lunes, 19 de diciembre de 2011

that's all folks...for now.

So this is the last blog entry of this experience. Perhaps I’ll continue blogging though…tell the tales of the food I cook, the messes I make, and the adventures I have. Though there might not be too much excitement in my life until American Samoa…anyway, I guess I have to start way back to the last weekend before the technical end date of the program…the weekend after La Fortuna. Well there was a Thanksgiving celebration for our program at the beautiful house of our director, Teresita. But I had a gira (class trip) with my Geosciences class to Venado Caverns and Rio Celeste so I couldn’t go…So initially I sat in that class terrified and anti social, not talking to anyone, and using all of my brain power to understand what was going on. And everyone seemed to have their own friends, so aside from the occasional lab conversation and smiles in the corridors, I was friendless. However, a few months before the end, we had to do a quiz in pairs. And, being the only American in the class, I did not want to subject anyone to having to work with me. So then a student came up to me and asked if I needed a partner. And he didn’t even have to do it. He had a bunch of friends in the class. And he was extremely good looking, really smart, and really friendly which definitely helped. So from then on we became good friends, a friendship that was similar to that of Marco and mine, consisting of him making fun of me pretty much incessantly, but in good humor…I think…and so then I befriended one or two of his friends, and I had fun every time I came to class. And had people to save me when I got unbelievably confused (which happened a lot…) and they actually took me seriously and used my input on group work and it was great. So anyway that was the back story to say that I had friends going into this trip. Anyway, it ended up being SUPER AWESOME. We went to these caves where there were several feet of water at some points and at some points we had to shimmy on our stomachs to get through certain spots and we got to climb up formations and touch anything we wanted…a little different than caves in the US…and then the next day we went and did a 15 kilometer hike to and from Rio Celeste and the hot springs near by (seriously the color of this river was UNBELIEVABLE). We learned some and the night in between the two activities we slept about two hours because the professors are super lenient and we just hung out, and I became super popular. Everyone made fun of my accent, tried to speak English, christened me with the name “Atun” (meaning tuna fish…) and joked around with me. I went from being terrified of everyone to feeling really confident and comfortable around all of them. It was awesome.
            So then I had finals (which for me was actually just one intense final for Geosciences and one final presentation for my dance class where I had to cook patacones with Anna, dress up in this silly dress with fake braids put in my hair, and attempt to shake my hips). And then there was saying goodbye to everyone and last-minute trips to FoFo and Mira Flores…and salsa dancing in FoFo with my new friends from Geosciences even though it’s a bar with no space for dancing. And eating Marco’s food and breathing in the air and trying to burn everything into my memory when it felt like I had just gotten there and already felt like just a dream. Then Anna and I were planning on doing volunteer work in the indigenous community in Talamanca I had gone to with my class on an earlier occasion…and I had more phone fiascos which made me not have a phone for a week and we never heard any details about our volunteer work even though I had started talking to my professor about it months ago until a few days before we left. The plan had been to do Environmental Education and English lessons…but that’s not exactly what happened. We got to the bus stop and met up with the man who owned the building we were staying in and was responsible for tourism in the very remote area, and he said we could take a bus to the community or we could walk. We asked him if it would be a far walk; he said no of course not. An hour and a half later, after climbing up the mountain with our 25 pound backpacks on our backs and soaked and dripping with sweat, we arrive at the “house”. It’s a huge, super cool looking structure built out of fallen trees with a roof of banana leaves. It’s entirely open, and has minimal electricity, cold running water, and a wood-burning stove. In other words, pretty neat. It had capacity to sleep hundreds on thin mosquito net surrounded mattresses on the wooden floor, but we were the only two guests. We met Jorge, the 19 year old nephew of Danilo (the owner) who would be basically our personal assistant for the five days we were there. There was another man, consistently in short shorts and a button-down shirt with one button closed over his large tan potbelly. Danilo’s sister cooked most of the meals over a wood fire, and her son, Lucas, was the sassiest most confident 4 year old we had ever met. I’ll list the rest because I like lists.
  1. We volunteered every morning for four hours in a nursing home for poor people, mostly people abandoned by their families. It was intense to say the least. The place was very simple but very well-maintained. With a few good-natured nuns and one middle-aged, nimble, energetic, consistently positive, American woman from Massachusetts running it. Some of the people were in pretty bad shape, mentally and physically, and some weren’t. The issue was that there were so few people taking care of them that some people would sit alone a lot. The funny thing is, at the time I thought about how much better nursing home’s in the US are, but after talking to my parents about some of the places my grandparents have been in, I feel like that’s not true. There may have been less people working at this place, but their hearts were all 300% in caring for these people, unlike many workers in the US. There may have been crude beds and no furnishings, but they were sitting outside most of the day, surrounded by birds and a garden. There may have been no servers nor nice dining room, but the food was home made and Costa Rican, meaning actually delicious. And there was fresh food every morning. Anna and I met Don Tomas, a 94 year old Nicaraguan man who would go and get a broom to clean things up when Brasileo spit his orange seeds on the floor. Brasileo, from El Salvador, reminded me a little of my grandfather, so sweet and so genuinely excited to see us and just to sit with us for a little while. He always shared his fruit with us and consistently proposed to us (as apparently he had done to the nuns when they arrived…) telling us if God permitted him to get better he had money saved up to get married. Clara, affectionately called Clarita, was determined to complete 12 paper mache balloons by Wednesday to make decorations for Christmas. She also consistently took care of her friend, who was blind and suffered bouts of confusion. Another man from the Caribbean side of Costa Rica was raised speaking fluent English along with his Spanish, and liked to come into the craft and exercise room to sit and listen to music and talk with me. There was a man who was pretty with it but who we couldn’t easily communicate with because he didn’t have hearing aids. We colored with him, spoke to many others, made decorations with Clara and a few other people, and helped out in their morning exercises at eleven. They didn’t even have enough glue, Anna and I had to go to the small convenience store and buy it, but they found satisfaction and hope in life. It was both extremely sad and beautiful to be there, knowing we would have to leave and just be more people to abandon them, knowing that they were playing with blocks and coloring in coloring books and taking pride in it, making us painfully aware of the similarities between them and children.
  2. Most afternoons we picked up garbage along the river and the road. There was SO MUCH. And by the convenience store there was a little landfill they had made, unregulated, and we would be cleaning up all around it, without gloves on, with people brushing by us and just dumping more in. A big issue they have there is with the plastic they use to protect the bananas and plantains being discarded into the area around the river or beside the road. The crazy thing was after a while the place ran out of garbage bags and we went to the convenience store and bought our own in the following days. People looked at us like we were insane to be cleaning things up; environmental education is virtually nonexistent there. Additionally, we went to an activity at the church one day. We met some people from very remote communities, without any access or exposure to modern amenities. They were given candy and threw the wrappers on the ground without a second thought. Which makes sense. When people who are used to growing their own food, building their own items out of natural materials, there is no such thing as waste that will not biodegrade. So when they are given synthetic materials, why would they not think it was okay to discard them on the ground, why would they think it was polluting?
  3. The food was all really good, but them understanding my no-animal-product diet was a challenge. They were really good about it, but I did eat some form of egg salad one day, and Anna not being vegetarian meant that they would make her the same thing they made me and just add meat to it…sometimes deep fried steak or hot dogs…Our fruit and vegetable intake was interesting…one morning we had just deep fried bread and fried plantains for breakfast, and another day we were given an entire pineapple as part of lunch.
  4. We learned that the structure was made of unfinished wood, that when the banana leaves that comprised the roof rotted from weathering, they weren’t removed, new ones were just added on top. In other words, it’s probably not too healthy to stay in their long term. And the day that we cleaned the place as our volunteer work, I do not even want to mention the color of my rag after wiping down the wood.
  5. There were killer ants. And possibly bed bugs. I had trail mix in my bag which caused thousands of these tiny black ants to infiltrate our belongings, and they bit, hard. They were so bad that the owner decided to fumigate our beds…
  6. We went for several runs through the road, and hence remote mountains. The view was breathtaking, isolated, peaceful, baffling.
  7. The people were just so friendly and patient and easy going. They would stop on the street and hold a ten minute conversation with us even though they didn’t even know who we were.
  8. I realized I could never live there permanently, but we had a lot to learn from them.
  9. Religion, religion, religion. It baffles me. Maybe that’s the reason for such contentment in the face of such hardship. It gives meaning to things. It helps resolve conflict and find common ground. It draws boundaries and creates conflict. It promotes ignorance and stagnancy. It inspires. I have no idea how I feel about it.

The last few days I spent with Anna and Maria hanging out and exploring a few last things, with my host family going to a family church activity, learning how to make sushi with Marco, going to the Feria (the best farmer’s market in the UNIVERSE with hundreds of stands and a 3 minute walk from my house), feeling sad and excited, packing, having life chats with my host mom, and generally feeling confused about leaving and weirded out that so many people were already gone. I thought I was done crying when I was sitting at my gate in the airport, went to the bathroom and asked a man to watch my stuff, he was American and older and told me he would keep an eye on it but couldn’t make any promises. That made me break down. It made me think of all of the things I would miss about Costa Rica. Starting with the fact that if I had asked a Tico to watch my stuff, they would have said, “Claro, con mucho gusto”. Even if they would have stolen it, they would have been friendly and upbeat and sweet.

Since being home things have been a little weird. Reverse culture shock. Trying to speak to people in Spanish, throwing toilet paper in the garbage, that sort of thing. I’d like to think I’m more laid back about things. But it’s a fact that things are more intense here. In Costa Rica problems seemed frustrating, but there was no problem that was the end of the world. And that was comforting. But here issues seem so much more real, so much more definite. Probably because it is my real life. And Costa Rica was a dream that I will definitely go back and revisit. But for now I need to look to the present, look to the future, be productive yet find enjoyment out of each moment. I need to appreciate my family and friends and do my best to make them and myself happy. And I cannot lose that Spanish no matter what happens. But I am home. 100% comfortable to roam around and scavenge my house. I can say whatever I want, and if I step on anyone's toes, they will always forgive me. Because they're my family. 

miércoles, 16 de noviembre de 2011

Monkey Testicles and Majestic Volcanoes

Man, do I feel lazy about writing this blog. Can’t wait until I can just tell all of you stories in person. Anyway, this past weekend we had our last group trip which was to La Fortuna and Arenal, an active but presently dormant volcano with some hot springs and a pretty touristy town. The theme of this trip was pretty much food. It was ridiculous. We didn’t leave until 8 so all of us had eaten breakfast, and then it turns out that stopping at a restaurant and ordering was included. We then went to an animal refuge center where they take and treat animals and plan to release them but sometimes it is no longer feasible who are maltreated or injured or in danger. It’s a private non-profit with no support from outside organizations. Some of the animals were in pretty small cages and seemed pretty angry about it like pretty much all of the felines. The highlight of it was of course expected to be the jaguar who was holding a constant growl the entire time. But we also saw crocodiles, really really smelly and dirty pigs, the fattest and juggliest different kind of pig I have ever seen (I might have offended it a bit with my comments since it was just SO FAT and SO JIGGLY), a pair of lions who were cuddling eachother (we were in shock when we came to the pen), a crazy ostrich with an injured wing (we were sooo close to her and she kept strutting around like she owned the world and ostriches are definitely the strangest animals in the universe-we were all fascinated but especially Molly), an emu, lots of different types of gorgeous and very loud birds, turtles (including mating ones), and more. We then got to the hotel in Arenal after leaving that place late at about 3:40 when we were supposed to get there at one…typical. We ate a delicious lunch then headed to this place called The Springs to go to some hot springs. Now I expected hot springs like the ones we had gone to at the beginning. With some holes in the ground and a man with a garbage bag cape painting you with mud. But this was a TEENSY bit different. A resort and spa with about 30 pools, a swim up bar, a giant slide, some man made waterfalls, a gift shop where the cheapest thing was $50…you get the idea. It was beautiful and super fun to be pampered but at the same time made me a bit sad, reminding me that eco tourism is ironically losing its touch with nature. But there were a ton of well-treated Costa Rican employees which made things a bit better. The weirdest thing was when we were getting our wristbands to go in the cute guy giving them to us was like “I know you. Where have I seen you before?” I thought he was kidding around, but then he was like “at your grandma’s house” and it was so weird because I remembered and he is the boyfriend of my Costa Rican cousin and came to my grandma’s house for a celebration once. Mind you, that’s 4 hours away in car, and he remembered and we had literally seen each other for all of 5 minutes. Such a small world. Then dinner was included at this place, and we were not prepared. None of us had much more to wear than bathing suits and sat down and were catered to at this fancy restaurant. We weren’t hungry, but the food was free! Salad, this AMAZING pasta with veggies and the most delicious sauce ever, and tres leches cake. Needless to say, I sent a lot of my food to Chris, the Food Champ (we have three of those in our group-Chris, Zach and Abe, all skinny, and all bottomless pits. They secretly love my almost veganism because they get the food I won’t eat). The next day we went to a feline and monkey refuge at The Springs where the owner takes in cats when a government organization couldn’t afford to do it anymore. It was pretty cool, and we all loved the mountain lion named Guapo (handsome). The monkeys once again freaked me out with how human-like they were. I’m pretty sure it’s the hands that do it. Then we went on a super fun canopy tour, where the guides pushed us to launch us off, and we zipped through the forest. Oh, and the breakfast at the hotel was sooo good with the nicest and most patient waiter in the world. And then we ate lunch at the canopy tour place then had free time where some people went back to The Springs and a small group of us went to walk around La Fortuna which was a bit touristy but really cool. I got a beautiful handmade dress and a few last gifts that I needed, and we sat in a coffee shop (Mousmanni-their cheap and delicious form of Dunkin’ Donuts) and talked about life. I have no idea how people ate even more. We then came back for dinner, and Annna and I practiced our dance alongside the hot spring at our hotel and laughed our pants off, and I studied a bit. The next day we went to Arenal to get a tour of the bottom of the volcano. Even though it’s dormant hiking to the crater is illegal because three people died there about 10 years ago when there was a mini eruption and they escaped it and one died in the ambulance on the way down, another on the plane on the way home, and another back home. It was because of the tiny vitreous pieces released into the air when the volcano erupts that got into their lungs. The volcano was so beautiful and majestic but the weather was stinky and it was covered with clouds but beauty like that makes you think about the real important things in life and puts you in peace and in love with the world. Our guide told us all about the plants and the animals and the medicinal value of things and the formation of the craters and the eruption of 1968 where over 80 people died but it was on the other side of the volcano and not La Fortuna and that’s why La Fortuna has it’s name (because they were fortunate). And we also learned that monkey testicles are white to not attract the sun to keep their sperm at the right temperature so they can survive and be fertile.

lunes, 14 de noviembre de 2011

Only in Costa Rica...

So several things.
  1. Groupwork here is such a ridiculous thing. Sometimes (rarely) groups are super organized and things get done. However, quite often this strange phenomenon happens where people say things that they don’t actually do. For example, for my Costa Rican dance class we have groups. Each group has a region and needs to find out information about the region and choreograph a dance to go with it. The professor was not in class for four weeks, but she told us to come to work on our dances anyway. I came the first week, only one girl from my group was there, and she told me that we would work out a time to do the dance when the other guy was there. I told her I would give her my contact information, she told me she was bad with that kind of stuff and not to worry about it. I then came every other week, and there was no one there. One day I saw her in the cafeteria and insisted on giving her my e-mail and phone number but never heard from her. Finally, for the first class for which the professor was back my group didn’t show up. We had yet to meet and were supposed to have a dance by then or at least an idea of one. Needless to say, the professor switched my group. I moved into Anna’s group which already had a lot of a dance done and seemed really on top of things. However, people kept dropping out and joining the group which messed up the dynamic of the dance. We planned to meet the following Tuesday at noon at the dance studio (by the way a 40 minute walk from my house) to work on it. Five minutes after I get there, Fabio (yes, his name is Fabio…), says he has a meeting in San Jose at 1:30 and that we should make it the next day at noon instead. Strange but okay. I run into the girl from my original group on my way out who tells me that the group was almost ready to start working on the dance…clueless much? Anna and I show up the next day at noon, and no one is there. The first girl in our group who doesn’t know what’s going on comes at 1 pm. And Fabio gets there at 3 pm, just in time for class to start…Then we learn that the only guy who could memorize choreography in our group had dropped the class. Then Fabio and the only other guy in our group leave class early without any plans for working on our dance. That left Anna, this girl Alice and me to talk to the professor. The professor then told us (two American girls who can’t dance and this tica girl) that it would probably be best to make something up on our own. Especially because we realized that the old dance was exactly the same thing the professor had taught us that we would be performing but only in a different order. The only day we all could meet was later that day, but the earliest a studio was open was 7:45. Thank goodness for Alice that she offered to make up the dance in the meantime, we returned to the studio until 9 pm to learn it…seriously, what was that?
  2. Today I was supposed to have a quiz on different types of mines and mineral deposits, different mining techniques, and mineral purification for which I had spent about 10 hours studying. We get there, and the professor puts us to work in groups, assigning each group a topic with a huge article to read, a powerpoint to make, and a verbal presentation to compose. I found my way of helping my group, actually getting pretty into it and thorough while trying to retain all of the information and new words I had tried to learn for the quiz. I was preparing myself for not reading off of the slides since the professor was making sure people had what they wanted to say memorized. Anyway, among other groups, we ended up not having time to do our presentation, and there also wasn’t time to take the quiz. Mind you, this class is 3.5 hours long…So, he said that he could tell everyone was prepared for the presentation and had studied for the quiz and gave us all 100s…such is my life. Now I’m thinking of giving my 14 pages of underlined and annotated quiz notes away as a gift…

Poem about growing up...

With face burning and limbs throbbing
She turns her honey sticky face
To peer right into his eyes
Eyebrows scrunched and tears pinching her eyelashes
“when will I feel better?”
“I promise”
The eyebrows flattened and eyes softened
He knows
Any question and there is an answer
Nothing is permanent that she can’t handle
And sure enough, 98.3 that next day
Skipping off to school with her slick silver backpack slipping up and down up and down

She’s running, running, sweating, panting
And crack
Her father never guessed this one
He couldn’t tell her that she could run again
He couldn’t tell her that anyone had any control over anything
The bubble hadn’t just burst
It had exploded and choked her throat and stung her eyes
Even if understanding and comfort had always been veils
She wished she could keep on pretending
Instead of being in the world
With every question to remain unanswered
With every fear to remain unsettled
Sightless. Lame. Terrified.

jueves, 10 de noviembre de 2011

A very brief reflection

So now that my time here is coming to a close and the weather is growing more and more amazing, I am beginning to think about my experience here, the relationships I've formed, my priorities thus far and my priorities for the future. I am definitely looking forward to going home, both because of missing the culture and the comfort and of course because of the people. The strange thing is, for so long I wanted my family to move away from the house in Jersey Dan and Noah and I have lived in our whole lives, thinking it would be so easy to detach myself from it, just as my transition to college life had been so smooth and easy. But now the more I think about it the more I miss that house, as I feel now, the only place that will ever be my true home. Yes, I will and have considered other places "home", but that house has held countless memories, countless positive experiences, countless extremely sad experiences, countless fears, countless frustrations, countless aspirations and a ridiculous personal growth that has taken place within it, yes, but mostly away from it, with the house being the base to return to. To come back to with my new perspective on the world, on life. To daydream about when I need comfort.
At the same time I miss my family here even before I leave them. I feel like I'm a permanent part of them but at the same time like I've barely scratched the surface of knowing who each one of them is. I feel torn with distributing my time among my new, surely lifelong friends here, completing my school work and doing well, and spending time with my family. A lot of that time ends up going to good old facebook. The weird slash maybe not-so-weird thing is that I have virtually no desire to meet new people right now. And I ALWAYS want to meet new people in almost any situation. There is just no point, no time to spend with them, they will just thin out my time even more.
I wonder if I have taken advantage of every opportunity, grown in every facet of myself, appreciated everything to its full extent. And I know that the answer is of course not. Not even close. But I think the most important thing is that I'm okay with that. I think and hope I am slowly learning to not be so hard on myself in at least some aspects. To be proud of myself for coming here, for pushing myself out of my comfort zone but not constantly. For understanding that I have limits-that I can't be happy all of the time, that I can't be social all of the time, that I can't be perfect. It's one of the hardest things for me. I'm also frustrated with myself for not speaking Spanish at all times with my American friends here. But I realize that it's okay to do that. My Spanish has already improved tremendously, and I'm not going to let it go anytime soon. I speak so much Spanish here that it's okay to speak some English for comfort sometimes (and so that people don't know what I'm saying and that I'm talking about them...)
I really sincerely miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss my true independence. I miss frisbee. I miss that true sense of comfort that is so rare to have. I miss the American culture, that I now realize does exist outside of simple "consumerism, commercialism" that I've so long criticized. America is no better and no worse than any other country given its wealth and opportunities. And the US has caused MANY issues of course and I have a billion critiques, but people here need to stop criticizing the fast food industry we brought here while shoving McDonalds down their throats and not being able to use the "cheap" excuse that is actually a factor in the states, but here it is actually more expensive than their delicious preservative-free Soda or University cafeteria food...Because fast food would not exist if they didn't support it...Of course advertising and ignorance play tremendous roles, so I can't be so harsh...And there are some wonderful people in the states. And an awesome folk movement. Although this whole election nonsense and these insane candidates are scaring the bajeebles out of me. I believe I will come back bolder-if I can muddle through and ask questions and figure things out here, in Spanish, what do I have to be afraid of in English?

lunes, 7 de noviembre de 2011

sometimes paragraphs and making sense are overrated. especially when your legs want to punch you.

Okay so this weekend I just hiked the tallest mountain in Costa Rica, Chirripo. 12,000 feet high, second tallest in Central America. No big deal or anything…anyway, two groups of our friends had already done it and gave us some advice. It ended up being Molly, Maria and me, and it was an excellent group because we get along super well. They are wonderful. Anyway, we left Thursday directly after the earlier Spanish class. We were so prepared-had gone food shopping with a list, packed every article of warm clothing and rain gear we could find, and got directions of how to get there from the Chatman. However, clearly me packing every last thing we could possibly need did not include my hiking boots…kind of like the time I went to the Chili Pepper’s concert and the only thing I forgot was my ticket…so this time, like the time before, I had to pay for a taxi back to my house, have it wait outside, and have it bring me back to the university so that we could leave on time. Typical. Anyway, we took a bus to San Jose, then, rather than walking several miles to try and find the bus station, we decided to take a taxi there. However, even though we clearly explained where we needed to go in Spanish AND this driver happened to speak English, we took off down some highway and were driving for about 20 minutes before I was like “ummmm where is he taking us? We’re not in San Jose anymore…” and we asked him and he literally had no idea where he was going. Seriously people here have the strangest senses of direction. And when they know they don’t know where something is they pretend they do know. Anyway, he calls someone to find out where the station is after we were like “dude what are you doing?” and then turns back around. Even though the Maria said we owed around $40 he only charged us 6. which was still way too much for the actual distance, but we paid it and had wasted about 45 minutes in a taxi. We get to the bus station just in time to get tickets for the 11:30 bus to San Isidro General and enjoyed the amazing mountain views on the ride over. Once there, we took a four wheel drive taxi up to the ranger station to buy tickets to hike for the next two days ($20 a day! Pretty expensive for what we’re used to…) We then had our now new friend of a taxi driver bring us to Casa La Mariposa hostel where we would spend the night before starting our journey. We walked in there and immediately wanted to move in. The owners are a hippie-style middle aged American couple, and the entire place is like a cozy log cabin, complete with home made granola bars for the hike, organic raw ingredients for purchase, and free warm clothes to borrow. My description won’t do it justice, so please check out the facebook pictures. It was so clean and cozy with comfy beds and a poem in the bathroom about not killing bugs if you find them. My kind of place! We also met another group of students studying in Costa Rica who were planning on starting the climb the next day as well. We had entirely too much in common with them-one of their girlfriends goes to AU, one of them knows one of my good friends from college because she went to high school with her in Indonesia, two of them play ultimate, one is from the same city as Maria, etc. They were seriously so cool. We also met a super spunky and wonderful British woman named Jules, a couple from New Zealand volunteering at the hostel for a few weeks, a Dutch man and a South African man volunteering in the area, and a few more people. We ate dinner at the restaurant next door with Jules, talked to the owners a bit, packed our bags and made 12 peanut butter sandwiches, borrowed some warm clothes, and went to sleep early. I talked to Jill (the woman owner) about frustrations with Costa Rica and criticisms of “Eco Tourism” and stuff like that, and she explained how the commercialism and uniformity has even started to seep into Chirripo, one of the most remote places. So, what happens now is that they sell a bunch of reserve tickets in advance that the tour companies buy up as soon as they go on sale. These tour companies offer hiking Chirripo in packages, with meals provided, horses that carry your stuff up to the top, hiking at the pace of a big group, etc. There are only 10 walk-in tickets a day that you must purchase the day before your hike if you want to do it this way and hike on your own. Because of the pull the tour companies have, they are looking to eliminate these walk-in tickets in a few months, and everything will be packaged right up for everyone. This will cut any freedom you will have with your trip and make business extremely difficult for places like our hostel, since they rely on the people hiking Chirripo independently. Our hostel owners were frustrated and worried but are planning on taking this as an opportunity to promote visitors to the local free trails, local crafts, cheese factory, and other small, inexpensive attractions in the area to hopefully retain visitors to their hostel.
            So the next morning we grabbed some home made granola bars and hit the trails a little after six. We had two large and pretty heavy (over 30 pound) bags and one small backpack among the three of us, so we rotated bags every two kilometers. I was booking it, we were all talking, Molly was developing blisters in her shoes that were way too small, and Maria was hiking in running shoes. By the last few kilometers to the refuge we were counting our steps to distract us, it was pouring rain, and the hike was pretty darn steep. When we saw the sign for the refuge Maria actually started crying. That was at the 14.5 kilometer point. We walked in and signed in the book, and the ranger there let us use the hot water showers that were supposed to be only for the workers since we were so soaked and probably because we were a group of girls. We didn’t have any towels so we dried ourselves off with toilet paper. The refuge itself was FREEZING. I was wearing about 5 layers on top and two pairs of socks and a hat and a scarf and my feet were numb and I was shivering. We threw our stuff in the dryer and feasted on our chocolate, trail mix, Oreos, peanut butter, and cereal since we had burned so many calories and hadn’t eaten too much on the way up. We then cooked pasta on the tiny little gas burner we had rented from the hostel, which came out pretty mushy and gross. We then attempted to cook the now mutilated plantain my host parents had sent me up with…it wasn’t too bad. We all felt super sick after eating that much. Also, half of the other group of students made it up about an hour and a half after us, but three hours later, the other two (both in great shape!) still hadn’t arrived. And it was getting dark and there were no vehicles that got up there to be able to go and search for them…so they were going to send someone out to look if they weren’t back in another half an hour, and then they showed up. Drenched to the bone, freezing, and exhausted. We were so glad they were okay. Although the altitude was definitely affecting everyone’s functioning. We went to sleep in our sleeping bags, feeling isolated and beat, at around 6 pm to wake up at 1:40 am to hike the last 5.1 km to the top for the sunrise. We hiked in the pitch dark using flashlights and cheering each other on, making a wrong turn at one point, but luckily Molly got us to turn back. By the way, as we had discovered the night before, Molly’s feet were completely torn up from her shoes. But she was such a trooper. We made it to the top after using our hands and feet to rock scramble the last part. It was so beautiful and so so so cold. Around 30 degrees. Not what we’re used to in Costa Rica. I changed out of my sweaty clothes, got in my fleece lining and my sleeping bag, put on my hat and scarf and torn up gloves, and sat there shivering. The sunrise was amazing, but I am a bum about cold. We went down after about 40 minutes. I am so fine pushing through any pain, moving my body as fast as it can go, encouraging my friends to keep up, but cold is my weakness. Like mother like daughter. There will be no paragraph breaks in this blog post. We took about three hours to get back down to the refuge because we were so content and in the home stretch (or so we thought) and the worst was over (HA) and there were SUCH amazing views. It felt like we were in Lord of the Rings slash on another planet. Seriously amazing. We got back to the refuge, got the rest of our stuff, and continued down. It was much faster than going up and easier to breathe and such but it started raining soon after we started and didn’t stop. It got very muddy, and Molly’s feet got to the point where she started walking in socks. I decided, since my feet felt great, to switch shoes with her (even though my feet are a size and a half bigger than her’s) with about 6 km left. Her feet felt much better, and I was fine walking with half my feet in the shoes for a few kilometers. However, it soon started to hurt unbearably and blisters came so I started shlopping a bit in my wool socks, slipping a lot but doing okay. Molly kept offering to switch back, but my feet were nothing compared to hers. So, after it said 1 km left we traveled at least 3 more kilometers, getting sucked into mud, slipping, in pain, soaking wet, and confused as to where the hostel could be. We had kept such positive attitudes until that last, never-ending kilometer. Back at the hostel (finally!) the lovely Kiwi couple helped us get our stuff into the wash and clean things off. We somehow made it into the shower (hot! Yes!) and hobbled into the kitchen to eat the somewhat flavorless food we had ordered that the couple had so amazingly brought us from the restaurant next door. They helped us figure out the bus for the next day, we discovered my lovely blisters and that half of Molly’s skin was peeled off her feet, and went to sleep a little after 8. We woke up at 5:15 to get in our taxi at 6 (Molly in sandles and Maria and me without shoes on) to the bus station. We had to buy tickets for the 9 am bus because all the rest were sold out or standing room (definitely not doable at that point…) and went to a restaurant dirty (not all of our clothes had been washed), shoeless, and limping, to eat breakfast. It was cheap and the shakes were good, but the gallo pinto was TERRIBLE and the platanos were made out of leather. He asked us if everything was okay so we were honest because we really couldn’t eat the pinto. He then took our plates away and started yelling at us. Ranting that he doesn’t use preservatives and that was why it was different and that he gave us Worcestor sauce instead of Lizano because he doesn’t serve “shit” and blah blah blah. All while he had given us a stick of margarine for the toast and there were shelves of candy and soda…anyway, we paid for what we ate, bolted and ate a delicious meal at a nearby adorable restaurant. Of course I then realized I lost my bus ticket probably int the awful restaurant…And we sent Molly over (the only one who had decent food and had eaten it) to ask about it and of course they told us they didn’t have it. I had to wait in line again, buy another ticket for standing room, and thankfully my seat was still open. So then I eventually hobbled home from the bus and had severe stomach issues (food poisoning from the awful food?) as soon as I got home. It was lovely. But my host mom took care of me with tea and hot water. I still can barely walk-it’s worse when I’m sitting for a long period of time first. It also hurts just to move my legs…and now time to get back into work and plow through all of my final work and settling things for my new apartment next semester!

lunes, 31 de octubre de 2011

If there was ever a contest for the longest blog entry, this one would win.

I am actually intimidated by the length this blog post needs to be due to my recent failures at keeping all you 10 readers out there up-to-date on my life and your expectations of my customary excruciating detail within each post. Anyway, let’s start with the rain. So we had some sort of rain record with twenty something straight days of rain. And it was rain all day and serious rain too. Everyone has a little bit of seasonal affective disorder in them…the rain is lessening now so it’s usually beautiful all morning and then rains for a few hours in the afternoon which is extremely doable for me. So anyway, the thrift store. SO cool. It’s called Ropa Americana and basically has all of the Salvation Army reject clothes…it is this huge store with an upstairs section where each piece of clothing is 60 cents and you have to dig through a 20 foot by 20 foot by 2.5 foot high pile of clothing. I found a free people sweater in there…and some pretty classic articles of clothing including a child size tie dye t shirt and a huge skirt I’m turning into a dress…then downstairs they have sections of things like one section is $2 a piece and there is another that’s $4 and you have to buy all of your things from one section before moving on to the other and there are people yelling over the speakers in Spanish the whole time about all of their great deals…it’s an interesting place. I also found THE COOLEST satchel bag for $3.

So several weekends ago we decided to go back to Puerto Viejo because October is summer in the Caribbean side (aka not pouring rain constantly) and everywhere else we wanted to go had flooding and roads blocked off…anyway, Molly, Maria, Anna and I all went there early together and it was just so much fun. We stayed at Rocking J’s again and “slept” in hammocks for 3 days and that place is literally just so cool with such a good vibe and you are guaranteed to make at least 3 new friends a night. Just check out their website So we went to the beach, went running on the beach in the late afternoon just when the bugs were swarming and got our legs basically chewed off which we would later scratch and turn into scabs and then form scars and we picked up several hundred full sand dollars and it was awesome. We also kept forgetting to eat…like one day all I ate was 2 pieces of bread until 5 pm and then we went to the supermarket to get food to cook for dinner and of course Anna and I lost Maria and Molly and then bought a mango and peeled it with our fingers and inhaled it like savages while walking back…and then we cooked plantains with onions and guac and refried beans and then pasta and sauce and then went out and danced like mad women. And we met so many people! I personally talked the most with several German men (traveling separately, I actually talked with them about political structure, education systems, healthcare…), several guys from throughout the US, some Australian men who may have been as old as 30 but were using sticks to pole vault into the ocean so their ages are therefore entirely up in the air…and two amazing girls traveling together named Nicole and Hannah, one from Canada the other from New Zealand. Also, the first night we split 3 dishes at the hostel that were AMAZING. We had a thai vegetable sauté in peanut sauce, the most AMAZING cheese-less nachos in the world, and this vegetarian burrito that for some reason they snuck blue cheese into (that was a little weird especially because I don’t really eat cheese…) We also taught a bunch of (some belligerent) German men how to play beer pong but they really hate listening or following any rules which gets quite frustrating. And went night swimming and then somehow Anna and I ended up lying in the sand talking and later that same night I fell asleep on the beach…bad idea-SO MANY MORE BUG BITES. But it was just such a nice and relaxing live-in-the-moment weekend that I had really needed after so much rainy weather, stressing over classes, getting kind of homesick, and being stupidly uptight. I would guess I slept a grand total of 11 hours over 3 nights…insanity for me.

            Upon getting back from Puerto Viejo, I communicated with my African Writer Professor from AU who happened to be in San Jose visiting his brother who lives there in order to see him. I went to his brother’s house from 2 in the afternoon until 9 at night, talking about everything, laughing, eating grapes, and eating the Indian food he prepared for dinner. Their house keeper is awesome and looks about 20 but has a 21 year old son and speaks perfect English but had known nothing when she had started with them 5 years before. We had dinner with a Russian and Costa Rican couple, and I just loved how open and friendly everyone was and how the ideas of being “politically correct” or not sharing details were thrown out the window. It was intellectually stimulating, fun, and awesome to have a taste of home. Also, I had begun a baking spree with vegan chocolate chip oatmeal raisin cookies that had tapa de dulce in them and my host family and professor were obsessed and ate every last one I gave them. That night I had my professor drop me off at FoFo for Molly’s birthday which was really fun and hilarious and they were obsessed with the cookies too!

            So there was definitely some spontaneity involved in this one. I had wanted to go away because there were so few weekends left for me to travel, so I was thinking Montezuma with Abe. The issue there was that there was rain forecasted for the whole weekend. Actually, rain forecasted for everywhere. So anyway, Shelley eventually called me telling me how much she wanted to go to Nicaragua. Anna, who had been planning on going to Panama that weekend but her plans fell through, said she was down for doing something with me. I was super stressed out and had no time to plan anything because it was already Thursday and I had class in the morning, volunteering in the afternoon, and Marco’s birthday celebration at night. Throughout me running around that day, somehow Anna and Shelley managed to plan an excursion to Granada, Nicaragua that would leave the following day at 5 am. We went there in TicaBus, which is actually hilarious because it has a leaping deer on the side of it, definitely copying Greyhound. It charged about $30 to make the approximately 8-9 hour trip to Granada from San Jose, which, for here, is astoundingly expensive. However, the bus did have air conditioning (SO COLD), show movies, and have a pretty disgusting bathroom (the other buses we take NEVER have bathrooms!) We had the option of going in another bus to the border, crossing on our own, then catching a 2 hour public bus (actually an old school bus from the US that couldn’t get recertified for use in the US) to Granada which would have saved us about $15, but that would have been slower, a figure-this-out-on-your-own type thing, a dash of danger, and a bathroomless venture. As we had it, they did basically everything for us in leaving Costa Rica and entering Nicaragua. We actually ended up taking a different TicaBus that didn’t go all the way to Granada and then took a taxi there. Taxis in Nicaragua are very different from those in cities in Costa Rica. They don’t have Marias (the digital thing that uses a constant rate and tells you exactly how much money you owe based on time and distance) and, in many cases, are missing door handles, parts of the seats, etc. Also, within Granada, cabs are a flat rate of 10 cordobas (less than 50 cents) a person for wherever you would like to go.
            Once in Granada, we checked into Hostel Oasis, the nicest hostel known to man. It cost 9 dollars a night, with one free 10 minute international call a day to anywhere in the world except Central America (ironic, no?), a swimming pool, around 6 computers with internet for guest use, and the cleanest, most comfy beds ever. And also with a central location. We then went to a shop with handmade crafts and bought most of our gifts there-so cheap and the woman was adorable! And went to a restaurant for dinner-I had decent gazpacho and this delicious fruity drink. We then walked around a bit-Granada is such an amazing city. It has beautiful colonial architecture, amazing cafes and restaurants, delicious and super cheap street food, art and jewelry venders at every step, live music everywhere, cheap or free museums, fascinating history, and countless things to do. We went back to our hotel because we had an early adventure day planned with a trip to three islands on Lake Nicaragua the following day. The crazy thing was that when we got back to the hostel, this girl came up to me. It happened to be that Nicole and Hannah, the girls from New Zealand and Canada, respectively, whom we had met in Puerto Viejo, just happened to be in Granada at the same time as us, staying in the same hostel!
            Our friends accompanied us on the island tour the next day-we went to a small island to drink some coconut milk and relax, to Monkey Island where we got SUPER close to the monkeys (I mean it helped that they were very comfortable around people and used to getting fed by them-something not so good that seemed to be not only supported there but encouraged, in comparison with Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica where it is heavily frowned upon due to the reliance of the monkeys on humans this can cause and the harm the food can cause them). We also went to El Castillo, which contained the Fortaleza San Pablo , which is a fortress from 1784 built to protect the city from pirates. We stopped at “Hidden Port” which is an island with an absurdly priced restaurant and an area to swim and a pet parrot. We also got to open up a flower that you see above that leads to a fruit that looks kind of like a coconut that only birds can eat. It was decent but not an unbelievably thrilling tour. Upon returning to the mainland, we got to see a group of cows grazing; they were the skinniest things I have ever seen-you could easily count their ribs. So we have a terrible system for raising cattle for slaughter in the United States-fattening them up on corn and soybeans that their systems aren’t meant to digest, not giving them any space to move around, leaving them in unsanitary conditions, and injecting them full of vaccinations and artificial growth harmones. Therefore, we like to idealize things in countries in which this “fast food” idea of raising animals does not (yet) take place. However, that doesn’t mean that animal treatment standards are by any means up to par. It’s quite a reality check and reminded me of how every single dog (even pets) in Guatemala looked. It’s just different expectations of what’s considered healthy.
            After that we went to lunch at a pizza place, and I got a homemade vegan pizza. We then shopped around at the street vendors and befriended them. One man taught me how to make the intricate metal jewelry designs, and I’m so excited to employ his methods in his jewelry when I get back! Another guy the night before had told us he wanted to cook dinner with us in a house “that was really more like a hotel…”. We practiced our Spanish and had a lot of fun. We then went to a free museum with a huge private collection of hand-made pottery from as far back as 300 C.E. and with mostly female figures in the “position of power” pose with their hands on their hips and breasts as signs of fertility. We then went to a super awesome art studio and came back to the hostel to meet up with Hannah and Nicole and also Maria and Molly who had arrived on the crazy buses. We went to a restaurant where you could get two rum and cokes for $1.25 or two of those delicious fruity drinks for less than $2 and where I got vegetable soup and rice for about $4. Then we went out to hang out and dance and met someone who lives in Columbia Heights in DC! We danced for a bit then went to this really cool bar with a huge pool and met some guys from New Zealand and went swimming. And Anna kept seeing this Nicaraguan man, probably around 30 something, who was in love with her. The next day we walked A LOT. We ate breakfast at this really delicious place we had discovered right across from the hostel owned by French people and where I could eat either gallo pinto and grain bread and jelly or gallo pinto and potatoes and fruit for less than $2! It was fabulous. Then we wandered around and got ice cream for lunch (a dollar for me for 2.5 scoops of sorbet, a cone, and a sort of biscotti cookie!) and had a political discussion about presidential candidates and the death penalty and eventually made our way to the lake where we met a vulgar drunk man and decided to get off of the beach and buy some street food and wander back into the center for dinner. Which ended up being a dollar and street food of gallo pinto, patacones, and salad wrapped in a banana leaf. Then some people got some stuff from my favorite street vendor who sold these sweet corn tortillas and also corn cobs grilled that tasted kind of like popcorn. Throughout the weekend we also got sugar coated cashews, sweet coconut ball type things, plantain chips with pickled cabbage and chili, a bag of fruit, this weird bread that they said was filled with sugar but actually had clumps of sugar and parmesan cheese in it, and probably more things. We then came back to our new hostel to change and such (ahhh this new hostel was next door to the other and was $5 a night including a computer with internet and gallo pinto, bread, an egg and coffee for breakfast and we somehow finagled our way into getting a private room with a HUGE king bed and a bunk bed to comfortably fit the five of us!) and went to go listen to live music from these people we had met on the street that day, one a French girl with dreads and the other a very socially outspoken Latin man. His voice was pretty bad, but the atmosphere and the filled-to-the brim with shoeless hippies thing was pretty awesome. And this kid played a couple songs on the flute which was SWEET.
            The next day we went to buy our tickets home and then went to the San Francisco Museum where for $3 we got an entrance and a tour! It was founded in 1529 by a Franciscan clergyman with most of it reconstructed and little of the original remaining. One of the rooms was awesome with tens of zoomorphic statues found on the island of Zapatera and from between 800 and 1200 CE. They represent gods of the indigenous people who constructed them and portrayed the animist culture, with animals combined with humans for many of them, constructed to respect the most important people. Each person had an animal with which they had a special connection or a mutually protective relationship, and the people portrayed were constructed with their sacred animal. One such statue was a woman with a crocodile/alligator on her back, and the breasts are now concave because the Spanish settlers found the statue vulgar as it was and removed the breasts, leaving holes. There was also a room with different pieces of pottery, showing the progression from simple hand pots to coil pots to wheel thrown pots. There was also a room depicting the popular games among the native people, both physically demanding and seemingly dangerous, and one meant for men and the other for women.
            After the museum, Anna and Shelley went to catch a bus back, and Molly and Maria and I went and bought a package where for $27 including tax we got a DELICIOUS lunch at the Garden Café and an hour AMAZING massage at a gym and spa. In between lunch and the massage we went to make mosaics. We paid a little over $6 a person and were there for over 3 hours making pretty small pieces. Man, is it slow. It was super cool though and we got to break glass and do everything ourselves…although pieces of glass were flying and I’m not sure how none of us got glass in our eyes…We then had to run to make our massages and literally died. It was amazing. I’ve only gotten a massage once-when I was doing gymnastics and my coach recommended it-but it was with all of my clothes on and rather painful because my back was so tight. This time it was like a massage you see in the movies, which, at first I felt a little uncomfortable with especially since I had a man, but oh my goodness it was so great. Then we got dinner at this Mexican place the little boy at our hostel recommended (the hostel was run by a family in their house) with our Israeli friend (he was super interesting-had lived in India for a year, LA for a while, and was now wandering without a plan, just knowing he couldn’t go back to the US because he disagreed with their policies. Anna and Shelley and I met him the first night when we were going to check out this hostel and I thought he worked there and kept insisting on speaking Spanish to him but he had no idea what I was saying because he didn’t speak Spanish…) Anyway, this place was really cool with torches and we were the only people there and they cooked the food right in front of us and the owner was a woman from an island near Alaska but my tomatoes tasted kind of like alcohol…We were there for a really long time and at the end the woman gave us a 30 minute speech about her political and educational philosophies on the world, some of which were pretty ignorant…like when she said we wouldn’t have so many devastating earthquakes if we didn’t detonate so many bombs…but she was nice and meant well. Then we went to the center and took some weird pictures and then found the “Imagine” café which had just finished live music. But I sweet talked one of the young guys who had been playing and convinced them to play again. And I drank homemade ginger ale and listened to their AWESOME reggae swing music-there was an upright base, a cahon, a guitar, and a violin and they sang. Great way to end the trip!

So I made some oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip (vegan of course) cookies for Marco’s birthday and went to my grandparents house to celebrate with a delicious dinner and with such awesome family. My host mom had made me special separate rice so that it was vegetarian, and also they had this homemade pickled vegetable thing that reminded me of the ones my family used to buy when I was little but better and had green banana in it and I ate so many servings that my host family decided to make a giant jar of it. That night my friends and I dressed up (I as a hippie with 3 head scarves and a long skirt from the ridiculous thrift store and gypsy earrings) and went to FoFo and we were literally the only people dressed up which was great. Then we went to Club 212 where the free drink was a Red Bull. Which was so dangerous for me because I always accept free things but never drink caffeine. We literally broke it down on the dance floor for over 3 hours. It was awesome. They had a pretty demeaning sexy costume contest and then another regular costume contest and then hired dancers who did the Thriller dance and were AWESOME. And my friends and I just danced like wild people and felt beautiful and didn’t care one bit what other people thought. And we had a bunch of people come up and join are group and made friends with some people and danced salsa with some Costa Rican men and just had an absolutely amazing time. I got home at 3 am even though I had to wake up at 7:30 the next day…

So Sunday I did the “Perros de la Calle” thing that I had done with my class before and brought Anna and Molly with me. We brought a bunch of food and went to the Red Zone district of San Jose, feeding dogs and people. This time I actually got to talk to people and had an amazing experience. At one point there was a tiny kitten behind a giant garage-type door crying out to us. We didn’t know what was behind the door or if the kitten could get out, and I fell in love with it. We stuck food and water under the door, and I lay on my stomach for literally ten minutes looking in the crack under the door just watching it and then I stuck my hand under and it put its paw on top of it. Later, we went to a part where a guy came up to us three Americans. In perfect English, he told us his story. He lived in Newark, NJ for 30 years working as a cab driver, waking up at 3 am and finishing work at 7pm 6 days a week. He got exhausted and eventually returned to Costa Rica with $40,000 saved up. He started relaxing and enjoying himself and got carried away, and eventually the money was gone. He told us that in Costa Rica “you don’t have to work to live” and made it seem like that was something quite bittersweet. I was so glad to finally get a glimpse into how someone goes from living a productive life to being homeless, and finally I started to understand. Just as sometimes, when I’m really stressed out, I’m tempted to run away from school, to just give up in all that I’m doing, lifestyles get too much. I never give in to giving up-I usually can take a break if I really need one and do things that I enjoy and relax me. But not everyone has that option; they can’t take breaks when they need them. And it’s so easy to get burnt out. And what happens, if, for example, you are living in a bad part of New Jersey, in a run down apartment, without any free time to enjoy yourself or any time for friends, family or hobbies and then you go somewhere else where you can live on the street for free, drink when you have the money, eat because people are generous, and have all the leisure time in the world? Now, many people would choose the first option because of “dignity”, of “work ethic”, of many things that are socially ingrained in the majority of us. Especially because we are American and work comes before happiness. But I understand 100% where he is coming from. He wants to go back to the US, to start again, but he is caught up in this lifestyle, in a downward spiral. There are many other reasons people are homeless, but this is such an interesting glimpse into one man’s situation. He then asked for a kiss on the cheek from each of us and was sure to tell us that he didn’t have any diseases…then we met this other guy who was definitely not 100% there but was hilarious. He started singing to us and playing the drums on a nearby pillar and it was super catchy. There were also several transvestites, which got me to thinking, in the US, a place much more socially liberal than Costa Rica, transvestites are not widely accepted. Just imagine what they must go through in Costa Rica. I’m sure the only work available is on the street as prostitutes, and there are no social resources for them to go to to connect with people, to feel comfortable in their environment. But this group of homeless people in this area was a community, and it was amazing to see. Not even gonna re read all of this before I post it because it is SO long and I am so tired. I hope it makes a little bit of sense.