Home Again – The End of Travels, The Beginning of a Season

I arrived back to the States a week and a half ago, and already the trip is starting to take on this dreamlike quality.

I’ve told “The Travel” story about a dozen times already, and it is starting to pick up its own rhythm. But whenever I open the picture folders to send a couple off to some of the friends I’ve made or get some printed just to have, I remember more.

After Christmas, I traveled further inland with Josephine, my Dutch traveling compatriot, to La Fortuna. There we hiked the Cerro Chato, swam in a lake that was once a volcano with our new guy friends from the hostel, and spent an evening by candlelight at the locals’ hot springs.

From there I found myself back in Alajuela, the city outside of San Jose where the airport actually is. During this leg of the journey, from long bus to long bus, I was adopted by a lovely Tica woman who, on realizing I clearly had no idea what I was doing at the bus station, had her husband buy me a bus ticket, loaded me onto the bus with them, and fed me some of the lunch she had packed.

This happened a lot. I don’t know if it’s my constantly half-amused, half-puzzled facial expressions that do it, or just the locals’ general kindheartedness, but I was forever being rescued.

Thanks, Costa Rica. Like so many places with so many people, you are so good to me.

My taxi driver friend from the first day, Jose,  was there to greet me at the airport when I hopped off the bus, and he got me to a city hostel where I spent a couple days adventuring to outer towns (Poas was an accident when I was trying to find the Poas volcano, but it was a lovely little town I was happen to spend the day in), taking myself to see Star Wars, looking around at clothes and food and malls and parks, and spending a lovely evening with Jose and his family, drinking coffee and practicing Spanish and learning that all little kids all over the world love Frozen.

And then the cavalry arrived. Gary flew in and we proceeded to have a whole new dynamic in the adventure, one with four-wheel drive adventures around the Chirripo River at the foothills of the national park and into The Osa, the southernmost peninsula of the country that is mostly just accessible by boat.

We jumped off rocks into rivers, met local chocolateers and cheese makers and yoga instructors, hiked into the jungle for hours, meeting monkeys and agutis and all sorts of birds (and a couple biology classes from Penn State, small world), swam at gorgeous beaches up and down the Pacific Coast, camped in the car and sat around a beach fire outside a hippie hostel in Uvita, and read one of The World Made By Hand books and drank local kombucha at a vegan restaurant in Dominical.

I was starting to fray at the seams by this leg of the journey, exhausted from traveling and thinking about getting home, but it was a truly incredible time. I’ve never had such fun, or seen such beauty.

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And then, after hours of customs and an overnight escapade at the Atlanta airport, I was home.

Just in time for the start of season.

“In January?” you ask.

Yes. There is planning to be done, supplies to be ordered, and it’s CSA sign-up season! Three days after I got home I was sitting at the Bethlehem Food Co-Op’s general meeting, explaining my excitement about the forthcoming store to a room full of people and talking about my last four years with Crooked Row.

I’ve been updating flyers, planning for our new chickens, discussing coffee shares with the guys at Monacacy Coffee. A truck delivered minerals to our field and the PASA Conference is just a couple weeks ago, as is my brief return to dairy work. The truck needs a tune-up. Northampton Community College bought more teas for its campus Slow Market on Wednesdays, 10am-2pm. You should check it out.

Planning the season is such a vibrant use of the winter. Hibernating is too, and much warmer, and I highly recommend some of that. A lot of that. But as seed catalogs arrive and e-mails trickle in asking about CSA group buy-ins and new drop-off locations, I can’t help but hop up from the blankets feeling excited.

Looking for a vegetable adventure this year? Join the Crooked Row 2016 CSA. Vegetables, eggs, and some excellent coffee. Holler at me for details.

Oh, and Mom and I will be taking beekeeping classes through the Lehigh Valley Beekeeper’s Association. Who’s excited?!

Hugs, Frozen Kale and “She’s too tan for January,”
Liz

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Sunrise in the Rainforest – One Month Away

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When I was a kid, I got my hands on every fantasy book I could read. Magical forests, kingdoms and battles and landscapes unbeknownst to this reality. The battles were cool, but the woods were the wizards and creature lived – that was always the kicker.

I wanted to live in a hobbit hole since my first foray with Tolkien. I would sit in the pines behind my house and read for hours, then climb down covered in sap and needles. The books were where the magic lived.

Turns out, Tolkien and my team of beloved writers were maybe all dreaming of this country. I can’t account for the number of times my breath has been snatched away in the last few weeks by the scenery around me. The tears that have come to my eyes, and the wild rush in my stomach and throat and heart.

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Mountains

As if this magnificant beauty wasn’t enough, I am floored again and again by the beauty and joy of the humans who keep taking care of me.

On my last weekend at the farm, our neighbors and beloved friends took us up into the mountains to spend a weekend with a family on a coffee farm. I was bowled over by the land around us – the steep slopes and hills on which these people have shaped their homes and farms and lives, and the magnitude of happiness and love that just radiated from everyone around. The family we stayed with didn’t know anything about us, but they shuffled us into a bedroom, fed us amazing meals, let us play with their kids and dogs and, Sunday morning, took us with them on their family drive up to the top of the mountain. We stopped at the top to take pictures and pick and eat sweet limes, and on the way back down we stopped to pick fruit and vegetables the whole way down. We caught fish and they fried them for lunch, and one of the daughters cried when we left.

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me and the twins

We walked the hectres of coffee plants and picked some (very, very slowly). My farm and traveling companions, Kaddi and Stephi, two darling twins from Germany, took me to Jaco, adventured around the farm and sent me on my traveling way with hugs and prayers. I had such fun playing along as the third twin during our last days on the farm.

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Nelson and Marlen, our neighbors at the farm, fed us some lovely dinners, took us to the beach and took us to see their coffee friends.  I already miss them.

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And now I am closing out my stay in Monteverde. Five days of cool weather, a world of rainforest green, and the sheer love of the Ficus trees in the woods behind the neighborhood. Since the second day here, when Jorge took me back up the hill for the first time, I felt what Tolkien must have felt when he created the Ent. A truly magical layer has formed over this trip, one of rainforest walks that make me want to lay down in the mossy green and sleep for hours – climbing into the sky in the skeleton of the Ficus Tree, the adrenaline of climbing a massive living ladder and standing at the top, feeling it sway in the breeze. I. Can’t. Even.

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Ficus

And, of course, more beautiful people. Everyone here is so welcoming, and so friendly, from our hostel boys to the other travelers. Everyone has helpful advice on good places to stay, where to eat, what to visit and when the buses are running. I almost missed my bus here, and when I dropped into the last seat, I found myself sitting with a young man/writer/rocket scientist from Noway who was well-versed in travel and human dynamics. His book is this year’s English best-seller in Norway.

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It’s an excellent book, even if you aren’t from Norway. I read it on the bus and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I had Christmas Eve dinner with the hostel boys, my new friend Josephine from Holland and some other roommates floating around. Pizza, ice cream, plantains. Christmas Day lunch was tamales and my sheer hunger joy at these delights. My new-adopted family has been such fun.

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el tucan boys

I climbed the Ficus Trees with Ticos, Dutch and Israeli friends. I had a traditional Israeli dinner with a magnificent couple who asked if they could adopt me, along with the young man who invited me along in the first place. I sat at the table and let the Hebrew wash over me like music, as I find myself so often doing with the Spanish here.

Every experience is a treasure. Every hug and smile and shared adventure sings with its own clarity of purpose. I have a sign at home that says “The Whole World’s My Hometown,” and I couldn’t be happier to truly feel this way. Next up, La Fortuna and the Carribbean Coast.

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Love, Ents and Ficus,

Liz

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Hola From The South!

Hey Team!

Soooooo I’m here! The Puntarenas Province in Costa Rica is absolutely beautiful right now as we head out of the rainy season. Flowers are blooming, everything is still lush, and we are still getting a little rain at night sometimes. Apparently in the next couple of months the vegetation starts to recede and dry out until the rainy season begins again.
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I’m staying with a work exchange program through St. Michael’s, which is somewhere between Parrita and Esterillos Este on the road maps, aka pretty tricky to find if you don’t know where you’re going. I’m living and working on a 217-acre (88 hectare) hacienda wayyyy up in the hills of this province. The owner has a lot of ideas and projects underway, from an eco-village and an aquaponics set-up with tillapia to some permanent growing structures for medicinal herbs and perennial edibles, grass-fed cattle and rotational chickens.
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My to-be home in the eco-village!

With the outset of each intern’s stay, Justin picks a section of the hacienda for us to work on. I’m here by myself for the month, so he gave me a garden section  on a hill between two smaller houses he built for the  eco-village. This week I’ve been digging bioswales, which are similar in structure to the raised beds at our place, but follow the contours of the hills to divert water from massive erosion points on the property during the rainy season.
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I planted my swales with papaya, moringa, guanabana, and other trees, as well as thyme, lemon balm, hibiscus, pineapples and all sorts of other plants and shrubs and trees. Justin’s been planting a lot of medicinal herbs and perennial trees all across this property in the last four years, and everywhere you walk you can find bananas and young papaya and almond trees, along with pineapples, cranberry hibiscus, lemongrass and, well, hundreds of other magical trees and bushes and plants. Everything is just SO GREEN.
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Baby papaya!

I wake up in the morning near sunrise and work for five hours before the heat of the day really sets in. Then it’s a two-hour lunch and siesta break, and then back to work for another couple hours. After work I usually hang out with Reily, Justin’s daughter, who is this adorable, energetic force who likes gum and rocks and swimming and making up adventure stories all night. Evenings are a lot of pool use until sunset when the mosquitoes come out and then board games with Reily and her grandparents until her dad scoops her for the night. He and his wife have a three-week old boy (congrats!) who is keeping them on their toes!
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Reily decorates for Christmas!

There are ants everywhere here, and crazy spiders and centipedes and caterpillars, and all kinds of little to giant lizards, and  so many bees and wasps. I fished a scorpion out of the sink a couple days ago, but apparently these kind are only a little venomous and non-lethal. The birds look and sound beautiful, and the butterflies and dragonflies are spectacular. According to the Tree Surgeons North East, these monkeys and sloths and macaws pass through and are partial to certain trees in the forests here, but I haven’t seen any yet. Keeping my eyes open, though.
Now that the bioswales are initially set-up, I’m hoping to help clean up and fence in the garden spaces (the horses decided to eat up one of the nice garden spaces in the eco-village upon my arrival), reseed in the greenhouse and start new trees and plants in the nursery, build some more garden spaces and maybe even help with some mapping and planning. There is just so much going on here. The grocery store in Parrita would like to carry some goods from the property, so it would be cool to get a couple of projects queued up for them, too.
Mango season is in March, alas, but right now there are bananas coming on and papayas in full force. I’ve been making this hibiscus, lemongrass, lime and basil tea that’s been a tremendous hit with the family and may make an appearance at the market here before I go. Teamaker in two countries – I can’t really express how much that pleases me.
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Big papaya

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There are limes by the hundreds, and Justin’s parents (who’ve been totally awesome and have taken me on as a sort-of half grandkid),  make a fresh lime drink with cane sugar. The family here grows and eats a lot of turmeric for all its health benefits, as well as gotu-kola and other herbs.
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There’s this beautiful yellow flowering shrub here called Saragundi, which cures everything from bug bites to varicose veins to chronic skin conditions.
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There’s a lot of rice and bean and meat here, but I’ve also been eating lots of fruit, eggs, Okinawa Spinach, purslane, long beans and other greens, and I’m feeling pretty healthy overall. Working vacations apparently lead to nice tans, and the hills here are wearing me out in good ways.
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This is a less populated area than some other parts of the country. Yesterday we traveled Esterillos Este for a chili-cookoff at a bar run by a couple of guys from Colorado. I spent most of my time wandering the almost-empty beach down there and swimming in the Pacific. The neighbors fish in the morning and sell ceviche in lime juice from the backs of their motorcycles in the afternoon. And Justin won the cook-off with his turmeric-based, organics-only chili! Successful day off.

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Sending you Hugs and Sun. Pura Vida!
Liz
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