Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Kid's fundraiser

Our son joined the local SkillsUSA team for Crime Scene Investigation two years ago. They did OK his first year and went to the State competition. This year they lost 2 members to graduation but qualified for State again and won! Now they are off to Nationals in Louisville, KY in June and are trying to raise the funds to make it. Each team member is working any job they can to raise $500 each and any additional funds go into the pot for registration, air fare, food, and lodging. Pretty exciting for everyone involved!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

To the Pacific coast

We left Manzanillo and headed back to San Jose for the night. Rather than trying to cross the entire country in one day, we reserved a hotel in the capitol and made a two day trip out of it. As we were making our way north, the kids were getting hungry and we started looking for a place to stop for food. I sort of randomly pulled off the road into the parking lot of this place: Caribeans Coffee & Chocolate. Sara had really wanted to visit a chocolate plantation the whole week, but it hadn't worked out. What a treat this place was! They had a large 'chocolate tasting lounge' with dozens of their chocolate bars out for taste testing, a coffee bar, and WiFi. We ended up spending a couple hours hanging out and eating (and drinking) chocolate and checking email.
It was only about 150 miles from Manzanillo to San Jose, but it took us most of the day with stops for fruit and barbeque. As a result, we arrived right in the heart of the city at rush hour. Traffic was insane, bumper to bumper, trucks, motorbikes weaving between cars, pedestrians walking in traffic, horns, lights, exhaust, chaos..... The GPS got mixed up at critical times and thrown off by one-way streets. Eventually we found our hotel and I pulled up on the sidewalk to check in. There didn't appear to be any obvious parking spots, so I asked the lady at the front desk where I should leave my vehicle. She said just to park it on the sidewalk in front of the hotel and it would be fine. It seemed a little sketchy, but I wedged it in between another truck and a wall and locked it up for the night. The room was great and it was nice to take our first hot showers in a week.
In the morning, we got up a little early so we could eat breakfast and get on the road. We were hoping to catch the 11am ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya from Puntarenas to Paquera. As we pulled off the sidewalk and out into traffic, I noticed that the cars were all coming toward us where they had been divided the night before. When we worked our way further into the city, it became apparent that there were some strange traffic patterns going on. At one point, we were stopped at a traffic light behind a little old lady in a car, with a city bus behind us and a taxi beside us. I looked across the intersection at the front grills of 4 lanes of traffic headed right at us! The light changed and it was clear there was nowhere to go. Cars started driving around us and people were yelling and pointing at their watches and shaking their fists. The little old lady just froze and stayed stopped at the light. The bus made a left turn and worked it's way through traffic. The taxi to our right, drove up on the sidewalk and made a right turn. I figured it was the safest thing to do and drove down the sidewalk too! We later found out that some major streets in the city change at 8:30 in the morning from two-way traffic into one-way traffic.... good to know!

We ended up driving on a toll road that was in great condition, but required stops every 10 miles or so to pay tolls. As we got closer to the ferry landing, I thought that we should probably fill up with fuel as we weren't sure about availability where we were heading. I pulled into a large truck stop type of gas station and told the teenage kid running the pump to fill it up. He was friendly enough and asked if I spoke Spanish. It was pretty clear I didn't speak much so he told me you say 'Juno regular' to the attendant when you want to fill the tank. We paid him and hurried off to catch the ferry. About 5 miles from the station the engine started coughing and losing power. A sick feeling came over me as I thought back to his phrase, 'Juno regular'.... I got out and took the gas cap off and sniffed it, sure enough, it smelled like gasoline, not the diesel that our vehicle ran on. He had missed the large 'DIESEL ONLY' sticker on the filler door and gave us 1/2 a tank of regular gas!  We sat there, in a semi-truck pull out on the side of a busy highway, and freaked out a little bit. We eventually used the cell phone the car rental company had given us to call their emergency service. The guy from the rental company said we had to return to the filling station as it was their fault and they would fix it. I wasn't too sure about that, but be turned around and started driving back the way we had come. We made it about a mile back and the engine died for good. I managed to pull to the end of a highway on-ramp and got as far to the edge as I could.

At this point, I figured there was nothing to do but hike back to the gas station and get help. I started off on the 3 mile hike along the busy road, not really sure how far back I needed to go. Eventually, I saw a young mother with a baby in her arms, waiting for a bus. I had the receipt from the gas station and asked her how much further it was. She looked it over and gave me a very confused look and made me understand she didn't know. I kept walking and soon came to a fruit stand where the vendor told me to wait and went to get his English-speaking brother, a 65 year old toothless gentleman chopping weeds with a machete in the field out back. I showed him my receipt and asked how much further to the station. He looked it over and said it was from a station on the other side of the country! Apparently, the station was one of a chain and they were using a receipt book from another location. He said there was a station about one more mile up the road and I thanked him and headed out. It was very hot and humid and the road climbed several large hills. I was completely drenched in sweat at this point and had streams of it running down my face. As I walked up the final hill to the station, I could see the teenage kid still manning his pump and staring at me with a puzzled smile on his face. Once I showed him the receipt with 1/2 a tank of regular and told him our vehicle was diesel, he suddenly lost his ability to speak English. Soon a manager was summoned, and then a phone call to the station owner. Long story shorter, after a ride back to the stranded vehicle (and my family) the station employees and owner spent 2 hours draining the tank, adding a few gallons of diesel and instructing me to follow them back to the station. Once there, they filled the tank with diesel, had me sign a form and sent us on our way! No additional cost......

We had missed our ferry, but made a later one and had a great ride across the Golfo de Nicoya at sun set. Amazing scenery as the setting sun lit up a passing thunderstorm over the mountains. Once the ferry docked, we began the frenetic drive down the coast to Cabuya, trying to see as much in the fading light as possible.
Win a fabulous prize!
This is a sorta rough/rustic bowl I turned from some Aspen firewood lately. I decided to hold a contest and the winner takes it home (I'll ship it to you).
To enter, you will need to have a profile on Sporcle (free and they don't spam you). You can join here: http://www.sporcle.com/auth/register.php…
Once you've done that, "follow" me (search for users, I'm markblakemore14) let me know your profile name. I'll send you a link to the questions. There are 10 questions that may or may not have anything to do with me and you will have 4 minutes to answer (it's going to be kinda hard to Google them all in that amount of time). You can skip a question by hitting 'Next' and end the quiz by hitting 'End' under the countdown timer. Most correct answers wins it, fastest time in the event of a tie. Contest closes at 2pm Mountain Time on Friday, October 9 (tomorrow).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Costa Rica (week one)

Chestnut Billed Toucan
The first morning, we woke early to the sounds of dozens of different bird songs and calls all around the house. We all ended up out on the balcony swinging in the hammock or resting in chairs watching birds of every sort flying around in the tree tops right in front of us. The house(s) were built on the side of a steep hill so the tops of many trees were about even with our balcony. All the activity that was happening at the tree top level was right in front of us. We stared as hummingbirds, green parrots, toucans, and tons of other exotic birds flew around us.
Here's a couple links to videos of how the house was laid out:

Lower House

Upper (main) House

Waves were great!
Sara reading under the palms
We spent a week in this house and went out and did something every single day. We were really glad we had rented a vehicle. It just opened up our options. The house was walking distance to a beach, but with the vehicle we found a couple others that we really liked and went to often. The south end of Playa Cocles was just perfect. We found a little rough dirt road that went through the woods and ended right at the beach. The water was awesome, largish waves and 85º with a soft sandy bottom.
The kids would ask to go back to this beach most of the time, We all liked it!
It was nice because you could see the vehicle from the beach so I didn't worry we were being robbed while swimming.
I'd done a little research before the trip and found a waterfall we could hike through the jungle to reach. We had to drive a ways to get to the town of Bri Bri right on the border with Panama. I didn't realize until later how close we were to another country, we should have waded across the border and checked off another country! To get to the falls, we drove down a long dirt road, drove across a river and into the jungle. We parked at a lady's house, paid her 500 colones ($1.00) and started hiking. We soon met a family sitting on the edge of the river. They asked if we were going to the catarata (falls) and did we need a guide? I was pretty sure I didn't and so we said no. After about 10 minutes of hiking past banana trees hanging with fruit, a band of Capuchin monkeys, and several Blue Morpho butterflies, we realized they had followed us up the mountain into the jungle. About 3 minutes later they started calling out to us, pointing to a small path veering off into the thick jungle. We soon realized that we had walked right by the entrance path to the falls. After another 5 minutes of hiking on a muddy, steep trail, we were looking down onto Volio Falls. It was really cool, falling about 60 feet through fern and moss-lined walls into a waist deep pool.
Volio Falls
We waded up under the falls. It was incredibly powerful, to the point that it felt like it was taking your skin off! There were small fish that would come and eat out of your hand in the pools below. The 'guide' family sat and seemed content to watch us splash around and we shared our lunch with them. Our daughter and their little girl really hit it off and even though there was a massive language barrier they had fun. It really was a cool spot, we saw a couple more Blue Morpho butterflies and also red poison dart frogs hopping around. 
When we packed up and left, the family did too. We thought they were waiting to take a bath in the falls because the mother had a bottle of shampoo with her. Nope, they followed us up the path and down the main trail back to the car. I had given the guy some money when they pointed out the trail to us. We had already walked past it and would have spent a while looking when we finally realized we went too far. Now, when we got back down the mountain, he asked for $20 which I didn't have. I ended up giving him about half that and we both were satisfied.

Volunteer with a baby Howler Monkey
Before the trip, the kids had found out about the Jaguar Rescue Center, just a couple miles from our house. They were pretty convinced we needed to go there as there were supposed to be numerous orphaned or injured animals there that were being raised or rehabilitated for future release back into the wild. A couple days after the hike to the falls, we decided to go to the Center. We were a little surprised with the number of other people there. It seems like a popular destination with the tourist crowd. Our group of about 20 people, mostly German, was led by a young lady from Pennsylvania. She really knew her stuff! The Center was really neat. There was a large variety of snakes in glass cages that we passed by at the entrance. The guide explained that of the 139 species of snakes in the country, 22 were venomous but thanks to anti-venom very few people die as a result of snake bite. It turned out that the snakes we saw in the Center were the only living ones we saw on the whole trip. There were a lot of animals in the Center, birds, cats, monkeys, sloths, deer, frogs, and other mammals. After looking at many of them, we went over to the highlight of the whole place, the orphaned baby monkey room! There was a group ahead of us that were just finishing as we got there. We could see them inside with maybe 10 baby monkeys jumping around, swinging from ropes and climbing on the people! It looked so cool! The kids were just in awe that we would get a chance to go in and experience it for ourselves. After about 10 minutes, the group left and it was our turn.We went into an entry room and removed loose items and all put on hand sanitizer so as to not spread any diseases to the monkeys. We went in and were surrounded by very active little monkeys, climbing, jumping and swinging all over the place! The 10 minutes we spent in with them was amazing! They were mostly Howler monkeys with one Capuchin and one Spider Monkey in the group.
It really was an amazing experience, one of the highlights of the whole trip! It was fun until one pooped on my hand....

Baby Monkey Video

There were also several sloths that had been orphaned and were being raised until they were old enough to be released in the wild again. At the end of our trip we saw an adult crossing the road at night and could understand how so many little ones become orphaned when the mothers are hit by vehicles. They.... move... so... slowly...!
Orphaned sloth
Walking on Punta Manzanillo
Another day we (I) decided we should hike across Punta Manzanillo to an island off the shore named Monkey Island. I mean who wouldn't want to go see an island called that? It only looked like a 3 mile hike so I figured it would be no problem. We started hiking into the jungle at the far end of the beach at Manzanillo. After wading across a river we walked just a short ways before finding a cool little pocket beach with a rope swing out over the water.

We spent some time there and then pressed on into the jungle. The trail became rougher and muddier the further we went. Eventually we came to Manzanillo Rock, a rock spire jutting out of the ocean off the end of the point. The kids tried swimming in the powerful waves on the little beach below it, but the rocky reef made it too painful for long.
Manzanillo Rock
Deeper into the jungle
As we walked further, the trail deteriorated into a muddy path. Some of us just took our sandals off and walked barefoot as the mud was sticking to them so much. This was really thick jungle, the thickest I've ever seen. It seemed like hundreds of different types of plants were growing beside the trail or hanging over it. I was pretty paranoid about stumbling onto a snake so we were walking single file and really watching our step. We saw some incredible creatures flying over us and crawling beside the trail. Butterflies, birds, ants, frogs, crabs, an agouti, and monkeys. It seemed that everywhere you looked there was something new and fascinating to see. It really was an amazing place. After a while, the kids started complaining that they wanted to go back. We said "Just a little bit further and we'll stop".
Not 10 seconds later, our son pushed an overhanging leaf aside and spotted a sleeping Red Eyed Tree Frog clinging to the underside. We were so thrilled! These guys are not terribly uncommon, but are nocturnal and don't really move around during the day so it is unusual to see them when the sun is up. We spent some time looking him over and taking pictures. When we went to move him off the trail and further into the jungle, he woke up, his giant red eyes popped out, and he started climbing up my hand and arm. Sara had always wanted to see one of these in the wild. It really was a treat to see!
The kids wanted to turn back and swim at the beach again but we encouraged them to keep going a little further. Eventually, we stopped to eat some lunch under some tall trees. We heard some thrashing around up high and spotted a couple Howler monkeys a couple trees over. They definitely were aware of us and started climbing closer across the canopy top.
As they got overhead they were knocking a few leaves and small branches down onto the forest floor. One of the kids said that it looked like they were throwing them at us but we figured it was coincidence. One of them began howling and hooting and that set off the whole troop of about 15! The noise was unreal! They were right over our heads at this point and really only about 25 feet up. Two, that looked to be 'teenagers' went over to a large dead limb and began pushing on it until it snapped off and fell to the ground pretty close to us. We decided they were letting us know this was their territory and we should vacate it. We gathered up our stuff and headed back to the beach. We never made it to Monkey Island, we had to leave something for the next trip!  We really liked our time on the Caribbean side. The town of Puerto Viejo, about 15 minutes north of us was larger, more active, and had a lot more tourists. We went there for breakfast one day and ate at Bread and Chocolate, a very popular local bakery and coffee shop. They had WiFi so we were able to upload some pictures, check email, and catch up on the news (Turrialba Volcano had erupted since we had arrived and was only about 80 miles away). We spent days at the beach or hiking in the jungle and nights listening to chirps and calls of birds, insects, monkeys, and geckos after it got dark about 5pm. We saw a lot, but there was still a lot we missed and saved for the next trip. After a week in the house, we packed up, said goodbye to Yari, and headed out to cross the country for another week on the Pacific side.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Costa Rica Trip (the first day)

We first visited Costa Rica in November of 2008 with two other couples. We had a great trip and started thinking about another trip, with our kids, before we even got home. Six years later we saved up enough (mostly my wife's income from a seasonal job) to make it happen. The kids are now 13 and 11 and were super excited to go. They did a bunch of research and really learned a lot about the animals in the country.
Sara did most of the planning and rented a couple different houses for the 17 days we were there. She used Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) and found one in Manzanillo, on the Caribbean coast and a second in Cabuya at the end of the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific side. We decided we wanted a rental vehicle for our whole stay and I started looking into it. Going through Hertz and a couple other companies it looked like the cost was going to be pretty high, $1500 or more after getting the mandatory insurance and taxes. After reading a bunch on the forums of TripAdvisor, I tried Vamos (a local agency) and got a much better rate. They also would price match any other company so we ended up spending $735 for the entire 17 day rental including taxes and mandatory insurance. We were able to use our VISA card for the rental and had automatic rental insurance included that saved us a bunch. Vamos rents out vehicles that are a couple years old with low mileage on them which was perfect for us. I didn't want to be the only shiny new vehicle in town screaming out 'Rob us, we have a fancy ride!'
Sara found airline tickets on Spirit Air flying out of Denver at night and arriving in Ft. Lauderdale early the next morning. The tickets were more than $200 cheaper than flying out of Albuquerque so we bit the bullet and bought them. We drove the 5 hours up to Denver, parked at the Holiday Inn ($117 for 18 days) and flew out on an 11:00pm flight. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale at 4:20am and spent about 6 hours in the small airport until our flight to San Jose, Costa Rica left at around 10:30am. Everything went well on both flights but Spirit is definitely a 'budget airline' and you pay for everything. Checked bags, carry-ons, snacks or drinks, everything...... We arrived in San Jose about 11am and after clearing immigration we eventually found our rental car representative, Alex, in front of the sea of taxi cab drivers holding a sign for us. We hauled our bags to the van and drove about 2 miles to the rental car office. After getting checked out with the vehicle, a Mitsubishi Montero with a few preexisting conditions, we hit the road since I really didn't want to drive after dark and we had about a 5 hour drive to the Caribbean coast. Vamos includes a cell phone for emergency use, a softsided cooler (which we didn't get) and we were eligible for a free GPS, which we declined as I had bought a Garmin Nuvi with South American streets loaded on it.
We quickly left the madness of San Jose and headed up over the mountains to the coast. We were barely out of the city when we came to the entrance of Braulio Carrillo National Park. Highway 32 runs right through the park as it climbs up over a high mountain. There was a modest entry fee of about a dollar that you pay at a toll booth type station right on the highway. The park itself was really remarkable in that there were hundreds of plants hanging right over the road and small waterfalls right beside us for much of it. A great 'first view' of what the area outside the city was going to hold.
On the other side of the mountain, as we left the park, was a large fruit stand with about 5 vendors beside the road. We hadn't eaten lunch yet and made a snap decision to pull in and look things over. What a treat! There were more types of fruit than you can imagine. We only recognized about 1/2 of what was there.
 The kids were anxious to spend some money and we ended up buying a lot of fruit. Fresh pineapple, mangos, bananas, etc. Mason bought a small package of what he thought were pieces of sugar cane. After trying a bite in the car he figured out it wasn't. Later we discovered it was Palm hearts and although not sugar cane, it was really good cooked.
The drive to Limon was uneventful and not a terribly interesting road. We'd been told there was some sort of labor protest going on in Limon and we shouldn't spend a lot of time looking around. We heard there were roadblocks and such and not to stop for anything. We hurried through and headed south down the coast to Puerto Viejo and eventually Manzanillo where the house was. We arrived after dark and found the market where Yari, the lady who looked after the property was waiting for us. We followed her bike with her daughter on the top tube back to the house and got settled in. Long day(s) and we were glad to sleep.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Home made GoPro motorcycle mount

I'm pretty excited about this. After a week or so of trying ideas out, I've come up with a pretty solid mount for the GoPro. A 3/4 dowel goes into the axle hole with some PVC pipe mounted to that. It can be rotated to film either frontwards or backwards. I've made dowels that fit both my Honda Interceptor VFR800 and my friend's Harley Davidson Heritage Softail. I'm renting a Heritage Softail for the big bike trip so it should work just right.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

On Mesa's Edge

On Mesa's Edge

On mesa's edge, above Thoreau
I sat a while and thought of you
amongst the scattered piñon trees
in lightly blowing western breeze.

I sat a while and thought of you
no words to say, not much to do
Me sitting here, you laying there
I hoped you knew how much we care.

I looked around and saw rocks there
flat and long and grey and bare
and stacked them in a little pile
dark patches growing all the while

On limestone slab, I carved your name
in letters deep and hard and plain
A hundred years, maybe three (or two?)
on mesa's edge to speak of you.

So we pass on while rocks remain,
We feel joy and loss and pain,
while rocks remain to show we cared
all stacked together, piled there

I wonder if you come to sit
on mesa's edge, out near the lip
bathed in warm glow of setting sun
this life complete, the next begun

The eagles nest below you there
borne, like thoughts, by drafts of air
Do you, like eagle, soar above
look down on us and sense our love?

A year has passed, a year you're gone
it feels like maybe twice that long
We stayed behind, on earth, below
while you soared on in sunset's glow.

You started early on that trip
You let go while we still grip
I wonder if you wait on ledge
of mesa's top, out near the edge.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Young tender things

I've noticed a trend lately on the Etsy. People are very concerned with stating that the wood they use to make items has either been 'recycled' or came from a sustainable source, or from a tree that was damaged and being removed, or..... a statement like this:
(No trees were harmed in the making of our gifts; Olive trees are "Trimmed" on a regular basis for easier harvesting and to avoid wind damage.)

I'd like to start saying that everything I make is made from a tender young tree I deliberately chopped down to make the product. The tree screamed in pain the whole time it was being cut up and continued crying as I turned it on the lathe. If the customer listens very closely, they may still hear sniffling coming from the interior of a bowl.

I probably shouldn't do that.... but I'd like to.