bikes planes and automobiles · Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · whine and cheese

Day 642: Choosing (and using) the Chair

I know, I know: I haven’t blogged in days. We made it home from Galapagos without any major flight disruptions, but the two days of airports and travel led to a lovely fibro-flare (on top of the cold I already had,) and then I spent most of last night throwing up (not fibro-related.) So, you know, I’ve been busy.

I’m still not sure why I can hike up a volcano at high altitude but not manage two days of travel through airports. By the end of the second flight, though, my legs were painful and shaky; and we were in MIA again, which is miles of walking from one terminal to another. I told Mr. December to request wheelchair assistance for our next flight.

That’s where our travel went downhill: apparently, wheelchairs are commonly M.I.A. at MIA. Surprised? I’m not. We waited an hour for a wheelchair, despite the fact that there were forty or fifty of them not far away—apparently they’re owned by private companies and you have to wait for an attendant to push you the whole way. I’m not saying that’s an inefficient way to do things, but don’t you think it would be better if you could just rent a wheelchair the way you rent a luggage cart, and return it at the gate?

I really need to get over myself and the perceived awkwardness, and request a wheelchair before I start feeling crappy, as a preventative measure. I don’t have to be wincing in pain and limping in order to use a chair, I know, but somehow it feels like I do. When I got out of the wheelchair at the curb in Toronto, Mr. December chided me:

“You can’t just get up and walk away like that! You have to wait for me to shout, ‘BEGONE, ACCURSED DEMONS! I CAST YOU OUT IN THE NAME OF JEBUS! ARISE AND WALK! JEBUS HEALS YOU!’

I think that illustrates the problem nicely: we (as a society) still have a perception that if you get up from a wheelchair and start to walk, you were faking. So if I, feeling perfectly fine, walk up to a chair and get in… and then get up at the other end of the building and walk away, still feeling fine… did I really need that chair?

Yes, I did. I can say that because I didn’t take the chair from the outset, and I’m still suffering the consequences. My brain is foggy, my limbs are heavy, and all I want to do is go back to bed. I don’t even have the wherewithal to edit this post—sorry bout that.

bikes planes and automobiles · Costa Rica · family fun · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 629: Galapagos

Well, our flight from Guayaquil to Galapagos was uneventful (and had the most legroom of any plane I’ve been on in the last twenty years.) We were greeted at the airport and arrived at our apartment by 3 p.m. 

We didn’t really meet anyone from the group until Tuesday morning at breakfast. I saw a table with three teenage girls seated at it; I told K to go sit there. I suggested to some other adults that we should have a parents’ table, and I pushed my other three kids towards a large table with some other children. E met another six-year-old girl who was shy but eventually warmed up (they’re best friends now,) N started talking with a few boys, and R watched quietly (which surprised me.) 

On Tuesday we visited the Charles Darwin Centre and learned about what their scientists are doing in order to preserve the ecosystem here. Afterwards, we walked out to the beach and scrambled across the rocks to find crabs, iguanas, and even some fish in the tidal pools. 

Tuesday afternoon was our first Spanish lesson. I’m in the beginner class with Mr. December and two other parents. It’s not difficult for me, thanks to Mango Languages and ten years of learning French, but I’m glad that I have the opportunity to solidify the basics. Me gusto parlar Español. 

Wednesday morning saw us boarding a boat for a Bahia boat tour. We landed and took a hike out to see blue-footed boobies and iguanas. Then we got back on the boat and sailed over to another park where we hiked past a salt marsh and tons of cacti, and down into a canyon where we swam in the brackish water between the canyon walls. After that we took the boat to another part of the bay where we snorkelled over dozens of non-pointy sea urchins (we actually held one in our hands) and got pretty close to a huge manta ray and dozens of different kinds of fish. 

In the afternoon all the kids went to play soccer with local children. I walked out to get my SIM card topped up with data (cellular data is far more reliable than any wifi on the island, though it’s still slow.) I’d always heard that cellular service is cheaper everywhere that isn’t Canada, but I was still astonished to have paid ten dollars U.S. and received 12 gigs of data, plus unlimited gigs for WhatsApp and Messenger. Just… wow. 

(Even more wow was the fact that I went into the store and was able to do the whole transaction in Spanish!)

This morning (Thursday) we had another Spanish class. This time we went out to the main road with our teacher and practiced asking vendors how much things cost, to see if we correctly understood the prices in Spanish. 

The kids had a lesson on renewable energy that K said was “pretty basic,” and then they were free for lunch. When they went back to the classroom at 2:00 for a cooking lesson, we walked down to the pier to ask about weekend tours to other islands. We want to see penguins, so we’re probably heading off to Floreana and Isabella. You’ll likely not hear from me until Monday, when I’ll update you on how the weekend tours went. 

bikes planes and automobiles · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese · Worldschooling

Day 625: Just Barely Made It

I cannot believe it: we got to the airport four hours before our flight, and we only just made it onto the plane after the final boarding. 

MIA struck again. 

We got our new COVID tests (because the ones we had on Thursday were no longer recent enough, thanks to our cancelled flight) in about twenty-five minutes, including registering and waiting for our results afterwards. With three and a half hours left, we figured we’d definitely have time to eat dinner sitting down after we got through security. We went off to get our suitcases and then got in line for check-in. 

What a mess. The line was long, multiple airport employees were trying to control the line, which led to some confusion, and check-in seemed to take forever. Finally, we were ready to go through security. 

“Eema? I need to go to the bathroom.”

Mr. December and I looked at the kids incredulously. “We were just sitting around waiting for half an hour, and you wait until NOW to need a bathroom? Okay, fine, but let’s hurry. The security line looks long.”

For reasons unknown, certain children of ours took about ten minutes in the bathroom. When they finally emerged, we walked swiftly to the entrance to the security line. It was so long that people were queueing up down the concourse. We followed the line past stores and bathrooms, up a ramp, around the corner… we must have walked 800 metres to the end of that line. 

The TSA security people were brusque and allowed no dallying—none. One of our bags was missing, we were trying to figure out where it was, and the guy was like, “Move! Keep moving!” Um, ya think you could just say “I have your bag”? 

Anyhow, we finally made it through security. We went to find our gate before getting some food; when we got there, there were only a few people in line and the screen said “FINAL BOARDING CALL.” We hurried to get onboard. No dinner for us. 

But we made it.

bikes planes and automobiles · Keepin' it real · The COVID files

Day 624a: It’s All Good

Okay, it’s mostly good. We couldn’t get a flight any earlier than tomorrow evening, so I rescheduled our Galapagos flight for Monday morning. Avianca’s process was kind of slow, but they picked up the phone right away and the associate was very friendly.

We hit Walmart this morning to get bathing suits for K, N, and R, whose suits are in our checked luggage (still at the MIA airport, hopefully not MIA.) Mr. December and I borrowed swimsuits from his parents. This place has a huge pool and hot tub, which we enjoyed for a couple of hours before coming back to the apartment and ordering dinner from The Cheesecake Factory (the food was excellent.)

Tomorrow we’ll leave for the airport at 1:30, take another COVID test at the airport (because it will have been more than 72 hours since our last test,) and get on a plane to Guayaquil. Wish us luck.

bikes planes and automobiles · Costa Rica · Good Grief · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · whine and cheese · Worldschooling

Day 624: MIA in MIA

I knew flying through Miami was a bad idea.

The first time I flew to Miami airport, I was fifteen years old and on my way to meet Aunty Leah, Uncle Benny, and Grandpa for a week-long vacation. It was my first time travelling alone; I’d been assured that Aunty, Uncle, and Grandpa would meet me. They didn’t. After inquiring with their airline and discovering that their flight had been delayed by five hours, I cried. I had no idea what to do with myself. I called Dad for guidance. He reached out to Mum’s Aunty Doris, and I soon had an address to give a taxi driver. I stayed at Doris’s house until Aunty and Uncle came to collect me.

The second time, Mum and I were on our way to Florida a few months before my wedding to shop for a dress for Mum (and to meet up with Aunty Leah and Uncle Benny.) The first leg of our flight—to Washington, D.C.—was delayed on the tarmac by several hours; by the time we got to Washington it was late at night and there were no more flights to Miami. The airline put us up in a hotel overnight and rerouted us through Charlotte, NC. Twenty-four hours after our original flight time, we arrived in Florida for our truncated shopping weekend.

I was starting to feel like maybe Miami airport was just bad luck. Or was it that meeting Aunty Leah in Miami was the problem? This isn’t confirmation, strictly speaking, but after Aunty Leah died and they were bringing her to Toronto for burial, her body got delayed in Miami for a while. Of course it did, I marvelled. MIA had struck again.

By now, you understand why flying through Miami on our way to Galapagos (listen to me saying “on our way” as if Miami wasn’t in the exact opposite direction) felt like a bad idea to me. The only better options involved paying an extra $1500 and flying through Panama. We reasoned that we had far better ways to spend $1500 and the extra flight time wasn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. So we booked.

Our flight from San José arrived in Miami on time. We were fully prepared for a tightly-timed transfer, and to their credit the kids moved quickly and without complaint through customs and the security re-check. We made it to the gate area only two minutes after the boarding time on our tickets, stopped to check which gate we were going to, and saw this:

AA927 GUAYAQUIL CANCELLED

Our flight was cancelled. Over the next two hours we learned that we’d been rescheduled to the earliest possible flight: 7:30 p.m. on Sunday. Two days late. We’d miss our flight to Galapagos. We’d miss the first three days of the Worldschooling retreat.

Then we learned that there were no hotel rooms available anywhere in Miami because of an arts festival. The airline was very sorry, but all they could offer were complimentary paper pillows (you know the ones) and tiny fleece blankets.

All I can say is, thank God for in-laws who have a condo just north of Fort Lauderdale.

Please excuse me while I go to sleep.

bikes planes and automobiles · Costa Rica · family fun · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 623: The Airport Report

We arrived at San José International Airport (SJO) three hours before our departure time and headed straight to the self-check-in kiosk, which didn’t work (kept freezing at the same part of the process every time.) As it turned out, we needed to sign an attestation about our vaccination and testing status, without which we couldn’t check in. Fine. We ended up checking in with an agent, which was great because he checked our bags all the way through to Guayaquil (we’re flying via Miami) and reassured me that we’re checked in for both flights and we don’t have to do anything in Miami except pass immigration and head to the gate for our second flight.

A kindly guard saw that we were a big group travelling with kids and allowed us to bypass most of the line. The woman operating the x-ray machine wasn’t quite so wonderful; neither was the setup. My computer went flying and hit the floor when it came through the machine because there were too many of those gray bins backed up on the conveyer belt (the computer is fine, and I’m glad I insisted on a hardshell case for it.) It (understandably) took us a long time to get our stuff together on the other side of the scanner. Since there was no table or counter for re-packing things, we were still occupying most of the belt four or five minutes later. The woman at the scanner started yelling at us, which I took with good humour because I had no idea what exactly she was saying. But really, we can’t be the first large family to go through security here. I’m sure backups like this happen all the time, so why on earth don’t they have any infrastructure to deal with it?

Interesting to note is that the departure gate doesn’t have many of those bolted-to-the-ground rows of seats that we’re used to seeing. Instead, it looks like a food court, with tables and plastic chairs scattered around the area. We’ve staked our claim at one of the tables and now I’m sitting here while Mr. December and the kids explore. Boarding doesn’t even start for another 45 minutes, and I’m happy to sit quietly by myself (I’m still feeling nauseated from the van ride to the airport.) I’d love to get on the plane and go to sleep, but I’m feeling pretty wired. My next full night of sleep will be tomorrow night; tonight I’ll be lucky to get five hours.

bikes planes and automobiles · Costa Rica · Keepin' it real · The COVID files · Travelogue

Day 621: The rules, they are a-changin’

I’m trying not to follow the news too closely. I’ve heard there’s a new COVID variant called Omicron, and that’s about all I know; but we leave for Ecuador in two days, so American Airlines has been only too happy to give me the lowdown.

Instead of only the three unvaccinated children requiring an RT-PCR test, we all need one; instead of 3 days before our flight, the tests must be taken no more than one day prior to departure. There’s also a contact tracing form to fill out before we check in.

It’s not that any of these things is a big deal—they’re inconvenient at worst—but the speed with which the rules changed surprised me.

The kids had questions this afternoon:

Q: What if we’re not allowed back into Canada?
A: Won’t happen. They can’t turn citizens away at the border.

Q: Will we have to quarantine when we get home?
A: Maybe. Would you even notice? We spent most of the last 621 days in our house together, just the six of us. It’ll be like old times.

Q: Can I go on the screen?
A: No, you lost screen privileges. Also, WE’RE HAVING A CONVERSATION! Can you focus for, like, ten minutes?

Q: Will you buy me Skittles?
A: (sigh)

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · whine and cheese

Day 580: Trip Day 1

It’s late at night, so I’m just writing a few lines and some point form notes so I remember what happened today.

  • Flight was delayed for an hour—which we spent sitting in the plane. Mr. December and I had the worst seats on the entire plane—back row, couldn’t recline AND slightly less legroom than the rest of economy class.
  • Shuttle to hotel fine, hotel great, remind me to tell you the story of its founder.
  • Woke up early this morning and met guide for walking tour. Visited parks, markets, pedestrian malls; saw an iguana sunning himself next to the “temple of music” in one park; took pictures in front of bronze angel wings that were a gift from Mexico. Tried ice cream from a vendor that’s been making it for like 100 years—delicious. Vanilla with cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg… I loved it. E and N, not so much.
  • E ate next to nothing all day. At breakfast she tasted the bread (plain white bread! with butter!), the pineapple pudding, the granola cereal. She didn’t like any of it, so she didn’t eat.
  • On the walking tour we stopped at a fruit stand, bought a bunch of different local fruits. Our guide cut them up and we sat down and tasted everything. Except N who tasted nothing. Mr. December took him to a bakery and they came back with a loaf of—wait for it—white bread, which N shared with a ravenous E (to her credit, she did taste the fruit.)
  • All very tired. Back to hotel. Mr. December to his company’s San Jose office. “I’ll be back at 5-6” he said.
  • I took a nap. Kids watched Shrek 2, then played computer games. Went out briefly to convenience store for snacks, since Mr. D was due back in a couple of hours and we’d go to dinner together then.
  • Mr. D did not come back at 5. Texted me at 5:30 that he’d gone to get something to eat with coworkers. I was pretty miffed.
  • Kids were hangry; we went to the hotel restaurant. Pleasant surprise—menu full of things they’d actually eat (except for E, who ate fries and that was it.) Ordered Panko crusted chicken, steak, beef stir fry, chicken soup, tomato soup with grilled cheese. Chicken soup came with tiny pot of plain rice. E ate nothing, kept whining about how hungry she was.
  • Restaurant staff probly thought I was upset with them or the food. I kept looking around for Mr. D and putting my face in my hands in despair b/c E wouldn’t eat.
  • Mr. D arrived at 7:15. We went out to get E something to eat. Almost everything CLOSED. One bakery open. E didn’t want any of the savory options. Ended up with a donut. If we hadn’t suggested a donut she’d have gone hungry.
  • Back to hotel; packing up for tomorrow’s 6:30 departure to the coast. Trying not to be quite so annoyed with Mr. D, with mixed results. No idea what to do about E and food.

TL:DR—beautiful country, friendly people, great tour guide. Food excellent, esp rice and beans for breakfast. Fabulous coffee. Picky children. Tired me.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 579: Ready as I’m Gonna Be

The suitcases are all packed.

After a last-minute water-bottle malfunction and a trip to Canadian Tire, everyone has collapsable water bottles again.

Our boarding passes and Costa Rica Health Check QR codes are printed and paperclipped to the covers of our passports; our passports are stacked open to the photo pages, ready to be quickly flipped through and scanned. They’re in one of my many pockets in my scott-e-vest sweatshirt.

The sukkah has been taken down. The kayaks will just have to stay spread out over the Bakfiets ’til I come back.

I’ve paid all the bills.

I’ve dropped my cellphone plan down to a very basic one so that my voicemail will still pick up while we’re away. I’d better change my voicemail message to say that people should WhatsApp me instead.

The kids have bathed and dressed; they’ve stashed snacks in every available pocket (and since three of them have those magic hoodies, there are a LOT of available pockets.)

The final count of bags is: 2 suitcases (checked luggage); 2 carry-on suitcases; 5 backpacks; 1 guitar.

We leave for the airport an hour from now. I need to eat lunch and take a shower before we go.

Shutting down my computer now. Wish us luck!