16 October 2011

fly away home

It ain't over till the fat lady sings, right? Well, here I am, on my last weekend living in Costa Rica, and although the fat lady might not be singing, it's definitely over. My last few days in San Jose were a whirlwind of packing, saying goodbyes, and doing my favorite things one last time (although I'm hoping it won't really be the last time I do those things). Warning: this post is pretty lengthy!

I left on a Saturday, and although I had spent a lot of time packing already, I was nowhere near ready to leave when I woke up Saturday morning. As I had a flight to catch, I really did have a hard stop at 10:00 a.m. My friend and colleague V.D. was taking me to the airport, and when he arrived, I was still running around like crazy trying to consolidate everything into four suitcases. I'm still not exactly sure why it was so hard; when I moved to Costa Rica, one of my suitcases was filled completely with bedding, which I left behind when I was moving back, and I really didn't buy much stuff over the course of the year, so you'd think I would have had less trouble. Nevertheless, it was a total cramfest for an hour or two there. My friend/neighbor/colleague P.S. came over earlier in the day to help me, which was so nice and much appreciated!

The first grade teacher from my school, P.M., has has a niece who works at a local school in the rural community she lives in outside of San Jose, and she had asked the other teachers at a staff meeting in late April to save any old school supplies that we didn't want at the end of the year for her so she could take them to that school. She really wanted anything--I'm talking scraps of paper, little pencil nubs--anything! I asked her if they would want some housewares, as I had quite a few things I planned to get rid of. She said they would be glad to take anything like that, as well. So all of the things I bought over the course of the year but didn't want to/couldn't bring back with me--things like plates, glasses, candles, etc., all went into a big pile for P.M. to collect for her niece's school. I didn't think I had bought a lot during the year, but seeing that pile of stuff grow amazed me, and that was after I had taken bags and bags of things into school for P.M. throughout the last two months of school! It's incredible how much stuff you can accumulate in such a short time. P.S. helped out by taking all of the things over to her apartment for P.M. to collect later in the day, after I'd left. P.M. and the school gave me some beautiful wooden magnets to thank me for giving them those things, which I thought was so sweet, because it was really a big help to me to have someplace to give those things, as I couldn't bring them back with me anyway!

In the midst of all of that, I was scrambling to back up all of my computer files, as I was giving my laptop to V.D.'s daughter, whose own computer (along with almost everything else) was stolen from her house earlier in the spring. I had been thinking about getting a new computer anyway, and I would much rather my old computer go to a friend than the computer donation center in the town where my parents live. Unfortunately, my computer was not being cooperative, and I could not get everything backed up before I had to leave, so we will have to work out some system where I can get the rest of my photo and music files!

After much crazy stuffing, squishing, and squeezing, everything was pretty much in. At the last minute, I couldn't fit my computer speakers into any of my bags, so I just left those with V.D. to go along with my computer. Honestly, the whole thing was so rushed that I didn't feel that sad to be leaving as I hugged P.S. goodbye and V.D. and I got into his car and drove away. I still had to rearrange some things when I got to the airport, and I definitely had to use that saran-wrap station thing to stick two bags together so I wouldn't have to pay a huge fee for the extra bag (great idea, P.S.!), but it all worked out pretty well, I'd say!

Everything at the airport went pretty smoothly, except I did get my scissors and tweezers confiscated by security. Oh, well. The flight, however, was a different story. When I checked in at the San Jose airport, the counter agent told me that there were some delays in San Jose, so I had been assigned to a different flight, and wouldn't be arriving in Syracuse until the following day, but they had booked a hotel for me in New York City. Ok, that's fine, and somewhat expected with airplane travel. The first leg of my trip was supposed to be to Orlando, but they were experiencing bad weather, so we had to fly around and around for a while. We began to run out of fuel, so we had to do an emergency landing in Tampa. After we re-fueled, we flew over to Orlando, and thankfully, the bad weather had cleared up, so we were able to land right away this time. Because of all of the delays due to the weather, I actually made my flight to New York after the customs people called us to the front of line (I love it when that happens!)

When we landed at JFK at 1:00 a.m., I was told that there were no hotel reservations left in the city, and I would just have to sleep in the airport. ??? Hadn't accommodations already been made for me earlier in the day, when my flight was originally changed? According to the hotel representative I spoke to, no, they had not. Boo. I asked to speak to a manager, but was told that no managers would be on duty until 4:00 a.m., so I went off to find a couch to crash on until then. All of the restaurants were closed at that point, but the gate agent did bring me a bunch of snacks and beverages from the plane.

I found a nice couch and managed to doze off after getting somewhat cozy under my sarong (note to self: always travel with a sarong or blanket.) A little after 4:00 a.m., I woke up and went over to where the manager was on duty. I must say, the manager I spoke with was quite rude and it took over an hour and a half for her to tell me that I actually had a hotel reservation all along. ??? Determined to get to the bottom of this situation, I called the hotel again, and they discovered that the airline had inverted my name when they made the reservation, which is why the hotel couldn't find my reservation when I had called earlier. So. I was pretty upset by that, not so much about not having a room to sleep in, because that kind of thing is bound to happen now and again, but about how rude the manager was to me. I'll admit, I was not the most rational person by that point, because I had a horrible cold and had lost my voice after being stuck on the airplane for so long and sleeping on the couch under an air conditioning vent. However, my flight left in just a few hours, so I wandered around the airport, got some real food, and then caught my last flight to Syracuse, where my mom picked me up to drive me to Ithaca.

Although parts of the return trip were aggravating, I'm kind of glad it worked out the way it did, because it was very in line with most of my Costa Rica travel experiences, which always have been filled with unexpected detours here and there. Honestly, it would have felt a little unnatural if it had gone smoothly. Oh yeah, that $150 travel voucher the airline gave me when I e-mailed them about the poor customer service I received at JFK didn't hurt, either. Heck yeah!

14 October 2011


The day after my mom returned to the U.S., my friend and colleague C.S. invited all of the elementary teachers over for a delicious brunch at her house. It was so fun to have a last meal with these wonderful ladies who were so friendly and supportive during my time in Costa Rica! The meal was amazing: scones, quiches, fruit salad, mimosas...it was quite a spread. And as usual, the company was even better than the food! I had made mixed cds for everyone, and they had bought me a box of tasty Cafe Britt chocolates as a good-bye gift. Getting out to C.S.'s house was quite a feat; her directions included steps like, "Turn left when you come to the tree in the middle of the road." I never quite got accustomed to streets without names and directions like those, but it's pretty typical there.

Here is my amazing school team!

I miss you all!! Thank you for everything.

11 October 2011

san jose sights

On my mom's last day in Costa Rica, I took her to see some sights around San Jose. We started in some downtown parks. The first one we went to had a lot of interesting art installations made from old computer parts, milk crates, and other re-purposed objects.

After strolling through the parks, we picked up some pretty amazing bean and cheese empanadas at the Mercado Central, and then walked by the post office and museum. Isn't it gorgeous?

From there, we went to the Teatro Nacional, which I had walked past and admired dozens of times, but had never gone inside. It is absolutely beautiful!

After checking out an impromptu modern dance rehearsal at the Teatro Nacional, we visited the Jade Museum. It was o.k., but not my favorite museum of all time. After the museum, I showed my mom my favorite used book shop, and while there, we made a funny discovery. As you may remember, my sister visited me in March. When she went back to the U.S., she left some books for me to read. After I finished them, I traded them at the book store to get some new books to read. While skyping a few weeks later, my sister asked me to mail one of them to her when I got back to the U.S., so she could put it back in her collection. Ummmmm...you mean she wasn't giving me the books? Whoops! I totally thought she was giving them to me! I felt terrible and told her I would order her a replacement copy. However, when we walked into the book store, I found my sister's very copy sitting on top of a big stack in the romance section! Obviously, I snatched that right up, and have since mailed it to her. I can't believe it turned out that way, but it's a much better story than if she had just loaned it to me and I had returned it, right?!

After exploring the San Jose's downtown offerings, my mom and I went out to Escazu, to meet up with some of my parents' closest friends from graduate school and to see the house where her mother's family lived. We had a little trouble connecting due to some miscommunications, but after finally meeting up at the mall, B.K. (the wife) drove us over to the house. Strangely enough, B.K. and her husband F.T. just so happen to own a house right around the corner from my grandmother's old house. Crazy! (They are living in Canada for the time being, but are keeping their house in Costa Rica, as they are planning to return when they retire.)

My cute mom with the Calle Maynard sign (Maynard was her mother's maiden name).

The house is named "La Roca," due to the giant rock inside!

We were in luck--the same man who let my sister and me in before was there again! He gave us a tour and let us walk around taking pictures. He's trying to sell the house and sent my mom the professional real estate photos of the house. How nice!

Here's the backyard, where my grandparents got married, way back when.

Gorgeous! I'm so glad my mom got to see this house. I think it's really important to see as much of your family history as possible. After we were done touring the house, we all met up with F.T. for some drinks, and then they dropped us off at the bus stop so we could head back into San Jose proper. Somehow, we ended up on the wrong bus and ended in a sketchy part of town that I had never seen before. Eventually, we caught a cab back to my apartment, because I couldn't figure out where we were or how to catch a bus that would get us there.

From there, I went up to a little gathering at my friend J.F.'s house. My good friends E.A. and R.B. were taking off the next day for Malpais and Santa Teresa (where they ended up getting engaged...so exciting!), and others were flying out the next morning, so we had one last dinner together. It was so nice to have some low-key time to hang out.

What a great way to spend one of my last days in Costa Rica!

08 October 2011

the end of an era

The last day of school came so quickly. We had a party to "celebrate." I say "celebrate," because even though I am so proud of what my students have done this year and the people they are becoming, I have very mixed feelings about this particular last day of school.

Of course, it's always nice to take time to have a little party, complete with Papa John's and some homemade Mad-Hatter-esque cake. And who doesn't enjoy summer vacation?!

But, this particular last day of school marked the end of my time in Costa Rica, as well as the end of my time as a teacher (at least for now).

So, seeing the walls and shelves empty and the chairs put up for the last time the next day was quite sad for me, as well.

I left a little surprise for the teacher who has this room next year...I just hope a mouse doesn't find it first! I remember arriving at school on the first day, and seeing one of my students arriving with his mother, who also works at the school. He was pulling a rolling backpack behind him, and running down the hill to get to class. He looked so cute and eager that I knew it was going to be a great year...and it really was. I hope that the next teacher will have as wonderful a year as I had in this room.

After getting everything cleaned up and put away, I took one last walk around the neighborhood to enjoy the views I love so much.

When I returned to school, I found a message from one of my parents waiting for me. She said that she would be coming to school in a few hours, so I waited for her in my classroom. When she arrived, my student was with her as well. He looked so adorable in his Lego t-shirt! And they had a gift for me...a beautiful book called Wild Costa Rica, filled with lovely photos of the gorgeous scenery and flora and fauna of this country. We all teared up a bit as I opened the gift and we thanked each other.

Driving away from school for the last time (at least for now), I turned at the top of the hill and took a photo of my favorite view of all:

This photo is not great, but believe me, on a sunny day...this view is just breathtaking! I guess that just means I'll have to go back soon to take a better one :).

Later that day, my mom and I went to dinner at Madero's with C.S., a friend from school. Then, we went to the high school graduation and down to Chi Chi's for one last celebration with everyone from school.

It's hard for me to explain what this year has meant to me. I guess part of what made this sixth year of teaching so special was that I finally got to be the teacher I always wanted to be. When I started teaching, I had so many grand ideas of what I wanted to do with my students. I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference in my students' lives. Then, I got into the classroom, and it was so.very.hard. By far the absolute hardest thing I have ever done in my life. By the end of the year, what my students ended up being able to do that year far surpassed any expectations I had had before I entered the classroom. They rocked it out and proved that they could perform as well as students living in much more affluent areas. But, at the same time, I wasn't that sweet, patient teacher I had always pictured myself being. Instead, I just spent my time being so frustrated--so frustrated by how unprepared they were, so frustrated by the circumstances that they were living in, and so frustrated by my lack of skill in teaching. Little by little, as I grew my "sea legs," and figured out how to be a better teacher, I took more time to find the joy in teaching my students. Finally, in this last year, I really hit my stride with that. And of course I wasn't perfect--not even close!--but I know I was much calmer with my students and took the chance to do projects and other learning experiences with them that I never did before, and it was a great year. I think everyone deserves the opportunity to find the best version of themselves, and I'm so grateful for my chance to do that here.

05 October 2011


On Sunday, my mom caught a shuttle to Manuel Antonio, while J.C. and I went canyoning. I was very excited, as I had been on the zip line quite a few times, but had never done a canyoning trip before. It was even better than I expected!

Our group learning the ropes:

J.C. and me

Riding in the "Jungle Limo" to the first waterfall

We started with a 15-foot waterfall. I was the first to go! (Not going to lie, I felt kind of BA because of that.) I was shaking a bit--even though I was excited, I was pretty nervous as well. After the 15-foot waterfall, we hiked through the canyon a bit, until we got to this 125-foot waterfall! Here's J.C., rappelling like a pro.

Here I am rappelling

Phew, I made it!

Our guides kept telling us that this trip was "so much more than just rappelling...it's really canyoning!" I didn't know what they meant--I mean, what's the difference, right? At one point, we came to a deep-ish pool in the middle of our path, so they had us cannonball into the middle of it to get across. Again, I was the first one to go, and the guide kept pushing me back into the water when he was supposed to be helping me get out. They were hilarious!

Later, one of them laid down in the river, to "block the water from making us slip" as we climbed down this steep section:

When another guide told us to sit down, I knew something was up...

It was awesome!

After experiencing the things that make canyoning different from just rappelling, we continued on to the 225-foot waterfall.

Even though I was kind of freaked out, it was completely amazing!!

After the last waterfall, we went back to the training station for lunch. While eating, we saw this crazy spider...check it out!

I must say, canyoning was one of the most fun, coolest things I've done in Costa Rica! So glad I got the chance to do that before I left, as I had seen it so many times in the book of activities in the hostel, but no one ever wanted to go with me. Thanks, J.C. for being willing to try it out!

After we got back and changed into dry clothes, we went to a nearby restaurant with one of the guys we met while canyoning, then caught the bus back to San Jose. J.C. came to school with me on Monday, then headed home on Tuesday. Thanks for visiting, J.C.--it was great to have you!

01 October 2011

one last bash

For my last weekend in Costa Rica, I had two visitors in town: my mom and my friend J.C. J.C. arrived on Wednesday, and I took her to one of my favorite restaurants that night before sending her to Manuel Antonio the next day. My mom arrived on Thursday, came with me to school on Friday, and then we took a shuttle to La Fortuna, where we met J.C. On Saturday morning, we went to Catarata La Fortuna.

We noticed lots of people swimming in the beautiful waters but realized that we had forgotten our own suits. My mom and J.C. had clothes that they could swim in, but I was wearing jeans. What to do? Luckily, both of them also had some bandanas and I had some safety pins, so I fashioned a makeshift bathing suit to wear into the waterfall. It actually worked pretty well!

After visiting the waterfall, we went back to the hostel to change for our volcano hike. The weather was beautiful as we started out.

We had an incredible view of Volcan Arenal!

After hiking for a few hours, we reached the end of the zone where people are allowed to walk. And then our guide had us keep walking, into the "high risk zone."

That evening, we went to Baldi Hot Springs to relax our muscles after a day of hiking. I'm so glad that I had the chance to show some more visitors the La Fortuna area before leaving, and that I finally got to go on a volcano hike!