So you think you can speak Spanish?

J-M and I did our best to pretend we were bilingual while in Costa Rica.  We tried to be somewhat discreet with our Spanish – English Dictionary, but it accompanied us everywhere.  We would memorize the basics, like numbers and greetings, and then look for opportunities to practice them.

I can remember a missionary friend from Guatemala, serving in Toronto, telling me she became bilingual by learning one word a day.  No problem.  In our own language-training course, we were also taught that words are more easily learned by using them to describe what you are doing, as you do it.  For instance, you would recite sentarse as you sit down or levantarse as you stand up.

I know that perro means dog, interchanged with the term estúpido in certain situations.

Here are some of our favourite Costa Rican Spanish words and the experiences that helped download them into our lexicon.

Pura Vida

This phrase is specifically Costa Rican vernacular; you wouldn’t use it in the same way in, say, Brazil or Mexico.  It is directly translated “Pure Life,” but is used in all sorts of ways, such as hello, you’re welcome, no problem, cool, great…  This is the one Spanish phrase we learned, but chose not to practice because we didn’t feel entitled.  This one is Costa Ricans Only.


This is a typical Costa Rican greeting, if not pura vida or hola.  It is short for buenas dias (good day), buenas tardes (good afternoon) and buenas noches (good night)It’s just good.  Makes for a very positive place when everyone says GOOD! to each other.

Tormenta electrica

Our first day in Costa Rica at Playa Juanquillal in the evening, we were given a magnificent display of a lightning storm over the ocean.  The following day, there was a thunderstorm that kept us indoors most of the afternoon and forced us to relax.  By day three, we were getting used to them.  In fact, tormenta electrica came in some form (great or small) every day, except for our last.  We even experienced a thunderstorm in the sun!  I could fully see my shadow through the downpour and I wondered, “Should I or shouldn’t I get out of this pool?”

In case of thunderstorm, keep out of the water.

In rainy season tormenta electrica is part of the fun.  Especially when you put on your best Count von Count accent when you pronounce it, hah hah hah.


Pop is called mineral in Ghana and soda in the USA.

Soda is called pop in Canada and means fast food in Costa Rica.

Therefore, gaseosos is the least confusing word to order my daily dose of Coke Light at the soda.

Fast food restaurant in San Jose where we stopped for dos gaseosos, por favor.

Con mucho gusto

When directly translated it means with much pleasure, but con mucho gusto is the Costa Rican response to thank you, if not pura vida. Whereas, in other Latin American countries it would most likely be de nada.

It got to be ridiculous when we were at Rio Celeste and so very grateful and over-said gracias to the staff there… And then we stopped, so as not to inconvenience the servers to give us the five syllable response.

When we left Rio Celeste and ate at a restaurant on the road, we were surprised and a little relieved when our waiter only said con gusto to our gracias.  That’s fair.


Let me just say that J-M was loving this Costa Rican slang term for a blond male.


I asked J-M at one point if he thought we could live without the GPS alerting us to “DANGER! Bridge ahead.”  All 159 we crossed were clearly marked with a yellow PELIGRO sign.


Hey look at this!  I showed J-M the cheat sheet on the menu that directly translated pastor as shepherd.  Of course J-M knew that already and, also of course, shepherding one’s congregation is the duty of the pastor.  This translation makes so much sense.

But we forgot all about this banter on our last day in Costa Rica, when we were hoping to purchase a piece of art in San Jose. It would be the ultimate souvenir, an original painting of a well-known Costa Rican painter of the mountainous landscape we’d come to love.  And it would be our ANNIVERSARY PRESENT (how we would justify the expense).  The cost was exorbitant, beyond what we could afford, never mind what we were willing to pay. But we were enamored with the painting.  I played the “pastor” card and told Amir, the curator, that we could not afford his price because my husband is a pastor, so if he couldn’t give it to us at our price, we would have to say no.

Amir said, “I am a pastor too!  In my village in the mountains!”  J-M was skeptical for a couple of reasons, including the number of nudes Pastor Amir had in his collection… and what the heck was he doing selling art in the city if he had a congregation to pastor in the village?  But Amir insisted.  “From one pastor to another, you can have the painting at your price!”

It wasn’t till much later – too late to clarify with Amir –  that we realized, He meant shepherd!  He thought you were a shepherd!

And I, a shepherd’s wife.

Estoy Contenta

At our last dinner at a chic little restaurant in an old building with a young crowd, jazz music playing, and us feeling privileged to be there, I told J-M, estoy contenta, which means I am happy/content.  The trip from start to finish was a total success in that we enjoyed everything we experienced, it was a much-needed investment into our marriage, and just the right length of time. We were ready to return home.

The only bummer was that we felt like we just got the hang of the language – to hear it in conversations and be able to respond to some degree – only to have to leave that behind.  Being surrounded by the language and practicing it wherever you go is certainly the fastest education and we were halting that by leaving.

Just then the waiter came by and J-M proficiently put together and pronounced a string of Spanish words, so that there was no confusion and the server did exactly what was asked of him. My, my, my didn’t J-M look suddenly very attractive!  I told J-M that he could practice his Spanish on me anytime…

So now, when J-M says to me, “Cuenta por favor? Acepta tarjeta de crédito?” I don’t mind a bit that he’s asking me for the bill and whether I accept credit cards.

Si, estoy contenta.”

Then they pulled out their photo albums and made me listen to their stories

A day in San Jose is only a miniscule slice of its full story.  But still, it tells us some things… what it wants to reveal to us, with a few surprises.

Everything looks better in the morning.   I snapped a picture of our hotel and it was so lovely, I couldn’t help but forgive it for its rude behaviour the night before.

Loved the contrast between this pink, historic escuela and the yellow, modern school bus outside its doors.

Police presence always seems more imposing in other countries, but I’m sure when tourists came to Barrie, Ontario and see our police in their shorts and bicycles doing the Lakeshore Drive circuit, they’re intimidated too.

Here’s an oxymoron: respectful graffiti.  Windows only? “Street Art” was prevalent, mostly on park benches and streets.  No Banksy sighting, though.

I was going to buy this, wear it all over the place this week, and annoy a whole lot of people.  Not a bad return for 2,500 colones, or $5 USD.

Costa Rica has a huge surf culture – even surfer missionaries! Here you can look the part whether you hang ten or not.

We were quick to discover San Jose’s obsession. Almost every other store (sometimes many in a row) was a shoe store.

When in Rome…

This is me practicing my Private Eye skills, by holding the camera at hip level and hoping for the best.  I was tired of asking ¿con permission? every time I wanted to take a picture.

Successful PI photo.  During our time in Costa Rica, we didn’t see much evidence of “religion” besides this store and a large Roman Catholic church at the city centre.  J-M’s books told him that RC is a holdover and is not widely practiced.  We saw a few country iglesias, keeping in mind that we drove A LOT, but no signage to determine which denomination they belonged to.  Oh, and we did spot a couple Jesus fish on cars.  Otherwise, religion did not seem to be central to every day life in Costa Rica, at least not from outward appearances.  We didn’t meet enough people to determine if it was important to them personally.

I did not take this to explain the sculpture of emaciated gremlins climbing the world to ride the dove, but to draw your attention to SCOTIABANK.  It’s all over the place here – surprising!

Love the movement in this picture, the little girl feeding the pigeons in the park with a mixture of terror and delight.  As for the dude in the back right corner, I didn’t notice him till I uploaded the photo.  The next picture I took revealed that he wasn’t break-dancing – unforch! – but bending down to tie his shoe.

Spot the tourist.

We found the indoor marketplace where we could buy traditional souvenirs, such as silk dresses and leather sandals. What the average Costa Rican never wears.

Big Village
owners and crunchy mamas, Karen and Leisha, would appreciate the inclusion of natural remedies sold at this healthcare stall.

Pet food stall.  How else would you feed ALL THOSE DOGS?

The problem with pictures – Sophia and Mallory asked me why I didn’t bring one of these cuties home for them??  Because. They are tacky.

Same with the piggy banks.  We saw these everywhere in San Jose.  I have to research what the attraction is (perhaps historical) because it didn’t come to me naturally.

Lottery booths are everywhere, in the shape of a fold-out table and usually an elderly person minding them.  This lady just woke up from a nap on her scratch cards just before I snapped her photo, PI style.

Here is a picture of the mix of pedestrian, car and bus traffic at the best marked intersection downtown.  Everywhere else, the simple rule is that vehicles take priority over pedestrians.  Walker beware!

They must ice donuts like this elsewhere, but I’d never seen them before and my low blood sugar goggles told me they looked so attractive!  J-M and I shared the brown and orange one on the bottom left, picking it for purely aesthetic reasons.  Even halved, it was a whole lot of sweet.

Eating the donut was a great excuse to sit down and take a break.  Looking out the window, I told J-M, “I absolutely LOVE observing human behaviour!”  To which he replied, “Some of us call that people watching.”

He also thought it was appropriate that I had a WiFi sign over my head that looked like a thought-bubble.  Profile Pic!

Don’t you just love this?  A full-sized woman honoured in the public square.  I have named her Gordita (the Costa Rican term for buxom beauties) because I couldn’t find anything that told me otherwise.

Looks like I got made in this PI photo.  At each block you would see native women like this, each in traditional dress, with a baby in their arm.  The cup is the receptacle for your pity.  Whether it’s contrived or not, this makes my heart hurt.

One regret we have is that we expressly came to San Jose to visit the National Theatre.  We decided to shop first, go to the NT afterward.  We got there at 5 p.m., just in time to miss the last tour.  The concierge, suggested we take pictures of the foyer and the grounds at least?  There’s our excuse to make a return trip.


Do you know the way to San Jose?

How difficult was it to leave heaven to head for San Jose?  Mentally difficult, because you’ve been ruined for the ordinary, even the extraordinary.  Physically difficult for J-M who had to pry my fingers off the door frame and hoist me to our vehicle.  Please just one more dip in the hot tub?  One more massage? One more nap on the four-poster bed?  Must we leave?  Must we?

But John-Mark was eager to head out to our next and final destination, the capital city of Costa Rica, San Jose.  If I’d admit it, I was looking forward to it too, for a number of reasons.  I really wanted to see if there would be people there, because, besides attendants at the hotels or roadside stragglers, we couldn’t find the populace.  People are my favourite.  Also, we hadn’t done any souvenir shopping. We were getting dangerously close to the end of our trip and hadn’t yet purchased the items for our children that we’d use to soothe our guilt for leaving them behind.

Some of the people we had met, including proprietors and servers at the hotels, were questioning why we would spend time in San Jose, saying that it’s not so nice, especially with places like heaven around, hello!  All those 11 guidebooks J-M had read also gave strong cautions about spending time there, citing pickpockets and danger after dark.  It painted a picture for us that was a little unnerving.  So after seven long hours of driving – which included a lunch stop-n-shop and some poor navigation onto more unpaved roads, for which I fully blame our GPS –  we arrived in San Jose, at dusk, during rush hour. We were not at our best.  How quickly we were undoing the good that had been done at Rio Celeste.

Coming into San Jose, we saw the  “reality” of the city.  Here were the people!  Of course this is where they would be, on the paved roads. But the area we were driving through was rough, really rough, with slum-like dwellings and an air of desperation.  My eye is somewhat attuned to poverty because of our time in Ghana.  In fact, I saw small cabins here in Costa Rica in the mountains where we travelled near Blue River Resort that I thought were quaint and well-kept… that put other tourists into tears.  But these lean-tos in the street, this broken glass, this graffiti on the walls, this look of the people on the streets, those who weren’t lying drunk or exhausted in them anyway, it all reflected hopelessness.

The GPS said we were just a couple of kilometres from our destination, which worried me.  I didn’t like my reaction.  I was angry with myself that the streets repulsed me instead of producing compassion to see people living here, like this.  I had been so excited to see people… only to want to run away from them.  I can only attribute it to fear – considering my own interests too much to care for others.  I was reminded how human I am and how much I need God.  I’ll admit, I said a prayer for the people I saw on the street while I locked my door.  Then I prayed for me, take this fear away, replace it with love.  This may not be a mission trip we’re on, but there is always, always a mission.  Give us the courage to see it.

Central San Jose is a combination of one-way streets with confusing signage, if any.  We were two blocks from our hotel and it took us ten minutes and three tries to get there.  We might have received, and thereby learned, a few Spanish expletives from other drivers along the way.

It was dark by now, so we didn’t get to see the hotel in full, just the small doorway that said, “Ring doorbell for entry.”  Where are we anyway?

We were at The Mansion Del Parque Bolivar, a top-rated boutique hotel known for its historical building and location to central San Jose and its markets.  So said J-M, who had been told by Trip Advisor.

The male concierge opened the door and led us up a small stairway to a sitting room where techno music was playing loudly.  I saw the Trip Advisor’s awards from 2010-2012 hanging on the wall, which put me at ease, somewhat.  The concierge led us to our room, which was tiny and stuffy, with no windows or air-conditioning.  But what magnificent  baseboards!

At that point, I hardly cared about the inconveniences that were becoming less significant while I was becoming more exhausted.  Although, I was curious about what features the hotel promoted. They all have their good points, right?  J-M said, “Well, they mentioned a glass shower.”  That report was absolutely true, they had an all-glass shower, which may or may not be a selling feature depending on one’s timidity.   Did they also mention the water doesn’t flow from time to time in this all-glass shower?  No, they did not.  The light fixtures, however, charming!

We had to find somewhere to eat.  J-M went downstairs while I pretended to have a shower.  He came back up and said that the hotel restaurant was the best option according to the concierge.  They were really pushing it on us and so we acquiesced.  We rather enjoyed the open air balcony and the small cafe tables where we sat.  We were the only two in the small room.  Our server was full of tattoos and piercings and facial hair and flair.  I guessed that he was French.  I was right!

We couldn’t understand his Spanish and he couldn’t understand our English, so we both agreed to try French.  Did you know that Canadian French is considered very proper and dated?  This isn’t the first time we heard it on this trip.  We’d met another French couple at the Blue River Resort who insisted that we spoke 18th Century French!  Quelle surprise!  In essence (I imagine), we were saying, “Please, sir, canst thou quench our thirst and quell our hunger?  We beg of thee.”  To which he was replying, “No probs, dude.”  We managed.

His name was Gerald.  He had lived in Costa Rica for four years, managing a restaurant up the road, but moving recently to this location.  He left France because of their taxes, their ridiculous taxes.

He was very eager to serve us, checking in on us constantly mostly because there were no other patrons.  Often he would just stand and watch us devour our vegetarian lasagna, and what we learned to be French cuisine… because it was cooked by a French person.  Through our staggered conversation we learned he was not only the waiter, but the owner.  He then asked if he could take our picture.  Why not?

“Pray tell, kind sir, for what wilt thou use our portraits?” we asked.

It was to record his very first customers on his opening night at the Mansion.

The next morning, everything looked different.   It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep on a full stomach can do, and how grateful you become when deprived of them, even for a short time.  The shower still wasn’t working properly, so while there was water, it wasn’t hot.  That was OK.  We were going to explore the streets of San Jose…


As John-Mark and I were enjoying one of the three hot tubs at Rio Celeste, we spotted a particularly young couple arriving at the hotel.  We thought we were young till they came, darn it.  We speculated that they were on their honeymoon. After getting the tour from Juan Carlo, while we were still soaking our cares away, the couple came to the pool.

The young man jumped right into the pool and swam to impress, with a powerful front stroke… till he couldn’t hold his breath anymore and came up for air, gasping and flailing.  He took a moment, caught his breath, then went for another spin.  She was entirely delighted with him.

“Remember when you used to try and impress me?” I asked J-M.

They left the pool after his performance.  She had to put her running shoes on.  As she tied up one shoe, he waited impatiently, then started to go before she was ready.  She stuffed her foot in the other shoe, laces untied, grabbed her stuff and ran after him, very much in love.

“Thank you for always waiting for me to tie up my shoes,” I told J-M.

Groupon offers a great discount on Heaven

We descended one treacherous road only to climb another to reach our third stop in Costa Rica, Rio Celeste Hideaway.  This road was more of a nail-biter, though, and J-M quit the Hazzard County accent in order to concentrate.  Our “Costa Rican GPS” we rented with the 4×4 would give us our directions:  Turn right at unpaved road; Turn left at unpaved road; Dangerous bridge ahead; Turn right at unpaved road… “Unpaved road” doesn’t even begin to describe the conditions, which we would term as “impassable.” The GPS was mocking us.

In some places, cement tire tracks have been poured, because the incline is so steep, your vehicle would surely slide, along with the loose stones, back down the hill you were trying to ascend.  J-M kept the vehicle in first, at 10-15 km/h, for most of the drive.  We stopped chatting.  Only necessary words were spoken.  You can imagine how difficult this was on me.

We climbed so high on this mountain, J-M started to question the GPS.  We passed a small hotel or two. J-M would ask, “That wasn’t the Hideaway?”

“No, the GPS says ‘continue on unpaved road.’ Why would the GPS make up a location?” I asked back.

But then again, I don’t have much experience with a GPS and have heard stories of people driving into swamps and off cliffs because they trusted their GPS too much.  I’ve always thought these gadgets incapacitate us to figure things out on our own.  What happened to reading a good old map? (To which someone could rightfully argue, what happened to navigating the good old stars?)  Were we going to leave the road clear off the summit just because a machine told us to?

Just as our doubts were beginning to overcome us, out of the mist arose the Rio Celeste.  A grander site I have never seen.  Because of the contrast between treacherous drive and exclusive resort, we believed we’d happened upon heaven.  Maybe we did veer off the road?

We were met by an attendant, Juan Carlo, who gave us a fresh, cool, scented face cloth and a pineapple smoothie.  Any tension, any discomfort we may have amassed on the ride there was erased with small kindnesses.  It’s like they were anticipating our arrival. Like Saint Peter at the pearly gates.

Juan Carlo couldn’t speak much English. This gave us our first bit of comic relief.  He spoke in Spanish and we told him we didn’t.  Juan Carlo sighed and said, “I no speak good English.”

He paused to think and then said, “May… I… You… Help?”

“Si,” we replied.

He gave us a tour of the grounds, which involved a lot of gesturing, but the place spoke for itself.

The main building at Rio Celeste is a spectacular pavilion with no outside walls.  Its open concept discloses its secret; that is, Rio Celeste has discovered paradise. The building has a tiled floor, large, dark wooden support beams, and cane ceiling right through the grand foyer to the dining room in the back.  There is a brilliant interruption in the middle of the room, a fern garden and koi pond open to the sky above.  So whether sun or rain, it shines or pours into the room.

On an aside, this is the first koi pond that hasn’t irritated me.  It’s clean and the fish aren’t overpopulated or overfed; they have more than enough space to swim around for the guests’ enjoyment and theirs. Otherwise, I’m not a fan of the koi pond.  You?

The grounds have impeccably manicured gardens, where the indigenous plants of the Costa Rican rainforest have been tamed and cultivated to graduate from brilliant flowery hedges that line the stone walkways, to dramatic ferns, opening up to the tall, natural wild trees that cocoon us from reality.

Juan Carlo also showed us the spa, a games/TV room, three separate dining areas (main formal dining room, bar and pool bar) pool and hot tubs.  The pool was expertly designed and inviting to weary travellers.

Juan Carlo loaded our luggage into an electric golf cart and took us on a short drive down a stone path to our casita, a small bungalow tucked away in beautiful gardens meant to seclude you from the world.

The main feature within each casita is the gorgeous, wooden, four-poster, king-sized bed. But there were other inviting features, such as the outdoor sitting area protected from the rain, the tropical decor, the gigantic bathroom with his and hers sinks and Jacuzzi tub.  But take a look at that outdoor shower!  Shielded from view by the stone wall and tropical plants, but open to the sky, well this looks very freeing.

There is an internet connection in the games room, but you do not have access in your casita.  You have to leave your room, meaning you have to have a reason, to go online.  Although this arrangement is probably out of necessity, given the remote location, they should never, ever change that.  That makes it a getaway.

The first morning there, once again, we had hummingbirds as guests, but also… a fuzzy white bunny in our garden?  Planted?

Speaking of “wild life,” we didn’t get to see the much-discussed howler monkeys, but we heard them at every place we stayed.  When I heard the noise on our first morning, it sounded like a cross between a long, drawn out pig’s grunt and the cry of a very sick dog.  It had an eerie, unearthly quality to it.  J-M said (and would continue to say throughout our trip)  it’s the fabled El Chupacabra, Latin America’s Bigfoot.  That’s what we named our new pet bunny.

We were fortunate to run into the owner of the hotel, and his model-gorgeous son, who happened to be at Rio Celeste for a quick check in. The owner was born Columbian but lives in Miami.  Rio Celeste is the second hotel he’s built in Costa Rica, the other one being near the popular Arenal volcano.  His other hotel, Nayara, is rated #1 hotel in Central and South America and #6 in the world by Travel & Leisure’s World’s Best Awards.  You can imagine then, that he has certain standards which have also been implemented at Rio Celeste, the newer hotel. But where is everyone?

During our time there we saw Juan Carlo give the tour to very few others and at dinner there were only three or four tables full, including ours.  It is meant to be a boutique hotel meant to have a lower occupancy and higher service.  There are 26 casitas, so you can estimate that full occupancy would be somewhere between 50-60 people.  Perhaps it’s the time of year; this is not peak tourist season.  Even so, they continued to do everything well, from keeping the place well-maintained and -staffed.  We were honoured to be among those who knew about this best-kept secret.

Expectations play a large part in one’s enjoyment of a place.  Even so, I believe that most people would find Rio Celeste pure luxury, despite its obstacles.  We literally spent most of our time in a cloud (which we shall bequeath, Cloud 9).  It rained hard for two of the three days we were there, but we didn’t mind.  J-M entitled this portion of our trip “Like, Major Relaxation Dude.”  We spent a lot of time in the hot tub in the rain, we read, we got massages at the spa, we napped, we talked, we dined.  We loved that we were “trapped,” forced to stop and look at each other.  Our time spent with each other became part of the wonder of the place.

At one point I’d wondered if we’d overdosed on the luxury of relaxation, when our lips could barely speak and our feet could barely walk. Through our inactivity, we discovered that there is a distinct line between relaxation and boredom; the difference is that one doesn’t want to escape relaxation. We wanted to stay. We still want to be there.

Our expectations were open.  I mean, come on, J-M purchased these accommodations on Groupon! I was embarrassed to admit it to the owner when he asked us how we found out about the place.  I wanted to tell him, it deserves more than we paid for.

I had to tell my friend, Sarah, about this place.  Sarah has an amazing design and lifestyle blog, The Curated House.  (You’ll want to bookmark that link in your favourites.)  She calls herself a “detailista” and believes “details are a love language.”  Sarah draws your attention to the features and peculiarities in art, furniture, clothing and food (among other things), to help you savour and experience beauty.  I wrote to her while at Rio Celeste, how I wouldn’t have believed it till I experienced it, that it’s the details make you feel cared for: where nature is fostered and cultivated, where design elements are manipulated to accommodate the surroundings (not vice versa), and the staff is intuitive.  I wanted to let her know that details are a cross-cultural love language.  She responded, “I love knowing your soul is being nurtured by the thoughtfulness and beauty in the details.”  This soul-nurturing stuff for sure.

If you’re up for that kind of stuff, of course.

Who wouldn’t be, you wonder?  Well, when we flipped through the big, thick leather-bound guest book brimming over with page-long accolades from previous guests, we stumbled upon this short, angry note from poor Raymond from NYC.  Who, because of a headache and bloatation? Other unimaginable pre-occupations? missed out on heaven.

“…unpaved roads and NO internet connection.”  The horror.

Catch a glimpse of heaven below or visit their website,


Proud of ourselves

Joaquin, our adventure guide, said, “When you come to Costa Rica you must zip line.”  But he was preaching to the choir. The six of us were eager to throw ourselves down a hill.

Joaquin has been a zip line guide for many years at different resorts, but had been at Blue River Resort for just a few months.   He said when he first came to Blue River, he wanted to run away.  That’s because there is nothing besides this resort for miles.

Those miles are difficult ones too, up (or down, depending on whether you’re coming to escape or leaving to escape) an ungraded, steep, windy cobblestone path.  For a Gringo male in a rented 4×4, it can fulfill his fantasy to be a rally car racer… or pretend he’s one of the Dukes of Hazzard.  Probably Bo.  I found this out when two young guys on dirt bikes came up behind us on the road, J-M in his best southern accent said, “Uh oh!  We’re in for a heap o’ trouble now!”

The geographic personality of Costa Rica lends itself to zip lining.  The dramatic peaks and valleys and sweeping scenery is breathtaking.  We would get to experience it personally, travelling approximately 4 kilometres, hanging from a harness, attached to pulley with mountain climbing equipment that could hold up to a tonne of weight.  Joaquin assured us we’re in good hands.

Our Ottawa friends, Eugene and Erica, had signed up for this activity as well and it was nice to be just the six of us, including their two kids.  Any nerves I had dissipated when seeing how enthusiastic children under the age of 10 were. We hopped in the shuttle, got back on that rocky road and moved higher up the mountain.

Where we landed to put on all our gear and receive basic instructions was underwhelming.  We seemed to be in a pasture, which, while picturesque, does not get the adrenaline pumping.  We’d soon find out that each of the nine lines had a different temperament.  Some short and steep and too exciting to try and look around you.  Others, long and steady and perfect to view the different landscapes: dense rainforest, thunderous waterfalls, chattering wildlife, and most remarkably the Blue River the resort was named after, the earth’s minerals giving it a fresh tinge.

At each stop Joaquin offered a gratuity, a nugget of interesting information about Costa Rica, its geography and ecology.

Did you know pineapples are part of the bromelia plant family natural to Costa Rica, however the fruit itself is not indigenous and needs to be planted.  The bromelia do not naturally grow fruit.  Pineapples are a major Costa Rican export.

Did you know that the flowering Guanacaste Tree is the national tree of Costa Rica and is part of the pea family.  It is also called the Devil’s Ear or Elephant Ear because of the shape of the pods.  It grows tall in the rainforest, but spreads out wide in other parts of Costa Rica, adapting to its surroundings.  We swung from a few Guanacaste trees.

At one point Joaquin was looking over and around the platform we were standing on for a certain type of snake, to show us how beautiful it was.  I was completely uninterested in him finding one.  “Is it dangerous?” I asked.

“Of course!  It’s a pit viper, but very beautiful.”

“I really don’t need you to find one then,” I said.

“But it’s very beautiful!  Of course if it bites you, it’s called the ‘Kiss of Death’. Unless you get treatment, it’s lethal.  But very beautiful and you can get up close to it.  Just don’t make it angry.”

All in all the zip line was a one-hour of exhilaration.  We were all giddy and happy for having completed it so expertly.  Did you see how I hung there?  Did you catch my awesome form?  Didn’t I look cool?  Joaquin acquiesced, “Muy bien.”

You should know that they advertise that this activity requires no athletic ability.  Even so, Eugene always seemed to fall short at each run, he perhaps braked too hard or too often, or maybe was too athletic for this activity.  He always stopped a foot or two from the platform.  He then had to then turn around and hand-over-hand his way to us, the jeering crowd.  He made us all feel better about our zip lining skills.

But the real fun came when Joaquin announced the Tarzan Swing.  Sounds quaint, I thought, but probably not for me.  Till he told us it’s adults only.  When Joaquin explained the danger of the process, using much more caution than he did with the pit vipers, I was all sign me up for that!  Zip lining gave me a taste of adrenaline and I wanted more!

Keeping your zip line equipment on, you are attached to a line that leaves you to free fall for about 50 metres and then move into a wide swing over the river, back and forth, gently coming to a stop.  The ride takes about three minutes total; the first three seconds of which are sheer terror.

How interesting were our individual reactions to fear.  Eugene let out an appropriate and manly “Wooo!” on the way down.  He made this ride look easy; he was vindicated.  I was next.  I lost my cool completely and curdled blood with my scream, which, when I returned to reality, tried to cover up with a fun-loving “Yippee! Ha ha!” But I wasn’t fooling anyone, I’d revealed my inner wimp.  Erica was silent, completely silent.  How could this be?  She later explained that she was feeling so much during the fall that she didn’t know how to let it out.  As for J-M, before he even left the platform he was questioning his choice to partake.  I videotaped him saying, “I don’t know if I can do this, Lor, it looks pretty steep…”  I told him not to look down, but to trust Joaquin, who had roped him in.

Of course he did it, he is an expert at mind over matter.  But did he scream?  Unfortunately, if he did, you couldn’t hear it because of my commentary: “You OK?  Proud of you!  Good boy!  Give me a smile!  You did it!” When he viewed the video afterward he said I might have emasculated him in that moment.

That’s OK, he’ll 4×4 his way back to macho on the way down the mountain.

Here we are! Me, J-M, Eugene and Erica with the Blue River in the background.

Clear as Mud

We were right to cancel zipping down the mountain yesterday. It rained heavily for most of the day.  Today it is sunshine-y beautiful.  The difference in the weather is so extreme, you’d hardly believe that yesterday’s storms happened if the ground wasn’t still soggy and the vegetation nursing its casualties.

Yesterday morning, I was happy to discover that I could access the internet from my room and not lug the computer (and thereby ignore J-M’s company) to the restaurant.  We were expressly told that wifi was not available in our rooms.  Therefore, I beat the system.  I’m beating the system right now.

I chatted with Mallory, and posted to my blog, quickly and easily, while J-M finally finished the behemoth of a biography of Walt Disney he’d brought with him.  You know it’s tough going when you flip through the last few pages and say, “When is this guy going to die?”  But J-M doesn’t like to leave any book unfinished.  J-M’s synopsis of the biography:

People believe that Disney was famous for his control of wonder and fantasy, but the opposite is true; he was actually fascinated by the wonder of control.  His pursuit of power and control lead him to build his own world.

J-M has chosen to leave this book behind at the resort and bless someone else with this insight, and reduce the weight of his luggage.

And the rain rained.  The cabin we’re staying in has a clay tile roof, which surprisingly amplifies  the sound of the rain.  That makes a torrential downpour super exciting.  My heart races when the rain starts and as it builds, sheets of the wet stuff driving down on us, I get downright giddy.  I would compare it to a soccer match when goal after goal is being scored and the crowd gets wilder and wilder. You get caught up in it. It’s never not exciting!  And if the thunderstorms are this exciting, just imagine how freaking awesome the zip lining is going to be!

Yesterday afternoon, J-M and I decided to enjoy the mud bath offered by the resort.  I do believe they just scoop the stuff out of the ground and put it in a plastic container.  You carry that container down a path, past the hummingbird and butterfly observatories and the botanical gardens to a small wooden sauna heated naturally by the river it sits on.  A hole is cut in the bottom of the floor and the steam rises into the cabin.  A sign is posted cautioning you against touching the water, which is approximately 70 degrees Celsius, or 160 degrees Farenheit.  There are no real safety barriers, not like in Canada where every mishap would be anticipated and prevented with over-measures taken with fencing, signage and waivers.  The sauna was by no means toddler proof.

The cabin itself sits over the river and you can see the water and feel the heat from it, not only from the hole in the middle, but beneath the wooden slats in the floor as well.  What is this thing even secured on?  What if it the whole cabin went into the boiling hot drink?  I quickly figured out my plan of exit –  up onto the bench I was sitting, up the slats on the side of the wall, right through the sun roof at the first sign of trouble – so I could relax.

We spent 20 minutes in the natural sauna opening our pores.  The sauna was odourless.  J-M was bored.  It might have been more like 15 minutes, but seemed like 30.  The heat from the sauna also loosened the mud in our containers.

The containers were about the size of a margarine tub.  When we were first given the containers, we didn’t believe there would be enough mud in them to cover our whole bodies. The mud itself was grey and goopy and smelled of sulfur.  I avoided putting it on my face till the end because I was grossed out.  But then we got into, kind of like a paint fight, smearing and slathering the stuff all over us and each other and the tubs never seemed to empty.  Absolutely disgusting.

You then wait for the mud to harden.  We used the opportunity to get our camera muddy too and snap photos of each other.  We were feeling very primitive and wondering if Adam & Eve participated in such skin care hijinks.

Next step is to move into another naturally heated flowing river.  This one about 85 degrees Farenheit.  What we didn’t anticipate was that the ease with which we spread this muddy butter on ourselves, takes three times the effort to remove.  The stream doesn’t have a current that flows fast enough, but the rain started up again and helped us scrub clean.  This is natural living at its best!

For the rest of the afternoon we enjoyed the hot springs.  We chatted up another Gringo family, who happen to share the cabin beside us, who happen to be from Ottawa!  After listing all the names of friends in Ottawa, the couple knowing none of them, we then got into what we all do for a living.  The husband teaches, the woman works for IBM in data management, J-M’s a pastor… I’m a pastor’s wife… who blogs. That last part surprisingly didn’t shut down the conversation.  In fact, it opened it up.

The couple had been recently part of a church plant that didn’t go well and were feeling burned by the church.  They were actually hoping to spend time on this trip “getting away” both physically and mentally from the drama.  That’s the thing about church, like the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: when it’s bad, it’s horrid.  We talked a bit about what they’d been going through.  We were happy to hear that they weren’t willing to give up on the church completely, but were actually considering the Free Methodist church in their area. So it took us a while, but we landed on a connection and had a great conversation about it we felt was divinely guided.

Although we’re leaving this resort today, we’re going on the zip line with this couple and their two kids.  (In fact, we leave in about 15 minutes – no time to proofread!)  We’ll have to be on our best behaviour now.

Let me leave you with this – one of my fav pics from the botanical gardens.  I think my girls would love the teensy pineapples.


A few points to make

  • It’s raining heavily this morning.  It feels like the kind of rain that settles in and sticks around.  We wouldn’t mind except this is the “adventure” portion of our trip.  We’ve scheduled a zip line ride down the side of this dormant volcano, complete with horseback ride (our transportation back up the mountain).  Do they cancel because of rain here?  Do we?  Can’t imagine the shower in our face on the way down or a ride on a soggy beast on the way back up.  J-M and I have discussed it at great length and we’re still undecided.  We keep saying, but we’ll never be here again.  Which doesn’t mean it can’t suck.
  • The alternative to a waterlogged whirl down the mountain is staying put and enjoying one of several natural hot springs pools that are just outside our door.  Part of our package here is also a mud bath.   We spend 20 minutes in a sauna (naturally heated), apply the volcano mud all over ourselves and then bathe in one of the hot springs with its natural minerals.  I’ve never done anything like this and I’m not sure if it sounds icky or delightful.  But the guide promises I will look younger and more beautiful following this treatment.  Rain, sleet or snow would not keep me away.
  • Yesterday we ate at a Subway restaurant in Liberia.  It felt like we were cheating. Why is it so wrong to eat at a chain restaurant in a foreign country?   We were really, really hungry, OK?  We justified it by saying it’s actually a great learning experience regarding our cultural differences.  Did you know you order your sub in Costa Rica either 30 cm or 15 cm long?  I tried to think of how to say “small size” in Spanish and the girl sighed and said, “feefteen.”  I tried harder to list the ingredients I wanted on my sub – they were posted right in front of me on the glass, I just had to read them!  Tomate (tomato), lechuga (lettuce), pepino (cucumber), pimientos (peppers), aceitunas (olives)…  Did you know you can get AGUACATES (avocados) on your sub here?  Tell me that’s not a learning experience!  I pronounced every ingredient wrong and the sandwich artist would repeat after me with the proper pronunciation, not in a way to teach me, but reprimand me.  We devoured our subs in the car and promised we wouldn’t do it again. And we probably shouldn’t tell anyone about it.
  • If you really want to enjoy your vacation you are, in a sense, forced to ignore reality.  We have sent our kids to their grandparents and camp.  We’ve left our TO DO lists behind.  I didn’t even get to fully clean the house before we left.  Ah well, the mess will wait till we get back.  But news has come to us to remind us that this is temporary and cannot last.  We are sorry to hear from our close friends in Ghana that their family home has been devoured by fire.  This was after they returned from the funeral of a family member, whose death was “too soon,” whose funeral was just a year after the funeral of another family member.  They are going through the trials of Job.  We hear this news in Costa Rica and it brings guilt into the mix.  Should we be enjoying ourselves this much?  There are tragedies everywhere, even in these hills.  Do we just put the blinders on and move ahead?  Our work and the day-to-day will be waiting for us shortly.  We can address these things – even help – if we get back. In the meantime, though, this vacation has been a welcome gift for our marriage, our friendship stronger and a reminder of how we’re in this life together.  I even believe it will rejuvenate our reality when we get home.  J-M says it would be a problem if all we lived for was our next vacation and saw reality as something to be escaped.   So now I want to know how do we make the most out of this time away.  I’m wrestling with that this morning.  A rainy day when we’d hoped for sun is not the worst problem.  Lord, be with our friends in Ghana.
  • Since writing my first bullet point, we’ve gone to breakfast and decided that it’s not just rainy out, it’s downright dangerous.  It’s not just torrential downpours, but lightning and thunder as well.  We think we’re smart not to slide down a mountain in these conditions.  We’ll relax today.  J-M is enjoying the hammock on the porch of our cottage here as we speak.  He struggled to get outside the door with two pillows, a hardcover Walt Disney biography, his ipod and speakers.  And as he stumbled into the hammock, then heaved, grunted and strained to make himself comfortable, I laughed at him.  He said, “Hey, I work hard to relax.”

Photographic evidence

This will be a pictures-mostly post for a couple of reasons.  First, we are in a resort on the slopes of a dormant volcano.  The only internet access we have is at the restaurant, although I’m surprised we have any at all.  J-M is watching me type and that gets boring real quick.  I promised him I’d just upload a couple photos.

Also, there’s so much to say about today’s trip but words fail me.  We rented a 4×4 and drove from the beach to the volcanoes.  We were in transition most of the day, from one hotel to the next, but the transition was so fascinating, to travel past ranches, into the city, and up into the hills.  We are definitely seeing another part of Costa Rican life. Let me give you a couple snapshots.

Where we came from – Guacamaya Lodge.  Those are the bushes where the hummingbirds visited us last night.

Our rented 4×4 – Suzuki Jimmy.  J-M barely fits.

We stopped and took a lot of photos, including photos of taking photos.  (Don’t I look like I know what I’m doing because I borrowed my friend’s paparazzi lens?) We would have arrived in half the time if we didn’t stop every few seconds.  Look at THAT!

Like where we’re headed…

Or how about the VULTURES right out of a Disney movie.

There’s nothing for miles and then a school house.

This poor little calf on the road escaped from the pasture.  A clue as to why there are so many dogs around?  These two were keeping him company.

Look up, waaay up.  The depth perception is hard to see in this photo, but that’s a steep incline with dense forest opening up to a pasture on the top of the hill.  See the horsies?

A few homes like this spot these hills.  Note the satellite. Note the dog.

This house isse vende (for sale).  J-M suggested it would be the perfect retreat for me to blog.

J-M also suggested I post the words mi corazon in the middle of my blog just to make it more Costa Rican.  Because he’s bored, I’ve obliged.

I just liked this colourful guy, struttin’ his stuff.

Men walking these winding paths.  We are so fascinated this place, I would love to sit down with them and hear about life in the hills.  As it is, we say hola! as we pass by and will never meet again.

We see lots of people riding bikes like this one.  J-M suggested it would be a good way to travel around here.  I suggested that he forgot the ups that accompany the downs…

Last one!  This is me tonight, Facebooking with my sweet Mallory!  It still freaks me out that I can access the internet from places that are so hard to reach by car.

Tomorrow we’re horseback riding and zip lining.  Yipes!

OK, the limits of J-M’s patience have been fully tested (and found wanting).  Must go!