October 8, 2013

Volcanoes, monkeys, hot springs, oh my!

Hi, Readers!

Wow, a lot has happened since I last posted. I’m going to try to give you a general overview of everything—hope I don’t forget anything!

Two weekends ago our group went to Nicaragua. Just typing that still seems weird to me—I was in Nicaragua! Getting there was involved. We took a public bus, a trip lasting about eight hours, five to the border, one spent at the slow, somewhat disorganized border control, and another two to get to our bus stop. We were so happy to be out of the bus when we got to our hotel.

At the cross-topped volcano

At the cross-topped volcano

Up early and ready to go the next morning—off to another volcano! We stopped by the museum about the volcano on our way, which I actually enjoyed. It was a simple museum, but well done, in my opinion. On the hill adjacent to the volcano is this huge cross that was constructed in the 1500’s when the head priest believed the volcano was the mouth to hell. The museum had a large painting illustrating the assembly of the cross, which we all loved. We could only stay near the mouth of the volcano for five minutes due to the sulfur. (I personally wouldn’t want to stay more than five minutes with that in my face). Being that close to such a powerful force of nature, which was literally venting its potential in your face, with a 500- year-old, giant cross standing tall above you…it was an impactful moment.

To offset that deep moment, we went shopping at the Masaya Market! Everything was pretty cheap, and bartering was expected, which was interesting for me. I’d never had to barter before and wasn’t sure how comfortable I’d be with it. Fortunately, I found the majority of the vendors to be friendly, and not incredibly pushy. I bought a handful of things, many of which I probably could have gotten even cheaper, but since I thought the original price was already reasonable, I didn’t mind settling for a bit higher and contributing to the intricate handicraft of these artisans.

Making pottery

Making pottery

One of my favorite parts of the trip came next. Going a bit off the beaten path, our guide took us to someone’s house/workshop where pre-Colombian pottery is made, retaining all original techniques. He showed us each step of the process; I was captivated. They dig the clay out of the earth and have three people work the clay with their feet for three and a half hours! It then gets molded on their wooden foot-spun wheel. Once dried, many other polishing, coloring, and decorating phases take place before it can be baked. They wait until their ovens are completely filled, then close them off and preheat them four hours until they are 900 degrees centigrade. Ouch! They bake for another three and a half hours, after which they have to wait three days for the ovens to cool before removing the pottery.

Finished pottery

Finished pottery

After a final polish,  pottery is ready for sale. All the colors and tools are taken directly from the earth. All the pottery is vibrant, unique, and clearly good quality. We were taken into a room filled with their finished products and made purchases. There was so much, it was a bit overwhelming. I bought a pretty, teal mug that I fell in love with—for five dollars! After seeing how much work goes into each product, I could hardly believe it.

Volcanic crater lake

Volcanic crater lake

Our trip didn’t end there. Throughout the weekend, we also saw a dazzling crater. Created by the neighboring volcano, it was naturally filled in and is now a beyond-beautiful lake. I could have sat looking at it—and how perfectly it reflected the sky—for hours.

We also went on a boat tour around Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in central America. It has over 400 islands, which people can buy (only $70,000 and up! Who wants to go in on one with me?). A bunch are owned by American celebrities as well as other wealthy international persons and well-off owners of local companies.

This guy may have been my favorite

This guy may have been my favorite

While a lot of the houses were really remarkable, I think my favorite island was Monkey Island, which was inhabited only by monkeys; they were so much fun to watch!

We had some down-time in Nicaragua as well, and I discovered I really like Granada. It’s a more touristy area of Nicaragua, thus the higher level of poverty isn’t as evident as other areas of the country. I found the people to be really friendly and the environment to be calm and relaxed. All in all, a weekend well spent!

The week consisted of the start of electives, psychology class, gym—the usual array of activities. I could hardly focus, because I knew my mom had arrived in the country. She flew in the last day I was in Nicaragua, was a brave soul and rented a car, and drove to the Pacific side to spend a few nights there. On Thursday after psych, we were reunited. I was so excited just to see her, and on top of that, we left that day to go to Tabacón, a hotel in La Fortuna with a view of the Arenal Volcano, access to natural thermal springs, and a spa. We had an enjoyably crazy ride getting there and then giggled as we were pampered. Neither of us being fancy people by nature, getting served fresh juice and chilled hand towels upon arriving and being driven to our room that was a minute walk from reception was comical. Nonetheless, we smiled and reveled in this fun, new experience. After settling in and enjoying the view from our room, we got changed and decided to check out the springs.

Waterfall

Waterfall

All I can say is, wow, wow, wow. Naturally heated water, which is so clean, flowing over mini waterfalls and volcanic rock, completely open to your soaking pleasure. It was a truly magical experience. Since we went during off-season, it was like our own personal dreamland. We went back to the springs two more times before leaving.

Our second day, we decided to treat ourselves and check out the spa. I got a facial, and she got a massage. I’d never had a facial before, and I don’t think any in the States will measure up to this one. It was fantastic. She used creams, exfoliation, masks, steam, and even electricity! It was incredibly soothing. The spa also provides, complimentary to your treatment purchase, access to their relaxation room, which has comfy lounge chairs and a neat hot tub as well as fresh fruit platters, smoothies, and tea. I felt like a queen, and having my mom there to share it with just made it even better!

Mom and I

Mom and I

We enjoyed two wonderful dinners in the town of La Fortuna and even found an amazing bakery and chocolate shop. I think I find them anywhere I go. We had a delicious breakfast there and stopped on our way out for some chocolates and a piece of divinely sinful Moka cake. We didn’t want to leave but were also more than content with our stay and happy that leaving didn’t mean the end to our time together.

Back in San Jose, I decided to stay in my mom’s hotel with her. It’s not that I don’t like my host family, but I wanted to get the most amount of time with family as possible, and was really enjoying this mini vacation within my time abroad. It’s like going home for fall break at Lafayette (except I got to be treated like a queen in a spa =P). Her hotel was so sweet! The man who runs it is originally from France and was so welcoming and accommodating. He gave us both an incredible breakfast and expressed that if there was anything else we needed, then just ask. My mom and I spent that day in downtown San Jose, where we went to the National Theater for a performance by their National Symphony. Over two hours long, the concert was impressive. One song they played was a classical song that my mom and I have listened to together on numerous occasions! It was such a special shared moment. It was raining afterwards (surprise, surprise), but we didn’t let it ruin our mood and went to a nearby Pops (a chain ice cream store) and enjoyed some fantastic ice cream. The rain eased and we made our way back to the hotel.

I helped my mom return her car, which was an adventure, but nothing too bad, and we decided to find some food. I now know that trying to find dinner after 5 p.m. on a Sunday is difficult (unless in central downtown, but we didn’t want to go back into the heart of the city). Not wanting to walk with all of my stuff back to her hotel, we took a cab back and then went to the nearby Italian place where we had enjoyed a delicious meal the night before. The first number I called put me on hold endlessly. Not wanting to waste my phone minutes, I hung up and decided to walk to the nearby bar that usually has taxis or will call a cab for you. They were closed. There was an open pizza shop next door, and I asked if they could call a cab. I was told they don’t do that there. Frustrated, I tried the last number I had. After a bit of holding and confusion, I was told one would come, which it did! But then the taxi driver did not know where I was trying to go. A bit of talking, and we had it figured out, and finally got to our destination. But of course, the Italian restaurant was closed.

Back at the hotel, trying to figure out how to ease our rumbling stomachs, we found Paul, a friend of the manager. After chatting, he said he was walking to the nearby grocery store in about a half hour and we’d be welcome to come along. We were saved! We got some delicious food and enjoyed a last night of laughing and playing cards.

My mom is back home now, and I’m back to my usual Costa Rican life. I feel as if my heart has been filled to the brim, and I’m so grateful for her visit. Reenergized and feeling nourished, let’s see what this week brings!

posted in Rebecca Murray

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1 Comment

  1. What a wonderful tribute to your Mom and Yourself. The joy you have given me in
    reading this well written account is incomparable to other . Thank you, my honey .Rebecca.
    love and hugs from the Gebon.

    says Gebon
    October 9, 2013 at 7:07 am
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