From the farm a group of us took a private boat to San Pedro and got dropped off at the west side dock: muelle municipal. This is also the dock where boats, lanchas in Spanish, arrive from and depart to Panajachel. Continue reading
Category Archives: Travel Tips
Market Life in Santiago Atitlán
Hoy was mi primero tiempo going to the mercado in Santiago Atitlán. Santiago is the town diagonally across the lake from the Mystical Yoga Farm. To get to any other towns from the farm (other then the village of Chacaya), we have to take a boat to Santiago first.
Santiago is a mostly indigenous Mayan community of around 50,000 people on Lake Atitlán. The locals speak Tz’utujil (pronounced two-two-hill). There are a handful of ex-pats who also live in Santiago. Women and most of the young females wear traditional woven stripped long skirts and huipiles, shirts embroidered with colorful birds and flowers. Continue reading
Montezuma: Be a light unto yourself
I’m thankful for these objects and people that keep coming into my life at exactly the right moment. I’m thankful that I’ve had full days to do nothing but read. I’m thankful to have the power of both no-thingness and alone-ness. I’m thankful for all the lessons I continue to learn along the way.
One of my first days walking the beach in Montezuma I found a semilla ojo de buey, eye of the bull seed, washed along shore.
These seeds drift all over the world, getting picked up and tossed around by the ocean’s pull, but are native to the tropics. Sometimes they spend years drifting along. They are good luck charms with healing properties that help develop strength to face change. I read somewhere that, “When we know we have to deal with something that requires great effort, this seed gives us all the energy we need.” I instantly felt like I was meant to find the semilla ojo de buey.
In my previous post about Montezuma, I wrote about mine and Elizabeth’s conversation about the people who are drawn to Montezuma. At the end of our conversation she said, “And then I wonder if people look at me and think these things. I’m lost, but I’m purposefully lost.”
Montezuma is the perfect place to be purposefully lost.
While in Montezuma I spent full days doing nothing but reading. I spent a lot of time alone contemplating what it means to be purposefully lost, and I found out more about myself.
Afterall part of the reason I also came to Costa Rica was to be purposefully lost. I was drained from constant years of schooling, taking 16 to 20 credits every semester while working two jobs and maintaining internships, scheduling hangout dates with friends between lunch breaks, going from one relationship to the next, and feeling like my life was turning into a never-ending to-do-list. Since being in Costa Rica for the past four months, I’ve definitely learned a lot about slowing down, being comfortable with doing nothing, and finding the courage to be alone, sometimes with only the roar of the ocean drifting into my ears.
After revealing a few things about myself to my roommate Nolita, she told me I needed to speak my truth more. “You are a powerful being when you speak your truth.” But what does that mean exactly? She said that the Universe keeps putting certain patterns into my life so I can realize that they are happening and deal with them. She told me to shift perspective and be in gratitude for things that happened instead of picking them apart. There’s that gratitude, once again showing up in some form of my travels.
Speaking your truth means standing your ground, not giving up, not giving in, and sticking up for what you believe in no matter what.
The next day at Devaya Yoga I picked a card from a deck similar to a Tarot card and it said,
“Growth comes not by fighting with what it wrong, but by loving what is right.”
Instead of looking at a situation and thinking about everything that went wrong, remember what went right. What went wrong antagonizes you. While this can act as a driving force of change for you to be better, you need to also focus on what you know is already true in your heart, what is already right for you. If the reason for why things went wrong has been a similar pattern in your life, then be in gratitude that that pattern presented itself once again, and move forward with what is right. This can also be applied to people and relationships. Learn to love what is right about someone instead of picking apart their flaws. Of course all of this is easier said than done, but another lesson in growth is good for all of us.
A few days later at the 03 Institute I picked some Osho Zen Tarot cards. Lately anxiety kicked into my brain as I thought about the future and life post-Costa Rica. The present moment slipped away as my mind constantly wandered to the nonexistent, the future. Before I knew what the Osho Zen Tarot cards were, I picked a card from the top of the deck to look at it. It was completely black and said in white type, “No-thingness.” I thought that was a little weird so I put it back and walked away. Later I shuffled the deck and picked the card, “Alone-ness.” I laughed, showed Nolita and she said, “There’s another one in there that seems bad too,” and showed me “No-thingness.” I couldn’t get away from this card.
No-thingness says, “Relax into the nothingness of not knowing. Treasure each empty moment of the experience. Something sacred is about to be born. The nothing is not just nothing, it is all. It is vibrant with all possibilities. It is potential, absolute potential. It is unmanifest yet, but it contains all. Why in the middle become so worried, anxious, why create such despair? Nothingness to nothingness is the whole journey.”
It’s okay to not know what comes next. In Western culture we are taught the opposite. We are pushed into college straight from high school and then pushed into careers and family life. We often have plans far in advance. We have family and friends who nag us about what we’re doing with our lives. The future looms over us. What we forget to realize is that, it’s okay not to know. It’s okay to let the Universe unfold exactly as it should. It’s okay to not be in control of every little thing that happens to you. It’s okay to let go. Everything, even the nothingness, is part of the experience.
Which goes hand in hand with Alone-ness:
“When there is no significant other in our lives we can either be lonely, or enjoy the freedom that solitude brings. We can either feel isolated and bitter, or celebrate the fact that our vision is strong enough even to survive the powerful human need for the approval of family, friends or colleagues. Take responsibility for the choice you have made. The humble figure in this card glows with a light that emanates from within. Gautam Buddha said, ‘Be a light unto yourself.’ Ultimately each of us must develop within ourselves the capacity to make our way through the darkness without any companions, maps or guides. There is a tremendous difference between loneliness and aloneness. Loneliness is absence of the other. Aloneness is the presence of oneself. Aloneness is very positive. It is a presence, overflowing presence. You are so full of presence that you can fill the whole universe with your presence and there is no need for anybody.”
Remember that being alone is okay. Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely. Remember that each one of us carries a light inside of us. We can access this light, this power, anytime.
Learn to feel joy in solitude. Learn to know the thoughts that flutter through your mind when no one else is there to influence them. Learn to know how you want to spend the day when the choice is completely up to you. Learn to feel comfortable with nothing but your presence and your breath on your skin. Learn to sit in silence and observe. Then you’ll see how beautiful everything can truly be.
I’m thankful that no matter where I go in Costa Rica I somehow end up seeing a familiar face. I’m thankful for natural tidal pools. I’m thankful for Montezuma.
In my hostel one night my roommate Elizabeth and I started talking about Montezuma. She said, “I’ve been to so many places in the world, and I’ve heard here more than anywhere else people say, ‘That person is so weird. That person is a little off.’ I’ve never heard people say that so many times in one day before. This place definitely attracts people who are a little lost.”
Right after this conversation my Tico friend Andrei picked me up to get dinner. I asked him about his day, and he shook his head as he said, “Oh man I just got stuck in a two hour conversation with this guy. He just got divorced, and he kept talking about burning things. Crazy people here.”
Montezuma attracts lost souls.
One day on the street I overheard a guy say to two women in a stopped car, “There are no rules here. We’re the rulebreakers and the black sheep of our families.” Days later at the Saturday market I saw him with a wheelbarrow full of coconuts. He kept muttering, cursing and pointing fingers at no one in particular. Andrei later told me that that man, Jack of the Jungle, took too much Reina de la Noche and never came back.
Montezuma attracts spiritual-seekers, yogis, health-conscious folks, healers, people who need to be healed, creators, kindred spirits, backpackers and all kinds of alternative types.
A few times a week I took vinyasa flow classes at Montezuma Yoga, a beautiful outdoor terrace studio at Los Mangos hotel. There I met like-minded people who I saw at the community farmers’ market and other events around town. I also took classes at Devaya Yoga, right in town. One day I was the only one who showed up, so Devaya, the owner, gave me a “healing bodywork” session. In between talking fast about her own life, she’d say random things about my life like, “Continue to use your non-dominant hand. You’re not going to be a journalist, but you’re going to write something. Writing and beauty will dominate your life. You’re traveling alone, aren’t you? Brave for a Libra.”
One of my favorite yoga classes was on the beach for a Full Moon Rise class outside of Ylang Ylang Beach Resort led by Ireni Stamou. It was one of the best yoga classes I’ve ever taken. After Shavasana the full moon hung low in the sky over the ocean illuminating all of us.
Because there was a retreat happening I was never able to take a class there, but another yoga attraction in Montezuma is Anamaya. It’s a body, mind and spirit resort on top of the hill with spectacular views. I would love to go to a retreat there someday.
Almost every day in Montezuma I ran into someone I knew. My first night in Montezuma I saw my manager from the outdoor store I worked at in New Jersey. He just happened to be in the middle of the street, right across from my line of vision. I knew he was going to be in Costa Rica, but I didn’t expect to see him in the middle of the street on my first night in Montezuma.
I ran into three people who also volunteered at Rancho Margot. One of them, Jennifer, told me, “You’re gonna love it here. Happy, healthy people.” She’s studying with Dr. Teodoro, a naturopath, at the 03 Institute in Delicias, which is up the hill a bit from Montezuma on the way to Santa Teresa. The 03 is a spa, wellness and healing center. I did the sauna and cold plunge there and also got a facial. I highly recommend this place for everyone, even if you think you don’t need any kind of treatment. It’s a beautiful, tranquil place just to be.
Montezuma attracts love.
When I was in Santa Teresa my hostel roommate there said that Montezuma was thee place to fall in love. Her and her boyfriend were having problems, and Montezuma changed everything. A guy I met in Montezuma told me, “Montezuma is special for relationships. There’s something about it that makes you fall in love.”
Some say it’s because of the waterfalls.
Andrei said Montezuma is his favorite place in Costa Rica. “I think it has something to do with the waterfalls. Something about them affects your wellbeing and your spiritually. It releases something in your mind,” Andrei said. “Montezuma just maximizes whatever you’re feeling. Here I just feel things. I stop thinking and start feeling.” Cesar, the co-director of my hostel, told me he originally moved to Montezuma because of the waterfalls.
Others will tell you it’s because Montezuma is one of the Blue Zones of the world. A Blue Zone is an area where scientists have found that people live longer and know how to be happier. The whole Nicoya Peninsula is considered a Blue Zone. In 2004, the man behind the Blue Zone concept, Dan Buettner, teamed up with National Geographic and hired the world’s best longevity researchers to identify places around the world where people lived measurably better. In these Blue Zones they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States. Find out more information about Blue Zones here.
Montezuma attracted me.
Before I came to Costa Rica everyone that had been to Costa Rica told me that I had to go to Montezuma. They all got the same dreamy look in their eyes and sheepish grin as they talked about it. Before I came, it was one of the only towns in Costa Rica I knew about. I was hoping to go right away, but didn’t make it until April. In Costa Rica different people I met had opinions about Montezuma that went from one side of the spectrum to the complete opposite. While I was in Puerto Viejo, I felt really called to Montezuma. I knew it was time to head there.
The first few days I spent in Montezuma I didn’t see what all the hype was about. For starters the prices of everything from clothing and souvenirs to food were the most expensive I’d seen in the whole country. Most casados cost anywhere from 3500 to 4000. But I did find one for 2500 at El Capitan, a hostel/restaurant in town. There are places in Costa Rica with a similar vibe that have cheaper price tags. But by two weeks in, I too started to develop that dreamy look in my eyes and fell under Montezuma’s spell. I abandoned my ideas to explore other parts of the country and decided to stay in Montezuma longer.
Montezuma is on the eastern side of the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. The sunrise side. The sun rises in Montezuma and sets in Mal Pais/Santa Teresa, about 19 km away. To get to Montezuma you drive down steep hills that never seem to stop winding. Between the trees, azure water sparkles in the distance, but it doesn’t seem like anything else can exist down there.
Most of the restaurants, travel agencies and souvenir shops run along the two perpendicular streets along the beach. The Nicoya Peninsula’s information website says, “Montezuma’s town center, with charming old wood houses, itinerant artists, and vivid street life has an almost Caribbean flair and feels like the open-air living room of the community where a continuous mellow party takes place.” There is no post office or bank, but there’s an ATM. There are plenty of vegetarian eateries in town and quite a few places to get vegan food as well. The party night in town is Thursday when Chico’s Bar hosts Reggae Night. The street is blocked off for performers and firedancers.
In Montezuma I was instantly greeted with kindness and remembered how friendly the locals on the Nicoya Peninsula are. A huge part of that is thanks to Kerri Bowers and Cesar Benavides, the founders of Proyecto Montezuma, a nonprofit organization which provides free English classes for locals, TEFL training, a tour agency, a hostel, and more, all in one. I ended up staying at Proyecto Montezuma for 16 days when I originally thought I’d spend a week at the most.
The hostel, on a ledge overlooking the ocean with two accesible beaches and natural tidal pools, is the perfect place to relax. It’s about a seven minute walk from downtown and a two minute walk from the waterfalls. It’s perfect for people who want a quieter stay, away from the hustle and bustle of town.
That is what I had right at my fingertips day in and day out. Life just continues to get better.
Smile You’re in the Caribbean
That was the first rule at my hostel on the Caribbean side. As I explored the town, I continued to see this mantra everywhere.
I’m thankful that despite what everyone said, I explored the Carribbean side. I’m thankful for the wonderful community of people I met in Playa Chiquita and that community exists. I’m thankful for spiders.
The first night I arrived on the Caribbean side calypso music breezed through the windows of the cultural center in downtown Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. (The locals drop the de Talamanca and refer to it as Puerto Viejo. There’s another Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí.) Musicians wearing brightly colored sarongs swayed in the front of the room as people served traditional Caribbean food in the back. I arrived just in time for Gran Feria Cultural: Casa De La Cultura, an Afro-Caribbean culture festival. As I danced to the calypso rhythms at the free event, I knew I was going to like it in Puerto Viejo. Back at my hostel they were hosting mud wrestling. There was already plenty to smile about.
I started my Costa Rican journey on the Pacific side and most people I met said the Caribbean side was nothing much, to put it nicely. I feel like some people in the States are also like that, always thinking their side of the coast is better. When I got to the Caribbean side and explored Puerto Viejo and every beach south, I realized that no one knew what they were talking about. Regardless of what people say about a place, you can never judge it until you’ve been there yourself. Until you experience something yourself, you never really know. Each day in the Caribbean side I found something new to love.
The Caribbean side pulses with life.
Bright blue morpho butterflies flutter right past your face sometimes. Neon orb-weaver spiders weave webs all through the jungle and between the power lines of the road. Some say that the Caribbean side lacks a dry season. It rained most days I was there, but most of the rain poured during the night. In turn, lush green vegetation swallows you up. Leaves of trees seem to reach out and cling to you.
The Caribbean side is a mixture of all different types of people and cultures that includes indigenous tribes like Cabecar and Bribri Indians. Artisans sell jewerly and clothing all along the road, which adds to the vibrant colors you see everywhere.
Bob Marley music can always be heard somewhere. The jungle path pushes right up to the beach in Puerto Viejo and Cocles. There are restaurants in Puerto Viejo for every price range with a wide list of options from typical sodas to Thai and Italian.
In Puerto Viejo, there’s always something to do. There’s a farmers market on Saturday mornings. Lazy Mon hosts an open mic night on Sundays. Tasty Waves has trivia nights on Tuesdays. OM Yoga has a community class on Wednesdays. Jessy Chick performs at EZ Times on Wednesdays. There are tons of shops with really cute clothing and great souviners.
My favorite store in town is Luluberlu. It’s on one of the side roads and is a must-go-to if you’re in town. Just look at all these colorful things:
When you talk to most backpackers about Puerto Viejo, they’ll suggest the hostel Rocking J’s. Most people I talked to didn’t really know anything else. But there are plenty more options. I knew Rocking J’s was a party hostel, primarily targeted at the 16- to 21-year-old crowd. I don’t mind partying every once in awhile, but I didn’t want to be living in the party. Rocking J’s is a great place to visit though. They have tons of beautiful mosaics.
A guy I met at the bus station in Nicoya told me to go to a place called La Ruka instead. The name stuck with me as I traveled throughout Costa Rica. I ended up spending 16 days at La Ruka, my longest stay since volunteering at the ranch. When driving from the center of town, La Ruka is on the right, just before Rocking J’s. The couple that runs the hostel were extremely welcoming and accommodating. It’s one of those hostels where the other guests become your family. By foot, it’s around 5- to 10- minutes from the center of town.
One of the main differences of Puerto Viejo than most of the other places I’ve visited in Costa Rica is the paved road. The paved road added a whole new dimension to things. For one, people drove much faster than on the rocky, dusty roads.
Puerto Viejo is a bit seedier and rougher than most places I’ve been in Costa Rica. There are many places where you don’t want to walk or ride your bike at night regardless if you’re alone or not. Danni, the co-runner of La Ruka, told me, “When you walk at night be confident, and shine your light out.” I think this roughness is part of the reason Puerto Viejo gets a bad reputation. It’s not like people are murdering people in the streets. It’s mainly petty crime like people stealing your belongings. I’ve heard of worse things happening in Santa Teresa.
Like when traveling anywhere else, if you go out at night, be sensible. Don’t walk alone in the dark. Don’t carry anything valuable on you. And most importantly, shine your light out.
In Puerto Viejo people will openly offer you marijuana. More people ask, “Do you smoke?” in Puerto Viejo than any other place I’ve been in Costa Rica. I can see people being put off by that, but it’s as simple as saying, “No, gracias,” and walking away. The locals also have a favorite go-to line, “Hey girl, where you from?” It’s like they memorized that English question and nothing else.
While Puerto Viejo is nice for going out, the true gems of the Caribbean lie south of Puerto Viejo. I think another reason people dismiss the Caribbean side is because they get to Puerto Viejo and stop there. Keep going. Always keep exploring. The small beach towns past the main town are the heart of the Caribbean side.
After Puerto Viejo there’s Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva and Manzanillo. I loved the jungle feel of the places along the main road.
My suggestions as always: rent a bicycle and explore. The day I rode south of PV, I really started to fall in love. I felt like each passing sight and sign was written for me, especially in Playa Chiquita. I’m pretty sure I could stay there forever.
“Chocolate tours, vegan and vegetarian food, kundalini yoga, save the forest, and plant trees,” are just a few of the signs I rode past.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, we pulled into the beach Punta Uva.
This instantly became my favorite beach in Costa Rica.
And this ledge on Punta Uva’s beach instantly became my favorite place to practice yoga and one of my favorite places in the world.
In Playa Chiquita my favorite place is La Botantica Organica, a vegetarian, vegan and raw foods cafe with a store that offers all kinds of sustainable, eco-friendly, and local products. While I was in Puerto Viejo they hosted a community movie night and community art showcase night.
At La Botantica Organica I met happy, healthy people who were facilitaing community in every sense of the word. I was so tempted to never leave so I could grow in community with them. But now I know I have a Puerto Viejo family I can always go back to.
I walked into Panama
Attitude of Gratitude:
I’m thankful that I’m no longer getting bit by Panamanian bugs. I’m thankful for the days I’ve been starting with delicious, balanced, home-cooked breakfasts. I’m thankful that I overheard my British friend and her Mom skyping about knickers and the laughing that ensued. Read my previous blog post here to learn about my attitude of gratitude.
I’ve always loved the idea of suspension. Of being in two places at once, of being between two ideas, two realities. Crossing the border from Costa Rica to Panama on foot on a rainy day over an unstable, slippery bridge wasn’t as romantic as my thoughts of suspension. The wooden bridge had an old railroad track down the middle with wide open gaps between some steps. Boards shook when you stepped on them. Between the gaps the dirty river raged below.
Entering y Exiting Costa Rica:
As a United States citizen you don’t need a visa to enter Costa Rica. All you need is your passport and proof of leaving within 90 days. Once the 90 day mark comes, you need to leave the country for 72 hours before you can return. For more information about traveling to Costa Rica as a United States citizen head to the U.S. Department of State’s page here.
Many people recommended Bocas del Toro, islands of the northwest coast of Panama, and my friend from the States was heading there, so it was perfect time for a border run.
Logistics of a border run:
My friend and I started in Cahuita, a town on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. If starting in Cahuita, make sure you have colones at the bus station to pay for a bus ticket. They wouldn’t accept American dollars. We missed the bus because of this. But also make sure you have American dollars before you enter Panama because that’s the currency in Panama.
From Cahuita we took the 10 a.m. bus to the border town of Sixaola. We were confused because we heard people say Sixaola and thought they were saying six hours. It took two hours to get to Sixaola from Cahuita. The bus deposited us at the bottom of the hill at the end of town. The only way to go was forward, towards the bridge. Before walking across the bridge we had to go to the immigration office on the right. We had to fill out an immigration form and get an exit stamp from Costa Rica. Once in Panama we could have walked right into the country without anyone stopping us. We walked into another country like we were walking home from a neighbor’s house.
Once off the bridge there’s a border office to the left to get an entrance stamp. Like Costa Rica, in order to enter Panama you need proof that you’re leaving. I was able to show my flight out of Costa Rica as proof. My friend had to buy a bus ticket from the stand down the stairs on the side of the big building. For $14 he bought a ticket that was valid for a year. He had to write his name and passport number on the ticket. The whole border process took about an hour. There was no fee to enter Panama.
On the Panama side there were a lot of people just hanging around, watching. I didn’t feel threatened but it was a little unnerving. Most of them seemed like they were just trying to make money by helping. We took a van(one of the men hanging around was advertising the shuttle service) for $10 to the port where we took a boat for $4 to Bocas Town. Once we got into the van, the soundtrack of old school Ja Rule and 50 Cent gave me hope for the way things were working out. But once we got to Bocas Town, I quickly learned that it wasn’t where I wanted to spend my time.
Bocas Town, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Bocas Town is a small slice of a town at the bottom of Isla Colón. It’s the most developed and most visited area of the six islands that make up the Archipiélago of Bocas del Toro. Isla Colón is named after Christopher Columbus, who sailed to Bocas del Toro in 1502. The islands eventually turned into Chiquita banana plantations. Workers came from Jamaica and the West Indies, which increased the Caribbean vibe. Now there are hotels along the water, homes raised on stilts that are painted vibrant colors with a mix of tropical and colonial porches, and tons of water-activity based tours to go on.
Who names paradise?
For the first time in my travels I experienced what people deem “paradise” right alongside stark poverty. Being in Bocas Town made me feel sad and uncomfortable. Being there made me feel like I should be doing something to help instead of bar-hopping like most people. I started thinking about who deems a certain place paradise and how someone else could experience it completely differently. It looked like the locals were getting pushed out to construct hotels and places for visitors. Many areas were littered with trash and many locals homes were just piles of wood planked together. Are the locals enjoying the islands for the turquoise water and pristine beaches or are foreigners the only ones able to enjoy all the paradisiacal activity? It was also my first stop that wasn’t a backpackers’ town and instead a place where wealthy people vacation. I wasn’t used to not seeing smiling passer-bys on the street, not being able to find a decently priced meal containing vegetables and not freely going up to strangers to chat.
Here are some homes in Bocas Town:
There were places I enjoyed in Bocas Town, but I think three days is enough to experience what Bocas Town has to offer.
-Rent a bicycle and ride out of Bocas Town towards the main part of the island. Ride towards Playa Bluff. Before the beach there’s a cool lounge on the water called Paki Point. Great place to chill, eat, drink. Playa Bluff was one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve been to.
-For food: Bocas Blended. A food truck two doors down from Tropical Markets, next to a house with a sign that says Marisqueria. It’s on the road along the water. I had a Mediterranean veggie wrap, Thai salad and mojito lemonade for $7. Any combination of wrap, salad and drink is $7. So fresh and delicious. I would definitely go again.
La Casbah: Located on Av. Norte between Calles 3 and 4. Very fresh food and reasonably priced. I had a falafel plate with pita and veggies on the side for $6.50. Split bruschetta for $5.50. Great atmosphere.
La Buga: on the water. Had good veggie options for lunch.
Cosmic Crab: on Isla Carenero. Need to take a $1 water taxi from Bocas Town. Right on water. Great place to go for sunset. Good specials.
Favorite store: Island Traders. Two doors down from police station. They have traditional mola patches, unique jewelry, beautiful displays of local art, among other things.
Favorite place to take yoga: Bocas Yoga. In a big purple house. For $5 you can’t beat it.
Cool hostels in Bocas Town:
Casa Verde (right on the water), Mondo Taitu (a party hostel), Mare Iguana (not in the center of town), Hostel Hansi
The inevitable thing in Bocas:
I can’t blog about Bocas without writing about the bugs there. I’m naturally prone to bug bites, so I might be a little biased. But out of all the years of my life of constant bites, swelling and infections, I’ve never experienced bites to the degree that I did in Bocas. Bocas is known for its invasion of no-see-ums or sand flies. In clusters they attacked my ankles and pretty much every part of my body. After itching them they would burn for hours. This hasn’t happened to me with other bites. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to partake in scratch-a-thons. I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. No bug spray or medicine helped. I did use a relief oil that I bought on the island. “Stop Scratchin Bite Relief” had jackass bitters, mataratton, aloe vera, coconut oil and beeswax. This helped but I had to apply it constantly.
If you have any questions at all about more information in Bocas or want to know more specific details about what I mentioned, message me or leave a comment and I’d be happy to help.
One last thing
I can’t write about Bocas without mentioning Sweet Love. Sweet Love was graffitied everywhere. You couldn’t walk down the street without it making an appearance. I’m not exactly sure why or where it came from, but there’s no denying that sweet love makes everything better. Here’s hoping there’s more sweet love for all of us.
Playa Guiones: The Paradise of Surf and Yoga
When you read about Guiones in the travel guidebooks, most of them say something along the lines of:
“The town attracts residents whose idea of Heaven is to perfect their headstand, amble along one of the three absolutely pristine beaches, or paddle out to surf. A town so laid back that each day seems to last a week.”
Everyone I met in Guiones agreed, “People are here to surf or practice yoga.” People travel to Guiones from all over the world to do both. Most of the people I encountered were locals, expats, families or people vacationing. It´s not a crowded tourist town, which I was very thankful to find out. I´d pass the same people on the street multiple times a day.
Playa Guiones (pronounced ge-oh-nays) is a jungle beach town located in Nosara, in the Guanacaste Province on the Nicoya Peninsula. The peninsula is on the west coast of Costa Rica, and it looks like a limb reaching towards the sea. Or if Costa Rica were a seahorse, the Nicoya Peninsula would be the head.
The province is named after Costa Rica’s national tree, a guanacaste. This tree is pictured on Costa Rica’s 2000 mil bill. Nosara is named after an indegienous woman who slit her wrists rather than reveal her tribe’s treasure to a rival tribe. Her blood formed the Nosara River.
Guanacaste, the hot and dry province, is said to get more sun than any other part of the country. At this time of the year, January February the tree leaves and bushes are brittle. It’s almost as if you can hear them breaking from the dryness when you pass.
To get to Guiones from the Liberia Airport we drove along a main road for about an hour and then turned down a 22mile unpaved rocky road. Barely any of the roads in Guiones are paved, and everything is covered in dust. Quads, motorcycles and dirtbikes are main modes of transportation. You see people of all ages riding them, often with other people squeezed between their laps.
Because of the rocky roads, I was very thankful I brought my Reef flipflops which are very durable, and even more thankful I brought my Vibram Five Fingers. Because of the constant dust, I was thankful I had my bandana always handy to cover my mouth and nose. And because of the darkness after sundown, I was glad I had a headlamp and my flashlight.
The downtown area of Guiones is in the southside of town where there are a few versions of a typical yoga boutique: organic and bamboo clothing, paisley patterned scarves and gemstone jewerly. Everything was overpriced and in those types of shops I didn’t see anything that I thought really captured the spirit of Nosara. I was surprised to find that prices are pretty similiar to prices in the United States. Even the food at mini supers and restaurants. The best and least expensive place was Rosies, a soda on the main road, close to Coconut Harry´s Surf Shop. Sodas are family owned cafes that sell traditional Costa Rican food for great prices.
My favorite part of Guiones is that its a very health-conscious community. Not only are there countless yoga classes, there´s a juice bar, an organic grocery, vegetarian options at restaurants and a farmers’ market on Saturdays. There are also stands at the beach entrance where locals sell, pipa, fresh coconuts for 500 colones or $1. Drinking fresh coconuts daily was one of my favorite parts about being in Guiones. It gets dark early, usually around 6 p.m., and because there aren’t any streetlights, it gets really dark. Bars close around 11 p.m. so people go to bed early too.
A traveler I met who has been all over the world, said that Guiones is one of the most spiritually enriching places he’s ever been. “I think this place draws a certain type of person,” people said to me often. And often followed by, “You´ll travel all over Costa Rica but you´ll come back here.” Guiones gives you the time to look inside yourself, to melt into the rhythms around you, to relax, to not worry, to take your time.
I too was in Heaven practicing yoga numerous times a day. Here´s a list of the yoga studios I practiced at in Guiones:
(Most studios provide free mats. Most studios have a free community class.)
A world-renowed yoga institute that hosts teacher trainings.
The classes are held in a treetop studio, and yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. The first time I took a class there (It was a sunset flow class) was also the first time I saw monkeys! You walk through the jungle to get to the institute. I love this studio because of how soothing it is to be eye-level with the tops of trees and how beautiful the surroundings are. It´s one of the most serene places I´ve ever been. They mostly have hatha flow classes. Drop-in classes are $10.
*Personal bias: This is my favorite studio in Guiones.
The Healing Centre at Harmony Hotel
Another beautiful outdoor space. The Harmony Hotel is a beautiful space to relax in general. They have huts nestled within the jungle and a wonderful juice bar. They have a variety of classes: kundalini, vinyasa, sandy feet on the beach. I tried aerial silk yoga and acro yoga for the first time here. Most classes have a drop-in rate of $12.
There´s an indoor and outdoor practice space. For the month of January they had a free lecture series on Monday nights sponsered by Blue Spirit’s Omega Series. They mostly have flow and restorative classes. There was a community Kundalini class on Sundays. The drop-in rate is $12.
Heart of Guiones Wellness Center
Across from Tica Massage. On the same road as Casa Tucan. They offer a free community pilates class on Saturdays. I tried Ashtanga yoga here with Laura Waite and fell in love with the practice.
Blue Spirit, a hotel for yoga retreats, is also located in Guiones.
And now on to lodging:
Solo Bueno Hostel:
In Espanol this translates to only good. This place is known as a surf hostel. If you look around you’ll notice that many things are made out of broken surfboards.
When you walk in the front door there’s a common room with two hammocks, a couch, a table. There’s a communal kitchen with access to a fridge and applicances. There are cubbies to keep your personal food. There are lockers. There’s one room downstairs with three beds and an open room upstairs with all the other beds.
A bed is $14/night, camping is $10/night. If you stay for a week you get a reduced rate of $13 or $9/night. Because of the size, this place feels much homey-er than most hostels I have stayed at.
A few other inexpensive places to stay in Guiones:
4 You Hostal
Nosara Beach Hostel
The Gilded Iguana
Random Tidbits about Guiones:
With most of the toilets in Guiones and most parts of Costa Rica, you have to dispose toilet paper in a wastebasket. You can’t flush anything else down the toilet because of fragile jungle septic systems.
Keep an eye out for scorpions and snakes.
Nicaraguans walk the beach selling pottery, but they won´t bother you if you´re not interested. Other craftsmen set up tables outside the section of the beach by town mainly selling jewelry. But you really need to be aware of swindlers like this one:
Patagonia: Hiking to Heaven in El Chaltén
Getting outside brings out the best of what’s inside you. When I’m surrounded by nothing but mountains, trees, and sky, I can’t help but feel like I’m more a part of the Earth. When I hike, I hike to be outside, to be captivated by nature, to experience the natural rhythm of life, to learn how to be more in rhythm with this rhythm, and to learn how to listen to the silence and sounds that are already there without me.
This wonderful mass of the universe that we live on is already moving, breathing, living, and functioning on its own, without us. To be able to experience that buzz of life without interruption and to really feel like a part of it all. That is why I go hiking. I experienced that and more the day we hiked the Laguna de los Tres route in Chaltén.
With our Backroads group we started the hike around 9 a.m. Four of us finished the hike around 9 p.m., completing a 12-hour hiking day, encompassing 13.4 miles while summiting a 4,000 foot peak. The day, exhilarating, overwhelming, and exhausting, was one of the best hiking days I’ve ever had.
Like almost all of the days on our trip, every element of the weather came together to be the perfect formula for a hike. The sky was clear; there was no wind; and the air wasn’t too warm or too cold (temperature in mid-50s to mid-60s). But don’t be fooled by this too-good-to-be-true weather report.
Travel Tip: With Patagonia weather, you never know what you’re going to get. Be prepared (both mentally and gear-wise) for high winds, frequent and unpredictable showers (rain or snow), and intense sunshine at any time of the year.
We hiked through forests, fields, mountains, and stopped along rivers and lakes. One minute we were enclosed by tree branches with only glimpses of sky and peaks. The next we were walking into a wide open field, sky stretching all around us, with low, scrubby bushes at our feet. The next we stood on top of a mountain with snow-capped peaks staring back at us. With each step, we experienced such vivid contrasts.
Laguna de los Tres, the lagoon of the three, is known as the best viewing spot for the Fitz Roy mountain range. De Los Tres refers to the three highest peaks you can see from the lake’s shore: Fitz Roy (11,073 ft), Poincenot (9,849 ft), and Saint-Exupéry (8,392 ft).
Fitz Roy is the highest spire in Argentine Patagonia. Even though it’s less than half the size of the world’s greatest peaks, it’s one of the hardest peaks to climb. The difficulty is part challenge and part unpredictable weather conditions. The area has also been pretty inaccesible until the more recent developments of Chaltén. Hundreds of people may reach the summit of Mount Everest in a day, but Monte Fitz Roy may only be successfully ascended once a year.
Saint-Exupéry is named in memory of Antoine de Saint Exupéry, a French aviator who delivered mail to Patagonia by plane in the early 1930s. He’s also the writer of the best-seller, “Le Petit Prince” (The Little Prince). He disappeared while flying over the northern part of Corsica. His death remains a mystery.
Poincenot is named after Jacques Poincenot, a member of the French expedition set to conquer Fitz Roy in 1952. While attempting to cross the Fitz Roy river, Jacques fell in and died. His team carried on and named the peak in his memory.
After about 5 miles of hiking through the forest and fields, we decided to power on for the climb to Laugna de los Tres. Up until this point the views had already been incredible. But it was about to get even better.
While mapping out the trail in the dirt with his hiking pole before our final steep climb, David, our local guide, said, “You’re going to arrive at a place where the mountains make you say, ‘Wow.’ If you don’t say that then you haven’t arrived.”
Once we reached the top we stopped to eat lunch. I wanted to stay there forever. Not only were the highest peaks in front of us, but behind us more mountains rolled on, fields spread, and the river snaked into the horizon. We were on top of the world. There’s nothing more rewarding than a view like that after a long hike and a steep climb.
As soon as we finished eating lunch, an avalanche erupted into the water. It was such a powerful booming noise. We just happened to be at the right place at the right time to hear it.
When we started to walk down one of the peaks, a cloud shaped like a halo formed over the peak in front of us. Once again we were in the right place at the right time. If you take the time and effort, the Earth will reveal its magnificence to you. You will be rewarded in ways you can’t even imagine.
To know that this will always be here- this all knowingness that the forest already holds, that the mountains already whisper, shakes me to the core in the best possible way. I’ve always felt another kind of spiritual presence in the woods and I could never really relate to that feeling with mountains, but on this day I did. Even just staring at them in the distance. Being surrounded by nothing else.
The rest of the Backroads group hiked ahead and David stayed with my Aunt, Susan and I. For the hike back, David was our personal tour guide. He stopped us every five minutes to teach us about our surroundings—why the clouds were shaped like they were, how the rocks formed, what happened to the trees, etc, etc. It was such an incredible way to experience hiking in Patagonia. David was so generous with his time, so extremely knowledgeable and helpful. He’s also an excellent photographer. You can view his pictures here.
We hiked at our own pace, taking our time to really absorb everything. Aside from taking pictures of every single thing I saw, I wanted to fully absorb my surroundings. I wanted to really look at things: pebble-sized rocks, skinny trees, huge mountains. I wanted to understand my surroundings as best as I could. I like to take my time, especially when I hike.
To observe is to truly be in the moment.
Some of our views on the hike back:
There’s a lot of useful information online about this hike if you’d like to take the same route.
How we did it:
From Chaltén shuttle 20 minutes to Hosteria El Pilar, a hotel 17 kilometers (10 miles) from town. Take the trail to the right of the Hosteria, keeping the river on the right. Continue straight; follow sign for Rio Blanco. After about 5 km you’ll reach a T-intersection. Turn right to pass through Campamento Poincenet. Turn left to go back to Chaltén. If continuing on, follow signs for Laguna de los Tres and Campamento Rio Blanco.
The hike back:
After climbing down the mountain, pass through a flat section of wetlands and wooden boardwalks. Turn LEFT at T-intersection toward El Chaltén and Laguna Capri. At next intersection veer RIGHT uphill and turn RIGHT toward Laguna Capri. Continue straight through Campamento Capri and follow signs for Chaltén.
And of course after the hike, don’t forget to stop in at La Cerveceria, a local microbrewery. A very rewarding stop after a full day of hiking.
Patagonia: El Chaltén: The Heart of Patagonia
You know how certain places give off a certain feeling and in return evoke a certain feeling within you? El Chaltén is one of those places. It’s a town that completely captures you. It’s a certain kind of paradise.
El Chaltén is a small village set within a valley at the base of the Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre mountain ranges, the two most iconic mountain ranges in Argentina. Known as the unofficial national trekking capital of Argentina, the town is a part of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.
El Chaltén formally became a town in 1985 when a territorial dispute between Argentina and Chile intensified. To fully claim the land the clever Argentines built houses and started living there. When it was time to make a decision, Argentina got the land because they already occupied it.
Before Chaltén was an official town, early pioneers inhabited the area. Andreas Madsen, one of the most well known pioneers in Chaltén, came to Argentina from Denmark in the early 1900s. When we hiked in Chaltén we saw his house in the distance and our guide told us the story.
Andreas Madsen worked as a cook on an expedition with the famous Argentine explorer, Perito Moreno. So enamored by the natural landscape he built a farm, Estancia Fitz Roy, and settled there with his house facing the mountain. He returned to Denmark to find the love of his life, found her, married her and brought her back to Patagonia. They raised their four children (one named Fitz Roy) on the farm. They were truly out in the middle of nowhere, living off the land and surviving through Patagonia’s harshest conditions.
“Patagonia!” he cried. “She is a hard mistress. She casts her spell.
An enchantress! She folds you in her arms and never lets go.”
Andreas wrote two books: “Patagonia Vieja (Old Patagonia)” and “Cazando Pumas (Hunting Pumas)” which I’d love to read, but I can’t seem to find much information about online.
I absolutely loved everything about El Chaltén. Similar to saying just Calafate, you can refer to it as Chaltén. The name is prononuced exactly as it looks. Chal and then ten.
Chaltén felt much more real to me than Calafate. There was no center of town or shops overdone with souvenirs. There were no supermercados, just a few grocery markets. Most of the people there were there to climb, hike or explore the outdoors. Chaltén felt the way Patagonia should feel.
You know when you meet someone that listens so intently and truly cares about what you have to say, someone that isn’t afraid to express their feelings, someone that touches your life just by being present, someone that is so refreshing to meet, someone that is completely real. Chaltén is that person. Chaltén is genuine, down to earth, simple and peaceful. When it’s located in such a beautiful part of the world and inside a national park, it’s hard for a place not to posses those characteristics.
There’s something about mountains that bring serenity to a place, to people who live there. Chaltén rests comfortably at the mountains’ feet, like a child being watched over by a grandfather. The mountains exude their wisdom and patience down to Chaltén. Can you imagine being invigorated with this every single day?
Chaltén is one of those places that still belongs completely to the Earth. Some streets are paved; some streets are just mud and gravel. I can’t find a reliable source online, but it seems that the town’s permanent population is generally around 1,000 people, maybe less. With a lot of the houses it was hard to tell what stage the construction was in. I couldn’t tell whether they were abandon or being fixed up. There isn’t an efficient home telephone network or cell phone service; internet connection is slow and expensive. There are no banks or money exchange places. I think there’s one ATM. No mayor, churches, newspapers. Because these general distractions from life are eliminated in Chaltén, you feel even more plugged in with the natural environment. You feel incredibly connected to nature.
Tips: There is no fee to go hiking or climbing in the park. If you plan on climbing you just need to register with the park service before you go.
The name Chaltén derives from the native Tehuelche’s word which means “smoking mountain.” The Tehuelches called the Fitz Roy mountain, “Chaltén” because there was always a cloud of smoke around its peak. They thought it could even be a volcano.
Perito Moreno renamed the mountain Fitz Roy in honor of Robert Fitz Roy, the captain of the Beagle, Darwin’s ship. But the name for the town stuck.
Chaltén is about a three hour bus ride from Calafate. Before the airport was built in Calafate in 2000 the only way to Chaltén was a ten hour bus ride from Rio Gallegos.
We spent three nights in Chaltén at the hotel Los Cerros. We spent two and a half days hiking in the national park. Those days were some of the most incredible days of my whole life. Stay tuned for another post that includes jaw-dropping pictures of the days spent hiking in Chaltén.
I left piece of my heart in Chaltén and will definitely make my way back someday.
Patagonia: Days 1 and 2: El Calafate and Backroads
Before our hiking trip started, my Aunt and I spent the day exploring El Calafate (pronounced cal-a-fa-tay).
El Calafate is a town nestled on the southern part of Lago Argentino, the third largest lake in South America and largest in Patagonia. Tourism sprouted in the 1930s when mountain climbers from Europe began traveling to Patagonia. Before tourism, sheep farming was the main source of income. Before sheep farming, people tried to colonize Calafate but to no avail. Charles Darwin went to Calafate in 1834 on his famous voyage of the Beagle. While sheep farming does still exist in El Calafate, if you take one trip there you’ll see that tourism has taken over.
The population is roughly 15,000 in the summer (December to March-ish) and 6,000 in the winter.
Tip: When talking about El Calafate, you can shorten it to just Calafate.
The name calafate is derived from a bush with yellow flowers and berries. The calafate berry is similar in size, shape and color to a blueberry. Just a tad bit smaller. There’s also a legend behind the berry.
Note the thorns. Because of the thorns the berry is harder to pick and therefore more expensive.
There are different versions of the legend, but this one is more or less the most common one. Years and years ago when the Tehuelche tribe trekked north for winter, an older woman, Koonex, was too fragile to make the trip. She stayed in her tent and was left alone to die. She asked the birds to stay with her but there was nothing for them to eat in the winter so Koonex turned herself into a calafate bush – thick with berries for their food and with sharp thorns to protect them from animals. In Spring, when the tribe returned, they were greeted by beautiful bushes with golden flowers. The flowers eventually turned into berries. The Tehuelche loved the berries so much that each year they returned to where the berries grew. Now people say that if you eat calafate berries you will return to Patagonia.
Although I did get some knickknacks, I wanted to buy something that the locals bought. A real souviner to me is something that locals would also buy and use. If you’re looking for something like that then definitely check out the Paseo De Artesanos area on the main street next to the casino. Local artists open booths to sell their work. I bought a hair wrap and hand painted book mark here. My friend bought a mask made from a lenga tree. The only tricky thing is that there isn’t a set of hours they’re open. The booths are open whenever the artist feels like being there. Although they did seem to be open Friday and Saturday nights around 8.
Calafate is one of those towns you go to on your way to somewhere else. It’s a hub for people traveling to different parts of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, especially the Perito Moreno Glacier. You fly in to Calafate, spend a night in town and then figure out where you’ll go next.
A wonderful thing about El Calafate:
Lavender bushes were everywhere.
Day 2 in Argentina but Day 1 for our Hiking Trip:
We met up with everyone on the Backroads trip.
Before I dive into our day and the details of El Chalten, I’ll explain Backroads.
Backroads is an active travel company that specializes in cycling, hiking, and multisport trips all over the world. They set up our hiking itinerary, lodging, transportation (minus the flight) and meals. We had two Backroads guides the whole trip and we had local guides throughout the trip.
Backroads goes above and beyond just planning a simple hiking trip. Along with hiking, the Backroads trip included an empanada cooking lesson, an Argentine wine tasting, a mate ceremony, a cordero assado and more. Backroads wants to make sure you really get to experience the full culture of a place. I can’t say enough good things about Backroads.
Our hiking itinerary was incredible. The hiking trip was eight days, and we hiked around 80 miles total. Every single day was more and more thrilling. Our guides were extremely knowledgeable about Patagonia; we had a history lesson multiple times a day. Not only were they knowledgeable but they were amazing individuals who were constantly making our group smile and feel comfortable. I’d definitely go on a Backroads trip again and recommend the company to anyone.
Check out their website here. View our itinerary here.
The whole trip was very special. There were about 18 of us plus our two guides. The trip was composed of mostly couples in their 30s to 60s. I enjoyed spending time with everyone on the trip and by the end, I felt like everyone adopted me as their niece.
On that first day we drove down the infamous, Route 40. With its romance and ruggedness this route is similar to America’s Route 66 or Route 60. It’s the sole road that goes from Northern Argentina to Southern Argentina. Che Guevara traveled Route 40 by motorcycle; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid used it as an escape route.
It was a beautiful, clear day and we were able to see Cerro Fitz Roy in the distance.
Out the window low, scrubby bushes and desert-like land stretched for miles. The mountains loomed in front of us. We were barely ten miles out of Calafate and it seemed like we were once again in the middle of nowhere.
We ate a picnic lunch at La Estella, this cute lodge overlooking Lago Viedma and then we went for a quick 2 mile hike through the sand dunes to stretch our legs.
Then we continued to El Chalten, paradise on Earth. Read all about Chalten in the next entry.