…people in a country one third the size of the United States. The population of the US is approximately 311 million. Imagine if our country was 1/3 the size and the population increased by almost 400%! Knowing this, we were expecting to arrive in Mumbai and be completely swarmed with people. This was not the case at the airport, but as soon as we got into our ride to our hotel we were greeted with the sights and sounds of congested Mumbai traffic, and it was nearly midnight! With horns blaring and traffic going every which way without any semblence of order, we were welcomed to the world’s 4th largest city (pop. 20 million). Continue reading
Category Archives: Food
Laos was wonderful. We only spent 8 days in the country, visiting just 2 towns, but we thoroughly enjoyed the easy going nature and slow pace of the Lao people. Nick thinks it might even be his favorite country we’ve visited. It was hard to believe that Laos holds the unfortunate title of being the most bombed country in the world, and apparently 50% of the country is still littered with unexploded bombs. They have Americans to thank for this, as we dropped 260 million bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War, more than all of WWII! You can see many of the old bomb casings around the towns, now being used for things like flower posts and table legs. Despite the fact that we mercilessly bombed their country, the Lao people do not seem to hold this against us and we felt no ill will while enjoying their beautiful country. Continue reading
Have you ever listened to a song blasting on your headphones or alone in your car and felt like the music understands your life? Closed your eyes and heard the soundtrack of your future? Has the music ever cleared your mind to the point of absolute happiness? If you love music you know what I’m talking about. It is the feeling I felt the second my foot stepped off the plane from Africa into Southeast Asia; I love it here and it feels like home. There’s not an easier way to explain it. Continue reading
Africa is a continent full of contradictions. She will both astound you with her beauty and crush you with her tragedy. She is welcoming and isolating, joyful and painful, free and oppressed, breathtaking and heartbreaking, all at once. But for many of us, her contradictions are part of her enchantment and bring many a traveler back to her time and time again, while convincing others never to leave. This quote by Hemingway was in our backpackers in Livingstone, and while there were a few days when I was sick and would have disagreed, I can hardly argue with his sentiment:
This morning (or afternoon local time) we landed in Cape Town, South Africa and I couldn’t be happier! I first came to South Africa 4 years ago to volunteer at the Vervet Monkey Foundation in the northeast province of the country. I fell in love and have been dreaming of coming back ever since, especially to visit Cape Town about which I had heard so many wonderful things. So it’s quite amazing that 4 years later I am here celebrating my 27th birthday with Nick. We chose this city to once again use our Hilton rewards points, so we’re staying at the Hilton Cape Town City Centre hotel for two nights in an incredible two bedroom suite with a view of the Atlantic ocean and Table Mountain. Continue reading
When we started to plan our Great Adventure, we knew we would not be with family or friends for the holidays. With my career, I am used to not being home for many celebrations. It makes me sad, but it is what it is and I brush it off most of the time as it is the career I chose and what I desire to succeed in. However, this time being away from home for Thanksgiving, the feeling of sadness was much stronger, probably because we are away on our own accord. For Rachel, large family holiday gatherings is how it has always been. So Rachel and I made the most out of spending Thanksgiving away from the ones we love in Cordoba, Argentina- a country that does not celebrate the holiday (or has any turkeys). But it will be one of the most memorable ones for us for years to come because of that. Continue reading
After 3 weeks in Bolivia, we were ready to move on. It is now time for us to travel in Argentina which is the last country in the South American portion of our Great Adventure. Since Bolivia is very poor, has less infrastructure, and rather bland and unoriginal cuisine, Argentina is an extremely welcome change! We were both excited to eat the world-famous fresh beef of Argentina, and drink the country’s amazing wine, both of which are very inexpensive.
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 Great Adventure has begun! It started with our good friend Amanda taking us to the Fort Lauderdale airport at 8 this morning. Thank you for Dunkin Donuts and all your help Amanda and Dave!! Our Jetblue flight to Cancun, Mexico went off without a hitch, and after clearing customs we only waited about 30 minutes to catch an ADO bus to Playa del Carmen. After the easy 45 minute ride, Rachel quickly bought us lunch, and we took a short cab to another ADO terminal to get on our bus ride to Chetumal. We ran like a bat-out-of-hell in order to be the last people boarding! Four hours and thirty minutes later, we were in Chetumal flagging down a taxi for another short ride to our hotel Villa Fontana. Chetumal is a medium-sized border town with a lively main street full of shops blasting music. For dinner we walked down to the Bahia Chetumal boardwalk in search of local food. The mission was a success! We found an “exquisite taco” cart and wolfed down 3 tacos each. The woman at the stand was making fresh (spicy!!!) salsa and guacamole so we knew we’d made a good choice. So here we are with our bellies full of street tacos, Modelo Especial, and peanuts. Tomorrow morning we’ll be crossing the Mexico/Belize border and then taking a water taxi to Ambergris Caye (pronounced “key”).
Both of us were nervous this morning. They weren’t nerves of doubt, sadness, regret, or even happiness. They were just nerves of the unknown. But after arriving in Playa del Carmen all of that subsided. Both of us are extremely happy to be finally living out our dream. This first day was actually fairly easy even though it seems like there was a lot to it. We keep reading from various blogs and books that the first day and night is the most difficult. Not because of traveling and leaving friends and family, but because of the huge lead up to the trip and expectation that one might create in his or her own mind. Lucky neither one of us feels like this. Now we can rest our heads next to each other tonight with a smile on our face.
Note to future travelers: ALWAYS have water or something to drink with you. Don’t ever think that you will have time at the next stop to buy some because Murphy’s Law says you won’t! If you are scheduling more than one travel arrangement in a day, always take the later schedule. This gives you more time to check out where ever you are, grab something to eat, and gives you plenty of time to make your next schedule.