Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Montezuma, Waterfall Town

It was another typical semana in San José last week.  Monday the entire group from CEA went out to the Monday spot of Cuartel, where there was a live band that played Costa Rican songs purely in Spanish next to Bob Marley next to John Mellencamp's "Hurts So Good."   It was a lot of fun, though I must say that in the crowded windowless stage area I began to miss Colorado's good old no smoking in public buildings law.  Tuesday I cooked fresh tomato pasta for Tita with Lanae, then went to my first clase de baile where we learned some reggae, salsa, and merengue.  Wednesday I missed cooking class where they made fried dough with canela (cinnamon) and leche condensada (condensed milk) inside, for I had a brochur about Nicaragua to finish (and mostly start, heh).  Thursday we walked to the grocery store to get ingredients for MORE fresh-tomato pasta and guacamole (we had a "feast" in class on Friday), and on the way back saw the most gorgeous sunset ever.  Each cardinal direction held a different view, to the North a bright blue sky with a few clouds, paling, of course, closer to where the sun set.  To the South, darker and more gray, with the mountains looking unusually clear but intimidating in the background.  To the West, naturally, the actual setting sun, outlined in clear gold, with a golden arch of soft clouds above and purple stripes before more cotton-ball nubes of gold and pink.  And to the East the clearest, most brilliant rainbow I've ever seen.  It was a double one, too, and since we're so close to the equator, it nearly formed a circle rather than the simple wide bow of further north.  We looked like a bunch of tourists, for sure, walking down the busy Avenida Central gawking first this way, then that, grocery bags in our hands, but I didn't care.  Gotta take in the sights, right?
Friday we watched the very fuerte and dura movie "La mala educación," a film by Spanish director Almodóvar while we ate the different things the three students and teacher in my class had brought in to share.  We had guacamole, gallo pinto, fresh-tomato pasta, delicious Costa Rican coffee from the old-fashioned sock-like Costa Rican coffee strainer, and brownies from a box the other girl in my class's friend had brought for her from the states.  This was especially convenient because after class I didn't have time to eat anything else before our van left at 1 pm for the weekend destination of Montezuma, last of the CEA excursions.
Montezuma is a small town I'd been told was "cute" on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in the Northwest of Costa Rica.  "Great, another beach town," I thought.  I was getting sick of them.  And it is those things, but it's so much more, too.
To begin with, this was the first small town (meaning its downtown is about two blocks worth of shops, groceries, tourist agents, and restaurants in the shape of a T) with NICE roads and DELICIOUS restaurants.  It had ethnic food (well, Italian)!  It had ORGANIC food!  It had flowers blooming everywhere and a shady park, and it looked taken care of!
It also had Trits, which are my new favorite Costa Rican things to buy!  They're ice cream sandwhiches in mini plastic tubs so you don't drip.  There's chocolate fudge at the bottom of the vanilla ice cream center, and the graham-cracker or whatever-they-are outer parts are just super.   And they're 300 colones, less than 60 cents, each!
Buuuuut, the main attraction was a set of three waterfalls, the trailhead to which was a five minute walk from our hotel.  From there you must hike through a river, over roots, up and down to the first cascade, which is about 50 feet high.   It was a complicated walk, as, actually, was walking anywhere in Montezuma.  In the city the first rain of the season had brought out 3 inch wide purple and red crabs like the plague.  It was pretty scary, really, to walk around at night with their clicking right by your feet all the time--how horrible it woudl have been to walk on one so big or to have on walk on you!  (They were pretty cute, whipping out their great gray pinchers whenever they felt threatened, but doing nothing but scuttle away fast as possible on their little orange legs, sideways, off the road.)  On the hike we had to avoid roots and sudden steep down turns, where we needed ropes at times to avoid falling.
At the waterfall you could swim right up to the cascade, even under it, for the water pressure was very small, broken by all the rocks the water had to hit on its way from the top.  It was a kind of gross yellow color, but there were fish all over and rocks at a nice height to jump from and swim about.
Fun, but there could be more!!  We met a man who had been to Montezuma 7 times and spends almost every day there at the waterfalls.  He offered to take us up to the top two waterfalls that fall into consecutive pools, the bottom one of which falls into the one we were swimming at.  We accepted and luckily he knew the way, because it wound and was dangerous and dipped and neared barbed wire and we would have gotten lost at a creek we were to cross had he not pointed us left.  At one point we looked out over the waterfall we'd been at and saw hawks or somethings soaring easily over all the green.  "Wouldn't this be completely perfect if there were some monkeys swinging through the trees over us now!?" I said.  We walked no more than 100 meters before we spotted a gang of white-maned monkeys.  It waaaaas pretty close to perfect.
We arrived at the top of the two upper pools.  The waterfall feeding it is about 3, 3.5 meters high, and we watched with glee as a group of elderly zip-liners took a detour to jump from the top of it on into the greenish water of our pool.  None of hte pools have strong currents, even near their profoundest of drops.  They're super safe AND super fun.
Gary, the man who was guiding us, walked us over some rocks around the pool to the verrrry edge of the middle waterfall, a giant 15 meter straight shot down.  "You could basically fall from here," he said, "and be fine.  There are no rocks at the bottom and none to worry about on the way down."  Interesting, but the idea of falling from such a height terrified me anyway.   We turned back around to the pool where we were already situated.  A few of us took shots at the rope swing some locals had hung, and the water was refreshing, if slighlty murky.  We swam around a bit and waited for some more of the CEA kids to make the hike up--they'd gotten lost at the barbed-wire section.
When they got there everyone whipped out their cameras.  Gary was deciding to jump off the 42 footer (he'd done a GPS reading one time).  He leaped without time for us to really think about it, splashing straight in, like a pencil.  Wooooow.  I decided I wanted to go.  He was encouraging!  I stood on the edge and looked down.  No, it was definitely more than 42 feet.  People around me had told me of other girls who had jumped wrong and broken their tailbones on the landing.  They were peer pressuring me anyway.  Geoff wanted to use his 10-shots-in-a-row setting on his camera to capture it.  Gaaaah!
I stood on the edge and counted so they'd know when to take the picture "Oooone," I said.  I didn't finish, but shifted my weight back away from the drop.  "Okay," I said, shifting forward once again. "Ooooooooone."  But I couldn't finish that count either.  "Just do it!" people were telling me, "And don't keep pretend-counting, we'll miss when you actually do jump!"  "Fine!  Ready?  Ooooooone, twoooo"  but I couldn't do it then, either.  I had to go sit down because I was hyperventilating and my hands were starting to tingle.   I noticed none of theeeem were doing it, those complainers of "You're wasting my battery!"
That's when Tristen, afraid of heights, decided she was going.  It was a simple "One, two, three, LEAP!" for her, and she kept her form, mostly, as Geoff did his camera thing.   She gave me a thumbs up from the waaaaaaaaay bottom, swimming easily away from the crashing water next to her.
Fine.  I jumped.
I actually remember jumping off the cliff, thinking "Oh gosh, what am I doing!?" but then nothing.  I don't remember hitting the water or trying to get to the surface.  All I know is that I was hurting reeeeeally bad on my heiny/leg/lower back when I did start breathing air again.  Gary was concerned and swam toward me, but though I didn't want to use my legs to move (haha I actually thought I'd jammed my spine or something and couldn't!), I cooould swim over to the edge of the pool fine anyway.  No worries, 2 minutes rest later I was much better and we all three, Gary, Tristen, and I, sidled over to look from the top of the main waterfall we'd been at much earlier that morning.  
I could have laid there on those rocks all day like a lizard basking my back and looking down the catarata.   Alas, 10 minutes or so later we made the climb back up the rocky face right next to where we'd jumped.  It was pretty cool to see what exactly we'd jumped off, how far it was, how beautiful, especially considering I definitely wasn't watching when I was actually mid-fall.
After all this everyone was pretty much done at the waterfalls.  We headed back, a group of 7 of us (Gary and all the CEA kids minus Rebecca Dos), a different way from that by which we had come.  Poor Justin had broken his flip-flops, though, on the way up, so the idea of a hot paved road soon was not attractive to him.   He went on slowly and with pain for as long as he could, but about 5 blocks from the hotel had to sit down.   The other CEA kids went off to the beach.  Tristen and I went back to the hotel for some of his other shoes while Sharifa waited with him.  
When we got back to the bottom of the hill where we left him we saw Sharifa laughing.  She had flagged down a random Tico on a motor bike and asked him in Spanish to "Please give the little Gringo sitting on the side of the road" a ride back to his hotel.  That was the funniest thing to see Justin cruise by 30 seconds later on the back of a blue bike, feet red and uplifted.   It was really just not the poor kid's weekend.  Friday night there were about 20 bugs of all sizes in his bed, and then just as many in the bed he got switched to when he complained of the first.  In the end, though, everything was fine.
The rest of the time in Montezuma we really didn't do much else besides get gyped on strawberry-piña daiqiris and read on the gorgeous blue beach.  We didnt' even go in the water there, though beautiful black volcanic rocks made a gorgeous backdrop.  Whenever a large wave would hit the boulders about 100 meters away, the water would fall off in miny waterfalls for 20 seconds or more, and that was my favorite.
Overall I had a great time at this "just another beach town" and on my final CEA excursion.  From now on we'll be travelling in small groups we choose ourselves, more like my first month here, but with more selection.  I'm looking forward to this, too.  Everywhere just makes me like this semester more and more!
I hope you guys are loving your country, too!

(PS That picture of the sign up there that seems to warn us NOT to jump off the waterfall I took AFTERWARDS.  Oops, our bad!)


Monday, April 20, 2009

Irazú and Isla Tortuga

I don't have much to say about last week.  My class of three people continued to be a ton of fun, and I got a slice of pan arollado TWICE, which is lucky.  It's like a cake with a roll of sweet stuff (but not cinnamon, alas), and when they bake it at the school cafeteria, it goes fast.

We're learning suffixes, such as the famous diminutive "-ito."  Apparently one theory as to why Costarricenses are called "Ticos" is that they speak in diminutives all the time, and "-ico" is one.  It's true, my teacher calls the girl Paula in my class "Paulita," and there is an on-going puzzlement about how to construct my nickname.  "Rebecita?  Rebequita?  Rebequecita?"  None sound right.  I told the teacher my mom calls me Beckarita, but apparently that's no good, either.  For now I'm content just to not get mixed up with Rebecca Dos!

So following our midterms on Friday (which I did decently on, Mom, no te preocupes),  some friends and I went downtown for shopping and delicious churros.  We ate dinner and got dressed up and took a somewhat early night out dancing before waking up for our first day-excursion at eight on Saturday.  It's really fun to start to recognize and be able to sing along with the Costa Rican songs at the bars!

Saturday morning was extremely chilly for for the tropics, as we headed off in the van, all 7 of us, up a windy road to Volcán Irazú.  It was extremely cool to watch as first we were under the clouds, then parallel, able to see the city below and the blue above, and then  above, with hardly a break in the blanket of white through which to see the brown rooves.  When we got to the trailhead and disembarked, our first stop was hot chocolate and warm breakfast.  A coatí, a cousin of the raccoon, joined us, begging boldly for our food, and, like the tourists we were, we got a bit of a kick out of that.  20 minutes later, though, we were off on the 1 kilometer hike to the highest point of the volcano.

I should probably be taking my iron pills more religiously, but I'm not entirely sure if anemia is at fault for how out of breath I was trying to make it up that hill (and that is embarrassing to relate!).  Recall that I live more than half the year above 5,000 feet and then go ahead and laugh when I tell you the summit of Irazú is at 3,000 something.  Anyway, the views of the hills were stunning from up there (on a clear day you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans), and there were even MORE new amazing Costa Rican plants, which I'm always surprised to see.  I don't know their names, but one of the most striking was a sort of flat leaf with a stem that comes right out the ground and looks just like some tiny weeds we have in the "grass" of our front lawn all over, except these were about the size of half my body.  Everything, fruits, veggies, and apparently weeds, is bigger in Costa Rica.  It's something in the soil.

In the end, though, we made it up and got a nice view of the edge of the crater and the flat plane, sort of like a caldera, beside it, which was vast, extremely flat, and edged with black sand.  From there we trekked back down, having only half an hour before we had to go again.  We walked to the edge of the crater and looked into the steep, principal crater.  The lake inside really was neon green and surrounded by black lava remnants.  No, I still haven't seen real-live lava, but this was super cool anyway.  And there's always time, right??

So next stop was Orossi Valley, a small humid town surrounded closely by mountains.  Here is the oldest church in Central America continuously in use.  It is small, with a nice garden outside, and hardly remarkable.  The town was charming, though.

We saw a dam next, the steepest and most impressive one I've ever been to, and then the largest church in Costa Rica.  It was an exhausting day, and when I got back I didn't have the energy to do much more than go straight to sleep in preparation for our FIVE a.m. wake-up Sunday.

It really was a nice day after I woke up, though.  We took a tour to Isla Tortuga, a nationally protected beach on the Pacific Ocean.  On the way over we were treated to free fruit and té frio and large strawberry daiquiris.  We sat at the prow of the small boat, our group of 7 again, and talked and took in the sun.  For an hour and a half we cruised at a pace that made the wind just strong enough to cool us and just weak enough to be able to breathe-in easily.  We passed islands and rocks and schools of fish that had been frightened to the waters surfaces, presumably by other, larger fish.  The coolest was to be able to look down and see jellyfish floating past.  

Isla Tortuga itself only has one stretch of beach about the length of two football (U.S. style) fields.  The rest of the place is rocky and unkempt jungle, which you don't really want to explore because coconuts crash down from the palms with alarming force.  For this we decided to kill a bit of time taking a snorkel tour, though, I thought, I'd already done it in Panama for less money.

I'm so glad I went, though!  They took us out to a small-ish (and, as it turns out, SHARP-ish!) rock, maybe 500 meters from shore and joked about sharks.  Then we jumped in and were on our own for 40 minutes.  THERE. WERE. SO. MANY. FISH!!!!  Everywhere I went they were swimming around me.  Thumb-sized gray ones that were only blue in the right light, gray-blue and yellow-orange ones about the size of a whole palm, random black ones with one yellow stripe.  These swam the closest, and I went slowly with my finger poked out, so as maybe to touch one as they all surrounded me.  Alas, they're fast little boogers, and were apparently on to me.  Below the coral was completely brown, much more boring than in Panama, but whenever I'd take a breather to just float rather than swim, I could notice a huge brown fish moving slowly over the rocks, or a disgustingly long eel, orangey brown with white stripes, poking around the shadows.  When I was a little bit deeper, father from the rocks, I saw some big light blue guys, too.  

The two coolest things, though, and then I'll let the fish part go cause it's probably boring you, were the medusas and the schools.  Sharifa said she'd seen the medusas--so dubbed by our guide, but they looked like jellyfish to me--as she was swimming, and that she could only think of Finding Nemo, where the stingers can do some damage.  I diiiidn't see any as I snorkeled, but at one point someone else found one and held it above water.  I touched its clear, gelatinous disk of a body, and it felt like Parcheesi pieces only wetter.  Nice.  The schools of fish I DID see on my own, low and dark near the base of the rock.  They were packed in there!!! Never had I seen something like that.  Justin, a friend from the residencia that looks scarily like Charlie Levinson, said he dove in the middle of them--something I wouldn't even have thought POSSIBLE for their sheer density.  He said they just parted enough that they didn't touch you (though he said he touched one!), but stayed mostly packed in.  I kinda wish I'd tried it...

The rest of the day on the island was just like another day at the beach.  This water was THE perfect temperature (finally not too warm like in Panama, nor too cold like in Tamarindo!), and the sand was white (very rare for volcanic Costa Rica), so I guess it was a bit fancy.  There was a cute macaw who said "Hola" and "Paco," and I had fun trying to sneak in pats without him biting me. We got served a delicious lunch of fish and chicken casados.  Some of us played some weird instruments with the four-man band there, singing "La Cucaracha" and "La Bamba," and we just relaxed, took pictures, and picked up crabs.  We then had a long trip home and went to bed happy.

As for today and the rest of this week, I can say I'll TRY and update my blog about Semana Santa, the behemoth of a trip we took 2 weeks ago, but I make no promises.  I've been filling my weekday afternoons much better lately, going to class, calling friends, going downtown.  Today some of us walked to Pequeño Mundo, a super cheap clothing store to try to find bathing suits (top and bottom total for no more than $6!) (I think I mentioned that I burned a hole in the bottom of mine the first time I wore it on the water slide at the hotsprings), but that was a bust because there are no dressing rooms there, and I ended up getting one that fits horribly!  Oh well, point is, I'm working on it, but it may be a while before I can post the info from my Holy Week "adventures."  On Friday we're watching a movie in class, and CEA heads out for our last group excursion to Montezuma beach, which should make it a short-feeling week.   Hope yours goes well, too!!  I'm sure I miss youuuu!

Monday, April 13, 2009

You Haved Arrived in Paradise

I passed a sign that said this on the way to our first destination last week.  Costa Ricans definitely know they live in a great place.
  The entire city of San Jose shuts down for the week before Easter (Semana Santa, or Holy Week), and everyone there goes away to prettier places, packing the beaches here, the volcano towns there, and roads between.  Por eso (because of this), my program offered, for a fee, of course, a week's worth of travelling around together in private buses, to see some of the main sites in the northwest cuadrant of Costa Rica.  It was our first weekend together, new students and us, and it was a great opportunity for them to see new sights and for us all to get to know one another.  (I saw new sights, too.)
The first destination was Arenal.  This is the place where my friend Anna Novakowski and I went when she came to visit, which had the volcano and the hotsprings.  The hotsprings were the same, touristy, expensive, hot, and spring-y, but the volcano was even BETTER this time.  The first time we saw it, as I wrote, the top of the cone was covered in clouds.  Eluin had told us this was the norm for afternoons, so I was expecting a half cone again on Saturday.  Insteeeead we could see the enTIRE thing, up to the peak, smoke billowing out and everything!  It unfortunately clouded up at night before we could glimpse the orange lava fire-worky display it's famous for, but seeing actual volcanic activity of any sort was amazing!! I took about a thousand pictures and 3 videos.  
Also different from my trip with Anna, Sunday morning the group of 13 of us went hiking on a nearby hill.  Well, we were scheeeeduled to go hiking, anyway, but when our driver let us out of the van at the base of a hill, he didn't tell us exactly where we were to go, so that we walked down the road back and forth for an hour before we even saw a trail head.  For this we had to pay money, which most of us weren't prepared for, but when it became clear it was our only option, that or sit in the sun on the side of the road for the second hour before the driver returned, we all chipped in and got payed for.  I'm SO glad we did, too, because there were some cool flowers, we saw three big fowl type birds, and we heard two toucans!!! I got a blurry  picture of one of their heineys, but I can still remember his yellow beak and black body waaay above and to the right, which was just amazingly cool.  The hike also offered more vistas of the volcano, from another angle, so more pictures ensued, of course, of the tracts from the lava and the oh-so-different other side of the volcán.
As when Anna and I travelled, the next thing done was a trip to Monteverde cloud forest.  We took the boat again, though this time I bought a coconut to drink with my friend Justin, and we did the horribly bumpy road to a slightly more upscale hotel, waaaaay up a steep hill from downtown Santa Elena.  That afternoon was freetime so we joined a fellow tourist who had a soccerball in playing an extremely fun game of dust soccer until it was too dark to see anything.  The field was literally JUST dirt, so even in the daylight the ball was rarely visible through the clouds we kicked up.  But, with skills ranging from never-having-played to the best-non-professional-I-think-I've-ever-seen, it was waaaay more fun than I'd expected.
In the morning we did the canopy zipline tour of the cloud forest again.  I only have the one long sleeved shirt for the temperature of the forest, so I wore it again, and several guides recognized me.  They couldn't understand why I was scared of the Tarzan Swing having already partaken.  It was BECAUSE I had done it before, guys!    No matter, this time was a different kind of fun.  Things weren't new for me, but we were with a group of 50 other tourists this time (contrast to the 6 when Anna and I went), and sometimes the guides pretended to fall, and scary, goofy stuff like that.  Everyone in my group had a really good time, and on the last stretch of canopy, about a kilometer long, it is rumored, we got to go in pairs, so Danimal (Dan, an independent student here who's a lot of fun) and I cruised it next to one another.  Chalk it up to my previous practice or my aerodynamicity, no importa, I definitely beat him to the platform.  It was a gorgeous day, and I'm glad I got to go again.
The rest of the day was again free time in Santa Elena, the small town outside of Monteverde.  Two friends and I went shopping and got ice cream while another small group of us sat at the hotel, sunbathing, and experiencing first hand the strength of a tropical sun.  Most were well burned in the one hour they spent, one completing his red hue, for he'd developed a nice lobster claw on the way to Arenal, just by having his forearm out the window of the van.  Now they all wear sunscreen and are fine, so no great loss.
That evening we had some good Mexican food as a large group and then went to the only discotech in Santa Elena--The Unicorn Bar.  That wasn't much fun.  We played some pool upstairs and danced reasonably good salsa and merengue with the three Ticos who showed up, but I'm not sure it was worth the steep steep steep walk down then back up the dirt road from our hotel.  Everywhere we went in that town it was a workout!
We rose pretty late the next day, I guess it was Tuesday, but to whom does that really matter?  And we staked out our seats in the van (van-bus, I'm going to use those interchangeably, sorry) for the 4 hours to Tamarindo, a beach town halfway down the Pacific coast.  
This was the first Costa Rican beach for everyone but Rebecca Dos, Sharifa, and me, and the instant I saw it I was ashamed.  It was the most touristy thing I'd seen my entire time in the country.  Why'd they take us here!?  I wondered.  It had UMBRELLAS and BEACH CHAIRS to rent, for crying out loud!  But the rest of the gringos (again, NOT an offensive word in Costa Rica) were impressed.  I guess even the most touristy of Costa Rican beaches are on the less-developed end of most U.S. destinations.  
We put our stuff in our stark-white hotel as fast as possible, but were too late to really catch the sunset that first night.  No matter, for there were 2 more to be spent here, and much restaurant-cruising to be done.  Having walked the main strip of town and found nothing under 4.5 mil colones (about $8.75), we decided to go to Subway for something cheap and save our money for the next days.  The cookies at Costa Rican Subways are not up to par.
That night we went to what from the outside looked like a super cool dance club.  It was called Aqua something and was in a modern building, with cool blue lighting and a huge balcony over the beach.  Furthermore it was offering free margaritas (margarita martes) after ten, so we donned our best and went in.  There was hardly anyone there!  And the music was unrecognizable!  Justin and I requested a song at the beginning of the night, receiving ascent from the DJ, but an hour later he still hadn't played it.  When he also didn't play it after we reminded him, and the place had gotten only slightly more full of people, we decided to go ahead out on the beach and walk back to the hotel that way.
It was beautiful on the beach at night.  As we walked to the right (the opposite direction of our hotel), we noticed bright fuzzy orange light over the hill across town.  Geoff, who had gone down to the beach for a glimpse of the sunset earlier, told us in fact that WAS fire and that the whole hill had been in flames earlier.  I didn't believe him, but when I looked the next day, yes, all the trees there had been burned.  ¡Qué lástima!  What a shame!
Not much of note happened the next day in tourist-ville. We spent a long time riding great waves in the warm water and averting our eyes from the sand blowing all over as we tried to read, too.  We looked for seashells with holes in them for neckalces.  We lathered ourselves in sandy sunscreen.  We even splurged and rented a few chairs to avoid the boiling hot sand.  For lunch there could have been NOTHING better than the orange-mango-passionfruit smoothie I got.  Afterwards we shopped around town, bought a dress or two (okay, three), and went back to the hotel...just in time to see our first gang of monkeys!!! They were little black guys with black faces, and they were pretty noisy and brave.  They swung around and were perfectly content to allow pictures as they munched rather visciously, actually, on unripe mangoes.  They hung from their tails and fought and some were babies and EVERYTHING!  It was super cool!  Pluuuusss! When we turned around there was an enormous blue-jay type thing sitting by the pool--seriously about 3 or four times the size of a normal bluejay and with a crest like a quail.  Add that to the nasty, huge lizard that fell with a SPLAT out of the tree in front of Sharifa in the morning, and to the cool leaf-bug we found on the marble walk way outside our door (this hotel was reeeeeeeally fancy!), and you can see the place was teeming with cool wildlife!!  Not such a horrible tourist destination after all!
That night, after watching and taking pictures of a GORGEOUS sunset, Luís, our travel agent who served as our driver for part of the trip, cooked us a nice barbecue, and a few of us went down to the beach again.  We all turned in pretty early, though, tired from the sun. 
The day was another day of nothing, with the only thing of real note being that it was the Thursday before Easter.  Costa Rican alcohol sales are prohibitted from this day until Saturday (I don't understand why it can start back up again Saturday, but it does).  For this, there is said to be a large number of people just drinking in the streets, selling beers on the black market, etc. etc.  I was just curious to see it.  So, we ate a panini dinner (deliciosa) and went outside.  Yes, the liquor marts were closed, and yes, in front of the bars of restaurants (that were still open), there was yellow cautionary tape.  But when we sat down at a little place with umbrellas outside and nice reggae music in the background, the waiter surprised us.  "In Costa Rica we are not allowed to serve alcohol tonight," he told us, and we nodded.  "All we have are margaritas and daiquiris, and we can put beer in a glass for you, but no bottles."  So it was all a rouse!!  Police sat their motorbikes RIGHT outside the restaurant and did nothing, thoguh they could clearly see Imperial (the local King of Beers) cans on the bar, I'd imagine.  We ordered some guanábana daiqiris and even some sangría and just laughed at the strange custom.
Next morning we piled once again into the crowded and hot van-bus to go to...dun dun dunnnh! Manuel Antonio National Park, which is said to be "still more monkeys than man."  It was the destination of the trip I was most excited for. 
Buuuut, get this!  On the way, we crossed a large bridge over a semi-dry (because of the season) river.  Our driver noticed something and stopped the van.  We all got out.  Standing on the edge of the bridge and looking over the railing we could see a crocodile!! He was gray with dust, sitting partially submerged, with just his huge spikey back above the water.  And as we looked around we saw six more.  It was really cool to see them, some swimming, most just sunning themselves IN THE WILD.  And so enormous.  I watched with fear as one of the cute, big-eared, hump-backed Costa Rica cows ambled over to drink from the river, but nothing bad happened to him while I was there.   That was good, and what's more, while we stood on the bridge, Luís shouted--two macaws, my first! were flying in a red and blue pair swiftly across the valley from the forest on one side of the river to the other!  I tried to take a picture, but my camera was on its video setting, so I couldn't do as well as I'd hoped.   I do have a short film of two dots flying through the sky.  Pura vida, I still saw macaws in the wild, right??  And still had Manuel Antonio to go!!
We didn't get there, though, until late, that night, too late to explore much.  Still, as we drove in we did see a cool restaurant made out of an old plane, with the wings as the roofs to outside dining terraces and the body as the actual bar/kitchen area.  We also noticed the signs telling the crazy Costa Rican drivers to go slowly, please.  There were pictures of children, monkeys, and, slowest of all, sloths, provided as reasons for the warning.  
The next day, when we diiiid go to the park, it was incredibly hot.  Luís took us (in the "Exit only" end, I might add) and along the way told two friends and me an interesting tidbit Justin, who is gay, had pointed out the day before.  It was interesting to hear coming from a man with a heavy accent, imperfect English grammar in general, and a Jesus bumper sticker on both his tourism vans.  "Manuel Antonio is the place with the most gays in Costa Rica," he said.  "I don't know why.  But they are, you can see them!  In every corner!  Three or four!"  Tristen, Sebastién, and I just laughed.  We've been unnecessarily warned not to talk about this or abortion with anyone from this Catholic country, and here he was bringing it up!  We kept walking, eyes on the prize.  The park right ahead.
Wellll this park was huuuuuuu-mid!  No breeze could get in the forest, so the air was stagnant except when disturbed by the drips of sweat falling constantly off us.  At first, too, all we saw was a basilisk lizard (the kind with the frill), who was too far away to take a good picture, and a raccoon ransacking the bathrooms.  We kind of grumbled and stepped off the path for a swim instead of hiking it all right away.  When Dan was done swimming, though, (the ocean water was too warm for him), he went for a shower and came back with the news that they were not working...because the monkeys were fiddling with the faucetts!!!  Aha!  
That got us all moving.  We dressed, grabbed our cameras, and set out on the path to one of the highest viewpoints in the park.  In this order we were able to see...a troup of black monkeys that had white manes and peach faces, a sloth waaaaay up in the tree, a giaGANtic, celestial blue butterfly, smaller blue, yellow, and orange butterflies, and another huge, gross iguana.  I was quite content with this.  The monkeys were super brave, coming less than 2 meters from us, so I'd gotten some good pictures.  Furthermore Luís had told us there was only one more type of monkey--the tiny, pretty elusive squirrel monkey--in Manuel Antonio, so we'd a pretty good checklist.  Yet as we walked further up the path we started to hear some strange squeaking.  We looked around and the itty bitty, adorable orange squirrel monkeys were everywhere!!  They stayed pretty far away and moved far too quickly for me to get a good picture, but they were SO cute!! I feel very lucky to have gotten to see them.   
The view, too, from the top, of course, was gorgeous, but all the animals were what made my day.  Certainly this had been the best leg of the trip.  We went back to the hotel to cool off, and then shopped and had delicious barbecue for a few hours of the afternoon.
At four Dan, Tristen, Sebastién, and I returned to the beach outside of the park.  There we found a stand renting banana boats and jumped at the chance!  These are long, yellow, banana-looking floaty rafts that you straddle in a line, as though on a sled, and then get pulled by a jetski in straight lines or the rougher hairpin turns.  The goal is just to stay on, and it definitely had the potential to be tons of fun.  Unfortunately the guide didn't tell us at first that the heaviest person, because of momentum, por supuesto, should go in front so as not to fly foward when we fell and hurt the lighter people.  For this, Dan sat in back and the first two times we fell, landed on my head, which was rather painful.  We asked the guide/man on the jetski "mas despacio, por favor," and rearranged, so that it was not only longer before we fell off again, but much less painful.  It was a really good time once that happened!  My headache was gone by morning.
There we have the entire Semana Santa trip, at least the important/interesting parts.  I had a great time meeting everyone and of course seeing Costa Rica, so it was WELL worth the $400 we spent for the week.  I've realized that I'd love to go back to Manuel Antonio if there's time, and that, touristy as Tamarindo was, I'm glad we went there as a group, too, for I'd never had gone otherwise.  So many new experiences all the time in Costa Rica.  You should come!!

Mi casa es...just like The Real World

I've not lived in Tita's house for 2 weeks now.
Instead, I've moved into CEA's private residencia, Tierrasol, where I'll stay for the rest of my time here.  Five newbies have joined Sharifa, Rebecca Dos (now simply dubbed Rebecca, as I'm Becka), and I, and one student, Oso the big friendly bear, from the last 3 months is finishing out his class with Ticos for the next month (they last longer, but cost less, joy to us).  
The building itself is increeeedible.  From the outside it looks like gray concrete, and though it doesn't have the usual ugly barbed and electrical wire fence (we have a guard posted at all times instead), it's not the prettiest thing to meet the eyes.   Once you get inside, though, it's a whole different story.  I've never seen the Real World, but I'm told the house looks a lot like a version of one of hte houses from that show.  I Google-imaged it, too, and it seems somewhat true.
It is thoroughly modern.  The inside still is mostly of varying shades of gray or white, but there are large, bright paintings on many walls, and lime green, yellow, and blue furniture.  All parts feel very open, and as it is situated at the base of the hill that peaks at Veritas, the rooms are at varying levels, with half staircases in between.  The ceiling over the entrance is really just a glass platform that leads from three of the dormitories  (including mine) to the half- stairwell up to the library, dartboard, and Oso's room, or down the half stairwell to the kitchen and a triple dorm that houses the two 3-month guys, Geoff and Justin. During the day the entire building besides the private rooms can be lit by the see-through roof, and the balcony door is left open so that a breeze cools the whole place a little.  There is a small TV area (can't call it a room, since it has no doors) with bright couches and cabinets and glass tables between the room I share with Sharifa and Cayla and the room where Rebecca Dos and Tristen stay.  It's the best place to catch internet, and there's almost always someone sitting here, talking, on the computer, playing the resident guitar, or watching one of the dollar bootleg movies with Spanish subtitles.  Each dorm has its own bathroom, and there are still 3 unoccupied rooms that have their own sitting areas, so we won't even feel cramped when 8 more students come for their early start summer session in June.  I can wish only two things, and those are that we had air conditioning in our room, and that our room was completely closed off (the wall doesn't touch the ceiling) so that it was a little more sound proof.  
I really am very happy with all of it.  It's convenient to have the CEA staff in the same building as me, though I miss having someone do my laundry for me.  We have recycling cans finally, and the mosquito problem that greeted us when we first moved in has been nearly irradicated (knock on wood!).  The people are all really interesting and friendly, and we live less than a slow 5 minute walk from class now, which means I can sleep past 7 and still shower and make breakfast. ...And I only have to make breakfast about half the days!  The other half the maids cook us delicious eggs things and gallo pinto or pancakes!  I discovered the beauty of guanabana (a super sweet white fruit) juice in coffee.  Mmm!!!
I think that is enough about that.  It was probably pretty boring. If you were skipping it, you can start reading again here, cause I'm just going to write a few quick note-bursts:
  I forgot to mention that Panamanian dragon flies are neon pink.
I think I also forgot to include that they use American money there!  They do!  I'd be interested to know why they were granted permission to do this, why they wanted to, and why they think they can give me change in the no-longer-accepted Panamanian coins when I paid with legitmate dollar bills.  Apparently there, if it's around the size of a quarter, it counts.  But I can't see that working when I get back to the States.
My teacher for Avanzado 1 (my class last month, I'm realizing now that it really was NOT a good class compared to everything else here!!!) got very confused when a girl said something like "We don't have those in America."  Central and South Americans don't differentiate between the two continents, technically.  Therefore this is America, too.  We are Estadounidenses.
There are 3 people in my new class!  We get sidetracked and talk in Spanish about Cuba or China or Harry Potter or boat-parts or asthma all the time!  Plus it runs on Tico time, so I can get there at 8:10 or 8:15 no problem.  I love it.
I have 15 meal tickets, worth 5 dollars each, left, which provided by CEA for us to use at local restaurants.  Tita also accepts them, and will cook for me if I warn her.  She tried to teach me to make Costa Rican spaghetti two weeks ago, and I plan to cook for her sometime this week.   Gotta have those delicious homecooked Costa Rican meals at least once a week!
PS I'm taking a cooking class once a week right now, so soon I'll be able to make my own delicious homecooked Costa Rican meals.  So far: coconut balls.  Tomorrow we're doing arroz con pollo, though, so we'll do real food, too!  Mmm!!!!
We're reading a Garcia Marquez short story right now that I like. 
The internet here is VERY patchy and thus annoying.  To anyone I try to Skype with, only to cut out on a minute later, I apologize.
Tomorrow=salsa/meringue dance class for the first time!  Get excited!

Okay, it is time to go meet someone for dinner before the restaurants all close.  It's only five, but since the main meal here is lunch, this is a real fear.  I can't wait for a casado.  
I'll come back and tell you about my week of big-group travelling soon :)
Hope all is well and you have your pirate spray!