Wednesday, April 28, 2010


It is Wednesday evening and tomorrow is my ‘Friday’. A couple of hours of the after-school program, the weekly meeting and the bus ride home are on my schedule. The phone rings and my plans for tomorrow expand.

A hike in the rainforest?

I think about my house in the mountains. There is nothing like walking up to the front door. My reaction is always immediate. It is the place where I exhale. I watch squirrels hide their nuts and then watch Blue Jay’s dig them up. I smell the fresh scent of pine needles that reminds me of my childhood. There are many trails and views of the city that are spectacular. All of this is why I exhale. It is amazing that I can be in the bustle of the city and within two hours I’m transformed into just being me. I love nature because it brings me back to the basics! Of course. I can fit in a morning hike.

The Tall Tale

I met up with Elaine, Brian and Amber and their two friends, PJ and Karla, who are visiting. Elaine and I are in the “over 50” category. We were told we could do the walk two ways. We had a choice to either walk up the 566 stairs or walk down them. We collectively decided that walking up the stairs would be easier on our knees. Elaine and I expected that we would be lagging behind the 20-somethings on our walk through the rainforest.

We started out on rather flat terrain and we enjoyed the scenery as we briskly walked through the forest. We refilled our bottles of water with natural spring water and marveled at the beauty around us. Elaine and I noticed that we were a distance from the others, but we thought they were busy taking in the beauty.

Then we approached the stairs. Elaine and I sprinted up the stairs, each one being the height of a stair and a half. In no time flat we were at the top enjoying the scenery. I looked at Elaine puzzled, and said, “where are the others?” We were confused.

We waited for a long time, worrying about them, until deciding to go back down the stairs to find them. There they were. Brian, Amber, PJ and Karla, huffing and puffing. Once we all reached the viewing deck and were rested, we continued.

There was a fork in the road. I could either continue with my group or walk the five hours across the island back to my village. Of course, I chose to walk back to my village.

Alright, I admit there might be small exaggeration here. Well, alright maybe it’s more than small exaggeration. Ok, so PJ and Karla are marathon runners and Brian and Amber are in great shape. And, ok…I didn’t really walk another five hours to my village. But some of it is true. Elaine and I are in the over 50 group, there were 566 stairs and it was a beautiful hike with great company.

The Real Story

As I walked through the protected area of the rainforest, I thought about parts of the world that have devastated the natural beauty and the impact it’s had on life. Saint Lucia has experienced one of the worst draughts in recent history.

Until recently we have not had any significant rainfall. As a result, the water company forces rationing by turning off water supplies, for days and sometimes weeks, to residents homes. While walking on the cool trail with the dense canopy, I was reminded of the importance of the rainforest and we talked about it amongst ourselves.

A few years ago, I was in Honduras with two of my sons and we flew to Guatemala. I had a window seat and as we flew over the canopy, I noticed clouds hovering above the trees. I naively concluded it to be smoke coming from small fires throughout the land. Then I remembered some of my old science classes and realized I was witnessing an amazing purpose of nature.

I’m not a scientist and I have only a little knowledge about the importance of the rain forest. It is like a sponge. It absorbs rain and stores it into the ground. The trees draw the water from the ground and release moisture above the canopy. It is released into the atmosphere in the form of mist and clouds. It is nature’s way of recycling.

Deforestation is a major contributor to the water crises. Of course there is a lot more to tell about the benefits of the rain forest; the insects, mammals, birds and snakes that flourish in the forest. But, as I said, I’m not a scientist.

The real beauty of the forest, for me, is in the details. At one point I stopped and just listened. There are no sounds like it. The humming birds, butterflies and giant moths are too fast to capture, but the yellow mushrooms, giant trees and bamboo dressed in grass skirts remain still. Nature is amazing and I always find relaxation amongst its beauty.

After a few minutes viewing the sweeping view extending to the sea, we were on our way out of the forest. Just before we reached the road, and at the very instant we approached an old building, we were startled by a loud noise – a generator to power electricity to the village below came alive. It served as a reminder that ‘progress’ abounds.

We walked down the road to find our bus, saying hello to people in the village, and answering the inevitable question, “Do you know Justin?” Yes, and we will say hello for you. Justin, a former volunteer left a few months ago, and is remembered throughout this village.

On my way home that day I passed the abandoned Westin Paridise site that is half-built, abandoned and decaying. (I can never resist an opportunity to give the Westin proper credit and a shout out for the work they did on this beautiful island).

Last week the government announced new plans to develop seventy-two new sites at Joulesie Beach adjacent the Pitons. I heard a rumor several months ago that there was a proposal to cut off the tops of the Pitons, a recognized World Heritage site, to build a skyride. That proposal was met with outrage. I don’t know if it’s true, but it is curious to think that anyone would view this as a good idea. It must have been a joke.

Saint Lucia is in a delicate state. They are dependent on tourism and people who bring Dollars and Euros into the country. They are also dependent on the natural beauty of the land. This delicate balance requires a lot of thought and planning.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I am not a Farmer

Yesterday I was on a bus in the bustling city of Castries. The cruise ships were docked in the harbor. At times, the ships are so big it looks like they are landlocked, docked in the city as if it were a drive-in museum. On most days there are at least two ships and many times there are more.

The streets were lined with vendors setting up to sell fruit to locals and souvenirs to tourists. In a short time, the Rum Shops will be open and serious games of Dominoes will be played on the sidewalks.

I maneuvered my way through the crowds with purpose and knowingness. I have found if I move swiftly there are less offers of taxi’s, people asking for money and others wanting to sell me a carved coconut shell made into a hanging bird. I was on my way to meet with friends at a favorite Chinese Restaurant. After some good conversation and food I was headed home.

As the bus neared the Castries Business District there was a sudden traffic jam. This was very unusual. My first thought was that there is a traffic accident. My last thought would have been that a mother hen was frantically herding her chicks to safety. With feathers flying she focused her attention on each of the five chicks herding them with skill. I could feel her panic. She knew the danger to herself, but like any mother she was focused on her chicks, not herself.

The cars, buses and trucks were stopped and drivers and passengers patiently waited while being entertained. I smiled as I realized this was just another Peace Corps moment to enjoy. It was a special moment to reflect on the difference between a city in Saint Lucia and a city in Los Angeles.

Upon arriving in Castries, I walked a few blocks and over the bridge to find the next bus that would take me back to my village. I was alone with my thoughts and thinking about the hen. One thought led to the next.

The first thing I must do is remind you that I am not a farmer and, thus, I’m not verse in farming technique and animal behavior. I don’t grow crops or raise pigs. There are only a few cows on the island and I most certainly have nothing to do with them. There are no roosters….wait, yes, there are roosters! Lots and lots of roosters.

There is a looming question which has entertained my mind since arriving in August 2008. It generally comes up around three o’clock in the morning. I’m awakened by sounds. No, it’s not the singing crickets or the tree frogs calling – I can sleep through their noise. It’s not the barking dogs – no, they are the ones who kept me up until midnight but now they are sleep. It’s not the slaughtering of pigs – that happens on Friday mornings after daybreak.

I’ve been asleep for three glorious silent hours and it’s a new breed expressing themselves. It starts with just one lone voice in the night and instantly everyone is communicating. Some are heard in the distance, but there is inevitably one intruder lurking under my window who weighs in on the conversation.

I’ve been wondering for sometime now: Why do roosters crow? The bottom line is that they are territorial. They crow to let others know where they are and to ensure they are spaced properly. A rooster’s purpose in life is to protect the flock from all threats at all costs including fighting to the death.

• Some roosters are quite docile and will sit in your lap, others will eat your kitten, puppy or small child.

• Very few roosters will get along without fighting and tearing each other up; others are highly aggressive.

• Their entire focus and purpose in life is to insure proliferation of the species

• A ratio of 10 hens to 1 rooster are needed to satisfy these creatures!

• A rooster will sacrifice himself to protect the flock.

Alright, so what you are likely saying at this point. Who cares? Well, read on. Crowing can start when there is a disturbance in the coop or when a car alarm sounds at night. A friendly neighbor simply switching on a porch light can cause every rooster’s crow in the village to sound a high alert.

As I wrote this piece, I kept thinking to myself: what is the purpose of telling people about this mundane phenomenon? Then it came to me…the message…the thing I want people to know in my village:

Will you please stop turning on your porch lights at three o’clock in the morning? I really need some sleep!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

We All Swear

Today we lost one volunteer and gained seven new volunteers.

Margo, our Country Director stands, looks at the Peace Corps Trainee’s and says, “I, say your name, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” TITLE 5 PART III Subpart B CHAPTER 33 SUBCHAPTER II § 3331 The Oath of Office

This is EC81’s day and like us and every group before them, they have sworn to defend the constitution, so help them God!

So here I am, sitting in the third row. Everyone is dressed in nice clothes. This will be the last group of Trainees that I will watch transform into full volunteers. EC81 (Eastern Caribbean Group Number 81) as instructed, and in unison, raise their right hands and affirm that they are going to defend the United States Constitution against all enemies.

Really? We all take this same oath. This is a very serious oath and it warrants time to consider the promise each of us makes when we become a volunteer.

I had no idea when I arrived that this was going to be my job. The United States of America has entrusted me to defend our Constitution. Wow! Imagine me with such an important job! And, I thought I was here to help people. I look around the room and I have no clue if there is an enemy here. Everyone looks peaceful. Judging from the oath, Peace Corps Volunteers should be both suspicious and cautious. This needs to be examined. If there is an enemy in the room what will I do?

The Peace Corps did not issue guns to us and even if they did I wouldn’t know what to do with one. I could hit the enemy with my umbrella or go outside and find a rock to throw or go down to the sea and collect shells with which I could fashion some kind of weapon. Maybe I could gather a small piece of bamboo and find twine and tie a lot of shells on it to hit the enemy in the head. Do you think that would be effective? No, you are right, I need a BIG piece of bamboo.

As Peace Corps Volunteers we get hours of training. There is an initial two months of training; then every four months there is more training. There is also special training. We are ready and able. They train us to teach, give us technical training, safety training and health education. They teach us about the country's culture and history. They show us how to take public transportation and teach us about local foods. They tell us what to do in the event of floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and riptides.

But they never talk about how we should defend the constitution against the enemy. This is curious. However, as Peace Corps Volunteers we are expected to be resourceful and good problem solvers.

Who knows why this is the promise we make, but strange as it is, everyone promises. Why do we promise to do something that we are not prepared to do? I bet you are thinking huh? Well so am I. So let’s look at this a little further.

Three days earlier I was at the primary school in the village. It was a rainy evening and as I walked up to the school, I could hear the crunch of gravel under my feet as I neared the auditorium. Music was playing and could be heard a block away. It's party time.

When I walked in the room, there were balloons and streamers. Angled-placed chairs replaced the desks that are normally in the room. The white sheet covered the portable blackboard on the stage and sitting on a desk just a couple of feet away was a computer and projector. The DJ was testing his equipment.

In the back of the room were three large tables for food and at the side of the room two more tables were holding a large cake in the shape of a key with writing "Andy Behl's Key to Mon Repos". The tables were decorated with traditional Creole material and the room was festive. There was a note artistically drawn on the other chalk board behind the food tables that read “Farewell Behl”. This was obviously a celebration and there were no enemies in sight.

This is an old picture of Brenda, but one that I love. Brenda is my IPP (Institutional Point Person). She was also Andy's IPP.

She walked into the room with pride that she had put this special event together for someone very special and who is leaving a legacy behind.

Hold on! I can't let this one go by. Lets go back a few sentences. Isn’t that a strange name – Institutional Point Person. This is another curious Peace Corps invention.

When thinking about this title, I picture a woman alone in a room wearing a white lab coat. The room has white walls and linoleum floors. The woman has no expression. She sits at a white table on a white chair. There is nothing else in the room. The door to the room is hard to see because it is also white and everything blends together making it difficult to see anything beyond white. It is very sterile. I walk into the room and over to the table hearing the echo of my footsteps...but wait, this isn't Brenda!

Brenda doesn’t look like an Institutional Point Person. She is wearing a short and flowing dress, sleeveless, sexy and full of color. She is warm and loving. She is beaming with a smile so broad across her face that she lights up the room. She is animated, happy and fun. She walks over to me and we hug. She tells me how happy she is. I don’t call her my IPP, I call her my friend. Doesn’t that sound better? Oh dear, I’m off subject again.

We celebrated Andy Behl’s nearly three years as a volunteer. Here is a picture of him with his group, EC77. He is the last one on the right. He extended his service to complete a project that has changed the lives of many Saint Lucians and will continue to change the lives of many more. He leaves a legacy behind that includes the introduction of pole vaulting to the island, a college scholarship and medals at the CARIFTA Games.

He took the oath when he became a volunteer. He never mentioned to me that he met any enemies on the island. Andy only has friends…a lot of friends and a lot of grateful people. Andy left the island at almost the same time EC81 was being sworn in.

We lost one today – and we gained seven. And, I believe, when each of our time comes to leave the island, we will leave many friends behind. I don’t think any of us will have an opportunity to defend our constitution.

We are “Peace” Corps. Surely the enemy is not any of the great and wonderful people I’ve been working with. I don’t see any enemies in Saint Lucia.

Should I go out a try to find some? Where are these people? Maybe I should go down to the beach and collect some shells just in case.

How does Peace Corps come up with this stuff? I don’t make this stuff up!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thanksgiving, Part II

Three days a week I go over to the school to visit the after-school program. I help out where needed, but mainly I’m there to see if there are problems, if things are running smoothly and monitor the progress of the team. And, I like to see the children.

The program has a focused subject each month and they are currently studying nutrition. I have no idea where the poster that is hanging on the wall came from. It is a curious picture to find on this island. It doesn’t really matter; the assignment the facilitator came up with is a good one. She asked the children to study the poster and write a story about what they think might be happening.

When I walked into the room, I heard a flood of children trying to get my attention, “Miss Karen, read my story!” Suddenly I was surrounded by little people shoving paper into my hands. I read each story and with enthusiasm I tell each of them how wonderful their stories are.

One little boy saw the poster with Mary and baby Jesus in Bethlehem. They were having a picnic. Other children saw the characters as their own families and carved stories around the characters in the poster. With each story I read, I became increasingly amused.

Then I read a story that says, “the meat has socks”. . . What? I look for the child assuming there is an error on the paper. Then the facilitator points out what she learned after questioning the little girl.

I study the picture which is a representation of the first Thanksgiving Dinner. There are Native Americans, Pumpkin Pie, Pilgrims and a turkey. And the turkey legs are decorated with frills. Of course! It makes perfect sense. The meat has socks!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thanksgiving, Part I

I never gave it much thought until yesterday. As adults we take things for granted. It takes a child to point out the ridiculous that is right before us.

Do you know what a frill is? Alright, here is a hint: it’s a noun. Need another hint? OK, you are likely to see a frill in a fancy restaurant or on Thanksgiving. Perplexed? Are you reaching for your dictionary? I will save you the trouble.

According to Webster, frill is defined as, “a strip of paper curled at one end and rolled to be slipped over the bone end (as of a chop) in serving.” You know, it’s those silly looking paper things they put on the legs of those poor turkeys that end up on our dinner table.

Only one turkey gets
pardoned. I wonder if the pardoned turkey, assuming he knows about frills, feels that it is disrespectful to put silly paper decorations on the legs of his deceased comrades.

Yes, I eat turkey, but the more I research information for this little blog post, the more distasteful it becomes. I may be off on a tangent, but I am going somewhere with this and I promise you it will have an element of Saint Lucia in this story.

Why do frills exist anyway? Do you know that you can find directions on the internet to make your own frills! Who has the time for this? Even if I did cook, it would not occur to me that I should buy ready-made frills to decorate the poor bird. It’s hard to believe a company could make a profit on these things.

The more I looked into this subject, the more absurd it became. Do you know that there is a company who not only makes frills, but they also make soup socks, lobster bibs and evendough bands; don’t ask. Now this is an entrepreneur! This takes some out of the box thinking. But now I’m way off the subject.

Actually, you are lucky. A quick search of the internet did not reveal the history of frills. Although I am still curious, I will let this one go. I conclude: they just are. OHMMMMMMMMM.

There is a story behind this story. You are likely wondering, assuming you are still reading, why I would be writing about frills in April and will I ever get to the point of this story. Stay tuned for the conclusion to this story: Thanksgiving Part II.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Costa Rica is a beautiful developing country. One week is hardly enough time to become acquainted with this country and people, but it is an appetizer. So, I took a much needed vacation and below are a few stories of my week which started with an overnight in Miami.


Elaine and I walked through Miami Airport talking about memories of the last time we were here together. It was August 25, 2008, the day we left as trainees for our new country of Saint Lucia. “Remember all the luggage? Why did we bring so much stuff? I was so nervous. Oh, that’s where I had a pastry and coffee while we waited for the plane.”

We sat on Nikki’s patio eating blueberries and raspberries which tasted so good. Nikki, Elaine’s daughter, and her friend Mary laughed at us as we talked about the small treat. These are fruits not readily available in Saint Lucia. Later we walked along South beach and sat in an outdoor café eating crepes and drinking mimosas. Everything tasted so good. We flagged a taxi to rush over to our six o’clock hair appointment. Oh, I feel human again!

After a quick shopping trip we went to Bill’s house, a high rise apartment with an incredible view of the city. A mannequin dressed as a bandit with a toy gun greeted us in the entry way and another mannequin dressed as a nurse holding toilet paper invaded the bathroom privacy. Barbie’s hanging from the ceiling fan and swinging in the breeze were illuminated by the colored light wheel that bounced off the aluminum Christmas tree. To say the least, it was interesting décor. We talked and laughed with Bill and his three sisters while we ate the pear tart they had spent an entire afternoon making.


The sign reads, “Costa Rica is not for Sale”. We hired a driver to navigate the three hours of road, mostly paved but then again some is not. A few minutes before we arrived at our hotel, we stopped to look at the ocean view. That is when we spotted the sign painted on the bus stop’s concrete wall. The colorfully painted words had the same meaning as the comments I hear from Saint Lucians about their country.

People are attracted to Costa Rica, as they are Saint Lucia, because of the beauty of the land and also because it is a less expensive means to retire or own a vacation home. When riding on the long two land highway there is billboard after billboard advertising luxury housing in Costa Rica.

A few miles and villages away from my village in Saint Lucia is an abandoned hotel development thanks to the Westin. The beautiful points overlooking the sea were leveled and a half finished and now a decaying hotel sits on this site. In Costa Rica there are long drive-ways leading to gates with guards that lead to homes with beautiful ocean views. It’s probably safe to say not many, if any Costa Rican’s live behind the gates.


“A new company is here to build roads. They are taking rocks and sand from our river.” It was toward the end of our trip and we were on our way to raft on the river. I asked the river guide how he feels about the company building roads. “Well, I don’t like it, but there’s not much we can do about it. They are taking our river from us.”

Although Costa Rica is far ahead in its conservation and eco-tourism and considered a leader by many, still I wonder where the holler monkeys, lizards, snakes, birds, sloths, and frogs are that occupied the beautiful views that were once home. Their home now belong to wealthy foreigners who come here to retire behind the guarded gates.


Many people in Saint Lucia are disappointed with the exploitation and destruction of the beauty that belongs to them. The message at the small Costa Rica Bus Stop appears to compliment the sentiments of many in Saint Lucia.


Why would anyone come to Costa Rica and buy a colorfully painted wooden chicken? This was just one of the unanswered questions I had as I browsed the stores.

Why would they name a store that sells bicycles and washing machines “El Gallo, Mas Gallo”? This is one of those questions that will likely be a mystery for my entire life.

When I die my first two questions might be “Who shot JFK and why did they name an appliance store El Gallo, Mas Gallo?” And, really . . . why do they carry bicycles and washing machines?

“Que Café es strong”. The woman has a confused look. We are on our own to choose between many brands of coffee. Elaine says, “I like this packaging”. She picks a couple of pounds of Costa Rican coffee and I follow suit choosing three packages of coffee based on which packaging is the prettiest. Coffee and chocolate. I think I might have enough to get me through a couple of months.


The tourist industry is well developed and organized in Costa Rica. Hotel workers, taxi drivers, tour guides and shop owners are all eager to share their country and make tourists feel welcome. Humor is frequent and teasing tourists is a national pastime.


After a brief 10 minute walk going up many steps we were finally at the top. Strapped into a harness with hooks around our waist and helmets on our heads we reached the first platform.

Linda approached the first line, jumped up and George hooked the zip line that would carry her across to the next platform. Hanging by one hook and clutching the tethered rope while hoping for the best, she shifted her feet from the safety of the platform to the thrill of suspension.

Just as she began her ride across the rainforest George calls out “wait!” Humor bordered between kind of funny and downright funny. Actually, I likely thought that was more funny than Linda did.

There were many huge iguanas, frogs, and lizards on the grounds of our hotel. One night I saw this small white and fluorescent colored lizard. I’d never seen anything like it before. Elaine and I were captivated by this creature. We went to get the manager and brought him to see this beautiful creature. He says, “it must be a chameleon.” Then another worker walked over to it, picked it up and put it back on the night desk next to the other plastic toys.


”Look Elaine, they use the same hand signal we do!” A family was standing by the roadside in humid heat. They put their hand high in the air and brought it down, elbows straight. The only difference between flagging a bus in Costa Rica and flagging a bus in Saint Lucia is that our bus holds 14 passengers and their bus likely holds 114 passengers. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, the bus is an interesting thing to see.

“Mi familia!” he said. “Do you mind if we take my family home? It’s only five minutes.” We were all tired, but it didn’t matter. We had been rafting on the river most of the day and our guides made the trip a lot of fun.

No one spoke until the door opened and Miguel’s sister, mother and two children climbed into the van. “They are my nieces; my sister’s children.” The youngest crawled onto the seat next to Miguel. He gently put his arm around her and whispered in her ear and then kissed her forehead. The love he has for his family poured through the van.

We stopped and Miguel pointed up a dirt road, “this is our home”. He explained that it was at the top of the hill with a view of the river at one side and the ocean on the other. This is a poor family. Miguel is highly regarded in the village because he has a good job working with tourists and has learned to speak English.

Miguel has long curly hair, dimples and enough presence and charisma to light up a stadium. Witty and energetic and animated, the first time we saw him he popped in the van, laughed and said, “Does my hair look ok? They call me the crazy one.”


The sign reads, “Keep going. You are not lost.” We had been on dirt roads for more than an hour. When row after row of African Palm Farms were not seen, we would see row after row of Teak Tree Farms. We passed two small villages just before arriving. El Silencio and another village name I cannot remember.

The villages only have about five hundred people in them. They operate as a coop village. Most don’t have cars, but have oxen and carts. They work on the Teak and African Palm Farms. Things have changed over the last few years. The government understands the value of the land and the devastation cutting down a rain forest can bring. They pay people to not use the land for anything other than growing enough food for survival.

We pass the secondary school where about 25 students study. There is an outdoor café and bar which resembles so many I see here in Saint Lucia.

We stopped at a home with a well manicured lawn and orchids hanging in a shady area. A man comes out and waves to the driver. “Would you all like to stop for a cold drink?” It’s amazing how friendly people are.
After a considerably long ride on a bumpy dirt road where the signs kept saying we were really not lost, we came across the last sign, “bad road ends here”. We drove up the long road and the scenery looked like we had entered a piece of Africa.

The owners, it turns out, are from South Africa and built Rafiki Lodge with a vision of conservation, sustainability, eco-tourism and economic community growth. The lodge employs twenty-one people and sits against 800 acres of national land preserve.

People in the villages look up to the workers who are paid above average wages. One is a recent college graduate.

We are taken on a tour of the land, shown the incredible “Tent” accommodations and they explain the vision for the property.

They want to develop eco-tourism to help the nearby villages, continue the hotel business to sustain eco-tourism to help local villages, to be a sustainable lodge and also to raise and reintroduce the Tapir, an endangered animal, into the rain forest.

We are here today to enjoy a somewhat leisurely raft trip down the river. We stopped at a local waterfall and a picnic lunch. In between stops we jumped out of the raft and floated in the calm pools of water.

We wound up the day enjoying a peaceful view while rocking our chairs and drinking cool refreshments.


They make the equivalent of $20 a day, but only if they produce a bounty of the small almond shaped pods. They carry large sticks with knives attached to them to cut down a bunch of palm nuts. Each bunch weighs upwards of ninety to one hundred pounds.

The workers hoist them into large containers and then set them on a cart powered by large oxen. This back-breaking work is done in the tropics. It is hot and humid.

It takes three to five years for a tree to produce and after twenty years, give or take a few, the palms are injected with diesel fuel to kill them. New palms replace old ones. Palm oil is exported and exports ring up a big economy for Costa Rica.

Do you ever think to yourself, “I wonder where henna die comes from?” I didn’t think so, but if you did, look no further for I have the answer.

On the way to zip, repel and swing through the forrest, Meffey, our driver stopped and pointed to one of the many teak trees on the farm. Teak Trees have very large oval shaped leaves.

Meffey picked a leaf and broke off a small piece. He squeezed it into a ball and a bright red liquid poured out of the veins and oozed onto his hand while he explained the value of this brilliant color. Teak farms are plentiful in Costa Rica, not just for the wood, but also for the Henna they export.

There were sloths, monkeys, bats, stickbirds and flowers. I can't remember the technical names of most of the things I saw.

I usually take meticulous notes so I can remember details. This time I was there for pure enjoyment. No notes and little technical memory.

We hired Michael to be our guide at Manuel Antonio National Park. Michael carried a large telescope that allowed us to see details of birds and frogs and other assorted animals and creatures. Costa Rica has daily life that includes spotting black squirrels and iguanas.

The land is filled with colorful birds with sounds that I’ve only heard in tropical settings. Frogs and lizards abound. Butterflies are ever-present companions on the trails.

It seemed like we were always looking up. Oh, my poor neck! But the massage therapist we met later in the week took care of that problem.

“Look over there. Ten o’clock! Do you see the Booby Birds?” They always lead us to them” said Jason. On this day we were on a catamaran.

The catamaran shifted into high speed and other boats were chasing too. The race was on. The motor went silent and all that could be heard was “ooh, ah”.

It’s always a special treat to watch wild dolphins. There are no pictures here as I spent the day in freedom.

Earlier in the day we boarded the boat for an afternoon of dolphin watching and snorkeling. On the way back we were served dinner as we watched the sunset. Life is good.


I thought this trip was going to be about taking a break from work, which it was. I thought this trip would be about relaxation, seeing wildlife and countryside beauty and it was. I thought this trip would be about water holes, rivers and oceans and pools and it was. I thought this trip was going to be about monkeys and lizards and sloths and iguana’s and it was. It was also about de-compartmentalizing friendships and bringing diversity to our experience. We were four, oh-so-different people and it was fabulous to hang out with them for the week! So here we are: Carol, Linda, me and Elaine.


After a little shopping and a wonderful last Costa Rican dinner we headed across the street to watch the sunset. Local families were waiting on the rocks as the sun danced into the Pacific waters and peaked out from the clouds. Families rode by on fishing boats and everyone was waiting for the predictable nightly show.

As we walked back into the town to catch a ride, we noticed no one had power. Upon returning to our hotel we discovered that we didn’t have electricity or water. Ah, the Peace Corps life. Elaine and I looked at each other and said, “We know how to deal with this!”

This is the last meal until I walk down the plank and plunge into a pool of peanut butter.” Elaine and I are sitting at Yoko’s Restaurant in Miami Beach and talking about the last ten days with Nikki and Mary. We had an amazing meal and possibly one of the most decadent desserts I’ve eaten, a warm tempura fried cheesecake with whipped cream and raspberry sauce – be still my heart…literally! We walked outside and Nikki took our picture under the Yoko’s sign.

As we left the restaurant, we reminisced about our friend Yoko, a Japanese Volunteer. Nikki took our picture under the sign and Elaine sent it to her to let her know she isn’t forgotten and we miss her.

It is my last flight into Saint Lucia. It is a beautiful island and I want to remember the incredible vision from the plane. So, as a typical tourist, I snapped a few shots for my memory bank.