Monday, April 27, 2009

Before you go...

Some last-minute tips I thought of before you Costa Rica-bound students leave, plus some reminders:

 (less than 2 weeks now!)

1. Don't forget to pack a backpack to take your weekend stuff in for the beach trips. I forgot to take a separate little backpack, and you definitely won't be able to fit your suitcases on those weekend excursions!

2. Carry your umbrella with you ALL THE TIME. It will rain pretty much every day, no matter what the weather is like in the morning.

3. Make sure you plan on going to FOFO on Mondays for ladies' night.  We always had so much fun at FOFO every Monday night!

4. Be sure to go to the restaurant "Pan e Vino" in Heredia YUM!

5. If you can fit it in your suitcase, take a beach towel.  It comes in very handy on the weekend
 trips, plus, it can serve as extra padding on those long, sleepy bus rides.

6. Keep a photocopy of your passport with you at all times, just in case.  Keep your original passport in a very, very safe place.

7. If you take your laptop, skype is AWESOME for keeping in touch with friends and family at home.  I definitely recommend downloading it.  If you are not taking a laptop, I suggest investing in some phone cards.  Home-stay families will allow you to use their phone to call home with your phone card.  If you don't buy one ahead of time, you can buy phone cards in many places in Heredia.

8. BE CAREFUL crossing the street!  Drivers in Costa Rica will NOT yield to pedestrians.

9. Don't waste your money on the malaria pills unless you want to be really, really, really safe.   I think only a handful of people took them last year, and they made them sensitive to the sun.

10. Take some playing cards or small games to busy yourself during free time.

And, most of all, have fun in Costa Rica!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What to pack for Costa Rica

When I took my trip to Costa Rica, I realized that there are a few things I wish someone who had taken the trip had told me before I went.

For those who want some tips, here are some extras I would suggest you pack:

If you can fit them, maybe even more than one pair.  Since it rains almost EVERY DAY while you're there, your sneakers will get very wet, and you need those for a lot of the excursions!

Since it is very hot most of the time, you will wear shorts for the majority of the days in Costa Rica.  I wish I had packed more pairs of shorts for my trip.

Since most of us rely on our cell phones for alarms these days, one doesn't usually think to pack an alarm clock while traveling.  Since your cell phone won't work there, you'll be out of luck using that for an alarm clock.  Thank goodness my parents required me to get a global phone for my trip to Costa Rica, because at my home stay, I was not given a clock of any sort!  So, I relied on that little phone to tell me the time and for an alarm.  I would definitely recommend packing an alarm clock.

There are many foods you can't get in Costa Rica, so if there is a certain food you can't live without, I would pack it.  I lived off of the peanut butter I packed, and don't know what I would have done without it!  There are also times when you can't go and buy food, like on long bus trips, when food that was packed in advance will come in very, very handy.  I would suggest granola bars and other easily packable snacks.

In Costa Rica, I lived off of some of my favorite American staples

This is especially for those staying at the Inn, since on my trip, they had some things go missing.  I would pack a small safe or something that can be locked to keep your important things.

Many people lost/broke their cameras on our trip.  If you have an old camera laying around that you don't use, why not bring it just incase?  It's not imperative, but it could be a good idea.

If your camera breaks, you don't want to miss a great shot like this one!

And lots of them!  You'll be glad you packed them when you're always trekking through the rain and have shoes that dry quickly.

My best friend and I kept journals while in Costa Rica and documented the exciting parts of our trip during our downtime.  I'm so glad I did, since it was so easy to relay my stories to my family and friends once I came home!  And later, when I'm older, I'll be able to remember all my great times in Costa Rica.

Especially since Dana and I had to walk the streets at night alone since I was in a homestay, we were both really glad we had an extra means for defending ourselves.  I would definitely recommend bringing it along with you for those nights after going out.

You'll thank me later, trust me.  That rain jacket will get a TON of use.

I lived in that rain jacket all through our trip!

See above.

Although you can get Halls easily at the sidewalk pharmacies (ha!), I would definitely recommend bringing your own favorite brand and some cold medicine.  Almost everyone on the trip got a chest cold and a sore throat from all the rain.

I went through a TON of Halls on my trip!

I ruined quite a few tops while in Costa Rica because I couldn't buy effective stain remover there.  I'd recommend taking ZOUT.  :)

I took a few books with me, and I'm really glad I did!

Dana read Harry Potter on every bus ride!

I made the mistake of only bringing two suits, and I was out of luck when I needed to put a new suit on and only had a wet ones from the days before.

I hope this helps prepare you all for your upcoming trip... only a few more days and you'll be in COSTA RICA! Good luck!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tour of Cafe Brit

Our Wednesday morning tour of Cafe Brit was very interesting and informative.

The tour is set up in a corny theatrical way, with a man and a women dressed up as old-fashioned coffee bean-pickers describing how the coffee is made.

the introduction of our Cafe Brit tour

We were taken through a jungle of coffee plants and learned what the best climates and seasons are for picking the coffee beans.  Interestingly enough, the seeds are green when they are picked!  Those are then shelled, which reveal a brown bean.

the coffee bean seed

We were then taken into the factory where the beans are converted into coffee. We learned about the different roasts and processing time required for each type of coffee.

the factory where they make the coffee

Then we went into a theater to learn what happens to coffee once it is made.  We learned that when coffee is taste-tested, it is COLD (interesting!), since one can taste its flavor better when it is not hot.  They slurp the coffee from a spoon loudly, as Colby is learning onstage below, in order for the coffee to hit all taste buds on the tongue.

Colby learning how to test coffee to taste

We also learned the history of coffee in Costa Rica, the discovery of the coffee bean, and how it became so important to Costa Rica's culture.

THEN, for our favorite part, we were all taken to the restaurant portion of Cafe Brit and were served a delicious lunch (one of the best we had in all of Costa Rica) of Costa Rican staples like tortillas in mango salsa and great pasta.  The iced coffee was to die for!

the iced coffee was SO good!

Also, in the gift shop, everyone went crazy for the chocolate covered coffee beans, chocolate covered guanabana, and chocolate covered macadamias.  These were my family's favorite when I brought them back!

The gems of Heredia

There are quite a few places in Heredia that deserve a visit if one should ever travel to the town.  I decided it was necessary to list these places where my friends and I had a lot of fun!

Hipermas is the Wal-Mart owned superstore in Heredia.  Dana and I walked to Hipermas on our way home from school (quite a hike, as Hipermas is a while away from the Intercultura school) for our random necessities we didn't bring, like extra shampoo, snacks, etc.  Hipermas has a small restaurant side to it, so if you're hungry (which we were!), you can stop for a snack, too.  The place is HUGE and extremely crowded, but it was really neat to see what a third-world Wal-Mart is like.  Plus, we were able to buy things here that we really needed

the view of the sunset.. taken right outside Hipermas!

The Pet Shop
Dana and I also found the cutest pet shop a couple blocks away from the Intercultura.  Here, they are extremely relaxed when it comes to their customers, so Dana and I could just walk in and play with the little puppies in the window.  We had a fun afternoon on our way to school with a 6-week-old pair of Terriers, Dachshunds, and a little Chihuahua puppy.

they were so cute!

Clothing & Shoe Stores
There are quite a few great buys to be found in some of the many clothing stores on the sidewalks of Heredia.  I have about 5 dresses and shirts that constantly get compliments in the states, which I only paid bottom dollar for.  I also found a great pair of shoes for very cheap that I still love!

The Marketplace
On our way home from school, we decided the marketplace we saw on our tour deserved a closer look.  When we visited on our own, we realized how much fresh fruit we could buy for very little money.  Here, we bought raspberries, starfruit (carambola), and blackberries (mora).  Yum!

POPS is an awesome ice cream shop right near Hipermas.  Here, I was able to get a cup of Brownie Dynamite flavored ice cream for only the equivalent of $1.50!  This would have cost around $3.50 at a Coldstone in the states, and my ice cream was just as good.

Dana and her yummy POPS ice cream!

The Movie Theaters
When we had  little to do at night, Wednesday night movie deals were perfect.  Wednesday nights in Heredia are all about the movies, and we went and saw two movies while in Heredia.  One of those included Indiana Jones, which was shown in English with Spanish subtitles!

Intercultura Class Fair

In the Intercultura, the school where we studied Spanish, we had a fair at the end of our studies.  Each class was assigned a different province in Costa Rica and decorates a portion of the school to represent this province.  Then, while the heads of the school and guests tour through the school, we perform a presentation about our province.  We also dress up in order to appear as townspeople of our province.

presenting the rural side of San Jose

My class (made up of the three of us... Erin, Matt, and me) was assigned San Jose, Costa Rica's capital.  For our decorating, we had a rural side and an urban side, since there are two distinct sides to San Jose.  

On the rural side, where I presented while wearing an Amish-looking outfit of a white blouse, a long black skirt, black shoes, a tan shawl, and a bun with a flower in my hair, we had a coffee section with real coffee beans and a really great scarecrow we made to go with our carreta (oxenberg).  The scarecrow was meant to be a "bouyero," or the man who pulls the carreta.  In my presentation, I spoke of how San Jose hosts a national holiday with a carreta parade every year in March to celebrate the tradition.

el bouyero

In the coffee part of my presentation, I talked about how the tradition of Costa Rican coffee began in San Jose in the 18th Century and how it used to be a huge export, but now it is really just for tourism.

Erin and Matt presented the urban side of the province.  Erin dressed as a modern girl and danced at our remake of the discoteca called Castro's, which we actually visited earlier in the trip.  Matt stood beside his great drawing of the Teatro Nacional and spoke of the history of the capital of San Jose.
Erin presenting the urban side of San Jose at Castro's (we painted that dance floor by hand!)

We also decorated with a SAPRISSA jersey, which is San Jose's number one soccer team.

Our group name was "Las Vacas Chingas."  This was meant to be humorous, since this name is translated to "The Naked Cows."  "Chinga" is a local dialect meaning naked, while San Jose is filled with decorative painted cows.  It is so fun to go through the city and see how many different types of cows you can find!  There are 120 in all.  We even had a homemade cow pinata hanging from the ceiling out of paper mache. 

our class, "Las Vacas Chingas," and Nuria, our teacher

It was really interesting to visit everyone else's presentations, too!  It really helped everyone learn about all the different parts of Costa Rica.

The Limon group

...and Cartago's presentation!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Next Up: Puerto Viejo!

Our final weekend trip was to Puerto Viejo, the Caribbean Beach of Costa Rica. This really was the Caribbean - I thought I saw Bob Marley about 20 times the whole weekend!

The coast here is a lot less pretty than Manuel Antonio on the Pacific side of the country. The beaches are dirtier in appearance, and there are places where it is dangerous to swim.

a view of the beach from the street our hotel was on

We were split into two groups of hotels for this weekend stay, and our hotel was gorgeous. We were in raised log cabin-style rooms, all with beautiful amenities, hammocks, air-conditioning (REALLY needed there!!), and nice, thick comforters.

there's the door to our hotel room!

The other group was put up in a hotel that had little cabins. The beds had mosquito nets on top, and although they had no air-conditioning, they had some really pretty bathrooms and a nice bar in the lobby.

Jen in her mosquito-netted bed at their hotel!

We ate dinner at a great outdoor pizza place in town that had delicious cocktails. Because we were such a big group, our food took a while, so we were brought bruschetta on the house - the BEST bruschetta I have ever had in my entire life!

At the restaurant, a Tico named Edwin and his son provided entertainment with guitar-playing, singing, and drumming. He performed all Bob Marley (a common theme in Puerto Viejo, of course), and we really enjoyed him. He even got me up there to perform “No Woman, No Cry” with him, and later, Dan, Chris, and I went up there and sang our Costa Rican version of Margaritaville. I think Edwin liked us!

jammin to some Bob Marley with Edwin and his son was so fun!

Later, we went to a bar/club right on the ocean. Here, there were little tables with candles by the ocean’s edge. It was really neat - very different from anything I’d seen before.

The beach the next day was really fun. We spent most of the time in the water, since it was so hot out.

cooling off in the water in Puerto Viejo

We concluded our Puerto Viejo trip with some shopping. Again, there were lots of street vendors along with the little shops on the road, and I got some great souvenirs for friends and family.

It was sad to return to Heredia knowing that the next time we left the town we would be leaving for the U.S.!

"Noche Tipica Costariccence", a Typical Night in Costa Rica

The Intercultura sponsored a bus trip to a “Noche Tipica Costariccense,” a typical Costa Rican Night. This was held in a restaurant on top of a mountain in the big city San Jose, and for a fee of $38, we had access to all we could eat and drink (in addition to a show) all night. The food was okay, but after the great food at La Paz, it was a little disappointing for all the money we paid.

Since we had to change into our dressy clothes directly after class after the waterfalls, we all had had a long day, but still had fun dressing up!

Dana, Jenni, Jen and me in front of the beautiful view of San Jose

The view from outside of the restaurant was breathtaking. In the dark, one could see all the lights of the city of San Jose.

the view was even more impressive in person!

The show after dinner was very interesting. The Ticos dressed up in traditional Costa Rican dress and performed some intricate dances to a live band. Later in the show, people were brought up to dance, and I got to go up there twice!

You can see me in action dancing here.

Dana and me with the dancers!

Then, outside, we were told there would be fireworks. Their concept of fireworks was a little different from ours; there was a little contraption with pipes jutting out from its sides that spun around and shot sparks from the pipes. Not quite the pyrotechnics we are used to, but it was still neat to see how Costa Ricans do things.

Costa Rican fireworks

We all drank drinks called “leche” (which, directly translated, means “milk”... I’m not sure how this drink got that nickname, because it does not taste nor look anything like milk). This included guaro, the popular sugarcane liquor of Costa Rica, orange juice, and sprite. It was a little strong for my taste.

The food at the Noche Tipica was a good representative for me of what Costa Rican cuisine is like. Many would expect the food there to be like Mexican food; however, the similarities end at the tortillas, which are a lot smaller than Mexican tortillas and served cold. Costa Rican food is either extremely bland (usually). When you are actually given hot sauce to add to your food, it is so spicy it is almost inedible. Surprisingly, because of the tease of Costa Rica cuisine, after a month there, all I wanted was Mexican food!