I have recently returned from Costa Rica.
It is sunny and cold out today but the warmth of the weather, the place and the people of Costa Rica has penetrated into my very core, it radiates out of my cells and warms my skin; my spirit soars as I amble along the sidewalk, my unzipped jacket flapping in the wind while those around me withdraw into their parkas clutching their scarves tight against their throats to fend off the bitter cold.
Only a few days ago I was walking the beaches – playa Grande, playa Flamingo, playa Conchal, and playa Tamarindo; after a long, steep, picturesque descent to the waters edge playing in river chilled natural Jacuzzis, formed by collections of rocks at the base of a majestic waterfall and later that same day therapeutically soaking in volcano sourced heated hot springs.
I “swam with the fishes” (just as my husband predicted I would) or, to be more precise -snorkeled with them; re-enacting scenes from FINDING NEMO, engulfed by one multicoloured glistening school as I watched another group cruising beneath us on a path to some other destination, the Geiger counter-like tick, tick, tick of the coral rocks playing in my head all the while. A brilliant yellow, black stripped, slightly larger than a minnow, lone fish dances in front of my mask returning time and time again to peek at his playful reflection or swim alongside me. Even the sting of invisible jelly fish (literally – they are totally clear globs) though a really, really creepy experience during the minute or so that it takes for me to pass through them (my mind races - could some huge prehistoric eel be taunting me before I am fatally zapped) has a mystical quality here and my sense of awe numbs their sting.
I realize my life long dream of surfing and have caught the bug. Yes, really surfing, not standing on a board just to fall off, but riding a wave, feeling its swell beneath me propel me forward and carry me into shore as Glyn, Pam and Flo cheer me on and my instructor shouts incessantly, encouragingly “again Nan-sea, come, come my friend, again. Paddle slow, paddle quickly. O.K. Nan-sea, up NOW. Good, good. Again, come, come my friend.” - surfing boot camp at its best. And, to imagine I had to come all the way to Costa Rica to enter a surf shop festooned with a stuffed toy beaver, a Canadian flag and a Calgarian owner come this way via Australia.
And there’s Herson*, whom we have declared the mejor guia (the best guide) of all Guanacaste barreling along serpentine dirt roads in the dark of night maneuvering traffic as only a Tico can after a day full of venturing with us off the beaten path. Sometimes he speaks with us in Spanish to help us learn the language, other times the soundtrack of our youth streams out of his radio and we excitedly chatter about our lives, times, people and places we have known and later that night when we were all but asleep his soft voice blends with Costa Rican songs on late night radio.
What a joy it is to converse in my broken Spanish on a local bus on its way to Liberia with an indigenous Nicaraguan equally adept at English. Together we are teaching each other. He is a construction worker employed here legally for the last 7 years; the working papers he shows me testify to that fact. We have common ground – my husband works in construction too I exclaim. We talk of family, work and life. He seems as excited as I to be here and he points out places of interest to us.
I feel privileged to be one of a few gringas mingling amongst the local ticos - adults, families and school uniform clad children all gathering in town to celebrate what it is to be a Costa Rican in the Guanacaste region.
My friends and I dance with a local patron in a Zapateria (shoe shop). Doesn’t everyone dance in a shoe store? What great advertising we provide - “these shoes are so damn good they make your feet dance!”! Although I myself don’t buy any, I am too tired from all the exertion, the store takes on the festive atmosphere and as we leave the young man is still dancing in the isles inviting all who enter to come join him in this joyful expression of the vitality of life.
From a second story restaurant balcony, cervesa (beer) in hand we watch a parade of sabanerrelos (cowboys and cowgirls) riding proudly “dancing” horses as trucks of little brass and drum bands play in raucous, joyful celebration. The ease with which they ride is a tribute to the art of the equestrian and their way of life. Later this day there will be bull riding, bull fighting and more displays of horsemanship. Thought no physical harm will come to the small herd of bulls that are paraded down the street as they are taunted by the melee of boys and young men seemingly eager to display their bravery, my eyes - windows to the soul, have locked onto those of one of bulls. Suddenly I am transported. The music becomes a cacophony of sound; the crowds energy is taunting, threatening and challenging; momentarily a wave of confusion, claustrophobia and irritation washes over me and I must turn away from the scene to disengage. After a while the sensation passes, my festive mood returns and when join my friends on the terrace the bulls are out of sight.
How wonderful it is to witness Pam’s pure, child-like delight as she sees close up her much sought after perisoso (sloth) carrying her babe on her back at a wildlife reserve. To our delight blue Mono Butterflies flutter around us in one enclosure. And I am in awe of the healing power of nature as this once barren grazing land, reclaimed a mere 9 years ago is now thriving, filled with towering trees (the size of which would indicate close to a hundred years of life in Canadian forests) and lush undergrowth.
On a sunset boat tour El Capitan takes us to secluded beaches and a trip around 2 small outlaying islands. I will forever have the image of our “Bow rider” Glennie silhouetted in the setting sun, sitting astride the bow, hair blowing in the wind, snapping pics of flocks of pelicans perched in stands of trees high above us. Her initial concern for the lack of life jackets aboard the boat totally erased as she engages in this NOW moment.
And on a windswept morning I stand on the terrace overlooking the bay and the sea beyond at 5 a.m. to welcome the dawning day as I listen for the haunting sound of bands of howler monkeys declaring their presence and territory for all to hear. Is it a howling wind or this mono congos’ call? The dull lionesque growl at its end identifies the latter. Green full bodied parrots swoop and dip in clusters of threes past my head and the air is filled with bird songs beyond my description as flashes of colour – reds, oranges, and yellows flicker here and there only to disappear into the foliage and flowers surrounding me.
Life has called to me “Come, sing, dance, explore, play, swim; take it all in and become drunk with the beauty that abounds.” My wild, free soul resonates with its vibration. Ahh, PURA VIDA – PURE LIFE resonates in my heart!