Miles to Go before I Sleep…Travel Tales from a Broad

The Long Journey Home

Sometimes, when your trip has ended and the rush of excitement is gone, and your money is spent, and you have already disconnected from vacation mode…all you want is to just be home already. And the quicker, the better (if only we could just teleport home!). But sometimes, things don’t go as smoothly as we’d like.

Case in point, our recent trip home from Costa Rica. Because our flight was departing at 5:40 in the morning, we had to get up at the crack of stupid. We arrived at the airport way too early and stood around still half asleep and blurry-eyed waiting for ages because the check-in counters weren’t even open yet.

Our first flight (from San Jose to San Salvador) was late leaving, which meant that we were almost late for our connecting flight (fortunately, our connecting flight—San Salvador to Toronto—was also delayed). There was a mad dash to the bathroom and through security again before proceeding to the gate.

We relaxed once on the plane and up in the air. I stayed awake long enough to have some breakfast and then I nodded on and off during the next few hours. So, I didn’t notice when the power shut off and the TV screens disappeared shortly after the start of the second movie. Fortunately, I didn’t even notice the smell of smoke that some passengers near the back of the plane noticed. So, I was surprised when the Captain came on the P.A. system to explain that we’d be landing in Washington D.C. There had been an issue. They located the source and had the problem under control but thought it best to take the detour just to make sure.

I didn’t hear or see any signs of panic, so I felt calm. James was disappointed about the detour, but only because he thought it would mean another change of planes and another issue with our assigned seats (he desperately wanted a window seat so he could get more footage for his travel vlogs).

James enjoyed filming the various take-offs and landings for his Nexus Fire vlogs.

Half an hour later, we landed at Dulles International Airport. Four emergency vehicles approached the plane once we were off the runway. Again, no panic. All was quiet on the plane. I just assumed this was standard protocol when making an unplanned landing.

We stayed in our seats while customs officers came on board to check everyone’s passports. Outside we could see fire fighters leaving the air craft and climbing back into emergency trucks.

One of the emergency vehicles carrying firefighters who checked out the plane while we waited patiently inside.

An hour or so passed. Finally, officials decided to deplane and take us to a more comfortable holding area. We were loaded onto the funniest looking buses. We had never seen them before, but suddenly they were everywhere around the airport. They were like subway cars on wheels—long, rectangular boxes with little windows. And they had two fin-like structures jutting out of the top. We surmised that these protrusions were likely housing the mechanisms that raise and lower the body so that passengers can get on and off the plane.

Liam snapped this shot as two of the “crazy buses” trundled past us.

At first it was easy to stay positive. We found humour in the buses; we knew we still had lots of time to get home (the benefit of a super early flight); and because we used Park ‘n Fly, we didn’t have anyone waiting to pick us up at a specific time. We were content to sit and wait. There were washrooms, comfortable seats, WiFi, and outlets to charge devices. People’s questions were answered. Apparently, a fan had stopped working, which caused some other instruments to overheat and start smoking. The plan was to repair the damage and then re-board and continue our flight to Toronto.

I viewed the situation only as a minor inconvenience. Sure, I would rather be home, but safety trumps everything. I would rather be late and arrive in one piece than not arrive home at all. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if the plane had burst into flames while we were up in the air. The panic and chaos would have been crazy. No, this was great, considering the alternative. This was calm and civilized.

Another hour or so passed. Then came the news that the flight was cancelled and we wouldn’t be leaving until 7:00 the following morning. Suddenly it became a bigger inconvenience.  Now, there were calls to be made. Josh would either have to cancel his Monday morning and afternoon lecture and labs or find someone who could fill in last minute. I was supposed to be taking Liam to an endodontist appointment in Peterborough at 11:30 am. There was no way we could be certain that we would make it. But I couldn’t reach the office on a Sunday evening, all I could do was leave a message. We also had to leave messages with the boys’ schools to let them know they’d be away another day. And of course, we had to touch base with Josh’s step father to let him know that we wouldn’t be picking up our beloved dog, Frodo, until the following day.

We were herded though customs, had to wait for our baggage, then had to wait for shuttles to take us to the hotel.

The hotel room, courtesy of Avianca (our airline), was lovely. Our dinner in the hotel restaurant, courtesy of Avianca, was also lovely. Maybe things weren’t so bad after all. But we really didn’t have a chance to enjoy the hotel room. We spent most of the evening in the restaurant…waiting for dinner. Staff was light so service was slow. I’ll bet management hadn’t been expecting a plane full of people to arrive all at once on an otherwise quiet Sunday evening. By the time dinner was done, we were barely hanging on. We had been awake since 1:30 that morning! There was just enough time for a glorious shower then into bed for a few hours sleep.

We were all exhausted. James was asleep before his head hit the pillow!

We needed to be at the airport by 5 am. The alarm was set for 4 am. I recall waking up around 1 am and checking the time, relieved that it still wasn’t time to get up yet. Next time I woke up and looked at my watch it was exactly 5 am (the time we were supposed to be at the airport!). Ahhh…instant panic! For some reason our alarm didn’t go off. What would happen if we missed this flight, I thought as I woke the others. Mental note for next time: set more than one alarm and ask for a “wake-up call!”

There was a mad scramble as the four of us got dressed and grabbed our nine assorted backpacks and carry-ons (good thing we didn’t really unpack anything but toothbrushes and pajamas). I didn’t even have a chance to do my final once-over when leaving to make sure there weren’t any forgotten items. I figured, as long as we had our passports, we were golden. We were down in the lobby in less than 10 minutes. I was relieved to see people from our flight still lined up for the shuttle buses to the airport. Maybe we would make it after all.

We bypassed the shuttle line and hopped into a taxi. Again, much relief when we arrived at the airport 10 or so minutes later and saw they had only started processing passengers and their luggage. We joined the long zig-zagging line up, lifting/dragging our bags a step or two every once in a while. The process seemed to take forever (as it often does), but I didn’t mind–because we had actually made it. And we weren’t even the last ones. More people kept joining the line. There was no way this flight was still leaving at 7:00 am, not at this rate! Once we finally had our boarding passes, it was off to the security lineups.

When we made it to the gate, a fellow passenger told us that Avianca was picking up the tab for breakfast items at the Starbucks we had just passed. The boys didn’t hesitate to run back to the Starbucks line up that stretched out of the store and spread all across the terminal hallway. But I hesitated. To wait in another long line seemed risky—after all this, we couldn’t very well miss our flight home trying to get some smoothies now, could we? I quickly assessed the situation, the flight attendants hadn’t called our section yet, there was still a bunch of people waiting at the gate, and there were still people getting their boarding tickets and going through security. So, while Josh stayed with our bags by the gate, I joined the boys in the Starbucks line. They were already talking about what they wanted to get. But the line crawled forward very slowly. More people were arriving at the gate now and departure time was getting closer…we might have to bail. I was just about to tell the boys that we need to abort this mission when it was our turn. We quickly grabbed some smoothies, bananas and muffins and ran back to the gate. Just in time.

Liam and James were happy with their breakfast treats. And when the boys are happy…I am happy!

We boarded. Finally relaxed. Had breakfast, and watched a couple of Modern Family episodes. Even though take off was an hour later than it was supposed to be, we landed in Toronto just after 9:00 am. As we waited for our luggage, I connected with the endodontist office. They had received my message last night and had already filled our original appointment at 11:30 am, but they could see Liam at 1:50 pm instead. Perfect. Josh had heard back from his colleagues and confirmed that his lecture and labs were covered for the day. No worries.

We collected our backpacks and headed to the Park ‘n Fly. I am always filled with immense relief when I see all of our luggage come out on those carousels!

With feet on the ground and bags on our backs, we headed to the Park ‘n Fly. One step closer to home!

Soon enough we were in our own car and on the road to Peterborough. Surprisingly, we actually arrived in Peterborough at 11:30 am, so we could have made it in time for that original appointment after all, but I wouldn’t have believed that possible.

We finally made it home a full day later than expected. We only lost a day, it could have been so much worse. The most important thing was that we made it home. Safe and sound. Not even our luggage was lost or damaged.

I am by no means a seasoned traveller, but I have flown many times and this is the first time that anything like this has ever happened to me. The airline handled everything professionally. They took care of us and they communicated adequately. I have no complaints. The experience, though inconvenient, has not deterred me from planning and booking my next trip! In June, I will be travelling to South Africa, which involves multiple flights! Can’t wait to see what kind of hassles will be in store for me next! Because although travelling can be full of challenges, I embrace them. Most of the time, the fun and rewards of travel far outweigh the annoyances…but that sounds like a post for another day!

Snapshots of a Costa Rican Adventure to Parismina and the Pacuare River: Part 3

PART 3: RAFTING THE RIO PACUARE

After enjoying Parismina and the Green Gold Eco-Lodge for four days, we pack up and make our way to Tres Equis, where we meet up with our Costa Rica Extreme rafting guides—a great bunch of guys who are fun, knowledgeable and certified in swift water rescue. We are in great hands.

After suiting up and getting some important instructions from our guides, we are ready to hit the water!

This is my favourite part of the trip. There is something so exhilarating, so thrilling about rushing down the Rio Pacuare rapids in an inflatable raft. When we aren’t paddling hard and getting splashed and soaked while navigating the rocks and coursing through the class 2, 3 and 4 rapids, we are looking up into the enormous trees dripping with moss and vines; feeling the spray of cascading waterfalls; marveling at the size and composition of some of the boulders we pass; and watching the incredible diversity of birds—sun bitterns, herons, sandpipers, kingfishers and even some rare king vultures.

 

It is non-stop rubbernecking at trees, waterfalls, giant boulders and birds, like this bare-throated tiger heron.

We raft for a couple of awesome hours until we arrive at our destination. From the shore, we unload the rafts and climb up to the Pacuare River Eco-Lodge, which is nestled in the Talamanca Mountain Range. We are isolated from the human world again, but surrounded by exquisite beauty. All is peaceful, but not quiet. Right away, my ears fill with the chirping sound of the strawberry poison dart frogs and chestnut-mandibled toucans calling in the distance. They are very familiar sounds—it feels like a “welcome home.”

Manuel Segura Amador, the owner/operator of the Pacuare River Eco-Lodge (and a Costa Rican National White Water Champion), has created a remarkable little oasis on a private 85-acre ecological reserve. Since 2002, he has rafted in all the supplies to build a tropical tent camp. He started small, and has expanded slowly and sustainably over the years. Transforming the surrounding landscape from pasture to secondary rainforest has been a major part of his focus. He has planted native trees and reduced the pressure of human activity, which has resulted in a remarkable transformation in a short time.

Shower stalls and lush gardens of the Paucare River Eco-Lodge. “By planting trees, we are planting hope.” (http://costaricaextreme.com/pacuare-river-eco-lodge/).

After a busy day of rafting, dining by candlelight (once again, no electricity and none needed), and hiking along a small stream system running through the camp, we settle into our rustic but comfortable cabins, lulled to sleep by the surround sounds of crickets and frogs and the rushing river below.

We spend the next day and night bird watching from the hammocks and observation deck overlooking the Pacuare River, and exploring the pastureland and rainforest surrounding the rafting camp.

Highlights include an annulated boa, black and green poison dart frogs, flowering wild cucumber, robber frogs mating, countless giant millipedes mating (must have been something in the air), unique cattle, and a snail-eating snake…eating a snail!

Time passes too quickly and before we know it, it is time to load the rafts again and head down river to Siquerres. The second half of the journey is as exciting as the first.

Liam and James take turns experiencing the rapids in a kayak with Enrique, Manuel’s son.

When we arrive at the Dos Montañas gorge, we all jump out of the rafts and swim in the pristine waters…drifting happily with the current.

Dos Montañas Gorge!

The rafting ends once we make it to Siquerres. And there is no question that we have arrived. As soon as we round a bend in the widening river, there is a rather abrupt reminder of civilization spread out before us—a railway bridge and highway suspended across the water. Suddenly there are different smells and different sounds.  The air is filled with the honking of diesel-fuelled cars and trucks passing by, which sadly signals the end of our trip through paradise.

We unload the rafts, change, have lunch, and say our goodbyes to Manuel, Enrique, and the rest of the rafting team.

On our way back to San Jose, we drop half of the group off at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center, where they will begin the second week of their Costa Rican holiday. Unfortunately, we can’t all stay. It is time for the rest of us to head back home to the cold, snowy remains of winter.

As our trip comes to a close, it feels strange to go our separate ways and say goodbye. For the last week, we have spent our days and nights together, becoming a big family.

Travelling with a group can be a real crap shoot, especially when you don’t really know the people before the trip begins! The people you are with can either make or break the experience for everyone. How people react to challenges, including the extreme heat and humidity, the rain, cool temperatures at night, the terrain, the lack of electricity, different food, etc., and how people treat one another, are critical. Attitude is everything. Open mindedness; the ability to go with the flow and adapt to changing circumstances; and respect for the environment, culture, local people, and fellow travellers are essential for any successful trip.

This trip was successful because of the people who made up our group. Everyone was kind and friendly and always gracious to our hosts and respectful of their property. They were keen to support a struggling local community, and made sure to buy something from each of the vendors at the Artisan Fair. They were quick to help one another up and over slippery rocks and terrain. They shared their gear and supplies and made sure that everyone had a chance to look at and photograph any species we found. They listened attentively and followed the rules. When three people fell overboard in the rapids, everyone was quick to get them to safety and make sure they were OK. They were appreciative of Josh’s experience and vast knowledge. And when our private transfer from Cano Blanco to Tres Equis messed up the time, they didn’t complain about the delay, they took the opportunity to look at more birds!

They even indulged a 10-year old’s desire to entertain with card tricks!

James performs one of his nightly card tricks for everyone after dinner at Amelia’s Restaurant.

It has certainly been lots of fun sharing this adventure together. Thanks for the wonderful time, everyone! Perhaps we’ll have to start planning our next trip…

Group shot on the observation deck overlooking the Pacuare River.

Snapshots of a Costa Rican Adventure to Parismina and the Pacuare River: Part 2

PART 2: ALL IS GREEN AND GOLDEN IN PARISMINA

Most of our time this trip is spent at the Green Gold Eco-Lodge on the outskirts of Parismina, a small town bordered by the Rio Parismina and the Caribbean Sea.

The Green Gold Eco-Lodge is far from luxurious. But it doesn’t need to be. It is clean and safe and serviceable. It is well-built, well-maintained, and well-run by owners Jason and Juliana. The food—typical Costa Rican fare—is fresh and delicious. There is running water but no electricity, except for a small generator that runs for a couple of hours each day to charge batteries for cameras and flashlights, and any other essentials.

It is refreshing to be free from the world of electronics. To live simply, if only for a short while. To disconnect from the devices and reconnect with nature and people—to actually talk face to face, sharing stories and special finds.

The Green Gold Eco-Lodge is unassuming and blends in with its surroundings.

Jason cuts open coconuts (pepitas) for everyone to enjoy some refreshing coconut water after a hike around the property.

Best of all—it is so quiet and peaceful. There are no other lodges, buildings, or houses around. No cars, no phones, no TVs, no tourists. Just us. And we are surrounded by nature. You swing in a hammock looking out and the wildlife is everywhere. It comes to you. White-faced capuchins watch you curiously from the branches a metre or so away. A pair of olive-backed euphonias use an old oropendola nest to raise their new family of chicks. Geckos dart around on the metal roof above. Hummingbirds zip around the flowers chasing one another. Colourful butterflies float by. A hundred different calls all mix together like a symphony. A symphony of bird song…nature’s music…music to my ears.

The view from a hammock: A white-faced capuchin peers down at me, while the olive-backed euphonias flitter in and out of an old oropendola nest.

 

And ever-present in the background is the surge and roar of the ocean, which is just a short distance down the trail from the lodge. The black volcanic sand beach stretches for kilometres in either direction.

Waves crash endlessly to shore; pelicans cruise above the crests; sandpipers scurry in the surf; morning glories decorate the beach; and crabs poke their heads up from the sand.

The sand contains many stories: I wonder what has been going on here…

 

The ocean is warm, but it is also very rough. The dangerous undertows and rip tides prevent actual swimming but it is fun to cool off in the surf.

Our fisher. Our swimmer.

The boys in the surf…content doing the things they love.

 

Every morning, before the sun rises, we wake to the eerie calls of the howler monkeys, signalling the start of a new day. Welcome to the jungle!

Our hot and humid days are busy with morning walks on the beach and beach trail before breakfast; hikes in the rainforest before lunch; downtime in the shaded hammocks during the hottest part of the day; late afternoon explorations of the property around the lodge; and after dinner night hikes.

The beach trail offers lots of discoveries including a sleeping three toed sloth, lineated woodpecker, and sour cane, a tasty, edible flower.

 

A typical rainforest hike reveals tent-making bats, leaf cutter ants, casqued-headed lizards and eyelash vipers.

 

An afternoon rain shower has awakened the forest. It has brought everything to life. The air feels washed, fresh, and the colours are vivid.

 

After the sun sets, darkness moves in quickly. But just because it is dark, doesn’t mean it is time for bed. The night brings the nocturnal to life. Our flashlights reveal so many amazing gems, including an hour-glass frog, whip scorpion and brown vine snake (night photos ©Liam Rosborough-Feltham).

 

On our last day at the Green Gold Eco-Lodge, we head into town after lunch. We buy some great souvenirs and gifts from the Artisan Fair; enjoy delicious fresh fruit smoothies at Soda Olga’s; have dinner at Amelia’s Restaurant and cap the night off with a boat cruise along the river.

James enjoys a visit with Tereza Ching, one of the artists at the Fair; names our new sloth “Edward;” savours his mango banana smoothie, and gets excited when Josh catches a caiman for everyone to see up-close during the night boat cruise.

Stay tuned for Part 3…