It’s not all about doing nothing

My routine of wake, ensure I hadn’t time to get to yoga, breakfast, beach, shower, dinner and bed was broken up on the Sunday with a morning of photography at Mapusa market, learning to use my Fuji camera and to shamefully ‘fess up to the mahoosive scratch on the lens, which was definitely not from overuse.

My photography lesson was with Francisco De Souza, settled in Goa running his photography business. We eventually met by Mapusa market, once I had a driver who’d been woken up and driven like a demon, doing the usual 40min journey in 25. Thankfully it was a Sunday and early so traffic and risk to life was reduced somewhat.

Sidestepping a most colourful vomit I met Francesco who was radiating energy and passion at 8.20 in the morning. A love of photography and of India was immediately apparent. My camera was up to the job, despite the scratch and after some work recalling the details of aperture, iso and shutter speed we set off to practise. Or in my case cower and go ‘wtf’. Actually, that’s not totally true.   You can’t.  When you’re focussing on trying to remember ‘big aperture, little aperture’ (insert 90s dance move here), shutter speed up or down and then be all artistic in the moment you kind of have to focus on technical and forget getting the photo to look too perfectly pretty. My brain however did turned to mush as I fumbled with the settings, things coming out too dark, too light, and trying to figure out the fix.

Flowers for sale, Mapusa market

However practice does indeed ‘make getting nowhere near to perfect but certainly small incremental improvement’ and after sizing up some flower garlands we moved to the bus station to photograph passengers, sellers and stall holders.  I was still Sally Slo-mo but I was getting the hang of the techie stuff, and slowly figuring out how to adjust the settings.

Didi’s fruit basket
Chillies ready for the pot
Snacks cooking at Mapusa Market

Cisco had a natural ease and seemed to know all the characters working in and around the bus station and the market.  I was introduced to Didi (older sister), a fruit seller who’s slightness belied her bad-ass street seller persona.  After the offer of a chai, she offered to pose for photos, much to the amusement and interest of those around her as well as herself.  I would have loved to have known her story as there is a lot behind her lively eyes.

Fruit seller and bad ass with a big smile at Mapusa market
Sharing a joke with Cisco

Once we had finished at the bus station, we moved into the flower market, and into another challenge of light, shade and asbestos.  The asbestos roof was being removed, and it lay around broken and in piles next to the sellers.  It goes without saying how unsafe that exposure was for all of those moving around, working amongst it, or even worse, clearing it up.

Flower garland making

The colours, the vibrancy were pure India, it’s what draws you back repeatedly to this country.  The richness from the smallest details.  I don’t know if it’s because it’s ‘other’, and I’m from a dull and overcast country but having the opportunity to capture those moments was hugely appreciated.

We moved into the fruit and veg market where the veggies were piled into spectacular displays in the shape of pyramids, rounds or just tidy heaps for customers to peruse and for me to practise my aperture settings. Meanwhile Cisco was exciting the stallholders with the magic trick of the removable thumb. He left to cries from those watching to repeat it, and a hurried flurry of attempts to work out how he had detached part of his thumb.

Across the way and standing by the entrance of the fish market to capture the comings and goings of the shoppers  It was picking up pace, in terms of customers now and it was a non-stop flow of humanity, whether it was shoppers, sellers or porters carrying fishboxes on their heads, weaving amongst the crowds, negotiating a wet and slippery floor.  Walking amongst the sellers you could see baby shark, and other small fish for sale.  Some fish were covered with sand, seemingly to ‘prove’ the freshness of the haul.  Outside was the fishmongers who would gut and clean your purchases, mesmerising to watch the dexterity of the knife handlers.

We watched a roaster of nuts sitting barefoot next to a fierce heat, toasting peanuts.

Roaster at the market
Roaster at the market

Inside the room was sweltering, despite the fan blowing.  However the roaster seemed totally at ease with the discomfort, focussing on ensuring the toasting didn’t progress to burning, monitoring the flame and the heat accordingly.

Ensuring the product is toasted to perfection
Ensuring the product is toasted to perfection.

Back out into the sun, and it was becoming a fiercely hot day, our time was drawing to a close.  We were approached by a young man wanting a photo.  The last shot of the morning.

Final shot of the morning. A young deaf guy.

It was time to say goodbye and a massive thank you for the lesson.  Whilst not totally competent, I was feeling more content to use the camera on manual and set up to practice, practice, practice over the rest of the trip and those occasional ‘lucky’ shots would serve to make me feel a bit better about my ability.  Now just need to figure out if the scratch can be removed….

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Today was a typical day and…

I saw

The baker boys with their bicycles and their horns hee-haawing letting you know they’ve bread rolls (poi) for sale.
Rain, it spitter spattered on and off all day till about 3pm.
Fishermen and their catches. Crows, instead of gulls, hanging around for scraps.
Boats dotted among sun loungers, defiantly so. This is still a fishing place after all.
People staring out to sea.
Porpoises or maybe dolphins. Lots of them just out not far from the shore.
A lot of people wearing hats seemingly made out of horse hay bags, ugly is the new f’ugly in the headgear realms.
Bob Marley, everywhere in Arambol. I mean, not literally, I know he is dead an’ all, but Arambol isn’t Arambol without a Rasta o’d. That means….
Dreadlocks worn by trustafarians called Trist, hemp waistcoats, mud brown harem troos, bare feet walking through cow shit and the practising of hula-hooping and fire-eating on the beach.
Lots of tattoos and bum cheeks peaking around swimwear.
A little boy drawing the sun in the sand. Then covering the sun’s eyes with a towel because the sun was asleep.
A Tibetan sound bowl that brought tears to my eyes when it was struck – the vibration touched my soul.
People streaming up and down the beach enjoying the cool.
A Western man with hennaed hair, his bright orange locks making it look like Ronald McDonald was on a hipppy break.
Hawkers trailing back and forth forlornly, the sunseekers weren’t out on the loungers today.
Dean in the shop looking well, passing me the phone to talk to darling Patrice. Keeping everything crossed for the green card and the Hawaii shops a reality.
Little herons patrolling the estuary shoreline, camouflaged against the sand.
Packs of dogs coalescing and dispersing as they ran along the beach, barking, yapping, fighting, racing. Flowing around tourists, teeth bared, wanting to wrestle, play, nip.
A Russian couple with matching right leg and hand bandages. A result of a moped accident.
A Russian couple with chest and leg scrapes doused in iodine. A result of a moped accident.
A sunset without the sun, the most beautiful yet.
A British couple talking about garden centres. FFS. To a Dutch couple.
A pregnant little cat begging for food, just as I got to the end of my fish curry. Sorry mate.
People driving like cunts on mopeds or motorbikes. Lights off in tbe dark because you can hear it coming, right?
My rock hard bed covered in my new purchases – sound bowls, a scarf and Dean Alan top.
A good day. A Goa day.

Sunset at Babu Huts, Mandrem

Goa-ing Goa-ing Gone….

Monday in Ashwen. Sleeping alot. Like old lady in bed at 8 to the roar of dance music bedtime. Dead to the world. Waking for a moment around the witching hour then sleeping and dreaming till 5am. Time for old lady pee and a stretch as I am sleeping on an Indian mattress, aka board covered in cotton padding, aka torture….Today I forced myself back to sleep, skipping yoga and aiming for sleep olympic medal in the hope of making it to 10pm tonight.

It was, of course, trauma-town to get here. The first leg, home to Heathrow, involved some bus shenanigans, as the Heathrow Connect wasn’t running that early. A bit of a fib to the National Express coach man got me to T4 gratis. Thank you v much 😊.

Despite checking in online my need to not be late meant I still needed to arrive 3hrs before the flight. And thus I arrived 3.5hrs early. Time for some random hanging around, observing the excess baggage overload that was happening at Air France check-in desk for flights to Africa. I was allowed to check in 4mins earlier than my allotted time and thus get through an uber efficient security process and sit down for a breakfast before you could say shashuka for one.

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The blue moon setting over Heathrow.

KLM was super efficient and Schipol was bustling. The connecting flight was practically next door to where I arrived so no painful superdash across the airport – that was to come later in Mumbai….of course.

I had read online about delays of up to 3hrs at the airport as a result of e-visa introduction. Surely not still the case…but taking no chances and despite us landing 10mins early I muscled my way off the plane pretty sharpish and pegged it halfway around the airport to immigration. Time to get in my 10,000 step, elevate my heart rate whilst being dehydrated and needing a wee…winner.. .

It seemed fairly quiet, which seemed pretty hopeful. However the airport is huge, with plenty places for people to hide. However the reason for the quiet soon became apparent…all the passengers from other flights were already queued halfway out of immigration. Shit. E-visa queue was the worst with not even half the desks were open. Snail’s pace would be over-egging it as a description. I had 2.5hrs to get through, get my bag and get across to the domestic terminal. Seeing this tired, polite queue of sweaty folks I realised that I was potentially fucked.

A little kerfuffle of ‘you pushed in’, ‘no we didn’t’, soon kicked off in front of me. The lady who had instigated it rightly pissed off having spent 45mins (along with other fellow passengers from Toronto) in the wrong queue, then was told there had been a mistake and now was at the back of another. A sudden rush of people as a couple more desks opened…doing, as the best sheep do, I followed. Can’t say I really moved much further in line overall but my swollen ankles and potential dvt got a chance to move around a bit. I managed to pick out Toronto lady a bit further back and called her over and we chit-chatted. Tanzanian Indian her family had moved to the UK and 40yrs ago she had moved to Toronto as a new bride. She was back in India for a puja, husband or father or brother it wasn’t clear and I didn’t feel it my place to ask.

It was fairly low key in the queue, although many had connecting flights at 5am. A few people had family with OCI who were impatiently waiting the other side. Standard visa was also moving a lot quicker. We shuffled our way forward. Time ticked by. An hour gone and maybe halfway there, maybe not. Final corner of the queue to join the counter queue. Go behind the wheelchair or not? Not. Chose wrong…argh. Now getting agitated. Over an hour and a half going not very far. Immigration man chat chat smile smile to the woman in front…all the time in the world. Me next. Finally. Smile ‘yes, all good, flight to catch, please be quick’. The fingerprint machine is slow and not working well. ‘Left 4 fingers’…’Again’, ‘Ok?’, ‘Waiting for machine…’, ‘Ok’, ‘Right 4 fingers?’, ‘Wait for machine.’…all the time rictus grin of ffs and I need to get my bag. Finally thumbs…’ok, all good’. Hurray. ‘Thank you SO much’, quick hug to Toronto lady and running through duty free to baggage and queues all the way back to duty free for customs….ahhhhh shit.

The flight was gone off the board. And the bags were not at carousel 7 as we had been told. ’10 madam’….scan of the bags piled up…’KLM??…no not 10. ’11 madam’. Fuck, run to 11. I hadn’t had a workout like this since the Turkish Airline debacle at Istanbul that ended in missing my connection there, missing my flight to Goa and overall total fuckuppery thanks to that thwarting airline. Nothing personal, just never flying with them ever again.

Not in that pile by the belt. WTF. ‘Here madam’, a few bags left stacked in another pile. Of that is all that’s left then how did those other feckers get through so bloody fast??? Grabbed it and ran past the red channel, ignored the green channel queues. Headed to a moustachioed man in uniform ostensibly in charge of the queues. He looked at me ‘connecting flight’ I hoarsely explained. I queue jumped to x-ray hand luggage then out to prepaid taxi. 700r for a 625r ride which wouldn’t really be that in a normal taxi but hey it’s an emergency. Didn’t really listen to instructions as to where to find the taxi, muscle memory took me downstairs. The lifts few and far between, designed with space for a wheelchair, a man and a mop and one carry on bag. Perfect for an international airport then.

Outside I hit the heat of Bombay and a row of taxis. Found my way to the prepaid. 3.50am. 300rupees if you get me there by 4am. Challenge accepted. Seatbelt was working. I checked before I laid out the request, not a total nincompoop.

We got there with 4mins to spare. Check-in desk was calling for all passengers to Goa. ‘Madam, this is your ticket?’…well it was in my hand, so….’Yes, not this counter..this is Indi–Go. You need Go…’. Obviously at the other end of the airport. Nincompoop.

Bag dropped. Departures is obviously upstairs and obviously there’s people just standing on the escalator and not engaging their lower limbs to ascend it. The stairs it was. My beautiful shade of beetroot only served to accentuate my rapid dehydration. If I had gone to the loo likelihood is I would have pissed sand.

Not allowed in tbe short security queue because that was for men only. No…join the longer lady queue and mandatory frisking up on a podium but behind a curtain.

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Discretion is everything after all. Through that rather understated check, ‘ underwired bra?’ ‘Beeep’….’Bob on for getting that right aye?’ and after a rather long wait as the security guy’s job didn’t extend to utilising his arms to move the x-rayed items along the belt it was off to the gate and onto the plane IMMEDIATELY. No hanging around and we took off 20mins early. Not a flight for slackers.

An hour later we descended into Dabolim still in darkness. The flight a mix of early morning business men, Bombayite bachelor boys on a weekend away from mum, Bombayite single girls on a weekend guaranteed to be more debauched than that of their male counterparts, families utilising every piece of luggage allowance and finally the tourists.

My case was there and so was my driver and we headed off in the morning gloom and cool to my accommodation in Ashvem. It was a tad nippy out. As evidenced by business man running with a balaclava on his head that exposed his eyes and his bald head. Further along there was someone actually in running gear, and not office attire, in a similar mask – seemed to be an anti-pollution thing not abalaclava after all.

As we drove along it was evident there had been some progress on the road works that headed north. In 2015 it was mayhem, causing tailbacks to the airport. There was more of it on more stretches of the road and it was all very much work in progress. We wove past and through it creating two, three and sometimes four lanes of traffic in space designed for one. No overtaking signs acting merely as a suggestion rather than an actual requirement. Yep, I was definitely back in Goa.

Arriving at the accommodation about 7.30am I was entirely unsurprised to see anyone on reception. I was technically 5.5hrs early. Settling down for a snooze on the bench by the desk I just started to drift off when I felt rather than heard someone next to me. One of the staff, looking less awake than me. Without any preamble and presumably to remove the untidiness that was me cluttering up the space he shifted me up the road to their other site, a house. My room was looking out to the beach, there was a tele, spacious bathroom and a comfy mattress on a mahoosive bed. Heaven. Mine. For all of 2hrs. Then at breakfast I was informed I was in the wrong room and needed to move. Bugger.

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View left
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Er….view….right

Shifted back to reality of an Indian mattress (a paradox if ever there was one) and a room that smelt faintly of sewerage once the fan was turned off. Bollocks.

Mentioning it at reception I was told it would be sorted. It was. I was moved again. Turns out someone had thought the bucket next to the loo was purely for decorative purposes only and had thrown loo roll, plastic and all manner of rubbish down the toilet. Bell-ends. Thus I had arrived back, now it was off to go exploring and reacquaint myself with Ashvem / Mandrem.

You say ‘Tortuga’, I say…

Wowzers!  Or more accurately I say nothing at all, as we are watching an Olive Ridley female just going about her reproductive business in the dark of a clear Costa Rican night.

Having not seen anything, but had the opportunity of a robust walk up and down the beach on night one, then completely missed a 6ft Costa Rican guide at Las Olas on night two, we managed to finally meet up again on night three, along with another colleague of Turtle Tours for another walk.  Maybe it was going to be third time lucky – well, obviously it was, otherwise there wouldn’t have been this post.  For some shots of turtles in the daytime, post hatching check out the Tico Times article.

The night was crystal clear and full of stars.  The night before there had been a meteor shower, which I’d completely missed, and been completely unaware of.  So absolutely no excuses, usually I’m aware but can’t be arsed.

Luckily there were a few Sally Slow-boat shooting stars bringing up the rear, and as we pootled along the beach enjoying the ‘avoiding the waves’ dance I caught sight of one and made my wish to see a tortuga laying her eggs on the beach.  And then, and then…

Not 10 paces on, and our guide veered left up the beach toward a nearby hotel.  In the dark he’d spotted the pattern in the sand of a female turtle hauling herself up the beach to lay her eggs.  As he’s down there every night he soon gets to know what are old tracks and what are the new, and these were new.  We followed and behind a branch laying across the sand like an enclosure we found her.  An Olive Ridley Green Turtle just arrived on the shore to lay her eggs….

Magic on the beach….

She was digging her nest, in a particular way.  First her left back flipper digging down and grabbing the sand, the flipper curling around the sand as dexterously as a hand, before depositing to one side, then down went the right flipper, repeating the action on that side.  Side to side, she dug down, until satisfied.  At this point she began laying her eggs.  We sat and watched as egg after egg landed into the hole.  I posted a little video of it on Instagram, here.

 

The nest slowly filled.

I’m not sure how long we stayed there transfixed by Ms Tortuga.  She seemed unaware, and we’d used a red light so as to reduce any potential stress she may have had by being watched over 3 randoms as she went about her private egg-laying business.  Once she had finished, she then began the task of filling the hole back in.  As she couldn’t see behind her, no rear view mirror to hand, she failed to see that we were being covered in sand as she attempted to return the sand back into the hole.  The reversal of the hole digging process wasn’t as neat and tidy seemingly, but eventually she was content, and then began to knead the sand between her back flippers as if she was kneading bread.  Apparently the Olive Ridley is the only turtle to do this, it’s  not clear why she was doing it but it was a particularly mesmerising activity.

Once she was done, it was as if she was taking a breather, so we shifted away from the site, and went down the beach waiting alongside the route that had brought her to the beach, as we expected her to retrace her steps.  She, however, was a few steps ahead of us, and circumvented us, taking a different route behind us, back to the sea.  We realised just in time to see her heading into the waves. They move fast when they want to.

We went back to the nest, and took at look at it, you could see the indentation where she had laid and dug, which made it an obvious spot for a poacher. The eggs are stolen and sold to bars in San Jose, to be eaten raw.  They are full of protein, and viewed as an aphrodisiac.  Also, a haul of eggs provides a quick and easy way to make money. Luckily, she had also created a depression next to the actual nest itself and it was here that a fake hole was dug to make it look as if poachers had already got at the nest and stolen the eggs.  A stick left in the newly dug hole completed the look, and we wandered back to Las Olas, avoiding the high tide that was making its way in.

The tour are plannig to work with the local public school, to educate the children of the poachers in the benefits of protecting the turtles, and hopefully turn potential poachers into gamekeepers of the future.

The eggs take about 45days to hatch, so it’ll be any day now that those lil’ eggs should hatch and the turtles find their way to the surface and out into the sea….fingers crossed.  It was truly a magical end to a beautiful experience that was Costa Rica, and all that it had to offer.

What is the sound of one boob clapping?

Very distracting…that’s what.

When you’re on a horse down on the beach, jungle on one side, and the sea on the other, you expect to hear lots of nature.  What you don’t expect to hear is the (disconcerting) sound of one boob clapping as you trot / canter back on the last ride of your trip.  Honestly, things that go through your head – ‘Why is it just the one?’, ‘How come it’s just the one?’, ‘If this keeps on it’ll have stretched and be down by my ankles’, ‘Can anyone else hear that?’, ‘Thank god, it’s just me, Shawna and two horses, so no-one else can get scared away’, ‘Please make it stop’, ‘Next time I’m wearing a better bikini top…actually, no, I’ll wear a sports bra and swim in that, no, I’ll just duct tape everything down’….

Still, it had been worth it, and took my mind off my ankle being rubbed raw by the stirrup – my own fault for being in cropped jeans. We had headed over to Esterillos Oeste, further south down the coast, for lunch and then the final ride of the trip.  Esterillos Oeste is home to a lot of ex-pats with a love of the golf cart, in order to get around.  Costa Rica does attract a lot of the retirees from North America who aren’t always the steadiest on their lower limbs, either that, or they are attempting to recreate life on a golf course, without golf clubs, a green or holes.

The beach was pretty empty, being a week day, and the tide was heading out toward the random giant mermaid statue away from the shore.  No-one seems to know when, how or why she’s there, and I seem to have forgotten what a camera is as I didn’t take any photos.

The horses turned up and today I was on the lovely Banjo.  Lovely most of the time, till it came to trotting, at which point he was very intent on ensuring that Shawna’s horse, the beautiful boy ‘Saffy’ wasn’t getting ahead of himself and taking the lead, so he’d cut him up or try and steer him toward the sea.  Banjo also seems to love seawater, particularly drinking it, and was all up for heading into the surf for a paddle and a slurp.

Whilst the horses waited to be saddled up they grazed on the spikiest tree I’ve ever seen.  You could see where it had been nibbled at before.  As long as there was an element of green attached to it, the horses would give it a fair old go.

Looking like butter wouldn’t melt….
Ouchy-ouch nibble-age
Even Banjo is going for it, thorny bark stripped bare

Apart from a lady laid out under a tree having a rummage (in a plastic bag on her stomach), the beach was deserted. Or so we thought.  Turns out all the hermit crabs were out for a get together.  Watching them, they were all headed in the same direction for a crab pow-wow, who knows what was going down.

Heading out for that crab pow-wow

We drew up for a halt, in order to have a dip in the sea, my first one since the morning we had gone to Manuel Antonio with the Epic Self gang.  It was beautifully calm and the sea was warm and still.  Shawna and me just floated about, getting shrivelled, chit chatting, watching the horses eating palm leaves in the shade of the trees.  What a way to end the week.

We’d spent a lot of time in the water, so had to hurry up to get back, so the horses could be loaded up and get back to the farm before dark, hence the speeding up and the resulting being let down by the swimwear.  However we made it back in time and after a quick photo op to prove I had actually ridden an equine they were safely back in their transport and us humans headed out for a final dinner at Los Almendros in the village.  Yummy food to top off a great day.

The last ride of the week – thank you Banjo and all at Discovery.

The whole week has been a real experience of spending time, not just with horses, but with two amazing big hearted people in Rod and Shawna.  They had taken on the task of hanging out and entertaining a random.  They have no idea who they’re going to get, and they couldn’t have been any more friendly and generous with their time, knowledge and friendliness.  Horses are amizzin’ and ‘umans are fab!

 

I’m singing in the rain…

Maker Nature Reserve….or rather pottering about, without making anyone’s ears bleed.

Wednesday, half way through already? Lawks a mercy….Lunch had been so mahoosive the day before – a burrito that I’d excavated like a Neolithic barrow, taking the refried beans and rice innards out of, leaving the sagging tortilla heap on the side of my plate – that I skipped dinner, and had skipped out to the turtle tour instead. Even after all that walking I wasn’t hungry, and come Wednesday morning and a late start I wasn’t exactly starving but figured I’d need something for my constitution as today involved walking uphill….urgh…I get so rubbish at inclines when I’m away, no idea why, heat, low blood pressure, wrong food, being naturally inclined to being prone, and disinclined to slopes going uphill….I just don’t know.

Rod and Shawna met me and we went to Los Olas, my new favourite restaurant out of the 3 I sampled. In a One Road Town you had 5 one way, most of which were shut (or were pizza places and it’s a no go on the wheat right now) when I went exploring on my first day, and 5 t’other, and I just kept going back to t’other, as was t’closest. Breakfast was Huevos Rancheros, ooooo tasty. Went back there for them eggy puppies 3 times. After stuffing our faces we hopped in the car to head to the Rainmaker Nature Reserve practically in Quepos, and, like everywhere else, off the main road and down a dirt camina…which so far, has turned out to be pretty good, as there’s always a nice surprise at the end of them! The story of this place is unreal. A rice farmer needed to sell the mountain and a local guy, Mauricio Gutierrez, interested in conservation stepped in in order to preserve its natural beauty and continue to care for it as the farmer had done. Two days before the purchase was to be completed Mauricio drowned in one of the waterfalls on the site saving a child he had gone in the water to rescue. Mauricio’s widow and children arrived into Costa Rica for his funeral and seeing the reserve realised how important it had been to Mauricio. Two weeks later they had raised funding to purchase the mountain, and in August 1993 a new eco-tourism site was born, a haven for wildlife, fauna and flora with trails, and walkways across the site for visitors to explore.

Mahooosively long bridge
Mahooosively long bridge
Mahooooosive tree
Mahooooosive tree

The day itself was slightly overcast which was perfect for heading into the forest, and it was pretty quiet, we chanced on one couple as we meandered up the trail to take in the view. It was also pretty quiet on the wildlife front, I spotted a teeny tiny poison dart frog moving through the undergrowth and there were a number of tiny lizards out and about, but that was about it.

Poisonous Tree frog
Poisonous Tree frog
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If I stay perfectly still, they may not see me….
Lil' Lizard
Lil’ Lizard

It meant we could take in the sheer amount of greenery and diversity of plant life, and wonder at what was living in the various holes of differing sizes dotted all over the place. We wandered slow and steady over the trails, walking over suspension bridges designed to give you a sense of the scale and height of the forest and ended up at a viewing platform that looked all the way out to the ocean. Tranquilo for sure. More photos to follow as most were taken on my camera.

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The vista from the viewing point at Rainmaker

Descending we walked around till we came to a pool fed by a small but forceful flow of water, a nano waterfall. There were a few more people here but they were drying off and before long three of us remained. The water flow was intense, kind of ‘is my swimsuit tightly tied on’ kind of intense. Certainly was refreshing, and it kept you alert, making sure your pants weren’t going to come off.

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The pool at Rainmaker

As we left there, it started to spit with rain, turning into a more persistent downpour as we reached back to the beginning and a Tica lunch of rice and beans. It was another slightly overcast day in paradise.

The rest of the afternoon was mine, which meant I could laze about, so I did, and pretty successful at it I was too. It was a time to catch up and slow down (more, wasn’t even aware that was possible), have a nap, see another gorgeous sunset after a day one sunset that vanished behind cloud very quickly, skip dinner, as overfull, and also skip that evening’s turtle tour, due to some miscommunication / me not seeing the 6ft Costa Rican at the rendezvous site…. Turned out I also had the next morning free as we were due to ride the beach that day, but random camino closures meant we headed back to the farm for a ride instead, so as to avoid having horses standing in the traffic of a closed road for an indeterminate amount of time in the midday sun.

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The joy of another gratuitous sunset

A picture or six say a thousand words

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Out of sight, out the back of beyond…Waaaaay behind the camera. Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
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Put your hands up..and hide behind Jonesy. Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
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Wearing white, and feeling right uncomfortable – unaboob alert, unaboob alert. Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
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Tingling to be mingling… still got dressed in the dark though. Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
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‘We are fahhhhhmileee, I got all my sisters, brothers and me’ Photo Amber Zuckswert, Epic Self
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Make you my family Dave…. Photo Tyler Reintmeister

I think these sum up the experience of the 5 days at the Epic Awakening Retreat really. Going from outsider to part of the group, a truly loving lil’ bunch of people, all there to seek answers to questions, to heal, to grow and to learn more about themselves. There was a lot of laughing, some tears, some vulnerability, and a whole heap of love and gratitude without the fromage. There were sick buckets though. I had not expected any of it (except the buckets) and that made it all so very worthwhile and I could not have asked for a better group to be around, and I thank the whole heartedly for having to put up with my initially grumpy old woman ways. Blame it on the hormones…

 

 

Pity party for one anyone?

The retreat was at Posada Natura, a centre overlooking the river, a seething brown mass of water. A storm came through a few weeks back and washed masses of rocks and stones downriver, ripping out the land as it went. Thus we were treated to the sweet sound of diggers moving stones back along the river to shore up the land as we sat for our first meal of the retreat. It was a reassuring sound for the centre as so much land had been damaged close by.

The river at Posada Natura
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The main entrance

Bedtimes were ridiculously early, by 8.20, not because we had to be but because I was on the struggle bus to keeping my eyes open. It meant waking at silly o’clock but having that quiet and time has been a real luxury on this holiday. My decent mattress obsession continued. After an initial ripple morning of stiff back from the mattress and then yoga at dawn to ease it, it was either keep being miserably stiff and carry on or improvise. So I doubled up on them, stealing the other bed’s mattress, thus becoming a pain-free princess without the pea-like rising loftily above the bed frame.

Day 2 was a full day proper and was about raising energy and getting aht into nature. ..innit. What this meant was me having a right grump on as we hiked for a owa up muddy tracks to waterfalls. It was huffing puffing work, and my default sweaty red-faced look swung back into action. As did my best Lil’ Miss Judgy brain…listening to the kids making friends, finding connections and good heavens, actually laughing (Although it was THE best laugh I’d heard in ages). Who were they kidding….? Grrrrrr….

This was a workout that needed a fry up to kickstart it, not a bloody fruit salad. On the plus side it was perfect weather to dehydrate on a hill, slightly overcast and not too hot.

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Beautiful ladies and beautiful brekkie

To be truthful, the food was pretty impressive. Breakfast was a homemade chia pudding, fresh fruit, usually papaya and pineapple, homemade granola and flavoured fresh coconut milk, as well as occasional warm food. Lunch and dinner would have a large leafy salad, amazing and innovative dressings made of beetroot, avocado, mango and the like, then warm foods, beans, lentils, veggies like the chayote, a light green squash, avocado shaped, broccoli etc.

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Salad, broccoli, cheyote, beans, and mixed veggies for lunch. Courtesy of Posada Natura

All were flavoured with spices and herbs so subtle, never overpowering just bringing out tastes in a fabulous way. Everything was used up, the leftovers appearing in soup, or made into fritters, empanadas or a new dish entirely. If you could eat like that every day you could easily be vegan. All that was missing was the coffee and I was missing the coffee too, well my head was, I had a stinker withdrawal headache which merely served to heighten my glorious mood I’d chosen to be in.

Somebody decided to brave the face that said ‘fuck off I’m trying to breathe’ and we started talking, or rather I panted out questions as we went. The South African had lived in London and we talked about home, her film making and her future project with the Dogon tribe in Mali. We spoke about her reasons for being at the retreat and Lil’ Miss Judgy brain also took a hike as I realised what an amazing woman she was with her film making and desire to share great stories of her home continent. Her film Soccer Grannies of South Africa is a wonderful story of strong African women, guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes!

Reaching the waterfall everyone pretty much got undressed and into the water. It looked so clear and pure, defiling it with my lardy pastiness would have been the wrong answer so I stayed put watching them dive in and a few of them braving the waterfall itself to climb higher up, to dive off. It really was a picturesque spot. But not picturesque enough to make me want to walk further up to the second waterfall, no thank you. I stayed put, stuffed with nori rolls and crudités.

Water, water everywhere. Every drop drinkable.

Walking back I managed to stay more toward the front of the group, I think being front loaded with the weight distribution helped as it acted like a wee be weight pulled me downhill. Leading the charge there and back had been the lithe golden skinned American who lives in Peru running her own medicine centre. Quiet and reserved but in a ‘with it ‘ contained and gentle way, and not my bristly (literally -lack of bathroom lighting meant my inner werewolf was channeling through my chin), feral ‘leave me alone or I’ll bite’ way.

Heading back we were lucky to see monkeys peering out of the forest, nibbling on bamboo shoots, and a solitary red macaw. They’re pretty rare now, having been poached to sell as pets, but this one seemed at home up in the tree.  The variety of wildlife is staggering, the birds, butterflies – we saw blue morphs butterflies with iridescent blue wings – difficult to photograph as when there wings are closed you only see a dull brown.

Macaw, he’s there honestly

I was also graced with the luck of seeing two more wild scarlet macaws fly into the trees outside the cafe in Manuel Antonio on my return, as well, as see and hear two noisy toucans who hang out near the fell-a-flat place.

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It’s a minki…

That afternoon we had myofascial release – basically, using tennis balls in ways you never thought possible. Apart from being whacked in the face by one you don’t really think of tennis balls causing pain but holy moly, rolling on those when they’re between your shoulders….but afterwards. …my shoulders dropped so they were less above my ears and closer to my h’actual earlobes.

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Sunset over the centre

I was in silent retreat mode for dinner, thankfully without the accompanying farts, being as the food was light on carbs. Actually I was pretty damned knackered from the hiking and headache, my little pity party for one rolled into an early night on my double mattresses bed and I conked out pretty quickly to the sound of the river making its way down stream through the mesh covered windows. Whilst I was glad to be here I was also feeling weirdly hormonal and vulnerable, and I needed to get myself a Hornby railway bridge and get over it.

Mercury is in retrograde….

 

Being retro isn’t always a good thing

Which means what precisely? Well…apparently Mercury rules communication, clear thinking, truth and travel, so when the planet goes retrograde — all those things go backwards. Or, in my case, be very unclear, miscommunication and misdirection everywhere.

So….arriving back into Manuel Antonio after 5 days at the retreat in Londres (Costa Rica’s London, not even close to same same but very different ) we sailed by my hotel and pulled up opposite another – ‘Casa Linda’, the driver proclaimed. ‘No, that’s Loma Linda’….but no matter we’ll go drop everyone else off and get back to the right place eventually. ..which we did. And blessings, whilst the room wasn’t ready (I was early) they did have proper working wifi so I could communicate with the horse people who a) told me they’d collect me Monday at 7.15 am. ..erm think you’re coming for me tomorrow (Sunday), b) asked where I’d be staying for the week…erm, no idea, thought I was with you guys. I’ll start looking for accommodation. …c) finally they got the remainder of the payment, as the week before I’d sent it to a random in Canada via Paypal who immediately accepted said free cash with no qualms that he was actually STEALING MY MONEY.

I had had to wake up (I say ‘wake up, what I meant was open my eyes and turn on the lights’) at 3am to ring Paypal in the U.K. to raise a dispute. They’d said it could be up to 30 days before I got the money back. I’d had so much adrenaline pumping through my body since I’d realised the cock up that I could have powered most of Manuel Antonio’s electrical supply.

Limited to no wifi in Londres meant I couldn’t check my email till Wednesday for any update. I’d sent Mr Rod Kurtz an email on the Sunday indicating my displeasure (sans swearing too!) at his thieving behaviour and reminding him that it was not a victimless crime, and to my surprise and joy the money had been refunded on Monday. Amazing what not calling someone a cunt can do for you.

Anyway, now I had the money back and access to wifi, there was much to-ing and fro-ing and then it was confirmed that I had my accommodation and I was being collected on Sunday but that the riding doesn’t start time Monday. ..means I get a day back to relax and hopefully have some sun time. It’s been overcast here with a lot of rain so some brightness is welcome. However it does turn out they’re not as close to Manuel Antonio as I thought but further up the coast toward Jaco near Playa Hermanos. Oooo new place to visit. Ooooo expensive taxi ride because I can’t organise for shit. Check the details next time cos winging it ain’t working for me!

 

Sweaty Betty Arriveth

The airport was some way out of town so the pick up was most welcome, as was the supermarket stock up for provisions. As I had to give up anything enjoyable food wise ahead of the retreat, meat, spice, salt, cheese, most carbs it made sense to cook at home anyway. Home for three days was a high ceilinged somewhat dark house (due to vegetation and the green netting at the fence to stop people noseying in). Everything worked, even if it had a bit of the bodger and badgers about it – e.g. best not lean on the sink, as not secured, never quite got the hang of that, 3 gas rings but only one worked, the tiling was done by a blind man with a spoon, but mere details and although set by the road it felt safe and calm.

The garden
Garden lushness

There’s one road in and out of Manuel Antonio, with restaurants and accommodation branching off of it. Like any other place serving tourists it feels a bit soulless, transient, although people feel genuinely friendly. The Costa Rican saying of Pura Vida, ‘pure life’ is a way of being and it shows up through the lack of overt pushy hustle, the relaxed yet getting things done way of working.

Inigo had pointed out the bus stop where the bus to the national park and beach went from for about 50p. Lots of windy roads, no footpaths, and a lot of hills so best to take the bus. Having showered and changed I decided to be a twat and walk it. Then stopped for lunch after a few mins at a falafel place which turned out to be the no.1 restaurant here. It was more fell-a-flat than falafel, 3 chickpea balls floating in a sea of bland ooo-moose and oil. The pita was so spongy I should have been using it to wash dishes. Second sad meal of the day. I cried silently, inside. On the plus side my guts were no longer trumpeting their woes to the world.

I meandered my way down, and down, and down toward the beach, all the time thinking…I’ve go walk back up later, naaah, I’ll get the bus, naaah, I’ll walk, I’ll die, bus…bus.’ Seeing no end in sight, I finally cut through a hostel grounds, and I reached a fairly deserted and overcast beach. As to where the bus stop might be, I’d seen a random couple waiting on the road at a random spot, but with no bus stop sign(par for the course, everyone just ‘knows’ where the bus will stop) timetable or bus clues I wasn’t 100% sure.

Watch out for small children pursuing wildlife.

After an hour of contorting myself into various uncomfortable positions to read, I thought I may as well head back to the ranch and read in comfort.

Bit overcast today…

No signs of life at the place where randoms had been, so I decided to walk. Five minutes in and I’m panting like a paedo in a playground, but too late, I’m on my way heading up, and up, and up. I’m red faced and sweating as any pudgy unfit Northern European unused to exercise or heat would be. I staggered on, watching buses going down, and buses going up. The only safe side to walk on was the side where the buses were going down so no chance of even accidentally finding a bus stop en route. What doesn’t kill you just fucks up your calves, and the main thing was that I’d achieved – I achieved sweaty redness, out of breathedness, pain and a much needed shower. Not doing that again.