Organic Farming in Chiang Mai with Live It Global

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One of our days in Chiang Mai was spent helping our friend Julie check out organic farms for her new organization, Live It Global.  Organic farming in Chiang Mai is becoming more popular, thanks to several people who are pushing the community in that direction.  There are a lot of small villages around Chiang Mai that are mainly focused on agriculture, growing fruits and vegetables which they sell in the local markets.  It was a great experience to get out of the city and see how some country people live. Read more

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Cameron Highlands – Tea Country

On our way to the Cameron Highlands in the mountains of central Malaysia, we experienced our first breaths of cool air in some weeks.  Everything was green and full of life as our bus wound its way slowly up and up, honking before the tight turns to warn oncoming traffic that we wouldn’t be slowing down.  The weather was so beautiful with clouds drifting across the mountain tops.  Our destination was Tanah Rata, the main town for adventures in the Cameron Highlands.  We dropped our stuff at Kang Travellers Lodge, a simple guest house with cheap rooms and friendly staff.  Rain clouds started to roll in but we were able to hike to a small waterfall before the downpour.

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Pretty, but unfortunately there was a lot of trash in the water 🙁

The main drag in town was very touristy but there were a few good Indian restaurants that were not expensive.  After dinner we went home and realized there was a bar attached to our guesthouse– Jungle Bar.  It was the first real bar we had been to in Malaysia.  Many of the towns are very Islamic and there are not a lot of parties happening.  Jungle Bar had a pool table and fireplace and a good collection of travelers to talk to.  It was a great dive bar with a fun atmosphere and just what we needed after only talking to each other for the past week or so.

The next morning we got up early as we had scheduled one of the tours from an agency in town.  All the companies sell pretty much the same thing for the same price and take you to different places around the area.  I think it was 45 Ringgit per person ($10) and lasted most of the day.  Our first stop was a butterfly sanctuary.  The first room was full of Birdwings, the national butterfly of Malaysia, a big blue one that didn’t want to fly very much because of the lack of sunshine.

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They also had many other insects and reptiles.  My favorites were the stick insects and other bugs that blended in perfectly with the trees.  It was a challenge to find each one.  There were also toads that looked exactly like the leaves they were resting in.  The flowers were amazing as well; we really enjoyed the place and would never have found it without being on the tour of the Cameron Highlands.

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Butterfly flower
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A beautiful butterfly flower
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These flowers produced a small amount of water that was super sweet!
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This giant stick insect was about 18 inches long!
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Can you spot the leaf insect munching away?

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Our next stop was a tea plantation.  We had never seen tea growing before so it was cool to learn about the process.  Boh (“Best of Highlands”) Tea was still owned by the Scottish family who has owed it since the 1800s.  Many workers were trimming the tops of the bushes with giant hedge saws that deposited the cuttings into large sacks.  The leaves were then taken to be sorted and processed in different ways to make the different tea styles.  They are still using the same labor contract that was created when the plantation opened, with workers working six days a week for very low wages.  Most of the laborers were immigrants from Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Nepal.  Most of the tea produced was consumed domestically, with some being exported but only to Indonesia and other nearby countries.  The landscape was majestic and they had a nice tea shop and cafe to enjoy the view of the nearby hills.

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There were six other people in our group and we ended up making friends with a British couple.  They were on an indefinite trip as well so we shared stories of our adventures.  After the tea plantation we got back into our Jeep and drove up a steep road.  The vegetation got thicker and thicker and our driver stopped along the way to identify different plants and let us smell things like tiger balm, citronella, and eucalyptus.  At the top of the hill was a path leading into the Mossy Forest.  This area was under a misty cloud 95% of the year which created a very surreal environment where moss grows on everything and thousands of types of plants flourished.  It reminded me of FernGully, a great movie from our childhood that was ripped off by stupid Avatar.

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Our guide said that in Borneo there are larger versions of these flowers that eat insects.

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After the Mossy Forest we stopped at an organic strawberry farm where they sold everything from boxes of berries to berry coffees to berry shakes.

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From there they left us at a hiking trail (Trail #3) that lead to another trail (Trail #5) which took us back into town.  It was a cool 1.5 hour trek through the jungle and we had a lot of fun.  Luckily we had our rain gear because it started coming down hard near the end.

We really enjoyed the Cameron Highlands.  It was wonderful to escape the constant heat and humidity of the lower altitudes and we always enjoy some outdoor time.  Stay tuned for some Island time off the eastern coast of Malaysia!

Cuba Highlights

Here is a long-overdue short video from our travels through Cuba in January 2017. Cuba was one of the countries most devastated by recent hurricanes. They have been largely skipped in the international aid effort and the United States makes it nearly impossible to help them in any way. We are researching ways to help and will report back if we find something legitimate. Please comment if you have any ideas!!!

Please subscribe to our YouTube channel and stay tuned for more videos!!!

We end where we began?

The beginning

Summing up La Aventura Project in one post has left us here staring at a blank page for weeks now.  The same questions run through our heads: “What did we do?” and, “What did we accomplish?”  The jump back into life in the USA was quick, and we were immediately left with little time outside of work, back to normal US life.  The world we came from was stuck in the backs of our minds, left to dwell in occasional yearnings and stories misunderstood by their listeners.  When I have a street food craving at 11pm there is no friendly woman selling tortillas across the street.  Saddening, but it’s also nice to have a kitchen.

Here is a quick list of answers to some of the more popular questions we have been getting from friends and family:
Yes, they did in fact have electricity in Latin America.
Yes, we got sick a few times from the food.  But it was all delicious and we don’t regret trying everything!
No, we did not notice any drug cartel activity.
No, we don’t plan on settling down now or buying a house or anything like that.

Trying to make a list of our accomplishments sounded corny but I did it anyways to brag a little bit:
Learned Spanish to an intermediate level in which we could have decent conversations.
Traveled to 10 countries without flying.
Got engaged!
Learned much more about Latin American history than we did at school, more than most North Americans know.
Hiked the Inca Trail.
Built our blog into a resource for other travelers.

Regrets:  I wish we could have done more volunteering, but maybe you could say that we were more like scouts, examining the playing field.  We did have two stays at WWOOF farms, one in Colombia and another in Ecuador.  It would be fun to check out some more WWOOF farms in Central America someday.

The travel at first was much easier than I expected.  The roads were paved and the buses as nice as the Megabus that we took in the United States.  But as we entered Bolivia our luck was about the change.  It was there that we experienced transportation strikes and washed out highways.  Bolivia was by far the most “out there” country we visited.

La Aventura Project started as a film project and a longing to escape from it all.  Along the way we wrote more and more and eventually were able to use the website to make the adventure last longer.  We passed through phases of preferring writing over filming and vis-a-versa.  Near the end we really dreaded the thought of returning to the grind of working class society.  Here everyone makes little problems seem like the end of the world.  There there were real problems.

The future: We will continue adding to the website and will be posting hostel reviews by guest writes.  (More info if you are interested.)  Our goal is for the website to grow and continue as we start posting our travel tales from the States.  We’ll be beginning the US section of the website in September when we take a road trip across the northwest in the process of moving to California!  We’re also working hard to edit the documentary and we’ll post updates on that front as it gets done.

Ending where we began: So now we find ourselves in much the same place we were in when the seed of the idea for La Aventura Project began.  Making the most of the US and working hard to save money for future adventures.  Dreaming and trying to decide which continent to conquer next.  Asia?  Africa?  Europe?  South again to finally make it all the way to Patagonia?  We have no idea where we should go, but luckily we have awhile to decide as we work to replenish our bank accounts.  The only sure thing is that we can’t stay here for too long, so una nueva aventura is unquestionably on the horizon.

“There is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” -Christopher McCandless

Chau chicos.

Life in the banana-lands

Awesome tractor-bus outside Las Tablas

Other long-term travelers out there might be familiar with the feeling of “the travel grind.”  To me, it’s how you feel when traveling becomes too routine and nothing feels fresh anymore.  We were kind of suffering from it in Panamá as we were mostly sticking to big touristy sites due to lack of time.  Nothing was feeling authentic or real.  Everyone spoke English and everything was too easy.  We were feeling too much like tourists instead of travelers.

Then, we found the perfect remedy!  Thanks to Couchsurfing, we hooked up with a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small village in the rural mainland of Bocas province.  We stayed with Doug in Las Tablas for two nights, getting a taste of life in “el campo” and meeting some real off-the-beaten-track Panamánians.

Las Tablas is in the heart of the banana-growing lands, where it’s very hot and rainy.  Chiquita Banana is headquartered nearby and thus almost everyone in this area is employed growing bananas which are shipped to the US and Canada.

Miles of banana trees. The sign says "Don't enter or you might get crop-dusted."

Since I did a stint in the Peace Corps in Tanzania, it was really fun for me to reminisce and to compare Doug’s situation with how my life was.  Panamá is a lot further along development-wise than Tanzania, but big parts of the Peace Corps life are the same everywhere.  Doug was definitely a local celebrity known by everyone in town.  Kids would yell, “Hello, teacher!” as he walked by, and he always had to stop to talk to all his fans.  Add Zach and me to the mix and we created quite a spectacle.  Three gringos in town, oh my!

Kids in Doug's host family

Hanging out in Las Tablas helped us feel more connected to Panamánian culture.  It was refreshing to be in a place were there are never any tourists and the pace of life is slower.  The best part of our stay was just walking around the village, greeting kids and practicing our Spanish with all of Doug’s friends.  Las Tablas welcomed us with open arms and we couldn’t stop smiling while we were there.  The Peace Corps life is truly a challenge, but the rewards of being so totally accepted by a completely different culture seem abundant.

Doug and some of his students

We realized that we need to do more of this stuff!  The problem is that there’s just so much we feel like we HAVE to see and we have so little time left!  We’re definitely going to try to hook up with at least one other Peace Corps Volunteer though!

1/3 Highlights

As of January 27, we’ve been in South America for three months!  That’s about 1/3 of the total time we’ll be down here (assuming money lasts) so it’s quite a milestone.  Sometimes I feel like we’ve been on the road forever and other times it feels like it was just yesterday we landed in Medellin.

To celebrate our 1/3-iversary, let’s list some fun stats!

Days in South America:  95

Dollars Spent (not including flight): $3005

Countries Visited: 3

Books Read: 8 (Carrie), 7 (Zach)

Number of Laundromat Visits (not including hand-washing): 3

Bacterial Infections: 1 each

Things We’ve Lost
iPhone (Carrie)…The Infamous Bird Poop Incident
Water bottle (Zach)…just left it at a Couchsurfer’s house
Glasses (Carrie)…stupid lake
Sunglasses (Zach)…stupid ocean
2 rings (Carrie)…two separate places
1 shirt (Carrie)…I think this girl on our first WWOOF farm thought it was hers because she always wore orange!
Dr. Bronners soap (Zach)…”It’ll turn up!” he says
Umbrella…who knows???

And now, since it is Awards Season, we hereby present to you….

The 1/3-iversary Superlatives…a.k.a. the Best Of “So Far”

Favorite Food: ceviche (Zach), llapingachos (Carrie)

Favorite Beverage: Colombian coffee

Most Missed Food: Graeter’s ice cream and peanut butter (Carrie), Mexican food and cheddar cheese (Zach)

Most Missed Event: holidays at home

Most Missed Activities:  watching Oscar films (Carrie), cooking/baking, snowboarding

Most Annoying Phenomenon: loud music and movies on buses

Favorite Activity: The Inca Trail

Nicest People: Colombians

Favorite City: Cuzco

Most Times We Said “What a Crazy Place!”: Huacachina

Best Beach: Canoa

Best Shopping: Otavalo

Best Person We’ve Met: Oso the dog

Scariest/Coolest Experience: the eruption of Tungurahua Volcano

Most Authentic Cultural Experience/Cutest Kids and Puppies: WWOOFing at Finca Campo Bello

Biggest Party/Least Authentic Cultural Experience: Loki Hostel

Biggest Personal Changes: dreadlocks and eating meat (Carrie), actually speaking a second language (Zach)

Favorite Country Overall: Ecuador

Goals for the Next 2/3rds of the Journey

1. Save money and get ahead on our budget in Bolivia!

2. Find a WWOOF experience where we actually get to farm!

3. Do more filming!

4. Improve our Spanish!

I know, I know, we really need to stop losing things and wash our clothes more!  Do you like this silly little superlative round-up?  Should we do one again after 2/3rds?

Tungurahua Tea Room

After leaving Baños, I think that now is a good time to write about the second WWOOFing experience of our journey, which occurred there… 

Carol's house with the volcano in the background

We arrived in the afternoon on a bus and took a quick taxi ride to the edge of town.  The farm is really only a 10-15min walk from central Baños, but with all our stuff it would have been a long hike.  The owner of the farm, Carol, a talkative Canadian ex-pat, warmly greeted us and gave us a quick tour.  The property is a skinny pieces of land located on a hill with a front wall of sugarcane and Carol’s house resting on the top. The Volcán Tungurahua looks down upon it and is usually snow-covered in the mornings.  Near the front there is a citrus garden with several very nice lemon trees and about a dozen others that grow small tangerines of sorts.  As you walk further in you will find a small volunteers’ room with a bed, a tool shed, and a locked storage room.   Following these are an open air kitchen with sink, stove, and table, then a bathroom with toilet, sink and shower.  Near the kitchen is a very nice spice and tea garden containing basil, oregano, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, lemongrass, and other lemony things used to make delicious teas.  Past the herbs there is a “spiritual circle” surrounded by flowers and such with a fire pit in the center.  If you walk even further there are two shade structures with hammocks and between them a garden of large cactus.  Under one of these we placed our tent, with another tent already under the other.  Between our tents and Carol’s house we could also find anise, lettuce, green peas, spinach, and some red potatoes once we knew what the plants looked like.  Other than that there were a few plantain trees and several avocado trees (only available if you could beat the dogs to them).

Segundo, the gardener, and Zach, cooking lunch

The Work:

Usually we would wake up around 7am and make breakfast.  There are two other yard workers that Carol employs whom would show up around 7:30.  Carol also has two large dogs who need walking so one of the workers takes them on a hike up the volcano every morning.  The hike is very nice and terminates at a natural spring with amazing carbonated mineral water produced by volcanic pressure.  Probably the best hike you will find in Baños.  After 2 hours of dog walking we had tea from the garden and sometimes a snack then after tea we went to work on Carol’s projects around the yard.  This work almost always involved randoms projects such as assisting in building walls, or sweeping dirt sidewalks, or weeding around the pathways.  Sometimes we felt like we were fighting the jungle for superficial reasons and I’m sad to report that at no time during our stay did we actually do any farming.  The work was really easy though, and no one was ever looking over your shoulder telling you to try harder.  It just wasn’t farming, and we weren’t really there to push rocks around.

Our "home"...we put our tent on top of that platform.

Overall:

We loved the location, and the work was generally easy and laid back.  However, food was not included.  Yes, whatever you could find on the farm was yours (unlimited tea, herbs, and lemonade) but most our food came from money from our pocket.  This probably contributed to our underachievement, and eventual departure when our housesitting opportunity arose.  But the property is extremely beautiful and we had a whole lot of fun there.   Just know before you go that it’s not your “normal” WWOOF experience.  After working on only two farms, we will continue searching for exactly what that “normal” experience is!