Finding Peace at Peace Retreat
Playa Negra, Costa Rica - Peace Retreat - May 2015
I arrived at Peace Retreat after a long drive from Tamarindo in a sketchy cab whose driver I thought was roughly 49% likely to kidnap me. He asked me question after question in Spanish, and I tried my best to answer as he swerved dangerously fast down dirt roads surrounded by jungle. I saw alarmingly few people as I pressed my face to the window, eager to arrive at my new destination.
We were off the grid. Coming from Tamarindo — a town that has been westernized and turned into a tourist destination, where it cost $20 to get a plate of pad thai — Playa Negra felt like a different world.
Peace Retreat is everything I imagined it to be. Quiet and serene, a far cry from the hostels I’d been staying at in Nicaragua. A painted picture of the Hindu Goddess Ganesha graces one wall. The words “Breathe, Love, Eat, Repeat” arch over the doorway to the kitchen — a gathering place that would soon hold many precious memories to me.
I meet Kevin, the owner, and he shows me to my cabana. The “peace” cabana. How fitting, I thought, peace is just the thing I came here in search of. I meet the other volunteers — four girls from around the world.
I had no idea these girls would change my life. But they did. Each in their own way, they taught me about the world and about myself. Andrea, Natalie, Tala, Mae, and me. Thrown together by circumstance, we fit like puzzle pieces, each of us contributing to the group and taking from it as needed.
The plan was to stay for 1 month. Andrea and I last for 1 week before traveling together to Nicaragua. During the 7 days that we are at Peace Retreat together, our lives are altered forever. In each other, we find sisterhood and nurturing.
We eat banana cake and sip on iced chai at a coffee shop in the middle of a jungle path.
We walk down muddy roads and through a small town on our way to the beach. It begins to thunder, the rain beating down on our skin. We go skinny dipping before heading back.
Howler monkeys screech at us as we pass under the trees, their trees.
We convene every day in the kitchen. We cook, we eat, we talk.
Tala has dreams that her parents don’t approve of. She asks me how to find her strength.
Natalie gets sick and learns to ask us for what she needs. I learn to be more generous with my compassion.
Andrea, who I become closest to, is dealing with heartbreak in her own quiet way.
We spend our days — 7 days but it feels like weeks — jumping off the high dive, sinking our teeth into fresh fruits and vegetables, and letting our hearts spill out of our mouths.
Natalie, who is bold and bright and who I will see a year later in another country, performs a dance for us. Her body moves effortlessly over the wood floor, her passion for the world evident in her steps. Her dance finishes and conversation is ignited from the fire of applause.
I tell of how Journey went to live with her dad, how my relationship (or lack of) with my mother was breaking my heart, how I am traveling to try and find healing so that I can rebuild my life.
We go around, each woman pouring forth her innermost struggles while the rest of us nod and smile and cry for ourselves and for each other. We’ve known each other for mere days but it feels as though our souls have reconnected after a lifetime of searching for each other.
On our last night, we sit at the highest point of the roof. The moon, full and bright, more stars than I’ve ever seen before — we are quiet. The bond we’ve developed is soon to be broken as we disperse into our separate corners of the world. But just for now, we sit and we feel heard and loved and understood in ways that we never have before.
These are my sisters, my friends, my mother’s and we nurture each other by simply showing up when it would have been easier not to.