winding down…

November 23, 2009

On Monday morning before class, we went to a place called Jardin Paraiso (Paradise Garden). It is a wildlife rescue center and it was one of my favorite places yet. They had tons of beautiful exotic birds and monkeys. We were able to get in the cage with the squirrel monkeys and they climbed all over us!

We saw one type of monkey that we had never seen before…and we hope to never see again. Is this not the creepiest face you’ve ever seen?

The rest of the week wasn’t terribly eventful. It rained most of the mornings and we had school in the afternoons. We took a few walks in the rain to some different places: a whimsical garden, a cemetery, a look out point. The most interesting of these turned out to be the lookout point. We weren’t totally sure how to get to the lookput point, but after following a few of the wrong roads, we finally found the one that led to the trail. We climbed up the steep narrow trail and when we got to the top, there was a lady standing there holding an armful of magazines. When I first saw the woman, she took me by surprise. I thought that she was crying…she looked distressed. As we got closer, she looked at us and smiled a bit. But, it was kind of a strange smile…one that I couldn’t really read. There was a dog standing behind her, and as soon as he saw us, he started barking like crazy. And it wasn’t a “hey, look…there’s people!” kind of bark. It was a “I’m going to rip your faces off” kind of bark. The dog stayed behind the lady, but she never told him to stop, or swatted him back….she never acknowledged him at all. She just started talking to us in spanish very quickly and quietly. She talked for a minute or so, and Scott and I just stood there nervously watching the dog that was barking ferciously and inching ever so slightly toward us. The lady stopped speaking and looked at us as though she was waiting for a response. I’m not sure if it was because she was talking so fast or if it because she was so quiet, or if it was because I couldn’t take my eyes off the dog, but I didn’t understand a word she said. So, I was honest and told her that we didn’t understand. She continued to talk for another minute or so, without changing her pace or volume, while the dog continued to threaten us. This time when she stopped, Scott and I looked at each other with a “let’s get away from this insane dog” look, said goodbye to the kind-of odd lady and I turned and sped-walked back down the trail. I don’t think a dog has ever made me more nervous than this one did. And the fact that the lady didn’t do anything about it, and that we didn’t understand what she was saying (which could have been “watch out for this dog…it will rip your face off”) didn’t make me feel much better. After all of this, I still wasn’t quite sure if we made it to the look out point. The place where we were stopped by the lady and the dog had sort of a view…but it seemed like the trail may have gone on further. I wasn’t willing to walk past the dog to find out.

I had a one fairly eventful night. I came back to the room alone while Scott was using the computer in the common area. I walked around in our room for a while, before noticing this big ass spider (which I had walked by barefoot several times)….

This is the dead version, of course.  When I saw it, it was alive and well.

We bought a strange banana at the grocery store.

Does it look like a long, skinny butt to anyone else? There were actually two individual bananas inside. And we only paid for one….

 Our spanish classes are over now and I am kind of sad about it. Not that it was all that fun being back in school again (I don’t know why I keep making myself go back to school after I think that I am finally finished). But, our teacher was so great and fun and I am going to miss seeing her every day. I wish we could bring her back home with us. We also learned a ton, so it would be great to keep learning spanish and getting better at it. We liked the school…we met great people there: staff members, teachers, other students. And I miss the town already.

Here’s us with our teacher, Arelis, and fellow classmate, Katie.

On our last day in Boquete, we went white water rafting. I loved it. (Did you hear that Ken? I loved it!! It was a little more exciting than the infamous float trip of my teenage years…) Just like most of the things we’ve done here, getting to the destination was part of the adventure. The river was about two hours from Boquete. After riding in a van for most of the way, we hopped out and climbed into the back of a pick-up truck. We proceeded to drive up and down the steepest roads I’ve ever seen. They are in the process of constructing a huge new dam in the river and we splashed and sloshed through the muddy construction site on the way to the spot where we were going to start.

The river was perfect for rafting. It had lots of rapids, to keep things interesting, and during the short lulls in between rapids we just admired how beautiful everything was. We passed countless waterfalls and rock beds, beautiful flowers and the greenest trees and plants you’ve ever seen. The weather was perfect. And we loved our guide. He was Panamanian and only spoke a little English. He told us to call him Pepito. He had a great sense of humor and an even better sense of the river. He was amazing at maneuvering the raft. We probably could have made it the whole way without a hitch, but that wouldn’t have been much fun. Instead, he got us into spins, took us through holes where water would fill up the boat, turned us around backwards, had us run over some big rocks and tried to get us as wet as possible. It was a blast.

 

 
 
Now we are back in Bocas del Toro (the islands that we visited just before coming to Boquete). Today Scott is diving. My ears are so bad that I decided it probably wasn’t a great idea for me to try.
We’ve had an amazing trip.  But, I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed that things didn’t really work out the way we hoped. We still really want to live abroad and we’ve decided that we’re not going to give up after one try. So, that’s the first thing we will start to figure out when we get home….where we can go next. We want to do it differently this time. We want to have jobs lined up before we go. We’re thinking that teaching English in Asia might be the way to go…..

 

 

November 15, 2009

We’ve finished our first week of Spanish school.  School is exhausting, but we are really learning a lot.  At the end of each day, which usually entails speaking spanish with our host family in the morning, speaking spanish with cashiers or servers in town, four hours of speaking spanish in class, and speaking spanish with our host family at dinner, our brains can barely function.  But, it’s been really rewarding to see how much our spanish has improved in just a week. 

This Saturday, the director of the school organized an amazing hike for us. It was one of our favorite things that we’ve done so far in Central America. We went with a few other people from the school: one student and two teachers. Our guide, who is a retired school teacher, was so fun and energetic…he was our favorite guide that we’ve had. And the hike was absolutely amazing. We hiked up through the forest to the top of a mountain. The views on the way up were unbelieveable. Our desintation was a viewpoint called Artilleria. Its name comes from its history as a fort that was used by the indigenous people during war. The spot was unreal. As we came out of the forest, we saw the pile of rocks (our destination) up ahead, but we had to walk through someone’s farm to get to them. The farm was gorgeous.  There was a single white horse running around that made the farm look like it was something from a fairy tale. When we reached the top of the point, we were surrounded by clouds, which made the view look magical. The pictures below do not do the place any justice….

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We finished our week with our host family today and moved into a hostel close to our school. The hostel is right next to a beautiful creek and is surrounded by brightly colored flowers and orange trees. We still cannot believe this town. Every single day, we marvel over how beautiful and quaint it is. We see the same mountains every day, but we still can’t get over them. We walk past the creeks and rivers in town all the time, and we still want stop and watch them. Everything is so green and fresh and dynamic. The mountains are sprinkled with varying amounts and types of trees, and crops, and cows. The town has patches of trees and flowers mixed in with the streets and stores.  Just outside of town, there are miles miles of farms and plantations. A 30 minute walks brings you to the most beautiful land you’ve ever seen. If you don’t feel like leaving town, that’s fine too because the views from Calle Principal (Main Street) are just as beautiful. I really could go on and on…

Another nice thing about Boquete is that we’ve been here long enough to meet people. We’ve made friends at our school, and we’ve been going out with them almost every night. The school organizes some activities for us to do. When’s there’s not stuff to do through the school, we can just walk around town and find people that we know. There’s just one main strip in town, and there aren’t that many bars and restaurants, so it’s easy to find people. Last night, we were meeting some friends for dinner. Since we don’t have a cell phone, they told us they would leave a note for us on the door of the school telling us which restaurant they were going to. So, as we were walking into town from our host family’s house (it’s about a 20 minute walk from town), I said “We should just look in the doors of restaurants as we pass.  I bet we’ll see them and we won’t even have to go to the school to check the note.”  Sure enough, about 30 seconds later, I glance in the windows of the restaurant we are passing, and there they are. Another of the many perks of this small town.Cassie

 

the value of sleep…

November 12, 2009

We had our first spanish class on Monday. I really like our professor and the way that she teaches.  We are in class for 4 hours, which is a lot of spanish class.  But, she breaks it up well with stories and asks us questions unrelated to class.  She’s funny and interesting.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot in just a couple of days. I feel a lot more confident speaking. We’ve had to speak Spanish everyday for a month now, so we’ve learned a lot on our own just from hearing it and being forced to use it. But, I’ve never gotten very confident in speaking spanish. There were a lot of questions that I had about why people said certain things, and how the grammar worked: things that I had learned in spanish class in high school and college but had forgotten. The way it has been up until this week was that Scott was more confident and better at speaking, so he did most of the talking. I understood more of what people said, so I would translate for him a lot of the time, and then he would respond for both of us. It worked out ok and I’m glad that each of us was good at one part so that we could work together and get by fairly well. But, I hated not being able to speak for myself very well. Each time I would try to speak, I would get nervous and I would stumble over something that I actually knew how to say. Now, I’m in a classroom setting where I can ask the questions that I have. I can figure out how the language works instead of just trying to guess at it or repeat what I hear without knowing why I’m saying it. This makes me feel a lot more confident and my speaking has improved already. I’m really really glad that we decided to take some spanish classes and I’m really glad that we chose the school that we chose. The school is called Habla Ya (http://www.hablayapanama.com/courses), and we really like it a lot. 
 
We’ve had a change of plans with our homestay. We stayed with Sra Francia for two nights and three days and we really really liked her. On the second night, her daughter came into town and had dinner with us. We talked with her for a long time after dinner: we really liked her a lot too. The food was great, we felt fairly comfortable in the house. There was just one problem…we couldn’t sleep at all. For one thing, Sra Francia has a rooster. Lots of people have roosters in Central America and they have become our sworn enemies. Based on what I knew from movies and TV shows, I thought that roosters merely crowed once or twice when the sun came up, and then they stopped because they had woken up the farmer and their job was done. I don’t know why I thought this….my aunt Marta had chickens when I was little so I should have known better…maybe I had blocked out the reality of roosters. They don’t crow once or twice in the morning…they crow all the freaking time. All morning, all day… any time the sun is up, they crow. And Sra Francia’s rooster seemed to have been confused because he didn’t know that he was supposed to start crowing when the sun came up….he crowed all night long. Right outside our window. We have never hated an animal so much in our lives.
But the rooster isn’t the only nuisance at Sra Francia’s. She also has a dog. We’ve realized that here in Central American countries, a lot of people have outside dogs that are tied up in the front of the house. These are mainly for protection: they are guard dogs. They bark when someone is near the house. Since their purpose is security, people like for them to bark when someone walks by. They aren’t discouraged from barking. (Mom you can stop reading if this is too hard for you…I know that people who don’t keep their dogs from barking are your worst nightmare). So, dogs bark around here a lot. Sra. Francia’s dog was no different.If it had only been for the rooster and the dog, Scott and I may have sucked it up. But, there was one more factor that put us over the edge. Attached to Sra Francia’s house is a small apartment that she rents to a family with….a small baby. This baby just so happened to cry all night long. Its window was close to ours and it sounded like it was in the same room with us. The combination of baby crying, rooster singing and dog barking was enough to drive us completely crazy. We both were walking around like zombies during the day because we were so tired.If we were just here in Boquete hanging out and doing whatever we wanted all day, we maybe would have stayed with Sra Francia and just dealt with the sleeping situation. But, because we are in school for 4 hours a day, and because we are paying a good amount of money for this school, we knew that we needed to get rest so that we could actually stay awake during class, and pay attention, and retain the information we were learning. So, with some hestiation, we talked to the school about the situation. They were wonderful. They completely agreed that this was not a good situation for us because we were in school, and they found us a new family right away. They talked to Sra Francia and explained everything (which we also did, but since we had to speak in Spanish, we weren’t quite sure that we communicated everything that we wanted to….it was nice to know that she had heard it from them too). So, the switch to a new family went really smoothly and we LOVE our new family. It’s a mom and a dad with two teenage boys: Guillermo, 18, and Alejandro, 15. The dad is so friendly and sweet and energic and loves to talk with us and help us with our spanish. The mom is much more reserved, but she’s also sweet and makes us feel at home. We feel more comfortable in this home….I think because there are more people around and so all of the attention is not always on us. Sra. Francia was a little hover-y because we were the only ones in the house. We really like the food that Rita (the mom) makes for us, and, most importantly, we sleep like a dream here.Our second night in our new home was fun because it was Alejandro’s birthday, so we got to be a part of his birthday party. Family members came over, and we had a big dinner and birthday cake. Their birthday traditions are very similiar to ours: they light candles on the cake and sing happy birthday. And the weird part is, they sing the exact same song as we do…in english. We couldn’t believe it…we could sing along with them! After singing the english verse, they sing another verse in spanish.
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We both just love it here in Boquete. It is my favorite place we’ve been to so far. It is unbelievably gorgeous, the people are nice, the town is laid back, the weather is great. We’re so glad that we’re staying here for a little while…Cassie

 

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November 9, 2009

Last Sunday, we began our trek down to Panama. Instead of taking the two-day direct bus from Nicaragua to Panama, we decided to break up the trip some and hit the Carribean side of Costa Rica on our way down. We didn’t see the Carribean side during our time in Costa Rica a few weeks ago.  We caught a 9 hour bus to San Jose, spent the night in San Jose, and then caught the first bus we could to Cahuita. (We try to spend as little time in San Jose as possible, but the main buses stop and start there, so it’s unavoidable at times).

    I have to say, we’ve gotten fairly good at traveling in Central America. We navigate the towns and bus stations better than we did at first, when we would step off of buses and feel completely clueless about what to do next. Our spanish has improved so we can communicate better to find out where we are and how to get where we need to be. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve learned how to deal with the constant haggling we get as tourists. I’ll explain: locals are always trying to get money from us, whether that’s by just directly asking us for money, or by trying to get it more indirectly. When we step off of buses at a bus terminal in big cities (which usually aren’t destinations for tourists, but rather connecting points to the towns that tourists usually visit), we are literally swarmed with taxi drivers, all yelling “Taxi!” “Taxi!” “Where you going?”. We have to say no to each one of them at least 5 times before they will leave us alone so that we can have a minute to look around and figure out what we actually want to do. Sometimes they follow us around as we walk. We learned the hard way to say no the the drivers that surround the buses. If you say yes, they will grab your bags from the bus and start running to the taxi. You’re not really sure that they are actually going to the taxi; there are so many people around that it would be easy for them to just disappear in the crowd. We’ve heard of several popular scams involving fake taxi drivers and fake taxis, so we try to find our own taxis instead of using the ones that bombard us. The only plus to picking a taxi from this initial swarm of drivers is that you’re able to do a sort of bidding game with all of the drivers that surround you. Fairly quickly, you are able to find the best rate, and the driver who wins your business usually gets dirty looks and dirty words from the other drivers. Usually though, we don’t even want a taxi…we just want to find a local bus because they are much cheaper. It takes us a long time to convince the taxi drivers that yes, we actually do want to take the hot, crowded, 3-hour bus instead of the 30-minute cab. 

Once we arrive in our destination city, our main goal is usually to find a hostel or find food…whichever one seems more urgent at the time. Sometimes our guide book has maps for the towns we visit, sometimes it doesn’t. We usually spend our time on the buses looking up hostels and finding them on the map so that, theoretically, when we get to a town, we can go straight to the one that we want. This usually is a futile attempt to make our traveling easier. The problem lies in the fact that virtually no streets in Central America are marked. So, even if we know exactly where a place of interest is on a map, we usually have no clue where we are on that map, and therefore it’s of little use. We’ve tried asking people where the hostel is, but that usually doesn’t work out much better. We find that the way most people give us directions is pretty impossible. They usually just point and say “Aqui…(point to the right) alla….(point straight) y alla.” which, roughly translated means, “Go here.. there …and then there.” They can’t tell us road names when giving directions, because they aren’t marked. Sometimes they will tell us how many blocks to go, or give us a landmark, which is usually the only way that we can actually find what we’re looking for. So, what generally happens during our search for a place to sleep is that we just take the first one (or maybe the second one) that we come to, as long as the price is right. After stepping off of the bus and walking just a short distance with our backpacks, we are quickly drenched in sweat and tired (me more than Scott). The choices that we make while in this state are often not the best…we’ve stayed in some pretty gross, uncomfortable places because we were too tired to keep walking to find another place. 

If we’re too hungry to trek around looking for a hostel, we’ll stop for food first. We are usually starving after we get off the buses. The bus rides can be long, and often last through meal times. They sometimes stop at roadside stores so that people can get food, but the food that’s offered usually is either heavily fried or heavily sugared (or both). (The convenience food in Central America is not very appealing and nowhere near healthy). So, we sometimes stop for a meal first thing when we get to a town. We’ve tried to make this our habit lately, because we realized that we make much better hostel decisions when we have the energy to keep walking if we need to. 

All of this to say, we’ve gotten better at making our way around. Which is good, because we move around a lot. We haven’t spend more than 2 nights in any one place since we’ve been here.  

On Tuesday, we came to a small beach town called Cahuita, which threw us for another loop. It was the smallest, most remote town we’d been to yet. We couldn’t use any of our usual tricks that we’ve developed about figuring out a city. There weren’t really any people around, there weren’t any hostels or restaurants within eyeshot of the bus station. We had to just pick a road (the one that went to the left or the one that went to the right) and start walking. We walked around quite a bit to find a hostel. Finally, we found someone to ask, and she led us to a hostel that turned out to be ok. We only stayed in Cahuita one night. The main thing that we wanted to do in Cahuita was go to Playa Negra (Black Beach), which is a beach with really dark sand that is almost black. I had never seen a beach like this before.  Other than Playa Negra, there wasn’t much to do or see here, so we left the next morning. 

Then we were headed for Panama. We crossed the border on foot over a rickety old bridge. Our first destination in Panama was Bocas del Toro, an island barely off the coast. We spent the first night on the main island, which is busy and has kind of a party atmosphere.

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The second day, we went to a smaller island that was much more remote and relaxed. The islands are in the Carribean Ocean and the culture here is different than inland Panama. It’s an afro-caribean island culture: many of the locals speak creole (which I love listening to, but don’t understand a word of), fish for a living, and listen to reggae. Life is very laid-back, no one moves quickly. We liked it a lot on this island. The view from our hotel was amazing.

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We decided to try to find Wizard Beach, which we had heard was the most beautiful island on the beach. We could either take a boat to the beach (which was on the opposite side of the island) for $16 or take a rough trail that cut across the island. So, we put on our swimsuits and our flip flops and began walking, not knowing just how rough the trail was going to be. The trail was hard to find: we asked a boy sitting on the ground holding a large super soaker squirt gun if he knew where the beach was. He hopped up immediately, and started marching in the direction of the trail. We followed him up some stairs, through someone’s porch, and through a gate, where he stopped, confidently pointed and said “alli y alla y alla” (here, then there, then there). We thanked him and began up the trail. We quickly learned what a terrible idea this was. It was so steap and SO muddy. We were slipping and falling all over the place. We gave up and turned back- we honestly did not think we would ever make it. We saw the little boy on the way. “You no find it?” he said. We told him it was too slippery; he just shrugged and went on his way. We went back the hotel to rinse off our feet and decide if it was worth paying for the boat. On our way up to our room, we ran into the super-friendly man who worked at the hostel who we had made friends with during the short time that we’d been on the island. He laughed when we said we couldn’t make it on the trail. “The man who lives next door just walked it this morning, and he’s an old man!”. We showed him our shoes that we were trying to walk in and he told us that we needed rubber boots and that the hostel had some that we could borrow. The boots were tall, black rubber galloshes that hit us mid-shin.

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 Scott’s fit him well… mine were 5 sizes too big. Even still, they made the walk so much easier. We could never have done it without those boots. It was unbelievable muddy and slippery and slimy. But, with those boots on to protect us from whatever was living and growing in the soupy mud, we had a blast! We were slipping and sliding and sinking in everywhere, all the while laughing about how we were headed to the beach in big black rubber boots. And the beach that we arrived at was AMAZING. Powder soft, yellow sand, clear blue water. The water temperature was great, the waves were great. The sun was out, and the beach was almost empty. It was one of our favorite days yet. 

The next day, we left the islands and headed inland to a town called Boquete, our final destination in Panama. This is where we are now and where we will be for the next two weeks while we attend spanish school. We LOVE this town. It’s in the mountains so the weather is cooler, which we were definitely ready for. The town is surrounded by mountains on all sides, and there are two rivers running through it, so the views are amazing. 

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 It’s a cleaner, fresher feeling town than any that we’ve been to yet. It’s small, so you can walk everywhere, and everything that we need has been fairly easy to find. The food is good, the people are nice. It’s the rainy season here, like everywhere else in Central America, but here the rain is very predictable. The mornings are gorgeous: sunny and 70 degrees. Just after lunch, clouds start rolling in and it rains for most of the afternoon. We’ve set up our classes so that we will have the mornings free to enjoy the weather (there are tons of things to do here…natural hot springs (which we did on Sunday), swimming in the river (also on Sunday), mountain hikes, waterfalls, gardens, animal refuge centers…) and then we’ll be in class from 1-5:30 while it’s raining. For the first week of class, we are doing a homestay with a woman who lives about 15 minutes out of town. We started our visit on Saturday at around noon. The woman we are staying with is Francia. She is 67 and lives alone, and her son and his family (wife, two daughters, 7 and 14, and son, 16) live right next door. She is so incredibly sweet and kind. She has made us feel so at home, and the dinner that she cooked for us was delicious (except for a few things). She doesn’t speak a word of english, so we have to rely soley on our Spanish…which is good but also exhausting. We’ve gone to bed at 9:30 both nights that we’ve been here. After a week with Francia, we will spend the last week staying in a hostel in Boquete. We visited our school (called Habla Ya) on Saturday for a morning salsa lesson, and I left feeling so excited about the school. Everyone who works there is so friendly and helpful. We’ve talked to people around town who tell us it’s a really good school: it’s intense and they work their students pretty hard, but the students learn a lot. Our spanish has improved quite a bit just from being here, so we’re hoping that after 40 hours of classes, it will improve quite a bit…   

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Cassie

We had a small victory in Costa Rica a few days ago.  Scott needed a pair of flip flops for the beach, so we went into a clothing store to try to get some.  He found a pair, we looked at the price and quickly tried to do the conversion to figure out about how much they cost in dollars.  We took them to the counter, and said we would pay in colones (Costa Rica currency).  When the man behind the counter told us the price, it was about $1000 colones (around $1.50) more than what was on the price tag.  I argued the price in Spanish, and he changed it to the correct price!  I was very pleased with myself.

I remember when Julie came back from Italy, she told me that you have to pay to use the public bathrooms there.  I thought at the time that I would be screwed in a place where I had to pay to use the restroom, as that is something that I frequently do.  Guess what?  It’s not across the board, but you do have to pay for a lot of the public restrooms here in Central America.  I was worried when I first saw this because Scott and I both go to the bathroom a lot.  But, it hasn’t been nearly as bad as we thought it might be.  For one, the price to use a restroom is cheap…usually around 15 cents (which is pretty good considering that also includes a few squares of toilet paper that they hand you after you pay, since there’s none in the bathrooms).  And, we don’t drink nearly has much water here as we do at home.  You can drink the tap water in Costa Rica, which we usually did.  But, sometimes, we would turn on the faucet, it would sputter and spat, and then the water that came out would be brownish.  So, sometimes we would pass on the tap water and go buy some from the store.  And, now that we are in Nicaragua, we can’t drink the tap water at all.  (The hardest part for me is trying to keep from accidentally drinking water in the shower.)  It turns out that when you have to pay for water, you drink a lot less of it.  If you drink less, you pee less.  So, it’s actually a pretty good arrangement for us.

I have come up with the perfect jobs for Scott and I to do here.  A lot of the hotels and tour companies have brochures or fliers that they use for promotion, and since they are directed at tourists, they often have the information in english as well as in spanish.  Some of the signs on buses and ferries, in restrooms, and other places that tourists frequent are also in english.  These signs and brochures are often of good quality, meaning they cost a significant amount of money to be printed.  And most, if not all of them, have tons of errors and sometimes don’t make much sense at all.  Of course the official signs, made by the government, are usually perfectly tanslated: the goverment has the resources to make sure of this.  But pretty much anything outside of governmental materials is laden with grammatical and spelling errors.  Being the constant, somewhat obsessive editor that I am, I am really bothered by all of the mistakes.  Believe me, I understand how hard it would be to try to translate a brochure or sign from your native language into another language.  I won’t even pretend that I could come anywhere close if I had to translate english text into spanish.  But I always wonder why, if someone was paying so much to have brochures or signs printed, he/she wouldn’t consult a native or bilingual speaker to proof read.  I’m sure it’s a matter of convience and/or money…it may be hard for a hostel owner to find a native speaker that he/she feels comfortable asking to do this for them.  That is why I would like to become (after learning quite a bit more spanish) the official proof-reader for Costa Rica.  I will have unbelievably low rates, so that everyone can afford my services.  I will travel from town to town, editing signs and brochures.  It will make me happy to erradicate grammatical errors from the country’s printed materials, and I’ll get to meet lots of people and see different places.  It will be great.  I’ve come up with a job for Scott too.  Most of the brochures and posters have terrible, pixelated pictures on them as well.  So, Scott can travel with me, and take pictures for the brochures.  We’d be a great duo.

Last Saturday, we traveled to Nicaragua.  It was a long beautiful bus ride. (We’ve been keeping track of how many hours we’ve spent on buses…we’re up to around 45 or 50).  We felt like royalty on this bus because it had air conditioning!  It was amazing.

We arrived in the capitol city, Managua, and came straight to a city called Granada.  I liked this town.  There wasn’t a ton to do, but there was a big outdoor market, some beautiful churches, a huge lake (that’s too polluted to swim in) and really interesting looking, brightly colored buildings.  The buildings there were the most intriguing that I’ve seen in Central America. Some of them have ornate decoration and trim on the outside and the colors are nice.

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There were lots of street dogs here and sadly, street kids.  Some of the kids, despite their situation, are surprisingly good spirited…they sometimes joked around with us.  We would be sitting at the outside tables of a restuarant, eating our dinner and kids would come up and try to sell us food.  They also try to sell hammocks, gum, cigarettes and little whistles and trinkets.  There is one group of kids that dresses up and dances around in the street.  One of the kids plays on a drum and yells things, but he talks SO fast… we didn’t understand a word, so we didn’t really know what they were dressed up as or what they were doing.  One night we saw an amazing group of breakdancers.  They were all teenagers or younger.  We sat and watched them for a while.  One of the kids who was with the group, but wasn’t actually dancing, kept coming over and giving Scott trouble because Scott kept asking him to dance.  He never danced, and finally he just came over, ran his hand through Scott’s hair and left.

We had a mariache band play for us one night during dinner.  We haven’t seen any mariache bands before, and we’re not sure that they are actually a tradition here.  We think they are only in touristy areas.  We had had quite our share of not-too-delicious food the past few days, so, with some shame, we went to a pretty touristy restaurant that is about as American as you can get in Central America.  It was delicious though.

Next, we went a town called San Juan del Sur.  It’s a beach town.  The beach there is absolutely beautiful and we really liked the town. The beach is nice, the water is great, the town is just the right size.  The first day there, we were walking down the street and we saw four bright green parrots fly over us.  They were just like the kind that you see in pet stores.  I got to run for the first time since we’ve been here.  We never see people jogging in Costa Rica.  It would be impossible to run in the towns.  The sidewalks are skinny, rough, and often have street vendors blocking the way.  It’s very hard to cross streets here because people drive like maniacs.  I would spend more time trying to cross streets, and dodge street vendors than I would spend running.   Most of the roads outside of the towns are narrow and rough and windy…it would be dangerous to run on them because I would surely get hit by a car.  But, the first day we were in San Juan del Sur, Scott and I ran on the beach, which is a perfect spot to run.

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After spending a few days in San Juan del Sur, we came to Isla Ometepe.  There is a huge lake in Nicaragua, and in the middle of the lake, two volcanos have formed an island: Isla Ometepe.  It is beautiful here.  It’s more remote, not as touristy.   We came to a place called Santo Domingo (it’s not big enough to be called a town) and it’s on what is called the waist of the island: the strip of land in between the two volcanos.  We are staying in this cute little hotel, right on the beach, with beautiful trees and flowers all around, and we fall asleep to the sound of waves at night.  Well, waves and lizards.  There are lizards ALL OVER this place and they make this strange, kind of loud noise.  Our room isn’t exaclty sealed, so they come into our room through cracks in the door and window, and they make their odd noise all night long.  Scott doesn’t hear it, but it drives me crazy.  But, it’s really the only thing about this place that isn’t perfect, so I’ll take it.

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Our first day here, we walked to a waterhole called Ojo de Agua (Eye of the Water),  The walk there was perfect.  It was perfect weather, we walked along a dirt, country road, the views of the volcano were gorgeous, as well as the fields and farmlands that were on either side of the road.

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We had to walk through someone’s farmland to get to the waterhole: it was beautiful land, of course.  When we got to the waterhole, we were a little disappointed as it wasn’t as natural as we had hoped.  They had lined the sides with concrete and lounge chairs.  But, the waterhole itself was natural and felt great after a hot walk.  We swam there for a while and saw some people who had stayed in our same hostel in Montezuma, Costa Rica.  We run into the same people as we travel, which is really fun because it’s nice to see familiar faces. (Just today, we were walking through Moyogalpa, the town that we are in now, and I heard someone say my name.  I knew there was no one who knew me here, and in spanish, there is a very common word that is pronounced the way they say my name (casi) so I thought someone was saying that.  But, after I heard it yelled a few times, I turned around and it was an Australian guy we had met a few days ago.  It was like seeing an old friend!)  After swimming we went back and ate at a tiny restaraunt near our hostel.  We met a local man who guides hikes up the volcanoes and we talked with him for a while.  Our spanish is getting better and we can understand a lot of what people say to us, as long as they don’t talk too fast.  It felt great to have a long conversation with someone in spanish.  We can understand better than we can speak, but he did most of the talking so it was perfect.  We really liked him so we decided to do a volcano hike with him the next morning.

We had to be at the bus stop at 4:45 am.  It was still dark when we left our room.  Our guide was on the bus that we caught.  We got off a few towns over, and got breakfast at a run-down restaurant at the base of the volcano trail.  They were out of almost everything on the menu, so we got french toast (which was delicious) and ham (which was the most digusting thing I’ve ever put in my mouth…it was like spam with green and red mystery chunks in it).  I knew that I would need protein for the hike, so it was all I could do to eat the four slices of so-called ham.  Our guide had told us that we would be able to buy sandwiches before we left for the hike.  It was an eight hour hike, so we’d be getting to the top around lunch time.  We assumed that we’d get them at a market or something.  After we finished eating breakfast, he asked us why we had not bought sandwiches.  “We’re supposed to get them here?” we asked, horrified.  We couldn’t take any more of that ham.  Scott hadn’t even been able to eat all of it from breakfast.  He told us that yes, we were supposed to get it here, but we didn’t really have time, so we could eat some of his bread that he brought for lunch.  We knew that if all this man could afford to bring for lunch was bread, that we could not eat half of it.  So, we convinced him that we needed to get sandwiches, even if it took a few extra minutes.

Man, am I glad we got those sandwiches.  They were pretty gross, but we gladly ate them.  The hike to the top of the valcano was pretty strenuous- so much more intense than we expected.  It was very very muddy, and steep.  Our legs were covered in mud by the time we got the top.  The rainforest was so humid and it was raining intermitedly, so we were totally soaked.  Because it was rainy, the clouds blocked all of the incredible views we had been told about.  But, despite the fact that we were pretty miserable, we had climed to the top of a volcano, which was a feat that we were proud of.  Plus, we had some comedy the whole way: our guide wore rubber boots that made farting sounds the whole day.  We both had to keep biting our tounges to keep from laughing.  We climbed down into the crater at the top where there was a lake, and we sat in the misty crater to eat our lunch.  We had our guide take some pictures of us, which are pretty funny.  He kept taking diagonal pictures…

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We rested for a bit, and then hiked back down a different trail than the one we had hiked up.  The hike down was slippery and long, but not quite as steep.  Most of the hike was through dense rainforest, and we got to see some monkeys really close.  We also saw lines of ants carrying leaves 10 times the size of their bodies: it was like something straight from the Discovery Channel.  Toward the bottom of the volcano, we came out of the rainforest and walked through some plantations, which were so beautitul.  Mostly, we were too exhausted to enjoy them.  We also saw some petroglyphs, which are ancient rock carvings made by the indigenous people of the island.  By the time we made it to the bus stop, our legs were shaking, our feet had blisters, we were soaking wet and covered in mud.  We weren’t the cheeriest couple in the world. And we had just missed the bus, so we were going to have to for the next one.  Our guide was tired too.  About 20 minutes before the bus was supposed to arrive, a banana truck drove by and our guide waved it down.  He spoke to the driver for a minute and then motioned to us to hop in the back.  We did and so, we caught a ride back to our hotel on a banana truck, which was a pretty sweet way to end the day.  We hopped off the truck right in front of our hotel, and went straight into the lake, with all of our clothes on, shoes included, to rinse off all of the mud.  It was about 4:30 at this time, so it had been a full day.  We showered, and went to eat a humungous dinner

Yesterday, we traveled to a town called Moyogalpa.  We spent most of this day getting to the town, and then exploring the town in search for internet access and food.  Nothing too eventful.  Except that it was halloween.  We forgot until halfway through the day when we saw the date.  We were surprised because there was a bar in town that appeared to be celebrating halloween.  They had a coffin outside, one woman was dressed up and, on huge speakers in the back of a pickup sitting outside, they were playing “Ghostbusters” on repeat.

Today, we are going to head down to Panama.   We are going to visit one town that we missed in Costa Rica on the way down.  We’ll probably be to Panama by Thursday or Friday.  We’ve signed up for two weeks of Spanish school in a town called Boquete, which will start on November 9th.  We’re going to live with a host family for the first week, and then in a hostel for the second.  Meanwhile, we’ll go to school for 4 hours every day to learn Spanish.  Boquete is a mountain town, so the weather will be cooler than the steamy weather we’ve had for the past couple weeks.  We’re excited to be stationary for a little while.  We haven’t spent more than 2 nights in the same place since we got here, and it’s starting to wear on us a little.  We’re also really excited to live with a family for a week, so we can have people to really practice our spanish with. We wil be eating all of our meals with them too.  I’m excited about this…Scott is not because he worries that he won’t get enough food.  We might have to buy food at the market and sneak it into our room.

There are a few things that I’m missing from home (mostly food-related things) , but I think the main thing is hot showers.  I’ve gotten pretty used to taking cold showers, and since our rooms aren’t usually air conditioned it sometimes feels good to get in a cold shower.  But, I don’t really feel like I get as clean.  We get so sweaty and dirty everyday, and I still feel kind of dirty and sticky after a cold shower.  So, I guess that’s where the snob in me comes out:  I really really like hot (or even warm) showers.

That’s it for now.  I’d say it’s enough…ha!   We didn’t have much access to internet in Nicaragua, so I’ve been writing this blog for a week.

Thanks for all of the comments.  It feels good to know that people are reading!