Friday, August 8, 2014

The Journey's Almost Over: An Earthquake and Mi Tica Familia

This post is a little bit of everything. I will be on a plane back to the U.S. in less than 36 hours. I am ready to go home, but it will be hard to leave my host family and friends that I have made. Wednesday, I went to the artisan market with Bailey and picked up some last minute souvenirs. I finally got the soccer jersey I had been wanting since I got here. I think I finally have gifts for everyone. I also went back to the market yesterday morning with two girls from my program. Wednesday night was my last class. I turned in my 8 page research paper and gave a PowerPoint presentation on human trafficking in Latin America. It feels so nice to be done! I was allowed to leave class a few minutes early to make it to my study abroad program's farewell gathering. I met Bailey at the school and we took a taxi to a nearby jazz cafe. Our site director met us there and paid for everyone's first drink, which was very generous of her.
At the Jazz Cafe
On Wednesday night we went to bed and were awoken at about 3 am. There was an earthquake and it shook the entire house and our beds. It was so strange to me. I was in a deep sleep, but it woke me up and I was very confused. Nothing fell off my dresser or anything, which I thought was weird. Our Mama Tica told us it was about 20 kilometers away (so only about 12 miles). There have been three or four earthquakes since I've been here but that was the first one I actually felt. At breakfast Thursday morning, Mama Tica was telling us how one of her daughters is so afraid of earthquakes and the other one always says to her, "They're normal and we have them all the time."
Costa Rican flag on a beautiful day
We went to the National Museum Thursday afternoon with a group. There was a beautiful butterfly garden that was included in the admission price. It was cool to just see butterflies fluttering around. I'm going to miss our host family so much. They taught us how to make gallo pinto (rice and beans) the other day. And they are always joking around. It's so funny and sweet. They always ask about our families at home and our boyfriends. Bailey is getting married within the next year and so they were asking me if I was marrying my boyfriend. I just started laughing because I didn't know what to say. One of the other girls met a guy down here who is also from the states and our Papa Tico saw them in the park together. He was giving her a hard time and kept saying, "Love is in the air." It was hilarious. Last night was sad because I had to say good-bye to Bailey since her flight was at 6:30 this morning. She was such a big help to me, and I will always appreciate that. Here's to my last day in Costa Rica.
From the butterfly garden
Our host family!
Natalia & Lesley (on the ends, also students from the U.S.), Papa Tico, Bailey & me, Mama Tica
Ana & Maria, their biological daughters are missing because they were taking the picture

Pura Vida Chicos!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Best Last Weekend: Hot Springs, Waterfalls, & Zip-Lining

This past weekend was absolutely incredible on all levels. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was happy that we were staying in hotels instead of hostels. We departed for the Baldi Hot Springs on Friday at 1 PM. Those of us on the trip had no idea what to expect of hot springs. We assumed they were natural and not man-made. We checked into our hotel and immediately left for the hot springs. The springs were man made but still extremely cool. There were about 20 pools total, with the majority of them being over 100 degrees. There were also a couple that were only about 62 degrees. Baldi had a few awesome water slides. I only went on one because one was for kids and the other was super fast, and I was not about to lose my bikini. After we relaxed in the springs, we had dinner in the restaurant connected to Baldi at 8 PM. It sure does take a while to get used to eating dinner so late. We were all ravenous by the time we ate.
Baldi Hot Springs with Jill, Layne, Shannon, & Lettice
Saturday we woke up and had a delicious breakfast in the hotel. It was typical Costa Rican food (gallo pinto, eggs, toast) but it also had avocado, plantains, and cheese. It was fantastic. I will miss some of this food when I go back to the states. After breakfast we headed off to the LaFortuna waterfall. It was an amazing sight. We hiked down about three-quarters of a mile to see it and then back up the same distance. It was intense. I guess it just proves how out of shape I am getting here. It was also difficult because I was wearing flip flops. I didn't want to wear tennis shoes because we went into the water. If you ever come to Costa Rica or plan on going hiking in muddy/water-filled areas anywhere in the world, I suggest getting a pair of chacos. I had no idea what they were until I saw people wearing them. They are basically adventure sandals suitable for wet environments. They are also good for ziplining, but tennis shoes are fine as well. They'll cost a pretty penny though. (About $100). After the waterfall, we left for Monteverde. The views heading to Monteverde were magnificent. The lush green mountains and windmills were spectacular. The only part that wasn't particularly enjoyable was the ride. The road was so bumpy we were practically smacking our heads off the windows and seats. It was entertaining to say the least. We got stuck in the mud so all of the guys had to go to the back of the van and jump up and down. I'm not sure what that did, but it got us going and out of the mud.
LaFortuna Waterfall
Sunday was the day I was looking forward to the most. At 7:30 AM, we departed for our canopy tour (zip-lining). I was so excited. When I saw how high off the ground the platforms were, I got quite nervous. Also, the guides went over all of the rules, and I was afraid that I was going to mess something up. It wasn't difficult, but if you do something wrong you could end up seriously hurt. We started on two quick and easy ones and then moved on to the 600 meter zip-line. After that, we went on the longest zip-line in Latin America (1590 meters, nearly a mile long). It was exhilarating! We were even able to go with a partner. Being above the cloud forest and seeing so much of nature was breathtaking. I can't even describe how awesome it was. The final activity on the canopy tour was the mega Tarzan swing. I was so afraid to do it. It's a free fall from 295 feet off the ground. Talk about an adrenaline rush. It was probably the most frightening thing I have ever done. I felt like I was going to die at first. My fear of heights is most definitely something I got over on this trip. I still can't believe I zip-lined in the rain forest of Costa Rica. I'm so thankful for this experience and all of the opportunities I have been given! Only four days until I say good-bye to the happiest and most beautiful country on earth.
Hanging Bridge after zip-lining with Jill
I survived the Tarzan Swing!
 Pura Vida, Chicos!

Friday, August 1, 2014

I Survived Spanish!

Here's a post just because. I actually have a little bit of time to write today. My Spanish class is finally over! It was four weeks instead of five like my elective. Today was our oral final and yesterday was the written exam. I also did a presentation on how to make Galletas de mantiquilla de mani (peanut butter cookies) today. It was fun, and after everyone's presentations we had a little fiesta. Our Spanish teacher was so kind and patient. I'm sad that we had to say goodbye to her today. I realized that I never posted a picture of the university so you can check it out below. My final weekend here is quickly approaching, and I couldn't be more excited. I'm going to the Arenal Volcano, the La Fortuna waterfall, Baldi hot springs, and ZIPLINING! I feel like a little kid in a candy shop. Ziplining was the one activity I wanted to do when I found out I was coming to Costa Rica. I will have to wait until Sunday to find out how it is! Next week I will have a lot of time to explore since I will only have class Monday-Wednesday for two hours a day. My class is going on a field trip to downtown San Jose and hopefully we will be able to see the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Our professor is still working on getting it set up. I'm not leaving until next Saturday, the ninth so I should have some time to finish picking up souvenirs and hopefully see a movie at the Cinemark here.

Last day of Spanish class

Universidad Veritas
 (I'm not sure why the picture flipped, but I couldn't fix it)
Pura Vida.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Panama: Snorkeling, Swimming, & Scary Situations

It's been awhile since I have last updated about my trip. This past weekend was definitely fun but interesting. At 4 am on Friday, our bus departed for Bocas del Toro, Panama. The ride wasn't too bad; it only took about 4 or 5 hours. What was bad was the customs and immigration line. Leaving Costa Rica was rough. Friday, July 25 was a national holiday in Costa Rica so that might explain the long lines and just because it was a Friday. After 2.5 hours of waiting in line, we finally walked across the border (a run-down bridge) to Panama. We waited in another line in Panama that was only about 30 minutes. We got our passports stamped and were on our way. We took a bus to the water taxi station and from there took a boat to Bocas del Toro (it is an island). I was excited to swim in the Caribbean Sea! Our accommodations for Friday and Saturday night were in a hostel. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. My only idea of what a hostel was came from movies and books. Our group was staying in 2 different hostels because there weren't enough rooms in just one. The one I was assigned to reminded me of an outdoor hotel/motel. It seemed pretty nice at first. When I went to use the restroom, I was extremely confused because I saw a sign with a girl and a boy on it. I thought to myself , "well it has to be both and whatever that's what there is so I will use it." I walked in and there was a guy peeing with the stall door open. I turned around and walked right back out. Have guys no respect these days? Anyways, Friday we went out for lunch and dinner and had some well-needed American food (chicken fingers and pizza). We grabbed some drinks and played cards for the rest of the evening. I went to bed without a sheet to cover up with because I couldn't find the man who worked at the hostel. That was my second complaint about it- the first being the guy in the bathroom.

On Saturday we were up early and had pancakes for breakfast. I looked at my snack bag at breakfast and realized that something got into it. The bag was all chewed up and the snacks were open. I'm assuming it was mice. At least I didn't see them because I would have had a conniption. My bag was in a cubbie type storage unit that was at least 4 feet off the ground. So the fact that mice got into was pretty repulsive to me. We left to go on a dolphin tour and snorkeling. I have seen dolphins before in the Outer Banks, but the dolphins we saw in Panama were so close to the boat. Of course I couldn't get any decent pictures though. Then, we went snorkeling near some mangroves. It was my first time! I got to see brain coral and some blue, yellow, and purple coral. After that, we rode the boat to Starfish Beach where there were (you guessed it) a bunch of starfish. I tried to get some pictures with my underwater camera. They turned out alright. We swam a little and took more pictures. Then, I went tubing in the middle of the ocean with Bailey. It was a little frightening because the guy was going so fast. When we got back from the beach,we went out to dinner again. I was heading back to my hostel with another girl staying there and we noticed that the lock was completely off the door. The manager had been fixing it before, but I thought he would somehow secure our stuff. He didn't and our room smelled like pot and there was either a cigarette butt or joint in my bed. I wouldn't know the difference. At that point, I knew I had to leave that hostel. I wasn't about to risk getting in trouble in a foreign country due to someone else's negligence and stupidity. I'm so lucky no one took my backpack that had my passport and money in it. It was locked but that was going to prevent someone from taking the entire bag. I ended up staying with Bailey in the other hostel for the night. Her hostel was basically a hotel. It had a bathroom connected to the room, not a unisex one. If you ever stay in a hostel, you should probably research it first. Unfortunately I couldn't because this trip was planned for me.

Coral & Starfish
Holding a starfish for the first time

Brain Coral

Parrot chilling on the beach

Starfish Beach

Sunday was a blast. We went to Red Frog Beach where, of course, there are red frogs. I didn't get to see any but some other people did. The waves on the beach were so strong. I didn't go out very far. It was raining at first, but ended up being a perfect day. It's hard to believe that such beautiful places like Panama and Costa Rica have so much poverty. From what I've seen, Panama appears to be worse than Costa Rica. Although my weekend was crazy at times, it was still a blast. I enjoyed traveling to my second foreign country. It is nice to be back in Costa Rica where I can drink tap water.

Red Frog Beach welcome sign

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mouth-watering Baked Goods

Every day I wake up here and the weather is phenomenal. Sometimes it's even too hot. I still love it though. I'm continuing to work on my souvenir shopping and trying to find some more t shirts. My time here is already more than halfway over. It has gone by so fast. My host family has been wonderful and so understanding even when I can only say basic words and phrases. I don't think that I will ever get used to the overload of carbohydrates every day. That is one of the only things I wish I could change and that my class was earlier in the day instead of late at night when it's dark outside. I've been working on trying to walk around more and get some exercise. I don't want to run during the day because we aren't really supposed to use the shower during the day. I think it's only because the water will be cold, but I'm not certain.

On Monday afternoon, I went to the little corner store and bought some more toothpaste and shampoo. A tiny bottle (about 5 or 6 oz.) of Head N Shoulders was nearly $5. Some products are outrageously expensive here. I also got plantain chips and coconut cookies. The cookies are really yummy, and I hope to bring some home with me. I have no idea how I'm going to fit all of my stuff in my luggage on the way back. I've been doing a lot of homework lately. My elective class is pretty intense although it's not difficult. Many of the assignments are just time consuming.Tuesday, I went with Bailey to a little cafe called "Whisk". It was very delicious and I will most definitely be going back. The woman who owns it speaks English and so it is so much more convenient for me. She and her husband both work there. She's originally from the states but moved to Costa Rica when she was younger and married a Tico. Anyways, Bailey and I shared a turkey and cheese sandwich and got dessert to go along with it. Bailey usually gets their sweet bread. I decided to get a cinnamon roll but it wasn't like your usual cinnamon roll. It was more of a muffin and it came with icing. It was delectable and just melted in my mouth. They even have nutella filled goodies. I can't wait to try some!
Delicious Cinnamon Roll/Muffin

Fresh Fruit!

Today, my Spanish class took a field trip to the Basilica and central market in Cartago. It was my second time seeing the Basilica, and I got some better pictures because there were less people. There was also a mass about to start so we got to see the Priest put holy water on people. The market had an unbelievable amount of fresh food and produce. The fruit looked amazing although I didn't buy any because we wanted to look around at some other shops. We did get ice cream again today! I had a vanilla cone dipped in chocolate and covered with peanuts. I haven't had a dip cone in a long time. I am pretty excited because my night class got canceled this evening. I'm hoping to get to bed early because we have to be up at 3 in the morning to leave for Bocas del Toro, Panama tomorrow. I'll be traveling to my second foreign country! Until Sunday or Monday's post about Panama.

Pura Vida.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Irazu Volcano, Basilica de los Angeles, & White Water Rafting

On Saturday, Bailey and I were at the university by 7 AM to get the bus for our trip to the Irazu Volcano and the Basilica de los Angeles. Our host parents told us the volcano would be cold (around 55 degrees Fahrenheit). Luckily, I wore jeans and a t shirt and had both a sweatshirt and waterproof rain coat. It ended up being about 40 degrees. We were all freezing but had a blast running around taking pictures. We went into a crater but didn't see much because of all the fog. Irazu is the tallest volcano in Costa Rica. The last time it was active was in the 1960s when President Kennedy came to visit Costa Rica. After our trek up the mountain to the volcano we headed down to the Basilica de los Angeles. It is the oldest working church in Costa Rica. It was a spectacular sight to see. There were so many people visiting and so many people praying and receiving holy water. On August 2nd of every year, Costa Ricans from all over the country make a pilgrimage to the basilica. Many travel by foot and some even travel on their knees to the church. For people who live far away, travel can take as long as a week or two. There are probably people walking already for August 2nd. When we were done visiting the church, we went to Sanchiri restaurant where we got some amazing pictures overlooking a valley. I was finally able to try tres leches cake which I have been wanting to taste since I got here.
Visiting the Irazu Volcano on a chilly day
Basilica de los Angeles

Sunday was a day of thrilling adventure. I went on an optional excursion to the Pacuare River with some of the people in my program. We went white water rafting in the middle of the rainforest. I can't even describe how beautiful it was. There were waterfalls everywhere and we could see the clouds right above us. It was like a dream come true. The bird species is also incredible near the Pacuare. Rafting is quite exhausting if you ask me. I was very scared to go because I didn't want to fall out of the raft or get trapped underneath it. None us had ever gone white water rafting before. Our guide made it easy and fun. He was the only guide who let his rafters play "games". We got to stand up in the raft and sit on the edge of it. We were even able to get out of the raft and swim in the river. The only downside to going rafting was that I had to wear my tennis shoes and now they are still soaking wet. The trip was worth ever penny I paid for it. The Pacuare River is the fifth best place in the world to go white water rafting! If you ever get the chance, come check it out.
Getting hit by the waterfall

Rafting group!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Downtown San Jose

Hola again from Costa Rica! I've decided that I will try to post every other day due to my lack of time. I also don't want to bore anyone with the mundane tasks I do every day. Yesterday, I had my first oral exam. Of course I was the first person in the class to go so that was a little nerve wrecking. I ended up not doing too bad. It could have been a lot worse. I tried to watch Netflix, but the show I wanted to watch is not available out of the U.S. I am in class for six hours a day, but since my morning class ends at noon and the other one doesn't start until 7 PM, I have a lot of free time. I'm disappointed in myself for not bringing enough shorts and t-shirts to work out in. The ones that I did bring I wear to sleep in or to the beach. Honestly, I thought that I brought all the right clothes. I did bring many important and useful items. One thing I didn't need to bring was rain boots. I haven't worn them once. It doesn't even rain that much here, but everyone made it seem like it did. A light rain jacket and a small umbrella are good enough. I finished my written Spanish test two hours before class is usually over so it was nice to have a little break.

A flower I found while walking in my neighborhood
Some of the people in my program and I decided to go explore downtown San Jose today. We had been there once before on our second day in Costa Rica. The walk downtown isn't very far, but I am leery of walking by myself and getting lost. I thought it would be a better idea to go along with others, especially people who are nearly fluent in Spanish. Instead of walking we decided to ditch the 30 minute walk and take a taxi. We ate lunch outside in a hotel restaurant which was very nice. I had a focaccia, which was basically flatbread with rosemary. It was simple but tasty. Then we went to an ice cream place called "Pops". I had dulce de leche and chocolate chip in a cone. I do love my ice cream. We checked out a museum where we got a student discount. Then, we went to the artisan market in the middle of the city. There is everything from souvenirs to fresh meat from butchers at the market. It was definitely a cool place to see. I did not end up getting a t-shirt so I have to do that soon. Tomorrow we are off to see the Irazu Volcano and the Basilica de los Angeles. Until later.
Lettice, Bailey, me, & Layne at the Museums of the Central Bank & Pre-Colombian Art
Pura Vida.