S: Costa Rica 2009
FC: Costa Rica 2009
2: We’ve arrived in Costa Rica. I can already feel the culture shock even as we left the airport. There are 7 girls that are here already and there will be more students coming later this fall. Just on the drive from the airport to the university I could tell we are now in a whole new world. I had seen pictures of the city, so this is what I was expecting, but it’s one thing to expect it and another to actually see it and experience it for yourself. There is garbage everywhere and bars and gates around every single building. You feel unsafe just looking out the window, but the security in Costa Rica is above and beyond what is needed. Our leader said it’s more of a competition, if your neighbor puts up a tall fence, you have to put up a fence the same height or taller so that if there is a robbery on the block it won’t be your house. Our host family came to pick us up from the university. They are very nice people and have a wonderful family. Our host mom and dad speak Spanish and English but they are going to speak as much Spanish with us as possible. They have two daughters Mariana 2 and Tiare 14. Our house has nine bedrooms (6 of them are occupied by students: me and Rachel and then 4 Spanish speaking students from Costa Rica and Guatemala that are also attending the same university that we are. | They are not here right now because they are on break but they will return half way through September). The house is very clean and really cute. The 6 students stay on the first floor and the family on the second. There is a kitchen and dining room with a terraced backyard. It’s so cool because the terrace has couches and a TV but yet there are no walls, it’s one with the back yard and yet when it rains things barely get wet because when it rains here they don’t have much wind to blow the water around. There aren’t even screens on the windows and the doors are left wide open in back where the backyard is enclosed by tall walls (the front is always locked behind a fence). I get mixed feelings of insecurity and security all at the same time because this house is so cozy, but once you step outside you remember what it’s like out there. Even though there aren’t screens, there aren’t many bugs. We have occasional moths and flies, but I haven’t seen any mosquitoes yet (crossing my fingers). The shower is lukewarm (one thing that I miss a lot- a hot shower) but still tolerable. The pipes for the toilets in Costa Rica are too small so we must put the toilet paper in a waste basket next to the toilet. That is a bit different and hard to get used to I have to make a conscious effort every time not to forget! | September - December 2009
3: Tonight we had an authentic Costa Rican meal - rice with chicken and salad. It was delicious! After we ate, we shared our gifts with the family. I made my first mistake, for some reason I told them that we had reglas (rules) for them instead of regalos ( gifts)! They looked at me like what are you talking about this is our house, why do you think you get to make rules?!?! Haha, anyway I corrected myself and we just laughed about it, but I know it’s going to be a great trip- many more laughs to come! Now it’s about 5:45 here and it’s almost dark outside so we are going to go to the store and buy shampoo and other essentials. First we went to the shopping mall which is way better than our mall or even the Empire mall! It’s really nice and I guess they show movies there for pretty cheap on Wednesday nights so we may be going to some of those, but since they are all in Spanish we may need a little more practice first. Mariana came too and she played on the playset in the mall while Romeo, our host dad, had a coffee. He is a waiter at a fancy restaurant so he won’t be around much during the evenings. After Mariana was done playing we went to a market to buy shampoo and other things. I thought it was kind of expensive, but I’m not very good at my conversions yet. Thank goodness I only have to buy this once while I am here! After we got back from the store, our host mom Beatrix made us some delicious soup because we had eaten dinner so early that evening. After that I took a shower and am now going to bed. Tomorrow we head back to the school for orientation and interviews and all those last minute preparations. There is a gym nearby, the school is about 4-5 blocks away, there is a clinic nearby also that I may try to volunteer at and lots of other stuff (which I don’t know much about yet but I’m sure I will find out tomorrow).
4: Today was a busy day at the Universidad de Veritas (that is my school). It’s an awesome campus! It is an art and design school so there are pictures and sculptures everywhere. Today was a day full of orientation and information (more than can fit in my head but it’s ok!). First thing this morning our host mom (Beatrix) walked us three blocks to the ISA office (the coordinator of this trip) and we began our day full of meetings! Our orientation meetings were very helpful as we discussed the differences in the culture, how to act, what to expect with culture shock. This was very good for me because I am homesick and it’s comforting to know that I am not the only one. Part of the reason that I am so homesick is that I can’t connect to the internet here in my house so at night when everyone is in bed I lay here and think about all I am missing back at home. I took my computer in today, but guess what!??! It works at the school so the tech people don’t think there is a problem with it! Tomorrow the tech guy from ISA is going to come over and help me fix things. At least I can use Rachel’s to send emails back home so my parents at least know that I am ok! Today is much better for me since we went through orientation and I now know kind of what to expect. I know there are more than enough activities here that I will barely have time to get homesick once we get started. We also learned of all the excursions that we will be doing this semester. There are trips planned for every weekend so guess that I will be doing every weekend? That’s right, traveling! This Thursday we are going bungee jumping and this weekend we are going to the beach. Next weekend we are going to La Isla de la Tortuga (Turtle Island) and then white water rafting. The following weekend we have the opportunity to go to another beach but there are many other activities to do such as surfing lessons, horseback riding, zip-lining and others. Then ISA is going to take us on 4 different excursions during the month of October. One of these will be to Panama because we are only allowed to stay here for 90 days and since we are going to be here longer than that we have to leave the country for 72 hours and then we can re-enter and stay for another 90 days. The trips after that are to be announced. I will keep you informed. My goals for this trip are to white water raft, snorkel/scuba dive, learn to surf, and zip line, but I am sure that more will come up as time goes on! Oh yeah and of course better my Spanish and I suppose I will have to study enough to pass my classes, but no more! The food here is amazing and fairly cheap! They have the best juice I have ever tasted, lots of it is fresh fruit juice, not from concentrate like in the US.
5: We eat beans and rice with every meal with lots of vegetables and even fruits. I watch my host mom cook, but I may take those cooking classes so that I can learn exactly how to do it. Today we took an oral exam to see what level of Spanish we are at. I was nervous for this because I tend to worry about things that don’t matter, this isn’t even for a grade! Anyway I did just fine and me and Rachel both placed into the advanced level. Classes start tomorrow! I don’t know what to expect. The native students here don’t start until next week so we have the campus to ourselves for this week which will be great as we get to know the place. I am super excited though because there are so many opportunities for us here at the university that we won’t have much time to be bored! We have class every day from 8-12 which will be intense (I guess that’s why they call it an intensive month!!)! Anyway after that the rest of the day is ours to spend as we want. I have signed up for conversation classes, self-defense classes, dance classes, sports and there is even a cooking class, but I am not sure about this one yet because there is a monthly fee. When I am not in class or doing these activities there is a gym about 3 blocks away that offers a reduced rates for students. Also there is a clinic nearby that I may try to volunteer at or maybe there are other opportunities for me. I will look into this tomorrow. The weather here is very strange. In the morning it is usually sunny and hot, by noon it is cloudy and then in the afternoon it rains. It can repeat this cycle many times in a day. We also have earthquakes here. They happen about 100 times a month but most of them are so small that they won’t bother! The temperature is fairly constant, most of the time you are comfortable in your capris and a t-shirt. I saw something really interesting this morning. When we were walking to our orientation, we saw a guy that was carrying a gas can in one hand and smoking a cigarette with the other..smart? Tomorrow we start classes and then in the afternoon we are taking a bus tour of the city so I can finally see the city of San Jose and try to get my bearings down. By tomorrow night I will be practicing my dancing skills in dancing class. I hope we don’t have too much homework..that’s the only thing not in my schedule! Haha!
6: Today was the first day of class. It was hard to find our rooms because we don’t know the school very well yet. Our classroom was #2210 which is right next to 226. Tell me how that makes any sense? Anyway it’s ok because we found our class and we were only a little late, which in this culture isn’t as big of a deal as it is in the States. Class is from 8AM-12PM with a half an hour break in the middle. Today we just did the simple stuff like introductions of ourselves, of the class and to the country of Costa Rica. Since I am in the advanced class, we are going to have more work than the other students. Each week we will either have an oral exam or a written exam. Each week we will also have a short reading and quiz over that reading. This is all on top of the daily assignments that we get (and yes I did get an assignment today!). In all we have 20 hours of class each day and they want us to study 10 hours each week. That is hard for us right now because we are taking advantage of our free time. Tomorrow (2-09-09) we are going to have class 8-12, then we have a short meeting with ISA and then we are going to the movies at 2 (because on Wednesdays it’s 2 for 1) and then later that evening we are going to find a disco (a dance club) to test out our dance skills or lack thereof. Thursday we have class and then in the afternoon we are going bungee jumping followed by dance class in the evening. Friday we leave for the beach for the weekend and won’t get back until Sunday evening! My goodness there isn’t any time in there for studying and I’m not going to worry too much about it! After class today we went on a tour of the city. It’s a bit confusing, but I know I will get used to it. There are areas that they told us not to go, but for the most part we just need to be careful where ever we are. Our neighborhood is pretty safe; we have a lot of cops around because the university has a lot of expensive equipment and can’t afford to be robbed. I was told that this area is like the gated community of San Jose just without the gates (because every house and building has their own). Anyway Costa Rica is a developing country so there is a lot of garbage and junk around and the streets are very crowded, but all-in-all I think it’s going to be fun to explore and shop, there are some very good deals here! There are many theaters and museums, but most of Costa Rica’s beauty is out in the country which we are going to explore every weekend! The rest of the night I worked on homework, helped my host families niece read, talked with my host families sister (all in Spanish because she doesn’t speak any English) and then at 8PM we went to dance classes. We learned parts of the meringue, salsa and another kind that I can’t remember the name. I know that I am going to be sore, but it felt good to be doing some exercise! Today was our second day of class and when we were done learning we went to the movies. On Wednesdays in San Jose two people can get into the movies for the price of one! It’s great! We got to see The Proposal with Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock. I really liked the movie! I think most of the movies down here are in English with Spanish subtitles so we didn’t have any problems understanding anything. The rest of the night was spent eating with our host mom, looking through her photos and doing some homework. My computer still can not connect to the internet because today Christian was sick! Oh well one of these days! Rachel told me today that none of our TV shows can be watched on the computer anyway because it isn’t quite the same internet as in the US. Oh well once things get rolling here I am not going to have enough time to even think about watching TV. They do have CSI here though in Spanish so I can still watch that if I want to I guess!
7: Today started out just like any other day. We went to class and did our first little mini presentations. Everything went well! I really like my classes and the people I’ve met. We are all pretty laid back and want to do as many things as possible while we are here in Costa Rica. Our day changed rapidly when we went bungee jumping! When we finished class, we road in a van out to the countryside. There we drove out onto a bridge above a ravine with a babbling creek. I say creek because it was larger than a brook, but not yet a river. There were lots of rocks and trees below. I was so scared. I’m not a huge fan of heights, so when we got out of the van all I could think about was “oh my goodness, why on Earth did I decide to do this?” It was a huge drop. I thought I was going to chicken out as I saw them hooking everything up and getting the bungees set. Wendy (a student from Iowa) went first. She had it all together the whole time and never even seemed nervous. That made me feel better to see one of us go and come back ok! I know that sounds bad, but no one ever wants to be the first right? The guides were really good. They had us all count down from 5 for each person and they just told us to trust them. So I decided to take the plunge when it was finally my turn. I was so scared, my hands were sweating profusely and my stomach was in knots. It’s one thing to be looking off the bridge, but it’s a whole new feeling when there is nothing between you and the ground below! 5432..JUMP! My stomach was in my mouth the whole way down so I wasn’t even able to scream! It all happened so fast, I didn’t get to see much more than trees but it felt so good afterward! That adrenaline rush was one of the best I have ever had! I even got a video of me jumping so everyone can watch it when I get back! Now I feel pretty good. My back and neck feel a little bit of stress but I am going to rest them up and hopefully everything is better by tomorrow!
8: Today was interesting. Class was normal, but after class I met a new girl from Mexico, her name is Erica. I am very excited because she is new here too and doesn’t know anyone so we are going to explore the city a little and of course talk in Spanish. The reason I’m so excited for this is because whenever the US students are together (which is always) we always talk in English, but I don’t want to talk in English. I already know English, I am here to learn Spanish. Anyway Erica is going to help me by talking with me so that I can practice my Spanish. This afternoon I started a conversation class. Most of the students there are below my level, but the more exposure I can get the better and we had a lot of fun. I also met three other students from the US who are more my level and I think that we will also practice together. Then after class I went to talk with the computer guy again and he will help me fix things next week when he gets back from a meeting. Until then, one of my computers works and I will get getting a webcam for that tomorrow. Tonight the power went out. You never realize how dependent you are on something until you don’t have it. I was going to use the internet to work on my project, so I decided to watch TV and then take a shower but obviously all of these were out of the question because there was no power! Haha anyway I just wrote in my journal and eventually the power came back on when I was ready to go to bed! My computers (yes I brought 2 just for this reason!!) are a bit Costa Rica phobic I believe. I finally go connected to the internet with the great big gateway, but I don’t have a webcam so I can’t skype. Anyway I am going to buy one of those today. My host mom Beatrix is taking me to the mall so I can buy one and also a few other essentials for our big trips this weekend! This last weekend we went to a beach on the Pacific Ocean. The town and beach are called Tamarindo. It was gorgeous! We stayed in a really nice hotel with a pool, although we only used that to cool down. The weather is so crazy here in Costa Rica. By the beaches it’s hotter than blazes you sweat just walking out the door, here in San Jose it’s very comfortable, and they say in the rainforests and up in the mountains it’s cold and you need to wear a jacket! I learned really fast that the sun here is very different than back in the states! I wore sunscreen spf 40 and 50. I applied it four times while I was out at the beach but it wasn’t near enough! I was so red that I started introducing myself as tomato! It was so nice though!
9: Friday we left from school at 1PM in a typhoon! Ok it wasn’t really a typhoon but it was raining sooooooo hard! Anyway the bus ride was about 5 hours. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but I am not complaining, it was worth it. That night we went out for a nice meal. All the restaurants there were outside with a simple roof over our heads. It’s very relaxing and the bugs aren’t too bad, although they seem to like me! I guess I am just too sweet! Anyway later that night we went to a bar and did some dancing. It was very different than an American bar (not that I have ample experience or anything) but the people, both men and women, are more forward down here. Men aren’t afraid to ask you to dance and the women aren’t shy with the men. Saturday we spent out at the beach from about 9:30 to 1. The skies were clear, the water warm and the sun HOT! Today was bad for the gringa that has seen about that much sun in 2 months! Anyway we enjoyed Frisbee, wave jumping sun bathing and just talking. Some people tried their skills on a surfboard. I didn’t get this opportunity because my ears were bothering me. San Jose is in the mountains so we had to come ger in the runnings for the World Cup. Oh well, later that night we went back to the hotel and played a new card game that I like and will have to introduce to you later when I get back. The next morning we ate and packed and spent 5 hours on the bus back to San Jose. It was a great weekend, I love the beach but I am even more excited to go to the rainforests (the biology in me maybe?)!! This week at school wasn’t anything too exciting. We had our first oral presentations and tests. My head just for some reason can not wrap around this Spanish thing! I feel like I am never going to get it! One problem is that every American student around me speaks English so that isn’t helping! I need to find Spanish speaking friends, but the Tico (Costa Rican) students aren’t too open and friendly to the Americans. They see so many Americans come and go that they seem to just look right past us like we are ghosts. Anyway I am still going to attempt to talk to them if the opportunity arises. I also think that I am going to volunteer in a clinic if I can or in an orphanage if I can’t just so that I am out in the community and forced to speak with the natives. I try to talk to my host mom as often as possible. She is very helpful and corrects me. Anyway there are other opportunities that I am going to take advantage of. We have 4 native students living with us as well so I talk with them as often as possible as well. Also there is a bible study led by Costa Ricans that I am going to join and see if I can meet people that way as well! Anyway I am going to try my hardest to take advantage of every opportunity that I have while I’m here to spend time with the locals. This weekend we are going to Turtle Island. It’s on the pacific side at the southern tip of the Guanacaste peninsula. At this island we are going to go kayaking, snorkeling and maybe ride on a banana boat (they say it’s like a big tube that you ride on the ocean!). Then we come back home that night and leave bright and early again the next morning for white water rafting!!! I am so excited!!! We are going to Río Pacuare or River Pacuare. This river has been ranked as one of the top ten in the world for white water rafting (and one of the 5 best for practicing rafting) with sets of class 4 rapids (out of 6). I am pretty excited about this trip and bought a few essentials such as sunscreen and an underwater camera!
10: Other things that I have been up to lately or things that I have learned about Costa Rica. 1. I wish I would’ve known then what I know now! Sunscreen = $18, underwater camera = $14, facewash = harder to come by, etc. OUCH, but what do I do, I need the sunscreen or I will die of skin caner in a few years! 2. Beans and rice are eaten at every meal, even breakfast! Tomatoes are also common for us to eat, even as breakfast along with other fresh fruitst. Beatrix asked me if my parents make rice and I told her very rarely and she about died, she can’t even imagine a meal without beans! 3. The money down here is a little different. I am getting used to it, but there are sooooo many coins! I feel like my pockets always weigh 20 pounds! 4. School is different here too. Today (Friday) for example our teacher had to leave in the middle of our exam because her dog was sick and she just left us there to finish the exam and turn it in to someone else. Pretty sure that doesn’t happen much in the US. 5. Our teacher is also more strict than our Spanish teachers were in the US. This is good for us, it’s just something new to get used to. In the US your teacher understands you are just learning and they grade your overall performance. Our teacher grades every little thing that we do wrong, even if we correct ourselves. For example, yesterday we had presentations and I did mine on baseball. I made the mistake of saying there are cuatros bases (4 bases), but it was supposed to be cuatro bases (you don’t make the number plural), I corrected myself right away, but she still commented on it on my evaluation form! Oh well, live and learn, and that’s what I’m here to do! I’m not very good about studying yet and I hope it gets a little better, but mostly I am just here to learn, not for a grade either, just for life! 6. I also learned that when you get really sunburned and your skin is about ready to peel, it’s not the best idea to go running! My sunburn was about ready to peel and we went running, all the sweat was trapped under the loose skin and my shoulders and chest were full of sweat filled bubbles! It looked really bad, but didn’t hurt, people probably just thought I was a leper! Once again note to self: sunscreen and more sunscreen!! 7. There are ants everywhere in our house because half of our house is outside. This is just something that I have gotten used to, but the houses here just so different in that sense. People lock their gates and leave their front doors open to get good air movement as most houses don’t have AC. Anyway all this openness is weird to me because in Minnesota we would have so many mosquitoes and moths and whatever else in our house it would be ridiculous but here in San Jose there aren’t that many bugs. The bugs live out by the beaches and in the rainforest. 8. I am going to try and be active while I’m down here. I think that Rachel and another classmate of ours, Meaghan, can whip me into running shape. I am also doing self defense classes and I will be doing kickboxing classes on Wednesday nights. I also tried yoga for the first time this week and that also has potential. Well that’s all I can think of for now, tune in again next time for more of the adventures of..Dierkel in Costa Rica. Oh yes and it's another typhoon here! It's been pouring for the last 1.5-2 hours! This is the NORMAL winter (rainy season) for them. We are very lucky because it doesn't really rain that much and we get to enjoy the sun and awesome weather!
11: This weekend was AWESOME!! Friday night started off with a movie. It was only about $3.50 -$4.00! How awesome is that? In Worthington you pay $6.00 for the matinee. Anyway the theaters are really nice, the movies are in English with Spanish subtitles and it’s such a relaxing thing to do, not to mention CHEAP!! After the movies we came home and went to bed because we knew that we had a long weekend before us! Saturday morning started off bright and early with the bus picking us up at 5:45AM. I was slightly worried because we went to the pickup area, but no one was there yet. The other students showed up at 5:46 and the bus at about 5:50. This is very different than American culture. We are always taught that being on early is on time, being on time is late, and being late is unacceptable. Here time is just a guideline. People don’t get mad if someone keeps them waiting for 5, 10 or even 15 minutes. So we headed off to the Isla de la Tortuga (Turtle Island) which is off the south eastern coast of the Peninsula on the Pacific side. We drove about 2 hours, then boarded a boat to get there. Once we got to the island, I felt like I was on Lost (one of my favorite TV shows). *Side note for any of you who watch Lost, my cousin works for a Bible Camp and for the last 2 summers they have gone to Hawaii to do a camp there. Their Bible Camp in Hawaii is the SAME camp that the Others stay in, they use this Bible Camp to film Lost as the Others camp! How awesome is that! She says it’s weird to watch Lost and recognize the various aspects of camp. Anyway the sand is a gorgeous white color because there are coral reefs in the area. When these coral reefs break up, the little particles wash up on shore and become the sand. It’s gorgeous! We went snorkeling and got to see some beautiful fish! They aren’t shy of people and you feel like they are going to swim right into you! It’s a suffocating feeling at first when you can’t breathe out of your nose, but it gets better and those snorkel masks and breathing pipes actually work really well. Our guides also found some starfish and other creatures for us to hold! I must say though the best thing that I got to hold was a puffer fish! It was sooo cool! When the fish feels frightened, he takes in a lot of water and then his body swells and his spines erect for protection. They hurt too! Anyway the water is great, the beach was gorgeous and the snorkeling was cool! I can’t believe I have only been here for 2 weeks, look at all I’ve done!
12: Sunday morning began nice and early again at 6:15 when the van picked us up for white water rafting! This is by far the best thing that I have done yet here in Costa Rica!!! We went to the Pacuare River which is ranked among the top ten in the world for white water rafting. I now know why! It was 18 miles of GORGEOUSNESS!! The rainforest surrounded us on both sides with steep mountain sides, honeymoon huts, and indigenous people’s houses. I don’t know how those people built there houses on such a steep mountainside! There were class 3 and 4 rapids and they were very fun! I was really scared at first because I haven’t done anything like that before. They gave us very good instructions and there is a guide in every boat that directs you through the process. I was so nervous because there is nothing holding you in the boat and you sit up on the side of the boat. When I first got in, the guide told me I was sitting too close to the middle and I had to move out more. I felt like I was going to fall off! You wedge your feet underneath these bars that go across the middle of the boat and that’s how you stay in. They showed us how to rescue people if anyone fell out and also they had kayakers specifically for rescuing those who fell in. There was one scary moment when a girl from another boat fell out. She got trapped by a rock and water started rushing over her. The kayakers rescued her and she was safe but our guide reminded us how dangerous the water can be. He said most of the time people don’t get trapped like that, but when they do it’s very dangerous. Thank God she was ok! No one from our boat fell in and after we got started I actually felt very comfortable and safe. IT’s a weird feeling sitting on the side of a slippery raft with rapids and water constantly splashing you and you feel completely safe! We focused of the river when the rapids were tough and the rest of the time we talked, laughed and had some fun splashing one another. The water was so refreshing with the sun beating down, not too cold or hot. We saw a boa constrictor hanging from one of the trees above the river, many beautiful butterflies, a horse, a lizard and many different birds. We saw many waterfalls as well and even got to ride underneath 2 of them! There is also a canyon between the two mountains and during that time we got to jump out of the boat and swim in the water. It was by far the best thing that I have done here so far in Costa Rica and I may go again if I have the chance!
13: On the way home we had some car trouble. Our engine overheated so we had to sit on the side of the road for about a half an hour while the engine cooled and the driver could add more water. The driver also lost his ring that he had gotten from his host family in Canada when he stayed there. We tried to help him find it when we were waiting for the car to cool down, but alas we left without the ring. L What a day! Now I am about to eat supper, take a shower and relax! Another thing that I have learned in Costa Rica while I have been here.the rules of driving are, that there are no rules! People are crazy! They pass around curves, speed up to cut you off and speed up as pedestrians are crossing the street. As a pedestrian you must pay attention!
14: This week was slightly out of the ordinary as Costa Rica just celebrated their Independence from Spain on September 15. The celebration started Monday night with children’s parades. It’s a very big deal at the elementary schools especially. At 6PM everyone gathers in the gym and the students put on a small presentation. The students dress in traditional dress, sing Costa Rican songs (like their anthem, salute to the flag, etc) and show off their lanterns that they have made. Each student builds a lantern and they are given awards based on quality and creativeness. Then after the ceremony is over, everyone goes out into the streets and walks with their lanterns lit up while the band plays songs. Later that night we went out dancing. Wow let me tell you people down here sure know how to dance! I was just amazed some of the couples that were out on the floor! I need to find a good dance partner that can show me all these new moves that I am prepared for when I come back to the states! On actual Independence day, the celebrations begin at 4AM with very loud fireworks being set off about every 15 minutes for two hours! I swear they were being set off in our backyard, they were sooooo loud! Needless to say I didn’t really sleep much from 4-6AM! The rest of the day was mine, we didn’t have any class so we went downtown to see the parades down there. A Costa Rican parade isn’t the same as a US parade. People don’t sit on the curbs as floats go by and people don’t throw candy. Instead it’s a band or group of flags that stands in one place while all the people crowd around and listen or watch. The city was packed and the cars could barely drive on the roads because there was no room for them! Later we grabbed a bite to eat at a local soda and I had a strawberry milkshake that was to die for! Literally all they used was frozen strawberries and milk. I love the drinks down here, fresh fruit juices or real milkshakes! Life isn’t quite going to be the same after this trip Today we went to a movie for $2!! Best deal ever and we are going to make it a weekly thing! Every Wednesday is half price! The tricky thing about the movies down here is that the titles don’t match very well so you have to make sure you know what movie you want to go to. For example we went to “The Hangover” which translated into Spanish is called “What Happened Yesterday?” or in the US “My Sister’s Keeper” in CR is “The Most Difficult Decision”. Today we saw “The Time Traveler’s Wife” which in Spanish is “I Will Love You Forever.” Anyway this is very entertaining translating the titles and realizing they don’t match at all! Tomorrow I am doing a little shopping to buy a coin purse for all the spare change I have started to accumulate. This weekend is also going to be AMAZING! We are going to Tortuguero which is a beach in Costa Rica that is a famous site where sea turtles come to nest. And it’s nesting season so we get to go on a few tours to see the turtles and their nesting ground. Can’t wait it’s going to be AWESOME! | This weekend we went to Tortuguero, a beach on the northeast side of Costa Rica. It was at this beach that I gambled in the turtle lottery and lost big time
15: We left San Jose bright and early on Saturday morning, enroute to Tortuguero. The first 4 hours were by bus and the last hour was by boat. On the way, we passed many banana plantations and learned a little bit about the process. Bananas are not actually trees, they are herbaceous plants. After this plant produces a bunch of bananas, it dies and is replaced by a new plant. The plant and fruit is 80%+ water so they can easily collapse under the weight of the bananas so they tie cables to the plants for additional support. Costa Rica is the 8th leading country in banana production. This process is rather time consuming as it takes 9 months to grow one plant. The producers put colored bags around the fruit for a few reasons. First, for an identifier of which field the fruit is coming from and second as an aid in the ripening process. The bag holds in the ethylene gas produced by the bananas which allows them to ripen further. We also saw the more rustic side of Costa Rica with pastures of cows, horses and goats. The barns are slightly drafty for our standards but here in Costa Rica you have to worry more about heat than cold. Also, for the fences, they just use the trees in the road ditch for the posts by attaching barbed wire to them and wha-la you have a fence! Our hotel was really nice, it was in the middle of the jungle. We had monkeys in the trees above our heads and we could hear crickets and parrots and other insects all night long, very relaxing. The monkeys were very smart and are used to people being around. I think they invented a game, whack a gringo (white American). The rules are that whoever hits a gringo on the head with fruit gets 10 points! They were purposely throwing fruit down at us! Because we were in the jungle we also had lots of visitors during the night such as geckos, scorpions and other creatures. One student even had a gecko under his pillow! Talk about feeling one with nature! We went on a small tour that afternoon of the town Tortuguero. This area is a national park so there is no development. You go everywhere by boat, there are no cars. The beach has black sand, which comes from the volcanoes. The color of the sand helps attract the heat of the sun, which helps incubate the eggs in the nest. We saw turtle nests and remnants of turtle shells that the turtles had hatched out of. The hatching season is from May to October with 4 species arriving at different times during this period. This is the season for the Atlantic green sea turtle. The females may come ashore up to 5 fives during the season and lay a batch of eggs each time she comes ashore. The batches average about 100 soft, small, white eggs about the shape and size of a ping pong ball. When they return to the sea they don’t come back for another 2 or so years. The sex of the turtles depends on the temperature of the nest. The warmer areas will produce females, while the cooler, deeper eggs will produce males. The babies hatch and make their way out to sea. Because of predators or the eggs, humans, dogs, raccoons, birds, etc not may eggs actually hatch. Of the few that do, the predators may snatch them before they get into the water. Once in the water they have to worry about a whole new set of enemies. All these dangers only allow about 2% of the eggs lain to actually mature to adults. After this tour we went back and cooled off in the swimming pool, ate supper and prepared for the best event of the whole tripnight turtle watching!
16: We paid extra to take a night trip out to the beach and see actual turtles nesting. Here’s where things went south for me. First of all I bought a red light specifically for this purpose so that I could see the turtles because the white light scares them. Then on the boat ride to the hotel we were told we couldn’t have any lights or cameras or anything with us or we risked forfeiting our trip! Strike one Then we loaded the boat and went over to the beach. Because the area is protected, we had to wait in the jungle while the spotters went out to look for the turtles and when they found one, they radioed back its location. We sat there for an hour with a HORRIBLE guide that didn’t answer any of my questions and gave me contradictory information, strike two After an hour and a half of waiting, our guide told us it was time to head back because other groups were coming and we weren’t lucky enough to see turtles that night, STRIKE THREE! I was very upset as I was looking forward to this for the whole week because as a biology major, I LOVE this kind of stuff. Talk about a huge disappointment! This is why I lost the turtle lottery, because it’s nature, it’s unpredictable! I have pretty much decided that gambling is not a good career for me and I need to stick with school and get a real job. Others in our group actually got to see a turtle so they described the scenario to us. The female was about 5 feet long. She dug her hole for about 40 minutes and then when her flippers no longer touch sand, she knows the hole is deep enough. It takes her about 10 minutes to lay the eggs and then she starts covering them up with her flippers. She is very strong and flings sand in your face and makes a lot of noise when she slaps the ground to move the sand over top of the eggs. This process takes about 30-40 minutes and then she makes the journey back to the sea. On our day tour we did see the tracks of a turtle that was making this trek back to the sea. After the disappointment, we headed back to our rooms and went to sleep for a few hours before we were woke up at 5 AM for a canal tour. On this tour we went around the river and looked for wildlife. It was a beautiful morning and we got to see some wonderful creatures. We saw many different kinds of birds, 4 kinds of monkeys, caiman, crocodile, lizards and a Jesus Christ lizard. Those are the ones you always see on animal planet that run across the top of the water and their arms wave in crazy circles. After the tour we ate breakfast and headed back to San Jose. Tonight I went to church with my host mom and surprisingly enough I was able to understand quite a bit! It was a good feeling to be there after such a disappointing weekend. The music was great, the people were excited to be there and the message was powerful. The speaker had a great energy level and she just kept feeding the crowd. All-in-all it was still a great weekend in Costa Rica, even though the turtles decided to play hooky!! Good news! Wherever one door closes, another one opens. One of my friends that went on the trip (and also didn’t get to see turtles and was very disappointed) talked to her host mom and her host mom told her that she has connections to a volunteer program to work with the turtles! There is a possibility that we can be volunteers for a weekend and actually work with the turtles! Also we are getting reimbursed for part of the trip because our guide was so bad. Life has its ups and downs. Tomorrow I have my final test and I will be done with my first Spanish class here in Costa Rica, man where has time gone?!?!? This weekend we are going to the beach! We have a three day weekend so I won’t get back until Monday night! Awesome!
18: This week we didn’t start classes until Tuesday so we stayed at the beach until Monday! Then this week I start all 3 of my new classes. No more free afternoons! I never realized how intense this program was! I have class every day from 8-12 and then I have electives Monday and Wednesday evenings from 4-8. That’s a lot of class for only 12 credits! Now I’m taking Spanish Conversation, Latinamerican Literature, and Marine Biology! How exciting! The best part is, that there will be field trips! I don’t know the details yet, but I will keep you posted! This last weekend we went to Montezuma. Montezuma is a small town on the Pacific Coast. It consists of about 2 streets with multiple souvenir shops, restaurants, tour guide companies and hotels. It’s very touristy, but this isn’t the high season so things were fairly quiet. We took a bus from San Jose and the ride was about 6 hours total. The first 2 hours were on land, then we loaded a ferry to cross the Gulf of Nicoya and then we had another 1 hours on the bus again. Since I was born and raised in the Midwest, I didn’t really understand the concept of a ferry. We got off to board the boat and then the bus drove on the boat and rode with us across the gulf! Then when we reached the other side, the bus drove off the boat, we got back on the bus and continued on toward Montezuma. The boat ride was gorgeous because the sun was setting and the sky was beautiful shades or red, pink and orange. When we arrived, we had to go on a treasure hunt for our hotel keys. The hotel reception closes at 6 PM but the busses don’t arrive until 8 PM (because this isn’t the tourist season) so they left keys for us with a tour guide company that was open until 9PM. Our hotel was nothing more than a room with 4 beds, a ceiling fan, a toilet and a cold shower, BUT it was beach front and the best part was that it only cost us $13/night!! I loved waking up every morning to the waves crashing along the beach! The problem with being at the ocean is the heat and humidity. I don’t know if I have ever sweated (is that a word?) so much in my life! Even at night you were sweating buckets! The only way to cool off for a few minutes was to jump in the ocean or the cold shower, whichever you preferred. Needless to say we all felt extremely dirty and smelly all weekend, but we fit in just fine with the locals. The people down here in Costa Rica that live on the beaches have a very different lifestyle than most of us are used to. They are hippies with dreadlocks, they wear their swimsuits all day and surf, smoke marijuana, drink alcohol and maybe take a shower once a week. Anyway we had to wear lots of sunscreen, bug spray and our sweat all weekend so we smelled like flowers let me tell you! We did a lot of nothing and it was very relaxing. We sat around on the beach, hiked around (there are a lot of waterfalls near Montezuma) and attempted to go horseback riding. There was a group of 5 of us that paid to go horseback riding to a waterfall and back. I was the only one who hadn’t ridden before. After about 30 minutes into the trip, the girls started feeling really uncomfortable on their horses. Their ears were cocked back against their heads and they seemed kind of jumpy. They also feared that the animals may have been mistreated because they were all panting and thirsty. Three girls turned back and two of us kept going. My horse was very thirsty and always kept trying to go to the ocean to drink the water and of course I wouldn’t let him. So in defiance he would kick water back up at me with his front hoof. After a while we stopped and the guide asked us if we wanted some water, we said no but asked if we could give it to the horses instead and he said no, they are fine. This was enough to make us decide to turn back as well. It wasn’t until later that my dad told me that they use this as a tactic to get the horses to always come home again after a day of riding the trails. At any rate, I wasn’t really disappointed that the trip was cut short because I still got to ride for a while along the beach and by the time we got back my butt hurt really bad and I don’t know how much longer I could have gone! I think that I may have even bruised it! Anyway I plan on visiting my cousins when I get back to the states and then I can ride their horses!
19: For two of the three nights there were absolutely beautiful thunderstorms. We sat out on the balcony of our hotel and just watched all the lightening streak across the sky. I have never really taken the time to appreciate how beautiful lightening really is because in town I can’t see much of it anyway. We had the whole horizon overlooking the ocean to watch the lightening come and go. I tried to catch some bolts on my camera, but I’m not quite quick enough. The town also came alive at night. There was a very popular bar that played all kinds of music from salsa to rap to popular American music. On Saturday night, there was a street party. Literally everyone in town was on the main street with their car radios blasting music. It was pretty cool to see. We left Monday morning at 6 AM to get back to San Jose. This was quite the morning as we woke up to realize that two of the girls in our group had been robbed while they were sleeping. It was a little bit of karma if you ask me. The night before these 4 girls left their room door open all night long because one of the other girls hadn’t come home yet and she didn’t have a key. Then the following night they got robbed. Two of the girls had been finishing off a bottle of vodka and wine along with a tub of ice cream. Needless to say, about 1 o’clock in the morning they didn’t feel very good so they left the room (left the door open) and stated pacing the hallway outside. They paced for 3 hours and then finally went to sleep. During this time the other two girls were in the room sleeping. Since we had to leave so early, everyone was packed up and had their bags sitting by the door ready to go. Well when the two sick ones were pacing in the hall, someone stepped in the room and took the bags and purses of the two sleeping girls. The irony in this whole story is that the two girls that left the door open and were pacing the hallway all night, didn’t get their stuff stolen, it was the two girls that were in the rooms sleeping that were the victims of this crime! Unfortunately this is something that we must deal with here in Costa Rica. Any time they see an American, they think we are rich and therefore we are targets. No worries though, I am very smart about things because I don’t want to be a victim! Today I started my new classes. I am taking a conversation class that will help me develop my speaking and conversational skills. I am also taking a literature class. It will be fun, but a lot of work I’m afraid! Reading and interpreting in Spanish could be challenging! The best class that I am taking here is Marine Biology! This class is going to be soooooo great! We have 2 mandatory field trips. One is to go snorkeling in the Caribbean and the other is to work with the nesting sea turtles! Guess what?!?! I’m going to get my chance with those turtles yet! Sounds rough doesn’t it! Also we are going to watch the Planet Earth series by Discovery Channel and I’ve heard great things about it! Man what a rough life I have here in Costa Rica! For those of you at Newport, one of my teachers had an interesting analogy for me the other day. They told me that life is like sticky fly tape and if you aren’t careful and you don’t watch yourself you will get stuck in the sticky fly tape (life) and then you are screwed, you can’t get out of the trap! Just thought you might like this analogy since we have had many discussions about the sucking force of life!
20: For my professors and teachers. I have gotten many compliments on my Spanish and many people have asked me where I learned Spanish. They are surprised to hear that I learned it from my university back in the states. I think I take many people by surprise because when they look at me, all the see is a gringa, but when I start talking to them they have to give me a second look because they realize that I can speak Spanish! Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to teach me, your hard work is paying off! One thing I have really grown to love about Costa Rica is the helpfulness of the people down here. My host mom helps me with anything and everything that I need. When my computer was broken, she took me to buy a new web cam so that I could skype my parents and tomorrow she is going to go with me to the clinic and hospital so I can ask about volunteer positions. She doesn’t have a job, but still she takes the time to help me with these things and I really appreciate that. Also one day we were looking for a mall that was near our house. We didn’t know where we were going so we asked these kids that had just gotten out of class. They were walking in the opposite direction as we were, but they turned around and walked us to the mall and then turned around to walk home again! No 10 year old kid in the US would ever do anything like that for you (granted we are taught not to trust strangers)! And yet another example is that yesterday I bought a plate of food for me and a plate of food for my friend. I was carrying the plates waitress style (one in my hand and the other on my arm) because I also had a drink in my other hand. As I was fighting my way through the crowd, a man stepped out of line, grabbed the plates from me and walked me to my table before heading back into line. Once again, I’m pretty sure that no one in the US would take the chance of giving up their spot in line to help some poor girl with too many plates in her hands, yet this man did. These are just a few of the examples of kindness that I have come across so far here in Costa Rica. An interesting tid-bit that I learned today is that there are traffic restrictions in Costa Rica that dictate the number of cars on the road every day. This eases the flow of traffic and prevents traffic jams. They do this by only allowing certain license plate numbers to drive on certain days. Those that end in 1&2 can’t drive Monday, 3 &4 can’t drive Tuesdays, 5&6 can’t drive on Wednesdays, etc. The other days you must take a bus or ride with a friend that can drive their car that day. Isn’t this an interesting concept?
21: Last but not least, a few things that I have learned to deal with while being here. 1. In order to get hot water in the shower you can barely turn the faucet on. It falls on you like a waterfall but the more you turn on the water the colder it gets. 2. There are no drinking fountains or clocks anywhere. This is a repercussion of a culture where time is a secondary matter except for bus schedules. Yesterday we went to a speaker at another school and we were 20 minutes late. Guess what, we were just in time for the presentation to start!! 3. You can walk into class late, that is acceptable, but when you walk in late and silently slip into your desk, that is rude! Yesterday I was late to class and I quietly slipped in and sat in my desk because another girl was talking. The professor stopped her and made me leave the room and enter again this time saying “good morning”. 4. Apparently mosquitoes like blondes, with blue eyes and type A+ blood, it takes the best. Guess what I am (well with hazel eyes)? No wonder mosquitoes have always loved me! But apparently if I take a vitamin supplement of thiamine, my blood will taste awful and they won’t like me anymore! I’m going to look into it! I do all kinds of crazy, but fun activities in my class this month. For example we have pretended to be fortune tellers and we made up crazy stories about our classmates. This was a pretty good laugh! Also the school I go to is a school of art, so there pictures take by the students displayed all over the walls. For our latest assignment we had to pick 2 pictures and pretend to be an art salesman. We had to describe the meaning of the art and answer any questions the class had (all made up of course!). I know NOTHING about art so this started out difficult for me. I talked with a few people and they gave me some ideas, I just went with them and it actually turned out to be fun! For once, I’m not worried about my grades for like the first time in my life! I just want to learn and have lots of experiences. It’s a great feeling! Last night there was a welcome bash for all 150 foreign students as well as the students who go to school here. About 100 new students came this last weekend and I don’t know how I feel about it. I was just getting used to the 35 of us there were here and now there are so many new faces and so many new people it’s a bit overwhelming! Anyway, the party was fun! There was food and drink and we just danced like crazy white people but we had a good time! They even had students dress in native costumes and dance for us. Everyone down here is a crazy good dancer, it’s awesome!! This weekend I’m going to the rainforest! I get to zip-line over 16 cables through Monteverde!!! This is one of my main goals while I’m down here! Sorry it’s so long, I’ll write again next week!
22: This weekend we went to Monteverde. The roads to Monteverde are not built for extreme tourism, yet we took two large charter buses to this cute little town. It was very pretty, you can see all the way down the mountain. It was a little scary sitting by the window of the bus when you look out over the mountainside and realize there in NOTHING between you and the steep incline all the way down to the bottom! The big buses lean and creak a lot over these small bumpy roads, but we made it safe! The community doesn’t want to pave the roads because they are afraid that it will increase tourism so much that they won’t be able to maintain the natural beauty of Monteverde. Well it didn’t stop us! After we arrived Friday night, we ate a wonderful meal and just relaxed. We played cards and talked. There are 55 new students here now, so I am busy meeting new people! It’s a bit difficult though because everyone is so clicky with their roommates or the friends that they brought from school. At any rate I have met some really awesome people and will only continue meeting more! Monteverde is a small village in north central Costa Rica. It was inhabited by many Quakers from Alabama in the early 1950’s. Quakers are pacifists and to avoid the army draft in the United States, they moved to Costa Rica after Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948 (Costa Rica still doesn’t have an army today). They settled in Monteverde and started a very strong dairy operation. Today Monteverde is known for its cheese and ice cream. We stopped by the cheese factory and bought a block of chocolate cheese. That’s right, chocolate cheese! It’s very interesting It tastes just like chocolate for the first 3 seconds and then you start to realize it has a cheese texture and then you get the cheese taste. These three don’t mix very well in my opinion! It might taste good on a bagel or toast, but I think I am just going to stick to my Nutella! They also have many flavors of ice cream. I tried three new flavors: mango, pineapple orange and pistachio ice creams and they were all delicious!
23: Saturday was the day one of my goals for being in Costa Rica was met! I have a top three things I MUST do while in Costa Rica list. Those three things include: white-water rafting, zip-lining through the rainforest and learning to surf. I have already been white-water rafting and it was AMAZING! This weekend I got to go zip-lining! This is one of the things that I was most looking forward to. We did a mini zip-line in Idaho last summer on our mission trip and it was a lot of fun, but it pales in comparison to the zip-line in Costa Rica! There were about 13 cables throughout the rainforest! After the first few cables we had to cross a rickety bridge like in the movies where it’s made of ropes and old broken 2x6’s and super wobbly and you feet can fall through the cracks! We were at the end of the group and a guide was behind us so he shook the bridge and some of us fell off/ through the cracks! No worries though we had a safety harness on and we were secured to a wire above the bridge so no one got hurt! This company took every safety precaution and we had a great time! After zipping down a few more lines, we had to “repel” down the tree to get to the ground. It wasn’t really repelling, it was more like flying through the air backwards toward certain death at the ground! Repelling is supposed to be slow with your feet guiding you down the tree or rock ledge. Not here! The guide told me turn around and sit down, so I did but the next thing I knew I was flying 25 feet down to the ground with absolutely NO control! Talk about a rush! Then we zipped past some more trees and eventually we came to a huge Tarzan swing. They hooked us up to a rope that hung from a large tree and pushed us off of a platform. It was a lot of fun, except they started spinning me as I was swinging and I got a little dizzy! After that we took the two longest and highest cables back to the reception area. These lines were the best! They took us out over top of the rainforest, over a valley with lots of trees and even a house! You could see so much and yet the trees looked so small below (because we were so high in the air!). I was really scared of getting stuck in the middle of the last line. Can you imagine just hanging out (literally) in the middle of a cable over top of the rainforest? Anyway, the instructions for zip lining are that you sit in your harness (that’s attached to a pulley on the cable) hold on to your lines with your left hand and reach back with your right to keep your body straight while you slide on the cable. You also use this hand to apply pressure to the cable and act as a brake so you don’t break yourself against a tree. (haha get it?!?!) Anyway I did just fine on all of them, but stopped about 5 feet short on that last one so the guide had to jump out and grab me so that I wouldn’t get plowed by the next person behind me! I wish I could have taken pictures, but I had to hang on so that wasn’t possible! Oh well use your imaginations to guess what it was like.
24: The rest of the day was pretty relaxing. We went to a butterfly house and learned all kinds of facts about bugs. Cockroaches for example can be frozen in the freezer for 2 weeks, taken out, thawed and they will wake up and be alive! There are around 4,000 species of cockroaches (some people say more and some say less), but only a handful of them (around 15 or so) actually spread disease. A cockroach can live without its head for a week or so because its brain is located in its abdomen, closer to its tail. Also tarantulas don’t actually kill people. They produce venom that can cause severe discomfort for a week or so, but they don’t have record of a person actually dying from a tarantula bite. We also saw huge Hercules beetles. Hercules beetles are one of the strongest animals/insects on this planet for their size. They can lift their body weight 850 times, hence the name!! We also saw some walking sticks, praying mantises, scorpions and of course butterflies! We even each got our own butterfly baby to release in the appropriate environment. There are scorpions here in Costa Rica, but most scorpions do not kill humans. There are around 2000 species of scorpions, but only 50 of them produce venom strong enough to cause serious systemic effects in humans and of those 50 only half (25) produce lethal venom. Most scorpions only cause minor reactions like a bee sting with minor swelling, redness and pain at the site. Enough about bugs for now, after the tour, we walked into town and had some amazing ice cream. We finished out the night with an amazing supper and social time. We danced a little in the discoteca and just talked. I have met some really nice, strong Christian girls and am excited to finally have that connection with someone. It was difficult at first when there were only 14 of us because all the other students just wanted to go crazy and I wanted to stay strong in my morals, and now I have found people who want the same things I do! Sunday morning was great! We went to La Reserva Monteverde which is the national park of Monteverde. At an altitude of 1840 meters, the continental divide (splits the country so that the water runs off to both the Pacific and Caribbean sides) runs through this park. This park was established in 1972 when the government paid the people not to work the land and cut down the trees (maybe like CRP ground?). Unfortunately we only got to spend 1 hours here because we had to get on the bus to come back home. I could have spent all day there, it was so beautiful, the air was so fresh, the silence was golden and of course I was surrounded by all shades of green (my FAVORITE color!!) for 1 hours! Who could ask for more? We hiked to a small waterfall and then back again. There are 4 types of forests here in Costa Rica. The dry rainforests, with a warm, dry climate and very little rain each year, are located in the northwest part of Costa Rica. Most of Costa Rica however is covered in tropical rainforests where there is LOTS of rain and most of the biodiversity (plants, animals, insects). Then as you travel up in elevation you hit the cloud forests. Bet you can’t guess what these forests are like!! These forests are cooler and covered in clouds at certain times during the day because of their high elevation. As you travel even farther up in elevation you enter páramo which is a very cold and desolate environment where not many things grow or live (on the very top of the tallest point in Costa Rica). Monteverde is part of the cloud forest because of its high elevation. You can see this, not only in the forest, but also in the town. Everyday about 2 in the afternoon until late at night, a thick fog or blanket of clouds rolls in. It was very nice to walk around with my head in the clouds for half of the day! After our hike we packed up to head back for home. One of the buses had a flat tire so we had to stop and fix it so we got home later than expected. This didn’t matter to me because I didn’t want to do homework anyway so I didn’t! I just skyped my parents and went to bed so that I was ready for class then next morning!
25: Last week was pretty typical, went to class, took a test (that was slightly NOT fair, but that’s ok it’s Costa Rica and one thing I’ve learned while I’ve been here is that when you are in Costa Rica people can pretty much do whatever they want), studied, went the movies, the usual. One thing out of the ordinary, though, was that we took a field trip to court! Here the courts are open to the public and anyone that shows ID can go in and watch. It was pretty interesting, but a little bit spine chilling at the same time. The first case we watched was between two white water rafting companies. One company was accusing the other company of unsafe practices. Really great to watch since I have gone white water rafting while I was here! Anyway the next case we sat in on was the verdict for attempted murder. Talk about chilling because you are sitting in the same room as the criminals and there are no barriers between you and them except for about the 15 police officers in the room. The two men were found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail for attempted murder. I realize this stuff happens in the US too, but its one thing to see it on CSI and but a whole other feeling to see it in real life. The test that I’m complaining about is because I’m in a conversation class so all our tests are oral. Well the thing is that we only get graded on how many mistakes we make and every error is a percentage point. So we had to make a news program and each of us was responsible for 2 stories and a commercial. The other two girls in my class had their stories written out on cards and they could refer back to them. Well me being the overachiever that I am, I decided to make it more conversational (like the class) and only put bullet points on my card. Well needless to say, even though I was talking about treatments for cancer and making it conversational, I made a few more errors than the girls who read their stories and I didn’t get the grade that I thought I deserved. My grades down here haven’t bothered me until now, but like I said before it’s Costa Rica and the professor is going to do whatever he wants so I’m just going to forget about it and move on. Friday was a chill day. We went shopping in downtown. I’m starting to get used to the big city and people and pollution. One thing that still kind of creeps me out is all the pigeons. They are all over and they are very used to people walking around so you almost step directly on them and then the will all fly in massive swarms at once. It’s just like I’m in Home Alone when Kevin is afraid of all the pigeons and the pigeon lady! I finally purchased a watch that I have so desperately needed for the last month and a half. As I have mentioned clocks down here are few and far between unless they are on someone’s wrist. I have found 1 clock in the university so far. Even all the computer clocks say different times! Even in my house there are no clocks and my alarm clock was the only thing I had! Now I will always know the time, even though down here it doesn’t matter that much! Friday night we just chilled and watched movies.
26: Saturday morning we hit the road bright and early on our way to Arenal, the most active volcano in Costa Rica. On the way we stopped at this really cool park that had all kinds of bushes trimmed into different shapes or creatures! There was even a dinosaur! Our next stop was La Fortuna waterfall. We made the easier (although not that easy) hike down the side of a mountain so get to the waterfall. We then spent about 45 minutes swimming in the freezing cold water with the fish. This is the most powerful waterfall I have seen yet. It’s about a 70 drop and the water shoots straight off the side of the dormant volcano. The currents are very strong and the park monitors the swimmers to make sure they don’t get close enough and risk drowning (although we did have to sign a waver before we went swimming that cleared the park of any responsibility in case of accidents such as death). The hike back up was the WORST! It was so steep and very tiring! After that adventure we were starving so we stopped and ate dinner in town before we headed out to our hotel. Our hotel was absolutely amazing! It’s a bit intimidating when you first drive up because there is a warning sign that says “This is an active volcano, in case of emergency please follow all appropriate instructions.” The hotel was pretty much on the side of the volcano (the side where the lava doesn’t flow of course). There were hot springs, pools, ponds with alligators and crocodiles and of course a great view of the volcano. Since the hotel “villas” were spread up the side of the mountain, the hotel offered a shuttle service to drive people up to their respected rooms. Saturday night was amazing as we just sat in the hot tub all night and relaxed. I got up at 2 AM to try and capture a picture of the red lava running down the sides of the mountain (it’s only visible at night against a dark sky, otherwise it just looks dark like the mountain) but it was very foggy and I later found out that the lava doesn’t flow on our side of the mountain anyway. Sunday morning was great. Unfortunately we had to experience the crazy Costa Rican weather (rainy and cloudy) but that didn’t matter, we still went on a volcano hike anyway! We drove to the national park that surrounds the volcano and we then hiked on the trail which eventually led to a lava field from a 1992 eruption. Lava rocks black with white silica pieces in them. They have a porous texture so they weren’t too slippery even in the rain. Once we got to the lava field we could see Lake Arenal which is the largest lake in Costa Rica. The lake is dammed up and used to general a large majority of the power for this area. One problem for Costa Rica right now is that it isn’t raining. When it doesn’t rain, the water levels drop and most of Costa Rica’s electricity is derived from hydroelectric dams or stations. Also from this lava field we could hear the rocks tumbling down the volcano as it was erupting. Arenal is erupts pretty much daily. It was dormant until 1968 when it erupted, killing around 90-100 people in the area. The town that we ate in the day before was called La Fortuna (the fortunate) because it was the only town that wasn’t destroyed by the blast. Because it’s an active volcano spewing lava, the volcano grows about 3.5 feet every year. I learned lots more cool facts but I can’t remember them all right now so I will have to keep you posted! On the was back, our guide showed us a termite mound and told us that if we ever got lost in the rainforest and we couldn’t find fruit, we could eat termites to survive. They are very small like ants with white abdomens and they didn’t bite us at all. We each tried one and they kind of taste like pepper! How would you like a salad sprinkled with termites to add some flavor?
27: This week has actually been kind of stressful. The homework load has been turned up and I don’t have much ambition to be a good student! Ha! Anyway today was the best day yet for me. My camera battery has not been holding a charge for me lately and so I had to go downtown to buy a new one. I found one and it was a little more than I wanted to spend but that’s ok because now I can take more pictures! But the best news is yet to come! I have been debating about whether or not I should take another Spanish class in December. It would cost $700 extra, but this is such a good learning environment and I want to take advantage of it! I also want to volunteer. I have gone to a clinic and asked a hospital here if I could be a volunteer and they said no. I have looked for other options and found some, but not medically related and I really want some medical experience. Anyway today I was talking with on of my friends about the whole December class situation and she told me that she wasn’t going to take a class in December, but rather volunteer. This got me thinking and I decided to check it out myself. I went to the office and talked with the woman in charge of the volunteer program. I told her I was interested in volunteering in December and asked her if they would have spots available in the Children’s Hospital. This summer I was also looking into this program, but wasn’t able to do it because the hospitals were not allowing volunteers due to H1N1. She told me that just last week the hospitals started allowing volunteers again, so now I get to volunteer for December instead! The volunteer program would only cost $400 vs $700 for a class. More great news, they have waved the price for students who only want to volunteer and don’t need the internship credit! How awesome! So all in all I found a replacement battery, found out I can be a volunteer in the hospital AND it won’t cost me a cent! What a life! This weekend we are going to the beach. For all of you in Minnesota and South Dakota where the snow flakes are flying, I’m sorry. Think of me working on my tan and swimming in the ocean this weekend! It’s going to be great!
28: This weekend we went to Manuel Antonio. Manuel Antonio is a beach and a wild life reserve that is very small, yet one of the must sees in Costa Rica. There are many types of animals and plants located here in this small patch of rainforest. Friday night was like most Friday nights; we arrived to the hotel, ate supper and chilled. I am so glad that we have gotten a new wave of students. I have met some really cool people and am excited about the next two months that we will spend together. We talked and played cards for the rest of the evening, it was very relaxing. Saturday began with breakfast and a walk to Manuel Antonio National Park. Our hotel was situated outside of the little town, which consists of many hotels strung along the road and about 3 souvenir shops, 4 or 5 restaurants and a beach all located on two blocks. I am so amazed and the small towns that I have visited here in Costa Rica. There are always many hotels, a few restaurants, a grocery store and souvenir shops. After the journey to this pueblito (very small town), we walked a little bit farther to the entrance of the national park. Once inside the park, we walked along a trail and watched the trees to try and spot wildlife. The end of the trail led to a beach where we were going to spend some time relaxing. Our director had warned us about the crazy wildlife that lived in the park. These animals have become very accustomed to people and they know that people have food so they try to steal it from you. Last year our director was on the beach and a monkey came out of the bushes and stole her wallet. She ran after it and got her wallet back, but today it bears the marks of a nearly successful attempt by one hungry monkey. We had no more than set out our towels and sat down when a hungry raccoon came wandering out of the trees. One of the guys had set his food in the shade about 5-10 feet from us. The raccoon didn’t seem to notice us sitting there, pranced right up to the bag and started digging around for food. We literally had to get within 2 feet or less of him before he decided he wasn’t going to find anything good in there and scampered away. We spent about 3 hours at the beach sunbathing, swimming, taking pictures, playing games and just relaxing. I didn’t put sunscreen on right away because I have a base tan, but after about an hour I knew I needed protection. I sat down on my towel and lathered on SPF 60 (which is more like glue and it’s VERY hard to apply). It wasn’t until about 6 hours later that I realized I had missed a spot.my butt! Since I was sitting when I applied the sunscreen, I didn’t think about applying it to my butt, but let me tell you I figured it out real fast by about 4PM!! Sitting and sleeping are not the most comfortable things when you buhoofey hurts! Anyway the tide started coming in around 1PM and we lost most of the beach so we decided to head back to town, eat a little bit and hit the beach again in the afternoon. On the way back a girl in our group was holding a banana in her hand. All of a sudden an iguana charged her and tried to climb up her legs in an attempt to reach the banana. She screamed and jumped back as others stepped in to shoo the creature away. She had 4 bleeding scratch marks down both of her shins as a souvenir of these crazy animals. That wasn’t our last experience with these daring animals. On the way back through the park toward the town, we saw many monkeys in the trees. Like any tourists who haven’t been within 5 feet of wild monkeys, we stopped to take pictures. They were EVERYWHERE and seemed to be crawling out of the woodwork! We saw mommies with babies on their backs, monkeys eating and playing. The longer we stood there, the braver the got and they began coming out of the trees onto the road where we were. One of my friends was intently focused on taking a picture of the mom and baby with her camera in one hand and her bag (which contained food) in the other. The alpha male came out of the trees, walked right up to her on the road and began rummaging through her bag (there was a hole in the side) as she was taking pictures. Luckily there was a park ranger right there to scare him away. After that we started feeling really uncomfortable because the monkeys kept coming closer and closer to us and we were afraid of being mugged! We left the park in search of food and refuge from these crazy animals. When I told my host mom this story, she told me that one time she was walking with her daughter when a monkey started following them. They picked up the pace because the monkey wouldn’t stop following them and eventually they started running. The monkey ran out in front of them and wouldn’t let them pass until they threw it some food! I’m telling you these animals are CRAZY!!! Anyway, after that wild experience, we settled down for a meal at a cute little Italian restaurant. The pasta was amazing, but the best part was the Gelato. Gelato is the Italian form of ice cream.
29: It was SOOOOOO amazing! I had fresh strawberry and passion fruit, and you knew they were fresh because the seeds were in the ice cream. I have never had any ice cream so tasty, possibly in my whole life! All the flavors were bursting with flavor! (sorry, I don’t know how else to say that without using flavor twice). I could have eaten them all! After that we retreated back to the hotel to drop off our things and then we went back to the beach. Our hotel was located on the beach, so we didn’t have to go far. We spent more time out in the water, playing around in the waves. The ocean waves are very strong! I was in water between my knees and hips when a wave came tumbling in. It was so strong that it knocked me off my feet and I rolled uncontrollably with the wave until I hit bottom close to the beach! No need to worry, I’m just fine, but my ears did succumb to the sea water. I have been very careful about not getting water in my ears because of all the problems I’ve had with swimmer’s ear the last two summers. That went down the drain! It turned out just fine though and I didn’t have any problems while going back up into the mountains. Later that night we walked into town to eat. The restaurant we went to wasn’t the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten at in terms of service or food and it was rather expensive, but what do you do, you have to eat! When we returned to the hotel we chilled and went to bed. Sunday morning it was rainy. I was actually glad because my skin (my butt in particular) was constantly scolding me that I spent too much time in the sun the day before and I should avoid it for the rest of the weekend. We just sat around the hotel because there was confusion that we were going to leave early, but in the end we left at the same time we had originally said. Oh well, more social time! On the way home we stopped in Jacó, another beach town in Costa Rica and ate a good restaurant. Later we grabbed some ice cream (again, but this time mango) and got back on the bus. One of the things I’m going to miss the most about Costa Rica is the fresh fruit juices and the amazing ice creams. They just don’t make them the same in the U.S. I think it’s because there are little ice cream shops all over down here and they make it fresh, not just out of a carton.
30: This is the last week of my second Spanish class (which means I’ve already been here two months!!) I can’t believe it! It feels like a long time, yet it feels like a short time because I still have 2 months left. We are finishing up our last material and next week I will start a new Spanish class. Yesterday in class we went to visit an artist just outside of San José. He’s special because he lost his leg about a year and a half ago to an infection. He lives and works out of his house as a work worker. He is the epitome of poor, yet rich at heart. We talked with him about his business and his life. A few students bought some of his works and each of us donated a food item to him. Before we left he asked that God bless us all and guide our journeys both here in Costa Rica and when we return home. It was very humbling because where he lived was nothing to be jealous of! After we left his house, we went to the University of Peace. This University is one of about 7 in the world which is affiliated with the United Nations. Students come from all over the world to study peace keeping and teaching strategies and such. The University stated in Washington D.C. and has now spread to almost every continent. It was a beautiful campus and not that expensive compared to U.S. universities, only about $23,000 a year. I think I’m going to miss this class. I have learned a lot and we have done many cultural activities and played fun games. We have pretended to be fortune tellers, architects and designers of homes, art critics, but the best game we played was basically hide and seek. Each of us bought a candy bar and hid it somewhere in the school. We wrote directions on where to find it and the other students had to find our candy bar. Then we got to eat them! YUM!! Tonight we had our last “class”. We went to the theater to watch the Vagina Monologues. Not my first choice, but it’s a very powerful piece speaking out for women’s equality. It’s especially strong here in Costa Rica and other Latin American countries that are extremely macho countries. When the show was over I experienced a whole new form of Costa Rican traffic. The cars were parked in the parking lot like sardines in a tin can and of course our car was on the outside! We had to wait until all the cars behind us moved before we could get out. All in all it was a good course with many good experiences! There are just some things here in Costa Rica that will take me a lot more than 4 months to get used to! For example I woke up this morning with a cockroach in my room. That’s normal down here, we live with cockroaches! We just don’t have those in Minnesota and I am thankful for that! And tonight when I came back to my room, there was a HUGE butterfly! I have no idea how it got in my room in the first place, but it did! It scared me so bad; I thought that it was a bat! Beatriz helped me shoo it out so that I can sleep tonight without it buzzing over my head. The problem is that as I’m sitting here writing this blog I can hear this huge butterfly outside my door trying to get back into my room! Its large wings beat rather loudly against the door! Kinda creepy! Did you know that in Spanish, the middle finger is called “el dedo del corazón” which means the finger of the heart. This is very interesting. Does that mean you can go around and give people the finger of the heart and they take it as a loving gesture or is it still a vulgar gesture like in the States? I believe it’s still vulgar down here as well, I just find this translation very ironic!! I got really good news today! A lady from the University of Nebraska Medical Center called me at home but since I’m not there I couldn’t call her back. I used my stalker skills and looked her up and the school website, found her email address and sent her an email. She asked me to come interview with them in January when I get back! I’m so excited! I will hear back from the other schools in late November or early December. Hopefully I can get a chance at all of them so that my odds are better! Also because of this, I’m not quite done with school. I have to take two more classes of psychology to fill the requirements for admission assuming that I get in so I will be back to school in January. The good news is that I am taking the classes in Sioux Falls once a week so that I can live at home and hopefully work somewhere in Worthington the other days I’m not in class. We’ll see what happens!!
31: Also today Pri (the program director) introduced me to a man that they were showing around. She told him that she wished all of her students were like me. Not just because I am at an advanced level of Spanish, but because I am always trying to get better and I take advantage of all the opportunities that are offered such as tutoring. She also told my host mom that she is very lucky to have Rachel and I because we are very good young women. Camilla’s puppies are getting so big and they are just starting to open their eyes. That will be really fun when there are five little poodle pups running around all over the house. This may also be very dangerous as they may leave puppy mines all over the floor. Oh well all our floors are tile and will be easy to clean up, I just hope I don’t clean then up with my socks! Haha! This weekend we are going to Panama. When you come to Costa Rica, you can stay here for 90 days without any questions. I will be here longer than 90 days so I have to leave the country for 72 hours to renew my VISA. If I don’t, I could be fined and deported and I may not be allowed back into the country. Costa Rica keeps record of those who outstay their VISA and they may deny you the chance to come back in the future. To avoid this, we are going to Panama for three days! Once again I feel like class on Mondays is optional because we leave Friday morning and come back Monday night! I love school down here! I don’t have much homework, we don’t have class at least 1 Monday every month (if not more) and the classes are more relaxed. I also don’t have to take as many credits at once and I am still full time because I take classes by the month and not by the semester. Oh life is great!
32: Grab some popcorn and a blanket, this is going to be a LONG one, things are busy here! So last weekend (actually 3 weekends ago now) we had a long weekend because we had to leave the country for 72 hours to renew our VISAs. We were supposed to leave San Jose at 5:45, but out tour coordinator overslept! It was a bit ironic because he told me the day before, Mikaela if your not here on time we are coming to pound down your door. Guess who was the late one? Haha, anyway we all got on the bus and pretty much went back to sleep until we stopped for breakfast. We drove for about 5 hours to reach the border. The border in not what I imagined. There are no fences with lots of security (I guess this is one of the stereotypes I have of borders). We had to wait in line for all the legal stuff, but while we were waiting people just walked right across. We don’t know why no one stopped them to see documents, but they just walked right across no questions asked! The border is a river with a one lane bridge to cross with an office on either side where you get your passport scanned into the computer and stamped. Both people and huge semis and our big bus all cross the same bridge! It was a bit crowded at times! The paperwork is pretty simple. It just asks for your information, your reason for traveling, where you have been in the last few weeks, etc. Once you wait in line and get a stamp from the Costa Rica side, you can walk across the bridge to the Panama side where you wait in line again to get another stamp that allows you to be in Panama. This whole process took about an hour to get 22 of us through the line. Once on the other side (Panama) I could instantly see a difference! There were children that walked right up to us and started begging for money. Unfortunately for some, the bus was locked and they had to sit with the kids and after a while they felt so guilty that they gave the kids some money. After that, we continued on the bus in Panama for about an hour. We arrived at a marina and took a boat to Bocas del Toro which is the town where we stayed. We had to take a boat because Bocas is on a chain of islands. As we were leaving the marina, we saw some interesting sites. There was trash everywhere and the water was so filthy because the toilets are built right over top of the water! It was cloudy and starting to rain as we got there so we got a little wet on our ride to the island. The boat ride lasted about 25 minutes. When we got to Bocas is started to rain and continued for the rest of the night. We went out to get a bite to eat and then just hung out at the hotel. The hotel was nice, but not as nice as advertised. They advertised cable TV, wireless internet and AC. The TVs were all 13 inches and had about 10 channels that were fuzzy, the wireless internet only worked in the lobby and the AC wasn’t that strong! They also had a computer in the lobby but you had to pay $2 an hour to use it. There were two parts to the hotel and there were two separate pools. We were only allowed to use the pool that corresponded with your area of the hotel. Why this mattered, I don’t know! All in all it was a place to stay with a bed to sleep in so I shouldn’t complain too much! We couldn’t drink the water and they even told us to brush our teeth with bottled water and watch out for the ice cubes. Some of my friends were really tired Friday night and they fell asleep at like 8PM so I went and socialized with the other students that went along. There are students at three different universities here all within my program (ISA) so our university and another university went on this trip together. I met some really cool people from the university in Heredia which is really close to San Jose. They have class only 3 days a week! Their Spanish classes are only 3 hours a day two days a week. Our classes are 4 hours a day, 5 days a week! I like it that way though because I am getting the best exposure that way!
33: Saturday morning began bright and early with breakfast. After we were done eating, a tour guide presented us with some tour options. These were the cheapest tours that we have gotten to do yet, and some of the best ones as well! We went dolphin watching in the morning. It is mating season, so you can see the pairs of dolphins forming in the water. We got within about 15 feet of them as they surfaced. Some of them even did little jumps, not quite like in the movies though! It was really cool! There was a LOT of jellyfish in the water so no one was allowed out of the boat, but it was still really cool to see! After about a half an hour of watching the dolphins we headed off to our next destination, which was snorkeling. First we stopped at a restaurant which is on the water to order food so that when we returned we had something to eat. I tried lobster for the first time. It was good, but I don’t know how much more I will be eating it. The snorkeling was AMAZING! The water was so clear, you could literally see 10+ feet down with absolutely no problem at all! At first our driver took us out in the middle of this bay and said ok jump out. We all kind of looked at each other like are you serious? We were a little worried about sharks and jellyfish! We braved it and jumped in, and I’m glad we did! It looked like a mini forest under the water and the coral were the trees! There were all kinds of fish and sea cucumbers! There was one fish that really caught my eye and I watched him for a long time! I believe it was a species of parrot fish. It had purple and green scales with yellow, red, orange and blue around its tale. I can’t find an exact picture of it on the internet but this is kind of close! Apparently one dominant male of this breed can maintain a harem of female fish. When he dies, one of the dominant females undergoes a change in sex and coloring to become the dominant male. Crazy!! As I was enjoying myself I just so happened to look up and I saw a small jellyfish just about to collide with my face! I quickly swam backwards! I hear the best way to get rid of the pain from a jellyfish sting is to pee on it and I didn’t want anyone peeing on my face! This was really good snorkeling! I am excited to go on our field trip to the Caribbean side to go snorkeling because I hear that the water is clearer and that we are going to one of the best reefs in Costa Rica (which might not be saying much because I hear Bocas has GREAT snorkeling but I guess we’ll see)! After snorkeling, our guide took us to Red Frog beach. It’s named that because there are little red frogs that live up in the trees around this beach. There were local boys that lived around the area and they caught these frogs and showed them to us. They were so tiny and very bright red, which usually means poisonous, but the boys told us they weren’t and they were touching them and putting them on their faces etc. They were very cool! The beach was so nice! A truck drove us there because we docked at a port with yachts and other boats (some VERY nice ones!). The sand was so soft and the water was great! The little local boys told us that the beach closes at 6 because that’s when the sharks start to move in. That got everyone riled up! No one wants to hear about Sharks when they are in the ocean! I met a lady there who is staying on her yacht at the marina. She hates it, but her and her husband are sailing around. She was originally from Canada and lived and worked as a diving instructor at the Cayman Islands for 18 years. Now she has retired and they are sailing around. Sounds like a rough life to me! She really wants to settle down though and have a house on land somewhere in the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Islands are in the Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba and they are actually territory of Great Britain. Just a little geography for you guys because I didn’t know where they were or who they belonged to! This ended our day long tour of the islands around Bocas del Toro.
34: Bocas is a really cool. It’s built literally on the water! I was a bit disappointed that we couldn’t get to any beaches easily, but it was still cool! After our long day of adventures, my friends once again fell asleep so I went out with my new friends. There was a bar really close to our hotel that was the coolest bar I have ever been to! It was built on the water, so the entrance was beach and then once you got to the bar, there were docks and platforms over the water. It was so much fun. It was ladies night, so all our drinks were free! We tried our dance move our some and had a great time. A guy asked me if I knew salsa and I said yeah a little bit so we started dancing, but it wasn’t really salsa! I guess he has his own version of the dance! Oh well it was very fun and everyone was very nice and very respectful! We also practiced our Spanish with some of the locals. One really cool thing about Panama Spanish is that they invert their words. For example cousin in Spanish is primo but in Panama they say mopri or to say what’s up you say que pasa? but in Panama they would say que sapa?. They just chop off the first part of the word and move it to the back! Apparently they do some of that here in Costa Rica as well! One really cool thing that I have noticed about Costa Rica is that no matter what your ethnic background, everyone here speaks Spanish. It’s very interesting to walk down the street and see people from China, Africa, even gringos and for the most part you always hear them speaking Spanish! In Worthington, you don’t see that. We are so diverse not only in ethnicity but along with that comes diversity of language. I wonder why everyone here speaks Spanish in addition to their native languages? Perhaps because they grew up here? Costa Rica has had a large diversity ever since Christopher Columbus discovered America and brought slaves from Africa. They still have immigration just like any other country, but they also have a diverse history. We have struggled with diversity in American history. Maybe this is why not everyone in America can speak Englishhistory?? I don’t know, just thinking out loud well on paper I guess!
35: Sunday we decided to go to Starfish beach for the day. The tour company offered us a good deal. Only $10 a person for a ride to the beach for the day and then back again. However, they neglected to mention that Starfish beach isn’t really a swimming beach or a beach that you can spend a lot of time at during the day. The sand on the shore was about 5 feet along the whole coast line and it was infested with sand fleas! The beach is so named because there are a ton of Starfish! This area is hidden from the direct ocean there are no currents and large waves so the starfish can just hang out there peacefully. We got to see them, touch them, hold them! It was really cool! Needless to say, some of the people in our group (with their coolers of beer) were not happy to be at this beach and they decided we needed to go to a better beach. The trick of it is that when you want to change your plans, it costs extra money. Our boat driver wanted $5 dollars more from each person to take us to another beach. We negotiated a little but only to $4. He wouldn’t take us for $3. So we got back in the boat and traveled a little farther around the island to another beach. It was a nice uninhabited beach facing the open ocean. Because we were on the ocean side the waves were a slightly larger! This made getting out of the boat interesting because there obviously wasn’t a dock! So our driver beached the boat and we all jumped out the front. That wasn’t so bad, but getting back into the boat afterwards was a nightmare! We hung out at the beach and in the water for about 3 hours or so and then agreed to go back. By this time the waves had gotten larger and the driver couldn’t beach the boat so we could get back in! We had to wade out to the boat with our bags over our heads so that they wouldn’t get wet and ruin our cameras and stuff! Once we got to the boat the driver grabbed our stuff and we climbed the ladder to get in. That was rather tricky because the waves tried to toss you about and you were trying to carry your stuff and the boat was only anchored once so it was swinging around in the water as well! The worst part was trying to get the cooler back in the boat! The first attempt was taken when the biggest wave came crashing into shore. Because of this, the cooler was ripped out of the guys’ hands and spilled its contents into the ocean! They frantically grabbed for all the empty cans, towels and even full cans that had been washed out! Once they got that under control and everyone else was in the boat they made one last attempt to get it to the boat. It was quite the ride against the waves but eventually the cooler made it into the boat along with everyone else! By this time we were already partially sea sick from all the waves that were coming in and the worst part was that we had a 30 minute boat ride back! On the way over we were on the sheltered side. This time we were on the open ocean so we were bucking the waves the entire time! I really hated all the boat rides we took. Normally I love boating because I have a great pilot, my dad, but I didn’t know these guys or where we were going and we were in small boats on the ocean with NO lifejackets! When the waves are large and you are off the shore on the open ocean without lifejackets, it makes a 30 minute ride even longer! I have never been so happy to step on solid ground! The rest of the day we went souvenir shopping and hung out around town. We had intentions of going out again, but everyone was so tired we all packed our bags and went to bed. We got back on Monday at night so my week went extremely fast. This week we started new Spanish classes. I am now taking Cultural Heritage. So far it’s review from what we learned in one of my Spanish History classes in the States, but that’s ok because it focuses on Costa Rica as well so I’m still learning new things! I love culture, it’s so interesting! Costa Rica does its own version of Running of the Bulls, which is a famous Spain tradition, but in the end they don’t kill the bull! During a 1-2 week festival there is a special event called the encierro (Running of the Bulls) that ends in a bullfight. The bulls are housed in a coral outside of the city overnight. In the morning, streets are blocked off and the bulls are released. Anyone and everyone who feels like risking their lives, chases or are chased by the bulls as the run through the streets of Spanish cities to get to the coliseum where the final bullfight is held. Once in the arena, the matador (bullfighter) and his helpers fight the bull until his death. As you can imagine this is a very dangerous activity for people, and most definitely for the bulls! I’m not exactly sure how the running of the bulls works here in Costa Rica, but they are held in December so maybe I will get to see them before I come home! Stay tuned later this week for the continuation of Mikaela Goes to Costa Rica..
36: This week there was a strike in the street by illegal taxi drivers. They were protesting because the government won’t let them work without licenses. Licenses and a specific car cost money and some people can’t afford it so they taxi people around illegally. We call them pirates and you can tell because they don’t have a red car with a yellow triangle (the triangle has their license #) and a special license plate. Anyway I find it ironic that they are petitioning the government to work when they are obviously not following the rules and should not be allowed to work unless correct protocols are followed. Everyone else has to do it, why don’t they? They argue that they have mouths to feed and bills to pay. I know they are just doing what they need to do to put food one the table, but don’t we all have to worry about this more or less? I don’t mean this in a demeaning way, I just find it ironic! What would happen to someone pretending to be a doctor or a policeman because they needed to put food on the table? Anyway enough of my judging, you have to make a living somehow I guess! I also participated in a cooking class! We learned about 6 or so famous Costa Rican recipes. The food was delicious! I can’t wait to come home and try my hand at some Costa Rican dishes (we aren’t allowed to cook here because it’s a danger to the house, we may burn something down!). I don’t know that Worthington will have all of the ingredients I need, but I figure they will have most of them! We made rice and chicken, agua de sapo (toad’s water) which is a drink that originated in Limón which is a province on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, two plantain dishes (plantains are like bananas but not sweet) and gallo pinto (the classic and famous beans and rice dish here in Costa Rica). I can’t wait to try these out on all of you at home! Also I’m going to try and make the fresh fruit juices like they do here. They are so amazing! This last weekend we decided to have a chill weekend and just stay in San Jose. I didn’t mind because I have been going non stop for the last two months and one weekend to be a bum sounded great! It actually worked out to my benefit and I was blessed with a cold and slight fever (luckily not a strong one!) My host mom and sister have been sick for the last week and a half and I think that they shared it with me. Mariana had a fever for three days! Luckily I got the mild form and am almost completely better! Friday night I went with a Tica (Tico = male Costa Rican, Tica = female Costa Rica) from my school and her boyfriend to a Bible study that his brother-in-law leads. It was really nice to get out and meet a Tica student from my school. Her name in Natalia and she is one of the sweetest people that I have ever met! Unfortunately Saturday was the worst day of my mini flu/cold. So for the morning I just rested in bed and watched TV. It was really nice, but it made me miss home, you know having mom to take care of you and dad to watch movies with on the couch! That night we went to church with Natalia and her boyfriend. It was really nice. They sang contemporary songs translated into Spanish so I could recognize some of them! The pastor is from Colorado, so he talks slow and clear and is really easy to understand. After church, their friends got together to hang out because they don’t like to celebrate Halloween. We ended up going to their friend’s house. His dad owns a security company and they just built this house. It was gorgeous! One of the biggest I have seen here in Costa Rica and probably one of the fancier ones I have ever been in in my life! There was a wrap around porch with pillars, marble countertops, a hot tub with a flat screen TV, multiple bedrooms, sitting areas, dining area, etc. It was all set on a large piece of property, which once again here in Costa Rica is rare. People don’t have much for yards like we do in the states, at least not in the cities/towns. At his house, I met three new Ticos. One girl, who also goes to my school, was born and raised here, but her parents are from the states. Guess where her mom is from?!?! That’s right, Minnesota! It was a very nice evening of relaxing and fellowship. I also found out that education is extremely cheap here in Costa Rica! To go to the public university the students pay $100 for four months! My university is the “ritzy” university and it costs $1500 for four months. For all year long they pay $4500! We don’t even go all year long and it costs $10,000 at SDSU which is one of the cheaper universities! That’s one thing that I have realized, college education in the US is very expensive!
37: Sunday morning I went to the farmers market with Beatriz. This is the largest and coolest farmers market I have ever been to! Costa Rican’s tend to buy fresh foods over processed foods so Beatriz has to go to the market every weekend and buy what she needs for the week. I got to try a tender coconut (unripe) which was green. They have water inside and a small layer of flesh which is almost jelly like in substance. It had a sweet taste to it, although it’s not my favorite at least I gave it a try! I also tried a drink made from sugar cane. Very, very sweet but very very good! Beatriz also bought green bananas. These are not like the green bananas that we buy. These bananas are SUPER green, WAY unripe. I never knew that they would taste so horrible! They are cooked and then mashed like potatoes and served with a little bit of butter. It’s normally eaten by the poor because it’s cheap and you get your nutrition from it. Needless to say I have obviously developed expensive taste because I don’t like green bananas at all! It amazes me that they can turn so sweet when they ripen because when they are green they are super bitter! Later in the afternoon I went with my cousin and her friend to watch the Vikings vs. Packers game. That was awesome to just chill and watch some football! I haven’t gotten to do that yet all season and I will not get to do much more as I will be back in time for the Superbowl! Just as I got home, I ate supper with my family and my friend Amy asked if I wanted to go see the Michael Jackson movie. It was never on my list of movies to see, but I didn’t want to do homework so I decided the movie was a better choice! Ha! I actually loved it because it had all of the famous Michael songs and I was singing and dancing in my seat the whole time (as you can about imagine!!)! This week during school we went on another cool field trip. That’s one thing that I really like about our Spanish classes, they take us places so we can learn about the culture! This week we went to a coffee plantation. I was super excited because everyone I love, loves coffee and being the nerd I am, I love learning these kinds of things! Coffee is one of Costa Rica’s main exports. We went to a plantation called Doka, one of the predominant brands here in Costa Rica. Coffee originates in Ethiopia and was brought to Central and South America during the conquest. There are three types of coffee Arabic, Robusta and I don’t remember the third The majority of the coffee consumed in the world is Arabic coffee. Costa Rica can only grow Arabic coffee by law. Every coffee plant takes 4 years to grow before it can produce fruit. The plantation also plants banana and mango trees around the coffee trees so that the insects eat these fruits instead of the coffee. Once it has reached maturity it will begin to produce berries. When the berries ripen to a crimson red, they are ready to be picked. The berries have to be picked by hand and the plantations usually hire immigrants from Nicaragua to do this backbreaking job! They get paid about $1.50 or less for every basket they pick, picking on average 25 baskets a day which leads to a daily salary of $37.50. To offset this low salary, the plantation provides the immigrants with a place to live, electricity and running water for free. Still not a great lifestyle! Really makes you think twice about the coffee that you enjoy so much every morning! After the berries are picked, they are dumped into a 7ft tank of water. The best quality berries sink to the bottom and the worst quality berries float. From there the berries are sucked out according to their quality and put in separate tanks where they begin the drying process. There are two outer shells of the coffee bean that must be peeled away before you get to the actual bean. The bean is a yellow color and does not have any flavor until it’s roasted. The beans are dried in a mechanical drier, like a corn drier, and then spread out on the concrete to dry in the sun. They are then stored in a warehouse for 3 months before they are roasted. The beans are roasted different times to give different flavors. The espresso coffee is roasted for 20 minutes and is very dark and strong. The others are lighter in color because they are only roasted for 15-17 minutes.
38: Costa Rica is having presidential elections in February. Each of the candidates are coming to our school to present their campaign and answer questions. It’s pretty cool because in a smaller country the candidates have time to do small things like this. Plus there is very minimal security, which I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing? Still I will be interested to see when I get back who actually wins the presidency. Most people think that Laura Chincilla will win because she is from the same party that the current president is from and so she has his support. I personally don’t know that this is the best thing for Costa Rica, they may need a change in blood We’ll see I guess! This last weekend was a chill weekend as well. We went with our new friends to a variety show on Friday night. It was at a church in a city nearby. It was really cool, our friend Dany (Natalia’s boyfriend) is in a band called Crossover and they played a few songs. They are a Christian band that works with some American artists and translates their songs into Spanish. I’m going to get their CD before I leave! There were two other bands there, one was a lady singer and the other was a sweet a cappella group named Major Key. Once again I think I’m going to get their CD’s as well! There were 3 groups of ballet dancers and 3 hip-hop dancers. I bet you can guess what part of the whole thing was my favorite?? The hip hop dancers! They were pretty cool and they give lessons, which I want to take but am not going to have time! Anyway they were awesome and it was really fun! It was a little strange to us though that we were at a church event and there were hip-hop dancers. It got even stranger when they started dancing to the Thong Song by Sisqo- this would not fly in the U.S. I feel like. Maybe at some churches?? Definitely not mine! Saturday and Sunday we went to a beach that’s only 2.5 hours from San Jose and the beach is called Jacó. It’s not the prettiest beach in Costa Rica but it’s still better than any beaches we have in Minnesota.wait we don’t have any beaches in Minnesota! Point proven. Anyway, it was a very chill weekend because we just laid on the beach, played in the ocean and laid by the pool. We stayed in a condo type setting where we had beds and a kitchen. It was nice and pretty cheap considering it was on the ocean! I did get sunburned again, this time in my belly button! I swear that when I come back to Minnesota, every inch of me is going to be tan! The reason that Jacó is so dirty is that apparently the currents are not very good around that area so the garbage and sewage that gets dumped into the ocean just kind of hangs around and isn’t washed away. Yummy huh? This is a problem all around Costa Rica. The beach towns do not have waste water treatment facilities, instead they just dump everything into the ocean and let the currents take it away. We ate supper at this really cool taco bar. It was probably the best taco I have ever eaten and the best mango smoothie ever! I’m really going to miss the fruits and juices down here, they are spectacular! This restaurant was so cute, it even had swings are seats! Only in a beach townsigh. Something cultural but cool that pertains to me, is that here in Costa Rica Micaela (Spanish spelling of my name) is a popular name, but in the older generation where as in the US it is a very young name. Many people have told me that their grandmas are named Micaela and that they call them Caeli (like Kali) for short (instead of Mik or Kayla). When Spanish speakers want to make a word more affectionate they add –ito or –ita to the end of the word so they affectionately call their grandmas Micaelita which they then shorten to Caeli. I also saw a Costa Rican made film. The coolest part is that it was filmed in San José by the help of my University! I want to buy it to bring home with me so I can show everyone parts of the city where I have lived the past three months! Anyway the movie is called La gestación and it’s about teen pregnancy and what the girl has to endure. She goes to a private Catholic school so she is shunned for being pregnant, the father doesn’t really want anything to do with her and her mother is a poor single mother who can barely make ends meet the way things are. There is a lot of cultural significance to this movie as well as a lot of landmarks and I’m excited to show all of you! Of course I will also have to translate as the movie is in Spanish but we can make it work!
39: One of my friends made an interesting comment to me today. She said “I’m just living life live!” and at first I was kind of confused as to what she meant. Basically this saying pertains to the way we live life down here in Costa Rica based on what we have observed and learned. The things that I have learned about the culture and community here in Costa Rica are that 1. There are a lot of promises are made and never followed through 2. You may think you know what’s going on but you don’t and 3. Even when you know something, it will change eventually just because someone wants to change it for no apparent reason! With this mentality, it’s very hard to be organized and methodical like we are in the U.S. therefore we have adapted the mentality of living in the moment and dealing with whatever comes your way (living live or in the moment) because you can’t ever predict what’s going to happen, you just have to deal with it as it comes! Last little cultural tidbit for this post and put on your boots, this one is deep!! I was talking with my Tica friend Natalia and I asked her what she thinks about all the US students that come every semester and if there is anything about us that bothers her. She said the only thing about US students, or any US citizen for that matter, that bothers her is the fact that we call ourselves Americans and we don’t see anyone else in North or South America as Americans. This is a very interesting concept that I had NEVER thought about before. From Canada, all the way down to Chile and Argentina is ALL America, so why do we get to be the only ones that are called Americans? Technically we are all Americans. But if we take this name away, what are we??? At least in Costa Rica you can be called an American or more specifically a Costa Rican. In Nicaragua you can be called an American or more specifically a Nicaraguan. In Chile you can be called an American or a Chilean. In Canada you can be called an American or a Canadian. Get my point? What are we if we are not Americans? I guess United States citizens or maybe we should be named according to our states like Minnesotans or Texans? My point is that there are more “other” Americans than those that actually occupy the United States of America. There are so many things in our culture to promote the idea that if you are from the U.S. you are American and so the identity of American has come to be associated with only U.S. citizens (not just in the U.S. but all over the world). “Proud to be an American where at least I know I free” “The American way” “American Solider” “America Will Always Stand”. I realize that we shorten the name of our country to be America but this is very politically incorrect due to the fact that there are three entire continents (North, Central and South) worth of Americas. How come we are the only ones that get to call ourselves Americans? Just a brain twister for you all to think about!
40: So I am now officially done with Spanish classes in the mornings from 8-12 M-F! Instead I will be volunteering at the Children’s Hospital in Downtown San José. I start on Wednesday with an orientation meeting and hopefully get to start volunteering on Thursday morning before heading to the beach this weekend! Man, what am I going to do when I get back to Minnesota and I can’t go to the beach, the rainforest or a random volcano for the weekend?!?! Last week we finished our Spanish class with one last field trip! This one wasn’t as fun and exciting as the coffee tour, but still interesting. We went to a museum about old Costa Rican life back in the 1700 and 1800’s. We learned about adobe houses and how they were built, we saw the basic furniture they had and the clothes they wore and the musical instruments that they created out of hollowed out gourds. This was pretty cool because the sound that you get from this gourd is a basic rhythm that is used in the Cumbia, which is a famous Latin style of dance. At this place we also got to mix, knead and bake bread. Because of the nature of the museum, the oven was an old wood-burning, rock oven (made of lava rock from the volcanoes to withstand high temperatures) that was used back in those days. The interesting thing is that this oven can cook the bread in 8 minutes flat when a newer conventional oven takes over 20 minutes to cook the same bread! Talk about efficiency. The bread was amazing! We got to form it into any shape that we wanted, bake it and then of course eat it with a fresh fruit drink. Why can’t the universities in the US take us on field trips? We finished out the class by compiling a review of all the topics we covered while we were in the class and each student got a copy. Fairly nice souvenir I guess! Last week I suffered from indigestion/strained chest muscles (don’t really know which), but the thing about indigestion is that the pain can sometimes radiate up into your chest. I had discomfort in my chest for about 2 days and the third day it got worse and progressed to minor pain. I couldn’t decide what to do but eventually called my mom and we decided that the best thing to do would be go in and get checked out just to make sure that everything was alright. I went to the Hospital Clínica Bíblica which is one of the best hospitals here in Costa Rica. My director Priscilla went with me. She has been to the hospital probably 7ish times in the last week alone, at least once a day because a lot of students are ill! The hospital was very nice and the people were very friendly. The doctor who saw me ordered a chest x-ray and an EKG to rule out any major lung or heart problems. As expected, everything looked good there. This led the doctor to conclude that it was either A. sore intercostals muscles or B. digestive problems that were radiating upward. To cover both bases, he prescribed me some meds to help move things through my digestive system. One of the interesting things about this visit was that the doctor asked me NO history what so ever! I find this every interesting because when you go to the doctor in the US you are bombarded with questions. Especially for serious things like chest pain! Oh well, I have been feeling better lately so I think it was like he said, either indigestion or sore muscles. While I was there I asked him if there were opportunities for volunteers and he said yeah that they have volunteers all the time. So Thursday and Friday of last week I went into frantic mode compiling and sending in all my paperwork and now I’m just waiting to hear back from them. I probably won’t be able to work there but it was one last ditch effort. I have a meeting at the children’s hospital on Wednesday so I will be working there most likely the rest of the month in the mornings when I would normally be at school. This last weekend we went on a field trip to Manzanilla, Puerto Viejo y Cahuita. The goal of this field trip was to look at different marine environments (by snorkeling) and also walk through the national parks and talk with the local people to discover what environmental problems, if any, are being caused by humans and development. We left bright and early on Saturday morning and road a bus for about 4 hours. Puerto Viejo is that town that we stayed in and it is on the South Caribbean coast. Saturday was supposed to be our day to snorkel and hike through Manzanilla National Park. The problem was, that due to El niño, it has been raining a lot on the Caribbean side for the last month. When it rains a lot, it churns up the water and the visibility goes down. Therefore we couldn’t snorkel because the visibility was not good. So we walked through the park instead. It was a nice walk, we eventually got to this bluff where we got to look out over the
41: ocean and the beach. It was gorgeous! We played around on the beach for a while and then headed back so that we could talk with the local people about the environmental problems. The funny thing about asking locals things, is that sometimes they are the least informed about problems or issues in their area. I found this to be true. Of the 4 people I asked, only 2 of them knew of any problems (well I guess 50% maybe not so bad??). The others just responded that everything was great and that there were no problems there. Well, we knew better. We were there to observe the impact of man on the sea, and this is what we discovered. First of all, there is a very bad man in this area who put up a huge hotel and ruined part of the National Park. We read the book that is based off this incident and the community’s struggle to fight this hotel owner. For thirty years this struggle has been going on, but since he’s rich and can afford good lawyers, it’s been a tough fight for Costa Rica. Anyway the problem with developing along beaches is that the used waters have to go somewhere. Unfortunately that somewhere is the ocean. So shower water, dishes water and toilet water all dump to the same place, the ocean! This area of Costa Rica struggles with having clean water and many people can get sick when visiting because the water is not safe to drink. There is apparently a movement going on that is trying to bring clean water to the area. After this excursion, we went back to the hotel, ate and hung out for the night. Another great thing about these field trips is that they are all inclusive! We didn’t have to pay for our hotel or even our meals! That’s even better than ISA does it! Sunday started and ended as a blah day. Unfortunately it was raining and we still had to go our on our hike. The path was a wet, muddy mess, it poured all morning, the bugs were biting HORRIBLY and the little streams we were supposed to be able to walk across, suddenly needed to be crossed by boat because of all the rain! Needless to say after about an hour and a half of this, most of us were no longer in the mood to see the mangrove at the end of the path. A mangrove is a special tree that has adapted to live on the shore and in the sea water. It’s a very important ecosystem in the ocean by providing a nursery for growing young, protecting the land from the rough waves during a storm and balancing salinity when a freshwater river enters the ocean. Anyway after this hour and a half walk to basically see nothing we turned around and walked back. It was kind of disappointing because once again our snorkeling got canceled! We were supposed to compare the two places because they are about an hour apart on the coast, but we didn’t get that chance! Bummer! Oh well, what can you do, sure wish I could control the weather! I at least got to snorkel in Panama and it was AMAZING, so I got a taste of what this would have been like. On the way back to San Jose, I sat with a girl that I didn’t know very well and helped her with her Spanish homework. We got to talking and we actually have a lot in common! It’s funny how people can surprise you! This week I have been doing odds and ends things in the mornings because I don’t have class! I’ve been riding buses around San José trying to find the Children’s hospital. It’s actually kind of fun to ride the buses (which is good because that’s how I will be getting to and from work for the next month!) and see different parts of the city. I still can’t believe that I am living in a city with 2.5 million people! Crazy! I always thought maybe I could handle city living while I was young, but I don’t even feel like I’m living it right now beside all the traffic! Otherwise my little community doesn’t feel that big and I don’t have to venture out that often because the school, main office and supermarkets are all close to my house! Anyway I have been applying for some jobs because I don’t know if Newport is going to work out for me so better safe than sorry! I want to find a job that is Spanish intensive so that I have to use it every day! It would be great if I had to use it even more than English! If you know of anything like this, please let me know I am open to suggestions!
42: Last night we went to a soccer game. It was really cool and one of the more intense games I have ever been to! The two teams were both Costa Rican teams, La Liga vs. La Saprissa. La Saprissa was the projected winners, but they ended up losing two to zip. We had to take a taxi to the stadium which is in a suburb of San José. Once we got there and went up to our seats (just general seating) we found ourselves surrounded by a sea of purple (Saprissa). I went with my host mom’s sister, her host student and one of her friends. Evelyn (Beatriz’s sister) is a Liga fan (red and black), so she was cheering exactly the OPPOSITE as everyone else in our area. The funny thing about this is that these games are so intense that people fight other fans if their team loses and some of these fights go to near death. So talk about rebelling when everyone around you is scowling at you! The fans are great! They have drums that they are constantly beating and they sang and jumped the ENTIRE time. I actually felt more of an earthquake tonight in the stadium than I have any other time here in Costa Rica. They shot off fireworks and constantly threw things on the field to try and distract the goalie so he would let one by. At one point, someone threw something and the goalie went down for about a minute or two (we still don’t know what was thrown or where it hit him)! Another thing about soccer is that the clock doesn’t stop so the players have become great actors and pretend to be hurt, lay on the ground for a while and then get up like nothing happened. Tonight we watched someone get carried off the field on a stretcher, but as soon as they got to the out of bounds line (LITERALLY!!), the player sat up, got off the stretcher and walked away. So we decided that we were watching a theater performance instead of an actually soccer game. Also if you want to learn all the bad words in Spanish, go to a soccer game, there it’s the proper language to use and it’s all you hear! This morning I started my volunteer position at the children’s hospital. I’m a little nervous about it because I was just a babysitter for about 3 hours. It’s much easier to play with kids and enjoy it when you speak the same language! Sometimes I can’t understand a word their saying, then how am I supposed to help them! Oh well, talk about a strong learning experience!! The first thing I did in the morning was to sit at a sleeping boy’s bedside while his mom went and filled out paperwork. That wasn’t so bad because there was another patient there and so I talked with him and his dad until the mother returned. That was great because I was practicing my Spanish and the father was really excited that I could speak to him in Spanish. His son was having plastic surgery on his ears to make them lie flatter against his head (they kinda stick out a little right now, you know like Kristen’s!! Haha! Just kidding I love you!). His youngest daughter was having the same procdure done as we spoke and his wife was very nervous and upset. I didn’t get to stick around much longer, so I hope they turned out alright! I’m sure they were just fine, Costa Rica has a good health system, apparently even better than in the US! In my next adventure, I found myself in the sala de juegos (game room) to babysit for the next two hours. I’m not complaining because I know it’s helping, but I wanted this to be a very personal experience. I expected to work with the volunteer staff and maybe with the same kids, parents, doctors or nurses every day in the hospital, but in the game room, those kids are just waiting to see the doctor and then they leaveI will never see them again. I’m big on forming personal relationships and I like to get to know people and work with people on a constant basis, that’s how I operate. I sure hope that I get to spend more time doing other things than just babysitting.If not I just have to remember that I am helping and that I am doing some good! I just have to focus on the Spanish and having the kids help me learn!
43: This week Rachel’s family is here so they are at Manuel Antonio. I am going to join them tonight after I get done with class and we will be at the beach until Sunday and then come back to San José. I can’t believe I only have 3 weeks left, they are going to FLY and I’m going to look back and scratch my head..Que triste (how sad!!). I don’t want to leave! I’m living in paradise and in less than a month I have to get back to real life! One of my friend’s mom was here visiting last week and they were going to Manuel Antonio for the weekend as well (which is where Rachel and her family were waiting for me), which worked out perfectly for me because I could ride the bus with them after classes were done. So Thursday night after classes finished at 5PM, we headed down to the bus station to catch a bus to Manuel Antonio. At the bus station we grabbed a quick bite to eat. It was cheap, fast and very good food! I had my normal arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) which I have come to love and am going to miss very much! Actually I am going to attempt to make it back in the states and hopefully it will be a success! The bus left at 6PM and took about 4 hours. During that time I sat with a Costa Rican nurse and we talked a little bit about her life and her job. I really like sitting with people I don’t know on the buses because they are very nice and very interesting, plus I get to practice my Spanish! As the trip neared the end, the bus actually dropped me off in front of the hotel because it was on the main road, lucky for me! Rachel and her brother Alex were waiting for me there because the hotel was a bit tricky. It was very nice and each bungalow was set amongst the trees and vegetation, almost as if you were out in the middle of the jungle. The rest of the night, Rachel and I just discussed our lives and the fact that our paradise is about to end in three weeks and we don’t want to go back to the real world. If I were a superhero, my power would be the ability to stop time so that I could accomplish all that I wanted to accomplish, but not miss out on the great and wonderful things in life, like Costa Rica for example. Each morning we awoke to the sound of howler monkeys screaming at us to get up and get going for the day! We ate breakfast at the hotel restaurant that is set up on the bluffs and overlooks the ocean. The wonderful thing about a lot of Costa Rican restaurants is that they are open to the air, there are no walls enclosing them. In Minnesota this wouldn’t fly because our climate ranges from freezing cold to steaming hot, but it Costa Rica it’s steadily warm and humid. Every morning I enjoyed a plate of French toast, fresh fruit and a pineapple and milk smoothie! I am absolutely in LOVE with pineapple and milk smoothies! YUM! Definitely have to learn to make those as well! Friday morning after breakfast, we headed down to the beach. The beach was only about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Once on the beach we rented chairs and umbrellas and just chilled. I attempted to start reading a novel in Spanish that I have to have done by next week, but I never got any farther than the first paragraph (and am still there as or right now!). Reading is such hard work you know and I was so tired that I decided it would be a better use of my time to take a nap, so I did. When I woke up it was time to eat lunch. And believe it or not, there was a restaurant near by and they deliver! Ha, so we ordered from our beach chairs and waited about a half an hour until the food was brought to us! Talk about AMAZING!! After lunch I once again attempted the first paragraph and didn’t get any further. Unfortunately for us, there were some sort of small bugs (sand fleas maybe??) that started biting us and it was NOT fun! By 3PM it had clouded over and started raining so we took the bus back up to the hotel and showered up. That night we went into the town of Quepos which was a mile or so from our hotel to eat at a restaurant called The Great Escape. The food was really good (but TOO much black pepper, so much so I couldn’t force down my fajitas) and once again it was a great atmosphere open to the air with the beach just across the road. We were a bit early for our reservation so we did a little souvenir shopping and walked through their market. After that wonderful meal and very tiring day, we headed back to the hotel and hit the hay.
44: Saturday began the same way as Friday with a plate of French toast and a yummy pineapple and milk smoothie! As we were eating, it started raining and we were afraid of a repeat of the afternoon before. Luckily, by the time we finished eating and changed into our beach apparel, the rain had gone away. Once again we headed down to the beach to our favorite spot where our chairs and umbrellas were waiting! However today was going to be different that the previous day! I decided it was time to accomplish my third and last major goal while I was here in Costa Rica. My first two had been zip-lining and white water rafting. The last major goal I had for myself was learning how to surf. So I took lessons from a hot surfer boy on the beach! Haha, just kidding! He was a surfer, and he had really pretty eyes, but he was definitely NOT my type! Anyway a two hour lesson cost me about $40, which is less than he wanted, but it was all I had with me and he wasn’t going to turn down my money (part of the bartering tricks that I have learned while here in Costa Rica)! AND, the BEST part about this lesson, was that it was COMPLETELY in Spanish! It was sooooo awesome! So we started out on the sand. First things first, I had to figure out it I was going to stand with my left foot forward or my right foot forward. This turned out to be a challenge because what I thought I should have forward, the instructors thought I should put backward. In the end, I listened to them and it seemed to work! So the challenges that laid before me were knowing where to lay on the board, then where to put your hands to push yourself up, then how to pull your feet up and where to put them, then to remember to put your hands out for balance crouch really low and finally to lean forward. They make it look so simple and all in one flawless motion. Well I’m not the most athletic person, so this seemingly flawless one step motion turned out to be about 4 very choppy steps in which I tried to push myself up, position my feet, put my arms out for balance and lean forward. After a few practice runs on sand to get a feel for the form, we headed out to the waves. When we first got there, the waves seemed perfect for beginners, but I swear by the time I got out there they were swelling to professional size! Well ok, in all reality they were still good beginner waves. Anyway I encountered a few problems along the way. First of all, I had troubles getting my hands to stay in the correct position, they were always straying off to wherever they felt comfortable. Once I could get myself to stand up, if my feet weren’t positioned right, I lost my balance and fell over. Then there was the slippage problem, in an attempt to get up, my foot slipped off the board and you guessed it, I biffed it! But the instructor came to the rescue by putting wax on the board to give a grippy surface. Well that also caused too much grip and sometimes interfered with me pulling myself up because my legs seemed to drag rather clumsily along the wax in a vain attempt to get up. Don’t worry though I just kept my legs elevated off the wax and all was just fine! I did eventually overcome all of these problems and was able to actually stand and ride a wave between 5-8 times I would say! In fact by luck, I even stood for a while on my very first attempt! Wow talk about a natural! Anyway the water felt amazing, especially when the sun was beating down and it was rather relaxing waiting on the board until the perfect beginner wave came for me. Sometimes I had to wait out the larger waves and that got to be interesting because the instructor was standing in front of me holding the board until a good wave came, so I had my butt to the incoming waves. Consequently when the large waves crashed over me, and created a few wedgies. They call this “violación del mar” or violation by the ocean. After about 2 hours I was shot, and felt it in my muscles for a few days afterward! No wonder surfers have such great bodies! The rest of the afternoon was spent on the beach and playing in the water. As I was sitting in the water, with the waves crashing up on me, I looked around at all the beauty that was around me and I laughed to myself thinking, “Wow, this is my life! I’m living in Costa Rica!! How great is this??” That’s when it hit me that I only have 3 weeks left of this paradise until I return to the US.
45: Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things I want to return to, but there are also a lot of things here that I don’t want to leave! They told us it would be like this when we first got here. They said the first half you will be living on cloud nine. About half way through, you should expect to hit bottom where you want to go home, but by the end of the trip you won’t want to leave! I hit bottom about 2 months into the trip, and I wanted nothing more than to get on a plane and go home! But as I was sitting in the ocean, I realized that this is paradise and I’m living it! Why the heck do I want to go back to Minnesota in the winter? I have hit it, the nostalgic, I can’t believe I’m leaving in 3 weeks feeling! I have so much more to do here and so many more beaches that are calling my name! Why can’t I have another 4 months? Where’s that super hero power of mine where I can stop time and just live?!?!
46: That night we ate at El Avión (the plane), which is a restaurant owned by the same owner as our hotel. It was really cool because he purchased an old US supply plane that was used to get supplies into war stricken areas in Central America. This plane’s sister had been shot down into the ocean and this plane had been abandoned at the San José airport until 2000 when the owner bought it, moved it to Manuel Antonio and turned it into a restaurant. The food was amazing, but the waiter and I had a minor miscommunication. I was trying to communicate to him that I wanted the seafood rice, but only with shrimp and chicken, not with the squid and clams. He understood that I wanted the squid and clams, but not the shrimp and chicken! Haha, oh well, I survived and it was still a really enjoyable evening. Bright and early Sunday morning, we got up, packed our bags and headed down to breakfast for one last pineapple and milk smoothie. This morning was especially interesting because the monkeys were all over the place and very active. The slogan of this hotel is “still more monkeys than people,” and this morning that slogan proved to be true. They were all over in the trees, they even came in the restaurant and were playing around in the rafters! The hotel staff didn’t seem to notice them so I feel that that was a pretty normal occurrence for them. There was a set of two monkeys that was playing up in the rafters, and one of them fell down, landing on the hard tile floor, but he got up and sprinted off so he must have been ok! After breakfast our driver came and got us and brought Rachel’s family to the airport and her and I returned home. I should have spent the afternoon doing homework, but instead I decided to talk to my parents on skype and then watch the football game via skype as well! Needless to say, the homework still hasn’t been touched! I will be super busy and really stressed for the next week, but after that, the last week should be pretty relaxing! A few other things After three months in Costa Rica, I finally got robbed! Haha, it’s not as bad as it sounds though! We always keep our umbrellas outside the front door because they are wet and need to dry. Well the front gate never gets locked so someone came in and took my umbrella! Obviously they needed it worse than I did! I’m hopping this is the only incident that I have to experience! People here are crazy on the highways. There are people that walk in the middle of the highways between the lanes of cars or wait at intersections to sell newspapers, flowers, candies, windshield washes or whatever else they have. I even saw a guy in a wheelchair wheeling from car to car trying to sell chips and other snacks. I can’t believe more people don’t get killed with the way people drive down here! Motorcycles are also constantly weaving in and out of traffic and I’m surprised that I haven’t seen more accidents.
47: This week has been pretty chill. I have been going to the children’s hospital almost every morning and volunteering there. I have done a few different things. One day I got to hold a baby and feed her because her parents weren’t around. The volunteers usually try to be with the kids if there are no parents around so that the kids don’t get to scared or lonely or bored. Otherwise I go to the game room and play with the children there. These children all have cancer and come to the hospital for their chemo treatments and check ups. These kids are all active and seem like normal kids besides the fact that some of them wear caps because they are losing their hair. We do puzzles, read books, color pictures and play with the toys that are in the room. Most of the time it’s fun, but it can be mentally draining! I never knew it would be so hard to play with children in another language! I am there to help them, but also to learn from them! I have already been shown that at 23 years of age and no need for chemo treatments, that I am very lucky and should be thankful for my health! As young people, this is something that we seem to take for granted, but it can slip away so easily! These children have a tough battle but they are doing it with smiles on their faces! This week my friend Amy’s sister came and we went to a show at the National Theater. One more thing to check off my goals list! I have a huge list yet and have realized as I am getting ready to leave that I haven’t done near enough stuff! Now you may be laughing at me thinking, Mikaela you have done more in the last semester than you have done in your whole life, and it’s true, but there is SO MUCH MORE TO DO!!! I don’t want to return to real life that’s the same thing every week. I love my family, my job and being a student, but you have to realize that I have been taking adventures almost every weekend and now in the snow that’s going to be really difficult! Anyway we went to the theater a bit early and had a nice meal in the café that’s attached. I had my infamous piña con leche (man I’m going to miss those!) and a chicken salad sandwich. It was so nice! Amy’s sister is an amazing woman and I’m so glad that they let me go with them to the theater! We saw the Nutcracker at the theater. It was really nice. I have never seen it live, so I accomplished two goals in one night! The theater is beautiful! We were only allowed to take pictures from the outside, but inside the ceiling was painted and there were floor seats, box seats and then the balcony. We sat up in the balcony because it was the cheapest seats! So after the show, we got in a taxi to go home and I told the driver to go to La Universidad de Veritas (my school) and he looked at me and replied “I don’t know that university”. I chuckled to myself thinking, great how are we going to get home! He proceeded to tell me that he has only been a taxi driver for 8 days in a city of 2.5 million people – it’s understandable the he isn’t familiar with the city yet. Luckily I have been riding the bus a lot and the theater is on our route! So I directed the driver to our university and then my house! I was so proud of myself! Finally after 4 months I know at least parts of the city! Friday I finally did the bulk of my souvenir shopping! It was really fun and I am super excited to get home and give everyone their gifts! They have really cute markets down here with soooo many souvenirs. It’s crazy and I have probably spent way too much money, but it was great!!
48: Two weekends ago was a bit disappointing because I had lots of plans with friends and they all fell through! We were supposed to go to a concert, go to church and then hang out. Unfortunately my friend got sick and we couldn’t do anything! So I spent my time well, vegging and watching movies! I should have been doing my homework because the next week was very stressful with homework coming out of every pore in my body!! Friday night I watched a movie with a few of the girls that I have met here. It was nice! I will miss my new friends, but I also feel like friendships here are superficial and fleeting. That was really hard for me to accept at first because I am so much a people person and I love meeting new people and making new friends. The problem is that most students came here for a big vacation! I came here to learn Spanish so we have conflicting viewpoints. Not only that, but also that clicks form and I at first I was more or less of a floater. In the last month or two I have found my niche, but now I have to leave! It’s going to be a sad day! On Sunday, I went to the movie 2012 (about the Mayan prediction that the world ends in 2012)with my host family at the theater. It was nice to spend some time with them since I will be leaving soon. Later that evening I went to the Running of the Bulls. I was lucky because they don’t usually have the running of the bulls until later in the year, after Christmas until New Years. For some reason they had one set earlier so I got to go! The stadium was in my suburb, Zapote. I went with Natalia (my friend from school) and her boyfriend Dany. Basically the Running of the Bulls is like a rodeo back in the states. They do bull riding, but with no hands! There was one amazing rider that rode the bull until he stopped bucking, without hands! The main event of the Running of the Bulls Costa Rican style, however is not the bull riding. The main event is open to the public. Anyone in the crowd who wishes to participate, jumps in the ring. They release the bull and the people run around trying to get the bull to chase them and then run away from it. In the Costa Rican version of Running of the Bulls, the bull is never hurt, but the same can’t be said of all the public participants. We saw a few people get taken away on stretchers as they weren’t quite agile enough to dodge the bulls powerful thrusting horns. It was a neat experience, but it got to be long. It was the same thing for 3 hours, so I would much rather see a South Dakota rodeo because less people get hurt and there are more variety of events, but anyway it was a great cultural experience! This week turned out to be a torturing week of homework. I had final projects, lab reports and a final paper due. Unfortunately I have learned very well how to procrastinate and so I left my 5 page literary analysis (all in Spanish) until the night before it was due. I think I started it at about 8:30 PM and finished it at about 3:30 AM. Talk about quality work! Then when I presented it to the class and the teacher the next day, she informed me that she didn’t believe it was as political as I had interpreted it.Hmmm. Good thing that literature is open to the interpretation of the reader! I finished up my marine biology class as well and even found out that if your grade was high enough, you didn’t have to take the final! Guess what?!?! I didn’t have to take the final! I guess sometimes hard work pays off.
49: My last weekend in Costa Rica was maybe on of my best! We had a field trip to Ostional which is a famous beach for sea turtle nesting. On the way there we had a Costa Rican experience. As we were driving down the road, a bull with decent sized horns, was running along side the road, with a few cowboys following him. At the last minute the bull decided he wanted to run right at our bus and at the last minute veer off to the side. It was pretty funny because there aren’t too many places in the states where you play chicken with a bull. Anyway once we got to Ostional we got our rooming assignments. Some students stayed with families and the rest of us stayed in a dorm at the research station. Our job was to talk with the locals and discover the problems this little community is facing. There are two programs in this town. One program is run by the country of Costa Rica and the other program is a local program. The government program is doing research on the beach to try and improve and protect the future generations of turtles. The other program patrols the beach, protecting the eggs and the turtles while they are nesting, but also collects the first few rounds of eggs after the turtles lay them and sells them. People in Costa Rica like to eat turtle eggs because they think they have good healing powers, but most of all that they are an aphrodisiac. It’s illegal to sell/buy turtle eggs in Costa Rica unless they are from this specific beach and have the stamp of this specific organization. The reason that the people are allowed to collect the eggs is because if they don’t the next round of turtles will come in and dig up the nests when they try to make their own nests. To prevent this wasting, the people dig up the first round of eggs and sell them for profit and then protect the second round until they hatch and even help them get to the water. The problem is, is that the two programs fight even though they are both fighting to save the turtles. So Saturday night the class divided up into three shifts and we patrolled the beach for three hours counting the turtles as they came out of the ocean to nest. There were 2000+ turtles on the beach that night! I was assigned the 12-3AM shift. At first I was mad because that seemed to be the worst shift. When I got out there however I realized it was the best shift and I was super glad to be there! We walked up and down the beach counting the turtles. It was a bit scary at first because there were so many turtles coming out of the water and we could only use red lights because they don’t hurt the turtle’s eyes, but that makes it tougher to see because red lights don’t put off much light for our eyes! Anyway it was the BEST thing ever to be on the beach in the dark with the cool breeze coming in off the ocean, the water was warm and there sky was clear. I have never seen so many stars in my life!! It was beautiful and what makes it even better is that there was a meteor shower! I have never seen so many shooting stars in my life! It was AMAZING, beautiful and peaceful! The next morning we all packed up to head back into San Jose for our last week in Costa Rica. On the way back we fought with our teacher because she wanted her flashlight and red light back. She was blaming our group because she let us use them and she told us to pass them on to the next group. We did, but in the morning, the other group was denying that we gave them the lights. So the teacher was upset because her stuff was missing and no one knew where it went to. She decided that the best way to deal with it would be to punish the whole class by docking our grades. We were all pretty upset, but it turned out alright, she didn’t dock us and I don’t even know if she got her stuff back.
50: Tuesday was Mariana’s 2nd birthday. Beatriz and Evelyn (her sister) planned a big party because it was also Carolyn’s birthday so they were celebrating together. They blew up many balloons and strung them up in the backyard. Everything was Dora La Exploradora, the cake, the balloons, the piñata, the plates and even the wrapping paperon her gifts. Mariana doubled her toys in one day! One thing that I noticed is that she doesn’t have many toys. She is entertained daily by the television, which I don’t agree with, but that’s how it works! A few of Carolyn’s friends and Beatriz’s friends came to the party. The kids played together, enjoyed a clown, whacked the piñata and ate cake. It was a good time. Carolyn got a doll that sings “If Your Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands,” and she was trying her best to sing along, but she doesn’t know any English. She asked me to teach her the words, so we sat down, I wrote out the words for her to see and we went through the song singing every three words or so. She started to get it, but some spots were still mushy where the English was taken over by Spanish mumbling, it was so cute! Thursday we went to Jacó for the day. On our way back from Panamá, the AC didn’t work so we got a free trip to Jacó for the day. It was so nice to spend one last day at the beach. I love the beach, it’s so relaxing to lay on the beach, hear the waves crashing along the shore, feeling the warm sun on your body and jumping in the refreshing water. We could only stay for a few hours because we had to get home for our farewell dinner. The farewell dinner was at a restaurant up on the mountainside in Escazú. It was so beautiful because we could look out over all the lights of San José. It was beautiful! The roads were windy and tight to get to the top, especially in large tour busses. We had one last good Costa Rican meal, all you could eat! To entertain us, there were dancers in authentic clothing and it was a lot of fun because they incorporated the students as well. Both ISA and CEA students were there so I got to say goodbye to some of the students I had spent the last 4 months getting to know. It was a lot harder to say goodbye than I thought it would be. I was always up and down, sometimes I wanted to stay, sometimes I wanted to go, but when I actually had to go, I didn’t want to! I had a lifetime experience in Costa Rica and it was hard to say goodbye! I had really grown to love the people I was around. Later that night we went to Castro’s for one last night of dancing. I was a bit clumsy that night for some reason, but I still danced with a few different guys. One of them was even a dance instructor, I felt like I had 2 left feet, but I could not keep up with him. He told me he was doing salsa (which is a 3 step dance) but he was only taking 2 steps! I couldn’t get the hang of it! Ugh it was a little frustrating, but still fun! The last day in San Jose, Rachel and I went downtown and we finished our souvenir shopping. I could have spent so much more money, but I didn’t because I didn’t have suitcase room! I even sent some stuff home early with Rachel’s parents!
51: A few more random things... I learned that in Costa Rica the tooth fairy is actually a rat. A few things that I am going to miss are the mannerisms and the things that I have been saying for the last few months that are no longer going to have any meaning such as “pura vida” or “mae” or “que chiva” and people “packing their tobacco” as they signal “que torta”. I’m also going to miss the food, the climate, the beaches, the people, my house and room, my family and SPANISH! What a great experience I had in Costa Rica! Coming home was a lot harder than I thought it would be because I was finally getting acclimated to the country, the culture, the language and the people. At about 2 months into the trip I wanted nothing more than to come home. I never thought that I would get to the point where I never wanted to leave like they told us in orientation. They warned us that things would be good the first month, then we would crash and get homesick, but in the end we wouldn’t want to leave – a rollercoaster of emotions! I never thought that I would follow this with all the insecurities that I felt about 2 months into it, but I did! By the end, I didn’t want to go and I knew that I was going to miss it. When I got home I experienced reverse culture shock. Overall it was one of the BEST things I have done in my whole life and I wouldn't change it for anything!