Learning language as a family has been a wonderful, yet challenging experience for all of us.  It’s been fascinating to see how we each learn differently over the past 4 months.   A big part of life for us here is simply the ability to communicate.  Each action requires advance thought on what we need to say and how.  Talking on the phone is incredibly difficult.  For the kids it’s simply been trial by fire with school.  Molly’s been in her daycare for a month now and is showing progress already.  The boys have been at Zorrilla for nearly 3 months now!  Both schools are 100% Spanish.   Needless to say , we all have good days and bad days.  I thought since we’re coming up on 3 months in Argentina I’d sum up how we’re each individually doing on this front.

A little background on all of our language and Spanish instruction prior to leaving the States first…Erica’s minor in college was French, so I like to think she’s sort of cheating on all of this.  French is so similar in structure to Spanish her progress has been great.  She and I also took several intensive courses in Portland last winter.  My two years of Spanish in high school have been embarrassingly worthless (sorry Ms. Boyer-Root) as was my investment in Rosetta Stone 2 years ago.  Ben completed Spanish immersion kindergarten at Beach School in Portland in June, and Elliott completed 4th grade.  Our time in Costa Rica was intended to provide Erica and I with the basics and sharpen the boys.   Erica and I have now had two months of one-on-one instruction at a local language school here in Cordoba.

I describe my Spanish as muy basico on a regular basis.  I’m very good at saying, “Me Espanol no es bueno, lo siento.”  Despite my language disabilities, it has been amazing to reflect on how far I’ve come individually since July.  Each day I try to set small goals and study for an hour.  My most recent trick is to jot down 3 or 4 verbs or phrases to memorize on the walk or run back from the boy’s school.  I think the Argentine moms dropping off their kids wonder about the mumbling gringo in workout gear.  I’m also trying to have the local news on the TV in the mornings when getting ready.  Poco y poco as they say.  With the kids in school and other activities, we are fortunately forced to regularly be in situations where we have to speak Spanish and interact, rather than be isolated in our own little world.  Learning Spanish for me is a roller coaster.  One day I walked out of 3 hours of class feeling confident and a woman asked me for the time.  I was stumped.  Nada.  I had to show her my watch.  Then again, yesterday two different people asked me for directions (happens to Erica and I all the time here!) and not only did I understand them, but I was able to give them directions!

It took all of 2 days in Costa Rica for our teacher to recognize that Erica was the better half in terms of learning language.  We’ve been in different classes ever since.  Having had a strong background in French, the transition to Spanish has gone great for her.  She tends to understand far more in a conversation that I do and has become fluid in speech.

Witnessing the kids learn a language has undoubtedly been the most rewarding part of our time so far.  Yes, the boys attended a Spanish immersion school in Portland, but it was nothing compared to this immersion!  Ben and Elliott had a disagreement the other day about whether Castellano was truly Spanish.  Castellano is the Spanish dialect that’s spoken here.  Right now I’m listening to the boys play a board game with a friend in Spanish.  School, rugby and play with friends in general is totally in Spanish.  Ben has gained the most in terms of speech and comprehension.  He is completely fluent and seems to be at the perfect age for this experience.  He regularly corrects our Spanish and seems amused at our pronunciation.  Erica overheard Ben and a friend playing the other day and couldn’t discern who was who.  Rugby has had a big impact on Elliott’s learning.  He tends to be more cautious about making a mistake and doesn’t speak as much as Ben, but play and sport removes a lot of that.  Molly’s beginning to try out new words now and then.  I heard her say, “gracias” in her sleep the other night.  Despite the fact that no one at her daycare speaks English, she’s unfazed.  We’ve been told that after 6 months or so she should be conversational.

That’s not to say it’s all rosy though.  With the exception maybe being Ben, we all have our daily challenges learning and adapting to the language here.  Molly seems to think that boys at her daycare are mean to her since she doesn’t understand them.  Elliott struggles to understand lessons in school and homework.  While Elliott is our social butterfly, school and learning here has been rough.  His learning difficulties go way back and are certainly exacerbated by the complete language barrier here.  We hope we’ve made some progress after a meeting with his teachers this past week.  Reading, writing and processing remains his challenge rather than speech and oral communication.  Ben’s challenge remains the tallest 6th grade girl with her heart set on him.

The past 4 months have been a great reminder of how much we take for granted our own language.  Simply stepping out the door to run an errand can become exhausting sometimes.   One of our primary reasons for planning such an extended experience was to ensure that we integrated within the community and truly learned the language.  We are certainly witnessing how valuable it can be to have plenty of time to do so.  Everyday Erica and I seem to pick up new words and comprehend more.  The kids seem less homesick and more comfortable in their surroundings as the language gets easier.

Off to Buenos Aires tonight on a night bus for our first border crossing trip.  After a few days in BA we will spend about a week at Punta del Este, Uruguay.  More on that soon!  Chau chau!


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.

Rain, ants & costumes

Brave Molly at Playa Negra

Brave Molly at Playa Negra

Two weeks down, one to go of Spanish classes here in Turrialba.  We can’t believe how fast it’s gone so far.  Since Erica and I are getting one-on-one instruction, we’re  in class for only 3 hours per day, but still exhausted from the effort.  It’s amazing how much progress we’ve all made (even me!!).  Dana and the folks at are highly recommended.  Despite a rough few days last week from Ben in protest-mode, the kids did pretty well in their classes.  It’s wonderful to see Elliott’s jump into a conversation with our host family to tell them what we did over the weekend.   Boredom in the afternoon is our greatest challenge so far with the boys.  Boredom = crazy boys = crazy parents.  The local pool at the university and a nearby park have been a blessing.


Thursday was a national holiday in Costa Rica in celebration of the annexation of the state of Guanacaste.  All schools, including our language school, were closed on Thursday and Friday.  Before heading out of town for a long weekend, we attended a celebration at Ben and Molly’s school.  The whole week their classes had been practicing traditional dances and songs.  Molly spent the prior night prancing around the house twirling the dress we’d borrowed for her for Ari and Sonia, but much to our surprise, it was Ben who actually followed through and participated in the activities.  Molly claimed to be shy and refused to leave Erica’s ankle.  Rough parenting moment.

Our long weekend plans came together literally the day before we left.  The taxi driver who takes Molly and Ben to their school drove us by van to Cahuita, on the Caribbean.  We had been researching lots of options on the east coast before settling on Nosara on the west coast ultimately for our final week in Costa Rica, so we were excited to still be able to visit, if only for a few days.  It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Turrialba to Cahuita.  We had been under the impression that Turrialba was hot, until we dropped down off the rolling mountains onto the coastal plain.  Wow, the heat and humidity were incredible.  We stayed at the Siatami Lodge right next to Cahuita National Park. and heard the famed howler monkeys the moment we stepped out of the van.  The bungalow we rented was pretty basic but had a kitchen and mosquito nets, key!  Their coffee and breakfast that came with the rental was great!  Unfortunately this is the rainy season in Costa Rica, and we had about 5 hours of spotty sun over 4 days.  The first night we experienced the most violent thunder and lightening any of us had ever seen.  Somehow Molly slept through it all, but the boys were in our bed seconds after the first thunder crashed right overhead and shook the bungalow.   The proximity to the Park and wildlife drew us to Cahuita, but it tended to be very “backpacker” and a little sketchy in our eyes.  Lots of budget accommodation and just a gut concern on safety.   The restaurant and grocery selections were limited, so we’re glad to be spending a longer spell in Nosara later.  The rain started Thursday night and didn’t stop until late afternoon the following day, which allowed for some beach play despite the clouds.  We scheduled in a trip south to Puerto Viajo by taxi and the Jaguar Rescue Center during a particularly wet Saturday.  The rain and dark made for pretty bad photos unfortunately, but the kids loved it.  We saw sloths, spider monkeys, tons of snakes and birds.   We were escorted in the monkey sanctuary where monkeys actually jump on you!  After Elliott had one pried from his ankle and Molly’s curly hair became too interesting to the monkeys, we had to exit.   The rain let up a little that afternoon again so we could walk to neighboring Playa Negra for a few hours of splashing around, followed by lots of whining about saltwater chafing.  Wouldn’t you know that today, we had the best weather in Cahuita?  We ate breakfast and grabbed our beach gear to finally do a jungle walk in the Park to a beach to play in the sun for a few hours before heading back to Turrialba.  We spotted 3 sloths not 10 minutes into the walk, including a baby!  The ants here are crazy and numerous.  Erica and Molly both were bit just when walking.  Elliott had a monster bite into his flipflop and not let go.

Self defense bark

Self defense bark

On Saturday we pick up our rental car, say our goodbyes to the Sanchez family, and drive to Santa Ana (just west of San Jose).  We’ll arrive in Nosara the following day after a long drive amid Tico drivers.  Wish us luck.

Fun Time In Costa Rica!

At the falls

At the falls

This last weekend we went to the falls and got all of our shoes wet and it was lots of fun.  Here’s a photo of me and Ben playing by the waterfall.  We swam in a pool and played king of the mountain and built a dam.  We saw lots of bugs and I think I got stung in the ear by a bee.  My ear feels better now.  We also saw a huge beehive way up in a tree.  Our taxi driver said to watch out for snakes because if you annoy them they will bite and sometimes kill you, but we didn’t see any.  Our driver pointed out a huge fly that looked like a huge bee.  You could see its eyes.  That’s my adventure at the falls on Saturday.

Playing in the pool on Sunday

Playing in the pool on Sunday

On Sunday we went to our host family’s friend’s house for the day.  They had 4 dogs, 3 were boxers and one I’m not sure the name.  Two were nice, the others were not so nice.  The boxer girl was buff and strong and the boxer boy wasn’t that buff.  It sort of looked like a jungle.  We saw a black cow and huge fish in their lake, we didn’t get to catch any but we got to feed them.  Sonia (the owner of the ranchero) said maybe another day we could fish.  Ariana is our friend, we call her Ari.  She said we should make a chain with Ben holding my feet and me in a tube in the pool.  They had two pools.  One was freezing but the other was better.  We ate tacos with chicken, pig and cow in the tortilla. It was good.  I took some pictures of the plants we saw.

And that’s the journey of going to our host family’s friend’s house.

1 month!

We fly to San Jose, Costa Rica on July 12th!  Lots to do still, but to mark the one month mark I thought I’d have Ben and Molly practice their Spanish.  

Last week of school for the kids here in Portland.  Busy, busy packing and planning still.  Erica and I are ramping up our search for a rental home in Cordoba.  Our house here in Portland hasn’t rented yet, but the car is gone!  Last day of work is 6/28.