Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Guess who just got back today? Them wild-eyed boys that'd been away...

I fear I’ve become a bit of a hypochondriac since I’ve been here. I mean, if it’s not one thing, it’s another, am I right?

The first weekend we went to Playa Jacó and I returned with the worst sunburn I’ve ever gotten. Last weekend we journeyed to Santa Maria and San Gerardo de la Dota to fully immerse ourselves in Costa Rican coffee and nature. Although we did get to see a wealth of the famed little bird-men in green waistcoats that they call quetzales, the majority of the group also saw a plethora of bathrooms. That which does not kill you makes you stronger, or so they tell me. At very least, we all came back refreshed and cleaned out.

And then we went to Tamarindo, (here, I’ll throw in a little local slang to hint at how impressively cultured and accultured I’ve become) or Tamagringo as they call it here. Though, I will forever call it Tamarind-ow (man I’m funny). I initially brushed off the smirks of my teachers and host families at the mention of the name. “Oh. Tamarindo. It’s beautiful but… touristy there.” When we rolled into a town plastered with signs in English and more hotels and hostels than could have accommodated the entire tourist industry of Costa Rica, I realized how right they were. And the fact that we rolled 13 deep didn’t allow us to blend even with the other tourists.

But it was still fun. The hostel was one of those classic hostels with that funky “travel-kid” vibe. There common room was literally a giant tent with two walls, one permanent and one fabric. Hammocks and hammock chairs hung off almost every possible pole, and there were even some poles erected for the sole purpose of hanging hammocks. It was all about the bold colors and bohemian ambience. The thirteen of us split up into each of the 8 available rooms, parceled out to groups of Norwegians, Swedes (two separate groups), Israelis, Argentineans, a couple U.S. natives and a Spaniard. It became abundantly clear that if I ever want to stay in a hostel in Costa Rica ever again, I’ll have to get in shape, fast. Travelers are beautiful people in many ways.

We spent our days on the beach, soaking up the sun, failing to do homework, cooling off in the water and watching the surfers in the waves, or as they strutted up and down the beach. Actually, my friends spent the day soaking up the sun, failing to do homework, and cooling off in the water. I spent the day watching the surfers in the waves and strutting up and down the beach through the lens of my camera, watched with a mixture of artistic ecstasy, wild envy and uncontrollable admiration. In fact, in taking pictures, I did everything I could, save maybe a flying tackle, to interact and make friends. In case there was any doubt in your mind, let me inform you that I failed.

We spent our nights pulling teeth, I mean we spend our nights gathering the entire group of 13 together to hit one of the 3 bars/clubs that we could find. If someone could explain to me how a town has close to 20 hostels and only 3 bars, I’d be much obliged. We also spent our nights slapping away mosquitoes.

That’s right. We come to the third plague: mosquitoes. When a few of our group started to complain the first night, my lack of bites became conspicuous and I determinedly kept my mouth shut. If I didn’t say out loud that I had no bug bites, they wouldn’t hear and attempt to over-correct for their error. I failed again, offhandedly mentioning it the next day. And oh the next night…

Heavily perfumed in mosquito repellant, we trouped out again the next night. It wasn’t so bad inside the club. Even when they started to play house music (or techno?) that would last until the end of the night and I started dividing my time between the smoky, muggy balcony and the over-air-conditioned inundation of electronica and flashing lights, never quite able to decide which was the lesser of the evils, I had few problems with mosquitoes.

Eventually the rest of the group gave into the musical frustration that I’d been experiencing all night and we stalked out. After a quick stop at Subway we were waylaid in my quest to return to my bed by our Israeli roommates. As pleasantries and stories were exchanged, I sat on the edge of a planter box and laid back to look up at the stars. I sat up suddenly and turned to search for the cause of the sudden pricking on the back of my hands. Pointy grass? I felt panic rising. They were itching. My hands were itching. Oh my God. Haven’t I already had enough itching this trip? Dermatitis, sunburn, mosquito bites. What now? Oh my God I must be allergic to something. Oh my God they’re forming bumps. There are bumps on my hands that itch. They’re hives! They must be! They’re going to spread all the way up my arms! Ohmygodohmygodoh… I glanced back at the planter box and caught sight of an ant making his way through the grass. Ants. As calmly as I could I went over to one of our group. “Hey, Dominique, do I have any ants on my back?” I asked while frantically combing my fingers through my hair. “No.” Good. “Cuz my hands itch like crazy and I think they bit me.” One of the other girls looked over. “You should probably go wash them. Did you already have those mosquito bites?”
“Those aren’t mosquito bites!” I wailed.

Long story short, 10 minutes later, it was like the whole thing didn’t happen, except for this new found terror of tiny creatures. I’m not afraid of bugs that can’t bite me. Cockroaches are gross, but they aren’t going to kill me. But unknown tiny crawling creatures now scare the shit out of me. I mean I was in the shower this morning and what turned out to be my toothpaste dropped from the shower shelf and I literally jumped about two inches to the right. I mean I think both my feel left the ground.

And wouldn’t you know it, just as I was writing this, a giant ant crawled along the edge of the bed. And although I hate killing bugs, as of late I’ve become a regular hardened murderer. I killed one yesterday, a tiny one earlier today and mercilessly beat at this one. He escaped with his life, and I won’t be able to get to sleep tonight. How can I with that behemoth on the loose?

I guess this Pura Vida life has gotten to me. I can’t stress about being on time or school (not that I really did before), so to the fill the void I’ve started stressing about bugs. Productive.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

February can suck it.

So I've been meaning to post, but life has been so crazy here; you know, here, in Pura Vida Costa Rica, life has been hectic.
And it's all been fantastic.

So I've never really thought of myself as the "beachy" type, you know? My beaches aren't Southern California beaches, and the culture that gathers at the beach is so different. I love going to Ocean Beach in San Fracisco in my jeans and sweatshirt to walk along the water or picnic or play frisbee and take pictures, or even just to sit and people watch. Rarely do I go in a bathing suit. I mean, it happens occasionally in the summer time, but in college, when I started hanging out with kids from San Diego and LA, I realized just how different our beaches are. They are "beachy." When they go to the beach, it's always and often and they have their routine down. For me, it's just exciting to go. So not growing up the sterotypical California beach girl, I guess I never thought I would be the type for tropical adventures either. I never yearned for Hawaii, never thought of the Carribbean.

...And yet, somehow I ended up spending a semester in Costa Rica...

And so far, it's been the best decision I've made. In two short weeks, (that somehow feel so much longer) the name Costa Rica has even taken on a different meaning for me. I feel that in the US it's entirely synonomous with vacation. I don't know if I ever really took it seriously until I got here.
It's an interesting experience to live in a country that is viewed as completley temporary due to it's vacation destination status. And its interesting to watch Costa Rica struggle to promote it's eco-friendly aspects to seperate itself from the rest of the summer hot spots. I'm failing to articulate it right now, but I'm sure as the months roll on, I'll be able to better describe how much MORE Costa Rica is, and how much the name has come to mean to me.
I just already feel so at home.

Last weekend we went to the beach for the first time since our arrival. We chose Playa Jacó as our first destination - the nationally renowned "ugly beach." Thank god we started there, because it was so beautiful, that I'm almost scared to see what the more amazing beaches are like. But I think it's good that we started low, that allows us to build with the least amount of potential disappointment.
It was every cliche, but also so much more.
We walked up to the hotel which was essentially a row of rooms attatched to an outdoor bar where, even at 10 in the morning, the old farts were already out drinking and leering, their occasional tropical shirts never enough to hide the sunburnt leather they passed off as skin, and their fake Spanish worsened only by their ugly American accents.
But drop the bags and hit the white sand beach. Palm trees swaying and the sky was bluer than ever. The water stretched out crystal clear and the waves crashed in brilliant explosions of white. And after a day and a half soaking up the sun and enjoying the warm water, we became brilliant explosions of red.

It was hot during the day and warm at night. The kind of weather where you only want to wear white cotton and flipflops. The kind of weather where a popsicle or ice water is the equivalent to a gift from God. The kind of weather where you think to yourself, "And to think, it's FEBRUARY." And then you think "Haha! February can suck it!"

Yea. And it gets better. At nightfall we wandered downtown and into some sort of fair or festival. A maze of booths were set up in the square where artisans displayed their handiwork, urging you earnestly to purcase their many wares. In the background a guy plucked and tuned a guitar on a half-lit stage. The bounce-house on the perimeter did little to keep the kids from racing around underfoot, and everywhere it was warm.

After a quick drink in the park that too some of us back to highschool days, we ended up at the "grand opening" of a local club. And lets just say, we are TOTALLY responsible for all future sucess. We literally got the party started and danced the night away. We found out later that it was not, in fact, the grand opening and had actually been popular for a long time. This somewhat diminishes our claim to their success.

Long story short: Great weekend. Beautiful Beach. I finally understand why cliches are cliches. Also, I have finally started to peel. Just in time for this weekend!!! (Don't worry, we're going coffee tasting? I'm hoping there won't be much sunburning involved...)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

As I'm feeling chatty

My Spanish has progressed from that of a two-year old: "something? I want... something? It's yellow. With something?" to that of a curious 6-year old: "It's... what is it again? What is that? Oh. Okay. Yes. Oh! It's SO PRETTY! Very very pretty!" But I can understand most of what is said to me now, which is, of course, a very big step forward.

But I still can't express myself to the full extent of my mental faculties, which is frustrating. Especially as the amount of concentration I spend on my Spanish has made my english deteriorate rapidly. I find myself unable to think of English words, or muddling my grammar. It's ridiculous.

This becomes increasingly difficult in especially important situations, such as hospitals. I had to go to the hospital yesterday because I was itching all over. Terrified that I may, once again, be Typhoid Mary, I rushed myself to the hospital. On the verge of tears, I looked helplessly around until the lady at the front desk brought me to the emergency room (which makes the whole thing sound way more desperate and intense than it was). The Costa Rican health system is amazing. Socialist medicine, they say, means waiting for hours. I beg to differ. I had brought a book with me, anticipating a long wait, but I never so much as found my page before I was called in to be assessed and diagnosed. And even though my doctor spoke Spanish, I still found myself struggling to communicate. There were literally points when I couldn't remember if I was speaking in English or in Spanish. But all's well that ends well and I walked out of there, the proud new owner of contact dermatitis medication. (Note to self: in the future, be careful what you wish for. On the way to the hospital I just kept thinking "As long as it's not scabies, as long as it's not scabies. I'll take ANYTHING but scabies. I hope it's something else...)

On the way back from my excursion, I developed my newest conspiracy theory involving Spanish-speaking sports radio stations. I fully believe that they are nothing but fake announcements and that taxi drivers tune to them to intimidate non-Spanish speaking customers. Pretty sure the station I listened to today was just a series of random, unconnected statements, related calmly but loudly and with too much emphasis on the vowels. "yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, la universidaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad de Costa Ricaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" "Da Sabanilllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllla!!!!!!" "Todas las personAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASssssssssssssss!" "HOLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

It's damn cold here. The kind of cold where, back home, I would have turned the thermostat up and curled up in front of a heating vent. There is no heat here, and my whole host family keeps mentioning how cold it is, and how strange it is. That's right, that's what I thought. When I came here I expected gorgeous, rain-free days that allowed me to wear shorts or skirts everyday. This is supposed to be the tropics people! Imagine, cold in February! It should hace calor!

But today's constant light drizzle gave unto us the most epic rainbow I've ever seen in my life. It was a full and vibrant arc where the colors repeated. And you could see a larger, though very faint second rainbow starting off to its left. It was so beautiful that it made us all think of Lucky Charms.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The following is only relevant if you think of it in terms of cultural dissemination and its consequences

So for some reason completely unknown to me, I got the masochistic urge to listen to some old Good Charlotte songs today. And I sit here, literally baffled, both aforementioned urge and by the music itself.
I've never been a Good Charlotte fan, so I may be a bit biased. By the time they became popular, pop-punk rock was SO passé for me. Not only was I morally opposed to the hypocrisy of a chart-topping bad ripping on the rich and famous, but I generally couldn't understand emo bands due to my happy childhood.

But although I watched their youtube videos today with a light scowl plastered on my face, it was scowl of confusion and perplexity, much like the one I often imagine anthropologists to wear when analyzing more troubling aspects of human societies.

I mean, granted, I'm four to six years removed from their general fan base, but I never remember ever seeing such angst in my peer group, so many skater-kids tattooed and garbed in black and bandannas, such frivolous use of eyeliner and blatant disregard for the "recommended use" instructions on the back of the hair gel bottle.

Actually, I'd like to retract that last statement. I know there are TONS of kids in high schools and middle schools across the nation that express their natural teenage rebellion by challenging the social norms of the previous generation in such a manner. What I never remember seeing among my peer group was a group of 30 year-olds who dressed and acted like they were still angsty teenagers.

I mean, come on! What motivates a 25-year old man to wake up in the morning and write a song about how much he hates being in high school and how much he loves pissing off adults. Actually, I'm sure if I were still in high school at 25, I'd also hate it and the adults who thrive where I have not.

I suppose I just can't understand why they want to remember and re-live that particular blend of bitter rebellion and self-deprecating humor that boarders on self-loathing that is essential to teenage misfits, especially when it was half a lifetime in their past.

But the only thing that really bothers me is how the ---- I know all of the lyrics.