Thursday, May 14, 2009

Basilisk Lizards, Caimen and River Shrimp - Mother's Day, Sunday, May 10

I set my alarm for 5:30 A.M. but am awake much earlier in anticipation of a morning out on the river. The rain has diminished, but the morning is gray and heavy with mist. I sit alone on the deck beside the river and drink three cups of strong coffee. Tabra has decided not to go out on the river and when Isabelle, the naturalist guide appears, I tell her the change of plans. I am prepared to offer more for a solo trip, but she cheerfully accepts the change of plans and the small motor boat arrives precisely at 6:00 A.M. The price for this three hour guided naturalist tour is just $20.00 plus the $10.00 ticket into Tortuguero national park. Isabel is Canadian, a licensed naturalist who has lived in Costa Rica since she was two years old. Our pilot is a local young man who owns his own boat. I imagine that he has taken thousands of tourists on this early morning expedition, and he steers the boat confidently. We cruise past floating hyacinth islands where shorebirds are foraging for their morning meal. Isabel's trained eyes spot numerous birds that I might have missed and I am enthusiastic, but what I really hope to see are the bulbous gold and black eyes of caiman's protruding from the water's surface. We turn into a narrower tributary of the river and the rorshock reflections of the trees, mirrored in the back water are magical. The tangle of jungle, growing skyward from either side of the river bank almost touches overhead, creating an arch way. Our captain switches from outboard motor to a battery motor and we glide slowly and quietly through this reverent jungle cathedral. Our pilot maneuvers the boat close to shore and steadies it between gnarled roots and twisted vines. He points to the trunk of a tree just above us. At first I see only gray mottled bark and brilliant green leaves, but the leaves morph into a elegant basilisk lizard. This male basilisk hangs vertically and motionless on the side of the tree. He is a jungle jewel, a brilliant emerald color with a crested head and a ribbed sail fanning out and up along his back. I struggle to take his photo in the dim light, but he is proud and patient and poses for a minute before tiring of the intruder and disappearing, a green flash swallowed by the jungle debris.

Mangrove roots dip like straws into the rivers edge and camouflaged within is a female caiman's. I would not have seen this prehistoric reptile, but Isabel spots the bulbous watchful eyes, armored back and tail just breaking the waters surface. She is just 4 feet long, almost invisible in the reflective water. Nearby, her juvenile caiman's doze on the muddy bank, protected by twisted mangrove roots.

At 9:00 A.M. we return to Casa Marbella and breakfast is still being served; fresh fruit and homemade pancakes. I give Isabelle, my guide, the choice of any of my rain forest charms and she picks the Tree Frog. She suggests that I sell my work to the gift shop across the street but unfortunately the owner is not in the shop on Sundays. Isabel promises to take her my card. A few other guests gather around to see the handful of charms that I have spread out on the table. One woman buys the Monkey Charm and Isabelle asks me to hold the Rhinoceros Beetle Charm and the Jaguar Charm for her until tomorrow. A dream of mine is to complete my line of Rain forest Charms and to travel the world, selling to eco-tourists. So often in these remote places, there is little of quality to buy and I hope to fill this void. I am thrilled to have such a response in this out of the way inn with only a handful of guests. It rains much of the morning and I spend time writing this blog. At noon we walk a short distance to The Buddha Cafe, an open air restaurant in a garden setting, overlooking the river. We splurge on the river shrimp and nearly an hour passes before two plates of fat red shrimp are set before us. I wouldn't be surprised if they sent someone off to catch the shrimp as soon as we ordered. A beautiful and mindful salad of paper thin cucumber, hearts of palm and tomato tide us over while we wait for the feast.

Jungle River to Tortuguero - Saturday, May 9

Although we have been getting up before 6:00 A.M. every morning, I sleep lightly, waking up every hour to check my alarm clock so that we don't oversleep. I am having battery issues and want to make certain not to miss our bus to Limon. My old school clock rings dutifully at 5:00 A.M; and we are downstairs by 5:30 A.M. pleased to see that the continental breakfast is already set out. I breakfast on cold Pinto de Gallo (rice, mixed with black beans; a Costa Rican specialty,) queso blanca, (soft white cheese,) and a sliver of melon. The coffee is not fully brewed but I drink a cup anyway, not certain if I will have another opportunity. We tuck two hardboiled eggs in our bags for a snack and catch a taxi to the bus station a few minutes away.

The one way ticket to Limon, on the Carribean Coast is just $6.00. The bus station is modern and the shiny blue tour bus with large clean windows, parked under the sign to Limon is realitively new. I am slightly disappointed; at the very least I am expecting rambunctious children, baskets of vegetables and a chicken or two. (I do not wish for pigs, in view of the current swine flu outbreak.) I grab a cup of cafe con leche and board the bus which leaves precisely at 6:30 A.M. It is quite full, we have assigned seats, and Tabra gives me the window. The city of San Jose fades quickly to countryside and we pass oceans of banana and coffee plantations and farmlands dotted with Brama cattle and calves. Many of the fences here are constructed of growing trees, strung together by barbed wire. The ingenious growing fences are as varied as the abundant diversity of plants. Palms of all kinds, flowering trees and bushes paint the landscape. As our bus descends from the highlands towards the Caribbean coast, the landscape changes to hillsides carpeted with antheriums, orchids and lush with ferns. The 2 1/2 hour bus trip goes quickly and soon we are in Limon.

As we disembark, several taxi drivers target us, one more persistent than the others. After a brief negotiation, we allow a man, with one blind eye, to take us to his taxi which turns out to be just his dilapidated car with a broken windshield. At this point, we might have changed our minds, but his persistence that he has a friend who can take us up river to Tortuguero gives me comfort and it isn't until we are near the port of Moin, that we make it clear that we already have reservations with the Tropical Wind for transport.

The port of Moin is minimal. There are a dozen open sided motor launches moored along side the dock, a crumbling concrete restroom facility with filthy toilets, and no where to buy so much as a bottle of water or an unhealthy snack. We each eat our hardboiled egg, a banana and ration our remaining water. We print our names and passport numbers onto a piece of notebook paper and pay our $60.00 for the round trip fare to Tortuguero and back. Tabra's Spanish is extremely helpful and she insists on a receipt for the return trip two days hence. Perhaps 20 tourists are waiting dock side on this gloriously sunny and mild morning.

There are only 7 passengers on our covered motor launch; two solemn young women backpackers from Germany, a young backpacking couple from Israel, the captains 9 year old daughter, wearing a crisp pink button down cotton shirt, and ourselves. The boat has 28 seats and with the luggage stowed at the back and more than ample room to sprawl out, we begin our upriver trip to Tortuguero. Along the first stretch of the river are restaurants and bungalows, colorfully painted with lush flowering gardens. The captain moors at a riverside checkpoint, presenting the limp piece of paper with our names and passport numbers, to a man in uniform. Further upriver we stop for gas, remaining in the boat while the captain refuels, the gasoline fumes lingering in the hot, humid air. A large green iguana is chased from the dock and sent splashing into the river and I wonder why this emerald beauty is not encouraged to make the rest stop his home, if only for the benefit of the incoming travelers. Once underway, the breeze cools us and we travel into paradise, cutting through the opaque greenish brown river, the jungle lush on either side, Our captain slows the boat to point out numerous birds; egrets, spoonbills, kingfishers, and snake birds. His English is impeccable, but his intent is to deliver us to Tortuguero, and we travel faster than I would like. I look back and see both of the German women asleep and wonder why they would bother to visit Tortuguero and sleep through this incredible jungle river trip. To me, it's as much about the journey as the destination. There are faster ways to get to Tortuguero, but I purposelessly choose this route so as to spend as much time on the river as possible. 5 years ago, Alisha, John and I made this trip, an unforgettable experience, which has lured me to return again. The captain spots a troupe of Howler Monkeys high in the tree tops and we watch for some minutes. My camera isn't good enough to capture their antics, but I'm delighted just to watch.

Two hours upriver, we stop for refreshments, a captive group of hungry travelers. The greasy fried chicken, runny beans and wilted cabbage salad is less than appealing, but we pay our $6.00, peel off the fried skin, and make do. The restaurant's location is a jungle paradise, but the restaurant itself is devoid of charm. Tabra and I talk about how easy it would be to make it inviting, both artistically and with a simple and healthy menu.

An hour later we arrive in Tortugero, dropping the 4 backpackers off on the shore at the center of the village. The afternoon is warm and humid and handsome young Caribbean men are gathered near the rivers edge, under the shade trees, leaning against upturned fishing boats. There is no formal dock or central square; just heavily trodden grass and dirt paths puddled with water from an earlier rain. The village has grown considerably since I was here 5 years ago and restaurants and cafes, line the rivers edge. We disembark a few docks up at Casa Marabella. The inn has expanded from just 4 rooms to 9 rooms and I have reserved one of the new upstairs river view rooms; $60 for a double including breakfast. The downstairs rooms are still $35 for a double, the same as we paid 5 years ago. Several wooden tables with chairs are arranged on the covered open deck facing onto the river and two guests sit reading and writing postcards. Our room is lovely and light, a solid bank of windows on two sides, up at tree level and overlooking the river. In this climate, the beds are made up with only sheets and our towels are folded in a fan shape across our respective beds. We take only a minute to settle in, anxious to explore the village. We step out of our tiny inn, directly into the village. Tortuguero is on the Caribbean side and the village is Caribbean in flavor; single story shops and houses, brightly painted and in disrepair. The ethnicity is a mixture of Spanish and Caribbean. There are no cars in the village, only a hard packed dirt walking path. Several gift and sundry shops are scattered along the few blocks of town, but there is nothing that a discerning tourist would want to buy as a souvenir. We peruse the restaurants and cafes, studying the respective menus and their ambiance and make a reservation at Miss Julies for dinner tonight.

Miss Julies restaurant is famous in Tortuguero, having been here in some form or another since the early 20th century. Alisha, John and I ate dinner here 5 years ago when the establishment was just eight tables in room adjoining Miss Julies home. Tonight we sit in a large dining room, windows all around and open to the balmy night air. The floor is a stylish ceramic tile and there are perhaps 18 wooden tables covered with bright cloths, the backs of the chairs simply carved. We decide on the river shrimp, but they have run out, so we order the fish fillet. By American standards, dinner is not expensive, about $12 including a glass of wine, but the meal is disappointing.

A tropical storm blows in and we fall sleep in our treetop room to the sound of torrential rain, thunder and flashes of lightening.

ET Phone Home - Friday, May 8

Today will be a day of transit and we prepare to vacate the cabin. Tabra will not return until October so there is much to do and to be cleaned and put away. Louis arrives mid morning to disconnect the electricity and store the few valuables until Tabra's return. We depart at 9:30 A.M., winding our way back towards San Jose. The weather is perfect and the return drive is easy except that our little car has no power and struggles to climb the steep roads. We return the rental car without incident and check back into he Hemmingway Hotel. Once settled, Tabra and I take time to send e-mail and make phone calls. Tabra uses the hotels internet, but I use my new Acer notebook computer that Art has configured for Skype. For the first time, I connect to a wireless and am successful in calling home. I am delighted with the video capabilities and feel a twinge of homesickness at seeing Art and John. I hear that there is a fire in Santa Barbara and I call my father to learn that several of his friends have lost their homes. There are no evacuation plans for the residents of Casa Dorinda, the retirement home where my father resides. I am relieved that he doesn't sound too anxious and that I am able to stay connected. My father, a renowned geologist, will turn 92 next week.

Art was in Costa Rica last month and during our Sype conversation, informs me of a cafe that he enjoyed on the corner of 7st and 5th Ave. Tabra and I make that our destination for a late lunch. It is stylish and the food is good. We have dinner plans with Marisol and Luli. Tabra lived in Costa Rica 40 years ago and Tabra's son went to elementry school with Luli. Luli is gregarious and delightful. She is a veternarian and her daughter, Marisol is 22 yrs old, beautiful, fluent in English and with a degree in nutrition. They pick us up and our hotel and drive us to Ti Jo, a first class restaurant serving Pan Asian cuisine. Each dining room is decorated in a different Asian motif and the menu is diverse and the food is excellent.

Thursday, May 7th. Cane Toad Encounters

The shrill of the insects and the birds awaken me before 6:00 A.M, or perhaps it is the smell of fried onions, potatoes and eggs. Tabra is already awake and preparing breakfast over her portable propane stove. I reheat the remainder of the coffee that Louis had brought yesterday and inhale both coffee and jungle. We have little on our agenda today except reading and writing. This year, for my birthday, Art gave me a mini Acer notebook computer and I spend much of the day writing this journal.

Late morning, we take a short hike down the dirt road behind Tabra's property and cut back up to the main road behind Nuria house. She is Tabra's closest permanent neighbor, an attractive woman in her early 60's, husband deceased, who lives on several hectors of land. Her permanent caretaker lets us through the barbed wire fence at the back of her property, restrains the dogs and allows us to pass through the field and garden and up to her back veranda. Tabra calls out to her, announcing our visit, and several minutes later she emerges in a form fitting ivory decollate neglige, black lace bra peeking through and revealing an ample cleavage. She wears white toeless slippers and her toe nails and nails are French manicured. Her skin is a rich creamy brown and her teeth are perfectly straight and white. I describe her in such detail because her appearance was surprising to me in contrast to the wild of the Turrubares area. The three of us sit on padded patio chairs overlooking her garden, lush with mango trees, blossoming hibiscus and other exotics that I cannot identify. She speaks no English, but Tabra's Spanish is quite good and I try to decipher their conversation. Nuria is involved in the politics of the area, angry about the illegal quarry, active in a recycling program and delighted that a new highway is already under construction that will connect San Jose to Turrubares. She is confident and strong.

The afternoon is rainy and the clouds obscure our mountain view. We gather fallen mangos for lunch and sit by the pool but the constant drizzle chases us indoors. We drive to Alma Tierra for dinner, about 30 minutes away. Alma Tierra is an intimate bed and breakfast Inn, restaurant and yoga center. We made dinner reservations when we arrived in Turrubares two days ago. The inn is owned by an American couple, the woman an acupuncturist who studied at the East West School of Chinese Medicine in Santa Cruz, California. A group of 4 Americans, traveling together, are the only other guests. Wine is offered and I gratefully accept a glass of Chilean Cabernet. Up until tonight, we have dined in simple local restaurants offering only beer. Awkward introductions are made, but there is no chemistry between our two parties. Two tables are set on the outdoor balcony overlooking what I imagine to be a lovely view, swallowed by the darkness. The kitchen offers just one set menu each evening and tonight they are serving cream of fennel soup followed by mango chicken and rice. Dessert is a petite but delicious macaroon.

Tabra drives cautiously back home, careful not to hit the "stones" in the road. There are fewer toads out tonight, and I wonder that there are any surviving at all, since they sit frozen in the road, stunned by the headlights. Once back at the cabin, I walk out to the pool hoping to see one up close. Three large lumps sit at the edge of the pool, seemingly mesmerized by the light, illuminating from the pool. My Costa Rican guide to animals informs me that they are Cane Toads. They are eight to ten inches diagonal from their firmly planted rear ends to the tips of their nose. The are delightfully lumpy, a mottled brown color, with bulbous gold and black eyes. The skin on their throats and belly is pale and silky and they sit motionless, save for the vibration of their throat. They allow me to get very close and I take numerous photos of them before they tire of my bright flashing light and hop off into the darkness. I long to touch one, but restrain myself, remembering somewhere that their skin is toxic and not knowing if my touch might harm them. I am delighted, amused and inspired and may need to add a Toad Charm to my line of jewelry.

Our Private Jungle - Wednesday, May 6.

We are up shortly after 5:00 A.M. slicing potatoes and onions and cracking eggs for breakfast. Louis has promised to bring me coffee this morning and he arrives, shortly before 6:00 A.M. with a coke bottle filled with strong tepid coffee. Tabra doesn't drink coffee and I was anxious that I would not enjoy our jungle hike without my morning cup. I add milk and he walks out to his motorcycle, pulling out a knotted plastic bag containing humidified sugar. I drink the thick sweet brew gratefully, flashing back to an early morning hike in Flores, Indonesia, when John and I hiked with a guide to a viewpoint to watch the sunrise over Kelemeto Volcano. A grizzled old man, in a dirty and worn sarong hiked miles each morning to sell coffee to those making the trek to watch the sunrise. That cup of coffee, and today's coffee are two of the best cups I've ever tasted. We share our breakfast with Louis and at 6:30 A.M. we lock the cabin to explore Tabra's jungle property. We start down along a dirt road, Louis leading the way, the morning warm and humid already. Tabra inquires about the landmarks and the boundaries of her property and he points and gestures, mostly to her satisfaction. He caretakes for several property owners in the Turrubaras area. We leave the road, hiking downward. The upper part of her property is more forest than jungle, but Louis carries a machete and slices through vines and underbrush to clear our pathway. We encounter several shallow, narrow streams, wider than I can jump, and he places his foot in the center of the stream, and motions me to use the toe of his rubber as a stepping stone. As we descend, the jungle grows more dense and we scramble down the steeper embankments, gripping tree branches, vines, and often an outstretched hand for support. Tabras' property is 35 hectors, or approximately 85 acres. There are several springs on her property and a year round river with monumental boulders and waterfalls, that are impressive, even at the end of the dry season. Louis cools off with a swim in the river, but Tabra and I are not inclined to bare our thighs to this young man, so we rest on cool bounders and take photos. I find the return trip easier than the descent and we stop to observe insects, mushrooms and seed pods on the way home. The humidity hangs heavy as the morning heats up and we are drenched with sweat by the time we return to the cabin 4 hours later.

Birds have built a precarious nest on the support beams just below the tin roof of Tabra's porch. We watch the parents come and go, feeding their fledgling babies and obviously disturbed by our presence. The tell tale splatters of guano decorate the floor beside the dining table. Unable to resist, we move the table over to the edge of the porch and I am able to stand on the table and photograph the birds within the nest. I am careful not to use flash, and observe that these babies will leave the nest shortly. Mango trees grow on Tabra's property and she gathers the fallen ones and we feast on the ripe ones that the worms have not yet discovered and spend the afternoon keeping cool in her pool. A tiny jeweled green iguana does push ups at the side of the pool. He has red markings down his long tail and allows us to watch him for some time.

It is the beginning of the rainy season and the sky turns dark and the rain begins gradually. Our plan is to drive into Orotina to send e-mail, go to the market and eat an early dinner. We lock the cabin about 3:00 P.M. just as a deluge of rain hits. It is my job to unlock the padlocked gate leading to the road and I am utterly drenched by the time Tabra has maneuvered the rental car through the gate. The rain continues to come down in torrents making the drive challenging, but Tabra proceeds with the upmost caution and I operate the defrost and windshield buttons allowing her to focus on the road ahead. Ordinarily the trip to Orotina should only take 30 minutes, but it takes us much longer under todays conditions. There are few cars on the road but those that are, all seem to be in a hurry. We come to a suspension bridge spanning a wide river. The single lane bridge is shrouded in fog and the steel cables sway with the weight of our car. Tabra is careful to keep the tires of our car centered on the wooden slats of the bridge and we cross without incident.

Orointina is a reasonably good sized town with several restaurants, markets and two internet cafes. We choose an attractive open air restaurant for our meal, order the filet of beef special and watch the rain continue to fall. We are only one of two occupied tables, but it after 4:00 P.M. neither lunch time or dinner time. The waiters mop rain water off of the terra cotta tile floor, a seemingly a futile exercise until the rain ceases. Next on the addenda is to find an internet Cafe and we each spend the an hour checking on our separate businesses and sending e-mail. Our final stop is a small but modern supermarket where we buy potatoes, onions, eggs and other staples to get us through the next two days in the cabin. It is already growing dark by the time we are back on the road and start for home. Our intent was to be home before dark but we are at least grateful that the rain has stopped. We retrace our path across the suspension bridge, cold steel hanging over black water, driving slowly in the dark. Our headlights illuminate the road ahead and we see small grey stones in the road that we had not noticed earlier. We drive over several of the rocks and then realize to our dismay, that they are large toads. I believe that we drove over and did not squash the first of the toads, but our return trip is even slower, punctuated by my exclamations of caution whenever I spot a lump in the road.

May 5th. The Garden of Eden

I wake a little before 6:00 A.M. light streaming through our second floor window and unseen birds harmonizing shrilly with the sound of traffic. Tabra is already up and steps out to check her e-mail in a nearby computer nook. Our room is extremely simple; two twin beds with paper thin mattresses, hard pillows, a table and single chair. A simplistic mural of jungle vines curl up one of the walls and a bucolic scene of a peasant house surrounded by trees decorates the opposite wall. A frame is nailed into the plaster wall, framing two sides of the mural, intent of giving it the illusion of a painting, but the other two sides of the frame are missing. Breakfast is downstairs in a covered and slightly crumbling courtyard, decorated with more murals. Over strong coffee, fresh sweet papaya, pineapple and melon, we arrange our schedule for the week.

Our plan is to go to Turrubares, where Tabra has recently bought property and owns a cabin in the jungle. She calls her caretaker to make certain the he will hook up the electricity and I telephone Tortuguero to change our reservations. We will rent a car and drive the two hours to Turrubares, but with an hour to spare before our rental car is brought to the Hemmingway Hotel, we walk two blocks to see the Jade Museum. It's an exceptional museum filled with pre-Colombian carved jade, pottery and jewelry and we both wish that we had more time to digest the exhibits..

We take out the full insurance for the rental car and with Tabra behind the wheel, cautiously proceed out of San Jose. We share a few inhalations of breath as she maneuvers the city traffic, but soon we are in the countryside, the narrow road winding steadily upward. We pass brightly painted country houses, their gardens lush with tropical foliage. The delineating fences are constructed of growing saplings, strung together by barbed wire and livestock struggles to keep a foothold on the rising terrain. We stop for lunch at an open air, road side restaurant with a breathtaking view of mountains and valleys muted by a slight haze. We are the only guests and a cheerful, plump, young woman recites the limited menu. The chicken plate with spicy black beans, slabs of white cheese, tortillas and salad is delicious. We have not asked the price in advance, but the bill is just $9.00 for the two of us. We proceed onward and upward for another hour and eventually come to the locked gate leading to Tabra's cabin.

Tabra hands me a clump of keys and I struggle to remove the padlock and separate the gate so that we can drive in. A graded dirt road, several hundred yards long, stretches beyond. A painted sign, The Garden of Eden, hangs above the entrance to her cabin. I have held a vision of the "cabin" in my mind for over a year, and the screened in porch, gated and locked with an interior kitchen and loft, is not what I expected. A rectangular swimming pool is parallel to the cabin, shimmering an inviting turquoise in the humid afternoon. The jungle is lush beyond the swimming pool and the Turrabales Mountains are hazy in the distance. We enter the cabin and with a few quick switches, realize that we have no electricity. As I am wrapping my mind around this, a dilapidated van pulls up outside and Louis, Maribel and their son Esteban arrive. Esteban is 7 or 8 years old and stares wide eyed at the two American women. We hold our breath as Louis adeptly unscrews fuse boxes and twists wires. His wife sweeps away insect debris and arranges fresh mangos on a plate. Within 30 minutes, electricity is a reality and I look forward to the afternoon and evening ahead. In the heat of the afternoon, the pool beckons and after they depart we change into swim suits and swim. I skim the unfortunate insects off the surface of the pool, just slightly cooler than air temperature and gravity fed by the river. As evening descends we take a walk around the property surrounding the house; the shrill crescendo of cicadas is deafening and eerie.

We drive to San Pedro, for a dinner of chicken, beans and salad, a repeat of today's lunch. The village is small and the screened in restaurant is the local night spot. Eight or ten people sit at the formica bar, drinking beers and coca colas. We sit at a plastic table, in plastic patio chairs and are the only dinner guests. A police man stands outside in the road, behind the few parked cars and Tabra explains that there is a new law in Costa Rica, forbidding anyone to drive after three beers. I watch the beers pile up on one table beyond and wonder if the lone police man is counting, watching and waiting. We drink only water and return the few miles to Tabra's property. We are relieved that the electricity is still working and settle in for the night, locking both the screen gate to the patio as well as to the kitchen area and upstairs sleeping room. Tabra shutters the windows and we sit talking for sometime in the cold blue light of florescent bulbs. I startle when I hear a low growl outside the locked kitchen door, to the right of my chair. Tabra tells me that she isn't worried about the animals, nor am I. Our only concern would be the two legged kind. On two occasions, Tabra installed electricity to her cabin, once above ground and then below ground. On both occasions the wires were stolen for their copper value. The electricity for this stay has been provided by a rolled up wire that stretches the 200 yards down from the road to her cabin. When we leave, the caretakers will roll it back up and store it until she visits again.

Tabra gives me a signed copy of The Sum of our Days, by Isabel Allende. Isabel is Tabra's good friend and Tabra is often a character in her books. We climb the ladder to the sleeping loft and read before turning out the lights.

San Jose California, to San Jose Costa Rica - Monday, May 4th.

I start most trips in a sleep deprived state and this morning is no exception. I set my alarm for 2:00 A.M. to administer John's pain medication and refill his ice therapy machine. I try to go back to sleep afterwards, but my mind checks and rechecks the scrolling list in my mind and I eventually tiptoe down to the office to resume work. I reheat coffee in the microwave which beeps loudly, startling John who snarls at me to turn off the light. At 6:00 A.M. I administer John's medications, kiss a sleeping boy good bye and Art drives me to the San Jose Airport.

I have abandoned ship, but it is not sinking. My "Boys" will be fine and I will have a week's adventure in Costa Rica with a friend. I expect to return, renewed and inspired by the jungle and ready to dive into the daunting move ahead of us.

I enjoy almost all aspects of traveling including the journey. The smell of an airport exhilarates me and I accept the long lines, cramped seats and mediocre food all as part of the adventure. I enjoy watching other travelers, imagining what their lives might be like and why they are traveling. I especially enjoy watching couples and families reunite at the airports. I am fascinated with the security check points and with just one carry on bag, I sail through both check in and security. I purchase a salad for brunch and wait for my flight to depart from San Jose, California, to Fort Worth Dallas. Onboard, I devour the inflight magazine but once airborne, when electronic devices are allowed, I resume this narrative. Whenever possible, I secure a window seat, since at 5' 3" leg room is not an issue so I am frequently torn between looking out the window, writing on the computer, or taking a nap. (remember, that my first wake up call was at 2:00 A.M. this morning.) I succumb to a nap but awake abruptly when the pilot announces that we are flying over the Grand Canyon. I slide up my window shade to the breathtaking view of a burnt sienna and fiery orange terrain, sculpted with undulating rivers of turquoise, transitioning into narrower rivers the color of pea soup. As a geologists daughter, I know that the landscape below is three dimensional, but from 20,000 feet it is reduced to a spectacular two dimensional painting. The three hour lay over in Dallas is painless enough and I splurge on a pedicure at a day spa. The flight between Dallas, Texas and San Jose Costa Rica is less than 4 hours and the time passes quickly.

We land at 8:40 P.M. and with just a carry on bag I am quickly through immigration and customs. I change a $100 bill into Colones, and catch a Taxi from Airport to Hemmingway Hotel. It's 10:00 P.M. when I arrive at the hotel and the desk attendant is expecting me and shows me upstaris to our room. I last saw Tabra when we visited her in Bali last year. We are both jewelers and avid travelers; we have a lot to catch up on and talk into the night.

Abandoning Ship, to Costa Rica - Flashback

Flashing back to the last week: It's always challenging to leave home and my business for a week or more and the pre- departure preparation for this trip has been the hardest ever. I booked my tickets for this trip on February 19th when the Magic waters were calm, the Santa Cruz weather cool and I longed for a jungle escape. Round trip tickets between San Jose, California and San Jose Costa Rica were just a little over $400.00 and my friend Tabra would be in Costa Rica in early May. We made plans to meet, to stay in her cabin in the jungle and to travel up river to Tortugero for two nights.

What I hadn't counted on was that with property prices lower, and interest rates down, that we would buy a house in March and be in the midst of moving just when I was due to leave for Costa Rica. I also didn't know that our son John would tear his meniscus at the climbing gym in early April and require knee surgery just days before my departure.

Instead of designing jewelry, the past several weeks have been a blur of paperwork; loan applications, escrow papers and of course taxes. I've had the phone glued to my ear arranging for termite tenting, moving vans, doctor appointments, MRI's and X-Rays. I've learned more about the health insurance industry that I care to. For years, when my husband worked in the silicon valley, we had the luxury of a magic plastic insurance card that paid for virtually everything but John never broke a bone or required surgery. Our insurance is now under NASA, a major medical policy for the self employed and with our chosen $7500 deductible, it has not helped significantly with John's surgery. It has cost less to negotiate and pay directly for the surgery facility, the doctor and the anesthesiologist than to use the insurance. Durable medical goods is a new term for me and I never dreamed that ice therapy machines and locking knee braces were so costly. So, my few Dear Readers....I hope you still covet my jewelry, since we have some hefty medical bills to pay off this year..

I am impressed with the immediacy and the quality of care that John has had throughout his ordeal. Initially and by chance, a first class, sports doctor was recommended to us who saw to it that John's locked and injured knee received immediate attention. He took into consideration our planned trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos in late June, and helped us to secure an immediate appointment with a surgeon. The surgeon was equally sensitive to our situation and two days following our initial consultation, John was scheduled for surgery

John's knee surgery was at noon on Friday, May 1st. Art and I go with him to the surgery center and wait anxiously in the waiting room for many hours. Although the surgery reportedly goes well, John is sensitive to the anesthetic and it takes him many hours to come out of the fog before we can take him home. Eventually, John is released and we struggle to get him in and out of the van, his leg rigid in the brace. Still unstable from the medications and unfamiliar with the brace and crutches, John, unsteadily climbs the front porch stairs up to our Victorian house. Unable to scale the narrow stairway to his upstairs room, we settle him down on the couch in our living room, cluttered with packing boxes. Art hooks up his ice therapy machine and I scurry around making him comfortable and administering his medications. John is hungry since he hasn't eaten since last night, but he is nauseated and the pills make it worse., He is a demanding patient until the pain medication kicks in and he falls asleep. For the first weekend in several years we don't worry that John will try to escape out his upstairs bedroom window to go to a party.

Saturday morphs into Sunday, punctuated by 4 hour intervals of pain medication and refilling the ice therapy machine. John can't keep much food down and the antibiotics make his skin itch and the pain medication makes it difficult for him to pee. He is miserable and bored. Sunday morning I ask John if he would like me to read to him and he accepts enthusiastically. It's been sometime since my little boy has allowed me to read to him and I choose The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe. I have a hard-bound volume of "Tales of Mystery and Imagination," rich with illustrated plates and inscribed to my mother from her parents. I recall my mother reading to me from this wonderful book. She introduced me to Poe when I was a young girl and I surmise that the stories from this collection inspired some of the imagery of my work. John listens with closed eyes and drifts off to sleep before I finish the tale. Still, I continue to read, savoring the cadence and the imagery, and feeling an overwhelming love for my sleeping son.

I busy myself in my adjoining office, marking things off of my list in preparation for my trip and intermittently wondering if I should cancel my plans. It is obvious that John will not be going to school on Monday and I feel guilty leaving Art to tend to both our recovering son and the orders that I anticipate will come in during the week. Still, I have worked at warp speed for two weeks to anticipate and organize the upcoming events and I know that Art will be just fine. I imagine and rationalize, that he will enjoy a week alone with his son so I pack my carry on suitcase.