Marj and Ric Holmes
In 1995, we started saving and investing the money from the little tip jars on the counter. This was called the “Hawai’i Fund” for the next twelve years. In about 2007 two very loyal customers, Ric and Marj Holmes started telling us about
their wonderful experiences in Costa Rica. Ric talked so glowingly about Costa Rica that we switched the Hawai’i fund over and set our sights on Central America.
Chapter One: 11 months of planning
In January of 2008, at an annual Flying Pie meeting, we decided to use the money we’d saved up for a big adventure: we decided to go to Costa Rica and to aim for a trip in January of 2009. Reba bravely took the task of Project Leader, and she and Howard commenced the 11 months of planning.
Countless tiny details and decisions had to be made, including over half of our travelers getting their passports for the first time. The folks at the Post Office noticed the increased number of excited first time passport recipients and started
asking people if they worked at Flying Pie. In September we invited the US Postal workers to play our “It’s Your Wednesday” game and a few of them brought passport applications with them because they knew about our trip
and knew we would need the applications.
The number of details that needed to be settled was astounding. Details about closing the restaurants for a week, getting to Costa Rica, being there, getting back, and opening the restaurants again. Ric got us in contact with two travel agents in Costa Rica, both of whom offered viable plans. His friend said that Yadyra was the best travel agent in Costa Rica and she’s the one we worked with who set us up with the folks at Journey’s International, the travel company we used. We found plane tickets, planned for the layovers, chose a tour package, figured out sleeping arrangements in the hotels. At one of the two all-passenger meetings, we settled what kind of travelers we wanted to be. Looking back at the amount of planning, it’s clear that 18 months would have been a more reasonable amount of time, but we did an excellent job with only 12 months.
It was important that, in addition to our customers knowing that we would be closed for a week, that they be invited to celebrate this cool thing with us. In November of 2008 we put an article on our website and signs in our stores announcing that we were closing… for a week! We shared our suggestions on how to survive a week where Flying Pie is closed (a four-part recipe: growlers, home cook pizzas, pizza instruction book and doughballs).
We put an automated countdown timer on our website and as well as one in-store. During the last week we were open, we also put up a countdown on our reader board signs.
It was extremely encouraging to have received this email from a customer, letting us know that we were on the right track:
I love that in your efforts to notify people of your upcoming trip, instead of apologizing for the absence, you’ve put it forth as a cause for celebration and invited all your friends to be happy for you. Have a wonderful time on your much deserved vacation! Thanks for all you do,
Sent via Blackberry from T-Mobile
On January 8th, 2009 (five days before we were to depart) there was a 6.1 earthquake that rocked Costa Rica. In addition to other structural damage, it wiped out the roads to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which was to be our first stop. Reba and the travel agent quickly came up with a Plan B: the Hanging Bridges at Volcano Arenal. One newspaper reporter couldn’t quite believe that that was our Plan B. Incredulously she said, “There was an earthquake.
And you’re going to hanging bridges!?”
We discussed the ways we could help the people in Costa Rica who were dealing with this disaster. One of the main sources of income for Costa Rica is from tourism; just keeping our travel plans was one great way for us to help. And sharing our story to bring positive exposure is another way.
The week before our trip was a very busy one for us! In addition to making sure we had our stores ready to close for a week and ready to open afterwards, the press finally got wind of our amazing adventure. We made the decision early on to not seek publicity ahead of time, as that would detract our focus from where we needed it to be, and also would be celebrating an effort, rather than a result.
But the talk around town finally brought the press to our door and we talked with AP writers, TV news folks, and even some national news people, too! Our story ran in over 200 national and international newspapers, as well as national TV news stories and CBS national radio. One Flying Pie-er excitedly shared with us that he got a text message from a buddy in Bellingham, Washington:
HOLY ___! THE RADIO UP HERE JUST TALKED ABOUT FLYING PIE GOING TO COSTA RICA!
Within a few days of departure, we had the “Boise pieces” of the trip planned out: we figured out what to do with the food that wouldn’t keep until we returned (we donated it to the Boise Rescue Mission), we let our vendors know to skip the normal deliveries that week, we even took care of a customer who orders pizza, salad and wine almost every day.
Chapter Two: Seven days in Costa Rica
On Tuesday, January 17th, at 5:00 AM, sixty-two Flying Pie-ers arrived at the Boise Airport. We all went through the routine of checking in and going through security. As Joe was making his way through the airport, one of the US
Air workers approached Joe with a grave look. “Are you one of the owners?” she asked.
Joe said, “Yes, I am.”
“You’re going to need to come with me. We’ve got a problem. Talk to that guy…”
Joe looked at another US Air worker who said, “We’re going to have to bump you… to first class!”
They’d heard about our story and thought it was pretty amazing, so they bumped Joe and Howard (and their wives, Rachel and Megan) to first class for the flight to Phoenix!
At 7:00 AM USAir Flight 634 departed Boise with a sold-out flight, half of which were Flying Pie-ers starting the Costa Rica adventure. After deicing the wings, our plane took off from Boise, on time! Later that day, several flights leaving Boise were canceled due to the weather.
Loading up the plane. Asa
Sure, it was 7:00 AM – some of us didn’t sleep at all the night before, all of us were a weird combination of tired and excited, but by the time we got in the air, giddy excitement took over. We got into Phoenix at 9:00 in the morning,
but since we’d been up for hours it seemed late enough in the day to find a restaurant and bar. After helping the economy in Phoenix, we finally boarded Flight 356, service to San Jose, Costa Rica!
We landed in San Jose at 8:45 PM, walked through customs in an easy 10 minutes, and were met outside by our guides from Journey’s Travel, who held up signs with our friendly logo, leading us down the walkway to our busses. Howard and
Reba celebrated that Journey’s was a real company—we had, after all, wired $64k to a numbered account in another country!
Outside the airport. Lesley
Country Inn & Suites. Pesh
After a quick 15 minute drive from the airport, we arrived at our first hotel, Country Inn & Suites, which was quite charming. A small dinner was waiting for us and we enjoyed the 70° evening air (it was about 29° Boise!) Our webmaster, Eric, did the first of many blog updates that night and continued to add photos and updates daily through the trip. While we were in Costa Rica, the blog got 404 pageviews, which grew into a total of 801 by the end of January. Being able to share our adventure stories and photos with folks back home was a much appreciated enhancement. Thanks, Eric!
The next morning, Wednesday, January 14th, after an excellent breakfast at the hotel (including outstanding coffee and our first dose of Gallo Pinto, the ever-present and absolutely delicious black bean and rice dish), we drove from San Jose through beautiful countryside to La Fortuna and Arenal. Along the way we saw plantains, sugarcane, and coffee plantations. Both of our guides, Herson and Jeff were extremely knowledgeable and the bus trips were narrated enjoyable guided tours of the history, culture, economy and ecology of Costa Rica. The average speed of travel was about 50 KPH (everything is metric). Some of our travelers were too motion sick to enjoy much of this ride… We stopped in Zarcero to stretch our legs, admire the view, and buy some local wares (including Dramamine).
This manger scene, complete with baby-sized laundry on the clothesline, was outside the church. Jen
Cassi, Reba, Mario and Jen posing in the topiary arches by the church.
Zarcero Church, Lesley
The buses we used for the whole week of traveling were top-notch—one was even a Mercedes Benz! Our drivers were very skilled at navigating the narrow, curvy roads that were packed with cars, trucks, and bicyclists. The ebb and flow of traffic was quite impressive. Small cars and motorcycles would be heading right at the bus and the drivers would slow down, move over, or speed up to accommodate. It was like an underwater dance!
Boarding the amazing bus. Whitney
The bus has a “retarder” thing that slows the bus down via a magnetic pull against the transmission, which is very useful on the steep winding hills we were traveling along. The painted lines on the roads seemed more like mild suggestions, even the double yellow! We were surprised to discovered that, even on the Pan American highway, traffic will stop right in the lane to pick up passengers. We were all very grateful for their driving skills and also for accommodating the urgent stops in the middle of the road so we could get a close up look at the local animals. One of our guides, Herson, said of the other drivers, “Ticos are very, very nice. Until they get behind the wheel of a car.” This was our first lesson about “Pura Vida,” and many more were administered in small doses throughout the week.