Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Here's to 2009 . . .

This year has been phenomenally beautiful, six months travelling in South America and another two months in Scotland. I'm remembering a world of colorful places, people, tantalizing art and food, ancient and modern histories, and natural wonders -- from waterfalls larger than Niagara, to curious coatimundis scampering in the jungle. We were ready for more, but two weeks ago this Friday, everything changed with Allen's stroke.

Now we're headed for a new home in the Pacific Northwest. We'll travel slowly west, heading out along a southern route to escape this brutal cold and winter storms. But by February, we should be in Spokane, unpacking boxes that have been in storage for nearly three years.

But right now, we can't really predict the future. Of course, we all should live with that sense that every day is a gift. Allen's stamina increases each day, and so far, his physical and mental capabilities seem unaffected. But this has been a tremendous shock, and I know I came close to losing my dearest friend. This is the time to face each day with courage and hope, for we have far less to worry about than many and our family and friends have reached out to us with love. And yet, somehow life seems simpler. I am grateful for the daily routines that hold our lives together and hope to truly know each day as the gift it is.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Back in the States . . .

Last Friday, everything changed. Allen woke up feeling not himself. We took a taxi to the Hospital San Vincent in Heredia, Costa Rica, where he was diagnosed with a stroke. The next 24 hours still seem a blur. The staff in Costa Rica were caring, but we knew the best decision for us was simply to come home. American Airlines will forever be my first choice for their outstanding care for us, from re-ticketing, support through customs, and wheelchair assistance. Despite it being Christmas week, and vicious snow storms blanketing the east coast, we found ourselves on the way home to Philadelphia within 24 hours. We arrived Monday morning at 3:30 am, and by lunch time, Allen was in the hospital, undergoing tests. Allen now has a team of doctors caring for him, and we expect him to come home from the hospital by Wednesday, if all goes well.

Although the stroke affected the entire left side of his body, the residual effects are relatively contained because he took 4 aspirin within the first hour of the onset of symptoms. His speech and brain function appear unaffected. He does now walk with a slight hitch on the left side and some balance issues. We feel more than blessed.

I'm not sure about the future. Part of the time I'm still thinking in Spanish, but it feels so good to be home, and where "home" will be is up in the air for now. May you be well where you are!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Not lost in San Jose . . .

Today we took two busses down from the hills of San Francisco de Heredia to the capital of Costa Rica, the crowded, much maligned city of San Jose. I'm taller than the average Costa Rican, so I sit a little sideways in most busses.

As we walked down narrow and crowded sidewalks, acid rock blared from tiny shops to entice us in to buy T-shirts, colorful socks, or other intimate apparel. We found our way to Vishnu, a well respected vegetarian restaurant. This was a bigger feat that you might expect since street signs are a rarety, despite our trusty Lonely Planet map. Friendly passersby gave us directions, just a few blocks more, and so we came to Vishnu for a late lunch where some customers were diving into gigantic bowls of ice cream with fruit. We were disciplined and went for the plato del dia (delicious lentil soup, sweet watermelon drink, brown rice with carrots, cabbage, beets, black beans, and fried banana, and for desert, a fresh banana pudding).

We also found Seventh Street Books, where the bookstore lady was very helpful, especially after we started talking about our favorite Latin American writers. We went on our way with a Spanish grammar book, another on Tico culture (Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos), and a dual language collection of short stories. Ah, reading materials.

Refreshed, we hesitatingly made our way to the Gold Museum, doubting whether we had made the right choice for Lonely Planet noted the museum has "all the warmth and comfort of a bank vault" BUT we were pleasantly surprised as we followed the graceful stairways down underneath the central plaza. Somehow the three floors of the museum were spacious and the artifacts beautifully displayed.

The goldwork was exquisite (especially tiny frogs, hummingbirds, and alligators, some as small as 1" to 3"), delicate and refined, some a mix of copper and gold, as can be seen by the photo (more info available here). The entire lost wax process was illustrated. One case also showed these tiny bird and animal figures ritually damaged; these were often used in healing ceremonies. Many of the artifacts came from Guayabo, though I'm not yet sure we'll go to this largely unexcavated site, though it has many of the large and mysterious circular stones scattered throughout. A 4 wheel drive is required for the 45 minute drive off the main road.

We also saw an overview of the birds here and identified our backyard bird as a Tropical Kingbird, somewhat a cousin to the Kiskadee we saw all over South America). Our eyes filled with images of motmots, trogons, macaws, and hummingbirds, that we'll hope to see in January when we go touring.

Finally, we are adjusting to the 4,000 foot altitude (that means I'm puffing a little less when we hike up hills). We're moved into our apartment, know where to buy Pepsi and roastizadas, and are starting to feel somewhat guilty as we hear from friends back home about 28 degree weather. So, I wish you were here. 78 degrees tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Ah! Costa Rica!

We flew in to Costa Rica late last night, landing in San Jose, Costa Rica, in the highlands after a five hour wait with connecting flights in Miami. Street lights marked neighborhoods and busy intersections, and so we came to our hotel, the Hotel Hojarascas, our home for the next three days. Think 80 degrees, air conditioning, Spanish all around us, and fresh papaya, pineapple, and mango for breakfast. We slept in deliciously, and then, thanks to the help of Jose here at the hotel, who made us feel like family, we now have an apartment for the next three months, complete with internet and American football. I already miss family and friends, but we have much to be thankful for this night.