Sunday, March 25, 2012

From the Colony to the Village

Yesterday, I finally delivered my service offered in the PCV charity auction to benefit Billy, a fellow volunteer, whose home was destroyed by a fire in October. Well I mostly delivered it. For the auction, I offered to run to Billy's site (~30k away) and "deliver a hug" from the high bidder, as well as buy Billy lunch. To my amazement, my item ended up raising the most for the benefit thanks to a very generous volunteer who bid 50,000 colones (~$100) for me to run over 35 miles round trip and give Billy a super sweaty hug. Unfortunately, Billy wasn't in his community yesterday, so I couldn't give him that hug (I'm sure he's okay with that), but I did make the trek out to Aldea.

Friday night, I laid all my gear out then went to bed even earlier than normal. I was up before 5:00am, ate a little homemade bread, and was on my way a little after 5:00. The run to Aldea was beautiful. The dirt road wound through cattle ranches, banana and pineapple plantations, and stands of trees full of tropical birds and howler monkeys.

starting nice and early
I cruised into Aldea a little after 8:30. I found a bench in the shade and started getting things squared away for the back of my out and back. While I was refilling my handhelds with agua dulce, a gentleman for the community approached and we started chatting. He either remembered me from when I rode my bike to Aldea a year and a half earlier, or he figured any gringo that came to Aldea on foot had to be a friend of Billy. The conversation quickly turned to the new EBAIS (clinic) that the community is building and he asked if I could donate to construction. I told him I could not, we shook hands, and I gathered my stuff and started back to La Colonia.

I made it
Getting out of Dodge - Aldea in the background
Despite being before 9:00am, it was excruciatingly hot already. I was starting to worry that the over three liters of water I brought for the journey wasn't going to be enough. I kept moving forward, nursing the agua dulce in my bottles and the fresh water in the bladder in my backpack. About 10k out of Aldea, I was feeling pretty horrible. I was sure that I had picked the hottest day in Sarapiquí's history to run to Billy's site. I started using the utility poles as markers and alternated running and walking between them. In addition to the heat and dust, my stomach wasn't feeling quite right. I knew that if I threw up, I'd be in really bad shape since I wouldn't have any way to replenish the fluids and fuel I'd lose. Thankfully I didn't throw up, but with about 11k left, my initial fear of running out of fluids was realized. Luckily I knew there was small community with a corner store only about a kilometer ahead.

Views from the road
I cruised into Las Marías and the pulpería where I bought two Powerades, a Coca-Cola, and what I thought was water with a hint of citrus, but turned out to be light 7-Up. I drank half of the Coke while I dumped the Powerade in to my handhelds and the H2Oh! into my bladder. Slightly refreshed I startd the final leg of my run. A few kilometers down the road, I was able to go to the bathroom, but my urine looked more like coffee than lemonade, so I was pretty worried. I ended up finishing both bottles of Powerade and good bit of the 7-Up by the time I got back to La Colonia

My saviors
When I got home, a little before 2:00, I drank a bunch of iced tea and ate some leftover taco pizza before taking a wonderfully cold shower. Out of the shower, I ate and drank some more, and then tended to my sunburned thighs and chaffed hips.

During my struggle back from Aldea, I was getting pretty worried about my upcoming 50 miler, but today I feel great, I even went for an hour and fifteen minute bike ride this morning. It seems that most of my distress during yesterday's adventure was due to the crazy heat and not enough fluids and fuel, not physical shortcomings, and, once again, I was able to mentally battle through.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Friends [old and new]

Last weekend we had the enjoyable experience of spending time with friends from our past and from our present (and it is assumed that they will be friends in our future as well!). Just a few days after settling into our new home we hosted our first guest. Our friend Lisa (from the good ol' NCCC days) started her Costa Rican vacation with a taste of the real life in this little country. The day she left we were able to spend the day riding horses through the rolling hills of Sarapiquí with our new (in the grand scheme of things) friends, fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (and a couple of new trainees).

Lisa arrived on Thursday evening, Chris picked her up at the super in town as she got off of the bus and I was excited to come home from my exercise class to have her safe in our home. We had messaged back and forth a couple of times before her departure from the states and I was hoping that my directions would get her here without problems - thankfully they did!

We started Lisa's stay with a filling dinner, some Amish Dice and a lot of good conversation. We hadn't seen one another in roughly five years so it was nice to catch up before a jam packed Friday adventure. That night we tucked Lisa into a tent in our living room (as protection against mosquitoes) and woke her up the following morning with the smells of gallo pinto, the typical breakfast of Costa Rica.

From there we crammed just about every possible experience into the next 24 hours as we could. She accompanied us to story hour with our pre-schoolers. Then to an afternoon of soccer games between the escuela and colegio. Chris and I had been recruited to play with the elementary kids (that is roughly where our skill level is) and Lisa came along for the ride - not playing but enjoying arroz con leche (rice pudding) that the kindergarten class was selling as a fund raiser (OK, I ate some too!). When the games wrapped up we did a quick walking tour and history session on our community and then returned home to clean up and make dinner. After eating dinner we went in search of churros (the town festivals were starting, we had to indulge) and then hung out waiting for the bull riding to start. While it was advertised to start at five, the festivities really didn't begin until roughly 8:30. We watched a couple of riders get tossed from their bulls and a couple of people lasso said bulls, but then called it a night. 

Watching the bulls

A group shot of the horses,
someone else got the picture of the people!
The next morning we said good-bye to Lisa (after she treated us to breakfast at one of the local restaurants) and hopped on a bus to visit our friend Rebecca who lives close by. From Rebecca's we walked to the next community over and met up with five other Peace Corps Volunteers, three adolescent boys and about a dozen horses. The boys, ranging from about 12 - 15 years old would be our tour guides. We spent the next two hours or so gallivanting through the countryside, sometimes at a walk, sometimes at a gallop. We enjoyed walking the horses through the river, riding along the beach and taking a break so that our guides could show off their mad river skills - swinging off of vines into what seemed much too shallow water to the rest of us. When we returned to our starting point us gingos changed into our swimsuits and enjoyed ourselves in the local river, cooling down and washing up.

One of our guides getting ready to leap out of a tree like Tarzan
Riding and swimming was followed by some delicious food and good conversation. The day went by too quickly, but we were ready to crash by the time we got home. It was a fun-filled and incredibly busy weekend. It was wonderful to see so many friends in such a short period of time and to enjoy the culture and customs of this country that we have called home for the last two years.

The Big Move

When we received our site assignment in May 2010 our then Project Manager, Dan, let us know that the family that we would be living with was renting the house that would become our home. As a result this home placement came with the warning that we may move the following month. Our first six months of living were plagued with conversations about this house or that house in the community that our host parents were contemplating buying. Then the school year came to an end and all conversation about moving came to a halt (both Maria and Rafa work for the local high school, school break means no income). We let out the breath that we had been holding and settled in some more.

Our old living quarters (during rainy season)
The following August the "move" conversation started again. The landlord was threatening to raise the rent. Once again we heard endless talk of moving to this house or another. This time we decided to be proactive. We talked to a couple of people ourselves, letting then know that our host family may be moving and if they did so, would we be able to rent a cabina or a spare room from one of them. It wasn't that we didn't like living with Maria and Rafa, it was more that we wanted to get rid of the stress of never knowing if we would be moving or not. Once again the end of the school year came and with it the end of discussions about moving. This time we had the added bonus of having the whole house to ourselves as Maria and Rafa went to visit family for the school vacation. Once again, we let out a sigh of relief, the talk of moving had ended.

Then came the preparations for our community festival. They changed the setup of things for this year's festivities and the bull ring was going to be built right next to our house. A couple of trees were cut down by the landlord to make space, some fill was brought in to level out the pasture next door. The materials to build the rondel were delivered and construction began. The talk of moving started around the same time. This time it stuck. And so, with ten weeks left in our Peace Corps service we found ourselves moving.

The move was slightly stressful. I came home form aerobics class one night to the news that we would be moving. We had heard this before, so I kind of shrugged it off. Two days later, over breakfast, I was told that we would be moving in two days. Once again I shrugged it off. I wasn't going to believe it until it actually happened. The following day at breakfast I was told, we're moving this afternoon. Sure enough, that afternoon Maria brought Chris and I to the new digs and gave us a key to the little apartment in the back of the house that Maria and Rafa traded for (Maria had a house in another community where the owner of our new house has family - they decided to swap houses more or less). Shortly thereafter we started moving our belongings two blocks away from where they had been settling for nearly two years.

After about six trips apiece on foot, carrying luggage and storage containers full of our belongings and project materials, we had just about all of our small stuff moved. When Rafa finished up work for the day the big stuff came over. With help from several community members our bed, armoire and refrigerator were moved into the house. We only had a small hiccup when the fridge was being moved into the kitchen and it hit an exposed water pipe that exploded as a result. That night we had the restless sleep that comes with the first night in a new place, but in the two weeks since our little apartment has become home.

Maria and Rafa graciously presented us with the small fridge from their house (they have a larger one too since they need a place to hold the high school food that Maria purchases a week at a time for her job as the school cook), a small gas stove (again, they have a larger one that is used to cook for the high school) and all of the furniture that we had previously been using. The added bonus was that after a week of Maria trying to do laundry by hand in the smaller sinks at the new place she hooked the washing machine up again! No more washing clothes by hand for this girl (at least not in large quantities - we have found that our work out clothes do much better with a little arm power put into the washing)!

Throughout this process we created an ad for our new little place, mostly as a way to break the stress and have fun with our new home. The features are as follows:

  • Lots of natural lighting (we have two large windows and two doors that let light in; in addition the walls do not reach the ceiling and there are a few little nail holes in the wall and the roof doesn't have anything covering where the tin roof meets at its peak)
  • Indoor swimming pool (our kitchen is sunken and so when that water pipe burst we had standing water in our kitchen until I could bail us out)
  • Three stories (there is a step up to the bedroom, a step down to the living space and one more step down to the kitchen)
  • Scenic views (when we moved in we had some of the most gorgeous roosters living behind our house, twelve of them to be exact; therefore, there was no need for an alarm clock - they have since been moved by their owner)
  • Tile floors (this is a step up from the poured concrete floors at the old place, I'm more than happy to sweep and mop a couple of times a week with the added bonus of being able to walk around barefoot)
  • Large shower (it takes up roughly 2/3 of our bathroom, unfortunately it wasn't tiled so there was some mold/mildew action happening and it looked a little bit like a torture chamber, but Chris painted and it now looks bright and cheery)
  • Location (we now live in the center of town, we actually really enjoy being more a part of the community, every time we go do programs it is guaranteed that we will see someone out and about)
  • Private kitchen (this is huge after two years of sharing a kitchen with a family)
Here's a quick look into our new home:

Our new bedroom
Living space (no more cramped quarters for morning exercises or evening yoga!)
Our cheery blue shower
Our very own kitchen (storage tubs work wonderfully to store food and make counter space)
Another view of the kitchen, looking out the back door

We're all settled in now, feel free to visit. Time is running out!

Monday, March 5, 2012

February [aaaahhhhh... where has the time gone?]

February. Wow. It's done and over with. That means time is really coming to a close here. Two years ago we were anxiously awaiting this adventure called Peace Corps. In the two years since then we have had ups and downs, have wanted to leave, have been excited about what we are doing, have been anxious about what the future holds, have been content with living in the moment. It is amazing how a person can change in such a short period of time. This month, like the other 23 that we have experienced here in Costa Rica has been a challenge, has been full of success, and has given us reason to celebrate.

Aaaaand.... here we go. February in a glance (OK, maybe a little longer than a glance).

February 1

Even though the fence has been taken down the chickens are still hanging out in the hen yard. Perhaps because Maria and Rafa are still feeding them.

Orlando and Maikol were at the school today, so we caught up with them and are on the books for dinamicas (ice breakers) next Wednesday [the first day of school].

After lunch we walked to Malinche and talked to Marlon (the artist we met a couple of weeks ago). We have ordered a toucan/macaw sculpture and a jaguar sculpture. It will be nice to have locally made artwork.

Kennedys came over tonight with Anyerieth and Lobo to say good-bye to Emma. I'm glad that they've gotten to spend more time together this visit.

February 2

I sat and talked with Maria for quite a while this afternoon. I think this was one of the first conversations that we have had where I've actually been able to squeeze a few words in. It was nice!

February 3

We had a shot camp session this morning. Masks were wrapped up today and the kids went home with their creations.

February 5

Hopefully we'll meet some teachers tomorrow since classes start on Wednesday.

February 6

Michael came over this evening to work with Chris on some English. He has a workbook that he has been using. He stuck around until about 7.

February 7

Matricula (registration) is slow going. They don't know how many students they will have this year.

After checking in at the escuela we walked out to the cole. Florybeth's dad was there and he was super excited to see Chris since they had bonded at graduation last year.

February 8

The first day of school has arrived! There were few kids, perhaps half as many as are expected this school year.

We finally figured out a visit to Orlando and Alejandra's. We had a great time. We probably spoke more Spanish than we have since December. If only we had been able to do this more often from the get go.

February 9

Chris was called out to the cole to figure out CRUSA stuff. They are short on materials again. Chris ended up going out to La Virgen with Rodrigo to pick up some stuff, but they are still waiting on tile to be delivered.

February 10

The sun was shining and the breeze was perfect. Clothes dried in a little over an hour. I love when that happens.

I put together a full [sample] bouquet for Sarah today. I think it turned out pretty well considering my material was old cut up t-shirts!

February 11

Chris cut off his beard and trimmed his hair today.

February 13

The new directora called tonight and Chris explained the CRUSA situation to her. Hopefully things work out while we are gone.

Today we hit double digits - 99 days 'til home!

February 14

We stopped at Teatro Nacional to see if anything will be playing when Sarah is in town and ended up going to a lunch-time dance performance! It was a great little surprise.

February 15

The ride was quite different from that to Panama. We only stopped to pick up passengers and at the border. 

We could see the lake and the volcanoes from the window and got excited about finally getting to the island.

February 16

We stopped at the panaderia for breakfast. We talked to the owner, a sweet older lady, for quite a while and walked away with two whole wheat rolls and a chunk of smokey cheese.

We went to the race office and met up with a couple of other runners/volunteers for the island trash clean-up.

February 17

We went out with  Chico Largo Canopy Tours. It is a Nica developed, managed and guided company. It was wonderful!

While we were hanging out we spotted Theresa and Jessica (from Tico 19, but extended for another year of service) wandering through town. They just so happen to be on the island for vacation.

Charco Verde was beautiful. We watched a wonderful sunset, talked to new people and ended the evening watching some baile tipico.

February 18

2:15 a.m. RISE AND SHINE! 

The energy at the race office was a little intense. I guess that is what happens when you have about 45 people waiting to start a 50k or 100k race!

February 19

We got to sleep a little this morning. I was up and out the race office at 7 this morning to wait for my ride to go help out with the kids' run.

The post-race celebration was nice. Josue identified winners, finishers and volunteers. It was a nice way to wrap up a wonderful event.

We ate delicious pizza and chatted with Matt and Christian this evening. Funny, of the four ultra runners that were at the restaurant only one drank beer. I wonder if that has ever happened before?

February 20

These long days just won't stop. We got on the ferry a little before 6 this morning and didn't get home until 9 tonight. A long day of travel.

[Read more about the whole Nicaraguan adventure (Feb. 14 - 20) here.]

February 21

3 months. Crazy. In three months we will be flying back to the States.

Chris spent the day running around trying to get CRUSA taken care of. Nothing happened while we were gone. 

We went for a walk this afternoon and found Ningy flinging rocks from a plastic spoon at the ceiling of the bus stop (then he would jump out of the way or try to catch them as they ricocheted back at him). We all walked around the block and then raced back to his house at which point he looked over his shoulder at us and yelled "adios!"

February 22

Chris spent the day running around trying to figure out CRUSA. This morning he went to the cole and finalized the last list of materials needed. Then he went to La Virgen to exchange some things. Now he just needs to wait for Denis to get back from vacation so he can get the last check.

I talked with Maria and Rafa while making dinner. I think we're all starting to realize just how close the end is. I think we've spoken more since they got back from their Christmas trip than we have previously.

February 23

I'm sharing a dorm with two women from Israel. They are pretty interesting to talk to. Unfortunately we all need to be up super early so we called it an early night.

February 24

SARAH'S HERE! The look on her face when she saw me was priceless. It's so good to see family. Yay!

February 25

No snorkeling for us, darn. The ocean is so strange right now.

February 26

We got to watch a beautiful sunrise over the park this morning and then went on a quick walk to see if any animals were up and about yet. No luck, but we ended up back at the Swedish Bakery for a delicious breakfast.

It was a long day, but it feels good to be back home (even if it is only for two nights).

February 27

We had another early day. We had an awesome [chocolate] tour and a great time on the trails.

Today ended up being another long day and we have another short night. Off to San Jose in the morning.

February 28

Our last conference with Peace Corps has begun.

February 29

Happy Leap Year!

This evening we spent a couple of hours with the CYF/YD peeps working on the project presentation that we have to give in the morning. It was nice to spend some more time with everyone. Time's getting short.


And there we have it, another month gone by. The days are now sure to get shorter as we have big plans for our remaining months. We surely won't have enough time to squeeze it all in, but we'll try our hardest. Action is the best way we can come up with to show the community just how much we have come to love it. Hopefully we're given a forum for the action! If not, if there is one thing we have learned (or at least tried to learn) here, it's pura vida. Life is going to happen and we only have so much say in how it is going to happen. It's time to go with the flow and embrace every moment.


Our February adventures did not slow down after our trip to Nicaragua. In the last week of the month we were blessed with a visit from Chris' sister Sarah and her friend Molly. They escaped the [much] cooler weather of Minnesota during their spring break from law school and enjoyed a week in the sun with us.

Sarah and I in Cahuita
I met the girls at the airport bright and early on a Friday morning and it was well worth it to see the look on Sarah's face when she saw me waiting! Pure joy. (I've been blessed with incredible in-laws.) We ignored the money-hungry taxi drivers and hopped on the next bus to the center of San Jose. Once in the city we walked to the bus terminal and ate a typical breakfast of gallo pinto and queso frito

When 10:00 rolled around we climbed on a bus for Cahuita, Chris' and my favorite little beach town on the Caribbean coast. We were joined by a bunch of obnoxious gringos that thought it was in their best interest to travel laying in the aisles and taking up as much space as they possibly could. Needless to say, we were happy when they did not get off of the bus with us in Cahuita.

We checked into our hotel and then went wandering. We settled in at a little corner bar on the main street in town so that we could keep an eye out for Chris who was coming in from Colonia. We ordered fresh fruit batidos (milkshakes) and patacones (fried, smashed plantain) and Chris magically appeared right after our order was delivered. He must have smelled food. Sarah ran out to greet him in the street and he happily joined us for our afternoon snack.

Sarah hanging out in the national park
We went for an evening walk through the national park. We were happy to spot howler and white face monkeys in the 30 minutes that we had before the park closed for the day. With the darkening of skies we found a place to have a typical Limon-style meal: rice and beans (cooked together in a coconut oil base), fish, patacones and salad. Then we called it an early night since we were all exhausted and were hoping to snorkel in the morning.

Unfortunately snorkeling did not happen. The water level was low at the reefs and the waters were rough so the guides weren't going out. Instead we had a delicious breakfast at our favorite place in town, the Swedish bakery, and then went for a walk in the park again. This time we walked in about 6 kilometers. We saw crabs, lizards, butterflies, birds, tiny toads, snails, a sloth, an eyelash viper and on our way back some white face monkeys. Unfortunately the white face monkeys that we saw had been lured down to the beach with the promise of food from tourists. The thought of food made all of our stomachs grumble though and so we went in search of our own.

We stopped by one of the local's houses and picked up some panbon (traditional spice bread) and then Chris and I hoped we would find our Italian friend from our visit last May. We lucked out. Claudio happened to be stopped along side the road as we were turning the corner after a quick stop at the hotel to pick up beach gear. At first we didn't recognize him because he had a new bike (one that significantly increased his bread carrying capacity). We gladly purchased eggplant pizza, sweet pepper pizza and cheese pizza (they are little pizzas, I swear!). Then we stopped in the nearby pulperia (corner store) for some juice and the meal was complete.

Sarah and Molly watching the sun rise
We walked down to the black sand beach and found a shady spot to eat our pizzas (the panbon would need to wait). With our bellies full we ignored all conventional wisdom and did a little wave jumping. The water felt amazing. Later we relaxed and chatted on the beach, the girls in the sun and us in the shade. Chris and I squeezed in one last wave jumping session before heading back to the hotel - one in which he received a welt on his stomach from the ocean and I mistimed a couple of jumps and ended up with a wave hitting my throat and another knocking me off balance and hurting my knee. (Are we getting to old for this?) It was a wonderful afternoon and we returned to the hotel to clean up and snack on some panbon.

That night we had an Italian dinner. (I personally think it is impossible to eat too much good pizza.)Then we grabbed the world's most expensive dessert (organic brownies and carrot cake) and a box of wine and hung out on the balcony of the hotel for a couple of hours. Chris called it an early night, the day in the sun stole his energy, but the girls and I stayed up well past my normal bedtime and chatted away about life. It was wonderful.

Sunrise in Cahuita
The next morning we returned to the Swedish bakery and then packed up for the trip to La Colonia. Four buses and a lunch break later we arrived at our house and quickly left again. There was a soccer game going on in the plaza and there is no better way to experience rural Costa Rica than by participating in one of its favorite activities. 

At the plaza the girls met some of our kiddos, watched a little bit of soccer, but most importantly had their hair braided by Ashlyn, one of our first graders. All the while they were interrogated as to whether or not they fall down when roller skating (the gymnasium had just been turned into a roller rink for the month of March), whether or not Santa Claus exists and if so why she did not get a bike for Christmas, and if there was really snow in the United States. It was a riling conversation, really. When it got dark out we decided to head home and have cafecito (snacks and coffee - minus the coffee since Chris and I don't drink it, but we did have agua dulce, a hot drink made with cane sugar).

The next morning we headed out for our grand adventure of the day - CHOCOLATE! We went on a chocolate tour at Tirimbina a local biological reserve/resort. Chris and I had gone in November with the parents and decided it was well worth the trip. We learned different aspects of the history of chocolate this time around and had a great time and of course ate a lot of chocolate. 

Chocolate: From bean to belly

That afternoon we took advantage of the trail system in Tirimbina and got some hiking in. We spotted a couple of toucans, a blue jean poison dart frog (actually seen during the chocolate tour) and a crazy bunch of white face monkeys. We hung out watching the monkeys for a while and shortly before we left they started going crazy (kind of like those that we saw in Corcovado). They were jumping from trees to vines, chasing one another through the jungle and screeching as loud as they could. As we were walking away there was a low grunt at ground level that got us moving a little faster. We're unsure as to whether it was another monkey or if it was a predator that was making them go crazy, but we didn't want to find out. We hustled out of the jungle and back across the river. There we took a spiral staircase down to a little island for our last trail of the day. Unfortunately Sarah was attacked by some ants (which Chris washed away by spraying her with his water bottle) and so we finished the trail as quickly as possible and left the jungle for good.

Our Tirimbina friends
That evening we had chalupas and patacones for dinner followed by fruit salad for dessert. We had insisted that the girls try fruit salad for another Costa Rican experience. While you would think you were getting a bowl of fruit, it is actually a little bit of fruit, a whole lot of ice cream and some red Jello for good measure. It's delicious (I highly recommend trying it if you're planning on visiting Costa Rica).

The next day had us up nice and early as Chris and I had our Close of Service conference to attend in San Jose. The girls took advantage of their time in the city and visited the National Theater for a dance performance, the National Art Museum, did a little shopping and went on a nearby canopy tour. We were able to spend a couple of nights together after our sessions ended and had some good food over Seinfeld reruns and great conversation.

The visit came to an end far too quickly. We are glad to know that in just a few short months we will once again be living in the same country as our family and friends and hope to see them more than once every two years! 

Thanks for coming Sarah and Molly! We had a blast!