Pura Vida 5: July 21, 2005

This “Pura Vida” series is a set of e-mails I sent around to my friends and family when I was traveling and living in Costa Rica in 2005.  I made no edits, just simply wanted to post them here to get my little travel blog started…

This is from July 21, 2005.

Hi everyone!

Two weeks ago on Friday with a group of friends from school, we took a bus to a city called Cartago to see one of our teachers (Pablo) sing at a bar.  It took us close to an hour to get there and the bar turned out to be a place that looked like a warehouse with a bunch of patio furniture.  But it was a bar nonetheless and it was an open mike night.  Pablo and his friend sang for an hour, all in Spanish- they even sang ¨The Piano Man¨in Spanish.  Honestly, they were not the best (Pablo could hold his own but his partner really shouldn’t be singing in public)  I know, ouch.  Pablo was so happy that we all showed up and we all had a good time.  We also got to see how the young kids spend their Friday nights- having a few drinks, listening to music, playing ping pong…

I went to see another volcano nearby that Sunday.  Volcan Poas last erupted sometime in the 50s and one of the craters is still active.  My guidebook said that this volcano has a 40 year cycle so it´s ready to explode any minute.  It also said that in the past few years the water in the main active crater has gone down by about 15 meters- another sure sign that it is due for an eruption.  Nothing that exciting happened while we were there.  However, there was fluorescent green smoke spewing out of the earth near the crater and the air was filled with toxic fumes.  At times it was difficult for us to breathe and we had to walk away from the volcano.  We took a 40 minute hike into the mountains to see another crater, which is now filled with rain water.  That crater was so large that it looked more like a lake.  It was a beautiful day and the place was packed with Ticos (Costa Ricans) with their families.  At the top of the crater, we were able to see the Pacific Ocean- they say that on a really clear day, you can see both the Caribbean AND the Pacific Ocean.

Volcan Poas

I made spaghetti and meatballs for my hostess and her friend after I got back from the volcano.  It came out the way I make them at home and they seemed to like the food, so I was very happy.  The food here has been excellent.  Just yesterday I had a great meal of grilled fish, salad, and rice at the school cafeteria, and I have discovered something called ¨chifrijo¨which is a kind of a small meal (a boca, they call it). It comes in a bowl and they put rice on the bottom, then beans, pork, and salsa (tomatoes, onions, cilantro) and lots of lime juice.  It is to die for!  They tell me that this is very Costa Rican and I probably won´t find it elsewhere.  I will certainly miss it.  I made a simple chicken soup this past weekend and I brought some for one of my teachers at school.  Today I had a bunch of other teachers ask me why Nuria (the teacher I brought the soup to) was so special.  Well, here is why.

This past Sunday, I was invited to join my favorite teacher Nuria on her Sunday walk.  Well, it was more of a hike than a walk since it lasted all day and we covered about 18 km.  Nuria had started walking on Sundays to try to get in shape and also to see the country.  This group of Ticos would go out with a guide and explore different parts of Costa Rica every week.  I got up at 5:15 in the morning to meet Nuria, Vera (an administrator from my school), my Dutch friend Evelein.  We met our guide Luis and the other Ticos at the bus terminal and we headed for a place called La Lucha Sin Fin (the endless struggle) where a battle took place during the Costa Rican civil war in 1948.  Most of the Ticos were in excellent physical condition even though all of them were in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.  We called one guy, Carlos, a walking machine- he would walk up an entire mountain without stopping once.  He was almost running up the hills!  It was impressive.

Our walking crew

The bus dropped us off on top of a mountain, about 4 km from the nearest town.  When we started most of us hadn’t eaten our breakfast yet and my friend Evelein was looking for a bathroom.  About half an hour into our walk we came upon a small house and our guide went in the house to ask whether Evelein could use the bathroom.  He came back to us and said that the family wanted all of us come in to have some coffee.  The family only had an wood burning stove in the house and they used that to make the coffee for us and offered us their cookies.  They had been up for hours and it was their snack time!  They were incredibly generous and kind- Nuria told me that she was really glad that I got to see a bit of real Costa Rica, I was too.

We went up and down several mountains of coffee fields and cypress trees, walking by countless cows and waving at small children.  At times dogs followed us (I walked away as quickly as I could from them, as I had visions of being carried off the mountain with dog bites) and in every small village we found a church and a beautifully maintained soccer field.  We stopped to count all the different shades of green we saw but we couldn’t really even describe them very well.  We took a break around 12:30 for sandwiches and we set off again.  Along the way, we found wild blackberries and grapes to taste and we saw several farmers traveling with their horses.  I tried to walk with a different person throughout the hike and got to know everyone by the end of the day.  We ended our journey in a small town with a few beers at the only bar in town.  What a fun day!  They all asked me if they´d see me again next Sunday.  🙂

Costa Rican country side

Two students left last week and they were replaced by a Spanish teacher from Texas and a recent high school graduate from Washington.  We watched “Maria Full of Grace” in Spanish with Spanish subtitles in class last week.  Even though I had to read a lot of the dialog (they spoke incredibly fast), I was happy that I could follow everything.  We discussed the movie and the drug problems in CR, Columbia, and the U.S.  If you haven´t seen it already, I highly recommend it.

For my last weekend here in Costa Rica, my hostess and I will go to a beach near by.  She has been a wonderful hostess and she’s become a new friend.  She has her visa interview in September and if she gets her visa, she´ll be able to visit me in New York sometime next year.  The U.S. government has made it almost impossible to obtain a visa for those who simply want to visit the U.S.  In order to prevent illegal immigration, the U.S. government requires a Tico to apply for a visa, pay $100, fill out mountains of paper work (do you have a job in Costa Rica, where do you work, how much money do you have in your bank account, do you have family in the U.S., where will you visit, for how long) and go in for an interview.  Even when you have done everything, there is no guarantee that you’ll receive a visa.  My hostess called the U.S. embassy for 2 months before she was granted her interview and the interview won´t take place until September.  It´s incredible. There really is a love-hate relationship with the U.S. here.  The majority of the tourists are Americans and tourism is the number one industry for Costa Rica.  At the same time, there has been a lot of ugly Americans here, and the trade regulations and taxes the U.S. government has put on Costa Rican goods have been severe.  There is a huge discussion going on right now with NAFTA here and the country is very much divided.  It seems to most of them that it’s a lose, lose situation…

On that note, I´m off to do some homework.  I hope you are all doing well.  I´ll be seeing you soon.

Pura Vida!

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