January in Monteverde

February 1, 2016 - Monteverde, Costa Rica

I can't believe it's already the first day of February, and in just a week I'll have been here a month. It doesn't seem possible, but at the same time I feel like I've known Maricella and Maya forever. I've done so much since I last wrote I don't even know where to start. Here every day could be a page-long blog entry and the things I've learned could already fill my journal if I had time to write them all down!

Some of you who have followed my family on other blog entries might notice a suspicious lack of food pictures with this one, but never fear – I'm planning on another entry solely for food! Maricella is renowned for her cooking skills, so it's no surprise that living with her has been one delicious treat after another! A lot of them have been traditional local dishes, so it's been a cultural experience as well. I've also tried fruits and vegetables I'd never even heard of! I'll probably wait until the end of my stay here to post that one, but know that it's in the works. :)

Since I'm here to intern at the Monteverde Institute, that has taken up most of my time. It's a proper job – I'm at the Institute from 8 to 5 every weekday, with a lunch break at noon (Maricella lives close enough that we walk home for lunch every day). I'm working to help the director, Debra Hamilton, with whatever she needs doing – mostly related to the Institute's reforestation projects and tropical bird research. It's been a lot of data entry and filing, but it's been surprisingly enjoyable, as I love getting things organized, and I know I'm being useful because that is one of the main things Debra needs help with. I've organized six years' worth of tree data from about 25 separate plots into four binders, and a huge stack of articles into different folders. Once a week, I get to go into the field to collect data in some of the new reforestation plots. Debra has been wonderful about allowing me to go to activities that would be interesting or educational for me as well as working, so I've also been to several talks and tours. I learned about bellbirds from Debra herself on the University of Georgia's Costa Rican campus, went to a discussion of the Paris Climate conference and its effects on China, went to a health clinic run by some visiting students in a nearby community, and learned about Monteverde's history through both a presentation and a tour of the area.

I've also been taking Spanish classes at the Institute, with a couple about my parents' age who moved to Monteverde with their children five months ago. I wasn't sure I would be able to because most of the classes are only for visiting students, and also I didn't know if Deb would be all right with me not working for two mornings a week, but it turns out that I can! It's a bit frustrating because almost all the things we're learning are things I already learned in my two years of high school Spanish, but I've forgotten them and I'm still making the same mistakes. I'm learning so fast here, though, and Maya and Maricella are both really helping me. It's cool to learn something in class and then go right home and practice it! I also got to do a cooking class one evening with the other Spanish classes, which was really fun.

Everyone at the Institute has been so nice and welcoming. Maricella's office-mate Fern gave me a hug when I was feeling overwhelmed in my first days, and also lent me several books about Spanish learning and Biology (as well as “Charlotte's Web” in Spanish!). The librarian, Marlene, has let me take books out for ages and helped me with my computer difficulties. Randy, who works with the Bellbird Biological corridor, showed me how his GPS device made maps of all the plots in Finca Rodriguez. It's also been interesting to be back here after such a brief visit with my church youth group last year, because I've met some of the same people again when they drop by the Institute, from our guide Victorino to the naturalist Alexa who did a night walk with us.

On the weekends and in the evenings, I've loved hanging out with Maricella and Maya. Every weekend we go into Santa Elena, the nearby town, to the covered market in the “centro commercial”. Various venders sell every kind of local fruit and vegetable you can imagine, as well as bread, homemade jam, meats, and snacks. The supermarket is right next door, and there are some restaurants including a sports restaurant with a great vegetarian option (mini burgers with roasted vegetables) and a sushi place. We've gone on a few walks, including one where I got to climb a strangler fig tunnel-tree (in the picture you can just see my face poking out if you look closely!). Maricella is extremely adventurous, and one weekend when Maya was at her dad's we went all out with the tourist activities! We went horseback riding through the cloud forest at sunset (my horse's name was Llanero Solitario (Lone Ranger)), and went to SkyAdventures! There we got to climb some massive jungle trees (equipped with handholds/footholds), explore five hanging bridges, take the SkyTram over the canopy together. Then I went ziplining (Maricella had already done it many times) and even did a mini bungee jump!!

One evening I had a fiesta with Maya: she had a set of face-painting sticks and I did my best to give her a purple-and-pink butterfly on her face (no pictures yet but hopefully soon). It actually turned out all right (despite the lack of purple or pink sticks), and the cupcake I did on my hand was even better. We've also done puzzles, sung together (lots of Frozen songs – that time I memorized “Let it Go” in Spanish has come in handy yet again!), gone to the “cuenta cuentos” (tale-telling) the local library puts on, and watched “Frozen” and “Tangled”. Maya always laughs when Maricella and I cry at movies, which we almost always do. :) Maya also likes to help me with my journal: I tell her what letters to write and after some confusion (either I've forgotten how to say the letter in Spanish or she's forgotten what it looks like) she usually gets it right! Having a little sister certainly makes it much harder to do homework, write my blog, or have even a single moment of quiet time, but I think that's outweighed by the benefits in Spanish learning, cultural immersion, and just plain love and cuteness!

The weather here is interesting and lovely. It's a perfect temperature for me in the low 70s – like early Vermont summer before the heat gets too much. The second the sun goes down you need a sweatshirt, and Ticos complain of the cold, but I love it! Most days it's sunny, but fluffy clouds speed across the sky thanks to the strong winds. Some days, in fact, we're in the clouds – on my first day I watched the late-afternoon sun stream through the mist. Other days the weather is so dry and windy that you can barely breathe for the dust, swirling in huge clouds up from the dirt roads. On those days, the “sidewalks”, with their screen of vegetation, are invaluable.

I've had lots of fun hanging out with the other young people at the Institute. There's a group from Mount Holyoke and Goucher that will be here for four months, and I've gotten to know them a bit. Nell, a research assistant with Deb, and Jessica, the other intern, are a bit older than me and both were only here for a few weeks. But Ali, a volunteer, is 19 and is staying even longer than me! She's from just outside Toronto and is a sophomore doing a work co-op program through her university, and she's here for four months. We've discovered that we love all the same movies and books, from “Anne of Green Gables” to “Star Wars” to “Lord of the Rings”. And, best of all, “Harry Potter”: I slept over at her house two nights ago and we watched the first movie, after dinner and live music at a nearby restaurant. I'm so glad to have a friend here who's always ready to get ice cream, have movie nights, and go hiking (Jessica, Ali, and I did the Cerro Amigos last weekend to the highest point in the area, and it was so much fun)!

WORD OF THE BLOG POST: la pasantía (n.): internship

This was something I'd thought of doing before I wrote my last entry, but I forgot to add it before I posted. I've now gone back and added the one I was thinking of, if you want to check it out. I'm learning so many words here, and cementing ones I already knew, that it only seems right to highlight at least a few for you guys. Of course it would have been cool to do this for my whole gap year, but it's a bit late for that! There were definitely some words along the way, anyway (remember “ikteshaf” from Jordan?). So anyway this week's word is “pasantía”, and its relative “pasante” (“intern”). When I thought of getting an internship I never imagined I'd be in a place as wonderful as this for my first one, and my dad reminded me in an email that this is a rather extraordinary internship! It already feels like the time is going too fast, and I know I'll remember this time for my whole life.


Climbing the Strangler Fig
Community Health Clinic
Making Tiramisu with Maya
Monkeys in the Neighbor's Trees!


February 2, 2016
What a fantastic month! Sounds like you have really found a home away from home. So happy for you sweetie.
February 2, 2016
Fabulous. I hope we can keep up with you when we arrive. You will be an expert tour guide although we want to be sure not to interrupt the wonderful rhythm of work, study and play that you have established.
Love, Nannie
February 2, 2016
I can't even begin to pick my favorite photos or favorite parts of this post: The sunset ride, the tree climbing, the hospitality and care of Maricella, the super cuteness of Maya, the hiking and music with friends, picturing you organizing research studies, cooking, getting comfortable with your third foreign language this year. Plus the weather and the food. It's so cool!!!!
February 2, 2016
Hi Beckie! What a great blog post! I love that you are loving it there and having a great experience! PS. Tell Deb that you can't analyze data that is stored in a binder ;)
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