Stories about New Zealand and Costa Rica by Piper

I wrote this when I was in Costa Rica last year.IMG_4525

Hi my name is Piper. I go around the world with my family.  My dad runs a boarding school called T G S. It is a good school. Finn and Charlotte are my  siblings. Charlotte is 12 I’m 7 Finn is 10. We are too young to go to TGS. We are homeschooled.

IMG_4522We went to New Zealand at the beginning of the year.  You can walk anywhere there.  We lived in a city called Auckland.  We went to Hobbiton.  We got to see all of their houses and drink Ginger Beer. It was so good.

We went on a road trip for three weeks in New Zealand.  We were in a IMG_5017Jucy Lucy campervan.  I rode in the front seat and I slept on the floor in the kitchen. We saw Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings (you should watch it, it’s a great movie).  We went to make knives but I was too young to make knives so I went horseback riding with mom. But I couldn’t run on the horse.  Mom’s horse was named Finn and my horse was named Prince.  The person who took us on the ride, her horse was named Jade.  

IMG_5649My favorite campground had a petting zoo.  There were hamsters and rabbits and the peacocks weren’t in a cage.  They wandered around the campsite and at night they would make a lot of noise and I couldn’t sleep.  

Now we are in Costa Rica. It is very buggy here and I don’t like that. I got eaten alive by sand fleas.  Especially on my arm. We went on a four week trip.  We went to a place called Punta Mona.  We got there by a boat.  There were no cars whatsoever. There were people living there. They were Hippies.  They grow their own food to live.  

I met this really nice lady at Punta Mona.  Her name was Christina. She wasn’t a Hippie.  I helped her alot.   I helped her clean the floors of the houses. I also helped her clean the kitchen. She was very nice to me.  She helped me with my bug bites. She put her cream on me.  It helped my bug bites to not be itchy.

IMG_6935At Punta Mona we we made chocolate and I was so excited about it. The first step was roasting the cocoa beans. Next we peeled them  and ground them. We mixed the cocoa with ingredients then we rolled them into balls. I just wanted to eat some chocolate.  But mom said no, you have to come to the ceremony.  It is a thing that they used to do and these ladies made all these chocolates a long time ago.  It would take them five days to make chocolate for IMG_6855the whole village.  We did the same ceremony they did.  First they would take the trays of cocoa and pass it around to everybody.  Then you had to hold it in your hand and we had to look at it and  think about this chocolate.  How long it took you to make it. I said to my chocolate, “Sorry but I’m going to eat you in one second.” And then I put a bite into my mouth. I thought in my head “this is crappy.”  I swallowed it and I went to my mom and I said to her, “This is the worst chocolate I’ve ever had mom.” And I gave it to her.  It felt like I tossed my cookies in my mind. It was horrible. It was the worst chocolate I ever had.

Montaña Linda offers the perfect Costa Rican experience

We left Costa Rica almost a month ago. I’ve had lots of time to ponder the question that I get asked quite often, “What was your favorite part of Costa Rica?” Before I answer that, let me explain that we were all over Costa Rica. In 30 days, we slept in 13 different beds. Led by the staff of Broadreach, we criss crossed the country, staying on the boarder of Nicaragua one day only to hop on a bus and travel south to the boarder of Panama, a location so remote (Punta Mona) one can only get there by a skiff boat, or hiking three miles through the jungle. We stayed at different Biological Research Stations, each one highlighting it’s unique area of study: monkey identification and behavior, birds, plants, insects and frogs, rivers and streams and dolphin identification. 

Of all the places we stayed, my favorite experience was living in Orosi for a week. This is where I feel like my kids and I  truly “lived” Costa Rica. If you want to experience the culture and language of Costa Rica, you have to be intentional – you have to seek out or plan for it. The best way to do this is with the help of a program that facilitates authentic Costa Rican Cultural Experiences. Whether you are traveling with a group, as a family or are single, Montaña Linda Spanish School offers the perfect Costa Rican experience: language classes, home stays to practice your Spanish and live the Costa Rican lifestyle, volunteer opportunities, local tours, trips and activities.

 One of our first stops on our month-long journey was in Orosi where Montaña Linda is located. Orosi is a quaint Costa Rican town of only 13,000 people. It is located only 1.5 hours from San Jose, nestled in a mountain valley surrounded by coffee farms. Montana Linda is a family run business that has been in Orosi for 17 years. They are a big part of the Orosi community. Sarah, Toine and their son Thomas run the youth hostel, a small hotel, as well as the Spanish School. Between the three of them, Montana Linda is a well oiled machine.  

Because the kids and I were traveling with the Think Global School students on our journey through Costa Rica, my viewpoint  comes from the experience Montana Linda organized and provided us a large group. The students were divided into pairs to live with their host families. I thought our family (1 parent and 3 kids) was going to be too large for a Tico family to host us. I was so happy to find out that Sarah found a family that could accommodate us. She actually loaned our host family a bunk bed for their spare apartment so that the four of us could share a room.  Wow! I was elated to say the least. I really wanted the kids and I to not only learn and practice our Spanish with them, but to come home to a Tico family, enjoy meals with them and experience their daily routine.  Thanks Sarah!


In the short amount of time we had in Orosi (just one week) Sarah and Toine scheduled a variety of activities for our group. On one cold and rainy day, we visited a local organic coffee farm, Cafe Christina. Here we learned everything there is to know about coffe farms, beans, and the entire process from growing to shipping the final product.  



Climbing above the clouds in our little tourist bus, we went to the top of the Irazu Volcano where Toine taught us about the formation of Costa Rica’s volcanoes.  He is so knowledgeable and can answer just about any question!  


We visited the Guayabo National Monument, Costa Rica’s ancient civilization. Only 20% of the ruins have been uncovered. Imagine, 80% more is covered in the surrounding rain forest just waiting to be discovered.


We hiked up a river just outside of town to visit a local man named Nano. He lives alone in his humble home on the side of the mountain where he grows and sells his own coffee beans. He loves visitors!   



On the way down the mountain we stopped to take in the view of Orosi from an old abandoned house.



For three days, we volunteered at a local Foster Care home for Costa Rican children, babies to 8 years old. Of course this would not have been possible without the help of Sarah and Toine. They have had an ongoing relationship with Hogar De Niños Baik for the past year. This was an eye opening experience for the kids and me.  We helped with projects around the grounds, mainly having to do with the gardens. We also had the opportunity to play with the children. In my previous post, “What does Pura Vida mean?” you can read about my reaction there.  

We had two friendly gatherings with our local friends and families. One night was an awesome football tournament at the indoor football stadium. Football is a game that unites everyone! Edit  

On our last night in Orosi we had a fantastic party to thank our host families for their hospitality. Sarah and one of the host family members gave us dance lessons that we have all carried on with us. Now we can all Salsa! 


Thanks Sarah, Toine and Thomas for making our stay in Orosi one we will never forget. Your dedication and commitment to the town of Orosi is so evident. Montana Linda is truly an integral part of the Orosi Community and it shows!

What does Pura Vida mean?

You are a Nun and you manage a Foster Care program in Cartago, Costa Rica. You provide love, comfort and care for 20 children, ages 2 months to 8 years old. The concrete walls and barbed wire surround your facility, but you have created a Hydrophonics Garden to feed the children. Pura Vida.IMG_6255.JPG You depend on the sky for your water. Sometimes this runs out and you have no running water. Your humble washing machine is your hands. You have no dryer but you use the sun and wind to kiss the children’s clothes. Pura Vida.IMG_6284-2.JPG You are 5 years old and you live behind the big concrete walls with the barbed wire fence on top. You don’t have many toys, but there are non-working battery operated cars outside that can only be used if someone pushes you. Pura Vida.


IMG_6307.JPG You are six years old and you live behind the big concrete walls with the barbed wire fence on top. Some big kids came to visit and you made a new friend. You found some pieces of sidewalk chalk and he let you trace his body. Pura Vida.

IMG_6306.JPG You are two years old. You just finished eating in your high chair. Some big kids made you some Play Dough in the kitchen. One big girl came over and smiled at you. She showed you how squishy and fun it is to play with. Pura Vida.

IMG_6327.JPG You are 8 years old. Hogar De Niños Baik has been your home for the last four years. You were loved, comforted and sheltered inside these concrete walls with the barbed wire on top. You are being adopted by an Italian family. You are starting over. Pura Vida.


Thank You Mr. Moreno

Dear Mr. Moreno,
I know it’s been a long time since I was enrolled in your high school Spanish I class. I’ll just round it off to an even 20+ years ago. Despite it being so long ago that I learned basic Spanish, I was really surprised at how much I retained over the years and I’m happy to say that it has done me a world of good during our home stay in Orosi, Costa Rica.

IMG_6451.JPG Our routine was basically the same each day. We woke up early to a home cooked breakfast each morning. Doña Anna would name everything in front of us so we could learn it’s Spanish name. This always included “frutas organica” sliced up to eat or blended for juice. She reminded us every day that it was organic. How lucky were we?! Our favorite new fruit was Guanabana. You had to scoop a bite out with a fork. It had a slimey texture but tasted just like a sweet tart.

IMG_6319.JPG After breakfast we walked 8 blocks to our Spanish School (OTIAC) where we waited for our taxis to take us to our service project in the neighboring town (more about that later).

IMG_6453.JPG By the time we arrived, we would have picked up 2 to 3 stray dogs along the way. The main rule is “Don’t pet the dogs! Do not make eye contact!” Yeah, try telling that to this dog loving family. Finn and Piper named this one Spot and he always managed to find us and follow us everywhere. Even on our first day, he followed us on a hike up to the waterfalls in the valley.


Often, we would arrive home at dinner time to a house full of relatives. I showed them the pictures on my phone of the things we accomplished that day and I would have to look up some words and basically play charades to get my point across. But making mistakes and laughing about it is half the fun.

One night, we were invited to her sister, Marta’s house where we would pray and eat. From what Doña Anna told me, and what I understood, this was a tradition in Costa Rica on Friday nights. When we arrived, her living room was set up like a mini church with rows of dining room and kitchen chairs. The center of attention was The Nativity with tiny white lights and an Angel candle for decoration. At first I thought we were just going to say a simple prayer and maybe sing a few songs but we ended up reciting the entire Rosary in Spanish! I quickly looked up the “Hail Mary” and the “Our Father” so Charlotte and I could join in. Mr. Moreno, I was able to read and recite out loud everything I read quite easily. Charlotte was using her one year of Spanish as well and was keeping up just fine. Finn and Piper were so polite. They sat quietly and paid attention for 45 minutes. We were met with approving smiles and nods by the family. I think Doña Anna was proud of us.

Our last night in Orosi was a thank you party for our host families. We learned some Costa Rican dance moves and presented our host mothers thank you cards. It was a sweet way to end our time, dancing with our host mother. It’s a universal language. Again Mr. Moreno, Muchas Gracias!




Soaring Through The Clouds

It was an opportunity not to be passed up. We spent two days in the
“Cloud Forest” of Monteverde. Believe me, there is no better place to experience a zip line than up in the clouds!!! 100% Aventura has the longest zip line in Latin America measuring 1.5 Kilometers. Just take my advice. If you ever make it to this region of Costa Rica, no matter your age, you must do this.

Let me first start by saying, this place is a well oiled machine. They have a schedule of four times a day to choose from. Our group was about 40 people and we experienced the entire course of 12 different zip lines in three hours. Are they safe? You bet. These guys know what they are doing. Their safety gear is heavy duty bomb-proof and they do a demonstration of exactly what you need to do in order to survive. Hey, when my 7 year old (Piper) heard a 5 year old did it the same day, she was not going to be outdone. “I can do it mom!”

I didn’t take a whole lot of pictures because having an iPhone without a strap is a dangerous thing. Let’s face it. You won’t see it ever again – gobbled up by the cloud forest below. Plus, I just wanted to be in the moment.

We started out with some really short and easy zips, including a rapel from a tree. Walking across a hanging bridge? No problem. This was the easy part. Charlotte and Piper were paired up for some of the longer zips because of Piper’s weight. Some are so long that had she not been paired up, she’d zip out to the middle and get stuck which would require a rescue.

In the next two pictures I am waiting my turn to do the Superman zip. This is where you can really feel like you are flying. Charlotte and Piper wait their turn, and Finn is just behind me. Notice the cows in the background. I think they want a turn too!


Here we go. A student is just in front of me getting hooked up. She’s ready to fly into the mist!


It’s pretty cool to enter a wall of mist while flying through the air. I wasn’t quite sure if I would see anything at all. But once the trees parted open, I could see just how high up I was, soaring high above the tree line. My train of thought went something like this: “Wow is this cool! I’m pretty high up here! This is reeeeally long. What would happen if that cable were to… Stop it! Stop that now! Enjoy the view. Look at that farm over there. Look at those cows! What would it be like to be a cow living under a zip line? Do they get used to humans flying above them screaming, hooting and hollering? They must think we’re nuts. Am I nuts? Is this crazy, or what? No, this is pretty great!”

Charlotte, Finn and Piper were all too small to do the Superman Zip but experienced it sitting up with partners. They did take the challenge of the Tarzan Swing at the end of the course. A giant step off the edge and you’re plunging, then swinging with all your friends cheering you on below. It’s quite a rush. It’s already been suggested that my kids need to skydive next.


Our Costa Rica Adventure Begins

It’s been a whirlwind of a journey from New Zealand, to Wisconsin, to Miami and now Costa Rica. Sometimes I can’t even believe I’m here. Is this for real? If it weren’t for Jamie, we wouldn’t be here. His job is the reason we are traveling around the world with our kids and for this we are thankful.

And so here we are, ready to go on a one month long excursion with the ninth and tenth graders of Think Global School. Broadreach is the organization taking us on our journey, beginning in Monteverde. We’ll be moving around the country, fully experiencing the diversity of the land, it’s climates, it’s plants and animals and of course, learning about another culture through the people we meet along the way.