Where we saw 3 monkey species, a garlic tree, and swam in a waterfall

We traveled to many of the U.S. National Parks for their magnificent scenery.  If we think all national parks are alike, consider Corcovado National Park, located on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, and compare it to Everglades National Park in Florida.  Even though the Everglades is 15 times larger than Corcovado, Corcovado has many more species. The Everglades has 68 species of amphibians and reptiles versus 117 in Corcovado;

40 animal species are found in the Everglades versus 140 species in Corcovado (like the agouti in the photo image)

120 species of trees are found in the Everglades  – versus 500 species of trees  in Corcovado (like the garlic tree in the photo, named after its garlic-scented flowers and bark).

According to Wikipedia, “Corcovado houses 3% of the world’s biodiversity. Two decades ago the National Geographic Society defined it as the most biologically intense place in the world.”

What more did we need to know?  Visiting Corcovado was first on our list of things to do in the Osa Peninsula with our grandsons, cousins 10 and 11 years old, in tow.

One of the reasons Corcovado is so rich in biodiversity is that it’s quite remote.  The only way to get there is by air or boat.  Since the park is a protected area, visitors must be accompanied by a guide.

We traveled to Corcovado National Park in a small motorboat from La Paloma Lodge with our guide.  There is no dock at the San Pedrillo ranger station.   The boat came in as close as it could to the beach. We took off our shoes, rolled up our pant legs, and climbed into the surf to walk up to the beach.

The hike started as we waded across the mouth of a small river and into the forests.

Our guide pointed to overarching leaves we would pass under.  He carefully took the leaves and held them up to see something clinging to the underside.  Fruit bats!  We would have walked right into them!

The boys were fascinated by more coconut shells than they’d ever seen, especially the ones sprouting.

In the forest, there was so much to hear (many different species of birds and monkeys calling), so much to be aware of (don’t touch poisonous plants), watch your step (having heard about one guide’s near-death experience being bitten by a snake) ….

…and so many new things to see, like these brilliantly colored lichens.

Howler monkeys moved across trees far up in the canopy, an owl butterfly graced a nearby tree, a green kingfisher flew as we came down the path.  We observed scat on the path from a puma.  A blue morpho butterfly fluttered nearby.

After coming out of the forest, our grandsons took a few moments on the beach to just rest.

In the afternoon, we hiked uphill on a muddy path overlooking crocodiles resting at the river’s edge. (Better not slip, we told ourselves!)  We forded a river and not long after came to a waterfall.

The grandsons were very excited when we hiked back to a small cascade where they would be able to swim.

By the end of the day, we had seen 3 of the 4 monkey species in Costa Rica: the white faced capuchin, howling, and spider monkeys.  We had seen the very large garlic tree (Caryocar costaricense) – one of the “rare, endemic and threatened trees of the Osa Peninsula”.   And the grandchildren had played in the waterfall.

We were all excited by how much we had seen, but we know that what we experienced is such a small part of what is possible in amazing Corcavado. When can we go back?

 

December 2019

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The trip of a lifetime (depending on who you ask)

We promised to take our grandchildren on a memorable trip with us.  Their parents were not invited.  We wanted this to be a trip (we hoped) they’d remember the rest of their lives.

We gave the trips with our grandchildren considerable thought over the years.  The destinations needed to be one their parents were not likely to take them to.  The activities should spark their interest, but we also wanted to open up new horizons for them.

Our two oldest grandchildren, Ainsley and Luke, accompanied us on a trip to the Netherlands in 2018. We focused on biking, visiting museums like the Rijksmuseum (photo), and trying different cuisines on restaurant excursions every night.

Now the time had come for the younger cousins, Camden and Nick, to accompany us on their own trip.  We quizzed them about their interests and made the momentous decision:

Our destination would be the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica where we could all see wild animals and birds (like the chestnut-mandibled toucan)….

…swim in the lower pool of a waterfall at Corcovado National Park, ….

…and find out about bugs on the Bug Lady Tour.

We knew it would be a great trip for the boys.  And on this adventure, we grandparents wanted reinforcements.  Our son, Joshua, mentioned if we needed help, he and partner, Tanya, would be happy to join us.  Yes!  We knew the boys would be delighted to have their wonderful uncle and aunt join us for the trip.  In addition, we knew we could count on the expert guides from our lodge to help us see animals, birds and bugs.

We flew on a small plane from San Jose, Costa Rica.

Everyone spent the short flight taking in the scenery below, and excitement grew when the Gulfo Dulce came into sight and we flew over the heavily wooded Osa Peninsula.  The plane landed on an airstrip at Drake Bay on the Pacific coast.

We were met by our driver from La Paloma Lodge.  The 4-wheel drive vehicle took off through the forest, dropping down into and crossing 2 rivers.  (That was exciting!)  The vehicle stopped at a beach where a little boat awaited us.

We waded into the water, climbed aboard, and within minutes we docked at La Paloma.  (Photo: Tanya, Camden (age 11) and Nick (age 10))

After two years of planning, we had arrived!

Tanya turned to us and said, “This is the trip of a lifetime.”

We hope in time our grandsons will think so, too.

 

December 2019

 

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Lessons learned on the road #4: acceptance

Shorter trips to familiar places are manageable.  Longer trips to far-flung and foreign locations are not so easy.   One day we were home, surrounded by all that is familiar and before we knew it, a jet had dropped us into a place where our senses were having a hard time taking it all in.

The thought of facing the unknowns in a truly foreign place prevents many from even contemplating such a trip.  (Photo: shopping in Cuenca, Ecuador)

Looking back, we remember the (mostly) thrill and (sometimes) difficult transitioning to a truly unfamiliar place.  We accepted the challenge, knowing we’d be rewarded by the experiences we’d have, the sights we’d see, and the people we’d meet.

We were thrilled to discover that our stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand coincided with a week of major festivals.

We knew there would be differences we’d face with a truly foreign journey, so we started the trip by easing in, accepting and using the resources available to us – rather than expecting/hoping/complaining about our having to make an adjustment to the unfamiliar.

For years of our travels, everyone around us spoke a foreign language we did not understand.  People dressed differently, and we stood out in a crowd – always.  In many places the streets were not just dirty – but strewn with trash.  To travel well and happily, it helped to transcend those issues.

Our growing acceptance of what it meant to be visitors in a foreign place went a long way, and we were well rewarded. (Photo: boy fishing at Lake Manyara in Tanzania.)

As we traveled, our accommodations varied greatly:  a stay in a riad on a narrow lane in old Marrakesh, tent camping in parks across the U.S., a very small hotel room tucked under the top floor eaves in Cuzco, Peru.

Our tent camping in lovely Sedona, Arizona ended in snow flurries.

Every place we stayed challenged us to be accepting of living in a new location and to look for all the wonders we would discover – temporary as they may be – in our new home.

It wasn’t just “putting up” with living in a variety of places.  Quite often we were thrilled at the differences: the views from our windows, the walks we could take right outside our door, a comfortable bed, and, when we stayed at an inn or hotel, the great staff and lovely breakfasts.

Every day of our visit in Cascais, Portugal we thrilled at the scenery on our daily walk. The plaza and beach were a five minute walk from our apartment.

Food was a joy, but also a challenge, as we moved around the world.  Dining in Hoi An, Vietnam was a culinary highlight for us and cost so little.   Two of the best meals of our trip were at Maido and La Mar in Miraflores, Peru.

It was nice that our AirBnB host offered us our first taste of durian fruit in Queensland, Australia.   (Unfortunately, we’re not fans.)

Still, there were so many other lovely new fruits we had only read about and never tried – and now we have – among them: dragonfruit, jackfruit, custard apple, and tamarillo,…

So many things we worried about never materialized.  We never were treated with hostility, never robbed (though we did stop a pickpocket in Buenos Aires), never cheated on a bill.

Travel offered us an amazing opportunity to step outside our home and our surroundings into a new world.  Acceptance allowed us to move forward to face what was not familiar.

 

December 2019

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Lessons learned on the road #3:  time is valuable

Would we live our lives differently if we thought we only had a month, a year, or 30 years to live?

How long will we live?

We pondered these questions more seriously as we prepared to retire.   We turned to the internet for help.  A search came up with an answer to our longevity question.  Insurance companies, social security, and others have collected a great deal of data and fine-tuned actuarial tables that can give you a number they use to estimate your expected life span.  Joe was a bit shocked to see his.  The table revealed he had only about  16 years left to live.  That’s it?   Any temptation to continue working beyond his anticipated retirement age vanished with those words.

When you find out the insurance companies believe you have about 16 years left, what do you choose to do?  Our choice was to retire and do something totally different in the first phase of retirement.

We were ready to break away, discover what we’d been too busy during our working lives to explore, and make every moment count.

We visited far away Stewart Island, south of New Zealand’s South Island, where we saw an endangered bird, the New Zealand kaka (photo).  We spent an evening at the harbor quietly awaiting the blue penguin at dusk (also called the little or fairy penguin, the smallest penguin in the world).

As we started our 6.5 year-long trip, we faced the decision of how to spend our time on the road:  would it be going slowly and spending time at fewer destinations OR seeing as much as possible and as quickly as possible OR something in between?

We tested fast, slow, and in-between.  We spent way-too-little time in Beaufort, South Carolina; Marfa, Texas; and Hereford, Arizona in the first months of travelling.  (Photo taken on a walk in Marfa, Texas.)

The memorable moments in the first 6 months of travel came in taking time for special experiences in new places – like taking a walk in Cedar Key, Florida as the sun dropped over the Gulf of Mexico.

It was clear after those first months that slower travel was better for us.  Every time we planned the next segment of our long trip, we tried to be aware of how important it was to schedule enough time in each place.  A famous travel maxim is to pack your suitcase and then remove half of what was already packed to arrive at just the right amount to take.  We have our own guideline: after allotting time for each destination, add a few more days for good measure.

Our longest stay in one place was 54 days in Cuenca, Ecuador…

…followed by 48 days in Victoria, BC, Canada

We usually lived in a place for 2-4 weeks.  Did we get bored?  Never!  The longer we stayed the more opportunities we had to explore.  Time wisely spent!

Many have asked how many countries we’ve been to (haven’t recently counted but it’s not as many as you’d think) and how many famous places we’ve seen (again, not so many).  Spending a longer time in a destination was akin to becoming really good friends – rather than spending a whirlwind few days at a destination, which would have felt like merely making an acquaintance.

So what did we learn about valuing time to prepare us for this next phase of our lives after traveling for 6+years?  Time in a community, with friends, is important at any stage of life and maybe even more so as we age.  We spend time with friends and are pursuing interests that have been long put off.  We both are involved in what is happening where we live, Kendal at Longwood, a continuing care retirement community.

Every day we walk, always with our cameras.  Who knows when we’ll spot a treasure, like this very small mushroom?

As we traveled, we learned to treat time as a valuable commodity.  With each day that passes, there are fewer in front of us.  It’s a good lesson to learn and guides us to live fully in our new life at Kendal.

 

November 2019

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A tradition takes hold

We were young, newly married, and didn’t want to fall back on either family’s traditions.  When our children were little, we started to drive to Washington, DC for Thanksgiving to visit Beth’s brother.  We didn’t know it at the time, but it snuck up on us after a few years and a few trips to Washington that we had created our own family tradition – Thanksgivings in Washington, DC.

Most of those years we walked over to the grand National Gallery of Art for a cherished look at what was on display and further expanded the tradition.

An artist took advantage of a quiet moment to continue copying a Vincent Van Gogh self-portrait.

Most of the time, visitors swirled around her studying either the original or her copy of the painting.

The National Gallery of Art was established in 1937 by a joint resolution of Congress.  Substantial funding for the project, as well as artwork, were donated by the philanthropist, Andrew Mellon.

Despite its location by other Smithsonian museums, the National Gallery is a self-governing museum supported by both public and private funds.

While the art displayed is not exclusively American – some of their collections are well-known pieces from American history and art, like the works of George Catlin.  “The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas” was painted in 1844-45.

Was “Madame Camus” as depicted by Edgar Degas, more stylish than this observer?

In recent years, we often visit the popular U.S. Botanical Garden since it’s close-by and always inspiring.  It’s also toasty warm and a treat on a windy, cold day.

Most of our photos were of greenery, but some of the flowers were breathtaking.  What an unusual and sensual-looking flower!  It’s a hybrid orchid, Paphiopedilum Transvaal.

The large flower that draped across the rock was deceptive.  Somewhere behind that rock was a stem and a plant label, but it wasn’t visible to us.  Anyone know what it is?

When we’d been walking for many hours, we spied a free bench in an out-of-the-way place.  We gratefully sat down next to a tall vine with flowers so close that Beth just turned slightly and took a photo.

From a short distance, the flower looked rather simple.  It was only when we studied the wonderful detail in the deep center that we realized how lucky we were to have discovered a new plant to us: the chalice vine, Solandra grandiflora.

So, we give thanks as we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with Beth’s brother and sister-in-law and know how fortunate we are to be with family and friends.  Visiting inspiring art and gardens has become a tradition that we never would have envisioned as young, newlyweds!

 

November 2019

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Lessons learned on the road #2:  planning, planning, and more planning

For many years travel planning consumed our lives.

It was exhilarating to research places we had only dreamed of visiting: Cusco, Melbourne, Marrakesh (photo taken at the Museum of Marrakesh)…

Our planning took us beyond the obvious: where to stay and what to do.  We delved into the perfect time of year to visit and would there be enough to do to keep two daily walkers satisfied for many weeks or months?

We never settled on a destination without doing the research, and we scheduled everything well in advance.  That kept us happy.   With this level of detail, we always had a good idea what costs would be, so we could stay within our budget.  For years and years of travel we honed those planning skills.  Who knew how helpful that would be when our non-stop days of travel would come to an end?

How naturally we turned from destination travel planning to designing our little cottage at Kendal. at Longwood.  We turned our conversations to what we wanted: comfortable areas for curling up to read, a worktable, a well-designed closet, comfortable seating, an abode that would remain uncluttered, etc.  We made a list and referred back to it to be sure we fit in everything we wanted.

What did we already have to furnish our new cottage?  We had 2 pieces of furniture: a lamp and a small cherry wood side table built by our daughter.  Our family had stored for 6+ years some artwork, photo albums, a few books, and some boxes of kitchen necessities.  That was the sum total of our possessions.

A lucky break for us: Kendal had a floorplan of the one-bedroom unit we planned to move into.  Even while we were on the road, we could start to think about how to design possibilities.  A modest budget was set.  A furniture layout was created, and a master list of furniture and household items was prepared.

Even with minimally furnishing a small apartment, we had about 100 purchases to make, ranging from a living room rug down to a broom.  With our carefully prepared list of items to find, we started at the top and did online research for the best buy in each category.  We used a wide variety of sources including Consumer Reports and “The New York Times” Wirecutter. After we compared prices and features, a decision was made on an item, and then we moved to research the next.

We started popping into furniture stores as we travelled, but, more often, we researched furniture on the web.  The two big purchases – a bed and a sofa – required more knowledge, consideration, and shopping than we anticipated.  We spent the time and then took a leap of faith and ordered both online many weeks before we moved in.

On the last day of our drive from Florida to our new cottage in Pennsylvania, we stopped and bought some bed pillows.  Arriving at Kendal, we furled out our mats and sleeping bags for our first night in our “vintage cottage.”  Home!

A few days later our order from IKEA was delivered with many boxes of furniture requiring assembly.

We planned to keep as much space free and clear to assemble the IKEA furniture, which turned out to be very helpful.

A day later the bed frame (Floyds) and the mattress (Tuft & Needle) were delivered.  We couldn’t believe the assembly was so easy, and we slept in our new bed that night.

We snapped the photo a few weeks later, once we had assembled the IKEA nightstands, purchased 3-way bulb lamps, and hung our blown-up photo on the wall (ordered from Canvas Champ), which was snapped in Spain’s Picos de Europa National Park.

Soon after, our sofa and ottoman were delivered (from Joybird).  After the deliverymen attached the legs and placed it just where we wanted, we held our breaths as we sat down.  It was just what we wanted!  What a relief.

We assembled the IKEA glass-door cabinet before the sofa arrived so the delivery people could position the sofa right next to it.  (In the photo, note the borrowed folding chair from Kendal – which had been our only seat until the sofa arrived.)

We couldn’t possibly deal with all of our purchases arriving all at once like a giant tsunami, so we ranked our list by most needed, and only purchased a small number of items from the top of the list to arrive at our cottage first.  As the items were unpacked and set up, the next wave of purchases would appear, and so the waves would continue.   We were never overwhelmed.

We furnished our screened room mostly with pieces found at local shops. The chair was found at Kendal’s used furniture shop, and the Chinese planter was from a little antique shop down the road.

For years, our travel planning had stopped when we had just enough information about our destination.  Why not leave enough “unknowns” so we would have fun discoveries when we arrived?  Carrying that planning style to our new cottage, we stopped short of planning all the details.  When the living room was half-completed, we had a better sense what specific pieces would look just right in the available space.

All the experience learned from travel planning for years paved the way when it was time to start our life off-the-road.

 

October 2019

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Lessons learned on the road #1: simplifying life

How could we take what we had learned from our years of travel and use that to shape and plan our new life?

Six and half years ago, we had taken a giant leap by giving away almost all of our possessions in anticipation of years of travel.  Our reasoning was mostly economic:  a storage unit would most certainly cost more than all of our stuff was worth.  Who knew the profound effect reducing our possessions would have on us?

We had begun our travel with an epic 9-month road trip in the U.S.  It didn’t take long before we realized we were hauling around way too much “stuff”.

We pulled off a road in Texas to take in the scenery.  One overpacking mistake:  carrying Joe’s bike along with us.

We took time to pare down and simplify even more.  The next phase of our travel was our first around the world trip which would last 14 months.  That length of time – living from one carryon suitcase and one small computer shoulder bag each – required serious thought to pack exactly the right things without overpacking.  About a week before the trip, panic and insecurity set in.  A few things were added, then a few more.  The night before our flight, we could barely zip closed our suitcases.  Clearly, we were taking too much.

All of our travel bags on a train platform in Japan.  (Can you tell we’re heading for China?)

A few months later we pulled out everything not deemed essential, boxed it, and sent it back to the US.   Our load and spirits lightened.

Imagine yourself preparing for a traveling life, paring your possessions down to what easily fits in a carryon suitcase and a computer shoulder bag.  What would you take?  We learned that every piece of clothing and possession we took with us needed to be a “workhorse” – the more hard working and flexible, the better.

One of the clothes most worn by Beth was her black cardigan sweater, pictured here on our visit to the Blue Mountains National Park, Australia.

Joe wore travel vests most days to carry all the little things he needed, pictured here with our guide, Chagamba, in Tanzania.

We both wore Keen Sandals for all 6+ years of our travels.  The little Stewart Island robin spent some time perched on Joe’s sandal on Ulva Island, New Zealand.

The larger the item, the more it had to justify the space it took up.  We continued through our travel years to evaluate each item, and we were paring back constantly.  By the time we packed for our 2nd around the world trip, our suitcases had extra room and the zippers easily slid closed.

Looking back, we were surprised that from the very beginning of our long trip, we took to a life of nonstop travel like ducks take to water.  It was a joy to take our everyday life in new directions.  One thing was clear:  life on the road had changed what we now viewed as essential.

Before we started our travels six years ago, we had a study with a desk for each of us.  When we traveled, we propped our laptops on our laps or a dining table.  It worked well. Now after years of travel, we each decided against having a desk – and a study – in our new home.  Before traveling, we had a well-stocked kitchen, filled with a pantry, accessories, and machines.   We agreed to simplify the kitchen this time around.  Did we need a blender AND a food processor?  No.  One might be nice.  Two weren’t necessary.  Travel taught us how to dress with fewer, well-chosen clothes.   We planned to continue that practice.

It had seemed almost effortless to simplify our lives as we traveled over the years.   As we settled down, we resolved: keep it that way.

A kitchen nook, with a view, in our new cottage at Kendal at Longwood, Pennsylvania.

 

October 2019

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