What Path Are We On?

Stick with me on this one because it is a bit convoluted…

Lately I’ve been really drawn to meditation. Let me say that in the past I haven’t liked it because my mind doesn’t slow down and I get bored or think I am not doing it right. The universe is pulling me towards it, even if I am going kicking and screaming.

  • A couple of months ago I reserved the eBook “Eat Love Pray” not really knowing much about the book except it was supposed to be good and they made a movie based on it so I thought, why not read it. A week or so ago it became available for me to read.
  • On April 1 Dan and I were eating at our favorite place in Santa Elena, a hole in the wall called Taco Taco.  Several people walked by as they passed it (when you get off the bus from San Jose and walk up the hill to town you pass it) but it looks a bit shabby so it is hard to know if it is good or not. (I only tried it because Rigo had a Taco Taco t-shirt so I thought it meant he liked it.) We usually tell folks to try the food because we do find it to be great. This couple was passing by and we waved them in; they went on and then came back. They ended up eating with us. Theresa is from Australia and Greg is from California. They are trainers in meditation, mindfullness, and other good stuff. We went to there talk the next day at the Friends School (Quakers).
  • There is a Friday mediation in Santa Elena run by one of the Friends. On Good Friday it was done at the home of a member and run by someone who spent 3 hours guiding us through a variety of meditation activities and made it clear that everyone’s mind is busy when they meditate, the trick is to keep refocusing.
  • I met Mary Newswanger at the talk that Greg and Theresa gave and she gave me a ride to the above meditation as well as several other activities.
  • Mary grew up with Lynn Sanders who was the attorney in Austin who did Mitchell’s adoption and we have known him for over 30 years (unfortunately he died about a year or so ago).
  • Mary gave me a pamphlet to read about the Peace Pilgrim. I have taken to reading this when I have free time or during meditation times at the Friends’ meetings.
  • Theresa gave me a link to some meditation. Still working on getting that to play like it should.
  • Theresa had told us about the Costa Rica Sustainability project which we have wanted to go to. That is not going to work out but the odd thing about this is that Mary is friends with the owners and one of the owners is Rigo’s (homestay father) nephew.
  • Mary came over and asked me to take a handful of the pamphlets to the sustainability project and Rigo was going the next day anyway (it is an hour away). (Too bad we couldn’t do a tour that day when he went.) Not 10 minutes after Mary left our homestay house, Rigo arrived with one of his sisters…she is the mother of the nephew at the sustainability project!

Lots of information coming at us and too many “coincidences” to not pay attention to it. Still not really happy meditating but giving it more attention to see if that will change. And going to watch for more “coincidences” in our lives.

Easter Week AKA Semana Santa

Costa Rica is a primarily Catholic country and banks and many businesses are closed Thursday-Sunday for Semana Santa and schools are off.

We have been around some of the Quakers (Friends) who settled this area in the early 1950’s and are very comfortable with them. Got up at 4 AM this morning (ugh) and walked in the dark to the school/meeting location which is about a 25 minute walk from where we live. NO cars passed us as we walked and when we arrived there were only about 2-3 people there just before the sun was going to rise about 5. We sat on benches facing the east and while the trees block actually seeing the sun, we sat there as it got light. I was shocked to see that there were at least 45 people there by the time we gathered for a pot luck breakfast about 6.

Very open/loving group and the services are primarily meditation with a few thoughts/comments at the end.

One of the Joys of Retirement…Unplanned Days

One nice thing about retirement is to wake up and not really know what the day brings. Last Sunday was one of those days. Other than going to the meeting (service) with the Quakers we had no plans.

During the meeting, which is primarily meditation, we learned that there was a pot luck lunch and then a Quaker business meeting after the lunch. We stayed for both and met new folks.

The 2 hour business meeting was very interesting. The primary topic was planned improvements to the school. The school is for Kindergarten-12th grade and limited to about 120 students total. One building needs remodeling or replacement, more technology is needed, etc. It was great to see this core group of about 8-12 hash out basics and have the stated desire to make sure that the changes had minimal impact on the environment, recycled as much as possible, etc. My hat is off to the recording secretary who did a phenomenal job of pulling the thoughts together.

After the meeting, Dan and I met with the co-head of the school (Rick) and discussed ways that the existing building could be modified rather than raised. Rick will discuss the suggestions with the architect.

After that we started to walk to the Monteverde Reserve which is uphill a couple of kilometers. We ended up taking a side road to see a gallery, talking with the artist for a while and then walking a bit further to the view we have here.

View towards San Luis
Stumbled upon Jaguar Studio with a variety of paintings and prints…modern art and realistic.
Lindie along the side of the road looking at a group of guans, large black birds in the turkey family
View towards San Luis
Pasture land along our walk

None of this was planned but we got over 13,000 steps in and spent a wonderful, diverse day!

Pasteur with cows along the walk

Street Drainage and Sidewalks in San Jose and Other Parts Of Costa Rica

While there is some regular under ground drainage in San Jose, many of the street have a dropoff (lower area) on each side of the street, presumably for drainage purposes. This makes the roads narrower and I am sure that they sometimes are a hazard for the vehicles…not to mention the pedestrians. On one of the buses from San Jose to Santa Elena one day we were met by another full sized bus going the opposite direction. The road was so narrow that one bus stopped while the other one very slowly inched (and I mean inched) along until it was sure it could pass the other bus.

Last night while we were walking with friends to go to dinner (the weather was perfect!) Dan started to fall because he didn’t realize that the drainage was there as he stepped off the sidewalk. Fortunately we were holding hands and I was able to counterbalance him enough that he didn’t actually fall. Cheap drainage but not so safe.

There are lots of obstacles as you walk around as well. Sidewalks are in varying states of repair or should I say disrepair. Sometimes something sticking out of the sidewalk or lots of holes. This must not be the litigious society that the United States is or they wouldn’t remain.

Sidewalks are busy with people, vendors, shops and windows to look into so between all of that and the hazards, you really have to pay attention when you walk.

Weather has been cooler in San Jose than I anticipated which is nice. Must be in the 70’s and the humidity isn’t bad. Not a fan of big cities but I am getting more comfortable with San Jose now.

Security and Mindfulness

Security while traveling is critical. We have learned a few things.

The first is mindfulness (tip 1). This means being aware of your surroundings and being present in the moment. At the point you are no longer mindful and your brain is thinking of something else, you have tuned out what is happening around you and you are vulnerable. This includes being on your phone talking or texting someone. Maybe you are reading. Whatever it is, stay mindful. When traveling with others, one of you can do other things while one is staying alert.

Lindie lost her wallet. While she had a wallet that hooked on a belt loop and could be inserted inside her pants, one day she did not do that because it was awkward. She lost the wallet or it was stolen. It is likely it fell out of what was a shallow pocket. If someone picked it there was no awareness at the time.

Fortunately the credit cards were not used and she was able to replace them and her insurance card fairly easily. The replacement Colorado drivers license is still in process. It will catch up to her.

As a result of this, we have added buttons to all pockets in our pants and shirts. This ensures that belongings stay where you want them and someone else’s hand cannot easily slip in (tip 2).

A very flat money belt is useful (tip 3). REI and Amazon both carry ones that are lined so that an electronic device cannot read them. It is an RFI impervious lining (tip 4). You can also get small sleeves that hold three credit cards. When traveling each day, we do keep enough money in our pockets to take us through or part way through the day (tip 5). This prevents flashing what we have.

A new friend recently traveled on the public bus from San Jose to Monteverde. She lost her backpack, including passport and credit cards. They were taken while on the bus. She knew as a seasoned traveler to keep things on her lap or to have her foot through the strap (tip 6). Her mindfulness slipped and her belongings were gone. It is strongly advised: Do not use the overhead bin (tip 7).

We took the same bus route several weeks earlier, and I was glad to see that the bus driver made everyone get off when we took a restroom/meal break. We did take the things we had with us in the seats with us (tip8).

On that trip I discovered that claiming luggage from under the bus was a potential place to lose luggage. Although there were luggage receipts to present, the person pulling luggage out was not checking that the numbers matched. For our next trip we got our tickets early so that we have the front seats behind the steps into the bus. This will allow us to be first off and first over to the luggage, so we can protect our stuff (tip 9).

We have decided that when we travel from place to place, that we will go directly to our lodging via taxi so that we are not carting a lot of things around in unknown places (tip 10). We will use a day pack otherwise (tip 11).

When traveling distances, our day packs contain enough daily essentials that if we were to lose our other luggage, we don’t have to rush to replace things (tip 12).

Since we arrived in Monteverde, we realized how hard it is to stuff our pockets with things we might use during the day. We bought fanny packs and use them for receipts, snacks, replacement camera battery, a little change and a few bills, etc. The fanny pack is worth much more than the things we have in it. This keeps us from digging into our pockets looking for something, only to have things fall out easily as our hand comes out (tip 13). We keep them across our belly, not our fanny.

When we have a choice, we now travel earlier so that our arrival is in daylight. Moving around at night adds vulnerability. Taxis will be used at night and they will be called, not flagged down (tip 14).

Here are two stories from friends.

One was in Bolivia or Peru and mustard was squirted on her. While distracted her backpack was stolen.

The other friend had a man with a bundle over his shoulder walk right into him. Suddenly he felt something at his pocket, reached down quickly, felt the hand and rapidly spun around, knocking the woman attached to the hand into an elderly man.My friend lost nothing, yet the woman yelled at him about how he caused her to fall into her grandfather. Yeah, right.

Living with the Ticos

We are on our second experience of living with a local person/family. (They call themselves “Ticos”.) The first was 3 days with Rosa who speaks NO English and doesn’t read. That didn’t stop this older lady who has mastered Google translate on her iPhone. She talks into it and has you listen to the translation. What a wonderful world we live in when someone with limited resources doesn’t have to be limited by language.

We have lived with Rigo and Esmeralda and various family members for several weeks now. They really are the epitome of contentment. They both work hard, Rigo outside the home, Esmeralda in the home. Their home is basic with the only luxuries being a stove/refrigerator they bought not long ago and internet which was added about 2 weeks ago.

Really everything you need is available in this house, just not in the way we might think about in the USA. There is no heating/cooling although the temperatures are not bad here. There are a few hours each afternoon now that it is very hot in the living room which doesn’t have good ventilation. Dan might be able to help that by adding a window. It was chilly some days when we first arrived and a small space heater in each room would have been nice but everyone got by fine.

There is one bathroom in a house that since we have lived here has had as many as 9 people sleeping here. The sink is outside the small room with the shower/commode. There haven’t been many times that someone has been in line to go into the actual bathroom, even with so many people here. Having the sink outside the room itself allows someone to wash their hands or brush their teeth without restricting access to the commode/shower.(Note the trash can next to the commode…toilet paper is never put in the toilet,ALL toilet paper in the Latin America countries that we visited goes in the trash cans since septic/sewer systems can’t handle that much paper.)

Faucets are what we would consider outdoor spigots with the handle on top. Not elegant but they get the job done. My picture didn’t come out good but here is the type of spigot or hose bib I am talking about.Hose bib from Home Depot

Hot water? Yes and no. The showers here use some type of on demand heating system that works best when you have a lower flow. I’ve had a bit of a challenge adjusting the flow some mornings and had a few invigorating showers as a result but not horrible. This is the only hot water in the house (or in Rosa’s as well) so that means you wash dishes and our hands in cold water. Not ideal from the culture we come from but we have stayed healthy so maybe it isn’t that necessary if you do a good job of washing.

Gollo Washing MachineBoth houses had washing machines with two sections: one for washing the clothes and a second section to take the water out by a centrifuge. I was surprised to see that these machines were about $300-400 USD new in the store. Both houses hang their clothes to dry. Even in the humidity here in the “dry season” they dry quickly because of the centrifuge. (Now that we are starting the rainy season (late April) it is taking 1-3 days for clothes to dry.)

There are no screens on any windows and in an area with so many insects one would think this would be a bigger problem than it has been. I have been getting bites by unknown insects on my arms and once on my knee. Not sure what is causing the bites and they itch for a couple of weeks but I have felt fine and zika isn’t an issue around here since we are so high up. No one else is getting bit…lucky me I always attract the biters!

Esmeralda loves the new stove and refrigerator she got not long ago. She has 6 burners on the stove plus the oven and she frequently has most of the burners going. The refrigerator/freezer replaced a much smaller unit she had previously. It has a cold water option on the door, thanks to a reservoir that she can fill on the inside of the door. I don’t actually see them using it much but it certainly is functional if they want cold water.

What strikes me most is how content and gracious everyone is. Rigo is always saying “Pura Vida”, a very Costa Rican saying meaning basically that life is good. He does seem happy. He works hard when he must and takes it easy the rest of the time. The house could use some “upgrades” (walls not finished out, wires insulated but not hidden in the walls, no matching door handles, etc.) but he has lived here 22 years and said he will get around to them in a few years. It has made me reflect on what is “important” in the US. Not saying I don’t want a nice, finished house when we finish traveling but I can see things a bit differently now.

Travel Thoughts

I knew traveling would have challenges as well as pleasures. I’m not sure exactly what my expectations were. I now know that

  • I don’t like doing more than one thing most days; 2 things if they are both short.
  • Using a guide is well worth the extra expense. When we have gone on hikes by ourselves (except when we could overhear other guides) we seldom see much since so many animals are well hidden by their camouflage or location.
  • Getting out of bed early is tough but it is the best time to see the most interesting animals.
  • I’m not an adrenaline junky. Someone explained to me that the people that like the zip lines, bungee cords, etc. like the feel of adrenaline in their systems. I don’t like that feeling so I am not tempted (not very tempted) to do those types of activities. Plus, while they are usually done safely, I don’t feel like any risk of injury is worth it to me…I have too many places to go, things to see, people to meet.
  • It’s really nice to have the luxury to spread activities out over a number of weeks. I know that isn’t usually the case but since we do have that option it allows us to take it in more, spend time recovering, and schedule the expenses over time.


Second Passport

We renewed our passports last year and they are good for another 10 years. That ought to be more than enough for this trip.

However, a couple of weeks before leaving, I discovered that the State Department allows for a second passport, limited to two years.

The value for us is that:

  1.  We have back-up passports in case we lose one.
  2. Some countries are picky about where you have been. Israel is an example of a country others don’t like.
  3. Should we need to present a passport for a visa and return later to pick it up or have it mailed to us.

I set appointments with the embassy in San Jose and confirmed via email what they needed and that they could process the application. They responded and also said we could pick them up in 7-10 days and that they would hold them for up to three months.

Update: We picked them up May 23 and they are good for two years! We did have to remind them not to void our other passports.