Across Maui we swam in three very contrasting beaches. One hippy and rocky (Olowalu). One commercial and picture-perfect (Kapalua, pictured above). And the third isolated and unspoilt (Hāmoa).
Now we understood why even Californians would take their vacations here; the water was a marvellous temperature, so much warmer than in the Golden State. However the heavy swell and surf make swimming difficult. So it was particularly great we were able to do some snorkelling.
We got a warm welcome and more at Mario’s little cafe and bakery in Ferndale.
Mario (pictured above with his son) moved here eight years ago. It was a big decision – friends told Mario he was mad to leave his San Francisco lifestyle for an isolated, rural area so different in social values.
On the one hand, he’s gained so many new friends who have rallied around in his hours of need. On the other, he hates the lack of diversity here and is more fearful for the future of America and the world than ever.
Keen to do his bit, he signed up to the A Place at the Table for Everyone initiative and has been pleasantly surprised that the sign (so far) hasn’t been defaced or removed.
“As it’s after 4pm, you’ll need to park the car and walk up, but it’s a long way…..” said the Ranger at the Lava Butte just south of Bend. However, it was glorious weather, so we decided to walk.
At the top, admiring the wonderful view, we got a big shock from Joey’s voice above, inviting us to join him in the look-out tower. We entered a world of large-scale maps stuck to the ceiling with low-tech string lines from all the various look-outs. There was constant walkie-talkie chatter, reporting every tiny smoke incident for miles around.
As Joey described his work, we discovered what had seemed a very calm and uneventful pine forest was full of events! Joey loves his job and spends up to ten hours a day up there in the fire-risk season. And he told us horror stories about Trump’s plans to allow digging in the National and State Parks.
“We’ve just spent a wonderful five days with my Cousin Kyle, his lovely wife Courtney and two gorgeous young children, Kathleen and Clara at their home in Portland, Oregon.
Three years younger than me, Kyle and I didn’t do a lot of playing together as kids. And since he moved to the States 25 years ago, he has literally been a distant relative. We’ve only kept in touch through brief chats at family weddings, funerals and birthdays.
So these days together have been very special. It’s been brilliant having in-depth conversations with Kyle (the sort you don’t get at family gatherings) and learning all those things I’d never thought to ask. He has a fascinating story to tell.
It’s been great to get to know Courtney, their children and the Portland lifestyle much better. But the best thing is that I’ve found a new friend in Kyle.”
Growing eggplants, kale, radishes, beetroots and other wholesome vegetables in a plot of land just across from Houston’s unique Rothko Chapel is Roy Rogers. He’s a refugee who arrived four years ago from Gambia.
Hilary grows vegetables at home, so she got talking to Roy and learnt about the innovative Plant It Forward initiative that’s been launched across four city centre sites. It’s a simple idea to build on the subsistence farming experience that many refugees bring with them.
Thanks to land denoted by a local University (St Thomas) and free business and organic farming training, Roy and others now grow and sell vegetables to earn a living. Apparently, the locals are happy to pay a small premium for Roy’s vegetables at the market each Saturday.
Interestingly volunteers are also encouraged to support the refugees by giving up a few hours every week. If you want to know more, click here.
We were impressed; surely these sorts of initiatives have the potential to offer fulfilling lives and better integration with host communities.
At our hotel we asked about a coffee tour. And guess what, our host’s father owns a farm just up the road. Apparently 90% of all coffee production in Costa Rica is done by farmers with less than five hectares.
We understood this was going to be a short drive in a 4×4 with a nice view at the top. But something must have been lost in translation. Francisco arrived, complete with his machete, and asked us if we had enough water and bug repellent for a two hour trek.
At first his farm looked to us like dense jungle on a very steep hillside. But with us panting for breath, Francisco soon revealed a large area of coffee bushes – they look like small laurels with tiny white flowers.
He explained, prior to the 1980s there were many more bushes here. Since then government grants have encouraged farmers like him to re-forest their land. So for Francisco the coffee (and the bananas) are now just a small cash crop.
Coffee growing was introduced into Costa Rica in 1779 direct from Ethiopia. In the 20th century it was fundamentally important to the economy, and locally grown beans were considered some of the best in the world. But today it accounts for around 11% of exports – well behind electronic chips.
There’s a lot of expats in Costa Rica. From America mostly, but the owner of the hostel where we are staying is German. At the age of 47, a holiday changed her life.
Martina is an inspiring woman. She liked to escape the harsh winter each year by going somewhere hot and sunny. In 2008 she visited Costa Rica as a volunteer for the Corcovado National Park and simply fell in love with Drake’s Bay. So she stayed on, working in hotels, whilst looking at the possibility of making a new life in Costa Rica.
Returning to Germany (Luebeck, near Hamburg) a year later, Martina sold her beloved 500 year old house and all her furniture and moved here permanently. She opened her hostel, initially just two rooms and a small restaurant, and now it’s a thriving business offering the best value for backpackers in town. I am totally happy to be living exactly here in this beautiful part of the planet and working in tourism is the best job ever she told us.
A mile further down the coast, tourists are paying around $200 per night for so called “lodge-style” options whilst we stay at Martina’s Place for a fraction of that. The excellent kitchen means we can cook our meals and the lounge area allows socialising with the other backpackers.
We had the good fortune to meet two inspiring Canadians, Brian and Kathleen, who very generously invited us aboard their yatch, the Pelorus Jack, for dinner and beers.
They have been sailing the world for four years. From their home in British Columbia down the west coast of America, then through the Panama Canal, up the east coast of the USA and to Europe via Greenland. Then across the Atlantic and down the east coast of South America to Tierra del Fuego. They shared their knowledge of what it takes to travel safely and successfully by yacht; basically a lot of pre-planning and much bureaucracy and paperwork.
There are clearly major advantages over us land travellers, like staying in deserted bays and reaching hardly seen views, but – because of the need to stay near their vessel even when it’s moored – they envied our ability to see inland sights.
Brussels is one of the finest unsung cities in Europe.
We’ve just spent a lovely two days with Hilary’s sister. Stephanie moved to Brussels a number of years ago and has become fluent in French and Dutch. (There is hope for us all!) She’s started a second career working for the European Commission and loves the city.
We had a really pleasant walk around Tervuren Park in the east of the city, at the end of a fun tram ride. The great thing is that Stephanie plans to meet up with us in the USA next May/June to see Yellowstone National Park and other sites.