Tag Archives: Costa Rica

The Godfathers

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If you ever get invited to a wedding in another culture, you should go.   Without hesitation- just go.  It will be so worth it!  We were honored to be invited to the church wedding of two of the young people that we have been working with the past 3 years.  (The civil ceremony which makes the wedding legal happened a few days before.)  The first thing we attempted to do was to discover the protocol for gift giving.  What kind of gift is appropriate to give?  How much money are guests expected to spend?  Are gifts brought to the ceremony or sent to the house ahead of time?  Is there any such thing as a gift registry?  Those are the questions we asked.

The answers were not so easy to come by.  After asking many people, both gringos and Ticos we learned that there were some upscale stores that do a gift registry.  Our couple had listed a store on their invitations… though often times there is no formal paper invitation to be had since there is no mail service delivered directly to the houses here… because there are no addresses, obviously.  Duh.  However, we were given a hand delivered invitation with the name of a store on it.  My husband proceeded to ask around for the location of the store.  He eventually found a website with no wedding registry information on it, but he did find the phone number.  After many calls to the store which was in a different city, my husband placed an order for a gift and asked for it to be delivered to the couple… after we got directions to the house where they were going to live.

So we thought that we all set.  We were familiar with the city where the wedding would be held and Josh had actually been to the church before, so we were good.  The last time we tried to go to a wedding in another town we spent 6 hours wandering lost in the mountains before we decided that we probably missed the wedding and we should just head home.  Turns out weddings don’t start on time either.  We probably could have made it still.

On our way to the wedding, the store called and asked when Josh wanted to come pick up the gift.  He was shocked!  He told them, “You were supposed to deliver the gift yesterday!  If you deliver it today, no one will be at the house.  They are all at the church!”  So after some bickering back and forth, they agreed to have someone deliver the gift the following day.  Strike one for the wedding guests.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

When we arrived at the church, we were sure the ceremony would not be starting on time.  The groom was standing out front waiting for us.  Josh whispered to me, “Oh I hope they don’t ask me to say anything spur of the moment!”  Well he lucked out, all the groom wanted to know was if we would be the “Padrinos” or Godparents of the newly weds.  My husband said we would be honored, but what do the Padrinos do?  The groom laughed like we were making a joke and said, “Oh, you just pay for the wedding.”  (Costa Ricans love teasing and sarcasm.)  And we all laughed… nervously.  We still had no clue what was expected of us.

As we walked into the sanctuary, I grabbed the sister of the groom and whispered, “Where do we sit and what do the Godparents do?”

She shrugged and pointed to the back of the center aisle.  “Just wait here for instructions.”  She said it didn’t matter which side we sat on.  We chose seats in the middle of one of the sections since we didn’t want to presume that the Padrinos would walk down the aisle or be seated at the front.  We were wrong in our humble assumptions.  Strike two for the gringos.

I was actually surprised that we started within an hour of when the invitation said the wedding would start.  I had heard that often times the time on the invitation is when the wedding preparations start for the bride.  So if the wedding starts at 10:00 am, that means the bride will be getting in the shower at 10:00.  The family might sit down to lunch while she gets ready and by 3:00 pm, everyone will be making their way to the church.  No one really knows when the service will actually start.  And no one is bothered by this except the Americans.

In Costa Rica, there is an M.C. that directs the ceremony calling each person down in their proper order like fashion models walking down the cat walk.  “And now we have the grandmother of the bride being escorted by her grand-nephew.  And now we have the Padrinos, please walk to the front Josh and April.”  We hastily jumped up from our seats, ran up the side aisle and walked back down the center aisle together.  At the head of the aisle I looked to the announcer for directions about which side to sit on or if we were supposed to come up on the stage or stay standing along the front like groomsmen.  He was already on to the next fashion models and we were left awkwardly standing at the front.  We slid discretely down into the front pew.  Strike three for the totally lost Padrinos.

Both sets of parents sat across the aisle from us in the front pew and the sister of the groom sat next to me.  It was all totally disorganized and no one seemed to care.  When we realized that we were the only ones who were bothered by this, we let the blush cool on our cheeks and relaxed our tense shoulders.  “Pura Vida” we whispered to each other.  That is the Costa Rican motto which really means “No worries mon!”  Just go with the flow.

After the ceremony we were uncertain what would happen next.  The announcer did something totally surprising.  He said, “If anyone wants their picture with the bride and groom, just come up on the stage.”  So for an hour the guests pushed and cajoled for a spot in line to have their picture taken with the new couple.  It was like a mad receiving line with iPhone cameras flashing everywhere.  Totally disorganized, and again, no one cared.

We didn’t know if there was a reception somewhere.  We didn’t see any gifts on a table anywhere.  (For the record, I did see some relatives whisk some packages into a car earlier on.)  We loitered around the back of the sanctuary talking with guests and family, waiting for some kind of sign.  When the groom finally said he had to get going, we figured that was the end of it.  We headed home to San Jose… hungry.

I had heard of weddings where there was indeed a beautiful cake on a table, but it turned out that the cake was cardboard and only one little disk at the top was real for cutting for the photo.  It seems that Hollywood has influenced Costa Rican culture in a way where young couples thought they wanted a cake since that’s what they do in the movies, but no one knew what to do with it.  And since cakes can be insanely expensive here (Most people don’t bake or even know how to use their ovens.  They store their Tupperware in their ovens.) they opt for a fake cake that looks good in the pictures.  So I was bracing for no cake.  I was quite shocked at no reception at all.  Strike four for the hungry Godparents.

The lessons we learned at the wedding made us feel honored that our friends had opened this cultural portal for us.  We left feeling proud to have navigated another pot-hole filled mile of culture and for having not embarrassed ourselves too badly by not knowing what was going on.  We were able to “roll with the punches” and we survived.  Plus we learned that not much flusters a Costa Rican, so we should just relax and enjoy the Pura Vida too.

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Hurry! Black Friday has started!

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The idea of Black Friday just hasn’t quiet caught on here in Costa Rica.  I would guess it’s partially because we don’t have a holiday like Thanksgiving to anchor the shopping day to.  So the idea of a big sale day just kind of hangs like a vague nebulous on the calendar sometime around this end of the year.

Even the concept of a “sale” doesn’t ring true here.  The the English words “sale” and “outlet” are used here, but they really just mean “come here and look”.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that prices are any different that before.  So between these two missing links in the culture- lack of a holiday and false cognates in the language- Black Friday just hasn’t clicked here.

Yesterday I saw a true example of this awkward adoption of American culture.  We passed a sign advertising a Black Friday sale from October 18 – November 3.  I wish I could have gotten my iPod out fast enough to snap a picture of the sign.  But in reality, I was laughing too hard to actually hold the camera still enough for a shot.

It’s these kinds of misunderstandings that just tickle my funny bone.  That’s probably why I get such a kick out of the website engrish.com where people post photos of misused, misspelled, or mispronounced English words found on signs and packages and t-shirts around the world.  But be forewarned, I am in no way responsible if you pee your pants while laughing at this website.  Laugh at your own risk… and You’re Welcome.

Rain

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October is the rainiest month of the Rainy Season here in Costa Rica.  I actually love it.  We don’t get fall.  We don’t get first snows.  We don’t get more than a 20 degree change in temperature between “seasons”.  We get rain… and lots of it.  A few weeks ago the news was reporting that in one 6 hour period we got as much as 15 days worth of rain!  I don’t know how to tell you exactly how that compares to 15 days worth of rain in YOUR part of the world, but for us, it was like standing under a water fall for 6 hours straight!

Photo credit: Cia de Foto / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Cia de Foto / Foter / CC BY

I have no problem believing in the story of Noah and a world wide flood after having lived in Costa Rica.  In our first year here, back in 2010, it actually DID rain for 40 days straight.  (I bought a light box after that to fight the seasonal depression of sunless days.)  You should have seen the mud slides and washed away roads around here.  A whole community was wiped out when the side of the mountain slipped out from under a community of shanty houses built on stilts.  It was sad.   Sometimes it rains so hard here that the man hole covers float away!  Water will be gushing UP out of the storm sewers and will pop off the heavy metal covers and sweep them away.  You never want to drive into a deep puddle or you run the risk of landing your front tire in a man hole.

We also have sink holes here.  The soil is very silty and volcanic.  Plus the road construction technique here is basically to just roll out a slab of black top right on the top soil.  There is no substructure under most roads.  So when the heavy rains come, it often washes the dirt away from UNDER the road.  I remember once when we were in language school someone snapped a photo of a car tipped nose down into a newly opened sink hole.  They said when they walked to school the car was fine, but when they came home, the car was totally sunk into the hole!  People were putting a ladder down into the hole to get the driver out since apparently he was just starting up his car when it dropped 8 feet or so.  Right now our main highway is under major construction since a sink hole opened up under a newly erected Bailey Bridge which immediately fell just two days after it’s “grand opening”.  We are familiar with sink holes.

Photo credit: Jonathan Kos-Read / Foter / CC BY-ND

Photo credit: Jonathan Kos-Read / Foter / CC BY-ND

But inspite of all the havoc that the rain wreaks on the country, I find it cozy and comforting.  I don’t mind carrying umbrellas.  I have cute rain boots.  And I always say, “I won’t melt in the rain.  I’m not made of sugar.”  So getting a little damp isn’t a big deal.  I just put on dry socks at home and crank up the dehumidifier in my closet to keep my clothes from getting overly damp and clammy.  (Nothing worse than putting on clammy pajamas and climbing into a bed with damp sheets.)  That dehumidifier was a worthy purchase.

On rainy days I would love to be able to curl up in bed with my Kindle and a cup of Earl Grey tea and just listen to the white noise of the rainy world outside.  I don’t mind the rainy season.  I guess I’m in the right place.

Of Sloths and stuff

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This past weekend was a  holiday weekend in Costa Rica.  Here Columbus Day is called “Day of the Races” or Culture Day.  It was convenient that we have Monday off of school since most of the high school kids were on a retreat with our local youth group.  With the two big kids gone, and only the little one at home with mom and dad, we made spontaneous plans with friends to go to the beach for a night.  The beach is so much more restful when you only have one child to keep an eye on!

Normally packing to go away even for one night is like packing for a trip to the moon.  Not only must I pack for myself… which would only take about 30 minutes if that’s all I had to do… but I must also pack (or check the packing of) 3 kids.  We always bring food to the beach too.  We save money by eating breakfast and lunch picnic style so we can eat dinner at a restaurant… that’s a mother’s luxury.  So food for 5 times however many breakfasts and lunches there will be must be packed.  Then there’s all the swimming gear:  boogie boards, goggles and snorkels, sand toys and diving rings, sun screen, water shoes, beach towels, and inflatables.  Usually it’s all stored in one place between trips, but occasionally someone has taken things out of the stash and we must hunt down a lost pair of goggles or the bottle of SPF 85 that I bought last month.  It’s never as easy as I imagined it would be when we first talked about leaving.

Then because it frequently rains at the beach, we bring things to entertain the kids during rainy afternoons and evenings.  A couple of board games, a bag of Barbies, and our computers to watch a movie or two are the preferred methods of entertainment for the family.  I’m just happy with my Kindle and a chair on the balcony with a jungle view.

Once we get packed into the car, the fun begins.  Just getting out of the city for a while is relaxing.  Seeing the mountains split by the ribbon of highway clinging precariously to cliffs facing deep, cloud filled gorges lined with combed rows of coffee bushes causes me to relax my shoulders and breath in the scenery.  I love where I live.  All the way to the beach there are fruit stands marking the places where little towns touch the high way.  If you need a bite to eat, there are “sodas” or little Mom-and Pop diners accompanying the stands of “Mangas” and “Pipas Frias” all along the way.

crocsEven though we’ve seen them a million times, we always stop at one particular bridge to count the giant salt water crocodiles lounging on the banks of the Tarcoles River.  Then we walk back to the road side restaurant for a plate of Gallo Pinto (rice and beans) before continuing on our way to the coast.  As I sit on the wooden benches watching my children sip fresh fruit juice to wash down their rice and beans, I look up to the palm frond roof and think about how much I love this life.  I hear chickens and a rooster outside the door and an iguana climbs up the tree that serves as a wall for the dining area.  The heat is oppressive and I’m sweating through my sarong which only makes the fresh squeezed fruit juice all the more refreshing.  This is the life!

I can’t believe that I GET to live here.  When I stand on the beach and take in the scope of the bay I fall in love with Costa Rica all over again.   I realize that this is where some people come on vacation, but for me, this is my home.  And I never want to leave.

monkeyOne of our family’s favorite things about the beach is all the animals that we get to see there.  San Jose is closing down it’s zoo sometime this year, because it’s pretty pointless when you can see the same animals in the wild for free.  At the beach we spot howler monkeys, “titi” monkeys and white faced capuchins.  Iguanas the size of dogs sun themselves along the steaming hot pavement of the road.  It pays to keep your eyes on the trees, because sloths are everywhere as well.  This past weekend, we spotted a Momma sloth carrying a baby on her belly.  How cool is that?

slothI feel the stress of the last week melt off my shoulders when I consider all the amazing things about where I live.  I am reminded all over again why I love living here.  A weekend at the beach is just what the doctor ordered.

A Simplified Life

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This week I read a blog that someone wrote about living in Africa.  Her main point was that life is simpler but more complicated at the same time.  For example, she wrote about a man riding his bike down the road loaded up with a 6 piece bedroom set.  Simple, yet way more complicated at the same time.  She said in Africa a dishwaher is a person.  Simple, yet more work.  I related to everything she wrote… except the part about the hippos growling in the river.  I felt like she could have been talking about Costa Rica.

This week I had conversations… electronic conversations… with two professional teacher friends back in the United States.  One teacher friend is teaching in a huge school.  He is one of 6 third grade teachers!  They have 1,400 students in Kindergarten to 8th grade.  I tried to wrap my brain around that.  We have 6 teachers FOR THE ENTIRE PRIMARY DEPARTMENT at our school.  We have 126 students between Kindergarten and 12th grade.  My son is one of two Seniors.  We have one lone 9th grader.

Photo credit: boltron- / Foter / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: boltron- / Foter / CC BY-NC

The other teacher I spoke with was telling me that her district is starting an new 1 to 1 iPad instruction program.  Every kid will get an iPad and the teachers will use technology to teach them.  She has 45 kids with iPads and she’s looking for ways to use the technology.  She asked if we could set up pen pals for her students.  Can you imagine giving an iPad to a Kindergartener?  How many minutes will it take for them to drop it the first time?  How many will be ruined with spilled juice or sticky fingers?  What a waste of money.

So I was talking to my kids about this in the car on the way to school.  I explained that many parents in America wish that their kids had smaller classrooms where their kids could get one on one attention from the teacher, not from an iPad educator.  Many parents wonder why schools don’t just use books to teach kids.  In our school we use a combination of two popular, high quality Christian school curriculums, all book based.  Parents are lamenting the loss of a simpler life.

Can you image a world where the largest class in the whole school is 14 kids?  That’s our school.  Can you picture what a classroom looks like with real books in the desks and on the shelves.  Do you wish your kids had one on one attention throughout the day?  It happens here.  I pointed out to my kids that they have the kind of education that many people in the United States WISH they had for their kids.  Sure they have to wear hot, scratchy uniforms every day, but they have small class sizes, personalized attention from their teachers, and real books to use.  It’s all a matter of perspective. The simple life can be the good life.

Crazy Costa Rica Facts

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Today I’m going to do something that I almost never do.  I’m going to shamelessly promote a friend’s blog.  Adam and Sarah Quinn are friends of ours who are raising their funds to come as missionaries to Costa Rica.  Hopefully they will be arriving next spring.  They have been coming down here on missions trips for ages, and the bug finally bit them, so to speak.  Anyhow, for the past 15 days or so they’ve been posting an interesting fact about Costa Rica on their blog once a day.  I thought those of you who are interested in travel and cross cultural adventures would be amused at some of the details that have captured their attention.  So scoot on over to Adam and Sarah Quinn’s blog and read their Crazy Costa Rica Facts… and feel free to send them a donation if you feel so inspired.  Tell them I sent you .  🙂  Chao!

Can I pay with Gold Doubloons or Beaver Pelts?

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Gold DoubloonThe other night I dreamed that I found a garage sale here in Costa Rica… a real, American style garage sale.  I spent the majority of my dream “shopping” and finding wonderful bargains.  But when I went to pay I discovered that the only money I had in my pocket was a faded, out-of-circulation $2 bill and an old Confederate Bond from the Civil War.  (No, I haven’t watched Gone with the Wind lately.)  Both of those bills might have been worth something just for historical value, but not at a garage sale.  I was disappointed to have to give up my great bargains.

Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m complaining, because I’m not.  I know that there are plenty of people in the world with far less clothing than I have.  But I get so sick of my wardrobe!  We are in our 4th year of this term, and I haven’t bought very many new items for two reasons.  One, clothing is super expensive here- like 2x or 3x the price in America.  A friend of mine found a blouse with a Marshall’s tag still on it.  The tag said the cost was $17.99 but the Costa Rican price was more than $65 for that blouse.  It’s sickening!  Second of all, I have yet to find a store that regularly carries my size.  You know how all those size 1s and 2s and 3s, all those extra small items that get left on the rack in the U.S. and you think, “Of course no one bought this.  Who is really this size except junior high girls and starving super models?”  Yeah, well all those left over wafe-sized clothing items get shipped to Costa Rica where EVERYONE can be a size 2 no matter what your body shape!  So realistically, I don’t fit into the clothing here and I’m as ordinary as vanilla when it comes to body size.

So new clothing is not available or affordable.  And we don’t rotate our closets for the seasons here unless you count pulling out umbrellas and rain boots during the rainy season months.  I see the same clothing in my closet day in and day out.  Things are getting very thread bare and worn.  Moths are eating some things and the sun is fading others.  Seams are fraying and undergarments are literally “holey underwear”… and I don’t mean we’ve converted to Mormonism.  Every time I fold laundry I pray that the Lord would keep us covered for another few months until we go home on furlough.  I remind myself that the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and God provided every day so that not even their sandals wore out!  I need that miracle for our family.

I used to wonder at (and be a little ashamed of) missionaries coming off the field.  They always looked so woefully out of style and faded.  “Shabby.” I thought.  “Why can’t you just buy a fashion magazine and see what the rest of us are wearing before you get off the plane looking as out of place as Micheal J. Fox in Back to the Future.”  Hey McFly!  But now I know.  Now I know that even if they wanted to be in style- it just wasn’t possible.  The money to buy clothing wasn’t there.  The variety of styles and sizes might not have existed in their field.  And clothing had become a utility- serving a purpose without being fashionable.  They had, by necessity, chosen function over form.  Now I understand.

Indirectly on Egg Shells

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Americans usually speak directly.  They tell you what they are thinking.  Particularly Minnesotans value honest communication of facts.  But in Costa Rica, speaking indirectly is the norm.  One of the highest social values here is not offending.  It can become a labrynth of side stepping and hedging just to communicate and get things done here.  But getting things done is not the priority.  Keeping the peace is more important.  To do this, Costa Ricans often use a third party to ask for favors or to make inquiries.

For example, when we were in language school we convinced our conversation teacher to let us have a field trip to a local coffee shop where we would have breakfast together and practice our Spanish conversation skills.  It’s true, we just wanted to get out of the classroom.  The teacher liked our idea, but she asked that WE ask the director for permission.  We thought this was odd, since SHE was the teacher and HE was her boss.  We considered it her responsibility to go through the proper channels to get permission, but she considered this the proper way of asking for favors- sending a third party.

This happened again a few months later.  We had hired a maid for the first few months that we lived here (I didn’t know how to clean a house with tile floors throughout or to get my laundry to dry in this rainy climate.)  After we moved to another house, we didn’t continue using the maid, however another new family hired her.  One day I ran into Suyen (our former maid) and she asked me to speak with her new employer for her.  She said, “I don’t think Mrs. Anderson understood me.  I asked if I could change my work hours and she said No.  Could you ask her if she understood me?”  Suyen was asking me to ADVOCATE for her, not translate for her.  When I spoke with Mrs. Anderson, she said she understood Suyen perfectly and had said No to her request.  She wondered out loud why Suyen would ask me to speak to her.  Then I put two and two together and realized that I had been used as a third party.  Suyen had wanted my leverage of the power of connection with the other American AND she had wanted my protection from receiving a direct No again.

It was hard for me not to feel used in both of these instances.  However, I have since then learned to use this system of communication for my own benefit rather than always feeling like a tool that my friends use for favors.  Now I can skillfully navigate tricky conversations to avoid conflicts too.  For example, when I have a sensitive question to ask someone, I find another person who is willing to speak to the person for me.  Especially someone OFFERS to go talk to the person for me- I accept the offer.  In America we would say, “No, I can do my own dirty work.”  But here my thought is, “I don’t want to offend or embarrass this person, so maybe it’s better to let someone else do it.  They might know how to do it more gently and more appropriately.”

Because the Costa Rican way is to avoid direct confrontation and avoid embarrassing people, it can feel like walking on egg shells all the time.  I breathe a sigh of relief when I manage to escape a potentially confrontational situation.  I don’t particularly LIKE this way of communication, but I’m learning how to use it, how to adapt to it, and how to recognize it.  It’s part of cultural adaptation and it’s what missionaries do.  We try to be all things to all people and if that means walking on eggshells and speaking indirectly- then that’s what I do.

What kind of bird is this?

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When we first moved to CR I sent my inquisitive, science-loving nephew Nathan several nature questions to solve.  For example, we have a particular kind of ground cover whose leaves close up when touched.  I took some video of us touching it (this is NOT my video, btw.) and sent it to Nathan with the question, “what is this?”  Nathan and his mom researched it and came back with the answer, “Mimosa or Shy Plant”.  I bought myself a plant book after that.

My next question was concerning a very noisy and social yellow bird that woke me up every morning.  He was large, yellow and black, and not afraid of people.  I took pictures and sent them to Nathan.  He decided it was a “Social Flycatcher”.  I bought myself a bird book after that.

Once I took a picture of a butterfly that looked exactly like a leaf.  And another time I snapped a picture of a clear butterfly!  We have more species of butterflies here in CR than anywhere else in the world.  We actually export butterflies… well, the cocoons really.  I’ve posted pictures of strange fruits, trees, bugs, flowers, sloths, birds, monkeys, crocodiles, and sunsets.  This country never ceases to amaze me with the wonders of God’s creation!

Here's the butterfly that looks like a leaf.  Amazing Camo!

Here’s the butterfly that looks like a leaf. Amazing Camo!

My last question involved a volcano near our city.  The volcano has a lake in the crater, as many volcanoes do.  The lake changes color from lime green, to grey, to turquoise, to redish depending on the level of heat and acid coming from the volcano vent under the surface of the water.  Scientists monitor the color of the lake and the quality of the steam.  They watch what happens to the vegetation around the crater to give them an indication of when the vapors turn toxic or more sulfuric or dangerous.  So one day in the newspaper there was an article that claimed the the lake in Volcan Irazu had “mysteriously” disappeared.  So I sent Nathan the question, “What happened to the lake?”  Turns out it really is no mystery.  It’s something that happens on occasion.  We had had a particularly dry rainy season and then a crack had developed in the edge of the volcano crater which caused the water to drain down into the volcano for a time.  After some hard rains, the lake was back again, cooling off the volcano again like a natural wet blanket.

A young Taylor looking down into the crater lake at Volcan Irazu.  The lake is actually really far down below.

A young Taylor looking down into the crater lake at Volcan Irazu. The lake is actually really far down below.

So here’s my most recent nature question.  I’m going to ask all of you readers too to see if anyone can come up with the answer.  We saw this bird up in the cloud forest of Monteverde.  I think it might be a kind of toucan, but I can’t find it in my bird book.  What kind of bird is this?  There is no prize for the right answer.  Just the intrinsic satisfaction of being right.

What kind of bird is this?

What kind of bird is this?

Where I learned something about myself

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A few weeks ago my husband and I went away for the weekend, just by ourselves.  I think I can count on one hand the number of times that we have left our children and had a weekend getaway.  We have been in full time ministry for the last 20 years and we’ve been parents for more than 17 of those years.  Weekend getaways have been few and far between.  But this year we started the year with putting two dates on the calendar before any others.  We blocked out a week vacation for a “stay-cation” at the end of summer and we blocked out a weekend away just for us.

22 Kilometers (just under an hour) of winding, climbing dirt road.

22 Kilometers (just under an hour) of winding, climbing dirt road.

We chose a new location to explore on our getaway.  We took the very, VERY bumpy and long road up to Monteverde Cloud Forest.  As we climbed up and up the mountainous dirt road separating the coastal highway from the high-altitude forest preserve, I enjoyed the scenery and the ever changing flora without the bickering of siblings and the tired, whining demands of children behind me.  We played the music WE wanted to hear.  We stopped and took pictures where WE wanted to stop.  We bought and ate the gas station snacks that WE wanted to eat.  It was lovely.

Up, up in the clouds it was cool and damp.  It was the most Fall-like weather I’ve ever experienced in the tropics.  This Minnesota girls who was starting to miss the seasonal changes got her “fall fix” and was happy.  Our hotel was at the very end of the road, just before the entrance to the National Park.  It was quiet up there.  I liked that… a lot!

The little town of Santa Elena which services the tourists coming to the cloud forest was a kitschy little collection of souvenir shops, typical Costa Rican restaurants, and “Extreme” tourism offices.  If Wisconsin Dells were transported to the Swiss Alps, that would describe Santa Elena and Monteverde.  It was cute.  After all, who doesn’t love “Reptile World” and souvenir magnets?  We ate at an amazing restaurant built into a tree.  We pretended that the Swiss Family Robinson had opened a restaurant in Costa Rica.  The food was so tasty that we went back for dinner the next night too!

Eating at the Tree House Restaurant... the original Rainforest Cafe, I suppose.

Eating at the Tree House Restaurant… the original Rainforest Cafe, I suppose.

We decided to skip the zip lining adventure since we’ve done that a million times.  And we didn’t pay to go into the National Park.  It’s been our experience that animals pay no attention to the boundary lines of parks.  They go where the food is, hence, where the people are.  So we skipped that.  We took a very disappointing night hike with an Israeli family who talked incessantly and loudly, successfully warning any animals of our presence.  The best part about the night-hike was the gigantic tarantula we found in a dead tree stump.  Note to self:  if you’re ever lost in the jungle in the night, do NOT place your back against a dead tree unless you want to be instantly covered in prehistoric sized insects of all varieties.

After the successful ATV tour through the cloud forest.

After the successful ATV tour through the cloud forest.

But the absolute best part of the weekend was that I drove an ATV (4 wheeler) for the first time!  Josh had gone before a few times, but it was my first time.  I mainly agreed to do it for my husband’s sake.  I was the only girl in the group.  I was super nervous and cautious at first.  But once I got the hang of it, I could keep up with the men no problem.  And guess what.  It was a BLAST!  I was so proud of myself for learning to drive it and for being brave.  I really enjoyed it and will definitely be doing that again!

We also spent plenty of time just reading quietly, examining birds through binoculars while sitting in our front window, and just being together… without kids!  It was a wonderful weekend getaway.  We came home feeling refreshed and ready for the next challenges that life and ministry would bring our way.  We decided we need to do that more often.  It was lovely.