The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica…and Ice Cream

For the past three weeks, I have been taking an Ecology and Human Rights course. Not only has this course enhanced my knowledge of the natural world, but it has opened my eyes to ways of life much different than my own. For five days in the middle of the course, we packed our bags and drove to the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica for some “hands-on” learning.

During our trip we met a variety of people, swam in the ocean, and sampled ice cream from each town we passed through. It was both fun and educational, which is why I’d like to recount some of the highlights for you…

Our first stop was a place called Romelia. Romelia is a marine turtle conservation site. While we were there, we had the distinct privilege of handling baby sea turtles, taking their measurements, and finally setting them free into the ocean. The unusual part about this experience was that most of the time spent with the baby turtles occurred between 9:00 at night to 3:00 in the morning. Some students went to patrol the beaches; looking for adult sea turtles laying their eggs in the sand. Other groups worked in the hatchery looking after the babies.

After we hiked out of Romelia we drove to Cabo Blanco, which is a national park housing a breathtaking transition forest. We got to hike around the park for a few hours before driving to our next stop which was an UNA (National University) Research Center near Playa Blanca. This research center provides a place for marine biology students to come and do research in an actual marine environment. We were introduced to mangrove forests and I got to test out my “Write in the Rain” notebook underwater—turns out you can write in the notebook under water! Pretty cool if you ask me!

We spent two nights at the research center, and then we drove to a small coastal town called Tarcoles. Tarcoles was my favorite of all the places we visited. Why is this town so special, you ask? Well, Tarcoles is home to the only fishing cooperative in Costa Rica. This cooperative is community owned and operated, and it is changing the way people think about artesanal fishing.

While in Tarcoles we stayed with host families, went fishing with some of the cooperative fishermen, showered in a secret waterfall on a hidden beach, and experienced life at a slower pace. This little town may never be nationally recognized for the awesome work they are doing, but they are making a significant impact regardless. This cooperative not only benefits the community, but it supports sustainable fishing practices as well.

It was hard to leave the salty sea air and the shrimp dinners, but somehow we ended up right back where we had started in the little town of San Rafael. It was nice to come back home and share with my family about the people I met and the things I learned. I am still processing this trip, even as I look forward to leaving for Nicaragua in 3 days. I have exactly one month left on this Costa Rican adventure, and much more to learn I’m sure.

Thanks for the continued prayers!

Until next time…

Getting bacon in the mail…a good reminder

The other day I got three packages in the mail. The box from my parents contained a bag of dried pears (originally picked from our pear trees) and a “thinking of you” card. Box number two was from my friend, Julie. Most notably it contained bacon-flavored chocolate, junior mints, OK Magazine, and notes and pictures from all my housemates back in Spokane. The final box was from my boyfriend, Ben. Its contents included candy pumpkins, a cool toy, real bacon bits, and a hand-written letter among other things.

While I have enjoyed engorging myself on snack foods these past few days, the best parts of the packages were the letters and cards telling me what everyone was up to. As I read through the notes, it occurred to me that, in all the hustle and bustle of the past few weeks, I have been failing in my duties toward my faithful blog readers. For this I apologize and offer to you the following account of the last few weeks.

Internship Mania…

As you may or may not know, I spent the majority of September waiting to hear back on whether or not my internship at the Ministerio de Vivienda would pan out…and unfortunately it never did. When it seemed like all hope was lost, I was presented with the opportunity to intern at a nonprofit called The Glorioso Dia Foundation. They are a dynamic organization that works with at-risk teenage guys ages 12-18. Glorioso Dia is composed of two houses, Casa Betel and Casa Genesis, which are home to eight boys each. Each of these boys comes from a different background, yet in living at Glorioso Dia they form one family.

As it is almost November, I have completed four weeks on-site. Originally, I was asked to help update their website, translate informational materials, and do grant research. While I continue to work on these projects, the education I am receiving reaches far beyond the bounds of internet research or web design. Though there have been frustrating times, I have been blessed enormously by the insane amount of love flowing through the organization. God is doing great things at Glorioso Dia, and it has been so awesome to be a part of His process.

Everything else in a nut shell…

Besides going to my internship on Fridays, I have been doing a lot of school work. This past week we finished two of our four courses of the semester (Latin American Culture and Civ. and Spanish Linguistics). It’s ironic that while everyone at Whitworth North is taking mid-terms, students at Whitworth South are taking finals.

Beginning this Monday (Nov. 1 holy moly!), we begin the long-awaited ecology course. This class will last for the first three weeks of November. During the second week of the course we are taking a trip to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica to see “biology in action” so to say. If we happen to do a bit of beach-bummin’ along the way, can you blame us? Needless to say, we are all very excited for this course.

On a completely unrelated note, today I encountered the biggest live spider I have ever seen in my ENTIRE LIFE. It looked like something akin to a tarantula, but it was a teeny bit smaller and somewhat less hairy. I found her/him crawling around in the kitchen after I finished dinner. After I emerged from the initial fear/shock I yelled for my younger brother to come to the kitchen. I stood on top of a chair while he fought the beast with his sandal. It was an intense battle, but my brother was victorious. I was told that the spider was very venomous…hopefully s/he doesn’t have any other family in the area.

The adventure continues folks. Thank you for your continued prayers!  Also, I bought a hammock…pretty cool.

Until next time…

The canopy tour that rocked my world!

When I was in 7th grade, I saw the movie “Medicine Man” for the first time. The movie takes place in an indigenous village tucked away in the rainforests of South America. My favorite part of the movie is when Sean Connery and his assistant have the opportunity to go zip-lining through the rainforest canopy in search of a flower that can cure cancer. The first time I saw this movie I said to myself, “Katie, some day you are going to go to the rainforest and go zip-lining just like Sean Connery (except without the beard and cool Scottish accent of course).

At age 13 a dream was born, and I am excited to say that at age 21 this dream was fulfilled. That’s right, folks. On Wednesday, October 13, 2010, I got to go on a canopy tour of a breath-taking cloud forest here in Costa Rica. It was an experience like none other, and I am excited to tell you all about it…

Around 8:30AM our student group was picked up in downtown San Rafael and driven to “Canopy Tours,” which is the name of the organization running the zip-line. Upon arrival, we were asked to sign insurance waivers and then the instructors helped us get harnessed up. We all looked pretty awesome in our harnesses and bright orange helmets that they gave us. Once everyone’s gear was secure, we hiked a short distance into the forest for a beginner’s lesson on harnesses, cables, safety precautions and a bit of history about the organization itself.

We learned that the forest we would be adventuring through was not, in fact, a rainforest but rather a cloud forest. The differentiation between forest types is determined mostly by elevation. The forest we were in was at approximately 7,000 feet (which is about the elevation of Denver, CO). There are relatively few cloud forests in the world, which made our experience all the more unique. As we hiked through the forest to the first platform, we followed a pre-made path, but it was a relatively dark journey. Our instructor pointed out that in these types of forests, less than 5% of the natural sunlight actually makes it to the forest floor because of the dense canopy.

During our 15 minute walk, I learned more about the ecology of a cloud forest than I ever did in any science class I’ve ever taken. He told us so much in such a short period of time that my mind was on awesome-information-overload. His short talk made me super excited for the ecology course that we will be taking during the month of November!

Before I knew it, we had arrived at the first of eight platforms. When my turn came, I confidently stepped up to the instructor and told him to hook me up straight away! The next minute was a blur of pure awesomeness. As I sat down in my harness and stepped off the platform, I felt a rush of wind, and all at once the beauty of the forest enveloped me. I felt like I was falling and flying and dreaming all at once. In that moment I was overcome by the profound beauty of creation. God must have had so much fun creating Costa Rica!

As I mentioned before, there were eight platforms in all. Some lines were considered slow while others were considered “fast lines.” All in all, I have to say that platform number eight was my favorite. As you step onto the platform, you realize that there is a steep drop-off below you that turns into a verdant valley of shimmering greenery. Off to the right is a thundering waterfall that is spraying mist from all sides as it cascades down the rocky ledge. Platform eight is the steepest, fastest line of them all, and it is the most exhilarating leap I have ever taken. Stepping off the platform I felt the familiar rush of wind in my face, but the scenery was passing at a much faster rate. As I flew down through the valley, I screamed out of pure joy and smiled the biggest smile anyone has ever smiled in the history of Costa Rican zip-lining. Never before have I felt so free, so happy, so alive. I will remember this experience til the day I die.

As we drove back to campus, the mini-bus was filled with excited chatter about which platforms were the best, who had the best expressions, and how we all wanted to go back and do the tour again. We have all been here a month and a half and already had so many adventures. There are many more still to come, and I know that I speak for the entire group when I say that we are blessed to be studying in such an amazing country! Everyone is doing well, none of us are sick, and we are looking forward to continuing our exploratory adventures in the weeks to come.

Praying is good…so keep doing it!

Until next time…

Also, follow this link for some pics of our adventure:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=286567&id=641878295&l=20e5781704

Going to the doctor

Well folks, I didn’t get to go to the beach. Ironically enough, the morning after I published my last blog I woke up with a stabbing pain in my lower back (which actually turned out to be my lung). Every time I coughed, the pain got worse. So instead of packing my swimsuit and towel for some much needed sunbathing, I went to the doctor for some much needed medical attention.

I was taken to a private clinic and seen almost immediately. The doctor explained that my lungs were super irritated and full of phlegm, so I had to have nebulizer treatment as well as an IV of medicine to aid in the lung recuperation. In all honesty, I felt like I had finally hit rock bottom. I was sitting in a foreign doctor’s office, hooked up to a Darth Vador-like mask that was pumping medicine into my infected lungs, while at the same time getting hooked up to an IV (I just love needles, btw), and I wanted nothing more than to take a sleeping pill that would make me sleep until all the horribleness was over.

In the midst of all my misery though, God showed up again. Like I said last time, God’s got everything under control, regardless of whether we believe it or not. I was blessed with not only an amazing doctor but an amazing nurse as well. Both of them were thorough in their assessments, yet super gentle and understanding of my apprehensions. I literally did not feel a thing when I got the IV, and by the time I left, my blood-oxygen levels were back up and I could breath normally.

Since last Friday (Oct. 1st), I have been faithfully taking my pills and drinking my cough syrup twice a day without complaint. I thought I was out of the woods until Monday night (Oct. 4th), my one month anniversary of being in Costa Rica. Instead of having a party to celebrate, I had to go back to the doctor because I was having chest pains and really all-over-my-torso-pains. My lungs had become unhappy once more, and so we went back to the clinic for the 4th time in 4 days. (They recognize my face now when I go in.)

Lucky for me, this visit was a bit different than my past visits. This time, I was accompanied by one of my professors as well as one of the 24-7s. We got there and the front desk guy said we would have to wait until 9:30PM to see the doctor because he was so busy. It was about 8:00PM at that time. About half an hour later, the doctor called us back. Well, lucky me I got the best looking doctor in Costa Rica. He had the pointiest shoes I’ve ever seen a man wear…or a woman for that matter. This guy should have been on Grey’s Anatomy.

Anyway, he talked with us for a while, then decided to check me over. At one point, he actually hopped up onto the examining table next to me to get at a better angle to check my breathing. I was laughing inside…I’d never seen a doctor hop up on the table before. He explained the need for more nebulization and of course another injection. So, I got another injection, and then it was time to get nebulized. I got out my mask they had given me the time before and he hooked me up. We all thought it would be a good time to take some pictures, so we did. We got ones with me in the mask, with the 24-7 and me, of the doctor and me….really quite ridiculous.

When all was said and done, we got the pics, we finished the 3 nebulizations and then we headed home. That night after I got home, my host mom expressed how worried she was for me. We talked a lot about different food she is going to cook for me to “rally my defenses”. Also, she and I talked about the importance of having a positive attitude through all of this. She reminded me that I have so many people who care and that I am never alone. God just blows my socks off again and again. I am indeed a blessed woman with an amazing family! I am officially on the mend, and looking forward to my final doctor visit this Friday! Thanks for the continued prayers devoted reader!

Until next time…

Thoughts from the window seat

Every morning around 8:25am, the bus pulls up to my bus stop and throws its doors open wide so that I can get on.  I pay my 310 colones and make my way down the aisle in search of the perfect seat.  Ideally, every morning I would have a window seat.  But seeing as other people ride the bus as well, my wish is rarely granted.  On one particular morning though, I found a window seat and I took it as my own.  Ah, sweet victory!

Just as my mind began to wander to far off places, something caught my eye.  At the 3rd to last stop before mine, there is a fence that surrounds the outside of a home.  Between the slats of the fence was a perfectly spun spider web, glistening with the morning dew.  As I stared at the web, it occurred to me how amazing it is that God gave spiders the awesome ability to essentially carry their homes with them.  They don´t worry about packing bags when they change locations; they just pick up and create a web somewhere else.

So, about the point that I got lost in the awesomeness of spiders, two more thoughts came to me: 1.) humans are not spiders (ok no one said I had to have profound thoughts), and 2.) even though we are not spiders, we are pretty adaptable creatures.  We can just as easily move across town or across continents as long as we have an idea of what to bring.

I thought I knew what to bring to Costa Rica.  I checked off all the items on the packing list, but now that I am here I feel I owe it to future Whitworth students to make some small changes/additions to the list.  So here goes…

1. Umbrella: I´m from Oregon.  It rains all the time in the Willamette Valley, and the last time I used an umbrella in the rain was during the Clinton administration.  Sure, every Oregonian owns one, but nobody actually puts it to use.  In fact, I´m pretty sure there is a law against the use of umbrellas in Oregon.  You will be publicly humiliated and laughed out of mediocre restaurants if you show up with that awkward contraption in hand.  Perhaps this is why I chose to bring the Dollar Tree version of an umbrella instead of the nice Burlington Coat Factory umbrella my mom offered me.  EPIC FAIL.

I will admit it, I was wrong.  The cheap one was lighter and smaller (probably because it was missing parts to begin with), and it was already worn a bit.  That´s really all I can say in its defense.  A cheap umbrella is a cheap umbrella.  And while it´s fun to point and laugh at people who´s umbrellas have been blown inside out, it´s not fun to be the one getting laughed at in a torrential downpour.  The point of this story is: go for the umbrella from Burlington Coat Factory.  It may seem like a lot of money at the time, but you´ll thank me when you´re dry and the laughter is directed at someone else.

2. Backpack rain cover: Right now I suspect you are sitting in front of your computer saying to yourself, “A backpack rain cover?  That´s the nerdiest thing I´ve ever heard of!”  In all honesty, if I were in your position, I would say the exact same thing.  Before I purchased my backpacking backpack for this trip, I didn´t even know these rain covers existed.  It turns out, they do exist (and my backpack came with one attached!).  If I ever meet the person who came up with the idea, I´m going to take them out to a nice seafood dinner just to say thank you.  It´s a little known fact that while umbrellas keep humans dry, they actually soak backpacks and the contents therein.  Trust me on this one; go for the backpack with the rain cover!

3. Laptop with a web cam: The packing list we were given listed personal computers as optional because there are plenty of computers on campus.  This is 100% true.  There are plenty of computers to go around, and there is really no reason to bring your own computer…unless you want to Skype, offload pictures, listen to your own music, and just be more mobile in general.  From talking with other students on this trip, one of the most common things people wish they would have brought is a laptop with a web cam.

A majority of students that study abroad (myself included) use the video-chatting program Skype to keep in contact with friends and family back home.  Because I brought my laptop with me, I have been able to utilize the wireless internet we have on campus (thanks Whitworth!) to connect with people back home with relative ease.  Once again, the laptop is by no means necessary, but it sure is handy.

4. Patience: Unfortunately, patience is not something they sell in stores.  If they did, waiting in line would still suck but people in the parking lot would probably be a whole heck of a lot more understanding when you stall the manual Jeep you´re learning to drive 5 times in a row…Anyway the interesting thing about patience is that you can´t practice it until everything that can go wrong goes wrong and you´re stuck in a foreign country, in bed with a fever and sore throat.

If you read my short blog post before this one, you´ll know that I was super sick this past week.  I did a lot of crying, a lot of praying, some more crying, and even more praying.  The funny thing about prayer is that most of the time there is no audible response, and in the silence the answer is, “Wait.”  I don´t know about you, but I hate waiting.  I like to be in control and going places.  Getting sick here has probably been the most trying part of the trip thus far, but is has also reminded me that I´m not the one in control.  I lose patience with God for letting me get sick, but how often do I do things that try God´s patience?  Like I always say, “I´m a work in progress.”  I´m really appreciative to my host family for their daily love and support and to my family and friends back home that continuously lift me up in prayer and encouragement.  Thank you so much!

Until next time… (and by next time I mean after I get back from the BEACH!!!!)

The best thing ever…

So, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t updated my blog in  what seems like forever…well I got sick.  That’s right.  Here in Costa Rica, in the land of Pura Vida, they actually have sickness just like the rest of the world.  Over the past couple days, while battling fever, sore throat, antibiotics and phlegm, the only thing I could think about was how sad you would be (devoted reader) to not have a new blog to read.  I apologize that this post is so short.  If I were to summarize the last 5 days for you it would be a list of the following movies: Up, 500 Days of Summer, Braveheart, Yes Man, and Elf.  Yay, wasn’t that an exciting recap?  I’m working on getting caught up with my classes, but I promise to post something entertaining very soon!

All of your prayers are appreciated more than you know!

Until next time…

My mom away from mom

They say that somewhere in the world we all have a doppelganger; some long lost twin that possesses very similar characteristics, abilities, etc. Unfortunately the closest you will probably get to finding your double is when your cousin’s best friend’s aunt Karen sees you at the supermarket and says, “Oh I totally saw your twin at Wal-Mart yesterday.” At that point though, you will have completely forgotten the sweet doppelganger fact because you’re trying to figure out how you know this weird lady with the alligator purse. Either way, you’re probably wondering what any of this twin stuff has to do with my mom (see title if you are completely lost). Well as fate would have it (actually God, but fate sounds more poetic), I have met my real mom’s doppelganger here in Costa Rica. In fact, we live in the same house, and she considers me her second daughter. That’s right people, my host mom is in fact my real mom’s long lost twin…(stunned gasp from the audience)! Allow me to explain:

I have three solid pieces of evidential support (that’s for you Julie) that will prove the legitimacy of my claim:

  1. My host mom (and my real mom) are awesome cooks, and they have servants’ hearts.

    My real mom is an amazing woman. She and I have different personalities, and other than our red hair we don’t look much alike, but I love her so much. Something I really appreciate about her is her endless desire to serve others. She goes out of her way to make sure others are comfortable and content, and she really loves people wherever they are at in life. Beyond all this, she cooks SO WELL! I’m actually getting pretty hungry just thinking about meatballs, roast chicken, stuffing, chocolate cake, and much more. For some reason though, she won’t let me in the kitchen…probably because I am cursed with mediocre cooking skills…ha ha just kidding, but seriously.

    And now onto her twin…From the first day I moved in with my host family, my host mom has been nothing but welcoming and loving towards me and my piece-meal Spanish. She is constantly reminding me that this is my home and that I am a part of this family. I could never have guessed how amazing of a host family God would bless me with! Much like my real mom, my host mom is always cooking awesome Costa Rican dishes for me: gallo pinto, pescado, carne con salsa, y mucho mas! Now I’m hungry all over again…dang it. Also, she won’t let me help in the kitchen either. Do I have a sign on my forehead that says: “Beware Mediocre Cook”? Oh well, I’ll just be content with eating for now and maybe later learning the secrets of a Costa Rican cook.

  2. My host mom (and my real mom) have a very specific way of doing laundry that I will never be able to figure out.

    So, the other night I decided that my overflowing laundry basket was starting to smell, and I asked my host mom if she could show me how to do laundry here (yes it is more difficult than throwing it all in the washing machine). Around 7:00PM we headed out to the garage to defeat the smelly pile of dirty clothes. The following confession is true and embarrassing so feel free to make fun of me as you wish. As we approached the “washing machine” I began to panic because 1.) I had never done laundry in Spanish before and 2.) the “washing machine” looked quite a bit different than what I am used to at home. My mom started filling the machine with water (manually with a hose) and then put some soap in with my clothing.

    That wasn’t so bad…until the clothes were done being spun around in the soapy water. My mom then began to pull the soapy clothes out and put them in the sink next to the machine. She told me what to do in Spanish, but I was so mesmerized that I couldn’t understand what she told me to do. So instead of turning on the water to wash out the suds, I stood there staring at the bubbly clothing, hoping that maybe little woodland creatures would come finish my laundry for me. The happy, singing creatures never came, so eventually I turned on the water and began rinsing the clothes with my left hand (holding the hose in my right hand). I must have looked really awkward because after about 3 minutes of watching me butcher her laundry system, she asked me if I was left-handed (or better translated: Did you eat paint chips as a child?) Ok, not really, but I could tell I was not being as efficient as I could be. The next few moments are all a blur in my mind. What I can tell you is that after my host mom stepped in, my soapy clothing went from sudsy to bubble-free and finally into the “clothing salad spinner” as I like to call it. The clothes were hung up in no time after they went through the salad spinner, and I am proud to say that I am currently looking at piles of clean clothes scattered around my room.

  1. My host mom (and my real mom) have the same, unique telephone ring-tone.

    My real mom loves the song “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder. She loves it so much that she has it as her cell phone ringer.

    Imagine my surprise Sunday morning when the phone rang in my host family’s home and Stevie Wonder was singing a hauntingly familiar song. When I asked my host mom about it later, she said she heard the song one time and absolutely loved it, so when she found it as a ring tone option she chose it.

The longer I live with my host family, the more I am realizing just how blessed I am. Not only do I have family and friends back in the U.S. that love me, but I also have a new family in Costa Rica that is allowing me to be a part of their story for the next three months. Life is good, and I am so very blessed (even though I can’t do laundry). Thanks for your continued love and prayers—keep it up!

Until next time…

Also, sorry about the weird numbering…something isn’t working right…oh well.