Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Dear Costa Rica

Dear Costa Rica,

I can’t believe our time has come to an end. It seemed to be over before it really began. We have spent the last three months falling in love with each other. You took the time to show me yourself even though I came with lots of misconceptions. You proved me wrong about the things I thought I knew. You taught me about the real Costa Rica, but even more you taught me about the real me. I was able to find myself when I found you. I was scared to really get to know you and I hesitated to open myself up. As I explored new places, you helped me meet new friends to make me more at home. As I tried new things I found a new person inside of me.. The more I grew comfortable with you the more I wanted to learn about you. Even when we disagreed and I was angry with being with you, you did something to take my mind off of it. As I learned more about you the more I came to respect you. We have grown so close that I can’t bear to let you go even though we both knew that my time would be short. So all I can say to you Costa Rica is Thank you. Thank you for all the special places you showed me. Thank you for giving me lifelong friends to share you with. But thank you the most for giving me another place to call home.

Love your newest Tica,

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

visit from home

This weekend my mother and grandmother came to visit me from Alexandria, VA. This is a trip I have been counting down to for weeks. Not only have I been excited to see them, but also to show them the country that I have been living in for 3 months. I wanted to show them how I’ve been living, what I’ve learned and why I fell in love with the country. Along with all the excitement came a little nervousness. I wanted them to love Costa Rica just as much as I did.
The first thing we did when they arrived was to meet my Tico family, who has been the most important part of my life here in Costa Rica. We all ate dinner together and it was quite an overwhelming experience. My Tica mom would ask me to translate something to my mom and vise versa. At some points in the conversation I forgot who I was talking to and began to speak Spanish to my mom and English to my Tica mother. The conversation moved so fast, but everyone was laughing and smiling so I figured they were all getting along great.
The next day I took my mom and grandmother downtown to do a little shopping. I hailed a taxi and when we got in I immediately held on because I have become accustomed to their speeding, swerving, and rough gear changing. My mother and grandmother on the other hand immediately began to panic saying, “Tell him he is to close to that car!” “How do you say slow down?” “Why aren’t there any lanes here?” They eventually got over the shock and enjoyed the rest of the day shopping. They thought all the people were so friendly and my mom kept asking me short phrases in Spanish. By the end of the trip my grandmother was enjoying gallo pinto as much as I was and my mother was prepared to go back to the US and take a Spanish course.

Friday, May 4, 2007

A Typical Weekend in Junquillal

My beer was cold, I was with good company, and as the crimson, colored sky reflected off of the deserted beach’s dark wet sand, I thought to myself that these small, sleepy, coastal towns were the real paradise of Costa Rica.
Many people never get the chance to experience what these towns offer for a number of reasons. The main constraint is probably the lack of accessibility, as they are almost impossible for tourists to get to. The Costa Rican public bus system is very good however; the closest it gets to this part of the coast is Paraiso which is still about 5 to 10 kilometers from the beach and has no taxis. The other option of renting a car and driving is also undesirable for many people not accustomed to driving in Costa Rica. The back roads that lead to the coast in this country are a maze of dirt, mud, and potholes and the locals who drive them like to pretend they are racing in a rally car tournament where the prize, judging by their accelerated passes around blind turns and up hills, must be well over a million dollars. Unless you have always had a fantasy to race rental cars through turns that end in one lane bridges, I suggest you find another way to get here.

I had gotten to Playa Negra before, during my spring break; however, the journey was taxing and involved numerous busses through back roads, a friendly ride from a local family in the back of a pick up truck, and a little walking. I can honestly say that if I didn’t surf and there hadn’t been a perfect ten foot reef break waiting for me when I arrived, I would never in my right mind had made the trip.

The other factor that keeps many people away is that there is really nothing in these towns. Of the three similar towns I experienced on this trip, all of them consisted primarily of a dirt road lined with a few buildings and some scattered houses. There was usually a bar or two, (which I am guessing thrive due to the fact that from what I gathered, the local weekend past time consists of getting completely obliterated starting at seven in the morning at the bus stop outside the Bar), a local mini mart, and sometimes, a soccer field. That’s about it. This deters many would be visitors because despite the local landscape’s beauty, there are no dance clubs, not many other tourists, and very simply, not much to do unless you are a surfer or are just looking to relax in solitude.

Luckily, this was exactly what my companions and I were looking to do. I have an ongoing, unsatisfied hunger for surf and as I had had only a day or two’s taste of the waves at the world class restaurant of Playa Negra, I was craving another serving. My colleagues were merely in search of a relaxing weekend to unwind and get away; but either way, our destination meet our individual needs and it was nice to have company.

Other than having some traveling companions, this trip varied in one other major aspect: we had rented a car and driven ourselves across the country. The actual drive to and from San Jose is itself worthy of its own writing and I only mention it here to say that if you do want to see these areas, this is definitely the way to do it. Having a car allowed us not only to actually get to Junquillal with some degree of simplicity, but also allowed for a lot of exploring of the surrounding areas that we would have otherwise not been able to do. I personally loved having a car as I was able to drive to check all the waves at the nearby surf breaks and then surf whichever one was best. During my last trip I had been confined to only Playa Negra which is by no means a bad thing, but it was nice to experience the other areas as well.

The solitude of Junquillal allowed for a lot of reflection and as my companions and I walked the deserted beach, we considered why, amidst a developer’s talk of retirement homes and increasing land sales, anyone, including ourselves, would ever want to spend a significant amount of time in Junquillal. Of course there was the obvious beauty and all that, but there weren’t even significantly good waves here. Not even I as a surfer, who would move in a second to the similar, neighboring town of Playa Negra, would ever consider spending more than a few days exclusively in Junquillal. Why were people spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on houses that they would barely use, and how sustainable was this? (A question in tribute to Dr. Bird)

It was with this idiosyncrincy we left Junquillal after a tranquil weekend, feeling very relaxed but also perplexed. I mean what could we have missed that was drawing people to this area and what was it that was sustaining this trend? As I drove out of town amidst a cloud of dust, a light bulb flashed inside my head and I realized what none of us had thought of. By cooking our own breakfasts everyday, none of us had tried the local Gallo Pinto. I smiled at my own foolishness of not realizing this sooner and as I shook my head, I thought to myself, “It must be the Gallo Pinto.”

Monday, April 23, 2007

Rumble.. Puff.. Swhoosh..

Some of us packed in the dark, due to an entire COUNTRY blackout; others didn’t have to worry about packing in the dark because they were already in Arenal with their parents, while others waited till the last minute to grab snacks at the nearby Mas X Menos or Mega Super. With all this behind us we only left a half hour late! We arrived in Arenal to discover what would be a dream come true to some, and a once in a lifetime opportunity for others.

Friday night we drove into the darkness, some more hesitant than others, as to whether or not we would see why a number of the places along the way were called El Fuego Montaña. Yet, right before our eyes the fire trickled out of the picturesque volcano in the distance. We all watched in disbelief, and a wave of frantic “sshhhhh’s” came over us as some were desperate to hear the rumble of the rocks. For the duration of the weekend our eyes were glued to Volcán Arenal for one last puff of smoke to ruffle down the barren side of the mountain.

One of the main attractions in the Arenal area is the Cataratas de la Fortuna (The Fortuna waterfall). The strenuous walk down the ¼ mile of step stairs is well worth it. This 177ft waterfall and its stunning green surroundings is one of the most amazing sights in Costa Rica. At the bottom of the falls there is a small pool of crisp clean blue water that visitors are able to swim in if they venture over the slippery rocks. The water is shockingly cold with strong currents from the waterfall. You have to be careful while swimming in the pool because it is dangerous to get too close to the powerful waterfall. Behind the waterfall there is a rock wall covered with green vegetation crawling all over it. You can see the birds flying in and out of little hiding places on the wall while avoiding the pressure from the waterfall. To the left of the waterfall there is a little stream that provides for much safer wadding areas. Some of us took this opportunity to find the perfect rock to sit back, relax, and reflect on our dazzling surroundings. With less than 20 days left, we are all starting to realize these past three remarkable months are coming to an end and before we know it, we will be packing up and saying goodbye to Costa Rica. This past weekend, with the exceptional environment and weather, was a perfect last trip all together.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cerro de la Muerte didn’t mean death for us!

The misty rain and muddy terrain was not the most inviting environment on Saturday morning, but it was our last environmental science trip and we had no choice but to enter the muddy mountain bog. After an adventurous hike and more time in the bus, we arrived at Cerro de la Muerte to study hummingbirds. The tiny creatures, displaying an array of iridescent colors, were so delicate and busy busy busy! We were studying the hummingbird feeders, filled with sugar water, to measure the effects on the hummingbirds and the flowers. The sugar water does not have the same nutrients found in nectar, and the feeders could be a deterrent from pollinating flowers. Although we have yet to analyze our data, we enjoyed the opportunity to observe hundreds of these little creatures and even hold them in our hands! We also faced the challenge of a difficult Sunday morning hike…
"I don't think I can make it," was a line that ran through many of our heads as we steadily continued up the mountain. Each step seemed to move in slow motion; each one hurting more than the one before. It seemed as if it was raining but in actuality the water was a mixture of tears and sweat from all the climbers. It had come to a point where there was no turning back. In the middle of the mountain as you turn around carefully watching your step and look all around you, all you see in land. It's not just any land. There's trees, and bushes, and hills galore. We were up so high that we didn't even see any animals. The other species of the world knew better than to travel that high. There weren't even birds. The air was so thin because of the altitude, and some of us with Asthma had to search further for ammunition to continue to fight up the mountain. The trail wasn't even helping since the shrubbery and rocks had moved closer together and were slowly starting to cover old footprints. But we breathed sweetly once we ALL finally made it to the top. Instead of finding the death we expected, we found life and adventure at Cerro de la Muerte.

Monday, April 16, 2007

"getting by" in Nicaragua

While sitting at a restaurant on the cobblestone street, we were greeted by the children street vendors. Every night they make their rounds to each table at the restaurants in the area selling gum, cigarettes, nuts, and anything else to bring in an income. They were bothersome to many people while others found them entertaining. Regardless of what people thought of them, these children were very persistent in their attempts to complete a sale. They had approached our table at least two times before they began to play with our hair. "Que linda!" was our pelo. We had so much stimulation from these children - we couldn't just focus on one. As soon as someone took a picture, several more children came running for a photo of their own. They rushed and waited for their turn to see their smiling faces on film. We did catch that one was smoking a cigarette, after we told her how she shouldn't, she stuck up for herself by informing us of everyone else who smoked cigarettes as well along with the drugs they did the laundry list was long and disheartening. Then the seemingly innocent eight year old grabbed the cigarette stick from the girls mouth and took a few puffs herself. They were all about ten years under the legal limit to purchase cigarettes in the states and here they are selling them to tourists out to dinner, and this is their job. It is all about getting by. A/R

Monday, April 2, 2007


This weekend came quickly. On Friday afternoon Mesoamerica was practically empty. Our peers chose to travel a little extra while we elected to stay behind and enjoy the fruits San Jose has to offer. Friday night was an unexpected evening. Luckily we had a personal invitation from Manuel, our old friend. A few weeks before he had come to our GST class, to share with us his musical knowledge and talents. We were all in love with his nonchalant personality and his amazing melodies. Friday´s invitation brought us to the highly esteemed Jazz café. We enjoyed an assortment of appetizers (including pizza, chicken wings and breaded mushrooms). The ambiance of the café was soothing and tranquil to our minds, bodies and ears. We had arrived early, but our conversations kept us busy and entertained. We all were eager to experience Manuel´s music once more. As we took in our surrounding environment we all felt a sense of pride for Manuel and his musical accomplishments. Around 10:15pm our warm applause embraced Manuel and his band. Our ears anxiously awaited the gentle plucking of his guitar. We were greeted by two trombones, a xylophone, and an assortment of drums. Our ears were at a buffet of beautifully conducted music pieces. You could just close your eyes and imagine lying on a beach with these sounds wafting in with the tide. During the performance Manuel made a special shout out to his favourite Elon group and sang the song, ¨carnival day¨. The sheer fact that we recognized the song brought smiles to all of our faces. As we weaved our way out through the crowd gathered on the dance floor, we realized what an honour it was to know such a man and his music. D&D