Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tamarindo (Part 4)

Since we arrived in Tamarindo around 8pm, it was too dark to take in any of the town.  I was anxious to go exploring the next morning (and more importantly to find a place to get some coffee).  Needless to say, I was a little less than impressed with my surroundings:

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This was just off the main (and only paved) road in Tamarindo.  The whole town is situated on the beach, and then has about 3 other “main” roads that were gravel (like above).  We rented a condo just on the other side of that gigantic white building.  It was a fabulous deal at $89/night (2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen, living room, & pool)and about a 5 minute stroll to the beach.  Since it was off the beaten path we didn’t get a lot of the street noise, but we did have a pet.

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I named him Pepe.  We only saw him one night up near our ceiling.  And I preferred him to the random ants.

But, what the streets lacked in charm, the beach made up for.

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It went on forever, had hardly anyone on it, and had very little debris from the ocean.

And the ocean was bathtub warm.  The waves were mild, and there was no drop off for as far as I could walk.  Tamarindo is a surfing hub.  At least for beginners.  I’m not sure someone who actually knew how to surf would enjoy it because the waves would probably seem boring to them, but both Carrie and Michelle tried it out.

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They’re out there somewhere.  You could rent a surf board for $10 for the whole day.  I opted for relaxation. I rented a lounger for $6 (all-day) and grabbed my book.  Although Michelle did great and had a blast, her knees were scraped and bleeding from all her attempts and that told me I made the right decision!

We didn’t do any excursions in Tamarindo.  Instead, we spent our days roaming the town and our nights eating at some of the many beachfront restaurants.

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These dining experiences were often accompanied with some beautiful sunsets:

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On Thursday morning we packed up, checked out of our condo, and made the hour drive to the Liberia airport.  While we were waiting to check in our rental car something bit/stung me on my back.  After doing the “there’s a bug on me!” dance I had Michelle check it out and she couldn’t find anything, but it stung!  Fifteen minutes later, as we were in the shuttle going to the airport, I turned to my friends and said “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but my throat is really tight and my face is crazy hot and tingly.”  By the time we got to the airport my throat felt huge and Carrie said my eyes were kind of puffy.  Unfortunately, I have learned no medical terms in my Spanish lessons so I had a really hard time describing “allergic reaction” to the non-English speaking paramedics at the airport.  I was able to say “my face is hot” and “my throat is closed”.  A little dramatic but he understood and rattled off something in Spanish and all I heard was the name of a drug.  So, I pulled Carrie into the room because she is a Doctor of Pharmacology.  That guy understood “doctor” and I’m sure he thought she was an M.D. so he started handing her ampules of medicine.  She looked at them, found an antihistamine and told him to give me it.  So, my departing gift from Costa Rica was a shot in the butt.

I still don’t know what it was that bit or stung me. I’m not allergic to American bees.  But, Carrie and I also left with about 20 bug bites each from the beach that itched for over a week so as Carrie put it, I guess Central America’s bugs are a bit heartier than American bugs!

Despite the ending, it was an amazing trip that I’m very fortunate to have been able to take!  Everybody at home (Rob, his parents, my parents) pitched in to cover all my duties and I really appreciate that!  I look forward to going back someday to explore the other side of the country (and to zip line again).  I’ll keep working on my Spanish and make sure I learn some medical vocabulary!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Zip Lining (Part 3)

Zip lining through Costa Rica has been on my “list” for a LONG time.  It’s actually what made me propose Costa Rica to Carrie in the first place!  On our 3rd day I was able to cross it off the list.  The whole experience was fantastic (once again, minus the roads…thank God for 4 wheel drive!).
I knew going into this that Carrie was not excited about this part of our trip.  Well, she was excited, but completely anxious.  She had prepared ahead of time to take plenty of Xanax that morning.  Even still, her outlook was grim.
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She didn’t even want to be in this picture and it took everything she had to smirk.
What I didn’t know was how nervous Michelle was.  She just giggled a lot and said she was a little scared. 
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We zip-lined with the company Sky Trek.  First, you go through a line to get all your gear, and then you take a tram up to the top of the “mountain” (I’m not sure if it’s a mountain or just a really tall hill?)  The first 2 lines were practice runs and really tame.  After that, the fun begins!  At this point there is no turning back so if you didn’t enjoy the first 2 lines at all, then you can take the “chicken exit” and go back down on the tram.  But, if you choose to do the 3rd zip line, then you have no other option but to finish the course.
Here’s me on the very first line:
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You can see how short it was, and how close to the ground it was.  No problem.
After the first two zip lines Carrie was totally okay.  She was ready to go and opted to have a guide go with her across the first big line:
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They call it a taxi.  And here she is 2 seconds later floating over the rainforest:
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Can you see her?
Unfortunately, the first 2 lines did nothing for Michelle and the view of this 3rd line, and Carrie floating off on a tiny cable 656 feet above the ground (the highest line) didn’t help.  She was a lot more nervous than I knew.  But, she eventually let them hook her up to the cable and shove her off!  It took until the 5th line, but she did start to enjoy it!
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That’s Michelle coming in for a landing on the 4th line.  The guide sends out a little knot tied onto the cable and then shakes the cable which is your signal to start breaking (this just involved you pushing your pulley back and forth against the cable to create friction), then you’re suppose to spread your legs because if you come to an abrupt stop your legs will swing up to the cable and they want the cable to go between your legs rather than burn your leg against the cable.  They said that was called a Costa Rican Tattoo.  Anyway, breaking never did much for me but I didn’t really need it.  That knot they sent out usually did everything I needed and then once you land on that yellow step they help you stand and unhook you.
The 7th line was the longest and fastest.  It was about a half-mile long, 275 feet above the ground, with speeds between 50-52 mph.
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That little dot is me 2 seconds after take off.  The little hole in the trees in the distance is where the cable goes.  It was about 40 seconds longer after you entered the trees.  This was, by far, my most favorite line.
Before our last run, everyone was all smiles:
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No forced smirks or nervous laughter!  I loved the whole thing and both of these ladies said they’d definitely do it again.
We ended this day with another treacherous drive around the lake, but a nice dinner on the beach…our final destination.
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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Costa Rica (Part 2)

After a crazy drive through the dark rainforest, a soak in the natural hot springs, we all slept really well our first night.  We decided to go horse back riding to a waterfall for some swimming.  First, we drove into town to do a little exploring and to see what our eating options were.  We figured the Pizzeria the first day was random and we’d be offered more traditional fare here on out. 
We ended up here:
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The guy who owns this place lured us in from a few blocks away claiming good food but “more importantly a clean place”.  The sign is right.  It was just good food….not great.  We also went here because many years ago the same group took a camping trip in Wisconsin and ate at a place called “Ain’t Bad Food”.  Which was also accurate.
After our lunch we headed out to find Chavez’s Horse Ranch.  We drove around this small 10 block town for 30 minutes looking for this place when we finally stopped for directions.  Hurray for my small amount of Spanish once again.  What I learned from this is that when I pose my question to the locals, what they don’t know is that it took me about 3 minutes to figure out what I was going to say and how I was going to say it.  And then they would rattle off the answer in Mach speed Spanish and I would catch every 3 words.  We finally found it (it was a super shady looking tin roof place housing some mangy looking horses)…yee haw!
We had an hour ride to the falls, and hour at the waterfall, and an hour ride back.  My horse’s name was Camellia.  Her goal in life was to be the lead horse at all times.
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This is about the closest anyone ever got to me throughout the whole hour ride.  And that is because Carrie is an experienced horse rider and got her horse to catch up to me.  As soon as she did Camellia took off once again.  I spent my hour long ride yelling back to the guide asking for directions.  We rode through a few open pastures like this, but spent a great deal of time in the rainforest on a muddy path about 12 inches wide.  Every once in awhile, without any notice, the guide would make some kissing noises which sent the horses off at a trot.  I finally got the hang of it, but the first few times I nearly fell off.
But, we made it!  My horse slipped and laid down once, but was pretty quick to get back up.
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That’s the volcano in the background. 
And here’s the waterfall we were trying to get to:
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Just a little hike. 
Through this path:
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It looked like it would take forever, but it was probably just a 10 minute steep walk down there.
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It was much colder than I thought it would be, but felt great after the hot horseback riding.
We also got to watch some monkeys playing in the trees:
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The hike back up was a workout!  I had mixed emotions about getting back on Camellia.  I was tired from the hike and swimming, but my butt was not ready for another hour.  Camellia wasn’t quite as competitive on the way back, only leading by a block instead of 2-3.  She did decide to explore a remote section of the forest at one point, stopping short a few feet before a 10-15 foot drop, the guide brought me back to the group, but not before we jumped down off a 4 foot drop.  Safe to say, I was ready to be done with this excursion.
We ended the night at another restaurant and the only full view of the volcano the entire trip:
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We also had a snake slither across the restaurant floor.  Carrie spent the rest of the dinner sitting cross legged on her chair.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pura Vida! (Part 1)

I just got back from a most amazing trip to Costa Rica!  “Pura Vida” is kind of the Costa Ricans motto for their country.  Loosely translated, it means “life is good”.  I was able to spend 6 days testing it out.  I think their slogan is pretty accurate (as long as you are not driving at night). 

I went there with two girlfriends from high school, Michelle and Carrie.  It started as a random adventure that Carrie and I threw together.  Rob had been traveling for work non-stop and recently spent a few weeks in Peru so he suggested I take a trip someplace cool.  About a month before we were ready to leave Michelle worked some magic and was able to join us.  We all met in Atlanta at 9:30am on Saturday and traveled to Liberia, Costa Rica together.

Immediately upon arriving we got our rental car and got on the road.  We knew we had about 3-4 hour drive ahead of us.  We knew the roads weren’t going to be that great but that was the extent of our knowledge.  So, when we came across a random pizzeria on the side of the road, we couldn’t resist.

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Thus started our adventure.  It also started our first tastes of Imperial beer.  A beer, I’m convinced, I would think was complete crap at any other time, but it sure was delicious on this trip.  We were the only customers in the restaurant (not surprising given it’s completely remote location) and there was only one worker (out of 3) that spoke a tiny bit of English so I got to use my Spanish right off the bat (I’ve been taking an on-line course similar to Rosetta Stone).  We got what we wanted so I’ll call it a success.

After our long (and late) lunch, it was back on the road for more driving.  We stopped once to admire the view.  In the picture below is Lake Arenal.  It’s the largest man-made lake in Central America.  It powers over 40% of the country.  When they planned the lake, they put absolutely zero planning into the road surrounding it.  What followed was some of the most stressful 2 hours I have ever spent in a car. 

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The roads were up and down and left and right.  Fallen trees were covering parts of the road, bridges were single lanes (and just barely), and it was crazy dark by 4pm.  But, we finally made it to our hotel around 5:30 and immediately found our way to the natural hot springs….and more Imperial.

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Jose was our bartender and told us whatever we were drinking was his specialty.  While he made these drinks Carrie and I questioned him about snakes.  Michelle was adamant there were no dangerous snakes around and Carrie and I were certain there was.  I said “Jose, do you guys have snakes around here?” and he paused with a goofy smile debating what he should say to the tourists.  Finally he just said “Si.”  I said, “Are they bad snakes?” and he said “Si.”  I said “Where do you find them?” and he said “On that railing next to you.”.  That pretty much ended our night.

Our first hotel was in La Fortuna.  It was called El Silencio del Campo (“The Silence of the Forest”).  Sounded like a little bit of a creepy name, but it was anything but creepy. 

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It was a beautifully manicured place made up of about 15 of these little cabins.  The staff was incredibly friendly, and it had several natural hot springs.  The picture below is one of the smaller springs.

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Included in our stay was one free facial.  Well, that wouldn’t work with three girls, so we decided to all get a facial and split the cost of the 2 extra.

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It was straight out of a magazine.  Facials might be my favorite indulgence ever so I don’t say this lightly, but that experience was amazing.  It was everything Aveda tries to replicate, only it was truly natural things they make fresh daily.

And for good measure (sorry if you’re already bored, but this is my “scrapbook” so too bad), here’s a couple other pictures of the surrounding area:

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It probably would have been a photographer’s paradise.  But, I had to make do with my old camera that has an extremely dirty lens.  So, from here on out, picture the colors 10x more vibrant than what I’ve captured.

That’s probably enough for now.  Part 2 will be our first scheduled adventure…horseback riding.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Feast Day

I had the pleasure of joining Riley, and her class, today for their Feast Day!

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As far as her preschool programs go, it’s one of my favorites.  The kids each bring in any food they want, it’s placed at a big table and we eat!  Well, first they sing us a few Thanksgiving songs (mostly about turkeys) and then we eat.  Who wouldn’t want to eat a bunch of preschoolers favorites?  The only bad part, if I had to pick, is sitting in a chair 6 inches off the ground.

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Today, Riley opted for a Go-gurt, Ritz crackers, chocolate cookies, chunks of cheese, popcorn, and string cheese.  She tried both a crescent roll and the Hawaiian bread but those both ended up on my plate (along with Tostitos, goldfish, Angry Bird animal crackers, and a gumball).

It was a feast indeed!  I can’t think of anyone better to share it with than my favorite preschooler!  It was a nice warm-up for the real deal on Thursday.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Snaggletooth

To date, Austin has lost two teeth.  The two bottom, middle ones.  Before either of those fell out, the permanent tooth had already grown in completely behind them. 

Now, his top tooth middle teeth are loose, plus a bottom side tooth.  The bottom tooth has the permanent tooth growing up behind it, and it moderately wiggly.  The two top teeth are barely wiggling, but one is being pushed out and to the side.

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You’d think he already lost a tooth on the top there.  Instead, that tooth is barely wiggly but completely sticks out:

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They get goofier by the day.

He was like our very own Jack-O-Lantern this season!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Halloween 2012

No matter how much I try to plan ahead, Halloween always seems to sneak up on me and the whole night is a mad dash.

Riley had preschool on Halloween but she spent an hour of her day at a party. 

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She has a pretty fun class.  They sang some songs for us, and recited some spooky poems.  Riley is far from the “ham” that Ellie was, but at home she loves to sing the songs for us.  She is the youngest kid in her class but they are a very nice group of kids.

I thought I was ahead of the game because we actually carved the pumpkins the night before.  Usually this is part of the mad dash.  We quick gut them and cut out some eyes and called it good.  This year we let the kids think about their designs and help with the scooping (of which only Riley would participate.  The other two deemed it gross).

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From left to right we have:  Austin’s Iron Man, Ellie’s spooky face*, and Riley’s scary face.

*Ellie was not happy with the results and after this picture was taken I had to re-cut the eyes to make them spookier.

And before we knew it trick or treaters were at our door and we were scrambling to get our costumes on.  I barely got a picture at all, but certainly not a good one.

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Ellie was a princess riding a unicorn (unicorn represent for the 3rd year in a row!).  Riley was a cowgirl riding a horse (last minute, of course, I asked my mom to make her a cowgirl vest…it was done the next morning!).  Austin was Snake Eyes from GI Joe.  He had a mask to go with this, but he has literally worn this costume every day for over a month.  The mask broke in half as he walked out the door.  Bad timing but he was a good sport about it.

Our other trick or treaters were Addie (Juliet from “Gnomeo and Juliet” and I could have watched her toddle around all night!) and Ava…aka the Little Mermaid.

I took the kids this year and Rob stayed back to hand out candy.  It was a beautiful night and I didn’t have to carry anyone at any point this year!  They’re growing up! 

As I have trained them, my children immediately handed over all their Snickers upon arriving home.  I subjected each and every one to a safety check which included a full taste test.  They were good (and safe).

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Perks of my Job

The best part of staying home with our kids is participating in school activities with them.  This year is particularly nice because Riley is in preschool Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a little over 2 hours so for the first time I’ve been able to volunteer during those times without needing a babysitter!  I have started to volunteer once in a month in Riley’s classroom, I’ve committed to 2 Mondays/month in Ellie’s classroom, and once a month in Austin’s classroom.  Obviously I could do more but I have the kids who get a little emotional when I leave after a couple hours so I’d rather not put them all (including their teachers) through that too often.

In addition to regular volunteering, I’m almost always free to attend field trips.  Actually, this past month I (purposefully) skipped my first field trip with Austin.  I figured it would be good for him to be without his mom on a field trip.  And, I had another first and went on Riley’s first field trip.

I think her most favorite part was riding on the bus.  It’s a giant blue school bus lovingly called “The Blue Goose”.

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We had Addie in our group too.  I used to teach Addie swimming lessons so I was happy to be assigned to her because I knew she is a great kid.  On a side note, I bet I have taught about 10% of the kids in the preschool, and one girl in Ellie’s kindergarten!

We went to Richardson’s Nature Center in Bloomington.  The kids and I have been there many times so that part was nothing new to Riley (which is probably why the bus was the most exciting part).  But, she did enjoy making apple cider:

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It was delicious too!  We also went on a nature hike and looked at the reptiles they keep indoors.  We also went for an animal search on their giant mural walls they have.

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I think everyone had a good time.  Riley still isn’t too sure about preschool and tells me almost every day that she doesn’t want to go.  But, I’m pretty sure she enjoyed it this day!