Monday, March 30, 2009

Chillin´ Out Max & Relaxin´All Cool

We have been having lots of fun here in Ocotal, but it has mostly been a lot of time just kickin it on Heleen and David´s patio. The guidebook says Ocotal is relatively ugly (much to Heleen´s horror and hurt feelings because she loves it here), but I guess it`s just compared to the rest of Nicaragua because it is still really nice here. After our night of socializing and a next day of relaxing and sleeping, the 3 of us, Christian, Chris and I went on this "hike" that Heleen had suggested where we took a bus into this town and walked from there along a dirt road straight uphill for an hour just to go to what we thought was a little coffee shop, but turned out to be a busstop/wooden shack that sold cookies and coffee. It was a hot hike, but not so bad, and I didn´t really understand the point until the owner, Jaime, was asking why we were there (since we sat on the bench and let the bus pass) or what we came for. We told him we´d come just to come, so he basically said, "well come back here then and I´ll show you this" (in Spanish) and it turned out the reason Heleen knew him was that the NGO where she is working down here, called UNAG had helped him become a sustainable farmer 8 years ago. They taught him, and other people in the area, how to install irrigation systems, water sisterns, fish ponds, plant fruit trees, sugar cane, grape vines on overhead trellises to shade the other plants, avocado, coffee, lemons, and all sorts of stuff all arranged interconnectedly in a pretty small area. Jaime was super nice and explained things over and over until we got them (apparently I don´t speak Northern Nicaraguan Spanish because I´ve barely understood anything since Ciudad Dario). He chopped us sugar cane to take home and gave us a whole backpack full of lemons, and it was really cool to see how sustainable he is. His whole family went from struggling by growing the typical beans and corn to sell, on pretty infertile soil, and starving from it, to being completely able to live off food from their land and the extra bit they get from selling cookies and coffee to the bus passengers is just gravy. So that was really interesting. We got to wade in the river on the way back just upstream from women washing clothes in the stream and little naked, brown kids jumping in the pools. Then, the next day we went for a hike with Heleen (this one significantly more intense because you wouldn´t know it by looking at her but Heleen is super tough and die-hard about hikes). We walked through mountains on a dirt road down to the Rio Coco, which is the longest river in Central America but during the dry season it´s pretty much a stream in a lot of places, so we got our feet exfoliated in warm sand and were having a nice stroll until we came out of the river to go UP the mountains; Heleen still adamantly insists that it was only 3 hills, but it was actually 3 mountains that are so steep I´m surprised we didn´t need rockclimbing eqipment, that are tempered with short, little flat or downhill part so that you just barely recover your breath and spirit before the next nearly vertical part. Thank God we got a ride on the way down because my knees would´ve snapped like twigs. She also said it was only a 6 hr hike but it was already at 8 hours when we got picked up, so as sweet as she is in almost every way, you can´t believe a word she says about hikes.
It´s so great here in general because we really like Heleen and David, we can cook in the kitchen, and we have a room with a bed, so the only bad thing is the other Couchsurfer, Chris, who is this insipid Australian who smells like BO and will ruin the flow of every conversation with some nasally off-topic interjection, but que sera sera. The last day before leaving Ocotal we rode 2 buses to Somoto Canyon, which is this awesome place where the Rio Coco, the same river we were at the other day but a very different part of it, had carved out this huge canyon for miles and miles. Tourists just "discovered" it in 2003, and since then the price has significantly increased each year to a whopping $5 per person now (we bargained this down to $5 total, of course) and had 2 guides to walk us down through farms and across the river on stones, twice, then into a rowboat to get us to the place where we could ride on innertubes through the deep parts and climb over rocks in the shallow parts. The guides were trying to lead us down the whole river, but we didn´t think that would´ve been as much fun, so they got us to the tubes and I rode in the tube with the bag on my lap and Christian swam and pushed me. It was absolutely amazing! Just thousands of years of erosion through all different types of rocks and landscapes, and we´re just hanging out and talking, and then after a few hours, we turned around and went back out the way we came. It was definitely the most beautiful thing we´d seen around Ocotal, and then the next morning we said our goodbyes and headed out, which I´ll tell you about next time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ups and Downs

After a day of recovery from our volcano hike, including another 2 nights of sitting around and hanging out with awesome people doing interesting, world-changing sorts of things, and going to this amazing little natural pool called the Ojo de Agua, where we swam and hung out in the sun and talked to even more interesting people, we decided it was time to move on from Ometepe. Some of the things that have made it my very favorite place so far include: chickens, pigs and dogs hanging around our feet while we ate at a ¨restaurant¨, the bus breaking down EVERY SINGLE TIME we are on it, with the highlight being when we all had to get out and push it to get it started again (yes, seriously), the way everyone on the street says Hola and Adios as we walk by, how you see a tarantula at least once a day, how I seem to have gotten over my claustrophobia because it is just a fact of life that we will be crammed into every available piece of air everywhere we go and how apparently you can fit at least 4 times the stated capacity onto a bus (notwithstanding the breakdowns). So Christian, AnneSofie, Sidsel and I headed to Granada by bus and boat and we stayed in this hostel there that would have been really nice except that it was filled with spring-breakers that said awesome things like ¨Dude, do not ever eat turtle eggs. I just paid 7 bucks for a plate of them and they are NASTY¨ (well that is great, you stupid jerk, but that is also disregarding the fact that they are endangered and there are activists down here just to protect them and t-shirts everywhere that say ¨no como los huevos de tortugas¨ (I do not eat turtle eggs), but you should not eat them because they taste bad). I guess after being around so many cool people until then that my standards were skewed, and I did not sleep very well because of the club music thumping all night. Anyway, so we walked around Granada, which is beautiful, but all white people are constantly harrassed by beggars and it smells like pee everywhere, and the next day we took a day trip to Masaya, which has the biggest artisan market in Central America. That night the college kids were much quieter since one of them had malaria and we left out the next morning after a tearful goodbye to our little Danish girls, and headed to first to Sebaco, which has this huge vegetable market with the most ridiculously perfect looking fruits and veggies I have ever seen (we had huge salads for the next 2 days) and then Ciudad Dario. The guidebook said it was a charming little town full of cowboys, schoolkids in uniform, and nuns, but we did not see a single nun, and trust me, we looked. It was great though, because we got this great little room to ourselves for super cheap and the owner was this adorable little old lady that gave us slices of papaya and told us how attractive we were. There was also a shoemaker and we will go back through in a couple weeks to pick up the awesome, custom-made boots we both ordered (the bootmaker for some reason really made it a point to struggle through the language barrier to tell me I had fat feet, which I though was pretty unnecessary and Christian thought was very funny). When we had lunch, the lady there was telling us all about the town and the culture and showed us her pet parrots, bunnies and dog and was just above and beyond nice. Then we had plans to go from there to a tiny little town called Achuapa to Couchsurf with a Peace Corps guy there. He said he was pretty sure the bus left Esteli at Noon or 1, so we got on the noon bus labelled Achuapa and got half-way across the city before we found out it was not going there, then got back to the bus station at 2 where there was a bus to San Juan de Limay, which was a very closelittle town, so we figured we could catch another ride from there. We got there at 5, after 3 hours of rocky, dirt roads to find out there was no bus, no taxis, and perhaps even no road to Achuapa from there; oh, and that there was no bus back to Esteli until 5 the next morning. There was only one place in town to stay and the owner had been on the bus with us so knew we were stranded and way overcharged us (15 dollars, which is highway robbery for here), but we had no choice. We pouted and went to bed early and caught the bus out and then to Ocotal, where we are now staying with Heleen, another Couchsurfer who is from Belgium and whom we have decided is the nicest person ever. Last night we all made a curry dinner with Heleen, Chris (another Couchsurfer staying here), her roommate David, Jessie and Nikki (2 Peace Corps volunteers stationed here). Everyone here is working on some sort of humanitarian something similar to either mine or Christian´s projects, so we are definitely in a happy place, and I will let you know what happens from here. It might be a while because Heleen´s computer is Dutch and all the letters are in different places, so it is taking me forever to type and I might just hold off for a while.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

El Lodo!!

It´s a good thing Im sitting down for this...since I can hardly move my legs. Ok, here´s what has happened the last few days. We got to Ometepe (this island) on Sunday and couldn´t get to a bank, so on Monday, we figured we´d jaunt over to bank and the market and go swimming and stuff, no big deal. So, the bus to the bank takes two hours, not because it´s so far, because it´s only about 25 kilometers, but half the roads here are made of dirt and rocks and look like a model of the Alps. Also, it´s Nica tradition that the bus drivers have to stop for EVERYONE they pass on the road to ask if they want a ride, and the buses (and all vehicles) are on their last leg, but I have a feeling the last leg has been for at least a decade so far and still going, so there´s usually a problem. That doesn´t even include all the animals. Just that day we saw in the road horses, cows, pigs, chickens, a buffalo, dogs, cats, and more I can´t remember. Christian, Anne Sofie, Sidsel and I all got on the 11:00 bus and didn´t get back to the hostel until about 7:30. At one point the bus stopped and filled with smoke because the driver opened this hatch in the front and the engine was overheated. They poured in some water and we were again on our way. It took about 45 minutes at the bank (no discernible reason) and then lunch, an attempt to find the beach (given up because the island ended at a dock), going to the market, which just has terrible packaged food strewn in all the aisles, a drink with an ex-pat from the US who seems to be a bit bitter about the stupidity of everyone else but himself (it reminded me of someone I know but I cant place my finger on it), and we almost missed the last bus out of town. We caught it on the road (because it stopped for us), but was packed so full there was no room, so with some halted negotiations (us asking ¿arriba? and pointing to the roof, we got to ride on top in the luggage rack. It was Great! we saw the whole island (Christian saw a naked guy hanging out in his back yard). The roads were paved at that point so we were going nice and fast with a good breeze going. All the Nicas waving Hi (people are so nice here and everyone says Adio as they pass each other). We eventually had to get down after about an hour because there was room inside and they needed the luggage space, but it was fun while it lasted. The bus only came within a few kilometers of the hostel, but it turned out the guy next to me worked there (I`m speaking Spanish up a storm, here, you should see me. And everyone is so patient with my terrible grammar and accent and they try to talk to us all the time. Great!) and he was so super nice and walked us back since it´s tough on the roads after dark (like I said, it`s the Alps), and we had made it. Whew! It was actually a really great day and I like it here a lot better than Costa Rica because it´s more real. Then the next day was Anne Sofie´s birthday and we went to this awesome beach to the lake, which has waves like an ocean, but horses standing in the water to drink because of course it´s fresh water. You can stand until way far out and the water was great, so we swam and laid out and ate lunch at a little soda and then went home and stayed up late talking to some awesome people and drinking and eating pineapples and mangoes.
Then TODAY, the reason I am sitting here now is because we got up early and met our guide at 7:30 to climb the volcano. It was ridiculous (in a good way). There is a path in a very Nica sense of the word, meaning we walked up a muddy, rocky steam. We walked 6 kilometers, past petroglyphs, up very steep and rocky and SUPER muddy slopes, through a tropical rainforest (in the morning it was cloudy and we couldn´t see any views, but it was cool and misty, and we saw the whole island on the way down). Half way up, Christian starts laughing and says, ¨What´s the difference between Costa Rica and Nicaragua?¨ because Costa Rica is like Disney Central America and very accomodating to tourists, and this was basically like, ¨If you want to see this badly enough, youĺl climb it,¨ and then down an even steeper slope into the crater of the volcano where there was this perfect lagoon, with the slopes around all misty and covered with trees and the lagoon just absolutely beautiful. We ate lunch there and then it was back down, which is actually harder because the mud (lodo in spanish) is so slippery, but 8 hours later we were back, very accomplished, absolutely filthy (I am not sure my shoes are salvagable), and exhausted, but it is so ridiculously great here. Till next time...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Our Angel Gabriel and Sand-filled Papayas

So after another great day in Monteverde where we just hung out for the day and then took this great night hike where the guide told us all about all sorts of cool things and we saw tarantulas and the like, we left out at the butt-crack of dawn the next morning to go to Nicaragua. We were leaving at the same time as this other guy and had already decided to share a cab for part of the way, and it turned out to be a great decision because his name was Gabriel and he was from Brazil and fluent in Spanish, English, and Portuguese. That guy was a life saver because he´s really personable and he would go up to everyone we saw, make friends in like 5 seconds, negotiate all our rates, weave us through whatever scams were going on, everything. Crossing the border to Nicaragua was crazy because as soon as we were near it we were surrounded by Ticos and Nicas offering to exchange money for us (for I´m sure the same rates the bank offers) or sell us all sorts of things, and cab drivers saying we have to come with them because the buses weren´t running, and just swarming around like flies. So we made it through all that, it took ten hours total and we finally arrived in San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. We had this great little hostel to stay in with a private room and a bathroom with actual hot water AND water pressure (usually if they have hot water at all you have to choose one or the other) for $6 per person. We crashed that night really early, but the next day were all excited about going to the beach. It was not as great as we´d hoped because the water in the Pacific was freezing and the waves knocked you down so hard. We´d also been travelling with these 2 Danish girls who were traveling before going ot volunteer in a Mexican Orphanage, and a wave took off one of the girls´bathing suit bottom completely, and she never found it, so her friend had to go run and get a towel so she could get out of the water. We were expecting that, but we´d gone to the grocery store that morning and bought a papaya the size of a newborn baby, and were all excited aobut eating it on the beach, but the wind blew the sand so much that as soon as we cut it open it was filled with sand. We ate it anyway, of course, but it just sort of takes away from the whole experience. We hung in there for a few hours though, and I came away brown as a berry and with sand in every nook and cranny. We left the next day, Sunday, with the Danish girls, Anasofia and Sedsil, and we went to Ometepe, which is an island formed by 2 volcanoes in the middle of a huge lake that at one time had lake sharks but are probably extinct now. It´s actually trying to become one of the new seven natural wonders of the world, and it should because it´s absolutely unbelievable. There is a great view everywhere you look. The lake is only 30 meters deep at the deepest, and that means it´s really affected by weather, which was bad because it was windy the day we came across on the ferry and I was so seasick, but I was better as soon as we´d stopped. We were again assaulted by taxi drivers and this one lady was particularly persistent. I´m pretty sure she regretted it afterwards because we got her to take us to this organic coffee plantation/hostel and it was for much cheaper and much further away than I think she wanted to go (I learned a bit from Gabriel about negotiating and my spanish is getting pretty good),
so no we´re here for $2.50 per person and it´s awesome and the people are really cool, and today we´re going to go swimming with the sharks and tomorrow do an 8 hr hike up the volcano and hang out at the lagoon in the crater that wasn´t known to white people at all until the 1930´s.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


So Christian and I had just spent all of Sunday doing absolutely nothing except swimming in the ocean and getting things organized in a very half-assed, lazy sort of way. We were walking on the beach after dark and I had just gotten finished telling him about this poster i saw one time of this fisherman on the beach who had just come upon a dead mermaid among all the other dead fish from a red tide. He had this expression like he had just gained and lost everything all at once. So then we decided to swim and in the ocean met a mermaid. Ok, technically she wasn't a real mermaid, since she had legs, but apparently she's gotten hurt years ago and had blogclot issues so that the only place she could be comfortable for any length of time was in the water, specifically the ocean because she's most bouyant there. So she now does sponsored swims for 8 hours a day across countries and oceans, and is an ocean activist for the health of the sea. If that doesn't count as a mermaid then I don't know what. So we had dinner with her (on land). Then we went to this waterfall the next day, different than the ones we saw before, and swam under it like a very intense shower. Also, there was an iguana in our room and I fed it a banana. We have pictures - seriously, right out of my hand. We spent all of Tuesday traveling, heading by bus and ferry to Santa Elenas and Monteverde. This is a beautiful rainforest preserve started by the Quakers and while most of Costa Rica is deforested, so to speak, because there are plants everywhere but not jungle, this place is the real deal. But in order to discourage tourist destroying the sanctity of the preserve, they petitioned to not pave the roads and won, so the trip here was absolutely terrifying. Since you all know me, you probably know that I am not a girl that scares easily, but I happened to be sitting in the very last seat on the right side of the bus, which also seemed to be the wheel that just barely managed to grip some tiny twig or root at the last minute and keep the entire bus from plummeting over the vast abyss of pastoral death that awaited below. This is a huge tourbus, a tiny narrow dirt road, and lots of loose dirt and gravel. I was sitting with my eyes closed chanting, "they do this every day, twice a day, every day, twice a day..." and we made it. Barely. So we got a room for the night and THEN today had the most fun I have had since we've been here, and that's saying a LOT. So we got up and took the shuttle to the Santa Elenas reserve, which is a beautiful hike through dense jungle (on a path maintained by the local high school, which means it was poorly maintained and very muddy in some places). it was amazingly beautiful, and we saw a Quetzal, which is apparently nearly impossible to see and very rare, but it's bright green with a red chest, and a long plume off it's tail. We also saw what we're pretty sure were dozens of sloths all around us in the trees. It's also very difficult to spot a sloth because they don't move and they have moss growing in their fur, so they look like a big pile of moss in the trees. However, this also means that pretty much any pile of moss you see in a tree (and there are lots) you can claim as a sloth and take a picture. SO we did. Then, we had a 1:00 appt for the coolest thing ever which was the Canopy Tour, which means flying over the treetops of the jungle on a wire at about 45km/hr. GOD IT WAS SO COOL!!! There were 13 ziplines and a tarzan swing which involved a freefall of a very terrifying 10 feet before the swing catches you. We were literally high over all the treetops, flying through the clouds in some cases (it's called the Cloud Forest, so there are lots of them), and seeing everything below. It was a big splurge of $35 but worth every penny. Now we are staying in this great little hostel where everyone is super nice and the whole scene is conducive to people being able to talk to lots of other people, so that's what we're doing. We've spent this whole day with these 2 very nice law school girls, Lauren and Rachel, and our roommates are both serious world travelers. Christian was asleep by 8:30 (poor thing- it was a very big day) and I'm about to go socialize. Tomorrow is a hike to a mountain where we can see both the Pacific and Carribean from the top, and then a guided night hike through the children's forest, which was funded completely by kids with cans asking form oney to save the rainforest. Pura Vida.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Under the Poison Tree

It has been an intense last couple of days, let me tell you. So the other day, we woke up on the beach, went swimming in the washing-machine part of the ocean, between the rocks, and went to town to use the internet. On the way back, we ran into Aaron as he was on his way out of town to go see about a buying some land, and he said that Vivian was about to come find us about staying there so her rent would be cheaper. We went there and arranged it, and then decided we should all go get our stuff, show her the washing-machine, and then hike up to see the waterfalls. The tide had apparently come in and the washing-machine was way more intense that time, so i was the only one still excited about it (Christian had gotten out early the first time on the pretense of wanting to take pictures, but I later found out he was scared), but Vivian got a video of me being washed back and forth, so we did that for a little while and then hiked up to the waterfall. Vivian had been there already and kept talking about this other path that went all the way to the top but we got lost for a little while. By the time we ended up at the waterfall we were sweaty and exhausted, but it was absolutely beautiful, and the waterfall itself wasn´t the main part, as much as the deep pond it fell into, which had a tarzan swing and a bunch of young people sitting on rocks all around it, looking like an abercrombie ad or something. Christian loved the tarzan swing, but I had trouble holding myself up with my arms to use it properly, so I jumped off a cliff instead. We have a picture of my diving over the side. It was nothing compared to this other kid though - he jumped from the top of the 2nd waterfall down to the lagoon below, which was at least 4 stories- crazy. It was great and we swam around for a few hours and then hiked up the right path to this thing Vivian called the canopy, which is a geodesic (?) dome built for apparently no reason whatsoever with a parachute spread over the top of it. It was like a giant jungle gym, so we climbed all over it, and it was at the top of the mountain we´d be climbing all day, so it overlooked the whole valley, and we could see and hear howler monkeys in the trees on the other side of the valley. They´re all around here and those Swiss girls we met on the way here say they are so loud by their window that it keeps them up at night. So we hung out there for a few minutes and on the way back to the road we passed this place that was fenced in but looked like a big garden and we were trying to figure out what it was when we saw the sign - it was the butterfly garden where we were originally going to stay. The guy that runs it, Josh and a couple of others that worked there were outside about to take the dogs for a walk and invited us to go, so we went back to the dome and hung out more. All of these activities are sprinkled with moments where we come around a corner or to the top of a hill to get these amazing views of the ocean or forests. So we headed back down the mountain along the road, much easier than the way up, showered, and went out to get some food. It was friday night and after we were done eating they were having a big show in the streets with a bunch of people spinning fire (there´s a school here), so we watched that, then got Javier, Kristen, Gabe, and some other people and went and chilled out on the beach. Then Vivian went dancing and Christian and I headed back to our place (with walls and a bed!). The next day we woke up and decided to go to Cabo Blanco, which is a nature preserve close to here that covers the whole bottom of this penninsula. It was started by a Danish-Swedish couple in the 50´s and the husband actually died protecting it. It´s so named because there´s a huge rock on the tip of the cape that is an important area for breeding birds, so it´s covered with bird poo and Cabo Blanco means White Cape. It was a 2 hour hike once there to reach a beach and then turn around and hike back - it seemed very reasonable, except that it turned out to be hiking straight up a mountain and then back down to the beach, then straight up and back down to return. The beach was beautiful - of course- but something stung my foot in the water. It hurt really badly for ten minutes and then was better. I was probably cushioned by the fact that my feet and ankles have been hugely swollen since we got here. They look like giant versions of chubby baby feet, but they don´t hurt, so it´s ok. Also, there are these schools of little skinny fish that swim really fast across the top of the water and sort of skim along it and jump out of the water at about 60 miles and hour. I don´t know if they just can´t stop afrom going that fast, but there were several times when we were hanging out in the water and all the sudden we´d be surrounded by fish and being bombarded in the face by little fish for about 30 seconds, and then they´d move on and it was quiet again. We camped and ate under a tree that is poisonous, but only if you break a branch and rub it on you, and ate lunch. We´ve been eating avocadoes with these refried beans that we call Beans in a Tube, because they basically are. I don´t even think the locals eat them because they were pretty dusty on the grocery shelf, but they´re cheap and good, so there you go. So we hiked back and as we´re walking we hear this big commotion of something running through all the leaves and it turns out to be monkeys playing and chasing each other. We took pictures and saw and heard monkeys 3 more times just during that walk. The woods look pretty much like Georgia forests, except for the 3 story high palm fronds and of course, the monkeys. We got back and started talking to the Swedish girl that worked there, Matilda, for about an hour, and ended up walking into town with her to catch the bus (which had broken down). Since we´ve been here, we´ve learned so much about German, Swiss, Swedish, and Canadian culture. Basically, everyone we meet, we grill about their countries´ political and economic policies, just trying to see whatever else it out there. I´m pretty sure I´ll be living abroad when I´m older. We´ve learned a ton about Costa Rican culture, too, of course. For example- toilet paper is not flushed here because the plumbing can´t handle it. instead it´s put into a trashcan kept beside the toilet. You´d think it would smell but it´s really not that bad. The grocery bags are all these striped plastic bags, pretty durable because they´re used as garbage bags, and when you´re garbage is full, the bags are taken out and put next to the road for someone to pick up. Anyway, so we´d caught the bus back to town, showered and ate, and then Christian and I were so tired that we crashed at about 10. Vivian left this morning to catch the 6am bus, and we´ve been just relaxing all day. The only thing of consequence was that an iguana came into the apartment (there´s a space between the walls and roof to allow a breeze) and we have pictures of me hand-feeding him a banana. Other than that, we handwashed laundry and read books. It´s so great just to be here.

Friday, March 6, 2009


When we last left our heroes, they were just leaving the hustle and bustle of the city for the greener pastures of the rest of Costa Rica. Christian and I took a bus to this little port town on the coast so that we could take the ferry across the bay to the penninsula and then another bus to Montezuma. The bus ride was a few hours long on all these treacherous looking mountains. I had foolishly gotten the window seat and soon regretted it because I could look straight down into an abbyss about 4 inches from the side of the bus that was driving what felt like really fast on narrow and sometimes dirt roads. The best part, though was that the sun set while we were on it and we could look out on this sunset that looked like it was out of The Neverending Story or something. I couldn´t take a picture because none of the pictures here have been turning out as good as the scenes are in real life - and, oh yeah, I seemed to have misplaced my camera at the lebanese restaurant and I´m just hoping Brennan can get it back for me, but who knows? So there were also these Swiss girls on the bus who were really cool and it turned out we were going to the same hotel, so we talked ot them for a long time about cultural differences and such. They´re traveling around for a month. By the way, all of the punctuation on this computer is in the wrong place, so it´ll probably be wrong - just go with it. So we got to Puntarenas and stayed at this cutesy little hotel there - cinderblock walls, lots of screens and fans because it was almost cool in the city (it´s in a valley) but the rest of Costa Rica is HOT, and bathrooms down the hall, just a bed and about a foot around it in the room- it was perfect. So we went for a walk on the beach, which we had heard was polluted so we had to run up every time a wave came, but then afterwards we found out we could´ve gotten in it because it was the other side of the island that was polluted. Then we came back and sat with the Swedish girls, Sonya and Daniella, and talked more about culture, politics, etc. We got up in the morning and went to breakfast and were taking our time but then realized we had to hurry to catch the ferry. We were carrying all our stuff, which is ridiculously heavy, most of the town smells like a mix of pee, poop and fish, it was I´m pretty sure like 120 degrees (not sure in celsius) and we got lost, so that was horrible and I was super mad by the time we got on the ferry. Luckily it´s an hour trip and I had really good trailmix, so I was better after that. They hearded us off like cattle and we got on another 2 hour busride to montezuma. We had heard great things about it and we really stoked, but when we got there, it was really touristy, and everything was like twice as much as the guidebook said it would be. We had picked up these other two guys from New York on the bus, Ryan and Matt, so they were saying there was another town north of there that had a great beach. We decided to go there and rode the bus back to the town where we transferred buses. We had to wait over and hour, and in the meantime we were talking to these other people at the bus stop heading to Montezuma and they were really cool. There were these Californians here, Kristen and Gabe, who were staying here for 3 months or longer because Kristen teaches Yoga and Gabe is a forest firefighter, so is off for 6 mos at a time. We were saying how it was expensive to get a place and she goes, Oh, well you could sleep on our beach (the place they´re renting is literally right on the sand). Um...yeah, of COURSE we want to sleep on your beach. Se we went back from whenst (?) we came and hung out with the Californians and New Yorkers, and then build a fire on the beach and were sitting around. We´d also met some Canadians at the busstop and they came too. There was this one girl, Vivian, and this is her first stop in a 1.5 year trip all over the world by herself (!) and this guy she´d met in San Jose, Aaron, who has a wife and 3 kids, and has traveled so much that his kids are homeschooled so they can travel more, has sailed all over and lived in I don´t even know how many countries. So we sat around and talked to them with a fire, then slept on the beach and woke up to the most ridiculously perfect and beautiful beach scene (it was dark when we came in so this was the first time seeing it). We went swimming right away and there´s this place where there´´s a huge rock and the wave will come around it from either side, so behind it and in front of the shore rocks is this this place where you float and the waves just carry you back and forth back and forth about 20 feet. Awesome. Then we came to town, ate fresh papaya and avocado for breakfast, and now I´m typing before we spend the whole day getting a tan (Christian´s will be in spots) and then this evening taking a shower in this waterfall that just happens to be about 200 yards from where we´re staying. We decided to save the volcano hikes for another time, but after we´re here for a few days, we´ll be heading up the coast to Nicaragua. I´ll keep you updated. Pura Vida.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Finally Here!

Well, it was touch and go for a while there about whether I'd actually make it here, but I am, in fact, now in Costa Rica.  Last Sunday, the day I was supposed to fly from Ohio to Atlanta before my flight to Costa Rica the next morning, there was a huge "Thunder-snow" storm... in Atlanta ... En serio!? (seriously!?).  My flight was cancelled while I was heading to the airport, so while I was on hold with the airline for 2 hours and with my deodorant failing miserably I decided to drive instead.  The roads were completely clear by the time I got there and I stayed with Laura and Rob Craig that night so that Laura could get up with me at 4:30 the next morning (as if I needed one more reason to love her so much) and take me to the airport.  Everything's all good with the flights and I talked for 2 hours (in Spanish!) with this guy Rodrigo, from Costa Rica but living in Atlanta.  He reminded me of a much shorter version of my Grampy and Costa Ricans (bless them) speak very slowly.  Just when we're about to land, the pilot announces that the is a fire near the airport ("a bit out of control") and that luckily we have enough fuel to circle for a while, probably 15 minutes ... so 45 minutes later we land.  Christian is waiting for me, looking especially tall and handsome amongst the Costa Ricans, and we head to Brennan's house on a bus.  Brennan is a friend of a friend in Atlanta who is super cool and has travelled all over the world, but is settling (for now) in Costa Rica to be with his cute little girlfriend Farah.  He's given us the keys and free use of the apartment, so we drop off my stuff and are about to head out to see the city when ... I innocently shut the door and lock us out, with the keys and Christian's money and our passports inside.  The locks here are apparently not as crappy as they look because we couldn't pick it, despite the handle hanging on by a screw.  I have some money with me, so we head out to kill 6 hours until Brennan gets home.  Interesting fact about San Jose - apparently it's pretty safe during the day, but after it gets dark at 5:30, the whole city turns into 28 Days Later and it's not safe to walk around (especially sporting the whole gringo tourist, ugly sandal look we had going on).  It was about 4:30.  So first we go eat at this 50's style Soda (casual little restaurant) and the food is GREAT.  I had been a little worried about finding food to eat here, but it's so much easier than in the U.S.  There are really fresh fruits and vegetables everywhere, and really cheap, and the restaurants have food just like I would cook - beans, rice, eggs, fish.  There is bread here, but it's not as much of a staple, and ice cream is the biggest milk product I've seen around (and Costa Ricans must love ice cream because there are signs everywhere).  God, it's so good, and I haven't had any stomach problems since I've been here.  Another interesting little fact - the eggs here aren't refrigerated because apparently eggs don't actually need refrigerated and the only reason they are in the US is because they're given a steam cleaning that washes off the natural protective coating the have so THEN you have to refrigerate them.   So after we eat we have a little while before it turns dark so we walk along the main street trying to find something cheap to do, and then it gets dark and we get a cab to take us to a cine (movie theater).  We buy the tickets and are all excited until we turn around to see the Now Playing poster which is ...Brendan Frazier in the Spanish dubbed El Corazon de Tinto (Inkheart).  NOOOO!!  Could there have possibly been a worse movie playing?  Having already bought the tickets and having nowhere else to go, we suffered through it, but I can tell you (in case you were planning on seeing it) that it was probably better not being able to understand what they were saying and it was still terrible.  So then we were reading the guidebook, trying to figure out where we could go - tried an internet cafe and it was these itty-bitty little booths and there was no way we were getting both of our 6ft bodies in there, so then we tried a couple other places and were wasting cab money so we ended up in what is probably the most gringo bar in the city and ate again (it had been a big day) and tried over and over to call Brennan (his phone was dead and he said he'd had the thought for one fleeting moment that morning that he might need to charge it, but then thought Nah since he never really used it at work).  So we finally made it home and we hung out and talked to Brennan listening to Radiohead (he has great taste in music) and went to sleep.  It was a pretty rough night since we were sleeping on a wood floor, but beggars can't be choosers, so que serà serà.  The next day, yesterday, we got up, made an awesome breakfast of eggs, beans, avocado, tomato and pineapple (I'm just throwing caution to the wind with food but my stomach has been great here, muy fuerte (very strong)).  Then we went to the Museo de Oro Precolumbino (museum of Precolumbian Gold) and walked ALL around the city, just taking it all in.  There are people all over the place with blankets on the ground or little tables, yelling about everything for sale from Lottery Tickets to Bootleg DVDs to food.  The people are REALLY nice - patiently putting up with our broken Spanish and being very helpful with everything.  The sidewalks are really unpredictable and you have to watch where you're walking all the time because there might be an 8 foot deep hole big enough to fall into (real example) just right in the middle of it.  The drivers and pedestrians are both crazy because vehicles hit the breaks and stop on a dime, about 6 inches from the next bumper, and people would never be able to cross the street if they waited for an opening so they just don't and walk out into the street.  Everyone seems to know what they're doing though, and I haven't seen anyone hit yet.  Then last night we went out with Brennan (and Farah met us later) to this really great Lebanese restaurant called Lubnan where Brennan was very popular (we went in through the back door - that's how in he was) and sat around, drinking, smoking a hookah, and eating hummus for hours and hours, talking about everything from Brennan's new ironic mustache for March Mustache Madness at his job to culture to politics to families to everything.  It was so great, and we came home exhausted and crashed out on the wood floor until now, when I'm writing this and Christian is cooking us another awesome breakfast.  I'll keep you updated and try to figure out how to put pictures up - although I can tell you the pictures don't do the scenery justice.  We're surrounded by mountains, flowering trees and plants everywhere, and everything from crumbling historic buildings to crazy Bladerunner looking ones. So far so good.


Chuchi - this is probably my new most popular word. It means snobby or fancy, but is used in the Peace Corps as anything nicer than dirt roads and shacks, or for a person, anyone who showers with hot water. Living in the city, I am super chuchi for here.

Fuerte - literally means strong, but because the culture is based on talking around everything, it´s when a person says anything they want in a direct way - it means asshole

Puede ser and otro dia - literally means "could be" or "another day", but because noone will directly blow someone off, both of them mean "never" and are the answer to a question of when something will happen

Deseas, en tus sueños, Que Arriba Perra/o and Es lo qué es - these are the terrible translations of American sayings that are not used here and don´t really translate, but we say them anyway. Literally they mean "you wish", "in your dreams", "What´s up bitch/dog?" and "it is what it is"

Qué guapa - this means "what a hard worker" and is used by Paraguayans every time I do ANYTHING manual, including carrying a dish to the sink or sweeping out my room. I don´t think they have high expectations for Americans and work.

Saludos - sending saludos by way of a mutual friend is how people tell each other they have a crush on them. The most serious kinds are given with a pinch on the arm and they mean business.

Thumbs up - this is done everywhere here and is a simple answer to pretty much any question. I will probably have carpal tunel in my thumbs when I leave here because I do this so much.

No se como comer esta - this is how one refuses food in Paraguay. Literally, it´s "I don´t know how to eat this" which creates an internal struggle for me each time it´s said because I want to be a smartass and explain that, just like any other food, you put in in your mouth and chew, but I don´t think that´s acceptable here.

No Más and Un poco - this is said after almost every phrase for no real reason other than to make everything sound like it´s not a big deal, even when it really is. Literally, it´s "No More" and "A Little", so the translations are something like "Sit down no more", "Come here a little", and "Do you want dinner no more?"

Cocido - this is a hot drink mixed by carmellizing sugar with a little yerba, adding just enough water to wet it, and then adding more sugar. It´s served by the thermos-full just before bed.

Mosto - this is to sugar what crack is to cocaine. It´s a "tradional" drink capable of putting even the sweetest tooth into a diabetic coma, and is served continuously at fun gatherings like funerals.

Ch-ch-ch-ch - this is the sound Paraguayans make to get each others´attention - like "Psst" . It´s especially used for catcalling, and they have nothing to follow it with - they just want you to look.