Transitions

Transitions

It has been several weeks since I’ve last posted about our new adventure – far too long. It’s been a crazy several weeks as we’ve returned from Costa Rica, in two groups, visited with friends, searched for jobs, and more. The whole period has been fun but really has seemed like an interlude between our initial adventure in Costa Rica and our next adventure in Europe. I’m taking some relaxing time now while in the airplane to pause, reflect, and write.

When we last left our intrepid adventurers, I had just finished speaking at Universidad VeritasExperience Design Summit, returned home, went diving with Debbie, and then I and the young adults boarded a long plane trip with most of the luggage to California. Deb was to follow in two weeks with our dogs Lucy and Isis.

The conference was a great way to end my adventure in Costa Rica and in teaching. I met some great folks there, especially the other speakers. The Summit had great energy and the only down side was saying goodbye to my fabulous students. It was one of the best and most enjoyable teaching experiences I’ve ever had. Best of luck in your final year folks!

I had a day home to both go diving and finish final packing and preparations. We had the 6 largest checked bags and 6 carry-ons that were really heavy. I had most of the technology in the carry-ons including several backup drives, batteries, rechargers, and a lot more – the kind of things that usually flag us in security for inspection. Oh yeah, we were bringing our adopted Costa Rican cat, MnM, home in a cat carrier.

The trip back was a long one. We basically went from Liberia in Costa Rica to Atlanta with a long layover to LA where we stayed overnight, slept about 4 hours and then boarded a flight for Oakland, near where my parents live.

The trip back was long but not tough, although we had a tricky moment in Costa Rican security. Knowing we had several legs and an overnight, we had packed several baggies of cat litter for MnM. Thinking back, they did look more than a little suspicious! Well, the security folks in Liberia had to take them, after asking what they were. One of the really nice agents was very sympathetic (a cat lover I assume) but we couldn’t even bring one. I was worried we’d have to deal with a kitty accident in the plane but MnM showed herself to be an awesome traveler. She didn’t have any needs on board and didn’t make a peep.

We spent the next few weeks at my parents’ house in Rodeo. We had a great long visit and I got to cook most nights and make some dishes that I couldn’t really do in Costa Rica – like jumbalaya and minestrone. It was quite a treat to be able to make things that took a long time but where I didn’t have to cook in 95°F heat!

A very large thread through my time there was looking and interviewing for jobs. I made two trips to Seattle and a few into Silicon Valley. I have several promising opportunities and I have to say that this makes me feel far more settled going off to Europe and not feeling that I have to start this process from scratch when I return.

Two weeks after we arrived in California, Deb came in with the dogs. Her trip was far more grueling. When we left for Costa Rica, there were two of us to handle the dogs and even though we had two legs, the dogs stayed in their kennels the whole time. On the way back, it was a very different story – starting with the bus ride to San Jose.

Deb had ordered a cargo van for her and the dogs, explaining that she needed an open van, not a passenger van. She confirmed it with the company a few times leading up to her trip. Murphy’s Law then intervened. What arrived was a 12 person passenger van, with all seats and no space. The kennels had to be disassembled – which is a real pain because there are about 14 locking screws on each – and then put on top of the seats. The (large) dogs had to fit between the seats and poor Isis could not lay out fully. She was stressed and so Deb had to hold or pet her the entire 5.5 hour trip to San Jose.

They were flying overnight and so it was late when they arrived. Deb had to simultaneously deal with the driver, assemble the dog kennels, manage the dogs (including letting them do their business) and deal with the bags and a long line of baggage handlers who wanted to “help.” I feel horrible we weren’t there. And yet, it was not over.

She had a stop in the LA and was surprised to learn that in customs, the dogs had to come out and she had to manage them and the luggage. It’s not pleasant because poor, stressed Isis, who is almost 14, had an accident in the crate. We were all set up to deal with that on arrival but not really between flights. I picked the exhausted trio up in San Francisco and 90 minutes later we were all at my parents’ house, Deb having gotten two 45 minute naps in her nearly 48 hour trek. She gets the über-traveler award!

Deb arrived Tuesday. We used Wednesday to pack for Europe, which was a really interesting activity.

As I mentioned in previous posts, we sold most everything before we went to Costa Rica. We only took two stowed bags and two carry-ons each with everything we needed for 10 months in Costa Rica. For Europe, we were “downsizing” to one bag each for 5 weeks. We had the young adults’ backpacking backpacks, which were carry-on size, for them. Deb and I ordered two Tortuga travel backpacks for us.

These Tortugas are amazing. They look like soft carry-ons but have a strong set of backpack straps in a compartment. They open like luggage and wear like backpacks. I was a little worried because they looked small for what we needed, but everything fit perfectly. We are carrying only a few changes of clothes for 5 weeks in Europe along with laptops, Kindles, chargers, converters, mobile battery packs, and even some nice clothes (slacks, jacket and tie for me). This is about as minimal as we can get.

I flew off to Seattle Thursday. We were all wiped out Friday. Saturday we said sad goodbyes and thanks to my parents and headed to our friends’ Tony and Joy’s house for a visit before they took us to San Francisco airport for stage 2 of our journey.

It’s been a whirlwind, but we breezed through the airport with our minimal backpacks and are ready for stage two. For the record, if the ZA (zombie apocalypse) comes, we are now set.

travelers 2

The Travelers

We are starting our stage two, like stage one to Costa Rica, with varying feelings. Deb and I are super excited – but we have been to Europe before. The young adults have not and really have no idea what a place with such deep history and diverse culture has waiting for them. We are working through various levels of indifference, impatience, frustration, and boredom right now. That will change, we hope.

I’d love to say that our Nev and Aidan are very engaged and anticipating an amazing adventure, but I can’t yet. Right now, they are excited primarily by the selection of movies on the flight and the soda offerings. They can’t yet really value the experience they will have. Often though, the most profound memories and experiences come when you aren’t expecting much (or perhaps even dreading something) and yet you have an amazing experience. This is what we hope for.

Even at 10,000 feet on our way to Spain, pura vida remains with us, at least with Deb and I. We will continue to embrace this philosophy not just for the 5 weeks remaining in our adventure, but for the rest of our lives.

When I was doing research on travel for Boeing, one of the folks I talked with about travel said “travel changes you.” It certainly has for Deb and I. We hope and expect that the next 5 weeks will for our young adults as well! Pura vida!

How We Got Here

Several folks have asked us “Why Costa Rica?” and “What sort of planning did it take?” I thought that while it’s fresh, I’d post the answer. Let me know if I missed any details you’d like.

Why Costa Rica? Well, our first choice, as I described in our new adventure was actually Brazil. Sadly though, the US has tight restrictions on Brazil and so Brazil has tight restrictions on Americans coming in. We wouldn’t be able to stay more than 30 days realistically – at least there was no guarantee. So Deb began a hunt of other locations that fit our criteria. Here’s our Top 10 reasons (in good ol’ David Letterman form) why we chose Costa Rica as the country, Playa Portrero as the city, and the specific place we live, Casa Dutry, in order of least to most important.

11.   The swimming pool at the house was a bonus!

10.   We had to have air conditioning (primarily for Vie, who thinks it is too hot when
it is 70 degrees).

9.     We didn’t want a place with dangerous rip currents so we could feel comfortable letting the kids go surf by themselves. The surf in Playa Potrero was perfect.

8,     Our new home had to allow dogs of course.

7.     The rent had to be pretty modest.

6.     The house needed to have three bedrooms. Two bedroom places are common and so are 4-5 bedroom places, but three bedrooms are hard to find.

5.     Costa Rica is the happiest country on the planet according to the Happy Planet Index (there is no military, and there is great education and health care).

4.     The place had to be warm and by a beach (hey, if you are going to move to another country, make it amazing) – and within walking distance to the beach.

3.     We needed to bring our dogs without them having to go through a quarantine process (which is common in Europe and many other countries).

2.     We needed to be able to stay at least six months and up to a year.

And the number one reason:

  1. We wanted a country where the kids could learn another language within another culture. Spanish worked particularly well as Deb studied it and I knew Portuguese and Italian.

What sort of planning did it take? The whole thing took a lot of planning over several months. It was really broken up into two parts: planning where we were going and planning to leave. Deb did a brilliant job on the former and I took care of most of the prep work to leave.

Deb started by looking for the right country. Some of the top contenders were Portugal, Ecuador, Uraguay, Belize, Panama, Chile, and Spain. There were others but based on our criteria she chose Costa Rica. We made a vacation trip the year or so before to nearby Tamarindo and loved it. Deb scouted some more details afterward.

We got more serious about moving about 10 months before we ended up leaving. At that point Deb started the 6 month search for a house to rent and that’s when we learned about and added many of the other criteria (such as no rip currents). It was a lot of emailing property owners and rental companies. She started with vrbo.com, airbnb.com, and various real estate and property management companies. Then went deeper searching for communities and local blogs where home owners post homes for rent with not a lot of responses. She finally found a small local agency, LEP, and then she narrowed down property choices. We got very lucky in finding what we did.

The next big planning hurdle that she took on was getting passage for the dogs. No quarantine I think translates to lots of paperwork. This included knowing all of the vaccinations and certificates they needed to enter the country, as well as finding the right airline to transport them. She researched how the airlines cared for pets and a lot more. As I mentioned in Roots, I ended having to drive to Tumwater, WA for final paperwork for the dogs (during the government shutdown).

Meanwhile, I was started by planning and prepping for the big estate sale to get rid of our stuff. I detailed a lot about in that post. That was a huge endeavor. Fortunately, I quit work a good 5 weeks before we left so I had a lot time to prep at home.

Another big task was renting our house. We initially expected to have to find a Property Management company (which we did), but good fortune struck and a good friend was looking for a place for her family to rent. They took a look and loved our place. That made the whole rental planning far easier. We still had a lot of work to do to set the house up for rental (adding CO monitors, deep cleaning, wall fixes and touchups). Of course we had to overdo it and paint two rooms and add a new floor before we left. That’s all less about move planning though.

There were a few other details that took planning and a bit more than we planned. One thing in this category was cell phones. We had to buy new, unlocked cell phones and then we had to work out that it was best to wait until we were in Costa Rica to get the SIM cards for them. That worked out pretty well.

Getting to the airport was more pain than I expected. We had to go to SEATAC airport in Seattle and rent a minivan with stow-and-go car seats so we could transport the dog crates (and luggage). We planned for a cab to take Deb and the kids, but when it didn’t show, we ended up all cramming in the same vehicle. The opposite was true in Costa Rica. One of the nice things about using a property management company is that they have a concierge. This meant that Deb was able to have them arrange transportation from Liberia airport 45 minutes away and it was there on time and ready to go, fitting all of us comfortably. The comfortably part took a little planning. Deb sent the 2 dog crate measurements (cm) to make sure that they would fit in the vehicle along with our large amount of luggage and 4 people.

Finally, there were things we planned but didn’t get right. For example, I was excited to learn that Amazon shipped to Costa Rica for $4.99. But, it doesn’t ship consumer electronics (eg., cables, cell phone covers, printer cartridges) and things from most non-Amazon sellers it seems. So far these are the things we’ve needed.

Likewise, I read that while some services such as Pandora and Netflix don’t work outside the US. But, Xbox Live did. Well, yes and no. Netflix did work in Costa Rica. Xbox Live did for gaming. Pandora didn’t. So, I subscribed to a VPN service (I used Unblockus.com) which helps media content get through. It does and we have Pandora now, however the fine print is that Xbox Live movie rental and downloads don’t work and can’t. I’m still working on a way where we can see new movies. Ironically, I thought we could at least go to the theater here, but there are none in the several towns around us. At least Unblockus helps in that web content, media, etc. is not defaulted to Spanish which helps the young adults until they learn Spanish (then we switch back J).

In all, the planning was an adventure in itself and definitely part of ours. Once we found the rental and started seriously planning, it took a lot of our spare time. It was worth it though – both the move and the fact that we did spend time planning. It means we can now focus on small missed details easily and not face a mass of unexpected details. Planning certainly takes the edge off of any change.

Arrival

We all arrived safely in Costa Rica, Thursday October 24 for our new adventure. We’ve gotten rid of our stuff, taking only the most important with us and successfully uprooted from our life in Seattle. The first few days have already been a big change – and not just geographically.

Our trip was pretty easy actually. After our challenging departure in one minivan because our cab was a no show(!), things got easier. We got to the airport 3 hours in advance and did all of the dog paperwork and prep. Lucy was very curious and Isis was a bit tentative, but they both went into their crates well. Security was easier than I expected with all the technology, but they did open up the bag with all the hard drives, modems, routers, etc. to take a look and then I got to put the puzzle back together. The 2 flights were uneventful and we all got a bit of sleep.

Arrival in Liberia was what we were most worried about and Lucy and Isis did fine. They were super excited to see us and get out, of course. Isis had a little accident but I had planned for that and brought disposable towels, etc. Customs went very smoothly; it seems the thing of most interest to the customs folks was our sewing machine!

We headed “home” in another large van for an hour ride from the airport to Surfside, our new community sandwiched between Playa Portrero and Playa Flamingo. Along the way we passed by the cool little town of Brasilito (“little Brasil”) and that made me smile (because I am still a carioca at heart). We stopped by a small Mercado and go some supplies then made it to our new home.

SONY DSC  SONY DSC

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It is a beautiful 3 bedroom house known as Casa Dutry. It has a wonderful little swimming pool, gated yard – great for dogs who aren’t familiar with the area or the critters, and just enough room.

Deb had brilliantly arranged for someone to bring us dinner that first night. Chef Miguel’s stew and fixings were amazing. We were all wiped out so it was a perfect end to our first night. And then we slept for many hours!

The next day two days involved a bit of rest, a bit of exploring and a lot of setting up. We didn’t have Internet initially  the modem in the house was missing. Our landlord got us one immediately but then we had to get the cable guy out because we weren’t getting service. Despite folks here saying things are slow here, the cable guy came out “within 24 hours” and earlier than I expected. Actually, it was just as fast as a similar call in Seattle. I just set up a new wireless router and now we are mostly digital again.  We still need SIM cards for our Costa Rica phones.

The kids are settling in. Things are different of course. The pool helps J. We’re starting off with a “vacation” attitude and letting them relax, rest and have fun. They are still a bit grumpy that everything wasn’t working immediately and things like our new dishwasher(s) is named “Aidan” and “Vie”, but they are starting to embrace the life change more each day. It really has only been two days; Deb and I haven’t gotten there either quite yet.

Coming back from getting groceries and looking for SIM cards, we had an unexpected world change moment. We turned on the radio and found a program that was evidently the surf program, “man.” It talked about the surf and the season and featured some really great personalities who lived the surfing life and played great tunes from the 80s. “Man”, what a cool welcome. Hunting for it on the web, I think it is the Evan Luck show.

We then had another great experience at dinner. We stopped at a local pub here called Maxwell’s. It instantly became our new favorite hangout, like the Hudson was in Seattle. You can bring your dogs, which was very cool (there’s probably a whole post coming on dogs here soon). The food and Margaritas were awesome. The real treat though was meeting the owner, Kelly who is truly larger than life. Vie was still a bit grumpy but Kelly managed to lighten Vie up and get a smile. She asked Vie to come help decorate for Halloween and now Vie has a new bud here.

Here in Costa Rica, people talk of the pura vida – the pure life. People are very happy, helpful and welcoming. They actually say “hi” (or “hola” on the street). It is a very different feel than Seattle – or any place I’ve ever lived. Like us, people seem to work to live, not live to work. It’s probably a bit early for us to really speak about pura vida with any sense of real understanding. But soon, I think we’ll find it.

Staging

We are in the final stages of preparing for our new adventure. It’s been a big effort to get here, with all of the planning, uprooting, and stuff-selling, but we are here now on the eve before our departure staging all of the things we are taking – and reflecting a bit.

We finally finished the house-wide deep cleaning. The house looks brand new. We hired a cleaning group to do the deep clean, but evidently, our standards are much higher and so we’ve had to do a lot of extra work. We tend to like our windows cleaned without streaks and our surfaces actually clean.

staging

Now I have a great puzzle challenge in front of me: packing. Or, at least I thought it would be a challenge. We are taking 8 stowed bags and 8 carry-ons and it’s starting to look like we actually won’t need all the space – which is a good thing. I guess reducing our complexity has its advantages.

What we are taking is well-planned (hopefully), pretty minimal, but technology-heavy. Most of the carry-ons have the technology. In addition to our computers, we are bringing a large monitor, hard drives, modem, routers, Kindles, Xboxes, communication equipment, music players, a micro-projector, DSLR camera, and a GoPro camera. We’ve gone completely digital and this is everything we’ll need to live, work (a bit), and unschool down in Costa Rica. We’re particularly excited about the GoPro camera and its application for unschooling, including Aidan’s video blogging. And of course, we have miles of cables even though much of this stuff is wireless. Ironic.

The stowed baggage is carrying some expected things and probably some unexpected things. We’ve got clothes and shoes of course, but we have tropical gear which is all lightweight, dries quickly, and weighs almost nothing. We’re taking all of our bike lights and helmets with the hope of finding some used bikes there. We are also taking all our family soccer gear including our Seattle Sounders ball (a gray ball will work great on the beach). I’m also bringing my beach volleyball (I can’t tell you how I’ve been waiting to play again). We’ll get surf boards in Costa Rica.

We’ve got dog gear, including night lights and paw protectors. The hot sand and total darkness will be very different for Lucy (our rescued 5 year old Weimaraner) and Isis (our 12 year old rescued Greyhound). We’re also bringing headlights, flashlights, and other hiking gear, including a pretty sophisticated snake bite kit. It feels a bit like the Amazing Race (our favorite family show).

In the unexpected category, we start with a sewing machine. Vie loves working on cosplay costumes and Deb plans to try to create a few outfits. There’s one unschooling opportunity there. We’re bringing a big monitor for some work but more so the young adults have lots of room to work on projects. Let’s hope the large beast arrives safely. A third bag carries a ton of sunscreen we had collected along with some tools and kitchen items. Aidan wants to continue to cook and try more molecular gastronomy so we need to bring some things we’ll likely not find where we are. The combination of cooking and chemistry is another unschooling opportunity. We’re bringing some favorite and some new games such as Settlers of Catan and 7 Wonders (and ok, Munchkin). At least the first two develop some good skills. For example, Vie has become a wickedly good negotiator. To round it out, we have two very large dog crates for the girls.

And just to be a bit hyper-prepared, I have a spreadsheet with all of the contents of each bag identified just in case we have any lost baggage issues :-).

For a year away, it doesn’t seem like a whole lot. Hopefully, we have what we need to spin up unschooling. It helps a lot being digital. And, if we do end up needing something, well, Amazon has $4.99 shipping to Costa Rica. That’s less than gas (and a rental car) to get to a store in a nearby town to get it not to mention the carbon footprint impact.

Our biggest worry at this point isn’t the luggage, or losing it. Or that our MINI will get repaired just fine while we are away (Deb got rear-ended a few days ago!). or getting to the airport (which is a whole challenge in itself), or hoping our transportation from the airport is actually waiting for us – though those are all fine things to worry about if we were inclined. The big worry is hoping the dogs make it safely, especially Isis who, after all, is the equivalent of an 84 year-old woman. It’s a big, stressful trip for them.

Unschooling isn’t just about school; it’s about life. We hope we can help show Vie and Aidan by example that even though there may be things we haven’t done before and things we could worry about, that we can work through all of this, including any unexpected things that come up. That’s what adventures are for. The plunge starts tomorrow.

Roots

It’s amazing how many layers of connections we have to one place. The longer we stay someplace, the more of those connections we accumulate. They are a lot like roots. And uprooting something is very tough.

When we started planning our Costa Rican adventure, we knew that it would be a lot of work, but I think we also were thinking about it in somewhat idealized terms – kind of like an elaborate vacation. We are coming up on T minus 3 weeks to leaving and it is feeling very much like the final stages of pulling a very large oak tree out of the ground.

There are expected things for anyone moving, like transferring utilities, forwarding mail, finding a renter, telling folks about our new adventure, and saying goodbye (for awhile). Some of these things are more tedious or harder than others of course, but we knew they are coming.

There are unexpected things, like figuring out which services we subscribe to will continue to work in Costa Rica, such as Xbox Live, Netflix, and iTunes (yes, yes and no, by the way). Xbox Live is particularly key since we haven’t had cable TV for years and that’s been the only way to watch a few shows we like on a big screen. Or, learning that in Costa Rica we will be exposed to “a far greater number viruses, Trojan horses, worms, and other nasty things than elsewhere in the world as the ISP there does not do as good a job of filtering them out before they hit your PC.” I have to really up the bar on our anti-virus and internet security software and learn a lot more about this than I had planned.

There are some unique things that we’ve had to deal with since we will be away a year in a foreign country, such as applying for a residency visa or getting a special insurance policy for our stuff. Our current challenge here is getting the right kind of unlocked smart phone to move all four of us to as Costa Rica switches from GSM to 3G technology country-wide. We almost timed that one poorly!

As we start figuring out each detail, sometimes we learn that the “root” is much bigger than we could have imagined. My favorite in this category is getting the documents for the dogs to go. We expected paperwork, and we got that. But, we didn’t expect to have to drive to Tumwater, WA to the USDA office 10 days before we travel so that they can certify that our dogs can leave the country, all the while worrying that the government shutdown will get so strict that they completely close their office and keep us from going altogether. This is still an active concern.

Our roots here in Seattle are pretty deep after almost 18 years. As we continue to cut each root though, it does get easier and easier. The daunting uprooting task that makes it difficult to want to start is almost done now. And, like uprooting a big tree, we feel a great sense of accomplishment and empowerment. We can see a lot better without the tree. In our case what we see are possibilities.