Thursday, July 29, 2010

First & Foremost, I finally got the chance to hit up the Costa Rican rainforest! ( a nice mix of primary and secondary lowland rainforest ). However... before our group was liberated into the iridescent beauty of Costa Rica we were trapped in vanilla classrooms and overloaded with repetitious lectures on tican life and safety (to avoid standing out, extranjeros - gringos, should wear fanny packs to guard our precious documents).

The reason for such mundane imprisonment was due to a week long orientation to the Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica (UNA). Included in our orientation were lectures, tourist tote bags to aid cultural blending, field trips, and scheduling! And no i'm not speaking in some sort of plural 3rd person ('our')... The ISEP group consists of 17 students from all ova (ohio, tennessee, kentucky, georgia, nebraska, & hawaii to name a few) with varying majors such as international business, translation, spanish education, and spelunking.

- well, maybe not spelunking

Anyways, after that initial meeting (testing the waters, somewhat awkward social interaction, etc.) we had a few days to chat it up and get to know each other. It's such an eclectic group with so many different backgrounds/personalities that it all adds up to a perfect blend. This is the majority of the group - in one of Jennifer's patented 10 second photos...
One of our well deserved respites from the classroom included a trip to san jose ! Imagine 17 gringos walking along congested city sidewalks with backpacks in front - if our bags were on regularly we were guaranteed to be robbed, besides, sdrawkcab backpacking is the coolest! - through a sea of ticans. Yeah, they had no idea we were there.

We meandered through the streets, stopped by the coca-cola bus terminal, walked through a market with chicken feet/gizzards among other pleasant smelling animal products, and ate at an overly sophisticated pizza hut -the pizza was remarkably un-noteworthy but the kahlua coffee cake dessert was amazing! It had a consistency similar to tres leches cake and was super rich.

After lunch we headed out into the daily downpour in search of the national theater. We had a sweet tour of the theater in which our guide explained that the spherical design distributes sound throughout the theater and allows for extended resonation... he didn't have a credible bibliography in hand to reference so that may have been some tom foolery. It was however beautiful and resembled the paris theater at a smaller scale.

There were however some very cool paintings including the allegory of coffee and bananas as well as an intelligently angled painting which created the illusion of movement. When moving across the room it appeared as the though the woman shifted the instrument and moved to better stalk the innocent admirer.
pretty spiffy.

After leaving the theater I had the pleasure of being swarmed by pigeons. I felt like I was on the price is right but instead of Bob Barker asking me to 'come on down' I had some crazy cross eyed man putting corn in my hand and taking pictures of me (he later badgered me until I paid him for my super tourist photo). Thankfully I rebelled and put my backpack where it should be.

The next day we had a blast scheduling for classes. Everyone got done within a couple of hours except for me, after 3.5 hours of struggling I showed a scribbled out/marked up class schedule to Laura (woman in charge of scheduling). She just laughed at me when she saw it and made me get a fresh new copy. After all the work required getting my classes scheduled I should have realized something wrong was looming on the horizon.... (more on that later)

Tentative Classes:
1. Indigenous Ecology
2. Environmental Economics
3. Advanced Spanish
4. Sources of Documentation in the History of Costa Rica
5. Dendrology

With that ordeal over with it was time to head to Sarapiquí to do some hiking, chocolate tasting, and horseback riding. Thursday and Friday night we stayed at the Tirimbina Field Station (along with a bunch of toads, a few hundred spiders, millions of mosquitoes) which is a 30 minute ride from the main road but was surrounded by thick rainforest. The scenery was splendid, the food was fantastic, and the company was great. A few 'workshops', repeated lectures from earlier in orientation, attempted to interfere with our enjoyment but luckily we zoned out long enough to get right back to the important matters. 

Thursday night we played some cards (phase 10). We had a big group of people so we played with partners, Danielle was lucky enough to accompany me on my titanic voyage - I may have talked a lil too much smack, which in turn may have led to us getting skipped a few turns, which may have contributed to our last place finish. 

The next morning started off early and included some coffee, hiking, sunrise, and photos. 

-Costa Rican coffee is the bomb. Even the cheap/crappy brands of coffee blow folgers out of the water. 

Watching the sunrise from the hammock with numerous species of bird calling around me was much better than the neighbor's rooster screaming at 4am. 

what's up Dendrobates pumilio !

-Ashli helped me find this lil bugger. He wasn't much bigger than my thumbnail. From that point forward my eyes were scanning the forest floor (I found two more D. pumilio in different areas) which was great for finding amphibians as well as spider webs. While scanning for amphibians I managed to find two giant spider webs by walking into them face first! One of the webs was made of a silk that felt like weak fishing line and contained an inviting red/yellow/black spider the size of my fist!
-During one of our night hikes I had the pleasure of nearly walking face first into this guy

This shot gives some scale as to the size of the spiders. Makes you wonder what the statistic is in Costa Rica for spiders eaten while sleeping . . .

As if the morning wasn't cool enough, later on in the day we went a chocolate plantation ! It was actually more of a microcosm of a chocolate plantation geared towards educating tourists... Reminiscent of the Luis & Clark Interpretive Center in Sioux City, but instead of admiring a fake Sacajawea, we got to taste 100% fresh cacao :)

Chocolate is a product created from the seeds of the Cacao fruit (Theobroma cacao). Instead of spinning into a lecture on chocolate production... I'll throw up some more pics.
(I'll spare you those from my stomach and use a few from picasa instead!)

We had the chance to taste cacao at (almost) every stage
-When sucking on the seed my feet and fingers went numb
-The roasted seeds had a flavor of peanuts, chocolate, and slight hints of alcohol? It was crazy intense
-The roasted seeds were shelled then grinded and mixed with cinnamon & sugar. This put ghirardelli & godiva to shame. Of all my experiences with ground cacao/cinnamon/sugar, I'd have to say this was the best
-We mixed the ground up concoction with hot water to make. . .
cacagua - the drink of the gods! (caca + agua)
-We had a number of mix ins to pump up the jams so to speak, including: corn, malt, vanilla, nut meg, and my fav.... chile powder. The chile powder & corn had a nice bite but the vanilla was the smoothest\
-Finally we got to taste the final products - dark & milk chocolates!
After getting hyped up on theobromine & antioxidants we left the 'plantation' with smiles and altered states of chocolate induced consciousness.

But before this turns into a run-on blog I'm going to cut it short.
Pura Vida !

Sunday, July 18, 2010

San Jose & Bungee Jumping

Finally here!
After 48 hours of consciousness which was filled with jaguar steps, fireworks, crack o’ dawn flights, and airplane eggs (with mystery gravy!) I’ve finally made it to San Jose, Costa Rica! Taxis, green, humidity, and smog everywhere !!!!
However, my arrival was put into serious question when a stern woman at customs didn’t believe I was a student… I pulled out my ISU student ID (with my interpretation of zoolander’s ‘magnum’) and dismissed all of her doubts.

Once I hopped into a taxi, Christian (el conductor), abrputly refreshed my memory of traffic in Central America (pure insanity). He did manage to get me to Hostel Galileo in one piece though! The hostel is an interesting combination of color, people, and stories. Bianca, an aussi from Melbourne, decided it was time for the ‘australian sabbatical’ which consists of a trip through all of the Americas and Europe. While in Mexico she was lucky enough to experience a car accident which included crooked cops and a 6 hour wait to get to the hospital!

Another aussie, Carrie, had been working here at the ye old hostel for a few months and decided it was time to return to her sabbatical and hit the road for L.A. Before leaving she enlightened our perceptions via the introduction of the aussie burger. It goes a lil something like this…

bun top
caramelized onions
beef patty
cooked beetroot (“beeroot”)
bun bottom

10 layers add up to one superb burger

As for the city itself… San Jose is, to put it simply, congested.

This is simultaneously good, bad, and everywhere else in between. After pounding the streets for 3 days (30+ miles of walking like I know where I’m going) I’ve only managed to see a portion of the city. The portion I have seen has been quite interesting to say the least. On any of the main avenues it’s possible to find everything from $2 dvds (right now the selection consists of toy story 3, eclipse, and the karate kid? –haha, yeah they spell it with ?) & ‘designer clothes’ (Hollister, aeropostale, and random knockoffs strait out of the sweat shop!) to buffalo testicles and turtle eggs (yup, cops don’t care).

There are some really cool things such as the main market (it opens at 3am and has a plethora of papaya, pineapple, and any other fruit/vegetables which annihilate anything back in the states) bus system (it’s cheap, smelly, and goes anywhere –including Nicaragua and Panama) as well as the graffiti/art. The graffiti might actually be one of my favorite parts of the city…

I spent most of my time meandering through the different suburbs in search of graffiti –which was and always is a good idea – and I even managed to stumble upon a couple of guys in the process of tagging a wall.

I asked them about it and they said it’s only illegal if you paint the wrong thing in the wrong place. After hearing this I felt my plan of spray painting a chinchilla on Laura Chinchilla’s driveway might be a bad idea (she’s the prez of Costa Rica).

Bungee Jumping

You know that feeling you get when you jump off a bridge?
Yeah it’s somewhat unbelievable/ridiculous/perfect

When looking for something to throw on Friday’s agenda I came across a nifty brochure for bungee jumping in Costa Rica. After visiting the website, and a few clicks/key strokes, I’d made reservations to jump at 1pm. When the time came on Friday (‘time’ here in Costa Rica involves a window of +/- 30 minutes) I hopped onto the shuttle bus and was welcomed by 18 fellow gringos (students in a 5 week study abroad program in san jose, the majority pre-med).

We all chit-chatted for the 60 minute drive through traffic and I found out one of the girls in the group Interned in the OB (hospital lingo for birthing unit) and had the opportunity to experience an emergency c-section… hands on. The fact that she described it in vivid detail made it all the more entertaining. When we pulled up to the bridge everyone’s attention was quickly diverted towards the girl ‘falling’ into the green abyss.

When we walked to the platform we found another study abroad group composed of a bunch of students from different universities. I recognized one of the girls in the group and quickly realized, oh yyyeah… she comes into the business café about 3 times a day. I chatted with her for a bit and found out she’s a business student at ISU. Crazy business.

We had to wait for everyone in their group to go (it was about 4-6 jumpers per hour) and while waiting another group arrived. One of the leaders of the group, a big fella later named papa bear, was repin an Iowa State University t-shirt. Turns out he did his graduate work with meat science at ISU. He had some fond memories of Kildee Hall, I however have a different perspective of Kildee Hall (thanks a bunch Genetics lecture !!!!!!!!!!)

Finally, as the sun began to sink below the canopy I was up. After seeing people jump for 5 hours my fear had dissipated and I thought, let’s do work. The guides said it was too dark to take video and I just said, it’s all good I just want to jump!

The jump was easy

The fall was breathtaking, and it all started with a swan dive

-It was the moment when I came out of the dive and my eyes centered on the river below when I realized, holy s***t I’m falling strait down. Everything stopped for a second and all my senses exploded/imploded. The feeling is indescribably fantastic. It’s a completely different form of adrenaline rush than tubing, roller coasters, or donies in a hoveround. Just go out and do it, it’s more than worth it.