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!

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