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Leaving Costa Rica, back in the US

Time January 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

(Ryan)

Leaving Costa Rica was an interesting experience in itself. My family drove me to the airport (they did this and let me stay in their house for additional time after the program ended, such nice people!), and everything in the airport went well: we paid the tax for leaving, then checked our bags, went go through security, and walked to the gate. Thankfully, our gate was the very first one after security. We had no problems at this airport; it wasn’t as big as the international airports in the US (we had seen Newark and Houston, two of the largest ones), and it wasn’t a single large room like the airport in Liberia. We bought a tamal before getting on the plane; tamales are a mixture of dough, vegetables, and meat wrapped inside a large leaf. Our plane actually left around the expected departure time, which was unlike our airport experience when leaving the US.

On the plane, we were tempted to buy one of the overpriced snack or sandwich options, but we were delighted when they began handing out free ham, egg and cheese sandwiches for breakfast! The plane ride wasn’t too long, around 5 hours, and we mostly just spent the time talking.

We arrived in Newark airport and passed through a security thing, where the guy looked at our customs declarations and asked some questions, in a creepy way. We found our bags and took them past the customs checkpoint, where another guy looked at the declarations and asked what kind of food we were carrying; we told him we had coffee, candy, and salsa Lizano. You may be as confused right now as that guy was; we explained that it’s a type of sauce. Specifically, it’s the kind of sauce every tico uses when making gallo pinto, and they put it in everything else. It’s delicious, and I still haven’t found any in the US, though as I said, we brought a little bit back.

lizano

Then they just let us go through. We were expecting a thorough opening and searching of all our baggage; we had made detailed lists of every single item that we didn’t leave with, and the prices of those items, and all they did was ask what food we had and look at the six-line explanation of what we brought back. It was quite a relief.

We were also expecting problems with some of the items we were bringing back; Kayley and I each had a machete in our checked baggage. We had been told by people there that these would be taken away from us, and that we should hide them in our things (though, to me, it seems like concealing something like a weapon would lead to more trouble than just having it! They have x-ray scanners anyway!). When we got home to check our baggage, they hadn’t touched a thing, and my two-foot long machete was just lying on top of everything, where I had left it.

shadow machete
(One of our cats, Shadow, enjoying the spoils of war.)

Kayley’s family drove us home, and we felt the weird guilt of speaking English, when, for the entire length of time we were in the program, we almost exclusively spoke Spanish, whether by necessity or, when our group was together, by the repeated instructions of Gaby (our Spanish teacher) and Teresita (one of the program directors).

We’ve been missing a lot of things from Costa Rica; Kayley will certainly tell you many of them. Since I haven’t had pinto since we’ve gotten back, I haven’t had any very satisfying breakfasts, except one.

nachos

I’ll leave you with that image, and I’ll just say that spending this time in Costa Rica has been a great experience for me. It’s a great way to get to know new people, places, and things if you get the chance to do it; I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have studied abroad, and Costa Rica, along with all my tico and gringo friends, will always occupy an important place in my heart and memories. </cheesybuttrue>

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INBioparque

Time December 13th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

(Kayley)

Saturday November 5th, Ryan and I finally got to go to this zoo in Santo Domingo (the city where Ryan lives) called INBioparque with our amazing tico buddy Alonso. We got really lucky and it was a BEAUTIFUL day. Sunny, about 75 degrees, clear skies and breezy – meanwhile, there’s snow on the ground in New York. Definitely loving the decision to spend these months in Costa Rica.

inbiosign

INBioparque (www.inbioparque.com) is a conservation/education center that’s conveniently located about halfway between Heredia and San José. It’s divided up into several sections: dry forest, rainforest, Central Valley forest, the lagoon, and the finca, or farm. Each section has various little educational stations, many of them hands-on. We didn’t need a guide because we had Alonso (a biology major and an absolute lunatic) with us, which meant that our experience was a little more hands-on than most (although unfortunately all of the iguanas moved too fast for Alonso to grab).

iguanas
alo

We got to see all sorts of crazy plants and wildlife, and it was nice to go at our own pace while still having someone knowledgeable with us. Some of the animals that we got to see included tarantulas, iguanas, caimans, white-tailed deer, sheep, goats, pigs, roosters and hens, peacocks, bunnies, turtles, a praying mantis, a stick bug, a barranquero (a colorful tropical bird) and some ducks that we ate lunch with, and a yigüirro (national bird of Costa Rica) that would only show us its bright yellow tail-feathers. My favorite station was the Serpentario, because I’m a huge fan of snakes. There were about twenty different native species, and because Alonso is even more of a herpetophile than I am, we spent a good amount of time in there.

oropel

alonsoserpiente

If I had to pick the most surreal part of it all, I would have to pick the butterfly enclosure. There were butterflies wherever you looked, including the enormous and magnificent blue morphos. One of them even landed on my foot! Somehow, being surrounded by butterflies brings out one’s inner child, and within minutes we were all stretching out our fingertips hoping against hope that a butterfly would land on us. We managed to catch a few, but it was just an awesome, dream-like experience to look up and see them all floating around above your head.
alon
morfo
alonsoatrapada
pie

I think Ryan’s favorite part though had to be the food! Every time we passed a restaurant, he was the first to point it out. We indulged him and got some local fare at one restaurant that looked particularly appetizing. We ended up all getting some combination of meat, tortillas, yuca, chayote, carrots, black beans, and fruit juice, all grilled to perfection. Well, except the juice, obviously. Then we stopped in the farm section to get granizados, mine with powdered milk and condensed milk, and Ryan’s with that as well as ice cream. They were absolutely delicious.

We finished up walking the paths, I totally beat Ryan in a race through a maze with Alonso as the official, and then we visited the gift shop. There wasn’t anything that was cheap enough for our end-of-the-trip budgets, however, even though I was highly tempted by a $20 bag made out of recycled Dos Pinos milk cartons. All in all, it was one of the best days I’ve spent in Costa Rica.

vista

(Ryan’s note: they also have a sweet tunnel made from soda bottle tops)
tunel
tunel2

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The Best of… FOOD

Time November 28th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As we’re headed into our last week here in Costa Rica, it’s time for a round-up of the best ways to meet your stomach’s needs within walking distance from the campus!

The far-and-away cheapest option is one of the “sodas” on campus, which we’ve mentioned before, where you can get a complete balanced meal – rice, beans, salad, plantains, some kind of meat, and fruit juice – for approximately $2.43 USD (1215 CRC).

But let’s be honest, even the most strong-willed of us can’t last the entire semester without craving a burger or a slice of pizza. So here are the cheap, delicious options we’ve found within a block of the campus:

 

BEST BURGER AND FRIES: El Empanadazo  el-empanadazo

WHERE IS IT? Across the street from the north side of the campus (think behind the Ciencias Sociales building), on the eastern corner of the same block as Copy Mundo.

INFORMATION: call at 2261-8291, email at elempanadazo@hotmail.com, or look them up on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/El-Empanadazo/158788864188563

TYPE OF FOOD: Colombian and American

OUR FAVORITE OPTIONS:
– quarter-pound cheeseburger: comes with lettuce, tomato, potato chips, ketchup, mustard, and mayo: – 1200 CRC/$2.40 USD
– “small” fries: diner style, always hot, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and perfectly salted – 800 CRC/$1.60 USD
– fruit juice: served in an enormous chilled metal cup, malt-shop style, variety of flavors – 500-800 CRC/$1-1.60 USD

That’s basically a McDonald’s quarter pounder meal for $5, but it’s in a much cozier, friendlier locale and I’d like to think it’s healthier. I’m probably in denial. I know it might not be the prettiest-looking restaurant, but the food is delicious and the waiters are super friendly and take the time to get to know you, and it’s so close to campus!  el-empanadazo-burger-and-fries

 

BEST PIZZA: Pizzeria Mangiare  pizzeria-mangiare

WHERE IS IT? On Avenida 2, about halfway down the first block on the left hand side if you’re coming from campus.

INFORMATION: call at 2261 6161 or look them up on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Pizzeria-Mangiare/158578164209806

TYPE OF FOOD: Various sizes and styles of pizza, lots of toppings, garlic bread, and soda.

OUR FAVORITE OPTIONS:
Pizza Gigante: 5500 CRC/$11.00 – it sounds a little steeply priced, but this pizza is literally GIGANTIC and easily split between four or even five people. If you can’t get a group together though, you can get a slice for just 850 CRC/$1.70 USD. It comes with sausage, pepperoni, pineapple, olives, sweet chile peppers, onions, ham, mushrooms, tomato, salami, oregano, and basil. (pictured below)
Calzone Gigante: 1150 CRC/$2.30 USD – do not attempt to eat this on your own. You’ll regret it. It’s seriously a pizza folded in half, with all the same toppings as the pizza gigante. On that note, it’s the most economical order, and you’ll never be disappointed.

The pizza is really good, but it’s worth mentioning that they make them to order, so expect to wait about 20 minute to a half-hour. Bring something to do or someone to talk to, but definitely visit at least once. You will not be disappointed.  manigare-pizza

 

BEST SMOOTHIE: La Dosis  la dosis

WHERE IS IT? A little further south than the Burger King/Papa Johns.

INFORMATION: call at 2260 4589 or look them up on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Dosis-Juice-Bar/160569170674662

TYPE OF FOOD: Smoothies made out of whatever type of tropical fruit you can imagine, can be custom made, for a small/large it costs either 1000/1300 CRC ($2/$2.60 USD) in water or 1300/1500 CRC ($2.60/$3 USD) in milk (or with yogurt or ice cream).

OUR FAVORITE OPTIONS:
Kayley: Maní Mania – peanut butter, milk, yogurt, granola, banana, strawberry
Ryan: El Sabrocito – apple, strawberry, banana, milk, and vanilla ice cream or yogurt

These smoothies (called “batidos” in Tiquicia) are delicious and healthy, so you get the tastiness without the guilt. And with friendly, helpful, and incredibly patient baristas, La Dosis became our favorite Tuesday night haunt.  batidos

 

BEST DRINKS: El Rancho de Fofo  fofo

WHERE IS IT? On the far corner of the first block of Avenida Central away from the U. Real close to Bulevar. If you can’t find it, ask anyone. All, and I mean all, of the university students know it.

INFORMATION: call at 2237 7715 or look them up on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/groups/mercadeoranchofofo/

TYPE OF FOOD: Drinks and bar food (ie. Nachos, wings, etc.)

OUR FAVORITE OPTIONS:
Kayley – rum & coke (they’re highly generous) or Imperial (national beer of Costa Rica)
Ryan – guaro (ask for Cacique, the national brand)

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are all ladies’ night at Fofo. That means we get in free and the first two drinks (or more, if you make a good first impression on the bouncer) are on the house for us chicas. Just like El Empanadazo, don’t judge this place by how it looks; Bulevar might look nicer, but if you want to dance and meet people, Fofo’s has the far better environment. But please, of course, DRINK RESPONSIBLY.

 

And on a side note, while you’re in Costa Rica, EAT THESE EVERY CHANCE YOU GET: churro-relleno

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Puntarenas: Voluntariado

Time November 17th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

(Kayley)

We did our second Volunteer activity in Puntarenas, on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, near the Peninsula of Nicoya. It’s a small town that in its golden age was a bustling port city. Unfortunately, with the opening of more convenient ports on the Caribbean side of the country, Puntarenas has lost much of its old glory. Today it is struggling against pollution, which is why the Universidad Nacional – as a part of RED-UNIVES, a national network of college student volunteers – helped sponsor an educational Environmental Fair and a beach clean-up on October 14 and 15. Ryan and I were two of four gringos; also with us were Catherine of IFSA and Alex of ISEP, two very good friends of ours. (In the photo, the two on the left.)

amigos

The first day we left the campus at 6 am and got into Puntarenas around 10 am. We went by bus with about six ticos (the rest would be coming later in the day) and the amazing UNAventura Volunteer program coordinator Esteban. After doing two overnight volunteerships with this man, we’ve come to the conclusion that he’s a superhuman being that never sleeps. Seriously. He always has energy to work. And we’ve never seen him sleep. (In the photo, he’s the second to last on the right.)

esteban

We spent most of the first day making decorations for the fair, which meant stringing together bottles and CDs. It was kind of frustrating and tedious work at times, but once we got a system down, we turned into bottle-stringing machines and it was actually a lot of fun. During a short break while waiting for supplies, we played a few rounds of Bananagrams in Spanish, and got to know our companions a little better. Later, when the rest of the group from UNA showed up, we had to hang painted plastic bags from a giant fishing net. Then we were told to start tying together the white plastic bags in rows of four. We were just as confused as you probably are now, but we did it anyway. Alex, Ryan and I formed one bag-tying team, and I still swear that “the Kayley side” of our bag banner was prettier than “the Ryan-and-Alex side.” After we had what looked like the train of a wedding dress, we started vacilando with the ticos, or as we’d say in the US, goofing around. By the time they told us we could go to bed around 10 at night, we were all sitting around playing with walkie-talkies and learning slang in each other’s languages.

bottles

decorations

The next morning we went to the beach to collect garbage, which we had to sort into three different types: recyclable plastic (white bags), bottles (blue bags), and “inorganic residuals” aka the rest of the garbage (black bags). We found toothbrushes, about twenty different shoes, jacks, silverware, a syringe, lots of Styrofoam, and a whole lot of unidentifiable refuse. But the beach was spotless when we left, and we all felt satisfied with the work we’d put in.

beach

beach

The fair was fun, and the decorations came out SUPER beautiful, but we were all pretty tired out at this point. So we went and got “Churchills,” a type of granizado that Puntarenas is known for that includes a slushy-like substance layered with powdered milk, sweetened condensed milk, and ice cream. In other words, sugary deliciousness. Then we played some Bananagrams and enjoyed some of the local music and dancing that was being performed. We ended up leaving around 3 pm and not getting back to Heredia until after dark, but we spent the entire bus ride talking with the tico students and only hesitantly parted ways in Heredia after sharing Facebook contact information. We made a lot of great new friends there, especially Peter (on the right in the above photo), Walter, Elías, and Diego, and I’m thrilled to say we’ve all kept in touch.

Churchill

amigos
(Walter on the right, Elías in front)

You see, that’s the thing about volunteering here. It’s an awesome experience to give back to nature and the community. Really cool things happen, like opening coconuts with rocks, seeing shooting stars on the beach at night, trying local foods, and learning lots of new things about oneself. But the truly magical thing about it all is the relationship you develop with someone after working next to them all day toward a common goal, sleeping next to them on the floor for half the amount of time you really needed, then getting up and working some more. It’s incomparable. It’s what makes it all worth it in the end. That’s what I truly love about the hours I’ve spent volunteering in Costa Rica.

beso

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Time November 3rd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

(Ryan)

Too much time has passed. Too much! Both in Costa Rica and since we’ve made a post here.

We have less than a month left here; we leave November 30th. Sadness.

Since there’s too much to talk about, I’ll stick to one topic.
While many companies from the US are also here (I’ve seen Wal-mart, Taco Bell, McDonalds, Office Depot, Burger King, and KFC), there are companies that are unique to Costa Rica or Latin America. For example:

POPS
POPS
http://www.pops.co.cr/

Dos Pinos
Dos Pinos
http://www.dospinos.com

These two are both ice cream companies/shops. POPS is more or less just ice cream, and they have a chain of stores as well as ice cream products in supermarkets. It’s a little more “high-class” than Dos Pinos, with higher prices generally.
Dos Pinos (“two pine trees” if the logo isn’t clear!) has ice cream as well as other dairy products, such as milk and cheeses. They’re much more accessible, having a wider variety of products, and they’re somewhat cheaper than POPS. (Unfortunately, ice cream in general here is more expensive than in New York, at least in containers.)

Pozuelo
Pozuelo
http://www.pozuelo.com/

Pozuelo is a company that manufactures cookies and crackers. Unfortunately, both “cookies” and “crackers” are translated as “galletas”, so sometimes when someone offers you crackers, you say yes because you think you’ll get cookies, but you’re disappointed when you get crackers. It happened to me.

As far as crackers go, the three most common from Pozuelo are “soda” crackers (basically saltines, they come salted or unsalted), “club” crackers (similar to “soda”, but with more flavor), and “Fibra y miel” (bran and honey, they’re excellent). As for cookies, there are  various cookies that have some filling (like Oreos) and there are “María” cookies, which are harder to describe than I thought they would be. They’re slightly soft cookies with… tasty. Like the site mentions, they have a special texture and taste, so it’s hard to relate them to other cookies.

However, while the big companies are well-known and reliable, one thing I like very much is how many small business there are. There are many bakeries and pastry shops, small copy shops (I think that’s what they’re called, where you can get copies and buy school supplies), “mini-súpers” (something like convenience stores, coming from mini-supermarket), hardware stores and “sodas” (small cafeterias with typical Costa Rican food, cheaper than restaurants) that are run by a single family, sometimes with a handful of employees.

I’m pretty sure a lot of cities are like this in the United States, but I think generally people go to the bigger stores there, and here there is a preference for the smaller shops. Foreigners who come here will likely gravitate towards the larger shops, physically because they’re larger (see Isaac Newton) and mentally because they’re familiar and it’s more convenient having everything you need in one place. Although, sometimes even the familiar places aren’t as familiar: McDonalds, for example, offers McPinto (a breakfast dish with scrambled eggs and gallo pinto, which is rice and beans), pineapple pies (instead of apple pies) and the McGuayabita McFlurry, which has a candy (Guayabita) that I don’t believe to be available in the United States.

guayabita
My best translation is “a chocolate candy with a gummy guava-flavored filling”.

Not sure if that counts as one topic, but that’s all for this post. Reason for the long period of time between posts, as well as not having my own photos: broken computer, and broken camera. Qué pereza. But I hope to have another post up next week on a different topic, exactly what we’ll see.

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After two more weeks in paradise

Time August 29th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

(Kayley)

We haven’t been on any big trips since Monteverde, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been having fun!

The big diversion of the week happened Saturday, when Ryan and I decided to go for a stroll through the Parque Central to enjoy a nice quiet break from the rain and homework. Instead, we found out that there was a huge, free, open-air concert. We met up with some friends and made our way up to the front of the crowd during the opening act, Entrelineas. entrelineas1 entrelineas2 They were really good, and their covers of “Aeroplane” by Red Hot Chili Peppers and “This Love” by Maroon 5 were perfect. Then the main act, Percance, took the stage. percance1 percance2 percance3 percance4 percance5 percance6 For more information, you can find them on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/percance Basically, they’re a Costa Rican band that’s super popular here, and they really know how to work a crowd. Everyone was jumping and screaming and fist-pumping and mosh-pitting, and when a big rainstorm blew in toward the end, everyone just opened up their umbrellas and kept the party rocking, and even shouted for an encore. percance-rain1   percance-rain2

Speaking of rain, we’ve been getting a lot of it the past week, probably due to Hurricane Irene. It’s kind of funny to be down here while everyone’s going crazy in New York over hurricanes and earthquakes, because everyone here is going on with their daily lives because it’s nothing new. It speaks a lot about the culture of panic in the United States versus the super laid-back culture here. The only one in my house who panics during a thunderstorm is poor Chester, our brave watchdog: chester-thunder

Just as a side note, I’d also like to mention that when I can’t eat at home, there is a nice place to eat on campus that’s super cheap too. It’s known as just la soda by the students, and offers a wide variety of healthy food throughout the day for a bargain price. For instance, I got this plate: soda-food for just a thousand colones, or roughly two US dollars. It included rice, beans, plantains, picadillo (a hot dish that includes ground meat and various types of vegetables chopped very fine, or picado), and ensalada rusa (a cold salad featuring beets). To drink, I had horchata, which is kind of like chocolate milk, only better.

And here’s some throw-back photos:

This is a mamón chino, a type of fruit that’s a little scary at first, but tastes kind of like sweet grapes and has a very silky texture. mamones-chinos

This is Ryan and I before performing some folk dances, during which we had to recite four-line rhyming poems known as bombas. baile-folklórico

These are photos from the national park Rincón de la Vieja. The first is an example of how hot the underground volcanic currents are: they’re actually boiling the water! And the second is of my sneakers, mid-hike. rincón-de-la-vieja zapatos

The next three are from Playa Ocotal, in Guanacaste. The first is our view of the Pacific Ocean from the hotel, the second is “pura vida” written in the sand on the beach, and the third is one of the iguanas that lived outside the hotel room. They had absolutely no fear of humans, and unfortunately neither did the raccoons! ocotal pura-vida iguana

And this is what coffee looks like, freshly picked: café

Next weekend we’re going on an excursion with IFSA to La Tirimbina, which is sure to be a good time. I can’t wait!

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The first month

Time August 16th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

(Kayley)

¡Hola! Sorry for the long time without posting, but I’ve finally got all of the technological problems under control. Well, mostly. I can still only add five photos to Facebook at a time, which wouldn’t be a problem if I hadn’t already taken over 200 photos… but pura vida, right?

My host family here in Heredia is a dream come true. They’re super nice and very interactive, which means that I always have something to do and I have to speak a LOT of Spanish. My mom here is Tatiana, or Taty for short, and she’s an excellent cook and a great mom. She always makes sure I bring along a jacket, umbrella,  raincoat, water, money, and a snack before leaving the house, just in case some sort of apocalyptic event should come to pass during the ten minute walk from my house to the school. Today is Mother’s Day here in Costa Rica, and I got her handmade plush mommy and baby sloth (in Spanish, oso perezoso, or “lazy bear”). My dad is Henry, who is really friendly and seems to be smiling or laughing all the time. I also have an eleven-year-old brother named Carlos Mario,with whom I like to play soccer and basketball and boardgames and whatever else we can think up. I’ve never had a younger brother before, but it’s been a great experience. We also have pets, gracias a Dios. I have an incredibly  handsome Golden Retriever named Chester, a sometimes-sweet-sometimes-angry cat named Mia (1 year old), and the infinitely cute and infinitely mischievous Lulu (kitten, 5 months old). I live literally four blocks (using that term loosely) from the university, so I walk there during the day and take a taxi at night (because a gringa walking alone at night isn’t the best idea). But because it’s so close, the meter doesn’t even change, so I get to my house for 550 colones ($1.10 USD).

Chester chester

Mia (grey and white) and Lulu (orange and white) mia-y-lulu

The food we eat here is usually a light breakfast and a light dinner (a sandwich and coffee, in general, sometimes with eggs or gallo pinto for breakfast or some kind of pastry for dinner). Lunch is usually a casado, or rice, beans, salad, maduros (plantains) and some type of meat. Another popular lunch is olla de carne, which is meat, potatoes, and local vegetables (calabaza, yuca, camote, elote, etc.) in broth, served with avocado and rice. It’s by far the most filling thing I’ve eaten here. The drink of choice, besides coffee, is fresco (fruit juice). They make this themselves using nothing more than real fruit and occasionally some added sugar if the fruit is bitter, like mora (similar to blackberries, but too sour to eat by themselves). Also, in the open-air markets held at least once a week, it’s possible to purchase a pipa, or green coconut with a hole in the top for a straw so that you can drink the agua de coco (the liquid found inside coconuts). It’s very refreshing, and it’s impossible to not feel like you’re in a tropical paradise when you’re walking around Costa Rica drinking out of a coconut.

As far as excursions go, the two big ones so far have been a weekend of volunteer work at the Marina Ballena National Park and this past weekend in Monteverde. Marina Ballena had its ups and downs, but despite the negative aspects (sleeping on the floor, outdoor showers, blisters, and bugs, to name a few), it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had and I would do it again without thinking twice. It was a four-day trip, Thursday through Sunday. Thursday we drove to the park, dropped our stuff off in the community center where we’d be staying (a big open-air pavilion-type building), and then headed down to the beach for a few hours. Here we met a tico (Costa Rican) named Alonso who helped us open a coconut with a rock. alonso-y-ryan-coco1 Then we all shared the coconut and the agua de coco before heading back to base for “getting to know each other” games. After this, we got split up into equipos, or teams, for the work the next two days. Ryan and I, as well as Rebecca (another IFSA student) and Alonso, were in Equipo Colonia. This meant that we had to clean up Playa Colonia, the longest beach in the park. With some help from the other teams, we finished in one day. The next day, we got split up to help out the other teams, but Ryan, Alonso, and I all got sent to Playa Piñuelos, a tiny, isolated little beach that we cleaned up in a few hours, then placed stones from the beach around the trees to make it prettier. This was the biggest tree there, which Ryan and I tackled with some help from tico friends Melissa and Julio: arbol-amigos When this was done, while waiting for transportation, we opened coconuts with a machete. alonso-y-ryan-coco2 At night, we listened to informative talks (not always easy to follow, as we were tired, hungry, and sitting on a cold cement floor) and after, we’d have dinner and spend time in our teams. In Equipo Colonia, our official pastime was card games, and it was fun to teach gringo card games to the ticos as well as learn tico card games from them. The last day, half of the group went out on a whale- and dolphin-watching trip, and the other half went down to the beach to relax, where we saw our first big wildlife sighting, a howler monkey:  howler-monkey Then at noon we began the drive back. We were very sad when we had to say goodbye to all of our new friends, but it’s really nice to be able to see them at the university and stop to chat.

This past weekend, a group of nine of us went to Monteverde, in the northern part of Costa Rica. Ryan was our only hombre, surrounded by eight women, which earned him the nickname El bendito (the blessed one) from the locals. el-bendito We left San Jose at 2:30 on Friday, and arrived at our hostel around eight. After checking in, the wonderfully friendly staff directed us to a soda (budget eatery) up the street where we all filled up on low-priced meals (the most expensive plate ordered was 2700 colones, or roughly $5.40). Then we all went to bed, so that we could get an early start the next morning. After our complimentary breakfast of fruit, eggs, toast, and coffee or juice, we headed out to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve to hike the trails from 7:30 to 11:30. cloud-forest1 cloudforest2 Then half of the group went on a canopy tour with ziplines at 12:30 so that they’d make it back to the hostel in time for a night hike at 5:15. Those of us who opted out of the night hike for financial reasons went on the canopy tour at 2:30. We ziplined from platform to platform through the rainforest, with some spectacular views and relatively few mishaps (only one of our group had a minor collision with a tree, but ended up with no more than a bruised leg, and I only got stuck ten feet away from the platform once, having to crawl hand-over-hand back to the platform like a sloth). kayley-zip1 ryan-zip1 kayley-zip2 ryan-zip2 When we got back to the hostel, we cooked our own casados and then relaxed in hammocks until it got late. The next morning, we got up early again for a horseback tour of Las Brisas, a coffee, banana, and sugarcane plantation. caballos-grupo On the way, we saw our second big wildlife sighting, a three-toed sloth! perezoso My horse was named Pinto, and was the most stubborn horse of the bunch. He had his own ideas about how the tour should go down, and would take his own path to avoid rocks and puddles, and would more than occasionally stop completely for no apparent reason, and no amount of coaxing could get him to start again until he was ready. kayley-y-pinto Everyone learned his name before the halfway point, because our guides had to keep yelling at him. Ryan’s horse, Coqueta, wasn’t much better, and at one point she grabbed a mouthful of long grass and very intentionally whipped him in the leg with it. ryan-y-coqueta It wasn’t painful, fortunately, just so funny I almost laughed myself out of my saddle. The best part was when we got to canter (faster than a trot, slower than a gallop) when we got close to the stables. Then we went on a five-minute tour of how they process the coffee and sugar cane, and even got to do “shots” of freshly squeezed, sickeningly sweet, frighteningly green cane juice. jugo-de-caña Then we returned to the hostel, where Ryan made us all gallo pinto and maduros for lunch, and then got on the bus home. I think it’s safe to say we had a better weekend than the rest of the group.

So, in summary, our first month here in Heredia has been very eventful, and very positive, and I can only hope the rest of our stay continues along the same track. Chao for now!

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Arrival, Liberia, and now Heredia

Time July 20th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

(Ryan)

After spending a week in Costa Rica, so much has happened I’m not quite sure what to talk about first, so I’ll try to begin at the beginning.

The flights went perfectly well, but on arriving at the Liberia airport (whose arrival building is one large room), Kayley’s luggage was nowhere! We finally got it back on the 14th, I believe, since I didn’t know what address to give the people at the airport, but between the 9th and the 14th, Kayley had very little clothing and no toiletries except ones that I brought. We took a Taxi to our hostel for $20 after leaving the airport.

Hotel Guanacaste, the hostel, was not what we were expecting. I had made a reservation the previous night, but they had no record of it, since I was supposed to print out the confirmation page, which I couldn’t really do at the hotel or the airport, but I paid the $25 to stay the night. When we got to the room, there was no hot water for either the sink or the shower; since then we have become more aware that many buildings do not have water heaters (though Hotel Boyeros did!), but houses often have water heaters built into the shower head, which are alright. The room was very small and hot, and the fan that was in the room confused us when there was a button that said “shake” instead of “oscillate.”

We left the next morning to go to the Hotel Boyeros as soon as we could. We took a taxi that cost $8 to go probably 3 blocks, not knowing that the hotel would be so close. The receptionist at Boyeros was very friendly and gave us the keys to our rooms, which were blank white cards we were unfamiliar with. After many tests and much confusion, we learned that the cards have to be held near a certain part of the door to unlock them, and that there are card slots in the room that make it so that the lights will turn on. After other IFSA students arrived, we went to the local plaza and bought some food and water at the supermarket, as well as looked in some clothing stores, which were quite highly priced, Liberia being a bit of a tourist destination since it’s close to the beach. We had dinner with the rest of the group in the Boyeros restaurant for about $10 each (since they couldn’t separate the bill, everyone just gave the amount they thought their dinner was).

Orientation started the next day. We started with breakfast at Pan y Miel, who catered for us during orientation, consisting of food, juice, and some coffee usually. We then walked to the Universidad de Costa Rica, and we took a placement test and learned about what the Costa Rican educational system would be like. That evening, our host families came to pick us up, and my host mother, Doña Mélida, came last and spoke with Teresita (the program adviser, of course!) for a little while. It wasn’t the greatest first impression, but I later realized what a gift it would be to have her as my host mother.

The rest of that orientation week was mostly the same thing, with information and Spanish language classes. Food at my house was very similar each day, and indeed each meal. It was certainly not a bad thing, though, as I very much enjoyed the food. For just about every meal, there were arroz y frijoles (rice and black beans), in the morning mixed (called gallo pinto) and for the other meals separate; plantains (plátanos), fried when ripe and boiled when green; cheese, uncooked or fried (queso frito); a corn tortilla, or tortilla de maíz; and in the morning, scrambled eggs (huevos revueltos/picados). Because Doña Mélida was one of the older host mothers, we ate these more traditional foods; other families had things like hot dogs (perros calientes) or French fries (papas fritas).

Part of orientation was also optional dance classes, which were taught by… Doña Mélida! Everyone who participated really seemed to enjoy the classes, and on what would be our final night with our host families, there was a party at the university that included dancing for our families. One of the most fun parts was the punto guanacasteco dance which included bombas, which are short poems that the dancers recite after shouting ¡Bomba!, usually involving the men trying to woo the ladies and the ladies being assertive. After everyone started eating, the people playing the marimba (an instrument that resembles a large xylophone) played the song for the punto and the man who was playing the percussion part (which is basically scratching some object against another thing that looks like a gourd) recited some bombas; the first one must have lasted five minutes (ours were usually four lines), and though none of the students seemed to know what he was saying, it was very impressive and everyone loved it.

The next day, we brought our luggage to Boyeros and left for excursions. We first went to the Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja, which was a fun hike with, after a certain point, a huge downpour of rain, the kind where after a certain point, everyone just stops trying to avoid being wet, although the playful jealousy/resentment of the people who have rain coats continues. (We have photos of the trip, mostly of the trees, that Kayley will have to upload.) We went, mostly soaked, to a small restaurant that didn’t expect so many people to come, but we ate and then went to a hot spring, which had multiple pools of very warm water, a lovely change from the colder rains earlier in the day.

Afterwards, we went to the Ocotal hotel, which is a beach resort with two beds in every room (Boyeros had three in every room, I believe), so as is typical people, were complaining about having to share beds, which has never been a problem for me. Most of the other students went to a dance party after having dinner at the hotel, which Kayley and I didn’t attend, since I had, by this point, started to feel sick in a few ways. The next day, after hotel breakfast, we went in a lancha, which is a small ship, to sail into the Golfo de Papagayo. It was mostly uneventful, but still fun. Afterwards, we had lunch and then started the bus ride to Heredia; almost everybody slept for most of it, since no one had slept much the previous night, and we met our host families for Heredia.

Currently, I live with Doña Ligia, a first grade teacher;  her mother Rosario, an abuelita viejita (probably best translated as little old grandmother); José, her son who is an optometrist; Gustavo, whose relation to the others I am still unsure of; Marixa, the ama de casa (housewife, roughly) who cleans and cooks when Doña Ligia is out teaching; Sebastián, the old dog (13 years) who is partially blind and deaf; and Chiqui, the 2-year old cat. I will have another post some other time with more about my family and plenty of other things, since this post resembles a long essay.

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Kayley has not been able to make a post yet since, first, her computer did not work with the internet at her house in Liberia, and secondly, since her computer has, in the transit from Liberia to Heredia, been slightly damaged and won’t turn on. Additionally, the screen on my camera has been broken, but I believe it can still take pictures. While I am trying to fix the computer problem, I will try to lend her my laptop to make a post soon, though this week is also pretty busy for both of us. We go for our visas de estancia tomorrow, in the capital of the country, San José. ¡Ojalá todo vaya bien! (Hope everything goes well!)

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“Predeparture” post

Time July 11th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

(Ryan)

This post is intended to be the predeparture post, and it technically is.

Initially, Kayley and I were going to be on the flight that leaves Newark Airport at 5:15PM, July 8th. However, after plenty of delays and ultimately a cancellation, luck had decided to find some friends besides us. Currently, we are in a motel room, with my dad who has driven us here and had the patience, kindness, and excellent foresight to stay the whole time we were waiting to board the plane, which never came.

Not everything is unfortunate, though. A very kind worker at the airport was able to find us a flight from Newark to the airport in Liberia (with a layover in Houston, Texas). This saves us the trouble of having to handle transportation from Alajuela to Liberia by taxi and bus, at least. Our flight will leave (hopefully) at 1:40PM tomorrow and arrive in Liberia at 7:45PM. And hopefully, we will be on it!

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Packing for Costa Rica was new. Neither Kayley nor I ever had to pack for such a long journey, so we naturally encountered some difficulties.

catbag

But now, we just have to wait until the morning to really begin our trip!

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