“Those Sound Like Surface-to-Air Missiles”

My traveling companion made this comment after hearing howler monkeys scream after the crazy-loud thunder roared in Rincon de Vieja Park. The thunder here in Costa Rica is unbelievably loud — like bombs exploding.

Moments Thus Far That Have Stuck w/ Me

Some memorable moments so far:

  • Lathering my feet and legs in bug spray (97% DEET!) before going to bed, to prevent being ravaged by the endless bugs here.
  • The grandmother at my hostfamily addressing me, “Muchacho” and handing me some clean clothes. It was sweet.
  • Grandmother asks, “Le gusta chilli?” I hear “chilli” and think of the American dish (beans, means, tomatoes, mixed together, tasty). Apparently chilli in Spanish means “spicy” / peppers, which I hate. She gives me peppers to put on my food; since I said I “love” chilli I oblige and put a bit on the side of my plate, and move it aside when she’s not looking.
  • I tried to tell a girl “her laugh is distinctive” – I think it came out, “your smile is beautiful.” Oops.
  • Lying on beach, on beach lounge chair, to the left and right were palm trees, straight up was a big blue sky. iPod in my ears. Then, suddenly, a perfect V formation of birds flies across the sky. Magical. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Rice and Beans

I’ve had rice and beans for virtually every bfast / lunch / dinner I’ve been in Costa Rica so far (in addition to other stuff). It’s truly the staple of the cuisine here. Some complain, I don’t. I like hearty, square meals, even if they’re forgettable.

Staying with a Family in Rural Costa Rica

On Sunday I moved in with a local family for a week.

I’ve stayed with families in the past, but this is the first time I’m paying to do so. I pay the school, the school pays the family. For $125 I get six nights of lodging and two meals a day. This means the family is attentive to my needs but it also means the whole thing feels more like an economic transaction than a real cultural experience. The family hosts a student almost every week of the year, so the novelty has long worn off. The two kids haven’t asked me a question about anything, and the mother is very kind and sits with me at dinner in case I want to ask her something (in Spanish)…but being open to answer my questions is different than a conversation. All in all, though, even if only viewed through an economic lens, it’s still a helluva deal as the meals are hearty and bed comfortable.

Their house basic but livable. This is rural Costa Rica so hot showers, internet, a/c, etc etc rarely are found in homes (and hotels), including mine.

The TV is on all day and night (until they go to bed). They mostly watch cartoons or telenovelas. The kids eat all their meals in front of the TV. I hear this is how it works in most families here — the dominance of a TV in the house is a sign of being poor, I’m guessing, in any country.

The “neighborhood” is a mix of shacks and small houses, with dirt roads and the occasional paved road (which has potholes). Due to the rain, the roads are almost always flooded and more than once I’ve had no choice but to walk through muddy puddles which come up to my calves. In the distance I can see the beach and palm trees; it’s a beautiful sight.

Kids run around without shoes, socks, or shirts.

Arriving in Playa Samara

Liberia airport is in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica and has non-stop flights to Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York throughout the week. Liberia, then, is an alternative for American travelers who don’t want to fly into San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, which is regarded as dirty, over-crowded, and dangerous.

I flew into Liberia Friday night and took a taxi to Playa Samara, which is a beach town along the Pacific coast (as opposed to the Caribbean coast). It takes about two hours by car from the airport.

Samara is very much a tourist town. Not only is the beach is beautiful (right out of a postcard), but there’s also a successful Spanish language school here called Intercultura which attracts hoards of Americans and Europeans (mostly Swiss, for whatever reason). It’s a well run operation and I’m taking one week of Spanish classes (4 hours a day) at the school. The classrooms / school are about 30 yards from the beach.

I’m here during the “wet season” which means it’s insanely hot during the day (tropical climate = Ben sweating for like 48 hours straight upon arrival) and usually rains for a few hours in the evening. My second night in Samara it rained so hard that the thunder sounded like bombs exploding right outside the window and an hour later all the power in the town went out. I heard an American ask someone “Does the power go out often here?” and the response was, “No, not so much. Last time it happened was three weeks ago.” The natural reaction when there’s no power is to light candles in your room. What I learned in the Amazon jungle in Ecuador, however, was that candles attract bugs and other insectorial creatures. So, I shunned candles and went to bed early. Sleep proved elusive because with no power there’s no fan and with no fan you die in the heat.

The downside to spending a week in a tourist town is that the restaurants are generally overpriced and there’s more English spoken. The upside is there’s more infrastructure for tourists (such as laundry service and the like) and the town knows tourism drives the economy, so they don’t hassle out-of-towners.