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

He’s from Barthalona

We arrived late to class today after spending hours cooking and eating at Flor’s house so we dove right into demonstrative adjectives!  FUN!

It didn’t take us very long to get the hang of these and we were flying through our work for the day.  Even though we are in Costa Rica, our professor is from Barcelona and speaks Spanish as they do in Spain.  The biggest difference is the way they pronounce their C’s.  In the Americas we use an s sound, but in Spain they use a th sound.  Red Hans

I’m sure it is perfectly respectable to use the th sound in Spain since obviously that is the origin of the Spanish language.  However, there is something inherently funny about a man saying he’s from Barthalona.  I’m not exactly sure why it strikes me as funny, but every time he says a word with this lisp like th sound I have to restrain myself from snickering and a wide smile often betrays my inner chortle.  I am not alone in this regard as many of my fellow students mirror this tickling response.  However, we have managed to maintain a respectful manner in class…  until today.

It was my turn to list the 5 adjectives for the Spanish word bicicleta.  For some reason I felt compelled to use the Barthalonin pronunciation and didn’t make it very far into my responses before my face turned beet red and I was unable to speak…  I seriously hope I didn’t offend the man.  He’s doing a wonderful job, but I completely lost it as did several of my fellow students. 

I still haven’t fully recovered. Tears were streaming down my bright red face and I will never live this one down.

Go on!  I dare you to say the following and not chuckle…

la bithicleta

una bithicleta

esta bithicleta

esa bithicleta

aquella bithicleta


Tico Cooking class

Today we had no breakfast at home.  instead we walked the twenty minutes to school to catch a forty minute bus to the home of a woman named Flor who was to teach us all to cook many Costa Rican dishes.  We started off with tortillas and worked our way through several very yummy dishes.  Although I am not a fan of plantains, everything else was delicious and we enjoyed this time of fellowship and food.

We ate all morning and late into the afternoon.  It was fantastic and Flor’s final words were that if you put a piece of yourself into the food you make it will show through in the taste; a truism in many endeavors.IMG_4100Mary at cooking class this morningIMG_4110Yuca - the secret ingredientMary learns to make tortillas - Tico styleIMG_4121IMG_4129Guyo pinto!IMG_4155IMG_4160This was delicious!Mary helps mixMary's EmpenadaIMG_4187

Mi fetcha es Hans… eh?

After a day and a half of eating sleeping and breathing the Spanish language we finally hit the classroom to learn how to speak.  The professor passed out a placement exam to make sure we were all correctly placed in beginning Spanish.  The first blank on the test said Fetcha.  Several of us wrote our names in this blank.  Apparently the word fetcha means date.  This was the first clue we gave our instructor that we were all about as clueless as is possible.  I believe the assumption may have been made that at least some of us had taken a Spanish class of some sort before today.  In truth, I did take and pass a semester of Spanish a year and a half ago, but that professor and I both know that C was a gift.

It was quite a bit chaotic for most of the class as we explained to our professor that although most international students take three weeks to do a semester’s worth of learning, we would be doing a semester each week for only two.  And of course, one of the 10 days is a national holiday in costa Rica.  Our professor seemed slightly confused to hear this and was also surprised at our amazing lack of prior Spanish language knowledge.  However after it became abundantly clear that we were all starting from square one, we began to learn our definite and indefinite feminine and masculine articles.  I had had this thrown at me before and it never made any sense.  I figured out how to pass the tests, but I had no real idea why or what I was doing.  Today I GOT IT!  Thank God!

Prior attempts at Spanish have been absolute failures mostly because I was often so far behind everyone.  For better or worse, this class is full of people that need the same level of help that I do and we slowed it down and got it.  After class my head was swimming lie it always does when I’m learning something new, but the difference is I really understood.  Maybe its because people have been speaking spanish at me for a couple days, or maybe its because I’m with a group of people in the same boat as me.  We are all very intelligent thoughtful people, but we just don’t have a clue yet.  I’m not sure why we had to travel to Costa Rica to find this success, but for a million reasons, I’m glad we did.

Tour of the city

This morning we ate breakfast and our host mother walked us to the central park of Heredia.  The program director told us stories about the history of Costa Rica and specifically Heredia as we walked first through the second oldest church in Costa Rica Dr. Bell points out the plant growing out of the top of Costa Rica's 2nd oldest churchIMG_4074then to an old home from the 18th century, followed by el Fortin National Monument.  All the while she shared stories of the town.  Heredia is know as the city of flowers because the President of Costa Rica, Alfredo Gonzales Flores had four beautiful daughters…  His last name being Spanish for flowers.  This of course made me think of my two flowers at home, Madeleine and Rose.

Another story I enjoyed was in describing the el Fortin monument which was built in 1876 by a man appointed by the government who didn’t really have any training in architecture.  He made the gun slits open up wide to the outside instead of the wide part being inside.  This has the effect of funneling gun shots inward instead of making it difficult to shoot someone behind them.  Whoops!Mary strikes a pose

Me then proceeded to a market and were each given 500 colones and the name of a fruit we had never heard of.  Our mission was to go and buy 500 colones of our fruits and return.  At the market with my newest friend - KristiWe then took our fruits to a nearby café where they were washed and our guide introduced each one to us and sliced them up for us to sample with her guidance for methods.  This is a really amazing opportunity for someone who loves fruit and discovering new things.  We all tried everything, but I have always had an affinity to fruit, particularly unknown fruit so this was a difficult exercise for me.  I wasn’t willing to try the last one I’m afraid, but I did try several things I would never have thought were edible.  Although I’ll acknowledge they were amazing, I haven’t added any new fruits to my shopping list.  We also were served an iced coffee that was delicioso!!

The sun was shining down on us all day and the temperature never passed the mid-eighties.  Another beautiful day in Costa Rica.IMG_4095