In the Tropics for Christmas

By Brett Liza Rousseau

Christmas was fast and awkwardly upon us. So absorbed in the rainforest world, warm, wet and full of adventure, I couldn’t believe it was the end of December. It wasn’t until I took over crafting a Christmas tree out of jungle leaves that I realized what time of year it was. We’d been distracted by the newness of our travels: harvesting lemons and malanga root for the kitchen, hiking to waterfalls, horseback riding on mountain tops, 5 am climbs to watch the sunset over Volcano Arenal, new friends, tropical fruit juices, and eating delicious food – I didn’t have time to miss hot toddies and fudge. But celebrating Christmas in the Pacific Northwest most of my life, and loving waking up to an evergreen tree and stockings over the fireplace, I craved some sort of familiarity for the holiday. Part of me did miss the children’s living nativity, sweet treats and cold weather.

Christmas morning, we woke up to a brilliantly sunny day, harvested a few salad greens for the kitchen, and spent the rest of the morning down by the river, swimming in the cold current, crafting our White Elephant gifts on the warm rocks. Before going to lunch, Sonja (a volunteer yoga instructor) pulled out her deck of Tarot cards and asked us to formulate a question, something on our minds. (For those of you rolling your eyes at the mention of Tarot cards, I don’t view them as astrological answers; simply a means to thoughtful reflection.) I thought about Christmas traditions and all that Christmas in the western world had become. I asked myself how can I, or we, celebrate what’s turned into a materialistic holiday in a non-materialistic way? Being so far away from home, what traditions can I let go of and still feel fulfilled? I pulled the card “3 of Water: Fullness… celebration, delight, having it all, withholding nothing… everything bears fruit, enjoy what it offered this instant, while staying open for new surprises. Let go of the old, oppressive stuff. Without hesitation and guilt, let yourself fall into this delightful pool of inner – and perhaps already outwardly manifested – fullness.”

I thought, “Wow! How applicable.” We may not be roasting chestnuts on an open fire, or singing hymns on Christmas Eve, but I am so lucky to be in Costa Rica! In the rainforest, everything grows big, bountiful and beautiful. Orchids drip down from the rooftops, Reina de la Noche’s bloom and burst into the pathways, ferns tower over you, roots scale tree trunks and countless bromeliads nestle in their branches. Many of the flowers are vibrant red, with hints of yellow, blue, and orange – some push up to the sky, some cascade down to the ground, but all attempt to lure the hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies to pollinate. Some nights on the walk back to our bunkhouse, the pathway is incredibly fragrant, and when it rains, the jungle sings; you always hear it long before you feel it.

I spend most of my days in a garden, surrounded by jungle mountains. It is a rich, spectacular part of the world, and I get to share the experience with three people I love. Having the ability to live abroad, experience the rainforest, see different lifestyles, and grow new and exotic things, is more amazing than anything that could fit into a box under the tree.

AND the lack of tradition allows the freedom to play! Christmas Eve, face paint found it’s way to the dinner table, and in no time at all, everyone’s face was covered in colorful swirls and designs. Instead of piles of presents and unnecessary things, the volunteers all scrounged for supplies and wrapped up eclectic and incredibly inventive gifts to play White Elephant. There were dream catcher earrings, hooks, painting and poem, a sand zen garden that could fit in the palm of your hand (made by Nathan), bracelets, coupons for sewing repairs, a cup of much-coveted desert, and a beer can camp stove. We were all impressed with the lot. It was a wonderful Christmas abroad!

Stay tuned, Gerard will be posting soon! ¡Feliz Navidad y feliz Año Nuevo!

Horseback riding in Tilarán

Horseback riding in nearby Tilarán

Tilarán mountains

Tilarán mountains


What a day to remember!


They call it 'Jurassic Park'

They call it ‘Jurassic Park’, we call it ‘jungle trekking’


Happy couple

Happy couple



The land of waterfalls!

The land of waterfalls! Brett, Nathan, and a golden retriever.


Watching the sunrise over Volcano Arenal

Watching the sunrise over Volcan Arenal



So worth the early rise

Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your jungle grow?

Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your jungle grow?

With big green leaves...

With big green leaves…

…and wrapping roots...

…and wrapping roots…

…and orchids all in a row!

…and orchids all in a row!

Cow lickin' love

Cow lickin’ love

Jungle Christmas tree!

Jungle Christmas tree!

Festively-facepainted volunteers

Festively-facepainted volunteers




1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kathryn
    Jan 01, 2014 @ 00:32:13

    thanks so much for this newsy letter, Brett and for Nathan and his ‘poco a poco’ last week. So glad you all had a special Christmas EVEN tho you are far from tradition (home).
    Pics are a terrific addition and much appreciated. this all means a lot as we continue to pray for you, our missionaries! Fondly, Kathryn


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