Amara and I at a pit stop on the way to Manuel Antonio
I was recently talking to a family travel blogger about how we've spent the last four years or so traveling all around the world and
only returned to the United States a year ago because I was pregnant
. The blogger said to me, "Well, now that you have a baby, you won't be traveling to exotic places like that anymore. You'll have to focus on writing about places within driving distances." And, I said, "Oh, well, Amara has already been to Costa Rica and India. And, we've got a trip planned to San Francisco and maybe Yosemite over the summer. We're talking about somewhere in South America for the fall. Maybe Peru. We're not sure, yet." The other travel blogger paused, stared at me, and gave me the deer-in-the-headlights look that could only mean that she thought I was crazy.
I get that. I really do. I used to think that traveling with a baby was about two steps removed from checking into an insane asylum. In October,
the Costa Rican Tourism Board
contacted me about traveling with them on a Gift of Happiness tour, a sponsored trip to some of the most beautiful spots in their country. At first, I said no. I couldn't imagine taking an eight month old baby all across and up and down Costa Rica at a hectic pace, all in one week. Impossible. Unthinkable. Ridiculous.
Us with Arenal Volcano in the background
But, they talked me into it. Though, to be honest, they didn't have to try too hard. After all, it is Costa Rica. I love this place. When I was there three years ago, I swore that
I'd return to meet more of their wonderful people and see more of their gorgeous scenery and wildlife
. I wanted to bring Patrick to Costa Rica. And, I wanted the country of pura vida to be Amara's first international destination.
So, we crossed our fingers and our toes and went for it. And, it was marvelous. Beyond our wildest dreams wonderful. It was one of the best trips that we have ever taken. Ever.
Getting ready to hike at Villa Blanca Cloud Forest
I can't pretend that traveling with Amara is the same as traveling without her. There's a lot more planning, organization, and way more laundry and gear involved when we travel with her. We used to carry one small suitcase each and now we have to take a huge suitcase just for her. We did laundry three times in the one week we were in Costa Rica because we clearly didn't bring enough clothes for her. We spent most of our evenings in, relaxing in our hotel room, rather than eating out, because Amara goes to sleep at 7:00 (or, if we ate out at dinner, Amara slept in the carrier). There wasn't any sleeping in, as we normally do on vacation, because she wakes up at 6:30 every morning
Hiking in the coffee plantation
But, when we traveled with her, we were engaged with her in a deeper, closer way than at any other time in the previous eight months. The truth is that, as new parents, we live scattered lives. Or, maybe it's not being new parents. Maybe this is just the way people live in the 21st century. Little pieces of our lives rush around us --- we're talking while IMing, eating while watching, driving while texting --- and we're constantly grasping at stray moments.
In Costa Rica, we had the time to stop and enjoy each other. We woke up in the morning to the sunshine streaming in through our windows. We found free toys --- empty water bottles, used toilet paper rolls, keys, and cloth bags --- and played with her on the bed. We walked with her, pointing out butterflies and sloths. We swam in the pools, basking in the greens and blues. We sat on the floor, listening to the heavy sounds of the drumming afternoon rain. When she napped, rather than rushing to clean, cook, and organize, we napped with her. Sometimes, she slept in the angles of my arms and I watched her tiny eyelashes flutter to the thrum of deepening sleep. We marveled at her, this amazing little being who is part of each of us. We reveled in the luxury of time, in places that felt timeless.
Feeding a peacock at a restaurant outside San Jose
The best part, though, was experiencing the world through her eyes. She was intensely fascinated by little things that we often ignore: peacocks and chickens searching for scraps, the canopies of forested trees, dew glistening on spiderwebs, butterflies flitting about, and raccoons and monkeys searching for food. She hated things we thought she would love like swimming in the ocean or playing in the sand. She loved foods that we loved, too: platanos maduros, tostones, gallo pinto, and frijoles.
She discovered Costa Rica. And, we got to discover it through her eyes.
I'll be back next week to tell you about the nitty gritty of traveling with a baby in Costa Rica: what to pack, tips to help you on a flight, where to stay, where to eat, and what to do. But, the bottom line is that I would highly recommend Costa Rica for travelers with a baby. It's an amazingly baby-friendly destination.
* Our trip to Costa Rica was sponsored by the
Costa Rican tourism board
but every single opinion is mine and mine alone. If you want to read about how I choose sponsors, why I take such sponsorships, and how they (don't at all) affect my reviews, you can read this incredibly long-winded post on
sponsorships, travel blogging, and ethics here
March 13, 2013
A baby in Cambodia
I've spent about as much time backpacking through Asia and Africa as I have been pregnant and, to be honest, there isn't all that much difference between the two. Pregnancy is like backpacking through Southeast Asia because:
in the beginning, you're disoriented, exhausted, and disbelieving (
Did I really just cross over two continents in 17 hours? Is there really a tiny human being growing inside me?
you could wake up on any given morning and vomit
after a little while, things even out and you start to feel great and love this place
it's January and the ceiling fan is running on high
fantasies tend to involve wine, really good soft cheeses, and Kosher dill pickles
personal boundaries disappear as strangers ask about every element of your life (
What is your job? How much do you make? Did you plan this pregnancy? What are your labor and delivery plans?
soon, you're carrying an extra 25 to 30 pounds of luggage, making you wobble like an ungainly penguin
forget the books; Google and message boards become the most up-to-date and important means of information
size XL becomes the minimal acceptable t-shirt size for any average-sized American (
Thai size XL = American size S; pregnancy size Akila = taking over all of Patrick's t-shirts
you become a minor celebrity: strangers will stare at you, open doors for you, and ask after your health and welfare (In the extreme cases, you might have folks pose for pictures with you or rub your belly.)
sneakers and boots are forgotten and discarded; flip flops and slip-on shoes become the footware of choice
toward the end, family and friends crawl out of the woodwork to find out your status (
When are you heading home? That baby out yet?
as you look back at your journey, you realize how far you've come and that this experience has changed you . . . for the better, you think
Baby M is due on Sunday on St. Patrick's Day but we'll see when she actually decides to make her appearance!
September 4, 2012
Most little girls at around five years old set out their plastic doll children and play house. The girls tussle over who will have the coveted position of "mommy" and that mommy will drive the doll around in a discarded stroller or feed the baby with a bottle. I never was one of those girls. Maybe my mom remembers differently, but I don't remember ever lining up my dolls for diaper changes, feedings, or nap times. I played teacher and school with my dolls and occasionally interviewed them for my "stories," and, in one particularly harrowing incident, I decided to be a hairdresser, to the demise of my doll's golden curls.
I never saw all that much fun in being a mother and, as time went on, the girls became women and everyone else around me started talking about having kids and taking that next step. In the eleven years of our marriage, if we had a dollar for every time a family member, friend, or random stranger has asked us when we're going to have kids, we could have funded our whole round the world trip on that money alone. You see, it's expected: first comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes the baby in the baby carriage. That's what people do. Me, on the other hand, well, I would shrug my shoulders and ignore the expectations.
There were lots of reasons I didn't want to have kids but, essentially, it boiled down to one thing: I didn't think that the world was a good enough place to bring a child. Having a child is hard, what with the nine months of pregnancy, followed by grueling labor and delivery, the sleep-deprived first months, and a lifetime in which you are responsible for another human being. Why should we go through all that work and lose our freedom and independence to bring a child into a world where rapes, murders, and thefts are commonplace? As an attorney, I did a lot of pro bono work and represented indigent children whose parents didn't know how to provide, while the kids' primary ambition was to achieve the age of sixteen and quit school. I watched an eleven year old boy walk out of a courtroom in handcuffs and shackles, while his mother cried beside me, though the child's truancy was largely due to her own neglect, and I thought to myself, "Is this it? Is this what it means to be a mother?"
Now, of course, the decision to have children is one made by two people and Patrick wanted kids, largely because he believed procreation to be a necessary and important human function in order to continue the species and pass on our gene pool. After spending summers in India, I never felt that the human race was in much danger of extinction and I never thought so importantly of my own genes that I felt the human race needed them to carry on. The truth is that, at thirty, when my biological clock was supposed to be "tick, tick, ticking" --- as Marisa Tomei so eloquently put it --- I hadn't felt a single tick.
So, we left the United States for our round-the-world trip, childless by choice and happy. I remember Patrick saying a few weeks before we left, "You know, I didn't agree with you at 22 when you weren't sure if you wanted to have kids, but looking back at it now, I'm so glad that we haven't, because we wouldn't be able to travel like this if we had children." We had Chewy and Abby --- our canine kids --- and they filled all of our maternal and paternal instincts, without the problems that human children would have occasioned.
And, then, something happened. This is the point where the biological clock should have started up . . . but it didn't. No, what happened instead was more subtle and beautiful than anything I had ever expected before we started traveling the world.
I discovered that the world is a good place and there are good people here.
Yes, I could have discovered that same fact in the United States because there are very good people in my own country, but, in the U.S., I don't NEED people. I understand my own country, its intricacies, and its fallibilities. But, when abroad, we were reliant on the kindness of strangers because we knew nothing. And, though people could have conned, cheated, and hassled us, instead, there was the:
joy and fun of cramming eighty of my family members into one house so that they could all visit with us in
our short time in Chennai
news reporter in Japan who stopped Patrick on the street and videotaped him "sumo wrestling"
and the Japanese girls on the trains who shyly giggled "hello" to us and practiced their English
white glove treatment of our
pups on the Queen Mary 2
and the very kind heart of the pet steward who ensured that every dog on board was happy and healthy
Hare Krishnas who welcomed us, but didn't proselytize, at their beautiful temple in Durban, South Africa
tomato poet, who has over 100 types of tomatoes in his stall at the Testaccio market in Rome, and will tell you which tomato to buy based on what you plan to cook that night
who invited us into a behind-the-scenes tour of his factory in Istanbul, simply because the he saw Patrick taking pictures and his enthusiasm for baklava
man who purchased dessert for us on our first night in the small untouristed town of Ivailovgrad, Bulgaria, to welcome us to his country
Bulgarian landlord and his mother who invited us to their home for her homemade fig preserves and beautifully sweet red peppers
There's more. So much more. We have stories from every day of the last three years where people have helped us, calmed us, reassured us, and welcomed us. Sure, there are bad stories, as well, of cons and rude folks and people who didn't want us to be there, but that's a teeny tiny portion of our travels. Instead, we have discovered a world where there are as many ways to live a life as there are people in it and people doing genuinely good things --- even if it's little things like bringing dessert to a neighbor or smiling at a stranger --- to better all of humankind.
And, so, we are very happy to announce that, in March 2013, we will be welcoming a new little traveler to our family. We don't expect our child to share our same optimism, joy, and love for this amazing world because we both had to learn this lesson ourselves, regardless of our wonderful childhoods and families. Our child will have to explore and come to his/her own conclusions about life, the universe, and everything. But, I'm not worried now: I think that if our child digs a little and looks around a bit, he/she will find, as we have, that this is a good world with good people in it.