Words that Change the World

IMG_5231.JPGWhen someone recommends that you read a certain book, you should probably listen. That’s been my experience.  A recent personal slump worried my girlfriends – they didn’t just recommend a book, they bought it for me. They care about me enough to lead me to water, and I respect them enough to drink from this well of knowledge.  They had enough of my crying baby boo-hooing, and wanted me to know that I was selling myself short. The book changed my life, or at least a chapter of it.  It’s the reason I went to Costa Rica. It made me determined to work on myself, to follow my passion and to find my purpose.

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Shortly after the I read the book that reawakened my soul and spirit, I ran into someone who needed to remember her inner awesomeness, too.  I told Sherry to pass it on to the next woman who could use a little lifting and reminding of the power we all have to accomplish great things and lead an incredible life.
That’s why I write this blog and spent years writing a book.  What fuels my passion to write is the thought that I might have a positive impact by words, wisdom or humor. God, how I pray my words could be so powerful.
This morning I was reading another book that a friend gave me.  Karen is  a better Catholic and person than I am, she was just born the person I strive to be.  She knows I am trying hard, so she nudges me along with real love and encouragement.  She’s the kind of friend that tells me that I look hot in my new ski suit walking down a green run right into jam-packed,  Mid Vail.  Most people would be mortified. Not Karen, she sees the silver lining in everything. Once, when I was whining about how little my house is (compared to the one percent), she shrugs this off and tells me, “Open a window, Girlie, you’ll be fine, no problem.” It’s the middle of winter and it’s 20 degrees out, but I get her point.
Somehow it was lost on me that the book she gives me is intended to be read the 40 days of Lent.  Since Easter is this Sunday, I have some catching up to do.
I feel a bit sage when I read the  book jacket that suggests giving up chocolate for Lent is probably not going to pry open any gate to heaven.  I’ve figured out that in most cases, unless we are giving up something like jealousy, resentment, selfishness, anger, unhealthy addictions and other similar negative energy activities, we’re not gaining much.   At best, chocolate abstinence may prevent a few cavities or unwanted pounds, but make you a better person? Probably not.  The book confirms that maybe Lent is about doing more of the good that is character-building and soul-nourishing.
There is a chapter about helping the poor.  (This blog is not religious or political – it’s intended to  be thought-provoking).  It talks about helping the “least of my brothers.” This strikes a chord.
There is a statue in my office that I got at a silent auction that is a daily reminder of this. Some years ago when I was at a financial low, I went to a fundraiser for “Food for the Poor.”  I joke that I was closer to being a recipient than a donor, because I was giving from my need, the surplus was long gone.   As I walk around looking at the silent auction items on display, I come upon this stone statue of a beggar holding out his hand. After closer inspection, I notice there is a hole in the center of the beggar’s hand and it sends chills throughout my body. The statue is called, “Whatsoever You Do.”  I peer under the beggar’s cloak and see the face of Christ.  This is life-changing.
I’m going through my closet and giving more clothes to a home that helps domestic violence victims find employment. Meagan has a friend who volunteers there.  I’m going to continue to help those who ask for money when I come across them.  They always bless me when I help and I know their prayers are blessings are as powerful as mine. It’s none of my business what they do with the money,  it’s only my business to show them that people care. I do it as much for me as them.
And I am going to continue reading the words and wisdom that makes me reflect, digest and act.  Hopefully, I will write a few words of my own that will help people re- remember (because deep down we all know),  the secrets to being the best version of themselves.
This is a quote from one of the greatest books ever written.
“To whom much is given, much will be required.”  
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Life Lessons for Lennon

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The silver lining to returning home from Costa Rica is that I get to spend a few days with Lennon during his spring break.  We’re heading to an island off the Gulf Coast of Florida for a few days and staying in a friend’s beach home. There’s no better company than Lennon. He’s scary smart, wickedly funny, wildly entertaining and wise well beyond his six years.

He’s called me Jody or My Jody since he could manage the words.  It was a few years later that he learned I was his grandmother.  He just figured that I was a friend of the grown up variety.  Vanity plays a part in this, I must admit. He has a grandmother and a step grandmother so in my mind there was no need to confuse the situation with another grandma.  I’m clearly a better big friend than a knitting needle-toting, cookie-baking, cheek-pinching cliché in a rocker.  I am a rocker!

Lennon is savvy enough to understand the subject of age is a tender one for me. Since he has latched onto this it has been his stick to poke and provoke me and he’s damn funny about it.  “You’re a grandma, you know!” he giggles.  “Hey old lady,” he taunts.  If I weren’t so reactive, he would have abandoned the game long ago.  He made up a song when he overheard a conversation about hot flashes.  “You know My Jody, gets hot flashes, every single morning and in the nighttime…in her sleep.”  Honestly, Lennon’s hot flash song has a catchy tune to it.

Guessing my age is one of Lennon’s  favorite pastimes.  “I think you are forty,” he says, as if the number is as astronomical as they come.  My reply?  “And I think you are a very smart boy.”  Lennon is smug. He’s guessed my geriatric age.

A few weeks later, he challenges me.  “I heard Mommy and Daddy and you are NOT 40!” He’s indignant. “You lied, Jody.”  This stops me because this is not funny. Honesty is a lesson I want to teach this impressionable youth.  “Lennon, I don’t lie. You said I was 40 and I said you are smart. That is the truth. You are smart. But you made an incorrect deduction.”  Lennon is unconvinced by this technicality.  Yes, I really am this cagey with a then five-year-old.  “Besides,”  I conclude, sophmorically, “Your mother doesn’t know everything.”  Check.  “Well, she know what tricks you’ve got up your sleeves!” he trumps. Check mate.

The other day, he’s onto something. “Mommy is 31 so you have to be at least 50!” Lennon studies my face looking for a fragile fault line of horror. “You’re getting scared,” he observes and giggles.  Who the heck is teaching him math in his magnet school let alone the power of deduction?  “Twenties, thirties and forties are off the table!” he declares.  I am dying now, actually doubled over.  My friend William is with us, but he’s  too afraid to laugh.

Later, smarty pants Lennon thinks he heard me say, “He gotsomething…”  I’d rather eat a worm than have such an abomination emerge from my lips.  But Lennon will not be convinced and he corrects my grammar.  “He got something…” he says emphatically to his ignoramus grandma.  William wants to help out because he sees his friend getting verbally eviscerated by a six-year-old.  “I think Jody said got, she’s had 50 years to practice English.” Lennon  abandons  the grammar lesson with this new nugget of knowledge that he thinks slipped out of William’s mouth. ” So, you’re 50!!!!”  Lennon’s  ecstatic. So am I.

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In Florida we spend time on the beach burying Lennon in the sand, which he thinks is so fun.  We take kayaks and paddle boards out on the water.  The weather turns cool, so we take to mini golf, visit the aquarium and take boat rides with friends and go on a dolphin tour. We get a bonus because we see over a dozen dolphins feeding and playing and three sluggish manatees. We play board games and drive the golf cart to get homemade ice cream.  I whisper, “Thank you, God,” when I watch Lennon skipping with childlike glee and wonder.

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We take one final trip to Two Scoops Ice Cream and, since this is our last day, I let Lennon get two scoops, of course.   We walk to the pier across the street to enjoy our creamy confections and watch the aquamarine water.  We sit on bench that has a pile of  flowers and crosses made out of palms on it.  A man walks over and explains that he’s leaving for the day and we can help ourselves to his dainty bouquets and delicate creations. There are at least a dozen or more, so I fish into my purse and get a bill insufficient for the bounty, but it’s all I have.

The artist is waiting for the bus and he says the money is unnecessary but I insist and he gives me a hug.  Lennon asks me what we are going to do with all these flowers and I explain, we’re going to make people’s day.  

Groups of people are walking to the pier and Lennon finds a woman in a wheel chair breathing oxygen through a tube and walks up and hands her a flower.  He sees another woman being pushed by her son in a wheelchair and hands her a flower.  She is stunned and thanks the ice-cream-covered child that brought her a bit of sunshine. There is a another woman who he offers a rose, she is startled and then smiles broadly.  She and her husband sit on a bench across from us and watch as Lennon delivers roses to every older woman who walks by.  Each of them are touched. One  woman’s husband walks over to Lennon and thanks him for giving his wife a flower.  He tells Lennon that it’s very kind and hands him a dollar.  Another young girl gives him two dollars for the smile Lennon brings to her mother.  We tell them it’s unnecessary, we just want to spread some love. They insist.

“Jody, does the man that makes these flowers do it for fun or for money?” Lennon asks. He does it for money I explain. “Then we should give him the money.” Those powers of deduction are spot on this time.  “He already left, but we’ll make sure we give it to someone who needs it.” The woman on the bench tells me it’s so rare to see these random acts of kindness. “It’s a good lesson you’re learning,” she tells Lennon.

We’ve seen a circle of kindness. We witness good going around.   A little boy brings smiles to lovely ladies.

There are do overs and second chances. Life can be both forgiving and forgetful. Thank God.  My daughter saw a lot of conspicuous consumption. My grandchildren will see a lot of examples of generosity and caring.  Lennon feels very good about the smiles he created.

And this ole grandma got to share a lesson that it is in giving that we receive.

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Police, Priests and Perspective

FullSizeRender (78).jpgReentry to the U.S, is a rude awakening. The City of Atlanta did not accept, or even respond for that matter, to my request to postpone my court appearance. Failure to appear in court for any infraction, including  failure to stop  at a  sign that few can see without eyes on the side of their head, is an automatic warrant for arrest.  That bit of knowledge makes me stop in my tracks.

Principles will be the death of me.  My citation was an out-and-out trap and a money-making proposition and a travesty when the city is so riddled with bad guys.  Surely the police have better things to do than to pull me over driving my little ole’ Mom to the library?  A woman was gunned down in broad daylight in one of Atlanta’s busiest streets. But our police are out pulling people over for invisible signs.  Failure to appear in court  is going to put me in the pokey.  The small consolation is that I’d be confined with other traffic violation villains, because the bad hombres are on the streets carrying lethal weapons.  But the last thing I want is to be arrested at airport  immigration, so I come back three days early.

My Catholic upbringing makes me nervous when I see two kinds of uniforms- those of priests and police.   Sins and thoughts of sinning make me break out in guilt-ridden sweat. I want to blurt out confessions for everything I’ve done, failed to do or want to do. But the bully who pulled me over two months before I left for Costa Rica showed no mercy and granted no clemency even with my most humble admission of guilt.  Pay the fine or appear in court, he tells me hiding his eyes behind a pair of cliche mirrored aviator sunglasses.

The judicial system makes me nervous.  Really, what’s up with the courtroom throne, black robes and wooden gavel?   The policeman barking out courtroom etiquette in a Barry White deep voice?  Is it  me or is this just intimidating? Misdemeanors and felons fill the halls and I am a fish out of water.  I’m not adding insult to injury by breaking any court rules, so I carefully read all the instructions posted on the closed courtroom door.  No chewing gum. Check, Mom never let us chew gum because it’s not ladylike. She’s right, every time I put a piece of gum in my mouth I become a cow chewing cud or a hooker waiting for her next trick. This one is easy. No weapons in court.  Ah, this one stuns me, would someone in trouble with the law really appear in court packing?  But then I remember several years ago when a judge was tragically gunned down in his own courtroom.  The only thing lethal I’ve got  is my razor-sharp tongue but I keep the safety on that. It’s gotten me into too much trouble.  No “do- rags.” Yes, this is actually spelled out on a sign. I am flabbergasted and slightly amused.  I am tempted to take a picture except cell phones must be turned off and I don’t want to get into more trouble for making fun of the law.  Why didn’t I just paid the damn fine?

After much ado, I am admonished slightly and sent to pre-trial intervention where I get a mild slap on the hand, sign a pledge to be more careful in the future and pay a hefty fine. Justice is served and the city coffers are filled with a continuous stream of income.  Now please, will you keep our streets safer by getting real bad guys?

My dryer is not working, but now I know that you can actually air dry clothes. Problem is I can’t do so outside because Atlanta is in full bloom and blanketed with a fine layer of moss-green pollen.  Everything is covered in this dusty, gritty green. The clothes hanging all over my house looks slightly third worldy and there is something oddly comforting in this. I’ve adapted to a different level of living and the malfunctioning dryer isn’t really a problem.

Three weeks away has changed my perspective. The club across the street with the Olympic lap pool, golf course and tennis courts is sheer decadence.  When I eat the food on my plate that I warm in the oven or heat in the microwave, it’s not taken for granted. I remember to say grace.  Thoughts of the food kitchen and all the poor I saw in Costa Rica and Panama come to mind and I think, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Gratitude fills my heart and a bit of shame for all the times I have honestly believed that I have so much less.  If I am going to compare in the future, I’ll measure up against the 99 percent of the population that would love my life instead of the one percent that lives better. What can I be thinking?

Now that I am home, I am wondering what will anchor me here.  Maybe I’ll rent my house and venture back out in the world. I’ve discovered a tour company that is part pleasure and part volunteer work and that sounds like a good plan. English teachers are needed in many parts of the world. I can’t be much help building schools or hospitals, but I can help build vocabularies.

This second half of life has to have meaning for me. It’s about making a difference and leaving a meaningful legacy.

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.”

This wisdom from some sage by the name of Rabindranath Tagore.  This sounds right to me.

 

 

Culture Shock

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Touchdown in Atlanta, United States of America. Land that I love. There’s no place like home,  just ask Dorothy or anyone who travels away from the familiarity of their own home. Amazing experiences and unforgettable moments are to be had beyond our own borders and backyards, but it’s always good to come back home.

There are at least 500 people who may not feel it’s so magnificent to be in our country. Young mothers with restless children and crying babies, elderly couples growing older by the minute waiting in the insanely long immigration line. Welcome to the United States of America. God, I feel so bad for these people, how awful and uncertain they must feel.  Maybe they are even afraid. This  shock is unnecessary, and this welcome is not the culture of our great nation.

In the more than 6o countries I have visited, I’ve never endured a wait such as the one I see at the airport.  All this added scrutiny is rooted in fear and “what ifs.”  What if that 90-year-old woman hobbling on a cane is packing explosives in her knitting bag?

The German I meet in Bocas del Toro says he’s avoiding any travel that includes connections in the U.S. He doesn’t want to deal with immigration. This makes perfect sense now that I see the endless line of weary travelers. I want to apologize as I breeze past them and head to Global Entry because, in my country, being a blue-eyed Gringo is a hall pass. News flash. We’ve got made-in-America bad guys.  It feels so wrong to single out races, religions, ethnicity. Maybe because it is.  Didn’t we shed our countrymen’s blood to fight foreign governments doing the same?  What am I missing?

My house keys unlock the door to opulence that a few weeks ago was inadequacy. Comparison and contrast is the deceptive work of the ego. Gratitude is the language of the soul. My little cottage has rooms to spare, reliable electricity, a refrigerator that produces ice and a heating and cooling system that guarantees comfort. The coffee maker is not a condom-looking contraption. Chantel says Michael Jordan lost something when I send her the picture of the Costa Rican prehistoric, drip coffee-making apparatus. My king bed seems ridiculous for just me, but I can’t wait to slip under the Egyptian cotton sheets.

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It’s both fabulous and a bit unsettling to be home.   Why is there so much financial disparity and why do I ever feel moments of self-pity rather than living in a perpetual state of gratitude?  The new perspective from three weeks of living in the third world is transforming.

A tiny bug, attracted to the lamps that I have left on in my absence to deter any bad hombres, is smashed with my bare finger. He’s an amateur compared to his jungle relations. I don’t even wash my hands right away because Costa Rica has altered me. No more ‘fraidy cat here. Tough as nails and ready for this new chapter. Bring it on.

People are finding my blog and they take the time to write me lovely things. This encourages me. Michele lifts me with her words and agrees to read my manuscript. She’s been texting that reading about my Parisian adventures and misadventures, is causing her to need some Depends. It’s all true I tell her. You can’t – or I can’t – make this stuff up. Michele’s belief in me sprouts root and branch to hope. Maybe I am an author. Don’t I really believe that dreams come true? Of course I do.

The clarity of hindsight has been eye-opening. All those mistakes that I chronicle in the book? Follies and foibles? Heartache and heartbreak? They have now become lessons that I get to share, maybe to help others avoid the same mistakes.

A wise person learns from other people’s mistakes. A fool doesn’t learn from their own.

The lease on my car is ending and I wonder if this is a luxury I can live without. In the age of access rather than ownership. Maybe my carbon footprint can be minimized by more of my own footsteps.

There’s a lot to consider and reconsider about the things I need or want.

Anyway, happiness has never been wrapped in a package or purchased with a credit card, although God knows I tried.  My Paris experience taught me that happiness is found in a full and grateful heart. Costa Rica emphasizes this.

Will I remember to count my blessings each and every day?  Will I treasure clean running water, a toilet that can handle tissue, a refrigerator stocked with food?

Please, please never let me forget this lesson or to count my blessings at the end of each day to remind me.  Even if it takes all night.

 

A New Chapter, Not An Ending

FullSizeRender (76).jpgClosing a door to anything that once filled your heart is not easy. So I prefer to keep things slightly ajar, with the exception of toxic relationships. Lock the door. Throw away the key.  There is a whole wide magnificent world to discover, so I rarely go to the same place twice.  Never save never.  Maybe I’ll return, you just never know what life has in store. It is said that God laughs the hardest when you tell Him your plans.

When a chapter is closing, what’s next?  Another book, perhaps. In my case figuratively and literally. I decide to put the blogs I’ve written together into a book called Firewalker. In the time I spent in Costa Rica, I also found a book editor for the manuscript that I wrote in 2009. After much sweat and financial equity invested, it has been atrophying on a bookshelf in my office.  My mother and a handful of loyal friends read it and now perhaps, the “Book Angel” will bring it to life.

When intention is followed by action, it is said that the Universe conspires to assist.  In three months, the angel who is helping me, will return the manuscript. I’ve taken to calling her the “book alchemist,” because she’ll take my raw material and turn it into gold. She’ll polish the rough stone into a brilliant diamond. I’m so sure of it.

This book is called “I’m Just Looking,” because in this chapter of my life, that’s all I could afford to do.  After my daughter’s illness and a couple of years out of work, the money was all but gone. The silver lining is, so is my lust for all the things that once defined and then devoured me.  Since my childhood, I had dreamed of becoming an author and, without a job or any other reasonable excuse, I set out to write a book.  It’s my riches to rags memoir of redemption about a corporate executive that loses everything she once held dear to go to Paris and work as a dog walker in exchange for room and board. My how the mighty have fallen, Mom says about this chapter.

The dog walker learns the language, makes friends and more mistakes, becomes an author and discovers the real treasures in life and discovers herself.  The book becomes a metaphor for the search we all have in life – the quest and endless seeking for the jobs, homes, relationships, stuff that will make us complete when everything we need to be happy we already have. It’s not outside ourselves.  It is within our self.  It’s an epiphany for me of life-changing magnitude.

Costa Rica has been a similar experience. Who knew I could find these deep wells of resilience?  Run over my fears with a cast iron skillet in hand?  Find the discipline and determination to write for my handful of readers?  Stick it out and firewalk right over the flaming hot coals of self-doubt?  We are all so much stronger than we give ourselves credit.  But I have a secret that gives me the strength I wouldn’t otherwise have – it’s called faith. The rock that all impregnable fortresses are built upon.  Little ole me alone in the jungle surrounded by scary things wouldn’t last a day. But I was NEVER alone. It’s permissible to use the word NEVER in this case, and it is emphatic!

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Kiana is up early and walks me to the gate where the van awaits. The driver arrives precisely at 6 am and has already placed the ridiculous suitcase in the van.  Kiana apologizes for the refrigerator that never worked and for anything else that may have jaded my experience.  It’s unnecessary.  If I was unprepared. then it was my naiveté.  I accomplished what I came here to do, I assure Kiana.  I started a blog, I wrote every day, I got an editor for my book and I discovered courage, perseverance and passion.  I found humanity and humor in the midst of it all and met people from around the world that gave me such hope that there is goodness and kindness everywhere.  Mission accomplished – don’t apologize for a single thing.

What doesn’t bite you, scare you or kill you makes you stronger.

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It’s a five-hour drive to San Jose, back through the twists and turns of the mountains. Trucks, burdened with heavy cargo, labor up the steep inclines making our journey slow. But the lush hills mesmerize me; they are covered with leaves so large you could curl up in a ball and siesta in their green vastness.  The biodiversity of this country is astounding.

There is a feeble attempt to control the flow of traffic on the two-lane treacherous mountain passage. The bright yellow dividers that are intended to keep vehicles from passing one another are dented, dinged, decapitated or flattened like pancakes on the road. The container trucks coming and going to the port of Limon have the right of way. Heavy plastic dividers are no match.

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As we near the city, it becomes drier, dustier and arid. The grass is the color of wheat. I am told the Pacific coast is facing drought and the temperatures reach well over 90 degrees.  Night and day from the opposite coasts.  The houses are fortified with metal bars and barbed wire, portending of a problem with crime.  It’s too bad, but where there is poverty, there is generally desperation.

The tip I give the driver for his patient and careful driving is appreciated and he gives me a warm hug as he deposits me at the airport. There have been no strangers here. Only people who have not yet become friends.

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I have no clue what I am going to write about once I hit home, or what the future holds for me. But that’s okay because I feel certain that it is a happy one because I feel so incredibly content. Passion and purpose were found in the Costa Rican jungle.  My love of words, adventure and people all came together. I don’t sense that this is the end. I have a feeling it’s a new beginning.

I walked on seventeen feet of burning hot coals three times.  Because I believed I could. And now I believe that there is an amazing new chapter of my life about to unfold.

Thanks for sharing this chapter  with me.  Knowing you were out there helped me more than you know.

 

Bug Home

IMG_5013.JPGThe journey back to Costa Rica does not seem as long or as arduous. The conditions are better – the passage over the sea is calmer, the weather is clearer and the wifi-equipped van is bigger and air-conditioned. Even the whole tax-paying border shenanigans seem less sheisty.  The latrine in the government building is clean and I am happy not to have to use the one in the Soda where the van waits for us to clear immigration.

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After a few hours, I’m deposited right in front of Chimuri.  Of course, the first thing that greets me at my steps is a gigantic bug of a Jurassic Park variety. It’s at least two inches of unfamiliar black and red grasshopper, with huge bug eyes. It’s menacingly slow-moving and it is way to big to splat with the skillet.  The minute I unlock the door to the cuckoos nest, geckos scurry in every direction. They’ve had a field day in my absence.  Bet they’ve gone through my unmentionables and rummaged through my cosmetics, too.  There’s a momentary stand-off where geckos and me are undecided until we remember there’s nothing to fear and plenty of room for everyone. Heck, take the spare room it’s got clean sheets. Have it all to yourselves. I’ll stay in the room to the left.  Nighty-night.

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Now that I’ve come to terms with my imminent departure, I start loading my weekend bag directly into the Kim Kardashian suitcase stored in the other room.  Anything that won’t be used or worn in the next two days goes right into the bag. I marvel how much I brought and how little I actually needed or used. If there is one thing I have learned on this trip, it is that I can get along with a lot less of everything. My closet at home seems like excess. Time to cull and give away to those who actually have a need and no ridiculous surplus. Long ago, I implemented a one for one personal policy. Whenever I get something new, so does someone else.  If something goes into my closet, something comes out and goes to someone who, like me, might like to wear something new.  And it’s not my junk that I donate, it’s the things I love and appreciate. It makes me happy knowing someone else will too.

I have to arrange for transportation back to San Jose, so I walk to Banana Azul. They have been so helpful making arrangements for me and I am not even a guest. Kiana sees me and asks me about my trip to Panama. Love it there, I say all dreamy-eyed.  She gets a bit defensive about her special spot, telling me how beautiful it was here and the sea had calmed from its riptide roar. It was the more usual sunny weather and calm water, she beams.  Lovely, I smile. All that may be perfectly true, but it felt nice to be unencumbered by thoughts of thugs and bugs and to walk in the streets and into my hotel room without searching for creepy things like a human periscope.

Tomorrow is the soup kitchen and I have to stop by to say goodbye to Nanci and Berry and return Christen’s book that I borrowed from the lending library. Tonight will be my last yoga in the pavilion and I will miss the physical instruction and the spiritual awakenings. There is union here of body, soul and mind.  Pamela has mastery, but I am not even knee-deep to a Grasshopper (not the icky black kind).

Savasana, the Sanskrit name meaning “corpse pose” or final relaxation pose is the easiest physically but the hardest mentally. It requires that you cut off the incessant voice of the “monkey mind,” and lie still and thoughtless in the moment. This is not as easy as you would imagine. Turning off the crazy chatter in our heads is WORK.  Leave me alone, please, just a few moments of peace without “The List.”  What am I going to write about when I get home?  Why am I writing a blog for my 10 friends who don’t have to work and have the time to read it?  How am I going to live, no wait, where am I going to live? ….” You get the idea.  Shut up already!

Pamela and Jess hug me and wish me beautiful things for my life, health and future. This time there are real tears and I taste salt as I walk away.

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The soup kitchenis called El Puente, and it is already in action when I arrive. Pablo brought his wife and daughter. His little girls is adorable and somewhat apprehensive of the blue-eyed Gringo stranger, but I sit with them and her father’s familiarity with me puts her more at ease.  How old are you I ask, and her mother interprets. She holds up four precious little fingers.  Then she says something back to me.  Pablo smiles, exposing rows of ebony teeth. He’s amused. She asks how old you are, he explains.  Mind your ps and qs and eat your soup, Cutie Pie.  It will make you grow big and strong and healthy so one day you’ll be as ancient as me.

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Barry had told me an intriguing story on a previous visit to El Puente about a local tribe and I ask him to tell me more. The story, legend or lore recounts that the women of a local tribe had enough with the abuse, drinking and generally abhorrent behavior of their men.  They had become prone to excess drinking that their indigenous natures can’t tolerate and then became sexually and physically abusive. The women took matters into their own hands. Evidently they dished out what they had been served, beating the men badly and driving them out of the tribe.  Several of the men were hospitalized and all were traumatized by the well-orchestrated and executed feminine upheaval.

The women went on to build a school and brought civility and community back where there had been drunken chaos and insane calamity.  The children learned the language of their ancestors and indigenous culture and traditions were restored. Over time, some of the men have sheepishly returned to the village, under strict conditions for their behavior.  Evidently, hell hath no fury like a tribe of battered women.

It’s time to bid another fond farewell at El Puente. This one is conditional…maybe we’ll see you again, you never know, perhaps one day… Nanci and Barry pose for a picture under a sign saying, “Love One Another” and clearly they do.  They also seem to genuinely love all the people that they welcome into their home including me. That’s the vibe they give out. Open arms, warm soup, loving hearts.

I’m so grateful the world has people like Nanci and Barry and I am so happy that  I keep running into them.  These are the people and stories  that I want to share with the world, because all of us to need a little hope for humanity.

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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!