The Numbers

The Numbers
Total Cost of Trip for 2 (excluding flight and immunization) $2718
Total Cost Per Day (While in Central America) $30.20
Total # of Transfers 61
Estimated Kilometers Walked — (avg 5 km/hour, avg 5 hour/day X 90 days 2250 km
Average Number of Days Spent in Each Town — (90 days / 19 towns) 4.7 days
Total Bowls of Oatmeal — (2 per day + extras) 200
Total Number of Nationalities Met — (Switzerland, Finland, England, United States, Canada, Germany, Australia, Sweden, Estonia, France, Chile, Denmark, Italy, Belgium, Norway, Netherlands, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica) 22 nationalities
Total Bouts of Sickness — (Jim 3, Alyssa 2) 5
Total Hours Spent on Route 116 hours
Total Number of Journal Entries 95
Total Number of Words Written 70,576
Total Number of Hostels 22 hostels
Total Number of Pounds Gained or Lost — (Jim lost 12, Alyssa lost 3) 15 Lbs lost
Total Number of Peanut Butter Sandwiches (2 per day + extras) 200
Longest Stretch Without Rain 70
Total Number of Liters Filtered — (5 per day X 90) 450L
Number of Water Bottles Saved from Landfill — (450 / 1.5 typical bottle size) 300 bottles
Cheapest Day — (Mizata, $7.50 was the cost of the hostel) $7.50
Most Expensive Day — (Tikal Day) $107

Our Journey
Destination Number of Hours
London ~ Detroit 2.5 (car)
Detroit ~ Houston 3.15 (plane)
Houston ~ Belize City, Belize 2.5 (plane)
Belize City ~ Orange Walk 4
Orange Walk ~ Sarteneja 2
Sarteneja ~ Caye Caulker 9 (sailboat)
Caye Caulker ~ Belize City 2 (water taxi)
Belize City ~ San Ignacio 2
San Ignacio ~ El Remate, Guatemala 0.75
El Remate ~ Flores 0.75
Flores ~ Rio Dulce 4.5
Rio Dulce ~ Guatemala City 6.5
Guatemala City ~ Antigua 1
Antigua ~ San Pedro, Lake Atitlan 4
San Pedro, Lake Atitlan ~ Santiago 1 (ferry)
Santiago ~ Escuintla 3
Escuintla ~ Chiquimulilla 2
Chiquimulilla ~ Ciudad Pedro De El Verado (Border) 1.5
Border ~ Junction near Sansonate, El Salvador 1.5
Sansonate Junction ~ Mizata 0.75
Mizata ~ La Libertad 2
Comolapa ~ Usulutan 2
Usulutan ~ Santiago de Marie 0.5
Santiago de Marie ~ Alegria 0.25
Alegria ~ El Triunfo 1
El Triunfo ~ San Miguel 1.5
San Miguel ~ Santa Rosa de Lima 2.5
Santa Rosa de Lima ~ El Amatillo 0.5
El Amatillo ~ Guasaule, Honduras 3
Guasaule ~ Chinendega, Nicaragua 2
Chinendega ~ Leon 1
Leon ~ Managua 1.5
Managua ~ Masachapa 1.5
Masachapa ~ Managua 1.5
Managua ~ Granada 1
Granada ~ Masaya 1
Masaya ~ Granada 1
Granada ~ Rivas 2
Rivas ~ San Jorge 0.25
San Jorge ~ Mayogalpa 1
Mayogalpa ~ Santo Domingo 0.75
Santo Domingo ~ Merida 0.75
Merida ~ Rivas 4
Rivas ~ San Juan Del Sur 1
San Juan Del Sur ~ Penas Blancas 1
Penas Blancas ~ Liberia, Costa Rica 1.75
Liberia ~ Monteverde 2.5
Monteverde ~ Puntarenas 3
Puntarenas ~ Naranjo 1.5 (ferry)
Naranjo ~ Cobano 2
Cobano ~ Montezuma 0.5
Montezuma ~ Cobano 0.5
Cobano ~ Malpais 0.75
Malpais ~ Cobano 0.75
Cobano ~ Paquera 1
Paquera ~ Puntarenas 1 (ferry)
Puntarenas ~ Alajuela 2.5
Alajuela ~ San Jose Airport 0.2
San Jose ~ Houston 3.5 (plane)
Houston ~ Detroit 3 (plane)
Detroit ~ London 2.5 (car)
Total Hours on the Move 116 Hours

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Posted by on May 1, 2010 in Uncategorized


Day 90: New Beginnings

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” – Seneca

Early to bed and early to rise and we were pumped to sink our teeth into our complimentary continental breakfast. After waiting an hour and half for the 7:00am breakfast call, we skipped over to the kitchen ready to fill our growling stomachs. Our first and final impressions of Costa Rica were equally disappointing when we found out that the highly anticipated meal consisted of a thin slice of pineapple and coffee. We do not even drink coffee! After being jipped so many times in this country, we felt like storming over to the smileless host and explaining that a morsel of pineapple does not even qualify as a snack or an hors d’oeuvre for that matter, let alone a breakfast, but like all the polite Canadians that came before us we bit our tongue and hopped in our cab to the airport.

We paid the hefty $52 departure tax then made our way to the customs table where a confused caveman was slowly asking the Spanish speaking hostess “Me American, What I need to do?” Disgusted that she could not speak his language, he stormed off in a huff dragging his luggage behind him like it was his cavewoman.

Always travelling prepared so we do not have to spend money on expensive food on the road or in this case, on expensive airport terminals, we packed bread, peanut butter, honey, snacks and a huge container of leftover fried rice. I walked through customs with no problems and I laughed as the official tore apart Alyssa’s bag astonished by all the food. When he went for the bucket of rice Alyssa burst out laughing at how ridiculous it must have looked and he joined in passing her through with a smile.

Sure enough we were seated next to the caveman on the plane and when we got our sandwich, potato salad and custard, he inhaled it like it was his first meal. If you know us, you know that we cannot stand hearing people eat and this primitive being could be heard breathing, chomping, sucking and slurping from a mile away. The only good thing about his meal was that it was finished in less than two minutes and he wrapped up his routine with some inappropriate grooming including deep twisting pinky diggin’ in his ear canal.

We had to recheck our luggage in the Houston airport because the fear-mongering Americans need to fingerprint and photograph every person that steps a foot in their country and the further we flew from our vagabonding life the more we remembered why we began the trip in first place. Like Thoreau, we hit the road because we “wanted to live deliberately. [We] wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life… to put to rout all that was not life; and not, when [we] came to die, discover that [we] had not lived.”

It was great to feel the brisk cold on our face when we stepped out of the airport terminal, and to see that Francine joined Rick for the pickup, and though we had travelled for twenty two hours straight and were exhausted to the bone, when we pulled up to 198 Muriel at 2:30am, we knew our life’s journey had just begun.

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Posted by on March 30, 2010 in Uncategorized


Day 89: Q & A with J & A

Costa Rica’s reputation for having the worst public transit system held steadfast today as our 6:00am bus did not come until 7:30am. Though we would be fine with it on a $1 chicken bus, when we paid $12 each (the most we paid for a bus on the entire trip) we were not impressed that there was no other reason than they cancelled another ferry. The two hour ride from Malpais to Paquera was long and windy so we were both feeling sick for the one hour ferry and the two hour bus from Puntarenas to Alajuela. Our bus could not get into third gear so we chugged down the Interamericana highway at 40 km/h.

We found a hostel five minutes from the airport and five times too expensive but we were excited for the complimentary continental breakfast the day of our flight. We dropped our packs on our comfortable bed then scoured the city for ingredients for our delicious veggie fried rice. Running on just a few hours sleep from the Saturday night party in surf ville Malpais, we hit the sack by 8:00pm but not before answering the interview questions as requested by our blog readers.

Please note that we answered the questions separately and did not discuss them beforehand so any similarities in the answers only support our belief that we are the best travelling partners ever!

Q. What are three things you were glad to have brought?

Alyssa: Life Saver Water Bottle, swiss army knife and our clothesline
Jim: Life Saver Water Bottle, crocs, Alyssa (much more useful and cuter than a pocket translator)

Q. What are three things that you wish you had brought?

Alyssa: Camping dish set, a massive bag of trail mix and the carbon filter for the Life Saver Bottle (it removes bad flavours from the water which we desperately needed in Belize)
Jim: More good books, a compact camping dish set and a jumbo bag of trail mix

Q. What three things did you bring but not need?

Alyssa: Mosquito net (which we desperately wanted to dispose of but feared Martha’s reaction), bicycle lock and pillows
Jim: Mosquito net (this was bulky and never used once), pillows (also bulky and used rarely), heavy bike lock.

Q. What was your favourite country, town, hostel, person, and attraction?

Alyssa: Guatemala – richest cultural experience with the widest variety of diverse landscapes and attractions
Jim: Guatemala – for the diversity of landscapes (mountains, lakes, volcanoes), sights (Mayan ruins, lakes, volcanoes, colonial towns), food and people

Alyssa: Merida – small community feel where everyone knew us, visited us and invited us to their homes. Meaningful connections with old and young
Jim: Merida – the friendliest people on earth live there. The lake, sunsets and volcano views were great as well

Alyssa: Posada Las Brisas in Granada, Nicaragua. A spotlessly clean room with an immaculate private bath including large towels, soap and a shampoo that had a great lather. It included all the amenities like kitchen, internet, TV, hammocks and new sheets changed by our cleaner. (Not so great when spit man lived beside us but otherwise PURE LUXURY).
Jim: Posada Las Brisas in Granada. Straight up, best value.

Alyssa: Ara from Sarteneja, Belize because of her laugh, her heart, her gifts, her hugs and her delicious and filling food.
Jim: Noldan from Merida, Nicaragua. At 17 he was the most mature, sincere, happy, welcoming, productive, positive and friendly youth I have ever met.

Alyssa: Tikal. It was unlike anything I have ever seen.
Jim: Tikal, where the power of nature and civilization collide.

Q. What was your least favourite country, town, hostel, person, and attraction?

Alyssa: Costa Rica – no culture, locals, markets, chicken buses or friendly hostel owners
Jim: Costa Rica – no chicken buses, markets or friendly locals to learn from

Alyssa: Masachapa, Nicaragua. There were no greetings from anyone and no smiling among locals
Jim: Leon, Nicaragua. The unbearable heat is magnified by dirty streets and unhappy people

Alyssa: Hotel Vista del Mar in Masachapa, Nicaragua. This was a disgustingly smelly and dirty bathroom with no shower curtain, toilet seat, a sink falling off the wall and a manual on/off switch for water. The owners were terribly rude and refused us water and tablecloths.
Jim: Hotel Vista del Mar in Masachapa. No toilet seat, shower curtain or service. The room smelled and we got the evil eye when we asked for things like toilet paper.

Alyssa: Big Lady from Hotel Vista del Mar because she ignored us completely and sucked up to all the rich guests
Jim: Masachapa Staff. If I did not adopt a Ghandian philosophy of non-violence, some fists would have been flying there for sure.

Alyssa: Montezuma Beach. I had higher expectations and when I first saw it my reaction was “hmmm” with a shoulder shrug.
Jim: Churches in Leon: Meh!

Q. What did you miss from Canada?

Alyssa: Family and Friends. I missed my grandma’s 80th birthday, Tessa learning to say my name and Ben and Liz’s engagement. I missed towels, apples, good shampoo and the cold!
Jim: This one is easy. Baby Tessa and Mikey. After family I would have to say good chocolate and even though I get on her case for it, my mom’s baking…mmmm….butter tarts and brownies!

Q. What did you not miss from Canada?

Alyssa: Driving in the snow and the obsession with technology (cell phones, ipods, laptops, and especially texting)
Jim: The monotonous, routinized, creativity stifling, predictable, comfortable, individualistic, consumer driven life of the city.

Q. What was the most unusual experience you had?

Alyssa: The most unusual experience was being escorted by three policemen in their patrol truck to Cerra de la Cruz in Antigua, Guatemala. The men held machine guns in their laps and while looking out the window we saw armed guards outside banks, grocery stores and even bakeries.
Jim: Being snowed on by volcanic ash.

Q. What events did you experience as brand new and life changing?

Alyssa: Every experience was brand new and allowed for comparison to our lives back home. The chicken bus rides, the exchanges at the markets, the desire for locals to invite complete strangers into their homes and the ability for individuals from different cultures and languages to communicate were daily events that opened our eyes to the differences in our world.
Jim: The nine hour sail boat ride from Sarteneja to Caye Caulker. This was completely spontaneous and since we did not know our Spanish speaking crew from a hole in the ground, we needed to have confidence in ourselves and trust the goodness in our fellow man. Since taking gringos on this trip was a first for our Sarteneja sailors, we strayed far from the typical and created our own path. We did this at the beginning of our trip which set the tone for the remaining 83 days.

Q. What is the most important lesson you learned?

Alyssa: The most important lesson I learned is to confront fears because fear can prevent you from discovering your strengths and abilities and prevent you from engaging in life changing experiences. Also, we both realized quickly how very little we need to survive. The power of simplicity.
Jim: That due to fear many people unnecessarily live lives of quiet desperation when adventure and passion are all around us. I also learned that one of my greatest skills is to want very little.

Q. What would you do differently?

Alyssa: I would have learned more Spanish before arriving although our language barrier led to many exciting adventures. I would have spent more time exploring countries in detail and I would organize a homestay in the future.
Jim: I would bring my parents so they could experience life on the road and allow for more time so spontaneous volunteering is more available.

Q. What advice do you have for people who want to go backpacking?

Alyssa: I would encourage everyone to do a backpacking trip and to form your own opinion of another country. We are quick to make judgements based on media and other facts about danger and safety concerns from family and friends. However there is danger in every country and as long as travellers are informed and sensible, an adventure awaits in any new destination. The lessons learned are plenty and the stories are endless.
Jim: First, choose a destination that is vastly different from home. Second, limit yourself to a bare minimum budget. Third, do not plan in advance. Fourth, pack very little. Finally, do it now! Seriously, right now!

Q. What did you learn is the purpose of our lives in the universe? And is the universe aware of our lives?

Alyssa: Throughout the trip, this question has come up many times and although we discuss it at length, we seem to generate more questions than answers. We know the Dalai Lama’s answer to this question is to find happiness and I agree with his philosophy, but I also believe that our purpose is to learn and grow to be better human beings. Forming deep and meaningful connections with others, stepping outside of our comfort zones, learning of our strengths and abilities, reconnecting with nature and inspiring others are critical for our physical, mental and spiritual growth. After sitting by the vast ocean and admiring the beauty of waterfalls, I realize how insignificant we are and how the universe is unaware of our individual lives but together, humans have a large impact on the world and so we must contemplate our purpose and make a conscious effort to lead meaningful lives.

Jim: Adopting a philosophy based on ecology I would ask if our purpose is any different than any other living being. What is the purpose of a salmon, a blue jay, or a chimpanzee for that matter? Why do we humans think that our purpose is any different than our most common denominator? Since self awareness is a product of evolution, I do not think the universe is aware of our lives like we are aware of ourselves. But in a superficial way, our ecosystem knows of the great humans as a cancer plaguing all of life. Thus, maybe our purpose is to learn from all other living beings and try to live in harmony with all life.

Q. Put your experience in one word. What would it be?

Alyssa: Indescribable!
Jim: Transformative!

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Posted by on March 30, 2010 in Uncategorized


Day 88: Time Flies

Today was are last real day in Costa Rica since tomorrow we will be travelling the whole day to the airport, so we spent every minute of it on the beach. While collecting sand and shells for Nikki as requested, we thought about how one year ago today she was getting all done up for their intimate wedding. Alyssa drove to class, wrote a test then flew to the church thinking she was going to be late. Of course we were all late (Annie was with us haha) but the day turned out perfectly. As we contemplated the previous year we could not believe how much happened in that time and how fast time flies.

Alyssa, Jeff, and myself graduated from our programs, Mikey started school, Sean and Nikki tied the knot, Mark and Lindsay, Ben and Liz, and Jeff and Pam were engaged, and of course we traveled through Central America. Time flies when you are having fun and this past year and especially the past three months were a blur.

When contemplating time it is impossible to separate our mortality from our purpose. Throughout this trip we have sought to better answer the great existential questions about the meaning of life and our greater purpose yet we realize that it is rather futile to approach the question this way. Rather then ask what is the purpose of life, we need to ask “how do I live a life of purpose”? After living as vagabonds and students of the road for the past three months, we have come to realize that “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste it, to experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience”(Eleanor Roosevelt). To live a life of purpose you must not “follow where the path may lead…but go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”(Ralph Waldo Emerson).

If travel has taught us anything about time it is that tomorrow never comes so carpe diem.

We stayed by the sea and swam in the waves until the sun set for the final time. Though we are sad to leave this paradise for the senses, this professor of life and this odyssey for the soul, we are returning to the greatest place of all. Home.

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Posted by on March 29, 2010 in Uncategorized


Day 87: Know Thyself

After another big breakfast with fruit smoothies that are included in our basketball court size room, we walked north up the beach and found where all the good surfers shred the nar. Since the winds were onshore and the waves blew out fairly quickly we only saw a few pros ride the barrel but all of them were getting sweet air with rad 360s. The ocean was barely distinguishable from the vibrant blue sky and the powder sand scorched our feet. With the sun being so hot on the beaches of Costa Rica, we have had a lot of time to read and reflect while hiding out in the shade. Currently we are reading from our new book ¨Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain¨ which is written by a psychiatrist Dr. Elio Frattaroli. Frattaroli is a staunch critic of the current medical model which argues that the mind or soul is in fact the brain, so mental illness is physical illness and thus can be cured solely with medication. This approach rejects Cartesan Dualism which distinguishes the mind and body as two distinct entities and is based on a widely accepted scientific materialism which encourages a psychopharmacological therapy. Frattaroli argues for a psychotherapeutic approach to dealing with mental illness where honest self-reflection is the primary method of healing.

One of the reasons we started this daily journal was so our family and friends, who were very nervous of our plans to travel through Central America, could see that we were safe and learn through our experiences that the places we were visiting were safe as well. However, more as an educational tool for ourselves, we wanted to have a real time record of our experiences, emotions and reactions to our ever changing internal and external environments. Just as our wise friend Joe Hirschberg has kept a daily log since beginning his horticulture apprenticeship nearly 60 years ago, we felt as apprentices in life it was important to record this highly rich journey of the mind and body. Though we took turns writing the reflections, we discussed them at length each day when new experiences would provide fuel for meaningful contemplation.

Like Henry David Thoreau who meticulously recorded every detail of his life while living off the land at Walden pond, we have also kept a detailed record of our budget and the route we have taken. When other travelers asked us about our budget and we showed them a detailed spreadsheet separating the cost of breakfast, lunch, dinner, water, accommodations, travel, sightseeing and extras like internet in every single place we have been, they were surprised at the effort. In actuality, this daily journal was usually written from 4am to 6am every morning while waiting for the sun to rise and the detailed bookkeeping took no more than three minutes each day. Conversely, when we asked these shocked travelers about their budget, they confessed that they had no idea how much they had spent and nearly all of them admitted to clearing out their accounts earlier than expected and are now living on loans from their parents. Will these be the same people who wake up one day with $50 000 in credit card debt and no means to pay it back?

In the city we also weigh ourselves daily as an easy measure of our diet and fitness. We find it will be difficult to wake up one day and be 20 pounds heavier than when we last measured, so a reflective reminder of our body mass index will help us stay healthy to live lives individually without limitations and be socially responsible in terms of limited consumption and impact on our costly healthcare system.

It is important to also reflect daily on the virtues and how you score against humans highest truths. It is sometimes easy to see the virtues you strayed from (I lied, I lost my temper, I was consumed by material desires, etc) but it is also necessary to reflect on the virtues you fulfilled (I was honest, I maintained self-control, I enjoyed the simple things, I gave freely of my time and talents, etc). Frattaroli argues that ¨as individuals and as a society, we have lost the moral compass that used to be provided by our awareness of inner conflict. We no longer recognize the existential emotions of anxiety, shame and guilt as signals of moral conflict, central to the life of the soul. Indeed, it now seems that we have lost touch with our emotions and with our sense of the soul altogether. ¨

Humans have the unique ability for self awareness which comes with its costs and benefits. Not only are we able to contemplate our great insignificance in the cosmic calendar and struggle for existential purpose, we have a special freedom of the will because our agency is not determined purely by instinctive or biological reactions. Thus, the purpose of ongoing self reflection is, in the words of Socrates, to ¨ know thyself¨ because the more we know ourselves the more self-actualized we become. I agree with Socrates that ¨the unexamined life is not worth living¨ and that if we take time each day to exercise our uniquely human ability, we can life with greater dignity and freedom and most importantly with greater happiness.

We spent the afternoon bouncing in the salty warm Pacific waves and continued our self reflection as we watched the setting sun paint the ocean and the sky and fill our souls with life.

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Posted by on March 28, 2010 in Uncategorized


Day 86: Back to Reality

The heat is now becoming unbearable. Despite the noise, we had to sleep with the balcony doors wide open, the fan on high with no pajamas or even a sheet and still we sweated it out all night long. Our morning walk has succumbed to a snails pace and we are drinking water faster than we can filter it. Today we walked several miles out of town down a dry and dusty road where signs for development property dominates the view. By 9:00am the temperature was so hot that we retreated down a dirt path to a shady secluded spot on the endlessly long beach. After a short rest stop enjoying the turquoise water and cloudless sky, we walked ankle deep down the diverse coastline. Since most of the town went to bed as we were getting up, we pretty much had miles of beach to ourselves. With not much else to do but relax until our final trip back up the peninsula, across the ferry and down the highway to Alejeula, we spent most of the day looking at shells and fossilized polished rocks, reading our new books which we exchanged at a hostel and just trying everything possible to stay cool and in the shade of the crooked, tall palms that line the beach and bend to the sun.

Discussing travel itineraries is like the default discussion of weather when on the road, but we have noticed that most travelers in Costa Rica are just visiting Costa Rica so we end up doing most of the talking. After we tell them about our nine hour sail to a Belizean Caye, climbing on top of temples at Tikal, visiting hot waterfalls and climbing active volcanoes; after talking about volunteering on Lago de Atitlan and Lago de Nicaragua and boogie boarding in Mizata; after describing the religious celebration in Alegria and the 100 foot Jesus in San Juan Del Sur; after describing zip lining, repelling and ficus tree climbing in the cloud forest of Monteverde and after explaining the crater lakes, hidden beaches, endless markets, border crossings and chicken bus rides, the most common response after amazement is ¨You must be sad because soon it´s back to reality¨. Back to Reality. After reading a passage from Thoreau´s Walden while enjoying the view of the waves, we contemplated our concept of reality.

One important lesson that travel has hit home is that there is more than one way to live and that success and happiness is a state of mind contented by living virtuously. If in three short days we were heading ¨back to reality¨then we must have escaped it like some awesome hallucinogenic high for the past 86 days. Heading ¨back to reality¨also implies that reality rests in the ritualized life back home characterized by 40 hour work weeks and ¨the way¨. Birth, formal education, degree, another degree, career, another career, scheduled leisure, retirement. Yet all of this seems to be no more real than our past three months living nomadically and leather tramping through the natural and cultural worlds of Central America.

In fact, given the high use of medications to combat depression, anxiety, stress related sleep disorders and health problems and given the high rates of addictions and lifestyle related illnesses, it seems to me that ¨the way¨or the ¨reality¨ with which we will soon return to, is one that many people are trying to escape. Travel has also confirmed the power of living mindfully and of intentionally engaging oneself in daily life. We have also realized that this is best done when living simply, when living in nature, and when testing the limits of your physical and spiritual life.

¨If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal, – that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality….The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched¨(Henry David Thoreau).

So we are not returning ¨back to reality¨, we are forging new paths in a familiar terrain. What we have gained and valued from this trip are sometimes intangible and indescribable yet without a doubt, they are the highest reality.

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Posted by on March 27, 2010 in Uncategorized


Day 85: The More You Have, The More You Have To Lose

The Sunrise was even more spectacular today than yesterday and realizing that we will be moving to the other side of the Peninsula, I soaked up every subtle awesome change knowing it would be the last horizon sunrise I would see on our journey. We sweetened up our cold porridge with a large juicy mango then set out to nejoy the rising sun from the soft sands of the neighbouring beach. The 7:00am sun was already so hot that we could only bear to be in it for half an hour and the temperature that rose to 40 degrees by 10:00am made for one of the most difficult travel days yet, despite it taking less than three hours.

Fully aware of the terrible public transportation in Costa Rica, we planned to hitch hike at least to the town of Cobano which is half way between Montezuma and Malpais. I checked out the three full body tattooed men who looked like they were the Last of the Mohicans while Alyssa worked her magic and flagged down a ride. A Swedish girl and German guy hopped in the 35 year old jeep with us and the American healing center owner named Jeff drove us through the sandy dunes into town. At one point the roads were so bad that we had to jump out with our packs and climb the hill beside the jeep so it would not stall from the extra weight. As we barreled over the potholes in our shockless mini United Nations jeep, we talked about the benefits of being frugal.

If we had a dollar for every time we have been called cheap we would be millionaires, but we would still spent it as if we only had two pennies to rub together. Sixty years ago being frugal was considered a virtue but now if you do not upgrade your wardrobe, furniture, vehicles, electronics, appliances and décor every few years, you are not praised for being fiscally and environmentally friendly. You are called cheap. Find any 80 year old you know and chances are they have the same furniture that you climbed over when you were a kid and they would have the same low kilometer car if it had not broken down after 40 years of use.

Our money earned comes from a direct exchange of our time and with time being the most precious and non-refundable commodity, how we spend our money shows how we value time. Many travelers are completely shocked by our budget and meticulous accounting for expenses and often ask ¨but aren´t you missing out on a lot?¨ or justify their extravagance by saying I came all the way here so ¨I´m going to enjoy it.¨ We have definitely realized that it is far more rewarding to travel as inexpensively as possible without depriving yourself of basic needs like shelter and healthy food because it forces you to connect with your environment in a more intimate and mindful way while always putting your self-reliance to the test. However, if you trust others and yourself, travelling can be very inexpensive and life changing thus making it available to everyone with an adventurous spirit and a few extra bucks.

We have not slept face down in the dirt (in fact we are now staying in an 800 square foot loft style hotel with hardwood floors, a T.V., tiled bathroom and a balcony), gone hungry or put ourselves in danger, yet we have managed to live on less than half of the recommended budget in the Shoestring travel guide. All it took was a little sacrifice, a lot of creativity, a friendly and open attitude, confidence and an aquired savvy by paying close attention to our ever changing environments.

To keep our budget low, we always rode public buses or hitch hiked whenever we could, we shopped at markets and cooked our own food if we had a shared kitchen. With no kitchen we ate salads and sandwiches and we always ate leftovers. Sometimes we would eat porridge for breakfast, peanut butter and fruit for lunch and veggie wraps for dinner everyday for a week and once we were forced to eat porridge three times a day for three days. But with access to fresh fruit and some multivitamins we brought from home, we lacked nothing and gained the awareness of just how simply we can live.

Living out of a backpack for three months has confirmed the wisdom that the more you have, the more you have to lose and travelling on a budget with few possessions of value has allowed us to liberate ourselves further from the unnecessary attachment to ephemeral material things.

We took turns roaming the neighbouring beach towns of Malpais, El Carmen and Santa Teresa for a room and by this time the heat had become so bad that I was going a little delirious. We cooled off with a quick shower, bought veggies and buns for dinner (there is no kitchen) then spent several hours walking down the wide beaches of the west side. With faces smeared in zinc cream, the beginner surfers look like mimes as they practiced standing up on the blown out frothy waves and the late afternoon sun brushed the horizon in a golden haze.

Rather than trying to fight the energetic night life in this bustling surf town, we opened up the doors to our balcony and enjoyed the live music that competed with the nearby howler monkeys for the spotlight. Who needs sleep when we are making the most of our most precious gift; time.

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Posted by on March 27, 2010 in Uncategorized



We have been keeping track from time to time on how many people are reading the blog. So far our highest day is 160 readers, but the average is around 50 readers a day. So, we would like you readers to reply with some questions that we will answer separately for our final blog. Ask anything and we will try to reply to them all. We thought this would make it interesting and involve our faithful readers. You won´t hear from us for 3 or 4 days since the internet is hard to come by in Malpais.

Thanks in advance for asking the questions. We´ll write as soon as we can.

Jim and Alyssa

ps..we can´t post pictures but we have some great ones that we´ll add when we can!


Posted by on March 24, 2010 in Uncategorized


Day 84: Fully Alive

The humid nights have been making it difficult for me to sleep and after an hour of tossing and turning, I left the suffocating room to the breeze of the hammock slung between two small leafy palms. Here the waves that we could hear from our room were not washed out by the fan and I could pin point where each monster crashed into the jutting rocks that dotted each of the cresting beaches. Again I tried to imagine the enormity of the oceans and how they have relentlessly pounded the shores since our blue planet first melted and volcanoes paved the waters with land. I also tried to comprehend the ocean´s relationship to the moon and how some distant orbiting rock commands the rising and falling tide. Everything in our universe is too interconnected for us ever to feel alone and the realization of our individual insignificance in the grand cosmic calendar only acts to heighten the spiritual connection to the great web of life. As the darkness slowly turned to light, the birds joined me in my homage to the sun and together we watched the ocean turn from sparkling black to grey to navy to the pale blue that have us city folk living vicariously through images on tropical postcards. Though running on only a few hours sleep, when the warm sun hit my face I felt as fully alive as the untamed wilderness around me. This feeling was not unique to me or to this day as it is the same feeling that leaves us awestruck each day and ritually commenting about how unbelievable our travels have been and continue to be. This feeling comes from almost constant mindful living through continually changing horizons and a keen awareness of feeling fully alive.

After our bowl of cold porridge (we abandoned hot porridge ever since we reached the sweltering heat of the Pacific shores in El Salvador) which is just oats poured into soy milk flavoured with cinnamon and banana, we left for an early morning return hike to the refreshing pools below the Montezuma waterfall. Starting the day early certainly has its perks as we were able to enjoy the romantic landscape for several hours in solitude. Eager to see where the cool waters came from, Alyssa decided we should scale the steep cliff to see what lay beyond the falls´ edge. We clung to the sturdy, viney branches of the jungle forest to take pressure off our slipping, treadles crocs and once at the top we followed the overgrown trail through the forest, over a creek and up a hill which climbed 200 feet higher than the 100 foot falls. A rope laid at the end of the trail to help rappel the final descent which saw us on top of an 80 foot waterfall that fed into a pool which overflowed into the impressive waterfall we enjoyed the entire day previous. This 80 foot falls was fed by a small 20 foot falls that also formed a pool and we spent nearly six hours swimming, flying off the rope swing and reading our books on a ledge directly next to the flowing water. As I soaked up the pristine freshness of the series of large overflowing pools, I thought about how lucky I was to have a partner strong enough and willing to endure such physically taxing explorations. While many of the dainty girls settled for the first impressive work of nature, Alyssa plowed through the rough terrain needing no assistance and no persuasion to expand our horizons.

From the natural dam cliff wall, we saw many birds including the long tailed blue jay, three different colourful butterflies including the common Blue Morpho, an iguana, and a brightly painted red and purple crab. We enjoyed homemade bread and peanut butter for lunch and stayed in the oasis as long as the afternoon sun and growling stomachs would allow. The climb down was more dangerous than the way up but we made it safely to the first pool, retrieved our mangos which I picked off a tree and stashed under a bush, took one last dip to cool down then skipped along the river rocks back to the dirt road into town.

After a short cat nap inches from our fan, Alyssa realized that she left her favourite shorts up on the wall of the highest pool. Stubborn as a mule she insisted on retracing the grueling hike alone while I shopped for and prepared dinner. Sweating from head to toe, she returned to the beach with shorts in hand and just in time for dinner. Now hungry beyond pain we savoured each morsel of our vegetable and soy pasta with fresh bread and marveled at Alyssa´s amazing feat and the privilege of experiencing another day of feeling fully and completely alive.

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Posted by on March 24, 2010 in Uncategorized


Day 83: Diversity

Today we began the morning walking south out of town and when we crossed a one lane bridge over a fast moving stream, we followed the river uphill skipping over rocks and polished driftwood. The river took us to a set of rapids that looked like a less powerful Poverty Bay. After another twenty minutes past the rapids through a narrow trail in the woods, we came upon a 100 foot gentle waterfall that filled the pool below with fresh mountain waters. We quickly dove in to cool our bodies from another scorching, restless night and enjoyed the beauty of the secluded gem from behind the gentle wall of cascading rain. Not only did it cool our bodies but it also cooled our recent displeasure in Costa Rica.

During the six hours we spent next to the falls, we read from our book, ate our usual peanut butter, honey and banana sandwiches (by the way we purchased a large bottle of pure honey straight from the farmer for $1 in Nicaragua which lasted for 6 weeks) and talked with the tourists who were all eager to hear about our experiences in the ¨exotic and dangerous¨ Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. They could not believe some of the stories we told them and all of them were amazed that we made it out alive. When we explained to them that we never experienced even one ounce of danger, they either maintained their misinformed opinions by saying we were lucky or confessed a deep regret for choosing Costa Rica because everyone else was doing it. They all agreed that the only difference between their home countries and their vacation destination was climate.

We talked about how sad it is that we are so quick to form strong opinions about something without even the slightest bit of experience. Though they were doing so with the best of intentions, nearly all of our family members and friends warned us of the dangers of these places and gave us special tips to keep us safe from theft, muggings, illness and even death. By the time we were ready to leave we had heard ¨be safe¨ so many times that we began second guessing our decision in the first place. After sharing our experiences in Guatemala with a couple who out of fear changed their Guatemala trip at the last minute, we realized how powerful uninformed opinion can be in our decision to act. We also wondered how much our lack of diverse experiences both at home and abroad hinder our ability to make informed decisions in our day to day lives, careers, relationships and politics.

Diversity has been a recurring theme on our journey. From witnessing the diversity in nature to the diversity in culture and how diversity is needed both in ecology and social progress. Despite its necessity, we are also witnessing a loss of biodiversity in nature as well as the conforming of culture both as a direct result of consumption and the desire for the frivolous in the name of comfort and entitlement. Our trip has taught us that fear is the obstacle to truly living and the destroyer of diversity. Conversely, authentic experience and self-reliance are needed to create moments that awaken the soul and embrace the liberation that comes with an unconventional lifestyle.

Our trip has been just as much about exploring the world as it has been a journey in our relationship and of self-exploration. The diversity of experiences has allowed us to look inside and see both what we need to change and the skills we already possess to live a life of deep fulfillment and happiness. Hungry for some dinner and a return visit to the falls the following day, we climbed back over the rocks, through the trail and into town where we purchased fresh bread and ingredients for a simple but tasty pasta.

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Posted by on March 24, 2010 in Uncategorized