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Monday, January 22, 2018

Gulch Update 2018

When I am in Los Angeles I wonder if our endeavor will yield success, and I feel the terror and doubt any entrepreneur does setting off to invent something he has no idea if other people will like.

But when I am at the farm, I am Steve Jobs. What we have invented is so magical, so ideal, even if people don't know it yet, I am sure they will want it. (So I apologize if this post is a little ... off putting? Too confident? Snobbish?)

I have been at the farm for two months now. The experience has been like a beautiful, peaceful, productive version of Groundhog Day. Every day is the same. But they are such good days I wouldn't want anything to change! 

Every morning I wake up when light hits the sky. I have had crazy dreams all night long and feel more rested and centered than I have anywhere else in the world (I think because of the darkness). I enjoy the sound of the roosters crowing and birds chirping. Tom quietly gets dressed and slips out the door.

I cuddle up in bed and read. An hour or so later Anders wakes up, and I read to him for a while. The breakfast bell rings, and we head to breakfast.

Every meal we eat here is "best in the world." There are no eggs in the world healthier, tastier, and with more orangey yolks than our eggs. The spinach and heart of palm side dish is fresh - that heart of palm was harvested yesterday and the spinach was picked thirty minutes ago. Not only were they grown without any pesticides whatsoever, they are from our land, land that we care for as if it is our own body - because it is. Our bodies are just soil rearranged after all.

If there are rice and beans with breakfast, the beans are from the farm, but the rice isn't yet. (We have planted rice but have not had our first harvest.) If there is a papusa with breakfast the corn flour was made with best-in-the-world corn, and the cheese inside it was made fresh yesterday by our cook from milk she got from our neighbors. There is always a glass of kefir and some fresh, seasonal fruit as well. I could be at the fanciest hotel in Beverly Hills or Hawaii, and I wouldn't be eating better than I am now. 

Conversation at breakfast is light, but of course we linger a bit before we go our separate ways. I head to my room where I put on a book-on-tape and roll out my yoga mat. I do the physical therapy exercises that keep me feeling good, the ones I struggle to have time to do in Los Angeles, but here do every day. Then I dress. Light linen pants, a tank top, and a wrap work well or jeans,  a tank top, and a flannel. I go barefoot or wear flip flops for most of the day. 

I sit down at my desk and write for an hour or two. I find focusing here much easier than in Los Angeles. It's partly because we decided to no longer have internet (that black hole of distraction) in our rooms, but I also think it is because I don't have to worry about the next meal. I know that I can lose myself in my writing and at some point a bell will ring, and then lunch will appear. 

Time disappears until I hear the lunch bell ring. I head to the dining room. Lunch is amazing, as usual. It's exotic, fresh, gourmet, and healthy. Today we are having pork ribs. I have never tasted pork that tastes better than ours. Tom says it is because we feed our pigs kefir and bananas. The difference it makes in the flavor of the meat amazes me. The ribs are served with fried farm-made cheese, bean dip, and tajadas (plantain chips fried in lard, also from our pig). Almost every ingredient in every dish is from our farm. The probiotic lemon soda (made bubbly by fermenting, not carbonated water) is delightful. 

Lunch conversation is lively. Anders tells us what he has been up to - he is beautifully filthy. Apparently he and his friends have dug quite a hole somewhere. Tom fills us in on whatever exciting farm project he is working on and raves about how good his body feels, "Pickaxing is the best exercise!" he says. We have two guests at the moment, my mother and and man named Jaime, and they rave too. Both are feeling much better after their first week here than they have in a long time. My mother was in a lot of pain from her arthritis, but the quart of turmeric-cinnamon tea our cook has been bringing her every day has rid her body of swelling, and she feels no more pain. Also, she is not sure if it is the kefir with every meal or the tea, but her stomach feels amazing, better than it has in years.

Jaime reports too that he is sleeping better than he has in years, and that for some reason his cravings for sugar and alcohol have all but disappeared. I tell him that I have read that cravings for sugar and alcohol are misinterpreted cravings for bacteria, and since he is getting bacteria with every meal, his body feels satiated in that area. My mom decides she is feeling good enough to start quitting coffee. Our cook will bring her half an ounce less every day she is here, so that she doesn't have to suffer any side-effects of quitting.

My mother and Jaime think there is something magical about this place. Tom and I laugh because that is exactly how we feel, and exactly what we had hoped to build. I explain that Christopher Alexander promised us, in his books about objective beauty, that if we built something objectively beautiful, it would make people feel alive in a way they didn't know they could feel. Alive, inspired, energized yet comforted - it's hard to explain. There is something about being surrounded by beautiful geometry that makes the human soul feel good.

We head our separate ways. Anders asks if I have any work for him and the other kids to do. I hire them (as I do most afternoons) to do trail maintenance work which they are excellent at. Then I check on the progress the builders are making and the status of various projects around the farm. If there are no building issues to deal with, I write more, but often the building projects take up my afternoon. Today they are working on the fountain in the courtyard.

At three Emelia brings all of us tea. Today it is jamaica. I get in one last hour of work, or I take a break and head to the office to check my email or hang out with Tom or Anders or the guests. At half past four the dinner bell rings. Dinner is light and delicious. Sometimes is broth and bread and rice pudding; sometimes it's pancakes with pineapple or jocote syrup (a fruit that is like a cross between a cherry and a plum). Always we have cinnamon tea with dinner and kefir.

Every evening after dinner we head out on our walk. We do the master trail that Tom designed that covers the entire property. It's a gentle trail that climbs up the mountainside at a low enough gradient that small children and old people can do it too. We pass a striking madroño tree with red bark and a breathtaking panama tree. The panama is a rainforest tree and large tree already, but it's only twenty years old. It's tiny compared to what it will be one day. We pass the cow pastures and the haunted tree, a much gnarled tree covered in a pitaya vine. We cross the creek, marvel at the older rainforest trees, especially the mahogany and the mata arbol (a vine that eats giant rainforest trees, taking a thousand years to do it) and head up the mountain side. Anders runs ahead with the dog. Tom and I stroll. He has his machete and takes care of any vines attempting to take back the trail. The walk curls around the property offering some gorgeous views of the sunset and eventually leads through the food forest. We stroll past coffee and cacao plants, banana trees, three varieties of limon trees, cinnamon trees, allspice trees, many other things, and then we are back at the house.

It is getting dark. Anders and the kids play tag or hide and seek, and then they set about lighting a small fire. By the time it is lit, it is pitch black, and the fire looks magical. It occurs to me that even when I was backpacking in the United States there were always hills that glowed in the distance. I had never experienced true darkness there the way I have here. The darkness makes the sky incredible. I take a moment every night to look at the stars because I can see them with such clarity, and they are so beautiful and something about seeing them ... makes my soul happy.

By half past six everyone is heading inside. Anders gets into the bath. It's the nicest bathtub I have ever had the pleasure of bathing in, nicer than the tub at the Four Seasons in Hawaii, nicer than the tub at the Montage in Beverly Hills. It's twenty-four inches deep and almost seven feet long. But it's not too wide like other tubs this size. It's narrow, so the water stays warm. The water is clear and free of chlorine and fluoride and rich in minerals. Even if a fancy hotel had as nice a tub as our farm has, the water wouldn't measure up. 

When he is out of the tub Anders curls up in his bed and does a workbook or two. Then I read to him for a long time, until nine or so. When we finally turn out the lights we giggle at how we cannot see our hands in front of our faces. Then we pass out easily, our bodies being nicely in tune with the natural rhythms of life.

A week or so later my mom and Anders go to Selva Negra, a lovely resort four hours north of us. Their forest is gorgeous, their food is also farm-fresh, but even so my mom can't wait to get back. Their food might be fresh, but ours is tastier. And they have a restaurant instead of a dining room, which means the work of having to study a menu and order and then wait. It's funny how much work eating at a restaurant seems to be after having a personal cook. I tell my mom it's that way with everything. I used to take breaks from the farm to travel. I wanted to see all the different parts of Nicaragua, and there are still many places I want to tour. But ... never as much as I just want to just enjoy another Groundhog Day in Lothlorien.

The farm is still unfinished. There are beautiful rooms with comfortable beautiful beds, but the bedside tables have not been built and there are luggage stands instead of dressers. My bathroom doesn't have its mirror yet. In the dining hall we are still using an old picnic table as I haven't even started working on that area yet. Our woodworking team builds more every day, but it will still be a year or two before the place is completely furnished. 

But even in its current state, it is paradise and nice enough for us to open it up to guests who would like to come check it out. We have four (objectively) beautiful rooms. Two have queen beds and showers. One has a king bed with a twin trundle underneath it and a shower. The other, my favorite room, has a king bed and a twin bed or twin bunk beds depending on the number of beds needed and the bathroom with the heavenly tub. We only put a tub in one room as Tom is absolutely positive there will be no demand for it. I think he is wrong, but time will tell.

And so we are about to embark on the next phase of this project, the hotel phase. Maybe this phase will last forever, and we will become a farm hotel. Or maybe guests will come and decide that they don't want to leave. We don't know, but for those of you who are following this project - I hope you come check it out! Email me if you are interested in planning a trip. (Serious inquiries only though please!)

Answers to Questions People Have Emailed Me About Visiting:
(I am updating this weekly as questions come in!)

Q: How will I get from the airport to your farm?
A: Most people who have come here have our driver meet them at the airport with a sign that says their name. I send the guests a picture of the driver and a picture of the license plate of his car. I also send the driver a picture of the guest. It makes it easy. Everyone who has done this method so far has said it was super easy. Other people want to travel around before coming to the farm. If that is the case I recommend reading this post Two of my cousins have come to visit, and they took the bus. (The farm is along a main bus route.) If you are staying at the inn for a week or more transportation to the farm is included in the price of the room.

Q: Will I need to get a visa?
A: No. A passport is all you need. That being said, I highly recommend Global Entry. It's not necessary of course, but I love skipping lines at LAX and Houston. Global Entry won't make a difference in Nicaragua as the airport here has very short lines, but for re-entry into the US it is super nice.

Q: Can I spend American dollars or do I need to change my money to cordobas?
A: American dollars are accepted all over Nicaragua, but they have to be bills in good condition - no writing or little tears can be on the bills.

Q: Is there wifi?
A: There is fiber wifi for guests to use in the office. Two of the guest rooms have wifi at the moment as well. The other two do not. The feedback I have received so far is that it is awesome to not have wifi in your room and have to go to the office to use it - it helps you to unplug and relax.

Q: Is there a/c
A: There is a/c in all the inn guest rooms and the office. The hostel does not have a/c. There will be a/c in the dining room, but it has not yet been installed as we are still under construction.

Q: What about the outlets?
A: The outlets here are the same as in the US. We have USB outlets by the bed as well.

Q: Do you have any travel tips?
A: I prefer to fly to Nicaragua via Texas or Florida because the flight from LA flies over a wind pocket above Mexico and there is turbulence for half an hour or more. Avianca is a nice airline and, being Latin, is very child friendly. If you have children under five I recommend this airline. Otherwise we use United or American. Bring $20 in cash for the airport to enter into the country. I also like to have small bills, like $1's to use for tipping. An appropriate tip for someone who helps you with your bags is $1. If you are using the driver from our farm he does not need a tip.

I recommend arriving and departing on Sundays because there is less traffic.

I recommend arriving right before a new moon or at least being here for one because the darkness in Nicaragua is so striking and magical.

Q: Do you have any packing tips?
A: I go barefoot or wear flip flops around the building. I go on walks every day wearing rubber boots. I find linen to be the most comfortable fabric here, but all the locals wear jeans. I always wear long sleeve shirts in the evenings, and I try to wear a hat. Your laundry will be washed daily, so you don't need to pack too many outfits, unless you have clothes that need to be line dried, at which point plan accordingly. If you have children pack as many clothes as you can, and pack clothes you don't mind getting ruined. Anders has been known to wear five different outfits in a single day because if it rains he runs around and plays in the rain and then the mud. Afterwards he puts on dry clothes, and then maybe it rains again, or he gets involved in burying himself in a big hole. On the days it does not rain he has been known to wear the same thing for the whole day.

My main packing tip is to bring what you want to do. You will have ample free time here to read, write, or get projects done you have not had time for before. Some guests have brought puzzles, games, and coloring books - we have a selection of these at the farm for guests to use as well.

Q: Do you offer any classes?
A: We don't offer formal classes yet, but our cook can teach you how to make three different kinds of local cheeses, kefir, naturally fermented sodas, and all the fantastic Nicaraguan specialties you will eat while you are here. Many guests have enjoyed doing farm work with the farmers here as well - I also enjoy a good machete workout.

Q: What is the best time of the year to come?
A: It depends on what you like. Here is a rundown of the year:

January: Gorgeous weather, mid 70's, occasional rain. This is the first month of the dry season so everything is still green. Flowering trees and fruit trees are in bloom. By the end of the month many trees are losing their leaves. The mixture of colorful leaves on the ground and flowers is gorgeous, like a spring-fall. The butterflies are outrageous - we have blue ones, red ones, orange tiger striped ones, and white ones. Watermelon, papaya, limon mandarinos and avocados are in season. The town nearest to us has a festival with parades, horse races, and carnival rides.

February: Hot and dry. High 80's. Land is yellow looking, many trees are bare so there is less shade all around. Fruits are growing but not ripe yet. Bugs having mating parties make many strange noises at night. Nearby farmers burn their feels so at times the air can be smokey. The kids swim on and off all day.

March: Hot and dry. High 80's to low 90's. Land is yellow and trees are bare. Mangos and jocotes are in season. The parakeets and other exotic bids that I can't name but are colorful and quite beautiful visit the farm in flocks and try to beat us to the jocote harvest. The kids swim on and off all day.

April: Hot and dry. High 80's. Land is yellow and trees are bare. The mango and jocote harvest continues. The kids continue to swim on and off all day.

May: It rains on the second of May every year without fail, I am told. The land turns green again. Trees grow leaves. Shade returns. The first fire flies are out. Temperatures fall to low 80's or high 70's.

June & July: The rainy season is in full swing. This means every day for about an hour there is a storm with clouds and thunder and sometimes lightening. Rain pours down in torrents. Then the sky clears and the rest of the day is pleasant, high 70's to low 80's. The fireflies come out and we see them lighting the forest every evening all around the farm.

August, September, & October: Just like June and July but with fewer fireflies and some mosquitos. These are the only months of the year when I even notice that there are mosquitos. They are not terrible though, nothing compares to the mosquitos at my grandparents house in Idaho. Too many things eat mosquitos here for them to ever get too bad, I think. I get a mosquito bite maybe once each year. Anders gets quite a few mosquito bites, but he spends all day every day outside and is often in the forest. If he manages to keep his shirt on he doesn't get bit, but it generally takes a dozen bites for him to remember why he should always have a long sleeve shirt on during this time of the year. During this time of the year the forest can get quite muddy - but only for an hour or so after the rain and then it is good for walking again. The guyabas are ripe and amazing.

November & December: 70's, green, idyllic. An occasional rain, maybe even a storm. Butterflies come out in December.

*Note that many foods are in season all year and many foods I do not know their seasons at this time, so this is not a complete list.
*Also, Anders manages to get bit by bugs every month, not just in August to October. I almost never get bug bites because I follow the jungle rules of wearing long sleves an

Q: What are the prices?
A: Though the rooms are nice and functional, we will still be under construction for the next year or two, so stays here are heavily discounted.

INN (nice rooms with private bathrooms and a/c)

1 night: $100 discounted 50% while under construction = $50/night
Included with room is three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, and fiber wifi.
Transportation to and from the farm is not included.

1 week = $630 ($90/day) discounted 45% while under construction = $350 ($50/night)
Included with room is transportation to and from the farm, three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, and fiber wifi.

2 week stay for $1000 ($72/day) discounted 40% while under construction = $600 ($43/night)
Included with room is transportation to and from the farm, three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, and fiber wifi.

1 month stay for $1500 ($50/day) discounted 30% while under construction = $1000 ($35/night)
Included with room is transportation to and from the farm, three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, and fiber wifi.
*by invitation only, 2 week stay required prior

HOSTEL (clean, private room with shared bathroom and screen windows)
*Transportation to and from the farm is not included
*There are no discounts in the hostel rooms for the construction period.

1 night = $40
Included with the room is three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, fiber wifi.

1 week = $245 ($35/night)
Included with the room is three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, fiber wifi.

2 week stay = $420 ($30/night)
Included with the room is three farm fresh meals, tea, daily maid and laundry services, fiber wifi.

1 month stay for $750 ($25/night)
three meals, room, maid, laundry, wifi

Q: What if I don't speak Spanish?
A: If you do not speak a word of Spanish, you will be fine. Google translations is a super easy ap to put on your phone. If it proves necessary we will employ someone who speaks English. For now, no one on our staff speaks English, but nonetheless communicating with them hasn't proved impossible for my mother who doesn't speak a word of Spanish or use the translation ap.

If the idea still makes you uncomfortable, what if planned your trip so that it was at the same time as people who do speak Spanish? I can also hire an interpreter for your stay. There are lots of ways to solve this problem.

Q: How close is the beach?
A: The beach is a seven hour drive to the west. Bill Bonner has a resort there called Rancho Santana that is awesome, but very pricy. We are in farm country, central Nicaragua. There is nothing around for miles from our farm except other farms. We have a lovely courtyard with a fountain and patio furniture. We will have a pool, but that is two years away. (There is currently a huge plastic pool for kids though.) This is a farm and food vacation. It's a place you come to relax, get healthy, and get work done. It's not really a tourist destination unless you mean food tourism or farm tourism. For touristy things: Ninety minutes to the south of us is the Rio San Juan. Some guests have hired a boat to take them on a jungle cruise up the river there. There is a French expat who has a hostel down there and leads fishing expeditions as well. Four hours north of us there is a coffee plantation owned by some German expats that has old growth rainforest and is fun to tour as well. The old colonial town, Granada, is four hours around the lake from us. But that's kind of it