After a few days with spotty internet access, I’m back! Ellen and I left the yoga farm early, after only a week, and have started to volunteer at a hostel in Santa Rosa de Cabal instead. We had an almost-constant feeling of discomfort at the yoga farm, which we couldn’t escape without leaving. We had many good experiences there, but we were getting snippy and having a hard time being patient. For Ellen, the biggest irritation was the constant sound of cicadas – a high-pitched buzzing that feels like a knife being driven through the ears into the brain, and which was audible from absolutely everywhere in the house or outside thanks to the open-concept design of the building. Poor Ellen had to put wads of toilet paper in her ears to muffle the buzz of the cicadas and still ended up staying in our room fairly often. For me, the non-stop chanting was fraying my nerves – apparently being able to hold a tune is not a prerequisite for producing entire albums of krishna music. I understand that Indian music uses a different set of notes, but some of the chanters were entirely tone-deaf, and simply chose a starting note and wandered off wherever their voice took them in the course of the mantra. The music was played loudly enough that you could hear it anywhere on the farm.

Much of our frustration at the yoga farm could be attributed to a lack of public spaces. There was really no place to go where we could be comfortable, especially if we wanted to socialize with the other volunteers. There was a sitting area that sat two to three people, but it also featured speakers playing chanting music straight into our ears, and frequent mosquito swarms, which we weren’t supposed to kill because the krishna religion respects all life. The dining room table seated six and was farther from the speakers, but you couldn’t hear yourself think from the cicadas buzzing, and you still ended up spotted with mosquito bites. There was a bench that seated two by the river, where the wind occasionally blew hard enough to keep the mosquitoes away, but the cicadas were even more deafening. The most comfortable place to be was in our own beds, under our mosquito nets, with the curtains drawn against the buzzing of cicadas coming in through the screen windows. We felt quite antisocial if we spent most of our free time in bed, though.

Despite the difficulty finding places to sit down and relax, Ellen and I did have some very pleasant experiences at the yoga farm. Sunday was particularly enjoyable. Several people were visiting the farm from other towns for the weekend, so it began to take on a bit of the community feeling we were missing. To accommodate the larger group, a circle of chairs was set up by the river bank and we had breakfast under the trees. The conversation was still stilted and awkward, but at least we were attempting to socialize. Later I was able to read a good book by the riverbank and have a nice chat with one of the other volunteers.

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Sunday afternoon we paddled up the river for a picnic and a short walk in one of the sugarcane fields on the opposite bank. Here too, there was constant noise – the sound of water pumps irrigating the crops, and the never-ending chanting emanating from the cellphone of the teenaged krishna devotee who was with us. We saw a variety of water birds on the banks, which I tried to photograph with our host’s camera with limited success. On the way back, we passed half the village splashing around in the water, so four of the local boys hopped in our canoe to join us for a swim in the river by the yoga farm, where a steep cliff on the bank made an excellent diving platform. Cannonballs seemed to be a popular type of dive among the local boys.

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In the evening, our host brought out a krishna board game to play with us and the local kids. It was like a cross between snakes and ladders and the game of Life. As you go around the circular board, you earn virtue tokens which allow you to move to the next level of consciousness, with the goal being to pass through all four levels to reach nirvana. Some squares on the game board give you karma cards, which describe a sin or virtue according to krishna values, and gain or lose you virtue points or levels of consciousness, depending on the importance of the concept. The cards were in Spanish, so we were able to learn more about the belief system while improving our Spanish vocabulary. It was an enjoyable way to pass the evening.

On Monday, Ellen and I left the yoga farm. We had received an e-mail inviting us to volunteer at a hostel in Santa Rosa de Cabal, about an hour away from the yoga farm. We had originally planned to arrive on Monday, but the owner sent a message saying Tuesday would be better. Ellen and I agreed that we needed to leave Monday as planned, so we spent an enjoyable day hanging out in the town of Cartago before arriving in Santa Rosa on Tuesday.

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Cartago is the town with the beautiful public park full of iguanas and coffee vendors that I wrote about a few weeks ago. We arrived in the morning on Monday, and had no difficulty finding an inexpensive hotel room near the park. We spent much of the day sitting in the park sipping coffee or beer, and watching the iguanas making displays of dominance at each other or at people who got too close. We also spotted some small monkeys swinging around in the trees, so I spent a pleasant hour taking pictures of them, with a few locals giving them candy to help me get better shots. We bumped into someone we knew in the park, a relative we’d met at our cousin’s house, which was a surprise as well. She’s our cousin’s husband’s sister-in-law’s aunt – practically family, right? Close enough to buy her a coffee, anyway.

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Yesterday afternoon we took the short bus ride to Pereira and from there to Santa Rosa where we easily found our hostel. Finding the host was not quite so easy – he showed up a good four hours after we arrived. In the meantime we wandered back to the pleasant tango bar we’d visited with our cousin, and chatted to people in the hostel common room. Unlike our experience at the yoga farm, we instantly felt comfortable here. Our host, when he arrived, turned out to be a cheerful man from Bogota who took us and a family of guests out on the town until the wee hours of the morning and treated us more as welcome guests or long-lost family than working volunteers. I assume someone will show us what we’re meant to be doing and how we can help today, because barely a whisper has been said on the topic since we arrived. We feel predisposed to like the work, though, which is absolutely a good sign.

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