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Costa Rica’s 200 Years of Independence

This year, Costa Rica is celebrating the bicentennial of its independence from Guatemala on October 29th, 1821. Costa Rica is expecting to start festivities September 15th (though we assume a lot depends on Covid-19 vaccinations). If you’ve been planning to visit what many consider a paradise, this fall may be the perfect time!

Country Profile: Costa Rica

Pura Vida!

Travel Advisories: Canada, United States

Visas: No visa required for up to 90 days, however you must have proof of health insurance and complete the online Health Pass.

Currency: 1 CAD = 483.06 colones (Costa Rican colón)

Things to Read:

A Kid’s Guide to Costa Rica by Jack L. Roberts

The Umbrella by Jan Brett

Pura Vida Mae! by Buffie Biddle

Cocorí by Joaquín Gutiérrez

The Forever Forest: Kids Save a Tropical Treasure by Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini

Fernando’s Gift / El Regalo de Fernando by Douglas Keister

Famous authors of Costa Rica:

You will recognize Carmen Lyra from her place on the twenty thousand colones! She was the first prominent female writer in Costa Rica, the founder of the first Montessori school in Costa Rica, and the co-founder of the Communist Party in Costa Rica. She fought against the monopoly of the fruit companies.

Manuel Arguello Mora, Joaquin Garcia Monge, Carmen Naranjo, and Carlos Luis Fallas are other prominent Costa Rican authors.

Phrases to Know:

Pura Vida! – Translates to “pure life,” used as greeting, as thanks, or a way to describe a relaxed situation

Ticos – Costa Ricans

Mae – dude, or friendly name between friends

Soda – Not a soft drink! This means a lunch spot serving typical Tico food.

Tuanis – Awesome, cool

Detras del palo – Literally translates to “behind the tree,” means “you don’t know what you are talking about!”

Miando fuera del tarro – “taking the pee out of the can” (?!?) Used the same as above ^_^

Que pega – “hat a stick,” annoying

Lava huevos – “wash the eggs,” suck up to somebody

Tico Spanish differs from México or España! Find more Tico slang on My Tan Feet.

Stuff to See:

Costa Rica is famous for its incredibly diverse ecosystems, its beautiful beaches, its excellent surfing conditions and extreme sports, its commitment to green energy, and for its friendly culture.

Tourism has become a significant contributor to the economy of Costa Rica! Therefore, tourists from around the world will find a range of activities and accommodations to meet their interests.

We travelled to Costa Rica for a two-week trip about five years ago. We spent a week on the Caribbean coast in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and the following week in Arenal. Puerto Viejo is a small, laid-back town with beaches that are black from the volcanic rocks. We stayed at Cashew Hill Jungle Lodge. They had several cabanas with closed-in bedrooms but open “rancho” style kitchens and living spaces decorated in unique nature themes. It has changed ownership now and is primarily for yoga classes and retreats (AmaSer). Fantastic space though! We enjoyed eating at Bread & Chocolate regularly and at the amazing restaurant that was just word-of-mouth and served fish that was caught earlier that day. You can get a tour of cocoa and coffee production at Carib Beans, visit a sloth sanctuary, and see many animals at the Jaguar Rescue Centre.

Arenal was also a big hit! We loved the hot springs and ziplines! The zipline at Sky Adventures lives on in our family history as one of our best experiences ever!

Five years later, Arenal and its La Fortuna volcano are still one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica. Puerto Viejo has developed quite rapidly. It doesn’t seem to have the same small-town vibe as it once did. Much like Sámara and Tamarindo, for example, some places in Costa Rica are gringo party towns. If that’s what you want, cool. However, if you are more interested in a quiet escape or learning about nature, you may do well to look elsewhere.

The biggest cities with airports are San José and Liberia. Watch for cruise ship ports, such as Limon.

National Parks such as Manual Antonio and Tortuguero offer guided tours to see sloths, monkeys, or crocodiles. Other parks like Ostional are protected refuges for sea turtles and a good place for whale watching. The cloud forests of Monteverde are popular destinations for observing nature from a canopy walk. The Nicoya Peninsula offers beaches, surfing, turtles and whale watching, and caves. Make sure you have 4 wheel drive!

Check out Endless Summer II (1994) to compare with modern day Tamarindo!

Again, My Tan Feet is an excellent resource. Check out their list of 50 things to do in Costa Rica!

Places to Sleep:

There is a wide range of accommodations available, everything from hostels to high-end luxury resorts. Airbnb and VRBO both have listings in Costa Rica. We did enjoy the Aloft in San José, cool heat reacting gel elevator floors!

Pura Vida

From September 2020 to January 2021 our kids went to in-person school in Ottawa. The school board did a fantastic job keeping cohorts separate! Our daughter had one positive covid case at her public school. The bus route and class for that student were cancelled for two weeks, which successfully stopped any spread into the school population. Our son’s high school had quite a few positive cases but was also successful in preventing any outbreaks at the school! Excellent! Both kids adapted well to virtual school when the region went into lockdown during the second wave.

In addition, Ottawa Public Health has done an excellent job communicating effectively to the community. They have been working with the local hospitals to monitor the city waste water as a secondary way to assess Covid rates in the community. Fascinating!

Following our last post in October, we eventually settled on a possible scenario. Rather than travelling around the world as a family for 10 months and visit 24 countries, we would instead pivot into “Canadian snow bird” mode and visit one country long-term.

Costa Rica quickly become the front-runner for us. Thailand and Vietnam were also excellent options due to their robust Covid action plans. In the end, we chose Costa Rica as we had been there before and therefore knew what to expect.

Costa Rica opened its borders in August 2020, then removed testing and quarantining restrictions for international travellers in October 2020. Even with the reduced restrictions, their Covid rates remained at a plateau from October onward. We monitored the rates for the weeks following the Christmas break and also found them the same. From what we could tell, most American and Canadian travellers who were looking to go somewhere warm for Christmas opted for Mexico. Almost one million in Cancún alone over the Christmas break?!

Costa Rica has a helpful break-down of entry requirements here.

Since health insurance from Ontario Blue Cross or other international companies like World Nomad did not fulfill the country’s lodging requirements, we used one of the suggested Costa Rican companies instead.

We rented a car from Adobe (a local company) via the travel blog My Tan Feet in order to benefit from their discount. A rental car with 4-wheel drive was essential for our remote location.

We found a home for rent via VRBO which sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean!

We packed light and flew to Costa Rica in January, returning to Canada in the summer.

Our family goals are to practice our Spanish, to be outside in the sun and fresh air daily, and to learn as much as we can about nature. Our daughter is pretty obsessed with reptiles at present! We have questions about the tides, astronomy, and the flora and fauna.

We also know that the Canadian government has made changes in regards to re-entry. The government has worked with the Canadian airlines to cancel all flights to “sun destinations.” This means the most popular Canadian destinations of Mexico and the Caribbean. However, it applies to Costa Rica as well. We knew that we would have to present a negative Covid test for our return to Canada. Now we will also have to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival rather than at home. Makes sense, this is what many other countries do as well!

Unfortunately, this blog will not be used for its intended purpose. Man, that trip was going to be epic! Instead, this blog will just be us living, maybe documenting what we have been learning, and hopefully still “having fun right now.”

Pura vida!

October Surprise!

We previously posted about our well-thought out, detailed, and frankly fantastic 2020-2021 family around-the-world trip plan. Spreadsheets! Research! Well-greased cogs in a perfectly coordinated machine!

A post covid travel plan resembles a grade four science fair project with still wet school glue… Something held together temporarily with chewing gum… Flying in a plane while building it!

In other words, you hope for the best but expect it to fall apart at any time.

Jbot spent a few hours this morning working on a spreadsheet to help us plan for future travel. He started by collecting data on various destinations that are open for Canadian tourists. For example, he created columns for the total number of covid cases, tests, and deaths. If the country was worse than Canada their cell was coloured red, if better their cell was green.

That gave us a good starting visual representation.

Next, he created a quick column on the average cost of living in comparison with Canada, again color coded red or green.

Finally, we looked at the rules that each destination has in regards to quarantines and tests. These are highly variable and will most likely change again. Some countries require a negative covid test three days before arrival, for example, some two days prior, and others don’t require any prior testing at all. One country even had a requirement for 10 days prior?! Many places test tourists at the airport, but not all. Some require 14 day quarantines, some do not. Some have rules about getting second tests a certain number of days after arrival…

You get the picture. The rules are all over the place! We’ll need to be vigilant about keeping updated.

We will still need to research flights, weather/climate, and insurance. But our quick n’ dirty plan of the day is:

Cuba – 1 month
Costa Rica – 1 month
Thailand – minimum 90 days for long-stay tourist visa
Europe – 3 months max for Schengen area

Previously, our main attractions were Japan and New Zealand. They are still very much closed to Canadian tourists. But the Olympics are on the horizon and New Zealand has just opened their border with Australia this week. Fingers crossed!

We are also keeping an eye on which countries are allowing Americans in… Maybe avoid those ones?

The future is very much a giant fog we will keep trying to find what lighthouses we can.

Resources:

Worldometer

Budget Your Trip

Travel Off Path






Stockpiling Toilet Paper

After five years of saving and planning for our family’s world trip, it seems that an excruciatingly small thing might curtail some of our intentions. The Novel Coronavirus, properly known as SARS-CoV-2 (which causes the disease COVID-19) has become a near pandemic, causing panic in some parts of the world. Entire countries have begun restricting its populace from travel (like Italy). I travel a lot for work, and it’s been a busy week postponing or outright cancelling work trips for myself and other colleagues. Colleagues hoping for vactions this spring — to places like Mexico, Italy and Spain — are now planning for staycations or simpler trips to in-country destinations.

So what about our world trip? It’s not a big surprise to say that we’ve definitely been paying close attention to the news. Having said that, we’ve gone ahead and firmly booked the first two-or-so months of our travel. Mexico, New Zealand and most of Australia are now paid for (nearly $10,000!). But we’ve stopped there as we’re waiting to see what happens with Asia, and, in particular, Japan with its slightly older population (on average) and the hosting of a massive worldwide event in a few months.

Here’s a video from someone who recently traveled to Da Nang, Vietnam, and the real world experience she’s having:

There’s a lot of talk about the spread of the virus slowing or halting in the summer. Sure, historically, many viruses do slow down during the warmer months, but that does not mean that SARS-CoV-2 will follow the same path. If we avoid media rhetoric and look at actual experts (like Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics), the virus may slow, but that will not stop the spread. But worse for my family – we’re only talking about the Northern Hemisphere. Our trip will be taking us to parts of the world where winter will actually be taking place in August. It will be an average of 10 degrees Celcius when we visit New Zealand, for example. This might be a good reason for us to avoid much of the Southern Hemisphere (think Africa and South America) during their summers.

With all that said, are we necessarily worried? A little. Are we stockpiling toilet paper like other people seem to be? No. First of all, we know the virus doesn’t cause diarrhea (it’s a respiratory disease), but secondly we have a bidet. But what about the trip? I’m not worried about the virus itself — we’re young and healthy so we shouldn’t be terribly impacted, medically speaking — but we might have to avoid travel if a country’s borders are closed or if a country has decided to shut down all of their main tourist activities/festivals/etc. There’s no point spending thousands to visit a place when there’s nothing to do. Of course, if we do get sick, then we’ll have to self-quarantine in whatever country we’re in, which could severely impact the next stages of our travel. Even if some calculations estimate up to 70% of the world will catch this virus, I’d rather minimize our spread of it, if at all possible.

In the end, and to answer questions from family and friends, we’re definitely keeping the spread of the virus on our minds as we continue to plan for the trip. We will regularly watch the appropriate travel authority websites of the countries we’re visiting. And, finally, we’re continuing to teach our kids proper hygiene by enjoying websites like Wash Your Lyrics or watching amazing videos like this one from Vietnam:

Elevation and Altitude – Where is the highest place on Earth that we will go?

South America was, at one point, a destination in our travel planning. Therefore, I researched various places, such as Argentina, Peru, and Chile, in order to make country profiles. I don’t think we’ll need to use them for our 2020/2021 trip. Fingers crossed for a trip to South America in the future!

However, during my research I kept coming across the possibility of “altitude sickness.” I was kind of surprised. I thought that was only an issue if you were climbing mountains or something? Silly Canadian. Visiting Machu Picchu is climbing a mountain!

However, the possibility of altitude sickness, or at minimum a negative reaction to thinner air levels, came up as a possibility in guide books to Mexico City as well. I was curious. What are the altitudes of our travel destinations?

My son GMan has been really loving using Desmos for his grade 9 math class. I asked him to whip up the following chart to show the elevation data that I found for each travel destination:

https://www.desmos.com/calculator/lma5dfhlcc

We found that almost all of our travel destinations are below 100 m of elevation. This also includes our home city of Ottawa! The exceptions are places such as Munich (519 m) and Wellington (495 m), which fall in the mid range seen above. And then there are the two greater anomalies of Mexico City (2250 m) and Reykjavík (2110 m).

Altitude sickness typically manifests when you are above 2500 meters. The symptoms are: shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, nausea, trouble sleeping, and other symptoms resembling flu. Drink lots of fluids, take an advil, and slow the rate of your physical activity seems to be the general consensus for remedy. Add some Montezuma’s Revenge and you’re golden baby!

The Smog We Breathe

We’ve been asked many times why we aren’t going to certain countries. Sometimes it’s because of potential danger (e.g. Syria), sometimes it’s because of time and/or cost (e.g., Antarctica), sometimes because the timing doesn’t work out (e.g., Namibia) but sometimes it’s because of pollution. With the limited number of countries we’re able to actually visit in the short time we have, we must cut certain countries from our list of places we’d like to see… and I’d rather avoid getting sick from air pollution if we can.

One of the countries we recently added to our world trip was Nepal. It was partly a strategic trip to help shorten flight times between Singapore and Oman, but also because it simply felt like a beautiful culture I had wanted my kids to experience. Sadly, it appears that Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, might be in the “midst of a pollution crisis” as one blogger called it. A meta-review of journals in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, said that “short term exposures” to Kathmandu Valley’s air pollution “invite respiratory diseases and allergy.” There are countless videos on YouTube that describe how bad the pollution can get, from having constant black goock in your nose if you don’t wear a mask, to all your belongings constantly being grimy, to actually getting seriously ill.

New Road, Kathmandu, Nepal
(by S. Pakhrin)

But Kathmandu is actually not even among the worst offenders. According to this article in The Guardian, India has about half of the top 50 cities in terms of air pollution. The next country, China, has 8 cities on the list. My kids have the occasional snow days at school, but it appears many unfortunate kids in these countries have smog days.

Of course, if we’re being honest, we’d only be in any of those three countries (and their specific polluted cities) for a short time, right? How much would Kathmandu’s or New Delhi’s pollution affect us? Likely very little in the long term. But why bother having our kids suffer with the smog and dirt when there’s simply so much beauty elsewhere in the world? This real-time air pollution index and World Health Organization’s outdoor air quality database give a good indication of other places with amazing history, temples and nature that we could visit instead.

Smog Covering New Delhi, India
(by Jama Masjit)

Although the pollution above is mostly caused by cars and factories, we’ve been looking at carbon offsetting our travel (reading things like this blog entry from On The Luce). Carbon offsetting does mostly seem like a way to feel less guilty about your flights (since the flights are likely going to happen with or without you), but we don’t need to be doing this world trip while others might have to travel for work or family. There’s still a lot of research on this topic so expect another blog post or two in the future.

While I’m on the subject, I recommend NASA’s quiz on air pollution called The Air We Breathe.

The Land of Bitter Cold

The temperature has dropped a dozen degrees in two days, and is now expected to go down to around -20 C tonight (-30 or so with the wind). Although I prefer the cold over the heat, there’s not much you can do outside when the weather starts dipping past -20. I’m a little jealous (and worried?) because Palmer Station, Antarctica near the tip of Argentina is currently at only -1. Admittedly, Dome Argus Station which sits near the middle of the continent is hovering just below -40.

I had originally wanted to go to Antarctica on our world trip (via Ushuaia, Argentina) but unfortunately the time of year we’d be going just didn’t work as the tours mainly happen between November and March (we’d be there around September, or early October). The cost, too, was a bit much just so that we could say we’ve been to every continent during our travel. 5-10 day boat and flight tours would cost us about $5,000-$10,000 per person (see Polar Cruises and Swoop Antarctica, as examples).

Thankfully, Jonty Pressinger uploaded an absolutely stunning (and funny) video of the same trip I had researched. Some of it reminds me of the weather outside my window right now, though. I still want to do this trip (maybe it’s the completion-ist in me?), but it’ll be a separate trip when the kids are older, or perhaps on my own if I can’t convince anyone. Until then, enjoy this video!

Travel Tech

If anyone knows me, it’s not a terribly big surprise to say that I’ve been charged with finding the right technology for our travel. But, let’s be honest, I also enjoy technology (and spending countless hours reviewing the minutiae between two models of laptops). We’re a household with three times more wifi enabled devices as occupants after all…

There’s a few major considerations when choosing the right tech for our trip:

  • Size and weight: We’re packing light. So that means, we need to pick things that are not only small, but literally light as well.
  • Cost: We don’t want to blow our budget on things (we want experiences!), so cost is a major factor. On top of that, replacement cost should anything get broken, lost or stolen is important.
  • Theft resistance: Speaking of stolen, a piece of tech that isn’t a target of thieves is useful. Obviously, anything can be a target, but an iPhone 11 Pro is likely more of one than, say, a Nokia flip phone.
  • Usability and convenience: What’s the point of a piece of tech if it only does a part of the job, or does the job but not really that well?
  • Universality: Will it work everywhere?

With 7 months to go, what did we choose for our trip? Well, we decided on four primary pieces of technology:

Streaming: An easy topic that didn’t really exist more than a few weeks ago. On Black Friday, Amazon was offering a great deal on their Fire Stick, which allows streaming from multiple services such as Netflix and Disney+ (and Amazon Prime Video, obviously). This tool plugs into the HDMI port of any TV and will let us continue watching our favourite shows, providing the streaming service makes the show available in that country. And that’s the clincher that needs more research. Can we keep watching Nailed It! in Japan? For $25, it’s worth a shot and saves us from having to keep plugging in our laptop every time we want to watch a show.

Laptop: Speaking of laptops, our old Dell beasts that we’re currently using are getting long in the tooth and weigh a little over 5 pounds each and are thick (they still have a DVD drive!). Sadly, with what we’d like to do on our travel (blogging, light video editing, video chat, distance education for the kids, etc.) a laptop is a must. With that in mind, we purchased (on huge discount from the Microsoft Store of all places) two HP Stream 14 laptops. They’re about half the weight and thickness of our old laptops, are still 14 inches in size and run Windows, which is a must for Mega Mommy and G-Man’s needs (we’re usually a Linux household, so I made sure these suckers can work with that operating system as well!). We’ve been testing the laptops out and so far they’ve been wonderful. For $200 each, that’s not bad.

Phone/Camera: Now the most expensive part of this post – the camera and phone. I originally started with the need for a good camera to capture our trip (naturally). Our current cameras and the cameras on our smartphones were very sub-par, so that just wouldn’t do for something as memorable (momentous?) as this. I originally started looking at DSLRs, since I’ve had experience with SLRs in the past. I quickly realized that we’ll only be lugging around carry-ons, and a DSLR (with case, lenses, etc.) would take up quite a bit of room. Furthermore, it would cause us to stick out as tourists from the get go. So I began to investigate smartphones with good cameras, and three options peeked out: Google’s Pixel, Apple’s iPhone and certain Chinese phones such as the Xiaomi which advertise ridiculous levels of cameras and pixel densities. Going backwards, we chose to avoid the Chinese phones since we’ve had issues with them in the past, and avoided the iPhone since we’re an Android family (I mentioned we use Linux right?). So, that left the Pixel, which luckily had a Black Friday sale just as I was researching things. So, we’re now proud owners of two $400 Pixel 3a phones which have already proved to be perfect for our needs. Now we can take great quality photos without sticking out like sore thumbs – and, best of all, Google offers free backups of all of our photos. Although we’ll be storing them all on our own cloud server, it’s a nice peace of mind to know that should our phones be stolen or broken, we don’t need to worry about losing any (most?) of our photos.

Server: Speaking of cloud servers, we decided to set up a personal cloud server on Hetzner (Nextcloud-based), hosted in Europe for only a $2.50 a month. Separate from our website (which is also in Europe), the cloud will let the four of us access personal files, and keep it all encrypted and secure. This include password management, personal emergency documents, and so forth. We’re also considering a secure tracker so that close family can monitor where we are in the world, which is neat, but also a way to found out where we are should anything happen. On a side note, G-Man also set up his own Minecraft server on PebbleHost so that he can continue playing games with his friends as we travel!

Of course, we’ll also carry miscellaneous items such as a universal power adapter ($10-20 on Amazon), cables and a battery backup. Thankfully, we’ll be in some fairly big cities from time to time, so we should be able to pick up anything we might have forgotten or lost along the way.

So this is the technology side of things for now, although things might change a little as we get closer to the time. Seven more months of preparation only?! Time to start reading a bit more about the minute differences in universal power adapters…

Thinking About Packing…

Guide books, travel blogs, and YouTube videos will devote a large portion of their energy to a subject that brings many pre-world travellers stress and, dare I say, TERROR!

WHAT DO WE PACK?!?!

What is the right bag? Do I need clothes with special wicking fabric? Should I roll or fold? Do I need packing cubes? What tech doodads do I need? And on and on…

JBot and I have always kept the Rick Steves mantra “pack light, pack light, pack light” in mind in all of our previous trips. And we plan on doing the same again. Everyone gets a bag (carry-on sized), a few days of clothes, and… that’s pretty much it. It is not really a source of stress for us.

The one big item that JBot researched was cameras. Buying a new camera just didn’t make sense. Neither of us has photography training. I really don’t like the idea of having a large and expensive bulky item that flashes with similar fashion to a neon sign: STEAL ME. We both also prefer living in the moment and grabbing quick shots. Therefore, we decided to upgrade our cellphones. JBot found that the camera quality on a Google Pixel 3a was pretty much equivalent to a fancy camera as well, cool! The cloud aspect will be helpful to keep an extra backup of all our photos. He also purchased a two year warranty which will be a good safety net during travel. And for some of us who are a bit dropsy when it comes to cell phones. Ahem.

However, the big reason for wanting to post was to share this video from Lefie. She has a YouTube account in which she talks about the philosophy of minimalism. Her challenge of “what’s the worse that can happen, you will feel slight discomfort?” is an essential question. Especially for us pampered Westerners.

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