Wednesday, December 12, 2007

January 27, 2007 - Highlights from Costa Rica trip # 1

January 27, 2007 - Highlights from Costa Rica trip # 1

Some highlights from our first trip to Costa Rica (January 20 – February 10, 2006)

21-24 January - Heredia
We went for our first Costa Rican breakfast (dos desayunos – daysahjhoonash). Pretty good, and easy to order. The eggs were salty (we hear that in general the food is salty here), but the cheese was great! So far, no one has brought a check – we are not rushed out of restaurants, and we specifically ask to pay. From breakfast, we went to the Plaza Central – it is beautiful, with large shade trees. We couldn’t tell which were the mangoes, but there were a lot of trees. And a lot of benches! Very comfy. After a short rest, we went further downhill to the Mercado Central – Saturday is Market day – it was very busy. We priced a few items from our “shopping list.” There was fresh meat, fish, chicken, and produce everywhere! Most of the chicken was sold by parts, some of the fish was filleted, and some whole (probably cleaned). There was a *lot* of different produce – a lot we didn’t recognize, but looked good. After the market, we were pretty tired, so we headed back to the hotel to rest. We were lugging the laptop and camera all this time. Yikes! At the hotel, we took a siesta/shower/nap – sooo civilized! All day was a very pleasant sunny! Breezy! 23°C day.

We stopped at the park a lot – this is a very happenin’ place! The benches are clean because they are used all the time! But we have always been able to find a good spot (shady).

Next morning we left for a café (sin laptop and camera). Had Gallo Pinto for the first time – the spices were great, and the beans weren’t mushy. The fruit was amazing! Everything had obviously ripened on the tree/vine – very sweet & juicy – watermelon, papaya, pineapple, and bananas.

We found a fast internet café just down the road from our hotel – 300 c/hr, 200 kbps – we got our download in 10 minutes, instead of the 2 hrs we were expecting from a phone line – nice! Just like home . We spent the rest of the hour checking email, etc.

The Parque Central is *really* busy on Sunday evenings! This is when all the PDAs happen. Here and there couples hold hands and cuddle. One girl near us was sitting in her boyfriend’s lap! So much for CR’s reputation for no public displays…

Mostly we noticed all the kids – they were madly running around this huge drained fountain. There was a clown making balloon animals and playing tag with the kids. There were also vendors set up in a row selling ponchos, hats, handbags, necklaces, etc.

The owner of the hotel (Don Carlos) stopped to talk to us as we sat on the patio. He spoke a little English, and we told him we spoke a little Spanish. He told us all about Costa Rica (in Spanish, thinking about how to tell us so we would understand). He obviously loves his country, and is proud of it. What was so great is that we could understand almost every word! He *was* being careful, and would ask if we understood. When we didn’t, he would change how he said it, and sometimes pantomime. He was very friendly and down-to-earth.

We went on our camera urban safari. The town is pretty interesting – there are houses and apartments mixed right in with shops – seems to be this way almost throughout the town – very old European. Downtown has fewer houses, but is still mixed.

Got a taxi to our San José hotel - $10. What a ride! We had been walking all over Heredia, and had learned how to avoid getting hit by taxis, now we learned how to “enjoy” the ride in one. Our seatbelts didn’t work, so it was especially fun.

25-29 January, 2006 (San José)
We take a tour up the Poás Volcano. By the time we got to the top of the mountain, the clouds had blown away from the volcano, and we got spectacular views of the lake in the crater. Our guide gave us a lot of history and a chemistry lesson related to the color of the lake. It often appears turquoise. Today, it was white. The ph balance of the water determines the color.

We attended the ARCR (Association of Residents of Costa Rica) seminar on moving and living in Costa Rica. We met a *lot* of interesting people, and heard a lot of good information. The most critical piece of news is that the laws for immigrating are changing as of August this year. Essentially, if we get our paperwork for residency in after August, we will have to have twice as much money in the bank here. So, we joined ARCR, and are going to try to get our papers to immigration before then. After that, it takes 4-6 months to get approved for residency. At that point, the “1 year” clock starts ticking – we have to be in Costa Rica for 4 months in that year. If all works out, we would only move a little earlier than originally planned.

It is interesting what goes through your head when you actually join (and pay money to) a residency association – we had said that so far, nothing would keep us from moving here, but then there was a clench when we committed to it. But then, it is not an awful lot of money – if we freak out on the rest of the trip, oh well.

30 January – 4 February, 2006 (Sámara)
Our first day of Spanish school…

We get to the school for our 7:30 a.m. test time. They test us individually (orally), then we get our class assignments. We found out that we have class in the afternoon today instead of the morning, so we sat out by the beach, read, and tried the internet café. The school has a backyard w/ chairs and shade, and is right on the beach. The internet here is sloooooow (shared dial-up) and expeeeeensive ($2.40/hr)! We gave up.

Class is interesting – there are 6 students in mine (this is the most allowed) – some know absolutely zero Spanish. Our teacher uses Spanish and gestures (and very little English for our class – the later classes don’t use any English at all). Our book does have some translations, but a lot is in Spanish only – you look up some words in the dictionary; some are explained in class using Spanish and gestures, and sometimes in English from another student.

It was dark when we left the school – things sure do look different after dark – so…. We got lost. Fortunately we only backtracked once.

They alternate groups during the week between morning and afternoon classes, so that everyone gets a chance to enjoy the beach at both times. Plenty of time to do homework and have fun. So, on to the beach! We had our usual breakfast, and walked down to the close beach. The tide was low, so the beach just went on and on! The reef protects the bay from any strong waves, and the beach is sandy and flat-ish. We just floated along for about an hour. There were a few others, but it was not crowded at all. The water temperature was like a cool bath – perfect! And the rain last night had cooled the air a bit.

We had to write a short speech for the graduation ceremony. We had some good conversation, and a few “Guaro Sunrises,” and then the graduation ceremony started. I was the *first* one to give a speech – yikes! Well, then I got to enjoy the rest . At the end, all the professors gathered to decide on prizes. I got the first prize – for best speech!! Afterwards, we had dinner, more drinks, more conversation, and some dancing.

One guy had gotten stung by a scorpion on the beach the other day – he was telling his story and showing his swollen foot.

Everyone had class and finals this morning (I know, the graduation was probably a bit premature). It is amazing how much progress you can make in just one week! We passed our tests, and had a short break until 10:30.

After the break, had a Costa Rica culture class. We focused on the national seal, and what each of the elements represents. Things like:

· 7 stars represent the seven provinces

· 3 mountains represent the 3 calderas (ranges)

· 2 ships in 2 oceans represent the imports/exports from both sides (Pacific and Caribbean)

Xinia (our Tica hostess), Rick, and I walked to a beach called Buena Vista. This is where a lot of turtles lay their eggs, and a small camp is set up there to collect data and protect the baby turtles when they hatch. We got to an estuary right before the sea, and met up with Ronald (Xinia's novio). He had a backpack full of goodies :).

We spent several very pleasant hours swimming in the estuary, joking about sharks and crocs, drinking guaro, eating fruit and shishkebab (pincho) sausage and pasta (Did they come prepared! Xinia even had a small frying pan that she put over a small campfire!!)

Later, we walked to a restaurant for dinner. You should have seen Xinia trying to wheedle a beer out of the owner – it is the weekend for elections, and all liquor is locked up Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. We joined in, asking for guaro and vino – everyone had a few laughs, but no alcohol.

What a good day!

5-10 February, 2006 (Alajuela)
We left for our hotel in Alajuela, got checked in, relaxed for a couple of hours, and went to a late lunch (early dinner) in town. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and election day, so a *lot* of places were closed. We had Chinese food again – I think it will be a Sunday tradition for us :).

We met people from the seminar again! Everyone here is very friendly, and several are moving to Costa Rica, so there is a lot to talk about.

It’s a very comfortable temperature (maybe upper 70’s or low 80’s), but they say that it is cooler than usual for this time of year.

It rained for about half an hour at noon – Rick waited it out in the internet café (didn’t even notice the rain), and I waited in the ice-cream store :).

We caught a ride from a fellow seminar alumni to the “ZooAve.” The ZooAve (say suave = smooth; a slang here for “cool”) is a zoo full of plants, birds, reptiles, and mammals. Well, by the time we got there, it was 4:00. The place closes at 5, *and* charges $15 each for tourists (but only 2100 colones for residents). So, we said “mañana,” and caught the bus back to town. Yet another anxious few moments for me – we were pretty sure that the bus would unload everyone in the center of town, but…

Well, no problem – we got off along with everyone else, and started walking back to the hotel. But the walk seemed a lot longer than it looked like it should be on the map. And Alajuela seems to have fewer street signs even than Heredia. So, now it is Rick’s turn to be nervous. Well, we were on the right track, and eventually got to the hospital park, very near our hotel – we’re good to go!

We’re off to ZooAve again! Midmorning, we catch another ride, and have plenty of time to see all the plants and animals. It was worth the $15 (once), but we will probably not go again until we are residents. Rick checked on availability of our prescriptions at a farmacia – they have all our pills (much cheaper than in the states), except the ones for Rick's tendinitis.

Norman from our B&B took us around to see several apartments – we saw what was available and how much they go for. Lots of range here. After seeing the apartments, we stopped at the market, and Norman showed us around while he picked up some items for his restaurant – pretty interesting.

Rick and I went to a bookstore and bank, and Rick checked out a nearby market.

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