Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A nice weekend getaway.

Like a Corona commercial...if Corona were a wine!

The view from the balcony of our Hotel.

Two local kids taking a break from jumping into the sea.

Doing my best soaking up the moment pose.

Hiking through the national park.

More hiking through the park (although it was more walking than hiking really)

Playa Blanca

A local family enjoying some time in the sea. Lots of vacationing Costa Rican families in Cahuita.

Day: 232

Location: Cahuita, Costa Rica

It was great to have a weekend away from Puerto Viejo, and Tamarah and I had a great time. Cahuita is an even smaller and more relaxed place than Puerto Viejo, which I honestly didn't think was possible. It is a tiny little Caribbean beach town with a population of what can not be much over a thousand and only one paved road. On one side of the town is Playa Blanca, or white beach, on the other side is Playa Negra, or black beach. Both are beautiful, long stretches of sand that roll out to aquamraine waters. Its the kind of place you day dream about when you are stuck at work staring at your computer screen for the 7th hour of the day.

The people are very laid back, and it feels like you are in Jamaica more so than Costa Rica. It is begining to be developed so you definitely feel the changes starting to take place, but for the time being it retains most of its authentic feel. You can get a double room there on the beach for 20 dollars a night, with a hammock hanging right outside your door on the porch that is literally a stone's throw from the water.

The food is good, a bit pricey, but tastey and everything moves to a Bob Marley beat. I really really enjoyed the weekend there and would highly recomend it to anyone looking for an escape from the world. It is lively enough that you can step out on a dance floor and dance to some Reggeaton, but slow enough that you do not in the slightest feel rushed to do anything. Nor do the locals for that matter, so do not expect anything to move fast, especially the food you order at the local eateries.

There is a state park there too, with an 11 km trail that makes its way through the jungle right along the sea. We saw all types of birds, insects, lizards, monkeys and even slothes, which are really cool looking animals. They move at a snails pace, but that makes it easier to watch them. They have the coolest looking faces of any animal I have ever seen, and they are pretty nice little guys, reaching out to touch you if you come close. They are so slow and gentle that is amazes me that they survivie at all. They seem like any type of predator would just gobble them up with nearly no effort.

On the whole, it was a great way to get away for a while and recharge the batteries. I have some big projects coming up at the volunteer center, so it was nice to be able to get away and just think about relaxing and enjoying life fora few days (although I am far from stressed in Puerto Viejo!)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Week three in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

One of the local eateries, Salsa Brava, named after the famous surf spot here.

Some local kids swimming in the sea.

The beach.

My trusty tent!

Most people here sleep in hammocks.

My favorite spot to sit and read.

This is the symbol of my favorite band, Social Distortion. I couldn´t believe my eyes when I saw a mosaic of them out here in Costa Rica! It was really cool for me.

Another week has breezed by me here in paradise and I have hardly noticed. Time just seems to move so much slower here, one day sort of drifting into the next. I am not complaining at all, its nice, but I am getting a bit antsy for a change of pace, at least for a little while. So, Tamarah, my fellow volunteer and I, have decided to head up to a place called Tortuguero for a weekend. It is a village that sits on a series of canals and is home to a large population of sea turtles. It sounds like a nice little get away and we are both really looking forward to it.

I finished the new chicken coop at the volunteer site and I must say, it came out fairly nice. It has been dubbed Casa Reece, which cracked me up and is home to a family of new little chicks that just hatched. Next up I am going to repair the fence around the center and then possibly varnish the building as well. I like working with my hands but its funny, since I am the only young guy working there I get to do all of the manual labor! Oh well, I don´t mind.

So, life is good, just a bit routine right now. I still get out to body surf every day that I can, as well as running and cycling around. The surf is picking up and if I end up staying here for a while I will have to snag a surf board as November and December it gets pretty big out here.

I have included some pictures of some of the local area and the place that I have been staying, Rocking J´s which is a cool place to hang out and cheap. I can put my tent up for 4 bucks a night, and the place is beautiful, decorated by the people that have stayed there. The only draw back is that the owner is a bit of a sleaze ball, hitting on every young girl that comes through the door, and I have had a few things stolen, like some clothes and food, which really pisses me off. I am going to relocate to something a bit more secure even if it costs a few bucks more a night.

That is it for now, I hope everyone is well and happy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My first days of work in 7 months!

Well, I have my first few weeks of volunteering under my belt and I can honestly say that it has turned out to be very rewarding. A lot of people probably read that and slap their foreheads and say, duh!, but for me it really was a big question mark as to whether or not I would enjoy myself. Volunteer work has always seemed strange to me. To work and not get paid just seemed like doing things backwards. Intellectually, I could always understand the need for it and the beautiful gesture that it was to give of yourself to those less fortunate than yourself, but in practice a lot of the people I have met that volunteer have seemed to me to act far too morally superior for my taste. It seemed like a lot of people used it as a means to elevate themselves above other people and that always annoyed me. Plus, it always seemed to me that you could work, help people but still be compensated for your time and energy.

One of my best friends back home is really involved with volunteer work and non proffit organizations and he is one of the most down to earth, nice people I have ever met (looking at you Tony!). Being friends with him made me realize that not everyone who volunteered was annoying and that in fact the majority of people that did it were most likely great people that didn´t advertise to the world what they were doing and just went about getting good things done.

At any rate, after jumping in and getting my hands dirty I really felt good about myself and what I was doing. The kids I work with are super cool. They took a while to warm up to me but I love kids and I tend to buddy up to them pretty fast. The more I learn about their culture and lives the more I am blown away by it. The Bri Bri live out in the wild jungle. They have to walk down jumgle trails for hours just to get to what we would consider to be civilization. The kids as young as 4 and 5 years old can navigate through the jungle without even thinking tiwce about it. Tamarah, my fellow voluntter and a great person, went on a four hour hike with a few kids, accompanied by a young boy of 12 and a little girl that was 4! What family back home would let there children that age stomp around through the jungle like that with nothing more than a machette for protection? Its just normal life for them.

They have not changed their lifestyles or belifes much in the last 5,000 years, which is how long they are believed to have lived in the area. The program I work with helps to get kids into school (you will see them wearing their school uniforms in the pictures) and to give the parents small loans to start buisnesses or buy basics like food, etc. This really helps to give them a leg out of poverty and to provide oppertunities for the kids that the parents don´t have. We also provide soup to anyone in need and its fun to see the older Bri Bri women come in to help make the soup and gossip while chopping up the veggies. Also, the teenage Bri Bri girls always want to use the telephone! Hah! Just goes to show, that teenage girls the world around are pretty similar!

On the negative side unfortunately, is the abuse that we have been trying to fight against. It is tough for me to try and get my head around some of the things that go on, but it is culturally acceptable for a Bri Bri father to beat his wife and children, have sex with any of his daughters even having children by them, or to kill any of his children that are born with a handicap.

Its shocking for me as a westerner to hear this, but for them it is perfectly acceptable. When confronted about his behaivor, a Bri Bri father will listen, nod and give a yeah so? look. To them it is not even somethign to bat an eye at.

Needless to say, it is tough hearing these kinds of things and we try to help as much as possible. Not all of the men act this way either, there are plenty of good families out there that have healthy internal relationships, but the bad apples always tend to stick out.

I will report more as it comes, but for now I can say that volunteer work is a great way to help out and to allow yourself to feel like you can make a difference in the world. I plan on doing it again in other parts of the world as it also enables me to meet locals, to really get involved in their culture and it makes me feel good about myself, so in my eyes its a win win.

Me building a new chicken coop for the center. It actually is coming out really well which is a pleasant surprise! Ha, just kidding, I am pretty handy with some tools after all my time doing slave labor for my Mom and Dad (just kidding, I am glad now for all those jobs I did with you guys)! And working with my grandparents on their farm taught me a lot about building and fixing things.

I forgot how gratifying it is to build something with your hands. I was really enjoying myself.

From left to right we have, Willie, Reynaldo (who is the hardest working little kid I have ever met), Alejandro covering his face, and a girl who I am kicking myself because I can´t remember he rname even though I talk to her every day (I´ll add it to the next update, I am so bad with names) and then myself.

The guys helping me out with the job.

They were really interested in helping me out and watching my build the chicken coop which was fun. Working in the heat and humidity, not so fun!

And this is to show all my friends back home that I am still me and having fun! Work hard, play hard, words to grown on!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pictures, finally!

Ok, I finally got some pictures up. Still have a lot more but it takes ages to get them up on the web here.

These are all pictures from the good times I have been having with my friends so far. I have not wanted to bring a camera to the volunteer program yet as I just got started and I dont want to come in like a stupid tourist and start snapping pictures of kids as if they were animals in a zoo when I am trying to make friends with them. but I promise to get some photos up when time allows.

I have some pretty harrowing tales about the kids in the porgram but I want to get some more time under my belt with them before I post something that may be inaccurate. Suffice it to say for now that they live very hard lives.

I did want to mention one thing however, and that was how I was feeling now that I had some time under my belt being off of the bike. At first I was really sad about it and felt like I was letting myself down, and a big part of me wanted to go home.

However, now that I have been able to get over those feelings and realize how much more I will be able to do, I am actually glad that my illness occured. It was difficult at the time but now I see that I am actually happier traveling this way than I was on the bike. The bike was a great challenge, fun and a unique way to travel, but going by backpack, being around lots of people from all over the world, and having a greater freedom to move around suits my personality better. Already, the things I have seen and done since I have gotten off of the bike and especially the people I have met, would not have come into my life had I not gotten sick. It really has turned out to be a blessing in disguise and I am happy for the change.

So, for now, I am just taking this adventure one day at a time. In moments like these, I get to move slowly, relax, help people in circumstances that are not the best. I get to form relationships with locals, travelers and hold still long enough to really get to know a place. When it is time to move on, I can go climb a mountain, sail a boat, trek through the jungle, what ever I feel like doing. It is great, I have never felt this free in my life. I have no bills to pay, no place to be, no responsibilities to weigh on my mind other than my own well being. I am healthy, happy and loving my life right now. If anyone out there needs to get their mind cleared out and find themself, just leaving everything behind (so long as that is feasible of course) is a great way to get back in touch with what is important to you in your life. The things I used to take for granted as being universally important have just melted away. Life for me here is good company, an engaging book to read, a beautiful day at the beach, a filling meal. I feel like things have been boiled down to their essentials and it is really nice. I feel so much more at ease with myself than I did back in the hustel and bustle of life in Southern California. There are downsides to life here, without a doubt, nothing is perfect, but in small doses a place like this can heal a lot of what ails you.

The gang on the beach: Sam from the states, Maria from Norway, Tamarah (my felow volunteer) from Canada, Myself, Medde from Denmark, Marlain and Jasper from the Netherlands. A wonderful group of people!

Sam, Tamarah, Myself and Jeff from Canada, who is a great guy.

One of our family dinners, such good food!

Maria had an underwater camera, this is us me snorkeling at Punta Uva, a beach here in Puerto Viejo.

This is Buddy, the coolest of a bunch of fun local dogs. He comes with me on my morning runs on the beach and chases birds and crabs around.

I love me a bicycle ride! We all took bikes to explore the beaches around the area.

My new home! Just kidding. And just kidding on the pose too, it was just for laughs from my friends.

This is our favorite beach to hang out on.

This is the path we walk down to go to the beach. Its beautiful and runs through the woods right along the water.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Still no pictures! Sorry, working on that.

I still have yet to find a place in this tiny little village where you can upload pictures. The internet out here is a relatively new thing and it is very expensive to use and not very fast. But, I will make it my goal for the week to get some of these great pictures I have from Puerto Viejo up on the net.

This place is pretty wonderful, the pace of life is so amazingly relaxed. They really live the Pura Vida out here. People are generally nice, the scenery is amazing and everyone feels happy for the most part. There is some pretty terrible poverty as well and a lot of petty crime, but for the most part, people here tend to be pretty happy with life and the world in general.

I have been spending my free time with some fantastic people and we have been snorkeling on the reef here, sharing stories from our home countries and putting in a lot of beach time. We have also been having potlucks at night which have been great fun. Every person or couple cooks something from their home country and then we all share. We have been calling them family dinners and it has been really nice to sit down to a big, well cooked meal with all kinds of foods we would not normally eat. We also all went cliff diving which was great fun. We swam out to a little island, climbed up it and jumped off of various cliffs into the water below. It is something I have always loved to do, but I never fail to get a kick out of the fear and then thrill of overcoming that fear people get when doing it for the first time. Some of the jumps were pretty big too, as high as 40 or more feet.

After dinner we usually head down to a bar that is not really a bar but a collection of plastic tables and chairs on the beach for some beers where locals put on fire shows for tips and regae music sets the mood, or we hang out at the hostel we are staying at called Rocking J´s which is a really interesting place. Essentially it is a collection of hammocks, tents, treehouses and bunkbeds right on the beach with a little bar and restaurant attached to it. The entire thing is covered in mosaics and paintings from the various guests that have stayed there, which really gives the place a cool, unique look.

I also started volunteering to work with the local Bri Bri kids, which has turned out to be a pretty eye opening experience for me. I wanted to volunteer in Africa, but it costs an insane amount of money, the cheapest I found was 3 grand for a month. Here it is free to volunteer and you get a bowel of soup every day as well which suits me fine! I have just started this week so I am still getting adjusted to everything, but so far it has really been a good thing for me. The Bri Bri live in what we would call extreme poverty, less than 1 US dollar a day for the household income. They walk as much as 4 hours through the jungle to get to the center (which is really just a super nice older American couple´s home) to get food and schooling for the kids as well as get small loans to help give them a leg up out of poverty.

The kids and their families are extremely nice, hard working and friendly. I think this will be a great experience for me and I hope I will be able to help some people and bring some greater amount of happiness to their lives as well. I have heard some pretty terrible stories about things that go on in some of the Bri Bri homes, but I will wait until I get some more info before I report anything that may not be true.

So, all is well out her eon the road, and I am very happy and unbelievably relaxed and stress free right now. Until next time!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Hey everyone, I am in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica at the moment. Sorry I have not updated recently, but I have been infected with the unbelievably slow pace of life here. This is a tiny little town on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, and is full of the most laid back people I have ever met in my life. Its very Rasta, with lots of dreadlocks, people saying hey mon, and lots of people smoking marijuana everywhere, totally in the open too.

Its is also still Latin though, with plenty of Ticos to spice up the mix as well as a large population of Bri Bri, who are an indigenous group that lives in the jungle here.

Getting here turned out to be quite an adventure. I took a night bus from Panama City and rode it 10 hours to the border. While on the bus though, I had a fairly strange encounter.

The bus is very dark as it is an overnighter and people sleep on it (not me though, sleeping in moving vehicles is impossible for me). So, as I was trying in vain to get some rest on the bouncing bus in the very back seat, a Panamanian guy comes and sits next to me. We start making small talk and he seems like a nice guy. He asks me if I am married or if I have a girl friend and I say no. We shoot the bull some more and then he tells me that I am a very handsome man. Now my Spanish is decent by now, but I thought I miss heard him so I gave him that what did you just say look, and then he leans in and says that he likes me. I just stared at him in disbelief. Then, he leans in way too close and says he loves me! I just looked at him and said I liked girls and leaned about as far away as I could! He was cool about it though and took the rejection well. He shook my hand, said it was nice to meet me and if I changed my mind he would be up a few seats. Ha! I told him not to hold his breath! I was pretty damn uncomfortable but hey, he did see if I had a girlfriend first and he did not try to touch me or anything. I just took it as a very awkward compliment and moved on. But I did learn one thing, if any strange guys ask me if I have a girlfriend from now on, the answer will be yes!

Puerto Viejo itself is stunningly beautiful. The beaches are sandy and range in color from white to jet black, there are palm trees everywhere laden with coconuts that are great for drinking. People sit and chat with one another as they make bead necklaces and bracelets to sell, or pedal about town on their beach cruisers going about their daily business. Its the kind of place where no one has a watch and most people have to ask what day it is. I have never been somewhere so relaxed in all my life.

I have been so relaxed that I have not even taken a single picture since I have been here! Sorry about that, I am going to make it my mission to get some good pictures of the amazing scenery here uploaded in my next post as I know that is what everyone loves the most.

I have been exercising every day too, which makes me feel so much better. Myself and two Canadian guys, Andrew and Mark who are awesome people, have been working out a lot. These guys are real back woods Cannucks, lumberjacking, working on oil derricks, hunters, etc. and in good shape, so it has been good fun exercising with them. There is a small island off of the beach that we have been swimming around every morning. It is a nice long swim and really gets the blood going. I have also been running on the beach and doing some sit ups, push ups and pull ups. The only set back I had was when I was running along the water and I stepped on a Sea Urchin. Let me tell you, that does not feel very good. I got about 8 spikes in my foot and managed to get most of them out, but it stung like the dickens.

It feels so good to be able to exercise again, and to eat healthy food. I have been getting tons of veggies and fruit and taking time to cook nice meals during the day. When I am not working out or eating, I have been swinging in a hammock and reading or getting some sun on the beach. Life here is just so nice.

My plans keep slip sliding around. I am thinking that at this point, I am going to stay here for a month or so and either get a job to make a few bucks working at a bar or restaurant, or volunteering at a local community center that helps out with the local Bri Bri children. I am leaning towards volunteering as that is something I was planning on doing on this trip anyway. Its something I have always shied away from but I think it would be really good for me to do, just to give of myself expecting nothing there of. Plus, I love kids, so I think it would be pretty fun. To top it off, Tamarah, one of the great Canadians I have been hanging out with, volunteers there also and so I would have a friend to hang out with while I worked.

I have a friend who just moved to Peru too, and wants me to come down for Halloween, which sounds great, but I also have some friends coming to Central America soon who I want to see also. Plus, I still have a ton of things I want to do in South America, so there is a lot on my plate right now, but in all honesty, its choosing between nothing but fun things to do so I really should not complain!

So, I promise, pictures next time and they will be nice ones too. I bet some of my friends will think about moving here as you can get a beach front apartment for $250 bucks a month! Until next time, all my love.