Life

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I have known since I was in my twenties that life is fleeting.  Working in hospitals, having the honour to be at a person’s last breaths with their family surrounding them or in some cases just hospital staff bear witness to those last breaths.   All the trappings of life fall away to just that moment.

There is a peace in that moment.  There is  the realization that things that we think are important, money, power and climbing the ladder to success, fall away.  There is bargaining for more time, or a prayer to end the suffering.  We hope to see the people who mattered to us in life and hope that we mattered to them too.

This knowledge has changed me.  My parents both died young and still years later I think of all they missed.  Sixteen great grandchildren and counting, family dinners, weddings, lazy days and busy ones too.  They are always with me and in this manner, live still.

We have no guarantee as to the number of days that we have left.  We live far into the future, though the ground shifts like teutonic plates. We plan for years, though in a blink of an eye, time is whittled down to seconds, days or months.  Our plans shift to this new reality, and life is stripped to its basic.

We hold each other a little closer, the sky bluer, the sun brighter.  We take a breath and  then another because we can.  Our bucket list shifts, we remove items that  aren’t possible anymore and look at the list closely.  Is any of it really necessary?

We hope we have made a difference, that one person breathed easier just because we existed.  That we left our mark, were good people, someone to count on in a pinch.  We say sorry to the people that we have wronged, accept an apology from those who wronged us and live with a clean slate.

I’ve lived this life since my twenties.  I know that life is fleeting–really know.  Somedays I’m better at this, somedays I fall short of the mark. Still,  it is a gift to know.

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Isla Tortuga


We have booked an excursion with Calypso Cruises and are both excited at dipping our feet in the ocean, feeling the sand between our toes and a catamaran ride. The trip will also give us a chance to see the road condition prior to our journey to the coast the following day. 

The tour begins early with a 0615 pickup at a San Jose hotel. We will need to navigate our way there as we are staying at a home in the mountains outside of San Jose. John calls the hotel to ask permission to park our rental car.  He is denied. We reach out to our host, Jorge and ask if he knows of alternate parking within walking distance. He calls the hotel again and receives the same denial in Spanish. He learns there is no nearby parking. He provides the approximate cost of an Uber though John and I silently reject the option, though politely we thank him for his time. Jorge then offers to be our Uber and we are touched by his generosity of spirit and time. 

He tells us he will pick us up at 0530. We are ready, though nervous as we were planning on leaving at 0430. Jorge navigates the streets expertly, pointing out landmarks from his youth. How different from our drives with our  pinched faces and economy of words providing the direction of the next turn and how many meters until said turn. We regale him with the story of getting lost. He advises John that if he can drive in Costa Rica, he can drive anywhere in the world. John solemnly agrees.  Jorge pulls up to the front of the hotel and suggests a coffee or breakfast to pass the time. John reads my confusion and taps his watch. We have arrived with 20 minutes to spare. We shake our heads certain we would still be twirling our way here had we driven. 

Our luxury bus arrives and we marvel at the skill of the driver as he navigates the bus through seemingly narrow passages. Our guide informs us that the road we are travelling on took decades to build and work remains, though the process is sloth like as bureaucracy stalls the progress.  We sit back, relax and enjoy the relative speed to the province of Puntarenas. 

Our tour company has done this trip since the 1970’s and are a well oiled machine.  We are ushered into the Shrimp shack restaurant for a traditional Costa Ricaan breakfast of eggs, plantains, rice, beans, fresh fruit and coffee. We are clearly on a tight schedule as our empty dishes are snatched away and dreams of a second cup of coffee are ruined. We are directed to board the Catamaran. 

The sun beats down as we slather ourselves with sunscreen. We marvel at the different climate from our rental in San Isidro. John tenderly applies sun tan lotion to his frost bitten nose obtained just a few weeks ago. Happily we sit back and enjoy the ride.   Soon the wake of the boat lulls and we are in holiday mode

A young lady spies humpback whales in the distance and the boat wakes as people leap from one side to another scanning the water for these majestic animals. A cry of excitement, then false alarm as a log is mistaken for a whale.  Then, pay dirt as a mother and calf skim the surface to excited cries. This is repeated several times though begins to feel predatory as we  pursue. It feels wrong and at that moment we retreat to our previous course, Isla Tortuga. 

We arrive to a busy, happening place. There are many craft anchored here, the beach busy. We are shepherded off the boat and directed to our designated area. There are many such areas on the beach, though ours does seem especially nice with its picnic tables and combo of parachutes and umbrellas to shield us from the sun. We receive an in service on the day plan, then are quickly loaded back on the Catamaran for snorkelling. 


John and I have brought our own snorkel gear, like the guy with his own bowling shoes, we prefer it that way. The rest of the group dons unfamiliar gear complete with fins. We all wear mandatory life vests. I’m excited to see the fish. We stand in line and wait seemingly forever for our turn. I jump in to a thrashing cauldron of snorkellers, chopping up the water and scaring the fish. The misuse of their foot fins kicks up the silt blinding the fish and making viewing impossible despite the special spray to clear our masks. I look around for John who is trapped on the boat waiting forever for someone to adjust their gear. His patience thins and he jumps in too.  Moments later the rest of our group bails for the boat, snorkelling complete for the day. John and I wait, the silt clears and we are treated to a few brightly coloured fish and a starfish. It is dismal snorkel pickings though the swim is nice. 

We travel back to the beach, enjoy our four course lunch, complete with wine. A talented trio plays music cementing the moment in our memory.  We enjoy the company of our picnic table mates speaking both Spanish and English we celebrate when we discover meaning. 

We wander the beach, browse the souvenir store which feels out of place, we buy nothing, instead we take photos, our favorite memento and search for beach glass, my favourite beach activity. We find only one piece on this pristine beach so different from the handfuls on Curacao just a short year ago. 


We queue up for banana boat rides and hang on as we are dragged behind a motor boat. Close to shore, we are driven in a tight circle where physics wins as we capsize despite our best efforts to remain upright. 

Too soon it’s time to go. Our group closes up the island and we board our craft for the journey back. I think about this, a boat ride for two hours, a bus ride for another three hours and a cab ride for the final 30 minutes.  We have enjoyed 5 hours on this island and I decide it was worth every moment of travel. John and I smile at each other, the snow and cold of Canada seems very far away. 

 

Monkeys, Sloths, Canopy Tour and Hot Springs

The Howler monkeys wake us early with their screams. We are happy for the wake up call, though a volume control would be nice.

Our lodging at the Ceiba tree resort includes breakfast and happily we make our way to the dining room.

We opt to eat al fresco, enjoy the morning breeze, view of Lake Arenal and the amazing Ceiba Tree. The tree is over 500 years old. I sip my coffee and imagine what it has seen. I can imagine people in various attire marching through the timeline enjoying its shelter and all the animals that have called it home.


We speak to fellow Canadians at breakfast. One man asks what we thought of the drive, it’s clear his opinion as we detect a twitch. His wife is not ashamed to say she was car sick. We sit a little straighter, perhaps we are doing okay. We learn the mountain traverse last night was not necessary and that the roads are smooth. The map app cost us an extra tortuous 60km. We hate her and are happy to ignore her for part of the way back.

John is interested in a Canopy tour, a chance to zip through the jungle like Tarzan. Wanting to be his Jane, I nervously agree. We begin our drive and stop at a shop to inquire about the tour. We learn it is mere meters away.

We arrive, park in an impossibly large parking lot, pay for the tour and browse the over priced gift store chock full of tchotchkes. No knickknacks needed, we browse our way through. We find a beautiful lodge and enjoy a leisurely coffee. It is a beautiful place with its manicured plants and sanitized experience. How different from the more authentic experience we have been enjoying, less North American, more Costa Rican. I’m ashamed at the excess that seems to be required in places like this one and happy for our rental in the mountains.

We complete the paperwork for the tour supplying our passport information and blood type. We agree we understand emergency services may take time. We are then fitted with our gear for the Canopy adventure and my heart beats a little faster. A young family arrives with a young girl of 4 years. She declares it is her first time, I admit it is mine too. We both resolve to not be afraid.

We receive an in service and soon just like Tarzan and Jane, John and I are zipping from tree to tree through the jungle. The perspective unique as we see the trees from our perch then fly over with a birds eye view.

Eleven trees later we arrive at the terminus. Our ride back is an open air affair pulled by a tractor up steep inclines and impossibly narrow roads, equally exciting it is our bonus tour.

We change gear and soak our tired muscles in a series of natural hot springs rich in minerals. Each spring progressively cooler as we descend. The view of Volcan Arenal breathtaking with its frame of lacy palm fronds. A worker directs our sight to a Sloth in the tree. We watch him for a time, he scratches and like fireworks we ooh and ahh at the movement.


We have enjoyed our time at this resort and reluctantly begin the long trek back to our lodging. We comfort ourself with the knowledge that without the unnecessary extra mountain we have only 110km to travel. We allow 4 hours for the journey.

Every minute is required as we discover rush hour has waited for us. I’m toughening up as I no longer feel the need to cry, bite my nails or grip the dash. We crawl through the final hour. The map app throws up her hands once more as she directs us in a marionette circle. We are on to her though, allowing her to yip out directions in the background while we use our memory and find our way to our lodging in the dark.

It occurs to us that the GPS signal is likely being lost in the mountains and that perhaps the map app is not out to get us as we feared.

In any case, today we have enjoyed the journey, the car ride part of the adventure though not the entire story. 

Lake Arenal Costa Rica

We venture to Lake Arenal. Google maps tells us it will take 2 hours for this 187 km journey. We laugh at both the optimism and naivety of the map app. We plan on a more realistic 4 hours to allow for the certain twists and turns.

The road is well paved, the twists and turns relentless. Our host has told us that the road will flatten out at the end. We look forward to the reprieve. There are steep drop offs with no shoulders or guard rails. We are doing this free form. All manner of vehicles pass us on blind crests, we focus on the task at hand. John is focused on keeping our vehicle shiny side up, my task more mundane announcing the meters until the next turn. At times I look at the beauty all around, waterfalls, rainbows and every colour of green is represented. The road improves, never flattening though less curves allow our necks a rest


We pass small towns, fruit stands and interesting sights. We forego the journey and focus on the destination. Despite our focus, we near the five hour mark. The road deteriorates quickly like a bad joke, we jerk along. Dirt bikes pass as we are forced up and over a mountain. This can’t be right I lament. John doesn’t engage in this fruitless conversation as there is no room to change direction.

We near our destination a few kilometres away, when the map app throws up her hands and has us twirling in circles as we listen intently to her directions. After a few turns, we realize we are on our own and engage our tired brains to figure out the puzzle.  We remember pictures of the resort with its view of the lake and move closer to the water. John spies a forgotten sign with a close approximation of the name of our resort and distance of 5km. We decide to give it a whirl. Tucked around a forgotten corner John spies an equally tucked resort sign. His voice shrill he asks if this is the name and logo. I check and excited announce that we have arrived. He shakes his head with the impossibility of finding this needle in a haystack. The entrance is very narrow at an acute angle seemingly too tight for the SUV. John expertly enters and we begin the steep, vertical climb to reception. John shoe horns the vehicle into the last remaining spot and we climb the remainder of the incline. A lovely zen couple and their children greet us, show us to our room with the view of the lake. We are still twitching from the drive.


We snap off a few pictures just as the light fades and commiserate about the trip as we wait for dinner. Our mouth waters as our Chef host tells us what we will enjoy for dinner. We have stopped for nothing, our last meal 15 hours past.


Our dinner fantastic, roasted pumpkin, potato, pork tenderloin, squash soup and cheesecake for dessert. We share a bottle of wine, relax and plan tomorrow’s adventure. We decide to stop, look and see as we learned in kindergarten. Our over arching plan to enjoy the journey, the destination will come soon enough.

Do you know the way to San Isidro?


It is our first full day in Costa Rica, we opt for close attractions to get our bearings.

John and I set out for San Isidro a few kilometres away, along the narrow, twisty roads. We breathe a sigh of relief as John parks the car, then a moment of panic as we notice the sharp ditches impossible to drive out of with their steep concrete sides terminating in a V at the centre.

Our mission is to exchange our USD to Colon, the local currency. We arrive at the bank and learn a passport is required and travel back to our rental to fetch the documents. We are confident in the direction and high five each other when we arrive. John trips the house alarm and frantically presses buttons to stop the ear shattering noise.  The Police are called though are stopped before they arrive by calling our host.

Rattled, we set out for the town again. We exchange our money, buy a few groceries and wander the town in search of sustenance. Chicken seems quite popular, we settle on lattes and sweet treats as we plan our next move

We decide on Volcan Barva, a 27km, 30 minute trip according to google maps. We soon learn that google knows nothing about the twisty, corkscrew roads that triple our arrival time. The road is a narrow, pot holed ravaged affair with steep drops and hair pin turns. We lurch into the parking lot with 30 minutes to enjoy the park before beginning the trek down. We walk one path, take a few pictures then return. We agree that we need to get back before dark descends. The fog rolls in, mocking our plan of visibility and we creep down.

We stop at McDonalds to sort out the map, put in our location and destination and begin the 12km return trip to our rental. The map app hiccups and soon we are blindly travelling to San Jose, the major city during rush hour. Chaos reigns as scooters, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians fill the narrow gaps left by cars, trucks and buses appearing everywhere at once. The rush is the competition for space. We lurch along stinking up the place with our overused clutch.


I look around, the map voice confident announces our next turn, my fear grows, this isn’t right as we enter a convoluted turn. I reset the map app and it begins its announcement, feebly  I put my hand over the map voice, too late, she announces a u-turn is required. John loudly states, “are you f…in kidding?”  I quickly explain the situation, that we are now heading to San Isidro though we have 60km to travel. John takes it in stride, the map voice strangely silent.  The silence is for the best, a cooling off period is needed.

We snake through the narrow streets of San Jose. Gradually the traffic lightens as we begin our ascent up a mountain.  The road quickly deteriorates. We find ourselves powering up impossibly steep grades through tight hairpin turns in first gear. Dark descends and the fog rolls in thick. Blacktop gives way to gravel, washboard with canyon sized ruts and potholes. Our little SUV struggles for traction like the little engine that could. We reach a particularly nasty incline, vertical to the heavens on a sharp crease of a turn. Our SUV says, “no can do,” as it stalls to catch its breath. John tries again, it stalls, sliding back into oblivion. The headlights shine crazily into the sky, revealing nothing useful. John tries again and I wonder if this is where it ends. Sufficiently rested the SUV hums, ” I think I might,” as it does.

The road surface gradually improves, though the twists and turns never change. The map app over her anger, announces turns, then counts down the meters to a turn that is merely a bend in the road. I prefer her silence, though she is leading us through this ordeal. We put up with the incessant chatter. For three hours we traverse the mountain via switchbacks. The moon is a curious shape, like a smiley face, it mocks.

We near San Isidro, relaxed and happy in the knowledge the ordeal will soon be over. We plan our meal despite the late hour. We arrive, panic replaces the happy feeling as we realize, like Dorothy in Oz that  this is not the San Isidro from this morning.

Frantically, I reset the map and it finally allows and accepts the address of where we are staying.  We learn that San Isidro is quite popular in Costa Rica and now we have visited two. Perhaps John’s cussing earlier had the map voice reek havoc on our lives. Mission accomplished, we begin the return trek with 68km or 4 hours to complete.

We are both quiet, the map voice chipper announcing our turns. John states that we better not have to go through the rough section again. I have already looked ahead and know we will. I decide to keep that knowledge to myself for now, along with the knowledge that the mountain trek was not required.  The boulders and insight will come soon enough for John too.

We arrive in the correct San Isidro as our map voice announces our next turn. We look at each other and simultaneously tell her to stop talking. We have learned enough to refuse.

Home beckons and soon we arrive. John expertly disarms the house alarm. We eat our dinner at 0200. We have learned a great deal about Costa Rica and even more about each other.

Not my Circus, not my monkeys!

The other day I was talking with my daughter about my latest ensnared drama.  She politely listened, and then wise beyond her years, said, “Mom, not your circus, not your monkeys.”  I chuckled at the time at this Polish proverb.  She then reminded me that I have my own circus and my own monkeys.

I thought about my circus with a sigh.  Despite being the ringleader, I felt a failure at dealing with my monkeys.  The lure of another circus where the solutions seem so obvious, fixable and tidy draws me close.

Still, if I were to be honest, nothing is ever so tidy, it just seems thus without the facts, history and complexities that make each situation unique.  While my solution may have tangible results, rarely would it be sustainable.  Immersed, I feel important, critical to the show.

In a quest to help, I walk away from my own circus where the monkeys are now running amok.  I rob the ability for others to learn how to deal with their own monkeys,  to create their own unique solutions, where they are aware of all the angles.  Its nice to help, though when we become the central ringleader as opposed to a mere bit player and in effect care more, we take away their ability to learn, to grow.  Too soon, the monkeys act up and we find ourselves the ringleader of several circuses in town. Large portions of our day are consumed.

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We all like to be included and part of the circus, though I’m now content to sit in the bleachers, enjoy my popcorn and learn a novel approach to tackle a situation as I watch the situation unfold.

When the lights dim,  I’ll go back to my own circus, whose monkeys I’ve known so very long with a new skill.  The show must go on!

 

Lake days

After a day spent working on the house, staining, painting, gardening and building, we are ready for some relaxation. There always seems to be so much to do and much work remains as we tally the must do’s, should do’s and have to do’s and place them on our virtual list.  We collectively sigh, It seems as though we have barely scratched the surface as we scan the yard. Still the summer is getting away from us and a break is needed.  We load the kayaks on the car, and salvage the day by traveling to the nearby lake.

John prepares the steaks while I leave in search of Saskatoon berries.  I walk a long way, my efforts unrewarded, the trees stripped of their fruit, by the weekend warriors.  I arrive back as my dinner is served, the taste intensified with outdoor cooking.  Satiated, we pack up our kitchen and unload the kayaks for our sunset paddle.

There are blood suckers at this beach and I ask John to launch my boat to decrease my exposure.  He complies and then spends several moments picking the suckers off his own skin.  Several times I feel compelled to share that the blood suckers seem to prefer him.  He quietly reminds me of my limited exposure in the water.

The light is at its prettiest, the beauty doubled.  In awe, we break the glass of the water with our paddles.  I snap pictures hoping that the camera catches some of the beauty, though just to remember it exactly as it is, I silently snap off a few pictures to store in my memory.   We share the lake with a few stray ducks on their last loop around the water before calling it a day.  The night creatures are stirring and soon their shift will begin.


We loop around the pond and I lazily lift my oar and watch the droplets as they land on the water, breaking the perfection.  The sun turns the water gold and the rays dance on the surface creating motion.  Instantly, I am transported back to my childhood days spent on lakes like this one, canoeing and mesmerized by the water.  It never gets old.

The light lessens and reluctantly we leave this beauty for now.  I’m hoping that we will be able to carve out more time this year for another paddle or five,  though fall is fast approaching and too soon the kayaks will be stored for another season.


We arrive back at the beach and John jumps out of his kayak to pull in my boat and lessen my blood sucker contact.  His chivalry is not rewarded and he is soon covered in blood suckers.  We sit on the picnic bench and John picks off the suckers from his body.  He separates his toes and finds the ones with the best hiding spots.   I remark that I have none.  I then search my memory banks and come up empty–I have never had a blood sucker on my body, its the idea of them that I abhor, how interesting!  I share this with John who looks at me wryly as he pulls a particularly attached sucker from his leg.

The light has faded and in near dark we load the kayaks.  The stars make their appearance on our short drive home and I think how fortunate we are to have this place so close to our home.  The house welcomes us home and the short time away has us seeing the work done with fresh eyes and we are satisfied.  The break allows us to appreciate the work done as opposed to the work that remains.