Mrs. M. Goes to Costa Rica – Part 2

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Off to Tárcoles

March 2004. Ryan and I were especially intrigued by our visit to the fishing village of Tárcoles on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica (the Caribbean Sea is the eastern boundary). You can see San José in the middle of the country. A perfect 70 degrees year round (rainy season notwithstanding) in the mountains. Aw! Lovely! No wonder Erick’s home has no furnace. None needed.

Tárcoles, however, is a different story . . .


The bus was pretty fancy (a tourist bus), and the three hours sped by in cool comfort. Ryan and I saw gated mansions right next to downtrodden shacks (boo again for not being able to find the pictures!!). It was a lesson in contrasts of this delightful country. Do you remember why Pastor Erick took Ryan and me to Tárcoles? (Blanca and the kids stayed home. They had school.) This village was one of his baby churches, and their “Sunday” service was on Thursday nights.

Tárcoles is a small coastal fishing village, not more than 1,000 people. The village stretches out like a long, winding snake not far from the water. Pastor Erick’s church was located at the “tail end” of this snake-shaped village, where the streets are dirt, the ocean mere blocks away, and the atmosphere (though hot and super humid) is relaxed and slow-moving. We bought white fish and fresh-squeezed pineapple juice from what looked like a hot-dog stand at an American baseball game. Delicious!

However, beneath the sleepy-looking façade lies a dark secret. When the fishing is bad, the villagers resort to another source of income—drug-running from Columbia to Tárcoles, and up the Tárcoles River to the inland. Indeed, these people need the light of Jesus Christ to give them hope. And that is just what Erick shared with them every week.

The highlight of the trip was seeing the many crocodiles basking in the sun as we crossed over the Tárcoles River on our way to the village.


When the bus dropped us off in the village, we walked to the church (a loose term, as it was not a “church” at all, but somebody’s old, abandoned house). The ladies of the church were working diligently to sweep the hard-packed dirt in the patio to ready it for outdoor services that evening. Erick would sleep in this dilapidated that night on a mattress on the floor (open windows and no doors, and a metal roof, all open to the outside). He found a more secure place for Ryan and me with a village lady, who rented rooms and was sympathetic to the church. No way, Erick said, would Ryan and I stay at the “church” building.

When the sun went down, the people began to arrive. It was a cheerful group—a group so grateful for Erick’s sacrifice in making this long trip weekly to preach. Young and old sang while Erick played his guitar. I sat next to an adorable four-year-old who giggled when I took her digital picture and showed it to her.            

Ryan had become ill from the heat and humidity (99 degrees; 99% humidity)) earlier that afternoon, so I had to take him into the building to lie down. I was unable to hear the message (not that I would have understood it anyway), but I learned three people came forward to receive Christ! There were about thirty-five in attendance at the service.


Earlier that day, Ryan and I got the opportunity to swim in the Pacific Ocean. I also learned the value of obeying—even when it doesn’t seem reasonable. I was swimming pretty far out. The water was like a sauna and nothing like the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Washington! I could hardly believe it was the same body of water. It was deliciously warm!

Erick was sitting on the beach, and he sent Ryan out to tell me I should come right in, as the “undertow” was bad offshore in that area. What? Undertow? There was no undertow near shore as far as I could tell (and I know what an undertow looks like from the Washington ocean coast), and of course there was no “undertow” so far from shore in deep water, where I was lounging on my back. But . . . hey . . . when you are in another person’s home country, you don’t argue. I did what he asked and swam to shore, although unwillingly, because his explanation made absolutely no sense to me.

When we returned to San Jose, I related our beach adventure and swimming experience to Blanca. (Like I said, I was okay with one-on-one Spanish, and Blanca and I learned to understand me. Body language helps!) She nodded and agreed with what her husband had said. She called it a remolino (as far as I can remember), and said it was a very bad condition off the Tarcoles beach. Many people had drowned off that very beach because of it. Now, really confused, I looked the word up in my Spanish-English dictionary. Remolino is not an undertow! It’s a whirlpool! Erick had used the wrong English word to warn me. He had said “undertow” when he meant “whirlpool.” Uh . . . yes, a whirlpool out where I was swimming would be a very dangerous thing.

What a lesson! Even though it made no sense (and Erick not knowing he was giving me the wrong English word), I obeyed. Smart move on my part.

Sometimes, God asks us to do something that might not make sense at the time, He really does know what He’s doing, so it’s best to “trust and obey.”

When it was time to turn in, Erick accompanied us to the rented room (all facing a patio). We walked down a long, iron-fenced walkway. The lady unlocked an iron gate, showed us our room, and left. Then . . . she LOCKED the iron gate and we were trapped, and I am not kidding. The room had to be 90 degrees with one bed, a huge table fan that did nothing but push the hot air around, and a bathroom with a toilet and a tub. The shower was a lead pipe that stuck out of the wall above the tub. Hey, we weren’t picky, but the water wasn’t even cold. Or hot. Just lukewarm and dribbly.

I did not sleep that night, and I don’t think Ryan did either. I pulled the top mattress off the twin bed and put it on the floor for my son. I slept on the box spring with one sheet. Hot, hot, hot. But I didn’t care! I was having an adventure. Later that night, the other residents returned home. The walls, I’m sure, were 1/2″ plywood. I could hear every word. I was never so glad that I couldn’t understand fast Spanish than that night.

Why were we locked in? Because the violent crime in this little fishing village was very bad, and Pastor Erick didn’t want anything bad to happen to us. (The other residents probably had their own keys and let themselves in and out of this “gated” community.) All I could think of was . . . this was a fire trap and would go up in flames at the strike of a match . . . and we were trapped.

Ryan and I had other adventures too, like: shopping at the open air market (El Mercado) in San Jose for chicken (no flies in the mountains!), attending a huge festival, seeing the museum and the wild parrots in the government courtyards, and just “being” with the real people of Costa Rica. For sure, we were no doubt the first Americans (and blond, at that) that many in the Gallo neighborhood had ever seen. We did not visit any tourist places but saw the real Costa Rica. Like the cockroach that fell into Ryan’s bowl as he was pouring a bowl of cold cereal the morning we left.


I do have to say that I had a ‘moment’ when we landed in Houston on our way home. The customs sign read: “US Citizens” and an arrow, and I felt so glad to be HOME and an American after our sojourning in a foreign country. I felt that this is how I will feel when I get to heaven and see the “sign” “Heavenly Citizens” and an arrow to our eternal home!

Published by Andi Carter

I'm the main character in the Circle C Adventures series. I live on a huge cattle ranch in 1880s California. These are my adventures.

7 thoughts on “Mrs. M. Goes to Costa Rica – Part 2

  1. Wow! El Mercado sounds like fun! Great ending! A couple years ago, I became aware of the crime and drug trafficking in Colombia, and I am just so thankful to live in the United States in an area with a good police force!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. With all our problems in America, we are still so blessed. No wonder that your spending time in a beautiful placed so marred by sin left such a deep appreciation of home.


  3. Super, super cool story! thank you so much for sharing that with us Mrs. M!
    Yes, such a good reminder to always trust God. 🙂


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