Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Weekend on the Pacific Coast

         Last weekend I participated in one of the weekend excursions included in the API tuition fee. We went to Manuel Antonio, one of the national parks in Costa Rica that is located on the Pacific coast. That’s right; I have finally seen the Pacific Ocean. Had to happen sometime. We left around noon on Friday and returned around noon on Sunday. 

     The first afternoon was free for us to explore the area around Manuel Antonio. Half of the group went off and did something (I have no idea what) and the other half went swimming. The sun wasn’t too bright, which was nice, but the water was comfortably warm. Though I’m not sure how long we splashed in the waves, it was nice not worrying about homework, or much of anything for that matter.
      Note: As we were drying off on the beach, guess what we saw going about his business in the trees. Yup, a capuchin monkey.

    For dinner we took taxis up the road and all found ourselves at different restaurants. I ate sushi with my friends Katie and Shannon. Two rolls for the price of one. Who knew that sushi on a mountain in the seemingly-middle-of-nowhere Costa Rica could be so good? My only small complaint is that mine came with rice paper instead of nori (the seaweed) and I do like nori. Regardless, it was a fabulously refreshing and filling.

        The next day we hiked a few trails in Manuel Antonio.  I heard some monkeys, saw a sloth chilling in the canopy, and attempted to take a picture of web with a huge spider…alas, my camera was not powerful enough to capture the sparkling web.
           As luck would have it, it rained…a lot. My shoes, shirt, hair, bathing suit, backpack, and camera were soaked (I need to get some disposable cameras to last me the rest of my stay).Welcome to the Costa Rican winter. Despite the rain, between the workout and the humidity, I think I sweated out every toxin ever.
         We eventually made it to the beach in Manuel Antonio, but it rained most of the time. I ended up leaving early with a few others because I had a hard time enjoying the beach. I went back to my hotel room, cleaned up, and took a nap.

       Dinner later that day ended up being amazing. Half of the group (the same half that went swimming the day before) went to a restaurant that specialized in thin crusted pizza baked in a brick oven (full of fire). Katie and I split a vegetarian pizza, my side sin queso y aceitunas (without cheese y olives). The olives weren’t even needed when a pizza is full of mushrooms, onions, zucchini, eggplant, artichokes, and cherry tomatoes. I also had a pina colada and a margarita (no I was not drunk or even buzzed). The pina colada was super fresh tasting. You could tell the pineapple and coconut were super ripe.

      The next morning, first thing, I swam. The sun was out, the water was warm, it was the perfect opportunity. I hung out on the beach from 8 to 11. I mostly played in the water, but I did drink the water straight from a coconut. It was so refreshing, especially after having been run over by a couple salty waves.

     Not surprisingly, I’m now dealing with the repercussions of a great morning at the beach….a sun burn. Don’t worry, though. I’ve got some aloe. 


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Just Doing What Students Do...

I’m almost done with my second week of class. Time is flying by without me realizing it. I’m a third of the way through my classes and almost half way through my stay. 

I’m taking two 3 credit classes. One is Advanced Grammar and the other is Cultural History of Central America. As boring as grammar sounds, I’m actually rather enjoying it. Language nerd? It’s nice learning/relearning/learning-what-I-should-already-know the rules. I think I finally understand the difference between direct and indirect objects. My professor is also interested in my veganism and my blog. 

My other class is…interesting. The subject material is interesting. The professor knows his stuff. Yet somehow, it’s boring. I’m in class from 2 to 5:40 with two ten minute breaks twice a week. That’s just a lot of time to be in class. I think I would enjoy it more over 15 weeks where I could be in class 3 hours a week instead of almost 8. But we’ve watched some movies and it’s only 6 weeks so I am making the best of it. So far we’ve learned about Central America BEFORE the Spanish conquerors arrived. Think Aztecs, Mayans, etc. 

I'm in class in the afternoons Monday through Thursday so I try to get my homework done in the morning (not the morning before) because I never feel like doing it at night. 

It also looks like I will be taking a Zumba class every Tuesday night after Advanced Grammar for 1 thousand colones (about 2 dollars) a session. It felt great to sweat again, but my calves hurt today. Let’s just say there was a hefty amount of jumping. 

Everything is going well with my host family. I think my host-schnauzer likes me. You can often find her snuggling with me when I do homework. 

This weekend we will be going on an excursion to Manuel Antonio, a national park. I’ll be sure to update with photos and stories.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Finding the Waterfall

It’s been over a week now since I left New England and exactly a week since I arrived at my host family’s house. I’m definitely settling in now, since classes started yesterday. So far there isn’t much to report as far as classes go because, well, I’ve only had one.

This past weekend, most of the students in my group, including myself, went to Turrialba, a town about two hour and half hours from where we live, to hike a volcano.

My weekend started at 5 a.m. on Saturday when I woke up and packed for an overnight stay. Then I walked to the Institute where the group met up. The walk to the bus station to take us from San Joaquin de Flores to San Jose (the capital) was fairly easy. So was the bus ride. That is, until, we got off too early and walked around for about two hours, asking bus drivers and police officers for directions. For whatever reason, we believed the bus station number we were calling was giving us different directions than the people on the street. As it turned out, they weren’t. It was okay, though. We stopped at a bakery and got some breakfast. I had some simple bread. 

We did eventually find the bus that would bring us to Turrialba. If I’m not mistaken, we each paid less than 5 dollars to get there. Not bad. Not bad at all. The ride was pretty turbulent, or so I heard. I was asleep during the worst of it. 
Coffee plants
Fast forward to Turrialba. Half of us took a taxi to the hotel, and the other half, my group, just walked. It was a pretty easy one. Once we got there, we checked in (13 dollars a person) and the lady who owned and lived at the hotel gave us ideas on what to do. She said the volcano might not be a possibility because of smoke or noise or some possible danger. Another idea she gave us was to hike up to a waterfall. Ummm…yes! That sounds good. 

So we did. We took a bus to the small town next to Turrialba and then hiked the rest of the way. It was raining on the way there, but we didn't care.

walking through the coffee plantation
 It was beautiful. The hike and the waterfall both. 
My shoes got soaked, but it was well worth it. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Vegan, A Schnauzer, and a Class Schedule

A lot has changed since I last posted. I’ve completed more orientation stuff and got to see a nature park with both Caymans and sloths alike. Honestly, I didn’t even know that Caymans existed before that tour. Apparently, they are little crocodiles, which Costa Rica also has. Did you know that the sloth must be pretty evolved because not only is it pretty safe from predators without having to run or hide too much, but it also doesn’t have to exert much energy to find food? That’s what our tour guide said, anyways. Makes sense to me. 

Afterwards we took a short bus ride to the Institute of San Joaquin de Flores, my school for the next month and a half. We didn’t have to wait very long before our Mama Ticas (our Costa Rican host moms) picked us up. Even though my host mom, Carmen, had a sign with my name on it, I recognized her immediately as I had accepted a friend request on Facebook the day before and had been creeping. 

My host family is super nice. And would you believe what she said when we got in the car?

“Rachel, ¿usted es vegana?/Rachel, you’re vegan?”
“¡Mi hija también!/My daughter is too!”

Talk about both a sigh of relief and a moment of excitement. Naturally, I haven’t had any real food problems as the food here is both delicious and vegan. I’m talking rice with beans and/or avocado, soup with chickpeas, green plantains (the kind that aren’t sweet yet), and yucca. I told Carmen yesterday that I love yucca, but have no idea how to prepare it. She said I’d learn. 

The family is made up of the father, Marcos, the mother, Carmen, and their two children, Katherine (16) and Juan Pablo (14). I still haven’t met their son, but I’m sure I will soon. 

The family also has a little 6 month of old miniature schnauzer named Yummy (pronounced Yoomy). She is so cute. She loves to be held like a baby and the whole family, even Marcos, talks to her in the cutesy voice reserved for babies and small animals. We took her for a walk twice yesterday and by 8:30 at night, and after lots of trotting, sniffing, and barking at other neighborhood dogs, she was zonked out on the couch. 

Today, was another day of orientation stuff. We learned some about culture shock, though it wasn’t really anything new, and got our class schedules. I will be taking an Advanced Grammar class and a Cultural History of Central America class. I’m excited for both. I will be in class in the afternoon with my earlier class starting at 1:30 and ending at 5 Tuesdays and Thursdays, and my later class starting at 2 and ending 5:40 on Mondays and Wednesdays.  No Friday classes. There is also a twenty minute break in the middle of those classes for water, fresh fruit (think watermelon, papaya, mango, and pineapple), and coffee. 

I just woke up from an afternoon siesta and am pretty thirsty, so I think I’ll leave it at that for now. Besos from Costa Rica.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Just Arrived in Costa Rica

Hi everybody! I started this blog so I could keep everyone updated on my trip to Costa Rica, and any other trips I may have in the future. 

For the next seven weeks, I will be in Costa Rica, taking classes, and living with a host family. This morning I woke up at 3 after about four hours of sleep. Half an hour later, I was on my way to Boston with my dad to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Orlando, where I caught the connecting flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. Fortunately for me, both flights were smooth (not too much turbulence) and were about 3 hours each. I hate long flights. Anything beyond 5 hours is really not my cup of tea, so I was pleased. 

I arrived in Costa Rica at about 12 something (maybe 12:30?), which is two hours behind Maine and then waited for more students to arrive before they sent us to the hotel where we'll be oriented. Other than that, I'm not entirely sure what the schedule is. But I'll find out.

I've had a banana, a fruit bowl (melons, pineapple, and grapes), a few peanut butter cups (yes, vegan),  some chocolate macaroons (also vegan), a raspberry-pomegranate energy bar, and some blue potato chips on the plane. I think it's safe to say that a real dinner will be more than welcome. 

I've still got to get sunscreen, bug spray, and batteries for my camera, but I'm not stressing too much about it. It'll get done.

But that's really all there is for an update right now. I can feel the day of travel taking its toll...I could go for a nap.

Sorry there aren't any pictures for this post. I promise there will be soon, once I get the batteries.