Tuesday, May 25, 2010

So THIS is the Rainy Season...

Really Rain? Really???

It's been raining so much lately I feel like I have barely seen the sun! There have been a few mornings of sunshine but the past week has been pretty crazy. For the past two days and nights it has rained constantly. I mean all day and all night, super hard and then a little bit lighter, with maybe a 20 minute pause here and there only to start pouring again, and it is still going...unbelievable! Apparently this is how it gets around the start of June, but hopefully it won't be so bad for too long. Normally in the rainy season, the mornings are somewhat sunny, and the rain doesn't come until the late afternoon or evening (just when I need to be in transit to my classes), but lately Mother Nature hasn't been following the rules! Now I am starting to understand why so many foreigners only live in Costa Rica during the dry season. This rain is no joke! Last year was such a light weight rainy season that I didn't realize what I was in for this time. Apparently I haven't seen anything yet, as everyone and their mothers keep warning me about the madness of October...

My friend Liz Gilbert, who has the same name as the author of one of my favorite books Eat, Pray, Love, came to visit this past weekend. She is another one of ALIARSE's volunteer English teachers who works here in Turrialba, and we met during our job orientation in January. She came on Thursday in the midst of a big rainstorm, actually the same night that an earthquake hit Costa Rica farther south down the pacific coast. Apparently my students felt the tremor while we were having class, but I didn't notice anything other than some papers falling off the desk. Hmmm. I kind of WANT to feel an earthquake just because I never have before, but I guess I should be careful what I wish for!

Despite the rain, Liz and I had a great time here. She really loved this area and thought my whole set up with my family and the quad was great. She especially fell in love with my little sister Tiffany, as we spent some time one morning giving each other temporary tattoos with the yummy smelling markers I brought back from the States. Luckily, it wasn't raining too much during the daytime so we were able to go to the beach and visit the waterfall, which was in full force after so much rain. The hike up the river to the waterfall that is super easy in the dry season is finally getting kind of tricky again. I almost lost my flip flop twice!!! On Saturday, we did a tour of my favorite beach spots on the Santa Teresa side. Both nights that Liz was here we planned to go out for a few drinks, but every time we would get ready to go out, it would start pouring. One night we called a taxi, and the other night we used trash bag ponchos to stay somewhat dry on the quad. We felt quite accomplished as we managed to get out and have a blast regardless of the weather :)

This past week I also made my first attempts at crossing a river on the quad. All the rivers that were super low a few weeks ago are now way bigger, some of them flowing forcefully all the way out into the sea. But Rubi (my quad) is such a tough girl, I have to hand it to her, she really takes everything like a pro.

I must admit the first time was pretty scary. The tiny river that I normally cross all the time with no problem had gotten so much bigger. I wasn't sure how deep it was in the center, and I stopped to ponder turning around and making a big loop up to Cobano. But after a moment I decided I could do it, so I put it in low gear and slowly crossed. We made it through! YAY Rubi! It was quite a rush, but I had an even scarier moment with Liz when we tried to cross a river at night and got stuck on a rock. The river wasn't that deep so it would have been no problem for the quad, except for the fact that I steered us onto a big rock and the tire got stuck. The scary part was that I had to reverse back into the river in order to get us unstuck! But like I said, Rubi handled it really well, and we were on our way in no time. Nevertheless, these rivers are only getting bigger, and with time the cut-through roads will be impassable. Yet another reason why a car will make much more sense: I'll be driving the long loop all the way up to Cobano and around, and even if I didn't mind getting a little wet, that's a long way to go on a quad. So the search for a car continues. I should have good news within a week or two.

My favorite part of this time of the year is that the mangos are still abundant and the avocados are popping off! I've been eating avocado with almost every meal lately, and at least one mango a day. There are so many mangos still that people just give them away...que rico!

Ciao amigos!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Culture Shock USA

I didn't think I'd been gone that long, but coming home definitely made me realize how much I've gotten used to life in Costa Rica. The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane was how tall some people were here! There were some black men in the airport that seemed like GIANTS! I mean basketball player tall. They don't make 'em like that in Costa Rica. I got home and took a hot shower...que rico! Not only was the water epically warm, but the soap was super luxurious, and the Q-tips actually had cotton on the ends! And when I went to blow my nose with a Kleenex (wait, there's another type of tissue besides TP?), I closed my eyes in enjoyment at how soft it was. Oh, the simple pleasures.

The first day home was the day my girlfriends were having a Moon Circle, which is like a spiritual gathering for females only, and my plan was to surprise them all when I showed up completely unannounced. So I got ready and cruised over in my Dad's car in an attempt to be uber incog. After a little confusion as to where I was going (slightly disoriented back in a car and back in Atlanta), I found my way to Bridget's house, parked outside, and quietly approached the house. I didn't see anyone around, so I slipped in through the front door and realized they were all out back starting the ritual sharing circle. I didn't want to interrupt, but Bridget must have seen a shadow moving inside the house because she came up to the side door, and to her surprise there I was in her kitchen with a bottle of Lizano in my hand! She couldn't quite process that I was actually standing there...and I was so excited about seeing all my girls that my heart was racing! We finally walked outside and everyone's mouths dropped open in shock! Waves of "Oh my God!" and "What are you doing here?" filled the air as I made my way to each of my friends for a big hug and an even bigger smile. What a fun way to start my trip home!

My girlfriends are such special people in my life…they are nothing less than sisters to me! I have been super close with most of these ladies since college, and with friends like these, it never really feels like you've missed a beat. Sure, there is a lot of catching up to do, but it doesn't ever feel like I've been gone that long, and our relationships pick up right where we left off, full of love and laughter and plenty of girl talk. It was amazing to be around all of these beautiful women, and once again I felt extremely blessed by the life I've been given. We had a very exciting and emotional circle that day, followed by wine, snacks, and essential oil mixing to make sprays and perfumes. Oh, and some of the best food I've had in quite some time!!! Love you GA goddesses!

Sunday I enjoyed a delicious birthday dinner with my family and shared stories of life and travels. I love that my parents are so supportive of my adventures, and we are all really close. We pretty much talk about everything and I love that openness. Thanks Mom and Dad!

The next few days in ATL involved the dreaded Visa paperwork. I literally spent all day Monday and Tuesday and part of the day on Wednesday running all over the city obtaining papers and certificates, getting things notarized and authenticated by the state, buying money orders and taking passport size photos. It was a bit of a headache, but I think it will be worth it once I get the Volunteer Visa. And I did get a chance to use my Spanish at the Vital Records Office when a Mexican guy needed some translating!

One thing I noticed while I was driving all over creation is the stress that traffic brings on...yuck. I hadn't felt that in a while and I didn't like it at all. In general the pace here in the city seems a lot faster, people are speeding around in their little bubble cars, and everywhere is too cold with A/C. Four days in, and I was already missing Costa Rica. Take me back to the simple life!!!

The week at home flew by as I stayed busy running errands and visiting with friends and family. It didn't really feel like a vacation in the relaxing sense of the word, but I did get in some great food and drinks with the people that I care about. I stocked up on the things I needed that I can't get down here or that are simply way cheaper in the States. But by the end of the week, I was super ready to get back to Costa Rica. When I got off the plane in San Jose I exhaled………ahhhhh, back to tranquilo ticolandia :)

I have a lot of work to do and classes to teach this week, so I'll leave you with that and write more next week. Again, great to see everyone at home and thanks for all the sweet birthday wishes! Ciao!!!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mayo: My Favorite Month

(Editor's Note: This post was written on Thursday, April 29th.)

There was a time when I used to be squeamish about bugs. I used to jump out of my seat if a beetle was flying too close. I would run out of the room and call someone in to come remove the spider or cockroach that was hanging out in my space. There was screaming and lots of goose bumps. As I got older, I got a little better about not freaking out over insects. I got to the point where I could take spiders outside in a glass jar and release them. And I got really good at killing cockroaches (I feel no remorse when it comes to those nasty suckers) when I lived in a cheap rental house in Athens that had a huge infestation. You could say my nerves had been shot down a good bit before, but nothing could of prepared me for what I would encounter in Costa Rica.

Did you know that there are over 300,000 species of insects in Costa Rica? Ok, I knew this place was biologically diverse and all, but out of the 500,000 species living in this tiny country, over 300,000 of them are insects! And I can tell you now from first hand experience, it's true: there are a plethora of bugs living here!

From giant grasshoppers and crickets the size of a Twix bar, to huge "garden" spiders living in my bedroom, I've encountered a good variety of Tico insectos.

Then one day along came the Abejones de Mayo, which are some kind of flying beetles that take over the land in the month of May, and they have already started showing up in the past few weeks of April.

These guys are really big and really annoying. The regular ones are about the size of a raspberry, but today I saw my first gigantor abejones, which are more or less the size of large strawberry. And apparently they get even bigger. They seem to be dizzy or drunk when they fly around, because they are always crashing into your head, or arm, or any other given body part. Sometimes they dive bomb into your flip flops, and sometimes you find that one has somehow made it underneath your shirt and is now stuck there. They don't bite, but they come like the plague, in multitudes. I was literally dodging them in my classroom tonight, and my friend Trinity keeps a frying pan handy so we can play 'swat the beetle' when they start swarming the outside light at night. I can't imagine how many there will be in May, if there are already so many now. At least once they roll over or land on their backs they're pretty much dead, since they have trouble flipping back over. It's kind of like the crabs in the roads; now there are loads of dead abejones laying on the floor everywhere you go. Nice. I wonder if anybody eats them...fried beetles? Or is that only in China?

In May, the rainy season officially begins in Costa Rica. It seems to have come early this year, as we've had hard rainfalls for 4 out of the past 5 days. I am quickly realizing that I was crazy for thinking I would be ok on an ATV in the rain. Sure, if I only had to go a few blocks or even 15 blocks, I could get a little wet, go home and dry off, and I'd be fine. But driving between towns on muddy roads in the pouring rain? It's insane! Not only do the raindrops peg you like little stinging bullets, it gets cold in the wind when you're getting wet AND you can hardly avoid splashing mud puddles on your legs. So everyone says you just need a good pair of rubber boots, a poncho, and some waterproof pants, but I'm thinking I just need a car!

I didn't listen to my Tica mom months ago when she told me I'd be better off buying an old car instead of a quad. I thought it would make more sense to have a newer quad that wouldn't have any mechanical problems, and since I don't know the first thing about mechanics I thought it would be silly to buy an old car that could have issues. Who wants to have a car that's always in the taller? But after seeing how intense this rainy season is going to be, I'm reconsidering my options. Rubi (the quad) is so much fun and I love her...but I could buy an old 4x4 for the same price, and then the rain wouldn't be such a struggle. This is the next 8 months of my life I'm talking about, May through December, which in this country means rain, rain, and more rain. I know it seems crazy to trade in my wheels so soon, and it will definitely be a hassle, but it will greatly improve the quality of my life for the rest of the year. Vale la pena? I think so. Suddenly an '89 Suzuki Sidekick has become my dream car...

My Tico friends will of course help me figure this all out. My mechanic uncle will check out the car and my lawyer friend will transfer the title. I may even have a friend offering to drive me to the Central Valley to find my perfect ride. Now the vision is set in place, time to create a new reality...carro manifesto! I'll keep you posted on my progress ;)

My Montezuma classes had their first exam this week, a "midterm" of sorts, and most of the students did good. It was exciting to see the wheels turning in their heads as they labored over the test for an hour. Then we played a game called "Crazy Dictation" which everybody loved. I forgot how much fun this game was and I'm excited to use it more often or create variations on it. I learned it in my Costa Rica TEFL course, and it's a race between pairs of students. One student reads a text to his partner who then has to run across the room and write down word for word what he has just heard. It's a great listening and writing exercise, and the element of speed and competition makes it a lot of fun. You can have a speed winner and a winner for correctness...but in the end everyone learns something and laughs a lot. Good stuff.

In Santa Teresa I gave the students a take home exam to do during the next week when I will be out of the country on my visa run. I had to cancel classes for a week so I could go get another stamp on the old passport, so I figured it was a perfect time to give them an open book, do-at-home test. I was happy to see that two of my students got together the very next night for a couple of hours to work on the test when I ran into them at a friend's house. "Teacher, Teacher...is this right? What about this one?" I was happy to give them some clues and see that most of their answers were spot on.

May is also my birthday month, so this time I decided to go home for my visa run. I really wanted to see my family and my friends, so I figured I'd treat myself to a trip to the ATL. I honestly didn't feel like going to Nicaragua again, and this way I can try to gather all the necessary paperwork to apply for a volunteer visa here in Costa Rica. With the help of ALIARSE, I should be able to get at least a 6 month visa (hopefully longer), which means no more annoying visa runs for most of the year. It's going to be a bit of a headache going around to the government offices in Atlanta, but it should be worth it if I can get the visa. Hopefully it won't take up too much of my time at home. I really want to relax and spend some QT with my loved ones :) So far plans include a birthday dinner with the family on Sunday night at one of my favorite Thai restaurants in da A, Nan's, and on Saturday (the day I get home), it just so happens that around 10 of my best girlfriends are getting together for a women's gathering called a Moon Circle. I didn't plan this, but how perfect...I will get to see them all at the same time in one central locale. And the best part is no one knows that I'm coming! I'm going to surprise them all when I breeze in out of nowhere...YAY! Que grand sopresa!

Hasta la proxima...