Monday, September 13, 2010


I definitely have some catching up to do. I meant to post over a week ago, but my life here has been quite busy lately! Almost at the half-way point (it's going by too quickly!), my class work is a bit heavy right now, and on top of that, my weekends have been pretty busy lately as well. I'm realizing, however, that my increased business is a sign of my increased integration into the culture and adaptation to my new country. I have made the transition between feeling like a visitor and feeling like a resident.

Nonetheless, I have to be a bit of a tourist sometimes because I want to see as much of this beautiful country as possible. During the past two weekends, I went on day trips to some sites nearby. I'll start off with Turrialba. In my guidebook (that's not touristy or anything) Turrialba is one of the top destinations in Costa Rica for its world famous white water rafting. Turrialba is home of the Pacuare River, one of National Geographic's top 5 most beautiful rivers in the world and the site for next year's white water rafting world big deal. Needless to say, my expectations were pretty high and when we finally got on the river, I was certainly not disappointed. I felt as if I was in Jurassic Park or one of the movies that you watch and think "this place can't actually exist in real life." Costa Rica is one of these places and it does indeed exist. I was able to enjoy the beautiful scenery around me when I wasn't fearful for my life! I had never been white water rafting before, although I had wanted to for quite some time, but I am proud to say that Costa Rica was my first experience since it seems like class 3 to 4 rapids here might be more like 5 to 6 in the U.S. Some of my friends had been rafting before, but said that they had never done anything quite like this. Let's just say that I got the full white water rafting experience.

Early on in the first group of more difficult rapids, I some how managed to be the first person to fall out of the raft. I'm really not even sure how it happened, but before I knew it I was in the water. My first instinct was to swim, but then I remembered the proper position is to float on your back. So I just had to "float" amongst the rapids until our guide could pull me out of the water. As I was floating along, I hit a large rock very hard in no other place than my butt...remember my waterfall jumping experience? My first thought was, "no, not my tailbone again!" Once I was back in the boat safely, I started to feel the large and painful bruise forming on my backside. Luckily, about a week and a half later, it seems that it was only a bruise and did not affect my already delicate tailbone.

A bit shaken up after that, I collected myself and kept rowing along with my team. Later on, we got to the most difficult rapids of the day. On one particularly challenging group, I could tell that things were not going well...our guide, Mario, was telling us to row harder, but the rapids were too big, so he told us to "get down!" This command means that everyone has to get down inside the raft and basically just hope that we get over the rapids smoothly. We kept going under water so much that I didn't realize that our entire raft had flipped until I was being carried down the river away from everyone else. I looked back and everyone, including Mario, was in the water. The rapids kept pulling me under water over and over again and I nearly crashed into rocks several times. The scariest part was that there was nothing I could do other than wait. Before I knew it I felt two hands on the shoulders of my life jacket and Mario pulled me back into the raft. We got everyone else back in safely, although quite wet and a bit freaked out. What an adrenaline rush! All of us were determined not to fall out of the raft after that experience, and we didn't "por dicha!"

Although that ranked as one of the most frightening experiences of my 20 years, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I loved it! I had a complete blast and already can't wait to do it again.

This past weekend was a bit less thrilling but equally as beautiful. My exchange program took all of us to the Poas Volcano which is somewhat nearby Heredia. Poas is one of the active volcanoes in Costa Rica and it used to be the biggest crater in the entire world! When we arrived at the park, I was surprised by cold it was, but I have to say that it felt quite refreshing and reminded me of the fall that I am going to miss in Ohio :( I loved breathing in the fresh, crisp, cool air as we hiked up to the crater; however, as the altitude increased and we got closer to the sulfuric gas, it became a bit harder to breath. Once we got there, I was amazed. The view was incredible and I felt the same way as when I am in the mountains: free and close to God. Normally you can see the entire crater, but the volcano was so active that we cold only see one side because the other was covered by all of the gas. After plenty of pictures, we hiked to the "laguna" (lake). The lake was equally as breathtaking, with its vastness and turquoise blue color. I had to keep reminding myself that what I was seeing was real.

After our visit to Poas, we went to another attraction nearby that is called "La Paz Waterfall Gardens." The best way I can describe it is all of Costa Rica contained within one park. I absolutely loved it! It is a lodge/hotel that I would love to stay at some day when I am rich and famous, but aside from the hotel, it is an outdoor park with some covered areas. It is difficult to describe because I have never seen anything quite like it, but I'll try. Its main attraction is the waterfalls that you have to hike through the forest to see. On the way to the waterfalls, are several conservatories and areas where you can observe hummingbirds, butterflies, birds, monkeys, frogs, snakes and orchids. In the bird area there is a separate room for the tucans and when we passed through it there was a worker inside who put the tucans on our shoulders and arms, so I had a live tucan perched right next to my face. Everything inside the park was incredibly beautiful, lush, and green. Throughout the entire day I was thinking, "this has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world."

In addition to its landscapes, the people and culture of Costa Rica are beautiful as well. I am falling more in love with all of the customs and traditions here everyday as well as the incredibly friendly ticos. I am making more tico friends in my classes and am starting to recognize faces around campus. I had some ticos in one of my classes ask me if I want to be in their group rather than the other way around and I even got invited to a birthday party this Friday :) I now understand why so many Americans come here and never leave, but don't worry, I'll be back.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I gave my blog a make-over, I hope you like it. Carlos told me that it was quite difficult to read white text against a dark background, but I didn't realize this since I create my posts in a different view than what all of you see. When a tried to read it myself, I could definitely see that Carlos "tiene razon" (he's right). Besides, I think that this is more reflective of Costa Rican culture. Plus, my favorite color is orange.

I know that I have said this before, but I feel more and more a part of my tican family every day. On Monday morning, for example, I came back from the gym like I do every morning to eat breakfast and get ready to go to class. I unlocked the gate and then went to open the door, but it was locked, which is always a sign that no one is home. My first thought was, "shoot, now I'm going to have to buy lunch." On Mondays and Wednesdays, I stay on campus for lunch since I have class at 1 on Monday and I have my dance class at 4:30 on Wednesdays. I usually have to remind Claudia that today is "todo el dia en la U," so I would appreciate it very much if I could have a lunch "para llevar." Well, I didn't get a chance to remind her that morning since she was already gone, but as soon as I walked in I saw a lunch on the kitchen counter...with a little container of rice pudding for dessert. I was so excited that I said "awww" out loud.

I slept in a little bit on Sunday morning because I was out late on Saturday night (I'll get to that. Sorry, I'm working backwards.) and because we had already gone to church Saturday evening. After a typical Sunday breakfast of gallo pinto, eggs, bacon, platanos maduros (sweet fried plantains: by far my favorite food in Costa Rica), coffee, and fruit, my family asked me, "do you have plans today?" I had planned to work on a project with Abby that was due the following day, similar to last Sunday, but I'm starting to learn that it is not a good idea to make plans on Sunday because my family will most likely tell me that we are going somewhere on Sunday morning. This is exactly what happened.

Andrea, my oldest host sister who is married and lives in a different house, invited us over. She lives in Moravia, which is part of San José and is about 25 minutes away from my house in Heredia. I had guessed that Andrea and her husband Jorge, a doctor, were somewhat well-off, and when I saw their house I knew that my assumptions were correct. From the outside, the first thing that I noticed was that they live in a gated community, so they don't have a gate in front of their house like all of the houses in Heredia. I then noticed its resemblance to an American home: instead of a tin roof, it has shingles; it has a visible front door; there are potted plants; and it has an attached garage. The inside was beautiful with high ceilings, a chandalier, a fire place (I know, they need fire places in Costa Rica? I'm not sure that they do, but it gets quite cold at their house because it is closer to the mountains), big glass windows, a kitchen with modern appliances, and an upstairs. Already, something that would be so normal in the U.S. seemed so different and impressive to me here in Costa Rica. Andrea's house is certainly not typical in Costa Rica, even within her neighborhood. While she studied in Canada and visited the U.S., she became fond of the style of houses there, so when they had their house built, she knew that she wanted it to be an "American" home. We spent the entire day and evening there just relaxing, talking, and eating. I truly felt like a part of the family that day and as if I was spending time in one of our family friend's homes with my parents. Everything seemed pleasantly familiar.

I'm sure that all of you are dying to know why I was out late on Saturday night. Don't worry, I didn't do anything crazy, but I did have a lot of fun! Mariela took me dancing with Andrés, her cousin and some of his friends. It was the first real test of my dancing skills, and I thought that I did pretty well. I could do the basic steps, and my partners were patient enough with me to teach me some more complicated moves. My favorite part was watching everyone else dance - they are all so good! I am definitely even more motivated to learn how to dance to the point that I am already thinking about taking a dance class when I get back to the U.S.

After the dancing with Mariela, Andrea's house, and all of the little things before and in between, I have felt very "chineada" lately. "Chinear" is a verb that I think might be unique to Costa Rica (its definitely not in a normal Spanish dictionary) that has its roots in a tiny bit of racism, or perhaps xenophobia. The Chinese population in Costa Rica has been known for coddling their babies in a protective, skeptical kind of way. Hence, chinear (note the similarity to "Chinese") means to care for/spoil in a positive way. If someone is chineado/a, he/she is loved/cared for/spoiled. So, I have felt chineada by my tican family and I like it :).

In other news, I can't believe that today is already the first of September! It marks the beginning of the celebrations for Costa Rica's Independence Day, which is on September 15th. We don't have class that day, so I will be able to partake in all of the festivities. Before then, I already have plans for this weekend and the following with plenty of school work in between. This Saturday I am going white water rafting in Turrialba and the next weekend I am going to the Poas Volcano, so I will have exciting things to write about very soon. I'll check in again soon, chao!