Life on the Island

Ok, so I realize Costa Rica is not an island, but it sure feels like it. I live in a bubble here and am quite happy about that. Generally I wake up with the dawn, first light. Then around 5:30 am, this massive flock of parakeets makes their way in from the mountains for the day. At dusk, they return for the evening. They bring with them this sound of cackling and chirping. There is no denying the time, they make their presence known.

I walk the grounds to my practice space, which is a solid, smooth, concrete slab that rests under a canopy of palm leaves. My view is the roaring ocean, dark sand, palm trees, birds. It is warm, humid, and I like it. When the tide is high, I can feel it’s power. I can always hear it, a sound that brings me peace. A breeze meets me in this place regularly as if to say good morning, as I salute the sun ascending to my left and return my gratitude for this time in my life.

I have been wanting to live ocean front my whole life. I really have. I grew up on the beach, but not literally on the sand. I get the most amazing sunset every night to my right. I have dreamed of this moment. Even when I‘m working in the restaurant, my view is the same, waves crashing, sun setting. Its magical. How did I get so lucky? I am so blessed.

For the last few years I have experienced slight frustration due to the obstructed sunsets I have seen. It’s hard to be mad at any of them, because the whole sky is such an alluring canvas. However, the sun. There are only two times a day you can look directly at it. Early sunrise, and again as it is making its way back down to the horizon in the evening. I have not been able to see the final decent. I never wanted to be ungrateful, but I was having a hard reckoning. I wanted the full sun, all the way, so that I could look at it fully, largely, as it changed in color and I could stare. I have been chasing that sunset for a while, and here I have it every night. Each night it is the same yet vastly different depending on the clouds, the atmosphere. Each one is incredibly captivating. I have lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for half my life with spectacular views. I have seen the sunsets off of the coast of western Florida. I lived in Los Angeles for 9 years and was fortunate to be in Venice for some truly magical oranges, pinks, and blues. None of that is lost on me here. I just happen to now have it out my front door, every day, with a sun bigger than I’ve ever seen it. I have been chasing sunsets for years now feeling a twinge of disappointment often and trying my best to remain thankful, but all the while I knew there was more I needed and wanted. There was a calling, and I have found it. I hope this will not be the last place I live it. That alone tells me it won’t be.

I’ve spent a lot of my childhood at the beach. I have been pummeled by waves. Getting knocked down and dragged under has always scared me, but not stopped me; though it has made me cautious. I feel the power. But there is something about this beach; something about this water. From the first moment I stepped into it, I made it my friend. I felt it’s safety and security. I felt its healing. I needed it. So here is where I would put my faith. I have been wanting to learn to surf for ten years. In Cali though, the water was so cold. And, I was afraid of sharks. Here I have warm water, beautiful waves. At first I was told there was no risk of sharks. However I have heard differently since then. I pray that is not a fear I have to face, ever.

Our surf instructor is a native. He grew up on this beach. I love watching him watch the waves. He knows something I don’t. It is in him to understand the tide, the turnover, the speed and the frequency. Not that it can’t be learned. And not that it is solo to this land. This just happens to be my experience. Surfing knowledge is integrated in many. His brother and friends help out as needed and are equally in touch. They all seem to have the same spirit. Those that live the surf get it. I want to learn. Here I am in waters that I respect; with people that I trust. Trust is such an important thing. I have so much confidence in these instructors. I see the care they put into those who come to them. I see the time they give. They don’t punch a clock, they serve. They work with each person as long as needed.

During my first lesson I learned the basics of how to pop up, and how to situate myself on the board. The technique came to me pretty easily and we were quickly in the water. Navigating the waves on the way out was fun, however, had I been alone, it would have been disaster. He kept saying, these waves are not for beginners. Oh, ok. He literally had to hold my legs in place a couple times. He had to put his weight into the back of my board to lift me over. We watched the waves. He knows exactly which ones to put me into, and which ones to avoid. He tells me when to paddle, and when to pop up. Then he pushes me. Shit, thats fast. I need a minute. Umm, Connie you are missing the point if you wait too long. But I need to be comfortable, and careful. Always careful.

This feeling reminds me of when I was 14 and went to stay with my aunt for a week in Colorado. She wanted to take me snow skiing. I was very excited. I had a lesson on a little hill. I did pretty good, I guess. Can’t really remember. I did fall once though and hit myself on the mouth with my ski pole, I think that’s what it is called. It was ok though, a cute boy came to rescue me. I mean let’s be honest, that always helps. But then it was time to do the real thing, bunny slope. haha. Sounds great. Off we go, my Aunt Ginny and I. They showed me how to ski like a pro, but thank god they taught me how to ski slower. Didn’t matter though. I still felt like I was moving too quickly and that scared the shit out of me. So I had to fall to stop my momentum. Getting back up however was not easy. I fell, on purpose, many times. Ginny had to keep assisting me. She couldn’t even enjoy her own ski because I kept falling and needing help to get up. Really? I mean, ridiculous. I didn’t realize this then, but I had never learned to just let go and have fun. I only now understand breathing into the fear and letting it pass. That’s actually how I learned to enjoy roller coasters. I closed my eyes for a long time at first. Then, once I was comfortable and familiar with the feeling, I started opening my eyes. Nowadays, however, there are still some coasters I won’t do. I do know my limits, not that I haven’t tested them.

But I can’t close my eyes here, nor do I want to. This has been a long time coming. I am on this board. I’m up, and then I’m not, and its all good. I don’t even care that I’m falling off. I’m doing this thing. I am surprising myself. Then I feel it besting me, and I’m like, oh hell no. I trusted myself, and I trusted my training. I kept pushing. I had a blast. My second lesson I popped up much quicker, the waves were smaller. I was up every single time. Hide tide was later this day, so I had to watch the time because I was working the dinner shift. I timed it by the sun. Sunset was time to go, like when mom said back in the day, be home by dark. That was all the timing we needed. Or rather, when the street lights came on. I am out on the water, watching the sun go down, surrounded by the ocean. I have always wanted to watch the sunset from here. So I did. One more wave, just one more wave.

My third lesson was trickier, the tide strong. My instructor was up to his neck in water, but he was ok with that. He wanted to push me harder. Can’t we just stick to the smaller waves for a little longer. Nope, apparently not. It’s all a learning process. I was on my board with more confidence by now, determined to make the most of the time he was so graciously sharing with me. It’s still a little surreal. I am so thankful. I did well, though I’m still not ready to go it alone. Soon though I hope to ride along beside them.

I am living a good life, Pura Vida. Not that there aren’t challenges, believe me there are. The humidity and bugs threatened to drive me crazy for the first couple weeks. I left the South and my beloved family to escape this madness. Then I plopped myself right down in the middle of it! Ha. But guess what? I kept being grateful for all of it. And now, I’m even starting to become one with the bugs. And by bugs, I mean roaches. Ugh. No way. Yes, it’s happening. Even with the mosquitoes I am recognizing a symbiosis. I get this view, this life; and they get my blood. I guess I’ll take that for now.

I am also thankful that the staff here doesn’t speak English (except for the owners who are American). Though frustrating at times because I want to understand, I am happy to be forced into listening and learning. I wanted to immerse myself in culture and language. I am doing just that. It often becomes this crazy, fun game of charades, complete with sound effects; pshk pskh, tck tck tck, bzhzh, and so on. It’s like the game $25,000 Pyramid from my childhood. We throw out words hoping that something makes sense and an aha moment of understanding will arrive. Confused looks are a regular occurrence, as well as laughter caused by the silliness.

In the evening just before dusk a loud scratchy caw can be heard in the sky. This is one of my favorite things. If I catch it in time and run to the right clearing, I can see two majestic, bright red and blue Macaws flying low overhead. That sight fills me with a sense of wonder. To go from only seeing them in a zoo or random pet store, to seeing them in their element, in their evening migration, is just… wow. That’s how I feel. Just wow, in awe.

The iguanas underfoot give another sense peculiarity to me. Sometimes I don’t see them at all. Other days, I almost step on them. I even looked up from my yoga mat one day to see a big guy making his way across my practice space to get to the neighboring yard. Not sure why he chose to cross so closely to me. We eyeballed each other the whole way just to be safe. I didn’t realize they were so good under water until a cat chased one into the pool. He hung out at the bottom of the deep end for the better part of an hour. I learn something new every day.

I have a friend here who I watched literally scale a palm tree with bare hands and feet to get to the coconuts on top. He pulled them down with his hands and dropped them to the ground. He then smashed them into the tree and drank them. Pretty sure I’ve seen that on National Geographic channel. This time, it happened right before my eyes. I just keep being amazed by the people here. Simple things, but each brings joy to my heart.

I remember last year at the new year wondering where I would be for NYE 2016 and how awesome it would be to ring in a new year in a different country. I spent this 2016 on this beautiful beach, which happens to be the longest in Costa Rica. I walked the beach and watched fireworks bursting on both ends. Reds, yellows, greens lighting the sky in quiet explosion. Soft sand under my feet, waves crashing their melody, the sounds of parties celebrating another turn, another chance at starting over. And like so many other experiences I’ve had here that I’ve only witnessed on TV or magazines, I watched as locals released wish lanterns into the night sky, floating away with a soft glow, carrying with them the hopes and dreams of their creator. Pura Vida.

2 thoughts on “Life on the Island

  1. Chip O'Connor and Family says:

    Connie, thanks for sharing your story. You are a tremendous power of example on how to live a joyful life. It was great to meet you and we wish you continued joy and happiness. Pura vida!


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