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Adventures in Work Exchange: Hostel Life Part 2

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

My feet sift through sand under a long wooden table, a black, medium-large sized, unidentified breed of dog named Lilah sitting at my feet. She looks up at me with a mixture of admiration and impatience. I’ve finally won over her affections a few days ago after weeks spent loving on her and wanting her to give me the time a day, only to have to leave her now. I’m feeling rather guilty about it. At least with humans we can reason why we have to leave. With dogs I think they just look around one day and eventually realize you’ve never come back.

Lilah belongs to the owners of the hostel where I live, a gorgeous lot of paradise sitting along the beach front in Puerto Viejo. I wandered in here at the beginning of the month just after I realized there were much better hostels in the area, outside of the regular chaotic bustle of being directly in town. Another hostel down the street gave me the tip to check out this location as there was a good chance they were looking for help. They were, and I moved in immediately.

She, like many dogs in Costa Rica, live similarly to what you might imagine for the life of an outdoor house cat. If she’s not following one of the guests from the hostel along the beach, she might just end up doing so on her own. Last week I found her a full twenty-minute walk away from the hostel, playing with a man and his dog near the edge of the water. His partner, I assume, notices how I greet her by name and asks if she’s mine. I say that she lives with me and laugh, saying she’s her own woman and she does what she wants. I’m getting the sense this gal wants me to take Lilah, so I look down and ask her if she wants to come with me. The look in Lilah’s eyes shows me she has no intention of doing so, so I laugh again and walk away, leaving her there to live her best dog life.

Our kitchen here, surrounded by lush jungle, sits in the sand with a large roof covering about 600 sq. ft. of living space. Hammocks hang around the edges and a series of tables are set about with tables and chairs. Containers of plants are hung from various locations to frame the parameters creating somewhat of a boundary to the outside flora, yet also intentionally invites it in. For just under three weeks I’ve called this place home and as much as I have loved it here, the anticipation of going back to Portland is finally catching up to me.

My tent rests ten feet out into the garden, surrounded by large over-hanging leaves and a blue tarp that helps to protect it from the regular heavy rains. I wash daily in a cold, outdoor shower, and I’m not mad about it; the environment is hot, humid and sticky and, in so, the cold water is a welcome reprieve to how I usually feel throughout the day. The shower features a living wall, a term coined for a vertical garden covered with various creeping plant life in containers and watered here by excess water splashing off of showering bodies. Occasionally I see monkeys or a sloth while I shower. I once saw a large snake slither in and a frog jump across the tiled floor. I guess the outdoor shower makes me feel even more one with nature. Like when the bat flew into the bathroom the other day. I love that.

Even when I prepare food here my feet stay in the sand, cushioning each step as I make my way from the sink to the thick, natural cut of wood that makes up the counter top. I turn the stove on and the butter begins to sizzle around minced garlic, bread heating up in the convection oven. A large fish found on the beach is thrown across a cutting board that barely holds it while I pretend to know how to properly clean a fish this size. I wonder to myself how sick we’re all going to be tomorrow for having consumed this thing, but through crappy Spanglish I think I’ve determined this fish was gifted by a fisherman. It’s still unclear but I like to live adventurously, and mostly I don’t want to hurt any feelings. Victor, my Spaniard friend, did carry this thing 45 minutes in the basket of his bike to get it back to us and so, after throwing it on the BBQ, we have ourselves a delicious meal washed down by Imperial beers.

This is one of my favorite memories in this kitchen, but there are more. Deep conversations with travelers, loud nights of laughing and drinking games before heading out into town. Afternoons watching my Spaniard coworkers dance around unabashedly to music I haven’t heard in a couple of decades. And sometimes just those moments with myself, slicing up a fresh papaya from a nearby tree and eating the seeds with a prominent sense of accomplishment (they’re really nutritious, so I’ve read, but in all likelihood I probably abuse the amount of seeds one person should consume in a day). The whole kitchen receives a deep clean on the daily, a task I sometimes I take on. I recently even went a step further and got into every nook and cranny that hadn’t received some love in a while, reorganizing all the shelves and throwing things out that were a bit outdated. In some regards this kitchen has grown to feel a bit like my own.

Stepping out of my tent, I can take a right toward a double-doored gate sitting a couple meters away, framing the ocean and welcoming you out onto a long, well-traversed path. One direction takes you into town and, if you walk a bit further, onto a black sand beach. The other takes you through looming trees full of wildlife to a lookout, and just beyond to a large beach popular for surfing. Every couple of minutes someone walks by, an expat walking their dog, a local Tico who is quick to tell you about their knowledge of the area, a family with children, or tourists with a rented board in tow.

Each day I make my way out to the beach to find a quiet place to sit and meditate. Sometimes this location takes longer than other days to find. Usual spots might have a couple rolling around nearby unfathomed by the fact they are in public, whereas other times I just stumble upon proof of such interactions (ummm… Yuck). Other times the tide is pretty far in, so I scour the landscape for a nice hidden section where I can move bulky fallen seeds and log debris to the side, enough so I can sit comfortably.

When finding the perfect meditation spot, it’s also imperative to look up into the trees for monkeys, as they are prone to dropping whatever they’re working on; falling sticks and fruits are a hazard. Once the right spot is selected though, other than the occasional wandering Tico or tourist walking down the beach, it’s pretty much perfect. The tide rolls in and out in front of you, the leaves murmur with passing winds, and cautious crabs walk around you as they sift through the sand. I sit here meditating most days before heading into work my shift at the hostel.

Inside I sit at a small desk, an open window to my left, a fan just across the way pointing down on me to provide a slight breeze. Each wall is designed with an intricate and colorful Costa Rican mural, much of it in the tones of deep greens and blues, splashed with vibrant oranges, yellows and reds. It’s a small hostel and, other than the tent area where I sleep, there is one dorm fitting 8 beds, two small private rooms and a cabina- which is basically like a small apartment. The owners here are very dedicated and run a tight ship- everything is always clean, from the sheets to the floors, even with sandy feet regularly walking through.

This work away situation has been all that I could have hoped for while living in Puerto Viejo. The couple I live with have begun to feel like family, and the day to day feels very comfortable. I check guests in and out, practice my Spanish, and basically learn a whole lot about what goes in to running a hostel. Perhaps these skills will come in handy while traveling Europe, if I choose to do a similar work away while I’m there, or when I open the Airbnb on the permaculture farm I plan to eventually open. In any case, I’m a bit more knowledgeable about another aspect of being human on this planet, and that is pretty dang cool (this desire for knowledge fuels my drive to try everything at least once. Except for Heroin. And meth. …Gots to maintain those standards, y’all).

I pop an orange slice into my mouth, hoping the vitamin C will help me conquer whatever new sickness is starting to work its way through my system (spoiler alter: it doesn’t). After last night’s minimal sleep, I am extremely tired, but my determination to move slowly closer to going home draws me forward. I’m waiting, feeling my eyes grow heavy with the anticipation to sleep on whatever bus is coming for me. …I’m pretty sure the shuttle should have been here by now.

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