Lessons Learned From COVID and Cloud Forests
Earlier this month, our family set out on our last adventure of 2020. We visited Costa Rica, and I must tell you- everyone should experience this magical place at least once in their lifetime. Our last trip of the year was filled with more angst than normal. I learned the government of Costa Rica was requiring Health Passes before entering the Country, which means you better have good health insurance, and proof of that insurance submitted to the Costa Rican Embassy no earlier or later than 48 hours to arriving in Country. During the scramble to get the required paperwork from our insurance company, it struck me that this trip was a goodbye to our old world. I was in the liminal space between past and present, floating as witness to a rift in time. It seemed appropriate for us to visit one of the places on our Bucket List, while we could.
While there wasn't a single place I didn't like during our visit, the place I loved the most was the Monteverde Cloud Forest. First I must tell you, visiting a Cloud Forest has on my bucket list for a very long time, then after sharing a little bit about Cloud Forests the rest of the family jumped on board adding it to their bucket lists too! I think my wanting to experience a Cloud Forest started when I purchased a canvas photograph in my twenties, of one of the rope bridges (no longer rope bridges now) in one of the Cloud Forests... because there are actually 6 Cloud Forests in Costa Rica. But the photograph was beautiful, mysterious...just like the real thing, but the real thing is MUCH better!
So first things first...I had to first navigate how to purchase a guided tour of the Cloud Forest in Monteverde. For whatever reason our phones converted to Spanish as soon as we arrived in country. So that was a fun learning curve. I only know swear words in Spanish and our oldest son Aiden has 2 years of Spanish under his belt, so it was the blind leading the blind most of this trip! But that's what made it fun. Once I was able to purchase tickets in advance, we set out early the next morning for our 2.5 hour drive to Monteverde.
The other fun part of our adventure was the Google GPS doesn't work in Costa Rica. So we had to download their version, Waze. Which fun fact, took us on the back (dirt roads) of the Costa Rican jungles! Typically I think most parent's would be somewhat nervous, however we embraced it, my husband often saying "We were supposed to go this way for a reason, maybe there is something we are supposed to see". I won't lie, there were a couple times I wasn't so sure it was a good idea, and in fact we did get lost. Then all our children decided the winding jungle roads weren't what they had planned for, yes even being from Colorado- so we made several stops because they all got car sick.
Once we did arrive atop this amazing mountain in the town of Monteverde, we realized how we were not prepared for the weather! It was cold, windy, and raining. The weather in Monteverde is strongly influenced by moisture-saturated air currents that enter the country from the northeast (trade winds). When ascending the Cordillera de Tilarán, orographic rains originate because of the cooling they experience, or fog, which characterizes the predominant Cloud Forest in the area. These conditions generate a marked rainy tropical climate; where seasonal variation in temperatures and rainfall is minimal, both remain high throughout the year. Likewise, the persistent cloudiness causes the particular conditions for the development of the so-called Cloud Forest.
Not only were we cold, we were also starving. I guess getting carsick will do that to you. We ended up finding this cute little cafe, 'Stellas'. I have to tell you, should you ever find yourself in Monteverde, Costa Rica- YOU MUST STOP HERE!! Not only is Stella the owner so welcoming, her food is amazing (even though there wasn't a single meal we didn't enjoy the entire week) and the ambiance was MAGICKAL!!!!
Fun Fact: Monteverde hosts 2.5% of the world's biodiversity. The 10% of its flora is endemic. Meaning the plants here are ONLY found here, no place else on Earth has some of the plants we saw. (I talk about this later) and 50% of flora and fauna of Costa Rica is in this paradise.
We were the only guests in this cute little cafe, that smelled like chocolate and coffee beans. As we sat down at our table we noticed the set of sliding glass doors to the back of us, that led to the most amazing garden I have ever seen. In the center of the garden was a tall bird feeder surrounded by birds of every color in the rainbow. I have never seen so many different species of birds in so many colors!!! As I stood in awe, Stella approached me and pointed behind me, as I turned around, right at my feet was a Coati! Close enough for me to touch, completely unbothered by my presence!!! And of course me being me, tried to pick it up, but he waddled off to look for food. Shortly after, a Toucan landed on top of the bird feeder to snack on the banana Stella had placed out there. Several resplendent quetzals showed up for lunch too.
Next, the most beautiful looking squirrel ran up the feeder, scaring away the birds, to help himself to a snack as well. After it was his turn this weird looking creature approached the bottom of the feeder to eat what the birds and squirrel knocked off onto the ground. It was as if these animals made this a daily ritual, and were completely unbothered by humans. Our family just stood in such awe and amazement of what was happening. I could have stayed there all day watching all the animals. However, we were late, and ended up getting lost for the second time trying to find the Cloud Forest. We ended up missing the guided tour, but we were able to venture out onto the trails and bridges alone.
Fun Fact: More than 100 species of mammals live in the park, including howler and capuchin monkeys, all five species of cats, deer, tapir and sloths. A total of 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles live in the reserve, including venomous and non-venomous snakes, frogs and toads
We started along the very muddy path and within minutes approached the longest and tallest bridge in the park, Bridge 6 (236m (774ft) long and it's height being 70m (230ft)). You can tell instantly that they designed this park so the trails and hanging bridges are designed and maintained to cause the lowest impact to nature, trying always to keep the forest intact for everything living in it. You are instantly overwhelmed by nature. There is literally life at your feet, around you, and above you. The bridges you cross (6 in total) are perfect to appreciate Costa Rica’s magnificent biodiversity admiring nature from different perspectives.
Then something happened halfway through our trek through this beautiful forest. It was as if nothing was outside of us. No world, no COVID, just complete awareness. Nature has much to teach us about the present moment . Nature also teaches us how life and death are a beautiful dance, but humans do a terrible job at facing both.
Fun Fact: Extensive plant collections have been conducted in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. An ever-growing list of plants above 700m details more than 3000 species. There are more than 750 species of trees alone, representing 92 plant families. Each type of forest or “life zone”, from the lowland rainforest to the elfin forest, has its own set of characteristic tree species.
As the lockdowns from the virus continue on, many of us are stuck in our homes, yet there are still endless opportunities to visit nature and what stories she has to share with us. Yes, we share funny videos on social media, and show off our latest recipe creations in the kitchen. We are reconnecting with old friends, since now a phone call out of the blue is socially acceptable. We help our neighbors, donate, volunteer, and ask if people are OK. We say hi to neighbors and strangers. All of these things are important, but during this collective deep breath, we need to find the space to reclaim a small part of our lost humanity. Nature provides that space. Nature is also a lot like a time machine that takes us back and pushes us ahead to confront our own mortality, as well as giving us renewed gratitude for all the times we are gifted here amidst so much beauty and love. I cannot tell you how long I stood in front of some of those gigantic ficus trees. hundreds of years old realizing we all exist now in the ether, the neither-here-nor-there-ness of awaiting the unknown. That the hundred daily griefs can compound into our inability to move or function. However, the force that can allow motion through this time of in between is in the very actions that have bound humanity since our beginnings some 300,000 years ago. Being in nature opens up a part of your soul, opens up your senses which are our new survival superpowers during this time of pause. It's helps you feel more alive.
What we learned that day is death feeds into life perhaps most spectacularly here among the giant ficus trees, the strangler figs that wrap themselves so fully around a host tree that the host dies and rots away and the ficus becomes a tree itself, spreading up into the sky and out toward other trees so the process can begin again.
Monteverde had gifted us a heightened perception, and a month later, I feel ever so much more alive than when I first walked into that Cloud Forest, transformed by the hands of something much bigger than all of us, something not even COVID can take away...G-d.
Click on the gallery photos below
I think we've all done it, you know, go on that much needed vacation to get recharged then start taking mental notes of all the exciting things you plan on implementing into your daily life once you arrive home. There is just something about changing the scenery for a week or two that makes us ready and excited for change. Perhaps it's the break away from work and how it makes you reflect on how much time you spend away from your spouse and children. So you tell yourself that as soon as you get home you won't go to the office on your days off like you used to, and you'll spend more quality time with your family. Or maybe you are finally able to relax while on vacation and as soon as you get home you'll carve out more "me-time" in your daily life. Whether it's a monthly trip to a masseuse, more reading, or even meditating more- but then we actually get home and reality sets in. And we end up doing the exact opposite of what we intended to do.
We go back to work, we go back to the same routines, and vacation becomes a distant memory. We end up getting stressed out, forget about that masseuse appointment because you've got meetings and deadlines, kid's school projects to help with, things begin to pile up and you don't have any "me-time". Before you know it your cup is overflowing and you are ready for another vacation...the cycle just repeats.
But what if there were a way we could make our vacation more intentional and nurture our entire lives (not just the week you're there)? This is where I really had to be mindful of what I wanted to get out of my vacations once I arrived home, but there are some things I needed to do before I left for my vacation as well. One of the biggest things I realized was the first day or two of my return are just as important as the week away. Honoring this transitional time is essential, not only for integrating all the nourishment I received on vacation, but also to ensure that my energy tanks remain full and it continues to support me as I move back into my day to day life.
How To Create A Safe Landing Arriving- Home Routine!
1. Give Yourself a “Buffer” Day
You can’t expect yourself to go straight from the beaches of St. Thomas to doing the normal hustle and grind in just one day — at least if you want to hold onto some of the beauty, peace, and relaxation you cultivated while you were away.
If you know you need to be back at work on Monday morning, plan to arrive home Saturday night, so you have one day to settle in, exhale, and get ready for “normal life” to resume. Traveling is stressful, and I won't even get into how hard it is when you are traveling with children — even if you relaxed on your vacation. We all experience that natural “dip” in our energy and mood after the happy change of pace from being away.
Use your “Buffer Day" as a time to just unwind, readjust, and reflect on the experience you just had.
2. Unpack those Bags!
I am definitely not that person who leaves my suitcase around for two or three weeks, after a vacation! (Nor do I let my children!)
I have learned: it’s SO important to unpack your bag as soon as you get home. When you leave it lying around, the truth is…. part of you is in denial that you are still on that beach in St. Thomas!
Unpacking closes the energy of a trip and helps your body and mind settle back into home-life. You are able to transition easier to real-life too!
3. Love & Clean Up Your Space
Like I stated before, there is a natural dip in our energy when we arrive home from a vacation. You may even get a little depressed (my husband is the worst, he actually sulks for days after we arrive home) Making sure your home is a beautiful place that you truly love makes everything so much better! After all: when your home’s a wreck, and you have nothing to look forward to, depression is a pretty normal response.
I ALWAYS clean my house before we leave for vacation.. But if you've ever left the mess for a week only to arrive back home to it- well, that is definitely not going to help your "end of vacation blues" I do all the laundry, wipe down the kitchen counters, make sure there are no dirty dishes left out, vacuum, make the beds...I think you get it. I make sure everything as beautiful as I can for when I arrive home.
Whatever you need to feel in love with your space, and focus on what’s great about being home.
4. Immerse Your Life with Vacation Lessons
I believe it’s so important to honor the beautiful experiences in our lives, and find ways to carry them forward with us — in our hearts and in our homes.
One way I do this is with my gratitude journal. I even bring it with me on vacation. I take a few moments every day to write not only bout what I am grateful for, but three feelings I experienced that day. You can also journal about what you loved most about your vacation, what you did to relax...make a list … and then, ask yourself…. “How can I create these feelings in my home and life right now?” Think about the areas of your life where you lose touch with these precious priorities, the daily thing in your life you can be grateful for. Come up with a few simple, creative ways to connect your vacation-world and home-world.
Your home can be beautiful support for this process as well! I always buy artwork from every trip we take, but you can pick a souvenir or photo from your trip that most exemplifies one of these qualities. Place it in a spot you’re likely to see, everyday. This will remind you of what matters most … and keep you connected to the beauty and experiences of your vacation, long after the sand is out of your shoes.
Author, Candance Toscano
"You can design the life of your dreams and acquire that luxurious, fulfilled and empowered lifestyle you know you have always wanted."
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Clearwater, FL 33756
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