By Hilary Brody
Photography by: Regenerative Media
Where is my food coming from? Who are my neighbors? What is this treadmill of earning and spending that I’m on? Such questions have been swirling around in my ahead in recent months, and they only continue to multiply. This yearning for more, coupled with an inner knowing, has unfolded my path of exploring alternative ways of living – ways better than those we’ve been force-fed.
In July, I was offered the opportunity by Shakti Yogi Journal to cover the Jungle Camp in Costa Rica. This was a pivotal moment for me, as I knew this adventure would be a portal into the world I’d been imagining. Now that I’m back, I can confirm this – wholeheartedly. The event blurb boasted a transformative weeklong immersion at Punta Mona, the permaculture center in Costa Rica that is actively illustrating how we can live in line with others, the earth, and our true selves.
Stephen Brooks, the founder, is a lighthouse of inspiration and encouragement to all who encounter him. When he went to Costa Rica twenty years ago, he witnessed the indescribable beauty of the land and its people, and was also stunned by the degradation spawned by large corporate interests. From this point on, his mission was to be a catalyst for a better world. In all the years since, Stephen has worked to build a world to believe in – one where people learn to live in line with nature, while basking in the abundance that life as to offer.
A large part of Stephen’s mission at Punta Mona is to spread permaculture practices. Permaculture is a set of principles and ethics that offer guidelines to conserving and regenerating natural systems, intentionally designing human settlements, and maximizing efficiency while using less energy. By implementing this worldview, Punta Mona is a unique place that has much to teach about the things we take for granted, the power of community, equality, imagination, and the beauty of living a simple, intentional life.
While I had always longed to farm and have an earth-based life, my reality had been one of Los Angeles lattes and discussions on how ‘we should all totally go camping.’ With that in mind, I hopped on a plane to Costa Rica, ready for the unknown with eyes wide and an open heart.
Where the Jungle Meets the Sea
The bliss that lies where the jungle meets the sea is where we find Punta Mona. Nestled on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, not far north of Panama, is an 85-acre wonderland of food forest, community, and intention. This center for regenerative design and botanical studies is a universe all in itself. There you find a beautiful small community of stewards – people dedicated to nurturing this haven in all their actions. All the structures on the property (the beautiful open kitchen, the main house with hammocks and community dinner tables, the unforgettable yoga shala, or the compost bathrooms, are constructed of wood and materials that have come from right there on the property. The essence of sustainability and regeneration pours through every facet of Punta Mona, and the Jungle Camp experience was no exception.
The Punta Mona refuge is well protected – you arrive either by a 2-hour hike through the jungle, or by boat taxi. Led by counselors who we’d soon learn were true captains in their own right, we were taken in small groups over to what I’d soon come to know as paradise.
The Land Beneath Us
As we stepped off the boat onto the shores of Punta Mona, I knew I had entered some kind of utopia. From the warm inviting ocean to loving embraces, I felt like I was coming home. My immediate sense was that this was going to be a life-changing week for all of us. Little did I know the inner exploration and true connection that awaited. Festivities commenced with a proper opening circle, where we were all welcomed into the family and an experience that is so well maintained. This warm beginning made way for such an epic week ahead, one of genuine inspiration, introspection, connection, and motivation to live our lives to the fullest.
Spread out across the property are lovely little signs that remind us: ‘we are all connected’; ‘love the earth, love the sky’. One that stood out was ‘eradicate the randomness’. Founder Stephen Brooks, who is more like the Willy Wonka of this magically enchanted permaculture factory, highlighted this mantra in one of his heart-to-hearts with attendees. Whether it’s planting seeds strategically in order to maximize output, or acting with clear intention, this ethic of doing what you mean and meaning what you do emanated through Stephen, the staff, and the full event. Threads of love and inspiration weaved through every moment at Jungle Camp and I know absolutely that this sentiment was taken home with campers as well.
For over 20 years, Punta Mona has maintained a tradition of gathering in a circle before every lunch and dinner, and this ritual was definitely one of my favorite experiences. The consistent bringing of everyone together gave us two opportunities per day to remember how grateful we were to be there and, also, to appreciate how our thriving is directly connected to caring for the beloved land beneath us. We were regularly reminded to be in right relation and not take for granted the beauty that surrounded us.
Punta Mona grows most of their own food organically, which includes hundreds of species of tropical fruits, vegetables and other plants. Campers were offered tastings of so many fruits that we’d never seen before, most of which looked like they’d been picked from a Dr. Seuss book. With the bountiful land that supplied us with much of our food, and the kitchen cooking with love, our meals were unforgettable every day. Stephen and the crew have a deep affinity for how food nourishes, and we were given the opportunity to care for the plants before reaping the harvest.
As one would imagine, being in such a remote location required some adjustment. There was no cell service, no flushing toilets, and we were encouraged to shower in the river to conserve water. When compared to what we’re used to, this is a tall order, but from the moment my feet touched the sand on the first day, these restrictions actually laid the groundwork for the perfect container. Campers had agreed with the stated intention of the event when we signed up: “Reconnecting with ourselves and nature, while making many of our new best friends”.
While yoga retreats and permaculture courses have been occurring at Punta Mona for years, this was the inaugural Jungle Camp gathering. The focus of this immersion was to encourage people to reconnect while making new connections, by awakening them to who they really are through song, dance, creativity, food, and natural living. Accommodations offered to campers were either glamping (prearranged) setups or tent camping. Toilets, showers, and all other basic needs were provided seamlessly, leaving people feeling comfortable, cared for, and able to immerse themselves in the experience. The focus was to understand that an essential part of building a new world is building your community. This tenant was reiterated often – “Your heart brought you here” – which served as a beautiful reminder that all of us were there for a reason: to connect.
Writing Our Own Stories
Offerings included yoga classes with renowned yoga teacher Marcos Jassan, day-breaker morning dance parties, intimate talks with wise woman and singer Guadalupe Urbina, plant walks with Stephen, and more. The schedule for the week was both full and flexible; a sense of freedom permeated all timetables, allowing us to participate and explore at our leisure. The property extends from a beautiful beachfront all the way back to acres of lush, uncharted jungle. One can wander through many worlds. The heart of the community is the kitchen and main house, where campers and staff share meals and attend classes (all while mixing in a fair share of naked ocean swimming and encouraged hammock time).
Stephen’s guided explorations brought campers through the lush playground to pick exotic herbs and fruits right from the branch, and collect new knowledge about them. These walks left us in awe as we admired the bounty created through years of planning and working symbiotically with the environment. It is key to note that Punta Mona boasts one of the most varied food forests in existence. Fruits and herbs that have been hand-selected from all over the world are now thriving there. The herb walks with Lala, a resident herbalist who works with Stephen’s partner Sarah on much of the plant medicine work there, taught campers about all types of herbs and plants that can heal ailments and promote wellness.
Another outstanding class was David Block’s heart-opening ‘Accessing Your Creative Spirit’. In this session, David encouraged campers to open up in small groups about shame they had encountered at some point in their lives that kept them from exploring their true passions. It was a powerful workshop where many cathartic tears were shed. David left attendees with this: “While we can’t change the events that have happened, we can change our story about them.”
The Global Harmony and Vocal Improvisation class led by Chloe and Leah of Rising Appalachia was one of the most impactful experiences of the week for many campers (although I wasn’t able to attend because I had an appointment with a naked mud bath and river swim.)
The reminder that song and dance are just as essential to our joy as food and community was strong at Jungle Camp. Classes on vocal expression, natural instruments, and making music off-the-grid were topped off with phenomenal musical performances come sundown.
Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention this key ingredient in the Jungle Camp stew: the sacred Tea Lounge. In the evenings, while the music stage ceaselessly offered song, the Tea Lounge haven offered a place to go relax and intimately connect with others. This well-crafted environment, was a container for many beautiful moments, and served as a space for people to share their stories, be genuinely heard, and bask in the love that became increasingly palpable as the days rolled on.
As the week drew to a close, it was unmistakable how much transformation had occurred. A fire had been ignited in the campers, one that reminded us of the beauty in connecting with others, in living simply, and primarily – in living our bliss. While I did sense some sadness at departure, unsure of how to take this magic back home to my concrete jungle, I could see that there was no way this experience could be forgotten. The ripple effect would be infinite.
While swimming in the ocean at night, with bioluminescence in the sea that created diamonds on my fingertips, I came to understand clearly what the takeaway from Jungle Camp would be for me. Seeing the joy in Stephen and the staffs’ eyes as they enjoyed their service work in all moments brought me closer to my true vision: we can all live in alignment with our highest selves, ones that support the earth and others, rather than at the cost of both. Speaking with many fellow campers, I saw the inspiration in their eyes. While not many of us can pick up and move to the jungle tomorrow, we can decide to eradicate the randomness in our own lives and live how we authentically desire to.
“I am calmer, I am more in tune, and I truly understand now, where I really belong.” -Shayda Yazdanmehr
“I am changed, altered, evolved, as the past week’s experiences have served to catapult me further down the path on which I was already traveling…so much so that I am literally seeing, visualizing, and interpreting things very differently.” -Jennifer Seuss
“I’ve started a morning meditation ritual before getting out of bed where I close my eyes and relive the sounds, scents, visions, and feelings of being at Jungle Camp. It’s all so vivid in my mind that each morning I feel transported back, and can see all your beautiful faces and feel the lovely jungle mud on my feet and ocean water surrounding me. It’s a lovely way to start the day. I’m so full of gratitude to have shared this with all of you and to have learned your stories that I now carry with me. This was by far one of the most transformational experiences of my life.” -Crystal Sanders
“To be seen… and appreciated for what I bring to the world is heart-warming to say the least. It feels awesome to be received, felt and heard.” -Jah Hendo
“It was truly a transformational experience of heart-opening and blissful proportions. Nothing like the jungle on the beach to melt away your worries and reconnect you to your roots, your path, the earth, and humanity.” -Nicole Gayatri