Give Yourself Permission – Part I

Give Yourself Permission

Today, I want to give you permission to give yourself permission to:

1. Not round up to the nearest dollar when pumping gas. I don’t actually know why this is a thing. Surely filling the tank to the tippy-top with $0.37 extra gas does not get us additional mileage of any significance. In fact, the time and mental energy we waste through this exercise is of way more value than hitting point-zero-zero at the pump. When we go to a restaurant we don’t ask the waiter to round up our bill with a few more mashed potatoes, do we? “Just a bit more, a little bit more, just a smidgen, ooh–and now you’ve added too much, darn it.”  No, give yourself permission to stop when the pump stops, pay the attendant, and drive to your destination.

Unless you get great joy from rounding up, in which case, I say carry on.

2.  Stop reading the book you’re not enjoying. It is fair to say that some books require time to get into. When a book doesn’t resonate right away, it is often worth pushing through to find the gem at the centre. But sometimes it is just not working for you no matter how hard you try or how many times you re-read those pages. Maybe it’s time to put that book down for good and take the pressure to read it off your shoulders.

My personal rule is to give a book the Three-Chapter-Try. If it hasn’t grabbed me by then, it’s not for me. I’ve also closed a book forever after three sentences. Be guilt-free about this.

3. Go on a vacation with your spouse without your kids. Why haven’t you done this yet? It’s the best thing in the world once you get over the initial worry or wishing the kids were with you. (Husbands, give your wives a day or two to settle in the first time you try this.) On your kid-free vacation, you will face your spouse, look at him/her in the eyes again and remember that you’re in this together and actually so in love. You’d forgotten for a moment because you’ve been so busy with the kids.

If you’re worried that your kids will be upset, I can tell you they’ll actually love it even if they whine a little because they’ll love the effect. Kids are crazy-thrilled when their parents are in love. They are stressed that you’re arguing and they are sad when there is tension. They pretend to be grossed out when you kiss, but do it anyway. I’m telling you, they’re giggling while they say “ew.”

Make this a regular thing.

4. Book NOTHING in your calendar. This is for those of us who are victims of our own busy-ness. To those of you who said yes because Tuesday was free and now you desperately wish Tuesday was free because Wednesday through Monday are filled to the brim. Get out your calendar, consider your immediate future, and write NOTHING in regular intervals. With marker if you’re a hard copy fan. Develop a wish list of breaks, find your rhythm. You can do this.

Now, when you’re over-booking yourself this fall, as you tend to do, making plans, scheduling meetings, promising phone calls, you’ll see NOTHING in there, bright and bold. (If you’re brave enough, tell the other party involved that you CAN’T that Tuesday, you’re busy doing NOTHING.) You will so look forward to that date! I’ve got NOTHING planned in my calendar for the very near future. I’m giddy just thinking about NOTHING!

5. Admit you don’t know. In a world pressuring you to pick sides, it’s OK not to know. It’s OK that you want to spend time and consider all sides without jumping on or off bandwagons. It’s even admirable. You don’t need to share an article, you don’t need to stand on a soapbox, you don’t need to find someone to be horrified at to show you stand for something. You don’t need to busy yourself gathering up evidence to prove a point you’re not sure about. You actually probably know as much as everyone else.  But your admitting you don’t know helps the rest of us understand that there are nuances and complexities to these things. We’re too busy dumbing things down into one-line slogans and memes to notice. You’re doing us all a service by admitting you don’t know yet. So be unabashed about it and maybe more of us will feel free to admit we’re not sure either. That’s where true dialogue begins.

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.”

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…

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.

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!

It’s a dog’s life

Time moves slowly at Playa Juanquillal.  Maybe it’s that our days start so early.  We wake at dawn and make the most of the day.  We’ve learned that there is no guarantee of sun in the afternoon, so we fill our morning with activities.  By 9 a.m. we’ve had breakfast, a swim in the pool and a walk along the beach, taking pictures and collecting seashells no one will care to see but us, and we come back wondering if it’s time for dinner, when it’s barely lunch.

There has been lots of reading by and in the pool.  Yesterday, at around 2 p.m. (we’re not entirely sure because we’re refusing to wear watches – although it would save us always wondering), it started to rain.  Make that, pour.  It was a thunderstorm, with lightning and thunder close by.  We watched it with enthusiasm on the balcony of our vista.  The thunderstorm did not dissipate after a while, but we so we brought out our books to enjoy the thunderstorm.  Three hours later, we were napping in the thunderstorm and wondering when it would be over.  There was a brief reprieve where we ran over to the open air dining room.  It was finally time to have dinner.

We were warned that the food could be crappy, but I have never tasted such maravilloso meals!  Yesterday, peppered beef, potatoes and fresh vegetables in a cream sauce.  Today, nachos with black beans, salsa, and guacamole.  The real deal.  Everything is so tasty.  We linger over every bite and discuss whether we should order seconds.

I’ve read one of my five books, Bad Trips, and have learned that if not for danger or disease, bad trips can be caused by boredom.  While time is moving slowly, we are not bored.  This is not a Bad Trip.  It’s a long, relaxed sigh.  It is a Good Trip!

Although there are barely any people around, we have certainly made friends for there are all kinds of creatures that surround us.  Creatures so small, like the tiny, transparent spider I wouldn’t have known was there except for the dot on the lower case i of my book shifted, and creatures so tall, graduating to the size of horses.  Massive horses.  From the mosquitoes that feasted on me the first night (repellent was packed in J-M’s missing luggage) to the bobbing dragonflies that come out at dusk to catch these flesh-eaters, to the butterflies and birds and crabs and squirrels and dogs, there are insects and animals everywhere, extra-small to extra-large.

Crabs keep us entertained, popping into tiny holes or shells on the beach to teasing us with a colourful dance near the resort.  Here we are, now we’re gone!  Last night at supper a small hummingbird gave us a show, sipping on the nectar of flowers within arm’s reach of us, for several minutes.  We wouldn’t talk and hardly breathed, aware that this would be over too soon.  There are large birds in bright colours.  We don’t know their names and they’re too fast for us to snap a clear picture.  We’ve given up trying to document them and have decided to just enjoy them instead.  We spotted a ring-tail squirrel which jumped from tree limb to limb accompanying us on one of our walks.

Then there are the dogs.  The dogs are everywhere.  Who do they belong to?  More importantly, why won’t they leave us alone??  They are all kinds of shapes and sizes: weiner dogs, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and other mutts.  No two alike!  One blonde perro made friends with us, lounging with us by the pool, joining us for dinner at our table, walking with us to the beach, and to the store…

This morning, we took a loooong walk to the supermarketo rumoured to be a kilometre (or so) away, to see if they had anything that we were starting to desperately need: sunscreen, bathing suit, moisturizer.  On the walk, our friendly dog accompanied us.  I was irritated with the mangy thing, being that I’m no dog lover.  I blame a traumatizing Christmas dinner as an adolescent, when our family dog chomped on my foot in a rage and wouldn’t let go.  My mom says that most poodles are off their rocker. I know Christmas can make anyone crazy…  This one targeted me on that festive occasion and ever since I haven’t figured out how this bonding thing works.  I avoid dogs instead.

The dog here did not make me nervous, but annoyed, as it would walk back and forth across our path as opposed to straight ahead which was how, I thought, most dogs operate.  A man was ahead of us and the dog ran up to him and jumped all over him, muddy paws and all.  “Oh no!  He’s not ours, but the man will think he is!  How do we tell him to get down?  What do we do?” I moaned to John-Mark.

But the man knew this dog. “Guacamaya Lodge?” he asked.  The dog had betrayed where we were staying.  And apparently, the dog is promiscuous, lending all his affections to other guests, as this obviously wasn’t the first time this had happened.

We carried on and the dog became antsy, crossing back and forth in our path, even closer than he was before.  We were shooing him ahead.  Stoopid dog.  “Vamos!” J-M kept speaking firmly to him.  The dog ignored him.

Then we spotted the other dogs, a pack of them, approaching us.  Guacamaya Lodge dog, was now walking so close, we could hardly move ahead without tripping over the thing.  The pack of dogs got closer and were barking.  Even though there were no poodles in the pack, I was getting extremely afraid.  I noticed that Guacamaya was HIDING behind and in front of me.   Wherever the pack was on one side of me, Guacamaya was on the other side.  This aggressive pack was pursuing Guacamaya and Guacamaya was using me as its SHIELD.  Yet again, I’m the target of a dog’s neurosis.

I stopped being scared and got mad. I was mad at Guacamaya, mad at the pack of dogs, mad at J-M for laughing at the situation, albeit nervously.  I’ve heard so many people talk about the unconditional love an animal can give, but this one was putting me in danger.

I started walking at a fast, angry pace.  I marched to the beat of my self-talk, “This is ridiculous!  I will not be used! Who do you think you are!”

Packs of dogs came and went and I kept the pace.  I felt a little invincible to tell you the truth.

Next thing I knew, I was at the supermarketo, the dogs were gone, Guacamaya had left to fend for itself, and J-M was still laughing at me.

We spent time in the supermarketo avoiding the dogs and trying to figure out whether the things we were buying were actually the things we needed. Deet is apparently the same in English and Espanol.  We took a chance with crema corporal, although it was in with the shampoo, our hunch was right that it was a literal translation, body cream.  We were surprised that the only aloe we could find was either in a massive tub of hair gel or a soft drink.  We were almost willing to rub both on yesterday’s sunburns.  Bonus, they sold Australian Gold sunblock, which makes me wonder if there is even a local equivalent.  Do the Costa Ricans need sunscreen?

On our walk home, the dogs left us alone.  We found Guacamaya dog waiting for us back at Guacamaya Lodge.  I’ll admit I was a little relieved, but still ticked.  He knows it too, acting a little shy, but not avoiding me altogether.

Later after the traumatic events of the morning, J-M and I went for a walk on the beach, to be greeted by a Rottweiler and his small mutt friend, running back and forth in front of us.  An American greeted us as he passed asking if they were our dogs.  “No way.”

“Looks like they are now!”

Happy to say that J-M’s luggage arrived tonight!  We promptly change from a green shirt into another green shirt.  He’s feeling fresh!

We leave Guacamaya Lodge tomorrow afternoon–I mean, 9 a.m.–and head toward the volcanoes in Rincon de la Veija.  Wonder who, or what, we’ll meet there!