Monday, August 16, 2010

They eat Kentucky Fried Chicken in Costa Rica?

Oh blog how I have missed you. I'm sorry that I have been slacking on my updates lately...I've been really busy with my classes and I feel so far behind now that I am not quite sure where to start. I can't retell everything that has happened in "mi pura vida" since my last post, so I apologize in advance for the discontinuity, perhaps, of this post.

I suppose a good place to start is explaining why I haven't written in a while. I can't say that the quantity of school work here is as much as it would be if I were at Miami right now (classes started today without me...kind of sad), but I still keep busy. I have had two group projects in the past couple weeks, one of which I presented on Thursday and the other I am going to present this Wednesday. I'll spare the details of the first project to save energy for more exciting news, but I will tell you a bit about the project that I am still working on right now. It is for my Spanish class and each group has a theme related to Costa Rican culture. Caitlin, Abby, and I "got stuck" with "Ritmos Bailables" (Dance Rhythms) because we were the only people who weren't entirely intimidated by the dancing aspect of the theme. We don't have to dance in front of the class, but given that Caitlin and I are both in a dance class, we have decided to do just that. I interviewed our dance instructor, Argerie, for my part of the project and she has agreed to come to class on Wednesday to give everyone a little lesson :) The project turned out to be more work than we had expected, but I'm having fun with it. Also classes-related, I have gotten back some of my first graded works and have done quite well. I have received over 100% on both of my quizzes for my literature class, thanks to extra credit questions, and I got an A on my first analysis for that class as well. I'm not sure how I did on my first presentation, but the professor seemed to like it. It's hard to tell, however, if other students and professors are just charmed/amused by us gringos or actually think we know what we're talking about. When Callie and I got up in front of the class to give our presentation, everyone paid a lot more attention to us than they did to the other groups and I even made them laugh a few times. I hate to admit it, but we have an automatic advantage as cute American females here in Costa Rica.

Outside of class, I haven't done anything incredibly exciting...I've been in Heredia for the past 3 weekends in a row, so I am definitely ready to travel again. We're planning to go somewhere this weekend...I'll tell you about it once I know exactly where we're going. I actually was quite bored and frustrated last weekend after several attempts to do something other than go to the mall to see a movie failed. This weekend, however, was much more successful. The whole weekend was fun, but I'll just give you the highlights, once again to save my energy. On Saturday night Callie, Abby, Caitlin, and I went to see a Russian ballet (El Ballet de Kiev) in San José. We bought the cheapest seats possible in the gallery, but little did we know that we would have to go down another street outside of the main building through this somewhat shady side door and then climb up a whole bunch of stairs to find benches rather than seats. All we could do was laugh as we awkwardly climbed up to our seats, all wearing dresses. The ballet itself was wonderful. Rather than its own story, it was a selection of pieces from different ballets including Don Quijote, Romeo and Juliet, the Nutcracker, and Swan Lake. It was nice to finally do something a bit out of the ordinary.

Sunday was enjoyable as well. I went to Escazu, the place I had wanted to go for 2 weekends in a row, with Claudia, Silvia, Mariela, and her boyfriend Andrés. In case you were wondering about the kids, they spent the day with their dad on Sunday (it was nice to have a little break). Escazu is known as a wealthy area throughout the whole country...the U.S. Ambassador lives there, no big deal. The entire day was really nice because I was able to talk a lot of Spanish, bond with my family, and learn about a new area of Costa Rica. It was worth getting barely any homework done, even though I am paying for it now.

To go back in time a week (I warned you about the discontinuity), last Sunday was "El Dia de la Madre," a.k.a. Mother's Day. Being a predominantly Catholic country, Costa Rica celebrates Mother's Day on August 15th because it is the same day as the Ascension of the Virgen Mary and Mary is the idyllic mother figure. The way Costa Ricans celebrate the day is similar to how we celebrate it in the U.S. with a few differences. While it is common to go out to eat on Mother's Day in the U.S., I wouldn't say that it is the end all be all, but in Costa Rica, it is the thing to do. Since Costa Rica, like all of Latin America, is such a patriarchal society, I think that it is so popular to go out to restaurants because a) mothers don't want to cook on their day and b) very very few men know how to cook (if there are men in the house). Since I live in a house of all women and none of them wanted to spend their day doing what they do every day, they decided to go out for lunch somewhat at the last minute. Because of the kids, it is difficult to go to a restaurant together and if you're going to go out to eat on Mother's Day, you absolutely have to have a reservation. When my family told me that we were going out to eat on Sunday morning, they had already told me about all the hype and I knew that we didn't have a reservation anywhere so I wasn't sure where we were going to go. It wasn't until we pulled into the parking lot of KFC that I knew where we would celebrate Mother's Day. Yes, that's right - KFC. I have never even eaten at a KFC in the U.S., nor have I ever been tempted to; and yet, here I was at KFC in Costa Rica on Mother's Day. Although I was looking forward to my first eating out experience in Costa Rica, I wasn't so much disappointed as I was uncomfortable and a bit disturbed. First of all, there were men helping people park their cars and escorting people without umbrellas (since it was raining, no surprise there) to the door almost like a vallet service at a fancy restaurant. Once we got inside the restaurant, there were so many people that we had to wait to sit down at a table. Try to imagine the inside of a typical fast food restaurant, packed with people chowing down on buckets of fried chicken, workers running in and out of the kitchen to clean off tables, help people find tables, take people's orders, etc. etc., and then me (the only white person) standing in the middle of all that chaos thinking, "my country created this mess." I can't quite explain my level of discomfort at that moment, but it was quite profound. I found it appalling, in all honesty, that a KFC was so packed with people on Mother's Day in a country other than the U.S. While I'm not a huge fan of fast food restaurants in the U.S., I have never felt this way at home, but here, in my current home, it just did not feel right at all. I had encountered a perfect example of why many people criticize globalization as "Americanization" and I suppose that it scared me a little bit. I suddenly felt as if my country was polluting the rest of the world. During lunch that day, I was not proud of the U.S.

Since then, I have had time to think and calm down a little bit. I've realized that the U.S. can put McDonald's all over the world, but will never be able to transform the cultures of other countries through fast food. The reason why KFC was so crowded, other than the whole Mother's Day thing, is because the concept of "fast" food isn't all that important to ticans. On any given day, the dining rooms of all fast food restaurants are crowded because, whether it's fast food or not, ticans still take time to actually eat sitting down. The concept of eating food in the car on the go isn't all that appealing, nor necessary, to a society that takes the time to eat together with family and friends during every meal. They even take the time to sit down and drink coffee during the late afternoon..."to go" cups are difficult to come by.

While I was a bit annoyed with America on this particular Sunday, living in foreign countries has made me incredibly proud to be an American, and during all of my questioning, analyzing, and rationalizing, I encountered another question: of all the places I could have been born in this world, how did I become an American? Why am I a citizen of the wealthiest and most developed nation in the world? Costa Rica is the most developed country of Central America and one of the most developed in all of Latin America, and yet trash and dog poop lines the streets of Heredia; the bridge near my house that collapsed during the first week I was here has not been touched; stray dogs are everywhere; toilet paper is often not provided in public restrooms; and hot water is a luxury. I, on the other hand, live in a country where Internet is a necessity; 10 year-olds own iPods and cell phones; and there is enough water to take hour long hot showers and to keep our lawns green (the mere fact that we even have lawns). Why am I so privileged? It's no wonder that many people around the world resent many ways, we're spoiled brats. This isn't a criticism, it's just the truth. And it isn't until I stepped outside of what I have recognized as normal my entire life, that I realized that my life in the U.S. is incredibly abnormal compared to the lives of other people all around the world. I'm not sure how to conclude this thought because the concept fascinates me, but it is this fascination that has driven and continues to drive my aspiration to have a career through which I will work with people from other countries who have different cultures and speak different languages. After all, the world extends quite a bit beyond the borders of the U.S.

Sorry if I have lost any of you with my rambling. I will try to have a more thematic update next time. Until then, pura vida!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I learned a new verb today: extrañar. Mariela's boyfriend, Andrés, drove me to my dance class tonight and on the way he asked me, "¿Extrañás tu país?" (Do you miss your country? p.s. For any Spanish speakers reading this, notice my correct usage of vos). I had to ask him what extrañar meant and he explained that it means the same, more or less, as "echarse de menos," which is the verb that I have always thought meant "to miss." I told him no, that I didn't miss my country yet. It's not really the U.S. that I miss, but the people who are there.

Today is the first time that anyone here has asked me if I am homesick, and it's funny because today is the first day that I have felt homesick. My grandma passed away this morning, and the reality that I cannot be at home with my family has made me miss them a lot. On a positive note, I have learned a lot about myself today. If one were to literally translate "extrañar," "strange" would be somewhere in the translation since extraño is the Spanish word for strange. It makes sense that "extrañar" can mean "to miss," especially in my situation, because foreigners living in another country often become homesick when the new and exotic nature of their host country's culture wears off and instead becomes different, frustrating, annoying, and strange. My homesickness, however, has nothing to do with Costa Rica. In fact, I had thought just a couple of days ago that my next blog would be about how I am beginning to fall in love with Costa Rica. Including the fruit flies and ants that inhabit my kitchen, sweating and smelling the aroma of car exhaust as I walk to class every morning, the afternoon downpours, "tico time," and having to "conectar" the hot water every time I want to take a shower, I love Costa Rica...all of it. However, no matter the country, nothing can take the place of family.

In the time that I have been here and from the time that I was in Spain, I have learned that I can adapt quite well to other cultures, mainly because they fascinate me. I love the feeling of experiencing something new, different from my own culture, every day. Once again, I am not homesick because I miss my physical home, but because I miss the feeling that I associate with home: being around the people who know and love me the most. Wherever I end up living later in my life, I know that it won't feel like home unless my family is there.

So that you aren't worried or think that I am suddenly having a terrible time here, I assure you that I am fine. Today was Mariela's 20th birthday, so a bunch of family members came over to celebrate, and I can't decide if this made me feel better or worse. In many ways, it was nice to feel like I was part of another family when I was missing mine, and at the same time it made me miss my family more. Seeing Andrea and her husband with Isiac made me miss my parents; seeing Mariela and Andrés made me miss Carlos (not that this would be any different even if I was in the U.S.); and sharing in their laughter and listening to their stories made me miss my family members and friends. The good thing, however, is that I do feel like I am becoming a part of my tican family more and more every day. Tomorrow is a new day of my pura vida and I hope to wake up to sunshine :)

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Since I am a little bit behind in my blogging, I'm going to skip the details of this week (except for a few) and get right to my tale of this past weekend in Montezuma. Before I begin, I'll give you a quick geography lesson of Costa Rica: there are 7 provinces - San José and Cartago in the center; Heredia (I live in the capital of this province, hence its name) and Alajuela in the central north; Guanacaste in the northwest; Puntarenas in the south; and Limon in the East. Montezuma is in the Puntarenas province on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula on the south Pacific coast.

Okay, now that you have somewhat of a picture in your head, I'll begin telling you about my trip. The journey to Montezuma went surprisingly smooth. Remembering my horror stories from last summer when I went to Lisbon while I was in Spain, I kept waiting for something to go wrong, but "gracias a Dios," everything went as planned. We left in a taxi at 5:00 in the morning to the bus stop in San José. We had plenty of time to buy our tickets and coffee before boarding the bus. The bus ride to Puntarenas lasted a little under 2 hours, and when we arrived there we had to walk about 2 km with our bags in the hot sun to the ferry, but we made it there in just enough time to catch the 9:00 ferry. The ferry was relaxing (the gentle rocking put me to sleep) and in an hour we arrived at Playa Naranjo. From there we hurried to catch the bus to Montezuma, and this, the last leg of the trip, was by far the worst. After a 2 hour long hot, crowded, and bumpy bus ride, I was very happy to arrive at our destination.

The bus dropped us off in the center of Montezuma, a small beach town with a backpacker/hippie/laid back feel. We found out that our hotel, Hotel Lucy, was just a short walk from the center, but it didn't feel all that short when I, already hot and sweaty, had to carry my bag up a dirt road that turned into mud. Although I sound incredibly high maintenance right now, I didn't show it while trying to dodge mud puddles and keep my white pants (I didn't know that I would have to walk on dirt roads when I picked out my outfit) as clean (not dirty is more appropriate) as possible. Nevertheless, when we finally got to our hotel and I was able to look out over the Pacific and hear the waves rolling onto the sand, I knew that all the trouble to get there was entirely worth it.

We didn't waste any time getting out of our sweaty clothes and into our bathing suits. We headed straight to the beach and into the water. After cooling off a bit, we threw some clothes over our suits (entirely appropriate attire for Montezuma...some people weren't even wear shoes) and found a restaurant in town to eat lunch. The rest of the day consisted of walking around town, relaxing on the beach, and eating more food of course.

During our walk around town on Friday, we went to one of the many booths that offer tours from sport fishing to horseback riding. Our interest was snorkeling, so we signed up for a snorkeling tour to la Isla Tortuga on Saturday. I ran for a little bit on the beach when I woke up on Saturday morning before we had to leave for the snorkeling tour. We left at 9:30 on a boat with several other people for Isla Tortuga, which is about 45 minutes away. I love the feeling of being on a boat, so I even enjoyed the trip to the island. Once we got there, we snorkeled for a little over an hour and then we all went to the island for lunch. Isla Tortuga is gorgeous...turquoise water, white sand, and palm trees. Our guides prepared a big lunch for us of fish, rice, veggies, and tons of fresh fruit. After relaxing on the beach, we went out again for a second snorkeling session. The morning was definitely better, but the afternoon was still fun. We headed back for Montezuma around 4 and on the way there, our guides spotted 2 tortoises mating in the water. It was pretty cool to see big turtles in the middle of the ocean.

Now to my favorite part of the weekend. On Sunday morning we hiked to some very well-known waterfalls right in Montezuma. We had been told that they were only a 15 minute walk away, but we soon found out that 15 minutes just took us to the base of the trail that leads to the waterfalls. Before we knew it, this "trail" turned into slippery rocks across a river and over smaller waterfalls and then through trees and extremely steep uphills and downhills until we finally arrived at the base of the 3 waterfalls. Just looking up at the waterfalls, however, was not enough for us - we wanted to get up to the top. We couldn't quite see a direct way to get up there, but we could see people at the top, so we knew that there had to be some way. Long story short, we found ourselves hiking, it was really more like rock climbing, up extremely rugged terrain that required using all fours and our backsides at times. I wouldn't call what we did safe, but I had a blast, and once we arrived at the top, it was entirely worth the risks.

At the base of each waterfall is a pool of water that flows down to the next waterfall. The top waterfall is the smallest, the middle is the second largest, and the first is the largest. We were able to swim in the pool in between the third and the second waterfalls and there was a rope swing that we jumped off of as well. We also jumped and dove from the top of the third waterfall, which was so much fun! Caitlin and I however, wanted to be a little bit more daring. Caitlin, Miss Hawaii, did not waste any time jumping from the top of the second water fall, which is about 8 meters (35ish feet). I, however, had to think about it. I warmed up on the smallest waterfall and then decided that I wanted to jump as well. But once I was standing on the edge of the waterfall ready to jump, my ambition dwindled quite a bit. As I stood there thinking, ticos kept jumping one after the other like it was no big deal. I decided that I was just going to have to go, ready or not, if I wanted to do it, so that's exactly what I did. It was awesome! The only bad thing was that my butt broke part of my fall, so I have a terribly bruised tailbone now. It has improved, but I still have to sit down very carefully one week later.

Needless to say, I had a great trip. I can't believe it was only one week feels like forever. This past week of classes threw me back into reality. I had to read a 200 page novel, in Spanish, in 3 days! It was rough, but I have to say that I'm quite proud of myself. I am incredibly modest when it comes to talking about my Spanish proficiency because I still have soooo much to learn and still have plenty of room to improve, but I have to say that I am impressed with my progress after only 3 weeks here.

After the excitement of last weekend, I was glad to spend a more relaxed weekend here in Heredia. Today I went to mass at 9:00 this morning with Claudia and then she took me to a concert in the central park of Heredia that takes place every Sunday at 10:00. I love the culture and the traditions here. I don't know any where in the U.S. where you could find a huge crowd of people of all different ages gathered around a Mariachi band at 10:00 on a Sunday morning, eating ice cream I might add (I, of course, took part in the ice cream eating).

I am going to get ready for bed now so that I'm ready for another week of classes tomorrow. Until next time, ciao!