Archive for August 6th, 2010

My alarm wakes me up at 4 in the morning. I groggily turn on the light and perform the morning ritual: shower, brush teeth, etc. Brian and I head downstairs and get into the airport shuttle bound for the airport. At this point, bad coffee (I am not much of a coffee drinker, but at 4 am, I sure am) and anticipation fuel me.

The group reconvenes at the airport. We get our boarding passes, and to my dismay, my name is spelled wrong. Go figure. I suppose too many consonants in a row tends to freak people out. As I get my bag checked, a security officer looks at my passport and pass before letting me in.

“Yes, I made it!” I exclaim to Greg. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that in an airport.

At any rate, I move on to pick up my carry on. My wallet and passport fall. I nearly forget to pick it up. That would have been a bad way to start the trip. After waiting for about an hour and a half at the gate, we begin to board. I sit between Elise and Brian. All of my preflight jitters seem to have been expended on the last flight, as I feel much calmer now. This is going to be a long flight. Breakfast of sorts is shortly served. Nothing makes you lose your appetite faster than airplane food. Perhaps that is precisely what for which they are aiming.

I explain to Brian and Elise that this is my first time seeing the ocean, as we fly over the Atlantic. They do not believe me. Large ships dot the expanse of water is like a living game of battle ship. Blue ocean meets blue sky at the imperceptible horizon. It is impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends: a solid wall of blue as far as the eye can see. Too bad this may soon be marred by the oil from the BP Gulf spill.

After 5 hours of flight, we begin our descent. It still has not resonated with me that in a handful of hours we will be in Costa Rica.

We touch down and leave the plane slowly. A sign saying, “Bienvenidos a Costa Rica!” welcomes us to the country. I am immediately struck by the colours: red roofs, green, lush vegetation, and white washed walls. San Jose is very humid. It hits me like a brick as I leave, but any discomfort is quickly dispelled by a glance at palm trees outside of the airport. We are here.

There is definitely a sense of culture shock. This is my first time in a Latin or South American country and I am amazed by everything around me. The roads are narrow and only allow for one way traffic. Signs are all in Spanish. There is color and life everywhere. Or perhaps I am only looking at this place through tourist lenses. I prefer to believe that the former is true.

We get out of the taxis at our hotel: La Guaria. It seems quintessentially Central American, with its balconies and latticed windows. The owner places all five guys in a single room. A hush overtakes the males in the group, who are, I notice, outnumbered 3 to 1. As we enter, we see only two beds. Hmmm… Well I suppose we can roll out our sleeping bags and sleep on the floor. However, we are delighted to find two more rooms of beds. We each have our own beds! This simple fact gives us unexpected joy. Beds never looked so good.

La Guaria

A number of us head over to a local restaurant. I try out my Spanish for the first time in nearly 4 years. Yikes. I know it was rusty, but I cannot seem to get any ideas across. Eventually we order. I get ceviche and Imperial. Ceviche is raw shrimp or fish which is soaked in lime or lemon juice. The acids in the citrous essentially cook it. Add a little bit of cilantro and it makes a delicious meal. The leftover juice, known as Sangre del Tigre, “Blood of the Tiger,” is supposedly the cure to the hangover. Cheers. Imperial is the local brew here. In fact, it is the official beer of Costa Rica. I am seeing more Imperial signs than I am Costa Rican flags. It seems that this country has its priorities in the right place.


We walk around the town of Alajela, where we are staying, for some time. We try to get into a church, but it appears to be closed for renovations. We decide to try to get to San Juan. On our way out, we run into Jeff, one of our instructors, who agrees, with some hesitation, to take us there. We go to the bus stop and catch one to San Jose. The bus ride is a great way to see the area, but the heat, lulling rocking of the bus, and my eyes, tired from traveling slowly close. I awake as we enter San Juan. As we step off the bus, the sounds, smell, and sight of the capitol strike us. The din is deafening: loud honking, yelling street vendors, and crowds of people are everywhere. It is difficult to get our bearings at first, so we do some wandering. We eventually try to find the artisan’s market. Everyone we ask seems to have a different way to get there, so we have little to no clue of where we are going. We stop in a bookstore for postcards and a map. Across the street, we see street vendors painting feathers. The final results are both beautiful (especially seeing that none of these people were trained in any way) and an interesting concept. We walk a bit further and find the artisan’s market. The vendors are crowded on top of one another. You are a bit dazed as you walk in due to the brilliant colors from pained sculptures, masks, and tapestries surround you. The vendors are aggressive as their artwork is colorful.

Church of Alajuela

We visit the Plaza de Cultura. It is rather underwhelming. The plaza is not nearly as large as those found in other South American and European cities. There, we see our first tropical bird, a large green parakeet. These are the Crimson-fonted Parakeets, which are the most common parakeets in the Mesada Central. They are bright green with a red mark on their heads and wings. Their noisy vocalizations echo in the plaza as they fly into a palm tree.

The Mesada Central is a large uplifting of land in the center of the country. Here the temperatures are cooler and the land is fertile from frequent volcanic eruptions. Because of these criteria, this was the first place in the country to be settled by Europeans, and has since had the highest population densities in the small nation.

Nearby is the Metropolitan Cathedral. It is very large, but rather plain. Mass is taking place, so we quickly leave. After this, we return to Alajuela to a sprinkling of rain. It is the beginning of the rainy season, and daily afternoon showers are to be expected.

Alajuela, with the Cerro in the background.

At dusk, Ricardo gathers us for a meeting. We meet Mary, who works at The Tropical Forestry Initiative, our base of operations, year round. Tomorrow we will head off of the Mesada Central to the Cerro de la Muerte, a volcanic mountain ridge on the way to the Tropical Forestry Initiative. The ridge divides the Carribean side and Pacific side of the country, creating distinct ecosystems. Cerro de la Muerte translades to Mountain of Death. It certainly sounds foreboding and it will be the highest elevation to which I have ever been.

Alajuela, with the Cerro in the background.

I fall asleep quickly. Adios a Alajuela.

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