Greetings from Quepos and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica! This week was the beginning of my solo travels, and it got off to quite an exciting start. After surf camp ended, I stayed an extra night in Nosara before heading out on a 10AM flight on Monday. At least… that was the plan. My taxi dropped me off at the Nosara airport (and I use that term loosely - it's a gated field with an airstrip and a little covered area for waiting passengers). The lone guard on duty unlocked the gate and let me in… but no one else was there. No ticket agent. No passengers. Nada. I showed the guard my flight confirmation that said 10AM Monday, but he just shook his head. Since he no habla ingles, it took multiple rounds of charades and looking up words in my dictionary for me to figure out that the flight that day - and that day only - had been changed to 7:45AM, and that there would be no more flights until tomorrow. He let me out of the gate, I said "see you manana," and I walked across the street to a little market and used their phone to: 1) call the airline (they rebooked me on the flight for the next day - although I still could not understand what happened with the flight that day), 2) call the school here in Manuel Antonio to let them know I'd be arriving a day late (they said it was no problem), and 3) call a taxi back to the hotel where I stayed the last night in Nosara. The innkeeper laughed when he saw me walking back in with my bags, and when I told him my flight had been changed and I'd missed it, he shrugged. An appropriate response. Sometimes things work out as planned, sometimes they don't. No big deal. He got me a bunk in their dorm room for the night, and I hung out at the pool and had a few $2 Imperials (the local cerveza). Things could be worse.
The next day, I headed back to the airport at the same time, only this time, there are people there, a ticket agent, bags… Everything was as it should have been the day before. Kind of Twilight Zone-esque. The same guard was there and smiled when he let me in the gate. I said "me again." He said "pura vida." Kind of a catch-all local saying. Like, "How's it going?" "Pura vida." "Nice day, huh?" "Pura vida." It also works for "My flight randomly changed to 3 hours earlier without me knowing and so I have to rebook a bunch of stuff and come back tomorrow." "Pura vida."
At any rate, my second attempt to get a flight out of Nosara went off without a hitch and I got to the equally tiny Quepos airport Monday afternoon. The school sent a taxi to pick me up and take me to my host family, Angela and Miguel, and their kids and grandkids. They speak no English. Given the language barrier, this is what I've been able to learn so far: One of their sons lives in San Jose. Their other 5 kids live in - or near - their house. This is where it gets fuzzy. I don't know who actually lives there. They all come around in the evenings and so they are all there when I get home after class. I see some of them in the mornings, but I don't know if they've been there all night or have just stopped by. They leave their front door open from early morning through the evening and so family, friends, and others are constantly coming in and out. Some things I've learned about family life in Costa Rica so far: 1) If you want to ask someone something and that person is not in the same room, yell their name. If they don't answer, yell it again. Repeat as necessary. 2) While Costa Ricans like to do things at an easy pace, they like to talk REALLY fast. 3) There are bars on all the windows and any opening greater than about 4 inches, but people leave their front doors open and come and go in and out of each others' houses all day.
My first evening there, my "papa tico" ("tico" and "tica" are informal terms Costa Ricans call themselves) took me for a walk to the marina and an adjacent park in Quepos - a short walk from their house. The coastline is rugged with lots of coves and the sunset was beautiful - as they all have been. The highlight was seeing a 3-toed sloth hanging out in a tree at the park. We walked through the central business district in Quepos on the way back to the house and he pointed out the bus station where I get the bus to school, markets, banks, etc. Then back to the house for dinner.
I have breakfast at the house every morning and then catch a bus around 7:30 to get to the school - about a 15-minute ride up a very windy road. The school is at the top of the mountain with amazing views. There's only one other student in my super-beginner class - Brigette, a 40-year old teacher from Switzerland. All of the classes are small - no more than 5 or 6 in any one class - and all together, there are about 25 students at the moment. It's immersion Spanish - no English is spoken - so it's quite challenging. Our teacher, Runia, is wonderful and very patient with my complete annihilation of her language. She gently corrects our errors and when we do get it right, she rewards us with "bueno chicas." Class goes from 9-1 and then I get back on the bus and continue another 15 minutes to the end of the line, which is Manuel Antonio (MA).
MA has an amazing public beach, a state park, and a small, touristy row of shops and restaurants. It's cooler at the beach than anywhere else - and by "cooler," I mean under 100 - so I find a spot in the shade to hang out for the afternoon. I can get in the water to cool off - although the water is freakishly warm too. Yesterday when I hid my stuff to go take a dip, I came back to find a band of capuchin monkeys eying a banana I had stashed. I thought I was hiding my stuff from people - turns out it's the monkeys who are the thieves. The beach is gorgeous and while there are a lot of people on the beach near the row of shops, the beach stretches for at least a mile and if you walk far enough, you can have it almost to yourself. I've found a personal favorite spot under a huge tree on the north end of the beach. It's a great place to spend my afternoons. I watch the sunset on the beach and then get back on the bus to Quepos. I have dinner at my host family's house, do my homework (yes - there's homework, and my "mama tica" even checks it and corrects my mistakes! I'm reliving my youth!), and maybe watch a bit of Costa Rican TV. I can only understand about every 20th word, but I think the less I know, the more entertaining the soap operas (novellas) and game shows are.
This weekend, I'm going on a catamaran cruise around MA with a small group of folks from the school on Saturday. The group is all German or Swiss folks - as are most of the students at the school. Sunday I'm planning to spend the day at the state park in MA. There are a couple more beaches there and it's a hotspot for wildlife, so I'll keep an eye out for interesting critters too. At least, that's the plan for now. Sunday is 2 days away. Who knows what could happen that far out.
As much as I like to have things lined up and planned out, this week has taught me that you have to be able to adjust to whatever is thrown at you. This afternoon, I'd planned to go back to the beach with my camera to get some photos of those capuchins that I've seen there every day. When I got to the beach, there were no monkeys, clouds rolled in, and it started to rain. So I packed up and went back to the school to write up and post this blog. Sometimes a plan works out. Sometimes it doesn't. Pura vida. I'm learning to roll with it.