COSTA RICA, Chapter I Nov. 4, 2019 – March 21, 2020

From one day to the next, I left “Nebraska – The Good Life” behind for Costa Rica’s “Pura Vida,” which translates literally as “Pure Life,” and is used as a greeting and explanation for virtually anything, similarly to “Aloha” in Hawaii. I got out of the midwest just in time to escape the bitter cold, arriving to the temperate climate of Central America, where the highs in the mountains never exceed the 80s and the lows seldom dip below 50F.

I had known my first clients only virtually prior to my arrival. We were in one or two Facebook groups together, having all taken the same series of personal growth and development courses through Peak Potentials a decade ago. We had enough in common that it seemed like a really safe place to launch my international petsitting venture. I had done caretaking of various kinds back in the U.S. part time, while being sole proprietor of my own photography business. Over the years, I cared for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and did live-in post-op care and dogsitting. My first charges in Costa Rica were two cats—one domesticated and one feral. Spicy was a sweet “ginger” girl, whose humans kept her on a pretty consistent schedule. If you babysat when you were young, you surely remember the kids who behaved one way for their parents, then quite another way for you. Well, Spicy was one of those. For the first ten days or so, things went pretty smoothly She would leave the house after breakfast and return home by 5 for supper, staying in for the rest of the evening. Then one evening, she snuck back out. I called and called for her, reluctant to go to bed while she was still out. Finally, too tired to stay up any longer, I left the door open by the bed, so I would hear her, if she came home. I slept fitfully, constantly waking to look out the door for her. I was worried out of my mind, as I could hear coyotes in the distance. Around 0315, I woke and actually went outside to call her. There she was, not a care in the world, as if it were her regular coming-home time. This behavior was repeated each subsequent week, her returns later each time. It was as if she were a teenager, sneaking out when her parents weren’t around to catch her. I did, of course, report this behavior to her humans, and “grounded” her for the day following her escapades. She was so worn out from her nocturnal adventures that she’d sleep the entire day, not minding one bit that she couldn’t go out. While somewhat remote, way far down the worst road I had ever driven in my life, that first sit was a good intro for me. I learned a lot of lessons (not all pleasant ones, mind you) that I am now able to laugh about one year later to the day of my arrival in country, as I write this.

I had two short back-to-back petsits in other homes prior to Christmas, one for a dog, the other for another cat. Those were both peaceful, pleasant, and uneventful, all with spectacular views. Then, a weeklong sit for two dogs and a bird Xmas week, which I had been hired for back in mid November cancelled because the local girl who had looked after the animals in the past had surfaced, expecting that she’d be doing the job again. Welcome to the downside of free forming. What was I to do? The night before the diabetic dog mom was to fly out, her local girl got the flu, so I was texted at the last minute to return to the original plan. When I arrived, whether from excitement or nerves (The dogs had only met me one time before.) one of the pups peed on the dining room rug, an action that would, unfortunately, be repeated throughout the week that followed, even though the door was open and they had access to their run all day long. I have taken care of enough animals in my life to know that when they get upset with their humans for going away, they will generally find unpleasant ways of expressing their displeasure. Unfortunately for the housesitter, the pet parent, rather than acknowledge that the behavior was the animal’s acting out towards them, will sometimes blame the caretaker, rather than accept that their action was the animal’s intentional wrath, directed toward them for their perceived abandonment. Following the dogs’ dinner was my first time having to give an injection. I had been to the vet a month prior for instruction on how to give the dog her shot, but had been so focused on the process, I hadn’t paid attention to the dosage. I was assured that I need not worry; everything would be written down in detail. The only problem was—that is, the first major problem was that she didn’t remember to include dosing instructions for the dog’s insulin shot. I thought I recalled the amount, administered the shot, then settled in and went to bed. At 0130, I awoke in a panic. Had I recalled the correct dosage? Was the dog okay? Would she die if I had given her the wrong amount? Although the owner had assured me that she would have wifi in the house by that week, it was not yet connected, nor was there any phone service. (It was a brand new house in a new development.) I hardly slept the rest of the night, I was so worried. The next day was Christmas eve. The dog seemed okay, but I didn’t want to take any chances, especially given the holidays, knowing the vet’s office would be closed. I had to walk some distance, up and down a very steep hill to get to the bus stop, which was where I finally got a signal on my phone. I called, texted, and left messages for the vet, then, all I could do was wait. I had no idea if the vet would respond on a holiday, but, eventually, she did. Thank God! I had administered the shot correctly. While I was waiting to hear back from the vet, a young woman at the bus stop had overheard me speaking English on the phone. She was a local student and struck up a conversation with me to practice her English. It was quite good. I was impressed and told her so. Given the holiday schedule, the bus was only running every two hours. By the time it came, we had been chatting for almost an hour and a half. She was an absolute delight and the highlight of my very stressed out Xmas eve. We exchanged numbers before she boarded the bus and made plans to meet for a language exchange the following week, which we did. It was great fun, far more fun than any structured class. We sat in the church yard, as there were no park benches or cafes in that tiny town.

Christmas morning, I sat out back with the dogs, enjoying toucans in a giant tree in the distance and watching an iguana just a few yards away while journaling. There was a tree with pink blossoms at the end of the deck and when a pair of blue-gray Tanagers landed among them, their beauty moved me to tears. Although I was alone and could not reach anyone, I was content, grateful to be in such a serene space. A coffee field stretched out in front of me with banana trees interspersed among the rows of coffee plants. I was incredibly happy to be surrounded by lush shades of green in every direction and far from the cold of North America!

The beauty of a housesitting life in expat communities is that people are generally aware of and understanding of the in-between times when one gig has finished and the next has yet to present itself. I did not know what I would do after the Xmas week sit, as I had no other prospects on the horizon. Thankfully, as I had immersed myself into the community, attending yoga classes and the weekly post-market dinners at a local restaurant, I got to know others in the area. When I was sharing at dinner one Friday night that I didn’t know where I would go next, a total stranger (that is, we’d only just been introduced that night) said I could stay at her place for 4-5 days, as she and her dogs would be housesitting for friends, looking after their two dogs. I was incredibly grateful! She even ended up inviting me to join her and the dogs for a day trip to the beach the first week of the new year. We drove two hours to the Playa Esterillos Este, the only point in Costa Rica, I read, from which one can view both the sunrise and the sunset from the same beach. After less than 30 minutes running in the surf, the dogs had had their fill and went to lie down in the shade of the palm trees with their human, my new friend Marianne. I walked the beach collecting shells for another half hour before I too had to retreat from the sun. We enjoyed lunch the Hotel Pelicano, then took the Marianna Jones (as opposed to Indiana Jones) road back to Puriscal. I only thought I had experienced bad roads in those mountains. This was the absolute WORST road I had ever been on in my life! Incredibly, we—and the car—survived the two and a half hours through torrential rains, which had waterfalls flowing down where none usually existed, and filling and hiding the potholes, some of which where 6″ or deeper. It was treacherous going, for sure! I am super glad I went though, as that was my only excursion and my only trip to the beach before Covid-19 put a stop to all social outings. So much for thinking I would tour the country and take in all of the wonderful sights in between jobs. Sigh…

Costa Rica Chapter 2 will be about my three months in an Airbnb with a local “Tico” family.  Lovely people and lots of fun times!

The creation of this blog in 2016 was to honor the request of countless friends who said they wanted to hear about all of my travels. As time passed, however, I realized that I also want it to serve as a source of encouragement for others living with any of the many invisible illnesses that limit their ability to live a “normal” life, be it MS, Lupus, RA, or countless others. For me, a Fibromyalgia diagnosis in 2011 left me terrified that I might never again be able to work full time or support myself. I could barely manage part time photography work, even with an assistant. I filed for disability in 2012, only to be told that “there was nothing wrong with me.” Rather than fight the system, I have learned that I can function “normally” for about two hours at a time, then I must rest. And so I have adjusted my life, whatever I am doing, to accept and allow for what is. I still travel and I seek to be of service wherever I go, pacing myself and making the very best of every single day. I have released my expectations of what my life was supposed to look like and I find beauty admidst the challenges. I have found gratitude to be the best antidepressant. I tried many others first, but they all had negative side effects. Gratitude has only positive side effects. Being forced to slow down has shifted my focus. It has invited me to consider who I want to be and how I want to show up on this earth—things I might not have taken the time for had I not been brought up short by unexpected pain and illness.

If you are struggling or facing overwhelming challenges in your life, I would invite you to look for the gifts in your situation. They are there. I promise! For me, the most apparent one was compassion. Never before had I ever given any thought to all the people around the world who live with chronic pain every day. Now, I do. I pray for them every morning before I get out of bed. I send healing energy and prayers for healing and comfort—in whatever way, shape, or form it is needed—for all who are suffering. And I carry on, doing the work that I am able to do. For now, that is loving and looking after others’ fur babies and homes, in whatever wonderful locations I feel called to. House- and petsitting really are the perfect gigs for anyone with health limitations or needing time to reflect in solitude before hitting the “reset” button on their life. Just make sure you enter into it with a sense of humor and adventure, as you will almost certainly encounter the unexpected at every turn.

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