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. 🙂

Mucho Fruta!

Well, we’re alive! No issues on our red eye flight other than lack of actual sleep, and we managed to find the right buses and the place we are staying in Atenas with one of James’s dad’s friends. Atenas is a super cute little hilly town FULL OF FRUIT TREES!!! We walked around town picking not quite ripe mangos, guavas, starfruit, bananas, and searching for elusive avocado trees. We mostly just chilled and rested yesterday, but we did get to enjoy some piña coladas and smoothies made with lots of local fruit and Nicaraguan rum.

Fruit Hunting in Atenas, Costa Rica 2014

James, Zac, and I took a bus to San Jose today to get our Uvita bus tickets and check out the city. This place is CRAZY. Super narrow streets, cars and people everywhere, and man are internet cafes hard to find! But we did find a vegetarian restaurant. Now to get bus tickets, check out the Contemporary Art and Design museum, and head back to Atenas tonight only to come back here in the morning to catch our bus to Uvita.

James Spinning in San Jose, Costa Rica 2014 A Park in San Jose, Costa Rica 2014 Bromeliad on Palm: the Beginning of Plants on Plants in Atenas, Costa Rica 2014

Envision starts Thursday, until then we’re staying in the beautiful and rustic looking Cascada Verde hostel in Uvita. It is beautiful here and the people are super friendly (other than all the cat calls Genevieve and I have been getting as we walk around – but even those are friendlier and less vulgar than the ones in the states).

Pura vida! Hasta luego!

It’s All Gettin’ Real!

Envision BannerA week from now, I will be in San Jose, Costa Rica, exploring a bit and getting supplies and a bus ticket to Uvita before Envision Festival. OMG. This is really happening!

I returned home from a retreat for work on the icy east coast last weekend, and apparently brought the winter weather back with me, because it’s finally raining on the North Coast, and with the drought we’ve been in, I am very happy to see it. It also makes me even more excited to escape this wet and cold wintery weather to a lush, warm, sunny tropical paradise where I can eat papayas as big as my head and sip frosty beverages from coconuts.  Sorry, I can’t help but rub it in! This will be my first time “escaping” to somewhere tropical in the winter and the first international trip I have planned myself (actually, only the first week is planned, after that… it’s pretty open). I’ve never gone on a trip with a group of friends before, and I’ve definitely never been out of the country for a month at a time, so this will be an exciting adventure indeed! I just hope it’s not too expensive, because it’s been a slower winter than we were hoping for. But thanks to friends and family, and having places to stay in Costa Rica and Nicaragua for much of our journey, this magical journey is going to go off without a hitch, I can just feel it! If you’d like to help us save up some last minute trip money, please see this post and shop for crafty creations!

I’ve been listening to Envision Festival’s Soundcloud to get pumped up for the music we’ll be seeing there. Two sets of Tipper will be mind-blowing enough, but we are about to shake so much booty to great music in the jungle, it’s unbelievable. The fact that I was lucky enough to earn Envision tickets by street teaming will make this festival even more rewarding. I love being able to be involved in a festival more than just experiencing it as a spectator.

It’s been a busy rainy weekend full of laundry and dishes, laying out and eliminating clothes, piling up stuff to pack, getting last-minute gear and figuring out logistics (plus dying my hair – now this week I just need to chop it off). I’m feeling pretty ready at this point. Just a few more pieces need to fall into place and we’ll be ready to have the time of our lives! Pura vida, I am ready! Vive la experiencia!

Be sure to check out this blog for updates during our trip and I’m sure I’ll upload a few photos to Facebook along the way. And please get in touch with me or leave a comment if you’ll be traveling in Central America and want to meet up, or have places to see or stay to recommend. Thanks for the support! 🙂

So Much WIN! Our Envision Adventure Just Got Even Better!

I received some most excellent news yesterday that’s had me bouncing around doing the happy dance ever since. Thanks to you awesome people using my discount code for Envision tickets and our street teaming efforts posting & handing out flyers/stickers, talking about the festival on social media, and promoting the event, I’ve earned TWO tickets for James and I to go to Envision. I never expected that joining the street team would pay off this much — I was cautiously hoping for at least one ticket, but we bought super early bird tickets just in case (which took less than a day to sell on Facebook). So now we have more money towards our trip (thank you to the lovely ladies who bought our tickets!) and maybe we can even manage a quick visit to the beautiful Corn Islands in Nicaragua

And I thought I couldn’t get any more excited for this trip. The yoga and movement workshops are starting to be announced as well as speakers for the event, and  I was thrilled to find out that one of my personal heroes, Julia Butterfly, will be speaking there, so I may even have the chance to hug my favorite tree hugger/sitter! Oh my glob, I can hardly contain myself! I can’t even watch this preview video without jumping up and down and squealing like a schoolgirl:

There’s still time to join us at Envision! Tickets are available (don’t forget to use my discount code!) and flight prices are still decent! The lineup is pretty amazing, and you can’t beat the location for a tropical escape in the winter…

And it gets even better… Envision is just the beginning of our adventure! We are getting together with the friends we are traveling with tonight to reserve our first few nights of hostels and get some plans squared away. This is becoming REAL. A month from today, we will be getting ready to fly out of San Francisco and start the longest international adventure I’ve ever been on (James lived in Nicaragua as a kid, so he’s got me beat there. Two weeks in Peru wasn’t enough for me, and I doubt a month in Costa Rica and Nicaragua will be enough either).

Please comment if you’ve been to Costa Rica or Nicaragua and have places to recommend that we see. We’re especially interested in volunteer opportunities, preferably in Nicaragua and having to do with animals, wildlife, conservation, or anything helping the locals become more sustainable – that we could help out with for a short time during our visit. We appreciate any travel tips or not-to-miss sights we can get, especially since most of our trip will be unplanned and open-ended so we can ask around and be open to whatever we find on the journey.

Only one more month to go… Stay tuned for my last-minute fundraising posts soon as we scramble to save all the pennies we can! And of course, I’ll be posting travel stories and photos here during and after the trip so you can all join us vicariously. Let the countdown begin!

Envisioning a Beautiful 2014

As I’m sure you’re aware if you follow me on social media at all, I am REALLY REALLY excited for our upcoming trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in February & March. Shortly after landing in San Jose, we’ll be heading to the Pacific coast near beautiful Uvita, Costa Rica for Envision Festival, a music, movement & arts festival that will be my first international festival experience. (Technically I guess it’s still a west-coast music fest though, and I’ve been to plenty of those!)

Envision Festival 2014 Music Lineup

So far James and I have bought our festival tickets and booked our flights, and even recruited a few friends to share the adventure with! We will be exploring a few sites in Costa Rica after the festival before heading over the border to Nicaragua, where James’s dad is living, so we’ll have a nice home base in Managua.

As hard as it is for me, I am trying not to over-plan so that we can freely explore when we get there and go with the flow without a strict schedule. But I do have a short wish list for the trip: I’d like to zipline through beautiful rainforest or cloud forest canopy, enjoy a fancy tropical drink out of a coconut at a swim-up bar, spin fire on the beach at sunset, hike in the jungle to beautiful waterfalls and epic volcanoes, visit and volunteer at a wildlife refuge or permaculture farm or some such worthy place, and best of all SEE TIPPER LIVE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN COSTA RICA!!! 😀

I can already tell that 2014 is going to be a wonderful year! Please comment with recommendations for things to do and see in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, people to stay with and places we could volunteer for a few days are especially welcome!

And if you’re up for an adventure to close out this winter, JOIN US! Get your Envision Tickets here, and use discount code STmeganp14 during checkout to receive $5 off! It is going to be a beautiful trip in an amazing place… And now you know what I’m working towards all winter. 🙂