Sunday, February 27, 2011

9 Months [in site]

We've reached the end of three more months in site.  We've endured a flood, spent our first Christmas abroad, run three more weeks of summer camp, started exercising more and have watched the easing into of a new school year in La Colonia.  The time hasn't been without its challenges, but has offered us some successes.  We try to greet each day like the new one that it is, cross our fingers and hope that maybe today will be the day that our decision to join Peace Corps will make sense.  Here's another photo album / journal review for your reading pleasure:

December 1
The roads to the cuadrantes had been swallowed.  Our protection [boots, rain coats and umbrellas] did us little good when we decided to follow the crowd of colegio students walking through the flooded road.  By the time we got to the bridge by the colegio water was at mid-thigh.  The guys took it as an opportunity to swim.

December 5
Unfortunately I sliced my thumb in the process of trying to fold over the edges of the tuna can for safety.

December 6
Well, we started the day riding the bus to the colegio.  It was pouring, so we paid the 800 colones, but then the bus went to the old colegio, so we were out 800 colones and still had to walk.  Go us.

December 8
Then English class.  We crammed a shocking 7 people onto the porch with us tonight. [note: there were also 4 bikes and a Christmas tree on the porch - and it's not a very big porch]

December 9
They broke the broom handle three times, but then when they piñata finally broke they all jumped.  Before I could blink the candy had been claimed.  Watching the next group I was able to see their technique.  When the candy flies, throw yourself on the floor and everything under you is yours to keep.

December 11
As we were finishing dinner Rafa came into the kitchen with a pig thrown over his shoulder (it was in a bag) and hefted it onto the counter.  By the time we went out to brush our teeth a couple of guys were having at it and talking about how the fridge was pretty small and what they were going to do with the feet.

December 19
During the walk Jefferson told Chris that if we one day have a son he should be named Superman or Spider-Man.

December 20
We started talking about bullies and when we asked if there was a name for the victim we were told "nerd." [note: nerd is not translated here, that is the actual word that was used]

December 21
We went for a walk at dusk and came home to a tamal making lesson.  Two banana leaves, masa, rice, beans, chili, carrot, green bean, peas and culantro all folded up and tied together.

December 23
We ate a quick lunch, saw the bus go past and then literally ran to catch it.  We're pretty fast though and ended up having to wait at the offices for the bus to catch up!

Maria and Rafa started making Christmas Cake tonight, but got distracted by killing the turkey.

December 24
Hmmm...Christmas Eve.  It sure doesn't feel like it.  There are the sounds of karaoke down the road, random explosions of fire works and the occasional shout or burst of laughter from the street.  It's a far cry from the Christmas Eves of my youth - listening to Uncle Brian sing "Oh Holy Night," going to AB and UBs for crackers and cheese, meatballs, veggies and more Christmas sweets than you'd imagine.  Tonight there will be no candlelight service, no traditional hymns, no reflections of Christmas lights in the snow.  Hamburgers, fried yuca and flan were our Christmas Eve treats.  Life sure has changed a lot over the past 10 - 15 years.

December 29
...while I hung out and finished a load of wash - which is conveniently about as wet now as it was fresh out of the washer.

December 31
Happy New Year's Eve!  The neighbors have their karaoke machines plugged in and ready to go, fire crackers are going off in the streets and then the rain came pouring down.

January 1
We're going to be healthier, more positive and we're going to get things done.  At least we're hopeful for what the year may bring and all that we have the potential to do, no matter how big or small.

January 2
We rode horses today!

January 8
Our big success for the day was getting keys to the school so we can actually get in for camp.  Yay!

January 10
Guicho told Chris that camp was very good today.

January 13
Origami was awesome!  Everyone was engaged for the whole three hours and there weren't any coloring books used today - bonus!

January 17
So, tag doesn't go well with three kids.  Instead we played Go Fish, Basura, LRC and with the foam pads. [note: the foam pads are giant foam puzzle pieces with numbers and letters in them]

January 19
8AM: No kids.
8:15AM: Go for a walk, no one is out
8:30AM: Return to school, still no kids
9AM: Ready to leave, David shows up and we start to play Uno.  Shortly after Hellen Dayana and Marlon show up
9:30AM: David needs to leave
9:40AM: Marlon laves
10:15AM: Dayana is more interested in taking photos
10:30AM: We walk Dayana home, she takes a couple of photos, there's talk of riding bikes at 2 (it doesn't happen)

January 26
How many gringos does it take to make a Tico dinner you ask?  Four.  We all had our roles.  Chris made crema de ayote, Megon did tortillas, Kevin cut platano and Megon fried and flattened into patacones, I flipped tortillas and fried the flattened patacones.  It was all delicious!

January 28
Camp is done!

January 29
An early morning of feeding the animals before the sun came up led to a fun, but long, day.

January 31
This is sure to be one crazy adventure.

February 1
We picked up trash around the work site and at our lowest moment yet, as Peace Corps Volunteers, set it on fire.  I had hoped to get through these two years without burning trash, but I was handed a box of matches upon asking what we should do with the trash.

February 4
Big news of the day is that we're going camping tomorrow!

February 5
We left the house at a little before six, running in the rain and after the bus. [note: we also had our nice big backpacks on our backs, good thing it was a quick run]

What a beautiful place!  We got to the overlook just before the fog rolled in and were able to get some quick photos.

Setting up the hammock for the first time in the rain wasn't the best of ideas, but after our second attempt it was good enough for one night.

February 8
We're kind of in limbo right now.

Spent the evening listening to music and playing canasta.  This is a most excellent way to pass the time - mostly relaxing and listening to music.  Our lives have been lacking on the music front, but canasta gives us a good two hours or so to just hear beautiful sounds.

February 10
Well, in theory school started today.  Kids showed up in uniform, there were acto civicos, though I'm not sure that much else was accomplished.

We sang "Si estas feliz y lo sabe" (If You're Happy and You Know It) twice in the escuela.  No one was really happy though.

February 13
Woke up to a nice chilly mountain morning!

February 14
To our surprise Josh was in the office (with a beard - bonus surprise!) and we ended up spending most of the rest of the day with him.

February 15
The Indian came back to haunt me.

February 17
One of these days we're hoping to work.

February 20
For the return trip of my run Yohancer and his uncle rode their bikes along side of me and we talked until we arrived at the cuadrantes.

February 21
In other news, happy 9 months in site.  Go us.

February 23
After class, Jefferson and I looked at photos on the touch - that was pretty awesome, he loved swiping the photos.

February 24
Yesterday's trip was uneventful with the exception of finding Chris a new wedding band. [note: the old one was lost during a soccer game]

So there you have it, the past three months in our site.  If you have questions, go ahead and ask!  We'd be happy to elaborate.

Coming up... One Year in Costa Rica!

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Challenge

iTunes and Canasta, Welcome to Our World

This year we have become re-acquainted with Canasta* - or Hand and Foot - a wonderful card game that has quickly become an key part of our Costa Rican life.  We sit down at the end of a "hard" day (of not doing too much), listen to some wonderful music, make sets that grow into books, practice our math and shuffle endlessly.

The Canasta journey began on a trip to Chicago when our good friends Jeremy and Kim asked us if we would like to play.  After a short explanation it was decided that it would be best to just dive in.  We dove in deeply, but then, as with a lot of things in life, it became a fond memory of good times spent with friends.

This January we dug up the rules that Jeremy and Kim had sent with us to Costa Rica and settled in for a night of card playing with our friends Megon and Kevin.  After a long day at baseball camp it was a perfect way to spend the evening.  The following weekend we were in Cahuita with other volunteers and the cards came out once again.  After two nights in one week a long standing tournament was established, one that will continue as we spend time with Megon and Kevin over the next year or so that we have left in Costa Rica (right now it's tied: Girls -1, Boys - 1).

Needless to say, those two evenings of playing with friends resulted in the development of house rules and our own in-home tournament was established.  This tournament began on February 1 and it is scheduled to end on May 21, 2012.  After about three weeks of playing, being tied 7-7 and having roughly the same score it was decided that stakes needed to be made.

And so, here they are, the Chris and Tarah Canasta Challenge 2011-2012 stakes:
  • At the time of COS (Close of Service) in May 2012, the individual with the most wins will receive two 15-minute back massages per win over the other individual, to be given by the losing individual
  • At the time of COS in May 2012, the individual with the most points may choose one of the following:
    • To double the number of back massages received should he or she also have the most wins
    • To halve the number of back massages given should he or she have fewer wins
After a thoughtful dinner the following conditions were also made:
  • At the time of the Panama City International Marathon (December 4, 2011) the individual with the most wins will receive a 30-minute full body massage post-race
  • At the time of the Panama City International Marathon (December 4, 2011) the individual with the most points will receive a 15-minute full body massage post-race
And so, our quiet evenings of reading and listening to podcasts have since turned into nail biting escapades with tricky plays made and cries of excitement at the draw of 22 cards exactly at the start of a hand.  There are references made to our time in Chicago with statements such as, "Kim would be so proud" or "You just pulled a Kim" (no offense to Jeremy, Kim just may be the more gutsy player).  We find ourselves glad to have a hand full of black 3s because it allows you to play more defensively and when you have the chance you complete a clean book before melding.  We're each developing our own strategies and this is how they have rewarded us thus far:
  • Tarah: 10 Wins & 175,075 Points
  • Chris: 7 Wins & 168.565 Points
The tables turn quickly though, don't be fooled.  Just a week ago Chris was winning 6-5 and by more than 5,000 points.  We'll be biting our nails and improving our strategies over the next year +.  Look for an update of wins and scores this coming November as we head into a visit by our parents and then the fateful trip to Panama City, Panama where the first of the winner's booty will be received!

*Note: These rules are pretty similar to how we play, however there are some differences.  If you want to start playing, do a Google search and find the rules that you like best and make your own house rules!

Friday, February 18, 2011

8 Hours + 6 Buses =

Last weekend we traveled with our host parents to Grecia for one of their grandson's 4th birthday party.  We left the house at 6AM and arrived at the party at 2PM.  We thankfully had seats on all of our buses.

We did have a couple of layovers - one in Grecia Center for an hour, during which time our host mom managed to take us through the Iron Church (made purely of metal) and squeeze in an eye exam (I took advantage of our location and bought some contact lenses) and another at our host mom's mom's house for lunch.

The party was pretty much what you would expect for a 4 year old's birthday - balloons, a clown (one of our host mom's sisters), a piñata, candy, ice cream, cake and a table full of presents.  There was classic rock playing in the background and not a whole lot of dancing going on.  The adults were there to eat and the kids were there because their parents dragged them along.

We had a great time though as is evident by the photos above!

The next morning we woke up to the cool mountain air of Cajon Arriba and enjoyed a couple of walks through the countryside while waiting for the next round of buses.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Bosque Alegre Wildlife Refuge

After a respite of more than a year, we were able to dive into a weekend adventure that included backpacking and camping, two of our favorite things!  Thanks to the planning skills of our newfound CouchSurfing friends, Matt and Megan, we were able to explore some of Costa Rica's natural beauty just outside of Cariblanco, a community north of San José.

Saturday morning we woke up not so bright, but early (two weeks in a row, I know!) and made some last minute adjustments to our packs to account for the rain that was pouring down.  Our bus was surprisingly early and did not go to the community beyond ours and so we ended up running through the rain, after the bus, hoping that we would be able to make it to town in time.  It turned out that the bus was stopped just around the corner, but it made for an exhilarating start to the weekend.

Once we made it to Cariblanco we had a 6 km hike to the Bosque Alegre Wildlife Refuge where we were going to spend our evening.  The Bosque is home to the Congo Volcano (dormant for many years) and three lagoons, Hule, Congo, and Bosque Alegre.  We were fortunate enough to spend time at both Hule and Bosque Alegre during our quick trip.

Hule Lagoon
We arrived at the overlook for Hule Lagoon shortly before the fog rolled in and were blessed with beautiful views of nature.  The lagoon in and of itself was gorgeous, but there were also great waterfalls peeking through the jungle that grew on the mountainside.  We saw a pair of toucans hopping through the trees below and were able to examine them a little more closely thanks to our last minute investment of binoculars (purchased in the weeks before coming to Costa Rica).  Their colors were amazingly brilliant, something I hadn't quite expected. With florescent green beaks, bright yellow chests, and turquoise blue feet we were shocked into awe and were left wishing that our cameras could magnify as well as binoculars!

In front of Hule Lagoon
Matt and Megan

With the fog rolling in (and quickly obscuring the amazing views from above) we decided to make the hike to the waters edge.  The hike down was pretty quick, though rocky, and required skirting some mud holes and also crossing one mountain stream.  We also had to take a break to allow for the ATVs and dirt bikes that came flying through the woods - we stepped to the side (heeding Matt's warnings to keep an eye out for snakes) and tried to not inhale too much exhaust.  When we decided that the threat of being run over no longer existed we finished our hike to the water's edge and found a crew of Ticos prepared to camp for the night and cleaning the fish that they had caught.

We ate a quick lunch and then moved on, hearing that there was another lagoon about 30 minutes away.  We didn't want to spend our night in the wilderness in the middle of a fishing party and we were unable to find trees that we thought would satisfactorily hold our hammock.

Our hike took us through the muddy trails that the ATV and dirt bike crew had followed and once again had to stop to let them pass.  We mostly avoided sinking up to our ankles in mud and didn't slip and slide too much (thank you trekking poles!) as we made our way to Bosqu Alegre Lagoon.  We were in heaven when we arrived.  The site was quiet, had a flat spot for Matt and Megan's tent and several tree options for our hammock.  We began setting up camp as a storm rolled in.

It was during this time that each member of our crew of experienced adventurers did the thing that we all knew not to do.  We set up our sleeping arrangements without ever having done so before.  Matt and Megan had a new tent that they hadn't used before, but at least it was a tent and could rely basic tent setting up knowledge to make their home for the night.  We dove into the adventure of setting up a camping hammock for the first time (aside from one quick test in NC where we only set up the hammock and our butts touched the ground when we got in it).  We knew that the hammock needed to be slid inside of the mosquito net and that the rain fly covered everything in order to stay dry - but who couldn't figure that out?  After two attempts we were satisfied with our end result and happily moved the rest of our gear out of the rain.  Then the rain stopped - good timing, right?

With the rain gone and the knowledge that darkness would soon be upon us, we decided that it was time to settle in for dinner.  We made some delicious angel hair pasta with mushroom sauce (Costa Rica has some wonderful foods that come in backpacker friendly packaging) and miso soup to fight the chill (yes, we've become accustomed to the heat that smothers the non-mountainous areas of Costa Rica).  As we were finishing up we heard a sound in the trees overhead and were able to spot a critter that seemed to have fallen from a higher branch upon waking up!  After looking around online we have been able to deduce that that critter was most likely a Mexican Mouse Opposum.  It checked us out for a while, we checked it out, and then it made its graceful escape by jumping from tree to tree and disappearing into the darkness.

Matt then went to get some water to clean with, but on his way to the lagoon let out a cry and quickly came back to camp.  His not so exact words were, "I think it was a rodent-type thing.  It looked like a frog and moved like a snake."  Megan more or less replied, "like a lizard?"  This was the most profound conversation we had with our more scientifically minded friends over the weekend.

At that we called it a night and with the exception of Chris falling out of the hammock while trying to get into it, we had a successful first night in our ENO Camping Hammock.  We stayed dry and weren't quite touching the ground when we woke up.  We had also reached Chris's goal of not dieing during the night.  We might do some things differently in the future, but even so, the adventure left us longing for our MSR Hubba Hubba (and the places it has been) which has taken up residence in North Carolina until May 2012.

Rising to the sounds of Congos and the bright sun (at roughly 5:30am) we set to breaking camp (also a learning experience) and making breakfast (opening a package of queque seco - dry cake and mixing together fruit flavored oatmeal drinks).  We were on the trail shortly after seven to be sure that we would make our bus back to Puerto.  We had been given an hour time period during which our bus would leave, so we erred on the side of safety and got to town about two hours before the bus left.

Bosque Alegre Lagoon in the Morning
Hule Lagoon in the Morning
(Notice the islands of vegetation that
were not there the afternoon before)