I stumbled on our old travel blog from Australia while trying to remember the url for our current website. Crazy, didn't think it was still on the web.http://www.geocities.ws/cham_marsilton/
Our first few days in Costa Rica have been awesome! When I was originally planning our first destination I had an inkling we'd be a bit off the beaten path, and indeed we are! Although the 36 hours of traveling was a bit painful (including three hours on a bus along a winding and hilly dirt road - not for the faint of stomach), it was definitely worth it, as we've found ourselves in a small farming town (about 150 people) in the middle of an incredible lush and hilly forest.
Villas Mastatal is an organic farm of about 40 acres, owned by a local family & passed down for the last fifty or so years. About half the land is maintained with a mix of fruit trees, veggies, herbs & leafy greens, a grazing area for the cows, a couple chicken coops, a pig pen, a small tilapia pond, and accommodations for the family and up to about 40 volunteers; the other half is left in its natural mostly forested state. It seems to me that Javier, Raquel and their two year old son Andres have it pretty good with their own slice of paradise, and they've been extremely happy to share it with us.
The volunteering experience so far has been great. A typical day has been wake for breakfast at 7, work from 8-12, and then relax, read, hike, hang out with the other volunteers and help the family prepare & clean up after meals (typically beans, rice and or pasta, salad and fresh fruit). We spent a couple days sanding & varnishing the dining tables, and the rest of the time helping with various tasks around the farm: fertilizing plants with compost, planting seeds, collecting fresh fruit & herbs for meals, and shoveling cow poop (caca de vaca). The work has been just vigorous enough to ensure you're soaked in sweat by lunch time and ready for a refreshing cold shower.
The weather has been warm but not hot, but incredibly humid (it is rainy season, after all). Most mornings seem to be overcast but rain-free, and at some point in the afternoon it will either rain a little or rain a lot. Our biggest challenge has been finding a way to properly dry our clothes to avoid a musty odor - a losing battle thus far.
We've now got the weekend off, so we'll likely spend some time checking out the bar in Mastatal or wandering into the national park to hunt for monkeys (we can hear them screaming at night, but have yet to spot any). On Monday we'll move 1.5 km down the road to Siempre Verde and begin our much anticipated Spanish lessons.
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Flights booked, accommodations arranged, Dukoral ingested - it's finally happening! Our summer in the Yukon has been incredible, but we're ready to start our real adventure. We fly out of Whitehorse on Sunday morning and will arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica early on Monday. From there, we'll catch the bus for about 4 hours to the small town of Mastatal (see map below), where we've arranged our first couple stints of volunteering.
Our first week or so we'll spend at Villas Mastatal, a small family-run organic farm and eco-lodge. From there, we'll head over to Cabañas Siempre Verde, where we'll volunteer while taking part in their intensive Spanish language training. By staying as volunteers, we'll be expected to work about 4 or 5 hours a day, 5 days a week in exchange for accommodation and meals at a reduced rate ($10-15/day each). We're not exactly sure what we'll be asked to do as volunteers, but it could include random farming work (weeding gardens, harvesting crop, milking cows, etc.), construction projects (building maintenance or trail clearing), or helping out in the kitchen. Once the work is done, we'll have plenty of time to relax and explore our new surroundings, hike around the neighboring La Cangreja National Park, swim in waterfalls, swing through the trees with monkeys & bats, and have a generally awesome time.
From what we've been told, Mastatal is a pretty small town with not much more than an internet cafe, bar, church, pay phone, convenience store and soccer field. Should be an interesting starting point for us! We've been told the locals are extremely friendly, and based on the jovial-looking folks on the colones (especially Señor Muttonchops, bottom left) I'd have to agree.
I'm not sure when we'll next be able to post an update, but in the very least we should be able to send some GPS beacons to let everyone know we're still kicking. We've thrown a map on our home page which will show our most recent location updates. Pretty snazzy, eh?
We're both really excited and nervous to be diving straight into things like this, but that's generally the way to go. We'll spend the next few days getting our things packed, saying our goodbyes, and enjoying our last few nights in a real bed. Wish us luck, and don't forget to keep bein' chili (I'm working on a catch phrase, thoughts?)
Map of Mastatal, Costa Rica:
For one of our last camping excursions in the Yukon this summer, we decided to head north on the Dempster Highway to the Tombstone Mountains. We saved this trip for this time of year as the fall colours are out in full strength.
We did two full day hikes and camped in the Tombstone campground. We would have gone further up the Dempster if we had more time but at least we got a taste.
The Grizzly Lake hike was amazing! The pictures here show some of the colours and the rugged mountains. It took us just over two hours to get to the peak of the hike to the lake where we hung out, had a sandwich and spied on the hills below. The conservation officer that was working at the Interpretative Center told us that it generally takes 7hr to get to the lake, but we could have done it in about 3.
The hike itself was fairly challenging. A massive wind storm passed through the night before and knocked down over 100 trees on the Grizzly Lake trail. On our way into the trail, a distraught couple with a young baby passed us heading back to their car. They were clearly upset (which was kind of funny) and told us not to go any further as there were so many downed trees! The man, red in the face and huffing, made a hand signal cutting across his neck as he told us it was frugal to go any further. But, we decided to keep going :)
The couple was definitely right about the trees posing a challenge! If we had a small baby with us we wouldn't have gone much further either. But I don't think we would have been so angry, haha. We did our best to navigate the trail over the fallen trees and came upon another couple trying to make their way as well, heading in the same direction as us. The woman was near hysterics as I approached, mumbling something about "only a couple of downed trees, my ass..." and when she realized we were approaching she straightened up and explained how she had just punctured her leg on a broken tree branch. The man looked a little weary about going further but, as I would have in her situation, the woman insisted on continuing, trying to make the best of this awkward situation.
It took maybe 20 or 30 minutes of this scrounging over trees before we came to the steep incline, heading up the hill toward a lookout point on the way to Grizzly Lake. The trail from then on posed a new challenge; very steep incline and rocky footing. As we forged on up the mountain, the colours and scents of the rugged north engaged our senses. The land looked like a shag carpet of reds, yellows, oranges and greens, leading up to the rugged mountain peeks in the distance, some powdered with snow. This was by far my favorite hike of the two. Once we got to the lookout point we stopped for a few pictures and to take in the sights, then decided to keep going to the top of the mountain ahead. It didn't take us too much longer to reach the peak where we had an amazing view of Grizzly Lake (top picture). We had made it well over half way to the lake, but decided to turn around at this point since we didn't bring our camping gear. In the future I think we would like to return to this trail and stay at the lake for a day.
It didn't take us long to make our way back down the mountain, but our quads did most of the work this time. We were very happy to find that the parks maintenance guy had already cleared some of the trees which made our trek back to the car much less treacherous.
The next day we hiked the Hart River trail which is a snowmobile trail in the winter and a hiking trail in the summer. It was not difficult by any stretch as it followed the Hart River valley with almost no incline at all, though some muddy patches. The mountains on either side of us were so pretty and majestic! We saw grizzly, caribou and moose tracks along the way, and we heard a wolf howling in the distance. The Hard River Caribou Herd roams the mountain sides here, year round, but unfortunately we didn't get to see them. We took our time, scoping the hillsides for wildlife, and taking snack breaks along the way. We turned around at a creek with a small gorge after sending a GPS beacon home so we could see where we ended up once we got back.
At the campsite we drank a couple of beers and made dinner in a communal cooking hut. We met a young Danish guy named Nikolaj who was travelling by himself. Nikolaj taught us a new card game in exchange for a few beers, and after learning that he was looking for a way back to Whitehorse or Dawson, we offered him a ride with us. We left after our Hart River hike at about 6:00pm and made it into Whitehorse just before midnight. Since it was so late Nikolaj stayed with us, sleeping on the couch at my Moms house. It turned into a kind of funny thing for Nikolaj, who ended up staying for 3 nights and attending a gathering of close friends one night, and of family the next. We basically adopted him into our family which was a lot of fun for all of us. It was the second time my Mom and Jock had invited a "stranger" into their home, as Andrew and I have been trying to introduce the concept of couch surfing to them. I think they've now seen how awesome it can be.
We hope you enjoy our pictures from Tombstone! We didn't have as much time as we would have liked to hike and explore the area, but now we know where to pick up when we get back to the Yukon. If you haven't been here before, make sure you add this to your list of places to see. And put it down for early-mid September so you can see the colours for yourself. The pictures are one thing, and actually being there and seeing it for yourself - priceless!
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