Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ciara & Danica - 4-28-2012

Springtime in Playa Samara, Costa Rica

Ciara, the Italian, grew up in Milan. Danica is Serbian and grew up in Kosovo. She had painful stories of going to university during NATO's bombing campaign. They both work for UN aid organizations and have worked amid natural disaster, large scale death, civil wars and other things that are just stories in the news to me and the folks I know back home. Ciara & Danica met in Haiti, one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in the Western Hemisphere. "The living conditions were terrible in Port-au-Prince," Ciara told me, "but at least I had my own apartment; not like in Libya where we all lived in a secured UN compound." Both women were in-country before the earthquake and stayed for its terrible aftermath; Danica is still stationed in Port-au-Prince.

We had dinner together at La Vela Latina, a mellow beach bar here in Samara with expensive but good burgers. Prior to arriving in Samara, they had gone to a seven day yoga retreat near Nosara that wasn't anything like the vacation they expected. They had to put up with four hours of yoga per day, no drinking (which they disobeyed anyway), no smoking (Ciara chain smoked, like many good Italians), and no meat; both women made it a point to order hamburgers for dinner the night we ate together. But it wasn't all bad. They're certified yoga teachers now. Yay!

Over dinner, the conversation strayed into their work and life in Haiti after the earthquake. The two women were adamant about how the earthquake changed their outlook on life. Danica survived because she was unable to attend a meeting. Her contact was in an office building during the earthquake, the same one Danica would have been in. Danica's contact did not survive, nor did anyone else who attended the meeting Danica missed. Ciara survived because of dumb luck also, though now I forget the exact details. Surviving an earthquake that killed tens of thousands, and by dumb luck no less, humbled them greatly and caused them to reprioritize their lives. Both forcefully stressed to me how fragile all our lives are and how little control we have over them, despite the near complete control many of us assume we have. Danica especially told me how she sees that status, opulence and consumerism are a waste of time. “You can't take those things with you,” she admonished me between drags on her cigarette. "And besides, so many Hatians have nothing but each other and they find joy in that." Danica also mentioned how the earthquake made her think about starting a family because children meant part of her would continue after she had passed away. Both women told me they don't make big plans anymore because life really can't be planned. They had plenty of friends, locals and aid workers, who had plans but will never see those plans to fruition because those friends died during the earthquake.

One of my best friends back home told me to make sure I live in the present during my trip. They thought that was good advice for the trip and for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rum and Coke - 4-24-2012

Casa Brian in Playa Samara, Costa Rica

I've often had trouble sharing. Some of that came from a certain miserliness and some came from my belief that giving things to people to curry favor was tantamount to bribing people to be my friend. When I came through Casa Brian three years ago, I remember I had difficulty sharing some of the food or beer or whatever that I kept around the hostel. There's no expectation that someone has to share their stuff here, so no one gave me any grief.

On my second day here during my current trip, two Canadian couples who were traveling together checked in. Earlier that day, I had stopped by a local market to pick up some groceries, rum and coke among them. The Canadians seemed friendly, I was looking for folks to hang out with and befriend, and so I started offering the four Canadians rum and cokes from my own stash. They were quite appreciative of it and I soon became friends with the five of them. Sunday, the five of us got surfing lessons together (I'm achy and stiff and fell too many times to count, and it was still fun) and the two guys cooked an amazing dinner for the entire hostel that night, complete with five red snappers, a kilo of prawns, avacado & tomato salad and a couple skillets of seasoned potatoes. They didn't ask any payment for their dazzling cooking and I happily shared my rum and coke with anyone who wanted it.
Casa Brian in Playa Samara, Costa Rica
Offering my stash at first meeting and again during dinner felt good, and the difference this time was that I looked at offering my rum and coke as adding value (or unconditional love) to the lives of folks I just met, not as bribing people to be my friend for a while. It was a small but important mental shift. A friend back home talks a lot about how important it is to add value to others' lives and I couldn't help but think of him the first time I poured the Canadians some rum and coke.
Since that first shared drink, the five of us have gone surfing again, and one of the women even gave me surf lessons (which was doubly ironic since I grew up a stone's throw from Huntington Beach and she was born hundreds of miles from the ocean in southeastern British Colombia) that really helped me out. The two guys are even cooking for everyone again tonight!
So there you go...this story was a good lesson to me that adding value to others' lives, even if it's just a friendly face and a cold drink far from home, comes right back and adds value to my own life. Spread love and others will do the same. Who knew?

Monday, April 23, 2012

What to Work on in Costa Rica - 4-23-2012

Casa Brian in Playa Samara, Costa Rica

I'm out in Playa Samara now, about one quarter of the way down the Pacific Coast, staying at a small place called Casa Brian. I've been here for few days now. I came through here three years ago and stayed two weeks longer than I intended. Samara is small, mellow and off the beaten path. Casa Brian attracts an inexhaustable stream of cool and interesting people. My last trip ended here and I very well may spend this entire trip here. In some ways, Casa Brian and Samara are my Walden Pond. Being here removes me from the 24/7 news/distraction bombardment of Los Angeles. I have the peace and time to work on a few things, myself most of all. So, what about myself will I work on?

I want to more ably love other people unconditionally, myself unconditonally, and the world around me unconditionally. More specifically, I want to learn to love other people without feeling like I must possess them. I also wish to learn to be loved without feeling like that love would interfere with my own freedom. I'm not necessarily talking about romantic love, either. Imagine a needy friend who clings or a jealous parent who discourages a child from having friends. Both people show love, but tained by possession.

I think Casa Brian is a good starting venue for this work because there will almost certainly be a steady flow of cool people through here who I WON'T be able to hang on to. I'll have no choice but to enjoy their company for several days at a time and then let them go.

Bottom line is that I feel like I've mastered freedom now. Now I want to learn how freedom and love, in all its forms, are not mutually exclusive.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Already Free - 4-21-2012

The morning of my flight to Costa Rica, I realized...and I mean REALLY realized that I had finally attained the freedom I touched during my 2009 trip to Costa Rica, the freedom I scrimped and saved money to buy for six long years. I didn't need to go to Costa Rica to find freedom. I was already free and I got there by the life choices I made.

This is how I realized that. By the time I received my last dollar of severance and paid-out vacation time in March 2012, I had long vanquished my debt, had hit the final wealth metrics that I set out to hit while at that job, and even assembled a small passive income stream. The 40 or so days between my layoff and my departure to Costa Rica felt amazing. I went on Tuesday afternoon bike rides along the beach, began attending Wednesday lunchtime yoga classes, spent afternoons painting wood for a gate Dad and my uncle were going to build. I cooked dinner for my parents just because I could. I lived without financial concern. I felt free because I was free.

But, then what does that mean for this trip? What is this trip about if I now see I DON'T need to travel to be free? Hedonism? Adventure? Lazy vacation? Some combination of these and other things?

This trip is about self-improvement. I've got plenty to work on and plenty of time in which to do it. Six weeks in Costa Rica gets me away from my daily routine at home, back someplace I've wanted for two years to see again, and (at Playa Samara and Casa Brian) someplace where I know I'll meet a steady flow of folks unlike me, and in a safe environment.

This trip is also a mellow vacation. I bounced around the country three years ago, saw monkeys and rain forests and tourist bars crowded with folks looking to hookup or get drunk. I'm over it. I don't need to prove to myself or anyone else this time that I can make random friends for two days, hike a rainforest, or pound drinks with Brits. I've done all that. I may do those things again, but I'll do them because doing so might be fun or enlightening, not because I'm trying to prove to myself that I can do such things.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Back in Costa Rica. Starting in San Jose. - 4-20-2012

In March 2009, I was burned out from my career and desired freedom from both my student loan debt and a career path I regarded as a mistake. I so badly just wanted to run away and escape that I toyed with making a living taking travel photos, writing travel stories, even tagging dolphins in the Caribbean for marine biologists. I also remembered how free I felt when I traveled Europe for10 weeks in 2005, and how happy I was to take Mom and Dad around Italy the next year. I also felt like I had something to prove to myself and to the world after my perceived career failures. Consequently, I booked a thirty-three day trip to Costa Rica for March and April 2009 and this blog was born. The trip was freeing, fun, illuminating, and highly motivating, as my entries from that trip showed and as my life since has confirmed. That trip was an amazing growth experience and a powerful expression of my personal freedom.

Fast forward to April 2012 and here I am in Costa Rica again, at Costa Rica Backpackers in San Jose. The same way I started my trip three years ago. So far, my return feels good, and different. When I booked this trip after being laid off from my last job, I assumed this trip would feel just like the last one. This trip would be an adventure taking me from town to town in such a way that my sense of freedom would be overpowering. The purpose of this trip has evolved since then, and now I do not forsee hopping from town to town, or bar to bar. I'll elaborate in my next post.