Here we are, six months in....
A good time, indeed, to take a (very brief) pause and see how we're doing. What we've been doing. Are we "on track"? No, actually, in many contexts, but a resounding "yes!" in others. Are we dying to head back to the states or feeling like we are finally getting our footing here?
We set out over a year ago to make a major life change for a slew of reasons, the most important of which include slowing down (not happening), sleeping more (definitely not happening), getting more freedom and down time for the kids (oh, yes!), and immersing ourselves in the another country (absolutely - sometimes a bit too much - see last blog post!). Then COVID hit, and we basically just wanted to get the hell out of the U.S., all the quarantining, the working/learning from our basement (which my brother recently described appeared like a "dungeon" when he saw pictures of us), and a (then) upcoming winter full of restrictions with short, dark, freezing days.
I would say, without hesitation, that this move thus far has been an absolute success. While not without it's downs, it's frustrations, it's "are you kidding me?!" moments, both within our family as we navigate living in a new place with new people and having new roles and routines but as well as in the community and country in which we now live, the last six months have provided an incredible amount of "ups." Above all, I think our genuine eagerness to belong and to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has made for a great last six months, despite the restrictions. Here's a recap.
In the last six months, we have....
-Swam in the Caribbean Sea
-Swam in the Pacific Ocean
-Had two Casitas-for-rent built with an incredible (ridiculous, actually) amount of our involvement, local flair and a whole bunch of sweat equity
-Landscaped said Casitas with the wonderful help of about half of the (very large) family: who says laying 700 square meters of sod over two summer days can't be fun?!
-Hired a local artist to paint two amazing murals on the Casitas, bring a bit of Madison to La Flor.
-Prepared two incredible bonfire pits that have been enjoyed repeatedly by members of the entire family while sitting under an incredible star-filled, light-pollution free sky
-Swam in the local swimming hole (waterfall included) at least 25 times - twice even out-smarting a herd of Brahman cows en route that periodically grazes in the field we need to cross to get there - not an easy feat for two moms and 6 kiddos on foot! One incident involved actually tossing Leo, semi-panickedly - over a barbed-wire fence. Adventure!
-Learned to harvest mamones chinos (rambutans), fallen in love with granadilla (again, my brother saw a pic and sent 4 vomit-face emojis), and sucked out the delicious white pulp of caimitos growing in our backyard.
-Purchased a motorcycle and regularly take it out through tropical and mountainous climates, most often with Leo, who is always begging for a quick "vuelta en la moto".
-Hand-crafted swings, hung a hammock, built our own furniture and benches all while getting the kids involved with power tools along the way.
-Finished (ourselves) our house.
-Enrolled (another adventure) our kids in a local school and have finally gotten back into some in-person classes (yay!).
-Constructed a banana-birdfeeder that has attracted toucanettes, toucans, and at least 5-10 other varieties of cool birds to our front yard.
-Gotten a puppy and had the kids build her a house.
-Seen poison-dark frogs, sloths, crocodiles, caimans, monkeys, sea turtles, toucans, macaws, wild turkeys, poisonous snakes, bullet ants, and more.
-Learned to make chocolate, coconut oil, cheese, yogurt, and tortillas 100% from scratch.
-Planted an enormous garden - of which now we are finally starting to reap the benefits (and still losing a serious battle with the local grass!)
-Planted over 50 fruit trees.
-Found a local hiking spot that is close, breath-taking, and has a little cafe that serves amazing hot chocolate - helpful after a walk-in-a-downpour with three very cold & grumpy kiddos.
-Gotten our kids accustomed to putting in two hours of physical labor each Saturday morning without (almost**) any whining.
-Carved watermelons instead of pumpkins in an attempt to keep holiday traditions alive.
-Hosted a weekly art-session and epic "all nighters" with cousins.
-Decorated for Christmas in the tropics - something I swore I would never be able to do. And while during the day, it didn't work it's magic, once night fell and we could no longer see palm trees, our living room actually took on a bit of a Christmasy vibe.
-Duplicated some of our favorite foods (pumpkin pie! brownies with from-scratch cocoa powder!) while learning to adapt to other foods we weren't so used to before.
-Set up a pen-pal program between local kids and Madison, Wisconsin students.
-Visited and hiked to six incredible waterfalls.
-Visited four National Parks
-Swam in volcanic thermal waters (twice).
-Worked with a university intern - virtually - to continue promoting our businesses.
-Learned that anything here can grow if you chop it off and stick it in the ground.
-Attended a quinceañera (15 year old birthday celebration) at a rainforest resort.
-Walked the longest suspension bridge in the region.
-Glamped near the beach.
-Visited four different mechanics in a span of about three weeks thanks to crappy roads and maybe a bit of speedy driving on said crappy roads...my Whatsapp contacts include more mechanics than family members as of late!
-Survived and learned to somewhat manage the ever-changing cycles of tropical insects: fruit flies, regular flies, biting ants, you name it. (There were moments of desperation when it came down to me, crazy-eyed, spinning in circles with one of those sticky mouse-trap squares trying to catch the thousands of fruit flies that invaded our house overnight once when we accidentally left some piña on the counter....)
-Provided our kids the freedom to, come about 1:30 - 2 p.m. each day, be allowed to go play, usually in the plaza (soccer field) with 15-25 kids of varying ages, many of whom are extended family. As long as they bring each other (and the puppy) back by dark, nice and sweaty, they are on their own for 3+ hours a day while we work, and they love it.
-Hosted three sets of visitors who were brave enough to fly, loving the chance to share what we've created here!
So, yes, overall life's been pretty good. We've gotten thus far what we came for and then some. We've reached a turning point where our projects that will establish us here (our house, our Casitas, school, and a more consistent work routine) are in place and now we will get to move forward with building on all of that work...an exciting challenge. We're excited and we're ready!