Bigger Life Adventures – Yoga & travel that gives back!

Bigger Life Adventures is our new yoga and adventure retreat company featuring us, Zach and Carrie, leading you on adventures in incredible countries around the world!  This is our newest video, showing you a little more about what a trip with Bigger Life Adventures looks like!

A few of the things we want to share with Bigger Life Adventures are yoga, meditation, clean living, amazing destinations, vegan food, and giving back to the local communities.  10% of all participation fees are donated directly to charities working in countries where our retreats are located.   This year we will be hosting retreats in Southern California, Sri Lanka, and TanzaniaCheck out the dates and maybe we’ll see you there?

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!

On Eating Animals

Five months ago I was a strict vegetarian.  Five minutes ago I ate two hot dogs.  From a can.  “What happened to me?” I find myself wondering, as you may be also.  Well, South America happened.  Here’s where I try to explain, not because I feel guilty, ‘cause I don’t really, but because some might find it interesting.

I have called myself a vegetarian for almost six years now, since my sophomore year of college.  This is not my first lapse in my no-meat years, but it is my biggest.  All of my exception-making has, however, involved travel and different cultures.

In 2007 when I went to Kenya I don’t think I ever had to actually eat a piece of meat, although I was served many dishes from which I carefully picked around the meat chunks and then hid them under other food so no one would notice.  Most of the time, though, my group cooked our own meals and thankfully, the others were fine with cooking vegetarian.

When I went back to East Africa (Tanzania) in 2009 as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was expecting to have to eat some meat in social settings.  That prediction proved correct on my first night at my training home stay when my host family welcomed me, their honored guest, with a slaughtered chicken.  The un-affordability of meat there, plus a clever white lie once I moved to my own village (“I’m allergic to meat!”) kept the times I had to eat chicken to only a few, and it was only ever chicken.  Rice and beans were available at every cafe and I mostly cooked for myself anyway.

I was kind of expecting the same deal down here.  To meat in order not to offend my hosts but avoid it in other situations.  That proved more difficult than I expected.  Meat is much more affordable in South America, evidently, because it is everywhere.  In our first WWOOF adventure, I got over my qualms about red meat fast as bony, fatty chunks of beef accompanied many of the meals generously provided by our hosts.  The bigger problem, though, is that very few restaurants offer cheap vegetarian options.  The “almuerzo”, or “set lunch” is our savior down here, and it’s usually a cheap (under $2) two-course lunch restaurants offer which includes zero-few choices.  Usually the only choice is between chicken or beef.  You pay significantly more at these places for vegetarian meals, and even then, you usually have the choice of some kind of eggs or some other kind of eggs.  Where are where are the rice and beans so abundant in Africa?  The truth is, down here, if you want a vegetarian diet with nutrition and variety, you have to go to expensive gringo restaurants.  We honestly just can’t afford it.

So I eat meat now.  At first I would give Zach my meat and eat his side dishes, but that’s not balanced for either of us.  I got so tired of eggs, eggs, eggs that I gradually found myself saying “Oh, what the heck…” more and more often and digging into animal flesh.

How do I feel about this?  I don’t feel evil or good or destructive.  I feel it’s a necessary compromise I’m making for this trip.  A lot of the reasons I’m vegetarian aren’t reasons down here, and I’m thankful that most of what I eat was raised and killed locally and and hopefully somewhat more humanely than how it would have been in our U.S. factory farms.  I also am kind of glad for this chance to satisfy my curiosity, which had been growing.  Six years is a long time and I was prettyy young when I made the commitment.  I recently had a lot of long-time vegetarian friends start eating meat again for various reasons, and some of them told me “Oh, I have so much more energy now!” and stuff like that.  So with them in mind I was kind of interested in seeing if I would feel differently.  And guess what?  Nope, I don’t.  I will fully admit that I do still enjoy the taste of chicken, especially fried in that deliciously-unhealthy way.  But eating meat again doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been missing out.  It doesn’t make me feel healthier.  I feel like it’s necessary right now, mostly for our budget, and that it’ll be easy to give up all over again back in the U.S.

In fact, Zach and I talk all the time about how we miss cooking our own meals and when I look at cooking blogs I still bookmark new vegetarian recipes to try once we’re home.  I still feel that meat-eating the way most people in the U.S. do it is wrong.  So am I lying if I still call myself vegetarian?  I’m off the wagon for now but I can’t wait to jump back on.

The Idea

Hellooooooo blogland! This is Carrie, one of the three co-conspirators behind La Aventura Project. Since my cronies, Zach and Melissa, are lagging slightly in joining this online escapade (WRITE YOUR BIOS PEOPLE!!!), I decided I’d jump on in and whip up the first blog entry!
So what is this all about?  Well, basically, we are just three friends who need an adventure.  Here’s my side of the story:
I returned to the US in March 2010 from being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania.  That was an experience that rocked my world so much, and if anything, made my desire to “settle down and get a grown-up job” even weaker than it had been.  So my boyfriend Zach and I started brainstorming.  We knew we wanted to go somewhere for a long time in order to stay in each stop along the way for weeks and really learn as we travelled.  South America just made sense.  It’s relatively inexpensive to fly there from the US, it would give us the chance to learn Spanish, and there are a plethora of volunteer opportunities.  Not to mention the continent offers remarkable adventures in unexplored wildernesses, urban metropoli, and everywhere in between.  So the destination was set.  Next we asked our friend Melissa if she’d like to join.  She shouted (well, shouted via text message) “hell yes!” without a second thought, as we knew she would.  And our little posse of three was born!
This fall we will each pack a backpack and set off, me with my camera in hand, on our adventure.  We don’t really know what exactly we will do or discover, but we bet it’s going to be exciting.  My hope is not only to create an interesting travel documentary, but to go on a journey where we have new experiences each day, where we can let go of the pressures of American young adulthood, and truly open ourselves to unknown places, cultures, and people.
Although we want our trip to remain mostly unplanned and open-ended, there is still a lot of pre-planning involved in abandoning everything here and taking off on this excursion.  So until we get on that plane in just nine more months, this blog will document our preparation, as well as our expectations, thoughts, fears, and anything else we find interesting!  (And yes, there will be a VIDEO TRAILER coming sometime next month.)  So welcome to the ride!