Here there be dragons...

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

The Dragon Within


So I did my dragon race yesterday. My dragon within was horribly, painfully slow.  lol ah well.  At least it's done.  I have to admit the individual race idea feels a whole lot like just randomly buying medals *sigh* but it did get me off the couch to run 5k - which likely would’ve been a short stroll without the motivation, so deeming that a win. Also supports Alzheimer’s research which, well, I’d really appreciate it if someone smarter than I could solve that challenge sooner than later so happy to support. AND I’m going to get a dragon medal - so really, going to deem that a win ;)

Adult language learning

So the other day Harry Potter taught me that “shhhhh” in Spanish is .  Lol this amused me more than it should’ve.  And ajá = aha!  lol - the vocabulary you don't learn in the textbook.  Also, it’s taken me a week to get through one chapter.  Yikes!  For something actually painful, I am enjoying it more than I'd expected.  Everything I've been reading to date has been learner-focused, so very careful to use limited vocabulary and simplified grammar.  This is just a story, so I feel the grammar is a lot more natural and while this makes it more challenging (a WEEK for ONE chapter) I think it'll be helpful in the long run.  There's a lot of googling to get through a chapter; I'm pleased any time there's a full sentence that I truly understand.  Often I can get through a few paragraphs where I understand concept if not literally every word.  But then I'll hit something that I have absolutely no idea what is going on.  Lol

Last week I had my first Spanish class (well, first in Canada) -- my teacher is from Madrid (like arrived in Canada 2 wks ago) and I'm quite pleased both with her and the level of the class.  It's the right degree of challenge and I feel like I'm in the middle of the group capability wise, so all good.  It's a B1 class, so pretty pleased at that; I'm pretty proud to have made it there.  And follows Cervantes which is the same methodology that the school in Costa Rica followed which is cool.  Very conversational practice focused which is, of course, exactly what I need.  Textbooks, aps, and google can teach me grammar and vocabulary, but conversation really requires live people ;)

None of my classmates have pets though?!?  What kind of group have I landed in?!?   Lol not quite as good a fit personality-wise as the CR class was, but sobeit.  

Still not quite sure why I'm doing this, other than that it amuses me.  I like that it requires 100% of my concentration so challenges at work and life just stop because I can't give them attention while I'm learning.  My own form of meditation ;).  Lol ah well.  I also finish class feeling much like I do after a serious workout -- slightly stunned and slightly high.  Lol I have previously written about some of the random exercise adventures I've undertaken, but this one is entirely of the mental exercise variety.  Now, if only it got the same benefits as cardio ;)


Just when I think I’m getting somewhere...


Harry Potter was first released when my cousin was little and just learning to read.  I remember being at the cottage listening while his mom would have him read a page - as slowly and painfully as young children learning to read do - and then she would read a few pages to progress the story and give him a bit of a break.  Together over the summer they worked through the novel and gradually his reading improved.

So now I’m trying to read it in Spanish and wow is it ever just as painful.   Lol and while I don’t need an adult to read to me - cause let’s me honest, I’d understand even less if it were being spoken - I’d really appreciate at this moment to have a page in Spanish followed by 2 or 3 in English ;)

I’m just hanging on to the hope that my vocabulary and grasp of miscellaneous grammar that I'm not familiar with yet improves (eg it took me the longest time to figure out that pensándolo (and other 'olo' endings) = lo pensando.  The added accent completely threw me off.  And google couldn't even help with that one *sigh*)

To that end - I’ve signed up for actual, traditional, complete w text-book lessons :).  Lol it was rather serendipitous actually - the day I got home from CR, there was a fb ad for a local Spanish school having an open house for registration for spring lessons.   When I had called them last year they had no adult lessons at a time I could attend, but I figured I’d drop by and see.  Had interview / impromptu language placement test and turns out they have a class at pretty much exactly my level (they’re apparently slightly ahead in speaking, slightly behind in grammar) that starts next week at a time I can attend.  Win!   AND they use the same program as the school in CR (not certified yet but said they’re working toward it, but using the same resources and methods).  So yeah - all things came together and I’m pretty excited about it :)

A day of dramatic contrasts

So I’m sitting in the bank - which you go through an enclosed metal detector to get in, to get my exit visa. Lines in CR have chairs - as the person in front goes up, everybody moves over one chair, or up a row. Lol. 

We’ll see - the security guard seemed to understand what I was after and pointed me to this line, so fingers crossed ;)

Last class this am was mostly conversational. It’s tradition here for students to give a speech to the school on their last day. Over the years I’ve trained myself to be a reasonably good public speaker, but let me tell you, switch languages and that all goes out the window. Lol I was very definitely reading from my paper with little to no inflection *sigh*. Ah well - they’re definitely used to that and I wasn’t the only one on my last day.

Chair line is moving quickly - I’m in the front row (of 2) already. Which is good cause I’m supposed to meet friends in 15 mins and since none of us have SIM cards, coordinating things is a bit more of a challenge.

We got a report card and a certificate :). Lol also got a textbook recommendation from my prof for a good book that had answers in it (v hard to self teach w no answers!)

——

So the bank experience was a horrible fail. Apparently there’s a form you need to fill out but they don’t have it there and I couldn’t understand her rapid-fire explanation. I did ask her to speak slowly because I’m learning but she had zero patience for that. So 30 mins of beautiful sunlight wasted and I still don’t have an exit visa. Fail.

Next effort is public transit - hopefully this goes better than the bank!

——

So public transit was a win! Made it there, and home again. Although home again took significantly longer due to traffic and the bus was standing room only. I got the last seat (sorry Emma!) and even still it felt claustrophobic. But - got on the right bus, had the right fare, and made it where we intended to go. Win.

San José was an interesting experience. Our goal was two different bus stations for the girls to buy tickets for their weekend adventures, and a book store our prof had told us about.

Well - turns out the bus stops are not in particularly good areas of town. Despite the fact that it was broad daylight, we were warned a couple times that it was dangerous and we shouldn’t be there. Somewhat scary. One girl stopped us when we were looking at our map sort of on the edge of the good area (it was a very clear delineation) and A - gave us directions, B - warned us to be back before dark or take a cab, and C - told Emma to carry her backpack on her front or things would be stolen from it. Yikes!

But we made it to the station, got the ticket purchased, and made it back w no drama. So that was good. Was interesting to me though the dramatic difference between the good part of town and not. Nice, clean, colourful, populated (and didn’t seem to be tourists at all, although certainly had a tourist vibe), lots of art/sculptures/murals/etc, people hawking goods, open park space, car-free walkways, lots of shops, etc. Vs deserted except for bus stops with long lines and tons of traffic, buildings in disrepair or falling down, cracked or non existent sidewalks, colourless, etc. Very dramatic difference basically from crossing the street. Certainly I wasn’t particularly comfortable being there - and had it been dark or I’d been alone, I definitely wouldn’t have. We’ve agreed that the girls going back there tomorrow will take a cab all the way.

However - the nice portion was really interesting. By far the biggest store we found was the first bookstore, so that was awesome :). Sculptures everywhere, murals on the walls, interesting cafés, every kind of shop you could imagine. Yes first bookstore - we may have gone in two ;). Disappointed you can’t browse books?!?! They all have plastic wrap on them. But I’m disproportionately excited I found Harry Potter in Spanish lol. Was way too expensive on Amazon. AND I could easily read the first paragraph. Win! I also bought what I thought was the book version of Siempre Bruja, which I watched a little of on Netflix, but it’s not actually. Lol so I’ll just have to read it and find out if it’s any good. Came from the teen section so prob a stretch for my abilities at the moment but I often enjoy YA fiction so here’s hoping.

Anyways - after that we mostly just wandered. Sophie knew of some good cafés so we headed there and got some food. There was also another bus station there in a much nicer part of town, so we didn’t have to walk back anywhere scary ;)

Sad to say goodbye to everybody - it’s amazing how fast you connect in circumstances like this. And I’ll definitely miss the lessons - they were really amazing. But tomorrow morning I head home.

Random ramblings

Today was a quiet day. Mostly cause I was tired and it was grey and chilly out. Lesson this am started w Mad Libs, which was fairly entertaining. This was followed by “tell us about your country” complete w a map provided. That was cool both from a discussion / practical speaking and listening standpoint and also from a learning all about Germany standpoint (both my classmates are German). We also had an in-depth discussion about the correct way to make coffee, the fact that barristas here apparently work in the coffee plantation before ever serving so they know every step of the process, and the difference between a French and Canadian press (apparently Canadian has two filters and French has one that is metal. Prof says Canadian is better, but to be fair, google knows nothing about this ;)

Tonight’s homework is to write a speech - yikes!

This afternoon was pretty quiet - I read in the park and watched the hummingbirds flit around. Then the girls and I went to a cafe in town recommended by our prof, where I had absolutely the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had! Amazing.

Since not much happened some random thoughts about life here :). It amuses me to no end that the store Ropa Americano (essentially American Clothes) is a super-cheap secondhand shop.
I’ve noticed that fast food drinks are served without lids. Plastic straws are still a thing here but lids, not so much.

Residence has been an interesting experience. While I like my privacy too much to want to do it for too long, for a short stay it’s amazing. Esp w this being such a small town, it’s really nice to have like-minded people to talk to, coffee and lunch breaks, homework sessions in pjs, etc. Just like first yr uni, it really puts you in the middle of things and makes it easier to get to know people. When I added a couple of the girls on FB we were talking about how short a time we’ve known each other, but then really there are comparatively v few people on my fb who know me well enough to have seen me in my pjs ;). So the time = depth rule is very much broken.
Showers here (and apparently not just in residence, is a CR thing that we didn’t experience in the resort). As my roommate put it “you can have hot water or you can have a lot of water, but not both.” So if you turn the tap just a little you get hot water, with no pressure. As you turn it more, you get more pressure but lose all heat. Sinks are cold water only. End result is that my hair hasn’t been washed all week ;). Although it has been soaked through w rain several times so we’re saying that counts ;)

The school has insanely loud bells signally start, break, and finish of class times but somehow nobody is ever on time. All week I’ve consistently been the only one on time - even counting the teachers. Lol CR time. And to be fair, they generally continue a few mins after the bell too so it balances out.

Things definitely move slower here - people on the street move so slowly I’m not sure how they ever get anywhere. Checkouts are painful. Have to readjust my mentality before going into any shop (have I mentioned lately how much I love the paneria? Lol - that in itself took a kind soul to show me how to navigate the first time. You take a tray and tonges, and place the items you wish to purchase directly on the tray. When you check out they bag your items and wipe the tray.). But yeah - every checkout is painfully slow. And most of the time I have no idea why lol. Just a thing here.
I’ve seen nobody smoking, and lots of people use the gym equipment in the park. People here seem to be either exceptionally obese or supremely fit - there doesn’t seem to be much inbetween. I’m wondering if it has to do w the hills — any kind of physical activity (cycling, running, etc) here is a serious commitment. I don’t think I could bike in this town — it’d be like the hill we lived on in Paris everywhere. So there’s no entry level fitness option for people like me ;). Not a serious athlete but occasionally like to go run a few kms w my dog. Here - no way. So you get the Uber fit who either have no car and thus are forced into fitness or who are genuinely impressive athletes (the Olympic training centre is near here) but everybody else just gets round - helped w a carb heavy local diet.

Oh and the dogs. There are dogs everywhere. I believe most are strays (although a few have collars) but unlike other places w stray dog issues, these ones all seem to be friendly and in good condition - decent weight, good coats, alert expressions, no obvious scraps etc. Mostly either alone or in pairs; I’ve yet to see more than two together. So I’m not quite sure what’s going on. I’ve seen lots of people walking their dogs so it’s clearly not just common practice to let their pets roam.

My currency comprehension is improving and now I can comparatively tell if something is expensive (eg I know how much lunch should cost in a Soda - Costa Rican eatery - etc) but I really have no grasp of what it translates to in dollars.

Think that’s enough rambling for tonight. Have to write my speech. So sad :(

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 ;)