The Middle of the World

The two weeks we spent in Ecuador gave us an opportunity to pass over the area which gave the country it’s name – the Equator.

There are a handful of countries around the world that pass through 0 degrees latitude and all of them mark the site in some way. Ecuador is the only one on our itinerary and visiting here was included as #99 on our list of Top 100 Experiences.

A monument was erected in the 1930s to recognize the spot and commemorate the 1736 French Mission that calculated the exact location of the equator for the first time. Unfortunately, the 1736 calculations were not exactly correct (off by about 240m) so the monument is not quite in the right spot. We visited the monument (actually an upgraded version built in the 1980s), the associated museum and also a second nearby museum (the Intinan Solar Museum) that also claims to be on the actual equator (they are also not). The Intinan museum features some cultural history exhibits and many of the hands on “equator experiments” that are also featured at other equator sights around the world.

The most famous of these is the demonstration of the Coriolis Force, which is responsible for making large storms spin clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere and counter-clockwise north of the equator. This same force is often cited as being responsible for making toilets flush one way in the north and the other in the lands down under. Modern-day scientists, however, disagree.

Nonetheless, these experiments (along with some other debunked demonstrations) continue to be shown to thousands of people around the world every year. The equator activities were an enjoyable day trip for us, just 26km north of Quito, and also an opportunity for some impromptu science learning.

Given the chance to view the Coriolis Effect demonstration and read the rebuttal linked above, however, both of my kids felt seeing was believing. In their own words:

Caleb: “I think the Coriolis effect is real as it actually affects major things like hurricanes and tornados. So the Coriolis effect should effect water too as it was shown at the equator in the north it spins clockwise and the south counter-clockwise and they made it very convincing so I can’t come up with anyway the could be faking it. The thing about the article is they say it is fake but don’t have any explanation of how they are faking it so they could just be lying to decrease the tourist population. To sum it up I think it is a cool experiment that is totally work showing off even if it is fake.”

Kieran: “I think the experiment was not a lie because it was explained so well and made so much sense to me. I mean yes the article makes sense, but not one goes to a museum to get lied to. Plus the Coriolis effect must be real because how could anyone fake water spinning in different directions?”

The actual demonstration we got is in the video below. My best explanation is that the illusion is all in the pouring (or lack there of). Bonus points to anyone who can convince my kids by debunking what we saw below in a more convincing way to change their minds 🙂

Until next time…

Isabela Island

We spent the next few days of our time on the Galapagos on Isabela Island. It’s such a lovely, quiet little place with not a lot going on but lots of character and a relaxed atmosphere. We stayed again in a hostel – Hostel Jeniffer – that was much nicer and cleaner than the first. Everything is within walking distance on Isabela and it offers quite a bit to do at no cost. I think Robin and I both wished we’d spent a least one more day on Isabela.

The only downside to visiting Isabela is the requirement to take a ferry to get there and back. We had to take 2 ferries to get to Isabela – a 2 hour ferry ride from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz at 7:00 in the morning followed by a second ferry trip in the afternoon from Santa Cruz to Isabela. It’s the rainy, warm season right now so the seas were not too rough for our journeys but the boats are small, uncomfortable and even when the water is relatively calm, the ride is still pretty rough. On the trip from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz, our boat broke down briefly in the middle of the ocean, leaving us bobbing around for quite some time while the captain and assistant worked to repair it. In the end, they were successful so certainly not a worse case scenario and I was thankful when we arrived safely on the dock. The second trip from Santa Cruz to Isabela was better – the seats were forward facing and more spacious than on the first boat and I was relieved to be able to relax a little more. I insisted that when booking our return trip to Santa Cruz that Robin ask specifically to be placed on a boat with forward facing seats again. Clever me! Thinking ahead like that and ensuring that we got placed on the “best” boat rather than randomly. Oh boy, did I ever have a chance to eat crow over this little assertion later.

Over the course of the two and a half days we spent on Isabela, we used our time as wisely as possible to try to experience as much as possible of what the island has to offer. There is a little town square where all the action is and where you go to eat or book tours. All the restaurants line the “main road” (a path of sand, really) and offer more or less the same thing at any given time of the day. There is a green space (featuring astro turf) across from the line of restaurants and little park where the boys enjoyed running around and playing while we waited for food or Robin and I just sat relaxing.

On the first full day on Isabela we opted to split up and try 2 different tours – Robin and Caleb went on a kayaking tour to Tintoreras (more on that from Robin in another post) while Kieran and I did a half day trip to Los Tuneles. Both turned out to be very fun and worthwhile trips and each was the perfect choice for the boys respectively.

Robin and Caleb’s kayak tour was in the morning, so while Kieran and I waited to start our afternoon tour, we did a little exploring around on Isabela on foot. We hiked the wetlands path up to the giant tortoise breeding centre and were rewarded with lots of close up iguana and sea lion encounters (not hard to come by!!), wild flamingo sightings and of course, getting to see the giant tortoises.

One of the only checklist items I had for our time on the Galapagos was for Kieran to be able to see a penguin. The kids LOVES penguins and knows everything there is to know about them and can identify different types of penguins instantly. Kieran is always sensitive about not putting pressure on other people and not wanting to create disappointing situations so he wasn’t saying much about it but he knew that there was a chance that he might be able to see a penguin on this trip. Thankfully, he was not disappointed!

We snorkeled around for a while and Kieran had a much better experience than at Kicker Rock. The water was shallow so we were able to see lots of sea life – sharks, sea horses, tons of colourful fish and huge sea turtles. Kieran got so comfortable with snorkeling that after a short time in the water, he was free diving to be able to get a closer look at some of the animals! After an hour and a half we climbed back into the boat and went a short distance to Los Tuneles, which are tunnels that were formed by cooling lava. There is little sea life to see in the tunnels (except for a few turtles here and there) but it’s really cool to be able to snorkel through the tunnels. Diving them would have been even more exciting 😉 After the snorkeling, we did a little hike on top of the tunnels and got to see some blue footed boobies up close.

On our last morning on Isabela, while Robin did a volcano hike, the boys and I rented snorkel gear and visited Concha de Perla. Despite hearing that this was a must-see, we were all a little disappointed. The lagoon was crowded, there wasn’t as much to see as our other snorkeling experiences and I worried the whole time about our stuff, which was just hanging on a hook on the little dock (with tourists and locals alike just hanging around).

Leaving Isabela was by far the most challenging part of our trip to the Galapagos. As I alluded to above, despite the forward facing seats, our ferry was far from “the best”. It as a little like crossing the ocean in a sardine tin and I maintained a white knuckle grip on the seat in front of me throughout the entire 2+ hour journey as the boat heaved and rocked and tossed around on the sea. I know some have had far worse experiences (Lori and Kyle!!) but this one was as bad as I could handle. While I didn’t feel seasick at all, I did fear a little for our lives for the entire trip. Between being violently tossed around on the water and the suffocation of the carbon-monoxide filled cabin (because none of the windows could be open without water pouring in), that was the last ferry ride I want to be on for the foreseeable future.

Galapagos – San Cristobal

We’ve spent 10 days in the Galapagos Islands and the experience did not disappoint. I didn’t have very many expectations coming` in to this part of the trip, although Robin did remind me that coming here was something that I insisted on early in the planning. So much time and energy has gone into planning the whole trip that I had forgotten all about my enthusiasm for including the Galapagos. That’s not to say that I didn’t want to include it or that I regret making that assertion so long ago! When we would tell people about the bigger trip, almost everyone asked if we were coming to the Galapagos and it’s clear after being here for 9 days now and visiting all of the 3 major islands, that most people come here with very high expectations. Rightfully so; it’s an incredible place.

We started on San Cristobal Island for just 2 nights and stayed, for the first time on this trip, in a hostel. All 4 of us in one slightly smelly room. They were not the best accommodations but we managed for the couple of nights we were there and really, we didn’t spend much time in our room anyway with so much to see and do. On the first day we walked to the Interpretation Center at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and did some learning about the history of the Galapagos. Right near the Interpretation Center there is a small beach called Playa Punta Carola where we had our first real encounter with sea lions. They were lying all over the beach, letting tourists get quite close to take pictures and selfies with them. The sea lions swim in the water near people as well and they can be dangerous but are kind of playful too. One sea lion tried to steal Kieran’s water shoe! Kieran freaked out a little and moved to where the water was more shallow and we sent Caleb out to retrieve the shoe that had been forcefully removed from Kieran’s foot. The boys stayed quite close to the sand after that, not wanting to interact that closely with the wildlife anymore. We stayed into the evening to watch the spectacular sunset from the beach before heading back to grab some supper.

The strip along the waterfront near the pier at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is a fun little spot in the evening. The sea lions and iguanas provide abundant entertainment and it’s not nearly as expensive as one might think to sit and have a simple meal on the waterfront.

The main attraction while visiting San Cristobal is to take a tour to Kicker Rock, also known as Leon Dormido depending on your interpretation of the shape of the formation, and we did so on a lovely sailboat. It was a nice day and we had mostly good weather, the other people on our trip were very nice and we enjoyed a relaxing day and some good conversation together. The most amazing thing about this trip was the dolphins we saw on the way to Kicker Rock. They were very close to the boat and almost wanting to play with the boat! They put quite a show on for us, jumping up out of the water and swimming right up close beside the boat. They stayed with us for quite a while and it was just incredible. Shortly after the dolphins moved on, Anne Marie (one of our fellow tour goers) and I were sitting on the bow of the boat, enjoying the sun and she noticed an eagle ray jumping out of the water. She explained that she had heard this could happen but neither of us had seen it before (and I missed it!). A few minutes later it happened again and I saw it this time. It was breathtaking!!! The eagle ray was about 2m across and just majestic! It came so far out of the water that it looked like a huge bird. Unfortunately I was not in any way prepared to capture a photo of this remarkable sight but I will not soon forget the image.

Upon arriving at Kicker Rock, we snorkeled between the 2 rock formations, which some of us enjoyed more than others, and saw some turtles and fish. The water was pretty deep so the sea life was not abundant but we did see some frigates, nazca boobies and blue footed boobies on the rock itself. We stopped at a beach for a little while but the water was pretty choppy, preventing us from actually reaching the beach, and the boys and I only got off the boat into the water long enough to cool off a little. It rained the entire way back to port so everyone was huddled either in the cabin of the boat or on the back under a less than adequate tonneau cover.

I’m glad we only opted to stay a couple days on San Cristobal; while it was a lovely little town with interesting things to see and do, it was definitely our least favourite of the 3 islands that we visited and we left feeling satisfied with our experience there.

We keep things real by vegging out from time to time with TV shows and movies (both Robin and I as well as the kids); my friend Daryl has been awesome at supplying us with all the media we can ask for and it really helps bring an aspect of normalcy to our busy and constantly new stream of experiences.

Walking in a Cloud (Forest)

In Costa Rica we had the incredible opportunity to visit Monteverde – the Cloud Forest – also #69 on our list top Top 100 Sights. This was by far my favourite thing that we did in CR!

While in Monteverde, we stayed at a little cottage on a working coffee farm, just outside Santa Elena. It was very cute and rustic and our host was a lovely woman named Hermida who runs the coffee farm – Finca Lluvia de Gloria – with her family. If you follow us on Instagram, you will have seen our not so little visitor to the cottage (a tarantula), but we did not let that get in the way of our thoroughly enjoying this tranquil little farm. The cooler climate was also a much appreciated reprieve from the sometimes oppressive heat of Ocotal/Coco.

Clockwise from top left: rainbow over the coffee farm in the morning; cabin #2 where we stayed; enjoying a dinner prepared by our host Hermida; sunset over the coffee farm; coffee plants!

Getting to Monteverde was a bit of an adventure in itself. We decided to rent a car in Coco and drive ourselves to Monteverde, thus avoiding the public buses and saving several hours of travel time but also allowing us to have our own transportation while in Monteverde, which actually proved to be the greatest benefit of having shelled out for the rental. However, in keeping with our effort to be frugal, we rented a compact sedan for the journey (a Toyota Yaris) and this turned out to be like driving a go-cart up and down a black diamond ski hill. I do all the driving in our family so by the time we reached the coffee farm, my nerves were shot and I was in a less than great mood. Over the next few days navigating around the roads of Monteverde I got used to the terrain and we slowly and carefully made our way around in our eco and budget-friendly little ride. We returned the car in one piece after thankfully avoiding any damaging incidents so I can’t say it was a terrible idea…it would just maybe a little less nerve-racking to be in a higher, possibly 4-wheel drive vehicle.

While in Monteverde, we were able to experience the cloud forest in 3 different ways – a suspension bridge walk above the jungle, a night walk, and a day hike on the jungle floor. They were all incredible and unique in their own ways. We started with the suspension bridge walk. Initially Robin and Caleb were going to do this while Kieran and I went ziplining (again) but when we arrived at Sky Adventures and got a look at the suspension bridges, we quickly changed our minds and decided to go on the suspension bridge walk as well – this is definitely saying something if you’ve been paying attention to how enthusiastic I am about ziplining 😉 This turned out to be my favourite experience in all of Costa Rica. It was breathtaking to see the jungle from up above, marvel at the more than 7000 organisms and over 500 species of plants growing on a single host tree (including several species of orchids), and observe the variety of birds flying around this unique ecosystem. The thrill of being suspended several hundred metres above the jungle floor did not disappoint in the category of adrenaline-producing experiences either.

The same day that we did the suspension bridge walk, we did a night hike in the jungle with Kinkajou Tours. We don’t have many pictures of the night walk, for obvious reasons 🙂 Both Caleb and Kieran said this was their favourite thing to do in Costa Rica and despite our concerns that it might be a little scary to be in the jungle at night, neither were at all nervous and they had a great time searching for wildlife and critters in the dark with their flashlights. We saw tarantulas, a kinkajou, a viper snake, and lots of exotic birds trying to get some shut-eye. Sadly, the sloths eluded us on this particular adventure. You have to be able to keep up on this tour as the guide was pretty aggressive with the pace of the hike. Several people in our group got left behind a couple times and they were not pleased (understandably) about being stranded in the dark without a guide. It’s not as scary as it sounds as there are lots of groups of tours going on at the same time and they were easily pointed in the right direction by another guide before they could freak out too much.

The last way we experienced the cloud forest was hiking through the jungle in the Santa Elena reserve. It was beautiful and breathtaking and WET. The paths were relatively well maintained but there had been a fair bit of rain over the past few days and the deeper we got in the jungle, the wetter and muckier it became. After hiking for a couple hours we stopped to eat some lunch that we’d brought along – grilled cheese sandwiches and whole carrots (a Robin brown-bag special) – and then decided to split up. Robin and Caleb wanted to do a much longer hike that was going to take another 3 hours or so but Kieran wasn’t feeling up to it or just wasn’t in the mood. He and I took a shorter loop but were rewarded with a path that featured a lookout tower that put us literally right up in the clouds. It was pretty spectacular. We got soaked and pretty muddy but it was well worth it and we still had about an hour left to wait for Robin and Caleb while we warmed up and dried out a little inside with some hot beverages.

On our first night in Monteverde we got take-out from a famous taco joint in Santa Elena called Taco Taco. It was a slightly underwhelming experience as the boys both seemed to be too tired to eat much (!!!) and when you get take-out, you don’t have the option of a side of margaritas. Santa Elena is a lovely little town though and I commented to Robin that if we had been there just the 2 of us, I would definitely have opted to stay in one of the little boutique hotels or B&Bs. A different trip for another time I suppose.

On Food and Cooking – Costa Rica

When we packed up the house in Toronto, it was shocking and upsetting how much food we had to throw out. I felt sick to my stomach looking at the amount of food waste. Since we started traveling, we’ve mostly had to walk to the grocery store, which of course limits how much we can buy in one trip. We managed to leave Ocotal CR (our first stop) with a bare fridge and left behind only a small amount of dry beans for the next people. For the most part, this has continued to be true at each place we have left so far and I’m learning a lot about how to be mindful about what we are buying to avoid food waste. We still tend to have quite a bit of leftovers from each meal as it’s really difficult to predict how hungry the boys will be from meal to meal.

I have been doing significantly less of the meal planning and preparation than I was used to at home. We still cook most of our meals ourselves because eating meals out all the time would be cost prohibitive. Robin and I do almost all the meal planning and shopping together and he’s been preparing about half of the meals. This is new territory for me but I’m getting used to it – perhaps too used to it 😉

While we were in Costa Rica, we tried to cook meals that are typical of the culture and when we did eat meals out, we mostly ate typical Tico food as well – at least Robin and I did – it was difficult to convince the kids to opt for something other than burgers and pasta when it was on offer. A typical Costa Rican meal is called Casado and it consists of rice and beans, vegetables and a protein. It’s a very simple, balanced meal and Robin was very pleased to be able to eat like this almost all the time as this is his preferred type of meal.

We had the opportunity to try 2 of our top 100 foods while we were in Costa Rica. The first was #28 Gallo Pinto – we tried making it on our own as well as sampling it from a local soda and a home cook at one of the airbnbs we stayed at. Gallo Pinto is made from precooked rice, beans, red pepper, onion and a seasoning called Salsa Lizano that tastes a little like Worcestershire sauce (but not quite). This is the recipe I used and it turned out pretty close to what we had elsewhere. Everyone enjoyed it although I don’t think the kids are going to be opting to switch from their usual breakfast to Gallo Pinto anytime soon.

Our attempt at Gallo Pinto
Gallo Pinto that came as part of a typical Tico breakfast at one of the places we stayed – Finca de las Lluvias de Gloria – in Monteverde. Hermida was our host and she was a wonderful cook!

The second food from our top 100 list that we got to try in CR was #73 Granizado – basically a snowcone. You can get these anywhere, in any flavour, with or without powdered milk for about 1000 CRC (~$2.30 CAD). The boys tried several from the many cart vendors on the beach in Ocotal and Coco and then closed out our time in Costa Rica with a mint granziado from a place called Penguino Granizado in Jaco (Kieran is a huge penguin fan, so this was a big deal for him). I’m not personally a big fan of the granizado but it was naturally a favourite for the boys.

Top row – mint granizado from Pinguino, bottom row – beach granizado, both cherry con leche (milk).

One down… lots more to come

We’ve reached the end of our first major stop. After 28 mostly sunny and hot days we boarded our flight for Quito, Ecuador (by way of Bogota) on Tuesday afternoon.

We chose Costa Rica for our first month for a few reasons. The first was a chance for me to share with the rest of the family some of my special memories. Costa Rica was the first place I travelled to independently (I spent a month there in 2001). The trip was truly an eye-opening and confidence building experience – one that holds a very special place in my heart. I was pretty excited about the chance to return to some of those experiences, share and relive some of the magic and see how the country has changed twenty years on.

For the most part, I found the country much as I did the first time I visited. The people were warm and friendly, navigating the variable infrastructure was a real adventure and the natural sites were unbelievable. There were definitely signs of change as well. It is no longer quite the travel bargain it used to be (I spent about $1,500 in total living and exploring there for a month in 2001), San Jose (the capital city) has developed into a considerably more modern destination, and the number of tour operations and ways to spend your tourist dollars everywhere have grown exponentially. All in all still a magical place.

There were two other reasons in my mind when scheduling Costa Rica first. We wanted a slow-paced month to ease into the travel lifestyle and a sunny destination to help us forget the Canadian winter. I’m less sure these rationale turned out well. We spent seventeen days at our first destination (Playa Ocotal) and I think we all thought it was too long – by the middle of the second week we were ready to dive into more activity and adventure than was easy to find close to Ocotal.

As for the sun, it turns out we may have got a little too much of a good thing – Wendy and Kieran in particular found the heat (highs averaging 32-35 plus some humidity everywhere save Monteverde) pretty uncomfortable. On the plus side.. we’ve learned something about our comfort with heat as a family and will make some adjustments to the plan going forward to compensate.

In terms of highlights there is little doubt that, in Costa Rica, nature takes first prize. We got to spot a number of nifty creatures in the wild (howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, sloths, iguanas, scarlet macaws, kinkajous, pit vipers and tarantulas to name a few). We ticked off three of our top 100 experiences (scuba, surfing and zip-lining), two of our top 100 foods and one of our top 100 sights (stay tuned for posts about food and sights).

We visited at least six beautiful beaches during our time in Costa Rica (Coco, Ocotal, Conchal, Tamarindo, Dominical and Manual Antonio). Kieran and Caleb both felt Dominical was their favourite: it had the best (biggest) waves and was the site of their surfing lesson (probably their favourite activity). Wendy and I chose Ocotal as our favourite – for it’s nice dark sand, calm waters and quiet, laid back vibe.

We also went on at least five amazing hikes, in National Parks at Rincon de la Vieja, Tenorio, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio and at the Private Reserve at Nauyaca Waterfalls. Here our favourites are more diverse. Kieran enjoyed Rincon de la Vieja the most – for it’s beautiful “Carteratas Congejas” hike and chance to swim under a waterfall. Caleb chose the Nauyaca Waterfalls for similar reasons (nice hike, great swimming). For Wendy, Monteverde, and in particular the suspension bridges over the Cloud Forest, was the most memorable. For me, the amazing blue waters and misty, high-elevation rainforest at Tenorio National Park took the cake.

It’s been a great beginning and we can’t wait for what comes next.

Until next time…

Surf’s Up

We’re spending our last week in Costa Rica a little further south, at a farm in Platanillo about 12km north of Playa Dominical.

Dominical is known mostly for being one of the great surfing beaches of Costa Rica and so it was a natural place for us to knock #87 of our list of Top 100 Experiences.

Caleb and Kieran took their first Surfing Lesson this morning, with the team at Sunset Surf. The class was targeted for beginners and the boys got lots of attention with two instructors and just one other student.

The goal of this lesson was getting them up on the board in a small wave and staying upright until they surfed to the beach – which sounds a lot easier than it is. The boys found staying low and keeping your balance to be pretty tricky but ultimately had some success. Easier for children to pick it up apparently, and I’m certainly glad nobody had to see what my first attempts would have looked like!

Caleb thought the experience was “totally awesome” and Kieran said “very fun”. I’m not sure how many more chances they will have to practice on the trip, but they were very happy to have the opportunity to give it a go.

There is a major surfing competition happening here tomorrow that will give us a chance to see what the pros look like.

Thanks to Yordy (pictured above with Kieran) and Luke (pictured above with Caleb) at Sunset for making the experience so rewarding for the boys.

Until Next Time…

My first dive

Yesterday we went to a diving place, called Rich Coast Diving in Coco, so that I could learn to dive. I wanted to learn to dive because it was really interesting thing that you can use to help the environment by picking up garbage in the Ocean. I also wanted to learn to dive because it would be a great thing that me and my mom can do over the trip together. We started by going to a pool and I learned how to do some diving skills like clearing my regulator and how to clear my mask when it has water, then my mom had to do some open water refresher skills like hovering and taking off her mask and putting it back on.

The next day we went to the dive shop at 7:45 am and walked to the beach to get the boat. Then we went to the dive site and got our stuff on and got ready to dive. When we got into the water I was nervous because we were going down 12m deep. When we got down there I was not nervous anymore because it was not actually that deep. We swam around for a bit and saw some fish and some eels but that was pretty much it for dive 1. We got a 25-30 minute break to rest and have a snack before going into the water again.

On the 2nd dive we saw a hawksbill turtle, some nudibranches (little sea cucumber-like things), a white tip reef shark, a round ray, jewel Moray eels and a giant Moray eel. It was very cool!

After the dive we had lunch a place called Best Burger and it was very good. When we got home I decided to ask my dad if I can get open water certified and then certified so I can collect garbage off the Ocean floor.

Caleb

A short video of our dive!

Hitting a groove

Week 2 is in the books and we’re starting to have a bit more going on. We rented a car for a few days this week and have gotten out to see more of the country we are enjoying this month.

The two primary draws in Costa Rica are beaches and national parks (for amazing wildlife and natural sights) and we’ve done a little bit of both. Beach highlights include visits to Playa Conchal (made up of tiny sea shells in place of sand) and Playa Tamarindo (one of Costa Rica’s famous surfing beaches). We also hiked in two spectacular national parks built around volcanoes, Tenorio and Rincon de la Vieja.

You can see more pictures from these adventures on our instagram feed and we’ll talk more about them later in the month.

This week we also succeeded in knocking our first “Top 100 Experience” off the list. Zip-lining (#42) was invented in Costa Rica by a US Biologist studying rainforest eco-systems in 1979. It was 18 years later when a Canadian man had a vision for the money-making potential of offering this experience to tourists at Parque Nacional Monteverde in Costa Rica (our next stop) and not long after that the activity spread to many other countries.

Caleb, Kieran and Wendy all gave it a go at Congo Trail near Playa del Coco (who have been running zip lining tours for 20 years, almost since the beginning). I’ve ziplined here in Costa Rica before and elsewhere, and, like most “thrill-ride” activities I can take it or leave it. The reviews from our crew were good – though this course lacked some of the really long cables (>1km!) that we did last year in Mexico.

The experience that left the biggest impact on us this week, though, was our morning spent at the Monkey Farm. The farm started out as a rescue centre for injured howler monkeys, but has expanded their vision to focus more on the volunteers who run the farm. The volunteers are all recovering addicts from Costa Rican communities who work therapeutically with the horses on the farm, support the monkeys and manage a sustainable organic farming operation. We enjoyed meeting some of the volunteers, touring the facilities and learning about how they are all working together to build a better life.

Until next time …

Finding a rhythm

The first week of the trip has come and gone, more or less as planned.

January has been planned for some time as an “ease in” month to begin our journey. We are spending pretty much all of the month in Costa Rica, where the weather is very warm, and not moving around much. The idea was to relax and recharge, get through the period at the beginning of all trips where your mind is on what you left behind as much as where you are, and to begin to develop the habits and routines that will carry us through the next 500 days.

This is especially true of our first stop here in Costa Rica at Playa Ocotal. We are staying here for 17 days, one of our longest stops of the trip. And, while there are a few highlight sights and activities nearby, we haven’t visited any of them in our first seven days. Our last week has been filled instead with lazy afternoons, long walks by the beach and figuring out how to incorporate some learning into each day for the boys.

We’re starting to develop some routines, but it’s very much still a work in progress. We’re all finding time for Spanish lessons (via Duolingo) and lots of reading and the boys are doing a little bit of math (via Khan Academy), some impromptu research (Dad, why is the wind blowing so hard today?) and writing (usually the hardest task to convince the boys to do). We’re adjusting to spending all day together pretty well, and finding ways to keep our day satisfyingly (but not stressfully) full without work, school and commuting occupying the vast majority of the time.

It’s a big change in the flow of the day, very much helped along by the midday heat here, which keeps us from wanting to do too much between about 10 and 4. We spend most of our time hiding from the sun at home (resting, reading or schoolwork), swimming in one the pools on our property or hanging out at the beach (mostly Ocotal so far).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Playa Ocotal Art Project and environmental statement, courtesy of the local “Ninos del Sol” school.

We have two beautiful beaches within walking distance. Playa Ocotal, about 15 minutes walking to the South and Playa del Coco, about 25 minutes walking to the North – both made from black volcanic (and magnetic!) sand.

Playa del Coco is one of the oldest Beach communities in this part of the country. There are restaurants, accommodations and small shops aplenty. Playa Ocotal, by comparison, is clean and quiet, still very much in development in terms of tourist appeal. No cell signal, one restaurant only, great snorkelling and lots of space to stretch out – just our speed.

We’re finding our way, but not yet fully acclimatized to the life of the full time adventurer. I suspect finding that perfect rhythm of expanding our minds, feeding our family bonds and focusing on our own self reflection will be a long term project. Suggestions welcome.

Until next time…