Santa Ana, Costa Rica, smells of boiled sugar. Mangoes drop like heavy bells and rot along the streets. The city is fermenting.

Brahman cows collect on one corner, eating dirt. Their ribs ripple beneath their skin. I buy coffee and chocolate and cheap earrings at the corner store to take home, tin bells clanging as I step into the glazy heat of the shop. I’m rubia, and stick out like apple pie next to baked plantains. I reek of America, whatever that means to the Ticos—my Spanish is awful and polite and rippled with nervous laughter. I feel the need to explain myself to the villagers. No matter where I go I want to belong.

I walk back to my rented cottage, and there is the gesture of rain—not so much falling as holding its breath. So light, this rain, it’s a half note, it’s static only seen against the green spokes of palm fronds. In this village carved among rainforests, moss grows like worry along the wet stones and wooden bannisters. Parrots slice down green almond husks with their hooked beaks. I try not to think of answering emails, or what other people think of me, or how stress grows like moss over my ribcage. I try to make sure I’m fully absorbing every moment.

Back home, I try to meditate. But any meditation teacher will explain that you can’t try to meditate. So I look outside, where high above the mountains are spongy with treetops.

The mountains hold the spirits of ancestors. There’s a shaman who lives in one peak. He walks two days to San Jose to offer Ayahuasca ceremonies, where hallucinogens boil the brain’s sugar until a doorway opens, into the past, and you vomit your sins and your samskaras and your poisonous words into a dirt ditch, until you remember who you are. You remember you belong to everything.

I am afraid of the past—and the future. A shaman is as foreign to me as the colones coins I hold in my palm, flipping them over, feeling their textured weight. I think of sacred architecture, of symbols.

I met a woman here who’s done four Ayahuasca ceremonies, and she’s still an asshole. But I admire her: so willing to slip to the edge, pour herself out until she’s empty enough to be filled with the mountains and fruited seeds and green stars and stench and dying dogs. Hooked by mystery. All of it.

Melissa Carroll is a writer and yoga instructor based in Tampa Bay. She is the editor of the anthology Going OM: Real-Life Stories on and off the Yoga Mat (Viva Editions, 2014) and the author of two poetry chapbooks: The Pretty Machine (ELJ Editions 2016) and The Karma Machine (YellowJacket Press, 2011), which received the Peter Meinke Prize. Melissa’s work has appeared in Poetry Quarterly, New South Review, The Literary Bohemian, Mantra Yoga & Health magazine, and elsewhere. She currently teaches writing at Ringling College of Art, guides mindful writing and yoga courses, and leads retreats in North Carolina and Costa Rica.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore