Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sprockets, Rust and Uncle Val's Gin

Ain't she a beaut?!  The bike, not the mustache,
although props to Matt for that.
I love to bike.  I miss dearly my crappy, rusty bike from Mexico named Chonchita (or Chonchito, depending on if I felt like the bike was having a masculine day or a feminine day).  I recently caught wind that Chonchita is in the hands of my silly, British friend, Matt, in Tulum.  In fact, I have photographic evidence.  It made me wonder what kind of adventures my bike has been on since I left Tulum at the end of February.  Who was it carrying on it's uncomfortable seat?  Where did they go?  What did they see?  But mostly I wonder if Chonchita misses me.  I'd like to think so.  Maybe she even feels the difference between my hands gripping the handle bars and my butt firmly planted on that ridiculously hard seat and someone else's hands and butt.  Also, maybe I'm totally crazy for assuming an inanimate object has actual emotions and misses me.

It's a similar feeling I had as a child when my family would go on vacation and I had to choose which stuffed animal to bring with me.  I once stood in front of my collection of stuffed animals and proceeded to deliver a speech on how I loved them all equally but I could only take one with me which, of course, would be my beloved pot-bellied bear.  It's name was Popalee because when I was even younger I couldn't pronounce the word pot-belly.  Thus, Popalee  This is a true anecdote.  I'm serious.  I remember standing in my flowered wallpapered room, all my animals lined up on the cream colored book shelf that my dad built (there was a plethora and I won't even begin to tell you about the Barbie collection my sister and I accumulated when we were wee ones).  I seriously assumed they came alive when I wasn't around.

Taking the bikes for a spin to Punta Uva
But back to bikes.  They are an essential part of living here.  They are a popular mode of transportation as all the little hamlets beyond Puerto Viejo are close enough to bike to.  Often times taking a cab just feels excessive.  There is one road connecting Puerto Viejo to said hamlets; Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita,  Punta Uva and Manzanillo.  The road is flanked on either side with jungle and to the east you get glimpses here and there of the ocean.  Often times you hear howler monkeys.  They are most talkative early in the morning.  But you can hear them throughout the day if you're biking by the right place at the right time.  I don't know why, but they hoot and holler when they are in the trees near the road and a truck drives by.  Without fail this happens every time.  Maybe it has something to do with the sound frequency of the vehicle, I really don't know.  But it's an interesting discovery and I ponder the why of it.  Once I saw a sloth making it's lazy, slow way across the street.  I'm torn on the decision as to whether or not a sloth is cute or just plain ugly.  Long nails and a pig nose, it's a fine line between "awww" and "ugh."  Regardless, it was pretty darn cool to watch it crawl across the road at, well, sloth like speed.  Actually it went so slow that I got bored and ended up biking away after watching it progress only half way.  There are massive spider webs built between the power lines and fences.  Fire engine red, bright pink and soft peach hibiscus plants are plentiful and tree like.  And the green.  Everything is so lush, green and alive.  For the most part, the road is lacking incline of any kind.  Despite this, the heat and humidity will cause trickles of sweat down the sides of your face, down the small of your back and behind your knees.  And forget wearing eye makeup, it will have dripped down your face so you resemble a crying clown.

The bikes I'm using these days are part of the perk of living at Om hostel.  Yes, I'm doing it again.  I'm living at a hostel as well as working reception here two days a week.  They offer some bikes for free use here.  Apart from the fact that they have a yoga studio on site, the offering of free bike use was the winning factor in my staying here.  It ended up working out even more in my benefit as I am now working here as well.  And hadn't I always wanted to test the waters of being a receptionist at a hostel?  My how your dreams can come true!

The road home with my friend and bunk mate, Molly

The bikes are not fancy by any means and all of them could use some air in the tires but they get you where you need to go and they've got personality, spunk and charisma.  There's the blue one with the finicky chain.  Be prepared to have bike grease adorn your hands everytime you use this one as forced stops are mandatory at least twice throughout your journey to put the chain back on track.  I can now add this to my list of random things I've become good at since I started traveling; efficiently and quickly putting a bike chain back on the sprocket.  (I'd like to add this is the first time in my life that I've used the word "sprocket" in my writing and a celebration of some sort should be had.  Drink a glass of dry rosé or have an Uncle Val's gin and soda with a lime for me).  There's the pale green one with the extremely long frame made for someone with gorilla arms.  There's the white and blue one that is my favorite, however, the equilibrium is somewhat off so you are always steering the bike at an angle to ride in a straight line.  Very counterintuitive.  There's the red one with the weird, slightly broken pedal and a bit of a lag in the rotation of the wheels.  This one is my least favorite and I avoid it like I avoid bad wine; only taking part if there is absolutely no other alternative.  At least bad wine can be amended slightly by adding juice or soda water.  Adding juice or soda water to the red bike will not amend it.  In any way.  I know for a fact.  I tried.  However, I would never pass judgement on ol' big red, we all have our quirks.

The one thing they have in common besides two wheels and sprockets (have another sip!) are that they are all rusty.  This is how it is here.  Metal rusts about as fast as water spilling out of a kicked over bucket.  Jewelry tarnishes immediately after you polish it, wet bathing suits rarely fully dry thus encouraging signs of the rankest smelling kind of moldy dampness.  The heat, humidity, salt and constant rain (we are just beginning to come out of the throes of the rainy season) all contribute to this common rust theme on all bikes here.  But it's all good, that doesn't stop anyone from rotating those pedals and enjoying the jungle view.  (Some native Spanish speakers here pronounce the word, "jungle" without the "j" so it sounds like "yungle."  It's my favorite word to hear.  It makes me giggle every time and I want to pat people on the head or give them a cookie for having such a darn cute pronunciation of the word.  Then I wonder if people think the same thing about me when I speak Spanish and if so, where are my cookies, eh?)

Playa Chaquita
I have a tendency to bike to my favorite beach, Playa Chaquita and while away the hours floating in the  natural pools created by coral.  I usually need to force myself to leave out of hunger or darkness approaching.  When I bike back to Om, the sun is beginning to set and it creates that glare that you battle with when you're driving due west on the highway.  I'm sure I have some grimace on my face as I try to see oncoming objects (cars, people, scooters, monkeys, sloths).  But don't let the grimace fool you.  I'm happy as the howler monkeys playing aloft in the the trees.  And as much as I would love to swing from the trees and groom another of my species, I'm pretty darn content with seeing this little corner of Costa Rica at a bike's pace, due west golden sun and all.

This is how I feel after biking!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Water as a Constant

It's 6:30 AM, the sun is blazing already, the ocean is calm, flat, tranquilo.  Close your eyes, can you see me?  I'm the only woman on the beach and my eyes are closed to and you know what?  I'm thinking about you.  I can't keep my eyes open for long because my pupils are still adjusting to the glare over the Caribbean.  I just rolled out of bed, threw on my bathing suit, forced contacts into my sleepy eyes and walked across the street to the beach.  I've got red bottoms and a black top bathing suit on.  I've got my faded purple and green sarong that I use as a towel, a big tear in it now from yanking it off of a wooden post it was hanging on.  I've got my light purple flip flops, given to me by a friend in Mexico.  Miraculously, they fit me despite the fact that they are a size 4/5 when I am a size 7/8.  Stranger things have happened, so they say.  My hair is the longest and curliest (and probably blondest) it's ever been since I chopped it off when I was 16.  It reaches my shoulders and the feeling of hair brushing my back is still a sensation I'm getting used to after 15 years of having short hair.

Sunrise in York Beach, ME
I have never started my day by swimming in the ocean.  I've watched plenty of sunrises in my 30 years on this stunning, vast earth.  Numerous times over the ocean in York Beach, Maine, the Nubble Lighthouse silhouetted in the far distance.  Once on top of Mt. Abe in Lincoln, VT, the chilly pre-dawn wind plucking the strings of the alpine trees.  Another time on a kayak in the middle of South Lake in the Adirondacks, hearing loons call their sweet, haunting melody.  In Tulum with my friend, Ann, over the Caribbean sea, the humidity already making our sleepy bodies sweat.  But never have I swum so early in the morning.  It's delectable.  I'm not overhearing snippets of fellow beach goers conversations. I'm not applying sunscreen for a several hour stint of beach lounging. I'm simply here, now, solo and it's a warm sense of pure calm.

Sunrise in Tulum
I'm a fire sign and I find absolute comfort and tranquility in staring at a campfire blaze outside, especially when a coal splatters against a rock and it appears like a city looks from an airplane at night, tiny little lights bursting over a dark surface.  It's no surprise then that I also need water in my life.  I need it as a constant.  Thriving, breathing, flowing, living bodies of water, be they rivers, lakes or oceans.  Water is the opposite sign, it creates equilibrium in my being.  When I'm having a rough day, I retire to the water, when I'm having a great day I do the same.  This morning, I am starting my day with the ocean.  I wade into the water's ebullience and let the current take me where ever it wants.  I float on my back, I dive into waves and I sing to myself.  If you read the post before this you would know I often refrain from singing aloud when others are present but this morning, it's just me and a sweeping view of el océano.  I sing bits and pieces of Peter Gabriel's, "Washing of the Water," a different version though, one that my friend, Joe, from high school, plays.  I love it and it fits with my swim today, even if half of it I am just humming.    

In thinking about this quest for water in mi vida, I realized for the majority of my life, I have always lived near a body of water.  Growing up in Pittsford, NY, outside of Rochester, there was Lake Ontario, as well as the Finger Lakes.  In Burlington, VT there was Lake Champlain.  Even in Auckland, New Zealand where I lived for six months when I was 21, there was a harbor.  And now here, as I write this, I'm listening to the lullaby of the sea, the constant rolling, plummeting, incessant dim roar.  Sometimes I think about a distant future, one is which I will no longer be living in Latin America but I will have returned home to Rochester.  I think to myself that I will have to find a way to afford a home on the lake.  I am so spoiled here with water as a constant, how could I ever live without?  The soothing energy it creates, the sound of rain on water, just seeing it day in and day out is enough even if I can't swim in it.

Playa Chaquita, my favorite beach here

Full moon rising over the ocean in Tulum
I wish you could have seen it in person
The photo barely does it justice
What is it about water that alleviates us?  Is it because we are created in warm, liquid goo in our mother's bellies?  Is it because we are more than 60% comprised of it?  Is it because the endless sound of something we find mollifying fixes us at a cellular level?  We are habitual creatures and we are creatures of comfort.  Do we simply find something in life that brings us peace and cling to it like a spider clings to her web?  For me, it is water, even more than fire.  Watching the sunset or sunrise over water for as long as I can remember.  Watching the full moon rise over the ocean, my favorite kind of natural light on water.  And of course, listening to it.

And now here I am, it's 6:30 AM and I am bobbing and weaving like a boxer in the teal water.  This might be the best way I've discovered to start my day.  I've got a great song in my head and I'm smiling thinking of you.  Thank you ocean, thank you earth, but most of all, thank you.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Beyoncé That Shit

Grace and I at Katie's wedding celebration
My friend, Grace, once gave me some great advice concerning a relationship I was in that was ultimately befuddling and frustrating at all times.  She said, “Beks, you gotta Beyoncé that shit!”  What exactly does that mean?  I remember looking at her with our other friend, Katie, our heads cocked in unison, furrowed- browed but laughing all the same.  The three of us have known each other for upwards of 25 years and we were celebrating Katie’s marriage with friends and family in her mom’s backyard.  The three of us hadn’t been together in the same place for a few years but they both know my slightly unhealthy obsession with the all encompassing empire that is Beyoncé.  And because we've been friends for so long we didn't need an explanation from Grace as to what she meant.  It was obvious.  It meant make yourself better, take advantage of happiness, dance your little heart out.  It was a little over a year ago and I often think of Grace’s advice.  Mostly, it makes me laugh out loud.  And mostly I’m alone when this happens, so naturally there’s always someone nearby looking at me like I’m a lunatic, sitting on the beach or at a café sipping an iced coffee giggling alone.  When life brings me lemons, I don’t make lemonade, I listen to Beyoncé and dance until my tank top is soaked in sweat, be it alone in my kitchen or out at a bar.  I also sing it at the top of my lungs but that is exclusively when I am alone.  I have respect enough to spare others sore ears.  

25 years of friendship between the three of us 

Pretty sure I was singing along to some R&B, poor Katie.
I think the vast majority of people would prefer to listen to Beyoncé sing Beyoncé rather than an off-key, never-been-trained-to-sing kind of girl belting out, "Crazy in Love," "Single Ladies," or "Love on Top," voice screeching like the wheels of a car, mirrors cracking like when you throw a heavy rock on a puddle that has frozen over.  I think I even got rid of the mouse problem I had in my last apartment as one night I sang along to an entire Beyoncé album and miraculously, mice didn’t appear for quite some time after that.  I imagine them nestled in the insulation, licking their little paws after crawling all over my bacon grease laden cast iron skillet.  Cue in my signing along to the album, “4,” and they all pause, look at one another and say aloud, “Dude, it’s time to bask in someone else’s bacon grease,” or “Dude, let’s hit up the karaoke bar, it’s bound to be better than Bekka’s off key non-melody.”   

There’s a bar here called Tasty Waves.  Every Tuesday night, you can get in touch with yo’ bad self because it’s their fiesta night.  A live DJ plays hip hop and reggae.  Should you need to lose five pounds in sweat while gyrating your tush on the dance floor specifically on a Tuesday night, this is the place to do it.  Should you feel the need to get completely inebriated, this is the place to do it.  Should you feel the need to find a person to make out with, this is the place to do it.  It’s debaucherous at best which is a slight turn off for me.  I can't get into the portion of the night where the bartenders run around offering free shots of some concoction that looks like cough syrup but to each his own.  However, if you are living next door to this bar (which I am temporarily at a wonderful hostel called Om) then you might as well go there to dance.  The music is so loud, you feel as though the party is literally in your room so I figured if ya can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!  Besides, I do love a good night of all out dancing and a few drinks.

Even better than a G&S is a simple C....(coconut)
I cap it at two gin and sodas with a lime, I drink for the flavor of something these days.  I don’t drink alcohol to get toasted, much less even a buzz.  Gin and tonic’s are a drink of the heydays for me.  You can’t taste the gin with tonic, the quinine masks all, so for me, I prefer the soda water.  I want that botanical juniper goodness permeating my esophagus with a little effervescence and a whole lotta lime.  I don’t use a straw; I squeeze two or three limes into my gin and then line the rim of the glass.  Hello summertime (and because it’s always summertime here, I indulge in my favorite, yet simple cocktail often), I do miss being able to say, “Let’s go out for some G & T’s,” because most people understand that term.  When I say, “Let’s go out for some G & S’s,” most people look at me the same way I imagine they’d look at me if they heard me singing Beyoncé in my car with the windows rolled up; part confusion married with disbelief and a questioning look.  

Sometimes a gal just needs to dance and moreover, she needs to dance in public with others to the same music she dances to in private.  She needs to share that happy vibe with those around her.  The chicks from here have moves, their bodies feel the beat and they go with it.  They make it look as effortless as riding a bike.  It is anything but.  I want to dance like them.  So, I’m learning how to dance here by observing, mimicking and having the humility to ask (or rather yell over the music), “show me your moves, sista!”  I daresay, when I try to shake my ass as seductively as they do, an onlooker must know I’m learning.  I think of a mother lion teacher her cub how to hunt, I’m still clumsy and perhaps without grace.  In various times throughout my life on dance floors, I’ve been told I’m a good dancer.  I don’t really think so but I welcome the compliment.  At the very least, I know I’m a much better dancer than singer.  But dancing for me is like a euphoric, healthy drug.  I don’t care if I look stupid, I get into a zone while I’m dancing, I reach a higher plane, I swear.  And if you are going to play Beyoncé, that higher plane is well beyond cloud nine. 

Cloud 9 is out there as well as 10, 11 and 12

I yearn to take a hip hop dance class here.  When I am procrastinating a task, I often youtube music videos for the sole purpose of studying the dance moves.  Beyonce is by far my favorite and then I thoroughly enjoy Justin Timberlake.  Michael Jackson surpasses everyone else at lighting speed but I won’t really touch on him because he’s not the topic here and he really is simply untouchable in his talent.  No one will ever outdo him.  Until I can dance well enough that Beyonce offers me a job as her backup dancer, I step back from the ring and observe the beautiful women here get into their groove.  I ask for advice on dance maneuvers and I remember that music and dancing bring people together.  It doesn’t matter if you look like a fool, when you’ve got a great beat pulsing and you can’t stop moving your feet, all that matters is that you’re having fun in the warm Caribbean breeze, smiling and enjoying life with the local dance floor vixens.  

Disclaimer:  I deemed it appropriate to spend an hour youtubing Beyonce videos for the links I provided above.  It was research and development for this post, not procrastination.        

Step into my office...

Step into my other office...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

What Brings You Comfort

"Nothing ever goes away until it has 
taught us what we need to know."  
-Pema Chodron

Quiet your mind, Bekka.  Slow down.  Let go.  Stop mulling over everything.  Always return to your breath.  Inhale, exhale.  I've been practicing yoga every day for the past week and these are usually the things I'm repeating to myself.  Here in Puerto Viejo, I am changing and ever evolving (or at least trying to) and yoga is the one constant, the one thing I can always turn to and know it will bring me comfort.  Having the luck to live near the ocean is the next constant I turn to for comfort.  In the past week, I have felt the need for comfort and I've spent countless hours at the ocean listening.  I can't even read, my mind is busy thinking and thinking and thinking, I'm simply trying to quiet the inner bottle neck traffic jam of thoughts with salt and sun, breathing and yoga.

I'd give just about anything to see an old friend, even for only an hour.  Skype is like a tease, I miss sharing a glass of rosé with my sister in her backyard, listening to the cicadas and watching their dogs inspect every blade of grass with their snouts.  At times I miss my old job where I shucked oysters and talked salty-ocean-food with regulars at the seafood bar, talked gin with the bartenders, small batch distillery gin, stuff you can't find here, the real deal.  I miss watching the sunset through the trees, over the reservoir at Highland Park in Rochester.  In the winter, the naked branches black against a pink sky, they looked like bronchi and alveoli in your lungs.  I miss banana bread french toast with my friend, Erinn.  Sitting on her stoop in the morning with coffee, plates balanced on our laps, marveling over the six raised beds we built in her front yard, the abundance of vegetables we yielded last summer.  The thing is, I am trying to learn to be ok with uncertainty.  Can you just let go, can you revel in wonderful memories and also push forward knowing the future is just as wonderful, if not better, than the past?  

The past few mornings I have woken up gripped with stress.  It's the kind that makes you not want to get out of bed.  The kind that tells me it's time to return to the yoga mat, return to my breath and chill the heck out.  I suppose I'm stressed because I've yet to find a job, I'm not sure where I'm going to live.  I'm starting to realize here in Puerto Viejo, if I want to teach English, I have to make it happen on my own.  Perhaps offering private lessons or suggesting to tour companies here that I can teach their employees better English.  The thing is, if I were to teach at an ESL school, there you have lesson plans provided for you, a teacher's textbook to work off of.  Here there's none of that, I'd be making everything up on my own.  And you know what?  That scares the shit out of me.  I'm so incredibly intimidated by it all.  And as a result, I go to yoga every day, ride my bike to the beach and avoid trying to manifest what I came here to do.  For all my writing about doing what scares you, I'm sad to admit, I'm slow to get the ball rolling.  Why?  I'm a capable human being, I'm intelligent and creative.  I'm pretty darn sure I have what it takes.  There's a big part of me that is desperate to see an old face, to hug someone I know really, really well, to have a best friend look me in the eyes and say, "you can do this."  And because I'm the new gal in town, I don't have that here.  Sure, I'm independent, fiercely independent but I am also just a human being who would love some comfort and a hand to hold.  Maybe it's because perhaps for the first time in my life, I'm actually doing what I really want to do and I've stopped allowing myself to be influenced by what others think of me or my choices.  I'm not tethered to anyone or anything, I'm just tethered to myself, to my own heart, to my own destiny, to my yoga mat and to the ocean.  And if we truly believe in something, we can make it happen, right?

I have these wonderful, clarifying moments in yoga class or when I'm sitting by the ocean where I realize everything will be ok.  Things will work out the way they are supposed to work out.  If I want it bad enough, I won't have to return to the states to make money to come back here and live.  I can find a way to live here.  But it's a DYI kind of way.  It'll require work and patience, love and courage.  I'm intimidated by it all.  Sure, I could throw in the towel and move back home but I would fall straight back into the cycle of working in restaurants (which is not fulfilling to me) and dreaming but not doing.  I try to remind myself how far I've come but sometimes that mean side of me that judges my actions and my emotions seeps into the quiet corners of my mind.  That dark voice surfaces and whispers, " you can't, you're not capable, you will fail."  It's a matter of telling that voice to go away.  It's a matter of not waiting around for things to happen, but making them happen on your own.  And, just to say it again, just to really get my point across, that's intimidating.  Can I do this?  Do I have what it takes?  Can I be happy with uncertainty?  Can I settle into a new place, can I make things work for me?  Can I love myself and encourage myself enough to know that I can do this?