I’ve been so busy since my arrival at Centro Ashe for the month long herbal apprenticeship, both learning and being immersed in the day-to-day beauty that is Manzanillo, that I haven’t had a chance to write, but today realized I should be keeping track of all the amazing things we’re doing. Coming from the NYC area, it was a bit of a shock to come to Costa Rica, but I have been adjusting to the weather (hot and sunny everyday!), the infrastructure, and the pace. This country, coast, and village are all so beautiful. It’s an amazing kind of beauty; it’s everywhere, so that you don’t really even know where to look and focus your gaze. The effect is similar to when you go out into the sun on a bright day and have to squint and reach for sunglasses to help yourself handle the power of it. The surrounding gorgeousness here is like that; it is so overwhelming, to my eyes and my brain, it almost hurts to look at.
Some notables of my experiences thus far:
-Class at Miss May point, high up on a rocky cliff overlooking the sapphire sea, under a coconut tree. It doesn’t get any more picturesque than this. I got to meditate with, and simply experience, Lemongrass for twenty minutes. This is what I mean by adjusting to the pace--how often at home, where any meditating I do is dutifully scheduled into my planner, would I be able to be still with a plant for so long? Not often at all! We have been learning so much information and I am taking copious notes and drinking it up, but in that period of space, sitting with Lemongrass, I had a new and revelatory kind of learning. Oh, the smell was so complex! Layer upon layer that I kept discovering and exploring. I found joy in intuiting.
- Going to visit the Bribri (the people indigenous to the Talamanca region.) We got to learn chocolate making from them (fermenting the seeds, drying them, roasting them, shelling them, grinding them), and take a tour of their land. I know basically no Spanish, but I was surprised when I would catch myself forgetting they were speaking another language. Focusing on their body language, tone and expression, made me feel like I knew what they were saying anyway. Oh, and of course, Javier’s seamless translating!
-Making our own chocolate balls from scratch at Centro Ashe, with fresh cacao and herbal blends (cayenne & ginger, damiana & coconut,and lavender & ashwaganda & hibiscus) and a turmeric coconut milk drink. They were delicious!
- Nearly daily swims in the ocean. The sea is so clear and bath-warm, it’s easy to slip in and out. The refreshing energy in it is amazing and healing. Just standing hip deep and gazing towards the horizon and feeling the rhythms and dance of the waves around me underwater is amazing.
Today we had a jungle hike with local naturalist Omar. It’s amazing to stand still in the jungle, and look and see so much movement around me. It’s so undeniably alive. The whole time we hiked we heard it’s song (rustling, chirping, screeching, humming). We got to visit some incredibly old (huge!) trees, and bask in their calming presence. Omar was an amazing guide: he showed us giant spiders, giant-er cockroaches, bats, snakes, secret caves, and tons of trees and herbs. The best part was when we broke through the edge of the dense and writhing jungle wall to a seemingly hidden beach with huge coral walls. I’ve never seen anything like that; it felt like we walked right into another world: some sort of magical dreamscape.
A few days ago we presented our herbal monographs during our Circle Work, in which we researched 1-2 herbs in depth. I did amapola and rosemary. It made me totally fall in love with rosemary, the “dew of the sea!” I definitely want to make rosemary hair washes at home for my scalp, as well as infuse white wine with rosemary.
Yesterday’s breakfast was banana fritters, beans, eggs, and fruit. Lunch was plantain chips, guacamole, beans, beet egg and potato salad, and soursop smoothie! The food here has been unbelievably delicious. Everything is fresh and it is cooked with LOVE (and a hearty dose of culinary talent!). Lots of fun trying new things, and I have never eaten such hearty meals
so consistently. Talk about nourishment! Anyway, banana fritters are amazing and I must try to recreate them at home.
We learned coconut oil making with Luba. We actually took sixteen whole fresh coconuts and at the end each had our own little bottle of homemade oil! I added some vetiver and basil essential oils to mine, and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever smelled. Have been using it consistently on my hair and skin since-so soft!
Yesterday afternoon we learned herbal formulations from Molly. I wrote so much down; it was really insightful and helped me get a better understanding of herbal synergy. Can’t wait to try to make some formulas on my own. Oh, and for dinner: chicken tacos!
On Saturday we technically have off from classes, but there is still a lot to do! We went to the bustling farmer’s market in Puerto Viejo this morning. I spent the afternoon at the beach, and then had some delicious dinner with my fellow apprenticeship sisters overlooking the ocean. Although Manzanillo is small, there are a few great restaurants. We also had nice long conversations with some local residents. Since the town is tiny, you are comforted seeing the same friendly faces around every day.
The next day, we took advantage of the perfect weather and all went to an awesome waterfall for a relaxing afternoon swim. Later, at dusk, I had a quiet walk around Manzanillo picking hibiscus to make a hair oil, while the sun set in a melon-hued sky the background, and the monkeys’ roaring and grumbling echoed around me.
Have had lessons from quite a few amazing and diverse women over the past few days! Heather came and gave us a hand’s-on lesson with a variety of herbs. Her knowledge of plants was amazing, and she told some very interesting anecdotes that attested to her vast experiences!
We visited an amazing farm run by a Bribri family, and Leili gave us a tour. It was inspiring to see a whole family so passionate about farming--they all had a glow to them. I think it’s because they eat wholesome organic food all the time. They gave us a sampling of that when they fed us lunch: turmeric rice, beans, squash, and cabbage and culantro salad. They also sold chocolates that they make with herbal additives: ginger, cayenne, and macuna! Of course I bought some. I’m a huge chocolate lover, but the chocolate in Costa Rica is on a whole other level than what I’m used to. It tastes so rich, unadulterated, and deeply intense.
In the afternoon we had a lesson on apothecary practices with Molly--which gave me a lot of ideas of how I want to set up my own apothecary at home.
Today we started off the day with a breakfast of lychees, pina, papaya, and pancakes, and of course, our “bush tea” of the day. I’m loving how much tropical fruit I’m eating here, and it’s great getting to experience a new local fresh herbal tea every day.
We had a great session about herbs and astrology with Christina. She made it super-personalized to our own astrological signs. It was also very illuminative to me to learn about when is best to plant vs harvest. I was introduced to concepts I never knew existed! Definitely will be paying more attention to the rhythms of nature and the lunar cycle-for my garden as well as myself.
This afternoon we had a course on traditional formulas with the amazing Alda. She passed around a lot of plant cuttings, and explained to us the various ways they are used. We made a soothing infusion for mosquito bites. Ahhh...sweet relief!
Yesterday I got to work on my final project a bit in the morning. It’s coming along nicely. I’m working on a writing project where I sit with our bush tea each day and use my experience with it as a prompt to anthropomorphize the herb. It seems so much easier to be creative here. Speaking of, we had a full day of creating. We harvested fresh ylang-ylang and lemongrass and Molly showed us how to make hydrosols. Whoah, the smells of these are heavenly. Honestly can’t decide which I like better. Lemongrass is crisp and uplifting, and ylang-ylang is ghostly and mysterious and sexy. Then we made a couple herbal syrups--one for immunity and one to be used as a blood tonic. In the afternoon, we discussed activism and grassroots social change and how those concepts fit into herbalism. It got me all fired up! It might also be the gigantic full moon that’s making me feel that way.
This afternoon, me and a couple apprentice sisters are off to Panama! We decided to visit Bocas del Toro for the weekend. It’s surprising close and easy to get to, so why not see another country!
Bocas was such an amazing experience! We stayed on the sublime island of Bastimentos. For only a weekend we packed a lot in: jungle hikes, deserted pristine beaches, fresh amazing seafood, and plenty of dancing. But, it felt so nice when the bus pulled back into Manzanillo; it kind of feels like home now.
We had a great talk on ayahuasca with Carlos yesterday who works with shamans in ceremony. Personally, I don't think I’m ready, or will ever be ready, to try ayahuasca, but it was still fascinating learning about the power of a psychoactive plant, especially one with such a link to tradition and indigenous people. It emphasized to me how powerful herbs can be, and how entwined they are with culture and religion.
We also made flower essences and learned about their usage. I chose to make an essence out of peace lily. There are so many options regarding how one can choose to utilize a plant--teas, tinctures, syrups, food, oxymel, flower essences, hydrosols. It’s great to be exploring them all. Then we learned about the doctrine of signatures, which I’ve been applying to so much of what I see since. I had a great lunchtime swim after an amazing meal of pumpkin soup, black beans, and homemade tortillas. The tortillas that Alda and Luba make are so different than any tortilla I have had before. I must learn how to make them like this! I’m also pretty obsessed with their homemade hot sauce. I’ve been dousing everything I eat with it.
I have to talk a little bit more about the food we ate today as well, because it must be remembered! Breakfast was eggs (fresh from Molly’s chickens!), rice and beans, passionfruit, and watermelon smoothies. Lunch was fresh jackfish in a coconut sauce, beans, and plantains. This afternoon Molly taught us about herbs for market, and all the legal implications of that. This is an aspect of herbalism that never even crossed my mind, but it’s an important thing to be aware of for anyone in the herbal community.
Yesterday we visited the beautiful botanical gardens. Ansel gave us a tour of the surreal looking grounds and introduced us to lots of amazing (and alien looking) plants. Then we made some fun body products with her: soap, lotion, and bug balm!
Today we learned about how herbs apply to different body systems, like nervous system for example. We were all writing furiously as Molly talked. Then, after taco Friday (my favorite day) a couple of us went to Puerto Viejo, our last weekend here! We hung out at an awesome reggae bar overlooking the ocean.
I can’t believe it was my last weekend here in Manzanillo. Saturday, I went to Puerto Viejo’s farmer’s market, did some shopping from local artists in town, and had a great breakfast of egg and cheese on biscuit with jerk sauce. The afternoon was some swimming and then eating a boat load of ceviche, and of course, bonding time with my apprentice sisters (basically us hanging outside, listening to some good music, and creating in our own different ways: painting/writing/cooking, etc!). Sunday, I rented a bike from Bad Bart’s dive shop (the nicest people!) and road up the road through the jungle for most of the day. It was super relaxing. I stopped at a few beaches along the road, like Punta Uva. Each one was so beautiful, and the same gentle and glassy Caribbean.
We had class on the beach yesterday. Can’t ever get tired of that view. We also did a practice herbal intake, which i found fascinating. I collected a bunch of dormilona (mimosa) around Manzanillo and made a tincture of it. Dormilona is a sedative nervine, and will make a good addition to my apothecary at home. Then I bought a cold Imperial, and finished up writing for my final project on the beach, with plenty of swim breaks. I stayed as the sun set, and felt both contented and elated.
Our last full day! We gave our final project presentations in the morning. I loved listening to them. We have a very diverse group of women here, but we all got along so well. I learned different things from each one’s presence. Our projects were as different as we were: an herbal recipe book, a business plan, herbal food imbued with culture, and beautiful botanical paintings. Just as much as I am in awe of my own creativity and personal growth here over the past month, it was inspiring to see the growth happening in other people as well. I’m thankful that I had amazing people with me on this journey.
We had one final group swim in the ocean, with thunder rumbling its far off discontent in the background. Then our grand last meal: Luba taught us how to make traditional Caribbean stew, the mood was celebratory and lighthearted.
Tomorrow I set out to the airport very early, but I think if it wasn’t for my flight, and responsibilities at home, I could easily stay here at least another month. I got so much out of this experience. I learned about herbs, but also about myself, about other people, and about the tradition and energies of a place. If someone had asked me before I came if I’d come back to Costa Rica, I would have said no, there are a lot of other places I want to visit! But saying my goodbyes today, I was asked if i’d be back, and I replied emphatically, yes, of course. After being in a place for a month, immersing myself in it, and being around amazing people, I couldn’t imagine not coming back here. I’m taking a lot from my experience here, but also, I’m leaving a piece of me at Centro Ashe in Manzanillo. It’s an exchange I’m happy with.
Sign up for the 2017 One Month Tropical Apprenticeship at Centro Ashé, space is very limited and enrollment is open!