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A Quick Trip Home

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I can imagine what it feels like to time travel.  The last few days feel a bit surreal in the miles traveled in a short span of time.  Friday night we arrived back in Wheaton around 11:00 PM, warmly greeted by my daughter, Janeen, son, Phil, and his girlfriend, Emma.  It felt great to be back and to be together.  We were home for Janeen’s graduation from Wheaton College, and Rod was looking forward to being a parent of a grad and not a Wheaton professor.  We attended a brunch on Saturday morning with the sociology department and had a chance to hear the affirmations of Janeen’s professors regarding her hard work and heart of compassion.  Sunday was a great time of celebration for the milestone that has occurred in Janeen’s life.  We reminisced about the first day we dropped her off at Bethel University for her freshman year, the year off to work in Chicago at the Empowerment Center, another round of college visits, and finally, letting go of the resistance toward going to college in her home town.  And now, finished.  She already finished reading a book just for fun!

And here we are, back in Costa Rica.  We left the house Wednesday morning at 3:00 AM.  We were back in our apartment mid day, walked to the grocery store, did some cooking and took Janeen to the Mirador restaurant at the top of the mountain to see the lights of the San Jose valley.  It hardly felt like we had been in Wheaton that morning.   I feel the calmness in the familiar place that I have called home for 4 months.  I notice that because I didn’t feel much calm on the return to Wheaton, other than the joy of seeing my children.  A month ago I wondered if I would want to get back on a plane and leave after being home.  And now, I feel gratitude that I was able to come back to Costa Rica.  My tendency is to make judgments on my experiences.  I have my shoulds and expectations.  But today, as I journaled the experience of my return to Wheaton, I release the judgments so that I can listen to what it says to me.

I could not help but notice my need for order.  Not that the house was a mess.  On the contrary.  Janeen had even mowed the lawn!  The living room was vacuumed, I had sheets on the bed, and dishes were all put away.  It was great to come home to that wonderful surprise.  It wasn’t until Saturday when I went to find clothes that I had packed away, having emptied our room and Phil’s room in order to rent them out to 2 of Janeen’s college friends, that feelings of disorder set in.  Upon their arrival, our boxes were piled into our one storage closet to make room for Emma and Morgan’s things in the basement.  So, obviously things were not where I had left them, and required lots of sorting and moving of stuff.  Their kitchenware replaced some of mine.  Pots were in a different order.  It didn’t feel like my home, and Janeen was watching her college house return to the Scott house.  Transition.

I found 2 unpaid bills in the stack of accumulated mail.  Another bill that was being disputed since February via e-mail needed to be taken care of.  Order began to feel like compulsion, a need to take care of as much as possible to get things back to the way it was before, to make right what was left undone.  I noticed the stress in my body, and the lack of joy and laughter.  As I sat with my reflections this morning I learned several things.  Bringing order to disarray is a gift, a reflection of the nature of God.  Yet, as everything, gifts can easily become compulsions that rob of joy.  The gift became a need that took over.  The same God that brought order out of chaos walked among the messiness and brokenness of life.  It wasn’t about making all things perfect as a means of happiness.  When my need to return to order became what I needed to feel calm and settled, I lost joy.  And that is the place that I heard an invitation today.  Learn to take that unsettled stressful emotion and bring it into the Presence that is peace.  I am not the source of my own peace.  I also didn’t have much compassion for myself in my stress filled state.  Instead, I felt despair, that maybe nothing in me had changed at all in these last 4 months.  Yes, it is a slippery slope in the world created in my mind!!

I notice the self talk, the beliefs that cause me to feel stuck and the responses toward myself and my emotions.  Today they became windows to truth.  I often create a world in my mind that isn’t the real world, with messes, and limitations.  I create an image of myself, that to be strong means never letting things get to me, so when I feel overwhelmed I feel disappointed in myself.  The invitation today is to stop trying to be God.  Let my responses be what they are, and see them as opportunities to find grace and compassion.  Be willing to be human, with all the emotions that come, and when the joy of life disappears, look for the window that points to the Source of Life beyond myself, that dwells within me.  That is the source of peace, compassion and acceptance.

I notice the joy I feel being back in Costa Rica.  Yet there were plenty of times that it was difficult being away from home, from family and friends.  Maybe it is the joy from getting a taste of re-entry, without needing to fully re-enter.  And it was filled with lessons.  My take away today was, do not set myself up to do it perfectly stress free the next time!  Expect some stresses, some adjustments.  Look for the windows that let in love and compassion.  Be human.  And know that transformation has occurred because life is not stagnant.

On May 18, I will re-enter again.

From Beaches to Mountains

This week I had a friend come visit with us.  She has had an exhausting 3 months, caring for a sick family member while keeping up with her job, her family and life.  What I wanted most was to give her space and rest to refill her soul.  She arrived on Friday and Sunday we left for 2 nights in Cahuita, a quiet beach town on the Caribbean, settled by Jamaicans originally brought to Costa Rica as slaves.  Arriving after the 4 hour bus ride, we were sticky and hot.  Wandering around the 8 street town, looking for a place to call home for a few days, we immediately knew when we saw Alby Lodge, that we had found what we needed-4 bungalows, a shared open air kitchen and sitting area, surrounded by a tropical garden.  As the host was showing us around, we spotted a toucan sitting in the tree nearby.  Watching the shaking branches of a palm tree,  several Capuchin monkeys made their appearance.  Yes, this would be a perfect home!  Oh, and then we were told that we would be awakened around 5:00 AM to the sound of howler monkeys-cool.   The bungalows were constructed by the German couple who owned the property, sturdy and well cared for.  Thatched roofs made us feel like we were in some other exotic location, after seeing mostly tin roofs throughout the country.  We each claimed our bed, canopied with lovely lacy mosquito nets, unpacked, changed and headed to the Atlantic Ocean.  Sinking into the water was like relaxing in a warm bath.

Monday morning the howler monkeys were indeed our alarm clock at 4:5o.  Their eerie deep crescendos gave the impression that the trees were filled with gorillas rather than the small brown creatures.  Laying in the porch hammock I listened to their mysterious sounds, rain steadily falling to add to the symphony, until all that remained was the sound of water and birds.  The rain provided a slow, contemplative day of reading, journaling and talking.  In the afternoon, wearing a raincoat and carrying an umbrella, I walked the trail in the tropical National Park that lined the beach, the heat and humidity from the previous day washed away.

Our alarm clock

Our last morning in Cahuita was spent riding horses, just my friend and I, and our guide, Joe, known as the last cowboy in Cahuita.  Leaving the center of town with hostels, open air restaurants and small shops, passing through the rural neighborhood, we came to the Playa Negra, or Black Beach.  Cantering along the waves of the deserted beach I felt my breath catch at the thrill of the moment.  This was horseback riding like I had never done before!  Weaving between lush tropical forest and the beach I soaked in the sounds, the colors, the smell of the sea, and the feel of muscles that received quite a workout!  (the saddle sore was so worth it!)  Unfortunately I don’t have pictures to share because while we were at the beach, Rod was on a collecting trip with his lab and needed the camera.  What an amazing trip he had, as they captured 1 spider monkey, 2 howlers, 2 capuchin monkeys, 1 two toed sloth and a 3 toed sloth and baby.  They drew blood from each animal (tranquilized), then released them back into the trees.  A student waited with each animal until it was awake enough to wander away.

Rod holding a baby sloth on his field trip

Wednesday morning Rod, Patrice and I left for Whitworth University campus in Costa Rica, near Braulio Carrillo National Park.  Rod presented a talk to students about his research and Fulbright scholarship opportunities.  We hiked into the park, crossing the continental divide, between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.  With the crisp air, meadows surrounded by towering, cloud covered  mountains, it seemed as though we had left the beach and arrived in Austria.  Rod needed to return home in the evening, but  the 2 lakes, mountain views, meadows, and a sense of timelessness were all Patrice and I needed to choose to stay for 2 nights.  I got my fill of much needed girlfriend time!  I also saw my first blue crowned motmot, a beautiful exotic bird.  Unfortunately Rod took the camera home with him, so I only have the memories of his blue head, black face, yellow belly and long blue tail.

I would love to study at a campus that looks like this!

Weekend Getaway to Grecia/Sarchi

There is a shift of focus starting to take place as I now have arrangements for my return home.  Rod and I will have a short homecoming to see our daughter graduate from college, then we return back to Costa Rica with her.  She and I will depart for home a few weeks before Rod.  Having a plan gives me an ending time for this adventure, and that is filled with mixed emotions.  A few weeks ago it seemed like quite a stretch ahead of me when I was missing home.  Now I want to breathe it all in, making it a part of me.

I also noticed how important it is for Rod and I to have intentional times of connection.  While it is true that we are experiencing a lot of new things together and being the primary companions for each other, the evenings, after his day in the lab, can fill up with other necessary things. Writing e-mails and lab preparations in Spanish takes a lot longer to complete, and can fill up several hours.  Even with an extra day off, and a wonderful visit with new friends on their butterfly farm, I was feeling the space closing up this week, and longed for a weekend without an agenda filled with things to see or do.  Perhaps anticipating (with joy!) 2 weeks of visitors, a quick trip home and then being separated for several weeks, I was sensing the lack of focused time for each other.  So, I found a little bed and breakfast online in Grecia, called La Terraza, just an hour from San Jose, and on Saturday we both were ready to spend quality time together-one of my love languages!  After arriving at the town center we sat in the park eating ice-cream and people watching in front of the unique red metal church.

The metal for this church was shipped from Belgium, taking 2 weeks for the pieces to arrive from the Caribbean port.  It was built between 1950-58.

We took a taxi to the bed and breakfast with the plan to come back to the town after we checked in and dropped off our backpacks.  But seeing the balcony from our room overlooking the colorful gardens changed our minds.  We sat down, listened to the birds, and allowed the tranquility to sink into our souls.  On our walk through the garden we spotted a Jesus Christ lizard (named for the way they walk on water) sunning on a rock by the river.  We watched leaf cutter ants carrying leaves that were bigger than their bodies.  And the space allowed us to receive refreshment and connection.  We were surprised when Christina, the cook brought us each a welcome plate for dinner, with Alfredo, meatloaf, barbeque chicken, salad and cake.  I had no idea that was part of the package!  We ate when we wanted to, warming up the dinners in our microwave. (And we ate the cake first!)  There is nothing better than no schedule or distraction for reconnection. I was surprised how intentional we had to be here, when we aren’t even away from each other in the evenings!  But even in beautiful Costa Rica, it is good to break from routine and, although we traveled to a new location, it wasn’t just for the purpose of “seeing another place”.

Ahhh, so relaxing!

The following day we took a short bus trip to the town of Sarchi, home of many of the artisans of Costa Rica, and known for their painted oxcarts, seen throughout the country  (now mostly decorative carts).  Only a few square miles, I was delighted by its charm and beauty, hilly streets with vistas of mountains and valleys all around.  I am sure going to miss that when I am back in Wheaton!

The World’s Largest ox-cart, in Sarchi

Hospitality and Butterflies

On Easter Sunday we attended a bilingual church for a breakfast, followed by the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.  Carmen, a professor that Rod had met a week earlier offered to pick us up, a huge gift to us. It was a joy to be in a community comprised of people from at least 8 different countries, where singing and speaking were in Spanish and English.  The diversity and enthusiastic celebration was a mini taste of Heaven.

While we were in line for breakfast we met Tom, originally from England, who came to Costa Rica for a 2 year commitment, and has now been here for 24 years.  (This seems to be a common story!)  Tom breeds butterflies on his 3 acres of property and invited us to come to his home when we had the chance.  After the service he and his wife, Cyntiya, again invited us, writing down their phone number and e-mail for us, and exploring what days might work best.  They was serious!  Well, that day came sooner than expected.  Rod learned yesterday that today was Juan Santamaria Day, which meant school was closed, and he had another unexpected day off  (think snow day!).  For a quick history lesson, Juan is quite a hero here, having the airport named after him.  William Walker was an American who had decided to conquer Central America and form an English speaking empire in the 1850’s.  He had taken over Nicaragua and was attempting to add Costa Rica when he was defeated, Juan Santamaria played a significant role in the victory. (Did anyone learn about Walker in their history class?  Tom’s theory is that had he been successful it would have been a whole different story).  So, in honor of Juan, we had a free day, called Tom and arranged to be picked up in San Pedro near the University.  Pulling up in his driveway was like entering another world.  We sat on their terrace eating watermelon, papaya and mango as we watched a variety of butterflies fluttering around the tropical flowers.  Tom was interested in butterflies since he was 10 years old, and gained his knowledge  by working in butterfly gardens and experimenting with breeding them on his own.  Rod, of course, was intrigued by the process and saw the potential  of a genetics class field trip!

Tom and Cyntiya’s beautiful terrace overlooking lush forest

Tom’s breeding butterfly homes

Tom and Cyntiya on the bridge crossing the river on their property

Later in the afternoon, Tom and Cyntiya treated us at their favorite restaurant in their town of San Isidro.  The owner, Daniel, is from Decatur, IL. and his wife, who does the cooking, is Canadian.  After our delicious meal, they spared us from taking 2 buses, and drove us home.  Rod and I felt so filled from the day.  For him, it was having an agenda-less day.  For me, it was a day in nature and connection in relationship, 2 of my favorite things.  As I learned how each butterfly feeds and lays her eggs on a specific type of plant, I was awed at the magnificence of creation.  It seems to me that  if all butterflies ate from any plant it would be more efficient.  But, again, my soul is filled when I discover the detail and care found in nature.  One size does not fit all, and diversity and interconnection are necessary for life.  I am grateful to have experienced the open hearts of Tom and Cyntiya who gave us a day of sweet refreshment.


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Approaching the 90 day limit of our visas,we were forced to leave Costa Rica for a 3 day vacation in order to remain in the country for a longer period.   It was especially fun for Rod to leave the research behind and rest.  He has been fighting an infection for 2 weeks and is now on antibiotics. (One thing that is very efficient in Costa Rica is that you can enter a pharmacy, explain your problem and what you think you need, and they give it to you.  No primary care physician needed!)  We chose to take our 72 hours of required leave in Nicaragua.  We heard it was beautiful, and it seemed a bit more of an unknown than Panama.

Nature Air flies within Costa Rica as well as to Nicaragua and Panama, and is located at a small airport not too far from the main international airport.  We were told to be there 2 hours before our flight, which meant 4:30 AM for us.  We were quite surprised as we entered that, other than the security man, we were the only ones in the airport!  It was another half hour before the employees arrived to check in the 30 or so passengers for the 2 departing flights.  Our plane was full, so they carefully weighed each piece of luggage, both carry on and check in, and then, they had each of us step on the scale as well!  When I saw the plane, I understood why weight limits were so important.  A full plane held about 20 people!  The ride was smooth, and the view of Costa Rica and Nicaragua was breath-taking.

Yes, I am lagging a bit behind!

The pilot served as our flight attendant as well.

My initial impression as we rode the bus from Managua to Granada was the difference in traffic between Managua and San Jose, both capital cities.  Managua is the largest city in the country, as is San Jose,  but there was no congestion here.  It is a poorer country where other modes of transportation are used by many. Bikes were as plentiful as cars, many with 2 people per bike.  Women and children seemed perfectly at ease sitting on the bars of the bikes.  Also sharing the road were horse drawn carts.

A road in Granada

View of Granada from a church bell tower

We spent 2 nights in Granada, the oldest town in the Americas, where many of the colonial style buildings remain.  It sits on the edge of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America.  Over 300 islets were formed from volcanic eruptions.  It is possible to buy an islet and build your home there!  Some island homes are ritzy while others are quite simple, owned by local fishermen.

Nice island home

A highlight for us was taking a boat tour along many of the islets.  Being the only tourists on the boat, we were able to ask Gustavo, our bilingual guide, so many questions about the land, the people and the history of Nicaragua.  Our first stop was at a very modest home.  The husband gathered coconuts from his tree, cut the tops off, and offered one to each of us.  When we were  finished drinking the coconut milk, he carved out the coconut meat, which we would use to provide food for the monkeys on monkey island,  our next stop.  About 6 monkeys, one Capuchin and the rest, Spider monkeys, live on the tiny islet.  Lola, a Spider monkey, was once a pet who was released onto the island, and she is quite at ease with people.  We got to meet her up close and personal.

A more modest island home where we were served coconuts

Rod and Lola

Gustavo answering all of my questions at an island rest stop

Gustavo was a wonderful guide, genuinely interested in telling the stories of Nicaragua and the people who make up his country.  I learned so much, but my heart opened as well.  Assumptions and judgments tumble down in the presence of stories.  The day before, I was filled with a mix of emotions and impressions.  Granada is a beautiful city, with it’s style and location.  Yet, it was difficult to sit and relax in the central park because we would be inundated with venders trying to sell us everything from trinkets to cashews.  Old women in dirty clothes sat along the cobbled street with their hands out to us.  Children performed dances, or they would stop by our table as we dined outside, wanting to show us how they made origami grasshoppers using palm leaves, competing with one another for tourist money.  Gustavo offered explanations and descriptions of the life lived here.  There is a pride in the history of this country, overcoming war, dictators, and earthquakes.  There are poor, but there is help being offered. Volunteer services are welcomed.  Education is valued.  Jobs are available.  I am better able to see them within their own context instead of my own.  Happiness, after all, is not found in the American dream and consumerism.  There are other values that I see, such as their fight for freedom, the celebration of the people groups and languages of Nicaragua, simple work, and community found in the market place.

Kids in customs perform for tourist, then collect money

Market in Granada

Antonio was another man who became special to us.  He was our taxi driver on 2 different occasions. We made arrangements to visit Masaya, a nearby town known for their artists market. It also has the highest chairs I have ever seen!

Antonio, our taxi driver

Feeling like Alice in Wonderland (or Edith Ann for those who remember Lilly Tomlin!)

We were fortunate to have Antonio for our driver.  He became animated upon hearing Rod’s Spanish, someone who would be able to converse with him!  Antonio was filled with stories, eager to share them with us.  He was in his 20’s during the civil war that began in the 1970’s when the people rebelled against the 45 year Somosa dictatorship.  We were fascinated as he recounted how the people left the cities and moved into the mountains to survive, and to fight for their freedom.  He gave us examples of passwords, changed daily and used to communicate between regions through walkie-talkies.  He gave us the Nicaraguan perspective of US involvement, which supported the government, increasing the length of the war to 15 years.  Yet there was no anger or resentment in him.  As he described the victory of the Sandinista rebels over the soldiers of the dictatorship, I was in awe of the graciousness of the people.  Instead of revenge, or prison for the soldiers, they were sent out to the countryside to teach children.   I was struck by the healing that this alternative could bring if our country could learn from them.

We saw several beautiful places in 3 days, but the best part for me was meeting Gustavo and Antonio, the human faces of Nicaragua.

Weariness and its Fruits

A dear friend of mine who has lived overseas, prepared me for the changes that I might experience over the course of living in Costa Rica.  Arriving in January, how could there be anything other than exuberance, listening to tropical birds, absorbing the warmth of the sun,  and taking in the vibrant colors of sky, flowers and lush green trees.  Even with all of the new things we needed to learn, we could always say, “Well, at least we aren’t in Chicago where it’s cold!”  After a few weeks of living here, we both experienced the satisfaction of learning our way around, settling into routine of language classes and Rod getting established in the lab.  When classes finished we both felt ready to move on into the fullness of our days.  For me, the three weeks of being on my own with no agenda was fresh air, and just the right amount of time before welcoming visitors.  We enjoyed the 2 weeks of connection with family and being tour guides.

Soon after our visitors left, I sensed a shift happening in me.  Approaching the end of our third month, I began to think more about home, planting a garden, sitting on my deck, walking the Arboretum, and visiting with a friend at a coffee shop.  For several days, I felt far away from all that I love.  Costa Rica wasn’t feeling like home anymore.  I wished I was better at the language, believing that I would then be able to connect more.  I wished I had consecutive weeks that I could have found a way to plug in some where, perhaps then I would feel more at home.  But I remembered the words of my friend, and knew that I was experiencing the stage when the challenges can overshadow the joys.  This morning, as Rod shared some of his frustrations I realize that I am not alone in my feelings.  He wished he had an office to figure out some next steps for his work. He just called to inform me that the freezer in the lab is not working and they had to move out of the room so it could be fixed,  a disruption not unlike other days when the custodian asks him to stop and take a lunch break so he can clean the lab.  He tires from speaking Spanish all day (and he is very good!).  And wouldn’t it be nice to take a car somewhere instead of so many buses.  We are midway, and feel some tiredness.

Yesterday I met a friend of a friend who lives in Santa Rosa, by train, 20 minutes away from San Jose.  For my one hour visit with her, I took a bus from home, walked about a mile to the train station, waited 40 minutes, then boarded with the plan to get off at the second stop.  But it seemed to take longer than I expected by Ruth’s directions.  I asked a nearby passenger if Santa Rosa was the next stop, and was informed that we had passed it.  This particular train only makes one stop, before going directly to Heredia.  I would need to catch another train back.  Arriving at the Heredia station, I saw a bus parked across the street that was heading to Santa Rosa.  That seemed like a sure thing.  The driver told me he would let me know when we were close to the Santa Rosa platform, a block from Ruth’s house.  The train would have been faster, but I got to see another city as we wound through all the streets of Santo Domingo, of which Santa Rosa is just a part, and finally arrived at my stop, an hour since I boarded the train in San Jose.  I had a lovely time meeting Ruth, and learning about her life in Costa Rica.  One hour later, she walked me back to the platform where I waited 30 minutes for a train to return to San Jose. I then waited a few minutes for Rod  to arrive from the University (since it is discouraged to walk alone at night).  We walked to a nearby restaurant to get a bite to eat, walked to a bus stop, waited 20 minutes for a bus, and arrived home after 8:00.  I started that excursion at 2:00, not including getting into San Jose!  There is some travel weariness.

Accepting the normalcy of weariness, I consider what I can glean from it.  Gratitude rises for the things at home so often taken for granted.  I don’t like the congestion of suburbia in and around Wheaton, but I value the convenience of a 10 minute drive to a range of restaurants and stores that we may want.  I value the richness of friendship.  I value the Prairie Path, easily accessible for walks and jogs. I value the sense of belonging in community.  I value the opportunity to exercise and develop my gifts in my work as a Spiritual Director.

As I open my eyes to the weariness I also gain a greater understanding of this unique culture.  Everything takes longer here.  Visiting a friend is not something you squeeze into a small space between two other events.  It is the event, as is going to a farmers market for fresh fruits and vegetables.   I see the contrast between what I “run out to do” at home, and how that same event becomes the focus of my time here.  The more things that I squeeze into a day at home, the less any of them have my full attention.  Because it takes work to go places here, I do not experience “being on the go”.   One event is enough for a day.  I don’t want to wait until I am home to appreciate how the bus rides become part of the events here, seeing natural beauty, communities, poverty, and the way of life for the people of Costa Rica.  I want to appreciate the space and time unique to this season.  When I am exhausted from traveling, I stay home and find refreshment in writing and reading, and in the stillness.  I hope I am able to continue that rhythm of care at home, to notice the events of the day, and to be present to what I am doing.


A Visit with Family

Rod’s two sisters and our 8 year old niece came to visit us last week.  On Monday, March 12, I waited outside the glass windows of the airport, along with everyone else who was waiting for guests.  Many  were with tour companies, holding up signs for their unknown passengers.  Finally, I spotted the familiar faces of family coming down the corridor toward the exit, and our hugs were filled with relief of having arrived safe and sound.  We gathered luggage, hopped a bus to San Jose, and another bus to our home.  Our visitors receive a Costa Rican experience as well as the chance to see how we live our lives.  Jane and Gigi seemed very grateful that we were at ease flagging taxis and catching buses.

Jade and I buy fresh bread for dinner at the corner bakery

Our first full day we visited the campus of the University of Costa Rica where Rod explained his work and introduced them to some of his lab mates.   Then we visited San Jose’s artist market and 3 lovely parks.  Unfortunately there was no performance at the Teatro National, where typically we enjoy a midday dance or musical event on Tuesdays.  But dining at the theater for lunch was a treat which enabled them to see the beautiful statues and paintings inside the ornate opera house.

I enjoyed a girls overnight in Atenas, the quaint town where I spent my birthday.  I believe this was the highlight-where early in the week we could rest and be without an agenda.  Jade, my niece, thoroughly enjoyed having the pool to ourselves, and we all soaked in the sun, the view and time just to read a good book.  We walked into the town to visit the candy shop (a bribe to motivate Jade to persevere on the long walk), gelato shop, and dinner at a pizzeria.  The next morning we had breakfast in our bungalow and more pool time before returning home.  When Rod came home from work we treated them to the magnificent view of San Jose and the sunset at the Mirador restaurant.  It did not disappoint!

Outside the Mirador Restaurant

Thursday we got an early start to Manuel Antonio, the beautiful preserve with almost guaranteed monkey sightings.  If you are following this blog you may notice that this is our third visit to the National Park.  The first experience was so awesome that it is hard to replace it with a new adventure when visitors come.  The beaches are beautiful, the hikes are in a tropical rainforest, and the monkeys are at home on the beaches trying to steal lunch.  This time we had the pleasure of a pyzote sneaking quietly across the sand.  It was everything we had hoped for.  We celebrated the birthday of my sister-in-law, Jane, at a beachfront restaurant serenaded by an itinerant guitar player.

A Pyzote

Birthday wishes to Jane in English and Spanish

It was a week filled with good family connection, and shared experiences.  Jade was a trooper, riding buses like a pro and climbing hills on our hikes.  I knew we had exhausted her when she immediately fell asleep on the half hour bus rid to the airport.  Hopefully she is recovered, and savoring her memories as she shares the marvelous pictures that she took of Costa Rica.  And thanks, Gigi, for sharing your pictures with us!  The pink border adds a nice touch.

Atenas-Mayberry of Costa Rica

I celebrated my birthday in the quaint town of Atenas, only 2 hours from our apartment (bus time).  Walking from the bus stop into the town, we immediately felt a sense of tranquility, as if we stepped back in time.  Typical of most Costa Rican towns, the church is in the center of the town.   Across the street is an inspiring park, literally, with meaningful quotes from famous people nailed to the trees.  I just felt happier being among the uplifting thoughts!  Atenas has been named by National Geographic as having one of the best climates in the world, also adding to my well-being!  I could actually imagine retiring here! Friday is market day, and although smaller than that of San Jose, the produce looked wonderful.  We shared a yummy pastry and strawberries for lunch.  Not only do they have the best weather, but we believe they have the best candy store in the world as well.

The park in the center of town

We are the architects of our own destiny-Albert Einstein

Looking down a side road, as we walked beyond the square, it appeared that school had just let out.  A hundred or so boys headed toward us, joining our street, and swallowing us up into their crowd.  They all continued with a destiny in mind, we then assumed they were on a field trip.  Asking a few boys where they were traveling to, one replied that their would be a “work of theater”.  Still confused we asked others, and gathered that there was going to be a fight.  By the number of boys, we thought it might be between 2 gangs, but were told it was only between 2 boys-I suppose they have no playground fights!  A police car was parked along the road where the boys were passing.  Feeling rather unsure at this point whether to let our curiosity have its way, we asked the officer if it was safe to go on.  Nonchalantly he assured us it was.  A few minutes later, 3 police cars drove up to the group with sirens wailing and the boys scattered.  Evidently a few times a year a threat of a fight takes place, and it is the main event for the youth of this sleepy town!  It was quite hilarious watching the scattering as if there had been a gang war taking place.  No punches had ever occurred!

The mob

What a show!  It must be much easier being a police officer in Atenas than San Jose!

After witnessing such a cultural event we decided to grab a taxi and head to Poco Cielo, a Little Heaven, where we would spend the remainder of the afternoon and night.  The name was fitting, with 5 bungalows set back among beautiful tropical gardens, and a magnificent pool overlooking the mountains.  Our bungalow, decorated with a wood-beamed ceiling and beautiful carpentry, had 2 Queen beds (most beds here are double) a kitchenette, and a porch with two locally made rocking chairs.

The following morning the managers gave us as much time as we wanted since no one would be checking in.  Before breakfast we decided to walk up the road because we were told that there was a view of the Pacific Ocean from the top of the ridge.  Having walked for about a half hour we asked 2 men, waiting at a bus stop, how much farther up the road before we would find a vista.  Our choices were about 7 kilometers (about 4-5 miles) or we could take a dirt path just a few yards ahead that leads up to some farms.  We chose the path.  Imagine the path that would take you to the top of a mountain in order to be above everything that would block the view of the Ocean, still an hour drive from Atenas.  We made it!  We could see where the ridges stopped, and in the hazy distance, where the sky and the horizon met, the Ocean.  As has been the case in the past, our favorite experiences are the ones that are unplanned.  We had no idea we would walk to the top of a ridge, looking out over tiny mountain towns, no cars or people on the path, seeing natural Costa Rica.  On our way back down, Rod suddenly came to a stop in front of me.  There in the tree were 3 toucans!  Then, in the next tree over, sat 3 more!  Beautiful birds with orange beaks, yellow chests and red bellies, they were a sight to see.

Climbing up the mountain-a pre-breakfast hike!

3 Toucans posing nicely for us

The climb down went quickly, and with well deserved appetites we walked into town, to Tres Hermanas (3 sisters) for a brunch of eggs filled with meat, plantains, potatoes, rice and beans, and squash in cream sauce, with fresh Costa Rican coffee for Rod and delicious fresh carrot juice for me (another first!) all for under $10.00 for both of us!  Another swim in the pool to relax our tired legs, it was an excellent ending to a wonderful birthday celebration.

The Road to Joy

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Sometimes I love the quiet, agenda-less days, when it is sunny and warm and I wake up with anticipation of reading, writing and walking, a perfect scenario for inspiration!  But the wide open space can be like driving through a desert, the hours ahead of me a carbon copy of the day before.  I am at the halfway point between our arrival in Costa Rica and our return home for Janeen’s college graduation.  On Monday the time seemed short.  On Tuesday it felt more like my dream where the destination is in sight but always just out of reach.  What determines my outlook as my eyes open to the morning sunlight?  On daunting days I anticipate nothing new, same as yesterday, mustering energy to fight boredom.  The days of anticipation I live more from a place of wonder, open to discovering something new.  Tuesday started out in a rough place.    Most Tuesdays I anticipate my regular connection with 2 dear friends via skype.  The afternoon appointment was cancelled due to my friend’s unavailability this week.   My 6:45 AM appointment started out with a cheerful greeting followed by frozen images and garbled sentences, and eventually replacing mutual conversation with e-mail updates.  Afterwards, I felt unsettled and aimless.  Sharing with Rod, I was reminded of the challenge it is to give up one’s routine, work and relationships for an extended period of time and not go crazy!  As a relational person, the unsatisfying connection of skype reminded me of my displacement.  Expressing the difficulty of being out of my element renewed my desire to continue making the most of the time and to resist caving into the belief that fulfillment is only found in producing and accomplishing.  It is no different here than at home, where routine can swallow any sense of wonder and awe, and gifts of beauty go unseen.

That afternoon I went for a walk, selecting a road that Rod and I had meandered once before.  I chose to turn left off of the main road, down the hill and up instead of the straight path.  The view of the park, orange blossoms over green, with the mountains in the background, was restoring me.  My breath deepened.  Continuing up another muscle burning hill I could see a road intersecting with my path.  My pace quickened to see what town I was entering.  I saw a sign for Car Repairs of El Carmen.  I walked on and found a hardware store of El Carmen.  I anticipated the Google map search to see where this new territory was in relation to our town.   I noticed the lightness of spirit, the joy of discovering a new place.  Nothing major, which is what sharpened my focus on this realization.  Joy can be so elusive to me.  Yet, here I was, smiling at discovering a new road leading to an unknown town.  When I returned home, Rod had already arrived from work and was checking his e-mail.  Like a child, I explained what I had found, and together we pulled up Google maps, located El Carmen and learned some facts about the town.  Such a little thing brought out child joy.  How often I miss this, looking for far bigger things to fill me.

I Want to Fly Like an Eagle

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Time slowed down at Manuel Antonio, spending 2 days at the National Park and beach with Phil and Emma.  Arriving about 1:00 in the afternoon, we ate lunch and headed to the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Our bodies melted in the warm water and hot sun.  Waves and sand are good play toys to bring out the inner child.  The last time Rod and I were at this beach, we watched with envy as people soared into the air on para sails.  Now it was our turn to soar.  Phil and Emma went first, and my adrenalin started pumping as they stepped into their harnesses, latched themselves to the ropes, and began walking, walking walking a bit faster each step, then-lift off!  Their yellow parachute was taking them high into the sky.  We watched as they became dots over the bay, then disappear beyond the rocky shore.  About 10 minutes later they appeared again, and finally, the boat began to slow down, allowing the sail to slowly bring them down into the water.  Unhooking the ropes, they climbed into the boat and returned, all smiles.  Now it was our turn!  My heart pumped with excitement, as we repeated the same procedure.  I can only remember about 6 steps before we were sitting into our harnesses, our feet no longer touching the ground.  The greatest surprise was the absolute quiet of the sky. Rod and I could converse perfectly, with no sound of wind, or engines.  We were experiencing the flight of eagles, floating on the silent currents, watching the people below shrink until the details were no longer visible.  The view was breath-taking as we curved around the edge of the busier beach, to the bay, where just a few people could be seen on the twin beaches within the national park to the left, and to the right, the open Pacific.  Now and then my eyes looked at the rope connecting us to the little boat below, and I forced myself to not think and just take in the beauty, especially as the boat circled around to head back, and it felt as if we were sitting still in space,  The landing was smooth, just a little dunk under a wave and buoyed right back up.  Climbing into the boat, I was giddy with exhilaration!  That certainly was a highlight of our week.

There goes Phil and Emma!

It’s our turn!

That’s Rod and I, flying!

Another first for Rod and I was staying in a hostel.  We had eaten several of our meals at Costa Linda during our last trip and thought it would be fun to actually stay there with Phil and Emma, since they could accommodate us with a room for 4.  It felt a bit like camp, as we entered the cozy room with  2 bunk beds and one single.  Immediately we turned on the ceiling fan, and dumped our stuff onto the single bed.  The older folks got the bottom bunks.  Checking out the thin mattress on slats of boards, I wasn’t expecting to get much sleep, especially with the bathroom down the flight of stairs.  But it turned out to be part of the adventure, and since we played so hard during the day, we were conking out around 8:30!

Rod was spent!

Thursday was spent in the National Park and that did not disappoint. Within minutes on the trail a group of 6 Capuchin monkeys were spotted frolicking in the trees.  On another trail, a family of howler monkeys was taking their naps, legs dangling from the branches.  We also saw mepache, which are related to raccoons, and pizote, about the size of raccoons, but darker with pointy noses. The picnic area of the main beach provided an amazing show for Phil and Emma, where the Capuchins gather like squirrels grabbing left over scraps.  We headed to the more deserted beaches in the park for a few hours.  Rod was sitting on the beach talking to a man we had met on the bus the day before, when, they quickly rose, and Rod started calling for me to come and see.  Hurriedly I left the water and there, on the ground was a long green snake who had dropped from a tree to snatch up a frog.  By time I arrived all that was remaining outside of the snake’s mouth was the sand covered legs of his lunch.  Then, with a bulge still in his upper body, he slithered back into the rocks. That made my day!

There really are sandy legs sticking out of that mouth!

Friday was Phil and Emma’s last day with us, and they enjoyed a leisurely day at home, sleeping in a bit, reading, and picnicking among the Christmas trees with 2 of the dogs that run around on the property.  Phil makes friends with dogs where ever he goes.

In the evening we went to the Mirador restaurant at the top of the mountain.  This morning, after the pancake breakfast and last stroll in the backyard, it was off to the San Jose bus terminal where we said our goodbyes, and watched them depart for the airport.  Hopefully winter won’t be a shock to their sunburn!