One of the greatest things about being a writer is knowing that something you’ve written has touched or inspired another person. You never know when or how… but when it happens, it is magic! It reminds me that I need to keep writing because it matters… even if it touches just one person.
My good friend and Costa Rica Travel Squad leader, Tawanna Smith was touched by my account of one of our many adventures in the rain forests and volcanos of Costa Rica that she featured my story on her website, Moms Guide To Travel. I am blessed to call her friend and honored by the gesture.
I’ve been betrayed by every single mirror in my house… in the entire United States!
I said this to myself standing in front of the full length mirror in my hotel room. Tired. Sweaty. A little muddy. Completely disgusted with my reflection… with myself…
Just a few hours before I was on a full day of adventure through the rain forests and volcanic foothills of Costa Rica. Sandwiched between a five-mile nature hike with six hanging bridges and a 4-mile (round-trip) hike to climb volcanic rocks, was a trip to Catarata La Fortuna(La Fortuna Waterfall).
At the entrance of this tourist attraction, there is your typical gift shop, cafe, and restroom house along with a look-out platform where you can view the waterfall. From here, the waterfall looks miles away… a tiny white stitch on a large blanket of green. My thought: This is it? Actually, I think I said it out loud because our tour guide, Brandon, said “No, we are going to get much closer. We’re going to hike down there.” Okay… cool… been hiking all morning so, no big deal. Then he says… “To get to the waterfall, we have to walk down 500 steps.”
Here’s something you need to know about me…
I have a “thing” about steps. And by “thing” I mean a serious fear of them. I hate steps. HATE steps! Going up, not so bad… going down, complete terror. Whenever I approach a staircase, before I take that first step down… I see myself falling from top to bottom. True story. So every time I have to walk down stairs or even on an escalator, I have to take a quick deep breath, tell myself “you will not fall,” get a vice-grip on the railing, then take it one step at a time, exhaling panic the whole way down.
Now… back to the walking down 500 steps to see this waterfall…
My body is already fussing at me for the previous hike and now my mind has joined the protest. I practically lose my mind going down a standard flight which is only 16 steps… and I’m gonna attempt 500? Who does that?
“You don’t have to go,”says Brandon. “You can stay up here and wait for us to come back. It’s ok.”
My travel squad, in agreement with him, say they understand as well. (sigh) And so begins the tug-o-war with myself. Wanting to have this adventure but the thought of those stairs paralyzing me. Feeling so stupid as I watch children and senior citizens eagerly and effortlessly descend. (big heavy sigh)
While staring at the tiny stitch of white off in the distance and contemplating “do or die (or both),”Tawanna comes up beside me…
“I feel you,” she says. “It’s a lot of steps. A. Lot. Of. Steps. But it’s worth it. Think about it, Christie… this isn’t like going to Florida. You can’t say ‘oh well, I’ll do it next time.’ Do you know when you’ll be back in Costa Rica? You’re here now… you might as well do it! Who knows if you’ll get the chance again, right?”
Dammit!(deep breath)You will not fall.(exhale panic)
Ummm… Did I mention that these were no ordinary steps.
Of the 500, roughly 300 of them are actual steps… like made of concrete or wood and have something resembling real railings. The rest of them were stones or pavers with holes in them (that you have to step on just right or there goes your ankle or knee) with either a thin rope as a railing or no railing at all! But all 500 being a collective hot ass mess! Some wide. Some narrow. Some a couple of shoe-lengths long. Some you have to step sideways to get proper footing. Some that go in a straight or staircase-landing-staircase pattern. Some that curve in a half spiral or just drop off in a nearly 90 degree ladder-like angle. All of them fucking terrifying.
But… I did it.
I made it to the bottom to see the magnificent Catarata La Fortuna up close and personal. She was big and beautiful. Hard to believe that this was the tiny stitch of white I saw on the landing. So powerful, yet so calming. We sat on the rocks, dipped our aching feet in her cool, healing waters and watched the other tourists baptize themselves in her glory. The only thing left to do in this moment was to thank God… for pretty much everything.
What goes down, must come up…
I was so focused on surviving going down the steps that I didn’t put any thought into going back up. That is until I was standing at the bottom and getting a really good look at how long and far we came. From this perspective, the reality that these steps cleverly disguised the fact that you just repelled down a mountain-side and now have to climb back up that bitch, smacks you all in the face. Seriously… How did this not sink in initially?
The weight of it all came crashing down on me. Literally the weight… my weight… all of it… and just how much of it I have gained over the last three years made me abundantly aware of its presence as we began our ascent.
My body in excruciating pain that increased with every step… begging me to stop the torture. My heart threatening to bust through my chest in arrest. Air clawing its way in and out of my lungs as I hoisted… yes, hoisted… my frame one shaky leg at a time. My companions ahead of me upon my urging and my reassuring them I was okay and to not wait on me. Truthfully, I just didn’t want them to see how un-okay I really was. Thank goodness for the sweat that masked my tears.
Half way up, there’s a portion of the staircase that is well constructed out of concrete and stone with a built in bench. I stopped for a moment to gather myself. Brandon stood nearby with a concerned watchful eye, telling me to take my time. He and I both knew that taking too long of a break would make this so much harder. And, God, this was so hard!
How did I let this happen?
How could I do this to myself, again? AGAIN!! Did I stop caring? When? When did I stop looking in mirrors, again? I fought so hard to see myself… to love myself… to feel good in my skin… When did I stop? Why?
“I am in really bad shape,” I said softly to Brandon. “And it has absolutely nothing to do with how fat I am.”
He just looked sympathetically confused and said “Are you ready?” He had no clue just how loaded that question is. The answer is yes… and the answer is no. But yes, is the only way back to the top.
So I’m standing in the hotel room looking at someone I resemble… but don’t recognize.
I swear, I didn’t seem this big, or look this sad, or feel this unhealthy before I got here… or did I? I’m convinced that Costa Rica is full of fun house mirrors. It’s either that or U.S. mirrors are all designed to give us a false sense of self.
Or maybe it’s none of that. Maybe I’m just seeing (and feeling) the truth. After all, I went on this trip to discover myself, right?
The body achieves what the mind believes. Clearly, I have not been very kind to myself in all the ways one can be unkind.
Costa Rica wanted to show me who I really am… and maybe who I’m not. She wanted to show me who I’m going to be… and who I need to be when I leave.
No better day to launch than my 44th birthday, right? At long last, you will get to read my tales from Costa Rica and Nicaragua as well as my other adventures in travel, food, love, and life!
I’ve only got a few posts up so far, but you know there’s more where that came from.
This Journey will be more random than chronological but in either case, it will be enlightening as it entertains… as usual.
…but I have to say it is the most significant, so far. I have stamps from various Caribbean islands and from Canada and while wonderful experiences they were, I never really felt like I was in another country. English was still the first language. There was still this feeling of being tethered to the United States, somehow… by either ownership or proximity. I have difficulty counting those trips as “going abroad.”
Costa Rica was different. The moment I stepped off the plane and having to instantly switch my brain from English to Spanish in order to know where to go was a clear indicator that I was finally “abroad.” Leaving the airport and the surrounding urban landscape and entering the rural foothills of the Arenal Volcano was a clear indicator that I had untethered from everything.
Costa Rica makes untethering soooooo easy to do. Like I didn’t even have to try. She just welcomes you in and removes your burdens from you like a gracious host taking your coat. She shows you around her green, lush home that even in dense fog and pouring rain is absolutely gorgeous. The beauty consumes you. With your first breath, you inhale peace and exhale worry, pain, and stress. Each subsequent breath fills your soul with bliss. And that’s just your introduction to “Pura Vida.”
“Pura Vida” is Costa Rica’s adopted motto or country slogan. Literally translated it is “pure life” or (some say) “good life” but means so much more to the citizens and to anyone who has been blessed to touch this soil. Pura Vida can mean hello, goodbye, have a nice day, have a nice life, hakuna matata, take it easy, don’t worry be happy, bless you, everything is going to be okay… it all depends on how and when you say it. And everybody says it. And they don’t say it as “something to say” because it has become a staple of their tourism marketing plan for the last half-century. Everybody says it because they believe it. They live it. There are no worries here. And you feel it immediately.
Pura Vida is living “present” in it’s purest form. It is advanced authentic living. It is being at peace with who you are and where you are in this very moment and being grateful for it. It’s knowing that things could be worse, but they’re not… so, chill out and enjoy everything you have right now. Life is good… if you allow yourself to see it that way.
This was the best place for me to begin this journey. I needed to go abroad… to be untethered. I needed to go to a place that showed me everyone… no matter who you are, what you do, how much money or how many children you do or don’t have… deserves a “pure life.” It’s not that I will never have worries or problems… just that I can still “live” with them.
I’m not gonna lie… re-entry back into the states and regular life was rough. My first week back I kept thinking to myself: “Why do we make things so hard here? It really doesn’t have to be this hard!” But then I remembered what I learned… It’s only hard if I let it be. Pura Vida made it through customs… I carried it in my soul.
“Tomorrow, I am going to embark on my very first real adventure. No work. No family. Just me. I’m going to #CostaRica and #Nicaragua for 6 days. In addition to putting a much-needed stamp in my barren passport, this trip marks the beginning of a mental, spiritual, and physical journey that I’ve been planning in my head for nearly 4 years… To have my own version of #EatPrayLove while being a minivan-driving-single-mom-on-a-budget. Thanks to @tawannabsmith, I’m finally on my way to making what I thought would always be a dream written in my journal a reality. In approximately 24 hours, I will be blissfully submerged in la #PuraVida”
7 days before I wrote that post, I was lying in bed thinking about how really unprepared I was. I was supposed to take at least a month to get ready for this trip (and to write about how I was getting ready for this trip on my new blog which should have been launched in time for me to do so). But I didn’t. I kept it a secret. I was keeping this a secret from everyone who would try to talk me out of it and try to tell me why I shouldn’t do it. Keeping this a secret from them is also keeping it a secret from myself.
And speaking of secrets… (sigh)…
I knew I was going to Costa Rica long before I told anyone… several months in fact. It took me at least 30 days to tell Tawanna“Yes, I’m officially going with you.” Even after I said it, I wasn’t truly convinced… but I decided to play along. My exact thoughts: “They are never going to let me do this. I have to figure out a way to make this okay.”
A self-serving, self-funded, pleasure-vacation abroad and alone = Not Okay A work-related, media trip, fully or partially funded by someone else = Okay
So when I finally announced my plans, I made it seem more media trip and less vacation. Which, to be fair, it was sort of true in a way because let’s face it, I kinda turn everywhere I go into a “media trip,” right? No? Too much of a stretch? Ugh… well, I tried… moving on. It was my way of making it okay for “them.” But I still hadn’t made it okay for me.
I played an agonizing game of mental tug-o-war for months over this trip. I found a way of paying for it that would leave my “responsibilities” paycheck untouched. Most of the time I would be away would be over a holiday weekend so my absence would only be a major inconvenience for 3 of the 6 days. I did what I always do before going away… I have the who/what/where/how of every school and extracurricular activity for my children clearly mapped, every stitch of clothing washed and (try to) have easy, kid-friendly-self-serve food stocked. Even with all of the i ’s dotted and t’s crossed, I still feel like I am breaking the law. I’m skulking around like a teenager sneaking liquor from their parents’ cabinets. I’m jumping out of my bedroom window taking the family car for a joyride. My room is not clean, my chores and homework are far from done… and I’m running away from home. “They are going to be sooooooo pissed.”
“They/Them” the negative self-talk and self-doubt infused mom-guilt I heap on myself disguised as the people in my life will undoubtedly give me seemingly valid reasons why even the thought of going on this trip is absolutely ludicrous.
I’ve conditioned myself to believe I have to have permission and perfect conditions to do anything I want to do. And that may be true except I’m asking the wrong person or people. The only person I really need to ask permission of is myself.
No truer words were ever spoken… especially for women… particularly mothers. Earned enough money. Earned enough respect. Earned enough of my keep. I mean… how dare I have the audacity to believe I deserve something like this! I didn’t give myself permission to take this trip, let alone be excited about it… Not like I should have been. Now this trip was days away… I hadn’t shopped, packed, or done anything to properly prepare myself or my family… And then… this…
After I finished crying… I took a deep breath. “I’m going to fucking Costa Rica!” I said, and (finally) smiled. Then… I pulled out a notepad… and my suitcase.
* * * * * * * *
My first night in Costa Rica, “Eat Pray Love” was on TV. Dubbed in Spanish, but I knew every word. A blatant sign from God saying “See, I told you so.”