La Pura Vida

La Pura Vida

I left Costa Rica’s largest capital heading for the countryside, to get a taste for the real ‘La Pura Vida’, a Costa Rican saying for the easy-way-of-life. Costa Rica is the size of West Virginia, with 11 volcanoes, and a coast on either side, the Pacific and Caribbean Sea.

Leaving the city, we drove through long windy roads, encased by tall green mountains. We were greeted by an artist when we arrived in, the off-the-beaten path, less touristy town called Aquas Zarcas, a couple hours north of the countries’ capital, near hot springs.

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A day after arriving we hiked into the jungle to a waterfall, passing by exotic flora, and fauna. In our short excursion into Costa Rica’s wilderness, we saw an owl, ants that carry leaves, and just under a dozen large blue morpho butterflies, with their nearly six inch wide iridescent wings. 

I’ve longed to see a sloth, and of course, the sloth was the hardest to see. It took work to find him.

It wasn’t until we arrived back to our quiet tree-house with artwork dangling from the trees, glittered circles and candles, dotting the pathway to our doorway. 

My husband and I spent a long time looking for sloths before heading out to lunch. A surprisingly painful affair, with our neck’s crooked back as we peered upwards. Sloths really blend in with nature, making it hard to find them. 

Then our first sloth appeared, right outside the artist’s house nestled in the very tall trees above us.

The sloth hung there, grasping to the branch ever-seemingly so gently, its fur the same color as the bark. He groomed, and scratched, swaying with the wind. 

I laid down on a towel in a soft patch of grass to get a better view of him, and to relieve my neck pain from watching him on the branches that reached up to the sky. I got a glimpse of the sloths perspective as we both faced up towards the sky. Watching him as he swayed way high up on the branch with a good breeze. Wind chimes echoed nearby, and that moment easily became one of the holiest moments of my life.

With this quiet experience, I was beginning to grasp the true meaning of Costa Rica’s, ‘La Pura Vida’, the pure life. 

Enigmatic Cuba

Enigmatic Cuba fascinated me with its many layers of history. What many Cubans lack in technology and material items, they make up for in with a rich and resilient human connection, perhaps a side-effect of a long and adverse history. 

We mainly hear stories of the Cubans who come over on home-made rafts seeking refuge, but we rarely hear stories of the Cubans who stay on the island, who simply live there. There are 11 million of them. 

"In no other culture that I can think of, is everyone equal and poor, yet lively, and colorful; where people make music in the streets," a fellow traveler said before tucking herself into bed in an old colonial house built in 1893, in downtown Santiago de Cuba down a beautiful cobblestoned street.

If only those walls could speak.

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"The Stuff In My Head"

Jerry: Why can’t I go? They are trying to kill me here.

Joye: Nobody is trying to kill you. The VA says you need to be here. (Something she tells her husband, because explaining the truth is hard for him).

Jerry began showing signs of dementia eight years ago, but the symptoms increased. Symptoms like shuffling of the feet, reminiscing memories, and hallucinations, like the time he thought fireworks outside were enemies from the war.

Jerry has Lewy Body Dementia, a disease that shares symptoms of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, effecting cognitive ability, sleep, and behaviors, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association.

Now he has his own way of understanding dementia, which he calls ‘the hair in the head.’

Joye: Do you know what’s wrong with you honey?

Jerry: Oh the stuff in my head? Yea, they can’t get it out….I mean you could rub my head, and you don’t feel anything, but there’s something going on up there...

Joye: But there’s no known cure for it, is there? 

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Joye, a retired Director of Nursing, met Jerry at a poolside party 26 years ago. She recalls a wonderful relationship, and describes him as a warm loving, gentle soul, which hasn't changed other than the disease progressing.

Joye had promised her husband that she’d never put him away in old age, but things changed. He began flailing from dreams, accidentally hurting her in the night. Then he would get up in the night unsupervised. Soon after she had a stroke.

So she checked her husband into the memory care unit at Brookdale Citrus Senior Living Solutions in Lecanto.

“It truly has made a difference for me,” Joye said. “As a caregiver, you need to remember to take time for yourself. The stress is gone. It really has been a help having him here.”

 Joye Rush gives her friend a deep hug during an Alzheimer's support group at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Inverness, Fla. "The reason I go to the meetings is to help, because they were such a help to me...It’s okay to ask for help,” Rush said.

Joye Rush gives her friend a deep hug during an Alzheimer's support group at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Inverness, Fla. "The reason I go to the meetings is to help, because they were such a help to me...It’s okay to ask for help,” Rush said.

Jerry: The best thing I’ve got in my life is my wife 

Joye: You got me and I come all the time.

Jerry: You know I was never was a cry boy. Just sometimes I get something...(he starts to tear up again)

His mind goes back to life on the battle ship, then he's called to dinner. He waves goodbye, as she carries out the dogs, that he calls 'the kids.’ Tomorrow she plans to come back to see him.

 Joye Rush sits with her husband Jerry, and their two dogs that he calls the kids during a visit to his room on the Memory Care Unit at Brookdale Citrus Senior Living Solutions. “Over the past few years, I’ve watched my close husband - my partner - dying,” Joye said. “That’s what the disease is. It’s death...You watch your partner leaving you...You don’t lose your spouse when they pass on, you lose them gradually before that, but God love them they don’t realize that.”

Joye Rush sits with her husband Jerry, and their two dogs that he calls the kids during a visit to his room on the Memory Care Unit at Brookdale Citrus Senior Living Solutions. “Over the past few years, I’ve watched my close husband - my partner - dying,” Joye said. “That’s what the disease is. It’s death...You watch your partner leaving you...You don’t lose your spouse when they pass on, you lose them gradually before that, but God love them they don’t realize that.”

Africa's Eden

I had my head buried in a book about a female traveler, lost in her words and her story. I look up, and remember I’m in Africa.

The full moon glows low in the sky the morning of our safari, just above the Ngorongoro rift. Roosters crow, crickets chime, and clouds grew as the moon rests on the edge of the crater’s rift. Birds chirp, and indigenous people’s goats bleat. 

I had faint dreams of visiting Africa for a safari, but never thought it would come true until this summer.

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My husband and I chose Ngorongoro Crater – the world’s largest inactive volcanic caldera, nestled between Tanzania’s national parks, only a few hours drive from Mount Kilimanjaro. The wildlife is said to be more calm here than in the nearby Serengeti. Perhaps because no humans are allowed overnight.

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We venture into earth’s deep crevice, a sort of eden, where only wildlife live. Zebras, giraffe, elephants, and lions graced us with their beauty. Flamingos, wildebeest, buffalo, baboons, jackal, warthogs, ostrich, hippos, gazelle, and waterbucks appeared too. They were equally mesmerizing – something of a waking dream in natures’ own paradise.

© Amber Sigman Photography

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