Friday, 17 August 2012

Costa Rica Part 3: Adventure Tour

 Saturday 28th July 2012

Another day travelling! We drove for 6-7 hours to the Caribbean coast. We watched Thor during the journey, which was awesome. Not much in the way of scenery – just rain, greenery and muddy rivers! But we stopped in the town of Puerto Viejo where we got our first sight of the Caribbean Sea! Then we drove to Almonds and Corals, our hotel. It’s right in the middle of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, and we’re staying in eco-friendly jungle lodges in the middle of the rainforest! They’re really nice – we even get jaccuzzis in the rooms!

Unfortunately, it's been raining torrentially all day – we got totally drenched walking to dinner and the electricity went out twice! The first time was late evening, when it was pitch dark. All the lights went off while I was in the middle of the path between cabins, and didn't have a torch with me. I was scared to move in case I fell off the path! (they’re about a metre off the ground, with nasty poisonous things lurking in the bushes!) So I just had to stand there in the rain until the lights decided to come back on. It’s the kind of rain that has you drenched in seconds, which wasn’t fun either. Not sure I’m up for hiking in this weather tomorrow! To make things worse, apparently all the rivers are overflowing – we might not even get to go rafting at all! :(

Sunday 29th July 2012

They’ve had to cancel our three-day whitewater rafting trip to the Pacuare River because the river’s the highest it’s been in years – this has never happened before. Just our luck! So we’re here for another day, which would be nice if there was actually anything to do! Today we saw all there was to see. We walked along the beach (not the weather for swimming!) past the village, only to find that the river we were supposed to paddle across was a metre high! We had to wade across, and the river opened out into the sea and the ocean currents were so strong we had to form a human chain to stop any of us from getting swept away into the sea! Yikes! Thankfully we all made it across, and then had to climb a steep muddy hill for a nice view of the beach.

Back to Puerto Viejo this afternoon. And I got a picture of a three-toed sloth we found sheltering from the rain inside our hotel! :)

Monday 30th July 2012

We should be rafting today. Instead, we drove to another tourist town. There were a couple of souvenir shops and restaurants, and a tiny beach. Looked in some shops, but got bored. Drove back. So bored I spent the afternoon sleeping! Also read my book and did some writing. I’m working on a very rough draft of the sequel to The Puppet Spell – finished one chapter so far, plus more planning. I guess that’s progress.

Today’s wildlife encounter was with an extremely poisonous snake, which can apparently kill you in three minutes. It's in the rainforest less than five minutes from our cabins, which is... less than reassuring. We found a giant cockroach in our bathroom today, which hissed at us and then went and hid. Pretty sure it's still in the room. Lovely. Still, we got some exciting news tonight – whilst we still can’t raft on the Pacuare River, we’re going to be rafting the Sarapiqui River tomorrow instead! We’re stopping there on the way to our next stop, Fortuna! It’s not what we originally hoped for, but it’s the next best thing. :)

Tuesday 31st July 2012

Up at 4.20, when it was still dark, the howler monkeys just beginning to stir and scare the crap out of people (I can’t decide whether they sound like elephants or manic gorillas…). Checked out of Almonds and Corals and loaded our luggage onto the bus, then we were off! We drove northwest, away from Manzanillo and on towards Sarapiqui! A 5-hour drive; I totally failed at catching up on sleep, though. We arrived at the river around 11am, ready for some epic rafting! And it was totally worth the early start – now THIS is an adventure tour! It was frickin’ amazing! We rode the class 3 and 4 rapids, bouncing off rocks and over massive waves, getting absolutely soaked (though I, rather surprisingly, managed not to fall in!). One raft flipped over and we had to ‘rescue’ everyone (we were all wearing lifejackets so there was no danger of drowning!). I did manage to get sunburnt again…ouch! But it was really fun. :)

Afterwards we drove a further 2 ½ hours to Fortuna, which is near Volcan Arenal, the most active volcano in Costa Rica! We’re staying at Arenal County Inn, which is pretty nice. No ants in the rooms, for once! Tonight we went to a restaurant in Fortuna, which was nice.

So tired! But happy! :D

Wednesday 1st August 2012

Today was supposed to be day three of the rafting trip, but due to the schedule being messed up we had a day to kill. So we went to a Costa Rican farm (owned by a guy called Don Juan – the fact that I instantly thought of Lord Byron’s poem is proof that I was the only English major there!). We learnt how things work there, including the effects of some pretty weird plants, and some people got to help out with tasks such as squeezing the juice out of sugar cane! Pretty interesting! The gardens were beautiful, too. It was freaking HOT though – the kind of heat where you can literally feel your skin burning through your clothes, ouch! We went souvenir shopping in Fortuna where I admired the volcano (it’s massive!) and bought a couple of souvenirs and some new flipflops (managed to break the other ones – well, they did cost £2.50!).

This evening, we went to the Baldi Hot Springs, which was amazing! It was an outdoor resort with loads of pools of varying temperatures – from warm to scorching! The warm water was nice, even though it really hurt my sunburn! There were some awesome water slides, too. :) A fun evening!

 Beautiful sunset behind Volcan Arenal :)

Thursday 2nd August 2012

Wow – today’s been amazing! We spent the day at Arenal Mundo Aventura, an eco-adventure park near Volcan Arenal. Today’s activity? Zip lining over the rainforest! We had a demonstration first, then put on the harnesses. Then we had a bumpy bus journey followed by a rather long climb up into the rainforest to the canopy! The views were amazing. We were right above the treetops, strapped into a harness attached to a cable – and soared through the air! It was incredible – not scary at all, just exhilarating! We did the first six zip lines in quick succession, jumping down from one to run straight to the next! Then we abseiled down the Pino Blanco waterfall, the highest abseil in Costa Rica! We began with a 90ft free rappel followed by a 164ft descent down the cliffs. We were pretty much in control, meaning we could go as fast as we liked!  I confess to stopping to admire the view of the waterfall, a sweeping sheet of white water pouring down the rocky cliffs. Then came the not-so-fun part: climbing back up the canopy via an incredibly rickety rope ladder up the cliff side! It was pretty scary! But then we did five more zip lines, of varying speeds and lengths, finishing with the highest! We had some truly stunning views - hills cloaked in dark forests, green fields and flowing rivers below us. I love this! My favourite experience so far! :D

As if soaring over the Costa Rican rainforest wasn’t enough, we also got to visit the village of the Maleku indigenous tribe. They gave us a presentation and we could admire their amazing hand-painted wooden carvings! Then we could purchase the photos and videos taken of us abseiling and zip lining – definitely a must! Today’s been the best day of the trip! I think I’ve found a new adrenaline activity I love. :P

Some of the photos taken!

Friday 3rd August 2012

Another early start for another travel day! This time we had a 5-hour drive to Samara Beach, but we watched Avatar on the way which killed three hours! I worked on the sequel to The Puppet Spell for a bit. We arrived in Samara early afternoon. Samara’s a seaside town on the Pacific Coast, with a really nice beach which actually looks like the postcard photos! The hotel at Samara’s pretty nice – it has a pool, which is great!

Nice weather = :D

Saturday 4th August 2012

Great. So our sea kayaking trip’s been cancelled because the waves are too high! What’s with our luck on this trip? Again, we’re the only group ever to not be able to do it. What bad karma have I walked into? Not happy.

Sunny weather, though, which is nice. I spent the day reading outside the room, before heading to the beach for the surfing lesson. That was…hard. I got beaten black and blue by my surfboard, and didn’t even manage to stand up once!

Hoping we get to go kayaking tomorrow!

Samara Beach - paradise!

Sunday 5th August 2012

At least we got to go kayaking, even if it was just a half-hour trip. It should have been simple, were it not for the newly-discovered fact that I suck at kayaking. The instructors actually thought I was hungover, I was so terrible at it! *hangs head*
The ride back in the trailer was fun, though. I spent the rest of the day reading/ lizard watching at the hotel. There are giant lizards living there!

Monday 6th August 2012

Back on the coach again for a 3-hour drive. Still, we got to go to the Rio Negro Hot Springs, which were natural springs hidden deep in the forest! It was like a smaller version of the other place, but also included a mud spa. Painted ourselves all over with mud – it’s a really weird sensation when it dries, like you’re turning to stone! It was pretty fun, except when our stuff got drenched in a storm, including my non-waterproof trainers. At least I had the sense to leave my camera behind!

Drove straight to the hotel afterwards. We’re staying at Hacienda Guachipelin, which is right next to a farm. :)

Tuesday 7th August 2012

Wow – a really long day, but epic! We had to get up super-early and go down to the stables ready for horseback riding! I was pretty nervous, given that I’d never ridden a horse in my life, and the horse I was riding had a mind of his own! He kept trying to race and overtake everyone despite my protests, leaving me hanging on for dear life! Got dragged through a bush once, lol. But I actually enjoyed the experience! Everyone found my running commentary hilarious (it's how I cope with to myself. :P).

We rode along a track up to the Oropendola Waterfall, which is pretty impressive. Then we got back on the bus to drive to the next activity: tubing! Basically, we each sat in a rubber ring and rode the rapids of the Rio Negro! So much fun! :D

Then in the afternoon we had the hike we were supposed to have had yesterday. It was OK, except it was raining pretty heavily, and my bag’s not waterproof so everything got soaked… But we got to see geysers and boiling mud, which was pretty cool! The hike itself wasn’t too tough either (compared to some on our project!). Though if I never see another stepping stone, it’ll be too soon!

Afterwards we went to the Simbiosis Mud Spa, which was pretty much the same as yesterday – mud and hot springs. And rain. Costa Rica’s unleashing one of its hellish thunderstorms at the moment! Tonight we had to repack for our final journey back to Heredia. The adventure tour ends here! Well, it’s been an experience, that’s for sure. I’ve done some awesome things and seen a lot of cool places. But five weeks is a LONG time, and I’ll be glad to be home!

Horseback riding!

Wednesday 8th August 2012

Last day in Costa Rica! We got up early to help milk the cows at the farmhouse, which was another new experience! Then finished packing and loaded up the bus for our 5-hour drive back to Heredia. We stopped at the El Jardin souvenir shop on the way for some last-minute shopping, and arrived at the hostel around 3pm. I’m too tired for any more adventures. I’m physically and mentally exhausted…

Thursday 9th August 2012

Well, this is an interesting turn of events…

Basically, ISV decided to book us onto a flight with only 40 minutes between our connecting flights from San Jose to Houston and from Houston to London. So we knew we’d be pushed for time – then our flight was delayed by 15 minutes. Unsurprisingly, I spent most of the 3 ½ hour flight panicking about not making the connection! We were ready to leg it out the plane when we landed…

Then the plane couldn’t land because there was another plane already at the gate! We had to sit and wait for 20 minutes, which we really didn’t need…

As soon as we were allowed off the plane, we ran. We must have looked like lunatics, six British tourists running at breakneck speed through Houston Airport – but we’d missed our flight.

There was about a minute of ‘What the hell do we do now?!’ followed by a tense hour at the help desk as they tried to get us on an alternative flight. Thankfully, the airline took responsibility, meaning that we got a free room in a hotel tonight and free meals – good job, because I don’t have any dollars and my debit card won’t work! They got us on a flight tomorrow, meaning we’re spending the night here in Houston! In a REALLY posh hotel! We get huge rooms with two double beds each, TVs, hot showers (a godsend!)…and loads of freebies!

I’m liking this little mini-adventure. It amuses me that we’re stranded in Texas! Pity there's no time to explore. :P

Friday 10th August 2012

Well – now I’m home. For real. At last. Got a pretty good night’s sleep in the amazing hotel room, then took some photos with the rest of the group before getting the free shuttle bus to the airport. We arrived in plenty of time for our flight, leaving us four hours to wander around like tourists! :P Then it was time to board the plane! When sleep failed, I spent the 9 ½ hour journey watching films. And I was so happy to reach London at last – not to mention to find that my luggage was safe! Said good bye to everyone and met my parents at the exit. It’s so weird being home – everything looks so different! Of course that might be because I haven’t slept in 36 hours…but who cares. I’m home.

Finished at last! It's 3am, so I'm off to bed. Normal posting shall resume once I get everything sorted - so much to catch up on now I'm back!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Costa Rica Part 2: Welcome to the Jungle!

Here's Part 2 of my Costa Rican adventure: the volunteer project!The two weeks I spent volunteering at Proyecto Carey were certainly an experience! We stayed with host families in a small village, Las Caletas, which is on the Osa Peninsula (Pacific side). We had our own beach where we could chill in our free time, which was awesome, and the wildlife was absolutely amazing.

Saturday 14th July 2012

Wow, it’s been a long day! We left Hotel America at 7am for a 5-hour drive. It was pretty hot in the minibus! I spent the journey reading Switched by Amanda Hocking – I’m hooked! We drove out of Heredia and through the central valley, past beautiful scenery, including a lot of banana plantations, until we reached the coastline and got our first view of the Pacific Ocean! We followed the coast to the town of Sierpe, where we got the boat to our project site, which is near Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula. The boat journey was pretty fun – speeding down the Sierpe river through mangrove forests and out into the open sea. We had to wade ashore onto the beach with our luggage, which wasn’t fun – I was wearing leather sandals, which was a mistake! Still, the area’s beautiful. The rainforest runs right down to the beach, and there’s exotic wildlife everywhere! We even saw a toucan fly past!

We met all our host families at the project site. We’re staying in the small village of Las Caletas, which is home to six families, known as Los Paniquines. I’m staying with three other volunteers with this couple and their one-year-old and three dogs! The rooms are simple, but at least ours has a fan! It’s super-hot here! We also have mosquito nets, which I have a feeling are going to come in useful. We seem to have a lot of wildlife in our room – I have two cockroaches living in my safety box and we had to evacuate a frog and a crab earlier! Still, the fact that we’re in a group means less of the awkwardness of not being able to speak Spanish!

We had an introductory talk and tour of the area. The beaches are amazing, and we can even go swimming in one of them!  We watched the sunset from the beach. Loving this place already! Even if it’s really noisy – rain, dogs, roosters and small children! And of course you can hear the constant cries of birds in the rainforest. It’s also really humid – I’m starting to think cold showers might not be too bad after all! And I generally HATE them. This is totally different – and I love it!

Our beach at sunset :)

Sunday 15th July 2012

Woke to the crowing of roosters and other unidentifiable bird species! The rain’s stopped now; at least the roof doesn’t leak, because I’m on the top bunk! Saw a bunch of lizards on the way to the meeting place, scampering across the path. :) We started the day with a general talk on the project and some team activities, getting to know each other. We also learned about the wildlife we’ll be seeing: howler monkeys; white-faced monkeys; spider monkeys; agoutis; peccaries; toucans; macaws; and more! I saw a giant lizard dart in front of me, too. We’re pretty much in the jungle here, surrounded by vibrant forest. We walked down to the beach this afternoon to go swimming, and saw loads of white-faced monkeys on the way there! Apparently they aren’t our project leader’s friends, because they sometimes get into his house and steal stuff! They were so cute, though!

Today I can say that for the first time in my life, I ran right into the sea without caring how cold it was: I was that hot! The water’s lovely and warm here: a total contrast to pretty much everywhere else I’ve been on holiday! Afterwards we had another talk on the aims of the project. They’re investigating seed dispersal of a certain species of nutmeg by fruit-eating animals, in order to improve rainforest conservation strategies and note the effect of logging on the forest. Our activities, which vary from day to day, include hikes into the jungle to identify and count the animals we see and note their behaviour; checking seed traps and counting the number of nutmeg seeds in them; observing which animals visit certain trees; inputting data into the databases; working on the plant nursery; and making ‘ecobricks’ (which are basically plastic bottles stuffed with bits of plastic!). I’m on a 6.30 am hike tomorrow, fun times! But looking forward to exploring and seeing more wildlife! :)

More swimming at the beach this evening! Ended up sunburnt…more than ever before, actually! My shoulders, back, front, arms and face are all bright red! I’ve never been anywhere warm enough to get a tan before, so this should be interesting! I’m also covered in sand, which as it turns out is very hard to wash off in a cold shower! But it was worth it!

Talked to the family and my fellow housemates. Did some writing and read Torn, the sequel to Switched. It’s awesome! Loving the setting, loving the sunny weather (though it rains for a couple of hours every afternoon and overnight, too!) – and loving having time to write, too. :)

White-faced monkey!

Our beautiful beach :)

Monday 16th July 2012

First day – early start! We hiked through the jungle for around 4 hours, which was pretty intense! First we had to climb Red Hill (so-called because of the thick red mud that covers it and makes it a pretty precarious climb! Very steep, very slippery, and it’s easy to get your foot stuck in a hole! Plus we have to wear these rubber boots which aren’t comfortable at all, and really start to hurt after a couple of hours! We got totally covered with mud, as you can imagine. We were in the jungle, all right! Clambering over giant tree roots, dodging vines and branches and narrowly avoiding falling in rivers! Wildlife was all around us, from bizarre insects (including golden silk spiders, which are pretty big!) to tiny lizards, colonies of billions of ants (I’m not even exaggerating!), even spider monkeys! Though they were too high up for me to get a proper look. Got some cool photos, though! I was exhausted by the end, but it was surprisingly fun. Apart from the annoying boots, and carrying a rucksack on sunburnt shoulders hurts! But we went swimming at the beach again this afternoon, which was more relaxing. This afternoon we helped at the plant nursery, putting soil into pots and planting seedlings in them. Then a few of us went for a walk along the beach. Saw a howler monkey! :)

A group of us played card games this evening, which was pretty fun. Also encountered some tree frogs! God, those things can jump!
A picture of me looking adventurous :P
A golden silk spider we encountered in the rainforest!

Tuesday 17th July 2012

4.30am wakeup = ouch. And I’m burnt, bitten, stung, aching all over and have a giant blister on my foot. :( Oh, and I can’t sleep for the noise, insects and heat. Wonderful!

Still, at least today’s hike was short. Still agonising on my blister, though. I was on tree observation, which involved sitting under a tree for four hours.

I think the heat’s getting to me. I feel totally drained and can barely function. They weren’t kidding about ‘taxing physical conditions’! I wouldn’t mind the hiking if it wasn’t for the searing heat, agonising blisters, the humidity (which has also destroyed several people’s electronic devices!), and sunburn. But I have to say, I’m glad I’m here. It’s certainly an experience I’ll remember!

Talked to people. Read the whole of Ascend in one sitting! It’s awesome! Also did some writing – now I’m inspired!

Wednesday 18th July 2012

Another day, another five-mile jungle hike. Certainly an eventful one, and not in a good way! Basically, we were trap-checking, which sounds simpler than it is! After climbing Red Hill we had to leave the trail and go deeper into the jungle in order to find the seed traps which had been set up under the nutmeg trees. It turned out to be an ordeal! First, hiking through thick mud, up slippery slopes on an uneven trail where fallen trees and branches try to trip you up –fun times! But then when we reached the traps, our leader had omitted to mention that we’d unknowingly walked right through a swarm of jungle bees. Which all went for me. Seriously! I could hear this buzzing in my ears, which wouldn’t go away, then I realised there was something crawling in my hair…

That was when I lost it completely and legged it uphill, trying to swat away the 30-odd bees that were crawling all over my head! Everyone had to help me pull them out of my hair, and all I wanted to do was get back and have a shower! But we still had two hours of hiking left. Ugh. Not an experience I want to repeat any time soon!

But other than that, today was pretty good. We rescued some endangered tree saplings for the nursery this afternoon, and then we all went to the beach for a couple of hours. It was really fun, except when three massive waves came out of nowhere and literally lifted us off our feet and slammed us into the beach. Sand everywhere, again! There’s no way to be completely clean here. Sand, dirt and insects get into everything; our clothes are perpetually filthy and/or wet. But as I said before – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Inspired! Written a LOT in the last few days – 44 pages since I got here! Wow. So much for not getting any writing done!

Thursday 19th July 2012

What a day! We were told we were going on a fishing hike, but I never expected it to be that much of an ordeal! First we had a three-hour hike – up red hill, through the jungle, past loads of fields then into the jungle again, to a river. Tested the new water shoes when we had to wade through it! What no one had thought to tell us was that we’d be wading in the river against the current. I’ll tell you something about river currents: they’re strong. And when every step makes you feel like your feet are going to be swept out from under you, and you can’t even see the bottom of the water so you’ve no idea where to put your feet – well, yeah. Health and safety?! It was a relief to get back and collapse!

A giant snake!

Friday 20th July 2012

Woken at four am by an epic jungle storm! The whole house was shaking because of the thunder – I thought the roof was going to fall in! Yikes!

Today was an ‘easy’ day, as we spent it updating the databases, entering the data from our observations this week into a spreadsheet. We also made ‘ecobricks’, by stuffing a load of plastic into bottles – since plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, theoretically you could build a house out of them that’ll stand for hundreds of years! Then this afternoon we learnt how to remove coconuts from their husks (by repeatedly slamming them on a sharpened stake), then how to get the insides out. Pretty interesting!

Writing. Even in the jungle, so far away from my laptop, inspiration persists! :) Tomorrow’s a free day, too!

Saturday 21st July 2012

Free day – got up at 8.30! It was awesome. We hiked to the nearest town, Agujitas, which is about a 2-hour walk away. Managed to get lost on the way, though! It was really hot, but thankfully the hike wasn’t too intense. We stopped at a market on the way and I bought a new, pretty cheap dress, since I didn’t bring any nice clothes with me! And I also invested in some flipflops: a necessity!

Looked around the town for a bit, then rode back in the boat, which was fun. Went to the beach this afternoon, but the sea wasn’t playing friendly so I didn’t stay in for long. I’m not a fan of being pulled out to sea by a strong undercurrent then swamped by an enormous wave and thrown onto the beach! Still, I like that the waters are warm – it couldn’t be more different from the icy seas of England!

Now on the second-last chapter of my novel! Never expected to get so much done here! At this rate I’ll soon have a finished first draft!

Sunday 22nd July 2012

Early start for more tree observation! Still, got to see some spider monkeys and lizards as well as various insects, including giant tiger ants! Other than that, passed the time by reading and playing games on my phone. Not much else I can do with it – I’ve not had so much of a hint of a signal since I’ve been here!

Hiked back. I spent the afternoon writing and actually FINISHED the first draft of my book this afternoon! HELL YEAH! It’s very rough, but it’s done! My fourth novel. :) Yay!

Went on a beach cleanup walk this afternoon, which was fairly straightforward. Played some hilarious card games this evening. Our host dad scared the crap out of two of my housemates tonight by painting his face with shaving cream and lurking outside wearing a hooded coat! Ha! A pretty hysterical evening! I think we might be suffering from jungle madness. Apparently I’m secretly a ninja…so secret that I don’t even know it. Well, you never know… :P

A spider monkey eating nutmeg fruit!

Monday 23rd July 2012

Trap checking: oh joy! Well, at least there were no jungle bees this time! We actually finished really early, so we got back and watched Titanic as it happened to be on TV (in English with Spanish subtitles!). Then headed out on another seedling rescue! We planted over 50 seedlings! Then had a group discussion. And more card games. Definitely suffering from jungle madness. Everything seems hysterically funny for no reason! Played an intense game of spoons (with pens), which was hilarious! Fun times. :)

Tuesday 24th July 2012

Last day of hiking! I ended up on the trap checking team again, which wasn’t too bad. Hiked for about 2 ½ hours, checking traps and husking (checking areas of ground and counting the seed husks there). Pretty tiring, but OK. This afternoon, we had a mini ‘Olympics’ with the villagers, which was a laugh. Sack races, 3-legged races, ball games with water balloons, a tug of war which ended hilariously when the rope snapped… Really tired, though. And looking forward to the adventure tour already!

Wednesday 25th July 2012

Last day of actual work! Got a lie-in until 8 but woke up at 5 thanks to the roosters – typical! Spent the morning helping make garbage cans out of plastic bottles (recycling ftw) and doing more data entry. Then played cards and read American Gods. Awesome book.

We had a group discussion about responsible tourism this afternoon, then helped make a banner for the local school to enter in a competition. Then spent the evening reading.

Thursday 26th July 2012

As today was a free day, we went to see a local craftsman who made jewellery, and people had the chance to make their own. Then we had the option of hiking to a waterfall – you’d think I’d have learnt my lesson by now!  A five-hour trip involving kayaking upriver, which was fun (I’d never kayaked before, but I enjoyed it!), and swimming upstream in cold water, which wasn’t fun. At all. But I survived. This is becoming a theme, lol.

Had a bonfire for our last night. Back to Heredia tomorrow!

Final picture of our volunteer group with the villagers!

Friday 27th July 2012 

Long day travelling! Started with a trek to the beach at 6am with our luggage – fun! Then an hour on the boat, across the ocean and along the Sierpe river (including a rather eerie part where we went to a complete standstill in the middle of the mangrove forest!). Then we had a 5-hour drive back to Heredia! I spent it reading, of course! Arrived at Hotel America around 1.30 to collect the stuff we left behind before going to the Hotel Dehesa, where we’re spending the night. It’s so weird being back in civilisation again! Yeah, I finally got a phone signal, so I was happy!

We had the introductory talk at the hostel and met our tour guides, who went over the important information from the travel manual. Leaving for the Caribbean coast early tomorrow!

Finally I feel connected to the outside world again! So happy! :D

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Costa Rica Travel Journal Part 1: Spanish Week!

Yes - here it is: the first part of my travel journal in Costa Rica! This is the Spanish Week, in which we stayed with host families in Heredia whilst learning Spanish at the Intercultura language school, making friends and exploring the city!

Friday 6th July 2012

My Costa Rican adventure has begun – after a hell of a long journey! Set off at 5 this morning for Heathrow (after no sleep due to last-minute packing!); got there around 8.15. Checked in, which took forever, then went looking for the other ISV people! Thankfully we all managed to find each other, and got to know each other as we waited for the plane. First we had an 8 ½ hour flight to Newark, which seemed to go on forever. I passed the time watching films and doing sudokus. Newark Airport was frustrating as it took nearly two hours to check in and go through customs – we barely made our flight to San Jose! Now we had another 5 hours in the air, fun times. I read my book and listened to music, trying to sleep but failing. Dead with tiredness. Finally made it out of San Jose Airport to meet out host families…
…to find that no one in mine speaks English. When you haven’t slept all night, people asking you a bunch of questions in Spanish isn’t exactly what you want. I don’t speak a word of the language! To make things even more confusing, there are a group of German students staying there as well, and what with the constant switching between languages I can’t understand a thing. Oh God…

Saturday 7th July 2012

Well, it’s been a pretty interesting day! First I got woken up at 6 by dogs barking outside. It’s really noisy here! But I guess I am in the middle of the city. Heredia’s about 20 minutes from San Jose, the capital, which is located in the central valley, between two long chains of mountains and volcanoes. I’m staying in a house 5 blocks away from Intercultura, the language school. Not that I’ve any idea what a block is…I’m not from America! Had a ‘conversation’ with my Mama Tica this morning, which consisted of her asking me questions, me not understanding, a lot of gesturing, and if in doubt, just smiling and saying ‘Si’. She walked me to the school this morning for the welcome meeting. First thing I noticed about Heredia was the heat. It’s really humid here, so I was glad of the air conditioning! Another observation is that the motorists drive like maniacs! Crossing the road is terrifying because the cars thunder past without a care for anyone or anything in their path; the kerbs are a metre high; and pedestrians don’t have right of way. Yikes!

Managed to get to the school OK, though. Finally, some contact with someone who knows what’s happening! I’ve felt very lost and confused for the last few hours, so it’s good to have some direction. This week we have Spanish lessons in the mornings, then the afternoons are free to do pretty much whatever we want! Today we had a tour of Heredia, learning where we can find all the important places like the supermarket, souvenir shops, parks and various landmarks. Heredia’s a pretty confusing place to navigate, but I guess I don’t have much sense of direction anyway! We went to a restaurant where I tried my first Costa Rican cuisine! Thankfully they know what a vegetarian is. I should be OK here – though I have a feeling I’m going to get tired of rice and beans!

Talked to people, and got to know the group. There are at least forty of us, and that’s just for the Spanish week! I’ve not met most people on my project yet. Everyone’s really friendly, which is nice. Even though communicating with my host family is tricky! Looking forward to tomorrow’s trip to the Poas Volcano, anyway. I really want to see more of Costa Rica!

Here are a couple of pictures I took of Heredia. It's very different from cities at home!

Heredia - City of Flowers.

The road I walked down to school.

Sunday 8th July 2012

Well, I certainly got my wish! Today was a pretty early start – had to be at the school at 7.45 for the 2-hour drive to Volcan Poas. We drove past some pretty awesome scenery on the way, as we climbed higher up into the mountains and could see the entire central valley spread out before us, wreathed in cloud, and surrounded by mountains as far as the eye could see. Beautiful. :)

We started by following a path to the main volcanic crater. It was pretty impressive! There was a steaming pool of sulphur in the centre of the huge crater, releasing clouds of steam. Pretty cool! We then hiked through the rainforest for a while, to a lagoon surrounded by green forests. Got some great photos! Loving this beautiful country already! We went souvenir shopping afterwards so I could buy presents for my friends, plus a Costa Rica bracelet for me. We went to a restaurant afterwards for more Costa Rican cuisine. Then drove back to Heredia! A bunch of us decided to go to a coffee shop and ended up finding this really nice café which has the most amazing smoothies ever! Though it was interesting trying to translate things on the menu. :P

Seriously tired now, but it’s been a great day. First Spanish lessons tomorrow – I can finally learn to communicate with my host family! And Latin dance lessons should be interesting…considering I have three left feet! Oh well.

Pura vida :)

This is a photo I took of the main crater at Volcan Poas. Pretty cool!

And this is a photo of me next to the lagoon!

Monday 9th July 2012

It’s funny how I’ve only been here three days, yet walking to school in the morning already feels normal! Our first day of classes began with us being divided into groups depending on our level of Spanish. I don’t know any (apart from a few words I’ve picked up in the last couple of days!) so I’m in the beginner’s class. We’re covering the basics this week, and today we went over a lot of different topics. These included useful phrases, family members, colours, asking the price of something, directions, months and days, numbers and more! Had a Latin Dance lesson in the afternoon, which was interesting! Managed not to fall over, at least! Watched part of a Costa Rican film afterwards, and signed up for a trip on Wednesday. :) Also going to San Jose later this week. Exciting times! Went to my first Costa Rican bar tonight, too. I’m enjoying this, I have to say! Costa Rica’s awesome!

Tuesday 10th July 2012

Cold’s come back – damn my immune system! Felt like crap all day. :/ Managed to survive Spanish classes despite a killer headache. Today we looked at how to ask questions, conjugate verbs, the difference between the different verbs ‘to be’ (confusing!), some adverbs and adjectives. Hoping I’ll be able to put a sentence together soon! Unfortunately, didn’t help me much when I tried to buy ibuprofen! Had to use a translator – but at least I managed to get some. I have weird flu symptoms too. I suppose it might be dehydration - I don't think I've ever been this hot!

However, drafted an entire chapter of my novel! Thought I wouldn’t have any time for writing here, but I’m still inspired! :D

Wednesday 11th July 2012

Still feel crappy, but better than yesterday. In today’s lessons we looked at more verb comparatives, vocabulary and grammar. Can’t believe how much we’ve covered already! Wandered around town for a bit before heading back to the school for our cookery lesson, which was interesting (with my Mama Tica, too!). Then waited an hour, talking, for our trip to the Ram Luna restaurant near San Jose! Saw a beautiful sunset on the very long drive up into the mountains, through the non-moving city traffic. But it was worth it – we had a buffet, a traditional Costa Rican dance show, and fireworks! A fun evening :)

Thursday 12th July 2012

Another say of Spanish verbs and vocab. I’ve learnt quite a lot in a week! Though I think my years of learning French grammar have helped. :P Went into San Jose this afternoon and had a look around all the shops and markets, which was fun. Got some awesome tourist photos! Then we went back to Heredia, where we got absolutely drenched in a storm!

Last night with my host family. It’s weird thinking everyone else’ll be arriving tomorrow, and on Saturday we’ll all be going to our volunteer projects! I’ve two weeks without any contact with the outside world! No internet, no phone signal…Here’s hoping I like the jungle!

Friday 13th July 2012

Last day of Spanish lessons! Said goodbye to my Mama Tica before going to school for my last day! We went over some grammar before having a small quiz, then graduation! I have a certificate to prove I can speak some Spanish, haha. Well, I certainly know more than I did at the start of the week! Went to a café, then headed over to Hotel America to check in and drop off our luggage. Then we had the ISV Volunteer Project introductory talk and received our free T-shirts. We met our project leaders, who told us more about our projects! Mine sounds…more intense than I thought. I actually had to go and buy water shoes because apparently we need them (no one mentioned that before…). It took forever because a) I got completely lost, and b) nowhere seemed to sell them. And my incompetence with Spanish didn’t help! But I found some eventually and managed to get them in the right size. Well, two sizes too big, but I was desperate by this point. They were cheap, anyway! I also got some pens (keep losing them) and bin bags (because apparently our stuff might get wet on the boat to our project, and my bag’s not waterproof!). Then a group of us went to Pizza Hut for our last night together in Heredia!

A long journey ahead of us tomorrow! Sent last messages to everyone – I’ll be out of communication for a fortnight!

Part 2 to come tomorrow!

Monday, 13 August 2012

Hola Inglaterra!

Yes - I'm finally back in England! It's been an amazing month, but I'm glad to be back. Five weeks is a long time to be away! I'm currently recovering from jet lag and attempting to catch up with all the stuff I had to leave behind, such as writing! I actually finished the first draft of 'Darkness Watching' whilst I was on my volunteer project, as we had a lot of free time and there wasn't much to do beside read or play cards! No phone signal, no internet... no connection with the outside world. But it was certainly an experience to remember! I've seen and done so much in the last five weeks I can't even begin to describe it all, so I'll post the journal of my experiences once I've finished typing it!