Friday, September 28, 2012

Run- Beware this is a Super Long Post

Yeah, it was a run all right.  Our 90 day tourist visa expired last Wednesday.  We have to leave the country every 90 days to renew our visa.  We had talked to lots of different people who have been doing this for years in order to live in Costa Rica legally without having residency.  Lots of people, lots of different answers.  We also talked to a legitimate and highly recomended lawyer, who said this was legal.  Leave the country and then you can come back in a few hours.  Lots of people kept telling us you have to stay out of the country for 72 hours, that is a myth.  You have to stay out that long if you are wanting the little card that allows you to purchase $500 worth of duty-free items per passport upon returning to Costa Rica.  So, our plan was to go to Nicaragua, get our passports stamped, eat our lunch we packed, browse a little bit, then cross back over.  PLAN I say.  We knew going in that there could be a million variations of what ifs.

We left early last Wednesday hoping to be at the border between 10 and 11, get our stuff done, cross back over in the afternoon, stay the night in a town that was on our way home that is on the beach, and then get up Thursday morning and head back home.  The kids were amazing in the car.  They were quiet.  They slept.  They played quietly.  Quite the little troopers actually.

Look close in this picture and you will see that, yes, we
are driving on the wrong side  of the road and there is 
a car coming .

And if you look really close at this picture you will
see the 18 wheelers ahead, 5 miles of them to be exact.
They are ALL in line to cross the border into

David read online that you are to not wait in line with these truckers but are to pass them and go to the front of the line.  Because these truckers, literally, wait for days in line to cross the border.  They apparently inspect every truck that goes through, and they are not in any hurry or have any system of organization.

We finally made it to the border at 10:45.  Border crossing from Nicaragua was like going from night to day.  You know organization to utter chaos.  As soon as we made that crossing there were people everywhere following our van, running towards our van, yelling at the van telling us they can help us.  Had to stop for the "officials" to open car doors, look in the car, sign a piece of paper, look at everyone's passports, and say we can proceed forward.  Where do you proceed forward to?  There are no signs, no lines, no lanes, just people everywhere.  Chaos is the only way to describe it.  We finally get to checkpoint B, getting the car sprayed for bugs.  You have to pay for this.  Well, they did not want our Costa Rican money.  They wanted American Dollars or Nicaraguan money.  Well, there were numerous unofficial money changers stalking ready to exchange money.  Who could find the official place to exchange money?  Who knows if we got ripped or not.  David exchanged some money, paid the car debugger, and we were able to moved forward about 25 feet.  Now where do we go?  All this time the car chasers have not relented.  David finally caves and lets a guy show us where to go, knowing this will cost some sort of fee.  And when you agree they are like leeches who do not leave.  We stop at a building to get the paper signed for the okay on the dog.  Then that paper had to be taken to another little room, where another person (which half of these people do not look "official") signs something, go to another building to pay a small fee.  Then we finally find a place where we can park the car, that is in a common central area of all these buildings.  It is blazing hot here too!!  David gets out of the car to go see what kind of lines we are going to be standing in.  DOORS LOCKED!  As soon as he walks away from the car, there are people yelling at us through the windows telling us they will watch the car, pasting signs to my windows advertising for this and for that, kids trying to sell things, people banging on the windows because now I am ignoring them, kids trying to open our sliding glass windows on the back of the van.  And in all of this chaos, trying to look like this is normal, I lose sight of the direction where David has gone.  We waited and we waited and we waited for what seemed like over an hour.  David says it was not that long, but when you are in a car with 4 small children and all of that is going on around you and there is nothing official looking about the entire thing, it seems like an eternity.  

He is gone so long, I finally feed the kids some lunch meat I had packed to make sandwiches (all the bakeries in Atenas were out of good bread, so we thought we would just stop at a bakery along the way...well, we never came across one).  So, we had a lunch of some lunch meat and a piece of cheese and finished off the water we had brought.  David finally returns looking very exasperated, that is saying a lot for my husband who is not easily ruffled.  In that time he was gone he has been to building after building, little room here and down the hall, has now exchnaged more money (because he ran out of the first batch), and it appears we are only half done.  

Bathroom break time now that he has returned and the fact that I do not want to stay in the car any longer and the kids are getting antsy.  Open the car doors and more people flocking, you can barely get out of the car and get the kids because they are that persistant and are right there in your space.  We give a guy some money to "watch our car," that is in a very public parking lot.  Some of you may be getting bored with this, but you just had to be there and this is nothing in length compared to the real thing.  And I am just now getting to the good part ; )

We make it to the bathroom.  

You are kidding me?????

I notice these 50 gallon drums of nasty water when we walk into the bathroom and chose to ignore them.  I gave Olivia very strict instructions on making sure she used all those muscles in her little legs to hover and not dare touch a thing, not even the toilet paper.  We have our own...well, a good thing, because as usual there wasn't any there anyways.  By the way, we had to pay for usage of these facilities.  While I am standing waiting for her to come out of the stall I notice that the girl in the stall beside her goes to this drum of water, grabs the milk jug with the cut off top, dips it in the nasty water, bails it into the toilet a couple times, then flushes toilet.  There are no flushers either. You have to stick your hand in the tank and pull on the lever inside the tank.  All that said, I will let you decide wether you think I flushed this time or not.  And if you know me, I am one who flushes public toilets with my foot.

Okay, bathroom event completed.  Now we have to go pay some more fees, get more pieces of paper that have to be taken to about three different places, for someone to look at it, to send you to another little room, so you can pay another little fee.  Finally we are to the point where we can acutally get our passports stamped!!!!  So, we go wait in that line!  Finally, almost 3 hours after crossing the border we have our passports stamped.  Like I said before, our plan was to go somewhere eat our lunch, walk around a little and then start the process to exit.  David turns to the guy who has "helped" us get everything done and asks him, "How soon can you "help" me get out of here and back to Costa Rica?"  The guy had to make a few phone calls to some "people" and then he told us we could drive down the road a bit and head back in about a half hour.  So, he gets in the car with us, we stop to get some drinks, and then drive down the road a bit and stopped right in front of one of the world's largest lakes.

When you fly to Costa Rica you can see this from the plane and it looks like it is the ocean it is so big.  Our "helper" has lots of family who lives along this lake.  While we are passing the 1/2 hour of time he tells us he has been "working" at the border since he was 9 years old.  He probably started out like one of the little boys who was trying to open the window of the van.  This is a country with so many people in huge desperate need.  They come to Costa Rica for a better life of working for $2-3 an hour with the cost of living almost double that of the United States, because even that is still better than the hopes that you might make $3-5 a day in Nicaragua, if you can even find work at all.

Our "Helper"

From the minute we crossed the border all you could see was extreme poverty.  I saw no schools.  Children were roaming or working at the border crossing.  

Notice the girl's shoes are several inches too small

Makes your heart hurt

So much of the world is this.....

Our "helper" made a few more calls after he and David went over all the fees we were going to be paying to get out and back to Costa Rica.  David is out of all the money he brought, I hand him over the part I had, and tell him that is it.  This is all we brought.  Everthing all straight, we know what the "official" fees are and what the "tip" fees are that I am sure were divided between multiple people on the official side and non-official side.  At this point we do not care.  It is $75 and as far as we are concerned money well spent.  We head back, get in line.  Funny, but we realized there were a new crew of guys...well, we must have been waiting for shift change.  We made it through the lines, sign-offs, and fees paid.  OUT!!!!!!

Drove a few hundred meters, went in the immigrations office in Costa Rica to get our 90 day tourista stamp. Back when we flew into Costa Rica we had to have bus tickets to show that we had a route of exit in 90 days.  Well, we didn't travel by bus for this 90 day trip.  But David had called the guy who booked the bus tickets and asked him if we could push it out 90 days.  He said that wouldn't be a problem.  So thankful David did that and printed them, because they asked for them at the immigrations office.  FINALLY!!  We are done.  

We made a stop a few miles down the road for a bathroom stop.  I can't spare you the details because then you wouldn't get the full effects of this day.  Again, we always have our own TP.  David headed in first while us girls were still getting out of the car.  When i can hear my husband talking to the boys about the conditions of the bathroom I know it is bad...REAL bad.  Yep!!  I walked to a stall that had rat poo all over the toilet, floor, everywhere.  I know, bad.  You are thinking go somewhere else.  But there was no where else until we got to where we were staying.  We were in the middle of no where at the border.  No where to just go.  I didn't even have to give Olivia the spill this time, she said, "My legs are not going to get tired this time.  NO WAY!"  She goes back to the car with David.  I am holding Leia up, and I soon feel warm wetness going into my shoe and hear David trying to start the van.  Yes, in my attempts to hold Leia in a 90 degree angle over the toilet, it just didn't go where it was supposed to : )  I didn't care, it was far better than the alternative.  No running water in this bathroom.  Thankfully I had a pair of flip flops in the car to change shoes, because I didn't want to rinse them with the 1/2 cup of drinking water we had left.  You know since our car won't start and we are in the middle of no where in Costa Rica and a couple miles from the Nicaraguan border.

David calls our mechanic who has worked on the van.  He is such a nice man.  He told David I am coming.  I will drive there and help.  He is almost 5 hours away.  It is now 3:30 in the afternoon and it gets dark at 6:00 pm here, pitch dark.  There were a couple guys at the gas pump and I told David to see if they knew anyhting about cars.  David under the hood is about like sending me to draw commercial building plans in AutoCad.  The guys came over, pointed to something they thought it was.  Mechanic calls David back and tells him to find someone to push the van and get it moving while David tries to start it. There is a TON of praying going on.  Talk about scared to death we are going to be stranded here at dark.  He tries that and it is not working.  One of the guys that is helping us is trying to tell David something, but David isn't really understanding him.  So, David tells him to get in the car and try.  The man was able to finally get it going after several tries while they are pushing it across a parking lot.  PRAISE THE LORD!!!!

Now our plan is to just get to where we are staying the night and not stop the car until we are there.  We know we need to stop at this one main town to get something for us to eat.  At this point we are all very stress, tired, and HUNGRY.  David pulls into the parking lot of the Golden Arches that Leia spotted.  She literally was asleep napping, opened her eyes, and said, "Go there, GO there.  Mcdonalds.  I see Mcdonalds."  We had just come up on the intersection where there was a McDonalds (they are few and far between here).  David pulls in and had said he was going to park, leave it running, take the boys to the bathroom, and then we would switch out, and then get our food to go.  All that said, he parks, and then pulls out the key.  Dead pan silence in the car.  We both kinda smiled and said, "Better start praying while we eat inside."

We enjoyed our McDonald's and PRAYED!!!  A LOT!  Got in the car and it started right up.  Thank you Lord were the words uttered from all of us.  Olivia said, "God started our car."  He was with us every step of the way.  

That was our 3 month RUN.  Just a little side note, we will be trying Panama next time, Lord-Willing.  : )

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Growing Like Weeds

I realized yesterday when Leia again told me, "Picture Me.  Picture Me." that it has been a couple months since I have taken some pictures of the kids.  So, as we were heading out the door to get groceries I snapped a few shots.

By the time I get the computer at night, after Liv is done with her schoolwork, I am too tired to write.  For tonight all I have are some pictures of my loves.  I figured Nana and Mammaw would appreciate greatly, and a few aunts and uncles.  Sharing photos of my loves is fun for me.  I mean they are kind of the my world : )

And, yes, there are more pictures of the girls.  But, they are way more cooperative.  I take what I can get in the snipits that I can with the boys.

I keep thinking maybe I will have an afternoon to just sit and write and share everything.  I looked through my pictures tonight when I was loading these and saw so many photos that I haven't shared and the story
behind them.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Sweet Pick Me Up

The week with my mom was wonderful and terribly short.  We waited, we anticipated for weeks, a couple months to get to see her.  The time came, it was finally here, and then it seemed like in one breath it was gone.  There was this somber mood in the air when we took my mom to the airport, not much conversation...I am sure we were all thinking the same thing.  Thinking how much we are going to miss each other and how many days til the next time we see each other.  Even the kids were quiet!  Takes a lot to cause that to happen.

So, on the way home, my super sweet husband stopped off at one of the million nurseries in between our house and the airport.  I always say I would like to stop but we are always on our way somewhere and just have never had the time.  He had things to do, but on the way home he just pulled into the biggest one.  The one that is like a Botanical Garden by itself and free of charge for admittance.  It was the pick me up I needed that morning and my honey knew just what I needed.

This place is ACRES, ACRES, and ACRES!

The flowers and the amount of flowers were amazing.  Who knew flowers could look so good.  They make the ones you buy in the states look like they are wilting and dead.  The green leaves and stems are so much vibrant here.  AND CHEAP!!!  Yes, I fianlly found something that is CHEAPER HERE!!!  And, it just happens to be one of my favorite things.  David would have to remind me that just because it is cheaper doesn't mean you can buy more.  He had to spoil all the

Where do you start?  There are so many!

So many colors!  How would one ever choose?  You
mean I have to make a choice...I can't have one
of each.

These things are everywhere.  Are they not the coolest things?

If you know me very well, you know that I am a person who color coordinates everything.  I like symmetry and organization.  Well my flower beds and potted plants are no different.  I normally always go with a red and white theme all balanced out with short plants, tall plants, whispy plants.  NOT this time!!  I let the kids pick and choose, any flower, any color.  This time I wanted lots of color, lots of life to my flowers.  No more symmetry, no more color coordinated flower pots.  Change!  This is what life is all about right?  And it was so fun.  And it was even better because all these plants were like $1.25 and they were huge (all of them in 6" rounds).  I paid $10 at home for the same size Geranium.  Woohoo!!

Peek A Boo

They loved picking the flowers
and telling me what pots to put them in
and how to arrange them.  

This blooms little pink flowers that have a yellow trim.

And Leia has not lost her knack for
picking my flower petals off!!!

Smiles are contagious when you are feeling sad : )

I don't know what those little flowers are called.  They
don't have the nifty name tags like they do in the states.
But they look like miniature roses.  I just love them.

And the smiles keep coming.  Just a sweet pick me up from 
my little ones and my love.  The simple things....they are
what mean the most.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

All Things Beautiful and Creepy

The kids have become really good butterfly catchers.  They don't even have to go outside to catch them.  They catch them inside the house.  Yes, didn't you know we have a butterfly house, along with some nasty huge bird-sized moths.  They are constantly catching both.  They have been using the little pint plastic strawberry containers from the market to catch their butterflies.

Nana brought them a fancy little butterfly catcher house and magnifying glass.  You would have thought she gave them a million dollars inside this little thing.  They loved it and couldn't wait to use it.  Butterflies are everywhere here.  They are always nestled in the wild flowers and flittering around.

They are ready to go!

He had a blast and was this animated the
entire 2 hour hike.

He thought he wanted to go, then
decided after we walked one way down
the street and came back that he 
was going to stop off at the house
and stay with Daddy and Leia.

Ready to GO!

Thy sky was beautiful that morning.
And the sun was super intense, even
with sunscreen.  That was my first burn
here, complete with scabbing blisters 
to the shoulders.  Next time I will 
take the sunscreen with and reapply!!

Again, more AWESOME beauty just steps outside the 
front door.

Nana spotted this thing crawling in the bushes along our walk.
It was the creepiest caterpillar I have ever seen.  I took 
lots of pictures and we went on.

We captured out first butterfly.  We did 
WAY more chasing than catching.
And we lost more out of the butterfly
net than we were able to keep.

Searching hard.

They are Gonna' Get It!

Using her nifty new magnifying glass to 
look at the leaf-cutter ants.

Proud of his Catch.  Who said it had
to be fish??

On our way back to the house, we came across the same 
caterpillar.  He had made it quite a way and was in
the middle of the road.  I wanted David to see it, 
and not just the pictures.  So, I caught it with the net.  
That thing was CREEPY!!  I don't know how
many times I squealed, and it was the longest 
walk back to the house with this thing!

And at the end we only came home with 2!  That was 
a lot of work for 2 butterflies.  Maybe we will get better
at this butterfly catching.