Wishing you a Happy Halloween and most importantly, a very Happy 23rd Birthday to my sister Nicole!
Happy Birthday and lots of love from Copacabana, Bolivia to our Halloween birthday girl!
Wishing you a Happy Halloween and most importantly, a very Happy 23rd Birthday to my sister Nicole!
Happy Birthday and lots of love from Copacabana, Bolivia to our Halloween birthday girl!
The sun rose over the tall steep peaks of the Andes Mountains and from the top, the greenery of each mountain fell almost straight down into the winding valley below, forever being cut by the river. There were only a few distant clouds covering one peak miles away and with a cool temperature fit for a long sleeve t-shirt, we could tell this was going to be a gorgeous day. We trekked along the top of one of the mountain peaks, slowly came to the top, and looked down into the near distance. There it was, resting perfectly on a mountain in between two towering peaks that looked down on it as guardians would. We had finally made it to Machu Picchu! Continue reading
We arrived in Cusco at 8:00 am Saturday, excited to experience the Andean culture of Peru, but completely exhausted, sick, and experiencing mild altitude sickness. It was only an hour flight from Lima, and not enough time to make up for the lack of sleep we got the night before. Luckily, our room at Hospedaje Kuntur Wasi was ready and we immediately crashed for a few hours. Cusco is located at approximately 11,500 feet, and as our guidebook says, the altitude has to be treated with respect. The fact that we (me about 1 hour, Nick about 3) had very little sleep and have colds, probably didn’t help, but after some rest, Dramamine, and coca tea we were feeling much better. The only other thing we needed to do was get some warmer clothes so we walked down to the San Blas Plaza by our hostel to purchase some alpaca sweaters and leg warmers from the market.
I’m in love with my leg warmers! They add the perfect amount of warmth underneath my lightweight pants. Tomorrow we start exploring this colorful Spanish-built city in the Andes, but now a recap on our time in Lima. Continue reading
I am not one to post emotional personal infomation online through facebook, twitter, or blogs, that just is not my style. However, since this Great Adventure is our story about this year, I feel everything that happens while we’re traveling is relevant. With that said, today was a very sad day for me and my family. While we were posting on our blog from Lima, our Freeman family dog Bailey passed away. He was an 11 year old white lab, and had to be put down due to many debilitating neurological and physical problems, most likely from a tumor in his spine or possibly cancer.
For us, our animals are family. They receive the same love and care that we give to each other. Since Bailey was the most harmless dog, the most gentle and kindest of pets, and the most loving, it makes it especially hard to know his friendly face with innocent eyes, his happy tail wagging, and slow, calm demeanor will not longer fill the house for my family and me when we return home. If there was any simple way to describe him, it would have been this: the one animal on the planet that truly would not hurt a fly. It gives some comfort knowing he lived his last days in the cool weather of North Carolina lounging by the lake with our much younger dogs Bentley and Indy. He will truly be missed.
So we arrived in Lima last night and decided not to back pack anymore, and stay in Hilton hotels instead. Oh yeah.
Kidding! Because Nick is a corporate/charter pilot, one of the perks is racking up hotel rewards points when he is on the road. Nick had the forethought to begin saving up his Hilton points 3 years ago, and has acquired enough for us to stay in Hilton hotels for about 7 nights throughout the year. We chose to use our first night in Lima and it was amazing. Like Christmas as kid. Like winning the lottery. Like getting your dream car. Like…well you get the idea. When we pulled up to the hotel in the taxi last night we felt so out of place with our dirty back packs and uncool clothes. We were afraid that at any minute they were going to kick us out and call us frauds. We managed to pull it off, and instead of kicking us out, we were offered a warm chocolate chip cookie, an upgraded room, access to the Executive Lounge, free water, and two free welcome drinks. The bellman even took our bags up to the room for us, despite Nick’s offer to take them (I had to remind him that we don’t have to do that here). After the bellman left us in the room, we literally jumped up and down, hugging each other and doing the happy dance. It’s been an awesome 24 hours and we might as well be at the Four Seasons. It will be hard to leave this afternoon and return to the back packing world, but now we are even more excited about staying in the Hilton in Cape Town for my birthday. We will be in Peru for about 2 weeks, but now a re-cap of Panama.
We spent a week in Panama- 5 days in Bocas del Toro, and 2 days in Panama City. In Bocas del Toro, we stayed in Bocas Town, the largest town in the archipelago. Bocas del Toro has been called ‘the Galapagos of the 21st century’ and we can see why. Much of the archipelago is untouched, and you definitely feel like you are separated from civilization. You have a beautiful mountain view of the mainland, while the islands are flat, with nice beaches, great snorkel spots, dolphins, starfish, homes on stilts, mangroves, and a noticeable Caribbean influence. Bocas Town itself does not have much to offer in the way of natural activities, but is the base for exploring the rest of the islands. The town has everything you need- lodging, restaurants, tours, transportations, etc. We stayed in a neighborhood instead of the center of town, which turned out to be a good idea. It was a little quieter, and we got free bikes included with our stay.
Most of our time in Bocas was spent biking around town and hanging out at our hotel, Panama’s Paradise Saigoncito. We had a nice porch with free hummingbird entertainment and hammocks. While we were there, we met two Swiss ladies who took a similar journey when they were our age in the 1970′s. Instead of spending a year around the world, they just did Latin America, and it was really cool chatting with them about their experience. They were so excited for us, and reassured us that we would never regret this experience, that it will stay with us for the rest of our lives as it has for them. It is always great to hear from other people who have done a similar trip, especially people of a different generation. Although we already know, the reinforcement that we are doing the right thing is comforting. Plus, hearing stories about two Swiss ladies illegally scaling the fence at Machu Picchu to get in ahead of the tourist hoards is pretty hilarious.
While in Bocas, we also did do a tour with Transparente Tours where we took a boat from Bocas Town to Dolphin Bay, Crawl Cay, Red Frog Beach, and Hospital Point. The whole tour went from 9:30-4 and was pretty enjoyable. The snorkeling was pretty good, the coral and tropical fish were abundant- we saw a Moray eel, jellies, sea slugs, anenomes, and sea urchins as well. Red Frog beach was really pretty, and the first beach with calm waters and soft golden sand we have been on in a while. It is also the only the habitat in the world with the poisonous red dart frog. Our last day in Bocas we planned to go to Bocas del Drago, another beach area you can reach by bus, but it poured all day.
From Bocas, we took an overnight bus from Almirante to Panama City, which took 9.5 hours. As usual for overnight buses, we were exhausted when we arrived in Panama City at 4:30am, and when we got to our hostel Mamallena, our room was not available yet. They kindly let us crash in one of the dorms until our private room was available, for which we were very grateful. Sleeping on the overnight buses is challenging, as they stop every once in a while and turn the lights on, and often drive erratically which keep me from falling into a deep sleep.
Panama City was a nice change, as it is the only cosmopolitan city in Central America. It is the first time we saw skyscrapers since we started traveling, and felt more like the US than anywhere else we have been. It is a stark contrast to the rest of Panama, which seemed extremely poor. The city is an international banking and finance center, and therefore relatively wealthy and the only city in Panama with a middle class. We spent one day walking around the city, and ventured in the old town section, Casco Viejo, for dinner. Caso Viejo has only recently been renovated, and is a great area to get a sense of colonial Panama. The streets are narrow and brick paved, with plazas, restaurants, and bars dotted throughout.
The next day, we went to the canal. On the recommendation of the hostel, we went to the Miraflores locks, about 30 minutes from the city center. The canal is well worth the visit, and though I wouldn’t call it the most exciting attraction I have ever seen, the impact it has had on the world and on Panama makes it a sight to see. Even though I know little to nothing about engineering, it was pretty amazing to learn about how the locks work, and what it takes to get the ships through the canal, which takes an average of 8 hours to traverse. The Miraflores locks are a good place to visit because it has a very nice visitors center with a theater, museum, cafe, and viewing area.
After we made it back to the city, we went to the cheap shopping district on Via Espana in search of some warm jackets in preparation for our trip to South America. Nick forgot his jacket in Florida, and I left mine on the bus in Guatemala, so we decided to scout out the cheap markets in Panama City. It was an interesting experience to say the least- as per usual, all the shops have security but these not only have security, they make you check your shopping bags in at a desk, and when you try clothes on they send you into the dressing room first without your clothes, then pat down the clothes outside the room to make sure you haven’t hidden anything in them to steal. They then pass the clothes over the door to you one by one. Needless to say, we both found jackets and I even picked up a Charlotte Russe shirt for $3.99.
Overall, we give Panama a thumbs up even though we only saw a very small portion of the country. For about the next 6 weeks, we’ll be in South America and we’re looking forward to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicacca, La Paz, and the wine country of Argentina, just to name a few highlights.
Freeman Fun Fact on Traveling: Bus from Bocas del Toro (Almirante) to Panama City
All of our travel information has been found fairly easy on the internet. However, there are a few travel questions that have been slightly more difficut than other to find the answers to. And even when we find the answer online, it can be quite vague. One such question was information on the overnight bus running from Bocas del Toro to Panama City. So Rachel and I are going to explain to you future travels how it is done, just in case you were wondering.
You can fly from Bocas del Toro to Panama City for about $120. This was the price we found for mid October 2011. Therefore, we opted for the adventurous way via an 9.5 hour overnight bus. The low cost of $27.80 also helped us make this decision. If you are in Bocas del Toro, you can purchase your bus ticket along with your 30 minute water taxi ticket to Almirante at Bocas Marine Tours which is located next to Bocas Water Sports. The bus departs daily at 8 am and 7 pm from Almirante. When you arrive in Almirante on the water taxi, take a short 2 minute taxi ride to the Almirante/Panama City bus terminal which is the size of a large gas station. The cost should be about $1 per person.You do NOT want to stay the night in Almirante.
The bus is a nice greyhound bus with reclining sets. It is notorious for being very cold inside. We did not find this to be the case, but for people who are not used to air conditioning like us Floridians, I can see why they would be freezing. Either way, bring something warm just in case.
The bus stopped twice around 815 pm and 1130 pm for food and drinks. You should have about 15 to 25 minutes at each stop, so no rush to get back on. Unlike most of the buses in Central America, this one did have a bathroom onboard. So drink all the water you want!
You will arrive at the bus terminal at the Albrook Mall in Panama City around 430 am. There are plenty of taxis waiting for you downstairs from where you are dropped. Make sure your hotel or hostel has someone there waiting for you since you will be arriving early morning.
And that’s how it is done! Feel free to email us anytime with any questions. We will gladly answer them if we can.
After a long 10 hour day of traveling, Rachel and I made it to the beautiful and charming archipelago of Bocas del Toro, Panama! On October 10th our day started at 8 am trying to find the bus stop where we were SUPPOSED to catch the bus from San Jose, Costa Rica to Changuinola, Panama, a town just across the border. The directions we received from our hostel to the Panama bus proved to be wrong (I’ll take the blame for this one). Luckily, we had enough time to have our cab driver take us to a different terminal for the bus going to Sixaola, the Costa Rican border town (we knew about this particular bus from our research). From that town, we could walk across the border into Panama. After arriving at the bus terminal, we were relieved to discover our bus did not leave for another hour and a half, plenty of time to eat some Gallo Pinto con Huevos Frito with some cafe! At 10 am, the bus left the station enroute to Sixaola. Finally, we were heading to another country, and adding another stamp to our passports!!!!
The 6 hour Mepe bus ride went by as quick as can be expected: slowly. But we had our Kindle and fully charged iPods to keep us company. I listened to the new Blink 182 album titled “Neighborhoods” (It is awesome, by the way), studied some Mandarin, and Rachel read one of her books. Don’t worry, the bus stopped once for a snack/bathroom break in the middle of the trip. Thank God since there are no restrooms onboard.
The bus also stoppped at the town of Puerto Veijo which is a popular Caribbean destination for backpackers. Almost everyone disembarked at this stop, leaving us curious if we should have gotten off the bus also. But we continued on as planned with only 3 others onboard. We looked at each other with the same look in our eyes: I hope we’re doing the right thing by not getting off with the rest of the passengers!
It turned out we were correct , and continued to the border town. At Sixaola, we left the bus station (which was the only structure in the poor town besides a few run down shops) and walked about 100 meters to the border of Panama. For those who are interested in crossing the border, here’s how it works: The border at Sixaola is a bridge over a medium size river. In front of the bridge and to the right is the Costa Rican customs office. You fill out a small customs form, and hand the form to the agents along with your passports which is quickly stamped and given back to you. From there, you walk across the 100 meter run down wooden plank bridge into Panama. Be aware that the bridge has only enough room for you to walk in front or behind any vehicles that are crossing. On the Panamanian side, customs and immigration are immediately on the left sharing the same small building. The first window is customs where you are to show your passports and proof of onward travel leaving Panama at a future date (this may be a plane ticket, bus ticket, etc). We actually showed an email confirmation on my iphone of our Copa Airline ticket to Peru, but we were slightly worried that would not suffice. Do not try to enter Panama without proof of onward travel! After customs, proceed to the immigration office which is the third door. There you will precent your passports and pay $3 per person for entry into Panama. When you receive your passports back, you’re free to roam around Panama as you please. The whole process takes about 5 minutes total. Beware of scammers on both sides of the border.
From the border, we took an hour taxi to the town of Almirante in HOPES of catching the last water taxi to the island of Bocas del Toro. Looking at Rachel’s watch, we noticed it was 5 pm when we left the border, and we heard the last water taxi was at 6 pm. From the reading that we did, we knew Almirante was NOT a place you want to spend the night. During the taxi ride, we kept our fingers crossed!
So guess what happened…….we pulled up 2 minutes before the water taxi was going to leave! Talk about perfect timing! We looked at each other in disbelief, and just laughed at our timing. After paying $4 per person for the water taxi, we boarded for the 30 minute boat ride to Bocas del Toro.
A few days prior to arriving in Bocas del Toro, we emailed as many hostels as we could find to inquire about a room. Only one wrote us back, and it was a hostel we actually weren’t very interested in. So we figured we could just “wing it” and find a room when we arrived. After all, the other times we found a room on arrival (Samara, Costa Rica) proved to be fast and easy. But after 45 minutes of walking around town in the dark, pouring sweat and hungry, we still had not found a place. On top of searching, many locals kept hassling us constantly to book tours with them, to stay at their “friend’s place”, or buy whatever they were selling. SO obnoxious! FINALLY, we found a cheap dingy run down place at the end of the main road that had a room for one night. We didn’t care how beat the place was. A roof over our heads, a bed, and a shower was all we wanted for one night.
The next day, we found Panama’s Paradise, a much better place just a tad bit outside of the main town that suited us. It was quiet, rustic, well kept, and very charming. Sold! We quickly checked out of our current room, and moved into our new place.
Now, I could spend some time describing the place right now, but you’ll just have to wait until our next post when we leave Bocas to hear about it all. But believe me when I say this place is near to perfect. Soon to come from us: snorkeling, bike riding around the island, good eats, and plenty of chill-axing!
Freeman Fun Travel Fact about Panama: Panama is known for things such as chocolate, coffee, and the Panama-US war, but is most known for its shipping and transportation marvel: the Panama Canal connecting the Caribbean Sea/Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. In the words of Cliff from the sitcom “Cheers”: ‘A little known fact here’ about the Panama canal is that the French were actually the first to try and build a canal connecting the Caribbean to the Pacific in 1880. They failed miserably, to say the least, and abandoned the project. Approximately 21,900 people died in the process mainly from disease and landslides. The United States made the second attempt in 1904, and eventually completed the canal in 1914 with a total of 5,600 deaths. The canal was controlled by the United States until 1977 when the Torrijos-Carter Treaty was signed. This treaty would eventually give the Panamanians control of the river in 1999 with a “transition process” from 1979 – 1999. The 48 mile Panama Canal is one of man’s greatest engineering accomplishments which helped shape the modern world as we know it. The only other canal I can think of that is comparable to the Panama canal, in terms of impacting the world, is the Erie Canal completed in 1825 connecting the relatively unimportant and disliked city (at the time) of New York to Lake Erie. This canal arguably shaped the future of the United States and is the reason New York City is what it is today. Today, China is in talks with the Colombian Government to build a competitor of the Panama canal. Their proposal is to build a “dry canal”, a 220 km rail link, connecting the Pacific coast of Colombia to the Caribbean coast.
Hello from Monteverde, where we have been enjoying temperatures of 60-70 degrees the last 2 days! A welcome change from the heat and humidity we have endured the last month on the coast.
As you know from the title of our blog, Nick and I both love coffee. We decided that as coffee lovers we should make our love legit and visit a working coffee plantation. Costa Rica produces some of the best coffee in the world, and as our coffee guide said, the country focuses on quality not quantity. They may not produce the most coffee in the world or even Central America, but it sure is delicious!
I came up with the idea to do a coffee tour from our guide book (which we love by the way), where we also found our hostel Pension Santa Elena (PSE). Both decisions turned out to be excellent- we had another coffee tour in mind, but after checking into the PSE, they told us about a lesser known option with Cafe Monteverde. Cafe Monteverde is a co-op of approximately 75 coffee farmers in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica, is fair trade, and supports community organizations like the Cloud Forest School. When the guy at PSE told us we’d get to see a small fair-trade operation, we were sold. Because we’d just spent 11 hours traveling to Monteverde from Santa Teresa, we decided to take the later tour the next day at 1:15. We spent the next morning walking around the town of Santa Elena, grabbing a late breakfast and picking up some groceries for lunch and dinner. Santa Elena is very small, but is “base camp” for exploring the Monteverde area.
The town is charming, very clean, and backpacker friendly. The typical backpacker that we haven’t seen much of yet, was hanging out here in Monteverde. The PSE is great for backpackers and budget travelers, and this is the first time on our trip where we haven’t been one of the only ones staying at the place. The coffee is free and good, the rooms funky, the reggae music flows, and the staff is extremely knowledgeable. But have no fear, if you aren’t a backpacker, Monteverde is still a great place to explore. You can hike, bungee jump, take a train ride, visit a snake museum, zip line, or visit the many butterfly and orchid gardens in the area. The town reminds me of a much, much smaller Boone, NC (where my family has a home): funky and artsy, with lots to do for the nature lover.
So, back to the coffee tour. After spending the morning hanging around Santa Elena, we were picked up for the tour. I expected to go to a big plantation but instead we went to a local coffee farmer’s plantation. This was really nice, and I would take this over touring a commercial farm any day. The farm has been in Victor’s family for 45 years, and he and his four sons currently manage the plantation.
Victor didn’t speak English, but we had a guy from the co-op along to translate and fill in the blanks. As part of the Fair Trade certification, Victor also grows various fruit crops on his property like bananas, limes, lemons, and guava, and raises dairy cows. Fair Trade requires that farmers have other crops in addition to coffee, so they don’t have to rely on only one crop for survival. As part of the co-op, farmers typically have pretty small plantations- Victor’s was 45 hectares which is large for the co-op. Victor told us all about the coffee growing process from germination to sending off the dried beans to the co-op to be roasted. The best part of the tour was enjoying fresh brewed coffee courtesy of Victor’s wife at his house after the tour. After we left Victor’s farm, we went back to the co-op to learn about the roasting and packaging process, and sample some more coffee.
Today, we went on a guided hike through the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Another early morning (6:30), but we’re used to it by now. Better than the 4:30 am buses we’ve been taking! There are two Cloud Forest Reserves in Monteverde, Monteverde and Santa Elena. We chose to go to Santa Elena on the advice of the PSE. We met our guide Adrian at the reserve and began our excursion a little after 7 am. We spent 3 hours walking through the forest on either cement-paved or gravel walkways, but we were expecting having to slush through the mud so this was a nice surprise.
The forest was beautiful, the perfect misty temperature and amazingly green. Adrian explained that the difference between a cloud forest and a rain forest is the height at which they grow- cloud: high in the mountains, rain: lower altitudes- and the density of vegetation- cloud: very dense on the ground since sun shines through, rain: less dense on the ground with a thick canopy which blocks the sun. Unfortunately we only saw birds and a frog in terms of animals, but saw lots of greenery and flowers. Adrian was very knowledgeable and we’re really glad we chose to go with a guide. Guided tours have been very reasonable in Central America, so we’ve taken advantage.
Tonight we’re going to take it easy at the PSE and then tomorrow we take a 6:30 am bus to San Jose, where we’ll spend the night before making the journey to Bocas del Toro, Panama. We’ll be spending about a week in Panama and then off to a new continent!
Before we leave Costa Rica, we wanted to leave YOU with a little piece of the country: a recipe for gallo pinto, a Tico (Costa Rican) dish typically served for breakfast with eggs, and toast or tortillas. We have eaten lots of gallo pinto this last month. Enjoy!
Gallo Pinto (aka spotted rooster. don’t worry it doesn’t include a rooster)
8-10 sprigs cilantro (coriander leaf) fresh or frozen, not dried!
1 small or medium onion
½ small red or yellow sweet pepper (optional)
3 cups (700 ml) chicken broth or water
2 cups (350 ml) white rice
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
1 Tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
1-3 Tablespoon oil to fry the Gallo Pinto
Drain the beans and add fresh water to an inch (2.5-cm) above the top of the beans, salt, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce heat to very low simmer until beans are soft (~3 hours).
Chop cilantro, onion, and sweet pepper very fine.
Add 1 Tablespoon oil to a large pan and sauté the dry rice for 2 minutes over medium high flame then add half of the chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro and sauté another 2 minutes. Add water or chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until rice is tender (20-35 minutes).
Once the rice and beans are cooked, keep a significant amount of the “black water” with the beans (½-1 cup 120-240 ml). This is what gives the rice its color and some of its flavor. Sauté the rice, beans reserved chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro together in vegetable oil for a few minutes. Sprinkle with a little fresh chopped cilantro just before serving.
Our stay in Santa Teresa has been very relaxing to say the least. We have thoroughly enjoyed the down time, lounging around on the beach, and not having anyone tell us what to do (in reference to our Sea Turtle project at Buena Vista)! The weather has not been the most ideal for it has rained at least part of every day except for one, but that doesn’t bother us too much since it is not too hot. We have stayed at the hotel Meli Melo. The French owners, Frederic and Melanie, have been very warm and welcoming to us during out stay, and we recommend this place for any traveler looking for a laid back quiet stay. You can walk across the road to the beach, sit outside to read, or take surf lessons from Fredrick (he is a good surfer). The rooms are simple and cozy with a/c and free wifi. There is a communal kitchen outside under a tiki hut that includes a fridge, gas stove, sink, coffee maker, toaster, and a large array of cooking utensils. Rachel has cooked breakfast several times, and boy can she work magic in the kitchen! I have surfed about 2 sessions every day, and Rachel has been reading her books, laying out on the beach (when it isn’t raining), and doing homework for her last semester as a graduate student. We also have been fortunate enough to befriend a very kind couple, Chad and Krissey, from Wilmington, NC who are here on their honeymoon. Hanging out, surfing, and going out to dinner with them has been a real treat, being that we love meeting new people. But after 5 days, it is time to leave.
We are going to venture into the mountainous jungle of Costa Rica to Monteverde to see the country’s cloud forest and one of it’s volcanoes. Spending 3 days touring the coffee plants and taking a guided hike of the national reserve will be a wonderful change of pace from the beach life we have been living for the past month.
One thing we have started to understand by observing the tourists is the perception of third world country residents that “all Americans are rich.” Tourists come riding into towns in new rental cars and SUVs, they eat meals at any restaurant they please, and order bottles of wine, beers, and fancy foods. And if they run out of cash? No problem! Just go to an ATM and take out what appears to be an endless supply of money. I’m not mocking this by any means, in fact, we stare at the tourist’s convenience with envy since we USED to vacation like this. Our lives WERE like this before we left. We would LOVE to travel like this. But on this Great Adventure of backpacking around the world, we can not. And since we are without, we take notice to those who have. I wonder what people who think that “all Americans are rich” would say if they experienced first hand that this perception is false?……Food for thought.
We’ll be back in touch in a few days!
nfreeman81′s photostream on Flickr.
Our Flickr photostream is finally up and running! Sorry about the long delay- the internet here in Santa Teresa is sporadic, so it took a few days to get the 120 pictures uploaded. Check out our Flores & Tikal photos and our turtle camp photos now. Enjoy!