Saturday, December 31, 2011

Adios 2011

December has come to a close and with it 2011. It has been and interesting year and an interesting month. It is with mixed feelings that we say good-bye to both. We are looking forward to what the new year and the coming months will bring; we are sad that people and activities that have been pivotal in our lives during this time will be out of our reach in just a few short months.

Highlights of this month include a trip to Panama with my parents, attending the graduations of kindergarten, sixth grade, and high school, seeing progress in the construction project at the colegio and providing a week of art camp for the local kids. Highlights of the year include getting an academic assistance program up and running for students that were repeating a grade level, starting an aerobics class for women, receiving the CRUSA grant, collaborating with the high school English teacher, and hosting a crew from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln for a week.

Now it's time to get comfy and grab a snack. Here's a peek into our December:


December 1

We rode to San José and then hopped on the bus to Panama.

December 2

Sixteen and a half hours later we arrived in Panama City, Panama.

December 3

We talked to some Kuna people and learned more about their culture and bought some artwork. We got two embroidered pieces (molas) that can take several months to finish since they are all hand stitched.

December 4

We had quite the Panama experience today. The marathon was nice as far as city races go; though it could have used some organizational help. We started in the dark and saw the sun rise over the bay, beautiful. 

We headed out to the locks for a couple of hours. They are pretty incredible.

December 5

We were hobbling a little bit this morning, but made ourselves walk to loosen up and get better. After a delicious breakfast we walked to Casco Antiguo and purchased more artwork for our future home. This time a mask by the Embera-Wounaan.

DQ Blizzards for dinner and an 11pm bus out of town.

December 6

Twenty-two hours after getting on the first bus from Panama City we finally returned home. It's been a long vacation and it feels nice to be back.

December 7

Morning came far too quickly.Once we got up and going though it did feel nice to have something to do today. 

We had 39 kids split between four teams and sixteen challenges. There were muddy, soapy shower curtains, dizzy kids and a lot of sun.

Aside from Chris and I getting killer sunburns (I think I even burned my eyes) it was a successful event.

December 8

We had to run to catch the bus when it came through earlier than usual. Maria explained that we have a new bus driver that is always early (so much changes when you leave for two weeks!).

We had the sixth grade celebration dinner. When we first arrived we were treated like stars and had to pose for pictures with and for everyone. The evening went well, we handed out Chicos and Chicas bracelets and said a few words about the project. Then there was a clown, food, dancing, etc. We lasted until about 9:30 and then had to call it a night.

December 9

Long morning. Four hours of laundry and still more to do, but we ran out of hangers. [note: we're washing by hand here while our lovely washing machine is down for the count]

December 11

This morning we both went running! It has been forever since I have been out for a run (not counting the marathon). It was short but sweet.

After a filling breakfast I tackled the rest of our laundry.

We started planning a trip to Corcovado National Park. We've sent in a reservation request for the first week in January so we shall see.

December 12

It's done! My application has been submitted and I received confirmation that it arrived. 

It was a very quiet day. Town is dead and with Naranjal being flooded there weren't any buses. 

We received confirmation for our reservation to visit Corcovado. Sarah also sent us dates for her visit - January and February are gradually filling up.

No one showed up for [aerobics] class tonight. I kind of expected it with my being gone for three weeks and the horrid weather. It's a bit of a bummer since things were going so well before vacation.

December 13

Rain, rain, rain. It may have stopped for a minute or two, but certainly not much longer. Chris went for a run this morning and got about 20 minutes out before he had to turn around due to flooding.

Maria and Rafa managed to get into Puerto, even though buses weren't running. Maria called tonight to say that they couldn't make it home. 

Ken called today to check in. Kevin had been in town and evacuated him.

December 14

As of this moment in time the rain is not falling. This has happened occasionally today.

Chris plugged away at the rest of his application today and got it sent in. He received a confirmation back from the fellows program saying they had received it. Now we wait. Until March.

Now, as I finish writing this it is raining again. Maybe we'll dry out one of these days. If only it were snow that kept falling...

December 15

Today was a long one. Not that it felt long until I looked at the clock and tried to remember what I was doing 12 hours ago. [though it wasn't full of anything that is necessarily worth writing about here]

December 16

I stood in line for most of the morning to pay our fee for Corcovado. Of course after we got home, scanned and emailed the receipt of payment I realized that I had done my math wrong and hadn't deposited enough. Just my luck.

Sixth grade graduation came and went. It was long, we were recognized for what we do, we butchered names as we handed out diplomas, and returned home shortly before nine to make dinner.

December 17

It was actually pretty chilly today. How odd.

Kindergarten graduation was much shorter than sixth grade's. There was a great performance of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and a rhythmic gymnastics routine (on pavement, ouch!) and a couple of other song. Kierra (one of the kindergarteners) made a great speech and some big people spoke too. We may not have taken many photos today, but we sure did end up in a lot of them!

December 18

No power today. I love it when that happens! It means that from 8:30am - 4:30pm there will not be music blaring in our house.

December 19

What a day!

I went to Puerto at 8 to pay the rest of our fees for Corcovado and ended up standing in line for 3 hours. One at the ATM and two more to get to a teller. It didn't help that there was only one teller working.

Chris went to the cole around 10 to help set up for graduation and clear some things up about the grant. 

Our paths converged again around 2, just before graduation started. I stuffed myself with some of Maria's delicious cooking and settled in to cheer for the graduates. Five students graduated from high school today, the first bunch from our cole. How exciting! Another 25 graduated into the last educational cycle (tenth and eleventh grades).

December 21

Duh, duh, dunnnnn... Let the countdown begin: five months left. I think we realize a little more every day that it will be harder to leave than we once thought it would be - but still not as hard as I imagine it will be for some other volunteers. Even so, time is just another reminder to take advantage of our time here. Something that we haven't necessarily been too good at doing as of late. 

Cole update: windows are barred and they're starting to work on doors!

December 23

It was raining so I decided to put my contacts in [to go for a run]. Big mistake. I've spent the rest of the day hiding my eyes from bright lights. I must have gotten something on them (contacts) during vacation that contact solution couldn't kill. Guess I need to throw them out. Painful eyes does lead to a lot of podcast listening though.

Maria and Rafa have left us in charge for the next couple of days. Merry Christmas to us!

December 24

It's hard to believe that it's Christmas Eve. It certainly doesn't feel like it. It's nice to learn about other cultures and celebrate their traditions, but sometimes you just want to partake in your own. A candle light service, traditional carols and hymns, and spending time with family.

Chris went for a long run this morning. Not his best, but in his words, "you need to practice the hard stuff too."

My eyes are still painful today, but I was able to read a little bit which was nice.

Kevin called today to say he can come to Corcovado with us. That's a pretty good Christmas gift!

December 25

Merry Christmas!

We had pancakes (two of them made with the intention of looking like snowmen - FAIL) and eggnog for breakfast. The eggnog is quite strong being made from 100% drunk cow's milk. It is sold with a 4% alcohol content. That's quite high, especially when you don't really drink.

We talked with families today, good thing too! We had to get caught up on all of the news. JD and Heather are expecting and Ashley and Zack are engaged! 

We went for a walk this afternoon and talked to Ñingy and Tutú's mom for a little bit. Then the boys joined us on our walk. They are too cute. They went off running and jumping over puddles and acting like bulls. We ended the walk with a race and then Chris and I headed home.

December 26

We had three for camp today. Not bad since our advertising took place about 30 minutes before starting. Chris went out to gather the troops which is pretty hard when town is dead. We'll take what we can get.

December 27

The days seem to pass so quickly right about now. With camp in the morning and having "chores" to tend to in the afternoons we're staying pretty busy.

Chris rounded up eight kids this morning. They painted old juice bottles to use as flower vases and a couple of kids made flowers to put in them. Tomorrow we'll get the rest of the kids making flowers. Chris is also figuring out how to make pinwheels, so that will join our list of crafts to be made this week.

December 28

This morning the kids showed up on their own, 15 minutes early! We ended the day with ten, but a couple were only there for about 15 minutes or so. We made flowers and pinwheels. The kids colored and drew when they weren't doing small group crafts. Their patience levels have grown tremendously since the first camps that we did here.

December 29

This morning the kids started calling for us around 8:30 (camp starts at 9). I had just gotten out of the shower; Chris was preparing stuff for the day. We told them 15 minutes. After about 15 seconds they started calling again. Gotta love 'em. It's great that they are so excited about spending time with us.

Today Chris did pinwheels and I did pop-up flowers. Everything went really well and once again the kids were super patient. We were up to twelve today. Yay! When kids weren't working in small groups they colored or took pictures. We ended up with about 120 photos of kids posing for the camera, the school buildings, the paintings on the school walls, and kids running around doing crazy things. Love it!

I think my favorite mental image of the day was seeing Tutú standing in the middle of the road after camp, holding up his pinwheel so that it would catch the wind, and smiling the biggest smile you can imagine as the pinwheel did it's thing. (I might have taken a picture had the camera battery not been dead.)

December 30

Art camp success! We had seven at camp today and did flowers and origami. There was some chalk drawing, coloring and painting that went on as well as a whole lot of picture taking. Everyone left with something that they had made and were proud of. We ended the week with 17 unique individuals attending at least one day of camp - most attended three or more!

December 31


2011 is going out with a bang. Literally. The fire crackers started going off at about six or so. Celebrate! Out with the old, in with the new!

Tomorrow we'll pack up and head out to spend the first week of 2012 hiking and camping (a sign of what is to come with the new year? We can only hope!).

*****

2011 sure was an interesting year. We anticipate that 2012 will be equally exciting, if not more so. We've got a lot to squeeze into the short amount of time that we have remaining in Costa Rica and a whole lot to do once we leave. 2012 will have us moving to a state that we have never even visited, several weddings, a new niece or nephew, and of course a whole lot of adventuring! Good-bye December, you treated us well. Hello January - a whole new year, a whole new adventure!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Running Recap of 2011 and Goals for 2012

Somehow, during my Peace Corps service, I morphed from someone who ran into a runner. At the start of last "summer" (December) I got it in my head that it was time to start getting more active again. Without the option of hiking every weekend like we had done in Maine, I decided to start running consistently. I had run a fair amount before, including three marathons and 27.5 miles of an ultra, but never consistently or with much dedication.

During 2011, I ran about 230 hours and somewhere around 1700 miles (based on a 8min./mile pace). I also ran an 80k (50mile) ultra and my marathon PR (3:23:56) in Panama, where I also won $500 dollars for being the 4th fastest male foreigner (after the top three overall finishers who were also foreigners, but placed in the open division). I also logged some epic, unsupported training runs of more than 26.2 miles.

After my ultra (and Tarah's 20k)
After the marathon, with Henley "The Beard" Phillips and our cash money
In response to a fellow volunteer's home burning down, some volunteers put together an auction to raise monies to help him and his host family as well as create a emergency fund for future tragedies. Since the victim's site is near ours I decided I would offer:  "[to] personally deliver a hug [from the winning bidder] to the man himself. I would run the ~35k (each direction), give him a hug and buy him lunch." This "service" ended up receiving the highest bid, bringing in 50,000 colones or about $100. I hope to be able to complete this run this coming weekend.

As for my goals for 2012, I hope to log more than 300 hours of running, along with hiking and backpacking a bunch. I also want to run up and down the highest peak in Costa Rica and I have already signed up for a 100k race in Nicaragua and a 50 miler right before we leave Costa Rica in May. I am looking forward to New Mexico, where I can do some actual trail running instead of just running on roads that closely resemble trails. I'd like to try and squeeze a 100 mile race in before the end of 2012, but I don't think that I'm going to have time to adequately train for a race of that distance, with the rest of life (moving, teaching, studying, wedding-ing, becoming an uncle, etc.)going on. In addition to running, I also plan on doing at least 200 flows of yoga before the calendar changes to 2013.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays 2011!





















Friday, December 23, 2011

Update on Construction at the Colegio

This is a follow up to this post from October.

Things are moving in the right direction.

Changing directors at the high school has been a huge boost to the project. Finally, there is a Tico who is truly passionate about the project, not just the money, and also has the time and energy necessary to steer the project (or at least is making time and finding energy).

The new director, don Marlón, has found contractors (and funds to pay them), makes time to talk to me, and is cracking the whip on the junta. The contractors are great guys, they always make time to answer my questions, and since they are being paid by the project and not by the hour they are hustling. So far they have poured all of the cement for the subfloor, plastered all of the walls and are almost done installing all of the "windows" and doors. Next week they plan to install all of the electrical. After electrical, they should just need to install ceiling panels and tile the floors.

Marlón is meeting with the juntas on January 4th to get the last check signed and materials purchased so that this can get wrapped before the start of classes and I can submit the final report on time. Unfortunately we are going to be out of town on the 4th, but I have complete confidence that Marlón will get things taken care of, and that's a nice feeling.

Progress - all the "windows" and doors have to be fabricated on site
Getting closer
In other cole news, the first class of seniors graduated on Monday. Five young men from the area will be heading to the universidad next year. About twenty-five ninth graders also graduated from Ciclo III, hopefully in a couple of years they will all be graduating (from a high school with more classrooms and a dining hall/kitchen) with their diplomas.

The first diplomas handed out in La Colonia
Don Marlón (director), Kennedys (artist and Ciclo III graduate) Harold (math/science teacher who volunteered extra hours to help prepare seniors for final exams)
Environmentally themed mural that won first prize in a national contest - designed and painted by Kennedys and three other students
In sad news, I talked with Carlos, the English teacher from the high school and he doesn't have a job next year, not at our school or any other school in the country. In my opinion, this is completely ridiculous for a number of reasons.
1) Carlos actually wants to work at our high school, in the campo with unfinished classrooms and no dinning room.
2) Carlos is great teacher.
3) Carlos wanted to and actually worked with me to improve his English to be a better teacher not just a better English speaker.
4) Out of a senior class of about 15 students, only three didn't pass the national English exam required to graduate (I don't think that they would have passed no matter who their teacher was). An 80% pass rate is off the charts here.

I really hope that Carlos will be offered a job in the coming weeks, ideally at Liceo San José del Río.

Carlos with Maikel, another Ciclo III graduate

Los Profes - beard growing, French, science, English




Wednesday, December 21, 2011

(Chris's) Top Ten Albums of 2011

Despite having even more albums to listen to than last year, I really had a difficult time finding ten albums that got me really excited. A lot of that, again, had to do with the way that I was listening to music. I really like to interact with my music, be it the ritualistic process of listening to music on vinyl or just cranking something in iTunes and dancing like nobody is watching (read: judging), but here, those deeper connections aren't options. This year, more often than not, if earbuds were inserted it was to listen to podcasts.

Also, this September, I listened to Nevermind for the first time in a long time, it's (still) %#*!ing amazing. On one hand, it's hard to believe that it's already 20 years old, on the other it's hard to imagine that it's only 20 years old; despite being so deeply connected to the early nineties and Generation X, it really is a  timeless album. That listen got me thinking about the way I've been listening to music the last few years.

I, and I think a lot other people, have been trying to listen to as much (new) music as possible instead of listening to what is already known and loved. I thought about the fact that I while I am listening to albums that I'll probably only listen to once and then completely forget, I could be listening to Pet Sounds, The Beatles, Nevermind, London Calling, X/O, Funeral, Odelay, The Velvet Underground and Nico... 

Perhaps by listening to so much music I will find the next Surfer Rosa or Bringing It All Back Home, but I imagine I'll find the bands and albums that stick by the tried-and-true methods of recommendations from friends and acquaintances and getting to shows early enough to see opening acts.

This list has and will always be about my favorite albums, not necessarily the best albums, though hopefully there is a bit of overlap. Usually I start making my long list sometime in October or November and the contenders are repeatedly listened to and critiqued, while adding in year end releases. This year, even my top ten albums don't have play counts in the double digits, so there aren't any growers this year, and rankings are even less meaningful than usual; 2011 is much more about the music than the "list."

Some albums from the past twelve months that I enjoyed more than others:

10. Foster the People - Torches

9. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

8. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

7. Megafaun - Megafaun

6. We Are Augustines - Rise Ye Sunken Ships

5. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

4. Handsome Furs - Sound Kapital

3. Battles - Gloss Drop

2. Geotic - Mend

1. Saintseneca - Last

What I really listened to this past year:

10. UltraRunnerPodcast.com

9. 20 Minute Yoga Sessions from YogaDownload.com

8. Freakonomics Radio

7. Day 6

6. Vinyl Cafe
website - podcast

5.This American Life

4. Q

3. The Moth

2. Wiretap

1. The Dirtbag Diaries

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

¡EL COMBATE!

The end to our vacation was quite abrupt. Most people talk about needing to take a vacation from their vacation in order to readjust to normal life. We did not have that opportunity as we had scheduled an end of year event with our sixth graders for 8am the day after we returned home (we got off of our last bus at about 9pm the night before). The sun was hot, the kids were enthusiastic (once they showed up and we got things rolling) and the stakes were high (the winning team could throw raw eggs at the losing team). We had collaborated with the guidance counselor from the escuela so most things were in order when we showed up at 7:30ish to get the event started.

What followed was a roughly six-hour event that had the kids completing and competing in a variety of team-based activities. From the human knot and pyramid to piggyback rides and wheelbarrow races through mud the kids laughed and cheered their way through the day. The winning team ended up making a comeback in the second half of the event, moving from third place (out of four) to first. 

We enjoyed ourselves nearly as much as the kids (at least as much as facilitating and judging allows). When all was said and done we threw our stuff in a bag, stumbled home to take showers and then hid our sunburned bodies from the sun for the rest of the day.

Human Knot

Jumping Rope
(the teams had to hold hands and jump over a rope that was roughly waist high, if they let go of each others hands or touched the rope they had to start from scratch)

Magic Sandals
(the team had to pass from one side of the field to the other, each person could only wear the magic sandals once, hence the double piggyback ride)

Magic Sandals
(another method used by teams)

The Wheel
(players had to run around the 'wheel' and then crawl through their teammates legs, in the mud, and capture a tennis ball placed in the center)

Filling Bottles
(teams had to run across the field with cups of water in their mouths and then pour it into the soda bottles, the team with the most water won)

Team Soccer
(teammates had to hold hands, 5 defenders, 5 offenders; it was a foul if players let go of hands)

String Race
(teams had to unwind string from a spoon, run it down their shirt and pant-leg and onto the next player, once all teammates were connected they had to run down the field and back, pull the string back through their clothes and wind it up again)

Water Balloon Volleyball

Wheelbarrow Races

Celebrating at the end
(this was not one of the planned events, it seems a little dangerous perhaps)

A MAN, A PLAN, A CANAL - PANAMA!

We started the month of December with the second leg of our vacation - a trip to Panama! My parents had decided to extend their vacation for a couple of days and accompanied us on the 16.5 hour bus ride from San José to Panama City with the end goal of running the Panama City International Marathon. The bus ride down was uneventful (with the exception of being told that in order to enter Panama we had to have already purchased return trip tickets). We bumped into a couple of other volunteers on the way who were travelling on different bus lines, a couple of them with the same intentions of running the marathon.

We purchased return trip tickets to San José from our bus driver in the middle of the night with hopes that we weren't being scammed. Thankfully the purchase was a sound one (we had heard of others who had made this transaction without as much luck) and in the morning we turned in our 'tickets' for actual reserved seats on a return bus that would take us back to Costa Rica a couple of days later. Then we found some very helpful terminal employees that got us onto a bus that would take us near our hotel and then had a very helpful bus driver that told us when we should get off. A couple of blocks later we were at our hotel.

We rested until lunch time and then ventured out into the city. The skyline is a beautiful one and there were some amazing looking buildings. We walked through a park that took us along the Panama Bay and then stumbled into an ethnic area with some fabulous looking food. Unfortunately it was a little out of our price range, but we found a more affordable Mediterranean restaurant not too far away. There we ate our fair share of veggie pitas and talked to a random stranger who left the US for Panama some eight years ago and hasn't gone back since. With full bellies we ran across the road to the mall and wasted some time away from the afternoon heat (and consumed delicious milkshakes!). When we made it back to the hotel we were still full, so we called it an early night and skipped dinner.

Panama City skyline
The next morning we wandered through the city and eventually found our way to Casco Antiguo, an older part of town. There were some fabulous buildings and more importantly some fabulous breakfast. We refueled after our morning walk and then set out in the growing heat of the day to explore the area a little more. Not knowing much about where we were, we were delighted to stumble across some indigenous artisans selling their crafts. Mom and dad purchased a couple of things for the girls and we continued on our way only to find more artisans.  Chris and I encountered one gentleman who was more than happy to share information about his people, the Kuna. He told us about their history, their crafts and a little about their current culture. It was one of those moments that we relished the fact that we now speak Spanish. Whether it was his plan or not, we ended up walking away with a fair number of crafts in hand. What excites us is that we will be able to share the stories behind those crafts when we show them to friends and family back home.

Mom and Dad in Casco Antiguo
Us in Casco Antiguo










With money spent (including the purchase of yet another wedding band for Chris, he's currently had one for every year that we have been married) we headed in the direction of the race expo on the other side of the city. We wandered through the Panama Bay park again and got stuck in a brief downpour. Once the skies cleared we wandered some more. We weren't sure of where exactly we were going since we couldn't get internet to work in our hotel so we went back to the mall to ask some employees in the running store. They sent us in the right direction and on our way we ran into more volunteers that were in town to run. After catching up for a little bit they sent us to the hotel where we eventually found the hidden hotel room and our race packets.

Race chips and t-shirts (actually very nice adidas technical shirts) in hand we found our way to the Hard Rock Cafe for a protein packed lunch. Then we called it a day. We had been on our feet all morning and with a 42 kilometer run on the books for the following morning it was time to put our feet up. We got back together for a quick dinner and settled in for the night.

We had a super early morning as the race started at 5am and we had to go across town to get to the start line. We hailed a taxi and made the quick trip through the quiet city. The start line was dark and quiet. Nothing like any of the previous marathons we had run, but that meant that we could talk to the whole volunteer crew that had ventured down. All together we were ten, nine marathoners and one half-marathoner. For many it was their first, we were all a little excited to get the show on the road, each of us with our own goals (Chris to set a new personal record, me to finish coming off of two months of recovery from an injury). There was never the sound of a gun, so I'm not sure how people knew to start, but I started moving my feet with the crowd and we were off.

Mom and I a couple of kilometers in
Chris achieved his goal in style. Being one of the fast extranjeros (foreigners) he managed to win a little bit of money (and finish before the heat of the day!). I eventually crossed the finish line, it wasn't pretty, but I finished running. Mom and dad came in some time later (dad finishing his first marathon, mom her second). The rest of the volunteer crew rolled in with times of less than five hours, a couple of them scoring some cash as well! On top of Peace Corps Costa Rica volunteers doing well, there was a crew of Peace Corps Panama volunteers that also took home some goods - some cash and one even won a bike in a raffle! It was a good day for Peace Corps.

Henley and Chris with some cash money

We all finished!

Most of the Peace Corps Costa Rica crew

We hung out for a while and when the sky started to spit we caught a ride back to the hotel so that we could clean up and then find a place to eat lunch. Appetites satisfied we found a taxi driver that would take us out to the Panama Canal. Once we were in his car he also offered to wait for us and bring us back. We took him up on the offer and for $20 we had a round trip ride and the ease of mind to know that we would have a ride waiting for us when we finished up (he didn't want payment until he had gotten us home, so we knew he'd be waiting).

Us at the Panama Canal
The lock system is pretty incredible. The ships that move through the canal are enormous. We were fascinated. We watched two ships move through the system and then watched a short video on the history of the canal. Then we ventured into the museum before the visitor's center closed for the day. With the exception of all of the stairs that we had to walk up and down while we were there (remember, we had run 42 kilometers in the morning) I would say it was a very enjoyable experience! As we made our way down the stairs to the parking lot our driver started waving his arms to get our attention. He pulled the car up and we were on our way. We returned to our hotel, got back together for some dinner and then our muscles rejoiced in not needing to climb any more stairs for the day.

One of the big ol' ships heading through the locks
Monday morning we took it easy. We met up for a late breakfast and then walked back to Casco Antiguo where Chris and I purchased more items from our Kuna friend. We wandered through the old cathedral and into a small shop where more purchases were made (including another wedding band for Chris... the first one ended up being too big, this one is also too big now that his body has fully recovered from the marathon). We got caught in a couple of rain storms in an attempt to return to our hotel for check out and then grabbed more protein from Hard Rock Cafe (it is easiest to eat at chain restaurants when three of us are vegetarians and one cannot eat gluten).

Cathedral in Casco Antiguo
Even though we had taken our sweet time at lunch we still had time to kill before our 11pm bus back to Costa Rica. So, we headed to the terminal which just so happens to be located next to a mall with a movie theater. We found the one movie that fit into our time frame that was showing in English and settled in for a couple of hours. By luck that movie happened to be Killer Elite and was very good. We walked through the mall for a little bit after that stretching our legs and then Chris and I got some DQ Blizzards for dinner. Some more waiting and then it was time to get on the bus for the long ride home.

Before we got caught in a storm
With the exception of getting to the border crossing before it opened for the day the trip home was pretty smooth going. We were stopped a couple of times for passport checks and drug checks, but nothing out of the ordinary when going from country to country. We got back into San José around 3:30 and by the time we got our luggage Chris and I had to rush to get to our bus terminal in order to get home that day. We hailed a cab for mom and dad and told the driver where to take them. I was pretty anxious, for about 15 or 20 minutes, until they called to say they were safely in their hotel room. We got on a bus and were able to relax for the bus ride home.

Moms and Dads on Vacation, Oh My!

When we came to Costa Rica we warned our families and friends that the only way that they would see us during our 27-month Peace Corps adventure would be if they visited us. At the end of November, 21-months after arriving in Costa Rica, our parents were finally able to make it down for a visit. We had a great time showing them what Costa Rica is to us and they (or so they've said!) equally enjoyed seeing how we have been living for the past two years and meeting some of the people that we have been fortunate to get to know over that time period.

Together again!
Our time with them started as all trips to Costa Rica must, in San José. This is not to say that San José is a must see, simply that the airport is located nearby. Chris' parents got into the country first and we spent the following morning catching up with them and taking them to see some of the sites in San José's center. The cathedral, post office, national theater and central market are surely things to see if you are going to visit the city. Later that afternoon I met my parents at the airport and took them back to the hotel, at which point all six of us went to a soda on the corner and our parents were introduced to Costa Rica's typical lunch, a casado. Everyone enjoyed their plates heaping with food and we left with full bellies.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent walking in the city some more and visiting the city's artisan market. My mom was very excited and purchased her first souvenirs of the trip. When our bellies started telling us that it was time to eat again Chris led the way to one of our favorite vegetarian restaurants in the city, Vishnu. There we were able to introduce our families to another typical food in Costa Rica, tamales. We returned to the hotel and spent some time chatting and catching up until we realized that it was late and we had to be on a bus the following morning at six.

Thanksgiving was spent in Cahuita, one of our favorite beaches in Costa Rica (OK, I admit, we've only visited two beaches since our arrival, but we love the quaint town of Cahuita). It was no where near your traditional turkey dinner, but our parents were able to taste one of our favorite foods here, rice and beans. These aren't your every day rice and beans though. They're cooked in coconut milk giving them a delicious, rich flavor. We topped off our Turkey(less) Day with a walk through the national park where my mom happened to spot a sloth hanging out near the trail. (We also went out to dinner at an Italian place in town where we had to translate for my dad... the waiter had been speaking in English and he hadn't realized it! I guess that happens when you're expecting to hear Spanish, right dad?)

Sloth!
The next morning we got up with the sun and wandered into the park again as soon as it opened for the day. After walking for a little while we started hearing the howler monkeys sound and shortly thereafter they made an appearance. As we continued on our journey we also saw white face monkeys, an iguana, a vine snake (eating a lizard for breakfast), lots of little crabs and lizards. When the mosquitoes started eating us for breakfast we decided to head back into town and grab some of our own. We stopped at our favorite breakfast spot, a little bakery in the center of town, for some gallo pinto, fresh fruit and delicious bread. Bellies full and ready to get the bug spray and sun screen off of us we all went back to the hotel and cleaned up for our trip to Sarapiquí.

White Face Monkey
We spent the next five days at Selva Verde Lodge a couple of kilometers outside of Puerto Viejo. While it wasn't quite what was expected (including a little blunder with Chris' parents being put in a bungalow that wasn't finished yet) we enjoyed our time there and its proximity to amazing adventures that should be on everyone's to do list in Costa Rica!

We spent our first day in the lodge just hanging out. After four days of travel with little stop overs here and there everyone was ready to sit back and relax (and enjoy the sound of rain on a tin roof). We did a little bit of walking on the trails (though this was one of our disappointments as guests do not have access to all of the lodges trails unless they pay a guide to take them), played some Canasta and Amish Dice, read, ate... all of that good stuff that comes with a day set aside for relaxation!

Blue Jean Poison Dart Frog
Green and Black Poison Dart Frog










On Sunday morning we got moving a little earlier and hopped onto a bus into Puerto Viejo. Our parents decided that they would travel as we do while in Costa Rica, meaning no rental car and plenty of bus rides! One of the nice things about this is that no one had to navigate the roads and everyone could enjoy the view. Once in Puerto Viejo we walked around for a little while and Chris negotiated a trip down the river with one of the locals. We started out on a one-hour tour, but after being on the river for an hour we were asked if we wanted to turn around or stay for a two-hour tour. We chose the two-hour option.

Blue skies - perfect day for a river cruise!
While cruising along the beautiful Sarapiquí River our skilled captain pointed out abundant wildlife. We saw more than our fair share of gigantic iguanas, two caiman, two crocodiles, a river otter, a florescent green basilisk, a family of howler monkeys and a wide variety of birds. One of the crocodiles decided to jump into the water as our boat was trying to get closer to shore for some better photos, everyone was a little startled and curious as to where the crocodile disappeared to, but we clearly made it out alive! When we finally returned to the dock we were greeted by some very muddy boys who had been playing in the residue of recent floods, one of which happily left a hand print on the back of Chris' dad's shorts. We headed back to the lodge and relaxed for the afternoon, playing some more Canasta.
Crocodile on the river banks
Giant iguana posing for us










Monday brought us into La Colonia where our parents met our host family, our counterparts, some of the kids and some of our friends. We took them to our escuela and colegio and walked around town for a little while. With the sun shining bright I took the opportunity to introduce the moms and dads to ice cream in a bag. They did a pretty good job of it, each developing their own technique, each getting a little sticky in the long run! Chris had had to sneak away for a little bit to take care of some issues with the grant, but we all met up again back at the house a couple of minutes before catching a bus back to the lodge. Once again the afternoon was spent playing some Canasta and Amish Dice!

Ice cream in a bag anyone?
Tuesday morning we headed in the other direction, toward La Virgen, to Tirimbina Reserve (where we decided that we would rather be staying; you win some, you lose some. Note to others: if you're coming to the Sarapiquí area and have some money to spend on lodging, check Tirimbina out!). We had set ourselves up for a chocolate tour at the reserve and it was well worth it. We had a short hike through the rainforest (all of Tirimbina's trails are open to guests and individuals that choose to go on tours there) and ended up at a cacao plantation. Cacao grows in the middle of the rainforest - we were later told that this is an excellent reason to eat high quality chocolate, because you are ultimately protecting the rainforest! We learned about the chocolate making process and were able to sample cacao beans every step of the way and then we sampled some freshly made chocolate. It was delicious! We loaded up on chocolate after the tour and then returned to the lodge for an afternoon of hiking and relaxing, and yes, more Canasta and Amish Dice. We may have finally thrown in a game of Bananagrams at that point too!

The chocolate process, from fruit to yummy goodness

Wedneday morning we went a little past La Virgen to San Miguel for a coffee tour. One of our friends is a volunteer in San Miguel and has worked with Mi Cafecito. She had told us that they offer a great tour and she was right! It was amazing. We learned about the process of growing, harvesting and processing coffee. We walked through the rainforest and learned about the cooperative's efforts to be green and saw a beautiful waterfall. The tour ended with a delicious meal that comes as a part of the tour. Everything comes from the plantation, tilapia, yuca, coffee -  fabulous!

Coffee beans, sorted, peeled and dried

That night we went to a little Mexican restaurant down the road from the lodge. Our parents definitely prefer a little bit of spice in their food (and we were all a little tired of the restaurant at the lodge - which I must say was absolutely delicious with fresh salads, brick oven pizzas and the sort). We were surprised to have an waitress from the States who was down volunteering at an eco resort in the area, (This time my dad figured out that she was speaking English and even commented on her use of the word "y'all".)

Thursday morning we were sad to say our goodbyes to Chris' parents, but the rest of us had to go to San José and hop on a bus to... Panama!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

NOVEMBER!

November really flew by! We had a long list of things to do before leaving for our first vacation since our arrival in Costa Rica and before we knew it that vacation arrived. And with it, our parents! Needless to say, November ended up being a pretty great month. Stick around for a moment and check out what we've been up to!



November 1

We have officially lived in Costa Rica for twenty months. How crazy is that? From this side, very. It has been an interesting 20 months, both positively and negatively interesting. We've learned a lot about ourselves, what we can get away with, what we cannot and what things are important to us and want to make sure are present in our future.

Lots of rain going on right now. Only three showed up for aerobics, but Chris made pizza for dinner so I think the evening balanced out!

November 2

Today was a math day in grupo. Some kids get it, some do not. We're a little surprised that some have made it to first grade, but I don't know that there are any standards for graduating from kindergarten. To say the least, it is a little rough at times.

I came home to where Chris was manning the most important task of the day. He was left in charge of winning the Almond Joy cake by Steve in the Billy auction. He did well, winning it at 27 mil. Yay, Steve is going to come to our site and deliver delicious goodies! Also, Chris' run to Billy's site to deliver a sweaty hug received the highest bid - 50 mil!

November 3

Aaaaand we're done! It's only taken us about 8 months and some combined lessons, but we have finished up Chicos and Chicas. We'll celebrate in December with whatever activity we cook up with Orlando.

November 4

I did some bracelet work and then wrote some. Then I started thinking of all of the things that I would like to get done before our parents arrive and novelling fell to the bottom. I've got it started if I decide to come back on a writing spree, but as I told Chris, there's so much good stuff out there; why create something new and not good? Maybe some day, but not today.

November 5

Happy Guy Fawkes Day! Perhaps the most celebrated failure in history?

Chris worked on his DOS (Description of Service) for WNMU today. Going through our time in service thus far is a great reflection tool. Last month may have been rough, but we were still working. We have had very successful projects - some may have been short lived, but they were still great during that window of time. We really have done a lot more than it sometimes feels like. We've facilitated nine week long camps. We've had English club. We had all of those afternoons in the plaza. We have repitentes. We've hosted seven from UNL. We've really gotten in there. And that's not counting our individual projects.

This morning there was an odd incident of a man running around town with a machete. At first Maria told me he had been robbed and was looking for the culprit. Then she said he was a drunk so we had better keep all of the doors locked. Who knows what the real story was, but I don't have any problem keeping the doors locked if someone is running around with a machete.

November 6

More crafting today, yay! I finished Kenzie's headband, worked on a fused bag and on cloth roses. I stumbled across a couple of cute flower ideas for Sarah. I really enjoy making things.

Chris went for a longer run in his Minumuses today. Got some blisters but made it back alive and still waling. Then we ate pancakes (oatmeal, flaxseed, honey, and dulceT). Delicious. 

Don Quijote (book 1) is rapidly coming to a close. (A Chris read)

November 7

It feels strange to be home alone for the night. Chris had his appointment with the dermatologist today and emailed to let me know he would be staying the night in the city.

Grupo went well today. I was the only teacher. Carolina was the only student from Orlando's group so he put her with me and worked on scholarship forms. I had seven stations and nine kids so they rotated throughout the session. 

November 8

I had quite the conversation with Liseth and Steven. We were talking about animals since that is what they are studying in school (they're kindergarteners). The conversation turned to snakes and that is what we spent the next 25 minutes talking about. I now know that anacondas can grow to be the same length as the distance between Nicaragua and San Jose and that they can eat up to 400 people when they are really hungry.

I spent the afternoon working on bracelets and purses. Chris finally got home with two new holes in his back.

November 9

Chris went out to the cole today and was able to talk to Marlon. It sounds like construction/renovations will finally start up next Wednesday!

I read a little bit before class, I love how many little stories are wound together in Ana Karenina and the range of topics that are covered. 

November 10

We woke up to the sound of rain and when Maria came back from lunch she said that teachers were leaving because there was rumor of flooding in Naranjal. No one left from the school though. I don't get it - people just get excited. I don't know why they wouldn't want to get stuck in Colonia. 

Chris got a good run in today, taking advantage of the lower temps that came with the rain.

11-11-11

Chris ran errands in Puerto this morning and I went on a bracelet making spree.

Chris worked on his statement of interest for the Fellows Program. Why is it so hard to put into words how perfect this program is for us?

The future is looming. We're (mostly) ready and (very) excited (but maybe a little scared and anxious too.).

November 12

I experimented with adding crayon wax to the fused plastics equation. I mostly failed. But I did get a good looking bookmark for Haley out of the experiment. Ariela's afternoon was full of success. She created a beautiful brown bag that from a distance looks like leather. It is gorgeous. She also added an inner lip so that she could put in a zipper without needing to stitch through the outside of the bag. I feel proud of the progress she has made in these last five months.

November 13

Rice and beans are made. That means we're ready for the week.

November 14

I returned to the bracelet making factory today. I'm oh so close to finishing the Poderosa set. Then I have 11 more Poderosos to make. I think I had 25 left when I started up last week. 

November 15

Now that it is almost here it's hard to believe that the six month mark is upon us.

November 16

L-O-N-G day. Chris was up at 4:30 for his trip into San Jose. I started laundry by 6. Not the best of days to wash clothes since it was pouring, but it was certainly better than waiting for Saturday and washing a whole week's worth of clothes.

The best part of the day was when one of the women stayed after class tonight to thank me for teaching her. Such a wonderful feeling.

Chris got his stitches out but still has some healing to do.

November 17

Chris had a special project today. Maria and Rafa were given a computer and this afternoon he got it set up for Maria. He put games on it for her and everything. She's bound to be addicted for the next couple of weeks as we saw last winter when they had one of the school's lap tops. It's fun to answer her questions and listen to her exclaim "Que Lindo" when she changes the design in the deck of cards. If anything Chris will have a winter project as she and Rafa figure out the computer.

November 18

Today the cole won third prize at the band competition. We stayed in Puerto to hear/watch them play, but then left as the competition was outside and it was raining. 

We also found out the the cole won the national mural competion!

I signed up to volunteer in Nicaragua since I won't be able to train how I would like to. Also, with the big price ticket it makes more sense budget wise for me to just go and support runners (like Chris).

November 19

At the height of the storm we were upe-ed and Marlon and his wife were at the door. They stayed for about an hour, working with Chris to try and get the grant figured out. The contractors stopped by and we were able to chat with them as well. They started work yesterday and they now know what Chris' dream deadline is. If all goes well this grant business may be wrapped up by the end of the year!

November 20

Another longish, productive-ish day. We've had quite the weekend trying to get things wrapped up before going on vacation.

Maria is a computer game addict. She told Sumara that she couldn't go to church the other day because she was playing and last night she burned the beans because she lost track of time. She also said that she won't go to Grecia for Christmas this year so that she can stay home and play. Oh goodness. Hopefully the newness wears off soon so that she can go back to her normal life. [note: since returning from our vacation the computer has not been turned on, we're hopeful that the addictive stage has worn off]

November 21

Wow, six months from today we will be back in the States. Kind of crazy. I know people say that the last six months fly, but I don't know that I ever actually believed it. December and January may be a bit rough, but we may just be surprised at how quickly time passes.

We had a two hour meeting with Orlando this morning to plan our big sixth grade event. The day after vacation. It's going to be a crazy day with six hours worth of games. We're all going to be exhausted. It's going to be incredible.

The kids in grupo read the story that Chris wrote and then they illustrated their books. As they finished up they played games, did puzzles, re-read their stories, etc. My highlight was teaching Jose Miguel how to play Scrabble (or at least gave him the idea, using Bananagram tiles).

We returned home to an overflowing toilet. We're looking forward to a vacation from our dysfunctional toilet.

It's kind of hard to believe that moms and dads start arriving tomorrow!

November 22

Yay! The first set of parents have arrived! It's so good to see them and to be able to talk face to face.

November 23

Everyone is here now!

November 24

Happy Thanksgiving!

We saw a sloth.

November 25

We saw howler monkeys, white face monkeys, a vine snake (eating a lizard), an iguana, lots of little lizards, crabs, birds, butterflies and mosquitoes. It was a pretty good walk.

November 26

Everyone had a chance to settle into the bungalows and relax today.

November 27

The trip down the river was great! We saw tons of iguanas - they were huge! We also saw caiman, crocodiles, a river otter, several birds and some monkeys.

November 28

It was entertaining to watch moms and dads figure out how to eat ice cream out of a bag!

November 29

We went on a chocolate tour today. Delicious!

November 30

We had a wonderful time on the coffee tour today.

I know, I know. The last several days of November are lacking in detail. My plan is to write up a whole vacation blog in an attempt to keep this one from going on forever! Check back soon to hear more about our parents crazy adventures in Costa Rica!