A Scorpion In Your Bed

Go on, name the scariest things you can imagine.

Earthquakes and car wrecks and fires, for sure. Sharks, snakes, lions, tigers, and bears, oh my. How about a scorpion? How about a scorpion in your bed that stings you in your sleep?

That’s what happened to my husband last night. Sound asleep, nearing the end of our peaceful, relaxing vacation ~ only it’s been so long, so nice, that we don’t consider it vacation. “We live here,” at least for part of the year, we say. “We’ll live here even longer next year.” But, back to last night… sound asleep we were when my husband screams out, “I’ve been bit! I’ve been bit!”

Everyone has a scorpion story, we’ve learned. People here compare their scorpion stings stories like veterans compare war stories. Apparently, (thank goodness I can take others’ words for the truth) it hurts like an SOB… Excuse me, it hurts like having a knife stabbed into your body.

So, back to my husband’s war story. There we are, sound asleep, dead of night, and BAM. On his hand, pain like nothing else. He screams; I jump, run for the light, and up onto a chair. He thinks it was a snake. But as he’s leaning over to pull back the sheets and find the python, I see a scorpion crawling up his back toward his neck. I scream even louder than he did, and start swiping it away with a pillow. The nasty creature falls to the floor, but barefoot, I wasn’t about to step on it. My husband grabbed an errant shoe and smashed it. My hero.

Wikipedia, my hero web site, told us there probably wasn’t anything to worry about. We washed and dressed his wound. Next year, we’ll have Benadryl handy, but the venom isn’t deadly unless you happen to be allergic to it.

The WORST part (okay, for ME) was trying to fall back to sleep. Are scorpions like cockroaches and deer? If there’s one, there’s sure to be more? Do they have nests with babies? Or lifetime mates, like swans and vultures, so there’s sure to be at least one more lurking under our bed? We pulled back the sheets, looked under the bed, stomped and banged on the walls to scare any hidden cohorts out from hiding, but fortunately or unfortunately, got no response, no scampering flashes of slimy critters, no proof one way or the other. It took nearly two hours before exhaustion made the decision for me and I fell back to sleep.

This morning, my husband gallantly asked, “So, still want to come back next year?” I replied, “If you do,” considering myself magnanimous since I wasn’t the one who got stung by a scorpion in my sleep.

We have now just returned from the Property Management office (unpaid plug: a wonderful company: www.milagrorentalscostarica.com ). We signed a lease for this exact same house for next year.

Pura vida.


Ok, this is getting intense. Costa Rica advertises itself as one of the best spots on earth for Eco-tourism. I’ve renamed it Gecko-tourism (with a bit of poetic license). Geckos run around like ants, and monkeys are as common as squirrels. We were just starting to get comfortable with it all. Then yesterday’s adventure outdid everything we’ve seen to date. My husband and I went on a one day tour, simple enough, right? As innocent as Ginger and the Professor… (Ok, fine, Thurston Howell, III and Lovey.)









These are but a few of the animals we saw. Yes, that’s a COW’S HEAD that the Jaguar is eating, and sure, he’s in a cage, but still… And that sweet little red frog? It’s poisonous. The crocodile is not a crocodile ~ it’s a caiman, whatever that is. If this country wasn’t so mind-boggling beautiful, a girl might have to wonder why she was here.

From the animal reserve (wild-life in cages… I know the feeling), we traveled to an active volcano, called Arenal, in the central region of Costa Rica. (If you look closely, you can see steam blowing from the top.) To reach it, we had to drive through a jungle into the rain forest and around the lake, below. The lake is actually man-made (or rather, man-manipulated) and unbelievably gorgeous, amazingly similar to Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. In 1979, the government diverted 10 nearby rivers to fill in the enormous valley, thus drowning a centuries-old city (which they kindly relocated up the hill). It took us 1.5 hours just to drive around the lake on a narrow, two-lane road through the jungle to reach the volcano. Let me tell you what it’s like to go 60 kph around the twists and turns, flashing from blinding sunshine into near blackness of the mountainous shade with our guide, Bernal Mata, who apparently knows no fear of oncoming traffic or crossing the center line: ah, heck, I wasn’t scared a bit, not even when we rounded a bend to find ourselves nearly on top of two cows, out for a late-day stroll in the middle of the road with their friendly farmer. Fortunately, we were distracted because Bernal was helping me “Practicando mi español.” (I’m getting much better!)

But that’s not all. We also went to this incredible waterfall, down a dirt road, over hills and rocks and trees, past farms and ramshackle houses and old volcanic rock randomly strewn about a few hundred years ago. Once upon a time, only the locals knew about it. Now they take gringos like us there on any given Wednesday afternoon.

Here is the intrepid Bernal Mata (on the right of the picture, below left). Looks a little like Will Smith, don’t you think? (The one who looks like George Clooney is my husband. Just a couple of movie stars hanging out at the local waterfall.). If you’re ever in this neighborhood, I highly recommend Bernal as a tour guide. www.ticotoursguanacaste.com Every adventure we took with him was first class, and he speaks English very well.








Whew, what a day it was! It’s no wonder I sleep so well down here… until the monkeys start howling outside my window at 4am. But they’re so cute that we’re still fascinated by them instead of annoyed.

If I sound a bit like a kid in a candy store, that’s how I feel. This vacation, albeit longer and more relaxed than any trip I’ve ever taken, has been the best journey of my life. And yes, I”m the one who had no idea how she’d MANAGE to stay calm for sixty days. (For a literary bent, see today’s other entry: Life is like a matryoshka doll.) Between Granada, Nicaragua and the Gecko-tourism and the sunsets in Costa Rica, I’ve never been so fascinated by the world we live in (natural or man-made). (Though the Mayan ruins were pretty cool, and I’ve never been to the Far East.) This country, while not cheap, not cheap at all, is wonderful. The rich, local food, the friendly people, the laid-back attitudes, the incredible scenery, the sunny warmth, the gentle beaches, it’s all wonderful, though as they keep reminding us, “It’s not for everyone.”

But for now, it’s for us.

Life is like a matryoshka doll…

Or, I can see clearly now…

(Disclaimer: For those of you looking for more Central American adventures, you may skip this blog.)

Is it my age? Or my stage? Or is it the air in Costa Rica?

I feel as if another layer has been peeled away, a window opened, another doll lifted. There are times in life when “things” seem so clear, when one looks back on his or her life to see how screwed up he or she was before, and thinks: Now I get it! Yet, I also know that this feeling is fleeting. One day I’ll look back with even more wisdom, hindsight, knowledge and think what a fool I was to think I had all the answers on Thursday, March 18, 2010. But, it’s not that I think I have all the answers, oh Future Me, it’s just that I realize that on this day, I am truly happy. Please, let me have this day.

At the wise young age of 47 (no, I’m not afraid of that number), I feel very grounded and centered. I can look back and see past mistakes, in myself, in others, in history, and feel proud that I’ve moved on and learned a thing or two along the way. (This is awfully narcissistic… but that’s allowed in blogs, yes?) What will NEVER cease to amaze me, is how ANYONE can look back at their life and say, “I have no regrets.” Well, bully for them. I have regrets, then again, too numerous to mention. Sure, I get the whole part that my mistakes make me who I am today, blah, blah, blah. I would like to think, if only for today, that I might have come to this effervescent spot in my life without having hurt people I love along the way, without having blurt out words that I immediately regretted. Isn’t it the least bit possible that I was an idiot once or twice? (That’s a rhetorical question.) Who among us does not regret their idiotic moments? I wouldn’t want to be 20 ever again, or even 30, unless I could magically erase the mistakes I made along the way (and make by Apple at its IPO) and still find myself where I am today. But we don’t get that chance. We have to stew in the juices that made us. Well, here I am, happily stewing.

Life is better for me now; I’ve learned to float one level above myself: me, once removed, like a very tall distant cousin, if you will. As a child, I dove into life head first, careless and free. As an innocent teenager (yes, I was the Innocent One), I believed what I was told, never questioned authority. As a young adult, I was so consumed by the whirlpool of my life (read: four sons) that it seemed all I could do was to save myself from drowning. Well, I found a life raft! A broken piece of driftwood! An air mattress! Maybe it’s my husband; maybe it’s distance from daily chores (see: Gecko-tourism in Costa Rica); maybe life is calmer now that my children are in college; maybe it’s being 47 1/2 and being alive and healthy. I am learning to observe, question, take pause, and formulate my own opinion like never before.

Then, again, maybe it’s a career in WRITING. I cannot go back, erase mistakes, reverse bad stock picks, unsay things I’ve said, but my characters can! They are my second chance at life: my past, my present, my future; the one where everyone learns wisdom (or gets their due) in the end, the moment the final doll is lifted.

I sure hope this writing gig pays off, because I’ve got a pretty good view of life from this perch.

If not, does anyone know of a school that teaches puppet-mastery?

Three Days in Nicaragua

I really don’t know where to begin. So I’ll start at the beginning, like a novice storyteller.

On Tuesday, March 9, my husband and I traveled from Costa Rica to Nicaragua for a three day journey. We’d heard wonderful things and were ready for an adventure. Shock and awe. Truly, shock and awe. We began with two days in Granada, the oldest existing city in Central America. But wait… first, I need to tell you…

Old McDonald has lost control. Unfortunately, I did not get pictures of one of the most amazing aspects of the third-world country because the first and most shocking vision of the country was from the taxi ride in, zipping past lean-to shanties on the side of the road. The shacks (which I was told do have electricity and water) were homes for the farmers. We knew they were farmers because their animals were everywhere. Cows, horses, oxen, goats, pigs, chickens, roosters, you name it, were hanging out on the sides of the road, grazing, sleeping, watching the cars go by. Literally just standing there. Sometimes, they had the goats tied up on leashes, but mostly they just hung out, waiting I suppose to be put to work or eaten for dinner.

When we got to the town, established in the late 1500s, our wonderful colonial hotel was located right across from the piazza, the town square. (Check out www.vianica.com. We stayed in Granada at the Hotel Plaza Colon for $100/night, including air conditioning and sometimes hot water.) We sat for hours on our hotel balcony watching the families sell their wares, the exact same way we imagine they’ve done for years, probably decades, passing the responsibilities down through the generations. The women create and sell the food or crafts; the men assemble the tables, chairs, and paraphernalia each morning; the children disassemble the same each night, only for the men to set everything back up the next day and the process repeats itself day after day. They used horse-drawn home-made carts to haul everything back and forth each night. This square was mainly geared towards tourists, but the old men who sat all day to shine shoes attracted the locals who must have worked in shops and restaurants. They actually wore shoes… not everyone did.



In the central square, a cafe and an old woman selling bojo, which she boils under the plastic for 5 hours each day.

A few blocks away was the local market. Here… better than ten thousand words:

We took a tour of the city, via horse drawn carriage, with a tour guide (Fabio!). The city was very clean and safe. We never felt the least bit nervous or threatened, although he did tell us to stay around the main square after dark. The food was delicious, and the prices were extremely low. Their money is Córdobas, about 20 to 1 vs. the dollar. Beer and water are the same price: $1/bottle. Not kidding. Lunch cost about $3 each, dinner maybe cost $8 each. We tried street food (bojo) (pronounced “bow”) and Indio Viejo and gallo pinto (red beans & rice) with chicken. Our favorite new food is fried plantains (yes, I’m eating fried food now), in fact, I make plantains with every dinner we eat at home.

Okay, I could go on and on and on. We saw an active volcano ~ actually looked right down into the mouth. It’s like the Grand Canyon filled with steam. The locals call it “The mouth of hell,” though they’ve fortunately stopped preforming living sacrifices to appease the gods.

On the way back south towards Costa Rica, we stopped in a Pacific coast town called San Juan del Sur. It’s very “tranquil,” as they told us about ten times. For lunch, at El Tímon on the beach (below), we had lobster ceviche with a hint of orange (probably the local fruit that is a mix between a lime and a tangerine. I’m not sure what it’s called). Absolutely, mouth-wateringly, indescribably delicious. We stayed at El Victoriano. Look it up on that same web site. It, too, was wonderful.

All right, I’ve run out of adjectives and probably space. Hasta luego!

Momma Needs a New Pair of Shoes

Yes, I took this picture. And, yes, I have a 10x zoom lens, but still, creepy, huh?
Costa Rica isn’t for everyone (that’s a common phrase around here), but I am now doing better than I imagined. Four weeks from today, we’ll be back home, and as of this minute, I am not ready to go.

Anxiety far outweighed joy on my flight down here. Would I be able to relax when I really wanted to be contacting agents for my novel? Would I be able to let go of my daily routine, the one that helps me cope with my anxieties? Would I get over my addiction to Clif Bars? The answer is yes.

I tend to be a fatalist. If something happens, it was meant to happen, and vice versa. In February, we stayed in a villa that was… cómo se dice… sub-par? But from that 30-day stay at the gecko-commune sprung my essay Vacationally Challenged. Sure, we had to repeatedly scoop tarantulas out of our pool, but at least they were dead. The inspiration for that essay would never have hit me like a huge frog jumping on the windshield of our car if we had started out in the villa where we are now staying for the month of March. (It’s quite lovely.)

In the five weeks that we have been here, I have not only written the aforementioned essay, but also built this new web site, polished my novel synopsis and query letters, done hours, days, worth of research that have absolutely made me better prepared to send my block-buster novel out into the block-buster world. I have decided (the positive way of saying, accepted) that I wasn’t ready to send my novel off in early February. I was SUPPOSED to wait eight weeks. I must thank my husband for the delay, again.

So, look out World, by the time I get home in April, I’ll be ready.

Back to (Monkey) Business

Ok, the vacation’s not over, but I’ve got work to do. I get anxious if I want to work but get distracted by life. Am I alone in that thought? Most people think I’m crazy, but I’ll bet somewhere in this beautiful world, there are more people like me. (Please, someone help me out here!)

If you’ve been following along, you, dear reader, know that my husband and I are in Costa Rica. My essay (see the page called Essays) titled Vacationally Challenged tells my story. This morning, I submitted the entire essay for consideration for publication, so hopefully you’ll be reading it somewhere REAL in the near future.

Meanwhile, yesterday we moved to a different villa for the month of March. This place is newer, cleaner, and nicer. Perhaps if we’d come here first I wouldn’t have had such a long period of culture shock… but that’s what traveling is all about. So now, I will have new photos, and a new (more productive) location to write. Expect big things to come.

Honey, the kids unplugged me!

So this is what the outdoors is like. Nice.

After two weeks in Costa Rica, knowing no one but my husband, we were finally settling in, learning the town, the roads, the villa. Zoology, entomology, ornithology, and sunset gazing are our new hobbies, and we never even had to leave our balcony. Why would we with a view like this?

Then three of our children arrived with two friends, and the balcony got a little crowded. Talk about ENERGY, and EXCITEMENT, and PURE HAPPINESS, these “kids” (all about 30 years old) wanted to experience everything in the Costa Rican guide book ~ in one week. Let’s see, so far they (and sometimes we) have gone surfing, snorkeling, swimming, horseback riding, and zip-lining. We went to a natural spa with a sauna, mud bath, and hot springs, all NATURAL. Best of all, one daughter loves to cook ~ that has been heaven! I’m starting to like paradise.

Now, where’s my laptop?

Hello Vacation

This is my view. The dream is real.

So, what’s a hard-working writer to do when her husband wants to spend two months in paradise? I say: Define paradise.
Remember Green Acres? Well, my version is White Sands.
New York is where I’d rather stay. I get anxieties hearing waves.

No… no spoiled little girl, me. We are wonderfully situated in a villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica. After six days here, I am learning how to write, even when the sun is calling, the winds are blowing gently, the monkeys are swinging through the trees (really ~ I’ve got pictures!).

Is it wrong to have a To Do list in paradise? I think not. Productivity is the measure of my day: More is Good.

Speaking of which, blogging can now move up on my priority list. I’ve got so much to say! Stay tuned, readers.

Heart and Soul

“I am an all or nothing person.”  So says Danny King, the protagonist of my novel, That Changes Everything, and so says I.  Has it really been a month since I’ve written a blog?

I’ve been writing!  A lot.  I finished the first draft of my novel, all 73,000 words, and for about two days I was so excited and happy with it.  Then, like the devil perched on my left shoulder, whispers of doubt invaded my head.  What about this scene?  What about that scene?  Is this character entirely believable?  Totally sincere?  So even before I print off copies or send out query letters, I’m back to writing, and writing, and writing.  And reading.

A wise young man I know, also a writer, has an ongoing debate, with himself or anyone whom he can engage:  Is it better for a writer to read other great writers, or is it better for the writer in question to just get out there and live life, then write their own story in their own voice?  Ooh, good question.

The answer has many arguments, but like nature vs. nurture, I absolutely think it should be a combination.  No great stance, or position there, I realize, but how could one argue differently?

Off to read and write, not necessarily in that order.

Best wishes, Karolyn