Sunday, June 4, 2017

Yosemite 2017

Visiting Yosemite over Memorial Day is no easy feat.  First there's the reservations.  Made 365 - 4 days in advance for any of the hotels and 6 months for the campsites.  Then there's the bus system, which is tolerable at best, yet better than driving on such a busy weekend.  But in the end, it was completely worth it.

(Visitors tip: You can book hotels 365 days in advance for your date + 7 days out.  So if you really want that hotel on a holiday weekend, here's what you've got to do.   For a stay at the Yosemite Valley Lodge, Friday 5/26 - Monday 5/29, I called on 5/23 and booked from 5/23 - 5/29.  After a few days I then called to modify my reservation and cancel the early days, leaving only 5/26 - 5/29.  This way I was sure to get the room I wanted on the days that I wanted.)

Friday - Fresno Underground Gardens & Bridalveil Falls

Having packed Thursday night we were able to hit the road around 8am on Friday.  On the way out to Yosemite we took a detour down to Fresno to visit some underground gardens.  Apparently in the early 1900's this guy from Sicily immigrated to the US, initially to Boston and then out to California.  Though he wanted to be a citrus farmer, he soon discovered the hard bedrock of Fresno, where he had settled.  In an attempt to beat the summer heat, he began digging a series of tunnels and rooms underground.  He built excavated over 10 acres of rooms and tunnels complete with skylights, underground citrus trees, a kitchen, multiple bedrooms, a "driveway," a pond which he could view from beneath, and even a system to direct rainwater from the skylights away into his sump system.  He was also able to mate and fuse trees in such a way that he could get up to 7 different fruit varietals growing from the same tree.


After a short tour we headed back north to Yosemite.  Arriving around 5pm, we stopped at Bridalveil Falls and did the short 0.3 mile hike up to the waterfall.  This was our first introduction to exactly how much water Yosemite had gotten over the last few months.  The water was RAGING and the base by the falls was WET!  Max's first reaction to seeing all the water was "Oh My Gosh.  Mommy, Oh My Gosh!"  Max braved it out all the way to the falls and we all walked back to the car soaking wet but with a great memory and a story to tell.




Saturday - Lower & Upper Yosemite Falls + Swimming!



We took the boys balance bike and scooter up to Yosemite with us, so they had fun playing with them on the path behind our hotel on Saturday morning.  Next year I want to bring all our bikes as well as a trailer so we can get around the valley floor easier.

After a not so great breakfast from the Yosemite Lodge (so bad it's worth noting), we headed out to the lower falls.

Right at the trail start is a large boulder.  After years and years of kids playing, a nice slide had formed on one side.  Max made quick work of learning to climb up and slide down.


The lower falls trail is about a mile loop and the lower falls were raging, like all the rivers and falls in the valley.  Fortunately we had our ponchos now so we could hang out by the falls for a while without getting too wet.



Jeremy and I decided that nap time was a great time to do the upper falls trail.  With both boys on our backs we headed up, up, up.  We made it a little over a mile past the overlook before deciding to head back down and get out of the heat.  On the way up we even saw a baby rattle snake!  I didn't feel like getting close enough to take a picture.

After our hike we arrived back at the lodge with just enough time to change into swim suits and take a quick 30 minute dip in the pool before closing.  Of course the kids LOVED the swimming.  Especially Max.

That night we ate at Curry (Half Dome) Village.  The pizza was a long wait but delicious as always.  It probably helped that there was no line for the beer and a lot of running around area for the kids.

Sunday - Mist Trail

Sunday we got out early and headed up to the Mist Trail.  We got there around 9 am and headed up the trail.  Jesse stayed in the pack on Jeremy's back most of the hike but Max did nearly the entire 3+ miles by himself!  This even included hiking up Vernal falls where the term "mist" is a bit of a misnomer.  When the high Sierras get over 80 feet of snow in a single winter, the water is raging in the valley.  We were soaked by the time we got to the top, but Max did amazing.  Once at the top we stopped for a lunch on the rocks in the warm sun, then headed back down the long path to the right so we didn't have to go down the slippery steps we'd just come up.  What a great hike, I highly recommend this and I would add on Nevada Falls if you have the energy.

Hiking up by Vernal Falls. 

Beautiful Rainbow

Hiking up Vernal Falls

He made it!

Jesse made it too!

Beautiful views.

Getting the Yosemite bus back to our hotel took over 45 minutes + drive time, so we opted to stay at the hotel for dinner that night as well.  Unfortunately because it took so long to wait for the bus, we missed out on swimming.  Max was super disappointed.  But he did get to "work" in the dirt while we were waiting for the bus.

Monday - Meadows, Bridalviel, & Homebound

Come Monday we opted for a quick breakfast then a walk through the meadows before heading home.  Because of all the rain the meadows were quite heavily flooded and you had to stay on the trail.  The boys enjoyed throwing rocks and sticks into the water.  We watched how quickly the river took away the lighter sticks thrown off the bridge.



As we headed out of the valley we stopped once again at Bridalviel falls and did the short walk one more time.  This time with ponchos so we could hang out at the falls and enjoy them for a little longer.


What a great weekend.  I realize how much I love Yosemite and although it was crowded over memorial day weekend, I can't wait to come back.  Next year I think we will camp (if I can get a site) and stay either in half dome village (old curry village) or near there since we like that area so much.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Spring Break 2017: Cancun, Mexico

Now that we live in California, each spring the boys have the "privilege" of having a whole week off daycare for spring break.  (No, mom and dad don't see this the same way, and yes, we do still pay for the week even though we aren't there :-/).


If you recall, last year we jetted off to Cancun.  Since we had such a fun time at the Iberostar Cancun resort we decided to go back again this year and tack on a fourth day.

As it turns out, it's about a 10 hour journey from takeoff to landing in Cancun + travel time to/from hotels and house.  All together that makes for a very long day.  The boys do great flying and fortunately crash out for about half of it.  

There are many things that I like about the Iberostar Cancun.  First, it's small so everything is very close.  Secondly, the kids pool is right out front by the beach and the adult pools.  Also the food is decent and it's easy to reserve restaurants in advance or even when you get there.  And although I would get up at 6:30 am to reserve chairs because we were particular, you could easily find chairs any time of the day.



Our daily routine stayed pretty standard over the four days.

Wake up at 6:30 to reserve chairs then crash back out till 8 (for mom at least).  Everyone wakes up between 8 and 9 am.  Then it's off to breakfast.  

AM Beach time!  We learned last year that it is a good idea to do the beach in the morning since you'll have the rest of the day in the pool to get the sand off before returning to the room.  (I also learned by day four that playing in the sand is infinitely more pleasurable with shorts on).




After 2-3 hours of sand play we headed back to the pool area for lunch and some naps.  The kids can't resist the sound of running water and a full belly to put them down for a good 1 1/2 - 2 hour nap.  While the kids napped by the pool mom and dad played pool games in the area behind them or just sat and had some time to talk, what a concept.

nap time.

more nap time!

After naps we typically played at the pool until 6pm.  This included their awesome kiddie pool complete with pirate ship as well as the big adult infinity pool with swim up bar.  Plus the kids loved scurrying about all the other smaller pools that were connected.  They would pretend that water was "hot lava" that they either had to avoid or put on their "hot lava boots" to walk in.  It was so adorable watching Jesse run around with his hand out saying "hot lava! hot lava!"

max was so happy to drink from a coconut

water gun fights!

such a happy boy

two boys at the swim up bar waiting for their "special drinks"

Around 5:30 or 6 we would all be ready for a shower and some dinner.  We were able to get dinner reservations for the restaurants each night but we also checked out the buffet one night and that seemed pretty good as well.




After dinner they had kids shows at 8pm and then the full family show at 9:30.  We only caught some of the family show one night because the kids were so tired, but they did have fun running around the open air theatre between shows and playing on the stage with the other kids.  One night was Mexican themed night and, well, we had to take this picture.


Strangely enough, out last night we even saw some minions running around the hotel lobby/bar area!




In true vacation form, we had fun right up until the last minute.  As we boarded our final flight from LA back to Oakland, Max wanted to look in the cockpit.  The pilot invited both boys in and let them play with all the switches and levers while the rest of the people boarded.  They were up there for like 10 minutes easily.  


Thanks for a great time Cancun!  We will be back!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Jesse visits Dr. Granet for a checkup

In mid-January we made another trip down to San Diego to see Dr. Granet.  This was our 2nd visit with Dr. Granet and we were hopeful that we would be in a position where we were comfortable making a call on surgery.

Unfortunately that didn't really happen.

In October 2016 we started noticing Jesse develop a second null point.  Instead of chin down in a single plane, he's now doing a combination yaw/pitch/roll where his chin tilts to the right and the corner of his left eye tilts toward the floor.  He doesn't use it often, but if he really wants to see something, that is the point of his best vision.  (It's interesting to note this is usually when he's trying to pick the pasta or black beans off his plate while avoiding some other food that he doesn't like)

Given that it was only about 2 months since Jesse had developed this new null point, we all decided it would be a good idea to hold off a few more months to see what happens.  It's much easier to perform surgery on known null point(s) and allow the children to figure out their best vision before correcting to it.  Jesse isn't even 2 years old yet, and in the grand scheme of things 4 more months won't really make much of a difference.

Of course, over the last 6 weeks, we've really been noticing his two null points, as described above, so in a way I'm glad we waited.  I feel much more confident now knowing what we would like to do and I feel ready.  I'm eager for Jesse to have the surgery and I just really hope and pray that it improves his vision, especially for distance where he seems to have the most trouble.

Also on our trip I learned an interesting fact about the surgical differences between Dr. Granet's and Dr. Hertle's procedures.  Ever since July 2016 it had bothered me that Dr. Hertle would admit to a 10% or more probability that an adverse event of his surgery would be strabismus (lazy eye), yet Dr. Granet claimed to only have had this ever happen to one or two patients.  As it turns out, Dr. Granet will not touch the side muscles during the first surgery.  He would rather wait to see if the null point isn't fully corrected, then go in and do a slight correction surgery.  Where Dr. Hertle wants to tackle all muscles at once to attempt to give the best outcome on the first surgery.  Knowing this, I'm even more happy with our decision to wait for Dr. Granet and to trust him to perform the surgery on little Jesse.

Jesse did great with the doctors and even sat 
in "his chair" all by himself for the whole exam!

Also, as a side note, Jesse totally rocks the game Perfection.  So we know his close up vision is good!

To follow our story from the beginning, click HERE.
To check out the previous post, click HERE.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Costa Rica 2017 - A 5 Year Anniversary Trip

For 7 years I've been waiting to get back to Costa Rica. The weather, the people, the food, the atmosphere, it's what makes Costa Rica such a great place to visit, and I imagine, a great place to live.

After a year of dropping hints and discussion with my parents, I eventually convinced them to come watch the boys while Jeremy and I took a much needed anniversary vacation, just the two of us. 5 years!

After much planning and discussion we settled on a revisit to Monteverde then a tour around the Guanacaste Provence, which was all new for us. 

As it turns out, flying from LA to Costa Rica takes a lot longer than flying from Houston. After boarding a 11am flight, we finally made it to Liberia at 9:40pm. Being a very small airport, there aren't many options for getting a car this late at night. So we did what almost everyone else on our flight did, we stayed the night at the Hilton Garden Inn (free shuttle) then got our car in the morning. The hotel was nice enough for a night and has a restaurant that is open until 11pm for all the late day travelers.

Saturday morning we took the Alamo shuttle from the hotel to rent our car. We rented a 4 wheel drive to make sure we could get around all the roads, specifically around Monteverde and Tenorio. Something to remember about renting a car in Costa Rica; you must purchase 3rd party liability insurance. This is not the same as the car insurance that your credit card covers, nor is it personal medical insurance. This is the minimum required insurance in Costa Rica, much like in the states. And while the cost of the car may he reasonable, $99/wk, the insurance cost is not. It came in at a whopping $350 for the week we were there. I was really disappointed that this was not mentioned when we reserved the car online And it wasn't included in the price during reservation time. Alamo fail.

MONTEVERDE 

The drive from The airport to Monteverde reminded us how beautiful Costa Rica is. It also reminded us about driving in Costa Rica, the good and the bad.  I actually really like driving in the country.  It's simple, not too many cars, the signs and road indicators are more guidelines than rules, and everyone just generally gets along.  The system works.

About 1/2 the way to Monteverde is paved but after turning off 1 to 145 the road quickly turns to dirt then rough gravel. It's slow going and having a 4 wheel drive is very nice in some areas. I could easily see how it would be required during the rainy season.  At some point we stopped following the GPS and followed the signs posted along the road.  That served us just fine.

We pulled into the Monteverde Lodge and Gardens around noon then headed out to see if our favorite fig tree was still standing. Not only is it still there, but it's also become quite popular. Apparently the secret fig tree isn't so secret anymore as it's now listed on hostel maps around the area. Oh well, it was still fun to find it again and to climb to the top. 

The next day was Sunday. We headed up to Selvatura for the canopy tour and hanging bridges hike. We knew this company since we had used them 7 years ago. They have 18 zip lines and some of them are really long. The staff is nice and we had a great time. They also have a Tarzan swing which is scary but fun. 




After zip lining we stopped by Don Juan for some coffee. When we entered the woman asked us about doing a tour. We debated on a tour, but since we'd done it on our last trip we decided to just have some coffee on the terrace and relax for a bit. As we were sipping our coffee the woman approached us and said that if we did want to tour it would be free since we visited them 7 years ago and came back. We were taken back by this generosity, but mentioned we didn't have time for the whole tour which would have lasted from 3-4:30. We mentioned it would have been nice to do the chocolate tour, since it wasn't part of the tour last time we visited, but maybe next time. As it turns out the tour that was going on was just about finished with the coffee portion and was about to do sugarcane and chocolate! She invited us to join them and we happily accepted. 

I'm really glad the way everything worked out. The sugarcane was fun to see again and our tour guide, Alex, was really good. This time we pressed the cane (3 times for optimal juicing, and then Alex added lime to the sugar juice. This was not done last time and I can tell you the line made it taste much better. It was actually pretty good. 

The chocolate part of the tour was next and it was really cool. We tasted all the stages of chocolate from the pods, you can suck on them, to the final product. After the coco pods ferment in a jar for a week they are then left to dry for 1 month. After drying they are roasted for 5-8 minutes and chopped up to make coco nibs. After grinding the nibs he added vanilla, then powdered sugar cane, and finally hot water. A bit of whisking and bam, best hot chocolate I've ever had. We brought some coco nibs and sugar cane powder home so I could try to replicate it myself.

As we were leaving the tour we actually met Don Juan who was walking around the property. A short little old gentleman, we went to say hi and were instantly treated with hugs. On our drive out we also had the rare chance to see a sloth in a tree! 

While in town we ate dinner at two restaurants: De Lucia and Restaurant de Thomas. Both were amazing. The first we had visited back in 2009. I had written "amazing" in my guide book and after 7 years it still was. An unique restaurant, we had a delicious sea bass and the best steak we'd had in years. So tender and juicy, and wrapped in bacon, because why not. The second restaurant we happened upon our second night. Tucked away in a small shopping area, and very unassuming, we walked in to find 5 small tables and a tiny kitchen. Unsure if we would stay, other patrons looked our way and told us it was the second time they'd eaten there in three days. Sold. The meal was so delicious. I had the seafood pasta with homemade pasta and shrimp in a white wine cream and tomato sauce. Jeremy had the tuna steak with wasabi ginger sauce. Both were out of this world delicious.  We also had desserts at the Tree House restaurant in downtown.  

TENORIO

Leaving Monteverde we left at 6am and took 606 to 605 which is still a dirt road but much smoother. Incant even begin to describe the beauty of the landscape. After hitting 1, we headed north to Adventure Tours for some white water rafting. Our final destination for the day was Tenorio and this was right on the way. In fact we were about to raft the Tenorio river. The company, Adventure Tours had some great reviews so we went with them and were not disappointed. The staff was really nice, our guide, Samuel was good, the rafting fun, and the lunch afterward was one of the best plate lunches we had on the trip. I think the rapids were better on our last rafting trip which we did in Manuel Antonio, but I also think that was because it was June which is the start of the rainy season. This trip was about 1/3 float and 2/3 rapids of some type. During the float we had fun messing with the other boats and swimming. The water this time was perfectly clear, and we did get to do a 10 foot drop at the end! (Class IV)

A short drive up 6 lead us to the Tenorio Lodge. After checking into our room, which was huge with large floor to ceiling windows and stunning views, we had time for a quick jacuzzi soak before dinner at the lodge. There are a handful of lodges around Tenorio and while the room was nice, the food was really subpar and the bed and pillows uncomfortable. 


Tuesday we got up early and headed to Tenorio National Park. Hiking the Rio Celeste was one of the activities I was looking forward to most on this trip. The Rio Celeste is an unreal natural torquise river that is formed by the confluence of two smaller rivers. When these two rivers mix the Ph balance in the water changes due to the mineral and metal deposits of each. Larger minerals fall to the bottom forming the white band you see and lighter minerals float to the surface. When the sun strikes the water the minerals refract the light and your eye sees the beautiful blue. Down river of the confluence is a large pool, the blue lagoon, and a stunning waterfall. I'm so glad it wasn't raining, as the rain turns the water muddy and the effect goes away, though I'm told it comes back 10-15 minutes after the rain stops. This was the only hike we did this trip but it was super fun... and muddy. Sorry the pictures don't do it justice, for some reason blogger color "corrects" on upload.  Follow the link at the bottom to see them on flickr.



Back in the town of Bijagua we ate lunch at Soda Los Mangos (see posts from 2009 to understand why we HAD to eat here) and I somehow managed to pull off enough Spanish to purchase a mango and huge avocado from a fruit cart on the side of the road. Dos Mil Cien. 

HACIENDA GUACHIPELIN

Being without kids it was easy for us to hotel hop, so that night we left Tenorio and headed north to the Rincon De La Vieja area. This is just north of Tenorio but of course you can't drive as the crow flies. It was about 1 hour between the destinations. In the park we stayed at Hacienda Guachipelin. Our original idea was to do a full day adventure tour here on Wednesday but we got in early Tuesday night, and because we were guests of the hotel, we were able to use the hot springs that night as part of our stay.


Unlike Tabacon in La Fortuna, these springs aren't lit up and glamorized, nor are they adult only, as we found out in the last thirty minutes when we were treated by 10 rambunctious 8-9 year olds. Nonetheless we had fun. There are about 8-9 pools for relaxing, all of different temperatures. There is also a man handing out paint brushes and pots of mud. Of course we had to partake. Nothing says Happy Valentines like painting your spouse with mud. After letting it dry for 10 minutes it's time for a rinse in the (cold) shower or (colder) river and then into one of the pools. We spent about an hour there and afterward our skin felt really smooth! 

There is a lot to do on the property. You can hike into the National Park (bring your passport in with you), or hike to any of 3 waterfalls. You can also do one of several adventure activities or combine several of them for an adventure day pass. Since we had already done the hot springs and had gone rafting a few days before and zip lining earlier in the trip, we didn't feel the need to repeat those. We debated on just hiking around then heading out but something told me we'd really enjoy the tubing down the river, so we signed up. 

We opted for the 8:30 am horseback ride to the river entrance. From there we each got our own tubes and were put in immediately into some awesome rapids. It was a 5km river and it went by so quick. Easily 90% rapids and they were sooooo much fun! We laughed the whole time and somehow neither of us flipped out. You could have put me on a bus back to the start and I would have done it all day long. 

PLAYA TAMARINDO 

From the Hacienda we headed west to the beach. Playa Hermosa, Playa Flamingo, Playa Conchal, and Playa Tamarindo were all on my list. If we had one more day we would have done some beach hopping, but alas our vacation was coming to a close and we only had one more day. We opted to get into Tamarindo earlier and check out the town and the hotel. Along the way we commented how nice it was driving in Costa Rica and how easy it was. No real rules, more like guidelines, and everyone just makes it work. And just then "IGUANA!!!!" Slam the breaks! 

Once in Tamarindo we stayed at Hotel Argo Iris. A cute little boutique hotel just off the stop enough to be quiet at night, but close enough to easily walk to the beach and into town. They also had some resident iguanas. The room was small but nice and had A/C. My only complaint was the huge gap in the door which meant bugs (and a cockroach) could get in. Also the restaurant, Seasons, had live music until about 9:30 on Thursday night and our worn out selves were ready to crash at 8:30. The music wouldn't have bothered us but it was fairly awful. 

That night we walked the town, had fresh brews at Volcano Brewing, and Jeremy graciously stopped in like every store with me while I found a few dresses to take home. My intention was to get some colorful beach dresses, but of course I came home with two new black ones. I really tried to branch out!

We ate dinner that night, and lunch the following day, at beach restaurants right on the sand. You pay for the novelty but it was still nice and the food wasn't bad; in fact my mahi magi was pretty good the first night. Two things about Tamarindo: 1, it's totally an American tourist destination. Everything, or nearly everything, is in dollars. 2, it's slooooow. As in the service is so slow. But hey, your on the beach, pura vida. 

Our last day we opted for surf lessons over a catamaran sunset sail. Best decision. We took lessons from Iguana Surf (I-wanna surf). A group lesson is 4 people/instructor (we had 3) and was $45/pp including board, lesson, locker rental, and rash guard shirt. Turns out I wish I had rash guard shorts (do they make those?), or at least board shorts. My thighs have such bad board rash on them. Perhaps I was doing something wrong on the get up.

We had a blast surfing. Both Jeremy and I got up almost right away and our instructor was very helpful. We had a 2 hour lesson the rented the boards for another 2 hours. By the end we were exhausted and the waves were getting a bit too strong for us beginners. 
After lunch and we headed to the hotel pool for a dip in some fresh water. There we chatted up some other guests for a while before showering and heading back to town for sunset. After all, what better way to end the vacation than with drinks in hand and sunset on the beach! 

Dinner our last night was at the Green Papaya. A taco bar near our hotel. I am so glad they were open for dinner and not just lunch. In fact I'm feeling full just writing this. First, the atmosphere is great. Beautiful tiki ambience with wood tables and outside bar tables with wooden rope swings for seating. First came chips and dip. Best homemade tortilla chips ever. Next was the tacos. Oh My Goodness. Nothing, and I mean nothing, I have ever had in my life compares to these tacos. In fact I don't know if I can ever visit Torchies again. These things were huge and out of this world delicious. Each plate came with two tacos so we split them, Mahi Mahi on one order and Seared Ahi Tuna for the other. Each taco came with two huge chunks of fish, seriously fist size, on top of red cabbage and some aioli or sauce. The mahi was so fresh, delicate, and tasty. The tuna was rubbed in a ginger sesame wasabi that was packed with flavor. I'm salivating as I type. If you are in Tamarindo you must go here.



After feeling incredibly full, and realizing coffee shops aren't open at night here, we retired to our room and rested. Vacation would be over soon.

Friday morning we headed out back to Liberia. We opted to prepay for gas for the rental car because I thought our flight was at 7am which meant driving at 3am but it turns out it wasn't till 9:30 and we could have easily got our own gas. Also, a point of note, the $29 exit visa cost is now included in the airline fee, so no worry about having to get that at the airport.

As I sit here on the plane I reflect on the amazing trip we had. Thank you so much to my parents for watching the boys for a week. We miss them and can't wait to get home, but we also were so happy to have this time to ourselves. 

Costa Rica, we will be back. 

Pura Vida!


Check out pictures and videos here: