Monday, January 31, 2011

Work Trip?

This past weekend we had the pleasure of attending a Peace Corps meeting at the beach.  Costa Rica is divided into volunteer regions, and we are a part of the Limon region which includes a number of wonderful people, places and beaches.  We held our regional volunteer meeting in the quaint beach town of Cahuita and had a wonderful time with friends.

We left our house not so bright, but early, on Saturday morning and took the adventurous trip that had us ride four buses, get in an argument with bus terminal employees and eat some chocolate and caramel covered peanuts.  The first three of our bus rides went quite smoothly and lined up perfectly, allowing just enough time to buy tickets and grab a seat.  The fourth should have gone just as smoothly - we watched it happen with friends of ours on the same travel schedule.  

The transition to our final bus, or lack of transition depending on your point of view, led to our argument with bus terminal employees.  We got in line, the controller on duty asked us where we were going as he was getting ready to send the Cahuita bus on its way.  He stood in line with us, Chris ordered our tickets and handed over money, the controller took the slips that the woman passed through the window and we followed him to the bus.  He handed the slips to the bus driver through the window, we told the bus driver this when we got on, he looked at us like we were crazy, we got off the bus to look for the controller, Chris talked to the woman at the ticket counter who said she had never seen him or his money before and the bus took off.  We eventually found the controller again who explained that the slips he had taken were to tell the bus driver how many tickets he should have received from paid fares.  After we explained the situation he told us that the woman at the ticket counter was crazy and came with us to make sure we got our tickets and our change (since Chris had paid 5000 colones and it should have only cost 2010).  Thankfully we only had to wait 30 minutes (enough time for chocolate caramel peanuts) for the next bus and we were able to meet up with our friends in time for lunch in Cahuita.

We had a wonderful lunch of rice and beans (a dish prepared with coconut milk and a little Caribbean spice), patacones (one of our favorite items prepared with plantains) and fish.  Another group of volunteers met up with us shortly after we got our food and later we all headed to the beach to toss around a Frisbee and play some Ultimate.  It was great to catch up with people that we hadn't seen since Thanksgiving or before.

Before dinner we came together for our "business" meeting and discussed how things were going and how things could be improved in Peace Corps Costa Rica then the group split into smaller groups for more delicious food.  We went out with our friends Megon and Kevin and ate some delicious pasta full of vegetables that weren't cooked to the point of mush and then returned to the hotel to play a rousing game of Canasta (or Hand and Foot, depending on where you're from).  We had played earlier in the week and the boys had won, the girls were the champions at the beach and now we have a running tally for our remaining time in Peace Corps.  We'll see who walks away with the most wins at the end of May 2012!

We got up early Sunday morning and caught the sunrise over the Atlantic.  After it had passed the stage of beautiful colors a group of us headed to Cahuita National Park.  We walked about 3 kilometers of trail through the seaside jungle and saw Cara Blancas (White Face Monkeys) and Congos (Howler Monkeys) as we walked out to the point where we turned around.  On our return trip we ran into a guided group and the guide was nice enough to pause his tour to point out a Sloth to us and lead us down the trail a bit to see an Eyelash Viper!  Several photos later we walked out of the park and headed into town for a delicious breakfast complete with multi-grain bread (a real treat for us!).

After breakfast it was time for us to call an end to our weekend escape and we returned to the hotel for quick showers before walking to the bus terminal.  We had an uneventful trip home and as nice as it had been to be away for the weekend with friends, were glad to be back in the comforts of home.

"Summer" Camp

During the month of January we offered a series of camps for local youth to participate in.  We weren't sure what to expect as the community was really quiet starting in December.  People were using their vacation time to visit family in other parts of Costa Rica or in Nicaragua and so we crossed our fingers and hoped for a good turn out.  The first two weeks were rainy, but we had been given keys to the school so we had a classroom to work in and then for the third week we had glorious weather! 

Week One: Art Camp

Our first week of camp was quite successful.  We had an average of about ten kids a day, some days more, some days less.  We crowded in to our little classroom every day, seeking shelter from the rain and focused on our artwork.  Monday we drew, Tuesday we painted, Wednesday we made friendship bracelets, Thursday we did origami and Friday we celebrated by doing a little bit of everything.  The biggest hit of the week was coloring books.  We had gotten them so that we would have something for the little kids to do, but throughout the week kids of all ages colored and they loved it!  

Week Two: Games Camp

Our game camp was a little slower than art camp.  Actually, a lot slower.  We had more rain and we were more or less without our classroom.  While we still had the keys, all of the chairs and desks had been moved out of it for a wedding reception over the weekend and had been returned to a different classroom.  We made due though with handy foam mats that we had purchased as a teaching tool.  We used the mats as protection from the concrete floors and played away.  Each day of camp was more or less the same since we didn't have enough kids to do all of the activities that we had planned on.  Instead we played numerous games of Uno, Garbage, Left-Right-Center, and Go Fish.  The kids enjoyed the card games, but we changed things up on Friday and introduced Checkers and Can't Stop!  It was a great week even if we didn't have as many kids as we would have liked.

Week Three: Sports Camp

Sports Camp was definitely a winner, as we had thought it would be.  We had about 14 kids a day, topping out at 19 on Friday.  We had perfect weather all week, not too hot with some cloud cover - just what was needed to get kids out from in front of the TV and into the plaza.  Monday we played soccer, Tuesday we played basketball, Wednesday we played baseball, Thursday we played Frisbee and Friday we played Ultimate Frisbee for an hour and soccer for an hour.  This was a special week because on Wednesday we had a couple of friends join us to help with baseball.  Kevin is a huge baseball fan and was able to teach kids games that we wouldn't have been able to come up with!  His wife Megon joined in and we were able to break the kids into two groups for stations - Kevin and Megon working on batting and Chris and I on catching.

"Summer" is quickly coming to a close.  School starts next week and so we are in planning mode this week.  We hope to meet with school directors and get activities lined up now so that we can get started right away this year.  We have big ideas - we'll let you know which ones actually work out!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


The holidays were far from what we are used to this year, but in the midst of all of what we perceived as abnormalities we were fortunate to learn about and take part in some Costa Rican traditions.  While we both brought our own family traditions into our lives together, this year we learned some new ones that we think we will add to our repertoire.  

A couple of days before Christmas we were invited to participate in the age old tradition of making tamales.  For several weeks we had been hearing talk of making tamales and people had been asking us what we would do since tamales are traditionally made with meat.  María, our host mom, had already talked with us about the million and a half options we would have.  We could make them with a bunch of vegetables, with hearts of palm, with beans, with soy meat; she was very concerned about us having tamales that we could eat and was thus very resourceful in coming up with ways that we could participate in one of the most important parts of the Christmas holiday.  In the end we made them the traditional way, just substituting the meat with refried beans.

In reality making tamales is a day long event.  There is masa to make, banana leaves to smoke and cut (unless you buy them pre-cut), vegetables to prepare, meat (or beans) to cook, and string to cut.  Then you need to put them all together and boil/steam them for about an hour and fifteen minutes (depending on how many you are making).  We only ended up participating in the second to last step - putting all of the parts together.

Rafa, our host dad, walked us through the steps and he and his sister kept a watchful eye on us throughout the entire process.  First we had to layer two banana leaves, one small one diagonally on top of a slightly larger one.  Then we had to put some masa in the middle and spread it out a little.  The masa was followed by rice, beans, green bean, carrot, red pepper, peas, and a sprig of cilantro.  Once all of the ingredients were placed on the leaves, it was time to roll them up.  Sometimes we had too many ingredients in one tamal making it difficult to roll, but with a little help from Rafa's sister, everything came together smoothly.  Once two packets were prepared they were tied together tightly to keep all of the yummy goodness from escaping during the cooking process.

All together we made ten pairs of tamales.  María put them in a pot to boil and an hour and a half later she called us out for dinner.  They were delicious.  They were still delicious the next morning when we at them for breakfast, and they only got tastier over time.  When we finished the last ones up at dinner the other day they were spectacular.

Needless to say, tamales will be coming home with us (or at least the knowledge of how to make them!)  We are excited about sharing this new skill with our families when we return state side and are perhaps even more excited about eating them again next Christmas!  New Christmas tradition, check!

The other tradition that we will be brining back home with us is a family tradition of María.  She learned it from her mom, who learned it from her mom, who learned it from an aunt, and who knows how many generations before her did the same.

On New Year's Eve day, a plate is prepared for the coming year.  On it you will find rice, beans, salt, bread and money.  Then, on New Year's Day all of the items are placed in a small pouch and hung on the back of the door.  It is hoped that in return your family will have plenty to eat and enough money to live happily and healthfully.

At the end of the year, the old food is thrown out and the money is given to a local church or charity to help those who were not as fortunate.  It is a way to give back and to look forward.

We plan to add our own twist to this tradition when we bring it to our home, and that will be to add a locket with photos of us in it, so as to bless the year with family, friendship, and love.

The traditions may be small, but then, most are.  We look at it as a way of brining our Costa Rican life home with us and of always having the memories of our 'family' and friends here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Top Ten Albums of 2010

Thanks to dropbox, I didn't lack for albums to listen to this year.  However, short of a few albums I heard on vinyl and/or a proper stereo before landing in Costa Rica, the music of 2010 has been heard via earbuds and/or laptop speakers, and that is no way to really listen to music.  Right after family and friends, I'm most looking forward to reconnecting with my vinyl collection and stereo.  I miss the smell of a brand new lp and familiar pop of the needle dropping.  I miss other things of course, but mostly I miss those other things while listening to music.  It will be nice to cook my own recipes, in our own kitchen, but it will be great to cook in a home filled with the sweet sounds of jazz/indie rock/folk/hip-hop...

Without further ado, the list:

10. Broken Bells -Broken Bells
This album is so predictably good, it almost feels like a guilty pleasure.

9. Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid
Step aside Maya.

8. Sleigh Bells - Treats
I can't decide whether this is the most abrasive pop album ever, or the poppiest noize record ever.

7. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
It's no Funeral... the same way that In Utero is no Nevermind.

6. Yeasayer - Odd Blood
Replace the opener with the cut from Dark Was the Night and this album jumps 5 spots.

5. Fang Island - Fang Island
Math can be fun! (SUPER FUN!!!)

4. No Age - Everything In Between
This year's grower (give it another listen Jeremy)

3. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
The perfect mash up of Weezer (The Blue Album) and Pinkerton

2. Damien Jurardo - Saint Bartlett
2010's Bill Callahan

1. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
If I could only listen to one album from 2010, this would be it.  This collective is greater because of its parts.