I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Panama for my “Semana Santa” or spring break. It was about a sixteen hour bus ride , this including a two hour hold up at the Panamanian border. While I was not looking forward to the ride, in all honesty it wasn’t that bad. They showed the worst movies on the bus though, and word to the wise make sure u bring warm clothes for long bus rides, even if it is 98 degrees outside the bus’s a.c. will be on full blast and during the last four hours of the ride you don’t want to be slipping in and out of a torrid rest will acquiring hyperthermia and listening to a woman car sick behind you. Hah. We arrived in Panama City around 4 a.m. and took a taxi to our hostel in the historic part of the city. The hostel we stayed at was ‘Luna’s Hostel’ and it was awesome, we got in and were able to crash on a comfortable spread of couches set up in their common room and every morning they have pancakes and bananas set up for the taking, two words one meal: Banana Pancakes ;-) After getting set up in our room, we took a taxi to the Panama Canal, thinking “hey, we are here why not check it out.” Little did we know that the canal would blow our minds! There are only about 2 times a day you can catch a ship going through the locks and we were there early enough to see one, it was such a feat of engineering, simply remarkable. There are a series of three locks that draw water from nearby lakes in order to process the ships through. The building set for viewing is on the “Mira flores lock” and it is impressive very clean and modern with a theater for viewing a (slightly biased) history of the construction of the canal, along with a museum and restraunt. After seeing the Canal we went shopping (but of course i was with 3 girls!) it was strange because panama is cheap, at least cheaper than Costa Rica, but the mall we went to had higher end name brand places that were not cheap, but it also had a bunch of department store like places all selling cheap mass produced textiles. My advice to you would be to wait and don’t shop at the mall , but hit up the old china town part of the city and you will find similar stores and products for cheaper. We went out that night, because Panama City is notorious for its rowdy nightlife so we thought okay , again, lets check it out. I must say maybe its the place we went but by the time we got to the downtown part of Panama City all the clubs charged high entrance fees and it was the same top 20′s pop krap that I am not into, but I still had fun, the women dress to the nines , they are all decked out and it would be borderline scandalous but they swing it with some class so it works in their favor. Later when we returned to the hostel around 4 a.m. we decided we needed some fried chicken, luckily there is just such a place its like the fried chicken fast food chain of Panama; called, drum roll please : Pio Pio’s. It was great in a horrible fried way, it was interesting because its not the safest to be walking around at night , so we were being cautious and we had 2 male companions just in case. The next day we did some more sightseeing in Panama and hung out, one of my favorite parts of Panama was the cheap food there are all these buffet like restruants where u can get a huge plate with about 4 different dishes for $2.00. The next morning we were scheduled to leave at 5 a.m. headed north to the coast and then out to the San Blas Islas in the Carribean. This hands down was the highlight of my trip, and one of the coolest experiences I’ve had thus far. We took a hour jeep ride to the coast , from where we loaded into a speed/river boat that took us to our island: “Sanidub.” There are a group of over 350 islands in the Carribean a part of Panama but out of direct jurisdiction from the governement, similar to how reservations are regulated in the states. Here the Kuhna, an indigenous people run and maintain their lives, incorporating a business of tourism. Excluding the cost of getting out there, I paid about $60 for two nights on this island, that included 3 meals a day and a trip snorkeling by a shipwreck. These islands were picturesque, unreal in beauty and very isolated. The island we stayed on took probably about 5 min. to walk around and this one in particular was very active with about 30 other people also staying on it. Take into consideration it was not over crowded or bustling, I only make the active statement, in comparison to people who are able to literally get their own private islands. You spend your days bathing in the sun, swimming in crystal clear water, or snorkeling by the reef. Later at night our host would bring out wine and bottles of Panamanian rum and we would mingle with other travels , then walk the serene quiet beach and swim in the warm waters of the Carribean under a full moon. It was a soul releasing moment in my life and beauty and love were in no short supply, I hope to bring someone I love back to this place and share it with them someday. We returned to Panama city in the same fashon we arrived, by boat with us getting stuck in the shallow waters before entering the river stream. We then hopped on a bus headed for the Pacific surfer town of Santa Catalina, but not before grabbing a $2 one pound box of food at the bus station and taking a look at our cooked skin for the first time in the bathroom mirror. Santa Catalina was the perfect end to our 9 day expedition, it was a sleepy town of about 300 so people and we watched surfers and layed on the beach. One day a helicopter landed on the beach, but of course who doesn’t go to the beach in a helicopter? After Santa Catalina we took a serious of back road van/buses to the town of David where you are convienently close to the Costa Rican border. It was an adventure getting back considering we didn’t have tickets and it was the end of Semana Santa so everyone was headed home, but in the end we just managed to cross the border then get the last tickets (2 of them being ‘de pie’ meaning standing room only) but it was okay cuz of the 4 of us we just rotated having the seats and all was good we were just happy to make it back to san jose. The trip all in all rejuvinated my spanish speaking confidence and gave me the feel and vantage to see the global community of individuals that share my passion for travel and are acting on it!
Well my existence in Costa Rica is hitting its midway point, and my sentiments about this are mixed. By now I have grown accustomed to the culture and am constantly comparing and contrasting what I know of my own home with this place. In my opinion it takes keen insight to not only to observe the cultural trends and opinions, but more so understand the reasons and causes of these beings. For example before coming to Costa Rica, I had read about the slower pace of life and tranquil attitudes held by the Costa Rican people, and while having lived here I have noted how nothing is held with a serious sense of urgency and have even had conversations with Ticos about the American people’s desire for excess and constant urge for upgrading. While I had never considered myself an outright American patriot, I will admit to having a new found pride for my country. First of all, yes the U.S. is wealthy and in turn this as spurred luxury and waste from the population, but while this is the negative aspect we must consider the positive, that which is the ideal held in America that hard work will raise you. No matter what ethnicity or station you can improve your living, while this is not as simple or easy as it is stated I notice that this ethic has driven the U.S. in productivity and accomplishment, in comparison here in Costa Rica whether it be from littering of trash to lack of school work, the people are not nearly as motivated to “make things happen” as you would say. The proficiency of many things is lacking in certain aspects when compared to what I am used to in the U.S. Another thing is the dejection of anything made inside Costa Rica by its people, granted this is not in total true about all things, but for example whether it be film, music, or style the people here welcome all foreign markets and modes. This is a prime example of beautiful globalization, but in a negative side I see taco bells and mcdonalds all over the place. I find it hard to listen to someone criticize my own culture of excess when , being the most economically stable and well off in Central America, Costa Rica openly welcomes these same modes of living that we indulge in in the states. This in turn just goes to clarify for me the cycle of commercialism and the workforce, one works to profit benefiting oneself and the economy surrounding , but in turn the fruits of your success are turned on you by your own beneficial state : i.e. laziness, greed, and self centered ignorance of the situations of others less fortunate. It’s a cycle, and I feel the only way to undermine the negativity is to be conciencious of its contributing factors.
So as I sit in the computer lab of UNA or Universidad Nacional, surrounded by Spanish speaking peers, I am able to reflect on my past week or so and everything up to this point. I have adapted to life in costa rica and in all honesty I am in a pretty steady routine, one that is not necessarily exciting but most definately fulfilling. I go to classes every day during the week except for fridays, and I volunteer teaching english at an orphanage on tuesdays. I really enjoy my volunteer work, I have to catch two buses in order to make it to the orphanage but the reward is held in the interaction with the kids. The kids are all very young and therefore it is difficult to keep their attention and try to teach them words in english, but the other day I bought a game of twister and we played learning colors. This Tuesday I had another intercambio student teaching with me, and not much was accomplished more so we just played with the kids, they are so loving and energized. I hope that I can work with this fellow exchange student to teach the kids and not just play with them. I leave tomorrow for my spring break and am incredibly stoked, beside from the 16 hour death bus ride to get to Panama City I think the experience will be worthwhile. My spanish is still horrible and I am finding that it is a lack of confidence while communicating that hinders my ability to talk in spanish. It is so fustrating and furthermore embarassing, but I am trying not to get too fustrated with it. I will use the bus trip to study ,heh. After yoga class the other day my friend and I went out with the instructor to a small bar to celebrate his birthday. It was alot of fun, ticos here love their rock music, especially grunge like nirvana, the cure, alice in chains..ect. So the atmosphere was a little brutal but the company was good, I really enjoy mingling with people from other countries you notice similarities in mannerisms. It is crazy to think that we are all so different when really under the layer of cultural polarity you find people are all the same in general concepts, influenced by age, wealth, family, friends, and society. We all love music, laughter, and appreciate beauty, while these feelings and opinions vary on the person themself it still is relatively universal: we are all people.
My life in Costa Rica, how do I begin to relay my experience here? Thus far I have been keeping a blog detailing my weeks prior, but for this week I want to write something different just as I would a diary. For starters here are some highlights of my past week: making guacamole and laying by a pool with my friend, sitting on a swing set watching the sun set behind the mountains, getting invited to coffee by a local Tico, watching a electronic-sitar duo during a day music fest, and holding sucessful conversations with my family during my brother´s fifteenth birthday party. My days are filled with activity, but all the while I feel I have time in a non stressful environment to accomplish the tasks ahead of me. I have two papers due next week, a scary thought for me considering the work I am needing to put forth in order for one: read the book for my class and two: then write a paper filled with alternative and thought out concepts. The work is starting to reach a level I am used to , while it is no where near the amount you would get in the states , it makes up for it in difficulty.. Don´t be confused and think that students down here don´t receive homework, merely my intermediate classes are more hands on in class.. this is a common technique used here. I bought bus tickets for Panama for the end of March when we have our ¨semana santa¨ or spring break, I am super excited for this trip, myself and three (legit) girls will be going to Panama City for a few days and then meander north where we will catch a boat and sail around a group of islands for however long. The boat costs about $70 u.s. a day , but includes food, drink, and a place to stay,,, not to mention I have never been sailing before!! I can´t wait…my only concern is my money status, it seems ridiculous considering all my meals are technically covered and provided by the host family..but I always end up buying delicious helado (icecream) in the heat of the day or using my free time and going traveling to san jose or out somewhere. I most definately need to conserve my money in order to take some trips while down here, it is not like I came down to costa rica in order to leave the country but I feel while in such close proximity I need to take advantage of this opportunity. I need to step up my game and focus on acquiring spanish comprehension (altho it is much easier to comprehend vs. speak spanish) I have lots of free time to do this ,now it is a matter of determination! I am over my adjustment period and don´t get those awful pangs longing for the familiar, which were surprising prevalent in my case, and everyone else´s…Here I didn´t think it would apply to me since I am so independent, but the fustration of the language and the missed activities and fun times with the people you love…But if you focus on the bigger picture things become alot easier, and now I am starting to consider this place home, I get the feeling that after month 2 things are just going to fly by down here!
Currently I sit in the kitchen of my house listening to the background chatter of a French conversation and a Spanish (dubbed) movie on television. It is wonderful to be surrounded by an abstract culture and have the ability to learn or at least try to learn another language. Today I spent a leisurely day reading and laying out by my friend’s pool. Unfortanetly I was not reading anything of high caliber sadly. School is going about at a pace that is managable enough, while I don’t feel swamped by anything I do feel the nagging tug of an ever increasing pressure to comprehend spanish. I have been thinking alot about other study abroad programs, and how cool it would be to do semester at sea and travel to all those countries, or to study in Greece and live on the Mediterranean and get free drinks for “all too suave” men. While these alternative study abroad programs inject a bit of desire into me I can not help but be more than satisfied with my decision to study in Latin America. It’s all about what you want to take out of this experience, and while those options mentioned above would be alot of fun, they don’t present much to be gained. It is one thing to immerse yourself into a new culture but then to learn a new language helps to truly aim for a goal while here. It is this developement and skill I hope to acquire and not only that but show this aquisition as a display of character and ambition when applying for other things in life (i.e. admission to grad school, jobs). Not only will I be able to harness this experience as a reference, but the true gain will be in the added rise in my person. Some days are better than others here, it is impossible to be sad , the country is beautiful and you have all the friends from the program with you, but in all honesty “friend-sickness” is a common feeling here, last week I had it at its peak I believe. Presently I’m enjoying it here still quite a bit and I don’t see that changing only building more. I just had to remind myself of the big picture , yeah my friends are good people and they are awesome but Im doing something for myself right now that will benefit me beyond belief. All you have to do is look at the big picture and you will see its more than worth it.
Last night I attended my first “tico” event. It was really interesting and fun, but oddly enough it has left me with a mild longing for my home. I went with my host mom’s visiting brother and his girlfriend last night to celebrate her birthday. The brother is from Costa Rica but moved to Canada some years ago and his girlfriend and him are down here for two months on vacation. Julie (the girlfriend) is such a sweet girl, she only speaks French being from Quebec but is learning Spanish so the two of us communicate 0n a jumbled wavelength but its a fun learning process for the both of us. Last night we went to one of their friend’s houses. It was interesting the whole family was up and partying with us, which mainly consisted of friendly conversations, listening to music, and eating. It was really cool and I eventually had to duck out around 4 in the morning and here I felt like the lame one. The latinos are crazy here, hah. I did luck out and two of the people there spoke english really well, they work at call centers and say it gives them excellent practice. I don’t think the mom liked me very much, my Spanish is still pretty bad and I end up feeling like the stupid kid sitting there not comprehending. I suppose this is just more intiative to learn, but its not all that easy. Anyway I had a great time, the people were laid back, fun loving, and had good hearts when you really got to talking to them. I enjoyed most talking about the Costa Rican people and culture, I learned about how Costa Rica is the most economically stable country in central american (which I already knew) but what you can’t read about are the first hand observations and opinions of the people living in that area, for instance Costa Rica had national supported bands and arts, but now no one likes anything national the only things popular are foreign products and music. This ironically enough fits perfectly into the mold of a country with successful capitalism, we could say the same thing about the United States and their love for foreign things….Politics is a sticky subject, but I really enjoyed the outside perspective (or in this case inside perspective).
My title has a meaning, and that meaning derives from a conversation I had last night with a girl named Kari, she was a beautiful 28sh young woman with a daughter and worked two jobs, one at a call center and the other teaching english at night. Kari was telling me that the people of Costa Rica don’t have good vibes but moreso good waves, the difference being that with a wave you are bringing strength and ability to the table, along with those exuberent feelings that one usually refers to as vibes :-) I thought this was sweet..
Time has sped up and each day comes with a thrust of energy and adventure. Unlike back home when even the most optamistic of persons would become downtrodden, here you wake up refreshed and excited. Granted its not a picturesque mode of living, but close enough. Over the past week I have been attending classes, hanging out with my host family and even going on my first outing to the beach this past weekend (el fin de la semana pasada). Ten other girls and myself took a bus to Puerto Viejo which is a laid back town about 4 hours east on the Carribean side of Costa Rica. We left pretty early around 5 a.m. in order to catch the bus, and once we got there we checked ourselves into a chill little hostel called “Rockin J’s” named so because of the option of paying 5 bucks a night for a locker and hammock! It was super laid back and we were yards away from the beach. The weekend progressed nicely with us laying around on the beach the first day and then dancing to a live band at night. The next day we rented bikes (cost about 4 bucks for a day) and biked to another gorgeous beach about 6-7 miles away. Along the way we encountered howler monkeys in midst of what appeared to be mating season, and as cliche as this sounds we got caught in the rain on the way back home. It wasn’t horrible though it was a warm rain and made it even more of an adventure to be riding bike in the rain along the Carribean coast. Really it is such a pleasue to be studying in a unique and open environment such as this, I don’t have to worry about a job, but can focus more on soley learning the language and my studies. My family is the perfect sort of inviting, and I’ve found myself trying new things that I never would of mustered up the energy for back home. For instance I’m taking a belly dancing class, which is so amazing! I also have started yoga and zoomba classes, trying to kick my butt into shape. The other day I set out to find a cool secound hand clothes store and hit gold. I have always been a fan of second hand stores and find you can get the most unique things there, well its even better in a foriegn country and I highly recommend hitting such a place up if ever the opportunity presents itself. Next on the agenda would be finding a second hand record store….this could be a bit more difficult but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. So far so good down here in Costa Rica, the pace and climate (not just the weather but the atmosphere of the people) is very agreeable and almost healthy for lack of a better word. The only bad thing to report was that yesterday I felt completely drained and achy all day and later at night I had a fever, but fortunately my fever broke in the middle of the night and I was able to go about my day at about 80 percent today,, it was a little scary my mind was jumping ahead to visions of me with malaria, hah… Life is very full here and you need a good amount of energy thoughout the day, but the good thing is that that energy is effortless to where you are enjoying doing it and its not so much work but an experience! Much love and pura vida coming from this little lady in Costa Rica!!