Category Archives: photos & memories

Sweet September Summertime Magic

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s late September already. This year has truly flown by… I suppose that happens when you’re living the dream!

This weekend James and I embark on our last festival adventure of the year, and our second flow arts retreat this year, Pacific Fire Gathering. We went for the first time last year and it was one of our favorite weekends ever. I am so ready to finish up a packed festival season with one final family reunion ~ an intimate, flow arts focused retreat of our spinnerd flowmies on the beautiful Oregon coast. We can’t wait!

We are still recovering from Enchanted Forest… Wow. My heart swells with the memories made, the hard work and little sleep, the bonds cemented and the family found. I am so ridiculously grateful that even thinking about it brings me to tears… Just… Wow. Thank you.

Flower of Life at the Dance Temple

I have truly busted my ass this year, but it doesn’t always feel like work, even when I’m going from one job to the next to the next and staying up late working. Some of it has been familiar territory, but most of it has been completely new to me. It’s been a steep learning curve and I still have so much more to learn and explore. Thankfully I have been able to work with inspiring people and branch out to social media marketing and event production while keeping my part-time web design contract with PETA, providing some stability while I expand my skill set in new areas after hours. But quite honestly, I’m ready to hibernate for the winter and catch up on my web design training and flow arts practice again! After a decade of doing design work, getting into a new field and getting involved with producing some of my favorite events has been a breath of fresh air to my life and I am so excited to keep doing ALL THE THINGS!

Enchanted Forest marked the culmination of working on three consecutive festival production cycles with three (somewhat overlapping) really amazing teams. In addition to social media and marketing support, I also helped co-coordinate the Flow Zone at EF this year, one of eight workshop areas focused on flow arts and spinning. We had a small workshop area near the main stage shaded by beautiful oak trees, and every time I walked by, the area was full of happy people learning new moves and props. I was SO proud to see so much play and joy happening in that space, well attended workshops and lots of beginners trying flow arts for the first time.

EF Flow Zone

 

There was a moment on Sunday afternoon that completely made my weekend… I was hanging out with friends dancing to Chali 2na and behind us, in the flow zone, we saw a toddler wearing nothing but a diaper and ear protection rocking out with his dad, both with shiny new flow wands they’d gotten from Aileen Lawlor’s workshop. The dad was practicing his flow to the music while the little guy held his wand in the middle, dancing around clumsily and waving it in his hand with a huge grin on his face. They rocked out together all afternoon in blissful moments of the most adorable flow magic. Just one of many magical memories…

We were posting to social media throughout the event, but since the wifi hot spots onsite were painfully slow, Jonah and I had to drive into Laytonville each day to get posts scheduled, check messages, and update our networks to rally the family to our gates. We still have quite a bit of space at Black Oak Ranch to fill, but we had a bunch of on-site ticket sales especially on Sunday. We had a huge media team, a big expansion of offerings with 8 different workshop areas, 4 stages and a variety of music programming, awesome performance artists, a sexy sauna and bathhouse, and a brand new beautiful venue to enjoy as the fruits of our months of work and organization, so there was a LOT going on and I was running all over the place working on a little of everything (and playing too – one can never be too busy for an impromptu photo shoot).

Photo by Edward Clynes
Photo by Edward Clynes

Though our fire spinning performance time was cut short, I got to fire hoop on the main stage with Liquid Stranger and James and I even got to meet him afterwards. We also got to watch Koan Sound from backstage, get our minds melted by Ott, get serenaded to sleep from the nearby Dance Temple, and we had sound in our camp with Acacia Beats and all kinds of guest DJs playing throughout the weekend. The performances were top notch, the music was amazing, but it was the people I shared the weekend with that really made this one memorable.

Camp Higher Porpoise Peeps

In between running around everywhere and working, I did get to enjoy some of the festival. It was awesome getting to hang out with friends from Lucidity, Once Upon a Festival and other festivals, flowmies from flow fests, local friends, our Enchanted Forest and Camp Mendoland families… but seeing us all coming all together and creating Camp Higher Porpoise this year was simply mind-blowing and heartwarming. James’s DJ crew Acacia Beats and a bunch of our Mendo friends joined forces with the fine folks we camp with at Raindance (which was canceled this year) to create the most amazing glampfest I have ever been lucky enough to be a part of. We rented a huge tent, had power and sound, a yoga swing, carpet and squish, lights and a badass lounge area in our camp just behind the Dance Temple. So many friends from various parts of our lives collaborated on a theme camp that was so plush, we had people asking what part of the festival we were and producers and musicians coming back again and again to hang out, play music, or get buffed with the car buffer on the massage table. SO GOOD. My friends are such badasses and DAMN do we know how to have a good time. Camp Higher Porpoise / Mendoland, we fucking rock!

The Raising of the Porpoise

The weekend went pretty smoothly but of course it flew by way too fast. As we worked, played, learned, connected, and danced, my heart swelled. This is where I was meant to be. These are my people. And I actually helped make this magic happen! Like I said, WOW.

But Enchanted Forest was not the last of our summer adventures. For Labor Day weekend, James and I drove up to Boise, Idaho to hang out with my family. We stayed at the family cabin in the beautiful mountains of McCall with my grandparents, parents, aunt, and my sister, her fiancé, and their adorable dog Bisbee.

We ate well, caught up, did a little planning for my sister’s wedding next summer (!!!!!), took a boat ride around Payette Lake and rode bikes in Ponderosa State Park. It was a long overdue and really nice visit, but I’m glad we’ll be going back for Christmas because it wasn’t quite enough family time. James got to meet more of my family and he really bonded with our fur-niece, he and Bis are SUPER tight now. 😉 She was a bit terrified of the boat though…

Family Time in McCall

As we’ve been decompressing and preparing for one last hurrah this weekend, I have enjoyed being home, cooking delicious food from my garden, and playing catch up after a whirlwind production season. I am SO looking forward to this fall, when I can stay home for a while, catch up on design and flow training, clean and purge our house so we can look for a new one, hibernate with my babycakes and just RELAX for a bit. Thankfully the next trip after PacFire will be for Thanksgiving, when I finally get to meet James’s mom in Southern California.

Whew! Life sure has been amazing lately. Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to be living it. Thank you all so much for being a part of this magical journey!

And now I leave you with some inspiring words from Prince Ea, whose videos I’ve been digging lately:

 

 

 

Under the Spell of Enchanted Forest

Having been to so many gatherings and festivals of all types and sizes over the past dozen or so years, I would think it would be more difficult for me to choose a favorite. A few years ago I probably would’ve said Burning Man was my favorite, and it is truly amazing and unique, for sure… but the event that’s had my heart the past few years is my favorite for many different reasons. Let me tell you the tale…

In 2011, a seed was planted here in Mendocino County. In 2012, I discovered and attended my first Enchanted Forest Gathering in the beautiful redwoods of Camp Navarro about 45 minutes down the coast from my house. Not sure what to expect but lured by the most delicious of bass music lineups, I set up camp with two of my best burner buddies, Fern and Koji, in a towering redwood grove. We watched as the Boy Scout camp was transformed into a glittering wonderland of art, music, beautiful people, sweet little environments and altars, silly play and lots of color. We danced in the glow of a giant flower of life that changed colors as it lit up the crowd and stayed up all night because the music was just too good, Random Rab played at sunrise and I had a flow wand dancing partner that just wouldn’t quit!

Megan and Fern at Enchanted Forest 2012

Being at Enchanted Forest my first year, I felt like I had stumbled into a secret coven of magical fairy folk. Everyone I met and encountered simply radiated love and positive energy. There was an element of ceremony, of holding sacred space, more so than other events I had been to, but it wasn’t pretentious or overly woo-woo, simply in the background was an understanding that we were engaging in something meaningful, more than just a party. Though it was also one of the sauciest parties I’d ever witnessed, without any of the sloppy sauce due to its alcohol-free status. I have never seen dancers so in sync with each other, a dance floor so full of smiles, or reluctantly dragged my tired ass to bed with a bigger smile on my face as I have at Enchanted Forest Gatherings… And this reaction is not uncommon, our community quickly become family and everyone who has been simply gushes about the top-notch production, over the top decor and ambiance, amazingly epic stage design, lighting, music, and performance, but most of all… the smiles, the joy, the LOVE. Be still, my heart… it’s coming up again soon!

Random Rab EF Sunrise 2012

Wanting to be more involved with such a stellar local festival, in 2013 I signed up to volunteer. My job was to help decorate the teahouse stage and to paint and put up signs all over the venue, and I got to meet more of the amazing people involved with organizing the festival. But what made that year most special for me was that Enchanted Forest was the first music festival that James and I attended together, shortly after we started dating.  It was also the first time I’d seen him DJ or perform at a festival, so I got to see the audience in awe and think “that’s MY boyfriend up there on that stage. Clearly I am WINNING at life!”

Blissed Out

I have so many beautiful memories of that weekend but what stands out most is getting to see Flicker absolutely crush it on stage DJing with Acacia Beats. He shared a set with his homies on Friday evening, on the most epic stage I had ever seen, a beautiful work of art nestled in a fairy ring of redwood trees with a waterfall and crystal altar underneath it. (Audiowaska knows what is up with stage design, and has been involved with Enchanted Forest ever since).  He was SO pumped to be up there, he was dancing harder than anyone in the crowd below, and I got to hoop to the whole set, sneak up to the stage to get a few photos, and watch in awe as my sexy new man did his thing. I still have a photo of him DJing on that stage as my desktop background; it is almost the sexiest thing I have ever seen (second only to him spinning fire, of course).

Flicker Gettin' It

We got to spin in the fire circle and on the performance platform to some pretty amazing music that year, had a great time goofing around with all our friends in camp, and become part of the Enchanted Forest family.

Last year Enchanted Forest was faced with quite the logistical challenge when it had to move venues just a week or two before the event. But this gathering just HAD to happen, and so the crew found a new venue last minute and it was held at Stone Bear near Tahoe on the beautiful (and cold) Yuba River. Even with having to move the entire festival hundreds of miles away, the weekend went off without a hitch. This family is resilient, creative, and capable!

Get Frisky Kitty!

Acacia Beats got to DJ again on another mind-blowing stage, and once again I volunteered as an assistant to the production team, this time brought in by Tulku himself, who James and I had gotten to know a bit better since we’d been involved with some of his parties and I’d started helping his lovely lady Amae with her Amae-zing clothing line, Amae Love Designs. I helped prepare the cabins for artists, check in artists and staff at the box office, and ran errands for artist relations. And I got to wear the ‘Saucy Squad’ laminate like a real part of the team!

Mr. Bill and Opiuo melted our faces, we spun fire and snuggled to stay warm in the crisp mountain air, and we danced down by the river and on top of the hill overlooking the Sierra Nevadas. It wasn’t our usual redwood home in Mendocino, but 2014 proved that it wasn’t the forest we gathered in that mattered, it was the community that made Enchanted Forest home. No matter where we danced together, with this crew, there was always magic in store… the air sparkled with it as the beats echoed through the trees. Everywhere I looked, people were smiling, hugging, connecting, creating, expressing, and most of all DANCING.

EF Family

Even though I didn’t officially begin working in festival production as a staff member until a few months later when Tulku brought me on to the Foreverland (now Once Upon a Festival) marketing team last summer, I consider Enchanted Forest to be the festival where I got my start in event production. I started as an attendee and got more involved each year. A lot of my friends are involved, whether performing, volunteering, staff, or playing the ever so crucial role of attendee, and it’s about an hour from our house. I have learned and grown so much because of my experiences at this event and connected with some truly amazing people. If there is one transformational festival I could encourage everyone I know and love to attend, one closest to my heart, it would without a doubt be Enchanted Forest Gathering.

Night Time at EF

This year marks 5 years of Enchanted Forest, and my fourth and most involved year yet. In the span of less than a year I have gone from scrambling to save or volunteer or street team for events such as this just so I could afford to attend, to this year being a part of the production crew that makes it happen as a production and marketing assistant. It’s almost too good to be true, and I still can’t believe this is my life and I get to work with such a superstar team of jedis!

And speaking of almost too good to be true, Enchanted Forest will not only be returning home to Mendocino County this year, but we’ll be dancing under the beautiful ancient oak trees of the legendary Black Oak Ranch, the old home of Earthdance, my former favorite local festival that ended in 2010. This means our community has some room to grow, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about this family, it’s that EF will always be true to our roots.  This move also opens up more possibilities and allows us to expand Enchanted Forest’s offerings to include a wider variety of music, eight different workshop areas, and all kinds of sanctuaries and environments to explore.

Enchanted Forest 2015 Lineup

One of the things I am most excited about this year, besides this amazing music lineup of course, is the addition of the Flow Zone at Enchanted. Kandice of Holistic Hooping and I are co-coordinating the space this year, and we are super excited to be bringing in about 10 amazingly talented flow arts instructors and performers. We’ll have workshops during all three days of the festival covering a variety of flow arts props and disciplines — it will be like a mini flow fest within my favorite festival! There will be a few flow vendors and a specific space in the back of the main concert bowl set aside for spinning things, practice, and play. It’s truly a dream come true and coordinating the workshops has been really exciting! I am so incredibly grateful to be on this team.

Clearly I could go on and on about this gathering, but I’ve written more than enough to share my experience, and this event is truly something you must experience for yourself, because words and photos simply can’t do it justice.  There is just something about being at Enchanted Forest, surrounded by the colorful forest critters on the dance floor, soaking up all the love being shared, moving your body to incredible music and witnessing masterpieces unfolding before your eyes… it’s more than just another transformational festival. I always say being with my festy family is going home, but Enchanted Forest is like Grandma’s house, all smiles and fresh baked pumpkin pie and more love than could ever be contained. I hope you’ll come home with me this year. It’ll be the most enchanting yet…

Take the LEAP! <3 We got you.

Building Community, Mendo Style

On Beltane, halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice, a few Mendocino coast ladies have been organizing a Maypole dance and ceremony on Big River Beach for the past several years. This year I got involved and we had perfect sunny weather to ring in summer with!

I had never participated in a Maypole dance before, and it was quite an experience, as you can see. It’s chaos at first, but eventually everyone gets in the rhythm and as the colorful pieces of fabric weave together, you circle around and around, seeing familiar faces with each rotation and weaving over and under each person you meet. The result is never perfect, but somehow more beautiful for its imperfection and texture. Each person’s piece of fabric is an interconnected part of a more beautiful whole, individual pieces grow difficult to distinguish but what they create together is far more interesting. Beltane reminded me what a vibrant, varied, fun, and loving community I live in.

We finished off the ceremony with a potluck, drum circle, music and, of course, fire spinning. What a beautiful evening! I am so grateful to live in a place that nurtures community and gathers to build beautiful things together. It was a wonderful demonstration of building community and expanding social circles, what a lovely gathering. I can already tell that this is going to be an amazing summer! Beltane Maypole Dance - Mendocino 2014 Beltane Maypole Dance - Mendocino 2014 Beltane Maypole Dance - Mendocino 2014 Beltane Maypole Dance - Mendocino 2014 Fire Spinning on Beltane, May 1 2014

Don’t Wanna Be Just Another Gringa in Paradise

The best adventures challenge and change you, push your comfort levels and open your eyes, and this journey definitely accomplished that and more. Nicaragua presented harsh realities in contrast with beautiful glimmers of hope, the grit and the grime of third world poverty alongside gorgeous beach sunsets in a tourist’s paradise. Not to mention the contrasts between the polished and touristy Costa Rica we just visited, affluent and expensive compared to most of Nicaragua… To say the least, I have come home a different person than when I left. And that is precisely why I travel.

Hectic Managua Markets, Nicaragua 2014Tola at Magic Hour, Nicaragua 2014Touring Managua, Nicaragua 2014

During our last few days in Nicaragua, we hopped in a new friend’s car for a little day trip. Vera had gone with us to Playa Quizala and offered to take us on a tour of Granada and Laguna de Apoyo. First we stopped by her parents’ place on the outskirts of Managua. It was a beautiful gated complex full of well-tended fruit trees of every kind. We went crazy picking mangoes, avocados, guavas, starfruit, mint, tamarind pods, hibiscus flowers, limes, oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, bananas, and several fruits that were totally new to us. I will definitely miss the abundance of tropical fruit more than just about anything else in Central America.

On our way to Granada, we stopped at a viewpoint above Laguna de Apoyo, a crater lake formed by a volcano, and had a nice view and a quesillo from a street vendor. A bit later we were in the colorful cobblestone streets of Granada, which was colonial and a bit European looking and reminded me a lot of Arequipa, Peru. We drove through the town, which was flanked by a volcano and the enormous Lago de Nicaragua. We stopped for delicious Mediterranean food and walked around the town square, which was in a state of awkward celebration since it was St. Patrick’s Day. There were lots of people in the streets, large dancing puppets on display and music playing, so we had a beer, haggled with street vendors and enjoyed the absurdity of Americans celebrating an Irish holiday in Central America. We all agreed that it sure beat the drunken shitshows going on in most North American cities.

Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua 2014 Artisans Near Masaya, Nicaragua 2014 Evening in Granada, Nicaragua 2014 Evening in Granada, Nicaragua 2014

On our way back to Managua, we stopped in Laguna de Apoyo in hopes of finding a place to stay for the night, but the hostels were all full. We got drinks at a hostel instead, with a nice bar overlooking the lagoon. The full moon was shining over the deep crater lake, and we decided to go skinny dipping in the lagoon to cool off. The water was perfect and we swam out to a dock to dive in and actually got a bit chilly in the water. It was a perfect night for a moonlit swim.

Full Moon at Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua 2014

The next day, we took a bus to Masaya, a bustling artisan town with big markets. We headed to the market that more locals shop at with better prices first, it was much busier, grittier, and more chaotic, but the prices were great. We got dried hibiscus flowers and cacao beans, gifts to take home and a snack. The market sold everything from hammocks to cheesy souvenirs to kitchen items to machetes to shoes. It was full of young kids who were weaving items out of palm fronds, then attempting to hand them to passers by so they could ask for money. They would literally force things into your hand or hang them on you, then come back and ask for money later. They were very creative and talented, but it broke my heart to see young kids that should be in school persistently selling useless gimmicks for pennies while they huffed glue hidden in their shirts outside the markets. The shop keepers were also very persistent and outgoing, trying to lure us into their shops with a few English words and colorful decorations. We didn’t have much money to spend, but James got a bag, I got some gifts and locally made souvenirs, and Genevieve and Ruben each got colorful duffel bags full of gifts and goodies.

Humorous Handicrafts at a Masaya Market, Nicaragua 2014

After the busy first market and some food, we decided to check out the other market on the other side of town and took a tuk-tuk over to it. This market was quite upscale compared to the last one. It was inside a castle-like fortress and had neat, organized stalls full of mostly touristy handicrafts and souvenirs. The prices were at least double what they were in the local market and it felt a lot less “real” but it was interesting to see the contrast. We shopped a bit and had a smoothie before catching a bus back to Managua.

On our last night in Managua, James’s dad threw us a going away party, and lots of friends we had met in Nicaragua came to say goodbye and convince us even more heartily to come back soon. We made veggie kebabs and meat on the grill and had lots of mojitos and local beer. It was a great reminder of all we’d gotten to do on our short trip: making connections by performing for people, volunteering, and exploring a few epic spots as we talked with some of the new friends we had made.

At the party I talked a woman who ran a children’s center for street kids, and she mentioned how easy it is to plug in and find a way to help down there, especially with skills and money from North America. People there want to work with Americans, and there are SO MANY opportunities to get involved and make a difference.

Everywhere we went, I noticed lots of litter and a lack of recycling facilities, tiny pregnant kittens and an abundance of skinny street dogs because spaying and neutering programs are nonexistent, kids living off of nothing and selling stuff on the street who should be learning in school, not to mention people begging, sleeping in the streets, and living in squalor. But I also saw so many signs of promise, creative solutions being put into practice, resourceful people willing to learn and wonderful organizations doing great work to better the lives of Nicaraguans. And I was so impressed with the people, who are in general curious, welcoming, open-minded, politically and historically aware, worldly, conscious, spirited, resourceful, creative and hard-working. As soon as I stepped on the plane home, I wanted to go back. I need to go back. I’m not done with Nicaragua yet.

Pretty much as soon as we arrived in Managua, James and I were convinced we would be back as soon as we could afford to. His dad has a nice home set up with room to spare, and connections with all sorts of forward-thinking people who are involved with exciting projects. He also got us a gig performing with glow toys at a benefit, and even though our impromptu show was awkward and last-minute, we have been invited to come back for more performances and to teach flow arts workshops. The next time we return, we hope to come armed with props to give out to Nicaraguan students, or at least supplies to make props and then teach people how to use them. Which means we both need to learn the art of teaching, a lot more spinning practice, and to brush up on our Spanish skills. We spun fire on the beach twice while in Nicaragua, and everyone who saw it was really interested and excited to learn more. We met a couple fellow spinners and even showed a few random street kids and some new friends a bit about spinning poi and flow wand. Flow arts provided a way for us to instantly connect with people there, and everyone was eager to learn more, which is a wonderful sign and gives us a lot to work on for our next trip! Of course we will get more involved with existing organizations doing good work in Nicaragua, but we can also work on bringing a little something of our own to people who could use a creative outlet and a unique set of new skills.

It is good to be back home, sleeping in my own comfy bed where cuddling doesn’t instantly mean being too sweaty to sleep and I can actually flush toilet paper down the toilet. We may still be in drought and have very little water pressure, but we have hot water and it’s available on demand, 24/7. I have internet, my own computer, my new iPhone replaced with insurance, and work to return to. I have Mendocino rain, my garden and friends…

But as I unpack and sift through the memories from my month abroad, I am filled with a deep need to U-turn and book the next flight back to Managua. I understand even more now why my sister returns to Haiti every year. Being in the third world opens your eyes to the myriad ways we can help our fellow earthlings and make a difference. It also forces you to stare your privilege in the face and leaves you feeling intensely grateful for everything you have in life. I came home so full of gratitude and very inspired. It’s an amazing elated feeling, especially considering how broke I am after that long trip!

I hope to return to Nicaragua for an extended period in the future. Perhaps I can bring my computer and work from there for a few months. We can teach flow arts, get involved with local organizations, and become immersed in Spanish and a completely different culture. I wouldn’t mind a bigger dose of the humility that comes from doing without the comforts I am used to, adjusting to a new environment and being an outsider looking in on how different cultures live. I can see why James calls Nicaragua his second home, and it has more to do with how the place feels than the fact that he went to fourth and fifth grade there. I feel the magnetism of home in Nicaragua, and it will definitely pull me back.

Nothing compares to immersing yourself in the culture of a foreign place, coming out of the shell of your day to day routine to intertwine your life with those of others in different far-away places. The thrill of the road, the chaos of chicken buses and bustling markets and chatter in a language you barely understand, swallowing a bit of salt water after getting tossed by ocean waves, jumping off a waterfall into a cold pool, not knowing where you’ll sleep the next night or where the road will take you is incomparable and essential to the evolution and fulfillment of a well-rounded life. I would not be the person I am today had it not been for travel, for tales of adventure heard and read, for road trips and Girl Scout camp, for National Parks and backpacking, for long flights to Europe and hooping at Machu Picchu. To travel and see new things is to experience life to the fullest, and inspired by my recent journey, I go back home and back to work as my recent experiences percolate through my mind and remain near to my heart…

Adios, Central America. I will return. Next time with more Spanish skills, hula hoops, poi, the ability to teach flow arts in Spanish, money, and more time to spend there. Gracias por todo, mis nuevos amigos. <3

Check out more photos from our trip on Flickr.

Nicaragua Love

We’ve only been in Nicaragua for a week and a half, but I am already looking forward to our next trip here. The people are amazing, hospitable, and creative. My only complaint is getting cat called when walking or riding around in Managua… Latin American machismo is not my favorite thing ever, but they’re mostly harmless and it is rather adorable seeing James yell back “es MIA!” to the guys blowing kisses and whistling at us.

Lights of Managua, Nicaragua 2014

Group Photo in Managua 2014

Managua is a huge sprawling city, bustling and gritty but MUCH less chaotic and crazy than San Jose. The streets are lined with trees, street art, and lots of colorful lights (even the taxis and buses are decorated with LEDs and bright paint jobs). We have visited a couple of busy open-air markets full of stalls selling everything from shoes to fruit to furniture. We got a tour in the back of a pickup through the city in the evening from one of James’s childhood friends from when he lived here, Elmer. He showed us some lovely parks and monuments, the old center of town that was destroyed by earthquakes, and the beautiful port along Lake Managua. We visited Elmer’s family in Tipitapa and had a delicious traditional lunch. As much as I am not normally a fan of big busy cities, Managua is definitely growing on me and it helps that we are staying with locals and meeting great people.

Last weekend we went to Playa Quizala on the Pacific coast with James’s dad, his roommate, and several of their friends. We stayed at a cute little place called Paraiso Bikini and had it to ourselves. We got to swim in the ocean and pool, hunt for treasure along the beach (I have never seen so many sea shells! And such big sand dollars!), enjoy tasty beverages and BBQs, and James, Ruben, and I spun fire on the sand, much to the delight of the innkeeper and his family, who were taking photos to put on their Facebook page. We got lots of sun, played music till the wee hours on the jukebox, slept in hammocks in a beach bungalow, and had a blast making new friends.

Paraiso Bikini Party Time, Nicaragua 2014 Paraiso Bikini Party Time, Nicaragua 2014

James Spinning on Playa Quizala at Sunset, Nicaragua 2014Ruben and James Spin Fire at Paraiso Bikini

This week we went to another beach, Tola, which had epic huge waves and a fancy resort where James’s dad was doing massage work for a few days. We enjoyed pitchers of mojitos (!!!) and spotted all kinds of creatures in the tide pools. We put on a little fire show at a surf shack and met a local hooper named Saffron who tried my fire hoop for her second time hooping with fire. We even made a few tips passing a hat around during our show.

We left Tola by bus and headed to Rivas, then San Jorge, where we caught a ferry across the enormous Lago de Nicaragua to the volcanic island of Ometepe. Two beautiful volcanoes form the island, Concepcion and Maderas. The lake is so huge that you can’t even see across it, and the huge island looms in the center, with the cone of Concepcion towering over it. We got off the boat in Moyogalpa and had a delicious lunch before catching a bus to Chico Largo hostel, near the center of the island and Laguna Charco Verde. James had stayed at the hostel the last time he was on Ometepe in 2012 and it was a gorgeous place right on the lake. We went for a walk along the lake shore and found volcanic crystals and rock outcroppings formed by lava flows. On our walk we stopped to check out a neat tree and saw movement overhead – there were four monkeys up in the tree! We sat and watched them for a while as they jumped from branch to branch and made all kinds of noise. They were adorable and the first monkeys we’d seen on the trip, so of course I took a million photos. We watched the sunset with the monkeys and walked back to the hostel to have dinner.

Ometepe Monkeys, Nicaragua 2014 Sunset on Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014 Volcan Concepcion, Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014 Spin Jam on Lava Rocks on Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014

The next morning we got up and headed to a zip line canopy tour! We got harnesses and helmets and hiked up a steep hill between the volcanoes, where we had a great view of the lagoon and lake below and the dry tropical forest canopy all around. We got to zip around from platform to platform in the trees on the zip lines, taking in the views as they whizzed by. We even got to go upside down on one of the lines, and James and I both got to do one together, which was hilarious since I was bent forward in front of him flying as he held on and braked for us both. We saw a couple of monkeys up in the trees from one of the platforms, the howler monkey kept making noises at us since we were in his turf. It was SO MUCH FUN zipping around in the trees and the guides even took my camera and got great pictures of all of us.

Zip Line Canopy Tour on Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014 Howler Monkey on Our Zip Line Tour, Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014

After the zip line tour, we checked out of Chico Largo and got on a bus to Santo Domingo, a little town on the back side of the island on the bridge between the volcanoes. It was super windy, especially on that side of the island, but with the tropical heat, we welcomed the cooling breeze. The first thing we saw when we got off the bus was a vegetarian restaurant, which I was super stoked to see! We had a delicious veggie lunch and then walked through the town looking for a place to stay, which took a while because many of the hotels were quite fancy and we were on a budget. We finally found one and settled in. We went for a walk on the beach and found a nice pool to cool off in for a bit. We had dinner at a cheap local place and played cards before falling asleep early. The next morning we got up and had breakfast and delicious smoothies at the vegetarian restaurant before walking towards Ojo de Agua, a cold mineral water spring in the middle of the island. It was AMAZING and we spent most of the day there, swimming in the crystal clear mineral water pools, drinking coconut water fresh from the coconuts, lounging, and checking out the farm behind the swimming hole. It was a beautiful and relaxing day. We got back to town and had a meal, then relaxed in our room and made some drinks with Flor de Caña rum and Shaler cola – local specialties.

Ojo de Agua, Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014 Coconuts at Ojo de Agua, Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014 Playa Santo Domingo and Volcan Maderas on Ometepe, Nicaragua 2014

This morning it was hard to leave Ometepe, especially since there was still so much there to see. Since it’s Sunday, there was only one bus to Moyogalpa on the other side of the island. We had a smoothie and waited for the bus, and when it arrived, we barely fit on the back of the bus, crammed in with tons of locals and tourists. I had to sit on a bag of beans and Ruben had to put his pack on the top of the bus. It was packed to the gills, definitely the most crowded bus we have been on yet, but that’s just part of the adventure! We had brunch on Moyogalpa before getting on the ferry back to the mainland and catching another bus back to Managua.

Tomorrow we are heading to Masaya, a local artisan village full of markets, and Granada, stopping by Laguna Apoyo to swim, a volcanic crater lake. We leave Thursday evening for home, if we can manage to pry ourselves away from this amazing place!

This trip has been amazing. I can’t believe almost a month has gone by and how many beautiful places we’ve seen. It has even been much easier for me to find vegetarian food than I thought – gallo pinto (rice and beans) is delicious, tostones (fried plantain slices) are better than fries, and quesillos (tortillas with cheese and a gooey cream sauce) are divine. We will definitely be trying these recipes at home. And the rum here is awesome, I have been drinking more here than I do at home for sure. I don’t even drink coffee at home, but the coffee here is so good that I can’t resist. We’ll definitely be bringing some of both home!

I can’t wait to share all the photos of the trip – all 2,500 or so that I’ve taken so far. Stay tuned for a glimpse!

Plants on Plants on Plants and Other Tropical Adventures

Central America is the most ALIVE place I have ever set foot in. The jungles and cloud forests of Costa Rica were teeming with all kinds of green things, insects that sang us to sleep at night, wildlife galore, and plants that grow on plants that grow on plants – so many different species covered every tree all the way up to the top of the canopy. It’s just amazing. And needless to say I’ve taken LOTS of great photos.

Cacao Pods: the Beginning of Chocolate, at Earth Rose Farm, Costa Rica 2014 Sunset Lookout Spot at Earth Rose Farm, Costa Rica 2014 View of Chirripo at Earth Rose Farm, Costa Rica 2014 James Picking Oranges at Earth Rose Farm, Costa Rica 2014 Waterfall After Work at Earth Rose Farm, Costa Rica 2014

After Envision, we went with a friend from Mendo, Miken, to his dad’s organic farm, Earth Rose Farm, in the hills outside of San Isidro. We took a couple bus rides out to the farm, climbing up up up narrow and steep roads that don’t seem fit for any car, much less huge buses, then met Miken’s dad Maji and he took our bags up the steepest road I have ever seen while we walked. The views from the farm are simply breathtaking, including a peek at Chirripo, Costa Rica’s highest mountain, in the mornings before the clouds rose to hide it. We stayed at Earth Rose for several days in their volunteer house, helped on the farm and house, met other volunteers and hung out with our amazing host family. We got to see where chocolate comes from! We harvested cacao pods and peeled the dry beans and got to try raw cacao, yum! We harvested oranges and sour mandarins and juiced them each day, harvested fresh bananas and made banana bread, helped clear an old garden area for use, carried big sticks up the hill for the greenhouse (and Ruben helped the Tico workers build a greenhouse frame), and hiked around the property and up to a viewpoint for the sunset and sunrise. We even got to visit a gorgeous waterfall and swimming hole in the jungle to cool off after work. The farm was beautiful and it was fun to be a part of the magic of the land and the generous souls who tended it. Here’s an old video I found on YouTube that partially captures the character of Maji and the farm:

We left the farm after a few days of helping out and being a part of the family and got on a bus to San Isidro, then another to San Jose, then another to Atenas for the night, because we couldn’t go directly to Monteverde without going through the chaos of San Jose. We stayed with James’s dad’s friend Jackie in Atenas and headed out for San Jose and then Monteverde the next morning.

Monteverde is a beautiful cloud forest reserve in northern Costa Rica. I had been reading about it in my guidebook and it is the place I was most excited to see in Costa Rica. The bus ride was once again scenic and beautiful as we climbed higher and higher into the cloud forest on increasingly sketchy and steep dirt roads. We finally got into the town of Santa Elena, near the reserve, and checked into the hostel we’d reserved the night before from Atenas. It was a cute mountain town and the hostel was lively and friendly. We were exhausted and had lots to see in the next few days so we went out to eat at a delicious local restaurant and had casados (set meals of typical local food like gallo pinto) and went to bed.

View of Volcan Arenal over the Cloud Forest Canopy of Santa Elena, Costa Rica 2014 Cloud Forest Kisses, Costa Rica 2014 Reserva Santa Elena, Costa Rica 2014

In Santa Elena we first visited the cloud forest reserve by the same name as the town. Reserva Santa Elena was a remote and uncrowded forested preserve with well-maintained trails, beautiful views, and so many plants! It’s amazing how much life is packed into the cloud forests: bromeliads, ferns, lichens, moss, vines, and orchids grow all over every nook & cranny of the trees. Beautiful strangler figs that look like a cord of tangled vines tower over prehistoric looking trees, shrubs, vines, and plants of all kinds. Fog and clouds cling to the canopy and along ridges. We hiked a nice loop through the park, taking in the cloud forest beauty and spotting all kinds of interesting plants and insects. We got to climb up a lookout tower along the trail and see the canopy close up. At the very top, we caught a glimpse of the beautiful towering Volcan Arenal. Wow. Just wow. We found a tree with long vines to Tarzan swing on and had a blast exploring the reserve, we felt like we had it almost to ourselves.

Investigating Orchids with Magnifying Glasses is Fun! Orchid Garden in Santa Elena, Costa Rica 2014

After Reserva Santa Elena, we went back into town and went to an orchid garden, where we were handed magnifying glasses so we could inspect the orchids up close, most of which were TINY and tucked into all kinds of crevices of the trees in the garden. We got to see the smallest orchid species in the world – so small it was almost microscopic, and SO CUTE! I had no idea orchids came in such variety. We went out to a fancy meal and visited a frog pond that evening, where we checked out nocturnal frogs and toads with flashlights.

The next morning we were up early to catch the shuttle to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. It ended up being my favorite place of the trip so far: so alive and green and gorgeous! We hiked all through the park for 4 or 5 hours, hiking up to a lookout point where we could barely see the view because of the clouds hugging the ridge tops and down to a beautiful little waterfall. We got to cross a huge suspension bridge over the canopy, spotting orchids, birds, and wildlife the entire time. We saw a coati, toucan, several small birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and even a large rodent of some kind. It was slightly more crowded than Santa Elena, but simply magical. We met the most amazing strangler fig and stopped to hug and climb it for a while – it was a massive tree that towered like a redwood with branches covered in plants and hanging long vines. It was one of the most amazing trees I’ve ever had the pleasure of hugging!

Prehistoric Plants on Plants, Monteverde, Costa Rica 2014 Goofy Group Photo in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica 2014 Bridge Through Cloud Forest Canopy in Monteverde, Costa Rica 2014 Cloud Forest Canopy in Monteverde, Costa Rica 2014 Epic Strangler Fig in Monteverde, Costa Rica 2014

With sore feet, we headed back to town but weren’t done with our explorations yet. We went to a butterfly garden where we got to see Costa Rican butterflies in all their life stages – from adorable caterpillars to delicate chrysalis to colorful butterfly. We saw see-through glass butterflies, green malachite butterflies, monarchs, swallowtails, owl butterflies, and the famous Blue Morphos in several big greenhouses. They were beautiful! We even got to see a little butterfly action – the mating dance and act. 🙂 Next door was the frog pond, where we returned during the daylight and with a tour guide this time, so we got to see the frogs active during the day and get a closer look at many of them. Frogs are so cute! And there are so many colorful kinds here!

Jardin de Mariposas, Santa Elena, Costa Rica 2014Sleeping Frog at the Ranario, Santa Elena, Costa Rica 2014

We were quite beat after two full days of exploring, and had one last traditional Costa Rican meal (complete with horchata and a drink made from something called cas, which was delicious) and prepared to head to Managua the next day. To get there, we’d have to play public bus hopscotch for about 6 or 7 hours to reach the border, and then take another bus to Managua. The entire trip took over 12 hours, including a really long stop at the border and 4 different buses.

When we finally arrived in Managua, we were exhausted and hadn’t even had time to eat much of anything in between jumping buses. We hadn’t been able to get a hold of James’s dad all day either, so we weren’t really sure what to do when we got into Managua. The bus ride went by several beautiful volcanoes, the lake, and several villages. It was immediately apparent how much poorer Nicaragua is than Costa Rica. It is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (after Haiti) and that fact became very obvious as soon as we crossed the border.

When we got in, we borrowed a phone to leave James Sr. a message and then went across the street to an internet cafe to try to contact him via Skype to let him know we had arrived. After a few minutes, James’s dad showed up and surprised us after getting the message, and we were on our way. Except that once we arrived at his house, I realized I’d left my iPhone on the desk in the internet cafe in my haste to get out of there and get to some food. Shit. James and I jumped in a taxi and raced back, only to find the internet cafe closed. He went back the next day and the people working didn’t know anything about the phone, and when we returned again today with James Sr. and his superior Spanish skills, we still didn’t get any leads but left the owner with a number and a note mentioning a reward. I turned my phone on “lost mode” via FindMyiPhone and locked it, but that can’t even go into effect until it gets a network or wifi connection (it was on Airplane mode). The lady we talked to today seemed a little shady and defensive and we didn’t get the best feeling about the conversation. It was very hard to tell if she was being honest but I have pretty much given up hope of finding my phone. It really sucks mostly because all my trip planning info was on it, as well as a very handy currency converter, camera, and Spanish dictionary… but at least it’s insured and I can replace it when I get home. No trip would be complete without some sort of snafu… it could be worse!

Other than losing my phone, Managua has been great so far. We have had some delicious food (went out to Korean food tonight!), met some really nice people, made epic mojitos with Nicaraguan rum, and showed a few people the joys of pod poi, glow hoops, and flow wands. We’ve mostly just been relaxing after a long day of traveling, but we’ve also visited some local markets, found Coleman white gas to spin fire (!!!!!!!!!) and today we volunteered at a bio-intensive farm called Centro Biotensivo en Nicaragua. Today reminded me just how small the world is. The farm we worked on bases its methods on John Jeavons, who is from Willits, in Mendocino county, and whose beyond organic farming methods are used by my favorite local organization back home, Noyo Food Forest. We prepped beds, planted beans, mulched, watered, and toured the garden project, which had just started last year and was already growing an impressive variety of organic crops. Michael, one of the organizers, taught us a lot about biointensive farming and now I can’t wait to get home and work in my garden!

Bio-Nica Bio Intensive Farm, Nicaragua 2014 Bio-Nica Bio Intensive Farm, Nicaragua 2014 Bio-Nica Bio Intensive Farm, Nicaragua 2014

Tonight we went to a yoga class and one of James’s dad’s breathing classes. It was really cool to get to take some classes in mostly Spanish, for one, and I needed that stretch after all the hiking we’ve been doing.

We’re planning on exploring the area and local swimming holes, going to the beach, and exploring the beautiful volcanic islands of Ometepe. Our last couple weeks here will surely fly by quickly!

Envision: Fat Stacks of Funktion Ones, Swampy Jungle Heat & Pura Vida Vibes!

I just finished doing some yoga with an adorable hostel kitty here at the lush Cascada Verde hostel in Uvita… ahhhh! We just returned from 4 days at Envision Festival, which was amazing and I’m still processing it all. We’ve all had very little sleep this weekend, but have definitely had our fill of sunshine, days by the waterfall and beach, humid jungle heat, and soooooo much mind-blowing live music and art and food. The people here are beautiful and friendly and we’ve been meeting lots of fellow travelers and Envisionaries along the way.

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We took a long but very scenic bus from San Jose through the hills and down to the Pacific coast on Tuesday. The bus was full of other festival goers and we made friends along the way. We arrived in Uvita and grabbed a ride in the back of a taxi’s (or maybe it was just some local’s?) flatbed truck with our luggage up the hill to a lush shady oasis called Cascada Verde. This adorable hostel makes me feel like we’re staying in a Swiss Family Robinson treehouse – with big open terraces full of hammocks and a chorus of cicadas, birds, and jungle life to sing us to sleep.

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Before Envision we got to cool off at a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole just down the road from the hostel, where we also ended up going to escape the daytime heat during the festival. We got to slide down a waterfall, sip frosty beverages (my favorite is a gingery lime blend called agua de sapo, which translates as toad water but tastes way better than it sounds), jump into cool pools and spin in the shade.

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Envision had the vibe of a lot of our favorite west coast transformational festivals and was full of positive, inspiring, talented people—locals and travelers from all over the world. It was held at a big private ranch in Uvita with direct access to Playa Hermosa. We walked in to see huge stacks of Funktion One speakers and gave them a big hug as we realized we were home… they kept us rocking all weekend to many a crunchy beat. Ruben, one of five in our travel group, had an early arrival pass so he went in with all our tents and nabbed us a shady camping spot. We spent most of our time dancing at one of the stages, gawking at amazing visual and performance art, body surfing in the ocean, hanging in hammocks, cooling off by the waterfall, and walking around a lot. We saw so much excellent music! I finally had my first live Tipper experience.  Tipper played two sets, one Saturday night and one to welcome the sunrise this morning. The Polish Ambassador, Mr. Rogers, Whitebear, Plantrae, kLL sMTHWildlight, Pumpkin, Nahko and Medicine for the People, Papadosio, Rising Appalachia and many other great acts shared the stage with fire spinners, dancers, aerialists and performers. Our feet ache from all the dancing and exploring for sure. James and I got to spin fire at sunset at the beach, which was beautiful except that we used citronella tiki torch fuel after our fruitless searches for white gas (it works, kinda, but it was gross, don’t do it!)

Sunset at Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica 2014 California Homies at Envision James Spinning Fire on the Beach at Envision 2014

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The heat and humidity here are oppressive and even at night it barely cooled down enough for us to dance or spin for too long at a time. We are happy to be back at Cascada Verde hostel today to rest and relax before we plan the rest of our journey. We met up with a friend from Mendo whose Dad lives near here on a small organic farm, and he offered cheap lodging and a chance to learn about cacao harvesting for a couple days in exchange for helping with the harvest and around the farm, so we are headed to Earth Rose Farm in nearby San Isidro. We hope to hit up Monteverde and Arenal after that as we head north to Nicaragua.

It feels like we’ve been here forever already, but it’s only the end of week one of our adventure! Now for some rest before the next chapter unfolds. 🙂