Thursday, March 27, 2008


Many thanks for the emails asking where we’ve been, if I have writer’s block, and whether I've just been too busy sunbathing to post even the measliest of blogs. I appreciate the concern and am happy to share that my absence from writing has been for the best of reasons—we were enjoying a fantastic, adventurous, amazing (and yes, a wee bit exhausting!) two-week vacation with my parents. Plenty of fodder for blogging, so stay tuned for a few tales of our journeys.

That said, I already know exactly where to jump in with a story, because the following is the adventure most likely to surprise those who know me (and my fear of heights!) well. This journey actually occurred later in our travels, but who says everything has to be in chronological order, anyway?

Last week the six of us drove to the imposing Volcán Arenal (Arenal Volcano)—a massive, conical volcano (the most active of the nation's volcanoes) that rises up from the San Carlos plains in the northwestern part of Costa Rica. You can’t drive to the top of Arenal and look at the crater because it’s constantly spewing gases, ash, and molten rock. At night, if you’re lucky, you can see the fiery rock spilling down the side of the volcano. Unfortunately we were on the other side of the volcano and didn’t experience this (maybe next time!), but seeing nearly all the volcano a few times (when it was not at least partially obscured by clouds) was incredible in itself.

While at the foothills of Arenal we stayed at Los Lagos, a resort with large grounds reminiscent of a botanical park—the trees and flowers of this area are varied and spectacular. The resort also featured a great view of Arenal, a hot springs pool (ahhhh, that was so nice!), a couple of regular pools with some fast waterslides, a crocodile farm, butterfly garden, horseback riding … and a zip line.

If the term zip line is new to you, here’s a quick overview: On a zip line—also known as a canopy tour—a series of cables is mounted from tree to tree, on an incline, and there is a platform at the end of each cable. A rider wears a harness around the waist and legs, which is secured to a pulley suspended on the cable. The rider then takes off from the platform (usually just by stepping off) and glides—propelled by gravity—from one platform to another, flying over trees and through the canopy itself.

Though three of the six of us (my dad, Erin, and I) are afraid of heights (perhaps putting it mildly for at least Dad and me), we decided this extreme sport would be an unforgettable adventure we could all share. Carpe diem—a chance to make our lives extraordinary! So we signed up for the zip on Thursday and headed out for the plunge on Friday morning.

At the start of the zip line, we were each outfitted with a harness, a helmet, and a leather hand-guard/glove. I was pretty sure the helmet was in case a branch fell on my head, because it wouldn't have helped much had I gone plummeting to the ground far below, but I didn't dwell on that or I would have made myself nuts.

We rode part way up the side of the mountain in a van and exited at a little station with a short cable. The lead instructor taught us how to ride the line and how to brake (nobody wants to smash into a tree, a la George of the Jungle), and after a short learning session it was time to go! The good news is that the first zip line started at ground level and took us down the mountain slope, so there was no need to climb an intimidating tower, which was my greatest fear and which I still think may have stopped me from ever doing the zip.

The zip line we went on had 15 cables and 16 platforms, with distances varying from 50 to 500 meters, for a full distance of three kilometers (1.86 miles)—oh, and reaching speeds of up to 80 kph/50 mph. The zip was strung above and throughout the tropical rainforest, dense and wild and absolutely gorgeous; Lauren even saw monkeys on her zip. We were part of a large group, and Lauren was the first to go. Pigtails flying in the wind, she rode with the guide and had a blast the entire trip. Shortly after, Erin took off. She was the youngest in our group to go by herself. Wow, I was so proud of her! Then Dan jumped, then me, then my parents.

Soaring through the air above the treetops on this high-wire ride was an adrenaline-pumping rush that’s hard to describe. At times I was able to take in what I was passing as I whizzed through the sky, while at others I was rocketing past towering trees at speeds too quick for me to see much of the tropical rainforest below, mouth agape as the reality of what I was doing sunk in. Oddly enough—and this is the honest truth—I never experienced the paralyzing fear I was concerned about. Maybe the adrenaline is what saw me through, maybe it was the agonizing thought of returning to the United States to the ridicule of “You lived in Costa Rica and never did a zip line?!?!”—but I did it. We all did it—the girls, Dan and me, and my incredible parents of whom I was so proud.

Thankfully for us (and I suppose you, if you’re up for it) the zip line company stationed a photographer throughout the zip so we have pictoral evidence of our high-flying thrill ride. Enjoy the photos (best seen as a slideshow); they will always remind me of the day I met a daunting challenge head-on and shared a wild adventure with those I love most—and lived to blog about it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Gracias por la música

I went shopping today at Hipermás, a large department/grocery store (owned by and similar to Wal-Mart yet not as inexpensive, unfortunately). Shortly after I got there, I stopped to listen to the music playing overhead, trying to make out the words of the all-too familiar song. It was ABBA’s Chiquitita—but in Spanish.

I knew ABBA had done several recordings in Spanish, and today was my chance to listen to them, since they played the entire time I browsed the aisles. I heard Thank You for the Music; Dancing Queen; Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!; Fernando; I Have a Dream; Knowing Me, Knowing You … I wish the girls had been with me, they really would have enjoyed it.

¡Pura música!

Monday, March 03, 2008

The shortage ends (and why expats love stuff from home)

Do you recall the dreadful mac and cheese shortage that recently swept Costa Rica? I’m pleased to share with you an update on the status of blue boxes here in the valley …

Our friends David and India called us after church yesterday with the news: there was one precious pallet of Kraft M&C in at PriceSmart. Yippee! They kindly bought 30 boxes for us (we just couldn't ask for more!), and we intend on a trip to the store soon in hopes of finding another couple dozen.

Shortly after we returned from a relaxing Sunday afternoon at the pool, David arrived with the blue boxes. Dan promptly rescued two of them from their shrink wrap and made dinner—and it was delicious.

In other food news, I recently purchased brown sugar for the first time since we've been here. I had been making do with azúcar con caramelo (sugar with caramel, basically) which was not bad, but my cookies and baked goods just didn't taste quite the same or have that perfect consistency. I didn't know if I'd ever find brown sugar here until a friend told me it is possible, but difficult, since it's rarely in stock. Yet there it was last week, unassumingly sitting on the shelves as if it had been there all along. I bought numerous boxes, but two are already gone. How long will brown sugar keep, anyway? Because I'm planning on getting a whole bunch more while the getting is good.

Think we're crazy? That we’ve completely lost our grip on reality since moving south of the border? This enlightening piece by expat Pamela Druckerman explains how valued American goods can be to those so far from home. Funny thing is, I hadn’t read this article since it was first published—right before Thanksgiving—and now I see that Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and brown sugar are both mentioned in the text. How validating!

It’s true that expats thrill at the thought of jamming suitcases full of products straight off the shelves of Target and Wal-Mart and lugging the stuff back to their adopted countries. Those people visiting expats are lovingly (yet eagerly!) considered as pack mules. My parents will be here soon and have a list of goodies to haul—from two Nintendo DS games for an American friend of ours to sugar-free Tums, peanut M&Ms, Gain apple mango tango dryer sheets, and packets of Taco John’s hot sauce if they can get them (oh please, we're begging!). We are more than excited to see Mom and Dad, but I’m sure soon after they’ve settled in we’ll be asking, “Where’s the stuff?! Did you bring the Reese's Pieces???”