Back to school, El fortin, and Francisco Delgado Soto

Today we El Fortin from inside the municipal complexIMG_4740returned to the classroom aft an incredible trip to Manuel Antonio.  Results from our test were not as terrible as we thought.  Both Mary and I made B’s and our professor offered to retest us on Friday which would give both of us a chance to make up for our errors and omissions.  After school we caught a cab to central park The view from the towerso we could meet our friends’ host mother. We were a bit early so I suggested we go get a pass to climb up the inside of El Fortin.  The director of Sol Education told us during our tour of the city that we could obtain a free pass to do so by visiting the municipal offices.  It was very easy to obtain the pass and we started to walk to the tower.  A guard took our pass and escorted us to the tower where we assented the spiral staircase to the upper levels of the tower.  The inside of the tower wasn’t much to look at, but the view of the central park was well worth the climb.  

After we descended we met our friend’s host mom and crossed central park to catch a bus.  IMG_4739As we walked we observed an older man playing a very collorful game in the center of the park.  He caught me looking and invited me to play a game he said he invented called Mache.  I was a little vague on the scoring, but it involved using a colorful stick to scoop a tennis ball towards some very colorful towers which contained little knobs made from water bottle tops.  The whole thing was very charming and somehow I did very well and one a short game.  The old man’s name was Francisco Delgado Soto.  He was once a football (soccer) star in the area and now he spends his afternoons entertaining people with this game in the park here in heredia as well as San Jose.  There’s an article about him online hereThese were part of a game being played in the central park shared with us by its inventorI won?!IMG_4779Inventor of the game "Hecho"?

After our game with Senor Delgado Soto, we caught a bus with our friend’s host mother to a little town called Barva.

She had told us that this was a little town which was more historic and art centered than Heredia.  There was a church and a nice park bustling with activity.  A boy on a skateboard and another juggling some 8 balls at a time.  The town is known for its mask making and there were masks all around to back that statement up.  We wandered into the municipal area and a man from the government meeting came out and told us all about the city.  He was excusably friendly and welcoming.  We were as gracious as possible, but we’re exhausted and ready to go home.
Beans and rice for dinner again and were off to sleep.

River Shoes

Today we boarded a bus for some river rafting. When we arrived they served us a nice breakfast and then we took another bus with our rafts in tow to our river entrance.  All the way our guide, Diego, was pointing out interesting trees and houses.

558234_330861963672078_1644071470_nAfter a quick primer on river rafting we climbed down and into the rafts.  Our raft guide’s name was Mano and he enjoyed splashing us all with his paddle.  the water was cold and the river beautiful.  The splashes were shockingly cold, but we are soon soaked to the core anyway and it was cool and comfortable.  Along the way our guide would shout simple commands for us to row forward or back etc. as he steered from the back.  It was not long before one of us fell over backwards into the river.  We had been told that’s usually two people fall in.  We were not misinformed.
As we went along I felt my arms growing tired, but the thrill of the water and the imminent possibility of taking a swim made e whole trip exciting.  The day began sunny, but became cloudy as we went meaning we didn’t need to squint and weren’t baked by the sun.

Our guide was a bird lover and pointed out several species of birds including a tiger heron as well as many native plants and trees.  He often grabbed samples for us to smell.
The trip was full of class 3 rapids and almost nonstop laughter from our raft at least.  Mano was the perfect mix of reckless thrill seeker and fatherly Shepard.  The trip lasted the perfect amount of time and ended with a more peaceful stretch of river where we attempted to speak some Spanish with our guide.

A short bus ride took us back to where we ate breakfast where they had a delicious lunch of roasted chicken with rice and beans.  After the river adventures it was delicious.
After an arduous and much detoured 5 hour bus ride, we finally arrived back in Heredia and were dropped off close to our home.  We had been advised to get a cab since it was dark, but since we’re strapped for cash, we opted to walk with two of our friends who live close.  As it began to rain softly we looked around and realized we weren’t where we thought we were and since it was night we weren’t correctly oriented.  However the GPS on my iPhone in conjunction with the help of many friendly people on the street soon got us walking in the correct direction.  (Without an Internet connection, the map feature on the iPhone is much more vague)

Casa, dolce, Casa!

Candlelit Dinner

Our friend Kourtney smiles by candlelight – She reminds me a lot of my youngest daughter Madeleine, but all grown up!

After unloading about 10 pounds of sand each in our first warm shower in a week, Mary and took a short nap followed by dinner at an outdoor restaurant.  Again not amazing food and even worse service, but great company makes that not matter at all.

We were all pretty much finished eating when the power went out to the entire city.  The hum of generators ceased, street lights went out and all that was left was the sounds of the jungle.  I had read at the hotel that outages are common due to the vast quantity of trees surrounding the area.  The restaurant brought out bottles with candles atop and we continued to enjoy each other’s company by candlelight.  It turned the fun trip to eat into a quaint little adventure of its own.  An unexpected treat for sure followed by one of the most restful nights sleep I’ve had for quite a while.IMG_4670

Beach Monkeys

We arrived at the hotel and loaded our luggage in.  The directors were very sweet to give Mary and I a room together.  Many other students were 4 to a room so it was nice not IMG_4624to be separated.  After loading in we took a thirty minute hike through the Manuel Antonio National Park with Janiva pointing out birds and plants of all shapes and kinds.  We saw a beautiful Toucan perched in the canopy above us.  It wasn’t long before our hike through the jungle took us to a private beach.  I wasted no time and hopped in and began swimming and body surfing.  I was first and I’m told I looked like a little kid.  It was fantastic.  The waves were much more powerful than I’m used to in the Gulf of Mexico and the water was very clean.  The powerful waves lifted me up and threw me around.  It was like being a kid again.  No one has been able to throw me around since I was little and the feeling was like flying.  I didn’t want to stop.

Sand got everywhere, but we played and played. The national park had to close so we packed up and started hiking out.  On the way we finally saw some monkeys – maybe about eight of them -climbing in the trees around our heads.  Again, I’ve seen these in zoos, but when the bars aren’t there its a very much more personal experience.  We were warned that they like to steal lunches and backpacks so the monkeys and I we were eying each other not knowing what to expect.  They’re cute little guys.  A Toucan in Pargue de Manuel AntonioLas tres amigas en los aguas de Océano PacíficoIMG_4594IMG_4627IMG_4628IMG_4657

Rio de cocodrilo

My wife sips cool coconut milk straight from the source.

We got an early start to Manuel Antonio National Park and Beach near Guepa. The three hour bus trip was broken up perfectly. Our first stop was a little shop on the side of the road with cold coconut milk straight from the coconut. Then we walked across the highway bridge and saw about 20 American crocodiles in the Tárcoles river below.  They seemed to be waiting for one of us tourists to fall over the side. It’s amazing to see these in a zoo, but it’s quite something else to see them in their natural environment. Definitely not to be messed with. Janiva told us they can outrun humans in short bursts. That’s a lesson I don’t prefer to learn from experience.IMG_4444IMG_4441IMG_4459IMG_4462IMG_4467IMG_4474

Dinner with friends

Tonight our friends Jenn and Kristi invited us to dinner out with their host mom. The food was not amazing, but the company contained some much needed levity after a very frustrating day.

Me gusta la cumbia

After about an hour of stewing over our poor performance on the test we all gathered in a cramped but air-conditioned room for dance lessons.

Our dance instructor looked straight from Mary’s Zumba  videos back home. This guy was built for speed.  He did an excellent job of demonstrating the steps and making sure no one was left behind.   Although I can’t say I ever really got that 4 step arm twirly thing right, I sure laughed a lot and after two hours of sweating, I certainly got enough exercise.
As it turns out, Dr. Bell is an incredible Latin dancer and we all watched in awe as she and the instructor demonstrated the various Latin dances.  They were both wonderful.
I certainly am not so wonderful, but as I said – we all had a great deal of fun attempting to Cumbia, Meringue, Salsa, and Cha-cha.

Examen Probs

Today was the first day we didn’t have a morning excursion or activity so we took the chance to sleep in a bit and hobbled up the University Latina for a 10 o’clock review session with Dr. Bell.  Mary and I studied all six forms of ser and six forms of estar for a couple hours last night and we’re not quick about t, but we have the table of twelve in our brains for use on the test.  As expected, Dr. Bell clarified a couple of things, but mostly just confirmed we were on the right track. We felt really pumped about the test knowing the chart by memory. This was easily the most I’ve studied for a non music course and in fact is beginning to rival music courses.

Our professor

We went in to class and reviewed our homework – 100% correct. So here comes the test…

It’s four pages long.  The first page contains instructions in Spanish. Great!  We don’t know enough Spanish to read the instructions so this is very frustrating.  Also frustrating is the fact that there are about 30 pictures which we need to use in 8 sentences each. Because they are pictures, the chart we memorized is useless with the exception of one row (Or so I think).  Since their all third person.

Anyway, it takes most of us about 90minutes or more to finish. I’m feeling pretty good and I turn in my test.

Mary’s still working so I take a seat outside the classroom.  About ten minutes later, my professor comes out and points out that the second page pictures are all plural and therefore about 30% of my test is wrong.
Well, my spirit sank.  I thought I had this wrapped up, but unfortunately I just practiced the wrong answers about 30 times.

Then Mary comes out and feels pretty good about the test until a similar thing happens to her.  Apparently she didn’t realize there were supposed to be eight responses to each picture and instead only did 5.
This completely crushed her spirit.  Up until this moment she was high on the whole experience. She felt very positive about learning Spanish, and was even considering continuing her studies in that direction. I was so proud and excited for her discovery of the language.  She’s clearly more gifted in it than I am and I’m happy for her, but this test really wounded her confidence and halted the incredible momentum she had.
It took most of the night to put her back together again.  I tried to reassure her that the test was not a very accurate measure of our accomplishments and that perhaps the professor would take into account both of our errors with regard to the test.
Time will tell, but unfortunately this is yet another reason I lose confidence in traditional educational efforts.  I just do not feel today helped us learn Spanish in any way shape or form.  If anything, we all reinforced errors repetitively.

Today was not our favorite.

Some classy ladies

IMG_4422We spent this morning meeting 18 of Heredia’s most mature ladies swapping stories about our children and assisting them in creating some colorful napkin holders.  Before the art began we introduced ourselves to the group and then they introduced themselves.  As the Tico’s say, “No entender ni papa.”  which means I didn’t understand a potato.  Although I didn’t understand much of what was said I know what welcoming appreciative eyes look like and I know the warmth they shared with us just for showing up.  It was a special morning of clumsy talk, but smiling faces.  IMG_4412We return next Thursday.  Hopefully I’ll be more prepared to converse with these ladies.  It is worth saying at this point that when we were introducing ourselves, Mary launched into an unbelievable introduction.  I wasn’t sure where it all came from.  I said something like, Hi.  My name is Hans, but she filled two minutes or more and did it with genuine warmth. 

It has been beautiful to watch her fall in love with this language and see it fill her up.  Mary’s father was a Spanish professor and I honestly hadn’t thought of that when I duped her into this trip.  I don’t mean to overplay this, but I can’t help but feel like her father is a part of this trip in a very real way.  As her skills surpassed mine overnight I immediately noticed a glow within her that I feel is tied to his memory.  I knew she’d enjoy Costa Rica.  I didn’t have any idea that learning Spanish would ignite memories of her father and a new passion for Spanish.  After twelve years of marriage, we’ve both developed, but it is awe inspiring to see this new side of her.  It’s amazing to me that I had to travel to Costa Rica to find something that’s been next to me all along.IMG_4432





Toucan Rescue Ranch

Today we visited a small ranch just outside of town where woman named Leslie cares for countless birds and mammals.  When we arrived she brought out a baby sloth and was feeding it breakfast while telling us her life’s journey to this ranch in Costa Rica where she pours her heart into the recue, rehabilitation and sometimes release of multiple animals.  It was a treat to see so many exotic creatures close up and hear their stories.  Perhaps more amazing was this woman’s example of unending compassion.  She and her team clearly live for these animals and they embody the Costa Rican motto – Pura Vida (Full of Life).

If you find yourself in the area, do not miss a trip to see this woman and meet her animals.  They have an awesome B&B right among the animal enclosures with room for 5.  Check them out at Toucan Rescue Ranch

A baby sloth reaches for more breakfastA very cute baby slothThis woman is extremely generous in her care for wildlife in Costa Rica.Our group from Sol looks on as a baby sloth is fed breakfastAnother baby sloth drinks some goat's milkMy beautiful wife.  I think she's enjoying this trip.McCawIMG_4285IMG_4313I don't remember WHAT this wasBaby sloth in baby blanket