Friday, November 19, 2010

So Fast

Let's get real. I have not done this even remotely as frequently as I had originally intended. I apologize to any of you who were anxiously waiting for this to be posted on a more than an every, now and then basis.
So, here I am closing in on only one week left. Even as I typed that, I felt myself tense a little. I love this country so much. I have experienced things I never thought I would be able to do. I have had so many opportunities that I am so thankful for. God was really looking out for me when he put me down here. I have made some amazing friends, and I literally think I have the best family I could have gotten.
Along with all this, I have been trying to maximize all of the time I have left here. Essentially, that means constantly I want to adventure, as well as do all those things I have grown to love & want to do just one more time before I leave. All of this is somewhat exhausting, but I can say that I have loved every moment of being here. I definitely don't take it for granted that I am here.
I still have revelations of "wow, I really am living in Costa Rica" all the time. I look around me at the mountains and the beautiful skies and the crazy rainforest trees and I am reminded of how cool this really is.
[Update on the bucket list] I have now surfed, crossed a HUGE swinging bridge & went behind a waterfall.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Whole New World

I have been in Costa Rica for a little more than three months now, and I still feel like all the time I am seeing new things, even in places I have been multiple times before. I can appreciate so many things here, that I wonder if I would ever even notice in the states. Here adventures are so easy to have. I can hop on a bus and see where it goes, I can take a bus to the rainforest, or to the beach, or to a volcano all just to see what's there. I love this country and all that's inside it.
Even walking, it seem like I enter new worlds just with a turn of a corner. There are so many areas and different places to go and see. Each day I feel like I experience a whole new world.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Marking Things Off

This past week has truly flown by. Time seems to be in hyper-speed. I looked at my watch today and realized October is almost half way gone. It's a crazy thought. I still have so many things I hope to accomplish while I am here. I have had a list of things I want to do in my life since I was in high school. Granted, I have changed several of those things and I have accomplished some of those things since I first made my list, but I still have tons of things to do.
While I am here, I still have a few I am anxiously awaiting completing. A few of those things are: to see lava, to learn to surf and to go zip-lining through the rainforest. I have plans to do two of those three things, but I am looking for a way to mark off learning to surf also. Costa Rica is such an amazing country. I have three different locations to do these things that are important enough to me to have on a list, and ordinarily I would have to travel to three different countries or at least board a plane to accomplish these, but in Costa Rica, all are just a bus ride away. I love it. Hopefully, all those three can be accomplished and I can mark those off my list.
Today, I was actually planning on marking one more thing off my list: to take a train ride, but that didn't happen. My friends and I were ready to catch the train, but the train never actually came through. It was a little disappointing, but maybe there will be more time for that as well.
Also for the record, if you don't have a list, I would seriously encourage you to make one. Sometimes I tend to be a little excessive in my list making, but, this is something I would really encourage. When you accomplish something it is truly great. It also serves as such a motivation. If learn Spanish wasn't on my list, I may not even have ended up in a study abroad program. I could've been still back in Tennessee, not having the capability to mark off multiple things off my list all within the four months I am here. This is truly a fantastic experience.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I Spy!

I'm finding I live in somewhat of an I Spy book. I feel like along every turn there is something new to experience, and something new to see if I just look in the right spaces. I Spy books when you're little are something to pass the time more or less; something you could check out from the library and not actually have to read anything. It was an adventure, but often it took time to seek out the individual objects.
Here, it's the same way. San Jose, for instance, is not exactly what I would describe as a beautiful city. It is a city and it has lots of nooks and niches where really cool things can be found, but that is the catch, they have to be found. Walking around Central Avenue is not going to give you the best cultural experience. It will give you an experience, sure, but not the best. It's when I step off the main pedestrian avenue I find the small things that make this place great. Walking around the other day, I saw a home with drainage gutters shaped like hearts. I have seen the true hearts of people who are willing to help me when I have no idea where I am going. There are new things it seems around every corner. Often, when I walk around, I feel like I enter into new worlds. I find I can literally feel the changes of the neighborhoods. I just have to be ready for the changes. I have to be ready to spot the differences, and at the same time the similarities.
This weekend, my friend Sarah and I took our long awaited graffiti tour. Since we arrived in Costa Rica, we have been wanting to take a tour of the artist expressions painted along sides of buildings and walls. Here, graffiti is not like at home. When we see graffiti at home often it is an indication you are in a bad neighborhood, and you should probably leave quickly. The first change here is that it is legal. People submit their designs to the owner of whatever structure, where then they get approved and then painted. Of course, there are the abandoned buildings with graffiti plastered all along the edges, but overall, it is an accepted form of art, not a warning to guard your belongings.
Sarah and I embarked on our trip with bus money and not a clue as to where we were going. We headed off the bus when I looked out the window, pointed to graffiti and our anticipation took the best of us when we ran to the front of the bus, without pulling the string for a stop, and little recognition to anything other than a wall of graffiti off in the distance. We hoped off the bus, and then, we spent the next 9 hours walking around, looking for any kind of graffiti we could spot. We walked all through who knows where and we found graffiti that would literally boggle the brain and the eyes.
All these things are what you make of it. We found places I had no idea existed, and probably could not find them again. It was a great adventure, and who knows what all you can see when you're looking for it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Everyday Learning Experience

Normally, when I sit down to write, I have a head full of some adventure I have just experienced. This time, I have a bit of a different topic. I am writing this time about Spanish. I suppose it is kind of ironic to write about another language, but this is what I am setting out to do. Learning a language is a pretty difficult undertaking. When I go about my days here, I set off to learn something new, solely by being put in everyday situations. To learn a language in its entirety is an entirely different idea. It is hard. Possibly a lot harder than I expected. I strive to learn something new every time I step outside the door of my room. I can learn here in my house, as well as outside these walls.
As most of you would assume, I do not normally have this type of mindset when I step outside. Learning is not usually even ranked on the top ten when I leave the house at home, but here it is. I learn words almost everyday, and often I hear things that I have no clue what it means, but I love the experience all the same. I love hearing people answer the phone with "Alo" and I love hearing "Gracias" and "Con mucho gusto". Everyday experiences like getting to and from places on the bus and buying a snack at the store all have a newness to them that often contain a learning experience. Sometimes that experience is of culture and sometimes it is purely language, but either way, it becomes rewarding to do the simple things.
I love Spanish, and I love the experiences I am gaining everyday, even if they aren't all categorized as an adventure. The everyday life here is fun and exciting, even if it is nothing to write about.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The View From Up Here

Each day Costa Rica gains a little more of my love. Despite the fact the rain is inevitable and forms rushing rivers along the sides of the streets as well as in them, I still am in love.
This weekend, my Mom came down for a visit, so I got to head off to the beach, which is always great! Bonus, this weekend it was actually sunny for most of the time, so I enjoyed the hot weather of Jaco this weekend. Before Jaco, however, when I went to the airport to pick Mom up, I found possibly my calling for life. An airport picker upper person. I could people watch for hours!! Watching people watch for who they are waiting for, then when they think they see them, but actually don't. Then, they actually reunite or meet or whatever and it is a beautiful thing to watch if not awkward and ridiculous. I'm not sure what I'm changing my major to yet, but an airport picker upper is my future job, probably not with that exact title.
After we came back from Jaco, we became roving travelers because the hotel we were staying in had limited space. We had to change rooms every night from then on out, but I also realized I could be a nomad. I like the changes. I like taking in one space and then moving before you become too accustomed to it. Mom was able to meet all my friends from the program and my Tica family and see San Jose and UCR.
The Tuesday brought lots of adventures since it was the Eve of Independence Day here. Ana, my Tica sister, was running with the torch in a parade that day. We went to the parade through San Pedro and ended up at Ana's school where there was a carnival type thing with tons of food, people pretending to be statues, tons of fireworks and a torch of their own. All of it was really cool. Mom thought the statues were real and were always there, which made it really funny when she asked if they were always there, and my Mama Tica was pretending to poke them and ask them questions etc.
After the carnival and fireworks display, both my Moms, Ana and I went to this restaurant in Escasu that literally put the city in perspective. When you walk down the streets of San Jose, its much easier to see the bad. The trash and the dirty streets, the honking cars and the haze of pollution looming over the city are easily in view. The city from inside, is really nothing to look at. From up in the mountains though, the city is beautiful. The night air was clear and the lights were brilliant. The sight of far away fireworks celebrating the day further illuminated the vast lights of the city. It was truly beautiful. Naturally, my camera was dead, so I wasn't able to capture the beauty, but the picture would have been better in my memory anyway.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A List of Firsts

Fun fact about Costa Rica. The Jurassic Park movies were filmed here- on some islands.
This past weekend, as I ventured to Corcovado, I really did expect a T-Rex or a Raptor of some kind to come barreling out of the trees. It was beautiful. This past weekend, I saw whales, poisonous snakes, other snakes, frogs, lizards, sea turtles, dolphins, blow fish, monkeys, toucans, macaws and I’m sure something else I am forgetting. LIterally, my senses were in overdrive just trying to keep up.
We started this little adventure at the very early morning and all before lunch I had seen: gators (or maybe crocodiles, but I don't know the difference), the sunrise (yes it was that early), the beach, surfers, mangroves, been on a boat out of a river and into the ocean, mountains and I am not sure what else. All of it was just way amazing. All before lunch time. After lunch, a monkey had broken into our bungalow and stolen snacks and ransacked our place and we went on a hike through the rainforest, which was conveniently located right near the beach, and saw baby sea turtles awaiting their release.
The next day I embarked on many firsts for myself. I went further out into the ocean than I had ever been before to an island where we hiked to Costa Rican ruins. Before we arrived at the island though, our boat chased whales that were indescribable. We saw several snakes which can kill a human in less than 2 minutes with their bite. They were swimming all over the water. Ok, not all over, but we did see like 8 of them in the water that was the same water we would later be snorkeling in (also a first for me). Also, just to add to the element of danger of those snakes, the place we were staying was a 40 minute boat ride to the nearest town, which did not even include a clinic. There would be no hope for you. All of everything was just incredible.
It seems even to me now that when I type this out, the full effect is not given to the places I saw. Not to mention, the people who were our guides (boat & island) were possibly two of the nicest people ever. I feel like I have two great friends now in them. The whole trip was beyond belief. I was swarmed by monkeys, macaws threw fruits at me, bats flew at my face, I saw whales, and all this just breaches the surface. Those are the things that concrete words can be put to. The other things, like the mountains, the island, the rainforest and the ocean all in one place- those can't really be given justice only with words. Even the pictures I have do nothing for the place I have seen. I really wish I could've captured it better, but I am not sure anything short of seeing all the amazing beauty God created could do it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Through Tica Eyes

If ya'll didn't know, Costa Rican people are called Ticos. That is the first lesson of today. As for the rest of stuff, I decided to just share some information about what I see on a daily basis. Number 1. Driving around on the streets everywhere are Toyota Land Cruisers. They are the coolest cars ever! When asked what car I would be for an interview I said a Toyota Land Cruiser. They are so amazing. They come in a variety of colors and styles, which now it sounds like I am talking about fashion but really they are cars and I suppose I should really say models. Either way, their coolness factor is way high. I really want to own one. I should just drive back to the States come the end of November, and then I would have the coolest car ever made, and I would say my car came from Costa Rica, which is another element of the awesome scale. Number 2. I see countless rat tails on a daily basis. No, not the real tail of the little varmints, but the kind of hairstyle Luke Skywalker had. I don't know if they are trying to use the force or what, but guys and girls alike rock the rat tails. Some are braided, some have beads, some are a dread; either way rat tails are not a thing of the past or just from movies from really far in the future, or the past or whatever fictitious world Star Wars was made in. Number 3. I see crazy drivers. The people driving here are insane. The honking of horns is like its own language. I hate when people honk. Here it's like a way to communicate all kinds of things. People honk to tell them to go thru the stop sign, they tell them to go in front of them, they tell pedestrians not to walk because they will mow you over, the taxis honk to tell you they are coming so if you want to get in. It is truly a language all of it's own. It is really crazy. Also, if there is a line of buses and one is not going, every single bus honks and ever car following in that line the entire time. It is insane. I hope all these things have given you a little insight into just the average day of a Tica. Well, me trying to infiltrate the Tica world.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Doing Big Things

First for updates. Today is the one week anniversary of living with my Tico family. They are great. I feel like it has been a lot longer that I have been here in CR. We have done lots of things though. One of the highlights was a late night run to Taco Bell for fiesta fries. Yes, fries at Taco Bell. I think I have tried more new foods in this past week than I ever have before. Everything is delicious! Things from the US that we have that are good, multiply that by deliciousness, freshness & better, and that is the equation for the food down here. I now like coffee. I hate coffee in the states, but here, it's incredible. That horrible after taste thing doesn't exist. The bread here is like mana from heaven that I eat for breakfast along with fruit that is wonderful. I wish I had more adjectives for the food here because really it is incredible. Classes have started, and they meet on a weird schedule for me. They only meet once a week, aside from Spanish which meets everyday. And here, everyday means Mon.-Thurs. because I don't have class on Fridays. That is a fabulous thing I could get used to. This weekend I think some friends and I are heading to Manuel Antonio, which is a beach next to the rainforest. Basically, it is the best of both worlds. I supposedly will see monkeys & sloths roaming around in trees as I sit on the decks of restaurants there. I watched Ice Age last night on my computer just to see Sid the Sloth, so I would know what to look for this weekend. It should be, from everything I have heard a weekend filled with lots of sun and lots of pictures.
As for the address that some of ya'll keep looking for, here it is...
If you wanna send stuff make sure you put on the package somewhere "FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY- NO COMMERCIAL VALUE"
And, just for the record things take about 2-3 to arrive here.
Seccion de Movilidad Estudanil
Ofincina de Asuntos Internaccionales y Coooperacion Externa
Universidad de Costa Rica
Cuidad Universitaria Rodrigo Facio
Apartado postal: 11501-2060
San Pedro, Montes de Oca
San Jose, Costa Rica

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Life in the Big City

So here I am in San Jose, Costa Rica. I have been here for 2 days (almost), and so far I am highly exhausted. I am safe and sound in my hotel room, and I will be meeting my family tomorrow. (They won't actually be living inside the city) We have had orientations and we will continue to have them all this week. We have walked around the city a lot. As I walked I noted several things about this city. There are birds EVERYWHERE. Pigeons are not a joke running around like ants do at home. They are everywhere!!! I hate birds for all of you who have somehow missed this in my life. I have jumped from them and have ducked as they fly around just above my head. A bird pooped right in front of me as I was walking and that will just not be ok with me if something from the sky drops & hits me. I think I may end up drop kicking a bird by the end of this trip. Next thing. There is NO DEW down here. I have a minor liking to Diet Mountain Dew & there is not a Dew to be found down here. They have Pepsi products, but not Dew. Bad news. I may or may not write on here again this week mainly just because I may or may not have internet in my home when I get there tomorrow afternoon. Anyway- Over & Out from CR.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Getting There

In case you are really not up to date on my life, I am studying abroad in Costa Rica for the fall semester. I will be leaving on Aug. 2. I really leave on that day before so I can get to Atlanta to catch the plane. Basically, I am going to start (and try to continue to blog each week) so that I can keep everyone informed. Here is what's going on now...
I leave the country in less than one week. Somewhat a weird thought. I have never been out of the country and it's kinda hard to think about something that you never have experienced before. I haven't ever left Knoxville other than vacations and such, so experiencing a new culture, new language, and new people all at once is definitely a lot to take hold of at once. Packing for such an experience is no easy task either. Thinking about 4 months and what all you want to wear and what will be necessary in that time frame is interesting. You have no idea what you're going to be doing/feeling/experiencing, and yet you have to have clothing and various other things packed. I feel like I am having to prepare for any type of situation that could arise, but I don't really ever prepare for things. Then, I have to plan ahead 4 months, which I have never been known to plan more than a few hours in advance. All of it is... I don't want to say overwhelming, but different. I feel like the hardest thing right now is there are just not enough hours in a day to do all I have to get done.
I will get all of ya'll the address of where to send things and more details about how to send stuff cause I know several people have been wanting that sort of thing. Also, everyone should add me on Skype. My Skype name is valen.emmert If ya'll need more information just let me what you need.
PS- before I leave the country... ya'll feel free to give me a call and just remember to keep me and the fam in your prayers and hope that we stay sane as everything kinda comes together here in the end.