How many big decisions did you make today? Perhaps a few in relation to food, one about whether or not to go out, then a final one about when to go to bed. Forgive me, maybe I’m underestimating the hectic life you have that keeps you teetering on the brink of one vicious problem to the next, but for me, daily life is not exactly awash with options. Sure, there are small things I need to make my mind up about, but in general the big things – where I’m going to sleep, what I’m going to do (especially if I’m at work, where I don’t even get to decide what time I can wee) are pretty much dictated before I’ve even got out of bed. If you add in a baby, it seems the choices get narrower. When you have a tiny person that relies on you for everything, needs feeding every few hours and soothing to sleep in between, it doesn’t seem like there is much else left for you to decide.
This was one of the reasons I panicked a bit before we left on our travels. If I couldn’t even finish hanging out the washing without being interrupted, how on earth were we going to find the time to do all the extra things needed when you’re away from home? As it turns out, the difference was more to do with making decisions than having enough time.
Today, for example, we didn’t know where we’d be sleeping tomorrow night. At best, we’ve got the next day or two planned in terms of where we’ll be laying our heads down to rest. For food, we have enough for breakfast and one or two meals at most. Anything more than that might end up being wasted, so we need to decide whether to eat out or not, and if we do, when should we do it.
Food is often decided on late – tricky when she’s just started eating!
Since being in Costa Rica (which has only been six days) we’ve been having a big meal at lunchtime in a restaurant. That way we can feed the baby and ourselves at the same time, and not worry about cooking big meals at home.
Today we had a buffet lunch at an eco-farm near the Arenal volcano. It’s active, so you can see fumes leaking out of the top of it as you drive past. Pretty exciting stuff. That was another change of plans, as the unpredictable rainy season meant that by 10am this morning, while we were having a very pleasant hike through the jungle, the heavens opened. After steaming in the car for a while, we had to figure out where to go instead. Since then, we’ve decided to stay another night here, we’ve looked into booking a river tour, a zipline tour, checked the conditions for scuba diving in the south of the country and had a look at the weather forecast for tomorrow so we can sort out how best to spend our day.
One of the beautiful flowers at the farm
Yes, I know, it’s hardly a tough life, is it? Rather than hurrying through all the inevitable chores of a day (washing, cooking, cleaning, more washing), we are deciding which part of a country we are going to see, where our next steps will take us, what exciting activity we will choose in order to make the most of our time here. But the thing is, it’s knackering! I’m not a stranger to being abroad, but months of travelling mean that you go through the same kind of intense planning that you would do for a two-week holiday, only you’re doing it all the time.
The other problem is, I’m terrible at making decisions. In a restaurant, I will get it down to two or three options, and make sure the rest of the table orders before me, so I have even more time to make my mind up. I don’t like being the one in charge of what we’re doing at the weekend, or whether to stay in or go out. This trip has certainly allowed me to stretch my decisive muscles in a way I wasn’t expecting.
Oh, I was so tired…
Back in Japan, we made big, elaborate plans. Having spent an inordinate amount of time looking at websites and guide books (I even read the bit at the back of the Rough Guide that tells you the history), we had so many ideas about where we wanted to go, and what we wanted to see. Once we were there, that meant that each day was packed. Temples, gardens, areas of cities, walks, food, shops, you name it and we had it on our list. Added to that, we weren’t in any place more than a few days, only this time we were travelling around by public transport. If you look at the photos from this part of our journey, you might notice that we look a little tired.
We probably planned just as much in three weeks as we would for a ‘normal’ holiday – that is, for one that we didn’t have five months worth of stuff for, or one that didn’t involve a three-moth-old baby, or perhaps one that had come after another normal week, not after a month of very quick planning and putting the entire contents of our life in the loft.
What the volcano looks like on a clear day
Fast forward a few months, and it’s fair to say we’ve slowed down a bit. Inasmuch as we’ve ever really had an ‘itinerary’ for each of the countries we’ve visited, there are five whole days that are completely blank. There are things with question marks next to them. The longest drive we plan to do is not much more than three hours (compared to a whopping seven in Australia). Even though we are in a tiny country, the area we plan to cover is barely a third of it. A couple of volcanos, two national parks and some beach stops for snorkelling and scuba diving. There is a definite need to slow down and appreciate things. We could also do with a bit of downtime. A day where there is nothing to ‘do,’ so we can sit about if we like. It seems such a waste when we are somewhere so exciting! But I’m sure that a large part of it is simply that our decision-making mechanisms are wearing out.
The volcano on our walk
Our decisions don’t always pan out. This morning, we headed out on a long hike without any waterproofs or umbrellas. Every day we’ve been here, the sun has stayed out until at least 1pm, and we’d got up really early. We scrunched our way between sugar cane, the more cultivated plants slowly giving way to rustling trees with swooping creepers between them. The air was alive with noise. Birds, crickets, rustling leaves, the sound of small things living and moving all around us. There was an unfortunate cloud blocking our view of Arenal volcano, which made the ‘mirador’ not much of a hit, but you could still see the dark lines of old lava trails tumbling down its sides. We made another decision at a fork in the road, and decided to see the huge ‘El Ceibo’ tree on the way back on our walk. Luckily, just ahead there was a guide with a group of people. They had stopped and were peering into the branches. We sidled up, hoping to catch a bit of his paid wisdom for free. They were just about to leave, when a kind woman turned to us and pointed up into the tree. “It’s a coati,” she said.
I am notoriously terrible at being able to make out animals or birds when we visit places, but this time I could just see a tumbling leaf and the thread of a dark tail handing down next to it. We crept underneath the tree, working our way round in the undergrowth to try and get a better look. There were actually three of them, trolling around in the tree and minding their own business while we gaped up at them from below. They were fluffy, with long tails and pig-snouts. One of them walked out in the open so we got a wonderful view of it. If we hadn’t been there at that exact time, if we hadn’t taken that turn in the path, we might not have had a chance to see these wonderful creatures in the wild.
This one is a little closer to the ground
Of course, it was just afterwards that the downpour started. Having got that far, we didn’t want to miss the giant tree so we pushed ahead, the road twisting and turning and seeming far further than the 3km indicated on the map. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, we stopped by the enormous trunk, contemplating the four hundred years it had stood there while wiping the gathering raindrops off my forehead. Needless to say we were absolutely soaked by the time we got back to the car. Thank god we at least had the rain cover for her sling, otherwise we would not have had a happy baby on our hands. You can guarantee that tomorrow, we will lug all the waterproof gear around and it won’t rain.
In September, I will have a timetable of classes. When they start, end, when I eat, what topics I need to cover (even more now with the new exams), where I eat, where I go at certain times of day, all these things will already be decided for me. I won’t have the luxury of whole days stretching ahead with my two favourite people where we can choose how to fill them up. That is what I’ll try to remember the next time I’m exhausted and sick of looking through accommodation options.
A soggy but awe-inspiring tree