An opportunity that fell into my lap rather abruptly the summer of 2014 was the chance to collaborate with LEAF festival (non profit that runs a very popular local festival twice a year to raise funds to support both local and international art/music projects).  In meeting with their staff, we decided to team up – LEAF and my business side of planning group travel via our independent traveler arm Discovery Expeditions – to pilot a trip to Costa Rica and Panama to visit their international programs to build local connections and community between here and there.  And so I joined a team of LEAF ambassadors on site visits to their two Costa Rica programs to investigate the programs and acquaint myself with the people and their resources.  After the trip, I organized a trip that LEAF began promoting among their community this fall, and in late February 2015, I will be leading that group down there.  We haven’t gotten as big of a response as we expected, but we’ve learned some things we could do better and once this trip is successfully run, I believe it will give us an example to build upon.  I’m excited that it combines so much of who I am (both traveler and travel professional, Spanish speaker, local musician & artist) and gives me a professional venture that roots me deeper in Asheville community and a local organization that I love, rather than taking me typically outside of Asheville.

The LEAF trip to Costa Rica was one week and I really enjoyed traveling with local Asheville friends, but I extended my stay another 10 days so I could go visit a new country.  I said goodbye to my LEAF friends in Costa Rica, and set off alone to a remote village border crossing into Panama.  In Panama: I visited Cerro Punta, backpacked 20 miles to Boquete via the trail Sendero Quetzal, swam in waterfall pools, visited some of our LEAF International teaching artists in David, stayed at the Lost & Found hostel in the cloud forest, hung out on the Caribbean coast at Bocas del Toro, and finally was impressed with Panama City’s colonial and modern districts.  I liked Panama a lot, and it was fun to meet other random travelers along the hostel circuit – ended up watching several of the World Cup knockout games, including the Final during my travels.  Always fun to see random expatriate fans showing their colors in other countries.

Below is a video playlist featuring some of the experiences from the trip, and my self-interview summary of the time with LEAF’s staff, programs and partners: