Letter to Myself on Vacation – Parrita, Costa Rica
August 16, 2016
Phone alarm was supposed to go off at 3:55am. Who was I kidding, I was awake. Hadn’t really slept. We were about to embark on 10 days in Costa Rica with nena and her family and my mama. Nothing could silence this excitement.
I anticipated a rough start so we decided to stay in an airport hotel the night before our flight. I needed to find ways to expel a little of the anxiety that children feel when traveling by giving them a couple days before we met up with the other kids – like letting the extra air out of the balloon when there is too much pressure.
Wake ups were relatively joyful, the trip to the airport uneventful, and luckily we enjoyed a speedy process through security. A connection through Ft Lauderdale was not ideal, but we managed. 3 active boys – two adhd unmedicated – made for a lot of corrective discussions, more “no’s” and “stops” than seem humanly possible, and some glares worthy of burning holes through walls – but other than that – smooth sailing. 10 hours later we arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica to be greeted by a mile-long immigration line. Consider it hell’s approach for haggard families. But with similar threats, we made it through this too – got our rental car (after a plethora of cautionary comments about killing pedestrians and the danger of falling coconuts from the rental company) and we began our adventure to Parrita.
The start to the drive was mostly highway and state routes so amidst some complaints of being too tight in the backseat, the time passed quickly. Everyone took to pointing out new things – like electric towers painted like candy canes, iguana crossing signs, and suicidal moto drivers. Passing storms threatened us as we got closer to the coast – defending ourselves with hills and valleys as we drove through the mountains.
When we reached Tarcoles, a full on rainstorm was happening but we didn’t want to miss the crocodile bridge so we gathered the kiddos and rushed out in the rain. We negotiated a very tight bridge with lots of competing traffic as we watched dozens of crocodiles lazily taking a shower from God’s water supply. Puddles and screeching were welcome and giddily devoured.
Two by two we boarded the car and immediately, the fighting and “touching” got worse and out of desperation, we resorted to the worst of the worst – the threat of their first spanking ever – in a foreign country – on vacation – from Daddy. It had to have been the most horrible thing we had ever said. Within a matter of ten minutes, three little angels were sound asleep in the backseat and Mama, Daddy, and Tata breathed sighs of utter relief. Silence at last.
Then the adventure really started. We turned off Ruta 34 to our first dirt road to “Las Vegas.” The path was paved with large rocks, adorned with no signs, illuminated with a scant street light, inhabited by an occasional shack, and enveloped in dark. Lots and lots of dark. While I feel I have calmed down considerably about life in general in the last year, this drive was a challenge for the most enlightened version of me. And that’s sorta putting it lightly. I was scared shitless. And this shitless feeling continued as we drove further and further into darkness and the unknown. What if we got lost? We had already lost cell coverage and wifi to guide our navigation system. We could not even call for help if we needed it. What if we got a flat tire? What if we were approached by criminals? What if we could not find the house and could not find our way back to the main road? It was only 6pm but it was pitch black out. We would have to wait at least 10 hours for sunlight. So this is when a lot of self-talk began. Ok, ok, we have the car full of groceries. Worst case scenario we all sleep in the car. We have food and milk and will make it an adventure so the kids won’t be scared. Or we’ll try to get back to the resort town of Manuel Antonio, I know we passed a Marriott. They surely will have a room for us if we can just find our way back.
The local people are kind here – so we stop a few times. We talk to them. We trust that they will know where we are going and that they will be empathetic. And they are. Oh they are. Three stops. Three “hang in there’s”. Three times my heart slowed down, just a little bit, at confirmation that we were on the right path. But the last one – a young family with an infant and a young boy – must have seen my fear and felt my pitter patter. The father hopped on a moto with the young boy and guided us to the street where our house was. In the middle of the night and not asking for anything in return, they led us to our destination. Surprised, and reluctant to accept the 10 dollars I desperately tried to thrust into his hand for their humanity, their intuition, and most obviously, their directions.
We traversed a little more down yet another rocky unpaved path, crossed over a small rushing stream (uh-huh) and with the ahhh! that they use in movies when people see an oasis – we saw lights – and a man waving a flashlight – and opening a gate – and saying Hola. We made a tight left – we pulled into a driveway – we walked into a house even better than the picture. We sat atop the top of a mountain. We persevered to find this slice of heaven hidden in the clouds. And on so many levels, I was reminded how the things worth having – like this – are so worth working for. They are hard. They are scary. They are at times unknown, unpaved, and treacherous – but God sends helpers. I wonder if they will even be there on the way back or if they just appeared exactly when we needed them.
We’ve been here 2 days and already we are going to miss this house. I will miss seeing Lulu run freely through the grassy mountains as he tumbles down hills, pulling his little brother up when the hill is too steep for him to get up on his own. I will miss watching Chookie take off his clothes and jump naked into the infinity pool looking out over the most incredible view we’ve had to photograph with our mind because pictures will never do it justice. I will miss watching Papito jump with full heart into a natural waterfall – climbing rocks with vigor and excitement as he yells “This is awesome.” I will miss John’s serene plunging into the natural pools made by the waterfalls – not wanting to leave – and wishing we could stay all day. I will miss my mom’s joy in everything. Her willingness to do things beyond her comfort zone and her pleasure in her accomplishments afterwards. While it has only been 2 days, these have been an unforgettable 2 days. 2 days that have shown me grit and ability – nature and nurture.
We are at the top of a mountain and yet, I see even bigger mountains beside us and behind us. We have traversed some big mountains in our past. They have been treacherous and steep. We have had helpers. We have made it over many of these mountains. And there will be more mountains ahead and beside us that we will need to climb. I must remember the guideposts. I must remember to check in and to trust that the greatest rewards do not come easy. They do not come at a Marriott on a beach. They come on gravel trails that most will not venture on. They come on paths that most will disregard or discount. People may question the choice. They may doubt the outcome. But yes, they envy the destination – especially when they think it came easily.
I live to feel the personal accomplishment of making it happen. A once in a lifetime adventure. A view to remember on my deathbed. A landscape of what earth looks like from heaven. A peace that comes from living a fully lived life and all that comes with that. A grace that comes from feeling that the universe has granted me opportunities by the armful and that I plan to hold onto them tightly and squeeze everything out of them.
This place is magical because it feels so natural – so untapped – so life-affirming. Surrounded by nature – being woken by birds – being sniffed by insects who have no interest in stinging or biting – walking through paths that naturally provide a vine or a well-placed branch or rock, exactly where you need it and rewards at every turn – a broken iridescent blue butterfly wing – a moss covered boulder – an orange tree. Gifts abound in nature.
The view from this house will probably be different should we cross this road again. There will be more homes in the distance. More development. More people. More hidden gems uncovered and enjoyed/exploited. But we were here – in this moment – on this day. We were here at this moment in time when my soul needed THIS.