Monthly Archives: July 2014

Food Chains

Although I do not plan to eat at any fast food places while I’m here, I do think it’s interesting to look at what chains are here, and how they are different than what we have in the USA.  For what it’s worth, I did not see ANY major chains while I was in the south, so obviously this doesn’t apply to that area.

First, convenience stores.  The most common store is a local chain called Musmanni.  They are like a convenience store, but with the bread of a panadería.  I like the combo!  I feel like you can find one of these on every other block.  The second most common convenience store is probably AM/PM.  Those are all over the place, too.  But I haven’t see any 7-11s.

As far as fast tood goes, I feel like there are all the major chains from the US, plus extra chicken stores that are either local or from somewhere else.  At least judging by the restaurants and food places I see around, they really love to eat chicken here.

There are a ton of fast-food style chicken places.

There are a ton of fast-food style chicken places.

It's like spam, spam, spam, and spam, but for chicken!

It’s like spam, spam, spam, and spam, but for chicken!

McDonalds is all over the place, and they all have a “postres” kiosk in the front of the store that sells ice cream cones and other desserts.  These are always really busy.  I would almost say that they sell more ice cream here than burgers and fries.

Burger King has a “Whopper Tico.”  Basically, they took a whopper and added some local things to it: salsa Lizano, natilla (something in between mayo and sour cream), beans, and crispy tortilla strips.

Wendy’s has the “Fut Box.”  This appears to be a regular fast food meal, plus a cup of rice and chili, served in a box with world cup flags (for a limited time, but I’m still seeing it around).

Many fast food places advertise that they serve gallo pinto for breakfast, or a “casado” for lunch- basically taking whatever they serve, such as chicken, and adding it to a plate of rice and beans to call it a casado.

And, of course, there are the pizza chains.  Papa John’s and Pizza Hut are the two most common ones, I think.

Finally, there are the little storefronts downtown that have a variety of greasy fried stuff for sale over the counter.

Definitely plenty of options to get your fried food fix at any time of day!


Losing that “new” feeling

I feel like I am getting accustomed to being here and am losing that feeling I had of everything being new.  It’s not that I won’t always be a foreigner here, that is not going to change.  But I feel like I know more or less what to expect as I go through my daily routines.

This has advantages and disadvantages.  The advantages, of course, are that I’m not needing to go through my day on a constant state of high alert, watching and paying attention to every single thing just to get by.  That was mentally taxing and made for some silly mistakes!

When you are needing to pay strict attention to everything, sometimes you miss the obvious.  Your brain just can’t process everything at that level of intensity.  But there is so much to take in at the beginning that you do your best.  You have to watch out for big things like where you live and how to get back there, and little things like what a telephone sounds like when a call is going through compared to not connecting.  Big things like which way to look to see if traffic is coming your way, to little things like how to keep your coins and bills organized when you’re working with a new currency.

One of the first things I needed to do here was to buy shampoo and conditioner, because I had only brought enough to get me through the first couple of days.  At the time, I was proud of myself because I had figured out the location of a supermarket that I could get to on my own.  But when I walked in, I was instantly mesmerized by all of the different products that were there and how they were organized.  Both the similarities and the differences were fascinating.  I walked up and down the aisles checking out everything.

What it meant, though, was that I accidentally bought two bottles of shampoo instead of shampoo and conditioner!  It’s not that I didn’t know the word for each, they’re pretty much cognates.  I think it’s just that once I was finally doing a familiar task, like grabbing a product off the shelf (after quite a long time reading labels, comparing brands, and figuring out prices), my brain gave itself a little break and went into autopilot.  I grabbed the bottles that were side-by-side on the shelf, not even noticing that they were both identical.  Since I have heard that conditioner doesn’t help much here anyway because of the humidity (and the desire to get out of the shower as quickly as possible), I have just been going without conditioner.  But I have more shampoo than I need!

The early days were filled with those kind of mistakes.  Right before I left, I had listed to a This American Life podcast that had an old episode with David Sedaris, when he was living in Paris.  He said something like being a foreigner means suffering countless little humiliations as you go through your day.  It means altering what you do sometimes in favor of routes, products, or people that are easy, familiar, or nice.  This is exactly what I felt like at first, and I had to remind myself that it was totally normal.

Riding the bus had me in a constant state of high alert.  I had this borderline panicky feeling that I was being whisked off at high speeds to parts unknown.  This was made worse because I didn’t know what the different places were called, or where any one place was in relation to another.  Even if I asked somebody, I might get an answer that was full of locations that means nothing to me.  I had to remind myself all the time to relax, because even if I was on the wrong bus and heading in the wrong direction, I could always get back on a bus heading the other way, or at worst get in a cab and get back home that way.  But I studied, studied, studied all of the landmarks as they went by, and then went home and studied Google maps.

Compare that to yesterday.  I had to get out to Sabanilla, and then to Pavas, and I hadn’t been to either place before.  First of all, I counted it as a victory that I knew I needed to get to Sabanilla at all.  The student’s “cantón” was listed as Montes de Oca.  And even though I haven’t been there before, I knew enough to look at the “address” to find a more specific location.  In this case, the house was within a kilometer of the iglesia de Sabanilla.  And every little town has a catholic church and a park more or less at the center.  So I was heading towards the center of Sabanilla, clearly.  Google helped me out, because somebody had uploaded a picture of the church so that I would recognize it when I went by (we were likely to go past several different churches, and they don’t all have signs).

So I knew that I would need to get downtown and board a bus to Sabanilla.  I couldn’t see any Sabanilla stops on the map, but I knew it was close to San Pedro, and I was familiar with those buses.  Also, the local buses that are going to a similar part of town all tend to leave from the same general area.  So I went to the San Pedro bus stop.  I noticed that none of the buses on that block said Sabanilla, so I asked the bus monitor guy.  Sabanilla buses were around the corner – easy!

I am getting familiar enough with the area that I can watch for my own landmarks,  I recognized San Pedro, of course, and knew enough about scale that I had a sense of when we should be getting into Sabanilla.  Because of that, I hadn’t asked the driver anything when I got on the bus, and wasn’t needing to count on anybody to tell me when to get off.  I did have a minor feeling of panic that maybe the bus wouldn’t go past the church (which is utterly silly, since that would be the center of town), or that I had missed it somehow, but I was able to push that feeling aside fairly easily and trust that I knew what I was doing.

Sure enough, some of the businesses started having “Sabanilla” in their name, and after a few more minutes the church came into sight.  Then, the landmark that I had decided would be my cue to get off the bus.  I was there!  I did need to call the family to get directions from that point, but I think that’s par for the course when visiting anybody around here.

Getting to Pavas later was a similar experience.  I knew what direction it was from downtown, and figured that the buses would leave from the area of the Coca Cola bus terminal.  So I headed over there, and asked when I got close.  Again, I was a block away from the bus stop when I asked.  On the next block, there was a line of people at the bus stop.  I asked the woman in front of me, and it wasn’t a Pavas bus, but a Lomas bus.

I still don’t know where Lomas is, because I haven’t needed to, but I know that I’ve seen both bus lines in the same general area, and I also knew that the place I was going wasn’t that far away, so they probably split off after my destination.  With that knowledge, I was content to just get on the bus.  I could always get back off if I needed to.  But the woman wanted to check in.  I wasn’t trying to get to downtown Pavas, was I?  I described my destination by the closest landmark I knew, and she nodded.  As I had suspected, this bus would work just fine.

So, it’s not that I don’t need to do my homework as I am planning my trips for the day.  I still study the maps at home, just not as much, and I bring my notepad with little notes in it so that I have a reference when I need it when I’m out.  But once I am out and about, I don’t need that super high level of concentration to do what I need to do.  I am not as likely to sit down on a seat with gum stuck to it because I am so busy studying the dynamics of bus seating that I am paying attention to every little thing about the bus other than the condition of the seat.

That’s not to say I don’t miss my stop sometimes.  On Monday I went past my home bus stop by accident, and it’s not the first time I’ve done that.  When it’s dark and rainy and the windows fog up, sometimes it’s hard for me to tell the difference between the stop where I need to get off and the one right before it.  And getting off too soon means that I have to walk past a busy gas station with lots of cars turning in.  So I waited, and ended up going too far.  That’s a pain because I then have to walk back down and up a hill, and over a bridge to get to where I need to go.  But it’s also not the end of the world either.

Of course, now that I’ve said all of this out loud, I may be setting myself up for getting completely and hopelessly lost.  That’s the way things work, right?  Overconfidence can lead to trouble!  Today, I need to head to San Rafael de Arriba, and I am pretty sure that I know how to get there, even though I’ve never been.  We will see!

Central park in Palmares, Alajuela

Central park in Palmares, Alajuela

After finishing my half marathon.

After finishing my half marathon.

Monteverde, day 1

Monteverde, day 1

Monteverde, day 2

Monteverde, day 2

One cool thing is that even the littlest urban park has some sort of play structure.  This is in the corner of the park where I catch my bus downtown.

One cool thing is that even the littlest urban park has some sort of play structure. This is in the corner of the park where I catch my bus downtown.

Lots and lots of statues are all over the city.  I do like how the public art features people of a variety of shapes and sizes.

Lots and lots of statues are all over the city. I do like how the public art features people of a variety of shapes and sizes.

This would have been a fun place to play skee-ball, except that it's not possible to play left handed, and games cost close to $1!

This would have been a fun place to play skee-ball, except that it’s not possible to play left handed, and games cost close to $1!

I got to see Cypress and her host sister!

I got to see Cypress and her host sister!

My room in Sabalito.  We got in really late, so I barely remembered to get a photo for the day at all.  I tried to take one on the bus, but it didn't really turn out.

My room in Sabalito. We got in really late, so I barely remembered to get a photo for the day at all. I tried to take one on the bus, but it didn’t really turn out.



Coffee beans

Coffee beans

Seana at the roller rink.

Seana at the roller rink.

A flower from the rim of Volcano Irazú.

A flower from the rim of Volcano Irazú.

Life-sized lego guy at Avenidas Escazu.

Life-sized lego guy at Avenidas Escazu.

I forgot my camera when we went out today, so you will have to make do with a picture that somebody took of me.

I forgot my camera when we went out today, so you will have to make do with a picture that somebody took of me.

The Chicago Bulls are a great baseball team.

The Chicago Bulls are a great baseball team.


Roller Skating

This post isn’t really specific to Costa Rica other than some of the reflecting I’ve been doing while I’m down here, so if you’re looking for more travel-related stuff, you’ll have to wait for the next post.

But recently I have been reflecting on the journey that I’ve been on.  I knew that coming down here would be a challenge and would take me out of my comfort zone.  It would have been much easier, of course, to stay home.  But this opportunity was a chance for me to grow personally, to challenge myself, and to learn and experience new things.

In 2011, I was 100 pounds overweight.  I had carried the extra weight for almost all of my adult life, and for most of that time, I accepted it as just a part of who I was.  I was obese, I was sedentary, and that was that.

Thankfully, I got scared enough by my lack of energy and some potential health problems that were coming up to do something about it.  I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to take off the weight, but I was going to give it an honest effort.  And it worked!  August will mark 2 years of successful maintenance since I got to my goal.

One of the things that this accomplishment has given me is the chance to re-evaluate assumptions that I had made about myself over the years.  Since I was able to reach my weight loss goal by finding a plan and sticking to it, other things suddenly seemed within reach, too.  If there was something I really wanted, and I was willing to work for it, then suddenly everything seemed attainable.

I had never thought of myself as athletic before.  My sister was always the athletic one.  I was the good student.  But as I was losing the weight, I started to exercise, and eventually started running.  Now, that’s pretty much my primary hobby.  So I had to redefine my assumptions about myself to include somebody who would actually go out and exercise, for fun even.

So this week, my guide and I got invited to go roller skating.  It was actually a work party put on by one of the Costa Rican program coordinators.  Normally, I would think, no way, I don’t really know how to roller skate, and I am not very coordinated.

But then I started to ask myself, was that just an old-fashioned assumption that I made about myself?  Was it time to maybe put that one aside, and see if maybe roller skating was something that I could learn how to do?

If this were the movies, you might cut to the scene of triumph as I glided effortlessly around the rink.  Unfortunately, real life doesn’t always turn out like the movies.  I may be at a healthy weight, but that does not mean that I have developed any coordination.

What really happened was like this.  I put on my skates and did manage to make it from the bench to the rink.  Then, instead of heading to the rail to get the hang of things, I just sort of tried to go.  I might have made it a total of five whole feet before I fell- hard- onto my tailbone.  It instantly started hurting, and I had to sort of gather myself before I felt like getting back up again.  And it hurt badly enough that as soon as I felt a little bit better, I changed right back into my shoes and did not make another attempt at roller skating.

Now, because of what I have been through with my weight loss, I am sure that I could learn how to roller skate if that was something I really wanted to do.  But, honestly, I don’t think it is.  Instead, I am accepting the fact that even though some things have changed about me and about my life, I still do not have any more coordination or balance than I had before.  And, it’s OK to not be perfect, and to accept the fact that some things come more easily than others.

I watched the roller skating from the bench, which at least was always full of at least a couple of people resting or other benchwarmers.  Luckily, my tailbone seems to be feeling better, although it is still a tad stiff on one side.

Heading South

I got to travel to the rural southeastern part of the country this week, which is why I haven’t updated in a while.  Several of our students are staying with families down there, so I took the bus down with them, stayed a few days to make sure everybody was settled, and then took the bus back up by myself.  At the end of the month, I’ll repeat the process in reverse to get everyone back up to catch their flight home.

The bus ride itself was pretty uneventful.  This was my third multi-hour bus trip since I’ve been here, so I feel like I’ve gotten the hang of the little things, like how the tickets, bag checks, boarding, rest stops, etc. work.  It is a really nice feeling knowing what to expect, for the most part, even though I’ve never been to the area and haven’t ridden this bus line before.  This was my longest ride so far, at 6.5 hours, plus this time I was responsible for 6 exchange students.  In addition, we had two more Tico teens traveling with us.  I do have to admit that the kids did just great and didn’t need a lot of help from me.

We took the 4 PM bus, so it was pretty late by the time we got in.   Most of the students were picked up right at the stop by their families, but two of them would be staying in the next town over, so they stayed the night with the same family that was hosting me.

The next morning, we packed into the truck and headed up and over the mountain to bring the students to their new home for the month.  And by packed, I mean that there were 7 of us in the pickup truck, but luckily one was a little kid, and the truck did have a back seat!

This part of the country was so close to the border with Panama that we stopped by along the way.  Around here, the border is quiet enough that you might not even know that you were at a border if somebody didn’t point it out.  It was along a gravel road, and there was a gas station, a grocery store, and some construction that is supposedly going to have a few stores.   The road itself just sort of veers into Panama for a few meters.  If you want to actually go into Panama, there is a road that heads off in that direction, which is notable because it’s paved and looks well-maintained.

We got out to take pictures, and ended up walking around a bit.  That was neat because I spotted a post with the plaque that marked the border.  Compared to Costa Rica, Panama is known for having cheaper gasoline.  In addition, they use the US Dollar for currency, and apparently the exchange rate is currently favorable enough that you can save some money shopping and paying for your groceries with dollars.  Seafood in particular is cheaper in Panama, so the grocery store had quite a bit of that for sale.  The exchange rate isn’t as good as it was a few years ago, but it’s good enough to warrant some business growth in the area.

DSCN0480 DSCN0482 DSCN0483

I ended up being in the area from Sunday night until early Wednesday.  I was able to visit quite a few families and a couple of schools while I was down there, and I have to say that everybody was so kind and welcoming.  I know I say that about all of the places I’ve been in Costa Rica, but it’s the honest truth!  Especially down here, it’s a part of the world where they haven’t lost the ability to just casually drop in on friends, relatives, or neighbors if you’re in the area.  In Costa Rica, you go to the gate and call out, “¡Upe!”, and maybe the person’s name, to let them know you’re there.  If you do drop by to visit somebody, you might even be invited in for a meal, or at the very least a refresco (which down here is a juice of some kind, not soda), before heading on your way.  Because I was visiting several families in the same day, I had to be careful to not end up eating two breakfasts and several extra refrescos at every stop!

On my first full day there, my family asked me if I wanted to go for a walk.  I said sure, but really had no idea what I was getting myself into!  I noticed that they were packing a backpack to bring with them, and then they headed off at a brisk pace while checking their watch, and both of those should have been clues.  Anyway, they basically took off heading straight up a mountainous road!  Luckily I’m in pretty good shape from running, because it was all I could do to keep up!

We walked for an hour and 45 minutes before we reached the turnaround point, a little town that was nearby (uphill and about 8 kilometers from where we had started).  We stopped by a local pulpería (corner market) to get some snacks to recharge.  I got a little package of coconut cajeta, which is a sweet made from milk and sugar.  Then, we headed back down the mountain, this time in the rain.  We did stop by to visit a student on our way back, and were offered dinner as well.

The next day, I should have known better, but honestly these mystery walks to parts unknown were fun.  That day, we walked for “only” about three and a half hours total, and I think the direction we headed might have been a tad less hilly.  Plus, this pulpería had coke zero and yemitas, which are guava-filled sandwich cookies.

Unfortunately, both days I wore my Chacos, because I didn’t pack any good walking shoes, and I’m weird about wearing my running shoes for anything other than running.  By the time we made it back home the second day, I had blisters on the tops of both feet from the straps!  Ouch!  Hopefully they heal up soon!  Not just for the sake of my feet, but because I need to be able to wear those sandals again!

The reason my hosts were walking so much is that they are preparing for a 250+ kilometer walk from their home to the Basilica in Cartago.  The walk is a yearly pilgrimage.  Over 2 million people are expected to walk to Cartago, arriving around August 2.  My hosts were planning about 9 days for their trip, which means that the walks we did were short compared to what they had ahead of them!  But these were sort of a trial run, which meant they were trying out all of their gear and supplies to make sure they had what they needed.

And what was needed turned out to be Crocs with maxi pads for insoles.  Apparently the pads are soft enough to provide some cushion, and absorbent enough to take care of sweat, plus you can change them out if they get nasty.  It’s not how I would do a long walk, but I was the one who ended up with blisters, so clearly I should not be the one to talk!  There was also some experimenting with gel heel pads, which I tried myself earlier this year when I was fighting plantar fasciitis, but those just wouldn’t stay put in the crocs-n-socks walking setup, so I don’t think they will be taking those.

One interesting thing to me was how “rural” means something a little bit different in Costa Rica than it does in the US.  In this area in Costa Rica, coffee production is the main source of revenue, and there is almost no tourism.  In addition to coffee, quite a few other crops grow well down there.  At the house where I stayed, they had 1-2 trees of a whole variety of fruits, not for sale, but just for their own consumption.

DSCN0488 DSCN0489

Here is downtown.  The taxis down here are pickup trucks with covered beds, so that they can handle some of the rougher roads.

Here is downtown. The taxis down here are pickup trucks with covered beds, so that they can handle some of the rougher roads.


Cacao.  The white part is edible, but tastes nothing like chocolate.

Cacao. The white part is edible, but tastes nothing like chocolate.

Cacao seeds, dried and ready to be toasted.

Cacao seeds, dried and ready to be toasted.



This is anona, I think.  Very tasty when ripe!

This is anona, I think. Very tasty when ripe!

So, that’s definitely what you would call rural.  But when I think of a rural area in the US, I think of everything as being really spread out.  Here, the houses were still pretty close together.  Not right up against each other with one portón touching the next, like it is in the city, but pretty close.  And the town I was in had a very definite downtown, even if it was only 2 blocks long.  But what really makes the difference is that between the clusters of houses and businesses, that’s where the space is.  It was noticeable on our walks.  Even the small area we were in was composed of several different little mini-towns, (San Bosco, San Antonio, etc) but then it was all fields, or mountains with undeveloped land, in between. 

The town where the other two kids were staying was even more remote, but still, the houses were clustered together into neighborhoods.  It’s just that I didn’t really see a downtown at all in that town.  If I had to guess, I’d say that there was probably at least a minisuper and a soda (small restaurant serving traditional food) somewhere, but maybe not much else.  But I wasn’t really taking a running tally when I was out there, so I might very well have missed some stuff.

It’s also interesting to see which things from US culture have and have not found their way down there.  There was definitely a lot less English spoken in the area, mostly because there’s just not a need for it since there aren’t really any tourists.  Kids do study English at school, though, especially if they want to go into the tourist industry when they graduate.

Cable TV and US TV shows dubbed into Spanish were really common.  The teen in the house also liked to watch music videos, so I got to see a Franz Ferdinand video for the first time while I was down there.  It definitely felt like a juxtaposition!  The next few songs that came on were in Spanish, followed by a heavy metal show.

Out of all the families I visited, I don’t know that anybody owned a computer.  But just about everybody had smartphones with data plans.  So web sites that can be accessed on a mobile device were pretty well used and common.  We could be in the middle of nowhere on our walk, and the family would still be keeping track of an important Facebook post and the replies!  On the other hand, I was pretty much off the grid with my not-smart-phone, especially since coverage from my cell carrier was spotty.

I definitely had an opportunity to feel how lucky I was, not just for the kindness and hospitality of everybody that I met, but also for the little window into everyday life in rural Costa Rica.  My work here as a chaperone gives me the opportunity to go to some of these places that are far from the tried-and-true tourist areas, but it also gives me the chance to get to know some people and a little bit about their day to day lives.  What a wonderful experience this has been!

Various Notes

Here are a few things I’ve noticed that are probably not worthy of their own topic.

Striped Polo Shirts– Costa Ricans LOVE striped polo shirts.  Seriously.  If you are outside and there are more than 1-2 people around, all you have to do is think “striped polo”, look up, and I guarantee you that you will see at least one person wearing one!  Bonus points if it’s red, white, and blue!

Red, White, and Blue– Those are also the colors of the Costa Rican flag, and around here it is very common to see people wearing their nation’s colors with pride!  Even if they don’t have all of their colors on one item of clothing, you will see a lot of outfits put together to feature all of the colors.  For example, a guy out running today had on a blue cap, white shirt, and red shorts.  Part of this, I’m sure, is due to pride in La Sele’s world cup success, but I don’t think that’s all of it.


Statue in Parque Central

Statue in Parque Central

Clean floors/streets– This is another thing that seems very important to people down here.  I have never been at the gym and NOT had somebody mop around my treadmill while I was running.  When I did a long run at the gym, they mopped twice!  It’s not uncommon to see them mopping out the parking garage there, either.  I am wondering if part of it is the rain mixed with tile floors means that there is probably a lot of mud getting tracked in.  Also, clean streets seems to be a big priority for people.  Now, I’ve heard quite a few complaints about the littering, but honestly for a city this size, the streets are pretty clean.  There are crews out working to clean very regularly.  At the vegetable market, you do just throw your fruit rinds from the samples on the ground, which feels very weird.  But apparently somebody does come through and clean up afterwards.

Parks and vegetation are a slightly different story.  Because of the climate, things grow very quickly.  When I first got here, for example, Parque el Bosque (close to my house) was very overgrown, but I heard that it had been mowed recently.  They came about a week later, and it took weedwhackers to tackle the grass.  It was several days worth of work, and then I guess they had the day off or something, because the piles of what they cut just stuck around for a few more days.  But since then, they’ve been back to mow and prune a second time, and it’s looking nice.  Seeing municipal workers out pruning the vegetation or mowing/weedwhacking in parks is a very common sight.

Signs in parks asking people not to litter ask nicely and try to appeal to people’s sense of shared ownership and pride in their community and the environment.

Guachimán (pronounced almost like “watchy-man”)- Almost every business, and many neighborhoods, hire private security guards.  Sometimes they just stand near the entrance or “la caja” (cash register) and keep an eye out.  Sometimes they are near the door, and you need to talk to them and let them know what you want before you can come in.  Sometimes, the door is locked or closed behind a gate, and you need their permission just to get in.  In my neighborhood, the guard goes by several times a day on a bicycle with a whistle and a billy club.  I hear a rumor that he’s actually only the guard for the other side of the street, though!  

Street vendors– It’s very common, I think, in all parts of Latin America for people to go block to block selling various items.  They go by in car or on foot, either calling out or with a bullhorn saying what’s for sale, and sometimes talking about it’s high quality and/or low price.  Occasionally, it’s a recording on repeat.  It actually seems less common here than what I remember from Mexico.  In some neighborhoods where more people drive, I don’t think they come around at all.  But if you need to get around on foot or by bus, sometimes it’s worth the convenience of having the items come to you.

Our most regular vendor is the egg guy.  He comes by every morning in this car, playing a recording of his sales pitch.  There are other egg guys that sometimes come by later in the day.  We don’t buy eggs from him because he only sells cartons of 30, and we don’t use that many.

The veggie truck comes every Thursday afternoon.  The prices apparently aren’t the best, but if you buy your produce at the market over the weekend, you are likely to be out of stuff by Thursday and need a few things to get you through to the weekend.  You also just have to take your chances that he will have what you want.

I have also seen guys selling wooden furniture and blenders go by the house, and people coming door to door to ask for food and/or money.

Out and about, there are of course street vendors that have a specific spot where they sell.  Sometimes, they sell the same thing, for example the mango sellers by my bus stop.  Sometimes, though, they change with whatever is happening.  During a downpour, for example, all of the street vendors put away whatever else they had and started selling umbrellas.  During the world cup, there were lots of flags, posters, and jerseys for sale.  When I had to catch an early bus, I noticed that in the morning, it was mostly newspapers and empanadas for sale.

Lottery tickets are HUGE down here, and there are vendors out all over the place selling lottery tickets.  They seem to do a lot of business.  Many people join a group and buy together instead of buying individual tickets from the vendors.

The most common items that I see for sale, other than produce and lotería, are cell phone cards, fried chicharrones, plantains, and yuca, DVDs, socks, leggings, hair ties, bracelets (and supplies for making those loop band bracelets), arm warmers (?), and purses/wallets.

Toothbrushing– Costa Ricans also love clean teeth.  They brush after every single meal, and there are toothbrushing stations at schools.

Suicide shower head

“Suicide” shower head.

Hot water– Apparently, hot water is on the “sort of nice to have, but not essential” list.  Most houses that I have been in do not have hot water anywhere but the shower.  Water for the shower is heated by an electric shower head that often combines running water and bare wires right above your head.  Some houses don’t have hot water for the shower, either.  Even if they do, if the water heater breaks, don’t expect anybody to be in a hurry about getting it fixed.

Toilet paper– Most of the time, you do NOT flush toilet paper down here.  There will be a small garbage can by the toilet to put it in.  Again, that’s not uncommon for Latin America.  What does seem different is the way that it’s referred to here.  In other places, it’s said that you don’t flush your TP because the sewer infrastructure can’t handle it and you’ll clog the toilet.  Here, at least according to the signs that are up in every single bathroom, not flushing your TP seems to be a matter of respecting your environment and the waterways, and that it’s cleaner for TP to go in the garbage.  Same practice, different way of looking at it, I guess.  Maybe it’s just that clogging the toilet isn’t a good way to respect the environment. 😉

Flax and Chia seeds– You’ll be happy to know that chia seeds are just as trendy here as they are in the US.  Maybe more so, because of the tradition of having fruit smoothies and taking the healthful properties of foods very seriously.  However, nobody is nearly as crazy for chia as they are for linaza, or flax seeds.  They put them in everything.

I guess that’s it, for now.  I will probably be busy over the next few days, and will catch back up next week.


I had never gone ziplining before.  It has sort of been on my bucket list just because I was too heavy to be able to go for many years.  So if there was something that I couldn’t do because of my weight, I try to make sure to do it now as a sort of celebration.  It meant that I noticed the scale near the entrance where they put on your harness.  I reveled in the fact that nobody was going to ask me to step on it to make sure I wasn’t too heavy for the cable.

All of the pictures of ziplining that I have noticed are of smiling, happy people in gorgeous surroundings.  So I always sort of assumed that the point was a chance to get out into nature and see interesting things from a new angle (above), and that the cable was more of a means of transport from one area to another.

Boy, was I wrong!  The point of ziplining appears to be the adrenaline rush of being on the cable itself!  And, at least for me, I spent a whole lot of time concentrating on what I was doing, which didn’t leave a lot of room for pondering my surroundings.

The basic idea is this: you wear a harness that suspends you from a cable in a sitting position.  You wear gloves, and your dominant hand goes around the cable behind where you’re attached.  That keeps you from spinning while you’re moving, and you use it to brake at the end.  Your other hand holds the rope you’re suspended from, maybe for stability?

Then you GO!  It felt like I was moving way too fast along the cable, but clearly they have the angle set so that you’ll go the right speed most of the time.  The guy at the other end waves you on and signals when it’s time to brake.  I spent most of my time on the cable feeling like my hand was about to slide off, but did get the hang of it over time.  Luckily they start you with some shorter ones that are sort of “practice” before you hit the longer ones.

The place where I went also had two “superman” cables, where you are suspended from your back in a flying position.  This was nice- since you didn’t have to use your hands on the cable, I didn’t have to worry that I would screw something up, and could look around a bit more.  I did get a few videos from those, although I kept spazzing and assuming the camera wasn’t recording and turning it off.  The first superman line was about a mile long, and took almost two minutes to complete!  The second one was about half that length.  

Then, it was time for the “tarzan swing”.  For that one, you walk across a bridge to a platform, get attached to a rope, and then jump (or are pushed) off.  After a bit of freefall, the cable catches you, and you swing back and forth and eventually down to the ground.  A few members of our group didn’t do the Tarzan swing.  I reasoned that I had come this far, I might as well try it.  But at the end of the bridge, you do have second thoughts!  They opened the door, and I was falling through the air!  It was such a terrifying feeling.  Then the rope catches you, and that is a big thrill.  From there to the bottom, it’s a lot of fun, and you land very gently.

In the end, I’m glad I did it, but I don’t think I’ll do it again.  It’s just not my sort of thing.  The tarzan swing, on the other hand, was a ton of fun, and I would do something like that again if I get the chance.  But the ziplines, in the end, were about as nerve-racking as they were fun, at least for me.  Give me a roller coaster any day.

The platform for the Tarzan swing.  They said it was about 40 meters high.

The platform for the Tarzan swing. They said it was about 40 meters high.

Here are the videos that I took:

Superman cable 1

Superman cable 2

Superman cable 3

Tarzan swing.  I couldn’t videotape myself (obviously), so this is a video of somebody who went after I did.