They (you know, experts like Oprah) say like attracts like. I tend to agree. Some People In The Know say opposites attract. I’m not so sure about that, except with magnets. I think we are often fascinated with things different from us. Like Hal being a guy. But once the newness wears off, irritation wears on. Fortunately, Hal’s being a guy is still a constant source of amusement. And for all our differences, we are fundamentally alike. Hence, still attracted. I mean, the guy can’t keep his hands off me. "Who can blame me?" he asks. (He knows how to stay married.)

Kris from Ohio wrote to me a few months back. She sounds just like me: probably incredibly beautiful and a teensy-tiny bit overprotective in the mommy arena. In the states, you better be, frankly. Too many bad influences around to not have eyes in the back of your head and use them. Her dilemma? Sending her first-born child on a school trip to the wilds of Costa Rica…

The thing you are least prepared for when becoming a parent is how much you will love your children. There is nothing in the world so fabulous. And nothing that will fill you with more terror. No matter how big and old they get. Fortunately, there is huge satisfaction in letting go and seeing them become their own people. I’m pretty sure this is why God created the teen years. Some days you can’t wait for them to move…

The saga is kinda long, but, if you are a mom, you will definitely appreciate it. I did. Last April, Kris wrote:

Hi Saratica,
This is Kris from Ohio. I’m sure you’re busy fielding emails from all kinds of people, and so I understand if you don’t have the opportunity to get back to people right away. And so I am wondering if you have a post or two in particular that would be helpful for me… ?

My oldest son, Jake: 16 and in 10th grade at the local high school, is going to Costa Rica in June this year with his Spanish class. We are all real excited about it. I’m the one who was really pushing for him to go, and yet, of course, I get cold feet every once in a while. What mom wouldn’t?

My mom has been to CR 2 or 3 times. Loves it! My nephew went with his Spanish class a few years back and loved it. So, i am thrilled that my son has a chance to go. Any words of wisdom? Advice from one mom to another? Anything at all I would really appreciate.

Thank you so much, and keep up with your blog. It’s inspired me to think about starting my own.

Hi Kris,
Nice to meet you. I do get lots of emails from lots of people. Sometimes I can reply right away and sometimes it takes awhile to get back to you. But today, I’m sittin’ here…

Absolutely Jake has to come!!!! Costa Rica is a teenager’s paradise, a regulation boy-toy. It’s a trip he will always remember and he will bring you next time. Where are they going to be headquartered? I’m sure he’ll be protected by the teacher.

Are they going surfing? Tell him about rip tides. Besides being pick-pocketed, that is the most dangerous thing, I think. A rip tide is dangerous when you swim against it. If he swims parallel to the shore, he can swim out of it. Or ride it out – it won’t take him to China, then swim back in. A friend of mine who was raised near the ocean said they used to ride rip-tides all the time… They are only dangerous when you fight it.

Also bone up on snakes, if they are going to any jungley places. We stepped over a coral snake once… Very exciting moment in our lives. They are so beautiful and knowing how deadly they are just added to the thrill…. The only really aggressive snake is one of the vipers, they don’t like being disturbed. But learning to recognize them and avoid them is the thing. If they are going to really touristy places, the snakes won’t be there 99% of the time.

Make sure his passport is in a safe place, don’t carry it around. Surely the teacher will keep these in a hotel safe? That’s what I would do. They are worth $10k easy on the street. He needs a copy of it to carry for ID (my boys don’t carry one but they are rarely without us). And don’t carry too much cash at one time. Hide the rest well. Most hotel workers are safe and can be trusted, I’ve found. You do hear stories though…

And yes: blog, definitely. About life in Ohio, about teenagers. I love reading blogs and everyone’s daily lives. Keeps us connected and I think blogging makes us real to each other, brings the world closer… Ok, enough philosophizing…
Pura vida! S.

Dear Saratica,
I forgot to mention that I’ve read your section called Travel
. I was especially glued to my computer screen during my virtual
trips over the Oh my God and the Oh Shit bridges. I hope the high
school’s charter bus isn’t going that way. Haha!

I had heard about the roads. (We’ll pack non-drowsy Dramamine.) My
son’s Spanish teacher has told them to pack at least one pair of very OLD shoes that
can get really wet and yucky. A rain coat. Clothing for a variety of
weather, sunscreen (we’re white folks of Irish descent that live in
northeast Ohio where we have total cloud cover 5 months a year.) Leave
cell phones at home, but bring phone cards.

They’re going with a tour company. Here is a basic itinerary:

Day 1  Arrive in Costa Rica
Day 2-3  Arenal Region    
Day 4-5  Monteverde Reserve    
Day 6  Carara    
Day 7  Manuel Antonio National Park    
Day 8  Sarchi, San José
Day 9  Whitewater Rafting
Day 10  Depart for home

So, there it is. Yes, they plan to do zip lines in the rain forest
AND the white water rafting. This all sounded like such a good idea
last September when we signed up, yet, as the departure date looms, I
become a bit more uneasy. The mom in me sometimes screams in my ear,
"What the hell were you thinking!??! Sending your first born child on
this adventure!!"

Dear Kris,
If they are going to MA, they will go over those bridges. There is no other way unless they go thru the mountains and around… But probably not enough time. And THAT highway is called Road of Death or something attractive like that… The oh shit and ohmygod bridges are part of the adventure. Was for us…

You know, I am thinking of sending my boys to an outward bound course this summer for two weeks of Costa Rica adventure. I totally understand your fears. But now, sitting here [in Costa Rica] from my new perspective, I see Jake’s at least as safe here as crossing a busy intersection there! HE WILL BE FINE. And he will have such a good time. If there’s one thing I’ve been consistently, it’s overprotective. In this world, you have to be. But this is a safe place to have fun. (It’s nice hearing me say this stuff….)

The first time I had to step off the zip line platform, I was in tears I was so scared. After that first step, it was very ho-hum. The boys LOVED it and will go every time!

Good to hear from you! Wow, I was so excited to receive your letters! Thank you so much. I had a feeling you would be helpful, but you blew away ALL expectations when you included your phone numbers!* You’ve helped me to feel more relaxed about the whole thing.

It’ll still be a little nerve racking. It’s only his second plane ride and he’s going on a 10 day trip to another country. But he’ll be in good hands. His Spanish teacher is wonderful. Her daughter was an exchange student who lived in CR for a year and the teacher, herself, loves the culture and even made a solo trip there last summer. She’s a real relaxed, reliable mom-type. She’s done these school trips multiple times and still wants to do it again. What a woman!! And, besides the kids really like her. Also, two other great teachers and a few moms are going. Two are RNs. I think there are about 22 kids and 6 adults. I couldn’t ask for a better group.

I didn’t want to ruin Jake’s fun, so my husband and I won’t be going. :o) I think 16 is a good age for a big adventure like this without mom and dad along.

In fact, Jake just had a "practice" trip of sorts. He’s on the high school baseball team and they went by bus (18 hours) to Florida for "Spring Training". 6 days of practices and games away from the cold and snow here. (We got 30" of snow on Easter weekend!) He had a great time. Never missed us at all. Went to the beach and the surf shops and a minor league ball game and hung out with all his coaches and buddies from school.

It was good practice for us too. Though we hadn’t planned for him to have 2 trips so close together, we’re glad it worked out that way. Our wallets are lighter, but that’s ok. These opportunities don’t come around often.


*About that phone number thing, I only do this for moms sending kids… if you are looking for a tica linda, you’ll have to get someone else’s phone number.

In June, she writes…

Hi Saratica,
It’s Kris from Ohio. I hope you remember me. My son, Jake is going to Costa Rica with his high school group. Our biggest problem right now is the lack of Jake’s passport! Yes, it’s been almost 14 weeks now and as recently as this morning we were told there wasn’t much hope.

But then this afternoon I was told that it was completed today and I have a Fed Ex tracking number! It "should" arrive tomorrow sometime. We leave for the airport at 3:30am the next day. Can you picture me losing all my hair??? I’m mostly grey anyhow, so that can’t get much worse. But oh, my gosh, this has been a horror story. And not that his trip to CR is THE most important thing in the Universe, but the whole fiasco with the US government has been so frustrating. I really feel for anyone who has had to deal with FEMA, et al.

We are not going to believe the passport is done until we see it, but this is the closest we have come to feeling optimistic in a long time. 

A last minute question if you don’t mind (and if you get this in the near future, I realize how last minute this all is, it’s been crazy here, so i apologize)…

"They" recommend we take along bug repellent. I rarely use the stuff, even though we have mosquitoes the size and veracity of small terriers. Do you have any suggestions on sprays or lotions to use? You’re a mom… your boys probably don’t  like sun screen and bug sprays anymore than mine do. What do your kids tolerate?

Thank you for your help and please think positive thoughts for Jake’s passport (and the Fed Ex driver bringing it).


Hi Kris,
My mom’s passport arrived the day before she was to leave for here… So there is hope!

We don’t really use bug repellent… You get used to mosquitoes in the keys and they are pretty much the same here! But if they are going coastal, there are more mosquitoes than we have here in the central valley… Will he use Skin So Soft, the Avon product? In the keys, that’s what we used when we went fishing by the mangroves – keeps off the no see ’ems and mosquitoes.

I would just buy whatever is the least offensive to your son. Couldn’t hurt to pack it (not in the carry on, you know, only in the checked). If he has it, the teacher will remind them to put it on. Mosquitoes can be thick and a pain, so if he gets tired of scratching, he may use it on his own! I am taking my boys and a friend whitewater rafting and then to watch the turtles hatch on the Caribbean coast next month, so I’m glad you reminded me of this. I will take whatever I can find that’s not too awful.

June 25 – Hi Sally,
The last few weeks have gone by in a whirl-wind. Jake is back from his trip and he had a great time! He talked non-stop about his whole experience on the way home from the airport. He’s usually a pretty quiet guy, so it’s not common for him to go on and on for hours (he even came up to our bedroom, after we turned in around midnight, to continue with his stories).

The first day they left Cleveland at 7am, changed planes in Atlanta and arrived in San Jose at about noon your time. That night they stayed at the Hotel San Gildar in Escazú.

On their second day they visited the INBioparque and then on to Poás Volcano, hiking and a stop at a hot springs. At the end of that day they continued on to the Arenal region. Day 3 they kayaked on the lake and saw La Fortuna waterfall.

Day 4 and 5 they went to Monteverde and he got to go horseback riding and visited an elementary school. He said at first it didn’t sound like it would be all that fun, but visiting the little kids was one of the high lights of the trip. The children sang songs and danced for them. One of Jake’s friends taught a little boy how to play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ on his recorder/flute and the little guy was thrilled and hung out with them the whole time of their stay. 

Then they went to a high school and got to meet some kids their own ages. Jake thought that was really cool too. All the students played a rousing game of soccer. Jake said he thinks the local kids took it easy on them.  :o)

In the morning of their fifth day they explored Santa Elena Cloud Forest and they planted trees and that’s also where they got to do the zip lines (which he loved!) After that, they visited the Carara Reserve and then on to the beach and stayed at Punta Leona for 2 nights (I saw the website and wow, did it look wonderful!) Jake said it was beautiful and very, very nice. He got to go horseback riding again on the beach with a few friends.

After leaving there, i think they went to Sarchi for a half day then back to San Jose. On their last full day they went "whitewater" rafting on the Sarapiqui, which Jake said was not all that thrilling. It was kind of a dud. But the hotel was really nice and they liked San Jose. They stayed at the Gran Hotel there.

Oh! and he was telling me about those bridges. He couldn’t believe how narrow they were. His said the bus driver was the best and the guide was equally nice and really connected with everybody.

And now Jake is back safe and sound, having had a "life changing" experience (his words). Thanks for your advice and encouragement. It really meant a lot!

And then a little housekeeping…

Hi Kris,
Thank you so much for the complete report!!! Can I post it on my blog? This would be great for other parents.

I have two questions: who was the guide that went with them? What was the rafting company? We are going whitewater rafting next month. Was the rafting not that great or was the company not that great? (OK, 3 questions.) I think it may be too early in the rainy season for the rafting to be great, especially after last year being so so dry.

Again, thank you for sharing. Most people don’t bother and I love reading this stuff!!! Pura vida, so glad Jake had SUCH a good time.

Hi Saratica,
Sure, you’re welcome to post my letter!

The white water rafting was not as much fun as he expected because of the lazy river. So, your explanation (early in the season and having been dry) made perfect sense to him. He said the rafting company and their guides were GREAT. VERY nice, experienced and fun to be with (and he even admitted that he and his friends were horsing around at times when the river got particularly slow but the guides were really good about it). He told me the guides even stopped the rafts in a place where everyone could swim and along shore they cut up fresh pineapple and watermelon for the group.

Re: the tour guide. Their local tour guide was Karina Ramirez. Jake said she was really, REALLY nice and so helpful and fun. The company the school booked the tour through was EF Tours. Jake said the bus company down there was called Marvi. Their bus driver was Minor (who Jake cannot say enough good things about. Especially his friendly personality and driving prowess ~ Jake was really impressed).

There was only one occasion when a waiter added up their lunch ticket incorrectly ~ oops, how did that extra 10,000 colones get on there? Other than that, Jake said everyone they came in contact with was super welcoming and friendly and they got such a kick out of exchanging pura vidas with everybody.   :o)

Pura vida!

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