22 February, 2013

Learning To Let Go

So much of this trip has already been a learning adventure - for me. The biggest of all lessons is how to let go.

Like our kitchen. We don't have a dishwasher and there is only one temperature in the kitchen facet - cold. Washing dishes is an adventure. Keeping up with the dishes when you are feeding a family of five at least five times a day is almost impossible. Add to this that the kitchen, as well stocked as it is, still has a family of five running through the dishes and utensils pretty fast. No dishwasher, hardly any spices (too expensive), only a little convection oven and glorified hot plate - it does makes you long for the conveniences of the states.

But being able to eat each of those five meals together, outside, on a hand-made, wooden tree trunk table (which is five feet long) is amazing. Walking to the grocery store "Super Mercado David" to get everything you need. Amazing. Running into strangers and being able to talk to them like friends. Amazing. Having a mini-adventure every day ... well you get the point.

I've let go and opened up to the possibility that I don't need everything that I thought I needed. It's not fancy, but it's comfortable and it works.

Today we went to the Montezuma Waterfalls. Just a short 15 minute drive from El Secret Garden. It was as if "Jack's River" in Georgia and a playground for kids complete with a swimming pool were combined together. We had to scramble over rocks and through pools of running water for another 15 minutes to get to the actual swimming hole by the waterfall.

Once at the waterfall, there was a beautiful swimming hole and places to jump off the cliff ... er rocks, I mean.

So here's my struggle the entire trip. We scrambled over sharp, slippery rocks in our (wet and slippery) Keens. At one point we had to hold onto a rope high above screwed into rock, whilst our feet where sliding down the face of said rock.

My little ones had to do this all by themselves. Sometimes they ran ahead and I couldn't hold their arm (okay, squeeze their arm) to make sure they didn't slip on a sharp rock sticking out of the running water and fall. Or they were jumping into a pool of water that I didn't know if there were sharp, pointy rocks below them. Or what really was under all those leaves ...

I had to stifle each one of those fears only because they were much faster than me, and let's face it - I don't have enough arms to hold onto each of them at the same time. Sometimes I am envious of a mama octopus.

But, I knew deep down they were safe. Courtney or I wouldn't let them run amok in an area that wasn't. Still ... each time Chayton jumped or Nazeriah slipped or Kaija swam ahead, my heart flew and my stomach dropped.

I had to let go of my babies and let them be.

Sitting by the falls.
Courtney's jump.
Nazeriah's jump
Kaija's jump

19 February, 2013

School's Open

Today is our official opening day of The Allen School. (Wonder if we'll spark a new educational model?)

Of course you can argue that some of the more important aspects of learning was already taking place - big ones being confidence, leadership, and caring for the Earth.

But today began the more conventional of our unconventional school of learning. Here's our schedule - I'll keep you posted on if it actually works. We are also open to slight tweaks as new possibilities and mini-adventures pop up! And there is the possibility that Courtney and I have over-booked things (we never do that!).

~Get up at 7:00am
Morning Work - you can begin this when you wake up!
~Breakfast from 7:00-8:00am
~PE Activity-Mini Adventures 8:00-11:00am
~Lunch 11:00am-12:00pm
~School - 12:30-3:00pm
Literature - Time4learning
Math - Time4learning
Science - Time4learning
Social Studies - Time4learning
Learn to Read
~Free Reading 3:00-4:00
~Free Time 4:00-5:00pm
~Dinner - 5:00pm

Each day we will do a Special:
Spelling (then it will be a part of morning work Tuesday-Friday)
US History & Geography
World History & Geography
Science Friday!


Writing Time!

Mini-Adventure: How many different kinds of shells can you find?

Some of our finds:

Helping Daddy do the laundry.

Quick Recap of Rincón by Judy

Here's what we did at Rincón taken from Judy Tomlinson:

Still exhausted, we all got up on Wednesday morning to go to Rincón de la Vieja volcano area for a 4 hour round trip hike to another waterfall. On the drive there Courtney and I kept wondering when the black top road was going to end and turn into rocks and dusts. We didn't want to talk about it and bring it on sooner. Fortunately it only ran out only 3km before our destination at Hacienda Guachipelin. Earlier the previous week, Rob and I had walked an hour in 90 degree heat out of town to the post office to mail Geoff's B-day card and Chayton's postcard. That was between 8:00 and 9:00 AM. We nearly expired. It was after that that I decided that I could take a 4-hour hike but not in that temperature. I was hoping that Rincón would be at a high enough elevation that it would be cooler. Unfortunately it was blazing hot at 10:30 AM. Fortunately our guide, Cesar, noticing the young children, offered us another option. He took us through the cooler dry forest, pointing out the various features of volcanic activity like boiling mud pots, sulfuric steam and geysers and springs so hot that you would boil to death if you fell in. We also saw huge ficus trees that strangle their hosts, a small snake on a tree, an iguana and lots of ants. If the ants invade your house, you must evacuate. They will eat every living thing in the house in 25 minutes and are therefore called exterminator ants. The forest rangers sometimes have to leave their ranger station and come back when the ants are gone. We heard but did not see howler monkeys.

It was only very hot when we left the forest for the savannah for the last 15 minutes of the hike. We had lunch at an open air cafe and then went on a shorter hike to a closer waterfall. It was a steep 15 minute hike down into a canyon and across a stream. On the other side we went up a flight of stairs to get a glorious view of the waterfall and the pristine blue pool beneath. Nothing was going to stop us from going in this time. The water was cold but not frigid, though Chayton did get shivery in about 5 minutes. For the rest of us it took 15 or 20. No one else was there but for our guide who waited for us. Just as we were about to leave a few other people arrived. We got back to our car, changed into dry clothes, bought trinkets at the gift shop and drove the hour and a half home, stopping in Liberia for some errands.

I don't know how the Allens did this, but Melissa cooked dinner that evening while Courtney returned the van. Rob and I went out to dinner and I was in bed by 9:00.

At the Welcome Center
Little Volcanoe
Crossing the bridge
Hiking through the "Savannah"
Swimming in the waterfall pool
The after-the-waterfall group shot

16 February, 2013

Communication Switch-Off

Tonight is our last night in Play del Coco. Boo! But that means we will be on our way to El Secret Garden, Cabuya in the morning. Yea!

What it also means is that we won't have wifi until (hopefully) tomorrow night. And our cellular will still be turned off.

It has been an interesting experiment not having the connectivity that our iPhones usually bring Courtney and I. For most of the time now they are just cameras - until we hit wifi, then who-hoo! And since we brought our wireless router with us, we were able to really connect the condo.

But not feeling the need to check your email, text, Facebook, CNN/WNYC every ten minutes or so is quite a nice thing. It's a reminder that there are some thing in life that we NEED and some things that are just nice and a symbol of our "prosperity."

Take a Left at Burger King

About direction you have to drive first to Liberia City; when you get to the main intersection you have to turn to the left (when you see the Burger King) and go ahead 5 kilometers on the Pan-American highway.

So begins all of our driving directions. There's something wrong with having Burger King as a national landmark, but it works.

Our taxi was here bright and early at 8:00am to take us to collect our rent-a-car. Hmm ... bus is a better description. Actually it was a 12 passenger, white van (manual transmission). Thank goodness Courtney is always up for a challenge. After figuring out which seatbelts actually worked, and making sure that the kids and I had our Sea Bands on (which are amazing) AND a motion sickness pill, we were off!

View from the bumpy road. In the
distance you can sed the Gulf of Nicoya.
First stop - a four hour trip to Sana Elena to check into our hostel. That means two hours on a decent paved road and two hours on the bumpiest, steepiest, curviest road I have ever been on. You think driving on a dirt road is hard, now imagine on a road that is made entirely of rocks. Not the little pebbles that people in the states use for their driveways; but fist size (and bigger) rocks. A little bumpy. Especially in a van with shocks that felt like they were from 1995. Sitting in a jump seat. With no arm rest. Bodies just flying around. But the views were amazing!

We checked into our quaint little hostel (hippy-dippy as Courtney called it) Casa Tranquilo and left for a "short" drive to the next town, Monteverde, for a hike to the San Luis Waterfall. Courtney actually had to drive the van through two streams (on the rocky road) to get where the trail head was located. Which we found with no help from the Information Station whose sign read "abierto" but The door was locked and no one was home. Seems to be the norm at information centers.

We got close enough to see the falls, but not close enough for our goal of swimming in them. A walk back and another drive out of the park and off to our Night Hike. (With a stop at a little corner market for a snack!)

The Night Hike was pretty cool, too. We were able to see a sleeping hummingbird! Among other things - but that was the neatest to me ... Okay, a large scorpion trying to eat a millipede is pretty cool, too. And the stars were out - which isn't the norm when you are in a Cloud Forrest. It was as if there was glitter sprinkled all over the sky.

Then dinner and back to our hostel, very tired, very dusty - but not hungry!

Tuesday morning came fast and bright. After a communal breakfast (and coffee) it was off to Selvatura! Today was full of zip lines, hanging bridges, and hummingbirds. The kids were AMAZING. Each one did all the zips - with excitement and a little nervousness, but no drama. Chayton took off on each zip first (with a guide because he weighs so little). Kaija and Nazeriah were able to do half of the zips by themselves; the longer ones they needed a guide with them.

We started out with 60 & 80 meters, but soon jumped to 500! And the last one was a whopping 1000 meters long. It truly felt like you were flying! I can't even think of the words to use to describe the feeling of sailing over the trees through the blue sky.

Then there were the hanging bridges - a few thousands of feet up in the air walking with the birds! And then the hummingbird garden ... Which was much smaller than I thought it would be, but perfect for the time we had before we needed to drive home. Courtney wanted to do the bumpiest part before it got dark and I agreed!

14 February, 2013

Chayton has a blog!

Check it out here to see our adventure through the eyes of a six-year-old.


09 February, 2013

Peeler, Sharpener and Sunscreen

I didn't find two of those three items listed on any travel blogs prior to our trip.

Sunscreen, yes. We packed three bottles and have already had to spend mucho dollars on a another bottle at the supermacado. And bug spray. And anti-diarrhea medicine (which we haven't had to use - thank goodness).

But we are flying through all the fresh, yummy carrots, cucumbers, pineapple, watermelons, green beans - and the avocados are to die for. Try shredding a fresh-out-of-the-ground veggie or cutting a fruit with only a really dull knife. Not too much fun.

The fun part is that we are able to walk to a corner market, take a 15 minute walk into town, or take a 25 minute walk to the air conditioned supermacado to get all the food items that we need. And the local farmers market that is way far away has some amazing bananas. Yup, no car! But those last two, we take a taxi back home with our bags of food.

However, with the non-stop swimming in our swimming pool highlighted by trips to the beach (only a 10 minute walk) we are eating and eating and eating. So it has been quite a few trips to the store!

So back to that vegetable peeler and the knife sharpener. I'm realizing that I can do without all my spices (save fresh garlic and onions that I get at the farmers market) and all the other kitchen gadgets that I had. But those two ... they are necessities.

I think I know what I'll be picking up at Target during the few days that we have in NJ between Costa Rica and Australia.

Think TSA will let me pack them in my luggage?

Catching the Sunset - Costa Rica

Need I say anything more?


08 February, 2013

Fun in the Sun - Costa Rica

As most of you know, we've arrived at Costa Rica! Playa del Coco to be exact.

What a great place to decompress and get into the mindframe of our adventure. It's a little weird to not define yourself by the busy-ness of things, but only by the person you want to be.

Our days are pretty simple right now - eat, sleep, eat, play, eat, with a little schooling thrown in.

Courtney sends the kids a Daily Challenge that they must follow through on to earn points for their House. Each child is working on creating their own "House" like in Harry Potter. We're researching names and symbols - next they will get to write a paragraph or two (or in the case of the little guy a sentence or two) about the meaning of their house name.

But pretty much we just go with the flow. What a concept.

Scrumptious swimmers - looking down from our balcony.
One of our many breaks for eating, this time out on our balcony.

The leftside view from our balcony.

Peaking in at Courtney doing dishes.

05 February, 2013

Catching Up On The Last Good-byes

As exciting as getting ready for this trip is ... we are sad about the wonderful friends and found family that we are leaving. But I hope everyone knows that they will always be in our heart no matter where we go!

There are so many of you to think about and thank for everything you have done these past 15 years. Here are just a few!

The Vurals. There isn't a way that I can find the words for this ... we started out as just four when we gathered - now we are at least ten, but can be eleven, twelve, thirteen or more (and that's not counting the guinea pig).

The Math-a-ma-tistas:
Kaija, Ilayda, and Nazeriah

The Amigos:
Okan and Chayton

Charlie and Judy. You were the entry way into our spiritual family! With you and the rest of our UU family, we felt that we could dream anything - and look where that lead us. Plus given the fact that you have three amazing children and have lived to tell about it always reminded us that we can make it through, too.

The Tantes (Jeri and Sabine). All I can say is that we Love you guys! How many nights while Courtney was traveling did you show up at my doorstep with a full dinner AND cleaned up, helped with homework, entertained the kids. And that is only beginning - I don't think I have enough space to put down all the words. Thank you