I’ll start by clarifying my last blog.  Based on emails that I’ve been getting from people, I think I came across as sad or disappointed or something.  But, we aren’t really feeling either of those things right now.  We are having a good time and a great adventure. We are seeing amazing things. We are learning a lot and laughing a lot. So, if my last post made you think that things were really hard or really bad, then forget that I ever wrote it…

We have discovered a new fruit that I LOVE. I am actually a little obsessed with it. It is a small, red fruit…about the size and shape of a golf ball, with spikey hairs all over it. It does not look appealing at all. In fact, it kind of looks like the balls that fall from sweet gum trees (I call them “gumballs”), only it is a deep red color instead of brown, and the spikes are not quite as hard as those of a gumball. Despite their appearance, they taste delicious. You cut them open and squeeze out this cloudy white gelatin-like substance, and you just kind of suck the juice out and then spit it back out. Well, we’re not sure if this is the right way to eat the fruit…we’ve never seen someone eat it. But, whether or not we are eating it the correct way, I love how it tastes. Very sweet and refreshing. The only problem is that we’re not sure what the fruit is called. We haven’t been able to find it for a few days, and I am having withdrawals without it, but we don’t know how to ask where we can find it because we don’t know what it is….

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Yesterday morning, before we caught the bus to our current location (Quepos), I was walking through town (Montezuma) to a used book store.  It was raining, so I had my hood up, meaning  most of my peripheral vision was blocked. I can only see straight in front of me when I’ve got my hood on: not left, not right, not up- just straight ahead.  As I was walking past a store, the owner was standing outside and he said “mira!” (which means “look”) and pointed to the tree that I was walking under. I looked up and there was a monkey eating his breakfast right above my head! My silly hood (I’ve had the coat for over a year and Scott still laughs at me everytime I wear it because it looks so ridiculous) had completely blocked him from view. We have seen a lot of monkeys since we’ve been here, but never one this close! I stood and watched for a while, and then continued on the bookstore. On my way back, I saw several more monkeys in the same spot. I went back to the hostel, grabbed Scott and we went monkey scouting. We found several leaping throught the trees, but we zeroed in on one and followed him all the way through the sidestreets of town. Along fences, across power wires, jumping from tree branch to tree branch. He made his way from one side of town to the other, just like any of the other humans below him were doing, only he did it in a much more interesting way.

So, we knew we were coming to Costa Rica during the rainy season. We knew this. But, we didn’t really know what that meant. For the first week or so that we were here, it rained everyday. But, it was usually only for about an hour or two, in the afternoon, and then it would clear up and we could get on with our day. For the past 4 or 5 days, this has not been the case. It has rained and rained and rained. We are consistently wet…we don’t even really dry out at night because none of the hostels that we stay at have air conditioning and they get very hot, so we sleep with the windows open, meaning the damp air surrounds us even as we sleep. It’s really humurous to see the difference in how the tourists respond to the rain versuses how the Ticos respond. The Ticos are used to this rain. Some of them use umbrellas, but a lot of them don’t. I haven’t seen one single Tico wearing a rain jacket or poncho. They just try to stay inside, and if they can’t, they get wet. Tourists, on the other hand, do not do as well in the rain. We wear rain coats and ponchos and hats and plastics bags…some people have enormous ponchos that cover their heads and their packs, making them look like they have a huge growth coming out of their backs. But, backpackers have a reason to try to stay dry. Staying in hostels, you have no way to dry your wet clothes. And the air is so damp that nothing dries on its own, even over night. So, whatever gets wet, stays wet. We hang up our wet clothes at night, and in the morning, we stuff them in our packs…wet. We walk to the bus station, hop on a bus for 3 or 4 hours, wait at a bus station in a connecting city for an hour, hop on another bus for 3 or 4 hours, get to a new town, find a hostel, open up our packs….and gag. Everything in our pack reeks. Scott and I have a pretty disgusting game that entails finding the smelliest things in our bags and making each other smell them. Today, his Tom’s won the contest…hands down.

The rain has also brought on some interesting health issues. I have blisters all over my feet from my chacos, which normally don’t give me blisters, but apparently do give me blisters when worn wet for hours. With the wet weather comes misquotes, and between the bug bites and the lingering posion ivy, my legs look like a connect-the-dot picture. Scott has scabs on his nipples (which aren’t actually from the rain but from surfing) and a rash in an unmentional place from constantly being wet. We are a bit of a mess! Luckily, none of our ailments have been debilitating by any means. It’s mostly humurous, especially at night when we are slathering on the posion ivy cream, and hydrocortizone cream, and neosporin….

Actually, I’d say that even though our bodies might not be holding up so well in the rain, and our clothes are pretty smelly, we are dealing with the rain really well. We are still doing the things we want to do. We both have good rain jackets. And when the rain does let up for a few hour or so, we celebrate and cram as much into that time as we can. And when the rain is really coming down, we hang around the hostel. For us, this isn’t a bad option because we love meeting other travelers and hostels are a great place for this.

As for what we are actually doing, right now we are in a town called Quepos on the Pacific coast. We got here last night and are leaving in the morning. There’s not really much here, but it’s near a National Park that we wanted to visit, and it is cheaper than the town that the park is in, so we decided to stay here. We went to the park today (Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio) and it was amazing. We hiked through the rainforests, and at intervals along the trail, we would come to small clearings where we could look out over beautiful tropical beaches. The park is on a small penninsula and the trail goes around the whole penninsula. The trail takes you through the rainforest, and all the while you can hear the sound of the Pacific ocean. After we finished our hike, the trail spit us out on the beach and we played in the ocean. It was great. And the rain held out for our entire hike, which was about 3 hours. It started up just as we boarded the bus back to Quepos. We ducked into a pizza place near our hostel that we’ve been to twice in the 24 hours that we’ve been in Quepos. The pizza is cheap and very good, so we’ve eaten it two nights in a row. Neither of us get sick of pizza, so it’s something we can always agree on.

We’re still not sure where we’re going tomorrow. We’re trying to decide whether to hit a few more stops in Costa Rica, or to head north to Nicaragua…

Cassie

 

and now for a long one

October 20, 2009

Now for a bit longer blog post.

Things in Costa Rica have not been exactly what we expected.  In some ways this has been good, in other ways not so good.

Costa Rica is not nearly as cheap as we had read. Tourism is booming here and it seems that the prices are steadily increasing as Costa Rica becomes a more popular traveling destination. Unfortunately for us, that means that we are going through our money more quickly than we expected. We’ve been told by other travelers that Costa Rica’s neighbors, Panama and Nicaragua, are just as beautiful, but cost less. So, we are thinking of shortening our time in Costa Rica, and spending some time in these other Central American countries.

Our Spanish is not nearly as good as we thought. People speak unbelieveably fast here, and we think the dialect may be slightly different. We get a lot of strange looks when we try to speak Spanish, as if they know we are trying, but what we are saying makes no sense. So, we are going to take a week or two of intense spanish lessons, maybe in the Panama beach town of Boco Del Toros. We’ve heard great things about it from travelers who went through Panama before coming to Costa Rica, and the spanish schools in Panama are much cheaper than in Costa Rica. We are hoping that we will be able to do a homestay with a family while we are at the school.  When we find ourselves in touristy locations, we feel comfortable because we are among other travelers and most everyone speaks at least some English. But we obviously are not learning about the culture or the people while we are in these towns. When we are in less-touristy locations, we are usually scrambling to find the right words and doing everything we can just to find our way. The less touristy locations are usually quite hectic. Buses spew black smoke into the air, motorbikes without mufflers fly by without regard to passing pedestrians, unpleasant smells waft through the air, trash and dog poop litters the cracked and broken sidewalks. To be honest, we are usually trying to get out of these cities as quickly as possible. Even if we wanted to stick around and try to strike up conversations with the locals, we wouldn’t have much luck. The locals aren’t necessarily friendly towards us when we try to talk with them. We aren’t sure if it’s because we are Americans (gringos) or if it’s just because we are tourists; probably both. People seem to be frustrated with our Spanish. They seem to rather we speak English, since often their English is better than our Spanish.  I can understand why the locals might feel not-so-warm towards us. They seem to have a bittersweet relationship with tourists. On the one hand, tourists bring in a lot of money to the country. Costa Rica is the wealthiest country in Central America, partly because it has jumped on the tourism bandwagon. But, on the other hand, I can see how Ticos (the name that Costa Ricans call themselves) would be frustrated with tourists. Many fellow travelers that we’ve befriended in the hostels speak little to no Spanish. Others, like us, come with a basic knowledge of Spanish, only to find that it doesn’t get them very far in this country, because of the way that Ticos speak (very, very rapidly).  So, I can understand that it would be frustrating as a local to have a bunch of people suddenly filtering into your country and expecting to be able to speak their own language instead of the official language of your country. Although we feel crumby each time we are treated rudely by a waiter at a restaurant or by a Tico on the streets, I think this is a great experience for us. For the duration of our trip, we are going to be minorities. And we will be treated differently based solely on what we look like and where we were born. People assume things about us, and whether or not they are true, we have to face the fact that we will be treated in a certain way based on stereotypes. This experience is common for minorities all over the world and I think it is very valuable for us to feel what it is like.

We really like the food we’ve had here so far. We eat a lot of our meals at sodas, which are common in Costa Rica. Sodas are somewhere in between fast food places and restaurants, and are priced accordingly. The typical meal at a soda is beans, rice, meat (we usually get chicken), a slice of tomato and some lettuce, and a fried plantain. I love beans and rice…I am in heaven!

And wow, is it beautiful here. The landscape changes drastically from place to place. Rolling hills, jagged mountains, mossy plains, rainforests, lakes, beaches, volcanoes. It’s unbelievable. We take buses everywhere. They are slow and stop frequently, so it is not common for a 40 kilometer trip to take 2 hours. But, we never complain because the views that we see from these buses are unbelievable. Time goes by quickly when you feel like you are watching a National Geographic TV show out the windows of the bus. The bus rides are wild. The roads are terrible here, most of them are not paved and are covered in rocks of all shapes and sizes, so we bump and jerk all around: I often feel car sick and have to close my eyes for a while. Since I’m generally exhausted from lugging my backpack around and wracking my brain to find the Spanish words I need, I usually fall asleep. Until I am jerked awake as we go over an insanely large pot hole and I find myself literally flying out of my seat. Everyone drives like a maniac here, although we’ve yet to see an accident.

And yet, despite all of this, I still look forward to the bus rides because I never know what I am going to see out the window. I love seeing the street dogs in all of the small towns, and the cows and horses grazing on the mountain sides. People walk and ride horses to get from town to town. Farmers sell produce along the side of the road. Kids play soccer any chance they get, using anything they can find (water bottles, milk jugs, etc.). The children here are adorable with their gorgeous brown skin and dark eyes and hair. They joke around with each other and laugh a lot. People spend the afternoons sitting on their porches, or hanging out in stores and sodas. Life is slower here, and it’s fun to watch from the seat of a bus.

So far, we’ve done and seen amazing things. We’ve navigated Central American cities and bus routes. We’ve ziplined through the jungle, hiked through rainforests, stumbled upon waterfalls, climbed a volcano and watched it errupt with glowing red lava falling down the sides, met and talked with people from all over the world, soaked in a natural hot spring, eaten mysterious tropical fruits, seen monkeys swinging from the trees, swung on a vine in the jungle like tarzan. We’ve stayed in nicer hostels and grosser ones, met fun people and kind of weird people, eaten good food and not so good food, taken warm showers and very cold showers. I’ve worn the same two shirts and two pants the entire time we’ve been here. We do our laundry in the sink at night, and pray that our clothes will be dry in the morning. It’s very humid here, contrary what we read before coming here, and because it’s the rainy season, it rains everyday. Luckily, it usually only lasts an hour or so and comes in the early afternoon. But the humidity sticks around all day. We are damp almost all of the time, from a combination of sweat and moisture in the air. I am very thankful for thin, quick-drying clothes, my rain jacket, and the head scarf my mom made me before we left.

As for the overall plan for our time here, we’ve realized that plans are somewhat futile. Our itenerary has changed countless times since we’ve been here, as we talk to people and find out about different places that we should see. At this point, we’ve realized that our overall plan of trying to find a job and stay in Costa Rica is probably going to change. We most likely will not be spending 3 months here. The job possibilities seem limited. All of the tourist jobs are filled with locals, and our Spanish is not nearly good enough to land jobs doing anything else. Even if we could find jobs, we are not sure if this is where we would like to stay.  We think we’d like to see more of Central America. We are going to keep traveling around Costa Rica: we think we can see the rest of what we’d like to see here in about a week or so. Then we will take some spanish lessons, and see where that takes us. With a better grasp of the Spanish language, we will feel more confident traveling to other countries. Maybe we will find life in another country more appealing: maybe we will be able to find jobs. But, we’ve decided that we’re going to wait until we’ve seen more to decide what we will do with the rest of our time in Central America.

In the meantime, since our last post, we visited a volcano in the middle of the country that errupts daily. We got to see a volcano errupt! We saw it at night, so we could see the glowing red lava. It was unbelievable! After viewing the volcano errupt, we hiked back through the rainforest after dark, which was a little spooky. Luckily, we were with a guide. After we made it out of the rainforest, we got to go soak in some natural hot springs near the base of the volcano. It felt great to sit in the naturally hot water, but there were a lot of young locals there, and we felt a little like we were invading on their hang out spot. We didn’t stay long.

The next day, we spent a full day traveling to the Pacific coast. We were on buses and boats from 5:30am until around 5:30 pm. Long day of travel. We ended up in a laid-back, hippy-ish beach town called Montezuma. Being the wanna-be hippie that I am, I was very excited to come here. The town is very small…only around 200 people live here. But, it is somewhat touristy as it’s a good surf spot. We like the feel of this town. We have spent two days here so far. There was a torrential down-pour this morning. Usually the rain only lasts an hour or so here, but this one went on for hours. We woke up early this morning, due to the rooster and the chattering monkeys and birds outside our window. The rain started just as we finally decided that there was no use trying to sleep anymore. We braved the rain to get food for breakfast at the market, and to find another hostel. Luckily, the rain cleared up around lunch time. We’ve made friends with a couple from Canada (David and Christine) and have been traveling with them for a few days. We met up with them for lunch today and then Scott and David rented surf boards. We walked a ways down the beach to get to the prime surf spot. Most of the beach was very nice…lined with coconut trees on one side, and rocks and the Pacific on the other. But, just before we got to the surf spot, the beach became covered in more and more garbage. It was a very sad sight to see….tons of broken plastic and bottles and toothbrushes and shoes, which had been dumped into the ocean and then washed onto shore. The spot where they surfed was covered in trash. This was something that I did not expect to find in Costa Rica, as we had read so much about how environmentally conscious the country was, and how they put so much money and effort into preserving their land. Christine and I managed to find a clear spot to sit and we chatted for a few hours while they surfed. We saw several monkeys climbing through the trees above us. It was really nice to have a friend to talk with while Scott surfed. I am not a very strong swimmer and my ears don’t do well in the water, so I knew when we came here that I didn’t want to surf and Scott did. I figured there would be many days where he would be out in the water and I would be on shore. It was nice to have a friend here for this time. After a fun day on the beach, we walked back to the hostel (in the rain) and made dinner.

And now, I am sitting under cover on the patio outside our hostel listening to, yes, more rain, while I write this incredibly long blog post. Family, this is more what you would expect from me than my previous posts, huh? It’s been nice to have time to write today. For now, it’s off to bed early…as usual. We’re always exhausted at night and are usually in bed before 10. It’s nice, because we don’t have to feel lame about it…it get dark at 6 oclock every night here, all year round. So, most people go to bed early and get up early. We like this routine.

On that note, I’ll say goodnight!

 

to the skies

October 17, 2009

Yesterday and today we’ve been exploring the mountains and cloud forests of MonteVerde.  Yesterday, we ziplined through the jungle.  It was amazing.  The views from the ziplines were so beautiful, flying across the ziplines was so fun and we saw two monkeys swinging from the trees that we were zipping through.

Zip-linning 

We have some videos of us zip lining, but unfortunately we can’t upload them on our blog.  (Well, we could…but we would have to pay $60, and we’d rather use that money to, I don’t know, go snorkeling or something).  I’m going to put them on facebook, so you can see them there. 

Today, we went hiking through the Cloud Forest.  They call it the cloud forest because the mountains are so high that they reach through the clouds.  It’s a rain forest, so it’s unbelievably green, with exotic plants and birds. (We didn’t actually see many of the birds, but we sure heard them!)

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We’ll be putting rainforest videos on facebook soon too.

Tico towns

October 17, 2009

Heredia

We spent our first few days in Costa Rican cities- San Jose, Alajuela and Heredia.  We quickly learned that Central American cities were not for us.  Crowded streets, reckless drivers, buses spewing black smoke into the air.    

So, we navigated hectic streets and searched dozens of buses for one that would take us out of the city and into a smaller, quieter town.  We found the way to MonteVerde, a town in the mountains.  Here we found the beautiful Costa Rica that we were looking for. 

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And we’re off…

October 13, 2009

Central Park 

After spending two whirlwind (and very fun) days in New York City visiting our friends Corey and Katelyn, we’re leaving for Costa Rica in the morning….at 6:30am.  We’ll arrive at 11:30am (Central time) in Alajuela, a town just outside of San Jose, the capital city.

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