Learning the basics

Waiting for the bus to in school attire

Waiting for the bus to in school attire

Since an accurate description of my Spanish so far would be “caveman” I thought a post about learning the basics in Argentina so far might be fun.  I can’t imagine how this experience might be going if Erica and I hadn’t made the trip down in April first.  Our new friends Brad and Lisa describe the importance of this best on their blog here.

Shelter:  If and when we finally figure out how to rent a house in Cordoba, we’ll have to write a post on just that process alone!  It’s been a roller coaster ride so far.  Fingers crossed for a house in the next few days.  In the meantime, we are extremely fortunate to be staying at N’Aike Casa de Huespedes.  We found it purely based on proximity during our April trip on www.booking.com.  The family that owns it happened to live in Corvallis, Oregon years ago and all speak wonderful English.  I truly don’t know where we’d be if it weren’t for Marcos, Carlos and Sebastián.  A week before we left Costa Rica we checked availability and found 2 adjoining rooms.  They’ve gone over the top on helping us find a house and making our stay comfortable with the kids.  From giving us rides, setting up airport pick up with our mountain of luggage, posing for Molly’s drawings, calling tons of realtors for us, and putting up with a loud American family of 5, they rock.

Food:  N’Aike is located on some busy streets in a residential area.  We have to walk to a variety of shops for supplies.  Learning when they are open has been a challenge.  Siesta is in full effect here, with all the pros and cons.  We’re eating out more than we plan to when we settle in, we have breakfast included at the hotel and we try to plan either lunch or dinner on our own using the hotel kitchen.   We’ve made a few trips out to hit the veggie stand, the butcher, the baker and the kiosko.  We finally just went to a supermarket for supplies.  It’s been fun to try our own mini-asado on the hotel parilla (bbq) a few times.  It’s an art here that I hope to master after a year.  The best meat so far was at some friend’s houses, but for lunch or dinner we’re having either pizza, tostados (toasted sandwiches with no crust), pasta, or lomos (skirt steak sandwiches).  The wine…we’ll have to do a whole separate post on the wine, we need to sample a lot more before posting anything noteworthy.

Transport:  Along with the occasional ride from one of the guys at the hotel, we’re on foot, bus or remis (taxi).  I’ve got an aversion to spending money on cabs that’s made for a few long walks and might lead to divorce, but the buses so far have been great.  The first day we arrived Brad filled me in the prepaid bus pass that’s needed for all city buses.  It takes a few days to get used to finding the regular bus stops you see in the US, and knowing the stops are just telephone poles.  Some buses are deluxe, some are not.  There’s bus protocol too.  Sit in the front of the bus and you better be ready to give up your seat for the older lady or mother with kids.  You also must wave the bus down or it goes zooming by the stop.  Same idea when you’re getting off.  It’s a good idea to have a remis driver you trust plugged into the phone.  We met our guy the other night, he’s looking for a house for us!

Support:  One of the big selling points for us in moving to Cordoba over other destinations was the support system we felt we’d have here, and that’s been true so far.   An old friend of Erica’s brother lives here, plus we made a number of connections thru the Facebook expat group we joined 8 months ago.  We were able to actually meet with a number of great people from this group in April who have been invaluable in giving pointers and advice.   Getting the lay of the land from locals or expats has been so important and we just hope to somehow repay the favor eventually.

Having connections has been critical.  Finding a house, finding a school, finding a way to access cash all rely on who you know and personal connections.

Communication:  Skype has been the primary means for chatting with family and making calls to banks, airlines, etc.  Wifi is easy and everywhere.  Our friends Gaby and Tom loaned us a phone that we will use for local calls.  Buying a SIM card and loading the phone with prepaid minutes took 3 stops and about 2 hours to figure out, but should be easier next time.  WhatsApp is a free international texting app that I still need to master, but that seems to be the way to go also.

In terms of language, between Erica, Elliott, Ben and I, we can usually communicate in Spanish.  Molly and I are about on the same level.  When we get settled we’ll get her in some sort of day care and I’ll start taking classes.  The difference in Spanish from Costa Rica to Argentina has been interesting.  Our ability to get the gist of a conversation or question now as opposed to April is huge though.

1 1/2 weeks in Argentina and all is well.  We love it but really want to find a place we can call home, for now.  Back to my caveman Spanish, “Nosotros hablamos con tu despues.”

First day of school!


Today the boys started 1st and 4th grade at Escuela Primaria Juan Zorilla de San Martin in the Cerro de Las Rosas neighborhood in Cordoba!   Big success considering no one tried to escape and Elliott was apparently mistaken for Justin Bieber.  The school day wrapped up with a promised heladoria stop (I had dulce de leche con brownie) and I had to jump in the pool on a 50 degree evening to make good on my promise to the boys if all went well.  Yo tengo frio.  Yesterday when it was 80 the idea seemed better.

The process to enroll the boys at Zorilla has been remarkably smooth, thanks to a great friend Gaby!!  She made introductions for us to the principal when we visited in April and elaborated on Erica’s PTO expertise to pave the way.  Getting all the right paperwork in order and supplies for the boys is ongoing, but we feel very fortunate.  The people we met in April swung the decision to Cordoba, and it’s the people who continue to reinforce our decision.

We prepped for today by visiting the school the day before to meet the principal and teachers and show the boys the classrooms.  The biggest adjustment so far is all the attention they are getting.  The teachers and staff all gush about how cute and handsome they are and give them lots of kisses (besos in Argentina in lieu of handshakes).  They are suddenly rockstars!  All the touching, kissing and attention has them freaked out.  Elliott was absolutely mobbed today when we arrived.   The girls were asking him to sign autographs thinking he was Justin Bieber.  The other kids are so curious and excited to meet both of them.   Elliott quickly had a few self-appointed buddies clearing space for him like bouncers.  Ben said he had to climb under a table at one point to escape the girls.  They are overwhelmed by all the attention so far and pretty worried, but after Day 1, the language barrier seems to be the lesser issue.   Everyone is so nice and accepting so far.

There are two sessions per day in primary school, morning and afternoon.  Gaby was great in helping to get the boys in the same session and Elliott is in the same class with Gaby’s daughter Malena, who is completely bilingual.  The boys start at 1:30pm and are done at 5:30pm.  We take a public bus from our hotel in Villa Belgano to Cerro for school.  They have 3 recesses and there is a kiosko (read candy shop) on site for the kids!  Selling points for the boys to be sure.  We’re blackmailing the boys with 2 pesos per day earning potential with good behavior to be readily spent at the kiosko.

More on house hunting and day-to-day challenges and observations soon!

Elliott surrounded before class

Elliott surrounded before class

Yelling and listening quietly


We arrived in Cordoba just the other morning, but some times it feels like we’ve already been here for at least a week.  After a whirl wind couple of days filled with incredible asados with friends and house hunting, we tried some sight seeing downtown today, but that was kind-of a bust because it’s a holiday.  It’s a national holiday to honor the death of Jose de San Martin who was a leader Argentina’s successful struggle for independence from Spain.  We thought that maybe there would be some fun stuff happening downtown, but I guess it’s more of a holiday where you hang out with friends and family.  Which has gotten me thinking about all this “family” time we’ve had over the past month.

Frankly, I’m exhausted.  The constant stream of questions from Ben, our middle child, is almost more than I can handle.  I know that he’s a kid who needs to know the plan; he needs to know what we’re doing next IN DETAIL, but often (honestly, most of the time), I don’t have that answer.  I don’t know exactly where we’re going, but I gave the taxi driver an address, and here’s hoping he’s going to get us there.  I don’t know exactly what time everyone will be at the asado, but we’re going to get there around 12:30, or 8, or whenever, and when everyone else shows up, they show up. I don’t know what the taxi driver’s name is, or why he’s talking on the phone while driving, or what that sign says.  I’m just trying to take it all in, too.  I do know, however, that this is just Ben’s way of making sure that everything is ok, and that his parents are in control, at least, sort-of.  All this makes for a pretty short fuse.

Put that together with the fact that we’re staying in a guest house/bed and breakfast, where the people are wonderfully kind, but our quarters are close, and unfortunately, my best parenting techniques are out the window.  Rob and I are trying to be very conscious (and at the same time help the kids grasp the concept) of the other guests, so we spend a lot of time telling the kids to “be quiet!” and “stop running!” and “don’t slam the doors!”  I have lost count of how many times I’ve said to the boys, “And what about your behavior did you think was acceptable on ANY LEVEL?!?!?!?!”  With this phrase, I hope to accomplish two things:  make the kids shut up, and use confusing enough language so the non-English speakers here will have no idea of what I’m saying to my kids.

In all of this crazy, there are amazing glimmers, though.  Incredible moments that I grab and hold onto tightly:

*Molly dancing in her seat on the plane as she listened to music with her headphones.

*Ben and Elliott watching some cartoon in Spanish, then chatting about it IN SPANISH, I’m sure, without even realizing that they were speaking Spanish.

*Molly telling our friends that her Spanish is “fantastic.”

*Ben chatting with just about anyone who works at the hotels where we’ve stayed like they’re old friends from way back.

*Rob getting us downtown on the bus from our hotel without a hitch.

On Wednesday we’re going to the boys’ school to meet their teachers and have a look around, then they’ll start school on Thursday. I’m hoping I’ll be able to keep myself together when we drop them off on Thursday, but I’m not betting on it.  This is a BIG DEAL, and I would give almost anything to be a fly on the wall and listen in on their conversations.  I promise I would listen quietly; they wouldn’t even know I was there.


Posing at the blowhole on Playa Pelada

Posing at the blowhole on Playa Pelada

For the past 10 days we’ve been in the Nosara in the western state of Guanacaste.   Since we left Turrialba we haven’t had a lot of practice speaking Spanish, since Nosara is big with American expats and is a surfing mecca.  The drive here was trial by fire with a standard transmission and Costa Rican roads.  Erica manned the wheel for most of the drive thankfully.  Not long after I took over driving the afternoon deluge began that required pulling off the road until our windshield wipers  could keep up.  Not long after that we took a wrong turn in Samara and were subsequently led across a river fjord by a very nice German guy who clearly wondered what the hell we were doing.  Think 3 young kids, Dad who can’t drive a stick to save his life, water up to the doors.  No biggie.  Thankfully I didn’t stall in the river.

Nosara has been wonderful and exactly what we were looking for before we head on to Cordoba.  It’s a pretty primitive surfing town south of much more visited Tamarindo.  We’ve been surprised at really how little there is here.  As the sticker on our fire extinguisher in our house says, “you are the fire department, think about it!”  There are essentially two main beaches, Playa Pelada and Playa Guiones.  Since it was Sunday yesterday, Guiones was “crowded” with maybe 200 people.  We rented a house from VRBO about 200 meters into the jungle on Playa Pelada.  The kids have had a great time exploring all the creatures in the tide pools at low tide.  The roads here are crazy!  Just dirt tracks in the jungle really.  We’ve had our token flat a few days ago.  Somehow we haven’t broken an axle.

There are some nice restaurants in the area but we’ve cooked in most of the time to save.  Lots of pasta with red sauce until we finally found some dorado to grill the other day!  Our efforts to find meat to grill in the Super have ended with a hotdog-like product that was coveted by the boys but left Erica and I a bit disturbed.  Elliott has developed an addiction to Nutella and all the kids are digging all the pineapple.

After a few days here we discovered some blowholes on the beach and a giant tree in front of the house that was home to about 4 iguanas.  We have regular visits from a troop of howler monkeys and the biggest bugs we’ve ever seen!  The boys and I had a great time learning how to surf together a week ago.   Since then we’ve rented boards a few times.  Since we seem to wear out after a few hours on the beach or the rain starts, so we’ve also taken a liking the pool and cocktails at the Guilded Iguana.  Buy a drink and the kids can swim in the pool!  We attempted a grownup activity the other night when we visited Lagarta Lodge to watch the sunset.  Our fellow tourists at the Sunset Bar were quite glad to the Vaughn family depart since apparently kids don’t seem to cherish a quiet, romantic sunset like adults.  Tonight we went to check out the seemingly abandoned Nosara Beach Hotel (otherwise called the Scoobie Doo Hotel by me) and ended up getting a personal tour of the renovation by the laborer and his 10 dogs.  Elliott thought it was hilarious that he asked why our Spanish wasn’t as good as Elliott’s.

We’ve had a ton of beach time and it pains me to admit we’ve all gotten our fill of beaches and inhaled enough saltwater to move south into winter in Cordoba.  Our tans, burns and rashes are complete.  Ben’s lost two teeth (by natural cause not by accident).  We’ve realized that kids still fight and argue in paradise!  Who knew?  Time to go to Argentina!  We leave Nosara tomorrow and spend a few days collecting stored luggage in San Jose before our flight Thursday.  Ciao!

9 Reasons to Visit Costa Rica

Touring Guayabo National Monument

Touring Guayabo National Monument

Here are the kid’s top 3 highlights each from our trip so far in their own words!!  Believe me getting this done was no small feat.  Last day of classes tomorrow because of a national holiday on Friday; El Dia de La Virgen de los Angeles.


1) Friends:  I’ve met 5 new friends and their names are David, Thomas, Ari, Vivi and Carlos.  David cool and fun.  Thomas is weird and fun.  They are neighbors.  We play lots with them.  Today we played for 2 hours with them.  We played at the park and played soccer.  Ari is nice. She lets us watch movies and play her phone.  Ari is the host family’s daughter.  So is Vivi and Carlos.  Vivi is the oldest and I don’t really know her.  Carlos speaks English and Spanish.  He’s a really good translator and fun.

2) School:  I’ve had two teachers at school.  Their names are Evelyn and Oscar.  We work on Spanish games and vocabulary.  We also go to play.  Yesterday I went to a fire station.  Fireman are called bomberos.  We got to put on a fireman’s suit and we got to go in the fire truck.

3) Animals:  In Costa Rica we’ve seen lots of animals.  The first thing we saw was an iguana and turtles.  We saw wild duck and sloths, monkeys, tucans, snakes and lots of ants.  I got bit on the finger by an ant.  I also almost got bit on the leg by a baby monkey at the Jaguar Reserve.


1) Beach:  Playa Blanca was my favorite beach because there were bigger waves and it was shallow.

2) Ariana:  Ari is fun because she always let’s Molly play her phone.  Molly plays it a lot, more than me!  I’ve only played it like two times.  She is a really nice person.  She’s part of our host family.  We were playing a lot in the pool and she pulled us around in an inner tube, we loved it, but Elliott kept flipping me over.  I thought I was going to die!

3) Carlos:  Carlos throws Molly up in the air and give her candy most of the time, and Carlos has given me cookies.  He never got in the pool.  Carlos is part of our host family just like Ariana.


1) Waterfall trip: I liked going in the water.  I liked seeing birds and butterflies.  The water felt good.

2) Beach: I liked both beaches we went to, the black beach and the white beach.  I swammed and I made holes in the sand.

3) Host Family: Sonia painted my nails and my toes. I love them so much.  They give me food.  They let me watch TV and play phone.  I love Ari so much.  She lives here.  She let me play with the Barbies.  I love Carlos so much.  He does so much fun things me.  He makes me jump up in the air.