Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

So today I swam through a cloud

Right so Fitbit says I broke 20000 steps today and 220 flights of stairs. And that was entirely done in the rain. I’m now frozen and exhausted but was still an amazing trip :)

Before the trip though was morning lessons. My teacher, Santiago, is a really amazing teacher so that’s making for a v positive experience. While the grammar we’re doing is all review, the other things are all new and useful - tons of vocabulary, but more importantly nuances that either aren’t in my textbook or that I missed entirely. Like words that change their meaning entirely when they become reflexive (eg - in one case it means ‘you’re fired’ and in another ‘goodbye’).

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I actually really enjoyed tonight’s homework. First half of the exercise was conjugating verbs to make the story make sense (meh) but the second half was to write the end of the story. And I was pleased that unlike the last time I played this game, I didn’t have to entirely dumb it down. I only needed to google two words for translation (and confirm spelling on a ton ;) - but we’ll see tomorrow how much red is required to make it grammatically correct ;). It did take me almost 2h to complete (and it’s less than a page long) but sobeit. I was also chatting throughout so fair to say it wasn’t a dedicated effort.

Trip today was hiking in a private reserve in the cloud forest. The drive there was brutal, after re reached the end of the main road the next hour was reminiscent of the African massage. It was truly horrid, and a few of us were feeling pretty notion sick by the end (that was with drugs and armbands!).  

The first half of the hike was the rest of the way up the road. Misty/spitting weather and all kinds of deep, sucking, mud. Did bring back memories of childhood, but was quite the challenge of balance and coordination to avoid ending flat out in the mud. Or to lose a shoe!

Once we made it to the trail things actually got slightly easier. And it was pretty amazing, deep woods, hugely green, with occasional gaps that you could see through to the clouds. Very cool. Hike was about 3h and always either down or up, no flat spots. In a few places there were ropes tied to the ground - without those, I think we still would’ve been there! Steep and very very slick (think wet leaf-covered mud). Felt like I was in a great obstacle course doing that.

Suffice to say by the end I was soaked and pretty well covered in mud.  My shoes will never be the same again (I actually took them in the shower with me in an attempt to save them!).  And I’m now down to one usable pair of pants for the remainder of the trip lol.

But overall the whole adventure was amazing. I was not at all fit enough for it, and *really* wish I hadn’t brought my camera. It never came out of its bag and by the end my shoulders and neck were killing me! But oh well. Drive home seemed to last forever, although there were a ton of lightning bugs (which the girl from the UK had never seen before and was fascinated by!) which made it moderately amusing. I’ve never been so grateful to reach a paved road! 

Anyways - very long day and definitely time for bed.   

Moving up in the world

So I did my first lesson of the day w the same group as yesterday, and while entertaining and credit to the teacher for creative and engaging teaching methods, it became clear very quickly that I was very definitely in too low a level. So at break I went to talk w the head teacher and requested a change, which she had no problem with.

Class I’m in now is 3 levels higher lol and a much better fit. They’re still learning grammar I already know, but I believe they all already know it too and for all of us it’s more of quick review and practice. So that’s way more useful. Also exposure to all kinds of vocabulary I don’t already have, which is helpful.

One of the other girls in my class also switched but in her case to a lower one. She was feeling completely overwhelmed. So there was a broad range in that group.

This afternoon we all watched a Costa Rican movie (cheating - there were English subtitles) and had a bit of a chat about social issues in CR. The entertainment director is doing his masters in that topic lol so clearly happy to take any chance he can get to engage people in his topic of choice :).  

Then I hiked all the way back into town mostly because I absolutely love the cheese bread from the paneria and I feel like if I hike all the way there and back the calories don’t count ;)

Also - I learned today that grilled cheese isn’t a thing in Europe?!?! My roommates and classmates who join us for lunch (not everyone lives in res and we have a standing invite for those who don’t to join us) have a new appreciation for the wonder that is grilled cheese ;). 

Also I should add I’m pretty sure I’m the only person for whom English is a first language, even though it’s the one we all use. Everybody else has at least two languages they’re fluent in and some more than that. My German roommate is learning Dutch from our other roommate - you know, along w the Spanish we’re all here for ;). I’m fairly impressed by the whole thing.

My current teacher speaks several languages and has a good grasp of what will be a challenge for different people depending on their native language. Eg - he took time to explain the difference between ‘while’ and ‘during’ which is the same in Spanish as in English, but evidently doesn’t exist in German, so that was interesting.

Have a fair amount of homework tonight but at least it’s interesting (write this story rather than any version of conjugate anything) and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s lessons!

Back to school I go ;)

Had my first currency fail today - fortunately the cashier was very patient in explaining that what I had put down did not, in fact, add up to the total ;). There was nobody behind me being held up by this so I didn’t feel as bad.

Also, I have a new appreciation for our cash-free abilities. More places here (including the trip booked by the school for Wed) are cash only and it’s a real pita. Also, change is heavier and bigger than ours and I don’t have an appropriate carrying location for it.

But on the success side - I found another grocery store more like what I’m used to and was able to locate peanut butter, so at v least I have fruit, pasta, bread, and peanut butter sandwiches to live off ;). Also found more coffee for Chris lol.

And in exciting news - I have discovered the wonder that is Pops. Lol essentially the CR version of DQ ;). Yeah - it doesn’t take much in my world. Also thoroughly undoing the health benefit of having to walk everywhere.

I have a student card again - highly amused by this. Also got the grand tour of the tiny town - there’s a fancy gym my card will get me into, but would be a workout and a half just to get there!

Disappointed and frustrated by my first lesson today. As expected my literacy far exceeds my speaking ability - apparently my accent is pretty horrid :(. But as a result they’ve put me in a very low class. I know the stuff being introduced forward and backward. Tomorrow I’m going to ask if I can switch. I feel like I can practice my speaking while still learning (or at least reviewing!) more challenging material.

The test though was super interesting. I didn’t complete it in the time allowed but was pleased that given time I was able to answer questions (admittedly w varying degrees of success) all the way to the end (test gets harder as you go). The final ones were the level of reading I’m working on on stretch days at home.  

La Paz Waterfall Gardens 

So this morning I returned to San Jose to be picked up for today’s adventure. I was admittedly slightly concerned while waiting as the only other people were easily twice my age, and, well - I signed up for a hike! 

Lol but it was all good - when the bus arrived, I was the only one on its list. Stopped a few times to pick up others and then on our way. 

Started at a coffee plantation - not a tour so much as a bio and photo stop, and of course the opportunity to buy one’s husband the darkest coffee they have ;)

We drove through a tiny town that was packed for a strawberry festival. That’s the only time so far I’ve wished I was driving myself - I would really have liked to stop. Alas, was not on the tour :(

But when we got where we were going, it was all worth it.  

La Paz Waterfall Gardens - animal sanctuary and rainforest. For the animals - zoos are no longer a thing in Costa Rica, but when they disbanded them there were some animals that couldn’t survive on their own, they may be here, or some of the ones here were confiscated from people who had them illegally as pets. One of the cats they said was in its 30s - that species usually lives to about 18. One of the other cats was pacing and I felt really badly for him, clearly bored, stressed, and frustrated. Conversely all the other animals seemed better off than any zoo I’ve been in. But really, after Africa, animals in cages just aren’t something I want to see anymore...

On the plus side - the aviary was awesome, while the butterfly area had nothing on the butterfly conservatory at home. I did get some amazing photos! Most of which are on my big camera, so will have to wait till I get home.

After lunch we went hiking through the rainforest - only free animals here :). And drizzle more than rain, although have to admit the “slippery when wet” signs amused me. When are they ever dry??? Got to see several stunning waterfalls (which have always been a fascination of mine) and, according to my Fitbit, climbed 40 flights of stairs. Will admit I was feeling it by the last set! Haven’t hit my 10k steps though - which tells you what proportion of today’s adventures was uphill! One way though - at the end was a shuttle to take you back to the beginning :). Win.

So yeah - ended up very hot, very sweaty, and fairly soaked, but with a huge grin on my face and feeling relaxed and happy. So overall win.

Our guide, Olman (sp?) was amazingly good at balancing “let people have all the time they want” with keeping those who want to move faster from feeling restrained. I was really impressed. Tour was in English so far less Spanish practice today, but other than that all good. If you’re ever down this way, look up Mid-Morning La Paz Waterfall Tours - pretty sure it’s a one-man show, and very worth it.

Oh - and I got a pet sloth :). Of the plush variety. More pleased by that than I should be.

Update on the strawberry festival - it took us more than an hour to get through that 2 block town!?!?! If we’d realized, we prob would’ve abandoned the vehicle to go get strawberries and gotten back in at the other side, but by that point all we wanted was to be very far away from there.

Took so long to get home that it was going to be well after dark before I got back, meaning I didn’t want to walk to town for food, so asked the guide if after dropping off the last person we could get fast food of some variety. Turns out other passenger was starving and equally concerned about not finding food where she was and echoed my request. He was awesome and found us food :). Win! And not only was my order fully successful in Spanish, but I managed to help her too as she had no words at all... So yeah, was pretty stoked at that. Lol you don’t have to be good if the comparison is nothing ;)

School starts tomorrow w an 8am placement test...   

Good morning :)

So jet lag got me.  I was in bed by 10 and awake - really awake - by 6.  So I have a couple nice quiet hours to myself. If I’d been more on the ball I would’ve gone down to the farmer’s market for when it opens at 6:30 - could’ve done that and made it back for when I get picked up at 7:45.  Since I didn’t, I’m just killing time - and when travelling I kill time by writing rather than reading.

Alright so the residences really are student housing :). The fridge doesn’t work, one of the bathroom floors is permanently flooded, doors are either super sticky or don’t quite close, blackout curtains don’t exist, showers have either hot water or pressure but not both, comfy looking chairs aren’t comfy, everything smells damp or musty, and I used two bed’s worth of blankets last night ;).  Lol that being said, I was a student for a long time - it’s putting me back in the right mindset for learning All the Things.

So this morning killing time, I lurked Sophie’s homework which was on the table - and it may be the placement test was right.  While I’m not 100% sure of all the answers, I got the vast majority right and there were no concepts that I haven’t learned.  Guess I find out for sure w the placement test tomorrow.  I’m the only new student here so the others all already have their groups.

It looks like it rained most of the night; I see sun and blue sky now though and am excited for today’s adventure.  I’m also glad I brought a box of oatmeal w me from home.  Lol food may be real basic this week, but I won’t starve ;)

Let the games begin

Updated to add - I wrote this as my day was going.  It is unedited and plausibly rambling.  Consider yourself forewarned.

Update two: wifi is really dodgy.  Don’t have enough power to upload photos :(.  Serious fail since they make the story much better.  Will have to add them in later; in the interim, will try and post some to fb.

——

I am here!  I am amazed, slightly overwhelmed/terrified, and enjoying every minute of it :)

I managed the customs conversation almost entirely in Spanish (he was v patient given that I’m quite certain he’s at least moderately fluent in English) and the drive to the school...  oh let me tell you, small talk is a whole new degree of painful when you don’t really speak the language!   Lol Eduardo (my driver both for today and tomorrow’s adventure) speaks no English beyond “hello” but he was incredibly patient w my attempts at Spanish and spoke very slowly so I could follow, which was awesome.

The drive was terrifying - there’s a festival in San Jose this wknd so traffic was insane.  Picture Toronto traffic at it’s worst, then take away all lanes (standard seems to be “if I fit, I go”) and any adherence to street signs (like stop ;).   Eduardo was totally fine w it other than telling me usually that’s not normal Saturday traffic but omg.

Got to campus - which is entirely secured, which is nice.  It’s also fairly stunning :).  Was shown to my cottage and my room, and managed to ask how to find food (greeter also seems to have very little English - yeah immersion).  So now I have directions, more keys than I have to my own house along w the code to the gate, cash, and hunger as a driving force to go exploring.

There are signs I’ll have a cottage mate but she’s not here now.  Sooo. Off I go!

——

Walk in was no problem.  Have to admit the first several streets I crossed I found another pedestrian and tagged along behind them ;). Lol I have no idea where cars are coming from! Getting more confident as I go but was pretty dodgy the first few times.

So now I’m sitting in the town park being glared at by the impressive town church, enjoying a random festival that seems to be going on.  Very high energy, singers and dancers.  Tamborines seem to be a big part of this.  Random dude selling balloons.  Kids on bikes goofing around.  I just grabbed a seat and settled in.   It’s bright, sunny, and warm - but drizzling ever so slightly.  Odd but amazing.   I’ve also located but not yet entered grocery store, bread store, and street meat. 

The sidewalks are in questionable condition which makes it more of a hike than the same walk at home would be, and traffic is crazy so not walking on the road.  The walk back is straight uphill - like the kind of hill I lived on in Fredericton.  So groceries will be limited.  But that’s for future Lauren - now enjoying the music and not having anywhere to be.

——

I have now successfully ordered and paid for food in Spanish :).  And continually meeting people who are exceptionally patient w my efforts.  Now - if the food that arrives is actually what I think I’ve ordered, we’ll deem it a win :)

Also - background music is now Queen?!?!   Lol yet somehow it works...

So I took my dinner back to the park and was so close...   lol somehow I got two burgers instead of one - which to be fair is how it looked on the menu but since that made no sense to me I assumed I misunderstood.  Alas no.  Also fries came drenched in ketchup and mayonnaise, which is not really my ideal - for future reference ;).  But really didn’t need them w the extra burger!   And coke tastes v different but still good.

Also - dogs speak a universal language:). Met a v sweet German shepherd.

Very much want to stay but the sun is setting and I feel like it would be a good idea to find groceries and get home before dark.

——

Right - groceries were a bit of a fail.  I found bread but no butter or jam.  Eggs - but only in like 30 packs, which is more than a little excessive for one person for one week so I left those behind.  Came home w bread, apples, coke, and absolutely no idea about how much money I’ve spent today.  Lol I have zero concept of the currency here.   I was buying things in local stores though so I feel like prices were probably reasonable.

——

The walk back was about 15 min from the edge of town at a solid march.  Spent nearly 7h on a plane today and still got my 10k steps :)

I felt safe walking around the town, and police presence was very visible throughout.  Given that all the homes seem to have security gates I’m sure there’s something there, but certainly for wander around populated areas and find food it was no problem.

I’ve met my roommate, Sophie, from Germany.  Apparently there’s another girl too but she’s away for the wknd.  It looks like I’m in a class by myself next week?!?  Not too sure about that - also know that I test higher in reading and writing than I can actually speak, so maybe when I actually talk to them they’ll bump me back down and I’ll get a group.  But we’ll see...  And apparently our fridge doesn’t work.  Fail.

Have a v early start tomorrow.  Jet lag works in my favour going this way, I’m kinda dreading the reverse when I come home.

Interpretive Spinning?


Right, so I posted this video with the comment "What did I just watch?  And why do I want to try it?"  I was reasonably amused that the first two comments were:

  • Friend 1:  For your own safety, please don't!
  • Friend 2: Please let me know when.  Will bring hi def camera to capture the magnificence as it happens.
lol the two types of friends, ladies and gentleman :).  I'm very pleased to have both.

And yes, I tried it.  Lol you can’t possibly be surprised by this.   

Lesson one - remove all tension from the bike.   Hmmmmm occurs to me I forgot to put it back on - next spin workout may start w more drama than required.

So taking the first advice in mind, and rejecting the idea of any video evidence, I started w just sitting on the bike making the pedal go w one leg.  Okay great.

Then tried the same thing standing.  This is significantly harder than you’d expect ;).  But I got it going, and was able to bring my right leg over to the left side both by going over the seat and across the bar in the front (*not* over the handles - just the bar).   I’m not super flexible or coordinated so I’m pleased this was injury free.

I also made the very conscious choice to work my onesidedness to my advantage.  Left leg is stronger and my balance is better -- it gets to peddle.  Right leg is more flexible and coordinated -- it gets to move around.

Okay so I can pedal (not long, admittedly, and there were a few times I’d get almost to the top and then it would fall back the other way which either resulted in 12 yo me giggling or adult me expressing adult language) -- but theoretically I can pedal and move leg around.  Okay, that’s a start.

But I was very aware I was holding to the handles as though I were hanging from a 10th story window...   So I forced myself to pry one hand off and see what happened.

And admittedly it wasn’t tragic.   Turns out years of riding has given me reasonably good balance ;).  And I could do this very ungraceful star shape thing...   But - I DID IT.   Lol not pretty or graceful, but it happened.

However - the vast majority of the movements this young lady is demonstrating requires no hands.  This, this is beyond my current capabilities.   Lol failed.  More than once.

So out of curiosity I broke it down.  Can pedal seated w no hands, one foot or two, no problem.   Can pedal standing with no hands, at least for a few rotations, all good.   But w only one foot pedalling?  No.  Just no.   I can go exactly half a rotation before I need to hold on.  Fail.

And obviously no grace or coordination or linking of actions.

More entertaining than you’d think though ;).  The standing start is easy and  may be how I get on my bike from now on.   Standing w no hands I found an entertaining personal challenge so may work that into some of my spin workouts.  Don’t know if I’ll fight the battle to learn the no hand, one leg, rotation or not, but the whole activity added a degree of entertainment to my Saturday.

If you choose to try it - lmk how it goes for you :)

Spanish Struggles

So as those of you who read this regularly (thanks!) will be aware I've been studying Spanish.   And this is proving to be a challenge in ways that have nothing to do with learning the language.  Lol.   You see, while I've always been pretty useless at other languages, somewhere along the way I became reasonably good at English.   Which means when I try to express myself in Spanish I feel frustratingly stupid due to the lack of vocabulary.   And to add to it, I am very thoroughly on a plateau, which overachiever me does not deal well with.  Who's surprised by this? ;-P
Accurate.
Except I'm not even hanging that far along -- I'm further left. *sigh*
So while teacher/coach Lauren knows and understands about plateaus and how to handle them.  Learner Lauren is less onside with this.  Which means trying all the techniques to improve the situation.  And, well, you can't cross a chasm with two small jumps.  Soooo...   Yup - I'm going to Spanish school in Costa Rica.

Oh common, you're not new here.  Dramatic solutions to simple problems ;).  More vocabulary practice was clearly not the way.  Although, tbh, I'm also doing that.  And writing daily.  And my workbook, and lessons, and apps...  Multi-method small-burst learning all the way.

And the latest method includes trying to watch TV in Spanish on Netflix (pro tip: if you're trying this, set up a new account for your language programs.  Makes life much easier).  With the aid of close captioning (also in Spanish), I'm mostly understanding enough to follow what's going on, which I'm deeming a win.   With no cc, not a chance *sigh* -- which admittedly is a challenge since irl most people don't conveniently have their words written out for them when they speak ;).  Lol but I'm hoping this is a step towards understanding the spoken words.   Also, the level I test at is not yet the level that's supposed to understand TV, so I don't feel too bad ;).   Oh - but as far as tests go, I took a placement test for said Spanish school and actually scored a tiny little bit higher than I expected, so disproportionately pleased at that.

But the worst?!?!   One of the TV characters started speaking Portuguese.  I'm sorry but that's just not fair.  And the CC continued in Spanish w/ just a note about the language, but the audio obviously didn't match.  And sadly the first time, I didn't even catch that they didn't match cause I was so reliant on the text.  Brutal.  At least I later realized it ;). But still.  Sheesh.

Anyways - the TV challenge has made being on the plateau more entertaining.  I'm not really sure how productive it is, but I figure it can't hurt.  Especially for something I'm learning for no reason other than I feel like, so not like it's tragic if it doesn't go quite right ;)

And I am super excited about my immersion week!!!  Wanted to go for two weeks but my bathtub ate most of my travel budget, so I'm down to one.   Not sure that's enough to push me off the plateau (pretty sure a month is the recommended stay), but figure it's worth a try.



Improving the world a tiny bit at a time

So found an interesting way of "giving" today that might intrigue some of you, so thought I'd share.   Jane, who I knew in another lifetime through riding, posted a link to Kiva - which I'd never heard of.

Kiva, it turns out, essentially crowd sources loans for people who otherwise wouldn't have access to them (eg women in developing countries).   Hence the quotes around giving, since technically you get it back.  Reading the literature and Jane's testimonial, repayment rates are apparently pretty high.  But I'm looking at it as a donation that can be repurposed.  So when (I'm trying to be positive here!) it's repaid, I'll re-loan it back out to whoever needs it next.   And if it doesn't, well then I gave $25 to somebody who needed it a whole lot more than I do.

The amount loaned, of course, is entirely flexible -- but the base asking price seems to be $25 so I went with that.  The people say what it will be used for, and there are in most cases institutions doing due diligence on them (you can see who's involved in the ask).

Requests are broken into categories:  education, agriculture, women, arts, etc etc and you can read through and pick what you want to contribute to (it also shows the total ask of the loan and how much has been sourced).

So I started with the "women" category, because I'm very sensitive to the fact that while we *still* have equality challenges here, they are significantly worse in other parts of the world.   And there were a couple I could see myself supporting, but so many were "for my son" or "for my husband" which, to me, is playing the system.

So then I tried the education category, because similarly, women's education is something I care about.  But again there was a ton of "for my son", "for my husband", etc etc.   Never "for my daughter".   Which I found not surprising, but disheartening.   But then I found a "for my sister" that was a man who it seems had to drop out of school to help his father support the family, but was trying to get enough money to keep his sister in school.  It is a verified one (although of course I only know so much about the verifier, but better than nothing).  So I contributed to that one, and we'll see how it goes.

Did roll my eyes though, when I was poking around the site and it shows what you've contributed in various charts (location, category, etc) -- under gender, it shows 100% male.  Because, of course, it was a man who was seeking the loan, even though the beneficiary is a woman (or I think actually a girl -- it listed primary/high school level).  Lol ah well - if my $25 can help a girl in Lebanon get an education, I'm all for it.  And since it is a loan (interest free), when it comes back, it can go help someone else after.

But yeah - I do like that it's a loan rather than straight charity and encouraging self-sufficiency and development.   There were some asks that I would definitely question but a lot were for money to buy a second cow, or a sewing machine to improve a seamstresses output, or farming equipment...   That kind of thing that you can see how it would legitimately pay itself back and improve the recipient's life at least a tiny bit...

Reading through the asks both put first world problems firmly in their place, while somehow simultaneously highlighting the similarities that cross distance, religion, race, and gender.  People wanting to grow their business and needing seed funding, people trying to afford a better life for their kids, people who need specialized equipment to help with a disability, all very relatable.  Even if we have only the vaguest understanding of what their lives are really like.

If you've used it before, or give it a try, let me know how it goes!

Happy anniversary to us :)

Feeling spoiled :)
So our anniversary was comparatively quiet this year.   Chris has just started a new job (woohoo!  No more nights!) which meant we couldn't go away...  And we did the tacky tourist thing last year.  Doing it again would be, well, tacky ;-P.
Candlelight dinner, with more flowers :)
We had a reasonably uneventful day followed by a super nice dinner at Cucci.   Not in our usual budget for sure, but was a good celebration to us :).   Chris also made me smile with flowers and a bear -- those who know me may be aware of how much I adore stuffed toys.   It's slightly unreasonable, but moderately harmless ;).  And flowers are always a win.  Little things in life.

AND a little anniversary bear.
 Not our most exotic anniversary (albeit the first to involve a BEAR!!!), but still really lovely.   Next year - Costa Rica round two!