The Road Home and Stuff

I can’t believe the first stage of our new adventure is already coming to an end so soon. A short 10 months after we left Seattle for Costa Rica we will be leaving and on to our next, shorter, adventure. We are already actively planning and packing even while we continue our adventure here. The return trip is much easier in many respects, but harder in some.

I noted that it was only the end of stage 1. As I mentioned earlier, we decided to leave early since we are heading into (technically we are already in) low and rainy season. It’s low, but not rainy. Still, many places are starting to close and many friends are moving back to their home countries until November. So, we are switching operations to Europe. We are “trading” our last two months in Costa Rica for about 5 weeks in Spain, France and Italy.

In stage 2, I return to California and my parents’ house for a visit for two weeks while Deb stays in Costa Rica with the dogs. The dogs have to wait until Sept. 15th to travel due to the heat. Deb returns on the 17th and we head to Spain on the 21st, starting our final stage, stage 3.

Deb is hard at work developing a loose itinerary for us all. We know we land in Barcelona, Spain and leave from Florence, Italy. Everything else is pretty open. We know we want to hit a few small towns in France on the way to Italy. We plan to visit Cordoba in Spain for the castles and Orvieto in Italy for the incredible church there that hosts the works of Luca Signorelli (an incredibly talented Renaissance painter, like Michelangelo, but with a penchant for depicting the apocalypse and scenes from hell). The Catholic Church relegated him to this church on a large butte. We will also definitely visit Rome; Deb and I are going to Gladiator Camp. We did invite the young adults, but sadly, no takers there. Deb will certainly be “badass!”

As Deb does the planning, I’ve been doing the packing and finishing up my class(es). We have also both been studying and working towards our Advanced Diving Certification. Never a dull moment.

On the class front, I got asked to add another class on Prototyping to my schedule. It is a two day workshop over two weeks of elapsed time. It’s been a lot of fun to put together but it’s also been a ton of work in the middle of everything. Fortunately, it works with my current schedule in San Jose – I teach Information Visualization Thursday evening and Saturday morning and then Prototyping Friday evening. I and my class usually head out for food and drinks after one or both classes so it’s been a lot of fun.

Just to brag about my students a bit, they just turned in an assignment to create an information visualization on some aspect of the World Cup and I was blown away by the quality of the thinking and the execution. These folks all have day jobs, mostly in high-tech, and then they take night classes several days a week. In just about a week they created some visualizations that in many cases are on par with work I’ve seen on the NY Times.com site (they are well known for their excellence in information visualization). More importantly, they have focused on some really interesting stories and insights from the Cup, such as why Brazil lost so badly(!), why Costa Rica did so well despite the fact that their FIFA statistics are not stellar and how Costa Rica used passing as a super power. I’m super proud and excited to see what they’ve done so far. Here’s a quick example:

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Costa Rica’s Secret Combinations, Mauricio Varela

In between trips to San Jose, I have been starting to pack. Fortunately, and here I reveal my inner geek, I created a big spreadsheet when we first came down itemizing everything in our 6 carry-on bags and 6 stowed bags to facilitate staging and packing. That makes it very easy to do everything in reverse. Mostly.

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Re-Staging

In our two trips back, we returned here with some additional things. We added some “stuff” while we were here, most of which we won’t be bringing back, and of course some things didn’t last through our adventure. We mostly leave with the same number of bags and items. It’s interesting to see what made it and what didn’t.

First off, we have to account for additional things we brought back from the US. This includes paints, paintbrushes, and other material to paint Deb’s painting. I brought back additional technology, mostly for the young adults to make videos which they never did. Deb has all the material she got for her home made lip balms, deodorants, etc. – something she will continue to do when we return, so those all go back.

In the spirit of reducing “stuff”, we actually did not get much down here and what we did get will likely stay – being given away or sold. We will sell Fanta (our truck), our bikes, TV and a few other things. We will find good homes for the blender, crock pot, boogie board, hammock, yoga mats, printer, and sand-castle-making supplies. We used all of those things regularly but won’t need them or can’t get them home.

Very few things that we got here make the return cut list. Deb got a few hand-made bikinis. Those are coming back. They were also excellent purchases. I’ll leave them to your imagination. We’ll take our diving instruction materials back, along with Deb’s painting (which will likely be an adventure on its own). And of course, our newest family member “M and M”. That’s about it. It’s nice to maintain our low volume of stuff.

What is fascinating to me is what won’t make it back and what didn’t get used. We’ve been here almost a year and we really brought minimal supplies. Looking at where we are now, it is really clear to me what we truly need and what we don’t

The young adults have grown, especially Aidan. We are throwing away or giving away almost all of his clothes and shoes. The poor guy has no shoes that still fit – not that he needed them here! Likewise, Nev has a bunch of stuff that doesn’t fit. They, along with all of us, are getting rid of a number of clothes that we have simply worn through wearing them so much over the course of the last year. These include most of our swim suits, flip flops and t-shirts.

Then there is the technology. It’s been a hard year on our tech. Fortunately, I made sure we had redundancy in key areas. We’ve gone through four computer mice(!), three headsets/headphones, two digital pens, one Bluetooth music player, one keyboard, one tablet and a large number of recharging cables. Deb’s Mac and my parts of my tablet are on their way out as well. Kudos to all the smart phones, (Nokia, Apple, Samsung), Kindles, Xbox, and the Dell laptop which, despite heavy use all are no worse for wear.

In terms of what didn’t get used, there are many things. It’s good food for thought for others doing this (and we now know several!). We brought too many clothes and shoes. I brought several nice clothes anticipating that I might have to return to do some consulting. That was fortunate because I use them when I teach class, but I still brought too many short sleeve collared shirts. I found that black Armani t-shirts are versatile and great for going out here. I’d say that I could have cut my clothing by 2/3 and not noticed. In fairness, though, some of these things we didn’t use in Costa Rica we will use in Europe.

We didn’t use our nice Sony camera as much as we should have; it was just too big to easily take everywhere despite the nice pictures it takes. We are getting a smaller one for Europe so we actually use it. Likewise, we just started using the GoPro for diving but before that had not used it much. We didn’t watch any of the movies I brought on DVD and didn’t play most of the Xbox games we brought. And sadly, I never got a chance to use my volleyball.

Up until when I was asked to do a class on prototyping I would have added all of the backup drives I brought to this list. I had brought them more for safety but had not used them until I needed some key material for the class and then they became invaluable.

Almost everything else was used and used frequently, particularly cooking items, the very few board games and the large monitor (which was truly indispensible for my classes).

Of course, we didn’t come here to get “stuff” to bring back. Rather, we came for experiences and adventure, and we certainly got a lot – almost everything we hoped for. We all (mostly) learned a new language. We learned yoga and surfing. I got to play soccer in another country. We learned to dive. We got to explore the rain forest, the volcanoes, the jungle, and the beaches. We got to see (and in some cases live with) wildlife that we had never seen before. We got to have sunrise meditations and sunset cruises. I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to teach in an exciting new University program. Deb got a chance to give back and work for a kids’ organization and help organize a fundraiser. We got to appreciate another culture and make lots of new friends, some of whom have become as close as family. We got to help our young adults unschool and learned a lot about ourselves in that process. We got to spend lots of time together as a family. That’s the “stuff” life is made of.

And that’s just stage 1 of our adventure. Stay tuned for more. Pura Vida.

PS: At least one of us (Nev) got to really appreciate Seattle’s cold weather!

Nosara

We love exploring new places on our new adventure here in Costa Rica. We just came back from several days in Nosara with some good friends and wanted to share some of the highlights.

Nosara is a fairly well-known are among celebrities, evidently, given a large number of health, beauty and yoga retreats. You wouldn’t know it though. And no, we didn’t see any famous people 🙂 It is another great surfing area that is about 2 hours south of where we are in Playa Flamingo. Nosara is one of three towns that are all clustered together. Our friends stayed in Playa Guiones and we stayed in Playa Pelada.

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Welcome to Nosara

We took the road to Nosara that follows the coast rather than travelling inland. It was beautiful in many places, especially when you could see the ocean. Mostly though, the roads were dirt and covered in potholes. It would have actually made a pretty good driving video game, but you really need the pounding shock action to help create some challenge in steering. Of course, what’s a road trip without our buds, the cows?

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Cows Always Have the Right of Way

The area is much more “jungly” than where we live. It was lush and beautiful. It was far more green and there was a lot more wildlife in and around town and the house we stayed in. This means that the bug population (“bichos”) was significantly higher as well – and we all felt it. It was more humid in the Nosara area and at times got to a “sauna” level. The Ticos call it “bochorno”.

The three towns themselves have a common, but very different feel compared to where we live up north. Deb liked the “vibe” a lot there.

Among the wildlife we saw was a family of howler monkeys. They get their name from their sounds, of course. Although, it is less of a “howl” and more of a very guttural “hoo”. The males are the ones who like to chat, and chat they did. I had quite a rousing conversation with one of the males one evening. I guess he enjoyed it so much that he came back early the next morning around 4am to have another one. I guess I didn’t mention that they were nocturnal.

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Meet the Howlers

Howlers live in Guanacaste trees (the name also given to the state we live in in Costa Rica). We have the monkeys and the trees in our area up north, but not as close to where we live.

We saw a range of insects in Nosara as well. Many were different from Playa Flamingo. In some cases, that was great. For example, we saw this incredible red dragonfly. We see many as Deb seems to have a magical connection with them. We’ve never seen a red one though anywhere.

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A Red Dragonfly

Nosara has cicadas more the size that we expect from Chicago and Kansas. Strangely, in our tropical climate up north, our “micro” cicadas are about a third the size. Nosara is also home to a large number of biting, stinging, and otherwise onerous set of insects. One bit or stung me on the finger while I was sleeping and it is still red and swollen. Thankfully, the people of the Nosara area are far nicer!

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A Cicada

It rained heavily for a little bit each day, but that is pretty typical for this time of year. We did get a torrential downpour on our way back to our house one night. It was a bit of white-knuckle driving on the dirt (well, now, mud) roads in the middle of the jungle in pouring rain. It was almost like the beginning of one of those horror movies where you get lost and find something evil. Fortunately, with GPS and Deb spotting in the shotgun seat, we made it!

There were many fun food places we tried while down there. We actually found a craft brewing company called Beer and Burgers in Playa Guiones which had wonderful, dark stouts and other brews. I wish I had grabbed a photo to compare to the ones I had in Seattle.

We had a great breakfast at the Beach Dog Café, also in Playa Guiones. Deb’s had these amazing tacos with panko fried avocado, with passion fruit-sriracha sauce. It was very close to the beach and had a memorable sign!

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The Beach Dog Cafe

Another big hit was Robin’s. The ice cream was absolutely amazing. We had heard it was great, but sadly didn’t make it there until our last day. You have to try the “Wake the Dead Up Coffee” gelato.

Overall, the food was pretty consistently good wherever we went. Sometimes we paid tourist prices but mostly we didn’t have to.

Awhile back I described some things that were particular to Costa Rica, if not unique. One of them was this large tube you see on many SUVs. I had thought they might be portable “snorkels” for cars in the rainy season driving through ponds. It turns out that these are portable showers for after-surfing rinse down. I couldn’t find one before when I was trying to get pictures for the blog, but I spotted one in Nosara.

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Portable Surfer Showers

The way back was less of a driving simulator; we took mostly main roads up through large towns like Nicoya and Santa Cruz. And when we arrived home, we had a beautiful sunset waiting for us.

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Another Sunset at Casa Mariposa Amarilla

Pura Vida!

El Volcán Arenal

This past week we visited the Arenal Volcano and the rain forest around it with our good friends, the Andersons. Their girls were on spring break and so we decided Aidan and Vie should also get one!

It was a refreshingly cool trip to a gorgeous part of the country. We had some fun adventures, saw some amazing wildlife and tropical plants. and we returned with an understanding of how special, and increasingly rare, these places are. Now that tourist season is pretty much over, we hope to take a lot more of these trips as part of our new adventure.

I took a ton of photos on this trip, so this blog will be more of a photo blog. It is pretty amazing what you see here. Oftentimes, it is “up close and personal.”

We’ll start with the volcano itself. It stunning beauty situated on a large, beautiful lake. This Volcano was pretty stealthy until 1968 when it brought itself to the attention of the Ticos with a huge eruption. It is now one of the most active volcanos in the world. It is on several of the “Top 10” active volcano lists I found on the internet.

El Volcán Arenal

El Volcán Arenal

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Lake Arenal from a zip line

The area is populated by hot springs and a huge area of dense rain forest. There are also a number of spas and adventuring areas. We stayed in a wonderful little house designed by an artist in the town of La Fortuna. His dog, a Doberman named “Choco”, became a good buddy of mine. His paw was severely injured by a car but he hopped around with a huge love of life. He was a big puppy still and needed a lot more love than he seemed to be getting.

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Choco

La Fortuna is close to the volcano and “main street” goes one way through the length of the town because it lines up with a stunning, close-up view of the volcano. There’s really no reason to want to go the other way.

As part of our trip, we took a rain forest hike, explored some caves, and went zip-lining at the largest facility in Costa Rica. The rain forest trek was my favorite. It was located in a picturesque valley which was dense with vegetation.

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The rain forest valley

While the tour advertised hanging bridges, and indeed there were many, the main attraction was really the flora and fauna of the rain forest itself. We went in the late afternoon/dusk, which I recommend; it is far less crowded and noisy. The animals like that and were coming out. Take a look at some of the incredible things we saw:

A spider monkey travelling with is group

A spider monkey travelling with is group

A coati looking for dinner

A coati looking for dinner

A very tall, odd tree

A very tall, odd tree – zoom in to see some detail

A “well-camouflaged” pit viper

A “well-camouflaged” pit viper

A “well-camouflaged” pit viper

A “dart” from a particular palm tree used for poison darts by the indigenous people

And the poison dart tree frog

And the poison dart tree frog from which those folks made their poison darts (Note: these fellas are only about the size of the end of your pinky)

There were several gorgeous types of flowers, none of which I got the names for:

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Rain forest flowers

Can you see the bat hiding?

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It bites the under part of the leaf so it creases and makes an overhang. Here’s one with a flash where you can see the bat:

 

 

 

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One of the hanging bridges

One of the hanging bridges

A “rain barrel” tree

A “rain barrel” tree – the roots are hollow and hold water

Leaf-cutter ants

Leaf-cutter ants

A "monkey ladder" tree

A “monkey ladder” tree

A tunnel through our trek

A tunnel through our trek

A tree sloth

A tree sloth

The second day of our trip, many of us went to visit the Venada Caves (while some who will not be mentioned spa’d it. It is a “living cave” – one that is still forming. There was a small stream running through it and the cave system supported a number of bats, spiders, centipedes, frogs and other critters that can often terrorize spa-goers!

The Venada Caves entrance

The Venada Caves entrance

A “meat-grinder” type passage

A “meat-grinder” type passage

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A few areas of the cave

A “meat-grinder” type passage

A waterfall which we got to by crawling through a water-filled tunnel

Aidan tried to eat, at the guide’s urging’ a rather large and nasty cave spider with a pretty ferocious bite. It was large but thing and the photo does not do it justice. Use your imagination J

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An elusive cave spider

For the record, we spotted the tree sloth on the road to the caves, and I found the tree frog outside the cave entrance as we were coming out.

Our final day in Arenal we all went zip-lining. Deb and I had been zip-lining in Costa Rica before on our vacation trip two years ago, but the Sky Trek zip lines are the largest in Costa Rica. The rides were long and provided some stunning views.

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Our intrepid zip-liners

The rain forest valley of the zip line area as seen from the zip line

The rain forest valley of the zip line area as seen from the zip line

The longest stretch of zip line

The longest stretch of zip line – 1500 meters (or almost a mile)

Deb, the master zip liner

Deb, the master zip liner

We all had a wonderful time and it ended all too soon. We could have spent several more days in the Arenal area. There is a lot to do and see. Fortunately, we didn’t have to contend with a ton of tourists; most of the outings involved just us and no other folks. We expect other visitors (!) and so we’ll have a chance to try out some of the other things the Arenal region offers. We will definitely have to do the river/white water tour next time. Maybe I’ll get to see my bud Choco again.

Pura vida