Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Memory Lane

A Trip Down Memory Lane

On the day of my 42nd birthday, I thought I would compile a selection of photos that represent the many wonderful landmarks in my life... haphazard albeit, but a wonderful trip down memory lane nonetheless.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grace's First Blog Ever

OK, I've done it. I've created a blog. One would think, since I love to write, that I should have created it long ago. But, well, better late than never.

So since I am so late to the game, I shall take the liberty of posting some "post-facto" musings as my initial blog entries--- the Rodnitzki Family Adventures in Central America.

So, read on and enjoy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rodnitzki Family Adventures in Central America #5: Or is that Iceland?

So we've climbed volcanos and slid down volcanoes, viewed giant boulders erupting from volcanoes and prayed we would not need to use the "escape route" instructions while on a volcanic island, but in the end, it is a far away volcano in Iceland that apparently has sculpted the last part of our trip---- Yuval and the kids' flights are among the 17,000 daily flights that have been cancelled, so we are forced (group "awwwwwwwwwwwww" here) to remain in Panama until next Wednesday, the earliest day we could get a flight back to Israel.

So, San Blas archipelego here we come! Sorry, no wifi (nor electricity, for that matter) there, so adventures to come post-unexpected-extension.

May you all have a festive Israeli Independence Day!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rodnitzki Adventures in Central America #4: Diving from our Doorstep

Since we are in the single digits of our trip now, we've been less "roughing it" and allowing ourselves some more "luxuries". For instance, we left the beautiful mountainous Boquete the easy way-- we just took a little truck-taxi to the port where we caught a small boat to the town of Bocas del Toro, instead of walking to a bus, then taking another bus, from which we would need to a taxi or a long walk to the port and only then the boat... sometimes door to port is a nice luxury!

And I guess luxury is contagious, since we also are doing the luxury thing here in Bocas... after checking out a few hostels (Yuval and the girls hung out at a cool restaurant while Paz and I explored) we found this great little waterfront apartment, complete with a kitchen, an airconditioned master room, a nice pull out bed for the kids, and a patio literally over the water, from which you can dive into the crystal clear water. In Sheleg's words, as she looked down from the step into the water: "Seven!" Seven what? "I can count seven starfish in the water in front of our new home!"

Well, it is not exactly our home (though a wise investor would buy here, since the tourist rush has definitely not yet made it en force here) but each new place is dubbed our home, which is a nice reflection upon the kids adaptability.

So we have been enjoying diving off the porch into the Caribbean over the last couple days, eating freshly-caught red snapper in Creole sauce, fresh pineapple and other Caribbean delights, and this afternoon we head off to Bastimentos Island, to the next installment of our not-over-the top luxury, where we will be staying in this cool eco-lodge on a private beach on the water. Gourmet chef, three meals a day, kayaks and snorkeling to our heart's content, on a remote side of the island right near the national park area and with reefs and mangroves a paddle away, and monkeys and sloths our next door neighbors. (Since we are in undiscovered Panama, and not tourist-ridden Costa Rica, it is still affordable) Not expecting any internet there (since they do not proudly tout that there is), so sending this update off now, rather than later...

And since this might even be my last pre-return update, some final reflections:
In The Trip to Panama, a children's book by Janosch, which has been our bed time story book during these travels, a little bear and a little tiger live by a riverside, quite content with their life, until they find a crate marked "Panama" floating in the river, and decide to travel to this fantastic land. After many adventures, they return to their own little house, thinking it is actually in Panama.

The last pages of the book is an apt ending, perhaps, to my last entry in this little travelogue, as we look forward to our return to Israel and reflect upon our adventures.

"Oh tiger," Little Bear said everyday. "How glad I am that we came to Panama!" Aren't you glad too?" "Yes I am," said little Tiger. "Panama is the land of our dreams. And we can stay here forever and ever."

You think they might as well have stayed at home all the time? You think they needn't have taken a trip to Panama at all? You're wrong. Because then they would never have met the fox and the crow. They would never have met the hedgehog and the hare. And they would never have found out how comfortable a lovely, soft, plushy sofa can be.

So lastly, in the spirit of slowing down and nearing the end, we asked the kids what their favorite part was. "We can't decide" they said, which makes Yuval and me very, very happy.

Thanks for allowing me to share our adventures. Have a lovely week, and see you soon!!!!!!!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rodnitzki Adventures in Central America #3: Pumas and Treehouses

To the sounds of a bubbling creek, and with a treasured wifi connection which allows me to write on my bed in my little wooden cabin adjacent to that creek while in the coffee growing region of Panama's Boquete, I conclude our Costa Rican and commence our Panamanian adventures.

As I mentioned in my last note, our last days in Costa Rica were spent on the Osa Peninsula. After a day of lounging and kayaking while recovering from the full day's journey from Monteverde to the remote Osa, we awoke at 5am to set out on the 6am "collectivo" bus towards the Corcovado National Park (the reason people go to Osa-- that, or to look for gold in its rivers.) Bus is actually a misnomer: it is a covered pick up truck with hard benches, which would have been wonderful had there been room on them (our 5am wake up was with the intention of getting to the "bus" stop in time to beat the locals and get a seat--- yeah, right.) So Yuval hung on to the rafters and I sat on the wooden floor, the kids squeezed onto a spare tire and we made half of the two-hour bumpy journey on "the worst road in Costa Rica" (the writers hadn't been to the outskirts of Monteverde, apparently) in relative discomfort, until we got some bench space and then made the remainder of the journey in continued discomfort (but properly seated). Of course, Sheleg slept through the whole journey (how does she manage to do that??? I would patent it if I knew) Nonetheless, the bumps and dives were well worth the incredible day we had in Corcovada.

The trail-- an hour's walk along a pristine deserted Pacific beach (by the time we got ourselves organized, the others were well on their way and out of sight. Sometimes being a slow poke pays.) Waves crashing at decibels which demanded speaking in a loud voice-- clear blue sea to our left, jungle and coconut palms to our right, macaws flying and monkeys swinging above, literally. We reached the National Park entrance to be greeted by the discomforting news that there had been a puma attack on a child just two days earlier. I guess you could say that, like the scorpions in Monteverde, it is their natural habitat, and they are always there, just usually keeping to themselves. The wardens cautioned us to stay close together and to keep the kids in the middle, and assured us (as much as a warden can) that with caution, we should be fine.

This was not the first time we experienced that fear of going into the wild with unwelcome neighbors-- one was in Jasper when Yuval, with one-year-old Paz on his back, turned around pale with fear and whispered "Bear!!!!" as a brown bear crossed our path, spoiling our intentions of staying the night as we backtracked to the entrance (not knowing whether lactating women were an additional attraction for the creatures, and having read about two instances of bear maulings that very week) The other (pre-lactation) experience was during our 1997 trip to Nepal after waiting only five minutes to let a pair of known-aggressive rhinos that had been eyeing us venture into the jungle entrance which we then entered, and our subsequent sighting of a tiger (after five years of one not being sighted in the area)-- our guide looking as pale as Yuval did after the bear sighting (but Yuval was so excited that he tried to capture it on video, forgetting all fear). Anyway, I stray.

So we ventured into Corcovada, spotting a white nosed something-or-other (forget the name), tons of hermit crabs, one too many snakes, huge trees (didn't see Avatar but understand it is akin to the tree homes in the movie) and, thankfully, no puma. We stopped to swim in an idyllic river, where miniature frogs' hopping kept the kids busy as we rested under the shade of the jungle the better part of the morning, before continuing on in the jungle trail. Enjoying the moments when the kids called my attention to their various observations, such as noticing the way the shadows struck the stones in the few places where the sun seeped through the canopy. On the way back, after rejoicing that we had a puma-less journey, we soaked ourselves in cold water prior to setting back on the beach, where the kids kicked off their shoes and enjoyed looking for shells and stones (and monkeys and macaws.) The powerful rip tides made the water un-swimmable (and almost as fearsome as the puma due to the size and unpredictability of the waves) so we admired it in feet-deep distance, all of us cheering when the periodic mammoth wave that simply demanded standing ovations due to its sheer force as it hammered down on the shore. Then again, the two hour bumpy journey back, this time all three kids sleeping, Paz on Yuval and the girls on my lap, my muscles exhausted having spent the entirety of the ride holding them to prevent them from falling off the benches.

That evening, with Passover over, I could finally join my family in a filling pasta dinner. And then a good night's sleep for another 5am wake up to catch the ferry to make it to Panama.

And so, we reached Panama (a far far easier border crossing than that of Nicaragua-Costa Rica). Did you know that Panamanian currency is... American dollars?! Techinically it is the "Balboa", but no bills, only coins here and there-- dollars do the trick. I had no clue. Some say Panama got its independence from the US only in the year 2000 when the US officially handed over control of the Panama canal to Panama. But my impressions, with the many Pizza Huts, KFC's and Hershey products, let alone the American currency, is that I am in another US state, but with very much a Central American beat, and far better coffee.

Having reached the coffee-growing bread-basket canopy-covered region of Chiriqui, with the luxuries of America at dirt cheap prices (a full, huge lunch for five ravenous travelers, with barbequed/fried/grilled chicken, the locally-famous chicken soup- not for me, of course- fried plantains, lentils, rice, salad and more, including chilled glasses of the local beer, all under $20), outstanding Panamanian coffee to our heart's content, dirt-cheap hot fudge sundaes for the kids, and the sounds of the bubbling creek, we are thoroughly enjoying the experience. We ventured out yesterday to a waterfall, and the sight of the native Panamanian women in their traditional multi-colored dresses as we left this pituresque town is a reminder that we are in a country with a rich indigenous population....

The bubbling creek continues to bubble and it has lulled us to sleep for two nights. The kids have been sleeping in a tree house on the property-- they are tickled pink at the chance to sleep on a wooden platform above the creek (and I am excited that they are so excited).

But alas, we have reached the point where the end is in sight--- 3/4 complete, just over a week to go, two more destinations-- the palm-covered islands of Bocas del Toro and the hopping Panama City (and miraculous canal, which is what brought us this close to the equator.)

So in case there is no wifi on the remote Carribean island that we intend to reach today, have no worries, we are simply having a ball.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rodnitzki Adventures in Central America #2: Tinkerbell, Quakers, Butterflies and Scorpions

Costa Rica has flown by. Beauty and paradise... Simply spectacular and awe-inspiring.

The most beautiful birds just flew by as I write-- Scarlet Macaws, I believe-- brightly-multicolored parrots as far as I am concerned!!!

Wish you could see from where I am writing... in fact, Yuval just snapped a shot, so will send soon. My future me is envious of myself right now!!!

A coconut just fell and nearly hit Paz's head... good it missed, since there is no hospital here on the Osa Peninsula,where we find ourselves now and will seal our Costa Rica component of our travels. Osa is the southernmost part of Costa Rica and deemed the place with the greatest number of flora and fauna of any place on earth. We are staying in this little place right on the bay, waiting for high tide so we can take out the kayaks. Passing time gloriously lazily doing simply nothing. No tv (but finally, internet!!!) Water, boats, birds, sun, breeze, palms... a margarita would be perfection. Yuval is making me a coffee with cardamom, so that will be a great second best. The hotel also has bicycles, hammocks and a puddle-sized pool (perfect for the kids and to cool off). Wifi and electrical outlets on a wooden deck overlooking the bay as butterflies flutter by. Who could ask for more?

The girls are swimming in the small pool and Paz is reading about the Greek gods (mom, do you know who Eros's parents are? he asks me inquisitively.)

Looks like we will head off for a pizza parlor a bit later (I will look on in envy as I continue to heed my Passover abstentions-- thank G-d for fish, beans and rice...), perhaps on the bicycles. Fresh fish for all tonight.

And now that you have a sense of my now, I shall do my best to recount our week's adventures.

To properly describe our Costa Rica adventure, I must back track just a bit to our last few days in Nicaragua, on Ometepe Island. In my last email I hadn't mentioned that we met a wonderful family-- Abigail and Chris, and their two kids Rachel (11) and Aron (4). As we discussed our adventures and plans, it turns out that Abigail, a professor of Anthropology in Central Connecticut University, and a practicing Quaker, is on Sabbatical in Monteverde,Costa Rica, our post-Arenal destination. They graciously and warmly invited us to stay with them during our visit there (just a few days later), in the most welcoming and sincere invitation that I have ever received.

It turns out that, unbeknownst to me (didn't read up enough in Lonely Planet), a group of American Quakers came to Monteverde Costa Rica in 1951-- the pacifist Quakers were being arrested by the American government for refusing to serve in the Korean War, so a group left the US for Costa Rica, which had just abolished its army a few years prior and was (and is today) one of the few countries on earth with no army. The Quakers established a huge dairy farm with an exceptional cheese factory (and killer icecream and shakes, believe me). They also had the vision and foresight to buy up land with the purpose of preserving it in its natural forested state, with the area now being some of the most beautiful and pristine cloudforest in Central America (and some of the most extreme canopy tours as well :-) ) In any case, more on Monteverde in a few, but we left Nicaragua excited by that standing invitation.

Arenal Volcano (and Fortuna, the neighboring town we stayed in) was all we hoped it to be. Our first day, we set out in the late afternoon for a hike to the volcano, where we trekked to the outermost perimeter permitted for hiking (some hikers were killed by a pyroclastic blast that reached the "wrong direction", so hikers are not permitted so close anymore...) In any case, after crossing a very-shaky suspension bridge, dodging snakes and amazing the multi-continental fellow-trekkers (we even had a hiker from the Yukon!!!) with our kids' ability to keep up, we spent a good hour watching boulders the size of trucks, many of which were red and glowing in the darkness, be spewn out of Arenal. This was beautifully complemented by fireflies, which we had Sheleg believe, if not just for a while, were Tinkerbell and her friends. The hike down was done in total darkness with headlamps (by which the other hikers were again amazed at the kids who whizzed by fearlessly) and we sealed the amazing time (which sadly, cannot adequately be captured on film with my simple camera) with a dip in the free hot springs which were just off the road on the way back, accessible to all....

The next day, we learned the Costa Rican motto "LA PURA VIDAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!
!!!" (Wikipedia it for the full definition) as we wildly rafted down the whitewaters of Costa Rica-- we girls on a Class III river, and Paz and Yuval on a Class IV river! This time I was amazed by the girls who proved their prowess in paddling-- well Keshet did, and Sheleg was along for the ride holding on for her life on the wild whitewater with a huge smile on her face the entire time. Towards the end the girls got up front and did what is called "riding the bull" as they were tossed and turned while they held on for dear life at the front of the raft.

Towards evening, we donned bathing suits under our holiday best, as it was the first night of Passover, and went to the (not free) Baldi Hot Springs, complete with the scariest water slides I have ever done in my life into the hottest water I have ever felt in my life (tens of pools with varying degrees of temperatures, with everything from swim up bars and wide screen plasma tvs to waterfalls and beautiful stone lounge chairs in the middle of jungle.) We then headed towards the dining hall with our haggadahs which we brought from Israel, and were amazed as we approached the dining area to hear Passover songs being sung loud and true... another Israeli family was there celebrating!!!! (but was far along, so we did not combine our festivities) We made our makeshift seder plate, pretended to eat matzo, drank some Costa Rican beverage that looked like wine, welcomed Elijah in the open air seating, and joyously sang and read from the Haggadah. In short, a bit unconventional perhaps, but as satisfying a seder as I could have hoped, under the circumstances.

The next day we headed off for Monteverde, to meet our new friends I mentioned above. Unfortunately, our 8am jeep for the jeep-boat-jeep journey that was to take us across the man-made lake to the pastures and cloud forests of Monteverde failed to show. Our tour group guy, who had been so wonderful with our other adventures, came through once again-- he arranged a pick up (it was already close to 10am!) and a private speed boat that blasted across the lake way way faster than any passenger ferry could dream of. We were screaming our lungs out with joy, high fiving la pura vida, and gaping at the amazing scenery of the shrinking Arenal as we apprached the green rolling hills of Monteverde.

Our four days in Monteverde were exceptional. Tarzan swinging and zip-lining through the jungle.... hiking through cloud forest to a remote waterfall... catching our tilapia and then eating it fresh in a remote little restaurant in a valley (as the Ten Commandments was screened on the local tv station in the corner, in dubbed Spanish!!!!).... learning the ins and outs of coffee growing on a collective farm.... surrounded by butterflies in a butterfly garden... we did not have a free moment and loved every one of them there.

Also exceptional was the time we spent with Abigail and her family. Perhaps true to Quaker beliefs, or in the spirit of Monteverde, the Adams' sabbatical home was blissfully free of television and other distractions, (but also of internet and thus my web silence for the last week), but wonderfully filled with conversation, games and cooking. We celebrated our second seder with them, I learned some of the ins and outs of Quakerism (was quite ignorant, now a bit less so) and simply enjoyed their company. The playing cards we brought got a lot of usage those last few days!!! The only downside was the many scorpions which shared their habitat with us and the Adams' household. From the bath to our bed to our freshly washed clothing, we got to know scorpions big and small. To this day, days later, we still shake out our underwear before putting them on!

Our Costa Rican adventure then was complete when we reached the Osa Penisula after a 12 hour journey in local buses... the time passed quickly as we met a wonderful Israeli couple who shared their traveling tales with us and amused the children as we passed the time on the bumpy roads towards Osa.

And thus, that brings me to the Osa Peninsula, whose adventures I will share in my next mail. Will send some of our photos then, too.

La Pura Vida!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rodnitzki Aventures in Central America #1: Pitching Stones in Mango Trees

We just crossed the border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, so as I sit back, eyes upon Arenal volcano (have yet to see the lava, but it is quite active with lava flow on a daily basis--- though we have been assured, and have subsequently assured Sheleg who asks periodically "What do we do if the volcano erupts on us?" that we are quite safe. In contrast, perhaps, were bad luck to strike, to our (amazing) four day stay on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua, where the "Evacuation route" signs everywhere are a startling reminder that were the active Concepcion Volcano to erupt-- well, we hope we could figure out what to do!!!
So it is too early to share reflections on Costa Rica, but Nicaragua left a deep impression on us... so where do I begin?

How about with some quotes from the kids, as they sit beside me, reflecting, too:

Keshet: I think Nicaragua is fun.
Sheleg: I do too.
Keshet: It is an upgraded India.
Sheleg: There are volcanoes in Nicaragua.
Keshet: The people are very tan. Really, really tan.
Sheleg: Trees and mangoes. And feet in pools.
Keshet: The people throw stones to get mangoes. I threw stones too.
Sheleg: We rode on horses. White birds!!!

Yes, that about summarizes the kids impressions! We'll get Paz's later...

We set out on the 17th, the kids and Yuval via Amsterdam and I via Miami.... our flights both landed on Panama. Theirs was scheduled to land an hour before mine, but as mine was about half an hour late, I literally arrived as the connecting flight was almost completely boarded... just made it, greeted by hugs and kisses and sighs of relief (from all of us)!!!!

Felt like a VIP as I landed in Nicaragua, for the first time in my life WE were met with a person standing with a sign "Rodnitzki family"-- those signs were always for OTHER important people (but that's what we get when we order a door to door shuttle!)

Our first destination: Granada (skipped Managua altogether- just a city... ) A beautiful city from colonial times, one of the oldest preserved cities in central America, with impressive churches, cathedrals, horsedrawn carriages and barely a car in the streets (indication of poverty level...) and the nicest, kindest and friendliest people around (not a person walks by without saying hola! with a smile on their face!) We slept in a hostel-- we had two private rooms, but the backpackers reminded Yuval and I of our own travels two decades ago... Hammocks strung in the open courtyard of the traditional Granadan house, an open, lush green garden in a courtyard surrounded by rooms in the all-wooden structure) Family run, and with a little hammock co-op on site, so we got to observe hammock-making to our heart's content... Wonderful!

Hmmm.. Billy Joel's Piano Man in Spanish in the background-- that's a first!!! Sheleg dancing to the music...

So after a few days of wondering the streets, horseback riding and more, we set off to Leon, the other old beautiful colonial city in Nicaragua. (in case you are wondering, historically, Leon is a leftist city with universities and students, Granada is a rightest city with bishops and pro-monarchists, so both vied for the right to be capital, almost to the level of civil war-- and thus Managua, smack in the middle, is today's capital, to ease the tensions between the two cities.)

In Leon the boys went volcano surfing (really!!!!) while we girls took a cooking course-- shopping in the local shuk, then heading off in a local bus (aka pick up truck that you have to run and jump into as you then bump along side by side with large women and their small children) to a small village outside of Leon, where we made tortillas (the women were astounded by the girl's tortilla-making talents) and we cooked "Old Indian Stew", a veggie stew with plantains, cornmeal, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and sour orange juice-- sounds odd, but quite yummy indeed!!!

After Leon, we headed off by local buses (OK, so I learned that just because those young men who take your suitcases and load them up on the bus with swift efficiency have embroidered shirts that appear to be quite legitimate, it does not mean that you pay them for your bus tickets... Yuval was the smart one who figured that out) A few hours south to the ferry (launch, to be precise, as it was a mid-sized boat which chugged along, and not the big car-carrying ferry), towards the island of Ometepe, the largest fresh-water island in the world, in the huge Lake Nicaragua, to be met by a truck which took us to our hotel (thanks, Lonely Planet, it was a perfect choice!) A little cabin perched at the top of stairs leading down to our own private, sandy beach, the kids in one room, we in another, air conditioning and hot water (what luxury!) Looks more like an ocean's beach than a lake-side beach (attesting to the size of the lake)

The island was everything you would expect and hope for... small villages scattered about, traditional life and friendly people, (one ATM on the island apparently, but who needs it?) Nothing to do but climb volcanoes (and hope for the best), ride horses, swim in the lake, eat in the lake-side restaurants, and kayak.... and of course, now we have figured out why Nicaraguans love baseball so much-- they have the best arms from hours of throwing huge stones at mango trees the size of red woods.... we gave a go at it, and paled in the light of those other 6, 7 and 8 year olds' pitches. Needs work, but were we to have some more time on the island, I am sure we could have begun to perfect our mango pitch.

Could have stayed there many more days, simply chilling out, but decided we should move on, and thus we find ourselves now in Costa Rica (after an arduous pick-up truck to small boat to taxi to school bus to walk across the border to bus to another bus to another school bus to taxi and phew! made it (after eating really yummy pizza in the taxi, thanks to the cool taxi driver's suggestion) Had a social worker seen our kids after THAT journey, they would have all have been removed from our custody) And ever wondered where your old yellow school bus ended up? They're all in Nicaragua.

But now, after a lovely fresh fruit yummy pancake hot Costa Rican coffee scrambled egg breakfast, we are debating whether we should first go to the Hot Springs (complete with water slides), the grade 3 or 4 rafting (in which case the girls and I would spend the day water sliding), canapy jumping, bungee jumping, volcano climbing (guaranteed lava flow sightings, otherwise take you up again the next day...), or, well, laundry.

So, signing off for now, since the girls have been so patient-- (I think Paz is finishing up his third book on this trip -- in English, yeah!) and will update you on our Costa Rica adventures soon....