Thursday, 29 December 2011

Homecoming & Namaste!

Mega jet lag and an 11 hour overlay in South Korea (the best airport for chilling out, free internet, cultural activities, exhibitions and good lounges to rest on!) made for a rough landing in Bali in the middle of the night.  So first thing the next day we headed for Ubud for a fabulous 4 days of recovery from travel, with lots of rest, healthy food, massages and yoga! Detoxing from all the food in America and margarita's in Mexico. We even bumped into a couple of friends from Alice Springs in the same yoga class! As always Bali was truly blissful.

We arrived back in Darwin, Australia just before a cyclone and christmas (we don't know which was more hectic).  We finally headed for home after Christmas with our Darwin family and just got past the cyclone before the stuart hwy (the only highway home) was closed off due to flooding!

So here we are home sweet home, with a bagful of wonderful new experiences, adventures and friends!

Namaste xoxo

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

City of Angels

Adios sweet Mexico, hellooo bright lights and big stars of L.A.  After flying in from Mexico we jumped into our hire car & drove downtown to an old majestic hotel from the 1920's.  It was late so no restaurants open - but luckily there was a taco van on the corner, with a vendor who spoke Spanish, and served up huge American sized burritos.  Que rico!

With only one day in LA, the next morning we hit downtown early for a gigantic American breakfast - bacon, eggs, potatoes and pancakes!  A meal to last the whole day.

Satiated, we navigated the hoods of LA and headed for Hollywood Boulevard, and the strip of stars.  A highlight were the stars of Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin.

With the Hollywood sign in the distance, we had to get a closer look.  After driving through some very schmick neighbourhoods we got treated to a great view of it - just like the movies.

Heading towards Beverly Hills we drove along Mulholland Drive, picking David Lynch iconic spots on the way, as well as many famous people's houses, including Jack Nicholson and Madonna (we knocked back no-one answered - bloody snobs!).  Hoping to meet up with them later we headed down Rodeo Drive, but we were to broke to even go in any of the shops, so instead we drove down Santa Monica Boulevard with the sun going down (cue Sheryl Crow) to the Santa Monica Pier.  After some onions rings and a stroll around the fair (pretty solar powered Ferris wheel) we headed back to the airport, for the final leg of the trip.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Vamos a la Playa (part 3)

After the bright lights of the big city we headed back to Mexico and to the Caribbean. We ended up not quite exactly where we had planned...but then exactly where we wanted to be....Puerto Morelos, a little patch of paradise in between the craziness of Cancun and Playa Carmen. As soon as we arrived and walked past a sign for Spanish lessons, ate the best tacos we've had in Mexico and sipped on some super strong margaritas, we knew that this was home for the next week or so. Not much to say about the next week except for that our days consisted of waking up in the loft of our pink cabana by the beach, eating the scrumptious breakfast provided, having Spanish lessons overlooking the sea and then walks, swims, snorkeling and trading circus lessons for free massages on the beach.

It was pretty hard to leave, but as we only had a couple of days left in Mexico we got ourselves a car and went road tripping! It was time to see some ruins.  First we headed inland to the picturesque city of Valladolid.  Right in the middle of the city was a cenote (a really deep hole in a cave filled with crystal clear water and fish).  Then we headed to Chichen Itza (not chicken pizza, as one local referred to!), one of the 7 modern wonders of the world.  It is the ruins of one of the largest Mayan cities, including a huge pyramid and a cenote were human skeletons have been found.

Because we wanted more we headed for the ruins of Coba, where we walked amongst ruins through the jungle.  First settled in around 100BC,  in it's peak there were around 50,000 Mayans living there.  The site was quite extensive, although only a small amount has been excavated.

We headed back to the Caribbean for some picture perfect ruins on the coast at Tulum. It's a stunning site, but there were a Lot of people, so we got out of there and headed to a quiet, understated cenote for a picnic and a swim, before jumping on our plane to LA.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

New York New York!

Our flight to NYC arrived early, but in typical US fashion it was another 2 hours before getting out into the subway...and further waiting until our excitement was completely depleted before arriving in Manhattan (thanks to underground subway no incredible views). We arrived to drunken patrons outside bars at 1am in the morning.But we made up for it the next day.

First thing in the morning we headed for Katz's, the famous deli where in "When Harry met Sally", Sally had a great time! We had a great time also, but not in the same way.  We blissed out on the massive pastrami on rye, charged up with an incredible amount of beef, and pickles on steroids!

We then visited ground zero, where new construction on a grand memorial site was in progress. We went to the memorial museum where the scale of the impact of 9-11 was profound.

We then found our way past city hall across the Brooklyn Bridge where we saw the statue of Liberty and Woody Allen's Manhattan vista from a distance.  We made our way to Grimaldi's Pizza under the bridge in BROOKLYN...where we had to line up for the privilege of trying the "best" pizza in NY. It was pretty damn good.

Afterwards we hit SoHo for some serious shopping.  There was the most chic, sheek, industrial geek fashion shop in the world, all the grey and black making us feel sloppy in our red and black attire (we did have one color right). But new shoes later, both of us walking out of the shop with them on and ditching our old Bijagua mud encrusted ones, we were ready for some comedy at the Gotham Comedy club, highlight was Jim Gaffigan, making us LOL.

We then hit Times Square and blissfully freaked out with all the pretty lights. What a day!

The next day we strolled through east village and lower east side and ate some iconic pumpkin pie and pecan pie.  Yum!
We then wandered around Central Park and watched the ice skating (it just wasn't roller derby!)

We felt like salmon swimming upstream as we walked through a sea of people on 5th avenue looking at the Christmas window displays in Tiffany's, Macy's etc.
For our last night in the Big Apple we paid to line up then line up some more, go up 70 stories and line up some more for the incredible vistas from the "Top of the Rock" at the Rockefeller Centre... Then we lined up to leave!

Beautiful city, but it's time to go back to Mexico... Vamos a la playa!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Vamos a La Playa Part 2

5 minutes on a bus out of Bijagua & there was the sunshine! Blinded by the light, we headed for the beach. We ended up not quite exactly where we had planned...but then exactly where we wanted to be....Playa Hermosa!

Upon arrival we were worried about the huge numbers of people on the beach, until we realised that they were all ticos (Costa Ricans) visiting the beach for the weekend then making their mass exodus on Sunday afternoon when we arrived. So for us this meant a nice quiet beach for the next few days....or so we thought until coincidentally we ran into Fabienne (the French volunteer from our homestay) & Jorge (from Pip's English class).  After some beers on the beach, we decided to make a date for the next day to picnic with Fabienne & also Emilse and her family from our homestay in Bijagua. What a great day it was! Fabian who is now 9 last visited the beach when he was 2. It was a beautiful day of swimming, eating and playing at the beach with our familia de Costa Rica.

The next day we headed to Rincon de La Vieja, for some volcano action where we smelt the sulphuric steam rising from beneath the earth, we saw bubbling mud exactly like "The Bog of Eternal Stench" in the movie "The Labyrinth". We also saw a bisote, a very cute creature which we didn't know  existed before our time in Costa Rica. We also saw a woodpecker, more capuchin monkeys and iguanas.

Then our time in Costa Rica was over. We arrived at Liberia's International Airport  (possibly the smallest international airport  in the whole world) for our flight to NYC!!! "No sleep til Brooklyn".

Monday, 5 December 2011

Bijagua or "Como se dice.....RAIN!"

Note to oneself: A good question to ask when embarking on an overseas volunteer project is....."What is there weather like there?"

After high flying into Costa Rica, our VIP status quickly descended into a 4 hour bus ride standing the whole way to Bijagua!  "¡Bien Venidos!" We were greeted with as we fell off the bus, to the beautiful smile and enthusiasm (which never wavered) from Pip, the sister of a friend of ours in Alice Springs and our contact in Bijagua......then the sun disappeared as it started to rain.....and didn't let up for 2 weeks!

Apart from the continuous rain, where to start?

Bijagua is a small rural agricultural town in the province of Upula in the north of Costa Rica, situated in a lush green valley between Volcano Tenorio and Volcan Mirravalles.  While we were there however, we didn´t get much of a chance to see the vista, and discovered why it was so green....and that is because it has it´s own micro climate due to the fact that it lies between the 2 mountains which creates a lot of rain, particularly during the time that we were there; mid to late November.
Gum boots and an umbrella are highly essential items, needless to say that our trip got a lot better with the purchase of a bright red umbrella with white polka dots!  Daily we encountered farmers riding there horses to town, passing goats, bulls, and pigs on our way to our project.

Pip, or "Pippa" or "English teacher" as she is known by the locals first visited Bijagua 10 years ago, now married to local ecologist Donald and together with their gorgeous and ever popular baby girl Kira, they run their family owned b&b "Casitas Tenorio."  We camped for 2 nights amidst tropical gardens surrounded by flowers, monkeys, toucans and even sloths.  It is a little piece of paradise close to Rio Celeste and on the foothills of Volcanes Tenorio. Pippa´s enthusiasm and engagement with the local community as well as Donald´s passion and extensive knowledge of the local flora and fauna made for a wonderful stay.

After this we were taken to "Casa de Emilse" for our home stay.  For 2 weeks we stayed with the wonderful Emilse and her 2 kids, the lovely Emily (who was busy studying for exams while we were there), her brother Fabian and 1 noisy dog Canine.  Also in the house of Emilse was another french volunteer Fabienne who helped us keep practicing our Spanish and translated for us to Emilse when we got stuck! Staying in the house was so homey and comfortable, with Emilse immediately treating us like family and patiently listening to us trying our best to speak Spanish.  Her cooking was the best, the best food in Costa Rica! ¡Que Rico! We were sad to say goodbye to Emilse at the end of the trip.


We had few initial hiccups in getting the project started.  Transport to the school approx 3km away was one, we got offered to ride horses to the school each day which would have been hilarious, however sadly, but perhaps luckily (for the horses and ourselves), the offer fell through! But in the end after a few days of organising, sourcing equipment, organising transport (walking in the rain) etc we were "listos" ready to go.

Pip put us in contact with a small primary school with approx 50 students in El Jardin, a small town close to Bijagua.  The children at this school live in a low socio-economic area not used to receiving programs such as ours, needless to say the children were very excited! Pip, the principal Marianela, the teachers and the cook were all very helpful in getting the project started...then after that we were on our own....standing in front of a class of 20 students who couldn't speak English. This made for some pretty funny and interesting lessons!

We taught circus every day in the school for 6 days, then put on an "Exposicion" for the parents, teachers and school on the final day. The show included "Payasos" (Clowns), "Ladrones" (thieves), "Acrobatas" and the cutest "Tigres".  It was a wonderful presentation with the audience very much included with lots of fun and laughter! 

Thank you to everyone back home for donations towards the circus equipment which helped to make this project possible! The school at El Jardin now has hula hoops, diabolos and juggling balls to continue their circus fun.

During this time we also taught circus/English and put on a silly but fun show for Pip´s adults English class. Afterwards we held circus lessons in the park in Bijagua until the rain ran us out!

On the Sunday we didn´t work we travelled to Rio Celeste, a national park close to Bijagua (it still rained). It was green in the extreme, with lots of wildlife. We saw a squirrel, toucans, huge blue butterflies and lots of mud.  The river was bright blue and joined by another brown one, and the meeting line was very distinct.  At the end of the trail was a relaxing hot spring in a picturesque setting.
After our project we spent a day visiting  other spots in Bijagua.  Heliconias Lodge has a beautiful walk through the jungle, with 200+ year old trees, lots of Capuchin monkeys, 37m high canopy swing bridges, weird plants and hummingbirds.
The Mariposario (butterfly farm) is an beautiful little farm that the owner Marvin showed us around.  We saw an amazing array of plants, from giant smelly insect eating ones, to trees with cinnamon for bark.  There were plenty of animals as well; sloths, toucans (they´re real!), a red eyed leaf frog (so pretty!) and of course all types of butterflies.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

!Not another chicken bus!

It`s been a while since our last blog as we have been lost in transit and then then isolated in rural Bijagua, Costa Rica.  But for now the tales of too many chicken buses!

After tearing ourselves away from the Margaritas on the beach in Mexico, we commenced a 5 day journey of crazy camionetes (people trucks), collectivos (let`s see how many people can fit in 1 car) and chicken buses (yes you know the one with live chickens on top).

It began with another overnight bus then an exhilarating and hair raising journey in a collectivo to the Guatamalan Frontera. From there it was a matter of squeezing onto chicken buses where the driver knows no word for full, with no suspension for a ridiculous amount of hours, up and up and up into the cloud covered volcanoes, then up some more.  Another chicken bus, less people, less suspension, down, down, down with rocky roads making red centre old desert corrugated tracks look like super highways!  Only one tuk tuk away from a hotel on the beautiful lake Atitlan and a good nights rest.

Waking up to a stunning view, we lazed around the lake for awhile, then hit the road once again, this time in a little tourist van, which, after having to detour and navigate the potted roads, dropped us off in Antigua at night.  We spent the evening wandering the street and eating.

The next day, after being dropped off at the Guatemala airport, we discovered that our flight was delayed for 2 hours, :( BUT we had unknowingly purchased business class tickets :D so we spent the 2 hours in the Elite Suite, drinking Cuba Libres (thanks Ilse!) and champagne, then relaxing on the plane.  What a way to arrive in Costa Rica!