Sunday, March 31, 2019

Western New York Welcome Center

On our drive to and from Niagara Falls, we passed the Western New York Welcome Center.  So on our return trip we decided to stop.

It was a beautiful building full of local history, artifacts, and a cafe featuring locally sourced ingredients.

New York now has Text Stops, so you can pull over and check messages.  No -- I didn't take this picture while driving, Carson took it for me.


Visiting Toronto, Ontario, Canada - Hershey's Chocolate World Niagara Falls

From Niagara Falls, it is a quick walk to get to Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  Passports in hand, we walked across the Rainbow Bridge from Niagara Falls, NY, to Toronto, ON.

Strangely, almost immediately after entering Canada at the mid-point of the bridge, it felt shockingly colder.  The wind became bitter cold.

We approached Canadian Immigration with no luggage -- not even backpacks.  Our plan was to walk to some of the closest tourist spots, then turn around and go back to the US.  The immigration officer in Canada was about as unwelcoming as could be.  But we were granted entrance.

It was bitter cold and started raining, so we entered one of the nearest stores - the Hershey Chocolate World Niagara Falls.  It smelled as enticing as it looked.  They were making milkshakes and ice cream treats.  There were beautifully decorated brownies, cookies, and cakes.  Of course, there was every variety of Hershey's candy, even ones we had never before seen nor heard of.

Despite the temptations, we left empty handed and returned to the US.

Leaving Canada was a little odd: they had old turn styles that required 4 US quarters per person.  So we gathered together change so that we could entering the bridge to return to the US.

Upon crossing the midpoint of the bridge, entering into US territory, the bitter breeze subsided and we were warmly welcomed back home.

US Immigrations was friendly and quickly helped us on our way.

(Yes -- Carson is wearing shorts despite the temperature.  No -- we don't understand how or why he does it.)

Crossing into Canadian territory.

The view from the bridge.

The frozen foam / ice appeared to be about 12' deep (just a guess).

Carson's has added this bar to his Christmas list.

This sign welcomes you back into New York from Canada.

Nicola Tesla Monument at Niagara Falls

The first hydroelectric power plant in the world was at Niagara Falls and Nicola Tesla was instrumental in its design and creation.  The plant was built in 1879 and by 1881, the streets in Niagara Falls were illuminated with electric lights.

In honor of him, there is a Nicola Tesla Monument at Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls, New York

With the car issues freshly resolved, we hesitantly headed up to Niagara Falls, New York.  The car worked fine the entire drive.

We saw at least a dozen hawks in the trees on the way.  But we only know how to identify Costa Rican birds, so we haven't figured out exactly what we saw yet.

Niagara Falls was nice.  The town was a little disappointing.  It seemed a little run down and passed its prime.  The falls were beautiful, but perhaps slightly less dramatic than we had expected.  Perhaps all of the years of hype create impossibly high expectations?  Nonetheless, we enjoyed seeing them and walking around.

There were large chunks of ice floating in the river.

We think that the foam and mist freeze to create these interesting looking natural sculptures:

Broken Down on the Side of the Road

Yep, that's us at about 10:00pm broken down on the side of the road.  When we returned to the US, we found that one of the tires on the car was flat and that the batteries would not hold a charge.   So we brought it to a nearby shop.  They patched the tire and replaced one of the batteries.  After leaving the shop, we found that it was still having issues, so we brought it to another shop (since we were in a different area of town).  They replaced the other battery.

Then we headed out of the DC area.  When we were about 35 miles outside of Winchester, VA, the electrical power started failing.  We pulled over and hooked the car up with jumper cables and charged it for a while, then turned around.  We were able to go about 27 miles of the way back.  Then had to pull over again and charge it for a while longer.

We booked a last minute hotel in Winchester and brought the car into yet another shop the next morning.  They installed a new alternator and we were back on the road.

All-in-all, in the last few days we have replaced two car batteries, an alternator, fixed a flat tire, and replaced two windshield wiper blades.

Not exactly the ideal start to an extended journey across the country.

Carson and I played checkers at one of the shops while the alternator was being replaced:

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Galletas Nevadas in Costa Rica

A day or two before we left Costa Rica, Savannah saw these cookies: 'Nevadas'.  She thought the name was great; she's excited to visit Nevada.

Costa Rica Retrospective: Food

The food in Costa Rica was delicious.  Angela quickly learned the seasonings and sauces commonly used here and applied it to her cooking. 

Costa Ricans don't like a lot of spice in their food, but they have some delicious hot sauces.

The grocery stores our of San Jose were a little limited, so you have to get creative with the ingredients available.  But we were able to eat delicious food regularly.

We did visit quite a few stores before finding raw meat that we were comfortable buying.  But the other stores were probably fine.

The pineapple was delicious and inexpensive.

In general, any food grown in Costa Rica was inexpensive and any thing imported was very expensive.  So we adapted to eating primarily locally sourced foods.

There are a lot of small family owned restaurants called Sodas.  They were always delicious and generally, you could get a good meal for $4-5 USD.  Fancier restaurants were often half of the price of an equivalent place in the US.

Costa Rica Retrospective: Driving

I had no intention of driving in Costa Rica prior to arriving.  I had seen driving in our parts of Latin America and had been terrified of it.

But we quickly realized that the areas in which we had hoped to live could not be navigated without a car.

Renting cars was interesting.  The prices fluctuated so much.  One week, an SUV could cost $5000 / month, the next week it might be $500 for the same month.

We spent more on fees and insurance than on the cars themselves.  You are required to have liability insurance on cars and your insurance from the US does not apply.  So insurance was about $350-$600 per month.

While Costa Rica driving laws appear to be similar to the laws in the US, people have adapted them to their circumstances.  It is common to have tractors driving down highways, people on bicycles or walking down the road.  So there has to be some flexibility for traffic to flow.

While we regularly saw police officers, their primary concern was for the people, not for catching traffic violations.

In general:
1. cars drove the speed that they felt safe and appropriate
2. cars would pass each other whenever it felt safe and appropriate, regardless of the lines painted on the road.  There were solid and dashed lines and various points, but they were not followed.

Traffic flowed well and despite the lax enforcement, it actually felt more liberating and just as safe to drive here.

THE BIG EXCEPTION: SAN JOSE.  Driving in San Jose was pretty crazy and stressful. We did it and survived.  The Waze app helped a lot.  The roads were steep, windy, narrow, and confusing.  Waze added a little bit of order.

Costa Rica Retrospective: the People

The People of Costa Rica were so welcoming and friendly, especially in San Carlos, where we spent most of our time. 

Our neighbors were thoughtful and welcoming and took the time to get to know us.

People you met in town and at stores were generally polite. 

Despite us being there temporarily, the Church was extremely welcoming and reached out to us multiple times each week to ensure that we knew about various activities and other events. 

Carson, Savannah, and Tucker were each invited to participate and help out at church.

We really enjoyed meeting and talking with other families from the US that we met at church and on tours.  It was always interesting to here their backgrounds and learn about what brought them to Costa Rica.

In general, the areas we were in felt safer and friendlier than when we were in Washington, DC.

Costa Rica Retrospective: No Illnesses

During the three months that we were in Costa Rica, we did not have a single cold, fever, flu, food poisoning, or other illness.

I don't know if there has ever been another three month period where all of us have been avoided illness.

I don't know exactly why this happened, but here are some thoughts:
1. reduced stress
2. reduced contact with others outside of the family

Friday, March 29, 2019

Back in the US: First Impressions - Water

Our first night back in the USA from Costa Rica, we stayed in a hotel in Fairfax, VA.  The water in the US has so much chlorine -- it was pretty disgusting compared to the water in Costa Rica.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Birds We've Identified in Costa Rica

While in Costa Rica, Carson has been determined to identify each bird that we see.  Here is a list of the unique species that we have seen:

1.   Muscovy duck
2.   Great kiskidee
3.   Rufus collared sparrow
4.   Cherrie’s tanager (passerine’s tanager)
5.   Ruddy ground dove
6.   Montezuma oropendola
7.   Laughing Falcon
8.   Collared aracari
9.   Streak headed wood creeper
10.  Turkey vulture
11.  Prothonotary warbler
12.  Promontory warbler
13.  Inca dove
14.  Common black hawk
15.  Zone tailed hawk
16.  Blue grey tanager
17.  Crested caracara
18.  Tri colored heron
19.  Yellow legs
20.  Spectacled Caiman
21.  Northern jacana
22.  Black river turtle
23.  Groove billed ani
24.  Red breasted blackbird
25.  Redwing blackbird
26.  Green kingfisher (+female)
27.  Bear throated tiger heron
28.  Ringed kingfisher
29.  Long nosed bat
30.  Emerald basilisk
31.  Roadside hawk
32.  Anhinga
33.  Mangrove swallow
34.  black hooded antshrike
35.  Little blue heron
36.  White tailed night jar
37.  Cattle egret
38.  Great egret
39.  Great blue heron
40.  Nootropic cormorant
41.  Amazon kingfisher
42.  Boat billed heron
43.  Yellow crowned night heron
44.  Black cheeked woodpecker
45.  Hoffmann’s woodpecker
46.  Golden hooded tanager
47.  White nosed coatimundi
48.  Northern tufted flycatcher
49.  Slate collared redstart
50.  Keel billed toucan
51.  Fiery billed aracari
52.  Common bush tanager
53.  Resplendent Quetzal
54.  Lesson’s motmot (blue diademed motmot)
55.  Crested guan
56.  Orange bellied trogon
57.  White necked Jacobin
58.  Crowned wood nymph
59.  Green crowned brilliant
60.  Green violetear
61.  Green hermit
62.  Bananaquit
63.  Violet sabrewing
64.  Purple-throated mountaingem
65.  Coppery headed hummingbird
66.  Baltimore oriole (m+f)
67.  Blue throated toucanet
68.  Emerald toucanet
69.  Magpie jay
70.  Scarlet macaw
71.  Magnificent frigate bird
72.  Brown booby
73.  Brown pelican
74.  Grey hawk
75.  Black mandibled toucan
76.  Red lored amazon
77.  Tropical king bird
78.  Common pauraque
79.  Violet crowned wood nymph hummingbird
80.  Blue headed parrot
81.  Yellow crowned euphonia
82.  Clay colored thrush
83.  Rock dove
84.  Great currassow
85.  Brown jay
86.  Black vulture
87.  White winged dove
88.  Great-tailed grackle
89.  Nicaraguan grackle
90.  Bear throated tiger heron
91.  Large footed finch
92.  Grey breasted martin
93.  Green heron
94.  House wren
95.  Prong billed barbet
96.  Red face spine tail
97.  Silver throated tanager
98.  Plain chachalaca
99.  Tennessee warbler
100. Pale vented pigeon
101. White collared swift
102. Common tody-flycatcher
103. Great green macaw
104. Southern lapwing
105. King vulture
106. Blue-black grassquit
107. Talamanca hummingbird
108. White crowned parrot
109. Grey brested Martin
110. Red winged blackbird
111. African goose
112. Peacock
113. Chicken
114. Bronzed cowbird
115. White eared ground sparrow
116. Red legged honey creeper
117. Black-headed saltator
118. Gray-cowled wood rail
119. Spectacled owl
120. Rufous tailed jacamar
121. Pygmy kingfisher
122. Gray Catbird
123. Swallow tailed kite
124. Streaked saltator
125. Thick-billed seed-finch
126. Indigo Bunting
127. Clay-colored sparrow
128. White-eared ground-sparrow

List created by Carson.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Farewell at Church

We have really enjoyed attending church in Costa Rica.  In the La Fortuna area, the nearest Church of Jesus Christ is in a town named Quesada, which was about a 45 minute drive.  They were so welcoming.  More than anyone, Carson connected well with the young men in the congregation and the leader of the young mens group was so friendly and regularly invited Carson to various activities. 

Carson had to say farewell to his friends today. 

Here is Carson with the Young Men's leader.

The Mystery of the Golden Sun by Savannah Knight

At church today, Savannah said that she wanted to write a book when we returned to our house.  Here it is, she typed the entire work and illustrated it herself.  This post features an original story written by Savannah Knight.

The Mystery of the Golden Sun
by Savannah Knight

Once upon a time lived a girl named Carla.  She lived in a little cottage made of hay and stones. Her family did not have very much money; her dad worked at a restaurant and he only got about two or three dollars a day. But she was lucky because every year for her birthday she got one dollar.  Once she saved up for a pet!  One day she got enough money she bought a cat!  She went to the forest and got a cricket from the wild. And she bought a parrot too! So now she had to take good care of all of them. Then in the morning she wakes up at seven. Then eats breakfast then gets her backpack and waits for the bus. Then she got home, ate dinner, and went to bed. And early in the morning she woke up because it was so bright! Then she noticed the sun was already up! That means she is late for school! She looked at her clock ONE AM!? How could this be possible! Then she saw the sun fall from the sky! Then she went to her parents’ room.  They were fast asleep.  She did not want to wake them up.  She was sixteen years old so she kind of knew how to drive.  So she drove to the sun.  She was surprised it did not burn her!  When she touched it, it felt like hard metal! But one strange thing about it was that it had squiggles around it!

Then in the morning she called the scientists to see the sun or weird undiscovered thing from space!  And they could not find out what it was.  So she called her friend. He said that it could be the legendary golden sun.  She said to bring the book that he found it in.  They researched for hours then Carla yelled, “Look! Look!” It said in tiny, tiny letters they had to use a microscope to see it.

Well. it said if you see a little crack in this object find these three things: the knight’s sword, the magic gas mask, the magic clear gloves. When doing this, shew away all the neighbors out of the neighborhood. You can find these objects in the same place, but they are hidden very well with booby traps. So be careful! So we go looking for three magic objects. Let’s try to go to the magic cavern. But it wasn’t there. They tried every single place in the world by now! Then they visited every planet! Except for Venus.

So they visited Venus a few hours later.  They found a crack in the ground!  They took one of her cooking knives and cracked it open.

So then they hopped in.  Wow!  Then she saw the three magic objects!  She ran for it, but right before she got the objects, a knife popped up in front of her. “AAAHHHH!”, she screamed.  “I don’t want to die!”, she said.  She ran to her pets then she said, “I should have remembered there were booby traps.” With the knives she put some slits of paper and right when it cut she slid under the knives.  “Yay!” She said.

Then there were fire torches. “I need some metal!” Then her pets ran back to the spaceship and got a metal sheet.   They slid it under the booby traps.  She put it over the torch and the fire went out but somehow it lit again! It shot her to the ceiling.  

The pets asked, “are you ok?”

“Yes, I’m ok but you can talk??!!”

“Yes, we should finish your mission!”

“Ok.”, she quickly picked up the objects and they left on their way home.  She got an e-mail that said, “your mother died of a bad disease please come home!”

“Ok I will.”

 So she go home and sat on her bed. I did not want her to die!

Then she left the house thinking about her.   “Well, I should forget that even happened,” so she went on with the mystery.   So I should use the sword to crack open that weird legendary thing. So she put on the gas mask and then shewed all the neighbors away and then put on the gloves.  Then she opened the thing with the sword.  It was a baby dragon! Then there were words above that said, “The Health Dragon.” This could be useful! She brought it to her mother. It hugged her legs and then pooooof! Her mom was alive again! “Oh, I’m so glad you are alive again!”, then they were together again.  Then they got millions of dollars for the baby dragon’s egg!  So they are no longer poor.