La última semana en Costa Rica!

This past week has been absolutely surreal. A week of opposites really! One day we are stressed out of our minds studying for finals and preparing final presentations, then the next moment we are free as birds, eating churros in the park afterwards. At times we are so excited to come home, even counting down the days! Then at other times, we’re so sad to have to say goodbye to our professors and friends that we have made here in Costa Rica…Let’s just say, Monday (the day we leave) is going to be a WHIRLWIND of conflicting emotions! But so far, we have tried to make the most of our last few days by checking some things off of our San Ramón bucket list.

First off, we got to celebrate Tika’s 20th birthday by partaking in one of her favorite activities: eating sushi!! Earlier in the day, our professors had pitched in to surprise her with a cake in Ecology class and later, I may or may not have forced her to close her eyes while I spun her around and walked her to the sushi restaurant in an attempt to surprise her…she was a good sport AND surprised, so what do ya know! Tika really enjoyed her birthday celebration, Costa Rican style. Her host family (and remember, her family is very big!) invited us all over for a birthday celebration last weekend and it was so fun! We all ate way too much food and even got some more cake, special from her host mom!

What a place to ring in our twenties, really.

Our next adventure was to a coffee plantation in Naranjo, which Tika (and everyone else in the group) was really stoked about because she loves coffee! I, on the other hand, slightly abhor the taste of it, so I got to be designated picture-taker of the coffee tour! Despite not participating in the taste test (which Kendall the barista swears was the best coffee she’s ever had!), it was really interesting to see how coffee is made and where it comes from. Our guide told us that their coffee is sold in Starbucks, so it was crazy to see where it all begins! We got to taste the raw coffee beans before they are dried and toasted to become packaged coffee that we drink. We also got to try our hand at picking those seeds off the plant, which was, as you can imagine, is a very difficult and tiring task. One huge basket of coffee beans is worth only $2…The work is pretty exhausting and unfortunately, the harvest usually happens during Costa Rican summertime (December-May area) when the heat is intense and dry. The experience was eye-opening in many ways and I think we’ll all definitely remember our attempt at picking coffee beans next time we go to Starbucks on campus!

(Maddy picking coffee like a natural)

(the coffee taste test and the traditional chorreador)

On our next stop, we headed over to Sarchí, the carreta capital of Costa Rica. Here, the wheels and bodies of the traditional carts pulled by oxen are hand painted by different artists. We got the chance to see this work in person, and man, it was stunning! We were all blown away by the extreme detail put into each piece. We visited a workshop that has preserved and still uses machinery from the 19th century to manufacture oxcarts. They showed us the process that each piece goes through and even turned on their old waterwheel that used to power the whole factory. After the visit at the workshop, we went to the town center, which is home to the world’s largest carreta! Unfortunately, we couldn’t ride it…but it was still amazing to look at, especially after learning about the process of making a regular cart! All in all, it was a fun and beautiful way to mark our last field trip.

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(world’s largest carreta-had to take a panorama because it wouldn’t fit!)

After our last field trip, time seemed to go by pretty fast. Next came our big research project presentations, then final exams, then Tika’s mom stopped in for a visit, then we had our farewell dinner and now it’s our last day here. Where does the time go?!

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(our program’s Thanksgiving dinner! everybody brought a different dish and a secret Santa gift. good times and good memories!)

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(last trip to our favorite place, Aroma’s, after our last final exam)

Tika spent this last weekend with her mom and her boyfriend in Sarapiquí where they got to go on a river rafting trip. I stayed here in San Ramón and spent my time hiking with the girls, hanging out with my host family and saying goodbye to some of my favorite places.

One of the highlights of the weekend was probably getting to go on the roof of our school with our friend, Oscar. We have come to know him really well over the past 3 months, as he works at the Centro and opens the door for us everyday, 4 times a day.He is one of the sweetest and most secretly hilarious people you will ever meet, and he was kind enough to humor us in our request to get up on the roof. The view from the top was amazing and it was such a fun, crazy way to say goodbye to our school.

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(Oscar took us to dinner as a farewell treat!)

Last night, Fabi and Jose took me to a special sibling dinner to a pizza place with an amazing view (the pizza was pretty great too!). While we were driving around the countryside, I started thinking about how this would be one of the last times where I would get to hang out with them, chilling in the car, listening to them talk and singing along to Spanish songs I don’t know the words to. And it made me so sad! I know we’ll be able to come back someday, and seeing our parents here has definitely made the distance between Costa Rica and the PNW shrink, but it won’t be the same as going to school here, being with our families every day, and living here. That change scares me. But then I also have to think about how scared I was to change my whole life and get on an airplane to Costa Rica three and a half months ago, and look how that turned out!! I don’t know if there’s a point to this rambling, but I guess the number one thing I’ve learned since embarking on this adventure is that change is good. Yes, mom, the lesson you’ve been trying to teach me my whole life has finally sunk in! I didn’t believe you when it meant moving houses in 2nd grade, or trying new activities in awkward middle school, or leaving all my high school friends for college…but I think Tika and I have both learned so much about ourselves and the world around us from this experience. This has been a very good change. We’ve learned to be flexible, to ask for help, to be independent, to be creative, to make the most out of every day and, most importantly in my opinion, we’ve learned to be good listeners.

Today, our last day, will be spent saying goodbye to everyone we’ve come to know and love here, as well as visiting our favorite places. Right now, I’m writing this from one of the cafes we come to basically everyday…sometimes twice a day if we’re being honest. And as I was saying goodbye to the barista who I didn’t even know the name of before today, she gave me a whole box of pineapple empanadas because she remembered that they’re my favorite! We have met so many amazing people here who have been extremely kind to us throughout this journey. Our hearts are so full!! We really would like to thank everyone, near and far, who has supported us thus far in our adventure. As you can probably tell, we’ve had THE BEST time, and have made many lifelong friends and memories. Though the world is in a confusing and violent state right now, it’s comforting to experience these small acts of kindness across the globe. This trip has only inspired us to travel more and meet more amazing people around the world. Because at the end of the day, it’s not necessarily the time we went zip lining or hung out at the beach all day or drank hot chocolate four times a day that we’ll remember; it’s the people we shared the experience with that we’ll never forget.

Thank you for reading and for all your support!! We are so grateful to you all and hope to see you at some point after we arrive in Oregon tomorrow!

Besos y abrazos,

Mack & Tika

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Feliz Día de Acción de Gracias!

Thanksgiving break has come and gone. A blissful 10 days of beach-going, no school, family time and good Costa Rican food. Though it definitely made us a little homesick not being back in the States to celebrate, Tika and I were lucky enough to spend time with both our Tico and Gringo families during our break! Because of this, Tika and I didn’t get to spend too much time together, so here are our two versions of our vacations.

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For the first five days of Thanksgiving break, Kendall, Maddy and I traveled to Manuel Antonio National Park, a trip that takes about four and a half hours and two buses. After almost missing our bus out of San Ramón due to two different bus schedules saying two different things, we made it to Manuel Antonio without any trouble. We spent the first afternoon grocery shopping and settling into the Pura Vida Mini hostel, where we got to watch a group of squirrel monkeys scurry over the roof and some power lines. We spent the second day on the beach, which literally looked like it could be a screensaver or postcard. We played in the waves, lay in the sun and drank agua de pipa. It was truly a day in paradise! And of course, we were very very sunburned afterwards.

To avoid the sun the next day, we decided to hike to a secret waterfall that the manager of our hostel told us about. His instructions were to get off the bus at a certain business, walk to the end of the road, and then take the trail to the waterfall. We managed to get off the bus at the right place, walk to the end of the road and find the trail but very quickly after that, the trail ends, and we ended up just walking through the river for half an hour through the Costa Rican jungle. We finally found the waterfall, but we arrived at the top, and the only way down is to jump 20 feet into the pool or climb a rope down a vertical, slippery rock wall. Long story short, it was a great adventure and we all made it out relatively unscathed! That night we met up with Mackenzie and Mama Fraser and had a wonderful dinner in a restaurant with an airplane in it.

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Our third day we went to a beach that we heard about from some other travelers. It was another case of: get off the bus at the yellow wall, walk to the corner with the café and the supermarket, take a right, and then walk until you find the trail to the beach. This involved walking over a mile in the sun, and it was all down hill. We tried not to think about the way back while we walked! On the way we saw some more monkeys and a sloth, which made it all worth it. Finally we arrived at a beautiful little beach in a protected cover. The water was even warmer than usual, and because it was protected there were no waves and no riptide, and we floated for hours in the ocean. Yet another day in paradise. And luckily, as we were leaving the trail, a taxi was dropping someone off and we were able to take it back to our hostel so we didn’t have to walk the mile back uphill in the afternoon sun and humidity! For our last day, we returned to the main beach and spent all day there again, being more careful about our sun exposure. On Wednesday, we had to pack up and head back to San Ramón and managed to catch all the right buses with no mishaps.

Mack

I kicked off my break in the best way possible; with my awesome siblings, Fabi and Jose, who took me to the premiere of Mockingjay Part 2! The night before, Fabi and I had decided to have a mini Hunger Games marathon, as we are both big fans. Unfortunately, she’s Team Gale and I’m Team Peeta…but we still love each other anyway! After a slow week of classes, eating ice cream and candy with my big sister while watching some of my favorite movies was a great start to the my vacation! Another plus was that it premiered in Costa Rica before Oregon, so I got to see Mockingjay before my family!

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(the high quality movie theater selfie that captures our excitement leading up to the premiere!)

Soon after that, the long-awaited day finally arrived…MY MOM CAME TO COSTA RICA! Seeing her in the airport was probably one of the weirdest experiences of my life. My mind couldn’t comprehend the fact that my two worlds had collided the moment I spied my mom standing outside the San Jose airport with her bags. But that didn’t stop me from jumping out of the still-moving car to give her our first big hug in over 3 months!! What a great feeling. When we got home, almost my entire family was there waiting to welcome her. Weeks before, I had given my mom a list of gift ideas for everyone, so we had a little early Christmas gift giving celebration at around midnight that first night. Some of the most notable gifts were a Costco bag of peanut M&Ms for my brother, Juan, a fairy princess costume for my little niece, Meli, a dancing snowman doll for my mom, and of course, an elephant onesie for my forever cold sister, Fabi! It had been killing me to keep all these gifts secret for so long, so I was relieved that they were all very surprised and happy with their gifts!

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(my two moms, so beautiful!!)                            (can you tell we’re related?)

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(my sister after getting her gift from us; an elephant onesie!)

The next day, Juan drove my mom and I to Manuel Antonio, a beach town on the Pacific Coast that literally every Costa Rican I have ever asked has told me is the best vacation destination. Manuel Antonio definitely surpassed my expectations, it was amazing!! Juan made some really cool stops along the way to the beach, such as the famous Crocodile Bridge and a neat viewpoint overlooking Jaco. At one of the stops, we were lucky enough to see two red macaws fly right over our heads! Juan told us that it had to be a good sign for the rest of our trip, and I believe it!

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We had an absolutely fabulous time on the beach. Anyone who knows my mom knows that she LOVES the ocean and we couldn’t have picked a better place to enjoy it than Manuel Antonio. Not only were the beaches spectacular, but the wildlife was surreal! During our time there, we saw a sloth, iguanas, hermit crabs and countless monkeys! We would just be sitting at dinner or by the pool, and all of a sudden, 5 monkeys AT LEAST would come out to eat, swing through the trees around the hotel and play. It felt like we were in a movie! We also got to experience the wildlife of Manuel Antonio from a different angle later in our trip…specifically hundreds of feet above the ground…and at times upside down…That’s right, we went ZIP LINING! Neither my mom nor I had ever gone real zip lining before, so we were stoked beyond belief at the opportunity to experience it for the first time in Costa Rica! We spent most of the day up in the canopy of a forest outside of Quepos with a hilarious group of Gringos, some from Indiana, Germany, Mexico, California, Australia and even Oregon, as well as our spunky Tico tour guides. We got to fly through the forest on 11 different brake-less cables, with one boasting the title of 3rd longest in the world at almost 1 mile!! The views were breathtaking (we could even see the ocean from one of the cables!) and I felt so lucky to be in this beautiful country. It was so cool to be able to do that with my mom and show her some of the different sides of Costa Rica. A mother-daughter trip for the books.

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(monkeys outside our hotel!)                        (mom trying agua de pipa!)

 

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(see those little specs? that’s my mom and i on the 3rd longest zip line!)

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(sunset on the beach)                                   (hanging out with the girls on the beach)

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After we returned home to San Ramón, I got to show my mom around the city I’ve been living in for the past 3 months. I took her to all of my favorite places, like Aroma’s Cafe, the park, my school, my running route, the library, everywhere! It wasn’t too hard to do, as San Ramón is pretty small, but it was fun nonetheless. She also got to try some of my favorite foods, like Recreos, plátanos maduros, chocolate caliente, empanada de piña and more!

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My mom’s last night in Costa Rica happened to be Thanksgiving, so we asked my Tica family if we could celebrate with them. They told us that they had never celebrated Thanksgiving before (obviously) but would be delighted to have a first Thanksgiving dinner at my house. I have 7 siblings (including their significant others) and two little nieces, as well as myself and my 2 moms. It was a full house! Just like any other Thanksgiving dinner, we had way too much good food, had too many people sitting at one table, and had way too much fun together that night. Though I wasn’t in Oregon having a normal celebration, I definitely think that my Costa Rican Thanksgiving will go down in history as the most memorable. My mom and I made biscuits (thanks to Kim Hoyt’s delicious recipe!!) and Apple Crisp, some traditions in our household, while my family made mashed potatoes, chicken instead of turkey, vegetables (some local and unique to Costa Rica), flan de coco, guacamole, tortillas and of course, beans. I think the best part of our celebration was that my mom got to be there with me and my whole Costa Rican family. That night has got to be my favorite one since I’ve been here, thanks to both of my amazing families that made it so special.

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(the adorable sisters, Meli & Vale!)

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(my sisters!)                                                        (the table is set and ready to go!)

 

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(mom’s famous Apple Crisp)           (me and my crazy family!)

But now it’s back to (sort of) reality. Tika and I have our last day of classes tomorrow and after that…final exams week. It’s kind of funny, calling it that, because it’s not only the end of our time in class, it’s also the end of our time in Costa Rica. The finality of it all has been hitting us in waves. Some days, we’ll be really excited to go home and other days, we’ll be sad thinking of how much we’re going to miss our families here. Our perspectives have definitely changed since living here, traveling around Central America and learning how people live in a different part of the world. A piece of our hearts will always be in Costa Rica. We both hope to come back someday (ideally multiple times) and revisit the place that changed our lives forever. It’s weird to think that, when we return, it will be as tourists or Gringas, instead of as students. But for now, we have less than 2 weeks to make the most out of our time here…oh, and of course, pass our final exams!

Hasta luego!

Mack & Tika

Field Trips are Hard…

Qué bonita es esta vida!

Our group just got back from a week-long trip to Nicaragua where we saw some amazing sights, met some great people and made some incredible memories. But before we get to that, I’d like to share some photos from our visit to San Ramón’s cemetery on November 2nd, or el Día De Los Muertos. Every year on this day, family members of the deceased get time off of works to go to the cemetery, clean their graves and decorate them with new flowers. The bright colors starkly contrasted the sparkling white of the cemetery and made for a beautiful setting. Our experience at the cemetery wasn’t a somber one, in fact it was rather joyful! While the environment was quiet and respectful, we didn’t see anyone crying or looking openly upset. People came in groups, cleaned the graves together and sat around talking for a while afterwards. Visiting the cemetery on this holiday was a nice change from cemeteries in the States, which are very somber and kind of spooky. With this little walk through the cemetery, we were able to see the cultural differences between our country’s relationship with death and theirs.

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Not long after that, we set off on our last big field trip to Nicaragua! Instead of driving all the way there in one day, we stopped for a couple of days in Guanacaste, the northeastern regions of Costa Rica. First, we passed through the town of Nicoya where we walked around in the oppressing heat and observed the differences between el Valle Central and the Nicoyan Peninsula. The two regions are actually very different, as originally Nicoya was not a part of Costa Rica but its own separate entity that pertained more to Nicaragua than anything. Nowadays, Nicoya is obviously a region of Costa Rica, yet it has still retained its unique culture.

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While in Guanacaste, we also got to try our hand at making traditional tortilllas. A very sweet older woman who makes about 50 tortillas a day taught us how to roll them out with our palms and cook them to perfection. Though ours weren’t nearly as good-looking as hers, the tortillas still tasted delicious anyway! We got to stay in the city of Liberia for one night, a cool area very popular with tourists that has its own airport. As a group, we enjoyed walking around the city at night and seeing all the neat old buildings. Later on, we sat in the park and ate ice cream, which is always a great way to end the day.

The next day, we got to visit the famous Hacienda Santa Rosa. After learning about its importance in history in class as the battle site of many a Costa Rican victory, it was kind of surreal to finally see it in person. Not only did we get to see the casona, we got to walk around in it and time travel to the era of the sabanero (cowboy). We also got to hike a little bit in the tropical dry forest that surrounds la casona and found some amazing views as well as some interesting flora and fauna. Another plus to this forest was that the extreme heat kept most of the mosquitoes at bay! All in all, the majority of the group liked this type of forest the best! Most people, including our group before our trip, don’t even realize that tropical dry forests exist in Central America. While cloud forests and tropical rain forests are very important to the environment, tropical dry forests are also essential to the ecosystem’s balance. While it contains 20% more mammals and endemic species than rain forests, only 0.08% of tropical dry forests are protected in Costa Rica. Today, only 2% of the original forest that used to extend from Mexico to Panama exists. In recent times, fires, invasive species and an increase in grazing lands for livestock have severely inhibited the growth of tropical dry forests. Thankfully, the Santa Rosa National Park (Costa Rica’s first national park at that) was established in 1972 and has been working to preserve this highly important forest and historical site for future generations. We were surprised by how little we really knew or had heard about tropical dry forests, considering their importance to the environment.

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la hacienda Santa Rosa y la vista

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(an apparently really poisonous snake and an iguana on the road!)

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Profe Enrique with an “indio desnudo” tree) (http://costa-rica-guide.com/nature/national-parks/santa-rosa/) ~a link to more info about Santa Rosa National Park and tropical dry forests!~

Once we had seen all there was to see of Santa Rosa, we headed straight for the border! Beforehand, we had been warned that crossing the border into Nicaragua could take an hour to the rest of your life (direct quote from Doryan). Although we were a tad stressed at doing the wrong thing or, worst/most improbable case scenario, getting deported, the process was fairly quick and we soon entered Nicaragua! Immediately, the feeling was different on the other side. As soon as we got out of our bus, at least five people were around us trying to sell sandals, hammocks, cashews, you name it. It was a little overwhelming! Another difference in Nicaragua is that the enforcement of child labor laws is less strict than in Costa Rica, so many kids take to the streets selling bamboo figurines and flowers to tourists. For us, saying no to kids as young as 6 years-old asking us bluntly for money for food was extremely difficult and uncomfortable. Nicaragua, though a budding tourist destination, has suffered through numerous wars and is actually the 2nd poorest country in Latin America next to Haiti. One wouldn’t know it by seeing the extravagance of the capital city, Managua. Though we only spent one day and one night there, it was enough to see the unequal distribution of wealth. The main streets of Managua are lined with HUGE electric trees…I know that description is a little weird, so I’ll just show you a picture.

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At night, they are really beautiful and make for a very picturesque scene…but imagine how much electricity is used to keep these lit all night long?! Or how much it cost to build them? After a tour of Managua in which we learned about Sandino, Nicaragua’s national hero who led the rebellion against U.S. occupation of Nicaragua in 1927, we were then given a tour of one of the poorest neighborhoods of the same city. The contrast was striking. Let me tell you, driving along in a white bus marked “TURISMO” doesn’t feel that great when you’re passing by houses barely standing, kids selling trinkets on the side of the road, and people living in poverty staring right back at you. Though it made us feel guilty and awful to see this part of Managua, we realized that the poverty is there whether we see it or not. It’s only a matter of what we choose to do with the information that we gained from being in that uncomfortable situation. It’s a perspective changer, for sure.

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(view of Managua and Lago de Managua) (Tree of Life and Shadow of Sandino)

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(images from the state buildings of Nicaragua)

Next, we headed to Granada for two days and really had the best time! We stayed in an amazing hotel called Hotel con Corazón, an organization that uses all of the proceeds from the hotel to fund a school for local children. It’s absolutely incredible! They have several locations worldwide but are hoping to build more. (Follow this link to learn more about their wonderful mission! http://hotelconcorazonworldwide.com/ ) Not only did we love our hotel, but we loved the city of Granada! Founded in 1524, it boasts the title of second European city to be established in all of America. The architecture, the art, the people, the food (except for a certain strawberry margarita…), even the streets. Everything there has a very colonial, neoclassical feel to it that we found fascinating and endearing all at once. On our second day, we had a hilarious tour guide named David who took us on a sweltering walking tour of the city, but then later treated us to a boat tour of Las Isletas on el Lago de Nicaragua. It was a long but fun day that we won’t soon forget! We could have spent way more than two days in Granada exploring the city and enjoying what it has to offer.

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(our hotel)

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(images of the architecture in Granada)

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(we climbed that tower!!)           (our hilarious guide David)

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(360 view of Granada from the top! So worth the creepy stairwell we had to climb)

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(the main cathedral that you can see in the pictures above!)

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(the restaurant where we ate lunch)             (a tour of Las Isletas)

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(the majority of the islands are privately owned by extremely rich people. one house even had a helicopter landing pad! another example of unequal wealth distribution)

Next, we headed to our next destination: San Juan del Sur. But on the way to the coast, we made several fun and memorable stops! Take a look…

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(Niquinohomo- the birthplace of Augusto César Sandino) (his father’s house)

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(we got to try our hand at pottery! a lot harder than they make it look!) (Nicaraguans are known for their beautiful ceramics)

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(Laguna de Apoyo)                                                         (tortugas)

Though all of our pit-stops were educational as well as fun, when we finally made it to San Juan del Sur, it was a great feeling. We arrived just in time to watch the sunset on the beach, so as soon as the bus stopped, we ran as fast as we could to get the last rays.

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This is where our field trip got really tough…our professors gave us the whole next day FREE! After a long week of traveling and keeping to itineraries and scheduled tours, this was absolutely incredible. How lucky are we?!?! We didn’t know what to do with ourselves at first! No one telling us when to get up (usually very early, at least for me), where to go or what to do…but we figured out our agenda pretty quickly; it involved lots of beach time and then more beach time. That is, until our curiosity about the giant statue of Jesus on the hill overlooking the beach got the best of us. We decided to explore it which, of course, meant getting up early the next morning to beat the heat…We of all people WOULD get up early on our one free day! Oh well, it was all worth it once we got to the top! The hike followed a road but was quite steep in some parts and we definitely worked up a sweat. A good way to wake up, for sure! From the statue, we had a panoramic view of San Juan del Sur and in the distance, we could even see Costa Rica! Even though it was early and hot, we were so happy we did the hike. What a gorgeous view!

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(can you see the statue at the very top of the hill?? we climbed that!!)


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(Cristo de la Misericordia)               (las amigas cheetahs)

By the time we got back down to the beach, it was only about 10 am, so we had ample time to lay in the sun and play in the waves. And that is basically what we did for the rest of the day. When we got hungry, we simply walked 20 feet to one of the many restaurants along the beach. Simply put, it was the perfect day.

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Nicaragua really treated us well and we would definitely love to visit this beautiful country again someday! Such amazing sights, friendly people and strong spirit despite all their hardships. Now that we’re back “home” in Costa Rica, we’ve got some catching up to do. Our Thanksgiving Break starts on Friday and we are beyond stoked to travel to Manuel Antonio and see our families! My mom is coming to visit in a week and Tika’s Dad will be here just after Thanksgiving, so these next few school days are going to be achingly slow!! Our time here is really speeding up now that our big trip to Nicaragua has come and gone. Every day brings us closer to coming home, but it also to saying goodbye to our friends and family here…hopefully it won’t be a “adiós” but rather an “hasta luego!”

Ciao!

Mack & Tika

Halfway Already?!

Well folks, it’s finally here. The halfway point in our journey has come and gone in the last few weeks and, let me tell you, it’s crazy to think about! I know we say it every post, but time really passes SO quickly here. I mean, how can it seriously already be November?! There’s still so much for us to do and see here, we can’t possibly fit it all into the next month and a half of our trip. Guess that just means we’ll have to come back someday!

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(a few snippets of places we see everyday around our city)

We’ve had the last couple weeks free from school field trips, so we took it upon ourselves to do some traveling on our own as well as with our family and friends here! But first, I was lucky enough to celebrate my 20th birthday here with everyone on October 15th. Anyone that knows me knows that I absolutely LOVE celebrating birthdays, my own and that of everyone else! I have to admit, for this reason, I was feeling a little bummed about being far from home on my birthday, but thanks to my amazing friends, professors and family here AND back home, I think this may have been my best birthday yet! How cool is it to ring in your 20s in Costa Rica!? I’m one fortunate girl. So anyway, thank you so much to everyone, near and far, who made my birthday so special!!

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(a few of my favorite memories from my birthday!)

That weekend, my family took me on a beach trip to the Pacific Coast, near Jacó. We got to stay in a beyond gorgeous hotel called Los Sueños (Dreams) and let me tell you, being there really felt like dream. It was amazing to just spend a relaxing weekend on the beach and by the pool with all of my family members together. They are so fun and I love being around them! Even though I still feel like I can’t contribute a ton to their conversations, just listening to them, playing games with my 3 year-old host niece, Meli, sipping sangria with my host siblings and watching Jasper the Friendly Ghost in Spanish were some of the highlights of the trip. I’m so lucky that they bring me along and include me in their family gatherings! They really are the sweetest and I know I’m going to miss them dearly when I leave.IMG_8472 IMG_8474 IMG_8516 IMG_8514 IMG_8497IMG_8522

(Meli + la playa = pura alegria)                 (my family & i)

During that weekend, Tika traveled to La Fortuna with our friends Maddy and Kendall! They spent a few days exploring the city, which sits at the base of Volcan Arenal, where they went on a guided hike around a forest that led them to this great viewpoint of the volcano! The girls had a great time traveling on their own, experiencing the hostel life and meeting tons of new people from around the world. Quirky tour guides, strange bugs and crazy cool views all made for a weekend well traveled for Tika, Kendall and Maddy.

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After these two weekend getaways, we all had a week of relaxation spent studying for our midterms and eating lots of yummy food (usually those two things go hand in hand where we’re concerned). Even though we’re thousands of miles away from Linfield, we still had to suffer through halfway point exams just like our peers. The only difference being that we took our midterms in Costa Rica…which is a little bit cooler than taking them in McMinnville…

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(the boat of sushi which we later conquered…)(plaintain sushi! actually delish!)

Our reward for a studious week was given to us girls by our program assistant and friend and awesome person in general, Doryan, who, along with her mom, generously invited us to spend the weekend at her home in Bagaces. On Friday afternoon, we took a three hourish bus ride northwest and arrived in Bagaces that night. Even though we were tired, hungry and stinky, Doryan’s mom Isidora welcomed us to her home with open arms and a delicious plate of chifrijo each.

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We met a few of Doryan’s family members that night as well (including her mom’s hilarious dog Ramiro) and had a wonderful time dancing on their patio until late that night. The next morning, we woke up early and headed to the Cataratas Llanos de Cortés, just 5 or 10 minutes outside of Bagaces. Although Doryan had showed us photos before, nothing could prepare us for the beauty of this place. The waterfall itself was amazing; big enough to create that awesome roaring sound when it hit the rocks below but still small enough to swim up under and sit beneath. The park around the falls was pristine and not crowded with a ton of people (or gringo tourists) which made our time there more relaxing and peaceful. We spent half the day swimming around the natural pool, hiking up to the top of the falls, sunbathing, chasing fish and overall enjoying Costa Rica’s natural beauty. We all agreed that, not counting the many beaches we’ve traveled to, this spot was definitely a favorite of our entire time here.

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(Doryan and I in the bed of the taxi!)           (all the girls at the falls)

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(on top of the falls!)

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(Maddy caught…water?)                      (Kendall bein cute)

Once we got back to Bagaces, Doryan and Isidora took us around town and we got to visit the inside of their church downtown. Though it didn’t seem super fancy from looking at the outside, the inside was absolutely stunning, especially the ceiling.

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Later that night, the six of us plus Doryan’s cousin and his daughter all piled into one car and headed to a viewpoint out in the country to watch a lightning storm and stargaze after dinner. Even though this wasn’t necessarily a planned event, I think it was the spontaneity and the simplicity of it that made it special. For probably a half an hour, we all just hung out together in the dark, the lightning in the distance lighting up the sky every once in a while as we tried to find the Big Dipper in the unfamiliar map of constellations here. Tika even spotted some fireflies, the first either of us had ever seen in real life before, which was pretty cool. If there’s one thing I think we’ve learned throughout this whole process, it’s that moments like these are the ones we’ll remember when come back home. Yes, the trips are amazing and the sights are divine and all that, but it’s oftentimes the little things, like stargazing with people you just met that don’t speak your language, that remind you how connected we all are as people sharing this planet. In those moments, no matter the cultural and linguistic and other type of barriers, we can all share in that simple act of being awestruck at the lightning as it illuminates the night.

But enough of me pondering life! We just wanted to let you know that we’re halfway home and doing great!! This experience has been absolutely incredible so far and we can’t wait to see what more we’re going to learn about this beautiful country as well as ourselves in the next half. This coming weekend, we embark on our last and longest overnight field trip to Nicaragua for a week. We’ve been stoked for this trip since the beginning of the semester and can hardly believe that it’s almost here already. You’ll hear more about all our adventures in yet another country next week! Until then,

Besos y abrazos

Mack & Tika

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El Caribe!

Buenas tardes!

Tika and I just got back from a fantastic trip to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, namely the cities of Manú, Limón, Cahuita, Manzanillo and Puerto Viejo. The landscape and culture of the Atlantic coast starkly contrasted that of the Central Valley, though both places exude “pura vida” in their own way. The beach towns along the coast were filled with tourists, making it difficult for us to practice our Spanish in the restaurants, souvenir shops and hotels we visited, where the employees are used to serving gringos who don’t speak Spanish. That being said, we can definitely understand why so many people from around the world visit the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. IT’S GORGEOUS!! The beaches, be it white sand or black sand, were divine, the people were so friendly, and the food was to die for. We had a wonderful experience during our trip and would definitely come back again someday if we ever got the chance!

But before we could hit the beaches, our first stop in Manú gave us a taste of the tropical rain forests of the Atlantic side. There, we stayed in cabins in the middle of a forest not too far outside of the town, but it felt as though someone stuck us in the movie set for “Tarzan.” The scenery was unreal and left us wondering where in the world we had ended up. While in Manú, we worked with our ecology professor on a project involving water insects in a nearby creek. Though collecting bugs isn’t really my cup of tea, it’s more of Tika’s specialty, we had fun playing in the creek and taking a dip in one of the swimming holes. Later in the trip, we got to hike around the rain forest with our machete-wielding guide, Léon. During our trek through the woods, he would routinely stop and point out interesting things, such as the many frogs, spiders, other strange bugs and cool trees in the area. Lucky for me, mosquitoes don’t like my blood but unfortunately everyone else got eaten alive in during our stay in Manú and especially during this hike! Lucky for them, our stay there only lasted for a night and we promptly left Tarzanland for Limón and THE BEACH!

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(our hotel and the creek we worked in)

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(a blue jean frog and leaf cutter ants)

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(a HUGE tree and a colorful mural at our hotel)

**not pictured-when a giant cucaracha crawled into our cabin and the four of us were screaming so loud the entire campsite could hear us and then Kendall and I ran outside and Jake chased it around our room and Tika was laughing hysterically and then Maddy finally killed it with her shoe…

Since we arrived in Limón in the late afternoon, we didn’t have much hope of going to the beach on our own before the sunset. But lo and behold, our fun-loving professors, our amazing program director and our secretly hilarious chauffeur (Carlos) took us almost immediately to the beach upon our arrival. We got to enjoy about an hour of beach time after a long couple days of traveling, getting muddy in creeks and bitten by bugs. It. Was. Perfect. Though the beach was very small and our professors told us we’d see much better beaches throughout the rest of the trip, we had a ton of fun jumping in and out of the waves and just relaxing at the beach for a bit.

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The next day, Profe Enrique took us around Limón on foot and pointed out the differences between the Caribbean side and the rest of Costa Rica. Time for a mini history lesson, folks! When Christopher Columbus “discovered” Costa Rica, he landed first on a little island off the coast of Limón in 1502 (which we were able to visit!). Once there, he and his crew decided that the combination of the climate and the dense foliage made it impossible to colonize Costa Rica from the Atlantic coast inward. So, they crossed the isthmus of Panama and tried to enter by way of the Pacific side, which worked a lot better for the conquistadors who promptly enslaved the native people, established Spanish reign over the entire region on the grounds of divine right and began the long process of colonizing Central America. El Valle Central (San José, Cartago, Heredia and Alajuela) was the first colonized area, as the soil here is extremely fertile and the weather isn’t as extreme in terms of heat and humidity as the coast. To travel to the Caribbean, one has to pass through a big mountain range and lots of thick rain forests. For this reason, colonization in the Atlantic region was very slow and didn’t really begin until the construction of the railroad in 1871. This project increased population on the Caribbean coast and especially in Puerto Limón, where workers from Europe, China, indigenous groups such as the Guaymies, and Jamaica were contracted to clear out the rain forest and lay railroad tracks. Unfortunately, the majority of the workers died while building the railroad, as they couldn’t adapt to the harsh work environment of the Caribbean. Those that could came from Jamaica on the pretense that, after the railroad was completed and they had collected their salary, they could return to their country. However, this did not happen, as their salaries were very minimal and most of their money was paid back to the company they worked for in the end. For these reasons, the majority of the Jamaican workers stayed on even after the railroad was finished to work on banana and pineapple plantations under the United Fruit Company. If you haven’t heard all the atrocities the UFC has committed, please, do a quick google search. They’re bad news. But regardless, history is history and this is the reason that mainly black people populate the Atlantic side of Costa Rica. Of course, this region has struggled and is still struggling with the effects of racism as a result of years and years of geographic isolation, cultural differences and unwritten laws prohibiting blacks from traveling outside the Caribbean. In fact, it wasn’t until 1949 that blacks were given full citizenship in Costa Rica. All of these factors have contributed to the separation of the Caribbean from the rest of the country and have also lead to the creation of its own unique culture, which we got to experience during our trip!

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(a view of Puerto Limón and the island the Columbus landed on)

For example, the architecture in the Caribbean was heavily influenced by the Victorian era, Jamaican style homes, reflecting the times as well as the similarities in climate. Many of the houses today are built on stilts, have lots of windows and a high roof, and are constructed out of wood. These homes are made specifically for the humid, hot climate of the Caribbean and help circulate air throughout the rooms with their design. The ornate decorations as well as the bright colors of the buildings are reminiscent of New Orleans and made us all happy as we walked the streets of Limón. While there, we had the opportunity to have a lesson in Creole, a mix between Spanish, English and African languages that was spoken and in some places still is spoken by descendants of slaves in the Caribbean. We also got to eat some delicious “rice and beans” made with coconut milk…YUM. All in all, our stop in Limón proved extremely educational as well as fun!

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(the railroad and a cool building)

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(matching hats with Enrique and a historical diversity statue in the park)

After a day of historical enlightenment, we packed up and headed off to the beaches of Cahuita! Once we arrived, we immediately ran to the black sand beach right outside our hotel. And it was amazing! We all smelled a little funky after sweating and sweating and sweating all day in the Caribbean humidity, so jumping into the ocean was a great feeling.

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The next day, our ecology profe took us SNORKELING!!! Though it had rained insanely hard in the morning and we were worried we wouldn’t be able to go at all, it finally let up and we spent almost an hour swimming around in what felt like bath water, looking at the coral reefs of the Caribbean. After that adventure, we rested up at the white sand beaches of the Cahuita National Park with Doryan. We had a great time floating around, trying to body surf (some of us just getting trashed by waves in the process…you know who you are!), and finding live sand dollars!

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(always doing something weird when the four of us get together)

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Later that night, Enrique, Doryan and Carlos took us to Manzanillo, a beach town a bit farther south from Cahuita, where we watched a beautiful sunset on the beach. After that, we had dinner in Puerto Viejo, a beach town famous for its surf competitions. We really enjoyed the vibe of Puerto Viejo, where the Rastafarian culture is very prominent and the influence of tourism is very evident. We go to do a lot of people watching, as there were TONS of people in town for the Ziggy Marley concert that night. Walking up and down the main strip after dinner gave us the chance to buy some souvenirs and get a better feel for the town itself, which was really high-energy and fun-spirited, a place we would definitely visit again.

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On our last day in the Caribbean, a band called Kawe Calypso gave us a private concert as well as Calypso dance lessons. We had never really heard this type of music before, which originated in Trinidad and Tobago with the slave trade, migrated to Central America with the Jamaican railroad workers and was recently declared national patrimony in Costa Rica. All of us, even Jake, had a fun time dancing to the catchy rhythms and the Caribbean melodies on the final day of a great field trip.

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(Kawe Calypso and an awesome red eyed tree frog at our hotel!)

Visiting the Caribbean side of Costa Rica was an amazing experience, not only because of the gorgeous beaches and relaxing vibes, but also because of the very real differences between the cultures of the Atlantic and the rest of the country. As outsiders, we can never fully understand the dynamics of a society, but it definitely seemed as though historical differences have created a stigma around the Caribbean which makes it difficult for the two sides of the country to comprehend one another. Our extremely positive experience with the Atlantic coast made us question its reputation, per say, around Costa Rica. Tika and I would love to go back again and visit the Caribbean side some day!

Now it seems appropriate that we talk about Columbus Day, since in many places it’s celebrated today AND we just visited the place where he landed in Costa Rica. Hopefully in this day and age, we all know that Columbus is literally famous for getting lost, stumbling upon other civilizations in the Americas, then proceeding to spark a genocide against said native population. In sum, we should NOT be celebrating the supposed “achievements” of this ethnocentric, racist, greedy, lost man. That being said, I’ve heard recently that many cities in the States (including Seattle and Portland!!) now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Here in Costa Rica, the official holiday “Columbus Day” was changed in 1994 to “Día de las Culturas” (or Day of Cultures). How cool is that?! Just in case you didn’t already know how awesome Costa Rica is, add this little tidbit to the list.

Well, here’s to the theme of this week’s post: cultural diversity! Thanks for reading!

Hasta luego,

Mack & Tika

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Una Semana MUY ocupada y luego…muy relejante!

HOLA!

Wow! What a whirlwind of a week. I hardly know where to start! How about this; we’ll dedicate the first part of this post to our busy field trip around el Valle Central, and in the second half we’ll talk about the relaxing days following our return. Bear with us, as this post will cover a lot of ground full of many adventures!!

The first part of our trip began in San José, the capital of Costa Rica which boasts a third of Costa Rica’s entire population, last Thursday morning. We caught a bus there (our first time traveling with public transportation!) with our awesome program assistant, Doryan, and lucky for us she knows her way around because we never would have been able to navigate around the city! Believe us when we tell you that San José is a big mesh of confusing with a sprinkle stressful and a dash of crazy, all rolled into one. Walking around el centro was slightly overwhelming, and it didn’t help that everyone we’ve met here including our families and professors have confessed their utter dislike of the capital. Nonetheless, we kept an open mind during our visit and once we got past the TERROR that is crossing the streets of San José (cars really don’t stop for pedestrians there, ever!), we were able to appreciate our tour of the city.

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(I may or may not have almost gotten hit by a car taking this picture)

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(just some of the HUNDREDS of palomas in the city as well as el mercado)

One part of our jaunt around San José included an informal tour given by our history professor, Enrique, of el Museo Nacional de Costa Rica. But first, to get into the exhibits, visitors have to pass through a butterfly sanctuary which was SO amazing!! We weren’t in their for very long, BUT a butterfly did sit on both of our hands during our walk so that basically made our days. IMG_7289  IMG_7290IMG_7291

Okay, on to history! Since we’ve been studying pre-colombian Costa Rica in our history class, it was neat to see indigenous artifacts up close and personal. We got to see lots of ancient jewelry, pottery, hunting tools, special burial table things called metates and many more! Another interesting and rather mysterious pre-colombian artifact we learned about at the museum were las esferas de piedra, or stone spheres, of Costa Rica. These perfectly shaped stone spheres were found in southern Costa Rica by conquistadors and come in all different sizes. These strange artifacts are now considered national symbols of the country. Archaeologists are still puzzled as to how pre-colombian societies constructed these spheres so expertly exact, but regardless of how, they are pretty cool in person.IMG_7298IMG_7297

(las esferas & a snapshot from our peek at colonial Costa Rican life)IMG_7295

(our view of the city from the roof of the museo)

Later that day, we visited el Teatro Nacional where we were lucky enough to be able to see a show! Opened in 1897 and designed by European architects, el teatro is extremely ornate and decorated in a neoclassical style on the inside. Long story short, it’s absolutely beautiful. While there, we had a great time oohing and ahhing at the gorgeous theater and laughing hysterically at jokes we didn’t fully understand in the play “Las Fisgonas de Paso Ancho.”

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That night, after a long day of walking around the big city, we enjoyed a delicious meal with Doryan, our program director, Mayra, and her husband which was the perfect end to a long day.

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This long day was not to be our last during our 4 day field trip! The next day, we woke up early and headed to Cartago, the home of Enrique. He gave us a personal tour of his beautiful city, located farther east of San José. In the morning, we hiked to volcán Irazú and were lucky enough to see its huge crater before the fog and clouds rolled in (literally about 10 minutes later). At the top, the temperature could change from hot to cold in a matter of a few minutes depending on the cloud cover. Nevertheless, the view was beautiful and even when the fog formed a blanket over us, the spot was so tranquil and quiet that it didn’t even matter if we couldn’t see anything. Overall, visiting the volcano (my first volcano, in fact!) ranks high on our list of favorite spots. Nature is so dang beautiful!

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(the same exact viewpoint of the crater about 10-15 minutes apart)

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Throughout the day, we also visited some beautiful man-made creations. In Cartago, we visited la Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles and boy, was it breathtaking. Though Tika had been to a basilica in Switzerland before, I had only ever seen photos of basilicas in my art history textbook, which I thought meant I would be prepared once we entered. I was so wrong. NOTHING can compare to walking through an actual basilica; no photo can accurately depict the extreme detail in the stain glass windows, the gleam of the golden walls, the history in the antique statues or the incredible height of the ceilings. Legend has it that a little girl named Juana Pereira found a stone image of the Virgin Mary in 1635, but every time that she tried to take it home, it would mysteriously return to the same spot the next day. For this reason, la basilica was constructed in that exact place however, in 1910 an earthquake destroyed the building so the current church we visited was actually rebuilt in 1912. Our professor also informed us that every year in August, thousands of people from all around Costa Rica make a pilgrimage to this basilica in what is called La Romería. Strong believers walk from their homes to the church often with little tokens in hand that symbolize a favor they want to ask the Virgin once they arrive. We were able to view some of these trinkets, many of which were body parts that people hoped the Virgin would cure, in the small museum below the basilica. Also on display was the stone image of the Virgin herself, affectionately called la negrita for the dark coloring of the rock. Neither Tika nor I are religious people, but there was something very powerful about just being in this amazing basilica, watching people crawl on their knees to the altar and drink water from the sacred fountain…what an experience.

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We also stopped in Quircot, Ujarrás and Orosí to visit colonial churches, some built as long ago as the 17th century. Walking through those buildings was like traveling through time, it was unreal. Although the buildings themselves were rather simple and not nearly as decorated or fancy as la basilica in Cartago, the contrast actually made them stand out to us as more quaint and homey. All in all, it was a day of lots of churches and ruins of churches, something a little different for Tika and I but still lots of fun!

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After that, our gears changed from history to ecology as we traveled to el Cerro de la Muerte to work with hummingbirds! Despite its frightening name, Cerro de la Muerte wasn’t all that cold to us Pacific Northwesterners. At 11,322 feet above sea level, this peak used to serve as a crossing point in the mountainous Valle Central where many a traveler froze to death during the four day journey. But don’t worry, we survived! AND got to hold hummingbirds!! Although I was a little scared of squishing the tiny little creatures, no birds were harmed in our ecology project and we even got to take pictures with them! During the rest of our stay at Cerro de la Muerte, we also got to hike through several different types of cloud forests which was a muddy yet unique experience that not many people get to do. IMG_7770 IMG_7681 IMG_7811IMG_7773IMG_7783IMG_7638 IMG_7620(Tika got to science!)

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After we got back from our long but fulfilling field trip, we had our first week of freedom! By freedom, I mean we didn’t have any pre-scheduled events on our calendars for the first time since we arrived in Costa Rica. After basically a month and a half of go-go-go, we finally had time to catch our breath. Though we spent a day or two resting and exploring around our own city after classes, we knew we couldn’t waste any free time sitting at home while we’re in flipping COSTA RICA! So, of course, we had some spontaneous adventures because when aren’t we?! One that stands out is our early morning hike with our friends Kendall, Catalina, Maria Laura and her hilarious family in Santiago, a district of a city called Palmares about 15 minutes from San Ramón. We left here at about 6:45am to beat the heat and hiked a practically vertical trail to meet one of the most amazing views I have ever seen in my life. Seriously. It was definitely worth it!

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And great views are only made better with great company. We are so lucky to have made such wonderful friends here in Costa Rica. Maria Laura and Catalina had already done the hike themselves a while back, but made special arrangements with their families to take Tika, Kendall and I early on a Sunday morning. How sweet are they?! Although we still have a lot of time left, Tika and I are already thinking about how much we are going to miss our new families here in San Ramón. We can never adequately repay them for the infinite kindness they have shown us. It’s going to be tough to leave, but we can only hope that someday they’ll all come visit US!

This week, we are off to the Caribbean (woohoo!!) so get ready for next week’s post about the yummy food, fun adventures and amazing beaches that we’re going to experience there!

Hasta luego,

Mack & Tika

P.S. Just in case you’re in need of a good laugh, we leave you with a super awkward picture of us…

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Viajamos!

Buenas noches!

Do you want to know something crazy?! Tika and I have been living in Costa Rica for almost a whole MONTH! That just doesn’t seem right…but I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun. And we are definitely having fun here! This past weekend, we went on our first school field trip with the other members of our group and two of our hilarious profes, Enrique and Alejandra. We left early Friday morning from San Ramón and drove north to Guanacaste to visit several clean energy plants, namely wind, geothermal and solar. Although we were really sleepy on the long car ride, it was hard to stay asleep for long with the amazing views all around us. At the plants themselves, we learned about the efficiency of each method as well as each energy type’s actual use in homes throughout Costa Rica. This country is very unique in that it uses 95-99% renewable energy and the government here plans to go completely carbon neutral by 2021. It’s absolutely fantastic how much green energy is in use here, but also tragic how many species have gone extinct here and how much wildlife has been destroyed as a result of human impact and climate change. But nonetheless, Costa Rica’s progress in renewable energy use is encouraging and inspiring!

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(looking really official with our profe at the geothermal plant!)

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That night, our group got to stay in a cute little hotel on the other side of this same volcano (volcán Miravalles) that features numerous hot springs as a result of its location at the base of the volcano! While Tika had visited hot springs before with her family, I on the other hand had not. It was SO fun! The water felt amazing after a long day of driving and listening to complicated scientific energy processes in Spanish. We loved it there! And as if things couldn’t get any better, there was a slide at the pool with a beautiful view at the top!

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The next day, we again woke up early and drove a long way on a very rocky, uneven and pothole ridden road to visit an indigenous village in the territory of Los Malekus in northern Alajuela. The gorgeous scenery as well as hand carved figures holding the words “Capy Capy” or “Welcome” greeted us as we approached the village. There, we met our guide named Alex (he also had a Maleku name that I can’t remember and don’t want to butcher here!) who was extremely friendly and hilarious throughout the day. He first took our group into a traditional Maleku home constructed of a special type of palm leaf and proceeded to inform us of the traditional as well as current Maleku culture. Later, we got to see a Maleku performance (in which Tika was chosen to participate!!!! good thing dancing is one of her favorite activites (; ) which our host translated for us into Spanish. It was so crazy to hear their language; it’s so different than anything we’d ever heard before and even after our guide taught us some vocabulary words, it was still difficult to pronounce and remember. That being said, one thing we do remember is that butterflies (fu fus) represent love, peace and good luck, and toucans (pilis) represent internal as well as eternal female beauty in Maleku culture. Throughout the day, our guide took us through a nearby forest where we learned about medicinal plants in the area. While there, we also got soaked by the random rainstorms that frequently come and go in Costa Rica. Though we started out trying to stay dry under trees and umbrellas, we eventually realized that it was hopeless and chose to run back in the pouring rain. It ended up being a fun adventure that left us covered in mud, soaked to the skin and laughing the hardest we’ve laughed in a while! Afterwards, we had a traditional Maleku lunch of rice, beans and local tilapia cooked in a leaf called anillo. We were a little skeptical at the thought of eating a leaf…but it ended up being delicious! A flavor we can never recreate but will never forget! Later, we got the opportunity to do a little painting, Maleku style! We were each assigned a different animal and were given 15 minutes to do our best work. Tika and I are definitely not artists, but it was a fun challenge and hey, you can still kind of tell what they are! All in all, we spent the majority of the day with the Malekus and by the end we wished we had more time! Not many people are able to do what our group did, so we felt extra lucky that we got to experience and learn about the Maleku people.

IMG_7175 IMG_7185 (home of the Malekus!)

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(forest walk and lunch!)

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(caught in the rain!)

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(Tika’s frog and my hummingbird!)

Though this fieldtrip only last 2 days, we saw and learned so much! If it’s any indicator of trips to come, we are going to have a TON of adventures! This country is gorgeous and its plants and animals are unreal!!

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(unas lapas rojas and un perezoso just casually hanging out by our restaurant!!)

Tika and I got to do a little exploring on our own later in the week when her family invited us to eat lunch at their farm. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity and accompanied them on a 15-20 minute drive in the countryside with some of the most beautiful scenery we have ever seen! To get to their farm, we drove through (yes, through) a little creek and up in the hills on a gravel road. While there, we got to explore their wonderful property, hang out with Tika’s sweet family (especially Paola who is around the same age as us, super nice, and acted as our guide for the day), play in the creek and ride a horse! That’s right, we rode an old, somewhat cranky but also super cute horse named Greco and it was so much fun!! Neither of us had ridden a horse in ages so we were a bit apprehensive at first, but it was awesome.

IMG_7258IMG_7250(Greco está pensando…)

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It was so nice to pass the afternoon there, just relaxing and enjoying the outdoors as well as the great company. We are definitely becoming more comfortable with the unknown here. It’s not unusual for us to start the day with zero plans and end it filled with memories from random adventures. In Costa Rica, we take chances, we put ourselves out there and we learn new things about ourselves while we’re at it! Who knew Tika could dance like a Maleku?! Or that I would eat fish with a leaf?! Maybe it’s something different in the water here, or maybe we’re just tapping in to the spontaneous version of Mack and Tika. Whatever it is, we’re rolling with it and having the time of our lives!

Ciao!

Mack & Tika

FUIMOS A LA PLAYA!!! (finalmente)

Hola!

Time is just zipping by over here in Costa Rica, we can seriously hardly believe 3 weeks have already passed. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to fully wrap our heads around the fact that we’re living in this beautiful country, it just doesn’t seem like real life! Sprinkled throughout this week were some super exciting events, like finally going to the beach, as well as normal, mundane things, like procrastinating homework. Both, however, are all a part of our study abroad experience as we balance being world travelers and students at the same time.

At long last, we got the opportunity to work with children in the San Ramón community on Friday! Tika and I accompanied our Linfield group to el Colegio Bilingue de San Ramón where we observed an Independence Day ceremony (complete with a 3 year-old girl singing about respect and tolerance!! SO cute!) and then proceeded to help a Kindergarten class construct lanterns out of soda bottles for the Desfile de los Faroles (Lantern Parade). This parade precedes that of their Independence Day, as it represents the journey of a Guatemalan woman named Maria Dolores Bedoya who delivered the news of Central America’s independence from Spain by proclaiming it throughout the city streets on the night of September 14th, 1821 with a lantern in hand. To celebrate this important moment in Costa Rican history, children all over the country make their own faroles to light up and show off at the parade every year. It’s such a beautiful celebration and fun way to involve kids in the history of their country. We had such a great time farol-watching and seeing the smiles on all the children’s faces as they watched their lanterns light up at the parade! What a neat tradition.

IMG_6795 IMG_6793 (the independence ceremony!)

IMG_6794 IMG_6783(making faroles with soda bottles and colored tape!)

The next day, on September 15th, we celebrated Costa Rican Independence Day (although our history professor told us that, since they didn’t have iMessage back in 1821, word of Central American independence didn’t actually reach Costa Rica until October 13th..but small details!). Tika and I both were awoken at 4:45am by a very patriotic and very loud truck driving around the streets of San Ramón blaring music and followed by a group of very dedicated runners. We’re still not quite sure what that was all about, but nonetheless, the celebrations here started early! Later in the morning, my awesome host sister, Fabi, took us to the Independence Day parade right around the corner from our house. The parade here is a little different than back home, as it consists of children from all the different schools around the city. Young and old, most all participate in one form or another, be it dancing, playing an instrument in a band or wearing traditional Costa Rican outfits. Because the parade was composed of kids, the whole celebration felt very community-centered; just about everybody in San Ramón comes out to watch the Independence Day parade since just about everybody is related to a child involved in the festival somehow. We really appreciated how the focus of Independence Day here is placed on the kids in the community, which only seems right since Costa Rica does not possess a military and delegates the majority of their government funding instead to education. Children everywhere are the future leaders of the world, making their participation in San Ramón’s Independence Day parade highly symbolic of the future and very representative of Costa Rica’s focus on their nation’s kids.

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During this week, we also got to go to the…BEACH!!! My host family took Tika and I to the cute, little beach town of Playa Uvita (which is 3 hours from the Panama border!), where we went whale watching off the coast. We left San Ramón at 4:30am, arrived at around 8:30am, ate a quick breakfast, watched a presentation on the National Park we were about to enter, then commenced with the tour! It was amazing to see those HUGE humpback whales so close to our teeny tiny boat. We saw about 5-6 whales and some of them had their babies with them! Though none jumped up and over our boat like they do in the movies, we still had an awesome time experiencing nature in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Later, we were able to spend some time at a gorgeous beach in a town further north called Jacó. Tika and I were definitely in our happy place as we jumped in and out of the waves and finally got to experience warm water at a beach! The temperature there was quite sweltering, so diving into the water and spending the day in the ocean felt like such a relief. The beaches here are obviously very different than the ones we are used to in the Pacific Northwest and it was kind of weird to think that we were swimming in the same ocean as the one back home. We had an absolute BLAST there and can’t wait to return sometime soon! It truly was paradise.

IMG_6822(Tika watchin’ those whales)

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Other than those big events, Tika and I also got to see another side of San Ramón when we went on a mini-hike up in the hills of our city with the other girls in our group, Madeline and Kendall. The road up to our view point were a tad narrow when giant buses drove past us and the many honks we got for being gringas was more than a little annoying, but the view at the top was so worth it all. We seriously couldn’t fathom the fact that we live just 4km away from this gorgeousness, it felt like we’d been transported to a new world. Though the city itself is great and there are lots of cool spots in town, a different kind of beauty exits just outside its busy streets up in the hills.

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It really is amazing here and we begin to love this country more and more every day. There is so much more to see and experience in Costa Rica, and we’re looking forward to our first school field trip tomorrow! With our group and two professors, we are going to visit a few renewable energy plants (as well as some hot springs!) and we will also spend some time with an indigenous group called the Malekus in the northern region of Alajuela. More to come on those trips next week, but for now, buenas noches!

-Mack & Tika

P.S. Another momentous occasion…IMG_7036

…Tika found a cat to pet. Look at how excited her face is!

Exploramos San Ramón!

Buenas tardes!

It seems like it was ages ago that we were celebrating our first week and now, it’s already our second! So much happens here in one day, which makes the time pass slowly–in a good way, as our days are filled to the brim! Every day, we explore a little more and, in doing so, become a little bit more familiar and comfortable with our surroundings. I don’t know if I would call San Ramón “home” just yet, but we are definitely starting to get the hang of Tico life. For example, cars here in Costa Rica have the right-of-way, NOT pedestrians. Though we knew this before we arrived, I don’t know if it’s something we could fully understand until we experienced it firsthand walking to school everyday…Let’s just say, people drive differently here. It is very rare for cars to actually stop at the stop signs or to even just let you cross, so Tika and I have become masters at the classic “Red Light, Green Light” game, survival version! On a less terrifying note, we have also figured out where some of the best sweet shops and cafes are located, another important factor in our survival. So far we have had too many churros in the park, ice cream from Pops, apple strudels from a bakery called Musmanni, and delicious chocolate caliente, frapés, and arrollados de canela (cinnamon rolls) in our new favorite place, Aroma’s Café.

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Everyone reading this probably thinks that the only thing we do here is eat. Which is only partially true!! We have school everyday from 8:30-11:30am, then we go walk home to our amazing families that inevitably cook us too much delicious food for lunch, which results in food comas which result in descansos or naps, after which we return to school from 2:00-3:45pm. Once class gets out, we usually head to the gym (to make up for all the sweets we’ve been eating) where we watch Costa Rican soap operas on the big screens in front of our treadmills. IMG_6725

As I mentioned last week, sometimes we have dance classes that definitely count as working out. This week, we learned how to Merengue which was quite a feat for Tika, as she swears she is physically incapable of moving her hips. Despite our lack of coordination, dancing is always fun and we always have a good time being silly together.

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This past week, we also got the opportunity to travel a little bit on our own with the group. First, we meandered over to San Ramón’s Feria del Agricultor (Farmer’s Market) where we learned the names of strange fruits and vegetables, tried tortillas con queso and met a very kind farmer. The atmosphere there was comparable to a Costa Rican version of Seattle’s Pike’s Place Market, but more colorful and less fishy-smelling. It was noisy and crowded, but also sweet-smelling and fun! Though we couldn’t understand most of the farmer’s accents, we did purchase some carambolas (starfruit), mamón chinos (rambutan) and flowers for my sweet host mom.

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On Saturday we made a trip over to Las Musas, a waterfall/water park ecotourist attraction about 5km outside of downtown San Ramón. Even though it isn’t that far from the city, the taxi drive over was absolutely breathtaking. I felt as though we’d been transported to a different time, Costa Rica’s forests are BEAUTIFUL! And the views just kept getting better once we arrived. If the swimming pool, water slide and restaurant hadn’t been there, I would’ve sworn we were on the set of Jurassic Park. We saw gorgeous birds, butterflies and even a monkey swinging through the trees there! I’ve never seen anything like it in person, only in the movies, and WOWZA, I’ll never forget it! While there, we were able to take a “Costa Rican shower” under the waterfall, slide down a very sketchy, very fast and very exhilarating water slide, dry off under the Costa Rican sun and eat some delicious food! Overall, our trip to Las Musas proved a great time and we’ve decided to go back towards the end of our stay here.

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IMG_6587 IMG_6627IMG_6590 IMG_6665IMG_6664IMG_6586 sign reads “prohibidas las escenas amorosas” or “amorous scenes prohibited”…

The next day, we went to yet another festival called El Desfile de Las Carretas y Los Boyeros or Carts and Oxen Drivers Parade. Historically speaking, this was the preferred and traditional method of transportation throughout Costa Rica before cars were around, and every year they pay homage to this cultural tradition by way of a parade! Although that may not sound like a super exciting time, we had a ton of fun oohing and ahhing at the brightly colored as well as intricately decorated carts pulled by some pretty ginormous oxen. We attended the parade with Tika’s awesome (and large) host family who encouraged us time and again to go up to the oxen, stop the whole parade and have our picture taken with them. However, that was easier said than done, as some of the bueyes didn’t seem as though they liked the attention and would sometimes start walking at random or even throw their giant horns around in warning! Though the rain ended up driving us away from the parade, Tika and I really enjoyed the fun atmosphere of the parade as well as the hilarious company of her family.

IMG_6688 IMG_6679 IMG_6678 IMG_6683 IMG_6685 IMG_6694 IMG_6704scared out of our minds!

Our little trips and various escapades throughout this week have helped us to feel more normal, in a way. We’re in the process of adjusting to a new way of living, so this week was key in getting that much closer to belonging in San Ramón. It’s the small things, like finding a cute coffee shop where we can do our homework, in combination with the big things, like traveling to a waterfall and taking in the natural beauty of Costa Rica, that give us perspective and allow us to learn as much as possible about the culture in which we are immersed. For instance, Tika and I both are very organized, detail-oriented people. We often over prepare for things and tend to feel anxious when things don’t go according to plan. Being in Costa Rica for 2 weeks has already taught us that sometimes, we can’t always be in control and that it’s okay to go with the flow. Here, we aren’t as stressed as usual with making sure everything is perfectly planned out and we’ve noticed ourselves becoming more spontaneous! While neither way is good or bad, right or wrong, it is definitely an eye-opening experience to change lifestyles for a bit and see what it’s like. Living in San Ramón is crazy and every day is different, but we love it and are so excited to continue this adventure for the next 3 months!

Hasta luego!

Mack & Tika

La Primera Semana en Costa Rica!

Buenas from Costa Rica!

Ahhh, where to begin!? I can’t believe we have officially been in San Ramón for a week now! Sometimes, like when I’m lost or can’t remember a specific word in Spanish, I feel as though we JUST got here. But other times, when I’m having a conversation with my host family and realize that I’ve stopped thinking in English…it feels like I’ve been here forever! It’s only been a week, yet already we have learned SO much! I can’t even being to fathom how different we will be by the time we leave!

Let me tell you, getting here seemed like it took an eternity. I can’t imagine what it was like for our friends Matt and Cody to travel to New Zealand! After two long flights and an hour long bus ride, we arrived in San Ramón late last Thursday night. The whole day was filled with every kind of emotion you can think of; anger at Delta for delaying our check-in due to “Visa complications,” anxiety at the thought of losing our passports, excitement at the prospect of traveling across the world, nervousness at the sound of Spanish everywhere once we got off the plane, elation at the sight of our luggage after hearing “horror” stories of people traveling abroad who lost everything, happiness at the notion of finally hugging our host families, and of course, sadness at leaving our loved ones behind in the States for a few months. Luckily, excitement and happiness prevailed to carry us through a whirlwind of a week!

IMG_6301leaving PDX

Our program director, Doña Mayra, advised us earlier in the year that we would be arriving during the Festival del Día de San Ramón. Little did we know how big of a celebration it was going to be! During our group orientation on Friday and Saturday, we saw the beginnings of the festival, as our school building (el Centro Cultural e Histórico José Figueres Ferrer) is located right in next to what is called here “el centro.” El centro consists of a huge Catholic church and a large park, and during the celebration, both are filled with constant concerts, dances, food vendors, souvenirs shops and PEOPLE. We thought the city seemed crowded on during those first few days, but on Sunday, we were in for a wake up call.

IMG_6349 el centro

On Sunday, I accompanied Tika and her host family to watch a parade called La Entrada de Los Santos. Walking to the festival with Tika’s family felt sort of like a parade in itself because Tika’s host mom alone has 12 siblings and 63 cousins!! And yes, we were personally introduced to each and every one of them. Though we may not remember their names, we had such a great time with all of them! One of Tika’s family members literally dragged us all around the city to get the best view of all the saints as their floats were carried in the parade to the church in el centro, where all of them would be displayed together. While running around San Ramón, we passed through a mini dance party in the streets and, being very white, blonde girls, naturally a random old man pulled us into the dance circle to show off our moves. Everyone was laughing and having a good time, so hopefully we entertained a few people with our awkwardness!

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At first, the parade was very hot and us Pacific North-westerners were melting, so Tika’s host mom suggested we try a few traditional drinks to cool down. The first beverage we tried was called Chinchivi, a very…interesting drink made of syrup and fermented corn. We also tried a beverage called Churchill or Granizado, which is basically like Tres Leches (syrup, milk, ice, dry milk, ice cream). At this point, the parade had been going on for almost 2 hours and we finally mustered up the courage to ask just how many figurines of saints would be carried to the church. The answer: more than 60. Although very long, the festival was SO fun! Citizens young and old came out to watch the parade and throw confetti into the air when San Ramón’s float passed by. Tika and I even got the chance to participate in the parade near the end by dancing with her host family towards the church. This was around the same time that we experienced our first Costa Rican rainstorm. But, regardless of the fact that we got soaked without umbrellas, the celebration was one we will never forget!

IMG_6377churchill or granizado

IMG_6397posing with a santo

IMG_6372  san ramón himself!

Since the festival, things have quieted down a bit for us over here. There aren’t as many people in San Ramón anymore, which makes it easier for us to explore the city and become more familiar with our surroundings. On Monday, my wonderful host sister, Fabi, took Tika and I on a mini tour of the city and introduced us to Pipas, or coconut water straight from the coconut! On Tuesday, we had our first day of school and afterwards, Fabi (who is basically a professional nail artist) painted our nails for us! Yesterday, we took Salsa and Cumbia lessons which were very fun but EXTREMELY tiring. Dancing is hard work, especially latin dancing. We tried to move our hips…but mostly just ended up sore in weird places the next day! Today, we celebrated our one-week-iversary with churros rellenos, or churros filled with carmel, in the park.

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What a life we live. Already, we are starting to plan little trips to take outside of class and with our families around Costa Rica. Next weekend, Tika will accompany my family and I to the Pacfic Coast where we’ll go on a boat tour at the Dolphins & Whales Festival! Yes, we’ll learn a lot in our classes about History, Grammar, Ecology and Community Service. But, in reality, just being in Costa Rica has already proven the best lesson yet.

IMG_6516we do a lot of studying in class as you can see…

Well, more to come next week! Thanks for reading and here’s to many more adventures!

Hasta luego!

Mack & Tika