Deus ex machina (God of the machine) is a term used in film to describe the introduction of a person, thing, or god-like entity who has the ability to suddenly and unexpectedly provide a solution to an unsolvable problem. Basically, its an easy button. Wouldn’t that be nice!?
When traveling, there are a thousand and one things that can go wrong at any single moment. You can get sick, get robbed, have bad accommodations, see sad conditions, and sometimes, things just don’t turn out as you expected. A lot of people are anxious about traveling for this very fact. But the truth is, we have it within ourselves to create our own Deus ex machina. With a positive attitude and the right perspective, we can truly save ourselves from most obstacles in traveling and in life. The Costa Rican’s have honed this concept with “Pura Vida!” It is a commonly used greeting that translates to “Pure Life”, but it has a much more profound meaning. It is an expression of eternal optimism and gratitude for life.
Here are some common travel “woes” I came across in Costa Rica and how they became some of the best memories of my life.
1. Noisy Neighbors
We arrived at the beach house we had booked in Manuel Antonio not fully knowing what to expect. It did not disappoint. From the top bedroom balcony, you overlook the pool as views of blue sea poke through the lush tropical yard.
One beautiful morning, we woke up to something blocking our view. Big white tents. Once I saw the chairs going up I soon realized it was a wedding. Our neighbors were getting married, and it was all happening right in front of our house.
A loud party blocking your view and disrupting your sleep can feel like an invasion of privacy. Was this going to be a complete destruction of our peaceful abode? For me it was quite the contrary. I am obsessed with weddings and after I started creeping around, I fell in love with the simple yet elegant beach front ceremony location. This bride and groom were going to have a perfect day and I was secretly buzzing with excitement to watch it all go down.
My friends followed suit with the positive attitude. The ceremony was beautiful and love and good music flowed through the night. We lingered nearby on the beach, drinking and dancing by moonlight. We swam in the warm water and laughed as Journey and other classic wedding hits serenaded us from the white flowing tents on shore. It was a dream party in a starry night paradise, complete with DJ. What more could you ask for?
2. Language Barrier
Paco is a local landscaper in Manuel Antonio. He was always around, and always with a big happy smile. It was early morning and I was just coming back from a walk on the beach when I see Paco come running towards me. He had excitement written all over his face. He started rambling in Spanish until he could see I was completely lost. He slowed down and said “Amigos, amigos,” He pointed towards the beach house. My friends? What is this man talking about? At first I thought something might be wrong but he looked too happy. Eventually he said “Peresozo!” I knew this word as I had researched the translation for “sloth” many times. The light bulb went off. He was trying to tell me my friends were looking at a sloth in our front yard. We were two people from very different backgrounds, but we figured out how to communicate in attempt to share something exciting. People can live across the world from each other and have completely different lives, but in sharing things we love, we connect. This was the closest sighting we had throughout the trip. Peresozo was literally 5 feet above us, snug and content in the tree. Thanks Paco!
3. Homeless Pup
Tom was the first one in our group to see her. I remember him trying to tell me all about the cutest puppy he had met on the beach. The next night the beach puppy found us again. She was a tan dachshund or possibly beagle mix.
She was a friendly, happy pup – despite her homelessness and obvious health problems (some tumors on her belly and signs she has had multiple litters of puppies). We dubbed her Rica. Super original, I know. My friends and I had a heated discussion one night about whether we should feed her or not. I know it may be wrong, but despite the good reasoning against it, I cooked her up a little egg. A dog needs protein too!
She became our beach dog, always saying hi as we headed out the gate. We felt sorry for her. Her hardships in life must be so different from our spoiled puppies back home. How can this little sweetheart have nothing and no family? What does she do in the rainy season? Have her litters of puppies survived?
The last day, we saw Rica had a collar on. Confused, we thought maybe she does have a home and we were wrong all along. An hour later I ran into our neighbors. It was the bride and groom from the wedding. They were playing with Rica and I asked about the collar. Gleaming, they explained they had taken her in for vaccinations and were trying to take her back to the states. I teared up. Rica is going to have a home! The bride showed me a picture of her in her wedding dress bending down and having a precious moment with Rica, “See, I have to take care of her now.” They told me they had named her Luna. I ran back to tell the group with that happy, choked-up, lump-in-your-throat feeling you only get when you experience something truly special. We will forever remember her as Luna Rica.
4. Bad Weather Report
We had previously scheduled a coastal cruise but the weather report was indicating we were going to have a shit time. All thunderstorms, rain, lighting – the whole gamut. The weather had been so unpredictable. With two really wet days already, I was frustrated. And now this. Should we just cancel? Should we reschedule? In the end we decided to just stick it out and hope for the best. The day turned out beautiful, with blue skies and water like glass. Don’t trust the weather stations when it comes to Costa Rica. Everyday is a surprise.When we thought it couldn’t get any better, Juan (our big personality tour guide) pointed out to the horizon. Is that a fin? A tail? Is it dolphins? “Pilot Whales!” he screamed. I love how the tour guides in this country get as excited as the tourist. I guess you can’t plan awesome wildlife sightings and beautiful days, it just happens, even for them. Maybe that is why Costa Ricans are so happy. Every day is an adventure. We cruised up like a bunch of excited kids on Christmas, oohing and awing and trying to get as close as possible. There were at least 20 whales, all around us.
Speaking of surprises, two of our travel companions, Tori and Britton, got upgraded to an amazing cabana when we arrived at our hotel in Monteverde. With the blustery weather, we decided to hide out in their warm retreat which we named the “Palace”. Complete with fireplace and a blanket, we curled up with some Imperials and attempted to watch the Hangover overdubbed in Spanish. Savilla, my best friend who was also traveling with us, had decided to stay back at the other not-so-fancy cabana, showering and preparing herself for some relaxation and much needed sleep. We had just started looking at pictures when I heard someone quickly darting up the path. Savilla burst in through the door. I could tell she had run the whole way. She was out of breath and obviously frightened. Had someone broken into our cabana? Had she been robbed? Or worse, was she assaulted or chased? My heart was racing as I apprehensively asked, “What happened!?” Still out of breath, she screamed “Scorpion!” I felt instant relief. The rest of us Arizonans were barely phased in the midst of her life threatening crisis. “It was in our room! I…I caught it! Do you want to come see it?! Its huge! It’s not a normal scorpion.” She was shaking. She went on to describe the horrific detail of this little monster she had wrangled up. I hate to disregard her scary encounter but the look on her face was priceless. This might not be her favorite memory, but I have to laugh every time it crosses my mind.
6. The Thief
The weirdest little animal was spotted going through trash when we first got to Selvatura nature park. I learned it was a Coati. Like a raccoon, this guy was scavenging for food and trying to get into backpacks. He was SO cute but we kept our distance. A few hours later, while we were in the park enjoying the hummingbird sanctuary and trying to capture pictures of their rapidly fluttering feathers, we turned around to see the rascal getting into Tom’s backpack. These guys are no joke. They definitely have some teeth and claws on them. Some cautionary thoughts popped into my head. Do they bite? He was just going through trash! Is he going to rip the camelback? I grabbed my camera and started snapping pictures of the little thief. Turns out he was harmless and we easily shooed him away. In the end we were all cracking up laughing. The picture value itself made this an amazing moment.
7. Power Outage
After a three hour taxi-boat-taxi over the bumpiest road of my life, we finally arrived in the cloud forest mountain town, Monteverde. An easy transition from bus to bed would have been nice. But that would be too easy. We all unloaded our luggage and walked towards a dark lobby. Is it open? Come to find there has been a power outage. Monteverde is not like the rest of Costa Rica. It’s high in the mountains and much colder and windier than expected. No power!? We are going to freeze! We made the best of it. The concierge lit up the lobby with candles and Tom played up the romantic cliche by serenading us with the guitar.We walked to our cabins, lit more candles, and snuggled close. The wind continued to howl and Savilla and I reminisced about when we were young girls playing make believe that we only had candles to light our way. Now, here we are, grown up and off in a dark, stormy, unfamiliar town in a foreign country and again, we only have candles to light our way. It was a cliche romantic fuzzy moment to look back on but cliche romantic fuzzy moments make great memories. It all adds to the adventure. The power came back on sooner than expected and we were back to business as usual.
8. Cloudy Beach Day
It was our last day at the beach, and to my dismay, it was overcast and drizzly. I pouted for a while but then decided to practice what I preach. Carpe Diem, damnit! Pura Vida! I went to early morning yoga followed by horse back riding.
Marco, our guide, brought the horses right up to our back gate and we galloped in the surf. My spirits were lifted. I ended up staying out on the beach all day. We did more yoga and Britton surfed the best waves of the entire trip. We relaxed, talked, and met many a new beach puppy friends. It turned out to be my favorite beach day. We already had our perfect sunny days, this day was not about that. This was about friends and laughs and trying to do standing bow pose over and over before your feet sink into the sand. It was a day of appreciating everything, as it is.
Costa Rica was tame and we really didnt have any serious problems. I am really thankful for that. In past travels, I have been robbed three separate times in Europe, got stranded during a torrential downpour in Thailand, and had to jump off a moving train in Italy. I’ve seen animal cruelty and extreme poverty. I’ve lost all my money, had food poisoning, pink eye, and had a wound get seriously infected after a tumble in the Swiss alps. I am not saying bad things don’t happen, I am saying the bitter makes the sweet even sweeter.
Through misadventures, you learn about the world. You find the ability to accept and embrace almost any situation you find yourself in. You find gratitude and you discover your inner strength. Try to breathe love into every single thing you do and you will have your own access to that easy button everybody else wants. When we stop demanding perfection, we seem to find it.