Sunday, September 28, 2008

LIfe is Good

Life is good here. I hope everyone back home is doing well. The news sounds bad with the financial system on the brink and hurricane warnings in Maine.

Last weekend I took a weekend trip to La Fortuna and Santa Elena to see Volcan Arenal and Monteverde. Volcan Arenal is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America. Monteverde is a cloud forest, one of it's main attractions being canopy tours, or zip lining. On a canopy tour, valleys are connected by cables and you slide down the cable using your dominant hand as a break. It makes more sense to see it in pictures. I have posted tons of pictures on Picasa. I posted both the pictures I took as well as the pictures taken by the guides. It was a lot of fun. The guides tell you how much and when to break depending on the length of the line. On one of the longer lines, they told me not to break because it was a really long line and you needed a certain amount of momentum to get to the end. I thought I was using my right hand to keep from twisting sideways, but what I was really doing was breaking. So I didn't have enough momentum to make it all the way to the end of the line. I came to a stop about 100 feet short of the platform. The line was pretty high up. They didn’t list the heights, but it was probably about 300-400 feet. I have to admit I got a little freaked out. A little guy about 4' 10' and 100 lbs came out and dragged me to the platform. It must have been a sight.

Classes have still been going pretty well, although I seem to be a little over my head at the moment, but I keep advancing to the next level each week. We had a culture lesson this past week covering the differences between family life in the US and Latin America. Latin Americans are a lot closer to their families than in the US or Europe. People live with their families until they get married. So single people, whether 20, 25, 35, 45, etc., still live at home with their parents. This can seem a bit odd to Americans. We generally can’t wait to move out and get our own places (and the parents generally look forward to having their houses back). Here, the parents actually like and insist that their kids to live at home. It would be strange for a single person living and working in the same city as their parents not to live at home. Family comes first here. In the US, I think, to a certain extent, work come first. We are much more likely to pull up and move to another city for a few thousand dollars a year more. When they do pick up and move to another city or country to work, it's a really big deal and they do it for the express purpose of sending money back home to the family.

We learned some social stuff as well. A popular line a man would say to a woman here is “¡Quisiera ser mariposa para besar tus petálos!” Apparently, a man can say this to a woman and it is not offensive. Then we started discussing other lines. My contribution was, “¿Tienes un espejo en sus pantalones porque yo puedo me los ver?”. I don’t think my translation was exactly right, but even in English, the humor didn't really translate to non-Americans.

Air Supply is kind of big here. Yes, that Air Supply. The 80’s Australian soft pop band. Roberto, our driver for the weekend expedition, played a medley of Michael Bolton, Chris DeBerg, and Air Supply during the trip. It played the same three songs over and over in a loop. How Can We Be Lovers if we Can't be Friends, Lady in Red, and Lost in Love. I thought his selection in music was a bit strange. When we stopped one time to take pictures of the volcano, Air Supply was playing. Another car was stopped as well. The doors were open and another Air Supply song was playing! I remembered watching one of those shows on VH1 (maybe I Love the 80's) a while back that had a segment on Air Supply. The members of the group were saying how after their popularity waned in the US, they began touring Asia and Latin America. I thought they sounded like a couple of bitter has-beens giving the “We’re huge in Belgium” bit. But apparently in the resat of the world, they are very still very popular. According to Wikipedia, in 2005 they played to a crowd of 175,000 people in Havanna Cuba.

The milk here is super pasteurized. So much so that it is not refrigerated in the store. I bought a quart of milk last week that won't expire until May 2009.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Second Week in Samara

Monday was Costa Rica's Independence day and there were no classes.  On Sunday night there was a parade of lanterns.  All the children in town made lanterns with candles and marched in a parade around town.

Below are pictures of the house I lived in for the first two weeks in Sámara plus some pics I took on the way to school. I have more pics posted on Picasa (

I will be living in an apartment for at least the next few weeks. I wasn't getting much out of my homestay.  They weren't really talking to me much.  The longest conversation I had during the homestay was with a drunk neighbor.

The animal life here is interesting.  There are a lot of dogs running around. I'm not sure if they belong to people or if they are just "community dogs". The dogs here are, for the most part, intact. The male dogs tend to still have testicles and the female dogs tend to have swollen teats. It's a bit unusual to see that since in the states, most pets are spayed or nutered. I don't know if it's the Catholic influence here or the lack of a Costa Rican Bob Barker. It´s not unusual to see chickens walking around. The roosters usually wake me up before my alarm clock does. It´s also not unusual to see horses walking down the beach and howler monkeys in the trees. True to their names, they make a howling noise that's kind of hard to describe. I´ve attached a short video below with some sound. There are a lot of little crabs running around the beach. They seem to be very skittish and duck into their little holes in the sand if you get anywhere near them. A few mornings ago I woke up and saw a crab in my bedroom. When I turned on the light he saw me and just kind of nonchalantly turned around and walked away.

On Sunday I went on a tour of the Café Diriá coffee processing plant. Coffee is only grown at high altitudes in the mountains. So getting there involved taking cabs up some steep, twisty, rutted roads. It was really interesting to see how coffee beans get processed. It takes approximately four years for a coffee plant to start producing quality beans. The cherries are picked by hand during the day and are processed at night.  All of the hulls and by-products are either used the the process or treated and sold.  Almost nothing is wasted.  After the tour, we were treated to some traditional Costa Rican dances.  

On Sunday night, we built a fire on the beach. It seemed strange that we were able to just build a fire. We bought dogs and sausages and ended up boiling them in beer cans since there were no sticks suitable for roasting weenies.

Classes are as hard as ever. Last week I learned verbs in the imperfect past tense. The imperfect tense is used basically to describe actions occurring in the past without a specific reference to when the actions happened or finished.  Figuring out when to use simple past and when to use imperfect past is very confusing to me.  I don't think there is really an English equivalent for this.   Maybe there is and I just don't realize it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

First Week in Samara

Sunday, I took the bus from San Jose to Playa Samara. It was about a five-hour bus ride with all the stops and cost about $7. Samara is on the Pacific Coast. It is a really, really small town. The school is right on the beach. It is a little warmer here than in Heredia/San Jose. I arrived about about 6:00pm and went for a tour of the town. It didn't take very long.

The house and family here are quite different than in Heredia. For starters, they are younger than me. They have a girl that is about 7 or 8 and a 1-year-old son. The little girl gave me a distinct dirty look when I arrived. When I got to my room, I figured out why. My room looks like a kid's room with the decor and linens and I think it's hers. Since there is only one other bedroom in the house, I think all four of them are sleeping in it. The house is basically a little more than a beach hut with a tin roof. The walls only come up about 6-6.5 feet. Above that, there is either latticework or nothing. It's quite a bit noisier than in Heredia. You know how you can hear muffled sounds in another room, well here the noise from the living room and the bathroom come in crystal clear. The rain on the tin roof (bare tin over the shower, a ceiling over the rest of the room) also makes for a lot of noise. I've learned to sleep with earplugs. I have my own shower, but the toilet is in another room and the sink is in the kitchen. The shower is basically a pipe overhead and only has cold water.

This is about as different of a living situation as possible from the way I live in the states. I think I have acclimated to the noise and he "rustic" living conditions. They warned us about these things in Heredia. But the family is not quite as engaging as the family in Heredia. The family in Heredia was always greeting me, asking me questions, and correcting my Spanish as I replied. I'm not getting as much of that here. I'm going to talk to the people at the school about it this week when I extend my classes.

There were three people in my class this week. Two Americans and one Swiss. The classes are getting quite challenging. This past week we started on reflexive verbs and imperativo. I thought my head was going to explode. It's mentally draining. It seems like I've always struggled harder to learn new information and concepts than my peers. However, I'm better at remembering stuff over the long haul. I think it's called hard headedness (is that a word?). Not sure that's a word. It's hard to get information in, but once it's in, it tends to stay there. A perfect example of this is with my GRE scores, which I just got back. I scored a 680 in the math section, which translates to being in the 67th percentile of people taking the test (people wanting to go to graduate school). The math section consists mostly of algebra, geometry, and statistics. I think this is a pretty decent score, considering that I had last taken algebra in college 15 years ago and geometry in high school 19 years ago - and made mostly "C's".

I played soccer for the first time on Friday afternoon. It was three on three beach soccer. The teams were divided into Swiss and non-Swiss. There are a lot of people from Switzerland here. We got our asses handed to us. They play and watch a lot of soccer. To them it's a real sport.
Prices here are more expensive than in Heredia. Lunch is costing about $7. A beer at a bar is about $2. A cab ride in town is about $2, although that always going to be a short ride because of the size of this place. I've only taken a cab once because it was raining really hard. It rains quite a bit here. On Thursday it started raining and didn't stop until Friday afternoon. It got pretty bad with the back up. The roads were getting hard to navigate and the sinks and toilets were struggling to drain. They blame the hurricanes. I'm not sure how hurricanes in the Atlantic and the Gulf cause downpours on the Pacific, but that's the word down here. The weekend was nice though. It's been sunny all day today (Sunday).