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We’re getting itchy feet over here. Extenuating circumstances, both mundane and thrilling, have kept us from putting together any exciting international trips as of late. It’s been a long, long time since New Year’s in Nicaragua. And at the moment, we have nothing international on the books.

Fortunately, we found some great books on the international to tide us over: the Global Fund for Children book series.

Our family read (and reread –and then looked at the pictures again in) three titles in the “To Be” series: “To Be a Kid,” “To Be an Artist,” and “Be My Neighbor.”

And my kids were enthralled.

Part National Geographic, part Mr. Rogers, these books celebrate diversity and global citizenship through easy prose and gorgeous photography.

The books are quite simple on the surface: they show kids doing the same things differently around the world.

But they beautifully articulate something I’ve struggled to explain to my kids: The things that make us the same make us one big global family. And the things that make us different make us fascinating.

In “To Be a Kid,” author (and Global Fund for Children founder) Maya Ajmera shows children at school, home, and play around the world. Photos from the collection of globetrotting photographer John Ivanko are grouped by activity, so shots of kids doing similar pastimes are arranged in a single spread around a central theme.

So, the dancing page shows kids from Ireland, the Philippines, India, the US, and the UK getting their traditional groove on. The ball-playing spread shows baseball in India, kickball in Cuba, futbol in Mexico, and cricket in Antigua and Barbuda.

You get the gist.

My kids loved spotting the differences in geography, architecture, and dress. But they also loved pointing out the things that they like to do themselves. It didn’t matter if the merry-go-round was in Austria or the pool was in Mexico or the stilts were in Swaziland: they knew fun when they saw it and gleefully envied the kids in the pictures for getting to take part in it.

The other two titles, “Be My Neighbor” and “To Be an Artist,” follow a similar format, with the first title focusing on day-to-day life for kids around the world and the latter highlighting the many, many, many ways young people express themselves through the arts.

One of the most refreshing things about these books is their effortless lack of discrimination. They put all politics aside, giving equal billing to nations powerful and obscure, wealthy and destitute, familiar and notorious. The books’ wholesome depictions of kids in countries whose names are usually connected with things ominous or tragic  (Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Haiti, Myanmar…) remind us all that families live there. Whatever the headlines may read, childhood goes on the whole world over.

Or to put it another way, no matter where you live, kids are kids.

As if fostering global citizenship in your children wasn’t rewarding enough, part of the sales of all the Global Fund for Children’s books goes to the fund itself. So as you help your own little one better appreciate his or her place in the global family, you’ll also be helping somebody else’s little one a world away.

The Global Fund for Children’s online store has lots of titles not only in the “To Be” series, but in many other age groups and genres as well. Definitely check ‘em out.

Globe-toddler in the making. He'll be making his debut sometime around Thanksgiving.

Here at Globe-toddling, we were on the verge of an identity crisis. You see, our daughters are growing up, as daughters will do. In fact, our youngest starts preschool in the fall.

Ergo she will no longer be a toddler.

Now that seriously messes with our eponymous blog—you can hardly have Globe-toddling without a toddler. Or at least a baby.

So we’re making a new one. He’s a boy. Due around Thanksgiving. Are we dedicated to you readers or what?

OK, I’m obviously joking about reproducing merely to provide travel blog material. But I didn’t want you to wonder where the Pratts went. Or worse, where they didn’t go.

While I have very few reservations about traveling while pregnant, two irresistible offers to join family and friends at the beach (first in the Outer Banks, then in Maine’s Acadia region) have rendered us stateside for the foreseeable future.

And the timing of our new arrival is going to put the kibosh on any holiday travel this year.

But rest assured that our new baby will be using a passport before he’s sleeping through the night.

He’s got a lot of catching up to do if he’s going to match his sisters’ tales of international adventure!

Go, Diego, go. Go and keep my kids occupied.

There’s nothing like a five-hour transcontinental flight to remind me that just because a flight’s domestic, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a cakewalk. Boredom strikes small kids above their own homeland as readily as it does in international skies. So we pack our usual arsenal of toys, activities, and snacks and prepare to do battle with idleness.

And yet on this latest trip from DC to San Francisco, we didn’t use a single one. Seriously.

Thank you, Virgin America. Or more particularly, thank you Virgin’s Red inflight entertainment system. More on that in a sec, but first, let’s talk about Virgin America itself.

Their planes are new. Their decor is sleek and comfortable. Economy has decent legroom and cushy leather seats with nice little perks like in-seat electrical outlets and USB ports. They offer Internet access. And they are downright decent to families.

Remember that old perk of boarding first because you have little kids with you? While increasingly rare on other domestic carriers, it’s alive and well on Virgin. And I’m happy to report that in both directions, everybody from check-in to the gate to the flight attendants were cheerful and helpful to us.

OK, so these things are nice, if not forgettable. What really sets Virgin America apart is their flashy inflight entertainment system.

Sure, these in-seat monitors have been around for quite some time, but Virgin’s clear, 9-inch screens take staring at the seat in front of you to a whole new level. With intuitive touch screen controls, tilt-able monitors, and dedicated kid-friendly content they’re a breeze to customize for your kiddo. And surprisingly, this service is included in all classes on domestic routes. Who says you have to fly to Europe to get a decent choice of inflight movies?

Included for free are a handful of games (best for older kids), 24 Dish Network satellite TV channels (including Disney and Nickelodeon), and ten kids’ albums with artists ranging from Yo Gabba Gabba to the Jonas Brothers. Feature length movies are $8 (same goes for grownup ones), but the kids’ selection was limited.

Just tap the touch screen to broadcast your kid's choice of tunage.

No matter. Both girls happily watched Nick (and napped) for the entire flight. The miles and minutes flew by as episode after episode of “Dora the Explorer”, “Go, Diego, Go”, “Max and Ruby”, “Team Umizumi”, and “Bubble Guppies” held them in rapt attention.

Equally amazing, for the first time since becoming a mom, I watched an inflight movie. I would never had attempted this were it not for Red’s pause and rewind feature. While the parenting interruptions were few, they did arise, and I was grateful to be able to put my movie on hold while I opened a yogurt or cleaned said yogurt off a wee lap.

Another cool feature on Red is the ability to buy and pay for everything from headphones to Internet access to inflight meals right from your screen. An in-seat card reader allows you to swipe your credit card and alerts the flight attendant to your purchase, if necessary. So instead of waiting for the slow march down the aisle to buy headphones, meals, or premium drinks (the usual soft drinks are gratis, of course), you can buy them at your leisure and have them delivered to your seat in a tick.

Just one word to the wise: Virgin’s for-purchase headsets ($2) were particularly stiff and ill-fitting for small heads. We forgot to pack the girls’ headphones on this trip, so ended up purchasing them a set. While they did have a nice color selection (including pink!), both girls had to hold the ear pads in place to keep them from slipping down to their chins. So be sure to pack your own.

Virgin America currently flies to about a dozen major US airports, plus Los Cabos and Cancun, Mexico. They do charge a checked bag fee of $25 per, but they have a generous upper limit of 70 pounds until October 2011 (after then, it will be the standard 50 pounds). Carry ons and checked strollers and car seats are free. Meals (from snack assortments to sandwiches) cost $7-9. Internet access can be had for a flat $10. Contented inflight children are, of course, priceless.

When it comes to keeping my kids busy on a flight once the seat pocket contents have lost their novelty (hey, that emergency instruction card is essentially a board book about inexplicably calm people enjoying various aviation disasters), I want the things we bring to meet three criteria. First of all, they must be light and flat. Because the heavy and bulky luggage category is already overrepresented on any trip with kids. Second, they must be inexpensive. Because the expensive category is similarly overrepresented in that square foot of space under their little bums. Third, it can’t have a ton of pieces—or at least not a ton of necessary pieces. If it falls on the floor and migrates three rows in front of us, I want to let it go.

Whenever we find an activity that meets all three of these requirements, celestial choirs sing. Our two current favorites work so well that I scrapped the idea of working them into a Top 10, Top 5, or even Top 3 list. Forget the filler. Here are the two greatest in-flight toy ideas we’ve come across in a long, long while.

Ingrid makes a gel cling snowman on her window. Instead of making a ruckus in her row.

Gel clings

You know these things. They’re those perennial dollar and craft store items that look like thin-sliced Jello. They’re meant to decorate windows. And guess what your toddler has right next to her? Yes, a window! And when that gets old, they’ll also harmlessly stick to tray tables, in-flight magazine covers, and just about anything else. Just keep a close eye on very small people, because they do look deceptively edible. Much like airline food.

Wikkistix, Bendaroos, and their kin

Wikkistix and Bendaroos are essentially identical competing products. There are also a host of knockoffs on the market now as well. In fact, you’ll probably find some within a few feet of the gel clings at your favorite discount shopping spot.

What are they? Imagine if modeling clay and a pipe cleaner had a baby, and you have a general sense of what these colorful, flexible sticks can do. They’re actually colored yarn dipped in wax, but they’re way more fun than that sounds. Not only can they be bent and shaped like wire, they also stick to themselves and any other smooth surface without making a mess. You can fashion them into all kinds of two- and three-dimensional forms and they’ll stay put. Plus, they’re endlessly reusable.

Bendaroos are fun, light, and not messy. Can't beat that with a wax-dipped stick. (Thanks to http://www.makesandtakes.com for the photo.)

On a recent flight, I cracked up realizing that all four of us across our row were utterly engrossed with them. Ingrid was balling them up and sticking them to her tray table. Anja was making me an elaborate necklace. I was weaving them into a basket. And Andrew was making a 3D stick family. Not bad for a toy that could easily fit inside an envelope.

Got any more must-have inflight toys? Then hook a fellow family traveler up by posting your tips below.

Whatever is going on inside the Capitol, it is surely the opposite of this.

I know you think that here at Globe-toddling, we spend all our time winging from one exotic destination to the next, pausing at home just long enough to swap one season’s wardrobe for the next. If only.

In truth, we spend all but a few thrilling weeks a year here in DC. Which, fortunately for us, happens to be a pretty fun place to visit. Especially with kids.

I could ramble on forever with insider tips. (The Air & Space Museum has the worst food on the Mall; the Museum of the American Indian and the National Gallery have the best. The Freer Gallery and Hirshhorn Museum are the best places to pop in and use the toilet…)

Instead, I’ll pass the mic to two super bloggers who not only know the District better than the Secret Service, but also know how to navigate it with small children. (Both still have kids in diapers.)

KidFriendly DC is the blog I check when I want to find something to do with my kids. Linda Samuel knows every museum, play room, and puppet stage in the city and no kids’ event flies under her ‘play-dar.’ If it’s going on in the District, KidFriendly DC knows about it. Make sure you check it every morning of your visit.

DC Like a Local is penned by witty local tour guide Tim Krepp. Tim’s knowledge of the city is downright encyclopedic, but his delivery is far more Norm than Cliff (forgive the Bostonian reference, but nobody’s made a sitcom about a venerable DC pub for me to draw on). Check out his Visiting with Kids page for a spot-on “Top 10 DC Museums for Kids” list. Or, strap the kids to your backs and amble along on one of his Walking Schtick Capitol Hill tours.

Check ‘em out. Then come on over and play!

Monumental architecture, Legos, wide-open indoor space, and all-important access to coffee make the National Building Museum our home away from home.

Before there was Globe-toddling, there was a difficult journey to parenthood. My story of coping with miscarriage in a culture that shrouds it in taboo was recently featured on the smart and edgy parenting website, Babble. Check it out here.

No sign of Ollie North on Playa Madera.

Nicaragua is one of those destinations that tends to get a “You’re going where?” any time you mention your travel plans. Despite the fact that Nicaragua’s notorious civil war ended a generation ago, its name remains stubbornly connected to violence and Regan-era scandal.

Which is truly undeserved and a darn shame. It’s got tropical beaches. It’s got volcanos. It’s got friendly people. It’s only two-and-a-half hours from the US. And a trip here costs a fraction of the price of a vacation in neighboring Costa Rica. On our recent trip, we ate, drank, and did anything we fancied and the final cost was… not that bad.

Nicaragua still sees more tourists with backpacks than suitcases, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be sleeping in hostels and eating your meals sitting on a curb. There are plenty of upscale hotels and refined dining options—most of them so inexpensive that you can opt for upgrades and order lobster with unbridled abandon.

And you won’t be the only ones bringing your kids there. Seriously. We met other vacationing families every place we went. And the hotels and restaurants were ready to receive us, pink kitty suitcases and all.

To market, to market in Granada.

So how rustic is it?

You get a good flavor for Nicaragua by taking a spin down its stretch of the Pan-American Highway. Its two lanes comprise one of Nicaragua’s few paved roads and bear everything from old American school buses whizzing to market with produce and passengers on the roof, to sleek new Mercedes sedans, to ox carts loaded with two stories of hay. Chickens literally cross the road (our preschooler was beside herself at that one), along with cows, pigs, and dogs. Along the margins, street vendors roast fabulous-smelling meats on giant wok-like skillets. Women in frilly aprons stroll by with enormous baskets of bread balanced on their heads. Howler monkeys swing from the trees. The daily grind seems like a carnival—all at once wholesome, frenetic, pastoral, and gritty.

Anja falls under the spell of Hotel con Corazon's tranquil courtyard.

Granada, with heart.

While you’ll land in Nicaragua’s largest city, Managua, there is little to see and no reason to dillydally. Granada, just an hour south of the airport, has far more to recommend. Founded way back in 1524, Granada maintains a rather down-at-the-heel colonial charm. A cathedral-flanked central park is always abuzz, a looming (but gentle) volcano owns the horizon, and its ramshackle side streets echo with hoofbeats mingled with the buzz of motorcycles. The center of the city is easily walkable and always interesting—I wouldn’t so much as run an errand without bringing our camera.

Our family stayed at the commendable and kid-friendly Hotel con Corazon. Its name translates into “hotel with heart”—and with good reason. The hotel is a non-profit operation that supports the local community with an emphasis on education and responsible tourism.

Just because Hotel con Corazon is a hotel with a mission doesn’t mean trading altruism for comfort. The hotel is so clean, cozy, and well run that you’d forget that you were staying at a non-profit foundation, were it not for its prevailing warm and fuzzy vibe.

The rooms have a Scandinavian sensibility, with clean lines, minimal furnishings, and walls adorned with photographs taken by Nicaraguan youngsters. In the main quad, you can linger over a cheerful breakfast or check your email from a hammock in the hotel’s lush garden. Or have their warm, English-speaking staff arrange a day trip for you through one of their various community partnerships.

Along with all the usual Granada sightseeing tours, Hotel con Corazon also offers activities especially for families, including piñata-making workshops, lake fishing expeditions, or cross-cultural play dates with Granadan kids.

Hotel con Corazon’s nightly rates range from US$63 for a low-season double, to $116 for a high-season two-room family suite (with travel crib, if you ask). Breakfast is included.

Nothing says adventure like having to park your car in a manner that allows you to make a quick getaway. Volcán Masaya.

To Hell and back in a (lovely) day.

If you are short on time, you can cram three of Granada’s most popular day trips into a single ambitious day. Begin with the very much active Masaya Volcano, next make an afternoon stop in Masaya’s renowned market, then end the day with a late afternoon cruise on massive Lake Nicaragua.

A short drive outside the city, Masaya is a must-see hell mouth of sulfurous steam. Unsuccessfully exorcised by Spanish missionaries who thought they’d found the gate to the underworld, Masaya has been active enough to hurl boulders at sightseers as recently as 2001. Hilariously dire reminders to park your car facing the exit and dive under your vehicle if the volcano starts acting up add a note of adventure to an otherwise easy outing.

Fishwives in Masaya's New Market.

Safely downslope from the cone of Volcán Masaya is the village that shares its name. Widely renowned for having the biggest and best craft shopping in Central America, the double markets of Masaya would take days to thoroughly explore. No mere tourist show, Masaya’s New Market is a sprawling labyrinth of stalls selling everything from shoes to squid. If you’re short on time (or olfactory fortitude—the meat district smells just as you’d expect piles of offal in the tropical sun to smell), the nearby Old Market caters directly to tourists. Its celebrated collection of dealers and artisans offer such Nicaraguan staples as handcrafted hammocks (a must-have souvenir), traditional pottery, soapstone sculptures, and a variety of textiles and woodcrafts.

Crossing the street, isleta style. Residents of Lake Nicaragua's community of tiny islets routinely scoot from island to island in row boats.

Back in Granada, board a safe and stable panga boat (with kid-size life jackets) for a cruise around Lake Nicaragua’s unique community of isletas. Late afternoon is a great time to explore the lake. With the heat of the day abating, the hundreds of tiny islets go through an intriguing sunset bustle. Dozens of residents hop from island to island in row boats or pull nets from the Lake Nicaragua’s depths. Thousands of roosting lake birds fill the trees as the sun sets vividly between Mombacho Volcano and Granada’s cathedral-dotted skyline.

After spending the morning touring the farm, there's nothing like finding the farmer's wife awaiting you with a hot lunch.

Meeting my beloved coffee at its source.

Masaya’s sister volcano, Mombacho, can be thanked for the isletas’ existence. It was a massive explosion ages ago that jetted about a third of Masaya into the lake. Today Mombacho is calm and forested, with only a few fumeroles to remind you that it is dormant, but not extinct.

Hotel con Corazon arranged a guided visit to Mombacho and the slope-side village of San Pancho. In San Pancho, a local farmer named Don Julio walked us through the village’s shade-grown coffee plantation and croplands as our guide described the strict logging rules and conscientious farming practices that make these farms look like forests. We nibbled coffee berries, gathered produce, and watched howler monkeys swing through the passionately protected canopy.

Frank Luna, our amiable guide, leads us along the dormant caldera of Volcán Mombacho.

All our ambling finally led us past a dozen or so simple and dusty homesteads to Don Julio’s own home, where the doña of the the house prepared a wholesome meal completely from food gathered from their farm. And let me tell you, the doña could cook!

After lunch, we rolled ourselves onto a military-weight truck and drove toward the summit of the volcano. Slightly upslope, a quick stop at Cafe las Flores showed how coffee berries become the beans we know and love. The small factory shop offered sample brew and bags of beans at a bargain (US$4 a pound!).

Further up the steep and switch-backed road, the summit of Mombacho has some great hikes around the extinct caldera. In about an hour, you can hike through a lush forest paradise full of birds, scads of butterflies, and trees laden with dozens of species of wild orchids. Beyond the forest are unrivaled views of the lake and isletas, tiny Granada, and a half-dozen other volcanos in the region’s chain. On a clear day, views sprawl as far as the Pacific Ocean.

If only every restaurant in the world had a hammock to keep the kiddos occupied.

Town life in Granada

Back in Granada, we squeezed in the requisite (especially if you have a four-year-old girl traveling with you) horse-drawn carriage ride around the city. We didn’t insist on an English-speaking driver (a luxury that will bring the cost of the one-hour tour from about US$10 to US$15), which meant many of the city’s landmarks were lost on us. In hindsight, it is worth the effort to ask along the ever-present row of carriage drivers around the central Parque Colon to find one who can provide commentary along with quaintness.

Eating and drinking in Granada is inexpensive and laden with delicacies. Seafood figures prominently on Granadan menus, including fish, lobster, and shrimp harvested both from the nearby ocean and the lake itself. Sangria is the local tipple, and Flor de Caña rum is the boast. Make a small splurge and try the brand’s premium 18-year variety, a rum so smooth and mellow that it can be sipped like cognac.

We dined one night on the sidewalk of the touristy Calle de Calzada and regretted it. While the carnival atmosphere of street performers and musicians is entertaining, the incessant table-side onslaught of street vendors, performers seeking tips, and bold beggars become a nuisance. Instead, opt for one of the city’s many better restaurants with courtyard gardens. Loaded with colonial charm, these places offer the delight of dining al fresco with the quietude of a private garden. Even better, all had at least one hammock; a blessing for anyone dining with small kids. With room to run and play for our daughters, we could actually order multiple courses—and even a digestif.

Incredible food. Great live music. Dining al fresco. Warm service. Very reasonable prices. And a play house. I believe that I have found my dream restaurant in El Zaguán.

Family-friendly—and gourmet.

By all accounts, Granada’s most acclaimed restaurant is El Zaguán. Our guidebook advised us to follow our noses to it meat-laden grill, and their instructions were perfect. It looks like nothing from the street, but inside it’s a refined fiesta with fine dining, vivacious live music, and a grill you will photograph and brag about like it’s one of your children.

The food and service at El Zaguán lived up to the hype. My husband’s steak elicited a, “Wow. Just wow”, on the first bite. I was looking forward to their famed whole-fried fish known as pescado a la tititapa. But the waiter warned me that the smallest guapote fish they had that night was large enough to feed at least three. Since news of my competitive-eating-caliber appetite clearly hasn’t reached these parts, I let him steer me toward sea bass steamed in ginger. And he was right: I was very happy. For the girls, a cordially divided adult portion of fried fish fingers made for the freshest, most gourmet fish sticks we’ve ever come across.

I’d be remiss not to mention one of El Zaguán’s biggest draws for anyone eating out with young kids. Just a few feet from our table, a quaint wooden playhouse beckoned kids to be kids. Thanks to the volume of the live music and the open-air digs, they were able to play so vigorously that we could scarcely keep them at the table long enough to scarf down a few of the aforementioned fish sticks.

El Zaguán is located on the road behind the cathedral—these directions will make sense when you get there. Entrees average about US$12.

Lobster tails at Mediterraneo.

An equally fabulous dinner was had at Mediterraneo. This is certainly one of Granada’s most upscale and expensive restaurants (I think we cracked US$80 when all was said and done, but we ordered multiple courses… and rounds). Set in a formal garden with floral table clothes, roving musicians, and charismatic waiters, it was a date night place if ever there was one. Fortunately, it still had a hammock and grass to sprawl on, so the girls stayed busy without causing a ruckus.

We ordered their signature mixed seafood grill and a lobster tail special. The portions provided a glut of smashingly seasoned fish, prawns, and shellfish. Andrew’s lobster portion was so large that he had to enlist my help in finishing it—no easy task, since I’d already downed most my own enormous entree. But seriously, what kind of maniac leaves lobster uneaten?

Mediterraneo, Calle Caimito. Entrees average around US$12.

The Garden Cafe. Now isn't that just lovely?

We had a standout lunch at the Garden Cafe. The beauty of the cafe’s eponymous garden can not be overstated. Lush, tropical, and white hammock ringed, it’s an oasis from the hot and dusty midday streets. Exotic birds flitted in and out of a trickling fountain as we sipped glass after glass of homemade lemonade and dined on fresh and healthy sandwiches. I’m definitely adding it to my list of happy places.

Garden Cafe, Enitel, 1 c al lago. Lunch with fresh juice costs about US$6 per person. Open for breakfast and lunch only.

Vamos a la playa!

Anja and Ingrid fall in with Mango Rosa's surfer crowd. Surf instructor Johnny is the blond dude on the left.

Nicaragua has 565 miles of tropical coast, and not a single Tony Roma’s. Or a Senor Frog’s. Or a Club Med. Or a Ritz Carlton. Most roads are unpaved. The beaches don’t have cabana boys. And words like “luxury” refer to amenities like private bathrooms. It’s rustic in a cabin-on-the-lake kind of way, so you must be prepared to endure small discomforts like fluctuating water temperature in the shower (and no tubs), dusty dirt roads anyplace you’re going, and roosters and howler monkeys awakening you at first light. But on the plus side, the beaches aren’t crowded, you don’t feel like you’re in a tourist Potemkin village, and roosters and howler monkeys awaken you at first light.

The Pacific coast around San Juan del Sur is an easy two-and-a-half hour drive from Granada (paved roads, baby!) and offers a good balance of infrastructure, wild nature, and authenticity. This region is legendary in surfing circles and the surfers definitely own the tourist vibe. Since surfers don’t seem to mind where they sleep, so long as there are waves and cold beer nearby, many accommodations are little more than a bunk on the beach and not suitable for families with small kids. But a handful of family-friendly resorts are popping up, offering clean, secure rooms, on-site restaurants, and fun-for-kids things like swimming pools.

Once such resort is the countryside compound of Mango Rosa. Ironically, this surf resort is not actually all that near the beach, but don’t let that dissuade you. Instead, it is a trim village of thatched ranchos and tidy bungalows largely hidden in the tropical jungle. Its nearest neighbors on all sides are farms; and it is commonplace to see livestock grazing alongside the dirt road that leads from town past the hotel. Follow the cows for another kilometer or so and the road dead ends in the sand on one of the neighborhood’s two gorgeous beaches.

San Juan del Sur itself was a 15-minute drive away, and a great place to restock, make an emergency bathing suit purchase (yes, we actually forgot to pack my husband’s trunks), or have a seaside meal. That said, it is hardly a destination in and of itself and can be missed without much regret. Instead, Mango Rosa has a way of meeting your every need, so the days slip by with little effort or worry.

Mango Rosa's cozy bungalows are plenty roomy enough for a young family.

Mango Rosa’s accommodations range from a grand three-bedroom villa, to simple one-bedroom bungalows. I can attest first-hand that the one-bedrooms can easily accomodate a young family. Spacious and sparklingly clean, our little cottage came with a well-equipped kitchen, a decent-sized living room with cable TV (with Nick Jr. in Spanish), and a bedroom roomy enough to accommodate a twin mattress at the foot of our bed, where our daughters slept soundly each night.

Good food is easy to come by, both at the resort’s soaring open-air rancho bar and a smattering of local seaside cafes. Don’t miss the taco stand on the nearby surf beach of Playa Madera. Trusty and delicious, this little shack serves up fresh fish tacos and nachos to die for, along with frosty cans of Toña (the local brew), fresh juice, and bottled water.

Hang diez.

I didn’t have high hopes for my surfing abilities. I’m not what you’d call “graceful” or “coordinated” or “not humiliatingly clumsy.” But since Mango Rosa was ready with board rentals, beach transport, and a perpetually shirtless surf instructor named Johnny, a surf lesson just seemed to naturally follow. Believe me: nobody was more surprised than me when he had us riding the waves within minutes of our hour-long lesson. With nearly two years of expat living under his belt, Johnny is also a ready tour organizer who knows the countryside’s rollicking backroads like the back of his suntanned hand.

I may not be quite a surfing legend, but thanks to a great lesson or two from Mango Rosa's surf instructor, I got to ride some of Nicaragua's legendary surf.

Zip-lining through the canopy with a trusty guide. Yes, we were all humming the "Go, Diego, Go!" theme.

Flying preschoolers and baby sea turtles.

While our daughters would be more than happy to play in the sand until the sun goes down (it crossed our minds that they might have gotten the same vacation experience in a sandbox), we do try to get some non-bathing suit fun in once in a while. Mango Rosa can arrange horseback riding (ages 5 and up) and zip-lining (ages 3 and up). If images of a three-year-old careening out of control down a zip-line are terrifying you, rest assured that little kids ride along with a guide and that the zip-lining itself is a pretty lite adventure.

Nighttime sea turtle viewing is a must for any family. While the cost (US$50 per person) is high by Nicaraguan standards, and the ride out to the beach is a bone-jarring hour on a route that is more potholes than road, it is so incredible that you’ll scarcely believe that it’s happening in front of you and not on TV.

The destination is the carefully protected preserve of La Flor, located just a kilometer from the Costa Rican border. Here, 30,000 female Olive Ridley turtles return each season to the very sand from which they scrabbled forth about fifteen years earlier. They haul themselves up on the beach, dig a nest, lay their eggs, then push on back to sea. About two months later, thousands of downright adorable baby sea turtles erupt from the sand and skedaddle to the ocean beneath an inky sky of a million stars.

With the help of the preserve’s researchers, it’s pretty easy to find a nest on the verge of hatching. “They’re a bit like microwave popcorn,” described Johnny. “First you’ll see one or two pops, then the whole thing just erupts.”

He was right. In mere minutes, a depression in the sand became a writing pile of cuteness, as dozens of hatchlings clumsily smacked each other with their outsized flippers. Once they got their bearings, each scampered off to the ocean, leaving a sweet path of wee flipper tracks.

An added treat for our four-year-old (Who am I kidding? For all of us!) was getting to release a baby sea turtle ourselves. Since nests that hatch during the day don’t stand a chance of making it to the water before a host of predators gobble them up, the researchers gather the hatchlings and hold them in baskets until evening. Kneeling in the sand, we each got to pick up a flailing little turtle, whisper good luck, and set it in the sand on the water’s edge.

Forgive the horrid photo quality, but we didn't want to bother the newborn sea turtles with flash photography. Anyway, here they are emerging from their nest.

Anja named her turtle Lucy and wished her buena suerte. We mused about Anja and her hatchling reuniting on La Flor when they’re both grown up. And in true Globe-toddling style, we hope Anja’s own children can welcome Lucy’s grandchildren into the world someday on that distant beach in our now-beloved Nicaragua.

A one-bedroom bungalow at Mango Rosa is US$95 a night in low season, or $139 a night during the Christmas and Easter holidays. A three-bedroom villa rents for US$220 a night in low season, or US$300 in high season.

Zip lining on an 18-platform course is about US$35 per person.


The simple life in the countryside outside San Juan del Sur.

Getting there: Nicaragua can be reached by a very manageable two-and-half-hour flight from Miami. Several US carriers offer daily flights out of Miami, as well as Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, or Houston.

Getting around: Expect to pay around US$34-45 for a trip from the airport to Granada, and US$70-80 for the two-and-half-hour ride to San Juan del Sur. A cab from Mango Rosa into the town of San Juan is US$15 each way.

A note on safety: It is difficult, but not impossible, to find cabs with seat belts. Our family struck a balance by insisting on them for long-haul trips, but crossing our fingers for shorter journeys. If you want a car with seat belts, ask ahead—it may take your hotel a bit of calling around to arrange your ride.

Granada and San Juan del Sur’s crime is mostly of the petty variety. Conduct yourself as you would in any larger city and you should be OK. As with any destination, use commonsense and keep a low profile. For more information, visit the US State Department’s tourist info page for Nicaragua.

A note on health: Nicaragua, like most of the developing world, requires a bit of traveler’s care and caution when eating and drinking. Many restaurants catering to tourists use purified water to prepare food and drinks. Be sure to ask before you order. Also, be sure to visit the CDC’s website for Nicaragua-specific guidance. Then line up a pre-trip visit with a travel clinic or your regular doctor’s office to discuss health precautions.

A note on poverty: While Nicaragua is one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries, the track described here is part of the nation’s more prosperous swath. Expect life here to be far simpler (most farms can be described as “living off the grid”), but not alarmingly destitute. Globe-toddling always promotes responsible tourism, and we encourage you to give back to the communities you visit by purchasing from local artisans at fair prices, patronizing local businesses, and supporting community initiatives. Hotel con Corazon was an enormous help to us in adding a humanitarian element to our vacation. Just ask them about ways to help when you book. We ended up bringing two extra suitcases full of clothes and supplies… and bringing them back full of souvenirs!

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