All-time favorite “selfie”

I’ve been taking photos in one form or another for 30 years. I love wildlife photography, but accessibility to wild animals is obviously always a challenge and so most of my photos are of landscapes at wider angles. I’ve taken around 10 that I think are really top notch.

Photographing people though has never been my thing. I don’t think I’ very good and spontaneity is tricky nowadays. This image that I took today though is, in my opinion, one of my best of all time. I absolutely love it and it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m in it! I love the light on the face, the eye peering out, the frame around the face and the blurred background.

The thing though is that very little of this image isn’t pure luck! It was only a selfie with my Android phone! No fancy lens or camera, no planning of light or location. Just a point and shoot right before I left the park to go home to send around on social media. But everything just clicked (pun intended) and it came out being one of my best.

Photography remains a mysterious mistress after all this time and it’s awesome!

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rico visit during COVID-19 (Dec 2020)

This post serves as a collaborative journal between the 4 of us (especially where food is concerned 😂), so may be a bit verbose in areas. Hopefully readers will find some of these details useful.

The Lead Up

After a crazy year, both from work & life perspective, the Heunis family needed a proper break to really recharge. We wanted to visit Central America especially after a “all-in” vacation to Mexico a few years ago. We had a great time in Mexico, but we wanted more of an authentic experience. However with Mexico’s drug & gang problems leaving the resorts are not recommended so we were on the lookout for an alternative.

When I then happened to see in a news feed that Costa Rica had re-opened their borders for visitors on 1 November, I thought this might be a great opportunity to go on this dream vacation, COVID-19 notwithstanding. And so, despite a minor complication with Cara’s passport, we booked the trip from Sunday, 20 Dec to Tuesday, 29 Dec. With regards to COVID-19, Costa Rica has eased restrictions to a large degree. Really you just require a Costa Rican Health Pass. To get the Health Pass takes 10 minutes but it requires you to have travel insurance.

Day 1 – Sunday

From a snowy New York, we flew with JetBlue from JFK’s Terminal 5 at 6pm. Our flight was delayed by about 40 minutes and the in-flight entertainment wasn’t working, but otherwise it was an uneventful 5-hour flight with everyone being very respectful and compliant with regards to the COVID-19 measures. We did have to show the Health Pass QR codes that are required before we were allowed to board the flight.

It’s so awesome when after 5 hours you leave the plane and it’s a warm 77F at 11pm! The San Jose Airport is small, but modern and clean. Going through immigrations and customs was a breeze. They did scan our QR codes though. I exchanged $50 for Colones (the Costa Rican currency), but honestly everyone takes the mighty Greenback (US Dollars for non-American readers).

We booked the Hampton Inn near the San Jose airport because it was such a late flight. Cara (11) felt it was “sketchy”, but it’s really just a place to catch up on some sleep before the adventure starts. It cost us a $110 for the 4 of us.

Day 2 – Monday

We took an Uber to Walmart. Uber operates just fine in San Jose but outside the capital is less predictable. Traffic in San Jose is W-I-L-D! The main reason for the Walmart trip was to purchase SIM cards (for cellphone service) and some groceries. The SIM card was $11 for 3GB and we got it mostly for Google Maps or Waze, which seems to be the preferred provider here mostly because of local community engagement. The staff were very friendly although not everyone could speak English.

We rented a very small car from Vamos Car Rental, across the street from the hotel, because they have better reviews than most car rental companies, but Car Rental in Costa Rica is not straightforward. See my Costa Rica car rental notes. We ended up paying $560 for the week with a $2,000 hold on my credit card!

Drive to Puerto Viejo

The drive down from the mountain and from Limon down the coast – the last part, are really beautiful. About an hour out from Puerto Viejo one begins to realize you’re entering a special part of the world. We left San Jose a bit later than we anticipated so we arrived at Puerto Viejo when it was already dark.

Driving in Costa Rica is quite challenging especially when you’ve rented a manual (stick), but you haven’t driven manual in 6 years! It’s a two-lane highway for most of the way with so many big trucks on the road. There are also disruptive roadworks for most of the journey not to mention pot holes that put even Pennsylvania to shame! Many traffic rules are also considered optional by much of the locals. Lene was a nervous wreck and took a few days to calm down after the 5-hour trip. Also Cara threw-up đŸ€ź from the windy road down the mountain! But despite the hair-raising moments and the threats of divorceđŸ€­, it’s a very interesting drive.

Terrazas del Caribe

Terrazas del Caribe has a beautiful pool.

We checked in to Terrazas del Caribe at around 6pm. It’s a few miles outside of Puerto Viejo just behind Playa Cocles. (“Playa” means “Beach” in Spanish) and a ~3-minute drive up a steep gravel road away from the main road. Check-in was very easy and our room was great and the pool even better. There is a decent kitchen and a superb patio as well.

We were all tired from the day’s driving so we spent the rest of the evening at Terrazas.

Continue reading “Puerto Viejo, Costa Rico visit during COVID-19 (Dec 2020)”

Philadelphia between Christmas & New Year

Yesterday we took a(nother) Philly sightseeing trip. This time we took the train with SEPTA’s Independence Pass. Friends informed us of this pass and for folks in the suburbs like us, it’s perfect for a day-trip to Philly. I always say this when we go in to Philly for fun, but it’s a great city. So much to see and do there at any time of the year. But between Christmas & New Year’s the city makes an extra effort.

We went to China Town, Macy’s (saw the Christmas show) & Dilworth Park where Elke – always up for a challenge – went ice skating. Then we had dinner at El Vez, an outstanding Mexican Restaurant.

It was such a nice day. And to top it all the Eagles won their game to reach the NFL playoffs so that added to the great vibe.

Fly Eagles Fly!

6 months in… USA journey

So here we are. We have been proud USA residents for 6 months now!

Needless to say, but with a wife and two kids, but not the dog :-(, it has been quite a change from our somewhat idyllic lifestyle in Boesmansriviermond on South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Although there are fundamental political, crime & race issues in South Africa, the main reason we migrated was to explore career & personal opportunities. The US-based company I worked for in South Africa, had earlier indicated that they wanted me to join their team in Malvern, Pennsylvania. I was very happy to oblige, because a) I had always wanted to explore everyday life (like we had in the UK) in the USA and b) it was a great opportunity to further my career hopefully as part of the fantastic company that brought me over. Really the US is where most of the Software Development action is and therefore this is the best place for me as a Software Architect to be.

In terms of adapting to our new life, there have been ups and downs, but all things considered we’re doing well. I had been to the company before on business so I had experienced the horrendous Winter weather as well as the glorious Spring weather and thus had a clearer picture of the overall weather, but my wife and kids were very unimpressed when we landed at JFK International on 8 January – literally the coldest day of the Winter! I could see it in my wife’s eyes… she was thinking: “where have you brought us??!!” We had all the luggage we brought to the US with us on that flight and so we had to rent the biggest SUV the rental agency had. This was at 7pm during a Winter storm after a 48 hour journey. Everyone was tired and we had to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. To top it all off, we took a wrong turn in New York and got bustled slap bang into Manhattan with it’s associated traffic. That was a tough journey that I wouldn’t want to tackle again!

We did eventually make it out of New York without a scratch on our Monster Truck or anything else. We arrived at my cousin’s house at around about 11pm and just like that we had effectively moved to a new continent!

Journey to the US begins
Journey to the US begins

Our first night we were very tired, but they were lovely and to the kids their house was magnificent and I could slowly see some excitement building in the kids. Lené though was in her get things done mode. There was no time or inclination for the excitement I felt and began to see in the kids. Although I respect her for it, it is 100% the opposite of my outlook. That brief excitement along with the anxiousness is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.

The next week or so we had to get all our ducks in a row, Move into our new, as yet unseen, house; register the kids into the school along with all the other associated tasks; buy a car; set up bank accounts as so on. One doesn’t realize how much work is involved. But this is where Lene’s attitude was priceless; she was a rock star! And once Elke was enrolled in school and Cara’s school was organized Lene began to feel more at ease.

Now 6 months later the kids are on Summer vacation and absolutely loving it. We joined a very pleasant Swimming Club for the summer and the whole family spends a lot of time there. Both Elke and Cara have made friends aplenty. I would say that Elke’s friendships here are pretty much on par with what she had in South Africa. This is largely due to her joining a soccer team and lucking out with an amazing team with amazing kids and parents. Being a shy child, I would say that Cara has done better than we expected, but she hasn’t quite found the Murray Baxter type connection that she had at Boesmansriviermond. Hopefully that will come. But she isn’t unhappy at all. In fact she adores Elke’s friends and they are very good to her as well. In truth the kids are thriving; I couldn’t have hoped for better. For a parent that is a major component of one’s own happiness.

Lene has also settled in, but in a sense this move was always going to be the most challenging for her. She had three or four dear friends in South Africa (you know who you are!) and they were very ingrained in pretty much all aspects of her life. Now it’s all new and she doesn’t have a job or school to focus on. As I expected though and thankfully, I do think she has made some great friends here already and I think she’ll be just fine. Although the “inner circle” will never be replaced. 🙂 I’m also very happy that she is playing lots of tennis again. We weren’t sure if that was going to be achievable in the USA and where we live.

As far as I’m concerned I love it here. That doesn’t mean I love Boesmansriviermond any less or London for that matter. It doesn’t have to be a competition. I say this because with the political situation in SA there are sensitivities around people moving away from South Africa and I certainly don’t want to offend those. I am fortunate to have a great job and that’s half the reason why I love it here, but there are also other aspects that make this a very good fit for us. If one is able to earn over a certain threshold here, the quality of life is high. Even more so for kids. The education in the good schools is of a high standard and the sports facilities are great as well. Where we live, in Downingtown, it’s still quite rural and yet its very close to Exton (15 minutes), King of Prussia mall (35 minutes), Philadelphia (an hour) and even New York City (about 3 hours).

A big aspect of the quality of life here in the North East is the weather. OK so the Winter is not easy for us newbies from the Deep Deep South, but Spring, Summer (so far) and Autumn or Fall is really brilliant. Warm (sometimes very hot), sunny and long lazy hours makes the Winter bearable. And the same as in Europe, the locals embrace Winter. We’re aiming to really try hard to appreciate Winter next time round.

Heunis family at Marsh Creek with colorful canoes.
Summer fun on the water at Marsh Creek.

There is so much that is really very good about this country and Pennsylvania that a single blog entry is obviously insufficient to cover much. However it isn’t all moonshine & roses. There are also some things that I really dislike. Foremost is medical expenses. Medical services are very expensive. And it’s complicated.

The other gripe I have is with the credit qualification process. I have always had a very good credit record. I remember in the UK I had absolutely no problem to get credit, but here in the US you have to build up to a decent credit score to qualify for any sort of credit. There is no other mainstream way to get credit and that has been a big hurdle for us on a few occasions. Fortunately Volkswagen is the one car manufacturer that does have an alternative mechanism based on the same indicators that one sees in the UK and South Africa. This is how we managed to get a car in the beginning. Since then and somewhat due to that, I now do have a somewhat respectable rating and we are able to function.

Notwithstanding these hopefully minor pain points I am very positive about our move to the US and specifically this area and this employer. I think was a risk that has already paid off, but I’m hoping it doesn’t end here. My employer is going through a very good patch currently and I feel like I can play a very important part in getting us to be giant killers in our industry.

These are exciting times!

Spring is in the air

It certainly was not a cold winter by any means, but it is always exciting when Spring shows it’s colours. This week there was a shift in the air. Not convincingly or completely, but hints of the freshness and warmth. Also the plants in my garden have started flowering. Spring has arrived! There is just something so refreshing about this, right? If our lives go according to plan, we won’t experience a wonderful South African Spring for at least a couple of years so this has special meaning for me.

We went for a typical Sunday morning stroll at the beach when we ran into some great friends. There wasn’t an intention to go swimming, but it was so gorgeous outside that the kids voluntarily started swimming.

Longwood Gardens

On the advice of my cousin and others I took a trip to Longwood Gardens today. Quite honestly I was blown away. I have visited several botanical gardens, but truly this is was my favourite. It is one of the most impressive tourist destinations I have ever visited. Spectacular colours, deep greens, water works. It really is a worth a visit.

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Herfs is ook spesiaal

Hier waar ons bly is beslis ‘n seisoenale vakansiedorp so die grotere meerderheid mense wat Boesmansriviermond ken ken die luilekker somerdae. Maar ons wat die voorreg het om permanent hier te bly weet al te goed dat die plek op sy mooiste is van Februarie tot Mei.

My best kite surfing picture yet. I took a day or so struggling with this type of photography, but on day 2 I got some great shots. This one is my favourite. It is of Carl Ferreira.

Makro fotos van my tuin

My tuin is ongelooflik mooi op die oomblik en ek wou nou al ‘n ruk lank ‘n paar fotos van die blomme neem. Vandag werk ek van die huis af so ek het oor etenstyd ‘n paar fotos met my Tamron 90mm Makro lens geneem en hulle opgelaai. Die vetterige plantjie kom van my skoonma af – ek weet nie wat sy naam is nie, maar dis vir my ‘n asemrowende mooi ding.

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Cara in ons tuin

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Vandag was een van daai spectacular dae wat ‘n mens net weereens laat besef hoe gelukkig ons hier in Boesmans is. Lae 20s en baie min wind. As jy hier bly raak  jy maar gewoond aan die wind, maar as daar dan wel min wind is, dan is hierdie ‘n paradys. Ek het van die geleentheid gebruik te maak om ‘n paar fotos van Cara in ons tuin (wat nou ook baie mooi lyk) te neem. Hierdie is die bestes van die lot.

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