Thursday, December 27, 2012


"The true purpose of education is to teach a man to carry himself triumphant to the sunset." - Liberty Hyde Bailey

As I return from my twelve day voyage of exploration, I have begun to understand what many voyagers have said before me.  Travel is indeed an opportunity to explore new places and meet new people, but it is even more an opportunity for inner exploration and growth.
The sunset metaphore is appropriate, I think.  The return home is indeed a sunset, an ending to a chapter.  There is time now for rest and reflection, and as with every sunset the promise of a bright sunrise and the dawn of a new day.


"Journey with me to the serenity of leaving to our children a planet in equilibrium." - Paul Tongass

Manuel Antonio park is a nugget of Pacific coastal paradise, wisely protected from hotel developers by and for the Costa Rican people. Its sandy beaches and warm surf attract masses of sun-thirsty tourists. Hidden behind this "attraction" is the real attraction, many kilometers of little-explored, narrow, muddy trails.
It was on one of these trails that I was given the gift of serenity. Abandoning the glazed masses in their blind march to the beach, I climbed for a kilometer along a clear, gurgling stream. At a clearing in the dense forest, I stopped to enjoy for a moment the dappled sunlight. The moment became ten minutes, then an hour, then more as I simply sat motionless and watched the life of the forest around me.
Tiny iridescent flies fanned their wings on the leaves. Lizards curiously scurried between my feet and up nearby twigs, craning their necks curiously to have a look at me. As I watched a butterfly flit between the flowers, a beautiful brassy-gold hummingbird buzzed past my ear to drink nectar from a crimson chalice an arm's length away. Somewhere nearby, a troupe of monkeys crashed noisily through the canopy. As I looked up toward them, I noticed as if for the first time the rainbow palate of birds sitting in the trees all around me.
I thought for a moment of the eco-tourists below me on the trail, who had hired human guides to lead them down the busy trail and peer through telescopes at tiny specks hiding in the canopy, and was grateful for the privilege of having Gaia as my guide and teacher in serenity.
Perhaps this clearing and forest collects well the lessons I have learned here: the gift of appreciation of nature, of joy in being connected, of peace and patience and serenity. May these lessons be with me always.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


"They said there'll be snow at Christmas. They said there'll be peace on Earth. Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell, the Christmas you get you deserve."
- Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

In this week leading up to Christmas, I have reflected upon this most peculiar holiday. Automated emails frantically implore me to buy now, while there is still time to ship for Christmas.
Here the frenetic, nightmarish rush does not exist. In La Fortuna there is a parade, with xylophone and drum marching bands playing mixed medleys of popular, Christmas, and Hanukkah music. Small towns and small boys feature fireworks displays commensurate to their stature. A few lights, smiles, and general bonhomie mark this relaxed, peaceful day and its lead up.
I had wondered how I would withstand rejection this year of the commercial heaven-and-hell metaphor, "Miracle on 34th St," and Scrooge. Questioning commercial Christmas seemed almost more blasphemous than questioning religious Christmas. And yet, far from feeling guilty, I spent the Christmas holiday relaxed and in communication with the beauty and peace of nature.
For, after all, this holiday - through whatever religious or secular lens it is viewed - is really about the return of light and reversal of darkness. It is not something to be confined to a day or corrupted by corporate interest. The solstice is a return of physical light, and as well a metaphor for the return of inner light and peace, balance and harmony, in our relationship with ourself, our friends and family, and our fellow travelers both human and non aboard this beautiful tilted blue gem.


"All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it." - Samuel Johnson

With the arrogant confidence of the naive, I planned a bicycle journey through Costa Rica. As with so many other things, in this pursuit Costa Rica gently and patiently educated me. Following the advice of my hosts, I rode the bus first to La Fortuna, then on to Monteverde. When the time came for the trip to Quepos, I briefly reconsidered inter-city biking, but seeing the roads I am now happy that I have once again chosen the bus ($8 for the 400 km trip.)
I am accustomed to cruising over smooth, wide roads with good shoulders on my touring bike. Costa Rica's roads are mountainous, narrow, and rough, giving up each hard-won kilometer grudgingly. I quickly learned that inter-city cycling would consume all of my time with travel, leaving little time for exploration.  Furthermore, safety on foggy switchback roads traversed by trucks and buses is a concern. Costa Ricans travel on the extensive bus system; this is now my inter-city travel choice. Bus fare between cities is consistently between $5 and $10, and the buses are clean, efficient, and punctual. Bicycle travel is unusual, though, and frequently requires creativity on the part of both the driver and me to accommodate the bike. With this new arrangement transportation here has become a symbiosis of bus and bike travel; the two complement each other very well. I now have the time to explore each area I visit at leisure. The bus augments my ability to experience nature and communities from the saddle of my bicycle, and provides for me an opportunity to interact with my gracious Costa Rican hosts.
This idea of commonplace bus transportation, local and intercity, has a lot of appeal. With high patronage, fares are low - encouraging even more ridership. Private companies compete for routes, maintaining those low prices and encouraging good service. Buses are convenient enough that it is not necessary to rely upon an expensive, environmentally destructive automobile. As with their conservation initiatives, Costa Rica's public transportation initiatives are a model from which other nations would do well to learn.

Gift from the Children

"A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children." - John James Audubon

Hiking the Bosque Eterno de los Ninos (Children's Eternal Rain Forest) in Monte Verde, I understood just how our children value this fragile biosphere we hold in trust for them. The Forest, comprised of multiple parcels in the mountains surrounding the Monte Verde and Santa Elena national park reserves, is a huge tract of land preserved by the donations of children around the world to save the rain forest. It is a gift back from the children of the world, and demonstrates their commitment to a sustainable world.
Before hiking the preserve, I sat mesmerized at the Monte Verde hummingbird garden, enchanted by more than a dozen species of hummingbirds flashing iridescent purple,mgreen, red, and gold in the morning sun and misty rain. The Garden is sponsored by a collective of local coffee farmers, whose mission is to teach about sustainable, living wage direct trade coffee production. ("Fair trade", it turns out, is in reality simply a price floor "insurance" program intended to prevent farmers' price for coffee from falling too low.)
In contrast to the park preserves, Bosque Eterno de los Ninos is a private, primitive, not promoted, and hence lightly visited preserve. The trails cover a wide spread of elevations and hence a variety of ecosystems, and provide a wonderful venue for seeing birds and animals which shy away from the much more heavily visited park trails.
Children of the world, thank you!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Power of the Rain

"Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy - your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself." - Annie Leibovitz.

Today's gift was a lesson in the colossal forces of wind, rain, and sunlight which bring life to this marvelous ecosystem. The mighty winds of the Caribbean and Pacific collided all around me, bringing the precious gift of fresh water to all life here. Rain enveloped me and my world from above, below, and seemingly every point of the compass simultaneously. Far from being the rote meteorological phenomenon to which I am accustomed, this rainfall was a visceral, saturating presence.
I awoke to a churning fog of tiny droplets swirling around me and my tent. Surrendering to saturation, I walked through the glistening, dripping rain forest as it soaked up the precious ocean moisture. A steady drizzle from above was punctuated by rivulets from the canopy above and the gurgling of runoff beneath my feet. The forest was resplendent in dark greens in the near twilight; drops of water nestled in the mosses and clung to every leaf and shoot. From the vantage of the rare break in trees and clouds, I looked out across the valley toward the misty opposite hill. Rampaging gusts of wind drove successive torrents of rain in twisted sheets up the ravine even as the sun dappled the wet leaves around me.
At the top of the forest mountain, 1700 meters above sea level, I climbed an observation tower through the canopy, and emerged into a churning battleground of clouds. Gale force winds hurled volleys of rain in every direction, instantly soaking me, my camera, and my backpack despite my heavy poncho. I gasped and stared with amazement at this elemental fury, so common here that it has sculpted even the rain forest canopy to the shape of its whim.
As the day ended, the storm retreated up the mountain and I down it. The sun broke through, and beneath the cloud enshrouded mountaintop, with a backdrop of yet more torrents of rain, a glorious rainbow pulsed back and forth, farther and nearer.
Yes, today brought another gift from Gaia, a lesson in her power to cleanse and renew and refresh with her mighty and yet fragile rains.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Monteverde cloud forest

"... this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is ..."
- e e cummings

Once again, words cannot describe the beauty of the Monteverde cloud forest. The mountain rises into the swirling clouds where Pacific and Carribean air masses dance. The fine, cool mist envelops all, from every diection, bringing joyous life to the rain forest and all of its creatures.
Look at a single tree, and there is a timeless behemoth before you. Look again, a platform hosting an explosion of verdant bromiliads. Again, a garden of moss and tiny orchids. Once more, a city of insects and tiny creatures. Birds of every description flit past, calling and chattering. And this for just a single tree. The senses are overwhelmed here. There is a sense of awe instilled here, a feeling of oneness with the power of Gaia which cannot be denied.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Mountain

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity...” - John Muir Today I went to the mountain, to Arenal. I was awed at her beauty: her proud symmetric cone rising to an ever-changing swirl of gray and white cloud-hair, her verdant skirt of tropical forest alive with trees, flowers, insects, birds, and all of Gaia's splendor, the deep turquoise jewel of her Lake Arenal.
It was a spiritual homecoming; the mountain and forest filled my heart and my mind with peace. I awakened to the buzz of a hummingbird in the flowering tree just a few meters from my feet, and the day just got better from there. The grind of the ride to Arenal, a 24 km ride mostly uphill, was offset by purple blossoms along the road with hummingbirds flitting to them.
At the park, the trail varied in altitude, changing between dense rain forest, more arid mid-level forest, and the amazing hardscrabble colonizers of the recent lava flows. I alternated between taking scores of photos and just being.
I daydreamed as I shared a 20 meter high pile of windswept lava with a lone lilac orchid. I curled listening to breeze and birds and insects in the earthy embrace of the buttress roots of a 60 meter ceiba tree. I laid on my belly on the rain forest floor photographing leaf cutter ants.
As the late afternoon sun splashed on the mountain's flank it was time to ride home - but not without one parting gift from Arenal. At Tabicon hot spring I lounged in the churning hot mineral water and rejuvenated muscles tired from biking and hiking. (Hint: the well marked Tabicon hot spring resort charges US$60 for admittance to the same warm water which can be enjoyed for free by walking down the unmarked path to the north of the highway bridge!)

Monday, December 17, 2012


"It is easier to travel by bicycle than with bicycle." - Will Sachtleben, 19th century bicycle adventurer.

Morning: New adventure: ride inter-city bus in a country where I don't know the language. I have learned a very few words of Spanish in the last two days, but it is still challenging to communicate. If I make an effort, though, people are very helpful and willing to be creative. So, here I am on the bus to La Fortuna, which is too far on mountain roads for my heavily laden bicycle for one day. Cost of the 150 km ride: 5000 colon, about $10!
Everyone has good things to say about Arenal, even the taxicab "valet" who tried to convince me to take a taxi to La Fortuna before finding someone else to scam (and being hauled off by the police!)

Evening: The bus turned out to be a wise decision. The mountain roads were steep, winding, breathtaking, ... and undoubtedly both exhausting and hazardous to a bike tourist! I arrived with energy to ride around La Fortuna, and enjoy a delicious meal at a little soda at the edge of town.
The heat and humidity is still disorienting in December, despite the lush tropical flowers, bananas, and coconut palms which surround me. Who knows - perhaps I will become acclimated enough to the tropics that I will wear a real winter coat (at least for a few days) when I return home!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In San Jose

I have now been in Costa Rica for almost 24 hours, and am just enchanted with the place; its natural beauty and its friendly and relaxed people. I rode to Poas Volcano national park today, about 35 km horizontally and 1500 m vertically from Alajuela, where my host family lives. Although I must say the continuous grade was quite a challenge, it was a joy to ride through the tropical forests which changed character continuously with increasing elevation, through villages with their small, neat shops and sodas, and past fields of tropical flowers and plots of coffee, neatly tied in rows like the grapevines of my home. Not unexpectedly, Poas volcano itself was invisible because of the clouds capping the mountain. The cloud forests and valley mists were, however, spectacular. In the dense forests, ferns, moss, and bromiliads competed for every available tree limb. The swirling mist gave an unworldly quality to everything, and almost seemed to enforce a hush over the forest. The ride home was spectacular. Never before have I ridden 30 km without pedaling and with the brakes on continually. Few photos, I'm afraid, because I really needed both hands on the bars! The birds called to each other in the gathering evening, and the colors of the low sun and clouds were spectacular. The day concluded with an evening ride through busy, chattery Alajuela and a delicious and satisfying meal prepaid by my host, Margarita. Photos from the day: Tomorrow's adventure: Arenal!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”- Ernest Hemingway
In three days I begin a new adventure!  Twelve days in Costa Rica with my bicycle, my camping gear, my camera, a map, a guide book, and recommendations from a few friends.
Costa Rica has intrigued me for years, and here, at last, is my opportunity to see it from the seat of my bike - "Not behind glass", no schedule, no fixed plan.
Even the usual anxiety of trip preparation is subdued this time.  Anything I bring, I will have to carry on the bike.  That makes the pile a lot smaller!  Anything I don't bring, intentionally or unintentionally, I didn't need anyway.
I'm committed to learning, to contributing wherever I can during my visit, and to sharing what I experience while I am in Costa Rica.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How does one start a new blog?

There it is, a blank page and a blinking cursor in front of me on the computer.  No content, but so much more than just nothing because of all of the effort, resources, and history of so many to put that cursor there.
It's a good metaphor, I think, for my blog.  In many ways, my life from here is a blank screen with a blinking cursor, a canvas waiting for me to paint.  Yet there is a whole lifetime of effort, resources, and history which has brought me to this point.  The myriad life events which have brought me here have also given the title and commissioned the work to fill that canvas: not behind glass.
Henceforth, my journey in life is no longer constrained by the physical and metaphorical glass behind which I have isolated and protected myself.  In this blog I document the exhilaration and the risk of living life exposed to the world.