When I left Minnesota in January for Costa Rica, I wasn’t completely sure what I would find. I will credit my time at Quail Springs Permaculture last year as the catalyst for the kind of trip I crafted, but I chose my ingredients carefully: Country? One without a standing army that seemed to hold the environment in high regard; Type of travel? A volunteering gig at a cacao farm in the middle of the rainforest; Length of time? Just under three months to avoid the necessity of a visa run; When to leave? Right after the holidays – the perfect dose of winter before a never-ending summer. I hoped that together, these would create the perfect storm into which I dove headfirst, seeking to learn more about myself and gain perspective on the next phase of my life before I decided how to proceed. And thank God it worked.
For someone with a fairly traditional suburban upbringing and the majority of my life spent in school, these 11 weeks of solo travel in Costa Rica were the biggest lifestyle change I’d ever experienced. The rest of the details will reveal themselves in coming blog posts, but each day was spent outside immersed in beautiful nature, learning about the process of turning cacao into chocolate, connecting with fellow travelers turned kindred spirits, swimming in jungle rivers and the Pacific, and playing as much music as possible, with hazy blue mountains ever witness to it all.
My grand plan was to digitally document the whole trip, true to form for someone who had found identity as a photographer, writer, and multimedia storyteller. For a while, I earnestly tried – and then, somewhere along the way, I gave up. Or rather, I let go. I couldn’t blog about every microadventure or post on Instagram every day. The time I could be spending with my new friends, out in the Costa Rican sunshine (thinking the whole time 80-degree days in the dead of winter were a bit surreal), was too precious to waste on documenting those experiences, at least in the moment. I went almost fully into input mode, posting the occasional picture in an attempt to have at least a scrappy record of my time abroad (Shameless plug – this exists under the tag #Costa_Rita on Instagram).
“Only words and conventions can isolate us from the entirely undefinable something which is everything.” – Alan Watts
This vacation from the media-saturated world I was living in before Costa Rica has left me asking questions ever since I returned home two weeks ago. To what extent do we need to document what’s going on around us? Why do we do it? Is it even necessary?
The answer I’ve come up with for myself is that, as Watts said, although we’ll never be able to accurately translate reality – a thing relative in itself – into pictures or words, we can try if only for the sake of creating a record, informing others, or expressing our view of it (essentially, art).
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ― Terry Pratchett
For some reason, whenever we return from a trip, we expect home to feel different – yet everything is the same. In fact, it’s so much the same, that we might catch ourselves wondering whether it was all a dream. In truth, we’re the ones who are different. We see our old lives with new eyes. The challenge then becomes to apply the lessons gleaned to the old life and to solidify the change. Our job is to remember the dream and integrate it into our waking lives. This isn’t new to me, but somehow, this time it feels there’s more at stake.
But recently, I’ve begun contemplating a different conclusion. What if this isn’t waking life – what if this is the dream? What if I learned to breathe underwater while I was away and now I’m thrust back into the world of air, forced to adapt again? There’s no choice but to learn to navigate both dimensions – but to never stop discerning which one feels most true.