Lost & Found Hostel – Chiriquí

I started my volunteering at the Lost & Found hostel on a sunny Monday morning, helping with preparing and serving breakfast to the guests. I knew I really liked the place and its people, but I had no idea what to expect of the coming three weeks. I was mostly happy I’d found somewhere I thought I could truly calm down and settle for a while after nearly eight months of travel.

Traveler cliché number 452 says that hopping from place to place for an extended period of time can and does become exhausting, from the stress of continuously figuring out how and where to continue on to, to forging and severing connections with an endless string of people in a mostly superficial way. That’s not to say I haven’t had a great journey so far, but settling down for a bit I hoped would bring me some clarity and repose before continuing on for the last three months of my trip. In addition to that, I felt like I really needed some routine and sense of purpose. The balance has been tipping over to the complete opposite end for quite a while now, and having chores and responsibilities repeating every day would at least provide a semblance of those feelings.

For the most part, this did happen. I got up in the morning, made breakfast, watched an episode of Westworld, helped out at the hostel or went on a hike in the jungle, had dinner, chatted with some guests and bartended in the cabin-style bar on the property for as long as the night would go on. I felt comfortable knowing that I could mostly predict what would happen over the next few hours, even days. This might sound like I’m not really enjoying the adventure anymore and just continuing on for the sake of it, but I don’t see it that way. I’ve talked to many people about what the ideal length of a journey like this would be, and how the manner in which you experience new places is affected by it. Some people say three months, some say six, some say there is no limit – they’re exceptions and I don’t necessarily believe them – and of course this very much depends on your personality and individual expectations.

I personally find that as soon as you’re over the initial rush of excitement, the rest is just a continuous alternation of good times and lesser ones. Getting used to solitude works for a while, but in the end loneliness is such a profound feeling that I know I at least won’t ever escape it completely. As much as I like to be on my own, in the end I will always be needing renewed affirmation from others to confirm that I am capable of being social, connecting, making friends. No matter how often those qualities might have been confirmed in the past. In that sense it’s not just the stable environment I appreciated at the Lost and Found, but also a static group of people to be around.

The staff at L&F was wonderful. It seems that living in a secluded environment for a longer period of time, like the managers and owners have, cuts away a lot of unnecessary stuffing that prevails in what people would call regular society, and adds different quirks instead. For some this means being direct and open, while simultaneously keeping up an immense guard. Others create a world of their own, in which they can experience themselves and their environment more purely, with minimal outside interference. Everyone is free to be as creative as they want to be, having access to this unique playground.

And a creative playground it definitely was. A book written by one of the owners serves as a background story in which the L&F and its history play a central role. Facts are blended with fiction in a seamless way, and many of the hostel’s activities link to some part of the narrative. The more you read and participate actively, the more you’re immersed in this world, in a willful suspension of disbelief (as the author would say).

Apart from that, there is of course the jungle. Hundreds of different beetles, birds and butterflies buzz through the trees from morning to night. Tarantulas the size of a human hand are not an uncommon sight, and once in a while the odd monkey or snake shows up to steal the show. During the day you can hike to your heart’s content in the jungle forest all around, take a dip in the fresh river flowing through and soak up the plentiful sun. Every evening it’s possible to visit and cuddle with a tremendously cute honey bear that lives on the property, before heading over to the bar for happy hour, giant jenga and foosball, there’s even a pole for dancing if you feel so inclined.

I had a great time at the Lost & Found, and it felt truly strange to say goodbye after three weeks and return to the real world. At the same time I’m excited to continue on to the final major phase of my journey, South America. From now until I return home, I’ll be spending time in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and ultimately Brazil.

Next stop: Medellín, Colombia.

May 12th, 2017

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