A Costa Rican Experience

Turtle Trip

On Thursday my students had class in the morning but only 2 hours of class in the afternoon. We decided that everyone would bring in some food to share. After everyone was done eating, we did some goofing off and dancing around. With about 20 minutes left we all sat around in a circle to talk and say goodbye and what not. This is when the students presented me with a wooden keepsake box that had a gorgeous hand painted flower on it. Apparently my student Rose Mary secretly collected some money from everyone to give to her neighbor who is a painter. The box had a matching card with it and inside was a class picture we’d taken just the day before and everyone had written in it and signed it. This will definitely be the best thing I bring back with me. On top of this, my student who is more of a friend and also lives in Palmares gave me a small leather change purse with Costa Rica burned onto it and inside was a bracelet with elephants on it, which I was informed are for good luck. Gregorio also told me he was hunting down a gift to give me (spurred by me having bought him a leather bracelet in Montezuma), but I have no clue what he may come up with. I’m sure it’ll be ridiculous.

After all this, Friday morning Brittany and I got a ride from my host brother, Keylor, to Atenas to meet our van to Tortuguero. Once again, less than an hour into the trip I started to feel car sick and had to move to the front passenger seat. Once I moved I felt fine and slept for most of the trip. When arriving at our “destination” we found ourselves at the side of a river waiting for a motorboat. Once that arrived we all piled in and were taken through the canals to reach our actual destination–a turtle rescue center about 15 mins away. It was a very camp-like set up, with about 9 people who lived on the compound and a couple long term volunteers. Most of the people there were Ticos, the head marine biologist was a British lady who was there for a while but not permanent, and some of them were from Nicaragua. Most interestingly, some of them were actually ex-poachers.

We got there at about 1pm on Friday and got lunch. Every meal consisted of beans and rice and some meat or protein. There was home baked bread that was delicious and always fresh juice. After lunch we had time to kill but it had been raining all day so we all split up and mostly go some reading done. Since I had finished my trashy romance novel well before Friday, I took an afternoon to go to the park in the center of town, which has WiFi, and download another of her trashy vampire romance novels for the trip–which I finished today.

We hung out until 7pm when dinner was served then got dressed to go walk the beach for 4 hours. Since it is usually around dusk when eggs hatch, people start manning their stretch of beach about then. Come nightfall, they walk the beach until dawn because this is when the adult females come up to lay eggs. They asked us to dress darkly because the main problem this particular beach has in poachers. Sometimes they follow the patrol up and down the beach then take note of where the nest is to dig it up later. They lost 5 nests to a poacher the day before we came, so then Saturday morning the Coast Guard showed up to help man the beach.Friday night was wet, but with no actual rain, and completely turtle-less for our portion of the beach. We went back at midnight and fell asleep almost immediately.

Saturday we woke up to clouds but by 10am the sun broke through. All of the girls ate breakfast then sat down for a fascinating turtle talk. This was about what kinds of turtles exist, which are extinct, where they can be found, their migration patterns, how they lay eggs, what is causing them to become endangered, etc. After this talk, we all grabbed our suits and towels and went to the beach for a while–all under the supervision of the Coast Guard, though we got the feeling they weren’t staring for safety’s sake. Either way it wasn’t bad having them around since the beach we were at is very well known for being dangerous. It was odd in that there were about 4 or 5 wave breaks, making it look as intimidating as we were told. After about an hour or so I couldn’t take how many flies were on this beach so I decided to go in, shower, and read.

At 3pm we all climbed back into the motorboat and took an awesome canal tour through the jungle. We saw all sorts of different monkeys and birds as well as the Jesus Christ lizards that run across the water—they are much larger than I had previously thought. Overall this tour was a lot of fun and I’m extremely glad we got a day of sun while we were there. After our tour, we all hung out until dinner, then went back out to the beach at 8pm for evening patrol.

The night started off an immediate success. Within the first half hour we came across a turtle who had just finished laying eggs and was in her stage of going around messing up the surrounding beach to hide where the actual nest is. While turtles being digging their nests, they fall into a trance where they can’t feel, hear, see, etc anything. During this time we are allowed to approach them from behind and touch them with gloves on. So we all got to pet her and boy is it a weird feeling. Their flippers feel very muscular in certain parts but also like a walrus in other parts. Since most of the turtles are Leatherbacks, they have softer shells than the others, but still feels pretty hard. After she finished messing up the beach, she went back to the water.

Shortly after this, we came across another turtle and by the time we got there, she had finished digging the hole and was laying eggs. What the patrol do while she is digging her nest is dig a seat behind the nest that they can squat down into and use a plastic bag to catch the eggs as she lays them. Once they are sure they have them all, they find a suitable place closer to the jungle and recreate the exact depth and width of the nest she dug (based on how long her fins are) and put the eggs in the new nest. This is so they can better keep track of where each nest is and protect them from other natural predators.

While the turtle is digging her nest, they also check for tags placed on the inside of each back fin. They tag them while they are in their trance so they don’t feel anything. If there are no tags then they tag the turtle and come up with a name. Our group came across one turtle that was untagged and decided to name her Isabella. Throughout the time we were patrolling we came across 3 turtles. The first thing that came to mind when I saw the first one was how absolutely huge they are. Everyone always talks about how big they are but it is completely different to see it in person. It makes you realize how truly ancient they are. It seems to be as close to see a dinosaur as I’ll ever come. The ones we saw were around 140cm, which is modest but by no means as big as they come. Each one lays about 80 fertile eggs and of those, only half may make it to the ocean, and of that half it is likely none of them will make it until being fully grown. I believe it is 1 in every 1,000 that makes it to being a full grown adult. Absolutely sad, but it’s efforts like this that are going to help.

Monday and Tuesday Brittany and I don’t have to teach. We have plans to go to a nearby mountain and hike one day, and then go to our supervisor’s coffee plantation to play paintball the other day. Tomorrow evening at 9pm, the manager of a local haunt for us decided to create a Facebook official goodbye at the bar. That will be something of a final goodbye to all our local friends. Then Tuesday at 6:30pm, Brittany’s host family is throwing her a goodbye BBQ that I will probably be joining because her host mother’s cooking is absolutely amazing. Then the big day comes and Wednesday morning my family is driving us to the airport and we catch our flight at 1pm. As much as I absolutely hate saying goodbye and will miss this country, I am very excited to get back to my own life and the massive change I am about to experience in the next year. I have had endless offers of places to stay upon returning, and knowing there is free stay makes a possibility of a return trip much more realistic–of course this depends solely on me finding a job. Either way, I am looking forward to going back to State College and seeing everyone and partying as a student for the last time, as well as getting back to the life I started reconstructing this summer in the home town area. Looking forward to seeing everyone again!!


Weekend in San Jose and my last week…

Saturday I woke up at the ass crack of dawn to go to San Jose with my close friend from INA. We got into the city around 9am and found a place to crash and drop our bags before heading out into the city. Upon arrival I was met on every corner with beloved North American fast food restaurants. I immediately turned to Gregorio and told him we should eat fast food the entire weekend. I started with a McMuffin from McDonalds that morning. Followed a stomachache, big surprise. After our first stop at a fast food joint, we went to the equivalent of Central Park in San Jose. It was obviously not nearly as large as Central Park, but it was complete with a PowerAde running path, a large lake, 4 volleyball courts, a couple soccer fields, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, etc. While we were there, a large bike race was going on so that was a spectacle. We also stopped and watched an old-man softball game.

While in the park we got approached by people with a survey. Costa Ricans will often buy things off people from the street or answer surveys from people walking, in a fashion of helping them, knowing they are doing it for a job. This is very different from the US where if you approach anyone you are most likely going to met with silence or an annoyed grunt. Needless to say we sat through a 6 page survey on chocolate and Gregorio was interpreting questions for me to answer. While I was getting annoyed, in a truly North American fashion, about halfway through we were given free movie tickets, good for the theater downtown. This was the perfect coincidence since we had planned to see a movie at some point. This was just a perk to get us through the rest of the survey.

After we finished up, we got on a bus to go to the central mall in San Jose where the theater was. Up until this point the only mall I had seen in Costa Rica was in San Ramon, which is called the “small” by my students because it is smaller than any mall I’ve seen in the US. We think malls that have only one or two department stores are small, now imagine a mall without a single department store and only a handful of small boutiques. So, needless to say I was very impressed by the size of the mall in San Jose. I would compare it to just the main portion of the King of Prussia mall, without the extra building. Maybe a little smaller, but it included a movie theater–our next stop.

Every theater I have seen is playing the same 3 movies, in 3D and not. They are: Thor, Rio, and Winnie the Pooh. Something that had not occurred to me up until this point is that Spanish speaking countries often have to watch movies with Spanish subtitles. Of these 3 movies, only Rio was dubbed over, the other 2 had subtitles. This was relieving for me, but Gregorio expressed his frustration over this fact. Despite this, everyone in the theater seemed to enjoy the movie, as there was commentary provided by the woman behind us on every entertaining moment.

On Thor in general, I thought it was an entertaining movie. Though it was nothing that provoke deep thought or changes your perspective on life, it had humor, sex appeal, action, and drama. There were good special effects and a sexy male lead to look at. After the movie we walked around a bit more and saw some of the old buildings and statues in various parks around the city. Eventually we made our way back to our general area and stopped at a super market to get some snacks and drinks for the night. We woke up pretty early on Sunday and walked around some more. We went to Wendy’s for a breakfast burrito then met up with Gregorio’s dad. We ran some errands with him and then went to San Ramon’s “small” (about an hour ride) to get lunch at Taco Bell. There were some more errands run and eventually I got back to my house around 7pm.

Sylenia gave the students off all day on Monday because she had a meeting in San Jose so I had off as well. She set up with her parents that they would take me to Sarchi Monday morning, which is the souvenir manufacturing capitol of Costa Rica. Upon arrival I was very pleased to see that the prices of things were much cheaper than what I have seen in beach towns. Despite the cheaper prices, I still spent a fair amount of money. But I am officially done buying everyone gifts. I also had to give over 200 dollars for our trip this weekend, but that is supposed to include transportation, sleeping arrangements, food, and our pre-set schedules. Hopefully the 200 dollars I have locked away in my room right now will be me through the rest of the week, including extras during this trip, because my bank account is looking depressing. Part of this is because I have been saving up for this trip so I got used to seeing a pretty cushy number in my account. Hopefully I can start working shortly after my job interview on March 23rd.

In the afternoon I met up with my student/friend, Maura, to celebrate her birthday. We went to San Ramon and walked around a bit, then found a bar to sit down and relax in. We had about 2 drinks each then went back to catch the bus home. By this time it was around 7 so I headed home to be greeted with pork and green beans cooked in egg as well as a salad with Cesar dressing. As usual with my new host mother, the food was very good and actually something new for me. I was pretty excited for Cesar dressing, but it was more bitter than normal Cesar. All the same, I was starving and pumped for the food. After this I watched some TV with my host family, then went up to my room to sort through the souvenirs I bought to make sure I covered everyone.

While running around, I came across a book Gregorio bought for his English class. They tell the students to buy a book in English and try and read the whole thing by the end. He chose a book by Lindsay Sands, The Rogue Hunter. I found this rather amusing, since it’s a vampire romance novel. I started reading it while waiting for his dad to complete some errand and before I parted ways with him he said I could have it because he had given up on it a while ago. I tried to explain to him the problem with romance novels is they often use flowery language that is not common in everyday speech, which is what they are learning. Though it is an easy, trashy read for me, it is pretty long with very different vocabulary than he is used to. I suggested he found a shorter book, since that is more likely to be directed towards young adults. Meaning simpler vocabulary. But of course now I am totally wrapped up in the book, as I get with books of this nature. I will easily finish it on the way to the Caribbean side this Friday–and will then probably wish I had another one of her books to indulge in. At least this vampire book is more honest in the sexual aspect than Twilight haha.

That leads me to this weekend. I have to be in Atenas by 8am on Friday morning to catch a bus with the rest of the girls to the place we are staying on the Caribbean side for our turtle-releasing trip. This means that my last day with my students is this Thursday. While I will be here Monday and Tuesday, our supervisor told us we have the days off to prepare for our return trips. Brittany and I talked to Will because he has a paintball arena set up in his coffee plantation. He said that he  broke one of his guns so he offered that instead we could shoot his rifle and handgun–so it should be an interesting Monday or Tuesday! The other day we have free I may come back to the classroom just to see everyone again.

Sylenia is upset that we have to go on this trip this weekend because her parents wanted to throw a going away BBQ for me with her brother. I sent out an email asking for an estimate of when we might be back on Sunday, but I’m not holding my breath that it will be early enough to have a BBQ since Monday is an early work day for everyone. I hope it can work out though because it would be a very nice goodbye. My other beef with this trip is that once again we are paying to work–something I’ve had to do all semester. We were told that we will have night duty where we walk around with security guards to patrol the beaches for people who try to hunt the turtles. While I am fully behind the spirit of it, I don’t want to take my last vacation staying up late to walk around a beach at night with someone who I probably don’t share the same language with. I think I am mostly grumpy about paying 200 dollars to have someone tell me what I have to do on my last weekend in Costa Rica. I would have preferred to save the money and stay around Palmares to say goodbye to friends, then have this BBQ on Sunday. What are you gonna do about “mandatory vacations” though?

All in all I’m sad to think that I will be leaving my students in a couple of days and that I will be leaving Costa Rica shortly after that. I know I will cry when I have to say goodbye to my students and I’m embarrassed already thinking about it. There may even be some tears on the plane, but I will have to concentrate on the great things I am coming back to in the US, including a week or so in State College with friends I’ve been missing all semester in order to graduate! As well as finally getting a job back where I work and get paid rather than pay to work somewhere. This will also be used as my motivation to get going on the real job hunt so I can finally be an independent human being! That’s a scary thought…  I will probably not update again until after the weekend and for those of you on Facebook with me, there won’t be any more pictures until I get home since I am working with disposables now! Ciao!

a week vacation in paradise

Well, a week off. Where to begin? Last Thursday, while at school, I got a phone call from my supervisor informing me I am changing where I live. So I got home, packed up my stuff, and brought it to school with me on Friday. There I got a ride to Palmares to drop my stuff off at my new place, which is with the parents of my mentor teacher. I am very pleased to be in Palmares, a town with young people and a night life, rather than stuck in the cave on Naranjo. Sylenia’s parents are very nice and Sylenia told them about my unfortunate food situation so when I arrived there last night there was tons of food waiting for me. I am excited to finally be a part of a large costa rican dinner with a woman who can really cook. I got back from vacation last night and settled into my house, I think it is going to be perfect. I have my own room and bathroom above a garage. I have a full bed now and the room is veeery large.  To get to the house I get to go through a little garden with a lot of greenery so it’s a great view. The house is very nice and Sylenia’s younger brother (still about 33) lives at home and speaks some English. Neither of the parents do but we’ve been communicating just fine. I am looking forward to being able to just walk around downtown any time I want to shop or whatever rather than being tied to a bus schedule. I think I’m going to wish I’d been there the whole time. But moving on to the vacation…

On Monday morning we left for La Fortuna by bus. The ride was long but in terms of bus rides here, not so bad. While waiting in line this woman “momed” us, taking hold of us to shove in front of people onto the bus and make sure we could all sit together–even watched to make sure no one took our bags out from under the bus at stops. This kind of temporary adoption happens to me a lot while traveling. We got to La Fortuna at night and went around town. A friend from Palmares was playing at a local bar/restaurant so we decided to go there and grab some food and drinks. He speaks Spanish mainly but also speaks almost perfect English, French, and Portuguese. His name was Amelio so you know I was yelling Aaameeliooo across the bar. He also marks the first Costa Rican to stop a conversation and tell me I look like Sandra Bullock. Really didn’t see that coming while down here. We considered ordering more drinks but a shot of Cacique, the Vladamir of Costa Rica, was 3 dollars. Rather than pay these tourist prices, we went across the street to the liquor store and bought a bottle of it for 5 bucks. Since there are no open container laws we chilled in the park until Amelio was done playing and then went out with him to places he suggested. Later  Amelio took us to this hot spring that was just a river running from the volcano and we swam and hung out for a while. Much better than paying a resort 30 bucks to go to their hot springs. Plus the fact that there was no closing time, and it was beautiful without being one bit artificial really gave it a pura vida vibe. It was the perfect depth to sit on the bottom, which is all pebbles, and it came up to about your shoulders. There was also a waterfall drop and if you went under the waterfall it was a small cave you could hang out in. It’s so warm that no creepers live in the water, so not being able to see isn’t a big deal. Under a nearby bridge there was a very slick and shallow part that we used as a slip n’ slide, which worked very well. The next morning we realized we’d all cut our bellies up, but it was well worth the natural fun.

The Backpackers hostel we stayed in was really nice and therefore no one there really wanted to hang out late or anything. We crept into our bunk beds and woke up the next morning to go zip-lining. Zip-lining was a really great experience but for someone with a mild fear of heights, got a little nerve-racking. The longest line was 980 meters and crossed over this canyon with an amazing view of the waterfall. This was the one that about halfway through I had to stop my brain and keep my cool. My biggest fear was accidentally stopping (which is easier than you would think) in which case you have to turn and crawl the rest of the way. Hanging around that high up is not something I can do. But, it all went smoothly and was a great time. The views were spectacular and we got to do a little hiking to get up to the first zip-line.

We went back to the hostel and chilled pool side. In this time, came across a lone traveling Canadian named Greg who had just gotten to Fortuna. He had just spent a few weeks in South America and decided to stop in Costa Rica before going home. He said he was going to Santa Theresa, a beach town next to our destination of Montezuma, so we convinced him to come to Montezuma first. We got into some discussions about hockey, which is something I can’t help, it being playoff season and no Costa Ricans want to talk hockey. We all shared the same humor and he actually didn’t even sound like he was Canadian, minus the “eh?” dropped in there every so often. We left the next day, but he stuck around for another day to go zip-lining.

On our way to Montezuma, we ran into another lone traveler named Lachely (guessing on that spelling) who was from England. He was traveling to Santa Theresa as well but we also convinced him to spend a few days in Montezuma-we’re very convincing. So we traveled with him for 9 hours that day, through 2 buses and 1 ferry, to get where we were going. We helped him find a hostel, then went to our own hotel. We stayed in a very nice hotel with a pool called Los Mangos. Within 2 minutes of being there we realized why, every tree was a mango tree and a mango almost took out Aja (Brittany’s friend from State College who came for the week, pronounced Asia). The benefit of this was you could do some looking around and find perfect mangos on the ground–continental breakfast! The best part was hanging out in the pool and looking over and finally we got to see the monkeys we’d been waiting for. Over those days we saw spider monkeys as well howler monkeys-I heard the howler monkeys well before I found it in the trees.

We found out that Thursday-Saturday were dry for the holy week so on Wednesday night we went to the supermarket and did our shopping for the rest of our stay. We spent the first night by the pool then went downtown to a club, since it was the only time we’d get to go to one. It was alright, but not too many people were in town. Once the clubs close people just go down to the beach and hang out, so we joined the masses. Thursday we woke up and went to the beach for a couple hours, ending up back at the pool to rid ourselves of all the sand. While Lach often went off and did his own thing, we spent most of the 4 days hanging out with him and that Friday we found Greg wandering around downtown. Between the 4 of us there was constant laughter, it’s funny how people from all over the world can share the same humor. We were amused by the terms Lach would use, such as: “perfect result” “well funny” and describing things as “quality” where we might use awesome. I think to some extent they found us 3 girls to be absolutely ridiculous. But this is why meeting new people while traveling is something I can too easily get addicted to.

In the daytime we went around to do some shopping. Montezuma is different from any beach town I’ve seen yet because there are artists with tables set up along the streets. In this way it felt a lot like shakedown street at Bonnaroo. It was much more appealing to buy from these people because you could sit there and watch them make the jewelry while they were selling. It was more satisfying to know there weren’t machines pumping them out somewhere. We all bought a fair amount of jewelry and crafts, burning through money quickly. We found that if you go shopping around 5-6pm, many of the sellers are drunk and it is much easier to talk them down in price. Happy hour shopping.

On Saturday morning we woke up and went on a snorkel tour at Tortuga Island. We got a suggestion from a local of which place to go through and it was a perfect choice. Once we were out on the water, the boat ride alone was tons of fun. We got to the spot and got our snorkel gear to get into the water. There was a pretty large coral reef but the only spectacular colors to see were from the fish, the coral itself was mostly green. I did get to chase after schools of fish and get real up close and personal to check out the coral. While we were snorkeling, our guide was cutting up fish and doing prep work for lunch. After an hour or so we went to the actual island. Finally we had found the white sand beach and clear blue water you see on post cards. It was absolutely perfect. The guide gave us beers and we laid at the beach, waiting for our included lunch to be made. We got potatoes, onions, and fish barbecued with a full fruit spread. It was absolutely delicious, plentiful, and the perfect food for the situation. The sun was extremely hot so even with tons of sunblock reapplied, most of our time was spent in the shade. Despite all this, we all walked away pretty red. After this we took the boat back and were back in Montezuma around 4.

Lach took that day to go to Santa Theresa and there was a huge beach rave there Saturday night, so we rounded up our Canadian Greg and took a taxi. It was a bumpy taxi ride and at one point we all had to get out so he could get up a hill–but welcome to Costa Rica after all. The party was like nothing I’ve seen outside of a music festival. It was fenced in but there was electronica bumping, lights going, fire dancers, and acrobats, all within a couple yards of the actual beach. All in all it was quite a show. We spent a couple hours there, looking for Lach who was extremely pumped about the rave (European for sure), only to find out later he never even made it. We went back to his hostel and found him sleeping so we chilled with him for a while then called back our ghetto cab and said our goodbyes–but not before getting an invite to visit London with a free place to stay any time we want.

The next morning we woke up and went to grab a bite to eat downtown. It was a little before noon so we go to get breakfast and the waitress says no breakfast. I look at the sandwich menu and half of it was breakfast sandwiches anyway… making it hard to understand why we couldn’t get breakfast. I decided on an omelette, was told I couldn’t get it, but was able to get it on bread as a sandwich. Makes perfect sense, right? That was just the beginning of this silly restaurant. We all ordered shakes, which is a tricky ordeal for me. I got just strawberry and Britt and Aja got mixed fruit. About an hour later my face was covered in bumps and its obvious they made their shakes first then made mine in the same container. As I write this I still have a reaction (meaning bumps that look like intense acne) on my face from the mild banana encounter. I had no other symptoms besides this breakout all over my face.

When we got to the end of our meal, Brittany asks for aluminum foil so she can turn her salad into mini sandwiches with this bread they’d given us. The woman brings out a box hesitantly and Britt tries to put together these sandwiches but we all just realize it’s not going to stay together in a box. The woman brings back our sandwich leftovers in tin foil, so Brittany asks for some again. The woman just straight up says no. We’re all a little confused because we know they have it and it’s just a piece of foil after all. Brittany asks why not, then, after a roll of the eyes from the waitress, she brings out some tin foil. Britt makes her sandwiches and we get the check. On the check, there is a 500 colones charge (about a dollar) for the box they gave Brittany, even though she had asked for tin foil and not a box to begin with. It’s a dollar though so we say whatever. As we start sorting through our money, she comes over and we’re told that we have to use exact change. Now, this isn’t some small Tico soda. This is a pretty nice touristy restaurant with a beach view and everything. I find it hard to believe that they expect exact change. We decide to put it on a card and deal with the cash amongst ourselves, but the waitress comes over and tells us there’s a 13% charge to use a card. By this time we are so blown away by how ridiculous this restaurant has become and don’t know if we did something to piss them off or what. We end up coming up with as exact as change as we could, not wanting to leave a big tip (especially since standard tipping here is only 10%), and peace out. After that silly encounter we just grab a 6 pack and sit on the beach for the 2 hours until our bus comes. We give a beer to a guy making/selling  jewelry on the beach with dreads to his ankles, then come across another Tico we’d met who hooked us up with the snorkel tour. Eventually Greg also shows up because he’s going to Santa Theresa finally and joining up with Lach, so we send another beer his way. Eventually the buses show up, we all say our goodbyes, and get on our separate buses. The ride back seemed very smooth and didn’t take nearly as long as the way there, but it was not as entertaining without Lach there to poke fun at.

After reflecting on this blog, it seems pointless to even share because the best parts of the experience cannot even be put into words. During this time my camera got stolen, but the week was so great that it barely even puts a dark spot on the experience. It was truly pura vida in moments that cannot be caught in any other way than an overwhelming feeling of contentment and gratitude. Costa Rica’s “tagline” is pura vida, meaning “pure life” but at the same time meaning so much more than that. They use it in greetings, just in passing as almost a “keep on keepin’ on,” as a toast, and in any way that fits the real, full meaning of it. I have 2 weeks left in paradise and I think they are going to fly by the same way the last month and a half have. At least I will go back to good weather and graduation to distract m

Journal 3

Prompt: Student/youth culture in the US vs. Costa Rica

The first thing I’ve noticed is that in both the US and in Costa Rica, students think that high school is a joke. All of my students, who are now on a community college level, talk about how they skipped classes and didn’t take high school seriously. They are now in a special opportunity where they are receiving scholarships to learn English, which presents a lot of well paying job opportunities in Costa Rica. For a lot of Costa Ricans, when they finish high school they have to make a decision, whether to continue on to university or join the family business (whether it be construction, farming, etc). While this seems like it is also an option in the US, most people’s careers require some sort of education before entering the profession. It is becoming more common and necessary to at least complete two years of community college. It is perfectly normal to not continue on to university in Costa Rica beyond for just financial reasons. A large contributor of this are the many jobs available to people without college degrees. There are a lot of agriculture jobs that have not been replaced with machines that simply require physical labor and are necessary in keeping the country going. In the US, it is often immigrants and illegal occupants who end up taking these types of jobs—creating a stigma about what type of person should be doing what kind of job.

A major group of students who don’t continue on to university is the growing population of young girls with babies. It is too common for a girl in high school to become pregnant out of wedlock. It is not acceptable in this country, on the other hand, to get an abortion. If a girl becomes pregnant in high school, it is generally understood that she will have the baby and her mother will help her care for it. In the US, getting pregnant in high school is usually taken as a sad occurrence since it represents the loss of many opportunities and growth of that individual in terms of an “acceptable” life in the eyes of much of society. On MTV in the US, there are even shows surrounding the topic of teen pregnancy in order to show the downfalls and struggles that work as a moral lesson on becoming pregnant and practicing safe sex. In Costa Rica, being a house mom still occurs frequently and being a woman with no other responsibility than caring for a family and keeping house is changing but still very prevalent. Those students who end up with a child are the ones that are stripped of their childhood and are given the responsibilities of an adult, and in this way tend to mature and become adults more quickly than youth in the US. One of the good friends I’ve made since coming to Costa Rica got his girlfriend pregnant when he was about 19 years old. We were discussing drinking ages in Costa Rica (18 years old) versus the US and what the difference in ages makes. I was discussing the freedom and beauty of being 21 and he said to me “Being 21 with a child is very different than being 21 without a child,” and though it was said simply and in broken English, his tone resonated with the reality of his adulthood versus my adolescence.

What seems to be the major difference for Costa Rican youths is adolescence. In the US, the period of “adolescence” seems to be starting sooner as 10 and 11 year olds begin experimenting with drugs and participating in overall “adult” behavior. On the other end, it is extending further into the 20s as the job market dwindles, since many recent graduates have to return home and live off their parents for extended periods of time before finding jobs and truly becoming independent. In Costa Rica, you are considered and treated as a child until you’re married. It turns out that if you end up with a child before then, the freedom of being a young is quickly lost and you are either learning, working, and/or taking care of your child. Since Costa Ricans cherish family in a much deeper way than we’re used to in the US, they live at home often until they get married. In this way, some people end up living with their parents until they’re in their 30s or 40s. This practice in the US generally means you may never be getting married and/or there must be something very basically wrong with your situation.

Despite these blatant differences in living arrangements and overall lifestyle, there is one very basic similarity between people in the US and in Costa Rica. If you have a child, you are not going to be doing much of anything that requires free time. If you don’t have a child, whether you’re 18 and single or 40 and married, you will be traveling on the weekends and out doing things that require freedom. I have found this simple rule to be true at every place I’ve traveled to in Costa Rica, since babysitters never extend beyond your own family. Your freedom to act as young as you’d like seems to rely solely on whether or not you have a child to be responsible for. Often times the problem in the US is that those who get pregnant young are too immature to recognize their new responsibilities and still go out and act as though they have the freedom of being a child rather than having one. It may be okay to have a child at a young age in Costa Rica, but it is not acceptable to carry on as though you’re an adolescent when you’ve obviously made very adult decisions and partaken in adult behavior—you are held accountable for the consequences. That, I believe, is exactly what my friend was referring to when he said it’s very different to be 21 with a child than 21 without a child.

Journal 2

Prompt: Orientation to the Community

Now that I’ve spent three weeks in Naranjo and its surrounding towns, I’ve realized why everyone thinks it is so boring. It is a rather small town and very “old school” so there isn’t a night life… at all. It is also very difficult to get to by bus from anywhere. Buses to and from Naranjo tend to run every hour or more, whereas the town next to ours, Palmares, is known for having a nightlife and there are buses in and out of there to all over with regularity. Living in Naranjo isn’t so bad because it is only about 2,000 colones (or 4 bucks) to get to Palmares by taxi. The problem for me is that I don’t live in downtown Naranjo, I live in La Cueva (the cave) which people constantly make fun of me for. They say it is “in the jungle.” The lack of bus service to downtown Naranjo from anywhere else did give me some trouble on the way back to the beach and I ended up having to take a bus to the town of Grecia, about 30-40 mins away from my own town. From there I had to try to tell a taxi driver I needed to go to Naranjo, but actually to La Cueva which is even further. He knew the general area but once we got out towards the “suburbs” I had to direct to my exact neighborhood. As I kept telling him he needed to go further, he made fun of me for living so far. Obviously I didn’t understand what he said word for word but it was obvious all the same. I often feel like I’m living in a cave because the house I am at doesn’t have internet, cable, or cell phone service. I thought the cell phone service was just because I had a US line, but I have since gotten a Costa Rican number and there is still no service in the house. The good news is if I simply step outside I get service my Costa Rica line so all is not lost. It is very frustrating not having internet and I think it is something they need to consider when making placements in host families. Buses from downtown Naranjo to La Cueva only run once every 2 hours, with a 3 hour gap from noon til 3pm. Though it doesn’t sound too bad, it is very frustrating if you need to go anywhere within those 2 hours. I often find myself waiting around for an hour somewhere or having to leave an hour or two early just to get some place on time (not that Ticos put much emphasis on being on time!)

I have heard from my students that walking around downtown Naranjo at night is dangerous, but I feel this is true for any “downtown” in any country. There will always be petty theft. Other than that word to the wise, the small town vibe is very prominent and anywhere outside of the downtown people say hello to every single person they pass on the street. I have tried to make the attempt to at least smile and wave before I pass because I often forget to say anything when I pass someone, it is not engrained in my mind yet. The only other problem with a small town is the same in any country, they love to gossip. My first 2 weeks I often felt and heard people around me on the bus and downtown talking about me as I walked by or waited for a bus. I assume it isn’t anything bad since they don’t know me, but I will pass by and hear key words that single me out in a crowd, such as: gringa, estados unidos, Americano, ella blanca, etc. These are the general adjectives to explain who I am, none of which bother me or make me feel uncomfortable. The thing about Costa Ricans is none of them look the same. I have seen people whiter than me, people with red hair, straight hair black hair, brown curly hair, freckles, blonde with blue eyes, but they’re all speaking Costa Rican Spanish. There would be hope for me to blend in as I get more tan but it is most often my clothing that makes me stand out as a foreigner. While I could easily do a little shopping to fit right in, I find these Costa Ricans crazy for wearing jeans every single day. It will be a solid 80 degrees out with blazing sun or rainy humidity and every single person is wearing long jeans and sandals. I will be out wearing linen slacks and ballet flats and still be sweating unbearably. Maybe once I leave I will be more accustomed to the heat, but I know already I will find the AC in my house too cold, since no house or place seems to have AC. They are built with cinder block and other materials that keep the insides of houses very cool and lets the constant breeze in.

Though there are many inconvenient aspects of the town I live in, I feel that my ability to overcome them and not let them bother me makes me more a part of the town than if I could simply walk to class (as many of my counterparts in Costa Rica can) and not have to take 2 different buses to get to class. Having to take the bus has given me the chance to memorize and know not just downtown Naranjo but surrounding neighborhoods, which has proven to be very helpful. If I hadn’t made a point to memorize landmarks on my bus rides, I would have never been able to direct that taxi to my exact house. Part of the need to know the whole area lies in the fact that there are no addresses in Costa Rica. I couldn’t just climb into a taxi and show them an address and have them know what street to go to, because the streets don’t even have names. Just today I needed to receive directions to a party my students are having to “practice English” (so they say) and they told me to meet them at a grocery store in a neighborhood next to mine and I described it exactly. I could see they were delighted that I knew the area that well and I was delighted because it makes my journey that much easier and which that much less stress, anxiety, and doubt. I think that by the end of my stay here I will know more about the towns and bus system than many Costa Ricans because I make a point to pick up as much information as I can, possibly to avoid the long, arduous task of having to ask for some piece of information from someone who can’t understand my accent even in Spanish. While I believe other student teachers in Costa Rica aren’t struggling with the day to day travel and isolation as much as I am, I think my placement is working out very well for me because if things come to easy for me then I slack off and only put in half the effort. In this way I am forced to get to know very small details and pieces of information about my town and will come to feel like I know Costa Rica more than any visitor possibly could be expected to.

Journal 1

So I’ve decided that for the holy week I’m going to post the 3 journals I’ve done so far. I wish I could create a program that will post them at scheduled points, but I can’t, so I’m just going to make 3 separate posts and you can pick and choose when you want to read them over the next week.

Here is number one for the prompt: Comparison between PA schools and host nation school (facility, dress, student-teacher relationships, classroom management, assessment, etc)

I have decided to do the journals out of order because I am more comfortable with my knowledge of the school I am teaching in than the surrounding community, as I have only driven through the downtown a couple of times at this point. Besides for the obvious difference of age (Pennsylvanian 8th graders versus Costa Rican students from age 15-24), the most obvious difference I have seen is motivation. INA is a scholarship based school that acts as a community college to prepare students to get a job with major corporations, based specifically on what these corporations say they need from their employees. If the students fail a course, they lose their scholarship and are kicked out of the school. Since the students have to do well to continue at INA, they are always working hard to get good grades and truly understand the information. While the high schools are the same in that students may fail and still get pushed through the grades, a community college in the United States would not kick a student out for failing, since they still want your money. Another major difference is the structure of the day. While they start at 8am and end at 3:30, like many schools, the students only concentrate on one subject. I have the same 25 students all day and they have 2 courses, one that concentrates on specific vocabulary of English (ie. Sports, occupations, parts of a house, etc) and one that concentrates on pronunciation. These students are concentrating on learning English as a second language, while there are other students who concentrate on cosmetology, farm management, baking, furniture manufacturing, etc. In this sense, it is a very intensive program and many of the students are speaking English at a high level for having only started learning English 2 months ago.

As with many high schools (but not on a college-level in the United States) is the dress code. Girls are not allowed to show cleavage or wear booty shorts, though this is not an issue because many Costa Ricans wear jeans everyday. One interesting difference is that girls are allowed to wear sandals but boys are not allowed to wear flip flops, I did not receive a reason for this double standard.

The classroom itself has no air conditioning (though I heard that some of them do) and has high windows to let air flow through but prevent sun from beating in. The classrooms are very open and has made me aware of how much American teachers take advantage of the lack of noise from other rooms. There is a computer lab, though it only holds a handful of computers, that can be used to get online. There is also one specific classroom that, if you sit at the tables in front of it, you can receive free internet access without a password—a piece of information that has become my life savior since there is no internet at my host family’s house. There is a cafeteria that provides food for many students and a microwave is kept in the cabinet for student use during recess times. This is another variation in their day. The students go from 8am-11:30am and receive a small break at around 9:30-10am, providing many of them time to eat breakfast. There is an hour long break for lunch from 11:30am-12:30pm, then they continue from 12:30 until 3-3:30pm, depending on the arrival of public buses for students who must use them to get home. Teachers are required to stay until 4pm, to ensure most of the students have left the premises.

There is a lot less classroom management and most students simply know how to act respectful, but are also allowed more freedom in quiet side-chatter, as I have found it is usually on topic and simply questions they are too nervous to ask to the class or are unsure of how to ask it in English, since Spanish is not to be spoken in the classroom. My favorite part is that instead of referring to their teachers as Ms. Or Mrs. ____________, they simply say refer to you as teacher, or less frequently your first name. There is something very amusing about older students referring to you as simply “teacher.” Though they know what it mean to be respectful to their teachers, their classes are simply their 2nd families. Many of them spend more time with their teachers in their classes than with their own parents so there is a very relaxed and fun attitude that does not take much classroom management to maintain. This is a vibe that is constant for most of the country though, as I have found every single Costa Rican I have come across has been extremely friendly, wants to help you, and willingly will work with non-Spanish speakers to come to an understanding in communication. Though my students are a little nervous to speak English in front of me, as a Native speaker, they do still participate and are very open to corrections and improving on their mistakes. This is true for my mentor teacher as well. Since she only speaks English in the classroom, with people who don’t speak English, she makes mistakes that no one knows to correct, so she takes full advantage of having me in the classroom. Often I am used as a pronunciation machine—reading worksheets and specific words over and over so the students can hear the correct pronunciation and mimic the movements of my mouth.

As for assessment, they have small quizzes during units as well as large tests that are worth a higher percent of their grade to assess whole units. These are used to gauge understanding and decide what needs to be covered again. Going back and reviewing misunderstandings is essential since these students are at the end of the line in terms of receiving an education before moving into the career world. Since this is their last chance to make mistakes without it working against their report with a company, mistakes are highly embraced and encouraged if it means giving yourself more opportunities to participate, practice using English orally, and showing the rest of the students the wrong way to say something. As I have realized previously, my generation was subject to the “whole language” approach so grammar was a scarcely taught and is now almost alien to me—forcing me to teach myself grammar concepts before sharing what I learned with a class. On top of this, I have never had experience with pronunciation beyond my own speech therapy classes in elementary school for my speech impediment. They work with the International Phonetics Alphabet, and for now it looks like an alien language to me. While planning lessons I will need to do extra research to not only teach myself specifics, but also to figure out the best and simplest way to teach it to students who need English on a conversational and functional level rather than what is considered Standard American English. As my mentor teacher from Pennsylvania said, the content is not as important as being able to teach. Give a teacher any topic and they can teach it to themselves the night before, but it takes a teacher to be able to plan a lesson and conduct a classroom in an effective and learning-conducive manner.

A long one from a long weekend…

On Thursday I taught a lesson on the present perfect tense that I think went very well. All of the students seemed to understand through each step of my explanation. In general, the present perfect tense is not nearly as confusing as gerunds and infinitives and don’t require an explanation of the difference between gerunds and present progressive. They seem to be becoming accustomed to my accent and I am getting used to using the most basic vocabulary and always having synonyms at the tip of my tongue. Also, as I learn more Spanish I can begin to use the equivalent words in Spanish to clarify new vocabulary. They are also more comfortable with me in general and will come up and ask be about phrases they heard in songs or other inquiries about English that come from sources outside of class. Often times I am their savior because I will let them ask me how to pronounce words they are using for presentations or on tests whereas Sylenia isn’t accessible to them after class since she drives to Palmares whereas I take the bus downtown with everyone. Anyway, Thursday was my last day of teaching this week since I left on Friday morning for Limon with my host family.

We went to downtown Limon very shortly before hopping on the highway south towards Puerto Viejo. All in all, this town looks awesome. We only stopped to do some light shopping before going to Manzanillo, but it was completely a Rasta town. Before we got there, Marypaz kept explaining to me how everyone there was black and has dreds, as if I didn’t know what a black person was. I found this very interesting since people have this idea that the United States is so lacking in culture and is close-minded, but for many Costa Ricans, all they ever see are other Costa Ricans, with some other Latin Americans in the mix. I had to explain to Marypaz that I am used to seeing black people, in my case African Americans, and that it really isn’t all that special. She also kept making remarks about how by the time I leave I will be as dark as them, something that really wouldn’t be acceptable in the US. Then we went to a pretty poor town and the family informed me that is was mostly Indian people, something else they seemed to find novel. While they have been to the United States, they’ve only been to Miami, so I don’t think they realize just how diverse the United States can be, depending on the area.
But back to Puerto Viejo. This is a trip that would be very long and treacherous by bus so it may have been my only chance to get there, but I was disappointed to be there with my host family. While I totally appreciate them taking me on their vacation, the downtown of Puerto Viejo looked like a great place to meet new people and spend a Saturday night. Ideally, I’d get to go back with someone my own age who would also enjoy partaking in people-meeting. Carmen even suggested I try to go back with someone my own age. She said they can no longer stay in places like that because there is nowhere for Marypaz to go in towns filled with 20-somethings. Instead, we left Puerto Viejo and drove another 20 minutes south to middle-o-nowhere Manzanillo, where we were staying. In order to get in to the place, you had to have a wristband and they locked the gates behind you. There were a total of 12 cabanas with a swimming pool in the center and a sort of game center with a TV, pool, ping pong, and foosball. To Marypaz’s disappointment, I am really not a fan of those sorts of games. I’ve always been more of a lay by the pool and read type of person. Unfortunately, it rained every day we were there. We stayed in a cabana that was one room with a double bed and a roll out sofa (one of those chairs that is all connected cushions that you literally just unroll). So, I got the roll out bed and they 3 slept in the bed. The problem with this set up is they go to bed at about 10pm. Friday night we got there, settled in, then said forget the rain and put on bathing suits and swam in the pool, in the rain, for a while. I was exhausted from waking up early so I went to bed early with them, and there was no one else really in the compound yet anyway.

Saturday they woke up early, as they always do, and we decided to go driving around since it was raining and we couldn’t go to the pool or the beach. We ended up driving to various beaches and walking around for a little when it wasn’t raining, grabbing lunch, then heading to Sixola, which is in Panama. You have to park your car then walk across an old train bridge in order to get into Panama, but it is very nonchalant and they don’t check passports or anything. Sixola is pretty much a place to buy products that probably fell off the back of some truck. There are many stores and each one sells anything and everything they can get their hands on. This means that a store could have just one new washing machine for sale at a ridiculously low price. I ended up buying 2 Riptide brand halter tops for a total of six dollars. Once we crossed into Panama, everything was listed in dollars. Ironically, all I had was colones so for the first time I found myself converting from dollars to colones in my head rather than the other way around. This is also one of the first times I realized just how young Marypaz really is. She began whining in the car because she didn’t want to drive to Panama, then when we got there she made up for it by trying to get Carmen to buy her anything that tickled her fancy. She walked away with quite a load since Carmen is so doting and Marypaz is her only child. It reminded me of my own childhood and I found it very humorous to see the behavior in someone else, since I was the younger sister rather than having one.

After Panama we drove back to Puerto Viejo to hit the beach since the weather had finally cleared up. At this point is was about 5pm so we didn’t stay long. There was a lot of coral reef skeleton that created a sort of lagoon in the ocean. I noticed immediately that the despite the depth, I could still see my feet—definitely a first for me. In the same line of issues with the host family, I wasn’t allowed to go in past my thighs. This rule was mostly for Marypaz, but being the “older sister” she follows me around everywhere. At around 6pm we went back to our cabana and made some food and swam in the pool. A group of people my age had showed up by this time and backed their car up to the pool to play music. I was immediately jealous of their good time. After a couple hours of pool time we went in and I helped Marypaz with her French homework (apparently I remember more French than I expected). We ended up getting into a conversation about wars and the United States and the difference between the history they teach you in school and what really happens. All in all, it became pretty deep. I had to explain to Marypaz that just because the US often helps Costa Rica and other countries without armies, we are not known for being a great country in terms of our use of military. It was interesting to hear her gush about the United States and the great things it’s done since I always expect people abroad to meet the idea of the United States in a negative fashion, based on our general need to be all up in every countries business (except Africa, of course).

At about 10:30pm, Carmen stated that it was very late and time for bed. Not being tired, since I slept all day in the car, I told her I was going for a walk to wind down. During this time I passed the cabana where the people my age were staying and there was one kid sitting outside. I walked by, waved, and kept walking. Realizing I had no where to go in the dark, I turned back and decided to ask the kid for a cigarette—which was just “Tienes cigarette?” with a general hand motion of smoking a cig, since I don’t know the word for them in Spanish. Now, most people who know me well, know I don’t smoke cigarettes. I was mostly looking for a way to engage in a conversation with someone who I knew probably didn’t speak my language. And ya know what? It worked. He ended up going inside and asking someone and we sat down and carried on some light Spanglish, in which he told me he doesn’t usually smoke cigarettes. I explained that I was bored (aburrido) and was looking for something to do so he offered me an Imperial (THE beer of Costa Rica) and then I explained, in very broken Spanish, that I was an English teacher (profesor de ingles) staying there with my host family (con mi “familia”). He told me his English was very bad, as everyone tells me, but it was the first time I truly engaged in a conversation based more so on my Spanish abilities than the other person’s English abilities. Eventually all of his friends came pouring back to the cabana from Puerto Viejo in varying fashions of drunk. They put on The Doors and the party picked up a bit and it was a good time. In the end, one of the people who came spoke some English and we had a discussion about grammar in Spanish versus English. I went back to the room around midnight-12:30. I had previously set up my roll out bed so I quietly came back to our cabana and fell asleep.

As usual everyone woke up early and when I woke up Carmen told me they decided to leave a day early since it was raining for the 3rd day. I ate breakfast, packed up, and set myself up in the car. My biggest beef with road trips in Costa Rica are the roads are absolutely TERRIBLE. I will never again complain about pot holes in PA. We don’t understand the meaning of pot holes. Felix was swerving all over the road in order to avoid major pot holes (which were worse at the beach than up in Naranjo) as is very common to do here, but it was not contributing to my general gross feeling. After about an hour of swerving and bumping along, I realized I was clenching my jaw, never a good sign. I asked Carmen if we could stop at the next bathroom but, it being about 10:30am on a Sunday, no sodas or cantinas were open. Eventually I just asked if we could pull over because I was feeling car sick so we did, I climbed out and walked a couple yards, then willed myself to throw up in order to survive the coming 4 hour pot hole-filled drive. After that we were out of the worst of the pot holes and onto the straight highways. We got home at around 5pm and I slept for about an hour more, then got up and went to San Roque to hang out with some friends for the night. I asked Carmen if it would be okay if I came home around 11pm (on a night where no one had work or school the next day) and she hesitated but told me to knock and she’d unlock the door for me. This is a major reason I cannot stay here on the weekends. The next day I woke up, made myself an omelet, then went into the backyardish area and tanned, since it was finally sunny and I hadn’t gotten to work on my tan all weekend. After this it was a quick shower then back to San Roque to help my friend study for 2 tests the following day. All in all it was a pretty eventful weekend with a lot of great new experiences, but I am definitely looking forward to the holy week in Montezuma!

A weekend in Manuel Antonio… but really Quepos

So this weekend was my trip to Manuel Antonio. Well, in a very basic sense I wasn’t enthralled by it. The beach is very nice and the shopping strip at the beach has a good vibe. There are a lot of very nice, beautiful hotels and for all of these reasons the beach attracts a lot of American families. This means everyone there was either under 20 or above 40—not a great vacation spot for two 21 year olds. That day at the beach I finally go to go para-sailing, which was very peaceful. It was the first bit of “adventuring” we’ve done since we got here (we’re completing the adventure during Semana Santa–the holy week). We got a pretty cheap hotel and went to a hostel that was recommended to us for drinking because of the prices. The prices were indeed cheap but the town itself was downright dead. The hostel closed up the bar at around 10pm and we decided to hop in a taxi and go over to Quepos, the next town over that is much bigger and known for its nightlife.

Upon arrival we asked some local kids where the party was and they named a bar, Musique, a couple blocks down. And they were right. We walked in to neon lights and bumpin’ music and started to feel right at home. We even ran into a possee of cougars from Jersey who were very cliché for Jersey. They seemed like a lot of fun (the youngest being about 45) so we began drinking with them. Everyone cleared out after about an hour and a half and went over to the Republik, another dance club. There we ran into the guys who were running the para-sailing company from earlier in the day and they started buying us drinks (this included the owner of the whole company). We did some dancing then around 2am we were invited to go to the next club everyone was heading to, which looked like a jail but inside was pretty huge. We danced there for a while and then realized it was 3:30am and decided to head back to the hotel. We stopped for some chicken empenadas then stumbled into the room at around 4am. We woke up pretty early and ate the included breakfast before hittin’ the road for Playa Hermosa. We spent the afternoon sitting in a nice bar called The Backyard that had a patio looking out over a gorgeous beach. It was a blazing hot afternoon so I only went to the water for 15 minutes tops and it was enough for me to start peeling for the first time since I got here (just some light peeling on my shoulders, no redness though). After a couple bloody marys (which I realized I missed dearly) we went over to Jaco to do some shopping.

I decided to give a surprise visit to a kid we met during our weekend at Jaco (originally from Cali but moved to CR) and took him out to lunch with us. It was fun showing up and having a friend to go to lunch with. He said he was planning on moving from Jaco to San Jose to take a job in a call center, who always need English speakers. These call centers are exactly what my students are learning English to get a job in. They are not meant to be permanent jobs but they pay pretty well and are a good way to save up money to take more classes in higher education. He said the plan was to be there in the next 2 weeks so I’m hoping I can use that connection to finally visit San Jose and not have to pay for a hostel—couch surfing would be much more preferable to a San Jose hostel. We finally left Jaco and got caught in traffic coming from the beaches and heading to San Jose—ended up taking a different route off the highway and through the mountains to get to our towns. I got home at a decent hour and I haven’t appreciated having someone with a car more.

This week is going to be a short one in terms of teaching. Sylenia (mentor) is giving the students off all day on Wednesday because they’re finishing their Phonetics I course (moving in to Phonetics II) and she needs to plan the first couple weeks still. This means that I will have off as well, free to plan my Thursday morning lesson, on present perfect tense, at home! Then on Friday my host family is leaving for Limon, which I’ve really wanted to visit) since everyone has Monday off. I will be leaving around 11am on Friday so I’ll be missing class, but Carmen (host mother) is the boss of INA so it’s direct permission from the top really. Though it will be a quiet weekend in terms of partying, I keep hearing about how gorgeous the beaches are and Carmen mentioned a possible trip to Panama, which is an hour south. It would be really cool to be able to visit Panama. I’m very excited about the whole trip. That’s all folks!

A weekend in Jaco

So this weekend was full of firsts for me. Friday night I went back to my mentor teacher’s town to meet up with Brittany and go out with them in Palmares (my first visit to the town). Both of our mentor teachers are party animals so it was a really good time. I found out that when I’m drinking and everyone is speaking Spanish, I end up getting really quiet—go figure. Despite this, I still had a blast. A fair amount of people speak some level of English and I’m pretty good at understanding meanings without any language at all. Brittany and I went back to her mentor teacher’s house to sleep and get a ride to the bus station at 8am. Getting to Jaco beach was easy enough and on the bus we met 2 guys who were heading down to Manuel Antonio, and suggested it over Jaco. I’m pretty sure they were on an exchange program but I met so many people this weekend their stories are starting to blend. These guys showed us what stop to get off at for Jaco and we took a gypsy cab downtown. We got there in about an hour and a half, early enough that our spots at the hostel weren’t ready yet. We changed, locked our stuff up, and walked the block to the beach. My only beef with Jaco beach is there are spots with more pebbles than sand and it hurts your feet. But this marks my first experience with the Pacific, and damn is it salty. After 15 min in the water I had to get out because the salt was killing my eyes. It was a beautiful thing to walk into the ocean and have it be warm though.

At about 11:30-noon we head back because midday sun is not okay with our still pale skin. We picked our spots in the bunks and sat down with the group that was hanging around (in hammocks… pun intended). And my first experience with a hostel began. There were a fair amount of comings and goings but it was an eclectic mix of travelers. There was a group of guys from Ireland, another group from Canada, 3 California guys (2 of which have posted up in Jaco for the last couple years). There was another girl named Jessie whose story I forget but all in all it was a great vibe and everyone was very friendly, goofing on each other and what not. There was copious amounts of lounging and laughing, went out for ice cream, went to the liquor store, etc. We ate at the restaurant that’s connected with the hostel and they had amazing food (burgers instead of beans and rice). At about 6pm people started breaking into some alcohol and we all made plans to go to Los Amigos because it was ladies night so all the girls could drink for free. Before heading there we went to the bar next door since they were also having a ladies night. Brittany, myself, and one of the Californians, Aaron, ended up sitting down with the owners who were an older couple from Arizona who had just bought the bar and moved down to Jaco in February. After a few drinks there, we went to Los Amigos and met up with the rest of the people from the hostel—including most of the staff. It was quite a large crowd but we pulled tables together and took up a lot of the front patio. After being there for a while, a large portion of the group went to a dance club which was a lot of fun. The town is well known for its prostitutes and there were quite a few around at the club, if you stopped to try to spot them. After a long night we headed back to the hostel and I woke up on Sunday to pancakes from the restaurant that were only 2 bucks extra with the beds.

Brittany and I found out a bus time, bought tickets, etc then went to the beach for an hour or so Sunday morning. This hour on the beach is what did me in for sun burn. My face is a little pink, but looks more tan than anything. I cannot say the same for my shoulders. Though they don’t look bad, they are pink, and I’m a total wuss for pain. It’ll fade in a day or so though, no problem. After calling it a day for the beach and hanging out with kids at the hostel for a couple hours, we hopped in a taxi to the bus stop and this is where the hellish return began. We got our tickets too late and bought standing room only so we sat on the floor of the bus for the 1-2 hour ride back. A couple kids from San Jose that we’d met while in Jaco were also on the bus, which turned out to be very helpful. There was a fair amount of confusion about where the bus stopped and the one kid had to talk to the bus driver to find out what we needed to do (the bus to Jaco was right from Palmares to Jaco but this one ran between Jaco and San Jose so we had to figure out where along the way to get off). By this time we’d been on the bus for about 2 hours, sitting on the floor mind you, so we were feeling a little miserable. They decided to drop us at a large bus stop because the previous stop was too dangerous at night. They end up dropping us on the side of a highway and it takes us a minute to realize the bus depot is just a gas station on the side of the highway where all the buses stop. So immediately we’re shaded out by the whole scene, looking like the gringas we are, at night, on the side of a highway.

The plan was for each of us to take buses back to our towns, she to Palmares and me to Naranjo. The Palmares bus comes and she gets on then I begin to grow worried and impatient so I ask a guy at the gas station how often the Naranjo bus comes and he tells me every hour on the hour (obviously this exchange was much less articulate and more difficult than this). But it was the first time I had to actually use my phrase book. So 8pm rolls around and I see the Naranjo bus and I flag it down, it blinks its high beams at me, then keeps going. I didn’t manage to get out of the other waiting people why it didn’t stop but I think it was because there were 2 18-wheelers in the bus lane and the bus didn’t know where to stop, so it simply didn’t. The sad thing is this isn’t outrageous in Costa Rica, people just deal. I talk to the last 2 guys waiting about the bus situation (one of them spoke some English) and we decided that I’d take a bus to downtown Grecia (about 30 mins from Naranjo by car) with them, just so I wouldn’t be alone on the side of the highway at night, and then just get a cab from there. They were getting off before my stop so, in Spanish, they filled in the woman sitting next to me about my mission and to show me where the taxi stand is inGrecia. She was very willing and when we got off she walked me to the taxi stand and told the cab driver where I needed to go.

He said he’d take me for 7000 colones (14 bucks), which I realize is the gringo price but at this point I’d been traveling for almost 3 hours and would pay anything for someone to just drop me off at my front door. Not to mention 14 bucks for a cab ride of that distance in the US would be a steal. I explain to him the exact neighborhood in Naranjo and luckily I’ve been making a point to memorize landmarks so I directed us to the house without much issue. The cab driver started making fun of me as I kept telling him he needed to keep going (my students make fun of me for living “out in the jungle” because it’s so far from downtown). San Antonio de la Cueva (my neighborhood) is far from downtown Naranjo, let alone downtown Grecia so I felt a little bad as we kept climbing up into the mountain side. I ended up giving him 8000 colones for being so helpful and dealing with my lack of Spanish and just because I was so happy to finally be home. Though the trip back was a pain in the ass and it was the first time I realized I was in a sticky and potentially dangerous situation, it provides a perfect example of the never-ending Costa Rican hospitality that’s always flying around. They are always willing to help you, even if you can’t speak Spanish and they can’t speak English. From the very beginning of our trip back, I ended up getting help from 5 different people. It’s a very comforting to know that even if you can’t speak the same language you can turn to almost anyone around you and receive help without hesitation.

All in all, Jaco beach turned out to be awesome. Brittany and I want to go to Manuel Antonio next but I get the feeling the whole set up and vibe of our hostel was unique and we will end up making Jaco, and specifically that hostel, a regular trip for weekends we don’t have set plans. Hopefully we’ll get the return trip down to science so we won’t have to deal with any nightmarish returns again. We did an information exchange with some of the perma-vacationers in Jaco to plan return trips and traveling to other places as well. My love for meeting new people is going to make traveling, and specifically hostels, very addicting for me. I’m starting to appreciate having the summers off more and more.

Quick update before a fun weekend

I am still tutoring the student, Gregorio, from the basic English class. Since I have begun tutoring him he’s received a B and an A on 2 tests, so I think it is going well. He struggles mostly with grammar, his pronunciation isn’t too bad and he’s very good at mimicking words he hears pronounced for him. I met his older brother this afternoon who lived in the United States for part of his childhood, so he is pretty fluent in English. He insisted I take a trip with their whole family one day since they all know some varying degree of English. Costa Ricans seem prone to insisting, as that day Gregorio insisted I eat something, then his parents insisted I eat later too. I have been getting picked on a fair amount for how little I eat, but only because everyone else here is ALWAYS eating. I just don’t have the stomach for it. Gregorio was telling me (slowly and in very broken English) that other students in his class are scared to ask me for help because I always look so serious and angry. I found this rather hilarious because people who first meet me in the US have often said the same thing. I guess my relaxed face just sits in a naturally angry/serious expression—I can’t help that I just have one of them funky faces. I’ll have to work on making an effort to smile, blah. I think they don’t register the fact that when they’re sitting around me chattering in Spanish and laughing, having a good time, I don’t understand what they’re saying and therefore don’t get the jokes… hence the non-laughter. As I become more and more comfortable in this drastically new setting my shy demeanor will wear off and I’ll begin to get more and more relaxed until they all talk about what a goofy American I am. An opinion of me I’ve always found more realistic and preferable. No matter the overall opinion of me right now (must remember it’s only been a week!) I am thankful to have someone my age to talk to (Gregorio is 21 also). Even though our communication is a struggle, there are some things that are simply age-related behavior, interests, etc that are a relief to be in contact with again. Hopefully I will develop a group of friends from Naranjo…

Moving on, my first lesson on participle adjectives is today. My students still struggle to understand my accent so that’s my biggest concern. I am not concerned about my ability to teach the concept as much as my ability to simply be understood. I will not be able to say how these lessons go until Monday, since after class on Friday I am going to Palmares with my mentor teacher (her home town) and meeting up with my fellow PSU student teacher who’s down here, Brittany. Sylenia (my mentor teacher), Victoria (Brittany’s mentor teacher who also lives in Palmares, Brittany, and I are all going out in Palmares Friday night. Sylenia admitted to being quite the party animal so I’m looking forward to seeing where she takes me. I am going to be crashing in one of her extra bedrooms so that’s a blessing. Very early on Saturday, our supervisor from Costa Rica, Wilber, is going to drive Brittany and I to Atenas (about 15 mins away) to catch a bus (or 2) to Jaco beach. This beach is known for having lots of Europeans and some Americans scattered in. Apparently it is the type of place you need to be careful but there is quite a booming night life. We have a hostel booked for Saturday night (12 bucks each) and plan to spend all day Saturday out on the beach and around town, then go to the hostel and get ready to hit the night life Saturday night. Sunday we will spend the morning on the beach (if we’re not suffering from serious sun burn or hang overs), then hop a bus back to Atenas later that afternoon. I am excited to go out with my mentor teacher, as I think it will bring us closer and make co-teaching that much smoother. I am also looking forward to finally getting to see what night life is Costa Rica is like, since last weekend was nothing more or short of relaxing. Though I don’t have much for this week, I’m sure to have plenty of stories come Monday. So, cool your jets until then. (Perfect example of a saying you don’t think twice about using until you have to explain it to someone who doesn’t know what a jet is let alone any sort of figurative meaning….)