Letters From Earth: Banana Leaf Joy

by Jeanita Ives

We are in what is called the rainy season that occurs between September and November here in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. My usual stroll around the garden where I take note of new flowers, butterflies and birds was being limited to what I could view from under a roof or umbrella. We are talking about a LOT of rain during this time. My husband, Jerome, announced this morning that since September 17 he had estimated about 36 inches of rain in his home-made rain gage with 10 inches having fallen in the last 2 days. And it is still coming down! 100 inches a year is usual in the Central Valley but last year we received much more that that and this year may be another record breaker.

Today, with the rain coming in sheets, I was limiting my plant inspection to the potted plants on our large covered patio. In the closely populated neighborhood in which we live here in the small town of Atenas, Costa Rica, residences are built with little or no setbacks and garden space is limited. Plants grow fast here and within a year of sticking unrooted cuttings in the ground, I have created a jungle of privacy around us on the west and north sides of the house we rent.

banana leaves
the famous banana leaf

In the west garden we had transplanted two small banana plants from my friend’s property to our yard; they are now larger than a two-story house. From our covered patio I was checking out the view of the west garden, where the hydroponic garden from which we grow our salad greens is located. The shrubs and tangle of vines that climb the neighbor’s wall are home for many birds and small animals. I was especially drawn to a four-foot leaf of the nearest banana plant that seemed to be covered in raindrops that sparkled like diamonds in the cloud-dimmed light. As I was admiring this vision, a bright yellow bird that looked like a warbler landed right in the middle of the huge leaf, causing the liquid diamonds to tumble to an indentation in the lower part of the leaf where a pool of water collected. The warbler leaped into this miniature birdbath, flapping its wings in joy. As the rain created more diamonds above, the bird moved to the top of the leaf and slid all the way back down to the pool again and repeated the process. Who needs Disneyland? It was obviously having a great time on the rainy slide and pools on the banana leaf as it flitted from one place to another. It only ceased its joyous celebration when it spotted me standing below getting ready to snap its photo. Sadly I watched it flit to the nearby orange tree before its joyous frolicking could be recorded anywhere but in my mind.

So how did we happen to be here watching a warbler play on a banana leaf in the rain in Costa Rica, and why has “Banana Leaf Joy” become a reaction we strive to have in all we do?

Why Costa Rica as our retirement home? Partly it had to do with the fact that the USA is so large and our family so scattered, it seemed like we would not be much further from those we left behind than we would be in Costa Rica. From San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica (less than an hour from where we live), we can be in Texas with our grandchildren in about four hours. The other two children are in Missouri and Oregon.

We had visited several Latin American countries over several years and we kept coming back to Costa Rica. Something about it felt good to us. We loved its diverse topography with lush forests, colorful flowers, lots of animals and a short trip from mountaintops to ocean beaches that can be seen within a day trip. Its biodiversity is amazing and it is serious about preserving its forest and its wildlife. National Parks here are for animals, not humans, and I liked that … many of the parks don’t even have a road through them.

We especially liked the fact that there would be no snow or Texas style droughts. Rain we can deal with. The utilities would be low because the daytime temperature stays between 70 and the mid-80s year round. No heating or cooling bills, unless you count a fan.

The country is about the size of West Virginia, much smaller than most of the states we had lived in. We had traveled extensively in the US and lived in many states in our 33 years together. We were ready for a really new adventure. The treadmill in the US seemed to get us nowhere and we saw our hard-earned savings dwindling faster than we could ever replenish it at our late ages. When our Social Security kicked in and both of us knew we couldn’t keep working as hard as we had been, “Plan Costa Rica” went into action.

With the blessings of our three children, we started the process of unloading our life of stuff. The kids got the family heirlooms and a lot more they weren’t expecting and probably didn’t need. But we figured it was time they got to make the choices about what was important stuff and what wasn’t. It is hard work thinking about stuff.

Between the two of us, both collectors of oddities, we had accumulated enough to open a junk store, but time was of the essence. We settled on an estate sale … let someone else do it. The economy wasn’t that great for buyers at that time and we still ended up donating a lot to Goodwill. What was left we packed up ready for shipping, some of which we knew we didn’t need, but time to deal with it had run out.

Previous to the sale, we had made a list of what things we should take with us, and what we shouldn’t. We had calculated the shipping costs and how much it would take to replace certain items … particularly linens, appliances, tools and some furniture. Some people down here have left it all behind and started over and are happy to have done that. But we are glad we compromised the way we did. I find it comforting to have some familiar and favorite things surrounding me. I like being connected to my past as much as I like anticipating the future.

the author
the author at Vista de Valle Gardens

We loaded a container to be shipped to Costa Rica and thought we were on our way when it left our driveway. But several other things happened in the next month that delayed our journey, and the December leave date ended up being in March. One thing did go right at this time though, and that was that when the ship with our goods on them reached the port in Costa Rica, it couldn’t be unloaded because the port employees were on vacation for a month over Christmas and didn’t catch up on the ships that needed unloading until close to the time we arrived in Costa Rica. That saved us some money in storage fees that otherwise we would have been out for. It should have also served as an early warning that things don’t always … actually I should say seldom … go as planned in Costa Rica. Timely, logical actions are not the norm in this country. Another reason to learn about “Banana Leaf Joy” and the art of deep breathing.

At the time of the move it was hard for us to decide what to keep and what to move but I do notice that I find it easier to let go of “things” after two-plus years down here. Breaking a plate doesn’t matter so much any more. I now tell myself that is one less thing to wash. I actually feel good about that change in myself. Some things just aren’t worth fretting about any more and about the only thing I collect now are photographs, plants and lots of friends.

It has taken us over two years of living in Costa Rica to finally feel like we are slowing down to a pace that might be more closely related to that of a native than a transplant from a highly stressed country that is always in high gear. Observing the warbler leaping up and down on that dripping wet banana leaf reminded me that the hardest period of our adjusting to a strange land might be nearing its end. Perhaps we will now be to the point where we can actually have more Banana Leaf Joy than a frustrating time in a strange land where we don’t always know the playing rules.

Think on this after note: What country would choose a three-toed sloth as the mascot of its advertising campaigns to promote its tourism business in 2012? Yep … Costa Rica! Maybe the message is suggesting that it is time to slow down and smell the flowers … or track a sloth. To see this as yet unnamed sloth and maybe win a vacation down here, go to Visit Costa Rica on Facebook.

Photos by Jeanita and Jerome Ives, ivesimages.com

Jeanita Ives is a writer and photographer.


Thanks, Jeanita—I love hearing about you and your new home in Costa Rica.  I’m glad the relocation has been a good thing for you and hope you continue to enjoy your new life. Tell us more about what it is like in day to day living—going to market, meeting new people—lots of Americans there?  More about your garden—you know that’s one of my favorite things. Isn’t the internet wonderful?—we can keep in touch much better than we were able to do in the past—Love you and would love to see you—- and Costa Rica—maybe someday soon—till then, just doing a slow samba in Oklahoma.

2011-11-16 by Helen Price

Thank you Jeanita for live in Costa Rica, your are excellent friend and neighbor. Thank for to share your experience in Costa Rica and you love for my country. Costa Rica is a great place for the exuberant nature. I wish you, your life to continue to being peaceful.

2011-11-16 by Johanna Salas

Hi Jeanita, It was really wonderful to read your article and to be reminded of the beauty of the place and freindship of the people in Costa Rica. Am longing to return to that great adventure very much and can’t wait to get back to Atenas again—especially after such colourful descriptions of daily life you shared with the readers.  Thank you!

2011-11-16 by Steve Jackson

Jeanita, thank you for sharing your story with me. I agree, Costa Rica is a beuatiful adventure. We arrived March 2009 and have never looked back. Even though I’m not a Tico (local resident), this is my home and I feel blessed each and every day I am allowed to live this life. Pura Vida.

2011-11-16 by Mary Cook

Love the story.  More!  More!

2011-11-16 by Don Walker

Glad to hear from you. Glad that you are walking around again.  I loved the story. I miss the long e-mails and the op to unload. I really could visualize your banana trees. Good Lord that is fast growth. Are you now fluent in Spanish? Sounds like you have a small house now. I am going to pass this on—to all who ask about you all. Your pile is getting smaller- need your contact info to send you copies of the receipts.
Write more of these it was great !!!!

2011-11-16 by Erlene E. C Flowers

Jeanita, so glad that Erlene shared this.  I am so glad that you and Jerome are doing well and loving your new life in Costa Rica.  I so miss seeing your new works and hope you are still busy taking your beautiful pictures. 

Gina Ducey

2011-11-17 by Gina Ducey

Thanks for the feedback from those above. In response to Erlene’s “walking around again” comment. August 2010 I got to experience Costa Rica’s Socialized medicine first hand. A whole story in its self, but suffice it to say that It would have cost us 4.5 times more to medicare a month to be insured in States than it cost us for the national coverage here, and when I broke my leg in Costa Rica there were no more costs..no co-pay, no extra insurance to cover the difference. From emergency pick up to, surgery, to all the ex-rays in between for a year, nada $. It was all covered. Another reason we moved…we knew if we had one bad accident in USA we would have been living in the streets.

2011-11-17 by jeanita Ives

Banana Leaf Joy was a wonderful read. All is revealed when we loose ourselves in nature at her pace. Maybe its time for the Banana Leaf Joy world meditation movement.
Keep writing straight from the heart!

Tom Ives

2011-11-17 by Thomas Ives

Your story was just like you, wonderful.  I am slowing down too, not because of the location, but maybe the advanced years. You do make make wish I had taken you up on your offer a couple of years ago to have Guild meeting in Costa Rica. I can think of lots of things we could do, see or talk about with you. I hope Becca gets to see you on this trip she and 3 others are making in December. I don’t like to think that I have to travel vicariously.  But we will see what time brings.  Write lots more stories, and keep taking the pictures.


2011-11-17 by Laura Bruce

What a lovely overview of your transition! Beatiful description.

2011-11-17 by Jude Driscoll

I loved your writing.  Your love for Costa Rica shows.  Maybe, in future writings you could explore the 2nd (?) careers you both are into.  Also, the crafts and art of the area.


2011-11-17 by Ron Isaacson

Thanks, Jeanita, for the good read.  I like your style, and I love how happy you seem with the decisions you’ve made.

2011-11-17 by Sally Woodhead

Jeanita, good work!
Many of us are keenly interested.
Tell us more!

2011-11-17 by Larry D Patton

My friend Jeanita,
Yes, please write more and more about your adventures over the past 50 years.  And include more photos that we may experience it all with you on the journey!
Looking forward to the next episode.

2011-11-18 by Bill Bumgarner

A friend suggested I tell you more of the story regarding Costa Rican’s national health system. It should be noted that all people who work here pay into the system we call CAJA. Employers collect the money and are to pay that to the health system. All legal residents here also pay. Costa Rica is currently having some financial problems in that many companies don’t pay as they should so the system is going broke. One of the biggest none payers was the government itself. I think they have remedied that, at least in part. But like in a lot of countries, there is still a lot of waste that could be trimmed all is not perfect…some of which I also experienced here. But as far as quality of the service in the hospital, I have no complaints. Both Jerome and I have had surgeries and care that were by skilled concerned staff. And facilities were super clean.

2011-11-18 by Jeanita Ives

Love the image of the warbler sliding down the banana leaf, (which happens to be my favorite plant on the planet!) Your lives in Costa Rica send a hopeful message to all who wish to slow down, reconsider priorities and live one’s passions.
Congrats on building a wonderful life and sharing it with others.
Michael Ives

2011-11-18 by Michael Ives

Good read Mom! Maybe the kids and I will win that trip to Costa Rica and visit all ya Sloths :) Love you

2011-11-18 by Justin Ives

Jeanita….Such an interesting read !!!Really enjoyed your colorful and insightful narrative.  I understand so much more now about your decision to move to Costa Rica.  Hope you are able to continue to write these delicious little tidbits to all of us here still in the states attempting to deal with the pressure cooker of just living. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and thank you for the greeting we received today.
Happy Days !!!!  Marilyn Decko Henneman, Neenah, Wi.  Class of 61


2011-11-19 by Marilyn Decko Henneman

Wow, what a great life you seem to have. We enjoyed your story very much. We too are into nature and appreciate your comments about the warbler. We have a lot of humming birds here and after they get used to you they come very close to you. Isn’t nature grand?
Keep on writing and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!
Bob and Rosemary Kamenca-class of 1961-PHS

2011-11-19 by Bob Kamenca

The story of your new lifestyle in Costa Rica is uplifting, entertaining and funny!  Thanks for sharing your Banana Leaf Joy!

2011-11-20 by Jill Ives

Really enjoyed your story about Costa Rica. Sounds like you are really enjoying life there. Slowing down is a lot harder here in the states. Keep on writing and keep us informed.

Jack Nation

2011-11-20 by Jack & Carol Nation

I love your story!!!  Great job!!!  Keep writing, maybe the next with
some Spanish??


2011-11-20 by Carmen Anleu

A beautiful and thought provoking piece! I so agree with your thought at the end,“When you spirit is tranquail, I can listen to the peace in my heart.” I think you have found the setting to find this peace.  This is not always easy in our fast pace society. I hope you continue to enjoy the setting and the beauty of everyday life.
I hope you will continue to write and share your thoughts in terms of the people and daily activity. You write with such detail one feels like she is “right there” beside you.
Happy Thanksgiving, Jerome and Jerome.
Susan Welsh Gilders - class of 61

2011-11-21 by Susan Welsh Gilders


Wonderful piece! I enjoyed it a great deal.  I know so little about birds…actually, nature in general.  Been too busy working, I guess. 

We’ve had an unusually “wet” year in Northwest Ohio, but nothing like you’re having now.  I am jealous!  I’ve not been to Costa Rica, but I would certainly love to vist….before I’m too old to get around on my own!  I’ll be on the look-out for more from you.

Take care,

2011-11-21 by Dale Barnard

Jeanita, Jill forwarded your wonderful article about the bird having fun on the banana leaf.  My husband Ron and I spent a terrific time in Costa Rica, staying on a finca, visiting Monte Verde and the beaches.  We loved it so much we even thought about moving.  We were there during a soccer frenzy over a big win in the World Cup.  Your writing made it all come back- thanks!

2011-11-24 by Pat Herson

Jeanetta, you hooked me with banana leaf joy. Those are the moments in life to treasure and you and Jerome have figured a way to put yourself in position for many more.
Costa Rica sounds lovely. good for you to make the big leap to a different lifestyle.
My husband, Fred, and I are trying to live in the same conscious way in Ohio, although it must cost a lot more here than where you are. Those wondrous insights into the real nature of life are easy to miss here, but they are waiting when you slow down and wait for them.
Please, keep on writing.

2011-12-3 by Sally Vallongo

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