five; specifically, the Nicoya Peninsula where I spent the last few weeks. I do not believe it to be a coincidence that Costa Rica, with its culture so heavily steeped in a philosophy that teaches presence and gratitude, is among these five blue zones.

To expand on my own experience traveling for these last three and a half months, the ticos and ticas that I have made friends and acquaintances with have been among the chillest and happiest people I’ve ever met. And in my airport reflection, I feel so very fortunate to have spent this particular time of global disarray steeped in the philosophy of pura vida. 

One last look back at my fam 😥

After my family left, I stayed in Samara at the hostel Las Mariposas, which means butterfly in Spanish. There I met a group of fellow backpackers and we bonded over our similar situations and niche sense of humor. We called ourselves the “Cacique Squad” after the cheapest liquor you can get in Guanacaste. Together we rented a car and spent a long weekend exploring breathtaking and mountainous Alajuela, the area surrounding the active Poas volcano.

The Cacique Squad

There is something about the people you meet traveling, the experiences you each are having, so outside of the daily routine. My theory is that because these experiences will most likely stand out from the rest of your life, so will the people that you meet. 

We found a cute Airbnb home that looked over the cityscape and the rolling mountain range. One of the benefits of finding a handful of people to travel with is that the cost to book a bunk bed in a shared hostel is roughly the same as splitting a cheap Airbnb six ways. 

Airbnb view 🙂

On our drive up the mountain to our Airbnb I couldn’t stop saying “wow”; the air was crisp, the flowers somehow smelled sweeter and looked even more vibrant, and don’t even get me started on the views. We spent the next three days going on hikes through the national forests, cooking, playing cards and charades, and playing music. 

Geared up to visit Poas Volcano (spoiler alert, it was foggy and we saw nothing).

Now, you may be wondering what on earth I am doing on the verge of a flight to Mexico after bragging on Costa Rica and the friends that I have made?

I am simply being dragged along by the leash of my restless heart.

After traveling up and down the coasts and in and around the peninsula of Costa Rica, I am ready for a change of scenery and culture; and more specifically, to learn about how Mexico has been influenced by permaculture and other types of environmental agriculture.

Until we meet again, my loyal seegressago fans. 

Pura vida to all and to all pura vida,

Gressa 

Welcome to the Jungle!

Before we get started I’ve got some news! If you enjoy reading my blog entries and want to throw some support my way, I have just made it possible to do so right here. 🙂 I have also created a patreon account where I will be uploading all these posts plus more. If you wanna check out what I have going on over there you can follow the link posted in my about section. So with that out of the way, I will waste no more time in reporting back from this little piece of permacultered paradise I’ve found through Workaway, nestled in the mountains of San Vito.

It’s been a little over two weeks since my arrival from Uvita. I took two buses, neither of which I was 100% sure were taking me where I wanted to go and I was dropped off nowhere near the bus station. Thankfully I was only 20 minutes from the farm I would be working at, Los Patos Suertudos, and had been given the name of their favorite taxi driver, Johnny. All the way up the mountain, Johnny beamed in his best English about the people who ran the workaway. It was dark so I was unaware of the breathtaking (and very steep) view from the roads, and I learned later that only a few years prior a local bus had driven off that same road. It was only a week later when I biked into town that I first laid eyes on the Lord of the Rings worthy landscape with its thick, dark green mountains cascading into sheared (and chemically soaked) farmland.

When we pulled into the driveway we were warmly greeted by Kristy, David, and their dog Finn, who were happy to welcome their first workawayer in almost 7 months. We sat down to a dinner of chicken soup, local greens from the garden, and for dessert a fruit that I’ve become obsessed with called mamones, which reminds me of a dragon’s egg with it’s red spiky shell and milky incandescent egg shaped fruit. After dinner, Kristy lead me down to the little cabin that would be my home for the month; a quaint, treehousey little thing with black shade cloth stapeled around the sides in replacement of walls. Not having walls alone in the middle of the jungle took me some time to get used to I must say, but I’ve come to adore waking up with the sun cradled inside my mosquito net that hangs around my bed like a royal canopy, surrounded by layers upon layers of lush green. The cool thing about shade cloth is that it is like tinted windows in a car, so wildlife goes on in oblivion of my existence and I am witness to it all. It is a lot like how I imagine it must feel to wear the cloak of invisibility. (I know I know….dork alert, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings reference and I’m only in my 2nd paragraph).

My mornings here are my favorite part of the day, which I can’t believe I’m saying after a whole life devoted to hating mornings. I wake with the tropical birds and the rooster and slowly make my way along the thick jungle path to the main house where I almost always find french pressed coffee and freshly blended golden milk waiting for me. I then perch on a bar stool with my mug and brainstorm with Kristy about what the day will look like, or as of late, brainstorm plot ideas for the puppet show that may or may not be airing on a public Costa Rican television channel.

On my second day, Kristy sat me down and offered me the opportunity to work towards a permaculture design certificate. Up until very recently if you would have asked me to define the term “permaculture” I would have mumbled something about naked hippies dancing around a campfire. Haha… oh baby, how this little word has changed me and the direction of my life in only two short weeks. I am now a dedicated student of Bill Mollison, who coined the term permaculture, and Geoff Lawton, a former student of Bill’s who has for the most part taken his place since Bill’s passing some years ago. Lucky for me and all students of permaculture, Bill and Geoff held a 72 hour long lecture in Melbourne, Australia in 2005 and filmed the whole thing in its entirety (save their hourly tea breaks between lectures). It is my stormy afternoon ritual to sit on a comfy chair with a notebook and pen or a painting project and watch these lectures with my ears perked and my pupils dilated to the size of mamones. I’m about 30 hours into the lecture, and, probably related to being up here on this mountain with limited social opportunities, I have begun to feel something resembling friendship with these two visionary men.

For those of you who hear the term permaculture and imagine naked hippies dancing around a campfire, if you’re interested I have attached to the bottom of this entry the link to Geoff Lawton’s website and an article that I think does a wonderful job defining permaculture in a single article. For those of you who just want a brief definition and to then get on with it, permaculture, the word, derives from the words “permanent” and “agriculture.” The basic idea is to observe and apply to our farming and agricultural design, systems that are already working flawlessly in nature. It’s similar to Rudolph Steiner‘s biodynamic farming in most of the core values and back to nature movement, but one difference is that the mystical/spiritual edge of biodynamic farming was largely dismissed by Bill Mollison. One thing I’ve learned about Bill in the 30 hours I’ve spent in his digital presence is that despite his “fuck fairies” facade, deep down he was a big hearted softie. Unfortunately for the public standing of the permaculture movement however, his outspoken aversion to religion and his controversial political opinions can probably be blamed for it’s slow start as a respected, scientifically-backed approach to sustainable farming. Nonetheless, the more I learn, the more it becomes clear that the vision of permaculture deserves way more recognition than it’s been getting. So, you can look forward to hearing more little snippets about permaculture as my relationship with it develops!

Well, I hope everyone out there is able to hold on to some fragment of peace amidst this planetary shift. It’s easy to forget how much chaos is going on out there while I’m wrapped up snug in this little jungle bubble. My fear of contracting the virus kind of got transferred to a big and very realistic fear of getting bitten by a terciopelo or bush master; two snakes that can kill you within 6 hours if you aren’t able to get to a hospital in time. And even then, people who’ve been bitten sometimes end up in the hospital for 7 to 8 months. I’ve gotten into the habit of walking around with a machete resting conveniently at my hip nestled inside a badass looking scabbard. Who knew that all my childhood fantasies of being a piratess would come to life here at this permaculture farm? Luckily I haven’t had to use it yet, but apparently if I do I’m not supposed to cut off it’s head because terciopelo’s have muscles in their necks they can use to launch themselves even after beheading. Instead I’m supposed to wack them along their spine, breaking their little bones so they can’t jump. I promise I’m not a violent person, but the prospect of either dying a painful death that apparently dissolves your skin or spending the better half of the year in a hospital will absolutely lead me to some violent wacking.

All of this is to say, pandora’s box leaked some freaky shit, and yet I have spent so much time walking around this place in utter awe of the magic that vibrates off of every glistening banana leaf after an afternoon rain, and of every butterfly wing being hauled off by a trail of dutiful leaf cutter ants. There is so much here to observe! And way too much to write about in one post…I don’t want to scare you away with my current high on life, so I will save the rest for another post. If you are currently stuck at home, please feel more than free to virtually join me as I make my way around Costa Rica. I hope that the excitement of my forced adventure can serve as some much needed entertainment for those of you in lockdown. I’ll be back soon!

Welcome to Brrrlin: (baby, it’s cold as scheisse outside)

Dear long lost readers, 

So, you’ve probably been wondering where your favorite blogger disappeared to after a year of silence. If you must know, she was plotting and scheming her next big move in the heavenly oasis of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Working a semi stimulating cafe job, attempting to save up the pennies, breathing in the sweet valley air and simultaneously cherishing and resisting the warmth and comfort of being close to the womb, surrounded by the support of family and friends. This year has reset me, charged up my batteries and reinforced my intuition that I’m not done learning lessons from uprooting and transplanting myself around the world. After India, the spark had been lit and there was no snuffing it out. The rush of endorphins I’d felt bouncing up and down in a tuk tuk in the Himalayas overlooking dizzying cliffs, cradled in the arms of the deepest presence and peace I’d ever felt, this sensation haunted my cute yet sheltered life at home. I couldn’t shake the restlessness I felt to go get lost in the world again.

And so on November 11th at 11:30am I found myself squeezing the armrests of an Air Portugal aircraft as I hurtled upwards into a clear blue sky in the direction of Berlin, Germany; this time with a one way ticket and the determination to not come back until I had found the sense of direction I’d been falsely promised I’d find in college.  

So why Germany? Why was I going to a notoriously cold and sunless place on the cusp of their dreaded winter, a place known for it’s dark history and white supremacism? I’ll tell you why. Because Berlin is a hidden gem; a city crawling with young creatives and fetish freaks unafraid of exploring their deepest kinks. It’s a city that refuses to hide in the shadows of their grandparents and great-grandparents mistakes. It’s a buzzing international hub of tech workers, desperate students drowning in debt and seeking low tuition grad schools, European sightseers and the rowdy and the restless seeking what is known around the world as Europe’s party capital.  

After doing my research and hearing from those who had been, I couldn’t get the city off my mind. I swore I could sniff out the freedom of Berlin all the way from North Carolina, kind of like the way one can smell the salt from the ocean when they get close to the coast. A place where I could step outside my door and go a whole day without running into anyone I recognized or knew from a childhood play group. A place for reinvention and a fresh start. 

Yet another reason Berlin appealed to me, only three months prior to my own migration two dear friends of mine, Tessa and Helena, moved to the city for their own self exploration. In the three months of them being here I’d received strings of pictures, videos, texts and long calls about how badly I needed Berlin, and in turn, how badly it needed me.

So here I am, one month after a 15 hour flight looking like the walking dead and with the biggest birds nest in the back of my head due to leaving my hairbrush in my checked bags. I was met by Tessa, obediently awaiting my long last arrival with a bouquet of flowers and a home-made sign with “G-Swizz” inscribed with colorful duct tape followed by the hashtags #welcomehome and my personal favorite, #keepessastogether.

Reunited with my home girl T-skillet

In the month I have been here, and after enduring my share of sleepless hostels and overpriced week long sublets, I have found myself a cute sublet through February, which in this housing economy is something to be celebrated. And in the new year I am starting work as an au pair that will just barely cover my rent and groceries ( a win in this economy) and will also get me a longer term visa. I have done my share of braving the bitter weather to enjoy a Christmas market with my hands wrapped around a steaming mug of gluvine (hot, sweet red wine). I have delighted in currywurst and doner kebabs and schnitzel. I have skimmed the surface of the rich nightlife, although I haven’t quite worked up the courage to pull an all nighter and get lost in a nightclub experience yet. But for now my priority lies not in being a busy bee tourist. I crave days spent huddled up inside on my big, beige sofa with ginger tea and a book while the smoke from a Nag Champa incense stick curls bountifully from where it has been stuck into the potted soil of an aloe plant. I crave collage get togethers and jam sessions in the glowing warmth of someone’s living room. I crave movie nights and potlucks and long candle lit baths. 

One of many collage nights

Me posing with curry wurst

I’m here to get to know Berlin on a personal level. To prove to myself that no matter where I am in the world I am capable of turning a foreign city into a trusted home. And I’m writing this blog to share with you all who care to follow my unfiltered experience of moving to this extraordinary place and all the obstacles and treasures I will find along the way. Welcome back to my world. 🙂

All the best and happiest of holidays, 

Gressa