January 16, 2014
Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:36 in the afternoon. Since the airport is relatively close, we could squeeze in a couple of last minute activities before leaving Costa Rica. First, we stopped at Alfonso Chase’s apartment. He is a renowned Costa Rican writer and poet, and he was also Dr. Zapata’s professor. We spoke in both Spanish and English. I learned that he writes children’s literature. He revealed that he finds inspiration from people he meets on the streets of Costa Rica. The conversations provide material for him. It was an honor to meet not only an author, but also a man of many achievements. He founded the Association of Writers of Central America and was Scholar in Residence at the University of Arkansas. We talked about our favorite political figures of the past and present. When I told him I loved Hillary Clinton, he reached for a framed piece of paper with a handwritten thank-you note from Bill Clinton. Chase helped Clinton on a campaign, and he has been politically active in both Central America and the U.S. For our last activity in Costa Rica, we stopped at el mercado, the market. It is difficult to describe because I have not been to anything like it in the U.S. I could describe it as a cross between a small mall, a grocery store, and a farmer’s market with very little space to walk around. Smells of fish and meat mingled throughout the building. The aisles in between stores were about 5 feet wide. El mercado housed many different vendors of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, spices, and crafts all produced locally. We stopped at a tiny restaurant inside that served patrons on a lunch counter. I drank my last fruity drink of the trip, and left with a pang in my chest knowing that the trip was almost over. As our plane left the runway, I gazed down at the mountains and forest that had been my home for the past 11 days, and I hoped that this would not be my last time seeing them. Only one word can perfectly describe this feeling—bittersweet. I could not wait to see my family, friends, and my dog, but I definitely did not want to leave Costa Rica behind. I did not feel like a tourist there; instead, I felt at home.
January 15, 2014
We spent our last full day in Costa Rica perfectly by going to the Caribbean coast. The drive took almost four hours, but driving that far to the beach is definitely worth the early morning wake up. The Caribbean differs in people and natural beauty. The people are darker skinned and many of them are more laid-back and free-spirited because of the close proximity to the ocean. If I lived so close to a beautiful beach, I would probably be calmer as well! The ocean is definitely a stress reliever. This area of the country is known for its banana plantations. We could see them from the road on our whole drive. We stopped at an empty shore to take pictures, and our driver, a sweet, caring, and genuine man named Sergio, picked up some coconuts for us to drink. He even had extra straws in the mini-bus for us. Shortly after, we arrived at Cahuita National Park, where a beautiful beach is located. At the entrance, a man sold fresh fruit. As usual, the price was phenomenal. I ate almost two whole deliciously sweet and juicy pineapples! The beach was equally beautiful with a tropical forest right behind it, but the water was much livelier. Because of the waves, I noticed a few surfers. We spent our time at the beach, walking, reading, and simply enjoying the water. One aspect that I love about the beach is that we can do the simplest activities there, but they become the most relaxing and beautiful things I have ever done in my life. Like the other coast, monkeys swung from tree to tree. After retreating from the park, we walked around the little beach town. Cars drive around, but they drivers are much more cautious than in the city. Many people ride from place to place by bicycle. Stray dogs wander from neighborhood to neighborhood, but they appear happy and well fed. Many small and eclectic stores carry touristy items and souvenirs. The songs of Bob Marley can be heard from stores or from the radios of cars. Even walking on the street, calmness washed over me. In tiny towns like these, walking becomes strolling. People drink slower, bike slower, eat slower, and life is much more relaxed and carefree. When I hopefully return to Costa Rica one day, I can imagine renting a cheap motel room for a week and lying on the beach every single day.
January 14, 2014
After the long day of travelling yesterday, I was ready to finally re-enter the rainforest. We ate another typical breakfast at a local restaurant of gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, coffee, and a plantain. Some tourists were awake and ready for the day, but the small town was definitely calmer and quieter in the morning. We arrived early to hike through the rainforest. We took a trail called Puentas Colgantes, which means hanging bridges. We climbed up and down mountains, and crossed them by hanging bridges. Although these bridges are completely safe, they look very similar to hanging bridges on movies or cartoons that always manage to collapse whenever the main character is walking in the middle. I become anxious when dealing with heights, but it is a fear that I love conquering by riding roller coasters or bungee jumping. Compared to those activities, this would be a piece of cake. Each bridge is named for some kind of animal, or it relates to nature in some way. A sign that read, “Tarantula Bridge,” stood next to one of the first bridges. My stomach turned, and I really hoped that we would not cross the path of any tarantulas in the rainforest. Each bridge placed us higher and higher above the ground. When we crossed the highest one, I expected to cross quickly and nervously. Once I stood in the middle, all the fear in me disappeared. All I could do was stand in awe of how high we stood above the trees and the spectacular view.
After finishing our hiking, we travelled to nearby aguas termales, or hot springs. The streams near the Volcano feel similar to a hot tub. People wade in clothes or swimsuits. While enjoying the warm water, I met two local Costa Rican brothers around my age. We carried on a lengthy conversation about our lives and schooling all in Spanish because they did not speak any English. Although a huge range of the Spanish vocabulary is still unknown to me, I realized that I could talk about most anything I wanted to using the vocabulary I learned the past few semesters. Learning Spanish is incredibly valuable if you want to achieve real connections with the Latin American people of Costa Rica or any other Spanish-speaking country. I could talk to plenty of tourists in English, but travelling also involves learning about the people who live there, not just the places. Tomorrow will sadly be my last full day in Costa Rica.
January 13, 2014
Today was a day of unexpected twists and turns. After being informed last night that our driver could not take us to La Fortuna due to illness, Professor Zapata decided to take a bus to the province of San Carlos. La Fortuna is a small rural tourist town in the province that houses Volcán Arenal and several other attractions. After taking a taxi to the bus station, we stepped aboard a large bus. Although bus rides take much longer, I prefer them because of all the interesting people that step in and out of them. No ride through Costa Rica bored me. Every minute in commute I could gaze out of the window and view the mountains, where cows grazed, children played, and farmers worked. Unfortunately, we met our first obstacle, literally, of the day after a couple hours on the bus. The infrastructure is mediocre in Costa Rica. The narrow roads cause any kind of travel to take much longer than in the United States. For this reason, whenever a truck flipped over on one of the roads, many other trucks and buses, including ours, could not pass. Since I did not glance at my watch, I can only estimate the time we spent waiting on the side of the road for the tow truck to clear the road. We waited at the very least an hour, and possibly even two or three. In situations like these, it is tempting to let my mind constantly stress and worry. Would we get there on time to take a tour? What would we do if we could not? Why is this taking so long? Because I could not control when the bus would arrive, I simply relaxed and finished the Catcher in the Rye.
We finally arrived in La Fortuna around 6:30 PM. Because the park closed at 4:30 and it was too late to take a bus back to San José, we searched for a cheap hotel room for the night. We did not plan to stay overnight in La Fortuna, and for this reason, I did not pack any clothes. Sleeping in hiking clothes definitely made me miss the comforts of home, but comfort is the enemy of adventure. We spent the evening eating in a restaurant. I ordered sea bass only to be disappointed by the strange texture and taste. The night took a turn for the better while we walked around the tourist area. The energy of this little town lifted my spirits. I love meeting strangers in their travels, and I enjoy hearing the basics of their lives. People travel to Costa Rica from all over the world—Europe, Canada, the U.S., Asia, and other Latin American countries. Some are older and retired with large straw hats and Hawaiian shirts. Others are younger students wearing hiking shoes and bandanas while carrying backpacks almost as big as they are. I talked with a couple of young French guys outside a restaurant. After telling them I travelled to Costa Rica from Kentucky, one of them said, “Oh, like KFC.” I had to reply, “Unfortunately, yes,” since I am definitely not a fan of the chain restaurant. He also described how he remembers Kentucky. One of the states west of Kentucky apparently looks like a chef holding a frying pan. Since Kentucky is home to KFC, the state is like the chicken next to the frying pan. He told me to look at a map, and once I saw it, I would definitely understand. I just examined a map of the U.S., but could not find this alleged frying pan. After walking a few blocks around the small tourist area, we headed back to town. As a person who loves to be in control of everything, days like these can irritate me. I learned to let go today and roll with the punches. Worrying over unchangeable situations is a waste of thought.
Greetings from Europe! Simeon, Stephanie, and Elizabeth here. Writing to you from Rome, Italy! This is the third stop on our amazing adventure overseas for Ancient Tales and Travels class. Our first stop was London, England. We arrived Monday January 13th at 6 am London time. Professor Coy met us at the airport and then we hopped on the Underground, which is the London subway system, and headed into the city to start seeing the sights.
Our first stop was the Tower of London!
We saw the British Crown Jewell’s (which are ginormous) and an exhibit of armor that took us through the ages! From the tower we also had amazing views of the famous Tower Bridge that rises over the river Thames.
Next we headed to Westminster Abbey where recently Prince William and Kate Middleton were married.
While walking to the Abbey we also saw several iconic British monuments such as Big Ben, Parliament, and the London Eye.
We also saw the tombs of Queen Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scott’s, Geoffrey Chaucer, George Frideric Handel, and many other influential people. After we left Westminster Abbey we walked to Piccadilly Square, by this time we were all extremely exhausted and could be barely function due to the lack of sleep and our jet lag, but all the amazing views surrounding us kept us going. We finally were able to get to bed around 7 o’clock because the next morning we had an early train to catch to Paris!
We traveled to Paris on the Eurostar which took us under the English Channel. We can all know say that we have traveled underwater in a train! (Haha) Once we arrived in Paris, we first visited Notre Dame where we saw the impeccable stained glass windows and had the opportunity to climb to the rooftop and look out over Paris.
Our second stop was the Louvre which was unfortunately closed that day, but we were still able to take in its beauty and massive structure.
We also had a great time taking photos.
Our last stop in Paris was to see what makes Paris what it is, the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel is breathtaking, and is at its most beautiful at night!
Needless to say our day in Paris went by too fast and was well worth getting up at 4:45am to go see. We left our hearts in Paris. ❤️
OPA! We in Greece! Of course I’m sure you all know one of the main sights to see while you’re in Athens is the Parthenon, which was our first stop.
The Parthenon has an amazing way to allow you to see a glimpse into the past with its ancient beauty. It also allows you to have a full view if the city of Athens. After we visited the actual Parthenon itself, we visited the Acropolis museum which houses many artifacts from the ancient times. The next day we visited some of the other sites that are housed within the Acropolis. We saw the Agora, the Temple of Hephaestus, and the Temple of Zeus.
Overall, Athens is a beautiful city, is home to a great deal of the world’s history and amazing ice cream.
When in Rome… Do as the Romans do. The coliseum was our first attraction that we saw in Rome.
It is just as ginormous and overwhelming as one might believe. It was amazing to stand where so many gladiators fought for their lives and where so many figures in history watched the many entertaining events that took place within the arena. After the Coliseum we continued with the tour of the Roman Forum. The next day, we visited the famous Trevi Fountain where we threw our coins and made our wishes.
Next we made a stop at H&M so Simeon could buy some clothes. He just had to go to an H&M in Rome! Ha-ha Then we proceeded to the Spanish Steps, and later to the Pantheon.
For those of you who don’t know, the Pantheon was a temple that honored all the gods of Ancient Rome. It is famous architecturally because of its central oculus in its dome which remains open to all of nature’s elements. We were fortunate enough to see the Pantheon while it was raining and to see the rain fall beautifully down through the oculus. Such an amazing sight that not all are fortunate enough to see
We have two more days in Rome and plan on seeing the Vatican and the Borghese Museum. We’ve had an amazing adventure so far and these next two days will go by too fast. Ciao for now!
-Elizabeth, Simeon, and Stephanie
January 12, 2014
Today was a free day. I definitely needed some rest after the long day at the beach yesterday. The sunburn feels even worse today. I completed a significant amount of homework today, and we covered a good amount of Spanish material in the book. Also, I read La Nacion, a local Costa Rican newspaper. I am a political science major, and I enjoy reading the news. A presidential election will be occurring in two months. Interestingly, many Costa Rican issues are similar to our issues here in the U.S. For instance, inequality and unemployment definitely are important election issues. It is also interesting to read news about the U.S. from a Costa Rican perspective.