In 2017, Daniella Moyles left her modelling and broadcasting career behind to backpack around the globe for two years. This is an extract from Jump, the story of her journey, which is published this month.
With all my options exhausted in Manuel Antonio, I put my car on a ferry in the grubby port town of Punta Arenas to make the short gulf crossing to the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Here I stationed myself in an almost empty hostel, also functioning as a non-profit Spanish school, in the tiny endearing beach town of Montezuma and kept up the same enthusiasm for activities as I had in every stop prior. Montezuma Beach is where the olive ridley turtles come to nest.[restrict]
So every afternoon at four, I’d go to the oceanfront along with the volunteers helping with a local turtle conservation project to help release a batch of hatchlings into the waves of their new home. On my way home one such evening, my head stuck in my phone booking a snorkelling and island-hopping excursion for the following morning, I walked into the makeshift stand of a topless older man with long, scruffy dreads selling handcrafted jewellery and bundles of herbs.
Startled, I apologised, picked up anything that had fallen and started to head on my way until he called after me, ‘You have a nervous energy that doesn’t belong in you.’ The story to come might sound clichéd, but among the mostly mindless and increasingly fun days I spent roaming the globe with no real rhyme or reason, I occasionally experienced moments or interactions that resulted in some self-enquiry, which, over time, pieced together to form coherent answers.
Walking into this man’s table was one such interaction. I can’t remember his name, but he had a gentle face and skin like old leather, decorated with many hand-poked tattoos and excesses of dangling crystals and jewellery. His linen harem pants hung low on his thin hips. He looked like every bohemian runaway I’d ever met on the side of any street in any remote beach town that allowed them to live a slow, steady, off-the-grid life. Sitting beside him, he smelled of musty jojoba oil, tobacco and sage, his gaze so unrelenting it made me slightly uncomfortable.
But travelling alone, I’d come to live for these meetings of two souls whose paths never should have crossed, a brief entry into someone else’s world. He was a travelling shaman from Peru, an energy healer and a devotee to the powers of medicinal herbs. We spoke for hours about our lives, where we came from and what had brought us both to this unassuming place.
He asked if he could tell me why he’d called after me and I told him he could. ‘You are a very kind and soft person, much too full with fear and anger. You will never give to the world that which you are here to until you can forgive and get back in touch with your true essence. You have come far already because you are strong, resilient and independent, but inside you are afraid, much too afraid. You must overcome this. Beyond your fear you’ll find your peace and your purpose.’
I loved his altruistic musings on my inner world, the flowery poetry of his words and the feeling that I was actually Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love at that very moment. His meanderings about my gateway to contentment didn’t carry much weight with me there and then, but his company and conversation were more appealing than spending the evening trying to connect to the shit Wi-Fi in my very cheap hostel dorm so that I could disappear down a YouTube rabbit hole.
His tales of medicinal herbs and their many uses intrigued me, as did his hopes that his work would add to the knowledge passed down to him by generations before. I’ve always felt a great humility in nature, an understanding that the complex yet delicate riddles of its perfect synergy hold an intelligence far beyond our grasp, maybe since I was a child concocting imagined elixirs from the leaves and flowers in our back garden.
He told me about the tribal ritual of rapé, pronounced ha-pay. Originating from the indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin, it is a carefully prepared blend of powdered medicinal herbs with profound healing effects, an ancient science, a sacred shamanic rite of passage that eventually travelled as tobacco-based snuff to the elites of European aristocracy as far back as the 1500s.
Of course, the thought crossed my mind that this was the stupidest thing I’d ever considered doing, that it was quite worryingly called ‘rape’ with just a little hat on the e and that this man could be a liar and a lunatic, out to rob, hurt or even kill me – but how often was I going to find myself in a faraway jungle clearing on the furthest edge of a peninsula in Costa Rica, sitting on a rustic street with a wandering new-age Peruvian shaman?
Trusting my gut, I told myself amor fati, a love of fate, as he forcefully blew the powdered mixture up my nose through a specially made bamboo straw. Instantly the billions of intricate neural networks – or arguably fewer, given the riskiness of this decision – that make up the complex executive functioning of my prefrontal cortex lit up with the unsettling strength of a lightning bolt only to subside, like fog parting in the wind, revealing the deepest sense of calm and clarity.
What ensued probably sounds like a predictable extension of this tale of hippy absurdity, but to me it felt, at least temporarily, life-altering. He was chanting when I opened my eyes again. I’m not sure how long I’d had them closed or how long it had taken for me to transition from the electric introduction to the stillness of the aftermath. But I didn’t feel high like I’d expected – I felt grounded, peaceful and clear, with an overwhelming urge to go watch the sunset. I told him so, thanked him for everything, stood up and strode purposefully down the street as he called after me again, ‘Don’t be afraid.’
I was a woman on a mission as I hopped on the back of a local driver’s motorbike with the instruction to take me to the neighbouring village of Santa Teresa. I had driven to Santa Teresa from Montezuma a number of times already and had fallen in full teenage-like love with everything about it. It was my favourite stretch of paradise in all of Costa Rica, a small hodge-podge coastal community of surfers, artists and yogis hidden at the end of the most awful attempt at a road, offering soul-serving sunset views every evening without exception.
Alighting from the bike, I could feel the pure vitality of everything that I generally overlooked. Floating along with the balmy breeze, I noticed the crunching sound and sensation of leaves, sticks and sand beneath my bare feet and the light taste of sea salt on my tongue.
The pathway to the ocean was lined with palm trees that seemed to be swaying in perfect unison, beckoning me forward with the warmest welcome, while beams of golden sunlight danced through the veins of their transparent leaves to highlight small gatherings of flies swirling and spiralling in space. Santa Teresa Beach has to be one of the most exemplary showcases of untouched natural beauty on the planet, and in just stepping over the threshold of the pathway’s end and on to its impressive expanse, my eyes filled with tears.
Sitting cross-legged on the warm sand, gaze locked on the vivid spectrum of sunset shades before me, I felt the most peaceful sense of belonging, an encompassing sensation of home. From this rare moment of balance and quiet in my mind, a mantra came to me as if I’d been reciting these lines my whole life:
I am grateful.
I am pure love.
Love and light surround me.
Abundance unfolds before me.
Bliss is my default state.
I said it over and over until the sun disappeared behind the horizon and the bright pink sky began to turn a deep, dusky purple.
This is an edited extract from Daniella Moyles’s new book, Jump (Gill Books, €16.99). Available from your local bookseller and eason.com.