Wet & Wild

Today turned out to be a very interesting day. My friend Stephen and I set off this morning for a trip to Feria Verde, where they happened to be celebrating their fifth anniversary. Feria Verde is awesome (I’ve written about it before) but a bit on the speedy side, so it is kind of a treat. Additionally, it is a little too much like the Eugene Saturday Market and often makes me homesick. But, since I will be home soon, I wasn’t worried about feeling homesick.

We walked around the Feria and then grabbed a bite to eat. I found a booth called El Rincon Gitano (The Gypsy Corner) that sold vegan, gluten free treats and got myself a little chocolate cake. The lady told me it was also sugar free (score!). It was super chocolatey but a bit on the dry side. However, the next booth over, Tierra Viva has delicious and creative sodas, today I got Orange Ginger and it was perfect with my chocolate cake.

Afterwards, we headed toward the National Museum, I heard there was a cool photography exhibit, but unfortunately it ended on 10 May. We did a little souvenir shopping nearby and we were feeling a bit unsure about what to do next. We had been talking about going to Refugio Herpetologico, an animal rescue center in Santa Ana, so we decided that today was a good day to visit.

When we hoped off the bus, I commented to Stephen that it was really trying hard to rain. He commented back, “yeah the weather has been weird”. At that moment there were a few raindrops in the air, though very scattered. We paid our entrance and just as we were getting ready to head out into the animal area, it began to rain. Armed with loaner umbrellas we set out to view the animals. The poor things were soaking wet!! But lucky for us, that didn’t seem to bother too many of them. It is still raining, as I am writing this about 5 hours later, though it did stop for about an hour (it is a nice change from the hot humid weather we’ve been having). Back to the animals!

The rescue center is a little expensive ($20), but I hope that the money is being used for good. In this case it seems that it is. It was clear that there are new exhibits underway or perhaps expansion of the enclosures. So I am hoping that they continue to grow and provide good rehabilitation or long-term homes for the animals. Most of these animals have been rescued from local homes were they were kept illegally as pets.

Here are some of the wet and “wild” cuties at the Rescue center.

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This green iguana was having some serious climbing problems.

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This is Oleg an ocelot, he was found in a school playground after being attacked by a dog. They suspect he was a pet.

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This is a squirrel monkey. The species is almost extinct in Costa Rica, so they are working on a breeding program and hope to introduce captive bred off-spring into the wild.

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Scarlet Macaw, you know I love you, even if you are soaking wet and fluffy.

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In Costa Rica, April flowers bring May showers.

We have wrapped up the teaching year here at United World College Costa Rica. Students are in the midst of their IB exams or their course finals. For me this means writing student grade narratives, assessing and invigilating exams. We did some fun things at the end to celebrate our year of learning.

In my first year history classes we had little potluck parties, did some role play activities and my TOK students did a great job with their presentations. Here is my Standard Level History class doing their October War/Camp David Accords role play, and forcing me to be in the picture with them.11196253_893225870738707_1335399653927481152_n

On the first day of May (which is a holiday in Costa Rica and therefore a three-day weekend) I had an early wake up (4:45am). I joined up with some friends to run a 10K. It was a good morning, with a delicious (and very smiley) post-run breakfast!11163245_10152654987007563_8279621032101484298_n IMG_1015

Later that day, Alex and I went to a super cute place and had some cold drinks. I had an amazing frozen chai tea and Alex’s giant drink is a coffee-nutella-orange frozen concoction that was divine (you couldn’t even taste the coffee!). IMG_1023

On Saturday, my tutor group (which is basically a group I am in charge of for pastoral care) went out for our final outing. Here they are, most of them headed off to university next year (UC Berkeley, U of Rochester, College of Idaho, U of Florida, to name a few), enjoying some gelato. 11164706_894968830564411_8574842651943917610_o

It has gotten a lot warmer here in the past few weeks and the rainy season has slowly started again. There have been quite a few earthquakes, weird bugs showing up in my apartment and the volcano has been very active. I am happy to be finishing out this academic year, and I am super excited for my trip back to Oregon in just over three weeks!

Tárcoles

The school year is wrapping up here. We have just one more week of regular classes and then students and staff start preparing for their final exams. The last few weeks have flown by! It feels like just yesterday I was writing about my Semana Santa trip, but maybe that is because yesterday I was at the beach again!IMG_5966

I joined up with a student trip to Tárcoles, which is a small village on the Pacific Coast in Puntarenas. In the 1960s there were about 1,000 people living in the village, now there are around 5,000. As the village began to grow they noticed a need to protect the traditional fishing methods (and fish) of the area. Lots of conversations and decisions were made and in the end the villagers of Tárcoles decided to form a sustainable fishing cooperative. If you’d like to know more, there is a little information on their website CoopeTárcolesIMG_5972

In the morning we learned about the history of the cooperative and the struggles they have faced throughout the 20+ years of trying to keep traditional (they call it “artesenal”–or handmade) fishing a way of life and to keep the shoreline free of shrimp trawlers. They showed us some of the most common fish caught for local consumption and export, using either long line fishing (more later), hand fishing (no rod) or net fishing. Net fishing and long line fishing are the most common, hand fishing is probably just for the tourists. Some of the common caught fish (I can’t remember the names):

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After the fish demonstration we were greeted by this lovely man, who is one of the original founders of the cooperative. He took us down to the beach area to show us some of the “everyday” activities of the fishing community.IMG_5961

Some young fishermen fixing the nets on the beach.

Some young fishermen fixing the nets on the beach.

This is the "long line" fishing. It is one lone line (about 2 miles) and there is an "arm" with a hook (you can see the hooks here) every so often. On the beach it is someone's job to organize the lines and hooks in a barrel so they can be easily replaced in the ocean. The person who does this job works about 2-3 hours and will receive about $10 (USD) per barrel.

This is the “long line” fishing. It is one long line (about 2 miles) and there is an “arm” with a hook (you can see the hooks here) every so often. On the beach it is someone’s job to organize the lines and hooks in a barrel so they can be easily replaced in the ocean. The person who does this job works about 2-3 hours and will receive about $10 (USD) per barrel.

Here is the motor storage area. This area is locked and guarded so the locals can keep their motors safe when not in use. It is just about 50 meters from the beach where most of the boats are.

Here is the motor storage area. This area is locked and guarded so the locals can keep their motors safe when not in use. It is just about 50 meters from the beach where most of the boats are.

Then we got to try our luck with a little hand fishing. Basically you have a line, a weight and a hook baited with shrimp and you just toss the line overboard and hope for the best.

Heading out to do some fishing. If you look closely you can make out a trawler. They are now required to fish in areas with 15km or more depth. Previously, they would come nearly up to the shoreline.

Heading out to do some fishing. If you look closely you can make out a trawler on the horizon. They are now required to fish in areas with 15km or more depth. Previously, they would come nearly up to the shoreline.

The bait, nice big prawns. And if you can see it, our captain is using his big toe to hold his line so he can text on his phone!

The bait, nice big prawns. And if you can see it, our captain is using his big toe to hold his line so he can text on his phone!

After our 20 minutes of unsuccessful fishing (except for the boat captain, who caught two pufferfish–or maybe the same one twice!) we headed to a nice beach for some swimming, homemade ceviche (my favorite!) and a little relaxation. Afterward we enjoyed a nice lunch and then headed back to Santa Ana. It was a good day out and fun to hang out with the students in a different environment.

Only thing anyone caught all day. Puffer fish, had to be thrown back in.

Only thing anyone caught all day. Pufferfish, had to be thrown back in.

Semana Santa

Whether you call it Spring Break, Holy Week or Semana Santa, the week when the world takes a spring holiday is here. In Costa Rica this vacation time falls on the week leading up to Easter, also known as Semana Santa. It is a very popular time to travel, particularly to the beaches. In mid-February I did some research and decided I wanted to take a yoga vacation. After contacting countless places I realized, that I simply couldn’t afford the kind of “yoga vacation” I wanted. Which is when I remembered about Drake Bay. Somewhere I had read about Drake Bay and the amazingly clean and empty beaches and the lush marine and land animal life. I got in touch with a couple of lodges and found a place that had availability and was within my price range. I love planning vacations, I think I might actually enjoy that aspect a little too much! Anyway, this past Sunday I boarded another Nature Air Flight ($75 each way–15lbs of checked luggage and up to 10lbs carry-on) and headed to Drake Bay (Bahía Drake en Español).

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Just landed in Drake Bay, next passengers headed out to the plane.

I was staying at Las Caletas Lodge, which required a land and boat transfer from the airport. At the airport I met my taxi driver, who was very friendly. He was so friendly, in fact, that when we got to this little creek that was covering the “road”, there were some tourists stuck trying to figure out how to cross in their Honda Civic. He said (to them): “Don’t worry it isn’t too deep, just follow me”. Off we went across the creek, to my surprise (and theirs too, I think) the Honda made it across with no problems. The driver dropped me at the beach with instructions to wait for the boat from Las Caletas, which was blue (he showed me another that looked like it, so I would know the color). I had been told by the lodge to wear shorts and sandals because they did “beach landings”. As I sat waiting for my blue boat to arrive, I watched the daily happenings on the beach.

Loading up some fruit and veg to take to a lodge.

Loading up some fruit and veg to take to a lodge.

After a few minutes my boat arrived and I watched as the captain backed the boat onto the shore (without actually beaching it) and then beckoned for me to get on. You’ll notice in the above picture that this wasn’t exactly calm water. But, doing this multiple times a day I guess you get the hang of it. I was on the boat and we were off before I could even sit down. My accommodation for this vacation was a deluxe tent (colloquially known as “glamping”). It was clean, nicely appointed and cozy, with electricity, a big bed and an amazing view.

My tent.

My tent.

That first afternoon I sat and talked for a while with some lovely American ladies who were staying there and then I did a little walk to see what was around. The meals (the room rate is full board) are served on a strict schedule at Las Caletas with everyone eating together, which I really, really like. At dinner I was able to meet the other guests, and get to know what was around to see and do. I spoke with the guide about where to see the best wildlife and made a plan to go for a walk in the morning.

The lodge is located along a beach path so there is easy access to great walking, where the rainforest meets the beach, for all the guests in the lodges as well as for the locals who are going to and from work and home. The first thing I noticed about the path and beaches was how clean they were. I saw very little garbage, which in my small amount of experience is unusual for Costa Rica. I asked the bartender/server/busiest guy at Las Caletas, Jhon, about this later in the day and he said that the people clean the path as they go. He said they have a Foundation that works to keep the area clean.

My morning walk was very important to me as I was in search of a very special bird, but I also found many other animals, special migrating butterflies and a quaint school, where  “Here we study to improve”. (Apparently these butterflies come from South America and only do this migration every four years! It was special indeed!

A black hawk.

A black hawk.

Cute little woodpecker.

Cute little woodpecker.

A school along the route.

A school along the route.

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The migrating butterflies take a rest.

The migrating butterflies take a rest.

I set out searching for the Scarlet Macaw, and I found two trees with at least 10 different birds. Absolutely stunning, though very difficult to photograph. They are constantly moving and despite their bright colors can hide very well. I had such fun watching them eat, fight and just enjoy their day.

How many do you see? (I count four.)

How many do you see? (I count four.)

ARS_5978 ARS_6023 ARS_6190 I spent the afternoon after my walk reading and relaxing. At one point in the afternoon I was texting with my Mom and I was talking pictures of the “view” from my tent, when something caught my eye:

Can you see it?

Can you see it?

Can you make it out? Right there in the center of the picture? That’s right, you got it, a little white face! That little white face belonged to the look-out for a troop of White-faced Capuchin monkeys. When I got up to get a better look, I found them munching away on a tree, including a momma with her baby!ARS_6259 ARS_6264 ARS_6284 The following day (Tuesday), I went on a half day snorkeling excursion at Isla Caño. I don’t have any pictures from that, but we did see quite a lot. The first thing that I saw (besides fish) was many, many jellyfish. They were everywhere and they were stinging. I had on a long sleeve shirt, which helped, but I did get about four good stings on my legs. They are quite painful for about 30 seconds, but then they just sort of tingle. Anyway, I was not going let the jellyfish or my leaking mask keep me from checking out the sea life. We saw amazing things, a massive school of big-eyed jacks, puffer fish, two hawksbill sea turtles and one sleeping white-tipped reef shark. It was a pretty successful day. We then headed back toward the mainland and en-route got an amazing show from a pod of Spotted Dolphins. The water was rough and they were jumping and swimming in the added roughness made by our wake. It was so beautiful. I spent the remainder of the day reading on the beach, swimming, reading in the hammock and simply just taking in the views.

Pretty awesome location for some afternoon reading.

Pretty awesome location for some afternoon reading.

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On Wednesday, I walked the opposite direction on the path. Here are some views from the walk.

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The sign above the bridge says “clean as you go” and the bridge had a sign on it for the Corcovado Foundation, the group that works to keep this area amazing.

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This is the start of the path from the town of Agujitas (where I got on the boat). Glad I didn’t have to carry my 24.5lbs of luggage for 35min…

ARS_6334 ARS_6347 ARS_6431 I had been told about a “scary” hanging bridge that I had to check out for myself. It was starting to get really hot, and I was moving away from the nice ocean breeze and I really wanted to turn around, put on my swim suit and hit the beach. I am so glad I didn’t, for when I finally made it out of the heat and down the hill toward the hanging bridge, I was met with an awesome sight. ARS_6392 This was so wonderful, I barely had to zoom at all! This male sloth appeared to be searching for a mate as he was clearly following a scent as he moved around the trees. The river was a really lovely color as well.

The "scary" (not at all!) hanging bridge.

The “scary” (not at all!) hanging bridge.

ARS_6448 ARS_6450 The final night while waiting for dinner (on the patio where no shoes are allowed) a nice guest showed the bartender something he had seen in the bar. It was quite the sight, a scorpion eating a cockroach!ARS_6476 This got me excited for the night walk we had planned that evening, but we didn’t see much, unfortunately.  We did luck out and see a basilisk lizard (like the one I found on Monday, pictured below) run across the surface of the pond. That’s right, those large back legs allow these little guys to run standing upright and to do so on top of water, they are also referred to as Jesus Christ lizards.ARS_6179

We saw a couple of frogs, neon blue crayfish (which also have reflective eyes!), snakes and more scorpions–which I honestly didn’t need to see. But this tiny frog, still with its tadpole tail, was worth it!ARS_6487 Today I flew back to San Jose, and I got some spectacular views on the way. It was such an amazing trip, I feel very relaxed and blessed to have met some nice people and seen some wonderful wildlife!

The Nature Air office, check-in/waiting area. No security.

The Nature Air office, check-in/waiting area. No security.

Getting ready to take off.

Getting ready to take off.

Do you see how the land makes a whales tale? This is  Ballena Bay.

Do you see how the land makes a whale’s tail? This is Ballena Bay.

Around Town

We have had some pretty exciting volcanic activity here in Costa Rica. That is, if you like to clean up ash when you come home from work! The volcano is quite far away, but the very windy conditions have carried its ash all over the valley. It isn’t nearly as exciting as I would have hoped. And, luckily we are all safe. Here is a photo from the national volcanic and seismic institute here in Costa Rica (website–also a cool way to see all the earthquakes). 1800380_809622969074963_5640170791176862398_n

But what is exciting is finally being able to capture the most beautiful butterfly I have ever seen, in a photo. Costa Rica has these beautiful blue butterflies, called morpho butterflies, but I never see them when I can get a photo. Last weekend my friend Stephen and I went to visit the Jade Museum and the National Museum in San José. I have waited this long to go because the prices are very high for non-residents, so now that I have my residency the price is much better. Anyway, at the National Museum they have a really cool butterfly exhibit with lots of morphos and even chrysalises on display. I only had my iPhone with me, but I was able to capture one! I also found this very cool looking flower, but I have no idea what it is. IMG_0930 IMG_0878

This week also began the Feria de la Cebolla (Onion Festival) here in Santa Ana. I captured some photos this morning on my way to the bank.

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The guy in the orange asked me to take their picture. :-)

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Today I returned to San José, with Stephen, to check out a music and art festival. There were a lot of local vendors selling things from candles, to jam, chocolate, clothes and many other things. There was also live music performances from well-known Costa Rica bands. We stayed to listen to the group Passiflora and had some delicious chifrijo for lunch. We also saw this rooster who is a big fan of Saprissa fútbol (local professional soccer club).

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Live demonstration of spray paint art.

Live demonstration of spray paint art.

Hitoy Cerere

Nestled into the massive banana plantations of the Limón province in Costa Rica is the Hitoy Cerere Biological Reserve. Not often visited due to a very, very rainy climate and relatively unknown, Hitoy Cerere is a pretty pristine piece of land.

This week (Tuesday to Thursday) I joined another staff member and a group of 15 students to do some volunteer work in the HItoy Cerere Reserve. We arrived late in the evening (around 8pm) after leaving San José by public bus at 3pm (about $10 each) and entered our bunk house. Three bedrooms, a converted living room, two toilets and two showers for 17 people. You can bet I was freaking out a little bit!! Luckily, there were two more showers and four more toilets nearby (which I found out the next day).

The room I shared with three students (my bed's on the floor).

The room I shared with three students (my bed’s on the floor).

These crazy looking bugs were all over the walls when we arrived. Any idea what they are?!?!

These crazy looking bugs were all over the walls when we arrived. Any idea what they are?!?!

On Tuesday, our first working day, we spent the morning working on the main road to the Reserve’s lodge/visitor center. Here the job was to clear some recently cut plants that were hanging over the road, dig out a water drainage ditch, and add some rocks to reinforce the road. We also discovered lots of spiders, centipedes, ants and two grasshoppers. (However, I was not happy to find my mattress crawling with ants when I returned from lunch that day!)

A grasshopper catching a ride.

A grasshopper catching a ride.

First neon green grasshopper I have seen.

First neon green grasshopper I have seen.

After our work there was a hike and a visit to a waterfall. I didn’t go to the waterfall because I only had one pair of shoes and the hike there required walking through knee deep water. But, the students had a great time visiting the falls and I enjoyed a peaceful hour reading next to the babbling brook.

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On day two and three we hiked up behind the cabin to clear the trail so that the main worker at the reserve could get his ATV up and down the hill for easier trail maintenance. We were in a lot of mud doing these jobs, raking, digging up rocks and clearing out debris. We saw some frogs, a jumping tarantula, a snake and many, many ants. Including the infamous “bullet ant”.

Bullet Ant, by far the biggest ant I have ever seen

Bullet Ant, by far the biggest ant I have ever seen

Blue jean poison dart frog (we saw four of these during the week). They are so cute!

Blue jean poison dart frog (we saw four of these during the week). They are so cute!

This job took up most of both days, but we still had a chance to take a dip in the river and spend some quality time getting to know each other, reading our books and enjoying the nature all around us.

I was pretty skeptical about this trip because I knew very little about where we were going, what we would be doing and what kind of weather we would encounter. But as each day went on, things got better and the rustic cabin of 17 people didn’t seem as bad as the first day. And since I was able to get the ants out of my bed I was happy. The students all worked well together and there were no fights! I’d say it was a successful week!

Catching Up

I started writing this blog about two weeks ago but was having some serious computer difficulties. Turns out, I needed a new hard drive. Now that my computer has a new engine, I am back in action. I started on this blog again earlier this morning and even though the blog has an auto-save feature, what I had written (the whole blog!) was lost to the cyber universe. :-( So, hopefully the third time is the charm!

The first weekend after returning to work from winter vacation I joined my “tutor group” (a group of students that are assigned to me for pastoral care) on an outing to Irazú Volcano and Sanitorio Durán. Irazú Volcano is meant to be very beautiful, but it is also often enveloped in clouds. The day we went the visibility was very low, so unfortunately we didn’t get to see the crater. Luckily, Costa Rica’s most recently active volcano, Turrialba, is right next door, and we had a great view of it from the outer slope of Irazú.

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Looking out at Turrialba Volcano

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One of my tutees showing his love! :-)

After walking around the very cold viewing area, we descended to try and get a different view, but it was too cloudy there as well. Although, we did have a chance encounter with an albino coyote, which was pretty cool.

Photo by Aune Nuyttens

Photo by Aune Nuyttens

At Sanitorio Durán, which has been at different times a TB hospital, a prison hospital and a mental ward, I was sad to see a lot of graffiti on the walls of the buildings. I did find a couple more creative installations, but in general what is there is a a bit of an eyesore. Which is a shame as this is a pretty popular tourist attraction, especially as it is said to be haunted.

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This says: Welcome feel the cold of death.

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The following weekend, as part of a belated birthday celebration, I organized a group to attend a chocolate tasting at Sibú Chocolate. It was a great day and really interesting. After the Rainforest Chocolate Tour in La Fortuna, I was worried that this one wouldn’t be as good, but it was great. It had a different feel, more of a social history of chocolate rather than scientific. It was also really cool to learn about the flavor combinations and how to taste them, like wine tasting.IMG_5871 IMG_5873

The week after that was North American Week at UWC Costa Rica. I participated by giving a thematic talk about the CIA during the middle of the week and on Friday the students put on a North American Show. Along with the students from the Pacific Northwest, I played a small part in a Portlandia skit and rapped the theme song of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (my only talent). I also participated in some group songs and dances. It was a really fun night and it was great to see how the students brought everything together.

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Juan Pablo (art teacher) and I showing our pride! Photo by Max von Hippel

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Rehearsing the songs for the show with Mara Dolan & Becca Cleveland-Stout. Photo by Max von Hippel

During North American week I had some bug sightings that reminded me that I am NOT living in the Pacific Northwest. I woke up on the Saturday after the “North American Show” to these guys, in three different parts of my apartment.

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During the week, this amazing leaf katydid was spotted right outside my classroom.

So cool!!

So cool!!

This past Thursday the students put on an amazing event, TEDxUWCCR. If you know about TED, then you probably know what a TEDx is, but if you don’t, check it out, TED is a very cool concept. Anyway, the students’ presentations and the guest presenters were fabulous. It was a great day. I am so happy that UWCCR made it possible for so many students and staff to be a part of the audience. When the talks are uploaded as videos I will share a few of my favorites.

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And finally, I will finish off this long post with another iguana picture. On Friday morning, one of my students startled an iguana and he ran into the boys’ bathroom. So, like any good teacher, I went and checked it out and then ran back for my phone–which I promptly gave to the student so she could capture this great shot. Eventually the iguana found its way out of the bathroom and back into nature.

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Photo by Florence Wavreil

 

New Year, New Adventures

Happy 2015 to all my readers!! I spent the first part of the new year on the second half of my “staycation”, traveling around Costa Rica with my parents. They arrived in the afternoon of 30 December and we got ourselves ready to head to the “wilderness” of Costa Rica. (Disclaimer, lots of photos ahead!)

Prior to going to Tortuguero I had been warned by many Ticos (Costa Ricans) and expats that the area is very remote and is a bit difficult as a tourist. As our trip got closer and I saw that the weather report was saying non-stop rain, I started to get a little worried. But what to do? The vacation is already planned!

On 31 December, my birthday!, we had a very early wake up. Since we decided to fly to Tortuguero (best decision ever) we had to head to the airport to catch the 5:50am flight. It was an easy flight from San José to Limón and a really rough flight from Limón to Tortuguero. The weather was not great and the tiny plane was getting thrown around pretty good. But, we made it safely and after a short boat ride arrived at La Baula Lodge. I quickly realized that I had nothing to fear. Tortuguero didn’t look much different from anywhere else I had been in Costa Rica, wifi, TVs, etc. Just more wildlife!

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Getting close to Tortuguero

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Riding in the water taxi

We did some exploring in the town of Tortuguero later that day. Where we had delicious lunch at the Budda Café. In the evening we joined up with a “Night Walk” where we hoped to see some cool nocturnal creatures. The walk was a little disappointing on the “creature” count, but we did see a Red-Eyed Tree frog, so that was pretty cool. The following morning we saw our first sloth, in the tree near our hotel room.

Lunch time!!

Lunch time!!

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Toucan hanging out near the sloth

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After breakfast we joined our new friends from the night walk, a lovely Swedish family, and set off on a boat tour of the Tortuguero park canals.

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Iguana catching some sun

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Pam & Ken on the boat

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Pam checking out the caiman

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The cutest bug I have ever seen!

In the afternoon we went on a walking tour of the park, where we saw a few more things. The coolest of which was a golden-orb weaving spider catching her prey and eating it in the web!

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Nocturnal casque headed lizard

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The next day we were awoken by the howler monkeys. We had seen them before but this time they were really close. They spent most of the day hanging around the hotel grounds and so did we. Here’s the cute family.

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Momma with baby

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Drying off after a big rainstorm

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Pam watching the monkeys play

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Baby boa on the dining patio

Baby boa on the dining patio

On 3 January we headed to Arenal Volcano. It was a long drive getting out of the Tortuguero area, but once we got on the highway things were better. The road which is very well used by tourists and locals alike, the only way to get to Tortuguero by land, is horrible. The cars have to avoid giant holes and other cars. It is not something I’d sign up for again, so glad we only had to do it once.

For the second part of our trip we were staying at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, right at the base of the (now dormant) volcano. We had a lovely room, with a great view of the lake. We joined a hike around the property on our first morning there and got rained on a little. Then we got to experience some serious rain storms later in the day (and for our whole stay). I have honestly never seen anything like it. It was pretty awesome, but difficult to describe. You’ll just have to take my word!DSCN1280

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View of the lake and volcano from the lodge

We went to the Arenal Hanging Bridges. It was cool to walk suspended above and within the canopy. It started raining when we were about 1km toward the end of the hike, and we made it indoors just before the storm hit. During the whole trip we really lucked out on missing the crazy weather when we were outdoors.

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The following day we did a chocolate tour at a place called Rainforest Chocolate Tour. It was really interesting and interactive. By far one of the best tours I have ever done (I’m doing a different chocolate tour next weekend so I’m excited to compare them). Not only did we learn all about how chocolate is made in the traditional ways, but we got to help make our own chocolate! After preparing the dark chocolate (which was made into both a hot drink and a melted variety) we then got to add different flavors (with seconds, thirds and fourths). It was cool to put together different flavors and see how they tasted.

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How to get to the bean

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Ken helping crush the beans

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Not the best picture, but I was helping make the chocolate, sugar and cinnamon mixture

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All the different things for mixing into the chocolate, and our two wonderful guides

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Cheers!

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One of my creations: chocolate, peanuts, sea salt and vanilla

The next day we returned to San José. But before we could do that something awesome happened. On our walk to breakfast, I spotted a small yellow eyelash pit viper on the trail. I had been looking for one the whole trip. It was the perfect parting gift!

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Can you see its cute eyelashes?

Can you see its cute eyelashes?

I showed the parents around Santa Ana (it is very small) and introduced them to my favorite Costa Rican food, chifrijo. They loved it! I also took them to Rincon Cubano where we all ordered the Patacon Burger (a hamburger with a fried green plantain for the bun). We also did a “highlights tour” of San José. and then it was time to say goodbye.

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Enjoying our chifrijo!

 

It was another great holiday, and good staycation!! Perfect refresher for the last few months of the school year.

Staycation

I wonder if there is a word in Spanish for “staycation”? Anyway, that is what I have been doing this holiday break, exploring Costa Rica.  The break started with a trip to some hot springs to help Jana celebrate her birthday. This was then followed by some shopping at the Mercado Tropical (Christmas market) and quite a few trips to try out some new cafés and restaurants. It has been fun to check out all the “we should go there places” now that we have lots of time to do it!

For Jana’s birthday, she really wanted to go to the hot springs, but they are a little far away so we decided to stay the night. I found us a great deal on Yuplón, Costa Rica’s version of Groupon, at a small resort called El Tucano ($50/night for two people including breakfast and 15% discount on all purchased food and beverage). So we took the bus from San Jose to Ciudad Quesada (about 2.5 hours, $3/each, one way) then a taxi from the city to the hot springs (about $16 one way). It was a quiet little place and a nice get-away. Here are some pictures of cool bugs I found and the hot springs. Careful, no love scenes allowed!

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We tried out a new café that just opened up in Escazú, called Mocapan. It is a German inspired Costa Rican cafe. The sandwiches are great, I am looking forward to trying more things there. We also went to a café I have been dying to check out, it is called Café Buena Tierra and I learned about it because I bought some of their natural peanut butter at Feria Verde. Anyway, we had a great time (after way too much shopping at the mall) trying out the delicious cakes (gluten free, vegan!!) and enjoying the wonderful tea and super cute pottery. IMG_0627 IMG_0634_2

Last Friday, Santa Ana had their annual Christmas parade. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as Christmassy as I was hoping, but it was a fun way to see some local culture. Marching bands are very, very popular here. IMG_5855 IMG_5861 IMG_5870

Sunday I happened upon the 8th stage of the Vuelta Costa Rica, kind of like the Tour de France but on a smaller scale. This is the 50th year of the race. It was fun to stand out and wait for the riders to come in, thought it was a little hot! I was about 200 meters from the finish line. It is crazy how fast these guys are riding!IMG_0641_2 ARS_4898 ARS_4961

And today is Christmas Eve, I am missing my families in Oregon and Germany, but I am excited for tonight’s Christmas dinner and spending some time tomorrow by the pool. Which, is something I have never done at Christmas before. :-) I made a quinoa salad, glühwein and my family’s traditional Red Cake (not gluten free or vegan–some day I will try it GF!).

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad and Happy Chanukah!!!!10429234_698400747742_8029440620367236148_n

Busy, busy, busy

In the two years of working in Al Ain I forgot how busy a teacher’s life is. That is because I didn’t have a typical teacher’s life there. And to be fair, I don’t really have a “typical” teacher’s life here, but it is more similar to what I experienced working in the United States. So, since I have been busy with work and just life in general I have neglected this blog a bit. I am going to try and be better in the future, but here goes, in a whirlwind of photos and explanations about what has happened since my last post.

A little while back, I went to the beach on the Pacific Coast for a relaxing day. This is Punta Leona, if I remember correctly. It was a lovely spot for sitting on the beach, but the waves were quite large so not really great for a relaxing float. The next photo is a moth that was in my classroom for a few days. I look this picture as part of a five day black and white iPhone photography challenge.

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My friend and co-worker Alex has a tradition of hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for all the American staff at the school. Here we are dining “al fresco” at her house. I think this is the first time I have eaten Thanksgiving dinner outside!

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At UWCCR we have “thematic weeks” where students organize talks and activities around a particular theme. Often these themes are based on people’s country of origin, such as the thematic week for the first week of December, Middle East/North Africa Week. The students asked me to join the week and I agreed to give a talk about my experience living in the UAE. I had a great turnout and students seemed to find the talk interesting. Here I am talking about how not everyone is the UAE is wealthy.

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Students are amazing, sometimes I wonder if I am even smart enough to work at this school. Last week a group gave a presentation about WWII technology and one of my students explained and diagramed the physics behind the atom bomb. It is amazing for anyone to do that, but this student did the whole thing from his head. No notes, it was impressive.

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Last weekend was a very, very busy weekend for me. It started on Friday night with our “end of the year” holiday party for work. The theme of the party was 80s, so here we are in our 80s outfits.

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On Saturday morning I woke up early and headed to the swimming pool for the “Juegos Comunales Santa Ana” or the Santa Ana Community Games. This is an annual year end event that includes competitions in swimming, biking and other sports throughout the county of Santa Ana. I only participated in the swimming competition. It was brutal, since I hadn’t been in the pool for over two weeks. The order of events was 100 meters of each stroke and two (50m x 4) relays. I did all the races, including the 100 fly!! It was fun to race in a pool again, so I am hoping there are more events like this. I snapped this photo during one of the breaks in the meet. It was not a warm day for an outdoor meet. About 70-75F and a little rainy.

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On Sunday morning, I woke up even earlier than Saturday to head out for the Christmas Run. Again with my running buddies from UWWCCR we had a fun morning of successfully completing a 10K and enjoying a nice breakfast afterward. Here I am running with one of the ladies from work and you can just barely see Santa there on the right cheering us on.

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This past Thursday night I organized a group of coworkers to attend the ballet. In true Christmas tradition we saw The Nutcracker (El Cascanueces). It was a fun night out and the theater was lovely. I am looking forward to attending more and more cultural events like this. The picture below is inside the theater, with Alex and Jana from work, the stage and the doors of the theater (that remind you where you are at all times).

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And now I am on winter vacation! Four weeks of exploring, working and cleaning ahead of me. Oh, and a visit from my parents at the end of the month! I will leave you for now with this cute picture of an iguana climbing a tree outside my classroom last week.

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