Written By: Kaylee Rodriguez
This summer, global perspectives teacher Mayling Ganuza swapped her fourth-floor classroom for a bamboo thatched hut. For two weeks, Ganuza immersed herself in a lush green jungle found on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
Ganuza is no stranger to traveling. Among her travels include hiking trips through the jungles of Thailand and Vietnam but this trip proved to be different. This time, Ganuza actually lived and sustained herself in this type of environment for an extended period of time.
The two-week trip consisted of taking a permaculture design course at a 9-acre jungle forest farm to learn about sustainable living, regenerative agriculture, and ecological design. Despite these complex terms, the focus of the two weeks was quite basic: live off the land. Due to the remoteness of the site, inhabitants had to meet their own energy and water needs using solar-power and collecting rainwater. They also grew their own food, receiving nourishment from an entirely plant-based diet.
Coming from the United States—where consumer culture and convenience reign— daily tasks proved to be difficult.
“A challenge was doing laundry. I would wash something by hand and then hang it to dry, only to have it rain and get wet again…my clothes and sheets were perpetually wet,” Ganuza said.
Living in the jungle was far from lavish.
“The only perfume you should wear is insect repellent. I made one out of natural oils like citronella and lemongrass,” Ganuza said.
Being surrounded by nature, one truly garners a feel for its untamed beauty and rawness. The jungle offered an escape from fast-paced living and placed an emphasis on being completely present in one’s surroundings. When your surrounding is the wild, it also means living in the presence of a variety of critters and creatures.
“There were always different animals visiting, like kinkajous, sloths, and parrots. Even the insects were incredible! A praying mantis climbed on my arm and tried to fight me.”
Not only did Ganuza get to interact with the animals, but she also had an opportunity to meet with some of the indigenous population. Among these, was a medicine man who welcomed the group into the home he built himself, a two-story bungalow that resembled Disney’s Swiss Family Treehouse. Hacking their way through the jungle, the medicine man taught the group about natural medicine, picking plants and explaining their medicinal values as they walked.
With great experiences come great lessons; this trip was no exception. One lesson that Ganuza took back home is that monkeys are very dramatic and that toucans are trouble-makers so at the end of the day, it is best to stay away! Her greatest takeaway, however, was far less playful.
“The biggest lesson I learned is that there are other ways of living. I am interested in working toward a sustainable future, but we will need to break out of our air-conditioned, plastic-wrapped comfort zones and make fundamental changes on a personal and societal level for that to happen. We need to transition from being dependent consumers to responsible producers and prepare for an uncertain future of dwindling natural resources,” Ganuza said.
It is evident that Ganuza brought back far more than smelly clothes and mosquito bites. Although her trip only leant itself to two weeks of unplugged living, it offered a glimpse of a subsistence lifestyle. Ganuza hopes that this lifestyle, often left behind in history, can be incorporated into building a sustainable future.