The Magical Costa Rican Jungle

As I hung up the phone after setting up a kayak tour with Omar from Bucus Condos and Tours, he told me he hoped I was feeling the magic of the jungle and sending it my wishes to be fulfilled. This is the kind of lovely energy that is here among the people.  I truly have been sending the jungle my wishes and my intentions each day.  They are to release the inflammation in my knees and to continue to practice mindful presence.

Just down the road from where we are staying I discovered a beautiful yoga retreat center that has daily classes (Tierra de Sueños).  I decided that I have been resting, elevating and taking ibuprofen long enough.  It is not good for my body to continue with the ibuprofen and I need to change my mindset about these knees.  Yoga kept calling to me and so I decided to listen.  The retreat center has a sort of open air yoga platform a few meters down a twisty path through the jungle, from the reception office. It is made of dark wood planks on the floor and walls that continue up to form a high ceiling.  Immediately upon ascending the stairs I knew I was in the right place.  The peaceful, meditative energy was palpable. I sat facing the teacher who had a backdrop of palm trees, red flowers, flitting butterflies and hummingbirds.  Seriously.

The instructor began the class with a breathing meditation and had us set an intention for our practice. “Release”. That was my word, throughout.  As I followed her instructions for the various poses throughout the class, I definitely released a lot of sweat.  Ho-ly cow! I have never sweat like this in my life, my shins were sweating and not just a little, visible drops ran down my legs. It amazed me.  There was a gentle breeze that blew through the space. This did not help me one bit.  I quickly glanced at my neighbor to assess her sweat factor.  Nope, she was just fine, no sweat not even a glow. (I realize this might be my paranoid, introjection or irrational comparison but I don’t think so).

“Ok”, I thought, “I’m gonna go with it.”

Blast, I forgot to bring a towel though.  It has been awhile since I have attended a yoga class so I am sure the sweat was also due to the fact that yoga is no joke. You use every muscle.  Gratefully, I made it, my knees did great. I walked home feeling joyful for having used my body, wondering if I overdid it, but hopeful that my intention worked.  As the week went on I came back for another class and to that word “release” in my mind. By the end of the week, I found that I had my range of motion back and less inflammation. Huh, maybe the magic of the jungle is working.

So, now I have done a total of three classes (sweat not so overwhelming, remembered a towel) and my knees are so much better.  I think Jacob has stopped worrying about me so much and we are feeling more free to go on excursions. Little did I know that the coming excursions would all hold the theme of life in balance with the earth.  We met Omar at the restaurant called Maxi’s in Manzanillo and he took us on a boat to Punta Mona. There we picked up some kayaks and went further down the coast to the Gandoca Canal which boarders Panama.  He led us down the river; the jungle towering above us.  We saw Spider monkeys, caymans, blue herons, tiny King Fisher birds that look like hummingbirds and “Jesus Christ” lizards.


I think the lizards were our favorite.  When the water is smooth, no ripples from the wind, these small prehistoric looking lizards are able to run on their back legs across the water.  We quietly paddled up to a log holding one of these lizards. Omar waited for just the right moment to scare the lizard into doing its trick which was followed by squeals of joy from the girls, that was the best part.  Nature is truly amazing; that peaceful lagoon holds so much life. One can’t help but be in awe.

After the great upper body workout paddling back upstream, the wind had now kicked up,  we ended our day with lunch at a sustainable organic farm (which Jacob referenced in the last post).  Omar led us through a jungle path to the main structure which is two buildings their top floors connected by a swinging bridge and contains an outdoor kitchen on the first floor and sleeping quarters upstairs.  Little did we know that there was a group of about 15 people who had spent the last 10 days together at the “Awesomeness Fest” on the Pacific side (really, I’m not making this up) and were ending their trip with an excursion to the Caribbean side and stay at the organic farm.  As we walked up they were all standing in a large circle about to eat the food prepared by the staff at the farm. The owner of the farm opened up the circle for us to join; we shared our names, favorite fruit and a blessing of love that was baked into the food we were about to eat.  What? My hippie side felt very happy.

IMG_1644This theme of reverence and respect for the sustenance that the rainforest provides continued with the next two tours we took.  First, we went on a tour to meet some of the indigenous people of Costa Rica, the Bri Bri, to learn about their way of life and process of making chocolate. We spent about an hour with a Shaman who talked about the spiritual ways of the tribe and the medicinal uses of  vegetation from the jungle. During our experience learning about chocolate, we discovered that it too is seen as medicine and a symbol of  love, life and solidarity.

Next, we spent time on a jungle hike with a tour guide from the La Ceiba preserve.  This preserve is connected to the Jaguar Rescue Center and is “step two” in the reintroduction of rescued animals back into the wild. Fabian, our guide and conservationist, was one of the most joyful people I have met.  His love of Costa Rica was very evident and he, too, spoke about the medicinal properties available in the rainforest.  Something he said stuck with me in a very impactful way,

“Everything we need is here, we have only to understand”.

Our hike led us to the La Ceiba tree or Tree of Life.  This tree was HUGE. Its roots roped out in several directions and where they connected to the trunk they were over 6 ft. high.  Fabian explained that this tree is seen as a “mother” tree because her roots go deep into the earth and stretch out in many different directions. She takes in so much carbon dioxide that she feeds the forest around her.  She feeds the animals and people around her too, with the oxygen she supplies.  Powerful.P1020175

Sadly, this balance with and respect for the land has not always been the theme in Costa Rica.  During our visit to the Bri Bri people, our guide shared with us how much their culture has been lost.  It started when Spaniards came to the country. The introduction of Spanish language caused the Bri Bri people to slowly forget their own as well as the ways of living in balance with the rainforest.  Large crops of cacao and bananas were planted and more people immigrated to the Caribbean cost from Jamaica and China to work on the plantations. However, the Costa Rican government realized something very important.  People wanted to visit. To see the wildlife, meet the native people.  They realized tourism could be another big part of the country’s  income; therefore, large scale conservation projects were started which included preserving a large part of the land for the Bri Bri and other indigenous peoples, in the place they had naturally settled. Thankfully, this has allowed them to sustain, still participating in chocolate and banana production but in the balanced way they know.  The shaman’s knowledge is still being passed to the next generation.  And yet, outside of that preserve, there are banana plantations as far as the eye can see along the hour drive from Limón to Puerto Viejo. Chocolate production is dying out because people are making more money on bananas.

Still pondering the theme of living in balance and the rich resources the rainforest provides, I was saddened by a video I watched this morning, about the millions of acres of rainforest that are burning in Indonesia. The people of Indonesia have found a profitable solution to caring for the needs of their family, through the production of palm oil.  The government is capitalizing on this as well.  The reporter was encouraging a boycott on palm oil.  It got me thinking, is this the answer to saving the rainforest? Is it as simple as refraining from buying unsustainable products?  Perhaps the boycott will make them stop burning the fields, but I think the boycott is only part of the solution, there are larger social issues at play. Burning the fields has more to do with a cheap way of “resetting” the land than it does the crop that is planted on it.  Indonesia is not the only place where monoculture happens.  It is not the only place where the negative impact of monoculture to the earth is evident.  My intention isn’t to get political, my thoughts only bring me to the awareness that we are headed to Indonesia at some point on our journey.  How will the rainforest there compare to here? Costa Rica is all about conservation.  What is conservation like in Indonesia?  The people of Costa Rica seem to be striving to find a balance between large production of goods and respect for the land.  Is that a value there? 

I have set a new, or additional intention for my meditation and yoga practice.  I intend for this journey to not only be an education in culture and respect of diversity but also for the girls to develop a respect and reverence for the earth.   I have always been connected to nature and often seek it is a place of refuge. Our dear friend, family member, and my colleague Kris Abram posted this to Facebook today:

“A revolution needs to happen and it starts from inside each one of us.  We need to wake up and fall in love with the Earth.  Our personal & collective happiness & survival depend on it” – Thich Nhat Hanh

My wish to the rainforest is not only to help support the healing of my knees and release whatever I am holding there but to also help me become clear about how I can live a balanced life in my unique way and how I might take the next step in my career of impacting social change.