Title: We've had fun exploring the night life... Location: Heredia, Costa Rica
I am currently sitting in an internet café in the heart of san Joaquin de flores, heredia, a very tranquil and beautiful provincial town about 15 km outside the nations capital of San Jose. The province of Heredia is located in the central valley of coast rica and home to the volcan poas, rain forests, waterfalls, coffee fincas (farms), and the rio orosi. San Joaquin is considered a middle class to affluent area, with the authentic feel of a provincial costa rican town and has been a wonderful place to kick of my travels.
I have been diligently learning my Spanish vocabulary and verbs for the past 5 days from 8-noon each day (NO English at school or at home!) My school is located in the heart of the town in a beautiful open building with classrooms, a courtyard with tables for studying and chatting, refreshments (free coffee all day long!), and a lively staff who are very knowledgeable not only about the Spanish language and tico culture, but also helpful with logistics, travel and adventure planning. We've had fun exploring the night life and taking small afternoon/day trips after classes.
I am living with a local tico family (tico is an affectionate term for the costaricanos) who couldn't be nicer and more accommodating. The family consists of eulalia, an extremely outgoing and welcoming 'mama tica' who is involved in a lot of the local community activities; Her husband; their son, who is 14 and currently on summer break. (He is very excited to have plenty of hours to sleep, play with friends, and practice the flute!); and two little white fluff balls who are very diligent about keeping the house under control: strangers out - family and friends in. Tony is the 6 month old son of Mero, is a ball of energy and has taken over the duties of seeing that I am properly greeted upon entry and each morning as I wake up.
'Ticos' are very family and community oriented and many families live near...or more likely next to each other. For example, Maria's sister lives in the house to left and Maria & Eduardo's daughter, Andy, lives with her husband in the house on the right. Andy is 29 as well and they are expecting their first child in March. Very exciting! Maria and Eduardo also have another son who lives with his wife a few hours a way in the province of guanacaste.
With the majority of the Costa Rican population being catholic, the upcoming navidad is an important holiday and the town has been celebrating for the past week. The streets and area surrounding the main square (with our house smack in the middle!) has been covered in lights and each house creates a nativity scene that is displayed in the yard or front porch area. At dusk each night, a man is tasked with walking the streets and turning on the lights, creating this huge festive winter wonderland of holiday cheer. Christmas music plays from the trees and many local and visiting families walk the streets, taking in the navitity scenes and chatting with neighbors and friends. There are also several street stalls set up in the main square in front of the church that are selling all sorts of nativity items, holiday cards, gifts, jewelry and food. The corner stall is full with a live burrow, a few goats, and a statue of mary and joseph where you can put your face and have your picture taken (i have resisted the urge so far...but its not over yet!). The manger is very popular with the little kids and the goats and burrow are very photogenic and seem to have adapted to their roles quite well :-)
Overall, the astrosphere is very friendly, welcoming and tranquil. The town is a great example of the Costa Rican mantra: puravida, or the "good life", with the days focused on family, friends and fun. Last night a band played native Costa Rican music and the crowd danced the salsa and meringue and sang along. Despite my salsa lessons from Tuesday (otherwise know as adult twister), I opted to stay off the dance floor for this one :-)
This afternoon the school organized a trip to a local girls orphanage. An older male student from Australia dressed up as Santa Claus (picture large man in Santa costume, bellowing "feliz navidad..ho ho ho", and spurting random spanglish phrases with an aussie accent) and we brought 6 or 7 huge bags of presents for the girls (10-12 girls ages 4-7). We stayed for a few hours watching them open everything and helping to play with their new toys. Everyone had a ton of fun and the girls were instantly lovable, endearing and very forgiving to our group of "elves" with broken Spanish. I got my hair done at the new "beauty school" and was looking like an authentic Costa Rican movie star by the time we left.
My Spanish is improving daily (in a improvement-regression kind of spiraly course), although I still blunder through many conversations (especially with Maria and Eduardo!) I've found that a cross between charades and over exaggerated facial expressions can clearly communicate just about anything...however, in some situations this strategy doesn't do much for your self-esteem or general composure. EN-tonces (dice mi profesor)....the quest to become fluent continues. I was just successful in finding a store that sells flashcards, which should keep me busy on the bus tomorrow as I leave san Joaquin and begin a new week starting in La Fortuna.