Thursday, April 15, 2010

Follow the Yellow Brick Road...

So, there may not be a yellow brick road in Costa Rica, but it wouldn't surprise me if there was. This country is so colorful, and yet I am still surprised on occasion when I see things like a bright purple house with pink trim and a pink gate. It is wonderful! For instance our house, as well as our neighbor's house, is pink. And, we have a green fence. In the US it would look so out of place, however here it is the norm and you really can't keep from smiling when your surroundings are so cheerful looking! In addition to our nicely colored house we have a yellow bedroom with a green door, pink curtains and an orange comforter. I hope things are as colorful in our assigned community!

The coloration of the country extends to plants as well. Things are so green here and there always seems to be something in bloom. There are trees that have bright orange blossoms, bushes with pink or purple flowers, other flowers blooming at will, I can only imagine what we will see as our time in Costa Rica becomes more extensive.

The joys of Costa Rica do not end with the sense of sight; they also embrace sound, taste, and smell. For instance:

- We are able to hear live music on a weekly basis – without leaving out house (or bedroom for that matter). There are a couple of bars close by, and one of them has performances every weekend. Sometimes it shocks me that we don't live closer, it sounds like we are in the same room on occasion. However, it is also nice to listen to music that combines both Latin flare and good old classics from the 80's and 90's. There is another bonus to this phenomena. On days where there is a major soccer match we can always tell when the favored team does something well. The fans roar and we (when feeling motivated) go out to the living room and see a replay of what just happened. Mostly though, we just listen. This was helpful when we were not able to watch Barcelona play Madrid last weekend. We knew when something really cool was happening even if we could not see it. It turns out that Barcelona won (just in case you were interested!)

- We have amazing homemade beverages on an almost daily basis. You know it is bound to be good when you hear the blender going in the morning or before lunch. Our host mom will throw some fruits and water into the blender, give things a whirl, strain the seeds out, and we drink wonderfully refreshing juice. Fresh strawberry or blackberry juices are simply delicious.

- Continuing on the beverage theme – we thoroughly enjoy Oatmeal Juice. I'm not really sure what else I could call it because it is simply oatmeal, water, and I believe a little sugar and cinnamon thrown in the blender. Add some ice and it is an amazing treat after a soccer game or going for a run! There is another interesting one that I can’t remember the name of, but it is a bunch of seeds thrown into water with some sugar. The seeds grow a funny, squishy membrane and the juice tastes slightly citric. I know this is not an appealing description, however it is the best I can do – if you come visit we’ll have you try it!

- I haven't fully been able to experience this other taste, but the fruits here are amazing. Chris says that pineapple is like a different fruit all together and the melons are all so fresh and juicy. I have had a couple of pieces of orange and those have been tasty, along with the bananas and plantains. It's exciting when a new load of fruit shows up because it means more delicious beverages and generally bananas are offered with lunch or breakfast! Avacados also taste like candy here!

- The food here also smells amazing. Sometimes it may not agree with my stomach because it has a little more oil than we are used to cooking with, but vegetable picadillos smell (and taste) amazing. We’ve had delicious treats with green plantains, yucca, acote (I’m not sure how to spell this), and other vegetables that are new to us. The smell of finely chopped vegetables simmering over the stove with some other seasonings makes me smile. I also enjoy the smell of homemade tortillas and other random foods that we try every day.

- The neighbors have old license plates hanging under the carport, and one of them is from Nebraska! We should really take a photo sometime because it really is a sight to see with the pink house in the background. The sight makes us smile.

- Our “brother-in-law’s” Futbol 5 team wears chartreuse Barcelona jerseys. This was a shock because when Chris was invited to play it sounded like a very informal event, however everyone was very serious. What makes these jerseys even better is that the Spanish translation for chartreuse is “verde-amarillo intenso.”

Everything that we experience seems to be new. When we start getting used to something, a new adventure is thrown in there – whether it be interviewing random people on the street or running through San Jose to complete a scavenger hunt. Thankfully everyone that we encounter is incredibly patient with our Spanish. They are willing to correct the mistakes that we make and encourage us to keep trying. It also helps that we are starting to feel a little more comfortable and I (Tarah) at least no longer care about the fact that I make huge grammatical errors every time I open my mouth. I am corrected and I will learn from those mistakes.

This weekend we leave for a six-day technical visit. I will be heading to a community in the Sarapique region and Chris will be right on the Nicaraguan border. We will both gain experience in these communities with leading education projects and doing other various work projects that have been set up for us. It should be a nice break from sitting in classrooms every day. We’re also very excited about actually implementing some of the things that we have learned in training. We’ll let you know how it goes when we encounter internet access once more.

Be well!

One of our random colorful images...We were told its name is "Papa con Pimientos," meaning Potato with Peppers because nobody really knows what this plant is and it is apparently quite rare to come across. I guess we were lucky!

Be well!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Parque Nacional Volcan Poas

We spent Maundy Thursday of Semana Santa at one of Costa Rica’s 25 National Parks, Poas Volcano National Park. We were treated to the trip by our Tico padres, which was very generous, because it is about 5x as expensive for non-residents to enter the park and since we are only lowly Peace Corps Trainees we don’t have P.C. I.D.s that would qualify us as residents. The trip was a bit of a whirlwind, even by last summer’s standards, just when we were about to head into the gift shop after a quick spin through the visitor’s center and art gallery our padre intercepted us, handed us a postcard and we were on our way to the crater.
The sights and smells brought us right back to Yellowstone. Poas is an active volcano that spews sulfuric clouds on a regular basis and is thought to be due for a full-blown eruption in the very near future. When we first got to the edge of the crater (there’s a fence) we couldn’t see anything because we were engulfed by a cloud, but the wind quickly shifted and we were able to see the bright blue pool in the center of the crater and the bright orange markings from iron residues. After some photos we headed to Laguna Botos, a lagoon named for an indigenous tribe that used to live near the lagoon.
On the way back from the lagoon, on a paved trail, we encountered a group of people in awe of an animal. I’m sure you’re thinking what we thinking, a lemur, perhaps a sloth, a monkey, at the very least some beautiful bird.
No, it was a squirrel, just a squirrel. A squirrel that was very used to humans. Our host madre quickly dug in her purse for treat for said squirrel. The first thing she found was spearmint gum. Initially the squirrel took the piece of gum out of her hand, but he quickly realized he didn’t like gum. While our madre looked deeper in her purse, another family with two young girls and crackers showed up. The squirrel ended up enjoying some of the crackers, however he did not like the packet of sugar that our madre dumped on the trail. As wild as Costa Rica may seem, a critter that is all to common back home is enough to back up a trail and entertain a bunch of Ticos.
After we were finished with the circus, we made our way to a picnic site for a delicious lunch of rice and beans, after which, we were able to steal a few moments in the gift shop.
All in all, it was nice to get back to nature and I was inspired to find (or create) “Leave No Trace” materials in Spanish for our future site. Hopefully this was just the beginning of our National Parks in Costa Rica.