Slovakia – A road less traveled – Spiš Castle

Slovakia made a wonderful impression on us. We drove to Slovakia through a mountain pass from Zakopane, Poland. The drive itself was spectacular, hardly any other cars on the road, views to die for.

 

Tatra Mountains Poland & Slovakia

Tatra Mountains

When we travel we look for moments when we feel that we are truly experiencing a country instead of getting a tourist served experience.  We crossed the border to Slovakia and immediately noticed the sheer beauty of the landscapes.  Slovakia is not densely populated which ads to its beauty. The road infrastructure was excellent which made for a wonderful road trip.  We set our destination for the Spis Castle which is a UNESCO world heritage site. We love those…

Storks in Slovakia

Stork Nest in Slovakia

On the way we encountered small towns and vast valley landscapes. We even saw a stork family nest in one of the towns.

Our drive from Poland took us only a couple of hours and we made our destination city Spišské Podhradie.  Above this city are the ruins of one of the largest castle complexes in Europe.

When we first saw the Spiš Castle in Slovakia we immediately knew that the road trip was worth it.

La Grande Plage - Biarritz France

Lunch in cosmopolitan Biarritz – France

If you can’t stand over commercialization then you will love this destination.  Yes, the area is protected and there are some vendors and places to grab a drink and some food.  However, the cheesy carnival atmosphere hasn’t arrived yet. Perfect for us as we love those still authentic places to travel to.

Spiš Castle Slovakia

Hike up to Spiš Castle

We hiked up to the castle ruins, a 20 minute hike with vast views from the castle hill.  Once we got a little closer we really noticed how immense these structures really were.  It was a really hot day in June…30 Celsius and the hike took some energy out of us.  But we were amazed that we were only two of a few people hiking up to the castle.

Spis Castle Nature

Spis Castle Nature

We loved the fields of flowers and tall grasses next to the immense castle walls.  You could practically feel the history.  We’ve been always intrigued by history and castle ruins have something that awake our curiosity.

Spis Castle Views

Spis Castle Views

The castle hill has been occupied in one form or another since the 5th century B.C. but the Spis Castle was built in the 12th century on top of other previous castle remains. Jan Zapolsky who later became the king of Hugary was born in this castle.  He was later defeated by Ferdinand Habsburg for the Hungarian throne and the family lost their Spis Castle posessions.

Spis Castle Slovakia

Inside Spis Castle

In 1780 a huge fire swept thru the castle and the castle was never rebuilt.  Over the centuries the castle was slowly vandalized and left in the state we saw it.  We can’t even imagine how gorgeous it had to be in the 18th century.

Roxy & Bailey Taking a Breather - White Collar Vagabond

Roxy & Bailey Taking a Breather

We were really glad that we took the road less traveled to Slovakia and were rewarded with the spectacular historical destination. You can find very nice cabin style rooms for rent below $10 per person per night. The country is filled with hikers, bikers, and scenery that will satisfy any outdoor lover.

Stone Jewelry Expat Business

We set out on our adventure to travel and work in exotic locations. We always had a great passion for travel and business. Our goal was to create a lifestyle that would allow us to do both. When we began our travels we knew that we would come across opportunities and that when we saw them we would need to go after them. One of those opportunities evolved over the first year of our vagabond adventure.

Stone and Silver Jewelry

Jennifer’s Stone Jewelry Expat Business

Every time we visited a new country we wanted to take something unique back with us. However, we travel full time and don’t need anymore stuff. We sold most of what we owned, so why accumulate new stuff? We ended up settling for unique stone or silver pendents from each country. We bought a beautiful silver coin pendant in Greece, Opal from Ecuador, Amber pendants from the Baltic sea in Poland, Moonstone designs from Italy, and Jade necklaces in Guatemala. Each country had something one of a kind that we discovered. These little shopping excursions were quite fun and we decided that one day we should launch a business sharing these one of a kind designs with women who want to stand out.

While driving thru Mexico on our way to Central America we had a lot of time to talk about all kinds of subjects. Silver Jewelry came up as a topic because we were on the way to one of the great Spanish silver cities: Guanajuato, Mexico. The wealth of Guanjuato during the Spanish empire’s height was immense due to all the silver mines in the region. We spent the next few weeks enjoying all the silver jewelry designs of the city. This experience inspired us to again drop the “one day” we should do this and follow our motto “why not now?”. We didn’t find a good reason why not to launch the business and our stone jewelry business was born.

Over the next few months we ended up contacting former jewelry artisans we’ve met on our travels, researched new ones, and visited places where jewelry is handmade. We’ve met wonderful people on the way. One of them is Massimo who is Italian decent and based in Guatemala. He works with beautiful Guatemalan Jade Jewelry of all colors. He is also active in the Mayan community and ensures that his business dealings have a positive impact on everyone around. We visited these Mayan communities and decided to involve them as well. Every Jade Necklace or bracelet will come wrapped in a handmade scarf that is created in a Mayan village on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. We saw this as a win, win, win. Business, Eco friendly packaging, Benefiting local communities.

Not only is our first expat business a lot of fun but it allows us to continue our flexible lifestyle and combines our passion for travel with our hobby of finding one of a kind jewelry pieces. Stay tuned as we set out to find new jewelry artisans all over the globe….

Jen & Konrad

Expat Stories – A fellow Vagabond

We met a fellow work and travel vagabond at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Mose Cagen is in his 20′s and living the white collar vagabond lifestyle. He shares his expat lifestyle story. We love to meet fellow travelers and share their stories.

Mose Cagen Expat Lifestyle
I am a White Collar Vagabond, but without that collared shirt. I always knew I wanted to travel, but I also saw reality face to face and realized that in order to move forward in the world and still be able to travel, that I would have to have a decent job that still gave me the time to explore and travel. The thing is, so many people have well-paying jobs which would allow them to travel for long periods of time, especially in budget countries like Central and South America, India, South East Asia, and a number of other possibilities, but most of these people don’t have the time with the limited 2 weeks or so a year in vacation time. That just doesn’t cut it.
It is for this reason that during the last semester of my college career as a business major, I decided to start an environmentally friendly cleaning company with the idea in mind that at some point I could hire an operating manager to take over the daily routine and allow me to take my cut from the established business and do some extended traveling. Great idea right? Well the only thing is, I started that company with a good friend in 2008, right before the market crash. We were some of the lucky ones though and it didn’t put us underwater and we were actually able to grow into quite a successful company in our local town through my knowledge in internet marketing, our environmentally friendly approach, and our down to earth way of running our company. But, we didn’t reach the growth numbers we had initially hoped for and by the time I was burned out of running the company, we weren’t making nearly enough money for me to take off and travel, much less cover all my expenses at home.
This pushed me into the internet marketing business, specifically Search Engine Optimization. I was able to apply the strategies that I had learned during a summer internship in college, which worked extremely well for the marketing of the cleaning company, to start my own internet marketing company. It started out small and slow, but I got into it at the right time and more and more local businesses were interested in getting their sites optimized for search engines (rightfully so). I partnered with one of the top web design companies in town and my client list rapidly grew to a point where I could take off to travel.
This was about 9 months ago that I started traveling. I have actually managed to pay off debt while traveling in Central America and living a very high quality life. By taking my modest income from the states and translating it to the spending power I have down here in Central America, I actually spend less each month staying in decent hotels, eating at great restaurants and indulging in the occasional tour than if I were still in my apartment in Colorado.
Looking back at how I got here, it definitely makes me feel accomplished. But at the same time, I wouldn’t say I am super special. I think anyone who has the determination to be a White Collar Vagabond can do it, but the first step is the desire. If this is the kind of life you really want to live, it is definitely possible, but you have to start making moves. You have to start structuring your life in a way that opens up your future for the possibility to leave and never come back (unless of course you want to.) With more and more businesses becoming remote oriented due to the continued evolution of the internet infrastructure, the life of a White Collar Vagabond is available to anyone, and that includes you.

Mose Cagen
Fort Collins, CO
info (at) mrcventurecompanies (dot) com

Thinking About Moving to Costa Rica? Steve & Debbie Had A Dream, Planned It and Did It!

Name ten things you would like to do if money and time was no object? Ask your partner the same question, write down your answers separately and compare your lists.
That is what Steve and I did when we met in 2003. We compared our lists and found them to be surprisingly similar, and not out of reach. That was the beginning.
Moving to Costa Rica was on my list, Steve’s list included items that could be accomplished while living in Costa Rica, actually up and moving to Costa Rica had never occurred to Steve, until he met me and I took him to Costa Rica on vacation in 2003.
During that vacation my dream of moving to Costa Rica became our dream. We hiked the Osa Peninsula, swam in the Pacific at Manual Antonio, sipped rum drinks on our porch at the Arenal Observatory Lodge and watched the volcano’s nightly fireworks show while listening to the complaints of Howler monkeys after an afternoon rain.
We learned about the fragile circle of life in the cloud forest at Monteverde, the effects of deforestation to the ecosystem and longed for a way to make a difference in this magical land. We fell in love with the culture, the people, and the way of life in Costa Rica.
Things that seem so important in the US, what kind of car you drive, how big your house is, name brand this and name brand that are unimportant here. Spending Sunday’s with family and friends, planting trees, education, and conservation take the place of the superficial goals advertisers try to convince us are essential for happiness.
We started to seriously consider the possibility of moving to Costa Rica. How would we do it? When would we do it? What will the family say? Making a list is how this all started, right? So, we started a list.
Our first list was the pro’s and con’s of moving. The pro’s easily out weighed the cons, so that was easy. The next list was not so easy it involved wrapping up 40+ years in the United States and setting the stage to begin a new life in another country. There are a few good books and web sites that provide invaluable information about moving to Costa Rica, I think we used all of them.
We decided to set the date for the big move for January or February 2006 and began to work on our list. One of our first projects was to get our two girls off to school. Tiffany is Steve’s youngest daughter, and Madeline is my only daughter. They graduated from Sarasota High School in 2005, and we got them off to college without much difficulty. Before we put the houses up for sale we needed to let our families know what we were up to. Being logical people, we figured a Power Point Presentation (PPP) would be a good way to explain it all, put it in writing, ensuring that everyone got the same information at the same time. I emailed the presentation to out-of-state family the same day to avoid any crisis that could be caused by gossip. The family’s response was not what could be called warm and supportive. My daughter said, “Mom, my friends think you guys are hippies! Are YOU?” Steve’s mom exclaimed, “Why are you taking my baby from me, he hated the out doors until he met you!” Not true. Steve’s sister, Donna, expressed her disapproval by avoiding us the entire month before we left, so she wouldn’t have a breakdown and refused to say goodbye. Steve’s other sister, Debbie, was supportive, and was our buffer for the rest of his family. My sisters were happy and looked forward to having a free place to stay on their next vacation. Steve’s two daughters, Mallori and Tiffany, were tearful; they tried desperately to be happy for him, but were dreading the thought of their Dad being so far away. Now, since they have been here, they are so happy and supportive of him.
I spent the last 13 years working as charge nurse in the newborn intensive care unit at our local hospital. Steve served in the Air Force for 12 years, was stationed in Turkey and Greece and was active during the first Gulf War. He worked the last 9 years for the local grocery store chain as a mechanic. We quit our jobs on Labor Day 2005 and spent the next few months, getting the houses on the market and preparing for the move.
We found an attorney who helped up set up a Costa Rican corporation, Leaves and Lizards, LLC. Things were starting to fall into place. It seemed that what once seemed so impossible was becoming possible!
Starting to pack was a reality check. What are we doing? Maybe we really are crazy? Are we really leaving our life in the USA? Taking time to regroup, we refocused, talked to our Costa Rican friends, looked over our PPP and got back to the list. What should we bring? How should we bring it? We looked at the options and eventually decided to take what we absolutely needed on the plane and pay the extra baggage charge. We ended up bringing 16 – 70 pound bags and the dog; we paid $825 extra for the luggage. We packed and stored other bags to be brought on subsequent trips. Tools, good linen, dishes, silverware and kitchen gadgets are some of the things we brought on our first trip.
On February 14th, 2006 we said goodbye to Florida and hello to Costa Rica. In the summer and fall of 2005 we traveled to Costa Rica, to look for a place to rent. Over the last 12 years we had traveled to many locations, but we found ourselves being drawn to the Arenal Volcano area. We found a house to rent in Cuidad Quesada about a one hour drive from La Fortuna. Our new friends, Fred and Amy Morgan lived in the city, and encouraged us to start out in this community, to learn the language and get acclimated to the culture and way of life in Costa Rica. They helped us find a Spanish teacher, Sylvia. She came over 2 days a week and helped us get around town, run errands, drilled us in Spanish and facilitated our immersion into the Costa Rica culture. Thank you Sylvia!
People ask us how we like living in a third world country. Is Costa Rica a third world country? What makes a country third world? With a literacy rate in the upper 90′s, health care for everyone, one of the longest life expectancies in the world, a country that uses only wind, water or geothermal energy for power and almost free college education for its residents- Costa Rica can’t be third world.
Our friends Hector and Christine Ramirez found us a perfect 26 acres of land, near the tourist center of La Fortuna with unbeatable views of the Arenal Volcano. They helped us through the property buying process in Costa Rica. They are committed to the environment and preservation of Costa Rican Culture.
We purchased the property in April 2006, started the cabin construction in August 2006, and opened the Monkey, Toucan and Volcano Cabins in Jan. 2007. In May 2007 we reforested the property and planted 3,000 trees. We added the Heliconia House in Dec. 2008, Hummingbird, Coco, Congo and Mariposa in Dec. 2009. The Lava Lizard restaurant opened in Dec. 2009!
The people of our community, Monterrey, are incredible, helpful and welcoming. The kindness, support and generosity of these people have made our transition to life in Costa Rica easy. Our tours incorporate the community and our rural tourism project puts money directly into the pockets of locals.
With the success of Leaves and Lizards we have been able give back to our community in other ways too. We started a therapeutic horseback riding program, Vinculo con Caballo (The Horse’s Bond) for individuals in our community that will benefit from this type of therapy and New Horizons, a program that gives children from the inner city (San Jose) the chance to experience the country and rainforest. We have also become an intermediary placement location for wild animals from Proyecto Asis Wildlife Rescue center.
Leaves and Lizards Arenal Volcano Cabin Retreat is our paradise and a dream come true. We hope to continue to provide our guests with memorable experiences that create a customized mix of adventure, discovery and tranquility for many years to come.
For more information see our website at www.leavesandlizards.com

Why Guanajuato, Mexico?

We probably would have asked the same question about 12 months ago… Last year we spent some time in Ecuador and Jennifer enjoyed discovering all this exotic semi-precious stone jewelry in the markets of Quito and Cuenca.

She mentioned to me that she really liked Opals. After a few searches Mexican Opals came up and the colonial highlands of Mexico were mentioned. I started researching a little and really enjoyed the history of Mexico’s silver cities. Guanajuato was one of those cities and had actually a mine that was still producing silver until 2005. Over the centuries all this mining wealth was invested into the citiy’s churches, colonial mansions and civic buildings. I’ve always enjoyed history and colonial history in particular. One of our missions on the Latin America part of our travels is to visit these colonial gems.

Guanajuato Mexico

Views of Guanajuato, Mexico


Guanajuato is filled with courtyard cafes, gardens, and baroque churches. It is home to the prestigious Universidad de Guanajuato which has contributed Guanajuato being a place for intellectuals, culture and arts. The students add an extra level of energy to the city.

On our first night, a Thursday night, we strolled thru the city and came across a plaza witha classical movie beamed across a building facade, then we came a cross several Mariachi bands, but then settled down for a quick bite to eat at European style cafe with replica paintings of Van Gogh. The cafe was filed by the sound of a singer playing local musical favorites on accoustical guitar.

You know how when you get to a place you quickly get a gut feel about it and know if it was a good choice or not? We immediately knew that we will enjoy the next 15 nights here.

What’s next? We are staying at Meson Cuevano (Sophian and expat from Germany runs the place, can’t wait to find out more about it), we will visit our expat friends that decided to spent 12 months in San Miguel de Allende, and then we will just explore…