Archive for January, 2011

Today, my palate was born

Gingerbread, people! It’s a restaurant just on the outskirts of Nuevo Arenal, of all places – I say that because it’s hands down the finest quality food I’ve ever had in my life. Not too recently, I would have said my favourite meal was a dish prepared by a Sri Lanka family at a monastery in Kamloops, however, this takes the cake. Essentially, the dinner is conducted as such: the enthusiastic and boisterous Israeli chef, with all of his round-bellied love of food, approaches to tell you what’s on tap. About five appetizers are revealed. I dare not say for my employed written ability remain unlicensed to describe such delicacies, that which arouse such pleasurable foreign flavors – let your imagination soar to the ends of the ever-increasing universe when I tell you I had tuna salad and calamari.

In a palate-awakening comatose, we are approached again to decide on an entrée. Maybe a light poetical verse will suffice in approaching this explosion of sauce and flavour. Or maybe not, and possibly my hard rigid grammar will be as a bikini on a super model when I tell you we had curried chicken on rice with carrots, green beans, ginger, pepper, and a score of other flavours that splash the tongue – it leaves something to the imagination, por que si?

By the way, each meal comes well presented on one large decorated plate for everyone to share, and between three of us, two appetizers and one entrée was more than enough, and you can’t beat the price; the cheque is like a desert following a meal. Speaking of dessert, we had Bocanegra – a deadly combo of ice cream, brownie, fruity syrups, and some coffee beans.

All in all, I’ve never been so satisfied walking away from a restaurant. That experience was something to reminisce about the entire ride home.


Hiking in the Jungle with Great Danes

Off to a well known Bed and Breakfast – Chalet Nicolas – here in Arenal for some bird watching in the morning. The owners have five massive Great Danes!

We sat on the front porch of their B&B and lured the colourful birds out from the trees with ripe bananas! All the birds here love bananas. We saw woodpeckers, robins, grackles, mot mots, ….

After a full morning of coffee, dogs,  and bird watching, we made our way into some pristine jungle. Three of the Great Dane’s came with us as we traversed the wild jungle path, protected with snake guards and bamboo walking sticks. We crossed paths with a green parrot snake about a meter long, which was kind of unusual for that time of day. We found a spring where I collected some water to make tea and embraced the diverse range of tree’s and blossoming flowers.

Kayak-Sailing and Fire Ants

Off to the Laguna Arenal today for Scott’s inaugural kayak-sail attempt – a success! Of course, we assembled the homemade bamboo sailboat on a number of small fire-ant nests, only to have series of stinging sensations telling us we were stepping on their homes. Those tiny little buggers can bite! While Scott tested the waters, the rest of us made our way along the shore scoping out tropical groves for bright Costa Rican birds of all shapes, sizes, and fashions – binoculars in hand. A number of egrets graced our voyage, along with birds of yellow bellows here and red wing-tips there. The sky: clear and blue; temperature: about 20 with a nice breeze.

We made our way over to our friends’ house with a few acres of land. Iguanas scampering, monkey’s howling, bananas ripening, flowers basking, and bugs biting. Everything thrives here. Plants upon plants grow in coexisting networks of tropical fusion.


Couch Surfing and Costa Rica

After my tea expeditions in Vancouver (see previous entry), I hadn’t received a message back from my couchsurfing host – who had, on a few occasions, accepted my request. With high hopes, I flew to SJO regardless, anticipating not only internet access at the airport, but a response from my host. Alas, neither were waiting for me – couchsurfing fail!

Costa Rican taxi drivers can spot a lost gringo a mile away and I was soon after on my way to nearby hotel. At $30 a night, and being unaware of the $15 hostel not one block away, I was forced to purchase a room (with complementary breakfast mind you).

I came across a distraught girl from The Netherlands who, after a torturous day of travel, was appalled at the price of the hotel rooms; coming from Nicaragua where $8 was an expensive hotel. I had two beds in my room and offered one up so we could split the cost. They of course had to charge more for two people using one room with two beds, but we still both saved some colones. The company was good, we drank some tea, and she cheered right up after the worst day of her four months of traveling.

The following morning, we checked out after noon, and after our homemade breakfast; beans, rice, fruit, eggs, and fried plantains. Joyce, the Netherlander, bused to San Jose and I checked in to the much nicer and cheaper, Alajuela Backpackers Hostel. Don’t ever spend a night at Hotel Internacional JM in Alajuela; what a dump compared to this hostel at half the price. Anyway, earlier this morning, however, I sent out a bunch of desperate, last minute couchsurfing requests. After checking in to the non-refundable hostel, I received a message from one of the surfers not 5 minutes away (by car). Somehow, I managed to get a full refund and made my way to a pay phone. Again, Costa Ricans can spot a confused gringo a mile away and while pondering how much the pay phone cost, a Tico drove up and offered me his phone because someone from Toronto had helped him in the past (thank you Canada flag sewn to my backpack). He even called the couchsurfer for me, told her I was on my way, and he drove me to her front door!

My (new) couchsurfing host took me to this Catholic/Birthday prayer party. I don’t really know how else to describe it. It was a Tica’s 20th birthday party which always falls close to a catholic gathering of friends, family, food, and singing, not unlike Christmas. It was quite a show of family ties. They gather, sing, pray, eat, and love, right out in the open of their Tico home for all to see and hear. The night ended watching Inglorious Bastards in English with Spanish subtitles, which didn’t help when they spoke in French and German, as they do for at least of that movie. Nonetheless, a wonderfully weird evening.

My host was really kind and took great care of me while I was there. The following morning, after she bought me some breakfast, I walked to the bus station in Alahuela and caught the next bus to La Fortuna where I met Janet and Scott, my host family in Nuevo Arenal! The trip was smooth and I met two more gorgeous blonds from the Netherlands on the bus ride. Stunning blond Europeans.


The Art of Living

I recently attended a 10 Vipassana Meditation retreat at Dhamma Surabhi (The Fragrance of Dhamma) in Merritt, BC. It is a 10-day meditation retreat conducted in silence taught under the guidance of S.N. Goenka.

Here’s a summary of the teaching:

Vipassana means to see things as they are. It’s a universal meditation technique teaching the path of Dhamma (The Law of Nature – Impermanence). It’s a simple, scientific, pragmatic, and a result-oriented technique to free us from suffering and bring true happiness into our lives and the lives of those among us. It is self-purification through self-observation.

A unique and powerful aspect of Vipassana is that this technique guides us through experiential understanding instead of intellectualizing or philosophizing the teachings. This is to say that each individual experiences uniquely for themselves the principles of nature, which in turn allows – experientially –  for the cessation of suffering to take place by breaking the negative habit patterns at the root level of the mind. Everything is verified and experienced by the student. No blind devotion or faith.

So, how does Vipassana offer this type of experiential understanding? Each individual learns to work within the framework of their own body at the level of respiration and body sensations. The goal is to objectively observe these sensations, without reacting to them. However, we are conditioned at the root level of the mind to react to these sensations; when we observe pleasant sensations, we react through craving and when we observe unpleasant sensations, we react through aversion to such sensations. We react through wanting what we don’t have or having what we don’t want – craving and aversion. Instead of observing reality as it is, we observe it as we would like it to be – and that causes us to suffer. So how to observe such sensations objectively, without reacting to them?

By experiencing for oneself, physical body sensations we understand at the actual level the nature of these sensations; they arise and pass away. Within the framework of our own bodies we gain experiential understanding that our sensations are subject to the Law of Nature, which is to say they are subject to impermanence; that whatever is given birth will ultimately pass away. As you read this, you can easily intellectualize what I am saying, but the technique allows you to experience it for yourself.

As we continue to observe the body sensations, we experientially understand two things: one, that such sensations are subject to the Law of Nature and are impermanent, and two, that we react to these sensations through craving and aversion which yields us to suffer. With this in mind, it becomes meaningless to crave pleasant sensations because we know for ourselves that they will arise and pass away. Thus craving leads to unnecessary suffering. Why crave (and suffer) for something we know will ultimately pass away? Similarly, it is meaningless to have aversion to unpleasant sensations as they too are subject to change. Thus aversion leads to unnecessary suffering.

With this internalized wisdom, we can now begin to observe the physical body sensations with some level of objectivity, with a balanced mind – this is the concept of equanimity! Our goal is to observe the physical body sensations with equanimity, without reacting to the sensations.

For example, because the back pain you observe while sitting in meditation is subject to the law of nature (which you yourself understand internally) then instead of reacting through aversion by shifting to ease the pain, just observe the pain with the understanding of impermanence – the pain has arisen, but will ultimately pass away. Likewise for pleasant sensations.

By observing objectively, without reacting through craving and aversion, we begin to break the mental habit patterns of craving and aversion that we have so firmly established at the root level of the mind. As we break these chains of bondage, we are purifying the mind at the deepest level. When you remove all of the impurities of the mind, one is left with a pure mind, and one who’s mind harbours but pure thoughts will manifest but pure wholesome actions.

When one observes body sensations equanimously and objectively by understanding the Law of Impermanence, it becomes meaningless to attach our sense of selves to sensations because everything is subject to change. Pleasurable sensations will rise and pass; it is meaningless to crave them. Sensations of discomfort will rise and fall; it is meaningless to have aversion towards them. There is no need to make physical sensations into mental sensations, to identify yourself with the sensation. Observing through this lens of equanimity breaks the deeply rooted habit patterns of the mind, which would otherwise react through craving and aversion, ultimately manifesting as suffering and misery on the surface.

In turn, this practice is so practical and result-oriented! Once developed withing the framework of they body, it can then immediately be applied in the external world. It is the skill of observing reality with awareness and equanimity, as the reality is, not as we would like it to be. Once we are on the path to purify the mind, we can act through pure intentions of compassion, harmony, peace, and love – this is Vipassana, this is the Art of Living.

This is just my take on the teachings and my own application of SN Goenka’s discourse. If you’re interested in Vipassana in BC, check out Dhamma Surabhi’s website:)

With Metta,