A trip to San Juan del Sur, and noticing wholesomeness


End of the parade

These little boys looked so cute with their drums and hats.

I really enjoyed my trip to Nicaragua, for my “visa run”, a term which means non-residents of Costa Rica have to leave the country for 72 hours every 90 days. It’s like a forced vacation every three months and I was just delighted to comply! So it was with excitement that I took off on a road trip to see more of the countryside which took about 6 hours by bus and taxi to reach the small romantic beach town of San Juan del Sur. It so exceeded my expectations as I gazed through a palm dotted sidewalk to a gorgeous bay full of fishing boats, a large white statue looking out from the adjacent hill, and a row of open-air thatched roof restaurants lining the beach about 20 feet away from the surf. I was charmed by the sights everywhere I looked; the Spanish architecture, brightly colored buildings, a gelato shop (important in hot climates!) and a variety of stores that looked fun to browse. The town was a blending of Nicaraguans, expats, and tourists and there was an a easy going air of relaxed satisfaction as people went about their day, from the chiropractor to the people lounging in the book store cafĂ©, to the street vendors, store clerks, and waiters that brought us yummy appetizers and unusual tropical drinks.

I caught the tail end of the parade in the picture above, and learned the locals have many parades as their culture is steeped in history and religious traditions. They celebrate patron saints, holidays and vaquero’s (cowboy’s), and others, so there are events going on every month that many people in the town, especially children, participate in. I just love the fact that they make their own entertainment and have fun together as a community! Everyone I saw was enjoying life with a ready smile and a noticeable absence of no stress! People live simply in these parts and even those that don’t show material signs of having a lot, have a lifestyle where the quality of life more than makes up for it. How much do you really need to enjoy the balmy and sensuous tropical air, swaying palm trees, lush greenery, beaches and a whole town full of easy going people?

I was able to stay with my friend Dawn, a fascinating woman I met at a recent workshop. She lives about five miles inland on a couple acres off a bumpy road of which a portion had a very steep pitch and was rutted with deep rain-carved trenches that made me admire her gutsiness even more. She had only lived there for 8 months and had found it easy to get to know her neighbors, even though she didn’t speak much Spanish. On an earlier visit to the area, she had stumbled across a unique Earth-ship home, built as a model, which had stood empty for six years because it was considered a little “weird” for those parts. She fell in love with it and jumped at the chance to be its first owner and decided that being a “jungle woman” would be a welcome change of lifestlye. The house is powered by solar panels, has gas appliances, a water management system and is built with an infrastructure of old car tires and stucco and her only bill is for internet and the help she hires to maintain the house and the rice and beans she’s growing. It is an absolutely impressive and stunning structure, being hand formed and with artistic touches like mosaics of bottles in the walls where light comes through like stained glass.

In the few days I was there, I got to meet some of her neighbors. One we passed everyday lived so modestly I mistook their home for a chicken coop. A woman stopped by to chat that had given her Spanish lessons and is now one of her closest friends. I took a bucket of compost from the kitchen to the neighbor next door who took me to their pig pen and I got to feed this huge pig! Dawn has a 4WD truck and her neighbors without cars really appreciate it when she gives them a lift to or from town, and one trip we picked up a lovely elderly couple. Last month she had a kind of freak accident while shopping in town. She was walking on a street near the crest of a hill on a corner when she was hit and thrown by a car that ran over her ankle and cracked several ribs. She had been in bed all month before my arrival and was just beginning to get around. She shared an amazing story about how her neighbors came to her rescue, making her meals and getting what she needed done around the house. A new friend she made came and stayed at the house with her. She wasn’t sure how she was going to handle getting around being alone, and was thrilled and so touched that people reached out to her that didn’t even speak English but knew what she needed. I was impressed that this new reality she had created for herself was aesthetically beautiful as well as spiritually healing, raising her faith and trust in the kindness of others, and a recognition that she couldn’t want for more.

What I’ve noticed about the culture in Central America is that people seem to make the best of their simple lifestyle by enjoying what they have, making the most of whatever they’re doing, and having lots of family time at kids baseball, soccer games, festivals, or just sitting out on their porches talking and waving to friends who are driving or walking by. To me that says a lot to be able to enjoy being right where they are with their family’s and neighbors and gain satisfaction from enjoying whoever is there in the moment to enjoy. Dawn speaks of how safe she feels because her neighbors keep a watch over her, being so aware of what’s going on with her safety and well-being.

It’s interesting to make a comparison to my life in the states where I’ve lived my 50 plus years. I don’t think too many people would disagree it is kind of crazy making being in the US because it can get so hectic. Having a business made it so there was always something to do, somewhere to go, deadlines to keep, lists to check off, etc. I worked to squeezed in time for friends on the weekends but I was spread out too thin to relax much or have time to create as meaningful of a relationship with myself and my son as I would have liked, much less my neighbors that in my many moves I rarely even met. I spent more time reading books on how to “be here now” than I actually spent practicing it. I was fragmented and discontent with the way my life was, and I hit a wall where I just couldn’t keep doing the same thing over and over hoping things would change, which is the definition of insanity. It was time to start exploring questions I had about how to have a more sane and stable and enjoyable way to live.

A word I love is “wholesomeness” and I would apply that to the culture here. It’s a word that embodies a number of qualities I aspire to, of being sound in body, mind, and morals, where one feels what’s right in their hearts, is honest with others and tells the truth. This seems to be getting more and more programmed out of people in “modern” societies such as in the US. There’s something I find a little unnerving about Wall Street executives, corporate heads, people in government and political positions, and it is a term called “interpersonal affective psychopathy”. Basically what it means is the heart and soul are not engaged. As I give this definition, think of anyone it might remind you of: people who have a grandiose sense of their own values, are self-centered, manipulative, indifferent, no firm principles, lack empathy, guilt and remorse, but retain a confident outer appearance as if they were “normal” by society’s standards. Their mask of superiority is reinforced by their material wealth and marked by looking the other way when it comes to injustices and inequalities. An example is our ravaged environment where people, soil, water and air are used for the pursuit of the bottom line profit that goes to a few, rather than for nurturing our very survival for today and for future generations. It’s painful to see people who have lost their moral compass and hurting so many others. Being wholesome brings to mind Ron Paul, a straight shooter and honorable person if there ever was one, who’s been panned as being too old fashioned and unsophisticated as a mere doctor, to be taken seriously.

Yet it’s the bearers of wholesomeness who inspire people and make a real impact on the world. I woke up at Dawn’s that first morning with sunlight streaming in and a nice breeze flowing through the screened windows and a Joni Mitchell song “Chelsea Morning” came lilting through my head, fitting the cheerfulness of my mood. Joni’s poetry and singing has always inspired me with her wit, sweetness and authenticity that she’s retained as a country-girl-from-Canada. To me, she epitomizes wholesomeness; someone who stayed connected to her heart and kept her head about her in the midst of the entertainment business, holding onto her values, and singing about the truth and tragedy of a materialistic world gone senseless. Thinking back, I’m really not sure how I would have gotten through high school without her poetic words and emotional music describing my own vulnerabilities, sorrows and challenges that I didn’t know how to voice. Somehow I felt more sane and redeemed as a result. It was comforting to know someone could honestly admit she ‘didn’t know life at all’ in her song “Both Sides Now” and lamenting about ‘we can’t go back, we can only look behind from where we came’ in “The Circle Game”.

I learned she was influenced by a high school English teacher who knew she wanted to be an artist and taught her she could also paint with words to express what she was feeling. As a major part of the social movement of the 70’s, she brought baring one’s soul to new heights, expressing her deepest fears and revelations at a time when that was a radical and outrageous thing to do. She’s 70 this year, and her entire career has remained true to her mores as an activist for peace and social change. Her song “All I want” says “all I want my love to do is bring out the best in me and in you” which couldn’t be a better intention for all humanity. The song continues: “I love you when I forget about me” which shows the compassion we feel when we walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and understand we’d probably do the exact the same thing they did if we were in the same circumstances.

I think we capture our wholesomeness when we embrace our childlike innocence that doesn’t know any other way to be, but to do what our heart says is right, have good clean fun with family and friends, be trustworthy, honest, and care about the well-being of others. Then whatever we do, it creates what Charles Eisenstein coined in the statement “the beautiful world we know in our hearts is possible.”

Thanks for reading my post and please feel free to comment!


Sue Tjernlund



Just caught the tail end of pink sunset on drive home from Nosara for the day. Doesn’t look too different than Oregon, does it? Nosara is a really sweet little surfing town and fun community–awesome beach and the water is just heavenly to float around in. Had some fish taco’s that made my day, made with fresh Dorado. Love the balmy air that feels so luscious. The afternoon hazed over a bit, cooling the air down nicely and I enjoyed a large glass of carrot/apple/ginger juice by the pool of the Harmony Hotel–a hotel that is running sustainably and ecologically. This day was a 10!

My casita!


My casita!

Here’s my little tree house, quite sparse but all I need. I’m at the internest where I use my computer, and have a locker where I keep a lot of my things, that is centrally located to the dining area and wild treats juice bar.