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 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.