This past fall was full of amazing families and so much love! So many sessions are top secret until after the annual Christmas card is released!! So, I thought I'd share a taste of their awesomeness this morning!
To my families - seriously - I can't tell you enough just how much I love spending time and capturing you (many each year)! It's my favorite!
Good morning!!!! I totally thought it would take me a lot longer to get the rest of our Costa Rica trip documented. But the snow came and school was cancelled! 💙
Audrey is at her buddy's and Nate is outside with the neighborhood crew and the dogs.
So here we go!
Before I jump in with a barrage of photos and silly stories, I am always reminded of a few things when we travel together as a family!
The world is awesome. There are cool cultures to learn about, differences in religion that are so interesting, amazing food to try, the nicest people to meet, other traditions to experience, so much compassion, and so much joy. Our differences are what make things so interesting.
This is true whether we are traveling in our own awesome country or somewhere else!
And feeling humbled. Oh my gosh you guys - humbled. It's probably the word that comes to my mind the most when we are anywhere outside our country. I love my life at home and no matter where we live, it's easy to get lost in the day to day and forget just how lucky we are! I know our country is going through some growing pains at the moment, but seriously - we are so lucky here. SO lucky!
And language - dang - do I ever feel like a dork sometimes when we travel to a non-english speaking country. Yes, I can speak some Spanish, enough to get by.....but man I'm always SO impressed at all the countries in the world that fluently speak 2-3 languages or more (one is usually English)!
Costa Rica was no different.
And kids. They just get it. They just see all others as a potential friend....no matter where they are.
It doesn't matter if you don't speak the same language. They just share some candy, grab a juice, play some soccer, run around and figure it out! It's how they roll.
I'm certain we have kids to be reminded of this on a daily basis.
I never ever want my kids to be afraid of people anywhere.
Yes, there are bad guys in some places. But let's be real. Most people are good.
I choose to work from that place!
Sorry for the ramble. Let me pick up from yesterday!
The rest of our Itinerary!
Days 7-10: Manuel Antonio/Quepos/Parrita. We rented a car here and learned to drive in Costa Rica!
We stayed about 30 minutes outside Manuel Antonio. Clandestino Beach Resort. YOU GUYS! HEAVEN!!!!! Totally off the beaten path and you drive on this crazy dirt rode forever and feel completely lost. Then out of nowhere, there it is! Voted Gendreau favorite beach! And the turtle shaped pool! I'm sure Audrey was waiting months for this place! And we were not disappointed. This place was quite small, restaurant on site, deserted beach, body surfing, boogie boarding, delicious mai-tai's! And the kids' favorite Costa Rica gem - Tropical Juices. It's funny the things kids notice and love about trips.....what's the fav local candy and what's the best local drink!!! WOOP!!! Fun snorkeling happened here, the national park, monkeys galore, crazy lizards, lots of swimming, the most gorgeous sunsets, Nate and I parasailed, and an unguided 3 mile hike in the rainforest with suspension bridges (yikes - ask Todd about that one - he's my non lover of heights). Also when you are walking unguided and you see a sign in Spanish that says "watch for poisonous snakes", one feels slightly FREAKED! Alas, we saw no poisonous snakes. We did find a fantastic few waterfalls and swimming holes! Ever day when we were headed somewhere we cruised through this small village. People on their porches, grandma and grandpas riding their bikes around, dogs running everywhere....and these moms....riding on these rocky, dirt, dusty roads....no fancy bike...but a kid in front of her, one behind her and sometimes one sitting on the handle bars...with her bags of groceries. And we'd all wave at each other. Seriously. Women are amazing! And I will never say anything about driving to the store again!
Days 8-10: This day was a long one. We took it easy and drove from the coast into the central mountainous region of Costa Rica. Think a series of volcanos from the north to the south. Along this drive we experienced a variety of road conditions, and seriously skinny lanes and curvy roads....high high high up, then down down down....over and over. This was where we drove up to a bridge where everyone was parked and hanging out on. Why?? CROCODILE CITY! Please Nate - do not lean that far over! And to the Costa Rican guy down near the river cutting up wood with his chainsaw - you are a brave soul! About four hours later we arrived in La Fortuna. Arenal is a beautiful area. Smoking volcano covered in rainforest. Natural hot spring rivers all around, cool animals, loads to do! They say you are lucky if you get to see the volcano, as the clouds often hang low covering it completely. We were lucky to have 2 full days of sun and full view. Then the intermittent monsoon rains returned! Of course rain in 85 degrees is no big deal! We stay in this amazing AirBnb - Parrot Hill Ranch, in El Castillo. This family were the most amazing hosts. We were way up high overlooking Lake Arenal and the volcano! What a view! It took Nate 5 minutes to end up outside playing soccer with the boys and then 30 minutes longer to get invited down to their house to play some xbox. Janet (the amazing mom) invited us down to share the traditional Christmas Eve dinner with their family. Could it get any better? My little bit of Spanish and her little bit of English was enough for us to get by. And really-kindness and smiling is universal. Nate would rise at 6am and sneak out to help the guys with the farm chores. He loved it. So did we. He did come back one day and tell me he learned to use a machete! It was probably really great I wasn't down there. 😓 On Christmas we ziplined...and we totally did up the hot springs...and it was fabulous. Um, ziplining through the rainforest - WOWZA! All 4 of us had a blast! And Todd faced every fear of heights he had. Way to go Todd! One rainy and wet day we decided to do the Reptile Ecological Reserve. Ick. But Nate finally saw the Fer-de-lance and Bushmaster in real life. Along with loads of other snakes, poison dart frogs, lizards, glass frogs (his favorite) various spiders and arachnids. Our guide was like a grown version of Nate. "Oh look, here's a lizard I just caught...Nate, let's go feed it to the tarantula". He loved it! Audrey's bravery completely WOWED me! And her knowledge. I guess living in the house with a nature lover seeps into everyones brains. She held the spaghetti snake for a while, until it started to coil around her hand and really freaked her out 😀 But she's way braver than me. Give me any insect or creature, but DON'T give me a snake! I don't care what you say to me, I will not hold it!
Days 11-13: About 2 hours north of the Arenal area is the Tenorio Volcano. In the foothills lies La Carolina Lodge. It is literally in the middle of nowhere. A working farm on 100+ acres. Built along a river, all food off the property, wood fired hot tub, cabins, family style eating, birds galore, wildlife galore, the MOST delicious food cooked by the local area AWESOME women. Literally the best food of our entire trip. These ladies cooked over a wood fired stove all day long. The kids would milk the cow in the morning and that pitcher of milk was on our table an hour later. DECLICIOUS! The Gendreaus voted them best hot chocolate of our lives! Chocolate caliente con leche. Seriously - the best. Rio Celeste is here as well, however because of the rains, the usual crazy mineral driven electric blue color was more mud color, so we didn't do the hike. But that's ok....there is plenty to do here. It was also here that we realized just how small our world is. We went down to the hot tub next to the river and another family was there. They spoke English and we started chatting. Turns out - they live 30 minutes from us. AND, their mom (also with them), lives in our town. AND they grew up on the road we live! AND their sister is our friend. WHAT?!?! Nate and their son became instant play buddies! Fishing, hiking, running around. It was a blast! Side note- the road to get here. You must have a 4x4. And even though you think you are lost, you aren't. And yes - they will be the craziest roads you've probably ever driven. And if your kids were fighting like ours were that first day, you might stop and tell them to get out and run behind the car! HA! Ok - they didn't - but they almost had to! La Carolina Lodge could be the most authentic Costa Rican experience of your trip!
Days 14-15: Ok - time to head out of the mountains and back to the beach and sun! Tamarindo! We loved it and the kids totally loved it. The Guanacaste coast is little surf town after little surf town. SO fun. We did a lot of swimming in the ocean, eating good food and exploring.
Day 16: Playa Hermosa! We rented a little condo here for our last night. Beautiful, small, great little beach and fun restaurants. I will say that the drive from Tamarindo up to Playa Hermosa was beautiful and also an adventure. GPS sometimes takes you the quickest and most random routes. And in Costa Rica - most roads are perfectly fine but with the occasional pot hole. Then all of a sudden you take a turn and you are on a rudded, rocky, dirt road. Long story short - river crossings. They happen frequently here. Be ready and don't be afraid. And whenever you can - follow a local through - cuz they know just where to go! We tried the dirt road with the GIANT hole twice. The second time, Todd high centered and the wheels started to spin. This is when Audrey decided she was going to bail and jump out of the car. Everyone got a little crazy for a second, then the local behind us backed it up and took the river. We followed and all was well. And then we laughed so hard and decided that story goes down in history for our family. And of course we talked about how to take a breath and make an assessment of real danger. DO NOT JUMP OUT OF THE CAR!
Day 17: Sigh, it's time to go. We flew home easily from the Liberia airport. No problema!
This was our first trip being gone at Christmas. As weird as it was, it also wasn't so weird. Except, of course, missing our family (which we totally missed you)! It was the most non-commercialized Christmas I'd ever experienced. About 70% of the country is Catholic. So Christmas is big. It's just not commercial. It's about the story, and the spirit, and the meal together, and family! It was refreshing. We also loved checking out all the Christmas trees on everyones front porch and stockings on the door. It's what you do when you don't have a chimney/fireplace. Santa has to get in somewhere :)
Ok - picture time!
Parasailing with Nate in Manuel Antonio
This is a glass frog.
And when you are 10 and you find it at night out on a leaf - you get really excited!
Audrey - you are waaaaay braver then me!!!!!!!!!!
Just chillin' in town!
The road to La Carolina
No joke here!
And it really doesn't do it justice!
La Carolina Lodge
New Costa Rica friends.
But wait, they also live 30 minutes away from us at home too !
And there we are.
Hoping my kids will love reading this in 20 years!
This morning we are hanging out, cuddled under blankets, watching some random kid show, drinking tea and waiting for the snow to come!!! What better time to relive the 90 degree and sunny days of Christmas break. HA!
Let me start by saying, that growing up I did not travel. When I was 18 and left for WWU, I hadn't even been to Eastern Washington. Not kidding 😊 And now, all these years later, traveling is literally my favorite thing in the world. And my favorite family tradition.
After we came back from Thailand, my family started dreaming about where to go next. I'm pretty sure my kids pulled out the globe and started spinning the day after we got back! So we went back to saving our dough and hoarding our vacation days!!!
Family vote - COSTA RICA!!!!!
So, let me give the quick lowdown on our trip details. We don't use any sort of travel agent for planning. You will find me sitting with my laptop doing loads of research online! I'm a HUGE lover of AirBnb and Booking.com. And Trip Advisor is my friend for great reviews. Read the reviews - but also take them with a grain of salt. And blogs.....read blogs!!! There are such good resources out there.
And always have faith. Have faith that people are good around the world. Have faith that people want you to have a wonderful time exploring their country and culture. The best cure for fear is to just go!!!! And then you are reminded - reminded that people are good!
Day 1: Fly to San Jose. Spend one night. Capital of Costa Rica. Bustling. People were so nice....so so nice!
Day 2-6: Catch teeny tiny airplane to Drake Bay - Osa Peninsula - southwest peninsula of Costa Rica. The rainforest here is the most biodiverse in the world. Was I slightly freaked of what I might come upon? Yes! Were we totally fine? YES!!!!!!! Was it amazing? ABSOLUTELY. Did I run into the Fer de Lance (a type of pit viper and most aggressive snake in Costa Rica?) NO! Thank goodness!!! (side note I did see one later in our trip - but we were fine because it was behind glass). I'm' pretty sure the Osa Peninsula was one of our favorite parts of the trip!
*The Night Tour - Tracy the Bug Lady (<--- go check her out). Basically, she blew Nate's mind and I'm convinced he will marry someone with her knowledge and love for nature :) Nate and Tracy became good friends on this night! She's a biologist and has lived in Costa Rica for 20+ years. Her night tour in the rainforest was the best birthday present I could have ever given him! Meet at the trail head, strap on your headlamp, and don't put your hand in the vegetation (insert wide eyed emoji guy). Trap door spiders, sloth, wandering spider, snakes, tailless whip scorpion, tarantulas, scorpion, sloth, red eye tree frog, leaf katydid, on and on. She taught Nate and Audrey how to truly hunt for creatures at night....it's all about the eye shines. And of course, their nightly hunts for the rest of our trip were hugely successful! And fun regardless what they found or didn't find! And can I just add that Nate's brain is full of more facts about creatures, hunting techniques, defense mechanisms, than I could have ever imagined. His answers to her questions were hysterical. Thank you to the 1000 National Geographic books you've read! Keep reading Nate - keep reading! There is so much to learn about the world!
*Corcovado National Park - on the boat ride there, I was sure a T-rex was going to come blasting out of the jungle. And those birds flying - despite our knowledge of dinosaurs being extinct - that bird Nate and I saw sure looked like a pterodactyl. And this tour and Jose (our guide) and the animals. THE BEST EVER! Spider monkeys, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, toucans, macaws, scorpion, crocodile, baird tapir, sloth, frogs, coate, army ants, leaf cutter ants, and more...all in the wild...all amazing. We hiked about 8-9 miles. And dolphins on the way home!!!
*Rio Drake Farm - Edu and Sabrina have four rooms they rent out. It's rustic and it's AWESOME. Drake Bay is little village after little village. They are all self sustaining and grow much of what they eat! Edu's family has owned this property for 50 years. And only in the last 10 years was their power and running water. Crazy, right?! Think hammocks overlooking the ocean, beach walks, just serious chilling out here. This part of Costa Rica is very remote and very simple and beautiful. They really have it going on! And we loved learning about their culture and LOVED their food. And the animals. I mean - Basilisk lizards, caiman, birds galore, monkeys galore, turtles, crocs, crazy spiders, frogs....awesome. And May Beetles. Let's just say that we almost peed our pants laughing at dinner. They don't hurt you but at dusk they cause a ruckus!
*The Drake Bay locals threw this amazing turtle festival - two days of BBQ, community and turtle release at dusk. These turtles were 1 day old. This country works so hard to protect their land and nature and their animals. It's such a peaceful country. No zoos, no hunting, strong family connections....just Pura Vida (<-- <-- click that link). We loved it.
*We loved walking the beach, bird watching (scarlet macaws, toucans, parrots, pteradactyl look-a-likes, king fishers, cranes, so many), Nate's nightly hunts, playing with Julia and Liana (Edu and Sabrina's girls).
*New Friends. Always a cool part of travel! Annette, John, Adam and Rachel....we loved hanging with you!!
*Crazy taxi rides....and river crossings. You guys....the river crossings!!!!!!!! More to come!
*Audrey's fire ant incident. Let's just say she handled herself like a TROOPER! And she survived! Phew!
Ok - let's check out some pics!!! The rest of our trip will come in a later post!
Pineapple and watermelon smoothies! Yum!
But first, let's watch the pineapples grow!
Drake Bay Airport
Howler monkey in the Corcovado!
Todd might like to tell you about the spider in the shower 😂 😂
Leaf Katydid - so rad!
Red eye tree frog
Need a taxi in Osa? Here you go!!!
Todd made me take a pic of this BBQ - old wheel well!
Yes, there are occasionally crocs down there. And MAJOR basilisk lizards!
Ok - that's it for today.
Clearly this trip is going to require a few posts!