Monthly Archives: March 2013

Claudio

I didn’t think about death before Lucy died but after her early death, I started feel my own mortality as if it was just around the corner. The cyst on my knee could be cancer and I am done for. I saw myself going down in a plane or being hit by a car.

I could hear the tragic story being told, “Her friend died from cancer and within a year, she died too.” The other person would say, “Oh, that’s so sad. Then. What’s for lunch?” The problem with death, is when you are mourning it, there is hardly anyone to turn to, because life is for the living only.

It feels lonely but who could understand. Even my husband had trouble understanding. I was annoyed at people at times, especially empty exchanges. Inside I was singing the Smiths, “Why do I spend valuable time with people who don’t care if I… live or die.” I started to realize how anti-climactic my own death would be and that made me resent life. Some people would be sad for a little while. They would say few nice things about me, but then they would say, “I have to go to the bathroom,” because the living can’t help but live.

At Lucy’s shiva, her Dad said, “Now we all have to be better for Lisa.” At first I thought that meant I had to become a better person, but that was too hard to become. Then I thought that I might have to achieve something, and I am not good with that kind of pressure. Now I just think I have to feel better. I have to get better at living and try not focusing on the tragedy of dying.

We are all dying, if we see it or not. To worry about death is to be a clock that is afraid of the battery running out. It just happens and none of us know when or how or why. All we can do is try hard to be happy; it’s difficult enough.

There was one waiter here at the hotel; his name was Claudio. He was friendly with smart eyes and a bright smile that greeted us every morning. We instantly connected and he told us bits of his life in our spare time. Stories about his girlfriend who was twenty-one and ten years younger than him, about how jealous she was of him and how he was scared of moving in with her but already planned it. He was leaving our hotel to study in San Jose. He made jokes and remembered to get me my decaf coffee. Every time we left the hotel, we bumped into Claudio in surrounding towns. Today was the last day we would see him and we said goodbye and wished him lots of luck in his studies and life.

“Well, see you!” he said warmly but catching himself because it was doubtful that we will see him, “maybe in the next life,” he smiled.

“Yeah,” I said, “see you, Claudio.”

Something about the way he said that made me think that I really might see him in the next life. And if I see Claudio, then I will see Lucy for sure.

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Today

Today started with another tour. The boat took us to Corcovado National Park. People are strange when you are a stranger. We went with a couple about our age and two men, whose relationship we couldn’t figure out. I just wanted to keep to ourselves. They were all Spanish speakers and the guide with a big mole on his neck and a single grey hair that curled out of it, had to exert a lot of effort to translate the tour into English for us. And I had to exert a lot of effort to pay attention, instead of staring at that single grey hair.

Before the boat ride was over, I could not help but fall into conversation with the couple, Evgenia and Yanis.  It turned out that she was from Argentina and he was from Cypress and they were living in London and just got married in Argentina in a week long wedding. After that, it got interesting. She told us stories from the wedding and of life in London, the people, the years she spent in Barcelona and how she met her husband in Spain.


By the end of the hike, we were a team of six, bonded together through just one day, swimming happily in the waterfall of the jungle. The two men, both Eduardos, ended up being from the capital, San Jose. One Eduardo was a pediatrician, and the other Eduardo, half the first Eduardo’s age, was a hair dresser. I thought they were unsocial at first, but it turned out that they just had trouble speaking English. After only few hours, our barriers were broken and what seemed strange, was now warm and natural.

After the hike, Yura and I packed a small backpack and headed to the beach. We had only one day left and we wanted to soak up every moment. The beach was especially peaceful and we floated for hours in the warm waves of the Pacific, watching the sun slowly going down.

When we got back, it was time for our fancy h’orderves hour, which annoyed me just yesterday. But tonight, the twelve-year-old boy from Chicago ran up to us and told us that the fish they were serving was caught by him on his fishing trip with his brother and father that morning. He was so excited that everyone would be eating his fish.
“Let me show you pictures!” He said, taking out his digital camera.
It was delicious.

The drunk owner of the hotel, confused the days and made us Easter dinner today instead of Sunday. Maybe he was also confused about the holiday because it turned out to be an unexpected Thanksgiving with turkey and gravy, sweet potatoes and all the fixings. It was a family style meal and suddenly the people of the hotel were no longer strangers, we passed the dishes, laughed and shared like a family. All the young kids moved away from their parents and made new friends, sharing their experiences with wide eyes, as kids should.

And for me, it was a gentle reminder of how thankful for life’s unexpected paths that lead us to these moments, when it comes together in this inexplicable life.

I may not become friends with anyone in this place, but it doesn’t matter. “We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.” – Ann Frank.

Searching for Paradise

Today is day is day seven of our adventure through the jungles of Costa Rica. We landed in Drake Bay few days ago and our hotel was supposed to be the more beautiful one of the the two places we stayed. It had great reviews on trip advisor and a big price to match them. We haven’t been in Costa Rica for a while, so we might as well stay in a nice place, I thought.  I should know by now that the more expensive places are for tourists and the less expensive are for travelers. After quickly realizing our blunder, we asked to leave early and stay three nights instead of five.

“Sure, no problem, I understand,” (I got so excited and held my breath), “but I can’t refund you for those days.” Said the tall skinny manager that reminded me of the evil sorcerer in Aladin. Then he smiled an evil smile.

“Well, if there is something you can do, let us know, please.” I pleaded with my eyes and Yury stayed behind me for support.
The next morning he said:
“What did you decide?”
As if we were just going to leave the place and stay somewhere else while paying for his expensive room and all the meals. I got so annoyed.

The last place we stayed, we made friends right away. There was a yoga group and they let us join them for all of their yoga classes and surfing. We had plenty to talk about at dinner time and even had competitive ping pong night before we left. As we were leaving they all hugged us and we took a group shot after exchanging emails. 

I doubt there is going to be any of that going on here. Our conversation runs dry quickly. We have the most in common with an older couple. The wife is in her late sixties and the husband is in his late seventies. We tried talking to one younger couple, but when the guy said with an earnest look on his face, “I really like it here, but the no-TV-thing is hard,” he lost me. They are nice people, but just not our people.

This morning we went on a boat tour of the mangrove. I should know by now, that I don’t like tours. I like adventures. There is a sweet beach that is accessible by a wooded trail and I would spend every day there and be perfectly happy. But we have tours to do. Our tour-guide today was also one of the managers of the hotel, not the evil one but his short pudgy sidekick. The boat moved through the mangroves stopping every time, we saw an animal, then everyone in the boat photographed the animal and we moved on. It was as if we were doing a checklist: Sloth, check. Scarlet Macaw, check. Boa in the tree, check. Blue Heron, check. Tiger Heron, check. Capuchin Monkeys. Squirrel Monkeys. White Ibis, check. He even stopped for an iguana which you can see practically everywhere.

Yura and I laughed. He made a joke about us taking someone to Prospect Park and saying:
“Look squirls!” Then showed them the pigeons, the rats and then the roaches. Most of the animals just live everywhere here and if we just left the hotel and walked around, we could see them in the trees. The scarlet macaws and toucans were flying all around us, as we did yoga on the large platform high up in the woods.


The food too. Everyone here raves about it, but basically they are just imitating american food to make everyone feel “comfortable.” Costa Rican food is so simple and delicious, it does not have any rich sauces, it’s just good food. Here the food is fancy and over-sauced.


We have two more days and we will enjoy them, mostly by playing ping pong (which we got lucky to have at both of our hotels), going to the little beach and making the most of our tours.
On our mangrove tour today, we stopped in a small town on Siempre river. There was a hotel in town called, “Poor man’s paradise.” We laughed, but sometimes poor man’s paradise is closer to paradise then a rich man’s.

Welcome to the Jungle

I couldn’t sleep last night.  It has been a nightly struggle for me lately.  When I finally dozed off, I dreamt about Lisa.  She was with me.  My conscious mind told my subconscious dream mind to take notes.  In the dream, I was showing someone a video of me taken after Lisa’s death.  In the video she was walking and talking with me casually but I did not know it when it was happening, it was only on video that it was revealed that she was with me all along.

There is no real recovery after your friend dies.  The only solace is memory loss.  Sometimes I want to forget that she was even there because remembering our friendship is too painful.  But then she comes back in my sleep and I remember how much I miss her.  Even in this jungle, she is with me.

I wanted to stay in the dream and continue to talk with her but suddenly the jungle started to rumble.  I can say that now because I am in the jungle and I understand what it means for it to rumble after last night.  This omnipresent sound seemed to come from all directions, it seemed far away and very close at the same time.  Someone described this sound before but I felt lucky that I got to experience the full girth of the howler monkeys.

“it sounds like a giant jungle drain,” Yura said in our pitch black room.

It was a jungle siren.  Going on and off.

We woke up at 6:15 am for our surfing lesson.  I was exhausted, soar from yesterday’s lesson, but kept going.  I caught some long waves and I was satisfied.  At 10 am we had Yoga.  The Yoga deck was in the middle of the forest facing the ocean.  It is perched high up in the trees so I could see nature moving as I stretched my sore muscles.   We spotted Toucans and Spider monkeys making their way through the trees.  Our timing was great because we came here at the same time as a surfing/yoga retreat so we’ve been surfing and doing yoga with a great group of people.

“You know what I don’t like about living in NY?  People put health second and their accomplishments first.”  Yura said to me on our walk back from Yoga.

“You are right.  Even when you have a little cold, accomplishments stop to matter.”  I said, but I was still thinking about Lisa and how nothing she accomplished mattered after she got sick.

Only two days in, and we can already feel our bodies attuning to this jungle.  It’s 8:43 pm and most people are asleep here, ready to rise with the sun.

We are all here

Today we finally got to Osa Peninsula.  Assencion, whose short name was Chan, picked us up from the tiny little airport, which was actually just one air strip leading straight out from the beach for the few ten-seater planes that arrive to Port Jiminez three times a day.  As we drove we saw capuchin monkeys lying in the trees above.  They were still, it was still 7:20 am.

“They had a big fiesta last night, now they are tired.”  Assencion said in Spanish and somehow I understood.  I wondered how often he recycled that joke, but was happy that he didn’t spare us, because it was a good one.  I envisioned this wild monkey fiesta.  He also explained in Spanish that  these cute monkeys who normally eat fruit, also eat toucans and iguanas here in the jungle.

“They are all here,”  Yura said on our drive.

“Who?”  I asked.

“All the animals.”  He was right.

When we got to our hotel, time seemed to slow down to a crawl.  We met a family who was on their way out that day.  A divorced mom with her three children and a girlfriend of her son.  From NY City, of course.  The most friendly ambassador was her youngest, an eleven year old son, Nathan, who over breakfast gave us a full account of what to do and how everything worked in Osa.

“We went on a tour and I ate termites.”  He said, as a matter-of-factly.  “They taste minty.”
“You should be a little more dramatic with your story.”  Yura advised him jokingly.  “Tell people how they were crawling around in your mouth of something.”  We were instant friends and he sat telling us more stories as Yura and I played ping pong on the patio by the pool.  Yes, the picture of a ping pong table on Trip Advisor was a huge selling point for me, and we got right to it.

“The drinks are great here,” he said, “every night I ask Julian, the bartender just to surprise me.”  He was a NY City kid for sure.  Gregarious and serious about his opinions.  We laughed.

In my short walk around the property after breakfast I saw a huge herd of spider monkeys making their way from tree to tree.  Lots of them were carrying their babies on their back.  I wondered if the moms worried about the babies falling down.  They had to hold on pretty tight.  On the way from one tree to another, each stopped to grab a banana from a tree next to which I was standing.  Each looked at me with human apprehension, grabbed the banana and kept moving.

We napped, we lunched and then it was time for our surf lesson.

It was taught by a guy named Pollo, which means chicken.  Pollo just wanted to give us a sweet taste of how good it feels to ride a wave.  He got us out there and pushed each one of us onto perfect waves, which we surfed for as long as we could paddle out.

We thanked Pollo and told him we would see him in the morning.
“Pura Vida,” I said to Pollo as we were leaving.  I was remembering my fun Costa Rican adventures, when Pura Vida was the feeling that made me fall in love with this country.  “Do you still use that expression or has it gone out of style?”

“Yes we do,” said Pollo, “this is still very much the land of Pura Vida.”

When we got back to the hotel, Julian offered to make us a drink, as we floated our exhausted bodies in the pool.

“Do you know what you want?”

“Surprise us.”