Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ware the Monkeys

One aspect of my trip to the beach which I did not mention yesterday was when a friend of mine was mugged by a monkey.

We were hiking through the small national park in Cahuita after we finished snorkeling. About 5 minutes into the walk we came upon about 10 capuchin monkeys swinging around and taking a look at us. They were really cool and we all took pictures with them.

After about 5 minutes of taking pictures one of the monkeys started to run on two legs after another woman not with our group. She managed to walk quickly away from the monkey and was fine.

The monkey then noticed my friend and started walking towards her. She was facing away from the monkey and did not notice the monkey until it was climbing up her leg. She stayed very calm even as the monkey hung onto her bag and she tried to shake it off.

After a minute or so she let the bag drop and the monkey rifled through her bag and found a half eaten candy bar and ran away eating the candy bar. My friend grabbed her bag and we walked quickly off before the monkeys realized who else had food.

The experience was unreal, that this small monkey would be so bold. Clearly they had figured out that a bag often meant food, or else the monkey smelled the food. My friend was fine and she was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing, impressively.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cahuita and la playa

This past weekend I went with most of the other teachers to a beach on the Caribbean coast, Cahuita, which is near the Panama-Costa Rica border. Since there were 23 of us, we were able to rent a private bus for a reasonable price. The trip took about 4 hours from Orosi to Cahuita, which was not that long all things considered. Nothing like the 7 to 10 hour buses to the beach from Quito, Ecuador.

The weekend went really well. We arrived on Friday night and hung out for the night. Then we got up pretty early on Saturday morning and after a good breakfast at a crepes place we went to Puerto Viejo, which is a bigger beach town next door to Cahuita.

In Puerto Viejo we basically just walked around for most of the time. Some of the people and I were lucky enough to see some monkeys high up in the trees along the beach on a walk. The water was gorgeous where we were. There was a natural sand bar about 50 yards out into the water, which formed a little bay inland from it. This meant the water was clear and calm and no rip tides.

Both Cahuita and Puerto Viejo are an interesting mix of Spanish and a sort of Jamaican culture. Listening to the tour guides and vendors talk in Spanish was interesting, since their accents were so different than anything I had ever heard.

According to the 2009 Lonely Planet book I have, United Fruit Company originally brought Jamaicans to the southern Caribbean coast to form the backbone of the original banana republics. While each year the area becomes more and more connected to both the rest of Costa Rica and the wider world, it is still a very different feel from the other parts of Costa Rica which I have seen.

This week we are finishing up our training for teaching. Then this Saturday we are free to go to our sites, yet school does not start until February 10th, so I have a fair amount of time to both plan and to simply relax before the school year starts. The director of my school came to Orosi yesterday and I met him, which was interesting. This year will be his second year at the school, so now that he has experience with WorldTeach volunteers it hopefully will be an even better year than last year was.

Thats most of what I have for now, thank you for reading those of you who do.

Monday, January 18, 2010

La Fortuna

This past weekend I spent traveling to and from my site, where I will be teaching. Friday night I traveled from Orosí to San Jose and stayed over in a hostel in San Jose. Then on Saturday morning the other two volunteers who I will be teaching with and I took the bus to La Fortuna.

I arrived at my host family's house at around 1:30 or so. While La Fortuna is the main town where the tourism industry is centered, I am actually going to be living and teaching in Z-13, or zeta-trece. My host family's house in Z-13 is right next door to the school's, I will have about a 30 second walk to my classroom.

My host family was really nice and I enjoyed spending time with them. The host mother is really funny telling me all about the other volunteers she's had who have left with Costa Rican boyfriends and things of that nature. I only met the host father for a minute or two, but he was welcoming. The daughter and son are nice too, the daughter is 21 and has a 1 year old son who is adorable.

I only saw the outside of the school, but it is beginning to sink in more that I will be teaching in that school for a year. Today we start Practicum in Orosí where WorldTeach offers free English lessons to the children of Orosí all week. I actually will not be teaching today, but I will be observing and tomorrow I have my first lesson with 1st graders. Then Wednesday another lesson with 1st graders, then I switch with another group and I teach fourth grade on Thursday and Friday.

I will be learning how to teach in a real classroom setting. Since the majority of my teaching experience is either on a lake or in a pool, this will be somewhat different. I am excited and nervous to see how I do.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Host family and a little more

Now that I have been here for a few days I finally am getting my feet under me. I have figured out a routine. I go to bed really early at like 9:30 and wake up between 6 and 7am.

Then I have Spanish class from 8 to 11. We have a small break and then a talk until lunch at 12:30. Then more talks about various topics from teaching English as a foreign language to dealing with culture shock. These have been really interesting. The tough part is how tired we end up by the end, but I have learned a lot.

My host family so far has been great. They are really welcoming and helpful but also are willing to give me my own space without complaint. At the house there are a mother, a father, three brothers, and a male cousin. The brothers range in age from 5 to 18, though the 18 year old is often off working so I have only talked to him a couple of times.

My Spanish has come back much faster than I expected, I understand 90% of what is said to me and even some of which is said really fast to between Ticos (Costa Ricans).

The ways in which this family handles having a host student is quite different than the way my family in my semester in Ecuador handled it. Both are and were great options and good families which helped a lot in every way, but the differences are interesting to me.

The main difference is how they handle my room. My family here views my room as my space which only I can go in and I have to specifically invite anyone else into, even my host mother and father. My host mother in Ecuador went into my room every day to make my bed, clean my room, and get my laundry.

I understand both ways of handling having a stranger in your house Both ways are fine with me, I just have to adjust to each family. I enjoy the differences among families, since as far as I know that is a difference in family approach, not a particular difference between Costa Rica and Ecuador.

This weekend I am going to La Fortuna to visit my site. I will be meeting my host family and getting to know the area where I will be teaching a little. We will stay over Saturday night and come back on Sunday. Then two more weeks in Orosi, before we finally head out to our sites to get ready for the school year.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

First full day in Costa Rica

(The formatting on my blog posts, including this one, may be terrible.  It is hard for me to predict from this internet cafe how it will appear.  Especially this one, since I had to convert it three times to move it from where I wrote it to where I will be posting it)

I made it to Costa Rica safely. I took a round about way, but I am in Orosí for orientation. Orosí is about an hour and a half outside of San Jose in the mountains.

I am writing this blog post in my room in my host family's house, though I will not be able to upload it until I find an internet café. The meeting place we will be using in town has wi-fi, so hopefully I will be able to stay in contact.

I left for Costa Rica on January 7th. I flew from Logan to Washington, DC, then to Dallas/Ft. Worth. In Dallas a bunch of the volunteers met with a former volunteer. Then the 19 of us who met in Dallas boarded our plane to Costa Rica.

We were supposed to arrive in Costa Rica at 8:30 that night. The plane ride had a few hiccups which left us in Managua, Nicaragua for our first night in Costa Rica.

First problem was a malfunctioning smoke detector in the rear bathroom on the plane. This caused us to leave an hour late or so. The rest of the ride in the air went fine until the plane tried to land. We were literally right above the ground but the captain felt that the winds were too high to land, so we started climbing again.

Then we flew to Managua, Nicaragua with the idea of refueling and trying the landing again. Unfortunately, before we could try to return one of the pilots had to stop flying because of federal law. This meant that the entire 757 of people had to stay the night in Managua, Nicaragua until the next morning.

American Airlines put us up in the Best Western across the street from the airport. The next morning we woke up and flew back to San José, landing on Friday the 8th at 10:50 or so. This threw off our plans for the first day in San José.

The rest of that first day, we spent doing what we had on the schedule that we could still fit in. First, we went to a private hospital in San José for a talk on health in Costa Rica, which was quite interesting.

Then we went to the US Embassy and received a number of talks from staff there, all about various aspects of living in Costa Rica. From security to politics and economics, the talks were generally interesting. The tough part was how tired we were, but it was definitely worth it.

The security situation sounded very scary when the security officers were telling us what we should do, but I hope that I will be able to keep myself safe using my experience in Quito, Ecuador. Quito has a worse reputation than anywhere in Costa Rica. Bad luck can still happen, but if I take care I can reduce the chances of bad luck happening to me.

Then we drove to Orosí, where we went through yet more talks. This charla was led by the woman who is partnering with WorldTeach for our home stays and our education. We will be taking Spanish classes at her school, which should be interesting. We had to fill out a form saying how good our Spanish was. I have no idea if I filled it out correctly.

I will write another post tomorrow about my host family, I feel like this post is plenty long enough as is.