Saturday, September 24, 2011

micro adventure

We took advantage of the day off after Independence Day to have a micro adventure here in Sarapiquí. We needed to go into Puerto Viejo to go to the post office to send some letters/postcards to the new batch of Huskers participating in a letter exchange with colegio students here, so I proposed two options to Tarah on how me might do this. Both would be a little adventurous. We could either ride our bikes to and from Puerto or we could take the bus to Puerto and then go for a walk down the dirt road that leads out of the back of town and sort of follows the river to near our community. [A possible future adventure involves us floating that river home, though we need some more info on the reptiles that call the river home]

I tore some small pieces of paper from a notebook and scribbled an "H" on one scrap and a "B" on the other. I balled up our options, mixed them up behind my back and Tarah selected a hand. When she opened her choice and read "I" I called her an "Idiot" and then we both prepped for a hike down an unknown road.

As of late, our buses have been running on less than consistent schedules. As I was still getting things in order, Tarah saw the bus passing our house early, she was able to get out the front door and yell "¡Pare!" and thankfully the bus stopped. I locked our bedroom door and ran outside with my shoes in one hand and a school bag that contained a mostly empty water bottle and the letters to be mailed, in the other. I boarded the bus and found a seat where I could replace my fake Crocs with running shoes and took a deep breath, this micro adventure was off to a pretty adventurous start.

We got things mailed and then started the trek. At the edge of town we stopped for provisions at one of the local panaderías. With fresh baked empanadas dulces in our packs we headed out of town. It was nice to be on a different dirt road, even if the views weren't dramatically different. We passed through a number of small communities, caught some glimpses of the river, and saw some interesting flowers and birds. The walk was mostly tranquilo, though we were almost hit multiple times by the same distracted driver as he was shuttling people up and down the road. We stopped in the shade of a bus stop and enjoyed our snack and then continued a little further into the unknown. After about two hours, we turned back towards Puerto.

a church that I think Don Quijote would love 
a photo that doesn't do justice to what we saw
In Puerto, we enjoyed some generic sports drinks and some ice cream sandwiches before picking up a few essentials from the supers, including a can of cerveza to make some delicious bread for dinner. As we waited for our bus home, we chatted with a couple of students from our escuela that were in town.

Getting on our bus home was an adventure of its own. People were "in line" when a bus with "La Colonia" in its front window pulled up and some people started putting things in the storage areas underneath, then another bus with "La Colonia" in its window pulled up and everyone rushed to the new bus which was the correct bus. As soon as the "line" sorted itself out, the new bus pulled into the spot vacated by the previous bus and once again, everyone scrambled to get aboard. Thankfully, since there were so many passengers, they called for a second bus and we were able take the first bus which was going to the stops furthest away.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

August [yup, another month's gone by]

September is here.  How crazy is that?  We've jumped in feet first to the time of semana civica here in Costa Rica as the country prepares to celebrate 190 years of independence.  The days are passing quickly and thus our remaining time in country is getting shorter.  With the passing of each month we are a little surprised at how quickly it has gone by (regardless of how many times the Peace Corps staff tells us that once you enter your second year time flies).

During the month of August we celebrated four years of marriage, started some new projects and reached the point in our service countdown that put us in single digits (month-wise).  As usual, there were highs and lows and as usual we enjoyed the highs and worked through the lows.

Grab a snack and hold on tight, here's the whirlwind tour of our 18th month in Costa Rica.

August 1

Another month has arrived.  It's funny how that happens.  Even when there are times when it feels like we are standing still the days do pass by.  Poco por poco se come un coco (Little by little, one eats a coconut).  

August 2

I made a small tote bag using only six plastic bags and an iron.  No sewing on this bad boy.

August 3

Chris managed to screw up his rear derailleur.  It was pretty impressive.  I mean, even I could tell that it was messed up! [Costa Rican roads: 1 Chris's bike: 0]

August 4

We worked out together this evening.  There is just enough space for the mats to lay side by side.  We worked up a good sweat thanks to some sweet iPod apps!

August 6

Chris became a playground toy for about an hour in uno.  He also showed off on the monkey bars, swinging to pick up speed and then "jumping" to the next bar - a feat that shattered his wedding band on impact.

August 7

A gecko fell on my head while I was drying the dishes.

August 8

We got it!  After a relatively short - yet annoyingly long - time we were able to tell the junta and Maria that funds exist to build the comedor (and aula).

August 9

2012 is going to be a big year - returning to the states, Sarah's wedding; [hopefully] starting grad school and teaching; Megan's wedding.

August 10

We checked mail, paid for Chirripó, then celebrated with milkshakes.  It was 9:30[a.m.].

It was great to hear his (Orlando - our local counterpart) perspective on our being here and also to hear him recount what we have been doing.  It made us feel like we have been doing a lot more than we have been thinking (if that makes any sense).

We followed that up with a trip to the colegio where we had a great conversation (with Natalia, our Peace Corps project training specialist).  It was nice to feel able to express what we've been feeling and to feel like we were actually listened to (and maybe a little perspective was gained as well).

August 11

Happy anniversary to us!  Four years of adventure, four hundred to go.  OK, so maybe we don't want to live that long, but we're still looking forward to all of the adventures that will come our way for the rest of our lives.

Today we celebrated by judging the school science fair.  We're so sentimental.

August 13

Fifteen hours after leaving we're home sweet home.  It's been a long day, but also productive - even if we did spend a lot of money.

August 15

The house is quiet again which is nice.  I was a little overwhelmed and frustrated this morning with so many people in the kitchen/house.  If it were like that all the time I couldn't handle it.  I can see why most volunteers live on their own.  Space is good - even if it is a little space - thank goodness for our bedroom!

August 16

The money should be in the bank on Friday! [CRUSA grant funds for the comedor and aula]

August 17

All in all a good Wednesday.  Way to be middle of the week!

Repitentes (an academic assistance group for students who have been held back a year in school) went well.  The kids seem to want to be there.

Orlando would like to initiate a recycling program for next year.  Hopefully we can figure out more of the groundwork for that by the end of the year so that we could prep recycling centers over the winter break and figure out talleres for the student body.  We'll see what comes of it.

August 18

Chris is in the process of trying to become a push-up hero - other than that it's a pretty quiet evening.

August 20

We have officially applied to the graduate studies program at Western New Mexico University.  There are just a few hundred other things left on the checklist (to apply to the specific Peace Corps Fellows program that we are interested in).

Burritos for dinner and a movie - Greenberg - for dessert.  Good Saturday.

August 21

I was pretty productive until about 9am.  I got a nice long run in and then made pancakes for breakfast.  After that I can't say as that I did much of anything.

We've now hit single digits in the month countdown to COS.  A big ol' 9 remains.

August 22

We brainstormed some educational resources that we could provide to students and then started making puzzles - one for each letter of the alphabet; each consisting of three pieces: the capital letter, the lower case letter and a drawing of a word that starts with that letter.

We have a schedule for the rest of the school year [for the academic help program] - excellent!

August 23

I talked to Nelly (one of our first grade teachers) after class about small group work with more focused attention on the lower performing students from the class.  She loved the idea (I think partly because this is the group that acts out in class) and I love the idea of being able to promote academic achievement.

August 25

The money has arrived!!! [The CRUSA funds have finally been deposited after two weeks of difficulties.]

August 26

We got together with Rebecca for lunch.  Great food, great conversation.  We say it every time - we need to hang out with her more often.

August 28

We started pulling gear together for this week's adventure.  Yay!  We're going to play outside!

Today's crazy story:
"No chickens, no!" I could hear Chris calling from the kitchen.  I poked my head into the living room and Chris yelled, "close the door!"  I did this as chickens came running toward me.  We ganged up on them and two turned around and ran back outside.  The third persisted, however.  We had a quick round of tag where it would run under the table and we'd go after it.  It would then run to the other side.  It finally got the point and ran outside where about half of the chickens were hanging out (outside of the coop).  Who knows how they got out, but it was raining cats and dogs and chickens were everywhere.

August 29

Bags are loaded and pretty much ready to go.  Such a nice feeling, though it's sad to think about how long it has been.  We used to be able to throw packs together without much thought - this took a little thought.  Someday we'll be in that flow again and have our sport specific gear bins at our fingertips.

This afternoons grupo de apoyo (academic support group) was interesting.  They have a hard time focusing their attention.  They want to talk.  Our activities were too "out of the box."  They didn't speak loud enough for others to hear them.  They hear but they don't listen.  I imagine this is how a lot of teachers feel about [at least a portion of] their students.

Going to the mountains!  How exciting is that!

August 30

Long day.  We got on our first bus at 4:30 a.m. and off of our last bus around 3:45 p.m.  All legs of the journey went well, it's just a lot of bus time.

We lucked out and were able to get together [with Kari] at a great little Peruvian restaurant.

After lunch we got on our final bus to San Gerardo where we heard awful Spanish from a smelly ex-pat.

[read more of the days adventures HERE]

August 31

What a beautiful day!  It was surprisingly clear all day long, something we hadn't expected with coming to the mountains during rainy season.

[read more of the days adventures HERE]

Monday, September 5, 2011

Parque Nacional Chirripó

Last week we took our first official vacation (four consecutive nights out of site) during Peace Corps. We went "home," at least as close to home as any place is for us, we went to the mountains.

Monday we packed gear and prepped some trail food and Tuesday morning we got an "alpine start" and caught the 4:30am bus to Puerto Viejo where we caught the 5:30 to San José, in San José we took a bus south to San Isidro del General. We ended up getting to San Isidro with more time to spare before our final bus than we had anticipated , so we called our friend and fellow CYF volunteer, Kari, who lives in the area and we caught up and ate some delicious Peruvian food for lunch.

After lunch, we headed to the central market/bus terminal to catch our final bus to the community of San Gerardo and the start of our climb. Just as our bus was pulling out, a crazy gringa yelled for the bus to stop and climbed on the bus with a large backpack. When she boarded the bus, all the other passengers knew it because her voice only went to eleven and her b.o. was hovering around that level too. The young Ticas sitting behind us snickered and held their noses. It was one of the many moments here where we wish we didn't look the way we do. We were sure the gringa loca was going to be heading to park with us, but fortunately (or not) she was an ex-pat who owned a farm in area and got off the bus before our final stop, but not before joking with a Tico in really bad, super loud Spanish.

When our bus arrived in San Gerardo, we decided to ride it to the end of the line where we thought our hostel was instead of getting off at the park office and walking to the hostel with our packs. When we got off the bus, we found out that our hostel was another 1.5K up the hill and the office was about a K behind us. Since we had about an hour before the office was supposed to close we headed to hostel to drop our packs. We got to the hostel, met the owner dropped our packs and headed down to office. We got to the office a little after 4:00 to find the gate locked. We upe-ed, but it appeared that no one was there, despite still being more than 20 minutes before closing time. Although we had already made reservations and paid our entrance and lodging fees, it is necessary to check in at the office and get a ticket to show at the shelter and the office wouldn't open until 6:45 the next morning, well after our desired start time. Thankfully, a ranger had forgotten some paperwork (in his haste to leave half an hour early?) and had to return to office. He let us in and we filled out the necessary forms, with the magic ticket in hand we were finally officially ready climb some peaks. We trekked back up to the hostel and then went out for casados. After dinner, we reorganized our gear and chatted with the hostel owner, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Mali, about Peace Corps and Costa Rica.

the start of the trail
We got up at about 4:30 and were on the trail at 5:15. The trail starts just below a mile above sea level (1520m) and gains more than a mile over a little less than 15K. We had perfect weather and pretty good trail conditions so we were able to make it to the shelter by 11:00. We checked in with the ranger, ate lunch, finalized plans for the afternoon, and moved essential gear and snacks to our summit packs. We were back on the trail at noon.

After a pretty level one and half mile hike to the Valle de los Conejos we began a steady climb north to Cerro Chirripó, the highest point in Costa Rica at 3820 meters (12,532 ft) above sea level. After crossing some passes between unnamed peaks, we were presented with some gorgeous views of the Lagos Chirripó and the summit of Cerro Chirripó. The weather was so clear, we could easily see the sign and flag atop our destination. After a quick snack and a change into hard shells, we were ready for the final ascent. The last part of the climb was on a fairly exposed ridge line, with a little bit of scrambling, it was great. Once atop, we took in the incredible views, signed the summit register and snapped a few photos. The weather was perfect, it was so nice I opted to descend in just my short sleeved shirt. From the top we were able to glance our next destination, the Valle de las Morrenas, a collection of glacial lagoons. About forty minutes later, and one slip by Tarah, we were standing among the remnants of ancient ice. We just stood in awe of the spectacular landscape, including the backside of Cerro Chirripó, and the perfect weather we were being blessed with.

the highest point in Costa Rica
Tarah making her way to Valle de las Morrenas
After a few photos, we were ready to head towards the shelter for the night. We climbed out of the valley and passed below Cerro Chirripó on our way to the Valle de los Conejos where another lagoon was tucked away. Unfortunately, I had remembered the beta for Laguna Ditkebi incorrectly so when we weren't seeing the water that I thought was just off the main trail, we wisely decided to wait for the morning to find the lagoon. We got back to the shelter with plenty of daylight and changed into warm, dry clothes and got  ready to make dinner.

After seeing many alcohol stoves on the AT and Matt using one during our Laguna Hule adventure, I constructed a small alcohol stove to use while we are in Costa Rica and our Jetboil is in North Carolina. We were able to warm instant potatoes and soy crumbles for dinner and enjoy a little dulce de leche for dessert. We made it an early night, since we had hiked about twelve hours and it was pretty chilly outside our sleeping bags. We once again set the alarm for dark and early and tried to get some shut eye. I ended up being too warm with my layers and summer weight bag, so I had a pretty miserable night until I finally got up to go to the bathroom and shed most of my clothes. The last couple of hours were much cooler and much more pleasant.

homemade stove
We ended up hitting the trail a little later than anticipated, but were still hiking a bit after 6:00am. Our first destination for the day was, Cerro Ventisqueros, the second highest peak in Costa Rica at 3815 meters (12,516 ft). The trail for Ventisqueros left the main trail well before the Valle de los Conejos and cut steeply through the mountain vegetation. We weren't sure which summit was our destination, and it seemed like we were going to be making turn at the looming ridge and head down through a saddle before climbing back up, but we were pleasantly surprised when we crested the ridge and saw our summit waiting above a technical, exposed ridge line. The hike wasn't along a knife's edge, but you didn't want to slip either. The climb felt a lot like our times in Baxter and Grafton Notch State Parks in Maine, needless to say it was great. Again the weather was pretty great so we were able to see a ton, unfortunately our new adventure camera doesn't take as nice of photos as our old one, so the photos aren't that spectacular. We were able to see the Pacific Ocean to the south, volcanoes in the central valley, and a number of lakes, communities and fincas. While trying to take 360° video, the camera battery died and that is when I realized that I had left the spare in the shelter. Instead of heading directly to Laguna Ditkebi from the summit we had to backtrack to the shelter to grab the extra battery.
Tarah making her way to the summit of the second highest peak in Costa Rica
us atop Cerro Ventisqueros
The detour ended up being for the better as the weather was changing and it allowed us to summit the remaining two peaks and get off of exposed rocks (almost) before the storm rolled in. After grabbing the battery we headed up Los Crestones, the symbols of the park. We knew from some prior research that there was bouldering and climbing options on Los Crestones, but being out of practice and not having any protection, we decided to just do some scrabbling. We took in the views and pondered possible climbing routes before heading for the nearby summit of Cerro Terbi. As soon as Tarah had finished signing the register atop Cerro Terbi, it started spitting. We hightailed it down to the Valle de los Conejos and set off in search Laguna Ditkebi. Not making it to the lagoon the night before, turned out to be blessing in disguise as we it meant we didn't need to rush and were able to enjoy the hike in and the splendor of the hidden lagoon. We ate a leisurely lunch under gray skies and then headed back towards the shelter. On the way back to the shelter it started raining again, so we decided to seek refuge at the shelter and wait a bit before hitting the final trail in the park.

heading to Los Crestones
Tarah getting down
us at Laguna Ditkebi
After ditching unessential gear, we decided that we only had limited time in the park and quality rain gear, so there was no reason not to explore the last trail that the park had to offer, after all we wouldn't be summitting anything, just heading down to a grassland. Like most of the trails in the park, other than the one for Cerro Chirripó, this trail didn't appear to receive many users or much maintenance. The trail wound through a variety of trees and plants and was covered in tapir scat in spots. We passed on the lookout point since the sky had started to rumble and called the hike bastante when we reached a sketchy river crossing in the Sabana de los Leones. We returned the way we had come and just when we thought the storm was going to pass and we would be able to climb to the lookout point, the sky got noisy again and we decided we would just need to try and plan another trip to the high peaks of Costa Rica.

the end of our trail
When we got back to the shelter we changed into our dry, warm clothes and got in a game of canasta before dinner. We ate some burritos with beans and crumbles for dinner and some burritos with peanut butter and dulce de leche for dessert, both were delicious. After dinner we prepped a few things for our hike out the next morning, but since we were wearing and/or sleeping in most the gear that needed to be packed we couldn't do too much. We set the alarm and both slept better than the previous night.

all bundled up and ready for bed
We got up before 5:00 and ate a simple breakfast while most of the other hikers in the shelter were being served a catered meal and waiting for the pack animals to arrive to carry their gear down. We were packed and on the trail by 5:30. We had another day of great weather and were able to see a couple of different types of birds on the way down. We got to town around 10:00 and set off in search of pinto. We struck out at the first couple of places, but eventually found some gringopriced [read: overpriced] pinto that was pretty tasty, though we didn't receive our plantains or tortillas. We freshened up in the bathroom and caught the 11:30 bus back to San Isidro del General.

on the way down
We weren't able to take the first bus to San José as a bunch of Ticos were heading to the city for the weekend, but we were able to catch a bus at 2:00 which got us into Chepe a little after 5:00. There was a little mishap on the way to San José, when the bus stopped at rest area, a little boy either climbed on the bus or didn't get off like he was supposed to, so about two minutes down the road we turned around to return the little stowaway. By the the time we got to San José it was raining pretty good and we had about a ten block walk from the bus terminal to our hostel. We made it to the hostel smelly, wet and hungry. We took hot showers and headed out in search of hot cheap food. We ate some delicious fish casados at a soda we had eaten at before and then made our way back to the hostel to crash.

The next day was an uneventful bus ride back to Puerto Viejo where we ate at our favorite pizza place and picked up some groceries to get us through the week.

You can find more photos and some videos HERE