About Rachel White

Posts by Rachel White:

How I Fell in Love…with Costa Rica

The secret is out- I love Costa Rica. Mostly I love the people: their warmth and happiness. The way everyone is so laid back. Did you know Costa Rica is consistently rated as one of the happiest countries in the world? With a six-day work week! The weather is a close second when it comes to lovability. Oh! And the animals. Sloths!

The beaches too. Also the gorgeous trees and plants and flowers. Wait, did I say the cloud forest? It’s like a fairyland. Okay. Everything about Costa Rica is amazing, and I live in paradise.

I fell in love with Costa Rica six years ago, on a ten-day trip. And here is my matchmaker:

 

 

Jose Pablo was our guide and driver. Here’s his website:

http://costarica-family-adventures.com

Guides in Costa Rica go to school to learn about the flora and fauna, the geography and history. They’re not just making up facts like a double-decker bus driver. Jose Pablo has a lot of itineraries on his site, but here’s the one we followed that made me infatuated, enchanted, and be downright crazy about Costa Rica.

The first day we went to Poas Volcano. There’s an elfin cloud forest there, where. you hike along the misty trail to the top. There, when the clouds part, you spot a blue lagoon in a crater.

Next, on to Arenal volcano, where we stayed at Arenal Observatory Lodge. In its past life, the hotel was a Smithsonian Observatory for the volcano. To say it has great views is an understatement. Alas, the volcano wasn’t (and Isn’t) active, so we didn’t see any lava.

So far, we’d been in Costa Rica for three days and we’d seen the most beautiful things I’d ever seen, and everyone we’d met had been lovely. It’s no secret that Costa Rica’s #1 industry is tourism and eco-tourism. Sure, it behooves people to be nice to their customers, but I’ve traveled all over the US and Europe to tourist destination and never met people so welcoming.

Next, we headed to Tirimbina, to walk the hanging bridges. This is the part where I tell you I’m scared of heights. While we are all walking and taking in the amazing views, birds and even some kind of cool cat, I imagine my kids plummeting to their death. I refuse to let it stop me from having experiences. I wore Maya (11 mos) in an ergo baby carrier, and held Gigi’s hand. At the end of the longest bridge, here’s the conversation:

Me: Gigi, do you have any circulation in your hand?

Gigi: What’s circulation?

Jose Pablo is an expert birder and gets so excited about birds that he made us excited too. We also saw snakes, bugs, koatis, my beloved sloths, monkey families, and so much more.

We spent the last days of our trip at the beach. After all that hiking and sightseeing, it was nice to relax. Lot’s of people think it’s too hard to travel with kids, or that they won’t enjoy it. But I can’t imagine seeing these things without them. I was glad to have a driver who knew exactly where he was going, and a guide to show us what we would have missed. It’s my number one tip for people coming here- hire a guide! You will see 100% more cool things.

At the beach, we slowed down enough to chat with some ex-pats that had come here and opened a restaurant. And so I started dreaming.

The Dream Becomes A Reality

It took us five years for the timing to work. In the meantime I had Jude, Mike worked on his business, and one day, we were ready. We made the move.

My mom had a quote taped to her mirror when I was growing up.

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

My whole life I dreamed of traveling the world, I dreamed of being a writer. Now I live in one of the world’s most beautiful places and I’m a travel writer for Fodor’s Travel Guide.

Where do you want to go? What do you dream you can do?

Begin it.

 

Living in a Van Down by the River

Back Home for the Summer

When we moved to Costa Rica, the original plan was for one year- experience a different culture, learn the language, etc. We didn’t count on falling head over heels in love with the place and making some of the best friends of our lives. We decided to stay another year, and the kids have signed on. But nothing beats a northern Michigan summer, and we were dying to see family and friends, so we got our plane tickets to head home.

Where Will We Live?

The only snag in our plan? The renters in our house want to stay for another year. We didn’t have a place to live. Rentals in northern Michigan in the summer are insanely expensive, especially for a family of our size. Mike suggested living on the boat for the summer, but that was waaaaaaay too small. His next idea? A camper. I wasn’t on board at first, I had images of living in a van down by the river.

 

But the idea was intriguing, and I warmed up to it. While I was looking at boring RV’s Mike scoured the internet for our next cool vehicle. And…he found a bus.

The Bluebird

Here it is: our summer home. a 40-foot schoolbus that sleeps six.

He got the bus on eBay, and we picked it up in Brighton. Every day four or five people stop by to tell us how cool it is, and some ask for a tour. We have a generator and air conditioning. The inside isn’t nearly as cool as the outside. I hope to redo it, but not this summer. My favorite thing about it is where we get to stay. We’re living on million dollar lots on Lake Leelanau, Lake Michigan, Torch Lake, and everything in between.

The Good

There is a place for everyone to sleep. The kids are snug as bugs in their bunks…

Mike and I have a queen bed and zero privacy.

The kitchen and bathroom are spacious and have everything we need.

Don’t mind the dirty dishes

The Bad

I don’t know exactly where to put the clothes for six people, they end up in heaps on the floor or in storage baskets. The bus has country decor, beadboard and wallpaper borders abound. There is a fan in the kitchen roof that is broken and lets rain in. Did I mention there is ZERO privacy? Wifi is spotty in campgrounds so it’s hard for me to work. And, it’s HUGE. I won’t be driving this beast this summer.

bus driver

The Ugly

There’s a plumbing issue, and we haven’t gotten the water to work yet, so the toilet gets a little stinky. Sometimes it gets a little bickery because we’re all on top of each other. But mostly we’re outside.

The Great

This is another chapter in our big adventure, and I love going wherever the wind takes us. We’ll be back in Costa Rica in the Fall, but for the summer? You’ll find us in a bus, down by the lake.

 

 

 

Volcán Tenorio and the Rio Celeste: A Must Do in Costa Rica

A Must in Costa Rica: The Rio Celeste

The Hike: Part 1

I would guess we’d hiked down about a kilometer. It was early in the morning, so not too hot. Very Costa Rica, very jungle-y: vines, trees, etc. The kids aren’t even complaining very much. Until, Gigi shouts, “Mommy! My foot!” and starts crying. Gigi has a flair for the dramatic, so I thought perhaps she had twisted her ankle. No.

“Something bit me!” she sobbed. She was crying harder. I pulled off the rented rubber boot and shook it to see if anything fell out. In the commotion I didn’t see anything, but on the top of her foot were two red bumps, close together.

Mike looked at me. “Spider bite”. There are 20,000 species of spiders in this small country, and only a few are dangerous. Unfortunately, we had seen one of the most dangerous species all over the place in Volcan Tenorio. The banana spider. “Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you” is the conventional wisdom handed out by the admissions people, but if one was in her shoe?

I threw Gigi on my back and hustled back up the trail. The rest of the family followed, as I asked, “Does it feel tingly? Anything weird?”

“No it just hurts,” she said. I could hear the fear in her voice. We made it back out in what I would guess was ten minutes. I made a beeline for a friendly guide who had offered his services earlier.

“I’m afraid she got a spider bite,” I told him, showing her foot. He looked concerned, holding the foot in his hands. “No, I don’t think it’s a spider,” he told me, waving another guide over.

The other guide took a look. “Vespa,” he pronounced. I looked at Mike. Should we rush her to the hospital? Vespa sounds like some sort of snake, doesn’t it? The other guide pantomimed a bee buzzing down and stinging twice. The English speaker smiled, told us, “It’s a wasp sting.”

We all sagged with relief. Gigi would be fine, she’s had wasp stings before, she’s not allergic.

“So,” I asked my family, “We drove three hours to see the Rio Celeste, should we head back down?” The Rio Celeste is this amazing river and series of waterfalls that have a color that doesn’t seem real. There is a local legend that says that When God was painting the sky he dipped his paintbrush into the Rio Celeste.

“I can’t, I don’t wanna,” Gigi said. We decided to go back to our hotel and swim for a bit, see if she felt better after the cool water.

The kids absolutely loved our hotel. We stayed at the Rio Celeste Hideaway. Each room is a little cabina with one or two beds. They said we could get a roll-away so we only had to get one room. The other hotels in the area did not offer this option, we would have had to pay for two rooms. Unfortunately when we arrived they had forgotten the cot, but in typical Tico fashion they gave us another cabina for free. Our room had a gorgeous outdoor shower, which is so fun.

Outdoor showers are so fun!

The pool is beautiful, really big with three smaller hot tubs of varying temps that light up different colors. The hospitality was amazing, everyone was super friendly. I told them how much I wanted to see a sloth, so when someone spotted one, they came and got me at breakfast. We all rushed to the tree, where they helped us find the best vantage point. She was amazing. Her name was Emma. Emma the sloth.

 

Emma 🙂

The rooms were decorated beautifully and Costa Rican, and they were extremely clean.  The views of the surrounding jungle were phenomenal. I wasn’t crazy about the restaurant, and it’s quite a drive to get from the hotel to any other restaurants.

The view!

After swimming for a while, Gigi agreed to go back hiking, but only if we got a guide. I’m so glad she made that deal. ALWAYS GET A GUIDE! Guides in Costa Rica go to school and get a degree. They know the local flora and fauna and you see SO. MUCH. MORE.

The Hike- Part 2

We smelled leaves that smelled like lemons. Our guide showed us a vine snake, hanging from a tree. Guess why they’re named vine snakes? Because for sure my kids would have done a tarzan swing from the snake if the guide wasn’t there to tell us about him. We saw tamarin tracks and the magical blue morpho butterfly. It was an amazing, beautiful hike.

But then we got to the waterfall. The waterfall is by far the most beautiful I’ve seen. When I was little my mom read me a book about a doll with eyes that were cerulean blue. When I closed my eyes I could picture the color, but I’ve never seen it in real life  until now. The color is from minerals, and in some parts of the river you can swim, but here the waterfall is too dangerous.

So, even with our Vespa scare, I’d do it again. As a matter of fact…who is visiting soon? We need an excuse to go back!

Costa Rican Tamales: A Christmas Tradition

Around the holidays, I am lonesome for my family.  I reeeeeeally miss the cooking and eating, drinking wine and doing dishes and just generally hanging out in the kitchen all day. Without my momma and sister and aunts, it’s no good. This past week I was lucky enough to be included in a group of 16 ladies that got together with our fearless, feisty leader, Marianela, to partake in a Costa Rican food tradition, making tamales. Picture your favorite aunt, the one who was close to your age, who laughed loud and sometimes swore and told the best stories. Okay, now you’ve got Marianela. Marianela is a Tica, who was willing to share her recipe and teach us. The rest of us were gringas, going along for the tamalada.

Marionela in the apron

I can remember the first time I had tamales. I was in college, and working a summer job on the assembly line making steering gears. One of the Mexican guys brought in hundreds of tamales, and by the end of lunch, they were sold out. I didn’t get a chance to buy any, but a friend was kind enough to share at lunch. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to eat the corn husk that it came in, but I watched everyone else unwrap theirs and avoided that humiliation. The taste was amazing, the flavors of corn and pork and onions and I-don’t know-what else melding together to create yum.

The tamalada (tamale-making party) is a production. Tamales are not easy, that’s why they’re usually reserved for holidays. It’s always lots of women working together, and I love the community and energy of that. Ladies talking, working, drinking, cooking… it made me miss my family a little bit less.Gorgeous ladies- ready to cook!

HOW TO:

Marianela had cooked the meat beforehand and made three types of broth: mushroom for the vegetarians, a hearty chicken stock, and pork broth. Pork is the traditional one, and to make that she started with posta de cerda, or pork shoulder, cut it up and boiled it in water with onion, celery, bell pepper, herbs including basil, sage, garlic, salt, pepper, coyote cilantro, salsa lizano and achiote. Those last three I’ve never seen anywhere in the states, but the coyote cilantro is like cilantro without the soapy flavor. Lizano is on every table in costa Rica- it’s something like Worcestershire sauce and Ticos put it on beans and rice, pizza, french fries, eggs, everything. I’m honestly still not sure about achiote- I guess it’s used as a colorant and has a subtle flavor. The chicken was cooked with the same mixture except a whole chicken cut up instead of the pork, and the vegetable broth was just the veggies and herbs plus mushrooms for some depth of flavor.

Serious broth

 

The first thing we did was peel and boil potatoes. A mountain of potatoes. While the potatoes boiled ladies chopped root vegetables. These included yucca, tarot root, and tiquisque. The outsides are tough. We chopped them all to picadillo size (this means like hash for those of us not in the know). These are mixed together. We took the chicken off of the bones. Then we got the rest of the filling ready.  This consists of the meat, chickpeas, carrots, green beans, chickpeas, raisins, olives and red peppers.

Root vegetable medley goodness

 

When the potatoes were done they got mashed up and we were ready to assemble the corn dough. This is not the most precise science- it’s how your grandma taught you to cook: add this until it feels like that…

Having said that, we tried to measure as best we could, and here’s what we came up with:

Masa Rica + mashed potatoes + broth at about a 1:1:1 ratio (mas o menos)

Add fat:                                                                                                                                                                                                 For the veggie and chicken we added abooooout 1/2 C olive oil + 1/2 C vegetable oil 1 stick of soft butter.                                           For the pork, well, add blended chicharonnes/bacon grease + pork oil (which at the Costa Rican market is sometimes called mantequecade chancho) About the same amount, 1 1/2 C, I think, because remember, it’s the grandma method.

Add salt (because “Salt is life!” says Marianela. “Salt is to food what Pura Vida is to Costarricense.”  Abooooouut 4 TBL.                      We used pink Himalayan sea salt

Masa Rica

Work the dough with your hands. Knead it for a while because it takes some time for the corn to rehydrate. At this point the dough is the consistency of thick oatmeal- between cake batter and cookie dough, and tastes like the most delicious frito you’ve ever had.

While that production was happening we started getting the banana leaves ready. In Costa Rica  corn husks aren’t used, banana leaves are. Banana leaves are huge, around six feet long. Marionela had prepared them: to soften them, you run them over a fire.  We wiped them down with a clean cloth and cut them down both sides of the main stem into roughly  8″ X 8″  size. We made about 70.

Big ass leaves

Then, we were ready to put everything together. You place about 3/4 cup of the dough, not too much, directly onto the banana leaf. If you put too much on, it will squash out when you’re folding it up. The next step is to add the veggies. Don’t get crazy and overdo it. For example: a couple pieces of the meat, two spoonfuls of the root mixture, one carrot, one pepper, three raisins, one olive, a couple chickpeas, a few green beans.

You can decide what you think would be yummy for filling, some people add black beans, and in the states you might add sweet potatoes instead of the root mixture. But this mixture was pure magic. If you can use it, I would.

The next part I found a little tricky, wrapping them up. You take up two sides together and roll them down, then fold the two opposite sides over, wrapped up tighter than a drum. The last thing you want is for them to come apart when you’re boiling them.  Make two, then marry them together, bottom to bottom. Tie them with kitchen string, nice and tight, like a present, with a bow on top.

such pretty little packages

To cook, boil water with LOTS of salt. Place the tamales in the boiling water and cook for about 45 minutes. We boiled ours over an open fire because there were so many. It was awesome. To top it off, while they boiled to perfection, we got to watch this sunset. Thanks Colleen, for letting us share your house and views 🙂

Tamales cooking on an open fire…but no jack frost nipping at your nose. Those are banana leave on top as a lid.

Remove with a slotted spoon and let sit to cool. Everyone unwraps their own banana leaf. And voila: Costa Rican Christmas magic. Family and friends, amazing food and drink. Now that you know how, throw your own tamalada. Please invite me though…my family has already gobbled ours all up.

My food photography needs work

 

 

The Baby Turtles

BABY TURTLES HATCHING AT OSTIONAL

Look at this little guy

 

We woke at four, I made a pot of coffee and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and we were in the car by 4:30. The only thing that could get my four kids, and not-a-morning-person husband in the car that early without a fight, was the promise of seeing baby sea turtles. Our family has been dreaming of doing this for years, and it was finally happening. We had gone a couple weeks ago,( see post herehttp://www.notcoldanymore.com/everyday-miracles-turtles/ )to see the mamas laying their eggs, so we knew how to get there, and more importantly, how special it was. 

No one is sure when they will hatch, so you need to follow the Association of Local Guides of Ostional on http://Asociacion de Guias Locales de Ostional(AGLO)Costa Rica. Someone posted a video of the babies, someone else said it wasn’t current, so I called the number listed. A kid answered, maybe it someone’s cell phone, but when I asked, in google translate Spanish, if the baby turtles had hatched, I was transferred to an adult. Because she didn’t speak English I’m 85% sure that she told me that there were muchas bebe tortugas on the beach and we should meet her there at six the next morning. I asked if we could come a little later and she said earlier is better. 

Watching the sunrise over the misty mountains was beautiful on the ride there, but it was the anticipation that kept everyone in great spirits. We reached the beach and couldn’t see any movement from the car, I tried not to worry that I had misunderstood or that we were too late. The waves were huge. We went to the guide booth and they assured us that there were thousands of turtles, so we paid our $10 per adult, $5 per kid, and headed to the beach.

Maya ushers a baby safely to the water

 

The most important thing, the guide emphasized, and I re-emphasized to the kids, was to look before you stepped anywhere. When we got to the beach we saw why; it was covered in tiny turtles.

These were Olive Ridley turtles, each about three inches long. Each of the thousands of turtles had laid 60-80 eggs in their nest that they had dug. Remarkably, even though they may travel as far away as India, the turtles come back to the beach that they were born to lay their own eggs. The guides had marked the nests by putting a stick in the sand, and everywhere there was a stick you could go and see these fifty tiny turtles crawling over one another to get out of their hole.

Vultures hovered in trees overhead, waiting for their chance to swoop down and have breakfast as we shooed them away, cheering as each little guy was swept into the tide. The kids named some of these baby sea turtles, Slowpoke and Speedy, and as waves crashed over our feet we didn’t dare move for fear of accidentally stepping on one.

 

Seeing this with my kids makes it exponentially better. The Olive Ridley turtles nest in Ostional August through November. If you are in Costa Rica, it’s something you’ve got to try to do.

 

 

 

You Take Your Car to Work, I’ll Take my Board

LEARNING TO SURF IN COSTA RICA

The first time I tried to learn to surf was with a friend. Mike and our friend Chris had successfully taught all four of our children to get up on their board. My four-year-old was surfing. Maya and Gigi were already good at it. It’s exactly the same as when I see first graders boarding the roller coaster. If they can do it, surely I can do it.

They make it look easy

Except I couldn’t.

Think of how you would normally get up from lying on your belly, then throw all that out the window. You can’t get up on your knees first- basically you push your upper body up then hop your legs forward to the correct position on the board. I don’t have great upper body strength, no matter how many f@#$ing planks I do. And it felt like I was doing burpees, except while riding a wave, and sideways. So, I didn’t get up. I gave up. The next day my shoulders and chest felt like I had done a thousand push-ups.

After nursing my wounds (pride- that was actually my only wound), I decided to take a lesson. Because there must be something I was missing. Mike has been surfing since the nineties, and I’m sure he could have taught me, but, well, I really don’t like it when he tells me what to do. A local friend hooked me up with a lesson at Costa Rica Surf Club, and I rode my bike there with excitement and trepidation.

When I arrived, they introduced me to Jesus. Not the Jesus, I’ve known him all my life, but HeyZeus Jesus.

If anyone could teach me to walk on water…

If anyone could perform the miracle of teaching me to surf…

If anyone could raise me up onto the board…

Okay I’ll stop now.

Jesus got me a rash guard, then we grabbed a (very) longboard and walked across the street to Tamarindo Beach. I felt cool during this part. Never in my life growing up in Saginaw, Michigan did I imagine myself being a part of the cool surfer culture that I saw on T.V.. We started with the board in the sand. Here, he showed me a different sort of push-up where my elbows were down along my sides rather than out like I was doing before. My  hands went under my chest and I had much more power that way. Then, I spiderman my leg to step up (think of the way spiderman sidles up buildings, knee to the outside of his body) instead of hopping, which was way more doable. I was ready to go to the ocean.

 We went out about chest deep. Jesus had me lay on my board, then gave directions. Jesus is from Venezuela, and has a bit of an accent. I’ve found that Rachel is not the easiest name to say in Spanish. Jesus rolled that first R and called out what I was supposed to do.

“Rrrrrrrach! Paddle!”

“Rrrrrrrach! Up!”

 I didn’t feel cool during this part. I asked Jesus a couple times whether I was the worst he’d ever taught. He didn’t really answer. He smiled. I think he didn’t understand.  I choose to believe he didn’t understand.

And in that way, burning Rrrrrach, paddle! And Rrrrrrrach UP! into my memory, finally, after failing and falling numerous times, at 42 years of age, I  rode my first wave into shore.

I waded back out to Jesus to surf some more, and the waves were getting bigger. As I laid on my tummy he yelled, “Rrrrrrrrach! Wah-lay!”

“What?” I panicked. “Que?” I looked around. That wasn’t the word I had learned for crocodile, but Tico Spanish is sometimes different.

Jesus had a big smile, pointed out at the horizon, where a huge water spout shot into the air.

“Whale!” I didn’t think my smile could get bigger, but it did.

This whole adventure to Costa Rica is such a departure from my “regular” life. I’m used to reading novels, fixing my kids a warm dinner in Northern Michigan, playing trivia at the bar on Tuesday nights.

I never imagined that I’d learn to surf, but I did.

 

Everyday Miracles: Turtles

ARRIBADA AT OSTIONAL

There are some things, that when you witness them, there’s a shift in your perception of the world. You’re an observer of everyday miracles, and it touches something inside of you that is otherwise inaccessible. It’s nature’s magic. It fills you with wonder. It touches your heart.  It happened when I saw the giant redwoods in California. When I saw the sun come up over the clouds on Mt. Haleakala on Maui. When I kayaked at night in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico, where the water lights up like a million fireflies when you touch it. And now, when I saw an arribada of sea turtles.

Over the course of a week, hundreds of thousands of olive ridley sea turtles come up to shore at Playa Ostional, in Costa Rica. It happens a week before the new moon from August to December.

 

Our friends heard that it was happening and we decided to take our families on the two hour trip over the weekend. She booked a tour with the local guides. It’s a beautiful drive to get there, but there is a river you have to drive through to get to Ostional. Another friend of mine went to see the turtles last month and on the way back, her 4wheel drive SUV was swept away in the river. They had no time to back out, there was a rain in the mountains that caused it, and once the front tires were in the whole car was pulled in. She had to break her window and swim out, and hike an hour through the jungle barefoot until they found a farm. They lost their car, camera, phones, and they’re lucky they didn’t lose their lives. When we got to this river, our friend got out of the car and walked into the river to make sure it wasn’t too deep or flowing too swiftly. Once we knew it was safe we headed across, and into Ostional.

We found our guides and walked to the beach. They split everyone up into groups of no more than six people. We smelled the turtles before we saw them, and it’s not pleasant, but once we saw this beautiful mass of turtles, the smell was all but forgotten. At first glance it’s almost like the beach is covered in small boulders. Then you see the boulders move. We were surrounded by them and they were in all different stages of nesting. Some were making the awkward journey from the water to above high tide line. Some were digging their one to two foot deep holes. It felt voyeuristic when we got to see the actual eggs coming out- they lay 80-100 in every nest. There were some flipping sand onto us as they covered their nest. Then, exhausted but mission complete, we got to see them clamber their way back to the waves. We were not allowed to get in front of any of the turtles, but they seemed to be in somewhat of a trance. They really didn’t care what got in their way; I saw them crawling over each other, driftwood, anything. My words can’t do justice to the beauty of it: the awkward struggle of perpetuating their species, then the way they gracefully swam out into the vastness of the ocean. 

The locals here are allowed to harvest 3% of the eggs. These turtles are endangered, so at first it upset me, but there is only so much beach, and the turtles on the second and third days are digging up the eggs from the previous days. These are the eggs they take, they would never have survived.

“For sale: Turtle eggs by the dozen and in sauce”  Photo credit Vanessa Verzanvort

 

We were able to wander around for about an hour before our guide told us it was time to go. As we were being walked out, we all looked around to secure the day in our memories one last time. The best part? We get to volunteer to keep the babies safe when they hatch! Our guide promised to call us, so we can usher the little guys to the ocean without being snatched up by dogs, cats, or the giant birds lurking everywhere.

Maya holding an egg that the guide gave her- it had been kicked up by another turtle.

 

I feel so lucky that my kids got to experience this- it amplified the amazement.

“I feel so great, in here mom, that I got to see those turtles,” Gigi said, holding her chest.

Me too kid. Me too.

 

What about you? What has touched your heart? Or where are you dying to go? Let’s make a list and a pact: we’ll see everyday miracles as often as possible. Whenever we can, we’ll be filled with wonder.

 

Beach Therapy: Playa Grande

Remember, take me to the beach. Next time I’m a mess, next time I’m hollering, crying, threatening my kids, blaming my husband, or fighting with my mom, just take me to the beach. It’s one of the reasons I came to Costa Rica. The beach is therapy.

I’ve had a really tough week. My cousin and good friend lost her battle with cancer last week and I went home, first to try to see her before she died, but when I got there it was for her funeral. It is a bad part of being far from home. I was sad to not be able to say goodbye. I know she is in a better place, I know she is at peace, but I will miss her. God, I will miss her. I keep telling myself how lucky I was to have loved her, and been loved by her. I will keep telling myself this.

So when I came home to Costa Rica I was an emotional basket case; picking fights, crying, screaming. When Mike suggested the kids take a day off of school and we hang out at the beach as a family, I said yes. We decided to go to Playa Grande. This beach is part of Las Baulas National Park, so there are no houses on the beach, and on this sprinkly day, it was deserted. We were the only people as far as the eye could see. It’s very protected, because it’s where leatherback sea turtles nest. There were no turtles today, the owner of the Taco joint said November through March. There’s a National Park kiosk you can stop at for more information. We’ll definitely make plans to go back and stay until dark to get a chance to see the leatherbacks come up and lay their eggs.

We arrived around lunch time, and the kids have been wanting to do a geocache, so we drove around the (tiny) town looking for a place called Taco Star, for food and geocache. We didn’t see it, so we went to the beach, and lo and behold, there it was! Comfort food. We had eight combo tacos. They sell beer, which I seriously considered. I stuck to Fresca, but had thoughts of coming back one day with Mike while the kids are at school and having a couple Imperials.

Then, we walked on the beach. We let the waves gently lap at our ankles. We ran and jumped. We collected sand dollars, the first we’ve ever found. We held hands. We sat and watched the waves. We let the beach heal us for a couple hours. We felt better. I felt better.

So remember, if I’m being bitchy, just take me to the beach. Playa Grande is best, but the nearest one will do in a pinch. Hell, take yourself there too, I’ll share.

Peaches

Bikini Ready in Costa Rica

When I was a kid and wearing my bathing suit, whenever it rode up a little and the cloth was not covering my bum completely, my mom would holler, “Peaches!”
“Peaches!” at the beach looking for seashells.
“Peaches!” to my three-year-old sister in her French bikini.

In Costa Rica, every bathing suit is peaches. All peaches, all the time.

Old ladies, people working out on the beach, mothers, everyone. I believe the proper term is “cheeky”, but I’ll always call it peaches. I credit J-Lo and Kim K. And I thank them, because quite frankly, I didn’t always love having these peaches. But body positivity has come a long way.

I was recently bemoaning how 42 is the age that I just didn’t feel good about my body anymore. I later realized that 42 was the first year I didn’t go to boot camp four mornings a week (thanks Caroline). So for me, it’s about working out, playing sports, staying active. I know I have imperfections, I often list them when I’m looking in the mirror. (For example, lately the loose skin on my tummy looks like a winking otter),

 

 

But for me, it doesn’t diminish the whole. I think I look great (#thanksmom). I have reverse body dysmorphia. In my mind I look better than I actually do. I’ve consciously decided not to mess with it, ride this train of lies as long as I can. Until I see a picture.

When I took my surfing lesson (post soon) there is a guy on the beach that takes pictures. He took a picture of me from the back, with my hands up, victorious, when I caught my first wave. It should have been a great picture. But my peaches, well, I didn’t like what was on display.

edited to not show the sag

I had to do something. Lots of people talk about how they move to Costa Rica and the pounds melt off- they’re walking more, eating healthy, etc. This has not happened for me. Ticos are definitely more fit than Americans; they don’t eat out as much, don’t eat processed food, and often walk or ride their bikes for transportation. Typical lunch is beans and rice, grilled chicken, and salad. It’s called casado. We eat this a lot, and don’t eat fast food (there isn’t any), but we do go out to the amazing restaurants they have here a couple times a week.

The weather is great so we’re outside a lot, but it’s hot for exercising. I’d been running, but to avoid heatstroke, I had to go before the sun came up. I don’t love getting up in the fives. I did it, however, to train for the Tamarindo Marathon, but only the 10K. Still, the saggy bum.

Many people also said, when I told them I was coming here, that the yoga studios here are the best anywhere. I believe that to be true. The yogis are from around the world and seriously trained. I think I would like it, except I hate down dog. Down dog is done so often that it really puts a damper on my yoga experience. If I did like yoga, I’m sure it would help my bum and I’m sure I would love  Ser Om Shanti yoga, where I went for a lovely yoga time with too much down dogs. I also did Pilates there which I do enjoy, except In my twenties I broke my tailbone rollerskating, so the two days after I do Pilates my buttbone is so sore that I can’t sit down. Bruised peaches. There are tons of other amazing yoga studios here that I haven’t been to.

There are personal trainers that work with you on the beach, and crossfit, and gyms, and pretty much anything you want to do. Surfing is also great exercise.

I’ve found the place for me though, called Mermaids and Sailors. I ride my rusty, crusty bicycle a couple time a week to a barre class that kicks my bum, in the best way. They also have yoga, which I haven’t been to. My favorite parts are the cauuute boutique with clothes and jewelry and the icy cold washcloths they keep in the fridge for after class to wipe your face. First class baby. And also they have a water cooler and reusable cups.

So I’m thinking…a couple more months of this barre class and I may just get into one of those Costa Rican bikinis. Hell, maybe I’ll even wear one now (*repeats to self: “a bikini body is a body with a bikini on it”).  I’ll believe the voice in my head that tells me I’m strong and fit, instead of the voices screaming from magazines. I’ll turn up the Nikki Minaj in my headphones.  I’ll dive into the waves and run on the beach with my kids, and not worry about what my bum looks like when I’m doing it. Oh, but I’ll still wear my old suit when my mom comes to visit.

A Trip to the Féria: Three New Fruits to Try in Costa Rica

or

Tipping Your Car Over on the way to the Feria

 

We’d been in Costa Rica a couple of weeks, and one of the first things you learn is that driving here is different from the states. First of all, everyone shares the road, in what I consider the nicest way possible. The Tico way. Horses, pedestrians, cars, cows, cowboys, dogs, monkeys, motorcyclists, and bicyclists. Then, the road itself, especially during rainy season, is a series of potholes. I know in Michigan we complain of potholes but these are a different level. Craters? Gaping maws? Fissures? I mean they’re big. And sometimes, on the sides of the road, or on the side of the parking lot at your kids’ school, there’s a sheer cliff going down ten feet. So backing out of your parking spot gets dicey. What I’m saying is you’ve got to have your wits about you when driving in Costa Rica. And anyone who knows me knows that my wits are rarely about me, I usually leave them tucked into a book on my bedside table, or the kids get them out and leave them someplace.

 

The Tamarindo Féria, the local Farmer’s Market, is in a field by the beach about a mile from our house. The first week we walked. In the scorching heat. With four kids. They weren’t crazy about the forced march, so we decided to drive this week. Mike and Maya were relaxing, so I packed up the other kids, got his ceviche order and we drove.

 

There’s a dirt side road to get to the Feria which people park along, but it was crammed with cars so I slowly drove in, making sure not to hit anyone or anything, turned around, and saw a spot on the right. (As a sidenote, if you see a spot on the other side of the road it is perfectly legit to drive over there and park in the opposite direction of traffic.) As I pulled to the right my front tire found ground but my passenger side rear tire, and then the whole passenger side of the car, was in a ditch. Well, more of a giant hole. So the earth is swallowing my car and Gigi, age nine, screams, “MOM THE CAR IS TIPPING OVER I’M SCARED”.

 

“Okay. Everyone get out, NOW!” I yelled. I got Jude out of his carseat, while Esme and Gigi hopped out. By this time, quite a little crowd, and also tears behind my eyes, were building up. “Ayudame, por favor,” I yelped to one of the locals watching. He spoke to me in rapid fire Spanish, telling me exactly what to do. Or maybe it was the meaning of life. Or maybe calling me a stupid gringa, although I doubt it because I’ll say it again and again, the Ticos are really nice. In any case, my high school Spanish 25 years ago had not prepared me for this situation.

I motioned for him to hop in the driver’s seat- for him to get my car out. “Tu?” You? Will you do it?

He got in and two other nice fellas sprang into action, putting cardboard under the wheels so they weren’t spinning in mud. My neighbor came over and took my kids. In Spanish the driver asked me a question, I looked at her to translate. “He wants to know, didn’t you see it?” she told me, “It’s big.” He was talking about the hole that swallowed my car. No, as a matter of fact I didn’t. In my home state of Michigan the holes on the side of the road filled with water aren’t as deep as the Mississippi river. He pulled forward and my rear driver side wheel was off the ground, going round and round in the air like the fidget spinner of my nightmare. I was 50% sure that it would be upside down within seconds. The crowd let out a collective, “Oh!”

 

One of the vendors ran over. “I’ll get my truck,” he said. He drove over with his tow strap and hooked my rental car up. With the help of a couple pushers the car was out in a matter of seconds. With tears in my eyes I thanked them profusely. “Muchas, muchas gracias!” I told them. Have I mentioned how nice Ticos are?  I drove down the dirt road and pretty much parked in the middle of the road.

 

Now some may have just gone home, defeated. NOT I! I went to the fucking feria, and I got myself some beautiful tropical fruit. Here are some new fruits to try when you’re in Costa Rica:

 

  1. Dragonfruit or Pitaya

This was described to me as a cross between a kiwi and a beet. It is the most beautiful fruit I’ve ever seen, and it’s good in smoothies.

  1. Goldenberry or Uchava

Ahhh goldenberries. Lucious sweet savory mix. It looks like a yellow tomato, and when it’s grown it looks like a tomitillo, but the taste…oh the taste. It’s definitely a berry, but not like anything I’ve ever had in the states. My absolute fave, must try!

 

3. Mamon Chino or Rambutan

This one is crazy. You break the spiky, hairy outside off, and then there’s a sweet, kind of coconutty little white inside that you suck until you get to the pit. Yum.

So when you’re in Costa Rica try these fruits. A quick google search shows how nutritious they are. They probably provide essential things that keep your brain sharp. Yes, I’ll say it: Tropical fruits may help in the prevention of driving into giant ditches. Now go try some.