In search of the Resplendent Quetzal

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica.

Written May 2018

A hummingbird flew right onto our veranda today.  Hovered, as they do, around Ella’s glass wind chime equal in bright colours to that of its own feathers, then darted off.

Birds are surprising, they often appear out of nowhere, without warning. Our travels in Costa Rica have brought many birding surprises: a solitary small Toucan on our morning walk behind our house, with purple flowers stuffed in its long bill- no camera to hand I’m afraid.  An impulsive turn off the main road up to Monteverde national park and we were face to face with a large turquoise Mot-Mot, there perched in the trees-it’s beauty captivating and for some reason shocking.

Although our long walks through the cloud forest of monteverde were accompanied by bird song we just couldn’t see any! Hikers walking towards us asked if we’d spotted anything …nope we answered. Until our last walk back from a small water fall.  All I could really see was a turquoise streak high in the trees that a local guide was pointing at. As he moved quickly to get a better view, my eyes steadied and tried harder to focus high into the canopy above, but nothing appeared. Eventually a small crew turned up unioculars in hand, their focus intense.

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Since neither of us had binoculars, I boldly asked one of the bird-watchers if I could look through her view piece to take a photo. After a surprised look of uncertainty and a split second decision she said yes and there it was, clear as day.  We had seen our first Quetzal, the pride of monteverde and a birders dream come true.  I’m sure David Attenborough would have been pleased.

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Now you might be thinking what could a newly turned one-year old like about bird watching in the cloud forest? Good question.

Although the the journey to monteverde was long-almost five hours from Nosara- with the last 45 minutes on unpaved, stoney, dusty roads, it brought coolness in the air and rain and a much needed change in climate. This fresh, moving air meant long walks for Ella and she was thrilled.

At the humming bird cafe, just before the park entrance, we saw more humming birds than you can imagine, their buzzing sounds like a Star-Wars light sabres swishing around us.  Ella saw the humming birds too.

She saw the large blue butterflies accompanying us down the roads where we walked. She saw flowers and tall trees which she seemed to love. She made friends on the trails. She enjoyed a royal view from her back-pack carrier, perched like a little Indian princess!

She even bought a stuffed felt Ketzel- her choice-  a future reminder of her Costa Rican adventures.

So, yes bird watching is definitely possible with a baby. Of course there were some trails we couldn’t walk because the Pram (buggy) was too wide or the trail too muddy, but we felt well catered for by nature.

 

Monteverde was our first planned weekend away from the beaches of Guanacaste and well worth it. The town is small with good restaurants and cafes. Our favourite for lunch was the tree house with a huge tree growing through its centre. Just down the hill is the Orchid Cafe where we indulged in an afternoon tea type of ritual- delicious coffee with passion fruit cheesecake two days in a row!

There are many great places to stay. We chose the Trapp family lodge the last accommodation on your way up the road to the park. It was perfect and just a ten minute walk to the park entrance which is ideal if pushing a Pram.

Definitely pack a rain coat, long trousers and long tops.  And you’ll need sun screen as it gets hotter during the day and a hat if you’d like age well!  We didn’t find mosquitoes a problem but repellent is useful to have.

If you are not a birder I recommend hiring a guide, we didn’t but would the next time. They knew the sounds of birds and were astute to the slightest movement giving away a bird’s location.

If you are a resident of Costa Rica the entrance to the Reserve is seven dollars otherwise it’s 22 dollars.

Tap water is drinkable, so don’t forget your water-bottle.

Running shoes are fine-even white ones -although a lot of people were in hiking shoes or boots.

Would I go back? Yes, and next time with binoculars and a birding book and maybe a pair of proper hiking shorts and boots.

I forgot to mention the local father and son artists- Robert and David Wessen- whose prints will be a reminder to Ella, when she’s older, of where she has travelled. You can find them in the Orchid Cafe.

Happy Travels and I hope you make it to Monteverde!

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Learning to walk again

The emotions are high: grief, happiness, tears of loss, tears of true love and the feeling of relief.

It has been two months since I completed my yoga-teacher training here in Costa Rica, and two months since I wrote most of this blog.

In these two months I’ve been getting fit again.  Motivation levels: up.  I’ve been reading and writing.  Creativity: improving.  And I’ve been traveling with my family on the weekends, hiking, making friends and learning about the different landscapes of this beautiful country.  Social interactions: doubled.

Sometimes we need a little help seeing our ‘blind spots’.

For me, surprisingly, this came in the form of three weeks of yoga, meditation, journal-writing, listening compassionately to others and to myself as we shared our inner thoughts, and singing that warmed the heart and soul.

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Playa Guiones, tide pools. Yoga on the beach.

If you have read any of my blogs, you might have noticed that there was some boredom lurking in my life; a dissatisfaction of sorts.  But how did I get to this point?  Well, I think it has been situational:  a sense of lacking a community,  a loss of my identity and role as a doctor to that of a first-time mother, the sharp decline in time spent surfing, and sleep-less nights with no end in sight.

But I won’t dwell on those just now.  This is what ‘showed-up’ for me in the days after finishing yoga training as I wrote my journal.

‘The emotions are high: grief, happiness, tears of loss, tears of true love, and the feeling of relief.

And so it begins when yoga training ends.  Mary Oliver’s poem, ‘The journey’, gives me freedom and space to write again.  I tried writing a few times during the last three weeks while learning to be a teacher of the ancient practice of yoga, but my eyelids were heavy and my eyes dry from the dusty roads.

Despite my eyelids sticking to my eyeballs as I slept, at times dragging myself out of bed to rinse them with water, I started dreaming again.  And, as I dreamed each night, I gradually stopped waking up looking for Ella, hoping she had not fallen down the side of the bed; each time slowly remembering she was there in her crib…safe under her mosquito net.

With my dreams came fluid memories.  One year after my mother passed away, when I fled the family home back to Belfast, leaving Christopher, my younger brother, to live with my father, I started waking up each night frantically looking for him.  Jumping out of bed as if the house was on fire, I would run to the other bedroom, pull back the duvet to find an empty bed, then run to the window hoping he hadn’t fallen out.  This nightmarish activity continued for more than five years, when a change in anti-depressant medication brought life back to my brother’s eyes.

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My time as a mother has presented many parallels with caring for my brother, the common thread being worry and pushing my limits.

As my yoga practice evolved at the teacher-training, so too did the bump around my waist, a reminder that another baby – all-being well – would be arriving soon.  A reminder, too, that I have been hiding some fear around another stint as a stay-at-home mother, off-work and possibly alone!

But I was not alone on this yogic journey. Our weekly evening gathering by candle light an opportunity to share something with our group and to listen and feel in return. Coming from Northern Ireland, where stoicism is often the norm, to risk one’s reputation by showing our true emotion is to be avoided at all costs.

It was at our final gathering that I felt I could open my heart.  And without preparing what I would say, for that often doesn’t come from the heart, I spoke through my tears, incoherently, I’m sure but freely.

So, thank you Nexus Institute for providing the time and space for self-discovery.  For supporting me as I find my feet to walk again. For giving me courage to ask for help (thank you Jason for taking over night-time baby duties), and for fuelling me with inspiration to continue our Mother & Baby adventures across Costa Rica and beyond. And thank you also to the wonderful, talented students from whom I learnt so much.

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Playa Guiones at sunset after yoga-teacher-training ended. April 2018. Photo by Vince Edgar

Jean Vanier is a philosopher and founder of the L’Arche community.  His words ring true to me in respect to what my brother has taught me and how, without knowing, he has enriched my life. I miss you Christopher Graham!

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A very funny wedding celebration photo shoot 30th July 2017

” People with developmental learning difficulties need love above anything else.  It is the ‘strong’ human being who is healed by the ‘weak’, but often fear prevents this discovery.”

” Those we most often exclude from the normal life of society, people with intellectual disabilities, have profound lessons to teach us. ”

~Jean vanier founder of L’Arche

Finally, I leave you with Mary Oliver’s poem, The Journey, and I hope that journey finds you!

 

One day you finally knew
What you had to do, and began, Though the voices around you Kept shouting Their bad advice‚
Though the whole house
Began to tremble
And you felt the old tug
At your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
Each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do, Though the wind pried
With its stiff fingers
At the very foundations‚ Though their melancholy
Was terrible.
It was already late
Enough, and a wild night,
And the road full of fallen Branches and stones.
But little by little,
As you left their voices behind, The stars began to burn Through the sheets of clouds, 

And there was a new voice, Which you slowly
Recognized as your own,
That kept you company
As you strode deeper and deeper Into the world,
Determined to do
The only thing you could do‚ Determined to save
The only life you could save.

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The quiet

This blog was written from beautiful Belfast, where we are ‘stranded’ for a few more weeks…

Walking past ‘No Alibis‘ an iconic crime book shop in Botanic avenue, Belfast, I read with interest the placard displayed outside ” beware the baroness of a busy life”,- Socrates.

Humm, well my life is certainly busy, and often one has no choice in the matter of business.  Pedalling, as a friend of mine calls it, between her full-time job and running a home with all its challenges; some pedalling harder than others.  And yet now I find myself at home alone.  Ella off with our lovely neighbour, Ann, to a nearby kids play centre and Jason in Costa Rica, working hard and yes, surfing; I can barely say the latter!

It’s quiet.  I can’t remember feeling silence like this in over a year, maybe more.  My list of things-to-do sits on my desk beside me numbered one to nine: scan 26 research files in case I need more info when back in Costa Rica, write our wedding thank you cards (so late, I know), open bank account for Ella before more cheques expire, finally apply for PPI in case I may be owed some money, in the hope I may be owed some money…

But these lists are always there, here with us making me feel like there is more to do before I can-relax? Feel there’s nothing more pending, looking over me? How dramatic! You’re alive, you fool, I giggle to myself.

Two books arrived today, short essays by Mary Oliver and David Whyte’s, ‘Every thing Is waiting for you’,  both covered in pictures of nature, trees and woodland, an escape from lists and computers.  As I stare out my window the silver birch, standing tall beside the evergreen, is glistening in the sun’s light dominating my view on this grey day. But how beautiful and if I had energy I would go for a walk in our nearby forest, Belvoir park.  Instead I opt for a hot bath with Dead Sea salts, some yoga and the prospect of reading one my new purchases, to lose my self in the wilderness of poetry and words.

This morning I listened to a piece on BBC radio four about the charity ‘Ginger Bread’ for single parents, a parent without help from the father or mother to their child and often no other family support.  It’s a full-time, on-call job being a parent without a partner to help at night when you’ve left the paracetamol syringe downstairs and your child, 11 months old, is still sleeping in bed with you and the cot still isn’t built and she is crying in pain and you’re tired and hope she will settle so as you don’t have to get up and carry her downstairs to look for what ever it is you need.

Yes, silence is peace but there’s nothing like a good old yarn and a laugh with your friend or neighbour or the lovely staff in the action cancer shop down the road.

It’s Sunday now and two days ago I finally built the cot, and as I type Ella is asleep after 40 minutes of fighting it, crying and standing up in protest, me soothing her while she marvels at the colourful nude painting on the wall, and we try again. And this time, the last time, we have silence, just the repetitive musical mobile still playing out merrily.  And I make my self a cup of tea and savour my last cream eclair courtesy of my old friend Val.