Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Costa Rica

Finally settled in Monteverde after the most amazing adventure of my life. This three week field trip has been a whirlwind of travel and learning and nature. I haven’t even had a moment to journal, and I certainly never had access to a computer. All I did was to record titles for each adventure or experience. I’ll try to record some brief impressions along with the titles in writing…but really I’m not worried that I could ever forget any of this….

“Frutas y el Mercado” (“Fruits and the Market”)
3 days in San Jose basically to ourselves. We spent most of the time exploring the city, getting last minute supplies in the market and testing the waters with our Spanish. Our first homework assignments include finding an assigned fruit in the market, learning about it, buying some and preparing it for the other student. Thus I discover lychee, tamarindo, and some other yummy (and yucky) exotic fruits….I can’t believe how yummy class can be. This was the last time I saw myself in a mirror.

“Getting Our Feet Wet”
We leave San Jose and get dropped off with our day packs at the base of a mountain. We have our first hike in an intense downpour, 8.5 km uphill. We arrive at Estacion Patilla. It has 2 rooms with not enough bunks for everyone and a wrap around deck. I slept outside on the deck with 5 or 6 other students for 5 nights.

“I Can’t Believe I’m in Class Right Now”
Every day consists of long hikes, which are considered “class.” We have bug hikes, plant hikes, amphibian hikes….or we just learn about whatever our teachers happen to find along the way. We also just have hikes for fun, including climbing to the top of the volcano, ~1.2 mi, 575+ altitude gain on VERY muddy “paths,” and a few opportunities to be completely solitary in the forest…I wish I could do a Vision Quest here….Oh, and despite rain nearly every night, we must remember that we are in a dry forest…Other highlights include lots of Frisbee, and kids from a nearby town coming to perform local dances…

“30 People”
Our group of 30 is divided in half. Half to Cuajiniquil, half to Isla San Jose in El Archipelelago Murcielago, a protected marine area. Only 30 people total are allowed on this island at a time, there is only one building (the kitchen and residence of the guards). The 17 students, “the Orcas,” 2 Monteverde Institute staff, 1 former student/marine biologist, 2 cooks, 3 rangers and 2 construction workers are on the island. We hang tarps from trees and set up tents beneath them. No mirrors, no bathrooms, no showers (save one hose). Snorkeling everyday (insert title: “I Peed In Class Today ;)”—we had lecture while floating/splashing in the surf). One great dive. We cover the entire island in a half day hike. Every evening green sea turtles come up to the beach to lay eggs. The sunsets are amazing—we hike up to the highest point and look along the perfect point of the island toward the sun sinking into the ocean. It is so picturesque and ideally composed that if someone had painted it, it would be called unrealistically cliché and perfect… Another student and I take the kayak to nearby island to make a survey of the fish (these islands are protected, but very under studied). On the way back we encounter two males and a female sea turtle mating. Enchanted, we float with them, within 2 meters of them the whole time, for nearly an hour. A lot of rain in the evenings…not one thing is dry by the time we leave the island, and we smell horrible, but no one seems to care.

“Un Poco Mojado” (“A Little Wet”)
Home stays in Cuajiniquil, a VERY small fishing village. After the fist night we feel a little wrath from a hurricane. My home stay house is flooded and we evacuate down the road to her sister’s house. Even through this clearly difficult event, the Costa Rica attitude holds true: “Pura Vida.” Spare a couple moments when the stress showed through, we stayed light-hearted, literally bailing the house out with buckets, like a boat. Despite this stress on the town, everyone is warm, welcoming and patient with our Spanish. We are taken fishing, 5 students to a boat—in all cases the one fisherman on the boat caught as many fish as all the students caught. I got 7 total—6 red snapper, and 1 yellow tail snapper. We took them home to our homestays for dinner… (kind of a subtitle…) “Recuerdos de Mi Abuela” (“Memories of my Grandma”)—we move back into my home stay house (finally dry) and my home stay mom fries the fish whole. I ate the eyeball (ick). She really reminds me of Ammy Irene…the love and compassion that is lost in translation is communicated through the amazing food… We also get 3 dives, including a night dive. These dives, plus the snorkeling and diving on the island correct some misconceptions about bio that I’ve had and some incorrect IDs I’ve been applying to other dives (Dad, we’ll have to review).

“La Pura Vida Lifestyle—Overall Impressions Thus Far”
So, “Pura Vida”—“Life is Good,” the national slogan and lifestyle of Costa Rica is really great thus far. I am impressed and inspired by the ticos (Costa Ricans). Laid back, happy, patient, warm and trusting, they seem to get something that a lot of us miss on a day to day basis. Even with the storms and flooding, my host-mom kept her sense of humor…Although the worry did eventually show through (she got a stomach ache and head aches for a couple days), it kind of further proved that Costa Ricans aren’t used to stressing out, and are much more prone to smile than to stress. Even on my last day in Cuajiniquil, with the cinder blocks we used to lift the larger pieces of furniture above the water still wet, my host mom (head ache and all) sang as she made me lunch. Every day, I’m impressed in some way by how happy and chill these people are, because really, life is pretty dang good.

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