City Girl Takes the Jungle Pt.2: A Changed Woman

Lifestyle

It has now been a week since I left Nicaragua and returned to Canada to begin my last year of university. I’ve been trying to conceal how sad I am about being back, and maybe it’s because the weather today is 10 degrees celsius, or maybe it’s because I’ve averaged 4 hours of sleep a night for the last 9 days (thanks for keeping me informed, FitBit!), but now seems like a good day for me to unload a few of the many things my backpacking trip taught me. If you want to read about why I decided to backpack Nicaragua, check out Part 1!

I forgot how much I like nature.

 

 

Growing up, my parents took me camping every summer (sometimes twice a summer), and would bring my sisters and I back to Vietnam every few years. I think naturally, I have always been really fascinated with nature, animals, flora, and fauna, and somewhere along the line I let the unpleasant things about nature drive me away from it. Working on a permaculture property where life in all senses is incredibly abundant made me realize that things like bug bites and creepy crawling insects make things like seeing butterflies of all colours from the rainbow and watching the natural defense mechanisms of a tree once its fruit is picked SO worth it.

Rachel, Trevor, and the other volunteer at El Jardin de la Vida Kenji, are total geeks about agriculture and all things growing and I loved learning about the intricacies of the different plants, animals, and insects around the property. They had so much knowledge on what grows well, what plants look like, the differences between North American strains of plants and tropical strains, I was learning so much that has helped me appreciate the sparse nature on the campus of UWaterloo.

What the f*** do we put in our food?!

One of the highlights and transformative moments of my trip was killing one of the 11 free range chickens that roam around the property. My host Trevor helped out with the catching, killing, and preparing the chicken, but mainly walked me through it so that I could do it myself. I know some of you are reading this and cringing, but I really think that if you are a meat eater, at one point in your life, you should kill and eat a creature. I have a video of me killing the chicken which I’ll share if you ask me to because it shows how shaken up I was and I really don’t want to make myself seem like I was this crazy woman of the jungle and took it on like a champ. Before killing the chicken, I asked my hosts if I should expect blood to squirt everywhere when I killed it– they both shrugged and Trevor literally said “I don’t ever remember having to change my clothes after killing a chicken… although I can’t say I’d be particularly bothered if there was chicken blood on my clothes”. My knife skills weren’t at their greatest so I kind of messed up the killing part and blood squirted in my eye and I proceed to freak out about it in the video. Yummy!

 

 

I then had to de-feather and de-gut the bird which was actually the most shocking part of the process because MAN THAT CHICKEN DID NOT HAVE MUCH MEAT ON IT and the organs were HUGE and still warm and I accidently sliced the esophagus of the chicken while cleaning it up which revealed the green grass that the chicken was eating minutes before I killed it. All I could think was, “there is no way factory farmed chickens look like this”, because, and I’m not exaggerating when I say, that one chicken breast from the 20 pack at costco was the equivalent to the amount of meat on this wild, free range chicken. They’re actually very lean, very athletic creatures and they’re beautiful. I’m betting that the chickens we eat on a day-to-day basis in North America are so far genetically removed from what a chicken is really supposed to look like- with breasts, and thighs largely enhanced with steroids and a diet that isn’t green at all.

On a less morbid note, the fruit on Ometepe is all organic and fresh since refrigeration isn’t really a thing and the fruit tastes different than what I’m used to, probably because, again, these are naturally occuring and not factory farmed for mass consumption. Upon my return to Canada, everyone remarked on how I lost weight, and I was like “of course I lost weight, I stopped ingesting processed foods and sweat 24/7 for the last two weeks”.

I don’t want to participate in consumerism and capitalist ideals.

I feel like for every point I have on this post, I think, “that was the most impactful thing”, but this is a huge one for me. I was living out of a 50L+5L backpack for two weeks with a few pairs of shorts, tops, and dresses, and the only thing that bothered me about that was that I was beginning to run out of clean underwear. Otherwise, I had my flip-flops, Birkenstocks, and hiking boots, one purse, and one pair of $20 sunglasses that I ended up sitting on and breaking. This was no issue at all which SHOCKED me because I returned to my apartment in Waterloo and was horrified at all of the stuff I have. 3 weeks ago I would have raved and been so proud of my purse collection, my shoe collection, and my make-up shelf. I don’t have any shame in the fact that I really like expensive things and I like nice things, but they are soooooo unnecessary and I feel like its excessive.

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There is actually no reason why I need a black leather Gucci crossbody, a Kate Spade black leather crossbody, and a black Coach crossbody purse. The truth is that I could pick up a crossbody from a local artisan’s market and it would serve the same purpose. On my trip, someone stole my UWaterloo Camelback water bottle, and when I told Rachel about it, she said the same thing happened to her once while she was travelling, and then she said, “That’s okay though. You just learn to not become attached to things”. I was mind blown!!!! Is it kind of sad and a little annoying that I lost a $30 water bottle? Yes. Did the plastic water bottle I used for the remainder of my trip serve the same purpose? Also yes.

Here’s are photos of the room I stayed in- you can check out a video here which I can’t upload because despite paying WordPress I can’t upload videos 🙂

 

 

I’ve been putting my blood, sweat, and tears into organizing Hack the North, Canada’s biggest hackathon, for the last year and a half of my life, and as much as I love the organization and people, I’ve been seriously questioning how much I even want to be a part of the tech industry, especially on the marketing side of it. It’s all fine and dandy I supposed and no disrespect at all to my fellow techies, but SO much is lost on us because we’re too caught in the SAUCE. Blockchain technology and user-friendly data analytics used to get me aroused and being around people who don’t really care to even know or think about those things for a little while made me realize that I don’t think I really care to even know about these things either.

I saw how the locals lived and what the family unit in Nicaragua is like. The many expats on Ometepe have adopted these minimalist type ideals and values and it was a really great thing to witness. I wish I could convey how beautiful a simple lifestyle is without sounding cheesy and hypocritical (peep me on campus still wearing my purses and RayBans), but it’s something that has really made me think twice about the decisions and values I hold.

Look for love.

In an attempt to experience Ometepe from a different perspective, I downloaded Tinder and started swiping away. I realize that can sound kind of scary to some of you– I’m a solo single female traveller meeting strangers on the internet in a foreign country, but the island is so small that anyone I swiped on, my hosts probably knew, and could do a quick sanity check for me. I found locals and fellow backpackers on the app and it was a great way to see who else was around! All of the boys I met had really interesting and insightful things to say and show me, so in honor of the novel turned Netflix movie “To all the boys I loved”, I will be writing about them in my next post.

City girl in the Jungle Pt. 1: Why Did I go to Nicaragua?

Lifestyle

I just returned from a 2-week backpacking trip in Nicaragua, and it was absolutely incredible and I have so much to share that I’ll do it in multiple parts (not sure how many?). This post will be about the process leading up to my trip, and some highlights from it! I’ll be doing a separate post for food in the next few weeks or so.

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I’d first like to apologize for the radio static for the last few months. I’ve had been working as the Arts/Life Editor for Imprint, my school’s student newspaper, and usually felt guilty about not creating content to be published there in pursuit of my personal blog. It was still an incredible experience nonetheless and I had the opportunity to take things a bit easier with a part-time course load and part-time job in Waterloo after I finished my internship in the big city of Toronto.

With that being said, my internship was a transformative few months and a time that I refer to as “the worst time of my (short) life”, but that’s another blogpost for another day. During this time, I decided that I need to shake things up in my life and challenge myself in a way that I never have before. I started looking at different volunteer opportunities on workaway.info which is a community that brings together people offering work in exchange for accommodations and board. I put off the idea of travelling and working on a farm until I finished my final assessment in August, and came across a hostel/restaurant with a permaculture garden in Ometepe, Nicaragua. Even though I had reached out to a ton of other hosts ranging from teaching English in Bogota, spiritual retreats, yoga teaching, and many more, El Jardin de la Vida and my hosts Trevor and Rachel stood out to me because they’re American ex-pats, which, for a non-Spanish speaker and first-time backpacker, was appealing to me. They also had glowing reviews from other travellers like me raving about the serenity and nature on the property, the people, and the work being very rewarding and flexible.

 

 

So, over the course of 2 or so days, I arranged a flight and travel insurance and started preparing myself for 13 days of living off-the-grid on a permaculture farm in a foreign country. I had been camping before and don’t consider myself to be a very fussy or picky person, although I am a bit of a princess (the notorious “I don’t f*** with public transit” line often comes back to haunt me), and I did hours and hours of research on what to expect.

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My journey began in Detroit at 5 AM, where my sister sent me off with the one caveat that I come back alive and with Nicaraguan coffee. Then I flew to where Miami where I listened to Will Smith’s “Welcome to Miami” after hearing my pilot’s rendition when we landed, and then from Miami to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. The flying and layover travel time was ~7 hours, and getting from the capital to El Jardin de la Vida where I was to be volunteering, is another 4-5 hours, so I’m sure you can imagine how gassed I was.

Nicaragua has recently undergone some political turmoil as a result of protests, and as a result the tourism there has taken a huge hit. Many businesses have closed and many people moved to Costa Rica where they can find work. Things have really calmed down but unfortunately there’s a huge stigma around travelling to Nicaragua so the economy still hasn’t quite recovered. Before the protests began, Nicaragua has been notorious amongst travellers as the cheapest and safest Central American country. I figured that I trusted my hosts to gauge how safe travel to the country is right now, but was still a bit nervous about spending time in Managua and wanted to power through my trip to get to Ometepe in one day. The result was a $100 taxi from the airport to the ferry port driven by a female taxi-driver who knew English and wouldn’t pick up other people on the way– sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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Upon arriving at El Jardin, I met the other volunteer who was staying there. His name is Kenji and he was a stock broker from Seattle until he sold all of his belongings and embarked on a cross-continental bike ride that would eventually end in Belize. Both Trevor and Rachel, my hosts, had similar stories of being over-committed to work in corporate America and decided to start their lives elsewhere. After having their adorable little girl in the U.S, they drove a schoolbus which they converted into a house, along with their 6-month old daughter, from Rhode Island back to Ometepe, Nicaragua. Now, they run their hostel, restaurant, and kayak tours on the beautiful island and are building a home from sustainable materials. Their property is littered with beautiful fruit trees, lush gardens, and flowers that attract the prettiest butterflies. I was in love!!!!!! My typical day would include waking up around 6:30 AM, getting cleaned up using the outdoor shower and composting toilet, reading in a hammock for an hour or so, eating breakfast, doing a few hours of work in the garden or helping out in the kitchen, and then spending the rest of the day lazing around.

I know that up until this point this all sounds fun and dandy, and while it was all great, it was hands-down the most challenging two weeks of my life. I had major culture shock and tried to legitimately rebook my departure flight for sooner because I really didn’t think I could survive there. First of all, I don’t know a lick of Spanish (but I learned “Yo no hablo Espenol”), which was very daunting. It was easier to pick up once I got there thanks to my prior French education growing up, but nowhere near a functional conversational level. Nicaragua is kind of already “out there” in terms of location and being off the beaten path, but I went to Ometepe, an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua only accessible by 1.5 hours on the ferry, and El Jardin was 2.5 km outside of the closest town, so I was remote as HELL. I was straight up living in the jungle and I was getting destroyed by bug bites and creeped out by all of the tropical wild life (lizards and scorpions are a regular sight). In addition to that, being out and about began to feel really daunting to me. The romantic culture in Nicaragua is a lot different than North American culture in terms of what is considered acceptable for men to do. While I’ve been cat-called plenty of times in Canada, it’s actually 500% worse in Central America. It was very normal for me to walk down the street and hear men whistling at me, yelling profanities at me (I eventually had to learn what they were saying to me in Spanish meant, and then I immediately wished that I hadn’t), men groping me, making kissy noises, following me, etc. Travelling as a girl by yourself is hard on its own but in a culture that these things is normal it becomes a little bit more scary. These are all things that I was perfectly aware of going into it, but I wasn’t expecting to not be mentally prepared for them.

When I wanted to leave and called my sister to rebook my departure flight for an earlier date, I told my hosts, who sat me down and gave me the best pep-talk of my life. They said that when I first got there, I told them I came to Ometepe to find myself (cliché, but accurate), and they want to really help me do that– that two weeks was no time, that I came to challenge myself so this is all a part of the challenge- and I was like, “You’re not wrong”, so I buckled down and knew I had to stick it out. I’m so so glad that I did. I stopped drowning myself in bug spray (so much that it was staining my skin) because the bug bites were inevitable anyways, took more ownership of the work I did every day on the farm, and did things that excited me. One day, I got to make ravioli from scratch with Rachel, which was super cool and a first for me!

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Next up, I’ll be talking about the many people I met and many things I did on Ometepe, and why I think every traveler should have Tinder! Until the next time I want to procrastinate by blogging, xoxo.