When you embark on a journey with a very relaxed structure and open end date, one feels completely free or overwhelmed - or both. In my case, I ebbed between these dynamics throughout my travels, particularly in the beginning months.
Before leaving stateside in September 2016, I wrote a list of places I wished to visit along with my intentions. Oftentimes, it included “bucket list” items. But for the most part, there was a general theme: explore the world with the intention to participate in wellness communities, connect with locals, learn a new language, deepen my yoga + meditation practice, experience nature, design a new career path with purpose, and discover new things about myself along the way.
Amongst this heavy handed list, self-discovery and healing have become the greatest gifts of my journey. I did name it Project Bodhi, or Awakening, after all. The name was part seeking grounding and part throwing caution to the wind to give me courage to see what was on the other side.
I set off to Central America with dreams of morning surf sessions, green smoothies, learning Spanish, and living in yoga pants. People would often inquire, “where to next?” or “for how long are you traveling?” Which I would reply with a toss of salty bleached hair and a tanned shrug, “We’ll see.” I welcomed the idea of being a feather in the wind and divorced the old story of me as the woman who needed a plan. After nearly ten years working in Corporate America, this new idea of freedom began to breathe new life into me.
This attitude took me on evening motorbike rides where the chirp of the tree frogs and the smell of fresh rain narrated my star gazing. Where we would dodge potholes in heavy rainstorms and walk the beach back from the local restaurant because there was no road. On one of these magical nights, my friends from Spanish school and I talking in a mix of German, English, and Spanish, came upon sea turtles laying their eggs under the moonlight. We took road trips with surfboards strapped to the roof and African beats blaring from the speaker, stopping at river crossings when the dirt road dipped and faded, and autumn’s rainstorms soaked the earth. We would stay in old hostels on empty beaches, where I would teach morning yoga and then dive into the foamy waves. We became experts in banana pancakes and cutting up mango and papaya. We would sing and dance and let the days melt into each other. No matter where we spent our days, we would spend our evenings on the beach, watching the sunset and cracking a cold beer cheering “Prost!” “Salud!”
My surfing improved, I could keep up in Spanish, my skin tanned, and I entered my yoga teacher training with an ease and openness the older version of myself would hardly recognize. Others from the training thought I was deep into my journey, assuming I came from a home full of mandalas and bohemian feels, not the white + grey + blue utilitarian clean combination I described over vegan pizza one night. We shared morning meditation, meals, rooms together. We even fought and made up.
We held space for each other's tears and our personal journeys, all in different places and different times through the program. We stomped our feet and screamed in the wild jungle during Osho workshops. We spun in dynamic meditation, some of us dizzying and falling, others retching, myself included. Perhaps pieces of our souls were breaking free. We invited each other to dig deep into our wounds, to yell it out, cry it out, yoga it out. We sat for hours in circles on the wood deck overlooking the ocean philosophizing over Pema Chodron and Eckhart Tolle. Our bodies became lean and strong with daily practice. Our voices clearer, more confident as we approached the final weeks when we would each stand in front of our peers and teach them our class. One that wove a philosophical and anatomical theme. One that pushed us out of our comfort zones once again. A nurturing and raw environment packaged into a month in the tropics.
And as quickly as it came, it went. We graduated as our own version of spirit warriors. Holding each other and whispering words of love and encouragement in each other's ears as we each walked with eyes closed through a line guided with trust to the end. Tears streamed down our faces as we slowly parted ways. Some flew back home for the beginning of winter. Others, like myself, on to another country.
It was time to take what we learned and turn it into something. For me, a VISA run to Nicaragua kept me in the throws of my practice. Morning meditation and yoga became longer, more deliberate. I focused on designing a practice centered around aromatherapy and yoga for the busy professional or busy traveler, seeking ways to help others that embodied the old version of me. The one who sat in an office chair all day and carried the burden of stress on her shoulders, losing sleep, disconnected. I discovered a community of yogis and surfers in a little village - one I had visited seven years before and was growing now, but still held the slow pace of Latin culture. I was invited to teach my first yoga class less than a week from graduation, which pierced through the nerves and inner chatter to help me stand with confidence in this new role.
During Christmas dinner, we raised glasses in toast to our bounty and the great fortune we had of sharing this moment - our group from England, Australia, Argentina, and the United States. We laughed, we ate, we sang to Frank Sinatra as the moon dipped above the Pacific’s horizon on a balmy Christmas night. I returned to Costa Rica to reign in the New Year with spiritual women near a Volcano at Lake Arenal. I vowed to return with my mother. A shift of consciousness altered my travel plans to meet a man, with promises of romance and nightlife, to one of stillness to be shared with family. When I invited her to visit me in this new space that had become my home, she gladly accepted.
We would rise at dawn with the serenade of howler monkeys. We meditated together, practiced yoga, ate delicious, healthy food, and learned about eco-living. We planted seeds, fed the goats, and collected chicken eggs. We walked the land and helped build cob houses, mud cracked in our hands and between our toes. We rode horses bareback, slept in tree houses, floated in the evening ocean waves, laid under ancient Ceiba trees in silence and connected deeper than we ever have.
This time of my journey was particularly meaningful. The spiritual connection to place and people is unparalleled. The small, sleepy villages, farms, and communities I lived in fostered a sense of belonging and purpose to continue with mindful living and traveling. It also left me feeling wary about entering the energy of a new, bustling, foreign city. With my flight booked for Santiago, Chile, I waved goodbye to Costa Rica, hugged my mom for a long time, and then embarked on the next journey: the mountains of Patagonia.
Julia Kramer is Director of Outreach | Travel Writer | Yoga Teacher traveling the world on a personal journey of Self-discovery. Follow her on instagram @JRoseKramer #ProjectBodhi.