Author Archives: cyclesofchange

About cyclesofchange

I am a Sustainable Agriculture Peace Corps Volunteer in a small, rural, indigenous community in Panama After completing my service in July 2010, I will embark on another adventure; traveling back to the United States through Central America, spreading our experiences with sustainable agriculture and organic home gardening along the way. By bike. Adventure continues.

Safe and sound

To ease the worries of our friends and family, we are all safe. There have been many landslides in Guatemala over the last few days, but thankfully we were in a different part of the country and were able to avoid problems and dangers. Thank you to all of you for your thoughts and cares. More updates to come soon!


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June 28- An epic day in an epic way

View of the Arenal volcano on the way to Cuidad Quesada- Photo by Dina

It is almost 8 a.m. when we leave Aguas Zarcas, the sky overcast but obligingly withholding rain.  Ahead of us lie roughly eight miles of steep hills before we reach Ciudad Quesada (literally, “Cheesed City”), also known as San Carlos, a bustling dairy town 2,200 feet above sea level. The ride is a tad on the strenuous side, and bike issues waylay our ascent.

On the very first hill, Devon pulls over to fix her gears, which have somehow readjusted themselves into such a way that she can only pedal in the lowest gears (not helpful for uphill). Janell and Kate stop to help, and the mechanic session lasts almost an hour. The three set off again, with the gears slightly improved, but not fixed. By the time they meet up with the rest of the team, Devon’s bike will only function in the highest gears (not helpful for flat road or downhill),  but she decides to bike the last three kilometers in the lowest gear, resolving to just coast down the hills.  Much to our dismay, Devon’s freewheel sneakily locks into fixed-gear mode as she rolls down the first hill, setting her pedals a’ whirring as she, with legs held straight out to the sides, fights to slow down. Thankfully Devon is alright, and she and Kate take a taxi truck into town for repairs. At the bike shop, the gruff bike mechanic, Eduardo, is at first intimidating. But it doesn’t take too long to realize what a comedian he is. He fixes the bike like a magician (a freewheel problem that would have been nearly impossible to fix without access to a bike shop), and refuses to let them pay for repairs.

In Cuidad Quesada we meet Dina, a Peace Corps volunteer working in the nearby hamlet of Buena Vista. Dina is amazing, and knows seemingly everyone in town. Smiling and waving, she introduces us to at least half a dozen people in our first fifteen minutes together. One of these new acquaintances is Keylor, an English-speaking Costa Rican who works in the municipality building. Dina tells us that Keylor is our go-to man in this city, and we ask him where we can store our bikes for the night. After a brief conversation with a co-worker, he returns, telling us to follow him “into the park.” This park turns out to be a beautifully landscaped square across the street from the municipality offices. There are rows of ornamental plants lining the walkways, and towering trees, festooned with epiphytes, provide ample shade over each bench. In the center of the square is a fancy gazebo on a broad marble platform. We exchange puzzled looks. Yeah, the park is nice, but where do our bikes go? Keylor converses with another city worker and directs our gaze to a rusted steel door at the base of the platform. “Down there,” he says. Sure enough, someone produces a key to unlock the door and reveals a subterranean chamber beneath the gazebo! It appears to be an office of sorts, with lights, chairs, a coffeemaker and even a radio that was playing as we loaded our bikes in.

Our bikes successfully stowed underground, we brave a torrential downpour walking through town before hopping on a private van to escort us to Buena Vista. The drive yields scenery that put postcards of rural Ireland to shame, the hills are so vibrantly green. We reach the town within an hour and are charmed by the house owned by Dina’s host mother, Julia. We are served a delicious meal prepared by Dina’s neighbors, and Dina’s attentive hospitality could not have been more endearing.

Kat, Kate, Janell and Dina talk animatedly over the next two days about all their Peace Corps experiences, comparing sites, sicknesses, and cultural norms. Dina has so much positive energy, she makes Peace Corps seem as incredible as a seven-year-old’s trip to Disneyland.

At around 5 p.m. we walk together up the road to Dina’s schoolhouse. She teaches an English class there for the Buena Vista community, and has invited us to give a presentation tonight for her students. We were instructed beforehand to prepare a skit of sorts describing who we are and what we do, and to give a slideshow of the pictures we’ve taken so far. The slideshow is a cinch to put together, and we hastily pen a rap in Spanish to perform for the pupils. Our arrival is welcomed with rapt attention. Pantomiming a team of cyclists en route, we parade into the classroom, spitting rhymes and beatboxing like mad. They love it.

Riding in for the rap on the bikes

The twenty-odd students in attendance seem genuinely pleased that we’re there, and for the next two and half hours we talk and mingle and sing and dance and drink Coca-Cola and eat crackers with black bean dip. Stirring renditions of “We Are The World” and “Wagon Wheel” were definite highlights, as well as a handful of Costa Rican folksongs they sang that were simply incredible. Logan discovers he has a bevy of bashful, adoring, adolescent female fans in Buena Vista. We leave the schoolhouse feeling downright jubilant. Check out a ridiculous video of  our quintessential cross-cultural kumbaya:

Tuesday morning we devoured a joyous feast of French toast and homemade multi-colored rice krispie treats, whilst listening to Julia and Lourdes chattering and cackling loudly like feisty Italian grandmothers. Then nothing else of note really happened for the rest of the day.

Alyssa and Melissa:  We are so excited for you to join us!

To all of our friends, family and supporters:  We absolutely love receiving your comments!  Keep ’em coming!

**Special shout-out to Dina for being so awesome and wonderful, and for making our stay at Buena Vista one of the most memorable parts of our trip so far.

The english class


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Sunday, June 27- 10,000 pineapples

Headed somewhere

Carlos, Grandma, and their family saw us off in their Sunday best from their home at La Virgen this morning.  After a shaky start with Grandma on day 1, she had come to discover that we were “special youth” and let us know that we would be protected by God on our journey.  Phew.   We rode northwest to Aguas Zarcas, about 35 kilometers away. The ride was hot and hilly, with lots of twists and turns and more than a few huge trucks roaring past, sending waves of cow stench over us. Another truck, laden with thousands of fragrant pineapples, put an edge on our appetites.

At a small store/bar in San Miguel, we purchased a juicy pineapple with golden flesh and three loaves of bread, which we ravenously demolished on the front steps. Afterwards, we gathered up all of our empty water “bootles” (about 16 containers in total) and suspiciously locked ourselves in the cantina bathroom (both genders) to filter water from the sink. For a lazy couple of hours we shot the breeze and considered getting on our way, finally departing as a game of bingo began in the cantina and the air thickened with heat.  Loaded with fruit and breadstuffs, we tackled the hills with gusto.

A banana transfer at the false summit of a very large hill brightened our day. “Quieren bananas?”called out the little boy from across the street. After realizing that these bananas were a gift from the bottom of his heart, he presented us each with a banana. We made it to Aguas Zarcas, a town nestled in the foothills of the Costa Rican volcanoes, by mid afternoon and sated our hunger at Pizza Tsunamy. After contemplating the dark storm clouds overhead, we decided against camping and instead decided to stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s living room hostel. Grandpa really wanted to take us out dancing (he even shined his shoes for the occasion), but we told him our booties were too tired to shake.

Tomorrow morning we are off on a short ride to Ciudad Quesada to meet up with Dina, a Peace Corps volunteer in the area, and head off to visit her community. We are excited for sweet dreams.

***Also, as a quick disclaimer, we cannot currently use skype on the blackberry, because of Verizon wireless’ strict rules against using skype outside of the USA. If you have any suggestions of another online calling option that we could use, send us a message via email. Otherwise, till then, contact us through email or through comments on the blog since we can read those any time of day on the blackberry and we love receiving all your support!


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June 26th, Our number has doubled in one fell swoop!

Wow, we are bright! Left to Right- Peter, Janell, Devon, Logan, Kat, Kate

Our number has doubled in one fell swoop! Logan, Devon and Peter arrived after the journey from San Jose and were joined by the three cyclists—Kate, Janell, and Kat– Friday afternoon in La Virgen, where the team will stay for two nights as plans are made and bicycle problems painstakingly attended to. Thankfully, all of our bikes seem to be in working order, more or less.

For dinner we prepared a massive spaghetti feast—such a joyous union deserved no less. We also discovered—after purchasing all of our groceries, of course— that our hostess was less than enthusiastic about sharing her kitchen with us. We duly apologized and were granted use of half the counter space, which worked out just dandy. The first of many meals to come!

The team jerseys are very bright and beautiful to behold, especially when we sport them in unison. Our combined fluorescence achieves an almost glow-in-the-dark effect. We’re actively testing out other bits of gear and some things, such as the magical UV wand, which do not provide such foolproof results. After several failed attempts at water purification, the magic wand proves to be not so magical, after all. And during our post-breakfast tea time, Devon’s purportedly heat-resistant travel mug melted under a shower of boiling water. Other than that, though, we’re good to go.

It’s very humid here and the sunshine lasts throughout most of the morning into the early afternoon. Around evening it pours down rain, and the river near our hostel swells to nearly twice its normal volume from mountainside runoff. Logan is sweating bullets. The late afternoon breeze feels divine and brings down cascades of dry leaves from the surrounding greenery. All around us is lush, noisy, impenetrable jungle.

Our satellite phone is up and running, as well as the miraculous Blackberry. So we have internet access!

Thanks to all those following the blog for your support! We love receiving your comments!

Also- a big thanks to Nick & Eli at BikeNHike in Portland for the jerseys and Marlin at Something More Creative for the great screen screen printing job.

Trying (poorly) to get the back shot

High school basketball, anyone?

Now can you see how awesome the backs are?


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June 24th, A Lot of Firsts

Friends at the Panama-Costa Rica border

We, Team Panama (Kate, Kat and Janell), set off on Sunday morning surrounded by friends and community members. Some friends even traveled to the Costa Rican border to say their final goodbyes. We bounced along on the “ carretera en mal estado,” the highway in bad shape. After passing by fields and fields of Chiquita bananas and narrowly missing the crop dustings, we arrived starving to a small bar filled with drunk fathers on Father’s Day and rapidly put our bikes in reverse. We trucked on and chose a quaint little store instead for our picnic lunch.

Kate crossing the border from Panama into Costa Rica
Kat by the “Carretera en mal estado” sign in Sixaola, Costa Rica, Janell coming up behind

Later in the afternoon, we ambitiously took on the 9-mile river rock road to our final destination. Ten minutes in, we flew down our first major descent, with all of our gear jostling. Kate, took the lead briefly, but came to an abrupt halt as her front rack detached itself from her bike and crashed forward into the ground, baskets, gear and all. After the relief that she was still upright, we all began laughing uproariously as the locals watched in awe. With the help of Carlos, we set off again. At six miles in, moving up the rocky hills with our heavily weighted bikes at a backbreaking speed of 3 miles per hour and nightfall rapidly approaching, our salvation came rumbling around the corner in the form of a rickety retired Chicago public transportation bus. Kat successfully swayed the driver into taking us and our bikes aboard for the final 3 miles to Shiroles. Our savior would not even accept our fare. Instead we paid him with exotic Pennsylvanian chocolates (Thanks, Tim).  We arrived, exhausted but content, to the conference center only to find out that we were crashing a US teenage missionary summer camp. We retreated to our room after storing our bikes and prepared for our first nutrition seminar.

Kate looses her front rack!

The next morning we walked to ACOMUITA, the Talamacan Indigenous women’s chocolate association, to meet with the cacao extension agents. We spent the day training these wonderful community members to promote good nutrition, focusing on food that families can produce on their own farms. We were encouraged by the responses that we received from the women in particular. They place a high value on the information we shared and its importance to their families’ health. This seminar is the first of several that we will co-facilitate with CATIE (Center for Tropical Agricultural Study and Research) and the PCC (Central American Cacao Project). We would like to extend our special thanks to Rolando Cerda, the Technical Project Coordinator for the PCC in Panama and Costa Rica, for his support in coordinating these trainings throughout Central America.

Nutrition seminar with Cacao Promoters in Shiroles, Costa Rica

Rolando Cerda, CATIE-PCC

From there, it was a three day sprint on the bikes to meet up with three additional members of our team.  We tried out our new camping hammocks at the beach near Puerto Limon, passing many more banana and pineapple fields along the way. We ate snacks of ripe bananas, mangos, and lychees, and washed them down with fresh coconut water. Our bike computer now reads in kilometers, and we have surpassed the 250km mark!

Fruit stand pit stop!

Cruising along the beach near Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Hot Hot Heat!


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The Grand Send Off

(Janell, Kate and Kat easily noticable by their affection for bright stripes and pokadots)

More photos and stories to come!


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The Wheels Are Rolling

We (Janell, Kate and Kat) will embark on our bike tour tomorrow morning, Sunday, June 20, 2010, leaving Panama and crossing into Costa Rica. Our Peace Corps lives will stay here, but our mission continues. Our bikes are loaded with high and low tech panniers, and we are decked out with local flare. Our hearts and minds are ready, but our thighs and butts may lag behind.

On Monday morning we will begin our first seminar in Shiroles, Costa Rica. We will collaborate with the Central American Cacao Project (PCC) to train local extension agents from the cacao cooperative called AAPTA. The seminar will focus on family nutrition and home gardens and give strategies to encourage healthy and diversified diets. Owing to lack of economic resources and education, many families fail to meet their nutritional needs, especially those of children.

This is the start of our journey and we look forward to applying our skills and knowledge beyond the borders of Panama. Devon, Peter and Logan will join us on Friday near La Virgen, Costa Rica!


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The research stage: 6 months to departure

With 6 months left in our Peace Corps service, we have entered the stage of preparation. Before, we were only dreaming. Now we are planning.

Thankfully Janell and I have had two years of experience living in the campo (the rural countryside) in Panama and working with the local cultures (Ngabe and Naso Indigenous groups).  We are used to having no amenities; no running water, electricity, or internet. We have spent 2 years struggling with the complexities of development, gardening in the tropics, and organizing community groups, trainings and events.

In addition, we have some amazing team members joining us from the states for this adventure, each of them bringing more experiences for our ride.  The motivation is there, the opportunity is there. The path, the communities, the work and the bike are left to be determined. Together, we now have to work on the details of the trip. Plan on.


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