Category Archives: Central American Adventures

Casting Your Net

Monday, I wrote about canoeing where dangers lurked by air, land, and sea, (which hadn’t occurred to me beforehand but seemed to be the case à l’époque)!  (I will say that tourists can do much more dangerous things abroad than would ever be allowed in America, so never assume a tour is really safe just because you can choose to do it…such as hanging out at the edge of Victoria Falls in Africa.)At any rate, it wasn’t until we finished our exploration through the mazes of mangrove tunnels and came out to Lake Cartagena that I began to relax,  and when we were reunited with our English-speaking tour guide, he assured us that he’d not seen a single crocodile in the lake for forty years. Okay… However, there is good fishing in the lake (as attested to by this cormorant),   so at least some birds and one man spend their days fishing on the lake. Our guide poled us over so we could watch the lone fisherman in action.

Apparently he and the cormorant were willing to take the risks, although after hearing about alligators migrating north to Georgia in the U.S. and seeing crocodiles on the shoreline of the Panama Canal not far away, I wasn’t totally convinced it was completely safe.   However, the fisherman was working hard, and he was catching fish and crabs!I felt inspired by his hard work and courage! Jesus calls us to be brave and follow him, promising to make us fishers of men (and crabs?). It’s pretty easy to say, “Ya, but it’s dangerous! I might get killed. (Many do in the 68 countries where Christians are persecuted.) So, should we leave our boats and give up?                                Or, shall we follow Christ and cast our nets?

“The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.” (Proverbs 22:13)“He [Jesus] saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

So You Want To Paddle Your Own Canoe?

In Cartagena, Columbia, we  had a chance to go canoeing through a mangrove swamp, which I anticipated as being reminiscent of our canoe ride in Nepal last fall down the Narayani River.                    You, know—beautiful day, park-like setting, relatively safe.  Only, this time I was hoping we could paddle our own canoes, because…well, just because it’s good exercise and lots of fun.  I was disappointed to see men lined up to escort us, although I knew it might be a bit tricky trying to pole with a stick; I was used to sitting down with a paddle. Nevertheless, it looked like not all the canoes were attended, so I hopped in one that had no apparent captain, hoping they’d let me try my hand at the helm!     Not so fast! There were strong, capable young men assigned to each craft,                              so I settled back to relax and enjoy the ride…sort of… Being a tropical country, and having seen some crocodiles lounging on the bank just the day before, I quickly realized that it was a great idea to let experts pole,  since if I were just trying to learn, I might land our whole canoe in the water!       I had visions of a crocodile or an alligator jumping out of the water           to bite off somebody’s hand at any moment, and it gave me the creeps!  I tried to ask the young man poling our canoe how dangerous it might be, but he just smiled and shook his head as if to say, “I don’t speak English,” so I kept my hands well inside the canoe, tried to hold very still, and hoped for no crocodiles!

What had we gotten ourselves into? I had failed to research this tour option! 😦 Have you ever been for a ride through a mangrove swamp? In a way, it’s awe-inspiring. Frogs and fish darted through the cloudy water. Iguanas hid among the branches overhanging the passageways, and termite nests, looking like discarded Darth Vader helmets, rested on trees. The air was alive with bird songs, although the songsters were hidden behind tangles of branches and flew off skittishly before I could get any good photos. The only birds large enough to be unsettled by our canoe were great blue herons  and the great white herons, who fished silently along the edges of the byways.  Our canoe was almost as quiet as we glided through the maze of tunnels.
The only sound was our guide dipping his pole in and out of the murky water. I suspect we were all being still to escape notice, but for whatever reason,
I had a lot of time for reflections!

Considering the possibility of a poisonous snake dropping down on us from above, a deadly reptile attacking us from the muddy waters below, or catching malaria or other insect-borne disease from the mosquitoes in the air surrounding us made the whole experience seem a little surreal.  I kept remembering terrifying stories like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and thought about the horrible fears and dangers that slaves endured while running away from their masters toward freedom, back in the dark, early days of America.  Can you imagine how desperate people must have been to wander through the mangrove swamps in southern Florida in an effort to find freedom?  We were at least dry, sitting in a somewhat protected environment, which I found out later was an old, original dugout canoe made from mahogany! Most importantly, we were being carried along by someone who knew the way  through the tangle of tunnels  and had the strength and experience to get us safely “home” after our wild ride.       How about you? Have you—like me—wanted to paddle your own canoe? Have you been surprised by how much more complicated and potentially dangerous life is than you ever imagined? It’s definitely been much harder for me than I remembered from earlier experiences.             It’s all too easy to get into a situation where it’s not obvious      which is the best way to actually get you where you feel like you need to go! Alan and I are reading a wonderful book by Joe Stowell called Following Christ.       If you’re tired of paddling your own canoe, try following Christ. It’s simple, and following Christ takes the pain and frustration out of trying to find our own way to freedom and happiness. He loves us and will help. Besides, only Jesus has the wisdom and strength to get us safely home to heaven, which is where we’d all really like to end up…right?! Even if you’re not yet sure it exists?? I mean, if a heaven exists, wouldn’t you want to go there?!

From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

 

Creating Beauty from Broken Glass

This is the kind of story where the title gives it all away, but I hope you’ll still be  interested in hearing about The Glass Factory in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where they make everything out of recycled glass.  The outside of the building is totally unimpressive… the sort of place you’d pass by without a second thought  (unless you wanted to recycle some old glass bottles),  but inside, it’s like a little glass paradise!  The walls and ceilings are aswirl with glass,  and even the floor is studded with mosaics of vibrant inlaid glass. How do they do it? A well trained master craftsman starts with an old bottle
that’s been melted down into a red hot blob. Then the artist adds minerals to give his masterpiece glorious colors. (Notice the spot of red on his glasses? His eye is focused on his work!)
Their heart cried unto the Lord…let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease” (Lamentations 2:18).With the help of an assistant, more melted, recycled glass is added. Next, the master shapes the glass with a huge pair of sharp scissors. He slowly twirls the fiery ball in a heated container
while blowing through the pipe.He shakes and swings the heated glass until it’s stretched to just the right length.He blows very hard until the glass looks like an elongated balloon.  He blows until it’s the size he wants, then he squeezes it with long metal tongs to perfect its shape, shakes it more, then shapes it more. He repeats this process until he’s satisfied that the bottle is just the right size and beautifully balanced.With surgical skill, he flattens the bottom and makes an indention
so it’s stable and will sit flat without tipping over. With his assistant’s aid,
he detaches the rod from the top and holds the bottle from the bottom. So many steps! The glass has to be reheated again in the oven!

One of the most touching things to me was to watch the master wrap his arm with gauze to protect himself from the heat while working on the vase. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15).While continuously turning the metal rod to which the glass is attached, he carefully widens the mouth until it’s perfectly round and wide enough to be easily filled. “I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10)He performs yet another operation to make the lip of the pitcher for pouring out.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
(Psalm 51:15)                Finally, a graceful handle is attached to make it easier to use.I think everybody who watched the demonstration would love to have been able to buy that exquisite pitcher and take it home with them, but it was still too hot to handle. It literally has to sit for 24-hours cooling down before it can be used. So, of course (as you can probably tell) my mind went wild thinking about all the ways in which The Glass Factory reminds me of the way God works in our lives. Here are a few, but I’ll bet you can think of even more:

*He takes broken lives and turns them into something lovely and useful
*But, not without a lot of work!
*Our hearts have to be melted down first!
*Our Master craftsman keeps us as “the apple” of his eye!
*The process requires assistance from trainees (the body of Christ?).
*We’re not all that glorious in ourselves but need additives to make our lives colorful. (The fruits and unique gifts of the Holy Spirit come to mind.)
* We’d never be anything more than a blob without the Holy Spirit filling us.
*It takes a lot of shaking up, spiritual surgery, filling, shaping, and heat to make us into something useful.
*Because God is compassionate, I believe he must feel the heat when he works!
*When finished, the mature Christian (who’s really never finished in this life!) is a joy to everyone who comes in contact with him.
* After fiery trials, it takes some time before the “vessels” are really serviceable.Are you ready to be made into something even more beautiful than you are to bring blessing to those around you, or would you rather just live for yourself?Or, maybe you’re struggling with the glass ceiling and can’t seem to get where you feel like you need to be getting. God is in the business of taking us to the next level no matter where we’re at…of making us into something more wonderful that we are at present. But, first we have to be humble enough to climb into his recycling bin and let him take charge. Have you done that? If not, would you like to do that?

Has this been true of you? “Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee” (Deuteronomy 32:18).

If so, this is God’s offer, not only to you, but to all of us: “Thus saith the Lord the maker thereof, the Lord that formed it, to establish it; the Lord is his name; Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jeremiah 33:2-3).

 

Never Smile at a Crocodile…Even If You’re in a Big Boat

Have you ever wondered why they say, “Never smile at a crocodile!”? Crocodiles can measure more than 20 feet long and weigh up to 4,400 pounds. Australian crocodiles have the world’s strongest bite, up to 8,000 psi (pounds of pressure per square inch). In the water, it’s alleged they can swim as fast as dolphins, and on land they’ve been known to take down animals as large as cape buffaloes. Crocodiles are extremely aggressive, and humans are on the menu. So…that’s why you should never smile at a crocodile! They’re deadly.                Although I have no penchant for befriending crocodiles,  peering down at them (from the safety of a big bridge) while  they bask in the sun along the Tarcoles River is  a popular tourist attraction in Costa Rica.  Because of the abundant wildlife, if you can put aside your fear  of crocodiles, a cruise down the Tarcoles River is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Alan and I weren’t the first to board, but I noticed that the front seats were still available. Perhaps it was in hopes that if a crocodile attacked our craft, he would be too full after eating those of us in the front seats to want dessert. Whatever the reasons, Alan and I were happy to enjoy front row seating on our adventure! There’d been a torrential downpour that drenched everybody earlier, but late afternoon was beautiful, and the ride was soothing…magnificent even!    We caught sight of a ring-tailed lemur sitting in a tree with his back to us,        and there were herds of Brahman cattle with their faces to us,                                         watching us curiously as we drifted by.     The steep banks of the river were pitted with holes where swallows nested…       as well as all sorts of colorful birds, like this stout little green heron.    In fact, there was a veritable river bank run going on with creatures galore! I’m not sure if it was the highlight or lowlight, but we did see lots of crocodiles.   Although most stayed at a respectable distance, one came over to check us out.         In fact, he came right over to check me out, but I didn’t smile. 😦 Thankfully, he took the hint and left. Really, though, I think he would gladly have eaten me for lunch except the boat was a lot bigger than he was. The afternoon passed all too quickly, and soon it was time to return to the ship. I am thankful that I don’t have to swim in the river of this life without protection!     Anyone who asks can be sheltered by the protective care of God our Father. It really isn’t any safer to swim down the stream of life alone than it would be to swim down the Tarcoles River. (See the crocodile hiding behind that snag?) (This is a close up from the last photo.) In the Bible, we learn that someday “the great dragon…that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” will be cast out (Revelation 12:9), but until that day, we are in need of a refuge, because Satan is even stronger and more deadly than a crocodile.    Thankfully, our day ended with a gorgeous sunset and no further excitement.     Although we were very late, our ship didn’t sail away without us. Praise God!                          Back on the ship, we were able to get clean, dry, warm, and fed!

Want a refuge from the storms and dangers of life? God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof” (Psalm 46:1-3).

In John 6, the disciples were in a boat but frightened during a storm at sea and asked Jesus for help. He rescued them, and in that chapter we learn this lesson: “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:28-29).

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”
(Acts 16:31)

Failing to Expect the Obvious…and Getting Prepared for Next Time!

                  In Puntarenas, Costa Rica, you can walk right off the ship,  and there are excellent beaches close by, so it was a little hard to resist just spending the day swimming.  However, we wanted some adventure we couldn’t experience in America,  so we opted for a skywalk through the jungle  canopy of the Villa Lapas Rainforest in Carara National Park.  Up until that day, the weather had been gorgeous: Glassy seas, balmy blue skies, and about 82° every day.  The weather forecast was for partly cloudy skies, but there was no rain predicted, so Alan and I left our umbrellas and rain gear in our room and bounced off the ship expecting another gloriously warm, wonderful, dry day.  Even the tour guide agreed with our assessment of the situation, as did everybody on the tour.  After a lovely drive into the countryside, we stopped at Hotel Villa Lapas for a bathroom break (since free public restrooms are pretty much nonexistent).  While there, I noticed a sign listing the nearly 400 species of birds that have been sited in the greater Carara area.  It was a bird-lovers paradise, and the air was filled with singing, although I really couldn’t recognize more than a few species and only got one reasonably good photo of a toucan sitting high up in a tree, where he was checking out the tourists from a safe distance.

We saw a lot of unusual things, like the nests that termites build in the trees,  and some rather attractive iguanas sunning themselves on logs far, far away.  There were butterflies flitting here and there, but they moved so fast among the tree tops that I never did get a single good photo.There were also reputed to be monkeys, but try as we may, we never saw one. On our “skytour” hike, we wound our way through the mountainous rainforest  and across a series of hanging bridges built to span the gaps between the hills.  It was a beautiful day, and we all took delight in enjoying our bird’s eye views  of the vast Pacific Ocean in the distance,  the mountains,  and the jungle surrounding us,  as well as below us!  In the afternoon, the weather became very hot and humid,  and clouds began gathering off in the distance, but in a rather ominous way! In just a few minutes, we could tell that things were going to get ugly! We were about exactly halfway through our hike, so there was no turning back but no easy way to get down the mountainside, either. There was nothing we could do but push on to the finish line! We tried to hurry,
but all of a sudden we were in the midst of a torrential downpour!

This is the last photo I dared to take before wrapping my camera in the folds of blouse. I leaned over so my hat became a bit of an umbrella. The path was treacherously wet and slippery, but thankfully there were some handrails at critical junctures and nobody had a bad fall. By the time we returned to the bus, we were all soaked to the skin. The guys stripped off their shirts and there was literally a stream of water running down the aisle of the bus from all the men trying to wring out their clothes. (We were parked on the mountainside).   In less than an hour, the storm came and went, but we were all soaked, chilled and a little shaken by the sudden cloudburst. And…we had a river cruise to take yet! It was after dark when we finally finished our day—so late that the ship had to wait an hour past departure time for us to get aboard. (Thankfully, if you’re on an official tour from the ship, they won’t leave you stranded.) Although our camera and cell phones survived, our passports got totally drenched and are a bit rumpled to this day, even though they eventually dried out! On the way home, it occurred to me that I should have been better prepared. There’s doubtless a good reason why they’re called rain forests! Next time I’ll carry a small umbrella, just in case! You know, my whole life is kind of like a skywalk through a rainforest! Is yours?   Breathtaking, but it leaves me breathless sometimes…and it’s unpredictable. We have an “umbrella” on our insurance policy. Do you? Did you know there’s an “umbrella” for our spiritual insurance (assurance) too? It’s found in the person of Jesus Christ, who died in our place so that we can have forgiveness for our sins and be reconciled to God. We don’t have to worry about the judgment of God, because Jesus is the guarantor for all who trust in him.  So, we can say with Amos: “Let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24), because, How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator” (Hebrews 9:14-16).

 


The Tartar Sauce Caper

If you love fish as much as I do, you’ve probably figured out whether or not you love tartar sauce too.  Alan can take it or leave it, but there are very few fish dishes out there that I don’t think could be improved by a little (or a lot) of tartar sauce.  On our recent cruise on the Norwegian Star (and we all know Norwegians love their fish), we enjoyed many different types of fish…and I was always hoping for excellent tartar sauce on the side, although it didn’t happen very often. So, maybe not every culture likes tartar sauce, but if you do, I hope you aren’t buying commercial tartar sauce, because you can make your own at home in about a minute just be stirring together equal parts of mayonnaise (or any similar salad dressing) and pickle relish (sweet or dill, depending on your preference). To me, it tastes better, and it definitely costs less. Of course, there are all sorts of recipes out there to make your homemade tartar sauce even better, but last spring in Hawaii Alan and I both fell in love with tartar sauce laced with capers, and then last summer we were served such a delectable concoction again at a restaurant here on the shores of Lake Michigan, so I decided it was time to figure out my all-time favorite blend. Here’s what I came up with for myself, but I’ve also listed a few ideas that are good and add slightly different taste points just in case you haven’t already set your heart on any particular recipe. (If you have, please share it!)

Tartar Sauce á la Capers
(serves 2-4 people, depending on how much they love tartar sauce!)

Mix together:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons dill relish (Alan prefers sweet)
1 teaspoons capers

That’s all there is to it, although you might want to experiment with adding any or all of the following just to change things up sometimes:
* 1 tablespoon finely chopped cucumber
* 2 teaspoons finely chopped onion
* 1 teaspoon chopped jalapeno pepper
* 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
*1 teaspoon of your favorite mustard
* 1 teaspoon fresh parsley
* 1-2 dashes of your favorite hot sauce
* 1/4 teaspoon crushed garlic clove
*1/8 teaspoon dill seed or crushed dill leaves (also called “dill weed”)
*Salt and pepper to taste (I don’t personally add either)

Have fun experimenting, and I hope you love your personal house blend! Please let me know if you find other additives that really make your tartar sauce sparkle!

For the word of the Lord is right; and all his works are done in truth. He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:4-6, emphasis mine).

The Mystique of Nicaragua’s Masaya Volcano National Park

                                   Perhaps the greatest advantage of cruising             is that the ship’s captain does all the “driving” while you relax on board,  and every day or two you’re magically transported to some fascinating new place, often in yet another foreign country!  Of course, cruising is also like a 101-class in foreign studies, because you skim over one or two highlights in each country without getting a very intimate look into the culture. To me, that’s the major downside. But, we don’t have the time and money for both, so we usually have to choose breadth or depth. On our recent cruise, we sailed from Los Angeles down through the Mexican Riviera, stopping for just one day in each of the Central American countries that touch the Pacific Ocean there before we transited the Panama Canal.        Today I want to share about the Port of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua,  where we took a wonderful day trip through the “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.” The most thrilling event was being able to walk right up to the edge of one of South America’s most active volcanoes and look deep, down inside (closer than this mortal has been able to get anywhere in America…even in Hawaii)! This opportunity to get up close and personal with an active volcano is in Nicaragua’s first and largest national park, Masaya Volcano National Park.  According to our guide, Masaya Volcano throws up to 2,000 tons of ash into the air every day* and emits a constant column of sulfur dioxide, which can be seen all the way to the ocean.  He said the natives believe there are seven doors to hell, and this is one of them! When Catholic missionaries arrived many years ago, the local priest set up a large cross at the edge of Masaya, gave it the Christian name Santiago, and “baptized” the volcano in hopes of purifying it and protecting the people.  Masaya hasn’t had a major eruption since 1772, and beyond the prayers of the people for safety and relief, it’s also thought that part of the reason it doesn’t explode is because it’s able to “let off steam” every day!  Do you ever feel like a volcano inside? I don’t believe baptism alone can fix the problem, but I’m sure that Jesus can transform us and give us peace if we’ll ask him.  Also, I think it’s extremely helpful to be able to “give off steam” every day…hopefully not as noxious gas and spewing ash that harm others, but by pouring out our hearts to God in prayer.                             He can take it. He cares. He loves us. He will hear.   “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).   Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:6-8).

*That statistic surprised both Alan and me, but I can’t find any source to verify or refute it.

(I took all the photos a few weeks ago except for the gorgeous night shot into the volcano, which was used by permission of Leon Petrosyan via Wikimedia Commons.)