The thing about Kalu Yala, is that it’s irresistible. Well maybe that is only true if your soul is the type of soul that needs to experience life unscripted; lived freely and relentlessly muddy amid other wandering souls that believe in idealistic principles like sustainability, communal living, and getting back to our roots of living not just on Earth but engulfed in Earth.
The moment my dear friend Esteban mentioned the opportunity to help co-lead Kalu Yala’s education program was the moment I knew I wouldn’t say no to this. For the past few years I have been explaining to friends and family how education needs to be holistic, experience & project-based, more autonomous, and led by less Doctorates and more doers and tinkers. Towards the end of 2015 I started doing informal research on this emerging field of education by talking to founders and participants of similar programs around the world. Back in 2014 Esteban and I came pretty close to starting our own self-directed learning program in Champaign.
Which is why I knew I would say yes to this opportunity. Which is why I find myself writing this from my platform in the rainforest, having just met 100 new faces who have no choice but to become friends. The energy this week feels almost as tangible as the afternoon air just before it pours. Everyone is ready to get dirty, to get building, to get real. There is a constant buzz as life stories are exchanged and dreams are spun of what the next few months will bring. There is so much to learn about each other and about how to live life here. Every day comes with a new set of life skills that will soon be second nature but are now awkward and at times tedious. Washing your feet of mud 8 times a day. Hanging your clothes to dry in the morning sun and remembering to take them down before the afternoon rains. Checking pockets and shoes for creatures. Remembering to bring your headlamp to dinner. The list goes on, and this is week one. There is still so much I have not had to learn yet.
This weekend I came to Panama City, a 1.5 hour drive once you emerge from the valley (done either by 4wd truck or your own two feet). It felt like returning to the relaxed, easy way of living where you have all-day access to all the modern luxuries that you only fully appreciate after a stint in the wilderness. It gave me a chance to plan my semester as the newly appointed Director of Design Thinking (more on this soon), celebrate a friend’s birthday, and take a pause to ask: “What just happened?” And “Am I ready for this to be life?” One week in I can say with complete confidence, life here is intense. I mean we literally live in tents. We have limited social contact with anyone outside the valley. Work is life is work. But is there really anything we need that we cannot find, build, or create here? That is the question we will keep exploring.
Every morning I wake up and watch the sun clear the fog from the valley. I jump in the river to rinse away the dirt and the day and am reminded that this too will pass. I walk past a friend and twenty minutes later realize companionship works better than most modern medicine. So yes, life at Kalu Yala is intense. Even after the first week I feel mentally, physically, and emotionally stretched. But I am so intrigued and excited to learn more. This place is irresistible.