Week 12: Semana Santa and All the Happenings

This week, I created a list in my phone to help remember for this blog all that’s gone down in these last seven days…and looking back over the goings-on, it feels like more than just a single week has passed. The changing of months and sheer breadth of activities probably added to this. It’s been another great one, and here’s the account:

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our many destinations
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Isla Zapatilla
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aftermath of island tourism
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‘Hollywood’ resident

For those readers who are up-to-date with the events of week 11, you know that I began this past week in Panama with the group of six other students who also decided that going abroad while abroad was the thing to do for Semana Santa. Monday morning was nice and early to breakfast on eggs and fruit in preparation for our main activity of the day: a boat tour of the Bocas del Toro archipelago. We made our way to the docks to board our lancha with a few fellow travelers. The day was cloudy and relatively cool, considering our proximity to the equator. This made for a nice time to be on the water (and kept the sunburning to a minimum). Our first stop was Dolphin Bay where we idled the boat and waited to see the inhabitants of the shimmering cove. Before long, dolphins began swimming laps near the boats, poking their dorsal fins above the surface. Some swam in pairs and took turns launching themselves gleefully into the air. It was an awesome place to be! But presently we headed off to a boardwalk-connected series of platforms making up our restaurant for lunch that day. (We stopped by to pre-order to speed up the process when it was time to eat.) From there, we boated out to the small Isla Zapatilla. Our guide claimed it has been ranked as the eighth most lovely beach in the world; and between the white sand, glistening blue water, and lush mini-jungle in the middle, I’m inclined to believe him. After we set our belongings in a central location, I decided to walk back and check out the jungle, maybe see some local wildlife. Unfortunately, what I found was the definitive mark of heavy human tourism on the island: a mini-dump in the mini-jungle. It made me sad to see the effects of so many visitors exercising blatant disregard of responsibility for their trash and decision that it was the jungle’s problem to deal with the waste. We did still have a nice time together on the beach. After leaving the island, we rode to a seemingly arbitrary cove some 600 meters off the coast. Our driver passed around goggles and snorkels and we clambered out of the boat for what proved to be my favorite activity of the day: snorkeling over the extensive reef. Thinking about it, I don’t believe I’ve ever snorkeled in anything besides a pool, so this was an amazing new experience to see the frilled, branched, armored, and otherwise diverse coral forest teeming with fish. Large blue-green ones floated lazily along, smaller yellow ones with stripes darted around the coral and one another, and small black-and-white ones stole along the narrow pathways of the living labyrinth—just to highlight a few of the many species. Having a still-functional camera for afterwards seemed like a good idea, so I have no under-water pics, but the memories of that seabed are fantastic! After this, we reluctantly re-boarded the boat and headed to lunch. A plate of pasta and a two-macaw sighting later, it was back to the boat to visit ‘Hollywood’. It’s a shallow area practically carpeted with starfish (get why it’s called ‘Hollywood?’ So many stars!). I wish we had had more time to enjoy the marvelousness of it all. However, we had sloths to see, and see sloths we did. That was our last stop of the day before heading back to the docks and subsequently to our hostel to relax preceding dinner. That night, we decided to dine on the highly traditional dish of Gallo Pinto (rice and beans). I got to play the part of head chef. One of the guys working at the hostel came into the kitchen during our meal to converse and tried to guess who had made the dinner. He deduced completely wrong, thinking one of the ladies had prepared the food. (It’s ostensibly quite rare for men to cook in Latin American culture.) Gender stereotypes aside, we decided an ice cream run was the perfect closing out another wonderful day.

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leaving Bocas
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back at the boarder bridge

Tuesday opened with packing, eating the rest of the Pinto, and checking out of the hostel all too soon. Our first transport was a boat off the island. We made it to the dock at a time to buy tickets and wait mere minutes for the next departure. It was nice to be on the water again, but que lastima to be leaving Bocas (definitely a place to keep in mind for the future). Once reaching the mainland, we had the option of local bus, or taking a more expensive direct van. We decided to try our hand at the busses (despite much salesmanship from the six or so van drivers waiting at the dock). We walked to the nearby bus station, and were fortunate to get there not three minutes before it left for a city half-way to the boarder. Once in our destination city, we had to take a second bus (this one a re-vamped school bus), which left less than five minutes after we arrived. Basically, the whole morning was an exercise in executing perfectly fortuitous timing. Upon reaching the boarder, we glided through the now practically-familiar process. We found a small soda (restaurant) nearby for lunch before having a comfortable amount of time to relax at the bus station. Then, back to San Jose in the nearly deserted vehicle (seriously, there were something like 21 people on the whole giant bus). We made it back to San Jose and taxied home around 9:30—just in time for some pleasant pre-bedtime chat with my host family. It was very fun to recount the tale of another adventure (and display my now quite healthy-looking passport).

I set aside the entire Wednesday for one purpose: to write a 10-page research paper over the pictorial language of the Aztecs—in Spanish. And wow, am I glad I had no other plans. I don’t know exactly how many hours went into the project that day—but it felt like more than I had spent in Panama. I did take a short break to upload pics of the trip—as many of you have likely seen. And later in the evening, we took time as a family to make traditional Costa Rican bread for Pascua—palitos and empanadas de dulce de leche, pineapple, and a sweet/molasses-y fruit called chiverri. It was a nice mental break before pushing through the rest of the paper with a 4:00 a.m. night (yep, I’m definitely remembering that this is Study Abroad).

I took the opportunity of a slower day Thursday to sleep in and recover from the ‘wild’ night prior, lol. When I did get up, it was breakfast to prepare for…more homework! This one was only a one-page analysis of the film we watched last week in History of Cinema. After that, Josué invited me to watch Wreck-It Ralph with him and later share some of his favorite iPad games. Lunchtime rolled around, and then an afternoon I’m not sure I did much during. I vaguely remember that we had cafecito and empanadas. (I think this was also the day we got word from Pranav that he was staying in Santa Teresa for an extra three days.)  We visited Karla’s aunt and uncle for a while in the evening. Back home, Josué and I played a lively game of backyard fútbol—which eventually became a wrestling match and exaggerated pseudo-choreographed fight (reminded me a lot of my siblings back home and activities we enjoy together). I finished out the evening by finally publishing my blog from week 11 and calling it a night.

Being here during this time of the year has basically been three straight weeks of Easter preparation, but Friday was one of the key focus points for all the anticipation: Good Friday. While eating breakfast, my host abuela and I watched the procession of encounters through San Jose as actors and processioners recounted the journey of Jesus to crucifixion. It was definitely some powerful imagery and a new way to remember the importance of the day. Not long after the procession finished, I experienced my second earthquake that registered with my internal monitors—another small one, but still an interesting sensation. Josué invited me to play a board game called Sabelo Todo with him before lunch. Needing a personal challenge? A trivia game in another language is a great way to go! Amid my fumbling for the right words (and the information in general) we shared a good time and several laughs. Then it was time for a late lunch and the 3:00 p.m. time of prayer to commemorate Jesus’ hour of death. I spent a while casually drawing and just relaxing before we went to Heredia Centro for the evening procession. It was very nice to attend such an important cultural and religious event. I was enthralled with the elegance of the clothing, the multitude of people in the procession and simply present, and the symbolic magnificence of the whole beautifully-organized affair. Watching part of Ben Hur closed out the evening.

Saturday was another leisurely day of breakfast followed by more concept and character drawing. We made plans to visit some family friends that afternoon, but had not decided on a specific time. Around 2:00, Karla decided it was a good time and we basically just up and left—spontaneous family vacation! We headed to San Rafael, partway up the mountains, to the house of long-time family friends. Apparently, it’s a bit of a tradition for students staying with Karla to visit Jorge and Nora, so they were thrilled when we arrived. We fired up the barbecue grill and prepared several kinds of meat and potatoes to share. Some more of their family came by as well. Later, Josué, Jorge, Jimmy (the elder of the two sons), and I headed down a shallow valley to see the river. I’ve learned that Costa Rica is home to some 5% of global biodiversity, but I wasn’t prepared for just how much like Missouri the trail to the river would look. If you discount the bromeliads growing on the pine trees, it could have been confused with the woods behind the house back home! A striking and beautiful contrast to the beaches, volcanoes, and rain forests also to be found here. When we reached the gently flowing river, we took turns trying to skip progressively larger stones over the water before Josué and I decided to ‘accidentally’ ‘fall’ into the water (conveniently with no shoes and empty pockets). The water was frigid, but refreshing. A while longer and we took a hike up to a pasture looking over the central valley and the four cities therein. Then it was back to the house for snacks and a lively game of ‘Uno’ (apparently not called ‘One’ here). A fútbol game and conversation on the porch finished out the day.

We spent the night into Sunday, so the morning opened with breakfast at Jorge and Nora’s before we headed back home. After a refreshing shower, I did some cross-gospel comparison Easter reading and drew more. A very late lunch gave Pranav time to arrive home and eat with us while recounting his adventures. I played some backyard fútbol with Josué and relaxed during the afternoon before having a chance to video chat with the Missouri fam for Easter. It was great to see everyone and talk for a while on a day of the year we’re very accustomed to spending together. Fortunately, the technology decided to cooperate in giving us the video alternative. The last of the day went into preparing for our final module of class and watching several interesting online examples of tech-aided concept drawing. Thus ended week 12.

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guacamayas, just for fun

I’m pretty sure this blog is one of the longest I’ve posted, and it may be one of the more detailed as well. I hope those features enhanced your experience reading through what has been a quite diverse and eventful week. As always, thank you for reading and validating the time put into writing. It’s great to be able to share so many of my experiences here, and I hope this method is as enjoyable for you as it is for me. Take care, have yourself a marvelous week, and ¡Dios te bendiga!

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