The Weekend Begins

20200207_171542Sue and I made the decision yesterday evening that we would like to spend the weekend on our own. Karl and Guiselle are fabulous hosts, and they cheerfully put up with us for an entire week. But we decided that since we were in Costa Rica, it would be nice to spend a couple of nights not imposing on friends.

mapAfter a quick discussion, we decided that we would head to Tamarindo, about 30 minutes from Playa Flamingo. There is a national park just outside of town that is known as a leatherback turtle sanctuary, so it seemed like a reasonable place to head. Sue took up the mantle of travel agent and quickly found the Hotel Casa Blanca which is inside the national park and literally right on the beach.

I worked in the morning and then we packed up our stuff, said our good-byes to Karl and Guiselle and headed off. As I said it was only about 30 minutes, but absolutely a world away. Tamarindo is tourist central. Apparently, there is great surfing and the streets are filled with tourists, ranging from surfer refugees to weathly retirees to 20 somethings on week/weekends away with their buddies. (I decided it is the English speaking capital of Costa Rica.)

We checked into the hotel, dropped our luggage and went for a walk down the main drag

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Sunset from our balcony 

to find something for lunch. Our hotel host recommended a little soda place–soda is the term used for a small lunch stand like resturant–think of a food truck type place, but not mobile. However, all four tables were taken and we were not inclined to wait. We continued down the street and found a local brewery and settled onto a table on the patio that overlooked the beach. About 2 minutes after we arrived two ladies asked if they could share our table. We agreed and after ordering we got to talking. They are from the Netherlands and were spending two weeks touring the country. They are neighbors, both with partners and small kids, but were traveling by themselves. After lunch, we walked back to our hotel via the beach.

The restaurant next door to the hotel was closed for a special event, that we quickly figured out was a wedding as we could watch the entire proceedings from our balcony.  The party started at about 5 p.m. and as I am typing this at 10, it is still going strong. At some point, we will write our thoughts on the music that they chose, but that humorous soliloquy is for another time.

We chose an Italian place for dinner called Antichi Sapori Sicilian Cuisine. It is about 0.7 miles away and right in the middle of town. We walked over, but alas, it was totally full–all six tables. The owner looked heartbroken that he could not seat us and apologized profusely.  We took it in stride, made a reservation there for tomorrow, and I guess Sue will write about it then. We decided to go to another place called The Dragonfly.  We confidently walked about half a mile in the wrong direction, doubled back and found it down a dirt road just past a mini-golf place.  Once again, it was full with an hour wait. We had thought through this possibility when were walking up to it as we passed a taco place called the Green Papaya taco bar. We walked back over to it, were seated right away and had great burritos. The staff there were straight out of central casting for surfer refugees, our waiter was British, most of the others seemed American.

We walked back to the hotel and settled in to listen to the end(?) of the wedding.

Not So Bad for a Work Day

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Just another beautiful beach

Today was a relatively quiet day as we spent most of the day working. It is pretty amazing to think about the fact that I can do my job from anywhere. All I need is internet and mobile phone connectivity. I was on a call this morning that seamlessly connected Costa Rica, New York and Chicago. I am old enough to remember when the cost of international calls was measured in the tens of dollars per minute. Now, I pay $10 a day to make unlimited calls, send unlimited texts and use virtually unlimited data on my phone. Amazing.

20200205_133304We did take a bit of time out to go for a long walk on another beautiful beach–I have no idea the name of it. But, suffice to say that it is wonderful. The birds on the beach did not seem the least bit bothered that we were walking by.  I believe the white ones are cranes, and the others are pelicans.

 

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Either a pelican or a great photo of my mother.

After our walk, we hopped back in the car, returned to Playa Flamingo and had lunch at Coco Loco. We sat outside literally on the beach and had lunch.  (I had a watermelon slushy. I love watermelon slushies! Can it get better than sitting on the beach with a watermelon slushy? Not really.)

After lunch, it was back to “the old salt mine” called work.  Although it is really hard to complain when my “office” is the patio and the background to my video conferencing is palm trees.  Yes, I must admit, I did take time to gloat about the weather to my–no doubt former–friends in our Chicago office.  Sorry, I don’t feel bad for reminding them that is was 90 degrees and sunny here, while it was 32 and snowing in the frigid tundra.

For dinner, we wandered over to a local beach restaurant called The Beach House.

All in all, a nice, quiet, working day.

PS. In case you were wondering a group of pelicans is called a pod. I believe these are the New Orleans basketball team on some sort of hiatus.

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Pacific Ocean 1–Steven 0

20200202_111722 (1)We (Karl, Guiselle, Sue, and I) decided to go the beach Sunday morning(ish). We packed all the necessities into a cooler. Beer, ice, beer, water, beer, snacks, towels, sunscreen, etc. and headed off to a beach called Playa Prieta (the dark beach). We all piled into Karl’s car and drove through town and up a road that began to climb up a large hill. It had a steep drop on the beachside of the road.  We came to a space in the guardrail and what looked like a very wide gully wash. Guiselle said, “Turn here” and we trundled down a steep rutted dirt path.  At the bottom, we found a gorgeous beach.

We hopped out of the car, found a nice shady spot and settled in. After a while, Sue and I decided to go in for a swim. We waded out until the water was about chest high and started body surfing the waves. The waves were in the 1-3 foot swell category and we were having a grand old time. We saw a perfect wave approaching and got ready to body surf it. There is some disagreement between Sue and I over the height of the wave. I think it was approximately 80 feet tall, Sue says 3. (Sue is correct.)  I assume you understand that I was correct. Either way, we rode the wave –Sue successfully, me not so much. I mistimed my swim and was ahead of the crashing wave.  It landed right on top of me and used my body like a basketball against the bottom. I stood up right away and thought, wow, that one hurt a bit, but no big deal. Until I tried to breathe. Guys: I had the same feeling we get when that girl knees us in the balls after we say that thing to them that they don’t like. Only it wouldn’t stop. I was hunched over in knee-deep water and told Sue that I needed a bit of help. We walked back to the blanket and I lay down wheezing like an even older man than I am.

I figured it would ease up if I just relaxed and allowed my breathing to calm down. After about 10 minutes it was clear to me that wasn’t going to happen. We piled back into the car and went to the local hospital. Which is, of course, closed on Sunday–I guess because no one ever gets hurt in church. Karl and Guiselle quickly figured out where that the nearest 24/7 hospital was (about 3 km away), and we headed there. By now I was really very uncomfortable; I could breathe and didn’t feel dizzy or faint, but I could not seem to get enough breath to catch up.

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I was much more excited when I thought it was Nitrous Oxide, but alas only Oxygen.

The hospital staff was great. They got me on a gurney, hooked up the oxygen, gave me an IV and then started to ask about what had happened, my details and my medical history. All in perfect English. They explained everything to me first, then to Sue and then to Karl and Guiselle (in Spanish) so that nothing was lost. Once my oxygen level was stabilized, they took x-rays of my back and neck. (Yes, Phil, they did find a spine despite what you have been saying all these years). They quickly ruled out any broken bones and diagnosed that my muscles were just very inflamed and were locked in spasms. The spasms were causing me to be unable to expand my lungs.

They gave me a muscle relaxant, some Valium and told me to rest. After about 45 minutes, Dr. Oscar came and explained that he spoke to the clinical director and they were a little concerned that there could be bruising on my lungs. While they thought it was unlikely, they recommended that we have a CT scan, however, their hospital did not have one and the nearest one was in Liberia about an hour away.  We (Sue and I) discussed the low probability of the bruise and the potential problems that would occur if the bruise started to cause problems when we did not have access to a CT scan locally. (Also, Karl had called 911 when the hospital was closed and was told, “I don’t know that area,” so that did not inspire confidence in case of breathing emergency.) I thought to myself, the reason I have experts in my life is to rely on their opinion, and while it would mean a two–hour roundtrip in an ambulance and missing the Super Bowl, we decided it was the wisest course.

The hospital provided the ambulance and a very kind nurse practitioner (Sofia) for the trip. The clinical director was already at the hospital in Liberia.  When we arrived, she met us at the ambulance, dealt directly with the medical staff in the Liberia hospital (who, by the way, all spoke perfect English).  Because it was Sunday night, the usual wait time for a CT report is 2-4 hours, but she arranged with the pulmonologist that she would video the CT scan and he would read it immediately so that if there was nothing wrong, we could get back on the road without wasting too much time.

There was much good news. First, the CT scan was fine, second, and just as importantly, I was able to stream the Super Bowl on my phone during the return trip ;-).

All in, a busy first day of the trip.

A few very well deserved Thank yous.

First, of course, to my wonderful, brilliant, calm under pressure and clearheaded wife. (You’re welcome, husband.) She took control, knew when to ask me if I needed anything, dealt with all the paperwork–apparently my birthday is May 30, 2020, (OK, so I was a little worried) just so you know  😉

Second to our fabulous hosts Karl and Guiselle, who got us to the hospital, made sure all the translations came through and even made us dinner when we got home at 9 p.m.

Third, Dr. Oscar and all the medical staff at the BeachSide Clinic.  They were just fabulous.  They patiently explained everything at least 3 times (to me and Sue in English and to Karl and Guiselle in Spanish). They were attentive and kind. When I was uncomfortable, they had three guys come and move me about 3 inches, but only after explaining exactly who was doing what and with Dr. Oscar watching just in case. They were so kind in fact, that when we were leaving the Liberia hospital, the clinical director asked Sue if we wanted to stop for dinner as we had not eaten that day.

Fourth, the hospital staff in Liberia, all of whom were patient and explained everything to me in English and made sure I knew what was happening and when it was going to happen.

Getting hurt in a foreign country is scary –especially one where you do not speak the language, but the care I received was just amazing, both medically and personally.

Uncle David–Sorry if I got any of the medical stuff wrong.

Tomorrow: Sky diving! Only kidding mom.

 

Planning for Alaska

We continue to plan and book our Alaska travel.  A quick recap for those of you who have forgotten.

boatMy mother, brother, sister and myself, along with our respective wives/husband, are going to Alaska this summer. We are cruising from Vancouver to Whittier and then heading to Denali National Park. My sister, her husband and my mother are taking the cruise line’s three-day Denali tour.

My brother, sister-in-law, Sue and I were talking about doing a three-day remote camping wolftrip, but we were dissuaded from that by my cousin who has been to Alaska many times. She advised that we might have three days of bad weather so flying in and out may not be available and, even if it is, we might be spend three days soaking wet and cold.  I tapped out and we looked for alternatives. She let us know that there were a couple of lodges about 100 miles into the actual park that might be good places to stay.

We opted for the Kantishna Roadhouse for three nights. It looks amazing and we are very exciting. Once we had our Denali destination, we began to look at the logistics. We have two options to get to Kantishna. We could fly or take the train. Flying has the benefit of being much faster, but often the weather grounds the plane. Even the charter company said it is risky to assume that they will get out on any given day. Not a big deal if you are camping, but given that we have a three-night reservation, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to risk it.

busGetting to the Roadhouse via train is more complicated, but more reliable. The Roadhouse runs a bus from the Denali train station to the Roadhouse that takes six hours.  It leaves from the Denali train station at 1:30 p.m.; however, the train from Anchorage arrives in Denali 3:40 p.m. so in order to get the bus, we need to stay one night in the town of Denali.  Making it even more complicated, the train leaves from Anchorage at about 8:20 a.m., but we disembark the cruise ship in Whittier at 8 a.m. This leaves us figuring out how to get from Whittier to Anchorage (estimated travel time 90  minutes) in under 20 minutes. I guess that won’t work. We checked on a couple of other options (get off earlier and taking the cruise line’s chartered train), neither of which are going to work. That means we are also spending a night in Anchorage. (Any suggestions on things to do/see would be much appreciated).

arctic circleAfter our three day jaunt in the park, we are going to Fairbanks. The Roadhouse bus takes us back to Denali, where we can grab the Alaska Railway’s train (which leaves late enough that we do not have stay overnight in Denali again). Sue and I are planning to take a trip from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle.  It is a 15-17 hour bus trip that appears to make a few stops along the way, then reaches the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Arctic Circle sign. We will get off the bus, take a photo and then turn back. I am not sure there is even a gift shop! I know 15 hours on a bus in order to take photo and get a certificate that we have walked north of the Arctic Circle, on the edge of foolishness.  Sue and I are absolutely in; my brother and his wife may apply reason and logic and drop out.

Lots still to plan, be we are making progress.

 

 

Working in the Sunshine

I woke up today to see snow on the ground; true, was only a light dusting, but I am reminded once again, that I live in Chicago in the winter (my feeling are summed up by this song). On the bright side, tomorrow will be mid-40s and more importantly, I have started the countdown to our first trip of the year.

Our trip to Costa Rica starts on February 1, so at this time I have 28 days to get through—really 27 because it is already evening here and we leave very early in the morning on the 1st.  I am counting the days. As Sue mentioned, she will be learning to Scuba dive, sitting on the beach, taking day trips who knows where and living the Pure Vida while  hitting the cerveza. (I am really hoping to have some work. Honest!)

I will be working.

I am in no way complaining. I will sitting (hopefully outside) at Karl’s place in shorts, a T-shirt and wearing sun screen—not bad for February. However, since I will be working, I am beginning to worry about being connected and all the things I will need to lug down there in order to be able to work.

my laptop
My new laptop

Let’s start with my laptop, of course. I will need power, micro and USB-C cables for various peripherals, and a long Cat-5 Ethernet cable in case the WiFi isn’t so good. I am also thinking I might bring along a WiFi repeater that I have stored in the junk box downstairs. We don’t use it at home, and if the WiFi isn’t so good, perhaps I will set it up somewhere to get a boost (so I can sit outside of course). In the next week or so, I will have a look at Playa Flamingo to see if there is a coffee shop that says it has WiFi, so that if the coverage isn’t good at Karl’s, I can head there and get connected. Then me being me, I will need backups for pretty much of everything—just in case.

Brick phone
Only the latest cell phone for me!

I will need a working mobile phone.  Like most people these days, I live on my phone. (He is worse than the Millennials and Gen Z.) My company does not have a phone system; we all work on our cell phones and have a soft number assigned for work.  I hope we have decent phone coverage there, but if we don’t it works fine on WiFi (see the discussion above about the WiFi extender).  I will contact my provider and arrange for an international call package. I get a half gig of high speed data per day on the plan for $10, so unless I need to use the phone as I hot spot, that won’t be an issue.

 

All in I am really excited for the trip. This post has taken me 30 minutes to write, which means I am 30 minutes closer to the warm sunny weather. In my head, I see this:

me working

But I do worry about it being this…

me not working

Maybe I need an extra backup plan….

I Figure We Can See All of Alaska in 10 Days….

denali picture

I know that I have not been writing very much recently.  I have been distracted by work and somewhat depressed by the thought of spending another winter in Chicago.

One part of my trip to Florida to surprise my mother that I did not mention was that during the time down there she announced that she wanted to take us (my brother, sister and myself) and our respective spouses on an Alaskan cruise this summer.

Princess-AKWe have spent the last few weeks trying to get agreement on which cruise would work for the seven of us. Imagine the hunger games for cruises…Shouting on phone calls, imaginary use of swear words, minor fistfights, a smallish stabbing and the usual hysteria–all of which was just between Sue and me ;-). (Hey, I thought that was private!) We decided on a seven-day northbound cruise on Princess lines out of Vancouver.

denali-mapOnce the cruise was decided, everyone expressed an interest in going to Denali National Park. We figure three days in a wilderness larger than the state of Massachusetts should give us just enough time to know that we have not spent enough time there.

We began by looking at three options.  First, go with the cruise line and stay in their lodge.  That got a hard no from Sue and me. Second, go to a private hotel/lodge/cabins most of which are along the outside edge of the park.  Third, do a  multi-day camping and hiking tour. (The tour company flies you in to a remote lake, drops you off and provides the camping equipment, food and a guide).

Sue and I were keen on the third option, and my brother, Phil, and his wife, Naomi, were in for that, too. My sister, Judie, her husband, Mario, and my mother are planning on staying at the Princess Lodge.

My cousin Robin has been to Alaska a number of times, so after doing some research on the camping companies, we gave her a call to see what she thought.  She gave us a forceful caution on the camping trip.  As she said, it could be perfect, but it could also be the trip from hell. Twenty-four hours of rain a day, everything gets wet, the hiking sucks because it is cold and wet. You can’t get warm for four days, etc.  She suggested that we look at one of the lodges that are within the park and, while they are expensive, they do always give you a warm dry bed to sleep in. We have not yet made a decision….but are leaning towards listening to the wisdom of someone who has done it before – I know, unusual for us.

Stay tuned campers for updates.

Happy Birthday

 

It is my mother’s 82nd birthday next week. Ever since she turned 80, we (my brother, sister and I) have been working extra hard to give her special birthdays. This year, we decided that it would be good fun for all of us to pay her a surprise visit in Florida, where she lives during the winter.

My brother lives in Dallas, my sister in Pennsylvania and I live in Chicago, so the first step was finding a weekend near her birthday that would work. We settled on the week before, as both of them were traveling for work the following weekend and my daughter is coming to Chicago the one after that. OK. Step one was completed⁠—we knew when we were going⁠—Thursday, Oct. 31 to Sunday, Nov. 3.

Move to step 2. Arrange travel. We all hopped on to our favorite travel sites and looked for flights that would all arrive around the same time. One quick round of confirmation texts and we all booked our tickets. My sister and brother were set to arrive at 2:00 and 2:30, my flight is scheduled for 3. My mother lives about 30 minutes from the airport, so all in we figured we get to her at about 4.

Move to step 3. Figure out how to ensure that my mother was at home when we arrived. Time to call in the co-conspirators. I called my Aunt Es and Uncle Albert who live about 20 minutes from my mother. After quickly letting them know that nothing was wrong (seems like anytime anyone calls these days, the first thought is what is wrong), I explained our plan. They were more than happy to help. To quote (or at lease paraphrase) my uncle: “Not to worry, we will tell her (my mother) that we are going to be up there and want to take her to dinner, then we will arrive, have a glass of wine and, you know, stall until you all arrive.”

The plans were set, all we needed to do was wait for the day. My brother and sister had uneventful flights and arrived right on time. However, Chicago weather is never your friend, and once again it did not disappoint. Snow. Yes, snow on Wednesday (just about an inch at the airport) and then then snow again on Halloween. My flight was delayed. Not too much, about 45 minutes, but then I had to check my carry on bag, which would have to be collected at baggage claim, not on the jet bridge. Oh dear, now we are arriving around 5.

My brother and sister texted my aunt and uncle to let them know. Luckily for us, they have concocted a story for my mother that involved waiting for my cousin to arrive. They quite admirably stretched out the stall for another hour while we got my luggage, piled into an Uber and headed to my mother’s condo.

20191102_112119We are planners. My brother, sister and I all thought through the approach as my mother’s living room faces the building entrance way.  We asked our Uber driver to drop us off at the next building and we circled around to entrance at that back of the building.

We snuck up to the door.

Knocked.

My mother yelled come in.

We yelled, “Trick or Treat,” and walked in.

To say she looked confused would be an understatement. We burst into a very very very very off key (and for me out of time) rendition of Happy Birthday.

My mother clutched her chest (a heart attack looked possible!!!!), tears streaming down her cheeks and great big smile on her face. Isn’t my husband the sweetest?!?!?!

ma

After a few minutes of hugs and kisses, everything settled down. We knew my mother was fine when she looked at my aunt and uncle and promptly declared. “You knew this! I will never speak to you again. Now let’s figure out where to have dinner.”

We are spending the weekend doing what we do best together.  Sitting around, eating, talking about our respective families and basking in the glow of a really great surprise.

…and in case you were concerned.  Aunt Es and Uncle Albert were forgiven by the time we got to the Thai restaurant for dinner.