Semana Santa: Celebrating Easter in Costa Rica

It is finally my Spring Break. Thank. Goodness.
Seriously I was starting to go a little crazy of having a 4 hour, 8 am class every day for 3 months straight, plus my electives in the afternoons. I thought it was a strange time to have a break (seems much later than back home), but it was planned out that my school would be closed this whole week for Semana Santa (Holy Week), since here in Costa Rica they celebrate the whole week leading up to Easter Sunday, not just Easter itself.

The weekend leading up to Semana Santa, I got to go to Manuel Antonio/Quepos and the Manuel Antonio National Park, where there are beautiful beaches and usually lots of animals such as sloths, bats, monkeys, etc. The public beach was packed full of local Costa Rican people (Tico’s) who had traveled to Manuel Antonio for vacation.
It was EXTREMELY hot the whole weekend, which was a bummer since our hostel didn’t have AC, but that meant lots of swimming in the ocean! :) The second day, my friends and I went in to the National Park and hung out at the beach there. It was lovely and there were very few people there!

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On Monday we came back to the city, and relaxed for a couple days. Thursday and Friday are the two days that the Tico’s all get off of work for Semana Santa, so on Thursday lots more people cleared out and the city was a lot quieter.

Today (Friday) started the processions in the city center for Good Friday. I walked around the streets watching for about an hour or so as people of the Catholic church dressed up and acted out (spoke of) parts of the crusifiction story of Jesus as they walked down the streets (sort of like a parade). It was very interesting, even though today they were just focusing on the death of Jesus, rather than the death and resurrection. Tons of people came to watch and go to Mass after the processions ended.

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Lots of people out in the streets watching the processions.

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Carrying Jesus with the cross, followed by a band playing appropriate music.

I am very glad I went and was able to see how the locals celebrate Holy Week! On Sunday there will be more processions, focusing more on the resurrection of Christ, which will be interesting to see as well!

For now, I am trying to plan out my last 2 weeks here in Costa Rica. Hopefully I can get the most out of my last little bit of time here in this beautiful country!

It Is Already My Last Month Abroad!

So how did that happen?? Though some times it felt like I still had so much longer before going home, I am now in my last month studying here in Costa Rica.

But lets start by finishing in March. I traveled to Montezuma, a very small, yet lovely, beach town from March 28-31. It was a great weekend full of relaxing at the beach, eating yummy fajitas and casados, and climbing up 10176124_10202269724007386_6566969463052854037_nto waterfalls.

I had a great time while I was there, but it turns out that I picked up a bacterial infection there :(
Once I was back in San Jose, I started to feel sick. I ended up having to miss the second day of my new (and final!!) Spanish class, and stayed sick for a whole week straight. I would go to class, then come home and lay down. It was a bit miserable. I even got some medicine from the pharmacy, but that did not help. So I finally went to the hospital and got antibiotics and a few other medicines to take for the following 5 days to hopefully kick that bacteria! Thankfully it worked, and I was much better by the 4th or 5th day!

Now lets jump back into April.
My first weekend in April, I stayed in San Jose and went to a festival, one of a few that happen throughout the year, in downtown called The FIA. It was awesome to see all sorts of local art and products from around Central America at the various booths. It was fun and reminded me of the Saturday Market in Portland, OR in many ways! I was even able to find some Kombucha tea there! Amazing!

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Advice to Students Traveling to Costa Rica

I have been thinking of some things that I wish people had told me before I arrived, so I thought I would share with anyone else who may check here before studying abroad in Costa Rica!

1. Packing: Do NOT listen when they tell you to underpack because many of the same things are available to purchase in CR.
Everything here is WAY WAY WAY more expensive. I mean like $5-8 per bottle of shampoo/conditioner (yes even their brands) expensive. Once I left the airport, I never had to haul all of my luggage around anywhere, so as long as you can carry it in the airport you should be fine.

Here are some things to make sure you bring PLENTY of:
–Sunblock 30 SPF or higher. This stuff is like $20 per small/normal size bottle here, and even if you’re like me and NEVER burn in the States, it is inevitable if you don’t wear sunscreen here.
–Mascara/eyeliner. $22/bottle of Covergirl here. I found one knockoff brand in La Fortuna thankfully that was only $4, but obviously doesn’t work very well. The only brands I have seen are covergirl and loreal parís. Eyeliner is $10-15 per pencil too. Ouch.
–2 pairs of tennis shoes. The sidewalks here eat your shoes, especially sandals, so you will need two pairs of tennis shoes if you plan to be here longer than a month or two. Dont even think about buying some here unless you want to drop $150.
–Shampoo/Conditioner. $5-8 per bottle.
–CLOTHES. My goodness I way underpacked in regards to clothes. I was so proud of myself before I came for not overpacking and then regretted it for sure! Remember that you are LIVING here. Bring comfy clothes, workout clothes, a couple dresses/going out clothes, and normal outfits. Laundry is done 1-2 times per week so for example if all of your workout clothes are dirty then you are out of luck or have to buy more to get by.
–Book (or download ebooks): Honestly I do not read that much back home but you find that you spend a good amount of time in transit here, not just on the plane rides. It will help take your mind off of the busses.

2. There are a lot of American fast food restaurants here. Everywhere…its so strange to see. Wendys, McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Carls Jr, Popeyes…the list goes on and on. I would not recommend Burger King though because I know a few people who got food poisoning from BK… yuck.

3. Ticos (the locals).
In my experience the Ticos other than those who are in your host family are not particularly friendly. In fact the older they locals are, the friendlier they seem. Cab drivers will usually try to make conversation, but students your age just ignore you. If you really want to try and make local friends then do not be in groups of foreigners and you need to be able to initiate conversation.
I have met students here from Mexico, the US, etc. who speak Spanish well enough, but have yet to be able to actually make Tico friends. The students at my school are very self-focused and just seem to care about their arts (fashion, photo, architecture, etc). So MY advice would be to not spend all of your energy trying to make local friends to hang out with. Sure try and talk to them sometimes and interact when you can, but they also like to cancel last minute so don’t take it too personally if you aren’t making any local bffs. Instead enjoy time with you host family, new friends, and roommates. Find other people from the same program and start talking!
Also, they walk EXTREMELY slow for the most part. Like impossibly slow. So sometimes you just need to pass them and not worry about being rude, or you will be 15 minutes late to wherever you are going and will most likely have to stop multiple times on the sidewalk in order to not run in to them.

4. San Jose is kind of ugly, and if you go outside of San Jose to travel chances are lots of people will try to speak to you in English unless you look like a local. I was shocked as to how much English people tried to speak to me when I traveled on the weekends. If you respond in Spanish though they will often times switch back, at least to some Spanglish.

So to those reading, do not just think that Costa Rica is horrible and people are not friendly. While there is some truth to that, it is not necessarily true for all people here. I have met many friendly locals and I have the BEST host family ever! I personally just would have been happier and felt more prepared if someone had told be some cold hard truths before I arrived.

:)

My FAVORITE Weekend So Far!

This last weekend was AMAZING. I am so glad my roommates made me go!

I went to Monteverde (in the mountains) with 2 of my roommates and honestly had the best time of my life. We went on a canopy tour that was SO much fun, with the longest single cable in Latin America, as well as 2 Superman style LONG cables, a little rappel, and a tarzan swing.

It was a beautiful day, and I love zip lining so I had a blast! The tarzan swing was kind of scary at first, but it was used as out pre-bungee jump prep. Good thing we did that first!!

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If you are ever in Monteverde, Costa Rica I HIGHLY recommend the 100% Adventura Canopy Tour. It is definitely the most fun and is even cheaper than the one at Extremo. Plus the superman style is included in the price, and there are 2 instead of 1.

Then came bungee jumping. Oh. My. Goodness. I was in shock that I actually went through with it for a couple days afterwards, but that bungee jump was SO amazing!! It was crazy and terrifying for about 30 seconds total (pre jump and the first few seconds of the free fall), but so much fun! I am so happy that I went through with it! Here the only option is Extremo, which has the highest bungee jump in all of Latin America. And I went on it. Best $60 spent in my entire study abroad experience. What is really cool too is that you get to have a GoPro attached to your wrist, so I was able to purchase a sweet video of myself jumping and the GORGEOUS view for a very reasonable $15.

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Me bungee jumping, photo taken by my roommate.

The rest of the weekend I got to hang out with some other students from my school here who happened to be at our hostel too, look through the souveneir shops, and take pictures of the lovely little (VERY little) town.

Ready to dive into week three of March!!
Hasta luego!

And another week passes by… My advice to those learning a new language.

Wow, 2 weeks of March down already!

I am currently in my 3rd Spanish language/gramar class, but am struggling with my conversational Spanish now. My brain is so packed full of information now that I fel like I am hitting a Wall. It is disappointing and discouraging since I have been living here for three months, but since I am not as submerged in Spanish as I expected I am not progressing as quickly. Also, its important to remember that learning another language is no easy feat. So it should be expected to go through a period where you feel stuck or are just not speaking as much. At least that is what I tell myself to get by right now! The language clases here are very intensive and we cover a semester’s worth of material in 4 weeks, so I am just focusing on enjoying my time and not studying 24/7 since I will have time to continue to study what I am currently learning once I return home

My advice to students learning a new language, especially in another country:
1. Give yourself time. Immersion helps A TON, but if you’re like me and am not being as immersed as you expected, then don’t expect the exact same results. If you are speaking a lot of your native language still it will be harder to switch to Spanish-mode (or any other language that you learn.)
2. TRY to immerse yourself! When I first arrived, there was ONLY Spanish for the first couple of days and I was worried that it would just be so exhausting to keep up. I almost wonder though if it has been more exhausting for me to keep switching back and fourth between English and Spanish. Once I have been using my Spanish more it comes easier and I start thinking in that language, so try to get to the point where you can start using the other language for everything!
3.Practice your accent. Thankfully a native accent comes pretty naturally with my Spanish unless I am really tired and start pronouncing words as if they were in English, but I know most people are not so lucky. It pains me to hear other students speaking with more advanced gramar than I know, but with such an American accent that sometimes I dont even know what theyre saying. If youve come this far to speak ‘Spanish, make the effort to REALLY speak it, and not just say Spanish words in English.
4. Enjoy and be proud of yourself! You are a very capable person and are learning something that gets harder to learn once you are older!

Pura Vida!

Month # 3! Starting out March with a great trip.

Ah finally into March!! It is so nice to put February behind me, and move closer to better trips and a shorter amount of time until I get to see my friends and family back home again!

March started out on a weekend this year. One that happened to be my BIRTHDAY! Yep, I spent my 20th birthday partying in Costa Rica… what a dream right? ;)

Two of my roommates, a friend, and I traveled up north to Tamarindo for the birthday weekend! My roommate, coincidentally also named Nicole, had her birthday two days after mine so this was OUR birthday weekend. I am not much of a partier, but it was fun. We met some cool people at the hostel we stayed in and went out with them.

I found that people there are very generous with their drinks, especially when it is your birthday. And one guy named Puma from Finland, who sounded like Andre the Giant, was thrilled that it was my birthday. He even sang me Happy Birthday in another language and it was so confusing that I didnt even realize it was a song. Haha good times celebrating with fellow travelers :) We spent the eve of my birthday dancing and the night of my birthday on the beach, watching the sunset.

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In Tamarindo, I also tried to surf, got a gnarly sunburn, and ate some delicious food!

What a great way to start out my 3rd month in Costa Rica!

My February in Costa Rica

One word describes my February in Costa Rica: Brutal.

February was NOT something I was hoping to go through, but thankfully I got through it.
Times can get tough when your roommates are all on edge and people are fighting all the time.

As far as my adventures during this month… they were okay. I went to Bocas Del Toro, Panama and was very disappointed. BUT I am sure if I went back I would enjoy it more. My experience with the hostel was horrible and my bed had bedbugs. The guys in Panama are much more vocal than in Costa Rica and in general people seem to be very upfront there, whereas in Costa Rica people are more passive. On top of that things were just pretty darn unorgainzed with my tour group, and crossing the Panama/ Costa Rica border was kind of scary. 1560639_10201846068376260_105361356_n
Sketchy bridge that we had to walk across to get into and out of Panama.

One (mostly) nice thing about my weekend in Bocas was the trip to Starfish beach. We hung out in hammocks and others played volleyball on the beach for a while while I waited 2 hours for my lunch. At least the coconut rice was AMAZING.

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Not too much else happened while I was here. I missed my sisters 18th birthday back at home, and of course I missed Valetines Day/ my 3 year anniversary.

My Spanish continued to improve this month though, which was good!
2 Spanish clases down, 2 to go!

It is already February?!

How did this happen?? I have already been in Costa Rica for 1/4 of my semester abroad. So far so good though, so I am not complaining!! I have experienced so much here already and have been blessed enough to get to travel a good amount.

Tomorrow I start my second of three (or hopefully four… I am working on changing it to four) Spanish language intensive classes. By the end of this month I hope to be speaking much better and more fluently! This is going to be a great month, I already know it! As always, this shorter month will fly by, and before I know it I will be half way done with my semester. Next week I have my midterms in my elective classes, so it will probably hit me in the face again then.

I have not gotten to interact with the locals here as much as I might have liked, so this month I am going to try and talk to more people here along with more observations. My host brothers who are close to my age are a good start too! I will definitely be trying to hold longer conversations with them this month as I continue learning more Spanish.

There will also be much more exploration of San Jose this month, so I can see how my expectations of city interactions compare to the real deal.

Look for more reflections on that later!

Buenas Noches!
Nicole

PS. Go Seahawks!! I was one of just a few people here reppin’ the beautiful Northwest USA, and I am proud of it!! Woop Woop!

One month in Costa Rica

Holy cow… I have already been living in Costa Rica for a month!
Each morning at breakfast my wonderful Mama Tica makes me something delicious, and it feels like she is still just spoiling me because its my first week here or something…but nope! She just love me and my roommates that much that she spoils us every day ;)

I am finished with my first Spanish Intensive class now, and starting Feb 4th I will be moving on to the next level. I definitely need to practice speaking more outside of class. I want to make sure I am taking time to actually LEARN the language well, and not just do homework to get a good grade. Same goes for my Tropical Marine Biology and Digital Photography classes. I have already learned a lot in each of those classes, but I want to actually retain the knowledge long term!

February is going to be the month I focus on intrinsic goods; health, relaxation, happiness, reading, and studying. The food here that my Mama Tica (host mom) makes is incredible…every single day. But now that it has been a month I am going to make sure I am eating less beans and rice (even though its always so yummy!) and start working out again. I feel so much better when I am healthy, and I will be much happier taking photos in my bathing suit since it is summer here! I also have been wanting to start reading more, and using my time to do something that is beneficial for me. Not in a selfish way or anything, but it is good to be intentional about your actions, even if that means intentionally relaxing to make sure you get enough rest.

This new Spanish Intensive class will require more studying, so I think I will spend more time at my host family’s house studying, talking with them more, and practicing! I am so excited though, since I am eager to be able to speak in more complete thoughts, and more fluently.

Costa Rica has a 90 day tourist visa (passport stamp), and since I will be here until May 3rd I needed to leave the country before then to renew it. This last weekend I went to Bocas Del Torro in Panama. It was a cute little island and I got to go see some dolphins, snorkel for a very little bit, go to 2 excellent beaches, and go to a cool dance club on the water! Being in Panama was a bit different than in Costa Rica, since the people on the island were darker skinned, spoke faster, and there were lots of Chinese people there who had businesses. That was definitely the first time I had heard a Chinese woman speak Spanish very very quickly, and with an accent. In Panama they also use US dollars as the currency. The bills are the same, but they had different coins…but all of them said United States of America! It was kind of confusing, to be honest! I love the look of various currencies though, so I kept a couple of those other coins as souvenirs.

The boat launch in Bocas for the beach/dolphin tour we went on.

The boat launch in Bocas for the beach/dolphin tour we went on.

Next weekend I plan on staying in San Jose and taking in the city a bit more. I want to continue to observe the Tico’s (locals) and catch up on some rest.

Chao!
Nicole

Week Three in Costa Rica

So my third week in Costa Rica just flew by! I have been keeping busy with excursions this month in my free time.

My third weekend here I went to the waterfall and river in La Fortuna, the Arenal Volcano, and the Baldi Hot Springs. I had such a great time in this little town!! It was SO cute and there were so many little shops with authentic handmade art and woodwork. I was in heaven! :)

The waterfall was gorgeous, even though going up those stairs on the way back was harder than I would have liked ;)

La Fortuna Catarata

La Fortuna Catarata

The view from my hotel was fabulous. I could see the Volcano so well! This volcano is still active, though it has been very inactive and calm for the last couple of years. Previously though, the city was on the other side of the volcano (which is still burned up). During one particular eruption years ago, the whole city was completely destroyed, so they rebuilt a new city on the other side of the volcano.

Volcan Arenal -- the view from my hotel room!

Volcan Arenal — the view from my hotel room!

The Baldi Hot Springs was WONDERFUL!! So high end… with $5.50 beers and $10 coctails… and very relaxing! Aside from slamming my head going down a waterslide and getting a minor concussion, I had a lovely time.

On the way, we had stopped in Alajuela at the Iglesia de Zarcero. What an incredible site! The church was beautiful, and someone was actually getting married inside while we were there. The gardens are kept by the same man that has keeping the grounds for the last 50 years or so. This man is in his 90’s now and has his son help him. Apparently when Disneyworld in Orlando was opening, the man was offered a top job there sculpting the shrubbery because they were so impressed with his original work. Though his whole family could have been moved there for free, he declined, saying that he would rather stay in his hometown.

 Iglesia de Zarcero

Iglesia de Zarcero

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Overall a great weekend! I am almost done with my first Spanish intensive course…just one more week left!

Chao for now!
Nicole