Monday, January 24, 2011

Case Study: Technology in Costa Rica

So I still haven’t blogged about my adventures in Nicaragua (photos on Facebook), but I had to share one of my favorite technology experiences I’ve had in Costa Rica.

I have an amazing boyfriend named Daniel (Dani) of about 6 months. Dani’s family lives in a community within Bijagua called Altamira. It’s about a 1.5 hour walk up a crazy mountain in the folds of the Miravalles Volcano. Their property is gorgeous. About 9 acres with beautiful views of the volcano and some waterfalls, cows, chickens, a pigs, etc. But one thing the property lacks is electricity. They’ve lived there 10 years and never had electricity. It’s a harder life, but also beautiful, cooking with wood, using candles at night, no distractions like TV. Lovely.

As for my technological state, I of course have electricity, internet cafes, a bank and all in big town (ha) Bijgagua centro. In fact, less than a week ago, I got portable internet! I can just plug a USB in and have internet anywhere! It’s beyond amazing.

Well the other night, we brought my computer and internet up to Altamira so Dani’s mom, Maria Elena could video chat with her son and granddaughters, who live in the US. Of course, the computer light wasn’t enough, so there we were video chatting from a house with no electricity on the side of a volcano, with our faces lit by a candle. It was an impactful experience.

But the best part was when Dani had his nieces blow at the screen on their end to try and make the candle go out. And magically (with Dani’s face out of screen shot), the candle would go out! Those little girls got so excited every time they blew the candle out. They didn’t really care that that meant that they couldn’t see our faces anymore. It was the most precious technological interaction I’ve had.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Off to Nicaragua!

So I didn´t write last week and I´m only psuedo writing this week just to say that I´m going to Nicaragua tomorrow! It´s a two-week trip with the lovely ladies Katie, Jen, Adrienne, and Chamisa. We´ll be hitting León, Granada, Isla de Ometepe, and San Juan del Sur. I´m not sure what my internet connection will be, but I´ll take lots of pics and journal to update everyone when I get back home (the Costa Rican one). But in the mean time, Feliz Navidad and Prospero Año Nuevo!!! Miss and love everyone! Enjoy the holidays!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why I suck at blogging

Since I haven’t posted since March 22, I guess I don’t have to point out that it has been a while since I updated my blog (well I guess I just did point that out). This isn’t so much an update, but rather a declaration of my intention to update. :)

So why do I suck so much at this thing (besides it being difficult to find the time)? I wouldn’t say that I’m a horrible writer, but no matter the words I use to describe my experience here, they always fall short. I feel that what I am able to express in words doesn’t come close to the real essence of it.

But, on the other hand, I know that 1) I don’t have a great memory and sometimes these entries are the only things that keep all the details safe, 2) writing (as hard as it seems to me sometimes) helps me work through things, and 3) I really want to stay connected to everyone and share my experience. So I will now try to start once again (who needs the New Year for a resolution?). I’m aiming for weekly communication. Please pester me if I don’t. And please send me updates about you as well! I miss everyone (almost as much as froyo).

So at least for now, I will wet your palette with a picture of the best dog in the world (aka Bavaria), me and my boyfriend, Dani.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Milestones and Kilometer Markings (Meterocks?)

I know there’s lots more to catch up on, but I want to make sure to get out two exciting things that happened very recently.

Milestone: As of March 11, I have been in Costa Rica for one year! Time is a very weird thing here. I know that the passage of time is relative to one’s rate of movement, but I think it also has something to do with life experience. There are definitely some days (and lots of meetings) where I feel like I may go crazy before the minute hand makes any kind of progression. But overall, the time here is volando like it’s got some emergency to attend to. I’ve made friends that I am confident will remain important throughout the rest of my life, learned much more Spanish than I ever could in a classroom, participated in projects that have impacted people’s lives, but I think more than anything else, I have been forced to get to know myself more than ever before.

Attempting to process the last year, I am surprised at how little and how much has changed. I still love my family and friends, never feel like I am working hard enough, and still have dinner and movie dates with friends (granted with food only as exotic as the local super allows and usually on laptop screens instead of theaters). But the changes take much more contemplation. I am in a completely different culture and language, but that’s just geography and semantics. The kind of experiences I am having, aren’t necessarily exclusive to Peace Corps, rather anyone that has started life over with new friends, a new home, new rules, new daily routine, and most importantly, realizes that they have no one to blame or thank but themselves for their sense of accomplishment and general happiness, can relate to how I feel. Sometimes I think PC has made me bipolar - feeling so joyous and complete one day and useless and depressed the next. But I am coming to realize how much my personal decisions determine those feelings.

Not that I ever doubted that really, but when I had so many more people and ‘norms’ telling me what to do, it allowed me to shift responsibility and blame a bit more. And though it doesn’t give me an easy out for explaining my craziness, it is empowering (though sometimes daunting) to know that it’s all on me. I don’t have a perfect summary conclusion, but I guess I have another 1.25 years to figure it out. :)

Kilometer Markings: On the day of our March 11 milestone, two of my closest PCV friends (Katie and Adrienne), Katie’s dad (Jim), and I made arrangements to climb to the top of Chirripo. Standing at 3,800 meters (almost 12,500 ft or 2.36 milestones) the summit is the highest point in Costa Rica and would represent the highest I had ever been (without a seatbelt). But before we could get to that altitude, 14.5 km of hiking had to be dealt with just to get to the albergue, then another 2 hr hike the following morning to get to the summit.

When we had originally discussed the possibility of Chirripo, I thought to myself, “I’ll definitely train before we do that!” One guess as to whether I actually did train at all (I’ll give you a hint, the answer’s the same in English and Spanish). You would have guessed my lack of training by the gasps of air that I sucked in as I struggled up the mountain. But the view was amazing, so my out of shape body gave my eyes extra opportunity to take it in. We passed from cloud forests to high altitude shrubbery, so I started taking pictures of each of the kilometer markings (more pics on facebook) and the scenery in between. Each km was named pretty appropriately.

We saw the white-faced monkeys on Los Monos km, a female quetzal (not quite as resplendent as the male but still awesome) on the Resplendent Quetzal km, the burned trees on Los Quemados km, and I was repenting (though I wasn’t sure what I did wrong) on Los Arrepentidos km. But we finally arrived at the albergue after 7 hours of climbing (which accordingto my guide book is on the low end, so there!).

The albergue was very simple where you have to provide your own food and linens and the cold showers don’t help with the freezing temperatures. Though it did not drop below freezing during our stay (it does occasionally there), I was happy to have all the warm clothes that I felt crazy for packing as I sweated in the heat below.

The next morning, we set out early to hike to the summit. The view was amazing, even as we set out, looking across the valleys that were set thousands of meters above sea level, and looking down on the clouds that were forming. The hike was much less challenging than the day before (not just because it was less than 1/3 of the time) but the last 100m of straight up climbing at the altitude we were at, left me gasping once again. But as we reached the top, it took my breath away for a very different reason. Standing at the highest point in Costa Rica, one year into my service, the beauty and sense of accomplishment was incredible. On clear days, you can apparently see to both oceans. Though we didn’t have such luck, it was amazing to look out over the sea of clouds, the smoking volcano poking out, and the half dozen glacial lagoons around us. We all signed our names in the book and left a haiku that would make our 5th grade teachers proud:

Mountains, lakes, and clouds

Tired, hungry, breathless, cold

This is Chirripo

On the way down, we went to one of the lagoons, then headed back to the albergue to prepare for the descent. The trip down was grueling in a very different way. My breathing definitely wasn’t a problem, but my knees, and the rest of my body, for that matter, wasn’t very happy with me. But after 5 hours, we reached the bottom, all ready for the hot shower and sleep that was in our very near future. Jim treated us to one of the most delicious dinner’s I’ve had in Costa Rica – perfect ending.

Though the 12 hours of traveling back home to Bijagua on bus after bus wasn’t the best for my aching body, it was a great time to contemplate the two significant events of the week – very substantial accomplishments, challenging steps to get there, pushing myself to do more than I had before, and trying to enjoy the journey and sights along the way to the ultimate goal, all flying by faster than ever expected.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Un Poquito Mucho Demasiado Fun!

So it has been forever since I last wrote. I think I’m getting worse at this. Since I don’t know where to start, I’ll start with the most recent event and try to work my way back in (hopefully soon to come) future posts. So let’s start with…Kari’s visit to Costa Rica!

I have to say that as I talk to any friends or family about coming to visit me, I do so secretly (or sometimes not so secretly) never expecting to see them here. So let’s just say I was more than pleasantly surprised when Kari sent me her officially booked itinerary a few months ago. I met Kari while we worked together in the Industrial Engineering Department at Disneyland a few years ago. We’ve kept in touch and hung out since then, but I never expected her to be able to make it down here (especially with all her crazy school schedules). And she was probably the best person to host as the first visitor here. She has traveled in South America, speaks great Spanish, she’s adventurous, fun, and was more interested in a ‘real’ Costa Rican experience, instead of the pampered and expensive itineraries some might be looking for.I was actually in a PC workshop when Kari’s flight arrived. But she found her way through customs, caught the bus to downtown San Jose, and hopped in a cab to my hostel, waiting for me as I returned from the training – so awesome! It was nice to be able to introduce her to some of my PCV friends, even though we weren’t able to spend much time with them. Then that night (after traveling all day and being sick), she still came with me to see a live salsa band! Good night with a good band and some good dancing – great start to an awesome visit.

The next day we headed straight to Manuel Antonio (after a 3 hour delay at the bus station – things can’t go too smoothly here). The hostel was beautiful, and after a quick dip inthe ocean, we high-tailed it back to the hostel to catch an amazing sunset with a liter of Bavaria each – Pura Vida.

The next day was definitely the highlight, though. We headed down early to get some breakfast and head into the national park. Kari had told me that the one thing she wanted to see when she came to visit me was a sloth. So it was a good thing that I had ordered a baby sloth to be climbing down a tree, almost within reach of the trail, within our first 10 steps into the park! It was pretty awesome (and definitely took the sloth pressure off of me). But the best part was the beach we found with the help of a friend we met in the hostel. He said that some of the scenes from the movie The Beach had been filmed here. And I believe it. Even though it was a pretty busy day, it was probably one of the most beautiful beaches I had seen. The water was amazing and pretty salty, so it was even more relaxing than usual to just float there.

The only minor problem we had was when the monkeys stole our bananas. That’s right. I couldn’t make that up. We literally had a bag of bananas and before we even knew they were there, the bag was up in the palm tree, being devoured. I felt sooo bad. After having a whole conversation about how bad it is that people feed the monkeys and how bad bananas are for their digestive system, the little buggers grabbed our bag full of digestive problems. But I have to admit it was pretty cool to see them up close.

The next phase of the trip was some quality time in Bijagua. I was so happy that Kari was able (and excited) to spend quite a fewdays in my community. She got to stay in Casa Brigitte (pics on facebook), met my friends, saw some of my projects, helped mewith my English class, climbed a 30m high hollow tree, played apples to apples with my friends, saw the beautiful Rio Celeste, met my host family, and really got a good glimpse into my life here.

It was actually somewhat surprising how well Kari fit into things here – she appreciated the endless breathtaking views, got along a little too well with my friends, did great in my English class, and was enjoying my lifestyle, when others might be uncomfortable.

We then decided to spend a few days at Playas Brasalito and Conchal. We were able to talk my friend Kim into coming with us. So it was the 3 of us jumping in the ocean, having a romantic candlelit dinner right on the beach, and enjoying some beers as we danced on the sand and took some night time dips in the ocean. Then the next day we went to the crushed-shell, turquoise-water Playa Conchal. So beautiful. John, Brianna, and Chris (PCV friends) met up with us and the 6 of us faced some tough decisions all day long – jump in the blue water, sunbathe (or sunbake in my case), enjoy our cold beers (that were actually delivered to us at one point), chat with friends, or just enjoy the ridiculous view. So we just decided to do them all. We finished up the day with a fun night at Brianna and John’s place. Then, after spending one more day in Bijagua, Kari was off early the next morning. : [

It was truly an amazing trip! We had such a great time. And it is so great that Kari seemed to enjoy and understand a bit better the life I have here. I can’t thank her enough for finding a way to make it down here to experience the Pura Vida with me! Love you Kari!!!

Friday, November 27, 2009


Tico Thanksgiving

Costa Rica Fact Check: What day is celebrated the 4th Thursday of November?
Answer: Well this year it was November 26th, very special as it followed November 27th.

In other words, Ticos don't celebrate Thanksgiving. This presented a problem for me, since I enjoy celebrating food, I mean Thanksgiving (really the same thing). So even though I would be celebrating Thanksgiving (and food) with a PCV friend on the day of Thanksgiving (see below), I wanted to introduce my English students to the joys of Thanksgiving - take that PC goal #2!

So after their first test, we had a Tico Thanksgiving! What can one expect to find at a Tico Thanksgiving? Glad you asked! I have the tantalizing menu here:
  • Pumpkin Pie (this was my beautiful dish made possible by a can of pumpkin pie mix left by Ryan and one sent by Mom, Mom's pie crust recipe, and Pippa's oven) and since whipped cream isn't exactly easy to come by, for those who wanted, it was topped with condensed milk
  • Chicken - deliciously seasoned (turkey's a little more difficult to come by)
  • Gravy
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes topped with melted multi-colored marshmallows (this was my fault for trying to explain that some people put marshmallows on yams)
  • Absolutely delicious chocolate/coconut/caramel bars (which she calls slices) made by Pippa
  • Fruit mold
  • Some flan sort of thing
  • Rompope (Eggnog, which is actually fashionable year-round here)
It was great time. I tried to explain where the holiday comes from, with mixed results. I think I left them with the impression that is a day that we worship food and has something to do with Native Americans and Pilgrims - I guess not too far from the truth (at least for me). But everyone enjoyed themselves and learned a little bit about the US. We even went around and said something we were thankful for. Quite a few said they were thankful for me as a teacher and for our English class. This was probably due to the previously mentioned first test they had just taken, and the fact that I would soon be grading it, but I take compliments, even bribe ones. ; )

Talamanca Thanksgiving

I was lucky enough to be adopted for a few days my my PCV friend, Katie's mom. So I met them in Tamarindo (or as some call it, Tamagringo) for a few relaxing days at a beautiful resort on the beach. It was a gorgeous place with nice bungalows, a pool, wifi, monkeys (the last two shown to the right, being enjoyed by Katie), a ridiculous breakfast (just ask the beautiful bird to the left, who stalks you til you get up for seconds...or thirds), and endless relaxation two steps from the beach. Tamarindo wasn't as overdeveloped and ugly as I was afraid of (although there is tons of construction going on, so who knows what it will look like in a matter of years), is quite charming, and has an amazing selection of food that is not rice and beans.

I arrived Thanksgiving afternoon, and after a tranquilo evening by the pool and beach, we sat down to a Thanksgiving dinner at the restaurant. Brianna and Jon (awesome PCV married couple) came up to enjoy it with us, since they are unfairly close to the beaches. We enjoyed turkey, gravy, green beans, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie (not as good as mine). It was amazing, and we stuffed ourselves til we felt ill - making those Pilgrims proud.

The next day we went to an amazing beach that is completely covered by shells. It is definitley one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been. Great day in white sand and pristine blue water.

Then that night included the best salsa dancing scene that I have experienced in Costa Rica. There was a live band, no cover, free drinks for ladies, gringos, ticos, great dancers, beginners, a gorgeous beach view, and reggae and hip hop on the band breaks. It's like it was made for me! Suffice it to say that Katie and I had a blast.

The next day, we explored the river that leads to the beach and saw endless mangroves, herons, land crabs, a lizard, cayman, and monkeys.

That afternoon, we swam to the island in front of the hotel (that spec...ok blob in the picture to the right). Though Katie's mom was convinced that we just might not make it back, we made it to swim another day. It was challenging, but pretty amazing.

It was such an amazing vacation. And though I am ashamed to say it was my first trip to the beaches closest to me up here in the north (about 3 hours away), it definitely will not be my last!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Let's Try This Again

So when I said that I would try to update my blog every week, I guess the operative word was ‘try’. So I’ll try this again. I’ll do some catching up on old stuff spread out (so as not to overwhelm you or me) as well as new stuff. Added occasional bonus: Learning Moments.

New Stuff:

English Classes

Learning Moment: Saying “easy as a-b-c” does not apply in English class.

So I am an English teacher! Peace Corps Costa Rica (PCCR) has a partnership with an organization called Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano (CCCN), which aims to develop the relationship between the US and CR (no wonder PCCR partners with them). One of the things CCCN does is some pretty good English courses. So they do a little bit of training for us on teaching English, make the materials (books, workbooks, and teacher’s book) available at a low price to the students, and then give certificates to the students who complete the course. Now, certificates may not sound like a big deal, but Ticos really love their certificates. There are some people who do all sorts of courses and collect certificates as if it were a hobby. So it is a very big de

al that I can offer a certificate at the end of the course, and CCCN is a pretty well known one.

I offered the course mostly to the small business groups first and filled in the rest of the spots with other community members and a few high schoolers for a total of 16 students. My friend Pippa graciously offered her classroom where she also teaches English classes, which is great since she has created a very stimulating English nook with tons of fun resources that I am sure I will make use of. It’s a 3-hour course twice a week and this first beginner’s course lasts about 6 months.

Considering that I had never really been a teacher before, I wasn’t all that sure if this would be the thing for me. But after 2 weeks of classes, I’ve actually had a lot of fun. And the students seem to really like it and are pretty motivated since they see the value in learning English for their own interests. Most classes go pretty great and it’s nice to have a teacher’s book that has things pretty planned out for me, but I sometimes have to add or change things around. Like the first day, we learned the Beatles song “You Say Goodbye and I Say Hello” to practice the greetings we had learned in an entertaining way – my mom would be so proud. And then when the alphabet came up, the teacher’s plan had us go over it briefly then launch right into spelling and listening to spelling at full speed. But since it was really like learning 26 new words for them, we ended up spending more time on the alphabet than planned. Now with the help of the alphabet song and extra practice, they are doing a lot better.

Lots of work, but lots of fun too and I think it will be a project I really enjoy and that the students will get a lot out of.

Lost iPod Shuffle and Ant Invasion

Learning Moment: There are almost always 2 ways of looking at things.

The pessimistic way: I misplaced my iPod shuffle for over a month, leaving m

e without portable music and podcasts for long bus rides and morning runs (which was actually a pretty big bummer). Then I realized that I had had it all along when I had to empty everything out of my backpack when ants infested it, and found the shuffle in a small pocket. So I missed out on a month of comforting music and podcasts (one of the ways I stay sane and somewhat updated on world news) when I had it all along and then had to waste 30 minutes dealing with annoying ants.

The optimistic way: After a month of disappointing shuffle-less bus rides and runs, some ants were kind enough to help me look through my backpack more thoroughly (and realize that I need to wash it perhaps) to find my long lost shuffle! And after this time without a shuffle, I appreciate it so much more and am even more motivated to go on runs since, after all, I have a shuffle to listen to!

I think I like the optimistic way – a lot more constructive, especially for these 2 years.

Old Stuff:

Caño Negro

Learning Moment: Mango pizza is delicious!

Caño Negro is a pretty well known Wildlife Reserve and also happens to be where a PCV friend, Mick, is located. It’s got swamps, heaps of birds, and even prehistoric fish. Caño Negro is an interesting case. Though it is so popular and probably among the top 10 tourist destinations in Costa Rica, it almost exclusively gets tourism booked from outside companies that bring in and take out the tourists, without leaving much benefits for the actual community of Caño Negro behind. (I guess it’s not all that much unlike my own site with Rio Celeste)

But of all that it has to offer, pizza finally got me out there. Another PCV friend, James, is in a sight between Mick and I and happens to count making homemade pizza as one of his many talents. Well Mick and James decided that perhaps teaching some community members how to make pizza might offer a possibility of income for them. So I joined in on the fun.

The pizza workshop went quite well. Not sure if anything will start up, but I was happy to be a part of a few Costa Ricans’ first experience with pizza (yay PC goal #2).

We also got to go on a beautiful tour of the lake. We saw plenty of caimán (alligators), birds, monkeys, and gorgeous vegetation and scenery. It was a very traquilo and beautiful tour (due to technical difficulties, no pictures to show).

Rio Celeste Adventure

Learning Moment: 25km is a very long walk (especially in mud and rain)

So Rio Celeste is that gorgeous tourist destination with the turquoise crystalline waters that I visited with my Tarbaca host family in July. This amazing natural wonder is very close to Bijagua, but it’s not in Bijagua. We took a 4-wheel drive taxi when I went with my host family. Well they are working on another entrance to the park that used to only be accessible by horse, and with the construction, is now even less accessible. This new road begins in Bijagua. It will cut a few km off the trip and most likely have quite an effect on Bijagua. (Really hoping this will not ruin Bijagua and it can still keep it’s real Costa Rica feel, but that’s another issue)

Ryan and I had been talking about making the journey on foot for a while and we finally decided it was now or never (we chose now). Even though we got some crazy looks when we let people know what we were doing, we set out on our adventure early in the morning. The weather started out pretty well behaved, which made the muddy sections a bit more manageable. It was a pretty walk as we crossed through cow fields and across rivers. But by the time we finally arrived to the park entrance, I was already pretty exhausted and my hip felt like it was going to say

“screw you” and jump off my body.

But after a rest, we made our way onto the park trail. We went down to the waterfall (yep, still beautiful) and as it had started to rain a bit, we took the shortcut to the hot springs. The springs weren’t as hot as before since the river level was higher, but it still felt pretty amazing with the rain falling as we sat in the warm water.

It was really hard to talk my body into getting out of the water, but I finally did so we could make our way back. The return trip was more of a challenge, with my body already on strike, rain falling, and the mud much more reluctant to let my feet (sometimes ankles and calves) go.

But despite my doubts, we actually did make it back. We had left 8am, got back 4pm and covered roughly 25km (more than a half marathon covered in a work day). Great adventure, but I think I might wait for dry season before considering another one.