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.

Sheta Boca


We travel to Sheta Boca for a walk on the wild side.  Sheta Boca means seven inlets, each carved out of limestone and different from the other. The trek is about 10km with views of the coastline for the entire venture. We arrive early at 0900  and are surprised that we have the entire nature reserve to ourselves.  A sleepy man takes our money and is not able to make change, so we tip him reluctantly.

The sea beckons and we spy a bench in the distance. We begin our journey.  Within minutes the sky opens up, and we quickly look for shelter in a cave.  How fortunate to wait out the storm.  Nearly as soon as the rain begins it stops and we start again with the added bonus of mud and slick trails for a level of difficulty.


We are mesmarized by the power of the ocean, watching it gain momentum to a peak and then crash into the shore.  Its timed and in my mind I hear Leonard Cohen’s,  Hallelujah.

There is a hodgepodge of stairs,  some rock, some wood, some stone and a curious plank with small sticks to keep it from being a slide.  We adjust our gait and are mindful of falling.  We are more careful for the potential risk.  How different from home where our every step has the expectation of safety and if we do get hurt, then another structure is erected quickly to make certain it never happens again.


We find a sandy beach littered with cairns.  It is always curious to see these structures, a proof that someone was there, when really it only matters to them that they were.  On closer inspection we discover that this beach is where the turtles lay their eggs, a sign asks us not to put stones on the beach as this would make it more difficult for the sea turtles.  Curacao is a surprising place with relatively few rules.  There are no posted speed signs, no smoking signs or any of a dozen like signs that exist in Canada and become invisible with their frequency.  This sign stands out and yet has been ignored.  I’m annoyed.  We decide that we will remove rocks and at least do our part for the sea turtles. We attack the homage to Sheila and feel better for our efforts.


We have saved the best for last as we journey to our final destination, Boca Pistol.  Here water builds in a cavern, then like a sealed pot, blows, spewing water up to 30 feet in the air.  We watch this for a long while getting excited when we know that the water will shoot high.  We are not alone and like fireworks the oohs and awes surround us.  We take photos and videos and finally are sated, leaving our choice spots for new arrivals.


We walk away from the water opting for a loop that has not been defined.  We can see Mount Christoff in the distance.  Our shoes fill with mud as we trudge along.  I think about the view of water that we gave up in favour of the backcountry.  It is beautiful with its many cacti, small lizards and large hills.  We find our way back to the beginning surprised that several hours have passed since our start.  Like the best excursions, it seems like days have passed for the experience that we now carry, though minutes as we gathered that experience.


Face the fear


Our plan is to kayak to a beach where we will dock, adorn our snorkel gear and swim to the site of a sunken tugboat where there is an opportunity to see an abundance of fish.

Mentally I prepare myself. I’m not concerned about kayaking though somewhat concerned with the snorkelling. I experienced a significant near drowning episodes and have worked hard to overcome, to arrive at this moment.  I like to know all before venturing out. I can swim, there is no current and the buoyancy of the salt water will keep me afloat though panic is the wild card and it could all go sideways quickly.

The area is rather industrial looking with a homely ship docked.  The nearby beaches are covered with garbage, the sand pummelled down and grey. Beach glass abounds as does broken bottles. There is much clean up work to be done and I wonder if there is a plan.

John and I will need to share a kayak,  a dicey prospect. We are used to our own craft, so will need to exercise both patience and tact. We set out. The water is beautiful and we can see to the bottom of the sea. Soon we leave the sheltered bay for the open water. Wind is a factor, though we both hunker down and get it done.

We arrive at the beach and I begin my search for beach glass, I am soon rewarded. The Guide talks about the history of the area.  I give John a look which he correctly interprets to share the information with me later and I’m liberated from the history lesson  to search for beach glass. There is much black glass on this beach. It isn’t really black but rather looks thus until held to the light where the green is visible. I share my bounty with our Guide, a young girl from Massachusetts who is a beach glass kindred spirit

We don our snorkel gear and set off for the sunken tugboat. It will be a distance and I prepare myself for the journey without having a shore in sight. John and the Guide lead the way and I follow behind. It seems a long way, there is nothing to see and I begin to panic. I settle myself down, slow my breathing and set out again. We arrive at the tugboat. The fish have created a very colourful home. We see fish varieties we have not seen. It’s so cool how the boat is so close to the surface. We see divers and now I realize the draw of this pursuit. Divers see stuff like this all the time.  Snorkelers see only beneath the surface and close to shore.

Our Guide suggests a snorkel out to the drop off. I remember this didn’t go well for Nemo though I’m up for the experience. There are no fish to see on our way out and as such I begin to panic again. I relax myself as I know if I don’t, we will return to shore without the experience.  We arrive, it’s a clear demarcation between the light and dark blue. In the dark,  silhouettes of fish float.

I think about how far I’ve come to let go of my fear of water.  Clearly I remember the day that I nearly died. I had swimming lessons stretching back to my youth and earned all my badges.  The day in question, I made a series of unfortunate mistakes.  I had shoes on my feet and was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.  I swam out to a log, thinking I could touch when I arrived. I swam against a current and arrived at the log tired.  I stood up and there was no bottom beneath my feet.  I panicked sealing my fate.  I went down several times and like the nightmare where I scream for help, my voice was barely a whisper.  No one heard.  The last time I went down I saw my young daughter, who interpreted my panic for the situation at hand and began to swim to me.  Instinctively, I swam away, knowing with the last clear thought that I would overpower her if she reached me.  I went down for the final time and felt a peace and a realization that this is how I would die. Suddenly,  I was plucked from my watery depth and brought to the surface.  I gulped for air, flipped over on my back and floated, the panic gone.  This has stayed with me all these years.

Years after this event, I was with a patient who had a tracheostomy tube and g-tube.  We were in Hawaii.  Her tube was plugged during the day, allowing her the opportunity to wade in the ocean.   She signed to me to join her in the ocean. I signed back, “I’m scared.”  She looked at me, put her hands on her hips, rolled her eyes and signed back, “Look at me,  I have a tracheostomy tube, a g-tube and I’m going in, are you coming?” My sign language did not afford the words to explain further, and I realized in that moment that it would make no difference. I had a choice to stay in fear or to take the first dip.  Sheepishly, I went with her and we waded in the ocean.  This was the beginning.  Gradually, I would go further, learn to snorkel and venture still further, learning to relax to keep my panic at bay.  How amazing that first time when I donned snorkelling gear and saw the fish  Panic melted away as I watched the fish and saw a world I would not have known had I remained on the shore, wearing the cloak of fear to keep safe.

We snorkel back to the beach and I’m proud of myself, richer for the experience.  I think of  the little girl who led me to this moment and send a silent thank you to heaven where she now resides.

“Face the fear and do it anyway,” has been my mantra since that pivotal day. How much do we miss when we wrap ourselves in the itchy, uncomfortable garb of fear.  When we shed our fear, we are free and only then can we begin to embrace the authentic life just beyond, closer to our best selves.  I know this for certain as I look at the photos of what lies just beneath the surface.



Christoff mountain Curacao

We decide to climb to the highest point on Curacao, Christoff Mountain. We are clearly in vacation mode and arrive at noon ready to climb. We are turned away as there is no climbing after 1100 am. We plan to try again tomorrow and content ourselves with information on the area.

We arrive early for us at 0900, pay the nominal fee to enter the park, peruse the map and drive to the base of the mountain. It is an interesting looking mountain with its pointy part at the top. We are informed it should take two hours to complete the climb one hour up and one hour down. This makes no sense to me as climbing down generally takes less time.  Still we are not on a schedule and we begin.

The trail starts gentle, clearly marked with sweet little rocks flanking the sides, it’s obvious. Too soon the sweet little rocks are absent replaced by large boulders that we step and sidestep on our ascent. Unseasonably, it has rained a great deal in the last few days and the trail is washed out in places, slippery in other places. Every few minutes we stop to determine our route. There are no gentle switchbacks just a relentless up. We walk out of the shade and clearly understand in this moment why no hiking is permitted after eleven. The sun beats down, taxing our sunscreen and sucking the moisture from our skin. I taste salt on my lips. We continue and stop frequently to catch our breath, take photos, check the time. Despite our vacation mode, our pride is at stake,  it’s important to complete the trek in the time suggested.SONY DSCSONY DSCSONY DSCimg_5430

The trail takes a turn for worse as we near the top. We meet others heading down who advise us the worst is yet to come. We are told to take the gentler left path at the top as the right is more challenging  I look around as I crawl on the boulders trying to find a safe ascent and think they must be exaggerating as it really couldn’t get much worse.  I do like the idea of a gentle path and push onward and upward, thinking of the moment when it becomes gentle.

I catch myself at times, as I reach out to hang on, luckily noticing at the last moment that I am reaching for a cactus.  I withdraw my hand quickly, saving certain pain.

SONY DSCWe arrive at the fork close to the top. The gentle path promised is really not a path but rather a series of boulders with sharp drop offs into oblivion. Perhaps this is where we make up the time lost by falling down the mountain to the bottom?  The other “path” seems a bit of a stretch to call it thus, is a collection of boulders with no navigational route, save for the fast route to the bottom of the mountain. We stand for seemingly forever, collecting our breath, thoughts, and courage before scrambling the last 50 feet to the top.

We arrive and are treated to a birds eye view of the island.  The Caribbean sea beckons in the far distance. There are few places to rest so we perch and rotate to take in the beauty. We are not alone. Young girls have brought music adding to the festivities. A man makes a phone call, speaking rapidly in foreign tongue, though his excitement transcends barriers. Another man sits quietly, serene and seemingly contemplates life. We take selfies, then proper photos, then just chill, taking in the moment and recording it in our minds. I think about Kilimanjaro just a few years ago and compare. This trek just a few hours, Kilimanjaro was days. This time altitude is not an issue as we are just 1220 feet above sea level,  not 19, 340 feet.  Kilimanjaro was cold, this is hot.  The path to Kili was gentler overall, this trek is much like the boulder area just before Gilmans. I decide that they really can’t be compared except for two commonalities, the view and sense of accomplishment. I think of this as I marvel at what we have just accomplished, snapping off more pictures in my mind to keep and reminisce when I’m too old to climb.



We begin the trek down, barely stopping though mindful of every step. We arrive at our car and look back at the mountain. It looks different to me from just a few short hours ago. I shield my eyes from the sun and look to the top marvelling that we stood there just a short hour ago. No, the mountain is the same, it is me that has changed.