Thursday, January 6, 2011

So... Where am I again ?

The reason for my absence.... I can still use pura vida.... right...¿.... is due to a discombobulated series of events which include:
- an absolutely thrilling field trip to botanical gardens which included 1.25 hours in a ´quaint´ seed bank which allowd us to stand on each other and discuss the pros and cons of two sealable bag types
- arrival of my real family during finals week (studying consisted of bartering with vendors at the souvenir market in San José, chatting with ISEPers for 4 hours in the Library, translating between two families over a ridiculously fantastic meal prepared by mamatica, ziplining in Monteverde, and being robbed... by monkeys ! in Manuel Antonio)
- departure of my real family after thanksgiving
- departure from my host family the same day
- departure of the majority of ISEPers the following day
- sleeping on a beach next to an egg laying olive ridley sea turtle
- 6 day vaca (since life in Costa Rica was real tough) to the Osa Peninsula, my favorite spot in the country
- 2 day trip to Manuel Antonio to eat the bast valued breakfast in Costa Rica - gallo pinto + eggs + panqueques + fruit = a breakfast you can eat while smiling, enjoy some quality 80's music, and consume copious amounts of coffee
- 3.5 day trip to Tortuguero to unwind, do some night hikes, jam, and consume 40 fried plantains (platanos maduros will change your life)
- experience Christmas with the Chacones (my host family, which is synonomous with chévere, pichudísimo, and tuanis)
- say goodbye to my gracious host and his very understanding girlfriend (Oli & Lau) and escape the concrete confines of San José for Jaco
- Phill also appeared somewhere in the mix to sleep on the beach, roast green bananas, and wrestle sharks

as the list has made clear, the final months were very ´productive´.

Jumping back a bit in the timeline to the arrival of my parents. The last week of the ´Official ISEP Study Abroad Program´ was that of Thanksgiving and on that Sunday Nikki and I found our parents and her friends patiently awaiting at the airport in Alajuela. 

To kick off the Costa Rica experience the brady bunch hopped into a taxi with a squirrely looking driver and were off !!!
- only to quickly find out that the beast of a mobile which we were riding in was unable to shift into top gear, thus we rode along at a trot with the engine screaming in protest... on the busiest highway entering San José. The two vehicles which nearly sideswiped us as well as the barbed/electric wire on every building and home we passed provided a welcoming environment ! 

When we safely? arrived at the hostel we took note of the scrupulously maintained conditions

befriended the hostel dog

and enjoyed the soothing sounds of nearby gunshots throughout the night.

Next on the agenda was a trip to a Chocolate plantation to see cacao trees and taste the seeds at numerous stages of preparation - the tour is awesome. Count Chocula actually leads a portion. However, due to some heavy rains (apparently rain isn't just there to give forest company) the road was washed away and a 5.5 hour detour was the only option. Soo at 6am at the carribean terminal we decided to go for a city tour !

Buildings, graffiti, souvenirs, sweet t-shirt shop, and a pit-stop at a bakery killed some time before my 4pm Evolution final.

We then headed to my University 
Building for all of the scheduling, 
our counselor, Laura, became quickly acquainted thanks to an interesting class registration process...

The view outside of the biology department

The jungle within the biology department

Spiral staircase leading to the Village of the Smurfs

Jungle within the natural sciences department

distracting flower

My favorite path

Campo de Futból

The grassy knoll at the center of campus (Lee Harvey Oswald not included)

And finally, the view from outside of the library

After the tour we headed into the library where I studied evolución, Ann studied facebook, Mom chit chatted, and Dad studied the architectural layout of the inside of his eyelids
nice !

After 20 minutes or so we were joined by my ISEP friends. Strangely enough it seemed everyone in the program trickled in to the same part of the library and had the same desire to put studying as far back into our minds as possible. I couldn't have agreed more with their mindset and pleasantly spent the hours before my exam chatting.

Quick note. Finals week in Costa Rica doesn't involve 24 hour stress sessions in which the majority of time is spent consuming coffee and doubting your ability to memorize/apply chemistry equations or frantically trying to memorize the photosynthetic pathway. Costa Rica instead keeps a laid back attitude (my professor joked and chatted with us for 10 minutes before the evolución final) but retains legimitate final exams. Hooray for you Costa Rica! 

After the exam we headed to my home in San Pablo de Heredia where Ana whipped up a supper which was close to ridiculous for my standards (remember, my typical supper packed 3 days worth of calories... before dessert).

Squash bisque, picadillo, beef, chicken, salad, rice, beans, fresh juice, and of course: Platanos Maduros

I can't quite tell you how cool it was too see the mixing of my two families, though I can tell you about the mad mix of spanish/english flying around the dinner table. Ana knows no english and my parents know no spanish. So Ashli & I had fun translating to and fro. Thankfully Ashli filled the translational gap when I began subconsciously speaking spanish to my parents... sorry guys... haha.

After Ana was assured of the fact that we were all sufficiently stuffed, we chatted exchanged gifts, and said our thank yous, goodbyes, and for me.. hasta luego. We took the bus back to San José for another restful night at the hostel (complete with the previous nights soothing street music). 

day #3 of the brady bunch vacation: ziplining in Monteverde

I shall continue ! sooner than later... or sometime... eh, pura vida !

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Look at this sea turtle that had the nerve to ruin my sand shot. We had just walked onto the beach and chatted with a French couple (the French are like the potholes here. they're everywhere... jk) who had been scouring the sands in search of the elusive little turtles when this little guy showed up. As he 'clawed/finned/flippered' his way out of the nest and the race to the sea began ! 
 Chelonia mydas aka Chelonia mach-5
NaCl-iest !

Here's a video of the race

well, that's almost how it went down.

The pics are from a recent trip to Tortuguero "Land of the turtles", which is a long stretch of beach and jungle along the carribean side of Costa Rica (Provincia de Limón). Tortuguero is a ridiculously humid area which receives 250 inches of rain a year and due to it's combination of marine, wetland, and lowland tropical rainforest habitats.. it has a crazy amount of biodiversity. The fact that it's an important nesting site for 5 species of sea turtle (Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Green, Leatherback, & Teenage Mutant Ninja), has a nice chilled carribean culture replete with dirt roads, and is only accessible by boat/airplane means that it is exponentially cooler than chepé (San Jose) and one of the greatest places in Costa Rica to visit. Sorry the rules of sigmoidal growth don't apply here cuz there is no carrying capacity for the coolness of spotting green macaws, baby sea turtles, eyelash pitvipers and enjoying an imperial on the carribean. 


When we asked a couple of cops about the crime they said the only real problems they have is some drug issues (it's the carribean, so of course ganja is everywhere), the occasional altercation, and poachers. It requires mentioning that the cops were strolling down the beach taking photos of turtle nests with their cell phones. 

We dropped our stuff off in our $8 a night cabina (with rugrat pillow). Meandered through the dirt roads and alleys in search of a cheap supper. Leftover delicious burger patties on stale bread and some 10cent bananas. Not quite a breakfast of champions, moreso a supper for the stingy! Following the 5-star cuisine we headed out to the beach to infiltrate the national park and do some night hiking. With my trusty headlamp leading the way we were off!

Night hikes are on par with spelunking or underwater basket weaving. It's as if you're able to see everything in a different light (ha.) or in 3D. But it's moreso like watching paranormal activity in an Imax theater... with giant wolf spiders everywhere... and bats that fly inches in front of your face.

Exploring Costa Rica through all the senses, especially taste.
 - Disclaimer - 
Snakes below (don't worry there are no planes/Samuel L. Jackson)
We weren't sure if it was a non-venomous Milk Snake (Scolecophis atrocinctus)
 or deadly venomous Coral Snake (Micrurus mipartitus). 
So we picked it up!!!

Haha, just kidding. It was dead when we encountered it (the good ol' poke it with a stick test proved it).
This lil guy however, was alive and venomous... and remarkably beautiful!
 Bothriechis schlegelii

We may or may not have spent 30 minutes taking pictures of this sucker. 
What's crazy is that it's a fairly small snake (this one may have been 11 inches max) and typically is in vegetation at shin/knee height... just at the protective boot line...
but no worries! It's a high bite/survival rate

The next morning we were off at 5am to find some more baby sea turtles and then take a rented canoe out into the canals. We yet again attempted to infiltrate the national park (this time through the canals) and were nearly in when a couple of rangers told us we were despicable, horrible people. 
(they politely informed us about the entry fee)

so we said...nah, lets explore elsewhere (and por dicha we did)
After nearly being dumped on by a male crane we stopped for breakfast, or as we considered it a 9am lunch.
Chef Oli whippin up some of his signature Avocado/Tomato sandwíches.
- They're a ridiculously delicious staple of our hikes

Then we made our way into this tiny canal

Which elevated the trip to a whole nother level.

We saw Green winged macaws, poison dart frogs, an otter, spiders, and a caiman. 
caiman !!! like 3.5 feet long

After exploring the canal and getting thoroughly rocked we headed back to the mainland to buy some bananas, japanese peanuts, and super cheap lemon cookies, - all part of a delicious and nutritious breakfast !
While we enjoyed our $2 meal we sat and watched a little guy catch a fish with his handy dandy wal-mart fishing rod, then picked up our stuff and headed to the docks. We arrived bought our tickets and sat back to watch the festivities (Nov. 4-7 is 'Turtle Fest'). Reggaeton blasted in the background, a creepy clown dazzled the crowd, and some guy sawed away at a log with reckless abandonment in an attempt to carve a... turtle/hand/head ?¿

- Interpretive art... gotta love it.
Here's a lil bit of the action
However, the injustices known as our 'spanish projects' had yet to be done and required a early departure...  in other words, we experienced Tortuguero in a half shell.

Tortuguero couldn't have come at a better time, as the day before my friend Oli got mugged in suburbia while (the only comical part about the story) walking two poodles. Him and the dogs are ok though ! 
In all seriousness, it's a problem which seems to be increasing at an incredibly rapid rate. Especially in San Jose, which although it has some good aspects... the bus terminal, El Steinvorth, & graffiti . . . the majority of the city is a congested foul smelling mess. It may seem like a biased gringo point of view, but it's a perspective which ticos of the surrounding central valley recognize. Tortuguero was so drastically different (admittedly due to the lower population of people) from San José that it seemed like an entirely different country. It was truly a breath of fresh air (literally and metaphorically) which demonstrated a side of Costa Rica which at times, can be tough to find.

Hasta Luego ! 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's 72° ..... and I'm cold

Although the news has been rolling in that it's ridiculously warm up there in Iowa and that the no-shave november beard, typically a necessity for the brisk and uninviting weather change, is quite unnecessary this year. That's fine and all for you guys, but we've got it rough down here. With the change in seasons (ridiculously relentless rambunctious rain to..... sun) comes a cold front just in time for Christmas.

- There are Christmas lights on some of the houses next door. The palm tree leaves continue to shine bright green and show no sign of falling... looks like i'll have to find a different pile of decomposing matter to jump in!!! (well, maybe not...)

That sun which finally (might) continue to shine... has been illuminating Heredia for the past two days and it's been stupendous.

- It's also got this song stuck in my head

To break any sort of chronological order... I'll jump back a few weeks before the sun broke through the grey weather.

- After getting back from Panamá on Monday I had an epic take home test for thursday to complete (3 days of nonstop statistics, essays on sexual selection, and lots of coffee) which was immediately followed by a 10 page paper on the evolution of Oophaga pumilio in Bocas del Toro for monday.... followed by a research (conducted while under the influence of 3 hours of sleep and copious amounts of coffee) project on sparrow population size in Heredia & San Pablo.

In case you were wondering... there are approximately 267 rufous collared sparrows per kilometer squared in San Pablo
-wikipedia it.

After I pulled out of my sleepless/coffee induced coma it was time to celebrate globalization at its finest: 

The holiday is in a weird state of cross cultural awareness... but that didn't stop us from costumes, 90's music/salsa, and the grilling of 10+ kilos of steak and sausage. Jen's host mom didn't have a grill... but she did have a flower stand, car rim, and oven rack.
That's Caitlin, she made her own costume (typical folklorical dress)
- mine's homemade as well
We filled up on food, chatted, danced, had a random kick-off (Germany-Capoeira vs. USA-Taekwondo), and got some nice stares at the bus stop. 

The congregation of foreignors, sorry party, wasn't the only throwback to the States. Last week I registered for spring classes... : /

Plant Ecology
Organic Chemistry & O. Chem Lab
Spanish Phonology
Creative Writing
Latin American Anthropology

A pretty good mix.... although chemistry isn't certified organic by the USDA or grown homerange... meaning a bunch of adverse side effects due to chemical overload. bummer. The other jolting reminder is the fact that classes are coming to a close (November 27th is the last official day of the program) and the rest of the study abroad group will be headed home...
- that's our spanish class (germans, americans, austrians, and Alexa - our profesora tica)
- and that's the jungle behind the classroom which is somehow more captivating than imperfect subjunctive

It's one of those bittersweet cliché moments where you realize time flies (even if it's 30 minutes late for everything -still making good use of that).
nevertheless, it's about time for a month of unrestricted travel