First Days in Costa Rica

January 10, 2016 - Monteverde, Costa Rica

So here I am in Monteverde, Costa Rica! As I started writing this, I was sitting at the kitchen table in my homestay, with a cup of chamomile tea, listening to the fuzzy television and the sound of birds and a few late roosters outside. I can't believe I was in England packing up the Christmas tree just four days ago, since it truly does feel like another world.

The journey here was horrendously long: starting at 1:45 on Wednesday when Granny and I left for Heathrow, and ending at 12:30 on Thursday when I finally got to Monteverde (30 hours when you add in the 7-hour time difference). I had three flights: first to Frankfurt, Germany; then to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; then finally to San José, Costa Rica. Then with a bit of difficulty (walking a few kilometers in the sun with my backpack and crossing half a dozen terrifying highways), I made it to Denny's restaurant, the pickup point for Interbus, and had a well-earned breakfast. The first half of the bus ride to Monteverde was smooth and fast, but after the stop (at the same rest station the St. Paul's Youth Group crew stopped at last year – remember those monkeys in the mango tree?!) the roads turned to dirt and it was much slower going. There were beautiful views (combined with terrifying hairpin roads clinging to the sides of mountains), but at last we passed through Santa Elena and drove right up to the Monteverde Institute.

That first afternoon I had a briefing about my homestay, and then met my host mother Maricella. I also have a five-year-old host sister named Maya, but she wasn't there the first day. Their house is lovely and very conveniently located about five minutes from the Institute, and not only do I have my own room but actually my own bathroom, which I was not expecting! I liked Maricella right from the start and the past few days have completely supported that impression. I feel so lucky to have gotten this family – Maricella includes me in their daily life, from family reunions to making tortillas, and she also doesn't speak English so there's no temptation there. Maya is as exhausting as any five-year-old, but very happy, sweet, and patient with my Spanish.

I've done so many different things with Maricella and Maya since I arrived. I helped make corn tortillas, pesto using fresh herbs from the community garden, and refried beans with peppers and onions. We went to the Monteverde cheese factory for ice cream, and walked into town along the dirt paths that are used as sidewalks. We went to a family reunion to see some of Maricella's 22 brothers and sisters (!). Maya painted my nails all the colors of the rainbow, and we colored in her Frozen coloring book. Maya and I played on the playground at a nearby private reserve, and saw an Agouti (a rodent a bit like a large guinea pig). We went to the covered market in Santa Elena for fruits, vegetables, jam, and bread, and had dinner at a restaurant nearby. Maya and I play cards every evening (or as much as you can play cards when you're five), usually one of her invented games. Maricella also seems to know every single person in Monteverde and Santa Elena, and I certainly don't feel like a tourist! When I see the crowds of university students at the Institute (right now there are some from Missouri, with more arriving tomorrow), their English sounds jarring already.

In the time I've spent there, I've started to see how the Monteverde Institute functions. I've been introduced to so many people (and forgotten most of their names), but also seen some of the projects that are happening, including a water purification garden. I spent Friday taking inventory of a huge amount of lab instruments and glassware in Meyer's office (he's the Institute's research/internship coordinator). I had to dredge up memories from biology and chemistry for the names of all the various things, and I learned a lot.

Friday morning was also much more exciting than I anticipated, since two hummingbirds got trapped inside Institute buildings (one in the kitchen and one in the library) and needed to be rescued. The one in the kitchen revived quickly after Meyer fed it some sugar water, but the one in the library was in much worse shape (besides being worn out, it had cobwebs in its wings that made it hard to fly). When Meyer had to take a phone call, I got to hold the hummingbird and help it drink for about ten minutes until it finally managed to fly away! It was such a wonderful experience, and I still remember how beautiful its iridescent green feathers looked and the way its tiny claws gripped my fingers. Some Canadian tourists came by and I'm sure I looked like quite the advertisement for internships in Costa Rica! :)

All in all, despite being jetlagged, overwhelmed, and slightly sick with some kind of cold, it's been a wonderful first three days. My Spanish has been adequate for communicating with Maricella and Maya, even if I don't have all the biology vocabulary down yet. I know that I'm going to improve so much, and I already feel comfortable with my host family and very glad to have a proper home for two months. :)

WORD OF THE BLOG POST: una carrera (n.): a race

This is one of Maya's favorite words, and every time we're out walking "¡es una carrera!" against Maricella, or against me, or really against anyone that happens to be there. It gets quite tiring to participate, but I guess it's good exercise for me since I haven't been very active here otherwise!


Sunrise above Costa Rica
Breakfast at Denny's
Rest Stop on the way to Monteverde
View on the Bus Ride to Monteverde


January 10, 2016
So excited for you (and quite jealous)! Your host family sounds perfect, and Monteverde looks beautiful.
January 11, 2016
What a lovely place to settle for 2 months! It looks amazing and sounds like just the right host family! You have already done so much but can't wait to hear what you are doing next!!
Love, Aunt Barbara
January 14, 2016
What an abrupt change in culture and climate! Thank you for sharing your travels so generously with us and good luck with the last language on your gap year wish list :)
January 17, 2016
Five-year-olds (or any young kids, really) are the best! You should post the rules to some of Maya's games.

Good luck at the internship too.
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