Saturday, April 23, 2011

Panama City Baby!!

I just got back from Panama City and it was awesome!

For the week of Semana Santa, or the holy week here in Costa Rica, a small group of us made the 16-hour bus ride bound for Panama City.  And it was worth every minute.

With a plan of seeing as many sights, obviously including the Panama Canal, we decided to stay at a hostel in the city that was close to cheap transportation that took us almost everywhere we wanted to go.

Just down the street from our hostel was a bus stop where we could hop on a bus and travel around the city for 25 cents.  A did have to take a taxi a couple times .. but that only cost a dollar or two per person.
Decorating your bus started out as a competition between bus drivers, but now it's simply tradition.

Casco Viejo, the historic 1500s center of Panama City, was our first stop.  It's ancient churches and buildings, definitely influenced by the Spaniards, were beautiful.

The housing units were beautiful as well. Some were remodeled, but residents were still living in the old housing units.


 Our second stop was the Panama Canal.  In addition to watching a movie about the Canal and going through the museum, we got to watch a passenger cruiseship pass through the Miraflores Locks.

Third stop ... Panama Viejo, the ruins from the 1500s Panama City when it was founded.

In addition to visiting all the must-sees, we also spent a day at the "Enchanted" Taboga Island about 30 minutes offshore from the city.

A funny couple we met on the boat.
Rachel, Rachel, and Caroline.

And in between the travels, we of course did some shopping at various markets .... AND celebrated our friend's 20th birthday. Overall it was an amazing trip!  Everyone returned home safe and sound and we got to experience Panama at its fullest :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Puerto Viejo | Nothing Else Quite Like It

I went to Puerto Viejo two times during my stay in Costa Rica.  The first time with a school-planned trip in January to see a cocoa plantation:

Raw cocoa!

Puerto Viejo resident selling fresh coconuts on the street.

Our indigenous guide giving us a demonstration of how to open and use some exotic red fruit.

And the second time was in March with a group of students just for fun. 

Some of our Tico friends showed us some of the best viewpoints up in the hills in Puerto Viejo.

You can rent a bike for $5 a day in Puerto Viejo.  A great way to see the entire town in a day, while making pit-stops at various beaches!

Puerto Viejo is located in the province of Limon on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.  What makes Puerto Viejo unique from any other place in Costa Rica is the rich culture that can be seen on any street corner.  Rastafarian's playing music or hanging out, Afro-Caribbean woman cooking patty's or jerk chicken-on-a-stick, vendors selling anything from Bob Marley bracelets to wooden-carved pipes, to even town folk simply taking a stroll down the street. 

From what I've been told, the dominant remains of this Afro-Caribbean culture come from the lack of government aid in this region.  And while some see this as bad ... many see it as good.  But regardless of either opinion, it's this strong sense of culture that definitely sets Puerto Viejo apart from any other place in Costa Rica – and what makes every visit something special.

The beauty of Puerto Viejo :)

Tico Slang and Such

Alright folks, only a week and a few days left in Costa Rica and it's time to go blog crazy.  So here we go.

The "tico" way of living:

1. Do not flush, do not flush, do not flush (repeat three times).
- Toilet paper cannot be flushed down the toilet here because it will clog up the pipes; thus, it all goes in the trash.  how pleasant :)

2.  Would you like your water hot or cold?
-Unless the home has a water heater (which our home does), if you want hot water, you have to accept minimal pressure;  if you want maximum pressure, you'll have to accept cold water.

3.  Look both ways before you cross the street has a new meaning.
-The streets and sidewalks are filled with holes and uneven cement, so in addition to watching for crazy drivers, it's best to watch your every step as well.

4.  Every house is gated, and has a tiny annoying dog waiting right inside its gate ready to bark at any passerby.  Additionally, if you stay in Costa Rica at some point, you're sure to hear barking dogs at all times of day and night.  In fact, there seems to be one living inside the wall next to my bed! But, no worries .. it's really not that bad!

5.  Costa Ricans are called ticos or ticas, and they practically have their own dictionary for slang words – solely used in CR.
Some of the daily phrases used are:
-que mae = hey dude
-tuanis = cool or all's good
-pura vida = all's good
-de fijo= for sure
-al chile = for real?!

Our tica sister taught us the most common slang the first week in Costa Rica. (Cait, roommate; Stephanie, tica sister; Lucy, roommate; and Rachel)

6. Ticos are also very resourceful in what they eat, the energy they use, and the means of transportation.  I've noticed they barely ever waste food or buy more than they need.  Additionally, they are extra conscious of saving energy by using the natural light to brighten their home, natural air to cool it, and clotheslines to dry clothing.

Plus, the main form of transportation is walking or taking a bus.  Although many families do have a car, most of the basic needs like meats, fruits or bread are within walking distance of homes .. and if not, there are bus stops at every corner that take you almost anywhere you need to go for about 20 cents.

7.  And most importantly ... PURA VIDA!!!  If there is one thing you take away from living in Costa Rica, it's the idea of living a simple and happy life, and not letting insignificant problems or troubles weigh you down.  That's essentially what "Pura Vida" means, and the people of Costa Rica use it and live by it religiously.

And those, my friends, are pretty much the essentials of Costa Rican living :) Pura Vida!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Pre-Arrival a Costa Rica

Blog: 01/02/10
This was what I wrote while waiting for my flight to San Jose in the Dallas Airport.


Looking around, I’m searching for young ladies between the age of 19 and 25 who might be coincidentally joining me on my adventure these next three months.  Although three months is really no time at all, it seems like eternity as I sit here in the Dallas airport waiting for my flight to San Jose, Costa Rica to start boarding.  Right now, the plane seems to be having some technical difficulties that officials are trying to fix; they say if the problems aren’t fixed, they’ll have to arrange for another plane.  I’m just glad they detected these problems before we took off.

Here's a visual of Costa Rica.  It has Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the south, the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

What I’m doing:

Like I mentioned, I’m headed to Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, for a three-month study abroad program.  I’ll be taking three Spanish classes, a political science course, and also producing a couple stories for journalism credit.  As far as actually writing stories for publication, I’m just going to see what opportunity presents itself.

Why Study Abroad:

Studying abroad in something I’ve wanted to do since I started college and heard about the opportunity.  I thought if I could get money to travel AND get college credit, by golly I’m doing it.  I have absolutely no idea what to expect going but I know I’m just so excited to grow more “culturally savvy,” as well as grow individually.

Where I’ll be living:

I’ll be living with a host family.  And what’s neat is that my host mother’s name is actually the same as my real mother, Patricia.  Also, I have a 20-year-old sister and a 15-year-old host brother.  So I’m hoping they’ll be able to show me around and introduce me to some trustworthy people.

The craziest feeling:

The craziest thing about this trip is the fact that I’m going to a completely different country and literally don’t know a single person.  I don’t think it really hit me until today (the day I was traveling to San Jose!)  But, nonetheless I’m thrilled, staying positive and ready to make the most of each day as I’m there.

What I'm most excited about:

I’m particularly excited about the excursions that are part of the program.  As I love doing new things and seeing new things, it’s exciting to already have a few places to visit without having to do any planning.  I’ll probably look into traveling to some other hotspots after/ or hopefully when I meet some people to travel with!

I'll write about my first experiences in the next blog. Until then, Ciao!  :)