Friday, September 17, 2010

A Day in the Life; San Jose

My University - photo courtesy of Kyle Clifton

                An ideal typical day begins with me getting up at 6:30 taking a shower, eating breakfast at 7:00 and heading out of the door at 7:45 for my 8 o’clock class.  In the states I would think that was wayyyyyyy too early.  However, here the day begins that early, so I get up that early.  That was something important I learned in high school from my exchange student; adapt to the host culture’s schedule.
                I have my intensive Spanish class from 8 until noon with a half hour break from 10:00 to 10:30.  Three and a half hours of Spanish in one day might seem like a lot but it really isn’t.  I am thoroughly entertained by my class and my teacher; Eugenia Yglesias, who I am quite pleased with.  I haven’t learned anything yet that I hadn’t already been exposed to but I am definitely mastering the things that we review.  I don’t have a text book, which I love; instead I have a combination workbook/text/reading book.  My professor assembled it and it is tailored to exactly what she wants us to learn.
Inside my university with a little garden sitting area.
 - photo courtesty of Kyle Clifton
                During my break at 10:00 I will go to a little lunch counter and buy coffee, it costs 400 colones, and I buy it from a Tica who refers to me as “mi amor.” At noon I eat lunch.  This could be anywhere.  One of the little lunch counters around (called Sodas) where I can get a meal for about $5, a lunch place at the school for $4, or at my home stay for $2.
                After noon I can do whatever I want since I don’t have any of my elective classes yet.  This is usually where I take advantage of the extra-curricular activities that my college offers.  On Mondays and Thursdays there is two hours of Spanish conversation club at 1.  Tuesdays and Thursday at 8 I have dance class.  Wednesday I have cooking class at 1, and Friday we don’t do anything so I usually come home and relax.  I will have dinner around 5 or 6 or 7, who knows when the next one will be?
                 For nightlife there is quite a bit to do.  For me going to school and one extra activity each day is enough social interaction for me so I usually don’t do much during the week.  If I do we go out around 7 and I make it home around 10:30, just enough time to shower and go to bed to wake up for my class the next day.  Usually though I just hang out at home, try to get my homework done which is quite hard for me, and talk with my Tica momma, or her brother Jose.  Jose is learning English so we have bilingual conversations helping each other with phrases and vocabulary.  If I do go out I try and get every place pre-approved by one of my CEA people, so I don’t end up anywhere too sketchy.
Another part of the university with a great view
 of other parts of San Jose from the 3rd floor.
- photo courtesy of Kyle Clifton
        Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, or to look at the pictures whatever you like, and I hope I am effectively sharing my life with you.  Now on to business.  If you have a Google account use it to follow me on my blog.  Think about it, the more people that I know are reading my blog the higher quality it will be. If you are not Google-savvy show some love on Facebook.  Also, let me know what you would like to read about, be specific or else I wont do anything, maybe I am leaving out something incredibly interesting?



Monday, September 13, 2010

Manuel Antonio; 5 beaches 9 names

Sign in front of Manuel Antonio National park.

So I went to a place called Manuel Antonio National Park on Friday September 3rd until Sunday September 5th. The park was created in 1972, and covers 6.8 km2 of land making it the smallest but one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica.  Looking at the park it is hard to find evidence of human activity besides the usual park amenities, trail, trash cans, bathrooms, and overly friendly wildlife.  Indeed I was struck by how clean and actually a part of nature the park seemed, besides the trails themselves, Manuel Antonio is a nice place, I would go back.
                The group left San Jose @ 1:15 I had packed everything up the night before and took it to class with after breakfast.  Everything fit in my green Eddie Bauer backpack and I was proud because I had actually packed light.
                During the bus ride I sat next to a guy named Jack, we chatted a bit, but mostly I read my guide book about Manuel Antonio and the surrounding area where we were going. One of my companions asked what I was doing, and I replied “Reading my guidebook to learn about the area.”  They non-enthusiastically replied “Ohh… When I get to a new place I like to learn about it myself.”  Whatever just let me be.
                From reading the guidebook my small group and I settled on a restaurant called Marlin’s.  The book said it was “reasonably priced” which meant I spent 15.900 Colones (~$32) on one beer, a ceviche appetizer, and an entrée of Mahi-Mahi and shrimp.  Good food but that seems like the going rate in most tourist towns.  I think in the future I will bring some cheap food and just eat an interesting appetizer.
                Then we went to a placed called Bambu Jam which had live music and dancing Friday nights.  I knew this from the guidebook, (look it was useful!), but the guidebook didn’t tell me when the music started.  So lesson learned, call ahead and confirm information in the guidebook.  The place was empty, and we were the only ones there for an hour waiting for the music to start.  During the wait I had a Guanábana juice with milk.  It was quite tropically tasty.  I would have liked to try out some of the dancing techniques I had learned in class, but the “dance floor” consisted of the walkways and a spot where one table had been removed – lame.  The music was decent, the singing and singer were not.
View from Punta Catedral.
                This brings me to my next cross cultural observation: being good at Latin dance is all in the feet.  I didn’t believe it the first two times I heard it either but watching these gringos spinning their partners while they were standing still. It was in that moment I understood the importance of staying in step with the music.  Also every place I have been to dance has had multitudes of older Latino gentlemen who descend upon the single ladies and show their dancing proficiency.  I hope to one day joint their ranks.  One the way back to the hotel we got a cab and definitely negotiated for 4.000 colones.  This number was confirmed with other members of my group, but when we got to the hotel he held out his hand and kept saying cuatro mil quinientos(4,500).  He was scamming us but some members of my group panicked and paid him the extra quinientos (500 colones ~ $1). Sure it’s only one dollar but it is also only one dollar to rip off someone.  Okay I am from the U.S. and he is from a country with a lower per-capita income, well his cab is way nicer than the car that I drive.  Whatever the full picture was that either of us didn’t grasp, there are two apparent facts.  The cabbie is trying to make another buck, and not all Americans are rich.
Playa Puerto Escondidoa ll Rocks and no sand
 makes not much fun swimming.
                The following morning at 6:45 I got up and was out exploring on the beach by 7.  I didn’t have my ticket yet so I couldn’t go in without my group.  Which I would have liked to do so I could have explored a bit more.    I took some pictures and went back and had breakfast; Gallo Pinto, eggs, and a piece of avocado.  Got to the park at 9:30 and then we explored.  I went around a place called punta catedral (cathedral point, see picture above) on a short little trail and saw some good views.  Then I hung out on the beach for a little bit and some monkeys stole some of my fruit.  There were also rather aggressive raccoons there that tried to take a sandwich from a kid.  Then I decided to go on a hike to playa Puerto Escondido (Beach of the hidden harbor).  On the way there I ran into a Tico couple and we chatted about the weather, and what beach they were going to, where they were from, typical trail small talk but in Spanish.  I arrived at the beach after a harrowing descent to the beach trail to check out if it was really as dangerous as it seemed.  The verdict was: Yes.  I decided not to attempt to swim there (look at thos good life choices!) and started to head back to the entrance.  Then I met up with Filander, our Costa Rican guide who is an older gentleman that sports a cool grey mustache, who joined me and a few other ladies on a hike back to a waterfall.
Waterfall at the end of the 500 M trail.
                This hike was interesting because Filander told our group all sorts of things about Costa Rican plants.  Eventually after scrambling across a number of rivers (which was quite easy thanks to my Tevas) and up a few mud banks I made it to the waterfall.  My group had stayed behind for me to return and inform them of how challenging the trail was.  I luckily ran into some other people I knew and they informed my other group about how challenging the trail was and everyone came and joined me.  In the meantime I decided it would be a good idea to scale the dry side of the waterfall in order to get a better view of the area.  I did that, it was fun, it was not dangerous, and definitely worth the effort.
                It was around 3 O’clock now and I was hungry since all I had for lunch was smoked bananas (It was hard keeping them lit).  I returned to Marlin’s having another appetizer of Ceviche (lots of protein, little fat, lots of electrolytes) just what I needed to recoup from a day of activity in Costa Rica.  It was here that I began to reflect upon my travels.  The experience with the cab had put a blemish on Manuel Antonio’s image and I kept thinking about the two Costa Ricas.  I am very early in my realization of this phenomenon but so far I am beginning to see two Costa Ricas.  The one you visit for a week or two, and then the one that people live every day in. One of the most ironic is that in San Jose, 3.1 million in the central valley, the water is clean and safe to drink.  In the tourist towns with the luxury hotels and beachfront houses the water is said to not be safe to drink.  You would think it would be the opposite but I think it is probably just a marketing thing.  Of course "the water here isn’t safe you have to buy our bottled water!"  Yeah I bet… I drank water out of a stream on the way to the Bribri village, water from the hotel in Cahuita, water in the Bribri village, and I have been fine.  I think Costa Rica’s water is perfectly safe for tourists to drink. 
Playa Gemalas, beach on the way to Playa Puerto Escondido.
                This has been a long blog but I felt like I had a lot to share thanks for being interested in my life, and being a part of my first swim in the Pacific Ocean.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Founder's (or Island) Effect

               In genealogy there is a term called founders affect.  Basically when a population of individuals is isolated from other interactions with the outside world it changes slowly and any of its defects are amplified.  Basically what we have with my study abroad program is an intense founder’s effect.  You can read about why I chose the program that I did in my first blog, but basically it is ending up a medium intensity study abroad program instead of high intensity.  The founder’s affect analogy applies because my study abroad program essentially provides an island of English speakers in the sea of the city of San José.  When you live in another culture and with a host family you find yourself unable to communicate if you don’t make strong efforts to do so in their language.  When you are with English speakers though, it is just so easy to switch back to your native tongue.  Sure we are all here for an intensive Spanish program but it is a definite truth that for some of the students that experience begins Monday through Friday at 8 in the morning and ends at noon.  (Notice I said 8 in the morning instead of 8 a.m. – since that is how it translates from Spanish, this stuff if taking over my life).  Well we have only been here six days so I am not trying to be too hard on the international students at Universidad Veritas but I hope that we all change.  I am ready, I already carry on extensive conversations with my ticamomma and would like to do the same with my classmates.  Unleash the floodgates of broken Spanish.

I requested a friendly household with long enough beds, and good food, and I am not sure I could be more satisfied with the result! The food has been excellent and I feel welcomed.  So basically my material needs have been accounted for, and I am satisfied with the result.
Granadilla (Passion fruit) half eaten
Now onto how my program is shaping up, I came to San José Costa Rica on august 28th and now today it is September 2nd.  So I have been here six days during which I have eaten fresh passion fruit (granadilla), been ripped off by a taxi, spent time on the street of bitterness (la calle de la amargura), learned how to Merengue, and salsa (properly), and even made an attempt at Costa Rican Cumbia (according to my instructor it was invented by prostitutes!)  So as you can see my life is quite full of excitement and new experiences.  It feels like I have been in Costa Rica for months, I can’t believe it has only been six days.  It feels like it has been so much longer since I left. 
So the least you need to know: I really want to learn Spanish, and so far an 75% pleased with my progress and 100% happy with my homestay, and 90% satisfied with my all around experience.


The Arrival and Exploration

Saturday – I got to San José made it through the airport with no problem, and went to my homestay.  I ate and tried to converse. I picked a room.  I went to bed at six and got up the next morning at 7.

Sunday – I had breakfast with my ticamomma and then met up with my CEA group.  We took a walking tour from Universidad Veritas to downtown San Jose and saw lots of cool stuff.  I met the whole group and we had a brief safety talk.  In my group there are 6 others:

Farley – from Tennessee
Eddie – from Maryland
Kyle – from Alabama
Stephanie – From Boston I think… maybe Massachusetts in general
Lisa – From Minesotta
Syndey – from Minnesota
Also: We are all either 19 – 21 and are here for at least four months.

In downtown San José we saw the outside of the Museo de oro precolombino, the National Museum that used to be the army headquarters, and the Costa Rican assembly. I also learned that I can get home by telling cabs to take me to KFC a los yoses.

A coffee tree or bush depending on who you ask.
After strolling through San José’s downtown we went to the Heredía province and explored a coffee farm called café britt (  We went on a guided tour where we learned about Costa Rica’s coffee industry and the process of harvesting the coffee cherries.  Café Britt has such high quality coffee because it is situated on the side of a mountain that has volcanic soil that is good for coffee.  This is because of the minerals in the soil and its ability to drain all of the rain that Costa Rica has.  Basically the coffee tree grows and all of the coffee cherries are only picked at their peak ripeness when they are red.  All of the fruits are then put in a water tank in which the ripe fruits sink and the green cherries and leaves, and twigs rise to the top.  The ripe cherries then have their red skins removed and are put in a large tank full of water to dissolve the rest of the muselage.  Then the cherries are washed again and put out in the sun to dry.  When the seeds dry they are now referred to as green coffee.  They smell a lot like hay actually… When the seeds are ready to be roasted they are ran through a machine that removes the paper-like shells (like the red stuff on a peanut) and are roasted.  The longer the roast the darker the coffee.   

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Big Day

It is hard to believe that this day is finally here.  I have been to Panama twice, and passed through Costa Rica once.  However, I have never lived in another country.  The day that I step onto a plane with a suitcase and a backpack to go to another country, not just for spring break, has finally arrived.
I started the search for a study abroad program during my 1st year of college when I decided that I wanted to spend part of my college time studying abroad.  Now just before the 3rd year of college I can’t believe that it is finally here.  I always knew that I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country and learn about environmental issues.  I just didn’t realize the only place to easily do that was Costa Rica, so my search was actually much easier than I imagined.  So the official name of my program is: Cultural Experiences Abroad(that is the company CEA) San Jose Costa Rica Fall Trimester-Early Start.
People have differing impressions and opinions of studying abroad.  I have gotten mixed reactions ranging from those who don’t understand why I want to actually study while I am abroad to others asking me why I am not staying longer.  I always tell myself that I am ready for the next thing, not matter how much fun I have had at a certain place I am always ready to leave and go to the next thing.  This is the first trip in which I actually find myself being apprehensive about.  I did not think that I would care about leaving Capital for a semester.  Now I find that I will miss my relationships with everyone and as strange as it sounds I am upset about not being able to take my classes with everyone else in my class.
I will be studying at Universidad Veritas.  For the entire month of September I will be in an intensive Spanish Course.  Then from October to December 18th I will be in two Spanish courses, and two environmental elective courses taught in English.  Altogether this will give me 23 credit hours of course work that I get to transfer back to Capital as Pass or Fail!  I will be living with a Tica (Costa Rican woman) named Myrna and after the first month two other students from CEA will be joining us.  I hope to greatly improve on my Spanish through my formal instruction at the University and by casual conversation with my host.
I have actually been preparing for this day since my freshman year.  I planned my course schedule ahead with my academic advisor, and pushed traditional junior fall classes to my sophomore and senior fall semesters.  This past year I took the intermediate sequence of Spanish and went from not understanding anything on the first day of class to having a full Spanish conversation with my Spanish Professora (Dra. Saunders) over a cup of coffee.  I spent this summer listening to Reggeaton music (mostly Daddy Yankee), other Latin music, salsa dancing, and watching Spanish language movies.  So in less than a year I have developed my Spanish skills immensely and hope to have just as much if not more progress throughout the coming months. 
Thank you for taking an interest in my life, keep checking back for more updates.

David Pickering