Monthly Archives: July 2015

On the road again

Well, we’ve been back at home for three months now, and in many ways it feels like we never left.  After jumping back into our usual routine of school, work, and activities, our Central America trip seems like another world.  So, time for a new (mini) adventure!

MEcoastwalkWith the kids all away at camp for two weeks (!), Bob and I had three criteria for what we wanted to do: (1) not too expensive, and (2) fairly close to home in case we needed to do an emergency camp pickup, and (3) something that we couldn’t easily do with the kids along.
My mind immediately jumped to some kind of walking or biking trek.  I’ve always wanted to do one of those European vacations where you walk from village to village, past castles and sheep and cheese shops, and arrive each night at a quaint little inn where your bags are waiting for you.  Though I did briefly toy with this idea, it didn’t meet criterion #2 and a quick look at air prices made #1 right out as well.  I started to look closer to home.  Apart from one possibility in Vermont (which, despite the name “inn to inn tours” seemed to imply that a car was a necessity), I didn’t come up with anything.
So, then I started thinking, we can do this by ourselves, right?  I mean, we could pack really light.  Our bags wouldn’t be very heavy.  (I have yet to confirm this with a test run.  Based on past experience, I’m a bit apprehensive about this assumption.)
Will this get me through five days?  Will it fit in my pack?  Time will tell.

Will this get me through five days? Will it fit in my pack? Time will tell.

And in terms of destination — well, we have one of the most beautiful areas in the country right here.  And a little googling revealed that there are indeed quaint little towns (possibly with cheese shops, though castles and sheep seem unlikely) strung out at convenient 10- to 15-mile intervals along the route.

So, we’ll be walking up the Maine coast, starting in beautiful downtown Portsmouth, NH.  We’ll cross the bridge into Kittery, ME and continue on for five days or so, hopefully ending in Old Orchard Beach.  When we arrive at our final destination, we’ll hop on the Downeaster Amtrak line and cruise right back to Durham.
The plan was to avoid car travel entirely by starting our journey with the COAST bus from Durham (a short walk from our house) to Portsmouth.  Unfortunately, this morning I discovered a little note on the schedule that indicates, “No weekend routes in reduced service season.”  Given that this bus is run by UNH, summer falls squarely into that category.  So we may need to prevail upon a friend for a ride to the starting line.
Along the way we’ll see state parks, lighthouses, cliff walks, arcades, T-shirt shops, and lots and lots of coastline.  First stop: York Harbor, approximately 11 miles (via a coastal route) from Portsmouth.  We’re crossing our fingers on finding a convenient hotel, since it’s a high-season Saturday night and most places have a two-night minimum.  Still, I figure someone will take pity on us if we show up on the doorstep.  (If not, one of you locals might be getting a phone call.)

Endorsements #2: The lukewarm and the cold

I think we were very forthright about things that didn’t go completely perfectly during our trip.  Readers of our blog found out about the scorpion hiding in Lanie’s backpack, the huge spider our canyon guide threw at my head, and the chicken that defecated only a few feet from our table — inside a restaurant.  Maybe we didn’t tell you that last story, but there it is.  A chicken did its business on the restaurant floor.  It was not the classiest eating establishment we’ve ever patronized.

Most of our experiences were somewhat greater successes than the three mentioned above, and many of the tools we used for to get us through our days were more helpful than a bag full of scorpion. But not all lived up to the perfection of our Keens or packing cases.  Here are some of the things we brought with us that were good enough, but could have been better.

Recommended with reservations


ASUS EeeBook:
 We purchased our first laptop in preparation for going across the country.  It’s still our main computer; but, while it fit into our crowded van, it would not have squeezed so well into any of our backpacks.   This time around we wanted a smaller device.  Because of our emphaisis on blogging, we wanted something with a keyboard.  We also wanted something with a hard drive to hold our pictures.

Jen copies photos onto the mini-book.  Kindle is in foreground; Tonya is in the background.

Jen copies photos onto the mini-book. Kindle is in foreground; Tonya is in the background.

This notebook worked well and did not cost very much (less than half what our big Dell laptop cost).  It allowed us to achieve our goals with a few annoyances.  While we managed to blog with regularity, we were constantly plagued by the jumping around cursor.  It moves at surprising times, often highlighting, then deleting, large pieces of text.  Thank goodness for Ctl-Z.   We put lots of pictures on it, but the hard drive was nowhere near big enough to handle our whole trip.  There is a free web storage feature and about halfway through the trip Jen had to figure out how to upload a lot of our photos to the cloud.  It seems that we’ve been able to retrieve them — Jen will need them to populate our book about the trip — but the uploading and downloading processes were fairly involved and tedious.   Nevertheless, the thing DID NOT BREAK and it DID NOT GET LOST.  And it proved very useful for communications and research whenever we had wifi access.  (Another major annoyance with this laptop was that it came with Windows 8, which the Microsoft decision-makers apparently introduced purely as an act of terrorism, but we can’t really blame the laptop for that.)

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How does Ross keep his shorts up? Drawstrings.

Quicksilver Amphibian Board Shorts:  Highly touted by my friend Justin, these shorts just about lived up to his promises.  The fabric is lightweight, wrinkle resistant, and quick to dry.  The pockets are well-placed.  They have durable belt loops, a clever no-zip fly system and were generally more stylish than rad, dude.  But that’s a bit of the problem.  When I actually used them to surf, the button kept coming undone and they kept falling down while I was trying to stand up.  Ironic, that:  board shorts that are at their worst while you’re surfing.  It’s entirely possible that if I wore the khaki pair on our surf lesson day I would have these listed in the Highly Recommended section of our endorsements.  (The khaki pair had two snaps, while the blue pair had just one.) And the truth was, I may have actually had a chance at surfing, albeit a very small one, if my shorts were not down at my knees most of the time.   Then again, I did get them at an outlet store at a two pair for $50 sale.  They usually cost $45 apiece.

It was not as nice as it looks.

It was not as nice as it looks.

VRBO/AirBnB:  As Jen plans and stages our trip she uses a variety of tools, including those that connect travelers with owners of rental apartments.  For the Nicaraguan leg of our trip we stayed mostly in hostels and small hotels.  Once we moved into pricier Costa Rica, we sought out accommodations that allowed us to do some of our own cooking.  Thus, we saved a bit on our food expenses. Typically, apartments booked throgh the sites above cost about the same or only a little more than decent hotel rooms, and we usually end up with multiple bedrooms as well as a kitchen.  In just about every case that we have booked accommodations this way, we have been completely satisfied. The one exception, sadly, was the first apartment we rented on this trip.   The long driveway, the unfinished ceiling, the creaky celing fan.  I was prepared to write off the long, rocky driveway and the stream of ants in the bathroom as eccentricities of rural life in Guancaste, but the general dinginess was depressing.   And this was after five weeks in Nicaragua, which is not the tidiest place in the world.  The real kicker was that although this place was, as advertised, close to Rincon de Viejo National Park, it was not at all close to the park’s entrance.  We would have had to drive an hour and a half to get into the park.  And that’s not including the driveway time.  So we felt bamboozled by this place — though it should be said that this was our one chance to be off the main tourist track in Costa Rica, and the hamlet of Fortuna was bemusedly welcoming to us as we shopped for the two dinners we happily cooked here.  There followed many great experiences with direct-from-owner apartment rentals, which often came with concierge service from owners or apartment managers — we can thank them for the El Trapiche farm tour and Giovanni’s touch-a-sloth extraveganza, for example.   But bamboozling was always in the back of our minds, particularly when it was time to pull up stakes at one place and move on to someplace new.  That experience was always accompanied by a mild sense of dread that lasted until we were firmly rooted in the next spot.

This blogging Website:  Jen’s our IT director, too, and as such she set up our blog.  The site we’ve been posting on has been very good (though I would have preferred we call it Into the Big Picture — it’s a little more active) for most of the trip.  It’s easy to use and pretty flexible.  Jen was good about teaching me how to do it.  Then, without warning, IT STARTED FLIPPING OUR PICTURES SIDEWAYS.  Not all of them, just the ones we had to rotate to make vertical in the first place.  It makes them not vertical again.  It cancels out our rotating. We can’t figure out why.  It makes our work look even more amateurish than it really is.  If the people who make this blogging software can fix our pictures, we’ll move them up to the Highly Recommended section of our endorsements.  No questions asked.
The Kindles came out in force on travel days.

The Kindles came out in force on travel days.

Kindle Fire HDX:  Zoe and Nadia love these devices, which they received from Grandma upon their most recent birthdays.  The idea was that the girls would use them for homework, connecting to school-approved Web resources and zapping completed projects back to their teachers.  The reality was that the girls did a lot of things they wanted to do on the Internet with their Kindles — caring for fictional horses and kittens, texting friends, reading the Washington Post. However, when it came to doing homework, they claimed they needed the laptop with its keyboard.  Moreover, the HDXs weren’t even great reading devices.  I had to fight for the purple Kindle, the old, clunky purple Kindle, against girls who had their own full-color touch-screen devices.  (The purple Kindle, which is now departed, had many more books on it than the other Kindles.  The Fifth Amendment of our Constitution excuses me from having to explain why.  It was meant to be used by me and Lanie, the Kindle-less ones.)  Of course, bus and plane rides were made easier by the HDXs’ little glowing screens.  They showed their value on the very first travel day, when we found to our dismay that even though they’re international flights, trips to Central America on major US airlines include neither personal TVs or meals bigger than a bag of peanuts.  Racists.  We got treated like royalty when we flew to Europe.

 *  *  *

Then again, some things just didn’t work out at all.  Here is a chance to do some complaining for anyone who feels like listening.

Now for the rants

Major US airline flights to and from Central America:  Ok, it’s not that far of a flight from Atlanta to Managua.  It’s under three hours.  That’s one of the truly amazing things about Central America:  It’s so different, but it’s so close.  Nevertheless, we’re going from if not one continent to another than from one major region to another.  Our kids’ Usborne Children’s Atlas had a two-page spread for Central America, I’m pretty sure.  Why was I finding myself looking at the blank back of the seat in front of me?  Where are my movie and TV selections.  We didn’t even get headphones and music.  And don’t get me started about the food.  Jen’s still speaks in syrupy tones about the coffee on the Al Italia flight we took three years ago.  The meals (yeah, we got more than one) were excellent and there was free wine.  We definitely had high expectations for the international leg of our journey, only to have them smashed.  It’s a testament to our strong resolve that we did not just tell them to land the plane and let us off in Miami.  Why would a flight to Italy be so lavish and one to Nicaragua be so pedestrian?  We’re still on international flights going to new Usborne Atlas pages.  I’ll tell you why.  The Central Americans don’t rate the effort from the airlines.  They’re fine for populating Banana republics, canal zones, and counter insurgencies, but they’re not good enough to merit warm, lemony towels or Friends reruns.  Incidentally, the flight we took from San Jose to Belize City was very comfortable.  At least the leg from San Jose to San Salvador was.  It had little TVs and breakfast sandwiches.  Way to go, Avianca.  You do Central America proud.

International Cell Phone:  Should you be currently marveling at the accomplishment of shepherding a family of five through an eleven-week escapade in Central America, prepare to have your mind blown.  We did the whole thing without a functioning cell phone.  That’s right, we were out there.  Not intentionally, of course.  The pay-as-you-go International phone we bought for our Italy trip claimed, via the company’s Web site, to work in all the Central American nations on our itinerary.  We checked and double checked.  Only it didn’t work in any of them.  Actually, by the time we got to Belize, we were so used to being out there that we didn’t even bother to try it.  In Nicaragua it was useless.  Jen emailed the company and they said our phone was “not compatible with the local network.”  That’s not what it said on their Web site.  This led to some hairy situations in the Miraflor and Esteli where we got on a bus to Granada not knowing if we had a hotel room waiting for us or not.  We were extremely grateful to our Lindos Ojos hostess for calling ahead and setting things up for us.  In Costa Rica we had a little icon in the corner of the screen that indicated we had a network, but when we tried to us it, it told us “Emergency Calls Only.”  Shame on you international cell phone company.  How do you sleep at night?  Well, it’s nice that you donate a portion of your profits to the developing world, but you really should make your phones work, or give us accurate information so we can know before our trip if they’re not going to work.   Of course, this suggests that a family of five in 2015 was able to travel for 11 weeks in Central America without a working cell phone.  It seems incredible, but it’s true.  The Brookses even declined to internationalize their cell phones when they met us in Belize.  Amazing that we even managed to find each other without on-board GPS, but we did.

This pretty much captures it perfectly.

Please feel free to linger on the descriptions of torture stenciled on the wall.

The Folklore and History Museum of Leon, Nicaragua:  Jen doesn’t condone putting this place on our rant list, but it was truly a horrible experience for me.  You would think that combining homemade statues and vignettes of folkloric characters with a defunct political prison and torture center would be a surefire good time.  It was not.  It was the center of all creepiness.  It is where Stephen King goes to psych himself up for another round of freakfest literature.  I can’t believe we let our go through this.  It started with a life-size paper mache model of the matronly collector of folkloric figures that the matronly collector commissioned only months before her (probably horrific) death.   She asked someone to make a life-sized copy of herself in paper mache so future generations could behold her in the foyer of an old prison?  That’s what the guide said. Then it went downhill from there.  Take an infrequently-visited museum of the Nicaraguan revolution set in former prison where revolutionaries were tortured and killed.  Add several dozen life-sized paper mache statues of folkloric characters (this must have been where the matronly collector chose her medium) that nobody seems to know what else to do with.  Add a ghoulish tour guide…I can’t go after the tour guide.  Clearly he had a difficult lot in life.  One can’t walk day after day past wall after wall of drawings (again life-size) depicting the torture techniques employed at the prison, and tell stories of women-demons who suffocate lecherous men between their breasts, and not be affected.  I was just in the place for an hour and I feel pretty deeply scarred three months later.   Strangely, Jen and the girls seem untouched by the experience.  I should also say that while this museum was definitely a low point in Nicaraguan culture for me, the nearby cathedral and its gleaming white roof form an almost perfect counterpoint and could be a very cleansing experience for anyone who happens to fall into the folklore museum trap.

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Preferable to a rental car?

Renting a car:  This was unavoidable, but unfortunate.  I don’t do well driving when I don’t know where I’m going, and it’s impossible to know where you’re going in Costa Rica.  One can have suspicions as to where a particular road leads, but without in-depth knowledge of the area earned through years of trial and error, it’s impossible to really know.  You can’t simply pull in cues from ambient information, say from words and arrows printed on a sign easily visible along the roadside.   You mustn’t expect buildings to be numbered in a coherently ordered and evident fashion, or signs to tell which road is which, or numbers posted even sporadically to tell you which route you’re on.  Jen knows I get very stressed out in situation where directions are murky, but there was no way she could have avoided this.  There was a gap in the Costa Rican public transportation system that prevented our first few stops in that country from being connected in any other way.  It didn’t help that we got railroaded by a taxi driver on the way to pick up our rental car ($40 for a nine-kilometer drive?  Highway robbery!).  On positive note, we did avoid getting pulled over by the local authorities, which seems to be a common occurrence for foreign drivers in Central America.  Then again, many of the roads we were on were so steep, winding and rocky that the Costa Rican police must know enough to steer clear of them.

Wash-in mosquito repellent:  Jen busted her butt treating our travel clothes with a wash-in chemical that is supposed to keep mosquitoes away.  She had to hang them in the basement  in a rig involving ladders.  She was concerned about how the chemical would affect our septic system.  It took up a lot of time at a point in our lives when we didn’t have a lot of time.  Someone should have told us that there aren’t any mosquitoes in Central America during the dry season.  And when there were mosquitoes, such as during or week on the Pacific in Jiquilillo, the people have a home remedy for them:  They burn trash and let the smoke confound the wee beasties.   While unpleasant to us, the smoke did keep the bugs at bay for the day or so that they started to become a problem.  Apparently, there’s only one or two days every summer where the mosquitoes come out, and we were in Jiquilillo for that time.  (The locals save up their trash for this very occasion, it seems.) It should also be noted that Jiquilillo was the only place we visited that skirted a malarial region.  The bug repellent was a sound idea, I just have no idea how effective it was because no one else we met down there seemed to be bothered by bugs either.
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Neck pillows notably absent

Neck pillows:  Given the amount of time we were on buses, lugging along the girls’ neck pillows would seem like a good idea.  The problem was the girls never used them.  It wasn’t that they didn’t want to sleep on the buses, particularly in Costa Rica, where the buses started to get boring;  the girls just forgot to take them out of their suitcases before the suitcases got put in the under-bus storage (in Costa Rica) or on the roof of the bus (in Nicaragua).  There was a lot of scurrying and anxiety over where the neck pillows were at pack-up time, but they never seemed to be where they needed to be when we were actually in transit.

Endorsements #1: The Good

Believe it or not, there are multiple families traveling across the US in minivans, spurred on by information published in this blog and its predecessor, the Getaway Van.    Real people in real vans following our mostly made-up blog.

Oh, alright, we don’t really make most of this up; the Spreadsheet is real, and surely a great resource for families wanting to head west with their families as far as five weeks will allow.

None of these families has actually returned yet.  But we figure they’re fine.  Things can’t have changed that much since 2011.

And as imitation implies flattery, so does flattery inspire bloggers to keep on blathering on about whatever it is they feel like.

So, for anyone else considering a trip with youngish kids, maybe some of the following endorsements from our Central American odyssey will come in handy for you.

 

Highly recommended

The contents of my backpack, still organized on day 74 of the trip.

The contents of my backpack, still organized on day 74 of the trip.

Modular packing:  Jen picked up these cool soft-sided cases for packing purposes.  The backpacks lent to us by the Brooks family were excellent and very spacious.  There was a lot of potential for huge messes every time we opened them up.  Inside each backpack were individual cases that held clothes, toiletries, school supplies, games, etc.  This greatly facilitated unpacking, packing, and general organization, and cut down on the time it took us to set up or strike camp.  The cases that Jen ordered worked well, but so did the re-purposed packaging from sheets, blankets, and pillow cases  (generally clear vinyl cases with zippers).   We won’t travel again without them.

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What can tackle a muddy volcano and clean up well enough for a night out in Moyogalpa? Keens.

Keens sandals:  For the vast majority of the the eleven weeks abroad I wore my trusty pair of Keens.  This includes the day we left frozen New Hampshire (with socks that day) and throughout all 16 kilometers of Volcan Maderas (a week later I was still washing mud out of them).  By contrast, the flip-flops I brought lasted only five days in Jiquilillo before the left one started falling apart.   Everyone had a pair of Keens and all five pairs made it home intact.  They didn’t even start to smell (at least not enough to stand out from the rest of our smelly stuff) until after we got home.  To remedy the situation, by the way, we had to stick Lanie’s pair in a bag full of baking powder and stick the whole thing in the freezer for a night.  They’ve been fine ever since.

 

Actual picture from our snorkeling trip in Cahuita, taken on our Panasonic Lumix underwater camera.

Actual picture from our snorkeling trip in Cahuita, taken on our Panasonic Lumix underwater camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC TS25 underwater camera:  We would not have pictures of our waterfall cave and cave tubing tours, not to mention the girls’ scuba trip and our first snorkeling trip without this camera.  When taken on land, the pictures were not as good as the ones from our trusty Canon A70 point- and-shoot, but when taken in places filled with water, the pictures from the Panasonic were bordering miraculous.  Its ability to withstand  wet conditions allowed this camera to preserve some of the most exciting experiences of our trip and present them in our blog to our incredulous fan base. In general, the underwater pictures came out better than we expected.  Even if they were not as good as those taken by Carlos, our guide, remember that I don’t have his experience on the reef, and I was getting seasick by the end of the trip anyway.

 

We were so happy when the pavement started that we took a picture.

We were so happy when the pavement started again that we took a picture.

Toytota Yaris four-door sedan:  Renting a car was not the best experience of our journey.  I get very stressed out driving in unfamiliar places.  We were deeply conscious of how much more it costs to rent a car than to travel by public transportation.  So we didn’t fork out the extra money for an SUV.  It turns out that the roads of Costa Rica — even the ones connecting highly popular tourist attractions — are a lot worse than we expected.  But this lightweight Toyota sedan is sturdier than it appears.   These were bumpy, unpaved, uneven, winding roads.  Hilly, too.  Even filled with our family and our luggage, we made it from Fotuna to Monteverde and then to La Fortuna and then to Alejuela.  I wouldn’t say it was a pleasure to drive, but it was a necessity, and the Yaris did its job.  Plus, it had an aux-in jack that allowed us to listen to a good portion of “My Friend Flicka” on the ipod, when the road noise would allow.

The travel guitar is affixed and ready to depart Granada with the rest of us.

The travel guitar is affixed and ready to depart Granada with the rest of us.

Guitar Works SO-GWG-TC1 travel guitar:  Ok, I did try to check this with the rest of our luggage when we flew from Costa Rica to Belize.  By this point I was tired of carrying my travel guitar around worrying about it getting crunched.  Of course, Jen realized that it would definitely have gotten crunched if I checked it with our backpacks for an airline flight.  She talked me down and I carried it onto the plane where it went nicely into the overhead bin.  Even on the manifold bus trips that we took, the guitar suffered little more than going slightly out of tune.  Mostly, it was un-noticeable when we traveled, strapped to the outside of my backpack, not increasing the overall weight of my load significantly.  It does not make a lot of noise when I play it (a blessing for anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity), but it makes up for this with its life-saving track record:  If I hadn’t returned to our hut in Jiquilillo to strum a few chords, I would not have noticed the (potentially) venomous snake crawl under the wall and slither up into Jen’s mosquito netting.  Where would I be then? I ask.   Somewhere with a traumatized wife, that’s where. Carrying around my guitar and Lanie’s violin proved useful endeavors, as I do not feel like I got too rusty being away and Ms. Louise seemed pleased that Lanie was able to keep her Suzuki Book 1 songs “in her fingers” for when we came back.  Plus, Lanie earned a few bucks busking at our resort in Belize, and generally received acclaim wherever she played.

David Archy Quick-Drying Men’s Underwear:  That’s right, I got special underwear for this trip.  I exclusively wore David Archy Quick Drying boxer briefs, black if you must know, from one end of Central America to the other.  That’s right, four pairs.  Quick drying underwear meant I could wash one pair — often in the shower — and expect it to be dry and wearable the next day, even the next morning if I washed them at the end of the day.  I could’ve made it through with two pairs. Four pairs was an extravagance.   When paired with my quick-drying Quicksilver surfing shorts, they made fine bathing suits; thus, I was relieved from the burden of carrying around a dedicated bathing suit.

Grandma gets a pre-trip lesson on Skyping.

Grandma gets a pre-trip lesson on Skyping.

Skype/Facetime:  Most of the world already knew about Skype when we left for the trip, but we had barely — if ever — used it.   This mode of communication made our laptop (and our ipod Touch for our friends on the Facetime platform) extremely useful communications tools.  While we tried to get the girls to describe their surroundings in the blog, it was much more fun and easy for them to take their Webcam out to the balcony and show Grandma Arenal volcano across the street from our apartment.  This served as a launching pad for them to talk in better detail than we might have heard from them otherwise.  At one point in the trip Grandma admitted that she felt less worried about us on this trip than she had felt when we drove across the US. (???!!!???)  I think being able to see as well as talk to us contributed to this feeling. We did not use Skype in the Getaway Van days.  I’m not sure we called her more than a few times from the road.  It was all on the blog back then.   Skype/Facetime also made up for the fact that our “international” cell phone was c-r-a-p.  Crap.  We were able to be in communication whenever we had wifi, which wasn’t always, but it was just about good enough.

Jen rocks the travel skirt on the streets of St. Ignacio.

Jen rocks the travel skirt on the streets of St. Ignacio.

Travel skirt: (Jen here.  Despite its many virtues, Bob has not adopted a travel skirt.)  For hot-weather travel, nothing beats a skirt like this.  It’s at least as comfortable as shorts, and it can go so many places that shorts can’t — nice dinners, cathedrals, etc.  Given the extremely limited amount of clothing we had room for, a multi-tasker like this was critical.  This one is made of lightweight, wrinkle-free, quick-dry fabric and has several convenient pockets.

 

Did the monkey want to snatch my lunch, or my hat?

Did the monkey want to snatch my lunch, or my hat?

Airflow sun hat:  This hat, proudly made in Canada, was left behind by the previous owner of our camp.  Likely it belonged to the wife of the previous owner of our camp.  Yes, I probably walked around Central America wearing a woman’s hat.  Kept the sun off, though, and held up well to washing.  The chin strap came in handy on top of Mombacho where the wind was threatening to carry my hat out over Lake Nicaragua.

Fine-tipped markers:  Jen found these on Amazon and got them for the girls to use for their school work.  Incredibly, none of them appear to have stayed in Central America.  The whole set stayed together, thanks largely to the roll-up packaging.  Also, I don’t think any of them dried out.  Impressive, given all the coloring that went into just the Costa Rica rainforest coloring book Zoe and Lanie chipped in for in Monteverde.

IMG_7032(Small) games: We are a game-playing family, and a rainy day or quiet evening is much improved by having some family-friendly entertainment on hand.  One of the packing modules Bob mentioned above was a small plastic pouch containing the essential pieces of several of our favorite games, along with a little pad of paper for score-keeping.  Naturally among these was the classic deck of cards, usable for a nearly infinite supply of games.  Ones we played regularly included Hearts, Spades, Go Fish, Crazy Eights, War, Spit, and the kids’ favorite, I Doubt It! (which also goes by a less child-friendly name that several of you are no doubt familiar with.)  Lanie also developed an obsession with building card-houses, and spent many happy hours in this pursuit.  Other games were selected based on a combination of how much we liked them and size/weight (which mostly meant card games).  These included: Iota, Sushi Go!, Horse Show, Dominion (my personal addiction; for the true geeks out there, we brought a subset of cards from the original and Intrigue sets), and Left Center Right.

Nicaraguan Zipper Wallet:  I wanted a non-leather wallet because I suspected I was going to get very wet at some point and leather wallets don’t hold up very well to those kinds of conditions.  For my birthday I got a cool, colorful wallet with three zippered pockets.  I still don’t know how well it holds up to water, but it definitely keeps a low profile in my pocket.  True, I don’t hold nearly as many frequent buyer cards as I used to, but I am a much more nimble and efficient traveler these days, even when I’m just running down to the market for some milk.  This wallet was probably made in Indonesia, but, as it was purchased at the market in Masaya, it is a Nicaraguan wallet to me.

Without the date function on the Iron Man, would we have known it was time to go home?

Without the date function on the Iron Man, would we have known it was time to go home?

Timex Iron Man watch:  As far as I know this is not an expensive watch, but it served me brilliantly during our trip and continues to do so.  I’ve often had issues with watch bands cracking or tearing, but this one held up well.  No problem with water, either.  It held up to two snorkeling trips, several river caves, and a couple of swimming holes. The calendar display was appreciated — it’s easy to lose track of days on excursions like this — as was the two time-zone settings, which made it easier to adjust to switch back to EST during our home voyage.  Also, several of the Brooks boys have the same watch, making it trendy with the young folk.  Not bad for a watch that was turned to steel in a great magnetic field.

Renting to nice people:  It is always a gamble turning your house over to other people, and we did just that, for eleven weeks, to people we barely knew.  And we were extremely fortunate.  Not only did Deb and Denny keep the pipes from freezing and the local cat burglars from preying on our possessions and copper pipes, not only did they inhabit our home in the middle of the winter without the comfort of cable tv or an adequate snow blower, they shoveled our roof at one point and cleaned our oven — heroic feats, both.  Here’s hoping they’ve moved into the new house they were building this spring, and that it has a very clean oven.