Friday, October 30, 2015

Costa Rican Craziness

We have arrived in Costa Rica!  Our arrival was preceded by your typical early morning less than fun airport experience.  The 5 1/2 hour flight was nice but by the time we arrived in Costa Rica everyone was tired and hungry.  We flooded down the hallway with many travelers passing our short legged companions in a race to get to the head of the immigration line.  In what to me was a sweet tender mercy an immigration officer noticed our family, (we kind of stand out) and expedited us right to the front of the line.  
   Exiting the airport was pandemonium.  I think it is a fairly common practice for the exit of an international airport in a poorer country to be filled with people wanting to make some money off of incoming tourists.  In order to get out and on to wherever you are going next you have to traverse through a tunnel of people all trying to get your attention, shouting, calling out, asking questions.  Uncomfortable!  I was grateful to have had our onward travel prearranged.  Our research prior to getting to Costa Rica had led us to discover that renting a car in Costa Rica would be extremely expensive so we had made plans to buy a car for the time that we are here.  Consequently our plans at the airport involved Aaron meeting up with a guy named Russ to go buy a car and the kids and I renting a van and finding the hotel.  We gathered all our bags, (8 checked bags plus backpacks as carryon) and then the gentlemen behind the car rental counter personally escorted us out of the airport through the throng of taxi drivers to a rental van shuttle.  Aaron helped put the kids and I and all our luggage in the van and then left to find Russ, hoping that we would meet up later that day.  We hadn't yet really figured out if our cell phones would be reliable, we didn't know where Russ was in the pandemonium, we don't speak the native language, and we also didn't know exactly where we were going.  The rental shuttle driver looked at us like we were insane, and at this point I wondered a little bit of the same thing.  But what do you do except move forward?  
     The kids were so tired that by the end of our 7 minute shuttle ride Jonah was asleep.  We got our car squared away, carried Jonah back to the parking lot and then one of the rental men proceeded to give me directions to the hotel.  It's a funny thing in Costa Rica, the country functions without the use of addresses.  Everything is based off of landmarks.  Aaron did find Russ and asked him about this during their afternoon together.  He confirmed that Costa Ricans function entirely off landmarks of varying permanancy.  For example the instructions I was given included turning right when I saw 6 giant oil barrels on the left, but sometimes it's a mango tree, or a place where a big tree used to be, or even where the the spotted dog used to lay.  Crazy!  I looked up how to get to the temple in Costa Rica and the address is:  Del Hotel Marriott, 600 metres Oeste.  So you can find the temple 600 meters west of the Marriott.  Wild!
    With a hand written map and Maggie as my copilot, the kids and I drove onto the highway, for what was supposed to be about a 20 minute journey to the hotel.  It wasn't long before traffic slowed and we saw people walking in between the lanes of traffic on the highway trying to sell what looked like bags of home packaged tortilla chips and melted otter pops.  Maggie recorded in her journal, "When we saw people walking in-between the cars selling stuff Mom said, 'Welcome to Costa Rica kids.  Lock your doors!'"  That is exactly how I felt.  Not only were there people in-between the lanes of traffic on the highway coming towards us, but there were motorcyclists driving in-between headed in the same direction as traffic.  I've come to understand that these deranged cyclist feel like that is there personal lane of traffic, (more on this later.)  Suffice to say when we finally made it safely to the hotel I was elated.  
     Hotel la Rosa de America fit the bill perfectly!  Small, gated, full of really nice people, beautiful tropical grounds, and most importantly with a pool we were set, except for food.  Unlike America, with all our travels in CR thus far we had yet to see a fast food place, so I inquired with the front desk.  They told me of a couple little restaurants close by none of which had people that spoke english.  Luckily Mike, who works at the hotel, volunteered to make us some Dutch pancakes.  They were a lot like crepes and the kids devoured them!  Yet another blessing!  After that it was swim suits and pool time for us.  No worries. 

     Meanwhile Aaron was trying to navigate car buying.  (I think I got the much better end of the deal.)   After determining that our family and our luggage was not going to fit in a little SUV he turned his focus to vans.  The first one wouldn't start, so they charged the battery and got it going.  The dealer gave Aaron and Russ some money and sent them to put gas in it.   However, when they tried to leave the gas station it wouldn't start again.  So the dealer drove over and tried to jump it, that didn't work so he suggested they just push start it.  Which they tried for about a 1/3 of a mile before finally abandoning it on the side of the road and walking back.  We know, red flag, red flag, red flag!  Finally they found one to fit the bill.  (photo to come)

     Day two we had to go back to the airport to pick up the carseats we had left behind accidentally the day before.  (We did the same thing in Baltimore, grrrr!)   Tessa summed it up nicely in her journal when she wrote, "It was terrible!"  But that afternoon we visited a rescue center called Zoo Ave just down the street from our hotel.  

Cut out boards are everywhere here.  We probably
ran into 10 in this little zoo.

We were looking at the boa climbing up the corner edge
of it's enclosure and didn't even see the 3 foot long
iguana resting on top of the neighboring cage about 4 feet
away.  By the time we saw him he had about had enough
of us and was ready to move on, you can see him walking
away just to the right of the snake pen.
It is amazing how they keep the jungle from completely
consuming the zoo.  Check out the size of that bamboo!
These huge spiders were everywhere!  I was very
grateful for cleared paths.  Tessa burst into tears at
the first sighting, but by the end she was willing to
stick her hand right behind one for this picture.
They had a remarkable array of animals.  This is an
American Alligator.  We also saw peccaries, pumas,
monkeys, squirrels, kinkajou, a sloth, and lots and lots
of birds.  We learned that Costa Rica, a country about
the size of West Virginia has more bird species than the
U.S. and Canada combined!  At the zoo they had many
species that I had never seen before.  They also had emu
and ostrich.  When Jonah got close to the ostrich he looked at Aaron,
pointed at the ostrich and said, out of the side of his mouth,
 "That bird looks like it wants to hurt me."
They also had a zip-line that the 3 oldest were able to go on.
We were so impressed that Tessa mustered up the courage to
give it a try!  When asked how they liked it it was a resounding
chorus of, "It was AWESOME!"

Eli and Jonah settled for ice cream!
Most of the signs were entirely in Spanish, which
is okay, we are practicing and getting better all the
time. (Most of the people we meet speak very little if
any English, as well.) We can understand enough to
 get the meaning of this sign, and found it rather funny.

It gets dark here by about 5pm, every day.  It also rains every
afternoon.  It rained on us most of the time through the zoo and
by the time we were searching for dinner it was an absolute downpour!
We found a restaurant, they are all mostly open to the outdoors. We
we were just about to order when a deafening clap of thunder shook
the restaurant and all the lights went out.  Luckily we were able to
dimly see our menu under the glow of an emergency back up light
and they had generators to keep the cooking equipment going. 
Everyday we make time for the pool.  That is all the kids really
want to do. Someone was so proud to be able to hold up her Father.
  It became more difficult when more jumped on the pile. 

A friendly tree just outside out hotel cabina. 
On the third day we went up to the Volcano Poas.  Aaron took this
picture as I drove up this narrow neighborhood road.  It was a main
road, but still narrow and without a shoulder.  It was also full of
potholes, and crazy motorcyclists weaving, passing,
and dodging through traffic.  

The crater at Volcan Poas.  It was releasing a
hefty amount of steam that day.  
We took the chance to take another trail to a lake that is created by
an old crater, what used to be the top of the volcano.  Along the way
we encountered this freeloader squirrel.  It cheered up our less than
enthusiastic walkers.  We usually don't feed the wildlife, but I had some
lightly salted peanuts in my bag and some kids who needed a fun
distraction.  I think he liked it.  The forest was so dense it was very dark.
Tessa wrote in her journal that night, "I didn't like the walking, but I
did like the things we saw."
An example of some of the foliage by the crater's edge

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Battlefields, Best Friends, and Birthday Fun

Friday we drove just over an hour up to Gettysburg.  The drive was gorgeous!  It wound us through incredibly beautiful countryside filled with rolling open fields lined by hillsides of vibrant fall colors and neatly fenced horse pastures. 

At Gettysburg we learned about the Blue and the Gray.  
They have an amazing display it is an original painting called a "cyclorama."
It was painted not long after the war and measures 377 feet long and 42 feet tall.
It impressively portrays many of the greatest moments from the battle at Gettysburg.

We walked from the visitor's center up through the trees and just enjoying the beautiful
fall day.  It was so nice to have this time just together.  Look closely
and you'll see Aaron is actually holding 3 kids hands, Tessa is sharing the side with Max.  

The trail led us through the woods to where the Union General George McClellan had occupied a widow's home to use as his headquarters.  The small cabin is still there.  I would have loved to spend more time walking around and seeing more of the sights here but we had some tired legs and waining interest shown fairly clearly here in the family photo I demanded.  So we packed up and went back to our friends house to play, which was really the kids favorite thing about the whole trip.

Truly our time on the East Coast would have been no where near as enjoyable if it hadn't  been for these fabulous friends!  Melissa and I have been friends since 2nd grade and it is easy to see why.  She is AWESOME!  Saturday most of her family was able to join us for a trip to Mt. Vernon.  First stop, George Washington's distillery (above) and gristmill (below).  

It is a working gristmill and the kids were fascinated  watching the
water turn the wheel that spun the gears that made the
giant stones turn to grind the grain.   
Outside the gristmill.  

Living quarters for those who worked the distillery existed in the attic above.

Jonah, you may have noticed, was on a funny face kick.
His best friend for the trip, June, was much more cooperative.

Then we headed over to the main Mt. Vernon grounds.  I had just told
 the kids that we would be walking, they take it with various reactions.  
Slave quarters
They were hosting a harvest festival that day so Martha Washington was
out and about and the kids were excited to meet her.  (It almost felt like we
ran into Minnie Mouse at Disneyland.)
Down at the farm the harvest festival was in full swing.  The kids got to roast
apples over an open fire and then dip them in honey for a tasty treat.  

They had also set up a maze of hay bales.  Jonah was elated if he could just
have June with him.  I think she would have appreciated a little less attention.
Eli felt so confident after a couple trips through the maze that he wanted to
do it with his eyes shut, and Owen felt he needed to crawl so he couldn't see
over the bales.  It was fun to watch each kid tailor it to themselves.

His favorite thing was cleaning the wool, a job that
 would have been done a lot by children.  

I absolutely LOVE Mt. Vernon.  George Washington said that there was
not a better situated home in all of the colonies and I agree.  It is so gorgeous and peaceful
and made better by enjoying with friends.  
It was this girl's birthday and she loved spending it at Mt. Vernon.
While we wondered  her day was brightened by thoughtful birthday texts
from some of those she loves.  Thank you!  It made things special for her.   
After such  a full day the only thing to do to keep our sanity was to grab the
quickest crowd pleaser and feed these hungry kids in the parking lot.  

Then back home because we had some birthday celebrations to still enjoy.
Melissa made this wonderful cake and strawberries and whip cream to go
with at the birthday girl's request.  Delicious!

This makes me laugh because Max looks so surprised, but it is the gift he was giving. 

Sunday after church we visited the Washington D.C. temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It is exquisite!  They have an amazing visitor center where we spent a good couple of hours looking and interacting with all the displays.  The best thing though is to know that we are all together as a family forever.  We are only a week in to our immersion of quality family time, all the time, but I am loving the relationships we are strengthening and the characters we are building along the way.  We are so blessed!  

Friday, October 23, 2015

Washington DC -

DC never disappoints!   We absolutely lucked out with gorgeous weather, and lots of opportunities to work out our walking feet through gorgeous fall colors.
Our first stop in DC was to tour the White House.  Inside the White House dining room.

The boys looking out of the White House windows, look through the trees and you can see the Washington monument. 

Dueling with a swordfish at the Natural History Museum.

I couldn't believe how enthralled the kids were with the minerals and gems.  

Day 2 started out with a trip up the Washington Monument.  

Looking out from the top of the monument towards the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington is also just across the river to the left.    

We then visited the Museum of American History, where the kids were enthralled by "the Star Spangled Banner"   They have the actual flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner.  It is huge and awe inspiring and the kids could feel it.  The frames pictured here are photographs of other times when it has been on display.  

As you can imagine the Smithsonian is full of all things truly American, like Kermit the Frog, 

 Abe Lincoln's top hat, 

and plenty of goofy photo opportunities. 

Our first morning when we stepped out of the parking garage we walked across the street  and ran into a group from Green Peace starting a canvas mural.  We walked by them a few other times and by the very end of our 2nd day the kids wanted to go back and see the completed chalk art bad enough that they were willing to walk yet another block to do it.  We got there just in time for them to have the kids help cut away and pull off the extra canvas.  They were pretty excited.