Pura Vida 6: August 26, 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 August 26, 2005.

Hi Everyone,

I officially finished my Spanish program and have returned to the States.  I was happy to come back but at the same time, really sad that I had to leave my hostess and our little dog, Coqueta.  I had a dream about Coqueta the other night.  I really miss that dog! Weird, huh?  Well, below I’ve jotted down the last week of my stay in Costa Rica.

We had a national holiday the Monday before I left Costa Rica- a day to celebrate the annexation of Guanacaste, a region of Costa Rica that used to belong to Nicaragua- and the school was closed as well.  As it was my last weekend there, I wanted to take my hostess on a trip.  We decided to go to the closest national park from San Jose called Manual Antonio.  It also happens to be her favorite place in Costa Rica.  Since she had to work on Saturday, my friends and I went to a small artisan town a few hours away during the day and we left for Manuel Antonio after Yahaira finished work in the afternoon.

Painted carretas

In Costa Rica you always see these ox carts with brightly painted wheels- they are called carretas.  Sarchi is where the tradition of intricately painted ox carts started.  We were very excited to go visit this little town in the mountains and weren’t discouraged when we found out that there were no direct buses to this little place.  We took three different buses to get there and spent hours on the road, but what we found at the end was just a tourist trap.  We were extremely disappointed to find nothing but a few souvenir shops…  but I got to use a lot of Spanish, having to ask every other person for directions.  🙂

We got back to San Jose to catch our 6PM bus to Manuel Antonio.  I had met a wonderful young woman named Crystal at the school (a yoga/pilates instructor, college student, studying social work and has the biggest heart) and another woman named Lisa (a Spanish teacher from Houston, Texas).  With my hostess, Yahaira, the four of us set off on our 3.5 hour bus ride to Manuel Antonio.  Due to the proximity and the easy access from the capital city, Manuel Antonio is the most visited national park in Costa Rica by the locals and the visitors alike.  As it was a long weekend for the entire country and the kids were out of school on vacation, we were sure to see the entire place packed.  We had made a reservation at a beautiful hotel called Villas Nicolas before we left but when we arrived at 9:30PM Saturday night, they had given away our Saturday night reservation.  We were left to scramble for a place to stay for the evening.  We luckily ended up at a beautiful resort called, Si Como No.  We toasted our good fortune with a few beers at a bar and then went to bed, hoping for a nice sunny morning.

View from our room at Si Como No

We couldn’t see anything when we arrived Saturday night at Si Como No but we knew that the hotel was sprawled out on a mountain top, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  We woke up to the most amazing view of Manuel Antonio Sunday morning.  After a great breakfast of tropical fruits, pancakes, freshly squeezed fruit juices, and omelets, we took the hotel shuttle bus down to the Manuel Antonio Park.  The park only allows 200 people at a time to prevent human beings from ruining the environment and its habitats (they close the park once a week altogether).  We had to wait about 15 minutes while they waited for people to exit the park before they let us in.

We found a nice shady spot under a tree and spent the day on the beach.  We took walks around the park and the surrounding forest- the beaches in Manuel Antonio have fine sandy parts, rocky areas, as well as thick forests.  The forests are full of monkeys and other wild life and around the rocky parts on the beach, we saw thousands of crabs and all kinds of fish.  The water there was shallow enough for us to walk pretty far into the ocean and calm enough for us to swim.  My hostess, Yahaira, has been taking swimming lessons twice a week for a while but still had a great deal of fear of water.  Crystal and I took turns holding her hand to support her if a large wave came near us, and she practiced floating on her back.  By the end of the weekend, she said she felt much better about being in the water and she couldn’t wait until she got back to San Jose to show her instructor what she could do.

Just one more thing to add onto my fun weekend with the girls- we saw the most beautiful man alive.  He had these amazing green eyes…  His wife (yes, he was staying at the hotel with his wife and two beautiful kids) was a model that I recognized right away- I’ve seen her in J. Crew catalogs.  When I mentioned it to my friend Crystal that I recognized the wife, she was determined to find out whether I was right.  So when we bumped into him while we were on a hike through the hotel grounds, she stopped and asked him.  He confirmed that his wife used to be a Cover Girl model.  Anyway, we kept seeing him everywhere we went, always alone.  He even followed us (we wanted to think) to the pool and asked me if I could watch his towels while he swam.  I thought I’d mention it because it was just a funny topic of conversation for all of us for the whole weekend.  Too bad all of us were too chicken to take any pictures of this Adonis.  🙂

Playa Manuel Antonio

My last week at school flew by, especially since it was a short week.  We watched the Disney movie “Mulan” in Spanish and took our last field trip on Friday.  One of the professors at Intensa had arranged for a visit to the President’s house.  At first, we weren’t sure what that meant- were we going to the Costa Rican version of the White House?  Were we going to visit the President in his home?  Well, we were taken on a tour of the building where the President, the First Lady, and their staff work.  The President and his family, we were told, live elsewhere.  The offices were in Zapote, quite close to where our school was and it took us less than 15 minutes by car to get there.  After showing our passports, we were given a visitor’s pass and ushered into the building.  One of the students (Kelly, a Spanish professor from Minnesota) forgot to bring any ID but the security guard just took her word for it and asked for her telephone number in Costa Rica and for her social security number.  No metal detectors, no searches through our bags, nothing.

As soon as we got inside, we were faced with a small statue of Jesus Christ with his arms open.  We later found out that in order to be the President of Costa Rica, one must be Catholic.  I, at first, thought I heard it wrong (our tour was in Spanish) and looked around at my friends and professors for confirmation.  They all looked dumbfounded as well and we had a chance to discuss the role of religion in government.  Anyway.  Once we entered the building, we were met by a woman from the office of protocol who gave us the tour.  She took us to the First Lady’s office and to our complete surprise, we were allowed to sit behind the First Lady’s desk (I have a picture of me pretending to be the First Lady).  We were then taken to the Presidential dining room (by the way, the First Lady is an artist and there are numerous paintings by her all around the building) and then to a room where the President meets the ambassador from each country.  We were told that there is an elaborate ceremony whenever a new ambassador is appointed to Costa Rica.  Along with the National Band playing at the ceremony, photographs, and gifts are exchanged.  And the President likes to spend about 20 minutes alone with the new ambassador in that room to get to know the ambassador before the President receives the official credentials from the ambassador.  We also learned that all the State dinners for foreign dignitaries cannot be paid by the government.  Instead, the food, the waitstaff, and the entertainment must be volunteered and donated.  No tax dollars going to State dinners, can you imagine!

President's office

We were also allowed into the conference room where the President and his cabinet hold their meetings and finally, into the office of the President.  It wasn’t oval shaped nor was it luxuriously furnished.  A very simple rectangular room with just a few pieces of mahogany furniture.  We were told that each President has the right to decorate the office as he sees fit and our guide pointed out a door by the side of the President’s desk.  Behind the door is a staircase leading directly to the First Lady’s office down below.  She told us that it was also used for another exit out of the President’s office for security reasons.  After the tour, we commented that it must not have been a very important security point for her to have mentioned it to us…

What an interesting last day!  After getting a cup of coffee at a mall (an American style malls are not hard to find) we returned to school for my graduation.   “Graduation” takes place on Fridays for those students who are leaving after their stay at the school.  Whether they were there for 1 week or 10 weeks, the ceremony is the same.  We had a handful of students graduating with me and we gathered in the school cafeteria, along with all the teachers.  The owner of the school gave a little speech (in English- he’s American- which bothered me.  Isn’t this supposed to be a Spanish school?) and then he gave me my certificate.  After taking a few photos with all the teachers and other students, my Spanish program at Intensa was finished.

I have to say, it was really odd to know that I wasn’t going to speak Spanish all the time anymore.  It was a wonderful experience and I still can’t believe I actually did it.  My flight was early on Sunday morning, but Yahaira insisted on getting up early and making me breakfast.  I do hope that she gets her visa and she can come to visit me in New York next year.  I got really lucky getting such a great hostess.  Well, this is the end of my e-mails on Costa Rica.  I will send the photos to you soon- you really should go and see the country yourself!

Pura Vida!

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