Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Some Do's and Don'ts to Packing

Do you remember that post I wrote where I was gripping about packing? Well, I want to take some time now to follow up on that post . Now that we have survived our first international trip as a mama and three kids I feel I am better equipped to offer some advice.

Thinking about what I wanted to say in this post comes at the right time as I am packing (or should be packing anyway) for our next adventure that we leave for in just six days. Although this next adventure is completely different then the trip we just returned from, and therefore requires a completely different set of packing skills, these general Do’s and Don’ts that I have listed here should be relevant to many different types of packing circumstances.

I must start by saying that I most certainly overpacked. I did way to much and on top of that I packed the wrong things (wrong season, wrong amount, etc). I will share my packing faux pas with you here in hopes that  you can learn something from my mistakes.

Here are my packing do’s and don’ts 

Do pack only enough clothes for the number of days you will be there and then take one of those outfits away. You might not want to admit it but while on vacation it is very likely that you will where those jeans a second day or be in your swimsuit lounging on the beach all day and don't need that day's outfit. Don’t take up valuable luggage space on 'maybe' outfits when that space can be used to bring back awesome souvenirs.

Don’t over do it on the toiletries. I know we all hate the new travel guidelines that state that no liquids over 3oz are allowed in you carry on but I will admit that it has kept my toiletry packing to a minimum. Before the implementation of this guideline I would pack enough body spray  to fill a bath tub and enough shampoo to wash every head on the floor of our hotel... twice. Now I am forced to fit all of my bathing needs into neat little 3oz bottles. I won't say just how many of these little bottles I have learned to cram into four ziploc bags but I will say I no longer take enough body spray to fill a sink let alone a bathtub.

Do make sure you check the weather before you leave and pack accordingly. I can’t tell you how must space we took up in our suitcases  with jeans and long sleeve t-shirts because we thought it would be in the 70s in Costa Rica when it turned out to be in the 90s. No jeans or long sleeve anything was taken out of the suitcase. If I would have taken five minutes on weather dot com to see that it would be 90 degrees while we were there, packing for the wrong season could have easily been avoided.

Do pack more than one pair of shoes. I knew I had done well to have packed an extra pair of shoes when my 5 year old took off toward the waves without a second thought. He splashed into the ocean with his swim trunks tied tight and his shoes even tighter. Even in the 90 degree weather it took two days for his shoes to dry. Thank goodness I packed an extra pair for him.

Don’t over pack your one personal carry on item. We are #teamcarryon and live by the one carry on and one personal item. I don’t know about you but I tend to try to fit as much as I can in my personal carry on item. Laptop, ipad, phone, all the chargers, books, magazine, snacks, drinks, travel pillow, a small blanket, and all the contents of my purse. It never fails that I end up regretting this decision as my shoulder begins aching as I lug this back through the airport. I call myself being smart by fitting so much in my personal carry on but the joke is ALWAYS on me.

Do leave space in your bag to fit souvenirs. I learned the hard way… who knew you couldn’t bring wooden machetes through security (read my previous post What I Know I Learned From Airport Security). When I was forced to fit our souvenirs in a bag so that I could check that bag it became an instant game of tetras as I pushed, removed, twisted, and turned things to fit the two small machetes in.

Don’t forget to pack some plastic bags. You know you have a ton of those little plastic store bags stuffed in one of the cabinets in your kitchen. Come on! I know I'm not the one. These baggies take up little space and can come in handy while traveling. For example, they are great when having to pack wet clothes (and wet shoes in our case). They are great for separating shoes from touching anything else in your bag. They are great for packing all the snacks you bought while traveling and now want to take home. And of course they make great little mini dirty clothes hampers.

So, what else would you add to this list? What are your Do’s and Don’ts of packing? I would love to hear from you. Until then… I look forward to seeing you around the globe!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

What I Know Now I Learned From Airport Security

I’m sitting on a plane right now traveling from Washington, DC to home. This is the second leg of our journey from Costa Rica. I must say I have learned a lot today and must credit the airport security for these lessons.

Before I get to that let me back up and say that Punta Leona Resort is phenomenal. This all inclusive resort offers something for everyone and is truly a family friendly place. The resorts surrounds two beaches (Playa Mantas and Playa Blanca). It has many restaurants and just as many pools. There are kids areas, daily activities, pool side bars, and even a mariposario (butterfly sanctuary). The property even has a supermercado (supermarket) and a hospital (hospital lol). There is a shuttle to move you around the resort if you aren't up for walking. I recommend the walk. At least a walk to wherever you’re going and a ride back to your apartment. Speaking of apartments, ours was perfect for us. It contained two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a bath, and a patio that overlooked the next neighborhood over pushed into the lush green rainforest and a front door that opened up to a view of the pool below. I would highly recommend this resort with one caveat… you should have a basic understanding of spanish. There were only a handful of people on the entire resort that was capable of communicating with us. We didn’t mind as it forced us out of our comfort zone and forced us to recall all of those spanish lessons we have taken. But if you are not comfortable trying to speak spanish or have no idea where to even begin with speaking spanish this resort may not be to your liking. This place was definitely a tourist spot but a local tourist spot and not a foreign one. I would most certainly go there again. In fact, I’m already planning on it. When I return for my birthday next year however, I plan to be a fluent spanish speaker.

Some shots from our ride to the airport:


Okay, back to the lessons learned by airport security. 

Lesson number one, no two airport security checkpoints are the same… ever. We were surprised that the San Jose airport allowed us to bring drinks through security. I wondered how that would work when we area in the states. I found out shortly as we boarded the plane. Along the corridor walking to the actual airplane was a row of tables with security posed behind them. As we walked to the plane we had to place our carry on bags on the tables where the security agents proceed to rummage through it. They removed liquids… and not just the drinks we had from lunch but all liquids. My heart sank when she grabbed my leave in hair conditioner. It was in a 3oz spray bottle for goodness sake. She must have seen the concern on my face and heard me gasp because she set the small bottle on the table instead of on the floor behind her like she was doing the rest of the bottles of liquid. She took out a small sandwich bag (from her pocket maybe? I don’t know, I missed that. To me it just magically appeared), and placed my leave in hair conditioner in there and then proceed to take my already pack in a plastic bag toiletries out and place them in her readily supplied plastic bags. Hmmmmmmm. Ok. Not how the airport security did it in Charlotte, or Houston for the matter but it’s ok.

Lesson number two, just because it’s duty free doesn’t mean you get to carry it on the plane. So I know I’m probably late here and this is common knowledge but forgive me as I’ve never shopped duty free before. So, I thought that since it was bought duty free and bought inside the airport that it was deemed safe and I could carry it on the plane with me. I was wrong about that. once we made it through customs the security before we reached security informed me that I would need to put the bag inside of one of my checked bags. When I informed them that I have no carry on, yay #teamnocarryon, they politely informed me that I do now. So the lesson learned here is that duty free does not me safe and carry on friendly.

Lesson number three, even souvenir wooden machetes count as weapons. I stood there as the people behind us passed by us happily on their way to their next destination. I stood and watched the security agent rummage through my son’s back pack. I watched as he pulled out my boys machetes a lay them on the table. I then watched as he said “hold on, wait right here, don’t tough anything in or on your bag.” before he walked away. I continued to watch s he came back with the machetes in his hand and another guard following closely behind him. I listened with my face twisted in a mass of confusion and annoyance as he explained that I could not go further with these wooden machete souvenirs. My face twisted in even more confusion as he explained it was for our own safety so that we wouldn't get shot by the agent on the plane if we pulled the machete out on the dark plane and he mistook them for real. Not sure why we would be pulling the machetes out on the dark plane, but even more concerning is are these under cover agents trained to shoot first and ask questions later? If that’s the case you guys can check all my bags. I’d hate for my pen to be mistaken for a weapon (only half sarcastic and slightly annoyed). So I said fine, we’ll check the bag and we did but not before we were tested for drugs.

Lesson number four, salt is not worth saving. Similar to the souvenir machete incident a similar thing happened with a small bag of sol (salt). I packed the back of salt just because I had only used a little bit and didn’t want to waste it. Had I known that that 300 colon or roughly $0.55 bag of salt would cause me so much trouble I would have gladly left it in the apartment for the next guest to use. The salt had to be removed from the bag and a sample poured out, which the agent managed to get everywhere…well, because it’s salt. She got enough on the sample paper and the agent holding our wooden machetes began instructing her on how to test it. I continued to insist that they could just throw it away so we could get going but they ignored me and continued to watch as the sample did not react… well, because it was salt.

After they were satisfied with the results the gentleman still holding our wooden machetes kindly walked us back to the check bag area where he turned over our souvenirs as everyone watched me pack them away. The bag was checked and we were off to the security gate where we had to report the process all over again. This time we passed!

The infamous wooden machetes and my bag of salt

Lesson number five, the security agents are just doing their jobs trying to keep us safe. I have no hard feelings toward the agents or the process. I respect the individuals doing their due diligence in keeping me and my children safe to fly the friendly skies. While our situation was annoying and somewhat comical I have to add that it is sad that this is the world we live in now. My children will never not know airport security and the anxiety they produce like I did as a child. They think it is a fairy tale when I tell them that growing up we could walk right into at the airport and straight to our gate the airport, sodas in hand and everything.

All in all, my children took the situation in strides and where right along with me as we dashed through the airport, onto the airport shuttle, down the wrong corridor, back up the corridor to the correct corridor, then down that corridor, to a Smash Burgers we passed, grabbed us a burger, then dashed to our gate where they were already boarding.

The perfect exhilaration to a very exhilarating trip.

Until we see you around the globe or speak to you again… Peace, Love, and many Blessings! Pure Vida!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Costa Rica (Day 3 Recap)

Today we spent the entire day and Playa Blanca. I can't express how wonderful this beach is. Now, I consider myself a beach connoisseur of sorts and I must say that this beach ranks among one of the best beasts I've ever been to. The water was clear and warm, the sand felt like we were walking on blankets and the trees the jutted out from the rainforests offered the perfect cover from the sun. The kids and I had a blast. We swam, we explored, we relaxed. The perfect final day to a perfect trip. I won't bore you with the details but I will offer you some pictures of our day so you can see for yourself.

I'm off to relax for a bit before I have to get up and get us packed up to leave tomorrow. I must admit I am really sad to go. Just when I was getting in the grove of communicating, living, and loving Costa Rica it's time to go. Next time I'll certainly schedule a much longer trip.

Until I see you somewhere around the globe or until we speak again... Live, Love, and most importantly Pura Vida.
When we first arrived we got to witness a group of monkeys stealing peoples unattended belongings on the beach. This experience mad us extra vigilant about knowing where our stuff was at all times.

Brothers... Enough said!

The gorgeous whites sands of Playa Blanca

Baby boy Jr Nomad ready to dive into the waves

He thinks he's a fish


The beach backs right up to the rainforest
Ah! Salt water in my eyes

My Jr Nomads out there getting used to the water

 Enjoying my time with my babies
More spectacular views

Off to go explore those beautiful rocks over there

Just being him

Climbing the rocks to get a better look 
Them wondering how we would get down in a hurry because the rocks were like walking on hot coals
Our view from the rocks... we actually found a cave up there

A family of cranes protecting their nest way up here and Nay contemplating exploring the cave we found

Costa Rica (Day 2 Recap)

Feliz Navidad. Happy Kwanza. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Or Happy/ Merry whatever it is you celebrate this season. We celebrated Thankful Gift Day a couple of days ago so there is no real excitement buzzing around the apartment right now. It’s 2:43a here in Costa Rica (3:43a eastern). I finally got the kids to bed and I’m sitting in the living room with the front door wide open listening to the neighbors party and smelling their yummy cooking. It is lively in the corner of the apartment complex compared to my quiet end and I am enjoying both aspects immensely. I love that I can be apart of their festive celebrations tucked away without being noticed and I love even more that once I tire from it all I can close my front door and sleep peacefully in my quiet and dark room. Sleep probably isn’t all that far off. The cream brandy that I’m sipping will assure that. I’m browsing the internet waiting on some travel deals to come through but nothing yet. What better time to write a blog post to reflect on yesterday’s activities?

We had another wonderful day. After my last entry I considered leaving the patio to go for a morning walk but the kids woke up and things started moving. I fixed them a very random breakfast of pan de pina (a bread loaf with pineapple in some type of syrup in the middle) and some type of sausagy hot doggy thing that they loved (they looked like hot dogs but were in a casing that had to be removed and they didn’t really taste like hot dogs). After breakfast my oldest Jr Nomad took my youngest down to the pool which we can actually see from our front door. My middle Jr Nomad decided to walk with me to the reception area (about a half mile away… or maybe less but in 80 degree head at 9a it felt like two miles). I was a bit disappointed to learn that the person who books tours was not in but decided to have the resort call us a taxi while we were there. I scheduled the taxi for 1p to go explore the nearby town of Jaco. Back at the apartment I packed us a bag of snacks, frozen water, our cameras and a change of clothes while all the kids swam at the pool.
View from the front door
The kids in the pool before we head to town
Kids in the pool before we head to town
Our driver picked us up at the reception office after a bit of confusion but he was really apologetic. His name was Alex and I was so relieved when he utter his greeting in english. The spanish immersion has been great but it was nice to have a break, especially as we traveled outside of our neighborhood into town.

Spotted some scarlett macaws on our walk to meet our taxi... can you see them?
Headed into town
Jaco just ahead

Some shots of the area while driving down the road
Some shots of the area while driving down the road
Some shots of the area while driving down the road
Some shots of the area while driving down the road
Some shots of the area while driving down the road

The kids and I found our way to the ocean as our first stop after being dropped of on the main shopping strip. The ocean was beautiful but the kids commented that they liked “our beach better”. The one at near our apartment is nice.
Jaco Beach
Rolling waves
Some more rolling waves

Waves washing across my and baby girl's feet
My teenager being a... teenager
 After seeing the ocean we walked the two blocks back to the main shopping strip. We zipped in and out of shops picking up little trinkets here and there. We ended our visit to Jaco at Gelato Italiano, a cut little gelato shop in the middle of the strip. We ordered two trip scoops to share, so we could all try the many flavors (we got coconut, mango, strawberry, lemon, pistachio, and peach). It was yummy although it was nothing like Devon House… still the best ice cream I’ve ever put in my mouth to date (I know, I know. I have to stop comparing everything to Jamaica). We called Alex while we ate and he was there by the time we took our last bites. 

A hard but brief rain on our way back from Jaco
On the way back Alex asked if we wanted to stop at the supermarket and I took advantage of that opportunity. I got food for dinner and breakfast and some snacks for us to munch on.

We had Alex drop us off right at the beach, bags and all. The two younger Jr Nomads swam in the pool while my and my oldest Jr Nomad sipped on pina coladas and virgin pina coladas again. As the sun went down we finally decided to make our way back to the apartment. Once home all three kids went out for a night swim while I prepared dinner. That was an interesting experience. There is no stove in the apartment but there is an electric skillet, a microwave, and a rice cooker. Seeing as those were my only options I boiled some pasta in the rice cooker. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but it was actually pretty perfect. The kids gobbled down the rotisserie  chicken, buttered pasta, and grapes whiled we snuggled on the couch and watched disney channel in spanish.

Tired and grumpy but always ready to pose for the camera..
After a brief nap, because I could barely keep my eyes open after dinner and I knew I had a long night ahead of me waiting on some travel deals, I was up being entertained by my crazy kids. We laughed and played and enjoyed each others company until I got up to close the back window. Splash! I stepped in a giant puddle of water. I flipped on the light to see that water was leaking from under the sink in the back room (a space to fit a washing machine that just has a sink and some pipes and where the broom and mop are stored). A few minutes later there is a loud whizzing noise followed by a large puff of steam. That sound was soon followed with a gush of water. Oops and Uh Oh! More and more water gushed on the floor. I called the front desk and explained what was happened. They assured me they would send someone. A knock on the door and to my surprise it was not maintenance people but two women dressed as if ready to party or just coming back from on. I smiled and said “hola buenas noches” at which they began speaking frantically at the same time. I gathered from the bits and pieces I understood that water was gushing down from my place into theirs. I apologized and could only muster “caliente aqua” and made an explosion sound and gesture with my hands. They seemed to understand as they both said “ahhhh caliente aqua”. I told them I called by holding my fingers like a phone to my ear and said “I called for ayudar (help)” at which they both said “ahhh” again. I apologized again and they seemed to understand as they walked away. The maintenance man showed up about 40 minutes after that. I used the same expression and gesture to him “caliente aqua” and pointed. He assessed the situation and then set to work. After he had fixed the problem and cleaned up all of the water he came to talk to me. To my surprise I understood him when he asked in spanish if I had any problems with the bathroom. Once I told him know he told me that tomorrow not to use the hot water. I said ok and he seemed satisfied that I understood his instructions. I was quite impressed with myself actually. While I couldn’t muster a response I actually understood that whole conversation and a lot of the one with the ladies before him.

I’m starting to understand why complete immersion is the best method of learning a new language. I hate that we have to leave in a few days. I need about two more weeks here I think I could be speaking and understanding spanish a lot better then when I got on the plane to come here.

So that was our day. Another fun and exciting day in Costa Rica :-)

So until I see you somewhere around the globe or speak to you again… Pura Vida!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Costa Rica (Day 1 Recap)

It’s 7:32a on Christmas eve and I’m sitting on the balcony of our two bedroom apartment looking at the houses pushed into the walls of the rainforest across the street. I can hear my neighbors chatting and I smell the breakfast they are cooking and it is making my mouth water. Some kind of meat with onions and peppers I can smell for sure and I also smell a hint of something sweet,, some type of bread biscuits or pancakes…I’m not sure. My kids are still sleeping even though we went to bed super early last night. I believe they are still recovering from the exhausting trip we had to get here. As I write this I’m contemplating what I should get up and cook for breakfast. My trip to the supermarket was not very successful due to me refusing to pay three times the amount for food that I recognize (yes 6600 colones or $12.3 for a small box of Frosted Flakes) and not totally sure what to do with the food I didn’t. The point of travel for me is immersion so I chose food I didn’t recognize but with pictures that give me some idea of what I’m supposed to do with it. I got sausage like things that look like hot dogs so I will cook them and we will eat them like hot dogs, I got “un pollo” that is the size of a cornish hen and looks like it may be already cooked but I will re-cook it (just to make sure), I got pasta because who can go wrong with pasta even if I can’t read the label. I got a couple different types of bread. Some appears sweet like with fruit centers and some not. I got leche (and had a time trying to figure out if it was whole or 2%) and juice because again it’s hard to go wrong there. I read the label to see what chemicals might be in there like I do at home and only say water, sugar, and juice so I’m satisfied. I’m not sure of the flavors however. It might be peach or apricot or some type of passion fruit. It doesn’t really matter, we’ll drink it anyway. Those 

Costa Rica has been like a coming home of sorts. Not like returning to my house in North Carolina or even like visiting my childhood home in Tennessee. It more like the feeling of completeness that I had living in Jamaica. There seems to be similarities between the two places that are inducing my sense of nostalgia. The sounds of the vast array of birds and the hustle and bustle of the people already up and going. The smells are similar too like that rich earthy smell that you get after a fast hard rain on a hot day. The yummy smells of what’s being cooked for breakfast nearby. And the views are amazing… lush green vegetation with pops a bright beautiful colors from fruits and flowering plants throughout, just like in Jamaica. 

Perhaps this feeling of contentment and feeling I’m supposed to be in the place at this time is just euphoria caused by satisfying my wanderlust, I don’t know. What I do know is that even from the very small part of the country that I have seen Costa Rica is amazing. 

There are a couple of differences between here and Jamaica that I can’t help but to notice. One is the fact that the only brown people that I have seen since we boarded the airplane in Houston are the three that I produced (and I mean brown of African descent because I realize that I am surrounded by brown people lol). The thing about Jamaica was that for once I blended in and the feeling of not being noticed, of belonging is indescribable. That’s not the case here in Costa Rica. We are definitely noticed lol but not in a negative or uncomfortable way. It is just something I noticed. Everyone here has been extremely helpful when approached and we are greeted with a barrage of “buenas” and “que tal” and “buenas tardes” as we move about the area.

Another difference is the language barrier. Apparently I chose a local vacation spot for Costa Ricans and not a touristy place at all. Besides my children and I we have encountered only four other people that spoke english, one being the guy that checked us in, the gentleman that took our order at lunch, a nice man who is here on vacation who translated for me in the supermarket, and the guy who took our pizza order last night (and his english was about as good as my spanish but we made it work). I have been forced to recall every bit of spanish I have ever learned in high school and college. You might think it is intimidating or frustrating not being able to communicate but in fact it is invigorating. There is a since of accomplishment at being able to have a conversation with someone with my limited spanish and we both walk away with an understanding. I am loving it. A true and real spanish immersion crash course. This experience has forced me to update my goals. I plan to rebook at this resort a year from now to celebrate my next birthday and when I return I WILL be able to communicate. I plan to spend this next year writing a dissertation and becoming fluent in spanish. Wish me luck with that! My kids have been ding pretty good with the language barrier. They have made friends that do not speak english but I watch them as they manage to communicate and play and have fun together. Those moments are priceless to watch. We have interacted with a lot of foreigners in our travels state side but to turn the tables and be the foreigners gives us all a better appreciation of what it’s like to be the one away from home, struggling to communicate, but loving every minute of it.

I’m gonna finish this post not with a step by step detail of what we did yesterday but with pictures instead. So enjoy! And until we speak again or I see you somewhere around the globe… Pura Vida!
View from the patio

The coconut tree across from my patio
Ocean View

Nay communicating with his new friend while his sister floats away

Our view on our walk from our apartment to the beach

JrNomad Big sister with JrNomad Baby Brother at her finger tips

My Jr Nomads tiptoeing into the ocean

More "cautious" exploration

My view as I watch my children play

another view

And another

The last one... I promise

My oldest Jr Nomad... The best mango smoothie he has ever had he said

Caught my middle Jr Nomad trying to tell me something... oops!

The baby Jr Nomad all smiles

Our first time trying ceviche and it was AMAZING!
Ummmm... YES Please! The freshest most tasty fish to date (w/ the exception of the one in Jamaica)
View from an early morning walk... just me and my girl!

A pina colada and a virgin pina colada with my oldest Jr Nomad as the other make friends in the pool