crafty · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 534: Tunnels and Tortoises

Today we went up to the highlands of Santa Cruz. We walked through lava tunnels, gawked at two collapsed magma chambers, and spent some time among the giant tortoises.

This morning I had the kids do a bit of writing about our trip. E was very resistant to doing it the usual way—that is to say, where I write the words she dictates and then she copies them—but was enchanted by the idea of her giving me copywork for a change. She wrote “We went snorkelling” and drew lines underneath for me to write on; she also wrote each word on a separate line and added lines for me to copy each word three or four times. I didn’t think it was fair to tell her that this way was more work for her.

Yesterday and today I’ve taken my little sketch book along on our tours and tried to draw at least one thing from each place we go. I don’t usually draw living subjects, but the tortoises move so slowly that they’re more like inanimate objects—so I drew one.

family fun · Keepin' it real · snarky · Travelogue · well *I* think it's funny... · Worldschooling

Day 632: Isabella

There are things you can say in Galapagos—in polite company, with complete honesty, with a straight face—that you can’t anywhere else: 

“I want to see more boobies.”

“So they can touch us, but we can’t touch them?”

“Wow, these boobies are way bigger than the last ones we saw.”

And then there’s this one: 


R rolled her eyes when I said it the first time.

“Well, it is!” I pointed out. 

She was unimpressed, so I tried with N. 

“N, did you hear? THE FLOOR IS LAVA!”

“Very funny, Eema,” he said, in a voice that told me it was anything but. 

But honestly—if you can’t say “THE FLOOR IS LAVA!” when you’re walking through a lava field, when can you?

The landscape at Tintoreras was surreal. Not only was the floor lava, but the whole area was covered in what looked a bit like porous black stalagmites, topped with white lichens. The iguanas took camouflage to a whole new level with their spiky black bodies and a bit of white on their heads. I’d be walking along when I’d detect movement from the corner of my eye, and then suddenly what I thought was a rock turned into a live iguana, just inches away. 

You’d think I’d be used to spontaneous wildlife appearances by now; but in Galapagos the animals almost go out of their way to put themselves in ours. There are sea lions just lying around on the sidewalks, like dozens of drunks passed out in the street. 

(We were confused about how they were getting from the water to the sidewalk until we watched one climb the stairs with his fins and feet. They are adorable when they crawl.)

We had hoped to encounter baby sea lions during our snorkelling excursions. Alas, the only ones we saw were ten metres away in a tidal pool, surrounded by rocks that made the whole thing look like a baby jail playpen. They were jumping and cavorting together while their fathers stood watch on a nearby rock, barking at anyone who got too close. 

We also swam through a cloud of tiny jellyfish and over dozens of white-tipped sharks, and through narrow canals lined with green sea urchins (“Don’t touch,” our guide cautioned.) 

On land, we walked to a beach where the iguanas basked in the sun. A baby sea lion was waiting on the sand for its mother to return with some food; only a few metres away we noticed a small skull, and the kids found some tiny rib bones and a spine a few feet past that. Apparently some sea lion moms don’t come back. 

(“Maybe because the kids are annoying and won’t go to bed on time,” Mr. December suggested.)

Our hotel that night was exactly what we needed: one room with a king bed for the grownups, and another with four single beds for the kids. Mr. December and I went into our child-free room and lay down to relax; three minutes later, we heard a knock on the door.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I locked it. I just need the silence.” Mr. December nodded.

Moments later, as if in a horror movie, the kids emerged through the window (I didn’t know the screens slid open like that.) The first time they did it, I was exasperated. The second time, I was indignant. By the third time, it was just funny, like the signature entrance of a weird neighbour on a nineties sitcom; I could practically hear the laugh track and applause as N stepped through the window frame. 

It was less amusing when he came in at three in the morning, complaining of thirst. I sent him off with a water bottle and tried to go back to sleep despite the loud music coming from a party many blocks away. Eventually I searched for my swimming earplugs and put them in: silence. I got three more hours of sleep after 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 · 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:


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.

Costa Rica · family fun · Worldschooling

Day 622: This House

As my mother so eloquently put it in the comments, I left you in a traffic jam two nights ago. Sorry about that.

The house we’re in now is pretty great. Not as cool and unique as the house in Playa Avellanas, but very well suited to our needs. It’s a single-storey house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a “casita” (in cottage country we’d call it a bunkie.) I’m sure you can imagine how thrilled K was, in her teenage way, to have a tiny house all to herself.

The house is built in a Mediterranean style, surrounding a courtyard with a pool in the middle. There’s plenty of seating outside—a table and chairs, a couch and two armchairs with a coffee table, a couple more chairs with a small table between them. The only thing missing is a hammock, which could easily be added.

(Note to self: next time we travel, bring Mr. December’s packable hammock.)

The kitchen is newly outfitted with almost everything we need (a cutting board and a jug with a lid would be nice to have.) There’s a dining area and a living room beyond that. There’s a workspace with a desk and an ergonomic office chair just a step down from the dining room, perfect for Mr. December since he’s working this week.

And my favourite part: at the opposite end of the house from the living room is a sunroom. It’s got doors and windows all around so that we can open it and feel like we’re outside. There are a couple of couches, a flat-screen TV, and a table with chairs, and—most importantly—a door that seals it off from the rest of the house, including Mr. December’s workspace. As soon as we arrived I claimed the sunroom as our classroom.

And the pool… well, the listing said it was heated, but it felt more like a Muskoka lake in September to me. The host let me know that the pool has a solar heater, which would be great in Guanacaste where it’s the dry season right now, but less useful here in the mountains where it rains every other day.

The house, gated and surrounded by walls, is in a residential neighbourhood. Last night we walked out to a restaurant and a supermarket. The walk wasn’t long—twelve minutes each way—and I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were sidewalks all the way there.

Today is our last full day here in Costa Rica. Tomorrow after lunch we’ll leave for the airport and the next adventure: the Galapagos Islands.

Costa Rica · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · lists · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 615: I should have packed more…

Packing light was a brilliant idea before our trip. I reasoned that we needed very few physical materials and books; between our Kobos and the internet, we could access anything we needed online.

The friends with whom we shared our last accommodation are traveling for a year. They packed a ton of things we didn’t, including one suitcase full of books and school materials. Each of their children had a huge pencil case filled with markers, pencils, crayons, sharpeners, and erasers; our kids are sharing one pencil box with a bare-bones set of coloured pencils and fifteen pencils to share between six people.

When it comes to clothing, I’m glad we packed as we did. Wearing the same three outfits every day for weeks on end is no hardship (if I’m honest, we do pretty much the same thing at home.) Homeschooling, however, feels like the wrong place to economize on packing. There are quite a few things I wish we had brought, especially now that our internet is slow and unreliable.

More Pencils

You may laugh, but fifteen pencils were with us at the beginning of our trip; a search this morning turned up a grand total of five. Sure, pencils are cheap and plentiful almost everywhere in the world, but they don’t grow on trees in the jungle outside our house. With no car and no plans to go into town, I find myself feeling just the tiniest bit agitated when N mindlessly sharpens his pencil for several minutes. We don’t have enough pencils to sharpen them into oblivion, I want to say, but don’t. An extra pack of pencils in our suitcase would have solved the problem.

(Mr. December just read the last paragraph and scoffed, “We’re not even close to running out.” That’s only because he’s not currently looking for a pencil. Tomorrow it’ll be, “Why didn’t we pack more pencils?”)

A Map and a Timeline

Every time we see or learn about something new, I get the urge to show the kids the relevant location on a world map or to place an event on our timeline. There’s a ton of information coming at the kids almost daily when we tour; a map and a timeline would really help them relate the new information to things they’ve already learned. It’s super easy to whip up a map on Google Maps… if you have adequate internet, which we don’t. Given that a map— even a large one—and a fold-out timeline would have taken up almost no space, they really should have made my packing list this time around.


In the name of packing light, I chose not to bring E’s writing workbook. Instead, I brought a ruled notebook so that she could use it for anything. What I’ve found since then is that she’s much more amenable to doing three full pages of writing practice in the workbook than one single page that I’ve written out for her. Same work, different source; somehow it makes a huge difference.

Books for E to Read

Our Kobos have been misbehaving lately; each morning I open mine to discover that books I was reading yesterday need to be downloaded again today. Given that I’d borrowed the only copy of some of those e-books—a Spanish book I was using to teach the kids, for example—I was unable to borrow them again and had to put them on hold instead. So much for our Spanish lessons. Kids’ books are a problem too: OverDrive doesn’t have a good way to browse Children’s Early Readers, for example, so if I don’t have a specific title in mind (spoiler: I don’t,) I’m out of luck.

Unlike pencils and a map, books would have added a lot of weight and bulk to our baggage. We would have needed another bag—a situation we were trying to avoid—but it would have been worth it.

Speaking of Bags…

The biggest lesson for me has been about packing in general. You all know that I pride myself on being able to pack things as if they were Tetris blocks, with no wasted space. I’m always very proud of myself when I manage to do it; still, there’s no great achievement in spending two hours packing everything tightly into a suitcase when I could have just brought larger suitcases and thrown everything in willy-nilly.

(And yes, Mr. December told me this multiple times before we left on our trip. I hate it when he’s right—which is 99% of the time. Engineers—ugh.)

Granted, I was working with the bags we own: two medium-smallish suitcases we got as a wedding present. Maybe now that there are six of us instead of just two, it’s time to upgrade to something bigger, like a wheeled duffel bag or maybe a used shipping container.

Costa Rica · family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 613: Trucks and Turtles

A truck came up the gravel driveway—in the middle of our school day—beeping its horn like crazy. Then I heard a man shouting “Panaderia!” which means “bakery.” I stopped our lesson and we went out to investigate.

It was, indeed, a bakery truck. The guys got out and opened up the back to reveal cakes, buns, empanadas, and several varieties of bread. I soon learned that the bakery truck comes every Tuesday and Friday, a fresh fish truck comes around on Thursday, and there’s a produce truck that will come when we call them. That’s what I call customer service!

Here’s E’s take on the bakery truck:

The bread truck was amazing. There were donuts—not chocolate, but they had caramel—and strawberry cheesecake. There were baguettes and we got two donuts, one baguette, some cheesecake and some cinnamon buns. They weren’t as good as the ones we make at home but they were still good.

Tonight we went to Ostional to see the arribada, when hundreds (if not thousands) of sea turtles come up on the beach to lay their eggs. We went fairly early, which meant that there weren’t quite so many turtles yet (the number peaks after midnight,) but we still saw dozens of them. We followed one and watched her make her nest and lay the eggs. Amazing.

Also amazing in a less positive way was how two of my kids (I won’t name names) kept asking me when we could leave. Some people have no appreciation for the miracle of life.

E, on the other hand, was riveted. Here’s what she wanted to write about what we saw:

The turtles are so cool. We saw a turtle digging its nest and laying its eggs, and then covering its nest. We saw turtles going back to the ocean. She dug it with her back flippers using them like shovels. The eggs were ping pong ball size and they looked yellow. I counted more than 90 eggs but there were triples and doubles and I counted them as singles.

That’s all I’ve got. I really have to start writing these posts earlier. ‘Night!

Costa Rica · hackin' it · Keepin' it real · Kids · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 611: Laundry on a Shoestring

Image description: our clothes hanging out to dry on clotheslines: there are three lines zigzagging between trees.

Know what really cuts down on laundry? Wearing bathing suits all day, every day.

Today I did laundry for the first time in eight days. Between the six of us we had a load and a half of dirty clothes… and I use the word “dirty” liberally, because some of those clothes were pretty borderline “I think this might smell funny” decisions. Then there were N’s dirty clothes, which included three pairs of underwear that were still clean—and folded the way I fold them, which means they’ve been that way since we left home. Ten-year-old girls are right: boys are gross.

This house has a washer and dryer, but the dryer doesn’t work very well—it needs to be run three times to dry a single load—so I decided to hang our clothes instead. I was a little short on space, though, and I was running out of places to dry things where they wouldn’t get napped on by the neighbourhood cat. I started racking my brain (and searching the house) for some kind of rope or something to improvise a clothesline out of; I ended up in my closet, pulling out two pairs of extra boot-laces that I had brought “just in case.” I tied them all together and then tied the ends to two trees, which is how I ended up drying my laundry on a shoestring—literally.

Image description: closeup of a knot, clearly a shoelace because of the plastic aglets on both ends. The knot is situated between two pieces of clothing hanging on the line.

This evening I asked N to go outside and bring in all the dry clothes from the line. It seems I wasn’t clear enough on what that meant: he brought in all the clothes, dry or not. I’m never sure with him whether this sort of thing is a skills gap where he needs explicit instruction or if he’s just doing a half-assed job so I won’t ask him to do it again. Anyway, I asked him to come outside with me and do it again. He did—badly. He just kind of threw the clothes onto the line and didn’t bother straightening them out or anything. Is it really not obvious that bunched-up clothes can’t dry as easily as clothes that are spread out? No matter, I got him to come back and hang the clothes properly—far more work than just doing it myself the first time, but at least my efforts will pay off in the end.


(Hey, friends with adult children, I can hear you laughing. Care to share the joke with the class?)