Costa Rica: Sustainable Adventures

I’ve never written about this before because words, well… they just don’t seem to do it justice.

But when I graduated from college I had an experience that would change my life forever.

I said goodbye to my friends and family and flew under the cover of night to Costa Rica. My wild daydreams of becoming an Adventure Guide in the jungles of Central America had actually come true. My parents thought I was insane, but I embarked on the crazy journey with little more than will and a prayer. It was a lot like The Secret. My relationship with my first love was on shaky ground. I was graduating soon. I would have to decide – and visualize – which direction my life was going to take. All I knew was that I needed nature, a spanish-speaking country, and the opportunity to learn and teach. I became obsessed with the idea that I should become an Adventure Guide.
Sort of like this without the guns (and add a horse, a bow, and some arrows).

Of course, I had no real qualifications (unless archaeological digs and riding horses with my dad counted as ‘experience’), but I scoured the internet regardless, reaching out to every single adventure company listed. Whales, turtles, rafting, sailing, ecology… you name it, I begged for the chance to learn the ropes.

I never heard back. I was a senior; unsure of what life – after graduation – might have in store, but somehow I saw – and willed – what would later become one of the most memorable experiences in my life. Strangely enough, I was on my way to see the movie Titanic, when I ran into Jordie, an old friend from freshman year. We hadn’t seen each other since we took a train from Philly to Madison Square Garden to see one of the last Grateful Dead shows in history. We stood outside the movie theater catching up… Jordie had taken a semester off to travel Costa Rica and clear his head, I had moved to Spain to study Spanish literature.

“Costa Rica… that’s amazing,” I said. “I just got back from Spain and I’ve been dreaming about becoming an Adventure Guide. Costa Rica would be the perfect place…”

As fate (or The Secret) would have it, Jordie responded:

“That’s what I did… and I think they’re hiring.”

The rest, as they say, is history. I willed my fate and the universe had finally heard me. Two weeks later, Jordie called to give me the phone number of Stephen Brooks, the 25 year-old eco-adventurer and owner of Costa Rican Adventures. Ten minutes later, Stephen offered me a job. Those two guys in the photo above, Brian (left) and Jupy (right), would be my fellow companions and guides throughout the Costa Rican jungle. Together, and with our passionate boss, Stephen, we studied poisonous dart frogs at a biological reserve, learned about sustainable farming, visited a co-op of women who farmed natural herbs, hiked steep mud-filled mountains to eat with a local tribe of Bribri, went white-water rafting (where I momentarily fell for a local river guide), and cooked yucca for high school and college students who were all there to learn – with us – about the miraculous beauty and plenitude that is… nature.

Peto and I leaving Manzanillo, the last stop before Punta.

Four months later, clarity came by way of rafting through Turrialba, picking and cooking my own food, listening the symphonic cascade of the jungle at night, and witnessing the first-hand struggle of a green turtle laying her eggs in the sand along the Panamanian border.
Since 1998, Costa Rican Adventures has certainly been thriving. What was once a run down treehouse where we camped and washed dishes in the ocean, is now Punta Mona or Monkey Point, a 30-acre organic farm and educational retreat dedicated to environmental consciousness by creating an example of sustainable living through permaculture design, eco-technology and organic farming. Located 6 km south of Manzanillo on the Southern Caribbean Coast, ‘Punta’ (as we called it) is surrounded by nothing, but monkeys, turtles, the jungle, coconut, and the Caribbean, complete with the locals that you can really only dream of…

Take Padi, a 70 year-old man who lives alone – with no electricity – on the border between Costa Rica and Panama. The nearest town is only accessible by boat or a two-hour hike with a machete through dense jungle and swarms of mosquitos. How long he’s been there… it’s a mystery. Thirty, maybe forty, years. Time here is dictated by the movement of the seasons, the migration of the turtles, and the tides. A remarkable man of almost Lama-esque peace and calm, Padi really is the old rasta man to your sea. He follows the turtles by the cycles of the moon and tides; consulting a lunar calendar as he tells you, before bedtime, just why there’s no place on earth he’d rather be… even if he’s got a few kids living in the big city.

Stephen Brooks knew something before most of us did. If you want to find some meaning in your life, really engage in the natural world and take refuge in the land that’s right there before you. ‘If you want to connect to the land, her resources, and her people, this is the place to do it,’ he says. Having farmed the soil, climbed the peaks, and witnessed a turtle struggle to lay her eggs in the sand… I can heartily say, Brooks was way ahead of his time. He knew – and fulfilled – what any person needs to encounter at least once, if not repeatedly and permanently, in life. An experience – or, better yet, a lifestyle – that really reminds you how to live. Naturally.

They’ll tailor trips for up to 40 people from one day to several weeks where you’ll hike, kayak, get massages, do some organic farming, swim, observe turtle nesting, get permaculture instruction, do yoga, and even… learn how to make chocolate!

They’ll even take care of all meals and snacks (the majority of food comes fresh from their organic gardens and the sea).

Last year, I covered the incredibly cool turtle sanctuary at the luxurious Le Meridien Bora Bora and, in addition to sustainable trips and organic farming with my alma mater, Costa Rican Adventures, I’m passionate about hunting down the best trips for the heart, the soul, and… the turtles.

So, if you’re in the mood for a more research/labor intensive trip focusing solely on these glorious Chelonia mydas, check out:

The Caribbean Conservation Corporation and Sea Turtle Survival League (CCC). For over 45 years, they’ve conducted sea turtle nest monitoring studies located on the most popular nesting sites for green turtles in the Western hemisphere. The area stretches along the twenty-mile black sand beach of Tortuguero and now provides the majority of the information on the reproductive ecology and migratory habits of sea turtles. Researchers (and volunteer guests like you) are based at CCC’s John H. Phipps Biological Field Station or the Landon T. Clay Scientists Residence where you’ll monitor nesting trends, growth rates, and reproductive success. You’ll walk along the large expanse of beach at night – just you and the world – tracking turtles and observing babies hatch while mother heads back to the shore.

The best part?

Through this conservation initiative, CCC has reversed the decline of green turtles in the Caribbean.

For centuries, the long beach draws the largest nesting population of green turtles hunted for their meat and eggs; still considered delicacies, regardless of the fact that, like shark and shark finning, it’s pretty tasteless and there’s a good deal of fresh fish, coconut, and vegetables around to eat instead. After all, it’s illegal to kill and eat these ancient turtles for a reason.

The sand is soft and the wind is smooth, but they recommend people in good health and physical condition. You’ll pull a 4-hour nightshift with a few others between 5 -7 miles a night, walking in the dark (with no flashlight as to avoid scaring the turtles). You’ll pick a shift that runs from 8am-12am or 12am-4am and then… get taggin’. When you’re not tracking the turtles and watching them lay eggs and hatch, you’ll have plenty of time to veg in a hammock and write plenty of Darwinian sonnets as you plan the next 10 years of your life.

Here’s a sample room:

$1,399 for a one week session – $2,699 for a three week session.
Contact CCC for details, fees and availability of the Scientist Residence or local Eco-Lodge options.

At the end of your sustainable adventures, when you’re ready to check out a bit more of the country, take a trip to the volcanic hot springs of Arenal and then treat yourself to Manuel Antonio/Quepos where you can really contribute to that Costa Rican economy. When my family came into town to visit me at the end of my eco-journey, we stayed at:

The Tulemar Bungalows (****), my personal favorite. Intimate and nestled in the jungle, monkeys will greet you in the morning and play in the trees as you sip a pina colada in the pool. You can choose from modern eco-friendly bungalows, private villas, and houses on the beach.

$128 (Green Season/Bungalows)-$11,000 (private villa that sleeps eight for a week)

Our plush eco-loving staff also recommends the only five-start property (and eco-reserve!) in Costa Rica, Gaia Hotel and Reserve.

$220-$970 (high season, 2-bedroom villa)

This place will not only remind you why you needed to lend your beautiful spirit to the earth and her creatures around you, but it will also remind you to appreciate the beauty, and the design, that is lovingly made by man. Now go farm the jungle and track some turtles already!

Swedish Genius: The Hammarby Model

Idyllic, isn’t it? Malmö and Hammarby Sjöstad… They’re on everyone’s tongues (or at least everyone following eco-development trends).

As says, “The city of Malmö on the western coast of Sweden has created one of the world’s most dynamic sustainable cultures in Vastra Hamnen. Stockholm has also risen to the challenge of a sustainable future with the latest developments on a much larger scale at Hammarby Sjostad. These developments hope to be a spearhead for a future worldwide agenda.”

A spearhead for a future worldwide agenda… you don’t say?!

They rightfully call the movement ‘The Hammarby Model.’

Hammarby Sjöstad, an exciting new district in Stockholm, came out of the city’s tough environmental requirements on buildings from the start. As a result, Stockholm Water Company, Fortum and the Stockholm Waste Management Administration jointly developed a common eco-cycle model designed to ensure organic recycling throughout Hammarby Sjöstad. This model, as the city’s website says, ‘is the thread that binds together the entire environmental programme and demonstrates how the various technical supply systems are integrated.’

We here at Jaunt say, “Incredible!”

And when you see it for yourself, you’ll wonder why we’re not all flocking to Sweden. Then you’ll remember… Oh yeah, it’s cold. But we can tell you one thing. This sub-city of Stockholm is one hell of a genius Swedish idea (say that three times fast). The twelve-year long project which began about eight years ago is now almost at it’s completion and you’d be amazed to see that what was once an industrial harbor area home to derelicts is now a district of 8000 apartments intended to soon provide accommodation for 20,000-25,000 people. So far, so great. Re-construction re-creates jobs, in turn, this re-creates vitalization and a communal center. If that’s not cool enough, it’s almost 100% sustainable.

Västra Hamnen in Malmö is another new district occupying a former industrial area by the sea. Tucked at the end of the country on the Western coast, it’s the third largest city in Sweden (and used to be Denmark’s second. It’s original name was Malmhaug, meaning “Gravel Pile, interestingly enough). Malmö may be small, but these developments, entirely self-sustaining, are the future of art, architecture, and intellect.

A couple of other things about Malmö… it has the highest concentration of restaurants, per capita, is known as ‘The City of Parks,’ and architecture buffs, if you’re interested enough to take a peek up there, can check out the Turning Torso, what looks like a post-modern homage of sorts to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, designed by Spanish star architect Santiago Calatrava. The impressive Öresund bridge – which connects Malmö and Copenhagen – allows you to get that quick ‘Two Nation Vacation,’ (and learn a bit about sustainability in action).

If you look on Wikipedia, you can read all about Malmö, the German Hanseatic League notable for herring fishing and King Eric of Pomerania (once the area north of Germany and Poland on the Baltic Coast). He held power of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden in the 1400’s. The entire province of Scania in the south eventually went from Danish to Swedish control after the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658. The city was then, over the course of many years, home to shipyard constructions, depressions, and sadly, a very high unemployment rate. Now, government-funded projects intended to revitalize the once happening seafront area, are a source of renewable energy. Malmö also has the highest proportion of people with non-Scandinavian descent than any other Swedish city. Interesting to think about the relevance of this when you…

Look at the numbers:

Yugoslavia (8,791)
Denmark (7,826)
Iraq (7,101)
Poland (6,008)
Bosnia-Herzegovina (5,637)
Lebanon (3,309)
Iran (2,958)
Hungary (1,845)
Germany (1,767)
Finland (1,678)
Afghanistan (1,606)
Romania (1,542)
Turkey (1,445)
Chile (1,305)
Vietnam (1,144)

(C) Wikipedia

Makes you wonder about displacement, war refugees, and the real possibility for growth and re-vitalization, doesn’t it? Will the children of these immigrants feel Swedish? Does it even matter? Could Sweden be the newer, cleaner, more eco-friendly melting-pot of the world?

Preserving marine life in the surrounding areas, banning cancerous PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls), boat primers, weed killers, paper bleaching and photograph development, are all leading the discussions that allow a community to build wisely; in essence, thinking about mother-earth from the start. All new designs are approached with what they call ‘holistic integration’ which means they attempt to eliminate noise pollution to create a more peaceful spacial environment.

Curious how they do it?
This is ‘The Hammarby Model.’
(Click for a larger view)

Household waste is sorted into glass, paper, plastics, or compost (ie. organic waste, fish, vegetables, etc.) and for incineration. The waste is put into a vacuum system (one for each type of waste) and then it’s sucked to underground offsite storage chambers. On collection days, the waste disposal vehicles suck the contents of the chambers out ensuring a clean airtight process. The non-recyclable waste is converted to bio-gas and, together with bio-gas from the local sewage treatment plant, it’s fed back into the houses to fuel kitchen cooking and transport (including the waste recovery vehicles and private cars). Nutrients from sewage treatment go to agriculture.


Over the next three to four years, the area of Hammerby Sjostad will ‘officially’ be completed. We can’t wait to see how this model factors into more developments.

The reason for the success?

Intellect and design savvy.

Remember… these are not only the great Vikings who conquered vast lands, forged earth from the sea (and brought us IKEA), but they’re also a population of multi-national survivors; the people who build nations… the immigrants.

High density accommodation + a relaxed spatial environment = The Future of Living.

Italy: The Flower of my Secret

Shhh… Italy is…
The flower of my secret.

That’s Georgia O’Keeffe’s ‘Black Iris’, but it sure does draw you in, doesn’t it? She may have found her inspiration in Santa Fe, but we’re finding it in Italy. Which reminds us of flowers, Limoncello, beauty, and a few botanically-inspired programs taking place in the country of fine wine and pasta right now (such passionate paramours of all things flowery, green, and leafy, we are). Whispered about among the upwardly-mobile artistic set, these petal-pushing programs are sure to bring out the inner O’Keeffe in you too.

HOTEL SPLENDIDO: The Discovering Herbs Package
Portofino, Italy

The word ‘love’ doesn’t capture the affaire de coeur I have with the Italian coast. Sweeping, terraced, cobbled, and cozy, it’s one of the most romantic spots on earth; reason enough to believe in true love and eternal bliss. Surreal in it’s majesty, endless in it’s scope, there’s simply no other place I’ve seen that quite compares to Italy’s fine homage to love and living.

The days, the nights, alone, or in love, Italy can be sipped slowly or downed in one long lascivious gulp. Greedy, sensual, ravenous, needy, when you leave you’ll want to cry yourself into the fetal position and ask yourself, “Why???” It’s painful to leave her no matter what you do.

Originally a Monastery, Hotel Splendido in Portofino, is among the finest accommodations in the area. A luxury villa that stands majestically on a hillside overlooking the Bay of Portofino, it’s surrounded by four acres of tropical terraced gardens of palm trees, yews, sea pines, mimosa and olive groves while the nearby harbor is full of cafes, shops, gorgeous men (whoops, did I say that?) and restaurants. So grab a girlfriend, your mom, or your husband, and see an Italian coast that’ll make you swoon. Get creative and break the botanical babe in you free.

You’ll spend two days and two nights learning how to recognize the spontaneous herbs of Liguria and their use in cookery. A course lying midway between gastronomy and botany, based on the aromas of the herbs typical of the Tigullio region. Here’s the itinerary:

Day One: A gourmet dinner for two based on local herbs, in either the Splendido Mare’s “Chuflay” restaurant or in the Splendido’s “la Terrazza” restaurant.

Day Two: Guests set off on foot at 10am for a half-day excursion on Monte di Portofino, accompanied by a botanist guide, who will explain the uses and properties of spontaneous herbs for cooking, health and beauty.

Prices start at US $1,719* per person, for a double sea view room, including flowers, full American-style breakfast and all the activities in the program.

Reservations at: or 1800 237 1236.

In addition to classes on the Italian coast, you can discover a renaissance in botanical art at properties around the world with painting classes at almost all of the Orient-Express hotels. By the end of each class, you’ll have completed a number of sketches and color works.

Fun, fun, fun!

The program for 2008 includes a variety of options. Since today we’re daydreaming about Italy, I pick:

Venice, Italy

You know about the gondolas and the city among the sea, right? There’s really not much more to say, but… look at that photo! We vote for a few days in the middle of that ancient Italian lovestory that is Venice. Go paint. Suck, or be amazing. Who cares? Just know this… if you go alone, you better have something to do. Like paint some flowers, take a big rosemary-filled breath, and drink some wine. Just don’t say I didn’t tell you so when Massimo tries to feel you up during your 80 minute massage.

Fondamenta Vetrai, Murano 50,

Tel: 041 2737211

Flower Painting Master Class: “Autumn fruits and foliage”
Sunday, October 5th – Friday, October 10th, 2008
Package price is Euro 5,365 (approx USD $7,980) plus 10% VAT. Rate for two persons, student or not, sharing a room.

Students can discover a worldwide renaissance in flower painting at an exclusive Master Class at the Hotel Cipriani taught by Siriol Sherlock.

Student Program Includes:
• Welcome at the airport or railway station by hotel representative
• Transfer on arrival and departure
• Italian Champagne and flowers in the room
• Get-together cocktail party on arrival and welcome dinner
• Daily painting Master Class
• Five nights deluxe accommodation with full American Breakfast
• Lunch and dinner daily (beverages not included)
• Farewell dinner
• Diploma

Reservations: or 1800 237 1236.

Peru: The Amazon & Ayahuasqueros, A Voyage to the Deep

Blue Morpho: Iquitos, Peru

Some people think that wearing skulls and leather, having tattoos, and drinking to excess makes them a ‘Rockstar,’ but you know where they’re wrong? They wouldn’t tell their boss they’re taking a mental health vacation and heading to the Amazon with little more than a month’s notice. That’s where the legitimate rockstar differs from the conflict diamond wearing latte toting stand-ins. The legitimate Rockstar flies by the seat of his or her pants and worries about the boss after they worry about their mental health. That said, most of us aren’t fearless (or stupid) enough to venture alone to the Amazon and stay with the local tribe. In this case, shamans, caimans, and the Jaguar people of the Peruvian Amazon.

(c) Piers Vitebsky

Alas! Jaunt uncovered two options that we think are strictly for the cutting-edge:

Option #1: For the Shaman Ready Rockstar
Option #2: For the Luxury Eco-Loving Rockstar

I recently heard about ayahuasqueros and their icaros (sacred medicine songs). I thought to myself… I must have suddenly grown up because even I couldn’t do that, but it tugged at me… this mild fascination with the art of ritual hallucination. In fact, it sounded so heady mind-fu@king exhilarating that I had to dive in and find out more for you.

Here’s what I uncovered (after several misspelled versions of the magical plant entered into Google). If you feel like heading to the Amazonian jungle, staying in thatch and wood huts (don’t worry… they’re clean and moderately bug-free), get ready to drink a scared plant with similarly-minded Ayahuasca Adventurers and check out:

The jungle surrounding the Amazonian town of Iquitos, Peru.

Blue Morpho, based in Iquitos, specializes in, can you dig it… Shamanistic Workshops! Sitting on 180 acres of privately-owned primary forest, it’s a perfect setting of serenity where you’ll go back in time and attempt to heal your wounds, expel bad vibe, and greet your inner child. Keep in mind, you have to be that uniquely brave sort of person willing to rough it in the jungle and drink a hallucinogenic plant to find yourself. You’ll vomit and gag… potentially lose your mind, but hey, that’s life, isn’t it? It’s perfect for the lover of yoga, meditation, & tabs of LSD in the college years sort who’s all grown up with at least a few hours of pent up issues in need of a good purge. The sacred plant spirit is supposed to remove the weight of your sadness and get rid of that heavy energy or hucha.

A group of Ayahuasca Adventurers.

They say the songs of the Ayahuasqueros spontaneously come forth. These men of the jungle singing only what the plant tells them to sing, calling the plant to purge you from your past in order to find you again. Is this real Amazonian healing magic or just your imagination running wild as you drink from a trippy shrub? Hmmm… it’s certainly worth investigating. Just be cautious… and in a clear enough state of mind so you can handle whatever that glittery power plant sings to you.

Here’s a sample program:

“9 Days Shamanic Workshop and Jungle Trip” begins on a Monday morning at 10:00 A.M where you’ll depart Iquitos at 11:00 A.M. to begin an hour and a half trip to the Shamanic Center, go on a Medicinal plant walk and finish with an optional Camalonga Dream Journey. The Camalonga Dream Journey requires an evening fast where you drink Camalonga, a sacred teacher plant that guides through dream journeys.

For those wanting to stay in the Amazonian town of Iquitos, another helpful site highlights the medicinal markets, Belen Street Market, Jaguar people, Things to do, Restaurants, Hotels and how to navigate around as a gringo or gringa-rette. Apparently, hotels are negotiable and relatively pricey due to the isolated location. Iquitos can only be reached by plane. The secret is to ignore any attempt by the taxi driver to bring you to a hotel that he recommends.

If, however, you don’t want to find your content inner child or purge your demons, there’s always a more luxe way to go.

Amazonian River Boat: International Expeditions

Option #2
An Amazonian river boat trek!! Yes, International Expeditions, the world leader in nature travel, just announced a $500 per person savings ($1,000 per couple) on its February 29, 2008 10-day Amazon Voyage. Guests on this departure will travel twice as deep into the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve with an extra night on the river, going deeper into the Amazon than any other outfitter.

The per person price for the February 29 departure is $2,698 for lower deck cabins and $2,798 for upper deck cabins, including the savings. Prices include all accommodations, most meals, local transportation, guides, and group transfers. Airfare is additional, but can be booked by International Expeditions.

FYI – Back in 1980, they supported conservation projects across the globe before the word “ecotourism” was even coined, bringing some of the first leisure travelers to the heart of Peru’s Upper Amazon. Today guests explore the Peruvian wilds in comfortable style aboard an intimate 28-person riverboat (talk about Agatha Christie fun and mayhem). It’s specifically designed to sail the upper Amazon Basin, considered the most diverse ecosystem on Earth. You’ll witness the awesome panorama of a rainforest filled with more than 100 kinds of birds, pink Amazon River dolphins, eight species of monkeys, sloths, giant otters, and nocturnal animals such as caimans and capybaras. Throughout the journey, highly trained guides lecture on the complex environment in constant need of preservation.

Man, I love wildlife (and highly trained Amazon river guides).

In addition to explorations on small excursion boats for access further into the heart of the vast wetlands, you have the opportunity to visit small villages and get a glimpse into real life along the river. In case you’re not ready to purge your hucha with Shamans, of course. You can visit local schools, hand out donated supplies to children, and even assist with community projects.

What we like best?

International Expeditions is a pioneer of environmentally responsible travel, committed to preserving natural habitats and improving the welfare of the people and communities it visits.

So take your pick. Either way, I’ll think you’re Rockstar.