Sunday, May 23, 2010

Que Locura

We've had many questions regarding our vegan adventure and if you guessed that we wouldn't be able to do it, then you're right. However, even in the short amount of time we changed our lifestyle, it altered our point of view and we have cooked less meat ever since. The first week we were able to cook entirely vegan (we did eat pulled pork at a dinner that week, but you can't turn down such a rare delicacy here). The hardest part, not drinking milk or using butter. The following two weeks, we continued vegetarian, but butter, eggs, etc. started slipping back in. It is great to get some new recipes in the mix though and we'll continue with lower meat consumption overall in the future.

The past few days have been very exciting. We are now into our final month here in Costa Rica (unbelievable) and so everything has to be crammed into the last few weeks. Thursday we went to play paintball with 10 friends in Liberia. It was a blast! True to Costa Rican fashion, a guy shows up with some paintball stuff in the back of his car and takes us to an abandon lot on the edge of the city. Miah was the hero of the day, stealing our opponents flag and bringing it back to safe territory.

Yesterday our architect and his wife invited us back to their hometown for a day of fun. We started the morning with a boat tour down the most crocodile infested river we've ever seen. There were plenty of birds, monkeys, and iguanas, but the highlight of the trip came when the captain of the boat held a stick covered in chicken skin out over the water. It didn't take long for a crocodile to show up, probably about 4 meters long and looking for lunch. He lunged out of the water multiple times to get the meat. His teeth and jaws were remarkable. For lunch we went to their aunt's restaurant and had one of the best meals we've had in Costa Rica. Even better, it was family style so the table was just covered in food.

After lunch we went out to her parents' farm. We saw two calves that had just been born that morning. We explored the property and walked through an old forest that reminded us of the Redwoods. It had huge Guanacaste trees that were hundreds of years old. We rode a horse and made friends with their new puppies. It was a fantastic day, but exhausting speaking Spanish for 10 hours with their family.

Luke and John are headed down here on Wednesday, our last set of company before we leave. Hope all is well in the States.

Team Wander

Monday, April 12, 2010

Volcán Marshmallow

We spent last week on our final visa run [wipe away a tear]. Originally, we had planned to take a quick flight down to Panama City, Panama and see what the canal was all about, but about 12 seconds before booking that ticket, we saw that flights to Guatemala City were on super special, so there we went.

It turned out to be a great decision.

Costa Rica has some amazing things going for it. It's beautiful, the people are friendly and open, the food is great, etc. But it has one characteristic that just doesn't seem as strong as it does in many other Latin American countries: a strong sense of cultural heritage. Guatemala, on the other hand, is teeming with it.

We only had four days in Guatemala, so we couldn't venture too far from the capitol, but we got very lucky, because the places that we did go to were all fantastic.

First off, we left Guatemala City as quickly as we could. Interesting little factoid: during the 10 minutes in a car that it took us to get out of Guatemala City we saw not one, not two, but three Chuck-E-Cheese restaurants. They were all engaged in the ongoing battle of brightest neon lights with their fierce competitors: Taco Bell, Pollo Campero (KFC of Guatemala), McD's, BK, and all your other favorite places to eat.

We took a chatty shuttle from the airport to Antigua, a historic gem of a town about 40 minutes away. Antigua serves an interesting purpose in the Guatemalan tourist scene, because it is the central hub of non-spanish speaking tourists. There is an intensely high concentration of bilingual Guatemaltecans who are willing to pack you in a 15 passenger van with 20 other unsuspecting victims and cart you off to anywhere in the country, be it 15 minutes or 15 hours away. This fact made Antigua a pretty good springboard for us though, because we could leverage the availability of transportation to get to see as much of the country as possible in the limited time we had.

Tourist Antigua itself is an adorable little cobblestoned, colonial town, that's built in a traditional grid, with houses that all have internal courtyards and high walls facing the streets. Given the reputation that Guatemala has for crime, Antigua stays very safe, and we felt no concern walking the streets at nearly any hour. It is an extremely touristy area (language schools are huge) so we made sure to dine on the variety of ethnic food that isn't normally available here in CR. In two days I think we had Greek, Indian, and a 12 oz bowl of molten garlic cheese that somehow made a viable excuse for dinner.

After bouncing around in Antigua for a while, we decided it was time for adventure #1: Volcán Pacaya. This is one of 3 active volcanoes around Antigua and true to form for every country outside of the US, for a fee, the Guatemalan parks service will let you hike, virtually unchaperoned, right up to the flowing lava. Unfortunately for us, it was a day without much flow, so instead of roasting our marshmallows over a river of molten rock, we had to settle for a gas vent that was so hot that the rocks around it were glowing red hot and Leslie's marshmallow was immediately incinerated.

From there we headed up to Lake Atitlan to spend an evening in this little lake
town, which served mostly as a staging point for the next day's adventure. We did take the opportunity to eat at a vegetarian mediterranian eatery that was used to inaugurate the culinary adventure we're going to be starting this week (more on that to come).

Lastly, we spent a day prowling around in the largest market in Guatemala. This market is held in a large but culturally bustling town called Chichicastenango and stretches for as far as the eye can see, and then a little bit more. We romped around for a day, tasting everything edible that was being sold and looking at all of the amazing colors and skill that go in to the Mayan fabric work. The most notable thing we saw while we were there though, which was simultaneously super sad and super adorable, was the five year old kid that was walking around in the front of the church spit-shining shoes.

All in all, the whirlwind trip was amazing and we would have loved to have more time. We highly recommend Guatemala for any adventurous spirits out there.


PS. A side note about the vegetarian adventure. Starting this week, Leslie and I are going to be doing our best to eat as vegan/vegetarian as possible for three weeks. We know it won't always be possible, but we won't ever find ourselves in another place where produce is so fresh and so cheap, so we wanted to give it a shot while we could. We're going to do our best to post photos of all the cooking adventures as well as a few good recipes, so stay tuned. To whet your appetite, here's the cornucopia that came out of the trip to the veggie market today.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Desastres Naturales

The last weekend of February (yes, we know we're now coming up on the last weekend of March, sorry about that) we headed down to Santa Teresa because our wedding photographer was here visiting. He had come down to avoid any more snow in Boone and get some time to surf. Our wake-up call in the morning was an alarm of a possible tsunami headed our way due to the earthquake in Chile. We searched the water for Ivan, thinking we could head to higher ground for awhile, but to no avail. We instead just decided to wait it out with the others and thankfully it was just a false alarm.

The next weekend we headed down to San Jose to meet two of our friends at the airport. We had just gotten settled into our hostel when the whole building began to shake. By the time we realized an earthquake was happening, it had basically passed. Nothing too serious, but our first encounter with an earthquake. It only measured a 4.8 but the epicenter was only five miles from where we were staying and extremely close to the surface.

We headed out of San Jose first thing the next morning and headed south to see the Carribean coast. It was our first chance to really explore Costa Rica outside our region and it was really interesting. We took winding mountain roads out of the city and stopped for lunch at a town in the middle of nowhere. Five hours later we ended up in Puerto Viejo for the night. It was a super hippy town that was trying to deal with the large influx of tourists. The highlights of the town were 1) The pirate we found down by the beach who carried a handmade slingshot in his pocket and was hacking away at a block of wood with a machete trying to make what appeared to be a boat and 2) Ali Baba, a middle-aged, shirtless (always), heavyset owner of a Middle Eastern restaurant who belly danced as customers walked in the door with his pants ready to fall to his ankles at any second.

The next day we decided we should head to the Panama border since we were only an hour away. We got to the river separating the two countries but were only able to walk 3/4 of the way across the bridge because we had no proof we were leaving Costa Rica again in three months and they wouldn't have let us back in the country (and because there was an angry looking Panamanian soldier carrying a fully-automatic machine gun at the other end). Oh well, it was worth a shot (forgive the pun). From there we drove north along the coast to Cahuita National Park. We hiked a trail along the coast that was full of wildlife. We saw two types of monkeys, a few sloths, a coati (pronounced koh-ah-tee; or maybe you know them by their other names: Brazilian aardvarks, hog-nosed coons, or snookum bears), and countless leaf-cutter ants. Our hike was cut short by a huge rainstorm coming in, the first rain we had seen in months. The weather and surroundings of that area made it seem like a completely different country than where we're living.

At the end of the day, we drove to Poas Volcano, a mere 45 kilometers from San Jose, but once again a whole other world. As we climbed the mountain, the fog was so thick we could barely see past the front of our car. To make matters worse, this is where the large earthquake of last year had taken place so the road was still covered in mud and you had no real way of knowing where it ended and there was a steep cliff along the side. The car was deathly silent as we crept up the mountain and finally arrived at our lodging well past the Costa Ricans' bedtime and had to find a nightguard to let us in.

The view we woke up to was well worth the peril - you could see the mountains surrounding San Jose and the city in the middle. We continued up to the crater of the volcano which was spectacular as well. There was a sea of clouds surrounding everything but the crater and when you looked inside there was a teal green lake. Definitely one of our favorite places we've seen here in Costa Rica.

Miah heads to Seattle tomorrow morning and we should be able to make our decision as to where we'll be moving to by the end of next week. We'll keep you posted...

Team Wander

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Animales del Mar

We had our first visitors of 2010 arrive last Thursday, just in time for us to be too busy to even pick them up. February has started out crazy as Miah is trying to put the finishing touches on the houses in time for our boss to arrive this week and Leslie is working double time at the school substituting for another teacher this month.

We had a fantastic time with Sarah and Rachel visiting though - packed with adventures in only a few days. The first night they were here, we went north to a beach that is part of the Las Baulas National Park. It is nesting season for the leatherback turtles, but only about 40 come on shore each year now, so it is a treat to see them. We waited about 3 hours as the guides combed the shore for any turtle activity. We were lucky enough that one came ashore so we got to watch it build a nest and lay its eggs. These turtles are huge - the one we saw was about 6 feet long and weighed 600-700 lbs. It was an amazing experience to be less than an arm's length away watching her lay eggs.

The next day Sarah and Rachel had a tour planned at Rincon de la Vieja (Jane/Daniel, remember bubbling mud pits?), but through some miscommunication they missed the tour. Instead a plan was made to go out on a deep sea fishing trip and see if we could catch dinner. The ride to the harbor was spent with six, boisterous Italian guys who couldn't make it to the boat without stopping for beer. None of our language abilities coincided, so we talked to them in Spanish and they spoke to us in Italian and it worked better than expected. Lots of laughter to fill in the gaps. Once on the boat, we quickly realized we were not cut out to be fishermen. Almost every time we would try to reel in a fish, we would get it 3/4 of the way in before losing it. We were able to catch two good size tuna and three mackeral, as well as a bunch of smaller fish that we just threw back. As always it was a beautiful day though and fantastic just to be out on the water.

The next day, we all took the well-loved catamaran tour. We have become experts at the snorkeling area and were finding wildlife for the guide to catch and show everyone. We caught another puffer fish and also saw our first turtle in the water. The best part was the hilarious guides and the 15 other people on the boat with us. Everyone was quick to make friends and it made for an even better day. By the end of the day, we were all making shadow puppets of all sorts on the sails as the sun was setting and no one wanted to leave the boat as it was getting dark.

Sunday we grilled out some of the tuna we caught at the Superbowl/Election party at Zach's house. The Costa Rican presidential election was held that day and the votes were being tallied as we watched the game. The number of Costa Ricans who actually vote puts the US to shame. The first female president was elected, so many of the people we were with were very excited.

Miah leaves for his first university visit next Tuesday. Getting a full tour of the University of Utah, potential advisors and other grad students, and seeing if Salt Lake City would be a good fit for us. It is exciting to begin planning the next stage in our lives.

Go Duke! for anyone watching the UNC/Duke game tonight,
Team Wander

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Amiga de Mr. Gobble

Our friends here were so generous to us in raising a turkey for Thanksgiving, and their generosity continued with fulfilling the promise of a portion of Mrs. Oink. Who's Mrs. Oink, you ask? Well, while we were up at the farm of Mr. Gobble (our special Thanksgiving guest), there was cute little adolescent pig romping around at the farm. The farm owner told as that Mrs. Oink was due to become her dinner in a couple of months and offered a piece of her to share. So, lo and behold, 3 months later, sitting in our friends' freezer was one of Mrs. Oink's rear legs.

So, a little bit of internet searching, quite a bit of laughter, 20,000 handwashings, and 5 hours in the oven later... out came this!

The skin and top layer of meat being cut off are used for a Costa Rican delicacy called chicharrones. The rest made fantastic BBQ and I think it's safe to say we have finally optimized our Costa Rican BBQ sauce recipe.

Another fun adventure last week (after repeating bacon night as told in an earlier post) was the homemade hot tub. We managed to find a hose long enough to siphon water from the kitchen sink down to the back yard and fill a kids' pool with hot water, actually too hot to sit in for awhile. If only we had pictures of the boys trying to get the siphon started...

As for the project, we have been working to find an alternative route to get families into the homes sooner. Our main goal this month is to start finalizing some names. We just met one potential family who have two children and live in a house that floods every year. The university the husband works for is letting them stay in the house, but it could be taken away at any time. When the engineer started talking to the son about the houses we were building, he immediately ran home and took his parents to the worksite. His words to describe the houses were that they were "palaces". He started yelling that they were moving, they were moving into the palaces, so hopefully we can make that dream into a reality.

Hope all is well in the US and that you are still enjoying the snow!
Team Wander

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

La lista de diez

Saturday night we joined some friends at our favorite bar to watch the NFL play-offs. We were also celebrating a friend's birthday and realized that it was at his birthday party last year that we had met all of these people for the first time. It is amazing to think of how different our lives were in January 2009 than they are in 2010. It got us thinking and here are the top 10 things (in no particular order) we have learned after living in Costa Rica for one year...

1) Spanish! (though this is surely still a work in progress)
2) The ability to do nothing and enjoy it
3) A renewed appreciation for the beauty of nature
4) Importance of a simple life, less cluttered by "stuff"
5) How to bake bread
6) What extreme generosity really looks like
7) How to be successful as a married couple (also a work in progress ;-) )
8) How concrete construction works, at least Costa Rican style
9) A whole bunch of new hobbies
10) That sometimes clouds are nice

What's your list look like?
Team Wander

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Happy New Year!! We hope everyone had a great Christmas holiday and a blast ringing in the New Year. It was certainly great to be back in the States for a couple of weeks to see family and friends, but our preparation for the cold was like running a mile to train for a marathon. The majority of our winter clothes are snugly packed away in storage, and not one week into our stay, we were greeted by 20 inches of snow. We successfully battled that storm out of DC, only to make it NC and be slammed by 2 or 3 inches of ice on top of that. As a result, we lost power and water on Christmas morning and did not get it back until Sunday. Thankfully we had a wood fireplace, so we spent two days huddled around a fire, making grilled cheese sandwiches over the flames, and playing games to pass the time. A memorable Christmas to say the least.

For New Year´s Eve, we made it back to Raleigh for a fantastic party. We have finally spent enough time out of Raleigh that it oddly no longer feels like home, but thankfully our friends are as amazing as ever. To end a wonderful trip, Michelle took us to the Panthers vs. Saints game in Charlotte. We had never been to a Pro Football game before, and it was a blast. The fact that we couldn´t feel our fingers or toes did little to curb our enthusiasm for seeing football in person for the first time this year. Go Panthers! (They won by the way.)

Ninety degree heat welcomed us back to Costa Rica, and it took us a good day or two to readjust to our lives here. One of those days was spent celebrating Miah´s 28th birhtday(!) and another visitng the worksite to see how things had progressed while we were gone. Sadly, not as much happened on the houses as was promised (why this still surprises us, we´ll never know...). Our guarantee to have all finishing details complete in January is quickly becoming a dream of the past. Hopefully we can get everything wrapped up sooner rather than later though.

For all of you who donated clothes (or tried to, sorry we didn´t have time to cross paths with all of you!), the workers were extremely appreciative. The guys were crowded around the back of a pick-up truck with 100+ pounds of donated clothing from which to chose. Thanks again for your generosity.

Have fun watching the National Championship Game tonight!
Team Wander