Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pura Aventura

Mi Cuadra
It's been a great week here on the Nicoya Peninsula. I taught my 5 classes in Santa Teresa again and learned a lot more about teaching. I finally got organized with the Camara de Turismo in Montezuma and put the word out there that classes will begin on Monday (tomorrow). But the best part of the week was when I found Rubi, my new best friend the CUADRACICLO!!! (ATV/quad)

I got really lucky, or should I say I was blessed with help from my Tico friends...Yerlin, who works with the Camara de Turismo in Mal Pais, and her husband Carlos picked me up on Monday in their car and drove me around to look at various quads for sale. It was so nice of them to help me out, and it was really nice to have someone there who knows more about quads than I do. I really know nothing about cars or motors or engines or anything, plus I'm a gringa (which obviously means I have tons of money), so without my friends I would've been a perfect target for getting ripped off. We looked at several different quads around town and then Carlos called his brother, who happened to have the perfect quad on his farm that he only used when he was in town once or twice a month. It's a 2008 Honda Rancho 420, and he wasn't even planning on selling it, but he decided he could use the money. He offered me a super reasonable price, and after a quick test drive, I was sold. We went to the bank and sealed the deal.

No exaggeration
It's amazing how having a set of wheels can change your life! I am finally free to go and come as I please without waiting for the bus...que bueno! And it's such a great way to get around here because the roads are crazy, but with a quad you can literally go anywhere! I'm embarking on a new journey now...of exploring every vista, waterfall, river, and beach I can get to in the area. Yesterday my tica sister and I went to Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve where her grandpa works as a "guarda parque." We went over some crazy skinny little roads filled with rocks to get was quite the adventure! Carlos (who I now call my abuelotico/tico grandpa) took us on a little hike to a beach inside the Reserve, and then the volunteers who live there offered us a tasty lunch. On the way back we nearly ran out of gas, but I discovered that my quad has a fabulous little reserve gas tank! I love her more everyday ;)

Beach at Cabo Blanco
Teaching went well this week too and I am really looking forward to starting my new groups in Montezuma tomorrow. I'm learning that it's super important to be flexible with lesson plans, because you never know how the students will respond to the material or how fast or slow the class will progress. I try my best to respond to student requests and needs, but it's tough to keep them all on the same page (some finish activities super quickly and others take a lot longer). I have to start bringing extra work for those that finish early, and I also started giving homework this week, which I think will help reinforce the lessons and keep them practicing outside of class. I'm also working at improving my repetoire of quick games and 5 minute filler activities in case I need to energize the class or take a break from structured gramatics.

Overall, things are flowing here...I'm really happy with my family in Cabuya, they are super laid back and I love spending time just hanging out with them. It's fun having 2 little sisters and a little brother too since I never had that at home. For the two nights a week that I'm teaching in Santa Teresa I've been staying at Yerlin's house (the woman from the Camara who actually turns out to be the 3rd cousin of my host mom Yessenia) and it is really nice...I even have air conditioning in my room! She's totally opened her door for me to stay there (for free) and all she asks is that I speak English with her and her kids so they can practice! She's a really cool lady and I enjoy spending time with her family too, so it's a win win situation.

Mi Hermanita y Abuelotico
I think the most overwhelming thing about Costa Rica really is it's people...they are generally super kind and welcoming, they don't stress out, they laugh A LOT, they're close with their families (and they're ALL family around here), and they seem to really enjoy life! I am understanding more and more what it means to truly live the pura vida...and the more I understand, the more I want to stay here forever! My job goes through June but I'm hoping I can extend it for the rest of the year. Time will tell...

Much love to all from my favorite spot on Earth...XOXO

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cero Estrés!

YAY...I finally taught my first 5 classes this past week in Santa Teresa (Mal Pais) and they went really well! I was so excited to finally be teaching and I really enjoyed meeting all my new students. I think they liked the classes too; we played a lot of games and they responded well to competition. Most all of my students are beginners or at a pretty basic level, and I have one intermediate group. Teaching beginners is easier, and I don't have to worry about running out of material! It was really fun to finally be doing what I came here to do and I feel very natural and comfortable in my role as a teacher. I was a little bit nervous before, but as soon as I got going I was relaxed and totally enjoying it. My favorite part was at the end of all my classes when I did a "slang word of the day." This week it was "what's up" and "dude." They all seemed to like it and we laughed a lot...I think it's a good way to end the class on a lighter note. For homework I told them they had to use the slang phrases in the street...jaja!

This weekend I celebrated my new found success with friends in Montezuma. Reggae night on the beach on Friday and a little salsa dancing on Saturday (I'm getting better!). Also, two of the guys that I met traveling in Nicaragua were coming through town so I took them to the Montezuma waterfall. There is a second waterfall up above the big one that's about a 10 meter drop (around 30 feet) and the locals always jump off of it. I never thought I'd have the guts to do it, but when I got up there this time and my friends did it I thought what the hell...WOOOOOO! Adrenaline rush!!! I ended up doing it 3 times. Here's a video:

As you can tell, normally life in Costa Rica is pretty stress free, but as I was trying to organize things to get my classes going, I did get a little bit frustrated with the way things work here. It's hard to remember that everything moves a lot slower, and that you can't have the same expectations as you do at home. People do their jobs, but they do things at a different pace, and the typical gringo inside of me wants to have things done faster and more efficiently. The best I can do is to just try to remove myself from that struggle. I notice myself getting stressed out about something I need to get done or I need to figure out (like getting the white board to my classroom, for example), and I have to slow down and say to myself, "Tranquilo!" Everything in it's time. It's a constant reminder to take it easy. I am learning to be patient and adaptable (these are good life lessons). Things will work out like they always do...pura vida!

It's funny how a little stress can shake things up in your head too. I got frustrated and immediately noticed that I started thinking about the things I missed from home. I think overall I've been doing pretty well living the "simple life" here in Costa Rica. I shower with cold water, I eat rice and beans almost 3 meals a day, I never have air conditioning, my floors are concrete, and I don't have a closet or hangers for my clothes. No car, no cellphone, no greek yogurt, arugula or blue cheese covered ribeyes. Not that I'm complaining, but there are just a lot of things I normally take for granted that I'm living without now. Usually I don't miss them, but the other day when the stress hit I couldn't stop thinking about those things that would make life easier (or cleaner, healthier, more technologically advanced) if I was home. But these are the things that I willingly gave up on my quest to live here, and I do believe it's worth the sacrifice to be in such an amazing place...I guess it was just one of those days. Within a few hours the feeling had passed, and I was back to a heart full of gratitude for the experience I am having. My new mantra is cero estrés (zero stress) which is actually a phrase here kinda like pura vida. And I find that like pura vida, the more you say it, the more you feel it to be true...

I'm meeting with the Junta Educativa tomorrow in Montezuma to plan for my classes here, which should begin next week. Then I'm going to see about another cuadraciclo (ATV) that is for sale and I'm really hoping it works out! Wish me luck, and hopefully I'll have pics to show you soon. Ciao chicos!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Visa Run: Nicaragua, Sidetrek: Turrialba

A Continuación...

Dusty bus ride to Santa Teresa

Despite the slow pace and disorganization that seems to rule the land here, I was able to meet with some of my students in Santa Teresa last week to do placement testing (conversing in English) and scheduling for classes. The meetings didn't really go as planned, but it was really nice to finally meet some students. They are the real reason I'm here, and I'm looking forward to spending time working with them and getting to know them better. I also finally got in touch with the Junta Educativo in Montezuma (didn't know that's who I was looking for) and they informed me that I would need an official letter stating my request to use the elementary school for my night classes and that we would have to schedule a meeting before anything would be decided. They didn't seem too keen on giving me a set of keys and full access to the school because apparently there were some problems last now my mission is to convince them that I'm trustworthy, the project is important, and that they should be honored to help us out. In the midst of trying to work these things out, I realized my 3 month tourist visa in Costa Rica was almost up! I honestly didn't feel like taking another trip because I was just getting settled in Cabuya, but I also didn't want to start my classes and then immediately have to take a week off, so I decided to go ahead and make a run for the border...

San Juan del Sur

One of the closest tourist spots in Nicaragua is San Juan del Sur, a colorful little beach town on the Southern Pacific side, just about an hour drive from the border of Costa Rica at Peñas Blancas. I decided that's where I'd go to spend my 3 days a fuera del pais. The trek began last Saturday morning at 6 AM when I got a taxi to Montezuma and caught a bus to the ferry at Paquera. I was planning to do all local buses, but I ended up catching a Trans Nica bus in Puntarenas and it was fabulous - air conditioning and movies too! It made crossing the border a lot easier and faster with the help of the bus crew. Somehow I still managed to get screwed out of about $20 when I exchanged my money with one of the "official" cambio dudes. I changed sixty dollars and got the right amount in Nicaraguan Cordovas, but then I pulled out some Colones and the guy punched in some numbers in his calculator that seemed I took the money and got back on the bus only to realize I had lost money on the transaction. Luckily, it wasn't much, but I learned that with these types of things it's best to SLOW DOWN...think about everything thoroughly and do not feel rushed. That's my advice.

Fire Dancer on the Beach

I arrived in SJDS about an hour before sunset and headed to the Casa de Oro Hostel. There I met some great people and we headed out to the bars to celebrate Bob Marley's birthday in true beach reggae style. Beer is only $1 in the bar in most places in Nicaragua, and the Flor de Caña Rum is cheap and delicious.

On day two I got a ride up to Playa Maderas which is a sweet little spot with great surf breaks and beautiful sunsets. You can stay at a super rustic hostel there or set up camping tents just down the beach if you like. It's ultra tranquilo and beautiful, and we enjoyed a day full of sun, surf, and cerveza.

Playa Maderas

We met some Nicas (Nicaraguans) and started chatting it up in broken Spanish about tourism and the weather, and then a random gringo carnie showed up which turned the conversation to sword swallowing, leading to demonstrations with knifes and platanos and plenty of laughter over the sexual metaphors that we all understood no matter what language was being spoken...JAJAJA! (that's hahaha in Spanish)

Haircut in Nicaragua

Later on we met some peeps from Florida who run a surf company here:

Check it out:

...and we also met their awesome friend Amy the hair stylist who ended up giving me a (desperately needed) free haircut! Thanks girl! My haircut rocks! We watched a little bit of the super bowl and then headed out for some grub at a local bar (fish sandwich, fries, and a beer, $5).

Danielle & I enjoying some Victorias

My two new gringa friends Danielle and Mega were planning to go to Isla Ometepe together so I jumped on board. I had heard great things about the island and wanted to go, but didn't realize that it was possible with the little time that I had. Turns out it was only 2 hours from SJDS! We left on Monday morning and linked up with 5 other guy travelers on the ferry boat of which is an Aussie guy named Dan who is driving a Jeep from the Arctic Ocean in Northern Alaska all the way down to Tierra Del Fuego, the southern-most point of South America.

You can check out his blog here:

Volcan Concepcion, Ometepe

The 8 of us spent the next two days exploring Ometepe together, which is a gorgeous island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua made up of two huge active volcanoes. The island was actually formed by volcanic eruptions and there are smaller islands around it that were made when the lava spewed into the surrounding lake water. We camped out the first night and had a great view of the majestic "Concepcíon," the bigger of the island's two volcanoes. We made a fire on the beach while sipping Flor de Caña, and then woke up early to do some hiking, wildlife spotting, and swimming in the island's fresh water mineral springs.

Ometepe Crew

We stayed the second night at Finca Magdelena which I would highly recommend. Cheap ($5 a bed), friendly, and it has beautiful views. We drank $1.80 litres of Toña (yummy Nica brew) and ate full plate dinners for about $4. Perfect.

This is where it gets tiring. On Wednesday I had to travel all day to get back to San Jose. I left the finca at 7 AM on a "chicken bus" : (Spanish: "camioneta") a colloquial English name for a colorful modified and decorated US school bus and transit bus that transports goods and people between communities in Honduras and Guatemala.

On the Chicken Bus

The word "chicken" refers to the fact that rural Guatemalans regularly transport live animals on such buses, a practice that visitors from other countries often find remarkable. The buses are also commonly used in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, and Costa Rica.

3 buses, 3 taxis, 1 ferry and 13 hours later, I arrived in Costa Rica's capital city. Needless to say I was exhausted, filthy dirty from all the dusty roads, and super thankful for a hot shower. Aside from the heat and dirt and waiting in immigration lines, crossing the border was fairly easy and I felt pretty safe. It would definitely be a bit sketchier if I didn't speak Spanish...but I felt good about getting across on my own and not getting a bad exchange rate this time!

Since I was already in San Jose and it was almost the weekend...I figured I would go spend a few days with my friend Liz in the mountain town of Turrialba, only about an hour and a half bus ride to the east of San Jose. Turrialba is mainly known for it's cheese and it's rivers. The Pacuare River is a big rafting and kayaking destination, with class IV rapids and beautiful canyon views. It was named one of the top 10 river trips by National Geographic.

Waterfall near Turrialba

Liz is another volunteer English teacher working with the same organization which placed her in Turrialba. Her classes are mostly raft guides and other Ticos who work in tourism there. It was great to spend some time with a girlfiend, and she showed me some really cool spots over there like the Santa Rosa Waterfall, which was unreal! It must be almost 100 feet tall, and it just pours over the edge of the cliff with so much fuerza! The area surrounding it is lush and green, super alive and clean, and aside from a few young locals we were the only people there. At the top there's a natural sliding rock into another swimming hole...muy divertido!!!

On Saturday we hit the river for a rafting adventure. The water level is a bit low right now so it wasn't as fast as normal, but it was definitely exhilarating! The river winds through the vast Pacuare Canyon and passes through the Chirripo Indian Reserve where some indiginous people still live today. The water was clear and made up of wonderful shades of light and dark green.

Rafting Rio Pacuare

Our guide was great and our group was a fun mix of English and Spanish speakers, so we got the full tour in both languages (Liz and I were loving it). Liz saw several of her students on the river guiding tours (what a great job), and we even saw some toucans! But no trip to Turrialba would be complete without a taste of the local Saturday night after several cocktails at the local bars (where BTW we were almost the only foreigners in sight), we headed over to the 24 hour diner for some fried cheese and tortillas...late night munchies hit the spot YUMMMMM!

Good times across the board...but I am so happy to be home and honestly (I can't believe I'm saying this) I don't feel like traveling again for a while! We'll see how long that lasts, but I'm just craving a little stability and I'm sooooo ready to get into my teaching groove. Wish me luck. Love to ALL!

Current song stuck in my head: Agarra la mano (Sean Paul)

Current mission: buy a CUADRACYCLO (ATV) - decided to go with 4 wheels instead of 2...para mi seguridad

Current local news: Laura Chinchilla was elected as the first woman president in Costa Rica! You go girl!

Current weather back in Cabuya: hot and sunny with a high chance of dust storms

Current state of mind: delirious...