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snails on the whale

D spent so much time shuttling between sites on weekends and after hours during his recent work trip to South Asia that he accrued nearly two weeks of compensatory time off. At the outset of our Foreign Service odyssey, accruing time off was the primarily limiting factor to our travels. At this stage of our careers, on the other hand, finding the opportunity to actually use our accrued leave is a much bigger challenge.

Uvita NP8 Read more

numbers game

If D needed a bird-watching idol to emulate, he’d look no further than Peter Kaestner, a fellow diplomat and amateur ornithologist who leveraged his overseas postings over the course of 36 years in the Foreign Service to reach #1 status on eBird. D’s birding ambitions are far more modest, especially since he birds exclusively by sight and only counts species he can positively ID visually. Even counting conservatively, however, D’s life list has been growing by leaps and bounds since our arrival in San Jose.

scarlet macaw in flight2 Read more

settling-in status check

San Jose marks our fifth overseas posting, so we knew the math before arriving in Costa Rica.

suspension bridge

Settling in takes approximately three months. Incoming presidential administrations meticulously plan out their first hundred days — when the excitement of the electoral victory lends momentum to major legislative victories, before political inertia sets in and the public ceases viewing the new president as an agent of change. Similarly, after arriving at a new post, it typically takes several months to familiarize oneself with a new job, make useful contacts, learn the lay of the land, and put the administrative headaches of settling into the rhythm of a new country behind us. East Africa. Eastern Europe. Southeast Asia. Central America. The particulars have changed with each location, but the overall settling-in period in our experience has remained roughly the same. We’re now two months in, and while in many respects we have checked the right boxes, in several crucial ways we still have a long way to go before feeling settled in. Read more

WOW birds, part deux: the wet & wild edition

The initial blog post of our birding highlights from Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui drew enough praise that we’re back with a second batch of favorite bird phots from that trip (not that D really needed encouragement on this front).

yellow-throated toucan Read more

heavy dose of nostalgia

Maybe it’s because the big 4-0 is not too far around the corner or perhaps because we’re now living in a country we first got to know at the pinnacle of our youth, but nostalgia has been hitting hard and heavy of late. There’s a bit of the pandemic effect clouding our reminiscences as well, amplified in no small way by our friends — especially those friends we made in high school and college who, it turns out, have now known us for more than half our lives (sobering thought!). One friend who lives half a world away recently shared photos from sleepaway camp, unearthed in his parents’ closet and scanned from old film; another triggered a wave of recollections with a social media post about high school prom. Confined to our social bubbles and missing the hugs and face-to-face time with close friends scattered all over the globe, the mind tends to wander back toward happier, more carefree times.

Cahuita NP3 Read more

final hurrah

One of three medieval city-states in the Kathmandu Valley, Bhaktapur is the best preserved. Though the city sustained heavy damage during the 2015 earthquake that rocked Nepal, most of Bhaktapur’s numerous temples and historical buildings survived largely intact. Bhaktapur’s other chief attraction is its proximity to Nepal’s capital city. To the extent that navigating Kathmandu’s legendary traffic can be termed easy, Bhaktapur, located a mere dozen kilometers from the Kathmandu airport, is an easy drive away.

pagoda Read more

WOW birds

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but no amount of pictures can ever come close to approximating the experience of seeing something for oneself. Therein lies the primary and heretofore insurmountable challenge in D’s quest to win over S to bird watching.

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summer vacation hell

Remember summer vacation? How liberating it felt to hand in one’s last exam scantron or final essay and walk out of a stuffy classroom into a glorious summer day that would stretch for several months. Put away the schoolbooks, shelve academic responsibilities, and savor every moment of pure freedom, right? Well, that was then. From our current vantage point, trying to work while handling two young pandemic-addled children who don’t speak the local language, have few friends, and are still getting accustomed to a new country, summer vacation is pure hell. It can’t end soon enough.

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flying faeries

After a couple adventure-filled birding outings to close out his visit to India, D put away his camera on arrival to Nepal. The Kathmandu portion of his work itinerary was even more jam-packed than the days in Delhi had been, and there was nowhere to go for brief early morning birdwatching because Kathmandu lacks the lush greenery and parks that abound in Delhi. Arriving in Pokhara for the final leg of his three-week trip, D was excited for the opportunity to sneak in a few more nature outings before returning home.

plumbeous redstart3 Read more

Himalayan high life

Of all the places D visited on his whirlwind three-week tour of South Asia last month, the one that most captured his heart and his imagination is Pokhara. Nepal’s gateway to the Annapurna circuit, which is widely considered to be among the most beautiful treks on the planet, Pokhara has a lot to offer the adventurous visitor. What put it over the top in D’s book is that there is also plenty to see and do even if one doesn’t have the time or stamina to head into the mountains for a two-week trek. In D’s case, he barely had one day to sample Pokhara’s delights; as with his free day in Delhi, D packed as much adventure as he could into his limited non-work time in the Himalayas.

Annapurna Read more