At Home in Monteverde

February 19, 2016 - Monteverde, Costa Rica

And life in Monteverde continues, as I feel more and more settled here, and more comfortable with everything from my family to Spanish to getting around the area. The weather has been very unseasonably wet and cold, which the locals complain about mightily! I actually like the cool temperatures and the constant mist and rain – much more comfortable than the heat in the lowlands. The wind (which is in fact typical for February) has caused power outages at the Institute, and a large tree fell down in our yard two weeks ago and wiped out our internet and house phone for several days! Even in this weather, Monteverde is a beautiful place, and I'm still so glad to have landed here.

Work at the Institute has been much the same as it was the first month I was here – lots of data entry and some time out in the field. I'm getting better at navigating spreadsheets and finding efficient ways to enter the mountains of data on trees and tropical birds! I also was the Insitute's receptionist for a few hours last week when everyone was in a meeting, which I found very stressful – answering the phone in English is bad enough, but in Spanish it's much worse! I got to go to one of the Institute's preserves last week, called Nacimiento y Vida after the powerful spring ("nacimiento") that gushes up in the corner of the property. It's absolutely gorgeous and where much of my reforestation data has come from, so it was cool to see. I'll probably be going there next week with a school group that's coming.

Spanish class has continued to be challenging and fun. We've learned several new verb tenses, and all three of us are struggling mightily with the differences between preterite and imperfect! We're working on a short story by Gabriel García Márquez and have watched several short Spanish videos to practice. We also often have to write reports for homework (what a shock to have homework again!) and read them aloud in class. However, the bulk of the class and its most valuable aspect is the talking, since we have conversations about anything and everything. Between the classes and speaking with Maricella, Maya, and all their friends, my Spanish has improved significantly. I'm often able to translate for lost tourists when we're out and about, and for any non-Spanish-speaking visitors that come to the house. Maricella says I'm definitely able to speak faster than when I got here and without thinking about it so much; so many words and phrases are now much more automatic. I've also been writing my journal in Spanish this second month for extra practice, which isn't as hard as I'd feared but definitely takes extra concentration (and a fair amount of Google Translate, since I often don't know how to spell even words I know if I've picked them up here)!

We haven't done as many touristy activities in this past month as we did in my first, but last weekend we did go to a waterfall about two and a half hours away. I went with Maricella, Maya, Luke, and his dog Prem, and Luke drove us in his car. The waterfall itself was absolutely stunning, with a big deep pool in front, a little river flowing away from it, and lots of sand and nice trees. It was wonderfully clean too, with very little trash around. We had so much fun swimming in the pool (Maya's just learning how to swim), climbing on the rocks behind the waterfall, playing in the sand, reading in the hammock, fooling around on the slackline Luke brought, and watching the little minnows that swam in the shallows. There was also another waterfall a short walk away, and that one had a pool deep enough to jump into. Luke and I jumped off the rocks, and Luke even jumped off with Maya in his arms! It was all great fun, and the only small downside was a large scratch I got on my back from Prem. We'd all been staying well away from him when he was swimming because of his claws, but unfortunately this one time he came up behind me and clawed me without even realizing. It was totally a reasonable price to pay for such a wonderful day, though. :)

We've had two birthday celebrations at the Institute since last time I wrote – both for people named Ali! One is an employee who's originally from the U.S. and the other was my friend Ali (it was her 20th). Both times there was a surprise party with cake in the kitchen. Everyone in the Institute would quietly make their way to the kitchen beforehand, and then for my friend Ali it was my job to get her there last! It was great fun but the only downside is that when it's my turn, a surprise will be out of the question since I'll definitely know what's going on! I can't believe I'll be nineteen in just four days. I'm starting my last year of being a teenager! And even though it feels like I just turned eighteen, this year has been one of the most exciting and action-packed of my life.

Of course interns and volunteers are constantly coming and going at the Institute, and a few weeks ago Jessica left. We went out dancing at the only bar in town as a goodbye party, and then had a lovely dinner the next night with her host family. It was great to meet another family, and they seemed really nice! Last week another intern arrived, Luis, who's from Colombia but went to university in Illinois. It's his fourth time at the Institute (three times as a student, and now back as an intern). He was already good friends with Randy, and Ali and I have been having a lot of fun hanging out with them (Randy's 27 but we're the “young people” at the Institute!). We've had movie nights together and gone hiking, and one evening Randy, Ali, and I sat out in the woods for an hour talking about everything from fireflies to religion. I've also had great fun going over to Ali's house to hang out with her and the woman she's living with, Mary. Mary is always doing a new puzzle every time I go, and I've happily helped with several! She's also really interesting to talk to because she was part of the original group of Quakers that settled here in 1951, so she has endless stories of Monteverde's history.

The wildlife has been a bit different than I expected. I've seen the same sloth several times (it likes to hang out in a tree near our house) but never very close-up. We've also had two “foxes” fall through our ceiling!!! (They call them foxes but they're really more like opossums or really large rats.) They crashed through some plastic skylights we have in the living room ceiling at about two in the morning on two separate nights (about a week apart). Maricella and Luke quickly chased the first one out the back door, but the second one went into Maya's bedroom (luckily she was having a sleepover that night!) and we didn't get it out until noon the next day. We had to move basically all the furniture in Maya's room, the living room, and the kitchen before we finally got it out an unused back door! Quite the adventure and not the kind of wildlife-viewing you imagine in Costa Rica! :)

That kind of adventure makes for great memories, but even better are the everyday ones I'll cherish, especially with my host family. Maricella continues to be the best host mother I can imagine, including me in everything and welcoming everyone that enters her house. The other night I started teaching her to knit, and we were both laughing so much at my inability to translate instructions into Spanish and her excitement when she figured something out! As my Spanish improves, I'm also able to have more complicated conversations with her, from the meaning of family to peer pressure in schools. As I hear more about the other students that have stayed with her, I realize how much of a positive influence she has had on every single host daughter that passes through her house. I feel luckier than ever to have the chance to be part of this family. Playing with Maya has been as exhausting and fun as ever. I've fueled a growing obsession with all things Frozen: we've watched the movie twice more, sung endless repetitions of the songs in Spanish and English, and played round after round of a Frozen-themed Monopoly game she dug out. Maya often sings the songs herself, but since she can't really remember the words she'll start out strong with “Let it go...” but then move onto things like “los chayotes se cayeron de la mesa” (“the squashes fell off the table”)!! I know that Maya's learning so much about other languages and cultures and what it's like to have a sibling, but unfortunately I found out the other night just how hard it is for her to have so many goodbyes in her life. According to Maricella, after her last host sister left Maya would wake up sobbing, and she cried so much that Maricella was starting to worry until I came and cheered her up. I will have stayed for the longest out of all four host sisters Maya's had, though, so we're a bit concerned about what will happen when I leave. :( I know I'll miss them so much too, and I can't imagine a better place to live for the longest time on my gap year.

Even though I'm so happy in Monteverde, it is quite isolated so it's been wonderful that I've had several visitors recently. First came George and Mary, the aunt and uncle of my Aunt Barbara, and we went out to a lovely vegetarian restaurant for dinner while they were here. Then Kathy and Ralph, our next door neighbors and beloved adopted grandparents, came to Costa Rica on a tour and I got to have dinner with them too! We went to Tramonti, a very nice Italian restaurant, and it was so awesome to get news from home and see familiar faces. Although I must admit it was a bit jarring – Kathy and Ralph are so inextricably tied to our street, Thibault Parkway, that it made me feel disconcertingly like I was no longer in Costa Rica! And now, my grandparents Molly and Joe are in Monteverde for ten days!!! They arrived yesterday and I was so excited to see them, and I've had so much fun already showing them around. Our adventures will have to wait for another blog entry, though, because this has already been long enough. :)

With only two weeks left in Monteverde the time has definitely gone way too fast, but I'm doing my best to enjoy every second I have left. I have lots of fun activities planned with Nannie and Grandpa for this week, and you'll hear all about our adventures in my next entry!

WORD OF THE BLOG POST: el año sabático (n.): gap year/sabbatical

I know this is more than one word, but it needs to be included here because it's one of the phrases I've used most often, for obvious reasons. I didn't know the word sabático/a before coming to Monteverde, although I had sort of figured it out from its similarity to French (gap year: année sabbatique). My whole experience here is part of a larger goal of traveling and practicing/learning languages, and at the end of this year, I will have traveled for more than eight months total without my family, often without anyone I know. As I explain this to so many people I meet in so many places, it starts to feel more like a rehearsed speech and not the amazing opportunity it is. Learning these words is a reminder to enjoy this year as much as I can.


Dominoes Tower with Maya
Where the First "Fox" Fell Through
Maya's Classroom at the Monteverde Friends' School
1000-piece Puzzle at Mary's


February 22, 2016
Hi Beckie, Had a few of your blogs to catch up with now that I'm back on land. Enjoyed them all!! Happy to see that you are still knitting :)) And teaching Maricella - well done! Big hugs and kisses
Barbara Comeau:
February 22, 2016
Hard to believe it is coming to an end! What a grand adventure it has been. So glad you have been able to share this part of it with so many makes it so much more 'real' somehow. Enjoy your time with Nannie and Grandpa and we are all anxiously awaiting your return - especially your three cousins! Love, Aunt Barbara
Kathleen & Ralph:
February 24, 2016
WONDERFUL seeing you, Becky, and having the opportunity to enjoy your company with Ali. Please give her our regards.

Smooth sailing, girl, as you head out of port. We'll have the flag up waiting for your return home this spring. Hugs to you! Kathleen
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