I really think Liz Gilbertâ€™s book, Eat, Pray, Love had it right â€” every place can be identified with just one word. Perhaps I am being a bit presumptuous, but I swear that my summer was a mini- Eat, Pray, Love experience, with three countries and three words. Due to some serious good fortune and just a little hard work, I traveled to Costa Rica, Turkey, and Greece, thus concluding the best summer of my life. Each country offered three entirely different opportunities in opposite settings, and each deserves a book of recognition.
Iâ€™m not going to lie, I had a multitude of bizarre encounters that just donâ€™t happen at home. This will give you an idea: I demonstrated the health benefits of termite consumption in the rainforest, karate-chopped a few men in the streets of Istanbul, and eventually woke up in front of a gay bar named the Ramrod in Mykonos. Yet if we whittle it down to what truly matters, my experiences in Costa Rica, Turkey, and Greece can be symbolized by three unexpected, yet glorious words: grow, observe, and seduction.
Let us begin with Costa Rica. For 10 weeks, I was a paid intern on a bio-dynamic and organic farm in the area of La Fortuna. The farm, Luna Nueva, is better described as an herbal estate; it encompasses over 200 acres of ginger and turmeric, more than five gardens, and, oh yeah, a five-star eco-lodge and pool. I guess you could say that Luna was a far cry from â€œroughing it.â€ I became the princess of Luna Nueva, performing the duties of an agro-tourist coordinator. My daily activities consisted of making hotel reservations, guiding tours through the rainforest and gardens, and creating artistic designs and labels for the hotel. If this doesnâ€™t already sound unbelievable, I also got to drive a golf cart. With my love for ethnobotany, organic food, and the color green, I was the poster child for bliss. On the tours I led, we discussed endangered medicinal plants, the composition of natural fertilizer, and the symbiotic relationship between sloths and algae. By staying with a gentle Tico family that worked on the farm, I received the full immersion experience. And the foodâ€¦ it was pure decadence. Cooked with traditional Tico recipes from ingredients in the biodynamic gardens, the meals were the healthiest and most vibrant Iâ€™ve ever had in my life. And did I mention I almost died watching an active volcano erupt with four outlandish Columbians? I also witnessed a toucan get murdered by an opossum, fended off a massive army ant invasion, ate berries that transformed sour tastes into sweetness, and yes, ate copious amounts of jungle termites. My one word for Costa Rica is grow. Growth is the only rule that the cycle of plants, humans, and all of existence truly follow.Â
Leaving straight from my precious farm reality, to the jarring lights and sounds of Istanbul was intense, to say the least. In Istanbul, I met up with a few school friends and we sampled the spice bazaars, ancient mosques, and the nightclub scene with vigor. Our ultimate Turkish destination, however, was the small town of Seljuk, where we attended one of UCSBâ€™s Summer Travel Study sessions. I felt lucky because one of my favorite professors was not only our translator and professional tour guide, but became an epic buddy. We trekked though the Roman city of Ephesus, which stands as one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. Unlike Costa Rica, I found the Turkish vegetarian scene to be a struggle. For instance, my friends and I had quite the debacle at our favorite fruit stand one day. The owner, an old woman with crow-eyes as deeply flowing as the Aegean waters, expressed her gratitude by pressing homemade meatballs into our hands. We were convinced the dubious-looking meat was about to sprout furry legs and jump out of our palms, so we chucked them over our backs when she wasnâ€™t looking. We then pretended to rub our bellies, filled with content. To add to our guilt, her toothless grin was as warm as sunshine. This country, which appeared so peculiar when filtered through my western bias, taught me to take a step back and simply observe. That was my word for Turkey. I observed its history, I observed a Muslim culture, and I observed the game of life with a different set of rules.Â
Now Greece was an entire 180 from Turkey. My friend and I went to the Greek island of Mykonos, which is renowned for its happening gay scene, upscale beach bars, and international debauchery. We were gifted easily 200 euros worth of alcohol, catnapped on Grecian beaches, and were verbally admired by men, women, and oddball couples at the corner of every white wall we passed. The characters on that islandâ€¦ there were so many instances of insanity that I still scratch my head to this day and say, â€œWhat the fuck was that?â€ One short encounter that continues to conjure chortling should be called â€œAn Ode to Mozzarella.â€ My friend and I had just finished a late seafood dinner and were invited to join two men for a shot of liqueur. A bit wary, we acquiesced to the free booze, but were soon pleasantly surprised by our new friends. The men were two Italians on vacation, introducing themselves like so, â€œI am Marcelo and he is Alfonso. We are from Napoli and we own a mozzarella factory!â€ Now imagine that in an over-the-top Italian accent, with hand gestures and all. The rest of our conversation with them involved a discussion of feta versus mozzarella (of course the mozzarella won out), a toast to mozzarella, and when we told them we had to leave, they offered to give us a ride in their mozzarella mobile. The rest of the night we avoided getting molested by a Dr. Evil millionaire look-alike and his gold-digger girlfriend from New York. In a nutshell, Mykonos was seduction. Sensuality is the beautiful acceptance of human nature and form. To realize its manifestation in myself through movement, energy, and social exchange, I allowed a whole new layer of richness to enter my life.Â
So that is it. Grow. Observe. Seduce â€” written chronologically, not in order of importance. These travels, as clichÃ© as it sounds, have changed my life. Speaking now with these three new words in my expanded life vocabulary, I challenge all readers to add a new word to their repertoire as well: Go. Go travel, go live, go with love.Â