Sunday, November 24, 2013

Turri Town

I'm going to miss this place. As much as we complained about this town over the last 6 months and tried to get out every weekend we could, it really was a great place to live.

I'm going to miss the Central Valley rain. The afternoon downpours that made for the perfect nap. Seeing the Turrialba Volcano puffing smoke on a clear day. Smelling the scent of fresh cut grass and rain. Even the lights from the houses in the mountains sparkling like Christmas lights at night. I'm going to miss being surrounded by beautiful mountains and landscapes that literally take your breath away. All these things made for perfect bike rides to the grocery store, walks or runs around campus, and even bus rides in and out of town.

Turri Town may occasionally be referred to as "Terrible," but I do have to say that it is a perfect, quiet, safe, country town. So the night life isn't all that great, who cares? The people are absolutely incredible. And you are surrounded by natural beauty at every corner.

Just today I was invited by my trainer to go to a CrossFit session in La Suiza (just outside of Turri). It was at his house in the mountains, and let me tell you.. the views were amazing. It was by far the best way to spend one of my last days in this part of the country. We got rained on, as is to be expected, and it only added to the experience. I was with other athletes who encouraged me and laughed with me when I slipped in the mud. It was one of those experiences you don't really expect. They just get brought to you, and you have to be willing to take them and enjoy it. I'd call it a true Costa Rica experience. It wasn't planned or structured. Just natural.

This place is seriously intoxicating. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited to be home for a bit, but I really will miss everything here. The people, my roommates and classmates, neighbors, CATIE friends, and professors. Everyone here has made this an experience unlike any other.



Fortunately I get to come back to Costa Rica in January for my internship :)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sell it!

I will apologize now, this one is a little more personal..

I feel like so much has happened in the last few weeks. It is different when you are living in paradise and surrounded by natural beauty and wonderful people. You don't really want to think about the sad things. I knew coming into this program that I was signing up to be an international professional, but I never thought it would be hard being this far away from home.

A few weeks ago I got news that my grandmother had passed away. I had no idea I would take it as hard as I did, but being so far away from your family in such times is much harder than you can ever imagine. Fortunately I was able to make it home for the funeral and some spend much needed time with my family, but I am beginning to understand that I may not always be so lucky.

Today, my dance teacher of 15 years, and her husband passed away. She was an inspiration to me and so many other young girls. She was tough and unrelenting, but she taught us how to shine. We learned a skill that brings joy into the world every time it is performed, whether it be by an adorable 3-year old class or our Jr. Jazz competitive team. I still remember how she used to talk to us before performances, "Point your toes, and give it all you've got! Sell it!" And we would. Not only did we learn dance from her, but we learned that sometimes you will fall in the middle of a routine and there's nothing you can do about it. All you have to do is get right back up with a smile on your face and act like nothing happened at all.

Thanks to Lynn, I have way too many sequined costumes, jazz shoes, character shoes, ballet tights, leotards, bobby pins, caboodles, and lipsticks. I can do leaps, turns, high kicks, axles, and all kind of tricks but I wouldn't trade it for the world. Some of my best memories were out there on that stage performing for hundreds of people. I love that feeling. I live for that feeling. Just being out there with nothing but your body and the music. And she loved it too. Sometimes I think she got more nervous than we did before competitions. "Ooooo sell it girls!" she'd always say before big performances.

Lynn Bates is missed by so many of her little girls, just like me, who she watched grow up from the cute little age of 3 all the way to 18. She was there for us, every week. She has been an inspiration and role model to me my entire life. Heaven is going to have some fabulous dancers!

So this blog is just for you Lynn (and Don, of course). Don't worry, I'm still dancing like crazy (maybe with a little more Latin influence now) and I don't ever plan to stop. Who knows, I may even teach some time soon! I think I speak for all of your dancers when I say, thank you for being such an amazing teacher and role model to all of us. We wouldn't be the same without you. And we certainly wouldn't be able to count in sets of 8 ;)

5, 6, 7, 8!

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who couldn't hear the music." -Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Passion

If I have learned anything through the course of my time in Costa Rica it is that everybody has their own story. We all have a history and sometimes it takes time for us to realize who we really are and what our story is. But the greatest part is that people down here understand. No one cares if you messed up in the past, they're just glad you're here now. It's an interesting dynamic, but it can be challenging at the same time. 

Costa Rica is a tourist destination. Therefore it is full of people coming and going. You meet people one day and they are gone the next. A friend of mine said he has to be careful what he shares with people. He has to guard his heart in a way because it seems that just when you get to know someone, they are leaving again. Fortunately this doesn't stop us from enjoying the time we have at that moment. Yes, it is hard meeting people and then leaving and never seeing them again, but you learn to find joy in the time spent with them and in knowing that you have new friends around the world. New optimistic perspectives.

Things have changed for me since coming down here. I have changed. Living such a simple life has taught me how to channel my positive energy and feel more comfortable with who I am. My emotions are beautiful, and life really is simple. I used to over think everything and complicate things that were supposed to be simple. But where's the fun in that? I have learned to truly appreciate every morsel of a moment that I have and seize the opportunities that are put before me. I have found a new passion for happiness and a simple life. I feel like a brand new person. I really don't want to leave. I have learned that I could be just as happy living and working down here as I would be in the states, maybe even more so. Yes, I would miss my family and friends like crazy, but I can always visit and they know they are more than welcome down here.

Finding your passion in life is important. We all need to find that one thing that makes us tick. That brings us pure joy. Without passion, in my opinion, life is just plain. 

This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, STOP; they will be waiting for you when you start doing the things you love. Stop over analyzing everything! All emotions are beautiful. Life is simple. When you eat, appreciate every last bite. Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people, we are united in our differences. Ask the next person you see what their passion is, and share your inspiring dream with them. Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself. Some opportunities only come once, so seize them. 

Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them. So go out and start creating. Life is short. LIVE YOUR DREAM AND SHARE YOUR PASSION.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Vacation Time

I know this is about a month too late, and I'm sorry. But I've been busy, okay? I'll get back on track, I promise.

During my short 2 week vacation in August I got to travel around a bit and spend some time with my family. And let me tell you, this vacation was much needed. For the last three months, while it was a blast, we were very busy with classes and projects. Yes, we did often travel on the weekends, but, let's be real, that doesn't really allow for much actual rest. So this vacation couldn't have come at a better time.

We started the vacation in Puerto Viejo (our new favorite spot on the Caribbean Coast) and spent a few days there hanging out and relaxing. PV is the perfect little Caribbean town with gorgeous beaches and great people. If you are looking for a fun place to travel this is definitely a good option. Over the last few months we have met and made friends with local restaurant, bar, and hostel owners making it much more fun (and affordable) to visit. I will say it again, the people we have met while traveling down here have been absolutely incredible. But more on that later...

From there it was about a 4 hour bus ride to Bocas del Toro, Panama. I only got to spend one whole day there, but still.. Bocas is absolutely incredible. It is a collection of islands off the coast of Panama and has spectacular snorkeling, beaches, wildlife, and more. A must see if you ever get the chance. We stayed on Bastimentos Island, which I would highly recommend as a much more relaxed location. Our lodging was at Hostal Bastimentos (yet another recommendation for ya). This hostel is huge, well-priced, and a great place to just hang out and enjoy the view.

Once my family arrived, we went up to Guacimal, near Monteverde and stayed at the most perfect ranch house, Rancho El Rio. This quaint little ranch is a wonderful mountain getaway. And the added bonus... it is sustainable! The family who runs this ranch is beyond helpful and will go out of their way to ensure that you have a wonderful time. They helped arrange our trip to Monteverde, took us on a trail ride to a beautiful waterfall, and their son even took us on a hike to the river nearby for a swim. Oh and did I mention he is 12? AND he knows every bird, tree, plant, and bug you see along the way. Talk about adorable. We had the best time there just relaxing and spending time with the family.

After that, we spent a few days relaxing at the beach in Jaco. But you have already heard about that location, so I won't bore you with the details.

I had an absolute blast showing my family around my new home. I was excited to share with them the passion I have developed and the reason why I love this place so very much. It's not just because it is paradise with its' beautiful landscapes and gorgeous beaches. It's the people, the energy, the passion that this place has for sustainability and life in general that I have come to love and appreciate. I never want to leave. I could be perfectly happy living and working here for the rest of my life.

Again, sorry this one took so long. I have a couple more I've been working on for a bit so keep on checking in with me!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Life is full of lessons

I've been living in Costa Rica for 9 weeks. Talk about a life-changing experience. I feel like I'm always saying this, but it really is impossible for me to put into words all the beautiful things I am seeing and emotions I am feeling. This isn't even the halfway point, so I know that there is much more still to be learned. All the same, I felt compelled to write this blog on the small things I have learned thus far in my adventures. Some are silly, some practical, and some serious. But they are all certainly worth the read...
  1. I could live minimally and still lead an exceptionally happy life. 
  2. Good coffee really does make a difference.
  3. Fresh fruits and vegetables really are better.
  4. Don't just go willy nilly picking things up!
  5. Lizano sauce is absolutely delicious.. on everything. (Yes, Candace, you were right.)
  6. Wearing no makeup will decrease your perceived "need" for makeup. It's all relative. 
  7. Dry shampoo would be very nice to have as hot showers are not always available.
  8. T-shirts work just fine as pillowcases (don't judge me). 
  9. There is no need to spend tons of money on a coffee machine when you can use a percolator for around $8 (or more if you want a fancy decorative one, but still..)
  10. Men instantly become more attractive when they know how to dance with you.. at least for me they do ;).
  11. Costa Rica really isn't that much cheaper than the United States. Sources say it is actually the 4th most expensive country in Latin America to live in.
  12. Spanish (or any second language for that matter) is VERY difficult to learn. I seriously respect those people who are bilingual.
  13. You learn who your true friends are when you leave them to travel abroad. Love you guys!
  14. Driving isn't necessary with the proper personal motivation and public transportation.
  15. There is so much to be learned about the world and all the people that make it up. I will never stop learning. 
  16. Life is not worth all the worry.
  17. Money is just paper that we allow to run our lives. 
  18. Fear is just something we allow in our brains that keeps us from fully experiencing life.
  19. Shyness, in the same manner, is just a way that we let another person's perception of us change the way we act. So just dance. Don't worry, they're just jealous. 
  20. We may all come from different cities in different parts of the world, but in the end, we have much more in common than we thought.
Things are changing. I am changing. I could not have asked for a better experience. And this is still just the beginning. Perhaps later I will brief you in more detail :)

But, as for now, I must call it a night and get some real work done.
As always, thanks for reading.
Loyally,
-B

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The beauty of nature

A few weeks ago we got the opportunity to travel to a fairly "undiscovered" beach community in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Playa Coyote is a fishing community that has yet to truly be developed for tourism and visitors, but it is definitely worth the trip! It took us about 10 hours of driving in CATIE vans/buses to get all the way up the Pacific coast and back down the Nicoya Peninsula. Most of the roads further down the peninsula are unpaved and require much more time to get to your destination.. especially if it is raining (you better have 4-wheel drive).

This community relies heavily on fishing and realized a few years ago that their fish populations off the coast of the Nicoya Peninsula were quickly decreasing and endangered species were being harmed due to trolling careless fishing practices. These beaches are also home to several different species of Sea Turtles who come there specifically to lay their eggs. In order to protect these areas PRETOMA was created. In the last 16 years, this organization has been able to get approximately 35,000 square hectares of ocean and beach protected from poachers and unsustainable fishing practices.

Over the course of the weekend we were able to go out in the Pacific Ocean with local fishermen (my Dad would be pleased to hear that I didn't get sick!). They took us out and taught us their sustainable process for line setting. These lines are made to sit at the bottom of the ocean and each line usually has around 500-1000 hooks baited. Ordinarily each line is set in the evening and left overnight, but since we didn't have that much time we set the line and went a little further out for a swim in the ocean and came back about an hour later.

And the grand total of fish we caught... ONE! And one other one we had to throw back. But we won't count that one. Granted, the lines weren't out there for very long. Still I think it is a good example of the fish population and how much they have been depleted. It made for an incredible day though.. I mean, how often do you get to go swimming in the Pacific Ocean?? Sure I was scared out of my mind most of the time, but hey, there's a first time for everything!

That night Erick took us out to one of their protected beaches to patrol for turtle nests. Now this was interesting for me. First of all, I'm partially night blind, so my eyes don't really adjust to the darkness and I can hardly see without a flashlight (big thanks to Kaitlyn and Nikki for being my guides!). Secondly, it was really late and we were all tired, but in the end it was WAY worth it.

Not many people get to go out and witness turtles laying their eggs, but that night.. we got to. I don't even know how to begin explaining it. It was like stepping into a TV episode on the Discovery Channel. We walked down the beach a bit and then Erick disappeared into the darkness only to run back to us saying he had found a turtle.

Now I'm sure you are wondering how we actually saw these turtles in the pure darkness.. and the answer is by red light. For some reason the red light doesn't disturb the turtles as a normal white light would. But either way, it was fascinating. We stood there in pure silence watching as these turtles dug a nest and laid their eggs in the sand only to return back to the sea. It was beautiful.

After something as incredible as that, the rest of the weekend seemed to pale in comparison. But of course, that was something I will never EVER forget.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Bri Bri

Imagine riding in a canoe upstream on the Yorkin River between Costa Rica and Panama, powered only by one small motor on the back and the strength of a guide at the front of the canoe with a staff to ward off the rocks. The view is breathtaking. All around you is clear river water, steep rocks, and dense forest. Occasionally you spot the natural waterfall hidden in the mountains or the beautiful red flowers set against the dense green background. A colorful bird taking flight. The landscape is absolutely unbelievable..

This is the only way to get to the indigenous Bri Bri tribe of Costa Rica. The trip is not a short one and few people actually choose to make it. We were in the canoes for at least an hour, if not more, being guided by the strength of the natives who know these rivers and navigate them on a daily basis. The closest "grocery store" (which is more like a small convenient store) is where we got on the river. But for a long ride, it certainly is worth the view. As we got closer to our destination we could see the tribe's "huts" in the forest, built by the hand with wood and dried up leaves.

Now let me tell you, I really didn't know what to expect on this field trip. Our professor had done a pretty good job of preparing us for the worst by telling us we would be rowing our boats for 4 hours (or more depending on the weather), then hiking another 2 hours in the rain to our final destination. He told us there were going to be huge bugs and snakes and that our sleeping conditions would be closer to the like of sleeping in tents in the rain forest. We were also told that if we "survived" this weekend, we would be golden for the rest of the year. Oh Dr. Vargas.. you and your jokes.

So what actually happened was... the boat ride took only a little over an hour (we didn't even get to row ourselves!), and the 2 hour hike took about 5 minutes as the community naturally lives very close to the river (for obvious reasons).


The reality was that we were visiting the ecotourism operation of an indigenous tribe. So there was no electricity and the few lights that they have are completely solar powered. The showers weren't heated, there was no A/C, and the "dorms" were simply huts in the forest. Honestly, the sleeping quarters were much better than I had expected. Granted, we did have to enter them that night in complete darkness (you know, the kind where it is just as dark with your eyes closed as it is when they are open) and search each of our beds for spiders, scorpions, and other insects by the light of my trusty flashlight. But it was all a part of the experience and each of us is stronger having "survived" it.

About 20 years ago, a Bri Bri woman named Bernarda had a vision for the future of her tribe. As a community they were at a point where they needed to increase income and find a way to do so sustainably. At the time, their culture was very much "machismo" where the men were seen as the workers and decision-makers and the women took care of the home. So Bernarda did not have an easy time trying to get her idea heard.

She wanted to be able to preserve their forests while offering a unique tourism experience for visitors. She worked with two other women from the community on their project. Each of their husbands was working for the banana industry and they were slowly starting to feel the effects of the chemicals in their work environment. Long story short, these women fought for their idea and eventually gained enough support from the community to make it all happen. Bernarda was only 19 when she started this project. Talk about an inspiration..

Her creation has helped to preserve their forests and educate visitors on the importance of culture and the environment. Seeing how they are able to live happy lives on so little is truly inspiring. After just spending one night there, I had a better grasp on how unimportant material things are to our happiness. It made me feel grateful with the blessings that have been bestowed on me and really stop to think about "need vs. want." If one night made such an impact on my, I can only imagine the impact it has on other visitors. A lot of times we complain about all of the things that we don’t have. When we really need to sit back and appreciate all that we do. Our lives are rich in culture, family, and friends. We have access to food and water and are lucky enough to be able to live comfortably. Women are respected and considered equal in the US. These families live with much less than we do, yet they are still able to see the beauty in life and work hard to protect what is theirs. 

Over that short trip, we were able to interact with their community, hike through the forest, make pure 100% cacao, and experience the life of an indigenous tribe. It may have been full of bugs and miles of hiking in the rain, but the peace and serenity of sleeping in pure darkness with no chance of hearing cars or trains or even airplanes was worth it. 

After visiting the Bri Bri, we went to the Cahuita National Park to see one of Costa Rica's greatest public parks. It is 
a nature preserve with forest, mangroves, and beautiful beach all wrapped into one. If you're lucky (and we were) you can even see monkeys in the trees. It was a nice and relaxing day on the beach after which we headed home. 

I know it has taken me forever to write this, but I wanted to make sure that it did justice to the experiences we had that weekend. Thanks for sticking with me! 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jaco!

Have you ever gone to a place completely open to new experiences and people? If not, you definitely should. Simply letting go and fully allowing yourself to enjoy your vacation makes it that much more worth it.

This past weekend we traveled to Playa Jaco on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Again, since we are all looking to spend the least amount possible on weekend trips, we took a fairly inexpensive route. So, no judgments please.. and I will definitely say that it wasn't bad at all. There will be many more such trips.

The cheapest mode of transportation (aside from walking or riding a bike of course) is taking the bus. We were able to take a direct bus from Turrialba to San Jose for about $2.50. Then in San Jose we got on a collective bus to Jaco which was $3-4ish. Total it took us about 4 hours on the bus to get there.. and for less than $10, I think that is a success. Yea, you may not be riding the bus with the, uhhh let's say.. "cleanest" of people, but honestly it wasn't that bad. As long as you don't stupidly leave your luggage unattended you are just fine. Naturally, we even made friends on the bus with a couple opening a new restaurant in Jaco. Our goal is to make as many connections and friends around the country as possible. Makes for a fun time!

As for living arrangements, we stayed in a hostel just a block away from the beach. For those of you who aren't too familiar with hostels, they are basically a place to sleep and shower. No frills. No A/C. No hot water. No maids or room service. Just a bed and a bathroom. You can stay in the "dorms" with lots of people or pay a little extra for a private room. Since we had 5 in our party, we just went for the private room  with several bunk beds, and it came to about $10 per night for each of us. When you aren't really planning on spending that much time in your room anyway, this is just fine. We didn't need anything fancy. We just wanted to go to the beach and have a good time. Here's a photo of the outside of our hostel, Jaco Inn. It was quaint and very nice when it comes to hostels.


Jaco is a fairly small beach town that has recently seen an influx of tourists for surfing and vacations. So the demographics fit us fairly well.. 20s to early 30s, students, vacationers, and plenty of hostels to choose from.. It was basically one street packed with restaurants, bars, gift shops, etc. that allows access to the beach at just about every crossroad. I will say though, it was very Westernized. And by that I mean that this quaint little town has been developed to completely satisfy all tourist needs whether it be for American food, a horse ride on the beach, or cute little gift shops selling "unique" crafts (that are exactly the same at the next store ;). But all in all it was just the escape we needed. And, for me, a nice taste of home.

We got there around 9:30 pm Friday night and got ready to go out. In just one night out at the bars, we danced the night away and met a music producer from D.C., a German-Tico surfing instructor, a group of Europeans staying at another hostel, and a group of U.S. students on a study tour learning Spanish in Costa Rica for a few weeks. Needless to say... we had a blast.

The bars down here are more like clubs with crazy lights and loud music. Definitely made for a good time. We stayed up all night hanging out with our new friends and just enjoying the experience. When we sat outside you could hear the waves crashing into the beach like one of those sound machines people pay tons of money for.. here its just a part of the experience. Completely complimentary.

We were having such a good time we ended up staying awake until sun came up around 5:30 am. At the time we didn't even realize it was that late (or early, I suppose). We were just hanging out with friends and started to notice it was getting lighter on the horizon. It was a really cool moment.. we just stopped and stared. So much blue. The sun comes up on the other side of the country so we didn't see the actual sun rise, but what we got was pretty darn breathtaking..


See.. I wasn't kidding. Nikki and I walked down to the beach and just took some time to take it all in. Not often do you get to see something like that.

Saturday was spent lounging in the sun on the beach, hanging out, and swimming in the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say we are all now a solid 2-3 tones darker than when we came here. As for me.. Apparently I now look like a Brazilian... not mad at all!

That night was pretty much the same. Hanging out with good friends, dancing.. the whole shebang. Again we stayed up, and this time we were prepared and sitting on a log on the beach waiting for the sunrise. Talk about incredible. Just sitting, with new friends, enjoying nature and taking in all that there was to see. It was kind of freeing to just be able to sit there after a long night of partying and even more dancing.. and take it all in.

You know that feeling when you meet new people on a trip and the good times just keep on coming. And then at the end of your time there you have to wonder what's next. But honestly, and let's be real here.. no one knows. In just two days we met tons of people that we would love to stay in touch with, but there's no way to truly know if that will actually happen. Yea, everyone may want to stay in touch, but that requires work and in today's culture, that's not really something people are willing to do.

But have you ever wondered what would have happened if you had kept in touch with those random strangers you met on the road? Why don't we keep in touch with them? Is is out of fear? Or maybe its laziness? Honestly.. who knows. We can't spend all of our time worrying about past decisions. All we can do is make the best of our present circumstances and have faith that it will all work out in the end.

So we left Jaco on Sunday afternoon, with many new Facebook friends and even more connections. We spent the day lounging by the pool and enjoying the company of new found friends and gradually parted ways.

We will surely be back. And traveling to new places to meet more new friends. I really can't wait to see what all is to come. Seeing as this one weekend was an experience I could never have replaced, who knows what waits for me next? There are still months and months ahead of new experiences and people. There's no looking back. I'm here and ready to live my life.. Bring it on!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Santa Cruz

We've been in Costa Rica for two weeks now. Dr. Vargas still says we are in the honeymoon stage. I suppose it could be true. We are finally settling in to our official class schedule and have all of the orientation stuff done. So we are getting down to the real business now.

I'm getting used to the customs and lifestyle down here. A kiss on the cheek to greet someone. Close-toed shoes when eating out. Walking or riding a bike pretty much everywhere. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables (seriously, if I'm not skinnier by the time this is over, something is wrong). Washing clothes and waiting 2 days for them to dry. And slowing down my pace of life in general to live more on "Tico time." Even my Spanish is slowly improving! It is an incredible experience just to be able to morph my lifestyle into this new culture and pick up their traditions and everyday habits.

On Friday we took our first field trip to Santa Cruz to see the Turrialba Volcano and visit a sustainable family farm in the area. Every time we go out as a class, I learn more and more and continue to grow in my understanding of sustainability and its importance in our daily lives. The Volcan Turrialba has recently become active and has been steadily releasing ash for the last few weeks. So we couldn't get all the way to the top, but we got close enough to get a good view. It turned out to be the absolute perfect day for volcano spotting. Usually the clouds and fog roll in quickly and you can't see the volcano after 5:30 or 6 am. We got up there around 9 or 9:30 am,



**Side note for future travelers... Costa Rica has all sorts of weather climates. Though primarily hot and humid, up in the mountains it can get pretty chilly.

After visiting the volcano we stopped by a sustainable farm in Santa Cruz that produces the famous Turrialba Cheese. And, seriously, that stuff is amazing. Unfortunately, the cheese isn't pasteurized so we can't bring it back to the US. If you really want to try it, you will just have to come down here yourself.

The farm was absolutely beautiful. The winding road down through the farm was lined with native plants and beautiful flowers. I could definitely live in a place like that. Peaceful... That's a good way to explain it because pictures, as I have mentioned before, really cannot capture the moment and the experience of walking through such beauty.

The Gomez family is the perfect example of true Costa Rican hospitality. They welcomed our small group warmly and eagerly answered all our questions. On their family farm, we found milk cows, goats, roosters, geese, chickens, barking dogs and a precious little kitten. Check out some of my photos below>>





Part of the sustainability of the farm comes from having all animals on a proper diet with grains, proteins, vitamins, etc. The Gomez family grows trees and plants that serve as food for the cows and goats as well as natural fence posts. All of the cattle are free-range and fed a complete and natural diet. For energy, they have implemented a bio-fuel system that naturally processes manure into a form of fuel to power certain areas of the farm. I found this absolutely fascinating. This farm is completely self-sustaining. No electricity is needed to process the manure, it all happens naturally with the help of some worms and sun. Here's a photo of the system:


In our culture, we tend to think implementing such a process requires too much work, or is too expensive. But in reality, this is the most simple form of sustainability and something American farmers should strive for. The animals on that farm were comfortable and well cared for. They weren't stuffed into a small space and fed corn just to be fattened up. The meat around here is lean and good for you to eat. The fruit and vegetables aren't filled with GMO's and pesticides that are bad for you. I don't mean to bombard you with a soapbox speech on my thoughts about American farming, but it is something to think about..

Anyway, Santa Cruz was yet another wonderful and practical learning experience. I wasn't kidding when I said I was going to come back a hippie. There are so many things that I appreciate now and things that I now know I can live without. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Jurassic Park

Saturday was definitely one for the books. We've only been here a few days, but are already making connections and seeing things that mostly only locals know about.

We were in town one afternoon getting necessities and we met a store owner who has a son working at CATIE as an intern in the Director's office. Ironically, he speaks English perfectly and has lived in the States for most of his life. So we made an effort to stop by the office and introduce ourselves (something I would normally never do if you know me well haha). We got his Facebook information and got in touch over the weekend. He took us out in Turrialba for our first night on the town and helped us find our way, and Saturday we went with him to the gorgeous Aquiares waterfall in the mountains just outside of Turrialba.

It would have been really hard to do without Sergio. The trails weren't the most visible and certainly not paved. So, somehow we were lucky enough to meet him and experience Costa Rica with someone who knows all about it.

I really wish I could put to words how incredible this trip was.. It's kind of one of those situations where you had to be there. I mean we started out just driving out of Turrialba and into the mountains. Then we had to go off-roading a while to get close enough and park the car. Keep in mind these roads barely fit one car through them and are entirely gravel and dirt. Leaves were slapping us in the face since we had our windows open. There were coffee fields, massive trees and beautiful creeks all along the Jurassic Park-ish trail. We even joked a few times that we needed the glass of water on the dash to tell if dinosaurs were coming.

Once we got close enough, we parked the car in a small cove off of the trail and continued to hike the rest of the way to the waterfall. Now the one thing I haven't gotten yet down here is some good hiking/water shoes. So I was wearing an old pair of sandals with no grip on them whatsoever. They had backs on them, but were certainly not meant for extreme physical activity. After hiking through the mud and rocks for a while my feet were sliding out of my sandals and barely hanging on. Just when Gabe mentioned something about my shoe amazingly not breaking yet.. snap.. and there it went. The best part of it though (and you really did have to be there for this) was that right where my shoe broke there was a pair of broken sandals that someone else had left. It was like a graveyard for sandals. I swear, we stood there laughing for a solid 5 minutes before I just continued barefoot. Again, you kind of had to be there.

It felt kind of nice, honestly, to just forget about everything and walk and climb barefoot through the jungle. Yes, there was a part of me that was afraid of being bitten by something, but once you get past that fear everything just seems that much more amazing. And besides, the waterfall was ABSOLUTELY worth it. We hiked to the bottom first for some pictures then climbed to the top to look down on it. Here are a few pictures..




The pictures and my words don't even do the experience justice. Being able to slide down rocks to a lower part of the river and walking slowly to the edge of the waterfall is something that only experience can explain. We spent some time just hanging out in the river at the top of the waterfall, going down the natural slide and enjoying the cool water before the afternoon storm came and we began our hike back down to the car. Another interesting hike with no shoes. (A special thanks to Sergio for letting me borrow his socks and Gabe for giving his shoes for part of the way)

The experience was absolutely incredible though. It's one of those things you would never expect to get to do and then when you're there, you can't believe it. Several times while we were out there I just looked up, spread my arms out wide and took a deep breath, soaking it all in. No worries, no cares.. One of those kind of moments.

Anyway, I'll stop attempting to explain something so difficult to put to words.. We started class this week, so expect more delays. School comes first :) Thanks for sticking with me!

Pura Vida!
-B

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Settling in

It's incredible, really, to think about the small things that we take for granted every day. We've been at CATIE for about 2 whole days now. We are all moved in to our apartments and have come across some things that we don't really have here or don't have the funds to purchase. Now let me tell you, we are living on a budget. And a serious one at that. Instead of spending our money on luxury items such as  coffee machines, we are saving it up for more traveling.

Since here a coffee machine would cost us around $40 we took a more simple route and went for a percolator of sorts.. it's basically a wooden stand with metal to hold up a filter/sock-type thing (see the picture below). We boil water on the stove and pour it over the coffee grounds in the sock and into a coffee mug. Now I don't know about you, but I never would have thought to try something like that.


We are so used to our convenience items and technology that takes care of everything, but we don't really think of other ways to do things. We think that we need a coffee machine when it is really as simple as boiling water and pouring it through a filter and into a mug. A lot of it has to do with the fact that, as Americans, we have this "consumeristic" character and always want the newest and most technologically advanced items. But we don't really NEED them, do we?

Need vs. want. That's all it comes down to.

Even in the states we would be able to live on a budget like we are here, but we won't simply because we don't have to. We will sacrifice our bank accounts for that special item that we HAVE to have. And when something goes wrong and it doesn't work anymore, we tend to freak out and complain. I think that a large part of our American community needs to learn how to adapt better. When life changes around you, all you have to do is accept those changes and allow yourself to adapt. If you refuse to adapt to the world around you, the struggle will just continue.

Another part of adapting and settling in is learning the language. I am struggling a little bit with this. I have this internal fear of seeming inept (I think that's the word I'm looking for) or unable to speak it correctly, and this stops me from trying at all. This is a problem. If I don't even try to speak Spanish, I'm never going to learn it. We can't let our internal fear of not fitting in or struggling outwardly stop us from doing the things we need to do.

Sorry for the rant, it's just something I have noticed a lot of lately. Traveling really does teach you how to see the world in new ways.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lessons Learned

Throughout your travels you always have to go through a period of trial and error. Adjusting and adapting to the culture is important for sustainable tourism. You can't just expect everyone to understand you and accept your quirks. It's like going to a new school. You slowly pick up on key words and different ways of doing things that helps you to fit in a little better.

Today was our first real day to get out and explore San Jose, the capitol of Costa Rica. And, let's just say, in one day we learned quite a bit. We took a simple walk to the downtown area (about 30 minutes) and wandered around to see what we could find. It was a great way to just aimlessly wander and enjoy the new scenery and architecture. By talking, or attempting to talk, to the different people, we were able to find our way to the Teatro Nacional, beautiful downtown churches, and the Museo Nacional where we were able to meet Sofia Ruiz, a Costa Rican artist about to open an art exhibit at the museum. It is truely amazing what can happen by simply asking a question.

The thing is, I've never been the type to just ask. I have always liked to stick to a plan and abide all the rules, but today I was able to just walk and see and meet incredible and fascinating sites and people. They really aren't lying when they say that the Costa Rican people are extremely welcoming and friendly. Yea, there are the guys who honk their horns every time they pass us "Gringas," but there are also the restaurant/bar owners who help you order and remember you the next night when you come in.

So, long story short, here are some of the things we learned today..

  • You don't have to tip your waiter/waitress. Gratuity is already included in your bill.
  • Some people will take advantage of the fact that you are foreign and charge more simply because you don't know any better (i.e. taxis, stores, restaurants, etc.).
  • Most places in the city accept US dollars, but they will give you change in colones so be prepared to do the math.
  • ALWAYS pack rain gear! NO EXCUSES! (We got soaked by the afternoon rain storm and had to take a cab home, hence the lesson above).
  • Pigeons are everywhere, and they try to get tourists to pay for food to take pictures with them... gross.
  • Potholes in the roads can be the size of bathtubs
  • It's best if you dress conservatively in the city. Otherwise, be prepared for lots of looks and constant honking.
  • Costa Rican beer is pretty darn good.
  • And finally, I really do need to learn more Spanish.
That's all for now.. I know posts are frequent so far, but its going to slow down when the real work begins and we are traveling more often. Hopefully I will be able to keep things updated. In the meantime, I added another page called Tweets! that I am trying to keep updated with my tweets while in CR (I haven't figured out if I can just link them or not..) but check it out anyway! It's kind of the random funny things that happen or lessons that are learned.. I try to be clever :). Also, pictures from San Jose will be posted very soon!

Thanks for sticking with me! Feel free to comment if you have any questions or travel suggestions!
Buenas noches!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Southern Comfort Zone

Flying to Costa Rica today I definitely did get a little sad. Just the initial idea of leaving Texas, my home for the last 23 years of my life, was difficult to accept. But then, in that same moment, I understood that I would always be able to come back. Texas will always be there and my friends and family will always welcome me home. Even though I'm in a new country and culture, I will always be a Texan at heart and no matter how far I travel out of my "Southern Comfort Zone" (thanks Brad Paisley), I know that I can always go back.

This experience will allow me to grow in ways I never thought possible. It is already testing my patience and ability to adapt to a different culture. For instance, our hotel for the next few nights give uses actual keys, not electronic cards, and the rooms don't automatically have AC. Apparently the sun rises around 4:30 in the morning and nighttime begins around 5:30pm. Wireless internet access is also patchy and hard to come by. But all these things are miniscule in comparison to the experience I am gaining. Tomorrow the real fun begins.

Today is just the beginning. Costa Rica awaits. Here's to a year full of excitement and growth!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A word of Thanks


It's so true though.. the feeling can't really be put into words perfectly.

I live this life of mine with no regrets. Every minute of every day I am thankful for all of my blessings. As I prepare myself (body and mind) for this new chapter of my life I can't help but think of all the friends and memories I will be leaving behind here at UNT and all across Texas.

For five years, I have created a life and a family here in DFW. I came here on my own and I will be leaving with a network of friends who I will truly miss. I am going to miss tailgating and going to football games (or not going to the football games...), cooking with my roommates, nights out on good ol' Fry St., Greek Life in general, Dallas shenanigans with my single ladies, and spending time with my beautiful pledge class. I mean, I could go on for hours listing every little thing I will miss, but this is more a way for me to say thank you...

Thank you to everyone I have met over the last few years. From Eagle Camp to Freshmen Orientation, being in Greek Life and the Honors College, and the many jobs I have held, you guys are why I have a hard time leaving. I have had one of the best support systems from both family and friends and I couldn't be more grateful.  I have been blessed with great jobs and employers, wonderful advisors and professors, and family and friends who support me no matter what.

One of my biggest fears is to leave a place and be forgotten. So I have spent the last five years doing my best to leave my mark on UNT and all my friends here. I can only hope that I have brought a smile to your heart and left a fond memory with you. I know there are bound to be plenty.

So this is my way of communicating across international borders. Stay in touch.

-B

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Nerves

It's official. I've started looking for flights... Scary, right? I mean, a year ago this graduate program was just a dream, and now it's actually happening. The reality of it all is finally sinking in.

I know, I know such a cliche. But seriously, in less than TWO MONTHS I will be packing up my life here in DFW and moving to another country. I've lived here since the Fall of 2008. That's almost FIVE YEARS. It is finally hitting me that I will be leaving this family that I have found up here. I'm really going to miss it...

The preparations for this move are very extensive. We are meeting occasionally to discuss the Student Visa process, how to pack, items we will need, living arrangements and so much more. Lucky for us, groups before us have left behind essentials like pots and pans, and other random items that we won't have to worry about packing. I love them for this! Each year the students add to the 'stash' and leave information behind. It's still very much a growing program, but each year it gets better and better :).

I still can't believe how close it all is. I'm starting to get to that point where I'm beyond excited, yet I still feel butterflies, or maybe they are bees... I can't wait for the cultural experience and the new lifestyle, but I hate leaving everything behind. Our professors keep talking to us about the transition - learning a new language, adapting to a new way of life, and being so far from home. It's not going to be easy, but they are doing their best to prepare us for drastic cultural changes.

So now I'm going to do a shameless plug for my program...
If you are at all thinking about Graduate school and interested in sustainability and/or tourism, please take a look at the MIST program. It is a "joint Master of Science degree in International Sustainable Tourism between UNT and CATIE in Turrialba, Costa Rica." Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the first and ONLY program of its kind! Nowhere else can you get this type of a Masters degree. UNT has a true partnership with CATIE and the experience is well worth your time.

If you can't tell, I'm kind of proud of this Graduate program... Still a bit nervous, but very proud! So, follow me to learn more about what all the hoop-la is about. Hopefully I can give an insider's perspective without boring you with too many details.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

One Down!

Semester #1 is officially complete, papers submitted, and grades are posted (all A's baby!). Let me tell you, this has been an interesting semester to say the least... a little tougher than I had originally expected. Not that I thought Grad School would be a breeze, not at all! But it was fewer classes, and I'm not active in all those extracurriculars anymore so I had hoped... ehhh, I digress.

I really can't believe that this semester is already complete. 2012 is over! Time is flying by so quickly that sometimes I feel like I'm holding on for dear life. It's insane! I mean, think about it... We leave for Costa Rica in almost 5 months! FIVE. MONTHS. I think it might be time for me to start working on my Spanish... maybe.

This next year is going to be absolutely incredible. I can already tell. Classes start next week and we get to dive even further into our topics of Hotel and Restaurant Operations, Tourism Services Management/Marketing, and Policy in Sustainable Tourism. It may sound like a lot of jibberish, but I'm excited and you should be too!

This semester will bring many more meetings and preparation as we get ready to move abroad. There is a lot to get done in a very short period. Bonding time with the three of us will be at an all-time high, I'm sure! So prepare yourself for some more in-depth discussion on sustainable tourism topics and exciting adventures with the three of us "MISTers" haha. I will try and keep up with this a little better, I promise :)