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!).

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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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A Student In Need

Generally speaking, I try to keep this blog about me and my life. But sometimes little things  touch my heart and I need to share them with you.

Today one of the amazing UWC Costa Rica students, whom I know through swimming class, is trying desperately to get home to Botswana for his best friend’s memorial service. As you may recall from a previous post, most of the students here are on scholarship and going home at any time is a luxury. So you can imagine that this is a very difficult time for him.

As an expat, I am often worried about a situation like this happening to me. Could I afford to go home? How do I get there in time for the services? What will it be like to go and then have to return quickly? All these questions are difficult and I hope I never have to actually answer any. I can’t imagine how this young man is feeling being here in Costa Rica and grieving for his friend back home in Botswana.

If you’re interested in helping this young man get home and have some time to grieve, please follow the link: http://www.gofundme.com/hidcms.

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Catching up

I can’t believe it has already been a month since the fall break trip to the beach. It has been a busy month, but not a lot of adventures to report on. Here are some things I’ve been up to.

Toward the end of October I joined my coworkers again for another Breast Cancer Awareness run. This time we did 8.4km. It was a fun morning, but boy was I tired later!

Getting ready to run.

Getting ready to run.

Still smiling at the end.

Still smiling at the end.

But, that didn’t stop me from getting getting some good food the following day at a Cuban restaurant nearby. It was so yummy! Fried plantains as a starter (complimentary) and mojitos! Then I ordered a burger with a naturally gluten-free bun. It is a patacón bun, which is flattened and fried plantain. It was delicious. I will be going back to Rincón Cubano in Lindora for sure!

Decliciosa!

Decliciosa!

I also got a crazy idea for a Halloween costume when I saw some graffiti leggings. So, not only did I buy a Frankenstein cake for my tutor group to eat while watching M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, I also dressed up as the Lennon Wall (in Prague).IMG_0397

And last weekend I saw a great little flamenco show, enjoyed some good Chilean malbec and some delicious Spanish tapas at Al Tapas here in Santa Ana. This place is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to go!10432467_689435598972_4993004014280142859_n

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The Caribbean, babies and good food!

Well, I finally made it out of Costa Rica’s Central Valley. Two weeks ago we had a mini-break (three working days and the weekend) which allowed for a little holiday. One of my co-workers (Alex) and I decided to go to the Caribbean coast for this mini-break. We did some searching and found a little cabin about 150 meters from the beach in Playa Cocles (which is near Puerto Viejo).

We arrived to a very humid and sunny beach town with lots of local charm. After getting settled into our perfect little cabin we headed straight for the beach. The few hours of floating in the water and talking were so, so needed. We then had some dinner and swung in the hammocks on the cabin’s deck, talking and reading. (And keeping an eye our for extremely large bugs.)

And thus was our holiday. We basically ate (lots of delicious food), relaxed in the hammocks or at the beach and did some work (we are teachers after all) every single day. It was wonderful. The beach where we stayed, Playa Cocles, was almost deserted, and considering how beautiful it is I’m glad for this. The new header picture is from this beach as well as these:ARS_4718 10407986_686862804872_4495755964784979821_n

One of the days we went to the nearby Jaguar Rescue Center to meet some of the native residents. This was a great trip, with only two down sides: 1) no jaguars and 2) not being able to take pictures of the baby howler monkey, which sat in my hand to eat some leaves. It was adorable!

The center houses many animals that are either in rehabilitation or can’t be let out into the wild for various reasons. The guide was very knowledgeable and I really enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed seeing the baby monkeys and the cutest little sloths you ever did see! Now, I just need to see some of these guys in the wild!ARS_4788

Baby two-toed sloth.

Baby two-toed sloth.

Baby three-toed sloth.

Baby three-toed sloth.

As luck would have it, while planning this trip I realized there was an open water swimming race happening during the very same weekend. I really wanted to join, but I was worried about my lack of training. On the day I registered for the race I had only swam three times since July (my last training with the group in the UAE), so I was not confident in my abilities!

I decided to register for the 1km race as I was fairly confident I could do that one.  Alex asked how long I thought it would take and I told her my goal was to go under 25 minutes. Not knowing the course or the water and weather conditions, I just wasn’t feeling very confident. However, after I did a little warm-up swim and determined that there was very little current I was feeling much better. It was a good race! I finished strong and was happy with my swim time of a few seconds over 19 minutes. I also suspected that I might have placed in the top three because I didn’t see any other women around when I got out of the water, so I made Alex stay to see the posting of the results.10710793_687023178482_1805649914136235842_n

I came in second place!! I was so happy and surprised. I have been swimming competitively on and off for 22 years and this was the best placing I’ve ever achieved. In my age group for women there were 16 swimmers. In the whole event 1K swim, male/female and all ages I was the 6th fastest swimmer! This makes me excited to participate in more races, and maybe even swim a bit more.

Now about the food, so far I have really enjoyed Costa Rican cuisine but I have not had much of it. So it was really fun to try some new places in Puerto Viejo. There are a lot of little cafes with creative menus. We lucked out and found some amazing places to eat and I am excited to go back to Puerto Viejo and because there is so much to try still.

If you are in the area, make sure to visit Bread & Chocolate. The grilled cheese with bacon is to die for! And their desserts are amazing. Another great little place we found is Como en Mi Casa Art Cafe. I ate the best gluten free (made with plantain flour) pancake I have ever eaten and the homemade jam, lip-smacking good! I am looking forward to returning for some more delicious food, relaxing hammocks and nearly deserted beaches.

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Happier

Before moving to Costa Rica I read a book called Happier than a Billionaire. Basically, the author and her husband left behind their very busy North American lives and came to Costa Rica for a fresh start. I read that book at a time when I had more money than I will probably ever see again and yet, I find the title fitting to what I am experiencing now.

People always ask me if I liked the UAE and like most things it is a complicated answer. But the truth is, even after only two months here in Costa Rica, I am much happier than I ever was in the UAE. So you see, I too am happier (now) than when I was a thousands-aire (not quite a billionaire) in the UAE. There are some really wonderful and amazing things about living in the UAE, wonderful people, great travel opportunities, less responsibilities, more resources, good infrastructure, etc. But sometimes these things aren’t enough.

What I’ve realized here is that I enjoy the challenge of living. Now, don’t get me wrong some challenges I would prefer to not live with (cockroaches and massive amounts of ants to begin with) but generally speaking I feel like my brain needs more day-to-day challenges. I often joke with my students that I “haven’t worked this hard it two years” but it isn’t really a joke. The truth is in the UAE, at my particular school, by job was more about checking boxes and being where I was supposed to be. Due to lack of school-wide discipline procedures and an overall disinterest by both students and staff my days were generally long and boring with a few gems thrown in here and there.

However, here at UWC Costa Rica I enjoy a nice leisurely three minute walk from my house to my classroom (only problematic on heavy rain days or when iguanas get in my way). The students want to learn, want to participate and they understand their role. For the first time, in a while, I am doing the real work of an educator, facilitating learning instead of directing it. It is a change for me, I’m having to dig deep into my teaching skills to find the right things for these students. But, after two years of being told “no Miss, no learn today” it is amazing to have students saying “thank you” at the end of a lesson.

These are some things I’ve been thinking about. I am happy to say that I’m starting to put my time in the UAE into perspective (a little bit) and I know it will take me a while to do this but I’m glad to be able to articulate some of how I’m feeling.

In other news, my slow recovery and re-entry into the the world of running is off to a good start. In 2005-6 I got into running and was enjoying it. But something happened and I started getting really bad pain on my left side. After some time and finally zeroing in on the problem (leg length difference) I have been slowly trying to run again. Not having my bike for the past two years has helped fuel this. Anyway, today I completed my first road race (no swimming involved) and it was great!

Costa Rica has a race nearly every weekend during the month of October for breast cancer awareness, today I joined some co-workers and participated in Corre por Mi (Run for Me). When I signed up for the race I registered for a 4K, and later I found out that my co-workers were going to be doing the 8K. So, not wanting to be left out of the “fun” I decided to give it a try. I have only, up until this morning, ran 4K. My goal was to finish under an hour and try to limit my walking. Unfortunately, the last stretch of the race was uphill! I made it about 6K before I had to walk, but I powered on and finished in 54min 45sec (my watch)! Goal achieved!

Running Buddies!

Running Buddies!

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Iguana!!

First things first, last week when I was walking home from school for lunch I came upon an iguana. He was quite large.photo-20

IMG_0298I have been super busy with work, which has been good, but I’ve not had a lot of time to sit down and post, for which I apologize. I also had a crazy week trying to get my shower issues sorted out in my apartment (the shower wouldn’t turn off!) and have just been a bit too busy to sit down and formulate a thought for the blog. After all, the 2014-15 TV season started!!

But I did make it to the Feria Verde in San José, which translates to “green market”. It is like a smaller version of the Eugene Saturday Market and I plan to go there at least once a month. I saw they had gluten free waffles, so I have to go back for sure! Here are two pictures from the morning trip to the Feria Verde.

Some great food vendors with lots of natural options.

Some great food vendors with lots of natural options.

I finally found peanut and almond butter without any additives!! Also got some yummy GF snacks and some coconut oil to try.

I finally found peanut and almond butter without any additives!! Also got some yummy GF snacks and some coconut oil to try.

San José has a cool program called Enamorate de tú ciudad, which means basically fall in love with your city. And they provide activities for people in the city’s parks on the weekends. Here are some of the activities happening two weeks ago.

Hula hooping.

Hula hooping.

An area for board games (checkers, chess, etc).

An area for board games (checkers, chess, etc).

And last but not least, I snapped a lovely photo of this guy in my classroom. IMG_0261

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This Oregonian Needs Rain Boots

The afternoon/evening rain showers here are nothing to joke about. I have experienced thunder and lightning nearly every afternoon/evening since I arrived (and un-related but still fun, two earthquakes). The rain is serious business as well. Being a born and bred Oregonian I pride myself on being comfortable in the rain. Umbrella? Only for non-Oregonians!

But, here in Costa Rica I have changed my ways. I forgot to take my umbrella to work one day last week and I was devastated. It was absolutely pouring and I had important electronics with me. Luckily one of my co-workers was able to give me a ride (thanks Bernardo)! Phew! I hope to never make that mistake again. And I hope to find some cute rain boots soon.

My schedule.

My schedule.

We are well into the first month of school and I am starting to get my schedule figured out. Not only are there classes, but we have tutorials (office hours), tutor group activities, whole-campus meetings, staff meetings and other activities. There is almost always something happening on campus.

This week was a particularly busy week. Costa Ricans (and other Central American countries) celebrate their independence this week. The celebrations in the community started on Sunday with a torch lighting (local students ran a torch to symbolize how Central American countries were told of their independence through the province) and then lit the final flame at the local school. This was followed by a parade of children with lanterns through the streets of Santa Ana.

Lighting the flame at the local school.

Lighting the flame at the local school.

On local child's lantern for the parade.

One local child’s lantern for the parade.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday was the Independence Day parade and United World College Costa Rica was invited to participate. Since only a few of our students are Costa Rican, the school shows off the national flags and national costumes of the many countries represented at the college. I took the opportunity to join the German students by wearing my dirndl in honor of my German heritage, small though it is.

Getting ready to start the parade!

Getting ready to start the parade!

And we are moving!

And we are moving!

With my colleague, who is from the same region as my ancestors!

With my colleague, Florian, who is from the same region as my ancestors!

A lovely shot of Kgomotso from Swaziland.

A lovely shot of Kgomotso from Swaziland.

Everyone who could be found that had some German ancestry.

Everyone who could be found that had some German ancestry.

The College students were fantastic. They really embraced the day taking photos with each other and even with some of the local school children and Costa Rican families. It was a fun event and really lovely to see all the community out together. It was such a contrast to what I experienced during National Day celebrations in the UAE. It is hard to explain, maybe someday I will be able to do so, but for now all I can say is that this felt more real, more authentic.

The day was topped off by a tea for my friends at my new apartment. While shopping over the weekend I discovered a pre-packaged cake mix that was gluten free so I was very excited to try it. It is called tamal asado con coco and is a popular Costa Rican treat. I decided to make it and invite some co-workers who live in town to try it, sip some tea and relax on our first holiday. I think my co-workers enjoyed it and I really enjoyed their company and entertaining.

Tea Time!

Tea Time!

 

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Getting to know Costa Rica’s nature.

I have officially been in Costa Rica for one month (and a few days) and I have been having a pretty wonderful time. We started our school year last Monday and things are going well. I am working harder than I have in a long time, but so far it has been very rewarding. My students are intelligent and confident. However, before starting classes we had one last week of orientation. One orientation activity included taking all of the first year students on a quick tour of San José. I took some photos of my tour group posing with some locals and with some local birds.

Last Saturday my roommate decided to make an appearance in my bathroom, he’s pretty cute! And hopefully he’s helping keep some of the bugs away.
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Here are some shots of my walk to school. These were taken today (Saturday) so the campus was pretty empty. However, before you worry about me being at work on a Saturday, know that I was there to take pictures for the photo challenge.
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The classroom corridor. All the rooms are along the right side.

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A flower I can see from my classroom.

This week’s photo challenge was a nature and wildlife theme where the image should show patterns and textures. Since the campus is very green with lots of plants and wildlife, I thought it would be a good place to try and get some photos.

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Golden silk orb-weaver spider

While taking this photo (which I ended up submitting to the challenge) two students were calling my name.

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Baby raccoons.

All I heard was “Andrea, look” and I tried not to panic, but I was thinking that something was probably sneaking up behind me. Instead, they were pointing out these cute little guys:

Lots and lots of wildlife around these parts! I can’t wait for my first trip to the wilderness.

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No electricity, no water…TIA. Wait! No, it’s Costa Rica.

In the summer of 2013 when I was staying at Mukuni Big 5 Safaris (see my guest blog), every time something strange would happen people would say TIA. TIA is short for This Is Africa. I think Costa Rica might need something similar.

My first week here I experienced my first Costa Rican earthquake, had to stay out of my dorm room on campus because it was being sprayed to prevent Dengue Fever, watched as termites (or were they ants?) emerged every night from the furniture, to leave their corpses behind in the morning. We also had a day of scheduled electricity shut-off for the entire town and surrounding area. During the day. Not at night like I’m used to in the US. These things are all part of moving to a new place. But as you’ll see if you continue reading, these “new experiences” can wear on a person. And sometimes lead to the inevitable questions: “What am I doing here?”; “Am I crazy for doing this again?”; “Why can’t things just be the way I’m used to?”

I really like my new apartment, but as with any new place there are things to get used to. My first night I called the landlord because the shower wasn’t working. There was no hot water. They came and checked it out and told me no, it is working fine. The water was WARM not hot. But, let me back up.

I do not have a hot water heater at my apartment. The shower head heats the water as it is coming out. Here is what this one looks like:image-4

So, with a very low water flow you get warm water. With a heavier flow, colder water. Okay. No problem. But then this shower head was dripping, all the time. Also, the toilet was running randomly (that I fixed on my own–thank you internet).

I was happy in my little “suicide shower”, as they are affectionately known, until the shower head appeared to be short-circuiting. It didn’t happen every day, so I didn’t think much of it. Then I noticed the lights flickered when I was showering. So what did I do? Turned off the lights when I showered–obvious, right? Finally, on Friday morning just as I was about to rinse the conditioner from my hair the shower head heater shut off, and didn’t come back on. Later that day, in my broken Spanish I explained to the landlord that it wasn’t working at all anymore. We went back and forth about when they could come and replace it, and when I left Friday afternoon I was pretty certain they were going to come Saturday or Sunday.

Upon my return home I discovered that Saturday the water would be shut off for the whole town of Santa Ana and many of the surrounding areas. What? From 7am-5pm. So, I stored water in nearly every container I could find. Just as I was finishing washing the dishes (with water heated in the kettle) the power went out. Now, this wasn’t a big deal to me, but I was about 20 minutes from attending an open house event where all the students and staff were meant to be sharing desserts in the staff homes all over campus. Luckily, as I arrived on campus the electricity came back on and we had a great night.

Saturday I got a call from the landlord who was making sure I was going to be home (YAY!!) and the guy came soon after to replace the shower head. He had to leave three separate times to get parts, but this morning I had a wonderful HOT shower with my new shower head. Don’t mind the wires…they are covered in electrical tape…That’s safe right?image-3

And in the end, Costa Rica does have a saying like TIA. Costa Ricans say, “pura vida” (simple/pure life), as a greeting, as a way of explaining how one is feeling and as a way of reminding stressed out expats that some things just aren’t that serious. So I will enjoy my cute new neighbors and try to embrace the “pura vida”. image-2

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