Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas at Sea

Christmas Day on the MV Explorer
Christmas Eve I was in isolation again the whole day.  And I didn’t mind at all.  I had the flu for a couple of days – the last day we were in Lima then 2 days on board, the 23rd and 24th, I think.  The first day Doctor Phil put me in my own room on the fourth level, 4118, with a big mirror instead of a window.  I was so happy there, reading and writing and sleeping.  Don, our steward, brought me my meals, and I felt as happy as I’ve been any days of the trip.  It was fantastic getting to have time to myself to think and read and write and not be able to go out or do anything.  I was so blasted tired.  It was wonderful being forced to relax.  I think it shifted everything.
The 24th I called the reception desk to see if I could get some oatmeal instead of eggs and bacon and found out that I didn’t have doctor’s orders anymore to have my meals brought to me anymore so I would need to go get breakfast myself.  It was actually a big mix up – the doctors thought I still was in isolation, but I couldn’t stay there and get food – the door locked after I left and I couldn’t re-enter so I had to take my things with me.  Gerlinde wanted me back in our room – she missed me – so I moved back in then went to get breakfast.  Sandy (the doctor) saw me there and asked how I was feeling.  I felt better but not good.  I went to see Phil again at 10.  He told me to stay in my room the rest of the day and on Christmas I could go out and about.  I felt the tiniest bit bad about missing out of the Christmas Eve dinner but actually didn’t mind all that much.  I like our dinner companions tremendously – Mary, Kelly, Trista, and Lynn – but I just wasn’t feeling good enough to carry on a decent conversation or to have enough energy to sit up that long.  So I stayed in our room all day drawing Zendoodle Christmas balls as gifts for Gerlinde, Cynthia and Bob, and Don, our steward.  I wanted to give him something to say thank you for all he’s done for me.  He has been unfailingly kind and lovely and nice and full of smiles.  And he cleans the room really nicely each day and turns down our beds at night – I’m going to miss him a lot!  It felt great doing the drawings for them and thinking nice thoughts as I did so.  I also listened to the keynote talks as I drew.  Julian Bond gave another speech which was excellent.  Jairek Robbin’s talk was interesting – all about being true to oneself.  I think he has a lot of good things to say.  Doug Mack gave another talk – I enjoy his presentations very much.  He’s funny and informative both – it’s a good combination.  I look forward to reading his book when I get back and can get a copy of it.  Apparently a palette broke as they were loading the ship for our voyage and some boxes, his box of books included, got sent back from whence they came rather than making it aboard, so I can’t buy one from him here and get it signed.  I’m wondering if that’s what happened to the rest of my art supplies, though I did receive a phone call a couple of days ago, on the 24th, to let me know 2 boxes had arrived in Nathan’s room which might be for me.  I haven’t remembered to check into them yet to see if they’re my pencils and watercolor paper or not.  I hope they are!  That would be sweet!
Christmas Eve Gerlinde got beautifully dressed up for the fancy dinner which I had to miss.  As she was getting ready, I didn’t mind the thought of not going at all.  As soon as she left though, interestingly enough, I felt like bursting into tears.  I decided then and there to go outside and stand in the open just to feel the air.  I hadn’t been outside for 48 hours and hadn’t even been able to see outside for 36 of those hours.  The moment I walked outside, I was catapulted into reverie.  The sky was a royal blue with God’s fingerprints dotting across it along with a thunderhead directly ahead of where I was looking.  Occasional cirrus clouds wafted across as well.  Tears rose to my eyes as I took in the beauty, so stunned did I feel to be witness to such exquisiteness.  I let the tears flow freely as I thanked God for allowing me to experience such beauty. 
One of the passengers came up to me and asked if I was feeling better.  I told her I was and that I’d had to get outside for a bit.  She said that the sky was 10 times more beautiful on the other side.  I had trouble believing it because I had noticed the beginning of the setting sun on the clouds as they took on a slightly orange glow, but I decided to check it out and to come back if it didn’t prove true.
She was right.  The sun was actually on the other side of the ship, so the sunset was more direct there.  The fingerprints were also apparent everywhere, but, in addition, there were lower lying, more opaque clouds which acted as the perfect setting for golden foil outlines, giving the clouds the proverbial silver and golden linings – a perfect metaphor for my missing the dinner but being blessed with this spectacular sight.  I stood at the railing enjoying the feel of the powerful wind in my hair as the ship traveled at 24 knots until I felt dizzy from the exertion after having been so sick.  When I sat down I was again overwhelmed by the awesome beauty I was privileged to witness.   I wept again and felt a deep sense of my father’s presence.  He died Dec 20th last year, so I’d been very aware of him and his life and death the previous few days.  Sitting there on the deck watching the sunset, I felt his presence offering me grace and forgiveness for the hurt I caused him and offering me the opportunity to forgive myself as well.  I felt God’s forgiveness pour into me as the tears poured down my cheeks.  Being so sick seems to have ripped aside the veil between me and my emotions and the spiritual world.  They all blended seamlessly as I watched the glorious sunset.  I felt engulfed in love and joy and peace as well as forgiveness. 
I came back inside to the cabin and wrote my children a letter for Christmas to let them know how much I love them, no matter what, and to share my deep joy with them. 
By the time Gerlinde returned from her lovely dinner, I felt transformed.  The flu had been blown through me and out of me, and I felt almost 100% well. 
Gerlinde and I had decided to do a ritual together for Christmas Eve.  She brought some of our art supplies down from the art room.  We set them up on our floor and began.  We took turns bringing someone to mind then creating some strokes or a very simple drawing to represent them on paper with watercolor.  Then we spoke their name and wished them all good things.  It was a lovely way to bring our friends and family there to the room with us to help us celebrate Christmas.  It felt very sacred.  Very different than any Christmas Eve I’d experienced before.
Christmas morning we had to get up early to go on a field trip.  After having been so sick, I decided that it might be a good idea for me to actually pay for some tours out into nature so I could get out of the cities which were so filthy and loud and stressful and exhausting.  For Christmas Day Gerlinde and I both signed up for a tour called Rivers of Joy.  We were to go to a confluence of two rivers where they had a spa.  It was a bit different than was described, and it was wonderful.  We rode 2.5 hours there through the pleasant Costa Rican countryside.  I saw signs for Monteverde and Arenal and felt good to see names of placed I’d been before.  The familiar felt so good!  Eventually we left the highway and drove on a dirt road to a setting in the middle of nowhere.  We drove down a long rocky lane to a parking lot where there were only 2 cars.  The building was beautiful – large, open, with a round roof and no walls.  There were tables there set with fresh fruit and fruit juice awaiting our arrival.  We then went into changing rooms and put on our bathing suits before walking through the woods to a sizeable flowing creek with very warm water bustling over the rocks.  25 of us climbed into the warm water and oohed and aahed over how good it felt and how beautiful it was.  Most everybody got back out after 5 or 10 minutes and returned to the spa building where they swam in the manmade pools.  I stayed in the natural one.  I lay my head back on a rock and let myself float in the 100 degree water for about an hour.  The trees above me shaded me and offered beautiful leaved patterns to delight my doodling mind.  The light crossed the sky and shone on me in the pool for a time before moving beyond me.  After others had been gone for 20 minutes or more, I saw a movement to the side – a small iguana came out from under a rock to sun himself before skittering back in when a couple of people came walking along the path near him.  Butterflies cruised around me, including at least two beautiful blue Morphos.  I thought of going to Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond with Karen to see the butterflies.  There were some Morphos there as well, glowing iridescent blue on one side, dull camouflaging tan on the other. 
After about an hour, I felt it would be wise to leave the water.  I was worried that after having been so sick, it might not be the wisest thing for me to overdo it, though it also felt as if the water was washing away any sickness the wind hadn’t blown out of me the evening before.  I was surprised to ascertain how critically I needed Nature to help me heal.  It’s as if my soul had been suffering badly from not having nature around.  When I’m at home, I don’t go outside all that much usually.  I work inside the house or in my studio.  What I have come to realize though is that I didn’t know how much nature is around me without recognizing it.  2-3 times/week I go walking, either by the river or in our neighborhood which is full of trees.  My studio has large plate glass windows which look out into the woods.  Each meal I eat is in front of our large window where I watch the birds at the feeder, something which brings me tremendous joy.  Our house is surrounded by large trees which I watch go through the seasons on a daily basis.  Deer and squirrels call our yard home.  They are abundant each day.  I am now realizing just how immersed I am in these rhythms.  Having been in cities, dense, large, loud, dirty cities full of millions of people and cars and buses and much pollution has stressed my body out and it was longing deeply for a counterpoint.  This time at the natural hot springs and watching the sunset helped me re-charge.  It is the most I’ve ever been aware of a real NEED for nature in myself. 
Today, the 26th, I signed up for another tour, this one to paddle an outrigger canoe to an inlet where we could go snorkeling.  It was an hour drive in the opposite direction, across a river filled with crocodiles and through the beautiful countryside.  Costa Rica feels very comfortable to me.  I like it tremendously.  In 1949 the then-President did away with the army for good, saying he was choosing to spend the nation’s resources on education rather than warfare.  As a result, schools are free for the kids here.  Costa Rica’s energy comes 98-99% from renewable resources – wind and water, primarily, I believe.  33% of their land is national forest.  Another 1/3 is used for agriculture.  I could imagine living here.  It feels comfortable and non-threatening.
The canoes we paddled were large and deep, seating 9 of us including the guide who steered and acting a bit as coxswain telling us when to change sides so we could use both sides of our bodies.  The tour guide offered us all sorts of warnings like to put on lots of sunscreen and bug spray and to drink tons of water, etc., etc.  She said the rowing might be tough but we could rest if we needed to.  When we finally got out on the ocean, we paddled 3-4 minutes then the guide gave us a break for 2-3 minutes.  We ended up only paddling for about 10 minutes total to an inlet which was inaccessible by car so was therefore empty.  We walked a minute or two to a natural waterfall which I went and stood under (as did a few other brave souls).  Then we were issued snorkeling gear.  Unfortunately the water was too murky so we couldn’t see a thing other than our own hands.  Despite that, it felt fantastic to put my head under water and breathe through the tube and float the time away.  I stayed in the water as long as they would let me.  At that point they served us watermelon and pineapple – a delicious species of pineapple that was significantly better than the Hawaiian ones we get in the store these days.  This was less acidic and sweeter and milder.  It was special.  And very refreshing after being in the water so long. 
After our snack, we got back in the canoes and paddled back to the beach where we’d started then got back in the bus and headed the hour back to the ship.
Once there I took off for the town of Puntarenas which was arrayed along the coast between ocean and bay.  There were about 100 vendors’ stands lining the sidewalks next to the pier where the ship docked.  I took the opportunity to sift through the wares and to buy a few goodies for loved ones.  The beaches were full of Costa Rican there for the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Many had brought tents with them or at the very least blankets to created shelter to keep the hot sun off themselves.  Entire families frolicked in the sand, surf, and sun and wandered along the sidewalk joining the tourists in their frenzy to find the perfect gift to take home.  I noticed that the wares being offered were not as good quality as they were when I was in Costa Rica before, about 10 years ago.  There were many of the same products – wooden box puzzles and T shirts, for example – but they weren’t as well or as tastefully made.  That was disappointing.  Darn! 
When I returned to the ship with some gifts in hand, I got a book from my cabin and went out on deck to read for a couple of hours.  I ended up taking a nap for part of the time.  It was the first time I’d been so decadent as to actually read during the day, lounging about as if I were a lady of leisure!  It felt delicious!
After watching another pretty sunset, I finally came inside and showed the heat and sweat of the day off of me before heading to dinner with Gerlinde.  We decided to eat in the sit down restaurant rather than the cafeteria-style place.  We were seated with a couple of men, John and Harvey, then later another couple joined us.  One of the men is the man who started reality TV.  His name is John something-or-another.  He gave a talk on board one day while I was sick, but I missed it.  He was very interesting to talk to.  The couple is here with their 5 kids (4?) and brought them all once before for the entire semester when they were 8 – 16 years old.  All four of those folks are highly invested in the Semester at Sea program, with John even serving on the Board.  We had a fascinating conversation about how it might be possible to make SAS even more important – how to educate the kids to be really good emissaries for the US abroad rather than acting like entitled, obnoxious, rich kids which some of them are.  They said that about 30% of the kids are amazing go-getters who take outstanding advantage of all that is offered to them, but some of the kids go to the different ports and get bombed then make fools of themselves, or they act like ugly Americans in port and aren’t thoughtful of other countries’ customs.  John and the others were talking about how to help the kids become more aware so they could parley SAS into projects to help actually change the world.  I’d love to see that happen too!
So that about wraps it up for today.  I’m needing to go to sleep!  Tomorrow we head out at 9 to see Leon, Nicaragua.  Gerlinde and I are going to go out with Doug Mack, the travel writer, and his fiancée Marin along with Jim and Adrian from CA for the day.  We plan to hire a taxi for the day and go to Leon to see what there is to see.  My goal will be to not get worn out and to have a relaxing day with no headache at the end of it.  I haven’t had a headache the last 2 days.  I’ve also been loaded up with Ibuprofen.  And I also haven’t been working as hard – for all they warned us about heat exhaustion, etc., on these trips, they were a piece of cake compared to how I’d been traveling up to that point!
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, full of the blessings of the season.  I’m aware we have exactly one week left before landing in San Diego and flying home to Virginia.  18 days we’ve been gone.  So many more adventures to go, so many already passed!

Hasta Luego, Amigos!

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