The first month
¡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).
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. 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: When this was done, while waiting for transportation, we opened coconuts with a machete. 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: 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. 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. 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). 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. On the way, we saw our second big wildlife sighting, a three-toed sloth! 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. 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. 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. 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!