Thursday, 18 April 2013

Back to the backpack and loving it :D


My  past couple of weeks have been reminiscent of the amazing race (can I say that if I haven't done the amazing race...? almost was, right Anna ;)  ...met a guy zip-lining whose ex actually won it!) 
Well anyway, they've been busy! And amazing! Haha 

First stop after Finca Coco Loco was the Isla Ometepe in lake Nicaragua, only half a days' travel from the farm. Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanoes. One active, Concepcion, which takes ~8-10hrs to hike. And the other, Maderas, that is slightly smaller ~6-8hrs. The island itself is hence pretty big, and on arriving I found out that I really wanted to stay on the other side of the island where the nicer hostels and better beaches etc are more accessible... a 2 hour local bus drive away. Grabbed a beer from the local tienda/corner store and settled in to enjoy the view. Not so bad ;)
Met Sofia and Martin from Sweden on that bus and we hung out until I ran off to Costa Rica. They're awesome. We had some great adventures... trudging along deserted roads in the sweltering heat (with all our stuff because buses don't run on Sundays), cycling like maniacs up rocky dirt hills for pretty much no reason, making our very own coco loco cocktails by any means possible, playing Yaniv (the game is backpacker-famous), drinking the sweetest tasting beers in the most picturesque places... Ometepe is a great little place. 
We opted for the Ojo de Agua (eye of water) natural springs and a cycle tour instead of hiking the volcanoes in the intense heat. Beach hoping was number one priority, and i wanted to search for petroglyphs (which are ancient carvings found in rocks all over the place apparently) ...the ones we found were not very impressive... But there was a cool one at little Morgan's hostel which you don't even have to go and find! 

Then I was off bright and early - before sunrise - so that I could make it to Monteverde in Costa Rica in one day. Didn't happen. Just. 
Costa Rica is a little bit picky about visas, you have to have an exit ticket which is fine for most people but not backpackers without a plan. On fellow traveller's advice I got a plane ticket out of the country online that I could print and show them before paying for.... best advice, but it took a little longer than expected for me to get that sorted so I ended up missing the last bus into Monteverde at 3pm after the border crossing. Damn. Ended up in a fancy cabina en route, run by the most lovely local family who let me use their computer because the wifi wasn't working on my iPad! 
Getting off the bus in Monteverde the next day, amazing view along a dirt road that will never be surfaced, I was pounced on by 3 guys looking for me to stay at their respective hostels. Works for me. I got the best deal out, and met my novio Brian at Hostel Sinai (he runs the place and is absolutely hilarious, hooks me up with the best deals since I'm his novia - not for real tho don't get too excited people). But seriously, I recommend hostel Sinai if you ever go to Monteverde!! And say hi to Brian for me if you do :) 

Went zip lining along the Central America's longest zip line and swung on a Tarzan swing 40m high and 90m long the afternoon I arrived. After Brian made me lunch :P scariest shit!! (Excuse the language) but yeah. I'd say it was a good warm up for bungee jumping, not that I ever want to do that to be honest! The zip lines were incredible though, flying through clouds above insane green forests. At one point I couldn't see anything except clouds around me, and a meter or two of the line I was flying down in front! 
The next morning I hiked through the Santa elena reserve of the forests in search of alllll the animals!! Saw more spectacular scenery than animals but I guess that's what you get for refusing a guide. It was amazing all the same! 
I loved the vibe in Monteverde, everyone I met was awesome and super friendly. Since there is still the dirt road making it that little bit more inaccessible to the masses it has retained some local charm despite being a tourist Mecca of sorts. 
The tourist Meccas were my destinations in Costa Rica anyway, seeing the sites and getting out of there before my bank balance kills me! 

Travelling in CR after an organic farm-stay in Nicaragua is a slap in the face when it comes to spending money. Sigh. I'm s
Used to it now though, not sure if that's a good thing or not!?!

Two nights in Monteverde and I got a bus-boat-bus combo over to La fortuna to hike up Volcan Arenal and swim in the local hot springs :) had the best guide Jose for that trip - saw some incredible things and he was really cool and interesting. Got up early especially to see Toucans the next morning because apparently they fly around outside the front of the hostel, but tho didn't see any! :( next time. 
My day in La Fortuna happened to be a national holiday, el dia de Juan Santamaria, so there were a bunch of locals celebrating with a few drinks in the hot springs when we came down as part of our tour. we got to enjoy a few starlit drinks ourselves after the hike ;) got chatting to a few of them which was cool! Such a cool spot to be able to just go to and chill out, you never want to get out of the water it's so warm! 

After my one night there (hence the similarities to the amazing race) I headed across the country to CR's smallest and most visited national park - Manuel Antonio. It's been described as Eco Disney, but I still loved it. Beautiful beaches, some with all the chairs and ice-cream or coconut vendors and cocktail menus but others without. And even though there's plenty of people gawking at them the animals are still there too! Don't know why.... But they're incredible! Raccoons, monkeys, iguanas, sloths, snakes... We even saw a Pigouti! (I had to look up what it was called, kind of like a bigger guinea pig with longer legs). Insane sunsets too. 
I met another bunch of really awesome people at the hostel I stayed at too, so the were 4 of us most of the time. Graham, Gavin, Chelsea and I. Then we met Caroline in the park a little later too :) 
Had a pretty hilarious night trying to find the party on Saturday, seemed like we just had to make one. Good times!! Hahaha 

I spent a while in Manuel Antonio, 3 nights I think, then Graham was also heading south so we set off for Dominical which is a beach town only a couple of hours closer to Panama. It is so different to MA you'd think it was at least a couple of bus changes away! The beach was wild and rocky, and the waves looked intense. You can surf at Manuel Antonio (and parasail, banana boat, jet ski, scuba dive, snorkel, deep sea fish...) but it's baby stuff compared to what this looked like. I didn't try obviously, I'm Aussie, but I don't surf. Sorry! 
The town is just two dirt roads lined with beach bars and hostels, with a couple of convenience stores. And the people around are American with fancy SUVs... Oh well, it was still incredible, didn't ruin the vibe at all. Surfing is life there. One night and one dip in the sea there and I was gone, off to Uvita! Said goodbye to Graham there too, he stayed on the bus past Uvita in search of Pavones (2nd longest wave in the world - he's from England and wants to learn to surf; heading for the best!) 

Uvita was gorgeous. Similar to Dominical really. But this time there is a sand bank the shape of a whale's tail, and you can spot whales at the right time of year! Pus there is a lovely little waterfall inland about 2km. Which is where my hostel was, and it had the most incredible views. I mellowed at the waterfall and  bought a bikini (extravagant!!) whilst wondering around town the afternoon i arrived, and raced to see the whale's tail (which you can only visit at low tide of course) the next morning before catching the bus to Panama! 
When I say raced, I mean it. I actually ran down the beach a really long way (well it seemed really long) and down the dirt roads there because I ran out of vehicles to hitchhike with. I even got a taxi for the very end bit but I still missed the bus. Lost that round of the amazing race! Haha. It still worked out though, the next bus wasn't too late for me to cross the border before they closed. All good :) And I got to look at mainland Costa Rica standing on a giant whale's tail! Score! 

So that was the end of Nicaragua and Costa Rica for me! Now I'm in Panama and I LOVE it here. It's got a good feeling to it. Not that I haven't loved every other country either, but infinitely have my favourites. For eg. Guatemala is my favourite so far, I think. - this is all subject to change, I'm not locking it in. Hahaha

David was nothing spectacular, a bigger city than I had imagined! I prefer the smaller places. I stayed just one night in transit at the purple house hostel which was lovely! Free nail polish and really good coffee. It's the little things :) 

And now here I am further north in the highlands of Panama in Boquete. Absolutely love this place, reminds me Guatemala actually. Explored the town this arvo and set myself up for a night hike up the tallest peak in Panama - we leave at midnight to arrive at the summit before sunrise. Then hike straight back down. It will be really tough, and really cold. But it's there! And if the clouds clear I will be able to see the Pacific and the Caribbean at the same time! Wish me luck people! Hahaha so I'm heading off to do that in a couple of hours. Going to go and eat lots of food now. 
And that's me up to date! 

Adios amigos y pura vida!!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Solamente at Finca Coco Loco!

Before I forget. Just thought I would share some of the more priceless moments from my 3 week venture on the farm :) since I left a week ago!!!

Número uno (in no particular order) - Raw cacao smoothies! 
And just all the incredible and bizarre smoothies I had. 
One night I was making a coconut (meat and water. i can crack those babies open like a pro now! just give me a machete) and raw cacao smoothie. With a bit of cinnamon and apas de dulce (sweet stuff), but nothing else, trying to keep it simple ...and I blew a fuse because the coconut was particularly tough!! Whoops... impromptu stargazing night!  
With the cacao, we have cacao trees with ripe pods on them so it was just a matter of picking a pod and cutting it open to put the fresh beans and small amount of fruit all in! And when you only add coconut the chocolate taste is the strongest. So cool! And so etching sweet cos its a bit bitter.  Anton's favourite smoothie is pure coconut; coconut water and flesh. But I could never keep it that simple, too many cool ingredients to play with! There were a few not so great ones though... Hahaha I can't pick a favourite. There were so many and they were all different! Michael's always had bizarre things in them too. He loves spicy so often added ginger and cayenne pepper - actually really good! Once he made one with coconut, a whole egg (including shell for calcium!) and fresh ginger root with a bit of sourgum syrup to sweeten it. And it was amazing! 
I wrote down a heap of crazy recipes from my stay, smoothies, salads, chocolates, yuca, beans... Don't want to forget how to do it!! 

Número dos - meeting Katherina and some of her friends from Granada's only organic shop. Anton and Michael are addicted to her banana bread so they see her regularly ;)
I learnt so much stuff from her, about yoga (she is also a yoga teacher) and many many crazy health foods that I have never heard of before. 
For example, and this one is pretty cool, Kombucha. defined on wikipedia it is "an effervescent fermentation of sweetened tea that is used as a functional food."  It makes a drink right. Kind of like iced tea or beer or coke, it can be fizzy! Ok there's more: "Sometimes referred to as a "mushroom" or "mother", the kombucha culture is actually a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast". So it is made by a mushroomy bacteria colony thing that you feed black tea and sugar!! Crazy! Hahaha 
And it was really fun to hang out and hear their stories.  We went to the Laguna one day with her friend and her adopted son Jade (who is so cute!! 5yo) and chatted for ages. and it is such a beautiful lake! Formed in the crater of a volcano which makes the water is incredibly clear and it gets really really deep really really quickly!

Número tres - Don Pedro
Don Pedro is a legend. 89yo. And pushes heavy carts of mangos kilometres down the road at 2am, good exercise he said! And he knows everything about farming in Nicaragua. I learnt so much about the local fruits and vegetables from both him and Michael. Do you know how cashews grow and are made? It is insane. No wonder they are expensive! I definitely have a new appreciation for where my food comes from! 
He also calls me "Revequita" which is pretty adorable. It just means little Rebecca, since they interchange b's and v's.... 

Número quatro - yoga times :)
It's so nice to relax in such a peaceful environment! I did a couple of sessions on their yoga platform as the sun was setting, and once out further in the farm under a tamarindo tree overlooking the banana fields and a mango trees. It was amazing. Nothing much to add to that really, that covers it.
One time after a great session when Michael joined in he offered to give me a proper massage too, since he had a few lessons once and has had many massages in his life. So (obviously) I said yes. And I swear he is a professional!!! It was so good! 

So... I was extremely relaxed and rejuvenated by the end of my stay. Free from stress and the chemicals and toxins that we normally get in our food. AND I had an amazing time in the process :) 
And fostered a new love for coconut, in all it's forms. It might even have replaced Greek yoghurt and marzipan as my favourite food(s)... !

Now I have been backpacking my way to panama through Nicaragua and Costa Rica :D but more of that later.

Pura Vida! 

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Working for my board at Finca Coco Loco

It's Wednesday today, so that means I've been at the farm for 2 weeks and 2 days! Crazy. I always say that (that time is going too quickly, but I can't help it! sorry..).

Finca Coco Loco is incredible, muy muy tranquillo :) I have been having the most relaxing time. Here's a run down of the farm, I will try keep it brief!

Michael is 59yo and the farm owner, from the states. He came to Nicaragua 6 years ago and bought the farm to escape the rat race of western society. He is really into spirituality and yoga, organic and raw health foods (and super foods), permaculture, his dog Coco... He lives in the moment. That's his plan. Part of his quest to become enlightened that he actually started when he was my age when he went to a meditation university for seven years! So following his instructions for farm work each day can be pretty funny - something different every time! He gets his money through the stock market, and loves to complain about the plight of the western world. He knows his stuff though! 

Anton is the only other person living on the farm at the moment, he has been here 3 years. He is 22 I think.. And from Ukraine. He speaks perfect Spanish (unlike Michael!) and studies social communication at a university in Managua in the afternoons. He is absolutely lovely. He follows the same spiritual ideas as Michael. 
It's really interesting talking to them about it - I've learnt a lot! They have heaps of great books too, so I've been reading about it as well. (Power vs. Force by  David R. Hawkins and Silence of the Heart by Robert Adams in particular if you're interested) 
He is also an incredible cook and makes amazing fresh salads, coconut yuca and sushi (that is out of this world) almost every day. Yum! Michael doesn't cook. But he makes awesome smoothies! Anton also loves gardening and grows heaps of different things in gardens around the rancho.

The place is hard to explain, but there is a big open barn-like rancho with hammocks that we do everything in really. Off that is the kitchen and a few rooms that are bedrooms and just for stuff really. It is nice to sleep outside :) 
The farm has a bit of everything that grows here I guess. No animals besides two cats, Henry and one I christened Spot, Coco the dog and farm's namesake and then two horses owned by the gate-guy who lives in a house a little way away nearer the driveway. His name is Marvin, and he is a sweetie. Everything he owns was given to him by Michael! 
It is a really poor area, even though we are only a 10min bus ride from Granada and even closer to Masaya and Laguna Apoyo. 

We have endless mangos, it actually breaks my heart that I can't possibly eat them all. They fall everywhere and we have to rake them away and put them in the compost!! Only one variety is sold at the market. There's also yuca, a local root that is eaten all the time by locals, plaintains, coconuts, bananas, various lettuces and cabbages, CACAO!, coffee and then a whole array of various fruits that I can't name properly. They are delicious though! 
My favourite is Sapote, monkey-apple in English apparently (I looked it up), it is yellow/orange like a mango, about the size of an apple, the texture kind of like an avocado and flavour like ice cream. It's the greatest. I want to smuggle seeds into Australia to grow my own tree ;)
There is also noni fruit if any of you follow super foods/celebrity diets. Smells like vomit, tastes really bitter but cures just about anything apparently. Totally made a juice with it and now I've got to be super duper healthy! hahaha

Normal days start at 6 when I get up and make a super awesome smoothie out of some of the above listed ingredients. Adding egg, seeds/nuts, tapas de dulce (sweet stuff), cinnamon, cayenne pepper or ginger makes them extra interesting too!
Then I work on whatever Michael sets me up with from 7 till 11 ish. I water stuff, weed, replant, paint walls or signs, rake, mix soil... I even cleaned the fridge once. That fridge didn't see me coming! Haha 
I harvested mangoes and helped put up fences with the local workers (2 guys come in 6-11am weekdays) for a few days. That was cool. 
In the afternoons I make chocolates from scratch, peanut butter from scratch,  coconut cream and smoothies and yogurt (from scratch)... Or do yoga or read or wash my clothes, or walk around the farm and pick fruit to eat. Just chill out really. I often have a sneaky snooze. It's great :) 
Sometimes we go out to the markets at Masaya or into Granada, or down to the the Laguna for a swim. Other days we've had people come up and visit so we hang out with them. Just your general stuff I guess. Perfect. 

In the evenings we chill out and share sushi or whatever is going for dinner (only if Anton has cooked generally... Haha) discuss the meaning of life or whether Michael should start to farm wasabi, or if Nicaragua needs its first drive through sushi and homemade chocolate restaurant... 
And we go to bed pretty early. And sleep well. :) 

Now my birthday and Easter happened to fall into my time at here at Finca Coco Loco. So that was pretty exciting! 
Had the best Skype date ever the morning of my birthday :D direct into Anna's party! The connection wasn't great... As those of you who were there probably realised. We had to have one camera at a time, so everyone waved at a photo of me (I could hear don't worry) then I waved at a photo of Anna during two tours of the party. Pretty hilarious! So amazing to see so many people though, it literally made my week :) still makes me smile every time I think about it. Thanks guys!! 
It was only a couple of days into my stay at the farm, so the boys didn't really make a big deal of it or know if I wanted them too. But they were sweet! And I had a lovely morning at the farm followed by a cake & Internet escape in Granada to catch up with the world. And then more yummy food back at the farm, no clubbing. Poor form I know :P but I had a lovely time! Muy tranquillo :) 

Easter is a national holiday and the way of life slows to an even more tranquillo pace, if that was even possible! Besides the Laguna, where everyone from all neighbouring towns and their dogs go to escape the heat and humidity with a beer or two. Which i went and did by myself because i couldn't convince Michael or Anton to face the crowds with me, they're not crowd-people. Totally hitched a ride down to the lake and made friends and spoke Spanish all afternoon. It was awesome!
 And the churches go kinda crazy with more of their loud and bad karaoke. Yep that's a Central America thing! Haha 
I love it. They have parades and stalls and extra markets and stuff in all the towns too which is awesome to wonder around, soaking up the festive atmosphere. 
Easter Sunday we had some awesome guests from Granada come up and enjoy chocolates and harvest cacao with us. Lathing especially religious, I was tempted to go to the local church. But then I didn't know the times of services, and was kind of scared that I would get eaten alive. My spanish isn't that good... Hahaha 

I think that covers most stuff...
I won't be here much longer, feel like its about time to go. 
I need to get to Colombia at some point! Not really feeling the pressure though, too relaxed. Haha 

Adios amors! xxx