Thursday, April 3, 2008

The real Costa Rica...

The longer I spend in Quepos/Manuel Antonio, the more I realize that it is quite an armpit of a place. Quepos is filled with drug addicts. It is so sketchy to walk around at night. And even the taxis might rob you (moreso the pirate taxis).

Saturday, I am off to Alajuela, a town outside of San Jose. I think I am going to do tours around there for the few days that I'm there. I don't have a guidebook, and really, the longer I stay in Costa Rica, the longer I realize that it is not the paradise that everyone envisions. Hard drugs are rampant as is crime.

One of our classmates is missing right now. He went to a bar with a few other classmates, then went to a casino afterwards last night. His host family called up here saying that he hadn't come home last night. It doesn't sound good. He is the type of person to at least drop by the school and say hi (he was done with his coursework yesterday). We are all pretty worried...

Something you won't hear me say very often...I am ready to go home...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Speaking of torrential downpours...

We had one Friday night. I didn't get caught in it, so that was good. Made it home by then. It cooled down the weather, which was nice. I opened the door to the balcony all evening.

As for my birthday, I did walk into Quepos and luckily, Sugar, a really yummy pastry shop, was open. I treated myself to a delicious slice of chocolate strawberry cake and a strawberry milk shake. It filled me up so much that I didn't even have much for dinner.

Yesterday, I walked down the road by Cafe Milagro that goes down to the beach. I ended up at Playa Beasaenz (or Basanez?). It was a small beach, more of a local scene. Very shallow and rocky. I stayed there for a bit, then walked up the road to the main road to catch a bus to Playa Manuel Antonio. But oh, it is Semana Santa, and the busses are packed and the beach is full. The first bus passed by and wouldn't let anyone on. I had to wait another 30 minutes for the next bus, which was reluctant to let anyone on. But luckily, he let 3 of us on. We were packed in there tighter than sardines. I had my arm fully extended to hold on to a side bar, and tried to brace myself for the downhill curvy road. It was adventurous, nevertheless.

I played around in the ocean for about 45 minutes before heading back to my apartment. I was on my way to meet up with Susan, who owns Books2Go in Quepos. It's the shops 3rd year anniversary, and she invited a few of us to hang out, have some rice and cake. A few of us from TEFL showed up - me, Henry, Martin, and Brian (the new teacher). It was good to hang out, take it easy.

Then afterwards, Henry and I hit the beach. Yeah, the beach again! It was so nice not to work. Just to play. The beach was packed, but I didn't care because I just wanted to be in the ocean, since I had barely seen it in my 2 weeks here! We stayed for sunset and then headed back towards town.

A bunch of us had planned to meet up at Barba Roja, a restaurant/bar at 10:30pm. I got home at about 7pm, so I had about 3ish hours to work. I crammed in some work before playtime.

Luckily, Barba Roja is only about a 5 minute walk for me (yay, something close by!), so I walked there. I ran into Dallas while waiting in line, then Henry showed up shortly after. For the girls, the cover charge was 1000 colones ($2), and we got 3 drinks (anything with rum or vodka, that is). And for the guys, it was 5000 colones ($10) and they got no drinks. Quite a rip off for the guys, eh?

Inside the place, we ran into Christine and Casey, who were hanging out with the 2 guys that live by TEFL. We see them all the time. Usually wave and say hello. It was good times. We drank, danced, and had a good time.

All in all, it was a good Saturday. As for today, I went to the beach this morning to relax for a bit. And now I'm up at school. Time for work! Maybe I'll treat myself to dinner tonight..who knows...

Friday, March 21, 2008


Wednesday. Meltdown.

I was really looking forward to my birthday this year. It is today. Does it feel like my birthday? Not really...

Wednesday was when all the shit hit the fan. The class I'm taking is so intense, moreso that I could ever imagine. We had only been in class for 1.5 weeks. And all of a sudden. Wednesday came around. We were given our teaching assignments. For the next 2 weeks, we have to teach. We each have to teach 6 classes (over the 2 weeks), do 2 one-on-one lessons with someone we pick (I did mine with a lady I met at the bus stop), and had a grammar and phonology test today.

Lucky me. I am the first to teach on Monday. Monday morning at 8am, I will be teaching at the hair salon. There will be 1-4 students. You never know what will happen there. And today, we were supposed to watch Pauline do teach there. We have only seen the demo teachings in classroom settings. The hair salon has some particular things about layout that you have to consider.

Well, today is Good Friday. Pretty much all of Costa Rica takes off. We're in the midst of Semana Santa. And so the busses weren't running today. I walked a good way from Manuel Antonio to Quepos (luckly, it's all downhill), then caught a taxi (say collectivo and it's 400 colones versus some 1500+ colones). Our class waited in front of the hair salon...many stores in Quepos are closed up for the holidays. And such was the hair salon. They decided they didn't want to learn today. So we all went back uphill to the TEFL building.

I was really looking forward to watching Pauline teach, so I could see the dynamic amongst the workers at hair salon. And also, so that I could see how it was set up, and what kind of space I would be able to use. Nope. I'm going in blind. And first.

Well anyways, so back to Wednesday. It's like a torrential downpour came down on us (students). So much work. Holy shit, so much work. No idea where to begin. No idea. I have to meet in an hour to discuss what I'm going to teach? What? I haven't even thought about it! Not to mention homework, too. We had grammar homework.

The teachers looked at me. I stared blankly at them. But finally, some thoughts came forward. Just a few.

Wednesday, I left class, walked down to Quepos as I do everyday. I waited for my bus. And oh, I waited. Wednesday of Semana Santa is when the Ticos take off. Everyone is heading for the beaches. And Quepos was busy. The bus took forever to get there. I was hot, tired, stressed.

I got on and luckily got a window seat. The bus was packed full. And hot. Steamy hot. I found it hard to breathe, especially with all of the extra stress from the day. What was I thinking. What have I gotten myself into. Do I really want to teach English? My asthma kicked in a bit on the ride home.

I was so excited to get off the bus. I was able to breathe easier. First things first. I'm going to get to my apartment, go upstairs, and jump in the pool. I have been so busy with the class that I haven't even had the chance to go to the pool yet. Damn it, I'm going. And wow, what a moment. The pool actually has a nice view, you can see the ocean, and the clouds from the sunset. I was the only one up there. I had it all to myself. I swam to get the stress out. Then laid down on the warm concrete beside the pool, enjoying my upward view of the moon, the sun lit clouds. Ahhhh...much better.

After my de-stressing swim, I decided to treat myself to dinner. It's a rare occasion since things are so expensive here and I'm well over budget. But I deserved it, damn it!

I felt so much better after dinner. Refreshed. But when I went home, I was back to it again. Nose deep in the books...

As for today, I turned 31. Celebrations? Not really. I think after I've got my lesson plan approved and I'm done on the internet, I think I will head down to Quepos, see if there is a bakery open, and buy myself a slice of cake. That'll be my celebration. Unfortunately, the busses aren't running today. So I will have to take an expensive cab ride home (too far to walk uphill!). So all I can afford (hopefully) is a slice of cake. That is, if there is a bakery open...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Will work for food?

I had my first one-on-one teaching session yesterday evening. I met a lady at my bus stop on Saturday who started to take the TEFL English courses (they are free to Ticos), but thought that they were too advanced for her, so she quit going.

I told her that I needed a student to teach, so I offered her my services. She asked me how much it costs. I told her the lessons are free because I need to do it to practice to get my certification. She was really excited, and started to recite a few words that she knew in English.

We arranged a day and a time. All of this was done in Spanish, so I was not 100% sure. But what I got out of it was that she was going to San Jose for the weekend, and that she was going to return on Tuesday, return for Semana Santa. We were to meet at her apartment on Tuesday (yesterday) at 7pm.

Yesterday was a tough, long day. Class from 8:30 to 5:20pm. After class, I went down to Quepos (my daily little walk downhill) and caught the first bus to Manuel Antonio. Of course, the waiting for the bus factors into the time schedule. I got home, ate a can of tuna and crackers, rested for a few minutes, then went to my one on one.

It is already dark here at 7pm. Raymond, my roommate, warned me that the area by the soccer fields is a little sketchy. And yes, it was. Emily, my student, lived on the street next to the soccer fields. I went in search of her apartment complex. Of course, nothing was labelled. I ended up walking past her place, then asking a lady I saw on the street. She pointed me in the right direction.

I got to the apartment complex, but again, nothing is labelled. I have no idea where in the complex Emily lives. I knocked on the first door I found, a bit apprehensive. A lady, an expat from somewhere, answered the door. She did not know who Emily was, so she asked someone else, who pointed me in the right direction.

Emily, an older lady who sells lingerie, and her husband Edgar, a pensioner (retiree) are very sweet. The lesson went longer than expected, but was okay. Actually, I did have some issues -- I told her that all of the lesson needed to be in English, but there was Spanish used as well. Didn't quite go as I wanted to. But learning did take place...

Edgar and Emily have been trying to learn, little by little. Edgar brought out a Spanish-English dictionary and was inquisitive of pronunciation and what words actually meant. Needless to say, it was a more of a one on two lesson.

Since the area by the soccer fields is sketchy (Edgar said a lot of people do drugs there), they planned to walk me back to the main road. However, Emily wanted to take a shower first. Edgar and I watched TV -- tennis, to be specific, as Emily showered. Then she made me a watermelon drink and gave me some bread that she had made (pan casero). In my mind are they going to walk me up?

I told them that I had to go since I have homework to do. Emily gave me a mango. And then we walked up to the main road. They told me that whenever I wanted to drop by, to drop by for dinner. Anyday. And on Thursday, we have another session together. Edgar showed me a fish that he caught in the river that he may cook up.

So it sounds like I am working for food..hehe. Edgar and Emily are the sweetest couple. I feel a bit intrusive, but I think it is their culture to be very giving people.

Looking forward to dinner tomorrow night!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

first day of school

Yesterday was the first day of TEFL school. I have to say that it was pretty intense, but it went well. Little did I know that I would be learning a completely new language as well. We started to learn the language of the Boruca people, natives to Costa Rica. The learning of the language taught us how it would feel as non-native speakers and complete beginners. It was quite awkward at first, but then became a little (and I say a little) more natural.

Today, I had to do my first presentation -- memorize 6 lines and teach them to the class, using pictures, body gestures, and repetition. It went just fine. Since I am used to giving complex presentations from university, I did not have many problems. I stumbled a little bit, but it was not bad.

We also learned more of the Boruca language today. I am feeling more comfortable with it. At least the bits that we have learned. So for this weekend, I have signed up for a trip that goes to the Borucan village. We will stay with a host family and learn about the culture and language. It is a bit expensive for me to do at $90 for the trip, but I think that the opportunities to do something like this are pretty rare. We need 3 more people to sign up, so we'll see if the trip even happens...

So far, so good. My apartment is nice, my roommate is pretty cool. And damn, I am only a few minutes bus ride from the beach (but I haven't been yet!). Maybe tonight, I'll go to the beach. My stomach is not cooperating with me today, so we'll see...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

School starts maƱana!

I left the pummeling waves of Dominical this afternoon, and headed on my dusty way to Manuel Antonio. I must say that I admire people who travel central America with surfboards. I got my first taste at how much of a pain in the ass carting a board is. And I only had one short bus ride!

But alas, I made it to Manuel Antonio. I am living with Raymond, a Canadian hairdresser/massage therapist. He has a 2 bedroom apartment and rents out one of the rooms. The rent, a ridiculous $600 for the month. But that´s the best I could find in Manuel Antonio. Quepos is cheaper, but it is nice to be up in the hills and a bit away from the town. The place is quite nice. He said that they were still finishing the complex in November, so it is very new.

I am excited to start school tomorrow. But being that it´s Sunday and I arrived a bit late, I am a bit behind on my errands. I don´t have enough clothes to go to school. So I hope that tomorrow after school, I can go down to town and do some shopping. The shops are closed right now. So this evening, I am going to head to a soda for dinner, and then going to do some grocery shopping for the week and then head back to the apartment.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Familiar territory

After a long days travel, I finally made it to Dominical yesterday. I was lucky to stumble upon a German couple who wanted to take a cab. I said the max I'd pay was $5. The cab fare ended up being $34, though, but the German guy, Max, said that I could pay $5. Hell yeah, I'll jump on that deal!

I am staying at Hostel Pyramis, which, Sean and I saw when we were in Dominical before. It looked kind of sketchy. But in reality, I have a private room with private bath, and it is a neat place. The guy who runs it is an artist, so he paints a lot. And all of the rooms are painted up. It has a nice vibe to it. And for $20 for the private, it is quite a good price, especially here in Dominical. I think I will be spending my weekends here!

It is good to be back in Dominical. Familiar territory. Nice people. Good vibe...

I bought a surfboard today. Yup, I did it! I got a smoking deal from a guy who sells used boards here. I got a 6' shortboard, with fins, leash, and a bag, for $120. At the end of my trip, I will sell it. And he said he'd even buy it back for half. Given that rentals are $20/day, and that I will be doing a lot of surfing from now until the end of my trip, and probably will spend all of my weekends in Dominical...I will end up paying a ton for rental. So that works out well.

I went surfing today, and of course, it kicked my ass. The waves here are bigger than they were when I was here before. And I chopped my chin on the board trying to duck under the whitewater...still trying to figure that part out! But it was good. good to be back in Dominical!!!