Whitewater Rafting in Río Pacuare

Groups of rafters get ready for a crash course in commands before heading down the river.

Groups of rafters get ready for a crash course in commands before heading down the river.

The most adventurous thing I did while in Costa Rica was whitewater rafting in Río Pacuare, a river located in Costa Rica’s Limón province. A bunch of friends and I organized a trip so we could go together. We had to meet that morning at Veritas at 6 a.m., which was an adventure in itself given that most of us went to karaoke the night before.

After a van ride and breakfast, we made our way to the part of the river where we would begin our journey. My friend Amanda and I were told our guide was named Meleku, and we were grouped with two other people. We got our equipment, found our boat and guide, and were given a tutorial on the commands. When our guide said “forward” or “back” we all had to paddle forward or back, respectively. Sometimes, though, he would instruct one side to go forward and the other to paddle back, to change direction or straighten out the raft.

My friend, Amanda, and I with our guide Meleku and fellow rafters pose for a picture before the adventure begins.

My friend, Amanda, and I with our guide Meleku and fellow rafters pose for a picture before the adventure begins.raft.

If we were approaching a rock and wanted to not fall out of the boat, he would say “high right” or “high left,” which meant we all had to gather on one side. “Get down” meant we had to squat down on our feet, not our knees, if we were going over a particularly rocky patch. What’s more, we all had to do our best to paddle in unison, and not paddle like grandmas.

After the first small rapid we went through, our guide took our training a step further and had us practice rescuing and being rescued. In order to rescue someone who has gone overboard, you first have to get them close enough to the raft, either by having them swim to the side or by pulling them closer with a rope.

We crash through a bumpy rapid, laughing and getting soaked at the same time!

We crash through a bumpy rapid, laughing and getting soaked at the same time!

Next, you grab them by the sides of their life vests by the neck and hoist them into the boat using your body as a sort of lever against the side and falling backwards. I thought I would be embarrassed and not be able to pull my partner in (or get pulled in for that matter), but fortunately we both did a pretty good job of saving each other!

 

 

 

Just one of the waterfalls we encountered on our journey.

Just one of the waterfalls we encountered on our journey.

We wound our way down 18 miles of Río Pacuare. We paddled through canyons, by waterfalls, and through level 3 and 4 rapids. We swam through snake-infested waters (though fortunately I didn’t see or feel any) and had water fights with our guides and other rafters. We even went through a rapid with our eyes closed, relying solely on our guide’s eyes and instructions to keep us safe. And I got to practice some Spanish with our guide, even though he was fluent in English.

It was so invigorating to be active out in nature, having to depend on ourselves to get back safely. It’s hard to put into words, except “Pura vida!”

Anyone who has the pleasure of visiting Costa Rica should try their hand at whitewater rafting. You’ll meet some fun-loving people and get to have a great, exhausting, refreshing time on the water.

Hasta luego!

-Cara

Final Post in Costa Rica

While this definitely won’t be the last post I write about my experience here in Costa Rica (I’ve been doing a lot, I swear! I’ve just been slacking on the writing) it will be the last one I write on Tico soil. To be honest, I don’t really know where this one is going to go – let’s just see where my stream of consciousness takes me.

These past three months I have been through the most tumultuous emotional roller coaster of my entire life. There were times when I had never been sadder, such as when I missed my family and the end felt so far away. But other times, I can truly say I was the happiest I had ever been in my whole life. I felt like a complete person, away from home and the people I’ve known and loved since before I can remember. Everyone says this, but I have met so many amazing people since I have been here. People from my own country who are truly genuine and truly wonderful that I would not have known existed had I not chosen to go on this journey. My amazing host family that opened up their home to me and made me feel like I was truly a member of the family.

When I first got to San José, I can’t lie – I was absolutely horrified. It was at least five times the size of the largest city I’d ever lived in, and there were bars on everyone’s houses. I had no idea how to navigate the city, and no solid friend group to draw strength from. Looking back, I’m thankful that I didn’t know anyone at first, because in this way I was able to develop my own independent strength and in a way maximize the number of awesome people that I now consider my friends.

Slowly but surely, Costa Rica revealed its beauty to me, from capuchin monkeys in Manuel Antonio to ziplining in Monteverde. Most importantly, however, I found its beauty in its people, particularly my host family. After I asked her the second day for a hug, my host mother gave me a hug every morning before I went off to school everyday. My host sister loves to talk and would always want to share with me her likes and dislikes and learn about mine as well. My host father, though we only saw each other a handful of times, ended up turning me into a coffee snob and now I can never contemplate the thought of drinking Folgers or Maxwell House ever again.

I think that through these people and these experiences, God revealed himself to me in Costa Rica. When you’re away from home, you tend to look for constants, and they can be very hard to find. Looking back, my constant was God. Every time I prayed. Every time I made it through another day. Every new experience that I was blessed with, and every new life that touched mine. God was working hard for me while I was here, guiding me and protecting me day by day.

It’s weird how time works. When you’re in the midst of something, it can feel like you’ve been there forever, or you will be there forever. But then when you do get to the end, it almost feels like it didn’t happen. You’re in a sort of limbo between one chapter of your life and the next, but the page has yet to turn. That’s exactly how I feel right now, typing away the night before my flight. I’m all packed up. I’ll probably go to sleep soon, or try to anyways. I’ll wake up super early, have one last meal with my host family and say “hasta luego” before being picked up by Tico Viajero at 5 a.m. for my 8:30 flight. But right now is limbo. Right now, I’m going everywhere and nowhere at the same time. My time in Costa Rica is over. But this is not the end.

This is not the end of the best time of my life. I wouldn’t be doing the rest of my life right if that were the case. No, this is not merely the end of this adventure – it is the start of the next one. I think that is one of the biggest things I will take back with me to the U.S.: I’m going to more actively seek out adventure. Now that I’ve had a taste, I really don’t think I can stop. Sedentary life is just not part of the plan. I know that I was meant to come here, if only to realize that about myself, about what God has in store for me.

I think all there is left to say now is thank you. Thank you God for giving me this opportunity and helping me to get through the ups and downs. Thank you to my familia tica, without whose support and love I may have faltered. Thank you to my family, who as always was there for me anytime I needed them with love, laughter and hope. Thank you to my old friends, who checked in on me from time to time. Thank you to all my new friends, for all the good times that we shared together and for letting me into your worlds.

I hope and pray to come back here again someday, and see Costa Rica through eyes of experience even as I make even more new discoveries. I’ll say it one more time: this is not the end.

Until next time Costa Rica!

¡Pura vida! (I think I finally understand what that means.)

-Cara

The Language of Honking

If you grew up in the U.S., like me, you might notice that the use of the horn of a car tends to be very minimal. Typically, gringos are only taught to use the horn when reminding someone the light has turned green, when there is a dangerous situation happening, to express impatience during a traffic jam or when some other driver did something they weren’t supposed to do, like cut you off or almost run into you.

One of the first things I noticed walking through the streets of San Jose was how often people tend to use their car horns. I probably could have blogged about this sooner, but I still wanted to talk about the language of honking utilized in Costa Rica by those who dare to drive. Some of these are a little exaggerated, but for the most part this is how it goes.

1. ¡Hola, guapa! ¿Como estás?

2. Bro, go fix your face.

3. Cross the highway – now!

4. The Conversation:

  • (Inquisitive honk) Hey can I cut you off?
  • (Affirmative honk) Sure, go ahead!
  • (Thankful honk) ¡Gracias!
  • (Happy-to-help honk) ¡Con mucho gusto! (Compliment honk) Good merge by the way!
  • (Thankful honk) ¡Gracias! (Honk of concern) Drive safe, mai!
  • (Assuring honk) Will do, bro!

5. I’m comin’ up behind you! Get outta the way!

6. ¡Hola gringa! ¿Como esta? How are you liking Costa Rica so far?

7. Don’t cross the street or I’ll hit you.

8. Walk faster!

9. Lady with a baby!

10. (Impatience with this traffic jam)!!!

11. I’m having such a good day today!

12. My day sucks, get out of the way!

13. ¡Vota! The election is tomorrow!

14. Long live La Liga!!

15. I wanna get home to watch the game!

16. Get off your phone and drive!

17. Tranquilo/a, mai.

18. (Y, por supuesto) ¡Pura vida!

Just something that makes Costa Rica so Tico.

 

¡Hasta luego! ¡Pura vida!

-Cara

The Orchid Show

A few weekends ago, mi familia tica invited me to go to the Orchid Show in San José with them. I never knew there were so many different types of orchids! This is just one of those things that can only be explained in pictures…

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Mi mama tica y yo both loved these ones!

Mi mama tica y yo both loved these ones!

Pretty colors!

Pretty colors!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A display of tons of tiny orchids!

A display of tons of tiny orchids!

First place went to guaria morada, the national flower of Costa Rica.

First place went to guaria morada, the national flower of Costa Rica.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Y, por supuesto, I can’t forget the taxidermy display.

A tiger and some of his friends came on behalf of the Centro de Conservacion Santa Ana.

A tiger and some of his friends came on behalf of the Centro de Conservacion Santa Ana.

Is he Aslan or Mufasa?

Is he Aslan or Mufasa?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An owl stands forever frozen in mid-attack with its perpetual victim, the grasshopper.

An owl stands forever frozen in mid-attack with its perpetual victim, the grasshopper.

I just love that my host family invites me along to events like these and family parties. It really helps me to feel a part of the family and also gives me more insight into the culture!

That’s all for now. ¡Hasta luego!

¡Pura vida!

-Cara

Jaco

Once again, I apologize for the gaps in between posts.

A couple weekends ago, some friends and I planned our own day trip to Jaco, a beach town on the Pacific. We basically just spent the day tanning, swimming, eating and shopping. I was finally able to find the Imperial tanks I’ve been looking for, too!

#Paselfie!

#Paselfie!

These two beach chairs reminded me of the Corona commercials!

These two beach chairs reminded me of the Corona commercials!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beach was so hot, but fortunately the water helped (when it wasn't filled with rocks!).

The beach was so hot, but fortunately the water helped (when it wasn’t filled with rocks!).

My friends Amanda and John decided to chill on these logs.

My friends Amanda and John decided to chill on these logs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mora con leche (y helado tambien) in honor of my best friend Mary!

Mora con leche (y helado tambien) in honor of my best friend Mary!

Still lovin' SMC!!!!!

Still lovin’ SMC!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kids, this is why we wear sunscreen, awesome potential tanlines aside.

Kids, this is why we wear sunscreen, awesome potential tanlines aside.

 

 

 

Basically, my advice for the traveler to Jaco is drink plenty of water (it was literally almost 100 degrees!), eat real food, go for the smoothies and (most importantly) bring sunscreen, apply, repeat. Please see exhibit A to your right as support for the sunscreen advice.

Well, that was my day in Jaco. It was great to get out of the city, if only for a day. Stay tuned for more adventures and insights!

¡Pura vida!

-Cara

 

 

 

Puerto Viejo, in Pictures

Sorry everyone, I’ve really been slacking on this…

A few weekends ago, my friends and I planned our own trip to Puerto Viejo, a coastal town on the Caribbean. It was my first weekend in a hostel, my first time in the Caribbean, the first time I did karaoke and, unfortunately, the first time I got food poisoning. But it was great being able to do something independently because it saved us so much money and was definitely a worthwhile experience. Here are some pictures…

#Paselfie

Selfie with the Caribbean!

My first steps in the Caribbean!

My first steps in the Caribbean!

A view from the beach in Cocles...

A view from the beach in Cocles…

...and another one with a big palm tree!

…and another one with a big palm tree!

The giant grasshopper that hung out in our shower all weekend...

The giant grasshopper that hung out in our shower all weekend…

...and his buddy, this gecko.

…and his buddy, this gecko.

Anyone who's had Sultze's Nature and Outdoor Writing class will understand that I needed to get a picture of this beetle outside our hostel.

Anyone who’s had Sultze’s Nature and Outdoor Writing class will understand that I needed to get a picture of this beetle outside our hostel.

Usually the trees in Costa Rica are painted on the bottom to protect them against aunts, but I think they were just having fun with these ones.

Usually the trees in Costa Rica are painted on the bottom to protect them against aunts, but I think they were just having fun with these ones.

The kitchen area just outside our room.

The kitchen area just outside our room.

This dog followed us almost all the way downtown. I'm pretty sure her name was Kiwi...

This dog followed us almost all the way downtown. I’m pretty sure her name was Kiwi…

I was so happy when I saw this! #smcvt #bvt

I was so happy when I saw this! #smcvt #bvt

People from all over the world have left all sorts of things at this other hostel, Rocking J's: their passports, licenses, ID cards, some random chains...

People from all over the world have left all sorts of things at this other hostel, Rocking J’s: their passports, licenses, ID cards, some random chains, jewelry…

I could easily see this kid performing at this restaurant until he's as old as his bandmates!

I could easily see this kid performing at this restaurant until he’s as old as his bandmates!

My attempt to get all artsy with my Faybans...

My attempt to get all artsy with my Faybans…

Sunset silhouette of trees and the Lazy Mon Restaurant.

Sunset silhouette of trees and the Lazy Mon Restaurant.

This dog totally wigged out every time the red light on my camera flashed!

This dog totally wigged out every time the red light on my camera flashed!

This heliconia flower hung outside our hostel. It's probably my favorite flower in Costa Rica!

This heliconia flower hung outside our hostel. It’s probably my favorite flower in Costa Rica!

This lizard waited with us at the bus stop before we returned to San José.

This lizard waited with us at the bus stop before we returned to San José.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, that about sums up my weekend in Puerto Viejo. Look out for my posts about Jaco and the Orchid Show in San José!

¡Hasta luego! ¡Pura vida!

-Cara

P.S. Sorry about how skewed the pictures are. WordPress hates me sometimes. It does look kind of cool though…

 

Arte, Cartago y Fútbol

Three days. Three trips.

A couple weekends ago, I went on an art tour with my mural painting and public art class, managed to go to Cartago again with my friends and went to my (hopefully) first juego de fútbol costarricense.

This part of el Salón Dorado depicts Juan Santamaria, Costa Rica's national hero, setting fire to a hostel filled with William Walker's men during the Second Battle of Rivas, ensuring the freedom of the people of Costa Rica.

This part of el Salón Dorado depicts Juan Santamaría, Costa Rica’s national hero, setting fire to a hostel filled with William Walker’s men during the Second Battle of Rivas. Santamaría gave his life to ensure the freedom of the people of Costa Rica.

On Friday, my art professor, Esteban, took us on a tour of the murals and other public art of San José. We started at El Museo de Arte Costariccense, which was originally supposed to be the international airport. We first saw el Salón Dorado, which is a carved stucco bas-relief mural which covers all four walls and depicts the history of Costa Rica from pre-Columbian times to 1940.

Unfortunately, my camera died before I was able to take more pictures of the public art around the city, but I did manage to take a few photos of el Monumento al Agricultor (The Monument to the Farmer). El Monumento was moved from its original location in Alajuela to the Museum for restoration purposes. It had been continuously vandalized and, Esteban told us, there were plans to steal it and sell it as scrap metal. Fortunately, the museum serves as a much safer place for it to reside.

 

El Monumento al Agricultor resides, protected, in the Museum.

El Monumento al Agricultor resides, protected, in the Museum.

Here I'm trying to be artsy and have the sun beat down on the back of the man in el Monumento al Agricultor.

Here I’m trying to be artsy and have the sun beat down on the back of the man in el Monumento al Agricultor.

And another artsy angle - let me know which one you like best!

And another artsy angle – let me know which one you like best!

On Saturday, I went with my friends Melissa, Taylor, Lacey and Desiree to Cartago. Even though I went before with my Basico 1 class, I still loved revisiting La Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles.

Que bonita es La Basílica!

Que bonita es La Basílica!

Penitent worshipers process to the altar of La Basílica on their knees.

Penitent worshipers process to the altar of La Basílica on their knees.

The small black spot in the center gold is the upper half of La Negrita.

The small black spot in the center gold is the upper half of La Negrita.

A statue of Juana Pereira, the young woman who discovered La Negrita, sits in the same room as the stone where she found it in the basement of La Basílica.

A statue of Juana Pereira, the young woman who discovered La Negrita, sits in the same room as the stone where she found it in the basement of La Basílica.

This time, there was no mass going on, so we were able to really explore La Basílica. Taylor and I even went down the center aisle on our knees! Many pilgrims to the site process into the church to the altar on their knees as a sign of penitence. During the annual pilgrimage, some do this for the last mile. It was a great experience to have as a Catholic, to be able to pray in front of the real La Negrita. This time, I also drank the holy water and ran my rosary from Medjugorje underneath it.

After La Basílica, we found Las Ruinas de la Parroquia de Santiago Apóstol (the ruins of St. James the Apostle Parish). The current structure is actually the third church to have been built at the site, as the previous two were damaged and eventually destroyed or demolished due to earthquakes. It represents the final attempt to build a church at the site. Construction began in 1870, was halted for a few decades, then restarted in 1903 or 1904 before its official cancellation in 1910 after the Santa Mónica earthquake. It has been a historic relic since the 1980s. Thought it is surrounded by shops and fast food restaurants, it still maintains a quiet, ancient feel with its gray walls, coin pools and beautiful gardening.

The entrance to the ruins.

The entrance to the ruins.

So many colones...

So many colones…

Trees, flower bushes and stone pathways grace the inside of the ruins.

Trees, flower bushes and stone pathways grace the inside of the ruins.

The back side of the ruins.

The back side of the ruins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And though it’s not necessarily a fascinating cultural experience, I was finally able to find a new pair of sunglasses that I like.

#Faybans

#Faybans

Finally, on Sunday Melissa, Desiree, Lacey and I went to a Saprissa vs. Puntarenas soccer game in Tibas, which is just outside San José. My host sister despises Saprissa because they’re the rivals of her team, La Liga. The bus ride alone was an adventure in itself. We thought we were going to have a tough time getting on the bus because of the crowd of maroon jerseys surrounding the stop. Basically, they saw we were gringas and let us on the bus ahead of about 50 other people. On the way to the stadium, the fans were crazy. They chanted, banged on drums, hung out the bus door and may or may not have smoked illegal substances. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen or experienced before.

While taking this photo, I was standing in the far right corner of my seating section, a gaping hole in the fence to my right. This wouldn't have been so horrifying had it not been for the wind and the fact that I was a couple hundred feet above the ground. See said gap below.

While taking this photo, I was standing in the far right corner of my seating section, a gaping hole in the fence to my right. This wouldn’t have been so horrifying had it not been for the wind and the fact that I was a couple hundred feet above the ground. See said gap below.

When we got to the stadium, we didn’t see that the ticket booth was on the other side, so we bought tickets from the first hawker who approached us. Fortunately, they only cost a little more than normal tickets, and the stadium is set up so that you can see no matter where you sit.

Saprissa ended up winning 3-1. In my opinion, the fans were more intense than the game, but they did have to take a guy away in an ambulance. He didn’t move for a while…

 

 

A beautiful view of Tibas through the gap of death!

A beautiful view of Tibas through the gap of death!

The Saprissa team breaks from their huddle, ready to start the game.

The Saprissa team breaks from their huddle, ready to start the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Un jugador reza antes del juego empieza.

Un jugador reza antes del partido empieza.

Hundreds of Saprissa fans crowd into the fan section equipped with drums, jerseys and chants.

Hundreds of Saprissa fans crowd into the fan section equipped with drums, jerseys and chants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, I loved being able to experience so many different aspects of Tico culture in just a few days. I hope to have many more opportunities to learn about this wonderful country!

¡Pura vida!

-Cara