A Message to the Vagabond

While Bean and I were in Costa Rica, we came across an individual at a street fest. He was walking around selling wares like many of the others. He happened to stop and speak with us as he heard us speaking English with another tourist.

The thing that made our exchange interesting was that he asked if life in the United States was easier than the life that he was leading in Costa Rica. He came to Costa Rica from Togo/Ghana and he said that he was finding it difficult to make it. I told him I understood, and that life had its difficulties in the United States as well. It was simply too deep a subject to delve into while standing on the corner.

Since meeting the young man, his question has plagued me. I wish that I had tried to articulate what I really feel about making a life. I want to answer him now that I have the time. It isn’t a very difficult conclusion to reach, but when there are a million other things going on in the middle of a festival, it is difficult to think up the answers to life’s many questions…especially if you have a child tugging your arm asking for candy.

In my opinion, life anywhere requires a certain degree of planning and preparation. We must know where we are going and find a plan of how to get there. I don’t mean that this is always an actual location. It can be in our relationships, in raising our children or how much money we are going to save in a year. It doesn’t matter if you move from one country to the next in order to improve your life, if you don’t know what you want or how to improve it, you will never arrive at the goal.

We can not run away from ourselves. This is a point that I believe we often forget. Whatever issues we have been struggling to overcome in our home country/job/ relationship, if we do not take the time to discover the root of the problem, we will bring that same issue to our next country/ job/ relationship. A change of location does not equal a complete change of life.

There are different economies that affect countries all over the world. In those countries there are still rich people, poor people and the middle class. It may be harder to find in some places than others, but they are there. I believe that when we find what we want to do in life and we go about achieving our purpose in life, instead of living hand to mouth, we will discover the beauty of living, regardless of the money we make.

While I was not able to give the young man my thoughts about making a life, I truly hope that someone else will be able to share with him something that will guide him to living a life of which he can be proud. It is my wish for you as well. Blessings.

Poas Volcano, Costa Rica

When I told Bean what a volcano was, (a big hole in a mountain that sometimes had fire in the middle of it and hot mud) she said, “That’s o.k. mom, I don’t have to see it. You can go by yourself and I will sit in the van and wait for you and the rest of the people.” I thought that was so funny and I told her that she would not be scared. I wish I had listened to her and chosen another activity as well.

We got up early and though we had a few minutes to order breakfast at our guesthouse, I wasn’t sure if it would come out before the tour bus came. I wish I had of taken those few minutes to at least try and order something as there wasn’t a breakfast on this tour as I had hoped. We picked up a few people who were also going with us on the bus to the volcano and then we drove and drove until we reached the site.

Unfortunately for us, the day was very cool and overcast. Bean and I both had little jackets on, but it didn’t seem to be good enough. Also, regardless of what the brochure said, there really wasn’t a snack stand. There was a coffee machine, a few empanadas to buy and a few other snacks like cookies and trail mix. We were starving and because our group was about to leave, I forced myself to pay six dollars for a bag of nuts. Hungry people will do anything.

We started the hike with our group and walked about a mile to get to the viewing area where we could see the crater of Poas Volcano. Our group was certainly NOT the only group. There were lots of people just trying to catch a glimpse of the crater. Our guide told us just wait a few minutes and we might be able to see something because the clouds were moving fast.

About twenty minutes later, the clouds did move just a little and we were able to see a small speck of green. Everyone grabbed their cameras and started clicking away. It was somewhat funny. Our guide then told us that we were the lucky ones. He said that only 20% of the visitors coming to see Poas Volcano actually see anything. I was annoyed at that. 20%? And yet they sell tons of tours and never say a word about this! I should have listened to Bean and stayed in the van…better yet, choose another activity for the day.

After that short lived excitement, we were given the opportunity to go on another hike to see the crater from a different angle… if the clouds moved. I let Bean ride piggy back and she was more willing to go this time. I was the one who would be doing all of the work after all.

We walked and walked, maybe close to two miles uphill in order to get to the next viewing area. I wasn’t too upset this time. We just looked at the rain forest and foliage all around us. We listened to the birds and it was a blast. It was one of the activities that I believe helped Bean to get another sense of Costa Rica and the beautiful nature for which this country is known.

While I would not recommend buying a tour to Poas Volcano alone, I would recommend visiting and taking a hike. For me, the hike alone was worth the visit. We had the opportunity to really get close to nature in a way that the other tours did not provide, though it was implied. Bean was able to see first hand an active volcano which didn’t happen to be frightening at all. Being able to give my five year old this experience makes myspoclife worth living.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio

Pura Vida at Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Bean LOVES the beach. If there is a beach somewhere, Bean wants to go. I’m not quite the opposite, but if there is a beach around, I do not NEED to see it. Manuel Antonio is said to be a national park and the ocean front, so I decided it was necessary to take Bean.

Though it was a trip we were told we could organize ourselves, once again, I opted to use the tour company. With the company, we were able to sit back and relax and not worry about getting every bus right and finding places to eat and sleep within our budget.

The tour bus driver picked us up from our guesthouse before 7AM and we continued to pick up others from the surrounding San Jose area for the next hour or so. Unfortunately, the bus we were on began to have trouble and we needed to wait for a replacement. The driver and the guide were very apologetic and did their best to answer any questions.

Once we were back on the road, we headed straight to breakfast! The drivers and guide explained the scenery and the route that we would be taking to Manuel Antonio and back. Maybe all tours do this, and all tour guides, but since I do not normally choose tours, I found the explanation of the days activities very reassuring.

I was also pleased by the way that the guides stopped on the side of the road and let us view the crocodiles in the river. It was not just one or two crocodiles, but about 12 or 15. It was amazing to see them lounging in the water. Once Bean was reassured that this was not our final destination and we would be moving on, she was able to relax and watch the crocodiles go about their activities, which she found fascinating.

We arrived at Manuel Antonio about an hour and a half later. The guides were kind enough to point out some of the sites along the way and allow us a couple of restroom breaks. Even though it was still a little before noon when we arrived at Manuel Antonio, the beach front and the little community was full of activity. The guides handed out sack lunches and told us the program for the rest of our time at the national park.

We followed along with most of our group for a little (and I mean little) hike through the forest to the beach. I suppose I expected something much grander, because of all of the animals we were told we could see. The main word was COULD. We looked and looked and walked, and there was nothing out but a few lizards and a sloth high up in the trees barely in eyesight. Bean was ready for the beach.

Before we were left on our own for free time at the beach, the guides told us that we needed to watch out for the monkeys and the raccoons who like to steal unattended bags and run into the forest with them. I listened, but didn’t take them very seriously because we hadn’t seen any animals.

Bean and I took off our cover-ups and headed to the Atlantic Ocean. Though I am not a fan of lounging at the beach, as I said before, it was truly beautiful. Bean doesn’t know how to swim so I had to follow her immediately out to the water. The currents and waves were so strong if I didn’t watch her closely I felt she could wash out to sea. Not an adventure I would like on any vacation.

I happened to look up and there was a lady waving and yelling back where we had laid our bags. I knew something was wrong. I told Bean to wait and took off running. There were at least six raccoons running of into the woods with our sack lunches and my bag with our extra clothes!

I began to yell and wave my arms. I ran after them for our stuff. I didn’t care about the lunch, but I certainly was not going to ride all the way back to San Jose in a bathing suit. Even though people turned and stared and laughed, I kept running until I got our STUFF!

We returned to the water for a short time and then went up to shower. That was a very nice feature of the national park, showers not too far from the ocean. Soap is not allowed as it will wash out to sea, but it is nice to get all of the sand off of your body before dinner.

We walked back down the hill and through some of the town where locals lined the street selling their wares and coconut water. We walked a ways to the hotel where we were to meet the rest of our tour group.

The hotel was to provide us with a late lunch/ early dinner. From the menu, the selections look pretty good. There was a pasta option, a chicken option and a seafood option. I hoped for a lunch like the day before where everything was well prepared. I don’t know if it was the time of day or the hotel trying to put on a show, but the food was simply not very good. They put forth a small effort to appear gourmet, but failed miserably. I would have preferred simple food, simply prepared. The portions were either too large (pasta) or too small (chicken and vegetables). It was tasteless and the waiter was irritable. Maybe he wished he was hanging at the beach.

After dinner, we piled into the van and headed back to San Jose. The ride back was uneventful and peaceful. It was nice to sit back and look out at the scenery. Expeditions Tropical was kind enough to split up the tour group before we came to the outskirts of town. Doing so allowed us to get back to the guesthouse at a decent hour instead of the dead of night.

All together, the trip to Manuel Antonio was a pleasant day trip to the beach. I feel that the tour was well thought out and executed. Bean enjoyed herself and I did as well. We were not left searching for a place to eat or rest and we could luxuriate in Pura Vida!

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

A dear friend at work told me about La Paz Waterfall Gardens before we left town. Costa Rica is her most favorite place to visit when she is traveling. She tries to go at least once a year to a yoga retreat. I asked her some places to visit before I left and she and her husband highly recommended La Paz. As a result, I was very interested in seeing this place.

Bean and I awoke when the birds started singing outside and discovered it was only about 5 A.M., so we just relaxed in the bed and talked. After getting dressed and having our breakfast, we waited for our tour guide to come and pick us up. Of course Bean took that opportunity to talk to the other guests in the guesthouse. She let them know where she was from and where she was going. Just by being herself, she brightened the morning of many weary travelers.

When the driver from Expeditions Tropical came to pick us up, Bean was thrilled at the thought of riding in a mini bus. I expected to pick up many other people, but found out that we were joining a tour that started earlier that morning. Using a combination of Spanglish to communicate, my driver and I talked about the view as he drove. He explained about the use of ferns to cover the strawberries in the fields and the export of ferns for floral arrangements. It was quite fascinating.

Bean and I were able to explore the tourist stand while waiting for our tour to catch up. The main items for sale were Volcanic Strawberries, which was Costa Rican grown strawberries covered with condensed milk and melted chocolate. It was a hit!

Once the tour caught up, we continued on to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. We met 4 other individuals with whom Bean immediately became acquainted. I, like Bean, find that travel is immensely more pleasant when you share activities with nice people.

Before we arrived at La Paz, our guide explained again that it was in the rain forest, with waterfalls and native animals. We were really excited. I was totally expecting something wild and scenic. I envisioned walking under great big trees with the rain occasionally falling on me. That was pretty much what we were told to expect.

Upon arrival, I was completely disappointed. It looked like nothing but a glorified resort. Our guides took us into the gift shop so that we could buy rain jackets or other items if needed and also to let us know about how the tour was going to be conducted, breaks and meeting points. He then led us outside. The view was nice, but it really seemed to be an upscale zoo.

As we went from the small bird houses to the larger bird houses, the guides explained to us that all of the animals at La Paz were no longer able to live in the wild. I was thinking, “Of course they can’t, they have lived here too long.” They then went on to explain that these animals were either found or rescued. I was starting to like this place.

We stopped by the butterfly room where butterflies in all stages of life were just a touch away. I loved it for Bean. I get so excited when she has the opportunity for hands on learning. I reminded her of the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. The butterflies here were exactly like the one in the book. I liked La Paz a little more.

We were treated to a full buffet lunch with both Costa Rican and America style food. It was all you could eat. I was happy to get a plate of gallo pinto and chicken and fruit. Bean was o.k. with that, but she was determined to have the ice cream for dessert. Our guides let us know we had a lot of walking to do in the afternoon and the best thing to do was not to eat too much. I am glad they told me, because I was very happy with lunch. I would have enjoyed another helping if I could.

Finally, after lunch, I saw the one thing that made me fall in love with La Paz Waterfall Gardens. There was a great big plaque in one of the rooms we toured. When my brothers and I were children, my mom used to read everything when we happened to be in museums. I am certainly turning into my mom! I read that La Paz was begun by a gentleman in order to stop the destruction of the rain forest in the area of Costa Rica. It was a nature preserve as well for animals that were rescued and could no longer live in the wild. It has brought jobs and some economic stability to the area. After reading that, I felt positively thrilled that we came…and we hadn’t even made it to the waterfalls yet.

There are actually three waterfalls and a million steps to climb up and down to see all of them. I was ready. Bean was not. We went down, down, down to the first waterfall and it was lovely. It was loud and roaring, an excellent spot for pictures, just everything that a waterfall should be. Bean really liked it, but when we heard of how many more steps were needed, she opted out.

Bean happily went to the next viewing spot with another new “friend”. We were sprinkled with the mist from the falls and the rainforest. I didn’t want to carry Bean on my back, and she didn’t want to keep climbing stairs, so we called it a day and went to the lounge.

The lounge was lovely; just as lovely as everything else turned out to be. I truly feel that the tour was worth every penny and the Gardens are doing an excellent service to the tourism industry and for the country of Costa Rica. I will definitely go back again. Who knows, maybe we will do an overnight there one day?

Costa Rican child friendly tours

I suppose choosing the best child friendly tour in Costa Rica depends on the age of your child. Bean is five, so there are many things that are not at the top of my list to do…Ziplining and miles long hikes to name a couple. When I was searching for a tour back at home, I came across several online that seemed to say the children would be free or significantly reduced. Why, oh why didn’t I sign up then?

I waited until I came to Costa Rica to book a tour. I asked at the guesthouse, and then went into town to see what they would say. I think all of the companies are connected anyway. Everyone gets a commission. I went with an organization called Expeditions Tropical. When the lady behind the desk told me the total cost for the tours I picked, I gasped internally. I have NEVER paid for a tour before, much less for a child under 11.

I chose the company because I didn’t want to run out of time searching around for the “perfect” company. I just chose what I thought would be a decent fit. The guides spoke both English and Spanish. There were many people of many nationalities in the office. I believe that we will have a good mix of many cultures on tour with us, while learning about the culture of Costa Rica.

I chose the La Paz Waterfall, Manuel Antonio and Poas volcano tours. Since we are only in Costa Rica a week, I think that is enough. Last year when I traveled with Bean, she was exhausted with all of the things we did, even though I thought the activities were few and far between. A couple of the excursions are all day, so we will have a few days to just relax and do nothing but explore.

Bean asked what a volcano was. I told her it was a big mountain with a hole in the middle and sometimes there was fire inside too. She told me, “I don’t have to go on that one Mom. You can go by yourself and I will sit in the van.” Hilarious! I let her know that it was completely safe. I am sure she will find someone who will be her friend for the day and she will opt to go with me.

I chose these particular tours because Bean still takes naps. She gets very tired during the afternoon and when she is tired, she doesn’t listen. Better yet, it is like she CAN’T listen. I figure if we can leave in the morning, see something awesome and then come back in the early afternoon, we can rest going and coming back. If we have light outside when we return, we will take a walk to find food and call it an early night.

I also chose these tours because, even though I am a BIG do it yourselfer on vacations, I realize that finding all the local areas of interest and taking the local buses just might be a bit much for a child. I really enjoy immersing myself in a culture by living as they live. Since we don’t know anyone in Costa Rica, I am not doing that as much as I would like. However, on the other hand, I want Bean to have the time of her life. It is her vacation too. A tour company will take care of all of the details for us. All we need to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the sights.

Costa Rica with kids

I think I have mentioned it before, but I love to travel with Bean.
The most stressful time for me is getting to the airport. I am always
holding my breath and mentally have my fingers crossed.

This time it was no different as we got up before the crack of dawn in
order to get to the train on time. (Oh, no, I don’t own a car and I
don’t know what friend would want to get us to the airport by 4:30). I
figure if I want to go to Costa Rica with my kid, or any other country,
I have to do the work it takes to get there.

We ate and slept on the plane in order to make up for our early
awakening. When we arrived, the first thing we noticed was the heat.
In our city, it is most often cool, even in the summertime. Though I
grew up in a very hot state, it takes some time for me to process actually
being in hot weather as soon as we get off of the plane.

Being the adventurous person that I am, I used my elementary level Spanish
to find the bus that would take us to San Jose. We got on the local bus and the
people were nice enough to give Bean and I a seat even though the bus was packed.
The ride was about 45 minutes and since Bean looked well rested, I was ready to
walk 2K to the guesthouse! I decide against it after asking how much a taxi would
cost. It was only 2 colones from the stop we happened to be. I had 2 colones in
my hand…we took the taxi.

Immediately upon arrival at Costa Rica Guesthouse, I liked it. I am always counting
my pennies, so I got a room with a shared bathroom. The bathroom was not actually
adjoining the room as I expected, but a couple of doors down the hall. The room and
the bathroom were HUGE. I was happy! IT IS TIME TO EXPLORE!

Travel Planning- Accommodation

I am one of those people who is always planning the next vacation.
I enjoy planning and my trips come together relatively simply. The
hardest thing is always accommodation. Where are we going to sleep?

Since my income demands that I am a budget traveler, I automatically cross four and five-star hotels off my list if they exceed a certain price point per night. I also like being as familiar with the local way of life as possible and that is not always an option when staying at chain hotels. In Europe, we normally stay with friends. In America, we often stay with family. What should we do in Central America?

Costa Rica is known for friendliness and hospitality. I really want to experience that and I want Bean to experience it as well. She is such a friendly child, never meeting a stranger. I am looking forward to visiting a country where she can feel free being herself. However, because we still take naps, I don’t think that I will be looking at Couchsurfing or using Airbnb. The hosts might wonder why we are going in and out of the house so much.

This is always my conundrum, how much cultural interaction do I want? For this particular trip, I think that we will choose something like a guesthouse. I have seen a few that look interesting. They seem to be a budget hotel with a twist of home. The ones I have seen have a free breakfast and that is always a plus. Bean can meet as many people as she likes. We can come and go as we please without it seeming awkward. I can relax! This will be our first stay in a guesthouse and I am looking forward to it!

The Power of Routine

Many times a year, I look at my life and think, “I haven’t really accomplished much”. I feel like I am going through the motions day after day. Then, I realize the negative self talk for what it is and I stop. I take a look at my life, I find that I AM going through the motions…and it is GOOD!

Day to day activities vary only slightly for me. Most days, I have a certain activity I will perform on Mondays, Tuesdays, etc. During the course of the day, there are certain things that I do at specific times. It is all very deliberate and intentional…though not always fun.

There is power in intentionality. The times when I feel I haven’t done much, I can look at my daily activities and say, “I speak French a little better today than I did 3 months ago. I know more Spanish words today than I did 2 weeks ago. Because of my daily walks, I am the same size I was last year.” Do you get the point?

Having a routine, a daily schedule, that doesn’t vary much day to day, but is filled with things that are important to who you are and where you want to be in life is invaluable. Because daily life can be dull, it is important to know where you are headed. By charting a course and following a plan, inch by inch, step by step, we arrive.

Traveling with Children

I love to travel with Bean. We have been traveling together since she was about 5 months old. (That is, if you don’t count using public transportation to get from one side of the city to the other as travel.) We took a road trip with my parents from Texas to California. Being the minimalist that I am, we traveled light. We didn’t need many extras on the road with the exception of the car seat and plenty of cloth diapers.

Since then, we have been many places together. Because we are both inquisitive, it is a blast. I get to see the world through her eyes and she gets a global perspective at a young age.

Last year though, I think I pushed her to do a bit too much. We only visited France and Spain, but we had many friends to see and a lot to do while we were there. By week three, Bean was fed up with traveling and ready to go home.

For our upcoming vacation, I am doing my best to remember lessons learned. When traveling with children, it is best to have a central location in which to return nightly. Bean and I wake up early in the morning. Instead of rushing right out and seeing the sites, we take our time and have a good, leisurely breakfast. We then go and see one site of interest. We eat lunch either at our vacation residence or outside, we then return for a nap.

After a few hours indoors, Bean is then recharged. We see an evening site or do something outdoors in the afternoon. We eat either inside or out, depending on what we did in the afternoon. We are usually back in by 8 and Bean can relax and unwind however she chooses. This worked for us when Bean was homesick. I am planning to stick to this schedule for the next few trips until I see a need to change things up.

If you travel with children and have a routine that works for your family, let me know about it. I would love to hear from you.

Community Gardening Rocks

For many years, I have enjoyed the idea of working in a community garden. I even romanticized the idea of an urban homestead for a while. I like the idea of being self sufficient and growing most of what you need to survive, while having access to the cultural activities a big city offers.

Bean and I have been active in community gardening for a couple of years. She loves playing in the dirt and with the water, meeting other people and sampling fresh produce. I love that she touches worms, knows where food comes from and that we can do something positive in the community.

This year, we invited a friend to share our plot with us. It was a good call! She came to meet us this weekend with a bag of tools, gloves and seedlings. I was amazed. I thought Bean and I were just going to play around again this year! We weeded, put in more soil, and planted seedlings in a flash. We now have a properly planted garden plot that will be ready to harvest in a matter of weeks. Thanks, Ms. B!