exploring, examining, exchanging, expressing
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Post Haste
I'm on a postcard kick. You know, it only took me about 5 months to start on them. Anyone that wants one, make sure I have your street address!


<< Home
No, this is not a result of my night at the bars. At least, I don't think so.

Sunday morning I woke up with a huge ear. My right ear was swollen, like it was filled with fluid. It had been a little sore for a couple of days, but Sunday it just blew up like a puffer fish. Honestly, I wasn't worried. Something like this happened before, last year, and the swelling went down after 2 or 3 days. It just looks really bad.

Of course, Monday it was still big and red, so people noticed at school. My academic coordinator graciously offered to take me to the pharmacy and serve as my translator. Very motherly, no? Well, as we were walking down the street, I told her it was probably just an outer-ear infection - something like swimmer's ear. She said, "This happened to another teacher before you got here. It turned out that a spider pissed on his neck." I was sure she was kidding. She swore it was a common problem here. I considered leaving the country earlier than planned. But we continued on to the pharmacy.

Why were we going to the pharmacy instead of a doctor's office or hospital? You see, here in Costa Rica, the pharmacies have doctors on site. They can do quick examinations and offer prescriptions for simple issues like this. So, instead of waiting for an appointment and paying a huge fee for a doctor's visit, I simply had to get a quick once-over by the pharmacy's doctor and pay about $6 for three days' worth of antibiotics. Simple and inexpensive. It's a nice system.

My ear is already a bit better today.

Oh, and the doc said the infection was probably caused by a mosquito bite (there's one on the right side of my neck). He said they are filthy creatures and a common cause of infections. So it turned out to be mosquito shit, not spider piss. Such a relief.


<< Home
Make A Party
I have no exciting travel stories or pictures to share with you from the weekend.

Saturday night, I did, however, go out with Roomie and a former student of ours, Gab. He invited us to a place called The Blue Lounge. It took two buses and a cab to get there. It was a trendy-looking place with hip lighting and too-cool-for-comfort seating. And it was practically empty. We hung out there for a few hours. Others talked while I tried to follow the conversations. I think my comprehension is improving, even if my speaking isn't.

After awhile, Gab and his friends asked us if we'd like to go somewhere else. Sure, why not? So we got in a cab, then a bus, then another cab, and eventually we were in downtown San Jose at "La Avispa." There was much more activity here. The place was thumping with house music and latin beats. People were dancing in various styles, from the typical white-boy-shuffle to the abstract-techno-flow to the latino-hip-grind. (Seriously, how do they do that with their hips? It's like they're made of rubber. Incredible. And... hot). As they drank more, Gab's friends started speaking more English. Likewise, I spoke more (more - not necissarily better) Spanish. This led to some interesting Spanglish conversations. We had a great time and stayed until the club closed.

Getting home required a somewhat scary walk through downtown San Jose. At night, all the freaks and bums come out in force. But we were a large group, so it was a little safer. Gab found a collectivo cab that was going to Heredia, which made it easier and safer for us to get home. Still, it's a lot of work to go bar-hopping using public transportation!


<< Home
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Granada, Nicaragua
Here's the breakdown on my border run to Granada, Nicaragua. I went with my roommate, who needed to make a run herself soon.

Thursday -
We left the house at 4:30 AM so that we could get to the TicaBus station in San Jose an hour before our departure. The bus to San Jose dropped us off in an area with no taxis, so we had to walk a couple of blocks. In that short period of time, a bum walked by, begged for money, then snatched the hat off my head and ran away. It was a bad start to the trip. But we made it to the terminal and onto the bus without further problems.

When we reached the border, we all had to get off the bus to get our exit stamp from Costa Rican migration. Here we were also confronted by hoards of money changers. I brought US dollars to exchange because I'd been told I'd get a better rate than using colones. I got 18 cordoba for each dollar, which was only a little worse than the official exchange rate I'd checked online of about 18.5:1. After we got back on the bus, the driver collected our passports, customs forms, and the $8 Nicaragua entry fee. I'm always nervous when my passport leaves my hands, but it had to be done. He got them stamped all together at Nicaraguan migration so we didn't all have to stand in line. Instead, we all just had to stand in the parking lot. I'm not sure that was an improvement.

Nicaragua - Migration Nicaragua - Migration - Our Bus

We arrived in Granada around 3 PM and began the hunt for a hotel. We stopped at a few places close to the central park, but they were all very expensive, around $60 to $80 per night. A few blocks outside, we started to find cheaper places, but they were a bit sketchy. Finally, we came upon Hotel Granada, which a fellow traveler had recommended. It was $30 / night for a big, comfortable, safe, air-conditioned room. And it was right across the street from a church that provided an interesting view. That night we had dinner at the Roadhouse, where I had a fantastic jalapeno steak.

Nicaragua - Hotel Granada Nicaragua - Granada Nicaragua - Granada

Friday -
We had breakfast at our hotel's restaurant, where we saw the man who had recommended it to us. His name was Bill and he was doing missionary work in Central America. He'd been in Granada a few times, so he gave us some suggestions on things to see and do. After talking for awhile, he said he'd like to do a tour himself, and asked to come along. He functioned as our friendly travel guide for almost all of the rest of our stay. He arranged a motorboat tour of the Isletas on Lake Nicaragua. It was amazing to see million-dollar houses built on the tiny little islands. We made a stop at an old fort, which supposedly saw attacks from famous pirates back in the day. And we went by an island filled with monkeys. It was a wonderful way to spend the morning.

Nicaragua - Isletas Nicaragua - Isletas Nicaragua - Isletas - Fort

Back at the hotel, Bill talked to the security guard and learned that there was going to be a baseball game that evening at 6. My roommate's a baseball fanatic, so she was more than happy to go. To me, the idea of watching Nicaraguan baseball was too surreal to pass up. We all hopped in a taxi and went to the stadium to watch the Granada Tiberones play against... some other team. It was an odd site - the contrast of something so American in such an unfamiliar environment. Instead of hotdogs and peanuts, vendors walked around selling sandwiches and quesillas (burritos filled with cheese, onions, and sour cream). I had a quesilla and quite a few beers (at less than a dollar a can, I couldn't refuse).

Nicaragua - Tiberones Baseball Nicaragua - Tiberones Baseball

By this time, I'd had a chance to sample the three major local brews: Victoria, Toña, and Premium. The first two are standard pilsners - crisp, refreshing, and very easy to drink. Premium has a corn-like flavor that was odd, but not unbearable. Though perhaps not as good as Costa Rican beers, they were all decent (better than BudMichCoors) and inexpensive.

Saturday -
I just wanted to hang around town on this day. There was a lot going on in the central park area; vendors and musicians filled the town square. I could tell they were gearing up for a major party. This was confirmed later, when I saw a huge stage being constructed. While I walked around, I came upon a little cigar shop, just a hole in the wall. It was the real deal: I could see the rolling equipment and the tobacco leaves drying outside. I bought a few different types (very cheap at $1 or $2 per cigar) and headed to a bar to enjoy them. The street between Hotel Granada and the central park is lined with restaurants and bars, most of which have seating outside.

Nicaragua - Granada - Horse Cart Nicaragua - Granada Nicaragua - Granada Nicaragua - Granada

I stopped at Zoom Bar, where I got to talk to the owners, Cheryl and Wayne, who hail from California. They'd owned the place for about 4 years. Wayne has a serious passion for food, so he cooks up a couple of specials on the weekends to supplement the typical bar-food menu. This weekend's offerings were lasagna and BBQ beef. He brought out samples for those of us in the bar. While they weren't the best I'd ever had, I can appreciate the efforts of cooking gringo comfort food in this environment. If I were a long-term expat, that would've been a slice of heaven, a delightful respite from rice and beans.

One of the patrons noticed my cigar, so he asked me about it. I told him where I got it. He said, "Yah, that's my place, I make those cigars." He was Eddy "the Stick" Reyes from Sultan Cigars. He invited me to join him, so we sat around talking tobacco for awhile. I mentioned my family owns a tobacco shop, so he gave me his email address and said he does some exporting to the US for the right amount of volume.

Afterwards, I met back up with Roomie and Bill so we could have dinner together. I chose Casa Macondo because I wanted to try their seafood paella. It was quite tasty, with a mix of lobster, shrimp, and mussels.

Then we went back to the town center, where the party was in full-swing. The whole event was sponsored by Victoria beer, so there were ads everywhere. And the Victoria girls were dancing on stage. And the Victoria song was blasting through the streets (Victoria! Victoria! La cerveza de los Amigos, Amigos!). There was a parade through town with highschool marching bands. And there were carts at every turn selling beer for around 50 cents a can. It was absolutely wild. After taking it all in for awhile, we walked down the street back to the Roadhouse, which was having its own party sponsored by Flor de Ca ña rum. They were having a ring-tossing contest, but you had to buy a drink to compete. So I had a few shots of that lovely liquor and pocketed the shotglasses as a souvenir. I didn't win the ring-toss.

Sunday -
We left the hotel around 5:15 AM to wait for the bus, which showed up around 7. It was a long, hot, stinky ride. The stops at migration were much the same as our entrance. But this time, I used the wait to visit the duty free shops, where I bought a few bottles of Flor de Caña at incredibly reasonable prices. The rest of the trip was, thankfully, uneventful.

Nicaragua - Flor de Caña

All of my Nicaragua pictures are here. I've reached the limit of my free Flickr account, so I need to pay for a Pro account. If you can't see all of my older photos, that's why.


<< Home
Monday, August 13, 2007
Quatro Madres
Marta's in town! She came down to surprise her own mother for the holiday (August 15th is Mother's Day in Costa Rica), which gave me the opportunity to visit her and my other Costa Rican mothers as well. So Sunday I grabbed 4 bunches of roses (one for each of my quatro madres) and made my way back to my old 'hood.

It was wonderful to see everyone again. They all gave me a hard time for not visiting enough. They were right to do so, too. I should go over there more often. I'll try to visit at least once a month from now on.

The food was fantastic, as always. They stuffed me full of arroz con pollo (marinated chicken with sauce, rice, and veggies), Russian salad, black beans, tortillas, and cabbage salad. Then we had arroz con leche (rice and milk pudding), ice cream, and cake for dessert. It'd been awhile since I'd eaten that good.

I stayed until it started to get dark. Then I and the remaining visitors had to leave while it was still safe.

Marta is in town for the rest of the week, and she asked me to visit again. But the distance to her house and my schedule will make it difficult. There's never enough time when I need it.


<< Home
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Any Excuse
My roommates and I decided to have a party at our house. We didn't have a reason at first. We just knew we wanted to have some folks over. And then, an excuse presented itself. Our academic coordinator's birthday is next weekend, but I and Roomie #1 will be in Grenada for our border run. So we threw a birthday party on Friday.

I began preparing immediately after my morning class. I bought a bunch of food and beverage and went home to start drinki...err...cooking. I made patacones (fried plantain chips), refried black beans, salsa picante, and guacamole. Roomie #1 made a big cookie cake thing. I also started making a big pile of (empty) Pilsen cans.

And then we waited. From my previous party experience, I knew that people are never on time. Ticos, more than anyone else, would surely be late. But Roomie #1 started to worry.

Eventually people trickled in. And then more people arrived. And more. I didn't know them all. The night became a blur of drinking, dancing, talking, and card-playing. Nothing was broken. Nobody was hurt. I met a lovely Tica. Everyone seemed to have fun. Clean-up was fairly easy the next day. I'd call it a success.

We're already thinking of having another one next month.


<< Home
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
I've been teaching here for about 4 and a half months now, and every single day - every single class - is a different challenge. This job is difficult in ways that I never would've imagined. I knew that I'd have to deal with lesson planning and odd shifts. And I even knew I'd have some trouble-making students. But I never expected that it would effect my emotions to the degree that it has.

If I have a great class, then I'm on top of the world. I'm confident, relaxed, and happy. When my students are engaged and enthusiastic, I really feel like I belong here, like I'm doing something positive. The time flies by and I look forward to the next class. I become inspired, filled with ideas for future lessons and activities.

But if a class goes sour, I'm crushed. It only takes one or two students with bad attitudes to ruin the whole classroom. That's the joy and pain of teaching classes that rely heavily on participation and communication. One student, in a small class, can effectively shut down an activity. The class as a whole will then turn negative. Time drags on. The air becomes thick with boredom or frustration. It's a disease that seems only to be cured by the words "class dismissed." And it ruins me. When I have bad chemistry in the classroom, I feel horrible. My mood is dark. I toss and turn all night. If I do manage to sleep, I have awful nightmares. And, of course, I dread going back to the school.

For whatever reason, my mental state is closely tied to the classroom experience. I can't help but take this job personally. Although there are other people and things involved, when it comes time for class, it's just me and my students. Perhaps it would be easier to remain emotionally unaffected if I were lecturing to an auditorium filled with 30-50 students. But when I'm facing 6-10 individuals, there is a very personal connection.

It's rewarding when the connection is positive. I've had students thank me for helping them. Some have really shown appreciation for my work. There's nothing better than hearing that I'm a good teacher.

And there's nothing worse than students who would rather be anywhere but my classroom. It's absolutely soul-crushing. That's the most dangerous part of this job that I've found so far.

Labels: ,

<< Home
Monday, August 06, 2007
Montezuma Avenged
Last Tuesday it was announced that the school would be closed on Thursday and Friday for a holiday. Immediately, teachers and admins started making plans for beach trips. A four-day weekend is a rare treat! I knew I had to make the most of it. So I polled my students for ideas. Most of them agreed that I should go to Montezuma, a small beach town on the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula.

I was worried that I might have a difficult time finding a place to stay. Hotels were sure to be busy during the holiday weekend. In fact, this was enough to discourage other teachers. They caved to the fear and stayed home. But I decided to take a chance. One way or another, I felt certain I'd find a place to sleep.

My next challenge was simply to get there. I'd heard many different opinions on which buses to take. The trip involves taking a bus to Puntarenas, then a ferry to Paquera, then a bus to Montezuma. It's possible to take cheap local buses, but I chose to spend 10 bucks on the "direct" bus leaving at 7:30 in the morning, which simplified the trip and was a little more comfortable. "Direct" is a bit misleading, though, because the driver still stopped to pick up passengers along the way, and it just took us to Cobano (the only real town in the southern peninsula), where we got off and finished the 6-hour trip in a smaller bus.

Upon arrival, the hotel-hunt began. I started at La Aurora, which was recommended by my guide book. I'd emailed them before I left and they said they were booked at the time, but didn't know when people might leave. I was lucky. They had an affordable ($20/night) room available. I checked it out and it was really nice. What sold me, though, was the hammock lounge upstairs.


With that taken care of, I grabbed a few beers and hit the beach. Even the area closest to town was beautiful, and I enjoyed sitting around people-watching for awhile.

The Town in Montezuma Montezuma Beach

Then a lovely young lady in a little red bikini walked over to me. Let's call her Liz. She was looking for her three friends, who might've gone to the waterfall. I hadn't seen them. She asked if I'd like to go with her to look for them. How could I refuse? I grabbed my towel and we began the hike. Along the way, we met an old hippy sitting by the river who looked exactly like a guru out of a movie. He told us which way to go and advised us to take off our flip-flops. But who hikes barefoot? Naturally, moments later, I slipped on a rock and my sandals ripped apart. Bruised and barefooted, I continued up toward the waterfall. We met some others along the way, including a nice German girl, and some college guys from the US. The trek was completely worth the effort, as we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the waterfall. And I enjoyed the company and conversation from my newfound friend. Eventually, we were the only two remaining at the falls, and we decided we should head back before it got dark.

On the way back, we finally found her three friends. They chose to continue up to the falls, while the Liz and I decided to have dinner together. She suggested that we get our food to go so that we could eat at the beach. Excellent idea. Unfortunately, it was dark by this time, so we struggled to find a place that was safe. But eventually we located the perfect spot where we sat, enjoying our "pescado cosados" and listening to the sounds of the surf. It was an amazing way to spend my first day in Montezuma.

Sadly, Liz and her friends had to leave the next morning. So I was left to explore the rest of the area on my own for the next few days.

Montezuma Beach Montezuma Beach

Montezuma is a series of small beaches, connected by a path through the jungle. Each one seemed more beautiful than the previous. And there are hidden treasures, like the rock garden that's part of a nature reserve. I think I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

Rock Garden Rock Garden
Montezuma Beach Montezuma Beach

All of the pictures are here.


<< Home