Growth Mindset During COVID-19

Someone once said that change is the only constant in life. That same someone may also argue that this has been particularly true since March 2020.

Due to the pandemic there has been a total shift from “normal life” to the new normal: a virtual life. The world has changed and is changing. Many lives have been lost. Travel plans have been cancelled and there is uncertainty about even when some may be able to see and hug their loved ones again. 

On top of this, there is a world economy that has been severely impacted. Service and travel industries have been crushed. Unemployment rates are skyrocketing. When will it get better? Can it get better? 

Costa Rica’s answer to these questions: sí se puede!

Apart from being an absolutely stunning country, from its breathtaking landscapes to its warm, diverse citizens to its always freshly prepared cuisine, Costa Rica is a country that has made serious commitments to its values.

Costa Rica is committed to peace. Costa Rica is committed to working hard. Costa Rica is committed to caring for its natural resources, both flora and fauna alike. And holding it close as a national value, Costa Rica is committed to education.

At Idioma Internacional, we are so truly honored to be partnering with Costa Rica and its public and private entities in order to help bring this commitment to education to fruition for residents and citizens of this country, regardless of pandemics or other setbacks that may come.

In May 2020, with the pandemic and uncertainty still quite fresh and ever-unfolding, the Costa Rican government was still dedicated to providing hundreds of scholarships to people in an effort to educate them in English and assist them in gaining the skills to gain employment. Costa Rica was steadfastly focused on growth and so was Idioma Internacional. Together, we joined forces to combat uncertainty, combat a pandemic, and combat unemployment by taking actions to put into practice the commitment to education and language skills aimed at helping people and their families learn, become gainfully employed, and keep moving forward. 

Administrative staff in a planning meeting

Months later in August, and further into more uncertainty and a continued pandemic, the government once again showed its commitment to education and to its citizens and residents, approving hundreds of scholarships that will help them gain language skills that can translate into employment opportunities. With a quality team of teachers from around the globe, from Africa, Europe, and Asia to the Americas, Idioma Internacional was once again proud to partner with the labor ministry in its social and economic efforts to keep Costa Rica growing and moving forward.

Idioma teachers during a professional development workshop

As many of our students are now set to graduate after their intensive, months-long virtual English courses with Idioma Internacional, we are now partnering with the private sector via companies like Amazon, Snap Finance, Equifax and more, in order to host virtual job fairs for our graduating students in a concerted effort to allow companies exposure to our talented groups of graduates, allow our graduates to gain direct access to hiring teams from companies and help to complete the cycle and efforts of Costa Rica and its commitment to education.

And Costa Rica will soon be at it again! Despite a pandemic with still no end in sight, Costa Rica is poised to continue to invest in education and continue to invest in its people with a focus on growth and gaining employment. And Idioma Internacional is proudly poised to commit once again to helping the country advance, and to helping all of its residents and citizens gain the language skills they need in order to keep moving forward with their own personal and professional growth. 

 

-Brendan Mulhall

Hospital Nacional de Niños

December is a special month known for giving and this past December, Idioma Internacional wanted to focus on the children in our community. On Thursday, December 12th, a team from Idioma planned and prepared a holiday event that the children would never forget. Idioma teamed up with the Hospital Nacional de Niños to create an event specifically for the children who rarely get to experience the holidays and the special treats. Our objective for the day was to include the young boys and girls who are often left out of parties because of their dietary restrictions.

The day started at 8:00 am at the Hospital Nacional de Niños off of Paseo Colón. We set up the large playroom with green and red decorations, divided up different stations to make origami Christmas trees and decorate ornaments, and played Christmas music. Once the children and their families settled in, our first activity was Christmas caroling. Standing in front of the playroom, we sang three English Christmas carols — We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is Coming To Town. After singing, we moved to decorating ornaments. With our numerous supplies, the children were able to customize their own ornaments for their trees. Not only was it a hit with the children, but their family members too!

The best part of the day was our Santa surprise! Towards the end of the event, while the kids were creating their origami Christmas trees, our Academic Coordinator, Bill Harris, dressed up as Santa and surprised everyone. Everyone was so excited because even when some of the kids were skeptical about Santa Claus, they began to believe in him after seeing Santa in his bright, red costume and his big bag of presents! Once Santa was settled into his chair at the front of the room, the kids took pictures and told him what they wanted for Christmas. Everyone had officially begun to get in the holiday spirit after seeing Santa.

The morning ended with a group photo and many hugs and smiles from the children. Events like this one reminded us why community is so important and how powerful supporting one another can be. Idioma continues to bring that support in the events that they’re involved in — no matter the season.

-Kim Barnes

Relaxed Adventure at the Doorstep: Puriscal

The best thing about living in Costa Rica: there is so much to do. The worst thing about living in Costa Rica: there is too much to do. No matter how many adventures we go on, there is always another one on the list. This is the definition of a blessing and a curse. Oftentimes, we make plans in order to have them change at the last second. This is exactly how we find some of the lesser-known gems.

My great friend and I had been discussing a hike, but we were both saving money and didn’t have a lot of free time. He told me about a place, close to the city, where we could easily take a short hike and get away from the main pulse of the big city (San Jose) for a short while. He told me that the bus was cheap, and the ride was relatively short (45 minutes – 1 hour). The city is called Puriscal. Shortly before the planned trip, we were informed by another colleague and her boyfriend about a beautiful waterfall hike that they were interested in seeing. So, we put our hike on hold and decided to join them.

Of course, plans changed. The waterfall we had planned to visit was experiencing too much rain and therefore the best parts of the park were closed to the public. We woke, with the anticipation of children at Christmas, and found out the unfortunate information. Disappointed yet still excited, my friend and I were texting the same words, at the same time: “So, do you want to go to Puriscal instead?” We laughed hard, finished readying ourselves, stopped for a quick breakfast, and promptly walked to the bus stop.

The timing of our trip couldn’t have been more perfect. Both he and I were experiencing one of those moments in life where you question everything. We each had our own personal struggles to cope with, suffering from some of the isolation that you inevitably feel when being away from so much of your former life, yet being surrounded by the wonders of your new life.

On the bus, we discussed all of the issues we were having. Although separate, they were very related. It is amazing how when you feel the most alone in life, there is always someone going through something similar. Usually, that person is right next to you. In the words of one of my favorite songs, “no time to look into our pain, or see the same despair in everyone else… Agony is truth, it’s our connection to the living…” (Eyedea & Abilities, Smile).

The views from the bus’s windows quickly resolved any depressive feelings we were having. That was one of the things we came for after all. We began to lighten our hearts, determined to find the release and clarity we sought. As we neared our destination, a random stranger overheard us discussing what we were going to see once we arrived. We had talked about an old, condemned church (Santiago Apostle) that was at the precipice of the humble city. This perfect stranger began to explain its history. He claimed that the church is now condemned because in the 1970s an earthquake split the foundation right down the middle. It was never repaired, and is now too dangerous to renovate, so the city condemned it. (Unfortunately, the author has been unable to find a factual historical record of this information). After this man’s description and information, we knew we must see it.

We arrived and immediately could see the church. It is impressive with beautiful colonial-style towers, shattered stained-glass windows, and crumbling facades. It was perfectly described by the man on the bus. However, being condemned we weren’t allowed a close look. This was probably for the best as my curiosity would have put us in danger.

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After making our way around the church, we briefly walked the city streets. We knew we wanted to go see the mountains that are everywhere. I asked my friend, being that he had visited prior, where he would like to start. He pointed off in one direction and said, “there were some good views that way, but I haven’t looked over there,” pointing in a different direction. We chose the unknown path, which in hindsight turned out to be an incredible decision. We figured, let’s both see something new.

We walked off in a random direction, passing multiple stores, a school, and many houses. Eventually, we saw a small road off the main concourse. As we progressed down this small street, we saw the mountains entering our view. There we were, amid a small neighborhood with some of the best views I had ever experienced in my life. We looked for a great spot to view, saw one, and decided against going there because it felt like trespassing. However, simply being on the street, we still had an incredible view.

He and I enjoyed a couple of beers while observing. The scenery was the reason we came. We stayed there for about 30 minutes before making our way through the winding back-roads of this beautiful community. We walked up and down some serious hills and emerged to the main road again. We had spent a short time here, relaxed, exercised a little, and started to head back to the downtown area.

Then, all of a sudden, we noticed a hill off to our left. I searched for signs that it was private property and found none. We walked up a small dirt path to the top of the hill. To our amazement, we found a 360° view of the surrounding mountains. We both froze. It was simply stunning.

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The words on this page do no justice to the view we received by pure happenstance. As we soaked in the true magnificent beauty, we realized that we could see all the way to the ocean from one of the angles of view. When we realized this, we took a seat and let it the natural wonder of this country wash away all of our concerns. We could have stayed there for hours. We did spend about an hour and a half in this location. It was magic. Just when you think you have seen some really impressive places, something unexpected finds you.

After we realized how hungry we became, we walked back to town, had a delicious lunch, and made our way back to the bus to return to our routine. However, this trip refreshed us in so many ways. The surprises that this country has, can really bring you back to your senses. It couldn’t have been better. As I said, it was magic.

– Peter Gioia

Idioma Internacional Holiday Party

On a Saturday, many of the staff were coming from teaching their respective colegio (high-school) classes, and began to arrive individually. Some of us, the author included, came straight from the class they had just taught. These days are never short. It is often difficult to find energy for anything after. However, this special Saturday gave each of us something to look forward to: THE COMPANY HOLIDAY PARTY!

We knew we were going to a restaurant. We knew there would be paella. We knew we had to dress nice. We didn’t know anything else. We met at the office. We greeted each other with the same exhausted expressions as most Saturdays, but there was a glint, a spark of excitement that came from knowing we were all going to be together for the night. We so rarely get the whole crew together.

I arrived a little early, around 5 pm, and only one other teacher was there. He and I watched some comedy, and I opened my first beer. I took a quick shower and dressed for the occasion. As I finished getting ready, the others began to arrive. Each and every one of the crew looked fantastic in their ‘dinner attire.’ Everything began to move a little faster. Multiple greetings, hugs, handshakes, backslaps, beers cracked, wine poured laughter, adoring voices. All of a sudden it was time to line up for the group photos. In typical fashion, we took one nice photo and several frivolous ones. The frivolous ones are always more of a true representation of our inner strangeness. Now that the pictures were taken, we loaded the cooler, double checked for bags and purses and packed into the buseta  (mini-bus).

On the ride to our still mostly unknown destination, chosen and planned by the ‘elusive’ administrative staff, we found our inner children that hide just below our professional surfaces. With the excitement of going on an elementary school field trip, we began singing 90’s pop songs, laughing out of our seats, and exchanging the jovial stories of the season. I am sure the bus driver hated us.

As we neared the destination, the city gave way to some really incredible views of the central valley from our windows. You could see the city’s glow. The lights timed perfectly for our Holiday spirits. After what seemed a long time, since most of us needed to use the restroom, we arrived at the restaurant: La Lluna de Valencia.  http://lallunadevalencia.com/

xmas party - sign

We exited the bus in the street and walked through a brick and wooden garden. It was already past dark, and we couldn’t see much, but you could tell it was beautiful. Once inside, the atmosphere livened and we all immediately became aware of the incredible establishment we had entered. The lofty, wood-beamed ceilings, classic Spanish decorations, polished wooden tables, and rich warm lighting invoked a sense of home, comfort, and peace.

As everyone found their seats around one of the two large tables that were reserved, the wine and sangria began to flow in torrents. Our general manager was quick to provide a beautiful toast, thanking all of us and officially beginning the party.

The entire crew feeling comfortable, delighted, and hungry began to tell stories and jokes. Laughter could be heard all around. We were a cacophony of merriment. Wine in nearly every glass, the first course was brought out. I wish I could tell you what the first course was. I wish that at some point I could recall the look, taste, and feel of that course. However, what actually has stuck in my mind is when our gracious host arrived to greet us. Vincente Aguilar Cerezo is the type of man that could easily have a novel written about him. His incredible positivity, charming presence, and booming voice and laughter deserve their own story. For now, suffice it to say that he made the experience perfect for us.

Vincente brought a wine skein with him. He taught us the ways to use the skein. We had to slap the leather pouch, and squeeze a stream of wine into our mouths. He first demonstrated this by making a round of our entire group and doing the pouring for us. If he believed you could handle it, he would pour it from your nose into your mouth. Strange, I know. But, as they say, when in Rome. I doubt you could deny him even if you wanted to. His demeanor was intoxicating all on its own.

The next course arrived, sardines with oil and garlic on delicious bread. We continued our joyful satisfaction of each other’s company. The mood was increasingly more fun, we got louder, the food was passed around and consumed. After a few more refills, the main dish was delivered: massive, piping-hot pans of traditional paella. Vincente, our amazing host, served every plate whether it was vegetarian, pescatarian, or the fully traditional chicken variety.

xmas party - el jefe

Once the entire room had been served their dinner portions, the lights began to grow dimmer and flicker out. A giant bowl was placed on a stage in the center of the room, and Vincente took his place. The final lights were extinguished, and Vincente lit the bowl on fire. The blue glow of the flames danced in the bowl and the host began to stir and lift the flaming liquid high into the air. A waterfall of fire was the only illumination in the room as Vincente ladled his mysterious wizard’s potion. The show was something to admire indeed. This flaming liquor was then divided among the guests and a toast was given by the bearded Vincente like it was straight out of a storybook. This was the perfect culmination of hospitality and grace.

Afterwards, the lights were restored, and the party continued with a delicious caramelized pudding for dessert. Our group then revealed the Secret Santa gifts. This was special in so many ways. One by one, we delivered our gifts with hugs, laughter, and love. The party could not have ended any better. We all felt loved as though we were all family.

Our buseta ride back to the office was more of the same: loud laughter, singing, story-telling, and general joy. I won’t lie, it felt a lot shorter than the way to the restaurant. This night was incredible in every way. We continued to build these rare and amazing friendships that will be remembered for the rest of our lives. There are no ways to truly express how unbelievable it feels to be part of a team that can share such great memories and experiences. With every gathering, we truly become more like family, and since most of us have left ours in our respective motherlands, this feeling really creates an unmatchable joy in our usually busy lives. I will forever be grateful for the companionship we have developed. SALUD!

Tamal: Tico Christmas Tradition

Never have experienced the Holiday season in Costa Rica (or any other country) I didn’t know what to expect. There are no snow-covered rooftops, no fields of pine trees, no bells jingling all the way. However, there are tamales. I have not witnessed a tradition here that is more carefully observed than the Holiday season tamal. Unlike Mexico and the Unite States, the Costa Rican spelling is Spanish (literally from Spain) without the last letter ‘e.’ Nearly every family in Costa Rica will partake in this tradition. So many that the University of Costa Rica concluded in a study that “196 million pairs of tamales [are] eaten during December [which equals] three tamales per Tico per day.” (www.ticotimes.net) That is truly a mountain of tamales.

Dating back almost 500 years ago, the tamal tradition has been more Costa Rican than the phrase, “pura vida.” Recipes vary from home to home, but this is incredibly family oriented. “Grandmothers and mothers will teach granddaughters and daughters how to make tamales; making sure the tradition is kept alive.” (qcostarica.com) Although it may not have always been part of Christmas, it has been part of tradition since before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Costa Rica. “The corn filling symbolized the sun god for indigenous people 500 years ago, but when Spanish conquistadors colonized the isthmus, the food became part of festivities celebrating the immaculate conception and Christmas.” (www.ticotimes.net)

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No historian can pinpoint the exact origin of tamales, but we do know that they have been around for millennia. “Tamales originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BC. As making tamales is a simple method of cooking corn, it may have been brought from Mexico to Central and South America.” (en.wikipedia.org) For our intents and purposes though, the tamal tradition in Costa Rica can be considered beginning with life itself. “The truth is, all Costa Ricans will remember having eaten them since they were small children.” (qcostarica.com) Therefore, they have been around as long as anyone can remember.

Although tamales are made year-round, the tradition is based around the Holiday season, especially the month of December. It doesn’t matter when you decide to eat them, you will see people enjoying tamales for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. However, “they are absolutely fundamental for coffee break time” (qcostarica.com) known very properly as tamaleada, “the tradition of taking a break from buying gifts to invite friends over to the house in the afternoon to share a tamal, a cup of coffee and some good conversation.” (www.ticotimes.net)

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Whether you are an outsider like me, a visiting tourist, or a local the tamal tradition in Costa Rica is all-encompassing. You will see the supermarkets fill entire isles with the ingredients to make them. Anyone here will tell you about their experiences making tamales with their families every year for as long as they can remember. It doesn’t matter if you are staying in the city, or on a remote beach front, if you happen to be in Costa Rica in December, you will experience the beauty and magic of the tamal. And on that note, I think I smell tamales coming from my Tico mom’s kitchen. Time to eat!

http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/12/24/tamales-a-christmas-present-for-everyday-of-december

https://news.co.cr/christmas-traditions-of-costa-rica/30313/

http://qcostarica.com/tamales-a-christmas-tradition-in-costa-rica/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamale

Movember Mania

Here at Idioma Internacional we are half-way through our 5th year supporting Movember, a global movement to raise awareness about the dangers and causes of prostate cancer and testicular cancer, along with general education about men’s physical and mental health. Many members of the staff have seized the opportunity to show off their handsome, smoother, and younger looking faces.

During the month of November, male participants shave their faces bald. Then, they can choose whether to grow their beard or mustache for the entire month. The participants take a photo of themselves at the very beginning of the month (with no facial hair) and also track their progress by taking one photo for each week of hair growth. Profiles are created on the Movember website, where the participants upload their photos. Check out our profiles! Once the profiles are created, followers are encouraged to donate money to the research and disbursement of education programs worldwide. Idioma Internacional is donating for each staff participant or sponsored participant.

If you are female and want to contribute to this great cause you can sponsor a male friend, family member, spouse, significant other, etc. Upload their pictures and track their profiles. These amazing women sponsors are called Mosistas!

The second most prevalent cancer in men, prostate cancer is a topic that is not talked about enough. In 2012, there were more than 1.1 million documented cases of prostate cancer. This staggering number still doesn’t receive the attention that it deserves. As stated on the Movember website, “men are dying too young, before their time.” The Movember Foundation has a plan: Raise awareness through research, improve the lives and health of men by educating them on ways to take preventative action, and reduce the number of men who die too young.

Please follow the Movember Foundation’s link below to learn more about what they do and how you can help! The time to act is now.

https://us.movember.com/mens-health/general

La Marta: Natural Glory Restored

The sun warmed the tent. I opened my eyes to the beauty of the day. Birds sang the morning chorus to remind me not to stall, not to dawdle. There was so much to see. I began by making coffee. My companion and I ate a high energy breakfast, prepared our lunch, and packed the bag. Tying up my boots, my heart began to race wildly at the thought of what this hike was going to bring.

Once upon the first trail, we walked through the ruins of the former agricultural town, Hacienda La Marta, that used to operate a lively market for coffee, bananas, sugar, and milk in this park.  Barely 3 meters away from the ruins, down the main trail into the rain forest, the scene drastically changed. I already felt like I was in the middle of the ever-changing natural environment. My companion and I were not even 30 minutes into our tour, yet I already had an excitement that only natural glory can bring.

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The trails themselves were micro-climates that were different in so many ways. Trees canopied the entire path, shrouding the forest in a sense of wonder and mystery. The earth smelled fresh, wet, and alive. I could sense the life all around me. Like a small child, I touched everything, needing the new experience to be as full as possible. My companion laughed at my childish wonder. However, the mosses were all new and felt as such, the leaves looked as fake as they do in plastic offices, the flowers were practically glowing and perfume-strength fragrant. I was a child again.

After about an hour, the path took a steep climb to a precipice where we encountered our first mirador (look-out). The park had erected a sheltered tower upon this peak to give hikers the best possible view of the valley and distant mountains. It was magnificent. With no human construction in site, other than what I was standing upon, I looked out with awe. My companion, who had already been here, was just laughing at my look of pure love. We left this mirador to head to another which we thought would take us a while to reach. We paused briefly (I paused briefly, my companion only slowing once she noticed my lagging). I was in awe of a type of fungus I had never seen. I continued my child-like touching of everything new, which was everything.

By the time we reached the second mirador, the humidity had escalated to full. My shirt was as wet as if I had jumped into the river. My companion and I really felt what it meant to be in a tropical rain forest. We rested and I attempted to dry out my gear in the sun. Here, the railing keeping us from falling into the abyss, was the only thing that was placed by man. The sun beat down, but the breeze was cool. The distances seen were incredible. We felt like the only two humans for miles. We rested, ate a small snack of fruit and nuts, and reflected peacefully in each other’s company.

The next trail we took was an idyllic path through some of thickest forest I have ever seen. Without a watch, I would not have been able to guess the time. The sun was blocked entirely by the epic canopy that shaded and cooled the trail but also wrapped me in humidity like a thick blanket. The silence. My companion and I stopped just to hear the silence. It was eerie in a mystifying and beautiful way. It was here that I felt the most isolated from the world and destructiveness of man. I breathed in the serenity.

We continued winding through the beautiful trails, encountering all sorts of flora and fauna: white-faced monkeys, beetles the size of my fist, every type of moss imaginable, labios de mujeres (a flower that looks like puckered lips), trees the size of skyscrapers, lizards of all varieties, hundreds of colorful butterflies.

My companion and I were nearing the pozas (swimming holes). We saw a sign for a waterfall and quickly took the detour. We walked down some huge carved stairs, turned a corner around a rock face, and there it was right before my eyes. Before I even knew what I was doing, I had my shirt off, my bag thrown carelessly to the side, my hat and sunglasses resting upon it. I had to shimmy around a giant boulder but then I was standing next to the waterfall. It was not huge, but it was beautiful. The water cascading down the side of this mountain was breathtaking. I dunked my head into the pouring stream.

It was clear, clean, refreshing. I had to take a drink just to say that I have drank from a waterfall in Costa Rica. After I played in the waterfall for a minute, it was my companion’s turn. She was just as pleased about this as I was. We relaxed for a minute next to the waterfall on the boulder before heading off for the final leg of the hike.

Our last stretch of trail was littered with pozas. It seemed that every 200 meters there was another place to sit by the raging river, or if you were lucky there were some calmer places to take a dip. It was pure serenity. My companion and I chose a secluded poza to take our final rest before heading back to camp. Here we relaxed and took in the scenery of the majestic river. We talked lightly and briefly about all we had seen. It was the most amazing day in my recent memory. I will have to make another trip to this magnificent rainforest where it seemed that the magic of nature was at its most perfect state.

Cahuita: The Beach and Jungle Paradise

Upon receiving the exciting news that my friend and his father from the states were coming to visit me here in Costa Rica, I began searching for interesting things to do.  My friend and his father had only requested, “beach, snorkeling, chill.” Fortunately, Costa Rica is abundant with activities that fall into those specified categories.

My research paid off big time when I found out about Cahuita. It had everything that the boys wanted. So I booked the hostel and waited impatiently for my friends’ arrival. They got to San Jose late in the evening, but I made my way to their hotel to celebrate their arrival and have a few toasts.

We left 2 days later for the paradise by the Caribbean Sea. Our drive took us through some of the most twisted, and beautiful mountain views I had ever seen. As we neared our destination, we could see the ocean, a mere 20 meters from the road. Our excitement was palatable, a static energy you could feel at every pore. We rolled the windows down and breathed in the salty air.

The town of Cahuita is small, barely 5 city blocks worth of actual town, but it is densely packed with restaurants, bars, knick-knack shops, tourist companies, and mini markets. We made our way to the hostel, Cabinas Caribe Luna, and saw just what peaceful Caribbean life really looks like. We met with the owners Enrica and David. They had the sweetest and most welcoming demeanor. They were the essence of “Pura Vida.” Their property is tucked neatly back into the wilderness, but still close enough to walk to the beach, the town, the national park. The cabins are individually set back in a romantic garden that is well maintained by Enrica and David. David has even begun marking each plant and tree with their names. There is a small stone sitting circle that I dubbed the “philosophy classroom.” It’s a perfect place for meditation, relaxation, and the mental reset we all need at one time or another.

 

After setting up our gear in the hostel cabin, we left to get supplies and head down to the beach. The town itself is quaint, quiet, and beautiful. We picked up some snacks and beers and made our way to the closest beach (which was about 300 meters from our hostel). Our first day was spent lounging by the beach with beers in hand. The views are as incredible as you can imagine. The water is clear, the sand soft and warm, the misting sea salt air embraces your lungs.

That night we had a simple dinner at one of the local watering holes, where we enjoyed some beers and the company. We spent the rest of the night playing cards on our peaceful patio. The sounds of the night crept up on us and we all slowly drifted off to sleep.

I woke, sweating (it’s rather warm on the Caribbean coast), but I was delighted to get started on our day. We all had a meager breakfast of cereal bars and orange juice. The night before, we had booked our snorkeling and jungle tour. We were only an hour away from swimming in the largest coral reef in Costa Rica.

My companions and I walked the ten minutes to the tour company that we had booked with. We met our guide, received the simple instructions, fitted our gear, and followed Alex, our tour guide, to the boat. After a few minutes of getting everyone settled in the small boat, we made our way out onto the open water. We were never too far off shore, but the breeze caressing my skin felt like a lover’s hand stroking my beard as I drift to sleep. In other words, pure bliss.

When we reached the first reef stop, we were again reminded of the rules: no standing, no touching the corals, stay close to the boat, etc. We then plunged ourselves into a fantasy. The moment I was in the water with mask and snorkel at the ready, I was immediately in view of an underwater universe I had yet to experience in my life. There were fish of every color. We saw a nurse shark, held a sea cucumber, watched a school of fish whose numbers reached in the thousands. There was every variety of coral, alive and intoxicating to see. We eventually went to another stop a little closer to shore where the scene was just as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the first.

After about two hours of snorkeling, the group was ready to return to shore and begin our jungle hike part of the adventure. I felt like we were waiting forever, but in reality it was probably about 45 minutes. It is amazing how much anticipation can alter our sense of time.

When we finally embarked on the easy hike, it seemed as if there were too many people to see anything very interesting. I feared we would be too loud and keep the animals away. However, within ten minutes of the journey, I was corrected. Alex, our tour guide had already spotted the first sloth. Perched just a few meters out of reach, a mother and her cub were cuddled together gazing at the humans uninterestedly. This was how the hike went: about every ten to fifteen minutes, Alex would spot something else of interest for us inexperienced tourists. We were able to see golden spiders, white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, basilisks (both green and brown), a variety of snakes (both venomous and non), pelicans in the bay, tarantulas, and many types of butterfly. There may have been more as well, but it was a lot to see in one short afternoon in the jungle. There is no better way to describe it other than magnificent.

The rest of the day we ate lunch, relaxed at the hostel, and then enjoyed a bit more time on the beaches. The next day was more of the same. The adventure was complete, we never wanted to leave. We had found paradise.

 

 

Las Ruinas de Ujarrás

The site of Las Ruinas de Ujarrás is surrounded by luscious green countryside, immaculate landscapes, winding rivers, and pristine mountains. Located deep in the Orosi valley, near the Cachí Reservoir, visitors experience a bond to the historical foundations of colonial Costa Rica as they approach the park containing the remains of the church (La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción). Once inside the monument grounds, you can literally touch history.

Built in the 1580’s, local legend states that a fisherman of the Huetar discovered a box containing a painting of the Virgin Mary and the church was built on this site. The Virgin Mary had thus been considered a protector of the village.

La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción, or what remains standing can be approached, touched, and adored. As you near the ruins, the history is palatable and the senses are alerted to the reverence that belongs to such structures throughout the world. From the stone pathway to the limestone altar, Las Ruinas de Ujarrás creates a sense of awe.  Visitors walk through the large and still nearly perfect archways to the inner chamber that was once where the congregation would pray together.

Outside of the church, you see the buttresses still supporting the outer walls of the edifice. Moss grows peacefully all along the masonry. It is a scene from a fairy tale with the mountains in the background. Nearby the church stands a beautifully sad tree that is probably as old as the church itself, weeping in the common area as families picnic, play, and admire this brilliant monument.

Ujarras Tree

There are many places to visit in Costa Rica, but not many with such a peaceful and elegant grace as Las Ruinas de Ujarrás. For lovers of history, religion, or just serenity, this site has enough beauty to slip away into a simpler time.

Sources:

http://www.lacasonadelcafetal.com/las_ruinas_de_ujarras

http://www.ticoclub.com/cartujar.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ujarr%C3%A1s

Día de las Madres

Mother’s Day is celebrated in many countries throughout the world. In the US it is typically on the first Sunday of May. Although there are many shared holidays between the US and Costa Rica, Mother’s Day is not one of them. Here in Costa Rica, Mother’s Day is celebrated on August 15th. This corresponds with the Roman Catholic feast day of The Assumption of Mary. “The Assumption of Mary is a feast day recognizing the selfless and earthly life of Mary and the divinity associated with her heavenly soul,” according to http://www.prosoftnearshore.com/mothers-day-in-costa-rica-august-15/. Unlike the US, Mother’s Day in Costa Rica is National Holiday. The entire day is dedicated to celebrating our mothers.

mom tat

Although it is important everywhere, the dual purpose of the holiday here in Costa Rica shows how much respect and honor we have for our mothers. There are many ways that people celebrate this very special day. Some of which include buying all types of gifts, taking mothers out for special meals, and making sure they don’t have to do any work. Mainly, the mothers that I spoke with on this day just wanted to be surrounded by family and loved ones. It is most important to make sure they know how much you love them.

mom pics

“Ma! You get to celebrate twice a year while I live in Costa Rica,” I told my mother when I called in May. She loved the idea. Even though I wouldn’t be able to fly home and visit, we were able to speak on the phone for a few hours. We digitally cheers-ed each other, and drank some wine. Even though this article is a little after the fact, every day could be Mother’s Day. So please don’t forget to tell your mothers that you love and respect them. Every day would be ideal, but we know that’s not always possible.

On that note, I love you MA!

mom pic1