Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Samara Beach

Our hotel, Lisa's birthday party and boogie boy with the hotel beach in the background.

This weekend we headed to the beach we have been gazing down on for 3 weeks for some sun and surf. Well actually, we look at the Gulf of Nicoya and we were headed down and across the top of the gulf to the Pacific coast of the Nicoya Penninsula beyond. We joined together with another family whose daughters are at the Creativo and who are from CO as well and our teacher friends Kirk and Maury and another intern Lucy for a private busette down there. The CO family´s girls Courtney and Lisa are our kids favorites so that was an added bonus to the trip. We arrived Friday around 4 and went immediately into the water. We were staying atHotel Fenix which is right on the beach south of Samara in Matapalo, a very quiet area. We shared a room with Kirk and Maury that had a pull out couch in the living room and a kitchenette. They were great sports to hang with the whole kid scene and fortunately are naturally early risers too!!
Samara is one of the few beaches on the Nicoya with no rip tides which was huge incentive for us to go there, it is also one of the easiest to get to from Monteverde. The beach isnt gorgeous, it is gray sand instead of white and the water isnt very clear by the beach but who can complain . . . its the beach and the water is warm!!! The waves were small so we didnt bother with a surf lesson but they were perfect for boogie boarding. We were actually getting rides of over 100 feet in shallow water! The kids loved it. Toby could stand at his waist level and join on to the tail end of our rides and still get close to 50 ft of riding in really calm water. Cassidy invented boogie bronc riding which involves sitting astride the boogie board and getting launched into the ends of the waves. She is light enough that she can actually ride them like that!

There was also a pool and lots of hammocks and chairs in the palms between the hotel and water so it was really idyllic and no one got overly sunburned! Cass came down with Toby´s fever Saturday night (Toby had been sick Thurs with a very high fever that was done on Friday) but still played in the water all day sunday with a off and on temp up to 103!! We even went out for dinner thanks to our resident babysitters! Lisa turned 12 on Sunday so we all had a fabulous chocolate cake on the beach before we left. Kids were fabulous in the van too.

All in all a fabulous weekend. And to top it off we returned home to hot water!!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Here are some other random photos from our Monteverde stay so far. Cassidy with the butterfly she was trying to release at the Mariposario, it liked her pink and wouldnt fly away! The family on horseback on our trip to the hotsprings.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lots to do here!

This weekend, Jan 11, I went for an early morning hike in the Monteverde Reserve with a new friend from the school, Kirk. Hiked for 3 hours and saw almost every trail there including a beautiful waterfall, the continental divide, great cloud forest habitat, and a Quetzal!! I knew Dave would be totally jealous if his nonbirding spouse got to see one and he didnt so I told it to stay put. The kids and Dave showed up to meet me at 11 and I took them to the same tree right away. Fortunately it was still there so we all got to see it! To hidden and far to get a picture but very cool to see. We also saw a troop of Congo monkeys and a coati mundi. We then did about a 3 mile hike with the kids through the forest which they were totally excited about. There is a hanging bridge that takes you through the upper canopy )see photo) which was really neat for them. Toby is going to work on a blog page about what he has learned about the rain and cloud forests while we are in FL with a quicker internet connection. Stay tuned!

That night we actually got a babysitter, a new student at the school who is from CO and the kids ADORED her! We went out to dinner with Kirk and Maury from school and came home at 8 the kids were rocketing around with her in extremely high spirits. they were having so much fun they forgot to have dessert! which is pretty much unheard of!

The next day we went horseback riding at some friends of Milton´s place down valley somewhat. We rode for an hour down to a natural hot springs they have built up next to a raging river. This time Toby rode with Dave and liked it more. At the end he and Cass both rode a little by themselves and were very proud. It was a steep trail but the horses were strong and knew what they were doing. It was beautiful and very fun. Super nice family. They brought their 5 month old who slept the whole time on the horse and laughed at our kids in the pool. On the way back toby spotted a white faced monkey that then climbed down from its tree and ran across the field which Ive never seen before. Overall very awesome weekend!

Monteverde Week 1 at Creativo

We are volunteering at the Centro de Educacion Creativo or Cloud Forest School a prekinder to 11th grade private bilingual school. The campus is beautiful and has a large swath of protected rainforest. Dave and I are alternating volunteer days and on the days we have our kids we spend a few hours a day with our kids at the school. On my days with T and C we help out in the preK room and do recess with them. In the afternoon we play at home or go into town. When Dave has them on Tues and Thurs they help out with the garden and school trails with Milton, who runs the campus. On our volunteer days we help with tutoring, I do some development work, and we help Milton with reforestation projects or garden work. The other volunteers range from 19 to 27 but most are either in college or taking a gap year. The older ones who are here for at least 3 months help with a specific classroom. The folks here are all very nice and welcome the volunteers gratefully. The students are almost all Ticos and 65% of them are on scholarship. All the classes are taught in english after 3rd grade except high school history and social studies. They operate on a shoestring budget but do it quite well. There library is very lacking so they always welcome donations from the states of books and school supplies.

The kids are generally more wild than schools we are used to in the states but are lots of fun. I went with a class to climb a massive strangler fig tree this morning, the kids went at least 100 feet up!! That would never fly at home would it!! We´ve seen sloths, toucans, coati mundi and white faced monkeys on campus. Very cool.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Arriving in Monteverde

We arrived in San Jose New Years eve day and were met by Susannah´s father-in-law Ben, his girlfriend Branata and her daughter Maria Paula. They were so sweet and let us stay at their very nice house outside of San Jose. The kids swam in their pool and played then we all went to a party at their friends house and saw some fireworks. The kids were good sports about staying out so late but were super tired.
The next morning we swam more and packed up then took a Interbus shuttle to Monteverde. The drive takes almost 4 hours mostly because the last 38 km are on a steep very bumpy road that takes forever. I was glad we werent in a big bus. Kids took turn sleeping and playing name that animal guessing games. We had another couple in the bus with us from NY and when we stopped the van to look at howler monkeys our kids couldnt belive they had never seen monos in the wild before! It started blowing really hard as we reached the top of the mountain and was raining by the time we arrived in the pitch dark at 7. The family we are renting from picked us up in their van and explained in spanish that there was a small problem with the lights. Well what that meant was that their was NO electricity in the house yet (they had just bought it recently). Fortunately we had packed sandwiches and had 2 headlamps. The kids felt like we were camping and were great about it. The next day the family showed up to try to get it to work but to no avail. Three days later we finally got power only to loose it 2 hours later when the wind blew the power lines over. The house is huge and very sparesely furnished but the kids love it (especially for running around on rainy days which our first 4 were). There has been a huge storm throughout all of Central America that is finally over. It is also pink and very close to the school.

The school (Cloud Forest School or Centro de Educacion Creativo) is 100 meters up the hill and a beautiful CRMS like place. It looks out over the Gulf of Nicoya and has great cloud forest trails and fabulous playgrounds. The first 5 days we just got settled, hoped for power and warm water. So far we have visited the Childrens Eternal Rainforest (which most school kids have contributed to at some point), the Cheese factory (delicous ice cream and carmel too!) and the butterfly garden (with an insect house where we petted tarantulas). There are tons of tourists in MV which is a bit hard to get used to and it makes it a little harder to practice spanish because all the service people speak english. It is a very beautiful place though and the kids are loving it.

We finally have power but not hot water yet. We boil water on the stove for kid baths but dave and i are doing cold showers. Which would be fine if it hadnt been chilly. After 7 weeks on the road we have gotten very flexible though. I will write more about the school and our volunteer work next time I can. This brings us basically up to date.

Isla Taboga

1. Isla Taboga from the ferry
2. walking the ¨streets¨ of the island
3. Boys on the island beach with Panama City in the backgroun

4. Looking out at the Isla T bay from a town park.
We chose to spend a day or two at Isla Taboga because we wanted a little Pacific Beach time, it is close the city and we really didnt want to spend much time in the city proper. IN fact, we never made it into the city itself which was fine with all of us. The island was alot cooler than the city though still warm. It is a really quaint place with no roads, just wide sidewalks that the islands 4 taxi trucks barely squeeze down. We stayed at a B&B Cerro Tropical way up on a hillside above town which had nice evening breezes. We paid for a room but got moved into an apartment for the same price. Unfortunately our stove and hot water didnt work but we ended up cooking in the main kitchen one night. We were only supposed to be there for one night be lucked out and someone cancelled for the 2nd night. We were all tired of moving around and werent relishing going back into the heat. We had planned on taking the Panama Canal Train from PC to Colon then touring Portobello but had just learned upon arrival that it didnt run on weekends so that option was out. Staying on the island was a great second choice and allowed us to spend ALL of Saturday on the beach. It is a beautiful beach that looks across at the skyline of PC. Tons of fish close to shore - even saw a sting ray, then took awhile convincing kids it wasnt a sting ray to get them back in the water! (but it was!) We took the Sunday morning ferry back to the city so we could see the canal locks. Ended up going to a really great marine exhibit just next to the ferry dock on the Amador causeway that sticks out into the Pacific and is made from fill from the canal. Then had lunch out there too. The causeway has a great wide bike path along it and next to our restaraunt they rented these multiperson canopied bikes. We decided it would be a great way to get to our hotel so we rented one and piled on our our luggage (tied on the back and roof!) We got lots of funny looks and smiles on the 2 mile ride to the hotel. But man was it HOT and MUGGY! The kids and I checked into our very american style hotel at the end of the causeway and jumped immediately into their huge pool overlooking the canal but poor dave had to bike the rig back to the rental place and then walk to the hotel. We was very wet when he got back an hour later!! Then we went out to the locks, saw 3 ships go through and headed back. The hotel actually had a TGI Fridays next to it so we got take out and ate by the pool letting the kids swim until almost 8! Next morning we flew to San Jose via David. Phew!!

Gamboa Rain Forest

We flew to PC the day after Christmas and arrived at a very basic B&B called La Estancia on a hill outside of the city in what used to be officer housing for canal workers from the US. It is very interesting looking at the Canal Zone which used to be a little america and has now all gone over to Panama. We said goodbye to grandpa after dinner and the kids were devastated. We crammed together in a little room for the night and early the next morning were picked up by the bus of Ancon Adventures for our splurge - a jungle boat cruise of Lake Gatun. Lake Gatun is a natural lake that the canal goes throug and is amazing because you can see massive canal boats up close plus incredible wildlife. We were in a small boat with 10 other people. We saw 2 and 3 toed sloths, howler and white faced monkeys (climbing around right above our boat), 2 crocodiles, iguanas, perigrine falcons, kites, toucans, parrots and tons more birds that I cant remember. Then we´d cross the wake off a Panamax boat and be in almost white water! The kids loved it. Then we got dropped off at a hostel in Gamboa (town by the lake) which houses Smithsonian researches. There are two super fancy hotels there but the kids loved our super basic rustic room with no hot water. They had a blast running around with the caretakers 1 year old, Jesus. They cooked us dinner (for $10 for all of us) since there arent any restaraunts we could afford (only ones are at the resort). We saw Agoutis (very large hamster like animals) and coati mundi outside the dining room and a herd of Capybaras (pig sized rodents) in a field nearby. The next morning we went for a 2 mile hike along the pipeline road, which is one of the most famous birding spots in Panama. We saw a javelina and morpho butterflies but not much else (lots of birds the kids didnt give us time to identify). It was hot and muggy and the kids fell apart so I took them to the zoo and dave went back to the hostel to regroup. The Summit Zoo in Gamboa is very basic - it has more playgrounds than animals practically which was perfect for our age group. It off and on poured rain on us but our kids are so used to rain at this point that they hardly noticed. The high point of the zoo hands down is the harpy eagle - which is the national bird of panama but is extremeley rare. It is as big as Cassidy and has a 7 foot wing span! The other animal that made an impact was the jaguar who walked back and forth in front of the kids growling and licking his lips. With the state of that zoo i was slightly nervous that he would be able to get out and eat them as he clearly wanted to! Another odd thing was the coati mundis that would ¨paint¨with their noses. They seemed mostly interested in putting the paint on their tails and licking it but the paper did get covered in some way! I have a video of it if you are interested!
Then our Gamboa taxista picked us up and took us to the ferry dock in PC where we caught a ferry to Isla Taboga 12 miles out from the city in the Pacific.

Feliz Navidad

We are now in Monteverde but writing backwards since we havent written since before Christmas. Pictures will probably come later as internet here is much slower than Panama. Email me if you want to see our whole albums on snapfish. My email is

We had a fabulous time in Bocas despite the fact that it rained HARD for 2 days and lightly for another two. Every day except Christmas when it was pouring insanely hard, we managed to go to the beach. Toby and Dave spent 6 hours at the beach one day when it was drizzling off and on. The water was so warm it was great even in the rain. On the way to the beach that day, Toby spotted a white faced monkey (fairly rare) and a sloth both really close. He was very psyched!. Some highlights for us were how incredibly into the water toby is and how comfortable cassidy even got. We would go out beyond the breakers and bob around with the boogie board and toby would swim around us in circles. Grandpa Bill had his best day of surfing ever on an offshore break near Isla Contadora with a neighbor of the lodge. I saw an anteater right in front of me while jogging in the rain one morning. He stopped to slurp on ants so close that i could hear him! We never really got snorkeling but thats ok. The kids were very psyched on Xmas even though we had very few presents. It was really cool to have a super low key, completely different christmas and have everyone very happy about it. We´d definitely recommend the lodge to anyone looking for a beautiful low key island escape! Our last day there was beautiful and we spent 5 hours at the beach before heading into town with Grandpa for the flight to Panama City.