An Open Letter of Thanks to Howard Schultz and Starbucks Employees in FL


Have you ever lost your wallet or purse, or something of such value that your heart hurt and your stress level soared?

Many Starbucks near the airport - which one did we stop at?

Many Starbucks near the airport – we could have pulled off anywhere!

What follows was written by my mom, Susan Skelly, to share proof of good people in the world. Mom was so moved by the help that Starbucks employees gave her, she wanted to reach Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, and asked for my help in spreading the word of her story.

December 27, 2015

Dear Mr. Schultz,

I live 2 hours from the Orlando airport and after picking up my sister we stopped for a coffee. Upon arrival home, I did not have my purse. I’d left it on the back of a chair on the patio at some Starbucks.

A woman’s purse is her life. The loss of my glasses, phone, Christmas money, credit cards, and driver’s license among many other things was devastating.

Frantic because we had not paid attention to which Starbucks we stopped at, I googled Starbucks and found that there were many on Highway 436. On the first call, a new employee of yours, James, was so helpful and understanding and looked up several Starbucks as we did not know where we had stopped. He tried to figure out what would have been closer to the airport and gave me the numbers and even asked if I would call him back and let him know how I made out.

The next number I called, the employee recognized a landmark we remembered and told us which one it would have been.

I called that one and was immediately told that the purse had been found and I was assured that it was safe! It was close to closing time, but I was told that the manager would be in the next morning.

At 8:30 the next morning the manager Kimberly Hall called to assure me that she would have the purse in the mail before noon. She was so understanding and assuring to me. My purse arrived within 24 hours, intact and when I offered to reimburse her for the shipping, she refused.

What blew me away was the beautiful note she included with two $4.00 gift cards to enjoy a few beverages and relax knowing my purse was safe and sound.

Starbucks employees rock!

James at 2535 Howell Br Rd, Casselberry, FL 32707 assisted with the phone numbers.
Jill Murdock and Kerrie Janson located my bag at 6605 S. Semoran Blvd, Orlando, FL 32822
Kimberly Hall store manager sent the bag, wrote a note and gave me the gift cards.

They made my day Christmas!
Susan Skelly
[Address & phone number removed for privacy]

Out of ‘milk’ in an allergy house


I needed to pick up a few things from Whole Foods this week – and couldn’t quite remember if we needed milk. It probably isn’t hard for most people, but one look inside my refrigerator and you see why it’s complicated in my house.

milksThis is the typical selection of ‘milk’ beverages:

  • Soy milk (original)
  • Soy milk (vanilla)
  • Whole milk (cow, lactose free)*
  • Whole milk (cow)
  • Almond milk (unsweetened)

If I’m doing a lot of cooking or having guests over, then I would likely also have on hand:

  • Half & Half (cow)
  • Soy milk (unsweetened)

No wonder I run out of room in my refrigerator so often! And no wonder its not as easy as having a quick peek inside to determine if I need more ‘milk.’

While we always hoped/assumed that my milk-allergic child would one day outgrow his allergy, and we could return to a cow-focused milk family, other family members have developed a preference for soy milk such that even if his food challenge this summer is successful (fingers crossed!) the plight of the quick grocery trip won’t end anytime soon.

*A note of caution: Before all of our kids could read, we would use black marker to put a big ‘X’ on the sides of milk cartons that were not safe for our son. And even though we are so used to having multiple milks in the house, we always double check what we are pouring!

“Where’s the Paper?” Nicaragua Part 3: Granada


Photos - 21393Granada, Nicaragua

Interesting old city, Spanish and Italian architecture abounds.  Views of volcanoes and Lake Nicaragua.

We enjoyed a most scenic drive — something we missed the night we arrived in the dark, and felt like that journey was a great window into Nicaragua.  As views of Ometepe Island faded away, we passed through rural Nicaragua.  Farms dominate the landscape, with small villages of shacks mixed with more substantial homes.  Fruit and vegetable stands line the highway — which is a two lane road carrying everything from private cars, public buses (which are decommissioned US school buses, painted in wild patterns and colors in Nicaragua,) farm vehicles, horses (the most popular transportation in Nicaragua) and bicyclists and pedestrians.  As we got closer to Granada, another volcano came into view: Mambacho.

Our arrival in Granada was very exciting for everyone — the kids saw the pool, I got air conditioning and brewed coffee, and we got that thrill that you get when you know you are about to experience a whole new kind of adventure!  We all joked that being in the city now, we wouldn’t be hearing the roosters every day.  Wrong.  We heard them, but they had to compete with typical city noises for our attention.

Arriving in the afternoon left little time to explore before sundown.  We walked from our amazing oasis of a hotel, Hotel Xalteva, down the main road, and took the advice of our hotel manager and climbed the bell tower at the town’s central church, Iglesia de La Merced where we enjoyed an amazing 360 degree view of the entire city. We also discovered Cafe de las Sonrisas, a local nonprofit that trains at risk youth in hammock making (we later returned to purchase our amazing hammocks!)  Our walk continued down the main road to the center square of Granada, just as evening fell.  To say the sound of the birds in the main park was deafening is fair.  We couldn’t talk comfortably amidst their noise, and quickly moved out of the park to a hotel patio for a delicious meal at the Hotel Colonial.  The meal was delicious (and the kids were even able to get hamburgers) and we saw a steady stream of small craft artisans selling us their wares (which made souvenir acquisition super convenient!)  Finally we made our way back to the hotel for a much needed night of air conditioned sleep.  The walk back was much easier, as the crowds on the city streets had faded away, and it only took us 10 minutes to get back. 

Photos - 21443The next day, Tuesday, was really our last day in Nicaragua.  While enjoying an array of fresh local fruit and good coffee by the hotel pool, the American hotel manager spoke with us for a long while, helping us determine how best to spend our day.  She arranged for a private car to pick us up at the hotel, and we had the adventure of a lifetime!

Comfortable in the touring van, our fist stop was a national park, and visit to an active volcano!  This part of the day was a favorite of my mom and husband, and thrilling for all of us (no doubt more so given the tremors only the week before!)  We spent an hour or so at the museum, where my kids made the connection between their geography lessons from school, and their knowledge of the layers of the earth, and real life.  A well done museum, with the bonus of fabulous views of lava fields.  Next, our driver took us to the top of the crater, where a short wall separates life from lava.



Photos - 21434

The sulfur steam from the volcano makes seeing down impossible, but the power and magnitude of staring into a volcano was not lost on us.  Honestly, being in front of this active volcano was far more exciting and worthwhile than any of the online descriptions or pictures made clear beforehand.


Photos - 21471

After a touristy lunch in another quaint town, overlooking a beautiful crater lake, we set off to explore a community where everyone has a kiln.  The only school in the town teaches the ancient craft of pottery making, using manual wheels, locally mined clay, and natural earth dyes.  The town’s industry is primarily for export, though you can buy the handmade creations in local shops as well.

Before returning to our hotel, we made a quick stop at the local Granada chocolate company, having read about it in the guide books.  We were exhausted, and had to make quick selections.  While the samples we tasted were delicious,

Photos - 21454causing us to invest heavily in Nica chocolate for souvenirs, the chocolate we returned home with was not good — dry and tasteless.

The final evening was to relax and pack.  We booked the famously inexpensive massages as a hotel recommended spa a

nd took a final dip in the pool.  Our car arrived at 4am for our trip to the airport, and we enjoyed a quiet pre dawn drive from Granada to Managua.

Where’s the Paper?”

That’s what I heard when the first rooster loudly cried out — I must admit that not everyone in our group heard that, but once I heard it, I couldn’t not hear it.  I will probably forever more hear “where’s the paper?” when others hear “cock-a-doodle-doo.”

Other posts about our adventure to Nicaragua:

San Juan del Dur

Ometepe Island

Traveling with food allergies

Olaf Cake and Cupcakes


IMG_4012The cake!  I mean, I can’t stop eating the cake.  I needed a simple (time constraints up the wazoo) yellow or white cake recipe to adapt for my son’s 6th birthday party. Adapt, well of course, to be allergy-friendly.  And to adapt into an Olaf — that cute-as-a-button snowman from the Disney movie Frozen.

I found the Cake Boss recipe on the Rachel Ray Show website, and made a couple of key ingredient swaps that has me stealing tiny slivers of the leftover cake throughout the day.

First off, I tripled the recipe, as I needed to get an Olaf plus 3+ dozen cupcakes for our large party.  Tripling worked great, though I just filled the bowl of my huge stand mixer and needed to be very careful about not sloshing batter all over my kitchen.

Though we typically bake following real food principles, given the volume of cake I needed, and the short time frame I had to make it, I cheated and used some processed ingredients.  I used about 2/3 of the oil with canola (but that was it, I’m not buying it anymore, this recipe took all I had left!) and the remaining I used the cold pressed coconut oil.  I just LOVE the subtle flavor that it lends the cake.

I also used regular fine sugar, and all purpose flour.

For the milk I used vanilla soy milk.

This recipe is so delicious, and so easy!  I would not hesitate to make it again🙂

I was able to make two very full round cakes plus 3 1/2 dozen cupcakes.  The cake is super moist, not too sweet (though it does have a TON of sugar in it) and delicious.

IMG_4009For the icing on the cake, I adapted a standard butter cream recipe — subbing coconut oil for the butter, and soymilk for the milk.  Delicious!  For the cupcakes, I cut jumbo marshmallows in half, and put them on top for the last three minutes of baking.  The effect is great (was going for a snowman) and my son happens to love marshmallow topped cupcakes.

A few more fake food decorations (colored twizzlers on the cake, and orange licorice drops + Wilton candy eyes on the cupcakes helped me create my very own Olaf.  Pinterest worthy?  Who cares, my son was thrilled!



Traveling in Nicaragua with Food Allergies


Quite simply put: when food can kill you, travel can be terrifying.

Thanks to my friend, Linda, a fellow food allergy mom (whose daughter was desensitized to milk through treatment at John’s Hopkins!  Yay!) for succinctly articulating this thought.  Linda has also traveled extensively with her daughter, and was a good resource for me before we left, and in the decompressing that needed to happen once we were home.

The short story:  8 nights in Nicaragua, brought our own food, had one troubling incident, made it home in one piece with no more than a couple of doses of Benadryl. Glad we went.  Slight modifications if I were to do it again.

The long story: [deep breath] I knew that trying to navigate food in a country where I don’t speak the language, or know the cultural issues around food allergies would be difficult. So we planned and planned and planned some more.  Here is what we planned:

1. We packed a suitcase full of packaged food to keep my son full for the week.  Shelf stable soy milk, dry cereal, crackers, cookies, Daiya “cheese” spread, bagels, margarine, dry pasta and so on….  It helped that we froze much of what we took, and then defrosted things as needed, so that kept the bagels going all week (though by the end, I didn’t think my son would eat another bagel for a year.)

2. We rented places that had full kitchens, so we could prepare hot meals for our son and feel safe.  It also meant we could refreeze our ice packs and store our cold items for the week.  This worked great, and allowed us  to make him his favorite “mac n cheese” (dairy free of course!), baked chicken and warmed bagels.

3. We brought along a lot of emergency medication.  Like 8 epi pens, tons of Benadryl and even filled a script of liquid prednisone (the steroid) after I had read that not all counties readily treat with that.

4. We had all of his allergy information, and key phrases like “he’s having a serious life threatening reaction to milk” translated into Spanish.  If something happened, we needed to be able to communicate it!

5. We bought emergency travel insurance.  I wanted the peace of mind that if we needed to get out fast for a medical issue, we’d have help.  The travel clinic where we got our typhoid shots before the trip told me that the travel insurance carriers were great resources for local medical help, too.  So we didn’t just buy the insurance, we printed out all the contact information and coverage instructions so we could be prepared.

6. We brought tons of antibacterial hand wipes, to clean hands plus surfaces on the airplane or in restaurants.  (Remember, antibacterial gel doesn’t remove food allergens!)

7. Most importantly, we were really careful.  We planned to be really careful.  At home, we eat out and we let our son eat restaurant food, once we’ve done the song and dance about cross contamination and all that.  But we decided that we would take no chances while we were traveling, and unless we cooked it, he wasn’t eating it.  This really bummed him out, but we stuck to our plan — except for the fruit smoothie we got him at the American-owned hotel Mango Rosa, where we were able to have the food allergy song and dance conversation with the American owner, and we went for it.  But then we felt stupid and remembered our plan and didn’t deviate again.

But like many well planned events, we failed to foresee every possible issue, and found ourselves in a bit of a pickle (I mean panic) while on an aging ferry on Lake Nicaragua on our way to the most remote place on our trip.

IMG_3752No sooner than we lifted anchor and found ourselves leaving land did my son start to show signs of an allergic reaction.  We were seated in the passenger area of the cramped ferry — broken seats everywhere, lots of holiday tourists on board, and vendors had been on board selling sunglasses and roasted nuts.  Yes, roasted nuts.  We hadn’t let my son sit down, for fear of the seats being contaminated, but he got hives on his face and neck and started to complain of an itchy throat.  He was scared.  We were terrified.  This all happened within minutes of leaving the port.  I had him outside in fresh air immediately, washing him down with those handy wipes, dosing him with benadryl and counting epis in my head while I imagined having to ask them to turn the ferry around.

For all the adrenaline and fear I experienced, the whole thing resolved itself almost as fast as it came on.  But from that moment on, I was berating myself for putting us in this position.  I mean, what was I thinking taking my FAMILY to this remote place?  How could I bring my allergic son to someplace SO FAR AWAY?  And even though we had identified before our trip that there was a hospital on Ometepe Island, I was sick about the might-ofs that were running through my head.

My darling husband was calm once we were off the ferry (under an hour on the ferry) but I wasn’t calm until we had finished our three night stay on the island and were safely back in the more developed, modern city of Granada.  On the return ferry, we never took our son inside, and found a quiet spot on the deck to ride out the trip back to the mainland, and it was a blissfully uneventful trip.

IMG_3795The only other point of nervousness for his safety came, ironically, when we visited the active volcano outside of Granada.  Now, we weren’t nervous about the VOLCANO erupting (though in hindsight, I seriously brought my family to an active volcano!?!?) But, the air is thin and the sulfur from the volcano can make it hard to breathe.  I had trouble as we ascended the volcano (by car), and only then, in that moment, did I realize that I had failed to pack my own inhaler AND MY SON’S inhaler!  Oops.  Asthma is not a chronic problem for him (it is more an issue for me) but I really had thought that it was in our bag, but it wasn’t.  Luckily, there was a great breeze at the top and we all had good clean air to breathe.  Problem averted.  But next time I would definitely pack the inhalers!

Next time?  Well, we’ve been home a few weeks, and I’ve had time to reflect on our trip, and have asked myself many times, “would I go again?”

Yes.  I am glad we went. I would go to Nicaragua again with my food allergic son.  I would still do all the planning we did, but I would not go on the ferry.  It was too remote.  It was too “developing” and I was so unprepared for airborne tree nut particles causing a reaction!  I know that the unexpected can happen anywhere, but if it is to happen, I don’t want to be on a remote ferry in the middle of Lake Nicaragua!

Ask my son, and he’ll say he loved Nicaragua, but he has asked “next time can we please go to an English speaking country so I can eat in a restaurant?”  And that just breaks my heart.  Should we have brought food for all 6 of us? Should we have totally avoided eating out (where we’d bring his food that we’d prepared?)  It just isn’t practical, especially when part of our purpose of travel was to expose our kids to the food of Nicaragua.  But I do wish that he could have been more free to get more smoothies, or to get allergy safe pancakes or other special “restaurant food” that the other boys got.  We made sure he got plenty of treats, but they grew less and less special as the trip wore on, and he was sad that he couldn’t eat like everyone else.

What my darling son doesn’t know is that even if we went to an English speaking country, it doesn’t mean we’d be any less vigilant; and it doesn’t mean we’d even let him eat in a restaurant (unless we could understand the cultural issues around food allergies.)  We are seriously talking about traveling to India next time (English speaking yes, but I would not be comfortable with food prep/handling/cross contamination in the kitchens there.)

I would love to hear from other food allergy parents about their experiences traveling abroad!  Happy travels.

“Where’s the Paper?” Nicaragua Part 2: Ometepe Island


Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

IMG_3694Remote. Rural. Lush. Ometepe Island, formed from two volcanoes, sits in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, one of the world’s largest natural lakes.  We debated all week what claim this lake should make, so I had to look it up.  According to Wikipedia, its the 19th largest freshwater lake in the world (and the largest in the Americas.)  Ometepe was our 2nd stop in Nicaragua.  The first was  San Juan del Sur;  read about that adventure in Part 1 of the “Where’s the Paper” series.

From the small port town of San Jorge, we boarded a ferry for Ometepe. You can also take a boat, but we were told, in broken English and emphatic mime that the boats were tiny and rocked a lot on what can be windy/rough waters.  So we took the ferry, along with dozens of other tourists (international and Nicaraguan.)

IMG_3752The Ferry itself is unimpressive.  Worn looking.  Old.  I did see life vests but didn’t bother assessing how many there were.  The timing of our trip was days after the horrific ferry boat sinking in South Korea.  For better or worse, we had been cut off from all news and didn’t learn of that tragedy until we returned home.  I never felt unsafe on our ferry — except for the allergic reaction that our food allergic son had shortly after we departed.  Luckily, the ride was just over an hour and provided stunning views of the volcanoes on Ometepe!

Most ferries to Ometepe arrive in Moyogalpa — the largest town on the island.  Getting transportation in Moyogalpa is easy when you arrive by ferry — taxis areIMG_3680 lined up and eager for business.  We had to wait for the truckload of bananas to move onto the ferry before we could leave, ironically, the only glimpse of that fruit we would have for the 3 1/2 days on the island!  Our rental property was an easy 10 minute drive away, and our driver luckily knew how to find it!

Nestled in a quiet town called Los Angeles, our farm is called Finca Macedonia.  A beautifully lush farm, filled with mango trees, lime trees, avocado trees and more.  A flock of roosters wandered around, beautiful birds abound and a few horses rounded out the wildlife we experienced.  I found the rental on VRBO, and it was amply large and modern, especially compared to other available lodging.  On Ometepe, you can stay in an upscale eco-lodge, or in a hostel.  There tourist infrastructure is very limited on the island, and this was the ONLY house we could find to rent.  It was important to us to have access to a kitchen to be able to manage our son’s food allergies, and so we were very pleased to find the farm house!

IMG_3684The farm keeper and his family live on the property, and saw to our needs during the stay.  My boys loved playing with his girls, and while Emerson’s English was limited, it far surpassed our Spanish, and he made sure that we found the path to the lake, and he arranged for fresh fish for us, which his wife prepared in a traditional grill with rice and beans and plantains!  We picked many mangoes and limes, and Emerson gave us each a large avocado, which unfortunately didn’t ripen before our trip concluded and we had to forfeit our fruit.

In general, our time on Ometepe was sleepy and hot.   Our fans in each bedroom did the trick, but as in San Juan del Sur, nights were loud with cicadas, birds, roosters and dogs.

The day after we arrived, we ventured onto a local bus, and ended up sitting next to a couple from New Zealand, an American and a Croatian.  All of them young, and adventurous — not knowing where they were staying the night, and taking each day as it came.  They reminded us of our younger selves, and also made it clear how different travel is when you have three children and an older parent with you!  These travelers helped us navigate to our destination, and we exited the bus to find the Charco Verde Eco Reserve.

IMG_1118We had a slick brochure from the tourist office that made the Eco Reserve a top destination on Ometepe Island.  But we were a tad disappointed.  The nature walk was nice — we saw monkeys and some beautiful plants and birds.  But we didn’t see anything inside the reserve that we hadn’t seen on our farm or in San Juan del Sur.  It being located adjacent to an upscale hotel and restaurant was a fortuitous coincidence for us, as we enjoyed delicious Nica snacks, drinks and their beach.  The boys rented a paddle boat, and enjoyed cooling off in the lake.  We were so wiped out by the heat and all the walking that we had the hotel call us a private car to go back to the farm.  Private transportation in Nicaragua is expensive, but we were too tired to walk the 1/2 mile back to the main road and wait for the bus.

Our sense of remote isolation was amplified on Sunday, as we understood that public buses are not running.  So we made the day a lazy one and enjoyed the farm and a nice hike/swim with Emerson and his daughter. We made our 3rd trip to the local store — literally inside someone’s home — to replenish our soda supply (which, ah hem, we needed to polish off the rum that was purchased on day 1.)  It turns out that the town only gets fresh veggies/fruit delivered on Monday or Tuesday — and we left on Monday morning.  We ate simply those few days, chicken, canned veggies, rice and beans…  cooking in the house was our plan, and proved harder than we would have expected.  It was HOT on Ometepe, and our home had no air conditioning, so cooking made us feel like we were in an oven.  Luckily, we had ample space outside to sit and try and catch a breeze.

IMG_1120As we packed up to leave Ometepe on Monday morning, the grown ups were more cheerful about leaving the island — for various reasons.  We wanted fresh fruit and veggies, I wanted to be closer to transportation and feel like we could access modern medicine should there be an issue, and we craved air conditioning.  I realized how soft I had become in how much the heat bothered me.  The kids never complained.  Even my mom was more comfortable on the farm than my husband and I (she had grown up spending summers on her grandfather’s farm in Canada.)

Our ferry ride back to San Jorge was quick and uncrowded.  The Easter crowds had dispersed, and things felt less hectic on the return.  Our prearranged transportation was waiting for us as we walked off the ferry!  I loved how easy it was to arrange transportation with Iskra Travel!  We lucked out and Mike, our first driver from the night we arrived, picked us up and took us on the 1 1/2 drive to Granada.

The Bottom Line

My husband and I are city people.  There, I said it.

Ometepe Island is great for hikers or adventurous travelers who need little modern comfort.  In hindsight, I don’t think we prepared enough for our visit, or knew what to expect.  If I were to go again, especially with kids in tow, I would either arrange to have a private car/driver meet us daily or else rent a car.  The island is large, and we would have had a better experience had we seen more, but once we were at the farm, the “schlep” to make transportation work was greater than our desire.  As a mom of three kids (11, 9 and 5) and one of them having serious food allergies, I was nervous about being so remote “just in case” something were to happen.  There are medical facilities in Moyogolpa, the main town where the ferry comes into, but I would have been at a total loss as to how to get there if we had needed it!

Where’s the Paper?”

That’s what I heard when the first rooster loudly cried out — I must admit that not everyone in our group heard that, but once I heard it, I couldn’t not hear it.  I will probably forever more hear “where’s the paper?” when others hear “cock-a-doodle-doo.”

“Where’s the Paper?” Nicaragua Part 1: San Juan del Sur


Playa de Madera SunsetSan Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Pacific coast beauty.  Lush tropical growth butting up against dry dessert-like landscape.  Hippy surfer beaches with clove-smoking tanned Americans, riding in the backs of pick-up trucks.  Mango trees. Banana trees.  Monkeys and roosters.  San Juan del Sur had a bit of everything for the first of three stops in our 8-day, whirlwind journey around southwest Nicaragua.  Me, my husband, our three kids (ages 11, 9 and 5) and my mom; first time to Nicaragua for all of us and it did not disappoint.

We decided to travel to Nicaragua for many reasons:

  1. Easy flights from the Washington DC area (we flew Delta via Atlanta into Managua.)
  2. Affordable airfare (we flew Tuesday, returning Wednesday for $400 per ticket.)
  3. Crime against tourists in Nicaragua is lower than in some neighboring Latin American countries.
  4. The tourist infrastructure is enough established that we could plan our accommodations and travel, but not overly developed and “touristy.”
  5. We wanted to show the kids a part of the world very unlike what they know.

Mango RosaWith the help of a close friend, we decided we would visit three places in Nicaragua: San Juan del Sur, Isla de Ometepe, and Granada.  We plotted our actual itinerary based on accommodation availability and timing of our flights.  For San Juan del Sur, I found Mango Rosa while reading travel reviews on  I don’t think we could have navigated this adventure without the great feedback and advice on Trip Advisor!  I’ll add my own review of our hotels there as well.

Getting to San Juan del Sur was more of a trek than we had anticipated.  Our fault — we only skimmed the details in the guide books, and relied greatly on friends accounting of our itinerary. Arriving in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, at nearly 8pm local time (2 hours behind EDT) meant the kids were already beyond tired.  Our prearranged transport through Iskra Travel was waiting for us outside of customs, and our driver, Mike, whisked us away from the dark airport — at which point we learned that Mango Rosa was nearly 3 hours away!  The kids quickly conked out (with husband to soon follow) while I tried my best to see beyond the headlights and take in this new country.

  • Cow crossing signs (just like our dear signs)
  • Pick-up trucks filled with everything — goods, people, animals, speeding down the dark 2-lane highway
  • Pedestrians walking in the road.  At night.
  • Cyclists, in the middle of the lane.

This kind of highway travel is not for the feint of heart.  Coming up behind a car without taillights on, at full speed, requires an adept and alert driver.  Mike did great, but I must admit feeling great relief when we arrived safely at Mango Rosa at 11pm.

We quickly settled into our private house, and soon found out that good sleep is hard to get for us city folk!  Howler monkeys, roosters (who don’t just cockle-doodle-doo at the crack of dawn) and dogs make for a night time cacophony many decibels louder than I personally appreciate.  The trees over our house were filled with monkeys.

Time change + sunrise at 5am + very loud roosters who sing out “WHERE’S THE PAPER?” endlessly (+ excited kids) meant we were up EARLY.  Mango Rosa offers a lovely menu of breakfast choices, and fresh fruit smoothies, which got our first day in Nicaragua off to a great start.  My mother arrived shortly after breakfast (her flight was delayed from the previous night, thanks to an earthquake warning in Managua, something that didn’t deter our Delta flight from arriving, but her Copa Airlines flight through Panama was stuck.) We generally vegged out by the small pool and lulled in our hammocks until late afternoon.

Pick Up TransportWe took a ride to one of the small Pacific beaches, Playa Madera,  in the open back of a pick-up truck, and spent many hours luxuriating in the warm waters and enjoying local beers while people watching.  Most of the beach goers were American or Canadian — with some Nicaraguans in the mix as well.  Two bar/restaurants (one with a hostel above) dotted the small beach, known for its killer surfing, and competing loud music blasted from both — sending us out into the sun to escape the noise.  We enjoyed watching fabulous surfers and obvious first timers, jumping our own waves and watching a great sunset before returning to Mango Rosa again in the open truck.  The kids thought it was fantastically dangerous, exciting and “lawless” to get to ride that way.

Another loud night led to a gloriously hot and windy morning where we had to hide the kids from the sun.  I forgot to pack the aloe and our SPF 50 didn’t do the trick (or we failed as parents and didn’t reapply often enough.)  That afternoon we charted La Pango Rosa (a fishing boat) to take us onto the Pacific for hopefully some dolphin spotting, fishing and swimming.  Right out of the beach we saw a whale breach and that was it for water mammals.  The waters were choppy and the ride was nerve wracking for a couple of the kids.  Once we anchored at another beach and had a cooling swim, the water was calmer and we then enjoyed some drag fishing.  My husband reeled in the first of two 8-10 pound fish.  We were bummed that it wasn’t something more tasty — but were assured that the local staff would take the fish home to use for soups.  The kids were thrilled to catch the fish!  I found myself contemplating  vegetarianism again.

San Juan del Sur SunsetGetting to enjoy another glorious sunset over the Pacific was a nice conclusion to our last night in San Juan del Sur.

Mango Rosa was so comfortable, and easy — with an American owner/manager and a fully fluent English speaking staff, I knew that this was a great entree for us into Nicaragua, and I also knew that our next destination wouldn’t be quite the same.  We left the next morning after breakfast, bidding our tree full of monkeys and the flock of roosters goodbye.

Our Regret

We didn’t actually visit the town of San Juan del Sur.  We were in Nicaragua during the popular vacation week around Easter, when Nicaraguans flee to the coast and create what was described by locals as a crazy party scene in the town.  The American who ran Mango Rosa likened it to Mardi Gras, Nicaraguan style.  I’d have liked to check it out; but my kids had seen on the bar tv an accounting of a death the previous night in the town (and another staff member at Mango Rosa warned that thefts of tourists go way up during the week,) so the kids and my mom (age 71) were deterred and we didn’t push the idea.

Where’s the Paper?

That’s what I heard when the first rooster loudly cried out — I must admit that not everyone in our group heard that, but once I heard it, I couldn’t not hear it.  I will probably forever more hear “where’s the paper?” when others hear “cock-a-doodle-doo.”