As many of you know, we recently spent a month in Costa Rica! Before we left we told you WHY we decided to take a month off as a family and try someplace new (to read our WHY click here!) We've been back for about two months and I realized that we updated you when we got there and while we were away but I didn't really fill you in on how this experience changed and challenged us, individually and as a family. So read on to learn about our experiences - the good, and the bad!
We had an incredible experience in Costa Rica. I am so happy that we took the time with our family and made it happen. Our kids did such a great job traveling (overall - we had our moments and I have some funny travel stories to share for sure!) In terms of expectations, I worked really hard not to set expectations for the trip. Traveling with 2 little kids (a 4 year old and a 1 year old) I knew a lot would be dependent on their mood, the lunar calendar (kidding) and which way the wind was blowing. I did expect that I would be working much more than I actually ended up working. Which is a good thing for this girl who LOVES her work. It was a really good shift for me - I was OK with doing less work and easing into the Pura Vida lifestyle. We also had a really fantastic team that was carrying our weight while we were gone. (Thank you guys! You are the very best!!!)
A lot of people wanted to know what a typical day was like for us. It is difficult to describe that because we quickly learned that our family did best when we were ‘adventuring’. ‘Adventuring’ meant finding a new beach, or exploring a new town, or driving in the jungle, or visiting an animal refuge, or just trying something new. But one thing I did every day was get up at 5am to get a little bit of work done before the kids woke up. Our rental was tiny - so that meant working outside on the patio just before dawn. It was so loud! We could hear howler monkeys, cows, birds, and the really loud grasshoppers (I think they are called cicadas). There were ‘condo cats’ - community cats that everyone fed but nobody owned who would keep me company while I worked.
The kids (blessedly) would wake up most mornings around 7 and from there it was off to the races. Brooklyn, our 1 year old would get up and look for her swimsuit, her sunblock, and her life jacket to indicate she was ready to go. We would have a quick breakfast of the most amazing tropical fruit and yogurt then be out the door for a walk on the beach before it got too hot. I would carry Brooklyn on my back and we would walk and explore a new beach - picking out our favorite beach houses. Then we all would have a swim / play in the waves or we would explore rocky tide pools. After that, we would get Brooklyn back into the baby carrier and she would get a little power nap in.
We had to get out of the sun from 11-3pm. It. Was. So. Hot. So hot you would feel your body slow down to compensate for dealing with the heat. During this time, we would either let the kids sleep or drive somewhere for our afternoon adventure. We had a really great pool at the place that we stayed and the kids LOVED swimming in it. It is really impressive to see how much confidence they gained swimming. Mike put Hazen’s life jacket on Brooklyn as a joke once and she LOVED it - seconds later she was peeling my death grip off her so she could swim on her own and the next day she was jumping off the side of the pool and holding her breath underwater. CRAZY.
Hazen made a lot of friends. He met a little girl Grace, from upstate New York and then his ‘best friends’ were a couple of Canadians in their 60s(ish) (Tammy / Earl if you are reading this I hope I didn’t overestimate). We would come back from our morning walk and Hazen would strain his neck walking down the path to see if his friends (60 years his senior) were there to ‘play’.
The sunsets in Costa Rica were absolutely spectacular but we didn’t see many. The sun would drop right around 6 which was when we were in the hustle to get cleaned up from the day, have dinner and get to bed. Bedtime in Costa Rica was a breeze. The kids were e x a u s t e d and were so excited (just like we were) to get in their bed at night. I wish we could have brought a little bit of that home.
My most favorite day was when we went into the rain forest in the Monteverde area. It was so beautiful. It was a lot cooler - a great break from the heat we were experiencing - and I think I just love hiking. We walked across canopy bridges high in the air, stood on the continental divide where we could see the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, listened to the birds, and looked for monkeys. We didn’t see any- I am pretty sure that Hazen cleared out all wildlife within a 4 mile radius of us.
In Monteverde we rented an AirBNB from a family of dairy farmers. Their spot on the side of the mountain was probably one of the most incredible views / experiences of my life. We watched the clouds come from the rain forest roll over us and then evaporate into the air. We watched the sunset over the Monteverde valley. We drank the most incredible coffee that was grown and roasted by the grandfather on the farm. We talked with the family and learned about their lifestyle. Our kids played with their kids. We walked on paths in the jungle that the family cut themselves. We got to help with the milking of the cows. I got to bottle feed a 3 month old cow. It. Was. Amazing.
While each day was so different, in general I knew that everything would be a slower pace and I was really really to embrace that slower pace. But… I had my moments when we were out to eat where I just wanted to jump over the counter and make my meal for myself. I could actually feel my grandfather come through me (he was not known for his patience) and groan. I remember a particular time we were all packed up and ready to hit the road for an adventure. The plan was we would stop at the Bagel Kitchen and get 2 breakfast sandwiches and 1 bagel for the road (a girl can only eat so much fish, fruit, and veggies.) The kids and Mike were waiting in the car and I was watching the breakfast sandwich being made. The very nice man cracked the egg, beat the egg, poured the egg into the fry pan, toasted the bagel, fried the bacon, etc, etc, etc, at a pace comparable to a snail. He wrapped the bagel up, put it in a bag, and started on the next one… I just about lost it. I am not proud of myself in that moment. I heard my grandfather’s groan come out through my body. I truly appreciate everything being made fresh and to order and I also appreciate the efficiency of an american kitchen. I am fairly confident this makes me a jerk.
One challenge we faced was the language barrier. We did our best with language and I think next time we travel we will work hard to be even more prepared. When we went to Costa Rica 2 years ago it was for a weeks vacation - and vacation for a week is much different than making a far away land your home for over a month. The kids did much better than us with language and Brooklyn came home with more words in Spanish than English just because she was in the sweet spot of learning new words. Hazen was fearless with his language skills. He would shout ‘Hola Amigos’ (hello friend) to anyone passing by; ‘Gracias’ (thank you) in not always the right circumstances; ‘con gusto’ (with pleasure / your welcome) in even stranger circumstances; and ‘Adios Muchachos’ because it rhymes (bye dude) - we had to look up Muchachos and make sure it wasn’t anything derogatory. Hazen also practiced repeating a string of sounds back to people which was incredibly entertaining for everyone involved. So - someone would say a sentence or two to Hazen in spanish and Hazen would parrot the same sounds back to that person, I am sure in his very Maine, very American accent. It was so fun to see the kids embrace learning the new language with such ease, curiosity, and fearlessness. It gave us more confidence to experiment and try our Spanish/French linguistic skills without being afraid of getting it wrong or embarrassing ourselves.
But because of the language barrier, we did have a pretty scary miscommunication. We were in Costa Rica in the dry season and in the dry season there are forest fires. Not fires like you would imagine with high branches burning and big flames. Lots of little fires with burning of the underbrush. We would see smoldering ashes on the side of the road - just like when a campfire gets perfect to roast marshmallows. We had been to a monkey refuge sanctuary a few days prior and had learned that these fires the night before had gotten out of control and the refuge lost their water tanks and had a couple of animal casualties. The fire department wouldn’t help and all of the volunteers were working to put the fire out with a bucket brigade.
So that's the back story.
Then at 4:15am there is a rap rap rap rap rap rap rap on our door. Mike leaps out of bed says ‘stay here’ and I of course was hot on his heels. It is the youngest security guard from the gate and he is getting increasingly panicked that we don’t understand what he is trying to communicate to us. The incredible game of Costa Rican charades begins with him gesturing to the mountains and making flame like motions, then he starts motioning a key, car, steering wheel. OK - got it muchachos - forest fire, evaluate, leave in your car. Si.
The guard goes and knocks on our neighbors door...
What to grab for an evacuation in Costa Rica? Passports, water, elephant blanket, computers, who knows - we stuff a few things into an already packed bag. I wake Hazen up and say: ‘Honey, there is a fire, we are being evacuated, you need to wake up and walk’ and I get the baby out of her crib.
The fear hit me when we were walking down the long path to our car and I hear the bomberos (the Costa Rican fire truck siren). I know there is one road in and out. I know we have the option to either go right to the jungle on the bumpy monkey trail or left to wind around the coast line. I know that we aren’t going to have a team of emergency personnel telling us calmly and in English where to go and what to do. I know this is it. We are on our own. At least we have elephant blanket.
Just as we get to the end of the path we see Roberta, our host of Italian nationality. ‘Buongiorno!!!’ she calls to us - walking towards us slower than she should in an forest fire / evacuation situation. After a few Italian niceties she explains to us that we are not being evacuated we just need to move our rental car. There is a truck in full flames of fire and it is right next to our rental car.
Welp… that was a bit of a misunderstanding - sorry kids - wanna go to the waterslide park? What time do you think they open?
Thank goodness that was the only "emergency" we faced on our trip!
One thing that I didn't really discuss before we left was that I had never been with my kids for that period of time, full time. I was really worried that I wouldn’t like it / couldn’t do it / that there would be no one to cry ‘uncle’ to if we needed a break. I was worried if I had felt these feels - not enjoying every second of every minute of every day with my kids what that would mean about me as a mother or as a person. And then I was worried about beating myself up for those feelings and those thoughts. This was really hard for me to say before I left. Really. I had mentioned it subtly in the blog before I left and somebody really close to me and to my kids mentioned it to me and I literally busted out in tears. (And if you know me, you know I have an incredibly stiff upper lip.) She said to me “You will be fine. It will be great.” And. I. Lost. It.
But you know what - I was better than fine and it was absolutely great. Being with our family 24/7 was actually the very best part of the entire experience. I don’t know how to describe it - everyone just did what they were supposed to do. There was no asking the 4almost5yearold to get dressed or brush his teeth 10,000 times - he just did it. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly had our moments but having the kids, knowing what was going on with them start to finish, was SO. MUCH. EASIER. than all of the transitioning and hustle associated with living and working in America.
Though, I will say the last 4 days of our 34 day trip were rough. I think the kids, especially Hazen had just had enough. Everyone was ready to go home. The season had turned from hot and dry to hot and humid (just like that in one rain storm one night - that by the way, poured all over us in bed), and we were not handling the humidity well. We all wanted to get home to sit in our living room, play with toys, go to an American grocery store, eat something other than fish, veggies, and fruit, pet our dog Oliver, and see our friends.
I am happy to say while aspects of this trip challenged us, it also made us stronger and closer. Travel always give us an incredible sense of perspective and this trip certainly achieved that for me. But more than that, I think it gave our son an incredible sense of perspective as well. I love how he was able to see that we are just a very very small part of a really big and beautiful world, that we are so lucky to live in one of the greatest countries in the world, and that there are all kinds of different people living all kinds of different lifestyles. Being away also taught us to live with and enjoy living with a lot less.
I think we have come together much closer as a family unit. Living in 433 square feet (that’s probably an exaggeration - I have no idea how big our condo was) will do that for you. I have a lot more trust in the children’s ability to listen to me and follow instruction when (read: only when) absolutely necessary. I have gained a lot of confidence in being a Mother.
Since we have been back it was an adjustment getting into the swing of a daily routine and it felt exciting to dive back into work and come into the gym and see all of our clients smiling faces! One questions every asked me was "Are you planning on doing this again?" And my answer is always "Absolutely - 100%." Our goal is to have one big family adventure per year. Mike and I haven’t figured it out 2020 yet but we are thinking that it may involve an RV and lots of national parks!
We love Costa Rica but we really want to explore the world so we will definitely try a different location. Now taking recommendations!! Leave your travel choices in the comments!!