Journey Home: San Cristóbal de las Casas

One of the places we knew we wanted to revisit on our drive back north to the U.S. was the Chiapas, Mexico city of San Cristóbal de las Casas.

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Still closer to San Jose, Costa Rica than we are to Austin, Texas. Mexico is big. But we’ve already crossed 4 out of 5 borders, which is the hard part.

It’s a lovely, walkable, Spanish colonial town with a friendly vibe, fresh mountain air and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. (Click on a photo to see slideshow/full captions.)

You should totally visit, but it is worth checking with your accommodations about whether there are any festivals going on in the neighborhood during your stay. This place likes to party. Which is cool, and we’re generally fairly intrepid travelers who can pop a Tylenol PM, put in our earplugs and fugheddaboutit.

… but our AirBnB was in the middle of Barrio de los Mexicanos, which hosts a festival for the Virgin of the Assumption in August each year, during which revelers set off bottle rockets, ring church bells and play music all night long. Bad timing on our part. The dogs were scared of the fireworks, and for the first couple nights none of us got much sleep. The second morning, a marching band woke us up at 4:30 a.m.

Despite the bombs and the minor sleep deprivation, we did manage to get out and explore the city a bit. I was working during the days, but at night we’d walk along the cobblestone peatones (pedestrian streets) and stop in at one of lots of wonderful restaurants. In which, evidently, Andy takes more photos of me than I do of him. Forgive the food montage.

Andy visited the Museo del los Altos de Chiapas one day, and I did manage to get to a yoga class at Casa Luz. (Yoga in Spanish is a great way to review body-part vocab!) On Saturday the sun came out and we and the dogs hoofed it up to the church at Cerro de Guadelupe, where we got a great view of the city. Afterward we stumbled upon a parade (part of the ongoing festival), with floats, horses, and dancers wearing dresses over innertubes along with terrifying masks. It was an incredible sight.

The next day, we set out early for the 10-hour drive to Oaxaca, where we are now. More on that in the next installment!

Bocas Del Toro, Panama

A couple weeks ago, to celebrate Andy’s birthday, we took an eight-day trip to Bocas Del Toro, Panama. (We’re so close — easier to take a 45-minute flight now than a whole day of travel at some point in the future, if ever.)

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The province of Bocas Del Toro consists of the mainland and nine main islands. We stayed on the largest, in the capital of Bocas Town. Many of the clapboard buildings on stilts in Bocas Town were built by the United Fruit Company (Chiquita Banana) in the early 20th century.

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The dock at Raw, one of our favorite restaurants in Bocas. The smaller Isla Carenero is just across the water.

 

Our B&B, called Stay, was right at the end of the runway, literally a one-minute walk to the tiny airport. The Dutch hosts, Marcha and Chris, are lovely people. One night they brought out wine and snacks and Andy brought out his fiddle, and we were all having such a nice evening that we forgot to go to dinner.

On our first full day, we took an all-day boat trip. We saw dolphins and sloths, went snorkeling, and spent a couple hours lounging, swimming and hiking on the remote protected island of Zapatilla. Not gonna lie; it was pretty magical.

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The beach at Cayo Zapatilla. Some of the loveliest water to swim in I’ve ever encountered.

During the week, I worked from the B&B, and Andy went to Spanish language school at Habla Ya. He learned a lot, and on his last day there he and his classmates took a field trip to the old people’s home. Andy played his fiddle for the residents, and some of the ladies got up and danced. I’m sad to have missed it.

Working from Bocas was challenging at times — at one point, the internet went down for hours due to a damaged undersea cable. I missed an important call, and there was nothing I could do to alert my team what was going on. No one else on the island batted an eye, but internet trouble stresses me out. I feel so fortunate to be working remotely in these incredible places, so the least I can do is be as effective an employee abroad as I am at home, to prove I can make this work. And when that falls through, ugh, I feel like I’m letting everyone down. Fortunately, interruptions are less frequent in Costa Rica. And we have Google Fiber to look forward to when we get home to Austin! *cue choir of angels singing*

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Happy hour at Buena Vista

One night as we were enjoying dinner and drinks on the water at Buena Vista, one of our favorite restaurants in Bocas, a tropical storm picked up. The restaurant is open-air and Andy was getting a little wet sitting next to the edge, so we moved to a more inside table. And then the storm really picked up.

Andy barely had time to finish his burger before the roof started leaking. Napkins were flying; the bar staff scrambled to cover food stores and stow flower arrangements. We crowded in the somewhat more dry entrance area with the other patrons and some tourists who had ducked in to get out of the storm. We were stuck. There were no taxis to be found, so we just chatted up the other prisoners and accepted the free drinks our server brought us because she felt bad.

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waiting for the rain to stop, watching the rising flood

Finally the rain abated and we were tired of waiting for a cab, so we decided to walk the 10 or so blocks back to our B&B. That’s when we learned the town had flooded pretty badly. We had no choice but to wade through it; in some places, the water was up to our knees. Shopkeepers were trying in vain to keep the water from entering their shops; residents were saying it was the worst they’d ever seen. Poor Marcha and Chris had been bailing water out of their shower and off their porch for an hour, they’d gone into our room and put our things up on the bed just in case.

The next day, everyone carried on as usual. In Costa Rica, they say pura vida. In Panama, it’s tranquilo. Does everywhere have some version of hakuna matata? What’s North America’s, then? It’s all good?

After school and class in the evenings, we explored town and sometimes the surrounding islands. Water taxis are $1-5 one way for the closer islands; we enjoyed boating to The Blue Coconut on Isla Solarte and to Isla Carenero for a beach hike and a drink at Bibi’s.

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View from the deck at Bibi’s on the Beach, Isla Carenero. Recommended, in case you can’t tell.

 

One night we got lucky and stumbled on surprisingly badass latin music at another good restaurant, El Ultimo Refugio. The friendly bandleader dug how into it we were, and started giving shoutouts to Texas in every song. At one point some guy come in with his family and grabbed the cowbell. Oh no, we thought. But seriously? This guy was an incredibly musical cowbell player. So rhythmic and dynamic. His cowbell was on point.

Toward the end of our stay we walked to the Bocas Brewery, just north of town. We chatted with Wally, the friendly American owner, and had a couple drinks with some fried pickles (I guess we’re missing Texas!) on the scenic back patio.

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Andy in his element at Bocas Brewery

On our last full day, we took a water taxi to Isla Bastimientos and camped out all day under a thatch umbrella at Palmar on Red Frog Beach, only breaking for the occasional dip on the ocean or trip to the bar. It was dope.

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Andy in his new Panama hat at Red Frog Beach, Isla Bastimientos. (Did you know Panama hats are actually from Ecuador? We did not.)

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Red Frog Beach

Now that we’ve crossed Panama off our list, El Salvador is the only country in Central America we haven’t visited.

We’re getting close to heading home — only five more weeks in Costa Rica. Andy is on tour in California at the moment, and I’ll be in Boston for work for a bit next month. This time will fly by. Over Fourth of July weekend we plan to visit the Osa Peninsula, the last item on our Costa Rica bucket list. Then we begin our long journey home.

Tortuguero

Friday morning we set our alarm for 3:30 a.m., and took the 40-minute cab ride from Atenas to SJO airport.

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A selfie as bleary as we feel

We were headed to Tortuguero, a remote and sparsely populated town and national park on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast. Technically it’s nesting season for leatherback turtles, but (spoiler alert) they’re endangered and we didn’t see any.

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We flew with local airline Nature Air in a 19-seat twin otter — Andy’s first experience in a small plane. (He did great.) The otter’s giant picture windows and low flying altitude (no pressurized cabin!), coupled with Costa Rica’s not-too-shabby views made the flight a highlight of the whole trip.

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Boarding! Watch your head …

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The flight from SJO to Tortuguero includes a stopover in Limon, seen here from the air.

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The 15-minute hop from Limon to Tortuguero

 

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Tortuguero from the air

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The Tortuguero “airport.”

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Our taxi driver meeting us at the air strip

We took a water taxi to Casa Marbella, a B&B in town. There are fancier lodges to stay elsewhere along the river, but a water taxi is the only way to get around, so we decided to stay in the town itself. Casa Marbella has a pleasant deck overlooking the river where guests eat breakfast and read or snooze or drink beers in adirondack chairs. Most tourists are from mainland Europe — not a lot of North Americans.

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Tortuguero from the river

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The town of Tortuguero is full of public art. Most of it is not anywhere near as terrifying as this, the creepiest trash receptacle of all time.

We relaxed most of the first day — had a fantastic Caribbean-style lunch in the garden at Miss Junie’s, Tortuguero’s best-known restaurant, and dinner later that evening at Wild Ginger, which we’d also recommend. The friendly owner was getting ready to close up shop for a couple weeks during low season, so we were glad we got there in time. He encouraged us to pay by credit card, as Wild Ginger is one of the few places in town that accepts them. No one wants to pay the fees, but on the other hand, change is hard to come by in Tortuguero. There are no banks or cash machines there, and tourists bring in large bills, so locals are always scrambling for smaller bills and coins. What’s more, the closest bank is an entire day’s trip up and back down the river. It used to take less time, but the water levels are low, and boats are slow-going. (I’m always amazed and saddened by the real-world implications of climate change.)

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Sunset from the deck of Casa Marbella

The next morning we took a guided boat tour of the national park. The boat had a quiet electric motor, so as not to disturb wildlife. Our guide, Roberto, pointed out all kinds of animals that our untrained eyes would never have spotted: monkeys, a sloth, a small turtle, a cayman (like a small crocodile), iguanas, toucans, and lots of other birds.

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Cayman hiding in the grass

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A female jacana chasing away adolescents so she can mate. Jacanas are polyandrist: the female mates with several males, and the males incubate the eggs and care for the young. Do your thing, girl. 

The $15 entrance fee to the park was good for the whole day, so Andy and I went for a hike later that afternoon — a guard almost didn’t let us in because the park closes at 4 p.m., but we must have looked sad because he quickly relented, showed us where the trail started, and told us to be out before sunset. Pura vida. At one point on the trail I stopped to pee, looked up, and saw a spider monkey decimating a piece of fruit not 15 yards away. Communing with nature!

This morning we water-taxied back to the “airport.” The pilot checked us in and the co-pilot loaded our bags. No one asked to see an ID … guess it’s not really a problem around here.

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What, no Starbucks? This is an outrage.

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Nature Air’s twin otter on the Tortuguero airstrip

Low season turned out to be a great time to visit, since many places were still open but prices were low and the town wasn’t overcrowded. I don’t know if we’ll get the chance to go again, but if we did return we’d go during green turtle nesting season so we’d be sure to see the area’s namesake. Even though we didn’t see any big nesting turtles this time, we’re still so glad we went.

 

Fainting Lessons

Last weekend I fainted.

Normally, this would be NBD; I’ve fainted lots of times. It’s unpleasant* but temporary. This time, it was the middle of the night and I was at the top of the staircase when I passed out. I woke up at the bottom of it.

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I came to face-down, one of the dogs licking my arm, wailing involuntarily for a few moments until I pieced together what happened. (It’s exceptionally bizarre when this splice of your consciousness is just missing, when you moved from A to B and everything hurts.) My head ached. So did my neck and my hip. Andy brought me an ice pack. Maybe we should have gone to the hospital, but it was late. 

The next day I spoke with my sister, a physician’s assistant. She told me to look out for signs of concussion — fuzzy vision, headaches, memory weirdness — and to get an X-ray if my neck continued hurting to rule out a fracture. We agreed not to tell our parents, who have a teensy propensity toward fretting. (Sorry, Jen, I’ve broken our agreement.)

The next morning, I felt banged up but otherwise okay. No signs of concussion. Today all that’s left is an impressive purple bruise on my hip.

All week, I’ve been avoiding dwelling on the most obvious takeaway: I could have died. I banged my head, hard, in a fall down the stairs. That moment near the top, when I barely had time to register wooziness, could have been the last feeling I felt on this earth.

But I shouldn’t avoid dwelling on that. It’s not uncommon for those who’ve had near-death experiences to start living more fully — to focus deeply on what matters, to tell the people you love that you love them.

Without these occasional glimpses of mortality, we worry about how people would receive our outpourings of earnest love. We tend not to offer them day-to-day, for fear of being perceived as overemotional weirdos. A couple years ago, we lost a young family friend. I was in South Africa at the time; my parents and I cried together over FaceTime. “We love you so much, honey,” Dad said. “You look so beautiful right now.”

It’s better to risk being weird, I think.

It’s better to gush at the people you love about how special they are. It’s better to accept death is coming for all of us, so we might as well do what we can with the time we have. That’s what Destino Pura Vida is about, in a way: to create the kind of life where, toward the end of it, I’ll feel good about how I spent my time.**

“Only when you accept death can you free yourself from it, can you deal with it, can you move forward from it,” says Philip Gould in the short film When I Die: Lessons from the Death Zone. “Acceptance is the absolute key. At that moment, you gain freedom, and you gain power, and you gain courage.”

I promise it’s worth your time to give it a watch. Then call up or write to the people who mean the most to you and tell them how wonderful they are.

tl;dr You’re wonderful, and I love you. I’m so glad we’re both on this planet.

*      *      *

*Especially the disoriented, waking-up part. If you’ve never fainted, it sort of feels like your mind is scrambled, like a channel you don’t get on an old television set, for a few seconds of semi-consciousness before you fully come to. That moment lasts just long enough to terrify you that your brain might be stuck in this buzzing, crazy-making way forever. Anyway, it sucks. What’s comforting about fainting, on the other hand, is that you just go out, like that. You don’t know anything; you’re out. So if that’s what death is like, we’ll all be fine.

**If I do die soon, rest assured I’ve had a great life. Don’t be too sad about how I went before my time — just throw a fantastic party, preferably with bagpipes followed by a bluegrass band. And lots of carbs for everyone.

Feliz año nuevo!

Well, 2015, you are going to be a hard year to top.

We got married, traveled and played a bunch of music, became an auntie and uncle to the best niece ever (HI MARLOWE), started learning Spanish, and moved to Costa Rica. Oh, and I just got a new writing job. Basically, everything’s coming up Triplett Lentz.

PicMonkey Collage.jpgWe celebrated Christmas with my sister-from-another-mister Sarah and her husband Doyle, visiting from Alaska. After a few days hanging out at our place in Atenas, we spent several days in the beach town of Sámara, on the Nicoya Peninsula. Due to some neck pain from the most white-lady injury possible (I got a bad massage that pinched a nerve), I spent a too-significant percentage of time during their visit lying on my back high on muscle relaxers. But we still got in plenty of sun and fun, and it was fantastic to see them.

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Salud!

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These handsome devils with their sangria.

The dogs were tick magnets out in that part of the jungle and both of them came down with tick fever — nothing antibiotics can’t fix, but boy is it nasty to pluck those parasitic little jerks out of your dogs’ ears every time they go outside.

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Beach dogs

Shortly after Sarah and Doyle departed, we were joined in Sámara by Andy’s brother-from-another-mother Danny and his wife Courtney. We spent New Year’s Eve on the playa, where we sat closer to the fireworks launch site than any of us have ever been. The beach was full of celebrants building bonfires and releasing paper lanterns into the air, and the fireworks were incredible. Not at all a bad way to welcome a new year.

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Danny, clearly having an awful day.

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Love these two.

Currently we’re relaxing up in the cool north, amid the hot springs surrounding Volcán Arenal, for a few days before I fly to Boston to officially start my new job at Help Scout. So far, 2016 is off to a promising start.

Emily’s turn in Nicaragua

Andy came back from Spanish school in Nicaragua knowing more Spanish than I do, which I could not allow. (Kidding. Mostly.)

I went to the same program, at the Latin American Spanish School in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, this last week. Four hours of private instruction per day, plus a week’s homestay with a local family, all meals included, totaled $270 — about half the cost of similar programs in Costa Rica.

My teacher Lucia and I spent mornings in conversation, then she drilled me on conjugating verbs in the tenses I didn’t have down yet. I’m still by no means fluent, but my comprehension improved, and taxi drivers and border agents are starting to compliment my Spanish. (A German friend living in England once told me you’ll know you’ve mastered a language when people stop complimenting you on how well you speak it.)

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Me with my wonderful Spanish teacher Lucia Garcia, on the balcony at the Latin American Spanish School in central San Juan del Sur

San Juan del Sur was a small fishing village until the mid-1990s or thereabouts, when foreign investors started snapping up cheap property, building hotels and restaurants, and turning the area into a party destination. The Nicaraguan government subsequently raised taxes in that region, so some locals struggle to get by. Most homes don’t have hot water or air conditioning; the energy prices are prohibitive. 

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The kitchen in the family home where I stayed. You wash your hands by dunking a bowl into the water in the cement tub on the right, soaping your hands in the bowl and dumping the dirty water down the laundry sink.

I stayed with the familia Flores — mother Sylvia and father Pedro, their several grown children and one toddler grandchild who cried at the sight of the red-headed gringa. Doña Sylvia is evangelical Christian and told me, hand held to my stomach, that if I pray to God I can still have babies even though I’m old. But she makes a mean gallo pinto, so I shrugged it off.

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Señora Sylvia Flores and me. One afternoon I told her I’d eat dinner at a restaurant that night so don’t worry about cooking for me, but she hung her head in so much sadness I immediately relented.

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Some of the food was new to me, like this traditional sopa de pescado. I’m an adventurous eater but can get a little squeamish when my food has eyes. Thankfully the flavor was lovely and delicate. I’m a convert.

 

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The showerhead.

While a lot of my time was taken up with studying, I did manage to get some long walks in and go to yoga classes every evening at a beautiful upper-deck, open-air studio in town called Zen Yoga. On my last night, Lucia and another teacher from the school, Vanessa, invited me to an event at El Timón restaurant on the beach. A local troupe performed traditional dances, and a salsa teacher gave us a short lesson before the killer band — horns, three singers, the works — played for the rest of the night. My teachers, their friends and I shook our nalgas and had a blast, until a drunk Bulgarian dude thought it’d be a fun game to chase me around the dance floor, rattling a pair of maracas he stole from the band.

My visit coincided with the days leading up to la gritería, a Nicaraguan celebration honoring Mary’s immaculate conception. It’s sort of like a Catholic Halloween: People go from house to house collecting little gifts, like soap or matches or cookies, from families who wish to give thanks for the prayers Maria answered during the year. Celebrants clap and yell-sing “¿Quien causa tanta alegría? ¡LA CONCEPTIÓN DE MARÍA!” (“What causes so much happiness? THE CONCEPTION OF MARY!”). Bands play marches and kiddos set off fireworks in the square. The constant explosions could be distracting during Spanish and yoga classes, but good luck not submitting to the festive atmosphere. It’s a pretty magical time to visit Nicaragua, provided you’re a sound sleeper or bring high-quality earplugs.

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One of the world’s tallest Jesus statues lords over (get it???) the bay of San Juan del Sur.

A visit to the doctor

Murphy’s Law being what it is, this was the week — when Andy is at language school in Nicaragua, and our car is … somewhere? somewhere getting legal … ? — that I got sick enough to have to go to the doctor.

I get sick enough to go to the doctor about once every four years, so the prospect of needing medical attention in Costa Rica hadn’t occurred to me. (Tripletts don’t get sick, according to Dad. And when we do, we definitely don’t whine about it.) At first I tried to avoid it by going to the pharmacy. Costa Rican pharmacists are highly trained and all drugs other than narcotics are OTC here, so the pharmacy is a kind of inexpensive triage. But I must not have done a good job explaining my symptoms, because the horse pills they gave me didn’t help and I woke up the next morning feeling worse.

I realized I was only putting off a doctor visit because I didn’t know how it would work, and I wasn’t in the mood to figure it out. That’s a pretty silly excuse when you’ve had hives all over your body and an ocular headache for five days, so I finally put some shoes on and made the 15-minute walk to the clinic.

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The Linea Vital Clinic in Atenas. YES I thought to take a photo for the blog even when I was at death’s door. I’m very dedicated to you, Dear Reader.

Linea Vital is an ambulance service and walk-in clinic in Atenas — I showed up at 8 a.m. expecting to wait or be told to come back later, but I was the only patient there and Dr. Barrantes was able to see me right away. Both she and the nurse who took my vitals spoke English. After about a 15-minute consult she decided I probably don’t have dengue fever, and diagnosed me with an allergic reaction (to what I still don’t know, maybe detergent). She told me to avoid tomatoes and pineapple (:cry:), and gave me a prescription for Rupax, an oral antihistamine, after I wouldn’t let her give me a steroid shot.

She also commented that I am very white.

It’s easy to see why medical tourism is such a Thing here: The consult was $50 with no insurance, and the medication was another $5.50. If any of our American friends with lousy insurance need to get anything taken care of, now’s the time to visit — even with the plane ticket you’ll come out ahead, and get a vacation in while you’re at it.

The Rupax didn’t work quickly enough, and the next day I woke up feeling too crummy to work (which is pretty crummy, when you work from home). I took some Benadryl too and slept the day away. Today I woke up groggy but well enough to run a couple errands and get a haircut. Benadryl for the win, again. Seriously. Bless those little pink pills.

Visitors! Or: I Don’t Want to Wait (For Our Lives to be Over)

Our first visitors to join us in Costa Rica were my coworkers and dear friends, Ann and Kristin.

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Kristin and Ann on the deck of the eco-cabin outside Turrialba. To set the record straight: purchasing Oreos was *not* the first thing Ann did upon her arrival in the country; it was only *among* her initial activities.

A respectable dent was made. (Passive voice intentional.)

A respectable dent was made. Passive voice intentional. (A. Goliak photo)

These women are excellent guests: Not only do they make good choices in their duty-free booze shopping, Ann hauled a five-pound bag of gummy bears all the way from Chicago. (“You said you couldn’t get them here!”) They’re agreeable travelers, and funny as all get out. Ann’s signature comment of the trip was, “I’m helping by staying out of the way.” We spent considerable time annoying one another with song, principally by yell-singing Paula Cole’s 1996 hit “I Don’t Want to Wait.”

“If I never hear that song again,” Andy said (a day or two after our guests left but the song was still very much stuck in my head), “it will be too soon.”

Buttercup, queen sloth.

Buttercup, queen sloth. (A. Goliak photo)

The gals’ only original request was that we see sloths, so over the weekend we road-tripped from Turrialba to a jungle house on the Caribbean coast, not far from Puerto Viejo and the sloth sanctuary. When Kristin learned that howler monkeys will sometimes (and with startling accuracy) urinate on humans when agitated by their presence, she added “getting peed on by a howler monkey” to her short list of goals.

We swam in in the ocean, wore out the dogs, made dinner, drank margaritas, window-shopped, read in hammocks. Ann knitted a baby sweater while Kristin and I played canasta. It was proving a relaxing beach vacation until some small vampire, an ant or a spider, bit Andy on the toe. He gets bitten all the time — 9 out of 10 bloodsucking insects agree; Andy tastes grrrrrreat! — so I didn’t think much of it at first. Then he pushed his plate of tacos away and announced he didn’t feel like eating; he was going to go shower. That’s when I knew something was wrong.

Andy has never rejected a taco.

He peeled off his shirt to reveal that he was covered in hives. His ears felt funny, he said. His eyes were watering. I grabbed the car keys and white-knuckled it to the nearest open Farmacia, where the pharmacist tried to sell me Allegra because Benadryl would make him drowsy. “Benadryl,” I insisted. She rolled her eyes.

The pink pills worked their magical magic almost immediately. Andy passed out. I told Ann and Kristin that was the worst drive ever — I’d had difficulty finding the Farmacia, and was pushing away thoughts of Andy’s throat closing up when he was miles from a doctor and I’d taken the car, too frantic to consider that I should have told him to get out of the shower and taken him with me.

“We were prepared to do a tracheotomy,” Ann reassured me.

The next morning, we awoke before sunrise to the other-worldly racket of howler monkeys nearby. Andy was much better but still drowsy, but Ann and Kristin hopped out of bed and we sped out in pursuit, three braless women in search of monkeys. (This has to be someone’s fetish, we concluded.)

We found the monos high in a tree behind a neighboring hotel — too far to photograph but plenty close to marvel at their spooky, smoke-monster-from-Lost vocalizations. Howlers are fairly small, harmless vegetarians, but as Ann noted, if you didn’t know that and heard one for the first time, you’d think you were about to die. They’re the loudest land animals on our planet — a hollow acoustic chamber in the back of their throat serves as a sort of bullhorn that makes their roar louder than a lion’s. They are incredible.

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Toyota the sloth, so named for his durability: He was electrocuted and fell to the ground; his electrocuted arm turned gangrenous; vultures (fortunately for him, actually) ate off a good portion of his gangrene; a worker found and rescued him; and what was left of his arm was amputated. He’s all good now. (A. Goliak photo)

We did not get peed on. 

The sloth sanctuary was a mixed bag. There were sloths, of course, so it had that going for it.

But we were irritated by the tour guide, who was overly fond of figurative language despite a marvelous inability to construct a tenable metaphor. (“Imagine you are a lady sloth, and you are trying to find a date, but the harpy eagle keeps eating all the eligible bachelors by imitating your mating call. So you tell the male: our date is for tonight … but come tomorrow. She arranges the date for tonight, but tells him to come the next day, you understand? Then, when that stops working, she tells him the date is for tonight, but to come next week.”) He loved both the sound of his own voice and knowing more about sloths than you. We did not learn much about sloths.

How Kristin felt about the guide at the sloth sanctuary

How Kristin felt about the guide at the sloth sanctuary. (A. Goliak photo)

But we enjoyed the boat-ride segment afterwards, where our Tico guide pointed out another monkey, a couple more sloths in the wild, and a small alligator camouflaged in the mud.

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We’re on a boat. (K. Aardsma photo)

Poor Ann was sick with a cold the next morning, so she skipped the surf lesson. Andy, Kristin and I met up with Jermaine, a local surf instructor who taught us the “chicken wing” technique for popping up on the board. Andy had surfed once before; it was my and Kristin’s first time. They were both measurably better than me, although I finally stood up once for a few seconds — long enough to realize how fun it could be once you get a feel for it. Our muscles were sore for a couple days.

Back in Turrialba, Kristin and I worked in the UCR biblioteca, and Andy and Ann took a coffee tour, which they loved. Ann claims to now know much more about coffee than she does about sloths. On the gals’ last night, we drove them to Hotel Aeropuerto and enjoyed a far better steak dinner than one might expect from a restaurant at a place named “Hotel Aeropuerto.” We couldn’t finish the huge portions, but Penny and Theda helped, by busting down the dog grate in the back of the Subaru and dispatching the contents of the to-go box with admirable stealth.

It was only a little sad to say goodbye, since I was about to see them again for a work trip to San Francisco. I’ll also get in some drinks with friends, a dental cleaning, and some direly needed baby niece time (yeah yeah, and see the rest of the family). Andy and the puppies are on their own in the hills for eight days. Will they be able to avoid a trip to the vet? Stay tuned!

A Sojourn in Turrialba

Last weekend, we arrived at an ecocabin outside of Turrialba. Where they make the sportsballs.

We booked this stay a few months ago when we were still in Austin, because the area sounded lovely, and because we didn’t want to worry about housing so soon after arriving. I had narrowed our digs for this month down to a couple options, and gave the final vote to my coworkers and friends Ann and Kristin — they’re our first visitors (!) arriving tomorrow (!) so I wanted to make sure we’d be staying somewhere they’d enjoy.

View from the front porch

View from the front porch

“This is just like House Hunters International!” Ann said.

They picked the ecocabin, so here we are! And ’twas a solid pick. The solar-powered house sits on a hill amid coffee and sugarcane fields with holy-shit-that’s-incredible views of the valley below.

I am not making this up.

I am not making this up.

Porch pickin'

Porch pickin’

Entrance to La Postita

Entrance to La Postita

It’s a bit remote, and the internet hearkens to the days of dial-up, so that means commuting 20 or so minutes into town for work. The best connection in the nicest setting I’ve found is, unsurprisingly, at the Universidad de Costa Rica campus. Today I overheard a couple students in the library discussing their coursework about the Puritans and my witch-burning ancestor, Cotton Mather! It was so jarring to hear that name of all names in Costa Rica that I had to interrupt them and apologize for eavesdropping. They were characteristically sweet about it, and expressed their condolences for my shameful heritage.

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Post-romp panting on the porch. Theda has since lost the cone, thank goodness.

The doggies have seven acres of trails and fields to romp around in, so they’re in heaven. We have to be mindful of snakes and poisonous toads and whatnot, and Penny usually has to be leashed, because (shocker) she charged the caretaker. He walked up unannounced, which spooked her, and she ran and barked so loud it scared the poor guy half to death. He broke his umbrella over her back (we don’t blame him — we bought him a replacement the next day), and warned us that the next guy might be carrying a machete rather than an umbrella.

So, leashed walkies it is. Penny is such a jerk.

Falling for Atenas

The original plan was to bounce around Costa Rica from month to month — see the country, get a feel for different places, roam around and be flexible. But after a month in Atenas, we’re looking at renting a house there.

Part of that, I suppose, is that we’re already a bit weary of nomadism — packing and unpacking our belongings, figuring out new places to stay, learning where to shop and work and eat. It’s fatiguing, and if I did that every month for a year, I fear I wouldn’t be a very pleasant person to live with. After two or three weeks of being in one place, we started to settle in. And the more we looked around, the more we found to like.

View of the (somewhat under-construction) parque central, from Gelly's Cafe

View of the (somewhat under-construction) parque central, from Gelly’s Cafe

Atenas has a lot going for it. National Geographic once designated it the world’s best climate, and with days in the 70s-80s and nights in the 60s, we’re not arguing. It’s a smaller town (like many others, built around the hub of a central park and the church) in a mountainous agricultural area — no hopping nightlife to speak of, but we’re old people who go to bed at 9:30 anyway. Although it’s small, it has its share of decent cafes and restaurants, a couple of which host community lending libraries.

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Andy at Kay’s, one of the places in town where you can order a fresh juice AND borrow a large-print copy of “The Pelican Brief.”

Penny and Theda in their preferred spot under the mango tree.

Penny and Theda in their preferred spot under the mango tree.

Happy hour.

Happy hour.

Our AirBnB hosts, Pat and John, were super knowledgable and keyed us into where to shop (the co-op), which vet to take the dogs to (Dr. Solano), and where the extranjeros get rowdy on Friday afternoons (German’s Bar). They introduced us to the farmer’s market, shared their smoked brisket with us, answered our incessant questions and made us feel truly welcome. We loved staying at “Casita Limón” and we’re happy to call these lovely folks our friends now.

At Casita Limón with our lovely hosts Pat & John

At Casita Limón with our lovely hosts Pat & John

The farmers market in Atenas is off the chain. Every Friday morning vendors gather under a massive shelter and sell (out of) everything from pineapples to eggs to baked goods to homemade sausages and cheese. It’s all fresh and all amazing.

La feria

La feria

Yet such bounty can make a body start to feel doughy, and jogging around the soccer field in the morning wasn’t cutting it. Fortunately, the instructors at Atenas Yoga are non-annoying — lovely, even — and the setting sure beats the group class room at 24 Hour Fitness. Andy even joined me once — his first experience doing yoga! — and I suspect he enjoyed it, despite his predilection for calling yoga “hippie stretching.” After one session in English I put on my big-girl yoga pants and attended a couple in Spanish. I still don’t understand everything and peek at my neighbors a lot, but I’m enjoying this more than any yoga I’ve done before. It no longer feels like something I ought to do; I look forward to it.

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Yoga at the Colinas del Sol hotel in Atenas

Speaking of Spanish, another huge draw to Atenas is our Spanish teacher, David. He runs the community-center-of-sorts Su Espacio, which offers dance, karate, fitness and other classes in addition to language learning. David has us focus on conversational Spanish: we just talk, and he pauses when we get stuck on something to explain a word or concept. In just a few weeks he’s helped us both level up in a big way. We want to keep working with him, so we can talk to our Tico neighbors, learn from them, and perhaps start to feel like part of a community.

We’ll see what happens — we make a lot of new decisions every day, and often we go back and forth, and then in a different direction entirely. We didn’t intend to fall for the first place we saw; and we don’t want to be hasty because we’re tired of bopping around. But we could see ourselves in this place, and that’s saying something.