• Kristi Burke

The Magic Of An Unexpected Valentine's

Tires were spinning in unforgiving gravel on a craggy mountain road. I felt a turning in my stomach as the car slipped backwards, kicking up rocks and dust. Down a few feet we rolled before the driver's foot slammed the gas in eager desperation, leading us into a battle between gravity and human volition. Gravity always wins. Panic surged as I glanced over at my masked husband's face to see his eyes almost as wide as my own. I gripped his arm, digging my nails into his skin. I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut. He tried to reassure me before the reality set in that he wasn't even confident in the situation himself. He suggested we hop out to remove some of the weight inside the vehicle. I couldn't get out of the car fast enough.

Valentine's Day has never been on my list of favorites. To me, it's just another frivolous Hallmark holiday made up to boost retail sales. Dave and I agreed to no gifts this year, and instead chose to spend our time and money on something that would last longer than any random trinket from the mall; an experience. We didn't bother putting too much pressure on ourselves to make an elaborate display of love, so we decided on a trip back to Minas Del Aguacate to explore some of the swimming holes we'd missed our last time there. What started as a simple, romantic day trip, turned into a crazy, unexpected adventure. But the experience it provided was worth it all.

The Uber driver turned down an unfamiliar rocky dirt road, which was different than the smooth, easy route we took last time. The car decelerated as the path steepened, and we were soon moving at around 5 Miles per hour. We were still several miles from the swimming hole. The further we made it down the road, the less confident I became in this little sedan's ability to make it down to Minas, much less make it back out. The road became increasingly more dangerous, with steep ruts and huge rocks. My brow bones cemented themselves in a furrow. I couldn't stop glancing over at Dave and quietly asking him, "are we going to make it there?" In an apprehensive tone he kept repeating "yes we'll make it there". But I think he was really just trying to convince himself.

The car hesitantly bumped along massive gouges in the dirt until the driver stopped at the house of a local, who was sitting on his porch surveying the land. I called out "Ayuda, ayuda! Pregunta!" which translates to "help, help! Question!". I'm still pretty far behind in my Spanish lessons, and it was the only words I could muster up in the moment. He walked over and began conversing with the driver in their native language. I always strain my ears intently to pick up familiar words and put sentences together. Speaking it is one challenge. Understanding is an entirely different affair.

After a quick exchange, the man shook his head, glancing at the font of the car, repeating "no, no". We knew what that meant. The car wasn't going to make it. Dave realized this just a few moments before when he glossed over the map on his phone and eyed a river crossing a little further up the road. The man opened the gate to his home so we could use it as a space to turn around safely on the skinny ridge. As the car huffed along, I had a sneaking suspicion we weren't making it back up those rugged inclines.

Less than a mile along our journey back, the driver hit a steep rut he couldn't get the car to climb. We were spinning tires and terrified when Dave told me to jump out so we could lighten the load. It didn't work, and the car continued spinning in place, with rocks clashing against the bottom of the vehicle, creating a terrible scraping sound I knew couldn't be good for the value. I felt so terrible for this man who was sabotaging his car in an attempt to get us to our destination. We felt guilty, even though it was the app that led us down this path. I can only hope Uber has good insurance for its drivers.

I sat atop a cliff above the scene and watched as my husband and the driver, with limited knowledge of one another's languages, worked together to find a solution. I'm beginning to realize that patience, kindness, and compassion are life's universal languages. With those, you can go a long way when trying to communicate with someone who cannot understand you.

After many failed attempts to get the car up the hill, I was starting to think we were going to need to get to walking. I was about to suggest calling a tow truck, but I've been here just long enough to know how things like this go in Costa Rica. Ticos have this saying, which is like a way of life, and it goes "mañana, mañana", which essentially means "I'll get to it tomorrow". And tomorrow doesn't always mean tomorrow. It could be hours before a tow truck arrived. I knew we would need to start making the several mile trek back up to the main road to call for another ride if we wanted to make it home before sundown. This was quite reminiscent of our adventure to Playa Bajamar, when we were stranded down a long dirt road without the option of a taxi. I just needed to wait for the magic to happen.

As I was about to suggest the tow, I heard the sound of tires crunching up the hill. An SUV was making its way down the road with ease, heading straight for the stranded sedan. I ran up the hill to let them know the road was blocked, and not to come down too far. Inside was a man and his wife, and they just so happened to have a tow rope and a vehicle with enough horsepower to get the sedan up the hill. It wasn't all so easy-as they only had one rope-so it took some time trying to figure out the best way to connect the vehicles. At this time, another local was biking up the hill and stopped to help as well. The way people around here come together in these moments of need never ceases to amaze me. Almost everyone we've met has been eager and willing to offer a helping hand.

While the car was being rescued, I had a chance to catch some gorgeous views at an overlook right above where we'd gotten stuck. The massive, green rolling hills were a sight to see. Had we not stopped there, I would have missed the opportunity to take in such amazing views, which is always a humbling experience. It's important to find ways to be thankful, even when life isn't going your way. This is something I'm learning and practicing every single day.

After about 45 minutes, the car was up and out of the rut, and we were back en route to Minas Del Aguacate- except this time we were going the safer route. I was a bit surprised the driver still wanted to take us, considering we'd just almost annihilated his car. To add to the misfortune, as the car was being towed I noticed a "for sale" sign on the back windshield. Luckily he had a great attitude about the entire ordeal. He laughed it off as we made our way around the winding roads and said, in perfect English, "after this ride, we are family." As long as I live, I'll never forget that. We safely arrived at our intended destination just a short bit later. My husband made sure to tip him well, and as we exited the car, I thanked him saying "Tu eres mi familia". Just like that, we were on our way to the water.

Minas seemed a little busy, but it didn't take long after we arrived for the crowds to start thinning. We did some light cliff diving at the top of the falls before sneaking down to an empty lagoon below. There was a looming cave and a cascading waterfall, and we were fortunate enough to have the entire place to ourselves. I kept thinking that it couldn't possibly get more romantic than this; our own private waterfall on Valentine's Day. Had things gone according to plan and we'd arrived sooner, we may not have had such an intimate and private experience. Even more of a reason to embrace the unexpected.

We splashed around and took pictures and jumped in the falls and floated on our backs. We held each other in the water with big, goofy smiles on our faces and we celebrated the love that has gotten us so far. We reiterated how lucky we felt to live this beautiful, crazy, unexpected life. We exchanged gratitude for the experiences we've gained since jumping into the unknown and moving to Costa Rica. It reminded me of the lyrics to our wedding song, "So Much" by The Spill Canvas, which has become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy in our lives;

"Pack your things we can leave today Say our goodbyes and get on the train Say goodbye Just you and I in the sweet unknown We can just call each other our home"

Remembering those words got me thinking about what home really means to me, and how I've found my home not inside four walls or in coordinates on a map. My home is where my peace and love reside. Where I feel most safe and and secure but also unfettered and free. Home is with my husband when we pack our things, say goodbye and step out into the sweet unknown. Home is on mountain tops, in swimming holes, under waterfalls, and even stranded on the side of the road in foreign countries because home is not a place and never has been. Home is a state of being. It's feeling complete with the one who makes my heart beat. It's the calm that keeps me grounded. Home is in the adventure, the adversity and every moment in between when my soul has found its bliss. Home was within me all along, I just had to discover that. And now that I have, I can carry it with me along my journey. No matter how far I go, no matter what life throws at me, no matter how many craggy dirt roads I get stranded on, I know I'll never be far from home.

As badly as I wanted to stay frozen in those moments forever, our amazing and unexpected day was coming to an end. While we dried off and waited for a ride, I saw a tiny creature with wings hovering around the basin below. I watched it flutter around in quick-speed before more movement off to the side caught my eye. There was another of its kind perched in the tree above. And then another flew up beside them. A flock of hummingbirds were basking in the afternoon sunlight, and so I climbed down to get a closer look. I was wearing a bright yellow dress, which seemed to make me more appealing to these floral-loving creatures. I kept my movement still as they swarmed around me in curiosity.

I couldn't help but think this very moment was magic in waiting. If we hadn't gotten stuck and our time had not been delayed, I might not have had these rare and precious moments with these beautiful birds. I wouldn't have seen the valley as it looked from the cliffside car debacle. I wouldn't have been reminded of the kindness of strangers and the magical moments that come from living life to the fullest. I wouldn't have had a story to tell, and I may not have been given the opportunity to realize that all this time I was looking for a place to call home, and it was within me all along.

Yours Authentically,


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Follow Me On Instagram: @Artistkristiburke

Other notable posts:

"Why I'm Selling Everything And Moving Out Of The States"

"My Move To Costa Rica: Learning To Embrace Struggle With Open Arms"

"Living In Costa Rica: Changes I've Made, Struggles I've Faced, And Lessons I've Learned So Far"

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