As we slip into that stretch between Christmas vacation and the February break, I was reflecting on past trips we took when the girls were kids. We never made a plan or a pact, but Jeff and I didn’t do traditional family vacations. Oh, there were the summer visits to the Jersey Shore, where his family had a home; the trips to the cottage in New Hampshire which was left to us by my family. Winter vacations, however, were never to Disney or Tahoe, not that there is anything wrong with that type of trip.
When the girls were eleven and eight, we took them to Martinique. Jeff and I had been to the Island the year before, alone. We went back to the same apartment we had rented from a young couple named Schaefer; spelled the same as ours. It was in the village of Tartare, walking distance to the beach. Traveling with them outside of the comforts of America opened my eyes to the world as a child sees it. The strange smells, different automobiles and foods all fascinated them. We reveled in the impossible colors that assaulted our winter-weary senses. They were easily entertained and fell right in with the children of our landlord and the village. Lex, once fluent in French thanks to her first nanny, picked the language back up easily. Hanni parroted and learned. We had a rental car and were able to take time off from the sun, touring Mt. Pele and the estates.
The last night we went out to dinner at a spot that had become a favorite. Tables were set out on a veranda around a pool, a banana grove shielding one side. Fruit bats, Hanni named them “Stella Luna,” flitted around the tables, feeding on the ripening bananas. A raucous group was dining at a table nearby. They introduced themselves; a Brazilian dance troupe who were just finishing a tour on the island and were headed to Paris. One woman fawned over Hanni and Lex, inviting them to join in dancing and playing a game of dominos. How many kids can say they beat a Brazilian dance troupe at dominos on their vacation while the fruit bats fed?
The next year we took off again in February, for Costa Rica this time. We landed on the east coast and drove for five hours to get to our destination, Dominical. Unfortunately, we arrived in the middle of the night and the only accommodation was cramped quarters that were none too clean. Once settled the next day, we laid out our plans for a riding vacation, securing leads to tours and setting up trips.
We dove from waterfalls into cool green pools in the tropical forest.
We rode on beaches and followed ancient Inca trading routes through the mountains. Our helmets signaled to the tour operators that we were experienced, so often we were rewarded with more strenuous rides and less well-behaved mounts.
I think the fondest memory was feeding the young sloth at breakfast every morning. One of the waiters had rescued it from the road and it lived in the thatched roof beams of the dining room. It was so young it required a bottle, which the girls happily fought over before their own food arrived.
I’m sure there was stress and strife in those trips. I distinctly remember flight delays and scrambles to make connections. I know the drive to Dominical could have been admissible grounds for divorce. Those memories have faded to folk-lore. The joy of exploring and experiencing life in another country as a family is the lasting impression.