Feathered Aspen

Oh Costa Rica Part 1


Finding time to write with three children ages five and under is challenging.  Reading is a bit easier.  I have a kindle, and I’m able to read as I’m putting children to sleep or laying next to them, hoping they’ll rest for just a little longer.  I just finished Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which was really good, and now I’m starting The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.  I’ve never been particularly snotty about my taste in books, but recently, I’ve been craving more literary works…  I think it’s craving the same sort of exercise for my brain that I find so addicting in podcasts.

In the past, I spent a lot of time writing as I traveled.  Every evening, I’d write what we had done that day, and for me, that’s been one of the best parts of traveling.  It’s been the best souvenir and also a good opportunity to give shape to my experiences, especially the less glamorous parts…  Having a space where I can spin these shitty, smelly, sticky, disappointing, and uncomfortable experiences into funny tales makes them feel so much more worthwhile, makes them so much more tangibly part of the journey.

On this trip though, it’s been hard if not impossible to carve out those hours.  I know this is just a stage in life we find ourselves in right now.  I have a four month old nursing baby that co-sleeps with me, and though she’d become a fabulous solo-napper back at home, she wants me by her side in these new places.  Traveling with Luna feels very much a full time job.  There are fewer safe spots to set her down throughout the day, and so she’s being held (or slept next to) pretty much 24/7.  In those moments when I’m not holding Luna, I do have the feeling of needing a break, but I’m also drawn to snatching those moments that I can with my older two, feeling a bit starved for their companionship.

The trip has been incredible, but for lack of writing, it feels a bit shapeless to me.  I’m left with impressions and vast swaths of time that feel somewhat indistinguishable.  I think the ocean and beaches in particular give me that time-warp-y sense.  I do wonder if beach bums and sea-side dwellers are more philosophical than the rest of us.  For me, every day feels so similar to the last, with the endless waves, two high tides and two low…  The ocean beckons and then it’s sand and salt stick to you for hours afterwards.  The sun innervates and leaves me useless for anything more than laying in a hammock or heroic attempts at cooking, eating, cleaning up, and bathing my children.  Cocktails at noon seem reasonable, and I worry that I could wear one of those frat-y t-shirts that announces, “I’ll have coffee until noon, then I’ll switch to liquor…”  (or something like that).

In those long, meandering walks along the surf, I collect small, round white shells with a delicate spiral.  Sometimes the center of the spiral has worn away from the sand and the waves, and I fantasize about turning them into buttons, threading them into works of embroidery.  The people are stunning.  Everyone is a deep shade of bronze, with tattoos snaking up their thighs or down their backs and long hair with natural, ocean-given ombres.  The swimsuits cover very little, and I gain a newfound appreciation for these brazen booties; they make the swimsuit that came in the mail for me two weeks before we left barely worth mentioning, though at the time I couldn’t fathom wearing it.

Everyone is young and beautiful.  They lounge on the sand in groups or embracing.  As evening falls, they jog out into the waves with their boards.  Crouched beneath the swells or bobbing past the last break, they pay homage to each sunset.  Back on the beach, people light bonfires and yogis assume their final asanas.

All week, we listen to Xavier Rudd.  He is the perfect soundtrack for this remote and secluded beach.  I first heard “Follow the Sun” during shavasana at the end of a yoga class, and it was about as close to a spiritual experience as I get these days.  I’ve been wondering what the sun is ever since, and I couldn’t help but assume that these bronzed beach bums must all know.

Our casa is perfect.  A three minute walk from the single, dusty road that runs through Santa Teresa, and 200 ft from the beach, it’s location could not be better.  Above, a canopy of green shields us from the sun’s harshest rays.  From the second floor where there are two bedrooms with french doors overlooking a balcony, we can see the ocean, and the sound of the surf and the breezes permeate the air.  Below, there’s an open-air dining and living area with a kitchen and a little pool.

Each day, we wake up – Joshua slightly before us to run – and prepare breakfast.  We drink our smoothies laying in the hammock, facing the ocean.  We journey out to the beach, combing the sand for shells and brightly colored pieces of plastic.  Joshua and I take turns diving into the waves.  Initially, the girls are scared (Lu moreso than Lily), but after we have an afternoon of playing in tidepools and sitting in the gentle waves provided by a rocky break, we have a breakthrough, and both girls gain more confidence playing in the water up to their knees, laughing when the tide pushes and pulls at their feet.

I run nearly every day and our sleep is deep, our bodies humming with the roar of waves, wind, and some nights, rain.  One morning, I do yoga, and though I enjoy it, I’m outclassed and the two hours it takes me from door to door feels like too much to ask the family.  I’d like to go once or twice more before we leave, but the daily practice I had fantasized about seems improbable.

Santa Teresa has the most beautiful swath of beach (more than three miles long) I’ve ever seen.  The sand is soft and there are millions of delicate shells, spit forth from the ocean like little jewels.  The green jungle meets the beach, and in the branches, howler monkey jump precariously from limb to limb.  Hermit crabs crawl everywhere, carrying their gorgeous homes along with them.  Mangrove crabs with purple bodies and red legs freak out Lu.  (Everything freaks out Lu.)  At night, vampire bats swoop through the open air dining area of our place, and I shudder, trying to keep my extreme distaste and fear from the girls.

We venture out to the road for groceries and bottled water, but then we scurry back to our little paradise, sweating from the humidity and blazing heat inland.  Here, the breeze and the trees provide a sanctuary from the Costa Rican summer.

To get here, we spent half a day traveling, departing our hotel in San Jose at 6 am, boarding a bus at 7 am, a ferry at 9 am, and then another bus and then another.  By the time we arrived, we were covered in sticky sweat and tears and drool from my teething, very very crabby four month old baby.  Oh god.  It was horrible.  On the ferry, 200 Ticos were looking at me like, for god’s sake, please shut that baby up.  I tried everything, nursing, dancing, pacing…  Nothing helped.

San Jose was more fun than I had expected.  We spent three nights there but only one full day.  Even in the city, I was astonished by all of the green.  Weston and I have gotten into house plants recently, and everywhere I looked, I saw a houseplant I recognized but in it’s full glory and super-sized.  Spider plants as big as smart cars, staghorns as big as birthing balls (haha), birds of paradise with the most stunning red and yellow blooms.  Snake plants lining the sidewalks, palms of every shape and size swaying in the breeze…  Hibiscus and begonias, air plants floating through the rivers and sprouting up along every tree trunk.  Bleeding hearts and pothos, the ‘swiss cheese’ plant and the wandering jew.  Ivy draped over trees and walls and fences, vines trailing everywhere.  Ferns basking in the shade, and bamboo providing privacy.  Fiddle leaf trees and mangos fallen in the street.

On our full day, we visited the Children’s Museum, and we had a wonderful time.  My favorite part was the rooms they had recreated to look like homes from 100, 200, 300 and even 400 years ago.  The girls timidly watched at first, eyes wide and ears full of spanish, but by the time we left, they were weary from playing.  After, we went and bought our bus tickets for the next day, and from there, we walked up to the neighborhood where the kings of coffee had built beautiful and ostentatious mansions.  More affluent neighborhoods reminded me of New Orleans, but the poorer neighborhoods reminded me how far we were from the United States, deep in the heart of Latin America.  We stopped in a cafe and ate, and then we walked home in a downpour.  A couple local women looked askance at us, dragging our children through the rain, but really, we weren’t dragging them.  We were all laughing, taking a shower on the sidewalk, breathing in all that oxygen, and reveling in the warm rain.

After a nap, we walked through the beautiful public gardens, a large market, and then stopped at a grocery store for some snacks for the road.  We ended at a restaurant which was delicious and pricey and far too hip for three children.

Getting to San Jose could have been a nightmare, but though we arrived bone-weary, it wasn’t so bad.  The girls kept tears to a minimum, and they all actually got a bit of sleep.  We left Denver around midnight, arrived in Fort Lauderdale around 6 am, and then boarded another flight, arriving in Costa Rica around noon.  Thankfully, the parenting gods were with us, and we were ushered past the impossibly long immigration line to the one for the infirm and very, very young.

Some notes I’ve jotted down in my journal:

Lily Says: “Adamos!” (Instead of vamos!) “Calm down!” (Whenever someone starts to get upset or laughs too loudly.) “That’s so creepy!” (When she means so crazy.)  “I think I see a monkey!  And a boat!  This is getting really exciting for me!!!”  “My song is The Rainbow song”  “We need to find research rocks!” “What are you proud of today?”  “I don’t like having yummy blood.”

Lu Says:  “Two!  I can have this one and you can have that one!”  “Are they bad guys?!” (All the time.)  “I want plantains!” “Where Henrie go?” “I wanna see Freyja! I wanna touch her!” “Wrap me up like a pepper.”  “Too scary!” (About many, many things.)

Joshua asked boo:  what would you do if you saw a snake? She earnestly, seriously responded, “I step on it.”  “Bee bah!” (When she gets hit by a wave or jumps in the pool.)  “My song my song my song!” (Whenever she hears Jack Johnson.)

Parents Say:  “Sweet and strong voice” “Give good, get good.  Give bad, get bad.”  “Pull back.”

Stressful experiences:  eating in hip restaurants with multiple children, $$$ meals, staying in a hotel where noise carries, walking along the road with no sidewalks and non-existent shoulders, vampire bats, the ferry ride from hell, the sweaty, sweaty bus ride from Cobano to Santa Teresa, worrying about the girls’ coughs on the journey to CR (all of them had deep, chesty coughs, but thankfully, they were all gone by the second or third day in ST.

Wonderful experiences: walking through coffee mansions, downpour, sound of waves, little pool, howler monkeys, tidepools, beachcombing, runs on the beach, the temperature in San Jose, sleeping with the doors open, flowers in Lily’s crown braid, sweet world traveler Lily on the bus (she was so casual!  Like, I’ve been doing this all my life…  No biggie.), Lily carrying her little backpack with her little owl tucked in everywhere… So cute.  Lu holding hands and just adoring her big sister.

People:  Michelle and Natalie from DC, Sean and Kriya expats living in Dominecal, Poncho, the family from Atlanta, the older parents with a three month old from Rome.

New words:  cascarra, latex, perdido, botarle…

Interview with Lu:  What’s your favorite part of the trip so far?  “Hiking.”  What else?  “Getting my ball.”  (A bouncy ball.)  What do you like to eat in CR?  “Plantains.”  What has been scary in CR?  “Bad guys.” (?) What has been fun?  “Swimming!”  What has been hard?  “Um… Wood!”  (Literalist.)  What do you want to do tomorrow?  “I want snacks!  Right now!”


Well, that’s all I have time for right now, but hopefully I’ll be back to write a bit about our time in Manuel Antonio (and then Monteverde and finally Samara.).  Be well! xoxo

Author: Ellie

Wife, Mom, Adventurer...

6 thoughts on “Oh Costa Rica Part 1

  1. Very enjoyable read. I look forward to hearing more! Also thanks for menu ideas. Will soon be able to get fresh fruit and veggies here and that is a treat! Be safe and happy! Love to you all.

  2. I’m enjoying the details. Love hearing what the girls are saying. Glad the coughs are gone! Take care!

  3. See earlier comments about travel writing. Really. Seriously.

  4. HOW DO YOU DO IT!!? how do you make time to do all this writing? i’m only now finding the time to read it!

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