I still have packing to do for the trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. My attempt to get an extra camera battery today failed, however, my haircut, lawn mowing and laundry went well. Check the gallery for the normal photos.
- The Architect
- Mr. MIT
- El Capitan
2 have learned basic Spanish or better and 2 others have signed up for classes while in BA.
Costa Rica – What I learned
- Ticos (Costa Ricans) are very much like folks from the USA.
- I need more time in this country to see more volcanoes, rivers, animals, Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
- Generally, the food is not very flavor able. A few dishes are very good, but I’m over the rice and beans.
- It is hard to keep a home spotless when nature is trying very hard to get in.
- Hot showers are a luxury, not a necessity.
- Hot water outside showers, simply isn’t needed.
- Buses are ok.
- Spanish can be learned to be travel-functional in 2 weeks – dos semenas.
- There are wonderful families paying attention to home, family, church, children and community in Costa Rica. This describes most of the people that I met.
- As everywhere, there are a few nasty people.
- I still can’t dance the salsa or merengue despite taking a class.
- Another 2-3 weeks of intensive Spanish will help me get to the next conversational level.
- 1 Day in San Jose is more than enough.
- 4 days in Monteverde isn’t enough.
- Sign up for tours early in the week
- When visiting volcanoes, most of the time you aren’t going to see anything due to clouds. Occasionally, you get lucky in the morning like the tour I was on did.
Saturday was spent waiting. Waiting to be taken to the airport, waiting in line to check in, waiting in line to go into security, waiting for the flight, and finally, waiting during the flight. Actually, I’m writing this while on the plane and everything is fresh.
Ok, Friday was a school and travel day. The final class was good, we chatted for a few hours then exchanged email addresses so we could stay in touch. Yeah, I know, not likely.
As class ended, the sky opened up and the rain that I hadn’t seen in 2 weeks began. It was a mix of a downpour and drizzle. Off and on for the hour before the bus left.
The bus ride from Monteverde was just as rough on me as the ride up. I felt queasy for much of the dirt road ride. That was for about 2 hours. I’m glad that I didn’t pick up a t-shirt – I survived the road to Monteverde. – It is a local slogan.
As we traveled over the mountain, the rain slowed then finally stopped and it was a clear day. Of course, we got stuck behind a few large trucks before the road merged with the Pan-American Highway. Don’t get he wrong idea, this highway isn’t like an interstate road, it is just paved and has passing lanes for uphill traffic. After 4 hours, we arrived back near San Joaquin and I was dropped off at the Santa Maria Inn – the same inn from my first night.
Another lady from the language school was staying there before her flight to Edmonton, Canada, so we shared a ride to a local steak house for dinner. Beef Ribs – ummmmm, tasty. It was pouring so we were soaked. Back to the inn for a night of cable TV and relaxation.
A few days later as I review/correct this entry and I believe that the ribs impacted my digestion. I’m on the toilet more than I should be and didn’t have any issues while in country.
Thursday was spent in school, doing homework, taking a taxi from Cenna Plano to Santa Elena, having a nice lunch in a local restaurant, shopping and chatting with a local.
In school, we chatted for a few hours – both students struggling to put words into the proper tense for each sentence (present & past). My travel to San Joaquin was finalized with the B&B reservations and a end of class survey was presented to me.
I stopped by my Tico casa and dropped off my books and backpack and grabbed a taxi from Cerro Plano to Santa Elena – a little over a mile away. There I ate at a recommended restaurant named Restaurante Maravilla. It was full of locals and there was a waiter there who looked exactly like one of the zip cable guides from yesterday. I asked if he worked at both places and was met with a your crazy look. Then he admitted he had a brother that worked there. I asked what was good and went with his selections for entre and drink. Grilled chicken con mashed potatoes and steamed mixed vegetables. To drink, a papaya smoothy. It was primera bueno – a new expression learned in class – Excellent. While eating I met an older couple from Nova Scotia, another 2 girls from Atlanta, and a young couple from Dallas.
Next was the shopping for trinkets – a coffee cup and t-shirt were on the list. I checked every shop in Santa Elena searching for something with Pura Vida tastefully placed on both items. Eh, I settled on a cup and t-shirt and started looking through the art galleries for something to be displayed in my home. 5 galleries later and nothing jumped out at me within my price range. I found a few items, but they were over $1k each. Most of the items in my price range were nude sculptures, not my taste.
I searched for a taxi, none were around, so walking back to Cerro Plano was the next action (future tense rocks, I can’t wait). Along the way, I stopped for a famous ice cream at the local creamery. The ice cream is made locally by the relocated Alabamans who fled here from military service during the Korean war, or so the story goes here. Anyway, 2 very rich scoops later and I was sitting outside on a bench to catch the breeze.
As I sat down, a young girl also sat at the table and started speaking Spanish to me. We had a long chat, my Spanish was better than her English, sad, I know. We talked about ice cream, her school and my school, and where we both lived. As the ice cream was finished, so was our conversation and we each headed home. That little chat showed me how much my Spanish was lacking. I’m good for transportation and food, not general conversation yet. It will definitely take more time to bring my vocabulary up to conversational levels.
Home to do some homework and enjoy my last night in Monteverde. Mucho tarea tonight before the big test tomorrow. Spelling and writing is fairly easy. Listening is hard and speaking is nearly impossible for me still. I´m functional in an airport, bus or probably a subway provided they have a good ear for what I should be saying. And best of all, I can order in restaurants and not be surprised with what comes out – Well, any more than I am in Atlanta.
Wednesday, a few of us decided to do a zip-line tour after class. The shuttle came to pick us up around 12:20p, though we were told it would be there are :05. There were 4 of us going to the same place. Two 20-something British girls, a Canadian woman and myself.
The girls had already done an extreme zip line the day before so they elected the skywalk, frog and insect tours. The Canadian and I did the zip and skywalk. Next time, I’d pay for a guide on the skywalk or not bother, but I’ve already hiked for hours in the forest, so this walk on semi-paved walkways and across steel suspension bridges wasn’t very interesting. Without a guide, you don’t know what you are seeing other than lots of trees, plants, mosses, vines, a few flowers, birds, and if you are lucky, a few monkeys way off in the distance.
On the skywalk, the most interesting part was seeing monkeys about 30 meters away in the treetops swinging and jumping from tree to tree.
OTOH, the zip-line was really fun. Obviously, the first zip was just a tiny bit scary, but it is really fun, so the next is more about practicing all the techniques for slowing down, seeing more of the sights in the 20 seconds between bases and enjoying it a little more. By the 3rd line, you’re trying to get as much speed as possible, yet still be able to stop at the platform. I had a little too much speed for a few stops so special safety stoppers had to be used by the catcher. In total, there were 19 zips and 1 step-off-the-stand and Tarzan back and forth until they can stop you from swinging. I accidentally pumped like on a swing set and kept going for a long time. Sadly, I have very few photos since I didn’t want to drop the camera and the gloves were very thick and had an extra leather insert to aid with breaking.
3 of the zips were long and high between two hillsides. They lasted about 40 seconds with fantastic views. I have now idea how high we were, but 300 meters seems about right. Highly recommended. Oh, listen carefully to the 5 minute zip technique and safety training. If you are really light or don’t want to go alone, they will taxi you with a guide controlling everything. I’d do it again in a second, regardless of the price.
BTW, it hasn’t rained here in Monteverde except that drizzle the first evening. The dry season here really appears to be dry. The dirt roads are very dusty.
Today is my last full day and night. I leave for San Joaquin tomorrow after school. I am looking forward to normal food, a hot long shower, and washing/drying my clothes. Clothes hung out to dry don’t get the fabric sheet treatment, so they aren’t as soft. Sorry for the lack of food photos. I’ve not been eating much lunch or the food wasn’t particularly good this week. For example, I had and apple and banana for lunch on Wednesday. For dinner, my tico family had modified spaghetti with chunks of beef and a very thin sauce.
Time to study for class.
I think I’ve figured out the slow internet here. All their office computers are on the same WiFi access point that the students share. Each user cuts the bandwidth in half again … 5 users means a 5Mbps connection is worth 50Kbps on a good day. Then you have the remote Costa Rica DSL problem. Heck, cell phones with line of sight to the tower don’t always work here.
Yesterday I was caught by tourista mathematica and paid $17 for 2 beers and a personal pizza. She was really cute tho. The beer was cold and good and the pizza was the best I’ve had in … 3 weeks. A much needed break from gallo pinto – beans and rice and chicken.
Thankfully, this morning, my host mother cooked French toast for breakfast. As I typed that last sentence, the Spanish words were flowing in my head.
Off to class. We’re doing past tense IR / ER verbs today! I know you’re all jealous!
After school and a chat with another student, I headed to the grocery store and a recommended bakery for an inexpensive sandwich. In the grocery, I didn’t find anything except apples and bananas appealing. There were cans of other things, but only the sardines stand out in my mind. Normally, I’d grab a can/bag of walnuts or some other nut, but they were extremely expensive. The price of the apples and bananas weren’t listed, but it ended up being 1350 colones – about $1.50. I needed to get something for lunch on Wednesday since my zip-line tour starts at 12:05pm – just after class ends.
Ok, so back to the bakery sandwich. There’s a little bakery in the town that posts the costs and seems honest about them. The chicken sandwich on fresh bread was perfect. A little tomato, lettuce, and grilled bread made it fantastic. To drink I felt that I had to try a Costa Rican drink – Frutes y Leche. That’s your choice of fruit blended with milk. Blackberry was my choice. Yummy.
I did my homework while at the bakery AND a little more than was assigned then headed to the house.
The house is on the side of a mountain with trails that lead to the top. Today, I was going to climb to the top. I prepared for a 3 hour hike and headed out around 3pm. 2 dogs came with me. Before I got to the trail, the pretty one turned back home. The little white scruffy looking dog stayed with me the entire trail coming when I whistled and being still and quiet when I was trying to locate a bird or other animal.
The dogs are outdoor dogs left to fend for their own water. I suppose they get fed, but I don’t know for certain. With the climate here, there’s no concern for the dogs health. They seem very happy running free accompanying humans on walks or just playing in the yard together.
Ok, so back to the hike. At points, the trail became less than clear, "whitey" took me the correct way (most of the time). Basically, I’m on a trail in the Costa Rican mountains with a dog and a walking stick headed some of the steepest trails I’ve tried so far. Heaven.
Sadly, when I finally get to the top, there’s no view of the surroundings, just trees and bushes and other native foliage. Going back down was 3x faster than going up. I’m back home by 5pm and need a shower badly. For once, the cold water felt nice.
I can’t say this enough, DEET is a wonderful thing. I sprayed on a 30% Deet repellent (as recommended by the Cobb County board of health) and didn’t get bit a single time. There were some HUGE flies buzzing around me. They’d land for less than a second, then jump off quickly. All the other insects – mosquitoes and tiny wasps (sweat bees) didn’t even land. Deet is my friend. Whitey is too. That little dog came along and followed directions without question. Ah, and had no water the entire time.
As usual, I took a bunch of photos and a few movies to try and capture the feel of the place. They never do justice to the scale of a place – well, except for the leaf cutter ants. These ants were doing what leaf cutters do, but they weren’t huge, just large by my Georgia ant experience. Sadly, almost all of my close up photos were fuzzy and you can’t see the ants. Lo siento.
Dinner was steamed cauliflower, egg and spinach something, rice and a leafy salad. Nutritious and tasty.
I played with Veronica (6 yr old) as we waited for my Tica mother to return home and for dinner to be ready. I guess she doesn’t mind that my Spanish is terrible. It is odd to be corrected by a 6 yr old, she reminds me of my niece Rachel. My fatherly instincts kick in when I’m around her. I guess part of it is that she has some health problems that require pills and injection treatments.
Monday was my first day of school at the Monteverde CPI campus. My teacher, Jose, has a great sense of humor and we spoke in Spanish getting acquainted. To be clear, it was just simple sentences that we both used and I had to ask him to repeat himself a few times.
There is another student in my class named Roger. Oddly, he is retired from Telcordia/Bell Labs and worked for PAC Bell et al. We briefly discussed out telecom background in English as Jose listened. Roger has picked up Spanish in his home from both his wife who teaches Spanish and is fluent and a housekeeper. He’s not had any training, but has a significant vocabulary – well beyond mine. However, he is lacking in grammar and verb conjugation. I suspect he’s already caught up tonight with what I learned last week. Anyway, the class will be very good with both Jose and Roger.
After class got out, I checked the activity board and signed up for 1 tour. I plan to do the skywalk/cable zip-line tour. My afternoon flight on Saturday will force me to leave Monteverde on Friday to ensure I can catch the flight due to the 4 hour (2 on dirt) excursion. This means I’ll spend Friday night in another B and B near San Joaquin.
Ok, so after checking email, catching up on a minimum of web sites, I strapped on my backpack for a walk around town. Monteverde is a very hilly place. The hills are windy and steep with fast moving traffic always coming around a corner too fast, so pedestrians need to pay very close attention. Anyway, after eating pure Tico meals for a few days, I was starving for some non-Tico food. My new Tico family’s address is relative to Johnny’s Pizzeria – sounds like a plan for lunch. Except Johnny decided to renovate the place and wasn’t open. I walked further down, up then down the road and came to a place marked Steak House and Pizzeria. I had to search for the entrance since there were 4 other businesses in the same building and the restaurant entrance was around the side up a set of unmarked stairs with no name at the top. It was mid-afternoon and completely empty. I yelled "Hola" and the owner came out from around a corner looking very American. Fresh from my Spanish class, full of confidence, I was slightly disappointed in finding a gringo owner and spoke to him in English. He responded in extremely broken English – BONUS! He handed me the menu and started talking about how good the steaks were today. I had pizza on the mind – a different menu. Beer and Di Kaye pizza ordered. I figured $10, which is VERY expensive for lunch. Last week, my lunches were usually $2 at a soda. The pizza was pretty good and the Imperial beer was similar to Michelob in taste. $17 later, which I complained about to the girl working the register. The price was because I’d specified the brand of beer and I’d had 2 of them – I guess. I sipped the 2nd beer and worked on my homework for about an hour before heading home.
At home, I searched for a Spanish book to practice reading aloud, but only found a TU magazine. I’m not certain, but I think I understand what boys like in a girlfriend now. Very helpful in getting the current lingo down as used by teenage girls. The hints on makeup – guys prefer natural looking girls according to the article – will really help me. Sure.
A short siesta before the family arrived at home and my tico mother – who is 2 years my junior cooked rice and lentils with some stew meat. At least it wasn’t beans!
My job for the evening was working with 6 and 7 year olds on their English vocabulary. The 6 yr old girl new it all. The 7 yr old boy appeared to know the first 3 answers, then didn’t know any of the rest. At that age, boys are very restless as you know, so getting him to concentrate was impossible. It ended with them quizzing me on my colors in Spanish. I’d not studied them at all – only looked over them 5 days ago briefly. Girls see 200 colors. Men see 8. Pink is pushing the color spectrum for men. Within 10 minutes with lots of laughter over a few of my answers, I had the 8 colors down. Next we were onto animals.
On Sunday I traveled to Monteverde over dirt roads and a fairly nice highway for 4 hours. Saying goodbye to my San Joaquin family was tougher than I thought it would be, but necessary to meet my new Tico Family. The ride was bone jarring with my insides hurting afterwards.
The chartered minibus was packed with every seat taken – only students for CPI. I met a teacher going home to Monteverde who was originally from Suriname. That is a South American country formerly a Dutch possession. She’d lived in Miami and didn’t have much of an accent – odd tho Dutch is her first language. She began as a Spanish student at the same school I’m attending and basically never left. I don’t seem to have taken any photos of her
- she had a club-girl look with short purple hair and a quick wit. We figured the school put someone like her on every minibus for entertainment. It’s May as I fill in this detail and I can’t recall her name.
The climb to about 9000ft into the Monteverde area – Santa Elena was on windy dirt roads. I was met by my new family and taken on a short trip around the homestead on the side of a mountain. They have 4 dogs and a number of horses to be determined later. One is a calf of 13 months. After having a beer, they took me on a short hike up the mountainside. Along the say, we saw a macaw, wild sugar cane and Orlando used his machete to chop off some sugar cane that we chewed. As we climbed higher, the growth changed into canopy and we headed into a heavily forested area and found a trail. Along the trail we saw many strangler fig trees. These grow outside other trees and eventually kill the inner tree. Lots-o-pictures of this including from inside where the originally tree had disappeared completely and only the strangler was left. Then it was time to head home, but not before snapping some high quality photos from the mountain out over the gulf and into the pacific ocean many, many miles away.
It seemed there was a fair today at the town fairgrounds, so we headed there to see what was happening. It was a fairly tiny extravaganza – perhaps 4 rides for the kids and 7 or so food stands. There were 2 stages with music on opposite ends of the grounds. Tejano on one side and rap on the other. People watching was the main attraction with a mix of ethnic skin, to Indian, to black, to white and very white. The touristas stick out on site. As far as the locals go, most of them seem to have lived in this place all their lives. They know everyone else and their entire life story. There’s usually history between their families with interrelated businesses of some kind.
After eating a plate of veggies and some kind of meat/fat/crusty thing (later learned these were chicharonnes), we people watched some before heading home. The sun had already set and it was pitch black. The parade walked by as we walked home. Somehow we found our way to the end of their road and up the step hill to their home with just a hint of twilight remaining from over the pacific.
We watched a Disney movie Agent Kody Banks I think and I found myself dozing off around 7pm. As I write this, the fair is still going – echoes heard off the mountain slopes.
I’ve left out the mosquitoes and other flying insects that I can’t identify. I was able to snap a few photos of flowers that I’ve never seen before, but missed a huge purple butterfly. I was too slow and it was raining. Ah, the rain. It is a light rain and nobody seems to notice it. They don’t wear raincoats or bother with umbrellas. It rained like this as we walked to the fair. Even my cotton shirt didn’t get soaked. Somehow it was as though there was no rain when it ended. I don’t know why.
Tomorrow is my first day of school here. It should be interesting.
I don’t know where to begin describing today. Simply amazing does not come close. For $65 each, we were picked up at our homes, taken into San Jose, provided a driving tour of the downtown area – all the parks and cows, then taken to Volcano Irazu, Paradise, lunch, a botanical garden and home again. All entry fees paid and lunch was free. WOW.
Volcanoes are notorious for for having a micro climate that prevents viewing of the crater floor. Today we were lucky – we arrived, walked and viewed all that Irazu had before the clouds rolled in. It felt surreal since there were places were vegetation was trying to take hold – fighting the noxious out gases. BTW, this volcano is around 12000 ft, add that to being near the equator, clear skies, 11am and you have a recipe for sunburn. The entire bus gooped on sunscreen, wore rain jackets and long pants since we were warned the weather here could change drastically in 5 minutes.
The volcano was the main item on my list as I headed out, but that’s not the way the day ended.
After getting to the volcano as early in the morning as we could, we back tracked to Cartago to visit the church – Our Lady of the Angles Basiluca. Since it was Saturday, there was a wedding. The attendees that I saw weren’t dressed up and the church is so large that I could only see the bride and groom kneeing in the distance. There’s a little statue of a black mother Mary, La Negrita. We lost a few tourist there, then went back to pick them up and headed off for lunch.
After driving on small winding roads for 45 minutes, I was positive the food would be bad and the trip was simply some way to get kickbacks for the tour operators. I was wrong. Along the way, we stopped at a lookout point over the famous Orosi Valley. No high quality photo can do it justice. Picturesque doesn’t cover it either. When you image Paradise, this is probably what your mind creates if it appears to be a valley with manicured farms, small homes, and a few locals tending.
Next, we traversed over the Cachi Dam – a hydroelectric plant. The lake appeared to be 30ft low due to el Nina. On the other side, we headed into a coffee plantation to the La Casona del Cafetal restaurant. This location is recommended in Foder’s CR Guide. The food was good, but the views were better. With the lake higher, it would only be better. After desert, they brought out a coffee cup with a filter bag held over it on a wooden stand. The coffee was tasty, not double roasted/burnt like some places in the USA do it. I haven’t seen anything but local coffee houses here. Britt coffee seems to be the most marketed – similar to Starbucks.
Next we headed back towards Cartago but veered of the main road to hit the Jardin Botanico Lankester. This is a world class botanical garden concentrating on rare orchids with more than 1100 varieties. Sadly, my camera battery ran out of charge before the tour finished, but I was able to nurse another 25 photos out of it and get the best of the remaining flowers, trees, plants and cacti.
After all the sun and outdoor viewings today, we were done and headed home.
I thought my day was complete, but I was confused. After dinner, I settled down to read a book – actually, I quickly dozed off. Anyway, my host father and mother came and told me we were going to Barro. I didn’t think they drank, but perhaps tonight, they’d let lose? It turned out that Barro is a nearby town that was having a fair. Fairs are just like we all remember, good for people watching, seeing old friends and family, but not much else unless you’re interested in buying junk. We quickly left the fair after looking over all the over sized masks. Barro is close to Heredia, so it was an excuse to stop near the central plaza there and get some ice cream at Pops, yummy. As we drove home, we saw some fireworks in the San Joaquin central park – celebrating a wedding. The finale happened too quickly, but what can you expect from a private party fireworks set off in the central plaza of a small town?
Not too bad for a last day in the central valley.