At the end of May I returned to Oregon. In the one month that I have been home I bought a car, found a job and found a place to live. So, the overseas teaching adventure is over and the Oregon teaching adventure is going to resume. And the From ojalá to insha’Allah blog is now finished. Thank you all for reading and commenting these past three years.
This past Saturday (two days ago) was the UWC Costa Rica graduation. The are some important traditional elements for the UWCCR graduation, two student speeches (one in English and one in Spanish); a speech by a teacher; and a male and female team to emcee the ceremony. The students vote and decide on all these roles. At the beginning of the month I was told that I had been selected to host the ceremony, along with my colleague Juan Diego. It is an honor to be selected by the students, so despite my nerves, I said yes. After practicing saying all the names as many times as I could in the three days leading up to the ceremony, I felt ready. The names were what I was most worried about, so hopefully the students felt I did a good job! It was fun to have a “job” to do at graduation and to be part of something that is so important to these young men and women. So thank you students for selecting me! During the whole ceremony I was trying to be aware of my face, I wanted to look happy as I didn’t want to be in the background of anyone’s pictures looking like a sourpuss or looking crazy. Unfortunately despite my best efforts, one of the student photographers (Blake Ashby) caught this: Luckily that picture is the worst one I’ve seen. The speaker had requested that no one cheer until all the names had been called, then after the first name there was cheering and she looked over at us like “really?!”. And my reaction was caught for all eternity. But I recovered, and got this nice picture with a student, with both our eyes closed. :-( Not the best photography day for me!
On Saturday evening a small group of friends joined me at my favorite restaurant in Santa Ana, Al Tapas. Unfortunately, they weren’t having flamenco this past Saturday, but we had a fun time despite that. While getting ready to leave for the restaurant I was looking for a plastic bag for my friend Misty, so she could more easily carry some items I had given her. As I went through the pile of bags, I discovered a very unwelcome house guest. This is a tarantula and it was about the size of my palm. Misty, who is much braver than I, was able to get it into a bucket and take the unwanted guest into the garden. I hope, I pray, pray, pray, pray that it stays in the garden!
Today while leaving the campus I got a little treat.
My time here is coming to an end, but I feel fulfilled by the things I’ve done and especially by the people I’ve met. Costa Rica has been an interesting and at times frightening (see above tarantula photo) experience, but I am so glad I made the decision to give this place a try. Even though in the end it wasn’t the best fit for me, I’ve learned a lot about myself, met some amazing people and I don’t have any regrets. I will miss my students and friends of course, and probably the weather. I will miss all these yummy fresh foods each week at the feria: And I will miss delicious treats with Alex:
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.
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.
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!
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!).
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.
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!
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!
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 CoopeTárcoles.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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! 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.
On Wednesday, I walked the opposite direction on the path. Here are some views from the walk.
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. 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 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! 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.
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! 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!
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).
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.
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.
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).
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).
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!)
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.
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”.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
During the week, this amazing leaf katydid was spotted right outside my classroom.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
It was another great holiday, and good staycation!! Perfect refresher for the last few months of the school year.