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.