I’d love to invite many of my friends to join me on this trip, bit I have to admit not everyone would enjoy it. I don’t think this would be a good travelling style for you if you’re the type of person who wants complete control over your environment. The world here is just too big to put in the human definition of order.

Take the idea of a clean house, for example. Every culture wants their houses to be clean, but that doesn’t mean we all do it the same. In Japan, people are horrified that North Americans wear shoes in their houses. Here in Costa Rica, if you were OCD about cleanliness at home, you’d probably freak out a little. Clean houses still have ants marching through them, and spider webs in the rafters. Your work clothes, just out of the washing machine, are still stained the same reddish-brown colour as the earth at your feet.

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Dirty feet in the garfen

Or if you’re squicked out about bugs, you’re not going to be delighted by Latin America. The place is just teeming with creepy crawlies. There are colourful beetles and flies of all sizes. Various species of ants march off in their different directions, and will gladly march right up your feet if you’re in their way. Mosquitos, which are a serious concern because they pass on diseases like Malaria and Dengue Fever, seem like the least of your worries compared to the ants and spiders and flies everywhere.
I was originally convinced I would try to follow the medical advice for travellers, as provided in those little government handbooks. You know, don’t approach stray dogs, always drink bottled water, avoid this or that kind of food. We gave up on that stuff in the first week. Ellen was petting a dog on the street in Puerto Viejo, and when I started to suggest she shouldn’t, the dog jumped up, tail wagging, and licked my tongue inside my open mouth. After that, well, it seems like a bit of a moot point. We’ll still try to keep ourselves healthy, but we’re not going to force the issue.

And then, if you have any concerns at all about wanting to maintain your beauty and look after your body, well, this may not be the lifestyle choice for you. Volunteering on this farm, I’ve put my body through its fair share of bumps and scrapes, even being careful with my healing wrist. I have a grapefruit-sized bruise on my butt, with accompanying wound, from slipping down a slope when the stairs gave out after a rainstorm. I have twelve swollen red ant bites on my right forearm from gathering leaves to mulch and discovering an ant colony just a moment too late. And after a day of hard work, you get a nice cold shower, kept brief to conserve water. No manicures or massages on this kind of vacation!

If the sorts of things you’ve read here aren’t your cup of tea, travelling independently through Latin America may not be for you. You might prefer a nice all-inclusive resort where they make sure you have hot showers and clean rooms, massages and fresh drinking water. But here I just feel more connected to the Latin American lifestyle. The bugs and plants and people are that much closer to me, and I can meet them and know their names, rather than just taking their pictures. Oh, I still want to hang out for a week at a resort with organized adventure tours and a swim-up bar at some point in the future, but for now, this dirty, grimy, exhausting side of travel has won my heart.

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