Adios Amigos

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Breakfast At Buena Vista

The persistent cough, like the geckos, isn’t going away. Neither is the invitation from the city of Atlanta to appear in court three days before my scheduled departure from San Jose. It’s time to go home.

The friendly Delta agent is happy to get me on an earlier flight. Admittedly, I’m not much, but to Delta I am a big deal.  My status is hard earned, logging in miles and schlepping suitcases and not much of the travel is comfortable or first class.  My trip to Paris last November had all five foot four inches of me crammed into a claustrophobic seat, my legs cramping and numbing from the lack of blood flow. Boo hoo, poor me and my pauper tour to Paris.  All those flights are paying off now that I need Delta to do me a platinum favor.

“Sorry to hear about your cough,” Ms. Mayo, the platinum desk agent says sympathetically. “You know what works?” she asks piquing my interest. After two weeks of couging lungs, I am open to anything, or so I think.   “I know this sounds gross…(oh God, here is comes), but take a finger-full of Vick’s vapor rub and swallow it and then put some on your chest.”  Did she really just recommend that I swallow mentholated petroleum jelly? It will loosen that stuff in your lungs right up!”   Sure, sure, sure, thanks for the advice. Just as soon swallow the gecko crawling in my glass. Now what about that upgraded seat, Sugar?  Just a suggestion, but stay way from doling out any more homegrown remedies.  Stick to what you know.

It’s all set. I am going home three days early and I am not sure how I feel about that.

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Yader and I walk to the dock a couple of buildings away from my hotel.  It’s early and the sun is still fighting with the clouds for domination.  From years of scuba diving, I know if the sun prevails, the visibility will be better for water boarding over the reefs.  Yader introduces me to the captain of the craft with the 250 horsepower outboard motor that’s going to drag me behind the boat like bait.  Sometimes even I question my sanity because this still sounds like fun.  Yader pulls out a Plexiglas shield that we will hold onto while we’re being ripped across the reefs. I am a bit distracted because Yader is a bit ripped himself and, if being boat bait gives me arms and pecks like his, well… let er rip!   He places his fingers on the board showing me how we use the board to lower into the sea and, once there, steer right and left and then eventually ascend for air.  There are no snorkels or tanks, this is lung- powered au naturel.

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Yader Giving Dive Boarding Instructions

Yader’s million- watt smile exposes his adult orthodontics. His enthusiasm for what we are about to experience has me all jacked up to be dragged behind a boat. I can’t wait! Waterboarding is a form of terrible  torture, and I have shelled out a sizable amount of cash for a similar experience.   Larry Ellison says that when people start saying that you’re crazy, you’re probably onto one of the greatest innovations of your life.  I am clearly onto something because I’ve been getting a lot of “you’re crazy” lately and now I am thinking it myself.

We cruise around in the boat looking for the ferry wreck and checking the water conditions. Yader and his captain are speaking Spanish while I enjoy the ride and incredible perspective from the water.  We come to a stop in shallow water so clear it looks like glass. Yader jumps over the side of the boat and instructs me to wait until he checks things out. He’s looking for sea urchins and other things that would not be welcome to walk on. Coast is clear, he says, and I jump overboard.   We’re doing this ride in tandem, and that makes me feel a bit safer.  My general rule of thumb in diving was to buddy up with someone much bigger, because sharks prefer meat over minnows.

The engines moves from idle to full throttle and I have my masked face in the water as we speed away.  Yader goes down for a first dive but I’m still adjusting to being dragged and wondering if, when I go down, I will be able to come up.  Deep breath… and Tawanda! I am down, suspended right above the magnificent reefs that fly by like clouds on a breezy day.  I’m out of air and can’t get up, so I let go of the board and come up without it. The boat stays with me and Yader emerges from the crystal sea.  “Did you see the stingray?”  He’s excited as a little kid. That’s the thing about us sea creatures – it never grows old, the wonders still elicit the same jubilant responses. The magic never dies. Darn, I was too busy struggling for my life. Maybe next dive I’ll see a ray.

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We see starfish and the beautiful little fish that nibble on coral reefs and the underwater flora and fauna  as vast as varied as what I see on land.  The water is tugging at my bikini bottom and I am hoping it doesn’t come off with the pull and drag.  After over an hour, Yader is concerned that this is too much water logging for a little lady, so we head back to town.  They drop me at the dock at Tropical suites and Yader asks if I will write a review on Trip Advisor and I promise I will. He’s special and I feel a twinge of sadness as I hug him and say goodbye.

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Life is NOT a Drag

There is an hour or so before the ferry takes me back to the mainland.  My bags are packed, my Trip Advisor review of Total Adventures is complete and I am showered.  The door to comfort is closed behind me.  Ali at the front desk hugs me goodbye and I tell him to keep shining and sending the world his warm spirit. It’s infectious.

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Ali and Me

In town, I  make the rounds, stopping to say goodbye to Gloria. I wear my new hat for her benefit and she points out to the tourists coming from a cruise ship that I bought the hat from her. I’m a walking, talking mannequin. Gloria gives me a final hug and kiss and we say goodbye. A lump forms in my throat. Terry is busy moving garments outside her shop. She smiles broadly when she sees me.  It’s great to meet you. Thanks for everything. We had fun, didn’t we?  Now water wells up in my eyes.

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Goodbye Terry

At Buena Vista, the lovely restaurant that has fed me local delicacies for the past three days- cinnamon Johnny Cakes with banana rum sauce, Caribbean eggs, homemade brownies made from local chocolate and blackened fish plucked right from the sea.  My stomach is acting up again so maybe a smoothie is a safe option before a boat ride. Machete-like knives dice up pineapple, papaya, mango and melon. They are tossed into a blender and come out a vitamin C charged glass of yummy. See you later, Jeremy.  Thanks for feeding me every day!

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Cinnamon Johnny Cakes

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Fruit Shakes and Hand Shakes with Jeremy

The boat arrives 30 minutes after the scheduled time, but I am in no hurry to leave this island paradise. Today the sea is calm and the sun is out and the ride back to the mainland will be far smoother than the ride out.  We’re loaded, but not packed, in the boat and I don’t have a care in the world. I’m too happy.

I watch the island get smaller as we move out to open sea.  Such beauty everywhere I think already nostalgically. Such amazing beauty in the heart of these islands and in the hearts of these islanders.

Adios Amigos. You’ve touched my heart.

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Stuff for the Soul

IMG_4896.JPGThe most intriguing thing that I have posted in 21 days appears to be the thong-clad lovely. It’s received unprecedented comments, envy and appreciation. Perhaps it’s an eye for a great ass that is my gift rather than writing, and I’d be advised to retire my pen and invest in a better camera. Maybe one with a zoom lens.

Men and women alike text and write, not about the virtuous people, spiritual epiphanies or the magnificence of the islands, but to comment on The Ass for the Ages. My blog has gone porn.

Philip, a lifelong treasure of a friend, texts:
“Yeah yeah yeah the funny blog and life lessons… whatever…
Just send more pictures of the pink bottom fish please.”

Darling Debbie, ardent friend and follower texts me whenever I skip a day of blogging like I am an errant paper boy. She’s delighted that I am back on a routine and ends her note, “Can’t believe the ass on that girl.” The KIK ladies, (an acronym for our monthly girl get together) including me, have undeniable ass envy. Sherry says she wishes she wore a thong while she still could. There was a moment that I fretted about exposing the woman’s unsuspecting backside until the dawn of reason appears. She exposes her backside. The rest of us are simply admiring the scenery.

The town is busy on Saturday evening.  People walk in the middle of the street, avoiding the dogs that roam freely and the bikes ridden haphazardly. People browse shops and dine in the many restaurants perched on the water. After my day at sea, I decide that a quiet evening on the balcony looking at the water and a pizza is my only speed. While I wait for the pizza, I walk across the street, attracted by the bright colors of the hammocks and the curios and trinkets on display in the shop’s window.

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The shopkeeper is an older woman as tiny and dainty as the birds that fly freely here.  There’s nothing I really want or need but I browse through the indigenous carvings, clothing and souvenirs. Quality and authenticity are sold here.  The old woman sees me eyeing a Panamanian hat and places it on my head, gushing about how lovely it looks on me. It’s handmade of natural fibers she shows me inside the brim. I pick all this up by sign language and in the animated way she speaks. I’ll think about it, I tell her (or try) and ask what time she opens in the morning.  She clasps her hands together as if in prayer and I get her meaning. After church. Catholic? I ask almost rhetorically.  Si, Catolica, she smiles proudly.  By the fingers on her hands, she tells me church is at seven in the morning. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow. She waves a warm goodbye.

A few doors down there is shop that looks like the perfect place to find a gift for my daughter. A bell rings when I walk in and I am greeted by a lovely young woman wearing one of the shop’s original designs. Racks of women’s clothing are segregated by the beautiful colors of the islands.  The material they are made from is soft and breathable.  Now I am distracted from my purpose of buying a gift for Meagan and am trying on different styles and colors, each delicious to the touch.  I feel like I am wearing the prettiest pairs of pajamas ever made. I want everything.  The owner walks in the midst of the fashion show. She’s  bright and bubbly and clearly not native with her fair skin, blonde hair and familiar voice of  home. Terry, tells me to buy a few frocks and then she’ll give me the dress I selected for Meagan because it’s a pattern of a different season.  Everyone is happy.

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At church the next morning, I spy the pretty little bird from the souvenir shop sitting in the front row. Not a hair on her head  is out-of-place and she looks lovely wearing a fuschia satin shirt.  The small choir is singing and it sounds more like reggae than church music and I wonder if I am being disrespectful swaying and tapping to the beat. I can’t help myself. A man walks in wearing a pair of jeans and a casual shirt, waving at the congregation. Everyone seems to know him and he disappears through a door to the left of the altar. He emerges wearing the purple vestments of a priest and I think this church is progressive for Catolica. It’s laid back island Catholic.

After my toe-tapping, hip-swaying, soul-cleansing church visit, I am heading to Red Frog beach. A water taxi transports me to this well-known beach on one of the other islands.  The boat ride alone is worth the eight dollars I pay. The driver drops me at a pier and points in the direction of the beach. There is a wooden walkway encased by mangroves that creates  a tunnel. The beach is actually a national park and there is a five dollar entrance fee that I gladly pay because already I can tell this place is spectacular.

 

It’s oddly quiet and magnificently serene and I walk into this Garden of Eden in complete solitude. There are plants growing wildly that I have only ever seen in upscale nurseries.  It’s breathtaking. Two men appear walking in my direction. One is pushing an empty wheelbarrow and the other is leading an unruly goat up the path.  This is unexpected. The sounds of animals break the silence and as I walk further, I see goats, roosters and rabbits in wire cages. A sign on a tree seems to warn of something and I am pretty sure it instructs not to feed the caimans –reptiles ranging in size from very large lizard to alligator. There is a muddy swamp I suppose where the caimans live, so I Jessie Owens it across the wooden bridge to safety on the other side.

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The overhanging trees frame an unimaginable blue sea lapping against a white sand beach as soft as sifted flour. There are thatched umbrellas and plastic lounge chairs and I scan the beach waiting to see who to pay for the privilege of this comfort. No one is in sight. The turquoise sea is speckled with surfers father down the beach. I’ve found paradise. Sitting under the shade and in view of the sea, I finish Christen’s book, trying to absorb every nugget of spiritual wisdom. I’ve got a long way to go.

The crystal clear water beckons frequently  but the sandbar takes me well off shore before I reach water up to my waist. But even the walk on the soft, white sand feels lovely.

IMG_4869.JPGAfter several hours, I head back to the dock. There are water taxis coming and going with regular frequency. I step into one, but there is no hurry to take me anywhere. After ten minutes, the driver tells me maybe I can go with someone else. He’s chilling with his amigos. Another boat pulls up and he seems serious about working and says he’ll take me back to Bocas.

These surefooted boats men stand as they steer the outboard motors with practiced indifference. They can probably navigate these water routes with their eyes closed, but I prefer they didn’t. They fly in and out of mangroves and into bays and open water, waving to each other as they speed by.

There’s a German man at the front desk that I keep running into. He’s on his own and asking Ali about local tours and attractions. I chime in with my experiences recommending tour companies, spots to see and restaurants to avoid.

I decided I want the hat after all. The wide brim will be good protection for the sun my dermatologist tells me to avoid. Besides, it’s a Panama hat, so I throw on the beautiful blue dress I bought and head to see the lovely little bird lady

The woman is visibly happy to see the church-going Catolica Gringo. I must be devout to make a 7 a.m. service.  Though we don’t speak each other’s language, we communicate through signs, smiles and drawings. She tells me the new blue dress I am wearing is beautiful. She exclaims over and over how it brings out the blue in my eyes. I show her the beautiful blue eyes belonging to my daughter and two grandsons. She persists to attribute their sapphire eyes to me, pointing from their pictures to my eyes. She gives me far more credit than I am due.

She gushed about how beautiful I am in the bright blue dress and I think she’s sincere. She seems to indicate that I am beautiful on the inside, pointing to my heart and repeating one of the few words I know in Spanish. She likes me because she knows I believe in God. The Catolica One.  She wraps the souvenirs that I buy and walks around the counter and hugs and kisses me. My heart swells. She’s blowing me kisses as I walk away saying beautiful, beautiful in Spanish.  Her name is Gloria but I keep wanting to call her Grace because she is.

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Jewels of Many Kinds

Paradise Cayo Zapitalla


The itinerary for the day-long excursion of the islands includes dolphin spotting, snorkeling, sunning and swimming on an unspoiled island, sloth and starfish seeking. Lunch is somewhere in the midst of all the touristy fun. The small craft picks me up at the dock of my hotel, already  carrying a half a dozen passengers. We head to the local pier where we pick up more. Castaways packed in a boat like sardines.

Dolphin Bay does not disappoint. We have 360 views of bottle nose dolphins diving, spouting, swimming, gracefully arching in and out of the sapphire water. Cameras click and videos are taken and people ooh and awe and scream in delight at each spotting.  After many minutes of watching these amazing mammals feed and fish with amazing aplomb, we have our fill. Then two dolphins swim so close to the boat that I scream and scare everyone.  I get another look.

The sea changes colors depending on the strength of the sun overhead and the depth of the sea below. We are gliding over a liquid jewels – sapphires, jade, emeralds, aquamarines, turquoise and flawless white diamonds. The water is spell binding.

The coral reef where we snorkel is teeming with marine life but I wonder what the fish think of us and we plunge awkwardly into their home.  “My, look at the school of humans, what different shapes, sizes and colors they are!”   We are fish out of water floundering around in the water.  Though the sea is vast, the tourists hover together protectively. I need my personal space and swim away from the group to find some solitude in the sea.   A beautiful bottom fish swims by in a bright pink thong, and as she takes pictures with her underwater camera, she’s oblivious that she is bottoms up right under my mask.  My butt never looked like that. Not even back in the day. More bottom fish swim around me,  thongs are the uniform here but few look good in them. There are more dimples in those thongs than Shirley Temple on a very happy day.

Can You Spot the Pink Bottom Fish?

The restaurant in the middle of the mangrove-covered islands  is a one trick pony eatery in the middle of the sea.  We order lunch to come back later to eat.  There is little expectation for anything remarkable coming from this cramped kitchen.  I order fresh fish of an unknown variety in garlic sauce. We are a captive audience with only two choices. Order here or don’t eat.

An Emerald Island

The sun shines on Cayo Zapatilla as if on command.  It is the island photographed the most frequently for its verdant greenery, white powder beaches and  aqua waters.  It’s easy to understand why. We are to stay two hours and I already know that’s not enough time. I want to stay for eternity.

The Saturday crowd of small crafts dock along the pristine shores and people stake spots on the beach and some head to explore the national park. There is an unobstructed view of the sea in front of me. The water changes hues of blue getting darker with depth until it eventually blends into the cobalt sky.

Women preen, pose and posture artificially for selfies. This is the location for their very own Sport Illustrated Swimsuit edition. And they spend more time looking at themselves than the beauty surrounding them.

Selfies on the Beach

A group of young women from Argentina spend the afternoon flashing smiles at their smart phones. One even pulls out a selfie stick.  I offer to help and they graciously accept and then start directing me to take vertical and then horizontal shots, capturing them at many different angles. I am relieved for them that the only shot I don’t take is their backsides, as I can assure you it’s not their best side. The ample amount of butts exposed in thongs all around me are, well, ample. In two hours, I’ve seem more ass than Mick Jagger has in his lifetime.

The water is a drug to me. I swim, float, tread and dive into it for the two hours until finally the captain of our small craft motions that it’s time to leave paradise. James, an American from Arizona, asks if the tour is three hours and I think of Gilligan’s Island…a three hour tour. We laugh and he calls me Ginger the rest of the day, although I am probably closer to Mary Ann.  Oh, what the heck, I thrust my camera at James and ask if he’ll please take a picture of me.  Even though the South American lovelies put me to shame, one day, I’ll look back and think these are the good ole’ days.

Love today and embrace everything about it. It’s all we’re promised.

Lunch is surprisingly good. The fish is fresh and tasty and the salad, coconut rice and fried bananas are the usual Caribbean accompaniments.  A couple from Portugal eat at the same table. They have flawless English and they are lovely lunch companions. As it does so frequently, Trump comes up and there is more incredulous conversation. What is he thinking they ask?  I am stumped and silent. There is no defending the indefensible.  I go to  the bar and order a pina colada to wash away the bad taste left in my mouth.

It is amazing how deftly the captain maneuvers in and out and around the mangrove islands jutting out of the sea. Water crafts are the mode of transportation to get from one island to another.  The water buzzes like  busy bees with all the dinghy’s with outboard motors. We pull up close to one of the islands and I can spot the round balls of sloths high up in the trees.  After living at Chimuri, I have honed eagle eyes; I can spot a critter.  There are more that I point out to the others, who appear duly impressed by my ability to see a hairball hiding in a tree.  Camera shutters click and we’re off to see the starfish.

In my 70 or more ocean dives around the world, I have never seen as many starfish. There were literally hundreds in the shallow,  pristine waters.  Many of them were monstrous, the size of a dinner plate, but all of them were exquisite in their delicate underwater replication of the sky.

Back in Bocas, Ali, the front desk guide asks about my tour. “What, you didn’t go board diving?”  I am appalled. What have I missed?  He shows me a video of people being dragged behind a boat holding onto a Plexiglas board. They plunge in and out of the sea and an underwater camera captures the incredible scenery.  Since the doctors put an end to my diving career,  it’s been hard to go to places with underwater treasures that I can no longer explore.  Bocas has dive shops on every corner and it’s impossible not to hear bits and pieces of the braggadocios divers’ comments. The wreck was amazing, that sting ray was HUGE, that shark came really close. 

Be grateful for all that I’ve seen, not what I can’t.

It’s not the things that we do that we regret the most; it’s the things we don’t do.  No way I was leaving Bocas without water boarding myself.  Total Adventures dive and tour shop was one of the smaller offices, but I spotted a handsome young man giving a patient explanation of the tours they offer to a group of tourists.   I hovered around listening and decide that I really liked this guy.  People buy from people. I am buying from him.

Yader explained that it was too late today to go dive boarding, but they have a tour on Monday.  That won’t work I explain. I’m leaving. Yader sees the disappointment and tells me that he’ll take me out early Monday morning before I leave.  He tells me if the weather is bad, he’ll refund my money. No problem.  This is no Slick Willy tour operation.  This is a man who really wants me to  have an incredible underwater experience.

There’s so much decency in the world. There is so much kindness, too.  That’s what I am feeling on my solitude three-week journey.   And there’s rarely been a minute when I ever felt alone.

 

Welcome Panama!

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Sign at the Panama Border

The Caribe shuttle van arrives at Chimuri  at 6:20 am, surprisingly on time. Island time, I discover, is 20 minutes later than the appointed time. The  van is already loaded with sleepy tourists, so I hop in the front seat next to the driver. My co-pilot position affords me a birds’ eye view of the drive to neighboring Panama.

Banana trees and ramshackle houses line the curvy and mountainous route from Costa Rica to Panama. I’m surprised how quickly we arrive at the border, dubious as it appears. Government agents and police stand outside a bridge crossing a wide, brown river. The inclement weather is not helping the dreary surroundings. We are instructed to get out of the van and walk a down a steep, muddy hill to dilapidated building  where an agent collects eight U.S.dollars for the privilege of leaving Costa Rica, I suppose.  In the dingy Soda next door, I pay another 300 colones to use the facilities in one of the nastiest bathrooms I have ever been desperate enough to patronize, (only rivaled in lack of sanitation by a public facility in Peru). A small price to pay for the privilege of travel.

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Banana Plantation

After paying the border crossing fee, we line up  at a government immigration office where we present our passport and evidence of the recent extortion payment. Out of the corner of my eye, I spy a ladies bathroom in the clean government facility. It’s free and it’s sanitary.

We collect our bags and follow a new guide, walking in the mist across the bridge connecting the two countries. In the band of us, I am the one that just doesn’t belong. The pierced, tattooed backpackers are younger by many years- decades actually.  I kid myself that I am as camouflaged with this crowd as the LL Bean bag I carry for the weekend getaway.  It makes me hipper, or so I think, and  I make sure to hide the monogram, so I am not spotted as the princess that I am. My Tory Burch tote bag, as understated as I think it is, labels me, shouting to any would be thieves:  rob her, she’s got to have valuables in the designer bags she brings to the jungle. Hey JMM , you’re not camouflaging anything.  Hand over your fancy bags. Dumbshit Gringo.

A thief might twice if he ever saw me brandish a cast iron skillet!

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JMM Crossing into Panama

Once in Panama, we go through a similar fleecing for money, passport stamping and more scrutiny by mirthless government officials. Pictures and fingerprints are taken this time and proof of a return ticket to the U.S. is required.  As if I want to stay here  indefinitely!

A different van and driver waits for us in Panama, as only people on foot can make the crossing.  There is another hour of driving through the persistent rain, made a bit merrier by the reggae blaring through the van’s speakers.  “Don’t worry bout a ting… cuz every little ting gonna be all right…” 

Eventually,  we are deposited at a dump of a Panamanian dock. Plastic bottles and ramshackled homes litter the inlet.  When you see how most of the world lives, you can’t help but count your blessings.

The polluted waterways and oceans I see used as sewer and trash dumps,  gets my Irish up. People, this  planet is our home, let’s keep it clean and tidy, shall we? 

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Others are  waiting  at the dock and soon sixteen of us are ushered into a bright blue and  yellow boat barely floating above the waterline.  We are packed in the boat like Cuban refugees. Once we hit open water, surprisingly rough for the  Caribbean, the captain revs up the engine, lifting the bow of the boat out of the sea. We bounce and splash and fight the waves and soon I join the others, stealthy slipping a life jacket around my neck. Everyone laughs nervously each time the small boat goes airborne over the onslaught of large waves. The sea splashes into the boat, and I am wet once again. I am getting used to bugs, geckos and a perpetual state of soggy.  Protective plastic sides are lowered from the boat’s  overhead awning, creating a terrarium of trapped body heat.

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Trapped in a Terrarium

As we approach the dock, I can see my hotel alongside all the others colorful buildings perched on wooden pilings directly above the sea. I am happy  to disembark the small boat, grateful that it didn’t capsize into the sea.

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When we arrive in Bocas town on Isla Colon (named after Christopher Columbus), it is not the sunny island pictured in all the tourist guides. It is blanketed in thick rain clouds and fine midst covers me as I walk to the hotel.

Enrique greets me at the front desk of Tropical Suites Hotel.  The room won’t be ready for a few hours he reports.  The forecast is ominous for my weekend stay and I ask if I can shorten my stay if the weather outlook remains poor.  Enrique smiles tells me it will change, as he rings up a hefty bill for the wet three days ahead. At least he has a sunny outlook.  He recommends that I pass the time shopping or eating at a cafe across the street until the room is ready.

At Cafe de Mare, a good-looking young waiter with dark waves of shoulder length hair brings me a breakfast menu. He’s on island time and reappears around lunchtime. I order an omelet and “artisan coconut toast.”  While I wait, wafts of weed emanate from the kitchen.

After what seems an eternity, the food comes and it is unremarkable. Poor William, my waiter, is so high that he asks me what I had when I request my check. He’s dead-stoned serious. There’s six other people in the entire cafe. Why do you think they call it dope?

When I return to the hotel, water-logged from walking around town in the constant midst, I sit in a small lounge area overlooking the sea. A couple leftover from the night before are trashed. There are two bottles of open wine. One is drained, the other almost. The girl sitting on the man’s lap slurs that she can’t handle any more. It’s not quite noon. Why do you think they call it wasted?

Enrique informs me that my room is ready and leads me up to a flight of stairs. When he unlocks the door and exposes the ocean view room with king size bed, whirlpool tub and large, flat screen T.V., I swear I tear up.  There’s even an electric hairdryer and coffee maker!    Heck, there is dependable electricity!   It no longer matters to me if it pours my entire weekend stay. I want to dive into the bed and swim around on the cool, cotton sheets. The pleasant  hum of the air conditioner replaces the din of the dogs and roosters. There is not a creeping, crawling companion in site.

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Not the Ritz, but It’s Heaven!

Hot damn!  It feels home to this bug smashing, friend making, country hopping, monogram toting, fire walking, English-speaking Gringo that I am!

And as I unpack my not-so-camouflaged bag, the sun appears!

Peaceful Coexistence

No, it’s not a drink ornament

The rain beats on the tin roof of my cuckoos nest with unimaginable force. Its relentless pounding makes it impossible to sleep. The clothes I wash and hang to dry, even protected by the roof’s eaves, are not impervious to the waterfall from the sky.  I am sick of soggy clothes. The only thing I don’t pack in my Kim Kardashian-sized suitcase (Kiana must have sized me up when she saw my gigantic suitcase ), for my trip to the rain forest  is an umbrella. I am not sure what I expected,  but now it appears rather obvious that I was simply clueless about what was in store.

Rain?  Snakes?  Bugs?  Bad guys?  No ice maker or clothes dryer?  Concierge service?

A gecko waits for me on my desk. He’s not the least bit afraid of me, so why should I fear him?  We engage in a stare down, this little lizard and I. He wins. Later I find him crawling around the inside of my water-glass. It is a necessary precaution here to check shoes before putting them on, to peer into cups before taking a sip and to watch the ground before taking a step.

The problem with my aging eyes is I can’t tell the difference between the bugs on the floor and the dark knots in the wood. I accidentally step on a rather large bug that makes a disturbing crunch that shoots chills to every nerve in my body.  I am barefoot. Can you say groooooosssss?

Writing Help


Conversely, the dark spots in the wood have me hopping around like popcorn, convinced I’ve encountered yet another species of insect. My nerves are shot, and all the bugs are  causing more knots in my back that I’ll need to have pounded out.

Mom comments on one of my blog posts that she’s so proud of my newly found bravado.  She can’t believe that I am peacefully coexisting with all kinds of creatures, but then again, I’ve brought scarier ones home for dinner.  She writes  me a note of supporting admiration, ending it with “Right on!”    My cousin, Meg, posts an apropos saying on Facebook, ” I am a strong woman because a strong woman raised me.”  That’s certainly true for me. Mom entered her 90th year this week and keeps on keeping on. God, how I love and admire that woman.

People come and go from the two other cottages at Chimuri.  Kate, a thirty -year- old Australian and her partner, Chris, take off for the rest of their tour around the world. They saved money, quit their jobs and are logging in miles and amazing experiences. Angele, Dorothy and Natalie, are Canadians cruising the Costa Rican country. We meet at the yoga pavilion and make an instant connection. The mom and two daughters share global  wanderlust.  We keep running into one another and it makes me happy each time we do.  Yesterday  we say a  final goodbye and Dorothy tells me she’ll never forget me. The warmth those words create inside me makes me certain that the feeling is mutual.

Kate and Me outside Chimuri Playa -Negra  behind us

My job is disturbing me this week because I am writing blogs and crafting letters to rally support for U.S. State Department programs in jeopardy of losing funding. The administration’s new budget calls for drastic cuts to diplomacy efforts that may affect cultural and educational exchange programs.

Having traveled extensively,  I understand that exposure to other countries is the great equalizer. It literally brings people closer together in understanding.  Ignorance is the great divider of civilization. I sum up these essential “soft” diplomacy efforts rather simply and perhaps somewhat crudely: ” To know us is to not want to bomb us.” Evidence supports that foreigners who come to the U.S. to participate in visitor exchange programs leave with a much better impression. Guess what? They go home and tell their families and friends that Americans are really great people. Kumbaya.

Travelers have both an enormous privilege but also a responsibility to act as ambassadors of their country. I want to embody all the many things that makes America great. For me, they include, among many other things,  our open minds and hearts and outstretched hands. I happen to be contributing  some universal humor too.

There is growing suspicion about Americans here and people questioning what we value, but I am doing my best to reflect our nation’s best. My yoga teacher has to go home to Canada and she’s doesn’t want to step foot in the U.S.  This makes me incredibly sad.

News of the senseless London massacre sends shocks around the world.  Are we safe anywhere? All the fuss and warnings I have gotten about being in Costa Rica yet heinous things are happening everywhere. Ignorance and fear need eradication, not the programs that prevent them.

If geckos and I can learn not to fear one another and to coexist peacefully, maybe there’s a lesson for humanity in that.  Just saying…

This weekend I head to an island called Bocas del Toro in a Panamanian archipelago. We are scheduled to travel by bus to the nearby Panama border and then transfer to a boat to get to the tiny chain of islands. The water is reported to be aqua and the snorkeling incredible. The hotel I book has air conditioning, a king sized bed and a flat screen TV. They accept U.S. dollars there.

Thank God in heaven, I am civilization bound!!!

Panamanian Archipelago discovered by Christopher Columbus

Torture in the Tiki Hut

Island living is growing on me.  The geckos aren’t bothering me (much), in fact, I decided to name them like pets.  They aren’t going away, so we’re going to have to learn to get along. The shower curtain stays open now, because peeling it back cautiously never knowing what was on the other side, is just not something I want to contend with anymore.  There are good and bad surprises and desirable and dreadful shower companions. Enough said about that!

The frequent power outages no longer phase me. It gives me a break from the computer. The ice trays (ice maker? are you high?) that I filled when I arrived 12 days ago, still slosh around when I open the freezer door.  Who needs cold drinks in a hot, humid habitat anyway?  Not me.  I’m practically a  local.  My clothes are perpetually  damp even the ones I haven’t worn in the rain or in the water.  It’s just the heavy air. Even my books are soggy.  There is not a speck of food that isn’t in the frig.  That seems to be the only place that critters can’t smell a minuscule morsel or drip of fruit juice that sends an instant invitation to dinner throughout Animal Kingdom.  In seconds, whole communities are swarming around the smorgasbord speck.

Clorox wipes, Bounce sheets,  mosquito netting and cast iron bug killers are my saviors.

Lillian doesn’t get the Bounce sheets in my bed. She keeps taking them off the bed that she must think is littered with sweet-smelling tissues.  She got to think I’m nuts.  Kiana explains to Lillian about my gender gaff. She laughs,  exposing her missing teeth. She got my meaning.

How can I expect Lillian to  know about dryer sheets or why they are in my bed as mosquito repellent?  No one has dryers.  No one cares about bugs. We have clothes pins, here.  My Hanky- Panky underwear hanging out to dry look like Three Little Kittens that Lost Their Mittens. Towels are as stiff as cardboard from drying on the line.

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Hanky Panky on the line

Marcia left and I am sorry to see her go. She’s got a heart of pure gold. We go into town the for dinner Monday night. I want to express my gratitude for her kindness and all the interesting characters and pot- smoking people she introduces me to.   God, do I love these people. Individuals, artists, writers, intellectuals, spirituals, free spirits who have found home here.  I’m a fish out of water in ganja land, but I stay the course of my sober journey and don’t judge.  Live and let live.

We dine at one of the two types of eateries here: local indigenous or fusion. There is Thai Caribbean, Mexican Caribbean and this happens to be a Kiana favorite, Italian Caribbean fusion.  We order vegetarian gnocchi made from breadfruit and pasta with local shrimp.  Pina Coladas  (virgin) are made with fruit right off the trees- coconuts and pineapple and they are divine,  but rich as Warren Buffet. They should have been dessert.

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Farewell Friend

The subject of men comes up- we’re both here alone.  We  choose to be now,  but don’t want to be forever.  We talk of past betrayals and disappointments and the amazing speed in which men move on while women mourn. Better to be alone than to wish you were I tell Marcia.

Roland, the friendly young local,  who helped me navigate to Cahuita works at a place right down the beach.  He tells me the food is fabulous and I should  check it out.  It would be easier and closer than going into town.

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Roland  the Good Samaritan

A young woman on the road in front of Chimuri  is struggling to fix her bike- the chain had come off. I stop to help, offering to hold the bike while she tries to thread the chain back on. Ronald rides by and, seeing our difficulty, stops to assist. Good Samaritan that he is.

The hotel was really cool  with an open air restaurant, tiki huts, lush tropical grounds.  They offer a variety of services including massage,  A relaxing massage on the beach would be nice, so I sign up for one  in the evening. That way I can be all jello and top off my relaxation with a sumptuous seaside dinner. Perfect plan.

When I go back at 5:30 Jana, the massage therapist, is waiting outside the massage hut. I envision lying in this cute little massage hut on the beach, gentle waves lapping on the shore while someone rubs my cares away. But the sea is angry with a brewing storm and pounds on the beach almost as hard as Jana pounds on my back.
“Oh my Gawdt,”  she cries, every time she comes across a knot. My back and shoulders have more knots than a macrame hammock.  “Diss one is big!  She’s shocked at the boulders in my body.  “Chew need to massage one time a week,” Jana recommends.  She finds another huge knot and reconsiders. “Maybe you like two time.”   No, actually  a daily massage would be preferable, and  I get that I need it.

Jana continues to  hammer on my back like I am  a piece of meat in need of tenderizing. Between bursts of laughter from the insanity of the tiki torture, (I signed up and paid for a “relaxing beach massage”), and moans of pure agony,  I imagine Jana is thinking this little white woman is wound up tighter than a toy.

Jana tells me that I will feel pain tomorrow, to which I instantly reply,  I feel pain today!
Once the mauling in the massage hut ends, I walk up to the restaurant in darkness and pain.

Ronald greets me with an effervescent smile, the only kind he offers. “How was chore massach?  Chew feel like a new woman?  I nod and smile even though I feel more like  a battered one.  Jana beat the tar out of me.

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After Torture in the Tiki

Roland seats me at a lovely table and recommends sea bass with herbs and a fresh salad with a house made basil  vinaigrette.  Tastiest sea bass- maybe even tastiest piece of fish that has ever pleased my palate.  I don’t eat everything because, “I recommend chew the coconut flan!”  Roland’s eyes gets wide like it’s going to be a surprise of the good variety! Oh, wouldn’t that be nice.   Tropical torrents commence and I honestly consider  getting a room for the night. Maybe it has TV and regular visits from critter ridders. But I decide against it.

Roland tells me I should not walk the less than quarter mile down the dark road. “I feel better you don’t walk in the dark.”  So I don’t and ask the front desk clerk to call a cab from in town to drive two miles out here to take me four blocks down the road. They get paid the same amount, but I feel foolish. Still, I listen to caution, ( you reading this, Mom?).

The cabbie speaks zero English and I start talking loudly, slowly and  moronically to make him understand. Spanish, not French, would have been the better language to master.  So far, I have not had a single maid, yard man or handyman who speaks French.

I could throw a frisbee from the restaurant to Chimuri.  When I tell him that’s the destination, he gives me the “dreaded look.” That’s when I start splain’ that I am a chica and it’s negra and I ma no walka alona…. or something equally as lame. He must think I am hilarious, because he is cracking up. Belly laughing actually.

This is good news that my humor translates in so many languages.  But I have the feeling that people are laughing  at me rather than  with me. That’s fine by  me. One of Mom’s best lessons, learn to laugh at yourself.

Because the world is too serious and people are wound up way too tight. Just ask Jana.

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Sweet Endings

Glorious Awakenings

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Morning companion – a bird in paradise

I rise before the sun, waking even before the roosters.  I had half a mind to bang some pots and pans to wake those noisy birds from their peaceful sleep. Serve them right. Then I decide, I don’t want to start my day with retaliation. Morning is a time of peace. Resentment is toxic; acceptance is bliss.

Besides Cleo would tell me the roosters have simplified my life; I have no need for an alarm clock now.  But then again, she also told me to pee on the ant bites on my foot and face to stop the itching and prevent infection.  Though I am definitely getting ballsier and am stretching myself in yoga, I don’t have that kind of aim or flexibility.

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Birds of Paradise

It’s beautiful here in the morning. The birds come in hues of every imaginable color- sapphire blue, fire engine red, flaming orange, buttercup yellow.  They flurry and flutter all around the yard accompanied by an equally stunning array of butterflies.  The trees, bushes and plants they land upon are all flowering. They burst with palettes of flamingo pink, goldenrod and vermilion.  It’s a kaleidoscope of color and it’s magnificent. I am delighted more often than I am frightened by this beautiful habitat.

Between work and blog writing, I steal moments to read Christen’s book, Sourcing the Life You Love; each page a blinding flash of spiritual enlightenment. There is too much wisdom contained in these pages to read voraciously.  The insights require slow digestion and much contemplation.

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Beauty everywhere

Christen is obviously well read and writes beautifully, his words are laced with deep knowledge born, I suspect, from even deeper self-examination. His spiritual journey begins as it does for many, including my own, from pain and extensive soul-searching.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by example, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is bitterest.”                                                                                                                                                 Confucius

I have always learned the hard way. School of hard knocks. Better to take some advice from Confuscious and go the noble or easy route. They  will get you to wisdom a whole lot faster and with far fewer bruises than my bitter way.

Cleo’s butchered back, my daughter’s illness, Christen’s confused and conflicted childhood. Thank you, God, for the abundance and challenges in all our lives.

I understand fully that I am to digest the truths in his book and then share this soul-nourishing spiritual food.  When I come across this passage,  I am stunned:

“I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give our self and in turn give another, is encouragement to follow our heart and create our life from Source.”

Apparently, I  am not an original thinker, but that’s okay. Validation is contained in these words. There is reassurance that this crazy Caribbean caper is simply me following my heart and encouraging  you to do the same. Take the easy way, follow my example!  Get started following your own passions.

Source can be called many things, I call the Divine Power and Love around us, God, others call it The Universe, some say Spirit. The name matters not.  The power greater than our self that flows through the highest part of our self is what Christen means.   Confucius, Gandhi, The Buddha, Jesus and all the many other great teachers and prophets speak the same essential truths. Love, forgiveness, honesty, humility, kindness, service to others…

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Christen knows these truths and he is light years ahead of me in his spiritual journey. The instance I think this, I flip the page:

When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.    Lao Tzu

This Grasshopper has much more to learn, but  I’ve come a long way. But with all due respect to Mr. Tzu,  I realize now that the only respect and acceptance any of us needs is from our”self.”  When we can say that we respect, accept, like, or even better, love our”self,” we’re on a pretty good journey of our own.

Then the  hard lessons that make us wiser are no longer so bitter.  Because now they are simply glorious awakenings.

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Done with Bugs and Thugs

I came to Costa Rica to fire walk straight through my fears, not be to consumed by them.  How can I be of service to anyone if I am not leading my life by example? That’s the point of being here,  I think anyway,  when I question myself at least 10 times a day.

“Chase those dreams. Follow your heart. Listen to the beckoning call of destiny.  Passion lies right outside your comfort zone. Quitters never win and winners never quit.”

But I am done with bugs and thugs. I’m no longer letting either ruin this otherwise mystical and magical experience.   I am not going to live a life of fear.  Fire walker that I am.

This blog is intended to be about all the good in this world and there is plenty of it. Sadly, most people would  rather read sensationalism than humanitarianism.  But I’ve met loads of  kind, helpful, caring and generous people, and not one single bad hombre.

Robert helped me at the bus stop, Pedro picked me up from the beach. Morgan wrote this morning, saying  “stay safe and sassy.”   The locals have welcomed me with open arms. And then there is all the love and goodness happening at the soup kitchen. The world is a wonderful place.  Believe it!

Marcia finds me on the beach in Puerto Viejo. There is a protective  reef that creates placid swimming pools, a safe reprieve  from the strong riptides. Barry, Nanci, Larry and Jan (from the Wednesday spiritual/snake group), are also here.  We place our things under a shade tree, scanning for coconuts, and join the others already cooling in the calm water.

A woman with dark brown hair,  a deep tan and matching voice is having a spirited conversation with Jan. “The doctor told me to smoke ganja and take two shots of Jose Cuervo every day,”  she reports in a voice that sounds like gravel.  “Works like magic. Never felt better.”  I didn’t catch what was  annihilated by pot and tequila, and  I can only imagine. How can you question a doctor’s orders?

Marcia introduces me to Cleo and explains that I am here to write.  “Are you a copy editor?” she asks.  “No, but I need one.  Actually Ihave done editing,”  I correct myself, but Cleo brushes me off. She wants the real McCoy.  She’s written a book or two and has another in the works. She gives them away, she doesn’t need the fame or money. Now who’s the lucky duck?

She’s a character this one, I can tell within minutes. “Where are you from?”  I ask. “Wisconsin originally, but Mama packed up all four of us and said buh-buh to Dad and off we go to Florida.”  Cleo is smiling. “When we get there, Mom tells us to take care of ourselves and heads to the bar.”   There is tender reminiscence in what sounds to me a lot like child neglect. “God love her, never missed a day of work even though she was at the bar every night.   I love that woman.”   Cleo’s mom died at age sixty-one  but now she sees that as a gift.  Mom went out … living every second, Cleo thinks.

“See these scars on my back?” Cleo turns, exposing two big scars running down both shoulder blades.  A quack had carved Cleo up like a Thanksgiving turkey, causing endless trouble and serious bodily trauma. “Best thing that ever happened to me, it made me rich!” and she looks up at the cerulean sky holding and shaking  her tanned arms above her head and gives thanks.  Must have sued the doctor, I assume, but Marcia tells me not. Cleo’s misery became her ministry and her pain became her passion.  Mauled, flat broke and damn near destitute, she and her son, with no previous experience, invent  some software that tracks medical professionals with a history of malpractice so no one has to go through what Cleo went through.  The Universe rewards her for her service and now she plays in Caribbean Costa Rica, never to worry about money again.

“I think I am being set up for a break-in,” she says.  Now I am thinking she’s smoked too much weed and has had too many Cuervo shots.   She explains that the wire fence protecting  her home, is being cut back. She inspects the other side and sees a huge opening in the barbed wire fence, evidence that someone is trying to get onto her property.   “Guess it’s a lesson I am supposed to learn, or they are, ” and she bursts into raucous laughter that is carried across the waves. “Was robbed five times before, they took all my electronics- computers, phones, fax- took it all.”  First time, she explains, that her home was not an office, and she loved every peaceful second.

Go with the flow. Don’t fear. Blessings are often disguised.

The eco-tour company that Kiana co-founded has arranged  a guided tour of Cahuita National Park.  It is famous for coral reefs teeming with tropical fish and great snorkeling and has a preserved forest crawling with critters.  Peck, my tour guide,  greets me at the third world bus station.  It’s not hard for him to recognize me as the Gringo he’s  supposed to take hiking, because I am the only one emerging from the crowded, local bus. Kiana almost dies when I suggest I take a taxi, assuring me that the bus is so EASY.   She’s looking at me with those gorgeous, incredulous eyes, thinking where are those cojones?

At the park entrance, a  poisonous eyelash viper snake is curled up inside the entrance sign to the park, ominously portending of what’s to come.  According to  BBC Nature, they are among the most beautiful and dangerous snakes in the world.  This one is pretty, I’ll give you that, a dandelion bright yellow.  Oh boy, Peck tells me the  park has six kinds of eyelash vipers!  We don’t go another 50 yards before spotting another. This guy is white.   But they are both curled up around branches appearing to be taking a siesta like many of the other reptiles, monkeys and sloths that we see.

Peck is a native with an incredible command of English. he tells me he used to be terrified of snakes. I tell him I still am.  His eagle eyes spot camouflaged animals and his trained ears identify toucans and other birds.  My aging eyes spot a blue butterfly (Rice Krispie treat wrapper left on a leaf), a snake- eek! ( a brown leaf on a green tree), and then I pick up the distinctive sounds of a howler monkey,  (a kid crying on the beach).

Don’t quit your day job, Mayo. There’s no work as a ecotourism guide.

We see all kinds of animals and watch mischievous white-faced monkeys trying to pickpocket a tourist’s backpack.  The thieving around here is crazy.  Peck points out two and three-toed sloths sleeping in the trees and huge iguanas hopping like kangaroos from one tree to another.  There are vine snakes and more vipers and gargantuan spiders and I’ve seen plenty.

When I get back home, I have another bug to content with. A “stomatch,” bug.  Kiana   walks me to a tree that smells like mint and tells me to steep the leaves in hot water. I’ve got belches erupting like volcanoes from somewhere deep inside me,  making sounds no woman wants to think herself capable.   The herbal tea works, calming and soothing my stomach like a mother with a crying baby. Everything in nature has a place and I am getting used to it. Maybe even grateful to be a part of it.

It’s all good.  I am living a dream.  I am doing what I love.  I am living every second and, I hope, that I am inspiring some of you to do the same.

 

Battle with the Bugs

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Just one of 220 Reptitles

There are over 3,500 species of bugs in Costa Rica.  Good to know that I’ve just skimmed the surface. The bugs are waging war with me, attacking me as I lie defenseless in my sleep. At least I give them a fighting chance to scurry away before I obliterate them with a skillet. In the morning I look in the mirror.  I have so many angry red bites on my face that  I look like a teenager fighting acne, rather than a grown woman battling bugs.

It’s Saturday and as I get out of bed I wonder who in the hell gets up at 5 am. Then I answer my own question-anyone within  earshot of a rooster. But I don’t mind because I am an early riser.  The stillness of the morning is my meditation time that I call ,”God time.” Without it, I am a nut, and you’re probably thinking…how can I be any nuttier? I know Lillian probably is.

The morning unfolds here like a blossoming flower. Things come alive and the beautiful black birds with their orange coats swoop around from one flowering tree to another. They are elusive and camera shy, so I stop tying to capture their image for my 27 followers, and sit it peace with them.  But the magic of the moment is interrupted by an astounding thud. A coconut has fallen from a tree. The mystery is over, I know now why they  kill when they kerplunk!

I’m tempted to  fetch the fallen coconut, but a squirrel is busy nibbling a coconut still clinging to the underside of the tree’s palms. His busy movements might cause more coconuts to come crashing to the earth, and I don’t want to be a casualty.

“She Lived and Loved Every Second Right Up Until She Walked Under the Coconut Tree.”
Can you imagine surviving everything else here and being taken out by a big nut? (and I get the play on words and unintended metaphor).  Besides, coconuts are probably a dime for a dozen at the farmer’s market I am visiting today.

Whenever I get freaked out about scary things here, I am reminded that I live in Atlanta. Enough said. My downtown home is wired with alarms like Ft. Knox. My best security feature happens to be my house. It’s a dump compared to the lavish, multi-million dollar homes engulfing it. But I am going to appreciate every hot shower, electric dryer and ice cube that comes from it. Princesses, you have no idea how the other half lives!

The farmers market is bustling with activity and brimming with colors of local produce. This is real organic, grown, locally foods. It’s the only kind Kiana buys. I’m with Earth Mom – skip the pesticides, steroids and genetically engineered. Eat local. Live longer.
Its hard to choose from the cornucopia of indigenous crops, but I carefully avoid anything unfamiliar or screaming, “Watch out, Blue Eyes, this pepper is hot!”

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Local Farmers Market

Caribbean pancakes at Bread and Chocolate are worth waiting for and the friendly staff knows me now. Before I leave I take a few pictures of the culinary geniuses that turn chocolate into creations straight from heaven.

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Caribbean Pancakes

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Friendly Chocolatiers

Barry and Nanci’s soup kitchen is already in full swing when I arrive, but I fill creamers and place a relish made of vegetables, vinegar and the hot peppers I avoid on tables. A tree has fallen in their yard that has a huge bees nest.   They’re concerned that the bees may begin swarming  and call the fire department,  who shows up  really fast to assess the situation.  A conservationist appears to save the bees that are important pollinators. The Bee Whisperer is covered in bees and doesn’t seem to mind. The locals are loco.

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Bee Conservationist and Fire Department

A few of us sit in the safety of the screen porch watching Nanci polish off pieces of broken glass that she intends to transform into art.  A small tree bearing an unknown fruit grows in their yard and I ask about it. Cocoa, Nanci explains, before disappearing into the house. She comes out with a tray of chocolate that she made this morning.

With all the bugs, snakes and other stuff, I have misgivings about the trip up the river to meet the tribe and make chocolate. If I want to know how that’s done, I’ll take a trip to Hershey, PA. I’ve reached my limit.

After the soup kitchen, I walk home via the beach and work for a bit. I’ve already been here a week and haven’t been to the beach except the walks I take into town.  I am still maintaining a proper work week and I relax on weekends like everyone else. Kiana tells me the weekends are more crowded, but I am a working girl.

Punta Uva is a nearby beach known for it’s natural beauty and calmer waters. Kiana hails a cab for me.

Pedro drives me to Punta Uva, giving me Spanish lessons along the way. I ask the words for girl ( chica) and boy (chico)  and wonder why I didn’t Google translate instead of shocking poor Lillian.

We drive through several little beach communities dotted with Sodas  (small, local restaurants), hostels, local hotels and shops. On this side of the country, ecotourism prevails. There are no large hotels, chain food restaurants or anything that can further harm this place on the planet. Kiana tells me the Talamanca county we are  has the most preserved nature in the country. I’m sure she’s has a hand in that.

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Punta Uva

The beach is as advertised with pristine waters that are calm and cool just beyond the break line. There are caution signs of riptides and I scan the waves for telltale signs, but the water is too delicious to fear. Natives blare the Bee Gees from  a car stereo,  “More than a woman to me…”  And I am more woman than I ever thought I’d be.

Under the shade of one of Costa Rica’s 1400 species of trees, I read the Lonely Planet book on Costa Rica, skimming over the facts I don’t want to read like the 220 different reptiles – half of them snakes, blah, oh my God, blah, blah, blah.  A woman walks by with a basket on her head, shouting something that sounds like the Spanish equivalent of “Peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy!”   It  has something to do with what looks like tortillas and “con leche,” and even though I am hungry, I pass. My “stomatch” is already a bit upset.

Mikalah walks by with Elijah, followed by a small tribe of gorgeous little boys, Mary Claire and her husband, Tim. They are heading back to Canada, and this is the last weekend at the beach. I’m rather dumbstruck that I know someone and remember there are no coincidences. Mary Claire and I talk and she tells me the differences of the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, and I decide I may leave here a few days earlier to check out the hotter, drier but air-conditioned and more developed other coast.

It’s never the things we do in life that we regret the most; it’s the things we don’t do.

Kiana runs down to greet me when I return from the beach. She’s been reading my blog and she thinks it’s hilarious.  I’m relieved that she’s neither offended or disgusted by my chicken shit- Gringo accounting.  She’s been here so long she can’t even begin to understand what it’s like for a city slicker like me.

Oh God, I think, she’s read the part about the unfortunate incident with Lillian and the  gender gestures and gesticulations. Kiana laughs and says she’ll explain to Lillian. She also tells me I should have hot water and it turns out I do.  But it’s unnecessary here. The cool water feels nice.

She gets a big kick of my cry-baby blogging. You don’t understand, I tell her, my friends and family think I am brave.

 Then it begins, the tales that make geckos seem like the harmless creatures they actually are and the cockroaches like minor annoyances.  I’m smiling, but I wish she wouldn’t go on.

“This is the animals’ place; we’re invading their home,” she says.  No problem, I agree, maybe I should be a good sport and go back to my own home. I want no problems with the indigenous critters.  “The boa was actually not a problem, she probably came into the house because she smells the mouse or rat or whatever you want to call them.”   Mouse. I want to call it a mouse. “Well ,the rat or mouse is eating my avocados and mango that I keep in a bowl in my kitchen, so I am thinking maybe a boa is good.”  How can a f’in boa in the house be good?   “So then I see the boa, it’s not big,” (as she shows me about 2 feet of chicken-swallowing snake),  “comes to the bowl and curls up inside it”   This is incomprehensible. Kiana covers up the snake with a few mangoes and sets a trap. Has she ever heard of Orkin?

“Then one night I hear a sound, and then the [mouse -rat} is gone!”  “Everything has a place here,” she concludes. Everything but me, I think.

There’s more. Poor Kiana thinks I have the hang of jungle living but I am hanging on by a flimsy vine.

“One time I came home to see a sloth in the house.”  Did I mention Kiana  lives next door? “Do you know what this is a sign of? ” she asks me seriously.  Imminent death? Slaughter by sloth toes?  Time to move?

Slow down,”  she says.” I was getting very worried with my husbands’ cancer, and this was a sign to slow down.

God love her and I know He does, but a sloth in my house would be a sign for me to hurry up and pick up the phone.

“Delta, I have a medical emergency, I am going to have a heart attack. Can you please waive the $300 international change fee? I need to come home NOW!”

Buildings and Bye-Byes

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Flash resting after the kill

Flash and his goofy accomplice are in the dog house.  They killed one of Kiana’s chickens and she’s not pleased. These poor chickens around here can’t catch a break with the snakes and now the damn dogs.  When her husband discovered the carcass near my cuckoos nest, Kiana runs to the telltale scene of feathers like a chicken coroner. Her long, waves of white hair flow freely, framing her ethereal, aquamarine eyes. Though she is upset, she is beautiful. Caribbean Mother Earth.

There is a yoga pavilion next door but I have not been.  Kiana had it built behind the large and more modern house that belongs to her daughter. She tells me she wanted to create a place of peace for the residents of the “black beach community. ” It’s her thanks for the abundance given to her by The Universe. She tells me that she even finds blessings in her husband’s cancer. I suspected he was ill and do not want to pry, but Kiana opens up to me. He was told he had six months to live, she says. That was four years ago.  Meditation and gratitude are his spiritual medicines and juicing, diet and supplements combined with modern medicine keep his cancer at bay.

Morgan and Alan, the young couple renting one of Kiana’s cottages, are leaving today and I am sad.  They are friendly and kind and fun to talk to even though we are separated by decades of life.  Their courage and curiosity are to be commended, they have trekked and explored with enthusiasm and abandon.  They are living every second.

They bring a bag of groceries for me and come to say goodbye. I am touched by their thoughtfulness and walk them to the car waiting to take them back to San Jose. We take a few pictures and they promise to follow my blog.  Love is a tender thing I think, as I wave goodbye.

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Alan, Me and Morgan

Maybe there is something to this manifestation thing, as I empty the bag of groceries that fulfills everything on my shopping list- coffee, limes, salad makings.  Watch your thoughts, they are powerful things.

Lillian is here to clean again and she sees me talking with Mom. Now that she’s got the hang of it, Mom checks in daily. She’s reading my blogs and is no doubt a bit concerned about the vermin and villains. Lillian smiles a big, toothless grin and Mom tries hard to conjure up some forgotten eighth grade Spanish.  She compensates by talking more loudly and stupidly, butchering her own language in hopes that Lillian understands. I understand. I do that too.

When the conversation with Mom is over, Lillian asks about my father and I point to the sky. Si, mama y papa, she says, and points to heaven.  Bet Dad and her folks are getting a kick out of us trying to communicate. Lillian tells me she has one grown child (I think).  I ask her if it’s a boy or girl. She stares at me blankly. There is a picture of a man on my book and I tell her “boy” and then show her a picture of Meagan and say “girl.” Nothing. Then I cup my breasts with both hands (oh, yes, I am afraid I do), and say “girl,” and then point to my crotch and make penis gestures (can you imagine?) and she’s appalled. The Gringo is loco and I am beginning to agree.

Kiana pays Lillian her wages and tells me she’s like family, but after the show I put on, I feel that I owe her.  There are two thousand colones  in my pouch  (and two cojones growing in my panties), and I fish it out and give it to Lillian.  She’s now made twice as much money in one day than 53 percent of the world.  She earned it.

Most of the day is spent on my real work and it’s important. There is news from the States that I want to ignore but can’t.  It’s my job to stay informed of the policies that may impact our work as cultural exchange sponsors.  The White House announces a huge slash in the State Department budget so they can beef up the defense budget.  I am crushed.  Bombs over building. This news has been percolating for some time and the day before I read new executive orders and countless news articles and watch syndicated video of the backlash even among the Republican party. This is not a political cause to me, this is a humanitarian one. Reducing “soft” programs that provide aid and diplomatic ties to people around the world is an insurance policy that keeps us safer. Marvin Gaye sings in my head, “War is not the answer for only love can conquer hate.”  This place is affecting me.

A Republican opposing these massive cuts sums it up for me:

“Terrorists offer a glorified death. We have to offer a hopeful life.”

It’s late when the last email shoots across from my laptop to the Austin office. No one is there, South by Southwest is consuming the city and the interest of the office. It’s Friday afternoon and I am shutting my computer down and heading to yoga finally.  I’m too busy  writing blogs for my 27 followers. Patience, Grasshopper.  Build it and they will come.

Meagan and the boys call me and River bursts into laughter the instant I appear on the screen.  He wants to sing me Old McDonald and I grimace at the thought. Thank God he’s got a pig on his farm because another cock-a-doodle-do in going to send me right into a real cuckoo house. Lennon leaps at the screen trying to scare me but that’s no longer possible with all the things I’ve been contending with. But I pretend anyway. I hope my heart holds out. I have two more weeks of this.

They have to go to Charleston. Kisses, goodbye my loves.

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My Loves, Lennon, Meagan and River

Yoga is a type I’ve never done where the goal is intention, awareness and holding long poses for many deep “respirations.”  The instructor is older and earthy and  filled with some sort of mystical energy that fills the open air pavilion.  My eyes are shut and my body is tight but I send my “respirations” to all the places that hurt.  That would be everywhere. My muscles are tight like fat rubber bands and they don’t want to expand no matter how much intention I give them.  Even my “stomatch” is sore when I fill it with air.

The sounds from the sea and birds create an amphitheater of nature and it distracts me from the pain.  We end class with a series of chants and more intentions for the peace of all creatures and beings.

At home the first creature I encounter is another equine cockroach. Wham! The cast iron skillet saves me again.  Holy shit, there is another.  Bam! I am a badass.  I clean the pan and go to wash my hands and there is a tarantula in training in the sink. It meets a watery demise when I flush it down the sink.

I scour the shower before getting in – I want no company.  It’s Friday and it’s late and the cool (the only kind available) water feels nice. Everything is good again.

A large, green praying mantis greets me in the kitchen that is quickly becoming Wild Kingdom.  He better say a few prayers  himself or he’s going to end up with the other creatures who are shattering my f’in serenity!  He’s spared after  both of us do a bunch of frantic hopping around  and he’s returned to the jungle outside of the one in my house.

I take a deep respiration of relief.  Namaste.