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!

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We Hate Loki

Before reading this, read yesterday’s post, because the two together are meant to appropriately demonstrate our love-hate relationship with Loki Hostel.  It was a blast running the bar.  The experience we gained because of it will definitely help us if we ever want bartending jobs in the future.  But another thing that we really like is SLEEP!  The noise around that place never stops.  It’s fine if you are working, but when you’re trying to sleep at 2am and the whole building is still shaking from the loudest dubstep you’ve ever heard, you start to go crazy.  Not to mention once the bar closes everyone runs around drunk and screaming, messed up on Blood Bombs and ready to go out to the clubs.  Headphones or earplugs are definitely necessary for sleeping in the dormitories.  Most who stay and work at Loki are just all about the partying, every. single. night.  Many people love it, and end up staying and working here weeks or months longer than intended, drinking on the cheap, day and night.  It’s like a vortex that sucks you in.  Call us old, but we just don’t feel the need to stay out until the sun rises!  We did it one time to say we had, but most nights we were the first in bed, around 2:30am.  Ha.

Also, everyone who works at Loki is always just a little bit sick.  That’s because the staff room is usually in a general state of disarray and filth, and you don’t tend to take care of yourself very well living this lifestyle.  As of now, everyone has this horrible cough that gets worse and worse.  And there is no chance of getting better when you sleep no more than 10 feet away from the next sick person.  We’re hoping that we will be magically cured soon now that we are far away from Loki!

Loki is also not what we would consider an “authentic” South American experience.  It is made up almost completely of Europeans, Australians, North Americans, and other English speakers.  We think our Spanish actually suffered due to lack of use while here.  Some of the foreign staff members who’ve been here for over one year don’t even speak Spanish because they never leave Loki so they don’t have to learn!  The Loki vortex…it doesn’t really encourage you to get out there and immerse yourself in the wonderful culture of Cuzco.  It just tells you that it’s about time for another Blood Bomb.

There is one last thing that I have to complain about.  If you stay in a hostel, it is inappropriate to have floor-shaking sex in a dorm room.  I can’t tell you how many times I was woken by strange sounds from one of the beds next to me.  Like we said, it really is kind of like a freshman dormitory, full of drunk and horny travelers.

All in all, we did have a good time a Loki.  But we were SO EXCITED to get as far away from that place as possible.  Maybe we are too old, or maybe we are just a little more mature than you should be to be a proper Loki employee.  I guess Loki did make us realize how much we have grown up since college.  If you want to spend some time in Cuzco, live for free and have fun, I’d say to do it.  Just don’t expect anything about it to be relaxing.

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We Love Loki

’80s Night at the Loki bar

“LOKI LOKI LOKI!” someone shouts as we all raise our glasses.

“Oi oi oi!” we respond in Aussie fashion, slam our glasses down on the bar, and proceed to chug our Blood Bombs.  A Blood Bomb consists of a shot of mostly vodka with a few drops of grenadine dropped into a half-glass of Red Bull.  Totally beneficial for your heart and brain; it’s the signature drink of Loki Hostel.

We first heard of Loki from a Couchsurfing host in Ecuador who recommended we stay at the Máncora location.  We ended up staying elsewhere, but we remembered him raving about Loki as an awesomely fun party hostel with opportunities to work and stay for free.  We wanted to try a different volunteer (not WWOOFing) opportunity, so we decided to give Loki Cuzco a try.  As soon as we walked into the bar and offered our help to the manager, we were given bartending jobs and asked to start the next night!

The weekly activities board.

Loki Cuzco is the original of the four Loki Hostels (the others are located in Máncora, Lima, and La Paz, Bolivia) and was opened in 2005 by a group of backpacker friends.  It’s a HUGE hostel (capacity over 200) in a 500-year-old amazing historic building.  The owner and staff are all friendly and bilingual, and the hostel includes free breakfast, a book exchange, a full restaurant and bar, a tour booking office, and daily activities and parties.  It basically has everything you could ever need so that you don’t even have to venture outside if you don’t want to!

Dancing it up on Zach’s birthday night

All of the bartenders are volunteers at Loki.  We worked four shifts a week (either 1-7pm or 7pm-2am) in exchange for a free dormitory bed, one free meal a day, and 40% off on everything at the bar/restaurant.  It was definitely an awesome deal, and we had a lot of fun.  The bar staff during the four weeks we worked at Loki consisted of travelers from Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and a few more of us from the U.S.  We all got along great and every night was a party.  Working behind the bar is not really work; it’s more like serving some drinks while drinking some drinks.  By the end of the night there were always people dancing on the bar, and most of the staff usually went out dancing until the wee hours after our bar closed.  Highlights of our time at Loki included dancing like crazy on the bar at Groove Nightclub, going out for pizza for Zach’s birthday, and all the random hilarious conversations in the staff room.  Being at Loki was kind of like living in a college dorm again, except with the added fun of people from all different countries and none of the hassle of class!

Before you judge us as nonsstop-partying alcoholics, please wait for tomorrow’s other-side-of-the-coin post:  WE HATE LOKI

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Cuzco Free Walking Tour – Peru’s Inca City

Cuzco free walking tour

Loki Hostel a daily Cuzco free walking tour.  The tour takes you to some of the famous sites around the city, as well as a couple cool restaurants that the hostel is promoting.  The first stop was a free vegetarian restaurant owned by an Indian family.  They ask for a donation that goes to feeding poor children in nearby small villages.  We sampled the food and they told us about how to volunteer to help feed the kids.  We are trying to go do it before we leave Cuzco.  Next we walked to the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco’s famous square.  From here you can access many famous churches and restaurants.  The flag of Cuzco is actually rainbow stripes, causing many people to mistake it for the gay pride flag!

Cuzco free walking tour

After the plaza, we walked to the Museo do Cacao where they let us sample cacao-leaf tea and showed us where chocolate comes from.  We also sampled the “aji” (spicy) chocolate and the dark, which were both amazing.

Cuzco free walking tour

Next, we walked down an old alley; on the right was a wall built by the Incas.  The Spanish had knocked down the top of their building, but the bottom 10 feet or so remained.  The blocks were huge, some a couple feet wide, and fit together perfectly (you couldn’t fit a piece of paper between them).  The best part was that every rock was a different size and shape, the coolest one having 12 sides.

Cuzco free walking tour

Another cool part of the tour was playing with an alpaca and a vicuña!  The vicuña thought our blonde hair looked similar to the grass they eat in the wild.  Thus we kind of had to watch out to not get bitten on the noggin!

Cuzco free walking tour
Vicuña
Cuzco free walking tour
Alpaca!

We spent the end of our Cuzco free walking tour at the food market, satisfying our appetites with seafood soup and beer smoothies!!!  All in all, the Loki free walking tour was a great time!

Enjoy this post about Cuzco free walking tour ? Check out our archives for other adventures! Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @laaventuraproject and our subscribe to our Youtube Channel.

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Clarifying Our Goals

It recently came to my attention that despite all the blogging we’ve done, the main goals of our trip/documentary are still kind of unclear.  That’s a problem!  Despite the fact that our trip is largely unplanned as far as day-to-day specifics, we need to have a solid overall purpose.  So I forced myself to sit down and write out the three main elements of our project.  I hope this helps you understand the project more!  Here they are:

1. Volunteering:  WWOOFing is something that we are all very excited about.  I know it is agricultural volunteering vs. working mainly with people, BUT many of these farms are benefiting local communities in awesome ways (e.g. teaching sustainable agriculture to villagers, starting income-generating activities in their areas, and helping prevent environmental degradation (which is a HUGE problem in south america)).  WWOOFing is going to provide us an opportunity to help on organic farms, learn all about their methods so we can spread our knowledge, and get to know the local people.  As far as volunteering in orphanages and other places, we DEFINITELY plan to do that.  But from everything I’ve read, the easiest way is to just GO and find places that accept help once we’re there.  Many organizations that organize volunteers like this charge a huge overhead (which doesn’t go back to the community) and are merely cookie-cutter volunteer tourism which is very questionable as far as actual impact and sustainability.  I feel like these trips are a great way to start volunteering, but that I am past that now that I have more knowledge of global development.  We will have a more authentic experience by having our couchsurfing hosts and the locals we meet help us find smaller places we can volunteer (there are TONS of opportunities beyond those few that are big/rich enough to have an online presence in the U.S.).  So a huge part of our trip and the documentary will be about volunteering.

2.  Learning: In all my trips and volunteer experiences I have learned so much more than I have taught or contributed.  I have learned more than in my entire college career through traveling.  It is amazing.  We are going to learn a new language, new cultures, see new sights, learn how to survive in developing countries, learn new skills, learn about farming, etc. etc.  That’s why the trailer emphasizes our desire to learn more than the volunteering aspect.  I feel now that’s it’s actually naive and pretentious to assume that we will HELP SO MUCH and do SO MUCH GOOD, when in reality we will be the ones gaining so much knowledge.  The documentary will emphasize the power of travel as education and encourage others to travel.

3.  Self-discovery through travel: Do you remember your early 20s?  I don’t think it’s uncommon at our age to be slightly unsure of yourself, not sure of what path you want to take, questioning the status quo and struggling to realize WHO YOU ARE.  Is that a bunch of psychobabble or do you remember feeling like that?  Well, we think that travel is a great way to experience the world and help define who you are and what you want to do in life.  As Melissa says in the trailer “The 3 of us really want to DO something; we don’t feel satisfied with the idea of graduating college and starting a career in America right away.”  So if we don’t feel satisfied doing that and we have the opportunity to do something different, why wouldn’t we?  I count my blessings every day that I am in a position with no debt and nothing holding me here and that I am ABLE to do this.  I think God wants us to follow our dreams, rather than stick with what “most people” do just because it is normal.  We expect to learn a lot about ourselves and the documentary will tell the story of our psychological journeys of self-discovery, as well as our physical journey.

I know that these goals still sound a little vague, but it’s impossible to really plan such a long adventure down to the details!  We are so excited to see what happens as we go with these goals in mind!

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