“I find your lack of faith disturbing.” – Darth Vader
The directions said to look for a bakery. As the bus drove off, we picked our backpacks up from the dust and walked across the empty highway towards a strip of storefronts. The teller behind the cash register knew before we asked. “La Finca?” she said reaching for her phone. We nodded.
Three miles up the Costa Rican mountainside along a rough gravel road stood a 600 acre rainforest reserve. As we crammed into a Jeep outdating us both, we began a vertical 4×4 climb. Tiffany’s initial hesitancy grew with each bump.
The word hippie represents a spectrum of truths and values. The traditional hippie identity stands as a product of the 1960’s youth movement in the United States. This countercultural shift rejected a society increasingly defined by achievement, materialism and hard nosed politics. It was however loose.
Beyond tie-dyed shirts, peace signs, and flowers, the philosophy and lifestyle of rejecting the mainstream included physical discipline and induced relaxation. It involved work and leisure as well as revolution and peace. This generation conceived Earth Day and Woodstock. Hippies committed to the collective and communal but, quite often, they relied as much on capitalism and individualism.
Despite vague ideologies and imperfect attempts to live them, in general, hippies successfully withdrew from dominant cultural patterns framing most lives.
For Tiffany and I, it was all new.
“This countercultural shift rejected a society increasingly defined by achievement, materialism and hard nosed politics.”
Dorothée walked into the bunkhouse as soon as the manager left. An energetic woman in her late 30’s from Montreal, she had mastered the nooks and crannies of the simple six bed shack set aside for volunteers. “No hot water” she said pointing to the shower “but the good news is you can drink it; comes straight from the mountains.” It was a toss up which we would have preferred.
Accompanied by a black miniature pinscher as unafraid of life as she was, Dorothée had spent four months in a hammock on her two acre plot while the foundation of her future home, The Fairytale House, was being laid. She now rotated between overseeing the final stages of construction deep in the rainforest and helping with odd jobs around the Finca basecamp.
Walking out of the bunkhouse, I asked what brought her to the Finca. Speaking in a heavy Quebecois French accent she explained, “I was working my butt off doing marketing for a big pharmaceutical company in the city and I was good at my job…making a lot of money too.”
She continued, “After a while I was working so hard. It was impacting me so much. I started needing what I was selling just to keep selling more of it.”
Her voice softened, “It was then that I said enough.”
She shook her head gently, the fragility of the movement speaking volumes.
Basecamp sat at the edge of the small river. Guests unloaded backpacks from rental cars in the gravel parking lot. The handful of local workers stored tools in the workshop. Check-ins were cobbled together at the office desk next to the t-shirt rack. Rice and beans were boiled in the open air kitchen and served on tables under the same tin roof. The community house tripled as the yoga studio, co-working space and bar depending on the time of the day.
Fourteen tree houses and cabins weave invisibly into the Costa Rican jungle hillsides; they comprise the Finca Bellavista—a hybridized for-profit eco-lodge, conservation park, time-share rental, and modern-day hippie commune.
Few of the owners live permanently on the property. Most spend between 1-6 months per year at the Finca splitting time between places ranging from Mozambique and Slovakia to Charlotte and Dallas.
Current and former professions are diverse. National Geographic photographers and world class conservation researchers join 8th grade teachers, concert organizers, philanthropists, filmmakers and business leaders.
All however share a strong commitment to some form of sustainable, climate-respecting, eco-focused living. Entirely off-grid, the property uses little electricity—all solar—draws water from mountain streams and serves meat only once every other day. Naturally, residents recycle, compost, and garden.
It is an attempt, whether for two days as a visitor, two months as a volunteer or twenty years as a full-time community member to give a nod toward the importance of promoting conservation and protecting the environment.
Surrounded by deep green and complex beauty it is hard not to.
“Don’t get me started.” he said with the slightest hint of a southern drawl. “Just couldn’t deal with Trump. I had been looking for a while at places I could go, but that was my cue to leave.” he continued.
A native of Austin, Texas, it was James’ night to bartend during happy hour. Reaching up to the shelf, “My treat! Y’all ok with Coke and coconut rum?” he said smiling, sliding two glasses across the marbled wooden counter.
In his early fifties, James had helped run the family construction business. Though the anecdotes of his former life in Austin suggested a certain degree of success, his permanent move to the Finca two years earlier indicated a strong preference for something less structured.
“I sold my half and worked out an early retirement deal with my brother.” He winked. “Haven’t looked back since.”
Having volunteered on the Finca for nearly six months while his cabin was being constructed, James now lived perched high above the valley floor with a hammock stretched across a West-facing porch. Though evening CNN scrolls and Netflix downloads from the basecamp wifi and a Toyota 4-Runner are regular injections of normalcy into his life, he is one of the few having made a permanent move to the Finca. The forest had become home.
“It is an attempt, whether for two days as a visitor, two months as a volunteer or twenty years as a full-time community member to give a nod toward the importance of promoting conservation and protecting the environment.”
It’s an unlikely group to play a pivotal role in bringing down an Empire. Perhaps that’s why Star Wars fans don’t like them. Too far-fetched. The argument against Ewoks and their home on the planet of Endor centers on whether a group of three-foot tall, forest-dwelling teddy bears could play a pivotal role in defeating an army with innumerable warships, an immensely powerful leader and a planet-destroying weapon.
George Lucas’ inclusion of Ewoks and their tree-house homes, however, in fact was meant to inject a greater degree of reality in a story already requiring more than a bit of imagination.
In quiet protest of the Vietnam war, Lucas acknowledged having drawn inspiration from the Viet Cong and their ability to defeat a vastly superior force. At the time of production, it was the latest example of a story repeated throughout history.
The simple, small and humble defeating the complex, enormous and proud.
The Finca’s battle is epic. The numbers are indeed stark. At current rates of rising temperature in the coming 50 years one third of animal species will become extinct. Ecosystems ranging from Central and South American rainforests to Pacific coral reefs are on track to disappear.
Like Star Wars, the wars of climate change and conservation are episodic and generational. Many question the existence of the conflict. For many more, defeat is relative. Very few fight.
It is easy for one to smile and shrug at the little efforts of the Finca Bellavista. Ensuring global conservation and reversing climate change are of course the jobs of mega corporations and governments, not a quirky group of forgotten outcasts living in treehouses.
Indeed a few solar panels and a compost pile buried deep in the Central American jungle is little more than a pebble slingshot at the Death Star. Valiant and respectable yes. Significant no.
“Entonces, qué te parece?” Adrian asked as we bumped down the dirt road back into the small village for the first time in two weeks. He had worked at the Finca as a local handyman since it opened 11 years before.
“The land was as beautiful as the people were kind”, Tiffany responded in Spanish.
He nodded, pausing slightly for a moment. “Thousands of people have come here as guests,” he said. “It’s a really simple place but they all like it. I think they all leave with a little bit of the Finca in them. Many come back.”
We all nodded.
Indeed the greatest hope for the global battle being fought lies not in the quiet efforts of the individuals at the Finca Bellavista but perhaps those that witness them.
The hope glows in the faces of the children of Danish CEO’s clicking through the photos on the oversized cameras of National Geographic photographers.
It is grounded in the appreciation of nature’s fragility gained by Canadian oil engineers climbing over rocks in a river winding its way through a dense rainforest.
It is carried on in the relationships built by Swiss accountants over beers with construction managers turned part-time eco-lodge bartenders as a chorus of cicadas rises at dusk.
And it is here that the Hippie Ewoks of Costa Rica might just be the heroes of the epic battle to save the planet. Through their methodical, but seemingly effortless creation of international communities to help inspire a global conservation.
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