Ever since day #1, my mom’s second question to me (after the obligatory but kind hearted “how are you”) has always been “What are you eating.” If you’re like her, then food is probably the number one reason you would or have traveled. So here is a little bit about the food we’ve seen, tried or heard of. Disclosure: Apart from your occasional guinea-pig-on-a-stick or insect street food, there’s not too many “crazy” things, by westerner standards. Never the less, it’s been so much fun getting to know so many different food cultures and different traditions. Since each place is so unique, I’m going to break this down by country, starting with Costa Rica.
Food at the Jobs
Our first two months in Costa Rica, we were on a remote farm with no electricity. The kitchen was a an outdoor structure with walls just of mesh to keep the mosquitos out. We had a gas stove and running water. We grew kale, cilantro, arugula (or rocket), squash, broccoli leaves, purple cabbage, radishes, peruvian purple peppers, and bok choy. Easy to say, we at alot of greens.
Usually it was oatmeal or the previous nights dinner for breakfast and a veggie stir fry with beans, rice or lentils for lunch and dinner. Once and a while, when the propane tank ran out, we’d have to cook over the fire for a few days, which meant keeping it going for hours during the day to let the beans cook fully.
It seems that every country has their own favorite bean and for Costa Rica, it was black beans. In fact black beans are 50% of their national dish, “Gallo Pinto”, made up of rice and black beans. We ate this at different times of the day on the farm, but at a restaurant you will typically find it for breakfast served with scrambled eggs, a hunk of fresh cheese and often times “Tico Sauce” or “Salsa Lizano,” two different brands of their most popular sauce/salsa. (I think it was most similar to steak sauce.) We also ate a lot of plantain chips, since we had a looot of plantain trees.
A shop owner also gave us our first exotic fruit one day while we were in town. In English people call it the “ice cream bean” but I can’t remember the local name for it right now. The whole thing looks like a snow pea but the length of your forearm and a lot harder. When you pry the thing open long ways/ down the middle you find the beans; about the size and shape made when you touch your index finger to your thumb. The black, smooth beans are covered in a sweet, white pulpy material. It sounds weird but I think the best way to describe it is “hairy.” You just stick the whole thing in your mouth until you get all the pulp off then spit out the seed. I thought it was really good!
The second place we worked was at the home of a Costa Rican and Canadian couple on the Nicoya Peninsula (husband from San Juan and wife from Toronto). Breakfast was typically a tortilla with sour cream and avocado or gallo pinto. Most meals were just different combinations of veggies and rice or pasta, but this was also the pig farm, so they ate pork about 5 days a week.
At our third job, a hostel on the Caribbean side, the food was definitely different but our day to day was about the same since we just cooked for ourselves. However, we learned how to make some new food from some of the other volunteers. Vic and Addie, a couple from Mexico, showed us how to make tortillas, fresh jalapeno salsa and “gorditas.” To make gorditas, we made a tortilla dough but only flattened them until they were about 1/2 in thick. Then we fried them in a little bit of oil, topped them with refried beans, ground beef and shredded cheese and dressed them up with cheese and salsa. (Thanks Vic and Addie!)
Our neighbor also came over often and would make Caribbean Coconut Chicken, which he would not tell anyone else how to make but would feed the whole hostel when he felt like making it. It looked like one big pot of coconut milk, peppers, onions, spices and chicken. I skipped out on the chicken, but I think it made everyone at the hostel fall in love with him.
The town of Puerto Viejo also had the best fruit that I have ever had! The variety wasn’t crazy, but the papayas, mangos and pineapples were amazing.
Our final job in Costa Rica was on the Nicoya Peninsula again, this time in Playa Samara. As before, we were shopping and cooking for ourselves, so usually it was some combo of rice, beans, veggies and smoothies (yay for finally having a freezer and blender!)
We got really lucky because while we were there, it turned into mango season and the abandoned property next door had about 5 mango trees that were completely weighed down with huge, ripe mangos.
We also had several people that came to our door to sell food once in a while. One guy sold homemade kombucha (it was kind of a hippy beach town) and the second sold coconut water and whatever fish he caught that day. One volunteer made us delicious ceviche one night out of this guy’s red snapper that he caught (I think that’s what is was?).
Because many of our locations were much too far from any restaurants, and because we were very tight with our money in the beginning, we did not eat out a lot in Costa Rica.
A couple highlight meals : we had great ceviche at a little bar on the Pacific side in Playa Hermosa and a huge, amazing dinner plate at a little place on the Caribbean side called “Ghetto Girl.” Skylar’s was coconut chicken and rice, beans, string beans, patacones and veggie stir fry (mine about the same without chicken). (Patacones- thick slices of green plantain that have been fried, smashed and fried again. Yum.)
Other than that, we went to a couple “Sodas” which are just small, local restaurants that do simple meals for about 5$. We would often get rice and chicken bowls or gallo pinto and scrambled eggs at bus stations (yes, you can actually find good, homemade food at bus stations!) for a couple dollars and of course a couple ice cream bars here and there.
Snacks and Beer
And of course, with every country we go to, it’s mandatory to pick your favorite beer, ice cream bar and pack of cookies. Down here, virtually every store has a small freezer with ice cream bars and they are all individually wrapped, which makes buying a 50 cent ice cream bar every time you go to town very easy. Maybe too easy…
And then you have to pick your beer. Costa Rica has two: the Pilsen and the Imperial. I’ll let you guess which one we chose…
I know Costa Rica probably has more to offer in the food department, but not eating out alot and not living with a local family for very long limited us a bit. But what we did eat, we really enjoyed, not to mention the new fruits, farm grown veggies and plantains!
Adding to the timeline for our family who like to keep up with where we’re at.
Looking ahead… After finishing our two works working at Colors House, we will stick around Sucre a few days to do everything we couldn’t while working. Then we will head southwest to Potosi for a few days or more if we really like it, then to the biggest salt flats in the world in Uyuni, after which we will cross the border to Chile!
May 15 – NOW! We bussed from Samaipata south to the capital of Bolivia, Sucre. We already had a job lined up at Color’s House Hostel and Spanish School, and are now on our sixth day of work. We work at the reception, checking people in and also cleaning rooms and bathrooms. We also help mediate between the guests and bosses/other permanent workers because they do not speak English and most guests do not speak Spanish. It’s pretty cool to be at a level that we can help translate when people need, but we definitely have a bit to go before being fluent. Everyone who works here is very kind; we’re glad we got lucky with another great hostel job. This hostel is medium sized; it has three private rooms and three dorms and also has it’s own restaurant, cafe and travel agency. It is a beautiful old colonial building with an open courtyard in the center. I work in the mornings 8-2 and Skylar works evenings from 5-11, with one day off every two weeks.
Sucre, the capital, is often called the “white city” and is known for its beautiful colonial buildings and European-influenced architecture. We use our three free hours every afternoon to walk around the city, sit in the parks and people watch. Can’t wait for our first full day off to go hike somewhere outside the city!
April 25 – May 10 After what was the worst 18 hour bus ride we have ever had, we arrived in Samaipata, a small town in the east of Bolivia. We had already lined up a job at a bed and breakfast called Casa Lynda. We stayed there for two weeks; the first week we ran the place ourselves while the owner was on vacation (first time she had ever left her place!) and the second week we spent fixing the rooms and repairing little things around the property. It was a beautiful place with only four bedrooms, a gorgeous patio with tons of flowers and succulents everywhere and big garden with fruit trees and squash in the back. We really loved the town of Samaipata and even looked, without success, for an apartment to rent for a month. It’s very small with only 4,400 people, one main plaza and about . It has a surprising amount of cute restaurants and cafes, considering how small it is. People call it Samai-trampa as a joke because of how many ex pats have moved in (trampa is Spanish for trap). And it’s true! Nobody wants to leave Samaipata. We had a nice time working with Lynda, the Canadian owner of the b&b and loved exploring the country side and national parks nearby. Definitely a place we’d like to return to.
March 13-24 We left Cusco and headed for the Bolivian border. For most foreigners, entry into Bolivia is a free and easy process. For Americans, it’s a different story. As an American, you need to have extra photos of yourself, printed proof of where you will be staying, printed proof of a flight leaving the country, extra copies of your passport and $160. After crossing, it was a short 20 min ride to the town of Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. We stayed for three days, enjoyed meals of trout from the lake, boat tours the some of the islands with Inkan remains and the quiet, sleepy town. We also happened to be there for EasterSunday, which turned the sleepy town into a lively, music filled vacation spot for the locals (although the festivities happened on Saturday, rather than Sunday). The streets were filled with games, live music, street food every five feet and so many cars you could barely walk. We had heard how crazy Easters can be in Latin America so it was great to finally experience one.
After three days, we left for La Paz. La Paz has two districts that are popular for tourists. The first is the historic district, where we stayed for three days, taking the cable car up the mountains surrounding the city and testing all the new foods of Bolivia. Then, for Skylar’s birthday on the 21rst, I surprised him with three days in a penthouse in the other part of La Paz, Sopocachi. Sopocachi is the prettier, “nicer” area of La Paz, but also less interesting in my opinion. The buildings are more modern looking and there’s hardly any ladies with food stands in the streets. However, the parks and plazas are very pretty and there’s more options of higher end, international restaurants. But to be honest, we spent most of our time in the apartment we rented because it was SO beautiful and we hadn’t seen anything quite that nice in a while. It had a 300 degree view of the city, fully equipped kitchen which we used and abused and even a barbecue on the balcony! It was a perfect birthday weekend… and little fun fact to blow your mind- this apartment (with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, huge living areas cost a grand total of… 50$ a night. No joke.)
March 26-April 11 We spent our last two weeks in Cusco working at the hostel, Inka Wild. With a max capacity for just over 200 people, it was the largest hostel we’ve worked at. Our job was just bartending, sometimes until four in the morning. Are coworkers were great, and we had a almost all meals given to us. We were also lucky enough to work with our friend from Honduras who we had met in Peru, and with a friend from England who we had worked with in Ecuador! Traveling is cool that way.. It was alot of fun but after two weeks, we were ready for a more tranquil place and a break from eating papas fritas with every meal.
March 17-26 Skylar’s best friend from Grass Valley, Braden, and his girlfriend, Haley, came to visit us in Cusco, Peru. We were feeling pretty special because this was the secondtime Braden cam to visit us during our travels! We spent the whole time in Cusco, sight seeing, hiking and relaxing in the city. We went a second time to Machu Picchu, this time by a seven hour bus ride on one of the crazier roads I’ve seen, followed by a two hour hike through the jungle which brought us to the base town called Aguas Calientes. Skylar and I didn’t go into Machu Picchu the second time since the entry free is pretty steep, but we were glad to have time in the small base town. The time flew by and we can’t wait for the next time you two visit!;)
March 6-17 – Heather and Jake (Skylar’s family) arrive! They flew into Lima (the capital on the coast), where we spent a day and a half. Then we went south to Paracas and got a boat tour of Islas Ballestas and saw (my first) wild penguins! The next day and another short bus ride to the east took us to Huacachina, a tiny community built around a desert oasis. We had a blast in the dune buggies and with the sand boarding.
The next day and another not so short bus ride (17 hours!), we arrived in Cusco. The next 10 days were filled with Incan ruins, hikes through the hillside and of course, Machu Picchu. Twelve days was not nearly enough but we’re still so thankful that they could make it down here. Thank you so much Heather and Jake, we really had a blast.
February 19 – Arrived in Lima. We stayed with a couchsurfer for the first four days; our first couchsurfing experience and we lucked out with an awesome guy. By the fourth day we found a job at a hostal in Barranco district and worked there until Skylar’s parents arrived. Our work was to paint walls and ceilings, trying to cover up mold and stains. I also painted a big wooden sign of the hostal’s name, Cozy Wasi (“wasi” is the Quechua word for “house”; Quechua is an indigenous language spoken in parts of South America).
February 10 – We arrived Huaraz, Peru, a smaller town in the Andes (3053 m) known for its trekking and beautiful mountains. It sits in a valley between the Cordilleras Blancas (snow capped range) with over 722 glaciers, the Cordilleras Negras (not snow capped range), and the Cordillera Huayhuash, the same range Joe Simpson wrote about in Touching the Void, to the south. Completely surrounded by beauty and you can feel it. Although people say that the town of Huaraz is nothing special, we really enjoyed the town and would have loved more time. We went on day hikes to Laguna Wilcacocha, Laguna Llanganuco, and Laguna 69 to help acclimatize ourselves before attempting a longer trek. With two friends we had met at Kamala and a guy we had met two days before at our hostel, we bussed five hours to Vaqueria to start the Santa Cruz trek. This was by far some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. I can’t say or even show enough to do it justice. I can say with certainty that we will be returning to Huaraz one day.
February 4 – After we extended our timeline, several times, we finally left Kamala! A day to be remembered by all those who stumble across it. We spent a long night and day crossing into Peru and bussing down the coast to Huanchaco, a small fishing village just outside of one of Peru’s biggest cities, Trujillo.
This is the first time that we arrived in a town without a job. Luckily, we found a hostal the next day that was in the need of two more workers. We worked five hours a day, six days a week at La Gringa Hostal, located in the center of the town right across from the pier.
December 22 – We bussed to the southern coast of Ecuador to Montanita, a small fishing village now know for its surf and party. We started our job at Kamala Hostal, a beautiful property right on the beach and a 20 min walk from the craziness of the town (thank god). Our job was to bartend or work in the kitchen, depending on the day. Skylar and I also did several art projects here. We got to celebrate Christmas, New Years and Australia Day (January 26) with our coworkers and guests of Kamala. We met so many wonderful people and feel like we really made the most of our last spot on a warm coast, at least for a bit. Between the lack of Spanish (not good for our practicing but comforting to hear a lot of English again), a change up in the food (the hostal cooked things like pesto pasta, chili and breakfast burritos, none of which we’ve seen much of since leaving home) and a much slower pace for a longer amount of time, Kamala felt like a vacation from traveling.. which was so nice.
December 19 – We bussed to Quilotoa to do a three day trek and see the crater lake, but after arriving too late the first day and seeing hints of an incoming storm, we decided to just do a three day trip around the lake (rather than follow the trek and hike away from the lake and into the valley). Absolutely beautiful and fairly relaxing three days; waking up at sunrise, praying it would rise faster to thaw us out, watching the women herd their sheep across the surrounding hill sides and getting to use our wonderful new tent for the first time (thank you so much Brendan)!
December 8 ish – We bussed to Banos, Ecuador, a small town in the Andes known for its adventure sports. We went to see our friends Hannah and Adam (the couple we met way back when we started our trip) and ended up working at the same hostal, Backpacker Balcones. It was a beautiful stone and wooden three-story house about a 10 minute walk from the town on the edge of the river. We cleaned the rooms and living rooms in the morning, leaving us free the rest of the day, which we mostly used for day hikes. We found plenty of good look outs around Banos and got to ride bikes to El Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Caldron) which is honestly just as beautiful as the pictures. We made great friends with our coworkers, Agustina and Luis from Argentina, and have loved meeting up with them after Banos as well.
November 26 – We started work as receptionists at Vibes hostal in Quito. We loved exploring the city of Quito every day after work. It was our first experience in higher altitude (2,580 meters) and it was nice to be in cooler weather for once. We got to be there for the Festivities of Quito (celebrating the foundation of Quito with parades and parties all over the city). We also took the cable car up the mountain to the west of Quito to climb Volcano Pichincha, which was absolutely beautiful.
Novemeber 24-25 We left Colombia and crossed into Ibarra, Ecuador to visit a family friend, Maricela. The next day we went Otavalo Market; a huge, daily indigenous market with everything you could imagine. Then took a bus one more hour south to the capital city of Quito.
As always, I hope everyone is doing well and know that we think of you all often.
Friends, family and anyone else who has stumbled across this blog.. Welcome! For anyone who doesn’t know us, we are Skylar and Maddi, a couple from Northern California discovering the rest of the Americas. We embarked on our journey in April of 2016 in the lower part of Central America and have slowly but surely worked out way down through the continent. We are currently in Bolivia with our sights set on the end of the world! Also known as Patagonia. Follow us for stories, tips and inspiration.