hot peppers

Eating in Costa Rica – Part 2

As one of our servers described, as a Costa Rican, he prefers milder food and isn’t very adventurous when he eats out in his home country or when traveling.  I am not sure if this is the reason that the food tends to feature few spices other than a bit of salt and the occasional pepper, but in general eating in Costa Rica was at times very disappointing and often a tad bland.  Our best bets were the restaurants that featured foreign cuisine or interestingly vegan/vegetarian cuisine. See below for more details about our dining adventures.


It was also very expensive on the whole.  We often kept costs of eating out low at most one drink each and we typically had the girls share a small side dish (papas fritas or patacones) along with one main dish.

Homemade patacones!

Kid’s menus are not typical in these areas and the amount of food was generally more than enough for our girls. Even with these tactics we averaged $43.34/meal when eating out.  If you ignore some of the anomalies, like the time we only had fries and four cokes, the total pushes nearly $50/meal to dine at a restaurant.

Recapping these numbers makes me miss our tiny kitchen in our cabina in Punta Uva.  A couple of days before we departed, they replaced our little burners with a small gas range.  With an oven, we could have been a tad more creative in our own home cooking and would have saved homemade casadoeven more.  As it was, we really did fantastic eating at home. Shopping nearly daily for just what we needed and using almost every bit of it went a long way to keeping our costs down.  On average, we spent $8.89/meal.  This included the cost of buying our water every day, a variety of snacks, a small cache of salt and spices and a few storage helpers to allow us to save leftovers in the fridge more easily.

I will post final budget numbers for Costa Rica after our last day there (we return for a day before flying to Perú), but here are some other numbers that might interest you:

  • Snacks/Fruit when out and about: $24.76 for the month (this is by no means all snacks…with two kids that snack constantly this just represents the times we bought things other than at the market)
  • Ice Cream on hot days: $35.45 for the month, about $9-10 for the four of us to indulge a bit.
  • Pipas frias (cold coconuts): $1.50-$2.50 each depending on vendor.
  • Total daily spent on food: $38.18
  • About $13/meal for a family of four. If your kids are older it will likely be higher.
Place Notes Total
Selvin’s Terrible food…the place itself was amazing. Cool lights, beautiful wood tables and chairs and tucked into the jungle just off the main road. Sadly the service was severely lacking. We have come to expect a slower pace than typical in the USA, but this stretched our patience. Then our food finally came…my steak was gristly and cooked poorly, chicken was dry and over-cooked, and the sauce was a salt bomb. The kids had the Sea Bass and this actually was very nicely cooked, but Mackenzie complained it was too lemony. I would say if you do find yourself here, stick with the seafood and avoid the Caribbean sauce. $60.57
Alice Ice Cream Bar Ice cream was very nice and the family running it is very friendly. An expat couple from New York provided great information about the Puerto Viejo area and a few words of advice about our next foray to Panama. As an added bonus, their 8 year old son asked Mack to play soccer with him. Amazing what 30 minutes kicking a ball (especially being allowed to do it in an unused corner of the restaurant) does for connecting two kids 🙂 $11.73
Bri Bri As Amy previously mentioned, we took a trip into an indigenous reserve to visit the Bri Bri people. As part of this a family shared a traditional homemade meal with us consisting of stewed fruits, vegetables and poultry of some sort. This concoction was served in a banana leaf bowl (a tad challenging to manage for the uninitiated) and a coconut cup with a lemony water. After we finished our meal, we sampled fresh handmade chocolates. This included a sample of the raw cacao fruit, a cluster of nuts covered in a slimy white flesh that tasted like jolly ranchers, and eating a fresh roasted cacao nut. Later we were also treated to a traditional hot cacao drink.  Delicious! N/A (Part of larger package)
Maxi’s This Caribbean style soda just off the beach in Manzanillo was a gem.  The food isn’t necessarily all that special, but coupled with the view and friendly staff it was very nice. It was recommended by many of our friends and family that had visited the area in years past. Reggae is thumping and the restaurant upstairs features great views of the water. The chicken was well cooked, with savory seasoning and a tasty side of rice and beans, plantains and cabbage salad. The fish version was ok, the fish was nicely cooked, but wasn’t a great fit with the rice and beans. The girls however loved their arroz con pollo! $56.30
Como en mi Casa A fantastic accident! I was first made aware of this locale by our Spanish teacher Matías and it caused me a bit of confusion. I had asked him if we could maybe have a lesson somewhere besides my kitchen and he suggested that we could go someplace…como en mi casa! I mistook that to mean “like my house” instead of the name of a restaurant. The menu is simple and features vegan, gluten free and vegetarian cuisine. The baked goods were fantastic, the organic local produce was amazing and the preparation was perfect. My Gallo Pinto featured perfectly fried eggs, flavorful rice and beans, fresh fruit and a delightful semi-hard cheese. Amy chose the Mediterranean sandwich and enjoyed every bite. The girls split the hummus snack and goat cheese platter (both of which I sampled). The staff is friendly and the owner brought the girls two organic gluten free chocolate cookies. When asked if the owner was nice, Mack replied, “Yes, cause she didn’t ask you first if we could have a cookie!” $34.29
Wandha We were stuck…last night in town, no food in our fridge and only a credit card to pay for dinner. After multiple strikeouts (no reservation, no we don’t take credit cards, no we are closed) we wound up at Wandha, a restaurant attached to Hotel Shawandha in the area of Punta Uva. This was a budget buster! they featured a kids platter of spaghetti bolognese that included a drink for $10 a plate. My corsair shrimp dish was tasty with a nicely spiced coconut curry and Amy’s steamed white fish was tasty and well prepared. Amy had a nice glass of wine and we shared a fantastic desert of chocolate mousse with ginger sorbet. The service was fantastic and the atmosphere was nice. A great place, but very expensive for anyone on a budget. $95.24

Eating in Costa Rica – Part 1

Eating in Costa Rica has been an adventure all its own.  Our cabina is equipped with a small outdoor kitchen.  We have a nice size fridge/freezer, small microwave, toaster, coffee pot and a two-burner stove. No oven, no dishwasher and generally poor lighting conditions at night.  Despite these challenges we have really done very well at preparing our own food.  We tend to buy enough food for a couple of days, keeping our fruits and veggies fresh and processed foods to a minimum.

Food prices in Costa Rica are generally comparable to those you would find in the US.  A loaf of non-white bread is about $2.50, eggs are about $3.50 for a carton of 15 free range eggs, $1 for a dozen tortillas and $1.50 for a 2 lbs bag of black beans.  Perhaps unexpectedly, local fruits are fairly inexpensive: about $1.50-$2 for the best pineapple ever, 60 cents for an avocado, and less than $1 for a large bunch of bananas.  Other items are extremely costly: Beer is $8-9 per six-pack (local beer only)*, cheese is $8-10/lb, and $6 for a small jar of peanut butter.  Additionally, we happen to be staying in the one region of Costa Rica where the tap water is not safe to drink.  We mitigate this cost by buying a large 19 L jug of water every 2 days for about $6 (smaller 6 L jugs are about $4-5 each).  We have found juice and yogurt to be VERY sugary (although the box says 100% juice, I’m not sure I believe it)

Eating out is even more expensive.  This is no different than at home…we often struggled with the work/life balance in this area.  Too exhausted after work, school and activities, we often ate out.  My middle certainly suffered the ill effects and so did our savings.  Here in Costa Rica, we haven’t indulged too much.  The costs are similar to what we payed in Colorado for a dinner for four (so far an average of about $35 per meal).  The difference is that now we are on an extremely tight budget: if we want to eat out, an excursion or event is likely out of the question or must be scaled back. Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “why did they have to go to Costa Rica to discover that?  I live it every day!” We were certainly blessed to not have this be an overwhelming concern in the States, but looking back we can see how this impacted us even beyond the obvious costs.

Here in Costa Rica we have found a much better paradigm.  Amy and I now cook together…what used to be a debate is now a partnership.  We clean up after each meal together too, otherwise we pay the price of a million fruit flies, ants and wasps in the morning.  We often cook simple food for dinner such as our version of Casado (rice and beans with some form of protein) or pasta, fresh fruits and veggies.  Lunches are generally sandwiches with more fruit and breakfast is cereal and/or eggs.  One of my favorites is taking the leftover rice and beans from the night before and frying an egg to break over the top of it.  Our kids have taken to this new mode too.  They are constantly “starving” (snack foods are crazy expensive) so they have been willing to try many new things.  Fresh made guacamole, various rice and bean concoctions and squash casserole are just of few of the former “gross” foods they now trying and generally loving.


Place Notes Total
Pita Bonita This place was worth every penny. It is a hundred meters down the road from us in Punta Uva. Amazing fresh hummus, great falafel and spectacular kabob accompanied by super fresh pita bread that I couldn’t stop eating. The owner, Elan, is an Israeli expat who moved to the area for a new way of life. He was very helpful and friendly. $50.00
Jungle Love The ambiance was fantastic (except for Mack throwing a pouting fest that resulted in her spilling her very full banana batido, a fresh fruit “shake”, all over the table). We were tired and all a little out of sorts. We had been in Punta Uva about a week by this time and needed a bit of comfort food so we decided that it was a great pizza night. The pizza was fair, but having had many amazing pies and slices over the years I may be a bit slanted. For me, the sauce was a tad sweet and the crust was a little too biscuit-like. The toppings were fantastic: fresh garlic, sautéed spinach, delicious mushrooms and a slightly spicy sausage were a winning combination. We ordered a large and a medium pizza and had enough leftovers for a nice lunch (although reheating pizza without oven is a challenge). $42.74
Pan Pay This bakery and restaurant was recommended by our Spanish teacher. It is located near the beach in Puerto Viejo on the north end of town. The place was small and the server was impatient with our lack of Spanish. It might have just been the woman helping us as others appeared very friendly. The girls loved the Batidos here and my Pinto Gallo with Tocineta (rice and beans mixed with bacon and eggs) was awesome. The girls had Bocadillos with Queso and Tocineta. Not bad, but not amazing. $19.81
Soda Chino A Chinese influenced soda in Limón. This place served chop suey alongside the traditional casados popular in sodas across Costa Rica. We only had fries and four cokes…don’t think the food would have been great based on what we saw. $10.67
Wok and Roll We took a drive to Turrialba, a mountain valley dominated by an active volcano. It was cloudy, so the only eruptions we saw came from the backseat as Quinn was carsick multiple times on the winding mountain roads (she started the day in a dress, upon arrival in Turrialba she changed into pants and a t-shirt purchased in town, ended the day naked, poor girl). We chose an eatery featuring Chinese food because Mackenzie likes it so much. It was a pretty good option, with nice kid friendly dishes and an amazingly friendly staff. Amy and I shared the Singapore Noodles (one of my favorites) and it was very well prepared. This was a pretty expensive place, but it is close to the main square. $40.00
Punta Mona Center
for Regenerative Design
& Botanical Studies
“An 85 acre off the grid, beach front, family owned,
environmental education center,
botanical collection, permaculture farm
and eco-lodge, dedicated to regenerative ways of living.” The vegan fair was amazing, a squash dish with hearts of palm, garlic, coconut milk and coconut oil; Kale and lentils with savory mushrooms; fried plantains with guacamole. Amy and I enjoyed it immensely and it was about $10 per person. I am not sure if you can arrange to simply eat there on your own, but our tour guide Omar arranged the lunch for us after a kayaking tour.

*A former colleague of mine was certain I was crazy for going on a trip where alcohol may be out of the question because it is such a budget buster.  She suggested that I mitigate the cost by forming a GoFundMe. Well Mindie, here it is: Buy me a Beer

Costa Rica: The Month in Review

We have arrived in Bocas Town, Bocas del Torro Province, Panama.  Our new one bedroom condo is air conditioned and bug free, a welcomed luxury.  I am in the small living room watching the girls turn the two sets of bunkbeds, that are also in the living room, into forts.  My mind drifts back to the cabina that we left in Costa Rica.  I am missing the peaceful solitude of our jungle bungalow and the sounds of nature all around.  Bocas Town is way more lively and seems to be preparing for some sort of festival, a story I am sure we will share in the coming week.

This morning I am reflecting on the first month of our year long adventure.  We had our last few days in Costa Rica planned out so well.  We would spend Monday doing errands in Puerto Viejo, a hot 40 min bike ride (I’m sure if you weren’t lugging two kids you could go faster), and enjoy lunch at Lidia’s Place, a highly recommended lunch spot to get the local dish of Casado. Tuesday we would go to our favorite beach spot and Wednesday we planned to do laundry (most of which needs to be air dried), slowly start to pack and then enjoy one last dinner at our favorite spot, Pita Bonita.

Mackenzie in a waterfall

Quinn holding a green parrotWell…this isn’t how it all ended up working out.  Monday we rode into town as planned, at the peak of hunger, pulled up in front of Lidia’s only to find it closed.  Dang! Now what?  Feeling hot and hungry the moans of disappointment from the girls in the background, Jacob and I looked at each other pleadingly for the other to think of plan B.  Luckily, Jacob remembered that our Spanish teacher Matías recommended a place called Como en mi Casa.  Jacob remembered this place because about out a week earlier he misunderstood the meeting location that Matías  told him for one of their Spanish lessons. Jacob thought Matías said to meet him at his home but instead Matías meant for them to meet at this restaurant.  Oops! Anyway, there we were hot, hungry and cranky.

Como en Mi Casa serves a vegetarian and vegan menu of locally grown, organic products ironically located above a butcher on the second floor of the building.  We rode up and saw several patrons sitting at the bar on the balcony enjoying their lunches.  Hooray, crisis averted!  The ambience was beautiful.  Great music, friendly staff and the owner’s art dots the walls.  She requested the girls draw her a picture to put on display.  The food was amazing.  Jacob’s Pinto Gallo was beautifully spiced and came with a delicious salsa. I had an amazing Mediterranean garden burger with fresh made bread topped with sun dried tomatoes and perfectly ripe avocados (which normally give me stomach problems when I eat them but somehow in Costa Rica it doesn’t effect me as much).  The girls shared a goat cheese and cracker plate and some fresh made hummus.  Fantastic.  Hypnotized by the girls’ cuteness, the owner gave them each a house-made, vegan chocolate cookie made from local chocolate.

Tuesday came and after a lazy morning we lathered on our sunscreen, donned our swimsuits and mounted our bikes to head to the favorite beach spot.  From our house you take the second road to the Arrecife beach, named after the restaurant that is located there.  The bumpy, rocky road leads you along the ocean where you can pick from a series of little private coves.  The water is calm and a perfect depth for Quinn to feel safe playing a little further out from the shore. Plenty of beach to lay your towel and some shade from the overhanging palm trees make this a great spot.  Because Mackenzie helps me pedal, we tend to go much faster than Jacob pulling Quinn in the trailer.  We bumped on ahead and scouted out our spot. “Man, the wind has really picked up today”, I thought “and the tide is high” (cue Blondie’s song The Tide is High here).  We waited for Jacob and Quinn to catch up, assessed the conditions and decided to look further down.  This pattern would happen over and over again for the next 30 minutes until a decision was made to go back to Punta Uva cove where we know it to be calmer waters as it is protected by the point.  (English translation is Grape Point, odd since we didn’t see grapes in that area).  We rode up, parked our bikes and realized that the conditions were the same. Choppy water and not much dry beach due to the high tide.  We made the best of it.  Jacob and I floated out in the waves and the girls dug holes, built castles and drew sea turtles in the sand.

I imagine by now you are getting the sense that we had the saying “the best laid plans…” going around in our heads. Really it is not until now, that I realize none of our final-days-plans worked out as we hoped. We just rolled with it so to speak, figured it out and made the best of it, discovering jewels we would otherwise have missed.  Not to say it wasn’t devoid of feelings of frustration and whining, I don’t want to paint the picture that every moment is magical.  So it was not surprising that the same pattern happened on Wednesday too.  I saved laundry for our last day so as to optimize our clean clothes for our next destination.  We woke to cloudy skies but with high hopes I started the laundry after attending my final yoga class (lovely).  As I hung it out on the line, the clouds loomed.  Yep, after about an hour on the line, the rain came and I sprinted back to the “laundry grove” to save the almost dry clothes.  Clothes retrieved and rehung on a line on our porch our thoughts drifted to dinner.  Jacob decided he better look up Pita Bonita to “make sure it’s open” because on his way back from a bike ride, he noticed the cerrado sign hanging on the door.  Internet said it was supposed to be open but when I called….NOOOOOOOO!  Closed. This was the biggest bummer of the week and one that was not so easy from which to bounce back.  Now what?  Well, Jungle Love is not too far down the road but it is a dark on the road at night and this made us both very nervous.  Website said open, lights attached to the bikes,  let’s go.

“No, we do not have a reservation” we said forlornly to the hostess.  “I can’t get you in until 7:30pm” she said “most places are closed on Wednesdays” she went on. (now 7:30 was an hour and a half away. Some of you might be thinking 7:30 is reasonable, why don’t you just wait? If your thinking that, I’m guessing you don’t have kids).  Ok, well, there is the super expensive place up the road that may not have anything that the kids will like, we can look at the menu.  Oh, wait, they don’t take cards and we have spent all of our Costa Rican Colones and didn’t bring any US dollars (most places will accept dollars). Ok…What now?

All this time Jacob and I were debating, Mackenzie was jumping up and down trying to get us to listen to her that she had seen a place up the road that was open.  At this point, we are all starving and it is starting to rain again.  After checking a couple more places with the same “no cards” response, we finally listened to Mackenzie.  We landed at a place called Resturante Wandha.  The restaurant was part of a larger resort and therefore we paid resort prices.  The food was ok, I had a tropical sea bass dish. The fish was steamed in a ginger broth inside a banana leaf.  Jacob had a curried shrimp dish.  The waiter was very nice and ambience was great but I wouldn’t go back. It was no Pita Bonita.

While we waited for our meal, I asked Jacob and the girls for their top three favorite things over the last month.  Here were the responses:


  1. Trying new foods
  2. Seeing Howler Monkeys
  3. Taking hikes


  1.  Seeing pretty flowers
  2. Trying new foods
  3. Going to the beach


  1. The delicious squash dish at the organic farm on Punta Mona
  2. Spending time together as a family
  3. All the friendly people


  1. The sound of Howler Monkeys
  2.  The hike at La Ceiba
  3.  The dining experience at Como en Mi Casa

There were many more amazing things we could all add to our list.  Returning to this place some time in the future to really become fluent in Spanish and  immerse in life there could be a possibility.  On our way to Bocas, we met a very nice man from Germany who has paused for a year of travel twice in his life.  He said the first time he went it took a bit to adjust to the realization that he had time.  Time to explore at whatever pace he wanted and yet, it still was not enough to go everywhere he wished.  As I look forward to the next leg of our travels, I realize I am doing the same adjustment.  My brain has moments of panic that we need to “get it all in”.  It may look like “vacationing” on the outside and granted some of it is that but I feel more like we have given ourselves the gift of time, togetherness and learning. There are hard days.  The girls are not always so cooperative and Jacob and I bite at each other some but in the long run, this time together, time to explore new locations is precious.

Amy and Jacob selfie. Amy with red lips and Jacob with "war paint"

We are living on a tight budget to make this happen, having many discussions of what our “work” looks like now and in the future.  As predicted, Costa Rica was a great landing spot for our first destination. Taking a month to establish our travel/school routine, exploration and togetherness proved to be a great decision. For the next 5-6 weeks we will be more on the move.  8 days in Bocas then to Lima, Peru for 3 before heading out on our exploration of the southern half of Peru. Bouncing around to new locations each week we are there.  This will be a good test of our communication, parenting and emotion regulation skills.  So… Here we go!

baby monkey in a red hammock being cared for by a volunteer

Having Fun in Costa Rica

I have been in Costa Rica for two weeks.  The only thing I don’t like is it’s really hot and humid.  There are lots of cool things to see and do.  One day, I went to my friends house to have pancakes. I met her when I

thousands of leaf cutter ants carrying pieces of cut leaves down a tree
Leaf cutter ants hard at work disassembling a tree near our cabina

went to the butterfly garden.  Her name is Ana.  On the way to her house I got bit and looked up and saw a lot of leaf-cutter ants on the tree carrying leaves.  Then I saw a whole line of ants that looked like millions and billions of ants. They were taking the leaves to their home.

We also saw some big crickets.  The first one was when we went to the mariposiro/butterfly garden.  It’s right by our cabina.  We went at dusk.  We

praying mantis on chair
A helper to get rid of the bad bugs.

went at dusk because the tree frogs and toads come out to eat bugs. The cricket was as big as my hand.  It was on a stem eating bugs.  There are also these annoying black wasps that fly around our cabina.  They are really creepy.  They fly around mommy and it makes her mad.  I also don’t like them. One time daddy used a broom to get them away, by waiting and then when they flew towards him, he would try to hit them.

I have also seen a lot of animals.  There are these lizards that run by our house on their back legs.  I saw a

brown lizard carrying another lizard on it’s back.  The lizard had a blue tail and orange spots on it’s back.  I have seen small lizards and big lizards.  I even saw a green one with a hump on its head.  A week ago I saw two woodpeckers fighting in the trees and they almost fell on my head.  They were red-headed with white tail feathers and a funny shaped body.  There are some Howler Monkeys that used to live by our cabina.  They wake me up at 4:30am.

We had lots of fun in Costa Rica.  I love how when I open the door I see the jungle.  When the birds sing in the morning, it makes me feel ready to start the day.

Lizard on a leaf near the ground
Our neighborhood lizard

The Magical Costa Rican Jungle

As I hung up the phone after setting up a kayak tour with Omar from Bucus Condos and Tours, he told me he hoped I was feeling the magic of the jungle and sending it my wishes to be fulfilled. This is the kind of lovely energy that is here among the people.  I truly have been sending the jungle my wishes and my intentions each day.  They are to release the inflammation in my knees and to continue to practice mindful presence.

Just down the road from where we are staying I discovered a beautiful yoga retreat center that has daily classes (Tierra de Sueños).  I decided that I have been resting, elevating and taking ibuprofen long enough.  It is not good for my body to continue with the ibuprofen and I need to change my mindset about these knees.  Yoga kept calling to me and so I decided to listen.  The retreat center has a sort of open air yoga platform a few meters down a twisty path through the jungle, from the reception office. It is made of dark wood planks on the floor and walls that continue up to form a high ceiling.  Immediately upon ascending the stairs I knew I was in the right place.  The peaceful, meditative energy was palpable. I sat facing the teacher who had a backdrop of palm trees, red flowers, flitting butterflies and hummingbirds.  Seriously.

The instructor began the class with a breathing meditation and had us set an intention for our practice. “Release”. That was my word, throughout.  As I followed her instructions for the various poses throughout the class, I definitely released a lot of sweat.  Ho-ly cow! I have never sweat like this in my life, my shins were sweating and not just a little, visible drops ran down my legs. It amazed me.  There was a gentle breeze that blew through the space. This did not help me one bit.  I quickly glanced at my neighbor to assess her sweat factor.  Nope, she was just fine, no sweat not even a glow. (I realize this might be my paranoid, introjection or irrational comparison but I don’t think so).

“Ok”, I thought, “I’m gonna go with it.”

Blast, I forgot to bring a towel though.  It has been awhile since I have attended a yoga class so I am sure the sweat was also due to the fact that yoga is no joke. You use every muscle.  Gratefully, I made it, my knees did great. I walked home feeling joyful for having used my body, wondering if I overdid it, but hopeful that my intention worked.  As the week went on I came back for another class and to that word “release” in my mind. By the end of the week, I found that I had my range of motion back and less inflammation. Huh, maybe the magic of the jungle is working.

So, now I have done a total of three classes (sweat not so overwhelming, remembered a towel) and my knees are so much better.  I think Jacob has stopped worrying about me so much and we are feeling more free to go on excursions. Little did I know that the coming excursions would all hold the theme of life in balance with the earth.  We met Omar at the restaurant called Maxi’s in Manzanillo and he took us on a boat to Punta Mona. There we picked up some kayaks and went further down the coast to the Gandoca Canal which boarders Panama.  He led us down the river; the jungle towering above us.  We saw Spider monkeys, caymans, blue herons, tiny King Fisher birds that look like hummingbirds and “Jesus Christ” lizards.


I think the lizards were our favorite.  When the water is smooth, no ripples from the wind, these small prehistoric looking lizards are able to run on their back legs across the water.  We quietly paddled up to a log holding one of these lizards. Omar waited for just the right moment to scare the lizard into doing its trick which was followed by squeals of joy from the girls, that was the best part.  Nature is truly amazing; that peaceful lagoon holds so much life. One can’t help but be in awe.

After the great upper body workout paddling back upstream, the wind had now kicked up,  we ended our day with lunch at a sustainable organic farm (which Jacob referenced in the last post).  Omar led us through a jungle path to the main structure which is two buildings their top floors connected by a swinging bridge and contains an outdoor kitchen on the first floor and sleeping quarters upstairs.  Little did we know that there was a group of about 15 people who had spent the last 10 days together at the “Awesomeness Fest” on the Pacific side (really, I’m not making this up) and were ending their trip with an excursion to the Caribbean side and stay at the organic farm.  As we walked up they were all standing in a large circle about to eat the food prepared by the staff at the farm. The owner of the farm opened up the circle for us to join; we shared our names, favorite fruit and a blessing of love that was baked into the food we were about to eat.  What? My hippie side felt very happy.

IMG_1644This theme of reverence and respect for the sustenance that the rainforest provides continued with the next two tours we took.  First, we went on a tour to meet some of the indigenous people of Costa Rica, the Bri Bri, to learn about their way of life and process of making chocolate. We spent about an hour with a Shaman who talked about the spiritual ways of the tribe and the medicinal uses of  vegetation from the jungle. During our experience learning about chocolate, we discovered that it too is seen as medicine and a symbol of  love, life and solidarity.

Next, we spent time on a jungle hike with a tour guide from the La Ceiba preserve.  This preserve is connected to the Jaguar Rescue Center and is “step two” in the reintroduction of rescued animals back into the wild. Fabian, our guide and conservationist, was one of the most joyful people I have met.  His love of Costa Rica was very evident and he, too, spoke about the medicinal properties available in the rainforest.  Something he said stuck with me in a very impactful way,

“Everything we need is here, we have only to understand”.

Our hike led us to the La Ceiba tree or Tree of Life.  This tree was HUGE. Its roots roped out in several directions and where they connected to the trunk they were over 6 ft. high.  Fabian explained that this tree is seen as a “mother” tree because her roots go deep into the earth and stretch out in many different directions. She takes in so much carbon dioxide that she feeds the forest around her.  She feeds the animals and people around her too, with the oxygen she supplies.  Powerful.P1020175

Sadly, this balance with and respect for the land has not always been the theme in Costa Rica.  During our visit to the Bri Bri people, our guide shared with us how much their culture has been lost.  It started when Spaniards came to the country. The introduction of Spanish language caused the Bri Bri people to slowly forget their own as well as the ways of living in balance with the rainforest.  Large crops of cacao and bananas were planted and more people immigrated to the Caribbean cost from Jamaica and China to work on the plantations. However, the Costa Rican government realized something very important.  People wanted to visit. To see the wildlife, meet the native people.  They realized tourism could be another big part of the country’s  income; therefore, large scale conservation projects were started which included preserving a large part of the land for the Bri Bri and other indigenous peoples, in the place they had naturally settled. Thankfully, this has allowed them to sustain, still participating in chocolate and banana production but in the balanced way they know.  The shaman’s knowledge is still being passed to the next generation.  And yet, outside of that preserve, there are banana plantations as far as the eye can see along the hour drive from Limón to Puerto Viejo. Chocolate production is dying out because people are making more money on bananas.

Still pondering the theme of living in balance and the rich resources the rainforest provides, I was saddened by a video I watched this morning, about the millions of acres of rainforest that are burning in Indonesia. The people of Indonesia have found a profitable solution to caring for the needs of their family, through the production of palm oil.  The government is capitalizing on this as well.  The reporter was encouraging a boycott on palm oil.  It got me thinking, is this the answer to saving the rainforest? Is it as simple as refraining from buying unsustainable products?  Perhaps the boycott will make them stop burning the fields, but I think the boycott is only part of the solution, there are larger social issues at play. Burning the fields has more to do with a cheap way of “resetting” the land than it does the crop that is planted on it.  Indonesia is not the only place where monoculture happens.  It is not the only place where the negative impact of monoculture to the earth is evident.  My intention isn’t to get political, my thoughts only bring me to the awareness that we are headed to Indonesia at some point on our journey.  How will the rainforest there compare to here? Costa Rica is all about conservation.  What is conservation like in Indonesia?  The people of Costa Rica seem to be striving to find a balance between large production of goods and respect for the land.  Is that a value there? 

I have set a new, or additional intention for my meditation and yoga practice.  I intend for this journey to not only be an education in culture and respect of diversity but also for the girls to develop a respect and reverence for the earth.   I have always been connected to nature and often seek it is a place of refuge. Our dear friend, family member, and my colleague Kris Abram posted this to Facebook today:

“A revolution needs to happen and it starts from inside each one of us.  We need to wake up and fall in love with the Earth.  Our personal & collective happiness & survival depend on it” – Thich Nhat Hanh

My wish to the rainforest is not only to help support the healing of my knees and release whatever I am holding there but to also help me become clear about how I can live a balanced life in my unique way and how I might take the next step in my career of impacting social change.

hermit crab on log

Costa Rican Discoveries

It is 7:30pm and I am sitting on our covered porch feeling the delicious breeze on my back as Jacob swings lazily in the hammock practicing his Spanish.  The sweet voices of the girls can be heard inside… or could be heard because now the sky has opened up and it is pouring down rain.  I am internally jumping for joy for the rain.

three-toed sloth
Our first wild sloth

It has been HUMID and HOT like I have never experienced.  The caretaker of the property, Anita, said it has been unseasonably dry for the last week causing the heat to be more intense. It usually rains every evening which helps to cool things down. I cannot tell you how good this cool breeze feels after being in 90 degree heat with 100% humidity for 4 days.   I think I have lost 10 lbs in sweat and decreased appetite.  The first day of the heat I was so cranky. I think we all were, but I can only speak for myself.  We seemed to be snapping at each other and could not get on the same page.  I think some of that is the adjustment to this life and 24/7 togetherness but most was due to the oppressive humidity and heat.

As I sit here I am reflecting on our Costa Rican discoveries to this point:

  1. Eating out is fairly comparable in price to that of Colorado.
    Casado con salchicha
    Casado con salchicha (homemade)

    We have done most of our cooking at home and found prices in the grocery store as you would expect, buy local spend less buy familiar foods like 8 ounces of cheddar cheese and pay $6.  Our excursion budget is highly dependent on what we spend on food each day so we are being very mindful.

  2. Puerto Viejo fills up with people on the weekend making driving even more perilous. People from San Jose or other close towns, seem to come to the coast for the weekend to enjoy the beach and laid back vibe of Puerto Viejo and surrounding communities.
  3. We can hear the howler monkeys all the time; their sound can carry for up to 5km.  At first we only saw them when we went deeper into the jungle but today there was a whole crew hanging out in the trees beside the road.  We learned that they get set off when loud cars drive by because they are very territorial.  It was quite a laugh to see them worked up by a small motorcycle.
  4. THERE ARE SO MANY ANTS:  our Spanish teacher, Matías, told us about the hormigas limpiadoras “cleaner ants”.  These fascinating creatures descend on a home, unannounced to the owner, and pick it clean of crumbs, geckos, other bugs, you name it and do not leave until it is clean. The homeowner has to leave the house for 3-4 hours while the ants do their work. When you return, there is no sign of them.  No insecticide will make an impact you just have to let them do their thing or stay and suffer their painful bite.  Crazy.  We have not experienced the “cleaner ants” but are in a daily fight with these teeny tiny, innocent looking biting ants. Their bite is like fire and the itch goes on for days.

    horned beetle
    Not an ant, but yet another bug! Amy stepped on this guy 🙁
  5. The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is very diverse. There is a mixture of African, Latino and exPats from many different countries here.  It seems people are drawn to the true “Pura Vida” (pure life) way of life. Lots of organic farms, yoga and meditation retreats, people in dreadlocks, Bob Marley posters and tie dye.  It’s lovely. The energy is friendly and welcoming and I get the feeling we have just barely scratched the surface of what is here.  When you say “cómo estás” the common answer is “pura vida”.
  6. There are no road names or house numbers in the small towns that are adjacent to Puerto Viejo. People give directions based on landmarks and other businesses. Such as, my house is in Punta Uva, near the Butterfly Garden.  To give an idea of the area think of Puerto Viejo as central it is the largest town south of Limón.  To the south in order is Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva, Manzanillo then on to the border of Panama.  To the north of Puerto Viejo is Hone Creek (where we do most of our grocery shopping, we have found the best prices at Pali Supermercado), Cahuita (30 minute drive from Punta Uva), San Clemente then the port city of Limón. (that is about an hour away).
  7. Pita Bonita in Punta Uva has the most amazing Middle Eastern food.  We had lamb kebab, hummus and falafel, and chicken shawarma.  The owner, Elan, is from Israel and makes everything from scratch including the pita bread. Wow.  People warned us that the food in Costa Rica is not that great but he proves them wrong.
  8. Each beach is muy bonita. WOW. The green of the jungle reflects in the water making it an emerald color in some of the coves. Reefs of Manzanillo Along most of the shores the water is turquoise blue. The law in Costa Rica prohibits anyone from building within 164 feet of the coastline. This is the “public zone”.  Because the beach belongs to everyone, there are no huge hotels asking you to move off of “their” beach .  It also makes the beaches and coastlines appear more “wild”. There are washed up palm trees, coconuts in varying disarray and all kinds of debris along the beach. It is not a mess, just natural and amazingly free from trash.  There are plenty of spots to lay your towel and build sandcastles.
  9. The use of bicycles as transportation is amazing.  Moms and Dads transport 1-3  kids younger than Quinn on the handlebars or crossbar of the bike and no one is wearing a helmet, a person steering his bike toting long boards on his shoulder seemingly to a construction site, or the weaving tourist trying to speak to his/her friends that are also weaving in the line behind him.  When taking a closer look at the “family bikes”, you find a small bike seat attached to the crossbar and foot rests on either side of the front tire.   I can see us joining in the party and looking for one of these family bikes in our last week here when we no longer have a car, we’ll see.
  10. I LOVE the sound of Howler Monkeys.  It is an eerie background to the constant chatter of birds that I find comforting and intriguing.  They start EARLY in the morning and I have loved waking up to their sounds.
  11. Learning another language is hard.  We decided to use our second week in Costa Rica as our language week.  We found a private tutor through Eñe ( ) who is coming to our house for 3 hours/day. The first hour we all learn together and then the girls go play, draw or watch a Family photo with teachermovie while Jacob and I spend two more hours conversing and learning with Matías.  Jacob is WAY ahead of me and will likely continue in some fashion for our remaining time.  He is the language guy, loves learning them and practicing and is not afraid to try it out.  I am a little more hesitant but am doing my best.  I was so proud of myself as I successfully spoke to Anita about cleaning and asked the clerk in the market to slow down so I could understand (which I still didn’t but I asked!).  Small steps.

Jacob and I have spoken about the experiences we would like to have in the coming weeks. We are looking forward to kayaking and visiting Punta Mona, a guided hike in the jungle, a visit with the indigenous Bribri people and chocolate tour, The Jaguar Rescue Center and possibly a trip to Tortuguero  to spot turtles hatching and laying eggs and/or Turrialba to see the nearest active volcano.  In the meantime stay tuned and Pura Vida!

Punta Uva, Costa Rica: The Arrival

We arrived at our little cabina in Punta Uva, Costa Rica at about 6:30pm on 10/12/15. Punta Uva is a little beach town on the Caribbean Coast about an hour south of the port town of Limón.  After landing in San José, we retrieved our bags and stood in line to buy a sim card.  Most U.S. cell phone users under contract will need to have their phones internationally unlocked in order to switch sim cards.  If it is not unlocked, you are stuck either turning your phone into a wifi only device or paying the extortion level rates if you make local calls and more importantly use wireless data (T-Mobile and Google Fi have a great international options for short trips under 5 weeks).  The downside to using the local service is that it inhibits our calls back to the states, but with wifi calling options we can still make calls when needed.  For $22 we were able to purchase a sim card with 60 minutes of talk and 2GB of data. We needed to be able to contact our host at the cabina we rented for the month so that he could meet us there with the keys.

Picking up the rental car in San Jose proved to be quite the headache.  **HEED OUR WARNING: read the fine print. Costa Rica requires supplemental insurance above and beyond the insurance you might be carrying.  This mistake cost us an additional $400.  We chose to rent a car because of my knees (will the knee saga ever end?).  It is a good decision, I can’t be walking everywhere as we initially planned but man, we were not anticipating this expense.  It is causing us some stress thinking about how this ding will impact us in the long run.  But, our saying for the last two days as been “what are you gonna do, can’t change it now.”IMG_1458

We finally worked out the car and got on our way.  Because it took more time than anticipated, we both wanted to get on the road to try to minimize how much driving would be done in the dark.  The sun sets at 5:30pm right now and our expected arrival time as about 6:15pm.  The girls fell asleep almost immediately despite jostling and jerking of the car in the crazy Costa Rican traffic and detour we took because of a wrong turn.  Once we found the right highway, we were climbing into the clouded mountains which were covered in vegetation.  Jacob is a brave man.  He is willing to tackle driving in different countries and does it with such grace.  It was raining and the two lane, if you can call it that,  highway was twisty and full of slow trucks transporting their goods.P1010708

The road into Limón quickly changed from lush jungle to banana plantations and fields of storage containers.  We reached Limón just as the sun was setting.  By this time, the girls were awake and we all needed to find a bathroom.  There are not many “towns” on the road from Limón to  Punta Uva.  The next biggest is Puerto Viejo about 7 km north of Punta Uva.  Perhaps it was our fear of the unknown or trying out our Spanish skills, but we hesitated to stop at the little shops what dotted our journey.  “We’ll find a bigger store” we kept telling the girls.  I think this is evidence of our rusty travel legs.  Finally, there was no choice as we were about to pop.  Jacob stopped at a restaurant that was about to close and in broken Spanish I successfully asked to use the bathroom.  Whew!  now we could focus on driving the rest of the way to Puerto Viejo where we would pick up some dinner.  The drive was treacherous.  There are so many people riding their bikes on the “shoulder” which is no bigger than a foot wide, in the pitch black, no helmet or reflectors.  I wonder what the statistic is for bike fatalities on these roads because we came awfully close to killing more than one.

With a basic dinner in hand, we finally arrived at our cabina that we booked through airbnb (if you haven’t tried it before, here is $20 off!).  It’s definitely rustic.  We have an outdoor kitchen and dining area. Inside are two “bedrooms” (no door between them) and a bathroom.  I will say it is very clean and the host, Mano, who came to meet us is very nice.  We knew it was going to be rustic I just don’t think I was completely mentally prepared. Arriving at night made me feel like we made a terrible mistake.  P1010746What did we do? Am I going to be able to live like this for the next month?  There are little tiny ants crawling on the wall (and this morning they seem to have found a home in my computer as they keep crawling over the screen of my laptop. Where are they coming from?)  It is so humid here. I have the words of my friend Kim in my mind “dry everything on a line, nothing flat. It will immediately start growing mildew.”  Yep. I can see that happening very quickly.  We crawled in bed underneath our mosquito nets and fell asleep to the sounds of something falling from the trees onto the roof of the patio. P1010747

This morning I feel refreshed and hopeful about our journey.  The accommodations are rustic but comfortable.  The outdoor living area is surrounded by the jungle and I am not being bothered by any flying bugs. Ants, yes but they seem harmless.  As I sit this evening finishing this blog post I am filled with gratitude and love for the life we are choosing to live for the next year.  To quote Brene Brown from an interview she did on the Tim Ferris radio podcast (highly recommend listening) (questioning how she is living her life) “Did I choose courage over comfort?”  “I am choosing to live in the arena (her metaphor for vulnerability) and it almost guarantees that I’ll get my ass kicked)

View Gallery