I delight in crossing borders, especially into South and Central America. Each Latin country provides a canvas reflected in the amazing oceans and sunsets and the music that forces even artificial hips to sway.
Six years ago, I left the deep freeze state of Minnesota to embark on retirement in Costa Rica, joining nearly 500,000 foreigners with residency status in my adopted country. This morning a toucan clicked a greeting while I fixed my coffee. As I cut my papaya for breakfast, I reserve the scraps for Dino, my resident iguana who is a throwback from Jurassic Park. Most days, I notice my wall art is crooked, due to the ubiquitous earth tremors.
My goal in my writing is to guide readers across borders without the need of a passport. Even if they never leave their home town, I nurture a curiosity about the world beyond one’s county line. Fueling that passion are the inspiring stories of people I meet in my travels: An elderly woman explains the sacredness of a Buenos Aires synagogue, “We Jewish people are not the best people in the world, but we feel this place. It has great meaning in here," and she points to her heart and blows me a kiss. "I want you to understand."
I share ice cream with 73-year-old Baltazar Ushca, made from the glacier on Mount Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador. Baltazar has just returned from his weekly trek, five hours with his donkey to bring back the blocks of ice that reportedly give healing properties to the ice cream.
In Atenas, Costa Rica, where I live, is a living icon who marches barefooted through the Central Park to enter her beloved San Raphael Archangel Church. With her calloused bare feet and the ubiquitous brown dress that is the color of ashes, Carmelina, who is in her seventies, is revered. My mentor, Jose, a lifetime resident of my town, first pointed her out to me. “Carmelina is Atenas,” he tells me. “Atenas is Carmelina.”
Living and recording my life here offers a reminder that, like a can of tuna sitting on the shelf, we have an expiration date. Making an ordinary life extraordinary requires a few steps outside one’s comfort zone. I invite readers to join in that journey.
Inside some people is a tiny voice that says, “You should write a book. You have a story to tell.”
My Muse is a dictatorial nag who, after I retired to Costa Rica, niggled at me, “Get off your tush and capture how the toucans rather than snowplows are your alarm clock, and ants dance on your toothbrush.”
I obeyed with Mango Musings, a blog I share with other writers, and in my new book, Casa de Doloros. Both express my delight in living 673 miles north of the equator. My personal accounts attempt to capture the experiences of millions like me who counter-intuitively have foregone retirement communities to embrace the unknown.
Our friends and family call us crazy. So do the locals, although not to our faces.
My main character, Doloros, for whom my book is named, is a composite of the many Costa Ricans (or ticos, as they call themselves) who I hold dear and to whom I am indebted for my survival.
Doloros, like me, has a lifelong attraction to eccentrics who reside at Casa de Doloros. I count myself among them. Together, we are much a part of the landscape as the palm trees and the sloths. We are bromeliads, flowering plants that attach to another for survival. In that pursuit, we are joined even if our disparate politics and belief systems sometimes cause rifts between us.
Like Doloros, I believe that the few of us who attempt this crazy move are incredibly brave. Casa de Doloros pays homage to stepping outside one’s comfort zone, albeit with wobbly steps.
A flurry of visitors escaping their chilly winters arrive in Atenas each year around December. Some will fall madly in love with Paradise and decide to stay. Reportedly, even the most passionate of newcomers lasts about five years before returning to their homeland.
Pura Vida, the phrase ticos use to explain their laidback lifestyle, isn’t always accurate. Here, broken appliances are MacGyvered in a patch job, a throwback to the television show where a mystery could be solved with a paperclip. Costa Ricans make up for having no military since 1948, with deafening cannon fire and firecrackers that mark every celebration. Salt becomes cement in the dampness as did the ashes of a husband of a friend that she was keeping to spread at a convenient time.
No two days are alike here. Once I walk out my gate, an adventure awaits me. Howler monkeys might announce their distinctive greeting in the trees above the Supermarket Coope Atenas where I buy groceries. A bloody trail of army ants may follow me, each soldier carrying a cutting from a magenta bougainvillea.
I savor knowing that I’m not in Kansas … or in my case, Minnesota any more. In my new country, I experience two distinct cultures, one that is evolving among those like me are reinventing themselves, and the other being the lifestyle of the generous, affectionate Costa Ricans.
If you are a traveler, armchair or by other means, consider joining my email list to follow my adventures in my blogs and in future books.
Mary Martin Mason - Author
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