Friday, January 29, 2016

Nauyaca Falls

I'm still trying to catch up from our month without internet, this was Thanksgiving Day 2015.  
About fifteen minutes from our house was a tour to some beautiful grandiose waterfalls.  We decided Thanksgiving would be a good day for a such a splurge.  You can walk into the falls, but we were certain that the little legs in our group wouldn't be able to handle the 10 km, so we signed up for horses.  Maggie was elated!  We were a little late getting out and then Jonah whacked his head at the meeting place, so it put us about 45 minutes behind all the other groups.  This turned out to be perfect!  It meant that by the time we showed up to the food spot or the waterfalls everyone else was just getting ready to leave and we had it all to ourselves.
Maggie happily introduced Jonah to Goliat, the goliath
horse he and I rode together.
Eli was very happy to have his own little horse to ride.
Max, "Today we went horseback riding.  This time NOT galloping, but just riding up to a waterfall.  It was a muddy place.  I was on a small but energetic brown and white pony.  It always wanted to be in the front.  He even galloped a couple of times.  I am thankful that I wasn't bucked off again.  I am also thankful for our Thanksgiving feast of steak, mashed potatoes, rolls, jello, and for dessert a box of chocolate turtle brownie mix.  Happy Thanksgiving!"

As we rode up the muddy trail I saw giant carrots discarded practically
untouched in the mud.  I questioned the guide about this curious observation.
He said that a lot of people will bring carrots or apples as a gift for the horses,
but these horses are from the tropics and they don't think carrots or apples are a
treat at all.  They like papaya, bananas, and mangos.  Silly tourists!  We were
 more than happy to share our papaya with the horses.  And they loved it!  
The upper falls.   They are taller than the lower falls, but
they just have rocks at the bottom, no pool for swimming.
To give you an idea of the size, this is Aaron getting
ready to jump in for a swim at the lower falls.

All that falling water made for a cold and turbulent swimming hole.
Surprisingly,the kids were happier warming themselves like lizards on the
sunny rocks.  One of the other guides found this frog perfectly camouflaged
into the rocks and grabbed it for my kids to see.  

Lower falls all to ourselves, plus you can see the upper falls in the top right.

Tessa, "Today we went to some waterfalls.  I rode a horse that was chestnut color with a white patch on it's nose.  It was very slow it only kind of galloped a few times.  We rode to breakfast then a waterfall then to lunch then back.  I really liked playing on the rocks.  I'm thankful for a wonderful family.  HAPPY THANKSGIVING!"

At the house where we stopped for breakfast and lunch these capuchin
monkeys were playing in the trees, and let's be honest, mostly looking for
a handout.  Regardless, it is always fun to see monkeys.  I took these
 pictures with my phone that is how close they were!

Maggie, "Today we went horseback riding and I got a beautiful white and gray horse.  It was one who always wanted to be in the front!  We went the half hour to the snack stop and I fed my horse my papaya.  The thing (the fruit) kept rocketing out of my hand when Dato (the horse) tried to eat it!  On the way back we had an AMAZING lunch of marinated chicken and potatoes with pineapple juice, I think.  We rode back and then went home to start Thanksgiving dinner.  I am thankful for the stars and the sun, the moon and the clouds, and my family."

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Dinner, "Catch me if you can!"

With our time in Lagunas drawing to a close Rosa and Alex invited us for a fish fry at their house.  

Tessa, "We went to Rosa's house for lunch but she wasn't there so we went to the shrimp place.  We saw a poison dart frog too.  She came back and we got to catch fish.  We had dinner and then milked goats and gave Brandy some milk.  I loved it!"
How many kids can you find in this picture?  It's amazing
how quickly the jungle camouflages even us gringos. We
hiked down to try and find some shrimp in a tiny stream
below Alex and Rosa's house.
(There are at least 3 plus Aaron)
I love this simple home!  You can see the
 ground far below between the floor boards.  

The kids love to see the farm animals!  It is endlessly
entertaining to watch goats nibble on your pieces of weeds.

Please note the old shoe soles used as hinges for
the chicken coop doors.  They just wear their shoes
 out, machete off the old soles, and nail them to a
 door for a handy self closing hinge.  Nothing is 
thrown away that can be used.
Maggie, "After school we went down to Rosa's, but they weren't there so we went to try and find some shrimp.  We found the stream but no shrimp and it was really hard to get up and down.  We started back those, but Rosa came down as we went up so we turned around and came back and I collapsed in a chair.  I was SUPER worn out!  So Rosa, Mom, and Max worked in the kitchen and made some amazing things."

While the little boys and Maggie explored the farm again or played with Tessa in the house, Max, Rosa, and I did some cooking.  We started with hand made tortillas for a snack, and fresh squeezed lemonade.  That gave us enough energy to make fried plantains.

Smashing the plantains was no easy task.  It took Max's whole
 50 pounds and then some to get them down to about 1/4 inch thick.
Max, " We made something unsuspecting.  We took green peeled plantains, witch is like stiff bananas, deep fried it, flattened it, and deep fried it again, and ate it.  It was like a potato chip, but plantain flavored."
Fried plantains, surprisingly scrumptious!
The absolute best beans I have ever had!  Incredibly delicious!
You take the beans on top of the plantain and WOW!

Alex and Rosa do not have a refrigerator.  This obviously makes it difficult to keep food, especially meats.  One of the ways that they get around this, is to keep their animals alive until they plan on eating them.  They have constructed their own tilapia pond with about 80 tilapia in it to provide fresh fish.  Whenever they need fish, instead of reaching in the freezer for filets, they just drain their pond a bit, and pick them out fresh by hand.  They were kind enough to drain the pond a bit for our benefit, and let us do a little fishing!  We felt like a couple of grizzly bears as the salmon run up the river.

Maggie, "We caught tilapia by part draining the pond and catching them with our hands.  I was super good and caught 4!"

Max, "We went to their little fish tank to catch tilapia.  We tried to catch slippery fish with our hands, but they kept using their fin's bones to spike our hands.  But finally we caught some, fried them in pork grease and ate it.  It was delicious!"

We lost count on how many times Tessa had to
catch and re-catch her fish.
Finally safe in the bucket.
Tessa and Rosa scrubbed and descaled.  Then
Rosa was happy to have Aaron clean and
de-head the fish.  She said that was a good man job.
 Once the fish was ready to fry, she pulled out a jar of
pig grease they saved from their last pig slaughter,
and cooked the fish in pig grease over a wood fire.

For Tessa, of all my children, to give this meal two thumbs up is the greatest of compliments.  We count ourselves incredibly blessed to have been able to experience life with Alex and Rosa.  Their kindness, sincerity, and generosity is something for me to aspire to. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting with them as we sat together under his bare bones lean-to.  Where our broken Spanish wouldn't relay the message across we turned to the universal language, charades, and had no problems communicating at all.  

The kids had a great time milking the goats.  The goats had a great pen set up where they could be perfectly contained for milking.  His entire house and all of his farm sheds and corrals are made from the wood he cut down in the jungle.  When I asked him what he built his house with, he said, "My hands and a chainsaw".  If you look at the fencing in this picture, it is all tree branches measured and cut to size with a chainsaw and then nailed in place.  No need for Home Depot lumber here.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Playa Tortuga

Having discovered the refreshing nature of estuaries, we google mapped our area to look for more rivers that met with a beach.  We decided to check out one called Playa Tortuga, Turtle Beach.  The river was wide and shallow where it emptied out onto the flat beach and we soon found much to explore.  Parts of the swift flowing current were deep enough to float a kid on a boogie board, and all the kids had a fabulous time racing down the river on their bellies.

When that got old they did their part to widen
the river.
When that got old we meandered down the beach a little ways and discovered dozens of potholes full of extra toasty water.  We also met the beach's only resident, an extremely kind man who's tin shack, (literally), is located in the trees right in the center of the picture above.  I have now met a true squatter.  He was walking home while I was watching Jonah on the river bank and just stopped to chat.  He had a bright smile and was very patient with my broken Spanish.  Mostly it seemed he was happy to have someone to talk at and I was more than happy to listen.  
Couldn't believe he was doing this, I could never get him to lay
in the tub.  Here he spent a good five minutes laying on his back
listening to whatever the water was whispering. 

Maggie, "We went to a beach with a river and warm pools of water.  We played a community game and had a lot of fun!  We also saw a whole lot of scarlet macaws!"

Max, "We went and found a group of about a foot tall hot tubs.  We went and swam in these until a large crab pinched my finger and we headed home."

Remember the sweet story of Scarlet Macaws mating for life and living decades together in monogamous bliss.  We'll we decided we found the center for macaw couples therapy.  I apologize for the wind in the background and the crummy photo quality, all I had was my phone.  But this was the most macaws we had ever seen, at least a dozen pairs, and ALL of them were squawking and nipping at each other. I couldn't believe it!  It was hilarious!  And very very noisy!

While we were playing in the pools Aaron ventured over to the gentleman's house.  The man was incredibly kind.  He gave Aaron a tour of his place.  It was simple.  Four walls made from scrap wood around a hammock and topped with tin, an outdoor kitchen, and an outhouse a few meters away.  There was no running water and the only electricity was pulled from a car battery and used to light a single small incandescent bulb.  His meager pantry consisted of a pouch hanging from the ceiling with some rice, beans, and coffee in it.  About the only other thing in his diet were the fish he catches from his front yard.  Interacting as only Aaron can, somehow he set up a date for this gentleman to take us fishing a few days in the future.

Not ones to miss an opportunity, we returned to the same place the following Monday.  He had said that the fishing had to be done after dark, but I was a bit nervous about having my family on a very remote beach after dark for an assumed meeting with a stranger, so we showed up before sunset.  It had been raining and the rainbows were pretty fantastic.  

Totally certain these are my double pots of gold.

"Momma, take a picture of my belly!"
After the rainbows the sky only became more magical, and once again I was filled with incredibly deep gratitude at the beauty and the blessings that I get to be a part of.

Through all this we had not seen a bit of our new friend and with darkness now upon us we started for home, just about the time we reached our car, however, he came walking down the lane.  I think he was a little surprised to see us, but he was still willing and just as friendly as ever.  The bugs were out in full tropical force, and their was about 45 minutes before fishing time so I waited with the little boys in the car while Aaron and the oldest three followed the man to his home.  

Aaron,  "The bugs were horrendous, so he was kind enough to offer us his bug repellent, which turned out to be diesel fuel (it was very effective.)  After we all doused ourselves, he lit his cigarette and shared with us a bit of his life story.  He had six kids.  Three move to the USA, two were in neighboring villages, but never visited, and his daughter one day swam out to an offshore fishing boat to leave home and asked the captain to take her aboard.  A very dangerous thing for a young woman to do, but it is not an uncommon tale we learned.  After we had a chance to hear about him for a bit, he was kind enough to take us out fishing for an hour.  What an eye opener for us."

Max, "Today we finished our school and headed to the estuary.  We went to the fun set of pools and discovered that they were not hot because of the rain so we played in the sand.  I made a thinking tower, a drip mountain, and a wave building.  Then a man that my dad met up with took us fishing. He lived in a small shack and used diesel fuel for insect repellent.  We went out with his hand crafted net and caught many fish, at least 14!"   

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rice, Beans, and Other Things

It did not take us long to realize that buying groceries in Costa Rica was much more expensive than in the States.  We were surprised by this, and it caused us to quickly begin to alter our diet accordingly.  The first thing to go was milk.  It was a painful realization that liquid milk was outrageously pricey and that it didn't last very long if you did buy it.  All the people here use powdered milk and margarine, and sadly so do we.  Since one of our goals is to truly experience the areas we are able to visit in their "local" form we decided we could also eat like the locals.  This means a lot of rice and beans.   

Our wonderful and thoughtful neighbor, Alex,
surprised us with this bunch of bananas one day.
We started to make all sorts out of bananas.  Our
new favorite treats are banana muffins and
bananas with Nutella.   Yum!
Max enjoyed using the kitchen as an outlet for his creative
genius.  His new creation, egg pizza, was a big hit.
We don't eat out a lot, but when we do we usually take a picture.  Maggie, below is having a typical Costa Rican plate lunch called a casado.  It is served at all the restaurants.  Aaron thought he was getting a sandwich, like a Mexican sopa, but here sopa means soup.  His had all sorts of creatures in it including mussels, limpets, and this whole crab.  Surprise!

Max's specialty is eggs, they are about $4 dollars a dozen, but they are obviously natural because they are sold in the store brown, odd sized, and tainted with natural chicken "skid marks."  Almost as good as Maggie's eggs back home.  Also we've  had the opportunity to try many new fruits.  Maggie, middle right, tried this odd football sized fruit.  Alex said the fruit can get as large as 30 kilos and it is filled with a kind of chewy, a little stringy, marshmallow smelling gooey meat that actually tastes pretty good if you can get past the texture, sight, and smell.  


We got frozen lemonades at a restaurant one day and now we have come up with a new treat we like to call a Lemon Squeezy.  Just ice, fresh squeezed lemons, a little sugar and the blender and voila!  Happy kids!  One thing we really have enjoyed is that so much of the ingredients are raw and fresh.  We visited an Indigenous Indian village where we helped process cacao beans and then we drank some incredible hot chocolate from the nuts we ground and a little fresh ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Fresh, as in from the back yard that day.  It felt medicinal, it was so pure!

No matter where we went these two just wanted
arroz blanco con mantequilla, white rice with
butter.  Mantequilla became Jonah's first
Spanish word.

This was probably our fanciest meal in Costa Rica, which we now
affectionately call the land of the bland.  We happened to be in San
Jose and stopped at La Casa de Maize and ordered the family platter.
Absolutely delicious!  The array of meats, beans and rice, and for
some reason, cooked bananas is fancy typical.
At home, the kids were not that excited about
rice or beans.  They love protein!  Enough to
clean and cook the chicken.  Tessa liked to
make it dance.
When you buy a chicken it comes with all the pieces, even
the feet.  
Maggie was desperate for some additional options and had
been scouring the Friend magazine for recipes that had
ingredients we could find.  She was so excited when we
could made pretzels.
Any time we get a special treat, like shaved ice on the beach
it was a big deal.  
Aaron has taken on the effort of dinner and we are all so glad!  He makes a delicious mango salsa.

What is better than white rice with butter?
White rice, butter, and fries.  

 Out of necessity our kids tolerance has really really grown.  When we were at home, as much as we tried to demand that whatever dinner we made was the only option, subliminally they always knew there were other things, or at least there would be in the morning, but here it is not possible.  Consequently they are eating things they would never have touched before, rice, beans, and even skewers with spicy peanut sauce, like Max above.   We've come a long way, but we still have a ways to go, I ate his salad.