the past week, in a (very large) nutshell

November 2, 2009

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!

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6 Responses to “the past week, in a (very large) nutshell”

  1. Laurie Says:

    YAY for your long posts. I so look forward to them. I love hearing about everything that you are doing. I miss your voice, but your writing is the next best thing, because I hear your voice through your writing. I miss you immensely and you better never do this again!! haha I love you, Mom

  2. Laurie Says:

    Oh yeah, I saw a story the other day about these guys who were very upset by typos and grammatical errors on signs, etc. They started going around places and correcting them. It was a nice little story until they got arrested. Just thought I’d warn you not to start correcting things until you get permission. haha

  3. Laurie Says:

    And one more thing. LOVE the pictures!!

  4. Whitney Says:

    So fun to hear everything you’re up to in such detail, including bathroom and shower habits…lol! I cracked up at the part about the volcano guide’s boots making fart noises… I guess I’ll never grow up!! Miss you guys and can’t wait for the next update!

  5. Claire Says:

    I’m excited your Spanish is getting so much better!!! One thing that helped me was mastering the sentence “Please speak slowly because I need time to think about what you’re saying because I only know some Swahili.”

    Your trip just seems more and more amazing!!!! I also like that ya’ll matched on your volcano hike.

  6. Julie V Says:

    Paying for bathrooms in Italy was only 20-50 cents, but it was the principal of the matter that bothered me! Haha.

    This post was great :). You guys are going to cherish this time forever; what an experience.

    I laughed at the kid running his fingers through scott’s hair, hahaha. He does have nice hair!

    Love you guys! Now i need to read the newest post!


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