Week 11: Three Countries, One Week!

Here, once more, I inscribe and publish for the world another week’s happenings and engagements. This was a very full week for me; as I’m sure you’ll see in the paragraphs that follow. Hope you enjoy the tale of week 11 and all it brought with it.

Monday opened with a very tired Gabriel dragging himself out of bed for class to discuss the weekend’s adventures and the history of Costa Rica. Afterwards, a few of us had a short reunion to process more of our Nicaragua time, and to share a bit of the experience with the two students not able to go on the trip. That afternoon, I had my to-do list all full of productive things for doing…I put Nicaragua pics on Facebook, took two naps, and watched FaceOff on Youtube. Not incredibly productive, but it was definitely a nice day of rest after the long weekend of traveling. It also rained—pretty hard—which added a wonderful ambiance to the whole afternoon.

Tuesday after class and a quick lunch at home, half of our group headed to one of the host family homes for a baking class. Amid chatting and laughing together, we made congrejitos, tronjos, empanadas, pan dulce, and palitos. It was an informative—and tastily rewarding—class. That evening found me enjoying cafecito with the family and probably doing homework for the next day (no recuerdo).

On Wednesday, we finished watching a rather powerful Costa Rican film based on the themes of family, friendship, romance, place of belonging, and what’s important in life—a beautiful film and very thought-provoking. For lunch, we met for our weekly SOL searching and had a discussion of gender and sexuality. It reminded me somewhat of my Gender Communication class last fall, but it was certainly neat to hear the discussions and opinions of this new group of wonderful people. I can’t say I agree with everything that was said, but it was great to listen and learn. I used the time afterwards to finally write and publish my week 10 blog; pretty late posting, but not as late as this one is. (Guess it’s a sign I’m integrating into a life here that my days are so full of things to do that blogging gets moved around.) That afternoon, my group met up to prepare our final project over the coffee industry and its importance here in Costa Rica. The rest of the night went into working on that and planning for the weekend.

Thursday was the final day of our third (and fastest-gone) class module. We gathered together to give our final presentations before the whole SOL group. I think ours went pretty well, despite not being as creative as it could have been. An informal meeting of our now seven-person group ironed out the details of our weekend plans, and that brought me to lunchtime at home. The afternoon, as per usual, was full of class time with locals. We watched an Iranian film in History of Cinema with Spanish subtitles (crazy to think how much easier those are getting to keep up with). Communications class found us discussing the difference between a space and a territory and the semiotic significance that goes with each. We conversed about language specific to certain fields; the military among them, which created an interesting window of me answering questions of my experience many classmates who have never seen a tank or war helicopter in military-less Costa Rica. I came home to a wonderful dinner and a national fútbol game on t.v., while working with more of the programming requirements for MLS (and writing this very blog up to this point).

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Crossing the Costa Rica-Panama border
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Our hostel for the weekend

The morning of Friday was another of those early traveling ones I’ve almost become accustomed to. A posse of seven of us had decided that going to Nicaragua last weekend was the perfect precursor to seeing Panama (hence, three countries; one week). So we gathered at the bus stop at 5:00 a.m. to make our way to San Jose to catch another bus that drove us along the eastern coastline of Costa Rica through the province of Limón (which is actually the province we’re not allowed to visit, but passing through got the ‘ok’). Once we reached the small town of Sixaloa, I got to check another item off my list of ‘firsts:’ a border crossing by land, on foot! It was interesting to go through the boarder and customs process with no leadership apart from ourselves, but thankfully everything went very smoothly (and my passport’s looking pretty good from all this country-hopping).  Getting into Panama involved walking across what was probably a good 200 meters of very old, quite rickety, decommissioned train bridge. That in itself was quite the adventure. From the boarder office, we boarded another bus to go to the docks from which we took a boat to Isla Colón in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. It was great to be out on the sea in a lancha again, and it afforded an excellent view as we approached the small coastal town on the southern tip of the main island. From there, we found our charming hostel, settled in, enjoyed a refreshing dip in the pool, and headed to the main street to enjoy dinner. (Oh, and some shopping; I bought a 3-liter bottle of orange juice for the beach!) During our meal, a procession for Semana Santa (Holy Week) passed in front of the restaurant, and we got to see how preparation for Easter goes in Panama. [This is a really neat time of the year to be traveling through Latin America—I’ve gotten to see or be part of Easter traditions in three countries this year!] Also during dinner, we got to experience one of the things that come with the small island’s population (and tourist) density: a power outage. But finishing dinner by candle light and relaxing with the group back at the hostel finished out the evening nicely.

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The loveliness of Playa Estrella
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The ‘stars’ of Playa Estrella

Saturday morning, we decided to treat ourselves by sleeping in fairly late in the morning—made interesting considering we had crossed from a country that does not observe daylight savings to one which does. When we did finally get up, we worked together the make a satisfying breakfast and pack a lunch for our destination of the day: Playa Estrella. We found a ‘bus’ (actually a 15 passenger van) in the central park to take us on the nearly 30 minute drive to the west coast island beach named for its saturation of starfish in the warm, shallow waters. We wondered around the coast in pairs and trios while taking turns staying back to guard the belongings. I was definitely fascinated with the starfish, but also with the sheer number of fiddler crabs carpeting the beach as the sunned themselves on the front porches of their burrows and scurried back at the first sign of danger. We spend some three hours on the more touristic main beach, but then hiked back through the jungle to a more secluded side beach. It was absolutely mind-blowing how clear the blue-tinted water was against the white sand. Added to the partly-clouded sky and vibrant green hues of the nearby jungle plants, it truly seemed that we had stepped out of time and into a postcard paradise. I also really liked how shallow the shoreline was—we could walk nearly 60 meters out in the tranquil water and still touch bottom. When it was time for our bus to head back, I realized just what a downside staying über-hydrated all day can have…fortunately we made it to the hostel before this became any more of a story. Refreshing showers and a change of clothes got us ready to try out a highly-recommended restaurant on the main street: Bocas Bambú. The bowl of chili I ordered there—excellent. But even the amazing food couldn’t hold a candle to the dinner entertainment: four fire-dancers. I have never seen so many differently-shaped things set aflame and whirled around a human body to the rhythm of a song—it was amazing! If they’re ever hiring there… We finished off the night with a trip the ice cream shop and swapping stories during hammock time at the hostel.

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Bocas del Toro’s pueblo on Isla Colón
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Fresh coconut water!

I didn’t sleep particularly well that night because a broken window in our room provided the perfect entry for one of the hostel cats who was determined she needed to share the bunk with me…and do absolutely no sleeping. Most of the night hours were spent warding off the cat’s rough tongue or trying—unsuccessfully—to convince her that a massage plus claws equals not much of a massage. When dawn finally broke, I was relieved to hear the sound of a strong Sunday morning rainstorm that put all plans on hold long enough for me to get a couple more hours of sleep. Apparently, we all had the same idea, and started our day with breakfast at 11:30. From there we made plans to spend the day simply exploring the island and saving our cash for one big day to follow. We took a walking tour of the town, the coffee shops, the regular shops, the fruit market, a tourism office (to book a boat tour for Monday), and finally found ourselves in the central park to enjoy a lively game of Frisbee horseshoes. When the ‘heat’ of the afternoon hit (which still wasn’t much compared to the day before), we headed to the hostel pool to swim and friendship before dinner. Dinner consisted of tuna salad and lettuce wraps with tuna from the hardest-to-open cans I’ve ever come across. The end result was well worth it, and we took some more time to just relax and enjoy one another’s company afterwards. Then it was off to hit the town. We checked out three or four recommended places, but just couldn’t find one that struck our fancy. We ended up in a place called “Booze, Books, and Beyond” which we had stopped at briefly earlier in the day, but wanted to see again. We all had a small second dinner upstairs, before heading down to the ‘books’ part of the establishment for ping-pong, giant Jenga, and of course, reading. It was very satisfying to do something so simple in the midst of so much new adventure. Around midnight, we decided to head home to prepare for the Monday we had planned, but before bed there was still time to enjoy some delicious, fresh, and very messy coconut water from the hostel trees.

The rest of the Panama adventure? Well, that falls on another calendar week, so come back this coming Sunday (or possibly Monday with it being Pascua) to read all about the amazing last day and our subsequent trek back to Costa Rica. I do hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this very full, and fulfilling, week. It’s been a crazy one, but packed with good times and good memories with good friends. Thanks for stopping by and sharing in it. ¡Nos vemos!

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One thought on “Week 11: Three Countries, One Week!

  1. Wow, this is enough to make me feel tired! What a busy, busy week you had! Great adventures though, and it looks like you had fun. Being a student in a Spain can be tough, but you can also get a lot of fun and adventures, being in a different country and all. Glad you enjoyed your trek, and hope to read more of your adventures!

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