RÍO DULCE, Guatemala – Ever thought of packing it all in and moving to the jungle? Ten years ago, that’s exactly what Polish-born Aska Brzezniakiewicz decided to do.
“It was madness,” recalls Aska, regarding her decision to give up the comfort of the house she shared with friends in a fashionable part of Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and head to the unknown. “But the first time I came to Guatemala in 1997 I just couldn’t stop smiling. Río Dulce’s the most beautiful place in the country, and as soon as I arrived here I started asking about the price of land.”
Originally from Wrocław, Poland’s fourth largest city, Aska, 43, studied economics before going on to work for a consultancy company. However, the city girl, who’d never come into contact with a spider before, decided to quit her life in the Netherlands and, with a bit of help, built herself an eco-lodge in the jungle of Río Dulce, in the department of Izabal on the Caribbean coast.
“On my first night here I woke up my partner to come to the bathroom with me as I was too scared to go alone,” admits Aska. “Now I stay in the place by myself and have never felt more at home.”
She’s grown accustomed to having to pump water until her arms ache and being woken up by tiger herons, which sound like people being strangled, in the early hours of the morning. Now she even remembers to cut back the jungle before it devours her hotel, but there are some things she can’t get used to.
“I’ve had my cat bring live snakes into the bedroom, tarantulas marching across my coffee table and soldier ants invading my sitting room,” says Aska.
Living on the riverfront in the middle of a national park means that her solar-panelled hotel is extremely secluded. It has no Internet or electricity and little access to real luxuries.
“I miss good cheese and wine, chocolate, a fridge, Internet and having a telephone to rely on. But you learn how little you really need to be happy,” she says. “I love the freedom and the lifestyle here. There’s no hot water, so in December and January we end up taking the boat to the hot springs to warm up.”
Aska’s only form of transport is by boat, which she says “is expensive and not particularly fun when it rains. It limits your socializing, so you do most things when the sun’s shining and then read a book when it rains. It’s all about expectation management.”
In the beginning, Aska admits always worrying about being late for things, before coming to realize that if you want to fit in with the jungle, it’s never going to change its ways – you’ll have to change yours.
“We run on jungle time,” she laughs. “Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t. We’re in the middle of nowhere, within the indigenous community, and everyone is related so you can’t upset anyone.
“I’ve learnt a lot from the people around me. There’s a really strong community network along the river and everyone is so friendly and helpful. They support me and I support them,” she says, adding, “Life’s never boring in the jungle and there are no false pretences.”