Sunday, April 19, 2009

the world will freely offer itself to you

You don´t need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
Don´t even listen, simply wait.
Don´t even wait.
Be quite still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you.
To be unmasked, it has no choice.
It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

-Franz Kafka

It has been a gift to travel once again, meet new people, see the beauty of the world, suck the marrow out of life. We leave in the morning for San Jose where we will spend one more night with lovely Eduardo and fly out Tuesday afternoon. I will come up with a clever, or not-so-clever conclusion when I am nestled in Chicago watching the Cubs with Britta and old friends. Oh, and check out her blog for a bird´s eye view of her entire journey (including the 10 days I was letting anti-yellow fever settle in my system):
She has some pretty hilarious anecdotes of other characters we´ve met along the way.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

the beasts of ometepe

It´s not that Britta and I aren´t organized. We are rather responsible and can be anally attentive to detail; however, when going to Nicaragua from Costa Rica, we didn´t make any..any..plans. We had only focused on CR with a big travel book in hand and preparations for months, but when Marcos and Sarah tempted us to the north with it´s cheaper accomodations and varied landscape, we left the travel home back in its home and got on the first local bus to Nicaragua from Monteverde. We were going to the Island of Ometeppe and Granada...we´d figure the rest out along the way.

But not before we had to cross the border. Oh goodness, no airport annoyance I´ve ever had could compare to this chaos. Exit one country with people screaming, lines curving, stamps stamping, cross an ambiguous divide where the security guy winked and flirted into the grand entrance of Central America´s second poorest country. This is where the headache began and the crowds started to feel like a mantra of every Nicaraguan trying to sell toothbrushes, throat lozenges, soda, chips, candy, whatever on the local, 90´s soft rock-playing buses--piercing, consistent, stop it I´m not buying. But we did, in fact, get through, and not throw up our hands and surrender ourselves back into Costa Rica...and immediately we were satisfied with the enormity of Volcán Concepción, one of the two volcanoes that makes its home on the small island of Ometeppe (meaning ´two hills´).

At the end of our ferry ride, a German by the name of Lennart whose profile resembled more of a Coldplay Chris Martin, and whose German obsession with being clean, organized, wearing tight tanktops and go-crazy-island shirts while he´s away from Berlin, made him hilarious. He must have seen the forlorn look we had not knowing where the heck we were going, and whisked us off with him in a taxi to the opposite side of the island in a farm hippy commune compost toilet ecological gem of a place on earth in Santa Cruz. For the next two days we refused to intentionally sweat under such a sun so we neglected the hike up either volcano. Instead, we drank smoothies, homemade chocolate liquor from the hippie compost commune, and swam in Lake Nicaragua (home to the only fresh water sharks in the world, you trivia nuts).

Our first day we met Caroline and Sebastian...they had the same beach bum plans (and vacationed from El Salvador with only their passport, surfboard, money and the bathing suit on their body), so we ate a meal for 3 hours, baywatched ourselves in the water and ate more food together. They may get the prize for the ¨whoa, you´re how old and you´ve done how many things already??¨ Both at the ripe age of 21, they just met up a couple weeks ago in El Salvador. From Quebec, Caroline took her bike down to Mexico where she rode for hundreds of miles down the coast staying in homes, beaches, restaurants floors, learning Spanish and feeling adventurous. Britta and I kept wondering what her parents thought about this...After several months there, she met up Sebastian in ES to learn how to surf (they had met on which is something that gives hope to all mankind). Sebastian was born in Norway to a native mother and Mississippian father, and spent his high school years and now college semesters (the ones he attends) in North Carolina...Boone, that is, at App State. With long curly locks, skin that has been darkened 30 times over by the surfing sun, and a smile that looks like bleached tile and sparkles like the stars under the Alabama-Quaker-founded Monteverde sky, he is right up there with Hannah from London as most adorable creature on the planet. After he graduated from high school he spent 2 months on the Appalachian Trail by himself and another 4 months in a station wagon going to every national park...he has covered 49 of the 50 states (no Alaska yet) 21...21. These two kids (because I feel that graduating in 2012 means you´re young) were a blast.

And so the 3 days on the island were spent per usual: meet cool folk, frolic, exercise only to a destination of laziness, and marvel at the hand of God. Since the island is primarily farmland, and the water is free from saltiness, all animals walk the sandy beaches along with the few tourists.

And it is here in Granada where we bought the remainder of our gifts, have typed willingly on the free, fast internet at our fabulous hostel, met my sole other Rebecca, from Berlin as well (I will detail her later, for sure), danced and laughed with two good-looking Argentinian men (both now live in Costa a painter, the other the cook at our favorite cafe in Costa Rica from kidding, Britta went to the cafe 3 times, myself once), and are about to leave for a day at the local volcano´s lagoon...these folks are crazy about their volcanoes.

that second reason

For anyone who´s traveled and hopped from one border to the next, one hostel to the other, there is an absolute common denominator that the folks you meet can make or break a location. As I´ve already mentioned, Jaco was a grand three days of surfing, laughing, Quizno´s (insert shame), and good conversation. It is a combination of the shared energy of vagabonds, outlaws, lovers that takes curiosity, magic, and gregariousness, throws them together in a wad of saltwater and creates instantaneous friendship. I have often thought that it would be a kind of Neverland to capture all the characters you´ve met along the way only for a breath and see how such a place would make you dream--naturally, the charm and romanticism would quickly fade, but the vision is still as fanciful as fairies.

Missy and Brian are from Colorado. We met them our first night in the Hostel owned by Edit, the Hungarian. They were immediately the most friendly couple I have ever met. We ate two breakfasts with them, chatted about good film, the art of packing, Brian took photos of all three of us learning to surf, etc. Brian is a counselor and Missy is thinking of going into nursing...we immediately wanted Brian to be our counselor, and for a film crew to run around Truman Showing their lives. Two gems right there.

What we have here are three Brits. We were thrown all together in a dorm our first night, and due to overbooking were sent as a team to another hostel down the road. Andrew, to the left with music genius, and Luke, to the right and resembling a bit of that royal family, are traveling nine months all-in-all having already been to Brazil, Peru and Panama. It is a surfing extravaganza up through Central America, the West Coast of America, New Zealand, and Australia. They are childhood friends who thought it a good time to take off a chunk of a year for one lengthy adventure. Our first night they usurped control over the one computer for over an hour to gamble on the Masters Tournament. We three women naturally gave them grief about it, but it turned out that Luke put a healthy bet on the small odds of Angel Cabrera winning it all...well, he did and Luke was $500 wealthier. Hilarious. Karma is bound to catch up with them in Vegas. They were handsome, splendid company with classic wit. POD...BT.

Hannah here, also known as Ms. Julie Andrews, is one of the more adorable people in this world (along with Hayley Kaimakliotis hailing from London herself, Mandy Spears, Sheena Mugavin, and that little girl from Little Miss Sunshine...just want to put em in your pocket cute). Traveling by herself without a speck of Spanish or Portuguese, she went through Brazil for 2 months, all over Costa Rica, on her way to Mexico, and then the West Coast of the US herself. With all the lone travelers we´ve met, there is the common thread of personality: outgoing, trusting, adventurous, flexible, and friendly as all get out. With her sharp British accent and fireball confidence she toured the Western Hemisphere with ease and an iron...for hair and clothes...seriously.

And the trend continues as I ziplined through Monteverde and we crossed quite the thick, shady border of Nicaragua to the Isle de Ometepe, and now in Granada. I have couches to sleep on in Quebec, North Carolina, Berlin, and London. Good people all around.

Monday, April 13, 2009

the first reason we fell in love with Jaco

Britta, surfboard & a Jaco sunset.

We arrived in Esterillo Este for the evening after our long week on the farm. It was a kind of paradise with hardly any folk, fruit drinks galore, hammocks next to the beach, sand-dollared walks, and a pool to boot. So our need for bank cash money that forced us down the road to tourist/surfer heaven Jaco, did not thrill our souls. We may have only stayed the night but it being Semana Santa (Holy Week) kept the buses non-existent for a couple days.

By the end of our second night we had surfed and made good friends. With the adrenaline that comes with riding waves at sunset for the first time and getting chummy with three swell Brits, a Costa Rican surfer, and the sweetest couple from Colorado, we eagerly stayed here longer.

More stories and photos of our pals in a wee bit.

la finca

Marcos and Britta with the chair

our treehouse home away from home

workin the field

cashews with its bosom buddy, the marañan fruit

the finished product

our afternoon sanctuary


where we read books

When I was in grade school we had different kinds of fundraisers every year. They tended to focus on wrapping paper and magazines, and if you sold so many of either you would get prizes--cool to cooler. One year, maybe 5th grade, I won a tent. I am from the urbanization of Memphis, TN, and so to get the more bang for my free buck, I pitched the tent in my parents´dining room. They were good sports, and for the next several weeks, I would sleep in my prized tent with my tooth brush and toothpaste kept conveniently in the inside pocket where you store clever things. In years to come I would move the tents or just a sleeping bag under stars, near mountains, snuggled up to rivers, but it was that younger longing that took me there-thank goodness for People magazine.

Rivaling the star-bulleted ceiling of a July Many Glacier Valley was our home for the week we lived at the farm. Our cabaña was on the jungle floor of Mastetal built by our friend, Marcos, some years ago with the built-in surround sound of the rainforest to put you to sleep. Minus our first night´s encounter with the poisonous snake on our trip down to the cabaña, it could not have been a more perfect place to spend our nights. I will build one for my future niños (and myself) one of these days.

When we signed up to volunteer with Siempre Verde we had no idea that it would be so gloriously remote or so little actual farmwork. Their rainy season begins in just a few weeks, so we only did one day of real planting, clearing, shoveling, etc because hand watering all that stuff is something else. But we sure felt like farmers for that morning adding cantaloupes, cilantro, bean trees and radish seedlings to the earth. The rest of the working week we made a rocking chair. You know, professionals with amazing equipment may do one in a morning, but with Marcos, Britta, myself, a handsaw, sander and hammer, it took three. It rocks, that is all that matters in the end. Marcos, at the ripe age of 25, has already taken his entrepeneural mind to great heights by starting a Spanish Immersion school on his parents land (to see the cutest farmer dad of all time, look above), built the cabañas to hold students and eventually volunteers. He hopes to make the farm a fully sustainable land eventually, but first he hopes to continue to get used to marriage. He just married Sarah, a 19-year-old Californian who came to volunteer on the chocolate farm down the street and ended up becoming full-time partner to Marcos. They are in the middle of building a house, and furniture to go with (hence the rocking chair). She is quite the mature 19 year old who is becoming quite the Tica housewife.

A few of our small joys in such a short experience was collecting the marañan fruit with cashews attached on our way back from the river lazy afternoons, having Marcos roast and set them on fire, and then using a hammer and fingernails to break and peel the shell until a delicious cashew emerged to our satisfaction. Pineapple work breaks were pretty delicious as well.

Honestly, the only thing that really urged us to escape was our poor legs that got eaten alive by ants. Maybe there was another culprit as well, but those damn ants, we caught them in the act. So we said goodbye to Marcos, Sarah, his adorable father and the secluded riverside and jungle home for la playa.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

jungle immersion

I settled into Alajuela, Costa Rica, last Sunday, alongside Britta and Chelsea (Amanda and Emily had, unfortunately, left that very morning). In those two days we drank tasty fruit juices, watched a clown and some dogs compete with teenage cheerleaders for attention in the local park, bought winter coats (oh, the irony), got a close-up view of the local volcano, and slighty fell in love with our hostel´s owner...his name is Eduardo Rodriguez, and he made us home-made seviche, served us several glasses of wine, and talked passionately about his art and music...Britta and I have already made our reservation to stay there on our way back through.

We waved goodbye to Chelsea as she scooted off to the airport, and boarded several buses to Mastatal, our home in the middle of the jungle and mountains for the next week. Our first night we came across a poisonous snake on our way to the cabanas...our tree house in the middle of trees and every piece of tropical animal known to man. We have spent our days making rocking chairs...rough rocking chairs, eating pineapple, guava from trees, roasting cashews, napping in hammocks, and spending afternoons down by the river by ourselves. Yes, I may have surpassed the sunburn for the moment and have not seen to many hippy souvenirs, but heck, I am in Costa Rica.

Considering our location, internet is iffy to say the least. I will write more in detail when I get to the beach, and hopefully have some photos to share.