Sleep and other novelties (Part 2)

Jetlag with children! What a joy! Last time when we travelled Melbourne to London we had three days of children waking at 3am in motel rooms. We arrived on the plane from Costa Rica to Spain two days ago. It was a 10 hour flight and we arrived at 11am. Not having any accommodation booked in Spain, we sat down at the airport café, had a coffee, and learned from the info desk that there is a direct bus into the city. I had the address of a reasonably priced hotel in the city, so we withdrew some Euros and jumped on the bus.

Due to Spain’s more stringent enforcement of road rules, we couldn’t fit five of us in a regular taxi, even though Cole (6mo) would have needed to sit on my lap anyway, and there wasn’t a minibus in sight. So we walked through the midday sun with all our suitcases and children. As we walked along, a woman came up and commented enthusiastically on Cole “Que Lindo!” (a common occurrence), but something about it set off alarm bells and I looked around in time to see another woman with her hand in my bag. When I started swearing at her she walked on in a hurry (nothing was taken), and I shoved my little bag into my wrap between me and Cole.

Shaken, exhausted and hot, we arrived gratefully at the hotel and crashed. Scott was snoring in minutes. The kids lounged on the beds watching Sponge Bob in Spanish. I attempted to stay awake, but kept nodding off. Awoke to find Isla (2yo) dissecting my purse. At 6pm, Scott was awake, fresh and ready to go out and Grady (4yo) fell asleep. Scott went out for a bit with Isla to pick up some essentials (milk and midnight snacks) and I slept for an hour or two.  At that point, we woke a very cranky Grady and went out to hunt for something to eat.

Scott busy making snacks.

Scott busy making snacks.

A visit to the playground was the first point of business. It is light here in Madrid until after 9pm and a good play in the park next to the palace relaxed the kids and got them moving again. Then we found a place with a buffet. The food was a bit on the cold side, but I was able to enjoy some Paella and Grady ate fries and about 5 peaches. Everyone eats late in Spain, so we didn’t raise any eyebrows sitting down to dinner at 10pm. The kids would normally be catatonic at this time of night, but with the time difference, their usual bedtime in Spain is about 2am.

Walking through Parque Espana in Madrid

Walking through Parque Espana in Madrid

Summer in Madrid

Summer in Madrid

Grady finds a tree to climb

Grady finds a tree to climb

While we travel, we try to maintain our usual bedtime routine. We keep it pretty simple. A shower (yes, we practised having showers instead of baths before we left home), a story each, a kiss, and lights out. Sometimes we skip the shower. We don’t usually do this routine at midnight, but this night we did, and the kids went to sleep quickly.

I had only booked one night’s accommodation, thinking we might take the train down to Granada, but woke to a knock on the door and the words “Excuse me, our normal check out time is 11am.” It was already noon.  All of us were still fast asleep. I thanked her and asked if we could stay another night and then went back to bed for another hour. We woke feeling somewhat refreshed and went out to explore. We also needed to buy me a new Kindle (see previous post) as well as replace an item of luggage. The handle on the suitcase broke as I attempted to lug it up some stairs upon entering the hostel the day before.

We enjoyed several coffees, a glass of wine and some thick Spanish and Galician omelettes for our 3pm brunch, walked around and made our purchases and came back to our room around 6pm to rest. Grady was tired and cranky and didn’t want to go out for dinner, when we finally roused ourselves from our stupor at about 9.30pm and left the room. We amused ourselves looking at the buskers and sidewalk entertainment around Madrid and sat down at a pleasant terrace around 11pm. Wonderful dinner of steamed cockles, shrimp and crab salad, Iberian Chorizo and fried baby Octopus served with crusty bread and a bottle of Verdelho. The kids fought over the cockles and smeared chocolate pudding all over their faces. There were other small children at the next table. No-one gave our children, eating dinner at midnight, a second glance.

Puppet show busker

Puppet show busker

Cockles!

Cockles!

...and chocolate pudding

…and chocolate pudding

So here you have the advantages of jetlag- if you time it right, you can actually enjoy going out to a restaurant in the evening, and sleep late the following day. Just figure out which timezone is seven hours earlier than where you live and travel there.

It is now almost noon again. I snuck out to the front desk an hour ago and asked if we can stay an extra night. Grady’s watching Sponge Bob again, and everyone else is still asleep. We’ll go to Granada in the morning.

Product review: Kindle Paperwhite

I have been an avid kindle convert since getting one for my birthday 2 years ago. Why?

  1. Books are cheap. No explanation required.
  2. Books are instant and the amazon kindle store is open 24 hours a day. No more anguish when I finish a book about what to read next. No endless re-reading of old books.
  3. My bookcases at home are full.
  4. The kindle doesn’t hurt your eyes like a computer does (or a phone).
  5. If you and your partner both own them you can share an account and share books (if you have similar taste).

Those are some of the usual reasons. Here are some more particular to me.

  1. A kindle is great when you are breastfeeding. It can rest easily on the arm of a chair, and you just press a button to turn the page. Very difficult juggling a large tome in one hand and trying not to lose your page while breastfeeding. Grady has been hit in the head by a number of books in his time.
  2. You can set a password so your kids can’t play with it and turn the pages on you.
  3. You can download children’s books on it, so you don’t have to carry so many picture books with you when travelling. We have been loving reading Roald Dahl and Winnie the Pooh. The little black and white line drawings are still there when you read it on kindle.
  4. No-one can see what you are reading on the train. It could be fifty shades of grey or a statistics textbook. Nobody’s business.
  5. When you are travelling you don’t have to carry half a suitcase full of Alexander McCall-Smith’s “Number One Ladies Detective Agency” series, and then run out of reading material after one week and resort to reading your husband’s dreadful Matthew Reilly books.

However, since Scott got the new Kindle Paperwhite earlier this year, I have had kindle envy. The Paperwhite has a built in light so you can adjust the light in it and you don’t need a bedside light. Every time we have been in hotel rooms with the kids, I have generally been unable to read in bed unless there was an extremely small bedside light (a rarety). Two weeks ago, I turned on my old Kindle and found it had lots of lines on the screen. After trying the usual resets, I chatted to Amazon help online and Danika told me my kindle could not be repaired. She offered me a $30 credit as I was out of warranty and there was nothing else they could do.

I wondered how to get hold of a kindle while travelling from place to place. I didn’t trust the speed of shipping, and Amazon only sells them in a few select stores, and I suspected none of those stores were in Costa Rica. I didn’t want to switch to a different e-reader because I already know how to work a kindle and I like how it synchronises nicely with my library in the cloud. Found the Madrid store today and bought myself a new Kindle Paperwhite. Bliss.

Credit from Amazon? $US30
New Kindle Paperwhite? 139 Euros
New blue leather cover to protect Kindle? 35 Euros
Using the light from the new Kindle to change a pooey nappy in a hotel room? Priceless.

Quiet read on the balcony in central Madrid

Quiet read on the balcony in central Madrid

Last week in Costa Rica

Tonight is the last night, of our last week, in Costa Rica. How does 12 weeks go so fast? I’m sitting here on the couch at the Hemingway Inn in San Jose. Oddly enough, it feels like home. But I have so many homes around Costa Rica now- Manzanillo, La Cruz, and all the places in between. The kids love this lifestyle. Isla is content to lay her head wherever we tell her is her bed. She cuddles her froggy, curls up with a bottle and sleeps soundly. Grady likes to keep track of where we are and where we are going. “Where are we going to sleep tonight, Mummy?” “How many nights are we staying there?” “Where are we going next?” Right now, he is looking forward to another plane trip tomorrow, but he’s also unwell. He’s had a temperature for a couple of days, and no appetite. I hope he’ll be alright to travel. I’m hoping he’ll just curl up and sleep.

Mural in the Hemingway Inn

Mural in the Hemingway Inn

So where did I leave you last Sunday afternoon? On the bus to Tortuguero, right? It was an evening of surprises. The bus to Cariari passed through the stunning forests of Braullio Carrillo National Park. We arrived and walked through the village to our hotel. After dumping our stuff, we asked directions to a restaurant as it was already after six. They told us the closest one was just down the road on the left a couple of hundred metres, so we started walking. Cariari is a relatively drab village, lonely planet only lists one hotel, though there are others, and mentions it as the place to stay if you get stuck there on your way to Tortuguero. We were intrigued to see quite a lot of light and noise ahead as we walked down the dark road. This resolved itself into an indoor sport centre where a game of indoor soccer was in progress. To one side was the bar and restaurant, Cara Luna, which was blasting 90s dance music.

The restaurant was still virtually deserted, but as we made our way to a table, the children were entranced by the empty dance floor lit up with disco ball. Scott and I ordered a couple of beers, as the children danced blissfully under the sparkling lights, and eventually lay down on the dance floor gazing up at the lights playing across the ceiling. When they mounted the karaoke stage, one of the staff decided to distract them by inflating a huge jumping castle on the other side of the restaurant. There was much excited jumping, some brief eating of dinner and then more jumping. Grady proclaimed it the best restaurant in the world. The food wasn’t bad either.

The following morning we waited, as instructed, by the side of the road at 6am and a bus stopped and took us to the river. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast of chicken stew, rice and strong coffee and then boarded a boat.  A motor boat with a shallow draught that carries about 40 passengers and some baggage through the river and canals leading to Tortuguero.  A spectacular jungle voyage- you can only get to Tortuguero by boat or plane, but just regular public transport for the locals as well. If you travel independently, the trip only costs about $10 for the whole family, plus another $10 for the public buses. But if you prefer, you can pay for a very expensive tour from San Jose which takes the same bus and boat route.

Boat to Tortuguero

Boat to Tortuguero

A local tour guide, Castor, was meeting tourists off the boat, and we enlisted his assistance in selecting accommodation, and asked him to take us to see the turtles that night. Our simple but characterful accommodation with views of the Caribbean was $40 a night. Castor booked us on a turtle tour (illegal to be on the beach at night without a licenced guide). We went for a walk and got caught in the bucketing Tortuguero rain, but by evening it was calm and mild. After a brief wait beside the beach, we were brought down to see a green turtle nesting. The turtles that eluded us in Gandoca were the leatherbacks, biggest in the world (see http://www.crazybravetravel.com/2013/06/20/here-be-pirates/).

Inspiration or procrastination?

Inspiration or procrastination?

These are only about a metre long! Seriously impressive. As the turtle is in a trance while she lays 80 odd eggs in the sand, we were allowed very close once she started and could actually see the ping pong ball eggs dropping into the sand. We saw several more of these giants landing on the beach while we stood watching. Grady and Isla loved watching them, and coped well with the late night as we got back to our room after 10pm.

Tortuguero

Tortuguero

The following afternoon we were back in San Jose planning our second adventure for the week. We left a day late as Scott was distracted by a last minute invite to a poker tournament. We also had to buy a new suitcase, as Costa Rica had proved too much for our bag to take (wheels came off!).

So where do you go for your last few days? Back to where you started, of course. The Orosi Valley. It was great to see some familiar faces and catch up with our Spanish teachers from the start of our trip, but we also had an ulterior motive. In Orosi are some gorgeous women who looked after our children while we studied Spanish. We knew our kids would be safe and happy with them.

You see, Scott and I had some unfinished business dating back to our honeymoon. Get your minds out of the gutter. Our white water rafting trip on the Tully river in Northern Queensland was cancelled 8 years ago, and we have been trying to book a similar trip ever since.

Getting wet

Getting wet

Costa Rica has some of the best white water rafting in the world, but unfortunately that tour would have taken ten hours out of the day. Given that this was Cole’s (six months) first day away from mummy, we elected to raft the Orosi River instead. A Class 3 section of river, it was a fun introduction for me, and still enjoyable for Scott. We had a ball rafting, and enjoyed a good lunch before going back to retrieve the kids at midday.

Kids, what kids?

Kids, what kids?

Last night in Costa Rica, and I’m drinking a glass of Malbec  and an old friend of Scott’s has just rocked up to hang out with us, so I’m signing off for tonight. Expect the next post from Spain…

Spot the

Part of the fun of nature photography is spotting your target.

Now it’s your turn. I will put up a series of photos and you have to spot the animal. For those of you with kids an extra challenge. Describe where it is without pointing at it. One thing I’ve found on this trip is describing where that camouflaged lizard is to a four year old while also getting him to stay still is hard work.

Spot the Basilisk

Spot the Basilisk

Spot the lizard

Spot the lizard

Spot the Thee Toed Sloth

Spot the Thee Toed Sloth

Spot the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog.

Spot the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog.

 

Spot three butterflies

Spot three butterflies

 

Itinerary-less

A month ago I wrote that we were going to try tearing up the itinerary and living one day at a time. (See www.crazybravetravel.com/2013/06/28/leaving-the-nest/ ) I thought I might report back as to how it has been going. It has been both a negative and a positive thing for us. Here are some of our transitions.

We put it into action when we left the Hummingbird nest B&B. We were planning to depart on Sunday, but Isla had been sick in the early hours of Saturday morning, so we didn’t do any of our planned activities on Saturday, but stayed home with her. Scott got talking to a guy about Tenorio National park, which has a stunning powder blue river and waterfalls, and we were thinking about going either there or to Monteverde Cloudforest. He told us that it’s an amazing place, but you really don’t want to go there when it has been raining a lot because the beautiful blue river turns a muddy brown. He knew some people up there though, so he was going to email them to ask them for us.

By Sunday morning, Isla was better, and we still hadn’t heard from him. Scott and I had a quick consultation and decided to try to book the jeep boat jeep to Monteverde instead as Tenorio was looking too difficult. We talked to our hostess and she booked us on a 2pm service. We went swimming at the hotsprings in the morning. While on the boat, I passed Scott the lonely planet guide (on kindle) and we picked a likely looking hostel. The bus that was posing as a jeep dropped us off at the hostel, sans reservation, at 6pm, as the trip had taken an hour longer than it was supposed to. They were full. Fortunately, the place next door had a suitable room at a suitable price. Crisis averted.

Two days later, we had decided to make our way to the Nicaraguan border, via Canas. After waiting for the 3pm bus that never came, (see http://www.crazybravetravel.com/2013/07/04/the-best-days-the-worst-days/ ) we were very glad we didn’t have any reservations to cancel that night. Made it all the way to La Cruz the following day. On the bus, we once again consulted the lonely planet and picked the one they recommended, Amalia’s Inn. We had only intended to stay there for one night, but the next morning I woke feeling quite sick and we each got sick in turn. It was wonderful to be able to simply shrug, walk downstairs, and extend our stay.

I think we ended up staying there about five nights. By this time, we had decided to go to Granada, and then down to Isla Ometepe. We used a taxi to get to the border (a ten minute drive) and then negotiated the crossing ourselves, before boarding a bus to Granada, with one bus change. In my guidebook, there were a number of recommended hotels in the city centre, so we got a taxi from the bus station into the centre, consulted the tourist information office, then ignored her recommendation, and chose to go and stay in a fancy hotel overlooking the park that we liked the look of.

Two days later, over breakfast, we decided to stay an extra night in Granada. However, our room had already been booked, so rather than move rooms, we decided to leave after all. That caused something of a flurry as we packed, emailed the vacation rental we had been eyeing off for some time on Ometepe, and booked a shuttle bus to San Jorge. The owner agreed that we could arrive at the rental that evening, however he wasn’t able to get in contact with the managers to warn them to prepare the house. When our taxi arrived at the house, the gates were all locked, it was dusk, and no-one was expecting us. Fortunately we had a resourceful taxi driver who jumped the fence and walked down through the farm to find the managers. They were surprised, but willingly unlocked and gave the house a very quick clean and put some sheets on the bed.

The night before we were due to leave, I attempted to book a long distance bus from Rivas to San Jose on-line, but the connection was poor, and the on-line booking system seemed to be still in development. This turned out to be fortuitous, because when we got to the ferry the next morning, the early ferry we had hoped to catch wasn’t operating and we had to wait an hour, so we’d have missed the bus anyway.

Arriving in Rivas, the next bus was fully booked, so we tried a different company which had an executive bus going at 3pm and loitered around for a couple of hours until it arrived. In between the loitering, I contacted the Hemingway Inn in San Jose and made a booking, as I was reluctant to be walking around San Jose at 7 pm. I’m glad I did, because the bus didn’t arrive until 9:30pm. I suspect that he said the bus would take 7 hours, rather than that it would arrive at 7pm. I can’t be sure.

We had a lot of fun the next morning wandering the streets. Having heard a fair bit of negative comment about San Jose, we were pleasantly surprised to find that we liked it. Sure, it isn’t super clean, and the traffic’s pretty awful, but it is hilly, with some interesting buildings, and a nice avenue down the centre that is closed to vehicles. Mostly it just seemed quite lively, lots of people out and about selling fruit and lollipops and lottery tickets and socks, people juggling in the park, some live music.  There is a buzz to the place. We elected to stay a few more days because we were tired from the trip, and also keen to buy some new clothes to replace all the clothes that no longer fit us 😉 Grady and Isla adored the Museo de Los Ninos (Children’s museum), and it was cheap, so we spent two consecutive afternoons there.

We had said we’d stay until Sunday, but on Sunday morning we were still discussing what to do and where to go. This is the worst part of letting go of the itinerary. You don’t know where to go. I don’t think you could call it arguing, as neither of us had an entrenched position. In fact, both of us were grasping wildly at various alternatives. Call it FOMO – Fear of missing out, but as it was our last week in Costa Rica, we were desperate to make it a good one.

Should we hike Cerro Chirripo, the highest mountain? No, it’s too inhospitable for children, and probably rainy. Should we go to the Pacific Coast? No, I’ve heard it’s too touristy. What about the Nicoya Peninsula then? That would be great, but it’s also quite far and I think there’s a dengue outbreak at the moment. North to La Virgen and the Sarapiqui Valley? Oh, it’s much further than I thought, and the accommodation costs more than I thought. How about going back to the Orosi Valley to catch up with friends there? Perhaps later in the week. OMG it’s 3pm and we are still walking around the city withdrawing cash and eating lunch and there probably isn’t even anywhere we can still get to because we couldn’t make up our bloody minds!

We walked back to our inn and I said to Scott. “I can’t face unpacking the bags, we’ve packed up just one suitcase and a daypack so we can be really mobile this week. Where did you think you’d definitely go, when you thought about coming to Costa Rica?” Scott said “Tortuguero”. So that’s what we did. We boarded the 4:30 double decker bus to Cariari, and sighed with relief.

Why Costa Rica? The environment

Why Costa Rica? It was a common question prior to our departure. It often was the first question asked.

The environment; the diversity of environments in Costa Rica almost covers the full spectrum. While you won’t find deserts or tundra everything else is here and nearby. I’ve lived most of my life in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range. I’ve always had the mountains at my back and treed savannah to explore or camp in.

The abundance of environments and terrains in Costa Rica was too big of a hook for me not to be caught. Here is one the of the few places where I can spend time in the Caribbean sea, flounder through a cloud forest, experience the weight of primary tropical jungle, stand on a mountain top and see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean sea, feel vertigo in the sheer valleys and when  the cloud rolls in the world just ends three steps away.

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

Can't spot the forest for the tree

Can’t spot the forest for the tree

Jungle Lagoon

Jungle Lagoon

I don't know what this is.

I don’t know what this is.

Cloud forest

Cloud forest

 

View of the Pacific from La Cruz

View of the Pacific from La Cruz

 

A waterfall in Santa Elena

A waterfall in Santa Elena

 

Isla Ometepe

When I first read about this island, it fascinated me. Imagine an enormous freshwater lake in Southern Nicaragua. In it is an island. The island is essentially composed of two volcanoes joined together with a spit of land. Inhabited for so long there are pre-Columbian petroglyphs carved into the rocks, a fresh water spring fed pool, forested slopes with monkeys, a number of small villages with an agricultural/fishing based economy. Population: 30,000.

Volcano on Ometepe

Volcano on Ometepe

I started hinting to Scott that we should go. After Granada, we booked a vacation rental on the island in the tiny village of Los Angeles. A pleasant, four bedroom house, with views of the lake, the house is situated in a small finca (farm). The owners are Canadian, but a local family live in another house on the property, run the farm and manage the house. As soon as we got there all the kids were over playing with our kids. The house was pretty laid back, lots of hammocks strung up around the wide verandahs.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Mango trees, and home grown water melons (so good!) and cucumbers. The family also grows corn, rice, black beans and various vegies. Pigs, dogs and chickens wander through the yard. The pigs wore long sticks around their necks, apparently to stop them climbing through the fence to the neighbouring property. One day we asked for some lake fish and the manager got some fresh (not sure if he caught it or bought it from a neighbour) and his wife, Leyla, filleted it for us. Delicious.P1020151

We walked through the village every day and let the kids play in the park.  We spent one sunny afternoon swimming in Ojo de agua, the brilliant blue natural spring fed pool. We took the crazy bus around the island, music blasting and religious themed stickers blending with flashing neon lighting.

Ojo de agua

Ojo de agua

Scott had his birthday while we were there. We went and visited a local artist in the village of Esquipulas- Abel Vargas, and then had exceptionally good pizza for lunch in Moyogalpa. We brought home some donuts and stacked them up to make a donut cake. P1020169

Grady loved the farm. He found himself a climbing tree, and the kids showed him another tree, with little green fruits that he could pick and eat. To my mind, they resembled lychees once peeled, but I’ve no idea what they are called.

Driving in the Nicaraguan style rickshaw

Driving in the Nicaraguan style rickshaw

As I had imagined, it was scenic- a beautiful spot, but what I really enjoyed about being on the island was the quiet pace of life, the village atmosphere. Tourists visit, but Ometepe is not overwhelmed by tourism.

Haircuts

One of the things bloggers do is offer advice whether it is welcome or not. I’m no different.

This post is a shout out to a fellow traveller who decided to write about getting a haircut. For privacy reasons let’s call him Max.

Max is doing a motorbike tour of the US and having a great time. Some of the vistas he has seen and shared are truly stunning. Riding a bike across the US is a fantastic dream and he’s living it. Living the dream does however take time and at some point you will need a haircut.

Haircuts are intimate and personal. It’s one of the few times you tell a stranger this is how I want to be and you have to help me. Most people will only go to the one barber or hairdresser and build a relationship with them. It’s hard work and it’s all out the window when you travel.

Max bit the bullet and had his hair cut by a stranger. Max was happy with the experience and the final result. He also shared it with the world.

Thank you Max for sharing your experience of getting a haircut while travelling. Travellers sharing their experiences inspires other people to travel or to live vicariously through others.

However, and this is the advice part, when posting photos of getting a haircut while travelling ensure you are in the photo. For instance here’s one of me getting a haircut.

Haircuts are very important in Costa Rica.

Haircuts are very important in Costa Rica.

Or if you’re scared, sit on someone’s lap. Like Grady did when his hair was cut.

Having a lap to sit on when scared always helps. This was Grady's first completed haircut at a barber.

Having a lap to sit on when scared always helps. This was Grady’s first completed haircut at a barber.

One thing I did learn on this trip was how to scare a hairdresser. When you’re in the chair and they walk up to ask you how you want it cut, say “I don’t speak Spanish”

A big thanks to Max. Reading about your travels is a pleasure and keeps me on the road.

Learning to live well with less.

Isla’s favourite book at the moment is “A squash and a squeeze” by Julia Donaldson.  It begins…

A little old lady lived all by herself
With a table and chairs and a jug on the shelf.
A wise old man heard her grumble and grouse,
“There’s not enough room in my house.
Wise old man, won’t you help me, please?
My house is a squash and a squeeze”

As the story progresses, the wise old man advises her to bring her chicken, goat, pig and cow into the house and the house becomes more and more uncomfortable. When she is finally allowed to let all the animals out, she discovers that her house is actually very roomy.

When I was preparing for this journey, I created lists, packed and repacked, stymied by the problem of fitting the necessities for the five of us into a few bags. I also struggled with getting rid of stuff as I packed up our large four bedroom house to fit into my cousin’s garage. Spring cleaning is a huge job when you rarely do it, and is quickly overwhelming.

Recently I realised I now spring clean every week or two. Generally whenever we pack up after a few days or weeks in one place, I do a full stocktake and sort out all our possessions. You’d be amazed how much I find I can leave behind in each place. I am. Every item is turned over twice. “Do I actually need this?” Usually we leave things intentionally, sometimes by accident. We left broken toys in Orosi, baby clothes in Yorkin, the cut off legs of jeans in Manzanillo, winter coats in El Castillo, the laptop lock in Santa Elena (oops), the mattress protectors in La Cruz (damn!) and a baby sleeping bag in Granada.

Every time we leave stuff behind, we are able to pack and carry our bags a little more easily. And as we do so, I find my preconceived ideas about the amount of room we need in a house are challenged. We’ve stayed in so many places that I would have previously considered inadequate for a family of five. Sometimes through lack of planning, sometimes because the internet photos of various accommodation options conceal important factors. We’ve stayed in places with no kitchen, places where we all have to sleep in one small room, places with shared living areas, places without washing machines, places without hot water and places with very few walls.

The strangest thing about it- we don’t seem to be any more or less happy regardless of where we’re staying. Some places are definitely more convenient, but Scott and I have noticed that it doesn’t overly affect our moods. If there isn’t much room inside, we just go out more often. In La Cruz, we carried deck chairs inside and sat on the landing outside our bedroom in the evenings, and watched movies on the laptop, while the kids were sleeping.

Houses in Australia are getting bigger and bigger, and it is easy to buy into the idea of needing space. As you accumulate stuff, you need more space to put it in. And then you need to do more housework to look after all your stuff. So many toys I used to trip over them. So many clothes that piled up in minutes in the laundry. So many kitchen utensils, there were masses of dishes every night. So many rooms to sweep and vacuum. I don’t miss it. I don’t miss the stuff and I don’t miss the space. I’d rather put on the same pair of cut-off jeans and go for a hike.

We’re leaving Ometepe tomorrow, an island where people live very simply, with little. They probably are doing a bit better than most Nicaraguans, but they grow most of their own food, wash their clothes in the lake and pick mangos out of their trees. Chickens meander through the village and fresh fish are caught in the lake. I wouldn’t say I’ve learnt to live like one of the villagers, don’t be silly. But I have learnt to live well with less.

She huffed and she puffed and she pushed out the cow.
“Just look at my house, it’s enormous now.
“Thank you old man for the work you have done
It was weeny for five, it’s gigantic for one
There’s no need to grumble and there’s no need to grouse.
There’s plenty of room in my house.”
And now she’s full of frolics and fiddle dee dees,
It isn’t a squash or a squeeze.

Laundry, glorious laundry

Always an issue with children, more of an issue when travelling. Prior to our departure, people would sometimes ask us how we intended to manage. Not really having a clue, I murmured something to the effect that we would play it by ear, and if necessary, I could handwash the day’s clothing in the motel room and hang it out to dry. By about the first night, I had looked at the large pile of clothes that amassed from 30 hours of travel by five people, looked myself in the eye, and said “not likely Laura”.

We have sometimes had access to washing machines and occasionally dryers in our travels this time, but often have had to pay a few dollars to get our clothes laundered. I hate paying for it, but I love receiving the fresh, dry, folded clothes at the end. I have only handwashed a few delicate items, such as my wraps, which I wash without detergent. Until today.

In Granada, the posh hotel would have washed our stuff, but when I saw that they wanted me to itemise it, I lost the will to live. I put all the clean clothes in one bag and the dirty ones in the other and the wet swimming things in a plastic bag, and got on the bus to our vacation rental on Ometepe, praying for a washing machine. As our ferry approached the dock, Scott pointed to some tiny huts raised above the water, and after a second I realised women were standing next to them doing washing in the lake, in the middle of a thunderstorm. A moment of nostalgia as I remembered my Lugu Lake days (see http://www.crazybravetravel.com/2005/01/21/life-in-lige/) and then a moment of fear.

However, when we got to the house, all looked promising. There was a twin tub in the upstairs bathroom, and thanks to a flat I used to rent that only had room in the bathroom for a twin tub, I am probably one of the few people of my nationality and generation who knows how to use one. Correct me if I’m wrong. They are still all the rage in Costa Rica and Nicaragua as they are extremely quick, energy efficient, water efficient, and labour intensive.

Purchased washing powder yesterday with some consternation as the only type available appeared to be a solid block. Opened to discover it is a solid block, somewhat like a bar of very concentrated soap. Closer inspection of the twin tub revealed a few flaws.

  1. It did not have a spinner basket thing
  2. The water outlet was not connected to anything, nor would it stretch to the sink
  3. There was no power point in the upstairs bathroom
  4. There was dust in it, indicating that it wasn’t in exactly frequent use.

While wondering whether the caretakers here, a lovely local Nicaraguan family who live in another house on the farm, had a washing machine at their place, I noticed them walk past the house towards the lake 200m away. She was carrying a bucket of soapy water. He was carrying an enormous hamper on his shoulder. There was absolutely no way I could ask her to do five days of my accumulated washing today as well.

At that moment Scott yelled out “Isla just threw water all over my last shirt.” I picked up my bar of washing powder, and starting putting clothing into the bathtub. It might have been pleasanter in a hut over the lake, but I don’t think we could have carried it all. And you can’t give up advantages like hot water and a bathtub.