Well thus far, I've liked Costa Rica. I've enjoyed learning to expect the things that really confused or startled me at first. I've appreciated that the weather and the scenery here are gorgeous and that the Tico culture would be a truly nice one to grow up in (not too much machista, considering it's a Latin American country, no army, smiley and attractive men, and streets always bustling with people who rise early and have pineapples at their disposal about 80 cents for two). But I still found myself resenting that I wasn't appreciating it MORE. I didn't go explore stuff EVERY afternoon, I didn't go to the free dance or cooking classes, though they definitely should have interested me, and I always read or did my homework indoors when it was a beautiful day outside and a park is no more than 5 blocks away. There just werent' the people here who I wanted to do things like that with, I think.
THEN Anna Nova came to visit. It was great timing. She brought in sunny (if a little hot) weather and a week with very few tareas (homework). My class is apparently switching to being more in the oral expression range for these last 2 weeks, which means I'ma have to really up my confidence in speaking if I'm going to keep my A, but which also means not so many compositions or readings or grammar packets. Woo!
Sooooo (sew buttons!) Miss Nova arrived at 5:30 am the Friday of my midterm. I arranged for a guy who I know from Veritas to take me to the airport to greet her bright and early, and Tita was kind enough to cook her breakfast as well. At 8 I left for clase and Anna napped the four hours in my bed while I (not to brag or anything) kicked butt on my exam. I got out 30 minutes early and hurried home to pack so we could leave on our adventures for the weekend!!
In a Tico-timely fashion, we were 5 minutes late for our private driver to pick us up, but he, in turn, didn't meet us until 10 minutes after that. His name was Eluin and he didn't speak English (though he told us later that while he can't express himself much, he understands some of it, we just speak much too fast for him to be able to understand us), but he was very nice. "I will be like your father," he told us, then modified, "or like your abuelito." And he would stop along the road so we could take pictures of beautiful vistas or a random papaya tree.
It was throughout this trip that I learned the truth in the statement I'd always found amusing to hear in class: Costa Rica has a large range in climate. Well, you're right, and I was skeptical at first, too, as I've said, because Costa Rica is TROPICAL. It's right there at, what? 8º north of the equator? But for such a tiny, tropical country, it's got quite the variance.
First off (or, first off for meee, since it's where I live), there's San Jose. It, and the rest of the Central Valley, has a relatively mild climate. It's in a bowl surrounded by mountains almost 3,000 feet higher than it, and for this, there's not more than a 10º F difference in temperature from day to day during a given season. While it is dry season, there is almost NO rain (I hear it's rained 3 times since January), and during wet season it is a bit hotter and rains every day. The plants here are a good mix, with mostly normal, small-leafed deciduous trees, some palm trees, some cacti, and some conifers. It's often cloudy, there's not much dust, there's almost always a gentle breeze, and it's not too humid (St. Louis is way worse).
On our trip, though, we encountered the very tropical, where everything was green, vines hung down over a river, and the leaves were broad and glossy. We saw lands that looked much more like upstate New York in plant life, as we mounted hills that looked over grassier farmland valleys. We drove along stone roads (not dirt roads or gravel roads--bumpier, but equally dry) and got our hair caked with dust. Sometimes it was pleasantly cool to have the jeep windows open, and 30 minutes later difficult to breathe for the horrid heat rushing at the face. It was varied, let's just conclude with that.
So our first destination Friday night was Arenal. We checked in to our American West-themed hotel (a riot), and headed up to the hot springs, heated by the famous Arenal volcano. Here we spent 3 and half hours, moving from pool to pool, testing out the different temperatures. We had a tropical peach cocktail each at a bar IN the middle of the hot springs, and worked our way up to 113ºF waters, I believe. Dinner was included, though not so delicious, and afterwards we went further up the hill to see if we might catch a glimpse of the famed night display of lava from the subconical irregular crater above us. No luck, since there were too many clouds covering it, but we did discover some more pools we hadn't seen before, including the hottest yet, which was painful to even put your foot in. I also went down an amazing waterslide, the fastest ever ever ever, and it burned a hole in the butt of my swimsuit!! I'll keep my eyes open for another, but I've little hope, for the swimsuits here are of the South American variety, and offer less modesty than my holey one. Bummer. Hahaha.
Anyway, that night was quite delightful, we went to bed somewhat early (though we didn't get to sleep right away, not having seen each other in 2 and a half months), and woke to have desayuno típico at the hotel: eggs, gallo pinto, coffee, and toast with mora jam.
At 8:30 or so we set off for La Fortuna, a waterfall down the road. We hiked down the "well maintained path," which in reality was extremely steep and overgrown but offered some cool vistas, and at the bottom swam in the refreshingly cool river. We could even scramble over a few rocks in our awesome, toed, hiking sandals, and wade/swim in the beautiful turquoise waves riiiight next to the catarata. It was really gorgeous, and I've never seen Jurassic Park, or however you spell that, but the scenery was definitely straight out of it.
After that we went back and showered and had a quick lunch (comida típica again--a casada of rice, beans, chicken, plantain, and fruit juice) in town with Eluin before he had to take off on the long route to Monteverde. Meanwhile Anna and I went back to the hotel to relax by the pool before a "jeep" (van) picked us up to take us to Lake Arenal where a boat would transport us to our next "jeep" that would bring us to Santa Elena, the town outside the Monteverde cloud forest. The lake was stunning, with a beautiful view of the volcano (still frustratingly covered in clouds), and I picked out a nice house I'm going to buy (just kidding, Ma).
The second jeep was the worst. The road we travelled was awful, and a French backpacker who smelled like gross gross gross was too cold to have the air on. We jostled and shook the whole way, stopping at one sunny restaurant that had ducks and a hammock for a break. But vale la pena, we got to our hotel in time to nap before Eluin arrived with our bags, and it was quite a cute hotel.
I don't have much to say about the cloud forest. It wasn't at aaaaaaaall what I was hoping for. We didn't see a single animal, and while the view was pretty, it wasn't thaaaaat much different from any other green area in Costa Rica. What we did do was take a zipline through the jungle on a "canopy tour." Yes, this was fun. It was much like an amusement park ride or something, and the guides were cute and funny. At one point we had to jump off a platform and do free fall along a rope, and at another we had to do a Tarzan swing which I thought might kill me, but overall it wasn't so bad, a good up for the adrenaline. The guides took some good pictures of us, too, but it was 10 dollars to get them on a CD, not even printed, so we opted out.
And that was the end of our weekend trip. It was so great to be with a good friend, and we saw some of the famous sites of Costa Rica, riding and living in style. The view of the peninsula alone made the trip from Monteverde back to San Jose worthwhile. And the whole weekend I didn't have any tarea.
Well Sunday night (and the rest of the time she was here) Anna and I stayed in a hostel about 20 minutes from my school. When I went to class in the morning she slept again, and we met up to have lunch with Rebecca Dos before heading off to El Centro to see some museums (though they closed before we got there, which was stupid), eat ice cream, and hit up the Artisan Market. We got some cool things, including bowls that smelled like cinnamon and a hammock for our backyard or something next year! All beautiful souvenirs.
Tuesday Anna's brother James had arrived. We all three went to the beach, me skipping the only day of school I'm allowed without failing, another first for me here. We chose the one only 2.5 hours away called Jacó, which was lovely, long, and not nearly as touristy as I'd been told it was. The water was super salty though, and the air extremely humid, so that we felt instantly gross walking off the sand into our lunch place. Then we caught a cab 10 minutes to the next beach over, Playa Hermosa (or, Beautiful Beach), which was my first ever glimpse at a black sand beach! It was gorgeous and the waves were really fun, if a bit persistant and stinging to the eyes. Our stuff didn't get stolen, we didn't get too sunburned, we got some good pictures, and we got some good ice cream, so I'd say the trip over all was a success. Plus James got us to hitchhike instead of take a taxi back to Jacó, and we survived that, so I must say I had a very good time away from school.
Unfortunately we didn't do much Wednesday or Thursday, though just being around some people I actually enjoy spending time with was really wonderful. James and Anna were able to visit a coffee plantation while I was in class on Wed, and we then went to the Central Market in the afternoon. I dont' remember if I mentioned that I saw a real live parrot downtown last week, but when we visited on Wednesday it would have been impossible to miss one! The park was covered with them, squawking and fighting and hanging upside down, swooping right by our heads, preening each other, and tumbling a bit in the flimsy palm trees. They were SO LOUD!! It made me miss Kiki quite a lot.
Thursday, then, all we did was be a bit too late or a bit too far from everything we wanted to see. I'll have to try and see InBio Parque another time--it's a conservation park, a jungle in the middle of the city, where there are many animals to see, and some good walks to go on--and visit the orchid gardens later, as well. Anna will just have to come back when I actually know what I'm doing is how that goes!
Friday Anna left at the oh-so-lovely hour of 4:30 am, and James did his own thing. I think he's off to Monteverde today (Saturday). My class went to the Museo de los Niños (Children's Museum) on a field trip, which is really cool, made from the walls of an old prison. I also got sick Friday, upset stomach, runny nose, and a fever, so that was all good timing, and it will be nice to be here in town to just recuperate, sleep, write this blog, do some homework, and read after such a full and wonderful week!
Well! I hope that didn't bore you, but rather inspired you to come visit, too! I'm sure I miss you, whoever you are, and I hope you're having a good time in the U.S. or Spain or Italy!
All that I've got going on this week is a presentation to give on the Solar System, a final exam, and several Skype dates. This weekend the new CEA students are coming, most of the people from my classes are going home, and I'm moving out of Tita's house and into the dorm. It's going to be a lot of changes, I guess, but that will keep things interesting. Once April starts we'll have pre-paid trips planned for us all every weekend, as well as a busy weekful of vacations during Semana Santa (Holy Week), which sound fascinating. Once again, I hope all is well where you are. Costa Rica's still on my good side.