Saturday, February 20, 2010

A couple weeks ago we took a fun overnight trip to Monteverde, which is a cloud forest about 3 hours east of us. Monteverde is right along the continental divide, so although the weather is sweltering in Guanacaste right now, it is cool and damp up there in the mountains.
We went to Monteverde with our friend Andrew, the math teacher at CDS-G. The road there was very rocky and bumpy, and we were glad to be in Andrew's car since it is in better shape than ours. Once we got there, it took us a good hour to find our hotel. The town is not exactly laid out on a grid, and even the lady at the tourist center gave us lousy directions. We eventually found our place, which was kind of a funky little hotel surrounded by hydrangeas, orchids, pines and bromeliads.
Next we went on a tour to El Trapiche, a coffee and sugarcane plantation. We got to see how coffee is grown, dried, shelled, and roasted. Also, we saw how sugar cane is grown, pressed, cooked, and made into sugar. We even got to make our own candy from sugar that had just been cooked. This was such a cool, family-owned and operated tour, and we learned a ton about Costa Rican plants, agriculture, food, and farming.
After the Trapiche tour, we rushed off to our night hike tour that we had already made reservations for. Even though it was really cold and dark, we had no time to go back to the hotel for jackets, lights, or food. We snacked on our homemade candy until we felt sick, and caught up with our tour guide just in time to see a gray fox at dusk. We also saw toads, frogs, tarantulas, and glowbeetles. Unfortunately we did not find any sloths, but it was still a fun hike. The only downside was that there was some annoying old man who insisted on identifying (incorrectly) every animal we came across. He also had a an extremely bright headlamp that he shone in everyone's' faces and blinded the animals with. Oh well.
After that we took a trip to a little Spanish restaurant, Sabor Espanol, that we had read about on the internet. It was kind of far away, but once we got their we had the most delicious orders of gaspacho, stuffed avocado, seabass, and steak with mushroom sauce, not to mention the delicious sangria. After our dinner we ended up staying for hours after closing, and talking with the young Spanish couple who owned the place. It was really fun to compare our experiences as foreigners living in Costa Rica, and it was a great opportunity to practice speaking Spanish.
The next morning we got up early and went to the Monteverde cloud forest reserve. It was a gorgeous hike through giant ferns and crawling vines, with so many bright hummingbirds and exotic flowers lining the trail. We caught a glimpse of an emerald toucanet that a tour group had spotted. However, the most magical moment occurred at the end of our hike. As we were leaving we heard a distinct bird call and saw a dark figure swoop into a perch in the canopy above us. After getting out our binoculars we were thrilled to see that it was actually a resplendid quetzal, the most beautiful bird in Central America. The female quetzal is impressive with her metallic green feathers, but the male has the same feathers with big white and red patches on its chest, and green tail feathers that are two or three feet long. We soon spotted the male quetzal, plus another female. They flew away after a magical 10 minutes, but we soon encountered them again up the trail. We watched them for another 15 minutes, and as they flew away we saw that there were actually five of them this time. This was definitely the highlight of a trip that was already amazing. We are looking forward to going back to Monteverde again.

Friday, December 4, 2009


I took my fourth graders on an overnight field trip to La Carolina Lodge, near Tenorio Volcano and Rio Celeste. The place where we stayed was very rustic and self-sustaining, so it was great for the students' units on Pilgrim's and Colonists.We saw a lot of cool plants and animals on the trip, including this sloth.

Panama Trip

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

We're in the San Jose airport right now getting ready to leave for Panama City. Looking forward to the canal, colonial buildings, food, etc! Things are going very well in Guanacaste, but we're also looking forward to a little change of scenery on this getaway. We'll be back in the states for X-mas. Pura vida!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Costa Rican Independence Day

There was a big festival at our school for Independence Day last week. There were a bunch of local dancers and bands. There was also a carnival and comida tipica for sale. It was a little hectic, but the kids had a lot of fun.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Car Inspection

In Costa Rica you are required by law to get your car inspected every year. The inspection is called the RTV, and it costs about 10,000 colones. If you pass the test, you get a little sticker that goes on your windshield. If the cops pull you over with an expired RTV, you're screwed.
So this month our car's inspection needed to be completed and we did not want to mess around and wait too long. We asked our Tico friend Duglas (who is also a mechanic) to fix up our car for us and take it in for the RTV. The inspection is pretty rigorous, it helps to know about cars so that you can fix any problems that the inspectors find.
Duglas did a few things to fix up our car. He installed a new windshield wiper fluid reservoir, fixed a light, and even took off our "mataburro." The mataburro is more commonly known as a brush guard in English, but apparently in Latin America they are used for killing donkeys according to the name. The reason why he took it off was because the inspectors are very particular about the license plate being very visible, and the mataburro concealed it slightly. Then drove 45 minutes to Nicoya, which is the closest town where you can do the inspection.
I was not present to see any of this, but Duglas later recounted how the inspection went. There were several problems, such as the mirror being loose, the muffler sounding strange, and the most concerning, our vehicle ID number on the chassis had been welded over. Fortunately they eventually let these mistakes go, including the chassis number, because the chassis had also been welded in another spot. They said that this proved that there had really been chassis problems in the past (which is concerning as well), and the number was not missing because it was a stolen car.
So, finally came the emissions test. Duglas' wife Katia is our school secretary, and she had assured me ahead of time that if the car did not pass the emissions test, Duglas knew a trick. Well the car did not pass, so Duglas used his trick.
He told the inspection people that he would go work on the car a little and come back again. Here is the genius part: He took the car and emptied the gas tank. After this he added alcohol to the gas tank (which burns very clean, like ethanol). Next, he used some kind of product that he described as "little balls that you use to make your clothes smell good." I believe he said that he put the balls in the muffler of the car, and then he went back for a re-inspection.
This time the car passed! We would have never been able to pass the inspection on our own, so we were so grateful to Duglas. Our car is totally legal to drive around, and we don't have to worry when we drive by the cops. We also know a great trick for if we ever have problems passing a smog check when we move back to the states.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The kickball game

Yesterday we had an evening barbeque at Jeff and Sarah Haun's house, which is across from our apartment here on campus. Jeff is the director at Country Day School, and Sarah is a first grade teacher. The teachers and staff got together to drink a couple Imperials, eat some burgers, and play a little kickball.

Last year's kickball game was really competitive. A big group of teachers and dorm counselors gave it there all for an hour or two, and left their blood, sweat, and tears out there on the kickball field. This year we did not have the same kinds of numbers, so we agreed to take it kind of easy. There were about 12 of us in all: 8 adults and 4 children. For some reason, I didn't quite register the part about taking it easy, and my competitive side definitely got the best of me. I'm reminded of a scene from the movie "Billy Madison," in which Adam Sandler, the adult main character unleashed his fury on a group of kindergardeners in a dodgeball game. By the time the kickball game was over, I somehow managed to leave each one of the kids roughed-up or in tears.

My first offense was totally accidental. I was playing catcher when somebody kicked a foul pop-up behind home plate. I quickly began to backpedal, determined to get underneath the ball and catch it. With my eyes on the ball, I kept backpedaling and prepared to make a dazzling catch, when I heard all of the players and fans shout "Stop! Look out!" Too late. I heard Ella, the Haun's 5-year-old daughter let out a shriek right before I plowed right over her and sent her flying. Ella was really brave and did not cry, but I'm sure that getting taken out by a 200 pound 4th grade teacher was not fun for her.

For my second strike I definitely tried to do the right thing, but may have used poor judgement. This time I was playing third base. Someone kicked the ball to me as Elyse, the P.E. teacher's 4-year-old daughter was trying to run to my base. I did not want Elyse to think that I was playing easy on a little kid, so I held the ball up and acted like I was going to throw it at her (we were playing with the rule that you could throw the ball at baserunners to get them out). However, it would be mean to throw the ball at a little girl, so I softly tossed it and purposefully missed her so that she could get to third safely. Elyse did not see it that way. As soon as I threw the ball, she quit running to third, burst into tears, and ran straight off the field to her mom. Oops.

The third mistake that I made was partially caused by my competitiveness and partially caused by my poor judgement. I was playing first base, when the director's son Jackson(who is also one of my students) kicked a short ground ball. I had to scramble in get the ball, and by that time Jackson was nearly at first. I was determined to make a spectacular play, so I quickly threw the ball at Jackson right before he got to first. Jackson was sprinting his little heart out, and my powerful throw connected directly into his back and knocked him over with a great "thump." I was proud of my play, but all of the other teachers looked at me, wide-eyed and very concerned for Jackson. "Let's call him safe, Joe."

At this point I knew that I had to clean up my act a little. No crashing into kids, no scaring kids, and no pegging running kids in the back. You would think that I had learned my lesson, but I guess I was destined to upset one more kid. This time it was another one of my students who happened to be there. It was the last inning and getting dark. Aiden, my student, had just kicked the ball and gotten out, so it was my turn to kick. Aiden must not have understood the rules or something, because instead of sitting on the sideline, he ran up to home plate again and got ready to kick once more. I could not believe it - it was my turn to kick! I told Aiden this, but he did must not have registered. I went in front of him a little bit and waited for the pitch, but Aiden was determined to kick, so he budged in front of me again. I gave him one more warning that it was my turn, and at that time the pitcher rolled the ball forward. Aiden got ready for the pitch and started to run forward at ball. This is probably the part where I should have backed-off and forgotten about it, but I could not get myself to give up! As Aiden was about to kick the ball, I darted in front of him and kicked it right before he could make contact with it. He looked dumbfounded that his teacher had just done such a thing. I ended up getting out before I made it to first, and at that moment I began to ponder my actions. I did not set out to do the terrible things that I ended up doing in this game, but I did them, nonetheless. Oh well, it could have been much worse if we were playing a big game of tackle football.

*Author's note: these events may have been portrayed more dramatically than what actually occured. I am a teacher and I know that it is not OK to hurt kids!