Books Worth a Look

  • Little Bee by Chris Cleave - This book is a must read. Better than anything else I've read, it takes you vividly into the life of a person in the 3rd world who has no choice but to escape. It is brilliantly written & works well as an audio book. Often I've sent info about the wonderful refugees I've met in Europe. We know only so much of their plight as it is painful for them to recall much less live through again by recounting it. But over time it is clear what they've lived through. This book is excellent as you discover the horrors of their world. Somewhat how to me, it is like being in Europe near a Concentration Camp. One has an obligation to visit it. 'Never to Forget.' In this case, to have our eyes opened.
  • Garbage King by Eliz Laird - The book is set on the streets on Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia and here lives Mamo and his sister Tiggist. When Mamo's "uncle" offers a job, he soon sets out on a bus to work. Little does he know that he is actually being sold into slavery...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Manuel Antonio &

I thought that there would be little if anything to report as the trip and my studies are almost over. Not so!

Very early Saturday morning, I boarded a bus to Manuel Antonio which is a beautiful national park on the beach on the Pacific Ocean. It's pretty cheap to get there as long as you are willing to ride four hours in a bus which does not cater to tall Americanos! I got to sit next to a "Tico," the term the Costa Ricans use for themselves. He was very informative.

As the bus approaches the Pacific, it gets noticeably warmer. The best is yet to come! In Costa Rica now it is the end of winter so I did not expect 95% humidity. The first day it was awful!!!

Hiking in the Rainforest.

Adam, the young Coast Guard person, I went to Vocano Poas the previous weekend and Florian, a German gentleman who is Jay's age, greeted me warmly - so to speak! After lunch, we decided to go the the parque. We first did a hike into the forest. Sweating profusely, it was still magnificant. and, amazingly, I was able to keep up with them. At one point, it was necessary to take off our shoes & socks to wade across a small stream. Adam and I decided to continue barefoot as most of the trail was wet dirt or mud. So that's why people pay $$ for mud treatments!! We reached the waterfall & rested.

To the beach without a bathing suit!

After our hike we walked toward the private park beach. As it was winter, I did not pack my bathing suit. My friends got in the water; both are excellent swimmers. Adam kept telling me it was ok to come in - in my boxer shorts. I'm thinking: I'm not so sure. What are the laws? The other people here? Some others in the water, were saying, yeah come on in, no problem. I decided to watch and wade. BUT after about 25 minutes of that nonsense (!), I decided to give it a try.

I told the guys swimming that my mother would be pleased because when I was a kid she always said: "Never go out with holes in your underwear and socks." The elastic on the shorts worked well! (You might be wondering: Why not swim in my hiking shorts & then let them dry out.
The problem is: Nothing dries out in that humidity!!!

The rest of the trip

We had dinner and went to a night spot - pretty dead. The busy season begins in January.
The owner of our hotel was from Korea and quite lively and outspoken. She also made meals to order - quite good and not expensive.

The ride back was tough as the Ticos think it's cold when we think it's mild. So with windows closed as we proceeded it was not fun!

ALL is all, it was a good weekend & my companions were fun to be with. Adam is particularly thoughtful.

This week is mostly classes. Arturo and I are taking his mom, my host, to lunch Wednesday as it is her birthday.


For awhile I assumed people were just being nice, but it seems for a beginner my Spanish is coming along nicely. Though basic, I can spoeak paresnt, past and some future tenses. This week in particular, I have an excellent teacher. Were it possible I would stay longer as next week, I would move into the intermediate level.

I will be happy to see Laura, Jason and my friends again. Plus time to substitute for the next trip. Unlike Europe, the dollar is stronger here, of ocurse. In three weeks I have had to withdraw little money as there are about 560 colones to $ 1.

Last Post

Unless something unexpected happens, my last post will probably be when I am home. I would like to share some interesting aspects about Costa Rica I have learned and encountered. One is very busy with studies here that getting to the computer is possible, but there is little time.

Ok all, have a very Happy Thanksgiving - well at least to those who are in the states. To my friends in Europe and Latin America, have a great week.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Dias Nueve

¡Hola my hija and mi yerno a futuro y familia y mis amigos!

Some interesting facts:

  1. The President of China is here in San Jose. Costa Rica is the first and only Latin American country to recognize mainland China. In return China is building the new national stadium and other projects. Free, I am told!
  2. Costa Rica has an immigration problem somewhat similar to us. Many immigrants from Columbia and somewhat less from Nicaragua are coming. They do jobs the CRs will not do. Sound familiar? Unfortunately many increasingly commit crime.
  3. There are only two seasons here: wet and dry. We are about to enter the dry season.
  4. Though the governemnt has the $$, it regularly fails to pay the teachers on time. So the teachers refuse to work until they are paid. Students stay home. This happens time after time.
  5. In my opinion, pedestrians do NOT have the right of way here. They are not even seen by motorists!!! Crossing the main road on my way to school each morning is truly similar to fording a stream - one that is rushing by!
  6. Cosat Rica has not had a military since 1948 & no one has tried to attach it.

    Al fin de semana - weekend. (I have not asked my host yet how to type the accent marks. Just to type @, one has to hold the ALT key and then type 64. Go figure!!)

    Saturday, Adam, another student who is in our Coast Guard, and I took the local bus to El Volcano Poas. see Approaching the crater there was a very strong sulphur odor. Due to the heat from the volcano, one minute it is clear and then it is cloudy. From there one can walk to the lagoon. There Adam and I talked with a man from El Salvador. At one point, I said to the Salvadoran, "¡Donde esta Adam?" We both walked around calling "Adam." I called the Salvadoran gentleman over to point out that Adam was below talking with two lovely Costa Rican young ladies! So I occupied myself. After 50 minutes, I approached Adam and said in my new idomatic Spanish: We have been here for 50 minutes. Shall we go or I can go. He said if it is ok, I will stay longer! What a surprise!

    Sundays, in San Jose are about as active as Williamsburg at night, dead. There are two nice English language bookstores. I was able to purchase a book of verbs - sounds fascinating does it not!!!! Also bought a short history of CR in English and a book of short stories - the left page in Spanish and the right in English. The bus ride one way into the city is 215 colones = 39 cents.

    In the late afternoon, Arturo, son of my host, asked me to play chess. I have not played chess in about 15 years & was never any good. Still I held out for about an hour. Arturo, 23 and a pharmacy researcher, is great. He is very generous with answering questions as well as things in general. His mother raised him all on her own. He plays tennis and soccer weekly and surfs when he can get to the Pacific. His English is excellent.

    Next Weekend, I plan to go to Manuel Antonia, una playa, a beach on the Pacific Ocean.
    See Next week will be my last here.

    Today was Day 1 of Week 2. My new teacher is easier to follow as he will stop to explain something in English. It also helps that there are two of us in this class. I do not have to be on all two hours! This week I have added a conversation class in the afternoons. Two of us meet with a teacher and engage solely in conversation. I speak reasonably ok for a beginner, PERO there is so much to learn. I guess I will have to do additional classes in Latin America and/or Spain. First though I will have to earn dinero for that!

    Lastly, at breakfast Saturday, Adam asked me my age. I told him I would tell him my last day! He frowned. He said he thought 50, and that was more than he thought really. I told him my real age. He could not accept it, so I said 53, He felt better!!!!

    So many good people to meet.

    Have a great week all and blessings!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Day 3


I have settled nicely into the home of my host (still have not located the apostrophe on the Spanish keyboard.) Arturo, 24, after dinner goes out to class, tennis or soccer. My host watches TV in her room in the evening, so I have the downstairs TV to myself.

MEALS - Breakfast (desayuno) includes fresh papaya, whole orange peeled and a bananna. Then depending on the day: eggs, hams and cheese, or cereal, or a sandwich. Coffee or tea.

Lunch (amuerzo) is out with fellow students; it usually costs about 2,000 colones = $ 3.57. Rice and beans, fish, and salad.

Dinner (cena) is provided by my host. So far; chicken, greens beans and bread, or tortillas (meat) or a large salad with bread. Hopefully I will be able to lose some weight again.

El Bano - the bathroom - believe it orn ot this could be interesting! 1st most homes have no hot water. So the shower can come as a shock. You figure out though - purely out of necessity) that if you turn it on only slighty, a device on the shower head makes the water luke warm. ¡Pero quidado! Do not touch the pipe that holds the shower head or you will receive an electrical shock! Apparently many of the students have experienced this. I know I did! The plumbing (pipes)as in Mexico are narrow, thus toilet paper goes into a small contained next to the toilet. You get used to it!

Walking in Santo Domingo - Well, first of all there are the sidewalks, those that exist that is. Most streets have a sidewalk only on one side. Even then, it often just stops. You then can choose where to step into the dirt or sometimes onto grass! One sidwalk begins at a street corner and continues about 300 feet as the ground between it and the street quickly drops. When you get to the end of the sidwalk, you have two choices:

  • jump! Heck it´s only a 12 foot drop


  • go back about 50 feet and walk down the steep stairs.

Why you ask did they build it 60 feet past the steps? Sadly, there is no apparent reason!

Extra activities: The school provides several extra activities at no cost, so to speak!

  • A bus ride to Heredia and a walking tour of the markets, restaurants, park, government building, and Basilica. We went into the bowels of one shop. There we saw in a large cage, a gorgeous toucan. (It is againast the law to cage Toucans.)
  • An orientation walking tour of Santo Domingo Only one problem. Streets do not have names and houses etc, have no number. Mail is deliver by description. For example, one might say " In Santo Domingo de Heredia off the main street just down from the bio-park (heading toward San Jose)but not as far as the Sunoco station, take a right and then a right into a gated community. Go up the single street to the second cul de sac. House is the 1st on the right. It has a 3 car carport.

Hey, why not bop on down for lunch! Take care all!

Felipe Spell check is not working so I hope I got them all!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Santo Domingo de Heredia, Costa Rica

¡Buenas dias!

Yesterday was my first day of school! 14 other students; most young but very nice, well except for one young lady - ¡dificil!

First two hours of class - Diego taught 3 of us: one from Denmark, the other student from Germany, both pleasant and very helpful! Diego is pleasant and funny though not always intending to be! In the last half hour, he explained the history of sexual relations in Costa Rica. Seems 1900 - 1970, the only way to meet, so to speak, was working in close proximity in the planatation fields!

2nd two hours of class - I was switched to a new teacher (my two companions had already completed 50 hours of Spanish instruction.) Zedia speaks no English so it was interesting. I think she has a love affair with irregular verbs. Woo. But all in all it was ok. Lots to study.
A good thing I studied some vocabulary before I came.

Lunch - almuerzo

I joined a group and we walked to a soda, a small eatery, where I ordered a casado - beans & rice, salad and fish. All for 2000 colones = approximately $ 3.60.

Special afternoon - A movie about Costa Rica and a walking tour of Santo Domingo de Heredia. A city but seems more like a sleepy town. The weather is wonderful 56 at night and 79 - 81 so far in the day time. Sunny so far about 90% of the time.

Arrive at my host family at 5:30 p.m. tired & homework to do.

In re-reading this upon posting, I see how cryptic it is! No doubt due to busy with lots of Spanish work.

NEXT - My hosts: Virginia Naranjo and her son, Arturo, a 24 year old son pharmacist.
P.S. Everyone asks me who I favored. They love OBama !

Sunday, November 9, 2008

From There to Here !

Well I have arrived in Santo Domingo de Heredia, Costa Rica. Normally the flight etc. would not warrant a blog entry; this was interesting.

After Jay & Laura dropped me off at the airport, I had lunch and met Mark Mattesonfrom Seattle. His site is Mark Matteson is an internationally known Speaker, Author and Consultant. His clients include T-Mobile, American Honda Motors, Honeywell... He recommended several novels to me. He is preparing for his trip to Istanbul. This occasioned a long conversation about travel. I recommended an interesting Turkish author who writes murder mysteries and other fiction which take place in medieval Constantinople.

My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk and Erdag Goknar (Paperback - Aug 27, 2002)

As I sat down in the plane, the man next to me said: "My seat mate!" He and his wife of 50 years were headed to Miami for a Carribean cruisue - they and about 60% of the plane! He had not flown for 28 years; this was her first flight. He was not going to miss anything! A stewardess came donw the aiusle with a sleeve of small headphonea for sale. He called out: "Hey, they´re selling candy!" He becamse quite interested in my spanish flash cards. By the end of the trip, he could distinguish la valle (fence) from el valle (valley)!

While waiting for my flight from Miami to San Jose, Costa Rica, I met a graphic artist whose how is in Seattle! We had an animated conversation and he invited me to visit his beach condo, if possible. His wife will be joining him. He explained that I can in fact drink the tap water in Costa Rica. My report: so far, so good!

Arrival in Cosat Rica - yet no one to pick me up!

This was an experience! Every cabby in town appealed to me to go with them. This is the part where I became a tad concerned as I saw no one looking for me, per se, and so many coming up to me wanting me to go with them! (It turns out that my host had been advised that I would be arriving Sunday not Saturday.) One man did seem more legit, so after his long phone conversation with my host, we set out for Santo Domingo de Heredia. I have to admit, I was not 100% sure all was ok. We drove down many isolated and semi dark streets. But finally we arrived at Virginia Naranto's home.

Virginia speaks less English than I speak Spanish - immersion it is! Her home is lovely - faux marble tiled floors, a spacious two story home in a gated community. (The cabby filled me in on crime esp. coming from immigrants from Columbia as well as countries like Nicaragua and Mexico.) hmm!

My room is small but adequate and I have the run of the house, including Cable TV which has 99 stations including about 5 in English. I explained to my host today (with my limited Spanish that Fox is not quite my cup of tea!) Everyone here is for OBama. Virgina stayed up late to watch the returns.

Ok, all, have a great week. The first day of school is bright and early at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow at Academia Columbus about a 15-20 minute walk.

¡Hasta luego!

Felipe :-) P.S. Spell check is not working so I hope I got them all!


Thoughts on the amazing people I get to meet.

Rich, my 19 year old friend, soon to be Franciscan and recent community member at Haley House in Boston. An article he wrote.