Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Brittons Arrive

This morning the house seemed very quiet with everyone gone, but now it's a bit better that John's parents are here! John, Micah and Ethan left this morning to meet John's parents at the Panama/Costa Rica boarder. They helped carry luggage across the bridge, get through customs and then took a taxi back to Almirante. The taxi driver helped us find some fresh fruit, hopefully these bananas will be yellow before we have to leave. Once at Starfish Reef, they unpacked and got ready for a New Year's Eve dinner. We had dinner down at the beach with the stars coming out- there are a ton of stars here! The kids got to stay up past their bedtime which they though was so cool. We brought in the new year with smores:)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Lambers Leave

Today was the last day with Marcie's family. After waiting so long to see them, it is hard to believe they were here for a week and now are gone. The time went so fast! We spent the morning swimming and sunning and packing. After lunch we loaded the boat for a trip to Bocas Town. There we did some souvenir shopping, stopped for ice cream cones, and then walked to the airport. It was a very tearful good-bye. Thanks Mom and Dad for a great Christmas vacation!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Pizza Hut

Today for lunch we went to The Blue Frog. The Blue Frog is a hut that sells pizza- a literal Pizza Hut. It is open for business on Friday nights and Sunday noon to two. After a 25 min. boat ride, the hut appears in the distance. It is an open air circular hut with a thatched roof. Inside there are two picnic tables and several card tables, the pizza is amazing! It was a beautiful day to be out and about meeting others who love living in Panama. We even met a couple from Travers City-it is a small world.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Boat Tour

Today the older kids, uncles and grandparents went for a tour of the area. They left on the boat around 9am for Dolphin's Bay. They didn't see any dolphins in the bay but they did see some before entering the bay-so cool! Then they snorkeled and stopped for lunch just as a rain storm was passing by. Then it was off to Starfish Beach- amazing, and so many starfish! The last stop was just off the coast of Bocas town where the guys were able to scuba dive to a shipwreck. The three youngest girls had a fun day at home taking naps and playing on the beach. Once home the "sisters" had dinner mostly ready for the hungry boaters. After the kids were in bed the adults played Wits & Wagers- a game we highly recommend, so fun!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day in Panama

Today the Lambers family did something they have never done before...we celebrated Christmas without any snow or cold! Today was a beautiful day to be in Panama, beautiful sun, sparkling water and great company! In the morning the kids opened one gift- Christmas ornaments. Then we went straight to the beach to swim and play. We had our Christmas dinner around 3pm down at the beach. I was a bit afraid that the Christmas jello would spill going down the hill in the 4x4 mule but it made it! The food was wonderful and the view breath taking. It is so good to have family here!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Lambers Family Is Coming

Today is a pretty exciting day, Marcie's family is coming for Christmas! After 9 weeks of no family- we are thrilled that the Lambers are coming!! Who is exactly coming this afternoon...Harry & Adria Lambers (Marcie's parents) aka Opa & Oma, Julie (Marcie's sister) and her husband Chris and their two girls Brinn & Tia, and Paul (Marcie's brother). They flew out yesterday from Detroit to Panama City. We know their flight was delayed yesterday and we can't wait to hear the story. Soon we will take a boat over to the island of Bocas (30 minute boat ride) to meet them at the airport...we are so excited!!!!

The Lambers family is here! They arrived at the Bocas airport and we met them with hugs and laughter. We quick took a taxi to the The Reef for a wonderful seafood dinner. Then it was a 30 min. boat ride to the villa where everyone got settled in. The guys enjoyed a bon fire at the beach while the women put the kids to bed and talked. It is so great to have them here, the best Christmas present ever!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Life at Starfish Reef

Our typical day here at Starfish Reef goes something like this...
7am- Kids wake up
7:30am- breakfast (JB makes awesome chocolate chip pancakes!) and color/play
8:30am- Marcie "home schools" Micah and Ethan
10:30am- To the beach for snorkeling and swimming
Noon- Lunch
1:00pm- Rest time, Kendal sleeps
2:00pm- JB, Micah and Ethan back to the beach for scuba diving and swimming
3:00pm- Kendal and Marcie go to the beach
4:30pm-The no-see-ums come out so we head up to our villa for showers
5:30pm- Dinner
6pm- Christmas songs and a reading from the Christmas story
6:30pm- Movie time
7pm-Kids go to bed
Every other day we try to fit a hike into our schedule. Here at Starfish Reef they have "Chocolate trees", mango trees, banana and coconut trees that they harvest for fruit. In front of our villa is the ocean and behind our villa is the jungle so there is lots to see...including this tarantula spider that we saw on our hike.

Marcie's parents are flying out of Detroit this morning on their way here for Christmas...we are so excited and hope that Paul (Marcie's brother) was able to get out of Grand Rapids in spite of the snow.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Two Adventures

Today we went on two adventures. First, this morning we took a boat ride into Almirante to buy groceries. Marcie's family is coming for Christmas so we needed to buy LOTS of food. Almirante is...interesting. It is basically one intersection, no stops signs or lights, with a store on three of its corners, two grocery-like stores and one "gift" store. We were suppose to meet the beef man in town to buy ground beef, but he didn't show. So when the chicken truck pulled up, we bought a box of chicken off the back of the truck- guess we will be eating only chicken when my family comes. As for our grocery list, it was hit or miss. Some items we had bought the week before, were no where to be found. Then there is the fresh fruit and vegetable situation. Let me describe the largest "fruit and vegetable" stand...he had 5 soccer ball sized watermelons, 20 apples, 5 sorry looking celery bunches, a pile of tomatoes, a stack of garlic and a few carrots. Needless to say, we have been eating lots of canned fruits and vegs. We piled all our full blue Meijer bags into the boat for our trip home. Once home, we put all our groceries in the back of the "mule" to take them up to our villa.

In the evening we had our second adventure, going out for dinner. A couple from Austria has just opened a restaurant on a neighboring island. They built a domed oven to make pizzas. They are open for dinner on Friday nights and Sunday lunch. At 5pm a water taxi driver came to pick us up for our 30 minute boat ride to the pizza hut...literally a hut...thatched roof, open all the way around with two picnic tables and three card tables. We ordered two pizzas and they were delicious!!! There were many other gringos there (non-Panamanians) and we had a great time meeting other English speakers. The boat ride home was a bit intense as it was pitch dark, but Junior, the boat driver found our villa without a problem.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Boat Tour of Bocas Area

This morning we left for a tour of the local water ways. First we traveled 25 minutes by boat to Dolphin's Bay. Unfortunately, we did NOT see any dolphin. We were looking hard, but didn't catch any glimpses. The kids were a bit bummed. Then we went to Craw Cay. Once there we put on our snorkel gear and jumped in. There were many fish and a coral reef to view. Kendal wasn't so keen on the fish but she did really well. Micah, of course, loved every minute. Our third stop was Red Frog Beach, and yes, there are tiny little red frogs that live on this island. Two years ago, JB went to Red Frog Beach and described it as the beach in Grand Haven only with big waves. So you can imagine our surprise when we arrived to only 10 feet of beach! There was major damage with big, mature trees uprooted and virtually no beach. It was a shock! After jumping waves we moved on to the town of Bocas Del Toro. There we quick hit two mini-grocery stores for a few supplies. Then it was a 25 minute boat ride back to our villa at Starfish Reef. We had a beautiful day of sun and water and surf!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Weekend #8- Starfish Reef, Panama

Friday morning John hitched a boat ride to Almirante to buy groceries for the next 11 days. Food here is very reasonable but it is expensive to take a boat-taxi to the mainland, so we want to go as few times as possible. Once he returned, and all afternoon, all we did was swim in the ocean!

Saturday was less humid, but still hot... so we spent the day in the ocean at the beach. Micah and JB snorkeled for hours. There is a reef about 50 yards off shore that is full of coral and starfish. Micah just floats on top of the water, breathing through her snorkel, and swims for hours. Kendal is a bit frightened of the jelly-beans (we have only seen a couple) but Ethan is quick to correct her, "Not jelly-beans, jelly-fish".

This morning, Sunday, Micah and JB snorkeled, Ethan & Kendal swam and Marcie put her chair in the water and watched:) While Kendal took her nap in the early afternoon, and Micah & Ethan rested, JB and Marcie went to Ada Bible via the Internet-technology can be a huge blessing! Then it was back to the beach. Just as we were getting ready to dive in, it began to rain. As I type, it is down pouring!!! JB and the kids are still swimming, but I hustled back to the villa for some quiet computer I type to you watching the rain come down, listening to the sounds of the rainy jungle mixed with the shouts of kids to my ears. Hope you had a good Sunday too!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Travel to Panama

4:30am- We woke the children to begin our day of travel to Panama.
4:45am- The taxi arrived to drive us to San Jose
5:20am- We arrive at the bus station in San Jose. We have 4 backpacks, 4 large duffel bags, 1 suitcase, 1 small duffel bag and 1 computer bag for a total of 11 bags. So far Kendal has not been able to help with any of the bags leaving most of them for JB and Marcie to carry/drag.
6am- The bus pulls out of the terminal and we are headed west to Sixaola, the Costa Rica-Panama boarder.
11:45am- We arrive in Sixaola, it has stopped raining and the kids did amazingly well on the bus. Unfortunately our bus driver did not want to drive all the way to the boarder, so we had to carry all 11 bags to the boarder (about 100 yards). It is hot and humid here, not like Costa Rica.
Noon- John waits in line, while the kids eat their sack lunches, for the Costa Rica stamp to leave. The children need to use the bathroom but Sixaola has no working bathrooms due to the rain. We must "hold it" a bit more.
12:15pm- We must now cross the boarder into Panama. In order to enter, we walk across a wooden plank bridge with a river running under it. It was a bit freaky and difficult with all our luggage.
12:30pm- We wait in line for the Panama customs official to stamp our passports. The children are in desperate need of a bathroom so Marcie walks them to a local restaurant, only to find out it costs 50 cents per person. After getting money from JB, we pay to use the restroom. By far, it was the worst bathroom Marcie had ever running water, no toilet seat (ok for Ethan but tricky for the rest of us) it was GROSS and we payed $2 to use it. Once back in the customs line, we used baby wipes and hand sanitizer!!
1:15pm- We put all our luggage into the back of a taxi truck, which then drives us to Almirante, Panama.
2:15pm- We arrive at the water taxi docks only to discover that Marcie has forgotten to bring the "pick up" directions from our villa. John does a quick grocery shop while Marcie and the kids wait by the luggage.
3pm- We take a water taxi (not a car that goes on water, Ethan was a bit disappointed) boat to Starfish Reef.
3:30pm- We arrive at Starfish Reef, and use a 4x4 Mule to haul our luggage up to our villa. It is beautiful!!
4:30pm- We make a dinner of Mac & Cheese, shower the children, and put them to bed.
We look forward to exploring our new "home" tomorrow and hope for a sunny day so we can swim in the ocean.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Packages are Great!

Tomorrow morning at 4:45am we leave for Panama. First we take a taxi, then a bus, then walk, then a taxi and finally a boat. As we pack and prepare to leave, we just wanted to thank Oma & Opa (Marcie's parents) for sending a package filled with good things...sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, homework books and reading books. Its been fun to use all the goodies inside. Also, a big thank you to Susie (and Doug) for sending a package filled with Thanksgiving treats like green beans, fried onions, sweat potatoes and marshmallows. We had a fantastic meal thanks to the VanderGriends...yum! Even the left-overs were amazing! We are cautiously optimistic about our 6 hour bus trip tomorrow, we will up date the blog when we arrive in Panama:).

Monday, December 8, 2008

Weekend #7- Quepos

Thursday morning we took a bus to downtown San Jose to buy bus tickets to Quepos. Quepos is on the Pacific coast by Manuel Antonio National Park known for its beautiful beaches and rain forests. Unfortunately, the 12pm bus had sold out so we had to get tickets for the 2:30pm bus. To kill time we had lunch a John walked around town with the kids while Marcie sat with our stuff- we had 2 backpacks, 2 large duffel bags and 2 boogie boards- we were quite a site in downtown San Jose. The bus ride to Quepos went without a hitch, the kids were wonderful on the 3 and a half hour bus ride. Then the drama unfolded. To set the stage it was pitch dark, very hot and humid, and we were loaded down with luggage. Our task was to find a small cottage in the jungle that the director of Outward Bound had given us the keys to use for the weekend (free housing). So we began walking in the jungle looking for house #74 according to the directions we were given. We could not find house #74, the kids were tired and then Micah slipped and fell, getting all dirty. We were finally able to discern that the house we were looking for was not 74 but 14 and with some help form neighbors, we found the "casita". The overwhelming smell of mold greeted us as we opened the door. Ethan wanted to check out the loft, to see the bedroom, so up the steps he went. Not one minute later he was crying...A bee stung me...and he came flying down the steps crying. John went up to check it out and there he found a colony of hundreds of ants. By this time all three kids are crying that they don't want to sleep here and Marcie, as she looks at the white lumpy mold on the ceiling, says the same thing. The Outward Bound lodge, right next door, was not being used so we put down several camping mats, laid out our sheets, and called it a day.

Friday morning we packed up all our stuff, hiked back to the main road, and made reservations at a hotel for the weekend. The Blue Monkey Hotel (Mono Azuel Hotel) was recommended in one of our travel books and it turned out to be a God send. For $30 a night we had a clean room with one queen bed and 2 bunk beds (no t.v.), 3 different pools to swim in and a very tasty restaurant to eat at. Some of the proceeds go to Children Saving the Rainforest, an non profit organization, which the owners daughter began when she was 8. We spent the day at the beach swimming in the was beautiful!

Saturday we went to Manuel Antonio National Park. We hiked through the jungle and swam at two different beaches. While at the second beach, the monkeys came to visit. They wait for people to go swimming, then hop out of the trees to dig through back packs and bags. They grabbed our cookies and wet wipes...Kendal was not happy! We also saw iguanas and raccoons- Kendal did not like those either.

Sunday we swam in the ocean in the morning and then took the bus back to San Jose at noon. The bus ride went well and once back at home it was time for dinner and bed. Although it started a bit rough, the weekend turned out well and we all had a lot of fun!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas School

Yesterday and today the kids went to Christmas School (summer school) at St. Gregory's. They has so much fun making Christmas crafts, making Christmas cookies, eating Christmas snacks and playing soccer. In the afternoons we did school work from Excel and walked into Tres Rios to the post office and bakery, the kids love buying dessert for after dinner.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Gold Museum

This afternoon we took a bus to San Jose to visit the Gold Museum. Marcie loved all the gold jewelry and the kids thought the wax people were really cool. We learned a lot about the history of Costa Rica and the process of making gold. We had dinner downtown and then took an overly crowed bus back home.