COSTA RICA LIVING — I came to Costa Rica to live and be happy, bringing all the good advice I knew: “Be here now. Live in the moment. Don’t worry, be happy.” One can do that anywhere, but surely with more ease in a tropical paradise. What I found is that it’s not easy and you’ve got to live it to learn it. But don’t despair there is ample opportunity. In Costa Rica the lessons are unavoidable.

Back in the “civilized world” life is organized and predictable. It tends to hum along on schedule, according to plan. In Costa Rica there is no plan – or if there was it is long forgotten, having been changed six times and then interrupted by a landslide, earthquake or traffic jam. If you don’t learn to relax you go crazy or you simply go home, back to wherever you came from. If you want to stay you’ve got to cultivate the right attitude.

Flood-2008-Rainy-SeasonHow do you see life – as something to create, prove and accomplish? Is it a series of challenges, each one bigger and more difficult than the last? Is it for you or against you? Is it a time of learning in preparation for the even better “next” life? Perhaps it is all of these things and yet none.

What if the purpose of life is simply to be lived? Imagine that! No need for constant stress and deliberation. No need to plan, control and figure it all out. Just live life and while you’re at it, enjoy the ride.

“Hogwash!” you say, “That’s absolutely unrealistic.”

Don’t think you can manage it? Give it a try. Better yet, like me, live someplace that compels you to.

Is Costa Rica the place for you?

I see life as a lovely ride. It’s a magical mixture of maladies, monotony and miracles. The best thing about it is you never know what’s going to happen next. Just when you think your boring life will go on with tedious sameness forever – bam! Something
happens. It may be good or bad. It may be a crisis or a windfall that changes everything. But whatever it is, you go with it, you deal with it and in the end everything is OK. Life goes on. Learning to relax and let go of the worries allows you to enjoy what life offers.

That’s what I’ve discovered living in Costa Rica.

When people from more developed countries move to Costa Rica, after the initial “honeymoon” stage, anxiety arises. We come from a place of regulated organization but we find ourselves landed in chaos. Our conditioned response is to cry and complain, call the manager! (I know. I’ve done this. Sometimes it helps.) Our compulsion to fix things drives us on. After the car breaks down and the ATM eats our bank card we kick and scream, fighting tooth and nail until we finally fall into frustration. We throw up our hands, flop into the hammock and then, as if by magic, we suddenly take notice of an amazingly iridescent Blue Morpho butterfly flitting by.

At that moment everything changes. We smell the fragrant floral scent wafting all around us. A bright yellow Kisskidee drops down from the branches to say hello. And as we savor a bite of a juicy fresh mango the sound of the ocean waves washes away our worries. Only then do we remember what is really real. Problems with the car, the bank, the kids, the job, the lover – all those things fade away, dissipating softly into the moist jungle air. We can’t plan it, control it or fix it . Once we admit that and trust that everything will be ok, we can be free to see and enjoy what is right in front of our nose.

At first it’s not easy. I believe my slow paced, step-by-step life in Costa Rica has honed my sense of humor, which helps. Each mishap and inconvenience gives me one more story to tell. And believe me, running a guest house in the jungle sets the stage for as many mishaps and inconveniences as one could ever want.

In my guest house I live with all manner of the insect world: ants, termites and mosquitos; frogs and tiny crabs who invade the kitchen; and a million little geckoes breeding in my bedroom. Yet to remove them (impossible) would be to remove myself from the natural world, which I adore. I’d rather laugh at the Kisskidees when they pop down to the porch to steal dog food, admire the placid chill of the perezoso (sloth) and delight in the little agoutis playing tag in the yard. As for the geckos – well at least someone is getting recreational use from my bedroom.

In my guest house I live with bats. But those creatures will be removed. In fact I will not rest until the bats have found new accommodation. (They are living in my bedroom wall.) I tried putting nepthalina (moth balls) in their nest and just about choked myself out of the house. But it didn’t bother the bats. Por fin (finally), I have the answer. Someone told me bats don’t like light. So I shoved a little “book light” into the crack above their nest and aye, did that molest them! They were squeaking, squawking, tweeting and twirting madly. It was the funniest thing I’d heard all evening.

“Boris, (tweet, squawk, chirp chirp) turn off that light!”

“I can’t, Natasha, (twirp twirp) it’s a book light. Little Bart is doing his homework.”

“What! We can’t read, you fool. We are blind, we are bats! (squawk squawk squawk!)”

I’m sure they’ll move out soon…

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Just as I thought the bats were on the way out the army ants came in. These big black ants march through the jungle in long lines, four or five abreast, powering over everything. You can try to divert them with salt or water but it’s best to just give way and let them clean your house. They’ll be through in a few hours, leaving not a crumb nor morsel behind. Yesterday I met them on the road to the beach. My dogs meandered right through them but I had to run like a madman. I jumped, hopped and skipped to avoid the thick lines and wide trails of army ants everywhere. Army ants bite hard and it hurts. I got past them, getting nabbed only once. At the beach I stashed my flip flops and soothed my sore foot in the ocean.

As I walked I worried. “How am I going to get home? How can I get through all those ants?” Alternately I told myself, “Stop the silly worrying. You’ll be fine.”

But worry got the best of me. I hightailed it back to the place I’d hidden my shoes and – you guessed it – they were gone. Of all the many times my flip flops could have been stolen, it had to happen then. Now what? I couldn’t navigate the ant infestation barefoot. I’d call a taxi. That would be embarrassing – a taxi to go only one block? I waited, hoping someone I knew would come along and someone did. It was my friend, Edwin, on a scooter. He waved and drove right by me. Damn! I should have flagged him down. Oh well… But wait, he turned around and came right back.

I was amazed, “You saved me, Edwin! How did you know I needed you?”

“I felt it in my heart,” he said with a smile.

I was home safely, ant free in minutes, rescued by a knight on a shining scooter. Maybe the ants in my house will take out the bat nest.

Home Maintenance is another interminable guest house issue. The humidity and the imposing jungle create a never ending list of jobs. I do most of it myself. I try to avoid plumbing, especially considering the inferior plastic parts and poorly planned facilities often encountered. Yet sometimes one has no choice. The other night I got up to use the facilities and discovered the recently replaced tank innards were broken. Water was gushing everywhere. So at 3:00 a.m. I went outside in the dark, to find and close the main valve as there is no valve in the bathroom. With the main valve closed, my house full of guests was without water. After a few sleepless hours, I was at the Ferretaria (hardware store) early, feeling pleased to think I could install the needed part. I ran home, put in the part, ran outside, opened the valve, ran upstairs and AYE! Water rushing everywhere, exploding, showering the ceiling. I flew downstairs to close the valve again. Then, apologizing to my guests and almost about to cry, I ran to the hardware store a second time to replace the defective part I had just installed. Back home again, a bit worse for wear, I put in the next new part and turned on the valve, with one of my guests standing guard to avoid disaster. This time it worked and we all lived happily ever after. (HA!) The good thing is it gave me a funny story to tell. And it just goes to show what I always say, “Better to laugh or else your gonna cry.”

This is life in tropical paradise. To relax and enjoy life here one must make the best of it and live with the “struggle and strife.” A ready sense of humor is invaluable.

I have tons of laundry BUT: No sun to dry it. Sun appears but the water is low. Water comes back but the electricity is out. Finally the water and electricity are functioning, the sun is out and my laundry is in the washer. Small things are great cause for celebration. Another lesson learned in Costa Rica.

Why in Costa Rica, do the lessons seem to come around every corner and hit you right in the face? Maybe because in Costa Rica there are more snags, pitfalls, hitches, hurdles, handicaps, hindrances, obstacles, impediments, stumbling blocks and complications. More tests of our patience: more opportunity to learn. Yet what happens here when we are confronted with a frustrating difficulty? We look up and see a baby sloth in the tree outside the window. We catch a glint of sun in a raindrop on an elegantly crafted, strong-as-steel spider’s web. And by the time we take a little stroll along the shoreline – sand between our toes, waves lapping our legs, gold encrusted clouds over the sparkling sea – everything’s changed and suddenly our problems don’t seem so serious.

Actually, my problems are never so serious, they are just the logistics of life. But what of truly grave problems? Can this same attitude adjustment work, say, in jail? In jail you won’t see baby animals and you can’t walk on the beach. Is it possible to have a relaxed attitude of appreciation and enjoyment in jail? You wouldn’t think so – unless you knew Layli Brown. She grew up in Costa Rica, maybe that’s why.

Layli is an intelligent young woman who got herself in trouble and ended up sitting in a Panama women’s prison for over two years before she even went to trial. Recently, her mom and I went for a visit. What would you expect – a bitter soul, depressed and moping in the corner? I found a bright, vibrant individual, with an infectious enthusiasm for life. It’s remarkable! Layli wakes up each morning with a renewed spirit, looking forward to what the day will bring. How can she be so happy? She’s in jail suffering hardships and primitive conditions. Yet during her incarceration Layli has learned martial arts and meditation. She’s studied spirituality. She has discovered herself, grown and gives to others. Layli helps her cellmates by teaching them, encouraging positive thinking and exemplifying healthy living . Yes, she gets gloomy. At times she loses heart, but she presses on and rises up again. How does she do it? She has found a way to be happy right where she is through an attitude of trust and appreciation. It is a matter of choice. She lives life and she chooses to make the most of it. Layli smiles and shines at every little thing that comes her way: a ray of sun, the song of a bird, the chance to get out for exercise. This girl exudes appreciation. It gives her hope and happiness. “I’m not where I want to be, but here I am. So why not enjoy the ride?”

In jail or on the beach, wherever we are life teaches us. Still, I never learned more about thinking less until I lived in Costa Rica. When you stop thinking and look around, using all your senses, you come upon a brilliant magical world. Take a step further, go deeper, make it a way of life and you will find yourself immersed in beauty. You’ll no longer be the observer – you’ll be the beauty! And you’ll pass it on to everyone around you.

Living in Costa Rica’s Caribbean makes you really feel alive. It is a world full of contrasts and incongruities. It is dramatic and passionate, like the Latin culture itself. It can be difficult, annoying and downright frustrating. (That’s when you have to remember to laugh rather than cry.) But one thing for sure, its never boring. And in some way even the hard times can be appreciated. So take it easy; live in the moment; don’t worry, be happy. And when hell breaks loose just sit back and enjoy the ride.


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