Avana parks her sandals in the entrance of the juice bar and walks toward a table while he holds a cup of thick, bubbling cacao in his hand. She sits on the ground that She touched for the first time 18 years ago, when she was only 20 years old, and narrates how she left Belgium chasing a childhood love.
In a low voice and with elaborate Spanish, she explains to me that she never imagined that she would end up building, together with other wanderers, this community called Pachamama: a wooded meditation paradise with houses, stores, workshops and communal rooms and kitchens.
In this colony of foreigners, the majority Israelis, they over-pronounce the letter ‘r’ and they hug each other with their eyes closed and a perpetual smile on their faces. In the mountains of Guanacaste, between Ostional and Junquillal, they found a more authentic way of life.
The carpentry shop was the first building in Pachamama. In the first few years, with or without experience, everyone had to work on the most physical tasks like digging holes in the ground, building houses or painting. Ananda (left) was one of the pioneers and heads the carpentry shop.
The community has almost 70 residents that work on the construction and upkeep of the place. They give meditation workshops and silence retreats to more than 1,000 visitors per year who come seeking the same spiritual awakening that brought the pioneers here at the beginning of the year 2000.
Before putting down roots in Costa Rica, the first residents traveled around Australia, Japan, Korea, Brazil, India, Israel and many other countries. In each country, after silent meditations, new members joined them until they had enough to form a community.
Outside any place at Pachamama, whether its an office, restaurant or meditation zone, is a large pile of sandals and shoes at the entrance.
“It’s a way of life in which the essence is meditation and working on yourself,” says Nikaj, 37, speaking loudly to drown out the noise. We are in the carpenter shop, a building in Pachamama where he works from Monday through Saturday.
“I found a positive goal waking up every morning, not to fill my pockets but to help a place and its people. For me, at the end of the day, those actions translate into a better world.”
Waktana, one of the 15 volunteers in the kitchen, prepares salad with food from the greenhouse. A part of what they consume in the kitchen at Pachamama is prepared in their own gardens and the rest they buy from local organic producers.
Protecting nature is fundamental for this community. As soon as they set up shop here 18 years ago they started to sow native spices across the 500 acres of land (previously pasture). They wanted to recreate the original habitat and they achieved it: The new forest attracted new birds and mammals. Despite being a 100% international community, the inhabitants of Pachamama don’t isolate themselves.
“It’s really easy to create a bubble and we don’t want to be one,” Avana says while she drinks her cacao, already half gone. “You can’t see Pachamama as separated from the rest of the communities.”
Tuwa, from the ecological department, reviews the compose that will be used to fertilize the plants at Pachamama. Tuwa is also in charge, together with a biologist, of reforesting and identifying invasive species like gamhar.
In fact, everyday before 6am, 30 residents of Ostional ride on motorcycles along the rocky road sweetened with molasses that leads to Pachamama. They work in the carpentry shop as long as there isn’t a spawning of turtles, since many of the workers are also part of the Ostional Association of Local Guides.
“When the turtles arrive, we allow workers to come in to work later,” Nikaj says. Work doubles on those days because the number of workers is reduced.
“We don’t want just anyone to come and build a house because they have money. They must be in harmony with what happens here,” says Dharma, an Israeli that has lived for 15 years in Pachamama with her whole family. Besides receiving the visitors, she sells her products at the store and at the Nosara organic fair.
The Revolution in Silence
When the people who live in Pachamama answer questions about why they are here, many of them name the same reason: Tyohar.
There are around 30 children at Pachamama that go to school from November to August. “It’s a commitment at Pachamama to live a life that is in balance with nature. So transferring that to the children is very important for the community,” says Yael Bechor, a worker and resident of Pachamama. Yael’s daughter, Asia, attends classes at the school.
Tyohar is the spiritual leader and main founder of Pachamama. He has his own Instagram account with photos of nature and doesn’t look at all like the typical centenarian gurus with white beards. Every week, he leads a meeting called satsangs in which he offers reflections on questions from those in attendance.
In this constant reforestation they also planted many fruit trees and organic garden plants at Pachamama. In the gardens of Pachamama you can find Brazilian spinach, basil, turmeric, arugula and moringa. Some things are purchased from organic farms like Cerro Negro in Nicoya.
While meditation was the spiritual experience that knitted this community together, Pachamama doesn’t have a dogma nor an agenda. They also don’t practice any official religion, so there is no segregation.
Every night at 6:30pm, the community crosses the dark trails of the mountain with lanterns and they become a parade of fireflies. Once in the communal room – named after the Indian guru Osho – they meet to meditate in silence for 45 minutes.
After years of reforestation, coati can be seen skirting around the restaurant, as well as monkeys, deer, birds and armadillos and even ocelots along the trails.
Once night time arrives, the trees and plants swallow up, one by one, the lanterns and houses where visitors sleep, and the sound of the forest dazzles as heavy animals are heard walking all around.
When visitors arrive at Pachamama they are told not to be afraid of the nightly noises and that there are no dangerous animals on this mountain that Tyohar and the pioneers chose.
In this anti-publicity spot, hidden so that only those who really want to come arrive, there is never a lack of skinny people in loose pajamas that populate it. Paradises have never needed much marketing.
While the spiritual experience is the strongest thread that binds the community, you can’t view Pachamama as a religious center. Hundis, Jews, Catholics all come. There is no agenda or dogma, but there is a union in meditation.
The form of payment at Pachamama is also different. They have their own “currency” called xoco, which is used to facilitate exchanges in the community. It looks like a checkbook. “The main idea is to free people from having money so they can be more comfortable, without a billfold,” says Maicu, a 35-year-old web developer that is volunteering at Pachamama. Maicu is also one of the few Costa Rican visitors.