Lessons From the Jungle, Part 1

The view of the sunset at the farm in Uvita

I journeyed to Costa Rica with a mind to do some gardening, farming, and learning about sustainable and local food practices.

At the recommendation of a friend, I ended up at a farm called Selva Armonia. In a few months it will be an up and running yoga retreat and with extensive gardens. The gardens have fresh herbs, and lots of arugula and basil. There’s lemongrass growing on property and banana trees. Starfruit and coconuts. Right now, we are doing lots of building and preparing.

To get to the farm, you turn up a long and winding dirt road. If you can really call it a road. It’s more of a mud, huge rocks and lots of steep inclines and declines sort of thing. It takes a half hour to commute in and out of town because it’s in such poor condition, especially after the rainy season. It’s narrow, and surrounded by valley. You cannot hug a cliff wall. You need to be extra careful not to fall off it. When we drive it, I’m smiling out of fear. But the workers commute up and down on the road everyday. An old farmer down the road walks it everyday, sometimes with a bag of coconuts.

The owner's "farmhouse." I don't sleep here!

These are things I have learned so far:

It’s a good thing I brought bug spray, because these mosquitoes are nasty. I was warned that they could bite sloths, contract a bacteria from the sloth’s blood, bite a human, and pass along that bacteria. Then your skin starts to bubble up and fall off. The other consequences can be a nasty, eczema-like rash. I have sensitive skin. I’m scared for it, which means I’m pretty much always covered in bug spray.

What was I thinking not getting a small Spanish/English dictionary in southern Costa Rica in the off-season? I don’t have an iphone, so there’s no totally accessible application to pull up. Riding the bus to Uvita from San Jose took 6 hours, and no one on the bus spoke English. Some of the bus stops were actually an unmarked corner of a dirt road and jungle. There was no indication, really, of where or when the

The road to the main farmhouse, from my cabin

bus would stop. Sometimes we were virtually off roading to a bus stop where a guy would get on with his machete and a trash bag filled with…I don’t know. We made one stop for bathroom and drinks, and no one at the market spoke English. As a result, I bought only an apple and some cafe con leche. A clown (yes, a clown in full make up), let me go in front of him at the register.

I need to be better at math. I am still learning the money conversion, and I’m pretty sure I paid $2 for that apple I previously mentioned. I think they took one look at me and decided I was probably an American schmuck. I just had no idea how much money I was spending. It all seemed so overwhelming, the amounts of money seemingly so large: 1000, 2000,10,000 colones. Since I’m traveling solo, it’s my obligation to have found that out. But I only hable un poquito de espanol.

I should have brought socks. Rubber boots for gardening while it rains without socks are very uncomfortable, and rub against your shin.

The garden beds.

I should have attempted to learn a little more about plants and growing before I came, because right now, if anyone’s “green” it’s me.

A headlamp would be a great thing to have here. I am perpetually holding a flashlight in my mouth. That can be a shady thing to do in an outdoor bathroom. I don’t want to see a huge poisonous snake and have one hand on the toilet paper and the other holding a flashlight. I want to be able to use that hand to grab a stick or some other shoo-ing object. If the flashlight’s in my mouth, just don’t scream and drop it.

It’s a good thing I brought my rain jacket, but where’s my umbrella?

When your 400 meters above sea level, you experience thunder inside clouds.

The porch to our cabins, where we chat, eat and cook.

Cats don’t belong in the jungle. They pee in garden beds, on plants, and they dig holes and poop in there as well. It becomes to toxic and acidic that plants die. Cats kill songbirds, they kill bats and bullfrogs. Here, we are sleeping in cabins, but it’s largely outdoors, and sometimes the cats come in with their prey, torture it, and then finally kill it. They leave it there, half-eaten, for you step on in the middle of the night.

In southern Costa Rica, there’s a large community of Rastafarians and expats. Growing ganja is tolerated. This means there’s a lot of sweet music, interesting art, world travelers, aaaaaaaand, stoners.

I love the ocean, but I’m slightly afraid of fish. I feel a little squeamish with the possibility of being skin to scale. So I want to swim in the ocean, but at the same time it makes me a little stressed out. As though, at any moment, a shark could come snap me up. Must overcome this fear.

Nuts are expensive. I’m a sucker for a handful of almonds, but 4,075 colones? That’s over $8 for a bag. This makes nuts a luxury in my life.

There are other luxuries I know of now, like driving up and down paved roads. The commute to the farm I’m living on takes a half hour. There are valleys on either side, making the whole trip one perilous maneuver.

Empanadas are fantastic crust pockets of deliciousness. They are comprised of meat, cheese, onions, and they are a delight to the taste buds.

Tune in next time for more tales from the jungle.

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~ by bjordt on December 3, 2010.

One Response to “Lessons From the Jungle, Part 1”

  1. Here I come to save the day! Martha Beller’s on the way! Sending a head lamp, socks and nuts, to the jungle to save Brittany’s butt(s?)!

    Hey. So many places to chuckle. The clown. Un poquito, The flashlight. The cats in the jungle…

    Be safe because I love you, and keep making notes.

    Mum

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