الخميس، 28 فبراير 2013

A visit from peter

Just after my friends from college left, my younger brother Peter arrived in Costa Rica. Minus a road trip with the family through Canada when we were quite young, it was his first time traveling abroad. Moreover, having gone to college in Iowa and worked in Illinois and Minnesota, it was his first time outside the midwest in a while. I was super excited to have him visit and travel around with him. I did lots of planning before he came, as he was taking precious vacation days to come visit (not lots of those in your first year working for a big corporation) and he had said he wanted the trip to be safe and comfortable. Sadly, traveling around Costa Rica is often the opposite of those two things-but I did my best to make arrangements so that it'd be close. Between my sister and I, he packed exceptionally well for the trip-so that was good. What wasn't good was the mechanical failure on his second flight made him miss his flight to Costa Rica-and thus delayed his arrival by six hours-which threw the first day of the trip for a loop. But, we got the car rented nonetheless, and I made a quick reservation at the hostel I had stayed at the night before when seeing Dave and Greg off.

(Rio Celeste)

 In the end, we had a great trip, with only a few hiccoughs-all my fault. We went ziplining around the base of Arenal Volcano with EcoGlide-which was awesome. I had not gone during my entire time in Costa Rica-somewhat of a rarity, and didn't know what all the fuss was about. But after going, it was well worth it-we had a great time, caught some amazing views, and it gave Peter a great way to see a totally different natural environment than he'd ever seen before. We relaxed by the pool, him soaking up the sun and delightful weather-a nice respite from a Minnesota winter. We took an awesome day trip to Rio Celeste, hiked in, had a basic picnic, hiked back-for some reason the guard didn't charge us for entry (bonus!). We went on a wonderfully informative and delightful coffee tour at Mi Cafecito in San Miguel de Sarapiquí, and were treated to a fantastically delicious and plentiful lunch at its conclusion. We stopped briefly in my first site, he was able to meet my old host brother and sister, see where I lived, and get a brief glimpse of the town. 
(our lunch at the Mi Cafecito coffee tour)
He was the star of my going away party-matching my host dad shot for shot and doing his best to speak Spanish with the members of my extended host family. It was really special to have him meet the people I'd been spending my life with for the past year-and by visiting Liverpool, see both the places I had lived during my service. After my site was when some of the hiccoughs started to happen-having never driven in Costa Rica, I was not the best at giving directions-especially when it came to places to park in Limón-the city near my second site. I always just got off the bus-never paying attention to the one-way streets, no parking areas, areas with paid parking, etc. But everything worked out, and even though I didn't pay close attention and made us drive in a 45 minute loop along the Caribbean Coast (a really stupid mistake-one of only two that can even be made on the entire road), we arrived at Playa Negra Guesta House in Cahuita-which was a gorgeous and delightful place to stay. 
(Petey and I with my host mom, and host dad)
During this trip challenge I had foreseen was very present for me. Having been in Costa Rica for over two years, many of its quirks and differences from the US had become normal to me. Although I have never experienced much "reverse culture shock" upon coming back to the US from any of my stints living abroad, I do understand the concept of having a new normal. While the US will always be my reference point and the norm, two years was a long period of time. So, in many ways-especially daily occurrences-Costa Rican customs and ways were the norm-yet for a visitor they are shocking. It's always a challenge to keep this in mind when someone visits-that their reactions are genuine and normal-I had them too-just two years previous. Being Petey's first time traveling abroad, I tried to stay especially aware of this-but it was difficult. I've been fortunate to have traveled a lot and in diverse places, so many things that I would breeze by were troublesome or awe striking or interesting to him. 
(learning about coffee)
In Cahuita we visited the park and hiked all the way out to the point of the peninsula and then some. We got some great, close views of a few howler monkeys. One more thing-for me not that special, but for Petey-just five days off a flight from Minnesota-a pretty spectacular site to see in the wild-just 10 feet up in a tree. We had some solid Caribbean food and visited a small house run by an indigenous family where a young woman showed us the entire chocolate making process. We both bought some samples-everything in the chocolate was grown on that property. We had a blast watching a storm of shooting stars that night poolside, enjoying some brews and making jokes. At times we could barely contain our laughter and not disturb the other patrons also watching the shooting starts. After the drive back to San José, a stop at the office to pack up coffee and buy some gifts-I dropped Petey off at his hostel (I was staying with some friends in the center of town) as he had a 6 am flight home the next day. Of course, after having assured him pre-trip that almost all the flights I've ever been on have been on time without problems-he was on Frontier Airlines first flight out of Costa Rica-and all sorts of clerical delays and disorganization made the flight two hours late. Luckily he had a long layover and he got home fine. I guess that's how it always works out-when you promise your brother that it'll be fine-it isn't. 
Although there were some logistical bumps and we were hustling and bustling for much of the trip, I'm so glad Petey spent the money and time to come visit me. He wrote me this a few days later: "It was a great opportunity for me to see how other people live in developing countries, as well as remind me of the bubble I live in. Looking back now it was very good for me to get out of my comfort zone/midwest bubble." That's what a real vacation should be: relaxing and eye-opening. 

الأربعاء، 20 فبراير 2013

2007-08 SA Exec (plus Sally) in Costa Rica

I originally joined the Peace Corps because my good friend Dave had applied and suggested I do the same. He was placed in Kazakhstan, and when I could've visited, he was still in training and couldn't accept visitors. And then I was placed in Costa Rica-so any vacation I was going to take certainly wasn't going to be the expensive and long trip to Central Asia. But, as I was placed in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, I was constantly hassling him about coming down to visit. He was waiting to go to interviews and then hear about a job-which would then give him the security to spend some money on vacation. Not only did Dave make it happen just in time, he also convinced Greg-my other roommate from my senior year-and third travel buddy on my post graduation Europe trip, as well as Cassie and Sally, two sisters that we were all great friends with at TU. 

So, a few days after Thanksgiving, I met them at the airport in San José. We immediately went to the rental car place, where there were some considerable problems with our reservation and some costs that didn't appear on their website, but there weren't really any other options at that point-so we paid, and hit the road to La Fortuna. Greg was the driver for the week, and he got the worst of it out of him immediately-mountain roads, thick fog, one-lane bridges, and no lights, paint or light reflectors to see the many road curves in the dark foggy night. But, we got to our hostel, and started ordering up some Pilsens and catching up. 

In La Fortuna we took a hike around the national park at the base of the volcano. It was cloudy and misty, so we were unable to take in great views of the volcano, but it was still a great hike. We relaxed big time at EcoTermales, a hot spring resort that was amazing! I took them to get chicharrones-a Costa Rican staple-as well as a typical casado at a cheap local restaurant (I asked the guide for recommendations so we didn't have to overspend at a tourist place). 

We then visited Daryl, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, so they could get a taste of small town life and an example of Peace Corps sites (which are generally not much like tourist sites-although there are always exceptions). We had a great time, one of the ladies in his community he works with had us over for coffee and traditional pastries of the region, it was lots of fun. Daryl and I did lots of translating, as Cassie and Sally did not want to break out their high school Spanish-Dave, though, was not afraid to do his best with his one semester in college and some trips to Latin America. 

After that we headed to the beach in Guanacaste. It was gorgeous, I'd gone my entire service without visiting the famous beaches of Guanacaste-mostly because I lived on the Caribbean side of the country and because I hadn't had visitors to take there. I was quite impressed with the beauty of the beaches and the sunsets. We visited Playa Conchal and Playa Flamingo, which was gorgeous and had wide open swathes of beach and ocean. We snacked on salsa, refried beans, tortilla chips, and a couple six-packs, read some books, chatted about college, and rode the waves into shore. 
(surfer dude at sunset at Playa Flamingo)
Sadly, I had to go into San José and sign some papers, do some interviews, and officially close my Peace Corps Service-but I sent them on the way to Manuel Antonio national park-where they had lots of fun and didn't get too hosed by the touts. We met back up in San José two days later-my solid directions only having one small mistake-but Greg still made it through the city and to the Peace Corps office. They grabbed some coffee to take back as a gift from another volunteer's project, and we took Cassie and Sally out to the airport-they had to be back for work. Greg, Dave, and I enjoyed a delightful day strolling around downtown San José, admiring the gorgeous buildings, gawking at the atrocious ones, not paying to tour the National Theater, and having delicious Chinese at a recommended restaurant-where Dave wowed the waitress with his Chinese (and I managed to not embarrass myself with mine). With an early flight, it didn't make sense to go out-so we hit up San José's newest mall and were joined by my buddy Brian-another volunteer. Needless to say, it was a GREAT visit.

الجمعة، 8 فبراير 2013

At the theater

In between Thanksgiving and the arrival of my friends Cassie, Dave, Greg, and Sally I spent a few days hanging out in San José with some other volunteers from my training group that were leaving Costa Rica. (To explain-although our official close of service date was December 17, Peace Corps allows volunteers to leave up to 30 days early as long as the Country Director approves.) So, two of my friends and I went to see Skyfall at one of the fancy malls in San José's richest district. Everything was fine and the movie was approaching the climax when it suddenly stopped. The lights stayed off and the screen was blank. A few people whistled, and a few cuss words were heard, but in a joking manner. 

This reaction caught me off guard. While every culture of the world is different and unique in many ways, I am a big believer in the idea that the differences within groups are much greater than the differences between groups. There are extremely religious people in America, and in Costa Rica. There are very secular folks in each country as well. I think it's a bit more difficult to decide which country is more religious than the other. It certainly can be determined, but the more I travel and learn, the more I think that the differences within groups are greater than the differences between them (which type of groups is a more complicated issue-I may post about it later). But, back to the theater, I was caught off guard because I tend to think that in the States, even in a delightfully kind state like Iowa, people would've gotten mad. This simply did not happen in Costa Rica-mirth was the most common emotion. Many people started laughing with their friends. I was about to get up-but first looked around, and one person had already walked back to the booth to make sure someone was fixing the problem. 

I didn't hear a single person whine "this is so inconvenient" or "what am I paying them for?" or anything like that. I think to a certain extent this has to do with the laid-back attitude that many Costa Ricans have towards life. Part of it might be because of weather-on the Costa Rican coasts it's often too hot and humid to get all worked up about something. Part of it might be due to the lack of stress in living somewhere where it's never cold, there's plenty of freshwater, beaches aren't far away, and fruits and vegetables grow pretty much everywhere, without too much work. There may be many more reasons, but I was delighted by it as we sat in the theater and observed people using the time to check messages or emails on their phones, chat with their friends and lovers, use the restroom, get a popcorn refill, or just sit back and relax. No whining and moaning so everyone could hear, no jumping up and all screaming at the projection booth. As the worker got the movie back on the screen, a few helpful patrons yelled "further" "further" and "go back" to get us right back to the part of the movie when the screen went black. People clapped lightly and the movie finished without a hitch. It was, for me, in some ways a nice representation of my time in Costa Rica-the country still has many problems as it develops (often with infrastructure), which can be frustrating, and often it seems slow to correct these problems-but everyone is in a pretty good mood about things and they smile and laugh as they deal with them.