Those of you who have read the Acknowledgments in Travels with Baby know that my mother was the A #1 reason I was able to finish all of the research and writing that went into the 300+ page book at a time when you might have thought I didn’t stand a snowflake’s chance in a sweatlodge of completing the task I’d undertaken. With a 1-year-old and 3-year-old in the house, often starting my writing at 4 a.m. and rarely showering more than once a week through the toughest stretches, she’s the one who made certain we all stayed safe, well-fed, and that nothing too creative made it into the toaster oven.
As time marches along, I’ve continued to reap the benefits from those long days put in and I’d like to take this chance to thank my mother for giving so much of her time, her energy, and her love so that I could have this and so many other chances in my life to excel–and even soar at times. She has told me very simply that’s just what mothers–and grandmas–do, and she’s glad she could do it. (I realize this means I’ll have a heck of a lot of “paying it forward” to do with three kids of my own!)
As I looked through some photos recently, I found this from our 2-week road trip in Costa Rica, where my mother accompanied us on the journey. Here we are, riding the Sky Tram up the mountain near Arenal, where she and the kids would watch us begin our descent by zip line on a course of 8 runs with distances up to 2,460 feet (750 meters) on a single line. I think we were all a little nervous anticipating the adventure at the time this photo was taken, but not nearly as nervous as I felt setting out solo on the first run where I couldn’t even see the ending point! I can only imagine how the four of them must have felt riding back down the mountain without us in the gondola, as my mom assured the kids they WOULD see us again at the bottom!
Thanks for being there then, and so many other times, Mom. And to all of the moms reading this, and to the moms who’ve helped you take flight, happy Mother’s Day! This post is part of Photo Friday at DeliciousBaby.com.
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Are you looking for a Costa Rica “soft-hiking” adventure that’s easy and enjoyable even with a baby or toddler strapped to you, or a toddler or preschooler shuffling on foot? That’s exactly what we found at Arenal Hanging Bridges, near San Carlos de la Fortuna (La Fortuna) and a stone’s throw from the family-friendly Arenal Lodge, where we stayed during this portion of our Costa Rica family road trip.
You’ll adventure together along a 3 km (less than 2 miles) self-guided interpretive trail with sturdy suspension bridges across impressive ravines and through the tree tops, with no shortage of wildlife to spy along the way. Just walking across the first wide expanse bridge, we found a group of howler monkeys above us, including a mother howler with her baby clinging to her. With my own 2-year-old on my back, we had to grin and wave.
We also had some nice tropical bird sightings, and watched a highway of leaf-cutter ants paralleling us along the way. My only uncomfortable near-miss with wildlife here was with a bumbling black wasp with bright orange antennae, whose body was as big as two hummingbirds put together. Fortunately, he was as easy to hear coming as he was to see, and we steered clear of each other on the trail.
As you can see in this photo, you’ll cover a lot of ground–and canopy. That silver sliver in the center is another hanging bridge you will cross there in the distance. All of the bridges themselves felt very safe and were enclosed with just enough of a gap at the bottoms to lose a small child’s shoe–which we, thankfully, did not.
Good to know:
- The “hike” took us just over an hour with the kids on foot.
- The trail itself was very shady, so we did not have need for our sun hats or sun block out on the trail, though they will be helpful if resting or dining up at the lookout area above.
- The trail is cleared and easy to follow, and embedded cinder blocks make a non-slip surface in case you adventure through in a drizzle.
- The sand filling the cinder blocks is uneven, however, so do wear your thick-soled walking or hiking shoes, especially if you’ll have the added weight of a child to support.
- Arenal Hanging Bridges is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Children under 12 years are free, adults $24 , students $14, Seniors $19
- There are restrooms (bring your tip) and a restaurant above at parking area.
Hanging Bridges is located at La Fortuna, about 4 km. east of Tabacon. If you are staying at Arenal Lodge, you will be extremely close to the Hanging Bridges driveway, which is the first turn off immediately at the end of the Lago Arenal (Arenal Lake) dam, and is also the driveway to the Lost Iguana. The driveway is approximately 3 km. of steep and winding cobbled road, so be prepared to use 1st gear when necessary.
While you’re there:
Don’t miss the fantastic view of Arenal Volcano from the lookout area. You can plan to enjoy lunch or a treat with a view at the picnic tables or in the restaurant while you’re there.
For more information, visit www.hangingbridges.com.
Related posts and pages:
- Review of Arenal Lodge, Costa Rica
- 5 ways to ease your arrival in Costa Rica with kids
- Car seat laws in Costa Rica may be stricter than you think
- See all Travels with Baby Costa Rica tips and recommendations
You may be asking, “What does making coffee have to do with traveling with little kids?” in which case I will give you an enormous grin and reply, “EVERYTHING.” But if you’re reading this blog, chances are you already know that.
In honor of National Coffee Day today, I thought I’d share a little tip for those of you contemplating a Costa Rican family vacation. If you’ll be staying in a vacation rental home as we did some portions of our trip, you might need to know how to make coffee without the regular plug-in pot — or you might just prefer to do it for fun, especially when you return home and invite your friends over to see your Costa Rican coffee maker in action before wowing them with your trip photos.
It’s really very simple. Just heat water to boiling in your kettle…
Fill the flannel-like “sock” with ground coffee – about 2/3 full for a decent-size pot.
When the water reaches boiling, turn off the heat, then slowly pour the water into the sock. You will probably need to wait to add the last half of the water bit, by bit, as the coffee brews and slowly filters into your carafe.
The only thing left to do now… is to enjoy your cup of authentically brewed Costa Rican coffee. And with surroundings like this, how could you not?
Related posts and pages:
- Review of Casa Vista vacation home in Costa Rica
- Visting Doka Coffee Estate in Alajuela, Costa Rica
- 5 ways to ease your arrival in Costa Rica with kids
- See more family-friendly Costa Rica features from Travels with Baby
I have managed to do without many things during travel (a forgotten hairbrush, a single pair of socks…), but coffee is not one of them. As I thought about Costa Rican coffee earlier this week, working on the post “A Visit to Doka Coffee Estate,” I had to smile remembering my REAL introduction to Costa Rican coffee on that trip.
After hours of journeying from Alajuela by highway, by ferry, by dirt and rocky roads (one through the Rio Negro), keeping three generations content as I drove in our rented SUV, we arrived at unforgettable Casa Vista, perched just above the Pacific on a lovely, secluded beach. Greeting us there was my contact, Dahlia Nahome, of CostaRicanVacation.com (shown right). She made sure we had everything we would need to make our stay pleasant – including the critical knowledge of how I would make coffee in the morning.
If you’d like to know how to make “Costa Rican coffee in the sock,” don’t miss tomorrow’s post in honor of National Coffee Day.
This post is part of the Photo Friday fun at Deliciousbaby.com.
Related posts and pages:
- Review of Casa Vista vacation rental in Costa Rica
- Tips for traveling by ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera
- Costa Rica’s 5 best for kids under 5: Nicoya Peninsula
- A visit to Doka Coffee Estate in Costa Rica
- See all related Travels with Baby tips for family travel in Costa Rica
In honor of National Coffee Day this Saturday, I thought it the perfect occasion to share our visit to Costa Rica’s oldest water-driven coffee mill. The family-owned Doka Coffee Estate is located in the foothills just outside of Alajuela and close to the Hotel Buena Vista, where we stayed at the beginning of our trip. While I tend to get very excited about coffee (and by coffee), I wasn’t so sure how my three young children (ages 2 – 7 at the time) would feel about this bit of Costa Rican sightseeing.
Happily, the one-hour tour was led by an enthusiastic guide, Diana, who quickly captured our attention by placing real coffee “cherries” in our hands and inviting us to crush the fruit and liberate the coffee beans inside. While most of us found two coffee beans inside, a few coffee cherries in the group yielded only one – the highly prized peabody coffee bean many afficionados adore.
Diana also shared with us the particulars of the hard work growing and hand-harvesting coffee can be, with most pickers filling ten laundry-size baskets a day for approximately $1 per basket (as shown above). While most of the pickers come to Costa Rica from neighboring Nicaragua, nearly all of the coffee beans are exported from Costa Rica to other countries, where they are custom roasted to the buyer’s specifications (Starbuck’s, etc.).
But in between the harvesting and shipping, is the surprisingly complex system of preparing the coffee beans. First, the coffee cherries are poured into vats, where they must ferment for 40 hours before running through a peeler to remove the slime coating. The beans are able to be filtered and sorted with the smaller peabodies carefully removed into their own batches–all of this done with generations’-old machinery powered by water.
Once the coffee beans move on to the next station, they are hand-raked every 30 minutes during the sun-drying process (cross your fingers for no rain!).
Finally, the coffee beans are ready to sack up and send off to buyers around the world. Each coffee buyer will have its beans roasted to its own specifications for its own coffee products. Only a very small portion of Doka’s beans are roasted here in the family’s 50-year-old coffee roasting machines and sold to visitors.
One surprising thing I learned before our tour ended is that, contrary to popular belief, the darker the roast, the lower the aciditiy of the coffee. So that dark “French Roast” I adore or “Italian Roast” (officially the darkest of roasts) is actually much more gentle on my stomach than a lighter roast coffee (“European” being the lightest).
So how did the kids do? The older two seemed to follow along very well, though the 2-year-old did get a bit antsy now and then. It was easy for one of us to take a turn walking with him around the perimter of whichever area we were at, as he hunted butterflies, examined equipment, or checked out a beautifully painted ox cart. In the end the three agreed they enjoyed the tour a lot – though it could have been the chocolate coffee beans talking (complimentary with coffee samples at the end of the tour).
For more information about Doka Coffee Estate in Costa Rica, click here to visit their website.
Related posts and pages:
I remember getting asked that question in an interview early on in my days of traveling with little ones. At the time, it seemed like a ridiculous question – why wouldn’t I? Travel is invaluable and our family’s opportunities rarely come on schedule with school breaks and the high travel seasons. Plus, in those days, giving notice at preschool was not unlike saying, “Guess what?! You’ll have one less toddler on your hands for a while!” and the news was always met with enthusiasm and excitement for our family.
It didn’t change too much after my oldest child started “real school.” While I had to learn to give teachers fair notice and file the paperwork for an “independent study” each time she’d miss more than 5 consecutive school days, the teachers were still very excited for our adventures and recognized the educational value of the experiences themselves. Sure, we had a packet of homework to get through each time, and even in kindergarten my daughter was asked to make a journal of her trip - yet these have become true treasures for our family.
By the time she’d finished first grade, my oldest daughter had already completed three independent studies at school. Everything seemed to be working out just fine with combining our somewhat unorthodox lifestyle and the regimented school calendar, until I mentioned the need for an independent study to the next teacher… and found out that our travels for a work project fell smack dab in the middle of state testing, which her grade would be undergoing for the first time that school year. Oops.
I won’t get into the particulars of how many antacid tablets I popped as we worked through the arrangements, but in the end she was able to complete all of her testing before we left on our trip, and I do believe she probably performed better on the tests by taking them in the quiet learning lab than she might have in the classroom.
Booking travel during the state testing window was not my only mistake, however. At the same time I also gave our new kindergarten teacher only the vaguest details about why we were missing school for travel. Missing kindergarten just didn’t seem like nearly such a big deal next to the mess I was facing with second grade state testing. Oops.
Somehow we ended up with a packet of 75 workbook pages, a penmanship packet, and a journal to keep over the course of our trip. It was more work than she would have been expected to do in the same time going to school and doing kindergarten homework – and somehow she would have to do it while jetlagged in a different time zone and doing intensive sightseeing and learning–I’d hoped–about the culture, geology, and wildlife of our destination.
I might have mentioned we wouldn’t be standing in lines at Disneyland or making sand castles all day long.
Nevertheless, we got through it, and in both cases, the benefits and memories of the travel experiences far outweighed any extra work we had to coordinate. So I’m not afraid to say that, as this new school year begins, I am ruling out another possible independent study for my children if and when opportunity calls. But I admit it’s nice to have at least one child who will still only be missing preschool! I will, however, do my best to make the most of school breaks first and steer clear of testing windows.
How about you?
Will your child miss any school for travel this year? Are you contemplating how you’ll make school year travel work when your child is older and school work, sports, and other commitments are more difficult to juggle than they are now? What are your biggest concerns about your child missing school for travel?
I’ll be back tomorrow with my top tips for planning smooth travels during the school year.
Traveling in Costa Rica during the Easter Holy Week, you can expect some things with certainty: You will have the pleasure of seeing many crosses decorated with purple shawls and flowers in front yards, you will likely cross paths with a religious procession at some point in your journey, and you will have a hard time finding anywhere to buy food over Easter weekend.
When we embarked on a long day’s drive on winding mountain roads on Good Friday, I had underestimated just how long or far we would drive before finding our next meal. Fresh out of snacks and getting low on water, we discovered that even the mini market at a self-service gas station was closed for the holiday. The fabled city of Zarcero was a ghost town dotted with occasional colorful souls drifting between the church and family gatherings.
Every kind of shop imaginable was shuttered on each block we circled in the town.
When I saw a temporary stand doing business at the edge of the church square, I nearly drove onto the sidewalk in anticipation. The assortment of large root vegetables, however, held little appeal for the kids and seriously raised my mother’s eyebrows. We were hungry and growing hopeless, and nowhere near our destination.
“Ting! Ting!” Enter the ice cream man.
That’s when we learned that, while it is against city ordinances to run shops or restaurants on Good Friday in Costa Rica, it is perfectly acceptable to sell ice cream and popsicles in the church square. Eating ice cream for lunch on Good Friday, we reasoned, could therefore be no sin.
Good Friday, indeed. It will always have special meaning–and I suspect, ritual–for our family.
As it happened, fewer than 5 miles south on the highway, and beyond the city limits, we found a fantastic hillside restaurant turning a tidy profit by serving the Ticos traveling over the holiday weekend. Remember this if you find yourself on the road to Zarcero Easter weekend.
For more help planning your family vacation in Costa Rica, see other Travels with Baby tips here.
If she looks a little nervous, it’s only because this big bird has free reign to fly and land where it likes. And let me tell you, watching this wild blue macaw fly right past the windows of our upper-story chalet at Arenal Lodge one morning was one of the most unexpected highlights of the trip for me. They are beautiful birds, to be sure, but to see this one flying freely with a 2,000-acre backdrop of greenspace and exclamation point of steaming volcano rising in the background was, well … really fun. To read (and see) more about our stay at Arenal Lodge, see the full review here.
“March of the Animals“ continues next week with more fun animal encounters. For more tips and recommendations for family travel to Costa Rica – and beyond, visit our Destinations page. This post is part of Photo Friday at DeliciousBaby.com.
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