Canada - Lake Peyto
Western Canada
August 11, 2017
Canada - Lake Peyto
Western Canada
August 11, 2017
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Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica & USA

Costa Rica - Keel-Billed Toucan

Days 1-4 – Our Flight & Rio

Friday 18th March : We picked up some very excited kids from school and headed to the airport for our short hop down to Heathrow. All pretty uneventful except an incident with a straw hat. Child C managed to poke his finger through my new sun hat so we discreetly left it under a chair. Note to self: Need to buy a new hat.

Sat 19th March: After an overnight stay at Heathrow we were up and out for out flight to Rio. Arrived at check-in to be told that our travel agent had forgotten to issue any of our e-tickets for our flights. A few frantic phone calls and 40 mins later we were sorted but our flight home from Orlando was now fully booked so we have to find a new flight. Kids were fantastic on the flight (personal TV and games helped a lot) but were all pretty knackered when we arrived in Rio. Child B virtually sleep-walked through immigration. We arrived at our hotel opposite Copacabana beach around midnight.

Sunday 20th March: Our first day in Brazil!! Temperature 32 degrees Celsius. Blue skies and hot. Such a contrast to home. Kids in rooftop pool by 9am. Annoyed most of other residents by 9.15am (by general loudness and splashing) and have pool to themselves by 9.20am. Then hit Copacabana beach. It’s a Sunday and packed like sardines. Too hot for the kids so we head for lunch and ice cream. The Brazilians are so friendly and love the kids. They even understand my Portuguese (I completed a ‘key phrases’ course on the plane – go me!) After another couple of hours in the pool we head to the bar around the corner from our hotel for burgers and to watch the footy. It’s jam packed but a great atmosphere. Kids love it but need an early night for our full day of Rio sight-seeing tomorrow. Note to self: Need to develop quieter children

Monday 21st March – An action packed day today. Had a private guide for the day (called Daniel Cabral) who was fantastic. We were up early to head up the mountain to see Christ the Redeemer before the crowds. Amazing views but couldn’t repeat the Dynamo trick unfortunately. Then visited a favela which was a real eye opener – hot, crowded but this is where 30% of the population of Rio live. Then to Selaron steps, Maracana Stadium (couldn’t get inside as closed for alterations before Olympics), and the amazing pyramid cathedral. Child C showed his appreciation by chucking up all over the cathedral floor. The joys of travelling with kids. Finally up Sugar Loaf Mountain on the cable car with yet more breath-taking views. Then home for kids to jump in rooftop pool to cool off. A memorable day!!

Days 5-6 – Brazil - Ilha Grande

Tuesday 22nd March – Headed three hours down the coast to the Costa Verde and the islands around the Ilha Grande. Stayed in an amazing pousada right by the water. Absolutely idyllic. Kids made some Argentinian friends by the pool so we sat and drank Caipirinha’s. Bliss. Has green turtles swimming right past us. Took some kayaks out around some of the smaller islands and saw more turtles. Obviously needed a reality check so Child B promptly cut his foot on the pontoon and Child A had an allergic reaction to the coral. Note to self: Packing such a wide array of medical accompaniments was fully justified. Well done.

Wednesday 23rd March – Probably our favourite day so far. Had a private catamaran for the day to head around the islands. Stopped at the ‘blue lagoon’ for snorkelling, then to ‘dentists beach’ on Gipoia island. Water lovely and warm – kids didn’t want to come out. Had lunch at a restaurant on the beach and then more snorkelling and swimming. Picture postcard scenery. Headed back over to the airport hotel in the most amazing tropical storm (3 or 4 storms going at once). Child C whimpered in the back (not a fan of thunder) whilst our driver negotiated new rivers of water coming off the mountains. Only 6 hours sleep tonight and then up for our flight to Peru. Adeus Brazil.

Days 7-10 – Peru - Sacred Valley

Thursday 24th March – A long day of travel. Had to catch the 5.30am flight from Rio to Lima and then wait for another flight onto Cusco. Around 12 hours of travelling in total so we are all pretty tired. On a positive note the sun is still shining and the scenery of the sacred valley is just stunning. Snow capped high mountain peaks and lush green fields. Our hotel is in the town of Urubamba at the foot of the mountain. We chill for the rest of the day in order to acclimatise to the high altitude. No signs of sickness so far although Child B is a bit queasy. After dinner in town we have an early night.

Friday 25th March – Another lazy day to acclimatise. Walk into town and acquire three stray dogs along the way (which the kids call Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo). Find a nice local bakery for lunch and try empanadas (a bit like a Cornish pastie) and hand made chocolates. Kids spend literally 2 mins in a very cold swimming pool and play hide and seek in the hotel grounds. At night there is a local procession to celebrate the Easter Holy Week. The whole town is out to celebrate and it is a privelige to witness it. Peru feels like a very special place.

Saturday 26th March – Today is the first of four days with our private guide called David Ramos. We head first to Ollantaytambo which is a living Inca city and a World Heritage Site. There are Easter celebrations here also with a live band and lots of stalls bizarrely offering everything from Peruvian crafts to hair cutting and dentistry. We watch from the balcony of a local cafe whilst enjoying banana and chocolate pancakes. We visit a local village house where a large family of guinea pigs also live. The kids love them (especially the babies) and we don’t have the heart to tell them that ‘guinea pig’ is the national dish of Peru. After that it is time for our 4 hour horse trek up the mountain to Pumamarca under the guidance of traditional Peruvian horsemen. It’s an amazing experience and the scenery is stunning. The horses are very well behaved and only one horse tries to make a bolt for it. The head honcho loves Child C and says he is a natural horseman. Another amazing day. Note to self: Try to have the camera ready when your husbands horse starts to gallop up the mountain.

Sunday 27th March – Another action packed day. White water rafting this morning on the Urubamba river. I’d presumed with the kids that it would be a fairly tame affair but ‘Oh No’ we were thrust into the midst of Grade IV rapids. We all clung on for dear life (Child C was engulfed by a huge wave at one point) but had a blast and thankfully we ended the rafting with five members of the family still remaining. Then time for lunch and the kids (obviously having forgotten the adorable babies yesterday) opted for roast guinea pig. No nicely presented slices of meat here but a full grown guinea pig (head, eyes, teeth and all). Apparently it tastes like chicken. I had the fish. After that we headed to the alpaca farm and to see the Andean weavers who are amazingly skilful. Left with the wallet feeling considerably lighter. Then we went to watch some local football games (men and women but the women put the men to shame) which the kids loved and the locals made us feel very welcome. Then to the Inca ruins at Pisac. Home very late with very sore arms! Note to self: when the rafting guide says ‘the kids will be fine’ what he really means is ‘the kids will be shaken around like a washing machine for a few hours – and then they will be fine’.

Day 11-13 – Peru - Machu Picchu & Cusco

Monday 28th March – A relaxing morning to recover from yesterday. The elderly owners of our hotel are so sweet and adore the kids. They brought them a huge dish each of Peruvian pudding to try. It was a sweet, brown sickly gloop. The kids hated it so we had to discreetly dispose of it down the toilet. We figured it wasn’t too dissimilar to other stuff going down there. Then it was time to head to the station for our train to Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu. A glorious 1.5 hr journey through the Peruvian jungle with a raging river next to the track (the same river that we were on yesterday). Aguas Calientes is a tourist town but full of character. We found a bakery for cake and coffee and frequented the local markets for Inca crafts (but ended up with Peru football shirts for the boys – typical!). A hearty Italian meal at night set us up for our hike up to Machu Picchu in the morning.

Tuesday 29th March – Finally the time has come to go to Machu Picchu! 7.30am start up the x12 mountain switchbacks. The whole place is shrouded in mist so can’t see a thing. We start the day by hiking up to the Sun Gate (the first view of Machu Picchu after the Inca Trail). We see giant centipides, tarantulas, wild orchids along the way. It truly feels like we are in the depths of the Amazonian jungle. Kids keep an eye out for Paddington but no sightings to report. As we reach the top of the Sun Gate the mist magically lifts to reveal Machu Picchu in all its glory. Truly amazing. After a rest stop we climb back down to visit the city itself. The kids take it easy over the steep drops (we have Child C on a hand tie as he has tendencies to behave like a lemming). We visit the sacred rock, the sun dial, the golden condor (it really is like the cartoon) and amazingly see a hummingbirds nest in a tree (see photo). Machu Picchu has certainly lived up to the hype. A day to remember for the rest of our lives. The kids are pretty tired after 8 hours of hiking but they’ve done brilliant. We head back into Aguas Calientes for sandwiches and cake and then the train back to Cusco. We are treated to Peruvian dancers and a fashion show on the way back. Child C hides under the table so the scary mask man doesn’t pick him to dance. He picks me instead. Typical.

Wednesday 30th March – A full day to explore Cusco which means eating, drinking and shopping! Yippee! We walk 10 mins into the central square past numerous Peruvian ladies with baby alpacas/llamas and head straight to the chocolate museum for our chocolate making workshop. After learning about the process we get to conjure up our own creations into moulds. It’s a messy hour but the end result is calorific heaven. We then wander the endless cobbled lanes filled with cafes and craft shops and get hopelessly lost. We find new squares with gorgeous fountains and little courtyards with artisan bakeries. I could wander around this town for days and never get bored. We check out the Inka Museum (which we find interesting but the kids just amuse themselves with the nude statues) and eventually stumble back upon our hotel. At night we eat Inca Trail burgers with Pisco Sours. It’s been a throughly enjoyable final day but Costa Rica is beckoning. Adios Peru!

Day 14 - 17 – Costa Rica - La Fortuna

Thursday 31st March – A short hop back to Lima and then a 4 hour flight to San Jose in Costa Rica. Spend our remaining ‘soles’ on Chuppa Chup lollies . Temperature is back up to 30 degrees and it’s very humid. We stay near the airport and spend the rest of the day by the pool in the country club next door. Kids happy to have water to splash around in again. We finally have interconnecting rooms after two weeks of trying. Watch the basketball at night – it’s very Americanised here but happy to have Starbucks again.

Friday 1st April – Up early for our 2.5 hour transfer to La Fortuna. The scenery along the way is just ridiculously stunning. Vivid greens, towering mountains, lush rainforest, palm trees, banana plants, clear streams, colourful birds – it’s like something out of Jurassic Park. I knew Costa Rica had a reputation for amazing scenery but it’s way better than even I imagined. Our hotel is next to a volcano. It’s supposed to be in a ‘resting’ phase but there’s definitely steam coming out the top. One to keep an eye on I think. We have around 15 pools with various slides. The kids are in heaven! Some of the pools are fed by the hot springs from the volcano; there is a wet bar serving cocktails. It’s absolute paradise. Next to the pools are giant iguanas, bright blue butterflies, geckos and skinks. We spend the rest of the day in giddy delight. Think we might have to move here permanently. Note to self: Iguanas can run pretty fast towards you when you get too close. Use the camera zoom next time.

Saturday 2nd April – After breakfast visit the crocodiles, frogs, butterflies, turtles and ants. Everything seems to be super-sized here (except the frogs – I almost stood on one – oops). Spend the morning in the various hot & cold pools and brave the insanely fast slide (once is enough for me as I swallow a gallon of water each time). Then we spend the afternoon volunteering at the Projecto Asis wildlife rescue centre. We get to learn about the animals (spider & white faced monkeys, acoutis, green/red macaws, parrots etc) then we get to feed them and go into the compounds. Most of the animals are released back into the wild once they have recovered which is exactly how it should be. Then it’s back to the hotel for the hot pools by night and dinner entertainment by the Costa Rican lady who is a worse singer than me (and that’s saying something!).

Sunday 3rd April – Trek to the Rio Fortuna waterfall in the morning – 500 steps down (and 500 back up unfortunately). Get to swim in the pool at the bottom to cool off although it’s a bit TOO nippy! Its good fun watching other people’s reactions though. Child B spends 30 mins trying to catch fish with his bare hands – when will that boy learn? We find out that the Arenal volcano was silent for 400+ years prior to 1968 and has erupted three times since. That’s not a good pattern. You can hike around the top. Not an option for us chickens. In the afternoon we (myself and Child A) head to the spa for our oatmeal & honey facial. It’s a lovely relaxing hour with no boys to spoil it. Then it’s time for the pool again. Around fifty 14-15 yr old American school kids have arrived overnight. Our kids get talking to them in the queue for the slides about ‘stuff’ apparently. We seem to have been dropped.

Day 18 - 19 – Costa Rica - Monteverde

Monday 4th April – Time to do the jeep-boat-jeep transfer from La Fortuna to Monteverde cloud forest. It’s a lovely trip across lake Arenal where we spot lots of colourful birds and then a 30km trip on dirt tracks across the wilds of the central Costa Rican highlands. We pass lots of coffee/cocoa plantations along the way but no time to stop unfortunately. We arrive in Monteverde in time for lunch. Our hotel is in the middle of the forest and has great wildlife trails all around. Unfortunately our kids are too loud and scare most of the stuff away. ☹️ We opt instead for the nighttime wildlife walk with a guide and flashlights. Kids are quiet for once and we get within 2ft of a green viper (very poisonous -eek!) and are very lucky to see the rainbow billed toucan. I refused to leave Costa Rica until I saw a toucan and a sloth so one down, one to go. Time for dinner at the treehouse restaurant in town (it’s like being in Alnwick) and then to bed with the sounds of the forest to mostly scare the living day lights out of us. 🐸🐵🐗🐍🕷

Tuesday 5th April – A full activity day today after our relaxing time in La Fortuna. Picked up at 9.30 to go ziplining in the cloud forest. Kids can’t wait. I don’t really like heights so I could wait a little bit longer. It starts with a jungle swing which is scary enough but there are 15 zip lines to follow between various platforms in the forest canopy. The views are amazing down to the gulf of Nicoya. Some of the zip lines are optional but the kids are having none of it so we parents have to bravely follow suit. It’s ‘fill your pants’ scary stuff. Child A wants to bungee next. I’ve told her absolutely NOT. Then it’s back for a leisurely panini and milkshake, an hour in the pool and then off to go horse-riding in the Costa Rican coffee plantations at sunset. The horses are beautiful and well behaved and after Peru the kids are like pro’s now. We see an owl and a Sloths bum (I refuse to count this as a sighting – I need to see the face). Back in time for dinner at a traditional Costa Rican ‘soda’ and then home to find a scorpion clung to our curtain. We call security to remove it. Note to self: There are obviously going to be consequences when you brake too hard on a zip line. Next time wear elbow pads.

Day 20 - 22 – Costa Rica - Manuel Antonio

Wednesday 6th April – Transfer down to the coast today and back to the hot, humid weather. It’s around 30 degrees but feels like 40. We are staying in Manuel Antonio National Park and the location is stunning. White sandy beaches, palm trees, turquoise seas. Kate – tell Huw we will keep an eye our for his wedding ring – you just never know! Our hotel is fab. Great views of the coast and another swim up bar – get in!! And after hours spent trekking through the Costa Rican rainforest looking for the elusive sloth (and being rewarded with just its bum) we actually have one living in the tree next to the pool. You just couldn’t make it up. I thought it was just a toy but it moves and eats and everything! We can finally leave the country! We also have a group of white-faced capuchins that frequent the mango tree (also next to the pool). They’re like a group of unruly toddlers chucking half eaten mango’s at one another. Today is spent mostly swimming, drinking cocktails (& milkshakes) and eating pizza. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Thursday 7th April – A gorgeous breakfast on the hotel terrace overlooking the sea. Eat too much but it’s soooo hard not to. Then it’s off into Manuel Antonio National Park. A 45 minute hike through the rainforest to the beaches at the other side. The beaches are home to families of squirrel monkeys and raccoons and it’s funny watching them steal everyone’s bags with food in. We sit and watch a couple of monkeys sharing a bag of Doritos. The sea is lovely and warm and we spend the whole morning on the beach. Unfortunately our kids don’t appreciate the sandy, sticky, sweaty beach feel so it’s a long walk back to the park entrance. It’s straight in the pool back at the hotel and all is peaceful once more. We head out to the El Avion restaurant at night which is built around an old American war plane. Inside is now a bar – perfect. Kids love it and it’s a great evening.

Friday 8th April – Our last day in Costa Rica. It pretty much consists of breakfast, pool, swim up bar, lunch, pool, swim up bar, pool, tennis, pool, swim up bar, dinner. Damn near perfect. We have loved our time in Costa Rica. It’s been a bit more relaxed than Brazil and Peru but we were ready for the slower pace especially as we hit Orlando next. It’s a unique, visually beautiful country with amazing wildlife like nowhere else on Earth. We have seen sloths, red macaws, toucans, snakes, tarantulas, four different types of monkeys, acoutis, raccoons, armadillos, owls, wild pigs, porcupines and parrots. We can definitely now leave. Adios Costa Rica you have been very kind.

Days 23 -26 - USA - Orlando - Florida

Saturday 9th April – Up at 5.30am for the three hour transfer to San Jose airport. A mad dash at the airport for some Costa Rican souvenirs and then the short flight to Orlando. Have fun at U.S immigration making our ID cards and then off to pick up our hire car which is a beast. More fun trying to work out how to drive it – thank heavens it’s not me – and then off to pick up some groceries. I’m really sad but I love foreign supermarkets. I could spend hours wandering the aisles but alas with three kids I don’t have the luxury. We leave with an eclectic mix of doughnuts, fruit, cracked heel cream, washing powder and cider. What a wild life we lead. Then check in to our hotel which is home for the next four nights. We have a self contained apartment which is fab as I can finally wash some clothes. I’m aiming to have at least 10 loads done by the time we leave so I can return with a case full of clean clothes. Heaven for a cleaning freak like me! We head to the local bar/restaurant for late food and catch up on our baseball/American football/basketball. Then off to bed – Seaworld tomorrow.

Sunday 10th April – A full day at Seaworld. Probably only chosen for its penguins but we are here to give it a go. We start with the log flume (very wet), The Kraken (very scary) and Antartica (very cold). We have three very different children when it comes to rides. Child A loves anything fast, high, scary. The bigger the better – she will go on it. Child B will generally try things but usually just the once. Can be inconsistent. Child C likes slow, steady rides. Nothing in the dark and nothing ‘up or downy’ as he puts it. This makes for a logistical nightmare with just the two parents. Luckily Seaworld has shows and lots of them. We see the dolphin show, sea lion show and dogs/cats/rats/pot bellied pig show. All fantastic but the pig gets my vote. We have also purchased extra ‘behind the scenes’ tickets for the penguins (Child B is obsessed). We get to touch and feed ‘Whoppa’ the King penguin and see the penguin nursery. Very lucky. We finally leave at 8pm, eleven hours after we arrived. After dinner at the Italian Grill restaurant we finally get home at 10pm with three very tired children. Note to self: If you sit too close to the whales you will get soaked. Curb the enthusiasm next time.

Monday 11th April – Our day at Discovery Cove. More like a holiday resort than a theme park this is where we get to swim with dolphins. Yippee! Our dolphin is called Latoya and is very friendly. We get to swim with her around the cove and pet her. We then get to snorkel in the reef lagoon with the tropical fish, rays and sharks. The kids love the lazy river where tropical birds fly overhead and we spend half the day floating around it. The weather is sunny although the kids seem to find it cold after the last four weeks. It’s 26 degrees – heaven knows how they will adapt back to Northumberland. They’ll be in thermals all spring & summer.

Tuesday 12th April – Two parks in a day – Island of Adventures & Universal Studios. Better suited to our kids who have never been big on Disney but Jurassic Park+Harry Potter=ectastic kids. Head to the Harry Potter forbidden journey ride first. Fab even though it breaks down half way through. I’m not offended. We get soaked on the Jurassic park water ride and in ‘toon lagoon’ (almost like being at home). A slightly more leisurely pace in Dr Seuss land and then the Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios. Lots of 3/4D rides – Minions, Shrek, Transformers and luckily a Starbucks for me. Then it’s the parade which is fab and Child C gets kisses from all the girl performers. More scary rides then live music on the plaza. Home after a fabulous seafood dinner at Landrys. It’s been jam packed but hey we never do things by half. Note to self: do not sit at the front of the log flume ride as you will look like you had a shower fully clothed. Also a change of clothes might have been a good idea.

Days 27 -29 - USA - St Pete's beach - Florida

Wednesday 13th April – Decided to visit Aquatica this morning as we had tickets included and the kids fancied some water slides. In three hours we blasted around the whole park. Child A went on every death side she could find and the boys floated around the lazy river whilst squirting unsuspecting guests with water guns. After a quick lunch we drove the two hours to St. Pete’s beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Our hotel was right on the beach. We spent the afternoon in the pool, building sandcastles, playing volleyball/football and chasing waves. There were campfire s’mores at sunset (mostly very burnt ones) and then dinner at the underwater restaurant which had a giant green eel (the nurse shark had just been removed after eating too many of the other fish). It’s great to be back on the beach after the chaos of Orlando. Much more me! Note to self: A water slide at an 80 degree angle will generally require firm hold of a bikini top. Rescued just in time!

Thursday 14th April – A full day on the beach and it’s a beautiful sunny day. We have a beachfront cabana so the kids can flit between the water slide, the pool, the ocean and the surf shack. At night we head to the marina to do some shopping and eat dinner whilst watching the pelicans fly past. As a bonus we get a free dinner as they take longer than normal to serve us. It’s been a perfect all American day (although the option of a salad for dinner would be nice – too much meat and too many cream cheese/blue stilton/ranch dressing options – just give us simple food please!). Home for more s’mores (Child C is going for the world record eating attempt whilst Child A is attempting the paper folding world record of x8 folds). We’ll keep you updated on progress…..

Friday 15th April – Our last day. Boo hoo – but I guess all good things must come to a end. We have a special day planned though – ending the trip almost as we started it. We have a private boat for the morning to take us dolphin watching. We pass all the waterfront mansions where the rich and famous live and soon spot a pod of dolphins under the bridge. They play around the boat, diving down for fish. There is a baby one too. Very lucky. We then stop at Shell Key and the kids find the most amazing sea shells. After heading back to land we have a late lunch at the pontoon restaurant overlooking the water. Fresh seafood – shrimps, crab, mahi fish – all delicious. Our seats have water squirters to stop the seagulls pinching our food. The kids grab one each and attempt to squirt any bird within a 50ft radius. We manage to retain all our dinners. Kids=1, Seagulls=0. Child A also completes the x8 fold paper challenge. We’ll be contacting the Guinness Book of Records in due course. It’s then time to head back up to Orlando for our final flight home. Our mammoth trip has come to an end. It will be lovely to be home but we would definitely do it all again in a heartbeat.

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