Time

“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. an alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.”
-Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper 

2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 3 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Aside

Just some fun photos – Melissa bought s’more materials to share with the family, so last night we toasted some marshmallows over the stove and had a little party!  :)

Playa Ostional

Finally taking a break from working on my final papers to write a little update! This past weekend, I spent Friday white water rafting on the Pacuare River with Braden and Lizz.  It was a full day trip because we rafted down 18 miles of the river.  There was so much to see along the way too — beautiful waterfalls, animal sightings, and groups of indigenous people who live along the river.  National Geographic has even named the Pacuare as one of the top five rivers in the world for recreational white water rafting! Because it was my first time, I was a little nervous about falling off the raft.  I think our guide, Abel, could sense this, because he made me jump off the raft and practice being pulled back in as a demonstration.  I didn’t fall off though!! I remained safe and secure the whole time, and it was a blast.  I don’t have any photos right now — their CD burner was broken, so a CD of pictures will be mailed to Lizz’s house!

Saturday and Sunday were spent at Playa Ostional.  This trip was not quite what I expected it to be, but it was great nonetheless.  I was expecting a weekend full of turtles – but it turns out, the only turtle I saw was the one we made on the beach.

Lots of free time to make sand art

Lots of free time to make sand art

A guide took us out on the beach to look for turtles, because Olive Ridley turtles do come out of the water every night to lay their eggs.  We were a bit unlucky, though, because after an  hour or so of scouring the beach, we hadn’t come across any.  We went back to where we were staying, and our guide told us he would call us if anyone notified him that they had found a turtle.  I tried to stay up for another hour or so, but I was exhausted from the early morning and the rafting activities the day before, so I gave up and went to sleep.  All of the other girls did the same.  The three boys, Braden, Bradley, and Shingo, were a little more persistent.  They went back out on the beach on their own and walked around for a bit.  I wish I had had the willpower (or maybe an energy drink) to keep me awake longer, but they saw an Olive Ridley turtle lay her eggs on the beach! While I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see one, I was glad some members of our group did.

The small community of Ostional seems to function around these turtles and work in a very mutual relationship with them.  We were staying on the private property of a group of biologists and researchers, and we had come there to do some volunteer work.  First, the man in charge, Herbert, showed us a video to explain how things work in Ostional.  Their stated goal is to preserve the turtle population, in order to benefit the turtles as well as the community.  All members of the community — men, women, and children — are involved in collecting less than 1% of the turtle eggs to sell as food.  One of these turtle eggs has the nutrients of 40 chicken eggs, and no cholesterol.  The community has created a cooperative to prevent illegal looting of the eggs.  Everything is marked, stamped, and approved so that the number of eggs they take is fully regulated.  Part of the money earned has been used to benefit the turtles, so while it may seem paradoxical, taking and selling the eggs is meant to benefit the turtle population as well.  Herbert told us that over the past 29 years, the population of Olive Ridleys has gradually increased.  They obviously cannot let the number of turtles diminish, because much of the community’s livelihood depends on it.  Herbert emphasized several times that their work is entirely sustainable, to benefit the people and the turtles.

I was not entirely sure how I felt about all of this.  As I watched the video of the eggs being taken out of the ground, I found it kind of upsetting — why couldn’t the turtles just be left alone?  But I do recognize the importance of this relationship for the community of Ostional, as well as the protection it gives the turtles from illegal looting.  I decided to do a little more research, and it turns out this is a very controversial topic.  This article explains many angles of the issues (it’s long, but it covers it pretty thoroughly if you’re interested):

http://coastalcare.org/2011/07/legalized-poaching-turtles-eggs-and-playa-ostional-costa-rica/

Many people are upset by the work done in Ostional, because they see it as “legalized poaching.”  I can’t quite make up my mind how I feel about it all, but in any case, it was interesting to see how a small community in Costa Rica has come to be so fully dependent on nature for survival.

For our part, we just did some beach cleanup.  We picked up pieces of trash we found along the beach, in order to make it easier for little baby turtles to get to the ocean after they have hatched.

Cleaning up the beach

Cleaning up the beach

Other than that, we had lots of free time to enjoy the beach, which I can never complain about.  I read all of The Hunger Games (so nice having time to read for pleasure) and definitely did some work on my tan.

More sand art!

More sand art!

Herbert also showed us another piece of local culture- taking shots of raw turtle eggs, combined with some sort of sauce.  I don’t know how exactly this was safe, but it’s the second time I’ve been offered a shot of a turtle egg in Costa Rica, so it is apparently widespread and common.  I’ve been told people will take shots of turtle eggs out at the bar.  When I visited Anthony’s family with Imani and Alyssa, his mother tried to get all of us to try it as well — to no avail.  Well, this time, almost everybody gave it a shot (pun intended).

Turtle egg

Turtle egg

I wasn’t planning on being so bold, but after thinking about it, I decided to do as the Ticos do.  I figured I’ve eaten enough raw chicken eggs in my life with all the cookie dough and brownie batter I’ve consumed, one raw turtle egg wouldn’t kill me (and it hasn’t)! Can’t say I was a big fan, but I can saw I tried it, and it had lots of protein.

Feeling skeptical

Feeling skeptical, but going for it anyway!

A last main highlight of my time in Ostional was the chance to enjoy a beautiful sunset.  While I didn’t see any sea turtles, I don’t think I have a right to complain, because I had this incredible view to end the day…

Beautiful sunsets

Beautiful sunset

Arenal and Cerro Chato

Our weekend in Arenal started off very well, as we arrived and were given complimentary drinks at the “Arenal Hostel Resort.”  It was one of the more expensive hostels we’ve stayed in.  We only had to share a bathroom with a few other people, and they had a pool with a pool bar.  They were having a BBQ Friday night, so we spent most of Friday enjoying the pool and resting up for our adventure the next day.

If I thought climbing the volcano in Nicaragua was difficult, this weekend took our physical activity to another level.  When we arrived in La Fortuna, we decided to embark on a ten-hour long hike that Saturday.

The group before our long hike began!

The group before our long hike began!

Arenal is still an active volcano, so you can’t hike there, but you can hike Cerro Chato, a volcano right near it. It sits at an elevation of 3,740 ft.  We had a guide, so throughout the hike, he would point out various plants along the way.

Our guide showing us flowers from the ginger family

Our guide showing us flowers from the ginger family

There were three stopping points until we got to the lagoon.  The lagoon is in a crater inside the volcano.  It was a little disappointing when we arrived there, because it was a very cloudy day, so we didn’t get to experience what would have been quite an impressive view.  I enjoyed it nonetheless.  Inside the lagoon, there are small fish that are good for your feet because they eat the dead skin cells! This felt odd at first and I couldn’t stop myself from laughing, but it was definitely something new to try.

After the lagoon, the terrain we were hiking got a bit rugged.  We all ended up soaking wet and covered in mud.  I had to walk carefully, because we weren’t walking on a very sophisticated path; we were climbing over rocks and roots and fallen trees.  It really felt like we were in the depths of a jungle, but that’s what made it so cool.

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One of our last stops was at a waterfall.  It was more beautiful than the picture I have shows, but there was so much mist it was hard to take a good photo!

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The last part of the day was a trip to the Tabacon Hot Springs, but before we got there, our driver pulled over to show us a red-eyed tree frog. Costa Rica is known for being home to these frogs, but I hadn’t gotten the chance to see one until then.

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Finally, we got to my favorite part of the day – the hot springs! And we had definitely earned them.  The water was at the perfect temperature.  Our guide had collected mud from Cerro Chato as we were walking, and he used this to make mud masks for all of us.  He explained how these masks were good for the skin because they are rich in so many minerals, like sulfur.

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After spending some time in the hot springs, I was sufficiently relaxed.  We ended the day by getting some pizza at a place called “Just Good Food.”  The following day, we had to catch our bus at 2:45, so in the morning we just went on another walk to find a nearby waterfall, then it was back to San Jose! Crazy that I have less than 3 weeks left here now!

Some Visitors for Thanksgiving

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Last weekend it was a little weird to be away from home because Thanksgiving was on Thursday! While I didn’t get to run in the road race this year, I think everything I’ve been able to do here balances that out a little – and I’ll be back for it next year for sure! On Thursday, two of my friends from Emmanuel came to Costa Rica, Alyssa and Imani.  Imani has a Costa Rican friend that she met when he was doing a study abroad in Cape Cod.  They’ve stayed in close contact. She has always wanted to come visit him, so it worked out perfectly that I’m in Costa Rica now too – double the reasons to visit :)

Alyssa, Imani, and Imani’s friend Anthony all got to meet my host family, see my school, and see where I’ve been living.  Then they joined my friends and me for a  “Thanksgiving dinner” at a nearby Italian restaurant.  It was nice having so many good friends to share the day with.  That night, all of us stayed in Heredia at Anthony’s house so that we could be up early and head to Playa Tamarindo in the morning.

Anthony’s family was so hospitable.  When we woke up, his mother had made us a typical Costa Rican breakfast, with gallo pinto, eggs, coffee, bread, and juice.  Then we were off to the beach! It was so nice not having to use public transportation for this weekend, because Anthony took us everywhere in his car.  We got a room in a hostel in Tamarindo for the night, then hung out at the beach until sunset.  My friends Lizz, Nick, and Braden also came to Tamarindo for the weekend, so we all went out to dinner together at a place called Witch’s Rock.

The next morning, we were off on another adventure.  We went to see Rio Celeste, which, according to the reliable source of Wikipedia, is  “notable for its distinctive turquoise coloration, a phenomenon caused by a chemical reaction between sulfur and calcium carbonate.” It was beautiful! We spent some time there, then went to  a place called Thermo Mania, which was a bunch of hot spring pools.  After a final dinner in Liberia, Costa Rica, we spent one more night at Anthony’s house.  On Sunday, we enjoyed another homemade tico breakfast, then had to bring Alyssa and Imani back to the airport! Sad to say goodbye, but I’m so grateful I had some visitors from home over Thanksgiving weekend!!

Nicaragua

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This past weekend’s adventures took me to two of the main cities of Nicaragua, Leon and Granada! Well, the plan was to take the earliest bus on Friday morning from San Jose to Managua… but I managed to sleep through all of my alarms! I woke up in a panic, realizing I had missed the bus.  I was planning on travelling with my friends Shingo, Bradley, and Laura, but they had obviously already left on the first bus.  So, I rushed to the station and got on the next bus myself.

Our plan for the weekend was this: take the bus to Managua, then take another public bus from Managua to Leon on Friday night.  Explore Leon Friday during the day, then take the public bus to Granada, where we would stay for Saturday night and Sunday night.  As I sat on the bus to Managua Friday afternoon, I realized that by the time I arrived, the public buses to Leon would no longer be running.  By some stroke of luck, the man sitting next to me on the bus had a phone that worked in Nicaragua.  He looked up the number of the hostel I was supposed to stay at in Leon, called them, and the owner of the hostel drove to Managua and picked me up right at the bus station! I was reunited with my friends at Hostal Latina in Leon, and it was as if nothing had ever happened.  I felt really accomplished travelling on my own and being able to communicate my situation entirely in Spanish to the kind man sitting next to me on the bus.  When I arrived in Costa Rica three months ago, I never would have been able to relay my circumstances and ask for help as fully as I was able to on Friday.  Truly a great feeling, knowing that I have grown and progressed! While I am still far from being fully fluent, I have mastered what I like to call “survival Spanish,” and I could also definitely consider myself a fluent Spanglish speaker.

Friday night, we were all exhausted from the long day of travelling, so we showered and got right to sleep.  The next morning, we woke up early to start our exploring.  We decided to go to Volcan Cerro Negro (Black Hill) to go on a hike and try out “volcano boarding.”  We all piled into the back of a pickup truck, and when we arrived, I was a little intimidated by the sight of the volcano.  It was much hotter in Nicaragua than it is here in Costa Rica, so the hike up Cerro Negro was probably one of the most physical exhausting activities I’ve done.  It was a beautiful view at the top, so it was all worth it.  After we reached the top, our guide Jesus taught us how to use our boards, which were essentially a piece of wood with a string attached.  All we had to do was sit on the board and hang out to the string, just as if we were sledding down a snowy mountain – only this time we were sledding through ash down the side of a volcano! That was our adrenaline-rush activity for the weekend.

After we went back to the hostel and got cleaned up again, we took spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring Leon, simply by walking around.  Nicaragua struck me as a much more fervently religious place than Costa Rica.  While there are signs of the heavy Catholicism evident all over Costa Rica, it seems to me to be more deeply engrained in Nicaragua.  Just in Leon, there are 21 churches.  We walked up to the top bell tower of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, one of the largest cathedrals in Central America.

Next stop on our trip was the city of Granada! To make this transfer, we took a bus back to Managua, then got a bus to Granada.  Our hostel there, El Caribe, was conveniently located right across from the bus station we needed to get home on Monday morning.  And for only $7 a night, we got breakfast on Sunday and Monday morning! Granada is known for being home to Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake on Central America, so we decided to take a boat tour of the lake.  Many of the islands on this lake are privately owned, both by foreigners and by Nicaraguans.  Our tour guide pointed out islands owned by Americans, French, Taiwanese, and more.  One of the islands is also owned by one of the richest families in Nicaragua – the family who owns the Nicaraguan beer “Victoria,” the run “Flora de Cana,” and has some stake in the bank as well.  There were some islands left uninhabited by people, though – like Isla de Los Monos! Here, there lives a family of monkeys that were rescued from the zoo.  There are spider monkeys and white-faced monkeys.  We saw a father and son pair, Pancho and Panchito.

After the boat tour, we had lunch at a place called Henry’s that was right on the water.  The rest of our day was spent exploring the churches and colonial buildings, as we did in Leon.  The buildings were beautiful, and I loved how so many average houses were painted in the brightest colors.  There were so many people out and about in the streets.  Families would be sitting outside their houses in rocking chairs, just watching the world go by.  There was very evident poverty, much more so than in Costa Rica, as I had expected.  There were more beggars in the street and out on the sidewalks.  But from the small picture of the country I was able to get, they also seem very rich in other ways.  More content with a simpler lifestyle maybe.

When we went on our boat tour, we were joined by an older man named Mario.  He was from New Mexico, and he was travelling to look for less expensive places to retire.  As we were eating lunch after the tour, he looked at the beautiful lake and the volcanoes behind it, and commented, “I always wonder how a country can be so poor, yet so rich at the same time.”  This is not something that’s easy to answer or reconcile, especially not in a visit as short as mine.  There is so much beauty and poverty, happiness and sadness, all in the same place.  But travelling to Nicaragua was certainly a worthwhile experience.  It showed me another small glimpse of life, and how that will affect me, I’ll just have to wait and see.