"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' "
Jeremiah 29:11

Sunday, April 21, 2013

One year ago today...

...I graduated from Flagler College...crazy to think about where life has led me since I walked across that stage. I'm in my SECOND school year of teaching at Futuro Verde. WOW!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Alajuela (Mom’s visit part 2)

Saturday morning Mom and I headed to Alajuela, as she was flying out on Sunday and I had an appointment with the American Embassy in San José on Monday.  We just decided for me to go a day early for my appointment so we could have one extra day together.  Funny thing, the shuttle bus didn’t pick us up.  It was 7:15 and it should have picked us up at 7, so I called.  The man said we weren’t scheduled to leave until 2.  Apparently they didn’t take note of the change in reservations.  We were told a taxi would come pick us up and then meet the shuttle, but around 7:30 the shuttle arrived.  It turned around for us.  I was like how in the world are we going to be on the 9 am ferry?  Well apparently Pura Vida road fairly close to where I live is a major shortcut and takes us to Tambor.  If that shortcut wouldn’t have existed, I don’t think we would have made it in time.  The ferry was PACKED.  All the people who had been chilling down in Montezuma during Semana Santa were heading out too. Wow!

We got to our Hotel around 12 or 1, I don’t remember.  We were tired of course, but I was ready to get out and explore.  We walked to the central park and went into a few stores.  I was stunned:  on one street there was a Pizza Hut, Burger King, Taco Bell AND McDonald’s.  I kind of just stared in awe as the smell of low quality meat wafted through the city air.  (Don’t think my mom was as excited about this as I was)  Civilization does exist!!!!  We also went into a Payless…just like the US. 

HUGE church across from central park

We spent a while walking around Alajuela before returning to our hotel room to stream Easter service from Northland.  We then wandered back to the central park in Alajuela and there was a throng of people gathered watching the performers.  There were people wearing what I would describe as ponchos singing and playing wooden instruments.  

Possibly as entertaining as the musicians was the older man who made himself a soloist dancer, choreographing his moves on the spot.  He got really into it and even laid down with his hand over his heart at the end of a song with a romantic vibe.  I’m not sure who the applause was for, the musicians or the dancer, but the whole thing was just so “Costa Rican.”  I don’t know any other way to describe it, but it was one of those moments where I felt like I was having a truly unique experience only to be had in Costa Rica: standing in the park, surrounding by Ticos, listening to wooden flutes, and watching this man’s interpretation of the music.
Watch a video:

Before pausing to enjoy the song and dance, we were headed to the church.  We had looked at it earlier from the outside, but the doors were closed and it was gated shut.  However from across the park we could see that the doors were now wide open.  Perhaps there was a 5 o’clock mass, but it wasn’t quite 5 pm so we decided to peek our heads inside this massive house of worship.  Well just as we were about to cross the sidewalk leading to the church, I noticed something was going on.  Although there had been quite a crowd of people just relaxing in the park, there was an equally large group of people lining the streets surrounding the church seemingly waiting for something.  Then I realized what was about to happen, and I got really excited!  An Easter procession. 

For a country that stops for Holy Week, I had hoped to take part in some of the religious festivities that were sure to occur.  I remember seeing my parents’ pictures from when they were in Italy right before Easter one year, and was expecting something similar in Costa Rica.  Unfortunately my host family from last year had told me that religious happening before Easter that I was expecting didn’t happen in Cóbano, but more in the larger cities.  That had been a disappointment, but here I was in the city of Alajuela about to watch an Easter procession.

Although not part of the procession, this man deserved to have his picture taken...

This man was apparently taking his parrot for a bike ride to see the procession.  Never seen a parrot on a bike before...

The whole thing was so great.  From the respect shown by the passersby to the amount of young people involved in the procession.  From the detail of the costumes to the woman leading song-like chants from a loud speaker.  We followed the procession into the church with the rest of the crowd. The architecture and paintings in the church were incredible.  

The Priest said a few words of thanks to all those who had participated or helped prepare for the day’s procession and people began to wander out.  On the way out, many stopped at a corner of the church draped with white silk, where Jesus and his pierced hands and feet lay in a glass casket covered in flowers.  I guess we stayed and took it in long enough, because Jesus was resurrected before our eyes:  two people rolled out another Jesus statue, this one standing and looking toward the future.

After the excitement of the procession Mom and I didn’t do anything too exciting.  We walked to a bakery we had seen earlier for a pastry and cup of coffee, went to sit in the hotel sitting area to look at all of the pictures we had taken throughout the week, and mostly just tried to enjoy our last few hours together without bringing up the fact that our long-awaited time together would soon be ending.

Easter morning we woke up to have a breakfast in the Hotel’s garden restaurant.  But before we could head from our room, I had to find my Easter eggs…my mother would be that cute to bring a few Easter eggs and hide them in the hotel room.  She was prepared, and so was I:  I got out my little pink flashlight and started looking in all the dark corners of the room.  I have to admit that it’s been a few years since I’ve hunted eggs and I’m afraid I’ve lost my touch.  The two spots that I was sure there would be eggs…nada.  And it took me a while to find the eggs.  Inside my eggs I found bus money (a few rides to work) and I pretty pair of purple earrings from one of my favorite stores at home, The Loft.

Of course mother and daughter had to order the same exact thing from the menu at breakfast:  French Toast.  I’m so used to eating Tico food that that sounded like a lovely change.  And I got my long-awaited cup of coffee.  Yes, I am the girl who lives in a country whose leading cash crop is coffee and I gave up coffee for lent this year.  That was a TOUGH ONE.

So no need to talk about the goodbyes.  Mom left for the airport in the back of the little red taxi, and I headed back into the hotel.  Just two more months until I will be back in the US for a visit…
I stayed another night in the hotel, as I had an appointment at the US Embassy in San José on Monday morning.  Yes, more money to shell out, and more paperwork to obtain in hopes of acquiring my work permit. (and time’s running out!)

Most of everything was closed on Sunday,  being Easter, but I got myself an ice-cream cone from those Golden Arches I hadn’t eaten at in ages, headed into the park, and graded some papers.  That’s what is nice about the cities:  the parks.  Cóbano doesn’t have anything like that.  The park in Montezuma is mostly just a swing set for kids, and I find it preferable to stay at my house and enjoy my porch, table in the yard, or hammock between the trees.

At some point, I got hot in the park and wandered back to the hotel.  (I surprise myself sometimes with how I can remember my way around a city when I’m normally a complete goof when it comes to directions!)  I wrote my friend Nicole a message because I was hoping we would be able to get together when I returned from Alajuela.  Probably an hour later, Nicole calls me and says she was actually on the ferry on her way to Alajuela.  She was moving back to the United States the next day, and turns out her hotel was only 5 minutes from mine.  I don’t think that could have worked out any better.  In the past 3 months living about 40 minutes from each other, we had only seen each other once, maybe twice.  Then when I am in a hotel six hours from my home in Montezuma, she happens to be just around the block!  I am so happy that I got to see her before she moved back to the states!

Monday morning, I headed toward the Embassy.  For one piece of paper I needed to get, it sure was a trip.  I mean I had to travel 6 hours to San José from Montezuma to spend 30 minutes in the Embassy to leave with a piece of paper that cost me $50.  Oh yeah, and then the 6 hour trip back to Montezuma.  All for one piece of paper. 

But since my appointment was in the morning, and the bus back to my little piece of paradise didn’t leave until 2 in the afternoon, I headed to Avenida Central in San José to spend the rest of my morning/ early afternoon.  Again, I surprised myself by what I remembered from the few trips I have taken to San José.  I found the bookstore I remembered and spend some time in there.  I don’t care the language, I just love books and bookstores.  Although I have a Kindle, and several actual books at my house in Montezuma, I just couldn’t leave Libreria Lehman empty handed.  So I treated myself to a book by one of my favorite authors:  Paulo Coelho.  I’ve read three of his books, but Brida will be my first Coelho book in Spanish! 

The other highlight of my time spent wandering the city was when I found the Artisan Market I had been two in 2011 when I studied abroad.  I remembered this place for the bright woven fabrics, wooden figurines, hammocks, leather sandals, and colorful jewelry that overflowed from the nearly 100 small stands stuffed under the tin roof that spans one block of the city.  Two years ago I had bought myself a hand-woven bag/ purse and a beautiful pair of handmade sandals.  Only studying abroad, I never expected to return to this heaven-on-earth of homemade items.  (I am a sucker for fabrics and handmade stuff.  And good prices too)

so much to look at!
I don’t know how long I spent strolling down the main aisle of the market, wandering in and out of each artisan’s stand.  I wanted to buy something from every stand, because everything was so beautiful and I loved chatting with the people at each stand to hear their stories, but I simply didn’t have enough money.  I tried on countless sandals, as each pair is unique, and modeled a variety of purses and handbags.  I had to walk around a bit, before finally deciding on my purchases.  That was my treat to myself.
carved from a coconut
the leather smells so good!

Probably my favorite find of the day...the straps still smell of fresh leather!
I did have to sit in McDonalds and enjoy a fountain drink, knowing I wouldn’t have another fountain drink until the next time I was either in San José or the United States.  Before I knew it, it was time to grab a taxi and head to the bus station.  Now, I don’t particularly enjoy the 6 hour bus ride, but there are a few things that always strike me along the ride.  At some point the bus stops on the side of the road and this older man will get on with two small coolers.  He walks up the aisle and sells his empanadas calientitas (hot empanadas) and then walks the aisle a second time selling canned juices.  Five minutes later the bus stops again and the man and his coolers get off.  A while later the bus stops again and lets a man on selling various fruits.  I have to admit, it’s quite convenient and I enjoyed my empanada!

It was late when I got home to my little casita in Montezuma.  Before I knew it, it was 6:30 am and I was on the bus again, heading to back to work.  Just like that, it was all over.  And back to reality.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Insecure False Gods

I have been reading a book about discipleship called "The Lego Principle"  by Joey Bonifacio.  Although there are many lessons to be learned in this book, I am enjoying reading it so much that I don't feel like I'm straining my brain too much.  The other day I read something that kind of blew my mind/ smacked me in the face/ made me open my eyes/ reread that section several times.  Reading in a chapter on Forgiveness, something that I am not so good at, but am working on daily was a section titled "Insecure False Gods."  Because I found these words so profound and thought-provoking, I am just going to re-type them so anyone who reads my blog can be challenged the same way that these words have challenged my thinking.  Here goes:

"Today much of the world recognizes the wisdom of the sixth commandment: "You shall not murder." But unforgiveness follows us still.  While most of us don't literally kill people, we erase them from our roster of our relationships rather than enjoy them for who they are in God.  Often we tolerate their existence rather than explore the possibility of having a relationship with them.  Even here we have decided what is good and evil about people.  We have become judges and attempted to take on a role that belongs to God."

I have never thought of unforgiveness as murder, but this passage rings so true.  After considering unforgiveness as murder, I know I have "mentally murdered"/ erased  people from my lives after failed relationships (failed in my human opinion) just to save myself the pain.

Anyways, just wanted to share that passage and hopefully someone gets as much out of it as I did!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Semana Santa

(Written on April 1)

I was thinking my life was pretty uneventful when I realized I wasn’t going on any trips for Semana Santa (Holy Week), which could also be considered a Spring Break.  Then one day as I was sitting on the beach in Montezuma, I realized that although I didn’t “go” anywhere, I am spending Spring Break in Costa Rica!  Doesn’t get any cooler than that! 

Although school started back today, I’m sitting on the ferry heading back to Montezuma as I write this.  My mom came to Costa Rica for Semana Santa and got to see my new home and explore some of the sights.  Aside from the fact that she brought me two BIG jars of peanut butter, and my favorite jelly beans, I am sooo glad she came.

I live in this wonderful, beautiful place, but because I am working, I don’t have an infinite amount of time to just run around in the jungle.  But this week off gave me the opportunity to do just that.

Mom arrived Monday night, so I had to wait allll weekend and all day Monday for her to get here.  I picked her a welcome bouquet of flowers from my yard (so many beautiful plants!) and cooked her a welcome dinner of chicken tacos, beans, and a salad of avocado, tomato, onion and lime dressing. (We actually ate the welcome dinner on Tuesday night, but that's a different story; it was planned for Monday)

On Tuesday morning we went to Cóbano in the morning to get some groceries.  It’s always so hard doing grocery shopping because I can only buy as much as I can carry with my own two hands back on the bus, so it was really nice to have an extra pair of arms and legs!  I think Mom got her fill of public transportation while she was here.  
my new bus-buddy
riding in style!

With it being Semana Santa, about a million ticos come down to the beaches and camp out.  The buses were soooo crowded, it was insane.  Wall to wall people.  I have NEVER seen so many people on a bus, and it made me a little nervous when we were heading up the big hill in Montezuma.  With all the weight on the bus, it is a miracle we made it!  The bus was completely full when it left Cóbano that we were standing, and then halfway to Montezuma it stopped and I counted 12 more people who wanted to get on.  I don’t think they all fit.  Trying to get off was a hassle.  I couldn’t see where we were going.  I usually just stand up and walk my way to the front of the bus and the driver stops, but this time I had to yell “PARADA!” for him to stop.  The aisle of the bus was so packed that a few people had to get off the bus to make way for us to get off.  I’m glad the bus is not always that crowded!

This picture doesn't really do the situation justice, but I COULD NOT MOVE to get a better shot!

Tuesday afternoon I took Mom to Piedra Colorada, which means colored rock.  It is a beach with beautiful rocks instead of sand.  At this spot, the river meets the ocean and forms a nice swimming hole.  This is where people go to get “facials.”  You can scrape of parts of a certain rock, wet it with river water, and then apply it to your face.  Let it dry, wash it off and your skin is as smooth as a baby’s bottom.  I’ve done it before, so I had to have my mom try it as well.  Nothing like a free facial!

At the top of the hill where I live...taking a break before walking down
This view gets me every time!
Montezuma Beach...on our walk to Piedra Colorada
Finally arrived at Reserva Absoluta Piedra Colorada!
rocks, instead of sand!

Mom liked these "tall" rocks...

...and I liked these TALL rocks!
using bus money to scrape off the special rock
Mom, applying her mud with river water

waiting for our mud masks to dry...

On Wednesday morning we ended up back in Cóbano.  We went to my school so Mom could see my classroom, and of course I ended up doing a few things while I was there.  We then walked into town and ate a brunch at this yummy French bakery.  After that we walked into the Catholic Church in Cóbano, since it was open for Holy Week.  I’ve been inside a handful of times, but Mom had only seen it from the outside until that point.  

in my classroom!

outside of the office/ lunchroom
at the French bakery! (Catholic church in the background) 
Later on Wednesday we walked down to Montezuma beach.  It was soooo windy, that I feel like I am just now getting all of the sand off of me.  There was a group of boys who set up a soccer game in the sand, and lots of ticos were camping.  More and more people arrived as the day went on.

soccer on the beach:  check out the two sticks for the "goal"

Wednesday was also a full moon.  Somehow we were still down in Montezuma after the sun had set so we got to see the full moon out over the water.  Incredible.  Then as we were walking up to my house, my mom and I spotted something glowing down on the road.  I thought it was a piece of metal catching a strange reflection.  We got closer and it turned out to be this amazing bug with green headlights!  I have never seen such a thing, but it is definitely my new favorite bug!  His lights were sooo bright.  They didn’t blink like a firefly, but just produced a steady glow.  We researched this later and found it is called a Glowing Click Beetle and are common in the jungle.  I sure hope I find one again, because I need a pet!
a little hazy, but check out the detail on the moon!

love the reflection on the ocean

the "glowing click beetle" with my flash, so you can see its detail

the "glowing click beetle" without flash!  How cute, with his headlights!!!

On Thursday morning, we went to one of my favorite spots:  Tortuga Island!  We had reservations to go last year when my mom, dad, and aunt visited, but the trip got cancelled because the water was too rough that day.  Thankfully it was a go this time!  It was great!  It is a forty-five minute boat ride from Montezuma to get to the island, but it is beautiful along the way.  I love the rocks in the ocean where the waves just crash up against them.  We pass this one rock called “Rainbow Rock.”  It’s shaped like a rainbow, and the boat captain says during rainy season flowers of different colors bloom on this rock giving it its name, but I googled it and couldn’t find any such pictures.  It makes a nice story though!

me in front of the map of my town
leaving Montezuma for Tortuga Island

on the boat with my momma

Rainbow Rock

Before landing on the island, the boat took us to two different locations for snorkeling.  The first spot was so-so because red tide made the water murky.  The second spot was as incredible as the first time I went snorkeling at Isla Tortuga when I studied abroad in 2011.  There were fish of sooo many different colors.  There were beautiful yellow ones with blue stripes, larger solid navy blue fish, small thin fish that were iridescent, ahh just so beautiful!
gearing up to go!

noticed that we both wore our polka-dot bikinis.  Unplanned.  We are mother and daughter for sure!

first spot we snorkeled at

second spot we snorkeled at

so relaxed: she loved to be petted
After an hour and a half of snorkeling, the boat took us to the island for our lunch that had been prepared while we were snorkeling.  There is a wild boar (I had mentioned her in my blog last December when I went to Isla Tortuga) and she hung out around our picnic tables the entire time.  She loved to be petted, and was sticking her big piggy nose all over the place wanting food.  I couldn’t say no!  The people who cooked set a plate of white rice on the sand for her to eat, as if she hadn’t already gotten enough to eat from everyone who was hand feeding her.

oink. oink.

After lunch we had a few hours to look at birds, swim, or just relax on the beach before we headed back to Montezuma.  On the way back we saw dolphins in the ocean!

On Friday Mom and I slept in a little bit after our long day in the sun on Thursday.  With the time difference we were able to stream the Good Friday service from Northland not too long after we got up.  Although I am so far away from home, the live online worship is such a blessing because it allows me to feel connected like I am right there in Longwood.

fake waterfalls! (the mural at my house)
taking a break at the top of the hill
After the noon service at 10 am Costa Rica time, we headed out for another adventure.  A bit rosy from the day before, we lathered up with the sunscreen.  Today we would hike the Montezuma waterfall!  We attempted to do so last August, but with some people being afraid of heights, we didn’t quite get there, so time to try again.  On the way walking down to Montezuma, the bus passed us.  We were debating getting on it instead of walking down the hill, so we just stood there.  It stopped and my new friend Amy ended up getting off.  She was just returning from a trip to Nicaragua, but we invited her along.  I had told Amy she and I would need to explore the waterfall one weekend, so it couldn’t have been more perfect timing to run into her that day!

It turns out the waterfall was the party spot of the day!  Holy moly there were so many people there!  It’s usually a pretty relaxed spot to go, but all the rocks had people over them, people were playing music, hammocks were tied into the trees, and the party was going!

FIESTA at the waterfall!
the Ticos climb the rocks like cats. No big deal!

Amy and I getting pounded by the waterfall!
the water was freezing!
I toughed it up and did something I never thought I would do…jumped off the rocks into the pool below!  Let’s clarify, I didn’t jump from the high spot where the ticos were jumping from.  They climbed up there like cats, I promise you.  The spot I jumped from didn’t look too high when I was below, but once I was up there, oh my!  I considered climbing back down, but everyone was watching me and the pressure was on.  I finally jumped and I’m not kidding you, I screamed the entire way down.  But it was so exhilarating! 

To be continued…
As this blog entry is already quite lengthy, yet I have not finished writing about the weekend yet, I do not want to keep waiting to post it.  Check back soon to see what Mom and I did for the rest of the weekend while she was here!