Where You From? Where You Been? Where You Going?


Standing shoulder to shoulder as our kids sprinted down field last year, I casually mentioned to a fellow Miami soccer/surfer dad that we were looking to move to Playa Grande, Costa Rica. “Whhaaaat!” he blurted … then grabbed his phone and started punching numbers. “My oldest, best friend lives there,” he said, as he raised the phone to his ear. A few seconds later, he barked, “Hey Frank! My good buddy’s moving to Grande; you gotta talk to him,” then thrust that phone into my face. “Ummm, Hey Frank …” 

Life is one giant road trip of random encounters, each holding the power to change you forever. That call is why we live where we live, a few streets from Frank in a jungle by the sea.  

Dawn, Nathan and family
Nathan, Dawn and family … from Brighton, England to Costa Rica
6 months from Canada to Costa Rica in this van
6 months worldwide in this van

Meet Dawn and Nathan.

Like many of us over the years, these gonzo, gorgeous Brits talked a big game of mixing it up and living abroad. But when they pulled the trigger, they went MASSIVE. Wiry, with Obama ears and laugh lines acquired on many a pub stool, Nathan and I met early on at our kids’ Playa Grande surf camp. Beat up longboard under his arm, he won me over instantly with his cheeky smile. What I did not know was that one year earlier, he and Dawn had sold everything, shut down their businesses, packed up two kids (10 & 12) and moved their entire life across an ocean to Canada, where they immediately bought a van and drove six madcap months across the US and into Central America, finally landing in our little slice of paradise.

Seven months into our Bucket List Year, one thing I’ve noticed over a lifetime of travel, is there’s always someone far more hardcore than you are. Dawn, describing their adventure in her gravelly, ever-smiling Lauren Bacall voice, told me they wanted to “follow our hearts, learn, grow and be inspired in a tropical environment … with a language we felt we could figure out” … as if learning Spanish from a dead stop was no biggie. 

Where to next?
Where to next?
The hillside town of Taxco, Mexico
The hillside town of Taxco, Mexico
El Salvador hotel room that “resembled the corridor of 1970s psychiatric hospital”
El Salvador hotel room that “resembled the corridor of 1970s psychiatric hospital”

Along the way, they survived their first ever earthquake, a whopping 8.1, that lasted one whole minute, as the four of them stood trapped on a cantilevered balcony in the historic hillside village of Taxco, Mexico. “We clung tight to a pillar, watched the buildings collapse around us and honestly thought we were going to die,” said Dawn, still incredulous. 

Their “most crazy day ever” took place at the El Salvador/Guatemala border, when their car was seized. Dawn describes it this way – ‘No way back, no way forward, no luck with bribes, hassled by rug dealers and scammers. We found ourselves in a hotel room that resembled the corridor of a 1970s psychiatric hospital.” She was forced to sit alone with her kids fighting off local street drunks in a tiny dive restaurant while Nathan took an eight-hour round trip to the capital to beg the El Salvador Minister of Transport for a permit to take their car through the country. But they made it happen … and now Dawn’s sparkly, blue-green, pura vida eyes and recently shaved head greet you when you enter The Libelula Lounge, the lush glamping B&B they created with vision, fortitude and sweat. 

Libelula Lounge and Lodgings
Libelula Lounge and Lodgings
Glamping in deluxe air-conditioned African tents
Glamping in deluxe air-conditioned African tents
Live painting at Libelula
Live painting at Libelula

“Seeing all our life experiences and our passion pulled together to create an expression of ourselves is incredibly exciting, daunting and challenging. But to know we had a dream and followed it is wonderfully liberating and energizing. It installs strength and confidence and a deep sense of knowing limitations are only what we choose to place on ourselves,” says Dawn. For Libelula’s grand opening, she and Nathan commissioned me to live paint a piece and, in light of their insane journey, I wanted to celebrate intrepid travelers everywhere. Those with the courage to leave their comfort zone, make space for life’s beautiful mayhem and trust that their best selves will emerge even better on the other side. 

Where You From? Where You Been? Where You Going? 

If you’ve spent significant time on the road, you know these three questions form the mantra of each new encounter, the reference points to engage, learn and share with the human being in front of you. The kindling for friendships that may blaze for a minute or a lifetime. 

Libelula Commission. Where You Been? Where You From? Where You going? Latex and acrylic paint, 1937 World Atlas on wood panel, 36x72" 2019
Libelula Commission. Where You Been? Where You From? Where You going? Latex and acrylic paint, 1937 World Atlas on wood panel, 36×72″ 2019

In this artwork, against a background of gleaming blue ocean, the horizon fades to serene infinity. Before us, lies the perfect wave, a spiraling tube that echoes the original moment the universe spun itself into being. If privileged to enter this sacred vortex, one’s thoughts evaporate and a rare moment of absolute clarity arises. No past. No future. Only NOW exists. One experiences literal “tunnel vision.” It is this moment of pure immediacy that I strive to live within at all times, for it is the only point in time that is not an abstraction.

The tube is collaged from pages of a magnificent 1937 World Atlas given to me by a crazy Aussie many moons ago. If you study the collage closely, you’ll find every country that is home to someone wonderful I’ve met since moving to CR, each an ambassador of life’s big pivots.   

Original Libelula sketch
Original Libelula sketch – I must admit, I’m delighted with this piece and how it matches the original idea.
Mad adventures from England to Central America
Mad adventures from England to Central America
1937 world population
Check out the 1937 world population!

Finished piece installed
Finished piece installed at Libelula

“Waves are toys from God,” says pro surfer Clay Marzo, and I say whoever plays with the most God-made toys wins. Dawn summed up their ongoing mission as an opportunity to “see our children flourish in life from the experiences they have had, follow their own dreams and be able to deal with all that comes their way.”

Henry Miller, one of my creative heroes, said, “One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.” Right now, in this grand place, immersed in fierce beauty, a bountiful sea and people I greatly admire, I am indeed looking at things in a new way.

Father and daughter make it to paradise
Father and daughter – destination reached

36 thoughts on “Where You From? Where You Been? Where You Going?

  1. Beautiful blog. Wonderful story about your new found friends. Love the art piece for Frank and Dawn’s new B&B.

  2. Stuart, I so enjoy reading ‘your new life.’ Love the inspiration and the painting.’
    Fondest regards.. Judith Loft (Dresden)

  3. Just finished Ben Sasse, “The Vanishing American Adult”. You and your family are living the story and the message. Never tourist but travelers.

  4. I just remember that day when we were noticed by Frank saying, my friend is looking for a place to live in Playa Grande… better If we find a place in Las Ventanas… suddenly you become part of our residents private WA without moving yet to CR. I still have you recorded in my phone as Stewart- Frank’s friend ??

    1. Yoko … I absolutely LOVE THIS. Had no idea. You are one of the many beautiful people that have made our journey so magical.

  5. Great story, Stu and excellent message. Got a huge hug from Kathryn (and you) at the fair. Miss you but so thrilled to see you thriving as usual. xo

    1. Thanks! I assume this is Nicole. And if so, hey darling … it is I who is thrilled to see you in all your glory, managing crises with grace and enjoying the ride all the while.

  6. Your work tells a story and I absolutely love each and every one! Can’t wait for our story – told by you one day!

    1. Hey Nancy! You ask a very smart question and the answer you are thinking of is probably correct. Besitos Hermana!

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