Monday, August 1, 2011

"Hola Hola, Coca-Cola"

For the last 9 weeks I have been in what has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. Central America has flora and fauna that aren’t seen anywhere else in the world. The beaches are world class and the food can be phenomenal and cheap. I have been thoroughly enjoying my travels in this amazing part of the world. But 3 weeks ago I got thrown in a pickle.

 One morning after waking up to the howler monkeys at Global Creek, Zach brought up that he was ready to head home. He explained to me that he felt is trip was full and complete. He had seen what he wanted to see and gone the places he wanted to go and wanted to change his departure date. Whhaaaatt? I thought. We still have a month left and tons of things to do and see, how could you want to go home? I kept those thoughts to myself and explained to him that he needs to do what he needs to do in order to be happy. An unhappy Zach is not a very enjoyable Zach. So then my thoughts turned to my experience and future travel plans. Does my trip feel complete? Do I want to continue traveling by myself? Of course I do, I quickly said. I am in fucking Costa Rica on the trip of a lifetime; there is no way I am going home early.

I quickly got online and started looking for farms in the area that accept volunteers and would have some fun things to learn. I came across a farm in Nicaragua that was perma-culture oriented and taught bee keeping and bread baking classes. How cool would that be?  I immediately sent off a request form and waited for a reply. In the meantime, both of our mothers arrived. We headed straight to Monte Verde and the cloud forests. It brought a big smile to my face to be able to “show-off” what we had been experiencing for the last 2 months. We went on long hikes through the jungle and even did the oh-so-popular zip lines above the forest canopy, wow was that fun!

The response I received from the farm in Nicaragua was not a very cordial one. It was short and sweet and didn’t give me a direct answer to whether or not I was welcome. In a way that was my excuse. After much thinking during the weeks after Zach broke the news, I realized I was ready to head home as well. I felt that without this farm to go to and no one to travel with, I would be a little lost and quite lonely.  I feel that being able to spend 10 days with my mom is the most enjoyable way to end this trip.  Not to mention the closure I will have, starting and ending this trip with my best bud Zackypoo.

So there it is folks, I am leaving this beautiful country 2 weeks before my original planned departure date.  It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy but the decision has been made. I am already looking forward to climbing trips and Frisbee playin’ and good beer back in the states.  But I do have 2 more weeks here to enjoy myself to the fullest. A great, late friend once taught me the mantra of  “Be Here Now”. Don’t let the past or the future cloud your thoughts and keep you from enjoying where you are in this very moment. I have had to remind myself that very thing many times this trip and even now more than ever.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Welcome to the Bull's Mouth"

 My trip to Panama in two parts…

Crossing the border into Panama

1.  I do not enjoy super “gringo-fied”, touristy places. And that’s just what this place is. The decision to come to Bocas del Toro was a quick and easy one for both Zach and I. We had 8 days between our time in Puerto Viejo and the time we needed to return to San Jose to meet our moms. After our attempts at reserving an entrance ticket to Chirripo National Park failed miserably, we had a decision to make. Do we attempt to make it to the park anyway and hope for a cancellation or do we take advantage of being so close to Panama and take a few days to experience a different country. And now, here I sit, waiting for the border to re-open because of strikes in Costa Rica.  I am ready to leave. The streets are dirty, raw sewage runs through the gutters, and the local culture has almost all but left. Not to mention, yesterday was the first time I saw the sun since we have been here. Don’t get me wrong, this collection of islands just of the Caribbean coast of Panama are beautiful. The only way to get around is to barter for a water taxi, which takes you to any of the lush rainforest and white sand beach covered islands. The surfing is amazing, so I have heard, but really you only need a few days to see what this place has to offer.

Dirty Beaches

2.  I love the whole hostel vibe. I have experienced a few hostels before but only back in the states where things were a little less diversified. But here in Bocas was my first, real international hostel stay. I met an amazing couple and their friend from Canada. We took a trip to Red Frog Beach with the trio where Kevin actually proposed to Michelle on a small nationally protected turtle-nesting island. How cute it was. She said yes. There was surfer Scott from SoCal, here for the ‘oh so tasty waves maan’. We went to the docks to search for a place to slackline but ended up just setting it up in the local park. And you can’t forget the three, 30 something guys from Philly. They are out to kick everyone’s ass, drink heavily at all hours of the day, and crack the most inappropriate yet hilarious jokes in their heavy Philly accents. I think its great to try and cook dinner in a crowded kitchen where the air is filled not only with the smell of mac&cheese but with people of all skin tones speaking in multiple languages. I’m lovin’ it. I’m sure it was my upbringing in an intentional community that helps me feel so comfortable in such an atmosphere.

Hopefully the border opens soon. We need to be in San Jose in 2 days for the arrival of the moms! Super excite.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Trees" by Herman Hesse

A powerful passage given to me, hand written on travel size cards for my travels, by an amazing friend.
"For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the forces of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals it’s death wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk, in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal tress grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought. I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labour is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts. Trees have long thoughts, long breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness."
© Herman Hesse.
From Wandering by Herman Hesse. Published by Picador. 1972.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Welcome to the Rancho"

There were some very sad ‘Ciaos’ said leaving Barbara and Mauricio’s farm. I met some pretty darn amazing people, both gringo and tico, during the month that was spent there. There were Marvin, his wife Ana, and his 5-year-old daughter Jennifer, who lived “just across the street”. Marvin, having spent his entire life on farms in Nicaragua and CR, was quite the guy to explore the jungle with. He took us bird hunting (for dinner meat), spear fishing (for dinner meat), and killed a rabbit or two (that also ended up on a plate). An amazing family, who are more generous and friendly than most and will be missed until my next time through.

            Next on the list, the other farm hand Simon, his girlfriend, and their 8-year-old son SeƱor Kenneth. Simon was a bit easier to communicate with because of his laid-back attitude and slow chattin’ style. He would come over to our place a few nights a week for help with his English homework. We did what we could but English aint alls too smart of a language, if you know what I mean. “No no, read and read are spelled the same but read differently in past and present tense.” Nonsense. Good guy, Simon.

            Besides being absolutely amazing people, Barbara and Mauricio have to be the cutest couple around. Enough said. In a snap, the folks of Lecheria Las Lapas. Zach and I will be headed back there in a month when the pigs are ready for slaughter to have a pig roast for Z’s birfday. MMMMM choncho! Onwards and outwards.

            After a few buses and a few hours we arrived in tourist packed Puerto Viejo. This place is a huge attraction for week long college age vacations with its awesome beaches and resort town feel. Mixed emotions for me about the trip to PV. I wanted to try and stay away from the gringos and immerse myself in Costa Rican culture up to my ears. But the beauty here is outstanding and has definitely overshadowed the sunburned ‘Chads’ and oiled up ‘Ashleys’.

            After much debate on where to stay, we ended up at Global Creek
( ). Just a few miles outside of town, it is a pure and beautiful oasis in the treetops. Global Creek operates as a volunteer program for people wanting to learn practices in permaculture as well as the growing, maintenance, and harvesting of cacao trees. Aki and Katelyn run the place and live in a small cabina with amazing ocean views. Group meditation, yoga, and meals are held at the rancho, a glorified deck with small roof and views of ocean as far as the eye can see. What a place this is. I wake every morning in awe that such beauty exists.

            2 more weeks and moms come!

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Everything is Bigger in Costa Rica"

I have decided that from now on all of my blog posts’ titles will be derived from quotes from the great Zach Milligan. I swear some of the greatest truths come out of that characters mouth. Can’t help but love the guy.

            I sit here now on an old milk container, beautifully painted with bright green macaws or lapas, barely able to form sentences because of the roar of rain on the tin roof. We have been quite fortunate so far, according to the locals, with the rain situation. Only the last 2 days has it REALLY rained. I have never heard nor seen rain to this extent, drops the size of finger nails plummeting to the earth. The abundance of moisture swells the creeks and rivers that surround the farm.

            I have been staying at the Lecheria Las Lapas, or Great Macaw Dairy, for the last 2 weeks or so. To be honest I have started to lose track of time. The farm is absolutely beautiful. I want to guess about 30 acres of green pastures full of 80 or so cows, one of them being a massive Texas longhorn, Afro Tica. The last 2 days’ job has been to hang out in a far back pasture, close to the intersection of the two great rivers that flank the farm on each side, and watch for cow thieves. It is a quite lucrative business in ‘these parts’ to steal cattle for either meat or milk. The owners, Barbara and Mauricio, had a heifer stolen only a few weeks back from that very pasture, not something they can afford on a business centered around milk. On this farm, milk is everything.

            Milk is sold as is, pasteurized or raw, the cream is separated off and used to make butter, yoghurt, cheese and of course, ice cream. I have been able to spend a few days working in the planta where everything is processed. I made 4 kilos of butter by hand, shaking cold cream until separation occurs. I sat and chopped 2 kilos of fresh macadamia nuts from a farm just up the road, which are used to make the most popular ice cream flavor around. You have to put your name on the waiting list if you want some of their famous chocolate covered macadamia nut ice cream.

            Besides milk, the farm has an abundance of bananas, star fruit, guanabanas, lemons, oranges, mangoes, water apples, coconuts, macadamia nuts, guayabas (guavas), sugar cane, caimitos, yucca root, and a few other delicious fruits I wont attempt to pronounce or spell. The days are filled with explorations and experiments with new foods. We have chopped down banana trees, watched the howler monkeys (congos) swing in the tops of trees, taken the baby calves for walks around the property, chased snakes from inside the house, helped a sloth s-l-o-w-l-y cross the road, and have had plenty of time to just hang and take in the beauty around us. This trip has been ‘bigger’ than I could have ever imagined and the exploring has only just begun.

"Never Trust the White Folk"

           It was a bumpy ride into the Lecheria Las Lapas.  Located 25 kilometers from the nearest town of Siquirres, the farm is just outside of the tiny little village of San Bosco.  It was a bolder filled drive, 7 or so kilometers in a tiny little sedan not suited for such roads. We arrived a day early with no one expecting us. Barbara, our one tica connection on the farm, was gone until late afternoon delivering ice cream and her husband, Mauricio, doesn’t speak a lick of English.  Word spread fast that two gringos had arrived and planned to stay. As Zach and I made ourselves comfortable in the front yard, waiting for Barbara to return, a young gringo man approached us.  ‘Homeboy’, as Zach likes to call him, fed us some nonsense story of him owning the farm, that he speaks great Spanish and that he knows these parts of Costa Rica as well as he knows his genitals. All of this, I would soon learn, was a wheelbarrow full of cow shit.

            Zach and I stowed our packs, with everything that we own, under a tin roof we had never seen and around noon set out to explore one of the rivers on the farm. I was in awe. This was quite possibly the most beautiful section of soil my chacos had ever trekked upon. Flat, sprawling, green pastures filled with fruit trees followed by dense, deafening rain forest teeming with wild life and finally the Rio Perla. This river is surrounded by thick jungle on both sides for as far as the eye can see, only giving way to large rocky “beaches” at every other turn. The water flows with a passion and is as clear as my contact solution, tinted only slightly green by the jungle canopy over head. I was in love.

            After 2 or so hours following the rivers path down into the jungle, hunger struck and a long navigation back up stream still had to take place. ‘Homeboy’ said that if we traveled around just a few more corners we would come to a “familiar” bend in the river and a road would magically appear. For some fools-hearted reason I trusted him. And what a mistake that was.

            It wasn’t any earlier than 5:30 in the evening when we came upon the small sign pointing us in the direction of the farm and what a relief it was. Turns out there was no magical road but field after field of pineapples. We must have hiked through three miles of pineapple plantations. Just before reaching the crest of the next hill, I would hope for this illusive road that was “just around the next bend”. After 20 such hills I started losing trust and hope of ever finding our way home. After finally finding an edge of the never-ending plantation, it was a rugged dirt road that brought small hope. Straight, right, or left? ‘Homeboy’ said he knew but we were all completely lost. At least 12 kilometers later, after being laughed at by the ticos, after coming to a bridge that was no longer a bridge, and after dealings with running bulls on the loose, we made it home.

            Over dinner that evening I came to realize how stupid and mindless our adventure actually was. Turns out, no one walks through the pastures or jungle without tall rubber, steel-toed boots for fear of all the poisonous snakes that roam close by. I was wearing chacos. Turns out, the only reason we weren’t shot at by ticos on the pineapple plantation was because it was Saturday, and they don’t work Saturdays. Turns out, if we would have chosen right instead of left, our trek would have been more like 35 kilometers to the closest village. Lets just say the powers that be want us here for at least a little bit longer and ‘homeboy’ and I didn’t get along too well after such fun.

            Don’t fret, all is well and all is beautiful and all is all I can ask for.

Culture... A 'Nice' Change

I don’t mean to rag on good ‘ol Colorado when I say this but Costa Rican’s are the nicest people I have ever encountered. Ever since being picked up at the airport in San Jose by Alfonso, the grandfather of Adriana, who is attempting to learn English as we do the same with Spanish, I noticed the difference. Not just the abundance of stray dogs on the street, the lack of street signs or traffic signals, that everyone drives like the world is collapsing behind them, or the fact that it is legal to drink and drive but the gentler side of things. The family that housed us for more than a week couldn’t have been anymore generous or more welcoming if it was the Four Seasons. They had coffee waiting for us in the mornings with freshly fried gallo pinto (a pan-fried mixture of last nights’ rice, beans, and assorted veggies), things for us to do and see throughout the day and an ice cold Pilsen to finish the night off.

Take for instance the only pair of pants I brought with me. Yeah they were a bit rugged to start with. They were already second hand and made of a light, breathable material but I thought they would be comfortable in a hotter, more humid climate. The first night I put them on I realized they had a massive rip all along side of the pocket. I went to Alicia, Alfonso’s wife of 30-some years, and asked if she had anything I could use to patch them up with. She sent me to bed assuring me she would figure something out.  When I awoke the next morning, early at that, my pants were neatly folded in a plastic bag in front of my door. Even though Alicia wasn’t very skilled at the sewing machine, she took it upon herself to call up her neighbor Ulga, the sewing queen, to do the repairs. Not only did she fix the large hole with a patch and the works but she hemmed the un-hemmed bottoms, fixed a small whole in the back pocket, and reinforced around the button clasp so they wouldn’t rip farther. I can’t express to you readers how astonished I was. I had never even met this lady and because I was a newly introduced houseguest of Alcia’s, she took at least a few hours out of her evening to repair my pants. Even though they have since been ripped beyond repair, I am forever indebted to you Ulga.

The style is different down here. What is mine is yours. I feel that I have surrounded myself with an amazing group of friends back home who are as generous as can be but they take it to another level here. I already have too many people to thank for making this trip more than enjoyable and I am sure I will have to thank many, many more.