Monday, July 10, 2017

Costa Rica Pringles

Costa Rica Part One. Costa Rica Part Two. And finally, now, thank God, the doozy of a long finale. 

Part Two left off in the lush and loud rainforest after a horse ride so long, we could not sit comfortably for days. A breather from adventure was needed so we hit up the most expansive hot springs in the La Fortuna area. We didn't just want hot springs; we wanted A LOT of hot springs. 

The entry fee was shockingly expensive. Alex, when told the price we owed for admission, gaped at entrance man and said, "Do we get to take one of the hot springs home for that price?"

The Baldi hot springs flow straight from the Arenal volcano. The higher and closer to the volcano you climb, the hotter the pools get. It's damn hot in the highest pool. You could poach a fish in that water if you happened to bring a fish along in your bag. We did not bring a fish so instead nearly poached ourselves; we didn't much care because the hot water felt so good on our sore muscles and aching butts.

Plus, swim up bars and piƱa coladas

and a decent view of the Arenal Volcano

The highest pool.
This here's a fish poachin' pool.

Sufficiently restored to life, we moved on from the rainforest to the next region on the itinerary -- the beach at Manuel Antonio National Park. The long drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio involved crossing the infamous "crocodile bridge."

Our little girl on a bridge above a gathering of crocodiles.
I was fine.
(Nope, not fine, dragged her off the bridge,
turns out I don't trust bridges?)

We are not beach people so were approaching our next stop with suspicion. Unfortunately for us, we were also approaching it on Costa Rican Spring Break so were most definitely not alone at Manuel Antonio. It was a real mob scene. It took our driver a painfully long time to thread through the moseying hordes in the streets.

Our hotel up high on the hill at Manuel Antonio was made almost entirely of re-purposed shipping containers. The idea of a hotel made solely of re-purposed and recycled materials was exciting until we entered our room. Rooms made of old shipping containers are as narrow and claustrophobic as you think they'd be.


not so cool

nice view, though, we'll deal

We arrived early morning our first day at the beach to beat the crowds and snag a rental tent for sun hiding purposes. I also immediately rented a boogie board to show the kids "how fun they are." I jumped into the water, waited for a big wave, hopped onto my boogie board with a "whooooo!" I was immediately flipped by the wave, pulled under, dragged along the bottom of the sea for awhile and deposited mercilessly on the beach.

I came up spitting sand and saltwater with a giant bleeding abrasion on my knee -- an area that still bears a faint scar nearly three months later. Goddamit, I am not a beach person.

Coco and The Loosh watched my smooth boogie board moves and saw me limping out of the water and quickly decided boogie boards were not for them. Smart kids.

We all got sunburned at Manuel Antonio despite taking every precaution. You're pretty much hovering over the equator in Costa Rica so there's not much to be done besides diving into full shade at every opportunity. Alex even got sunburned through his shirt. It's a "breathable" shirt he often wears to the gym but we soon learned "breathable" means "full of tiny holes so the sun can stealthily attack your skin."

Our guided tour through Manuel Antonio National Park the next day was much more our style. Our guide carried a telescope and was an expert at spotting wildlife all around us, wildlife we never would have seen solo on account of wildlife's excellent blending skills.

Just look at this damn frog

and look at this owl trying to be a branch

look at this sleepy spider monkey with his little dangly legs
trying to hide behind a leaf

and look at this sloth not even remotely trying to blend in,
just being all, "hey, girl."

A family of capuchin monkeys lived in the trees above our hotel. They played games together like taking turns rolling down the hill behind our room and trying to steal guests' bags if left unattended on the balcony. There were warnings posted everywhere about the thieving capuchins. They are super cute but don't get distracted. They are up to no good. Do not, no matter what they say to you, trust them.

Hi lady,
just put your purse down and go back into your room.
I'll watch it for you, I promise.
I am a helpful monkey.

Animals are all over the place in Costa Rica. They run the show. This big guy surprised us when we sat down to lunch one afternoon and he was right beside our table --

What are you looking at?


And this one startled us when it showed up behind me at our dinner table --

Hi, guys. Deer here.

And this little punk was, of course, waiting for us upon return to our room --

I want to steal your iPhone

The kids were each allowed two souvenirs on our Costa Rica trip. Coco chose a cute one at Manuel Antonio -- a pair of stuffed monkeys that wrap their arms around your neck with the aid of velcro. Lucien, on the other hand, chose a can of Pringles. I told him it was a bad choice, that he was never going to remember a can of Pringles and should instead choose something more lasting. He insisted it's what he wanted. Fine, we all have to live with our choices sometimes.

He has ever since made it a point to prove me wrong. Still to this day, nearly three months later, even if he's in the middle of playing one of his video games or doing homework or whatever, he'll suddenly lean back and yell, "Whooooo! Remember those amazing Costa Rica Pringles?"

Our final destination was the wild Osa Peninsula. The Osa Peninsula is not for the faint of heart. It is remote and hard to get to. There aren't many people around. But if you want to experience the unabashed wildness of Costa Rica in all its unpredictable glory, the Osa is the place of dreams.

The Osa

There is no easy way to get to the Osa peninsula but one way, the way we chose, is an hour-long boat taxi from Sierpe through crocodile-infested waters. The boat taxi waiting area was full of people glancing anxiously between the nearby sign that said, "Crocodile area, do not swim" and our boat captains, all of whom seemed to be about fifteen years old.

Before we got moving,
we had no idea what we were in for

The boat taxi traveled at suffocating high speeds down the river through the crocodile laden mangrove forest and made sharply banked turns so severe you could reach down and touch the water without much effort. When we crossed the wakes of other boats, our boat went airborne. It was an intense trip, made more intense when the co-captain suddenly began motioning frantically for all of us to put on our life jackets (they had been casually tossed at our feet before that). Soon thereafter we left the river and hit the open water and the ocean swells. Holy shitballs.

One blessed hour later, the boat beached at Drake Bay, our destination. We smoothed our hair, tried to get our breathing back to normal, then took off our shoes and jumped into the shallow water to walk ashore on shaky legs. Our suitcases were balanced on the backs of the captain and co-captain and carried to the beach beside us.

The captains
trying to get the boat taxi back out to sea
so they can go scare more people

A cherry red 1980 Range Rover was waiting for us on the beach. Cheerful American Patrick jumped out to give us warm handshakes and welcome us to Drake Bay. Patrick stuffed us into the back of the old Range Rover, tossed our suitcases on the rack up top, and drove us up the long driveway to his resort, Drake Bay Getaway, where his co-owner and partner, Yens, awaited us with pineapple orange welcome smoothies. Every moment from that moment on made it evident -- the decision to brave the Osa Peninsula was worth the terror.

Drake Bay Getaway Resort itself is small, only five cabins, but it is immaculate and beautiful and built entirely of sustainable materials. Yens and Patrick built the resort themselves with the help of a small team of locals and have since carved out a very special life for themselves in Costa Rica. They left their high stress jobs in Seattle a few years ago; one used to be an aeronautical engineer and the other a software guy. They don't miss their previous lives at all. That definitely got Alex's wheels turning so don't be surprised if we suddenly up and vanish to some remote exotic corner of the world.

The shining star of the Osa Peninsula is Corcovado National Park, the largest park in Costa Rica, renowned as one of the most biodiverse places on earth. It is remote and pristine and fringed by unspoiled beaches. To protect the park and animals therein, any visitor to Corcovado must be registered and accompanied by a certified guide.

Our guide arrived at Drake Bay just before dawn to pick us up for our Corcovado tour. The first part of the tour was another high speed 45-minute boat ride to the far away ranger station at the edge of the park.

Coco is still very sleepy at this early hour
and does not care she's on a boat

The first thing we saw upon jumping out of the boat at the ranger station was a lizard scooped up by a very large bird right in front of us. Coco and Lucien screamed; the bird had bitten off the lizard's tail during the attack and the tail sat on the ground wiggling around by itself for quite some time after its owner was long gone.

I've never seen my kids that horrified/speechless. Welcome to Corcovado, my darlings!

We hiked with our guide into the dense forest. Our guide soon spotted many more animals for us to look at through her telescope.

look at this damn howler monkey

I've never been in such an isolated place, a place that bears very little if any trace of humans. The thick woods were silent except for the occasional rustling of animals in nearby brush or the call of a tropical bird or the whoosh whoosh whoosh from high in the canopy as howler and spider monkeys swung effortlessly from tree to tree. It was slightly unnerving to be so far away from civilization (I knew I was alone out there with giant snakes and not much backup) but I was also happy to learn places that pure and wild still exist. 

Our guide cracked open several coconuts using a piece of shell and her hands. She fed many pieces to this female coati who was eyeing us from the edge of the woods while we took a breather on the beach. The coati, according to our guide, showed signs of recently giving birth and nursing. She needed a lot of food.

Our guide said it was OK to feed the animals things they would eat in the wild anyway. It's especially OK if you're opening a coconut and there's a new mama coati nearby. Coati adore coconut but they're difficult to open. They'll rarely take the time to do it. It's too risky to be distracted that long in a place crazy as Corcovado.

I told the guide it was OK to feed coconut to the wild Coco, too. She is also a big fan --

Our hike ended at a waterfall where we were able to take a relaxing swim before heading back.

After we'd changed back into dry clothes and started the walk back, our guide pointed at an alligator sunning itself on the banks not far downstream. We were like, "WHY DID YOU LET US GET IN THE WATER" but she assured us the alligator would never get that far upstream because of all the rocks in its way. Plus, it was just a small American alligator, maybe five feet long. It would never do any lethal harm to us, worst it could do was gnaw on a limb a little bit and leave it at that. Well that's comforting.

look at this bastard

My family and our guide. 
We are all alone in this world
and have been for hours

We made it through our hike and relaxed on the gorgeous beach outside the ranger station while waiting for our boat. We said aloud, "What a perfect beach, maybe we should go for a swim while we wait" and our guide said, "Gah! No! Never this beach!" and pointed at the giant crocodile floating not even ten yards offshore, only his eyeballs and part of his snout barely visible above the water. He was lying patiently in wait for a heron or some stupid swimmer.

Do you see that dark shape low in the water, just in front of the cresting wave?
That's the sneaky guy pretending to be a rock.

(Aside: the word for crocodile in Spanish is crocodrilo but Lucien mispronounced it and accidentally said "crocodildo." I can't hear the correct Spanish word in my head anymore thanks to him and inevitably end up saying "crocodildo" whenever the topic of crocodiles comes up. You'd be surprised how often crocodiles are mentioned in Mexico. I gracefully back out of the conversation before I embarrass myself.)

look at this squawky bird

they are gorgeous to see in flight

Our boat ride back to Drake Bay was gentle and sunny and smooth until our captain suddenly banked hard to the left and killed the engine. We were like, "Oh God, what surprise hath Costa Rica for us now? A murderous boat captain?" until we realized he'd spotted a large pod of spinner dolphins, steered us right into them and killed the engine so we could enjoy them swimming around us in silence and not scare them off. It was a gorgeous handful of minutes. Sorry I assumed the worst of you for a second there, Captain, I am suspicious by nature.

The next day Lucien was dehydrated and feeling a bit sick. Yens had given us a bunch of Powerade that morning to get his fluids and electrolytes back up but Lucien was still woozy and wanted only to lie down.

I stayed in the cabin with Lucien, reading a book and enjoying the view, while Alex and Coco went to explore the town of Drake Bay. Not long after Alex and Coco's departure, I heard a knock at our cabin door. It was Yens. He'd brought me a couple beers on ice since he knew I was stuck in the room for awhile. Now that is service. That is also how you win my friendship and loyalty forever.

We loved Drake Bay Getaway (they don't know I'm writing this but they do know I love them). It was our favorite stop of the trip due to its wild location, it's friendliness, its view, plus its three meals a day of gourmet food. We saved the best for last ---- and now Vanessa Williams is in my head and will be for hours.

the view from our cabin

a horse hanging on the beach

Personalized plates for every meal based on our food preferences.
The place is goddamn heaven.

By the end of our seventeen days in Costa Rica, we were all sunburned, abraded, bruised, itchy from strange rashes and unidentifiable bug bites, and exhausted. It was time to go home.

The fastest way back to San Jose to catch our flight back to Mexico City was a tiny propeller plane. Patrick drove us in the cherry red Range Rover one last time to the rinky dink Drake Bay airport. Part of the ride involved driving through a river. The water level was above the tires. I was sure we'd be washed away but Patrick just kept chatting happily as he plowed on through. Jesus, place, stop scaring me when nobody else seems to be scared.

I've got pretty serious plane issues and that damn plane from Drake Bay to San Jose did not much help. The tiny thing bounced all over the place, caught up in wild air currents over the water and mountains of Costa Rica. If our boat captain had been fifteen, I swear our plane pilot was twelve.

Supposedly the flight only lasted 35 minutes. To me it felt like 35 minutes all right.... but all of them underwater. (Reprise of awesome Mario joke from my last post, huzzah.)

what fresh hell is this

 those are the backs of our youngster pilots on either side of that half wall

Never again. Never. Again.

OK! That was hella long but it's over, it's finished.
You will never hear me speak of Costa Rica again
until Alex quits his job and we move there to open an eco-resort.

Those Pringles were truly amazing,

and these guys are definitely NOT trying to steal your stuff.
(yes, they are)

Friday, July 7, 2017


Our departure date looms large. We are ignoring it, instead focusing our energies on planning the BEST MEXICO ROAD TRIP EVER. It's our last hurrah, our last chance to celebrate all we've come to love about Mexico and see a bunch of stuff we've been wanting to see. It's also our last chance to gross out our driver, Mario, by vomiting into many motion sickness bags.

Mario has agreed to drive us on our 18-day quest, a generosity that will likely come back to haunt him because Mexican roads often wind up and down through hills and damn it gets twisty up in there.

Lucien and I found crepes in a Mexican mall

Alex and Coco spent two busy and happy weeks with our people in Seattle and Lucien and I spent two calm and quiet weeks here without them. It soon became evident Coco and Alex bring most of the noise and nearly all of the mess around here. Lucien and I are tidy, the other two not so much. I've always kind of basked in the absence of "Alex piles" when he travels but was not prepared for how sad I would feel when "Coco piles" also disappeared. I was not emotionally prepared for no Coco piles.

Paulina had very little cleaning to do those two weeks. She went home early nearly every day and I gave her a couple days off entirely when Lucien and I decided to hit our favorite restaurants instead of eating dinner at home. Even with all that bored Paulina proof in his face, Alex still refuses to acknowledge he is a messy, messy human.

He also refuses to admit he is the one who uses all the glassware. When Al is here, every glass we own is somehow dirty by the end of the day. When he is not here, there are two maybe three little glasses sitting in the sink instead of an entire glass army. I don't understand why he requires so many glasses.

The Loosh and I watched a lot of movies while we were here solo. Lucien has a running gag regarding movies. If any character within the movie says the actual title of the movie, he yells, "ROLLLL CREDITS!" and heads out of the room to live his life. It has been hilarious in movies such as A Dog's Purpose because that movie's title is spoken many, many times throughout the film. Lucien kept jumping up, "ROLLLL CREDITS!" then laughing in the hallway for a bit before coming back in and plopping back down on the couch, only to jump up again a few minutes later.

(Stop hitting us over the head with "a dog's purpose," seriously. We all know a dog's purpose, at least our dog's purpose, and that is to destroy our valuables and fart loudly when we feed her table food.)

One inspired evening, I shared my favorite John Hughes film with my rapidly growing son on the verge of cliques and tough social dynamics. We had a lot to talk about during that movie. But at the end, as Anthony Michael Hall's voice says, "Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club," Lucien jumped up, yelled, "ROLLLL CREDITS!" and you should have seen his face when the credits actually started to roll.

We had a rollicking good laugh after that one. We re-enacted the moment many times, including Judd Nelson's fist pump and the stunned look on Lucien's face. It got funnier every time.

Speaking of my growing son, the boy some of you have been reading about since he was two years old in Paris, which is pretty nuts, he graduated from primary school and is now officially a middle schooler. A related thought: I'm not always an emotional wreck but when I am, I really go for it.

The couple in front of us walking across campus towards the gym, 
carrying flowers for their daughter with tears streaming down their faces.
It's bittersweet to be a parent during the milestones.
Either that or they're fighting and contemplating divorce, hard to say.

Much like that couple above, I could not get my sh*t together during the 5th grade graduation ceremony. Tears welled blindingly in my eyes and my hands shook during the filming of an agonizingly long iPhone video where nothing really happens; it's just me frantically panning up and down the long line of smiling children while they sing Bruno Mars.

Lucien's huge international school in this huge international city was a gem of an experience. He had exposure to kids from all over the globe and can now count amongst his friends a Syrian, an Indian Sikh, a little punk from Denmark (that kid is gonna be something, let me tell you) and a boy recently moved from Japan who does not speak much English nor Spanish but tries hard and smiles all the time. He also met a few Americans, of course, a few Mexicans, a few Brits, and one adorable Canadian who thinks Lucien is going to come back and visit him every month. Ahem. We'll try, cute little Canadian.

I continued with my emotional breakdown as the kids sang "I'm Still Standing" by Elton John (could this school get any more British?) and as Lucien walked across the stage to receive his certificate from his very kind and very tall and very English teacher, Mr. John. I could tell even from a distance The Loosh was emotional, too. It had been a hard morning for him as he got ready for his last school day ever in Mexico. He was processing the near inevitable fact he'll never see any of these kids again (except for the Canadian, every month, of course) and it's been hard on him to build these solid friendships only to turn around and leave them behind so quickly.

Lucien and Max hang in the gym one last time

Is it better to have loved and lost Mexico than never to have loved Mexico at all? As hard as it will be for all of us to leave, damn straight it is.

Remember that one time when he was two?

Coco had a rough time at Lucien's class graduation party/carnival a couple weekends ago. It was a large affair full of tents and fountains and caterers and games. Coco wanted to play the game that involves moving a metal ring over an electrified coil. If the ring touches the coil, it makes a loud sound and you lose. If you make it all the way to the end of the coil with no noise, you win and get to choose a cheap prize out of a bag. It's somewhat similar to the board game Operation, only with more danger of getting electrocuted.

And get electrocuted she did -- well at least strongly shocked -- thanks to the unstable device tipping over in the middle of her turn and an apparent short in the system. The man running the game then yelled at Coco for tipping the thing over as she stood with tears in her eyes shaking out the pain in her right arm. Then she started crying for real, both from the shock of the shock and the getting yelled at by the towering large man.

I leapt to her like a gazelle when I heard the bellowing and grabbed her up. I gave the tall tower guy my best glass-shattering glare (trust Alex, it's a real doozy) and yelled right back, "Stop yelling at her! She's hurt, stupid man!" My insults in Spanish are basic at best but it worked. He felt bad then, stopped yelling and offered her a consolation prize from the bag. When she wouldn't take one and instead continued to bury her face in my body, he dug one out himself and handed it to me with an apology. I know he meant to make peace but.... what in the hell is this terrifying thing --

I tried to cheer Coco with the weird mirrored compact thing as we walked away but she glanced at it, stopped short, and said slowly, "So let me get this straight. I got electrocuted, hurt, yelled at and scared by that man and then he gave me the creepiest toy I've ever seen to make it all better?" I agreed it was an accurate summation of recent events.

At least Lucien had fun! He is the red pair of legs disappearing over the side of the bouncy house --

Our friends threw a goodbye party for us two weekends ago. We're still in Mexico through mid-ish August but since it's summer and everyone has already left or will soon leave for vacations including us, it was the last chance to get everybody together.

There was a mariachi band involved, thankfully, because mariachi always brings me much joy. There was also a caterer who made the best al pastor tacos and a bartender who made me a few delicious cubanas, my favorite drink made of beer mixed with spicy sauce and a salted rim.

There was also karaoke. Karaoke is not my thing but I must say, the way our friends and hosts Seattle Mom and Dad look at each other when they do karaoke is definitely #relationshipgoals --

I soon approached Alex and asked if he wanted to do a cute duet, too, but he suggested 2 Live Crew's "Me So Horny" so there went that idea.

Our driver, Mario, invited us to his wife's uncle's house the morning after our going away party. His wife's uncle makes delicious barbacoa in his backyard every Sunday, which brings out all the neighbors to feast together. Barbacoa is incredible stuff, a slow-cooked meat wrapped in banana leaves and usually served with a spicy tomato sauce in a tortilla.

Barbacoa is also a popular cure for a hangover, which is perhaps why Mario suggested we go to the uncle's house the morning after our going away party. Goddamn cubanas. I regret nothing!

We were given a tour by the uncle and told in order to pull off the barbacoa feasts on Sundays, the process must begin on Wednesdays with the slaughtering of the animals on the very spot upon which we were standing. And with that sentence, my appetite was more or less ruined.

Mexico has both introduced me to delicious meat things I cannot get enough of and also nearly turned me vegetarian forever (Costa Rica didn't help much there, either). I have developed some very complicated feelings around food in Mexico, made worse by the words "sheep's stomach" and "organ meat" being used distressingly often.

To be honest, I felt much the same way in France when I would order something and it would arrive on a plate with eyeballs intact and a giant bone sticking out the top. It's probably best Seattle is my hometown, where a plate of kale and chia seeds with coconut oil dressing can be served to you as dinner when you're overwhelmed by "organ meat" and "bone" revulsion.

Internal food conflicts aside, we were treated at the barbacoa event as warmly as people can be treated anywhere, ever. We were an oddity showing up in that backyard; an English-speaking ex-pat family is not exactly commonplace in the backyards of Nicolas Romero, a mid-sized city about an hour outside Mexico City. We soon reached celebrity status with everyone wanting to pose for pictures with us and many parents running back to their homes to drag their kids out to play with Lucien and Coco on the swingset.

Not sure what's happening here but it looks pretty dramatic

Many of those Mexican kids were shy, hiding behind their mothers and peeking out at us with big dark round eyes. I declared long ago the people in this world that melt my heart the fastest are little old French men riding bicycles. Well it looks like your reign is over, Frenchies; you've been replaced by tiny blinky dark-eyed Mexican kids hiding behind their mothers' skirts. No one can resist those little peanuts.

Barbacoa aunt and uncle

The last memory I'd like to preserve in amber, much as they did with dinosaur DNA in Jurassic Park (another movie The Loosh and I watched during our solo weeks and one where the title is spoken pretty darn early in the movie by grandpa so... ROLLLL CREDITS and goodbye, Lucien) is the night we spent with our friends at Lucha Libre.

Lucha Libre is batshit crazy, which is my favorite thing, and involves fake wrestling by men dressed in spandex while wearing masks, which is my second favorite thing. What are the chances of one event hitting all the right notes.

Many in the audience seemed to take it seriously and cheer their favorite luchadore with great passion. We were way less serious but still certainly appreciated the spectacle. The luchadores are an acrobatic crew and can really fly through the air. Whenever they did, we all yelled, "Wheeeeeeee!" with our hands up in the air. Then we laughed until our sides hurt and ordered more beers and popcorn and cotton candy.

Of course we bought masks, too. We looked amazing.

Those R our dudes

And of course we wore them home

It was the best most ridiculous thing I've seen in a long time and introduced all sorts of new personal jokes to our Mexico City crew. BOOP BOOP BOOP BOOP BOOP. Yeah, you had to be there.

Alex and I recently celebrated 16 years of marriage. I told our driver, Mario, that 16 years of marriage feels like forever and he said, "We have an expression in Mexico; being married for 16 years feels like being married for 16 minutes..."

I was about to eyeroll and be all " guys are lying, that's stupid..." when he added "...but all of them underwater."

I was going to write about Costa Rica this time but it's cool, turns out this one was all for the DF.

Don't you forget about me, Mexico.
Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.