Saturday, September 19, 2009

Turtle Tour!

Wednesday, July 10, we went to watch the start of Green Turtle egg-laying season in the national park of Tortuguero. Green turtles, the same type Anna and I saw off the Nicoya, are called so because their fat is green, not because of their shell. It's kind of like calling them "green turtle" instead of "soup turtles." The females come to lay their eggs at the same place they were hatched only after they've matured to 25 or 30 years. Male sea turtles never come to land, mating in the shallower waters instead. So, the females go alone at night several times a season that starts officially in July to make their nests. In each one they lay 100+ eggs then cover them again. Apparently the temperature of the sand surrounding them determines the ratio of males ot females, females favored by higher temps. Tortuguero has traditionally yielded about 50-50 at 29°C. And it is one of the few beaches whose numbers of turtles has actually increased, however slightly, in the past several years.
Mom and I met for our free German-and-English turtle tour with Barbara the guide at 8 pm. We'd only agreed to go on this one because it didn't require the 5 mile-or-so sand-walk like the night before. Instead the groups went to a designated point in the national park proper to wait for park workers to spot a turtle and convey the information of its location and current activity back to the mass. Then 40 or so people would go through wooded path aside the beach to the said marker and wait till the moment was right. Lucky for us we were Group #1. We'd have first dibbs on watching. Also lucky, a turtle was spotted not three minutes after our arrival at the meeting point, and there was a half-oon shining plenty of viewing light on the sea. When we go to marker 44 we just waited in the dark for increments of play-by-play while Barbara mostly just chatted to her Germans.
We were waiting because actually the turtle's stay on the beach lasts about two hours. As a green turtle, she is able to sense the amount of salt in the sand so walks up ta suitable distance from the high-tide line and tries to find a place to put her nest. As was the case with the second turtle we saw, she may start cleaning the area (imagine this like a gurtle version of a snow angel), then decide it's not right and have to start all over again. Fort his entire time, especially when making her initial exit from the ocean onto the beach, she is extremely sensitive and given to fright. The watchers need to be very quiet and dark-clothed not to frighten her back to the sea.
Once she has cleared her circle, she starts to dig. Some turtles, though this does not include green ones, go into a sort of trance starting here, which lasts for the rest of hte time till her return to sea. Red lights, reasonably quiet voices, even touching her will not disturb her. For a good while she digs a rather deep hole, maybe 1.5 metes below the surface (maybe only a meter) abd about 2 feet in diameter. This is where her eggs will fall.
The park people gave the signal for us to come once she had started laying her eggs. This is when the green turtle starts her trance. We went over quietly to where she was, half under a bush and Barbara shown her red "torch" on the nest.
At first it was hard to tell what we were looking at. I could see small ping-pong looking shiney white things in the hole, but it wasn't till 2 eggs slid slimily but silently from one of the protrudances (her cloacum, it turns out, heh), that I could orient myself. Barbara was having to hold the left back flipper off to the side to be able to make the nest visible. The turtles use their very flat back flippers with the mini cobble stone print to cover their clutch. Up to five eggsmight come out at a time from the throbbing tail thing, oozing liquid witht hem, too, and landing on the other high surface-tension balls below.
The specimen herself was kind of hard to see, both in the dark and covered mostly by leaves, but it was clear she was large. Maybe 2/3 of a meter in width? Her back was covered in sand, and though it had the sort of geometric turtle pattern etched lightly into it, it had none of the high-rising bumps land turtles/tortoises do. Everything was very flat.
We got about 45 seconds to look at the eggs before it was another group's turn. We then rejoined the line under a sometimes drizzling sky and saw her dropping eggs 2 more times.
On the third, we stayed even longer as her back flippers began to move in a swimming-type motion, a fourth look she had finished with this and was stirring up sand in a slightly different place to try and "camoflauge" where her true nest was. She was kicking furiously and some sand got all the way up to our faces. It was still in my eyebrow when I got back to the hotel.
According to Juan, although many animals will eat baby turtles, they have a very hard time finding the eggs. The one exception to this is the crab, which can easily find them dig a hole streaight down, and carry off a delicassy. From this hole, other animals can start to smell the treats, and that's when the nest is in trouble. Most of the eggs are fertile, but only 1% of them will make it too adulthood, so it is a special tragedy when pet or stray dogs find their way to nests and disturb the entire things. Other, perhaps more natural, threats include snakes, hawks pelicans, fish and sharks. Plus hunting them is legal in Nicaragua, so that's even icing on the cake.
Anyway, to speed things up, we also got to see another girl, at mark 50-something, laying her eggs, too. It wasn't much different, but she was in the open, so I could see her full size. She was over a meter long and very flat, too. Her head and front flippers seemed slightly small for that giant shell.
We didn't get to see either one go back to the ocean before our time in the park ran out. Barbara said it's not that cool. Her three favorite things, she said, are seeing the mom cover the eggs, watching her come out of her trance, and watching the babies first rumble below, then break through the surface, like a volcano, when they hatch.
The first turtle we saw ended up having been untagged, so they did that while we were there, too. I wonder if she was a young one, or jsut had been missed before. Apparently they never come 2 years in a row, rather 3, 4, and 5 years in between egg-layings are average.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dr. Eissenberg comes to Costa Rica

Hey! I don't know if anyone is still reading this--I haven't written anything in ages, so probably not--but if someone is, I apologize for leaving without closure. I'm not sure I'll write much more about my stay in San José anymore, but I do intend to sum up the 10 days my mom spent with me traveling about the country, and include some of my thoughts on returning home. They should help.
The following is actually going to be copied directly from my handwritten journal that I took around with my as my mom and I first visited her college roommate, Michelle, then set off to Tortuguero National Park and Puerto Viejo. It will be a bit long, but it was really part of the best time I had my entire four months down there, so I don't want to shirk on the details. Dani, if you're reading this, be sure not to skip the part where I SAW SEA TURTLES laying their eggs!! ...In the place you'd marked in the guidebook you gave me!
Without further ado, I transcribe:
Last night in San José didn't feel like a goodbye at all. Even without the fact that I was tired out of my brains, which led to being rather bored, I don't think it was necessarily the best way to bring closure to this sort of thing. We were just all at the bar (Nova), dancing and wanting to leave at different times.
Good news--they did play all those classic songs from the Study Abroad Spring '09 era: Rise Up, Destination, No Eres Para Mí, Qué Tengo Que Hacer, I Know You Want Me, and some good reggae, reggaetón, and salsa/cumbia. Of course since his death Thursday (remember this was written a while ago), no bar could resist at least one Michael Jackson song, either, and we got to all witness one last class act by Sebastién, the Swiss-French Canadian. A circle cleared around him, he took break dance-like dives at the floor, some working out, others not so much.
The dinner, though, at El Patio en el Centro was really good. Finally we did all fill out our table for 25 and took 1,035,818,390 pictures. I ate fetuccini with white sauce and salmon and dill. I also ordered my lat daiquiri dessert at a restaurant with friends for a good 3.5 months before I'm 21. It was nice to talk to everyone a little.
Day One With Mom, Thurs.
Mom arrived late to move into the hostel (4:30 pm), when I met Michelle. I went up to the mountains for a beautiful view of the city and free dinner from CEA while Michelle and her daughters took my mom out elsewhere in San José.

Day Two, Fri.
We met after my breakfast day in conversation class (I'd had my final the day before, where all we did was answer questions about our likes, our hopes, our families, and our hometowns). We went to one final lunch at the one roomed, one-womanned Soda D' Mary, and walked down to the Museo de Oro under the National Theater. Again we had dinner separately, the one described above, celebrating our last night with independents and CEA members alike.

Day Three, Sat.
Mom and I got into the jeep with Michelle, her daughter Carla, and her daughter's boyfriend, Carlos at 8 am to head off for Arenal. Along the way we saw a farm-turned-forest (called Danaus, you should go!) with a very informative guide, got lunch in La Fortuna, walked down to a very mystical feeling hot springs, and bought weird fruits. I actually slept a lot of this day, in the car, and that evening we all jsut stayed home at Michelle and her husband Luis's house and watched the Venezuela v Costa Rica soccer game with her family.

Day Four, Sun.
Rio Celeste!
Trip there=could stop along the way, were on our own schedule, so VERY relaxing. We got snacks--avena-pasas bars (outmeal-raisin) and bananas and fruit juice, and arrived at the base of the Tenorio Volcano to start our hike. One + hour up to the first sight, the waterfall. White water rushing down to pond of aqua-marine color! And this aquamarine had almost a gray-ish tint to it that I think was just and effect of the fact that it was slightly more opaque then the average H2O. Here it was a relief to have goosebumps from the cold mist--it was veeeery hot up till then.
From here we went to the Tiñadenor (or something like that, haha). This is where the source of the blue water is. We hiked up a very steep slope as a short cut, passing several deep holes in the earth wall from which emerged HOT hot steam. Once there, it was incredible. It went from a normal, clear-watered river with brown rocks underneath through a bright white, diagonal stripe, from which it emerged "extra-tinted, dude" (-guy to friend in Spanish). Carla, Michelle, and I waded out in it. It was pretty chilly, only slightly warm in the white part, and that may have been our imagination, wanting there to be soooome detectable difference that could lead to such a transformation! There was a "no wading" sign that sighted some sort of health concern, but Michelle had been in so many times she doubted its seriousness. We figured, anyway, if someone called us out on it, we'd just have my mom read it aloud to prove we didn't know Spanish. "Altow," this would go, "No banarsay ah-akwee."
So we did float down the blue stream a bit of a ways. I grabbed a rock with a SUPER thick (cm, possibly) layer of blue-green fuzz/slime. But some rocks were normal colors, with normal scum. The water didn't leave us feeling gritty, nor our hair feeling stiff. It did, however, get stinkier farther down--like sulfur.
Clothes back on (or some of them--Michelle charmingly chose to hike in her swimsuit, socks and hiking boots), we hiked back a ways and met up with Carla and Carlos sitting wither their feet in the cold water by a cool, smelly, bubbling pit.We went on to the thermal waters. It was a circle of 18 or so large rocks with three main vents where extremely hot water came in at varying strentghs. Never the same temperature on all your boday, never the same mixture for more than 5 seconds.
20 minutes in this least-relaxing-of-all-hottubs, we started our slow return to the car, including my mother shuffling heal-toe across all the log bridges. We saw a sloth caterpillar that apparently stings like a jelly fish and heard howler monkeys. Great walls of green jungle the whole way. Lady's lips, lots of mud, many tiger and red/black butterflies.
Also of note this day: the coup (golpe de estado) in Honduras. The president landed in Costa Rica at about 6:30 in the morning with just the shirt off his back.

Day 5, Monday. Farm day!
Woke up to lots of farm noises, of course. Animals such as rooster and cows and parrots and Mom's favorite the "see here, bird!" (who sounds like he's saying, "See here, bird!"). Had pancakes, green eggs and ham (no joke. Some chickens here lay pale green eggs that look and taste the same on the inside), orange juice, and pan dulce along with some Costa Rican coffee for breakfast then mounted Canela (Cinnamon) and Gitana (Gypsey), the horses who would take us on a tour with Luis around the farm. I got pretty sunburned because what I'd thought would be a 30-minute tour at 10 in the morning under a cloudy sky ended up being an hour or more of direct sun as we went up and down the steep mud and rock hills of their 75 hectare farm. We saw their 26 bulls and 2 cows, picked and ate guayaba straight of the tree, watched Luis climb a guava tree for a pod, and forded a stream on horseback. The dogs ran the whole way with us, and at the end of the tour my mom even got to seeeeee her first batch of wild monkeys!! It was a large howler family with probably 9 or 10 adults and 3 babies.
After this we did our laundry, drove Carlos and Carla to their busstop, and hung around there in "downtown" Arenal while Michelle did some errands. Here we picked up snacks for the next day and went to an internet cafe. Then we stopped at an all home-made crafts wood store and one of the lots of property-to-be-built-upon Michelle helps manage. We got to hold baby turkeys there!!
So after this was lunch and a 25 minute spell where I tied a bucket round my waist with a horse cinch and picked coffee cherries. I barely got a layer to cover the bottom of the canesta.
We next got a tour of the macadmia plant from Michelle (really cool!), talked to the loritas, and went over for a tour of "the big house," with its 4 WAY over-sized bedrooms and fabulous balcony view of Lake Arenal. She also helps manage this, I believe, she doesn't own it, and no one lives there.
Finally, then, we went to the toros a la tica in Talmacán (?), another town a bit around the lake from Arenal. It was in a small arena and we bought dinner of tamales and picadillo de papaya y pollo (trampalengua!) while we waited for the 6:30/7 show to begin at 8:45. The bulls were from nearby farms, all the humped, long-eared variety like Luis has, and several riders were local stars. it was mostly just like a rodeo but smaller and therefore with less variety.

Day 6, Tuesday. On the way to Tortuguero.
Woke 5:45 to get to Michelle's house for breakfast at 6:30. Then we drove around Lake Arenal to La Fortuna where we were supposed to get picked up by the bus-to-Tortuguero company at 8. Along the way we kept our eyes peeled for pizote. These are those monkey-mixed-with-raccoon-mixed-with-ant-eater things. Apparently along some stretches of the road, one will stand out and look cute and when drivers stop to feed him or anything, a bunch more of his buddies crawl out from the woods behind him! Cute, right? Well we didn't see any pizote, but laong the way, as Arenal came into view, we did get a little history lessong from Don Nago, Luis's father. He said that the people didn't used to know it was a volcano till it blew in the 60's, bcause they were distracted by the one next to it which had "agua roja" in a lake at the top of it, and had one time blown its top so completely that it covered much of the area in sand-like ash. Thus the name Arenal, or "Sandy" for the region.
It was a pleasant drive once we were picked up an hour late, for we stopped to see iguanas at one town (FIFTY-FOUR OF THEM in an area the size of my parent's first floor or smaller) and to have a leisurely lunch. Unfortunately we then had to pay for this comfrot because we missed the 1:00 boat to Tortuguero. So we waited at the restaurant/bar till 4:30 when we got on the clic-clic boat. It was like 2 of the Panama boats end-to-end, and the day was so perfect I could have sat on it forever. The woman in front of me talked to me often in Spanish, pointing out a cocodrilo, monkeys, and herons. Mom described it as beeing at Disney World--it's just it was all real national park.
In Tortuguero we finally met up with our tour guide, Juancito the Vaca. We had dinner at the Budda Cafe, which was pretty good and overlooked the canal as the suns set. All very relaxing, Tortuguero reminded me of a much bigger, slightly cleaner, less Afro-Carribbean Bastimentos, Panamá.
At 8 Juan came to take us on a "turtle tour" along ht eocean beach. We walked for an hour and 45 minutes in the dark along the sand, but the best we saw of the turtles was their half-moon tracks (of the Green Turtles, he could tell by their size), and places they had come to lay their eggs the night before. Had we turned right down the beach (he only had a permit to go left), we may have seen 5 turtles, but oh well. I had wanted to see some for Dani, but I did see the one swimming by Montezuma, and we couldn't use a camera then anyway (only red lights allowed).

Day 7, Wednesday
Woke up for a canoe tour that started at 5:30. Saw spider, capuchin, aaaaand howler monkeys. Saw caiman and fish and lizards. Heard all kinds of birds and saw many, too, especially herons (smaller and mostly brown) with huge feet. Mom's first typical breakfast afterwards. Then we washed up and met Juan again for our hike around Tortuguero National Park. We heard but didn't see a toucan clicking in the trees (did I mention I saw one from the clic-clic boat? The kind with the brown and white bill, though). We saw more spider and capuchin monkeys and even some howlers far away at the beginning. There were TONS of lizards: bright green, striped/spotted, some misisng hteir detachable tails. And we found more tiger herons, saw lots of the blue morpho butterflies and their tiger and other black friends. Saw hawks on the ground guarding a nest of food source loudly and fiercely, a mini, poisonous oropel snake (bright yellow), and many green parrots, yellow headed and red (remaaaaarkably hard to see in the trees!). At one point we watched what looked like a fight between a giant spider--length of my fingers--on her pyramid nest and a wasp going to and from her Eventually the wasp stung the spider or something and minutes later she died from the venom, hanging amongst her babies from only one foot on her sticky thread. THAT is nature. We also saw the biggest grass hopper I've ever seen and listened to the oro pendula birds a lot. Juan was so silly.
After this tour we said good-bye to Juan and went to rest then find food before our canopy tour at 3. Mom was sooooo scared, but she did it all! Then it was typical Costa Rican casado of chicken in sauce, rice and red beans, weird spaghetti in the same sauce as the chicken, and plátano. We had a Tamarindo refresco to go with it, which tasted kinda like pear.
That night we got to go on another turtle tour for free, and it wasn't the same horrible trance as the night before. We actually saw TWO turtles laying eggs! But I have so many pages written about it, I think I'll make that into a separate blog for anyone who's THAT interested (you'll have to be reeeeeeeally interested to enjoy the whole hting).
Day 8, Thursday. Tortuguero a Puerto Viejo
Well it was a long day, but not unpleasant. We left Tortuguero on the boat Parismina, a small boat like a roofed Panamá one, named after the town whence came the driver/capitán, José. We were on here for 4 hours with a Swiss-German couple and 2 very energetic girls from Spain and France.
Along the way, which tooks us something like 96 km slowly through the windy rivers of Limón (including a flat section of the Pacuare), we saw caiman, Jesus Christ lizards (so-called cause they can run on water for a little bit), spoon bills, and countless herons. About halfway through we pulled over to pick up 4 children and take them maybe two hundred meters down stream to school.
We ended the journey at 2:45 or so in Moin, an ugly port town that didn't amount to much from our angle. Here we smushed into a taxi for the drive of $10 a piece (with the Swiss) to Puerto Viejo. It cracked my mom up that the driver was talking on the phone constantly, yelling at his mom (just to speak up, no worries), pulliing over for empanadas then a coke then forgetting to take us to the bank. she htought it was funny his honking at everyone, his friends, bikers in the way, cars in the way, etc. I don't think she liked how in the rain he still didnt' apply his breaks soon enought to avoid having to swerve slightly to the side of cars stopped in front of him so as not to crash. But, thankfully, we made it.
In Puerto Viejo went to visit Rockin J's for a look at its awesome mosaics and set up. Then we just bought a lot of things. A mask made of chonta palm roots, jewelry, etc. We had dinner listening to a live Calypso band (the leader had declared, "No reggaetón y no Lambada!") from a wooden balcony facing the ocean. We ate coco-curry chicken, Carribbean sea bass, and Rice-N-Beans, coconut flavored and spicey! Then we came back and went to sleep. Relaxing day.

Day 9, Friday. Puerto Viejo.
I'm so glad mom said she wanted to go here!! At first I was worried, remembering how much students associate it with weed, but she said she WANTED to go experience the culture, so I just swallowed my opinion for once and agreed, figuring she can't blame me if marijuana is part of the Rasta way of life.
I think she had a great time, too. It started with tasty sweet panqueques and croissants and continued to be great. We initially went to the beach, a beautiful, long black sand one that I missed the first time here (don't know how, it was like attached to the rusty boat beach I DID see!). About 10 minutes in, though, or less, it started to rain. We washed all the gallons of sand off ourselves into the shower drains, woops, and went back out shopping. We were at this, admiring, being indecisive, buying, buying, buying, the usual, until two or so in the afternoon. Then we went back up to the beach for another 10-15 minute bout riding the great waves. Though Mom kept giving her usual schpeel "Don't go too far out," "Oh, no, Rebecca, come here, the surfer will get you," in the end, walking back, she said that it had been a lot of fun. And it had. Driven off by the rain, there hadn't been enought time to get bored nor burnt. It was great.
From here we bought a few more things and went to dinner, laughing at the bikers riding while carrying umbrellas. All we really did the rest of hte night was look at the giant yellowish-white frabs, look for ice cream, and retire from the rain to review our photos. But itw as a good day. Super to have a full one here.

JULY FOURTH, Day 10, Saturday.
Definitely didn't realize the date until I wrote that. But it was a good day anyway. For the most part travelling with my mom was WONDERFUL (save a few bickers). We had an uncomfortable but uneventful fiiiiiinal trip in a Costa Rican bus back from Puerto Viejo from 7:30 am to 11:45 or so.
Then we arrived at our fabulously fancy Hotel Europa right by downtown. We stayed on teh third floor in a huge carpeted room that had a phone and lamp and a desk and a TV and armchairs and airconditioning at two full beds and a giant mirror and a great clean bathroom with warm water that came out with a discernable spray and EVERYTHING!!! And breakfast in the fancy restaurant where they had Karaoke at night. And it was all only $55 a night! I was in my first elevator in at LEAST 4.5 months this day. Twice!
But yeah so in town we hit up the artisan market for presents and MOOOOORE jewelry, dropped off our stuff, then went back down Avenida Central for one last churro and a guanábana refresco each. We took these to go sit in the remarkable full plaza on top of the gold museum and next to the national theater. There were tons of pigeons bobbing after the corn kernels that hoards of small children were throwing to/at them. Everyone was so cute, many bundled up for the sub-75°F weather (literally in coats, scarves, hats), all smiles. So many Papis take their kids around here and enjoy it. Live music was playing on the far right corner from us. I loved it. Despite the chill.
After this we FINALLY got a public telephone to work and got ahold of Tita. We ended up going over to her house, which still kinda feels like my house, at 6 for dinner. It was her wonderful arroz con pollo I know I"ll never duplicate with the recipe in my journal...with té frio!
We talked almost exclusively en español, my mom actually enjoying following along. Tita's new student had arrived just that afternoon, and it was kinda like a full circle thing for me. I coudl tell I was muuuuuuuch better at talking than I had been when I was living with her. lmost never was I confused. We spoke of scarey diseases, of family, and of Rebecca Dos (turns out Tita did think she was crazy after all). We finished, of course, with plátano maduros, which Mom loved, and it had been a lovely meal. Things like that, having people I know here, make me really wonder if maybe I will return after all. We shall see.

Notes on the following day from this one:
Tomorrow to arrange my suitcases, show my mom my photos, and go to Café Britt one last time. How very strange to be leaving. It's not set in at all yet. Or, actually, I kind of feel like it's done the opposite--I HAD accepted it and now I'm almost in denial. Cannot comprehend it. I've never left a place for good in my life yet.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ole, ole, ole, ole! Tico! Tico!

Bueno, it's been a while since I've written, hasn't it?  My apologies.  There's not been an ABSURD amount of htings going on, but there have of course been events. 
The last week of my Herencia Cultural class with crazy, neurotic, hilarious, and at the same time laid-back teacher Carmen followed smoothly after my Sámara trip.  (I still have to finish the Sámara blog, my apologies.)  We watched Frida in class and learned some MORE dichos.   I gave a large presentation on the horrors of the Ciudad Juárez in México and a final essay that summed up our class together.  In what was my final cooking class we made a cheese and potato casserole type thing.  I skipped dance class because it was over-crowded with the 50 new people, half of them from the same fraternity, who didn't want to take things seriously.  I went to Zumba once more and took my second mid-term in Phonetics and Phonology.  Mostly I just tried to avoid the seemingly millions of people around me who were suddenly getting sick.   I also tried to prepare myself mentally for not being TOO too jealous of the group of six going to Cuba that coming weekend.  It had been my idea to go, since it's legal from here and as soon as it's not ilegal from the US, everything will change.  I wanted to see the old cars, the old buildings, experience the supposedly "one-hundred!" percent safe city.  I wanted to see first hand what life was like under such a restricting regime, where tourists and citizens have different money.
  But I couldn't go.  And the reason was that my friend Anna, who visited me before, had decided she wanted to return!  She didn't have a job to ask off from, and she had had a great time when she first came, so she booked a cheap-ish flight to arrive at the beautiful hour of  6 am Thursday. 
When I finished class Friday we booked it over to the bus station to Puntarenas where we'd take a ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula.  There we tried to get churros and Churchills, but somehow missed out on both.  (Churchills are only found in Puntarenas, I'm pretty sure.  They're vanilla and strawberry ice cream with layers of strawberry syrup and powdered milk and strawberries and of course the well-loved-here condensed milk.)  The trip was uneventful if a bit long, and we made it to the one air-conditioned hotel in town before the nightlife had started too much.  Sure there were street performers playing with fire, but the smelly hippies selling their handmade jewelery were still out, too, so it was "early."   Plus we had beaten the nightly rain.  All we did that night was walk around a bit, buy some Trits and get OUT when the rain did come.
The next day we went on the hike to the waterfalls, having in mind to let Anna try the 40 foot cliff jump. But the river was much changed since my visit there 5 weeks previously.  It was fuller, and, with the new water came the new dirt it had to wash away, so it rushed the color of café con leche.  It was difficult to hike even to the first waterfall with so few rocks poking their heads up as stepping stones.  By the time we made it to the top we were drenched in sweat and ready for the cold dip, unappealing as the mud pool looked.  We did the rope swing in and went on to stand over the ledge I'd for some reason felt the need to leap fom before.  But it wasn't so clear this time, a well-near tree growing out sideways from the cliff in direct line of where we'd fall.  We chickened out and hiked back to the hotel.  
Also in Montezuma we had some delicious food, saw the entire families of all the flies I've ever met in my life, relaxed on the beach, read not nearly enough of David Sedaris' "Naked" that we rented from the mini library, had some delicious Trits and guanábana icees to follow our delicious meals, guarded our food from an enormous blue-jay thing, cut Anna's hair to a cute bob, and did some shopping for skirts.  On the way back we took the more expensive but expedient "Gringo ferry" to Jacó, cutting the travel time down by probably over 3 hours.  It was the same style boat we'd taken in Panamá, which brought back good memories.  And I saw my first sea turtle!!!  I only saw the back, which was large and dark but not black, and with many relieved areas.  I actually thought at first they were scars.  I was thinking, "What's wrong with that dolphin!?" and "There aren't manatees in Costa Rica!" "What IS that!?"  "There aren't even manatees in the ocean, you doofus!"  (*actually, Jenn, who takes tropical ecology, tells me as I'm writing this that they DO live in estuaries and of COURSE there are manatees in Costa Rica.)
When we got back to San José I moved my stuff into my new room at the residencia.  Rebecca Dos has moved out of the house into a private home, and so her spot in Tristen's room was calling my name.  I never had much of a problem with my other roommates (the singular one being that Cayla never heard her alarm go off until Sharifa and I told her it was going off).  I just wanted the closed-off-ness of any of the other rooms in the house.  It's so much better with a wall going to the ceiling.  People can watch TV right outside my door as late as they want now.  I can still sleep!
That Tuesday was to be the first day of my final class in Costa Rica.  I am taking Advanced Conversation, and expected it to be much like my conversation class I took at CSU before coming here.  Either that or a lot like the class my past two months--we spent more than half of every class doing nothing BUT converse in Spanish, so there you go.  Informal versions of the same thing.  Point being: I thought I could spare to miss the first day.
Instead, then, of heading off to room 2211 in zone 2 of Veritas at 8 am that morning, I was sitting at the bus station for Alajuela with Anna, talking about our friends from when we were younger.  We'd risen at 6:30 to catch the taxi by 7:15, full of bagels and muffins and coffee from Costa Rica's Bread Co wannabe, Bagelmen's.  We had a bus to catch at 8:30 for Volcán Poás.  I know now that I left WAY too much time for us to get where we needed to be, and if Anna bothers to read this, I'm sorry!  But if I was going to miss class and thereby voluntarily deduct 2% from my final grade, I was by golley not going to miss that bus.
When it arrived (5 minutes early, wowzer, Ticos!), we rejoiced that it had air conditioning.  As it climbed up into the mountains to the Northwest of San José, we rejoiced we brought at least what light jackets we had.  Disembarking, we were met with mist and temperatures of probably 60 degrees.  We went into the gift-store/cafeteria to buy a camera for taking the place of the two we'd each forgotten then headed off down the sendero to the main crater to see what this was all about.
What I had been warned of when discussing the Poás trip was that it is often too cloudy up there to see any of the crater.  "But if you get there early, it's more likely to be clear," they'd told me.  Well we'd risen early, but we couldn't exactly control when we arrived, could we?  It was past 10:30 when we finally rolled into the parking lot, I'd basically given up hope we'd have much of a view.  And sure enouch when we got to the look-out, there were the clouds, rolling in from the right.
But they were only rolling past!  With each picture we snapped on our tiny disposable Kodak, desperately thinking each one was the best we'd get, the view mejoró.   This crater was ENORMOUS, much larger than that of Irazú.  Its walls weren't all the dark gray-black of my first volcano, either.  There were very interesting lines in the rock, some brown-red parts, some light ones.  You could see sediment layers.  You could CLEARLY see the vertical grooves I like to think of as blasting lines.  To the left, far down, was a smaller crater with more interesting geo-colors.   And in the center, of course, was the volcanic lake.  It smelled only slightly like the sulfur it contained, and from a point I assume is on the shore nearest where tourists stand, steam billowed up.  No wonder it's always cloudy if it makes it's own, huh?!  And though the water here wasn't the cool side-of-my-blog-page-green that Irazú was, the scene was impressive nonetheless.  
También at Poás, unlike Irazú, there is a maybe 2 mile-loop trail that goes through the lush vegetation of the volcanic mountain side.  Its main attraction is a deep blue, untouched lagoon surrounded by dense, dense green.  Anna says it looks a lot like the Pacific Northwest here.  Everything is COVERED in moss, it's dark and misty.  It's almost like going through a tunnel of foliage, and I might have forgotten I was in the tropics if there weren't the occasional salmon heliconia or little green hummingbird. ...Or if the girls behind us weren't so enthralled with a little gray squirrel they saw. Sounds were muffled here, and everything was slightly wet. 
On Wednesday I finally went to class in the morning.  When I walked in, the teacher pulled a chair out from the group, faced it to the rest, and said, "Este es tu asiento."  Great.  "Hola, clase," I said, fearing what I'd have to do.  As it turned out the other students just asked me questions like my name, hobbies, school, and most embarrassing moment.  I, in turn, got to hear none of theirs, just sit in the hotseat.  Luckily, though, después de my interrogation, I was allowed to rejoin the class like a normal student.  
This day we spent almost the entire time playing that game where everyone gets the name of a famous person taped to their head and has to ask questions of the others to figure out who they are.  It was actually rather fun and a very successful way to get us talking and making mistakes he could correct.   Every day in this class since, I've had a relatively good time, too.  I just think the teacher is great.  But more on that later.
Wednesday night was what we had really been waiting for!!  Qué suerte we'd had to be here on June 3rd, date of the Costa Rica--U.S. soccer game!  At 6 we left for the stadium, doubting the warnings we'd heard that to get the really good seats, being at the field by 4:30 was mandatory.  The game started at 8.  Everyone in the house as well as all our friends had their Costa Rica jerseys, tank tops, or t-shirts on.  I don't know if anyone wore the same one, there were so many being sold in the markets, the sports stores, the discount stores, and from clothes lines in the medians of the more-travelled roads.  Tristen made signs.
As for the arriving time, it DID take us an hour or so to finally get to our section in Estadio La Saprissa.  Anna, Justin, Tristen and I were seated waaaaaay up in the "U.S.A. section," unable to find others from our group amid the crowds.  On the way from where our taxi spat us out we passed countless vendors of everything Costa Rican, from jerseys to balls to wigs to full-sized flags.  I was very tempted to get my face painted--but which team should I get on it? 
 Closer to the entrance there were many long and confusing lines, but when we approached the one with taller people with fairer skin and hair, we knew we were at the right door.  "E! E! U! U!" we knew Dan was chanting somewhere, but we were a little scared to do so ourselves.  We didn't reeeeeally want to receive any of the crazy animosity you hear about at Latin American soccer games.  We even wondered if we should buy the gloves some man was selling.  Why was he selling them here?  Would we need them for some sort of protection?  (Point of interest: at Mexican soccer games people have been known to throw even bags of urine onto the field.)
Well we finally got up to our seats, an umbrella short (apparently it's a weapon?), but otherwise happy as we came.  Maybe we were even happier!  We found seats in a constantly packing stadium and they gave us free blow-up palos to clap together when cheering.  Who wouldn't be glad?  And there below us and on the left the entirely filled Costa Rican section was jumping up and down to the beat of a pump up song and clapping together their clappers.  One group even rolled out a giant red '09 version of their teams jersey over top people's heads and jumped up with that, too, so that it waved.  Everyone was just so stoked!
Now the game itself I'm a little ashamed to report.  Though the statistics indicate the U.S. as being a much stronger team, they haven't won here in Costa Rica in 12 years.  It's often attributed to the amazing fans that come out to the stadium, sometimes blamed on the fact that yes, occasionally things like clappers or toilet paper get thrown onto the middle of where we're trying to pass, and we pampered Americans aren't used to that.   Regardless, this was no exception.  Costa Rica scored less than 2 minutes in and never lost their lead.  In fact the only goal the U.S. managed was on a penalty kick.  The man sitting next to me was Tico, and he just laughed with me whenever the Estados Unidos would do something terrible.  Whenever his team scored he'd turn to give me a high five.  I didn't mind--it was more fun to chear with the Costa Ricans anyway!
So, with 10 minutes left in the half or so, Anna and I decided we'd seen enough.  We didn't want to get caught in the throng, anyway, and we wanted a taxi back to the hostel fast. She had to leave for the airport at 4:30 the next morning.  She needed her beauty rest.  The whole ride home we listend to the r-rolling radio guy announce the game, so that when we got back we knew the final score was 3 to 1 and that while the U.S. team would probably not suffer much in the division for the loss, Costa Rica would be benefitting greatly.  All night, it seemed (or at least until we fell asleep at 11 or so), cars went by honking and airing out their joyfully screaming passengers.  What an evening.  And I"m glad Anna, who's lived soccer for most of her life, got to enjoy it, too!
Aaaaas for the 6 who went to Cuba while we were in Montezuma...
The first thing we heard from any of them when they walked in the door on Monday evening was Cayla booming, "They robbed me in my *explative* sleep!"  Apparently at the house where she'd been sleeping, she'd put her bag near her face to go to sleep, but had been unable to lock it up anywhere.  When she woke up everything, including the bag itself, was gone except her passport, sitting right where all her luggage used to be. There was also the story of them leaving the gas on from the stove and later of them breaking the sink in the bathroom.  I don't know how the second happened, but they only had to pay $10 for it.  And they somehow survived having the gas on all night, even though all windows and doors were shut and they'd smoked some of their Cuban cigars in the room!  One other girl besides Cayla also got her stuff stolen, all but 2 of the people came back sick, and the girls said Cuban men were the worst cat-callers yet.   I'm thinking I'm glad I went back to lovely Montezuma, no matter how beautiful the beaches and architecture may be on that other island.  Knock on wood, I've yet to have such horrible experiences as those in my travels.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sámara? I didn't see a single ninja!

My friend, Lexy from St. Louis, had the great fortune during the month of May to be studying biology-type-stuff in the cloud forest of Monteverde.  I was sooo excited to hear this when she told me in February, and had been thinking of meeting up with her ever since.  She said she had an awesome time--is even considering coming back!--and learned a bunch.  But I feel bad because the last weekend I could have gone up to visit her, I couldn't make it.  I had promised Leslieann I"d go ziplining with her her last weekend here, and though Monteverde at first had seemed the perfect place, we later realized the travel was very expensive and that I wouldn't get to see much of Lexy anyway, as she had class on Saturday.
Instead, then, we decided to go to a beach on the Pacific coast called Sámara.  Many Ticos say this is their favorite beach, and it came highly recommended by Bobby the American from my first month here, too.  There we'd see the beach, possibly go to a very nice night-club in the mountains behind the city, and do ziplining.  It was 5 hours away, but other than that it sounded perfect!
Eventually it would be what I'd come to consider the "normal group," who would be with us, but Tristen decided to go bungee jumping with a large group of us international students, and Dan isn't crazy enough about the beach to spend two days there, so it ended up that just Justin and Leslie and I left Friday right after class to start our weekend.
When we first got to the town, which is about the size of the average beach-town I've visited (tiny),  we couldn't find the prices we were used to encountering at hotels.  Nothing was under $60 a night!  But we kept walking and, ironically to me, found the closest one to the beach to finally be reasonable.  We spent $10 a night to stay in a three person room (Justin, Leslie, and I) at Playa Sámara Hotel.  It was colorful and had a fan, even if the door to the bathroom didn't really shut and the outside door was hanging a little off its hinges.  We dropped off our stuff and went out to find somewhere to eat.
Right when we ducked into the first restaurant it started to DOWNpour.  Like pretty much every restaurant on a Costa Rican beach, this one wasn't so much of a building as a large area with a roof.  We ate our 3 types of exquisite pasta and a glass of cheap wine each, and it was almost perfect, sitting out of the rain but watching it, and seeing the lightning out over the ocean.  We decided we'd spend our night this way, watching the rain.
It was lucky that by the time we'd finished eating the storm had moved off the beach, really, and out over the sea.  It was almost deserted besides one couple enjoying the scenery from near where the beach started.  And the water was so far away!!  This was probably as wide as the widest beach I'd yet seen--probably Tamarindo--or wider.  It was verrrry dark in the direction of the mar.    
Justin, Leslie and I laid out our towels on the sand about halfway to the waves.  Whenever lightning would flash off over the water, the sky would be a bright grayish color and the water only slightly darker.  We could see the actual rayos in places, sometimes only be lit all around.  And what surprise that as we watched--and talked about philosphy, such was the ambiance--a lone horse walked by, silhouetted in the bright.  He held his head low and trudged purposefully but without haste in a straight line so that we saw him in several flashes of light as he moved.  Later in the night passed another horse, and even later a pair of oxen from the opposite direction.  That was the weirdest.  
We stayed and talked another 20 minutes or so, debating whether lightning striking the ocean waaay out there could be caried in the water and shock us.  Finally we decided to risk it, judging that the horses had been walking in very wet sand, if not the waves, and that nothing had happened to them.  We went down and waded for a while in the warm Costa Rica sea, Leslie's first glimpse of it.  On our way back in we noticed the ground was sparkling bright white in places.  It wasn't firefly-like--the sparkles stayed on once they were on, it seemed, but we couldn't figure out WHAT it was.  We thought of the bioluminscent plankton my old roommate, Lanae, had seen.  But we weren't in the water.  We noticed it was always near coral, so Justin picked some up, thinking it was the coral itself.  He says he felt something burrow into his hand like a bug.  Could that have been it? It was beautiful, and it's still a mystery.
The next morning we chose our breakfast place by the fact it had a cute green parrot that could call out to us on the side.  It was simple but cheap, and we were ready in this way to take our long walk down the beach to where Leslie and I would do our ziplining.  Justin was very excited to get to read a book down by the shore for a while and relax in the sun.  He's from California, what can you do?
This canopy tour for me was more fun than the one offered at Monteverde.  It was shorter, yes, but as it was less famous, it was less crowded.  We had only 2 guides acompany us and one couple taking hte tour besides ourselves.  The fact that it was smaller meant also that the lines weren't as high.  For this we got to actually go through the trees when we zipped, rather than above them, which offered more of a view to me. Plus we could hear the howler monkeys doing their weird bark all around us.   The only curse was the mosquitos.  At one point I thought I felt something on my leg, and when I looked down there were 5 mosquitoes all in a line biting me in no more than a 4 inch area.  Too, Leslie and I got to zip backwards to one of the platforms, which was finally free and exhilirating feeling after the very secure feeling of the organized front ways, strapped in completely.  I think my favorite part was that our guides had brought a snack and on our highest platform we paused, with a veiw of the blue, blue ocean to the right, dangled our feet of the edge of the 60-foot drop, and enjoyed some pineapple, watermelon, oatmeal cookies, and fruit juice.  It wasn't even hot here, where we were in the shade but away from the bushes where the bugs lived.  So, we spent half an hour up there.  I think everyone thought it was just perfect.
On our way back from this Leslie and I had planned to take the beach again, since that is the most straightforward way.  However the shore at Sámara must be very shallow becuase now that it was high tide, that far, far off ocean had crept up so much that you couldn't even walk along the sand.  For a few meters we waded and for a few we tried the road.  We planned to get lunch, shower and do some shopping for local souvenirs before we went back.  Maybe the water woudl have receded by then.
In fact it did, and we spent about 2 to 3 hours in the waves before it was time to go meet Dan and Tristen's bus.  When we started our walk toward the bus-stop from the hotel, there were 5 of the owner-less horses as from last night just grazing in the soccer field in front of where we stayed.  It was pretty wild to see.
As it turned out, Dan and Tristen were accompanied by a huge group of us.  We showed them around, had some more delicious pasta that night, and went out dancing together (though the cool place on the mountain was closed).  We did some night swimming and just had a very good time.  There are occasions when big groups are really fun.
Next day was spent all at the beach, reading, swimming for over an hour straight, and just talking.  It being Sunday we had osme difficulty finding somewhere open for lunch, and got very hot walking around.  By the time we did find a place--a very nice one, I'll add--we were pretty crabby and sweaty.  We were actually eating at the restaurant of a hotel, and Stephanie just pushed Geoff into the pool when he wouldn't stop complaining.  After we had food in us we were happier, and the bus back was airconditioned, so all was well.  Only glitch was when the bus started to pull off from the rest-stop without Dan.  We stopped it, though, and we aaall made it back safe to San José with Trits in our systems.  
I always love coming back to San José where it's cooler weather.  Though the place doesn't smell so great, it really does feel more like home now.  All the beach towns are great, it's just that a weekend is the perfect amount of time to spend there.  Otherwise they'd get boring and tedious with the heat.   That next week here everyone but Sharifa and Rebecca Dos and I went to a concert at the huge soccer stadium by a group called Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.  It was apparently awesome, everyone having You-Tubed their songs to be familiar with them before hand.  Our poor toilet started having the worst time flushing yet, emitting a high-pitched screech/scream for about 3 minutes after every time it was flushed.  And on a more serious note, Danimal got very sick and was out of class for 3 days with a headache.  No one saw him and the rumor was he'd had an anneurism.  The next Monday, of course, we found out that wasn't the case at all--he'd just had a UTI with some weird symptoms--and he is doing absolutely fine.  It just was bad timing, for at the end of that week, right when he was sickest, we had a 3-day weekend.  He'd been planning to go to that spot I'd loved so much in Panamá, Bocas del Toro.    I guess all that really matters, though, is that he's okay.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Tica to Nica

The week following rafting was a busy one.  I had a large project about Paraguay to do and a test in Phonetics.  In Spanish class we also went to a café (here meaning coffee plantation) in Heredia for a one-hour tour and a quick stop at a mariposaria, finally (mariposaria=butterfly garden)!  We made arroz con pollo at cooking class and FANTASTIC papas fritas in the style the Ticos used before the French version.  I went to Zumba class again and my first CEA social at a bar/restaurant where we were to hear Tico Freddy Alvez, a friend of one of our directors, play some songs.  Unfortunately I had to leave early from that to finish preparing for my Paraguay presentation and essay, but it was fun, anyway.    The bar had been quintessentially Costa Rican, playing a soccer game on the big screen TV and 80s rock music videos on all the smaller ones, and my cab home was totally tricked out with embossed "Need for speed" on the windshield, fancy lights all around, and a little TV that played the music video of the reggaetón the taxista jammed to.
Still, the weekend was what I kept my mind on.  Tristen, Justin, Leslieann, Kayla, and I went to Nicaragua!  (Leslieann is the new girl, here only for a month, but I adore her.  She's a lot of fun, got a boistrous laugh, and is full of jokes.  She's majoring in microbiology and chemistry at the University of Tennessee Knoxville--half my family's alma mater--and is studying to be a forensic pathologist.  She and Jenn went bungee jumping off a 280 foot bridge last Tuesday.  She's cramming in the Costa Rican experience.)
We left directly after class on Friday, $130 cash in colones/American in my bag, with bus tickets but no hostel reservations.  It was an 8.5 hour bus ride on a line called The TicaBus.  This runs from Panama all the way up through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to Mexico.  Yes, it was long, but it was also air conditioned and offered movies, like House Bunny (not good but definitely funny at times), to make it less horrible.  Plus we had our ipods and each other, so the trip was fine.
At maybe 8:45 we rolled into Granada, Nicaragua.  This is known to be a pretty safe town, with all colonial buildings, on the Lago Nicaragua.  We had a bit of trouble finding our hostel, The Bearded Monkey, but not too much, and we got there only $2.00 taxi-fair total short.
Unfortunately there were reprocussions for not being able to reserve a bed.  Tristen and Justin got mattresses on the floors of two separate dormitories, Kayla and Leslieann had to sleep in hammocks, and, no hammocks left, I got to sleep on a bench.  We got some dinner at the hostel, drank lots of water, and just talked.  By eleven thirty all was dark and quiet even in the common area where my bench was, so I didn't have much trouble falling asleep.  It was actually nice to have the fresh air of the open courtyard dining room-center when I slept, and the bench had a cushion at least.
The next morning we had a plan.  Rising early we ate breakfast at the hostel and set out to change our money to Córdobas then explore the city.  One old church we found, of gray and dirty stone, offered a climb to the bell tower where we could look out over the city.  I really wish more places had something like this.
All the roofs in Granada are of the wavey red clay-looking stuff, which I can't remember the name for, but which is common in Spanish architecture.  Most are to square buildings with an open courtyard in the middle, from which are visible trees and orange or pink flowering plants.  The windows have pretty white curtains in them behind nice looking cast-iron swirls, and the walls of course are all different colors, typical Latin-American style.  You can see the mountains and volcanoes in the near distance and the lake as well, not quite as blue as the ocean, but so expansive that you can't see the other side.  A big clean yellow church dominates the northern vista.  A soccer field's lines are drawn directly below the bell tower, on the patio of the church.
Downstairs, in the actual city, the people are of a darker complection.  My teacher says many are actually mixes of indigenous and African, rather than the mestiza--indigenous and Español--of Costa Rica.  Horses are still used for work, such as transport of wood or even sales goods.   The buildings are right up on the streets, with only a sidewalk separating them, and this sidewalk is of beautiful flat tiles that vary according to whcih building they sit in front of.  There are checkerboards, pure red, pretty marbled/spotted, and green celtic knot looking ones.  The difference in cleanliness between here and San José is refreshing.  There is much less English spoken.
We walked around, buying souvenirs muy baratos, and just enjoying the pretty city.  Lunch was a $1.25 jumbo hotdog and soda, after which we headed back to the hostel to drop off our stuff before going on an hour tour of some of the 360 tiny volcanic islands nearby.
Most of these islands are privately owned, with no more than a house on them.  Some have hotels on them.  Some are still for sale.  It looked like heaven to live on one!  But one island a little further out was known as the isla de los monos.  Two types of monkeys, spider and white-faced capuchin, live on this tiny piece of jungle.  This is unusual because they don't normally get along, said tropical ecology taker Justin.  But these guys, at least the spider monkeys, seemed happy.
They are black with REALLY long tails, and bigger than any of the monkeys I've yet seen.  We pulled up slowly near an over hanging branch and two came over to look at us and scratch their arms, not 8 feet above us.  But then one swung on board.  "Zip up your bags!" our guide told us in Spanish, "But you don't have to be afraid."  The monkey certainly was not.
First she walked down the isle of the boat right past us, to the prow where she explored a box and towel sitting there.  Then she went over to Tristen, arms waving in the air like a monkey's (go figure) and her mouth open to bare her tiny teeth.  She was about as tall as our shoulders when we sat slouched on the chairs.  She went straight for Tristen's lap.  For about 2 minutes she sat there, Tristen mortified, afraid to touch her, to move her, to do anything.  She put her little black hand on her shoulder.  Leslie snapped a thousand pictures.
  Then I dropped my towel in the lake.  The monkey, who the guide told us was pregnant, saw it and climbed on over.  She sat on my chair, put her hand on my legs, on my own hand, trying to get me to stop holding the towel so she could look at it.  I was so afraid she'd take it from me.  About a whole minute we battled, monkey and I, for the right to my terrycloth, though of course I'd never actually push too hard someone with babies in them.  She finally lost interest when I stood up and the guide took out something from his own bag as a distraction.  30 seconds later she had jumped back onto a nearby branch and was gone.  
The rest of the lake was cool, too, on our way back.  We were sitting very low in the water, right next to lily pads that were blooming and other water plants.  Trees from the islands came out with trunks exactly parallel the water.  We saw egrets and colorful ducks.  We relaxed and enjoyed a 4 o'clock sun that was NOT burning us.  What a day.
That night we spent talking to the cute bartender, trying mombacho borrachos and borrachObama mixed drinks (borracho means drunk if you haven't figured that out).  He had his laptop on a shelf behind him playing Planet Earth and we all, Australians, Norweigens, Swedes, French Canadians and us estadounidenses watched, reflecting on our favorite scenes from the series.  It was the first hostel experience for everyone present but me, and they all loved meeting new people and talking about travels.  It was definitely a good time.
The next morning we woke up early again and half of us went to a waffle place while half stayed in the hostel for breakfast.  That was delicious, and from there we went to the yellow church we'd seen from the bell tower the day before.  It is a much more modern one--or at least a much more well kempt one, and it was full for mass, so we didn't go inside.  We did take pictures and walk by, exploring the first true Spanish-style plaza we'd encountered since being in Latin America.  People were selling jewelry and shoes they'd made, and we could hear the classic hymns sung beautifully in Spanish coming from within the open doors of the church.  We couldn't stay long, but walked down some more of the colorful colonial streets nearby and found another of the travelling Marys outside a grocery store.  It was a gold-haloed statuette of the virgen in bright colors, accompanied by a trumpet, base drum, clarinet, and small gathering.  This is a Catholic area, and not the first of these we'd seen by any means.  Everything as at the very least a cross on it, from the bank to the buses, many with small statues or shrines.
I have only a few things to remark on about the long trip back.  Firstly was that Nicaraguans have to pay much more to enter Costa Rica than we did.  They had to pay more to enter their own country than we did, actually!!  Second, that we had some Nicaraguan rice and beans at the border, and it was good, but salty.  The rice is more like fried rice there than the white rice of Costa Rica, and the beans are small brownish red ones in place of the black beans here or the giant kidney beans in Panama.  It was pretty good, though, and only 3 dollars with chicken and veggies and everything!  Thirdly was that one of the movies on the way home was a bootleg copy of the unfinished XMen Origins Wolverine movie.  It was so funny because half the computer animation had not been done by the time it was leaked.  There were clearly visible lines holding him up when he jumped in some parts, and in other places the computerized stunt double had yet to be generated so in its place, as when Wolverine was falling, was just a silver computerized man.  At times it looked very very video-game like.  At times Wolverine's signature claws hadn't even been artworked in.
Well that is all for Nicaragua.  I found it to be very beautiful, very clean and interesting.  I found the people to be quite agreeable and the food better than lots that I've had in San José for a lot less money.  I would definitely recommend the trip to people!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Jungle Post

Two weeks ago a laaaaarge group of us--15, biggest group of gringoes I've travelled with yet--decided to hacer rafting, or "go white-water rafting" on the Pacuare River in eastern Costa Rica.  Rebecca Dos had said she LOVE love loved it and many people had never been rafting at all before, even in the states, so Tristen signed us up for a day trip down the "best rapids in Costa Rica."
They are called class III and IV (out of VI), but I've been on rivers in Colorado and other places with such designations and never felt too much of a thrill.  Still, we happened to be going at the exact right time of year, when the season was changing, so the rapids were ideal.  We shouldn't get stuck too much, for the river wouldn't be all dried up like in March or so, but it also shouldn't rain on us like it surely would in June.  On the bus ride over there our guide just warned us to try to be a "lucky swimmer" if we could, in other words, try to fall out somewhat CLOSE TO the raft.
Lathered up we split into two groups, helmetted up and donned our life jackets.  Our guide spoke mostly Spanish, but at least he gave the commands to paddle front or back in English.  He would point out things off to the side, animals or rock formations, in Spanish, which was interesting to learn.   We were in indigenous country, actually, so there were some cool huts and ziplines (for transport of stuff across the river, who knew!?)  to see.  We passed an old indgenous cemetary, which just was really a river bank for all we could tell, and a young boy walking in boots down near the water along a miny fútbol field that was set up there on the gravel.  The guide taught us the Cabeca word for "how are you," "bamasquina" in Spanish spelling, and two possible replies meaning "fine".  The first was "bebe, which got all us gringos singing "Ay baybay, ay baybay," rather maturely.  And the second was "masú masú," which apparently literally says the singular form of "male genitals" twice.  The guys got a kick out of that one, too.  Fun language.
Well the first set of rapids really was challenging!  I was in the back so my paddling wasn't too strenuous, but staying in was!  Several times Danimal had to grab my arm to keep me on the boat, and I definitely got some class A blisters on my toes from jamming them  as far in as they would go under the plastic in front of me as a desperate attempt at a foothold.  Still, we navegated well and even did 360 spins through a set of class IIIs, pretty near in sync with each other's paddeling all along.  We paddle-fived each other with a "Pura vida!" whenever we passed the other group we came with struggling to dislodge themselves from a rock or just simply not paddling with any sense of order.
Lunch was also provided along the way, fresh watermelon and pineapple and turkey sandwiches (my first turkey here!) with splendid té frío.  All that we didn't eat went as a donation to the Cabeca.    Though it drizzled a bit there on land, it didn't ever really rain our entire trip, which was great.
Back on the boat there was jungle all around.  Blue butterflies passed us and at one point monkeys were swinging far up and to our left.  It was really beautiful to see so much green, as the rainy season was commencing, so much life.  The rocks, too were unbelievable, almost fake-looking in their size and smoothness.  Some guides even did flips off their boats.  Nothing like rafting in Costa Rica.
When we got back we met up with our other group from Veritas and heard their stories.  Two of them had fallen out, one in front of a kayaker from the company who had a camera!  So they were somewhat tired.  The absolute BIGGEST BUG I've seen in my life was back at the base, too, no less than 3 and a half inches long, and an inch or two tall, slow, and beetle-y.  We played with him some and changed our clothes, bought the $10 disc of all the pictures from the trip to share, and got back on the bus.
What I learned from this trip, besides that class III and IV rapids can be fun but that class XI rapids can be waterfalls, was that there is a kind of social bird in Costa Rica that builds hanging nests next to one another in the high branches of trees.  They look kind of like tear-drop shaped baskets and their builders are black with yellow tails.  I learned there is a small black and red bird, too, which you can watch on YouTube, that can do the moonwalk.  Look for "Michael Jackson bird" and I think you'll find it.  I learned that if you don't get in to swim in the slow parts of the river people will pull you in regardless of how much you try to whack them away with your paddle, and also that I can get BACK on the raft myself, then succeed in pulling an almost 200 lb guy back on as well.  I also, unfortunately, learned the importance of driving carefully on one-lane roads.  We waited in traffic for over an hour before passing a horrible car wreck between a jeep and a truck where the jeep had been too slow to pass another truck before the opposing one reached the spot.  So much jungle can be a beautiful thing but a vision impairing one as well.
As for the rest of that weekend, we didn't do much.  Sharifa and Tristen and I went to the National Museum again for a school project Sharifa had.  It was a little better this time, with more information and a cool new art gallery upstairs, but it still was not extremely impressive.  We also tried to go into the butterfly garden they have downstairs, but found it closed starting in May (BARELY missed it), which was another bummer.
Saturday night we tried to go to a fun-sounding bar in the next municipality over with two British guys we'd met rafting.  In case anyone is in San Pedro after it's done being rennovated, it's called Formula One.  Apparently upstairs it is a bar, but downstairs it is a Gokart/bumper car track.  It's actually encouraging drinking and driving.  Safe, right?  Well in any case, it was closed, so we didn't get to test it out.  Siiiigh.
That's really all for that weekend.  I had some delicious KFC for lunch one day and a barbecue chicken wrap another, which, guiltily, were both nice and American.  And I bought my first bootleg movie on the streets.  Benjamin Button.
Over all it was a pretty relaxing weekend again, and I had no complaints.  The Pacuare was a beautiful river and I was with fun people.  :)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Datos y sucesos interesantes (ojalá!)

In talking to some friends in the U.S. I've realized that although I say "I've been up to nothing, really, this past week," that's not ACTUALLY the case.  It just means I didn't travel anywhere.  But in fact we do kind of interesting things occasionally.  

One week, jonesing for the surprisingly elusive chocolate, Cayla and I went up to the minimart (here they're ironically called "supers") looking for brownies, cookie dough, a Hershey's bar, SOMETHING.  We found chocolate cake mix.  "Oh, but we don't know if we have oil or a baking pan there," we lamented to each other.  But it was so tempting.  So though it was not cheap, we finally just decided of course they'd have oil, and if no baking pan, we could make use of whatever sort of cooking containers they DID have.  We would HAVE this cake.  We bought chocolate frosting, too.

When we got back from the store to our residencia kitchen, we ransacked the place.  They DID have oil.  We'd take the three eggs even though there was a clearly written note on our whiteboard NOT to do so or we'd have none left for breakfast.  We found 2 cake pans we could stack.  And we figured we could make due with measuring things in ceramic coffee mugs for "cups."  We did nooooot realize there was no oven.  

But my scientific roots (and lust for chocolate) mandated that we experiment.  We put a third of the powdered ingredients in a bowl with one egg and about a third of the rest of the things and mixed till it had a nice consistency.  Then we poured half the batter into a ceramic bowl and stuck it in the microwave.  A minute and a half later it had risen BEAUTIFULLY, cooked through but in no part burned.  We flipped it like a bundt, frosted it, and enjoyed a mini cake each.  There was quite enough we had to share.  And there was enough for a cake each two more days!  Absolutely delicious.  I don't know why I'd ever make a cake another way again.

Another day (yesterday, actually) we decided to go to a class at the gym we joined this month.  We chose zumba, the aerobics thing based around Latin American dance and showed up seconds before the teacher.  We did not warm up.  He jumped right in, doing intense salsa, merengue, and who knows what else moves.  There was lots of hip shaking, foot work, turning, and jumping, all to Spanish music and with Spanish instructions.  We were the only 3 Gringas, Tristen, Sharifa, and I, and we were soooo lost.  The teacher came back to laugh/correct us, and I don't htink I stopped smiling the entire time.  I guess that wasn't a very good story, but I had to vent to someone.  And you should try Zumba yourselves, too, if it's offered near you!

And now for some datos, or information, about Costa Rica, in puntos.  I hope I haven't already said some of these things!  Please forgive.

--For a capital city, San José looks nothing like what I'd expect.  Of course I've mentioned how dirty it is, how there aren't very many historical buildings or interesting architecture, and how gates obstruct all the otherwise pretty houses.  But you can still see all the colors so common in Latin American houses--light pinks, purples, greens, oranges, yellows, and blues.  Many roofs are rusting, some disconnected from the houses.  And the tallest building in the city has 16 storeys.  Almost all other buildings seem to be 3 storeys or less.  I'm pretty sure the tallest building in Costa Rica is a tourist hotel in Guanacaste, the province along the Pacific where all the celebrities visit.   Meaning Ticos really don't go in there.

--Yes, Costa Rica is famous for being quite progressive in terms of conservation biology.  It is rumored that close to a third of the country is national parks.  Yet the recycling program here is horrible.  The only recycling bins I've seen in all my almost 10 weeks are at my school and in the residencia, both sites of wealthy and liberal patronage (my Veritas an art school, everyone's current and edgy).

--As in any third-world country there are stray dogs EVERYWHERE.  They're all really nice--that's how they get fed--but it's still heartbreaking to see.  The director of my program will take in stray puppies, which is how Jenn came about her potential pet, and get them neutered and speoed (wow, how do you spell that word?) to be later adopted.  There are also semi- frequent black-outs here, where it gets INCREDIBLY dark, and a large incidence of fake merchandise.  One time shopping on Avenida Central we noticed the vendors of DVDs suddenly shove their merchandise to the center of the blankets where it was laid up, bundle the whole thing, and put it on their backs like hobos.  Thirty seconds later the policía rolled up. 

--It is a combination of being in a poor country and being in a tropical country, but there is also the problem here that the water pressure is extremely low.  Apparently the tropical sewer system can't handle toilet paper or ANYTHING, really, being flushed into it.  We have to throw it away.  Though it really doesn't even seem gross to me anymore, I can tell you I look forward to being back in the U.S. if for no reason other than this!  Además the showers are very different, too.  There's only one knob connected to a head from which the water doesn't spray, but rather falls, straight down, and not accompanied by a large amount of more water.  And to make it hotter you have to just turn the knob so that less water comes out.  But we're lucky to HAVE hot water here.  (Actually the lack of it in the smaller towns usually doesn't affect much since it's so hot anywhere but the central valley and its surrounding mountains that you only want the cold.)

--I swear I'm not going to beat the traffic topic to death.  I just want to say that the traffic lights are slightly different here.  The green means "go", yellow means "here comes red," and red means "stop" (were anyone to pay attention to them--okay I promise that was the last comment!), buuuuuuuuut there is also a flashy green one before the yellow that I guess means "here comes yellow!"    Also Costa Rica has tried to approach its traffic problem in a way similar to that of Mexico City.  Any car with a lisence plate that contains a certain number cannot drive on a designated day of each week.  For example my teacher has two cars, both of which have 2s on them.  She can drive neither one on Tuesdays (which is a pun in English but not Spanish), and can only drive one on Friday because the other has the number forbidden that day.  It's meant to cut down on congestion, but doesn't work as well as it should because the fine for being caught driving the day(s) you're prohibitted results only in a $10 fine.  (I can't remember for sure, it might be a 10 mil colones fine, in which case it's about $20, but still, not much, right?)

--Costa Rica abolished their army in 1948.  Just another reason for it to be called the Switzerland of Latin America.  Other reasons include that it has been pretty darn stable though it's been surrounded by fighting for most of its existence and that it's rather expensive, especially for the region.

--Costa Ricans doooo make their own music, but I've really not heard much of it.  Instead there is usually one of two familiar things playing.  There's tons of reggae, Bob Marley and modern, and this makes sense.  I think I've made it clear that basically the entire Caribbean coast of Central America his full of Rasta culture.   But the other common thing to hear is 1980's music from the United States.  They love it.

And that is all for today.  This weekend my plans are to go white-water rafting down some river in the jungle Saturday and then go to Jacó and Hermosa beaches again on Sunday.  It should be a good time!!  (When isn't it?)

Pura Vida!