It’s Monday, July 19, 2010.

Another week has come and gone. It seems to all go by so quickly, but yet so slowly at the same time. I suppose I should start where I left off.

Day 7: Off to the village we go.

We started off the day pretty early. Breakfast was at 7. After that, we headed to Manual Antonio National Park to look for monkeys and sloths. It was raining, once again. We left our stuff in the bus but I decided to take my camera just in case I caught a glimpse of anything interesting. We walked around, trying to follow groups with guides so we could see some animals. We saw some bright orange crabs and heard some monkeys as we walked to the beach. Some decided to walk to the waterfall, so we split into a few groups. When my group reached the beach, we quickly took off our raincoats and clothes and ran for the water. Swimming in the pouring rain is even more fun than it looks. This quiet beach had no huge waves, unlike the other one, so we relaxed in the water and even played some Chicken. Soon enough, it was time to head back to the entrance to meet the rest of the group and go back to the hotel. When I got on the bus, I reached for my coat pocket to get my camera. As much as I wanted to believe that a raincoat is waterproof, it really isn’t. I didn’t think leaving my clothes under my raincoat on a branch of a tree would be such a problem. My camera had water all over it and my case was soaked. Needless to say, it didn’t turn on. I was really upset, but as soon as I got to the hotel, Jadi got me a bag of rice to put it in. I was just holding onto the hope that rice would save it, but it may be time to invest in a waterproof camera. We packed up our stuff and loaded it on the bus around 12. Before we left, I got to call my mom and asked her if she got the results of my AP World History test. I was very surprised, but ecstatic to hear that I got a 5! At least that put me in better spirits. We headed off for our 7 hour bus ride, stopping for some lunch along the way. I had some of the local cuisine complete with Coke from a glass bottle, with Dana, Madison, and Carly, while others decided to grab some pizza. Then we got some yummy gelato! Dana was super excited to find out that she could try some of the strawberry flavored one since it did not contain wheat, corn, or dairy. We got back on the bus and continued our journey. It rained on and off, as always. We stopped a few times for bathroom breaks and snacks. Will had to load up on those snacks! At some points, everyone was chatty, but as we got closer to our destination, a lot of people made an effort to learn all the Spanish they could before meeting their families. I read Dear John most of the time and listened to some John Mayer. We finally got to the village around 7. Everyone was gathered in what they call the “salon“. No, it’s not a hair salon. It’s a small gymnasium where the community often gathers for town events or even to play some basketball or, more likely, soccer when they can’t outside. Everyone in our bus was super excited, as were the locals. We got all our stuff from the bus and gathered in the gym. The locals put up some posters welcoming us and even gave us some treats and soda. One of the moms sang the song of their community, a younger girl sang My Heart Will Go On from the Titanic because it was one of her favorite songs in English, and then we played musical chairs. Whoever was left without a chair when the music stopped was introduced to their families for the next 2 and a half weeks. I was the second one out, but only because Will decided to fight me for my chair. My host mom, Lillian, and my brother, Steven, were there to meet me. Eventually, we all went to our new homes. I was welcomed by my dad, Juan Carlos, my sister, Carla, and her two daughters, Sophie (6 months old) and Allison (3 years old). They showed me my room, where they had put a big poster that said “Welcome to our family!” and a bunch of balloons. After I got settled, my host mom gave me dinner and I played cards with my dad and brother. They tried teaching me the best they could and Carla actually stood behind me, telling me which cards to play. I didn’t fully understand the game, but it was still fun. Even though most of my day was spent in a bus, I felt extremely tired and had no problems falling asleep.

Day 8: The work begins.

I woke up at 8 this morning and was expected to be at the meeting place at 8:30 for orientation and work. I definitely scrambled a little, but I managed. My host mom and dad were gone in the morning, but my sister gave me breakfast. I had the choice of fruit loops or chocolaty cereal. I chose the chocolate one. My brother and sister walked me down to the gym. It was raining, as it always does this time of year. We talked about the work we were going to be doing and wasted no time in getting started. We had to move some piles of dirt and stones first, but, luckily, we had help from a machine for that. Our jefe, or boss, is Juan Pedro, a local contractor and also Lucy’s host father. He told us everything that we needed to do. We began digging a path for the sidewalk and filling some places with dirt when it was needed. Juan Pedro took care of laying the boards on the sides and we began mixing cement. We used 2 wheelbarrows of dirt, 2 wheelbarrows of rocks, and a 50 kg bag of cement for each batch. Cement mixing is no joke, I’ll tell you that. It takes a lot of work to do it by hand. After work, some of the group played soccer with the locals, while others watched. By the end of the day, everyone was definitely exhausted. I took a shower when I got home. It wasn’t the greatest thing, taking a freezing cold shower, but I got through it. I miss the hot water option we have at home, but I guess that’s all part of the experience. I had dinner and my host mom was kind enough to take me to her friend’s house to use the computer so I could talk to my family and friends. The hardest part of this whole trip is the fact that I can’t see my family and friends whenever I please. I’ve definitely been homesick, some days more than others, but I tell myself that this is all temporary and I’ll see them soon enough. For now, I have to enjoy everything this country has to offer.

Day 9: I have reached my sharing quota.

The title of the day can be credited to Will. His quotes are priceless. Today was pretty much like the day before. The only difference is that we were a lot more tired and sore. At lunch, we even started a massage circle. I don’t know about everyone else, but my shoulders hurt. To my surprise, my camera started working today! I was super happy when it turned on! I have rice to thank for that.

Day 10: More milk, por favor.

I woke up around 7:10, got ready, had breakfast (cereal and a pancake, known as an arepa here), and headed to work. It’s becoming more of a routine now. We worked on digging a leveled path, so we could continue to lay cement down the next day. Since we were all working so hard, we finished at 11, ate lunch (rice, plantains, and mashed potatoes), and headed down to a local lecheria, where they milk cows, at 1. The walk took a little while (it didn’t help that it was raining) but we got there soon enough. We watched the cows being milked by machines, and we even got a chance to milk them ourselves! It was very exciting. We even got to see a one day old calf and a huge bull! But the fun didn’t end there. We were invited to Ryan’s house for a cookout that night. His mom made us some coffee when we got there and it was delicious! Then we had some yummy chicken, beef, and sausages. We relaxed, talked, played with the lab puppies, watched some Spanish Spongebob and iCarly, and even practiced our dancing skills while we were there. However, all fun must come to an end eventually. I got a ride home, since it was one of the farther houses and it was dark outside. I finished Dear John and fell asleep very quickly.

Day 11: Pass the chocolate, please.

Today I woke up thinking about my baby cousin, Rachel. It was her 1st birthday. It’s a shame I had to miss it, but I called my aunt and wished Rachel a happy birthday after getting ready and having breakfast. I headed to work around 8, as always. We worked on making cement the whole day. It’s not easy without a mixer, but we have plenty of people and take turns to make it easier. I went home for lunch around 11 and we continued work from 1-2. We seem to be very quick workers and get the job finished quickly everyday. It was Saturday, so some went to a party, others to church, but I hung out with a few people for a while and played some basketball. I got home and wrote in my journal. Just as I was about to start reading A Walk to Remember, my brother comes home and hands me a book saying, “Quieres?” He noticed the other day that I was close to finishing Dear John so he took it upon himself to get me a book. It was a very nice gesture on his behalf. It’s called Girl Overboard, and it looked interesting enough, so I started reading it right away. I read for a few hours and had a little coffee break as well. Here, they drink their coffee without milk, but it’s very good. The gringo (their term for anyone from the States), Steve, that lives in this village, invited us to his house for a bonfire. I got picked up around 6:30 (yes, it’s already completely dark by then). When I imagined a bonfire, I thought we would be sitting in a backyard around a fire, making s’mores. That’s not exactly how it went. We parked by a house (possibly Steve’s) and headed out for a short hike. I wore long pants and my Northface so I would be warm and protected from bugs, but I had no idea that we would be walking into the forest on a muddy path, so I had flip flops on and no flashlight. It wasn’t easy to avoid the mud in flip flops, but I somehow managed. Some of the boys that were already there decided to scare the rest of us as we walked along the path. We all screamed when they came out of nowhere. Finally, we got to the fire and started roasting our marshmallows. Some even went as far as playing games in the completely dark field with 2 flashlights. I sat that one out. The walk back to the car wasn’t the most pleasant thing I’ve ever had to do.  My flip flop got stuck in the mud and I cut myself on the barbed wire fence because I kept slipping after that.  Eventually, I got home, wrote in my journal, read some more, and passed out into a deep sleep.

Day 12: Kick back and relax.

We got an extra hour of sleep this morning, a great relief to those like Carly and Andrew, who wake up early to walk to the salon each morning. Since we worked so hard all week, Jadi and Heidi decided we should have a day to relax. It was at our own expense since it was not planned by Walking Tree, but it was fun nonetheless. We left for the zoo around 9 am. Ryan’s host dad drives a bus, so, luckily, we had transportation since our usual driver is not with us for the duration of the homestay. It was not your typical zoo. It was much more open and had fewer animals than I expected to see. There were monkeys, birds, many pig-like creatures, and even a pregnant jaguar. After seeing all there was to see, we headed to the Occidental El Tucano Hotel for the rest of the day. We had lunch and spent the day enjoying the natural sauna, swimming pool, hot springs river, and thermal mineral water whirlpools. Even with some rain, we all had a great day. We got home around 7:30. I ate dinner, finished the book my brother gave me, and even had a short conversation with him. He told me about his school, because he was to return to school the following day after his “winter vacation”. It’s a little different here because their summer break is from December to February, since that’s considered the dry season. I learned that they start school at 5 and finish at 11, and at other times in the year, they start at 7 and finish at 1. It’s definitely different from the United States.

Day 13: Those darn bugs.

I woke up at my usual time and starting getting ready. I noticed that my legs were super itchy, and when I stepped into the light, I realized that there was a rash covering the entire length of my legs. It was weird because I always sleep in long pants, socks, and a sweatshirt so I don’t get bitten by bugs. I guess I’ll never know if it was a bug bite that caused it or a reaction to the water at the hotel. All I know is that it was very difficult to keep myself from itching my legs. I called my mom and she told me exactly what to take to get rid of it. After breakfast, I went to my leaders, Heidi and Jadi, and they told me to relax for the day, since sweating would only make it worse. I took an allergy pill and put on some cream to make the rash go away. It was a surprisingly sunny day, so it’s a shame that I had to stay inside. However, it was nice to have time to talk to my mom and Michal, and of course, write this. The rash got a lot better in the meantime and I went outside during lunch. Of course, everyone gave me a hard time for not working. I had some rice, noodles, candy, and Fresca that my mom brought me, and headed back inside for the rest of the day.

I’ve been learning a lot and my Spanish is definitely improving. I’m starting to understand more and put sentences together. My family seems to understand me for the most part at least.

For more pictures and info, visit the walking tree website and click on blog. Click on Costa Rica Immersion C 2010 on the right side of the screen and that should take you to our group blog. Here’s the link to our first post. http://www.walkingtree.org/category/2010-costa-rica-immersion-c/

Enjoy.

Leave me comments, I love to hear from you all. I miss everyone dearly and can’t wait to see you all again.

Hope you’re having a great summer,

Elina