With volunteering coming to a close, I’ve made the transition into vacation mode. In fear of depriving myself of the quintessential lounging-on-the-beach-while-sipping-a-500-calorie-tropical-beverage one tends to think of when they hear Costa Rica, I’ve abandoned my hiking books for sunscreen and salt-laden skin.
MEM (Ms. McCrystle) and my parentals joined me in Manuel Antonio for a week of ungodly heat and way to much food. Lying here now, with my shorts noticeably tighter, the AC in my new hotel is heaven. We managed to visit the national park and not see a single monkey (which every single person we speak with rolls their eyes and says that’s unheard of) and take a 5 hour whale-watching tour in Uvita and see only 2 scared dolphins (as our boat chased them). Perhaps it’s MEM’s hatred for felines that frightens all animals away in fear that they too might experience her wrath… I say this because within only a few short hours of bidding her farewell, my mom and I took a bus to our next beach and saw about 30 gigantic crocodiles sunning themselves in the river along the highway, and the highly-anticipated scarlet macaw. We even saw a bright blue macaw. So.
Now I’m enjoying a break from the humidity at Playa Conchal, which may be the prettiest beach I have ever been to. The beach is made of all crushed conchal shells, giving the landscape a pink hue and the water a Caribbean feel. It’s lovely.
Total miles: 26
Total elevation gained: 7,600 feet
Time: 16 hours
My February 14th was spent on the highest peak in Costa Rica – Mount Chirripo – at 12,533 feet.
Maria and I left at midnight on Sunday, and made our way through the depths of the rainforest in the dark. With one headlight for the two of us, those 6 hours now seem like a dream. It was so peaceful. Only being able to see about 10 feet ahead kept us focused on the present, and not dread the upcoming ascents and switchbacks since for us, at that moment, they didnt exist. The rainforest is so quiet at night….much different than during the day when every particle seems to ooze with the sound of growing.
We reached the lodge where most people spend the night at 6 am, and from walked the high dessert plain-like terrain another 2 hours to the peak. Past 11,000 feet I went in and out of feeling like I was drugged – the lack of oxygen making my eyelids drop and my body seemingly move in slow motion. It was an interesting feeling while scrambling up the last cliffs. At the top we were surrounded clouds swirling around us, with tiny slivers of sunlight above or lakes below creeping through. It was sort of surreal, being among the clouds and knowing our little village was somewhere below. On clear days you are supposed to be able to see both oceans from the top.
One of Marias students was working at the lodge and gave us free coffee, which made all the difference in keeping us feeling alive for the way down. The 13 miles was filled with lots of mud and a light rain falling on the rainforest canopy of trees above us. And green. Everywhere.
Today marked the end of “summer” break for all the kids – the first day back to school. Tiny legs scampered below their navy and baby blue uniforms. It reminded me of my many ‘first days of school’ – the nervousness, the excitement, the electricity of what is the start of the next few months.
I walked for two hours this morning to attempt to get in a little bit of shape to hike the mountain this weekend. Most people do it in two days. Maria and I are going to attempt the 20 miles in one, beginning around midnight on Sunday morning, expecting to get back sometime around dinner. Headlamps will be key.
As I walked up the mountain this morning, a woman’s song floated into the road. She was wearing a brown vest and a bandana of sorts, and look like a rustic version of the “We Can Do It” woman from iconic poster. She seemed to be gardening and doing some chores around the tiny farm. All sorts of bright tropical flowers surrounded her dark wooden house, creating trellises for her to move about. I didn’t startle her – she looked at me, kept on singing and smiled. She was happy. So was I.
I edited the wedding pictures for four hours earlier this week. It’s been almost two years since I really sat down and spent a chunk of time editing. It was so satisfying. I got the excited feeling I used to get in the darkroom, watching a print come to life and knowing deep down that it’s good. Feeling proud of the finished product. There were sparks yesterday, something I’m trying not to take lightly. Here are a few. More will make their way to Picassa.
After a few hectic weeks, things finally seem to be settling down here. I’ll be leaving at the end of February, in short, to make the most of my time in this country. While I love my students, there are so few of them, and I spend so few hours of my day with them, that I’ve decided two months is enough. My time traveling sans responsibilities will soon expire, and before I know it the “real” world of rents and jobs and teeth cleanings will be calling my name. But in the meantime, I want to live, and learn and contribute as much as I can.
At the end of February I’ll be meeting my parents and Meagan for a week at the, from what I hear, beautiful assembly of the jungle and ocean called Manuel Antonio. After that I’ll head north to work on an organic farm for a few weeks, fully embracing my Sussex County and sheep-showing little girl roots. But that’s to come.
Right now, I’m in San Gerardo. After finishing up my last class for the week today, I’ll get on the school bus tomorrow morning to see the coast for the first time since I arrived, over a month ago. The extent of my Costa Rican experience this time around has been the not-so-lovely city of San Jose; San Isisdro, which is what the locals refer to as “the city”, and what I equate with downtown Newton, New Jersey, minus the ominous Wal-Marts and Home Depots; and here. That’s it. And I am craving, salivating over even, a change of scenery. I am quite looking forward to the opportunity to talk with people past 9 in the evening, and being in a place where you don’t have to feel awkward for having a glass of wine with dinner.
Maria and I house-sat for Jenny for a few days last week. It was the first time since I moved from San Francisco in November that I had a house and kitchen to myself. Almost like my own apartment, which will seem like heaven on Earth when I return. It’s all about the little things ATM… I did get a few hot showers and got to cook my own dinner – lovely. And I think the best night I had here was on Monday evening, when I talked to an old friend for hours on the house’s front porch, the moon overhead through the sprawling jungle trees; took a scalding hot shower; and fell asleep with a glass of wine next to my bed and a book in my lap. While the river roared outside. The doors to the balcony open wide to let the river in and the surround-sound of chirping birds with the sunrise. Like one of those nature sound alarm clocks. So nice.
I am beginning to love the food at the hotel where I’m staying. Yami, my host mom, manages to make things that are consistently super healthy and delicious. My aversion to beans is now a thing of the past, which is good considering I typically eat them twice daily. They’re definitely the best I’ve ever had, and I managed to find out Yami’s secret for making such a simple thing. Lots of garlic….right from the start. Otherwise it’s lots of rice, lots of veggies, a tiny piece of fish once in a while, and fruits for breakfast. Fresh from the farm. Papaya, cantaloupe, pineapples, bananas, and sweet lemons. Lizano and the spicy pepper sauce are a new addiction.
This past Saturday Adrian and Jenny got married. Adrian is the son of Francisco and Yami, my host parents. The wedding was in the salon here in San Gerardo, which also acts as the exercise class room, our school, and anything the community generally needs a place for.
The house has been full of their six kids plus husbands and wives and kids and aunts and uncle and the list goes on. Craziness, so not much quiet time here. Marla, one of the other daughters who also teachers computer classes through the Project, made the wedding dress and the dresses for the little girls. They were beautiful, and easily could have been been sold for hundreds if not thousands of dollars in the States. Add to that flower arrangments, decorations, food presentation and table settings and it was a true do-it-yourself celebration. And for do-it-yourself, it was beautiful.
We spent all Saturday morning blowing up white balloons for the trellace that we made as the couple entered the salon. I ended up making the centerpieces for the table – two white lillies, daisies and some greenery seemingly bursting out of delicate white netting and brown ribbon. The food was prepared by us the night before in bulk. Meat, rice, sauce, salad, and 300 individual plastice cups of jello mixed with cream…accomplished assembly line-style in the hotel kitchen.
It turned out they didnt have a photographer, so I got to do the official honors for the night. It was lots of fun and I felt good having something to give back to this family since theyve taken such good care of me.
Most of the customs were very similar to a traditional American Catholic wedding, except for one part where the bride and groom danced together and then people pinned money to their clothes to dance with them. By the end Jennys dress was covered in colones…somehow i could never see an American bride sticking her ridiculous $10,000 dress with safety pins.
What struck me most about the whole ordeal, including the week leading up to it with various family members at the house, helping in whatever ways their talents or drive to pitch in allowed, was what it meant for the finnished product. The smiles of appreciation for all the long hours of hard work actually meant something. They werent directed toward some stranger with the title of wedding planner whose only investment in the events success is her next paycheck, nor the brides parents who have sacraficed their life savings on a mere 6 hours. Instead they went to family and friends, who all devoted countless hours of hard work, so the end result was a little piece of everyone. Money is one thing, but it cant buy you heart.
Written Jan 2, but was just now able to get this online…
So, after a good 16 hours of traveling I made it to San Gerardo. If you count coming back from NYC yesterday, I took every mode of transportation in a 24 hour period, with the exception of boat and horse. Ah, but I did finnish my jounrney in the back of a pickup truck.
I met Maria at the bus station, and being the only other brown-haired, blue-eyed person in the place, it was easy to spot her. We then embarked on a 3.5 hour bus ride on roads so windy that they rival my beloved Rt. 1 in California. Except we were on a huge bus doing about 60 mph around hairpin turns, with a visibility of about 10 feet due to the clouds. Yes, were in in the clouds. And then we came out, above the clouds, so see the most spectacular rainbow across a deep green valley. The clouds, below us, now looked like snow-covered peaks. Gorgeousity.
And then we got in a cab. And I though we’d go about 20 minutes up the road to our tiny town. But we kept going. And kept going some more. Until the road turned to dirt, and two lanes turned to one, and the street lights ended. A good 45 minutes later and we met Jenny, who runs the school; her dog Copper; and her fiance, Pedro; and we all enjoyed some hot tomato soup. My first meal, all day.
And now I am sitting in my bed, above the Hotel Descando, with the hum of Spanish television through the wall. I briefly met my family tonight but I needed some rest. They do seem sweet. The father, Francisco, is 70 and still runs every day. Their son plays “football” for the largest team in Costa Rica, so it seems like an athletic family.
This is remote. More remote than I was expecting. Maria, who’s been all over Latin America was even shocked. It’s one thing to visit these places, but it’s a whole other thing to reside here. More to come tomorrow. Breakfast at 8, and then an introductory hike through the cloud forest.