“I’m a Queens’ queen!” was one of the first things Michelle said to my husband and me. While declaring this, she smiled broadly with full, dark lips and quickly swayed from side to side, her body a big “snap” of exclamation. And so, our first full day in Costa Rica at Pura Vida Spa Resort felt like it had truly begun.
The next day, while lounging on a comfortable couch of the Wellness Center during the first of my husband Ray’s spa treatments over the week, I got more acquainted with Ronnie, Michelle’s long-time friend. Comparatively quieter than Michelle, she opened up with me there in the empty porch of the treatment waiting area. We exchanged pieces of our life narrative. Ronnie had moved from New York City, where Michelle still lived, eighteen years ago to join the police force in Baltimore. My mind began to open about about future vacation travels, such as to Anguilla, where Ronnie has relatives.
Ronnie’s face would be still with seriousness one moment then expressive and animated the next. Her wiry hair was kept short and pulled back, leaving me easily able to think of her in a police uniform, including hat.
Over the week, Ray and I enjoyed meeting up on a few occasions for lunch in the dining area with Ronnie and Michelle. We spent a bit of time with them in the outdoor hot tub once too, until they had to return to their yoga retreat group from which they were briefly playing hookie. At one of our lunches together, Ronnie shared more about her work, such as some challenges of being a woman in a still predominantly male-filled profession, where many men abuse their power over citizens but the women officers do not. “We know how to listen,” Ronnie explained, referring to herself and her female colleagues. She had a boyfriend from Nigeria, a tribal prince there, who had moved to Baltimore. He treated her well. Ronnie’s face lit up with a big smile when she spoke about him. They would be leaving together to Florida soon for a long weekend, shortly after her return from Costa Rica.
As a testament to Ronnie’s incredible resilience, she exhibited a level-headedness and determination to balance work with frequent fun-filled travel, this despite– or partly because of– having lost her one and only child, a daughter, in a car accident about seven years ago. The young woman was still in college at the time. I noted with quiet respect how Ronnie memorialized this daughter by having a photo of her as screen wallpaper on her phone. I’m certain I would do the very same after such a loss.
At one of these lunches, Michelle shared how she had been working in New York City as an accountant for HBO over the past twenty-four years. She had purchased a house in Queens in 2007, right before the housing crash of ’08. Michelle was single, having divorced her Nigerian husband some years back, her daughter then still a toddler, though now twenty-one and finishing up college. Her thick eyelashes over large, dark brown eyes on an unmade-up face were pleasantly striking. I think they were eyelash extensions, but they did not at all appear overdone or fake-looking.
This vibrant duo of women New Yorkers said farewell to us a few days before our own departure. Ronnie shared how she often makes a tasty “jungle juice” with Amaretto and five different kinds of rum and would find a way to send Ray and me some in the near future. Everyone agreed that this delicious-sounding refreshment would be great to enjoy at that very moment if she only had some handy. We talked about possibly meeting up again at Pura Vida, as both Ronnie and Michelle agreed how pleasant a place it was, despite some of the run-down look to much of its buildings. We laughed together one last time while voicing a fantasy about what we would do if we collectively ran the resort, such as getting walls repainted and some structures remodeled, sooner than later.
We exchanged embraces, then they were off to get their luggage. Ray and I walked on along the cement walkway, grass and shrubs on our right, while on our left, the not-too-distant mountains cozily encircling the city below.
One afternoon around mid-week or a little before, I sat on a cloth hammock overlooking a sun-lit view of the tropical trees and shrubs before me, a lightly clouded sky just beyond. A cicada, or some insect sounding very much like one, hummed in a high pitch for a long moment before stopping. Bird sounds took over, filling the brief silence. Leaves beat softly in the growing breeze. Further off, someone dropped a metal bucket, disrupting my attention to write next about the distant drone of traffic.
A ways below Pura Vida’s mountain perch spreads the city of San Jose, though Alajuela is the immediate urban area of which the resort is a part.
I was struck by many things there, including the black vultures with their white-tipped wings gliding on the up drafts overhead. My husband managed to see two of these raptors touch their talons together while in flight, all while we lay back in hammocks.
Ray and I enjoyed being graced by the intermittent attentions of Julia (the “j” pronounced as an “h”), Pura Vida’s resident cat. A slender and petite calico, Julia followed us to our room at least three times, spending the night with us twice. One evening, she walked by the front desk area with a squeaking mouse in her mouth. Clearly, Julia’s job involved many duties, ranging from pest control to greeter and relaxer, her mere presence and playful ways a treatment of sorts. On this trip, Julia startled me with her initial appearance by bounding into our path from out of the darkness. It seemed like she remembered us from last year and before. Or maybe she simply liked making surprise grand entrances to unsuspecting visitors.
Our mid week tour to our favorite excursion was disappointing. As always, the hot springs under jungle canopy were a relaxing balm to our bodies and minds. We spent three hours sitting back in different sulfur-smelling pools by a large stream, leisurely immersing in, and then emerging from, hot then warm then cool before returning into hot again. But, the tour guide seemed burnt out, embittered, or both. We had had him before for another excursion about four years ago, at which time he spoke prolifically about the countryside’s natural history and climate zones. He also expounded in detail then on the agriculture of the region, this being a significant segment of Costa Rica’s economy. This time, though, he was brief, repetitive, and negative. And while the guide had good reason to feel upset about the government’s imminent tax increases on largely the middle class and the slow recovery from a large earthquake that had hit the region in 2009, I felt for our three fellow bus mates who had never been on this particular trip. They were missing out on a wealth of information regarding the verdant land opening up on each side of the narrow road winding along the mountainside. Instead, we all sat listening to our guide as he couched so much into a complaint.
On the way back from the hot springs, the tour guide broke his silence by pointing to outside of the bus window and exclaiming in his thick Costa Rican accent, “Look! Scarlet milk cows. They’re very rarely seen around these parts. Scarlet milk cows!”
I looked intently at a group of cows behind a fence not far off the road. Some of them had a reddish coat. I had never heard of a “scarlet” breed of cow. In my mind, I guessed that was a rarer one alongside all the Jerseys and Holsteins. My husband Ray turned to me and remarked on seeing a pair of beautiful scarlet macaws flying by, two of what we had seen so many more of while on excursion along the Tarcoles River for years before.
I replied, “I thought he said ‘scarlet milk cows.’ Damn!”
The day after our excursion, I received a hot stones massage from Mar Y Sol, one of the treaters. She and I talked about our families of origin and our good fortunes at having love-filled marriages. I listened a lot under her skilled hands while she shared heart-felt concerns about her parents and one sibling.
Before the massage was over, we’d both agreed to ask our husbands if we could all go out for dinner at Las Espuelas, a restaurant closeby Mar Y Sol’s and her husband Miguel’s house, located in the small town of El Roble.
Mar Y Sol and Miguel are each thirty-five years old with wide, white-toothed smiles. Miguel assists Eduardo with managing Pura Vida. Ray and I hit if off with this warm and friendly couple early on in our annual visits to the resort, which led up to us visiting their home and eating out at the nearby Las Espuelas last year. Well, this place had since been completely redone from a hole-in-the-wall dive to a slick, spacious eating establishment. Huge square windows looked out into a mostly bare parking lot before the view swept downward into a blanket of city lights. Mountains silhouetted the night sky further on. The ceiling above us was lined with a covering of long, thin wood sticks, lending a somewhat tropical look against the smooth, concrete walls. The lights were pleasantly dimmed. Fun.
On occasion, our conversations were momentarily broken by the harsh shine of car lights through the windows behind me. Miguel and Ray sat opposite Mar Y Sol and me, their faces enduring these brief white blasts. The front of the restaurant had a parking lot as well, a poor design completed by large low windows left uncovered. Not fun. But, the company of Mar Y Sol, her tall and swarthy husband Miguel, my partner Ray, and Eugenia, a yoga teacher at Pura Vida, all out-shined this annoyance.
We talked about politics in Costa Rica, which had started to become dismally comparable to the scene in the States. We discussed movies, social media, each of our family dynamics, and other things. I enjoyed the ease between us all.
The food was decent. Ray and I both ordered shrimp with rice. The white foamy sour sop beverage especially went down easy.
I remember Mar Y Sol and Eugenia talking the most, including in moments to each other in Spanish. Their graceful speech felt pleasant to listen to even though I hardly understood what was being said.
Eugenia sat at the head of the table while I was placed by the other end. As the evening wore on, her position seemed naturally apropos. Eugenia had been an elementary school teacher in her previous career and, now teaching yoga to adults, she continued to be used to holding the attention of a roomful of people. Newly forty, here she was, a dynamic, independent woman opening up about herself. For me personally, Eugenia had acted a little brazen by asking at the last minute if she could come with us all to dinner. While we all were gathered at the front desk area, Miguel had turned to me with his big, soft, hazel brown eyes and asked, “Is it alright if she comes?” “She asked,” I replied as politely as I could, smiling through my disappointment. I proceeded to encourage my thwarted wish for an exclusive evening with Miguel and Mar Y Sol to gently shift into an openness around getting to know an additional dinner mate.
I ended up finding Eugenia interesting, engaging, knowledgeable and full of compassion. We connected around the topic of Internal Family Systems therapy and she seemed to readily agree with how she has a “part” of her that cold be harsh and bossy, particularly back in her schoolteacher days. This part had since softened in her, she explained, and I did sense that to be the case.
Mar Y Sol’s deep, gentle voice and open-book self-reflectiveness encircled my attention like an elegant, soft-furred cat. I could listen to her for hours.
Miguel grew more quiet after we’d all finished our meals and I wondered if his rigorous hike up and down Costa Rica’s highest mountain peak (about 12,000 feet) was catching up with him. He and Mar Y Sol had just completed this trek the day before. I selfishly said nothing, though, and let someone else decide when to bring the get-together to a close. Mar Y Sol eventually suggested concluding things.
Ray was generally quiet throughout, which Miguel remarked on with respect and understanding. “You like to listen and observe, don’t you?” Ray nodded vigorously and smiled, “Yes.”
The following day was our last full day at the resort. For a final treatment, I had Mar Y Sol guide me through “Ananda,” which entailed listening more to her soothing, often velvety voice. I lay on the massage table receiving Reiki and some light touch before she guided me through a most unique visualization. This was derived from her Himalayan Masters training she’d received some years ago in India. The energy began to run through me like undulating waves, a pins and needles buzziness, and, eventually, an overall sensation of floating. Visual imagery in my mind’s eye was simple and limited. I “saw” light beneath me, as if it were reflected from water. Powerful, trippy, relaxing, heart and mind opening.
Before we ended, Mar Y Sol instructed me to sing “Om” with her. Interestingly, I felt a longing to open my mouth and sing several minutes before she told me to do just that. We softly but strongly san at least three “Om’s” together. She then removed the light cloth placed over my eyes. I started a slow transition out of my trance by sharing aloud what I had experienced and continued to feel. Mar Y Sol sat off to the side. At first, I kept facing the ceiling, but then I turned my head to the right and looked into her broad face of coffee dark skin and large black-brown eyes. I acknowledged the incredible opening to energy, including a sense that she had brought me briefly to other portals of existence and activity before repeatedly focusing me back to my center, a center of a much larger center. Mar Y Sol validated my narrative with ease, out of her own familiarity of deep meditative experience. I stated how my knowing and trusting her as I did made a big difference with being able to “go deep.” She suggested I try doing this guided meditation at home on a regular basis via using a free recording available online. I told her how it would be fun to do together with her and my husband in our upstairs loft bedroom, should she and Miguel ever come to visit us. “That would be great,” Mar Y Sol replied.
I now understand why dear Ray has done the Ananda treatment three times with Mar Y Sol.
Before leaving Pura Vida, Ray and I looked one more time at the pair of tropical screech owls perched high up in the interlacing palm trees next to the main entrance. Hugging against each other, the brown-feathered duo looked down with a soft sternness, or so it seemed. From my heart, I bid them a warm farewell.