Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Class @ UCR

On Thursday, October 25, I decided to attend a class for Educational Psychology at the University of Costa Rica. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I knew I was in trouble when I asked if the two students who had arrived before the teacher if they liked the class. They looked at each other, laughed awkwardly, and said it was alright. The teacher was nice, but I could not pay attention at all. Most of what they were discussing went over my head and I realized how much trouble I would have if I had tried to take classes all in Spanish. While I was able to follow parts of the discussion, I realized that there was no way I could participate of give intelligent answers during the class. I think that I would be able to get used to it, but for the most part I spent the entire class time asleep with my eyes open. I am sure going to class might be more fun if it were a different topic or if I had gone to more than one class.

During my time in the classroom, I was able to see remarkable similarities between classes in the US and in CR. I saw the same "types" of students that you would find in an Elon class. I recognized the girl with big earring in the middle of the room as having the same attitude girl from my high school had. The girl who would always sit with her eyes rolled, chewing gum, looking incredibly disinterested and staring blankly (almost angrily) at the teacher. I thought it was interesting how there are always similar patterns in students. Miles away from home, I easily could have been in any diverse college classroom.

I'm glad I went, despite how long (3 hours, but I only stayed for 2) the class was and how little information I was able to extract from going. While I doubt I will return to that particular class, I may attend another class if time allows it.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I expected Monteverde to be a lot less monte and a lot more verde. That is not to say that there wasn’t a lot of green there, but I was expecting vast expanses of greenery and high and spacious canopies. I also expected the canopy to be a lot higher than it was, but that could have just been because I have very poor judgement in regards to how high things are. The hike through the Reserve of Monteverde was a lot of fun, even though we did not spend a lot of time looking for wildlife, but more watching our step because we chose not to get a guided tour this time. There were some very scenic overlooks and it was a little chillier than it gets in San Jose, but after all of the walking the temperature was a lot more bearable. There was a part of the trail that we took that was labelled the continental divide and it was stated that on one side, on a clear day, you could see both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Later in the day, the group took a tour of some hanging bridges, which I was not too crazy about because I am afraid of heights, but the bridges were very secure and didn’t do as much movement as I thought they would. The next task was the one that I was most afraid of, the zip line. As previously mentioned, I’m not a big fan of heights, nor am I a big fan of zipping along the tops of trees on a wire. Both were things that I got over in order to take a zip line tour of the canopy. Although I was apprehensive, the experience turned out to be very fun with some zip lines running over the canopy, some running through the trees, and others being very high or very long. I felt safe the whole time, which is great, but I also felt a strong sense of accomplishment after conquering my fear and looking around the entire time we were zip lining. We were all very exhausted by the end of the day, considering we estimated having walked anywhere between 8 and 10 miles that day. In the end, it was all worth it to be able to get away for a weekend and enjoy the natural beauty of Costa Rica without being at a beach.

-Nicole Olavarria

Fall Break

For Fall Break, the both of us and one more student on the trip went to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Bocas del Toro in Panama. I was really excited leading up to the trip because I had never been to the Caribbean side of the country before and I heard that it was especially beautiful. Everyone who spoke of Puerto Viejo gave it raving reviews despite its less savoury reputation. The plan was to stay in Puerto Viejo for 3 nights, spend 2 days in Bocas del Toro, and then return to Puerto Viejo for 2 more nights, but stay a little further outside of town near Playa Cocles. The first few nights in Puerto Viejo were a little less comfortable than I had hoped, and our ´bungalow´ felt more like a sauna, but despite the poor living situation we managed to have a lot of fun. There is a lot of reef near Puerto Viejo, but not the live kind, just the rocky and obnoxious king. We were able to find Playa Negra fairly close to our hotel, which is without reef, thanks to the help of a friendly local. Puerto Viejo was extremely laid back with a good mix between locals and tourists, and everyone was willing to lend a helping hand. Also, the food was spectacular.

Our third day in Puerto Viejo, Maggie and I decided to take a day-long snorkelling trip to Cahuita, a national park about 30 minutes away from Puerto Viejo. Cahuita is known as the national park that is home to the live coral reef, and I was very excited to get a chance to go snorkelling for the first time, especially in a coral reef. We took a brief hike through the national park to get to the point where the boat would pick us up, and along the way our guide stopped to show us some of the different animals that inhabit the park. The snorkelling was beautiful and amazing with tons of different fish to see and different types of coral, even though we were particularly close to some coral at different times. Overall, the Cahuita was a beautiful park and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys marine life. We also had the chance to eat at a local restaurant and have ´Carribean style´ rice and beans, which surprisingly tastes a lot different from the food in San Jose because the rice was cooked with coconut milk.
(Nicole Olavarria)

After spending three in Puerto Viejo, we traveled to Bocas Del Toro a grouping of hundreds of tiny islands, for two days and three nights. We rode in a van for three hours which part of the way drove one a gravel road along side a banana plantation. Afterwards we boarded a speedboat that took us to the largest inhabited island of Isla Colon. The small island of Isla Colon mainly caters to tourists and booms during the night. During our second day there we went out on a 40 ft catamaran that took us all around the islands. We went snorkeling of the boat in several locations. The snorkeling in Panama was great. The water was crystal clear and at one point we were able to see meters deep below. We also saw a family of dolphins and our catamaran captain caught a barracuda.

When we returned to Puerto Viejo for the last few days of our vacation we stayed in a lovely bungalow a little outside of town. We were right across from Playa Cocles, one of the more prestigious beaches in the area. It was such a picturesque scene, the sand was white and the water was clear and warm. We spent most of our time lounging on the beach or reading near our hotel pool. Although, we were planning on leaving Saturday, we decided to stay one extra day. Since we only booked our hotel until Saturday we checked ourselves into a popular hostel called “Rocking J’s”. For five dollars we were able to sleep in hammocks at a relaxed environment near the beach that caters to young backpackers. All in all it was a great experience, very different than San Jose. We loved the Caribbean and thoroughly enjoyed our Fall Break.

Maggie and Nicole

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wow, that's a cow

Instead of talking about our incredible adventures in Monteverde, I think it's more important to mention the trip there. While we were driving we saw 2 cows hanging being cleaned outside a house on the side of the road. It was just the trunk with the legs, all skinned, but it was interesting, to say the least. There were 3 or 4 people splashing water (I think) on them to clean them off. It was quite a cultural sight, if anything. I wasn't sure what to think, except to remind myself that we are in Costa Rica. Perhaps 2 months ago this would have freaked me out. But not anymore. Apparently, this is normal. Or at least that is what I told myself. My favorite part, though, was the reaction of the 3 vegetarians...PRICELESS.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What good is a map if there are no street signs?

So...Jessi, Caitlin, and I decided to go to the children´s museum at the beginning of fall break. Seems like a good idea?!?! It was, just not at first. After a good lunch, we were armed with our map and plenty of time before the rain to head to the museum. We started walking. About 15 minutes later, we finally see a street sign and realize we are going in the wrong direction. No big deal. We checked out the map again and started heading back from where we came, embarking on a new route to our destination. Again, we found ourselves going in the wrong direction and found a little lady on the corner to ask. Of course, she wasn´t from San Jose. Go figure. We got the guts to speak spanish and ask directions, from sombebody who didn´t know. The next person we asked said the museum was really far away. Fabulous. We continued walking in, what we thought, was the correct direction. It starts raining. We realize, lo and behold, we are not going the right way, despite that at every street corner we pulled out our map to reevaluate. To no avail! Finally we figure out the general direction and walk confidently in the correct direction...only to find ourselves in Barrio Mexico, notorious for its prostitutes at all hours of the day (and night), and continuing on to Coca Cola, the specific area we were told never to walk through, as it is headquarters for the Chinese mofia (we found this out the following day). And its still pouring rain. OF COURSE. So, we continue to try getting a cab, but they are all full because it´s raining. Surprise surprise. Finally at this random gas station these guys whistle really loud and a taxi stops for us. Literally 3 minutes later we are at the entrance to the Children´s Museum. We sat down to rest, for after all, we had spent over 2 hours meandering through the more dangerous areas of San Jose. We didn´t explore the entire museum, as we were tired, but we did have a great time. And we took a taxi home, so no worries there.

Friday, October 12, 2007


After hearing so much information about Nicaragua, I was expecting the country to be a lot different than what I found it to be. I was expecting poverty everywhere, and people who looked very sketchy and dangerous, but that was not the case. I wasn’t worried about going until my own mother told me that it was a bad idea to take a trip there and then I started to get a little uneasy. I was extremely conscious of my surroundings the entire time we were at the border, as if someone was going to walk up to me, rifle in hand, and demand all of my worldly goods. Looking back on that I feel a little like an idiot, because really the people weren’t all that different from Costa Ricans. The town we stayed in, San Juan del Sure, was very similar to what I had pictured before arrival, including the construction in the roads. I honestly thought of Nicaragua as some land of no paved roads with construction everywhere and small homes and stores. This was partially true in San Juan del Sur, but only because they had recently decided to redo the road in town.

I was not able to find as many differences between Nicaragua and Costa Rica as I thought I was going to be able to find. The roads were around the same caliber as those in Costa Rica, but I do believe that there were less paved roads in Nicaragua, or at least that was how it appeared to me. I also noticed an interesting sign on the side of the road while we were in the van on the way to Granada, a major tourist city. The sign said, roughly translated, “A clean Nicaragua attracts more tourists,” and I thought that was interesting because I have not seen a sign like that in Costa Rica. Evidently, Nicaragua is still working on building up its reputation for strong tourism and trying to attract more tourists since I believe many more tourists visit Costa Rica than Nicaragua. I think the major difference that people focus on when looking at the two countries are the differences between colonization and post-independence histories, since Nicaragua’s history was much more unstable and violent than Costa Rica, and this stereotype carries into today.

Overall, Nicaragua was a lot of fun, and I recommend taking a trip to San Juan del Sur if you are ever, for some reason, in the area.

-Nicole Olavarria

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A New View of Nicaragua

During our time in Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to speak with our tour guide about some of the misconceptions and questions that I had about the country. He told me that, contrary to what I had heard, Nicaragua was the safest country in Central America. This was interesting to me, especially after the reactions of "please be careful/ten cuidado" that I recieved from everyone who heard I was going to Nicaragua. We discussed the unemployment rate, which he claimed was closer to 30% instead of 50%. That still constitutes a problem, but that 20% makes a huge difference. That is a large number of people who do have jobs. Perhaps it was at 50% a while ago but has fallen since then. The poverty, he asserted, was due to the violent history and war in the country. Nicaragua has been at peace ever since the civil war and he had high hopes for the country. Development takes time, but things are changing. There has only been a very short period of time that Nicaragua has been run by a democracy, especially compared to its southern neighbor. How could the two countries be compared in terms of economics or development? Of course Costa Rica will be better off; it has had more time as a stable democracy. He had a positive attitude in addition to a lot of confidence that Nicaragua can reach its potential. This can be seen, he claimed, in the recent increase of tourism to Nicaragua.
We continued to discuss Costa Rica and Nicaragua relations. He brought up the interesting point that perhaps the Costa Rica government does not want a good, positive impression of Nicaragua because this would hurt tourism in Costa Rica. If Nicaragua has an improved reputation, then perhaps more people would go to Nicaragua instead of Costa Rica. He told me, “nunca se habla de los costarricenses que vienen aquĆ­ para trabajar,” which roughly means that it is never mentioned that the Costa Ricans come here (Nicaragua) to work and that only the opposite that is mentioned. I have yet to decide how to take this information. I found that much of what I thought about Nicaragua was not true. While there were more people begging on the street and the poverty was more apparent, it was still not as I expected.
My feeling is that there is a large about of bias and misunderstanding on both the Nicaraguan and the Costa Rican side. Our guide is only one person in Nicaragua and does not represent the entire population. However, I do know that many of the expectations I had about Nicaragua that I had learned from Ticos were wrong and Nicaragua was far nicer than I could have imagined. My assumption would be that the truth of the situation lies somewhere in the middle. I hope that our guide was right and that Nicaragua can live up to its potential. Such a beautiful country ought to be brought out of its poverty and into a better situation. Time will tell how the country is able to develop. Hopefully, a time will come when Nicaragua has progressed enough that immigration will no longer be what people turn to in order to find work and that this will result in the two countries no longer having such tense relations. Traveling to Nicaragua was very beneficial for me, as it reminded me that there are two sides to everything. I am glad I had the opportunity to visit Nicaragua and see for myself what it is really like there.

-Amanda Gross

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Our Visit to Nicaragua

We recently traveled to southern Nicaragua for four days to San Juan Del Sur, Masaya and Granada. It was a mandatory excursion for the program in order us to renew our visas. Before the trip, we heard a lot of negative remarks about Nicaragua and the Nicas so I was not enthusiastic about going. There tends to be an undercurrent of anti-Nicaraguan sentiments among Costa Ricans, so when we told our families and other people we were going they warned us it was going to be dirty, dangerous and very impoverished. However, I am glad we ventured on the journey ourselves so we could experience the culture for ourselves. One thing is for certain, Nicaragua is very different from Costa Rica.
Even though Nicaragua is poorer than Costa Rica, it certainly does not deserve the bad reputation among the other Latin American countries. From my experience, the Nicas were very friendly and helpful. I did not feel unsafe walking around at night. Although they may be poor, the Nicas do not seem to complain about their situation. The Nicaraguans seem to be very easy-going and laid back individuals. Although I heard many negative things about Nicaragua before I went, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and I have no bad impressions of the country or its people.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Crossing the boarder from Costa Rica to Nicaragua was a long and tiring process. But as we drove through the small towns and arrived at the hotel it was clearly worth it. The towns we passed through on the way to the hotel had a clear colonial influence. The houses had high ceilings and lots of wood. Most windows didn't have glass but had intricate wood panels instead with shutters to cover them. In town, the houses appear small but are actually large, most with a garden in the middle. The second day we drove to Granada and were able to spend time in the market there. We also took a boat ride around Lake Nicaragua to see the many islands formed from the volcanic eruptions. One island was inhabited by abandoned and abused monkeys. As we returned to the hotel that night we were able to watch the sun set among the trees.~SC

Saprissa vs. La Liga Soccer Game

I got to go to a Saprissa vs. La Liga soccer game this weekend! It was wild…and sort of dangerous but I’m really glad I got to go. I went with a friend and his Tico brothers, and then a friend from his school and her Tica sister. We took a few buses to get to the area called Tibas (I think) where the “estadio” or stadium, was. It was somewhat of a sketchy area and there were police ready for anything that got out of control but luckily there were just a ton of crazy fans. It was Saprissa’s stadium so the majority of the fans were all decked out in their white and purple gear. There was one section in the stands for “Ultimo Morado” fans….the Ultimate Purple fans who sang, “Vamos…vamos morados….esta noche….tenemos a ganar” for 3 hrs straight! At the beginning everyone in the crowd was given toilet paper to throw on the field. It got everyone siked up at the beginning but then during the game people continued to throw the paper and they had to stop the game every one in a while to pick it up off of the goalie’s net. The game was for the most part entertaining but it ended in a tie. I’ve never really followed soccer before but I feel like I know more about the universal sport. The Liga fans had their own small corner but they were far from the Saprissa fans….they were all screaming really foul stuff when the other team came on the field. So much for friendly competition! -CM

The Key to Having Fun is Having Your Keys!

A short fun story I've been meaning to share:

A few weeks back after a long day trip to Cartago I was really glad to be home. I remember throwing down my things and then heading out the door to visit a lady down the street, my tica mom’s mom, and then my friend Cullen. But just as soon as I heard the door click behind me I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. I quickly dug threw my pockets hoping to hear my keys jingle but only came out with a handful of heavy colones coins.


I tried to relax…I thought, “Ok, I will just go down the street to my tica mom’s mother’s house, get some other keys and then let myself back in.” But as I approached the outside gate it hit me that I also needed my keys to get OUT of the garage! Now not only could I not get in my house, but I couldn’t get out; I was stuck in my caged-in garage. So I sat on the garage steps at 4:30pm and thought it wouldn’t be long before my tica mom arrived home as she usually got home by 3:00pm on Thursdays. Unfortunately an hour passed…and then another…and the rain came…it got a little cooler….the street dogs barked for a while…the old lady next door came out and spoke a mile a minute in spanish to me and went back inside….and I waited. I tried to sleep on the steps but I couldn’t because every time I moved a sensory light came on in the garage.

I had heard the phone ring several times inside my house and I knew it was my friend trying to call about going to a movie later in the night. Later she rang my doorbell, about an hour into my imprisonment, to see why I hadn’t pick up. She was startled when she saw me sitting curled up in a ball. We laughed for a while about my situation and then she had to go eat dinner down the street….so I stayed and she left.

Finally around 6:40pm my tica mom pulled up. She looked puzzled when she saw me sitting. I told her what had happened and she proceeded to tell me that she was down the street the whole time in her mother’s house!

Haha, not exactly the night I had planned but it taught me a lesson—always make sure you have your keys!!!!

(I took this picture during my 2 hours….