Stayin' alive in Costa Rica
My partner says I have terrific survival instincts. Not survival skills — hard no. Survival instincts. His opinion began to form when we traveled to Greece and wandered over to Santorini island in 2006. Or, maybe it was when I drove off a mountain* on an ATV the first time I met his family? I’ll save that story for another time.
When approaching this stunning island from the water (which we did) your options to access the island are three: walk a steep zig zag path of 600 cobblestone steps, ride a donkey for $10, or ride a tram elevator contraption for $12 per person. At the time of this trip we were flat broke. We only got to visit Greece due to a family member’s generosity. So, we walked. We were young. The path zigzagging zagged. It didn’t look that bad from afar. What could go wrong?
What we realized after deciding our fate was that the 600 stair cobblestone walking “path” was the same route of the aforementioned donkeys — who liked to leave a lot of donkey sized droppings all along the cobblestones. During our trek up the side of the cliff into Santorini I turned deep inside. I got into survival mode and shut down all pleasantries and social awareness. My poor husband — of a year at this time — learned quickly that, “I push for donkey doo.”
Caught in my triggered state just trying to survive the onslaught of poo covered cobblestone stairs and slightly unruly herds of donkeys, I several times cut him off or pushed my way up against the side railing without looking for him to avoid getting trampled. We survived the walk up; we paid for the tram on the way down. Since then, “I push for donkey doo’” is one of our familiar refrains. It often comes up as a joke in what looks like difficult terrain or a long hike.
This winter another generous relative helped us get to a family get together in Costa Rica, which I learned offers many opportunities to express one’s survival instincts.
One of the first days we were there we walked out into the ocean, and were floating with several family members. I learned how to swim in the past couple years, so my fear of water is much less than it used to be — but diving under crashing waves was not yet a skill set. The water looked manageable so I assumed all would be fine, until two waves larger than I was comfortable navigating came and took me under. I was a hot mess internally by the experience and lost what little trust I had in the ocean by the time I surfaced. Once I got my bearings I immediately started walking towards the beach. No goodbye, no, “Wow, that was crazy! I’ll see you guys later!” I only gave a thumbs up when my partner asked if I was okay. He let the family know I was good, on my behalf, and informed them that it was okay, “I just push for donkey doo.”
The next day I tried again — this time armed with better awareness, a better hair tie, and goggles. My very patient partner helped me to understand what to do when the waves are big, how to dive under, and how not to get crushed by them. What I realized after navigating a few successful waves, was that when you see the wave coming (and you’re not trying to surf it) you need to move into the wave to get under it. It initially made no sense — why move toward “danger”? But that was the best way to get to the other side of it. I could stand my ground, but I’d get pummeled by the crash — or I could move in and go under. Move into the wave. Turn into danger. The only way out is through.
Over the next 2-weeks of our trip I took this awareness with me into the ocean daily. There were still a few waves that made me nervous, but I still turned in and made it through. It made me think about life and how often I used to run from risk. “I push for donkey doo,” is a reflection of a survival instinct, not a survival skill. But through years of turning into bigger and bigger waves in my life, I’m learning to quiet my initial fears as they turn into skills. The waves are
getting bigger — the risks are riskier — but as I practice and turn into the perceived danger I’m getting better at getting in and through each one … and sometimes even enjoying the ride.
*The term mountain in this instance is hotly contested.
CHRISTINE LEE SMITH • ARTIST & SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.