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. 

 

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Face the fear

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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.

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Beach Glass everywhere

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I picked up my first piece of beach glass in Prince Edward Island several years ago and instantly was hooked. For the remainder of that trip I scoured the beaches, enlisting my husband for a team effort, maximum glass and  never tiring. Happily, I could do this all day long, stark contrast to my usual self of flitting from one activity to another. Beach glass collecting is my zen. The feel of the glass is soft, its sharp edges tumbled by the power of the ocean.

Prince Edward Island is not a mecca for beach glass, still we collected a handful, during our stay, travelling to many beaches to add to our collection.  I would close my eyes at night and see the glass, all the colours available.

In Curacao,  John bent down to pick up a piece of glass to throw away and save someone certain pain. In his hand he discovered it was beach glass. He beckoned me over and my face broke into a grin as I immediately began to look for more. How interesting to see it literally everywhere once we looked. How much do we miss when we look and don’t see?  In PEI we picked up a piece about once per hour. In Curacao one per second.

Curacao beaches have an abundance of green and brown, likely from  Heineken and Amstel bottles, though we find white, yellow, blue, black and even the elusive red.  Each beach has a predominant colour.  We  get picky as we ignore the green to search for the rarer finds. We are rewarded at every turn.

I amass a collection, our bounty covering the dining table in our townhouse and I wonder what it is about beach glass that I love. I decide it’s the story that I create in my mind about its origin, transformation and eventual arrival on the shore.  It is stranded before I reach down and pick it up. I think about how we covet rare gems and make them such by the value we place. The glass I hold in my hand has a harsher journey, a most uncertain future and yet to most its garbage until transformed.  Beach glass does not warrant a second look for most people who eye me suspiciously as I put another piece in my pocket.

Here in Curacao there is no formal recycling. We struggle with this as it feels wrong to throw away bottles. We have spent a good portion of our lives recycling bottles and receiving a small amount for our effort. It feels wrong to throw them away. Likely the bottles will eventually find their way from the garbage to a beach where it will be transformed into something beautiful. Someday someone will walk a beach, reach down and pick up a small part of that bottle, love the feel of it in their hand and touch the  power of the ocean, if only for a moment