Saturday, August 30, 2008

Second Week in Costa Rica

Well, the good people at the camera store were not able to fix my camera. They stopped the vibrating, but the vibrating was masking a bigger problem in that the lens would not focus when zooming. So I ended up buying a new camera - a Kodak Easy Share V1003. I got it out Thursday morning (while it was still sunny) and took a few pics on the way to class. The first is the house I´m staying in. The third is the school.

I have more pictures posted at

I went into San Jose Thursday afternoon on a group tour of the Teatro Nacional and Museo del Oro. San Jose is not as attractive of a city as Quito Ecuador (the only other major city in Latin America I have visited). There is very little in the way of interesting architecture and there is no old town center to speak of. Most of the buildings look like they were built in the 60's and 70's (i.e., ugly). The National Theater, however, is very nice. It has a very European feel to it. If you've been to old palaces and churches in Europe, you know what it looks like. It has a lot of marble, artwork, sculptures, antique furniture, and paintings on the ceilings. It is a source of pride for Costa Ricans that 100 years ago, a poor country in Central America was able to build a place like this.

A few random observations about this country:
  • Pedestrians do not have the right of way when crossing the street. You cross the street at your own risk. Cars are not necessarily going to stop. In fact, drivers expect you to get out of the way and will honk if you cause them to have to put on the breaks.

  • There are a lot of different kinds of fruit here that I've never heard of or seen before.

  • Costa Ricans pour their beer into a glass and add ice cubes.

  • You really need to know how to dance here.
I have taken the dancing lessons offered at the school almost every day. My dancing has improved slightly - from horrible to terrible. Most Americans do not learn how to dance. I remember before my first junior high dance, my sister told me that during slow dances, the girl puts her hands behind the guy's head and the guy puts his hands behind the girl's back. That was the total extent of dancing lessons I've had prior to coming to Costa Rica. I think I now have the basic steps down, but the turns and spins get complicated and I seem to go blank when it's time to do some turns - and the man HAS to lead and decide what turns to do. I think I need some sort of cheat sheet or memory jogger. We have learned Salsa, Merengue, and Cubio. Cubio is a dance specific to Costa Rica and consists of a lot of hopping and kicking.

It's fairly inexpensive for westerners to get by here, although it can be a bit cheaper in other nearby countries. A beer in a bar ranges from about $1.30 in the Mule Bar, a place across the street from the school that can only be charitably described as "homey", to about $2 at Castros, a large dance club in downtown San Jose. A plato del dia (plate of the day) can be had for lunch for about $4 and usually consists of a meat, vegetables, rice, potatoes and juice. A short taxi ride is usually under $2.

I eat breakfast and dinner with the family. Breakfast is fairly large and usually consists of an assortment of fresh fruit (pineapple, mango, papaya, and bananas) and some sort of eggs & tortillas or gallo pinto (black beans and rice), juice, and hot tea. I've had a wide variety of foods for dinner.

Everyone here is really excited about the 3rd season of Latin American Idol. There is a girl from here in Heredia, Costa Rica still in it. Maria Jose Castillo made it through the voting this week and will go on to compete next week. It was the same kind of vibe I got earlier this year when I was in Kansas City and David Cook was in the finals. (

This is my last week in Heredia. On Sunday, I will take a bus to Sámara to attend classes at the beach campus. From what I´ve heard, it´s really pretty there, but it´s a really small town and it won´t have some of the convieniences that Heredia has. Also, it will be much hotter since it´s at a lower altitude. So if I can take the heat, I plan to stay in Sámara for about 6-8 weeks.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I got my camera out today for the first time. I planned to have some pics posted by now, but my camera is wigging out. I bought a brand new Canon digital camera and a big memory card for this trip before I left the states. But when I turn it on, it starts vibrating after about 5-10 seconds and thus, takes blurry pictures. If I was still in the country, I would have just taken it back to the store, but now, it's not going to be that easy. I took it to a small camera store a couple of blocks from the school and tried to explain to the lady what was happening and if she could help me. What I think is going to happen is that they are going to open it up and try to fix it, it will cost 12,000 colones (about $25), and it will be ready on Monday. At least that's what I think is going to happen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

First Week in Costa Rica

I made it!!

I was picked up at the airport in San Jose by Jimmy, an employee of the school.  He was holding a sign with my name on it.  The flight was fine, but I had a heck of a time trying to sleep even though I only slept one hour the night before.  I am staying in Heredia.  It is medium sized city near the capital city of San Jose.  The school, Intercultura (, has a campus in Heredia and in Samara (directly on the beach).  I will be in Heredia for two weeks, Samara for two weeks, and then alternate back and forth for a total of 12 weeks, give or take.  The family I'm staying with consists of a mother Jeannette, and two sons in their early 20's David and Christofer.  They are very nice and very patient with practicing Spanish with me, even though both sons speak English.  I went to bed about 7:00 and didn't wake up until about 5:30.  The sun rises early here and was already out by 5:30.  Costa Rica is on Central time, but they don't adjust for DST, so I'm in the US Mountain Time zone.  The house is fairly large and I have a room with a queen bed and my own bathroom.  As a bonus, they have wireless Internet.  I debated whether or not to bring my laptop and I'm glad I did.  It's an old computer I bought used about three years ago for $300 - so if something happens to it, no big loss.  

It is definitely the rainy season here.  There are only two seasons here, rainy and dry.  The rainy season runs from May-Nov and the dry season December-April.  It rained really hard for a really long time Sunday night.  It was the kind of heavy rain we usually see in Nashville for about 10-15 minutes, but it was for hours.  The mornings are usually clear and the rain comes in the afternoon and evening.  It is really coming down.

The shower in my house has hot water, but the water is heated in the shower head, as opposed to a water heater.  The pressure is a little less than what I'm used to, but it's not a bad shower.  The sewer system in this country (and many others) cannot handle toilet paper.  Either the pipes are too narrow or the sewage treatment system cannot handle the decomposition (I've heard both theories).  Toilet paper must be discarded into a trash can.  Most toilets have a small trash can for this purpose.  Breaking my lifelong habit of throwing toilet paper down the toilet is going to take some getting used to.  Other than the toilet paper, CR is a pretty well off country.  It is safe to drink the water here.    

On the first day of classes, I had an entrance interview with Hernan to determine which level I needed to be in.  After fumbling though it, he recommended level four.  I told him I was a bit surprised because level four assumed knowledge of verbs in past tense.  I knew two verbs in past tense and happened to use them in conversation.  Also, I initially learned what Spanish I do know through audio tapes and cds.  So I speak Spanish better than I read or write.  My spelling and verb conjugations are horrible.  So I am starting with level three.  There are six people in my class - five Americans and one German.  The class is going to be challenging, but I don't think I'm totally in over my head.  Classes run from 8:30 to 12:30.  Optional activities are available in the afternoons.  They have Latin dance classes every afternoon, cooking classes on Wednesday, and various film and theater excursions.  

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Last Two Weeks in States

I wanted to get in one last post before leaving the country.  I'm at the airport in Houston and its about 2 hours before my flight to San Jose, so I'm just going to get it in.  

The last two weeks in the states have been crazy.  I've gotten most of my affairs wrapped up and am ready for the trip.

Thursday - I took the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).  I purchased a study book about a month ago and opened it on Sunday.  The book started with an outline of a 4 week, 8 week and 12 week study plan (oops!)  I really just wanted to get familiar with the format.  It was a computerized test and I got my scores on Analytical and Verbal right away.  The essays will take a few weeks to be graded.  I think I did pretty well.  I will be applying to graduate schools while I'm away.  

Friday - The movers came and moved my stuff into storage.  I got rid of my really old furniture.  The Salvation Army came by and got a few pieces.  They wouldn't take some pieces because they were too scratched up.  I took those down to the curb and they were all gone by the end of the day.  I sold my car.  Friday night I went to Brian and Amy's wedding.  

Saturday - Finished cleaning up my condo.  I ended up renting my condo rather than selling it.  The renters are coming in on Sunday.  

Thanks to everyone who came to my going away party and thanks to Heather, Mindie and Angela for organizing it.  It was really good to see everyone.  I remember posing for a lot of pics.  Please email me pics whenever you get a chance.  

It really started to hit me that I'm not going away for a two week vacation.  It's like the feeling you get when when relocating, which is what I'm basically doing.  

Sunday - I got up after a good hour of sleep.  Said goodbye to Mom and Dad, and hopped a flight to Houston.  I can't wait to get there.