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!


6 Responses to “and now for a long one”

  1. Julie V Says:

    Sounds like you’re learning a lot and toughing it out as well as you can! I can’t wait to see more pictures :). Give it all some more time, you’ll get the hang of things I’m sure — you’re both smart, adaptable people!!! Love and miss you guys lots ;). Can’t wait to come visit (hopefully) wherever you land! LOVE YOU!!!!

  2. Whitney Says:

    It’s so awesome to hear what you’ve been up to! I think not having an itenerary is so cool! Much cooler than trying to force the situation and being frustrated the whole time! Just go with the flow and you’ll have an unforgettable experience that will last the rest of your life!!! Can’t wait to hear more!

  3. ¡Hola! Nice blog post!
    My name is Julio and I work at Habla Ya Spanish School in Boquete, Panama!
    I’m quite sure you’ll find us Panamanians a whole lot friendlier than our neighbors… and I hope that as tourism grows over here, we’re able to do it in a more sustainable way and don’t get frustrated with tourists.
    Anyway, I wanted to invite you guys to have a look at our website and invite you to study Spanish in Panama with Habla Ya
    If you’re up for it we will give you a BIG discount if you decide to come this way and write some blog posts about your experience with us.
    Hope you get to see this comment: the most amazing Spanish Immersion in Panama is with Habla Ya Spanish School for sure!

    • Hi Julio. Thanks so much for the comment. We are looking for Spanish schools in Panama. We checked out your website and are interested in your school. What kind of a discount would you be willing to offer us? Do you have any idea what you would want from us, in terms of how many blog posts? What are the start dates of the school and when would we need to register? We are currently in Costa Rica, so we would need to figure out travel arrangements. We are excited to hear back from you! let us know when you can.

  4. Claire Says:

    This makes me miss Tanzania! I experienced so many similar things when I first got there! If you stay there long enough you’ll get used to the long, slow bus rides and then when you come back to the States and people freak out over waiting in line for 15 minutes you’ll be like psh this is nothing.

  5. Hi Scott and Cassie,

    Thanks for getting back to me =)

    In regards to offering you guys a nice discount, well, it would all depend on the amount of weeks you guys are interested in studying Spanish with us… the normal costs for 20 hours of group lessons per week goes from $135 – $225 per person per week depending on the amount of weeks you decide to study with us. Let us know how many weeks you’re interested in studying with us and we’ll make you an offer…

    And about what you could do for us, it wouldn’t really be anything different from what you have alread been doing. It seems you’re writing every 2-4 days about all the stuff you guys are doing so we would just ask you to do the same: if you study with us just keep it natural and real. If you love your experience, great, and if not, too bad for us… just keep it honest, in other words, just keep writing how you have. I guess you guys could write about your classes, teachers, classmates, about Boquete, nights out to have some drinks, hiking, maybe a beach excursion could take place… who knows!

    For people who know some Spanish (which it seems is your guys case) you can start on any Monday… you guys would join our Group 4 Spanish Course.

    So basically you guys would have to choose the Monday (I wouldn’t recommend starting the week of November 2nd because there are a couple of days off during that week in which the school will be closed… you could either start on Monday October 26th or Monday November 9th, or later).

    And then we would need your guys Placement Test:

    Are you guys still interested in a home stay? If so, please fill out our Spanish Immersion Pre-Program Interview so that we can select the most appropriate host family for you. The normal cost for a couple is $32 per day and inclues 2 meals. Again… let us know how long you would like to study with us and we’ll give you a nice quote.

    So, I hope I’ve been able to answer your questions. If you’re interested and want further details to move forward, please write to us:

    Safe travels!!!


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