Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Some Costa Rican History

Life has been good over here. Nothing too out of the ordinary...just trying to enjoy my last few weeks. It's amazing that I leave in a month! Because I am leaving so soon, Cory and I have been trying to take some day trips around San Jose.

Two weekends ago we went to Braulio Carrillo, a nearby rainforest. It is the largest area of protected land in Costa Rica (about the size of Rhode Island) and only 45 minutes from the city! We spent 3 hours hiking and exploring....and getting ridiculously wet and muddy. Some parts of the trail were nothing but mud and at one point we had to cross a stream that ran into the nearby river! It was worth it, though, as the jungle was beautiful. No animal sitings...just a millipede, which was disgusting.

This past weekend we went to the cultural center of Costa Rica...Cartago. Cartago was the first capital, but after a volcano eruption and two bad earthquakes it was moved to San Jose, a geographically safer area. Cartago is still a good sized city but it is home to several beautiful churches and even some ruins. Take a look:

Las Ruinas de la Parroquia- built in 1575, destroyed by earthquakes in 1841 and 1910. Now only the outside walls remain and the center was turned into a garden.
Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles- An absolutely incredible church. Originally built in 1635, but underwent a massive makeover in 1926 after near total destruction in the 1910 earthquake.
We also went to the large fruit market in the center of town...we bought some apples and mangoes and had a picnic in the park. After seeing all that we could see in Cartago (there were a couple other churches, an old library, and a school) we hopped on a bus and headed to Orosi, a small pueblo about 40 minutes away. There is no tourist draw to Orosi, except that it is beautiful and has hot springs. When you think of a little pueblo in Central America, it is probably what you picture...small town, friendly people chatting in the streets, soccer game going on in the middle of town, rolling green hills with streams and waterfalls, etc. We spent about an hour there just walking and talking to the locals and soaking up the "tranquila" attitude.

We did find a little church- Iglesia de San Jose Orosi, the oldest church still in use in Costa Rica (built in 1743).

After following a random dirt trail in search of a good look at the mountains and river we discovered a suspended bridge that was made for pedestrians to cross the river more easily. An old Tico man told us it was an "hamaca" or a swing. So we began to venture across and quickly realized why it was called that....the thing started to sway over the rushing river! I was slightly terrified. We decided not to cross it, but turned around and went back as quickly...and carefully as possible. :)

It was fun to see more of the quaint, historic Costa Rica for a change (not that I don't love the beach and rainforests). This country has so much to offer and, ironically, my list of places to see here is longer now than when I started! I will be coming back often, for sure!

In other news-
My sister is coming to visit in few weeks!
I went to get a hair "trim" yesterday and ended up with hair shorter than I have had in years...I am going to have to get used to it, but it's not too bad.
Only 4 more weeks left of school.
Us girls have discovered a jazz cafe nearby that has incredible concerts- latin jazz = awesome.
Still no job for when I return home....please be praying for me!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I love friends.

April was a crazy month, but in a great way. This past week I had yet another break and even more visitors. Cory (a friend from Cedarville) flew down here last Thursday after spending a few weeks in Guatemala doing intensive Spanish courses. She will be here through June and is living down the street. Alyssa (another CU friend) flew in last Saturday to spend a much needed vacation with us at the beach. On Sunday we hopped on the bus for the long trek down the Pacific Coast to a little town called Uvita.

Uvita is a small town which is home to Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, a national park that is home to various species of turtles, whales, and dolphins (we didn't see any of those...it's not the season). After a 7 hour bus ride in the heat (miserable) we made it there, checked in at the hostel, and left for the beach as soon as possible. We spent the rest of the day at Playa Uvita.
On Monday we went in the national park and took a long walk down a beautiful beach to get to the "whale's tail." When the tide is low you can walk down a sand bar to a rocky point where the water is clearer and the wildlife spotting is supposed to be better. There are also great views of the mainland from there- beaches lined with jungles and backed by mountains. It is called the "whale's tail" because the aerial view of the rocky point and the sandbar looks just like the tail of a humpback whale (which is ironic because it is one of the few places in the world where these whales mate). Pretty cool. Anyways, we walked out to the point, swam around, explored, and enjoyed the sun. Then we walked back to the hotel to drop off our stuff and headed up the mountain to a little waterfall and swimming hole. After a whole day of being in the sun it was nice to swim in the shade!

On Tuesday we took a bus to Dominical, a bigger beach town about 20 minutes away. We checked out the shops and then relaxed on the beach for a bit. Then we took another bus another 10 minutes north to Hacienda Baru, a rainforest preserve that is known for its great wildlife spotting. We spent the day walking through the trails. Unfortunately, we didn't see any monkeys or sloths (that was our main goal), but we did have a few run- ins with coatis (huge, scary raccoon- like animals) and toucans. The rainforest was beautiful! One of the trails led us up the mountain to an incredible lookout...it was well worth the exhausting climb!
On Wednesday we decided to spend a little money and do something out of the ordinary- we took a horse tour to some more waterfalls! With a group of about 15 people and 3 guides we ventured into the mountains with our horses. My horse, Osa, loved to trot and gallop. Alyssa's horse, Frijolito was a jerk (he actually kicked someone and the guy had to go get stitches), and Cory's horse, Ballena, was a slowpoke. It was quite the experience! We rode for awhile and then stopped at a house to be served breakfast. Then we continued to the Nauyaca Falls, a beautiful place where 3 waterfalls come together. It was absolutely gorgeous! We were able to swim in the falls and then the guides climbed up them and hooked up a rope so others could jump of the falls into the water below. I am terrified of heights so I said no way, but Alyssa and Cory were brave enough to do it. It was crazy! We were also able to climb up to the higher one to check it out. After spending awhile relaxing in the falls we mounted the horses again and rode back. Along the way we stopped again to eat lunch. It was such a fun day!

On Thursday, unfortunately, we had to come back to San Jose. Luckily, though, we had the morning to explore some more. We took a bus to Playa Ventana, a gorgeous beach with caves that look like little windows. At low tide you can walk all the way through them to the ocean. The beach was backed by mountains and nearly deserted. It was a great way to spend the last few hours of vacation!

Yesterday (Friday) we spent the whole day with Alyssa's cousin, Seth, who is also teaching near San Jose. We hung out in the city for awhile and then saw his school and church and house. This morning Cory and I took Alyssa to the airport to saw our goodbyes. It has definitely been a long, fun week, but it was so good to be around good friends. God has definitely provided amazing people in my life here in Costa Rica, but nothing beats quality time with old friends. It was truly a blessing!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Islands in the Sun

Paradise is what I experienced last week when I traveled down to Bocas del Toro, Panama. Jon came in to visit just around the time that I was overstaying my welcome in Costa Rica (my visa is only good for 90 days) so we headed down to Panama to renew my visa. Bocas del Toro is an archipelago of about 500 islands- only 2 have towns and only 1 has a road (road singular).

The long journey began last Saturday. Jon flew in late on Friday and we woke up early on Saturday to catch a bus from San Jose to Changuinola, Panama. The 6 hour bus ride was complete with a 1 1/2 hour border stop where everyone had to cross into Panama on foot- over a rusted out bridge with missing planks (slightly terrifying). In Changuinola we switched buses to a small microbus loaded down with about 30 Panamaneans. After a 45 minute drive to Almirante we still weren't finished. From there we took a 30 minute water taxi ride to Isla Colon, the main island. With the green montains of mainland Panama on one side and the tropical islands on the other the ride was breathtaking. The last leg of the journey was a 30 minute drive over a 4 mile sand/dirt road which bordered the coast. We arrived much later than expected, but the next few days proved the trip worthwhile.

Jon and I spent the first 3 days lounging on a beautiful private beach with crystal clear turquoise water and overhanging palms. We took long hikes down the beach, sunbathed to the fullest, and swam in the warm water.On Wednesday we took a water taxi from Isla Colon to Isla Bastimentos, the second largest island. There are no roads or motorized vehicles on Bastimentos, just a cement boardwalk and jungle trails. After we settled into our place and enjoyed some Thai tea while chatting the owners on a balcony overlooking the sea (they also run a Thai restaurant), we set off for a hike across the island. We hiked through hills, jungle, and cow pastures to reach Wizard Beach, the main public beach on the island. We then continued walking down the beach to see what we could find. Along the way we met some friendly policia nacional who macheted open a coconut for us. :) Then we walked along to Red Frog Beach where we did actually see one strawberry dart frog. The hike was full of gorgeous views and all sorts of bird and butterfly sightings.We even found some pineapple plants! (No, pineapples do not grow on trees.)

On Thursday we rented snorkel gear and took a water taxi to Polo Beach, a picture perfect and nearly deserted beach that has a large coral reef. We spent the day snorkeling, swimming, and sunbathing. I was a little scared at first, but with Jon's help I ventured into the sea and discovered the magical world under the water. It is truly incredible. We saw bright blue fish, purple and yellow fish, butterfly fish, and tons more. Jon had 2 big sightings- a large fish at least 2 feet in diameter and then a stingray as wide as an armswidth. I, fortunately, saw nothing as terrifying. :)

Our last day on the islands, Friday, was spent on the main beach on Isla Colon- Bocas del Drago. It, too, is beautiful, but was a little crowded. The best part was the section called Starfish Beach. For some reason dozens of huge starfish live in the warm waters there. I loved them! Starfish are such odd creatures...so unique! We spent all day on the beach, watched the sunset from there, and then returned to town to finish off the week with fresh fruit smoothies.
On Saturday we waved goodbye and made the long trip back "home." Jon left early this morning and already made it home to Ohio. I returned to work today, though tired, and it already seems like paradise is a million miles away. Funny how that happens, isn't it? :)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

El Puro Campo

There are some moments in life when you stop and look around and think, "How in the world did I get here? I can't believe this is my life." I had many of those moments this past weekend during the most incredible cultural experience of my life. Tricia's Tico family went to the "campo" (country) this weekend to visit the dad's family and they invited me to go along. I got the okay to have Friday off work and we headed off to Guanacaste to experience life on la granja (the farm).

We left Thursday after school so by the time we arrived in Nandayure (Nahn- dah- jur-ey) it was dark. Jose's parents greeted us happily and with a delicious dinner. Abuelita Veronica showed Tricia and I around and we were shocked to find an entire kitchen outside complete with a large cement oven (kind of like a brick oven) called a "fogon." We visited a little and then went to bed.Friday morning we were awakened by a rooster, a bus, and lots of people milling around. Apparently we had slept in by getting up at 6: 30 am. We got out of bed and lazily walked outside to find a lot of family members. We were given a lesson in how to make tortillas and empanadas by hand and then fry then over the fire. Mine were definitely never round enough or fat enough, but they tasted incredible when I finally sat down to eat! They accompanied our breakfast of gallo pinto, eggs straight from the hens, and milk straight from the cows. Talk about fresh!! Friday we ran some errands with the family and then visited a melon plant owned by one of their friends. We got a tour and had our fill of yellow melons (which get exported to Europe). Afterwards we were treated to a trip to Playa Samara on the Golfo de Nicoya. We soaked up some sun and cooled off in the gulf. It was wonderful! Then we went into town for Chinese food and made our way back to the farm. The evening was spent visiting various familiy members whose houses were on/near the farm property. It was funny to see the expressions on some of their faces- gringos don't frequent Nandayure. Some of the children just stared at us! We then went on a trip to a small fishing village called Puerto Thiel to arrange a fishing trip for Saturday. The day ended with some dinner and a lesson on Costa Rican dancing with Abuelita Veronica (who is 88 but still dances in the festivals!).
This brings us to Saturday....a day of adventure. I don't know why, but I always seem to find myself in the most ridiculous of situations and this day was no different. Once again we woke up early, had a wonderful breakfast (I ate a ton of delicious food this weekend!), and prepared for the day. We drove back to Puerto Thiel and meet up with the man who was to be our fishing captain. Puerto Thiel is a small, poor village which depends on fishing to survive. The people were eager to help us prepare the boat and the net (no fishing poles here). We set out in a small motorized fishing boat- Jose, Maria Carmen (Trish's Tico parents), our captain, Trish, and me- under a hot sun and a clear sky. It was beautiful riding down the river that led to the golf. There were pelicans and herons all around and we were surrounded by green trees. The dry mountains in the distance added to the view and we were given a tour of all the islands and wildlife. It was great!
We were just making our way out to the golf (a 45 minute boat ride) when suddenly our motor died. Our capitain started yelling about how it had just been fixed and this and that while Maria Carmen began searching for her cell phone. Trish and I started laughing and commenting on how we are bad luck. The cell phone was found and a phone call was made to send help. Luckily another boat came by and was able to tow us to the nearest island. Now these fishermen are in the sun constantly so they have various methods of sun protection. One is to use a variety of shirts, towels, and caps to cover as much skin as possible, sometimes only leaving their hands and eyes free. This is how our rescuers were dressed so it was a little terrifying to be towed to shore by a boatful of men who looked like Arabian thieves. But we made it safely and had nothing to do but wait. Stranded on a deserted island, Trish and I became a little dramatic. After all the Gilligan's Island references we could think of and convey in Spanish we set out to explore.We didn't venture too far off, but the island was beautiful. We climbed rocks, found walking sticks, and attempted to hunt for food (all we could find was cacti). Exhausted, we returned to the others under a shady tree, ate our picnic lunch, and relaxed. About an hour and a half later the other boat came to our rescue and we were saved! During the long boat ride back (we only had 1 motor to tow 2 boats and 8 people) we laughed, enjoyed the scenery, lamented our lack of fishing, and sunbathed. It was great!Saturday evening, unlike the day, was event free. We returned to la granja to eat dinner and visit with family. Trish and I taught some of the cousins how to play Phase 10. It is very difficult to explain things like wild cards, skips, and discarding in another language. However, I learned a lot and we had a lot of fun.

This morning (Sunday) we once again arose early and had a delicious breakfast. Abuelito Julian treated me to a horseback ride before we had to go. While loading up the car I dropped my bag and all my things started to fall out. At first I was annoyed at my clumsyness, but then I noticed that a scorpion had fallen out, too! That was quite the surprise. We said our goodbyes and headed off.We made a few stops along the way home, though. The first was at a restaurante and estate owned by a friend. He breeds scarlet macaws so there were so many there! They are such beautiful birds, and so huge! It was definitely a treat to see them.

Then we made a stop off at Puente de la Amistad (Bridge of Friendship). This is the largest bridge in all of Latin America!

The last stop was at Puerto Caldera to visit Maria Carmen's parents. We ate arroz con pollo and visited a little. Then Trish and I went for an excursion to the beach. Maria Carmen told us how to get there and then warned us about the bridge- she said it was old and made of wood and some boards were wobbly. That was only half true. Actually the ridiculously long bridge was missing boards completely and had big holes in it. Not great for 2 people afraid of heights, but we survived! Of course at the end of the bridge we saw the sign that said "bridge in bad condition, pass with caution." It was worth it, though, for the experience and the laughs (which only happened after we were safe). We enjoyed the beach and the sun and then walked back to the house so we could finish the drive.

All in all, the trip was incredible. I had lots of adventures and learned many new things. And, best of all, I spoke Spanish for 3 days straight! Tricia and I even spoke Spanish with each other. It was encouraging to see how much I have improved and what I am capable of. What a great few days!!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Weekend Away

Hello, Friends! I haven't posted in awhile, I know...I am not great at it. But I do have news to report now. I explored a new part of Costa Rica this past weekend. Since we didn't have school on Friday us girls (Trish, Kate, Kim, and I) took off to the beach! After finally finding the bus station, missing the bus, and then an extra long drive we made it to Brasilito, a small beach town on the Altantic Ocean. We immediately checked into the hotel and ran out to the beach to enjoy the rest of the sunshine and then to watch the incredible sunset. We spent the rest of the evening going out to dinner, playing games while eating ice cream, and star gazing.

Saturday was a full day at the beach in the sun! We walked down the beach about 15 minutes to Playa Conchal, a beautiful beach where the "sand" is actually broken down seashells. We spent all day swimming in the freezing water, laying in the sun, and relaxing. It was amazing! We stayed until the sunset and then headed back to get ready for dinner. We passed the evening just like the one before.

Since we had to leave on Sunday we got an early start at the beach. We enjoyed the sun for a few hours and then headed back to get ready to leave. Unfortunately for us traffic coming into San Jose was terrible so we spent 7 1/2 long hours on the bus...no fun. It was worth it, though, to spend the weekend in the sun relaxing and reenergizing ourselves.

As for life here....time is flying by! I am now tutoring twice a week and volunteer translating once a week so I am busy, but I love it. This weekend I am heading up to a resort for a women's retreat with the language institute. That should be a great time, also!

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!