Sunday, February 24, 2008

Belated Pura Vida

[Sorry this has taken me so long - I've finally given up on trying to edit all of the pictures & video before I get this out, so for those of you who care, consider this a preview of the pictures/video that will show up on our picture site soon and of the upcoming, highly exciting DVD release, and for those of you who don't care, these should be enough. I'm sure Karin will also jump in at some point and fill in the details.]

Russ & Kari & kids (Russ is one of Karin's older brothers) have been in Costa Rica for well over two years now and are set to head back to the USA this summer, so we knew our window to visit them was closing quickly. We wanted to visit not just because it was a relatively cheap way to visit another country but also to spend some quality time with them and to be able to share at least a tiny piece of their experience there. I didn't have any real expectations going in, since Costa Rica hadn't been on my vacation roadmap for very long, but looking back on it a few weeks later, I'd have to say that it was one of the best trips we've ever taken.

I took Spanish a long, long time ago - almost 20 years ago I guess. When we took a trip to Barcelona about 4 years ago, I thought I'd brush up on my Spanish a little, but within an hour of arriving, someone stole my Spanish book. I pretty much gave up again after that, which I regretted slightly when we found ourselves standing outside the airport in Costa Rica on a Friday evening about three weeks ago, unable to tell the guy lugging our baggage that someone was coming to pick us up. Fortunately, Russ showed up shortly after we walked out, so we didn't have to play charades for too long.

The next morning, we headed out to do the one thing we had expected to do, which was a zip-line canopy tour (Kari was nice enough to watch Matthew while we were gone). Karin normally does much better with heights than I do, but actually the most uncomfortable part of the experience for me was the harness, which temporarily raised my voice an octave or so. The guys running this were pretty careful (you were attached to something pretty much all the time, although who knows what those "somethings" were attached to), and I spent most of my time just enjoying the view and wondering how they built these platforms that high up. My favorite part of the whole experience (and, counter-intuitively, the part that got the biggest reaction out of Karin) was the "Tarzan swing."

Sunday morning brought our first experience attending church in Spanish, which I suppose is how a lot of people in the Church actually worship. The most surprising thing to me was that - really except for the language difference - it was a lot like my experience growing up in a small branch, right down to a speaker from another ward not showing up and the branch president having to wing it. Knowing a bit firsthand how rewarding and challenging that can be, I walked away really impressed with how much Russ & Kari seem to have gotten out of being in that branch and given back despite the fact that they've had to learn Spanish along the way.

The next day Kari drove us up to Sarchi, a little town full of stores selling wood handicrafts. This was basically our one shopping day on the trip, so we picked up as much as we thought we could carry back (and actually a little more). Mostly we picked up serving dishes, which we've already used quite a bit since we've been back, but the "big" thing we picked up was a little rocking chair for Matthew, which actually didn't cost much more than a bowl for some reason.

[Matthew hanging on a traditional wagon in Sarchi]

[MJ on his chair back in Arizona]

On Tuesday, Kari again volunteered for babysitting duty, and Karin and I headed out early in the morning for an all-day bus tour. After a lengthy drive around the city picking up various fellow gringos (one of whom, when she had to walk to the back of the bus, made a quip about being like Rosa Parks ), we headed up to a nearby coffee plantation for breakfast and a tour. As a non-coffee drinker, I hadn't thought too much before about how coffee is made, but it was actually pretty interesting. Among the things I didn't know were that 90% of the coffee produced in Costa Rica goes to Starbucks, that coffee beans are actually sort of white before they are roasted, and that most of the workers on the coffee plantations there are actually illegal immigrants from Nicaragua (which prompted "Rosa Parks" to grill our poor tour guide about wages and immigration policy and to offer to send over California's illegal Mexican immigrants, an idea which must have really resonated with the Mexican in our group). Karin Here: I was very embarrassed by the North Americans on our tour. Most of them made stupid narrow minded comments. Please don't be a North American idiot if you travel out of the country.

One of the things that surprised me most about Costa Rica was how mountainous the country is. I'm sure I thought there would be a lot of hills, but on every side there were mountains in every sense of the word. From the coffee plantation, we took a narrow, winding road up the side of a volcano (with some amazing views of San Jose along the way) to a visitor's center near the summit and then hiked up the rest of the way. I had seen pictures from this (active) volcano from Russ & Kari, but I think I assumed the peak in the background hidden behind clouds was the volcano. Apparently, there are almost always clouds covering the crater, and we lucked out with an amazing view of the whole thing.

From there, we headed down the volcano and up another mountain to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Before hiking down to the waterfalls one would expect at a waterfall garden, we had lunch after walking through a small "zoo," which included, among other things, an actual butterfly pavilion (which turned out to be more interesting than Brian Regan suggested). The waterfalls themselves were well worth the hike, which would have been much tougher had we had to walk back up all of those stairs (the bus met us at the bottom).

[You could watch butterflies come out of their cocoons, and some of the cocoons looked like gold (see the ones at the top)]

The final item on the bus tour agenda was to be a riverboat trip through the rainforest to see crocodiles & stuff like that, but we didn't quite make it. Most of the roads we saw in Costa Rica were single-lane in each direction (except for even narrower one-lane bridges, with really no shoulder, and the road down to the river took us right next to some really steep valleys. At some point along the way, we found ourselves in a long back-up, and it turned out that a truck had overturned ahead and wouldn't be cleaned up for a few hours. Fortunately, as it was already late in the day, the tour people decided to turn the bus around and head home, which was no small feat given that they had to basically back the bus into someone driveway/yard to make that happen. Even this part of the trip wasn't wasted, because the area along that road was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen (Karin didn't look quite as much, because somehow she thought the small wire-and-stick fence separating us from the drop-off wouldn't be enough to stop a moving bus full of people). Karin: I was so impressed by our tour guides. They were all Costa Rican and had great English. I asked one tour guide how he learned English and he said by being the tour guide. He was probably in his 20's and said that 2 years earlier when he started that job he didn't know any English. He said he just asks questions when he doesn't know what something means. That is amazing to me!!

[Taken through the window of our bus]

The rest of the trip was much more relaxed, as we headed off to a condo in a beach town called Jaco (said Haco), and we ended up seeing our crocodiles from a bridge along the way. Once we got there, we actually just spent a lot of time relaxing at the pool, and one day we ventured out to a really nice beach at a national park called Manuel Antonio (which I think is a great name for a national park - it would be like having a David Johnson National Park here, but we'll probably skip that step and have corporate sponsors - Cox Cable National Park, something like that). This was Matthew first trip to play at the beach (we walked on the beach in San Diego, but it was too cold to go in), and this one had the added bonus of raccoons and monkeys trying to steal your food. Karin: I really don't like finding Sand in mysterious places after visiting the beach but it was the most amazing beach. Totally beautiful and the water was sooooo nice! Matthew loved playing with two buckets. I would fill them up with water and then he would dip the sand tools in them and dump them out. We also walked the whole length of the beach and back.

[Morning at the beach next to our condo]

Our last Sunday was pretty quiet, although one of the more interesting experiences for me was sitting in that Sacrament meeting (Fast Sunday) and hearing gasps from people who hadn't heard yet that President Hinckley had passed away. I suppose regardless of where you lived, it wouldn't have been too hard to miss the news amid all the Heath Ledger coverage, but it hadn't really struck me until then that some people hadn't heard, especially that far from the Utah media and Utah relatives. It was one of those moments where I was reminded that we, even as visitors surrounded by strangers with whom we really couldn't communicate, shared the same prophet and the same faith. Karin: Even though I couldn't understand what the members were saying I could still feel the spirit. I really realised there how blessed I am with monetary things in my life and how blessed those members are with the gospel in their lives. I think sometimes Jordan and I take our middle class lives with the gospel for granted and don't appreciate it as much as we should.

We flew back the next morning (relatively easy - a straight flight to Phoenix, and Matthew had his own seat), and this was definitely one of those vacations it was sad to see end (sometimes at the end of a vacation you're just ready to get home). We spent some quality time seeing a beautiful country, and we got a lot of quality time with Russ & Kari & kids. We definitely appreciate them putting up with us - driving us around, watching Matthew (Kari and Kelsey - Kelsey was great with him), giving up rooms, and sharing toys (Dylan).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Hard Day, A Long Day

Last Tuesday I had a very very very very long day.

Matthew was frustrated and screaming at the top of his lungs in the morning because of something that wasn't working the way he wanted it to. I asked him to tell me that he needed help instead of just screaming. He was playing in his room later and then I hear "help". I go in there and he had climbed inside of his Einstein play center, but couldn't get out. I got him out and he proceeded to climb right back in. Cracked me up!

Matthew has a humidifier in his room because he's been stuffy and it spits water out when it's full so I had a towel underneath it. Earlier in the day I was thinking that I needed to move the towel and wash it, but I didn't. It's a good thing because when I went in his room to "help" him I noticed that the humidifier was tipped over and all of the water had spilled out. I had to Bissell that up and of course all Matthew wanted to do was get in my way and play with the cleaner.

Matthew then asked for some chips so I was getting some out of our really packed Pantry and knocked a Korma (Indian sauce) bottle off the shelf and it landed on my toe and sliced it pretty bad. The sauce splattered all over my clothes and Matthew's clothes so I stripped us both down, tried to keep Matthew out of the mess (and broken glass), cleaned up the mess, and meanwhile was leaking blood from my toe everywhere. I finally was able to clean up my toe and because our clothes smelled so bad from the Korma had to start a load of laundry. Matthew got splattered so I threw him into the bath and cleaned him up too.

This all happened before 11 am.

We were planning on going to a concert Tuesday night to see the Editors and around noon our babysitter who we had lined up about 3 weeks prior called to tell me that she hadn't been feeling great. She had fainted 3 times on Sunday and had gone to the Dr. They didn't know if she had Valley Fever (a real disease in AZ) or Pneumonia. Well, I really didn't want Matthew exposed so we had to scramble to find someone to watch Matthew. Jordan worked on that while I did some work (we are so busy with two major events coming up). Our good friends Kari and Garrin agreed to watch Matthew so we could go to the concert.

On the website for the concert it stated that it started at 6:30-btw the concert was in a very unique venue-let's just say we aren't goth so we stood out a bit. We really didn't want to watch the first band so we went to dinner (Us, Ray and Em) and then headed over around 7:15 to what we thought was perfect timing for the concert. After we went inside we figured out that DOORS opened at 6:30, but the first band didn't start until 8 pm. We also saw a sign that said "No re-entry no exceptions". We really didn't want to wait around another 2 hours until the band we liked got started so Jordan sweet talked the entrance girl-who gave him the 5th degree, why were we leaving, were we going to go get drunk....ummmmm NO. We were going to go get ice cream. She let us out (luckily).

We went to downtown Tempe-ASU to find an ice cream location. We wasted about another hour stuffing our faces and talking about losing weight. When we got back to the concert the 1st band was screaming and almost done. The 2nd band wasn't bad, but I can't handle loud noises anymore and the screeching of the singer so Jordan and I sat outside with the smokers enjoying the noise from a distance.

We had originially thought that we'd get done around 10:30 and be back around 11:00. The Editors didn't get on the stage until almost 10 pm (my BEDTIME!), but they really did rock the house. They are amazing and really talented. You can read about them on Jordan's blog here.

We left the concert around 11:30 and got to Kari and Garrin's around Midnight. Picked up Matthew and got home around 12:30 am. I was emailing on my new work Treo with my boss on the way home and told her I CAN'T do this anymore. I am way too old. She was up late too and agreed.

If I had known it was going to be that late I might not have gone. The worst part was getting up the next morning early to get Matthew ready and drop him off at daycare and go into work. I'm definitely not a late owl anymore and frequently drop off to sleep now a days while watching movies or my shows.

Jordan is working on our Costa Rica Trip blog and it should be posted soon. I'm trying to be better about blogging as I've been a real slacker lately.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's All My Fault

I know this blog has lain fallow for quite a while now, but it's really not Karin's fault - it's all mine. Since her last post, we took a 10-day trip to visit her brother and his family in Costa Rica. That, of course, begs its own post, but I haven't really had time since we've been back to edit the pictures and video, and I told Karin I'd do a "trip report" here when that's done. So... for any of you looking for a run-down of our little vacation, I'll do my best to do that sometime over the long weekend. Suffice it to say for now that we had a great, great time.

If you can't wait until then, this will give you a pretty good idea of what out trip was like:

Well, there was jungle involved, at least, and I did wear a hat.