We arrived in Costa Rica mid-December, unsure how long we’d stay or even where we’d stay once we finished the first six weeks in San Jose. As it has turned out, our visit will have amounted to just over 11 weeks, and we’ll be buckling in for a flight home to the United States 10 hours from now.
Several weeks back, as we arrived at the last of our three temporary homes here, I realized how quickly the time would pass, and I wrote:
The thought of leaving Costa Rica feels like…leaving a person.
We became acquainted with Costa Rica in an ordinary urban neighborhood, where we transported ourselves to grocery stores and language school and the downtown area via the public bus every day for 6 weeks.
There was Arnie, who who runs the tiny convenience store nestled between the houses. Our Tican teachers who come from country and city, from conservative Catholicism and liberal atheism. There is Ana Grace and Tony, who met us at the airport and watched over us, always offering, extending the love of Christ. The churches we visited in Cartago and Zapote, warm and alive and growing. The guards with rifles outside the gasolinera who offered a smiling “Buenas!” every morning on our way to the bus stop. The leashless puppies running the neighborhood.
We met the greener, more “tranquilo” side of Costa Rica when we emancipated ourselves from the concrete and traffic and rode the early morning bus from San Jose to Quepos. Two weeks with cariblanco monkeys on the balcony, iguanas sunning the tree trunks, daily bus rides down to the beach, where the sun sets on the horizon every evening and the people in bathing suits watch and applaud.
(In case this sounds just a bit too dreamy…We didn’t manage to fly away from the usual challenges of traveling with humans younger than 13, of sibling rivalry and parental temper tantrums, of living out of suitcases and shopping and cooking in a foreign country. I probably need to post about those lovely moments more often. :))
Our third “home” was in the hilly outskirts of Isidro del General, about an hour inland and 3 hours south of San Jose. On the 1.5 hour drive from the beach, tropical rainforest gave way to oil palm plantations, which led to coffee fincas and dynamic cloud patterns that morphed throughout the day, dawn to dusk.
We slept with a view of the entire valley and her lights, woke every morning to lakes of fog below. In those three weeks we grew attached to a family of 22 living in close & simple quarters below us on the hill. These children of ours from different cultures and without a common language except laughter and play, did just that, every day.
We were finally really together after an exhausting autumn – or decade?- of running different directions (me on the road a good bit and Toby considering a job change). We were far outside everything that feels “normal,” which allowed us to see things and ask questions we wouldn’t otherwise.
And I wrote:
The thought of leaving Costa Rica feels like leaving a person.
But today, when that thought played again, I added:
The person is me.
From a mountaintop, you tend to see things differently. It’s a cliché of a metaphor, but it’s true. There is always a little fear when you come back down the mountain. You’re afraid everything will be forgotten like a dream and no one in the valley will believe or understand and your pictures won't capture the scent or texture of the air. Some try to stay up there. But I’m turned toward home.
I just don’t want to leave her behind -
this free woman I found under the laundry line in Costa Rica.
It’s not really her, of course, but Him. Him in her. In me. Him standing right there in the cloud-shrouded mountains and red sunsets over the sea, and cliffs of cascading water.
Him in the face of people who eat rice and beans every day in small open-air homes, and invite a family of seven over to share.
Him in the humility of stumbling over foreign words and asking for help over and over again.
I’m afraid I’ll leave it behind.
So we went to the artesans’ market and chose souvenirs - carved animals and necklaces, a cross. Things to take home to remember. I took 1000 amateur photographs which will be printed and framed.
But really, there is just one thing to keep. It’s every morning climbing back up the mountain on the Word that paints truth more clearly than any photograph or song or poem. The Word that lives in Costa Rica and the United States and every city and countryside under the sun.
The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth…
Despite what we may think, we’re not ready for paradise yet…no - we’ll return to the place that is home to us, even if she is broken, flawed, or slightly less gorgeous.
It’s time to go home. If we can just carry a little bit of the light back with us, we won’t really need the wooden crocodile.