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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.



About a month ago, I found myself with a wonderful opportunity. A great family friend told us that if we were going to revisit his family in Costa Rica, the time had come; all the stars had lined up. It didn’t take us long to gather our things, check our passports and flip-flops, and catch a quick flight to Liberia, Costa Rica. We fly to that airport because it’s way closer to where we would be on the Pacific coast. In the 70s, our friend's family purchased some property in a remote part of the country on the sands of the western coast. I have never seen such stunning views from a beachside compound. I can imagine his father and his brothers standing there together, making this decision that would forever change the course of their families. They had to figure out how to get the place built, how to transport jeep loads of kids, grandmothers, provisions, and generators with fuel, all without electricity and on nearly non-existent roads. I can only imagine the road trips they must have experienced.

The first few trips there were not without incident—multiple flat tires, a gas tank with a hole from bottoming out in a river crossing, leading to a memory about a makeshift tube running from the gas tank through the Land Cruiser, over the windshield and into the carburetor! The family had to be resourceful and patient to make these long trips. I can only think of them as pioneers staking their claim 53 years ago on what would become this place we were privileged to visit.

Since then, much of the area around their place has become a national park, with protected areas that made further commercial growth very difficult and almost non-existent. That led to a nearly perfect situation for this area, with minimal overfishing, tourism, and a serene environment. It's impressive to see a real estate deal that only gets better with time, and his father and uncles nailed it.

Javier went down there a week before I arrived, so he could be with his mother while she moved back into her place in the capital. He also had a few things for some of the fishermen in the area, along with our fishing gear. We didn’t make a lot of plans, but we knew we were going to fish every day and structure the rest of each day around fishing, including naps, lunches, visiting, and hopefully, an afternoon fishing excursion. Our plan came together beautifully. We were at the boat by 5:30 every morning, even after my family arrived a week later. Anyone who wanted to join us could, and they did, to watch the sunrise over the sea.

The fishing was good; we caught Yellowfin tuna, Rooster fish, Red Snapper, Wahoo, and Mahi. We also saw a mother Humpback Whale with her baby, another smaller whale, and lots of Sea turtles coming up for a quick breath of air. There were so many turtles swimming around that we realized the arrival of thousands of sea turtles, returning to lay their eggs on the same beach where they were hatched, had begun. The Sea Turtles are protected by the government, and various Australian groups have helped with this effort.

We met a guide near the beach where the turtles were going through this arduous process. The only way to observe the egg-laying is with a guide and a red flashlight at night. Apparently, the turtles are in a trance and can't see red light. The turtles weren’t hard to find; they were nearly on top of each other, seeking the best place to lay their eggs, as close to the exact spot that they were hatched. It was raining quite heavily that night, with lots of lightning nearby, so there weren’t many of us on the beach. We stopped at a group of mother turtles when the guide told us we could look where the turtles had dug their holes and begun to lay their eggs. Each turtle leaves 80 to 100 eggs in their holes in the sand, dropping 5 to 8 eggs every few minutes. The eggs are encased in a clear liquid that hardens to protect them from sea water. If the eggs aren’t crushed or eaten by predators or killed from excess water, the hatchlings have a very small chance of making it from the beach to the ocean, where everyone is eagerly awaiting their chance for some tender turtle breakfast. Only about 3% of the babies survive. Given the number of turtles, I guess that’s enough for survival.

I wasn't quite prepared for the rain that night, but I had a change of shirt, so we found a great restaurant afterward. That wasn't hard to do in Costa Rica. The next day, we headed a bit farther north towards the Nicaraguan border, not to cross it, but to explore a small fishing village. A day or two later, we took the mostly paved road to Javier's place. There was a section of the road we weren't sure would be passable, so we hit it early in case we had to take the long road around a missing bridge. We were there in the winter, also known as the rainy season, when it usually rains every day around 3:00. The other season is summer, known as the dry season. It had been raining fairly regularly before I arrived and not much since, so we weren’t sure how much water had accumulated upstream from this river crossing. When we got to the spot in question, we watched two other vehicles cross with their Land Cruisers equipped with snorkels in case the hood went underwater. It didn’t look too bad, except for the buzzards ominously drying their wings on the riverbanks. We had a rental car that was all-wheel drive with aggressive tires, so we cruised right through the deep part, whew.

With two more hours to go weaving around people, animals, and mopeds, we enjoyed the ride while Javier reminisced about past trips down this road when they weren’t so lucky. The road we were on abruptly ended at a beach, with the Pacific Ocean only about 20 yards away. The tide was in, so we drove on the beach with the water lapping the side of our tires. We had arrived in paradise, at their family compound. He showed me around, and we got everything set up while we figured out where everyone would sleep. My gang would arrive in two days, and we wanted everything to be perfect. The place can sleep 21 people, so we had plenty of space for everyone. Some of his family members were coming for the weekend, so we wanted them to have their favorite rooms. Mimi, Max, and Madeline would arrive first, and then Mia and Cody would arrive a couple of days later, so we made a couple of trips back to the airport. Those trips were opportunities to hit the grocery stores as our food needs increased. We ate the day's catch from the sea every night, but for breakfast and lunch, we went with more traditional fare. Usually, we had rice with either black or red beans, fried plantains (my new favorite), and a salad. Eating healthy on that trip was easy for main meals, although there were plenty of tempting things if someone didn't want to eat healthily.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the health-conscious lifestyle that everyday people in Costa Rica displayed. There were lots of organic farms providing produce, plenty of Yoga studios, and a strong awareness of the environment. We fished, napped, cooked, and ate the next few days away. We spent some time at the grocery store getting everything we thought our gang would enjoy. I love going to other people's grocery stores; it’s a good way to get a feel for the place. There were lots of items in the produce aisle that I didn’t recognize, but by the end of the trip, I had developed an affection for them. It was fun trying to figure out what things were based on the Spanish labels, especially when the pictures on the packaging didn't depict the contents accurately. My Spanish is pretty bad, but I tried my best to communicate without Javier's help. I made sure he was nearby in case I hit a snag. I realized that I could understand most of the conversations I listened to, but unless the speaker spoke very slowly and was patient with my attempts to string Spanish words together, I had a hard time beyond basic questions. I did succeed in asking for and finding food coloring! Try that sometime. We needed a tie-dye flag for the beach in front of our spot. I could tell that people appreciated my efforts, and we often had some good laughs about my subpar language skills.

Finally, the day arrived when Mimi, Max, and Madeline would arrive. We swapped the speedy car for a van that could accommodate everyone and their belongings. We were excited to have these guests join us in this exciting adventure. We set up their beds, chilled some drinks, and had dinner partially prepared, so after their journey from home and the airport, they could watch the sunset worry-free. Next week, I'll share about that part of the trip. Until then, I hope you can avoid being outside as much as possible. I have to keep reminding myself that this too shall pass."

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