I’m Back

Hey all,

So I know its been a pretty long time since I last posted. Sorry for that, I’ve just been real busy and it hasn’t been at the top of my priorities until after this past weekend. I’m going to give a short recap of the last month and then tell you about this past weekend. If you’re rushed on time, check out the Domincal weekend, Montezuma, and Tirimbina up to present. There all labeled.

HALLOWEEN – Since I last posted the week days have been more or less the same, minus some key nights like Dia de los Muertos and pizza night with Javier’s family, one epic Halloween party, and the national soccer game. A fellow Veritas student who has been living down here with his dad for about a year now decided to have a Halloween party for all the gringos and some Ticas as his dad’s “house”. I wasn’t planning on doing anything for Halloween to be honest, but since this offered me a new experience besides the normal bar scene, I decided to go.

Now this house wasn’t just any house, and would be better described as a mansion from those classic house party movies, located in Escazu, commonly known as the most wealthy parts of San Jose and the greater Costa Rica. The house came with dance floor, jacuzzi, back yard with slip’n slide, infinity pool, and an amazing view of San José. The night was a long one for everyone, being reliant on the two SUV’s the host hired to drive everyone back and forth, and the last car getting back around 430 in the morning.

I went for the free and easy costume of a lifeguard.

A friend from class and I standing in the backyard with the view of San José in the background.

Día de Los Muertos - Later on that week, the majority of my friends from NAU went to our resident director’s house to celebrate Día de los Muertos with his family. They are from the south of Mexico, where this day is one of the most important of the year, so they went all out in preparing food, la ofrenda, and telling us all the ways Mexicans celebrate this day. Rosi made some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever had, and surprisingly I had never tried mole until that day (what’s with that abuela?).

Pizza Night - My last week day I would like to highlight was last Thursday, starting with a presentation of a fellow NAU graduate who participated in the NAU Abroad program with Javier over 7 years ago. After spending some time in Mexico and becoming perfectly bilingual with accent and all, he has become a poet and writer more or less, with a large concentration in politics and issues such as immigration. Later that night, we passed the evening making home made pizza’s at Javier’s house with his family (it’s always a luxury to have the opportunity to cook, so we take it whenever we can).

Soccer Game - Finally, the national soccer game against Guyana was great. I would like to point out that Costa Rica is definitely not renown for its soccer skills globally, but being a Latin American country the pride for their team still runs deep. This was a rare opportunity, because being ranked what they are and with their amount of support, Costa Rica almost never has the opportunity to host a national game, unless of course they play countries like Guyana, who are actually worse. It was the usual sporting event lack the beer inside the stadium (I believe selling alcohol inside of soccer stadiums is ilegal in most Latin American countries to discourage the regular brawls and physical heckling of players with food and trash).  We won I think 7 or something, so it wasn’t much of a game, but at least it gave all of the fans to perfect the “wave”, which I have never seen work so well and so many times around in such a large stadium.

Monteverde - The weekends have been more traveling, seeing, experiencing, more traveling, and more experiencing. Monteverde, the classic cloud forest of Costa Rica, was the blood raising weekend. Besides the awesome cabinitas we stayed in overlooking the forest with a pretty amazing sunset in the background, the highlight of this weekend was the zip-lining. Pictures should do it justice.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dominical - The next weekend we had nothing planned, so last minute two of my housemates and two of our friends from NAU and myself headed off to the tranquil surf town of Dominical. Dominical is a Pacific beach town more or less still untouched by the eco-tourism that’s bombarded Costa Rica, so it made for a real easy going weekend. We spent out days on the beach, body surfing, and on Saturday we walked to the water fall which of course had a rope swing. Although we had to trek back 4 km in a downpour, the whole experience was fun and had a sense of adventure for us, with no organization or planning needed. Friday night we had it all planned out to make rice with eggs, beans, and some vegies but of course the giant propane tank ran out. So we walked out onto the beach, started a fire, and made our food the old fashion way, minus the lighter and all the store bought food.

Montezuma - The next weekend the whole group went to yet another beach town called Montezuma. Two of my housemates and our friend Sam and I decided to enjoy our Friday night resting, saving the money of a hostel and a dinner, and wanted to sleep in our own beds rather than in a hot sticky hostel bed and left Saturday morning early, which turned out to be a great choice seeing how the Friday night bus broke down, took almost 10 hours in total, and they didn’t get to there nice and clean hostel beds until 12 that night. Anyways, after the bus, ferry, bus, and minivan ride we arrived to Santa Theresa by 10, checked into our hostel, and we were on the beach by 1130. And that sums up that day… beach, hanging, beach, and hanging. That evening we made the usual rice, beans, and something else and met up with some Ticos we had met earlier for a bonfire. These ticos were pretty new to the community, so hanging out with gringos was better than hanging out with nobody… But they were great company and we enjoyed ourselves by the ocean and stars.

Sunday we made our way over to Montezuma where we walked to the famous waterfall which was huge, hiked around the area, and napped and read in the afternoon. At this moment, the majority of the group decided to make the trek, but my housemates, some girls, and myself stayed the extra night since we had Monday off. And of course we didn’t want to bail on our adventure to the mysterious cemetery island. So that night, the five of us (minus a housemate who wasn’t feeling to hot) stocked up on the essentials, marshmallows and boxed wine, grabbed a cab, took it to a town in the middle of nowhere, and headed for the island. This cemetery island could only be reached when the tide was lowest, when a natural bridge is formed. We trekked about 1/3 of a mile out and found that we weren’t the only ones there. Like the full moon lit cemetery island the sunday before Halloween wasn’t enough, the entire time we were there a man stood alone off in the distance on the edge of the water. We did our quick walk through the cemetery, with probably about 25 or 30 graves and about half as many giant black vultures.

After that we embarked on our adventure back, about 4 miles through dirt road in the middle of nowhere. After passing the giant old tree we could walk through, we took a detour to make our marshmallows on the beach, where all but one of us ended up falling asleep. At about 2 o’clock in the morning we woke up and finished in about 45 minutes, crawling in our hostel beds knowing we were waking up at 530 to take the same van, bus, ferry, bus trip back to San Jose.

Almost there sorry for all the catch up.

Osteonal - After a weekend of relaxing staying back in San José, I had a field trip with my Environmental Impact and Social Development class. We went to a beach called Osteonal, which is one of the 8 beaches in the world where Arribadas happen, in which up to 500,000 Hadley turtles arrive over a 4-8 day period to lay millions of eggs. Unfortunately, we were one day early to see that, but we still got to see a mama turtle lay her eggs and help lots of baby turtles to the water. An overall gratifying weekend, plus we got private transportation!

Rafting and Tirimbina - This past weekend may have been my favorite weekend so far. When I found out we were going to be rafting the Sarapiqui river, I immediately hit up my friends at Tirimbina to see if I could bring some of my friends for the night. The jefe, Carlos, hooked us up with an amazing price so almost all of us decided to stay the night. Rafting was a good two hours of consistent rapids and getting wet, with as always an enthusiastic and funny guide. After that, we headed to El Chante where I had spent many a nights to eat one of the best lunches I’ve ever had with mountains of food (glad I figured that out after I spent 7 weeks there). We headed to Tirimbina, got our rooms (mine with Air Conditioning) and headed into the forest to give everyone an idea of what it looked like before entering in the night.

However, after the long day of waking up early, rafting in the sun, and then a few beers at lunch my housemates and two of the girls crashed. But it all worked out well anyways with those who were left standing. I ran into Emmanuel about to go out and catch bats for the tour, so the few of us left standing went out with him, helped him catch the bats, saw an armadillo, and convinced him to take us to the island where we were able to touch a sloth climbing on the bridge.

That night those who were still up with me went to El Chante with the other volunteers and investigadores along with Sergio and Emmanuel for some beers. The majority of the conversations were in Spanish, but everyone was able to hold there own and we had a jolly ol’ time.

Sunday we all woke up for our included breakfast of gallo pinto, eggs and all the works. With an incredible amount of luck, this day happened to be the one day of the year where Tirimbina opens its doors to all of the community for free, including the tours that I had not expected to do due to lack of money. We jumped in on the natural history tour with a Tica family and then went straight to the choc0late tour where they got to try all the steps of making chocolate as I have described in a previous post. This was definitely the icing on the cake. Some of my friends couldn’t stop thanking me for the incredible weekend, and I can’t express how good it felt to when today in class a few of them said it was there best weekend yet.

Everyone but Kelsey and I left on the 1 o’clock bus, and we stayed behind to just hand with my friends. One of the best parts of this weekend was that almost everyone was working on Sunday (minus Tati, Flaco, y Francini) so, although I don’t like to say it, if this was my last chance to visit Tirimbina I got to spend some time with all of my friends and say goodbye. It still is hard to think that I’ll be leaving such good friends, more like family, in a country so far away from me. When I was riding the bus home, watching the kids on the porch looking back at me, the man riding his horse down the side of the road, and the local men sitting outside the little market just bullshitting with each other, I was honestly imagining myself living out there, simply working in Tirimbina, walking into the forest every day, and everything just seemed right.

That said, now I’m back in the barred life of the city of  San José, looking on to my next adventure. For those of you who don’t know, I plan to leave for Peru right after my family leaves to return back to the states. At the moment I have no definite plans, but I hope to make it to Bolivia and see what I can before returning back to the real life of the United States. I hope that I will meet people as genuine as my friends and have as great of a time and learn as much as I did as when I was in Tirimbina.

Thanks for reading. Like always, I’ll try to keep more up to date on my posts, but as always, no promises. Thanks for reading, or  at least for looking at the pictures. Have a great week.

Border Hopping to Panama

Hey friends and family,

Hope all is well with everyone and you are enjoying the Fall colors and activities (don’t take Fall for granted, not everybody has Fall, and I would kill for some of my mom’s pumpkin soup). Right now I’m enjoying the beauty of the rainy season cooped up in my room avoiding the rain, and for some reason after more than 3 months in Costa Rica, the necessity of an umbrella has not urged me to buy one. Anyways, I can’t complain. I spent the last two weekends in awe inspiring places of Costa Rica and Panama.

Two weekends ago (Sep. 28th-Oct. 1) my fellow NAU students and I, along with Javier and his family, took advantage of our three day weekend to renew our Visas and travel to arguably the most breathtaking islands of Central America, called Bocas Del Torro (Mouth of the Bull). Located just off the Carribean coast of Panama, about an hours drive south of the border from Costa Rica, Bocas is comprised of its capital island, Isla Colón, and its 9 surrounding main islands. Some of the islands housed  the Panamanians who worked the tourism businesses, two of the islands were inhabited by indigenous tribes, and others were only home to the wildlife and visitors looking for refuge from the sun after snorkeling and white sand beaches to eat lunch on.

After leaving Puerto Viejo (we split up the 8 hour journey by staying in Puerto Veijo Friday night) at 630 am Saturday morning, spending a couple of hours on the bus, getting our passport stamps, walking across the bridge to enter Panama, getting more stamps, taking an hour minibus ride, and then a 45 minute taxi shuttle ride to Isla Colón, Javier gave us the necessary hour to eat and find a place to stay before we headed off for Playa de Las Estrellas con our guide for the weekend. Because my roommates and myself decided to stay across the water at Hostel Aqua Lounge, we only had time to grab some food and pack our cooler before jumping, or rather cramming, into the shuttle. Luckily it was close and we got kicks out of our ability to squeeze into the van and the Panamanian man who yelled “Look, Gringo Van”. The afternoon was a great time admiring the multitude of starfish, playing ultimate frisbee in the crystal clear water, and just relaxing after the hours of traveling that morning.

When we returned to Isla Colón, we headed straight for our hostel across the water (about a minute and one dollar via water taxi) called Aqua Lounge, where one of my roommates had already stayed the week before school started. We met the staff and other travelers staying there while making our spaghetti dinner and then past our time jumping off the trampoline and the swings into the ocean in the middle of the hostel. I headed to my room to try to squeeze in a nap, but was prevented from doing so by the generous gift of my first import beer in three months, a Guiness,  from my bed neighbor (later turned out not to be the coolest bed neighbor), which then began the night of festivities. The girls arrived shortly after along with half of Isla Colón, where we danced, drank, and swam into the wee hours of the night (not really an option of when you want to go to bed when you stay in Aqua Lounge on a Saturday night).

The next morning I was woken at 530 by my generous bed neighbor having a skype date with his girlfriend, let’s just say it wasn’t what I wanted to wake up to, but fortunately I was able to fall back to sleep. At 8 Andre, Arturo, and I got up and quickly made ourselves the free pancakes and coffee given by our hostel and made our way over to the main island to meet up with the group. Javier had organized a full day tour for us for only 30$, a tour that usually costs over 70$ (side note – Panama has their own currency, called Balboas, but it is exactly equivalent to US dollars and the dollar is more commonly used). We headed straight to La Bahía de Los Delfines, where as the name suggests, we saw a few dolphins. After, we went to an island where we snorkeled over the reefs for an hour or so and saw tons of interesting fish (the wildlife was similar to scuba in Puerto Viejo but the water was a lot clearer here). We continued to an uninhabited island where we took in the sun playing more ultimate frisbee and eating out lunch. Finally, we ended our day visiting one of the two Indigenous islands where we were able to talk with some of the people, and ironically play volleyball with them (guys, girls, younger, older all were extremely good and us gringos didn’t stand a chance until we mixed the teams up)

Overall, a phenomenal day, ended with a not so phenomenal night. Andre and I decided to take advantage of our other roommates already purchased hotel room with air conditioning and leave Aqua Lounge, although we already had payed for the second night there. Justin (our other roommate) was cool about it and didn’t have us split the cost, so we lucked out. After moving our stuff to the hotel on the main island and making it back to the girls hostel to head out for dinner, it began to storm really hard so we took a minibus with Javier’s family to the recommended Lemon Grass restaurant. Service was slow to non-existent, after added tax and gratuity each plate cost about 14 dollars, and half of the group went home feeling nauseous. Welp, lesson learned (get more than one reference than the one from a local who had “been high off the new California stuff his friend got him for the past two days”) and be able to laugh at the situation. Although some people found it hard to swallow (both literally and figuratively) there was nothing we could do but pay and drink some Pepto, and laugh about it the next morning.

The next morning we were up at 7 to enjoy our coffee and muffin on the dock overlooking the water, before starting our 7 hour trip all the way back to San Jose for dinner.

I am going to have to call it quits for the day and pick up tomorrow with the past week and weekend tomorrow, especially since I still need to upload the photos from the trip.

On a side note, I officially bought my ticket for January 3rd from Costa Rica to Lima, Peru. For those of you who didn’t know, I’m spending the first few months of next year traveling South America, so I can put this Spanish I’m supposedly learning to real use. Already looking forward to it and planning my ideal route (rubbing it in) with my sister Taylor, who has already had the opportunity to travel much of South America.

Look for my next post tomorrow or the next. Thanks for reading and enjoy the slideshow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Día de La Indepencia y Volcan Poas

Two weekends ago (the weekend of Sep. 15), was Independence Day here in Costa Rica (along with most of Central America), the day where Guatemala declared independence for all of Central America after the defeat of the Spaniards in the Mexican War of Independence. Today in Costa Rica, the holiday is celebrated both the night of the 14th and the morning of the 15th. The night proceeding the holiday is a nation wide event, where children parade around with their faroles, cardboard boxes with candles of lanterns inside, decorated by each child to represent their home and family, some simple and some prepared by their parents. At 6 pm, the entire country stops what they are doing, joining together to sing their national anthem ( http://youtu.be/kyQjSwIuSz4 if your curious) followed by traditional dances performed by the students. The morning of, in every city and village across the country, there is a desfile (parade) of children jamming on drums and dancing to the tune.

I decided to spend my holiday with my family away from home in Tirimbina, especially since Lena was leaving the next day back for Germany. I arrived Friday late afternoon to Tirimbina by bus, just in time to see all the children running around with their farole, surprising some of my old friends and meeting the new volunteer from Wisconsin and two new researchers from Holland. We made ourselves dinner back in the old kitchen, waited for Chupa to get off of work, and headed down to the plaza where all of La Virgen was meeting for the national anthem and the dance afterwards. Unfortunately we arrived late, and only got to watch the dancing, but the effort put into decorating the barn really showed how much this holiday meant to the country, especially in areas outside of San José. After about an hour of that, we headed out to meet some more friends (Juan Ca, Eu, Alejandra, Francisco, Francini) at a bar I never went to called El Rio, where we did the usual sharing laughs and dancing to the music. We scored a ride back to Tirimbina and I made my way to Chupa’s house where he generously let me sleep in a bed.

Saturday morning is where the holiday really hit home for me. Although it was a struggle to wake up at 730 after a long night, I pushed myself to do it and was greatly rewarded. Two of the new guys and myself headed into town and met up with Manuel who was there to watch his daughter. The morning was already hot and humid when we gathered on the covered basketball court and the teachers of local schools began to talk about the meaning and importance behind the day of independence. More children were there dressed in their appropriate outfits (some done up, some traditional, and some in costumes to represent the stories of Costa Rica) than the amount of people I thought lived in La Virgen. When the parade finally started, we staked out our spot to watch and take pictures and videos of all the different schools passing with their own music and dance. These kids, from 5 to 15, jammed on their instruments (mostly drums) better than any adult I’ve ever seen, which came as no surprise to Annika (worked for her earlier on) who said her daughter’s class had been practicing more for this day than actual studying for the past two months (no exaggeration). After about an hour and a half of watching we left for Tirimbina, where I got to meet Gato’s two kids and wife along with Dennis’ two kids, a little strange after knowing only them this whole time. Here are some pictures and hopefully a video of the desfile.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because of the holiday, barely anyone was working at Tirimbina as well as I already had plans back in San Jose, so I took the 1 o’clock bus back and was home just in time to go back out. Since it was Arturo’s birthday and we had no long trips planned, a group of us decided to spend a night in a popular hostel/bar near by that I have stayed a few times called Costa Rica’s Backpacker’s, where we met new friends, cooked a family dinner, and danced in the attached bar. Sunday we woke up early (to our surprise) to catch the bus to Playa Jacó, where we hung all day soaking in the sun, playing soccer, and talking with locals (scored some private pool action). By the time we bused it all the way back home, we were almost to tired to eat. Almost, but Mama Helga had the kitchen smelling to delicious to pass it up, along with a cake for Arthur.

The following week of classes was the usual, except for the field trip to the Mercado Central (a maze of little shops inside a warehouse selling fresh fruit, fish, meats, medicinal herbs (not weed), flowers, superstitious items, and a few sodas). We only had to walk around and talk with the very friendly shop owners, researching natural remedies for sicknesses and asking about their food.

Not my picture, but this is a general idea of what it looks like. A little cleaner than most parts, but the mercado is always safe and friendly.

This past weekend was a very, very relaxed weekend for me. Thursday night before the field trip was the 21st birthday of one girl, and 22nd of another, so that night took us from Los Profes to the popular university bar street Calle La Amagurra, so Friday and Saturday night I took it easy and saved some money staying in, going to a movie, and hanging with my housemates. Sunday, my group from NAU went to Volcan Poas, a volcano high in the clouds only about 1.75 hrs from us by bus. There are actually two volcanoes, but only Poas is active. It was a great small weekend trip, easy to get to, great scenery (both volcanoes have turquoise blue lakes in them), and it was nice to be cold again with weather  similar to that of the northwest, cold and wet. We were home with plenty of time to eat dinner and skype the parents as well as my buddies from NAU.

 

Class this week was a little unusual, since our teacher invited my class to her house to cook gallo pinto and these popular coco balls, Tuesday and Wednesday was the typical last minute grammar, and tomorrow and Friday we have a written and oral exam.  After the studies, I am off to the famous Bocas Del Torro in Panama this three day weekend with my group to renew my Visa once again. Stories and pictures to come.

AND FINALLY I AM CAUGHT UP! Sorry it took so long, but now I can finally get back to a normal weekly post to be more in depth and hopefully more entertaining.

I’ll leave on the note my first month of classes has flown by, and the past three months have gone even faster. I cannot believe three months has gone by this quickly, and that less than three months from today my parents and Blake will be flying into Costa Rica (for those of you who don’t know Taylor has a big-girl job now in Chicago and will not be able to join us, sorry sis). We’ll enjoy our Christmas in the mountains and New Years on the beach, and then I’ll be off on the road again traveling South America (already missing the freedom of it). As much as I miss my family and especially my friends at NAU, I am having the best time and creating new pockets of families in Costa Rica to make me feel at home. As usual, thank you all for reading and have a great weekend.

 

School and Puerto Viejo

It was quite the turn around starting school again after my weekend in Monetverde with Lena, but it unfortunately was time. The rest of the students arrived Saturday the 1st, so I was able to catch a ride with the driver to pick up my good friend Kelsey from the airport and take two of her four bags so she didn’t look like such a gringo (failed). My specific group (students from NAU who we travel and meet with) consists of 13 students including myself, with our director Javier and his family. Our group is different than the others because we have our own director who’s only job is to take care of and help us out, which is extremely helpful, especially for those who have trouble adjusting. He has already made two hospital runs (everyone is ok) and ran countless other errands for us. On top of that, he has already invited us to his home twice, once for a movie and drinks and the other for his daughter’s quinceañera, as well as meets with us twice a week in smaller groups to check in and practice our Spanish. With all the programs combined, there are probably about 50-60 gringos studying abroad at Veritas.

The first Monday of school was just orientation as well as oral placement exams, which thanks to my prior 8 weeks in Tirimbina, I placed above the level I was supposed to and skipped a class, so now I am in Advanced 2, the highest Spanish level available.
That said, the class pretty much just involves speaking in Spanish for 4 hours, doing some grammar review when needed, talking about different themes, and solo presentations for exams. My teacher gives little homework (especially in comparison to the others) and we have our first actual quiz tomorrow (more than half way through the class).

Class is only from 8-12 every day, so we have lots of time to hang and explore during the day. Our first week we went to Mall San Pedro to buy phones, found new sodas and eateries for our lunch time meals, played a few games of pick up soccer, and or course explored the night life. Los Profes is a bar no more than two minutes walking from my house, and is very popular between students and teachers alike. Not to mention the owner is good friends with my host mom, throwing in a few drinks every once in a while.

Speaking of host mom, my host family is great. It consist of Helga (41), who is very affectionate, a good cook, extremely caring, and a little rebellious in the terms of typical Tica lady. I also have a host brother, Antonio (13), well, who is a 13 year-old with plenty of sass and attitude for his mom. And the other three guys from NAU, Arthur, Andre, and the other Justin (we all have our own rooms). In addition to us 6, Helga has a very big heart, and therefore she owns 4 cats, and really takes care of 15, including the 6 kittens in the box in our living room. It’s actually not as weird as it sounds, and the company is always nice.

Our first weekend, my group along with many other students from Veritas went to Puerto Viejo de Limon, a well like beach town with a different Pura Vida Rasta vibe to it. All throughout the east coast of Costa Rica, Jamaican immigrants have tweaked the culture to be more like theirs, and Limon is the most extreme case by far. Walking down the streets of Limon, reggae music blares from the bars while smoke rises from the crowds of people in bathing suits and sandals. Its hard to find a more laid back and relaxed place in Costa Rica.

Our first night there, after a 4.5 hour bus ride, we went to our hostel Rocking Jays, where we got our hammocks for the night (only $7). We grabbed a quick bite to eat next door and immediately started the festivities in our hostel with the Jungle party, where body paint was being applied as aggressively as my sunscreen. We then made our way over into town, where we danced at Bar Tex Mex with locals and travelers alike. Around 11 a housemate, a couple friends, and myself swam out to a near shore boat for an hour or so, and then returned to our hostel for the late night bonfire.

Saturday, we woke up, got some grub, and then headed to Playa Cahuita for a walk through the only free national park in Costa Rica and scuba diving. We had all day to play in the surf until 2 when we went out on the boat with two very laid back, rasta, comical guides. The reef was close to shore, and as soon as I jumped in, I looked down and saw a shark (only a nurse shark but still a shark) and told the rest of the people on the boat. Most thought I was only joking and were happy for that because they said if they knew they wouldn’t have gone in. The rest of the couple of hours we saw two more sharks, a mantarey, and plenty of colorful fish. When we got back on the boat to head back to shore, we were greeted by fresh cut pineapple and watermelon with some frescos.

Saturday night we went back Puerto Viejo and went out to dinner as a group for Javier’s oldest daughter’s 18th birthday, and after we took her our for her “first” drink. Her and her parents were all extremely appreciative for us taking her out and treating her like one of our own. Sunday morning we woke up, grabbed a quick breakfast at a Canadian owned soda, and hit the road again for another 4.5 hours back home.

Still here…

Alright, sorry for not posting in so long. I fell behind and just got more and more behind, but I have it now. I know there is a lot to cover so I’m going to keep it short and sweet so I can catch up and post more often. Sorry if its sloppy.

Anyways, I had a great last week at Tirimbina, making it even harder to leave. Lot’s of goodbyes, lots of time in the forest with Manuel and Gato, and as much time as possible spent hanging with the Tirimbina staff  without getting them in trouble (think we failed at that with Chupa, at his fault. Came back from working in the forest to find him taking a nap in my hammock).

The following “activities” all happened throughout the last week, but may not be in chronological order. Myself and a few others went on the infamous Chocolate Tour, the most popular of Tirimbina’s tours, where we got to try homemade chocolate at every step of the process, including the sweet fruit itself, which may be a surprise to most as it was to me. See below.

Image

It was mammal week at Tirimbina (happens once a month) so one morning volunteers, field assistants, researchers, and a couple maintenance guys all went out to see what we caught in the traps. Luckily, our last trap had a Calarami, the only mammal of the week, so we got to participate in the sampling, tagging, and measuring of the oh so pleasant animal. See below.

Image

The Calarami is related to the common opossum we have in the states, and similar to the ones we have in the states they aren’t the friendliest. The blue is antibiotic for where they tagged and took a sample of its tissue.

One morning, Lena and I went out with Annika offsite to check her traps and give her husband a break. Annika is German born, lived in Canada, lived in Flagstaff where she is working on her PhD at NAU, and has been living in Costa Rica since January collecting her data. As I believe I have mentioned before her project has to do with the Costa Rica corridors, and the gene flow of the animal species Kinkajou across them. She looks at parent child relationships in the animals genes, looks at the distance between the animals by GPS, which hypothetically will give her a resistance factor of the corridors (for more info and a better understanding than my gibberish, just let me know and I’ll email some literature Annika gave me). Now back to the point of this, Lena and I went out in a forest behind El Chante and we had two females in traps, a great day for Annika after unsuccessfully catching a female for the last couple of weeks. We brought one back to Annika’s house for collaring, and the other we performed similar procedures as the calarami earlier that week.

Last Friday we were invited a bbq at Francini’s, the head cleaning lady. Something I’ve really come to appreciate at Tirimbina is the lack of “class”, meaning that the cleaning ladies, tour guides, maintenance guys, and hotel managers all hang out together outside of work and nobody feels like they are more important than another, something lacking in the US. We went to La Violeta before and bought some meat, tortillas, and beer and then went to Francini’s small little house and bbq on the side of her house. The bbq consisted of a tiny little rusty pit with a rack (for family, similar to the one from Papa Kohn we have in our backyard, without the cover). We used briquette charcoal and a plastic bag as lighter fluid… all us Americans were in utter shock but hey its not our bbq and it did work well. All around great night and great laughs, Tati always keeping the party alive with her dancing.

Image

Left to Right: Francisco (security guard), myself, Travis (NAU), Tati (receptionist), Chupa (maintenance), Lena (German volunteer), and Fletcher (NAU)

Image

Saturday morning Travis and Fletcher left, leaving just Lena (German) and I by ourselves (the other volunteers and researches all left throughout the prior week, returning for school, work, and what not). Pri, a Tica researcher that just left invited us to her friends compound nearby for swimming and bbqing, and so Eugenia picked us up at around three to head over. This was a complete 180 degree turn from Friday night. This group of Ticos was very “upscale”, and for a second I could have though I was back in the states playing beer pong. It was a good night all in all, though

 

Nicaraguan Adventures – Where No Intentions Were Fullfilled and for the Better

My most recent adventure began last Thursday when Travis, Fletcher, and I took off for San Jose to stay the night before an “early” departure for Nicargua. We had every intention (intention #1) to go to Ometepe, Nicaragua (two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicargua with plenty of hikes and scenic spots) but after a description of San Juan del Sur and Granada from Carlos (head honcho of Tirimbina who has now changed our planned destination for the better twice), we opted for cheap surf beach town and colonial city. Arriving to San Jose around 6 we bought the next available Tica Bus Ticket for 1230 the next day (Tica Bus travels all through Central America and is helpful for travelers and Ticos alike trying to cross borders), grabbed a bite to eat at a old fashioned diner type place and made it to our hostel. Tired from the traveling and working that day, we had intended (intention #2) to go to bed early, but as we played pool in the front lobby who other than Emily, Megan, Edo, and Edo’s friend Justin walked in the door. Plans of a good sleep went directly out the window as we meandered down to La Calle de Amargura, the university bar avenue, for some beers and nightlife. Emily had invited a couple friends from her program and we bar crept down the street. The place had a cool vibe, good music, and good deals for students which may turn out helpful once I start school in a few weeks.

We left Hostel Aldea’s (a cool almost Victorian Reggae styled place) with just enough time to grab breakfast at a soda and some snacks for the long bus ride. The bus had air conditioning and almost enough room for 6 ft 5 Fletcher to fit comfortably, as long as the person in front of him didn’t recline. The air conditioning was nice until the last two hours where you would have needed to be decked out in snow gear to be comfortable, and of course we were in shorts, shirts, and sandals (I have pledged to never complain of a bus being to hot now, so reader’s hold me to it). We met two other American’s (Dave and Suzanna) who happened to have seats right next to us and had a Flagstaff water bottle, so naturally we became friends. We had intended (3) to go to Granada first, but since they were heading to San Juan we joined them and after 8 hrs by bus and a half hour taxi ride, we made it to San Juan with two fellow Ozzie brothers.

The town (for Bay Area family and friends about the size of the town of Capitola and similar set up replacing Rainbow Store and Mini Mall, etc with hostels) was packed with tourists and visiting Nicas alike, and we were lucky to get three private rooms for us to squeeze into for $7.50 a head. Quickly after settling in, we went out to the beach front street and found the lively Iguana bar and restaurant, which had a big circular bar on the second floor and plenty of room to hangout overlooking the town and beach. The place was packed quickly, and we mingled with all kinds of people, including the 2 Ozzie brothers and a group of Nica students vacationing from Managua. Great environment, although there were some weird hippie people and one of them smelt awful. The beer, Toña cost less than $1 at the bar and the “best rum in the world” Flor de  Cañya was bought by the bottle (Flor de Cañya was actually very good, having two options of a 4 year old clear rum or the 7 year old dark rum great for Mojitos).

Saturday was the usual beach day with great weather, checking out the street stands, and body surfing occasionally taking refuge from the sun at the Iguana. The beach is located inside of a bay, both tips easily visible and half a mile apart as a crow flies. We walked along the beach and past the tide pools to reach the point, where we got a great view of the secluded beaches yonder. This beach had a statue similar to Rio de Genera’s statue on top of a cliff, and gave a very old fashioned vibe to the bay, almost able to see big Spanish ships coming into port back in the day. This long day in the sun was by no surprise followed by an early night in our new hostel, Hostel Oro, where the lot of us were asleep by 10. Sunday we woke up not rested and sweating do to the lack of fan or breeze in an 8 person dorm room, but me got some coffee from the Gato Negro (Expat owned with English books) down the street and the included free breakfast of pancakes and fruit. Then the four of us (minus Fletcher) took a shuttle through the hostel for $12 each, which included a surfboard for the whole day and entry to the private beach. Waves were tubular and we got some gnar barrel bra (for Pat and Dave if they ever reads this), and actually I stood up and rode some in.

We originally had planed to leave Sunday for Granada (4), but we were having too much fun and we had yet got food from the infamous Chicken Lady. The food was as good as its reputation, as the crowd of locals showed, and consisted of a lemon bbq’ed chicken breast, rice, beans, and fried plantains from her street kart. The rest of the night we just hung out talking with other travelers, exhausted yet again from a full day on the beach. It was time to experience the real Nicaragua.

One chicken bus, regular bus, and a go-kart like taxi later Dave, Suzana and I arrived to Granada. Travis and Fletcher had to return to the hostel to retrieve Trav’s ipod from the hostel after the chicken bus, which coincidentally is where Dave got Suzana’s computer stolen (he put his bag on top of the bus without thinking. You may be asking yourself “Justin, what is a chicken bus”. Well before I took it people had described it as a bus where people brought anything on, including chickens and even goats. However, after riding it myself, I would describe it as a bus from Canada decked out in Jesus and the Virgin Mary stickers that never completely stops for you as you are forced up into the bus like the pictures of chicken farms/factories in China we saw in Christian Ethics class. I saw no actual chickens…

When we arrived to Granada we went straight to the hostel recommended by Lonely Planet Guide Book called the Bearded Monkey (they have a monkey on a leash) but the vibe was depressing so we went next store to a quieter yet more upbeat hostel. It was about 1 and the heat was ridiculous so nobody was out, but we made it all the way to the Lake Shore and entered the Central Park. The park had an eerie feel, having park after park all along the river opposed by bar after bar across the street (assumingly so the parents could get some drinks while “watching” their kids). Starving, we sat down at the most crowded bar/restaurant and Suzanna and I ordered what everyone else was eating, the Monday  $3 special Sopa Mariscos while Dave played it safe and got the fried chicken plate. To our surprise it was even more sketchy than we expected, a yellow broth with a couple floating fish heads, crab, lobster tail, shrimp, and of course a turtle egg to top it off. Buen Provecho! (Bon apetite.

I made it this far without getting sick (Nicaragua has the same policy as most third world countries and their water), and I only had a day left, so I went for it. Soup was great, a little questionable with random bites of something and a couple flies floating in Suzanna’s. I didn’t see any in mine, so either I swallowed them up or they were only in the top of the sitting-all-day-maybe-weekend pot, which they gave her. I wasn’t going to eat the egg because of the jello like look (not cooked but solid) and since I had just paid to see the endangered eggs being laid, but hey, they were already in my soup and Suzanna ate hers. I peeled the soft egg and drank it like a shot (of jello). 

After dinner we stopped off at one of the bars off of Paseo Turistas (yes they have a road designated for shops, bars and restaurants) to escape the heat and drink some water, and eventually some Toñas. We hung out there until by pure luck, we saw Travis and Fletcher walking outside on the streets. At this time, we moved outside on the street where we were entertained by the vendor kids (between age 9-12).

*One of the things I disliked most about Nicaragua were the street vendors, more specifically the child vendors. Boys and girls had to go around and sell sun glasses, cashews, and plant origami to the tourist, skinny and filthy. I’ve read that in countries such as India, they all belong to a sort of pimp, and almost all of their money goes straight to them. While eating dinner later that night, Suzanna gave one of them food, and immediately the rest of the pack was at her side hands out. It was to the point where our hostel had a sign commenting on the situation. Sad stuff.

After our $3 buffet (better represented as a street cart inside of a building in which you get to choose one meat and three sides to be put on your over sized plate), we strolled through the central open market area, saw a bike-car accident scene which is probably common seeing the way both parties drive, and made it back to our hostel to prepare for our assumed 10 hr bus ride back to Tirimbina. The bus ride ended up taking 14 hours and the bus reeked of urine, and I barely squeezed by the border with my “stage two of booking a return flight print screen” for proof of exiting the country. However, we made it, and it was nothing like my own room and bed back in Tirimbina after such a wonderful trip and experience (and I got a new 90 days!).

Photos of both Tortuguero and Nicaragua soon to come, just waiting for better wifi.

Pura Vida.

Tortuguero and Day of Terror

I don’t know if I’m just enjoying traveling more and more what but my trips just keep getting better and better. This past weekend Travis, Fletcher, Arancha (one of the new volunteers from España) and I hired a guy (Chavi) to take us to Tortuguero for $120. I know my sister Taylor (traveled all through SA and Europe w/o “tour guides”) is probably squirming at this but it was well worth it. We avoided three bus exchanges and replaced it with our own van, cutting travel time in half and made it just in time for the afternoon water taxi ride. Stayed in an ocean front hostel, and had four tours lined up with a guide, including park entrance. All we had to pay for was food and drink.

After the hour long Disney’s Jungle Cruise complete with alligator as well as the next scene from Planet Earth (I was just waiting for an alligator to take down the drinking cow on the river bank (see slideshow)) we landed in tiny Tortuguero Village. This village of about 3,000 makes every cent off of tourism through tours, sodas, markets, and housing. Being on the Carribean coast, the look and vibe of the people was completely different than the west coast beach towns. Because of the African heritage, the people are much darker than western Ticos and have a very laid back, Reggae music Bob Marley attitude.

After getting situated into the hostel, we rushed to a soda near the river side of the village and then hopped into a canoe for our first tour. We were supposed to have the tour the next morning but a storm was supposed to be rolling in (locals as well as Tirimbina staff says it rains almost every day their in the rainy season, but as you will see we were extremely lucky). Anywho, pretty sure he had a few drinks before we left because  Chavi actually pointed out almost everything that was hidden. But he was funny and kept us laughing, starting almost every sentence with “Ok my friends, let me explain you this. For example…” He also did almost all the paddling which was nice since it was at least 80 degrees and humid in the sun. We saw these giant black birds bigger than turkeys (actually related to them) that reminded me of the Dodo birds from Ice Age, a caiman, a few very large iguanas, and the Giant Green Macaw which are endangered and according to our guide “very hard to see in Tortuguero”. We saw five…

After the canoe tour, we had an hour to kill so we got some chips and hung out in the hammocks at our hostel with some Casique drinks. If you’re only interested in what I did, skip this paragraph because I am going to talk about how Tortuguero and the turtle tours work. There are three species of turtles that lay eggs on the 30 km of beaches of Tortuguero, only 5 of those km are accessible to the public. In these 5 km, there are about 100 sections, that are assigned to the guides daily along with a time period (from 8-10 and 10-12). This is to ensure less than 500 people on the beach at a time as well as everyone being able to see the turtle. It also ensures that you’re going to have to walk a lot to get to your spot. Once to your assigned spot, you wait for one of the five “staff volunteers” to walky talk your guide saying they found one, in which you then enter the beach and wait again until the turtle has begun to lay her eggs. If the turtle recognizes any humans or lights, she will retreat until safe. Once she has started the process, tourists can approach and only look with red light. That means no cameras, cell phones, etc or she will retreat.

Interesting side notes:

1 in 1000 eggs will survive to reproduce

The green turtle will lay eggs 5 times a season, totaling over 500 eggs

Female green turtles don’t reproduce until the age 25

The female turtle always returns to the same exact spot

The temperature determines the sex of the eggs, therefore all the turtles laid in one night will hatch the same sex

Jaguars kill three to four turtles a night (due to decline in natural prey and is becoming a problem)

Our tour was really cool because it was a crystal clear night with stars and close to a full moon. The process was really amazing, seeing her contract, hearing her breathe, the way she covered them and then proceeded to build a false nest. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see her walk back to the water, but we took care of that. We decided that night to wake up at 4 the next morning to go and find a turtle and take pictures of her with natural light (ended up being the flash on Chavi’s camera but it was alright because she had already laid the eggs). Anyways, it was totally worth it because we got to touch her shell and flippers, got some great pictures as the sun was rising and she walked to the ocean, and the sunrise on the Carribean was phenomenal. All together it was my best night here in Costa Rica so far. Sunday topped off the phenomenal weekend with sunshine, fresh coconuts, Ticas, and fresh coconuts from above our heads. Couldn’t have been a better weekend.

Oh wait it was because they served fish for dinner at Tirimbina!

This oh so great weekend was followed by this oh so terrifying day… (Skipping over Monday except side note another girl came from Germany)

This morning (Tuesday) began as usual. Coffee, fried eggs, forest (which went exceptionally well – four traps with four shots. Walking back to Tirimbina almost to the bridge and stupidly with both head phones in, out of the corner of my eye I see a huge snake slither five inches from my foot, at least 2.5 feet long. It was a Fer de Lance, one if not the most dangerous snakes in Costa Rica. My blood was pumping and I didn’t need anymore coffee for the day. Lesson learned: pay more attention.

Oh, but the story continues. Yesterday we found a rope swing up river, and since it is Arancha’s birthday today and we had “good weather”, we decided to take here and Leena (the new German girl). All was good, we managed to swim our packs across with some beers to the beach (the only way you can enter from the road side is by jumping/sliding in a few foot (or 20 ft depending what spot) drop the river has dug out on the bank) to the small sand beach across river (see below).

Image

Image

The darker soil right below the roots is where it was when there was the most water.

 

As we sat their on the beach cracking our beers, Fletcher had thrown his bag onto the dry sand. He looked back no more than 30 seconds later it was half submerged. We kind of just laughed as the girls who were laying down were getting wet, but then n less than a minute the water rose over a foot and we (including two tico boys and two tica girls ages 7-12) were stranded on the beach, current too strong and too much debris to cross back. As the water went from crystal clear to muddy, we saw the local neighbors start to peek over the cliff, yelling to their brothers and sisters with us. One girl started to cry, but Arancha calmed her down and we were left to sit and wait, with only forest to our backs (we could have forged the forest to safety but we were all shoeless and it was a long hike back, as well as we found out after that Gato and Manuel tried to rescue us from that way but the river had flooded the other side as well, leaving us on a Hawaiian island fast forwarded over the next 100 years). So all we could do was sit and wait, keeping an eye on the steadying water level. Soon the storm was directly over us and lightning became our biggest concern (except for the girl who saw her Grandma who said she wasn’t allowed to go to the river that day – busted) giving me flash backs to Mt. Humphrey’s in AZ w/ the water polo team for those of you who know that story. Finally, after about an hour and a half of waiting, shivering, and trying to keep the younger kids smiling the rafting company had made their way to us, taking four of their guides to maneuver their boats back and fourth to bring us to safety. After we gave our info to the EMT’s and finally climbed to the top, we saw the whole neighborhood standing there amongst two ambulances and a police car.

The ambulance gave us a ride back to Tirimbina (about a 10 minute walk) and as we pulled up half of Tirimbina was waiting for us in the parking lot, happy to see us safe but also laughing at the stupid gringos. We were able to laugh about it in the kitchen with our supervisors, them telling us everything that was happening there as we were stranded (Carolina getting a call about “rafters being stranded” and denying it was us because we were not rafting, later finding out it was us at the rope swing, Manuel and Gato’s failed attempt to save us, US Embassy calling and demanding to speak to one of us to make sure we were alright, and then the US Embassy’s Costa Rica wide email to all Americans saying “In the aftermath of some previous storms, U.S. citizens traveling abroad encountered uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous conditions”).

Image

The group waiting for rescue. I knew a picture would get them to smile.

Image

Rafting company to the rescue, almost needed rescue themselves climbing down the mudslide steps with the raft.

All in all it was a crazy experience and pretty frightening at moments, but we are all safe and now we are just looking back at it and laughing (so is everyone at Tirimbina, even the cooking lady couldn’t help to laugh as she served us our food for dinner). I ended up seeing two of the kids later in the market and they were alright as well, just looking for some chocolate. And I am thankful that it did not get worse, for example no crocodiles swam through the river like in Jumangi, although with my luck today I half expected one too.

Anyways, no need to worry and don’t tell the abuela. I will post the pictures of Tortuguero later but now I am going to Los Lobos to celebrate Arancha’s birthday, our lives, and the finding of Carolina and Cristian’s dog.

Pura Vida