Yoga Gamification

One of the great things I have discovered on our new adventureis yoga. Yoga is an intensely personal endeavor and I probably approach it very differently than most. Strangely enough, for me it ties in well with gamification– a subject I’ve written about a few times before in the context of some of the ways we are unschoolingVie and Aidan. Here’s how I think about connecting yoga with it.

I had tried yoga before Costa Rica, sort of. Deb and I used to do it as one of the modules of P90X. We did yoga moves, and many were hard, but they were the same every time. When we came to Costa Rica, we started taking classes from Sattva Yoga and experienced a much deeper and genuine yoga experience. That’s where my yoga quest began – and I use that word intentionally.

For some context, I have traditionally been more of a team sports person for the most part all my life. I tend to get bored with repetitive individual sports like running, bicycling, swimming, etc. The individual sports I like tend to have some challenges to occupy my brain as well as my body, like snowboarding. I know many folks who tell me about the zen qualities of long distance running, or the peace of swimming but that’s not how I enjoy sports. I also tended to try many sports rather than fully dedicate myself to one and be the best at it. Aidan approaches sports that way too. Just one was hard to hold my interest.

Yoga does a great job occupying my mind as well as my body when I do it. It was the larger landscape of yoga that really hooked me, however.

Here is where I apologize to all my yogi friends. What I will share will probably not feel like the “essence” of yoga to many yogis or even most people who know much about it. However, in yoga, it is always about you and what you can do – not what everyone else is doing. So, for me, yoga shares many aspects of games. In my view, it is highly gamified and that is what draws me in.

Once again the definition of gamification I like comes from Gabe Zicherman:

“Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game dynamics to engage audiences and solve problems.” (gamification.co)

As I started yoga here, I learned a number of new moves, or asanas (poses). Then, Deb saw a poster of 900 asanas and told me about it. I had no idea there were so many. So, I started doing some research to understand all of the moves. That’s when I created my somewhat geeky spreadsheet of yoga positions. I keep track of the Sanskrit and English names of the poses, a picture of each pose, and additional data such as type of pose, etc. I also track when I completed a pose.

You might think there was one site on the web with a full list of all of these asanas. There are several. None are complete. In fact, I keep finding new ones. My spreadsheet now has 1113 poses, of which I’ve completed about a third so far. My original goal was to complete them all this year. Of course, that seems unrealistic, I know, even though we practice yoga 5-6 times a week now. There are some incredibly insane poses and people spend lifetimes mastering a few. Still, I like big goals.

That’s where gamification comes in. The thing that motivates me is the exploration. I want to explore and complete every one of those moves. If you play video games in particular, it’s a lot like wanting to visit every place, every challenge, and try every move or skill. Master Yogis may spend years perfecting one asana. For me, I want to complete the asana well, but it doesn’t have to be perfect; I’d rather move on to try others. My spreadsheet is essentially my map of this journey.

So how do I connect yoga with gamification? Yoga, for me, meets many of the core criteria for gamification. It also is strangely similar to how role-playing games (RPGs) evolve. These are games like World of Warcraft and Halo (campaign, or “story”, mode). The one caveat is that most game mechanics* and game dynamics* involve games embedded in a social setting. I turn all of these inward in how I look at gamifying yoga.

Let’s start with game mechanics*. First off, for me, the range of asanas present clear goals and many paths to get there. It is not just about the outcome of attaining the goal, it’s also about how you get there. Many asanas require a lot of prep work and conditioning before you can even attempt the pose and there are usually particular ways of getting into the poses that enable more success.

The asanas present a series of progressively harder challenges. Each basic move has a relatively simple version. Tree pose (Vrksasana), for example, is pretty straightforward to start. Flip it upside down and you have Adho Mukha Vṛksasana, or a handstand. Add the lotus position to get Urdhva Padmasana in Adho Mukha Vrksasana. Now, make it one-handed and you get Eka Hasta Padma Adho Mukha Vrkshasana. You get the picture. There’s plenty to keep me busy for years. Heck, even some of the basic moves are hard, like Bakasana:

yoga

Bakasana

Levels are a another common game mechanic. Yoga has no belt system like martial arts which could indicate one’s “level” or proficiency. However, I definitely feel a progression from simpler asanas to “higher level” ones. Things that were once very difficult are now easy. There is just no outward manifestation of your “level.” It is an internal feeling for me, and that ties well with the “spirit” of yoga.

Likewise, there are no points per se as a game mechanic. However, every time I complete a new asana, I log it in my spreadsheet. Only I see it. But, I know I got a “point” for that particular asana. It essentially becomes my own leaderboard.

Now we get to the softer game dynamics*, such as reward, achievement, status, competition, and even self-expression. They are all there, but as inward manifestations. If I accomplish a difficult asana, for example, I get the same dopamine hit gamers get when they accomplish a challenge. It’s an internal reward.

What excites me is trying, and accomplishing, new asanas. I don’t need an achievement badge on Xbox to feel the same result as getting an achievement. My spreadsheet shows me the ones I have and the many, many more I have yet to earn.

Self-expression comes with the territory in yoga. We are all built differently and are differently-abled. The way I complete a pose or even try to get into it (often awkwardly) is different than others. What I lack in grace, I have in tenacity, and that fuels most of the things I accomplish.

Competition is a tricky one. I am competitive. Very competitive Debbie would argue. However, yoga is not a competition for me with others. In fact we all love seeing someone accomplish a tough move that they hadn’t before. Rather, the competition, if anything, is internal. I push myself to do more and do it better. But, doing it better takes a big second seat to trying something new. I play RPGs the same way.

There are a few final ways that yoga is “gamified” for me. These come more from the world of RPGs than more basic “gamification” concepts.

Take skill trees, for example. If you look at a map of asanas, they look like skill trees in many RPGs. In RPGs, as you advance and get more experienced in the game, you “unlock” new skills that you can now use, such as new spell if you are a spellcaster. There are often different “trees” of skills for each type of character, such as fire spells or cold spells. Likewise, you can see “trees” of asanas. There are standing asanas, seated asanas, arm balance asanas (Bakasana is one), etc. Like RPGs, some skills may come more easily than others and they get more difficult the further you go (in “level”). As with RPGs, to get all the skills, you need to do it a long time.

For me, there’s even the concept of “quests.” I am currently on one of my own to achieve the Lotus position (or Padmasana). Once I do, I can “unlock” a number of variations that I have yet to try (that’s the quest reward). My ankles are pretty tight from soccer and don’t seem to bend the way most people’s do, so I have to work on trying to open my hips more. It will be quite an achievement for me when I get there.

Finally, there are “bosses” – those super-difficult opponents in games that you need to face, and defeat, before you can continue. Some asanas, like Lotus, are tough for me now, but I know I can work through them, like an easier boss, and get through to the other side (all those poses that become “unlocked.”). Then, there are a few asanas that seem so crazy difficult, like Eka Hasta Padma Adho Mukha Vrkshasana, that I’m not sure yet how I’ll get there. I tend to approach those sorts of challenges in steps and work methodically toward them. Eventually they yield. Just like a hard boss.

I’m sure I’ve managed to unsettle my yogi friends by bringing gaming into the picture. To a greater degree, I probably also unsettled my gamer friends by, gulp, bringing yoga into the picture. Unsettling is good though. It’s an attribute of change. And here in the land of pura vida I think I’ve found that elusive “sport” that I care about dedicating some serious time to, which is a big change for me.

A big thanks goes out to all my yogi friends and teachers for making this an incredible journey. Namaste. And pura vida!

 

* There are several good sources on game mechanics and game dynamics. I tend to like. Bunchball’s simple and accessible Gamification 101 white paper.

Homecoming

It has been almost 6 months since we began our new adventure. This last week Vie and I travelled back to Seattle so that Vie and some friends could attend Sakura-Con, a large anime convention in Seattle. It was my first time back to Seattle in a while and I thought I’d share some thoughts.

We arrived on a Friday and I immediately sent Vie to Utah to meet up with friends for a few days. A few of them would be coming back with Vie to Sakura-Con, but that gave me a few days on my own in Seattle. Fortunately, several good friends took me in for little mini-stays!

Everyone I’ve seen has asked me what it is like. Some things are the same and some are different as you might expect, Just going through the airport to the taxis was very familiar for example. I had travelled so much that this actually felt very comfortable. It really didn’t hit me that I was in Seattle after an extended time.

It was very strange wearing shoes and pants. I hadn’t done that in months. Of course, I had several long hours on the plane and a long layover in Miami to get used to those. At least, I saw a welcome site in Miami!

WP_000539

Haagen Dazs in Miami

I immediately welcomed the sun in Seattle. I expected rain and cold (and I did get it a few days), but the weather was gorgeous when we arrived. It was about 50 degrees colder to be sure, but the sun made up for it. It will sound strange, but the sun in Seattle when it is out feels stronger and more intense than Costa Rica, despite temperatures there in the high 90’s. I love that intensity. It’s as if the sun, when out, wants to make up for lost time. I can be warm in Seattle in any temperature if I am in the sun.

WP_000541

The sun in the yard of our house

Unfortunately, not all my time was in the sun, even when it was outside. I was constantly cold everywhere, even with layers. In Costa Rica, I had gotten used to taking a cold shower or a dip in the pool to cool off. It felt refreshing stepping back into the heat. Here, I quickly remembered at a visceral body level that you take showers to warm up and then immediately feel cold when you get out.

It did rain a few days before it got sunny again. The rain came just in time for soccer 🙂 One nice thing though about the rain here in Seattle is that you get stunning rainbows:

WP_000549

Rainbow over downtown

I have yet to see a rainbow in Costa Rica. Given what I said about the sun, even if I do, I bet they won’t compare to Seattle.

The traffic here was another unexpected surprise. I drove in this traffic for a lot of years, but I quickly got used to two lane roads everywhere in Costa Rica, even to the capital. Traffic happens when they work on the road or a cow is crossing. I came out of the Seattle airport and immediately hit commuter traffic for an hour. The immensity of it was awesome: 10 lanes of bumper to bumper traffic on I-5 at one point. When I went to pick up Vie and company Thursday evening, I had to leave at 4:30 and it took almost 50 minutes to just hit the freeway. I don’t miss this at all. And the cows are awfully cute to watch – more so than (understandably) grumpy commuters.

I did get to drive our small MINI Cooper Coupe though and that was a welcome change from Mooseand Fanta. It was small, fast, and new. The first thing I did was turn on the heated seats! It’s one advantage to living in a cooler environment. I just wish I had those heated seats while I was sitting in the Convention Center for days!

Watching people here was fun, even before Sakura-Con. Both on the weekend and the weekdays, everyone always seemed to be rushing from somewhere to somewhere. I remember that. In fact, I had a long list of errands and activities myself for the days preceding the conference and I fell back into that rushing pace. I spent a lot of time between errands figuring out how long it would take to get somewhere, etc. It struck me at one point that I never do that in Costa Rica.

I was also pleasantly surprised about the people. I’ve written about how small Playa Flamingo and Playa Potrero are and how we seem to know most folks when we walk in a restaurant or pub. Seattle is a lot bigger of course, but 3 times since I have been here I just happened to bump into someone I knew unexpectedly. Maybe Seattle isn’t so small after all. I had to laugh at one point when I was walking down the street and heard “Hey, I thought you were in Costa Rica!” It was great catching up with those with whom I could, both planned and unexpected. There never seems to be enough time for that. It did make me savor every moment. I knew it would be a good while before I saw the particular person again. With everyone, it really didn’t feel like I had been gone; we picked right up as if I had not.

Eating and drinking was fun. One of the things I was really missing was good, strong, dark, heavy beer – like this:

WP_000548

Scottish Oil Drum Ale at 74th St. Ale House

I also get a choice of wine here in restaurants beyond (the same) Merlot and Cab, both of which are refrigerated in Costa Rica. I was really looking forward to the food. At times it was absolutely awesome, like the chicken pot pie at the Daily Grill and the mac and cheese at this place in the U-District. At times, it was hideous. Vie and I had inedible pasta the night we stayed at an airport hotel and breakfast at the Best Western Executive Inn was horrible. Breakfast at the Tilikum Café more than made up for it though.

Soccer was a lot of fun but pretty surreal. It’s been about 95 degrees in Costa Rica. The games are pretty slow, actually. There’s a lot of shooting from midfield and short, fancy footwork followed by passing and resting. Here, it was cold and rainy. There was little fancy footwork and lot of running, which I like. It was great playing with my old team, and very comfortable. In Costa Rica, I tend to be the only “gringo” and everyone speaks only Spanish. They are also all men. It was refreshing to play co-ed again. Women make the game more balanced.

Now, about this Convention. Imagine 3000 people, most of whom are dressed up, raging through the convention center. About half seem to be under 21.

WP_000562

 

lobby sakuracon

tired

Sakura-Con

The costumes (“cosplay”) were absolutely incredible. There was eye-candy everywhere. Most were anime-related. I saw armies of folks from Attack on Titan, Homestuck, Pokemon and more. There were a number of video game characters as well, from Super Mario Brothers to some stunning cosplayers from Halo and Borderlands. Super heroes abounded as well just like Comic-Con, but they tended to hang out with much cooler anime characters. I saw a particularly forlorn Thor trying to talk with some very attractive women cosplayers from Hetalia. The poor guy was out of his league on so many levels. I even saw several “bronies.” The best Cosplay I saw? An absolutely perfectly-crafted Master Chief with bunny ears worn by a woman. The workmanship was incredible.

Vie and friends Avery and Kam had several Cosplay costumes – per day. There was day and night attire and even pajamas one night. Sometimes the costume changes were quick, sometimes long, and sometimes painful (one particular cosplay for Vie involved contact lenses – see below). They were are home-made and awesome. The three of them worked months in preparation for this.

cosplayers

Vie, Kam and Avery at Sakura-Con

Since the teens were over 12, I didn’t have to follow them around as in previous years – at least 15 back of course 🙂 This year, I just had to be in the building. I found a table in the café here where I sat for 10-14 hours a day, not including time when I was wandering around the Con. I saw a ton of costumes I would love to see Deb in, many for sale, but we don’t need more stuffright now. Besides, it’s more fun to make them anyway. Look for Debbie as Cortana on a future Halloween (if I can convince her).

Despite the cold inside the Convention Center (I was shivering Friday night), I had a blast. I got a good start on our Body Defenders video game (more on that soon). I watched a few terrible zombie movies. I know that sounds bad and expected, but if I watch romantic comedies, I usually miss Deb even more. I caught up and leaped ahead in my Spanish on Duolingo. I snuck out a few times for meals close by with friends. I read a book. I wrote two blog posts.

Mostly, though, I had a long period of time to think about things. We Cargiles are very lucky to have an opportunity to live for a year in Costa Rica. Coming back to Seattle reinforces that for me. When people asked if it was what we expected and wanted, I usually said “yes”, and “no.” Both are true at times. It’s the nature of a journey, an adventure where you don’t have the end planned. Where we left with one possibility about returning, we now have many, many more. Getting free from a day to day routine here really makes almost anything seem possible, and that’s a very powerful feeling – one that was harder in coming when we were here working and living on a regular basis.

Who knows what’s next? We have a long time yet to work that out. Meanwhile, even after only 10 days, I am missing many things in Costa Rica, especially Deb. Maybe our nature is to constantly miss what we don’t have. But, I don’t miss pura vida. I think I brought some here. At least, I think I brought the perspective of enjoying every minute with what you have and really appreciating things. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have that to the same degree the last time I was here.

I hope this experience is giving the young adults the chance to experience the change I’m feeling. Change is good. Feeling comfortable with change is priceless. Pura vida!

El Volcán Arenal

This past week we visited the Arenal Volcano and the rain forest around it with our good friends, the Andersons. Their girls were on spring break and so we decided Aidan and Vie should also get one!

It was a refreshingly cool trip to a gorgeous part of the country. We had some fun adventures, saw some amazing wildlife and tropical plants. and we returned with an understanding of how special, and increasingly rare, these places are. Now that tourist season is pretty much over, we hope to take a lot more of these trips as part of our new adventure.

I took a ton of photos on this trip, so this blog will be more of a photo blog. It is pretty amazing what you see here. Oftentimes, it is “up close and personal.”

We’ll start with the volcano itself. It stunning beauty situated on a large, beautiful lake. This Volcano was pretty stealthy until 1968 when it brought itself to the attention of the Ticos with a huge eruption. It is now one of the most active volcanos in the world. It is on several of the “Top 10” active volcano lists I found on the internet.

El Volcán Arenal

El Volcán Arenal

lake arenal

Lake Arenal from a zip line

The area is populated by hot springs and a huge area of dense rain forest. There are also a number of spas and adventuring areas. We stayed in a wonderful little house designed by an artist in the town of La Fortuna. His dog, a Doberman named “Choco”, became a good buddy of mine. His paw was severely injured by a car but he hopped around with a huge love of life. He was a big puppy still and needed a lot more love than he seemed to be getting.

choco

Choco

La Fortuna is close to the volcano and “main street” goes one way through the length of the town because it lines up with a stunning, close-up view of the volcano. There’s really no reason to want to go the other way.

As part of our trip, we took a rain forest hike, explored some caves, and went zip-lining at the largest facility in Costa Rica. The rain forest trek was my favorite. It was located in a picturesque valley which was dense with vegetation.

rain forest valley

The rain forest valley

While the tour advertised hanging bridges, and indeed there were many, the main attraction was really the flora and fauna of the rain forest itself. We went in the late afternoon/dusk, which I recommend; it is far less crowded and noisy. The animals like that and were coming out. Take a look at some of the incredible things we saw:

A spider monkey travelling with is group

A spider monkey travelling with is group

A coati looking for dinner

A coati looking for dinner

A very tall, odd tree

A very tall, odd tree – zoom in to see some detail

A “well-camouflaged” pit viper

A “well-camouflaged” pit viper

A “well-camouflaged” pit viper

A “dart” from a particular palm tree used for poison darts by the indigenous people

And the poison dart tree frog

And the poison dart tree frog from which those folks made their poison darts (Note: these fellas are only about the size of the end of your pinky)

There were several gorgeous types of flowers, none of which I got the names for:

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Rain forest flowers

Can you see the bat hiding?

SONY DSC

It bites the under part of the leaf so it creases and makes an overhang. Here’s one with a flash where you can see the bat:

 

 

 

SONY DSC

One of the hanging bridges

One of the hanging bridges

A “rain barrel” tree

A “rain barrel” tree – the roots are hollow and hold water

Leaf-cutter ants

Leaf-cutter ants

A "monkey ladder" tree

A “monkey ladder” tree

A tunnel through our trek

A tunnel through our trek

A tree sloth

A tree sloth

The second day of our trip, many of us went to visit the Venada Caves (while some who will not be mentioned spa’d it. It is a “living cave” – one that is still forming. There was a small stream running through it and the cave system supported a number of bats, spiders, centipedes, frogs and other critters that can often terrorize spa-goers!

The Venada Caves entrance

The Venada Caves entrance

A “meat-grinder” type passage

A “meat-grinder” type passage

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

A few areas of the cave

A “meat-grinder” type passage

A waterfall which we got to by crawling through a water-filled tunnel

Aidan tried to eat, at the guide’s urging’ a rather large and nasty cave spider with a pretty ferocious bite. It was large but thing and the photo does not do it justice. Use your imagination J

IF

An elusive cave spider

For the record, we spotted the tree sloth on the road to the caves, and I found the tree frog outside the cave entrance as we were coming out.

Our final day in Arenal we all went zip-lining. Deb and I had been zip-lining in Costa Rica before on our vacation trip two years ago, but the Sky Trek zip lines are the largest in Costa Rica. The rides were long and provided some stunning views.

zip liners

Our intrepid zip-liners

The rain forest valley of the zip line area as seen from the zip line

The rain forest valley of the zip line area as seen from the zip line

The longest stretch of zip line

The longest stretch of zip line – 1500 meters (or almost a mile)

Deb, the master zip liner

Deb, the master zip liner

We all had a wonderful time and it ended all too soon. We could have spent several more days in the Arenal area. There is a lot to do and see. Fortunately, we didn’t have to contend with a ton of tourists; most of the outings involved just us and no other folks. We expect other visitors (!) and so we’ll have a chance to try out some of the other things the Arenal region offers. We will definitely have to do the river/white water tour next time. Maybe I’ll get to see my bud Choco again.

Pura vida

The Elusive Motmot and the Noni Fruit

After 5 months now in Costa Rica on our new adventurewe have seen many things that we haven’t seen elsewhere. Some are amazing. Some are strange. Some are mysterious. Some are, well, hard to describe. I thought I’d share the good, the odd, and the silly.

In fairness, these things may exist outside of Costa Rica. Indeed, several do. In all my travels though, I haven’t seen these before…so take them for what they are.

Of course, I could start here with some of the amazing things Costa Rica has to offer that many people know already, such as the incredible surfing, particularly in Tamarindo. The coffee here is obviously wonderful – and we are from Seattle, so we can appreciate it. We hear the diving here is also incredible. One of our plans is the get certified when most of the tourists leave. We also heard that the rain forests are amazing. That’s another upcoming trip. And there is yoga here almost everywhere, at least where we are. We love it and spend a lot of time with Sattva Yoga by the beach. My “yoga spreadsheet” tells me I’ve done about 337 poses out of the 1051 I’ve collected so far. I need to pick up my pace!

The following are things that you may have not heard about. By the end of this maybe you will be afraid you have J

The Elusive Motmot

The motmot is a bird that Deb discovered. This bird is found throughout the forests of Central America but are evidently very hard to find. We won’t tell the pretty poison dart frogs here that motmots eats them. Of course, the poison dart frogs also seem to be elusive.

SONY DSC

The elusive Motmot outside our window

The Noni Fruit

The noni fruit, or Morinda citrifolia, is not unique to Costa Rica. You can find it in other places such as Australia and Southeast Asia. It seems to favor tropical places like where we are. The noni fruit tree is in the coffee family, but you’d never know it. The fruit neither looks like, nor tastes like, coffee. It does provide a range of health benefits. Evidently, its juice runs $50-100 in parts of the US. We have a tree next to our new (rental) house that sits all alone in an empty lot next to our wall. I tried it. The fruit is bitter and the smell is, well, there is a reason that it is also known as the “vomit fruit” (an oxymoron if ever there was one). The smell is associated with the fruit ripening. I guess I haven’t found a ripe one. Despite the smell, the fruit is rather cute and we would never have learned about it if we hadn’t come here.

noni fruit

The noni fruit

Bag Driers

I hadn’t seen nor heard of bag driers before coming here. Our friend Sherry makes these and they are not only beautiful, but useful. You basically use them to dry out your Zip-Loc (or other) bags. We try to be green, but we never reused Zip-Loc bags in Seattle – though we did reuse grocery bags as “poop” bags J Here, gallon Zip-Loc bags tend to be harder to find and more expensive when you do find them. Many plastic things here are expensive. We started reusing them before we knew about bag driers. We learned about them at yoga and they’ve now made our list of different things you find here. In writing this, I did see that you can find these on Etsy.

bag drier 2

A bag drier by Sheri Creamer

Motorcycle “Vests”

Here’s one of the stranger things we’ve seen here. There are a lot of motorcycles in Costa Rica. It’s not surprising given the price of cars. Now, you can evidently ride your motorcycle without a helmet. At least, the vast majority of riders do and seem to get away with it. It is pretty hot here. We’ve also seen 2, 3, even 4 people – whole families – on a single motorcycle. None were wearing helmets. But, every rider I’ve seen wears an “X” shaped reflective harness. Every one. I wonder what the fine is for not wearing one.

motorcycles

The motorcycle reflective harness

Evidently, ATV and scooter riders don’t have to wear the reflective thingy. Maybe it’s because they are not as cool 🙂

atvscooter

Look, mom, no harness

Strange Tubes on SUVs

Many SUVs here have these long tubes tied to their top racks. We haven’t seen any on cars. We don’t know what’s in them. They have curved ends so they don’t carry long poles. We are thinking that they are for the rain. You see, when it rains here in the “green season”, it really rains. A lot. There are major ponds and rivers to drive through we hear. We’ve seen a number of newer SUVs with those exhaust pipes that stick up like snorkels. Given those and the rain, we think these strange tubes may be retrofit or home-made versions of the snorkels – to deploy when you hit those deep rivers. Of course, they could just be decorations.

WP_20140511_002

Update! I got a photo of one.

Side Slung Fanny Packs

Most of us know that fanny packs are now uncool. If you didn’t, pretend you did; it’s not worth the embarrassment. For the record, I don’t have a fanny pack. I have a waterproof wallet with a belt strap for surfing so I can carry money, ID, keys, etc. This allows me to wear it as a belt (hidden in my trunks). It’s not a fanny pack.

However, we’ve seen many men here wear what you would call a “fanny” pack across their shoulder, with the pack sitting in the middle of their back. It’s pretty fashionable and doesn’t look at all like a fanny pack strapped around your shoulder. They make a nice addition when worn with the Motorcycle straps. I might be wrong though; they could be “shoulder belt packs” and not actual “fanny” packs.

I would have tried to get a photograph of this, but, well, how do you walk up to a large, tough-looking dude and ask if you can grab a picture of him with his “not-a-fanny-pack”?

Leatherback Sea Turtles Laying Eggs

One of the more amazing things we’ve seen here already is leatherback sea turtles nesting. Leatherback turtles are the largest of turtles and are endangered. 5 of the 7 worldwide species of these noble creatures choose to lay their eggs along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Costa Rica. They must like it here. Marine turtles have been doing it for more than 100 million years.

We had the chance to check this out during their nesting season – roughly November-February across the many species. We all went to Playa Minas late at night during a full moon at high tide with our friends Eri and Adam. It’s when you have the best chance to spot them. There was one tour and a number of other folks there. You can’t bring white flashlights; it confuses them since they think it’s the moon and get disoriented. Most of us had red lights – well, except the idiot who set his car alarm, which of course went off and started making horrible noises and started blinking its bright white high-beams.

We had the great opportunity to see one come in from the surf and “hoof it” up past where the water line was. We couldn’t see much and we didn’t take photos. About 10 minutes later, we saw it crawling back to the sea, and at a much faster clip than you would imagine a turtle is capable of. This one was fairly small; typically they are bigger than people.

leatherback sea turtle

CC-BYLeatherback Sea Turtle Hiding its Eggs captured by RustinPC

Volcanoes

We’re from Seattle and so we like volcanoes as our natural-disaster-inducing-entity-of-choice. I came from California and gave up earthquakes and Deb came from Kansas, famous for their tornadoes. Volcanoes clearly are not unique to Costa Rica. However, Costa Rica has 112 volcanoes. With only about 50,000 square km (that’s 20,000 square miles for our US friends), this has to be a pretty unique spot in terms of volcanoes per square kilometer.

One of the prettiest is Volcán Arenal. Folks thought it was just a mountain until it erupted in 1968 and it’s been very active since then. It sits next to a lake and has been a pretty big attraction here, complete with hot springs, rain forest and caves – all of which we will be visiting next week. Stay tuned for some (hopefully) amazing photos.

Stone Spheres

This one has intrigued me since we arrived and it is definitely unique in the world to Costa Rica. To this day it remains a mystery of antiquity.

While Cost Rica does not have the incredible Incan, Mayan, and Aztec ruins other Central American countries have, we have stone balls, known as Las Bolas locally. They are basically large spheres made of granite or basalt that measure from a few hundred centimeters to 2 meters (6.6 feet). You find them only in the Diquis Delta area, near Golfito in southern Costa Rica. They are all man-made.

They range from 600 to 1600 years old in most reports and tend to be associated with the Diquis culture. Reports vary pretty widely but most folks agree that there are about 200-300 of them. Some reports say that they are within a few millimeters of roundness. Most have been moved from their original location and many have been damaged by machinery, treasure hunters or others. It’s hard to say what their original characteristics truly were. Nonetheless, they are pretty amazing feats of craftsmanship. And no one knows what their purpose was.

Some experts have noted that the few spheres that remain in their original positions resemble constellations. The Finca 6 site in Corcovado National Park has many spheres in their original spots, or rough diagrams of where they were. Many have a north-south orientation. I don’t provide any links here. It seems there are as many people out debunk the mystery as there are claiming everything from associations with Atlantis, extraterrestrials, etc. I, for one, love it that there is still an unexplained mystery that truly has no good hypotheses. We will definitely be going there to see them ourselves.

stone spheres

CC-BYStone Spheres from the National Museum Inner Garden by Mario André Cordero

Video Jugadores

Continuing with the theme of mysteries, here is one:

video jugadores

What do you notice? Of course, it is three boys playing a video game. What struck me was that it isn’t just three boys playing. One, JJ, the son of our landlord is 6. Aidan, our son, is 11. And Jairo, our caretaker’s son, is 17. JJ and Jairo live next door. When was the last time you saw three boys, unrelated, with this span of ages playing together and having fun in the US? It’s not just video games. They have a great time every day.

Things may be different in the schools here. They may have all of the problems with clics, bullies, getting along, etc. that we have in the US. I’ve just never seen that diversity of ages in “dudes having fun” in the US. Call me odd, but perhaps even the kids young adults here practice pura vida.

Pura Vida

I’ll end with the 11th – because we all know “11 is better than 10.” I’d put pura vida on the list here. I know I’ve written about it before, and referenced it several times. It remains something purely Costa Rican. Bing tells me it originated in interactions between surfers and the local Ticos in the 1950s.

In doing some research for this blog, I found another fairly unique thing about Costa Rica that’s related. The people here, particularly in the coastal region where we live, are among the most long-lived people in the world. In fact, the area around us has been declared one of the few “blue zones” in the world, which according to Wikipedia is “…a demographic and/or geographic area of the world where people live measurably longer lives, as described in Dan Buettner’s book, ‘The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from people who lived the longest.’”

Why? In addition to diet, water, and physical activity, the ideal lifestyle characteristics cited by the Blue Zone research included close inter-generational relationships. Hmmm. I think we saw an example of that in #10. The thing is that things like this happen pretty easily, pretty genuinely, and pretty quickly here. Maybe pura vida has been here all along, but the surfers and Ticos gave it a name.

Bertrand Russel said “To understand a name you must be acquainted with the particular of which it is a name.

If you truly want to understand what pura vida means, you’ll just have to come and experience it. We have a guest room now. Pura vida.