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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Wonderfully Weird Stuff

Small lake at entrance. Egrets roost in the trees and caiman live in the swamp behind this.
Small lake at entrance. Egrets roost in the trees and caiman live in the swamp behind this.

My friend took me to CATIE (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza) in Turri today.  We visited the botanical garden and had it all to ourselves!  What a great place.  I could have easily spent more time there looking a little closer at things so maybe I’ll go back sometime.  I’ll just caption these pictures with what I know about them.

Sorry for the foot shot but I had to get scale next to this GRAPEFRUIT.
Sorry for the foot shot but I had to get scale next to this GRAPEFRUIT.

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Columbian rose.
Colombian rose.
Somehow I don't think he's just helping her cross the street.
Somehow I don’t think he’s just helping her cross the street.

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Mangosteen we got to eat!  Man, it was good.
Mangosteen we got to eat! Man, it was good.
Some kind of ginger, I think.
Some kind of ginger, I think.
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The canonball tree has a TON of medicinal uses to it.
Flower of canonball tree
Flower of canonball tree
Looked like a stack of bowling balls and I held one; easily 8 pounds.
Looked like a stack of bowling balls and I held one; easily 8 pounds.
Canonball tree. Crazy heavy, watch out below! Originated in India.
Canonball tree. Crazy heavy, watch out below! Originated in India.

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Big bamboo.
Big bamboo.
I said these looked like rattlesnake tails and the name is similar to that we found out later!
I said these looked like rattlesnake tails and the name is similar to that we found out later!
I swear I see a new butterfly everyday here.
I swear I see a new butterfly everyday here.  This one is called Malachite
Anyone tried durian? Post a comment about it!
Anyone tried durian? Post a comment about it!

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Oropendula nests in the palms.
Oropendola nests in the palms.
I'm a sucker for lily pads!
I’m a sucker for lily pads!

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Rapidly multiplying algae
Rapidly multiplying algae

Ooooooo Snaaaakes!

In my element
In my element

My friend took me to Viborana Serpentarium which made me very happy.  The gentleman there has been working with reptiles for 45 years and is researching the effect of climate change on snakes in the area.  He gave a nice presentation beforehand where he talked about how the lack of rainfall is affecting the lives and reproduction of certain snakes.  Also how burning of the sugar cane fields ruins the livelihoods of boa constrictors because they live in armadillo tunnels.  When they burn the fields, they either kill the ‘dillos or they move out so now the snakes have no food because the mice and rats are also gone. He is trying to educate people about the benefits that snakes can bring.

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Slug eater

For example, this sweet little slug eating snake was being killed in a field where people were growing lettuce.  The slugs were destroying the crops but little did the people know that this is a slug eating snake!   So instead of using pesticides, they needed to stop killing the snakes.  I had the opportunity to hang on to this little one most of the time.  What’s interesting about it was its head looked as if it were a viper because of the typical diamond shape to it, but it wasn’t.  It was so sweet…he said it never bites or is aggressive. Then he brought out an adorable cat eye snake.  Check out those peepers!

Cat eye snake
Cat eye snake

They’re nocturnal and hunt sleeping lizards and insects.  They’re very long and thin, often resembling a small branch so they sneak up on their prey (albeit easy to do when they’re asleep!).  This one also had a bit of a triangle shape to its head but not as prominent as the slug eater.  They are slightly venomous but have rear fangs and probably not do any harm to a person. These two got along just fine and as is the norm with me, calmed down on my shoulders after a while.  I wanted to cuddle with them ALL DAY!! Ha!

Everyone getting along
Everyone getting along
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Jumping viper
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Plump little kid!

I also got to take a closeup picture of a fairly large bushmaster in its enclosure although the pictures didn’t come out well due to the light.  I did take a video of it though!

He brought out quite a few venomous snakes including this little jumping viper which is almost extinct due to habitat loss and climate change.  He said this one was super skinny and he’s nursed it back to health.  The good thing about this place is that he will release most of these back into the wild.  He’s also hoping to breed some of the rare ones and put them out there too.  That was good to know.  You can watch a quick video of it here.

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See the lashes?

He also brought out the cute eyelash viper, named that because of the little scales above the eyes which resemble eyelashes.  The mottled design on its skin was unbelievable.  You’d never see this one in the wild!

Eyelash viper
Eyelash viper

We also got to see a baby Fer de lance which is one of the most deadly snakes around.  It was sitting on top of a dead cecropia leaf and I didn’t even SEE it!  He said they like high humidity so when these leaves die and fall to the ground, they curl up inside of them.  So be very careful when in the jungle or wherever these trees may be as you could have a surprise if you kicked or stepped on one (if you didn’t kill it by doing that).

Baby fer de lance
Baby fer de lance

He showed me a fang of a bushmaster which can get up to 2 inches long.  Yikes.

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Bushmaster fang

Oh, I also did a video on the two cuties around my neck for anyone interested located here.  I mistakenly called it a cat eye viper…not sure where I was on that one…it is not a viper.  Also, the slugs were in a patch of lettuce, not on the macadamia farm. The last creature to make an appearance was the cute red eyed tree frog!  These guys seem to be the symbol of Costa Rica.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen one in the wild so it was really cool to be able to take pictures and watch it for a while.  They need high humidity and he said they would turn dark green when they were lacking that.  So since we didn’t have much time with it,  I took as many pictures as I could.  You can see a video of it here walking on the leaf.

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