My, how quickly we fall into American paced life! Not that I’ve forgotten my Tica ways or anything, but I find myself easily moving with the lifestyle that is, well, mine before being abroad turned it upside down and put it in a different perspective. To be more specific, it’s as if I’m becoming the average twenty-something American consumer who, to be perfectly honest, enjoys shopping and perhaps doing things in excess (like eating holiday food). It’s not as though I’m one of the crazy people who stood outside in front of stores last week, trampling over each other to get a pair of Air Jordans, but I have enjoyed spending those Christmas gifts cards. I even took a bubble bath already, breaking my own rules to conserve more water. To think, only a few weeks ago, I was slightly disgusted and frustrated with the pushy Americans wrought with consumerism irritated me immediately as I got off plane. But now, I’ve come to realize, it’s not entirely our fault. It’s our culture. We are consumers, we enjoy spending money when we can, and though we may not always put into correct categories what are “wants” and “needs” (my mind is drifting back to the good people of Santa Rosa) most of us, (Americans, that is) are good-hearted people who try and enjoy life the best way we know how, and much of that involves spending, for better or for worse. It’s something I want to be more aware of now. Sure, the new winter coat I just bought brings me a good deal of happiness; but so did the countless immeasurable moments abroad, the simple things that did not cost a dime. I will try and remember this daily from now on.
Oh, and a I do believe a “Happy New Year!” is in order! Prospero Año! 2012 has finally arrived, and if it’s as good to me as 2011 was, then I have all the reason in the world to be happy! Most of us should be happy, right? Because, according to the Mayans, this may be that last year we get! Well, I don’t actually believe this, but it’s fun to pretend. Better get those bucket lists going…
I’ve started embracing winter for all I can, for it’s only a few short weeks until I find myself under the sunny skies of Tampa to start another semester. But while my mind keeps pushing forwards with worries and thoughts about the future, it’s also nice to take a break and reflect on the past and continue this journal. To continue, during the last two academic weeks in Heredia, I found myself diligently researching and writing what was to be a 25 page paper for my Sustainable Development class. While this may sound like a hefty task for anyone (and I can assure you, it took many, many hours to complete) I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m a writer, remember?! 25 pages was a bit of a challenge for the topic I chose, Green Building in the United States, but in the end I loved finding out more and more through my research that I had excess information to write about. This covered everything from the LEAD certification program, Energy Star program, specific building materials, energy-efficient design, and a little bit about alternative home energies. In my opinion, this is the direction America definitely needs to be heading in, for our own financial benefit as well as the environment, and I made this clear in the writing. It’s a bit long, or else I would post it so you could all read it, but I do have the fear of it being copied and pasted for some other doofy college kid to use. So, if you’re interested, email me!
But anyway, to get back to the story, this paper consumed much of my free time the last two weeks, and in the end we all presented in class, which was very interested. Likewise, we also had a final in my Biodiversity class that I was rigorously studying for, because it too contained a large amount of information to digest before the final written exam. A few study parties with my peers were held in preparation for this. As it was, nobody traveled out of town that last weekend, though I decided to do something I had missed out on in San Jose; The Costa Rican Art Museum. Unlike the Museum of Contemporary Art, this museum was bigger, and was built inside of what was once a government building, though it looked more like a giant white mansion from the bus route I frequented. Needless to say, it intrigued me greatly, so I decided to take an independent Sunday trip to visit it. Upon entering (for free, I might add! The perks of being a student J ) I toured around the exhibits on the first floor. They were small, but colorful, and contained a good deal of abstract art from the same artist, Otto Apuy. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Otto’s art, it’s just that abstract isn’t really my thing, so I was glad to find one could wander out to the sculpture garden and explore there.
It was the most perfect, sunny and glorious day.
The museum is situated right at the entrance to La Savannah, the huge public park in San Jose, and I could see families out picnicking on the lawns, walking dogs, and dozens of mini games of soccer being played by all ages, from kids to the elderly. After examining the rest of the exhibits on the top floor and snapping some photos from the terrace atop, I decided it was a waste to not be outside on a day such as this, and I surely was in no hurry to return immediately to my unfinished paper and re-chain myself back to my desk, so a Sunday stroll in the park seemed like a good and necessary distraction. I have never felt more authentically Tica, confidently walking out among the people as I did, and enjoying the weather and fun atmosphere just like them. There were couples, old and young, walking the circuited path, hand in hand, and men selling soda and roasted nuts in little push-carts by the fountains. It was lovely, perfect even, until…… it started to pour. Children screamed, breaking up the soccer game to run for cover, and I thankfully having my umbrella, I believed it was Mother Nature’s way of telling me it was time to get back to the bus stop and head home to do some more work. As I left the park to head for the parada, I immediately saw streams of Pearl Jam fans, complete with rocker t-shirts and untamed hair heading to the concert. This made me giggle, because it was funny to think the Ticos could understand a word of Eddie Vedder’s lyrics, when I think most American’s cannot. But they looked excited nonetheless; music is an international language, after all. Regardless of the umbrella, I was sopping wet by this time, and was thankful when my bus pulled up. I somehow even managed to squeeze in a visit to Pops to close the afternoon.
After my little outing, the rest of the week seemed to fly by very, very fast. ISA had planned one last in-town trip for the whole gang, and we went to the Costa Rica Museum of Natural History (not as fun as the Children’s Museum, so not much to report here) and the Artisan Market right below it, which I will admit how astounding it was one could spend so much in such a place, even with bartering. But, it was cool because there were a lot of beautiful, hand-crafted things I hadn’t seen anywhere else, so I did buy many Christmas presents for the family. And then, before any of us really knew it, Thanksgiving had arrived, and for many, it was time to say goodbye. We had dinner that evening in the Britt Coffee plantation in Heredia, one of the huge coffee companies in Costa Rica, who also harvest and plant sustainably so I felt good also spending colones on things they offered too, like chocolate covered coffee beans… yum! The dinner in the restaurant there was nice because, for one last time we were the San Pedro group to say farewell. And the traditional dinner of turkey and all the fixin’s was not too bad Tico-style either, even if it did include rice and beans on the side (I’m not joking). This, of course, was followed by one last group outing at La Birrilla, which was virtually empty that even save for us gringos, but we had a splendid time dancing the night away, our last time all together.
The Friday that followed, for many in our group, was to be their final day in Costa Rica, though for me it was a day to pack for the next two weeks of adventures, starting with Panama, and enjoy the last full day of company with my host family. That evening, Rosario prepared for Sarah and I an elegant dinner to celebrate our unofficial final evening with the family. Over pasta and chardonnay, Rosario toasted to a wonderful few months of having us stay and praised our futures, saying she believed I had a lot of great things ahead of me. Humbled, and extremely grateful to have been placed in such a warm, loving and fun household for the duration of the program, I vowed I would come back and visit and she said I was free to stay with them if space was available. And that was the one of the many great things about the Montoya family; they are constantly hosting students, and while I would love to able to say they were “my” family, they may in fact being hosting for a number of years to come. The beauty of it is that other students will have a chance to experience their hospitality in my absence. It’s just the cycle of things, and, to put it plainly, “Que será, sera.” What will be, will be. J
But, farewells to Ania and Jennifer, our program directors, at school were simply not enough, so we planned to go out to the newly build Hooters in town that Friday evening. Did I mention this was Black Friday? And that is was a new Hooters? Combined with the fact that is was Hooters? :p All this, combined with the fact that my lovely dinner with Rosario was slightly more rushed that I would have liked in order to meet up with the others, made it quite unappealing to me. It was so packed at the restaurant, one could barely move, and with new 15-yr old-looking waitresses, it took about 30 minutes to receive the bill. It was loud and hard to get in a word with all the people who were leaving, but when hugging commenced at the exit, it dawned on me that this was a sad ordeal. After sharing this amazing experience with so many new friends, it was hard to watch them go, but in a way I know many of us will see each other again. There was talk of a reunion, and some tears were shed, though guiltily, I thought in my head about how lucky I was to be staying another two weeks, and about how excited I was to head to Panama tomorrow.
Which brings me to the highlight of this post (finally, right? Well, I had to catch you all up!) Carter ended up being the only one of our friends staying who was able to/wanted to go the same time I did, so the two of us hopped on a 7am bus from San Jose and were on our merry way. The bus trip, as with every one we’d had so far, was long, about 8 hours all told. But the craziest part was border-crossing. Since a group of chicas had taken the trip before us, the advised us on what we needed to do to get to our destination, Bocas del Toro, an island town that made it a bit more complicated to get too. After getting out passport stamped on one side of a rickety old railway bridge, we were instructed to walk across to the Panama side where we would be stamped there and could either get back on the bus or take a cab to a port town about 45 minutes away, then a boat. We opted for the cab, and in a van squeezed in with about 10 other travelers, we continued. The first thing that immediately struck me about Panama, apart for the bridge crossing, was the roads themselves. Perfectly paved and with double yellow and dotted lines, they were, well, American roads. Which, as I considered how we had just switched to American currency and there was the Panama Canal with its entire American influence, seeing more developed transportation should have come as a no surprise. Still, it was a bit shocking after 3 months away from that. And American change seemed too small, with little weight to it. It was bizarre.
When we arrived at the port town the boat was waiting. After purchasing tickets, Carter used this untimely moment to head to the restroom, and we almost missed the boat. But, all was well; we made the last two seats just in the nick of time. I had to take the front beside the captain, and he the back, which I didn’t think was much of a problem until we were out of the harbor and reached high speed.
I have never had such a bumpy ride in my whole life.
It was a bit windy that day, so seas were choppy to begin with, but there were times when, I swear, the boat was completely in the air. And I don’t do those stomach-wrenching rides that drop you from large heights, no sir. It was awful, yet I had to bear it for another painstaking 40 minutes before we reached out destination. I was never so glad to see land! The island was beautiful too, and little hotels and boats dotted the harbor. It was small, and though slightly tourist, had an authentic vibe of a Panamanian island town…or at least what I imagine one would be. And it was hot too, more humid than it had been in Costa Rica, which was perfect. After grabbing our bags off the boat and wobbling alongshore, we began to examine our options for hostels. There were many, but one that caught our eye as we passed along the main strip of Isla Colon in Boca town, called hostel Heike. Two beds were available in the air-conditioned dorm for $14 a night, then we could switch to another the following evening if we liked. We took it, and our British host, a guy named Pete (who I would get to know better in a few days time because of SCUBA,) led us to the room. I immediately loved the private bathrooms in the hall, though I was slightly put off by the fact that there didn’t seem to be a single Panamanian in sight; it was a hostel of Europeans, Aussies, and well, us two Americans. But, all was well, I just hoped I had the opportunity to practice Spanish at some point over this stay.
Another nice thing, beside the fact that classes were over and Carter and I were free to enjoy ourselves, was that we had no schedule, not a single plan, and not even a decided date of departure. We knew we had to stay at least three days to meet the passport requirements to be able to return for extra time in Costa Rica (tough break, right?) but other than this, we could stay for up to a week if we wanted, in time to meet up with our other friend Roberto, who was with his mom in Nicaragua. As we wandered the scenic little streets of the island that night, a man approached us about doing a snorkeling tour the following morning. After playing coy, even though this had been recommended strongly to us from the chicas who had visited before, the guide said “I can offer you a reduced price, $15 each!” Though we knew perfectly well this was the normal price, we consented. The trip would leave the following morning, and include an entire day of boat tours that had dolphins, an opportunity to snorkel, and a beach on a neighboring island. Sounded like a good deal, and we were excited for what lied in store for the next day. After exploring, we decided to sample a bit of the nightlife and hopped on a 2-minute boat shuttle to the neighboring island that housed Aqua Lounge, a swanky bar over the water that had specials on drinks that night, as well as wooden swings that went out over the water, allowing party-goers to jump in, if they pleased. It was a blast. I swung, but having forgotten my bathing suit, consented to just chat about life with Carter and make some new friends from our hostel. Already, Panama was having a relaxing quality over me, and I could tell the next few days were to be some of the best of the trip.
But, in order to not skim over my beloved Panama, I’m afraid this will have to wait until the next post, folk, ‘cuz my fingers need a rest. More details to come, I promise!