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Massage Today
July, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 07

Expedition Costa Rica 2004

By Madeleine Evans, LMT

February's expedition to Costa Rica went too fast and ended too soon. Seven massage therapists made the trip: Sandi Minck, Elise Linden and expedition leader, Elvis Mairena (NJ); Kathy Carlson (Ore.); Katie Haley and myself (Fla.); and Brian Nutter (Md.).

Accompanying us were Brian's lovely wife, Rebekah (our much-needed interpreter) and the couple's beautiful 10-month-old daughter, Helena (our public relations person - nobody could resist her charm).

Elvis, a native of Costa Rica who now resides in New Jersey and works as a sports massage therapist for Rutgers University, got the idea for the Costa Rica project after his mother volunteered in an orphanage for handicapped children. The first successful expedition was in July 2003; a subsequent article published in Massage Today ( engendered much interest, prompting Elvis to gather a new team of volunteers for this year's trip.

image - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark We first went to Tamarindo, in northwest Costa Rica by the Pacific coast. Some of us stayed at a tourist hotel, while others opted for the more modest cabaneras, which cost about $10 a night. From there, we drove to the Clinic Hogar Maria Immaculada in Puntarenas, and administered massage therapy to the residents and staff for two days.

Most of the clinic residents were at least 70 years of age; some were receiving massage for the first time. They suffered from various illnesses, including diabetes, cancer, polio, stroke, Alzheimer's disease and dementia, yet they appeared happy. They had an irresistible mixture of shyness and friendliness toward us. During the massages, there were many contented smiles and lots of laughter by our attempts to communicate in Spanish. We touched these people with our hands; they touched us with their smiles and kind words, and we made friends.

During our late lunch on the second day, I noticed that Elvis was up to something secretive; I noticed a group of 15 children and a few adults sitting outside on benches. Curiosity got the best of me and, armed with my video camera, I inquired about what they were doing. "We don't know," the adults said, and indicated that they had been called by the clinic's administrator to meet there with the children.

As it turned out, Elvis organized a lecture for the children on "good touch," which was a lot of fun. Elvis taught the kids some easy techniques, including how to apply pressure to a friend's hand if that friend had a headache, how to massage each other's shoulders, and other good remedies. At the end, he tested their mental math skills and offered small coins as rewards. The children were full of joyful energy. Most of the kids were predestined to work the land, Elvis said, but he was hoping that they would remember the massage lecture.

Who knows? Perhaps one or more of those children would become massage therapists some day. I was amazed that those adults and their children had waited patiently without knowing what was in store for them. If Costa Ricans were so trustful with us, we could certainly trust them in return, I thought. We left Puntarenas a bit reluctantly.

A couple of days later, we worked at The Inn for Elders, near Quepos, where we gave a lot of seated massages and a few table massages. We received the same warm welcome from the residents, and were again impressed by the cleanliness and bright look of the place. The tiled floors were impeccable and the walls were freshly painted.

We noticed that the residents did not have many personal belongings in the bedrooms and that they were always outside socializing, which, perhaps says something about how "things" become unimportant at the end of one's life, while being around other people remains desirable.

Three of the residents were dying; Sandi worked on a resident dying of cancer: "Once I put my hands on him and started to do the massage, his whole face changed. He got a big grin from ear to ear. At some point we made eye contact and it was an exquisite moment; no words needed," she said.

The last place we visited was the Disabled Children Clinic. Children suffering from cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other disabilities, were brought to us by their parents. Mothers watched attentively while we worked with their children, and later, the parents received massage. The director of the clinic told us how much the mothers appreciated what we had done for them. "Those mothers are so poor and so tired," she said. "Getting a massage is a miracle for them." We were happy to make that miracle come true.

We also got a kick out of playing Santa Claus. In a big sailor bag, I had children's clothes and stuffed animals donated by coworkers back home. The joy the gifts brought to these families made it worth dragging that huge bag through the airport.

Plans are already in progress for next year's expedition. Here are some words of advice to future team members:

  • Katie: "Don't come if you're on a low-carb diet!"
  • Kathy: "You will spend more money than you expect."
  • Sandi: "Let go of any agenda; nothing happens as you had planned it."

My advice is to invest in a small Spanish translator - and have fun speaking with the locals.

In every possible way, the trip was a success. What surprised us the most was how much fun we had with each other. We were a group of strangers brought together by a common interest. We were all ready to be "nice" and "polite" to each other; what we had not expected was to become old friends in a matter of days. According to Sandi, the influence of a special dessert made of watermelon and guaro had a lot to do with our wonderful and sudden friendship.

I believe that when caring people are grouped together to do good things in the world, the Gods are always in their favor. And also, massage therapists tend to be really neat people!

For more info about the next expedition, contact Elvis Mareina at or Brian Nutter at .


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