Thursday, April 30, 2009

I feel like we are at a really weird point in our stay here in Costa Rica. I have finally become completely comfortable taking a public bus anywhere, I can order food in a resuraunt and have exachanges made from what the menu offers, I can play with Ana Lucia for hours and speak and giggle about things in Spanish, I can have meaningful conversations with my Tica family, I can watch the news now and not have to ask questions, and after becoming comfortable with the way of life here and the language - it's time for me to leave? I'm not ready to go back to the United States. Please don't confuse this with me not being ready to see my family and friends, because that I am for sure ready! But, i'm not ready to go back to my face paced life, having easy access to the internet, carrying a cell phone around, driving a car, and being expected to have a plan 24/7. Everyone is counting down until we go home, but how about counting how many days we have been able to spend in this beautiful country and how many days we have been blessed with friends and family here. I don't want to count-down my life away and I don't think we should because May 16 will be here faster than we can imagine. Once that day comes the count down will be over and we will just have to count down until our next trip back to Costa Rica for we are going to miss things that we don't even recognize now as worth missing.

Monday, April 27, 2009

God's timing is always perfect. ALWAYS.

This past weekend was exactly what we all needed. We traveled to Arenal which is home to the most active volcano in Central America. Our accomodations were at a resort that had a lot of activities and things to do meaning we didn't have to travel outside of the resort area to be entertained. I feel so relaxed and positive about my next three weeks of life/last three weeks living in Costa Rica.
Friday we all were so excited to have TVs and big, comfortable beds we spent the afternoon lying around and enjoyed being lazy. Caroline, Jessie, and I used the cloth skirts that were resting on our beds to play dress up. We each created a prom dress by wrapping the cloth around us. It was so much fun! We danced around and just laughed. We tried to get the boys to play along, and the did pick flowers for us, but that was about it. After dinner we returned to our comfy beds to relax more. It may seem pretty silly for us to stay in our hotel rooms while we are amidst amazing nature, but every now and then it's a nice treat to lay around.
Saturday a few of us woke up early to hike up towards the observation point. Apparently it offered a spectacular view of the volcano. It was 2K straight up, but lots of fun. We sat in this little shelter and watched the clouds float by and waited for the perfect view of the volcano. Afterwards we went to the animal sanctuaries on site. We saw ant farms, crocodiles, butterflies, frogs, iguanas, toucans, and fish. Later we went and played in the pools! There were hot springs and regular pools and a couple of waterslides. It was like we were all 8 years old again. Jumping off the bridges into the pools and going down the slides a million times. Then it was time to be grown ups and what a wonderful time it turned out to be - Caroline, Jessie, and I went to the spa. I had a volcanic ash body wrap, tropical fruits massage, and a tropical fruits facial. It was beyond fabulous. I felt so relaxed and my muscles were incredibly loose afterwards. I loved every minute of it. For dinner, several of us went into town, La Fortuna, and ate at the Lava Lounge. It was very touristy and high priced. It made us all laugh to see "Casado: A Typical Costa Rica dish!" on the menu for $9. A casado should be the cheapest thing on the menu as it always is everywhere else, usually about $2.50. We all jumped in the hot springs for the rest of the night. Sunday, we woke up early for breakfast and a few more hours of sunbathing and swimming. The drive home took the rest of the afternoon and all of us are turning into workaholics on all of the projects and homework we need to complete before the end of the semester.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I have to admit this has been one of the hardest weeks I have had in a while. I know it's hard to understand how I am in Costa Rica surrounded by adventure and constantly being blessed with amazing opportunity and having a rough time. Well, I have had visits to the hospital everyday this week for some kind of test or another. Two blood tests, two stool samples, one urine sample, an ultra -sound, and several doctor examinations later and we are still unsure of what is wrong. I am currently taking three medications in efforts to ease the pain in my lower abdomen. I have been completely stressed out by the unknown and the constant Spanish-English conversations I have with hospital staff about how I am feeling. It's challenging dealing with all of this on my own away from my family. I am forever grateful for the support and love I have received from my friends here and my Tican family, but it's not quite the same. I long for warm water to bathe with and my own bed to take a good nap. Everyone else in our group seems to be having a hard time now too; they all seem ready to go home. I am excited for this weekend trip to Arenal Volcano because I think it will be a good pick-me-up. I hope we can all get excited for the last three weeks we have in Costa Rica before it flies by and we miss it. I am sure we will all miss it terribly.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

It's funny how often times in life the things we aren't looking forward to at all turn out to be the most rewarding. This weekend was another of our science field trips. We went to Cerre de la Muerte (Close to Death) which is a mountain about two hours from San Jose. Prior to going, I was told how cold it would be. My Tica mom said I would need to pack all of my jackets and that the people who live there have red cheeks from the cold. I just couldn't believe that here in Central America that such a place existed. On top of not liking science or cold weather, I am still sick. All of this combined being said, I just didn't want to go.
However, this may be one of my favorite excursions we have had. Saturday we drove to the site, but on our way stopped for a qucik hike. We made our way through swamplands on the side of a mounting to see the highest mountain bog in Costa Rica. It was a lot of fun for us to all be wearing our waterboots and slosh through mud and jump puddles that were up to our waist of muddy water. Then we observed hummingbirds at the feeder inorder to label how many of each species were present in the area, built nets to catch the hummingbirds early the next morning, and collected flowers in order to sample what flowers are being pollenated by the hummingbirds. That night was my sorority's (Alpha Chi Omega) semi-formal back in North Carolina. Everyone knew I was kind of bummed about missing it, so we all had a fake semi-formal in the research lodge. We picked dates and danced in the cafeteria, took silly pictures, and stayed up late just hanging out. It was actually a lot of fun! When it was time to go to bed, I was shocked at how cold it was. The research center didn't have any heat and it was in the 20's F. I slept with Caroline, under lots of blankets, wearing lots of layers, and was still cold. We had to wake up early the next morning to complete our hummingbird research. We observed another round of feedings, caught humming birds in our nets, dusted off their faces for pollen, examined the pollen found under a microscope, and then compared that pollen with the flowers in the area. My favorite part was holding the hummingbirds; it was so neat to have such a little bird in my hands. The ultimate question we were trying to answer was whether or not hummingbird feeders have an affect of the pollenation of flowers in an area. After packing up all of the equipment and eating lunch, we headed back down the mountain back to San Jose. Of course we stopped for another quick hike on the way. It was probably the steepest mountain side and we hiked to the top! It was so much fun encouraging each other and enjoying the gorgeous view once we made it. Our professor led a quick science lesson and then Eric taught people how to meditate. I separated from the group during the meditation to sit on the edge of the mountain top alone. It was so great to have such a spectacular scene surrounding me and spend some quality time with God. There have been countless times on this trip where He has just taken my breath away with the beauty He created and this was definately one of them.

Friday, April 17, 2009

It has been nearly another normal week in Costa Rica. The results came back from my tests at the hospital; the doctor found evidence in my blood that I have worms. I don't really know alot of details about the whole situation because Linda talked to him on the phone. He perscribed a strong medicine (only two pills) that is supposed to kill them off. However, I haven't seen the progress that I was supposed to have seen by now. I am still having a great deal of pain after I eat - I just want to get better. I do know that if it isn't treated quickly, there can be great danger; it's been just about 2 1/2 weeks of this now which is concerning. Keep praying!
I have just been running around San Jose in my free time to all of the different markets and restuarants. I even made a trip to a used book store to buy some books in Spanish to help me practice this summer. Mike, Eric, Charley, and I went to a Yoga class this afternoon as part of our last stitch efforts to dive into our environment here. It was great! I thoroughly enjoyed it; the boys were in some pain, but liked it too. I am sure it will be much more relaxing next time - it was a bit difficult to learn the positions, translate the Spanish, and balance all at the same time.
Today was my last day working at Escuela Betania. I am glad that I am finished because it certainly was stressful. I learned today that there aren't any substitute teachers. For example, the third grade teacher had to go to a worship service at her church today, so the third grade didn't have school today. It isn't until a teacher will miss a week of school that the Ministry of Education looks for someone to help cover the class. It is just incredibly different here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Clinica Biblica

I have been sick and in a lot of pain now for almost two weeks, so the MesoAmerica director and I decided I needed to go to the doctor. The doctor that works closely with our school and insurance was working in the Emergancy Room today, so I made the trip downtown to the ER. I was very nervous because for one I don't like hospitals/needles and I also wasn't sure how much English would be spoken. I was greeted at the front desk and all of the paper work had been taken care of by the insurance company beforehand which made it easy. I waited for about 20 minutes, the nurse checked me out, then I waited for another 45 minutes to see the doctor. I had some tests taken and need to go back tomorrow to discuss the results. I was very impressed with how much English was spoken and hope that in the hospitals in the US equally as much Spanish is spoken. It's scary to walk into a hospital, sick and not knowing if the doctor will understand what's wrong. My director told the doctor that I understood and spoke Spanish, so it was mostly a Spanish visit; which was fine - it's always good to practice. Since Costa Rica is rivaling third world status I didn't have high hopes for the health care and hospital, but it seemed as nice as any in the United States and the service certainly was a lot faster.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Due to me being sick, Semana Santa craziness, and generally being worn out, Ellen, Mark, and I decided to stay in San Jose the last few days of Semana Santa instead of going to Panama. We have just pushed back the trip to May. It's been so much fun hanging out around the area though and I am so glad we did. Thursday we went white water rafting in the Pacuare River. It was only about an hour and a half bus ride. The rapids got up to a level 4 and our guide was awesome! He spoke Spanish to us the whole time so we could practice. Lunch was served on the river bank on top of a flipped over raft. At the end of lunch we saw some local boys that looked very hungry. All of our left overs went to them and I could tell by the smiles on their faces they were very excited. It was strange, Ellen and I started to speak Spanish to them, but they wouldn't respond. We thought maybe they were just shy, but it turns out they only spoke the local dialect. We always get so frustrated with people who automatically come up to us and try to speak Englsih because they think we don't know Spanish and here we were going up to these little boys speaking Spanish because we automatically assumed they only spoke that. Interesting to say the least.
Friday we went to downtown San Jose to see the processionals and all of the celebrations.
Yesterday, we deiceded to make a day trip to the beach! Puntarenas is less than two hours away and is where all of the locals go. It's really cheap, but really crowded and a bit dirty. It was fine for a day trip though. It was nice to just lay out and relax. I have never seen the bus station so crowded though. Buses were leaving about every 20 minutes and every bus was packed. There was also alot of traffic coming back to San Jose as it took us 3 hours. I got a nice tan though. :)
Today is Easter Sunday, but in Central America that means very little. My mom looked at my strangely when I asked her what time the church service was today. There isn't a special service today, all of the Semana Santa services were Friday and Saturday. I am still feel terribly ill and have pretty much laid in bed all day. I am going to the doctors tomorrow and hopefully they will be able to tell me what is the matter.

Semana Santa

Here it is Easter Sunday and there is nothing different about Sabanilla. There aren't any celebrations, not a mention of today being a holiday, and just about every store is open. It's a bit hard to believe that this whole week has been full of a different life because it was Semana Santa, Holy Week. But, Friday is the main day of focus and celebration. Friday the whole city was shut down - only one bus was running, few taxis, no stores were open, and most families spent the day remembering/honoring Jesus' crucifiction. Ellen and I made our way to downtown San Jose to view the processions. I have never seen such an event in my life. To start with, Ellen and I were just about the only people wandering around downtown; streets that are usually packed with people were scary quiet. After finding a hotel resturaunt that was serving breakfast we made our way to Central Park to view the processions. I was overwhelmed with people as we crowded around the gazeebo. On stage were all of the characters of the Easter Story: King Herod, his wife, townspeople, Jesus, the two robers, and others. The persecution and trial was acted out and then the entire cast of characters marched throughout the city. I overheard a lady saying they were to march 100 meters. Most of the crowd followed the procession while music played and a steady drumbeat was given so that all could move at the same pace. Ellen and I, along with a few others, stayed around the church. We went inside the church and it was absolutely gorgeous. You could tell how important the church is to the city by the incredible detail of the building. After a while, the procession was returning to the church. Outside was the 2nd half of the day being portrayed. In the center of activity this time was three cross where statues were nailed down. It wasn't until within the past decade that the church stopped using real people. Yes, a real person used to be crucified for the processions. I was told that in remote towns in Costa Rica still continue with the sacrafice of a live man. I am just stunned by how much honor and emphasis is put on this entire week. It is such a different feel than in the United States. For my Spanish class, I have to write an essay about how I celebrate Semana Santa. Given that we don't celebrate the whole week, I simply wrote about how my family celebrates Easter. I have to say that although my family certainly keeps it a religious holiday, I was a bit embarassed by our celebration. I included buying a new Easter dress for church and the Easter Bunny coming. I am sure my Spansih professor will be blown away by such traditions. This week here hasn't been about eggs or chocolate or new things. It has soley been based around celebrating Jesus' life, death, and ressurection. What a beautiful week that an entire community could focus only on Him! While I have missed dying eggs and the normal festivities that go along with Easter in the States, it's been so humbling to be put in such a mind set of Christ this week.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Costa Rica's visa only last for 90 days and in order for us to remain in the country legally, we had to leave the country for more than 36 hours. This wasn't an issue for me givenour recent travels, but my entire class needed to renew their visa. So, I just spent a few days in Nicaragua to renew my visa with my classmates and was blown away. Prior to our class trip, several people warned us about the stark differences between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I didn't know that I would view these differences as soon as I crossed the border.
It was a 9 hour bus ride plus an additional close to 4 hours we spent at the border. The border crossing was pure chaos. Luckily, Carmen (a director at our school) took care of all of the passports, paperwork, and money which made it so much easier on us; all we had to do was wait around. My classmates were nervous and stressed that we were waiting so long. I just had to chuckle to myself and know that this couldn't even pale in comparison to this. They had nothing to worry about for it was all being taken care of for us. As we walked across the border, I am sure the temperature increased about 30 degrees. It was crazy how us walking 20 meters could make that big of a difference, but it did. While we drove down the road to Granada we past hundreds of shacks and more likely the poorest people I will ever see sitting on the side of the road. Our final destination was a top of the line Hotel Colonial where each of our suites were equipped with a California King size bed, two queen beds, and hot water for just two of us to share. We were all in shock that Elon had seleceted for us to stay in such nice accomodations. I was grateful for the treat, but found it odd that we had come to Nicaragua to experience something drastically different than Costa Rica, but were staying in such a luxurious hotel there was no way we would truly understand the differences. Never the less, we ventured around the town and got to know some locals, per usual. Sunday was a day for of tourism. We had our own personal tour guide who showed us key locations in the area. We made a visit to a former prison located in a fortress, Volcano Masaya, a potter's house to learn to make pottery, and ended with a boat ride in Lake Nicaragua. It was so much fun to take pictures and be silly with all of my classmates.
Tuesday was by far my favorite day. Leaving Granada early in the morning, we made our way to San Juan del Sur. We were told that we were staying at a five star resort, but we were all skeptical about how nice it could be given that it was in Nicaragua. As soon as we drove up I am sure each one of our jaws dropped. Our resort, Piedras y Olas (look it up online - it's amazing!), had three infinity pools, a nature reserve, and two resuraunts on site. We were assigned groups of five to stay in different villas. Wow. My house, La Casita de Dulce Vida, decided to cook dinner for ourselves since none of us have really cooked alot since we have been in Costa Rica. Having a nice homemade meal was the perfect way to end a day of lying by the pool. I woke up early the next day to lay by the pool for three more hours before we had to leave. It would have been nice to have a couple more days. It is always so nice to travel on class trips that Elon has put together because we always stay at nice hotels, all plans are made for us, and everything is paid for. However, I still like backpacking and roughing it too.
The ride back home to Costa Rica seemed a bit better than the ride over. Carmen ended up bribing some of the workers at the border to send oou passports through faster and we were done at the border in only an hour. Everyone was really tired, but we still loved being goofy and sharing all sorts of stories on the bus. Prior to studying abroad I knew I would ge to know Costa Rica better, but I had no idea how well I would get to know my classmates. I feel we all know eachother so well, except what kind of car we drive or cellphone we have. It's crazy to think they have become such good friends and none of us have each other's phone numbers! We all keep talking about how much we will miss each other and we still have five weeks left.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Getting back into the Tican routine has been much easier than I thought it would have been. I am thankful everyday for how comfortable I feel in my Tican home, at school, and with the Spanish language. I have loved hearing all of my classmates stories from Spring Break and to be able to hang out with everyone once again. We are all excited for our trip to Nicaragua this weekend. Although, I am a bit hesitant to cross a border on a bus. I know I will be surrounded by people that love me and are supportive.
I also am in love with my Spanish class. Caroline, Jessie, and I have such a great time. Now that we aren't having to worry so much about grammar lessons, we get to talk and just enjoy the language. Yesterday we had to give oral presentations about our spring break. I ended up speaking for 25 minutes! It's so much fun to just enjoy each others company. After Spanish class today, all of the education majors had to attend a speaker about the education system here in Costa Rica. The speaker only spoke Spanish. Linda came in to translate, but I didn't even need her to. It was actually more annoying than helpful, but not everyone in our class is on the same level so she had to. The speaker enjoyed us so much that he invited us to attend seminar classes he instructs each Thursday. The seminars are about Special Education and conducted in all Spanish. I think several of us are going to go and I am super excited!