Monthly Archives: January 2015

Itinerary, part I


La Mariposa

Two and a half weeks left!  We fly out on 2/11, from Boston to Atlanta and then on to Managua, Nicaragua.  It will be a long day, but the nice thing about traveling south is that we don’t have a big time-zone shift.  Nicaragua is on Central time, only one hour behind us here in New England.

Trip planning is proceeding, although in a much looser fashion than is the norm for us.  We have so little idea of what to expect that we want to leave ourselves with as much flexibility as possible.  However, as previously mentioned, I’m not one to just show up at the airport with a backpack and a guidebook (especially since we’ll be arriving at 9pm).  So, as a compromise, we have our first three weeks planned out and will be planning the rest as we go along.


Our excursion schedule.  Nadia is looking forward to the “salida en caballo” on Sunday mornings.  I’m excited about the finca de pina on the day after our arrival.


Stuffed animals Lanie selected to donate

The first two weeks were easy.  In fact, our destination is what drove our decision to start in Nicaragua to begin with.  We’ll be staying at La Mariposa Spanish School, which looks almost too good to be true.  The first time I read about it, I decided then and there that this would be the start of our trip.  We’ll be doing one-on-one Spanish lesson in the morning, and excursions to volcanoes and farms and villages and beaches in the afternoons.  In the evenings there are movies or salsa lessons or lectures.  The school is an eco-lodge in the mountains, surrounded by gardens where they grow their own food and coffee.  (And just to make sure Nadia is as happy as the rest of us, they also have 16 horses.)  And we’ll be getting all this, including all meals, for $221 per day for the five of us.

We hope to have an opportunity to help out in the local schools and will be bringing what we can for donations.  They especially want children’s books in Spanish, so if anyone has any lying around, let me know.

After we leave La Mariposa, we’re headed northwest to the coast and the colonial city of Léon.  The plan is to stay there two nights.  Léon will be nice to explore in and of itself, and it’s also ringed with volcanoes that we hope to tour.

Rancho Esperanza

Rancho Esperanza

For our last planned stop, we continue nortwest to the Rancho Esperanza, in the seaside village of Jiquilillo.  Again, this place sounds totally amazing.  It’s a hostel, so we rented out all the beds in a six-person dorm.  (Otherwise I’d pity the poor unsuspecting sixth person stuck in with us.)  We’ll be right on the beach, taking surf lessons, kayaking in the mangroves, and relaxing in the beachfront hammocks.

After this, we don’t have set plans, although the idea is to head inland to the mountain town of Esteli and the nearby nature preserve/farming cooperative community of La Miraflor.  We’ll keep you posted.

It’s time! To think about some stuff as it pertains to our upcoming trip


Well, I mean, we are and we aren’t.  If we could, we’d get right on the plane this instant, but we don’t really have anything packed, and there’s still a few more weeks of work and school to get through.

Nevertheless, excitement is high.  It almost feels like this is a reality.


A bag fit for an apothecary.

We’re checking off necessary actions on our readiness list:  Passports? Check.  Special quick drying underwear? Check.  (Thanks, Santa.)  Hiking sandals, swim shirt, water purifier, medication for “travelers’ diarrhea.”  Got ‘em.  Plus a bunch of other medication it’ll be good to have on hand, and a few motion sickness bracelets.

We’ve begun to load up on audio books.  We’ve borrowed a five-pack of good traveling backpacks (thanks, Brookses) plus towels, because packing a towel is how you show other travelers how cool you are.  We’ve thought through footwear and reading materials.  We’re getting a handle on electronics and homeschooling stuff.

The appointment to get the Saturn out of the driveway is set for the day before our house sitters can arrive.   Goodbye, old friend.

Jen and I are both up to level 12 on Duolingo.


Two shots apiece for the parents and one each for the kids. One more thing out of the way.

We all got our shots the other day (no typhoid coming home with us) and then Jen set to the truly painful task of setting up the new travel laptop (it’s got Windows 8).

Coming up:  spraying clothes with mosquito repellent; actually packing our backpacks;  secuing a ride to C&J, emptying out our closet  and dressers to make room for the new occupants; finding the PIN for my international-fee-free debit card.  I’m sure there’s more.  Empty out the freezer.  Change the linens.  Prep the house sitters on generator operation.


Jen consults Big John while trying to set up Little John. Under her breath she’s muttering, “Bastards.”

                But, really, we’re ready to go.   I expect we’ll be more ready to go by this time tomorrow, when there will be at least six more inches of snow.

Planning and unplanning

With all the business of the holidays behind us, and less than  five weeks to go (!), I’ve jumped back in to trying to figure out what this 11 weeks is going to look like.

It’s turned out to be somewhat of a challenge.  Amazingly, there’s so much to see and do in this region (and, of course, the necessity of so much more time and trouble getting around) that 11 weeks doesn’t even seem like enough to see everything we want to see.

I’m trying to be very conscious of striking the right balance between touring around and seeing the sights, and having time to just be somewhere, relaxing and hopefully getting to know the culture.  We also need to build in time for school activities for the kids.  And above all, during this 11 weeks I want to avoid rushing.  In our normal life at home, we’re always having to tell the kids to hurry, hurry, hurry.  I think we could all use a break from that.

The cross-country plan. Color-coded by time zone, of course!

The cross-country plan. Color-coded by time zone, of course!

The other challenge is security vs. flexibility.  I have a well-deserved reputation as a planner.  In general, especially when traveling with the kids, I like to know where I’m going to end up at the end of the day and how I’m getting there.  Driving around at 10pm searching for a hotel with vacancies surrounded by squabbling exhausted children is not my idea of a good time.  Nor is spending the first hour of the day flipping through guidebooks or struggling with an inadequate internet connection in order to figure out where to go, how to get there, what it will cost, etc. only to find that the great museum we really wanted to go to is closed on Mondays or that there was a really great tour at the national park that took place yesterday.

Our friends the Brookses, who have extensively traveled the world with their FIVE kids, are the complete opposite of me in this regard.  They are known for, among other things, arriving at the Copenhagen airport (yes, all seven of them)  in the middle of the night with all their bikes disassembled in boxes, only then to realize that they hadn’t considered how they would get from the airport to their hotel.  However, everything always works out and they have wonderful adventures, so there’s that.

Most trips that we take involve at least one spreadsheet.  For our five-week cross country road trip a couple of years ago, I had everything planned to the letter.  There were good reasons for this (i.e. in order to stay at several of the places that turned out to be highlights of the trip, campsites/accommodations had to be booked months in advance) and in the end it worked out wonderfully.

The Disney plan.  Maybe spontaneity is not my strong suit.

The Disney plan. Maybe spontaneity is not my strong suit?

I even had a spreadsheet for our trip to Disney a few years ago.  I found a website that was like crack cocaine to an OCD planner such as myself,  It had reviews, crowd calendars, ratings on which park to visit each day, as well as extremely detailed suggested itineraries that would minimize standing in line (and which they obtained by exhaustive testing in the parks).  Poring through this information and then synthesizing it into a schedule for us is the kind of thing I find fun. (I know!  I’m a weirdo.)

In my defense, I am not rigid about these plans.  I always told my family that we could choose to deviate from the Disney Plan at any time.  I just like to have  a plan, so that we’re not all standing around saying,

“What should we do next?”

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

…and then have all three kids inevitably pick different choices and proceed to fight bitterly over them.

But this time, due to the length and nature of the trip, I do want to allow us more flexibility to go where the wind takes us.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll have researched and documented a tentative general itinerary (of course).  But I’m hoping to avoid locking us into it whenever possible.  Time will tell whether this turns out to result in spontaneous bliss or endless headaches.  (My guess is, a little bit of each.)

Future engineers on the beach

Big Sur is all about beaches.  This area of coastline is so beautiful and remote that most of it is IMG_5293state parks — one after another, running down the Pacific Coast Highway.
It’s not the kind of beaches that you might picture, though.  You will not find bikini-clad sunbathers, or beach umbrellas, or the scent of sunscreen in the air.  Instead, there are towering rock formations, seal skeletons, wheeling bird of prey, crashing waves, a chilly wind, and long stretches land that are totally deserted apart from the occasional lunatic surfer.
We spent a fair amount of time on the beaches during our few days in Big Sur.  We’ve already written about the seal-covered beaches of Ano Nuevo, but there was another beach in the park that could be visited as well.  I think it must be overshadowed by the seals, because we were the only ones there, despite its beauty.  Shadowed on three sides by towering cliffs, all sign of the world outside the beach was hidden.  We also found the most interested and beautiful rocks that we’d ever seen.  Sadly for us, the park forbids removing anything, or we would have emerged with full pockets. As it was, we still spent substantial time hunting down rocks for the sheer pleasure of showing them to each other, and it was hard to drag the kids away.

I found this one.

Zoe's fossil rock

Zoe’s fossil rock

How cool is that?

How cool is that?

(Zoe found an especially cool rock that was covered with fossil imprints.  We brought it to show a ranger with some vague vision that it would produce great excitement and lead to us being given a plaque in the visitor center, but the ranger was rather blasé about it, so I guess it was not that unusual.  But if we’d found this at home it would have been a certified treasure.)
IMG_5406On our first evening in Big Sur, we visited the famous Pfeiffer Beach for the sunset.  We discovered this was a very popular activity, as there were legions of photographers with fancy cameras lined up, apparently awaiting the moment when the setting sun would shine through a window in a large rock formation just offshore.
This was an absolutely beautiful place, the kind of place where you just sit down and fall into a trance staring at the amazing surroundings and listening to the crashing of the sea.  Unless, of course, you are one of our non-meditative-minded children.  They instead spent their time wading into the water (which was freezing, but no more so than New Hampshire in mid-summer) and building elaborate sand structures to be washed away by the tides.  We again had to drag them away, wet and sandy, as dusk began to fall.IMG_5425
The finished product

The finished product


Everyone looks so cheerful, don’t they?

The next day (in a steady drizzle), we visited the famous beach at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (not to be confused with Pfeiffer Beach mentioned above — apparently these Pfeiffers were major bigwigs around here).  This one we only got to view from far above, but it was still spectacular — a waterfall emerging from the cliffs and falling into the bright Carribean-turquoise waters below.  The girls wanted to get their feet sandy, though, so we asked at the booth if there was anywhere nearby that provided access to the water.  They directed us to a very different beach (which a subsequent Google search identified as Partington Point).  We walked down a lonely trail that eventually led us into a tunnel through a cliff.  Emerging on the other side, with the crashing surf on one side of us and steep cliffs rising on all other sides, it was like we were alone in the universe.  This was not exactly what you would call a “beach”, as the ground was covered with various sized rocks rather than sand (perhaps a beach in progress?)  Past visitors had built cairns from the beautiful and diverse rock collection, and the girls enthusiastically seized onto this activity.  By the time we left, I think there were at least twice as many cairns as when we’d arrived.

IMG_5532 IMG_5542
IMG_5572On our way out of Big Sur, we made one more beach stop, at Andrew Molera State Park.  We walked about a mile down a beautiful path that wound through various types of vegetation, and emerged at yet another lovely deserted beach.  At this point we began to feel as though this trip was arranged especially for us by some Matrix-like overlord, because there was yet another diverting challenge for the girls: driftwood!  The beach was covered with driftwood in all shapes and sizes, and some one had even constructed a shelter out of it.  Zoe immediately began directing a new construction project.  So with any luck, few reminders of us remain in California to this day.
No rest for the wicked

No rest for the wicked