The Free Beer Series is a concept I came up with to learn more about the people I meet on my journey around the world. The idea is that I’ll buy a beer (or preferred beverage) for my new friend in exchange for a story and their willingness to let me write about it and them here on BeerAndaBackpack. The stories will also reflect my interaction with the person telling the story. It may be someone I meet over beers in a local pub or a volunteer that I spend weeks or months with.
Hopefully by highlighting some of the most interesting individuals I encounter and sharing their stories, it’ll inspire others to connect on a deeper level with other people, places, cultures, and the world we all share.
Note: This first entry is a bit different than I expect the series to go. That’s because the subject of this post is different than what I expected. Gregorio marches to the beat of his own drum.
As I arrived at my second animal rescue center in Costa Rica, two young guys exited the bus with me.
“Visitor or volunteer?” I asked.
One responded shortly in an English accent, “Volunteer, bro,” and disappeared with his traveling companion while I waited to be directed to my room. Once settled, I came out to take a deep breath of fresh jungle air and saw the lean, young guy with a wild beard & tattoos emerge from his room.
When Greg, or Gregorio as he’s known at Centro de Rescate Paraíso Carlisa, properly introduced himself to me, I learned that he’d been at the rescue center for several weeks already. He had been in San Jose to pick up his friend Luke, who had come from England on holiday to visit him. Gregorio explained that he was here to help the four rescue horses at the center. My initial impression that he was simply a long-term volunteer on a gap year. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
At 18, Greg left home to see the world. A rebel of sorts, he’s not the type to be bound by material possessions or the societal norms to which many of Western cultures adhere. He spent a couple years traveling as a nomad until he had to return home to work and save money. Eventually, he made his way back out into the world again…and that’s what led him here to Paraíso Carlisa.
Gregorio and I bonded quickly over our common motivations for travel. We both want to make a positive impact on the environment and the people and animals that inhabit it– we weren’t here on holiday. I was impressed by how little he needed to survive, as the entirety of his possessions fit into a small backpack. He personified the idea of minimalism to the letter. No cell phone, no watch; his tablet was broken the day before he left by one of the horses who had stepped on it. He’s managed to live the vast majority of the last few years with few of the technological “necessities” so many of us would go crazy without. Having the same bed (an actual bed) to sleep in for weeks, running water, indoor plumbing, and three meals per day were all luxuries he had been living without compared to previous stops on his journey. While many of the volunteers here consider the lack of hot water, weak WiFi, and small meal portions to be “roughing it”, Gregorio believed he was living like royalty.
Many people his age would use this opportunity to “find themselves”, but Gregorio was beyond this. He knew what made him happy. Helping others and animals was the core of his motivation, and you could see it in how he carried himself. He lived and breathed caring for the horses. He put in more daily work with them than a dozen volunteers would in the same time. His stories were plentiful, and selecting one to write about would have felt impossible. In fact, it was. I had planned to sit down with him one day and have him tell me a story, but he left for the next stop in his journey before I had the chance to get all of the details of any one specific story. But that’s what made Gregorio such a fascinating person– it wasn’t ever about him, it was about making a difference in the world.
Covered in dirt from head to toe with hands scarred and scratched up like a field laborer twice his age, Gregorio has lived more in his twenty-three years than most people live in a lifetime.
I would have loved to have written about his time hitchhiking across a continent or horse racing with a man who didn’t speak his language. It would have been exciting to tell you about the time he was caught fighting a massive bush fire in the Australian Outback or how he spent countless nights sleeping in a tent in the African wild where the utter darkness and shapeshifting bushes would terrify most people. But none of that would have done the young man justice. His stories were like his life, fast and always on the move. I only experienced the abridged versions of these stories as they were brought up on nights we shared bottles of vodka with the other volunteers.
The more I listened, the less I felt I knew about him…each story would lead deeper and deeper into a realm of adventure and intense philosophy that I’m not sure I comprehend in my current state.
It is somewhat comical to me, that despite being more than a decade older than him, I find myself looking forward to following in Gregorio’s footsteps. I hope that I can look at the world from a more philosophical and hopeful perspective rather than the somewhat cynical one I’ve brought with me from the U.S. I hope that I can find the strength to push myself to maintain my commitment of improving the world when I have fewer comforts than I do now. And above all, I hope that I can move past the “I’m just glad to not be behind a desk all day” mentality and reach the level of care that he had for his projects on all of those that I commit to.
And to Gregorio…whenever you get your tablet fixed or get online to read this, keep me posted about meeting up in England this summer. The first few pints are on me!
Edited by: CatPee999