Good for you

A habit we developed years ago stuck with us.  In the beginning we took short walks pushing a baby carriage.  Every day we found time for a good walk and soon it became a habit. A decade later we had expanded to a family of five and still we took our walks. Roll the calendar forward by many decades and every day in every year, we continue with our routine.  Oh, the places we have walked!…  the weather we have walked in!… the things we have seen!

Now we have settled into our little cottage at Kendal at Longwood and our walks are more repetitive.   Just when we think things don’t change, they (magically!) do.

A gloomy weather day inspired a camera adjustment to the “watercolor” setting as we set off from the cottage.

We pass this bench every day.  Someday we’ll have to rest and enjoy the view – but not yet.

It’s spring and Kendal is an arboretum, so there are lots of flowering trees and shrubs.  This one is the flower of a pink dawn viburnum (viburnam bodnantan).

Even the most common of plants – pachysandra – looks unusually good in bloom when using the “watercolor” setting on the camera.

We come to a hilly place near a water treatment pond, and we spot an animal.  What is it?  We’re mystified.

We take photos before we realize the “watercolor” setting is still on the camera.  Beth turns it off.

We snap a few more photos before we recognize what is slowly making its way toward the pond.

It’s a common snapping turtle which we’ve rarely seen before.  The turtle navigated right under the fence and a few seconds later dropped into the pond and out of sight.

We read that snapping turtle might live in the wild over 100 years, so we assume we just might see this one again on a future walk.

We at Kendal have been isolating in our cottages to stop the spread of the Corona virus, but we’re encouraged to continue with our walking routine.  During this time, little painted rocks with messages started appearing on the main loop trail.  Who was behind these wonderfully painted little messages?  Everyone wanted to know.  We passed the rocks most every day but still no word who had painted or placed them on the path.

On a sunny and warm day, we started our usual walk but decided to veer off on a grassy path through a large cornfield to continue on a different path.  There were just a few blocks of homes on the other side of the cornfield, a rather quiet and isolated neighborhood.

We chatted while we strolled when a sight we hadn’t expected to see stopped us short.

A painted rock!  Just like the painted rocks at Kendal!

As luck would have it, an older woman with a little dog in her bike basket pedaled towards us.  We waved her to stop.  Did she know who had painted the rocks?  Sure, was her reply.   The rocks were made by two teenagers who live around the corner.

The great Kendal painted rock mystery had been solved!

Everybody knows that walking in fresh air surrounded by greenery is one of the best habits for good mental and physical health.  No one ever told you that on your walks you just might be seeing strange creatures and solving mysteries.

 

March 2020

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Hiding in plain sight

The coolest activity to do – and not for the faint of heart – is a night tour with the Bug Lady in Drake Bay, Costa Rica with the sole purpose of seeing and learning about things that go creeping around in the dark. As soon as the Bug Lady mentioned she wanted to show us spiders, our grandson backed away.  Clearly, he wasn’t thrilled with that idea.  Could curiosity overcome fear?

We started the walk by putting on headlamps with a red-light mode, perfect for viewing nightlife.

The Bug Lady, Tracie Stites, and her husband, Gianfranco Gómez, gathered us around and introduced the tailless whip-scorpion.  Everyone wanted a photo.

Despite its name, this is not a scorpion and it’s not a spider, though it is an arachnid.  It’s a relative of the two called an Amblypigid.

This creature may be harmless to us but their size and the little pincer-like pedipalps on their front legs help them capture and hold on to their prey.

We spent a lot of time looking down.  A Gaudy leaf frog was memorable for its small size and bright red eyes.  We also saw a large Huntsman spider.  Their name is apt as they are fast hunters that don’t need to rely on spider webs to catch their prey.

A white-lined bat flew over-head and when we looked up to see it, we spotted a…

…brown-throated three-toed sloth.  It was resting, of course.  Sloths are only active a short period every day.

They’re pretty strange animals.  They can swivel their heads like an owl; take a month to digest a meal; slowly come down from their forest habitat only once a week, dangerously exposing themselves to their predators, for the purpose of defecating on the ground.

Of course, there’s always more to see in the rain forest.  On another day, we sat down outside our cottage at La Paloma for quite a while to observe leafcutter ants at work. They marched every day across our path.

Next to humans, leafcutter ants form the largest and most complex animal societies on Earth.”

Our favorite discovery was observing ants riding shotgun on top of a leaf as another ant hauled the load.  It’s speculated that the ant on top is providing protection from a parasitic fly trying to land to lay its eggs.

We love to observe birds but have been surprised how many people don’t “see” birds and in general, pay little attention to birds and the natural world around them.

Scarlet macaws would be hard to miss due to both their size and amazing colors.   Our grandson was delighted every time they came into view.

From the same place we viewed the macaw, we looked at the plants in front of us to spot the dragon (or was it a damsel?) fly.

Whether we were walking on a dirt path in the rainforest or a city street In San Jose, Costa Rica, we looked for the natural treasures hiding in plain sight.

While visiting the garden at the National Museum of Costa Rica in San Jose, we looked up at one of the most interesting flowers we’d ever seen.  Is it the flower of a banana tree?

We’re guessing curiosity and the amazing facts we learned about what we saw on our trip encouraged us to keep looking, observing, asking questions, and learning.  We’re happy to report that our grandson’s curiosity overcame his fear of looking at spiders and other creepy crawlies in the rain forest. We’re guessing he’ll not soon forget all the wonders in the darkness just awaiting his discovery.

 

March 2020

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The unexpected joy of young travel companions

We usually travel alone.  Sometimes a friend or two will join us, but we rarely have child companions.  That may be due to a lack of confidence on our parts.  Would we be their best travel companions?  Anticipating a trip with our grandsons, ages 10 and 11, made us a little nervous.  For them – and us – to have a really great trip, we figured we needed a solid plan and reinforcements.

Our decision to go to Costa Rica and stay at La Paloma Lodge, which has wonderful and talented guides, gave us a lot of confidence.  Only in recent years have we learned the value of experienced guides and what a difference they make in what we see and learn. We hoped the boys would feel the same.   The true test came with an early morning guided bird walk.  Observing birds at dawn isn’t usually a child’s first choice of activities.

The boys both caught sight of birds right away and learned to use the spotting scope.

They paid close attention to our guide and enjoyed tracking some of the rare birds they’d never seen before like the black-cheeked ant-tanager and a white-whiskered puffbird.

All of us seemed to enjoy the excursion.

In addition to the guides, we asked the boys’ uncle and aunt, Josh and Tanya, (our son and his partner) to join us.  Their presence allowed greater flexibility in scheduling and a chance for all the adults to have a little quiet time.  The boys were happy to have them along.

This was exactly the trip we had planned and hoped would happen – moments with the boys, Josh, and Tanya when we could all learn about the natural world of Costa Rica in Corcovado National Park.

After mornings of planned activities, the boys were ready for some quality time at the Lodge’s pool or the short walk down to the Pacific Ocean to play in the water.

It occurred to us that left on our own, we tended to spend our days walking until mid-afternoon.  We rarely thought of taking time to play in the water.  With the children as companions we changed our pace….

…and so did they.  In the late afternoons, we rested and read, while the boys spent quiet time drawing …

…or looking out the window of their room, watching for toucans.

They surprised us with their ability to be flexible.  We got up very early, and we were surprised when the boys put themselves into bed, exhausted, by 8:30 most nights. They adapted to a new meal schedule and to whatever was served.  We marveled at their transition from an American-style breakfast to a traditional Costa Rican breakfast after a few days.  It occurred to us that most of our adult travel companions have not been this adaptable.

Travel days were easier than expected.  Time waiting for a flight passed by as each wrote, read, or created art.

Our grandsons turned out to be much better travel companions than we’d expected.  The big question is: would they say we measured up as suitable travel companions for them?

 

 

February 2020

 

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We don’t know what we don’t know

No matter how we tried to juggle our travel schedule there was a gap.  A 5-day stay at La Paloma Lodge in Drake Bay, Costa Rica included 2 excursions.  One was a snorkeling trip in the open ocean that we thought would be beyond the capabilities of our two grandsons, ages 10 and 11.  So what excursion could we go on in its place?  The person we spoke with at La Paloma was upbeat.  “The mangrove tour is very good, and people see a lot of wildlife on that tour.”  Really?  We had our doubts.  We didn’t see another good option for us, so off we went on the mangrove tour, leaving at 6:30AM.

The boat sped north across Drake Bay with our grandsons, ages 10 and 11, sitting right in front.  All of a sudden, the guide and boat pilot called out to us when bottlenose dolphins came in sight.

There were at least 6 dolphins coming so close to the boat we could have reached out and touched them.

The boat sped by small rocky islands dotted with brown boobies and pelicans, also the magnificent frigatebirds, a very nice sighting for us bird lovers.  Were the boys impressed?  We couldn’t tell.  Soon we were back out over the open water.

When finally we neared land, the guide spotted a black iguana, then a three-toed sloth up in a tree.

Another sloth was seen nearby.  Did we miss the sloths mating?  The boys were now paying close attention to everything Randall, our guide, said.

Randall sliced open the brown fruit of what we believe was a red mangrove fruit.  Inside was the green embryo (baby) of the plant. There was a sort of “umbilical cord” that continued to nourish the baby plant.

The boat slowed down in the narrow channel lined with mangroves.

The boys were at full alert for whatever Randall, our guide, spotted next.

Moments later, we weren’t disappointed.  Draped over a broken tree stump he spied a potoo, an unusual bird so well camouflaged, it’s hard to spot.  This bird had a chick in its breast feathers, barely visible.  How would we ever have seen this without Randall’s help?

Our favorite sighting was a group of capuchin monkeys.  They are named for the friars with long brown robes.

Capuchin monkeys are only found in Central and South American forests.  We watched as they scampered through the trees in search of the next meal.

Before the tour was over, we spotted not one, but two, boa constrictors in the branches of a tree just over the water.  We’d seen crocodiles; a Jesus Christ lizard that “walks” on water; squirrel monkeys and howler monkeys, too.  We spotted many birds – including caracara, macaws, purple gallinule, jacanas, and orange-chinned parakeets.

Our grandchildren settled in for the long boat ride back to the lodge.

We looked back to see the mangrove trees, but they were now too far away.  We hadn’t known what to expect from this visit.  Our expectations had been modest at best.   Now we knew that we’d been lucky to choose the mangrove tour, to have Randall as our guide, and to have experienced what we’d been told: “people see a lot of wildlife on that tour.”   Yes, we did.

 

January 2020

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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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