Nature demands attention here. The rain is pelting down so hard as I type this that I can’t hear the click of my keyboard, and I long ago turned off my music as straining to hear it was a losing battle. If the rain were to ease for a minute or so there is a whole cacophony of sounds waiting to surge in and fill the aural deficit- birds and monkeys and crashing waves all vying for attention. ‘Here’ is the end of the road (literally) atop a rainforest laden hill in Punta Banco, Costa Rica. I’ve been volunteering at a beautiful place called the Yoga Farm this past month, filling my time with wonderful and inspiring people, various exciting allergic reactions, yoga (obviously), much amazing food (also obviously this is me we’re talking about after all), sun and surf and laughter and the most enveloping thunderstorms I’ve ever experienced. I’ve gone to bed at 7:30pm (more than once), woken to sunrise at 5am, ran up a steep hill in the rain for a sloth sighting, had my yoga practice interrupted by monkeys playing in the tree next to the yoga deck, learnt about permaculture practices and (repeatedly) not to touch my face while dehydrating hot hot (no really these are just dynamite) peppers.
The Yoga Farm is all about what the name suggests: yoga, and farming. As a volunteer I was really able to dive into both my yoga practice and farming- with every morning for me beginning with visiting my ‘ladies’ (the chickens), letting them out into the ‘pollo palace’ (pollo- chicken in Spanish), feeding them and collecting the bounty of eggs. I also spent a lot of time in the kitchen, creating vegan feasts out of whatever the garden/organic veg delivery (lugged up the hill on a horse) had to offer. Really, I just made about a thousand incarnations of banana bread (we have over 20 varieties growing on the farm!) with the occasional savoury dinner thrown in. Deciding that one Sunday brunch would be smoothie bowls led to one of our greatest yoga farm family bonding experiences- making coconut milk from scratch. Making enough coconut milk for 12 people is no mean feat, especially when between us our experience was limited to say the least. The collection of the coconuts for the milking became a friendly competition between two wonderful couples- Team Mexico (Mau and Nuria) and Team USA (Drew and Ashley). They each dragged 8 coconuts in a sack up the hill (a solid 10 minute walk straight up), after scouring the beach for appropriate candidates, smelling the ‘belly button’ of the coconut to ensure they hadn’t gone mouldy. After lunch we stood around considering these coconuts, picking one up to cast upon the concrete to no effect and realising we really didn’t know what we were doing. Rhami (the Brazilian surfing contingent of the family) came over wielding a machete, and with a gentle shrug and a, ‘guys, watch me, I’ll show you,’ made quick work of 1 of our 16 coconuts to be opened. We thought getting into the nut would be the hardest part- golly, we were wrong. The next few hours had us trying to scrape the flesh out with spoons, butter knives, bigger knives, our fingernails... while I grated the hard-won booty in preparation for squeezing and milking. After about an hour of this I remembered we had a VitaMix at our disposal, so grating became blending and everything proceeded much faster (relatively). In the end we had litres of delicious, fresh, coconut milk, and were feeling pretty darn proud of ourselves. This pride was deflated somewhat when I was recounting our exploits to Christie (half of the awesome couple who manage the Yoga Farm) and around the point when I was explaining how we’d spooned the flesh out and grated it she shook her head and sighed guiltily, saying, ‘Oooooh I thought it was you I showed the coconut scraper to!’ Yeah. Turns out we had made the process quite a bit more involved than it needed to be, and our imagined YouTube tutorial on how to make coconut milk was quickly abandoned. However, the smoothie bowls were delicious, blended up with frozen banana, dehydrated coconut and star fruit, granola- all made/grown on the farm.
Getting my Spanish up to speed has been about as efficient a process as the coconut milking- after spending almost the entirety of last year in Russia I throw Russian words out there almost as often as Spanish. Anna (a gorgeous human who cooks breakfast and lunch) and I have almost the same conversation every day-
Lucy: “Ahhhh today it will rain?”
Anna: “Every day, every day...”
... and when we deviate from that script it pretty quickly devolves in me chattering away and Anna waiting with a smile on her face to see if she can extract any meaning from my ramblings. I had a particularly great conversation with Jesus, her husband, when I went horse trekking with him and a cherished visitor from the States- Jesus asked me who had ridden more (not me) and who spoke more Spanish (me) and the proceeded to tell me that then I had to ride Momo, because he likes to roll on the beach and you have to firmly tell him no in Spanish so he doesn’t casually crush you... the irony being that while I understood the rolling danger I also understood that it would be my more experienced riding partner who would be taking Momo... so much for my superior Spanish. When it became clear I was to be Momo’s rider I yelped and cried, ‘But Jesus! I didn’t even understand it was me! I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT HORSES’. Flash forward to about an hour later when we are navigating narrow muddy chutes (it would be generous to call them trails), Momo is alternately slipping on rocks and sinking knee-deep into the red mud, I’m white-knuckled and honestly spending a lot of time with my eyes closed, I’ve just repeated my ‘NOTHING JESUS, I TOLD YOU I KNOW NOTHING’ and we come to a log across the trail. So we limboed. On horseback. Just straight up laid down flat across our horses’ backs, sucked our stomachs in, and shimmied under this fallen tree (please note we are still in the muddy chutes at this point). The chutes became a river, and we precariously picked our way down said river until we reached the ocean- I practiced my anti-rolling phrases many times but luckily they were not needed, and we all made it back to lunch in one piece.
This has been a truly excellent month. I’ve never seen such vibrant nature- from ‘lazies’ (sloth in Spanish translates as ‘lazies’ which I think is super cute) hanging in the tree next to the kitchen, giant ‘forest beetles’ (actually just ginormous cockroaches but I think ‘forest beetle’ more befits their elegant nature), to casually brushing a scorpion from my leg while watching a storm at night, then turning my head light on to see what exactly was just loitering on my leg and almost jumping off the yoga deck (cue more yelping). I’ve observed a boa constrictor sleeping in a coconut palm, followed a baby tarantula along its jungle path, shoed giant toads from my bedroom and ushered a crab from my sink. I have many bug bites, strange rashes, awkward tan lines (yeah my hands got sunburnt horse riding it’s a great look), but also a treasure trove of new experiences. I’ve met such inspirational people, spent a lot of time in a hammock with a ukulele, enjoyed Disney singalongs and Latin dance lessons and tide pool lazing. I’m so grateful for my time here, and to the Yoga Farm for hosting me and my new Yoga Farm family. This week has me returning to San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, for a few days of street art and eating (easily the best burger I’ve ever had awaits me I’m already dreaming about it) before flying up to Guatemala at the end of the week to begin my three month tenure as a trekking guide in Quetzaltenango- as Quetzaltrekkers (the organisation I’ll be volunteering for there) puts it- hiking volcanoes and helping kids. There’s nothing like the gentle mocking laughter of children to sort out second-language kinks, so hopefully my Spanish can gain some traction in this Russian-dominated brain and I’ll stop hopelessly confusing myself and everyone else.
The storm has finally eased (a few hours later) and lunch beckons- before an afternoon of chill and chess and reading and ukulele... a la every afternoon here. This tropical life makes my heart sing (and aggravates my heat rash which is just swell).