Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Field Trip to Nicaragua


Wednesday April 14th 2010
I’m currently sitting on my newest bed in Central America in my newest house of my newest family.  Seems my bad luck has finally run out because they are so far very nice, very friendly, and there’s actually children and other family members.  We just finished eating our first lunch with them, Susie and I, where we talked about health care and education systems in Nicaragua and the US.  Health care is free here, just like Costa Rica, and school is too, even the universities.  Our host mom said she pays more for transportation for her kids than for the actual school.  Then she asked why people in the US don’t like the new health care systems and I said because a lot of people think it seems like socialism and she just started to laugh. 

So far, I’m really excited about being here for the next couple days.  Nicaragua is a really cultural place with lots of history and history with the US as well, which is something that Costa Rica doesn’t really have. 

On Monday morning we left San Josecito and spent our first night in Guanacaste, which is in Costa Rica but near the border with Nicaragua.  We drove down to a beach there and we were basically the only people there besides a little family and some fishermen.  Then we went to dinner and relaxed at the hostel where we had the most beautiful view of the ocean.

Then yesterday we left at 5:30 am for the border, went through migration quickly, but then had to wait for an hour or more at customs.  Finally, we left and made our way to San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, a small, beachy, toursity town.  Our hostel was awesome – a pool, air conditioning, and CABLE TV!  I got to watch CNN and reruns of America’s Next Top Model.  I don’t even really like that show, but it was like heaven.  Later that night, we went out to a bar close to our hostel.  I called it a night after one of the girls drank a little too much and needed help getting back to the hostel. 

Thursday April 15th

So last night we met up and went out to explore the nightlife in Granada.  We first went to a little bar where mojitos were 2/$1, daquiris 2/$2, and a liter of beer for $1.  Everything is cheeeeaaaap here.  So cheap.  Almost unbelievable when I talk to Kelsey in CA and she tells me drinks at a bar run for $9 and here I could get good and drunk for $9.  Anyway, all the seating at the bars is outside here.  So that was nice, we just sat and relaxed for a while.  Lots of children came up to our table asking for money or trying to sell us things.  A boy about 11 years old asked us for money but Holly and Kinsey told him they would just buy him food if he wanted.  So Kinsey ordered a chicken sandwich but then he kept saying he needed it in a bag and our waiter kept telling him to leave and told us that he just wanted to sell it.  So when the sandwich finally came, Kinsey took a bite out of it before she gave it to him so that maybe he couldn’t sell it.  I watched him walk away- He gave the bun and lettuce to another boy on the street and the chicken to another and hid the fries behind his back as he immediately went up to two gringo guys and started asking them for money.

Then later, the skinniest woman I have ever seen appeared by our table.  She honestly looked like she had just stepped out of a concentration camp and she was holding a one year old baby boy.  She lingered around our table obviously wanting money.  When she came near me I asked her if she needed food for her son, who was crying, and she said yes.  So after we paid our bill, Holly and I walked with her to another restaurant to buy her a hamburger and fries.  While walking, she was talking to me telling me that she was homeless, but that’s about all I caught because she was mumbling so terribly I could barely understand her.  That’s when I decided she wasn’t a starving woman, just a drug addict.  I was holding my money in my hand because I hadn’t put it back in my purse yet, and her son, who had stopped crying, saw it in my hand and started crying again and reaching towards my money.  A one year old.  Already knows what money is and that he wants and/or needs it.  We still bought the food for them just because of the baby.  Before we left I asked her if she was going to buy milk in the morning for him and she said that she didn’t have any money, which was a lie because Ana gave her money when we were still at the table for her to go away.  I felt so bad afterwards for that poor baby.  We went to a dance club afterwards but I just really wanted to go because I felt so depressed.  Already, only one year old, that baby has no future.  It reminded me of my last program with PDE last semester where the group of students kept claiming that anyone can be successful, it just depends on what they do with the “hand they are dealt”.  What chance does that child have to ever make it anywhere?  Where in the “hand he was dealt” does he have any cards that could turn in his favor?  He’s growing up on the street, being raised by a mother who uses him to get money so that she can buy drugs and who knows if maybe he was born addicted to something as well.  He will probably never go to school or learn how to write or read.  Anyway, it was a fairly depressing evening after that.

On a lighter note, today we went to la Laguna de Apoyo and hung out at this gorgeous resort/restaurant type of thing called La Abuela (The Grandma) because the woman who owns it insists that everyone call her Abuela.  Laguna de Apoyo is a huge lagoon that was once, thousands of years ago, a giant volcano.  When it erupted, it left a huge crater, which eventually filled with water and became the lagoon.  We spent all day there, jumping off the dock into the water, swimming, and floating on rafts in the water.  Then they served us lunch and at about 2:30 we left for a market to buy souvenirs.  

Again, lots of children there were trying to sell us things.  We started talking to a group of about 4 or 5 of them who were so adorable.  When we had to leave, Ana told them to make a line outside the bus and she would give them each an apple.  But when other kids saw this they all just made a swarm for our bus.  A woman trying to sell DVDs also followed us with her children along side, one of whom had Downs Syndrome and was in a wheel chair.  I gave him my juice and he was so happy, he drank it so fast like he had never tasted juice before. 

April 16th

Last night, we met up to go out, and got a very creepy vibe from the streets.  Of course, it doesn’t help that we meet in this park where all the street people hang out as well as all the taxi drivers who are currently on strike.  So we walked to this bar/club that was supposed to be $2.50 to get in, and then you could drink for free once inside.  Well when we got there they said it was $5.00 so some of us decided not to go because we didn’t want to pay $5.00 and not even drink once inside.  Some people stayed, but most of us decided to leave and go to a bar called O’Shea’s, an Irish pub.  When we got there, my seat was wet, so I went to the nearby table where 2 attractive guys were sitting.  I wasn’t sure if they spoke Spanish so I just said (in Spanish) “Excuse me, Sorry..”  and went to take a few napkins and one guy said (in English) “You can take the whole thing..” and I said “Oh! You speak English” to which he replied “Yeah, very well actually.”  (Turned out later that he was from New York.)  So I laughed a little bit and then went back to my table.  So then Beth and I started talking about how easy on the eyes they were.  Once again, there were a lot of little kids selling baskets of cigarettes, candy, and gum on the streets.  I noticed one of them at the table of guys, and they were talking to them for a little bit longer than normal, but not buying anything.  Then I see the little boy looking at our table and pointing towards Beth and I.  Then he starts running towards me and whispers in my ear in Spanish 
"That guy told me to tell you that you're all really pretty."
"Oh really?" I said "Which guy?"
"The one in the blue and white." (He was by far the cutest).  So then I told the little boy, Jorge, to go and tell them that we thought they were cute too.  Well then Jorge just went nuts.  He started running back and forth between us, and then decided that I was his novia (girlfriend) and was kissing me and hugging me and yelling at the guys "Está celooooso! Está celosooo!" (You're jealous, You're jealous!)  He wrote "Te amo" on a napkin for me and also the names of all his family members.  And for the rest of the night he hung around our table, sometimes left his basket of goodies at my feet and ran around in the street, braided hair.  He was such a character.  I asked him why he was selling things in the street and he said because his mom tells him to.  I asked if she had a job and he said no.  Then I asked if he went to school and he said yes, but smiled when I asked if he went everyday.   Finally we had to leave and he was all quiet and sad.  I gave him a hug and told him to be careful and go to school the next day.  

Saturday April 17th 
We're on our way back now to Costa Rica.  Yesterday afternoon we took a boat ride on Lake Cocibolca to see the small islands that are there.  I think there are about 365 of them (This lake is gigantic) and a lot of the ones we saw were owned by rich foreigners.  There was one tiny island that had a family of monkeys on it.  I think someone just dropped them off there and now that's where they live.  Poor monkeys.  Then we stopped to swim for a few minutes.  I have now swam in a river, the ocean (both coasts), a lagoon, and a lake here.  

After the boat ride, Susie and I went to the top of this old church that is by our house here and got the most amazing view of the city.

Last night we went to a show of cultural dance with traditional Nicaraguan dress.  It was really cool, but really loud, so we only stayed for a half hour or so.  

Then we went to have a few drink at the Irish Pub again and guess who found us?  JORGE!  Oh he was so happy.  It was funny.  But then he got a little annoying after a few hours, and he attracted a ton more little kids who wanted to sell us stuff. 

Then a few of us walked down a little farther on the street where a live band was playing.  We sat there and listened to them until 1 am, played maracas from our table, and one girl, Kim, asked the drummer if she could play the drums during one of their breaks and he said yes.  So she jammed out on the drums and after the drummer bowed to her.  

Now we're on our way back to Costa Rica.  So far, this has been one of my favorite trips. 
Less than 3 weeks are left...It seems like I'm in a dream that I'm not going to wake up from.  But I know I am and I can't even believe it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle

We returned last Saturday from our 10 day Service Learning trip with the indigenous BriBri community in Yorkin, Costa Rica.  There is next to no electricity in the community, so I took a journal with me to write down everything that happened each day.  Here are the entries, ENJOY...  [If you want more information on what the project was meant to be, I posted an earlier blog about it in January.] Sorry it took so long to post; took me about a week to get this written.

Monday March 1st
Yesterday we arrived in the community, finally, at about 4 pm, but not without difficulty as per usual.  It has been raining in all of Costa Rica on and off for about a week and a half now.  Our original departure was supposed to be this past Saturday, but because of all the rain, the river that we needed to take by canoe to the community was too high and dangerous.  So yesterday we left at about 7:30 in the morning and it rained for the entire day.  We got held up after an hour of travel in traffic because of a mudslide covering half of the road.  After 3 more hours, whilst it continued to pour, we got to a town nearest to the place where the canoes were to pick us up.  Ana and Maria told us they weren't sure if we'd be able to make it due to so much rain and that we may have to stay at a hostel and try to arrive today instead.  I'm not sure how it came about, but they decided to go for it anyway and so we continued in our private bus towards the canoe pick-up.  After driving down the raggedy, bumpy road for 15 minutes, we suddenly couldn't drive anymore -- Because the road was no longer a road but a raging stream of water.
In the background, where there are people crossing water, that's where the road is supposed to be

After taking pictures and waiting for Ana and Maria to decide our next step, we backtracked to another place where the canoes were finally able to come and meet us.  Thank God for my ginormous rain poncho, because we sat in the motorized canoes for an hour and a half as they traveled up stream in the raging brown river.  Several times I was sure we were going to tip over and about a mile from the final destination our canoe ran out of gas.  Luckily they were prepared for an occurrence such as this and had another can to fill up the motor.
Finally we arrived at the landing and unpacked all the black garbage bags of our travel backpacks.  Each of us were paired up with a roommate to live with with a family in the community.  After all the families had arrived, we all followed our families home.  Susie and I's "parents" are named Leyner and Emily...And they're 19 and 22..Kiiinda awkward.  We ate dinner at about 5:30 (rice and plantains) and by 6:30 were in bed quickly falling asleep.  Since there's no electricity and it gets pitch dark by 6:00, this wasn't too hard.
My food...pretty much everyday

Now on to today : First official day complete! It was pretty boring actually...We woke up at 8:15 and trudged through the muddy (and that's an understatement) trail to the main lodge of the village.  Once we finished going through introductions of the women who started and now run the organization STIBRAWPA, we split into 2 groups: One to pick medicinal herbs and the other to clear a space for a garden in which to plant the herbs.  In all actuality, I felt that things were a bit unorganized, at least today (but it IS only the first day..).  I was in the medicinal herb group and we followed this guy Julio around the forest with plastic bags and he picked random plants and put them in our bags.  Then we walked to the space for the garden to help out.  I did some raking of leaves and dirt along with another girl whose rake was made out of two sticks and some nails.  At 12:00 we went to our homes for lunch and then returned to the lodge at 2:00 where more unorganization occurred.  After walking to see a bridge nearby the lodge, we returned and sat and waited until Ana and Maria were able to force someone to give us lessons in BriBri, the indigenous language of the village.  The girl seemed much less than enthused to be teaching us, and to be honest we weren't feeling much enthusiasm either.  At 6:00 we left the lodge to return to our homes and eat dinner with our families.  Our family (Leyner and Emily) made us dinner but didn't eat with us or talk to us really.  New day tomorrow.

Tuesday March 2nd 
7:00 am
I effing hate roosters.

7:30 pm
Well day 2 is complete.  A little more eventful than yesterday.  We divided into 3 groups this morning: One to clean one of the lodges because a group from Ohio left this morning, Another to continue planting the gardens, and another to work on a septic system near the high school.  I was in the cleaning group.  It wasn't too strenuous of work, if you can imagine.  Actually we got done in about 15 minutes.
After our afternoon break, one of the girls was really sick and so I took her spot helping at the spot near the high school.  We were putting these huge rocks into a big pit and then after lunch we went back to fill it in with "dirt" which was actually mud so it was almost impossible.

Then we had another break and I took a much needed nap at the house that Michon and Beth are living in.  It's so weird.  We're always so exhausted here even though we go to bed by 8 and wake up at 7.  It might be the food (because we're also always starving) and that it doesn't give us a lot of energy or it may be the heat.  I'm not really sure.

So at our house, there is hardly anything here.  The toilet is an outhouse - and that's lucky.  Other people's houses just have a hole in the ground more or less.  The shower is also outside.  And inside our house there are two hammocks and our beds, basically.  There's no table and the only "chairs" are two tree stumps.  Susie and I can't quite figure out if our mom is pregnant or not.  Our parents are actually not married but in a civil union sort of thing, which means if they ever want to get a divorce/split up, they can.  Here, if you get married you are not allowed to get a divorce.

The "living room"

The stove



The days are going by so slow..Doesn't really even feel like they're that excited for us to be here.
8 more days!

Wednesday March 3rd
Well...It rained again today.  Awesome.  Today we divided into two groups : One to build a sidewalk at the high school and another to haul rocks to the site for the new lodge.  I was with the rock group.  We had to go down by the river, find medium sized rocks, and make 25 piles of 15.  Well, everyone thought the best idea would be to find the rocks and throw them towards the flat part 15-20 feet away.  I tried to voice my opinion that this was probably not the most effective way.. but my ideas weren't considered.  So we finally got the piles made and then proceeded to bag the rocks in potato sacks and carry them through the muddy trails, up the hills, to the site.  Let me remind you that it was POURING RAIN THE ENTIRE TIME.  And the site is about a 7 1/2 minute hike away from the river.  We had our break, and then afterwards Jenna, Susie, Tia, and I helped wash laundry in the river.  Now I know why washing machines were invented.

Afer that I didn't feel well so I tried to nap. 4 other people are also sick, but they're throwing up and I thankfully haven't done that yet.
After lunch we learned how they make chocolate because caocoa grows EVERYWHERE here.  Then, for the rest of our freetime we played a game called "Mafia".

We're feeling a little disappointed in the trip so far because we don't feel like our work is that greatly appreciated or needed.  We talked about wanting to stay a night or two in one of the tourist lodges and Ana overheard us and told us that we shouldn't be asking that because it may appear that we are not appreciating our host families because they are really happy to have us.  I don't know how true that statement is...
7 more days..

Thursday March 4th
7:30 am
It's currently pouring rain out.  It has been raining like this ALL NIGHT.  This day should be interesting..

Woke up this morning and it was still raining outside.  There has only been one day since we've been here that it hasn't rained.  Today we got to the lodge at 8:15... and since it's been raining so much we couldn't do any work.  So right now it's 2 o'clock...We've been sitting in the lodge since 8:15...Doing nothing.  I feel bad because I'm frustrated with this trip, but I don't know how else to feel.  I know that the rain isn't something we can control so I'm trying not to let that frustrate me, but everything else unfortunately is.  First semester last year, I saw a video of the study abroad trip to Costa Rica.  There was a part when they were on their service learning trip and they were leaving the village after the 10 days and everyone in the village was standing there crying- the kids, the adults, everyone -- and everyone on the bus too.  And because of seeing that video, I guess I was expecting a similar experience.  The place we are has people coming to visit and help them all the time.  Us being here is just like every other day for them.  And the work we've done has not been hard.  The hardest thing was hauling rocks in the rain, and that took 30 minutes.  It doesn't seem like they are that excited for our help.  So I'm starting to lose all motivation.
We still have a week left.  I really just want to go back to San Josecito.  I don't feel like I'm getting anything out of this trip and I'm very, very disappointed.  Not even the teaching art or school has really happened.  Yesterday they asked for 2 volunteers to do math tutoring... Well we all know I'm the last person for that task.  And today they asked for 5 people to do an English class.  5 people volunteered right away.  And so here I am.  Bitching on this piece of paper.
This trip is the first time that I've felt homesick for my real home.

Friday March 5th
7:50 am
It's still raining.  Hasn't stopped in over 24 hours.  Once again we won't be doing anything because of it. What an awesome trip.

6:00 pm
So today we didn't go to the lodge until about 9:30 because of the rain.  Ana and Maria told us that if it was raining, we didn't need to come to the lodge until lunch time.  At around 10:30, it wasn't raining that hard, so we went to try to do some jobs.  We went to the tourist lodges and Ana told us to clear out all the extra wood in the newer lodge.  Well that took about 15 minutes... Then we waited for another job.  Soon a whole bunch of villagers came to start making the roof covering out of palm leaves.  They let us do a few weavings but I rathered that they do it since they are pretty much professionals and our work isn't as good.  Don't want a leaky roof because the gringos helped out.

So then we were given the job of sorting the leaves into piles of "pequeno" (small) and "grande" (large). BUT the problem was that nobody really knew the difference between the two sizes.  Basically when we DO work, we're just given [pardon my language] the bitchwork and our help usually makes the job last longer than it would if they just do it themselves.  That was all the work we did.

Tonight we're staying in the lodge together.  I'm not sure, but I think someone might be killed in their sleep because we have been spending way too much time cooped up together...

Sunday March 7th

Friday night we slept in the "tourist" lodge.  I ended up only getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep because Kim, Susie, Diego, and Daniel (a kid from Costa Rica who is here volunteering also) were so loud all night on the porch of the lodge.  Ana told us that it had been decided that our families would bring some food to the lodge for breakfast Saturday morning, but then some peoples' families told them to come home for breakfast so there was more confusion, as normal.  Low and behold, yesterday morning no one came with any breakfast just like we kind of thought would happen.  Ana also told us that we were going to work from 9-12, and at 9:30 there was still no one at the main lodge and one of the girls' parents told her that no one works on Saturdays because it's a holy day or something similar for them.  Finally, Ana and Maria showed up and told us there weren't any "materials" for working.  So once again, we spent the whole day in the lodge playing cards.  I tried to help with our afternoon snack which was empanadas.  For my cooking skills, they didn't turn out half bad.

Most of us didn't eat dinner because our digestive systems are so backed up from eating plantains with every meal [they're from the same family as bananas, if you didn't know].  We spent our second night in the tourist lodge Saturday and then this morning went to our homes for breakfast.  After, Susie and I went back to the lodge to help clean it up.
Today was our "free day".... So we spent it doing exactly what we have done the past 4 days.... Sitting around...Playing cards....Twiddling our thumbs.....And braiding hair.

Ana told us that tomorrow we are going to do something even if it rains.  And by the way :  It hasn't stopped raining yet.

Monday March 8th
Today it only rained a little bit!  And we actually didn't spend the whole day in the lodge!  In the morning, we spent more time sorting the leaves.  Then we had our break and afterwards the jobs were digging holes again, which had also been a job in the morning, or cleaning the lodge.  The groups stayed the same, so I stayed to clean the lodge which took, oh about 10 minutes.  For lunch, Michon and Melissa made pizza which was a nice change.  After lunch, Germ, Tia, Jenna, Susie, Kristina, and I went to finish digging the holes.  Also, we were told a group of French people were coming today for a visit.  This morning, we saw a group but it turned out they were from Michigan.  Then tonight, another group came and we weren't sure what to say if they were the Frenchies.  Then it turned out they were from Pennsylvania.

Wednesday March 10th
Last day completed!!  But I didn't write about yesterday because I wasn't feeling well last night - So yesterday, THERE WAS SUN!!  ALL DAY!!  It was great.  We had 3 groups : 1 to clean, 1 to put the roofing pieces in the sun, and 1 to dig 5 more holes.  I was in cleaning group again and again it took us about 10 minutes.  There was no one at the site to dig holes who could give directions so we had to wait a while for that.  Finally we split into two groups: One to dig the 5 holes, each 2 feet deep and one to dig out and level an area of ground.  I was in hole digging, but first we had to carry the rocks that we brought there earlier last week to each one of the holes that had already been dug.  It wasn't fun, but the distance wasn't far so it was okay.  Then the guy in charge of the site had us dig 5 holes, each about 2 feet deep and it SUCKED.  But we did it.

After our lunch break we went back to help the group who was trying to level out a different area.  Their job was NOT easy at all.  They had to dig out a huge area of grassy mud and make it all the same level.  After we did what we could with that, we returned to the main lodge.

We learned how to make bracelets which was really fun.  I didn't feel well yesterday afternoon so when Susie and I got to our house I just went right to bed.  I think it's probably because I'm dehydrated because they don't really drink water here.  They use it in the frescos that they make, but otherwise they drink coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.  Plus, the water here tastes so gross, I can't even drink it on its own if I wanted to.

Today, our only job was to take rocks from the river (once again) and fill in the pit that we leveled yesterday.  Today was another sunny, blazing hot day.  After hauling rocks on the 7 minute path (aka hike) for 2 hours, we took a short break for "water" and juice.  We weren't even a 1/4 of the way done at this point.  After that, we worked for another hour and a half, and got just about over 1/2 of it done.  It was definitely the most difficult job, and we couldn't finish it.  We had lunch after and then went to swim in the river.

Tonight, before we left to go back to our houses, the little kids put on a play for us.  It was really cute, but hard to see and hear.  It was something about 2 tribes fighting and one tribe kills the chief of the other who was reincarnated as a tiger and killed everyone from the other tribe.  But I'm not really sure.

Tomorrow we're leaving at 10:00 and spending the next two days in Puerto Viejo at the beach.  Then Saturday, we'll be back in San Josecito!!

It's so weird to think that all the while I've been here, life has been happening as normal both at home and in San Josecito.  Things that I cared about missing out on are happening and I hardly even remember or care.  It just goes to show that you should never stop yourself from going places or living life just because you're afraid you'll miss out on something while away.  You miss out on so much more if you never take the chance to do something different.


Alright, so that's ALL just from my journal.  After leaving Yorkin, we spent two days in Puerto Viejo which is on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and it has a pretty high population of Jamaican people.  I kind of felt like I was in Jamaica for a little while.  We stayed in a really nice and colorful hostel and ate REAL, almost, AMERICAN food.  Hot dogs, potato salad, spaghetti, cereal... We felt like we had died and gone to heaven.  Not much to report from those 2 days... So here are a few pictures.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Girls' Weekend!

So last weekend, all 12 girls decided to take a little viaje (trip) to Manuel Antonio.  Another beach, but there is also a National Park with one of the rainforests there too.  Alex and Jerame, the boys, decided to stay behind probably because they are going crazy from being surrounded by estrogen all week long.

We didn't have classes on Friday, so at 4:30 in the morning all 12 of us caught the bus to San Jose, and from there another bus to Manuel Antonio.  The ride was about 4 hours.  Well, things didn't start out so well when, on the bus to San Jose, Susie told us that she had forgotten our sheet of directions.  Courtney had given her a typed up paper with directions to our hostel (called Pura Vida Hostel) and where to get off our bus and just basic necessities that none of us had any prior knowledge of.  Okay, not a problem, there's 12 of us - We can figure it out right?

So we reach Quepos.  We see a sign that says "Manuel Antonio 6".  Well this of course is not our stop since this is Quepos and not Manuel Antonio.  Everyone gets off the bus except us.  The 12 gringas.  As we start to wind up the narrow, curvy, steep mountain roads we see a hostel that says "Pura Vida Hostel" and one of the girls says "I think that's it!"  But we have been driving for only 2 or 3 minutes so most of us have doubts but how many hostels can there be with the same name?  She pushes the stop button and the driver stops, but since there's 12 of us, there's mass confusion as to if we should really get off or not.  So we don't.  And he keeps driving.

Pretty soon we come down a big hill to see the beautiful beach and Pacific Ocean...and then we also see a little loop that the bus is about to take.  There is no more road.  And no Pura Vida Hostel.  So we get off at the last bus stop and ask a random man nearby where it may be.  Turns out it was the place called "Pura Vida Hostel" that we decided NOT to get off at.  So we wait for the next bus.

Still not sure exactly where we're going or where we should get off at, we tell the bus driver we need to go to the Pura Vida Hostel.  After getting off at the wrong place, and then all quickly jumping back on before he drives away, he pulls over to the side and yells "PURA VIDA HOSTEL" so we all scramble off hoping to not make more fools of ourselves than we already have.  The place he drops us off at does not have a sign.  Or an open gate.  And lying on the ground is a stack of about 30 untouched phonebooks.  "Great," I think, "Pura Vida Hostel doesn't even exist."  Well what can we do?  So all 12 of us start to walk in a single file line down the side of these crazy roads.  12 gringas.  12 traveling backpacks.  On a slippery side of the road.  2 girls slipped and fell in the ditches by the side.  It was actually really hilarious and every time I replay it in my head I laugh out loud.  After walking around two curves we FIND THE PURA VIDA HOSTEL.  All is well.
So the rest of the day we spent lounging on the beach and then decided to get dressed up and go out for dinner.  Quepos was actually a lot closer to our hostel than Manuel Antonio, only a 10 minute walk down the death road, so we decided that it might just be easier to find someplace to eat there.  The lady that owned Pura Vida told us a good, cheap place to go, so we began, once again to walk, 12 gringas all dressed-up, in the dark down the road.  It was terrifying... but we made it to lit sidewalks safely.
But then we got lost.  Again.
And Quepos is the creepiest place we have been to yet.  All the buildings were dark and dirty and everyone was staring at us (which isn't really new) but we definitely got a lot more cat calls then normal. We finally found a restaurant and made it back safely to the hostel that night.

This random guy at our hostel wanted to take a picture with us. 

Saturday we went to the Parque Nacional to check out the rainforest.  There was one main huge trail that everyone takes, but as we were walking we saw a little sign that said "Catarata" which means waterfall.  So of course we decide to check it out.  It was a small path cut through the rainforest and it ended up becoming a legit hike.  Most of us were in beach dresses and flip flops because we were going to the beach afterwards.  About halfway through, we encountered a little clan of monkeys up in the trees.  We've heard a lot of stories about them throwing poop at people who are too loud or too close, and they were swinging through those trees a little too close to us for my liking.

At the end of the trail, we found the waterfall.  It wasn't very big at all, but it was still exciting.  We were all dripping in sweat because it was so hot and we were legitimately hiking through the forest, practically swinging on vines to get where we needed to go, so the fresh cold water was nice.

After that, we trekked back the way we came and went to the beach inside the Park.  Definitely my favorite beach we've been to.  There were no waves so it was great to just relax and swim in the water.
That night we bought bread and peanut butter and jelly and just hung out in the room.  We had our fill of walking around creepy places in the dark for one weekend.

The next morning, half the group (including me) took the bus back at 6 am.  The bus station was in Quepos so we walked down at about 5:15.  We sat at the bus stop and time started to tick by... 5:30... 5:45...5:50.. 5:55.. No bus.  Damnit.  All of us began to worry that we didn't have the right bus station.  After the rest of happenings of the weekend, that would have fit in just perfectly.  While waiting, we had a little entertainment across the street when a big hairy Tico without a shirt started a fight with a skinny white guy.  We weren't really sure what happened, but the next thing we knew the Tico was grabbing the guy and throwing him on the hood of a taxi that was rolling backwards because the driver wasn't inside and it wasn't in park... Then they were hugging and best friends.... Then the Tico was yelling and trying to drop kick a garbage can... Then he tried to punch the other guy again... And finally the white guy and his girl got in their taxi and left and the Tico found his shirt again.  Definitely an interesting start to the morning.
The bus came a little late, but it came so we were very thankful.

So we finally arrive back in San Jose.. Nearly home.  As we were walking through San Jose, we came up the central street when a homeless person came out of nowhere and asked Tia (one of the girls) for "1,000 dollars!!".  Tia didn't see him and freaked out when she realized he was standing right next to her.  She screamed and jumped out of the way, which just drew more attention to us.  It was actually really funny, but only because nothing bad happened.

So we're feet away from our bus stop, when this raggedy looking kid walking up the street towards us starts making weird growling noises at each of us as we walked by and walking up into our faces.  He didn't do anything to me, probably because I'm so intimidating.  Finally we got to our stop and breathed a sigh of relief.  What else could possibly happen to us!?  When suddenly I look and see this older white guy in khakis and keens running towards us.  He's panting and says really quickly "You guys are from Eau Claire? Yeah I studied there too. You're in a really freaky part of town right now, I'm just going to walk with you to your hostel."  We all looked at each other and I said "No, no we're fine we're just waiting for the bus." And he said "Oh okay." And turned and sprinted up the street.  We were not in a "really freaky" part of town.  We were at the bus stop that we go to every time we go to San Jose.  I don't really know what his intentions were, if he was trying to help someone else rob us or what, but I'm really glad we didn't find out.

So that was my weekend in a nutshell.  I've definitely had my fill of traveling for a while.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Just A Thought Post

I'm super bored right now so I just decided to write a blog post about nothing in-particular.  I know what you're probably thinking: "You're in Costa Rica!! How can you be bored??"  Well there's not really very much to do where I live and all the cities are bus rides away, and I don't have anyone to go anywhere with right now.  Sooo I'm sitting at my house.  The weather is a bit cold and dreary so I can't really go anywhere anyways.

Today I had a little one-on-one meeting with Courtney just to talk about how things are going so far.  It was a nice chat.  I told her that the only thing I was really having trouble adjusting to was the lack of independence that I'm used to at home.  She assured me not to worry about wanting to go places after school or feeling bad for leaving my house so that makes me feel better about it.  I also told her that I had been looking for internships here since before I left and asked her if she or Ana or Maria would be able to help me find one for the summer.  She said that they actually have an internship program that they've just started and that they could easily help me.  She said I could even keep living with my same host family or another within the program and stay in San Josecito.  I'm really excited now and I hope something comes of it.

So far, not feeling very homesick at all.  I haven't watched any TV other than the local news and sometimes telenovelas because my mom likes them.  They are the worst things I have ever seen -- Even worse than soap operas in the States.  The other night I watched my first movie since being here, Seven Pounds, at Cody's house.  I guess I do kind of miss my movies..but only right now because I'm bored and also because I really wanted to watch Alice in Wonderland today but obviously couldn't.  Honestly...I could live here forever...
Of course I want to see my family and friends...but I already feel myself becoming a new and different person and when the day comes for me to leave it's going to be very, very difficult.  That's why I really hope I get the internship so that I can come back for the summer.  Before coming here, I had the attitude that I really wasn't ready to graduate college in a year.  I was praying that I could push it to at least a year and a half more.  I just didn't really think I felt ready to end that part of my life or try to decide what the next step is.  Now, I wish I was already done so that I could get started on life and experience and finding out what the rest of the world has to offer me.   When I think about the fact that I have to go back to school and stress and pointless classes and my old day-to-day routine in Eau Claire....I want to cry. It is just not a happy thought at all.
Oh well.  Gotta do what I gotta do to finish.  Maybe now I'll be more motivated to take some Summer or Winterim classes!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jacó Beach Weekend

So this past weekend we took our first trip.  We went to Jacó beach which was about 2 hours away from San Josecito.  But first, on Friday, after morning Spanish class everyone came to my house to my "ranch" (basically the backyard of my house which is the front yard of some of my family members' homes) to cook Tico food for lunch.  We were all split into groups and we made tortillas, gallo pinto (a rice and bean dish which is amazing and I could eat it for all three meals everyday), fresco (fruit juice), fried platanos (plantains), meat, cheese, and bread.  It WAS SO GOOD.  The food here is amazing.
Rolling bread dough in pretzel-like form.

Our "teachers", Nathalia and Carlos. 
Half of the group left after eating to head for Jacó.  I decided to go with the other group on Saturday because I didn't want to spend the ENTIRE weekend out.

At 4 am Saturday morning, I woke up and packed for the beach.  The bus for San Jose came at 5.  When we got to San Jose (Me, Holly, Susie, Melissa, Omar, and Kevin) we waited patiently for our friend Diego (he is Ana & Maria's nephew so we see him a lot and invited him for the weekend).  We thought he'd be there already since he called Omar at 4 am for a wake up call.  But no.  He didn't show up until after 6 and we were planning to take the 6 am bus from San Jose to Jaco.  So after that we bought tickets for the 8 am bus and waited at the bus station for 2 hours.  All turned out okay anyway. 

Once arriving to Jaco we "checked-in" to our hostel which was probably one of the nastier places I have seen.  We had two rooms reserved for 15 people and heard lots of fun but not-so-fun stories from the group that stayed Friday night about dealings with cockroaches and spiders in their beds.  Omar, Kevin, and Diego did not seem phased by the stories so those things are pretty common.  Plus we shouldn't have expected much from the looks of the place.  We all spent the entire day on the beach and just hung out in our rooms that night after going out for dinner.  
On Sunday we woke up pretty early, or didn't wake up because it felt like I hadn't even slept through the night, and headed to the beach again.  I went to breakfast with Omar and Diego and then went down to the water for just about an hour.  I did NOT get sunburned!!!  Just a little pink on my back where I couldn't quite reach to rub sunscreen in all the way.  My group who I went with Saturday took the bus back to San Jose at 4 and didn't get home until about 7:30 or 8. 

Jenna, Erin, and I - Beach.

While coming into San Jose, there was a lot of chaos and craziness because Sunday was election day here in Costa Rica and people really enjoy expressing themselves, especially in the streets.  Every car had a giant flag on a pole hanging out of at least one window and people were yelling and chanting and using car horns to sound out for their candidate.  It was pretty crazy.  I didn't get any pictures of anything which is kind of sad.  Anyway, at the end of the night it was announced that Laura Chinchilla was elected - Costa Rica's first female president.

Overall, it was a great weekend.  The beach was wonderful (duh), and it was really nice to get away from home and be on my own.  I won't lie, it was definitely hard to want to come back when I had two days of freedom.  It's been kind of difficult for me to accept my lack of freedom to do what I want, even though anytime I want to do something my mom always lets me.  I just always feel so bad leaving all the time or asking to do something all the time.  She told me the other day that she really does not like leaving the house and she would rather never go anywhere.   I thought "Hm well we could not be more opposite."

We're off again this weekend to Manuel Antonio which is another beach area but it also has one of the National Parks and rainforests :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


It's been just over a week and a half and while I am having the time of my life so far, there are a few things of course that I'm starting to have some frustrations with.

1. Language
Well Duh.  I've gotten so much better since the first day, and I'm excited knowing how much I'm going to improve by the end, but as I get better I start to want to say more, but I don't have the words and I don't know the grammar for the more complex sentences I want to say.  I'm starting to become very frustrated because there are so many things I want to say, ask, and comment on... But I simply can't.  And while everyone is VERY nice and patient, it's hard to carry on a good conversation with my nose buried in a dictionary.

2. Living Arrangements
I love my mom.  She is older, but she is very kind, caring, patient, and does everything to make sure I'm doing well.  But the new living arrangement is hard to deal with : She washes all my clothes.  I do my own laundry at home home.  She makes ALL my food.  I have yet to come up with a meal on my own.  And it's not just lunch or dinner : It's all three meals.   I also now have someone to be accountable to.  At home home, if I want to go out and do something on a school night after 8, I do.  I don't have to ask permission or tell anyone what time I'm going to be home.  I just go.  I can't do that here.  Which brings me to :

3. Making friends and hanging out
It gets dark here very early.  By a little after 6, it's pitch black.  And the people here (our families) are very, very worried about us being on the streets after dark.  If I want to go anywhere, I need someone who can walk me there - preferably a guy, and also someone to walk me home.  In the first two weekends, I've met a lot of people who I really like and want to get to know... But it's next to impossible to spend time together when most of them work until 5 and it gets dark at 6, and I never know if I'll be allowed to leave if it's not clear who will walk me there and who will walk me home.  I also don't have a cell phone to communicate with anyone which is becoming frustrating.  If I was someone who wasn't interested in the local people, this wouldn't be so much of a problem.  I could get by just using the land line to call the others in the study abroad group if I needed to.  But for me, building relationships with these new friends I've made is one of the best ways to experience the culture, and one of the most fun.  And I'm starting to see the difficulty in making this happen as completely as I would like.

That's really all I have.  I don't want it to appear as though I am not enjoying my time -- I AM.  I already know how difficult it will be for me to leave.  But with any new place, there are adjustments to make and some are harder than others.

...And We Walked For Days

The first full week has come and past..VERY QUICKLY!  Last Monday we started classes, but only Spanish.  The class is awesome - I think I've learned more in a week than in 2 years of college Spanish.  On Tuesday, after Spanish class we went to Heredia, which is a nearby city, to tour.  We walked.  A lot.  And did I mention that we walk to school everyday?  35 minutes.  Doesn't seem as long as it really is though.  Honestly, I don't have much to say about Heredia.  Lots of small tiendas (stores) and we went to a mercado (market) which was pretty interesting.  Difficult to explain, however.  Many of the stores line the streets, but the mercado is almost like a fair building.  You enter it, and there are just rows and rows of fruit stands, people selling meat and fish, small stores for makeup and other accessories, and even smaller sized bars and restaurants.  I spent the time looking at the displays of butchered meat and asking what things were.  At one point a man caught my attention and singled with his finger "One moment..." reached down, and grabbed the head of a pig and held it up to show me.  I wish I had gotten a picture...

Thursday, after Spanish, we went to San Jose (the capital) for a tour.  Basically, it was the same as Heredia just... WAY BIGGER.  And people EVERYWHERE.  We definitely got stared at quite a bit and at one point a group of guys yelled at me and the other two girls I was with at the time "SEX AND THE CITY!!"  All through the center of the calles (streets) are people selling things: movies, cds, shoe strings, phone cards....you name it.  Kim, a girl in the group, bought Avatar from one of them.  It wasn't until we got back from San Jose that we realized the duration on the back of the case said "101 minutes"......
Just one street in San Jose.

Plaza in San Jose.  There were hundreds of pigeons.  It was gross.

Friday night, everyone went out to a new local bar called Los Protreros.  Ana, Maria (the program coordinators), Courtney (other coordinator), Dionicio (Spanish prof), were there and all of our families were invited, but mostly just younger siblings came.  It was a blast.  We were most definitely the center of attention: a huge group of gringos taking up a table the size of the bar.  Karaoke was the main entertainment, and several times locals in the bar came to our table to sing songs to us.  After drinking and mingling, we started dancing.  It was a really great time and I got to spend a lot of time with some of the local kids here my age who I met last weekend which I loved.

The morning group Spanish class with Dionicio (our Prof) [and Omar in the back for reasons unknown haha] at Los Portreros.

On Sunday, Cody, Alex, Elizabeth, and I went to a park in San Jose, also with my newest friend Omar who lives here in San Josecito but is originally from Nicaragua.  And we walked forever.  FOREVER.  The "park" we went to is probably 3 times the size of Kendall.  I would guess we walked for 3 hours.  Finally, we made it back to the central streets of San Jose and went to Pizza Hut for lunch.  First taste of "American" food since I've been here.  Tastes the same.

Omar and I in the park on Sunday.  I'm drinking "pipa" which is basically coconut juice.  It's goooood.

Just a few of the spaces for soccer fields at the enormous park.  There were at least 2 or 3 more this size, and also 2 baseball fields, as well as other places for other sports or for just laying around.