Braving the Big Leap to Latin America

Thursday, July 09, 2015

“We have to be continually jumping off cliffs and developing wings along the way.”
~ Kurt Vonegurt

We gathered around an old bamboo table drinking Bintang and rice wine on a little surf island in Indonesia. Some had been pleasantly stuck there for months, some returning for more waves and a few first-timers. And I, had just arrived from my 6 month Southeast Asia trip, beyond stoked to be back on my island home where I had been living for the past 2 years.

A Colombian chick asked me what my plans were. I said I wanted to go on traveling Latin America but at the same time I just felt like staying in my comfort zone for a while, maybe finally build that yoga shala I’ve always dreamt about or that healthy juice bar on the beach that my bestfriend and I planned on Pinterest.

She shook her head and said “Don’t. Don’t stay here if you can see the world now.” in her sexy Latina accent. All heads turned to her, almost shocked by her blunt advice. We were all in love with the island, we all dreamt about settling there one day. How could she..?! “The world is too big to stay in one place. I know Lombok is amazing, but you have to see Latin America while you can. You’re gonna have so much fun!” her eyes grew wider and I believed her.

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Lombok > Bali > Kota Kinabalu > Kuala Lumpur >
Shanghai > Los Angeles > Costa Rica

She was damn right. This was the push that I needed. Within days I had booked my tickets from Asia all the way to Central America on my credit card. The problem was, I had already used up my savings for my recent SEA trip.

I’d lie awake at night thinking: "How am I ever going to survive backpacking Latin America if I had already used up my travel budget? Will I be able to teach yoga there? I know nothing about WWOOFing."

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My yoga assistant, Ginger

They say that travel is never a matter of money, but of courage. I remembered those people I’ve met, confidently traveling the world with barely any money in their bank accounts. Avid Couchsurfers, vagabonds who live in their tents, make their own meals and somehow manage to make ends meet.

I met a group of Germans exploring Asia who have bicycled all the way from their hometown. A deaf 60 year old Japanese man who has explored over 100 countries on his trusty old motorbike. A Spanish masseuse and healer who funds his trips from donations. Gypsies and digital nomads who have vowed to a life of travel, regardless of their financial situation. The list goes on. I thought to myself “Can I really travel the world just teaching yoga?”

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Blue-eyed Michael giving guests a tour of Rancho Margot

With some research online, I found websites that listed plenty of volunteering options. I signed up with Yogatrade and applied to different places in Costa Rica as I heard that it was the best country to start your travels in within Latin America. Despite it being a small country, with only 4.9 Million people, it has a spectacular variety of environments from lush rainforests to white sand beaches.

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Within a week, I got a response from a place called Rancho Margot saying they’d like to host me as a Yoga Teacher volunteer for May. I would get free accommodation at their bunkhouse and three healthy meals per day in exchange for teaching a yoga class and working in the garden for a couple more hours. I couldn’t believe it was that easy.

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Hiking around Volcán Arenal and Laguna de Arenal

With a 90 day visa on my passport and thousands of miles outside of my comfort zone, I found myself in a jungle in the northern part of Costa Rica. The ranch is elevated so high up that it sits in between a rainforest and a cloudforest, so it hosts all the species from both zones, such a special place indeed. Exotic red ginger and birds of paradise plants lined the pathways to the casitas and bunkhouse. The ranch was so beautifully alive, but of course it rained every single day.

Mold started growing on my stuff, my laptop charger stopped working, drying my clothes was just an impossible feat. In spite of showering with bug spray every few hours, four varieties of mosquitoes sucked my Type O blood, even through my leggings. I’d find pockets of sunshine and just stand there, absorbing the rays on my face. I realized how I’ve taken sunshine for granted growing up in the Philippines and living in Indonesia, both warm tropical countries.

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Gardening with the pro, Yonathan

But it was a place where energy was exchanged willingly and freely. What we planted, we harvested and ate. What we reaped, we would eventually sow. The locals, called ticos and ticas have such a deep connection with nature that they know every bird, plant and animal species.

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We explored secret spots I will never forget. Emmanuel showed me the fireflies by the lake on my first night. Luis and I melted our stress away at his favorite hot springs. Yonathan hiked with me in and around the ranch taking all the different trails while we talked about everything under the sun. The resident Golden Retrievers Ginger and Acha kept me company every chance they got.

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At the river nearby with Emmanuel and Acha

Everyone sat with me while I painstakingly practiced my Spanish phrases. Melanie showed me the ropes when I arrived. Hutch made me warm Ginger tea while Leandro and I shared mind blowing documentaries. Gabriel showed me how to make perfect brick oven pizza Margarita and I let Sergio beat me at fuzball. Carlitos, Eimy and I always found something to giggle about.

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Photo Credit: LBS Photography

Alejandro nicknamed me Jiggy-jiggy, an Indonesian slang I taught them and it never fails to make them smile. A month passed by like a breeze and I had to leave with a heavy heart, almost cursing the life of travel that I’ve chosen. How can I say goodbye just as I am beginning to know these beautiful souls?

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Scenic hike up to the Mirador

Volunteering is no party, you have daily responsibilities to fulfill but you’ll save loads on accommodation and meals. Trust me, having a hangover while pulling out weeds under the hot sun is not fun at all. Two hours seemed like ten.

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Aside from teaching a yoga class, we do 2-3 hours of gardening a day

If you’ve already done the SEA trail, let me guess, you’ve probably partied your brains out, drank way too many Changs and seen so many temples that you can’t even tell them apart anymore. Be honest, at some point, lying on the beach everyday gets pretty boring too, don’t you think? I’ve been so lucky to find this opportunity, my only challenge now is finding other places that will host me, and equally as important, figuring out the local bus system in Central America.

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Growing seeds from our greenhouse with gardening boots previously owned by a child

How to Make it Happen:

-As a Filipino passport holder, I have visa on arrival for the following Central and South American countries:

Brazil – 90 days
Bolivia – 90 days
Colombia – 90 days
Costa Rica – 90 days
Dominica – 21 days
Ecuador – 90 days
Haiti – 90 days
Nicaragua – 90 days
Peru – 183 days
Suriname – 90 days

Source: Wikipedia

This has the most accurate list to date, but please do confirm with each country’s embassy before you book your tickets. Most visas are granted for 90 days, which is a huge difference from the 30 day visas I’ve been accustomed to in Southeast Asia. Yay, no more visa runs!

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-According to my Latino friends, Costa Rica is the best place to start if you’re just learning to speak Spanish. From here you can easily travel north by bus to explore the rest of Central America or further down to South America.

-Logistically speaking, it was also the cheapest entry point at the time that I booked my flights. If you’re flying from Asia, you can get a direct flight from Manila or Hong Kong all the way to Los Angeles then into San Jose airport.

-I am currently on my way to the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica, to a place called Peace Retreats in Playa Negra. I plan to explore the Caribbean coastline before I make my way up to Nicaragua towards the end of July. Who knows where the road may lead next.

Mucho amor,
Sole Sister Adi

Adi escaped from the corporate world so her life now happily revolves around yoga and travel. She lives a simple, eco-friendly lifestyle and inspires those around her to do the same. She shares her AntiGravity and yoga practice everywhere she goes and dreams of building rustic Secret Spot hostels in beautiful tropical destinations. She just ended her Southeast Asian adventure and is currently exploring Central America. Follow Adi's adventures on Love the Search and on Facebook and Instagram.


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2 sole trails

  1. Thanks Amelie! Costa Rica is so beautifully inspiring, my creativity has flourished ;)


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