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Archive for July, 2009

Conditions of a hotel nightstand

Conditions of a hotel nightstand

I haven’t been great with updating my blog lately - working very long hours while being sick is like mixing beer and wine…a bad idea.  When I’m finished working, I collapse into bed with no time or energy to be funny nor witty in a blog.  My cold traveled from my head/sinuses and has settling down comfortably in my lungs, so raucous sneezes have been replaced with wheezy coughs.  I’m not doing a very good job of listening to the universe and slowing down, but what can you do when you work in retail, have a new store opening and are expected to be present morning, noon and night?  There is little sympathy in the retail corporate world – you just have to work through it, “suck it up” and keep your eyes on the prize: weekends!  So tomorrow, I will be departing for the comforts of home and the promise of another low-key, lazy weekend – can’t imagine anything I’d want more now.  The simple pleasures in life are truly the best!

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Ahhh, lazy weekends

Fog rolling in this evening

Fog rolling in this evening after the rains subsided

So I woke up yesterday feeling better than I did Friday and I thought that perhaps I stopped this cold dead in its tracks.  Unfortunately I was wrong and awoke today with a painfully stuffy head and raucous sneezes that could wake the neighbors across the valley.  But, all was not lost; I really did get to revel in a wonderfully relaxing weekend courtesy of my wonderful hubby.  He stocked the fridge – prior to my arrival on Friday – with Vitamin-C enriched juices, chicken soup, Gatorade, and lots and lots of chocolate.  He even rented two major chick flicks and had a box of tissues nearby (for nose, not tears of course!).  And luckily it rained a soft rain all day today which made it that much more appropriate for a day indoors watching movies and reading.   And so it was a wonderfully lazy weekend in the mountains, with my favorite PJs, my pups keeping my lap warm and my lovely husband waiting on me hand and foot.  Being sick isn’t so bad after all…(check back tomorrow after I’ve jumped on another plane for work…I’m sure my tune will change!)

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egg carton 003So let me first clarify.  I mean the cardboard kind, not the awful styrofoam kind (there is very little life you can get out of those except to donate them to elementary schools/daycare/kid centers for use in art projects, but it will still never biodegrade so you’re better off not buying in the first place).  However, the pulpy cardboard kind do biodegrade very well but still have many lives left before making their way to the heap (and can save you money from buying something new that you really don’t need).  Here are some cleaver ways to reuse your cartons:

  1. use to start seedlings – poke a hole or two in the bottom, fill with soil, sow your seeds and when the little guys are hardy enough to be transplanted, you don’t need to pop them out of the carton, you can plant the whole “cup” into the ground and the roots will expand beyond the carton
  2. use as a fire-starter – yep, they go up quick and for an added kick, add dryer lint inside each cup (yes, the stuff you have to clear out of your dryer often because of the fire hazard – see the connection now? – and would otherwise throw away); top off with some melted wax (save those leftovers that never melt down) and tear off one cup at a time and use as needed to get your fire going
  3. make miniature bird feeders – cut out the cups and puncture two small holes into the side to affix string to; fill with bird seed and adorn a tree near a window so you can appreciate all the varieties that feast on your snacks
  4. donate to a local farm – most small farms keep chickens and they need cartons to store the eggs in; I used to donate mine to a CSA that sold fresh eggs to their members
  5. store small objects – every home has tiny items that need storing – in a home office, that could mean a cup for push pins, a cup for staples, one for paper clips, etc.; in a home garage/utility room, that could mean a different cup for each size nail or screw, one for nuts, another for bolts, one for washers, etc.; in a bedroom, that could also mean storing buttons, earrings, etc.
  6. store holiday items - cartons are good for storing small ornaments, ornament hooks and loose bulbs for stringed lights
  7. using for packing shipments – these guys act as great packaging material when trying to prevent boxes from caving in or being damaged; use whole or cut up the cups for desired size/fit
  8. keep for kid crafts – not for just dipping your paintbrush in, but you can make a lot of creative things by cutting up and decorating the cups; you can also sort beads and other small crafts in individual cups
  9. storing your bulbs – if you garden, you can store bulbs from season to season in egg cartons where they’ll stay dark and cool
  10. reinforce your trash bag – hate how the bottom of your trash bag always gets punctured and leaks?  Try opening up an egg carton and placing at the bottom of your trash bag to help reinforce it

Remember: resist the urge to buy new things – it’s bad for the earth and bad for your wallet; always ask yourself what you have in your house that could be used instead and before you throw something away or even recycle it, think about how you can reuse it instead.   The reduce, reuse, recycle mantra is also listed in order of priority:

REDUCE your consumption – just don’t buy anymore junk or items with excessive packaging

REUSE it if you can – extend the life of the product

RECYCLE as a last resort (if it can’t even be recycled, find creative ways to get what you want in ways that are gentler on the earth)

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It’s been a busy week and I’ve missed “blogging” – who woulda thunk it?

I’m sitting in an Albuquerque airport right now, heading back home for the weekend after a long week of setting up a new store.  I’m quite miffed that I didn’t get to explore the city at all.  Brought my camera in the hopes of visiting the Petroglyphs National Monument less than 10 miles away, but of course, my schedule didn’t allow it.  I set up the store by day and tended to my regular work at night.  Not exactly exemplary of a balanced life.

And lo and behold…I’m developing a cold.  I noticed that I just couldn’t get enough sleep this week and just felt exhausted every day (um, hi, that’s your body telling you something Jenn).  Then yesterday, the tickle in the throat begain, the sinus headache started, the sneezing commenced…followed by a “damn! I can’t afford to be sick right now!” thought to myself and I continued plodding along.

Ever notice that you often get sick when it is the least convenient (not like there ever is a convenient time I have to remind myself)!  But I really do believe that sometimes the universe sees when you’re over-doing things and creates a nice road-block for you, a way to forcibly slow you down.  And maybe that’s exactly what I need.  Something beyond my control to slow me down. 

What I'll be reading this weekend

What I'll be reading this weekend

So while I’m sad I didn’t get to venture out and experience this enchanted place, I’ll be turning right back around and returning on Monday (for store opening on Tuesday, hence the reason I can’t afford to be sick right now!), but if the universe is using this cold as a pebble in the head to whisper “slow down there little lady!” then I’ll heed the advice.  So this weekend will be spent in PJ’s, TV remote in hand and lots of Vitamin C and hot tea nearby to soothe this scratchy throat and stuffy head.  And maybe that’s just what the universe has ordered – 100% bed rest.  Time to succumb to the powers that be and not only slow down, but stop and let the body heal.

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It’s finally here!

DSC_0128www.greenearthimages.com   After years of dreaming about this and months of long nights putting it all together, my photo website is finally up!  I can’t even begin to tell you how satisfying it is to translate a dream into a reality!

I got my first camera as a young girl – my dad and uncle were crazy about taking pictures and capturing memories.  And though in my formative years, most of those shots were pictures of my family, of my dog (sheesh, that hasn’t changed much) and my cabbage patch dolls and assorted toys, I also found myself drawn to nature and taking pictures of flowers and leaves.  I recall trying to capture the texture of a leaf, the raindrops on a flower petal…but I didn’t quite understand that a point and shoot camera (at least the kind we had back then) wouldn’t allow me to do that…I needed special equipment.  That being said, the equipment is only part of the equation – you need an eye, need to understand composition and lighting and yes, you do need to understand how to work your equipment (aperture, shutter speed, depth of field, etc.).

As I grew up, I shelved my artistic endeavors in lieu of shooting pictures of the things that are important to teenagers – friends.  It wasn’t until I was in grad school and recovering from a painful breakup that I decided to “treat myself” to a trip to Arizona and for that I knew I wanted to take pictures with a bonafide SLR camera.  I bought my camera on-line and used it for many years.  That lightweight Nikon was a great camera and I went through hundreds of rolls of film and learned what worked, and mostly what didn’t.  I had a 200:1 ratio back then…that is, it often took about 200 pictures that I hated to find one picture I liked enough to share.  I upgraded to a digital camera in 2004 when David bought me one as a anniversary gift and I learned the joy of shooting digital (oh, the instant gratification and saved dollars on rolls of film!).  However, I also missed the control I had with a SLR.  David surprised me again in 2006 with a digital SLR Nikon and I just love it and am still learning about all the different options with it.

Right now, my site features only my digital shots, but I will soon be scanning my 35mm negatives into digitals and will be updating the site often, so please check back.  And do let me know what you think – I invite comments, questions and suggestions!

www.greenearthimages.com

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My travel "spork"

My travel "spork"

I feel like a bit of a hypocrite.  I espouse the virtues of doing good for the earth and living simply, but here I am, flying on jets almost weekly or driving several hundred miles in a week when traveling the stores in my state.  Being on the road also means lots of take-out and plastic/styrofoam/disposable everything.  I’m not a saint, but I’m trying to do little things while I’m on the road to lighten my carbon footprint and here’s one minor thing you can do when you’re out and about that can have great environmental and health impacts:

Travel with your own veritable picnic basket – I’m only half-kidding here, but really, you should try to avoid contributing to the disposable trash heap and:

  1. bring your own utensils (I carry my “Light my fire” spork with me at all times – it’s one utensil that has a spoon on one end, a fork on the other with knife-life serrated edges on one of the fork tines)
  2. bring a drinking bottle (I keep my Sigg aluminum bottle with me on all trips) or travel mug (ideally with one lined with stainless steel, not plastic because that stuff creates cancer-causing agents when exposed to your hot beverage)
  3. and if you’re really headstrong and don’t give a damn what people think, a cloth napkin and a container for food (I personally recommend the Pyrex glass dishes with plastic lids – though not always convenient for heavy travel, but great for storing food and when you’re traveling locally). 

I’ll admit, I don’t often remember that last piece.  Although I will say that when I’m traveling locally and need to have breakfast on the go, I’ll put my breakfast on one of my ceramic plates and bring a cloth napkin with me and throw it on the passenger seat to take with me.  As for taking a food container with you on a regular basis, it’s great to keep handy if you’re out at a restaurant and know that you’ll likely take food home with you.  Why take yet another styrofoam container (which once again aren’t only awful for the environment but killer to your body as styrofoam releases styrenes into your body when it’s heated up or mixed with hot foods - I’m not exaggerating -  the  US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) National Toxicology Program (NTP) identified styrene as a health hazard due to its carcinogenicity (Styrene-7,8-Oxide: CAS No. 96-09-3. 209 KB, 2 pages).

So tonight for dinner, I stopped at a soup/salad buffet restaurant for some grub to bring back to my hotel and the attendant handed me what seemed like a million plastic pieces for my salad, salad dressing, soup, bread, silverware and the plastic wrapped around each one, bag for it all, etc.  I sighed as I thought to myself that this would be the perfect moment to have a food container with me, so I guiltily took the plastic container, but I did hand back the salad dressing containers (I mean c’mon, I’ll eat the salad before my dressing has a chance to sop it), and silverware packet (I got my spork!) and beverage cup (I got me Sigg!) and as David will attest, I’ll juggle a million things in my arms before I break down and get yet another plastic bag that will be used once and tossed. 

So I guess in the long term, it wasn’t that bad of an impact.  Was it an inconvenience?  Hardly.  I know that when even one person does this on a regular basis, it translates into less trash in our landfills and sea and less chemicals pouring into our environment from the manufacture of all these plastics.  Don’t get me wrong, plastic is essential in our society, but we need to sensible about our use of it and be conscious of how and when we can avoid it.

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Quite the different lodging compared to my rainforest bungalow!

Quite the different lodging compared to my rainforest bungalow!

Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic.  Nothing has been that bad…but it has been a bit difficult going from the lush green farm and slow pace of Costa Rica to sitting in 5 lanes of a traffic on the outskirts of Dallas in 103 degree sizzling pavement heat.  Quite the transition.

I didn’t get to go home to Colorado after my trip to repack, freshen up, reorient myself, see my hubby and dogs.  Nope.  Work needed me to hop off the plane in Dallas and stay in Dallas to offer support to one of our stores.  That’s road-warrior life for you.

It hit me yesterday when I got to the airport, went through customs and then realized that I had no idea where I was going.  Truly.  I knew I had to get to the car rental center, but after that, I knew I needed to get to Plano, a city near Dallas, but I literally had no idea where it was or how to get there.  You see, with all the hustle of preparing for my trip to CR, I completely forgot to print out directions from the airport to the store (I’ve never been before) and had I done that, I would have also realized that there is more than one airport in Dallas (and what for, I must ask?). 

That last nugget of info becomes vitally important because when I went to pick up my rental, they informed me that my reservation and car were at the other airport.  My work’s travel agent had booked it at the other location because that’s the only place where Southwest flies out of (my company’s only airline account) and so she presumed I’d be there.  20 minutes later and much juggling with reservations, I get my car, a map and warnings that I’m not to use 121 and 161, two of the main arteries into/out of Dallas, as they are tollway only and don’t accept cash.  Fabulous.  Now my chances of getting to my destination easily have been further diminished.  There is no internet service at the offsite rental center, so it’s up to me and good old-fashioned map reading. 

Lucky for me, my family took a cross-country trip with no set itinerary when I was 15.  I was my Dad’s designated navigator and was given such great autonomy to determine where we would go, how we’d get there and how to find alternate routes.  It taught me great map-reading skills and to this day, my husband marvels at my seemingly innate sense of direction. 

So here I am, almost 20 years later, yearning for simplicity, for escapes around the excess of technology, and here it is in the form of a multi-colored, double-sided map.  Off I go.  Luckily I have a cell phone (or two…personal and work) and I’m certainly not willing to part from those anytime soon (I do travel for a living after all!).  I made a call to the hotel, got some vague directions from my non-tollway highway after they questioned why I wasn’t taking the 121 or 161 (it’s complicated, I told them).  And that’s how I ended up bumper-to-bumper in rush hour traffic.  Not exactly what comes to mind when I dream of a “slower-paced” life.

I consciously chose to keep the radio off.  I always find that it helps me focus more.  I always turn it off when I’m not sure of where I am or if I’m headed in the right direction, or even if I’m looking for a street sign or number on a house.  David always shakes his head and laughs at me when I do this (he’s the ultimate media multi-tasker; me – I just get sensory overload).  Traveling alone on the road for work, to new locations is not for the faint of heart.  It requires a strong will and a sense of cool-headed-ness.   But I remained calm, although I was admittedly a bit nervous that I’d end up on one of those forbidden tollways only to face a big, fat fine after going through booth sans transponder.  I even second-guessed myself a few times, but I did make it to the hotel just fine.  And though I didn’t have the sounds of nature to admire, I wasn’t entirely too upset about the big cozy bed or the blasting air-conditioning…or the warm cookies at check-in. (:

Now I’m off to do a big load of laundry…luckily I have all my Costa Rican (read: wet) clothes in a separate bag, but they smell like they’ve been hanging out in a damp, if not flooded, basement for months, so I need to get working on them quick.  You don’t want to even see my hiking boots.

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giant treeI slept in this morning…it was hard not to…I was so tired from yesterday’s hustle and bustle and so damn sore, not to mention that a gentle rain was falling and it was so easy to just linger in bed.  Finally at 8:30 I realized that I needed to get going in order to eat breakfast and be ready for the walking tour at 9 a.m. 

The tour this morning was a leisure one along the “Sacred Seeds” patch – an area where plants are grown, but not exactly harvested.  Stephen, the head of farm operations, told us that he is trying to get back to the forgotten art and local lore of grandmothers who kept their seeds year to year, generation to generation.  He referred to it as a sacred, though forgotten tradition.  Many of the seeds he maintains and plants are for species that are not yet extinct, but are on the path to extinction within the next 50 years.  He is hoping to make this a refuge of sorts but also create a network of gardens and farms across that world that will keep these sacred seeds that have very important medicinal purposes.   This farm is also collaborating with the nearby Earth University and regional Texas A&M school right down the road to encourage these efforts.  I didn’t have pics of this tour as I wanted to be unencumbered by my heavy camera and be able to fully enjoy the experience sans additional weight to carry.

The walk was very educational and interesting, but damn, Mother Nature turned on the humidity today.   After our hike, I needed relief and soaked in the fresh-water pool, which they encourage guest to utilize so they can aerate the water through their movement helping to oxygenate the water and keep algae at bay.  Say no more!  I stayed in for about 45 minutes and totally cooled down my body in ways that no shower could have.

Path through the rain forest to the springs

Path through the rain forest to the springs

We left at noon for a trip back to La Fortuna for EcoTermales, the volcanic hot springs.  The city of La Fortuna is located at the base of the Arenal Volcano, and the magma heats up the springs coming down the volcano.  This hot springs location was gorgeous – a tropical paradise.  The landscaping was phenomenal, the pools and waterfalls were amazing, the food wonderful.  The 5 pools all vary in temperature from hot to fuego hot!  Being the cold-loving mountain girl that I am, I alternated between the hot pool – which was 95 degrees and the fresh water dunk area – about 70 degrees (which was meant to help with circulation between the varying hot pools, however, it was a base for me!).  It didn’t help that I got sunburn on my shoulders from the uphill hike yesterday so the hot water stung everytime I submerged, but I do admit that the first hot pool felt pretty darn nice.  I even attempted to go to one of the hotter pools because it had a short but wide waterfall cascading onto the pool below where you could swim past the water curtain and sit behind the waterfall.  That was very cool.  Additionally that pool also had little sprinklers overhead which helped to refresh and balance the hot water.  However, it was too hot for this wimp and though I admired the spot, I quickly returned to my “cooler” pools, respectively speaking.  We stayed for several hours and even got to enjoy several rain showers while enjoying the springs.

Volcanic hot springs at EcoTermales

Volcanic hot springs at EcoTermales

We returned back for our farewell dinner and reminisced about the week.  I wish I had more time to revisit all the great, memorable spots we were taken to, just on the farm alone, but we were just so busy and seeing it once was still better than not at all.  I wish I could have taken more pictures, but I am pleased that I still was able to capture some great moments with all the activities planned. 

Though my scope is very limited as I was only here for five days and in one small area of Costa Rica, I’ve learned some things and have some tips for you if you were to trek out here, which of course, I HIGHLY recommend!

  • if your clothes get wet (which they likely will), they’ll never dry, so bring extra of everything so you can stay dry and either make plans to launder your clothes or bring a trash bag to store them for your trip back
  • vanity goes out the door (so leave your makeup, hair dryer, straightening iron and nice clothes at home, for you will constantly be sweaty, sticky and wet)
  • the locals are lovely but will be that much more helpful if you make an attempt to speak even a couple words in Spanish – everyone knows “por favor” and “gracias” and that combined with a sense of humility will go a long way
  • don’t wear anything new, fancy or white while in the forest as you are sure to be covered in mud, lots of mud
  • you’ll eventually climatize a bit, but it will still be hot and humid, so pack with that in mind
  • wear good shoes – flip-flops are fine for in-town, but you’ll be miserable if you don’t bring a sturdy pair of waterproof hikers (I have good hikers that are not waterproof, and they are still soaked from the very first hike)
  • flashlights are great, headlamps are even better!
  • take in the sights!  Sure you’ll probably want to relax some and hang in a hammock, and that’s great, but be sure to experience all that is around you, including the isolated AND populated areas…you’ll be glad you did
  • the cities price most of their goods in US dollars, not the local currency, colons (pronounced cologne), so it’s okay if you don’t exchange your dollars
  • bring extra water, better yet, a reusable water bottle/canteen – you will sweat lots and if you hike, bring several – you will need it and you don’t want to drink from streams
  • speaking of water, the tap water is safe to drink – this is not Mexico
  • taste the local food…sure you’ll have cravings for the sure-fire goodies from back home, but try the local recipes; and if you divulge in goodies, buy local soda in glass bottles (Iswear it tastes better) and locals snacks (save the doritos and snickers for home – you eat plenty of it there anyhow)
  • the bugs are really not that bad!  I know, I spoke of dive-bombing flying cockroaches the size of a small mammal earlier as well as the biting ants, but I really expected scary bugs and lots of them and I swear, there aren’t any more bugs here than I’ve seen in other muggy locales such as the East Coast in the summer, so go with natural bug repellants and skip the Deet - the chemical kills the rainforest
  • the nights are early and the mornings bright, so plan accordingly
  • the howler monkeys have good aim so watch out for them (I only heard them once, but one group opted for a canopy walk in lieu of the zip line and said that the lil’ rascals tried peeing on them and flinging poo! )
  •  likewise, watch out for horny billy goats…’nuf said
  • spend some time in a body of water, particularly a waterfall or freshwater pool – it will really cool your body off and you’ll remain cooled off for many hours
  • bring large ziploc bags to keep your camera dry; additionally bring a waterproof backpack (I also saw lots of travelers with waterproof bags that cover their backpacks because it rains a lot here)
  • if you are presented a challenge in the form of a physical challenge, break out of your comfort zone and go for it…you’ll be cursing the whole time but will be so proud of yourself in the end (and how will you ever know how far you can push yourself if you never try?) – this goes beyond physical accomplishment, it leads to spiritual development
  • bring an umbrella or small poncho – but not a close-fitting raincoat, otherwise you’ll create a self-sustained sauna for yourself and end up preferring being soaked in the rain over the latter option
  • support the local artisans and buy their local arts and crafts – sure you’ll see a lot of chotchkes but you’ll also find quality goods
  • tip graciously to the wait staff, tour guides, hosts, drivers that save your ass - they make peanuts and deserve our respect and appreciation (little things like this also speak volumes to the perception of Americans and we all know, we have a long way to go to bridge international relations)
  • there are lots of Americans traveling here so say hi and strike up a conversation – you might just learn of a great spot they’ve found off-the-beaten path or they may recommend a city to visit, place to eat, etc.  They can also be of assistance if you’re in need of help and are having difficulty translating to the locals
  • trust the local guides – they’ll know of all the tourist traps as well as all the alternatives and secret spots that you may have not otherwise found

And most importantly, if you do come to Costa Rica, spend a day or many at the farm/resort we stayed at and help support a local, sustainable farm while having a wonderful place to visit:  http://fincalunanuevalodge.com  which literally translates into the “New Moon Farm” – you’ll be glad you did!

Come to Costa Rica

Come to Costa Rica!

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Pretty flowers adorn the grounds everywhere

Pretty flowers adorn the grounds everywhere

Damn, I am pooped.  It’s a good exhaustion though, the kind of jam-packed activity kind of day that you are thankful for but can’t wait to jump in bed and recuperate.

My sleep was MUCH better last night.  It didn’t rain much except for a couple drizzly patches that passed through, so the infamously named bugs I spoke of in my last post were notably absent.  I also made a calculated decision to take a cool shower before going to bed so I didn’t have to slide under the sheets already feeling sticky.  I didn’t even have to do the foot-pulled-out-and-laying-on-top-of-the-covers-move to regulate my temperature.  I even…get ready…had to pull up the comforter at some points to keep warm. 

I did, however, wake up with a peculiar zig-zag line of red bumps going up one leg with a couple other small bites on the other leg.  These were decidedly not mosquito bites.  They didn’t itch but peaked my curiosity.  When I asked one of the guides, he quickly identified them as ant bites and thought that maybe one got me last night.  He even showed me his battle scars from his war with the ants as well.  If he wasn’t concerned, than neither was I.

We met for breakfast earlier than usual so we could get a head start on a long hike.  Luckily the staff made us scrambled eggs with onions and fresh cheese, chicken empanadas and red beans and rice – total fuel for what was to come.  Now about a 1/3 of the group decided not to go and for good reason – they had heard about an all up-hill hike and frankly, had enough of the hikes and heat.  Not me, though.  “When in Costa Rica…” I thought to myself.  There was promise of a glorious waterfall at the end and so I became a sucker.

Leaf cutter ants

Leaf cutter ants

Now, the guides had told us that the hike was about as hard as the first hike, but in a different way.  The majority of the hike was not in the rainforest, but rather on roads ’til we got in the forest that connects to the trail down to the falls.  So, here I thought: okay, no creeks to traverse, logs to climb over or straight mud walls to pull yourself up.  However, I clearly did not pay enough attention to the “uphill” part – it was literally a very steep 1.5 mile climb upwards.  Of course I had to take my camera with me - if I was going to trek to see a waterfall, I’d be damned if I didn’t document it with photos.  I also had my 2 bottles of water and even a third for a friend that asked me to carry theirs since they had no backpack (“and, that’s my fault why?” I soon thought afterward).  Every bit of weight on our backs, I soon learned, was going to make a very big difference.

Let me be frank.  This hike KICKED MY ASS.  I hated every second of it.  I was cursing my decision to even attempt it.  Not to mention that the 2 guides up front were college interns that have been here a couple months, run uphill every morning for their sunrise run and take this trip at least once a week.  It was quite demoralizing at times – we’d get to the seemingly top of a hill, only to realize it was the just the base to another steep climb; every corner we turned opened up another straight shot up to the sky, or so it seemed.  Very quickly there became a divisive line between the men with egos, trying to outdo each other or prove their machismo to either themselves or others and the women in the back, faces turning beet red with the humidity and sun beaming down on top of us as we climbed up the  tortuous hill and wondered aloud what the hell we were thinking.  We had a female guide bringing up the rear, but she had only been interning on the farm for a little over a week and was unsure of the correct path.  We got lost for about a 1/2 mile, which doesn’t sound like much, but we were utterly exhausted and so tired of the hike already.  But alas, we got back on track, muttered a few more expletives under our breath and took stops to catch our breath.  I didn’t take many pictures during the uphill portion, as you can imagine, as I was just trying to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  At one point, with my hands on my knees, gasping for breath, the sweet guide asked if I was glad I came on the hike – a really bad time to ask that rhetorical question - to which I quickly shook my head no…but I knew that I wasn’t gonna quit, that no matter how painful it was, I was going to forge ahead, although I did often think to myself, that the damn waterfall had better be worth it!

Rope climb down to the pools

Rope climb down to the pools

Finally we make the turning point to the trailhead which leads into the forest.  I can hear the waterfall, so I’m thinking we’re just about there.  Nope, now we get to replicate the hike from day one, holding onto tree vines for dear life as we try to get steady footing in the thick mud and slippery, wet leaves, not to mention a very steep incline down.  I was happy to be going down, but we had to work at it.  We got to one point where it was a sheer drop down of about 15-20 feet of rocks that we needed to use a rope to belay our way down. 

We could see pools of water through the trees below us and knew we were close…we continued on another 300 slippery feet ahead and finally, it opened up to an oasis, just as magnificent as I could have ever expected.  It wasn’t just a waterfall but a giant pool of water to swim in and the rest of the gorge had mini streams of water falling from above…all around us.  It was better than I could have imagined.  I wasted no time to dive in and get my core body temp down, and it took no time as the water was only about 65 degrees, but oh so refreshing.  We stayed for about a 1/2 hour before we had to turn back due to afternoon commitments, not to mention that it started to rain and the guides were anxious for us to get out of the rainforest section before it got even wetter and more difficult to maneuver in.  I took very few pics of this place unfortunately as the water spray was intense and I wanted to keep my camera safe, not to mention that the rocks were unbelievable slickery and I didn’t want to chance a fall in the water with my camera, but I think you get the idea.

The glory at the end of our painful hike

The glory at the end of our painful hike

We made our way back and it was so easy, obviously, although I did take a pretty big fall when I lost my footing in the rain forest on the way up and the lower half of my body fell over the steep side while I luckily was able to grab some roots in the ground on my way down.  I let out a serious girl scream as I went down, an involuntary shrill that just came out and luckily the guy in front of me as well as the guide in the back were close by and able to pull me up.  As one of the women nearby noted, I was “dangling.”  Though the walk down was really tough on the knees, it was glorious.  We were actually able to take in the sights since we weren’t just staring down on the ground, focusing on moving up.  We came across many small farms with cows, my favorite animal to shoot pictures of. 

Sweet brahma cows are everywhere in Costa Rica

Sweet brahma cows are everywhere in Costa Rica

Once we got back, we devoured our lunches and the ones that stayed back were glad they did after hearing our story of “the climb.”  We only had 20 minutes to quickly shower off the mud war pant on our bodies before boarding a bus to La Fortuna, a bustling small city with places to shop, as well as home to the resort where we would zip line out of.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, you get in a harness similar to one for rock climbing, you hook onto a steel cable and you basically zip from one platform to another over the canopy of the rain forest.  It was at times scary, but always exhilarating looking over top the trees and to the river below, praying that the cables wouldn’t mysteriously snap or otherwise malfunction.  The guides for this event were very funny and gracious, spoke excellent English and were handsome to boot.  El Guapo!

There were 8 total lines we zipped across and it was such a rush of adrenaline.  At the very last one, one not very high off the ground, they gave you the option to hang upside down instead of the sitting position, and yup, you guessed, I was one of only 2 chicks that did it.  It was silly and freeing all at once.  This resort, which is very well manicured, felt like a Omni resort and apparently has a full view of the very close Arenal Volcano, though we haven’t been able to get any shots with the low cloud cover since we arrived.

We made our way back to Luna Nueva, once again voraciously consumed our dinner and most people made it an early night, except for me, blogging away while having an all-too close encounter with a giant flying cockroach.  I’m serious, I nearly had a panic attack.  This guys are about 3.5 – 4 inches long and about 1.5-2 inches across.  We saw one earlier in the evening when all of us were resting after full bellies, but this time, this bugger flew right into my head and in flight, they have a wing span of a large butterfly.  Friggin’ gross.  Now I feel like I’ve got creepy crawlies all over my skin!

So, on that note, I’m gonna do like the masses and go to bed a wee bit earlier tonight and hope I don’t have nightmares of giant flying insects!

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Raindrops on elephant ears

Raindrops on elephant ears

I didn’t get much sleep last night.  I’m sleeping in the screened in porch of the bungalow we’re in and it’s a blessing and a curse all in one.  It’s a blessing because the sounds that come out of the rain forest are simply incredible, but a curse because they are distracting at the same time.  I liken it to the tuning-up an orchestra does before it gets ready to play, you know how the flute goes up and down the register, the tuba lets out a loud blart, the stringed instruments wane back and forth…well, imagine that times a thousand but with insects and assumedly other mammals or birds. 

There are three bug sounds that I’ve named affectionately after the sound they make.  Let’s see, there is the “weed-wacker” bug…then there’s the “rock-clacking” bug which startled me as much as it intrigued me last night…and then the admittedly annoying one was the “smoke-detector-low-battery-warning” bug which would chirp every couple of minutes.  Just when you were just about to fall asleep, the loud “CHIRP!” would cancel any hopes of rest (notice how your smoke detector only seems to do this at night?)  These are just three of the musical instruments which accompanied the thousands of crickets, secadas, frogs and other musically inclined dwellers. 

There was also the humidity to contend with.  There is no air-conditioning in our bungalows and this cold-and-dry-weathered girl was definitely struggling.  But you know what, even with the humidity and abundant noises, I was a happy camper.  I almost didn’t want to sleep because I wanted to soak it all in!  And when the sun rose, I couldn’t stand sleeping in – I just wanted to get out before the others awoke and selfishly enjoy the morning to myself.

Farm lands

Farm lands

This morning, we enjoyed fried plantains, fresh pineapple from the grounds (which makes even the ripest, sweetest pineapple from the grocery store pale in comparison) and an empanada-like “hot pocket” as I like to call them made of cornmeal and filled with red rice and beans.  An estimate 85-90% of the food served here is grown on the farm, the rest is sourced from local farmers, growers and cultivators in Costa Rica.

After breakfast, we embarked on a 3.5 hour walk through the rain forest and farm grounds.  Our very knowledgeable guide was Stephen, the head of operations at the New Chapter farm.  He shared with us the staggering statistics that 1 acre of rainforest is destroyed per second, roughly 40 million per year.  And along with that, approximately 50-100 plants, microorganisms, insects, etc. species become instinct every day due to this devastation.  Not only does this have incredible environmental impact, but health ramifications as well as the rainforests are considered the herbal pharmacies of the world. 

Trip through the rainforest; Stephen - head of farm operations - in the green shirt

Trip through the rainforest; Stephen - head of farm operations at the front

We were pointed out sugar cane (which we got to try raw – a fibrous plant that you chew on to extract the juice, yet spit out the pulp – a fun and mildly sweet treat).  We also saw lychee, acai, gotu kola and allspice as well as other lesser known herbs that treat everything from anemia to parasite infections.  We found the perfect tree to extract sap for bug bites, identified trees which exude volatile oils to light on fire if lost at night and which vines to cut if you were ever to be lost and dehydrated.  We also saw mahogany and ratan trees and gained a greater appreciation for using sustainable woods that regrow quickly.
 
We emerged from the rainforest onto the farm lands, which in some areas
didn’t look much different except for a lower canopy but just as bushy as the forest.  The only area that looked remotely like a traditional farm was the turmeric and ginger fields; otherwise, all else was intermingled to enrich the soil and provide complementary growth conditions. 
Isn't this the cutest thing?  I had trouble eating pork tonight just thinkin' about this lil' guy!

Isn't this the cutest thing? I had trouble eating pork tonight just thinkin' about this lil' guy!

Not only are the crops organic but they are also grown biodynamically through the interdependent relationships with the animals.  The adult goats and pigs are sequestered to a particular parcel of land where they are left to graze and root the soil.  Their manure returns precious nitrogen to the soil and they are left to their happy selves engorging on their veritable buffet.  Once they have been at a particular spot for some time, they are moved to another location and the orginal parcel is slashed, seeded with bean (for crop as well as its contribution to creating a nutrient-dense soil) and then the dedicated crop is grown.  Then the cycle begins all over again.  This crop rotation is not only good for the earth but good for the animals and maximizes the nutritional value of the crops.  Stephen informed us that one thing we can do locally to help sustain the earth is to support CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) where you own a share of land, pay in advance to help contribute to the purchases need to be made by the farmer and reap in the bounty of the harvest.  It’s a way to “Think Globally, Act Locally.”   For more information on CSAs in your area, check out http://www.localharvest.org/csa/

Stephen with goat escapees!

Stephen with goat escapees!

We continued through our path and saw amazing flowers and peculiar plant species, a horticulturalist and florists dream.  We even got to catch an even better view of a sloth.  It was a hot, sweaty, sticky and buggy tour, but worth every minute. 
The rest of the time was relaxing and FOB time (flat-on-back as Stephen referred to it), we had a great training and had another hearty meal.  Something peculiar to note is that the sun sets at 5:30 here because it’s so close to the equator that there is only a 40 minute difference between summer and winter sunsets, so it gets dark quite early here – an early start for the bugs!
Close-up of a sloth

Close-up of a sloth

Off to bed I go, an attempt at some shut-eye before a long waterfall hike tomorrow a.m.  The frogs are the vociferous ones tonight…music to my ears!

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