¡Bienvenidos a América!

I’m home! I arrived home last Saturday about 3:30 in the morning. It’s only been roughly 238 hours but it feels like a life time ago. It’s hard to believe I was even there… I was very glad to be home though! I wasn’t the only person happy to have me at home though…

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I think my sister was ready to have me home too–what do you think? Going to Costa Rica was an amazing experience and I hope to return someday. It’s a beautiful, beautiful country. So. In the interest of time and boredom, here’s the long and short of my very first international adventure.

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We had to meet at the high school Thursday morning at 1:45 in the morning 😦 The photo above is the bottom right corner is Too-Tall and I after a very rough, 2 hour bus ride to the O’Hare airport. We carried these gaudy book bags with us everywhere that were given to us by the tour company, Education First, that we traveled with. Bright orange and blue! Nothing like a brightly colored book bag carried by many people to make a person stick out…

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The food was amazing!!! The photo on the left was my favorite meal that we had and the photo on the right was this really good salsa that was on the tables.

Costa Rica is beautiful. If you ever get the chance to go visit — do it. Because of the tour we were on, we were able to see all the diverse parts of Costa Rica. One morning I woke up in the Monte Verde region (it was cold in the mountains!!) and in the afternoon I was on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Going clockwise through the photos from the top left corner:

We went to a place called INbioparque which had many different forests and gardens including a butterfly garden! Enclosed in what was basically a giant butterfly net, we were able to  see butterflies up close and personal and even have the good fortune of a butterfly landing on us!

The monkey photo may be a bit blurry but that is because it was taken with my camera lens positioned at the eyepiece of a telescope-like contraption. Our tour guide, Jimmy, would have our driver stop the bus beside the road when he saw something interesting. Because the monkeys were always so high and far away, he would set up his telescope and take pictures for us. This is a photo of a howler monkey which is the type of monkey we saw most frequently when we would stop. A joke was started among our group when Christopher Sheldon Leroy thought it would be funny if howler monkeys actually said “Howl!” instead of this sound. For the rest of the trip and occasional HOWL! was shouted out. 🙂

The palm trees were a common sight when we were on the pacific coast. The road leading to and from our hotel was lined with them! We were given a warning about the coconut trees that were around the inn and by the beach… they didn’t want anyone getting hit by one!

 This next monkey is a white faced capuchin monkey that was on the beach in the Manuel Antonio National Park. Quite a few of these cuties showed up around the time we were packing up from the beach because of an incoming storm. Before we had arrived at the beach we had been warned about leaving food and other random objects out of our bags because the monkeys could come and take them.

One animal not shown is an alligator! 🙂 We went on a boat tour and saw a lot of alligators and caymans. The boat driver would sometimes pull the boat close to a piece of land, jump out and feed raw meat (chicken?) to the alligators. He would dangle it in front of them so they would have to come to him… ¡Que loco! Less scary on that adventure were the many beautiful birds we saw from the boat.

The vibrant Costa Rican culture was stunning.

Top left photo: We visited a school and a few students preformed several traditional dances for us 🙂 Then, they taught us a dance with words that had to do with a chickadee. It was like a camp song where you sing the same song over and over again but you add a new motion each round. Then we had the chance to preform something for them. Our group (the tour group contained three different schools from three different states) did a song I learned during a musical I was in. Since I was the leader for the song along with another girl from my school, I also had to introduce us in Spanish. I don’t know when I’ve been that nervous!!

Bottom right photo: Our last night we had a culture night and 3 male and 3 female dancers did some fantastic dances for us. In the last dance, they pulled some of the students from the crowd out to dance with. My two friends got pulled out 🙂 Watching them was hilarious.

Top Middle photo: Pura Vida is a popular Costa Rican phrase and to explain the meaning, I’ll use Wikipedia which explains it more clearly than I could.

Pura Vida literally means Pura = pure and vida = life, but “Pure life” in Spanish would be “Vida pura” instead, so the real meaning is closer to “plenty of life”, “full of life”, “this is living!”, “going great”, “real living”, “Awesome!” or “cool!”. It can be used both as a greeting or a farewell

The region of Sarchí is known for its handmade crafts especially the painted oxcarts. This giant wheel belongs to the world’s largest ox cart. I fell in love with Sarchí and its art. Design was all over and painted on trash cans, signs, and walls like in the remaining photos. We visited an ox cart factory where they also painted rocking chairs and other pieces of furniture. We were able to paint a little bit on some of the slats for a child’s rocking chair. The brush had green paint on it — ’cause you can’t really ruin leaves… 😀

I was really nervous! The craftsman was off to the side watching us to make sure we didn’t mess it up which made me even more nervous! But I anchored my pinky like a pro and went at it 🙂

They day  we left I was so depressed. I tried not to think about it because I wanted to enjoy my last hours in the country. I miss the new friends I made and the food 🙂 I went with a great group of students and teachers and I really enjoyed spending time with them 24/7. Our tour guide and bus driver also helped make the trip more enjoyable. It was obvious Jimmy loves Costa Rica and his knowledge of the plants and animals helped us learn instead of just seeing a pretty flower or a giant spider. Pancho, our driver was amazing. He drove a giant motor coach all over the mountains on narrow roads and although we were freaking out, we didn’t need to because Pancho was at the wheel 🙂

Pancho, me, and Jimmy after our last bus ride together

Too Tall and I ready for our second-to-last meal in Costa Rica

As we pulled away from our hotel in San Jose on our way to the airport, three of our new friends from Ohio sat on the steps and watched us leave – it looked so sad!

I feel like I have so much more to tell you but this post is longer than a blog post should ever reach. Pura Vida.

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New York, New York, It’s a Wonderful Town!

Ah… New York City, the town that never sleeps. What did we see?

1. The Empire State Building – Ok, the view is INCREDIBLE. But you know, in movies, it really doesn’t take them long at all to get to the top but in reality… there are LINES. many lines. on multiple floors. and security… so much security in NYC. Souvenirs bought: a stretched penny (which are always my favorite) that I think I lost = bummed. So… anyone going to the Empire State Building and want to get me another one??? Anyone? … anyone?

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Outside on the top floor of the Empire State Building.

2. Ellis Island / Liberty Island – Once Again… super long lines for security and for a girl who can’t swim, too much time on boats! I could have spent hours at Ellis Island but we didn’t have that much time, unfortunately. 😦 And there is something about seeing Lady Liberty in person that makes this person proud to be an American. Souvenir: This memory: an impersonator of Frédéric Bartholdi. He sat down beside me and two friends where we were eating lunch. (In the world of blog nicknames we’ll call these girls Too Tall and Peanut Butter.) This man, needing to be French, had a horrid French accent which was kindly pointed out by a couple from Montreal. Thankfully, our choir director saved us from the man who stayed too long at a table with three teenage girls…

3. Radio City Music Hall – Wonderful place! The women’s restroom had four rooms! There were awesome vintage photos of famous people related to the theatre, and movie posters in the hallways. There was this photo of Judy Garland and Vincent Minnelli sitting at a table and I got to touch that table and the chairs…. stand in the same room. It was … wonderful. Oprah was getting ready to do a show there so security was pretty tight. We got to meet a Rockette! Yeah, this place was awesome but filled with sooo much information partially because our guide had been there for… 14 years? … I think. Which goes with the slight stream of consciousness-like form of number 3.

4. NBC Studios – Lesson learned: The SNL stage is actually much, much smaller than it looks on TV. When they say that the  camera adds 10 pounds, it’s because they have to stretch the scene. Oh, and the people who are in charge of putting the shows on the air (Yeah, whatever that title is), they actually work behind bullet proof glass.

5. Wicked!!!! – ’nuff said.

6. The historic Riverside Church – we sang here, and we rocked.

The one place we didn’t go was Ground Zero. It was on our schedule but it rained and the Ground Zero place canceled it. But when people ask me what my favorite part was, I say hands down:

THE FOOD!!

Notable foods:

  • this amazing Mediterranean place. I was sooo tired I wasn’t even hungry by the time we got there. I ordered the appetizer size falafel and it came with this yummy cucumber sauce.
    358 West 46th Street, New York, NY
  • sushi! wow, this place was caddy corner to our hotel and my first venture into sushi (california roll and a cucumber avocado)  Kodama on 8th Avenue and W 45th St. Go there. (301 W 45th ST NY, NY 10036)
  • Europa Cafe – Make your own pasta – what more could you want?!

Learned on this trip: Stick a bunch of high schoolers on a charter bus overnight, the places and positions they will find to sleep, are hilarious.