Life was good before I left. I was working every day. Making plenty of money. Doing fun things in my spare time. The market for printed publications wasn’t what it used to be so I moon-lighted on a snake farm handling a couple hundred foot-long-plus boas to bring in some extra cash, but it was something new. I enjoy new.
When the opportunity to move to Costa Rica on a house-sitting gig came up, I almost blew it off as way too off the wall. But, I’d left the country once before as a teen and lived for nine months with a family in Finland. I met the daughter in second period and she convinced me I could do it. All I had to do was save up enough money to buy a round-trip ticket. There would be adults to handle the heavy stuff should it arise. It didn’t. I’d gone on faith that it would be an experience I’d always remember knowing that I could always pack my bags and go home if I wanted to. It was.
This time I would be alone and I needed a lot more than $700 in airfare. I made contact with a couple—trust-worthy people I’d never met who promised to pick me up at the bus station. They also lived in the small, rural pueblo where I would be staying for three months, six if it turned out I could handle it. There was no proper address and no guarantee that the place I was going even existed. The owners had a home in Alaska—also with no mailing address. It was about this time I realized that my emergency contact of 10 years, wouldn’t be anymore. My friends kindly warned me about how things could go for a single woman in a third world country traveling alone. But, none of that bothered me much. I’m a prepare for the worst, plan for the best kinda gal. So I did.
I had already sold, donated or packed up almost everything I owned after the divorce and the move back to a one bedroom apartment in my home town. I brought the necessities: my laptop for work, my journal and camera for chronicling my adventures, 30 pounds of stereo equipment for listening to my favorite music and radio programs online and some food I was told I would not be able to find there. One must have priorities.
During a 10-hour layover in the Mexico airport of all places, I found myself working on a tight deadline for a publication that was due the next day. The feature article depicted cartel crimes in a graphic center spread I would have hidden from public view even if I didn’t think it was for my own safety. Mass be-headings had been taking place in certain parts of the country. I wished I would’ve paid more attention to where. I felt a little bit like, well if I can make it out of Mexico I’ll be okay.
Despite the fact that the only Spanish I spoke was what I learned on Sesame Street and from the signs around town I managed to get by even when I had to go to the ER for severe stomach pains. Turns out there is a universal language for extreme pain. They fixed me right up for only $200 and gave me some injections to use at home. That was new.
To communicate, I resorted to a sort of quasi sign language mixed with charades and even got a few laughs when I threw my arms in the air and exclaimed, “Cuidado! Piso mojado!” (Caution: Wet Floor) on one of my first visits to the grocery store. The thing about not speaking the language of the people around you is that you can begin to feel very detached. I might go for days without speaking a word of English out loud. It was very quiet in that way. Nature on the other hand was louder than Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street outside my window. I felt like an alien on a distant planet most of the time.
I had been practicing a regular routine of exercise and archery for about a year. I kept that up to maintain some semblance of normalcy and added flute and Spanish to that when I was blessed with some extra time. It kept my mind and body busy in the middle of the rain forest jungle I now called home. Between walks and work and preparing my meals from whatever I could scavenge or identify, I had little idle time. What time I did have, I spent meditating or writing. It was a good life. A perfect life. Then one day I woke up and realized that this is how it would be until the day I died if I wanted it to be. Instead of being elated, I dreaded the seemingly never-ending decades to come.
How old would I live to be? How much longer could I do this alone? I ruminated over the fact that every single day I would have to continue these same tasks or invent new ones to constantly engage my brain, keep my body fit and find fuel to keep it running smoothly. Not to mention spiritual and emotional well-being. Luckily, those seemed to follow along pretty effortlessly in this “leisurely” lifestyle.
I realized that this life required way more dedication and effort than I ever imagined. And that is was all up to me. Forever.
So every day I rose with the sun and every day I swept the floor so bug carcasses wouldn’t pile up and attract ants. And every day I practiced working hard at life the way I had worked hard at my job the way I believed one should. I ate only the best possible food combinations for my body type. I learned to cook with local produce. I brushed and flossed at least twice a day. I got plenty of sunshine. I interacted with people in the community once a week at the salon in the center of town and every day before sunset, I forced myself to go to the plaza to watch the people gather for their end of day rituals. I counted on the spontaneous soccer matches, the school children in their pressed uniforms laughing on the sidelines, the old people out for their evening strolls to remind me that life is fun.
My own daily rituals were becoming little more than coping mechanisms. I’d had some setbacks since arriving in paradise. A seven-year publishing contract with a dozen clients expired. And “back home” in the states my youngest sister was addicted to drugs—her ten-year-old daughter’s life virtually hanging in the balance.
But, life goes on when every day is another perfect day in paradise and I hardly noticed that I had pushed myself to the very edge.
I did notice how the weather seemed to gradually go from perfect for a morning walk in the sun to topping out at 90 degrees with 90% humidity. I felt like the proverbial frog in a pot of water and it was about to boil.
As it happened, just when I thought I couldn’t possibly take the heat any longer and I began to wonder if I had the strength to go on, relief rolled in on a pocket of air so dense they named our town after it: Tronadora – place of thunder. The vibration so loud it blows anything that you might have been holding right out of your mind—and you with it.
After that, the sky opens itself up to reveal it is actually made of water. Just as your weary heart suspected as you struggled to hold your teary eyes open under the weight of the heavy air. The only sound that tops the thunder is the rain literally as hard as nails on metal roof tops. You think you’ve been somewhere you can’t even hear yourself think but you haven’t until you’ve been here.
As the storm passes and returns and passes again it opens you up too. After you are weary of trying. After you’ve tired of waiting. After you think you just might give up. It reminds you that this too will pass. But first, it forces you to sit down because there’s nothing you can do about it and just listen to the rise of its crescendo. Trusting that creation always follows out of destruction.
At some point you rise and go outside again, the beams of sunlight and the cool droplets on your skin mixing with the slightest breeze. It’s so comforting you can’t think how you didn’t notice it before. But it’s been there all this time just waiting for you like an unseen voice-mail from a faraway love or your best friend or your kids. And then it settles in and sets up the tempo for the remainder of the day.
This is what has been the most surprising to me. That of all the virtues I had to possess to get here—strength, courage, fortitude. It’s turned out to be the ones that require no real action on my part that have required the most of me. Patience, forgiveness, faith. That was all I ever really needed to pack.