Two Years and Counting

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I remember like it was yesterday. I sat on the front porch that night looking at the stars, knowing there was nothing inside of my house except the bags I packed to take on the plane. I had accomplished everything I had set out to do: sold the house, the cars and every single possession I owned. I had only 12 more hours in the United States before heading off to Costa Rica to begin my new life abroad. My 15 year dream was finally coming true and it felt so liberating, albeit uncertain at the same time.

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Casita in Cocles, Costa Rica

It doesn’t seem like it was two years ago that I stayed in that hot, buggy casita in Cocles. A lot happened during those three months. I learned how to take care of monkeys and sloths; I encountered wildlife beyond my wildest imagination; I lived without mod cons; I ate healthier but became ill due to the water; I got in shape by walking or riding my bike everywhere and I met people that I’m still friends with today.

Oh thank god....
Hot buggy room

There were days when I felt broken but swore to never give in. Then there were days of pure bliss, like riding my bike to a beautiful beach and having chocolate fondue for lunch. Without a care in the world and nothing to have to rush home for, I knew I had made a good decision to follow my heart to Costa Rica.

san antonio de turrialba
San Antonio de Turrialba

The long term house sit in Turrialba was magnificent with an abundance of wildlife in my own yard. I loved taking the machete through the pathways and slashing unruly vines and yellowing banana leaves. I chopped up the felled twisted branches of the rainbow eucalyptus tree to put in the fireplace during chilly nights. I would beam with happiness as I came across grapefruit trees in the village and carried home the heavy fruit in a plastic bag. I revived beautiful birds that slammed into the windows and ate bananas straight off the trees. Best of all, I think, was being the only expat and having to practice my Spanish almost everyday. The people there were genuine and kind.

el valle de anton panama
El Valle de Anton

Having always wanted to visit Panama, it was my next move. There, I lived in the beautiful little town of El Valle, nestled in a crater of an extinct volcano. I helped launch a tourist attraction and learned how to raise butterflies. I felt more than ever like a mother to all of those babies. From egg to caterpillar to butterfly, I had my hands full everyday. On my days off, I still couldn’t keep away from them and found myself, like a mother, constantly worried about their well being. I would personally care for butterflies that had malformed wings and couldn’t fly. The butterflies in the flight house always got breakfast before I did and I took great pleasure in making sure they were happy.

Middlemarch, New Zealand
Middlemarch, New Zealand

After leaving Panama, I made the decision to travel half way around the world to New Zealand. A beautiful country on many peoples’ bucket list, I was happy to finally see it for myself. My new found lack of planning didn’t prepare me for the harsh winter ahead near the bottom of the South Island. Not realizing I could practically blow a kiss to Antarctica, I had a hard time adjusting after coming from the tropics. Working outside most of the day on a sheep farm was a complete turnaround from what I had ever imagined doing. Living with a family after being on my own for so long took some adjustment, but it was good for me. It forced me out of my comfort zone and prepared me for future stays with complete strangers in their homes instead of opting for impersonal and expensive hotel rooms.

Nobby beach, Gold Coast, Queensland
Nobby Beach, Gold Coast, Queensland

When my visa was up, I went to Australia where the heat overwhelmed me. Everyone said it would be hot but I didn’t expect it would take so long to adjust to the new climate. People wouldn’t use their air con even though they had it and the convenience of a dishwasher was usually shunned as well. I was back to doing dishes by hand but living in nicer homes than Central America. I missed not having an open air house and tangible items were readily available at nearby shops. I found myself longing for challenges. I realized that it had been good for me to not always have what I wanted. I didn’t want life to be this easy. I had enjoyed not having a car and buying fruits and vegetables from roadside vendors. My heart belonged in Central America. I felt out of place on this side of the world.

Marlborough, New Zealand
Marlborough, New Zealand

I will be spending my two year anniversary in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. A beautiful grape growing area that reminds me of my life back in the tropics. There are fruit trees of all varieties in every yard it seems and the weather is typically pleasant and sunny. The rolling fields of grapevines imply a certain peacefulness that makes me smile every time I pass by them. The many rivers, mountains and beaches are all nearby and never crowded. You can let your dog run free and watch the ever changing sky over the endless sea.

I have been changed by the people I met on my travels, something which would’ve never happened had I not left my old life behind. I have affected the lives of others as well, sometimes not for the better. With every new encounter, I learn, I grow and I evolve. I am embracing the ebb and flow of change instead of being satisfied with the stagnation of habit and conformity. As Camille has said, I am forever changed and I look forward to more years of eye opening experiences and cultural exchanges around the world.

2nd Anniversary spent at Yealand's winery
2nd Anniversary spent at Yealand’s winery

 

 

 

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The Next Move

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Sorry for the radio silence there, had a friend visit from the States and we trekked back to my little town near the beach then up to Arenal for some hiking, hot springs and waterfalls!  I’ll post some pictures after the latest update.

In preparation for not being able to find a house sitting job, I decided to look for a Serpentarium in Panama I could volunteer for, since reptiles are my ‘true love’.  The one I found was in a town called El Valle de Anton which resides within a crater of an extinct volcano.  I didn’t hear back from the guy, but decided to look around at housing options and was lucky enough to email just the right person, who passed me on to another person and then BINGO!!

This ‘other person’ was starting a butterfly farm on his land (a couple from the U.S.) and had already been building it in preparation for a January opening.  Everything just sort of fell in place after that.  I will be able to live on the property and volunteer doing many different things, but first and foremost, raising butterflies!  How cool is THAT?!  I’m really looking forward to the experience.  He will also have a cafe which is another thing I wanted to do…bake, cook and make fruity drinks.  I’ll just be helping on the side with that, as well as giving tours, I assume.  Maybe if I have time I can do some paintings of some butterflies and sell those to help with his income.

I wanted to mention the strange occurrence of the names of the towns I’ve been living in…it goes like this:

1. San Antonio, Tx

2. Cocles, Costa Rica

3. Tronadora, Costa Rica

4. San Antonio, Costa Rica

5. Province of El Cocle, Panama

Of course none of these had been planned, just odd how I end up living in the same names of places somehow.

With my house sit being up here in early January, I’ll be in Panama the second week to hit the ground running!  It’ll be a great experience and exactly the type of thing I had in mind before ever leaving the States.  So look forward to some interesting posts in 2014 along with a new country to explore and experience!

Here are some photos from the trip last week with captions

Family of coati's near Arenal park
Family of coati’s near Arenal park
As close as you can get to Arenal volcano
As close as you can get to Arenal volcano
This was a river you could get into for FREE with hot water running through it
This was a river you could get into for FREE with hot water running through it
The huge waterfall at La Fortuna
The huge waterfall at La Fortuna
Nice beach dog in Puerto Viejo with beautiful eyes
Nice beach dog in Puerto Viejo with beautiful eyes
The old barge in Puerto Viejo
The old barge in Puerto Viejo
My favorite beach in Cocles/Playa Chiquita
My favorite beach in Cocles/Playa Chiquita
Sweet dog who loved to have sticks and coconuts thrown. She started burying this one
Sweet dog who loved to have sticks and coconuts thrown. She started burying this one
Cute crab on Punta Uva beach
Cute crab on Punta Uva beach
Sloth next to the pulperia in Playa Chiquita (wild)
Sloth next to the pulperia in Playa Chiquita (wild)
A gate down the street from my house in San Antonio de Turrialba
A gate down the street from my house in San Antonio de Turrialba
Me next to my favorite tree
Me next to my favorite tree
Steam rising from the Turrialba volcano
Steam rising from the Turrialba volcano

Shedding the Old

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Well, I’m in my final days of living in Cocles.  I’m excited to go back to the States for a few weeks and also excited to go live near the lake when I return.  But I am sort of sad to leave here in a way.  I think it takes a few months to settle in somewhere at the very minimum and I was just beginning to feel that way.  I had started waving or saying hi to people I knew on the street, like I was no longer the new kid on the block anymore.  I was one of the few long term people that was still at the Center.  I started to know when the clouds meant rain or not.  My Spanish even got a little better!  I can see how the place could grow on you, but still…there are things I will not miss.

I went to breakfast with my neighbor this morning and saw this poster hanging up that really spoke to me:

IMG-20130614-00833It’s a little blurry, but it says:

Advice from a TREE

Stand tall and proud

Sink your roots into the earth

Be content with your natural beauty

Go out on a limb (!)

Drink plenty of water

Remember your roots

Enjoy the view

What great advice, huh?  All of the things I’m trying to do summed up in this one poem.  I love it!

So I took a final look around, not knowing if I’ll ever see the place again and here are some pictures.

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Relaxing Puerto Viejo style
Relaxing Puerto Viejo style

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Surfing at Cocles beach
Surfing at Cocles beach

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Old barge at Playa Negra
Old barge at Playa Negra
Hawk that's always on the limb over the creek
Hawk that’s always on the limb over the creek
Creek near my house leading to the ocean
Creek near my house leading to the ocean
View to the sea from Zion Cafe
View to the sea from Zion Cafe
In front of Zion Cafe in town
In front of Zion Cafe in town
View from Salsa Bravo in town
View from Salsa Bravo in town
Gonna miss the gecko lovin'
Gonna miss the gecko lovin’

More Ramblings Pt. 2

View from The Point
View from The Point

I was finally feeling hungry the other day so I decided to go down to Playa Negra and visit The Point restaurant, which is an ‘American Sports Bar’.  Not what I’m into personally but they allegedly have great burgers and I hadn’t had one since I left Texas.  Plus I wanted to be on the beach, near a bar and people just to be safe…so this was perfect.  I ordered a coke and sat down.  Unfortunately I felt like I WAS in the U.S. due to the amount of Americans there.  I didn’t acknowledge anyone…really wasn’t crazy about getting into a conversation and  of course you can’t help but overhear what people are saying.  I don’t know what it is about Americans and why they think it’s ok to drop F bombs all the time, with other people around at a restaurant.  God, it was annoying.  I almost couldn’t wait to leave.  It’s like they think since they’re in a different country, it’s ok to forget their manners.  I can totally see why foreigners have a negative view of us.  It was guys like this one.

Burger from The Point
Burger from The Point

The burger came out and looked great.  I had a feeling there was no way I’d be able to eat it all though.  Overall, it wasn’t too bad.  A little dry.  At least the fries were homemade, albeit a little tough.  Bacon was a nice touch.  I don’t get bacon around here.  It will satisfy my craving for a while.  And BTW, the burger and fries (which came w/ it) cost about $10.50.  ugh.

As I sat there listening to the mind numbing babble coming out of this guy’s mouth I couldn’t help but notice the magnificent Almond trees in front of and over me.  We feed those leaves to the two toed sloths and I wasn’t sure how many of you had actually seen an almond

Tropical Almond Tree
Tropical Almond Tree and another in the background

seed.   This is a Tropical Almond tree and you can eat the almonds (some make wine out of them I believe) but I’ve never tried either.  I don’t know if this is the same tree that ‘normal’ almonds come from though…I kind of doubt it.  You can see a cluster of seeds in the middle of those leaves.  I also found a beautiful green almond seed on the black beach and thought the contrast made a good picture.

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Feeling like I weighed 300 pounds, I waddled down to the beach…and man…my toes were BURNIN’ and I had shoes on…the sand will get in them no matter what.  It was very beautiful and deserted so I took it in for a while and played in the water.  On the way back toward town, I stopped and took a picture of an old barge that had wrecked at the beginning of Playa Negra.  Sorry for the horrible picture.  I really do need to just take my real camera out for a tour one day.

Barge at Playa Negra
Barge at Playa Negra

Moving on to the newest creature from Land of the Lost…saw this giant hopper on my chair the other morning.  He didn’t move much, except for one or two leg stretches.  Then that night he started waking up.  Next morning he was gone.  Very beautiful actually, but the barbs on his legs were kinda creepy.  He was at least 5 1/2″ from front to back leg.

Monster hopper
Monster hopper
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What’s that black thing in his rear? A jet engine??

I’m going to vent about one of the things that annoys me the most about being here: burning of brush.  I swear, this is probably why I feel dizzy most of the time.

No fire extinguisher in sight
No fire extinguisher in sight

 It’s very disconcerting to see your neighbor burning a pile of leaves, branches, etc. no more than 30 feet away from your all wooden house, separated only by what else, bushes!  Then the smell, the smoke, the ash.  Look, I get it…there’s not exactly brush pickup here and the jungle takes over quickly.  There’s no other way to get rid of the stuff.  Every single day you can look up and see someone burning a pile of SOMETHING and you can always smell it.  Even at night which is the most annoying.  I’m sure they are very experienced at building and watching over these fires, but for someone who isn’t from here, it’s a little odd to witness.  I hate having to smell this all the time.

Ok, off the soapbox there.  Here’s something cool…our currency!  What other country loves its animals so much that they put it on their money?  Well, actually I do have to say I’m a bit shocked about the shark one.  I was absolutely sickened the other day by looking through a grocery ad and seeing that they had shark fillets on sale.  Wait…what?  I know finning is a huge problem here so I can’t say they take care of their ocean inhabitants as well as they should.

Awesome currency
Awesome currency

The 1000 Colones bill is really weird…it sort of feels plastic and there’s an area on there which is see through (not pictured).  Merchants constantly check the 10,000 bills ($20) to see if they’re fake.  I will say this, I have never been ripped off getting change back here.  People are very honest (unlike they were in Mexico) and the conversion is easy enough to do (unlike Mexico).  It stays pretty stable here and I think for the most part you can count on 500/1.  Although the American banks sure do get more than that when you use the ATM or credit card.  It’s not much but I’ll tell ya it’s never been 500/1.

Oh, there’s one other thing I wanted to mention.  I found out that the stomach issues here run rampant.  It now makes sense why all the expat women look the way they do.  I guess this is how you tell the local expats from the tourists around here.  I no longer look like a tourist!  I’m down 15 pounds in 5 weeks.  So if you’re looking for a rapid weight loss program, c’mon down!!  From what I gather, it’s mostly due to the water.  I really need to stop drinking things at local restaurants made with water.  Although my kitchen sink has a filter, who knows when it was changed last.  I do filter my drinking water with my Berkey but I brush my teeth with tap.  I suppose it could also be the food here.  And the fact that there’s no hot water to disinfect dishes and silverware with.  Like an idiot I hadn’t bought bleach until the other day so I really need to disinfect my cutting boards with it.  Yuck.  There is so much junk around here (bacteria-wise) that it’s gonna catch up to you eventually.

It is suggested that you go to the pharmacy and get ivermectin every six months to de-worm yourself…mmmmm.  I think I’ll get some before I leave here.  You know, living in paradise might SOUND good…but I’m appreciating the U.S. a little more everyday.  Down to my dream last night about being thrilled to be in a Wal-Mart.  Shhhhhh…don’t tell anyone I said that.