Monday, February 24, 2014

Paradise - The scariest place ever

Amy hanging with our parrot friend
After deciding the city wasn't for us, we went and ventured off to the complete opposite location. I organized us to do some volunteer working which provided us with accommodation, usage of kayaks, snorkeling gear and horses too! Dolphin Quest Healing and Eco Lodge was to be the next adventure, and an adventure it was. A 7 hour bus ride took us down to the Gulf of Dulce, very near the southern boarder with Panama. We spent a night in Golfito, and expected to be picked up the next day to get to new home, accessible only by boat. We quickly experienced some true "tico time" though, as we waited hours for our boat to come collect us and take us to our wilderness retreat.   

View from our treehouse room
This place was unreal, run by an eccentric gringo who had let the place go a bit. Although a trip to listen to him tell stories, he was very loopy. Another worker from Spain lived and worked there and that was about it. The place was a large area of jungle forest within the National Park Corcovado with just a few open air 'ranchitos' and a main kitchen and dinning house overlooking the bay. We lived in the big house at the back of the property and had the most amazing view from our bed. A complete panorama of the surrounding forest, open to side breeze and all the sounds of the jungle. It was a magical place to sleep. Of course nature enjoyed joining us, bats, bugs, ants and all.  

Thomas, Raymundo and Amy with her fish
Our duties varied, but we quickly realized that this gig might not be for us. The owner wanted us to help restore the place, with six hours of decently grueling work for us to do every day. Amy was sent to clean out spaces that looked like they hadn't ever been cleaned, and I had to do manuel labor. After the first day or two, we decided to just stick it out a week, and then quickly get away from there. As soon as we told our plans to the boss, he let up on the work, and pretty much just let us relax the whole time. So we just enjoyed the free time and came away with a great week experience, which cost us nothing just a few hours here or there raking or helping serve meals to the three guests. 

Scarlet Macaws
The rest of the day was ours so we took advantage of where we were. We went fishing one afternoon and Amy caught two nice fish and I got one. They were our dinner that night and were delicious. We swam multiple times every day, usually watching the sunset from the water too. We walked along the beach, went kayaking and snorkeling, and even once played a game of soccer with a few local ticos. We brought our own food for the week, but Victor (the Spanish worker) showed us how to make our own coconut milk one day. We didn't have to look far for a fallen coconut, and he showed us how to take off the husk, scrap away the inner flesh, and then squeeze the flakes into milk. We did this a few times, adding the milk to our food to make the most delicious meals! We made a fantastic satay for dinner, a creamy pasta and even added some coconut milk to our eggs for breakfast!!

De-husking the coconut

Spider Monkey
During the day, we were in love with all the life around the place. The endangered scarlet macaws were scattered everywhere basically littering the trees and made the most amazing racket. There was a caiman crocodile in a nearby pond. A parrot would join us at breakfast to try to steal food and just chat. A spider monkey would come out and say hello too, and we had a cool moment where I reached up towards him and he stretched down and we 'shook hands'! There were iguanas and turtles by the pond. Dolphins were swimming in the bay and all sorts of birds took to the skies.   

At night however, the wildlife took on a more terrifying nature. Amy in particular didn't like it. She didnt enjoy the bats that lived in our bathroom, the scorpions or the snakes that would lay on the paths to our room. The bugs that enjoyed living in our drying bathing suits or clothes caused her some concern and the ones that tried to join us in bed really worried her. To give her credit she did really well and braved out all that in one of the world's most diverse rainforests. Luckily, we didn't see any jaguars, or else she really would have had a heart attack. With daily highs of 34 degrees C by 10 am, and not cooling off all that much over the evening and with the humidity through the roof, we did take it pretty slow. Lots of showers to cool off in and we would relax in the shade in a hammock during the middle of the day. It was an amazing and unique experience in such isolation. A bit of paradise, maybe not that scary after all.

Thomas and Amy in Paradise

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Parque Nacional Volcán Poás

Jessica, Leonie, Amy and Thomas with the cloudy view of the crater!

The day before we headed off to the south of Costa Rica, we took a day trip to the active volcano Poas just 40km north of Heredia. We went along with Leonie, from Germany and Jessica, from Quebec, both from our classes at Inturcultura. We had to take a bus from Heredia, which unnecessarily took nearly an hour, to meet the two girls at the Volcan Poas bus in Alajuela. We were running so late and once we arrived, we were frantically rushing around town trying to find the correct departure point. Luckily, once we found it, the girls had a space right at the front of the long queue, so we cut in with them and thankfully had a seat on the ride, as some people had to stand it was so packed. The ride up the mountain was slow, the streets were narrow and reasonably steep and as it seems despite the short traveling distances all round, it still takes some good time to get about anywhere in Costa Rica. Amy was stoked to spot a farmer from the bus, with two oxen pulling a traditional, colourful, wooden carriage over the windy hill road.

We got to the national park and not to our surprise we were sitting in the middle of the clouds, with only a few meters of visibility. Not great for seeing into the 450-meter deep crater. This was however not unexpected. We were aware that after about 10am there was almost a certainty that we wouldn’t be able to see much, but using the public transportation we had virtually zero options for leaving any earlier than 9.15am. It was a 15-minute walk to the crater summit and we stood at the viewing area looking into the mist of the clouds. We then walked to Laguna Botos, a lake within an extinct crater and had a similar scenario pan out. It was interesting being in the thick forest with the clouds whisking around though.

Laguna Botos

Thankfully, when we were looking into the white abyss, the cloud started to clear and we caught sight of the lake edge followed by a lovely setting of the mountains, lake and forest. As quick as it cleared, the cloud returned. It was a remarkable sort of unveiling though and only added to the mood. We quickly rushed back to the crater hoping for a clear view there too. We were in luck! We stood in awe for about 10 minutes with a spectacular view into the crater and even out to the slopes of a large debris field from the 1994 eruption and off out to the valley and the towns below. Thomas clambered up some rocks for a cool photo angle and as expected, was told off!  The guy didn’t seem too worried though, he was probably just thinking, another damn gringo!

After the nice ride back on the bus, we took a walk in Heredia to find a coffee farm and café on the outskirts of town called Café Britt. We saw some coffee fields and as we had been told, it was definitely the most beautiful place in all of Heredia. Amy defiantly enjoyed a coffee every morning in Heredia and was blown away with the quality and taste.

After our week in Heredia, we still hadn’t figured out what we wanted to do with our time in Costa Rica, but we did decide not to stay in Heredia. Thomas sorted us out with a work for accommodation set up at a resort in the Gulf of Dulce. So off we went…

The crater of Volcán Poás

Una Semana de clase de Espanol

Amy and her Spanish Class
We were fortunate that our accommodation for the week was right in town with our Costa Rican home stay. Our ‘Mama Tica’, Jeanette, is the cooking teacher at Intercultura, so we had fantastic, authentic meals everyday and her home was somewhat protected from the grime and noise of the town. Jeanette doesn’t speak much English. In fact, she only knows a few words, so at first Amy would sit and listen to her stories, understanding (hopefully) most of what she was saying, and Thomas would daydream. As the week went on, we could communicate with her more, especially Amy who learned so much Spanish, and remembered lots of her old Spanish in such a sort time.

On the first Saturday, our Mama Tica took us with her to do her weekly shopping at the infamous Saturday fruit and vegetable markets called, la feria. Spanning six blocks, this was the most impressive market we have ever been to. It was a sort of controlled chaos, with hundreds and hundreds of venders with every fresh fruit, vegetable or food produce you could imagine. We filled two bags plus a wheelie bag in the hour or so of shopping. Our Mama Tica bought broccoli, pineapple, papaya, melon, mangos, green beans, corn, plantains, bananas, avocados, eggs, bacon, pork, cucumber, coriander, sweet peppers, cheese and coconut water fresh from the coconut. While the man was chopping off the tops of coconuts and pouring the water into a bottle for Jeanette, she bought one for us. We had a refreshing and sweet drink straight from the coconut and then the gentleman cut us a ‘spoon’ from the side of the it to use to eat the inner flesh! We also bought food for our lunches for the week. We bought bread, cheese, tomatoes, corn chips and about a million avocados for $9.

Mama Jeanette walking in la feria 
We were quite lucky, even though we had only just arrived; we had a group of friends. The two girls Amy knew introduced us to all the English teachers from the school and we were quickly taking notes from them about jobs or volunteer projects. We played Ultimate Frisbee one day and went to a house for some beers another night.

Our Mama Tica cooking dinner!

Traditional Gallo Pinto (rice and beans)
Our Mama Tica was a fantastic host mother. We especially enjoyed her meals, both breakfast and dinner. Most meals, even breakfast, usually involved rice, beans and fried plantain bananas. With breakfast, we would always start with a big plate of fruit usually including bananas, papaya, pineapple and mango and a glass of her homemade fruit juice. With dinner we would always have a salad along with either chicken or fish. We loved the fried yuca root, which was similar to potato once cooked and there was no chance that we were ever going to be left hungry with the service Jeanette dished out.

We each had class at Inturcultura for 4 hours everyday. Amy was in a higher beginner level and her class was in the morning with 3 other students and Thomas’ class, the lowest level was in the afternoon with only one other German girl with him. Every morning Thomas would take a salsa dancing class with his German friend, Leonie and Amy took the class in the afternoon. Thomas really enjoyed dancing and his partner and he learned some awesome arm tangling, twisting and spinning moves. After our classes we would usually go out for a beer, some food, ice cream or a walk with our classmates. In her class, Amy got the reputation of being very studious because of how much work she would produce as her homework and Thomas struggled away just scraping by. Even though this was the case, we both ‘graduated’ at the end of the week, having to be called up in front of a group of teachers and students to receive our ‘diplomas’ from our teachers. Amy was pressured into giving a speech, in Spanish, and she managed to do quite well!

Having a drink with our friends after class
One afternoon during the week, Amy attended the school trip to the capital city San Jose, but unfortunately Thomas had class. Her teacher Marcelo was the tour guide and acted like their concerned father in this busy and reputably dangerous city. He made sure they crossed the road at the appropriate safe time and showed them around a nice area including an art museum and a famous ‘soda’, a Costa Rican diner/eatery, and Amy and three other students even went paddle boating on a lake within Parque La Sabana.

We learned some funny things about Costa Rican life from our time in Heredia. They do not have a hot water tanks and it seems to be an art to get the shower to go hot. It is heated by an electric element at the showerhead and we mostly had cold showers. There are no numerical or street addresses, instead just directions like, 200 meters north and 400 meters west of the ‘shop with the cow.’ If you ask for directions you will struggle to find help even if you’re holding a map because nobody actually seems to know the layout of their city other than these silly relative positioning. Thomas said ‘hola’ to a parrot in a tree and it said ‘hola’ back! You must put your toilet paper in a bin located next to the toilet. The central park is the centre of town, culture and socialising and it was always a nice place to sit it the shade and observe this crazy place doing its thing.

Drinking coconut water at la feria 

Pura Vida, Costa Rica

Hanging out in the Central Park in Heredia
Getting to Costa Rica was far harder than it needed to be, with a 14-hour layover in Fort Lauderdale. Our arrival was as bad as the flights though, with a sketchy taxi ride and a 5 am check-in at our backpackers. Our first impression of this place was off to a horrible start with the street noise and atmosphere of this developing country rattling us a bit at first.

The streets were narrow and dirty, the roads were buzzing with noisy old cars and even louder motorbikes. There was no real footpath; just a mess of scrap concrete or someone’s driveway and the gutters were cavernous drains filled with trash. Poverty and development seemed to clash here. Sitting on the bus everyone was on their smart phones yet the city looked more like a dirty prison with block walls, steel gates and barbed wire strung across all the properties.

After a few nights in Alejuela, we headed to Heredia where we had planned on teaching English. We arrived without a map or any ideas. We were defiantly at a bit of a loss. We found the language school, Intercultura, where Amy knew some other English teachers and talked to some people there. They affirmed that despite all common reason, they thought this was a cool place to live and study. We thought taking a week of Spanish classes at the school, including a home stay with a local Tica (Costa Rican) lady, would give us some time to work out what we wanted and plan for it. 

Every street in any city in Costa Rica

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chur Chur

Picnic up the Porthills
 With three weeks to spare in New Zealand before we headed off to North/Central American, we made the most of our favorite place, Christchurch. Crashing at a retirement village doesn't sound like the most fun ever, but over the three weeks we had a blast staying with Gran. Her rules were pretty easy to follow, as long as I made dinner every night, were all good. Its not like were difficult people to live with. We made our rounds of the city on bike, with great co-operation from the weather. We had some scorchers hitting 32 degrees on two separate days remarkably with a just a few cool days down in the teens too. Gran is really a busy bunny so she had plenty to entertain us with as well we visited friends, flocked to the Buskers, drank craft beer and had some bro time too.

Pegasus Winery with Angela, Gran, Amy and Thomas

Feeding the eels!
One day Gran took us out to Amberley, 45 minutes drive north to visit mum's cousin Angela on her farm. We had a roast lamb lunch and took a walk around the surroundings of the farm. We stopped in next door to Pegasus Winery and had a full sampling, which was fantastic, and the first time I have done that. The wine was very good and the surroundings were beautiful. Once at the pond Amy was sent by Angela to ask for some food scraps from the kitchen to feed to the eels. I have never seen so many eels and such fatties! There were 20+ and they were climbing out of the water to get the the fish off cuts we were giving them. It was awesome! We continued on through their sheep paddocks, past their son's house, and on a search for ocean fossils. We ended up staying for dinner too and had huge servings of lemon pavlova after both meals. We saw the baby piglets too, which were super cute! Maybe dinner for another day though.

We caught up with all our friends in town. We had a mean BBQ with my friend Andrew and his lovely girlfriend Jess. Partied with old kayaking club members with the obligatory bonfire in the back yard. We went to Woodford Glen Speedway with my old mate Simon and his misses. We frequented our favorite beer pubs a multitude of times and I took a ride out to New Brighton on my bike. We made trips into the CBD every day, walking around to see whats newly gone and whats newly been put in its place. We love the "Gap Fillers" that now fill the gaps in town, and took advantage of one in particular, playing with make-shift musical instruments created from recycled materials like fire extinguishers and old pipes. Amy got to running around Gran's neighborhood everyday, and eventually up to to running nearly 8kms. She also learned how to play a card game from Gran's neighbor Audrey and even took up the challenge of completing a puzzle!

Woodford Glen Speedway
 With fantastic planning we were in Christchurch perfectly for the World Buskers Festival. Every year I have been in ChurChur when the festival is on, I always try to get out to as many acts as possible, which usually is most of them. This year had an extremely difference, being that we actually donated to the performers, seeing as we were so loaded from working up in New Plymouth. Our favorite acts were, 'Mario: the Queen of the Circus', 'Frasier Hooper' and 'The Boy with Tape on his Face.' All the performers were great and it was so fantastic being able to just pop into town everyday to catch a few acts. I was pulled up on stage in front of hundreds, if not thousands, at the boy with tape on his face show. This was more of a full-on show rather than busking, as it was in the auditorium at Christ College. We had the best seat too, front row centre, so no wonder I was picked upon!

I somehow managed to convince John to drive up from Queenstown to visit us on his days off, and we had a mean couple of days. His friend Leigh joined us for a few action packed days. We boosted off to the Buskers Burlesque the night he got into town, which was very entertaining and hilarious. Before we went to the show, we meet my friend Euan and his American girlfriend Natalie at a tiny whiskey bar in New Regent street called 'The Last Word'. They also had two beers from the local Raindog's Brewery on tap, and the Deadwood IPA is just delicious. The following day we went to Thompson Park in New Brighton, had a little skate session, followed by some fish n chips. We spent the next few hours scowling the suburbs for some cricket nets which we failed to find. Finally making it to the Twisted Hop in Ferrymead for a couple of lovely afternoon ales. Then we went to dinner with Edward, Kathrin and Gran at the Lonestar. We then spent the rest of the evening listening to some bass heavy dubstep, while drinking my favorite beer in the world, Nor'Wester at the Dux. Its been several years since I have had that beer, the first IPA I ever had, the beer that made me love beer, and it tasted sooooooo good!

Gap Filler Mini Golf
We were a bit slower to get out of bed the next day, but more action awaited. We finally got our fix in using all our new cricket gear John had got from the supershed the day before.  A bat, pads and a ball for $7.50! Not bad, and we had found a net to play in too. After some dodgy bouncers and cheeky yorkers we headed into the Buskers for a couple of shows. We had decided that today we would play the 'Gapfiller' minigolf that is scattered across vacant lots through out town. We bought two putters and four balls, and we walked around the city streets in search of each hole. Each hole used recycled bits like chairs, pallets and road cones. There weren't any rules, so we didn't play with any! We had so much fun, and in the end John won, Amy came in second, Thomas third and Leigh last. We needed to head off and nourish ourselves after that. We stocked up for a mean picnic up the hill on what was a beautiful but windy day. Ham sandwiches, with egg, chips and dip LnP and some other bits and bobs. Of course we were getting thirsty so headed to our favorite pub, Pomeroy's. Tony met us there too. Dinner with Gran that night and finished with a goodbye to my bro over a couple more fantastic pints at the Volstead on Riccarton road. A funky new craft beer bar with comfy old couches and a speakeasy vibe. 

Devo Bros at the Volstead
At this point we started to get a bit silly, and at the thought that it might be some time till were back in ChurChur and therefore able to visit these cool bars and drink the tasty beer, we would convince ourselves at about the same time each afternoon that we might as well sneak off for a delicious pint. Continuing on the beer theme, over a 24 hour period I read a book cover to cover, it was 'The McCashin's Story: How Craft Beer Started in NZ." I have never read a book so fast or with such interest. I enjoyed the history relating to the beer and as well the culture and society back then in the 80s into the 90s and to now.

Christchurch besties!
The McCashin's Story: How Craft Beer Got Started in New Zealand - See more at:
The McCashin's Story: How Craft Beer Got Started in New Zealand - See more at:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My Electric Brewery

As usual, I got brewing in New Plymouth. I was motivated to try to set myself up with a cheap but revolutionary electrically powered brewery. I successfully construed my brewery for a total of $5. I used spare plastic 20L buckets from around the house and a big drum from work and purchased an old kettle from a second hand shop. I mounted the element from the kettle into one of the buckets as well as a ball lock valve that I already had and that became my brew kettle! I used the big drum as my mash tun for steeping the grains and made a false bottom to filter out the grains with a plastic tab at the bottom. It was great to be able to brew outside, except when it would start to rain half way through a brew. I had a few problems with the electrics relating to the element switching itself off. This was sorted out by removing the switch. I electrocuted myself once, and I was more careful after that. I made one bad beer, some o.k beer and some fantastic beers. My favorite being my award winning 'Sweet As - Rye Pale Ale', a beautiful Pale Ale and a wicked Stout. I was also very excited to finally use my plate heat exchanger which I purchased in the US. A flow of cool tap water passed through one side of the exchanger and the 90+ degree wort (unfermented beer) passing though the other. The result being, within minutes, a bucket full of cool wort ready for the yeast to be added and for fermentation to begin. For bottling my beer, I would grab swap-a-creates from the dump when we went with work to dispose of our green waste.
Got a solid boil going on while brewing my Stout.