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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!

A Visit with Phil and Emma

Our son, Phil, and his girlfriend, Emma, arrived on Saturday to spend their college spring break with us in Costa Rica.  For weeks I have been keeping a mental itinerary of the things we have done, trying to choose which activities to incorporate into their stay.  On Sunday we returned to the Orosi Valley where last weekend, Rod and I hiked in the beautiful rainforest.  We packed our bathing suits this time, dreaming of the crystal clear river and sunning on the rocks.  But in Costa Rica the weather is quite unpredictable from week to week, and even city to city.  The Valley greeted us with the rain that bestows it with lushness.  Rod and I brought our thin ponchos that we had purchased at Poas Volcano, and we brought trash bags for Phil and Emma to use.  Unfortunately, we only had medium bags, dressing them in rain vests rather than ponchos!  Soaked as we were after hiking for 3 hours, the beauty created a rewarding adventure.  No swimming in the river this time!

Phil and Emma in the rain vests

Monday was a good day to wake up a bit more slowly, explore the Christmas tree farm, play with Lassie, one of 4 dogs on the property, and offer a rest from the busy midterms and projects completed last week.  After lunch Phil, Emma and I took the bus up to the end of our bus route, and hiked for a few hours.  Coming from Indiana, Phil and Emma drank in the sun, accomplishing one of their desires of the week-working on their tan, or sunburn!  Phil mentioned how surreal it was to be visiting his parents in Costa Rica, not just coming for a family vacation this time.  I had a similar experience, showing them the places that we have enjoyed, sharing our home, our favorite restaurants, cooking yucca fritters,  and walking over to our “neighborhood” park.  It brings a sense of satisfaction to lead the way to the bus stops, handing them some colones to buy bread at the corner panaderia and hanging out at night sharing stories.  I feel very settled here.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Manuel Antonio, the beach and National Park that Rod and I visited a few weeks ago.  It is a place where monkey sightings are almost guaranteed, an easy choice for our major excursion.

The Orosi Valley

After taking  3 buses, we arrived at the breathtaking Orosi Valley on sunny Saturday morning, to the center of the quaint town, nestled among the mountains and forests, the scenic Reventazon River meandering through.  At the coffee shop we purchased some fresh empanadas and a few danish to take with us to the Tapanti National Park.  We walked back to the center of town where the taxis gather, and asked a driver for the rate to the park.  On the map it appeared to be about 5 miles away, so we were quite surprised to hear that it would cost us $18.00!  We wondered if this was one of those experiences that we read about in the guidebook, where drivers take advantage of tourists.  Since we had engaged in a nice conversation with the women at the cafe, we returned and asked them what the going rate to the park might be.  They too, said about $18.00.  “But isn’t it only about 10 minutes away?” we asked.  No.  As is often the case in Costa Rica, what looks like a straight shot on the map, can be very deceiving.  We wrestled with the dilemma of coming this far to see the park, but wondering if it would be worth the price of the taxi added to the Park’s entrance fee.  Perhaps we could just wander around Orosi.  As we walked back toward the town square, we noticed a young couple sitting on the bench perusing a guidebook.  Approaching, we explained our situation. They were considering what they would do with their day, having just arrived from Turrialba, for their weekend break.  They were volunteering at CATIE (Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza).   In English, that is Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center, where another Fulbright scholar is working, who is collaborating with Rod.  Patrick and Rachel were actually working under Landon, Rod’s connection!  Small world in Costa Rica.  They agreed to go with us, sharing the cost, and the 4 of us hopped into Luis’ taxi.  It didn’t take long before we understood why the cost was so high!  The first mile was paved, and after that Luis demonstrated the skill of a scout, dodging the rocks and holes.  Five miles took about 30 minutes, and most likely repair needs are much higher in this area than in San Jose!  We arrived at the Park around noon, arranging for Luis to come back for us at 4:00, closing time.  There are no buses that travel on this road, and few cars.

Main Street of Orosi

We began our hike on the waterfall trail with Rachel and Patrick, listening to their stories of their work as wilderness fire fighters in Utah.  Finishing college 8 years ago and not finding jobs, they began doing seasonal work, and traveling.  I was impressed by the way they creatively lived during difficult economic times. Rachel spoke of enjoying all the travel, but missing the ability to plant a garden.  Inspired by their bold way of living, I also, in her longing, saw value in my rootedness.

Hearing the rush of water, we left the path for the river, crystal clear, many boulders taller than us.

And then we saw it, high in the mountain, water rushing through the forest, breathtaking.  Untouched nature, I could only imagine Eden.

Finishing the Waterfall trail, we went our separate ways from Rachel and Patrick, and headed down the Pava trail.  Starting down the switchbacks, tromping down, down, down, we decided we were too tired for this trail, and climbed back, up, up, up.  Taking the last turn, there was Jonathan with his wife and little boy, who we had met on the last trail, guiding them to the location off the path to view the waterfall.  Jonathan was pointing toward the tree, at the perched Pava, a bird about the size of a chicken!

Pava Negra (black)

So few people crossed our path the entire time we hiked, wilderness so tranquil and pure.  The wonder of colors, shapes, sizes, sounds and vistas were soul energy.

Luis pulled up right on time, and our tired bodies crawled into the taxi.  As we bumped down the road, Luis told us stories about working in the coffee fields lining the road, the hard work and long hours in the sun.  Only following parts of the Spanish conversation, I wasn’t sure what we were doing when he pulled off to the side and turned off his car.  Piling out, he  began to show us the flowers and the beans, teaching us the cycle of the harvest, each tree taking 3-4 years to produce its first crop.  Starting coffee plantations was truly an act of delayed gratification and faith!

It was not only the nature that made this day special, although that certainly was well worth every colones, but the people we connected with along the way.  Patrick and Rachel, Luis, and the young Costa Rican family, each added their stories and kindness.  Returning to San Jose after nightfall, to a terminal unfamiliar to us, Rod asked a young man from the bus if he would point us in the direction of Avenida 2, where we would find the Granadilla bus to take us home.  He did so much more, walking with us until we recognized the street of our bus route.  The guidebook prepared us for dangers and scams.  Yet, we continue to be surprised at the kindness, the offering of story, the stranger who goes a few blocks out of his way to guide us to known places. The slower pace seems to allow time for people to be human toward each other, touching us deeply.

Becoming Awake with no Coffee!

I walked out the door just before 8:00 this morning, a few minutes after Rod got on the bus heading for the University.  The sky was baby blue and the sun was warmer than the inside of the apartment.  I opened the door and threw the sweater on the chair.  I walked down to the edge of the property, to the lowest row of Christmas trees, in hearing range of the creek that forms the boarder between the farm and Parque del Este.  I stood, listening to the soothing flow of the creek, the deep warble of a bird, the high pitch tone of another, the 5 note song off in the distance, the attention getting squawks of a flock of black birds with white stomachs, floating  gracefully in formation, as if it were agreed upon.  At least 7 distinct songs, all in unity, making a lovely choir of birds wearing black, white, blue, yellow and brown-of the ones that I could see. I sat on a mound of dirt, next to a small Christmas tree, just in front of the orange tree, and breathed in the sweetness.  It is where, 2 days ago, I saw my first hummingbird in the wild, feeding on what was provided in nature.  My eyes took in the colors, the hillside turning orange with the flowering trees that bloom brilliantly in February and March, so I am told.  A work of art, orange against the backdrop of blue, surrounded underneath with green.   The crescent moon to the left of the trees would have been easily missed, disappearing in the morning light.  A half hour went by so quickly, and I got up to leave.  Within came a voice, “Why are you leaving so soon?”  I sat down again.  I closed my eyes, and listened, and breathed in more deeply the fragrant orange blossoms.  My eyes opened, and focused on where the sweet smell was being birthed.  And there she was, brown and green, with a hint of red, hovering and quickly gone.  It was the only time I saw her this morning, but the hummingbird was not to be captured by my camera, only to be noticed and appreciated.  I felt glad to be alive, part of the painting.  I did nothing to deserve the gift of  beauty surrounding me.  It was there, whether I noticed it or not.  How many more gifts are present, if I look?

Yesterday I took the bus into San Jose to meet Rod at noon for a performance at the Teatro National, a beautiful ornate building, originally constructed in 1897, as an opera house.  Almost every Tuesday there is a half hour performance of music or dance.  Yesterday a dance troupe from the University of Costa Rica demonstrated with movement, the fluidity of life, relationship and cycles, ever changing and dynamic.   Music and movement expressing emotion, creating images, was another gift.

I had arrived downtown early so that I could roam the walking mall before meeting Rod.  I window shopped, glancing at the shoes, which women seem to especially adore here, the dresses, the blouses, and everything else one might desire.  I am not a very good clothes shopper, never sure what it is that I would want or need.  But than I saw an International bookstore, and without another thought I was in the door.  I glanced around for a few minutes, noticing the cookbooks, the religious section, the travel books, and then, the Costa Rican books.  There it was-Costa Rica for the Soul.  It was filled with photographs, matched with quotes that spoke to my longings about new paths and meaning, mystery, seeing in new ways and the wisdom spoken in nature.  I bought it for the gift it was.  I have enough time and space in a new environment, where life is lived, not in vacation mode, but establishing routine, yet without the things that fill my life at home.  It is fertile ground for discovery, not only what surrounds me, but what is inside-what I desire, what I miss, what gives me joy, and what I fear.  I was being offered companionship from others who have written from the wisdom gained in awareness.  Today I will consider this quote by Henry Miller: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”  I do think there is great truth there for me.

Our New Routine

Tuesday started the next chapter of our stay-a regular week, post language school.  Rod left for the University about 8:30, which felt leisurely since we wake up at 6:00.  We had our first overnight guest on Tuesday evening, a collaborator of Rod’s that he connected with via e-mail.  Scott works at a Georgia university campus in the cloud forest of Monteverde,  He teaches in the States during the month of January and this week he was actually at University of Costa Rica, where Rod works, for a conference.  Rod and Scott had never met, and they even had trouble remember how they connected.  It was fun to be able to extend hospitality to him for the night.  Rod and Scott talked enthusiastically together about potential  collaborative projects in conservation genetics and biology education.

I have enjoyed a few days on my own, not riding buses, reading, walking and writing.  I visited our nearby park on Wednesday, and saw only a handful of people there.  I sat and listened to birds, smelled the trees, and enjoyed the quiet.  It started to drizzle, and I felt no rush to leave, waiting it out under a shelter.  When I finally felt ready, I began the 15 minute walk home, and by then the drizzle became a bit heavier.  I waited under an awning of flowers hanging over the sidewalk.  How fun, not to feel like I had to run from getting wet!  Of course, it helped that it was warm outside.  As I stood under the awning, I took in all the flowers hanging on the trees around me.  Then the rain stopped and I continued on my way.

This was my umbrella

Beauty across the street as I waited for the rain to stop

Rod had a forced day off today, finding out yesterday that his building was being fumigated today.  He did some work in the morning and then we went hiking.  We took the San Ramon bus up our mountain road as far as it goes, about a 15 minute ride.  Then we continued up the mountain on foot, to see where it would lead, beyond the mirador restaurant that we visited a few weeks ago.  I decided that if I continue on walks like these, I do not have to worry about missing out on jogging and exercise classes!  We felt the burn!  But oh, how worth it!  Beautiful vistas and wild flowers.

Where the road disappears, that is about a 45 degree angle in the road.  And then it goes back up.  The picture doesn’t do it justice!

I love the contrast of greens!

So close to out home!

In the valley is San Jose

Wild Poinsettias!


Tomorrow we are having lunch with the Duggans, the friends that we stayed with 2 years ago, who are parents of 2 students that Rod had in class.  Sunday we are invited to the home of a couple, both alumni of Wheaton College, who have been here for 13 years, working at a school.  A mission team from College Church in Wheaton, helping at Matt and Lisa’s school, brought some of Rod’s science equipment down for him, so we will be gathering the last of his donations!