Saturday, August 22, 2009

Adventures in the Tropics

Our final trip and the grandest of them all this Summer was to Costa Rica, and sadly the trip and the summer is coming to an end. We are moving on to a new adventure and new hardships, by that I'm talking about school (It's both of our last year). With a little anticipation and some anxiety I look forward to starting up on Monday. Well school is for another day, this entry is for Costa Rica...For a country the size of Massachusetts you would not expect for there to be to much to visit or get lost in, but there really is. Costa Rica has so many parks, reserves, beaches, sun, monkeys, mosquitoes, tourists and Ex-Pats that it boggles the mind. We safely indulged in every aspect of Costa Rica that we could find, even came home with tons of tiny souvenirs given to us by the overly friendly mosquitoes. Like the mosquitoes we tried to stay away from the tourists as much as possible but in a country as beautiful and inviting as Costa Rica it was sometimes hard. It seemed like a number of the restaurants we visited the tourist to local population was a bit unbalanced in the English speaking sides. And the Ex-Pats were both good and bad, some there for money and business others for a simpler lifestyle. The culture of Costa Rica is a little hidden behind the facade of tourism, takes a little digging and exploring to find what is really Costa Rica and what is meant to be "Costa Rica" for the tourists. We found some unique restaurants run by Ticans and went on an Indigenous tour of the local Bribri Tribe to try and sample the real culture and not the one catering to tourists. The best part of Costa Rica, and the parts we explored most heavily were the beaches, sun and the parks. We spent 4 days at the begining of our trip in the Osa Peninsula (southern end of Costa Rica on the Pacific side) staying at a jungle lodge going on wildlife hikes, swimming under waterfalls and snorkeling. We saw countless monkeys, tons of spiders, birds (a toucan right outside our window) and lots of other little critters. The view from the back deck looked out over the rainforest and across to the warm blue Pacific Ocean. After the Osa Peninsula we headed north to Dominical and Uvita which were also on the Pacific. Dominical was a cute little town centered on a few dirt roads and was paradise if you were a surfer or a beach bum looking to do nothing. So in short Dominical was not for us, a fun little stop over to regain strength from the jungle and some good food but not much else around. Uvita on the other hand was quite different. Only a few minutes away Uvita had no town center and was spread out over a large distance, but we found a really good hostel called the Toucan Hostel and had a few really good adventures from here. The first day we trekked through some cow patties, a swamp and the jungle for an hour to get around paying the entrance fee at the front gate of the park (they charge 6 bucks a person so it was all worth it). The route was told to us by the hostel owner, he said turn left off the road and follow the river through the ranch land, when you hit the swamp turn left and go through the jungle then theres the beach! He was right! The hike in made the trip even more amazing. The beach was huge and deserted and as our good luck would have it, it started to pour buckets once we got on to the beach. Since this is the tropics it was still hot and humid so we swam for a bit then walked back under the safety of the umbrella to a Soda and had lunch. Our other trips were to a butterfly garden which was truly an experience and to the Cascada Verde. We swam about for a while, jumped off some small rocks and relaxed in complete isolation at the falls, although we feared there may be aligators lurking about (which wasn't actually true, we just thought there were). After we left Uvita we headed back to San Jose then immediatly over to Cahuita on the Carribbean side of the country. A huge change from Hispanic culture to Reggae culture. Cahuita was a charming little town that we spent a few days in. Cahuita National Park is just minutes from our hostel and it had some of the most beautiful beaches in the whole country. We hiked up all the way to the point one day. We also got up super early one morning because neither of us had ever seen the sun come up over the ocean before. After our stay in Cahuita we continued further down the coast to Puerto Viejo which is very near the Panama border. This town had a reputation for being the primer party destination, although we did not see that nor the surf competition that was going on. After a disappointing stay in the Coconut Grove we headed outside of town to stay at another place called the Toucan Lodge. This place made the visit to Puerto Viejo so enjoyable. The lodge is about 2km from town and tucked away in the jungle. We saw Howler monkeys from the hammock outside. This place was so clean and felt so remote it was like our own little paradise during our stay. It was also close enough to ride bikes into town to get whatever. So Puerto Viejo went from being a town we didn't think we'd like to being one of the highlights. We had so much fun here. We went on the indigenous tour (we went to an indigenous chocolate house, iguana farm and medicinal garden), went to a botanical garden and sampled some interesting fruits (including a spikey one that tasted like garlic) and rented bikes for an afternoon ride to Punta Uva and Manzanillo. Punta Uva and Cahuita had the best beaches in Costa Rica, its so hard to determine the best in a land of bests. This was basically the end of our trip, we went back to Cahuita for the night and then off to San Jose where we went to a local market and picked up the few ssouvenirs that we returned home with and then off to the airport for our 6 am flight home. The one thing I found surprising in Costa Rica was that it is so expensive to travel around there. Food is comparable in price to food here and all the handmade stuff is outrageously expensive as well. Sorry everyone for not getting you all something but I went broke just paying for food and hotels! Oh and the coffee there puts everything here to complete shame, we came home with like 7 pounds of coffee beans :)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Northern California in two days

Over the summer Nicole and I have explored a lot of Northern California on our weekend adventures. Seems like every weekend has been filled with new locations, new experiences and a deeper understanding of our lives. Each trip alone will stand out in our memories as one of a kind but together they have created the most memorable summer of my life, and we are only half way through the summer. This last weekend we took a big trip out to Mt Lassen National Park. We ccovered a lot of ground in those two days off but we never once felt rushed or crammed for time. Like all our trips we kind of take it as it comes and don't really plan to much. The only thing we knew was we wanted to hike up Mt Lassen. So our journey began just outside Willow Creek here in Humboldt where we stayed our first night in a really nice National Forest campground. From there it was a long 4 hour drive over 299 and into the park where it was getting to late to do the actual hike so we hiked down to Kings Creek Falls. If you are ever in Lassen these falls are certainly not to be missed especially if you break park rules and step over the cable barrier and scramble to the bottom where you can really feel and smell the waterfall. My guess is that not to many visitors go to the bottom, even though it was rather easy. We were all alone until we crossed the creek and looked up to a horde of jealous tourists staying neatly behind the fence taking our pictures and pointing. I felt like an animal in a zoo but they were the ones who were comical and missing out. As we headed back up a few of the more adventurous tourists were heading down following in our footsteps, a new trend that we may have started to the dislike of the NPS. I hope they thoroughly enjoyed the falls from the bottom, because from the top you can't experience the waterfall all you can get is a pretty picture. Camping in the National Parks has never been one of my favorite experiences. For one the spots are way to close and lack any kind of personality and two everyone there seems to be completely clueless about the meaning of "camping." Why is it today that people feel they need to empty the contents of their house and take all of it with them when they are trying to get back to nature? I mean you could sleep a dozen people in some of the tents we saw! Nicole and I slept outside under the stars and had a near gourmet dinner with wine and yet everything fit nicely in the trunk of the car. These other people needed special trailers or large RVs just to go camping, I hope one day they discover what they are missing in their "camping" experience. Anyways enough about that. We got up super early, or better yet Nicole got up early then prodded me out of bed so that we could see if the impossible could be accomplished. That is hiking the most popular trail in the park and trying to do it without anyone else around. And I would have never thought this was possible, we actually found solitude in a National Park! The whole hike up Lassen we crossed paths with only one other person and had almost an hour at the top completely tourist free. On the way down that was another story. We passed group after group heading up to the top. I can only fear what the top would feel like with all those people crammed around making cell phone calls to family and friends back home. Our summit was much more enjoyable, the sun was crisp and warm the wind soft and cooling. If not for the haze of some wildfire we would have been able to see for a hundred miles. But the view we had was stunning, all of the park lay before us with dozens of small volcanoes and Mt Shasta alone poking into the clouds in the distance. We finished the hike around 1030 in the morning just as a gaggle of boy scouts were loudly making there way from the trail head. This hike was an experience of a life time and was only possible because we got up early and beat the crowds of people. After this hike came the drive home. For this we took a new route, one neither of us had been on before. The sign at the beginner announcing winedy road next 140 miles was a bit of an understatement. Highway 36 from Red Bluff to Fortuna is beautiful, hot and has more turns than any other road I have ever been on. Took us some four or five hours just to make the trip. And every minute was well worth it, especially climbing over the first set of mountains out of the 100 degree central valley heat. The only two stops we made were in Platina (some little town that is really in the middle of nowhere) to get some water and at a swimming hole on the Van Duzen. This was an amazing trip and one of the last of the summer because we will of course be in Costa Rica for the first two weeks of August.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Reconnecting with life

There is nothing like a trip that gets you back to your roots. A trip that makes you remember who you are and what you want from life. A trip where you feel truly
alive. That is exactly how I felt about this backpacking trip to the Trinity Alps. I haven't been backpacking in a little over a year and the longing for the challenge of hauling my pack up a mountain was biting at my heels. So Nicole and I strapped on our boots and loaded our packs and headed up to the Trinity Alps Wilderness off of Highway 299 and hiked up the Canyon Creek Trail to get back into touch with something we had both been missing. This area is so extremely beautiful and incredibly remote that you feel like your in another world. Huge mountains sweep up both sides of the valley topped with sheer granite faces. Wildflowers exploded out of every meadow and crowded out the trail in some spots. The Tiger Lilys were exceptionally beautiful. Canyon Creek meanders through the valley occasionally cascading over the rocks in a handful of waterfalls that seem to appear out of nowhere. Our base camp was right next to one of the smaller falls a few miles from the trailhead. This camp was in the perfect spot. Near enough to the water so we could hear it all night, far enough from the trail so we didn't see to many people and tucked between a number of boulders for extra shelter. The first night was clear and cool so we slept out under the stars and a near full moon. From our base camp we set out to hike up to the lakes without our packs. Though we did not stay long at the lakes due to the accumulating clouds and the threat of rain. We hurried back to the camp to set up our tent for shelter and napped in the heat of the afternoon waking up to a clear nearly cloud free sky. This trip has been one of the best adventures this whole summer and was the best experience backpacking I have ever had. I feel so lucky to live close enough to such beautiful areas and be able in my body and mind to fully appreciate the beauty of such a unique environment.

Friday, June 26, 2009

We found the lost coast, sadly it is no longer lost...

One of the most beautiful spots of all the California coast (in my mind) is the small area of land west of Highway 1 (yes in one part of California there is a west of Highway 1) called the Lost Coast. It so called because there is no freeway hugging the beach in this area and thanks to this we have relatively few tourists in that area, mostly backpackers and adventurous campers who stray from the highway. This beautiful stretch of coast is so remote and rugged that the people who build highways for a living thought it was to much of a challenge to put a road through, don't we all wish the whole coast was like that? We decided to check out this area as a precursor to a backpacking trip in the coming weeks. We made it out to the Mattole River at the northern end of the preserve. I think we may start here and hike south for a ways and then explore the mountains a bit before heading back. All to be completed in a mere 3 days, hope our hiking shoes are comfy and waterproof! I've backpacked here before but it remains one of the best trips of my life, one I would love to repeat, one I hopefully will get to return to in the next few weeks. Well back to our trip around the lost coast... We stayed at a really nice county park along the Mattole River just inland near Honeydew. This campground surely is a lost jewel. Who knew that a county park could have such a nice campground. It was right on the river and the campsites were really spaced out, if anyone is in the area A.W. Way County Park should be on your list of places to stay. The next day we drove over the mountains to Humboldt Redwoods State Park where there was one or two massive trees. Well maybe like one or two million! We did a small hike and hurried on to the Eel River so we could relax, wash up and get some sun. Instead of going to a known swimming spot we just randomly drove down the highway looking for something that looked promising... and after 4 or 5 stops we found a great spot off 101 that took some work getting down to. It was some random pull off (I wont tell you where) that we hiked through some brush and scolding hot sand to get to that I don't think many other people ever see, unless its from the road. It was a great little spot, couldn't see much of the highway and we knew no one else would make that trip down without us seeing them first. The water was not freezing and the sun was out which made for a delightful few hours. Driving home we started looking for restaurants to eat at and wound up in Myers Flat at this winery called Riverbend Cellars. That was one of those random life encounters where afterwards you say to yourself, what??? We learned the life history of the wine pourer (he's an electrical engineer from Chicago who walked and hitched his way across the US without any money). He was a bit odd but really friendly and the complete opposite of so many wine people in Sonoma and Napa. We lost a bet to him about the distance from Myers Flat to Arcata so we had to buy a bottle of wine but thanks to Nicole's haggling skills we walked away without having to pay a tasting fee. Way to go Honey :)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Searching for the Strawberry

We went for hike up to Strawberry Rock which is just outside of Trinidad and is conveniently located on private logging property. I really don't think they care if people trespass because it is a really popular place to go hiking and I have never heard of someone getting in trouble. Took us awhile to find the actual rock, there are no trail signs and we had no map and no idea where we were going. We just thought well its a rock you can see from the beach lets just go up hill until we find it. After only one turn around we ran into a few other people heading that way (more trespassers) so we tagged along and made it in no time. It was windy and warm at the top with a beautiful view all the way from Trinidad to Arcata and a little north. The ocean was still caked in some fog so the horizon blended into the ocean and was hard to tell them apart. What a great hike! It was pretty secluded because its not an actual park so not to many people know about it, mainly locals, we wouldn't have even found it without someone showing us the way or after many more turnarounds. So if you are ever up in Arcata look up Strawberry Rock, do some trespassing and you wont be sorry!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The realization of an addiction

So I realized that I have an addiction when I went to the nursery today to simply buy a watering spout (we have bugs and got this organic pest control stuff that needs to be poured on the leaves) and some earthworms (for the compost) and I ended up buying 4 more plants, a pot and some more dirt. I can't seem to go to anyplace that sells plants without taking a look at whats there. This time I ended up buying a 7 gallon plastic pot (which was way cheaper than any of the others and is much simpler looking which I like) and some new plants for homemade salsas. I got (from the front to the left) another cilantro, jalapeno, tomatillos and habeneros. These 4 plants plus maybe some tomatoes will make excellent salsa once I find a recipe. Total cost for this little setup = $22, so we had better get a bunch of salsa from it, or maybe next year we will break even since we wont have to rebuy the dirt and the container. I was skeptical at first to buy peppers but the lady at the nursery said that the small peppers like habeneros and jalapenos grow well here, its just the bell peppers that don't. And she said tomatillos love it here!

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I can't believe that we have waited so long to try to make our own sushi. It is so incredibly easy anyone can do it! It was so much cheaper than going to the sushi restaurant, I think total it may have been around 20 bucks and we had a lot of sushi. Not that this will ever replace going out for sushi but it will allow us to satisfy the craving without going broke in the process. We had something like 5 rolls I think, all were vegetarian (next time we'll try getting some fish). We had one roll with carrots, cucumber, pepper and avocado, one with yams, almond butter and pineapple another with pineapple, mango, jalapeno and macadamia nuts. The others I can't remember at this moment but they were awesome as well. I should have written down exactly what was in each, we can't wait to make them again and try new varieties! Oh I almost forgot we also had miso soup, wasabi, edaname and we mixed the Raspberry and Mango infused vodka with Orange Mango juice... wow that was an amazing drink!

Freedom Garden

This little plot of dirt surrounded by cinder blocks basking in the sun has taught me a valuable lesson regarding life and food.  I shall no longer take for granted the overly simple act of grocery shopping for I have now planted my own food. I can see all the hard work it takes to bring 1 strawberry to the store and how that 1 strawberry should be cherished and not wasted uselessly. This garden was by no means easy or more cost effective than buying all our own organic veggies. We have spent a good deal of money buying supplies and dirt and even waged outright war on the invading snails who want to eat our rewards! The effort and money has been put in, now time to wait for the sweet benefits of our little plot of land. This garden has given us a starting point to further learn how to support ourselves. Now a 6 foot by 4 foot garden is not nearly enough space to grow all we need but we are learning the tools to one day grow all our own crops and have no more worries about chemicals in our foods, where our food came from or how much energy was input to grow what we are eating. All the energy we want to rely on is our backs, brains and the sun! Heres to hoping everyone has the chance to have a backyard garden and learn a thing or two about plants, food and life.

The Cinder Block Garden and Compost

The Cinder Block Garden and Compost
We are growing Tomatoes, 6 strawberries, 6 garlic, 6 onion, 6 types of lettuce, artichokes, 2 brocolli and 4 cauliflauer

Entry garden

Entry garden
This is a view out our front door where we also have a few plants in pots. Here we have a few more spinach and lettuce plants, 2 pea plants, walking stick kale, rosemary, 2 parsley, cilantro, oregano, lavender, garlic chives, basil (this is our third attempt at Basil, all the others have died now) and some pansies for color.

First Harvest

First Harvest
I know its not much but this is our first harvest from the garden. Can get about 2 full size salads from it.

The Garden Retreat Cottage (Home)

Our home is not just where we sleep, eat and spend the down time of our day. It is a retreat from life and worries, a base camp for our explorations of Arcata and greater Humboldt County. A comfortable nook nestled in a beautiful garden to stage our lives as we see fit, free from the constraints of neighbors and lousy room mates. Free from the sound of passing vehicles and honking horns. Free from mean landlords and ugly parking lots. From our garden retreat we cannot see nor hear the road and are thus slightly removed from life outside, even if for just the moment. We are completely content in our 300 square foot castle, not cramped, not looking for anything better and not looking to move away for the time being. I love this cottage because it is the first place I have felt like was a home to me and not just simply a house in a long time. I live with a beautiful woman I call shmoo who is clean, thinks like me and likes my cooking. What more could I ask for?


View through the garden

Garden Cottage

Garden Cottage
Inside our castle