This past weekend I went on a trip with my program to Volcan Arenal, which is active and always has picturesque steam drifting off the top of it’s peak.
The hotel we stayed at was a collection of bungalows in the valley below the volcano, and while it was exciting to be staying so close to an active volcano all of us agreed one of the best parts of our trip was the fact our rooms had air conditioning. None of us have air conditioning in our host homes and while we have gotten used to living in the HOTTEST region of Costa Rica, it was a magical and forgotten feeling to wake up in the morning and not be sweating.
We spent Saturday hiking through some of the surrounding forest on a trail that has these incredibly high hanging bridges. It is starting to finally sink in that I only have four weeks left here before I have to leave my life in paradise. This weekend is my 22nd birthday though and I couldn’t ask for a cooler place to spend it than in Costa Rica.
It has officially been a month since I took a warm shower; I never thought I would be grateful for the fact that I live in a house that only has cold water. While my body has somewhat adjusted to the intense combination of heat and humidity of Costa Rica, it is still my favorite part of the day when I get to take a break from the heat. It seems like the theme of my life here so far has worked this way; for the past month it has felt like I have encountered something that takes time to get used to but it is always accompanied by something that provides a relief. Take for example the way most women get cat called in Costa Rica. The common cat call that comes from a Tico man includes some sort of “Hola mami”, and or just hissing in any and every girl’s general direction. At first this constant cat calling felt like it was too much to handle; in fact I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it but after living here a month I’ve come to realize that this hissing sound is a general noise that all Costa Ricans use to get each other’s attention.
Although there is only minimal relief in knowing that Costa Rican men do this to all women because they consider it complimentary; the real relief has come in getting to know the cousins and nephews in my host family who do not act this way. There were times in the past month where just walking outside was depressing and a little nerve wracking due to the idea that no matter what I wear or look like, someone is going to mutter something to me on the street thinking I don’t understand what he is saying. However, I’ve recently learned not to take it so seriously. I hate to admit that, but it was only when a large man wearing a baby pink shirt that said “Real pink wear Chuck Norris” was when I had a moment similar to stepping into an ice cold shower during the hottest part of the day. Despite their habit of constantly and openly commenting on women’s bodies, I realized men like this are almost never going to act on their words – I have even scared a few just by acknowledging their existence. But all this is just a minute detail of my life here so far.
The past couple days have been a country-wide celebration of the Costa Rican independence day which is September 15th. I feel like I have been traveling nonstop and have heard and seen more desfiles (parades) than I ever thought possible in one weekend.
An ox at an Independence Day Parade.
I was invited to go with my host parents to their other house across the bay from Puntarenas to the small town where my host mom grew up called Paquera.
The sunset from the ferry to Puntarenas.
Life in Costa Rica is slow, and but life in Paquera moves at an entirely different pace. Paquera is a paradox, the whole pueblo is very quiet but just the noises coming from the surrounding jungle and wildlife can be deafening – in a good way!
A store front in Puntarenas.
Also my family and I were able to pass a whole day doing relatively nothing but relaxing in rocking chairs on our porch yet once 10 p.m. rolled around it was time to go dancing and starting celebrating independence day at the fastest pace possible. Overall it has not felt like I have been here a month and I’m shocked that I technically only have two months left in Costa Rica. Today my host mom and I discussed that when I leave in December their summer season will just be starting. It’s cheesy but I now know how the saying “time flies when you’re having fun” came about.
Forcing myself to sit down and write this blog entry was a week long struggle, I’d like to blame it on the fact that I am adjusting to the Costa Rican sense of time. I’m guessing it is also because I am starting to create a life here in Puntarenas after three weeks and I’m having too much fun to sit in a computer lab for longer than five minutes. At the end of my third week here in Costa Rica life has gotten a lot easier. Sure I’m still struggling to understand every other sentence my mama tica (Costa Rican Mom) says to me, but generally it feels like I am getting better at living in a foreign country. I have finally overcome the slight yet constant homesickness that haunted me for the first two weeks, and I feel like I am able to now appreciate where I am living and how comfortable I am with my host family and fellow students.
There have been a lot of very small idiosyncrasies in Costa Rican life that I have had to adjust to, most of them being in my host family’s house. My host mom makes me three meals a day and every meal has felt like an exercise of figuring out when, what and how much I want to eat and somehow politely communicating that to my mama tica. Most of our conversations about food are comical, like when I thought I was asking for a bread bun and was actually asking her for a monkey. The Costa Rican perception of a healthy/attractive body is also different than that of Americans, I am by no means as chubby as my host mother wants me to be. I’m pretty sure the first week I was here my mama tica thought I had an eating disorder when I tried to tell her I couldn’t finish the mountain of rice and beans on my plate. It’s wonderful to be taken care of to such to a degree that she refuses to let me wash my own dishes and clothes, but it has taken some getting used to.
What I thought was going to be an extremely relaxed and slow-paced semester here has changed dramatically this week as well. This past weekend I went with some classmates to a small tourist town on the Pacific Ocean and was woken up by howler monkeys stealing a cell phone off our hostel’s balcony. Wednesday my friends and I hiked to a remote beach with our surfboards and promptly got rained on in tropical proportions – if there is one thing that I am definitely used to by now it is being salty and sandy all the time. I haven’t been to the beach in two days and I’m sure you could still find sand in my hair. Tonight there is a huge futbol game between Costa Rica and the United States in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. The entire country is fired up and even my host parents are excited to take part in the fiesta that will consume our tiny beach town and the rest of the country. In class today even my profesora was telling us that no matter if Costa Rica wins or loses there will be dancing, singing and guaro (the local liquor) all night.
It’s 24 hours before I leave my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico to study abroad on the west coast of Costa Rica in a small beach town called Puntarenas. I’ve packed, and repacked, and unpacked and putting off repacking yet again. For some reason it still does not seem real that I will be living in a foreign country for the fall quarter of my Senior year at Seattle University. I have been looking forward to studying abroad my entire time at college and I finally decided on a major/minor (English/Spanish), and FINALLY decided that Costa Rica would be the perfect place to study (and learn to surf) yet somehow it all seems too awesome and surreal to actually be happening.
Growing up in New Mexico you’d think it would be easy for me to speak Spanish fluently by now; my dad grew up in Mexico City and my mom grew up on the El Paso/Juarez border. Pretty much the majority of my family can speak Spanish but I’m still stuck in those awkward stages of being too shy to speak it and constantly worrying that I’ll make mistakes like telling people I’m embarazada (pregnant) instead of avergonzada (embarrassed).
The program I ended up choosing is called USAC (University Studies Abroad Consortium), which will allow me to take intensive Spanish courses along with some Latin American Culture and Literature studies. I’m relatively nerdy and really like school so I am geekily excited to take all my courses in Spanish. Right now the only thing that seems incredibly daunting is the fact that I will be moving to a place where I know no one and will have to learn to navigate a foreign city pretending I know the language and hoping I don’t accidently insult anyone. But those are also all the reasons I chose to study abroad. I like moving places where I don’t know anyone, that’s why I chose to attend SU, it’s exciting and I like to push myself out of my comfort level. Also I’ve always imagined I’d be a pretty good surfer; I hear swimming isn’t that hard, I’ll let you know if I am able to perfect something more impressive than my mangled doggy paddle. For now I have to repack my bags for the millionth time and start pretending I know what I’m doing. Adios.
(The picture is of some Costa Rican money called colones)