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!

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