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 championship...no 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.