31 January 2011

the relatives came

Two of my cousins came to visit me for a week in December, just before I went back to the U.S. for winter break. It was so fun having them here and showing them around!

K and V are both interested in becoming teachers, so they visited and volunteered at my school for two days. One day while I was at school, they went on a zipline tour through the rain forest canopy. We went to my school's end-of-semester party one night (there was a Hawaiian theme, in case you couldn't tell).

At the party, we got to see some great dancing by my co-workers. These two won the talent show. My co-workers are so awesome and fun!!

For the weekend, we headed to Cahuita, a beach on the Caribbean side. Cahuita is probably my favorite beach town because it's really beautiful, and it's not super-crowded with tourists, so it's pretty quiet and laid-back. It's also on a coral reef and a national park, so there are other cool things to do outdoors besides just go to the beach. Some of the beaches have golden sand, and some have black sand.

I love the greenish tint of this photo. Have I mentioned my love for the color green? It's by far my favorite color.

The view from the balcony of our cottage

Relaxing in town

Relaxing on the beach. All the wood strewn about is leftovers from Hurricane Tomas, which hit in early November.

Checking out the national park and its inhabitants

These howler monkeys were crazy loud!

Enjoying a delicious brunch. In the words of my friend SR, "Whoever thought of brunch was thinking some good thoughts." Hands down, best meal idea ever!

Try to shake off a dog that adopted us and tried to follow us everywhere.

Just when we thought we were free...

... and found a nice place on Playa Negra (so named because of its black sands) to lay our towels, the dog came back and ripped my sarong out of my hands while trying to eat it!

Oh well. We did finally manage to shake her, with enough time to enjoy the beach for a few more hours before heading back to San Jose.

What a great weekend!

28 January 2011

good night and good luck

We had two amazing student teachers at our elementary school for a few months earlier this year. To send them off in style, PM, the first grade teacher at my school, invited us all to a tea at her house. She lives high above San Jose--check out her incredible view!

She served the most delicious rolls (2 kinds), cinnamon buns, jams (4 types), and rhubarb crisp. Everything was homemade! The rest of us were totally impressed.

Love these ladies!!!

Good luck, CS and LL! We will miss you!

25 January 2011

tortuguero and a thief

For Thanksgiving break, I went to Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast. Getting there was kind of a production, as it's on an isolated strip of land that can be reached only by boat or airplane. Even though it is so hard to get to, it is the third most visited national park in Costa Rica because its beaches are key nesting sites for many of the world's most endangered species of sea turtles. Tortuguero means "land of turtles."

Arriving at the village of Tortuguero by ferry

Aside from eco-tourism-related activities, there's not much to do in town. After checking into the hostel, the first thing I did was hit the beach...

...then I took a stroll around Main Street...

...and then I visited a museum about sea turtles. This skull is supposedly from a gigantic sea turtle, but I don't really believe that, do you? It just seems too huge. Maybe from a whale???

The highlight of the trip was definitely seeing sea turtle hatchlings scurry from their nests to the ocean. They were so tiny! A lot of people were picking up the struggling ones and carrying them to the ocean...totally illegal and against nature.
Sorry the picture is sideways...I don't know what happened and can't figure out how to fix it...does anyone know?!

Beautiful sunset

For dinner I went to this amazing restaurant called Miss Edith's with some new friends, an awesome couple from Austria. Miss Edith cooks a lot of the food in coconut milk. Yum! Another good place to eat was the Budda Cafe. The second day I was there brought a horrible storm with flash floods, so I was not able to leave the hostel (the water was up to my knees in the area surrounding the hostel, and I didn't want to risk it). So I stayed in and became BFFs with the other people there.

On the last day, I went on a nature canoe ride with some new friends to look for some wildlife.

We saw a bunch of great blue herons and capuchin monkeys (please excuse the poor quality)

I had seen loads of capuchin monkeys at Manuel Antonio National Park, but the ones in Tortuguero were really cool because they are not used to humans and are therefore much wilder. This one was using a coconut to beat open the tree trunk to get some food from inside.

This father bird was screaming at us to stay away from his nest. I think he is a neo-tropical cormorant, but don't quote me on that.

Some other wildlife we saw were great green macaws, river otters, green herons, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, jacamars, iguanas, various parrots, blue morpho butterflies, Jesus Christ lizards (so named because they walk on top of the water), emerald basilisks, crocodiles, toucans, and green turtles.

I had some time left before I had to catch the ferry back to my first bus, so I went to the national park for a while. This is their entrance station.

Most of the water from the previous day's storm had receded, but the trails were still pretty water-logged. No one is allowed in the park without rubber boots. If you don't have your own, you can rent a pair at many places around town.

Doesn't this leaf looks just like the one in The Very Hungry Caterpillar?

I didn't see tons of wildlife while hiking in the park, just some monkeys and lots of these little guys:

The most memorable part of the trip came when I got back to my hostel to check out before heading to the ferry. I was organizing my things when I realized that my wallet was gone, along with everything important I brought with me (cash, credit and debit cards, copy of my passport, emergency phone numbers, etc). I knew I had it when I went into the park, as I had to pay my entrance fee, so it must have "gone missing" while I was in the park. I ran back to the park to explain the situation to the rangers, and one of the rangers offered to take me on an ATV to check the trails I had hiked. Alas, the wallet was nowhere to be found (is anyone actually surprised?). The ATV ride was actually pretty fun, and it would have been totally awesome under other circumstances. I really did not know what to do, because I had no money to get back to San Jose, and no way to reach anyone. I was pretty convinced I was going to have to sell myself on the streets of Tortuguero or wash some dishes at a restaurant or something to raise money to get back, but luckily the ranger gave me 10,000 colones (~$20 U.S.) to get back. And then asked for my number. Yeah.

Of course, the ferry I was supposed to take was long gone by that point, so I went to a dock to wait before the next one came a few hours later. Fast forward to me walking to catch the ferry. This pre-teen rides up behind me on his bike and asks me if my name is Luisa. I say yes, but I'm really thinking, "Who are you and how do you know my name?" Here's the rest of our convo:

Boy: They found your wallet!
Me: Really? Where? {How do you know my wallet was missing?}
Boy: On the trail!
Me: Oh, wow, I can't believe it! {Hmmm, that's strange, because it definitely wasn't there when I went looking for it and searched the trail four times a few hours ago.}
Boy: Are you taking this ferry that's about to leave?
Me: Yes.
Boy: Ok, I'll go get the wallet for you. Stay here.

Boy pedals off furiously and returns several minutes later with my wallet. Of course, there's no cash inside anymore, but everything else is there, miraculously.

Boy: What's my reward?
Me: ???

All in all, a very strange situation, but I'm just glad I got the wallet back and that I was just pick-pocketed and not mugged (I mean, I'm pretty sure that's what happened...my wallet couldn't have fallen out of my closed backpack...but the crazy thing is, I passed only one other person the entire time I was hiking).

After the ferry, I caught a bus from the dock to the bus station. Almost home! But because I caught the last ferry of the day, by the time I made it to the bus station, the last bus for San Jose had already left. What to do? Luckily, there were some others in my situation (that first bus driver had stopped about every mile, so a lot of people had missed the San Jose bus), and we learned that we could catch a bus to Cariari, and from there catch the last bus from there to San Jose.

We all rushed to that other bus, hoping that we would make it to Cariari in time to catch the last bus to San Jose. After a ride that seemed to take forever, we pulled into the Cariari station right as the San Jose bus was about to leave. Whew! An uneventful bus ride and a cab ride later, I was back at my apartment. Never been so glad to be home!

22 January 2011

avon walk for life

Before winter break, some friends and I participated in the Avon Walk for Life, which raises money for breast cancer research, in downtown San Jose. It was nice to do something active in the community.

EA, me, and EG

A sea of pink

We meant to meet up with some more friends from work so we could all walk together, but we ended up not being able to find them in the crowds. Luckily, we ran into them after the walk, so we were able to hang out for a bit before heading home.

This was one of the first community-based activities I have done since moving to Costa Rica (sad, I know). It definitely made San Jose feel more like home!

19 January 2011

back at last!

Hi everyone! It's me, back for my semi-annual blog posting. I hope y'all had a great holiday break. I had a wonderful time visiting friends and family in North Carolina, New York, and Texas for a few weeks...so wonderful, in fact, that it was a little hard to come back. But now that I'm here, I'm excited to do some traveling and to see my little kiddos soon!

While going through some pictures from last semester, I found a bunch that I never posted, so I'll be putting those up over the next few weeks. Today's update theme: birthdays. One of the many fun things about teaching the younger kids is all the parties that are involved. On my birthday, my class threw me a surprise party...

...complete with noisemakers, balloons, a banner, cards, gifts, and lots of delicious cupcakes! One student even brought me a bunch of hydrangeas, which just happen to be my favorite kind of flower. Here's how it went down: students usually start arriving around 7:45. By 8:00 on my birthday, no one had appeared. I wondered if there was some kind of traffic jam or weather problem going on, but other classes seemed pretty full, so those options didn't seem likely. I checked the hallway but didn't see any of my students out there, so I started straightening the classroom library. Around 8:05, all of my students, and most of their parents, burst in with horns and rattlers, shouting and singing "Happy birthday! Happy birthday!" They gave me the banner, cards, and gifts, and we had a group hug. Such a wonderful, after school special-like, start to the day! THEN, after first period, we went outside for recess, and discovered that the moms had set up a whole elaborate/beautiful spread of cupcakes, juice, and popcorn!! So amazing!!! After the party, it was time to get back to business. Sigh. But not for long! We had a school spirit festival in the afternoon, so I got to chaperone a group of students from Kindergarten through 12th grade as they made a collage, created a skit, and completed a scavenger hunt and obstacle course. Later that day, I went out with some friends for a delicious dinner and to see Eat, Pray, Love (hello, my life right now!) Seriously, the best birthday.

A few weeks later, I went to a student's birthday party at a roller-skating rink. Let me tell you, those places are dangerous. I almost fell about a hundred times on the extremely hard floor. The only reason I didn't is because I was holding on to this little kindergarten kid (the younger brother of one of the fourth graders) most of the time. But it was really fun, and once again, the cupcakes were delicious. Cutest part of the evening? Definitely when the little kindergarten kid glided up to me (we had decided to branch out away from each other by that point) and exclaimed in his high-pitched, gravelly voice: "Look! I'm learning!"

Later that week, I went to a resort about two hours away, for the pirate-themed party of another student.

The resort is on the beautiful Sarapiqui river:

Getting there was a little nerve-wracking, because the bridge seemed to be composed of corrugated cardboard that rattled and shook like crazy as we drove across.

Once everyone arrived, we all went tubing for a few hours. Since Hurricane Tomas had blown through earlier in the week, the water level was really high and the river was flowing very quickly, so it was even more fun than usual. Also because of the hurricane, there were these huge (~5 inch leg span) spiders everywhere. Whenever we brushed the riverbank along the way, we kept crashing into them, which I was not a big fan of.

After tubing, we returned to the resort to break open a pinata. There are some really attractive pics of me mid-smash, but unfortunately I can't post them because there are students in the background. Gotta protect their privacy, you know? ;)