Chillin' and Illin' in Costa Rica

Our first morning in Costa Rica (Sunday, the 15th) started early; we're talking alarm-goes-off-at-4:30-and-you-need-to-be-ready-for-the-bus-to-pick-you-up-at-5:00 early.

The bus took us from our houses in Hacienda Vieja through the Costa Rican capital of San José to a coffee plantation called Doka Estate. After a traditional breakfast of eggs, fruit, fried plantains, and Gallo pinto (and, of course, high-qual coffee), we took a brief tour of the plantation.

From there, we made the ascent to the Parqué Nacional Volcán Poás (Poás Volcano National Park). While it wasn't below freezing or snowing by any means, we must admit that we huddled together to stay warm (mostly to protect Tyler, who was wearing shorts) as the wind from the crater did its best impression of a winter storm from back home.

After viewing the volcano's two craters, we got back on the bus and traveled to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. There, we were able to walk through a butterfly garden, see some beautiful birds, and get up-close-and-personal with Costa Rica's most venomous snake (thank Dios it was behind glass!). Perhaps the most fascinating creatures we encountered were the various jungle cats, including leopards, pumas, and ocelots. 

After an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch (more on that later), we finally got to see the waterfalls. There were three total, and each provided an amazing view, to say the least.

We returned to our host families that evening to rest up for the next day. We began classes at the Costa Rican Language Academy on Monday morning. Unlike Ixchel, we were not the only students at CRLA. We met folks from Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, Japan, and even Nebraska(!), all of whom were studying Spanish like us. Although all of the students were at different levels in their Spanish abilities, what really stuck out to us was how the Spanish language can connect people from all over the globe.

We continued to master our Latin dance moves with an hour-long lesson Monday afternoon. All was well until the bus ride back from school to our host families. On the way back, one of our classmates fell ill. And this is how The Costa Rican Plague began...

In the next 24 hours, eight of us (keep in mind that there are 11 students altogether) got sick. Although we can't say for certain, ya boys suspect that the buffet lunch is to blame, but the investigation is still open. Regardless of the cause, the reality of the situation was that all activities planned for Tuesday were canceled so that we could have a recovery day. 

Wednesday dawned a bit better. All students were able to make it to class, although not all were fully recovered and an additional student got sick. After our regular classes, the group took a cooking class in the afternoon. As you might imagine, some of us were more excited than others to be around food. Even though we didn't necessarily want them, we now know how to make some bomb tortillas. 

On Thursday, in place of class, we spent the day touring Cartago. This Costa Rican city is home to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles. It is tradition in Costa Rica to make a pilgrimage to this cathedral each year to either give thanks or to ask the Virgin Mary for help. When travelers reach the entrance to the church, they make their way to the altar by walking on their knees, and we witnessed several people performing this type of walk while we were there. After Cartago, those who were feeling up to it took yet another dance lesson, this time learning the merengue. 

(You may get the impression that we have become professional dancers during our trip; quite frankly, this couldn't be further from the truth.)

We closed out the week by graduating from CRLA (an incredible feat given that we only took three days worth of classes!) and taking a tour of San José. 

It's been a wild ride up to this point, but on the whole, we have enjoyed our time in Costa Rica. Next up on the agenda is a weekend getaway to Tortugero. Check back next week to read all about it, courtesy of our classmates Katie & Kyle. 

¡Pura Vida!

The crew in front of the beautiful Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles
Zach and Tyler show their Costa Rican pride, holding up a sign with Costa Rica's catch phrase, "pure vida".
The La Paz waterfall was certainly one of the most breathtaking views we experienced in Costa Rica.
The crater at the top of Volcán Poás