Monday, February 27, 2012

Yesterday I returned to San Jose from Quepos. It was hard to leave the comfy little life I'd gotten used to there, even after only three weeks. I had begun to make some good friends and my little apartment felt like home. I even had my favorite part of Manuel Antonio beach to laze around on. Several days last week I went to the beach after school and didn't leave til dark. One night I sat on the beach with some friends at twilight, a beer in one hand and fresh pineapple in the other, and thought “Life is good.” Then I went into the water and floated there as I watched the sun set. Cue gratuitous tropical sunset on the beach shot:

Last weekend some other students and I traveled to Puntarenas, north of Quepos in the Gulf of Nicoya, for Carnival. It was... a cultural experience, to be sure. It was stifling hot and something like 6 – 7,000 people from all over the country crowded onto one street. The entire length of it, on either side, looked something like this:

My friend who organized the trip was a bit overenthusiastic about punctuality and we arrived in Puntarenas around 10am for a parade we thought started at 2:00. This, in true Tico fashion, was not to be. When I was ready to explode from standing around in the heat, the parade finally started around five. The police started things off, including some young police folk. My thoughts were torn equally between “Ugh, they're indoctrinating them so early,” and “Dawwww!!” This was followed by fire breathers, people on stilts and unicycles, and jugglers, all plastered with corporate logos. For some reason, the Cacique girl seemed to be the most popular (I'm guessing the reason is “boobs”).

After this followed the main attraction: marching bands and dance troupes from different towns across the country. One of my favorites was the group “Imperio de Sabor” (Empire of Flavor) for their awesome costumes, sassy lead male dancer, and for their name alone.

Apparently this guy from the crowd was a really big fan. There were cops standing everywhere, but they just looked on. In the U.S., he would have been thrown right back across the parade barrier. I love the feel of marginally-controlled chaos at Latin American celebrations!

Eventually I had to leave the parade to sit on the beach to rest my aching feet and overly stimulated brain. Now, I am similarly resting in San Jose for a few days before heading to the Osa Peninsula and begin my senior project. The next entry on this conservation blog should actually be about conservation! I have begun to brainstorm overarching questions to address while participating in the project and later while writing my final paper. I have also been attempting to get myself into the needed mindset of an outsider working on a community-based conservation project, a balance of “being” and “doing,” removing my ego from the equation and enabling myself to be receptive to the needs and wants of the community. A student last week at COSI, the spanish intensive school I attended for three weeks, worked for USAID for many years. She had some excellent suggestions for me for my coming project and was inspiring to speak to. I can't wait to see what new ideas and experiences unfold before me, and to get a glimpse of where my education might take me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Poco y poco, aprendido español

Finally, I am updating. Sorry it has been over a week since my first post. I have made multiple attempts to write but always been too tired or too busy. Now, I'm doin it, dammit! After only a week of class my Spanish has definitely improved. I can actually understand most of what is said to me and respond with less confused looks in reply than ever before! After just three days of class my “matica” (my homestay mom) commented that my Spanish has improved. I have class for four hours in the morning with two other Americans and a girlfromSwitzerland. Class time mostly consists of sitting around and chatting, making each other laugh, and occasionally playing little games. Also,my “classroom” is outside and has an ocean view. Not too bad.

One day after class this week I made it to a pretty little beach that doesn't see as many tourists as the other beaches in Manuel Antonio. I went snorkeling off the shore and, although the reef wasn't exactly pristine, there were lots of fish to see. The most curious was a tiny yellow fish with vertical black stripes. It would periodically swim right in front of my goggles or follow alongside my hands in front of me. It wasn't trying to eat anything off me, like a cleaner fish, only following along. Maybe for protection from predators? On our long walk back from the beach, my Swiss and German friends from class and I decided to stop for happy hour. A couple of daiquiris made the walk up the hill easier by far.

This weekend it was so hot in Quepos that it was hard to think or move. I took two cold showers a day just to cool off. Dios mio. My first week of Spanish classes came to a good end, though. I had time to catch up on sleep, do some vocab review, and even a bit of socializing. In a bar on Friday I did a double take when I turned to the person next to me and realized it was someone I knew from Prescott College, where I go to school in Arizona. It was bizarre to run into each other in such a faraway place. The world is truly quite small, and Prescott College students seem to pop up in the most random corners of it.

On Sunday I visited my host family's farm. We got there a little to late to milk the cows, but I got to run one of their horses around a field a bit. In one of their fields grew a picture-perfect example of a strangler fig (Ficus spp.) taking over its host, a palm tree. My host dad and I then headed to a family friend's farm to give them the morning's milk and enjoy some fresh star-fruit juice. This pretty little Anole lizard (Anolis spp.) was hanging out with us outside.

Now I only have another week or so of class left before returning to San Jose, and then finally, finally, finally beginning my senior project in the Osa Peninsula. Between the logistics, forms, and now these Spanish classes I have had more than enough of preparation (although my classes are by far more enjoyable than the rest of it was). I am eager to begin!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Estoy aqui

And so my next adventure in Costa Rica begins! I am usually horrible at keeping a diary or staying in touch when traveling, but am I going to do my best to keep up with my blog. I arrived in San Jose two days ago, the city where colorful tropical trees contrast with barbed wire and graffiti, where traffic laws are just a suggestion, and street signs are nonexistent. I stayed in the same hostel where I did for two weeks this summer. The only faces I recognized were Claire the cat and Sonia the maid; most of the staff has changed. It was still nice to stay somewhere familiar, though. I felt preemptively homesick and nervous a lot during the last few days before leaving Arizona, but that all disappeared once I got here. “You're traveling alone? Isn't that scary?” a cab driver asked me yesterday. I shrugged and replied, “No, not really.” Traveling far from home by myself feels rather like jumping into freezing water. I just have to close my eyes and jump in, then I adjust pretty quickly.

The hostel is in an old house that the owner inherited from his aunt. It was built in an elegant 1930s style and seems to attract more than just your average tourist. I had dinner in San Jose with a goofy guy from Texas who is here for nine months to teach English and a conservation biologist on his way to work in Panama. He was hired by Tortugero to coordinate a project in Bocas in which local people will be trained to monitor the sea turtles and show them to tourists. The idea is to prevent local people from harvesting the turtles or their eggs by instead setting them up with jobs that benefit the turtles. I learned about a similar project in Kino Bay, Mexico when I studied there last year. I love meeting fellow nerds. He and I had a lot to talk about and learn from one another. It was also exciting to see a glimpse of where my career might take me after I graduate this May. The biologist has traveled all over Central America working on conservation projects. What a life!

I took a bus yesterday from San Jose to Quepos, on the Pacific Coast. We wound through the forest, getting lower and lower and hotter and hotter as we approached the sea. It is going to take a while to adjust to the heat. Its in the mid-nineties during the day, plus a decent helping of humidity on top of that. It is crazy to think that just a few days ago I was watching snow fall outside my window in Prescott as I packed my bags. Yesterday I met the family I am going to be staying with for the next three weeks. Kattya, a kind lady with an easy smile, met me at the bus station and took me back to her home. It was not what I was expecting, based on my previous home-stay experiences. She and her husband Juan own half an apartment building. I have a whole room upstairs to myself, complete with a bathroom and little kitchen. When staying with other families the experience was much more cozy, staying in a spare room of the family’s home. I will definitely appreciate having my own space while still having meals and socializing with the family and other students. There are two other students staying here right now, a German couple named Haike and Yügen (I am completely guessing at the spelling). I also met Kattya's two sons and Pinky, their boisterous little Chihuahua. Thanks to him I learned a new word from Kattya: “ruidoso,” or noisy.

Bright and early today I took a bus to Spanish school in Manuel Antonio, the neighboring town. I am grateful that for now the traveling is over and I will be able to get to know this area a little. With lush tropical rainforest bordering one side of Quepos and Manuel Antonio, and the ocean on the other, its not a bad place to be. I was a little apprehensive about taking Spanish classes again for the first time since I was a junior in highschool, but today was pretty easy. We went over a lot of things I already know and many more that I had forgotten. I hope that class gets more difficult soon, but for now it is good to review and fill in the gaps in my knowledge. My goal is to be nearly fluent by the time I return to the states in April. Being able to communicate in Spanish will also be very important to my senior project in the Osa Peninsula. Right now it feels like that is forever away, but I know that three weeks will fly by before I know it. Then I'm off to a different piece of paradise.

P.S. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is on google video! Amazing.