Category Archives: Vacations

Perspective: Seeing the World Through Another’s Eyes

We enjoy exploring so much that we hardly to the same place more than once.  A few of our exceptions are Walt Disney World, which can NOT be seen in one visit, and Harrison, Nebraska, which is family and riding horses and roping cattle for wild west fun.

My family loves horseback riding to round-up the cattle.   I, on the other hand, can take it or leave it.  Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy riding; however, I would cover more land on an ATV.  Plus, I know how to control the machine better than the animal.

It is the thought of riding a four-wheeler that led us to one of the most educational and exciting excursions of our trip in Costa Rica.  Sure, we could have ridden horses on the beach or through town.  But, to race along the roads, the beaches, and the muddy trails on a four-wheeler would be awesome!IMG_0443

Originally, I did not think we would be able to do this adventure.  According to websites, all drivers had to be 18 or older and only two of our six qualified.  However, we learned that some rules were overlooked.  We had three licensed drivers, so we were good to go.

Our guide showed us a troop of howler monkeys, let the younger kids drive on the beach, and gave us a lesson on education in Costa Rica.  Luis told us how fortunate he was.  His parents were able to send him to a private school.

My children were surprised to hear what fortunate meant in Costa Rica.  First of all, Luis did not attend a preschool or kindergarten.  He started in first grade by riding a bus for one hour to an English immersion school.  Imagine, being seven years old, riding on a bus for an hour, having the teachers speak a different language, and then getting back on the bus for an hour ride home. My children were flabbergasted to hear what Luis did for an education.  I will have to keep you posted on when my kids forget that others have it a little tougher than them.  (I predict it will happen next week when our drive to school takes six minutes.)

I do know that my wife and I were reminded of how fortunate our family is. IMG_0473

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Filed under Education, Lessons from students, Vacations

Achieving Goals: Face Forward

It is getting closer to the start of the year, and my To Do list for school and home keeps growing like the weeds in my flowerbeds.  (There’s another thing to add to the list.)

As I prepare for the opening week, I keep thinking of what our surf instructor in Costa Rica kept telling me:  “When you stand up, face forward and look where you are going, not at your feet or where you have been!”  IMG_0825

It seems like good advice for students.   Keep your eyes forward!

Freshmen can be intimidated by mature upperclassmen, and I am not referring to bullying.  I remember a time before a class period was going to begin.  A group of boys were talking and joking while I was grading papers at my desk.   Suddenly, the room became silent.  I looked up at the boys wondering what happened when I heard, “Hi Mr. W.”  Walking into my room was McKenzie, a senior.  We exchanged pleasantries, she handed me some paperwork and she left.  I don’t think the boys moved.  They just stared in that awkward stalker-like manner.  The boys were certainly intimidated by her.  I am willing to bet that they had trouble keeping their eyes forward and refocusing their thoughts during class.   Luckily, they are teenage boys and forget most things within twenty-four hours.  Focus would happen the next day…maybe.

There are other ways students can forget to face forward or focus on their goals.IMG_0809

I have seen students come to class discussing what “he” said or “she” said and this gossip overtakes their learning.  (However, perhaps they are preparing for a new reality serious similar to the “Housewives of —“ and they will be wealthier than myself.)

I have had students argue with me that they did not need to pass English 9 to graduate.  I brought in other authority figures.  All but one student at least believed the guidance counselor.  This stubborn know-it-all spent his summer retaking the class.  Since I have been married, I have learned that some people are more stubborn than others.

I have learned that during certain times of the year students really struggle with facing forward; for instance, during the NCAA basketball tournament.  Many a student is looking at the past records and statistics to fill out a bracket.  Schoolwork loses its luster as game after game is on TV.

Without a doubt, all of us parents and teachers have struggled with facing forward in high school.  Imagine if we could go back in time.   I am positive I would think high school would be pretty easy.  I thought I had a lot of responsibility, like study, do some chores, and go to swim practice.  Oh, and I HAD to complain about doing the chores!

Today, I still do homework, do some chores, and drive my kids to practices.  Plus, a few other things that go along with marriage, children, pets, etc.

IMG_0858This school year I want to remember to face forward.  I want to be less sarcastic.

What will you face forward for?

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Journey to Tamarindo

Tamarindo

Tamarindo (Photo credit: supercake)

After our morning fishing trip with Captain Ron, we returned to the house to load up our suitcases.  We began our journey to Tamarindo, a town of about 500 people and 100 dogs.  Tamarindo is located on the Pacific side of the country and is known for great surfing, which is why I chose it.  Our family had conquered all of the waves in Ohio and some moderate ones in Hawaii, so we were ready for the big waves of Costa Rica.

It was two o’clock when we started to drive to Tamarindo.  According to MapQuest the drive would be about four hours.  Knowing how well MapQuest estimated our drive from the airport to Arenal Lake, I had to quote from Star Wars and told my wife, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

I was correct.

David Prowse as Darth Vader in The Empire Stri...

David Prowse as Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Darth Vader did not catch us, but we experienced something we have seen many times: road construction. However, they do not use orange barrels.  They use a three-foot stick or rod cemented in a coffee can.  The stick has a

A Costa Rican orange barrel

An orange barrel in Costa Rica

yellow ribbon tied to it.  At one section they even used workers.  (I have met a few students who could qualify for the job of being an orange barrel.)

We arrived in Tamarindo about 7:30.  It was dark, since the sunsets occur between five and six p.m.  (One would think we would have learned this lesson the first time.) I reassured the family.   We were going to a town and the rental agency office was programmed into our GPS.

Nonetheless, our GPS did not recognize the name of the condominium and there are no street names or addresses in Costa Rica.  The directions from the closed rental agency were a little vague:  head out-of-town and turn right on the first dirt road.  Consequently, we had trouble finding the rental home.

We did find the police station, though.  In the United States, the best place to get directions is a fire station or police station.  Therefore, I stopped to ask for help.  One problem: language.  Only one younger officer spoke English as well as I spoke and remembered the Spanish I learned in the early 80s when I was in high school.   We were pathetic.  Nonetheless, the officers indicated my map was old and they showed me their 2013 map, the kind of map showing all of the businesses that had paid for an advertisement on the map.  It was not what I would call accurate since it did not have every business.

The senior officer said to follow him; he knew where to go.  I noticed he carried a revolver, like Barney Fife’s.  Plus, he was not wearing a Kevlar vest.  For some reason I worried about him.  My wife and kids were very tired and hungry.

The officer led us right to the condo; however, due to translation problems we were first told that it was not the right place.  The police led us to another place, talked with other people, and decided the original location was correct.  I tried my best to use my twenty-year old high school Spanish to interpret the conversation, but it was not until the security guard did a motion with his hand that resembled a person opening a door that I figured out the problem.  I showed him that I had a key; He looked at it and realized it was a key to a condo in the complex.  Apparently, no one told him I was arriving. Now that we showed him the key, we were in like ghostbusters.

Knowing the police officer quit eating his dinner and worked hard to help us, I offered him a $20 tip, not sure if it was the right thing to do.  My cop friends in America would not take money, but I also knew Costa Rica could be different.  He accepted the money, shook my hand, and our tired, hungry family began to unload the SUV.

When we opened the door, a beautiful, gigantic condo took our breath away.  It was as big as our house!  We couldn’t wait until daylight to see what the view would be like!

English: 2007 Costa Rica aerial photo of Playa...

English: 2007 Costa Rica aerial photo of Playa Tamarindo and River mouth showing the town and beach of Tamarindo and the Pacific Ocean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What did we learn from this freshman experience?

1. It takes time to get the final result.

2. Communication is very important.

3. Different is not bad.

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Fishing with Captain Ron

IMG_0240Our third day in Costa Rica had us up early and driving to meet Captain Ron for fishing on Lake Arenal.  I spoke with Ron several times prior to our visit, and he was ready to teach our family a few things about fishing. Even our omniscient son.  (He is 13 and knows everything!)

Ron said it would be easier if we found this little path on our side of the lake and he would pick us up on the shore.  Since we found a cow path of a driveway in the dark, I figured a path to the shore would be easier.  Plus, we would be able to see Captain Ron and his boat from the road.  I was almost completely incorrect.  (Luckily, I have been married for 18 years and am use to being wrong.)

Due to the whole area being a rainforest, we only occasionally saw the boat from the road, which was about ½ kilometer above the shoreline.   However, finding the path in daylight was easy.  It was as wide as the car, but I am pretty sure our four-wheel drive SUV could not make it up the muddy slope.  We decided to hiked to the boat.

Captain Ron welcomed us, made us wash the mud off our shoes and feet, gave us some safety tips, and got us started right away.  He was gregarious and taught us about the culture and area.  While he regaled us with stories about fishing, the volcano, and his moving to Costa Rica, I couldn’t help but notice that I had seen and heard him before.  It was an eerie feeling.  Finally, it occurred to me.  He was Bruce Campbell, the actor who plays Sam Axe on Burn Notice.  When I told my 13 year-old, the biggest Burn Notice fan on the planet, he agreed.  We mentioned it to Captain Ron, and he laughed, saying he had only seen the show once.IMG_0257

Captain Ron and our youngest, who decided to use his head as bait.

Captain Ron and our youngest, who decided to use his head as bait.

He kept to his cover story that he moved from San Diego and has been fishing Lake Arenal for over 9 years.  However, Andy and I still think we may have been helping him scout a location for a future episode or even being secretly filmed as extras during one of the peaceful scenes, which accounts for about thirty seconds of the show.

Nevertheless, Captain Ron fed us the best banana bread our family has ever tasted, sandwiches even my finicky daughter loved, fresh pineapple, and plenty of sodas, juice, and water.  He did offer to bring beer, but I thought it was too early for the kids to be drinking.

Ron was true to his word.  He taught us how to troll, which was extremely easy and effective that morning.  And, he taught us how to cast properly, but the fish did not bite.  Thus, we did more trolling, which allowed us to admire the volcano, the mountains, and the rainforest. IMG_0260

I guess it is like reading a novel.  Sometimes freshmen get focused on the ending: how many fish did I catch?  Consequently, they miss the characters, in this case Captain Ron; the description of the scenery, for instance the volcano;  and information on the culture.  I am glad we were able to take the time to enjoy the whole “freshman” experience.

My catch!

My catch!

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High and Wet Adventures in Costa Rica

Day 1 in Costa Rica.

The drive was worth it!  We woke up to a breathtaking view.  Waking up first, I decided to explore the surroundings and make sure all was safe.  After all, who knew if a howler monkey or its troop would wake the family, or if a sloth would leap from a tree and chase me!

I ventured down a path carved into the side of the mountain.  I could hear rushing water, and I eventually came to the creek.  The owners of the house had built a small bench under a roof to allow visitors to sit and become one with nature.  After a few minutes, I was tired of being “one” with the mosquitos and the rushing water made me want to pee.  Instead of relieving myself in the forest, I walked back up to the house.

Soon, the rest of the family rose from slumber and wandered off to explore.  There were no sloth attacks, but two panthers kept following the kids around.  Ok, they weren’t panthers; they were domestic cats and only dangerous to a mouse they caught.  The kids found the path to the creek and the “Aztec ruins” as my eight year old called them.  They were actually the frame-work for a bed and breakfast being built.  His imagination spread to the other kids and an hour of fun ensued.

Later this first day, we travelled to Sky-Adventures.  Three of the family wanted to zip line through the rain forest.  They said they had fun.

Ready to Zip line

Ready to Zip line

Personally, I think they were lying.  The eight year old and I wanted nothing to do with that and the thirteen year old, who has zip-lined, decided to hike with his little brother (and try to lose Dad.)  We went on a hike that had seven hanging bridges, and Matthew and I overcame our fear of heights!  (Still not ready for the speeding on a cable through trees.)  During our hike we marveled at several waterfalls.  Then, the boys decided to try to lose Dad and turned the hike into a cross-country race.  I think we finished the three-hour hike in less than two hours.

IMG_0203In the evening we went to the Tabacon Resort for the hot springs.  They were very relaxing and a buffet dinner that allowed us to taste local food.  Let me put this in perspective.  The last time I ran or jogged was 1984.  It was preseason training for the swim team, and I cheated.  I got a ride from a girl.  This training practice did not help me as I chased after my sons.   Consequently, after running a few kilos because I feared my kids would leave me to the wild beasts of the rain forest, I was ready for a relaxing evening in my element: water. The hot springs were perfect!

Tomorrow: Fishing with Captain Ron!

Cover of "Captain Ron"

Cover of Captain Ron

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Curves, Dirt, Darkness and Our First Day

State Flag of Costa Rica

State Flag of Costa Rica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The excitement of vacationing in Costa Rica reached its crescendo when we landed in San Jose.  We had researched, packed, and reviewed our Spanish.  We were ready for the first day!

First stop: customs.  A word of advice: when asked the reason of the visit, it is best to not be facetious with the agent.  Either it was a language barrier or he did not have a sense of humor.  My answer to his question: “To set up a Tanning salon.”

Second stop: rental car pick up.  We were advised to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle.  The rental car process took some time.  Nonetheless, by 2:30, we were almost ready to leave.  We needed lunch.  There was a restaurant next to the rental place, so ate lunch – a very, very, very long lunch.  (Costa Ricans don’t seem to believe in fast food.)  Despite this delay, I felt we would have no problem arriving before darkness set in.

Third stop: Hacienda Encartada at Lake Arenal.  Mapquest indicated it would take two and a half hours to drive there.

Incidentally, I have been driving for a few years – my first car being a ’65 Chevy Bel Aire sedan.  It easily sat 6 teenagers, and more if the trunk was utilized when we went to the drive-in.  I thought I had seen everything.  Silly me.

As we left San Jose, I noticed the highway was not like the Interstates at home.  There were three lanes: always two lanes uphill and one lane downhill.  Along the sides of the road vendors sold fresh food, and cars would quickly brake and stop and purchase a snack or dinner.  I also noticed that sharp turns around mountains on roads with no guard rails were a greater deterrent to speeding than police cars in the medians.  I started to believe Mapquest incorrectly estimated the drive time.

As a result of the slower speed, our excitement started to fad.  Spectacular views greeted us around every bend; nevertheless, sitting on a plane and then in a car became monotonous.  However, about two hours into our journey, the trip got a little more interesting.  The paved road suddenly ended.  No warning.  Just dirt!  Only, the GPS said I was on the highway.  In addition, this dirt highway would reduce to one lane for bridges over the numerous rivers.   I knew Mapquest incorrectly estimated the drive time.

In spite of these obstacles, I confidently reassured the family we would arrive before dark.  After all, we only had another hour or more to go, and it was only about 4:45 p.m.  Did you know that the sun sets between 5:00 and 6:00 o’clock year round in Costa Rica?  Me either.  As a result, we had to search for a dirt driveway in complete darkness.  Plus, Costa Rica does not have street names or addresses.  If you want to mail a letter, you address it: Jose Amigo, 400 meters west of the church and 150 meters south of the Best Western, Tamarindo, Costa Rica.  Luckily for us, my daughter’s super hero power is night vision.  She kept telling me to turn, but I could not see any path.  Finally, I trusted her.  We drove a kilometer on a muddy, pot-holed cow path to a house on the side of a mountain.

We cooked some food we bought at a super market, which was really the size of a 7-11 store.  Then, we hit the sack.

IMG_0168

Daylight awoke us to a spectacular view of Lake Arenal and the Arenal Volcano.

With this adventure in mind, I think of the first day for the freshmen.  Filled with excitement, they plan the routes to their classes, what they will wear, and pack their school supplies.  Next, they sit in classroom after classroom, hearing similar rules, different procedures, and becoming bored.  Once in a while, some teachers take away the asphalt and make the students sit up and take notice.  Or, lunch rolls around with discussions of classes and teachers (or cute girls and cute boys).  Of course, when the day ends, darkness arrives in the form of “nap time.”  At least I always need one at the end of Day 1.

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