Thursday, December 20, 2012

Adventure Tour

My next chance to get away, other than a short trip into Alajuela, was the following weekend.  The same tourism company offered an Adventure tour.  The expedition included a morning of whitewater rafting followed by an afternoon of ziplining.  I love whitewater rafting and Costa Rica is famous for its canopy high ropes tours.  How could I pass up the opportunity to do both in one journey?  I couldn’t and I didn’t. 

The mighty Sarapiquí River was our destination.  Because it was somewhat far away I had to wake up at about 4:30 to catch the buss into Alajuela at 5.  The tour company picked me up at the Fiesta Casino at 6:30.  I was a little nervous because I was already sleepy, having already completed nearly two hour of the trip before the actual traveling even began.  The scenic drive heightened my senses and stirred my energy.  We traveled over a mountain range the splits the country in two: the pacific side and the Caribbean side.  The Sarapiquí meanders through the tropical rainforests on the Caribbean side of the mountains.  The atmosphere is dense with precipitation in the air but very warm. 

When we arrived, another couple from SoCal and I, we changed into our suits and prepared to disembark.  We approached the river and received all the safety precautions.  It was a wet day.  A light rain refreshed us as we carried our paddles toward the boat.  The river was raging.  The rapids were not enormous but they flowed steadily throughout the entire river.  Our guide said the river was filled with constant class II and III rapids.  Our boat contained myself, the couple from Southern California and our guide.  We had a blast crashing into the rapids.  The surrounding scenery was incredible.  It was a bird watchers fantasy with hundreds of birds making appearances along the way.  The think green of the forest pressed in towards the river.  Some rapids carried directly beneath branches that hung lazily over the river creating a turbulent tunnel to pass through.  Halfway through the morning we stopped for some freshly chopped, by machete of course, pineapple.  We also took a moment to do some cliff jumping into the rapids below.  It was quite exhilarating jumping directly into the rapids.  The trip continued with the constant flow of water overtaking water to create a white rage that relentlessly tried to capsize our boat.  Finally we landed at the end wet and full of adrenaline, ready to soar through the rainforest like Tarzan.

We changed out of our wet clothes and then harnessed up.  We boarded a trailer hooked to a tractor and ascended toward the treetops on the mountain.  They want ted to send the English speakers first, even though I understood his Spanish safety instructions, but I was not going to complain.  I clipped my pulley into the line, with the help of a canopy guide, lifted my legs and gravity pulled me towards the next point.  What a rush!  Flying through a dense green tropical rainforest at high speeds.  It was awesome to be high up in the treetops for the majority of canopy tour.  Once in a while we found ourselves on the ground hiking to the next platform, but the thick green rainforest surrounded us with splendor.  The last zip line took us nearly 200 yards over the powerful Sarapiquí.  As we zoomed overhead, the mighty waters raged below.  What a thrill.  I tried to take my own picture during the zipline.  Let’s just say it probably looked as comical as the pictures turned out.

After the adventure, I ate lunch.  The restaurant was positioned adjacent to the ever moving waters of the Sarapiquí creating a majestic dining atmosphere.  I ate with the couple from SoCal and we reminisced about our preceding adventure.  Then came the journey home. With our stomachs full and our hearts content, we sat back and enjoyed the ride.  Of course, I was dropped in the middle of Alajuela so I still had the stress of finding my way to the bus stop.  But one more bus ride and I would be ready for bed.

~When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. ~Isaiah 43:2

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Combo Tour

After I finished up some schoolwork for my classes at the University of Akron, I had some free time on the weekends to explore Costa Rica.  After all, tourism is their prime industry is tourism.   The options of travel around the country a limitless.  With opportunities do a multitude of different activities; it was hard to choose what I was going to do.  I had a limited time since weekdays are filled with class time and homework.  So the first trip I decided to take was a combination tour that would allow me to visit three beautiful places in one journey.

I booked a trip with a travel company.  They use a bilingual guide that first gives information in Spanish and then in English.  This was a perfect opportunity to listen, understand, and then correct myself after hearing the English.  A bus picked me up in Alajuela.  It was already loaded with about 10 other people who would accompany me on the excursion.

Our first stop along the way was a coffee plantation.  It was called Doka and is also known as Three Generations Plantation.   Here we had breakfast.  The pineapple was spectacular.  In Costa Rica the pineapple is so much sweeter than in the state.  Pineapple is also fourth among industry earning in Costa Rica.  At breakfast, I also consumed my first full cup of coffee.  And, despite Caity Davis’ deepest desire, I have not been converted into a coffee drinker.  After breakfast, we began the tour of the plantation.  We first walked through the fields of coffee plants, which I had never seen before.  I guess because I don’t drink coffee, I never paid much attention to the process.  We watched as they collected the coffee fruit and separated the bean from it.  They then dried the beans in preparation for roasting.  I never realized how technical the roasting was.  But depending on the type of coffee you desire, you roast it for a desired time at a certain temperature.  They then ground the coffee beans or simply packaged the beans.  And sometimes they covered the beans in chocolate.  I even tried one of these.  It did not blow me away.  Seventy percent of their coffee is exported to the U.S. much of which is bought by Starbucks.  My Costa Rican family has a hard time understanding the prices at Starbucks compared to what they pay for the same coffee.

After the plantation, we drove through the mountains towards Póas.  We arrived at Volcan Póas National Park.   Póas is one of 112 volcanoes in Costa Rica.  It is also included on the list of seven active volcanoes.  It last erupted in 2011.  Because of this a few of the paths in the national park were closed.  Also the surrounding roads had experienced heavy damage.  But the pathways to the crater lakes were opened.  I was told that this time of year is not ideal for visiting.  Because of the transition from winter to summer, there is often cloud cover that blocks the view of the craters.  By the grace of God’s the morning was clear for just long enough to view the volcanic craters.  Paths existed to take us from on crater to the other to gaze at their splendor.  Their gaping beauty was a vision of pure creation.  And the hot steam displayed the bubbling power unseen below the earth.  It was quite a sight and quite an experience.

Next stop was the La Paz waterfall gardens.  As we drove further into the cloud forest the visibility crew weaker.  The air became filled with a mist that slightly impaired the vision but refreshed the soul.  At the waterfall gardens we enjoyed a walk through a zoo that contained many animals native to Costa Rica, including an bird sanctuary that you would walk right through.  After the zoo tour, we were treated to a delicious lunch.  The best part was the grilled chicken that was smoked with coffee plant branches.  After lunch, the most beautiful adventure began.  We walked to a wet path in the middle of the cloud forest towards a powerful sound deep in the woods.  As we got closer the mist grew thicker and the pounding waters began to dominant.  The paths lead right up to the waterfalls where gallons of water pummeled the river below.  It was a sight of sheer beauty flowing intermingled with strength.  The path continued, four total waterfalls accompanied the raging river and the corresponding path, with a fifth within audible range.  They were truly wonders of God’s creation that froze me in an awestruck stupor gazing deep into the mysterious water flow.  The end of the path was depressing, because it meant the end of the journey through one of the countless marvels of God’s creation.  It also marked the end of the Adventure Combo Excursion that I enjoyed so much!

~Deep calls to deep
 in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers
 have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life. ~ Psalm 42:7-8

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Alajuela is where I live.  Well Alajuela is where I live like Akron, Ohio is where I live.  Apparetnly it is universal to say you live in the next biggest town down the road.  I actually live in Currillos.  But, if I am in need of anything, a bank, transportation, a store, a Taco Bell (yeah, I saw a Taco Bell) Alajeula is where to go.  I visited Alajuela the second day that I was here.  I went with Elli.  She works at the Institute and provided me with a guided tour of the city.  We went to the museum and learned a little about the history of Costa Rica.  We also ate casados, the typical plate of Costa Rica.  It was delicious with grilled chicken, cheesy potatoes, grilled plantains, rice, beans, guacamole, tortilla chips, and accompanied with a tall glass of guanabana juice.  ¡Que rico! 
Since my firs visit I have been back to Alajuela several times.  I am not fond of the crowds and crowds of people or the buses jammed with Costa Ricans.  However, the transportation system is very nice, unlike the second hand school buses in Honduras.  The staff at the institute always ask me if I am going to Alajuela, but I tell them I am not much of a city fella and it is far to busy for my liking. 

The other option for necessities is Grecia.  It is a much smaller city in the opposite direction.  It is cleaner and much less crowded.  But again, I prefer to avoid the cities if possible.  I visited Grecia the first week with Rocio.  I ate another casado.  Did I mention they are deliscious?  Anyway, I can catch a bus from the house for about 60 cents to get to either city.  Sure beats a $10 taxi ride. (I took a taxi to church in Grecia; it cost $17) 

Both cities are beautiful and full of ancient building built long ago.  They have parks that could be nice for relaxing if they were not so crowded.  It is nice for a short visit for a change of pace, but I have not made a habit of frequenting either city.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Prayers for Love

Today I had planned on posting another blog about my trip.  But I came home from class today and checked the news.

And today I cried.  I cried for nearly an hour.  My heart hurt for the insensitivity that exits in the world.  I cried for families that can no longer be together for Christmas.  I cried because children are precious.  I was broken cause I cannot understand the inhumanity involved in taking the life of a child.  It is deplorable to think of the actions that we are capable with hate in our hearts.  Jesus, fill our hearts with love so that this pain does not return.

I cannot think about the events in Newtown, CT without my vision becoming blurred with tears.  I pleaded with God for comfort for those families involved.  And I tried my best to pray for the killers, though I know my prayer for them was hardly heartfelt.  I begged God to help me understand why such cruelty exists.  But it always has.  It was a hatred like this that nailed Jesus to the cross. 

It pains me to think how occupied I am with my own life, the things that cause me distress.  I feel selfish for longing to be back home with my loved ones.  There are families that can no longer wrap their arms around their children.  But all the more I want to hug the ones I love and appreciate them more.

So I have sat for the last several hours offering painful prayers.  Prayers for understanding.  Prayers for comfort.  But most of all, prayers for love.  Because without love, we breed hate.

My heart is concentrated on the families, friends and students acquainted with the 27 victims at Sandy Hook Elementary.  I beg you Lord, Please be with them.

~ "But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” ~  Psalm 39:7

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Meet the Family

As I mentioned, I am staying with a Costa Rican family to enhance the experience.  The family lives somewhat near the school.  However, I I responsible for getting to school which usually entails a seven-minute taxi ride costing roughly 5o cents per minutes. 

The family is wonderful.

The fathers name is Jamie.  He is a comedian.  Well by profession he works for the department of education in Costa Rica, but he likes to dig up a laugh.  The other night he informed us that the rat living in the kitchen was his friend and we could not kill him.  He later told me that I cold only have a cookie if I left half it on the stove for the rat. 

The mothers name is Rocio.  She is a stay at home mom so she has plenty of time to put up with me.  She had done everything for me from show me around the city to washing my clothes.  She has been a great help.  Also Rocio provides me with breakfast and conversation at 6:30 on the dot every morning.  And dinner at night is always something both Costa Rican and delicious.

The sons name is Esteban.  He is in high school so I do not see a ton of him.  He is generally off with his friends.  However, he is very polite and always makes an effort to talk to me.  He also invited me to church where he plays percussion in the praise band.

The house is nice.  I have my own bedroom and bathroom.  But by the time I arrive in Ohio it will have been 5 weeks since my last warm shower.  Brrrr.  The view from the back porch is a steep hill overlooking a jungle scene.  Tropical birds often rest on the sagging branches of the palms out back.  The mountains create an extravagant backdrop to the landscape.  God’s creation can make any place feel more like home.

My home for 5 weeks

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why do I always end up here?

In preparing for this trip, I was excited, until the trip approached.  I started doubting my decision to leave the country for five weeks.  Many unconstructive thoughts crept into my mind.  I am leaving my comfort zone for 5 weeks, what a bad idea.  I am leaving everyone I care about to spend 5 weeks alone.  I am leaving 5 weeks before Christmas, I am going to miss out on all the fun.  Not to mention, how the heck am I going to communicate only in Spanish for 5 weeks.  Needless to say, I found myself faithless and full of doubt, yet again.  Why do I always end up here?  Fortunately I have a God who is faithful.  Or a God who likes to smack me around until I wake up from my self pitying stupor. 
In Costa Rica I am staying with a family.  I live here in a room and communicate with them only in Spanish.  Its day two in the morning before class.  The mother and I are having breakfast as the husband and son left for work and school.  We are just making small talk when we start to talk about God and my relationship with Christ.  She asks me do you believe in angels?  I said “well sure.”  Then I looked into her eyes as streams of salty sorrow flowed down her kind face and she responded, “I think you are one.  My eyes widened and I was thrown back.  “Me? An angel? Hardly.”  But her family had been going through a tough time attempting to move form one house to another.  Also she has been working on the salvation of her husband for years.  With out a doubt she was living in a time of stress.  My presence and conversation was a breath of fresh air that she sorely needed.  Who am I but a simple man, not an angel and clearly incapable of understanding God’s majestic movements through our lives.
            As human being we are always trying to measure our lives with time.  I am running late.  I don’t think we will make it in time.  Time to go.  What time is it?  We always desire to be on time.  But what do we know of time?  Time exists because God created and it is his.  I have come to realize that in the realm of God’s time, I am right where he wants me to be.  The sooner I realized that the sooner I could let it impact my life and the lives around me.

 ~He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority." ~ Acts 1:7

Monday, December 10, 2012

Latest Experience...

The latest experience God has blessed me with is the opportunity to come to Costa Rica.  I am in Costa Rica for five weeks to study the Spanish Language at the Instituto de Cultura y Lengua Costarricense.  In particular, I am working on my conversation and writing abilities.  I will receive credit for these at the University of Akron upon my completion.  It is a unique opportunity because all of my daily routines depend on my ability to communicate in Spanish. 
Each day I attend class for four hours in the morning.  Here I work on various aspects of grammar and different lectures.  But each class is one on one and not a lick of English is uttered.  November and December are the down months here at ICLC.  The first week I was here there were two students form France, a mother and a daughter.  If we wanted to communicate it had to be in Spanish.  They left after the first week.  I was the only student at the institute for a time.  Now there is another student who lives in Costa Rica but is working on his Spanish.  His wife was a Spanish professor and she just past away in July.  Richard decided it was time for him to learn Spanish. 
The Institute is calm and peaceful and the campus is beautiful.  The professors are good at making me talk even when its not easy.  Poco a poco they say, a little bit at a time.  I am learning and I can just about understand everything being said.  Of course there are words that I have never heard, heck there are English words that I have never heard.  But I am getting a better grasp.  My conversation still needs work, but that’s why I am here.  One of the new words I learned was Ojala.  It’s a word that means “God willing.”  How awesome is it that they have a single word for that!  I will try to keep you posted on my adventures and experiences here in Costa Rica.  Ojala que si.

Some images of ICLC