After experiencing so many beautiful and colourful birds in Costa Rica, Mandrew got a bit obsessed with his feathered friends. Here's a collection of his favourite bird photos from our wanderings around the Americas. Enjoy!
To check out the album in Flickr, click here.
After our time in San Gil we were ready to head north to the Caribbean and spend some time lounging on a beach, but not before earning it. We arrived in Santa Marta early in the morning and settled into a hostel near the main market area. At first glance the city was pretty terrible: smelled of urine and rotting garbage mixed with thick black car exhaust, noisy vehicles, sketchy people, etc. I had no interest in walking around so after inquiring into “La Ciudad Perdida” (the Lost City) five-day trek through the jungle, I decided to relax and read a book for the rest of the day.
Santa Marta & DumPster Kitty
Andrew went to the bank machine and for a little walk around our area. I had expected him to take longer but after 10 or 15 minutes he barged into the room panicking, with something tucked away in his shirt. At first I thought it was a mouse or a small rat, Andrew just mumbled that he had found it screaming on a sidewalk and could barely explain that no one seemed to care and someone made fun of him for picking it up! It was a TINY kitten. Couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 days old, with eyes still closed and one of them swollen to half the size of its head. Its hair was thick with dirt and smelled like human urine! Our hearts broke and we didn’t know what to do. Feeling like this kitten urgently needed some food, we left the hostel in search of a veterinarian. It took us far too long to find one but we eventually did after wandering through nasty smelly sweaty streets and market stands. We bought a container of kitten milk powder that you just add water to and a syringe we could use to try and feed him. We hurried back to the hostel and sterilized the syringe. Using a damp towel I cleaned the kitten as best I could while Andrew mixed some milk. It took some time to convince the kitten to eat from the syringe, but with patience we got the job done.
Recently, while in the mountain town of Boquete, Panama, I had the opportunity to take a tour of a small coffee farm, and thoroughly enjoyed being able to see firsthand how my favourite morning beverage makes it all the way from the seed to my cup. It blew my mind how much work actually goes into producing a cup of coffee, so I thought I’d share with you the “story of coffee”.
Origin of Coffee
With a coffee shop or four on every street corner these days, it’s easy to take it for granted that most days begin only after I’ve had my first cup of java. After having witnessed the tremendous amount of work that goes into producing coffee, however, I’m forced to wonder – who the heck thought to go through all this trouble? Well, it seems there are a few different stories about how coffee was discovered, and although this one seems the least credible, I find it the most entertaining:
Sometime in the ninth century A.D., an Ethiopian goat-herder named Kaldi noticed that, after eating a certain plant, his goats behaved quite strangely, running and jumping around all nimbly-bimbly. Thinking that he’d be able to get the same kind of energy boost (or maybe just wanting to get high), Kaldi decided to try it for himself. First, he tried munching on some of the berries, but found that they were too bitter. He then tried chewing on some of the leaves, but quickly found them to be too tough and waxy to continue. Next, he got the bright idea of brewing a tea from the leaves, but alas that, too, tasted like crap. In a fit of hopeless rage, Kaldi tore up the plants and cast them into his fire. A few minutes later, however, he noticed that the burnt plants smelled damn good, and after some investigating found that it was the roasted berries that were releasing the fantastic aroma. He ground up some of these roasted berries and steeped them in hot water, and instantly became the happiest man in Ethiopia.
After a few months of travelling in Central America, I want to share with you some of the things that we didn't like. While we have found much beauty and met several wonderful people along the way, not everything is wonderful all of the time.
I can't speak accurately for Andrew though I know that he is having a little difficulty dealing with not having a "goal" or "mission" to work toward. For me it is a little bit different. I don't miss "home" exactly, but the constantly packing and unpacking is a little bit tiring, and I am getting sick of my clothes. Always the same outfits that I don't really like anymore, lol, and always having to decide which outfit is less dirty to wear that day. It feels like we are constantly doing laundry! This doesn't bother me THAT much, but along with a few other things, makes some days feel very exhausting.
What has been getting to me more lately are the negative looks from people in places that we go. It is not the majority of people by any means, but those few and far between people who clearly do not appreciate our presence in their town and who believe that we are somehow the cause of all of their pain and suffering. I try not to let it get to me, but I have to admit that it does make me feel guilty. Guilty that I have enough money that I can go travelling for a year and not have to worry about starving to death on any given day. Guilty that if I don't like it here, I can just go somewhere else. This combined with the majority of people who are constantly trying to overcharge us because they believe that we are some sort of money machine and don't actually care at all to know who we are. Often times they go out of their way to make sure that we feel guilty if we don't buy something from them. It really is unfair that we can live our lives this way, and most people in the world will never have this opportunity. It is shameful that corruption, greed and politics get in the way of government and allow this to go on in this day and age.
Prospero Año Nuevo! We hope you have celebrated as hard as we have (though I doubt it is possible!). We are in Ecuador now but we have a chance to catch up on posting photos so we figured that we would just post all of our Panama stuff in one update.
Panama was an interesting and nice place from what we saw. We spent almost a month in the country including a stop in Boquete, a northern mountain town, Santa Catalina, a surfing town and hub to the Coiba Island National Park, and Panama City, the home of the infamous Pacific/Atlantic Panama canal. All in all it was a good time, but I do have to admit that something has changed in our travelling mindset at this point and I believe I that my view of Panama may be slightly influenced by travellers' fatigue/ travellers' blues (if there is such a thing). More on this later, but for now, here's PANAMA!
Ignoring the missed bus stop and the couple useless days in Santiago, our first real week in Panama was spent in Boquete, a neat town nestled in the mountains and surrounded by coffee plantations and rainforest. Named “the best spot to retire” by some American geezer publication, about half of the people there seemed to be either retirees, backpackers, or huge families of Guaymí (one of the many tribes of indigenous Panamanians) who come to find work harvesting coffee. Although it’s a great town to explore by foot or leave for various interesting day-trips (hot springs, mountain biking, etc.), we spent the majority of our time recovering from the past couple weeks, hunkering down in our hostel or visiting the nearby gelato shop.
As we’ve found with many other places in Central America, Boquete and the surrounding area attract a lot of attention from bird watchers. We spent a day hiking part of the Quetzal Trail, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the resplendent quetzal, a pretty badass bird that nests in the area. Unfortunately, we came up short and didn’t spot much more than a squirrel, although the hike was still quite nice.
We are really missing family and friends at home right now. It is pretty awesome to be spending the holidays in a surfing town though! We are volunteering at a small hotel in Santa Catalina, basically doing a lot of customer service stuff now, and also worked on some plumbing and water tank cleaning when we first got here. The hotel is located on the top of a very steep and long hill so we are getting in some amazing accidental exercise going up and down all day.
There is one other volunteer here with us, Karlien who has been in the area for several weeks before us. She is very helpful in showing us around, is fun to hang out and work with, and lets us use her surf board. The board is much smaller than we have been used to - it is called a "funboard" or a "mini-malibu", which is something like a step down from a long board but wider and a bit bigger than a classic board. We tried a classic board a few days ago and it was very difficult, though we did both manage to stand up briefly once or twice. Karlien's board is a bit easier, but still a challenge compared to the long board. For me, I think I would like to work on paddling harder to catch the waves. Andrew seems to be catching more than me (on account of his manly muscles) so I think I'll go out tomorrow all day and see what I can learn.
The chef that works here is also very nice. He has been here for almost two years and still loves it. The four of us have a great time hanging out. I am very happy to be spending the holidays with some cool people, even though I miss home, just a little tiny bit (but it is -38 in Whitehorse and icing over in Ontario so not THAT much, lol).
We also spent a day diving in the Coiba Islands, a Island national park off coast from here. Many people call them the Galapagos of Panama, and I can certainly see why! The first dive was pretty good, we saw a ton of fish, but we didn't see anything new. Diving in the Pacific is much different than the Caribean. There aren't as many corals, but the fish are really incredible! On the second dive we saw so much more! Right when we got down to the bottom we saw a few white tip reef sharks, and then a 4-foot turtle swim by, it actually swam within probably 4-5 feet of me as I just float there, breathing and taking in the spectacle! It felt very magical. Next we saw hundreds and hundreds of jackfish, some barracuda, a devil ray, I saw a dolphin in the distance (not clearly, and heard it singing), the frog fish was insane! You have to google this thing because it is just the weirdest looking fish! And so colourful. We also saw SEA HORSES!!! They were incredible - about 6-in long, hooked onto small fan corals coloured almost the same as them. That for me was so cool! And of course we saw a bazillion other fish and moray eels etc. Amazing.
Our last dive beat all our previous and probably many future dives for most memorable of all! We thought there MIGHT be a chance to see a whale shark before we arrived at our dive site, but were trying not to get our hopes up. I jumped in when the boat stopped, before I had put on my gear, and the guys on the boat threw me my BCD so I could put it on in the water. I had my goggles on and thought I would just peek into the water to see if there was a whale shark around - not actually expecting anything. And then BAM! Whale shark in the face! Literally feet away and it came right up to surface so one of its fins was out of the water! Everyone was in the water within seconds, I had my reg in my mouth but no gear on and I swam closer dragging my BCD. It was pure magic! The dive was unbelievable - we saw the whale shark (not sure if it was the same one or not) a few times deeper down where we actually watched right in front of us as it came upward with its mouth open, feeding on crill, and then turn over and wag its tail at us!!! We watched three times and used up all but the reserve oxygen in all of our tanks just trying to see it again and again. Incredible! However I was very nervous for a few of the other divers, one of whom was quite out of shape and nervous as he had already ran out of air on the first dive and had to be calmed down, and two of whom asked me if I could stick around them to share air if they ran out. I had the same amount as them, and we were 55ft deep! eeks!
I should also mention that the Coiba Islands that we stopped at (two of them) were absolutely beautiful!
Well we hope that the holidays are going well at home and everyone is keeping warm through all of these ice and freezing storms! Sending warmth!
We've been away from internet for awhile now, time to catch up on here! Andrew already posted a blog about Bolita but it didn't include pictures so here you are!
It was such an interesting little place, exactly what we were hoping for. I won't re-describe everything for you but there were a couple of things I wanted to add to Andrews notes.
We had so much time to hike around and watch wildlife near Bolita. The picture here is from beside our table at breakfast. Hummingbirds, bees, monkeys, macaws, doves, geckos, etc. were always nearby.
This picture shows the nearly finished product of our volunteer work. We were asked to build a shelter over the clothes-line. We used bamboo which we cut down from a nearby bush, and some scraps that were lying around from previous projects.
It took us two days (4-5 hours per day) to build and was very fun! We learned a lot about working with bamboo though didn't have any instruction - all by trial and error.
At one point Andrew got a bamboo cut on his thumb. At first he looked at it a bit nervously and insisted that he was ok when I asked. After a few minutes, he got off of the stump he was standing on and wobbled to the kitchen sink. I knew he was going to faint so I grabbed a stump for him to sit on while I held onto him from behind. (Note from Andrew - it was a really hot and sunny day of hard work, I was really just quite dehydrated! =P)
This is not the first time I've had to do this so was pretty routine, lol. When he was feeling up for it we cleaned it out well and stuck a bandage on it. It really wasn't too bad, but he said he got disturbed when it began to ooze dark blood. lol, funny day. The next day I got a couple of bamboo cuts as well (nothing bad) but it is worth noting that bamboo can be pretty dangerous for that! Super sharp! We wore gloves after a few warning cuts.
We spent the last four days hiking and nature watching in Corcovado, the largest of Costa Rica’s National Parks and reportedly one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. We saw a ton of cool creatures, took over a thousand photos & over an hour of video footage, ate a ridiculous amount of tuna and peanut butter, worked the hell out of our legs, and returned to civilization the dirtiest and smelliest we’ve ever been. All in all, a great success in our book. =)
We spent three nights at Sirena Ranger Station, deep in the heart of the park. To get there, we took what I’ll now term a “potato bus” (more on this later) from Puerto Jimenez to the end of the road at Carate, then hiked a beautiful 20 km along the Pacific coast, at times working our way up and around large rock outcrops or wading through streams and rivers. When we had originally gotten our park permits and spoken with the park staff in Jimenez, we were told we’d need to be on the trails by 6am in order to hit the final river crossing (at the Rio Claro) during low tide - crossing at high tide is not recommended, partly due to dangerous currents that could suck you out into the ocean, and partly because the deeper waters allow bull sharks and crocodiles to make their way up the river to feed on fish (or unlucky tourists). We thought we’d take this fairly seriously, and decided to catch the bus to Carate the night before the hike to allow us to get a nice, early start.
Our original plan was to arrive in Carate and find a nice secluded spot to pitch a tent, probably somewhere along the beach. As we were boarding the “bus” from Jimenez, however, we bumped into a couple frazzled-looking backpackers first words to us were, “DON’T CAMP ON THE BEACH!” – they had just returned to town after having their bags stolen from them while camping on the beach in Carate the night before. Yikes – we rode to Carate, and with only a couple hours of daylight to spare and no real idea where we’d end up spending the night, we began our trek down the beach. We were starting to get a bit worried after about 45 minutes in, until we noticed a quaint little property just off the beach with a perfectly mown lawn, impeccably kept gardens, and a few small huts – where the hell were we?? We wandered in and struck up a conversation with the only guy in sight, an older gentleman named Bob who quickly realized we were in a bit of a pickle and said he had no problem with us pitching our tent on the grass. It turned out that he and his son Kelly were on vacation from Northern California, spending a week of it on the property which was owned by a friend of a friend of theirs. In no time, Bob and Kelly were sharing with us their dinner of beans & rice (what else), some great conversation (did you guys know about this Ison comet that’s approaching extremely close to Earth?), and even the last of their special stash (which we smoked from their little seashell pipe). Chelsea and I felt like we’d stumbled into some fairytale paradise, and were happy to contribute one of our very precious chocolate covered coffee beans and a Snickers bar, which we all shared for dessert. An unexpected but most excellent evening!
The last few weeks have been a blast! After a couple action-packed weeks with my parents (so glad you guys were able to visit!), we decided to get back to nature and spent the last week at an incredible hostel called La Bolita located on the edge of Corcovado National Park. The place was great – exactly what we’d originally had in mind when we first planned on visiting Costa Rica. Although it was a bit of an adventure to get to ...
take a colectivo (mini-bus) about half an hour along the world's bumpiest road from Puerto Jimenez to Dos Brazos del Tigre, a town of about two hundred people. Once there, walk five minutes to the edge of town and then hike for half an hour up a steep jungle path, at one point wading through the Rio Tigre (don't worry, there aren't any tigers).
... for us this just added to the wonder of the place. Every morning we awoke to the sunrise and the sound of howling monkeys and screaming macaws (why does such a beautiful bird have to sound so horrible?), and spent the day hiking, nature-watching, relaxing in hammocks, and doing a bit of volunteer work. How could we ever go back to an office job after this??
Situated on sixty hectares of land that once contained a banana plantation, Bolita consists of a couple dorm buildings, a kitchen, a bathroom & shower building (with flush toilets), and a series of hiking trails through the old plantation and surrounding jungle. One morning we did an awesome hike that took us a couple hours through the jungle and up to a waterfall, after which we followed the Rio Tigre for a couple hours back down, hiking in water anywhere from ankle- to armpit-deep. We saw howler monkeys, white-faced (capuchin) monkeys, a couple small snakes, and a few jesus christ lizards running across the water and earning their names – amazing! We also ran into a couple local oreros (gold miners) panning for gold, which was a bit of a surprise for us. We were later told that there's a whole shanty town of gold miners who live in the jungle a four hour hike from town and pan various parts of the river.
Because we stayed as volunteers, in exchange for about 20 hours of work per week, we got free accommodation along with unlimited beans & rice – finally a volunteer gig where we aren’t working AND paying. And since we didn’t realize there would be next to no groceries available in town, we ate nothing but beans & rice for the first couple days and saved a bunch of money on food (at least we had brought some hot sauce). Luckily, the owner Val was nice and picked us up a few things during her weekly trip to Puerto Jimenez, letting us to cook up some of the best pasta ever. The volunteer work was enjoyable, and we spent a couple days putting together a rain shelter for the clotheslines. We felt like proper rainforest pioneers chopping down a couple tall bamboo trees, splitting and cutting the bamboo, and lashing together a beautifully-engineered structure.
Spending the week at the edge of Corcovado National Park has got us really excited for our next adventure – four days at La Sirena ranger station deep in the park. The plan is to catch a bus to Carate, the small town at the edge of the park, then early the next morning set out for the 20 km hike in along the beach.
If we’re lucky, during our stay we’ll get to see tapirs, giant anteaters, pumas, jaguars, ocelots, crocodiles, bull sharks, a load of monkeys, and a plethora of frogs, lizards and birds. Also, if we’re lucky we won’t be seeing any of the many kinds of large, venomous snakes. Apparently there’s a very poisonous snake called the bushmaster (insert inappropriate comment here) that grows to be over three metres long and has been known to be aggressive, even at times chasing people through the jungle (or perhaps here). We’ll definitely have our hiking sticks and machetes out and will be ready to defend ourselves. =)
We haven’t had much internet access lately and so haven’t had a chance to upload any photos, but once we’re out of the park and have settled somewhere in Panama we’ll be able to catch up and share some more stories.
Until then, Pura Vida! - Mandrew
The last couple weeks with my parents have been a blast, trying to make the most of their time in Costa Rica. While we had a great time showing them around and going on a variety of day adventures, their visit also came with some new challenges for Chelsea and I – namely finding the best cheap red wine for my mom and an appropriate substitute for my dad’s usual “blue drinks” (VEX electric lemonade vodka coolers). Their visit also meant a nice change for us – a couple weeks of eating better food, staying in fancy-schmancy rental properties (with hot showers, hooray!), and the experience of Costa Rican driving with our rental car.
The first week we stayed at a condo in Playas Del Coco, about an hours’ drive south of Tamarindo. The guy who drove us into town introduced the place as “a drinking town with a fishing problem” and we quickly saw why. The main part of town was a stretch of road packed with restaurants and bars, each with large signs boasting their “happy hour” deals. One bar on the far end of the beach had a “wall of fame”, showcasing their current record-holders for the most beers drank in a single day – one of whom we were told was a ninety pound Canadian chica who slammed back 30 or more beers and still managed to head out to go dancing afterward. Way to represent! The main beach at Coco was packed with fishermen and their rigs, as well as local kids playing football (soccer) and random dogs running amuck.
We spent a few days relaxing at Playa del Coco and a couple of the neighboring beaches, at each new location sampling their Pina Colada in Chelsea’s extensive search for the very best. My dad and I also managed to pack in a morning of ocean fishing, which was a nice treat. Our boat was followed by a couple pods of spotted dolphins, and we managed to catch (although we did very little of the actual fishing part) a beautiful mahi-mahi, which took us a few meals to eat our share of. We also spent an afternoon relaxing and surfing at Playa Grande (thanks Christie & Sebsters for the recommendation!) which was by far the highlight of the week for us. The waves were perfect for learning and we all (except for the mimsy) had some success catching some gnarly surf (but limited success in picking up on the surfer lingo).
Although Playas del Coco was not exactly the nicest beach or town we’ve seen so far, it was great to spend the week relaxing, eating, drinking, playing cards and catching up with the parents.
The next week we spent at an awesome rental house in Neuvo Arenal, which was recommended to us by April’s parents (thanks Janice & Gord!). The house was gorgeous, complete with two king-size beds, an extra bedroom, four washrooms, a swimming pool, beautiful garden & terrace, and fully-stocked kitchen (with a blender for mastering our Pina Colada skills). We did a lot of driving around to check out the sights, which were incredible. We spent an afternoon hiking around Arenal Volcano, during which my mom impressed us all with her rock-hopping skills. We awoke every morning to howling monkeys (which to us sound more like pissed-off dinosaurs than monkeys), though we didn’t see any until our drive back to the airport on the final day.
The two weeks flew right by, and we were sad to see my parents off. We also can’t believe it’s already December – it will be tough for us to be away from our families over Christmas.
Some of the highlights of the last couple weeks:
- exploring random dirt roads in our rental golf cart
- feeding the mocking-jays at Playa Ocotal
- Scuba diving at Playas del Coco and experiencing the intense chill of the thermoclines
- catching mad curls at Playa Grande in Tamarindo
- fishing for mahi-mahi at Playas del Coco
- searching for the best pina colada, and finally achieving perfection for ourselves
- hiking through the jungle around Arenal Volcano
- relaxing in the hot springs river near La Fortuna
- driving along a random gravel road and spotting spider monkeys
- playing lots of card games and learning a new game together (All Fours)
- horseback riding around the hills near Nuevo Arenal
Thanks again, Mimsy & Pimsy, for coming to see us! Hope to see you in Africa next year! =)
Mandrew & Chelsea
Week 1 - Playas Del Coco
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Week 2 - NuevO Arenal
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