Two Days Until I am Home

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(This beginning part I wrote last Friday but I’m leaving it as is) Next Thursday I will be back in the United States and my teaching experience in Costa Rica will be over. My last day of teaching is on Saturday, and on Sunday I will meet my family (Mom, Dad & Sisters) who are arriving today in La Fortuna.

I arrived in CR on October 30th in Montezuma and started my TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) program on the 2nd of November.  I stayed in Montezuma until December 18th and then went home for two weeks to enjoy the Holiday. I returned to CR on the 6th of January in Heredia and it’s where I have been since. If you have been following my blog, you have been following my journeys and experiences along the way from teaching to traveling.  If I hadn’t of gotten the job at Intercultura and met the people I did, my experience would have been a lot different, and not for the better.

On the first and second days of orientation I mentioned to some of the current teachers that I was looking for a place to live. Two girls, Amber and Niamh (pronounced Neeve), who I did not know at the time said they had an extra room and that I could live with them if I wanted.  They didn’t know me, yet they took a chance and offered to let me live with them. I’m grateful they let me live with them because my experience has been amazing. It’s part of the reason why living in CR has been so great, besides the fact Amber brought home the worst dog to ever live. Amber and Niamh are two if the friendliest and kind-hearted people that I have ever met, and they have amazing cooking and baking skills. They fed me on more than one occasion. I will miss them both, but know I will see them again in the future.

When one travels, they meet people from all different points in their life. They are from different backgrounds and ages, but despite the differences it’s relatively easy to make friends. Although I was the youngest teacher at Intercultura I wasn’t  treated differently than anyone else. (However, I was frequently called baby joe.) People gave me the same respect as they gave everyone else. This made it easy to make friends. Over the last six months I have become close with all of the teachers. I traveled with some, drank with all, and had many fun nights out. I’ll miss them all and hope to see them in the future. They were the first people I met in a country where I knew not a soul, and this makes them the most memorable. Most of us were in the same position not knowing anyone. It’s amazing how close people can become without knowing a thing about each other, and how easily we can adapt to each other’s company.
Lastly, I will miss the people and the country of Costa Rica. CR is such a beautiful coutry with great diversity in landscapes. Traveling around the country and seeing the different parts has been such an amazing experience. It’s also been an incredible experience seeing the country’s pride as their futbol team advances in the World Cup. It’s been incredibly fun watching the games and experiencing the celebrations.  I’m grateful for this opportunity and humbled by the experience. Traveling and experiencing a different culture makes you grow as a person and makes you look at the world in a different light. I will now always carry a little pura vida with me.

The City in the Clouds

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Monteverde.  Its more like a small town, but city worked better for alliteration.
Last weekend Christine a friend of mine visited Costa Rica.  It was awesome to have somebody from home visit and we had an awesome time.  She arrived on Wednesday, we spent the day in San Jose and went to the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum).  It was amazing seeing pre-Colombian gold artifacts.  Thursday morning we left for Monteverde, stayed there until Saturday then went to La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano where I got extremely sick.  I will mainly talk about the experience in Monteverde since I’ve already been to and wrote about La Fortuna.
Monteverde was absolutely amazing.  It started with the place we stayed at.  We stayed at a b&b type of place called Casa Batsu.  It was small and about a 15-20 min walk outside of the town.  What really made it amazing was the owner and the food.  The owner was incredibly hospitable, super friendly and an all around great guy.  He was also an amazing chief.  We ate dinner there one night and it was an amazing three course meal.  It started with his take on a Mexican soup (forgot what it was called). followed by an amazing piece of Tuna steak in a Thai sauce with some sides and ending with an unbelievable mango/banana ice cream desert.  Unfortunately the desert wasn’t much and I could have eaten 4 times what I was given.  The rest of the meal was so good I wish I could have eaten it again right after.  With the stay, breakfast was included each morning.  It was no normal breakfast by any means.  It was also an amazing three course breakfast.  Something I have never seen before nor experienced.  The breakfast on both days started with an assortment of fresh fruit, and fresh fruit juice.  On the first day we were served amazing juevos rancheros.  The second day we were served 3 or 4 small amazing breakfast burritos.  Both breakfast entrees were delicious.  Following the entrees was a sweet desert-like french toast.  The amazing food at Casa Batsu was worth the stay.
Monteverde is about 5,000 ft above sea level and it is a cloud forest.  A cloud forest is basically a rain forest with persistent low level cloud cover.  Because of this it makes for amazing views from basically wherever you are in Monteverde.  Our first day in Monteverde we went ziplining and it was amazing.  Overall it took about 3 hours and consisted of about 15 platforms.  Now, I’ve gone ziplinning before, in Argentina and it was nothing compared to this.  At some points your’re like 300 feet above the ground sailing through the air.  At certain parts you’re above the tree line and there is nothing around you on either side but air and mountains.  At other parts, you’re within the rainforest flying past the trees surrounded by fauna on both sides.  It was an unbelievable experience.  Part of the tour also consisted of a tarzan swing.  You’re hooked up to a rope on a platform, drop down a couple of meters and swing into the tree line.  It was slightly scary initially, but very fun. The last thing we did was called the superman. As you can imgaine,  you are laying down instead of sitting.  It was the longest line and also the last.  While flying through the air on my stomach I couldn’t help but think how much it would suck to fall 300 feet to the ground below.  But, I made it safely to the otherside without falling.  Overall, ziplining was an incredible experience.
The second day in Monteverde we did a hanging bridges tour and a coffee and chocolate farm tour. While doing the hanging bridges tour. “the pale sun burned away the morning chill and the clinging damp mist, revealing a gigantic silent world.  Curtains of gray moss, and creepers and lianas, hung down in a tangle from the trees; orchids sprouted from the trunks.  At ground level, huge ferns, gleaming with moisture, grew higher than a man’s chest and held the ow ground fog.  Here and there was a spot of color; the red acanthema blossoms and the blue dicindra vine.  But the basic impression was of a vast, oversized, green world and alein place.” Just kidding, that’s an excerpt from Michael Crichtons Congo, but it is very similar to how it felt walking through the hanging bridges.  It was incredibly green, surrounded by plants of all sizes.  In the distance clouds hung in the air.  It was like Jurassic park.  But then again, so is walking through every jungle part of Costa Rica.  The second part of the day we did a tour of a Coffee and Chocolate farm.  It was really cool to see the process of how that stuff is made and fresh chocolate is amazing.  Monteverde is definitely worth the visit.

Loco Four Free Food

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On Fridays and Saturdays Walmart, yes Walmart offers loads of free samples, from food to alcoholic drinks and even free pictures(pictured above). Calvo is a tuna fish brand.  It has become a ritual that on the walk home from school we stop at Walmart and partake and consume the free stuff they have to offer.

The food. The food samples Walmart offers changes from week to week but there is always chorizo, or sausage. They’ll have multiple people with grills offering samples promoting different brands. One week they had a yogurt sampling bar where you could try a small cup of yogurt with a variety of toppings. This past weekend they were offering a grilled tortilla with cheese in the center. It was great. They love cheese here and always offer samples of it. Cheese we’re use to like American, cheddar, pepper jack, etc is pretty expensive, but they have this chese here called “Tico cheese” and it’s reasonably priced. It’s a pretty dense cheese and it comes in cubes. It’s not sliced. It’s usually  pan fried and eaten as a side. You can’t melt it on food because it doesn’t melt. It browns on the sides and the center gets softer but it’s not like any cheese back in the states. It’s actually really good and they are always offering tons of samples of it. This past weekend, when we got our pictures taken they offered us samples of tuna salad(because it was sponsored by a tuna fish brand). They gave us a small bowl with two huge ice cream scoops of the tuna salad. I literally didn’t eat dinner that night because I had eaten so many samples. One weekend they were offering the most insane sample I had ever seen. They were literally giving away a shish-kabob of food. On the stick was a peice of meat followed by an onion or pepper followed by another peice of meat again followed by an onion or pepper topped with cheese. I had to wait like 10 min but it was well worth it because while I was waiting they were also offering samples of breaded chicken in a homemade honey mustard sauce. The chef was super friendly and offered me like 3 or 4 peices. That’s the food aspect of sample Fridays and Saturdays.
The drinks. On top of offering food they also offer samples of drinks. Recently they’ve been having this four loko craze [they must give just started importing it] and while I don’t necessarily like four loko I can’t refuse a free sample. They also offer samples of beer and sometimes of liquor. Once I sampled baileys and some Central American rum. Alcoholic drinks aren’t the only drink samples. They sometimes do fruit drinks or lemonade or iced tea. It all depends on the week.
Think of it like Cotsco samples on steroids.

Teaching Update

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It has been 7 months since I first came to Costa Rica and five months since I first started teaching. I now work full time at Intercultura working 20 hours a week. I just got this about three weeks ago because I was offered a class that meets 4 times a week for an hour.  20 hours may not seem like much, but it’s pretty much the norm and it’s enough to live off and get by on.  Anything 18 hours or above is considered full time at Intercultura.  With this I can now take Spanish classes for free at the school, however unfortunately it hasn’t worked out with my schedule yet.

Teaching is going great. I like mostly all of my classes. I have a private student 2 times a week for an hour on M and W. He is probably my most difficult and most frustrating class. He is repeating the intermediate book and taking private classes to review it. He has extreme difficulty learning English and nothing stays with him. He’s a great person, super smart and a really talented painter, but he makes the mistakes and has the comprehension of somebody just learning to speak English. It’s difficult to teach him and requires patience like I’ve never experienced before. But it’s a good way to grow as a teacher. Also on M and W I have an 1.5 hour intermediate class. They have their good days and bad days. Since they’re all teenagers and 20 year olds they love to use their phones. They think their sneaky, but they’re not. If I catch them using it I take it away from them. This usually results in some excuse to why they were using and them saying they won’t do it again. They act like they’ll never see it again. I love teaching them but sometimes the class requires more effort than it should. On T & Th I have a 1.5 hour intro class. I enjoy teaching them because they were a new class. I am their first teacher they’ve had at the school so I could mold them to how I like and they behave really well. Monday-Thursday nights I teach a 1 hour class called rock star. It’s a free class and extra practice for any beginning students that want to come. I never know how many students will show up and if they will be different levels, so it’s a little tricky to plan for. It takes a great deal of flexibility.  On Friday I have a two hour kids class. Kids are very interesting to teach. Sometimes they behave well and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they sit down listen and are nice to each other, other days they don’t want to listen and are constantly getting up and moving. Also, my kids are around 10,11 and 12 and they all have smart phones! It’s rediculous. I have to sometimes tell them to put their phones away.  They’re super cute though and great kids. On Saturday I have two new intro classes. The first one is from 9-12 and I’ve had since the beginning. They are a great class, really well behaved and they understand the information quickly. The second class is from 1-4 and I just got it like 5 weeks ago. Although I haven’t had the for too long they’re also a great class. They’re eager to learn and really well behaved. It’s interesting because it’s a class of different age groups.  So far that’s what teaching has been like in Costa Rica.

Rafiki: The Newest Roommate

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She may look cute, but shes not. You think a dog that’s been stray all it’s life would be thankful and appreciative of having a home full of inhabitants who look after and take care of her, but she’s not. At least not to me. Amber my wonderfully awesome roommate adopted this devil. It’s actually a pretty neat story. One day she saw this dog on the street while walking home.  She brought it home and fed it. We all had class later that night so we left it in the gated area out front. When we got back the dog was gone. It had escaped, squeezing itself through a six inch wide gap in the bars.  Fast forward two weeks. Amber was checking a dog adoption page on Facebook and the little devil was posted. They contacted the place and the next day we had ourselves a dog.  For the most part she’s very well behaved but she’s recently adopted a superiority complex. She thinks she better than me, hogging our couch  while simultaneously guarding one of our armchairs. If I get too close she lunges at my feet growling and barking. It’s even worse when Ambers around. She hovers around her, eyeing anyone who dares stepping too close,protecting her like she’s a treasure from the lost ark.  I walk around the house in stilts now so she can’t get to me. Don’t be fooled by her looks. She’s evil, atleast one half of her is.

 

 

Next stop España!

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I was accepted to a teaching position in Spain!

Back in January I applied to a teaching position in Spain. There are two main programs that allow people from the US to teach on an extended student visa, auxiliares de conversacion and the BEDA program.  In both programs you are a cultural language assistant.  I applied to the BEDA program because I read better things about it. It was smaller so it’s more organized and you get paid on time. The main problem for the other one is late payments. When I applied in January I was told I was going to be contacted sometime early February for an interview. February went by and I had still not had my interview, so I was ruling out the possibility of teaching in Spain. Then about two or three weeks into March I was finally contacted about my interview!  The interview was super easy and only lasted about 10 min, if even that. They asked if I had experience teaching kids, which I do because I have a kids class; if I had experience living in another country, which I obviously do and if I was able to speak some Spanish, which I can. After the interview I was feeling pretty positive. They told me I expect to hear back from them about a week or two after Easter. Again more waiting!  After Easter I was religiously checking my email multiple times throughout the day hoping to hear back from them. It was not until last Wednesday April 30th tht I received the confirmation email. The email read, “Dear Joseph, CONGRATUALATIONS….” I was assigned to a small city called Tomelloso of about 35,000 people 2 hours south east of Madrid. I couldn’t be happier. It doesn’t start until the end of August, so I will have almost two months of summer at home.  I’m leaving Costa Rica July 3rd. 

Puerto Viejo: The Caribbean side of Costa Rica

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Playa Negra

This past week was holy week so me and a couple of other teachers (John, Paul, Cory) went to Puerto Viejo.  Holy week is the week before Easter and is a big deal in Latin American countries.  We left Tuesday morning and came back Saturday.  Puerto Viejo is a small Caribbean community located about 4.5 hours from San Jose.  On Tuesday morning we left at 4:45 to take a 6:00am bus leaving from San Jose.  The 6am bus was full so we had to take a 6:30am bus.  Luckily there were more buses than normal because it was holy week.  Normally the next bus isn’t until 10am.  So, we got on the 6:30 bus and arrived in Puerto viejo around 11.  Found the place we were staying at and settled in.  We stayed in a ladys guest house that John had found on airbnb.  Airbnb is a website where people can rent out lodging.  The guest house was located in front of her main house, which she also rented out.  Unfortunately I did not take any pictures of it, but it was rustic and very simple.  It had a couple of rooms with beds in each.  A small table that we used for eating on and a basic kitchen.  The kitchen had a two stove burner and a fridge.  Simple, but it’s all we needed.  The first day we explored the town, walked around and hung out at the beach minutes from where we were staying.  The beach is called Playa Negra because of its black sand. It’s not considered one of their nicer beaches, but I thought it was awesome.  I had never seen black sand before and it was really fine.  No rocks and no shells.

                                                                                       The next day we rented  bikes from the

Playa Cocles

lady.  There is one road that runs through Puerto Viejo south to another place called Manzanillo.  Along the way there are a few beaches to stop at.  Manzanillo is about 12km away.  It may not seem like far to bike, but it was extremely hot and humid and we were on beach cruisers.  Anyway, the first beach along the way was playa Cocles.  Playa Cocles did not have black sand and had a lot more people than Negra.  It was a surfers beach.  The current was pretty strong and there were some waves coming in.  Sloppy waves, but still waves.  After spending some time there, we hopped back on our cruisers and continued our journey to the next beach.  The next stop was a beach called playa Chiquita (small beach).  Playa Chiquita was beautiful and slightly calmer than Cocles.  The beach wasn’t as wide, but it was another awesome and beautiful place to chill at.  After Chiquita we road to Manzanillo.  Ate lunch and spent some time in the national reserve.  It was unreal, we had beach to our left and jungle to our right.  At one point, we came across this secluded beach, with nobody there other than us.  It was like something out of a movie. At

Manzanillo

about 5:00 we left Manzanillo and journeyed back to Puerto Viejo where we ate dinner and later went out.

On Thursday, our third day in Puerto Viejo the town started coming to life.  There were more cars and more people.  Lines of cars waiting to get in and out of the town.  This is because most Costa Ricans didn’t have off until Thursday and Friday.  Overall Thursday was a pretty relaxing day.  We spent most of the day at playa Cocles.  This time we walked there.  It was only about a 25 min walk from town.  After the beach we hung out at our place until it was time for dinner.  Had delightful fish at this one restaraunt and then went out.  The bars in Puerto Viejo are completely open .  They have an awesome vibe, especially the ones on the beach.  This one bar we went to had giant swings and they also had pool tables.  Most of the bars had some type of live music.  Of course it was they were reggae bands. Whether you like reggae music or not, in that setting it is hard not to.  Friday was pretty much a repeat of Thursday and the rest of the week.  A lot of beach time and a lot of relaxing.  It also consisted of a lot of drinking.  The bus ride the next morning was one of the worst experiences of my life.  Riding on a hot unairconditioned bus would have been bad enough, but, to make matters worse, the bus bounced back and fourth like a ship in the ocean.  I wanted to sleep because I was exhausted and couldn’t because if I closed my eyes I would have thrown up.  Unable to move and unable to sleep I sat on the bus waiting and wishing for it to be over.

Overall awesome week.