Published: July 27th 2015
Edit Blog Post


July 4 (Saturday)

Up at 3:30 and wide awake! Happy birthday to my mother-in-law and the U.S.A. Made it into bed last night about 9:30; but too excited to get much sleep. Janet and Bethany take me to the airport about 4:45 and I check in two bags of luggage. One is loaded with 24 pounds of children's clothing. Plus I've brought 24 coloring books, 2 large boxes of Crayola crayons, 24 toothbrushes, 6 jump-ropes and 2 frisbee type discs. The flight will leave at 6:00 a.m.

The dreaded announcement comes... a minor mechanical delay. Fortunate there is a 2 hour and 35 minute layover in Charlotte. Finally fly out at 7:40. What a small crowd this morning, only 23 passengers. The little plane seats 50, so it must have been the holiday.

I chatted with several people this morning. Hey, there was plenty of time. There was a family with three daughters, flying on to Las Vegas, NV. A single lady was going on to Bangor, ME. And two couples sitting around me were continuing their trips down to Cancun Mexico.

Apple juice is passed out and I take out an Atkins chocolate peanut butter bar for my breakfast. With a window seat, the sun is blindingly white, reflecting off the clouds below us. Cruising altitude is announced at 29,000 feet. I enjoyed looking at the pretty

lake scenery, as we approached Charlotte, NC. And we set down at 10:03.

I anxiously scoot through the corridors as my next plane will start boarding at 10:35, then fly out at 11:20. Happy to reach my gate at 10:30. There are several planes ahead of us as we taxi to the runway and fly away at 11:30. This will be a 3 hour and 50 minute


I wind my watch back two hours, then papers are passed out, for when we enter Customs. I eat a Turkey Cuban sandwich with kettle chips along with a Coca-Cola. As I look out the window, I see the west coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. And on this clear day, I can make out boats in the water. Later I see islands off the coast of Mexico or Central America. With 45 minutes before landing, I know we are flying high over Central America. So many green mountains and dormant volcanoes. And there's a brown river, snaking through the countryside. Happy to land at 1:30.

The passport is stamped at the Immigration Desk. Then I'm waiting for luggage. Yes!! Both suitcases arrived. While in line for Customs, I chatted with a college student. Alexis is a Univ. of Alabama student and will be studying in Costa Rica for five weeks.

My baggage is scanned and a woman speaks to me about my tee-shirt. She is a Methodist "Volunteer In Missions" and knew a few people at the church / facility. Out on the sidewalk I see Karen Freeman. About five minutes later, I'm the last one on the bus at 2:15. And... we're on our way.

Our home for the next week is La Iglesia Evangelica Metodista De Costa Rica. The men's room (# 2) has five bunk beds and a single. Five guys take the lower bed and use the upper bed for our bags and supplies and stuff. Okay, time for introductions, handing out name tags and finding out what is expected. At 4:30 it is free time and time for a nap.

For dinner at 6:00 we have spaghetti, salad and watermelon. We talked and talked, just relaxing. A little while later, several folks needed to go to a local supermarket, the Mas x Menos (meaning more for less). I wandered around, especially looking at the pastries, then talked with the pharmacist there about five minutes. Bought some mints and then we walked on back to our dorm rooms. Careful, for the water drainage is a 2 foot drop-off.

Okay, 14 of the 18 in our group wanted to visit Pops for ice-cream. That is a 4-block walk. I buy a 2-scoop cone of leche condensado con higos (condensed milk with figs)! We hope to go several more times. So good... In bed about 9:15.

July 5 (Sunday)

Jaloused windows let the cool breezes flow through. Very pleasant surroundings. I awake at 6:30 and am anxious to try the shower. Why? There is only one knob / handle. Turning on full speed gives only cold water. Slowing down the speed (saves water too) will give warm water. That was an interesting concept.

Breakfast is served downstairs at 8:00. We have waffles, sausage, scrambled eggs, pineapple chunks, milk and cereal, coffee and orange juice. Right after that was a little devotional. 1: We made it! 2: What are we looking to find on this trip? Good responses.

After some free time, we board the bus and leave at 10:00 for Iglesia Evangelia Metodista El Redentor, or, The Redeemer Church. This was the first Methodist church in Costa Rica, founded in 1917. Worship service lasted about 2 hours. The entire service was conducted in Spanish, of course. I really enjoyed singing familiar hymns including Santo! Santo! Santo! (Holy! Holy! Holy!) and En Jesucristo Puerto de Paz. We were invited to participate in the Communion presentaion, near the end of the service. Though we spoke another language, the message was the same.

After changing clothes we boarded the bus for a special lunch. Went to A La Casona Del Cerdo (A house of pig)! There was barbeque pork, barbeque chicken, barbeque beef, ribs, corn on the cob, plantains, yucca, coleslaw, a bowl of sauce and fruit juice! Caleb (the Methodist Intern for the summer) and I share a dinner basket for two. It is an airy setting with a painting of 3 pigs on a wall and there's a nice fountain in the center of the restaurant. Some of us "pigged out! So good.

Our bus driver took us through Alejuela, the second largest city in the country. It is known as "city of mangos". Outside the city, Karen and a few others wanted to visit the new church. Some of our teammates had worked there on previous trips. We met a large group of visiting high school students from the Charlotte, NC area. I told a few that I had friends living in the suburb of Waxhaw. "That's where we're from!" Two knew my friends, Victoria and Labon. Small world.

There was a coconut tree that drew the attention of a few of our guys. The pastor grabbed a long board and knocked two green coconuts down to the ground. He then got his machete and in just a minute, we were treated to fresh coconut water.

Driving past the airport, we saw dozens of cars parked nearby. Hundreds of people had come out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to watch airplanes land and take off. Most of these folks are relatively poor and will never fly. This was family fun time for them.

Our last planned stop of the day was a trip to the Arts and Crafts Market. There were over 100 small rooms with thousands of items for the tourists. "Special price, just for you" we heard again and again. I found a tee-shirt I needed, a set of wooden coasters with six different animal pictures and a 20 colonies coin necklace. Outside the mercado or market, murals were painted on the walls. Pretty! This was a fun place to shop.

A short time later, we were back at the church center and deciding on supper. Most wanted pizza tonight. It was a 3 block walk. Quickly found out they were not accepting U.S. dollars. Karen, Tracie, Magaly and I walked another block for huge dishes of Chinese food. I settled for the chicken and vegetables. We talked and laughed for at least an hour. Fun! So tired so I was in bed at 8:30.

July 6 (Monday)

Up at 6:00 and find an empty shower. We had a little devotional about 6:45. The Bible verse today was from Ephesians 4:1. "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." Essentially, we have been called by God. We have been chosen by God. People are watching us. This week, we will be the "hands" of God... We will encourage, love, serve and be flexible.

A wonderful breakfast awaits us at 7:00. There are scrambled eggs, bacon, black beans and rice, fresh papaya and orange juice. A good start to our first work day. And at 8:00, we are on our way. It took about 35 minutes to arrive in Coronado at the Hogar Methodist orphanage.

17 of us are split into smaller groups. Today, I will join the men to make cement. Five buckets are filled with rocks. Five buckets are filled with sand. Between these, a 110 pound bag of cement mix is loaded into the cement mixer. Add a few buckets of water and let the cement mixer do its thing. Five wheelbarrows are then loaded, taken to the multi-purpose building and used to fill the concrete blocks for the wall. That was a tough two hours.

A delivery truck brought more supplies. We had to unload 12 bags of cement mix (110 pounds) and rebar rods. After a short break, it was time for more work. Really looked forward to lunch today.

12:00 noon and look what's on the table: fish, 5 veggies (potatoes, broccoli, carrots, green beans and chayote), salad and watermelon. There was tea and fruit juice, then cookies for dessert. Our 4 local workers disappeared for a little siesta.

At 1:00 we all went back to our work stations. Picked up where we left off. Shoveled rocks into buckets. But mostly carried wheelbarrows full of wet cement. Took them to the little classrooms for Roberto. Our leader was standing on heavy boards on the floor of the scaffolding. Brian and I took turns shoveling the wet cement into small buckets, then lifting them up about 6 feet. I anticipate sore muscles tomorrow.

We finished our hard labor about 3:30 then had to clean up. We hosed down rakes, wheelbarrows and shovels. I left my shoes, jacket, gloves and cap. They were cement splattered and too muddy for the bus.

Most of us wanted to walk around the property. Several children were milling around the playground equipment. Then we passed the two houses: Casa Esperanza and Casa Fe. The House of Hope for 12 girls. And the House of Faith for 12 boys. We walked to one stretch of property line, a barbed wire fence. There were 3 cows in the pasture. Down in a hollow was the soccer field.

A dirt road borders the far side of the property. There are several tin-roof houses just past a creek. A very poor rural community.

About 4:30 and we had returned to the church / shelter. A hot shower was wonderful. Hey, there was a splotch of dried cement inside my ear.

Supper will be served nightly at 6 p.m. We enjoy meat-loaf, tomato sauce, white rice, black beans, salad with avocado slices, watermelon and sweet tea. Now it's time to recap the day with a devotional. And we're finished at 8:00.

Since I can't call and receive incoming telephone calls, I will rely on text messages. It was about one month ago that I tried learning to text. I needed some assistance, so I went looking for a teenager. I think we have four here. Saw Maddie first and she was most helpful. I then went exploring and found a ping-pong table. This could be fun.

July 7 (Tuesday)

Up at 6:00 again. Since I showered last night, I just needed to shave this morning. At 6:30 breakfast is served. There are pancakes, black beans and rice, sausage, pineapple and orange juice. A devotional followed at 7 a.m. We read from Philippians chapter 2. It was about joy and serving others. Take an interest in others, too.

Our bus leaves at 7:30 and there is a stop at a hardware type store. Several of the team members want to buy a good pair of boots and rain ponchos. I stayed in the bus. I would not need rubber boots since I'll be working on cement mixing and passing buckets of wet cement. Got to the orphanage at 8:45.

Roberto, our supervisor of five had different plans for us today. Jeff, Bailey, Carl, Brian and myself would be digging holes for a fence / wall. Three guys had to clear an area of bamboo and thick grass to start a new hole. Brian and I would be working on previous holes. They were 4 x 5 foot wide. First, I had to scoop out maybe two feet of rainwater. Had to tie a string to a small bucket, then drop it down into the water. Pull it up and then dump out the water. Must have pulled that bucket out 250 times. Okay, now is the time to dig down to a level of 7 feet. Brian and I took turns digging and lifting the bucket up. I noticed about 30 tadpoles in the hole Brian was working in. And saw a small crab come out of there, too. Next to that hole was a pretty little lily pad.

I saw one lone leaf-cutter ant near the bamboo. Usually there are hundreds, maybe thousands of them working in one line. Told Brian how I'd seen them before on previous missions trips. Observed them in the city square in Turrialba. And there were hundreds of these leaf-cutter ants at our hotel drive-way in Pocora.

These holes are on the backside of the property, adjacent to a dirt road. Across the road is a pasture where I saw 8 horses grazing away. That kept us busy until lunchtime.

And Monica had prepared another delicious lunch for us. There was chicken with rice, refried beans with chips, salad with heart-of-palm and tomatoes, apples, pineapples and bananas plus fruit juice.

Back to work and Brian and I had two different holes to work on. We did the bucket brigade again. Then there was another 90 minutes of digging down another 14 inches. There was a small rural community nearby. Tin roofs and tin sides to these houses. Probably about 10 families living in this area. And what was the big surprise for me? Well, two men came by who had been selling in the area. The younger fellow gave me a demonstration as I worked with my digging project. They were selling a 5 piece set of bowls with lids. Also, there was a 1.7 liter bottle to plug in and boil water within 5 minutes. I wished him luck as they continued down the dirt road.

Thought about the wildlife as we headed uphill. I've seen cows, sheep and horses. As we approached the two houses, the children were out playing. Several ladies had taught Vacation Bible School this morning. Plus, all the stuff I brought had been passed out. A 3 year old girl showed me her new My Little Pony coloring book and gave me a big hug. It was a big squeeze too. Had a few pictures taken with 2 or 3 of the children.

6:00 supper was welcomed after our big work day. Tonight we enjoyed fried

chicken, French fried potatoes, green beans, salad with tomatoes and corn, papaya and to drink there was horchata (rice-milk with cinnamon). An artist from Coronado had been given permission to bring his acrylic paintings to sell. There was a wide variety of Costa Rican themes, maybe 40 in all. I bought the "Jaguar in the Jungle" painting. Hey, Bethany is a student at Univ. of South Alabama, home of the "Jaguars"!

15 of us join the team get-together and talked for about an hour. It was a recap of the fun and adventures. Then at 8:00, 8 of us walked to Pops. I'll try something different: a strawberry ice-cream-cicle, dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with nuts. Only 1000 colonies (about $2.00). It was a nice ending to our day.

In bed about 9:30. I woke up with a text message from home about 11:00. My 12 year old cat is very sick. Surgery would probably not help him. Andy will be put to sleep tomorrow night. So sad.

July 8 (Wednesday)

Another 6:00 alarm clock call and I hear the nearby pigeons. Breakfast and devotion begins at 7:00. Today there are scrambled eggs, toast, black beans and rice, pineapple and orange juice. We leave at 8:00

We stop as we're leaving the city and pickup the cook, Monica and her daughter. Then we stop for her to purchase a few items from a fruit stand. But it wasn't up to the cook's standards. When we see a supermarket, we drop her off with Karen and Tracie. The bus then takes us on to the orphanage.

There is a new work station for us today. We'll work on steel rod reinforced rebar. One of the teammates shapes them into rectangles. We need 12. So, we have 6 vertical bars and 6 horizontal bars. These are placed as a square shape. Then at each place they touch, we wire them tightly together. Roberto made sure we looped them over and under the exact way. (Had to redo a few of them). Rather tedious, but Brian and I soon caught on.

Lunch began as at started to rain. It really got cool then. 6 year old Abigail walks to me, stops, then points at me. "You're cupcake!" Well that came from out of the blue. About half the team members called me "cupcake" the rest of the trip. So today we'll eat corn tortillas with beef and red and orange peppers, salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh guacamole, mashed potatoes, and fruit. There's watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple and an apple-pear hybrid called mazana de agua (very watery). We also had tea and passion fruit juice and cookies for dessert. There was an unknown fruit which was orange in color. Had a few slices and it surprisingly tasted like boiled peanuts.

With all the rain, we spent about one hour at the boys house. The first boy we saw walking in had his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle coloring book open and proudly showed off his new coloring book. Yes.... that's why I'm here. Some of the little fellows were in their rooms, playing. But most of the guys wanted to "rough-house", climbing all over us. I noticed that Bailey had 4 little boys clinging to him. And they wanted us to chase them, too. Okay, that was certainly worthwhile, letting them know we cared.

We wound up staying with the girls about 90 minutes. Maricler was mopping the tile floor and another girl was sweeping. The movie Shrek was just ending. At the end is a song by the Monkees called "Daydream Believer". Well I started singing and then singing louder, then dancing. The little girls pointed and a few called me loco. That broke the ice.

We went out on the back porch and I played with 3 or 4 girls in their Little Tykes playhouse. Bethany used to have one of those. No boys allowed, so when I tried to come inside, they all squealed and scooted out the back door.

A few of the girls started to braid Sarah and Kylie's hair. Those were some fine looking French braids. Next was Bailey, followed by Jeff, me, then Brian. Yep, they combed our hair and put in those tiny pink rubber-bands. 3 girls worked on my hair, and I had a teammate take a picture. When I saw what they did, I screamed and patted my bald spot. We all laughed so hard! Had several photographs taken with the entire group. An afternoon we'll long remember.

6:00 is suppertime and we have lima beans and riblets, white rice, salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and heart-of-palm, potato chips and sweet tea. We all talked about the children and how much love we tried to show them.

At 7:00, Karen led the devotional. The key Bible verse was from Mark 10:45. "I came not to be served, but to serve." Amazingly, I was wearing my 1997 Methodist Dental team missions shirt with that very verse on the front. Wow. We recapped the fun times shared with the children today. (It's not about us... it's about the kids!) Jeff and Maddie played the guitar as we sang 6 or 7 songs.

Then the white cloth was brought out. There was an outline of a cross. And all 24 children placed their hand prints on it. There were blue, red, yellow and green hand prints. In the center circle, written in Spanish, were the words "Hands of Joy". Karen concluded the discussion by telling the group that I was having a tough evening. My cat was being put to sleep, back in Mobile, as we talked. Janet and Bethany were lifted up in prayer, as they had to handle this without me. I really appreciated that. In bed about 9:00.

July 9 (Thursday)

The 6:00 alarm clock goes off, and I'm already hearing roosters. We gather about 6:45 as Carl leads us. "We are all ministers." He then read from I Corinthians 9:20. I took a few notes on an effective ministry. 1)-find common ground with others 2)-avoid a know-it- all attitude.. have a humble spirit 3)-make others feel accepted 4)- be sensitive to the needs and concerns of others and 5)-look for opportunities to connect with someone. With the week we've experienced so far, we are on the mountaintop! Remember the joy!!

For breakfast there was plenty of pancakes, black beans and rice, papaya, orange juice and coffee. Taking my empty plate back to the kitchen area, our cook, Maruha, proudly introduced her daughter to us.

The bus left about 7:30 and stopped about 15 minutes later to pick up our orphanage cook, Monica and Abigail. That 6 year old girl walked to the back of the bus but stopped by my seat. She pointed a finger at me and called me "cupcake"... just like yesterday.

We were all working by 8:15. Several of us guys were back to filling buckets with rocks. Then two of us would add the 110 pound bag of cement mix. Water was added, then more buckets of sand. When the cement mixer was completely finished, we filled up 5 wheelbarrows. Time to roll the wheelbarrows over a little ramp and into a room. Brian and I alternated shoveling the cement into 2 small buckets with handles. Then one of us would lift it up onto the scaffold for Roberto. We got into a good, efficient rhythm.

When a wall of blocks had been finished with cement poured down into it, we would then remove the heavy metal planks. Then the scaffolding was moved. Hard work!

This is a repeat of what I had worked on Monday. I tried to be careful, but still had to take two breaks. Cement splashed into my eyes and I had to go wash them out.

At the beginning of lunch break, Karen gave a $ donation to the orphanage directors, Alberto and Lillian. And another wonderful lunch we had. There was spaghetti with alfredo sauce and small slices of ham, chips and salsa, the salad was lettuce, tomatoes, carrot slices and green olives. A watermelon had been scooped out and in it was papaya, cantaloupe, watermelon and pineapple. So good! One of the young girls walked by our lunch table and let us know that "the hair salon was now open".

We then had a special memorial at the work site. There was a presentation of the Hands of Joy cloth with 24 hand-prints. There was a color photo of Joy, daughter of Gerald and Karen Freeman. Lastly, a plaque of remembrance and dedication. These will all be on display at the orphanage center.

The minister who led over 60 missionary trips to Costa Rica, Gerald Freeman, passed away several years ago. Oh, but what a legacy he has left. His precious daughter, Joy, lost her life in a car accident about two years ago. So Karen and her daughter, Tracie, had worked about a year on putting this missions trip together. Hence, the name, Hands of Joy. I had interacted with Joy when she was just a little girl, on my three previous missions trips. On the bus traveling to Pocora in 2004, she visited with just about all of us team-members. Well, Joy climbed up into my lap and showed me her new Gameboy. I commented that she must be "the most loved little girl in Costa Rica!"

We went on out to the work site, where cement would be poured into a column at the wall. Tracie climbed a ladder. Remember the pieces of paper that were passed around last night? We had all written our names, where we were from and maybe a Bible verse or something special. I had simply written "Love lasts forever!" on my little paper. Tracie then dropped these special pieces of paper, one by one, down into a column. We then had a prayer of dedication. A little while later, cement was poured down into the column, forever encasing our love for the children of the orphanage.

We wanted to take lots of pictures then rested a little bit. Our four Costa Rican construction workers were taking a siesta. Abigail grabbed my hand and wanted to take me somewhere. So, we walked behind the building. Thinking of my daughter when Bethany was that age, I started to sing "You are my Sunshine". I thought it was a nice sentiment. Well, Abigail quickly gave me a thumbs down. Ha, she had heard enough of my singing. She wanted to sneak around and look at the construction workers. Then she went and popped them on the knees. They thought it was funny.

Okay, full speed ahead. We all wanted to knock out as much work as we could. Several of our ladies went to see the kids for the final Vacation Bible School session. We worked hard to finish what we could. Hey, let's go out in a blaze of glory. It was very invigorating. Took time of course to wash our shovels, wheelbarrows and rakes. Right as we finished that, a delivery truck arrived.

A very light, misting rain came down as we unloaded 12 long metal poles, about 20 bags of cement mix and 6 huge steel reinforced grids. Heavy! We call it a day about 3:15. There is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment for the 4 work days. So proud to be on this team of 17. After pulling off the shoes, many of us gave our work shoes to the Costa Rican construction work-crew. We said our good-byes. I saw a few tears as we left at 3:45. Heavier rains came down at 3:50. So fortunate!

We return to the church shelter about 4:20. Time now to take a shower, rest and catch up with my travel diary. There is a visitor who comes before supper is served. It's Junior, one of our construction workers. He has a few dozen ceramic items for sale. Mostly there

are houses but we see a few frogs. I wanted the house that has Casa Esperanza painted on it. That is the "house of hope" from the children's orphanage. Sweet memories!

6:00 supper and we celebrate with pork chops, mashed potatoes, a veggie medley of green beans, chayote and broccoli. Then there's a pretty salad, potato chips, watermelon and sweet tea.

Twelve of us walked down to Pops for our ice-cream fix. Tonight I bought a banana split. (Got to try something different). Magaly's husband, Rex, had flown in from California. Kylie was jumping for joy, getting to see her dad.

Our team got together in the meeting room for a quick visit. Karen handed out a paper to each member that included our full name, address, phone number and e-mail address. I spoke to the group for just a minute. Told them I had been keeping a travel diary and would post my story within a few weeks. Gave them the internet address where they could read about "Johnny's Journeys". In bed at 9:00.

July 10 (Friday)

I awoke at 2:45 and my first thought was that the washing machine is not in use. Correct. After loading lots of dirty clothes in there, I head back to bed. At 4:00 I wake up again, and go place my clothes in the dryer. Back to bed again. I woke up at 5:15 and my clean clothes are all dry. Brought them down to my room and decided, since it's almost 5:30, go ahead and get in the shower. A very unusual start to the day.

Breakfast is served at 6:30. Today we have scrambled eggs and bacon, black beans and rice, rolls and guava jelly, pineapple and papaya and orange juice. Took a few pictures with Kylie and Magaly as we said our good-byes to them. One of my little goals was to have my picture taken with each of the team members. And I was successful.

We are told to bring a change of clothes as we leave at 7:00 sharp. There are 15 of us as we start our fun day. Our bus driver, Wilson, has a captive audience as we start the drive to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. And he wants to tell us about the history of Costa Rica. From the 4th voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1502 to 300 years of Spanish rule

I had read a little about this. What really got my attention was what happened with a man from Louisiana, William Walker. He led incursions into Central America, around 1856 and militarily defeated the troops in Nicaragua. After declaring himself the Nicaraguan President, he reinstated slavery. His army then invaded Costa Rica. With southern states on the verge of a Civil War, the Confederate States of America would be looking to colonize Central America and continue with the practice of slavery. Costa Rican forces won the decisive battle and therefore there was no colonization by Walker's troops. Wow, imagine that.

Wilson then shared his Christian testimony with us. It was quite inspiring. Tourism is the big draw for foreign money. Concerning agriculture, pineapples, coffee and bananas are the biggest export crops. There are over 100 volcanoes. Only 5 are still active. We will pass within a few miles of Poas Volcano a little while later, but won't be visiting. Learn that we are on Highway 1 for a short distance. This is part of the historic Pan-American Highway.

A planned stop is a visit to La Casa del Cafe ( House of Coffee). A local farmer had stopped across the street with two ox and an ox-cart. For $2.00 he let us have our pictures taken with them. The flowers around the place were just beautiful. And on the trail behind the place, two bicyclists go past. Took in the view of thousands of coffee plants.

From the seat in front of me, I thought I heard the word 'Hoosiers'. I leaned over the seat and spoke to Carl and Polly. Did someone say Hoosiers, like in Indiana Hoosiers? When I told them I had lived in Bedford... well, they had too. It was fun to talk about the time in 1976 when I had worked and lived there. We even had a few mutual friends.

In a little while, we reached the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. ($40 admission for us foreigners) It was suggested that we hike through the thick rainforest first and see the waterfalls. Did not know when it would start raining. All the hiking trails have a handrail. There are five waterfalls in this preserve. And I was pleased to take a few pictures of each one. On one of the platforms, we're just a few feet away from the strong cascade of the water. Needed a raincoat. Templo waterfalls (85 feet high) was the first to be seen. The next three of the waterfalls were Magia Blanca (120 feet high), Encantada (65 feet high) and Escondida (10 feet high). The final one is called La Paz (121 feet high). The trails led down and down until we reached the last of the 5. Fortunately, a bus travels back up to the entrance every 15 minutes. And what do we see as we're going up? Walking slowly across the road is a coatimundi! The bus driver stops and several of us tourists get out to take photos. It was scavenging for food on the roadside. Nice!

Okay, there are lots of animals to see now. I first visited the Hummingbird Garden. This was truly a tropical paradise. I grabbed a plastic hand-held feeder and within a few minutes, I had a couple of them feeding out of my hand. There are 26 different species of hummingbirds to be seen. Check out all the names, see the website

A couple of interesting facts I read is that these birds visit 2000 - 5000 flowers daily. Also, their average speed is 45 miles / hour.

Next was the monkey cage. There are white-throated Capuchin monkeys and black-handed Spider monkeys. There was lots of climbing and swinging through the trees at Monkey Pass. All the monkeys we see have been donated by the Costa Rican Ministry of Wildlife.

The bromeliads were so impressive as I walked to the Butterfly Observatory. There are as many as 4000 butterflies in here. I've had the pleasure of walking through butterfly gardens at Calloway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA. Also visited two others in Costa Rica at Pocora and at the edge of Arenal Volcano. The glass and acrylic design here helps makes this the planets largest butterfly observatory! It took patience but finally got some pictures of a blue morpho butterfly on my finger.

Next on the agenda was to see the big jungle cats. The first ones I saw were big and sleepy pumas. These are the second largest felines found in the tropics. They were quite content to just lie around. Next was a small, but cute little ocelot. Looked like he would be fun to play with. Lastly was the jaguar exhibit. These are the largest felines in the tropics. At 200 pounds, I sure got a close-up and was glad she was behind thick bars. As I took a few zoom photos, she let out a loud hiss / roaring sound. Never been so close to one of these majestic animals. Inside the large exhibit, I could see two of the three cubs at play. There is a poster with their names on them: Nico, Sama and Ashlita. Jaguars are the sports mascot for the Univ. of South Alabama so I was anxious to see them.

It is time to visit the frogs. This is free range where most of the little frogs are sitting on or clinging to leaves. The readily recognized are the Leaf-frogs of Costa Rica. They have been cleverly marketed as the mascot of the tropical rainforest. Light green in color, they have large red eyes and padded discs on their orange toes. I was pleased to see a few poisonous frogs. There was the blue jeans frog. These have dark blue legs and a bright red top. And there's the lime green colored ones with several black splotches.

I see that I need to be back at the bus in 6 minutes. Huffing and puffing I scoot as fast as I can to the aviary. There are over 40 species of birds to observe. Here I find the toucans (think Fruit Loops cereal). With plenty of time, you can have a toucan perch upon your arm. I only had a few minutes to take some pictures. But it was still a thrill to get up close to these fine animals. Saw parrots on my way out.

Hurried to the top and saw several team members leisurely shopping for souvenirs. So, it was about 10 minutes later when the bus pulled out. Our lunch order is called in, as we already have reservations at Freddo Fresas. It is a family owned place that serves authentic Costa Rican food. First was our choice of water based strawberry slushie or a milk based strawberry shake. Wow, it was like, better than dessert. Three entrees to choose from (steak, chicken or fish) and I went with the fish. It was placed on a bed of rice alongside pinto beans, chayote, salad and a slice of plantain. Dessert was a shortbread cookie with a scoop of whipped strawberry and a slice of strawberry. Yum! Now we have three hot drinks to choose from: coffee or hot chocolate or yes, #3 was different. Had to go with the agua dulce: hot water flavored with whole sugar cane syrup. Surprisingly good.

In the bus for another long anticipated adventure. Our next destination is the Poas Canopy Tour. Yes, a zip-line through the tree tops. It should take about 2 hours to complete this. Eleven of our group decides to get in on the action! This will be my 3rd time to zip-line through the canopy. Safety equipment is fitted then a pulley is attached to our belt loop. We walk past Cristal lake, edged with lots of pretty flowers. At the first platform we are given an important safety lesson. In all, there will be ten cables to zip on.

We patiently wait our turns, but the adrenaline is already flowing! And then, we're on our way!!! Such an exhilarating feeling speeding over the tree tops! At the finish of four of these, we had to walk up a steep trail, maybe 40 or 50 steps. After 90 minutes, the rain starts, then gets heavier. A large group of people from the Detroit, MI area merge into our line, as we have two zip-lines to go. Now, this is a soaking rain... as in no dry spot of clothing anywhere. I guess that should really be expected, coming up to the rainforest or cloud-forest, during rainy season. These Michigan folks had been on a missions trip as well. Very nice chatting with them, as we waited our turns. Finally, the 10th and last line. It was the best. The total length was 1/4 mile.... very high above the trees. What a great climax to another canopy tour.

There was one last steep road to walk up. Rainwater was gushing down beside it. It was 64 degrees when we started this. With all the cold rain, I imagine the temperature is now in the 50s. So glad to have a dry change of shorts and tee-shirt. However, Karen had not reminded us to bring extra under-clothing, and we didn't think about it. Okay, we will "completely" dress when we return to the church center.

Tonight we will go to one of the new malls, Lincoln Plaza. I was very impressed with this place. And there were close to 20 choices at the Food Court. I decide to get supper from Taco Bell and ordered a Mexican pizza. Brian and I then window shopped for about an hour. Went to all three floors. The bus picked us up at 8:00 sharp and returned us to the church center.

Time for our last devotional / sendoff meeting. And communion is served. That was very special. What an amazing week this has been. Look how far we've come. It kind of reminded of summer church camp. We have all grown so close to each other. I was especially touched when Tracie showed us the first tee-shirt that team members received

from one of the first of her dad's mission trips. There was a picture of a young Costa Rican girl on it. Tracie shared the story of how her father had met a young C.R. girl. He wanted to give her something, like a doll or just about anything. The Lord spoke to him and said... why not give yourself? That was the beginning of Gerald's 60+ mission trips to Costa Rica. We exchange good-bye hugs with team members then go and pack our stuff.

I have decided to take a late night / early morning shower, since I'll be getting up so early. Absolutely do not want to miss my 3:30 alarm clock ring. So I dozed and looked at the clock every 15 minutes. Think I finally went to sleep about 1 a.m.

July 11 (Saturday)

The alarm does go off at 3:30 and I'm wide awake. Happy 28th wedding anniversary, Janet! Can't wait until I see my wife and daughter. I pack away my last few articles and do not wake up my 4 room-mates. 15 minutes later, Karen came out of her room with the key. The two outside gates were then unlocked and at 4 a.m. my taxi arrives.

There is very little traffic this time of day and I'm at the aeropuerto by 4:30 ($5 tip makes it a $35 fare). Inside, there are now kiosks to electronically scan the passports.

I find the American Airlines desk and try to check in. However, my luggage is 7 pounds over the 50 pound limit. Had to take out several items and place them in my carry-on bag. Otherwise, it went smoothly. I then had plenty of time to shop for those little souvenir treats. I bought small bags of chocolate covered coffee beans, pineapple, cashews, guava, almonds, oranges and macadamia nuts. That's a nice variety.

So glad to see the plane leave on time at 7:00 a.m. I probably slept an hour before I got a cup of apple juice. No breakfast was served. Twenty minutes before we were to land, I think it was Cuba we were flying over (maybe not).

The plane touched down at 11:34. And for the next 90 minutes I went through customs, luggage reclaim and immigrations. There are literally thousands of people going through the same process. I'll have an almost 2 hour layover. I am successful as I call and talk to Bethany. Janet was not at home. I'm buying lunch when Janet calls me. "Happy anniversary" is the first thing she says. I have bought a croissant-wich and a Lipton tea / lemonade for my lunch today. Watch the news on the big-screen televisions.

When I tried to board, I found that my seat assignment had been changed. Went from the 12th row back to the 27th row. That was okay, because I now had a window seat. I was able to take several pictures of the Miami skyline. Then we were over the blue Atlantic Ocean. In a few minutes I could see the Everglades!

I chatted a long time with the two people on my row. Dustin was from Oregon and Ashley was from Iowa. Both of them had spent the last week on St. Maarten. Dustin had lost his wedding band while snorkeling. And to think he only had it for 9 months.

After arriving in Charlotte, NC I went scooting down the concourses. There was a 47 minute layover here. But we landed and exited the plane 20 minutes later than planned.

Well, there's a slight 20 minute delay and we were moved over one gate. There is no explanation for such a LONG delay. Glad to be in the air, not at 5:42 but at 7:12. We're only 90 minutes behind schedule. That seemed to happen a lot on this trip.

The air conditioner was finally turned on, as we flew away from Charlotte. I talked a long time with the fellow seated next to me. Brian had spent two weeks in the Washington DC area. We had to tell each other about our previous adventures. Landing in Mobile, I am the very first one walking up the corridor. So glad to see Janet and Bethany. It was a long week away, but so memorable. Life is good!


Tot: 3.686s; Tpl: 0.062s; cc: 7; qc: 44; dbt: 0.0366s; 3; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 2; ; mem: 1.4mb