Thursday, May 25, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

1. It feels like it's been a month since I last wrote a blog. So much has happened in the past week; I guess I should expect to feel this way.

Please accept my apologies right now for all the times I will use the word "beautiful" in this blog. I have my synonym finder close by, but nothing I've found in it captures the magnificence of what we saw and experienced there in Costa Rica. My only advice is to go there and see it for yourself. But until then, here is my humble description.

2. Costa Rica was magnificently beautiful. The trees, the flowers, the trees waiting to flower, the flowers that looked like trees. The monkeys passing vertically by our breakfast table on their way from the tops of the enormous trees to the bottom of the forest. They didn't even seem to notice us, while we humans leapt up from our tables to take dozens of photos.

3. The ants in Costa Rica were a force to be reckoned with. They are everywhere. I know it's the tropics. I know the season is changing from summer to fall/winter there. But I was amazed at the number of ants we saw, the various sizes of the ants, the huge chunks of leaves, food, and dead insect cadavers they carried. Steve and I followed one particularly impressive group of leaf-cutting ants to their hole in the ground. In actuality, there were three completely distinct columns of them that ended up in one hole.

One of the hotels we checked into was so infested with ants that we had to change hotels. Watching the ants parade along the stone patio next to the pool is one thing; watching them stroll past your shoes and suitcase in the privacy of your hotel room is something else entirely. We saw three different rooms in that hotel, and the ants were countless in all three rooms. So we switched hotels. Great decision.

4. In Spanish, the phrase "Si, Como No" translates to "Yes, of course." The after-the-ants hotel was called "Si, Como No." And there seemed to be absolutely nothing they wouldn't do for us there - beginning with offering us a honeymoon suite for the price of a deluxe suite. They shuttled us to the beach, to the airport, and even took Steve back to the ant-infested place to help him pick up our luggage and transport it to our new place. Our breakfasts were made to order by efficient and warm-hearted cooks. Drinks at the pool bar were served up by one of the friendliest young men I've met in a long time.

5. That last statement about the friendly waiter deserves some explanation. In all honesty, every waiter, every concierge, every masseuse (there were two delightful massages indulged in by yours truly!), every pool attendant was remarkably friendly. Even friendlier than the average soul here in Charlotte, and we have some mighty friendly folk in these parts. Every request was greeted with "Con mucho gusto." With pleasure. Even the bellman who showed us the three rooms in the hotel we left was friendly, patient, and helpful to the very end. The people in Costa Rica were undoubtedly the friendliest, most gracious and hospitable people I have ever had the pleasure of mingling with - in all my travels. I was impressed by every taxi driver, every airport security employee, and even the ladies waiting to clean our rooms smiled and wished us well every time we saw them.

6. The best meal we had was purchased at a roadside cafe set up by four or five local women just outside the Manuel Antonio National Park. Most of the people who ate there were local Costaricenses who were selling wares to us, the unsuspecting tourists. A plate of chicken, beans, rice, plantain, yucca, and a few other goodies I've forgotten cost about $5 and was enough for Steve and me to eat our fill. Hot off the grill, straight out of their pots, served on plates and eaten with silverware that most assuredly came from their own kitchens, it was delightful. We followed that up with a bag of 2 or 3 peeled and sliced mangoes that cost us $1 - it was a fresh, juicy, sweet, and healthy dessert.

7. The fact that the beachside homemade meal was the best we had in no way diminishes our awe at how good the other Costa Rican food was. Gallo pinto, a rice and beans dish that is typical of CR, was a staple at breakfast. Fresh fish and shrimp graced our table every night at dinner. Guaro cacique is a CR alcohol that flavored several tropical drinks we sampled; we always left the table full, satisfied, and giggly. Not a bad way to end each day!

8. To arrive at the beach, we took the hotel shuttle to the mouth of a small inlet in the bay. We had to wade through the water - which reached about halfway up our calves, walk about 100 yards over some rocks and tree roots to the entrance of the National Park. With a beautiful but completely empty beach on our right, we walked half a mile through the rainforest (it's amazing how the rainforest comes right to the beach) to another beach, even more beautiful than the first. There were only dozen or so people when we arrived, but as the morning wore on, the beach became more populated, and by the time we left, large groups of teenagers were making their way towards the sand. As we walked towards the exit of the park, we wandered onto the sand of the completely empty beach we had passed as we entered. Steve could offer no reasonable explanation as to why it was empty. Such beauty. Such serenity. Untouched. Unpolluted. Unimaginable.

9. Words fail me. More monkeys in the branches above the trail. Insects that were worthy of photography and serious study. Rock outcropping just offshore with trees defying all reason and growing straight up from the stones. Water that was deceptively strong, but wonderfully refreshing. A half-moon that couldn't bear to be separated from the glory of that day and remained visible until nearly noon in the clear blue sky. For once in our entire relationship, I wanted to stay at the beach longer than Steve - and I'm NOBODY'S outdoor person. It was breath-taking.

10. From the beach, we were chauffeured by an informative and chatty taxista back to our hotel where we changed our shirts, dropped off our towels, and then the same driver took us into the bustling little town of Quepos. We walked around the little town, up and down its narrow streets, in and out of its narrow shops, and settled at a bar for a lemonade and soda to cool off.

On the walls, hanging from the rafters, and pasted to mirrors behind the bar were bumper stickers, license plates, and caps left behind by hundreds of fishermen who had made Quepos homebase for sportfishing trips. Apparently, the port just across the street from La Gran Escape bar and restaurants is world-renown in the fishing community. If I had to spend day after day out at sea hoping to either catch my dinner or eat vegetarian that night, I'd want to start at that bar in that little town on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.

11. The hotel we stayed in for our first and last nights in Costa Rica is the Marriott Costa Rica. Once a large coffee hacienda, it was converted into a hotel years ago and now overlooks the mountains from the back and the remaining 30 acres of coffee plants in the front. The loggia overlooking the fountain in the courtyard, the flowers hung from every courtyard window, the decorative bowls of fresh red peppers and eggplants sweating in the heat, the fragrant blooms in enormous bowls and vases on display at every turn - I was mesmerized. I sat in the open-air common area reading, writing in my journal, imagining how fabulous it would be to rendezvous there with friends for long, fiery conversations over long, cool drinks before turning in and being serenaded by birds, monkeys, and other critters whose calls I couldn't identify.

12. I love to travel. I love airports and airplanes and taking off and landing. I love every part of every journey I take. I arrived at the airport in Charlotte last Thursday morning with high hopes for a journey of relaxation, reconnection with Steve, and reacquaintance with myself. The day after our arrival, we returned to San Jose airport in order to take our 20 minute flight to Quepos on Sansa Air. I had been warned that the plane would be small, but the truth of that statement hit home when a passenger, an expectant fisherman, was turned away from his flight because his 300 pounds of girth were too much for the aircraft. I cannot imagine his embarrassment.

My knees were touching the back of the co-pilot's seat on our flight. I was thrilled. I looked over his shoulder the entire time: watching the plane take off and ascend into the clouds, seeing every maneuver on the flight deck during our short journey, and observe with keen interest every time a lever was pushed, pulled, turned, adjusted, and depressed as the plane descended and landed on a runway that wasn't much wider than the dead-end street outside my house. I loved absolutely every minute of it. Going and coming from Quepos.

13. If I have calculated correctly, Steve and I have been married for fourteen years, ten months, and twenty-six days; we will raise a proper fifteenth anniversary toast on the night of June 29th. We just returned from five days and four nights in Costa Rica celebrating that accomplishment. We share three cars, two children, and one long, colorful, bumpy, tropical, humid, musty, sometimes bloated, sometimes sweet, often challenging, always changing life together.

Just as I felt a little overwhelmed and unprepared for what awaited us as we exited the airport in San Jose last Thursday, I felt some apprehension and had no idea what to expect those many moons ago when we were united in holy matrimony up in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Just as we had to make adjustments in our itinerary because of hotel issues, we have had to make course corrections in our marriage because of personality quirks, job changes, and good old-fashioned selfishness.

Sometimes there are no easy solutions to the challenges we face; we can't just check out of our family situations and move into something more accomodating and comfortable, no matter how painful family conflict is at times.

Sometimes we enter dark and stormy times when we have to fly by the instruments of commitment, discipline, and determination when love, passion, and excitement are obscured by clouds of routine and disinterest.

And every now and then, we are surprised to discover delightfully colorful, airy, fragrant, blossoming places in our hearts and minds where warm breezes of laughter blow. We are assisted along the way by reliable, caring, and hospitable friends who guide us to quiet, refreshing places we could never find on our own.

We went to Costa Rica last week in order to celebrate a long, mostly happy life together. We returned looking forward to many more anniversaries and many more trips to the land of "Pura Vida."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Gail:

Your blog brought me a lot of memories and also brought tears in my eyes. I love the way you refered to "ticos". Hope you and Steve will go back soon.

Pura vida,

Your tica friend