Tamarindo

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Wanderlust

Did you ever get something in your mind you just had to do? Something that just eats away at you, pokes you every once in a while. Maybe  you decided run a marathon. Maybe you wanted to start a business, or have an art studio. For me, it’s always been about going somewhere. There’s a word for it, wanderlust. It sounds sexy, and I’ve got it, bad.

When I was little I played with those Madame Alexander dolls from all around the world. I would give them accents and I just thought they were exotic and exciting. My family didn’t travel too far when I was a kid. We had great vacations but camping trips and Disney were the farthest we went. Still, I always had a yearning, a part of me that wanted to go somewhere, get lost somewhere, have an adventure somewhere.

Now that I have a family of my own, we’ve traveled a bunch, but when I first came to Costa Rica five years ago, a seed was planted. I thought, what if we came here for a year, to live? We could get to know the people, the place, the language. Our kids could say, “Yeah, my parents took me to Costa Rica for a year when we were younger.” (Yes, I make life decisions based on what my kids will say about it as adults.)

Now that I’ve been here for almost two months, I’m pretty much an expert expat. Okay, I know nothing, but here are some first impressions of my time here.

The people:

Both the Ticos and the Ex-Pats have been amazing and welcoming and there’s this attitude of, “You made it! You did it. You got to paradise and we love it so much and we’re so happy to have you. Everyone helps me all the time; when I drive into ditches, when my battery is dead, when I need a ride to the store. It’s a friendliness that I don’t always experience in the states, and I’m thankful for it.

The weather:

I know some people dislike the heat but I am loving it. When I see posts of my friends in Michigan talking about 55 degrees Fahrenheit IN AUGUST I am so thankful not to be there. Now, up north it is gorgeous and the leaves are changing and here it is rainy season so, meh, but overall I’m a sunshine girl and this is a sunshine place. Buuuuuut…sometimes water drips on you from no discernible source. Inside the house and out. NBD but weird.

The ocean: I could sit on the beach all day. Every day at sunset we go across the street to watch the sunset, and it never disappoints. Jude and I go to the tide pools to count starfish and have hermit crab races. It feels like magic to me.

The animals: Monkeys, sloths, iguanas, birds, bats, whales, crabs. I probably more excited than the kids when I see them. I get to see them all the time. I sit and stare at the trees and the Ticos look at me like New Yorkers look at tourists staring at tall buildings. Are mosquitoes an animal? I fuckin’ hate ‘em.

The Food: We go to the Féria (farmers market) every Saturday about a kilometer from our house to get fruits and veggies. There are really good restaurants in the Tamarindo area. I make a big batch of gallo pinto, beans and rice, every week. The secret is coyote cilantro and salsa lizano. Peanut butter is expensive. Ridiculously expensive. My kids are begging for PB&J but I can’t pay $7 for a little jar of Jif. Beans and rice for you kid. Pineapple tastes like candy and we eat mango daily. I miss blueberries.

 

So far I love it, and we’ve just dipped our toe in. Costa Rica has so much to see, that my wanderlust is getting wanderlust.

 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?”

-Mary Oliver