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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! :D 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.

The Costa Rica Art Museum

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.

Overlooking San Jose at the Costa Rica Museum of Natural History

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.

The first night sunset in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

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!

Buenos Noches.

Wahoo! The first snow of Christmas! Now, I finally feel like the holiday season is upon us. But it’s so strange how I can wake up to find a Winter Wonderland out mine window, while my computer weather report still set on San Jose tells me it’s 72 F, while meanwhile  my friends in Florida experiencing weather even warmer than this. How does one celebrate Christmas without the cold?! It’s something I may like to experience one day, but for now my heart always wants to be home for the holidays in my chilly and (now finally snowy!) state of Maine. Perhaps I’m the type of gal who just needs the seasons to regulate her life.

This day’s post will be a hodge-podge of different occurrences and events that took place during my last two weeks of classes in late November, closing in on the end of the academic program, but I will save the fun stories for my last two weeks of independent travel for a later day. Now let’s see… the weekend following the mid-week futbol game was the long-awaited trip to Montezuma. Back in September, while browsing my guidebook, I read something about an international film festival in this little beach town, which I was very excited about. Somehow, my enthusiasm seemed to rub off on the other students, so that mid-week when I called to make hostel reservation and asked around to see who was interested in going, nearly everyone in the program wanted to. It was going to be like a weekend reunion of those first three weekends when we’d traveled together. For some, it would be there final weekend escape in Costa Rica, as we needed the following weekend to study for finals and many would leave the weekend after that! Crazy. So, many of us left Thursday afternoon that week in order to catch the last ferry from Puntarenas, a port city on the Pacific side, bound for the Nicoya Peninsula.

The spectacular sunset. One of only a few photos I have from the weekend.

How do I put into words just how gorgeous that sunset ferry ride was? I can’t. Only in pictures can I tell you, but even those are few, since I used my disposable camera, because it was at this point in the story that my digital camera had not yet revived itself.  I will say that, having been lucky enough to vacation once on a Disney cruise with my family, it was a bit like that. Very pleasurable and relaxing and, well, magical because it was the start of the adventures of what was to be our last official weekend together. And I believe I’ve mentioned in this blog about how much I do love this group of students. J We have a special bond.

So, the ferry slowly moved across the bay and as the sun went down behind the mountains, a bright display of orange and pink lit up the sky like it was on fire, and then faded into a navy blue sheet of sky that was speckled with stars, and a huge, bright full moon rose over the water. (I’m not joking…. This is actually how it all occurred in the course of a 1.5 hour boat ride; full moon and all!). The port at the Nicoya side was small, and as it was dark, it was a bit chaotic rounding everyone up to catch the correct bus to get to Montezuma. We even had to switch once, get off with all our bags, and wait ten minutes for another, in the dark. Of course, we made some new friends through the ordeal, and in a town as small as Montezuma, we ran into them throughout the course of the weekend. I recall particularly clearly the group of Canadian backpackers who, life in their packs, had been traveling through all Central America (and on the bus they definitely smelled like it too). When we met them surfing on the beach one day, we inquired as to which hostel they were staying in, and they replied that they were setting up camp and sleeping on the beach. Free spirits, they were.

Montezuma, nicknamed “Montefuma” (fuma=smoke) because of the number of beach-bummed pot smokers who hang around (although I found that this was not as prominent there as it had been in Puerto Viejo) was a small, quiet beach town with only a few restaurants and one bar in town. It was what I had been waiting for. It was much lest touristy than anywhere we had yet been, and I loved the authentically Tico vibe the place had. Our hostel “Luz en el Cielo” or “Light in the Sky” was on top of the monstrous hill that was a pain to walk up when coming back from town, but was totally worth it. The place was run by Abby, a small 23 year old young lady who had bought the property (I assumed this was with the help of her parents) after getting out of college and had moved to Costa Rica with the intention of running a hostel. Pretty bold, if you ask me. The place was having renovations to build new dorms, and with private bathrooms, comfortable hammocks, and a new copy of Atlantic Monthly  in the magazine pile, I really did feel comfortable and right at home. While our large group did take up a good deal of the beds there was also a few other travelers calling this hostel home for a little while, and we interacted with many of them as well. All were American, and a surprising number were from the state of Colorado. I have this theory that at least ¼ of all American traveling in Costa Rica must be from this state because of the rugged, outdoorsy stereotype there seems to be about people from that state. I have found, in many cases this is not a stereotype, and actually seems to be true. In any case, we bonded with some of the Coloradoans and the weekend began.

Since we’d made reservations to go to the film festival on Saturday night, that left us with a two whole days to explore the sights before this event. Tired from travel, we spent Thursday evening poking around the town a bit and chilling in our hostel. Friday, the whole lot of us ventured up the dirt road to a trail that we had been told would bring us to some legendary waterfall sights. Following the instructions of our hostel folk, we passed by the sign marked “Danger! Many people have died from jumping off waterfalls!” and made our way up the trail. There was a stream with a narrow bank that made it difficult to trek through the trees to find the trail for the first set of falls (one of three, we were told). We ended up creepin’ on a guide who was helping another couple of gringos across the rocks, and onto the narrow bank using a rope pegged into a rock. We followed suit, and keeping a safe distance from the guide (who no doubt would expect payment, but none of us had any money on us) we followed them to the first set of waterfalls.

These cataratas were better than those in Arenal, Cerro Danta, or anywhere else I’d been by far.

By this time, it was mid-morning and the sun was hot. While my friends debated whether we should swim here or keep a close eye on the guide (who had let his party take pictures but was already leading them to the next waterfall) I peeled off my clothes (bathing suit underneath, of course) and jumped in. Why waste this opportunity to swim, we probably wouldn’t be back here again anytime soon, it ever, and we could take our time. The water was admittedly cold at first, but after some reassurance some other jumped in too, as we splashed around and took pictures for awhile. Coincidently, two other young Tico men wading in the waterfall pool were also from Heredia, on vacation, they said, and we bonded chatting it up with them. Floating on my back and looking up at the sun, “This is Pura Vida,” I thought, “There’s no hurry and everything’s perfect. I don’t need anything else, I’m just happy like this.” However, it was at this time that my friends were getting antsy to move on, so I hopped out, dried off, said goodbye to our new Tico friends, and up the trail we went.

Or so we thought.

Carter, our “Carter Tours” leader for the day, assured that the guide we’d been following led his crew up the side of, what seemed to me, a near-vertical mountain slope. There were large rocks at the bottom that we scrambled up, but soon they disappeared, and all there was to hang on to was tree limbs and roots. Have I mentioned before that I’m afraid of heights? Well, I think I have, but to emphasize it again I’M REALLY AFRAID OF HEIGHTS. Especially of falling from them, which in that terrifying instant, seemed to grow more likely with each step. But I was frozen, immobile because of the narrow passage at the top to get to the trail that we had to manage one by one, and I was dead last (no pun intended). “Don’t look down, don’t look down….” I reminded myself, and doing the opposite, I looked up to see the progress my friends were making so we could move it along. I saw Carter now at the top, the flat trail clearly visible, and lending a hand to the next person. Then there was Ashley, clearly frozen in terror about 10 feet from the top, and slipping with little to hang on to. Like a tsumani of fear inside me, I suddenly realized how dangerous what we were doing was, and the probability that someone could get hurt , or worse…..was likely. It was at this instant that I looked down, and despite the refreshing swim I had just had, broke out into a cold sweat. But there was nothing to be done, we were close to the top, the only way was up, and now there were other hikers stupidly following out lead and coming up behind us. Holding onto the root I was grabbing for dear life, I looked up again to see the progress we had made, and saw Ashley was at the top. After her, directions were relayed about where to step, what root to grab, so that one by one we made it. Finally, it was my turn, and with a turtle’s pace, I moved my feat, and listened desperately to Carter’s instructions. I slipped a little, but remained calm, and grabbed his hand with all strength I had, and was pulled to the top. The terrible ordeal was over, but it would be a little while before we could joke about how we’d almost died on this waterfall hike.

Some of the rest of the way to the next set of waterfalls was steep, but at least there was a trail. And it was well worth it when we arrived. A wide rocky ledge, perhaps 50 feet above another waterfall pool, was at the base of the trail, and another pool was in front of this ledge. Someone had rigged a rope swing to one of the trees, and people were swinging off it into the water, as well as jumping from a 15 foot ledge above the pool. I jumped in a swam around for awhile, feeling more at ease, but it took maybe an hour of watching my friends swing and jump before I could muster up the courage to try it myself. After all, it was a day of extreme adventures, and it had been enough time since the Arenal incident that I felt I was ready to try again. Saying a little prayer that I would not die before doing each, I swung and jumped in, and it turned out to be quite a good time. We watched crazier people do the 50 foot jump into the pool below, but there were all experienced Ticos, so we knew our limits, and passed a few hours at the more tranquil pool.

After this, we were all thoroughly exhausted and hiked our way out. We actually had a little trouble finding the right way back to the main road once we were at the rocky stream where we’d started, until we ran into another group of gringos to point us in the right direction. I collapsed on the beach shortly after this, and dozed for a bit. After this siesta, my friend Jen and I decided to get smoothies at a very cute café we encounter that was a little off the main strip. As we were sitting, she said “Look, monkeys!” and before I could complete the word “Where?” one had literally jumped about 10 feet from a tree above and landed on a branch very close to us. Of course, the other people in this little open-air café went gaga, and one stupid, large American man went over to feed the animal with food from his fork. While other snapped photos and threw food, it took all I had to hold myself back from saying “What’s wrong with you people? This is animal imprinting and they could attack you any second!” More capuchins arrived, and when they’d eaten the thrown food, one started eyeing my smoothie, and sat on the limb, baring his sharp little teeth. I should mention that our table was very close to the tree, perhaps 5 feet, and as Jen and I were growing increasingly uncomfortable, fearing the little beast would attack, we moved away to an empty table, I slurped down what was left of the drink very quickly, paid the bill, and left. I certainly did not want to be hanging around to get bitten (or worse) by one of those critters.

After this little incident, we made our way back to the hostel to make dinner. It was a fabulous pasta event that included homemade guacamole and everyone pitched into help. We really had become una familia. :) This was followed by an epic countdown and fiesta to celebrate the approach of 11/11/11 and later that evening, there was a bonfire and an odd assortment of people to talk to on the beach, so we chatted it up four hours and swapped stories with strangers about our travels. Only in Costa Rica. J

The next morning, I was awoken early by my friend Rachel who told me the guy who worked as the night security in our hostel, a local Tico, had offered to take us to a turquoise colored river that most tourists who visit don’t know about, and that they would be leaving in the next hour if I wanted to come. I hadn’t made any plans but to try and lounge on the beach all day, but I decided the guy was probably safe and I was up for adventure, so I joined the four other chicas and made plans to meet up with the rest of the crew at the beach later. The guide, I believe his name was Juan, had a little puppy, 6 months old, who trotted at his side everywhere he went, and our long walk was no exception. While at first we were told the walk would be about half an hour, it was actually well over an hour, but that’s Tico time for you. But I didn’t mind; spontaneous adventure was all part of the Pura Vida and I’d felt more relaxed here than I had at any other coastal visit we’d had by far. Juan told us the road of the Nicoya Peninsula are dirt for a reason, and the locals enjoy it because it means less tourists and vehicles, which is what keeps places like Montezuma so pristine. He said the best way to see it all was on a 4-wheeler, something I do hope to do someday when I return. The river, though a long walk to get to, was as beautiful as promised, and refreshing to wade into after the hot, humid walk. I let the current float my body out a ways, swam back, and jump from the rocks, then lay out to sunbathe. Juan’s little puppy played in the water too, and while I was lying down tugged playfully at my hair. Afterward, we walked along the shell and rock beach until the rapidly approaching tide chased us in. At this point, I was tired from the walk and my body ached, (the beginnings of what was to be the worst head cold I had abroad) and all I wanted to do was collapse on the beach again, so I left in a taxi heading back towards town to meet my friends. Little did I know that this too would prove to be a challenge, for all the while I was keeping in mind the time frame for when we would have to be back to make it to the start of the film festival. One in town, I began trekking to Playa Grande alone, which was actually quite a peaceful walk that led me past some breathtaking resorts, until I encountered a section of trail with a lot of trash that littered the shoreline . “If only my camera worked!” I thought, because this was the complete irony of what many people did not expect in Costa Rica, the “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” country it is known as.  Eventually, I did make it to my friends, who were excited to see me because I had also brought them food, and they had been out all day after breakfast having brought nothing. We passed the time chatting about my river adventure and ran into the Canadians again, then returned to our hostel to clean up before the films.

The festival, it turns out, was very small, held in an upscale restaurant close to the beach where the only charge was to order at least $6 of food, which I happily obliged to do. All the films, or at least the ones that night, were in English, and the first two consisted of a documentary about 80’s punk band Fishbone, and the second about the history of hitchhiking in America (my favorite). With English-speaking waiters serving us, and a screening of a Republican candidate debate on a smaller T.V. by the bathrooms, I felt oddly out of place, as if I was no longer in Costa Rica, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Following this, I was feeling awfully queasy, as the cold was taking its stronghold on my immune system, and I joined my friends for only a short while to sit on the beach and look at the stars. It really was quite amazing, and I had to keep reminding myself that it was real. Even in my pained state, I still tried to force myself to enjoy it all, but around 9pm it became clear that I needed to sleep, I was getting sick and could no longer fight with myself anymore. I returned to the hostel, and thus commenced the worst night of my life with frequent awaking of a runny nose, throbbing headache, dry throat; you name it. I blamed it on a fellow dorm mate who had left the day earlier also complaining of being sick, and his germs no doubt lingered in the room waiting for us to pick them up. I was sad that I could not join my friends to party for our last official getaway evening together, but I also had plans with a few others to catch the first bus and morning ferry back to the mainland to get some work done, and now, nurse my cold.

The ferry ride back the next morning was awful. A restless sleep combined with a head cold made for a very un-enjoyable ride, but I slept a good deal of the way home. Though the sickness made a poor end to the trip, on the whole it was overall a wonderful time, and Montezuma had exceeded my expectations as one of the best places we’d visited by far.

That is, until I went to Panama… but I’ll save that for the next post.

It’s game day!

December? Back in the States? Now how did that happen? It’s now officially ok to listen to Christmas music, I suppose, and even more relevant now since I find myself back in the mother-country, at home, where Christmas is in full swing amidst the chilly Maine weather with the wood stove is cranking, despite the lack of snow (grrr….). But anyway, I think some of you may be wondering (since I believe most regular readers are family members, except for the occasionally Facebook friend who does not want to officially subscribe :p) that doesn’t me being home now make this blog obsolete? I mean, now that darling Dory is home, we don’t have to read her blog to keep in touch with all her adventures anymore, she can just tell us about them in person!

Well, you’re partially right.

I’m a big advocate of creative writing, in a sense that written word can paint a picture for someone more than spoken words can ever do. People are more patient when they read; they linger over the languid details that give them a true feel for the experience being described. I’ve found this is not always true when having a conversation with someone. If someone asks me, “how was zip lining?” they no doubt want to hear about the feeling of going fast, the immediate terror followed by overwhelming excitement. If I carry on any longer about the way the mist was hitting the treetops, or the feeling of complete stillness and isolation while zipping solo along the longest cable, most people start to lose interest and get a little bored. And, beyond that, some things, for me, are just so amazing and wonderful that they can’t be explained at all; they are one of those “you just had to be there” things. But I’ve found that when words fail me in conversation, they are always at the ready in writing, which is why I seek to continue this blog. No, it’s no longer about me being thousands of miles away and reaching out, though it did do that for a time. Duende Darling’s mission has changed, to more of an online journal, a record of recent events past that I choose to write about for my own benefit above all else. I remember events best as a story, and I will preserve them as such. Perhaps, reader, if you’re still interested, you may follow them too. After all, there are many yet undocumented adventures waiting….

So enough blab. Let’s get to it. I think we left off in early November with the weekend trip to Cerro Danta. Following this marked of the most exciting one-day events that I had been waiting all semester to attend: a real-life Latin American futbol game! Now, living in a household in Heredia with divided support for two different Costa Rica tams put me in a difficult place; should I go with my Tica mama Rosario and support the home team, Heredianas? Or, should I side with Daniel and basically everyone else in the valle central who support the San Jose team, Saprissa? After watching a few matches with the family from home and witnessing a good many Saprissa wins, I too fell in with the popular support and jumped on the Saprissa bandwagon.

Us, the newly acquainted Saprissa fans.. with random ones in the background.

The other students and I had been monitoring the schedule for Heredia and Saprissa for weeks, but it seems that whenever either team had a home game, we would be on a trip, or whenever we had free time, they were away. Finally, in mid-November, we saw that Saprissa would be playing arch rival Alajuela in their home stadium on a night when we could all go! One student, a die-hard Alajuela fan purchased tickets and we all followed suit to ensure seats at what we were told would be an epic game, with a rivalry as legendary ad the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees (go Sox!… sorry, just had to throw that in there ;) On the night of the game, Sarah, who had a ticket, was not feeling well, and decided at the last minute she did not want to go, but gave me her ticket. “Now what am I going to do with this?” I thought, “I don’t want to try and scalp it in a foreign country… I guess I could just give it to somebody…” but then I spied Dani working on his computer and talking on the phone to a friend. Minutes before at dinner he had told us how envious he was that we were going, and that it promised to be a good game; that he wished he could go. Smiling, I walked over to the computer and simply held out the ticket and mouthed “Dani, quieres ir?” (do you want to go?).

I have never seen a smile so wide, and my host brother nearly dropped the phone with excitement. J

“Mae! Voy al partido! Hasta luego.” (Dude, I’m going to the game!) he giddily replied to his friend, and we were off. Explaining the Sarah situation, he was sad to hear she wasn’t well, but so excited to be going. We met up with my student neighbors who were also going and he led us to the bus to Tibas Stadium. Public transportation at this hour was packed, but we made it to the stadium in plenty of time; enough to enjoy the crazy sights and sounds around me. Flashes of people darting to and fro in the iconic Saprissa purple and white jerseys were enough to make me want to buy on the street for $8, and noisemakers went off right and left. Police on huge horses paraded around the region to keep order, and we made our way around the east entrance with our tickets to take our seats. There was no assigned seating as I have been accustomed to at most live sporting events I’ve attended in the U.S., but it was more of a “first come, first serve” policy. There was no way we would be able to sit with our other friends with how quickly the section filled up, since we had gotten there before them. Yet, I wasn’t worried, and actually preferred sitting in a smaller group because it made me feel like less of a gringa, though admittedly I was getting  more than a few stares from the Tico men around me. Also, it was nice to have Dani, a die-hard Saprissa fan, chant along to the songs I didn’t know and explain a lot of the interesting facts and history of the team while we waited for the game to start.

I did catch on though. Chants of “Owwwweeeee    oweeeeee   oweeeeee    owwwweeeeee, monstro, monstro!” (or something like this) filled the air, and I pumped my fist in the air and sang along. We were seated directly behind one of the goals, and on the opposite end of the field was the intense fan section. Fans here did not have seats, but jumped up and down literally cheering the whole time. At one point during the match, they unraveled a GIANT jersey which covered people in the entire section. It was quite astounding. Meanwhile, the Alajuela fans, who were quite ecstatic about making the first goal, lit of red flares (their colors are red and black) in one of the upper sections, filling the entire stadium with smoke. How they got those in there I have no idea, since they search everyone’s bag.

Now, if I were a good fan, I could tell you who made what goals and how many shots on goals or penalties there were. However, I am not such a fan, nor does my memory serve me all that well t remember those specific details. What I do recall was the constant shouting of “hijo de puta!” (son of a bitch!) a literally every mistake made, even if it was one of our players who made a bad pass. The fans are ruthless. There were rude gestures, items thrown on the field, and men trying to climb the fences. There were fights and flops among the players, faked injuries, and epics saves. And you know what? In the end, it was a pata.A tie.

Alajuela fans light off their flares.

But I would have it no other way. ;) It was a truly epic battle, and I loved every minute of it. It is worth reminding everyone here that futbol, “soccer,” as we say, is the world’s sport. Everyone plays it, it is exciting, and contains none of this stop and go rubbish that we seem to have in American football. Blah, can’t stand it. We are missing out, U.S.! Sure, we’ve got our sports, but doesn’t compare to the passion the rest of the world has for this, and to me, that’s shame.

Perhaps I am becoming Tica after all. J

Hola amigos! Well, let’s get to it and pick up where the adventures left off, shall we? Cerro Danta I believe. As mentioned, this was a trip undertaken with my Biological Diversity and Conservation class, consisting only of 7 students, and only of which four (including myself) decided to come on the trip, plus one more friend we pulled in who’s not in the class but is up for adventure anytime. My professor, Victor (have I mentioned him?) is a 25 year old graduate student with a passion for frogs and amphibians and that jolly Tico sense of humor you can’t help but love. He also brought along a friend from his biology program, so in total we were 7, with me being the only female. A brave soul I am.

Early on Saturday morning, packs on back, we took the morning bus to San Rafael, the same town that the animal refuge is in, a beautiful mountainous pueblo with large houses and plots of land overlooking the central valley. It was one of those simply perfect, absolutely clear mornings where there was not a cloud in the sky (a rarity here) and the kind of perfect temperature that warms your face and makes you just want to pull in buckets of that rich sunshine and save them for a rainy day. Away from the exhaust of Heredia, we got off the bus and breathed the fresh mountain air, and began the epic trek up the mountain that would lead us to Cerro Danta, the Tapir Refuge (more on this in a minute).

A lovely view on our hike.

The walk was paradise, and though it got the heart a-pumpin’ it was not so strenuous, and we stopped often to take pictures of the splendid  vistas or observe the native plants growing. The first part of the trail was actually a paved road that led us past some quiet and lovely farm pastures where cows and horses lazily chomped on grass. Further up, the road narrowed and became dirt and pot-holed. We stopped by one bend to bird-watch, because one of us had spotted the cute “amigo de hombre” little yellow bird, or “friend of man,” who is known to get close to humans. A little further up, we found some wild blackberries, and with my binoculars out, I really was feeling like “Dory the Explory.”

Reaching our final destination, the entrance to Cerro Danta, took a good 2.5 hours, which first involved maneuvering around some very muddy narrow paths and slippery logs. A few of us, including myself, took a few spills trying to avoid the barro, mud, but to no avail, and I knew this was to be just part of the adventure. Upon entering the refuge, we were greeted by a burly, cheery man (the owner… though I sadly cannot remember his name, any of my fellow students reading this certainly will, for they spent the good majority of the afternoon talking to the man, infatuated by some of his, may I say, “stories” about his business life). Anyway, the first thing he told us was a grave warning about staying on the path. Apparently, his own son had come from the States to help out with trail maintenance, when he and a buddy decided to go on a waterfall hike and ended up being lost in the wilderness for eight days. Amazingly, though a gigantic search party assumed they were dead, the son and his friend had wandered all the way though Braulio Carillo National Park to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and had survived. It was a miraculous story, and I knew at least that one was likely true, since Victor had warned us how several people per year get lost in the woods. I myself had a few short panics attacks …. More on this in a sec.

A massive danta skull

Despite this disturbing welcome, I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, putting on more layers (I was surprisingly cold up there on the mountain!) and observing a giant tapir skull the owner had found. A tapir, or danta in Spanish is a large, hairy land mammal with a pig-like snout and a body the size of a car. If you have seen The Princess Bride,think of the R.O.U.S. (Rodents Of Unusual Size) and you’ve pretty much got the picture. And yes, I can verify that these too are real because we had actually seen some of their prints in the mud on our hike up. Judging by the excitement of the boys upon seeing the skull, it became clear that our objective on the night hike would be to look for a live danta. But first, we would embark on what was possibly the most difficult hike I have done in Costa Rica (recall my descriptions of Arenal way back when? Well, this was equally as challenging, but for a different reason: mud). I’d brought hiking boots; a solid choice, one would think, for tromping around the jungle, but I failed to take Victor’s sound advice when he said that waterproof boots would serve us much better. As such, I suffered a little, and about ten minutes into the hike on the swamped trail, my beautiful boots were so caked in mud they were undistinguishable. “Oh well, mud builds character,” I though. The purpose of this trek was to observe some biological processes in action and determined old growth from secondary forest around the preserve. May not sound that exciting to you, but as a science major I found it very intriguing, plus we were promised a waterfall visit at the end of it all.

Bravely adventuring along the mud path

The hike lasted about two hours (thank goodness we rested sufficiently in between of I would be a wreck; as if was, I was keeping up pretty well with the Nature Boys and was even ahead of the pack at several points. I should also mention that our guide, another burly man employed on the reserve, was literally hacking parts of our path through the jungle with a machete in order to avoid unsafe sections of trail. The forest was so thick and tangled there, I dare say it is the wildest place I have ever been, but the remoteness was what I loved about it so much. One particularly steep section of trail involved shimmying down with a rope, which was pretty fun. After talking and taking lots of photos of the “biodiversity in action” and not seeing much wildlife (well, we were making a lot of noise) we arrived at a waterfall. Sorry to make comparisons here, because a waterfall in the middle of a Costa Rican jungle is pretty special, but this one simply was just not as spectacular as the one I swam in at Arenal, nor like the ones at Montezuma this past weekend (more on that in a later post) but is was very pretty…. Until IT happened. Then I just wanted that hike to be over.

What is IT, you say?

Well, here’s what went down. Posed with my digital camera, ready to take a photo of the lovely catarata, I was moving up to a rock my friend was standing on, when I slipped. Luckily, someone behind caught me before I completely went in the water, buy my camera, unfastened to my wrist went flying out of my hand and seemed to land with a PLOP in slow motion into the waterfall stream as it went well on its merry way to bash itself against the rocks, lens out. NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

But the time the guide rescued it, I knew it was a lost cause. Following the instructions of my friends, I immediately took out the batteries (which I had just bought, I might add) and stored the camera in a container of rice to soak up the moisture when we got back to the refuge. Preoccupied, but also slightly amused at my lack of coordination, I tried to let it go and just enjoy the rest of the evening, whatever the outcome would be in the morning.

Posing at the waterfall, seconds before the camera incident

After a filling pasta dinner made at the community kitchen (but, unlike the hostels I’ve stayed at we were the only ones running around the place) we grabbed flashlights and rain jackets, and set out on one of the trails. Though we walked a bit far out beyond the reserve, we sadly encountered zero wildlife, though we could hear Victor’s frogs high in the trees far beyond where we could reach them. Cold, wet, and sufficiently exhausted from the days adventures, we all snuggled into warmer clothing, and spent a few hours swapping ghost stories in the bunk house like little camp children. That I slept at all that night is a miracle, after listening to Victor’s horrifying tales of “true-life” events and things a little to creepy for me, plus the fact that the owner told me the women’s bathroom was haunted at night did not help matters either. The darkness and remoteness of the place did have an eerie feeling about it that night. The plan was to get up early the next morning to bird watch (6:00am? Yeah, right.) Which only half-occurred since a few of us arose at a more sane time of 8am. Plus, the birds seemed to be sleeping too, save for the little colibris, hummingbird that buzzed past the feeders and suckled on flowers in the garden. Breakfast was a chaotic event of plates of scrambled eggs and toast (oh, and semi-flaming toast occurred during the cooking process… boys :p) but the meal was sufficient to fuel us for the hike down later that morning. Removing the camera from the bowl of rice, I wrapped it up and hoped for the best.

Packing up once again, we started on our merry way down the mountain. A little weary from little sleep, I lagged behind the group that morning, until they were all briefly out of sight, but still within earshot. After I slowly maneuvered my way around a difficult patch of mud, I realized I could no longer hear voices. I called out. Silence.

$%it.

Heart palpitating, the immediate first thing that came to my mind was “OH MY GOD I’M GONNA BE A STATISTIC OF ALL THE PEOPLE WHO GET LOST IN THE WOODS! Had they taken a turn? Surely not, I was on the main path, but…. Had a seen a turn off back there? Oh crap, my phone is dead. Why can’t I hear them? What if a danta comes out right now?” I started to run.

But never fear, this story has a happy ending.

Probably about 200 meters up the path was Victor’s biology friend, paused and clearly waiting for me to catch up. Phew. Though my “lost” panic had probably only lasted for about three minutes, it felt like an eternity, but god was I glad that none of the other guys had really even noticed, or if they did, they said nothing (no laughing if you’re reading this, guys :p). After that, the trek down was smooth. We ate PB&J sandwiches for lunch, and even ran into another one of Victor’s bio friends who was doing research on frogs, but alas, he could not find any either. We settled the afternoon by having a drink in the strangest bar I have ever encountered. We saw it on the way in, at the base of the road; it looked like a little triangular fort house, and I was very intrigued. Inside, I felt like it was Lord of The Rings. It was dark and musty, feeling like the inside of a tree trunk, and an ancient man with long, white Gandolph-ish bread took our order. A large mountain of melted wax candles of ages past sat atop the bar, and stuff animals, including a sloth, stared at us though their glossy plastic eyes from the ceiling. Apparently, according to Victor, the place is quite the social hotspot on the weekend.

It was only a quick rest before we had to catch our bus home, and I was a little sad that my trip with the boys was not a little longer. We had really had a great time, and it depressed me to think of the little time we all had left together. I actually had my last bio class this week, which is muy triste, but I can take with me always all that I’ve learned.

And the best part? My camera miraculously revived itself last week. No water in the screen, and a fully functioning lens that acts like nothing happened.

Pura Vida. J

A Day on the Town

Hi everyone, sorry to be so absent for a few weeks, I do severely apologize to all the fans out there! But I do hope you’ll understand when I say that the reason I haven’t blogged recently is due to the fact that I have been far too busy getting out into the world and doing really things, and have also recently been more consumed with schoolwork. But no matter…. I am here now, right? And that’s all that matters.

And this is something I keep having to remind myself of. Be here now.

How quickly things seem to change. I think of when I first arrived here, and how long ago that seems now, but more so how the flow of time seems to have kidnapped the natural flow I once had in the US and left me with a brand-new magnified perspective that at first made everything  seem “wow!” worthy. But now, another routine has fallen into place for me, a delicate lovely Tica routine that will be hard to break in a few weeks when I head home and most certainly will have reverse culture shock. It’s not that so many things about Costa Rica don’t “wow” me now, because they do, but it’s just that what seemed so foreign and strange seems so normal and right. My magnification on all the magical little details has gotten smaller, as they come together as a whole to form my regular daily existence here. This is truly my second (or third?) home. J

And oh, what adventures I have had since my last post! Since there is so much to tell, and my fingers will likely fall off if I am to type about all of them in one session, I’ll break up these tales into bit in the next few posts. Sort of like Charles Dickens and the Pickwick Papers, only a bit more modern and less British, haha. Anyway, let’s get to it. The first weekend of November was the weekend of my Biology class trip to Cerro Danta, though we did not leave until Saturday, which gave me the whole day on Friday off at home. Oh, I should also mention tha ton that Thursday I went to see the movie Contagion with some friends, which is about a pandemic disease basically destroying the world. Not the most uplifting story, but it had some great actors and was very exciting. Highly recommend.

Anyhoo, Friday Dani had arranged to take me around San Jose to see some of the sights. Since Sarah was sick, and because many of my other friends who were not in the Biology class had gone out of town, it was just he and I and we had a grand old time. Being an architect, Dani was able to point out San José to me in a way I had never seen before; through old architecture and history. Best of all, I got to practice Spanish conversation with him the entire day. We took the bus in, and began at the Central Mercado, which I have visited before but have yet to do any shopping at, yet had never before seen it decked out for the holidays. Many stand had hand-carved wooden belenes, or nativity scenes for sale that people put under their tree once they decorate for Christmas. We walked around inside for a few minutes they returned the square where he took me past both the old and new Banco Nacional buildings where both Rosario and her ex-husband, Dani’s father had met. Past that, there was a beautiful old Cathedral that just had that awe-stirring presence when you walked inside. Dani pointed out some of the original intricately tiled flooring to me, which he explained is considered very desirable in houses now and is very expensive. Not all of it in the church was original, though much was. The stained glass windows were absolutely breathtaking, and I have always thought that you don’t need to be a Catholic, or even a Christian for that matter to appreciate the artwork that goes into the design of a cathedral. As I silently navigated my way between the pews, I saw a few people praying, and noted how this was probably one of only a few places in the city where there was total silence, and one could be at peace.

 

Shortly after this, we made our way down the street to eat at a local soda that specialized in Caribbean food. Though I am now starting to give rice and beans the stink eye because it is no longer appealing o my appetite in any way, I will say that the coconut rice and beans I had there was the best I have had in a very , very long time. And it was spicy too. Yum. We spent lunch chatting some about his family, and I learned that where once he and Mauricio had been party animals in high school, they had since reformed into their academic and career driven lives and are very happy with the way they are today. All the Montoya children are high-achieving, but more than they are kind, intelligent, and interesting people, so I feel just so lucky to have been placed with such a family. After lunch, our stroll brought us past the Costa Rican Modern Art Museum, pas the glamorous city library, and though the park that contained a very violent statue atop a fountain in the middle that represented the struggle for Costa Rica’s independence, and come to think of it, really the only violent conflict the country has ever had. I learned that this park used to be the main entrance to San Jose, so street vendors would set up camp on Sundays when the train would come a’rollin’ with travelers, for they knew that was there chance to make a good first impression. For there we walked down the hill past government buildings, where Dani said that on a weekday, you can see all the officials crossing this one land from building to building to go to each other’s offices. Behind such buildings was the Justice building and courthouse, while below, Dani pointed out, were secret (and fancy) cars carrying secret agent men, equivalent of the CIA. Very cool.

By this point, the sky was turning a menacing black, so Dani walked me back in the direction for the bus that would take me back to Heredia. By this time, I had much of my bearings and actually felt like I could navigate the city! We stopped it at a small artsy café (not to be confused with Hipster café of course!) that had really cool recycled material clothing and accessories that were, while a little overpriced were very neat. And, best of all, there was the cutest little rooftop deck with cozy chairs for café-goers that looked out on the San Jose skyline. It was gorgeous. Since this first encounter and writing this, I decided to take my friend back here, and I can say without reservation that the brownies there were possibly the best I have ever had. Combine that with a warm pot of cinnamon spice tea in the rooftop café, and you have the most perfect “tea time” with friends one could ever ask for. J

After we’d browsed the store and were strolling up to the bus, I noticed the neighborhood we were in was very artsy and nice… It had a cozy feel about it. As it turned out, Dani’s school of Architecture was right around the corner and he showed me around. It is extremely small. I believe that  told me that there is a grand total of just over 200 hindered students, and the university itself can’t be more than a block… and buildings in lil’ old San Jose are rarely over 5 stories. Though he no longer takes classes there and is soley and entirely focused on his graduate project, the program there is very rigorous, and can sometimes take people upwards of 8 years to graduate. Dani is doing it in an impressive 6.

The Por Tibas station was close, and ironically realized I had been by this neighborhood many times before, but just at the bust stop on the other side of it, and was always headed toward el Centro that I never took the time to notice it. I think it was then I vowed to really mix up my routine for the rest of the time I am here, and really try to make every day different by going somewhere new, walking a different way, or what have you. I mean, shouldn’t we all be doing that? Routine gets stale, and well, who wants that? Life is short, so might as well take the time to enjoy it! J

That being said, I’ll save my jungle tromping stories of the Cerro Dantas weekend for the next post. Until then!

Chao,

-Dory

“We were young…. 21… all those years ago. In came the fascination, everything was outta control!”

At least, that’s how I feel right now. Minus the 21 part. Not quite there yet, haha. Just a fabulous song by Guster that seems to relate to life right now. Because, indeed, I am in the time of my life, and have been reflecting on what the rest of my time here abroad should mean to me now, because the time is going by outta control, and years from now when I look back on all these adventures I want no regrets! I feel I am creating meaningful experiences, but living in the kairos when there are reminders like class sign ups and job hunting to be done for when I go back to my old life are terribly distracting to this. So, lately, it’s been a matter of sorting all this “clutter” I will call it, and clearing the way for the vista here.

Remember my pledge to myself to make new Tico friends? Well, it’s working so-so, but only in the sense that I now have more acquaintances. Last week on Wednesday was another one of the intercambio days, but this time with the advanced English class. I talked to two students, one in the culinary arts program, the other a mid-thirties psychology major. The conversation went extremely smoothly, and I found my partners to be entertaining in their rebellion at lapsing into Spanish after their professor had told them not too. We talked a lot about food, and as this class was before lunch, it made my stomach very unsettled, and it growled. David, (I think this was his name), said his favorite food to make is Peruvian food, which I have now heard from multiple Ticos. I am not sure when makes it so special; perhaps it is the spices, but either way I am determined to find a way to sample to food in the student’s kitchen on campus. Word on the street is that students can eat there for lunch, so I am going to find a way in.

Rice and beans, you know I love ya, but this relationship is getting old. I mean, we just can’t keep spending everyday together, it’s making me uncomfortable physically (in my stomach) and I need to have more excitement in my life! Which is why I will soon be leaving you for Chinese… and Lebanese… and sushi….and pasta, all of which there are a great variety of in Heredia. Seriously, sodas are the cheap way to go, but I realize how I have disappointed myself so far by not sampling the great worldly fare that exists in my student-friendly town. Lunch at the school is always the same, and we have rice and beans so often at home that think my taste buds went into shock last night when Rosario whipped out a delicious pasta dish with creamy tomato sauce and a civiche salad on the side. Que riquisimo!Foodie instincts, here we go.

The Children's Museum in San Jose.

Also, this past week had a scheduled visit with ISA to the Museo de los Niños, or Children’s Museum in San Jose. How refreshing and revitalizing to finally be a kid again! And would you believe, this picturesque castle-looking building set atop a hill that looked out upon the valley to the mountains beyond used to be a penitentiary? Yeah, I think I can believe it too. I mean, in some of the exhibits, it was easy to tell where some of the cells had been, but not to worry, it was all decked out with neat exhibits to explore for small children and college kids alike. Admittedly, all summer long at my job at the Boston Museum of Science, I had simply just wanted to slip away from the box office to play in the exhibits or go to a planetarium show, but now I finally had the chance! We spent a good few hours immersing ourselves in fun by wearing astronaut masks and working at the control panel in the space exhibit (I learned the Costa Rica has only sent one astronaut to space), stepping on an earthquake simulator (I really do not want to experience the real thing after that), and goofing off with the injured dummy in the human body exhibit. But, best of all was the Fun House, a topsy-turvy Alice-In-Wonderland-like exhibit that had all the forces of physics and imagination clashing to create rooms that seemed to defy reality. The first we entered had a massive 60-70 degree incline so we had to all stand at a slant, and our guide demonstrated how a pool table ball appeared to roll up the side of the wall due to the angle. Creepy. Next, a lesser inclined room with angled mirrors on the sides and stairs in the middle seemed normal enough, until our guide offered a challenge to climb the stairs while only looking in the mirror. Simple, right?

No freakin’ way.

It was like some invisible force pushed you back as soon as you started to climb and look to the side, because you brain’s perception and your body were at war. It could be and was done by everyone that tried it, but not without much frustration at the forces of nature working against us. The angles and inclines after this actually made me feel a little nauseous after this, so I couldn’t have been more glad when our guide finally let us out of the Fun House.

My favorite piece at the museum.

Another day off on Friday had begun with tentative plans to explore the large parque de diversions, or amusement park in San Jose but after it began to pour around midday (surprise, surprise) these plans changed. Instead, two other chicas and I decided to visit the Costa Rica Contemporary Art Museum, a small (and practically free!) display of local and global contemporary art. I do believe, that in my second life, I would like to be a starved artist working on some projects like the ones we saw and living the metropolitan bohemian life. I absolutely am fascinated by it. Granted, the exhibits were small, but very interesting, and I can say with confidence many of them were better than those at the brand-spankin’-new Boston Museum of Contemporary Art that I visited this past summer. There, I recall some “art” was just so strange it made me uncomfortable to look at, especially one sculpture exhibit where everything looked like intestines. :p Most of the art at the Costa Rica museum was at least eye-catching, but my favorite was probably a Japanese room where even the walls were beautiful. My favorite piece involved a walled structure of plastic pockets encased with different colored soaps. All were clear soap, so when the light hit it, it was a rainbow of color. Very creatively cool.

The continuous downpour left us soaked and with no choice but to take a cab, so we scooted over to my favorite hipster café (see previous post) where the food was just as delectable as last time, except this time, it was quesadillas and a superb frozen mango beverage. Homeward bound on the train a few hours later, I looked out at the beautiful murals lining the pedestrian streets outside the station, depicting various societal roles of the Costa Rican people, from the farmer in el campo to the doctors. Many people working together to make this great country what it is.

After a brief stop at the mall to find some adorning accessories for my get-up that night, I went to my first ever Tico Halloween party. Coincidentally, my friend and I both had the idea to be pirates, which was quite funny since it had not been planned (and yes, we kept it classy,) but we marveled at how we paled in comparison to some of the outfits of the Ticos. These costumes were decked out, and it seemed that because this was a “cool” American holiday, going all out was essential. I loved it, for there were some really great costumes, including the entire band Kiss, makeup and fake guitars and all. Also comical was how random people kept coming up to us, asking to take a photo, not because our costumes were all that spectacular (they weren’t) but because they simply wanted pictures with the gringos. Good grief. Yet, we happily obliged.

Saturday was an early morning in order to catch the bus and get to Volcan Poas, outside of San Jose. While we originally believed that the bus we hopped on was a direct service to the park entrance, we had the wool pulled over our eyes as gringos and were dropped off in the wrong section of route, had to get on another bus that didn’t come along for another 45 minutes. No matter, for in retrospect, this is all part of our adventure, but in the future, I will make sure to grill our bus drive about where exactly the drop off is for any future travels. Once inside the park, we were greeted to… guess what? RAIN. And chilly weather too, so cold, in fact, that I could see my breath as I zipped my insufficiently warm rain jacket around me and we started up the trails. Clouds shrouded the path ahead, and creepy mist set in,  but we had the time of our lives playing on the trails like little children and laughing so loud that we probably scared off ever howler monkey in a ten-mile radius. About three miles up the trail, we did get to see the lagoon for a grand total of 30 seconds, but it was totally worth it for the adventure.

Standing by the crater at Poas.

And when we finally did arrive at the crater, it too was difficult to see in the pea-soup like foggy weather, but at least I can still say I was close to it. After this brief viewing and a few optimistic pictures of us standing by the viewing rail, we retreated back to the main building at the entrance to explore the museum (depicting beautiful photos of the crater on a warm, sunny day) and enjoyed hot beverages in the café.  Unfortunately, at this point I was having the beginnings of another small gripe (head cold,) and was asleep at 8 pm that night to get ready for the big trip early the next day.

5:45 am comes too early.

Literally throwing myself out of bed, I met the other students outside of our friendly neighborhood McDonald’s (not) and we were picked up by the tour company to bring us to Rio Pacuare, home to one of the top 5 rafting rivers in the world. Quite a title, but I hoped it would live up to these expectations. After a few stops to pick up Ticos and tourists alike at various hotels in San Jose (while we were waiting we observed intoxicated Halloween partiers still roaming the streets in their costumes form  the night before) and we then set off for a two-hour ride to the river mouth that was edging toward to Caribbean coast. My four friends and I were placed in a boat with two honeymooners from Texas. They were amicable enough, but did not speak a lick of Spanish, which, sadly, did not offer us much of an opportunity to practice with our guide. Come to think of it, neither did the guy on the bus from Miami, who had the gusto to tell our cute brace-faced Tico instructor that he “spoke Spanish very well”. Dang tourists.

It is no overstatement to say that rafting down those rapids was one of the most fun things I have ever done. What an adrenaline rush! The river winded through the most beautiful tropical forests I have seen yet in Costa Rica, and the rushing water was actually not all that cold after the first couple splashes. The rapids started out at what I thought was a challenging Class I or II, but by the time Class IV rolled around and I was almost tossed from the balsa (raft) I was so excited to be taking on the beast. For those who have never gone, teamwork is absolutely key, and rowing as a team is so important so you don’t get stuck or dashed against the rocks to an untimely death. Or something like that. The guide is always in the back moving things along, but it was so great to rely upon my friends and their rowing efforts. At one point, Diego (our guide) had the three on the left side turn around to paddle the opposite way, and we did a 360 degree turn over the rapids. Fantastico!For some reason, I don’t think this would be allowed in the States.  After a particularly challenging stretch, we congratulated each other with a paddle slap and a hearty PURA VIDA! Twice, Diego allowed us to plop out of the raft for a quick swim, and as I floated on my back, the river pushing me along as I looked up at the glorious forests towering over me, it felt like heaven.

Conquering the rapids of Rio Pacuare.

I left Pacuare with a bruised butt, a small rash on my shin, and $70 less in my pocket, but I would have it not other way. Vale la pena! (Worth it!). My only regret it that Pacuare was my first, so now every river rafting trip after this will seem like a disappointment.

I guess that means I will just have to conquer the other top 4 in the world now. J

Hasta Luego,

-Dory

Hija de la Casa

Late October? Impossible. How can my favorite month of the year be slipping by so quickly?! No matter; I have vowed to live in the daily here, for that is all one can do, and I do not wish to consider the end of the program now. Carpe Diem! In fact, in Spanish class today we deciphered an article from La Nacion, the Costa Rican main newspaper about thinking about the day in terms of kairos (Greek for opportunities) instead of cronos (hours). What a nice thought, huh? I think I’ll start now.

And I do believe I have seized the day, with the various activities and interesting things I have done/people I have met within the past week. I don’t think I’ve mentioned Latin Dance class lately, but I will say it’s going quite swell (don’t you just love that word? I think I’ll start using it more often too!). Last time, the energy level was amazing, and either it was my instructor’s awesome new playlist, my high enthusiasm, or a combination of both, but it felt so good to just let go and, well, dance! Everyone needs this in their life, no matter what age. There were lots of people, jumping around, fast turns, and yes, even some sexy hip shakin’ Shakira to end the class. Fantastico!

Combined with this, I have also been going with the other students to the animal refuge in San Rafael at least one time a week, sometimes twice. There were brand new puppies there last time, and as everyone knows, there is no greater comfort in the world than to have a warm, fuzzy puppy go limp and fall asleep in your lap. The kittens too, are just so adorable and today when I went they were crawling all over my shoulders and head, cuddling against my neck and tickling me so with their fur that I could not stop laughing uncontrollably. Honestly, going there is as therapeutic and stress-relieving for me as it is for the animals who are so happy to have the attention and I’m satisfied that this type of volunteering worked out.

Me with one of the adorable puppies at the shelter.

Since this past week was only three days of classes, (rough life here as a student in Costa Rica, right?) the weekend was upon us before we knew it, but this time around we chose once again to rejuvenate and relax at home, though with some activities planned. Daniel had invited us on Thursday to a dance performance his girlfriend Julie was participating in at a community theater in San Jose, so naturally, being the lover off the arts that I am, I wanted to go. Sarah came as well, and as we stood outside in the cold, it was clear we were underdressed for this severe change in the weather. Costa Rica really does feel like fall now! As we took our seat in the small theater situated in the Ministerio de Cultura (next to a renovated building that used to be an old factory) I looked around and admired all the Tico students who were performance-lovers like myself, and pined to meet more people like this at ULatina. Problem is, ULatina is so small, and performances or events are either unannounced, or on such a small scale that no one knows about them. Typically, I would be flooded with options of different events to attend on my home university in Tampa, but here I find that lacking. Which why I appreciate it so much when our host brothers invite us to events such as these. J

This was a contemporary dance performance of a community group who only gets together to practice twice a week for a total of four hours. And with only ten weeks of practice under their belt, the result was amazing. The dances were very modern, but I enjoyed the themes of almost all of them, from the “people as animals” war-like piece, to a “strangers on the bus” dance comprising many genres of music. All the dancers were so graceful, it felt like a privilege to watch, and Julie did a great job. Afterward, we went out to dinner at Café de los Deseos, which has to be the most perfectly hipster restaurant I have ever had the pleasure of dining at. Stepping out of the car, Sarah said “Do you hear that? I think someone’s performing Jason Mraz’s ‘I’m Yours’ by the University.” “Yeah, I hear it too,” I said, wishing we could go watch. But, as we entered the café, we discovered the sound was not coming from outside, but within, as a shaggy-haired adolescent pounded on keyboard, and a soulful young Tico

Artwork at Cafe de los Deseos

strummed away and sang on guitar. The main room was adorned with a huge tree branch chandelier and comfy couches surrounding a groovy looking bar with artsy photos, American Indie band posters, and art decked on the walls. The five us is were led to a tiny table so close to our neighbors I felt we were part of their conversation, but they didn’t seem to mind. The table was half against a booth adorned with comfy pillows, and poetry was framed on the wall above. Dani and Julie were seated in chairs across, and as I was was handed a menu, I scanned the room, finding it packed with lovely young hipsters, drinking an after-dinner wine or sangria in either couples or three tops. Apparently, the place is very new and is the type of place Dani and Julie said they like to hang out at. I ordered an agua de fresa (what I thought was strawberry water) and a three cheese pizza, as well as an order of hummus to split with Sarah.

Oh….my…. gawwwwd was it rico!

The hummus, having been deprived of it for so long, was absolutely delicious, and my drink turned out to be not water, but a delicious frozen concoction that was more like a slushy, with just the right amount of sweet. And the pizza…. I kid you not when I say it was rival to what I had in Boston this summer, in the Italian section of town. It was that good!

Needless to say, I will be returning to Café de los Deseos, very soon. J

Friday’s plans were minimal, though for me involved getting up late (yes! finally!) getting some homework out of the way, and traveling to the local Automercado supermarket to but pumpkins to carve and cupcake mix to celebrate the holidays early. With the help of our neighbors, the combine efforts of cupcake-making and pumpkin carving proved to be a messy ordeal, but who would have it any other way? It was quite fun. J  Though we tried explaining the concept of Jack-O-Lanterns to the Ticos, I couldn’t help but wonder how strange this custom must look to them. Nevertheless, Rosario seemed to understand, probably because she has hosted many other Americans before, and was willing to host this get-together, and even to bake pumpkin seeds! I was quite enjoyable, and really got me in the spirit of my favorite holiday that I miss so much in the States.

The Americans show off their carved pumpkins.

Saturday morning was another productive morning of sleeping til ten and Skyping one of my best friends from home for a good two hours. Oh, it may have involved a good deal of distractions by putting photos up on Facebook. Real plans for the day did not begin until the evening, when many of the other students and I left for the ballet at 4:00pm. We were going to see Peter Pan at the Teatro Nacional (my grand idea!) and as such got all dressed up, even in heels, which is unusual for me. While I had initially planned to take the train in as like out last evening out in the “big city,” I was disappointed to find out that it did not run on weekend. We had to take the much less glamorous bus instead, and got so many stares, but granted we did all look really attractive. Of course, upon our arrival, it started to pour rain, and after taking a taxi to try and eat out at the aforementioned hipster café I was in disbelief that it too was closed due to a private function. Feeling Murphy’s law was about to take place and have something go wrong with our ballet tickets, my friends assured me all was well and calmed me down. We ended up eating at a very tasty chicken restaurant close to the theater in the Centro, and indeed, all was well.

After pigging out on a sundae from Pops after dinner, we joined a group of punk rockers in the bustling streets to listen to a guitar street musician who physically resembled Santana, though sadly his musical skills we not as matched. I had to awkwardly duck between umbrellas of my friends since I had forgotten my own, which was not an easy feat due to the monstrous t height I had with heels on. Shortly after, we made our way to the theater, epically lit in the pouring rain, a beaconing Greek statue on top welcoming us. Like many national theater theaters, San Jose’s Teatro Nacional had rickety seats in the balcony, and those of us who had not splurged the extra ten for bottom section seats had to take the side entrance to get up. The massive oval ceiling was decorated with heavenly scenes, a large chandelier, and intricately carved columns adorned the elaborately decorated walls. As the lights went down, a graceful Wendy took the stage and was just amazing. Peter was also impressive, maneuvering some very athletic leaps throughout the show, but the pirates were a little scrawny. My favorite, however, were the mermaids, for with their cute aqua tights and extreme flexibility, their gracefulness astounded me.The Teatro Nacional in San Jose

Many friends were eager to get back home after our cultured night out to sleep before a 10k race they had the next day, though I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a night on the town to end what had been a perfect day. I went home with Sarah and changed into something a little more dance-worth and went to La Beereria, which was packed for the club’s birthday celebration with some very attractive Ticos. We danced the night away, though admittedly lacking the grace of the dancers we had just seen. The next morning (also a bit of a sleep-in)  the heavenly aroma of a breakfast of Gallo Pinto and pan toastado (toast) pulled me out of sleep. Having regrets about not participating in the 10K, I decided to make it a psychically productive morning and went to the pool to do some laps. For the first time I days, it was actually sunny and warm. The laps felt rejuvenating, and the walk up the quiet streets to the pool was a very pleasant independent Sunday stroll. The park was poppin’ though, and I think that if the weather holds out, I would like to take my homework and do some reading there from now on, sitting among the people.

The afternoon passed lazily, as a Sunday should, much of it spent doing homework. Daniel was also working and playing Mozart (my favorite classical) and later on that night, Frank Sinatra. This was nice, but ironic, for at the same time just happened to be reading a section about the 1940’s and 50’s in my packet about the history of trash in America of sustainable development. Classes have been going well, so well, in fact, that I did indeed rock the socks of my Biology exam two weeks ago, scoring a 98. Yay me! Sustainable Development remains as complex and interesting as ever, and Spanish, though surrounding me all the time, is ever challenging with its grammar and verb conjugations, but I’m getting better all the time. J

A weekend in was lovely, but the travel bug strikes again! Costa Rica is too wonderful and vast to stay in one place, and as such, getaways are in the works for next weekend. To my friends back home reading this, don’t hate me for having so much freedom to travel! I promise you, I’m still learning a lit. Plus, I must take advantage of my opportunity to travel now while I am young and free, but I promise you, I will be chained to my desk studying next semester like the rest of you. Good luck on mid-terms!

Chao,

-Dory

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