The nice thing about San Jose is that it’s central located and therefore easy to travel to other cities in Costa Rica, like Monteverde. On April 7th I took an early morning bus to Monteverde (which means green mountain) to go to my 6 weeks volunteer job at a Butterfly garden. The trip took 5 to 6 hours, mostly because of a long dirt road going up the mountain. This is the only way to get to Monteverde and it was a slow hard climb for the bus. Once in the centre I got picked up by one of the owners of the gardens and he showed me around in the small town called Santa Elena. Everything was lush and green. After spending some time in warmer climates the weather even felt cold to me.
Arriving at the Butterfly Garden I remember being stunned by the amazing view over the Golf of Nicoya at reception. I got welcomed by the staff and other volunteers and they showed me the volunteer ’casita’. A small self made cottage made out of wood, with solar power giving room for four volunteers. The next day I got introduced to the gardens (four in total), got a tour and had to start studying right away. The idea was that I would be giving tours as soon as possible.
You think butterflies are amazing? Try insects and arachnids! A whole new world opened up for me. What an amazing creatures! The more I learned about them, the more comfortable I felt with them. What grossed me out at first became interesting, cute even. As a guide you have to pick up some of the animals to show to the visitors, so I had to practice that of course. Not the venomous ones like the tarantula or scorpions, but the walking sticks, giant cockroach (named Timmy) and other insects. I was surprised how fast I was absorbing all the information, it was so interesting! I went along when the owners gave tours to learn from them, studied a lot, used flashcards to memorize all the butterflies, insects and plants and observed everything. On my third day I was ready to give my first tour and it was awesome. The more I did it, the more confident I got, the more fun it was. I enjoyed it and seeing the tips I got from visitors I did a pretty good job too :)
Little girl drew me in the guestbook
As volunteers we worked 6 days a week, between 7:45 am till around 5 pm. In exchange we got full room and board. We started the day with daily chores, like refilling the hummingbird feeders, garden checkup, cleaning toilets, arranging flower bouquets (food for the butterflies) etc. Sometimes days were busy with lots of visitors, some days the opposite. On quiet days I tried to study and learn more about Costa Rican arthropods and plants.
On my days off I explored the small towns Santa Elena and Monteverde (they are next to each other). As a volunteer I mostly got a discount at some places like the Bat Jungle (must see!) and Nature Parks & Reserves like the Cloud Forrest. I did a lot of hikes, saw beautiful nature and a lots of animals (10 different kinds of hummingbirds!).
The casita where we lived in was a special experience too. In the area of the gardens are a lot of cockroaches and scorpions. Every day you had to check your bedding, clothes and shoes for cockroaches and scorpions, because they like to hide in them. Couple of times I had cockroaches in my bed during my sleep, walking over my face and waking me up. In the beginning it creeped me out, but after a while I got used to it. I had too. And now I can’t even kill them anymore, I know too much about them. They are fascinating. I can pick them up for you and let them walk over my arms and hands, no problem ;) One of the owners even puts Timmy (the giant cockroach) in her mouth to demonstrate visitors that they aren’t a vector of disease (and to freak them out of course). But I have my limits. Not because of Timmy, mostly because he has been in other peoples mouths..
Being a tour guide in the Butterfly Garden was an amazing experience. I actually learned something and I notice I still can point out some butterflies and insects to people and tell about them :) Something I will take with me for the rest of my life.
See for more photo’s here & here or on my Facebook (album). And on my Pinterest I have a selection of the animals I have seen in Costa Rica. Check the board here (photo’s are not my own).
Scorpion moms piggy-back ride their babies on their back.
Cockroaches can live up to several weeks without a head. Eventually they die because of hunger.
Tarantulas aren’t lethal. They use their venom only on their prey. There are no records of any human ever being killed by a Tarantula.
Same for scorpions (the ones in Costa Rica though). Their stings only hurt (like a bee sting).
Know why the Monarch butterfly is called the Monarch? Because of the golden crown on the chrysalis (see photo)
For some years I’m practicing Yoga and meditation. My grandfather (93) practiced and taught Yoga for 40 years, so it has been around me my whole life. So when I heard about this 2500 year old meditation technique called Vipassana it had my fully attention. A course of ten days living in silence, no interaction with others, no reading and writing allowed. Being focused on meditation, getting thrown back at yourself.
So what is Vipassana?
Vipassana (insight meditation) is the ultimate expression of Socrates’ dictum, “know thyself.” The Buddha discovered that the cause of suffering can actually be erased when we see our true nature. This is a radical insight. It means that our happiness does not depend on manipulating the external world. We only have to see ourselves clearly— a much easier proposition (but in the ultimate sense, knowing oneself with clarity reveals there is no permanent self, as the Buddha taught).
Vipassana meditation is a rational method for purifying the mind of the mental factors that cause distress and pain. This (…) technique does not invoke the help of a god, spirit or any other external power, but relies on our own efforts.
Vipassana is taught all over the world. When I heard about it I did a little research and found out there was a Vipassana course in Costa Rica exactly at the time I was in the country. Like it was meant to be.. I signed up, got accepted and in March 2015 I went to San Ramon, Costa Rica.
Every day we woke up at 4am for meditation. The meditation sittings were divided all over the day. A total of 11 hours a day. Some sittings took an hour, some 2 or more. Most were held in the meditation hall, some in the sleeping dorm (on your own bed) if the option was given. There were breaks for breakfast, lunch, dinner and rest. There was a teacher who guided the meditations in person and some sittings were guided with audio tapes by the main Vipassana teacher S.N. Goenka, where he taught and explained the technique. In the evenings there were discourses by Goenka on audio tape as well, followed by the opportunity to ask questions at our teacher (the only moment we were allowed to talk). The men and women had their own manager for questions and help outside the meditation hall. They assisted the teacher as well.
The course was given on a small kind of farm. The men and women areas were separated. In the sleeping area many bunkbeds were cramped up in the small space. Which turned out difficult sometimes to walk around, because you had to avoid (physical) contact at all times. That’s a challenge when you have to pass each other in a small alley between the beds. Some eye contact couldn’t be avoided.
We had to bring some stuff in advanced, like a meditation cushion. When I left for my travel in January 2015 I didn’t knew yet if I would be accepted for the course and a meditation cushion is not an item you want to carry around in your backpack all the time. So I didn’t had one and had to improvise. First I was given a big couch cushion by the organization. It was too high and too soft and I couldn’t find a way to sit longer than 5 minutes. So I tried to sit on clothes, folded up in a pile. Also not a succes. I asked the manager if I could borrow one of her cushions. But she explained that the teacher didn’t allowed it to use other peoples stuff. This had to do with other people’s energy that can be projected on you through that item. Petting the cat and dog on the farm fell in the same category by the way. There were some extra blankets available, so I rolled two of them up. It wasn’t perfect but better than the rest I tried. I was still struggling to find a comfortable position (as far that’s possible). My neighbor saw my struggle and offered me some of her pillows. So sweet of her. All of this without talking of course. I crossed a rule, but I could finally focus on other things than my sitting position. So it was worth it.
It’s strange what your body does when you sit still for some time. Even the soft blankets felt like concrete on my butt eventually, which hurts after a while. And my mind went everywhere. Sometimes I didn’t knew if I slipped away in a sleepy dreamy state of mind or was awake. The first couple of days I was constantly tired and in pain. My legs, back, neck and shoulders hurt. The pain was so dominating it was the only thing I could think about. Every minute during a meditation I thought to myself: what the hell am I doing here! But I kept on going and stayed.
On the fourth day the hard part really started. Three times a day we had to sit for an hour without moving. My body started to hurt after 10 minutes already. After I think 30 minutes the pain in my legs and back were so severe I thought I couldn’t handle it anymore. But I stay seated, didn’t move at all. My mind was going crazy, my thoughts went everywhere and the pain was horrible. The hour past and I was in shock. This was hell. I waited for everybody to leave the meditation hall, stood up and hobbled to the exit. Outside I started to cry. Because of the pain, of the fear I felt, the panic, all the emotions and other things I didn’t understood. I cried my eyes out. One of the volunteers came up to me and asked me if I was ok. I surprised myself by answering that I was and that I was processing all these emotional things. She said this was normal and I just experienced one of the hardest parts. When I got through it it got better she said. She wasn’t allowed to speak to me, but I was happy that she did. It helped me a lot. The pain in my leg didn’t leave though, so the next evening during the question hour I asked the teacher about it. He told me that you should try to sit still for an hour, but it shouldn’t be a torture. So when the pain feels like it will damage something, you are allowed to slowly move to an other position. Thank god! After a couple of days things went slightly better.
And then there was the first time I managed to sit for more than an hour straight. And later again and again. That’s where I started to understand the technique and all the hard work I had been doing. Going through that hell suddenly made sense. My mind opened up. Questions I was asking myself for some time came up and I was able to answer some of them. About emotional things, past loves, painful friendships I never was able to let go of, other relationships. About my life, my travel. You learn to observe. Your thoughts, feelings, emotions and your body with its physical sensations. And the trick is to obverse it without judgement.
One thing I found really fascinating was the fact how old and wise this technique is. A lot of times questions came up during the day, questions I wanted to ask the teacher later that evening. Before the question hour we had to listen to a discourse of Goenka on audio tapes. It happened a lot that my questions were answered in the discourse that same day, as if my mind got read! This technique is so old and taught to so many people during the centuries, they know what kind of proces almost everyone is going through. And likely what kind of questions most people get. Fascinating!
When you live with 25 other women in a small space while you are dealing with your own emotional and physical journey you can get agitated about your surroundings. You’re so focussed on yourself you can get super sensitive. Well I did. A smell can be to much, a sound to loud, someones energy to intense. While waiting in line for the toilet I got really irritated by the way and sound how one of the ladies was brushing her teeth (seriously?!). Small unimportant things like that suddenly felt huge. I was standing there, eaten myself up on the inside. And for what? I tried to use these situations (and there were a couple) as test cases by trying not to get dragged into that emotion. A challenge.
Food was made by the volunteers, people who did the course as well in the past. It was vegetarian and delicious. But we only got a full meal for breakfast and lunch. For dinner we got a piece of fruit and tea. I can eat a lot and I was starving in the evenings. That piece of fruit was far from enough for me. In the mornings I had to hold myself for not throwing myself onto my breakfast because I was so hungry. So I got creative with that piece of fruit in the evening. In Costa Rica it’s a custom to put chia seeds and linseed in your tea, so those seeds were available. When we got a banana for dinner I mashed it, added some herbal tea to make it squishy and lots of chia and linseeds to make it feel I had some sort of dinner I could eat with cutlery. When having an apple I sprinkled it with the seeds as well. It was also the first time in my life I eat a whole apple with core, seeds and all. Same for the hard middle part of a pineapple or the peel of a mango. The breakfast and lunch were good meals, they didn’t let us starve or something. But my body wasn’t used to not eat in the evening and screamed for food. During meditation I sometimes even dreamed of pizza, sushi or dinner parties.
On the last day we were allowed to talk again. Everyone exploded. Think about it: you live together for 10 days, you get to know a lot about each other. The way people live, sleep, eat. It’s really intimate. You hear each other snore, farting, burping, everything. But you don’t hear each others voices, don’t know what kind of person they are. Suddenly there are voices and a lot of them at the same time. I felt relieve, energy, love and happiness around me. It was amazing talking to so many beautiful people from so many different countries, hearing their stories. Intens. And some had done the course more then 8 times!
Some people I met say Vipassana changed their life. I don’t want to go that far, but it was mind changing for sure. I expected the course to be more difficult on the mental part, but in the end it was the physical part that was the hardest for me. Vipassana was the hardest, most painful thing I did in my life voluntarily. I had to go through my own little hell, but I’m glad I did it. It gave me tools I can work with for the rest of my life. I try to meditate every day, although that can be a challenge while traveling. Next year I want to do my second Vipassana course and be a volunteer as well.
The biggest lessons I’ve learned
This will change. Everything is temporally. This is a big one for me. When experience difficult times in my life I mostly had a ‘this is the end of the world’ or ‘this will be like this for the rest of my life’ feeling. A lot of times I got stuck in these emotions and it made me miserable. Vipassana taught me that everything will pass, good and bad. Now I can easier get myself out of the emotion.
You are the only one who can make you happy or unhappy. Only you have that power over yourself, not your friends, not your partner, family or surroundings.
As it is, not how you want it to be. Things are who they are. Observe it, don’t fight it. You feel angry because things don’t go your way? Then you feel angry. Observe it, it will pass. Everything comes and goes. There is nothing wrong with feeling angry, just don’t get dragged and get stuck in it. When having strong emotions I used to ask myself all the time: why am I feeling like this? And I started analyze myself till I felt depressed. Now I learned to accept my emotions better by observing them and not to play the phycologist on myself all the time.
Having the trust in myself that everything will be ok. What is the worst thing that can happen? This goes along with my travel in general. I can stress and worry too much about my future, while I should focus on the present more. But I’m still here, I always have found a way to survive. A lesson of trust I’m still learning, but the beginning is there.
I love myself more then I used to. The self-hatred is getting less and less and Vipassana helped a lot with that.
On March 24 I had to be in San Ramon (Costa Rica) for a meditation course (Vipassana). I left Bocas del Toro on March 21, but this time I planned to go with local transportation.
At 7:30 am the water taxi brought me to Almirante where I had to catch a taxi to Changuinola. It was too obvious I was a tourist so the taxi driver ask a ridiculous price. Had to bargain a lot. In Changuinola I had to catch a bus to the border. Once arrived in Changuinola an other taxi driver came straight at us and telling me that there were no buses driving anymore to the boarder since two months. I knew that was a lie, but my Spanish wasn’t good enough to discus this with the guy. Next to that I had no idea where I was in the small town and where the buses were leaving from. I had the feeling the two taxi drivers worked together and that I probably was being scammed. But I didn’t felt like finding an other cab or asking people where the buses were leaving from. So I bargained again and other taxi driver brought me to the boarder for an OK price. At the border the same hustle again with different windows, stamps, paying taxes, proofing I had a ticket out of the country within three months. From there I took a local bus directly to San José, which took 5 hours.
Total trip took 8 hrs
I planned to stay in San José for a couple of days to do some administration and to prepare myself for the meditation course. I stayed in a really nice hostel in the centre, close to most of all museums. I only went to the Jade museum, which was too expensive in my opinion ($15). But nevertheless I was happy to see some old cultural things again and enjoyed my visit there.
For the rest San José isn’t that special and people told me that in advanced. The city is dirty, crowded and doesn’t have much architectural culture (or other old history). There is no colonial influence. Costa Rica got skipped in that time, because there wasn’t much to get for the Spanish. Streets look alike, lots of ugly broken concrete and everything feels poorly maintained (like walking through poor neighborhoods all the time). But in the end I liked the city more than expected. Nice to be back in a city and feel a livelily vibe again. And close to the hostel was some street art, which I loved. Nice to see a little bit of art as well. Didn’t saw much of the rest of the city though, which was fine. I took my time for my administration and stuff.
When I started my trip I planned to travel for only three months, but in San José I decided to reschedule my flight. I was doing a good job with my money and if I found some more volunteer work I definitely could hold on for some more months. So I added three more months to my travel (6 months in total), with no idea where to go next. Just one day before I left to the meditation course I got a phone call from a butterfly garden in Monteverde. Couple of weeks before I had contact with them about volunteer work, but they were full at that time. The owner told me that there was an emergency opening and asked me if I was available and how fast I could come their way for a two month training and volunteer-ship. There I had my answer! The months April and May were covered :)
Not all banks accept my debit and credit card. That’s because I have MasterCard, not Visa. Bank Nacional and Scotia Bank work for me. So be aware of that, especially when you visit smaller towns in Costa Rica. Make sure you have cash with you
I had to visit a medical clinic to get a vaccine shot and was surprised how clean, well organized and friendly everything was. I understood that a lot of people from the States come to Costa Rica for the good and cheap medical care.
Allergic to animals? Every hostels I have been to on my travel has animals. Mostly cats and dogs.
To get from Puerto Viejo to Bocas del Toro (Panama) you can get local busses (a.k.a. chicken bus), but I decided to take a tourist shuttle. Little bit more expensive, but easier. You have to get off a couple off times, cross the boarder by foot, pay taxes at different places, so this looked the best option at that moment.
With others I’ve met in the hostel in Puerto Viejo we left in the morning and the shuttle brought us to the border (called Sixaola) where we had to get off. We had to pay taxes to get out of Costa Rica first. The boarder itself is an old looking bridge, which you have to cross by foot. It was raining and the bridge was slippery, with big openings between the planks. I enjoyed the walk. Something like this you never see at home :) I was warned for this bridge though. Yes you had to be careful where you walked, but it wasn’t that bad like some said.
Watch your step on the border bridge
To get into Panama we had to pay taxes again (couple of dollars) at a tiny little office. And when we thought we were done, wrong, we had to go to another (almost hidden) window, somewhere way out off the route to get a temporary 3 month Visa. That was the nice thing of traveling with the shuttle; a guy guiding us through all of this. At the window I had to prove I had a ticket out of the country within three months. They can be strict about that. Luckily I had. Sticker and stamp in my passport and ready to get on the Panama road.
After a drive of not even 2 hours (I think) our next stop was Almirante to catch a water taxi to Bocas del Toro. Small little boats, boats that sink once in a while (not kidding!). But I didn’t know that at that time (during my 3 week stay in Bocas it happend two times a boat with tourists and all their stuff had sank).
Water taxi to Bocas
Nice trip over the water, crossing the islands, houses and local boats. Seeing the ‘skyline’ of Bocas reminded me of Bonaire, with the bright colored houses and blue water. Not even a couple of months ago I shouted that I never wanted to live on a small island again, but Bocas surprisingly felt familiar in a good way.
The hostel/Spanish school where I stayed felt good right away. So good that I spontaneously asked the manager if he needed a volunteer to stay for a while. He came back at me the day after that he did. In exchange I got a free place to stay and some Spanish classes, starting after the free week of classes I came for.
But after a week I started to feel bad. End of the day I was lying in bed with a high fever (39.6 Celsius degrees) and a terrible diarrhea. Fortunately the fever dropped the next day, but I stayed sick for a couple of days more. Luckily I couldn’t have been in a better place than in that hostel. So many people were helping and caring for me. People did groceries for me, gave me some of their medicines they brought on their trip for diarrhea and stuff. It’s terrible when you’re feeling alone while being sick on your trip. So happy that that wasn’t the case for me!
How did I got sick? I still don’t know.. Maybe something I ate, or maybe I drank tap water by accident. If your stomach is not used to it, try not to drink the tap water in Bocas (other places in Panama I don’t know). There were some people (not locals) who drank it and were fine. But during my stay the cleaning lady (local) ended up in the hospital because of a nasty stomach infection by drinking the tap water. Just saying…
Bocas is beautiful and lots of surfing is going on. It’s an group of islands together. The main island (where I stayed) is called Isla Colón. It’s really touristy and a party island, which doesn’t has my preference. There is a lot of scuba diving going on as well, but I didn’t wanted to spend money on it. That I want to save for a place that can equal Bonaire (which is in the top 3 of best diving places in the world). The beaches are beautiful. Only you have to get a (water) taxi or bike to get there every time, which can be expensive. The whole island is expensive though.
The hostel was mostly the reason to stay. It felt safe, like a home with great people and not a party mentality like most others. Next to the volunteer work (helping out in the hostel, doing some graphic designing) and Spanish classes I didn’t do much. Went to some of the beaches on the other islands, but next to that not much. Just hanging out in the hostel with others or alone. It was the vibe I think, because more people were caught in this chilling-doing-nothing vibe. It was great :)
I left Bocas on March 21 because I signed up for a 10 day meditation course earlier in January in the San José area. My plan was to return to Bocas after and continue the volunteer work. But things went a little bit different ;)
In Panama you can pay with dollars and balboa’s. The Panamanian bolboa has the same worth as the dollar, they are linked to each other (their coins even look a like).
When going to Bocas take enough cash with you. It happens that the ATM runs empty, especially in the weekends. There is only one ATM on the island.
I only visit this small part of Panama, but the Panamanians seem to be more aggressive about making money from tourists, are less customer friendly and I felt to watch my back all the time (much more than in Costa Rica). But again, I only visited a small part of Panama.
After spending some days at the Pacific coast I wanted to see the Caribbean side too. On the morning of February 24th I left Turrialba to get the bus to Puerto Viejo. First bus was to Siquirres (2 hrs). In the bus I sat next to an old man who smelled like he had bathed in alcohol that morning. Sometimes he secretly pulled out a plastic bag with a bottle to take a sip, checking his surrounding if nobody saw him drinking. But he was a friendly guy and we tried to talk a little bit, as far as my Spanish allowed it.
In Siquirres I had to wait for a while to get the next bus to Limón, which gave me time for a lunch and toilet break. To Limón took 1 hr and there I had to wait 45 minutes. The buses so far were quite nice and comfortable. The bus from Limón to Puerto Viejo (1,5 hrs) wasn’t. The bus was decrepit and the driver seemed to be in a big hurry. He stepped on the gas a lot on poorly roads full of potholes. The bus was shaking, hauling and sounded like parts were falling off every time he hit a pothole. Made me I got ejected and shaken out of my seat, others too. It was so unrealistic that I couldn’t stop laughing in myself. This video gives a small impression.
In total the trip took 6,5 hrs
I hadn’t booked a hostel in advanced in Puerto Viejo, so I ended up in a not so nice hostel I left immediately the next day. Via via I heard about Hotel Puerto Viejo, which was more a hostel then a hotel. But when you spent more than two nights you get a private room for only $12 a night. And I was really lucky with mine! I had to climb this cute little stairs, had a two person bed all for myself and everything was open with screens against mosquitos. It felt like my own little tree house. If you don’t expect too much the hostel is a nice, simple place with a surf and backpacking atmosphere. The whole town of Puerto Viejo is like that by the way. Relaxed and easy going. I miss being on a (snow-, windsurf- or wake) board, so being in a surf town I had to take my first wave surf lesson of course. Went pretty good and I loved it!
The beaches in the area of Puerto Viejo are gorgeous, especially the ones more far away from the town (needed a bike to get there) like Playa Punta Uva. Saw lot’s of monkeys and some sloths (even one with a baby) in town and along the way.
Although Puerto Viejo is a wonderful place which you have to see when you have the chance, I didn’t felt good there. But that was mostly because of myself. I was struggling with a lot of emotions, doubting about a lot. I felt an energy block holding me back. It made me feel insecure, alone and sometimes really afraid. But a yoga class changed that. After this class I suddenly enjoyed a lot more and started to realize what an amazing thing I had done and am doing; quitting my job, selling my things and go traveling with a limited budget. I felt energy flowing again and suddenly I started to meet special people, heard wonderful stories and had great conservations. I had blocked myself and therefor a lot around me as well. Funny how that works. When I look back at it that moment was the point where my travel really began.
Still Puerto Viejo wasn’t the place for me to stay too long. In an earlier post I mentioned that my first week of Spanish lessons in Turrialba turned out not to be so good. The owner of the school gave me a free week of lessons in return. The Spanish school/ hostel has 5 different locations in Costa Rica (Turrialba, Puerto Viejo) and in Panama (Bocas del Toro, Boquete and Panama City). Although I could have taken the lessons in Puerto Viejo, one of the schools in Panama was also close by (couple of hours away). It wasn’t on my travel planning (actually I don’t have a plan at all) to go to Panama, but I did. I set my plans on Bocas del Toro :)
There are no big central busstations in bigger towns and cities in Costa Rica. No central locations where all buses leave and arrive (only in small towns, with only one busstation). They are all divided over town. For example San José. If you want to go to Turrialba, you need to go to an other part of town than when you want to go to Monteverde. You really have to know where they are located, but in my experience taxi drivers mostly know.
When you want to charge your credit on your Costa Rican phone number (in my case Kölbi), don’t buy a card and try to charge yourself. It didn’t work for me, even with help from a local. Others told me the system doesn’t work most of the time and that it’s better to charge your credit directly online. Ask in the store where you buy your credit, they will do it directly for you.
Where other things in Costa Rica are pretty expensive, calling and mobile internet (3G) are cheap. I have a prepaid card and I charge my credit so now and then with 1000 Colones ($1,80). It gives me the freedom to check Google maps when I’m on the road and if I switch off my mobile data when I’m not using it (and not check my e-mail or Facebook everyday) the credit will last for a couple of weeks.
With some people I have meet via the Spanish school I went to Guanacaste on February 18th. Brian (US) had a car and with his daughter, her boyfriend and dog Sampson we went on the road towards the North West Pacific Ocean.
To avoid traffic jam we left Turrialba at 4:30 am. I was amazed how many people were on the road already so early in the morning.
Traffic around Catargo and San José was a bit crazy, with crazy drivers.. And unbelievable busy for such an early hour! But when we left San José behind us traffic cleared up and so did the weather.
Costa Rica is a fascinating country. Costa Rica’s territory possesses approximately 6% of the Earth biodiversity. Driving from the mountains out of Turrialba to the North West the surroundings changed fast and many times. From 19 Celsius degrees in the mountains (green, trees, jungle) to 32 towards the coast (sun, dry, flat landscape). Which made the drive anything but boring. Lot to see!
Trip took us about 6 hours, traffic jams included.
Brian rented a really nice house in Santa Cruz. Next coming days we explored the area, beaches, night life etc. Not far from us was the town Tamarindo, also called Tamagringo by locals. In Latin America the word ‘gringo’ is used to refer to an English-speaking foreigner, especially a North American. After you’ve been to Tamarindo you understand why. Lot’s of US tourists.
The beaches were beautiful. And empty if you drove a little bit further. Most of the time we had a whole (big) beach alone for the five of us.
Brian’s daughter and her boyfriend had to catch a flight back home at the 23th at 6am in Alajuela/ San José. So we drove back on the 22th to Alajuela and checked in a hostel which was only 10 minutes away from the airport by car. Next day we dropped them off and continued back to Turrialba.
We got a little bit lost in the mountains, which was actually pretty nice. A nice trip through small local towns.
It was a fun trip in general, but I prefer taking the bus. It might sound strange but for some reason I feel safer in a big bus in Tico traffic than in a car. When you’re considering to go driving in Costa Rica and you don’t feel confident enough to drive in crazy traffic and/or you aren’t a bit aggressive my advise would be take a bus ;)
Oeps, time goes so fast! Last post was more than a month ago.. I’ll try to update some more in the next coming weeks.
In the weekend of January 31th I joined a white water rafting/ camping trip through the jungle together with a group. We got dropped of with our guide to walk down to the river (rio Pacuare). A nice walk where our guide told us a lot about plants, animals, bugs and so on. On our walk we saw a Strawberry poison dart frog, which was really lucky according to our guide.
Down at the river our rafts (two) were waiting for us. Now I have to say I didn’t went on this trip for the rafting. Actually I’m not that fond of rafting. Some years ago I had a bad experience which scared me a lot. So I was a little bit afraid, but I didn’t want to miss the beautiful nature, waterfalls and a night sleeping in the jungle. So I conquered my fear and went along.
IT WAS AWESOME! What a stunning nature! Between the rafting we sometimes stopped to walk up on waterfalls, swim in natural pools, have lunch next to the river or just relax in the sun on the rocks.
In the afternoon we went to our camp. There were tents on plateaus (against bugs and animals) and a big open kitchen. What a great spot! Walking through the jungle I felt really good. For a long time I thought I was a city girl, but after this experience I know for sure I need nature around me. And I mean real nature, not the Dutch kind. At night all these fire flies lighted up. Never saw something like that, it was beautiful.
Next morning breakfast waited for the group, made by our guides. As I said in my previous blogpost I don’t drink coffee in the morning. Luckily someone else didn’t as well, so one of the guide went searching for wild lemon grass. He found some and cooked it into a tea. That was the best tea I’ve drank in a long time!
After breakfast and breaking up camp we continued down the river in the rafts. This part of the river was less quiet than the day before, with rapids in class 4 (wiki says that’s an advanced level by the way). On quiet parts there were times we could jump out the raft to swim. We went under waterfalls, saw stunning nature and learned a lot about the surroundings. I’ve seen so many different animals only in two days: birds (lots of birds!), frogs, toads, beetles, ants (big ones! Black with yellow spots), spiders, fish, lizards, dragonflies.
I’m still not over my fear of rafting. In a tough rapid someone fell out of the boat and a other moment the boat almost flipped over in total. Didn’t like that. You fall in heavy swirling water with rocks all around you. So not a nice and relaxing swim. And their was a person in our raft that had a hard time following instructions of our guide/ instructor. And believe me you don’t want somebody like that in your boat during difficult rapids.. But I surveyed and overall I’m really glad I did it :) The beautiful nature was more than worth it. But you’re not going to see me in a raft soon again!
When you rub some certain stones against each other with some water you get a sort of clay paint. Good for your skin or to paint warrior color’s on your face
Always check your shoes, clothes and bedding before use in the jungle. The chance animals are hiding in it is big. In the morning I found a whole nest of baby ants in my shoe.
Apparently fire flies come in different colors. I only saw one kind, hope to see more!
PS: While I was writing this blogpost last week the Turrialba volcano erupted (12-03)! San José Airport was (or still is) closed because of it. Strange idea I was so close to this volcano for 3,5 weeks (I’m now in Panama, more about that later).
Saturday January 24 I paid a visit to the waterfall in the small town Aquiares with three other girls from the hostel. We took a taxi to the highest point in town and had to ask and search for the small and hidden trail to the top of the waterfall. The trail was tiny, slippery and steep and first I thought it was a bit dangerous. But it was more than worth it! What an amazing spot. It had a natural pool to swim in and the place was magical. The hike back down was beautiful too. Awesome day.
Last week a new group joined the hostel. A traveling classroom they’re called. Great concept. In one month the classroom visits four different places in Panama and Costa Rica where they follow Spanish classes and can do local activities. The group was diverse with different nationalities. But with all these people the hostel was too busy for my taste. So I was happy to go to my host family on Sunday 25th. With no good understanding of Spanish my first evening with them was really intens. But the family is very kind, friendly and patient. The family consists out of Marvin (father), Anna (mother), Karol (oldest daughter of 26), Santiago (Karol’s husband), Yosalin (youngest daughter of 20) and their dogs Bruno and Balto. Yosalin, Karol and Santiago speak a bit English, but we speak mostly Spanish. I understand a lot more Spanish after only some days. But speaking… not there yet ;)
I like living with the family, they make me feel welcome (but I still feel like a guest). I have my own room. Breakfast and dinner are included. A traditional dish in Costa Rica is Gallo punto (rice and black beans). They eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I thought: rice and beans? Ugh, boring.. But I really like it. Herbs, some vegetables, garlic, salt. Lots of flavors. For breakfast it can be served with a fried egg or baked tortilla with cheese and banana (love that one!) and for lunch & dinner with meat, potatoes, other vegetables and more black beans (frijoles negros). Tico’s (short name for Costa Ricans, or Tica’s for the ladies) love their frijoles!
The first morning Anna asked me if I wanted coffee, but I only drink tea at breakfast. She gave me this really black tea and I asked for some milk to put in it. The following days I got warm milk with a bit of tea in the morning haha. For a week I didn’t had the courage to say anything about it (mostly because I didn’t know how to), but since this week I managed to asked in Spanish that I prefer to drink my tea black (negro) again ;)
My days look like the following:
waking up at 6/ 6:15 am
breakfast with the family around 6:30/ 6:45 am
walking to the bus station at 7:15 am (30 minute walk)
Spanish class starts at 8 am (at the hostel)
The rest of my day consist out of doing homework, learning more Spanish, hanging out with others from the hostel, going into town and/ or socialize with my host family when I get home
I was the only one in my level, so I had private lessons last two weeks (two hours a day instead of four). In the first week I had a teacher that wasn’t that good unfortunately. I realized that since I had an other teacher last week which is much better. I’ve learned more in two days with the new teacher than in one week with the other one. So I’m behind. But it’s a good school, which wants to deliver a good product. The owner said not to worry and is going to offer me a good deal for a 4th week :)
At the end of the day I’m exhausted. I’m in bed between 9 and 10 pm (normally that’s very early for me). The reason I’m so exhausted also has to do with the fact I’m still not fully recovered from my burnout from 2 years ago. I’m enthusiastic, eager to learn and I want and do too much in a short time. Unconsciously I’m pushing my boundaries hard again and my body is giving these big warning signals. Apparently I was ignoring these signals, because a couple of days ago I had a really bad and emotional day, which woke me up. So I have to take it easier (again).. But after two years I’m a little bit done with watching my pace all the time. I have no other choice I’m afraid..
Last weekend the school organized a great weekend of camping and rafting in the jungle, but I’ll safe that for my next post.
Small things I noticed
Lluvia means rain. It rains a lot in Turrialba (last week 5 days straight, non stop pouring rain), that’s why Turrialba is also called Lluvialba
Locals think I’m alta (tall) and with my 177cm I actually feel like a giant here sometimes
Ever heard of dishwashing pasta? I didn’t and I love it!
I find colones easy money to use, but not to say or understand in Spanish. For example: 10 USD is 5351 colones
Got to know new fruits: tambarino and cas. I drank it as a juice (fresco), really yummy.
Learned a new dance at a dancing class last week: Swing Criollo, a traditional Costa Rican dance.
No matter how early a family member has to get up: Anna is sure they get their breakfast. It happens that the girls have to get up at 5 am and their mom gets up at the same time
After almost 1,5 years on Bonaire and a four week stop in the Netherlands, I arrived in beautiful Costa Rica last Wednesday. What a lot of green, love it! And the people are so friendly and helpful. It’s colder than I expected though, but you don’t hear me complain compared to the Dutch weather ;)
From Amsterdam I flew to Philadelphia (8,5 hours) and waited 2 hours to continue to Miami (3 hours). My stop in Miami was 15,5 hours. I booked a hotel in advanced to stay the night. Happy I did that..
During my flight from Philadelphia to Miami a US rocket was launched into space which we could see from our plane. Everybody jumped to the right side of the plane to take a look. I was sort of sleeping, didn’t saw it or bother to hurry. But was nice to see all the Americans excited and proud about ‘their’ launch (captain said over the intercom: “there goes our rocket people”).
My room in Miami was simple and musty with a cockroach welcoming me, but I was so tired I didn’t care. Happy to see this big comfortable bed. Besides, after living on Bonaire I got used to much bigger cockroaches. This one almost looked cute compared to the ones on Bonaire.
Woke up early the next day. Doesn’t mind which way I go (East or West), I always have a jetlag. Gave me all the time to get to the airport. All relaxed. Nice to see Miami from the air and I think we flew over Cuba. Great view.
After arriving in San José international airport (2.30 pm) I quickly found a taxi driver who gave me a good price to the bus station in the city (15 minute drive). When we arrived at the station I realized I only had US dollars with me. My travel guide and the websites I read said you do fine with only USD in Costa Rica, but for small amounts that’s not right. At the bus station I only could pay with Costa Rican colones, which I didn’t had. And no ATM near by. I speak 3 words of Spanish and nobody spoke English. But a lady came to me and with the little English she spoke she said she would buy me a bus ticket in exchange for dollars. I gave her $5 (the ticket was $3), said it was ok like that and thanked her many times for helping me out. But she friendly insisted to give me the change back in colones, she didn’t want make money out of it she said. When I was waiting for the bus a girl and her little brother came and sat next to me. We started talking (she spoke a little English) and they were from Turrialba, where I was going too (2 hour bus drive by the way). They told me which bus to take, how it worked with your seat and where to get out. More people came to me by the way to point out what bus was mine, really friendly. In Turrialba (arrived at 7pm) the boy and girl showed me where to grab a taxi to my hostel and where the nearest bank was. Such helpful and sweet people.
I needed colones to pay for the taxi, but the ATM didn’t accept my cards (3 different banks; 2 Dutch, 1 Bonairain, all set on world). So no colones and this time no one who spoke even a little bit English. Went to different shops, but no one understood what I meant and because I was tired of my trip I had a hard time understanding them too. But soon a women from a shop beckoned me and her colleague could change some USD’s into colones. For your information: changing USD into colones in small amounts mostly costs you extra money because the valuta changes a lot. Totally understandable people don’t want to change. But these people did. Yet again: so friendly!! I gave them some extra money as a thank you.
The taxi driver was also helpful and at 7.30pm I arrived at the hostel. The owner left already, but a guest saved my key so I could get into my room. Some girls were baking pancakes and asked me to join. Guess what, most of them are Dutch ;) And two from Denmark, one German and one guy from the US. Warm welcome and the hostel looks great! Overall the trip took me 38 hours.
Went to town yesterday with one of the Dutch girls to get some groceries. There’s a path going down from the hostel to town in the valley. A 30 minute walk along the river, through the forrest, fields and along houses. It’s so beautiful and green here. I’m absorbing it all! During the walk down you feel the temperature rise quickly. The difference up the mountain at the hostel and downtown is a couple of degrees. A big difference in only 30 minutes walking.
The hostel I’m staying is called 'Spanish by the river’ in Turrialba. The hostel is also a Spanish school. Two teachers come here every weekday to teach. There’s a big porch along the length of the entire hostel, with an amazing view over the mountains, trees, volcano and the valley. The lessons are giving outside on the porch. There’s a big living room and open kitchen with all the basics you need. I have a room by myself and the bathroom is shared. In total 12 people can stay here, now we are with 5 (three left in the mean time). If you want to do something there are lots of activities to choose from: rafting, hiking (also by night), dancing, cooking, yoga and local attractions. It’s an amazing place and I really feel at home here.
I’ll stay in the hostel till Sunday, then I will go and live with a local family in town. I’ve planned to follow Spanish lessons for 3 weeks, maybe 4. Next I don’t know yet. I want to volunteer in exchange for housing and food. I don’t have a budget to travel a lot from place to place, to stay and pay for hostels and food. Lets see what will come on my path :)
I’ll keep you posted!
Small things I noticed:
In Miami I heard more Spanish than English
At all of my 3 flights (American Airlines) most of the flight attendance’s were chewing gum. When working in Dutch hospitality that’s absolutely not allowed!
During my bus trip from San José to Turrialba I noticed lots of people walking their dog or running next to the high way, (dangerously) close to the cars and motorbikes which drive really fast.
I love the sound of the forrest and animals, especially by night (and the fireflies!). The first night we heard loud animal sounds near by the house and I first thought it was a monkey. It turned out to be a gecko. I never heard gecko’s make a sound like that :)
2013… a tough year it was. The toughest in my life so far.. I had to deal with 6 life events in a really short time. It changed my life. It taught me a lot about myself and others. I realize how blessed I am to have so many loving and caring people in my life. Great people who supported and helped me in these hard times and still are. A helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, an ear for listening, a place to stay at or just by being there for me.
With 2013 coming to an end doesn’t mean my tough journey also ends with it. I’m still fighting. But 2014 feels like a new year, a new start. 2013 was hard for me, but I’m also very grateful for it. Grateful for the lessons I’ve learned and will keep on learning. Grateful that I finally love myself more and that I’m starting to accept who I am as a person. Grateful for my friends, family and loved-ones which I love so very much. Grateful for the new people I have met. But also for the people who crossed my path and which I’ll maybe never see again but who did a lot for me in a small way, properly without knowing. Small things they said, small gestures they gave me. It taught me to see and appreciate the small things in life more.
Thank you 2013 for being so valuable. Something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. And welcome 2014 for more valuable lessons to come and starting a new chapter in my life. Surrounded by amazing people (even when we are far away from each other) and knowing that I’m strong enough, I’m looking forward for the new year(s) to come.
Wishing you all the best, love and happiness for 2014!