14 July 2013

Can a Short Vacation Change Your Life?

The short answer: Yes.

The long answer: I believe that every day, every moment, your life is changing. That may be pretty simplistic — of course, it's another day — you're one day older; you wake up with a new dream to remember; you stubbed your toe and that kept you from going for that hike during which you would have broken your leg; your car took three tries to start, and that meant you missed the terrible accident on the highway; you smiled at someone on your walk and changed both your moods — I could go on, but you get the idea.

The photo above is of the Pacific Ocean as seen from our table at El Avion restaurant near Quepos, Costa Rica. Bear and I took our vacation in Costa Rica this past June (21–27). We went to El Avion restaurant three times, mostly because of this view. Sitting there, with this expansive view, I felt expansive, and relaxed in my soul and body.  Perhaps that's what the "Ticos" (native Costa Ricans) mean by "Pura Vida," a common phrase there, which literally translated means "pure life" but can also mean "life is good" or "it's all good," phrases common here, at least in Colorado.

Each moment in Costa Rica changed me. First, I learned that my Spanish "works." I've studied Spanish since high school, almost earning a B.A. in Spanish (one more semester would have done it, but I was done with academia [I'd already earned enough credits for a B.A. in English and psychology]). Other events and experiences in my life improved my Spanish, but I had no idea of how well I would be able to communicate in Costa Rica. Lucky for me, the Ticos seem to speak at a normal pace, not at light-speed like Mexicans and Dominicans. Or maybe they were slowing things down just for me. In any case, I appreciated it. And they were very gracious about my Spanish, telling me I spoke very well. That made me feel really proud of myself and also has pushed me to learn even more. I now listen to the podcasts "News in Slow Spanish" (Spain Spanish) and "News in Slow Spanish - Latino" (for Latin-American Spanish). I highly recommend this approach, and especially the Latino version because that is what is used most on this hemisphere. If you buy a subscription, you can even follow along with a transcript on their website, with certain words and phrases translated if you hover your cursor over them. (I'm also watching "Primer Impacto," a Univision news show, via Hulu.)

In Costa Rica, we saw monkeys and alligators and lots of iguanas, lizards, and geckos. Plus, we heard a lot of birdsong. I bought an album on iTunes of Costa Rican sounds — the natural sounds of the wildlife, the ocean, and the rain. It's "Costa Rica" by Beto Bertonlini. So this has changed the soundscape of my life. I'm listening to it right now, and it just so happens that the Manuel Antonio Park beach theme has come up. Sounds just like when we were there! Ocean surf, birds, some monkeys in the distance. Pictured here are a couple of squirrel monkeys (mom with a baby on her back). Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most-visited natural conservation areas in the country and has a couple of really nice beaches, plus wildlife in every direction.

Taking these pictures and seeing creatures I had never seen before adds a rich layer to my life memories. And I also learned that I love, more than anything else, to be outdoors. We were visiting during the beginning of the rainy season. One day, we had the most awesome thunder and lightning storm with sheets of rain crashing down from the sky. My husband and I sat out on our balcony enjoying the cacophony for at least an hour until the roof over our balcony started to leak. How wonderful! I remember that as one of our best days.

On our last day before traveling back to the airport (3-hr drive) and flying home (several more hours), we decided to go on a mangrove tour by boat. I wasn't sure I'd like this — I was picturing lots of bugs and dangerous alligators, but I was also ready for something new. It was fantastic! We had lunch first, a meal the Ticos call the "casado," which is a marriage (casado) of rice/beans and chicken. It was really good. Next, onto the boat, a small, covered boat that brought us close to the water and close to the mangroves. The guide was fluent in both English and Spanish, and we were lucky enough to have two tourists on the boat from Spain, so I got to hear everything explained in both languages. I've posted four videos on YouTube of the mangroves (manglares) and the guide's discussion in both languages. I also got some really good photos during this tour, many of which are posted on my flickr page. We saw some birds that were really difficult to photograph, iguanas, crabs, bats, and a monkey (the monkey pictured here is a cheeky little Capuchin that dodged onto the boat and stole a fig). I didn't see any bugs or beasts of prey. Below is one of my favorite photos from the tour. You have to look very closely to see what is there, and I bet that's the way it is all through the mangrove canals.

The mangrove tour struck me in a way that no environmental conservation messaging group in the States could. The guide explained that these trees (there are four kinds: black, white, piƱa, and red) are sort of the last bastions of a healthy ecosystem in this area; they act as filters for our air and water, and support the lives of many and diverse animals. Costa Rica only has about a fourth of the mangrove trees it started with, but now these areas are protected. I admire Costa Rica for its conservation efforts. It truly is a rich country in this regard.

I've been to a place I never would have thought of going before, had it not been for my husband's suggestion. Now I want to go back. With so many natural wonders, you could spend a lot of time in Costa Rica without seeing the same thing. I am now so enthusiastic about seeing new places, that this has changed my thought process regarding possessions. Now every time I look at my 17-year-old Geo Prizm with its fading paint job and rusty hood, I think, "Now that's a vacation!" That is, every car payment I'm NOT making (the car is paid for) is money that I can put toward a vacation. So, I'm starting a vacation fund rather than a buy-a-new-car fund. And that makes me smile.

Yes, even a short vacation will change your life — in myriad little ways, and in ways that will carry you through to more adventures and strengthen your sense of Pura Vida!