I have officially been in Costa Rica for over one week and I can´t say enough about this beautiful country except I love it! Currently, I am living with a host family that consists of the host mom, Laura and my two host sisters, Carolina and Gabriela. Both of them are teenagers and we love discussing Costa Rican (or tico) and American pop cultures in Spanish. Consequently, I have to attribute any improvement in my Spanish solely to them. I have my own room and private bathroom and eat Costa Rican food everyday, which consists mostly of rice and beans. Fruits here are aplenty and very sweet! I am staying in Cedros, a neighborhood in San Pedro, which is a suburb of San Jose. San Jose and San Pedro are like any other big metropolitan city. There is noise pollution, great night life and many purse snatchers! I just make sure to have my game face on each time I walk around the streets.
I have been attending school and teaching at Maximo Nivel- an institute that offers English and Spanish classes to locals and international students. My focus has been on EFL (English as a Foreign language) learners. EFL share some commanalities with ESL with one main distinction. While ESL teachers focus on students living in a target-language community, EFL students learn English so they can use it while travelling or to communicate with other people, who also speak English. It is truly inspiring to see how motivated these learners are. Most of them are adults who want to learn and it has taught me how you can never be too old to learn and improve yourself. Many of the strategies I am learning can be applied to either group. Another component to this program is teaching. Last week I taught students (mind you teenagers!) my first lesson. To be honest it wasn´t as daunting as I thought it would be. It was actually fun. I did deal with certain “issues” an elementary school teacher doesn´t usually see like flirting and phallic images drawn during an innocent game of pictionary. We had a good laugh about that! My teacher is Sherry who is originally from US. She is animated and enthusiastic, which make the long days in class enjoyable.
Over the weekend I also visited Puerto Vieja with a group of girls from the program. Puerto Vieja is a tiny beach town on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. The first thing you will notice is the Jamaican and rasta influence in the town’s culture. It is hard to miss Bob Marley memrobalia in every corner of the town. People are very easy going and laid back (and high!) and there is plenty of marijuana to go around (it was Berkeley all over again). Despite my initial apprehensions to the idea of staying in a hostel, I actually enjoyed Kaya’s Place, which strategically overlooked playa negra (named after the black colored sand there). I spent many hours in the afternoons in a hammock indulging in the idea of how lucky I am to be here (I am in the Caribbean so I get bragging rights :-)). The town offered a chance to see many interesting people. My favorite was a Puerto Rican gentleman from Monterey who talked about meeting Jimmy Hendrix and giving his dogs joints to smoke (told you people were interesting here). The next day we rented bikes to go to Playa Uva and saw a multitude of tropical foliage and butterflies. Playa Uva is beautiful! It is surrounded by lush green banana trees and coconut trees. On the way back one of my bike’s tires went flat so I had to walk back which was not that awful once I focused my attention on the crabs scrambling to cross the road or monkeys swinging from the trees. The nights were spent listening to live reggae music, drinking coconut milk and….
Yes, It does sound like I am in heaven, but I do get homesick from time to time. I miss my family and friends. In the meantime, I know I am not in Costa Rica forever so I plan on enjoying everyday here!
I can’t believe summer is almost ending. As you know, I spent the last month and a half in the beautiful country of Costa Rica getting TEFL certified and traveling. I am back home and oh so cultured and worldly and thought it be helpful to pen down a few experiences (or ramblings) to introduce you to some ways of Tico life and inspire any travelers among you to visit Costa Rica.
When traveling to Costa Rica…
… learn Costa Rica’s unofficial national slogan- Pura Vida! (Pure Life!) You’ll hear it proclaimed, shouted, and simply stated by Ticos from all walks of life. It is symbolic of the easygoing nature of this country’s people, and politics.
… be amazed to learn that this country does not have an army, navy and air force. Costa Rica is a peace-loving nation, and spends most of the nation’s budget on education. They have over a 98% literacy rate!
… know that time is relative to Ticos. Although most tour companies operate efficiently, don’t expect punctuality in general. That being said, make sure you take a watch with you. The entire time I was there, I came across maybe five clocks.
… understand that rice and beans are the staples of Costa Rican meals-all three of them. At breakfast, they’re called gallo pinto and come with everything from eggs to steak. At lunch or dinner, they are part of a casado. A casado usually consists of cabbage-and-tomato salad, fried plantains and a meat dish. If you want cheap food, go to sodas, Costa Rican’s equivalent of diners. However, there are cuisines from all over the world readily available, including McDonalds (Yay!)
… seek out the splendor of nature the country has to offer. It is incredible to know that this tiny land mass contains hundreds of different species of animals and plants.
…be prepared to shower in icy cold water. Although more developed than other Central American countries, warm water is rarely available outside hotels and a few hostel facilities. My family knows how much I love taking showers so this was definitely a transition for me. I will spare you the details, but lets just say I am happy no longer doing the hokey pokey dance every time I take a shower.
… be okay with sounds of car alarms going off in odd hours of the night. Since theft (including petty theft like mugging) is quite common, many cars were equipped with car alarms. However, these alarms were so sensitive, they would go off at the sound of a car horn, thunder and a person walking by!
… women should not be offended or surprised by the frequent hooting and whistling of men. No matter how conservatively I was dressed, I found myself on the receiving end of whistles, honks, hoots, and catcalls.
… make sure you take at least one bus ride. Most of the buses were in a dilapidated state, but I didn’t care since the ride cost only 65 cents one way. The first thing you will notice is the “establishment” of unmarked bus stops. Once you spend some time taking buses, you learn where to get on and get off. My bus stop was in front of a green house.
… during summer months, bring an umbrella with you. Costa Rica’s tropical rainy season is from June to August and frequent and abrupt thunderstorms are normal. This time of the year is often called the “green season” since the entire country seems to become lush and verdant. Beware of the mosquitoes that come with the season!
… take advantage of the cornucopia of tropical fruits available for you. I had papaya, pineapples, bananas, berries, and guava everyday!!!
… take cabs at night or in the midst of a sudden rainstorm. Mugging is quite frequent in San Jose so we were advised to walk in groups at night and to steer clear of areas where gang activities are prevalent. They are cheap and quick.
… witness the sheer power of Arenal volcano’s eruption.
… see Poas volcano and La Paz Waterfalls garden.
… take in a tour of a coffee or banana plantation.
… do canyoning (or canyoneering) and zip-line canopy tours. I will proudly display my bruises and cuts to anyone interested.
… visit Manual Antonio. I absolutely loved, loved, loved Manual Antonio beach! It is nestled in Manual Antonio National Park and boasts white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters. However, keep an eye on the raccoons, monkeys, and iguanas on the beach. We had raccoons try to steal our clothes! It was quite an amusing sight.
… awe at the sight of Monteverde cloud forest. This was a completely eerie and magical place.
… visit the canals of Torteguero and see sea turtles during their nesting season.
… relax on the beaches near Puerto Viejo while listening to Bob Marley songs.
… take advantage of the adventure that this country has to offer.