The “Toucan Test”

I have a thing I do on a personal level that I call my “Toucan Test”. It is my personal test for determining whether I’m becoming jaded to Costa Rica’s uniquely raw and wild beauty. It goes like this: when I see a toucan, do I take note of it? In other words, do I react with a “ho hum, just another toucan” – or do I still marvel at this extra-ordinary bird that defies design logic here with appreciation?

Crocodile north of Jaco Costa Rica
This is just one of the guys hanging out and keeping cool, just north of Jaco.

Earthquakes are a rather “regular” element of life here in Costa Rica. Not so consistent that we (all us expats) don’t all have to comment on them. I don’t think that we are in danger of reacting “ho hum” to an earthquake, but when the ground starts to rock and roll, I think that the element of alarm is greatly reduced and they become more exciting than anything.

Yesterday was no exception.  A real rocker hit Costa Rica.  Nat & I were at CIMA hospital when we had a 7.6 earthquake. Its epicenter was in Samara, over on the west coast on the Nicoya Peninsula. I was standing in my patient’s gown, the type that ties in the back.  They let me keep my BVDs on so it wasn’t an overly compromising situation, but I had to smile, even while the building was threatening to come caving down on our heads at how life likes to “shake things up” sometimes – this time in a literal sense but there was still the irony of the way things can play out.

I was scheduled to get an MRI of my lower back the day before, but they were unable to determine what type of material is in the 12 screws, plates and chains of my face (relics from a near-death experience I had a couple years ago) so we had to reschedule for the following morning They determined all of my head hardware to be of titanium, which is good, so we were a go, conveniently putting me in my robe in the MRI department at the time of the quake. The scheduling had me standing there, so tastefully attired, as everyone in the hospital, doctors and nurses included, went running out of the building.

That was the start of my day. The hospital took the earthquake admirably. For the amount of shaking that went on, one would allow a crack or two in a wall or floor – but nothing – and yes, I did get my MRI, complete with after-tremors. I am currently standing by awaiting the results that I hope will explain the incessant pain coming from my lumbar region.

From there we headed south for home. Nat & I have been talking lately about how we need to start doing more sight-seeing here in our home of Costa Rica. So, as we were driving over the Taracoles bridge just about 18 kms north of Jaco, we decided to stop and look at the crocodiles, something I haven’t done since my first visit to Costa Rica in 1998 and we are glad we did. What impressive creatures!

From there we went into Jaco and stopped at the Taco Bar where we both ordered fish tacos that come with a so so salad bar.  The tacos were excellent.  Nat had red snapper and I ordered Wahoo. I can’t really speak for how they were since I still don’t have my sense of taste back yet from my brain incident, but I can say I enjoyed them. Plus, the people-watching in Jaco is worth the visit.

Scarlet macaws Costa Rica
Scarlet macaws in a tree just south of Jaco Costa Rica.

Just south of Jaco we saw a bunch of people in a turn-out taking photos, so we stopped. Well, I drove past and Nat emphatically suggested that we turn around and see what was going on. We got back there and saw a bare tree, overlooking the ocean, laden with 20 or so scarlet macaws.

From there we headed on down the road for the final hour and a half or so of journey from Jaco to home between Dominical and Uvita. The last half hour was through a September afternoon downpour, typical for this time of year, but truly momentous in its power and sheer volume of water falling from the sky. There were times when we simply had to stop for poor visibility, despite having our wipers on high.

We got home to Nat’s and the electricity was off, so we lit up candles and made the best of it with our good friend Robert who had stayed there taking care of the dogs.

I passed my Toucan Test yesterday with flying colors. These events marked what I would call a spectacular day in the life that I have chosen, living here in the wilds of Costa Rica.

4 thoughts on “The “Toucan Test””

  1. Hey Ben, what a great story, we laughed out loud reading it and are happy that you all came out unharmed from the quake and can still marvel at the beauty of CR. We always stop in Tarcoles, not so much for the cocodrilos but rather for the pipas frias, the largest and tastiest we could ever find. Take care and say hi to Nat! Peter and Tanja

    • Hello Peter & Tanja,
      NOW you tell me. Nat & I are big on pipa fria. We’ll be sure and check it out next time through.

      All the best,


      Note: pipa fria is a coconut that has been chilled, hence the “fria”. A straw, or pipa is inserted so that the drinker can imbibe the healthful and tasty coconut juice.

  2. Hi Ben, my name is Steve Stryker. I’m in my mids 50’s, live in New Jersey and retired. I also have a very bad back. I retired from law enforcement in 2006. In 1986 on a car stop I found myself entangled with 3 men who were intent on getting my gun. They failed but I ended up with 3 lower back discs that had to be removed and the spine was fused. After surery in 87 and 6 months of healing I resumed my work. In 2006 I retired. At that time I began pain management. To relieve the pain I get injections every 5 weeks and take pain meds. In the winter the weather in NJ is cold and damp. This results in an increase in pain. Hence 2006 began my search for a better climate and a place that I could trust the medical professions.

    I decided on Costa Rica. I am blessed that I saw RED FLAGS with Hacienda Matapalo Project. After 1 year of talks with their office in Florida and Costa Rica I decided that I was not going to purchase anything with the company. Today I am happy that I made that choice.

    I have followed “Guys In The Zone” for a while. And I am still interested In Costa Rica. Reading your article about your experience at the hospital and back condition sparked me to write to you. I would like to know if you could spare some time and talk with me about the medical services, insurance etc. has it is in Costa Rica. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you, Steven R Stryker

    • Hi Steve,

      Many thanks for sharing your experiences here.

      I would be more than happy to discuss my experiences with you. Pain management, by its very nature is a challenge. I too am managing pain and am dealing with some of the same issues as you, but from the pre-surgery side of things. Unrelated to my back problems, I too am a victim of violent crime, so I’ll bet we burn some daylight comparing notes.

      I am currently using an inversion table. If you don’t know what that is, search “inversion tables” in Amazon and read some of the comments about the Teeter EP-550. I suspect, however, with your history you know all about these. Its all new to me and the prospect of avoiding surgery with regular use is absolutely intoxicating. Today is day 3 for me using the table. Its a bit early yet, but I’m sensing some change, towards the good. They say that I should use the thing twice a day, just like brushing my teeth. I don’t know what benefit the tables would have, if any, for your situation with 3 fused vertebrae.

      I am currently looking into how insurance works here in Costa Rica as regards pre-existing conditions. It used to be that such conditions did not influence your insurance here. Now the insurance industry in Costa Rica is growing up and paying more attention. I have already found that getting straight answers from my insurance agent is a challenge. Everything is “no problem” until it comes time to submit a bill.

      If you’d like, we can set up a visit, either in person here in Costa Rica, or via Skype or some other. However, I’d imagine that readers of this blog would benefit from some of the details that we discuss. So perhaps we can start here with a couple of your questions and go from there. There will no doubt be some research necessary on my part. Since I’m personally invested in this topic at the moment, I’m game.

      Congratulations on dodging the bullet there at Hacienda Matapalo. There are other, very viable options here that we can discuss as well.

      I look forward to our conversations.

      Ben Vaughn

Leave a Comment