Thursday, March 27, 2014

ABC's of Costa Rica

Living in Costa Rica for three months was a dream which doesn’t seem real. Costa Rica was such a great learning experience about different school styles, the art of traveling another country and living with a host family. I would highly recommend Costa Rica to anybody but you should know a few things about Costa Rica before coming.

The ABC’s of Costa Rica

Airport: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is the biggest airport and also the one I flew into. On the plane, the flight attendants give you the customs card to fill out that you bring to customs. Going through customs is a different experience for everyone but mine was super smooth.  After you make it through customs, the most intimidating part is exiting the airport. There will be an overwhelming amount of taxi drivers waiting outside shouting “TAXI, TAXI, TAXI,” but just keep walking until you find the bus or the people you are meeting at the airport.

Beans: Don’t worry about getting enough FIBER in your diet as beans are served with almost every meal. Example: Beans in the Gallo Pinto for breakfast, Rice and beans for lunch and lentils and rice for dinner. 
Typical meal usually with some sort of beans

Costa Ricans: Often locals in Costa Rica are called “Ticos.” Qualities of the Tico lifestyle include not worrying about the future and enjoying the ‘pura vida’ life.  
Deet: Important to keep the nasty bugs away. It is recommended to use 30% Deet bug spray to reduce chances of catching dengee.
Election: Being here in Spring 2014, the election was taking place. Voting took place in February but none of the candidates got above 40% vote which they needed to win. They took the top candidates and the next voting period will take place in April. The environment during the time of elections is a big party for Costa Ricans and everyone gets together for a good time.
Free: Sorry but this word doesn’t exist too often here in Costa Rica. Prime example: Bathrooms. If you want to use a bathroom plan on paying 200-300 colones ($.50) to use the bathroom.
Gallo Pinto: Gallo pinto is the national dish of Costa Rica, a dish composed of rice and beans and is commonly served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast it usually comes with avocado and a fried egg. For lunch it is usually put on corn tortillas and topped with sour cream and tomatoes and dinner it is usually served as side dish to chicken or fish. Gallo Pinto translates to "spotted rooster" in Spanish. If you want a picture tutorial check out: 

Just a little RED at this point
 Hot: Don’t forget your sunscreen because the sun is mean here (Just ask my sister…she is still burnt 3 weeks later). In San Jose it is usually cooler but once you get to the beach, the sun will hit you. I am just thankful my winter here was 'sunny and 75' every day
Imperial: If you visit Costa Rica, you will see an imperial sign at almost every bar. Imperial is the beer of Costa Rica and many Costa Ricans take pride in it. The first week of school, the University had a welcoming party and they served Imperial at a school sponsored party (finally, a school understands how to get students to attend events). 
Just Chia It: While here in Costa Rica, I wanted to document the cooking and recipes I make. You can find the recipes at:
I will continue this blog with my many cooking adventures and recipes I make.  
Kilometers: Everything is measured in Kilometers here (just like most of the world) but it was a little confusing at first to see a speed limit sign of 100 but I quickly realized.
Los Profs: Local bar that is between my home stay and school. On Thursday nights, ladies get free drinks and many students go to the bar just to hang out and catch up with friends.
Mercado Central Annex: The market is located downtown San Jose and is located two blocks from the Mercado Central. The Mercado Central Annex is less touristy and is filled with endless amounts of fruits and vegetables I am still learning the names to. The vendors are super nice and often let you sample the fruits if you want to try one. 
Natural Medicine: “Stop pill popping and start gardening” said my alternative health approaches teacher. During the class we visited a Medicinal herb garden plot. The plot had approximately 75 plants that could be used in many ways from spicing food, herbal remedies, making natural shampoos, insect repellants and curing cancer. For example, Zamia is a plant that can be used for glue and acts like stiches to hold your skin together.  Other plants include Cardo Santo which naturally kills bacteria when you have a cut on your skin. Rosa de Jamaica which is packed full of vitamin C and can be used to make tea or even wine like they are currently doing on the farm. A tip I learned is that if you are ever sick, combine jengibre (ginger), lemon grass, and honey and you will “singing” the next day. My two favorite plants were zevia and the cinnamon tree. An interesting fact that I didn’t know before coming to Costa Rica is that you can eat Aloe and it is very beneficial to the digestion system. I would challenge you to look up some natural remedies next time before taking pills to benefit your health.
Orphanage: I got the privilege of cooking some meals and helping in the orphanage which was about 20 minutes away from my homestay. The experience was very humbling and I am so glad God blessed me with the ability to cook so that I could cook soups, gallo pinto or simply cut up fruit to bless others.  
Pura Vida: Used as a greeting, conversation starter, an exclamation, or in any context you want to use it as. The saying literally means “Pure life” and is used ONLY in Costa Rica. Pura Vida really is a philosophy of living that all Costa Ricans strive to uphold. After living here for three months I can now say I truly understand what PURA VIDA means.
Quitirrisi Indigenous Reservation- Our class traveled up into the mountains to visit a local medicine man named Chanto. Chanto taught us about the reservation and gave us a tour around. My favorite part was getting to make the sugar cane juice!!!
Robberies: They happen everywhere in the world but traveling in Costa Rica, I was warned to not carry anything valuable on me. The first week I was here a four male students got robbed in my neighborhood but since that our university hired more security guards that follow us home when we have night classes so I always feel safe! One night when a robbery happened on the bus that we were riding in, the police took 38 minutes to get to the bus. I am just thankful I didn’t have anywhere important to be during this time. I am also thankful God protected me and it reminded me of the verse my mom told me before I left in Psalm 121: 7-8
“The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.
Thank you God for your protection and a great friend to protect me from the devils lies! 
Sodas: No I am not talking about the drink that people in the Midwest call “pop” but I am talking about small, locally owned restaurants. A soda serves traditional Costa Rican food for a very reasonable price. Usually sodas offer Casodos which is a plate that comes with a choice of meat (chicken, beef, fish) rice, beans, salad, beet salad and fruit juice. Another beneficial piece of information is that Costa Ricans do NOT tip but the tip is included in the bill.  
Transportation: In San José, the buses are pretty safe and efficient. You can either take the public buses (I recommend to take those only when you know for sure where you are wanting to go also, they are extremely cheap!) or you can take taxis. The legit country taxis are red with a yellow triangle on the side. Advice: if a taxi driver says "I can take you to this place for a certain amount of money" I don't recommend to do that because they can easily rip you off and often know you are a foreigner. Before getting into any taxi, ask them if they have a "maria" which is basically just like the machine that counts how far you are going and how much it is going to cost.
Usted: In Costa Rica it is incredibly impolite to use the “tu” form. Generally they understand that you are a foreigner and will not take offense, but blend in better and show some respect by using “usted” when talking with someone.  
Class field trip learning about turtle conservation
Veritas: If you are looking to study abroad, check out the Universidad Veritas. The fabulous stuff, beautiful views and small class sizes makes it the perfect fit for many students. An added benefit is the location in San Jose which makes it very easy to travel to different locations on the weekends. It was also ranked in the top 12 places to study abroad on buzzfeed ( I am studying abroad) and it is so obvious to me why. 
Workout Classes: Not knowing what a cycling class or dance class would be like in Spanish, I was up to try it with a few friends. After attending the first cycling class, I was hooked. Not only was the music fun but the instructor danced the whole time and would always yell “VAMOS” at us while we were cycling…no slacking here!
Great Host Family!
X-rays: My host dad got some pretty cool looking X-rays while I was here but unfortunately he broke his Fibula and had to have some serious surgery. This was an interesting time as I did as much as I could to help out but one thing I love about my host dad is that he is super funny and kept a positive attitude through the whole thing. 
Yelling at women: In Costa Rica, it is part of the culture for men to whistle, shout, meow, or even hiss at women to get their attention (Taylar Miller has a great list of unique noises from men). It's a part of their culture and there is no way to stop it. The best thing to do is just to ignore it and keep walking. If you show them any sort of attention (even if you're telling them to stop), it gives them the idea that you are interested because you are showing them attention. In my three months here, it's happened, but as long as you completely ignore them and don't even look at them, they mostly won't do anything. Don't be nervous it is just a part of the culture.
Zip-lining: Ever wonder how it feels to fly through the rainforest? Try Zip-lining through the rain-forest while in Costa Rica. I went Zip-lining in Monteverde which included rappelling down some trees, the Tarzan Swing and the Superman Zip Line (The superman cable allows you to feel like a bird while you soar over the mountains and pasture land. It is a 1 kilometer cable with a height of 180 meters). The sights and experience were unforgettable and I would recommend doing this if you get a chance. 

 Thanks for reading and following my adventure experiencing PURA VIDA! I would highly recommend you visit Costa Rica and take me along as a personal tour guide!

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Ever have a time when everything freezes?  No future thoughts, no past thoughts but you are frozen in the now and all you can do is take a big deep breath of fresh air....and marvel in God's beauty around you.
 This past week I have had many moments were I just marvel at God's creation and realize what an AWESOME God we serve. The places I have been able to travel are so beautiful and I am simply filled with awe and wonder of what Heaven will look like. Psalm 19:1-6 says it perfectly,
Psalm 19:1-6 
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Life has been packed full of activates lately as the sad realization that the departure date on the return ticket is getting closer. On Tuesday, I had a class field trip with our health professions class visiting the medicine man/shaman at the Quitirisi indigenous reserve. 

I learned about the way of life, culture and the practices that this tribe does. Interesting fact: when the tribe first came to the land, they needed a big rock to crush food (the example he used was bananas), so they went 5km away and found a 5 ton rock, YES 5 TONS! and it took 3 months to roll it back to the land. Just because the details seemed so unlogical, I clarified and the man said the moral of the story was if you have a desire to do something, it CAN be done (but I am still a little confused by the need for a 5 ton rock). Anyways, the man was very knowledgeable about natural medicine and told us when the doctors can't heal people, they come to the tribe to get healed through all different natural medicines.
 We also got to learn and participate in the process of making sugar cane juice. It was much harder than it looks and it defiantly burns all the calories of eating the sugar before you eat it. Sugarcane is actually very healthy (not talking about SUGAR, but sugar cane). It helps stabilize your blood sugar and is a great source of iron...perfect for us iron-deficient vegetarians! (because all our host family ever gives us is the #evil SOYA)
On Friday, I headed out for a hike at 4:45 am with a classmate Sam and my teacher about 2 hours out of San Jose. We went hiking in a beautiful area where my teacher owns land and is working on re-foresting the area through government grants.
The cows farmer Don Juan owned
The riddle of the week: What do you get when you combine giant flying bugs, big rodents and a hike in the woods with a class full of girls?
To say the least you get a lot of funny moments (or so Taylar and I thought they were) but another way to put it is many people had plenty of complaints of the bugs, the food, the beds, the showers but
Simply put, I enjoyed every minute of the weekend and tried to stay positive through it all (even though a rat did chew though my friends bag and we did get many bug bites).
This weekend, my Alternative Health Approaches class had a field trip to Puerto Viejo area. For the class we visited an indigenous tribe, learned about natural herbs and plants and did chi (breathing exercises), acupuncture, and moxibustion on the beach. To get up to the indigenous tribe we were visiting, it took about an hour hike though the woods but we got to learn about all different kids of trees and natural benefits of plants. My favorite was the "moving tree" which moves its roots to get towards more sunlight! 

Once we climbed about 3/4 the way up the hill, we stopped at the reserve to eat a delicous lunch of smoked chicken, lentils, rice, vegetables and fresh mamon chino from the tree. We enjoyed the lunch, took a little "siesta" and then proceeded to hike up to the lookout point. From this point we could see Panama and beyond, it was beautiful.

Alternative Health Class
Alternative Health Class ready to learn
After dinner on Saturday night, a few of us who still had energy headed into town for a night of salsa. The nice thing about Puerto Viejo is the bars are super close so if you get board at one, you just head to the next one. I met the best tico dance instructor who Taylar named "Grandpa" but he was such a nice guy to teach me some new salsa dances.
Sunday we woke up to it raining which is rare here because it is the dry season currently and usually never rains. The rain reminded me of countless camping trips getting rained on but luckily we were in a hostel and not a tent. After the rain stopped, the class headed to beach for our final exam which was to perform a CHI! (I wish final exams could be like this back at Central). After our exam, we got to hang out on the beach for the remaining time, what a hard life! 
My teacher practicing his morning CHI

Mud mask to naturally heal our skin

This week, I have had such a feeling of contentment and I realize God is always in control and the more I surrender my life to him, the more he is able to work. The quote below says it so well:

"Let's not travel to tick things off lists or collect half hearted semi treasures to be placed in dusty drawers in empty rooms. Rather, we'll travel to find grounds and rooftops and tiny hidden parks, where we'll sit and dismiss the passing time, spun in the city's web 'til we've surrendered, content to be spent and consumed. I need to feel a place while I'm in it." -Victoria Erickson

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Puerto Viejo Story

People often ask

 where is your favorite place in Costa Rica

the many beautiful beaches
rastafari way of life

the positive vibes
and permission to just lay back 

and enjoy God's natural fruit
chat with locals at the farmers market
and believe that everything is possible in a
town on one flat road
along a turquoise ocean

where bicyclists dodge
overzealous mopeds
tourist buses

Where the smell of sweet ocean breeze
collides with Caribbean cuisene
of coconut scented rice and beans

and pure ocean mist
enters into your lungs

where the clear granules of beach sand
collide with black powder

hidden behind the jungle leaves
laden with golden spendor for none to see

nested in an harbor 
of Caribbean boats sleepily rocking at sea

From a town filled with tourist
Caribbean surfers
American divorcees
backpackers with unknown plans
and students
no matter what story we have 
Puerto Viejo is

full of God's beautiful creation.

(Hope you enjoyed the story from the great town of Puerto Viejo, PURA VDIA)