Sunday, March 29, 2009

Entries from Spring Break.

Saturday, March 21 - Guatemala City, Guatemala

And so it begins, a week of travel. I am so excited. Today was such a great start. My Tican mom called a taxi for Eric and I to take us to the airport. We hung around the airport and took the short 1 1/2 hour flight to Guatemala City. My mom reserved a night for us at the Crowne Plaza which offered a free shuttle service to the airport. After unloading our backpacks in the room and withdrawing the proper currency we headed out to town. We got in a taxi and just asked to go to a place to walk around and shop. The driver ended up being able to speak English. He had lived in Chicago for a few years, but just lost his immigration case and had to come back to Guatemala. He showed us around the touristy part of the city. We walked around, grabbed lunch, and then took another taxi to Central Market. One thing about Central American travel is that you should always find Central Market, it can tell you so much about the city, food, and people. Their central market was four floors and made San Jose's market look rediculous. It was so big in size and had so much more to offer. We also stumbled upon alot of really pretty government buildings. It's so weird to walk around here, there are people with guns everywhere. This is obvious different from Costa Rica as there we don't have an army. Aside from guns, the city is covered with these trees that are in bloom right now with little purple flowers. It's really pretty. After dinner we were going to go out, but we are enjoying our big comfy beds so much that we are just staying in and watched a movie. We haven't had beds this soft or pillows this thick in two months.


As our plane took off for Guatemala City I had a pit in my stomach. It wasn't nerves for the unknown, but rahter a sort of emptiness. I was leaving home. I have been saying the past few weeks how much Costa Rica felt like home, but it wasn't until I left that it all sunk in. I looked out the window on the country I have fallen in love with and tears welled up in my eyes. I don't even want to think about how bad it will be come May 16, when I have to return to the States.

Sunday, March 22 - Copan, Honduras

What a long day! We woke up at 3:45am to catch a bus to Copan, Honduras. Our taxi driver from yesterday picked us up just like he said he would. The bus was so nice - wide seats that reclined, burger king for breakfast, blankets, air conditioning, and TVs. I was a bit nervous about crossing the border because I had never done that before, but it was easy. We just stood in line, paid some fees, got our passports stamped, and were done. We really didn't have a plan for the day once we got to the bus station in Copan. We ended up chatting with a guy from our bus, Lance, for a bit. He was traveling alone and wanted some company. The three of us then ran into a Tuc Tuc (their version of a taxi) driver who spoke English as well. It turns out the driver, Daniel, had traveled to North Carolina. It really is such a small world! Daniel showed us a hotel that costs only $10 a night, so for me and Eric it was only $5. We dropped off our backpacks then headed out to the ruins. The walk to the ruins was gorgeous little path along the road. You could see all of the mountains and horses just walked whereever. The Copan Ruins were gorgeous. It was incredible to stand amongst the huge buildings that were built thousands of years ago. We found a sketchy worker who let us in the tunnels for half the cost which was exciting. This just added to my amazement; not only did they build big buildings, but the buildings were filled with an intricate tunnel system. I can't wrap my mind around an idea of how the Mayans were able to construct such structures with their techonology. It makes me think what people hundreds of years form now think of us and how we live our lives.

Monday, March 23 - Copan, Honduras

It's crazy how one city can be so similar and yet so different from another. We woke up a later than usual, 7:30am, and went out into town to get breakfast. There was hardly anything open! In Costa Rica, we get up with the sun - everyone does. We did find breakfast which was great before we headed off to swim in the waterfalls. Daniel, our Tuc Tuc driver from yesterday, took us up the mountain a good ways. We hiked this trail, crossed a suspension bridge he helped make, climbed over rocks, walked through a stream, and then swam in waterfalls! It was gorgeous. Out of no where I heard the water cascading down. Daniel told me the water that was in the waterfall was the same water the nearby towns drink. It was so clear and felt so nice. After splashing around for a while, Eric and I climbed the rocks that filled the area. It was so much fun; I felt like I was a 7 year old little boy. Once we were down playing, Daniel drove us back to the city. We took WARM showers and headed out to Central Market. This on had more essentials than touristy items for sale which I actually enjoyed more. I ate rice and veggies at the bus station for lunch. I'm now the bus which this should get us back to Guatemala City around 7pm. We are catching a 9pm bus to Flores. This ride is 9 hours which is why we are taking the overnight bus. I hope this won't be too bad, it's saving us a lot of time in the long run.

Tuesday, March 24 - Caye Ambergis, Belize

The bus ride last night from Guatemala City to Flores was worse than I thought it would be. It was much more of a public bus. The seats were small and it was mostly full. Eric and I were in the back and luckily the two seats next to us were empty. He ended up sleeping on the floor of the bus and I laid across the few empty seats. It was freezing for most of the ride and I woke up about every 45 minutes throughout the night. We arrived in Flores about 6:30am, this gave Eric and I the chance to take a 7am bus to Belize City. I had no desire to get on yet another bus, but we had to. We took that bus for 5 more hours. Once in Belize City, we had to take a water taxi for an hour and a half to Caye Amergis because it's an island. The water is so blue and the sand is so white. Our hostel isn't what we were expecting, but I am sure we can make the most of it. We did have delicious pizza tonight, which was a nice treat. I think tomorrow we are going to go snorkeling and maybe go to the other island.

Wednesday, March 25 - Caye Caulker, Belize

We went snorkeling in the morning. I haven't ever been real snorkeling before and I was completely blown away. We got to swim with sea turtles, all sorts of colorful fish, eels, eaglerays, and sharks! Our guide threw dead fish off the boat while we were swimming around and the sharks came up right beside us to eat. It was a bit scary. Then a few eaglerays that were probably 3 feet wide swam up to us and we got to pet them. It was such a great morning. Afterwards, we headed to Caye Caulker - the island next door. We wanted to try something new for the rest of the day and tomorrow. The hostel we are staying at tonight is amazing. It's full of backpackers and is so colorfully decorated.


I'm lying on a dock in Belize. The sun is shining, the crystal blue water is ripling below me, and the cool breeze causes the palm trees to sway. What? How is this my life right now? I almost don't want to journal about it all. I feel it's almost like a secret; if it ever gets out it will somehow become less magical. For magical is the only word I know to describe this. I am constantly finding myself at a loss for words in awe. Awe of the kindness of others, the places surrounding me, and the strength I am finding within myself. We have had only a vague outline of our trip and have simply followed our hearts. That sounds so cliche, but it's our lives now. Here I am a girl from North Raleigh living out of a single backpack, staying in whatever hostel has a room, and loving every minute of it. I feel at peace with who I am which I haven't felt in a while. I feel confident in the decisions i'm making and I feel confident in God and his plans for my life. Why shouldn't I? Look how special His blessings are in my life as of late.

Thursday, March 26 - Flores, Guatemala

Last night Eric and I tried to go buy our bus tickets for today, but the lady wouldn't sell them to us. She said there has been complications at the border between Belize and Guatemala and they have closed the border to buses. We didn't know what to do. We tried to find information on the internet, but couldn't. I asked our waitor, but he didn't know anything about it. However, a man overheard me and Eric talking about it and said he had heard the same thing on the news. We took an early water taxi back to Belize City early this morning in hopes that things had been settled.
I couldn't even look out the window, let alone write a journal entry while on the bus from Belize to Guatemala. My mind was numb, my heart was racing, and my stomach was churning. I had no idea what to expect during our travel or even worse what was to come upon our arrival in Guatemala. I had begged the ticket salesman to let me use his computer to send an e-mail to my mom that we were going to make it over the border. As soon as I saw the eight e-mails telling me not to go back to Guatemala I regretted it. My ticket was bought and I was skimming the last e-mail when the bus pulled up. I fought everything inside of me and got on the bus. The entire two hour ride to the border I fought back tears. It was weird to be in my position and know the dangers that faced us and observe all of the other travelers that hand't a clue. I felt obligated to tell them, but I also didn't want to stress them out.
Everyone piled out and formed a line at hte migration desk. As we got closer to the front I saw the sign "$37.50 Belize." Oh no, it was so much more money than it was to get into Belize.We searched our bags for all of the currency we had to trade fro Belize Dollars. It came up to $34 Belize. We were at a loss for what to do. The man we were exchanging with said he would give us enough to get one of us across to go to an ATM to get more money. Eric had to go because it was safer for him to get in a taxi alone. I sat on the ground outside of the migration station - the feeling of watching him walk across and being stuck is indescribable; I felt so empty and hopeless. Somehow at the desk, Eric got confused and the teller got confused - we both got across. Eric then got in some random man's car and went to the ATM five minutes away. He reutrned and we paid our dues. I was relieved to get back on the bus, but only until I realized that now we were in Guatemala; the country I wasn't supposed to be in. I knew Flores was in the North and away from the danger. But, I didn't really know. Two hours later, we made it to Flores. After finding a hostel, we went to an internet cafe to contact our families. I got Sherry to call my parents and tell them to get on skype. She let me know how bad the violence had gotten and how the people of Guatemala wanted a state of emergency delcared, but the president wouldn't do it. She said we had to leave. I found a flight out of Flores and $342 later, we had a safe way out. I was relieved to finally have a way home and to be in contact with my family.

Friday, March 27 - Tikal, Guatemala

Despite the stress of hte past 36 hours, we wanted to enjoyed today as much as possible. And that we did! We took a 7am bus to Tikal which was about an hour away. It was much different than the ruins in Copan. In Honduras the ruins were very much in the open, but in Tikal we were hiking in a forest and then all of a sudden come to these majestic structures. They were all such great surprises. It was also neat to see the buildings that hadn't uncovered yet, because they appeared to be ranom hills in the middle of the forest. I was once again blown away by the Mayans. I can't wrap my mind around the fact that they were able to build these structures with such little techonology. The pictures of these ruins don't do them any justice, but to stand there in person next to so much history was incredible.
We were worn out from the sun and hiking around the ruins, so we had an easy afternoon. We meandered through Flores, which is a little city on an island in a lake, to see what we could find. We saw the top of the church and figured it was in the center of town. Following the steeple, we found it and were right! Luckily enough, today the school was having a music concert in the middle of town square. We sat around with the parents and listened to the kid bands. It was great. I had the most amazing dessert from a street vendor as well. It was a layered shaved ice: ice, sweet milk, bananas, ice, sweet milk, pineapple, and then blackberry juice. It was delicious.

Saturday, March 28 - Flores, Guatemala

I am in love with Flores. I love the peacful nature of the land and the kind hearted people. I found a language school there that is pretty cheap and you get to stay with a homestay; I for sure want to go back and study. I woke up early and sat out on the porch, watched boats sail by, and wrote in my journal. Once Eric woke up, we went for a boat ride around the lake. Our driver told me all about the island near by and what each town was known for. Yes, he only told me and not Eric because he only spoke Spanish. He was surprised by how well I understood and spoke the language which made me feel good. After our ride, we went to lunch at a local pizzeria and then headed to the airport for our series of flights (Flores-Guat City-San Salvador-San Jose) home.
All of our flights went smoothly and I am safely back in Costa Rica. It was so nice to grab a taxi and see familar sights as we drove back home to Sabanilla. Overall, the week was filled with so many smiles and wonderful moments. I suppose even the moments that seemed less than wonderful only made the others so much more enjoyable. God was with me through it all which is the greatest blessing of all.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Today I had my fourth practicum at Escuela Betania. While the kids may be behaving slightly better and the English workbooks have arrived from the Ministry of Education, the school still isn't a place for great amounts of learning. I am dumbfounded everytime I leave by what I experience. I know it's making me a stronger future teacher and individual, but it's hard sometimes to recognize it in the moment. I am excited to buy school supplies for my cooperating teacher to use. Linda is giving me some money from our budget to purchase things that the students need, such as pencils. It's crazy to think these students need so badly basic pencils. I can remember when I was in Elementary school I had to have the best kind of pencils and wanted all of my school supplies to match...what a different world we live in in the United States.

Time has flown by so fast and it is already time for spring break. I am so excited! Eric and I are traveling to Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize. I feel confident in my planning and Spanish ability - I am sure it's going to be a great trip! I can't wait to return home to Costa Rica and tell everyone all about our exciting adventure of a lifetime. :)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

dinner like the States.

My host family and Eric's host family are actually related so we decided to have a large family dinner last night. Eric and I wanted to cook for our families and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine forces. He made hamburgers and an attempt (failed) to make french fries. I made deviled eggs, butterfinger chocolate cake, and macaroni & cheese. It was so much fun to be in a kitchen cooking foods I actually know how to make. [One of our GST assignments a few weeks ago was to cook with out Tica moms which proved to be very difficult as all of the foods don't have a definite recipe and ingredients I am not used to.] After we were done cooking, I got a little nervous that my family wouldn't like the food. I couldn't have been more wrong - they loved it! "Que rico!" "Es delicioso!" "Buenisimo." - this is all we heard for the entire dinner. My mom wants the recipe for deviled eggs and the cake I made. Her and my grandmom (Eric's mom) are planning on making deviled eggs for Semana Santa (Easter). I am so glad we spent the extra money and had such a great experience with our families. It was rather difficult to find hte ingredients and we did improvise on several things. It was also very expensive because several of the ingredients were imported; our final bill was 32,000 colones which is about $60. The excitement of our family and introducing them to our culture was well worth it.

As I got ready for bed last night I thought about the night and how excited my family was to try new foods, but then I began to feel bad about it all. The food was so expensive that I know they won't eat any of it on their own. The bottle of relish for the deviled eggs was $7. My family isn't able to afford that on their own. It directly relates with tourism in Costa Rica. Yes, Costa Rica has a great tourist stream, but the attractions are things that Ticans aren't able to aford and experience. It just makes me sad that these people I have come to love so much won't experience the things I am, as I will only be here for 4 months, even though they live here. I want them to experience all of the things they have heard me talk about.

Monday, March 16, 2009

smell that fresh mountain air.

This past weekend our entire group went to Monteverde which is a quaint mountain town about four hours from San Jose. There is one gravel road, lasting about an hour off the main highway, that is the only way to get into town. Monteverde is home to one of five cloud forests in the world; pretty impressive. Everywhere I looked was picture perfect. Outside of my hotel door I could see miles of just foothills, mountain, farms, and in the far off distance the ocean. It was gorgeous.
Saturday morning we all woke up early for a 7 am hike through the cloud forest. Our guide's name was Adrian and he was awesome. He had great stories about hiking and everything that he has seen. We were able to peek inside a hole on the side of a mountain where a giant tarantula lived. Just a few meters down the trail we stopped to try and see a quetzal which is one of the most sacred birds of Central America. It's very rare and has irradescent feathers. We waited about 15 minutes without seeing anything and then out of no where flies in a male and a female. It was unbelievable! The electric feathers against the miriad of greens in the plant life was lovely. I had seen a few in pictures and wasn't that impressed. It wasn't until I saw the quetzal perched on a tree before my very eyes that I understood how magnificent this bird is. After regaining our breath and taking lots of pictures we ventured forward and completed our hike. We went to lunch at this little resturaunt tucked behind trees. It was Ellen's birthday and Linda (the director of MesoAmerica) had arranged for a birthday cake to be served. It was traditional cake from Costa Rica and tasted quite different than the birthday cake I was expecting. The cake tasted like cornbread and the icing was more like a marshmellow fluff. None the less, it was yummy. In the afternoon we went ziplining! We took a ride to the tree tops, climbed tall metal stairs, clipped a harness to a wire, and sped off to the next tower. At times we were more than 500 feet off the ground. It was absolutely breathtaking. I can't find the words to describe how it felt to "fly" above tree tops in a cloud forest. The views were amazing and even though we got pictures, they don't even give half of what the sights actually were like. I will never forget that feeling of being so free. Once on my way across the tree tops a bird flew with me. When I got close to the next tower it spun and fly higher. Amazing.
Sunday we all relaxed on our porch overlooking the valleys. I love that our group is so close that any 16 of us can sit down and have a real conversation, not just surface level talk. We talked about all sorts of things, packed up, and made our way to the bus. We ate lunch in Santa Elena, a nearby small town, and made our way back home.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I am living quite the Tican life now. I haven't the desire to be on my computer or watch television. I don't want to eat anything greasy or that is quickly prepared. I crave rice. I enjoy my 40 minute walk to and from school each morning. Meeting people on the bus is lovely. Waking up with the sun adds so much life to a day. I THINK IN SPANISH. It doesn't bother me to not flush toilet paper. I notice how beautiful nature is. I read El Nacional (thier newspaper) each morning. I can't imagine a meal without drinking fresh juice.

Yesterday was quite eventful. There were three earthquakes, but I only felt two of them. The first I was sitting at lunch and felt the ground shake, I ask Eric if he noticed and he said it was only him moving his chair around. False. The other eathquake I felt was later in the afternoon and the ceiling rattled. We are all safe though. It's scary to think how out of no where the earth shakes. It was also interesting to see the people of Costa Rica and their reactions. Many went into panic as in January they experienced a huge earthquake. Then last night I went to my first official soccer game. I say official as we have watched and played in many pick up games throughout the country. Saprissa is our local team for San Pedro and they played Liberia. The stadium wasn't nearly full, but there was still so much energy in the stands. It's crazy to see an entire community in come together to celebrate their team. This isn't like anything in the States. Even though I hadn't previously been a soccer fan, I got really into it - yelling in both English and Spanish. Overall, it was a great day! But, what day isn't great here?

Monday, March 9, 2009


Saturday morning I sat at my kitchen table and told my parents how much I didn't want to go on our science field trip. I was optimistic prior to getting our schedule which was jam packed with hiking and research in the rainforest. My dad was making fun of me talking about all of the bugs I was going to have to touch and my mom was comforting and let me know she was going to have a good dinner waiting for me when I return on Sunday night.
When we arrived to at the Tirimbina research park we were surprised with being able to stay at the hotel instead of the research center - this saved us a two hour hike to get to the station. At first I was excited, but quickly kind of bummed out given that I am here to grow, not stay in hotels all of the time. We set down our stuff in the rooms, ate lunch, and got dressed fur our afternoon hike. Most all of the girls sported spandex, big t-shirts, and huge rubber boots; which is actually super comfortable. We hiked all along this path and went over a bunch of suspension bridges, including the largest one in Central America. It was amazing to see all of God's creation in full force. I was blown away by how impressive nature is and how much enjoyed myself. We had some free time. Caroline and I went on another hike to where all of the chocolate trees grow and we are the only ones that hate chocolate! It was actually interesting to see how chocolate is made and where in nature it comes from. After dinner we went on a bat tour. We learned how they caught bats, how they live, how to tell them apart, and then we got to pet some! So neat!
Sunday was my favorite day by far! We went out to the research center to gather our data for our sciencec reports. It's hard to rememer that I am here for school. Again we sported our spandex and huge water boots. We got to the river that was only supposed to be 6 inches and it was between 3-4 feet! The earthquake that happened in January has completely changed the ecosystem and economy here. Crazy. Ellen and I were the first to walk in the river. We held hands to try and support each other because the rapids were so strong. It was so much fun to play in the river with everyone. Our teacher let us hang out while she decided to what to do about our research. We tested some of the water samples which was difficult because of the rapids. After collecting for 1/2 an hour we classified the organisms we found. Our professor needed us to find a different stream for the classes in the future to research. We hiked a little further down and found another stream that didn't seem nearly as deep. Again, Ellen and I, held hands and ventured into the water. This time everyone else stayed on land and just watched. While we were dancing in the river, it started to rain. It was so magical! I can't describe how amazing it was to be in the middle of the rainforest, splashing in a river, being rained upon, the sun shining, and being surrounded by luscious green. I still get chills when I think about it.
I am now back safe and sound in Sabanilla and can't wait to return to the rainforest in Monteverde in 4 days! :)

Friday, March 6, 2009

It has been the ongoing joke since we arrived in San Jose that we are all in the 5th grade. it started with us waiting to be picked up at school by our moms and having them walk us to school the next day. Then we all proceeded to wear backpacks everywhere and plastic watches because we don't have cell phones to tell us the time. We ate what was put in front of us and had minimal conversation due to lack of vocabulary. All of our outward activity pointed to an awkward 11 year old.
However, in our reading for GST I came across a quote that explains this better. In the story, "The Chumico Tree," boys are playing a game in the dirt. The author writes, "Each hour turns into a whiff of time, a triumphant cry, a wild joy." He was referring to the joys of childhood games. Our time here is flying by and filled with similar joys. We get excited to go to the grocery store and are proud when we ride the bus by ourselves. How lovely it is to feel free and be continuously excited by the "small things" in life.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Yesterday was a really hard day -out of no where I got really homesick. I had been fine the past 4 1/2 weeks, but then I thought how I have 14 more weeks left. That's kind of a lot. I feel much better now. Being homesick was actually a blessing. I got to understand the support system I have here in Costa Rica. All of the other students in my group checked on me to make sure I was feeling okay, even those that I am not terribly close to. It was so nice to know that even those who I wouldn't consider one of my closest friends, I am able to open up to and have a genuine conversation with. Conversation is so important for the human soul. I also got to connect with my host family a bit more. They could tell I was sad and asked all about my day. My sister and I watched a movie (it was in German and the subtitles were in Spanish which was a bit tough..) which was nice. Then this morning my mom made me apple-pancakes for breakfast to cheer me up and they were so delicious.

It's getting harder to stay connected with people back home and other friends I have abroad. The only time I have internet access is during the day. Now that we are all so comfortable living here, the time in between and after classes we want to spend walking around the city. This isn't completely a bad thing, I am just a bit worried about what it will be like when I return to the States in a few months.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Boat fail.

I know this post seems long, but I promise it gets better as it goes on!

This weekend was the perfect mixture of sand, sun, wonderful plans, and crazy surprises. Mark, Eric, Ellen, Rebecca, Zach, and I traveled to Puntaranas and San Lucas Island this weekend. Puntaranas is the closest beach to San Jose, so it is where a lot of the locals go. It was pretty quiet Friday, but Saturday there were a lot of people. We just played on the beach, walked through the markets, and relaxed with each other. Saturday night we went out and ended up meeting 3 really nice Tico guys. They were very surprised that we could all speak Spanish and they liked working on their English while speaking with us. The guys took us to a Salsa club and showed us how to dance! It was so much fun! My guy was named Diego and he was probably 23/24. He loved to dance and sang along to almost every song. I am always so amazed when we go out by how good of dancers the guys are here. I love it.
Sunday we took a yacht tour of San Lucas Island. The boat was gorgeous and it was a nice hour long ride to the island. In the morning we toured the prison that was on the island. This prison was so intense; for a while there were 17 men living in a 6x6 room. The conditions are said to have been terrible with suicide and murder being common. This prison was operating until 1992; so recent! It was so interesting to learn about the differences in prison systems and our guide was really nice and enjoyed chatting with us. We headed back to the boat for lunch and had the most delicious fish cookout. All of the food was so fresh.
After lunch the six of us went snorkeling. There was a lot of wind, so the water wasn't super clear. We did get to swim around an old ship wreck which was neat. Then JD, the captain, took us out to another part of the island. We snorkeled, swam around, and looked for shells. Then the fun began...JD started the engine, and then it just stopped. We didn't have any gas! He tried tinkering with the boat, but it just wouldn't start. We got out the oars and tried to paddle, but there were only two of them and the boat was just too big. JD said he had to just swim, we were out on a secluded part of the island over two miles from the yacht we departed from. Never the less, JD jumped off the boat and started swimming! The six of us at first were just really calm, we played in the ocean around the boat and told stories and jokes. But, after a while we started to get was getting later and we knew he had to swim a long way. Thank goodness he made it and the bigger yacht came sailing towards us. It was kind of embaressing to be the only white people on the boat and to have lots of Ticos staring at us as the captain and crew rescued us. I am just glad we made it safely! I suppose it makes for a good story; I have never been marooned on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean before.
We sat in so much traffic on the way back to San Jose that it took four hours instead of the normal two. We were all so hungry that we stopped at a McDonald's before heading home. Whow knew the menu would be different? I got a Pollo Guacamole, which is a chicken sandwich with tomato, onions, and guacamole. It was delicious! Also, an interesting thing about it was that you had to show your receipt to a guard before you could use the bathroom. Well, I had my receipt sitting on the table from where I had gotten my food. All of a sudden this man comes and steals it! Yes, he stole my receipt to go to the bathroom! How crazy is that?