After checking the level of the river water beneath my hammock each time I awoke in the night, the sun finally rose. I flipped the tarp off from above me and enjoyed the tranquility of nature. For the next while, I nodded in and out of sleep before finally getting up and packing up my camp. I hadn’t eaten since lunch the previous day. Hunger was nice though because I knew it would soon be appeased and fasting makes a person more aware of their body and allows them to practice discipline.
I silently made my way back to the house and waited as my group members returned one-by-one. Once everyone had arrived, we went around and each member shared some highlights from their experience. Some shared stories that were hilarious, while others told of the hours they spent naked since there was nobody around to see. My solo experience had been largely spent in meditation, but did end with a funny story. Some stories, however, are best left untold.
Following our meeting, we went and found the Lopez family in order to express our gratitude for extending their house to us for multiple days. Since we did not speak Spanish well, our group member who was a Spanish major gave a thank you on behalf of the group. We said goodbye, loaded our packs, and left for the third home-stay.
About a mile down the trail, we found the next house in which we would be living. The man of the house ran a 300-acre farm that grows various crops including bananas and beans. We met the family and soon found our way to the river to cool off in the afternoon sun.
Most of the group followed Stewart, the boy who lived at the house where we would now stay, as he swam from rock to rock up river. When we reached the whitewater rapids that were upriver, we climbed on top of a rock and jumped into the main current. The current gently bounced us off some large rocks before letting us go once again in the pool below the rapids.
As we played in the river and cooled off, we would stop to watch the colorful butterflies flutter by and look for any other animals that may present themselves. Suddenly, someone quietly pointed upstream. Two river otters were swimming and playing with each other. The female was in heat and taunted the male before jumping back in the water. It was beautiful to watch the animals gracefully swim through currents much too strong for us to attempt to swim. All but one member of the group witnessed these beautiful animals. The one member who missed them ironically noted that they are her very favorite animals in the world.
Our stomachs had grown hungry since the hike, so the group migrated back to the house for lunch. It was a well built two-story house that wouldn’t stand a chance of passing OSHA? code. The corner of the second-story hallway was cutout for a steep staircase. If one wanted to round that corner, they had to step over the hole in the floor to get to the other hallway. The stairs were steep and one was farther out from the rest. I loved these unique characteristics of the house once I discovered them. It seemed to give the house a lot of extra character.
After a wonderful lunch, we were taken outside to learn how to shell rice the way the owner of this farm had to do it for his family every week when he was a child. The rice was pounded in a large wood basin by large wood mallets. Next, the rice was scooped out and poured back in while being fanned or put on a tray and tossed in the air repeatedly. Both of these methods worked to separate the rice from the shells that had broken off. These two steps were repeated continuously until all of the rice had lost its brown shell and only the rice remained.
We each took turns pounding the rice with the large mallets. It was hard work. We were impressed by the strength of the men who run these farms. Their bodies are capable of doing tasks like this at unbelievable speeds and for long duration. In about an hour, the men had shelled somewhere around 30 liters of rice (uncooked).
After learning how to shell rice, we were taken over to the porch to make cheese. Since refrigerators use too much energy to run on solar power, the family cannot keep milk from spoiling. Whatever milk from the day is not going to be consumed receives an additive that turns it into cheese. It was our job to squeeze the liquid out from this spongy soon-to-be cheese and place it in a mold where it would be pressed overnight. By morning, we would have cheese. It was a simple process and quite beneficial for the family. The cheese, however, was not the best tasting in my opinion, but I had gotten used to it, as it was the only cheese available since I had entered the jungle.
In the evening, we enjoyed time together as a group. Santiago found a large spider that was not poisonous. He let us play with it. It dwarfed any spider I had seen in the United States and was quite hairy. Most of the group was intrigued by it, but some preferred to keep their distance.
Eventually, I strung my hammock on the upstairs balcony and crawled in for the night. I reflected on the perfect weather and beautiful scenery, the people who showed so much hospitality and lived such pure lives, and on the things I was learning and would be able to take with me when I returned home. I was finally beginning to understand the Costa Rican phrase, “Pura Vida” which means “Pure Life.” It is something the culture back home had lost sight of many years ago and now required rediscovery. With that thought, I fell asleep to the jungle sounds and warm breeze.