Nicaragua – Colourful colonial cities and horse-riding on an island

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Nicaragua is famous for being a budget backpacker’s dream. An ideal place to spend weeks or even months. Less touristic than Costa Rica and thus more authenic.

San Juan del Sur

I started in San Juan del Sur. A small touristic place very close to the beach. Known for its Sunday funday parties. My favourite roommate there was a 68-year-old Canadian guy. According to him he used to be a criminal (bike gang, drugs and other related things). When I asked him what exactly he just smiled. He made 7’500 CAD per week and at the end of the week there was nothing left. Seven years of his life he spend in prison. Got tortured. Now he lives from his pension. He might have been a criminal but he was such a sweet and fun person to me. He took me to his favourite coffee place El Gato Negro. Full of books and arranged with much love. Wanted me to meet all his friends, joined me for a short but tough hike (20 mins, stunning view over the beach, Cristo de La Misericordia, 2 USD), helped me to save some fishes who stranded on the beach, showed me the local market (next to the Market Bus Stop), took me to a rock concert in the evening, and offered me besides a joint a lot of unhealthy food (donuts, chicken soup, fish and chips, pizza, ice cream). Almost felt bad that I said no to everything. But he did not seem offended at all and was smiling the whole day.

Granada

Next I wanted to go to Ometepe. But it was so windy that no boat or ferry was leaving the harbour. So I went first to Granada. A beautiful, colourful colonial city. Great place just to walk around, observe the local life, and getting lost. Many houses have a little garden in the middle and horse and cart are still common. The Choco Museo is definitely worth a visit. Most I liked the chocolate tea with cinnamon.

One day I visited Laguna de Apoyo. A thermal crater lake where you can kayak, swim, and relax from the city life. From the local market in Granada I took a bus (every 10-15 mins) with Managua as a destination and asked to get dropped off at ‘la entrada de la laguna’ (Duration: 30 mins. Price: 10 Córdoba). From there I wanted to walk (1.5 h). But after only a few minutes a car with a couple of people stopped and asked me if they can give me a lift. Since my gut instinct told me I can trust those people I said yes. Later my host told me that this was very dangerous and I can be very lucky that nothing happend. I am wondering if when something will ever happen to me if this will change my belief in the good nature of humankind. The Laguna de Apoyo was nice but nothing more. One of the disadvantages of already having seen too much of this beautiful world I guess.

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Laguna de Apoyo

Ometepe

My next destination was Ometepe. A beautiful island with two volcanoes in the middle of Lago de Nicaragua. Probably one of the safest places in Nicaragua and great to explore alone. One day I rented a horse. The other days I took the bus and walked along gorgeous empty beaches with wild horses, enjoyed hidden restaurants, natural hot springs, and enjoyed the evenings with a local who did not speak any English. Google translator was our biggest friend.

Leon

To get from Ometepe to Leon you need to pass by in Managua (capital). A hectic messy city most tourists try to avoid. Thanks to a Nicaraguan girl I had a nice time. She realised that I was not interested to take one of the taxis to the other bus station, took my hand, and guided me through different local food markets. Leon is the place to learn a little bit more about Nicaragua’s history in its museums (especially about the revolution). Made me realise once more how lucky I am that I was born in a country and at a time with no war.

Food

I did not like the diet in Nicaragua. It is very unhealthy. They use half a cup of oil for making only one fried egg. The plantains are fried and look like potato chips. Even the gallo pinto (rice and beans) is very greasy. And they add sugar in many things (juices, coffee). But there is always a chilli sauce on the table. That’s nice. Unsurprisingly I cooked there a lot, went in the more expensive European restaurants or the maid of my host cooked something for us. Be aware that most hostels do not like when you cook beans. It uses too much gas. You can get a meal at a local place starting from 50 till 120 Córdoba. Other restaurants are often double as much. Food at local markets is most cheaply of course. The price is negotiable. If using a supermarket Pali is the cheapest option (e.g. 300 g oat flakes for 20 Córdoba). And you should not drink the tap water.

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Even though Central America exports a lot of coffee beans they do not have a coffee culture. Probably because they do not know how to make really tasty coffee. Moistly you get instant coffee. Unless it is a coffee place for tourists.

Transport

The cheapest, longest but most interesting way to travel in Central America is by Chicken buses (old yellow school buses from the US). Often very colourful painted and usually the door stays open during the ride. Sometimes a true rollercoaster, sometimes a disco, and sometimes a local market. The food literally comes to you. The only disadvantage is that after eating people throw out the rubbish out of the window. For sure a great place to see a different side of the country’s culture. If they would have a bathroom I might stay there permanently. It is around 1 USD for one hour. There is not really a schedule and bus stations are rare. Ask locals, wait on the roadside, jump on the next bus and pay on board. There are no tickets you can buy in advance. Often the buses leave when full and are therefore overcrowded.

Buses I took:

  • San Juan del Sur to Rivas Terminal: 25 Córdoba (45-60 mins)
  • Rivas to Ometepe: bus from Rivas to San Jorge (ferry departure) every 30 mins (7 Córdoba. 15 mins). NO bus on Sundays. So a taxi is your only option. The bus doesn’t leave from the main bus station, but rather from the road running parallel. Boat to Ometepe: 50 Córdoba (60 mins). On the Island are buses running every hour. Sundays only every two hours. If staying in Myogalpa then there is no need to take a taxi. There are many hostels within a 10-minute walk. If you plan on staying on the other side of the island, then there are buses throughout the day but only once an hour (every 2 hour on sundays). I stayed in Altagracia. A lovely city with eight bars.
  • San Jorge to Managua by bus: 67 Córdoba (120 mins)
  • Managua to Leon by bus: 54 Córdoba (90 mins)

Don’t believe the taxi drivers. They are trying to rip you off and take advantage of tourists. Sometimes some helpful looking young guys come in the bus and tell you that there is no bus to your desired destination, the next bus isn’t for another two hours or the last bus just left. There are buses all the time.

Accommodation

  • Hostel: I payed between 7 and 9 USD per night.
  • Couchsurfing is not really common yet.
  • It is very rare that there is hot water

Climate

Nicaragua has only two seasons: The dry season from December to April and the rainy season from May to October. The Caribbean side does not have a defined rainy season. Be prepared for sun or rain at any time. It is possible to wear short pants during the dry season even in the evening.

Safety

I felt safe and nothing happend to me. Especially on Ometepe. But I did not go out alone anymore after it got dark and did not wear any jewelry.

Currency

Currency: Córdoba (NIO). ATM available in most midsize towns. USD are accepted, but for smaller items it is better to use Córdoba. If not they just charge 1 USD even when cheaper.

Languages

Spanish is the official language. Even in major tourist destinations only a very few locals speak English.

Length of tourist visa

Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua have a visa agreement (CA-4). This is a 90-day visa given to you by the first country you enter out of the four. It allows you entry into all of them. After you need to exit to either Costa Rica or Mexico.

Border crossing from Leon to El Salvador

  • Bus from Leon terminal to Chinandega: 0.60 USD
  • Bus from Chinandega to Border (Guasaule): 1 USD
  • Exit Nicaragua: 2 USD. Enter Honduras: 3 USD
  • Minibus from border, through Honduras, to El Salvador border: 6 USD
  • Exit Honduras: Free
  • Enter El Salvador: Free
  • Bus from El Salvador border to Santa Rosa: 1 USD
  • Bus from Santa Rosa to San Miguel: 1 USD
  • Total duration: 10 h
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Costa Rica – Rich variety of nature, animals, and activities

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I am in Costa Rica since around seven weeks now and there is still a lot I could explore. But I booked a flight to Cuba from Mexico end of February. So time for me to slowly move north by bus. After I will fly to Colombia. Hopefully my last flight in Central and South America. There I will work for at least one month. Maybe more. I will see.

I started in San José, the capital. Not a city I would recommend for more than 2 nights. It is a place where a lot of big companies (e.g. Microsoft, Novartis, Coca-Cola) are. A place to work and live and escape in the nature on the weekend. The criminality is high and the traffic is a big problem. So most tourists avoid San José. I had nice hosts. Especially my second host in San José. He made his own peanut butter. Difficult to find healthy peanut butter in Costa Rica. Together with a banana a delicacy. I was in heaven.

Jacó

First I wanted to go on the beach. So I took a bus from San José to Jacó. As the closest beach to San Jose, Jacó is known for its party atmosphere (mostly in the bars). An interesting nightlife. The beach is a long gray arc and the smaller waves are perfect for learning to surf.

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Playa Hermosa

My host was located in Playa Hermosa. He owned a hostel (Wipeout International Hostel). A famous surf location just eight km to the south of Jacó. I loved that place. The relaxing atmosphere, the possibility to learn how to surf, the beach, the pool, the full equipped kitchen which I used every day, the people I met in the hostel, the fun teasing of my host with everybody, and the time to read and write. The fact that I came back twice (for Christmas and New Year’s Eve) tells a lot. I tried to help as much as possible but honestly there was not so much to help. So I made them a website for their hostel and some promotion on social media.

Manuel Antonio

The beach and the town are amazing. I loved the vibe there. But I can’t recommend the Manuel Antonio National Park. It gets very busy during the high season, is overpriced (16 USD), and the well-maintained paths take away the authentic feel of being in the jungle. There exist countless jungles in Costa Rica and most of them are for free, less touristic and as a consequence you might be able to see more animals.

Tamarindo

Tamarindo is located in one of the driest regions of Costa Rica. It is not so much a local Tico culture but a busy tourist town. No surprise Tamarindo is one of the most expensive places. There is only one main road and everything is within a short walk or bicycle ride (renting is 20 USD). Tamarindo is a surfing town so if you haven’t learned to surf yet, this is the place to start. Competition keeps lesson prices low and the waves provide the perfect conditions for learning. Loved the sunsets there from the surfboard. The nightlife (bar scene) starts later than elsewhere in Costa Rica.

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La Fortuna

La Fortuna is located in the hills northwest of Costa Rica. On the streets surrounding the central park lie many restaurants, cafes, hostels, tour operators, and souvenir shops. Most people who live there work in tourism. One of my host was renting mountain bikes and another was a tour guide (zip line). When I was there, beginning of December, the high season just started but it was still not crowded. I liked the atmosphere. One of my highlights was the Free Natural Hot Springs. It is in the jungle, very relaxing, free massages, sometimes 40 degree Celsius, and in the night people light candles. Very romatic. No wonder my host put his arm around me. I kindly took his arm and put it back where it was. Arenal Volcano you can see from almost everywhere if it is not cloudy. Lake Arenal is definitely worth to visit. I also had fun jumping in the Rio Fortuna.

El Castillo

El Castillo is a small neighboring village to La Fortuna and has a breathtaking view on Lake Arenal and Arenal Volcano. It was raining most of the time I was there. So I used the extra time to read, write, and skype with some friends. I volunteered there for around one week at the Essence Arenal Boutique Hostel. After I went back to La Fortuna to meet a friend from Bosnia-Herzegovina. The work on the organic permaculture farm was not for me. Pulling up weeds for 6 hours a day is tough and the ants loved me more than I could handle. The work in the vegetarian kitchen / restaurant was fun and made me want to work even more than 6 hours. To the mouldy smell of the mattress I could not get used to.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

After Christmas a friend from Switzerland was visiting me. We went together to Puerto Viejo for a few days and stayed there in a hotel. Puerto Viejo is located in southeastern Costa Rica, close to the Panama border. A laid back small beach town with a Caribbean feel, chill nightlife, and great restaurants. Beautiful beaches, coconut rice, reggaeton, and colorful homes dominate. In Puerto Viejo center everything is within walking distance. But you can also rent a bicycle and visit the Cahuita National Park. Great to observe animals and it is for free.

I really enjoyed my stay in Costa Rica: The beautiful natural environment, the rich variety of plants and animals (e.g. sloths, monkeys, crocodiles, fireflies, parrots, many different birds, turtles, iguanas), and the different landscapes (jungles, forests, volcanoes, mountains, countless waterfalls, and two seas: to the west the Pacific Ocean and to the East the Caribbean Sea). Animal watching, surfing, kayaking, flying through the sky on a zip line, horseback riding, hiking, yoga classes, canyoneering down waterfalls, catamaran cruises, scuba expeditions are just a few sample of the many activities you can do in Costa Rica. And I loved to wake up at 6 am every morning because of the sun, birds, and monkeys.

Interesting facts

  • You can drink the tap water.
  • “Ropa Americana” are second-hand (thrift) shops which offer clothes for as little as 1000 colones. The clothes come from the US.
  • Pura Vida: It is a way of life in Costa Rica. A very relaxed, simple way of looking at life. It means being thankful for what they have and not dwelling on the negative. Ticos use this term to say hello, goodbye, and to say everything is great.
  • Ticos: How the Costa Ricans call themselves
  • Most people do not have an address. Maybe a few in San José. So people get their mail via post office box. When I did couchsurfing I just asked my hosts to send me their location on google maps.
  • Mosquitos are worst right after sunset for around one hour.
  • The army was abolished in 1949. As president of Costa Rica, José Figueres announced that the nation’s former military budget would be refocused specifically in healthcare, education, and environmental protection.
  • In 1869, Costa Rica made primary education obligatory for all its citizens, and both preschool and high school free. There are both state and private universities.
  • In May 2007, the Costa Rican government announced its intentions to become 100% carbon neutral by 2021. They use hydropower since years and more recently geothermal power, solar power, and wind power. Thanks to its geographic advantage. As of 2015, 93-99 percent of the country’s electricity comes from renewable sources.
  • The border Costa Rica / Nicaragua closes at 6 pm.
  • Many people live in a house out of sheet metal.

Transport

It is possible to rent a car (starting from 40 dollars per day included basic insurance), a motorcycle or a bicycle (e.g. 5 dollars per day in Puerto Viejo). I used the bus most of the time since it goes to even smaller cities and is most cheaply. Or I got a lift from one of my hosts. The only disadvantage is that often you need to go back to San Jose first and sometimes the bus you would like to take is already full. So buy the ticket one day before in case you have a target date. Trips longer than four hours usually include a rest stop as buses do not have toilets. Try to avoid taking a taxi in San José. Other places can be fine. Sadly, there are taxis that take advantage of tourists. The taximeter is often manipulated, they drive around circles and if you ask them how much to a specific place they will stop somewhere else (closer) and asking for more money to drive you to your requested destination. Uber works very well. Or shuttles. But they are most expensive. Or Hitchhiking. It is safe. Also for a woman.

Timetable for the buses (only partly correct but better than nothing): http://m.horariodebuses.com/cr/index.php

Prices and point of departure of the buses I took:

  • Juan Santamaría International Airport (Alajuela. Bus stop is just one minute walk from the airport exit) to San José (City center): 540 colones
  • San José (Terminal 7-10) to Jacó: 2285 colones
  • San José (Gran Terminal del Caribe) to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: 5270 colones
  • La Fortuna (Parada de autobuses) to San José: 3000 colones

Accommodation

  • Hostel: One night is around 10 dollars in San José. More in touristic places like Tamarindo (20 dollars).
  • Couchsurfing is common and I can highly recommend. Used it most of the time.
  • Free camping is allowed. Just watch out animals especially crocodiles if close to a river (e.g. Tamarindo).

Food

You can get a meal at a local place starting from 2500 colones. Other restaurants are often double as much. Food at local markets is most cheaply of course. A smoothie is between 1500 and 2500 colones.

Gallo Pinto is the national dish of Costa Rica. Most people here eat it especially for breakfast. Click here for the recipe.

Restaurants with great vegan options I can recommend:

  • Playa Hermosa and Jacó: Pizza pata (best pizza I ever ate. Ask without cheese), Las Pitaz (hummus, falafel), and Jaco rustico (cheap and very local)
  • Tamarindo: Falafel bar (delicious moisty big falafels)
  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: Como en mi Casa Art Café (gluten free options as well)
  • Manuel Antonio: Falafel bar
  • La Fortuna: Organico Fortuna (expensive but very healthy and even gluten free options)

Climate

Costa Rica has only two seasons: The dry season from December to April and the rainy season from May to November. The Caribbean side does not have a defined rainy season. Be prepared for sun or rain at any time. At sea level you will find the warmest temperatures and in the mountains the coldest.

Safety

Costa Rica is pretty safe for a country in Central America. In San José, Jacó beach, and Limón are a few places that can get creepy after sunset. Just ask locals or your hostel where not to go. Only carry the amount of money you think you will need each day and do not wear valuable jewelry.

Money

I am not surprised Costa Rica is called Switzerland of Central America. It is expensive. The currency in Costa Rica is “colón” (plural: colones). USD are accepted at all major tourist destinations. Some of the prices are even in USD. For small purchases it is better to use colones, because some people give you a lower exchange. Major credit cards are accepted at all medium to large size hotels, restaurants and stores. ATM’s are becoming more common (El Castillo does not have one yet).

Health

There are no epidemic diseases in Costa Rica. No vaccinations are required if you are traveling from Europe or the USA. You do need a Yellow Fever vaccination if you are travelling from some countries in South America or Africa.

Visa

Most people can get into Costa Rica without the need of a Visa and can stay in the country for 90 days. If you want to stay longer in Costa Rica just cross the border for a one minute, pay exit (only USD accepted) and return. Nicaragua is much easier. For Panama most people need to show a return ticket to their home country. But it is possible to fake one.

Work

If you work in a bar, restaurant or surf shop you won’t earn a lot of money (e.g. 3 USD per hour in Tamarindo). You would need a working Visa. But most people don’t have one. It is possible to buy a property / house as a foreigner and open a restaurant, hostel or another business and you will earn enough for living. Or work in an international company.

Other places I have heard are nice: Monte Verde, Samara, Santa Teresa, and Cahuita (close to Puerto Viejo but quieter).

Border crossing to Nicaragua

  • bus from Liberia to Penas Blancas (border): 1750 Costa Rican Colon, 105 mins.
  • exit Costa Rica: 8 USD
  • enter Nicaragua (only accept USD): 12 USD
  • Go left at the exit to the buses. You need to take two buses to San Juan del Sur. You will get dropped off at the junction in the middle of the road where the two roads split. There is no official bus stop but the bus will stop for you.

How to live in the moment – A healthy and happy lifestyle

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Shooting Debora Dšhrbeck

Do you take time to enjoy where you are at the moment?

I used to be very focused on my future. How and where will I live one day? What will I work? Will I have children?
Sure I do have dreams. But I learnt to live in the moment. I do not worry about my future anymore. No more pressure. Just go with the flow. Listen to my heart. My intuition.
I also learnt to enjoy not to know what I am going to experience. Getting surprised by the people I meet along my way.

How I learnt to live in the moment
One of my friends asked me how I learnt to live in the moment. Well…Since it rarely happens by accident I will try to answer this question below.

I think one part through travelling solo. That’s where I learnt what I really want, what is truly important to me in life, what makes me happy, and what doesn’t. Independent from anybody else. I believe it is also good that bad things happen to you. If you master them it will only make you stronger. And you appreciate the good moments much more. Then working all kind of different jobs. Realising what are my abilities, talents and that I can actually live from that. Gives me peace and a feeling of freedom.

Follow your own values
Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely important to consider the future impacts for your present actions. It is important to follow your own values. If you want to stay healthy a healthy lifestyle is reasonable. If being sustainable is important to you start now. Do your best in the moment and don’t wait another day. Your future reflects the choices and actions you make in the present. You can be the person you are proud to be.

What would you like your loved ones to say about your character and contributions one day?

Be mindful to the moment
Living in the moment is not about ruminating on the past (but reflecting about the past allows us to learn from our mistakes) or worrying about the future. It is about being mindful to the moment. When you eat for example, look at the food, feel the texture, taste and smell the different flavour, and listen to the sound it makes when you chew it. Enjoy this bite of food and you live this moment to the fullest. The more you do it this way the more you will change your brain. You strengthen nerve pathways that make the habit of mindfulness easier and easier.

Little things that may help
There are times when living in the moment is just not possible or really hard. Sometimes our thoughts are overwhelmed by regrets about past events, anxiety about the future or we just experience a very stressful moment. There are little things that may help.

  • Don’t judge. For example what other people do, that you have to get up early or the traffic. You can’t change it in that moment. Those judgments only increases stress and frustration.
  • Show you feelings and don’t suppress and justify them. When you are sad, be sad! You are allowed to be sad. Emotions really aren’t bad. Plus it’s more authentical and people will know how you feel and can react appropriately.
  • Focus on the sight, sound, smell, taste, and feel of your daily activities.
  • Practice gratitude. Having to wait for something can be annoying. Start to think about waiting as a good thing. Take that time to observe your surroundings and think about what you are grateful for in that moment. For who you are, how you are feeling in that moment, and for loved ones. Write down one good thing that happened each day. Read your list regularly to appreciate your current life.
  • Forgive. If there is someone in your past that hurt you, forgive. If not you will focuse to the past and suffer. Write the person a letter or talk to the person about how her past actions. You don’t have to send the letter, but it will help you stop blaming this person and help you move toward the present.
  • Focus on happy things. Adapting an optimistic realistic lifestyle has a big influence. Living in the moment can be a challenge if you are in a bad mood.
  • Meditate. Find a quiet spot and get comfortable. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. As you focus on your breathing, try not to get distracted by your thoughts. Just let them happen and pass by. Without opening your eyes, observe the world around you. Pay attention to how you feel as well. What do you hear? What do you smell? How do you feel? physically? emotionally?
  • Start small. Start by incorporating new habits one at a time. Once you feel like you have mastered a habit, add something else.

Fee free to add any other recommendations? 🙂

photo: Martin Niederberger

How to apply Aloe Vera on sunburn

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Normally I don’t sunburn very easily. But I did recently. I read that aloe vera gel helps. It is a plant. So I tried it. On one part of my arm I didn’t put any aloe vera. This part was still red the next morning. The rest where I put aloe vera looked much better and not red anymore.

Aloe vera is a great, easy, and cheap natural remedy for a sunburn. Overexposure to the sun can lead to serious long-term skin problems. That’s why it is very important to immediately treat sunburns.

How Does Aloe Vera Help Sunburn
The gel contains a lot of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and active enzymes which contribute to the healing process.

Characteristics:

  • relieves pain and inflammation
  • prevents swelling
  • helps repair damaged skin cells and trigger the formation of new ones
  • antibacterial, strengthens the immune system
  • forms a protective layer over burned and peeling skin, hydrating it and holding moisture in
  • contains no oils or other elements that clog pores

How to Use Aloe Vera to Treat Sunburn

  • Whenever possible, use fresh gel squeezed directly from the aloe vera leaf.
  • Refrigerate aloe vera before use for extra cooling effect.
  • Cut the aloe vera leaf open. scoop out the gel. Mash it. Apply the gel to sunburned skin with your fingers. Leave on until dry. If it starts to feel sticky, rinse it off with cool water. Repeat 2-3 times a day. Keep the rest of the leave at a shady place.
  • If you experience rashes, stinging, or itching, you may be having an allergic reaction. Stop using it immediately.
  • If your burns do not show signs of healing within 4 days, consult a doctor.
  • If you don’t have a fresh leave choose an aloe vera product that doesn’t contain alcohol as it irritates the burn.

Gallo Pinto (beans and rice) recipe

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Gallo Pinto is the national dish of Costa Rica. Most people here eat it especially for breakfast. You can find this dish also in other countries in Central America under a different name. In Nicaragua for example they use red beans instead of black beans.

Ingredients (4 people):

  • 200 g brown rice
  • 400 g black beans
  • 1 red or yellow sweet pepper
  • 200 g tomatoes
  • coconut oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 onion
  • salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon
  • fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
  • 1 lime

1. Cook the rice and beans in a separated pan in salted water with a lid according to the packet instruction.

2. Prepare the garlic and onion, chop them finely and steam them together with the cumin in coconut oil for 1 minute.

3. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and pepper, the beans, and some juice of the beans.

4. Add the rice, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and the finely chopped coriander and let it roast for 5 mins. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lime.

The tomatoes (makes it more moisty) and cinnamon are not part of the traditional Gallo Pinto.

Spicy, sweet alternative: Add 1 red chili and 1 banana

Side dishes are often scrambled or fried eggs, corn tortilla or toast, fried plantains, and Natilla (sour cream). Instead of eggs you can also use scrambled tofu. And instead of Natilla cashew butter with coconut milk.

My experience with Couchsurfing. Is it safe?

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I use Couchsurfing (couchsurfing.com) since four years now. Slept on over 70 couches and hosted a few people at my place in Biel, Switzerland.

What is Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing (CS) is a web portal that helps to connect travellers and hosts (mostly locals) almost all over the world. You need a profile. After staying at somebody’s place you leave a reference. Same for the host. Long positive references are the best ones. I think it is a way to show your gratitude. Start hosting people at your placs or meet other couchsurfers to get references before you travel.

Besides the free accommodation you spend time with locals. They give you a different perspective of the culture of your destination. I often get travel advices, have the opportunity to use their kitchen, and do things I would have never considered trying by myself (e.g. learning how to surf in the US, reiki in Thailand, having a presentation about Switzerland at a university in Japan). The list is long. I also hosted couchsurfers for a second time or visited them in their country or met up somewhere else…You never know who might be the next surprisingly amazing person! You do not have to offer a place to stay but I think it is a great experience.

My experience

I like to sleep on a couch. It feels like somebody is hugging me from behind. But I do not say no when my host offers me a spare bed or even a spare room. It is also possible to surf and host with a friend, a partner or as a family. For me as a woman travelling solo it is very easy to find a host. Often I can write a request in the morning and get a host for the same day. Fits great to my spontaneity. As a guy or a couple you need to ask around 1-2 weeks before your day of arrival. The more and better references you have on Couchsurfing, the easier. My boyfriend had a more difficult start than me. Women prefer to host other women and men prefer to host women. So in the beginning he got mainly hosted by gay men till he had enough references to seem trustworthy. Now he has more references than me. Love to couchsurfe with him and look forward to host people in the future in our tiny house.

So far I never had a really negative experience. Only a few weird ones. Most important are the references. Look for subtle hints. Many people do not write a negative reference since they do not want to have a negative reference themself. Today it is not possible to change a reference anymore. I think that is good. Once a host in Hungary asked me to change what I wrote about him. There was an incident at his place where he made me uncomfortable. After I said “no” he threatened me to write me a negative reference. I did not reply and luckily never heard of him again.

Is it safe?

There exist much more male CS than female CS. And some of the few female couchsurfers only surf and do not host. So most of my hosts were/are male. As a girl/woman travelling solo you will definitely learn how to say “no” in a clear way. Consider it as school of life. I would be lying if I would say I never had something with any of my hosts. It happend. But it is definitely not common.

You can’t be 100% sure who you are being hosted by or who is coming to your place. It is easy to set up a new account when somebody had a bad reference. But then the person has to start at zero.

Once I hosted a girl. She had no references but I thought everybody starts once. We shared similar interests so I was looking forward to meet her. She turned out to be a total disaster. She took Speed, said she hates asian food outside of her country while I was cooking her an asian curry and freaked out when she couldn’t open the bathroom door. It was closed because my roommate was using the toilet. However this experience did not stop me from hosting or surfing.

Honestly I feel much safer and often more comfortable to use Couchsurfing than staying in a hostel. Most of my hosts treat me as a family member or a good friend. I often feel home. Hostels are colder and can get very busy. I remember very well when I arrived in Chicago for the first time my host made many red crosses with a marker on a map on areas that are considered as dangerous. Another place my host persisted on picking me up with his car. Locals often know better and make sure you have a nice experience.

Safety Tips for Couchsurfing

  • Tell somebody where you are staying if you feel safer and get the phone number of your host in case you get lost.
  • Make sure the person has at least one picture where you can see the face.
  • If your feeling tells you that there is something wrong – leave
  • Please don’t just stay with someone because it’s free. If you can’t find a good host then you shouldn’t use CS for that town. There exist many weird people out there.

Exchange of knowledge and experiences

My last host in costa rica is a great example that couchsurfing is so much more than just staying at somebody’s place. He teached me how to surf a surfboard. He is such a patient teacher and got an incredible good friend. He made me feel like home. I’m so grateful for all the interesting conversations over meals and all the laughters.

Learning how to surf is not only fun. It’s exhausting, drinking a lot of saltwater which burns in the throat, and getting hurt by the surfboard and jellyfish. But thanks to my host who was my teacher for the last two weeks I managed not to be afraid of the waves anymore, stand up, and even turn left or right a little bit before I felt again like in a washing machine. But the feeling of catching a wave, being in the air is incredible satisfying and makes you forget everything else. Which can be bad if you also forget to stand up right in the right moment…

What can I give back? Since I love to cook I often cook for my hosts. In Japan I was babysitting, in the US dog sitting. I also clean the dishes or help whatever I can. Often my hosts tell me I can stay as long as I want. Do not take it for granted to get hosted! Some hosts get over 15 requests per day (e.g. New York, Amsterdam).

Please feel free to share your experiences 🙂

Tiny house – A way to live more sustainable

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Recently I joint a tiny house meet-up in Richmond, VA. It inspired me to read more about living in a sustainable tiny house.The tiny house movement (also known as the small house movement) advocates living simply in small homes. Either on wheels or a foundation. Currently there is no set definition of what constitutes a tiny house; however, a residential structure under 500 square feet (46 m2) is generally accepted to be a tiny home.
It attracts more attention as it offers housing that is:

  • cheaper than renting or buying a big house
  • saves ressources (energy, space)
  • more time (e.g. less cleaning)
  • more ecologically friendly
  • encourages a simpler lifestyle
  • less expensive in terms of taxes, heating, maintenance, and repair costs

Zoning is a challenge for both tiny and small homes, as many communities require houses to be 1,000 square feet or more. But there is always a way if you talk with the right people.

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions: FAQ

Richmond – A green, artistic, and intercultural city

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A city I only visited because of a good friend. Thanks to him and meetup (app) I had a amazing time in Richmond, Virginia. The city has a lot to offer: Plenty of beautiful parks, the James river (my favourite place), art galleries, art festivals (first friday), many great murals, very interesting museums (science, art, holocaust), potlucks, lectures, second-hand (thrift) shops, film festivals, and a lot of walking in the nature.

The site was previously inhabited by the Powhatan Indians. You might be familiar with Pocahontas John Smith. Richmond is one of the oldest American cities and historically very interesting.

Transport: The easiest way to get around Richmond is by car.

Cheapest bus from Richmond, VA to Washington, DC (2h): http://www.EasternShuttle.com (10-15 dollar). I had a good experience.

In Costa Rica now 🙂