andevries' Travel Journals


What was the strangest food you ate while traveling?

I believe they said it was cow intestines.

  • 28 years old
  • From Pennsylvania, United States
  • Currently in South Carolina, United States

Costa Rica Adventures

I am studying abroad in Costa Rica doing an Intensive Spanish Language Program and living with a host family. This journal serves to keep others informed about my experience as well as to remain a record of my adventure for future reference or reflection.

More and More Firsts

Costa Rica San Jose, Costa Rica  |  Oct 26, 2010
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 Without a doubt, it was a very interesting and exciting trip. 

Everywhere I go I experience more and more new things that I’d never done before. I never realized just how much I would get to experience by coming here to Costa Rica.

This past weekend I went to Bocas del Toro, Panama. I had no idea until Wednesday that I was going to go, so it was quite a last minute decision. It was the perfect weekend to go since I didn’t have class on Monday, and I couldn’t pass up the price of the trip. I am so glad I went, for it was a wonderful experience.

About 16 of us from Veritas University went on the trip. Two school personnel drove us to the border (about 5 hours) where we got out, went through immigration, and then walked across a very sketchy bridge into Panama. On the other side we met up with a contact person who drove us to the boat taxi. Then we took a boat to our hostel on the island. Part of the reason the trip was so cheap was because we stayed in a hostel the 3 nights we were there, but having never stayed in a hostel before, I figured I should experience it at least once in my life. By the time we got there (around 6:30pm) it was really  dark, but we were still excited by what we saw when we arrived at the hostel. The hostel was located right on the water. There was a big hole in the deck forming a “pool” in the ocean with a high dive to jump off of into the water. It was probably about 15 feet deep in the pool area. I never touched the bottom since it was so deep. I know there were some big starfish on the bottom, but it was mostly just sand. There were also a few swings on the deck that you could jump off of right into the ocean.

What I didn’t like about the hostel was that there were only 2 showers for the whole hostel (over 40 people) and there was a huge lack of security of your stuff. There were some lockers in our room that we used for really valuable things, but our room was never locked so anyone could come in and steal stuff at anytime. With a bar right there at the hostel too, it made it even more sketch, but as far as I know no one lost anything. It was also always really hot inside our room even with two ceiling fans and 2 windows. Our room had 11 beds, 14 people, and one of the 2 full bathrooms. There was another room identical to ours next to us with the other shower. 6 people from our group had to share small single beds all 3 nights. Fortunately they did get some money back. There was never any soap in the bathroom either, which was kind of gross, but also just part of the hostel experience. The most annoying part of the weekend was that I seriously got about 100 bug bites all over me. Plus, I’ve had an irritating cough and sore throat for over a week now so I have not slept well at night in a while (even with Benadryl). Despite all this though, I thought it was a great hostel experience. We were able to use the kitchen whenever we wanted and breakfast was included (we just had to make our own pancakes). We also cooked a couple of group meals to save money. I bought a box of tea bags and made myself hot tea often to help my throat, so that convenience was really nice.

The hostel also had a bunch of  hammocks outside that you could rent for $5 a night (instead of $10 for a bed). Most of those were full too. It was certainly a busy place. We used unoccupied hammocks to just chill in during the day too which was enjoyable. We were on a rather small island, and most stuff like restaurants, stores, and the ATM machine were on the neighboring island, which we had to take a taxi boat across to for $1 each way. I think those taxi boat drivers have one of the best jobs in the world. They make so much money in such little time, and do hardly anything for it. Things were a bit cheaper in Panama though, which was good, since it’s been pretty disappointing just how expensive everything is in Costa Rica.

I think one of the most interesting aspects regarding staying at a hostel is meeting different people from all over the world. I met people from Germany, said “hi” to a guy’s family in Scotland through Skype, met someone who was staying at the hostel for 3 months (which is crazy to me), and met another guy who had started his journey in Guatemala and traveled throughout each Central American country staying at different hostels all along the way and Bocas del Toro, Panama was his last stop. One of the girls from Germany came to Bocas originally planning to stay for 3 days and had been there 2 weeks when we arrived. I gathered that a lot of people had come and fallin’ in love with Bocas del Toro. I agree it was a nice place, but after receiving so many bug bites, I was ready to get out of there. It was definitely a worthwhile trip and a great experience.

On Saturday, we went on a dolphin & snorkeling tour, and I was excited to see dolphins for the first time in my life. I got some pictures, but they never jumped very high, so the pictures are not the greatest, but you can still tell they’re dolphins. Then on our way to snorkeling we passed a shallow and very clear water section where there were a lot of jellyfish and starfish, which I had also never seen before in my life. Everything kept reminding me of “Finding Nemo”. I had snorkeled in the Caribbean before so that wasn’t anything too new, but it was a little scary after people saw some jellyfish. We started scramming for the boat, but with the waves pushing us back it felt like we were going nowhere. It seemed like the longest swim of my life (and truly may have been). But we all made it safely aboard without getting stung. Afterwards we went to a secluded little restaurant on the water where we ate lunch and hung out for a few hours. There I saw many more fish, including needlefish (miniature swordfish) as well as sea urchins. I got a bit of sunburn that day, even though I wore spf 85. I tried the apple trick I learned in my Red Cross First Aid class, and I truly believe it helped. I didn’t use any aloe gel or anything else on it, and though it burned a little the first day, after that it was fine. 

We left Panama Monday morning, and went through the reverse routine that we followed to get there. We got back to the school around 4:30pm feeling itchy and tired. Praise the Lord that my host dad had some calamine lotion for me to use on all my bug bites. With little white dabs of the lotion all over my legs it looks like I have a disease. I look forward to one day (hopefully soon) being rid of my cough/sore throat, and all my nasty bug bites.

In summary, all the firsts I experienced this weekend include: staying at a hostel; seeing dolphins, jellyfish, needlefish, and starfish; jumping off a high dive; jumping off a swing into the ocean; tasting a bit of octopus; and in general, being in Panama. Without a doubt, it was a very interesting and exciting trip.

Today I started my new Spanish class, Intermedio 2. There are only 4 students in my class, which is incredibly small. I’m the only girl, which is weird considering there really aren’t very many male international students here. So far I like it, and I think it will be good. I am really enjoying speaking more with my Tico family, and they have definitely noticed a huge improvement in our ability to speak and understand Spanish, which is encouraging.

Tomorrow I am planning on going to Heredia to meet up with the lady I contacted about volunteering at the Christian school there that I found out about through an email from GCC education career services. She is an alumni from GCC, so I am excited to meet her, see the school, and hopefully help them out at least once a week with whatever they need. She mentioned to me already about helping them organize their library to prepare for an upcoming inspection. Those of you who know me well are probably thinking this is the perfect volunteer opportunity for me, and I agree, because I love organizing things and spend a lot of time in the library. I feel that this opportunity is a God send, and I am really looking forward to it. I’m just not sure how often I’ll be able to go due to the distance. After I see how long it takes me to get there tomorrow I’ll have a better idea.

At this point, I am planning on staying home this weekend for the first time and hang around San Jose. I am getting tired of long bus rides each weekend, and hoping that this weekend will simply be relaxing. I also think staying here will help my Spanish more because whenever I go on an excursion it’s with a bunch of Americans and we all just speak in English to each other, especially because some people are in Basic 1 Spanish. This obviously interrupts my Spanish learning process and makes it more difficult when I return from the weekends to recall everything again. 

I am officially 1/3 the way through my time here in Costa Rica. Sometimes it seems as though I’ve been here so much longer than I really have, and other times, I feel like the time is flying by. I definitely hope to learn a lot more yet in the next 2 months and am looking forward to seeing what else God has in store for me here. Thanks again for all your prayers, thoughts, love, and support. Enjoy the pictures from Panama!

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