A long way to San Jose

Generally, we have had good luck with our world travels, though there have been some hiccups along the way.  We didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary on our flight to San Jose, Costa Rica.  

Heavy thunderstorms were bearing down on the Dallas – Fort Worth airport as we arrived, so we were mentally ready for a flight delay.  A minor mechanical issue, delayed catering, and the thunderstorms did mean we spent an hour or so on the runway before taking off.  The flight itself was uneventful, but on arrival, we had a go around, when the runway was not empty when our pilot made his approach.  The prior flight had not yet exited the runway, so we got a second tour of San Jose by air before safely landing and pulling up to the gate.  We were not able to deplane immediately, as there was a short delay before the jet bridge could be extended.  We soon found out why.  

There was a power outage at the San Jose airport.  Locals reported this is a somewhat frequent occurrence.

We got off the plane and headed to immigration where we found that the power outage had caused a problem with the immigration system computers and they were not able to reboot the system.  All immigration was stopped, and several planeloads of people were in the queue, zigzagging through the line markers like an amusement park line.  

We managed to make it to the end of the queue, but most of our plane and those who arrived after us snaked down the hallways outside the immigration hall.  It was an hour and 15 minutes before the computer system came online and the agents began processing arriving passengers again.  Customer service staff at the airport handed out water bottles and turned on fans to cool the crowd, doing their best to keep the chaos to a minimum, but it was a long hot wait.  

With no phones or electronics allowed in the immigration hall, Boy was restless.   I challenged him to count the seconds, telling him if he got to 5000 I would give him a dollar.  He got the dollar, and I thought I might have to pay up twice.

Once processing started up again, the line moved rather quickly, but it was still nearly 3 hours, in all, before we got to baggage claim and were able to leave the airport.  That was one of the longest immigrations we have had, yet.

As every plane had been delayed, the arrival hall was busier than usual, with car drivers, tour operators, and relatives trying to collect 5 or 6 plane loads of arriving passengers. Leaving the chaos of the arrival hall, we arranged a taxi and set off to our hotel.  We had decided to stay at an airport hotel, for convenience, while we were in San Jose, as our main stay in Costa Rica would be in the rainforest.

We had planned to spend our arriving afternoon in the city of San Jose, visiting the Plaza Central and Museo del Oro, but by the time we left the airport, the museum was closed. Instead, after a quick stop at a local grocery for supplies we went to the hotel swimming pool.  San Jose city center would have to wait for another day.

The hotel did have an indoor garden and turtle pond which entertained Boy for the evening.  It also has internet, so he was thrilled.


Turtle Pond

Hotel Pool

An Indoor Garden at the hotel
On our return to San Jose, before leaving the country, we were finally able to make it to the city center.
It was raining, again, so we stepped into a busy, local cafe for lunch, that was packed with office workers.  Scanning the menu, we chose Tico (Costa Rican) specialties of arroz con pollo, plantains and empanadas.

As the rain slowed we saw the National Theatre, and then headed underground to the Museos Banco Central de Costa Rica, the museums of the national bank.  

This inverted pyramid is one of the only underground buildings in Costa Rica.  These bank vaults are home to the Museo del Oro, which has an outstanding collection of precolumbian gold and archeology and the Numismatic (money) museum.  The Numismatic museum presented a display of the history of Costa Rican money and a surprisingly good interactive exhibit on personal finance and money management in both Spanish and English that kept Boy interested through a lengthy discussion of investing, saving and budgeting.

Brains engaged it was back in a taxi and out of the rain to our hotel.

By the volcano in Costa Rica, our son decides his parents have no concept of danger

We wound upwards for three hours from San Jose, Costa Rica.  Passing an industrial area near the airport, then strings of furniture stores, villages, fruit sellers, and finally long stretches of twisty mountain roads through lush green forest, we reached the Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal.  An unexpectedly clear day gave us unparalleled views of the volcano.  Surprising local villagers, the volcano woke up in 1968 with a great explosion and was active continuously through 2010.  Now quiet, the rainforest has again begun to overtake the slopes of the volcano and the wildlife is numerous.



Recovering from our drive, We started our day at the museum and seismograph at the Smithsonian Volcano Observatory on the grounds of the Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Boy photographed the local wildlife, taking hundreds of shots of a coati, digging for dinner outside the museum.

He was less impressed with the seismograph and small museum when he realized the volcano we could see out the window was not extinct, but merely dormant and had been active within his lifetime.

To calm his anxiety, we tried to remind him of past volcanoes we have visited without incident in Hawaii, New Zealand and Ecuador that were far more active than this, but the efforts were wasted.  Recalling our stay on Santorini, where  the entire island is a volcano, He is now convinced we have recklessly taken him to multiple places where he was in imminent danger of a volcanic eruption.  He quoted stats from our Pompei visit to back up his claims, noting that risks from lava were irrelevant, as the fumes and ash would kill us in minutes, assuming the big rocks didn’t smash us first.  Further research led him to realize Yellowstone National Park in the USA is a volcano, with geothermal activity, proving it is not extinct, but merely dormant.   He is not happy with us, and says he would prefer to be in Australia, as he has a better chance there of avoiding deadly snakes and spiders than he does an eruption.  At least he has been learning something as we travel.

We hope the promise of tree frog spotting, later will lift his mood.

The map of the world ceases to be a blank…

“The map of the world ceases to be a blank; it becomes a picture full of the most varied and animated figures. Each part assumes its proper dimensions: continents are not looked at in the light of islands, or islands considered as mere specks, which are, in truth, larger than many kingdoms of Europe. Africa, or North and South America, are well-sounding names, and easily pronounced; but it is not until having sailed for weeks along small portions of their shores, that one is thoroughly convinced what vast spaces on our immense world these names imply.”
Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Glen Rose, Texas

Our home for 3 days in June, was Glen Rose, Texas, a town about 45 minutes South from Fort Worth, Texas.
We splurged on this outing and stayed at the the Lodge at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, a safari park.  

The Texas landscape was reminiscent of  South Africa, and seemed to be quite well suited to the antelope, zebras, and giraffes that called it home.  Our behind the scenes guided tour included a visit to the Wildlife Center breeding program for cheetahs, prairie chickens, and wolves.

Not quite like our African Safari, the stay still allowed us an early morning drive through the safari park and a chance to feed some giraffes.  

We enjoyed the hot breakfast overlooking the watering hole, but the best wildlife spotting was at sunset from the deck at the Lodge.

After a rest, we went into town, checking out the old courthouse and town square, which is surrounded by shops and restaurants, like the Shoo Fly soda fountain and Pie Peddler pie shop, where we picked up some desserts.

The next day, we stopped for snow cones before swimming in the river and climbing on the rocks at Big Rocks park.

Prehistoric Texas

About 1 1/2 hours South from Dallas, on highway 67, we came to Glen Rose Texas.  Our first stop, Dinosaur Valley state park.  

The park is known for dinosaur footprints found in the rock of the Paluxy river bed.   The state park has a number of hikes, all less than a mile long.  Though the short, well cleared trails, are suitable for all ages, they are still rocky and have a number of stairs.

With summer in full swing it was HOT. Stretching our legs after the drive, we appreciated that the first hike took us to the Blue Hole, a swimming hole from the 1800s.  Near the edge, were 3 clear footprints. Hidden in the winter, the lower river level in the summer exposes them, in about 4-5 inches of water.  We left our shoes and socks in the bank and waded in to get a better look.  Boy took the opportunity to go for a full swim and play with some other kids in the cool, clear water.

Other short hikes took us to the Ballroom site and the main site where tracks were first discovered. The Ballroom has hundreds of footprints.  When we were there, they were in about 2-3 inches of water, so we waded out for a good look.  Boy loved splashing through the shallow water and Mom slipped and managed to get quite wet, as well.

The next day, we returned to the area for a stop at Dinosaur World, a series of nature trails enhanced by lifesize statues of dinosaurs.  There is also a dinosaur themed playground and a small museum with fossils and animatronic dinosaurs.  The highlight for Boy was the fossil dig.  Included in the child admission, the fossil dig is a sandbox, studded with real, small fossils.  Children are given 10-15 minutes to dig through the sandbox and choose 3 fossils to keep.  The trails in Dinosaur World are paved, and it is an easy stroll for strollers or wheelchairs.  It would have been a big hit with our boy at 5 or 6 years old, or if we had a wider variety of ages and mobility in our group, but at 11 years old, the admission, at almost $13 a person (in 2017) was a bit steep for the excitement level.  Dinosaur World is across the street from the Creation Museum, according to its website, a museum dedicated to the story of biblical creation and a place to see how dinosaurs and humans lived side by side prior to Noah’s flood.  We did not visit.  


On our way back to Dallas, we drove through Waco for a stop at the Waco Mammoth National Monument.  Declared a National Monument in 2015, the park has had lots of new construction of a visitors center and signage from the National Park Service.  The enclosed dig site shows the excavation of a number of mammoth fossils in situ, where the animals were buried after a flash flood.  We checked out the Junior Ranger program and had a chance to touch and examine skulls and teeth models with rangers at the visitors center.

The Junior Ranger guide


The dig site


Our fossil identification guide, and a snack:

Our travel reading list

We have maintained our massive Worldschooling list of children’s books, we used while traveling here, but what about the parents?  What did we read?

Mom and Dad did our share of reading both before and after we started our travels. Our hometown library was a lifesaver, with tons of travel guides we borrowed both as physical books and through the library’s e-book program.  We were even able to continue checking out e-books while we were on the road.  Here is a selection of what we read:

Planning & General Travel

ONE YEAR OFF: Leaving It All Behind for A Round-the-World Journey with Our Children by David Elliot Cohen, Simon and Schuster, 1999

Europe on 5 Dollars a Day, by Arthur Frommer, Frommers 2007

The World’s Best Travel Experiences, by National Geographic, 2014

1,000 Places To See Before You Die, by Patricia Schultz, Workman Publishing, 2011

The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World, by Doug Lanky, Rough Guides 2013

The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World, Fifth Edition, by Edward Hasbrouk,  Avalon Travel, 2011

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long Term World Travel, by Rolf Potts, Villlard Books, 2002

Travel guides: we liked and used Lonely Planet and Fodors for country research

 

Fiction – some travel themed favorites
Around the World With Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis, Kindle edition, 2007

Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.  by Elizabeth Gilbert. Penguin books, 2007

A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson, Broadway books 1998

In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson, Kindle edition 2011

Neither Here Nor There Travels in Europe, by Bill Bryson, Kindle edition

The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain, Kindle edition 2011

A Room with a View, by E.M Forster, Dover Thrift Editions, 1995

The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham, (Vintage International) Kindle Edition, 2011

 

A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, Scribner, 1996

 

News Articles

“Senior Nomads: A Grand Tour With 46 Oases” by Steven Kurutz, New York Times, February 26, 2015 

“Traveling the world with grandchildren” by John and Sally Macdonald, Seattle Times, October 9, 2015

“These 7 Families Will Change How You Think About Taking Your Kids On The Road” by Erin Bender, Sept 20, 2015 Matador Network.

“Now Working From Home Can Be Working While Seeing The World” by Molly Osberg, Wired Magazine, December 2015

“Family ditches classroom to take learning on the road” by Ethan Gilsdorf, Boston Globe, November 30, 2015 

“Gee and family sell everything to travel — and give back” by Molly Blake, December 15, 2015, today.com. 

“Retire? Not this D.C. couple, who spent 17 weeks trekking across the globe” by Travel Editor, Dec 3,2015, Washington Post 

“Why Are Americans So Afraid of Vacation?” by Laura Dannen Redman, December 21, 2015, Conde Nast Traveler 

 

Safety while traveling

Safety is a concern while traveling, but has to be balanced with being open to new experiences.

Leaving the USA, friends and relatives expressed concern that the world can be a dangerous place, and we would be exposed to too much risk, though we found we often felt more safe outside the USA than within it.  It was California where we witnessed a police chase, and Texas where my son was astonished to see someone carrying a handgun. Our closest encounter with the Ebola scare came when we had to travel through Dallas, TX on the way to a family event in Houston. It happened to be the month when there was an active Ebola case in Dallas, so upon LEAVING the US, we were subject to extra health screenings for Ebola before we could enter China and Singapore.

That is not to say our travel was entirely uneventful.  Once or twice we got lost in a less than desirable area, and had to backtrack to a major road quickly.  My husband was pick pocketed once, losing some cash. Our credit card was skimmed once, and it was a challenge to get a replacement card delivered to our small town in Greece. We were in the country of Australia when there was a terrorist shooting at a café, though we were hundreds of miles away from the event, and we had some uncomfortable moments in large crowds in India.

We had several strategies we followed to limit risk.

  • As we were traveling with an elementary school child, we made sure he always had a laminated card in his shoes and in a pocket with his name and passport info, our passport and phone numbers, the address of our home apartment in that country and emergency contacts in the USA. We helped him memorize our phone numbers, and that he knew to ask for the US consulate.  We always made sure we could all recite the address of our local “home.” My husband and I had similar laminated cards.
  • On arrival in a new country, we talked about and rehearsed what to do if we became separated when in a crowd or boarding a vehicle. We had a plan for who would stay put and who would find the other if the door closed when boarding a train, for example, and set a meeting place in crowded locations.   We learned a few key words in local language to ask for help and identified what the local police or security force uniforms looked like.
  • Our key documents were photocopied and kept in multiple locations. We also had digital copies saved online that could be retrieved if needed.
  • We tried to be aware of our surroundings, kept a close eye on our belongings, and researched our local city and country well before we arrived to know what was and wasn’t considered safe.
  • We also had an emergency fund, separate from our traveling money, of about three months expenses. We did end up calling on this fund, though it wasn’t for medical care, as we feared. We unexpectedly had to return to the US for a family matter, and were most glad to have the emergency funds accessible quickly. Thankfully, we only needed the emergency fund once
  • And on days we were moving from place to place, airport and train days, we all had a specific job, one person watches luggage, one person handles tickets and documents, and the third person navigates the airport or station, reading signs and determining where to go

 

Here are some safety strategies used by others traveling with kids:
http://expatexperiment.com/tips-help-lost-kids/

http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/travel/articles/travel_abroad_family_staying_safe.shtml

https://www.flipkey.com/blog/2011/11/11/6-safety-tips-for-traveling-abroad-with-kids/

http://mylittlenomads.com/tips-and-advice-for-traveling-with-children