Our Idioma Cares kick-off event of the year was as inspiring as it was fun. Good things come to those who show up. And, including brand new members of the team, we had a solid group show up to help our own community.
We have done a park clean-up in Parque de La Paz, but this was a beautification outside our actual doorstep. It was satisfying being able to clean up what we see every day, what is our home, and what is home to many others.
This was an Idioma Cares event with a dual purpose, to start the year off with committing to action and community with cleaning up our surrounding streets, but it stemmed from the philosophy of Idioma Internacional itself, of building a family. So we combined our clean-up event with a BBQ as a team to celebrate our commitment and dedication. We are all here from another land as appreciators of different cultures, specifically Costa Rica. We are not just finding purpose, but making a purpose by giving back to the country that has hosted us.
We grabbed our bags and gloves and spread out across the neighborhood to grab trash and recycling that was left behind. We enjoyed working side by side with our co-teachers and admin comrades, and we also knew there was a delicious barbeque on the other side.
After the clean-up, we proceeded to the beautiful University for Peace Park to grill out with hot dogs and hamburgers and all the snacks and drinks we could take with us (we didn’t have our vegetarians or vegans with us, but we were prepared for their dietary needs).
There was a beautiful February sun, soccer fields, a forest to explore and good company to have. One thing I enjoy a lot about our team is how easy and fun it is to just hang out, and shoot the… you know. TEFL teachers have so many things in common, and as many differences that the stories we share are always something to enjoy and learn from.
We cooked together, drank together, played games together, and hiked together. We all came here to teach English, and in so doing, make a difference, but we also get to make a difference in our personal relationships. When you have picked up trash with a friend it is that much easier to laugh about crazy hostel experiences in a beach town.
New members of the team made us laugh while getting to know them as we jammed to music. We played soccer with the locals as if we could hold a candle to their talent. And as we piled into the cars to exit before the sun went down, it was refreshing to see that our team took the time out of their Sunday to spend it together. We made our front door prettier and safer, and we did it all in the comradery that makes living abroad so necessary and awesome.
Our start of the year was as successful as the rest of our year. Now we get to walk into the difference we want to make, and the friendships we are here to have. Because they are waiting for us, and good things come to those that show up.
Wow! December was a packed month at Idioma Internacional.
As we began to wind down another great year, we had a lot to celebrate and a lot to be thankful for.
We actually kicked off December by having our annual Idioma Christmas party! We started the night off with a gift exchange at our office. As usual, a lot of the gifts were consumable (food and drink alike) and there were a few favorites that got stolen until they couldn’t be stolen again.
We took some pictures at the office and then loaded up in a private shuttle to head up to the mountains of Heredia and have the famous paella at La Lluna de Valencia. The night was replete with flamenco guitar and dancing, a fire show and the proprietor coming around with his famous bota full of wine! We ate, drank and had a really fun and warm Christmas celebration as a team.
December festivities continued with our 2nd annual Gingerbread House night! We got into teams and put on some villancicos to put us in the Christmas spirit while we got to work building our Gingerbread Houses.
All of this only brought us to the middle of December! We still had some events to go, not the least of which is our 2nd annual Christmas Pie in the Face Raffle.
At the end of every year, we choose a charity to support and raise money for by selling raffle tickets to our students. Our students can buy a raffle ticket and with it buy a chance for their teacher to get a pie to the face!
This year, we have been working closely with an organization called Boy with a Ball for which we raised 134,215.00 colones as a team! And with such a remarkable turnout, Idioma Internacional was able to match that amount and double the funds we were able to donate!
We picked the raffle ticket at random to find our lucky winner to get a pie in the face and sure enough, our teacher, Brian, who sold the most actually won!
And of course, each year an Administrator is also chose at random to participate because the only thing better than one person getting a pie in the face is two people getting a pie in the face!
With all the December and end-of-the-year activities behind us, we all hopped on planes, busses and in some cases, motorcycles, and headed out to enjoy some paid vacation time over the holidays. Here is a quick snapshot of the last sunset of 2018 in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica…
Over two different Friday mornings toward the end of October, our teaching staff gathered for the second Retreat of 2018.
We had a healthy breakfast of granola, yogurt, fruit, bread and spreads, juice and coffee to get us started on both days. Our professional development activities focused on our core values of Excellence, Sound Character and Innovation and were complemented by some fun team-building activities.
After the two mornings of professional development, we all met up at Bol Cariari for a Sunday afternoon of wings, beers and bowling shoes! For this Retreat Event, we decided to keep things a bit closer to home and indoors, which was a great idea given the massive aguacero that dumped all afternoon.
Many of us wish we had had bumpers in our lanes to help improve our scores; however, proudly there were a few of us who actually broke the 100-mark! As more beers were cracked open, our scores tended to increase as well.
While we may not have a career in professional bowling ahead of us, we are certainly aficionados of snacking, drinking, laughing and lofting gutter balls one after another.
Little compares to the sense of purpose and drive you feel when you’re part of a team. Add that to the festival-like atmosphere of a city-wide race, with music, volunteers passing out water, and people on the sides of the streets cheering you on, and you have the recipe for a gorgeous day in the Costa Rican sun.
Some of us like racing and fitness, some of us are simply volunteers at heart and love participating, and for some of us it was deeply personal — we were there for the same reason the Anna Ross Fundraiser was created, because someone dear to us had been affected by breast cancer. Regardless of our reasons, we were all there together, an Idioma Cares team of eight, with that sense of purpose and drive multiplied by thousands who were side by side with us, same uniform and everything.
We made our way as a group to the start of the race on Paseo Colón, a stone’s throw away from our office. A fire engine that blew bubbles out of it seemed like the best pre-race photo op, before the sweat and sunscreen drenched our faces.
When the race began we knew that we wouldn’t stay side by side for long, but we had the same goal and destination. Regardless of our time or distance we all ended in the heart of Sabana Park and were met with cheers and medals. We designated a spot by the pond behind the main stage for us to all meet at afterwards. After enjoying our newly found deep breaths and congratulatory Latin dance music from the stage behind us, we exited the park as a team, knowing we had accomplished our shared goal separately, yet together.
Shortly after gathering our things at the office, we were clinking our bottles together with a well-earned salud and enjoying some much-anticipated food and drink in a cantina at the foot of an Escazú mountain, a simple bus ride away from the office where a lot of the teachers live. What I really love about Idioma Cares is that the comraderie of contributing to a cause doesn’t stop at a single event. It’s part of who we are. At our most recent staff retreat, one of the group’s proposed definitions of “excellence” was, “setting a high standard, meeting that goal, high fiving, then setting a new standard.” Enjoying an ice cold Imperial with my teammates was the exact high five I was looking for after running a 5K. And if that’s how we end a day of sun and sweat together, I know we’re all looking forward to the next new standard.
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.
After leaving the mountain, things began to improve. The cloud we occupied did not follow us down the mountain. We were able to pull over for some the best views I have seen since arriving to Costa Rica. It was also significantly warmer as we made our way down.
Then, my boss and driver had a brilliant idea. He knew of another national park with a large lake that was formed after they installed a hydro-electric power plant. Also, his kids wanted badly to go to said park for a “really awesome” swing that they have there. (It was really awesome). This heavenly place is known as Charrarra.
This park was incredible. The greens were so vibrant and the place swarmed with life. Immediately after arriving we saw a duck with her ducklings, a snake (not dangerous), herons, and other waterfowl. There were amazingly colorful and large eucalyptus trees throughout. The lake was covered in a thick-batch layer of lilies. Some of the ones close to the shore were in full bloom. They had such a majesty.
The group all enjoyed some cold beers together and then we made our way around exploring the park. We wandered down some horse paths and decided it was too risky to dodge the apple grenades. After we had climbed into a model airplane designed for 4 to 6 year-olds, used a 4 person gravity spinning swing, and played some quick toss frisbee, we made our way to a low point lookout that was stunning. Unlike the peak of the volcano, were able to see straight across all of the lake.
After a few gallivanting hours, we were all feeling hungry. We went to a local hotspot for chicharrones and enjoyed a lovely and reasonably priced meal before we made our way back to the city. The moral of the story: even a “bad” start to the day here, can end in wonder and amazement.