Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mangroves of La Boquilla, Colombia

When I stayed in Cartegena, Colombia for almost a week a few years ago, I spent most of my time wandering the streets with tourists and enjoying the historical aspects of the city.  Sure, I had fun playing in the streets and people watching, but the nature lover inside me called out for something more.  Desperate for some fresh air and trees, I made arrangements for a private mangrove tour in the quaint little fishing village of La Boquilla, a quick drive north of tourist-ville.

Never having gotten around to editing these photos, I thought I would leave a little photo blog of my adventure that day.

My tour started in the small village of La Boquilla, Colombia on a small boat

 I was lucky enough to have 2 guides all to myself.  A local  man steered the boat and pushed us through with a large paddle as if we were strolling through the Grand Canal

Entering the mangrove forest
A lineated woodpecker hides up in the trees

My second tour guide was a naturalist and cultural interpreter.  She told me all about the mangrove trees.  The botanist in me was intrigued.  I had more questions then she had answers for.

Baby mangrove trees establishing themselves along the bank

Young mangrove seeds float along until the sharp tip can penetrate the ground

 I saw more wildlife then my camera skills would allow me to capture.  Birds surrounded us with beautiful songs, iguanas glided through the water and frogs leaped off adventitious roots. No matter where I end up in the world, nature really makes me feel at home.

Reflections of a Colombian mangrove forest

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Volunteering in Argentina; Gardening, cob houses, yoga ......... and Hare Krishnas

Cassie's mom was freaking out. Cassie tried to explain the situation, I had found the place on the internet, and I cant read Spanish, but the giant white dome looked awesome. They had an organic garden and did sustainable building.  Plus they provided free yoga classes after work and three vegetarian meals a day!!!  I hadn't really looked over the website too well, or it would have been very obvious.... We were volunteering at a Hare Krishna commune. Cassie's mother believed that the Hare Krishna's are a cult and was extremely worried about her poor daughter being brainwashed, even other members of her family were contacting her to make sure she made it out alive (and sane).  All stereotyping aside, they were friendly, peaceful people who made no effort whatsoever to brainwash us. And the white dome really was REALLY COOL!

The dome at sunset, it called to me!

Cassie's mother didn't care about the awesomeness of the white dome, she suggested that Cassie remove my decision making privileges for the rest of our travel time together.   Ha!

I had been traveling in South America as a solo female for about a month, and had met up with my friend Cassie, who had been volunteering at an organic farm in El Bolysen, Argentina.  After wandering up to Buenos Aires, we looked for another opportunity to volunteer. 

To get to the eco-park from BA, it was only a short trip. Thankfully no 20 hour bus ride this time (I had been on far too many during my South America travels). We took a taxi to the train terminal, and I prepared for my first train ride. EVER. I know, not that exciting, but it was cool. At the station, they were actually selling vegan friendly pizza. Well, it wasn't anything fancy, just onions and red sauce on pizza dough, but I was happy about it nonetheless.  Vegan food isn't the easiest thing to find in South America.

I had always imagined my first train ride to be a big fancy ride through majestic mountains, over rushing rivers on giant bridges, surrounded by breathtaking scenery on every turn, with dining cars, wine and waiters serving my every need. My dreams were crushed. This was nothing like that. We hopped on and the seats were rock solid, and people piled in around us, filling up the train quickly. We were lucky to have gotten on early as to have a seat and place on the floor for our backpacking gear. One girl shoved her crotch in my face for the entire ride. Our breathtaking scenery was the ghetto neighborhoods and slums surrounding Buenos Aires, complete with enormous piles of trash, homeless people, graffitti and gangs of wild dogs. There was the usual crowd of people trying to sell things by throwing it in your lap and yelling loudly. One guy had no legs and cruised up the isle on a skateboard. We received many many stares from the local people. We were not on the gringo backpacker trail anymore, our pasty white skin gleamed in the crowd.

We arrived in Moreno, where we were to locate a bus to take us to General Rodriguez. There was a lot of confusion, we finally waited in a line for about 30 minutes to get a ticket, all the while Cassie wisely saying that we probably did not need to stand in line for the ticket. She was right. After wandering around for a few blocks gazing at the multiple bus lines and their various stops, asking several people where the one to Gral Rodriguez was, we loaded onto the bus and noticed people paying change right onboard. We did not know which stop to get off on, so we picked a random one after seeing the city sign and found a taxi to the yoga park.

We walked through the gate onto a beautiful piece of property, with natural buildings, and the massive 100ft tall white dome, covered in green windows created from old wine bottles. We were immediatly attacked by mosquitos, being eaten alive while trying to locate someone to show us around. We met with Takoor, one of the head guys who was dressed in flowy orange shirt and a skirt to boot. We were shown our room, which we were very pleased to find out that we had our own room. Bonus.

Standing outside of our house for the week

That evening there was a meditation class and tibetian music therapy which we were invited too. The music therapy was cool, but it was really just them singing to the Krishna dieties. They have an altar set up in the dome where, behind a giant red curtain, three gods are arranged with photographs, candles, jewels, beads, feathers and more. They sing 800 varieties of the same song, ¨Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare¨ But the instruments that they play are very cool and the girls voices are enchanting. We later found out that 5 times a day, the dieties clothing is changed, as well as the positioning of their hands and the items they are holding. They are brought food and tea as an offering. I wonder what happens to all the wasted food.

looking up from inside the dome

Meditation was relaxing, we layed on the floor while Takoor describes in detail that our bodies are getting lighter with each breath, eventually turning to liquid and flying around the universe. We see continents, water, waves lapping, then planets, stars, entire galaxies. Once we come back to Earth, we have a variety of mental places that we can visit or see.... Swimming in crystal clear blue waters, feeling the waves push on our skin. Sometimes we are walking through a forest admiring moss dripping from the trees and feeling the texture of the bark. Or sand being pushed up between our toes. Or just focusing on a bright red apple, and its curves and redness. In the background relaxation music was playing and Takoor would add to it with tibetian bowls and chimes. After about 45 minutes of this, we all sit in the generic meditation position and chant things together. ¨Ohm¨, ¨Ohm Shanti Ohm¨¨Ohm Rama Ohm¨ the Hare Krishna song, and to finish ¨Ohm tat sat.¨ The way the dome is designed, the sound reverberates and it is a really cool feeling when everyone sings together. A little cheesy, and I still dont know if I really meditated or anything, but I did feel relaxed afterwards.

Cassie and I with the Hare Krishna ladies

The next day we had to wake up at 730 for breakfast, which was usually fruit and tortillas or dry granola. We got the pleasure of meeting Maria, our tiny Bolivian Slave driver, who ran the garden. She was a fiesty little lady, could not have weighed more than 85 pounds, and she showed up to work in all black sweatpants and long sleeve fleece with rubber boots. I was wearing jeans and a tank top and was roasting. I had a good laugh because of her, but she was very serious. Constantly yelling at us in spanish to work faster, hurry up, faster. She would shoot dirty looks at us if we didnt do something just her way. Monday was harvest day, so we started off with an easy few hours. First ripping up palm leaves into strips and then collecting various leafy greans which we tied bunches together with the palm strings. We also harvested Arugula, Lettuce, round squash, zuchinni, cucumbers, eggplant, bell peppers, basil, and several other leafy greans. After collecting an entire row of one particular green, we wrapped them up and then cut the bottoms off to make it look good. I cut my first bunch about half an inch too short, maria shot me a dirty look, ripped it out of my hand and then tossed it into the ditch. She made me pick enough to replace it.

Slave driver Maria monitoring my harvest technique 

The rest of the workday consisted of endless hoeing and weeding, and more slave driving from Maria. You could either laugh about it or be angry. I chose to be completely amused by her. Sometimes you would be hoeing or weeding and partially done with a row and she would come rip your tool out of your hand and then move you to a completely different project for no apparent reason. She had us weed very poorly, often using a kitchen knife to cut just below the soil to remove the weed, but never the roots. I think I could have done a much better job managing the farm, but if she didnt like efficiency, I was not going to correct her.

Along with all the great volunteers we met along the week, we also met a very, for lack of a better word, interesting guy at the farm named Alex. My first conversation with him went something like this. Me: I would like to work on the cob house sometime this week. Alex: You get dirty working on the house.
hmmmm, ok really? building a straw and mud house you get dirty? Weird. He had a very arrogant demenor, but seemed harmless. He also gave us many of his philosophical insites throughout the day. They were interesting, but he believes that all life is suffering. And he doesnt have a religion, but he worships the three people who he feels have reached the state of highest enlightenment; Jesus Christ, Buddah and, of course, Hare Krishna. This guy was going to make things entertaining around here.

That evening after our snack, Cassie and I were still hungry so we decided to go for a run and pick up some crackers and jam on the way. We decided since we are doing yoga and eating so well and not allowed to drink, we should take full advantage and try and get back into shape since we have not been being very good to ourselves for this vacation. We spent a couple evenings doing ab workouts as well.

The next couple of days were spent in the garden, with similar itineraries, and more slave driving by Maria. We found that Alex, in addition to being a pessimistic, was also very lazy. I could hoe three rows by the time he finished just one, and we would often find him leaning against his tool staring off into space like he was a city worker or something. So, we decided to start him on a point system. Maybe its not very nice, but it made things entertaining for Cassie and I. He often lost points for being lazy, or being arrogant. He gained points for doing our dishes for us (he often did everyone´s for them).

One night we wanted to go to town to use the internet, because the connection at the retreat was extremely slow, and it took 20 minutes just to open my inbox. Alex decided to join us. We walked to the bus station and waited for almost an hour, then got frustrated that it never came. Cassie laughed and suggested we hitchike, and I said, lets go for it. We put out our thumb and the first truck that went by stopped for us. Cassie and I climbed in and Alex jumped in the back. They told us that we should never hitchhike this late (7pm) because it is very dangerous. Then they all belt out a sinister laugh. Cassie and I glanced at each other, but it was too late to get out now, we were flying down the highway towards town. Cassie continued to converse in spanish and when she explained we were from Seattle (closest major city anyways), they asked us to sing some Jimi Hendrix. We performed the shittiest version of Purple Haze I have ever heard.  But if they wanted us to sing, I was singing.....

They let us out in town (thankfully!) and we found an internet cafe. Alex sat in a chair and kept pondering about what time we would finish and if we were accomplishing everything we came to do. Lost point. We picked up sorbet and ice cream at the place Alex said was the best. We found out later that the place across the street has the same sizes for half price. Lost point. After rushing to the bus stop because of Alex´s tight schedule he had us on, we ended up waiting for 30 minutes for our bus. Lost point. We at some point were talking about vegan-ism (he is a raw vegan at home, but has completely given it up on vacation) I told him about the bathroom problems I had when I tried some dairy. He told me it was a physical manifestation of my guilt, not that it was rough on my stomach. Lost point.

Walking back down the road, Alex was telling us some story about how he was certified in nutrition and how his family worries when he fasts for a week. He also mentioned something about being certified for helping people to overcome personal problems and mental disorders. I asked him jokingly, "what about gay? Do you know the cure for that, we have one with a real problem here." He answered very seriously, yes. Uh oh, he was about to lose major points with us. He suprised us with his answer: ¨Pabst. Yeah Pabst Blue Ribbon. It the only sure cure for relieving ´the gay.´ If you allow the gay to get close enough to bite you, just pour PBR over the infected area. But make sure its ice cold, or it wont work¨ We almost fell over with laughter and gave him triple points for his humor and thought that he might just have some redeeming qualities after all.

Wednesday night, during our Yoga session, a huge thunderstorm rolled in. It was the most amazing yoga session ever, because of the acoustic properties of the dome, it echoed and boomed with such force you could feel the thunder throughout your whole body. On top of that the rain drops plopping down by the thousands. Rain even seeped in under the door and got some peoples´mats wet during class. I loved it, and ran out into the rain afterwards to enjoy the lightening and got soaking wet within minutes.  I felt the refreshment of my yoga and the rain. It really made me miss the northwest. It continued to rain throughout the night, flooding most of the property.

The volunteers and a few friend attending a yoga retreat

The next morning, we had a delayed breakfast due to the rain and no work until the afternoon. Finally, it cleared up enough that we were going to work on the house. I was thrilled. Ecstatic even! Alex was angry. We were going to get muddy!

The house that we helped build

How to plaster a straw and mud house: 

 - First, throw a bunch of water on the already soaking wet ground and use a hoe to break up the soil.  
 - Throw in some straw and keep hoeing.
 - Once it is broken up into pieces, remove your shoes and jump around in it for a long time until it is very small chunks of dirt.
 - After you have covered the bottom half of your body with mud, use your hands to scoop the mud into a wheelbarrow.

 - Add wet sand and more straw to ¨dry out the mixture.¨
 - Then dig in with your hands mixing the peanut butter and chocolate looking muck for at least an hour, breaking up all the small chunks of dirt.
 - Remove all pieces of glass, metal wire, and other various sharp objects and hazards.
 - Give thanks to your doctor for updating you on your tetnus and hepatitus shots.
 - Add some ¨less wet¨ mud to dry out the mixture a little more.
 - Slap the mosquitos and horseflys biting you and allow mud handprints to cover your face, arms and legs.
 - Be forced to listen to Hare Krishna versions of good music.
 -  Once the mixture is dry and smooth enough, pour ¨sanitized cow manure water¨over a section of the house.
 - Thank your parents for paying for your tetnus and hepatitus shots.
 - Take a handful of mud and throw it against the wet wall. Splatter yourself and everyone around with mud from the throw.
 - Watch half of the mud you worked so hard to create, slurp off the house onto the ground, wasted.
 -  Get attacked by hundreds of ants, who proceed to bite your foot simultaneously.
 -  Scream in pain.
 - Get angry at the ants and throw handfuls of mud at their ant house.
 - Watch it not phase them. Throw more mud and yell at the ants.
 - Feel better even though you wasted your hard work on trying to take revenge on ants
 - Wave a white flag and move to another area where the pissed ants are not.
 -  Use all the mud mixed in about 15 minutes, and then start the whole process over again, mixing for 2 hours.
 - At the end of the day, start throwing mud from 10 feet back, gaining points for making it through a window and onto the floor inside the house.
 -  Take a group photo.

Throwing mud, building houses!

Friday, we were back in the garden taking orders from drill sergeant Maria. Cassie went on a run and was attacked by mosquitoes and nearly was bitten by a pack of dogs. We were both over the bugs and decided that we would leave the next morning. I have never had so many bug bites in my life. We had really enjoyed our stay, but we were off to do some exploring. We had been asking around, trying decide between going to Uruguay and going to Northwestern Argentina. Everyone said NW Argentina was gorgeous and Uruguay was incredibly boring. AKA: dont go there, that place sucks. So, of course, we booked our ferry to Uruguay.

And were off!

In case you were wondering, when we left, Alex had -37 points.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Help me save the Rainforest!!

Dearest Readers,

I am planning a trip for my 30th birthday to Borneo to do some volunteer work and exploring; saving the rainforest while working for an amazing organization;

MESCOT is a community ran initiative in Batu Puteh, Malaysia working towards the protection and re-establishment of rapidly depleting forest habitat for numerous endangered species and protecting the riverside environment.  (see more at  So my dirty 30 is going to be just that, really dirty as it will be wet season in Borneo.  But rain hasn't stopped me before.....

I have started a fundraising campaign for my trip and reaching out to you for any support that you may be able to provide.

More details about my trip plans and how you can donate can be found here:

Every little bit helps. I know that not everyone can back me with funds, so there are a few other ways you can help;

Please share it on your social profiles or via email to any who may be interested in helping - this is the most helpful thing you can do as the more people who see this the better my chances of reaching my goal will be.

Have some extra airline miles or buddy passes laying around?  I would be happy to use them!

Advice on travel in the area?  Let me have it

Want to get your hands dirty, join me on this epic adventure and help with reforestation and conservation efforts yourself.

Thanks so much! Let me know if you have any questions about it.

Much gratitude and love,

Monday, April 1, 2013

Getting muddy in Cartagena, Colombia

I flew from Medellin to Cartagena for only $56 dollars thanks to the local airline, Viva Colombia; less money then the 15 hour bus ride would have cost me. It was bittersweet to leave the beautiful Andes behind, but I welcomed the sweltering heat as I knew how cold it was back at home.
I booked the next 5 nights at a loud party hostal, surrounded by bars and restaurants that played music at the highest level possible, even when no patrons were in them. I did not sleep well, but I was too lazy to pack up all of my belongings so I just dealt with the mind-dulling, constant noise.
The best part of the hostal was that they had a couple of adorable pets.  Two Larakeets? (not positive on that), a cute dog and a cat as well.  They all got along with each other.  The dog loved the birds so much he would climb into their feeding area almost every morning.  The birds nibbled on the dog's fir and the pup nibbled on them back.  I also got to help hand-feed the birds each morning.
Doggie bird kisses!
I decided to take a tour to the mud volcano, Volcan de Totumo.   A woman from Portland and her husband were also staying at my hostal (although they switched places after the first evening....) so she joined me for the day.  They had driven from Portland all through Central America and were waiting for their jeep to arrive.  They had shipped it from Panama, and said their only problems so far on the trip was dealing with the jeep at every border.
We took off in a mini bus and travelled for about an hour to the "Volcano."  In reality, it was a very large mud hill.
Volcan De Totumo
We stripped down into our swimsuits and climbed up some precarious stairs to the top.  The gray brown mud is located in a large pit at the top and is known for its healing properties, is full of minerals and promotes healthy, glowing skin. The mud is about 100 feet deep.
One man took the cameras from everyone in our group so that he could take photos.  He was quite the site with about 15 various sized cameras wrapped around his neck.  I have no idea how he kept track of each one, but was pleasantly surprised to find he took several of me on my own camera.
As I climbed down into the pit, I enjoyed feeling smooshy muck between my toes.  A few local men were waiting in the pool.  The first guides you down the stairs and rolls you gently into the mud. He had me lay down on my back and then he glided me across the top of the mud to another man who gives an invigorating massage and exfoliation.  He focused on my arms, legs, belly and back.  At one point he grabbed the opposite leg and flipped me over to do my back.  I was so awkward, and he rolled me so fast, my face slammed into the mud and I spent the rest of my massage working the grit out of my teeth.
Getting my mud rub
The mud was so dense, it was impossible to sink.  I even tried to claw my way down the wall to see if I could completely immerge myself and could not hold my body down. It was hard to even keep my feet straight down at times.  Occasionally, someone would get tilted onto their back and struggle like a beetle who has been flipped over.... legs and arms flailing to find balance.  Others would assist in pulling them back into an upright position. We got another half hour or so to play in the pit and I ended up getting a second massage. It was really fun to lay on my back and have the men glide me across the pool of mud. 
Happy, muddy me.
  After climbing out of the pit, another man slicked the mud from my body over an iron gate so that it slops back into the pit.  I was lead down another staircase and towards a large lagoon.  Several native woman beckon from the water.  I entered the lagoon and immediately two woman ripped my bikini top and bottom off as I sat in the water.  Breasts exposed to the entire crowd they poured bucket after bucket on my head.  They scrubbed every nook and cranny (and I mean EVERY nook and cranny) on my body to remove the mud.  I did not notice if everyone else was naked or not, as each time I would wipe water from my face they would throw another right over my head again.  It was difficult to breath, let alone look around. They also washed my bikini before guiding me out of the water. After my  free10 minute molestation, I picked up my shoes, dried off and dressed.
At the base of the hill they were selling the mud in old used coke litter bottles.  It looked exactly like those high-end mud face masks that people pay hundreds for (sans the cheap plastic bottle).  I did not purchase any, because I could only imagine the faces at customs; me with my dark mud explaining the medicinal properties held within my plastic coca cola bottle.  Last time I was in South America, a customs agent in Houston scrubbed my hiking boots with a toothbrush and toothpicks because they had soil from another country in them.
To finish our tour we headed to a small fishing village with a beautiful beach for lunch.  I had brought my own meal, but was surprised to find  they could have accommodated a vegan.  Although, I am always leery of any "vegetarian" soups.   I spent my time sleeping and sun tanning on the desolated beach and soaking up some sunshine while the others waited for food.  My new Portland friend woke me up some time later and I found a bus full of impatient people waiting to return back to Cartagena.  I was sunburnt.  So much for my skin healing mud bath...
Beautiful beach to myself.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I met a Shaman. We took a journey

I was a little apprehensive to join the few other people at my hostal on their ayahuasca journeys. I had always been curious about the sacred drink. After all, Richard Shultes, the “father of ethnobotany,” has always been one of my personal heroes. I have read about his experiences in the Amazon. I thought I could never find an authentic experience outside of living with a tribe deep within the rainforest.
For a good recent article on Ayahuasca, click here....

A girl who organized the event at the hostal assured me that this was not a “tour” like so many other companies offer to curious foreigners who are just looking to get as high as possible on one of the worlds most potent hallucinogens.. The owner of the hostal had been the first gringo to participate in this community event, and after gaining respect from the shaman, he was allowed to bring a select few other participants to join in. To the Putumayo culture, this was a sacred and religious event and they were generally happy to invite others to participate.

I talked to another guy who was living in Salento. He participated in the weekly ceremony as often as possible. He had been seriously injured, dislocated hip, back injuries and shoulder problems. Western doctors had informed him that he would never run, bike or play sports again. (hmmm, sounds like my doctors... and the reason why I refuse to see them anymore.) After two ceremonies with the shaman, he no longer experienced any pain. He now plays rugby every week and runs on a daily basis. His story sold me. If I could find any way to relieve my back pain that did not involve a daily does of horrible, chemical-ridden pain killers, I was willing to try it. The entire day before the event, my stomach was in knots. I was nervous for my upcoming healing journey.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Salento Part 2: Tejo and a horse named Rex.

After touring Don Elias Coffee Finca, I wandered back up the steep hillside towards the hostal. I found another veggie restaurant tucked on the side of the dirt road.  I stopped in for beet soup and falafels (I was in heaven!) All this good food in Salento was getting me back to fat American status. Oh well, its rare for me to indulge this much on vacation with my diet. After my meal, when I had almost reached the top of the hill, a man came riding by on a horse. He yelled out, "OREGON!" It just so happened to be Jeff, an owner of a local restaurant in town, Brunch. He was originally from Bend. We had talked a little when I ate at his place (yet another delicious veggie option) so he knew I was living in Hood River.

Reppin' Hood River and on the Brunch wall.
I admired his horse and after a few moments, he asked if I would be willing to ride his horse for him. Would I be willing? Holy Shit, I would be honored! I was estatic. I could not believe he was offering me free reign around the valley on his horse, and he told me to stop by his restaurant anytime to set up a time.
That evening, a group of people invited me out to play the favorite Colombian sport of Tejo. It was pouring rain, so we all hopped in a jeep or “willie” (all the taxis in Salento are Jeeps) and ran into town. A joint called Amigos is the local Tejo bar. As long as you buy beer and give the game guy a small tip (50 cents), you can play all night. The man in charge of the games set us up on the small court (“the woman's court”). The locals played on a much larger court.

Salento, Colombia: The town that stole my heart; part 1

The fresh mountain air, rolling hills, glimpses of snow-capped peaks, coffee farms, artisans, horses, waterfalls, vegan food, hiking and a loving community..... What more could a girl ask for? Salento has seriously stolen a piece of my heart, and I am more then happy to have left it there. The warm welcome from its colorful residents resonates throughout the city. Buildings are meticulously painted with contrasting bright colors. Dogs run free. Horses are tied up near the breakfast cafe.
Colorful Calle Real in downtown Salento
I arrived in Salento after a night in Pereira. I was a little disheartened to find, after a 25 minute walk with all of my gear into the countryside, my hostal of choice was full. I booked a bed for the following night at La Serrana, I gulped down a few glasses of delicious tap water and packed my butt back to town. I found a nice place to stay for the night, La Floresta.
Even the street dogs are beautiful in Salento.
 I named this one Brozy Cinco (inside joke, sorry)