Friday, January 28, 2011

Into the Blue Zone - Pure Vida!

View from Our Room
Ahhh, vacation time! Precisely at 9 am (a little unusual for Costa Rica) on January 27, our air-conditioned (ahhh) van arrived at our hotel to take us to the Tango Mar Hotel. The first leg of the journey took us about 1 1/2 hours to Puntarenas, where we boarded a ferry boat for the hour-long trip across the bay to the Nicoya Peninsula. Then another van picked us up for the 45 minute trip to Tango Mar!  It was just a little nerve-wracking driving up the very rutted narrow gravel road, following the faded signs for "Tango Mar Bar and Restaurant," wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into! Well, in fact, we have landed in Pure Vida (pure life, i.e., Costa Rican heaven). We were greeted here with ice cold face towels and a fruity rum cocktail at the front desk, and then escorted to our room by the Belgian owner of the property, the amazing Hilda! This is, in fact, the most beautiful place we have ever stayed!

View from the Breakfast Table
Tango Mar is on the Nicoya Peninsula, named by National Geographic researcher and journalist, Dan Buettner, and a team of the world’s top experts in longevity as one of the five "blue zones" in the world (others are Italy's Island of Sardinia; Japan's Island of Okinawa; California's Loma Linda; and, the Greek Island of Icaria has). These are areas of the world where people live healthy lives well past 100 years of age. Buettner (who was on Oprah on January 26!), in his book, The Blue Zones, describes four main steps to help create a blue zone:

1. Move naturally: your home should go along with the natural way you move. Concentrate on things you like to do, such as gardening, walking, swimming or spending time with family and friends.
2. Express your ideas with a positive attitude and allow time for rest.
3. Eat wisely: forget those diet trends that force you to consume 20% less than normal. Do not consume processed foods and have a few glasses of red wine daily. Please remember: do not over indulge.
4. Be part of the right tribe: put those you love first and try and reconnect with your religion or connect to one you wish to explore.

Interesting how close these ideas are to the Five Ways to Well-Being identified by Nic Marks' (of the Happy Planet Index) and colleagues in a research project undertaken for the UK Government Office of Science as part of their Foresight Project. The brief was to create a set of evidence based positive actions individuals could undertake which would improve their well-being. 
1. Connect - Invest your time in your loved ones, in your friends, family and acquaintances. Meet people. Talk to them. Understand how they improve your life, and also how you improve theirs. Knowing that you mean something to someone can be one of the most powerful positive forces in the world.
2. Be active - When exercising, the level of serotonin in your body rises and you get a powerful feeling of wellbeing. Something as simple as kicking a ball or throwing a Frisbee around a garden with a friend can knock both this and the previous point off in one go. If you're feeling down, go for a brisk walk and get some air. You'll soon feel better.
3. Take notice - Keeping an eye on what's going on around you keeps your brain running smoothly. If you see an application for planning permission pinned to a lamp-post, and even the tiniest part of your brain wants to know what it says, then go and read it. On a train or bus, rather than burying your nose in a book or your mobile phone, look out of the window and see what's happening outside.
4. Keep learning - Humanity's relentless curiosity is behind almost every single one of our species' accomplishments. Once you've finished your formal education, that's no reason not to stop learning. Actively seek out different viewpoints, and if you don't understand them then find someone knowledgeable to explain them to you.
5. Give - Finally, be generous. A survey gave £100 to two groups of people, instructing one group to spend it on themselves, and another to spend it on other people. Afterwards, the latter group's spirits were significantly higher. If you don't have cash, give your time, your attention or your expertise instead.

Bottom line - don't worry - be happy - Pure Vida!

Dave will blog soon about the amazing sabbatical interviews we have conducted here in Costa Rica. Next up (we hope) will be with Nature Air, the world's first and only carbon neutral airline ( We're thinking we may take one of their twin-engine planes back to San Jose on February 1.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Carole's "Gotta Have It" Trip to Sarchi

I (Carole) have been whining that we have been completely occupied in the UPeace course and Dave's sabbatical interviews, and that I just wanted to go to Sarchi, which is known as an artisan community, as well as the best place to do my inevitable sourvenir shopping! So today, we hired a taxi (for a small fortune, I might add) and took off for Sarchi. Well, friends and family, don't hold your breath for the souvenirs!

Sarchi is, indeed, a key artisan town in Costa Rica, best known for the highly ornate oxcarts that are handcrafted there. The oxcarts are a national symbol of Costa Rica, as they played a key role in the country’s history, transporting coffee beans to markets. Sarchi is also the home of dozens of wooden furniture and souvenir stores that sell wood bowls and trays to carved utensils, jewelry and masks. The carved furniture made here is gorgeous.

Besides the handicrafts, there is also an unusual church that is painted pink and blue. Built in the 1950’s, the two-towered church sits on a hill overlooking the town. I shouldn't be complaining, it was just a long, hot, disappointing, expensive trip!

Traveling around here in Costa Rica can be a real hoot, as there are no street names or street names or addresses, as such. For example, if you want to have the dinner at Doris Metropolitan, where we're going tonight, the directions are "Behind the Church of Santa Ana, northeast corner, San Jose, Costa Rica." To get to Dave's interview with the Deputy Minister for Peace tomorrow afternoon, the directions are "Office of the Ministry for Justice and Peace, located in San José, Barrio Luján. 25 mts north from the main offices of the PANI." To get back to our hotel, we give the taxi driver a business card with the map below on the back. I have no idea how people ever find anything, but it seems to work (although our taxi drivers will relatively often either stop another taxi to ask for directions or make a phone call to their dispatcher or the destination).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Our wonderful Academy for Peace hosts arranged for us to take a lovely trip to La Paz Waterfall Gardens today. It was really our first opportunity to see the awesome beauty of this country - the mountains; the plush greenery; the flowers, birds and butterflies; and, of course, the magnificent waterfalls.

Dave even made a connection with a photographer (with a humongous camera) who turned out to be from Macomb, Michigan! The guy also has a private, corporate charter business, and has many clients that he wants Dave to be in touch with for his sabbatical.

It was also my first chance to do souvenir shopping, so I bought myself a new "peace chair!" Just awesomely beautiful!

We do seem to be having a pretty happy time in the most happy country on the planet!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Universidad Para La Paz/BePeace

Every day this week, we have made a trip way up the mountain, past the shade grown coffee fields to Costa Rica's University for Peace, located just outside Ciudad de Colon, a "suburb" of San Jose. UPeace was established in 1980 via a mandate of the United Nations. Its stated mission is "to promote the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress." UPeace offers graduate-level classes and programs in areas such as sustainable development, environmental security and peace, conflict resolution, international law and human rights, natural resources and peace, and gender and peace building. Currently, there are students here from 60 countries. It is a real privilege to be here for a week participating in the BePeace course as a part of the University's summer institute programs.

BePeace is the brainchild of Rita Marie Johnson, an American who moved to Costa Rica 17 years ago, inspired by the fact that the country has no standing army, and with a desire to help in some way. Her accomplishments are nothing less than astounding in that regard. In 2002, Rita Marie created BePeace, a practice that integrates HeartMath and NonViolent Communication, and then founded the Rasur Foundation and the Academy for Peace of Costa Rica, an organization that was awarded the Changemakers Innovation Award: Building a More Ethical Society in 2005. Since then, the Academy has been working with the Ministry of Education to implement BePeace in every high school in Costa Rica.

In 2006, the Rasur Foundation presented a Ministry for Peace initiative that was embraced by Costa Rica’s president, Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The bill passed on August 19, 2009, establishing Costa Rica as the third country in the world to have an official government Ministry for Peace. As a result of Rita Marie’s involvement in the Global Alliance for Ministries and Departments for Peace, the Costa Rican government hosted the 2009 Summit of the Global Alliance and the Rasur Foundation facilitated it.

Just this month, Rita Marie has gifted the Rasur Foundation's 2-acre property and its Academy for Peace to Costa Rica's Ministry for Peace to serve as its headquarters, and making Costa Rica the first country in the world to have a complete infrastructure for bringing forth a culture for peace.

Yasar and Mercedes
BePeace Sweethearts
 With that background, I (Carole) can tell you that we are having a magnificent time in the BePeace course, with the majority of the participants being UPeace graduate students from countries all over the world including Nepal, India, Uganda, Iraq, Sweden, and many more. Dave, as he will share, is having a great time setting up and doing interviews, including yesterday's brilliant conversation with the UPeace Vice Rector.

Unbelievably, Nic Marks, the founder of the UK's Centre for Well-Being at the New Economics Foundation, and creator of the global "Happy Planet Index," is on campus next week. We've been invited to attend a 1/2 day workshop next Wednesday, titled "A Happy Planet?: How governments, business and people can nurture well-being and respect nature." The Happy Planet Index has named Costa Rica as the happiest country on earth! Next week, Dave will also be interviewing Costa Rica's Deputy Minister for Peace.

This weekend, we're taking a trip to La Paz Waterfall Gardens with Rita Marie, a BePeace participant from the UK, and a couple of the Academy for Peace facilitators.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What an Excellent Adventure Day

Two blog posts in one day is probably a clue as the great day we had today! First, a lovely breakfast in the garden at our hotel...

...then a trip to the HUGE Sunday Farmer's Market in Santa Ana (note the MSU shirt - the guy didn't actually know anything about MSU, but he was excited to know it was "mi escuela")...

...followed by a visit to one of the oldest (350 years old or so) churches in Costa Rica...

...Dave's tennis game with a local "pro," and finally, a magnificent meal (aged beef, sourdough bread, etc.) at the Doris Metropolitan Restaurant ( for a finishing touch! We could definitely get used to this life!

Tomorrow morning begins the BePeace course at the University for Peace!

The Happiest Place on Earth

According to the New Economics Foundation’s “Happy Planet Index” (a measure that combines happiness and longevity and adjusts for environmental impact — such as the carbon that countries spew), Costa Rica is the happiest place on earth. Already, we’re experiencing Costa Ricans as among the nicest, most generous and most helpful we’ve encountered in our travels.

From the gentleman who helped us upon arrival at the airport, the folks at Margarita's B & B, Carlos (our new favorite, English-speaking taxi driver), those Dave mentioned at the Rasur Foundation/Academy for Peace, the adorable Adrian at our new digs, (Villas Los Candiles in Santa Ana, to the guy on the street who helped us find the Old West restaurant for dinner last night, we are impressed! Carlos says that the happiness comes from two things: 1) just knowing that if you work you will be able to provide a good life for your family; and, 2) that the place abounds in beauty, from the beaches to the mountains and volcanoes to the rain forests.

My favorite journalist in the world, Nicholas Kristof, says that "What sets Costa Rica apart is its remarkable decision in 1949 to dissolve its armed forces and invest instead in education. Increased schooling created a more stable society, less prone to the conflicts that have raged elsewhere in Central America. Education also boosted the economy, enabling the country to become a major exporter of computer chips and improving English-language skills so as to attract American eco-tourists." (see his January 6, 2010 column at

We can't wait to continue discovering our own clues about the seeds of happiness here, and in the meantime, I (Carole) can tell you that I am as happy as a clam to be here!! Dave seems to be doing OK, too!

No small part of that at the moment is our new "home away from home." This almost brand new boutique hotel, located in a Santa Ana residential neighborhood, is simply amazing, gorgeous, accessible to shops and restaurants, safe, and completely charming! We have a most lovely (and very inexpensive!) 1-bedroom suite with our own private little patio/yard, and a better TV than we have at home! Just in case I didn't know it before, I am a totally spoiled traveler who, at my age, requires comfort!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Getting Settled In

Our first day at the Margarita B&B exceeded our expectations not only with the amenities and staff, but more imprtantly, with the intent of my sabbatical. At breakfast, we met a group of folks from Canada. As we talked, I found that one of the men was a policeman from near Toronto. He works with the Mennonite Church using non-violent negotiating skills in places of conflict around the world. He is also involved restorative justice in the Canada court system. What a find on the first day! Although we did not have much time to learn more, I expect to visit him later this spring.

Next, off to the Quizur Peace Academy, the retreat center we expected to stay at during the BePeace workshop. There, we were greeted by Nicole Bucherre and Dyana Berwin. They were, as you would expect, magnificent in their presence and their helpfulness. As we found the accommodations regarding meals to be difficult, Rita Marie Johnson, Razur Foundation founder and workshop leader, jumped right in with Nicole and Dyana to help us out. Our experience with them and a chance meeting with one of the workshop faciliators reenforced our high expectations regarding what we are to learn next week.

Since we ended up resolving our meal problems by moving to a nearby hotel, I took this opportunity to shoot my fIrst B roll of Quizur, since the workshop will actually be held at the nearby University of Peace,

Friday, January 14, 2011

Our First Home Away From Home

Here we are at our first home away from home in Costa Rica - Margarita's B & B, just outside of San Jose. We arrived very late last night, and are just settling into our trip this morning.

Dave, the quintessential "gringo," ran into his first trauma of the trip when he went to get cash from the ATM in Atlanta's airport and it said he had no cash. This will be no surprise to our children and closest friends! Thank heavens for his credit union fixing his great financial planning as quick as a wink!

After a great movie and a wonderfully boring flight, we arrived to find that our baggage came right along with us to Costa Rica! Now the challenge was to get to Margarita's B & B, given that we speak just enough Spanish to get us to a "bano." Luckily, we found a wonderful, English speaking guy at the airport who got us into the right cab and on our way. After a fairly long ride through the twisty-turny streets of San Jose, we arrived at this lovely place overlooking the city.

When we woke up this morning, we began to see why everyone loves Costa Rica! Sun is shining, birds are singing, flowers abound, and there's a gentle breeze at around 75 degrees. We had a scrumptious open air breakfast and, after a tennis game and a rest, we're off to the Rasur Foundation in Colon (about a 30 minute taxi ride away).

The adventure is on!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Preparing for the Journey

Ever since Carole and I met with Terry Terry and Ian Busch at Message Makers just before Christmas, it seems like our whole life has been devoted to my sabbatical. So much for Sabbath, day of rest, being the root word for sabbatical!

Terry, the Zen guide of Message Makers according to his assistant Linda Burnham, convinced me that I should shoot the interviews for my sabbatical research in high definition digital video to make them worth my time. Since then, we have tried to figure out what high def digital is, what kind of equipment to buy, where to acquire it, and now, how to use it. While doing that, we are working on travel and interview details and learning how to speak Spanish.

We have so many people to thank already. Terry, Linda, and Ian have been invaluable! By the way, Message Makers is an inadequately recognized jewel in mid Michigan. Our brilliant daughter, Lisa, taught us how to use two new computers we needed for the trip and how to do the preliminary video documentation and editing required to survive on the road.

I don't remember our road trips in the 80's and 90's being this hectic. We're having a ball, but I don't think either of us thought this sabbatical would keep us so busy!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Videographer's Great Tutorial

Thank heavens for Lisa - spending her Sunday helping Dave figure out how to use his untold $$$$-worth of new toys (New Mac, editing software, HD video camera with mikes, booms, who knows what else!) for his sabbatical!

This great adventure to Costa Rica begins Thursday, January 13m, 2011. We arrive in Costa Rica, stay overnight in a great little B & B with a pool and tennis courts (of course!). Then travel on the 14th to the Rasur Foundation ( for a weekend of acclimation and shopping before the BePeace workshop begins at the University for Peace (January 17-21). Next comes a two day adventure with the workshop's facilitator (and founder of the Rasur Foundation), Rita Marie Johnson, to the Waterfall Gardens, etc. Then January 24-26 willl be devoted to doing interviews in San Jose - and a bit of sightseeing, too!

On the 27th, we head out to Tango Mar Resort for 5 days of rest, relaxation, great food, tennis, hanging out at the beach! Back home on February 2

Watch for new posts about our adventures in Costa Rica....