Sunday, August 31, 2014

Street Art of San Jose

One of the things I really, really, absolutely love about Costa Rica is the murals. Murals are such a huge part of the artwork here, and in the city that translates to gorgeous graffiti which can be found everywhere. I've been taking lots of pictures of all of my favorite street art, and here are a few.

This is me ruining it at the last second by moving the camera.

This one is my favorite!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

More School for Me

As part of my program, I need to continue to take Spanish lessons for the entire time that I am in Costa Rica. For the first week in San Jose, we took four hours of classes every day! And while we are teaching, we still take Spanish classes in the evening.

Just like in Manuel Antonio, we are taking lessons through COSI, but the classroom is a little different here.

Here is the general waiting area.

Here is a small entrance area where they sell snacks and have free tea and coffee. 

This was my contribution to the multicultural whiteboard in the computer lab.

Here is our classroom!

And here is our view from the window. It's maybe not quite as nice as the view from the classrooms in Manuel Antonio :)

Our teachers here are just as great as the one we had before. We get these textbooks to work through, and do a lot of homework and worksheets, etc. Although I am a liiittle more advanced now than I was when I took this picture ;)

COSI is also partnered with Maximo Nivel who work to pair international volunteers with different programs. It is through these guys that our university works to pair us student teachers with our mentor schools. On our first week in San Jose we were also given the opportunity to work in a day care in a very poor area. Maximo Nivel provides volunteers to such day cares in order to provide free childcare to poor families.

I couldn't really speak to all the children because my Spanish is so bad! But, they did recruit me into building a paper house for a cricket. 

My Room in San Jose

We are back in San Jose now (the capital of Costa Rica) and are staying with the family we stayed with on our first night. In our family we have a host mom, a host brother (who is 20) and a host sister (who is 23). We also have two dogs that are very cute and very sweet. Our host mother does not speak any English, but we get by with broken Spanish and lots of gesturing and acting things out.

Here in San Jose, I have my own room, although I mostly just sleep in here. Too tired for anything else really!

 Here is the view from my bed!

And here is the view of my bed. (And yes, I did read Kitchen Confidential if you were wondering)

Here is my mirror, and here is me.

There is this little section of my room (in the first picture you can see it a little bit on the left side) that is entirely empty, and has this weird opening near the roof. Probably just to keep it cool in here in the summer. There is also a church behind our house and I can hear every word of every sermon haha. Also, when the church bells go off every single dog in the neighborhood begins to bark.

I have a little desk too.

And a bookshelf (those are not my books, but I'm reading through them!)

And back to the original view. There is a little TV too, but it doesn't really work.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Coffee Tour

We have now moved from the coastal city of Manuel Antonio to the capital in the middle of the country, San Jose. We are staying with an awesome host family and taking four hour Spanish classes this week. But the first thing we did when getting to town, was driving a little ways away for a really interesting tour of a coffee plantation.

I don't have any idea what this has to do with coffee, I think they're terrifying, but there are these large statues at the front of the coffee plantation with little plaques describing them.

Welcome to your nightmares.

I think the folk tales are really interesting though....but still terrifying. There are like 10 of these.

These are our sweet, very funny tour guides. They said everything in both Spanish and English and were amazingly patient with a super annoying/hilarious old couple that kept asking dumb questions.

They started us off with a history of coffee. The coffee plant was first discovered in Ethiopia, where they ate it as a fruit. It then traveled to Saudi Arabia in SXVI, where they were the first to make it into the drink we know as coffee. By 1615, Italy had created the first coffee shops. In 1660 France, something else probably happened. From France, it traveled to South America, through Brazil, and ended up in Costa Rica, where coffee growing conditions are perfect, in 1750.

Different areas of Costa Rica are perfect for growing different types of coffee. For example, coffee grows differently on the coasts, in the mountains, in volcanic soil, etc. The plantation we visited is in between 2 volcanoes.

The coffee seeds are first planted in the ground and covered with leaves (or husks or something. I don't remember. You'll have to take the tour to find out) that keep the seeds moist. This is the farthest box on the right in the photo. They then grow into shoots (the middle two boxes). And when they are big enough they are bagged (box on the left) and watched in the nursery. Once they grow too big for the bag, they are transported to the plantation where they grow and produce fruit, etc.

These are the coffee plants in the plantation. You can see the small green coffee fruits, the seed (or 'bean') is inside the fruit. 

Then they told us about the coffee fruit's lifecycle. Reading the banners from right to left, the plants grow buds, which flower, which turn to the green fruits, and when they turn red, they are ready to pick.

Because the fruits do not all mature at the same time, they need to be picked by hand. They demonstrated on this little girl how coffee pickers wear baskets around their waists to collect the fruits (this technology has been the same for many, many years). The workers are paid for each basket they can fill, but a good worker can do it very quickly. The tour guide said in around 15 minutes! An old lady asked many stupid questions about this. Just so you know what we're dealing with here.

From there, the fruits are all placed in water. The heavy, high quality fruits (with large seeds) sink to the bottom and the lightweight fruits float to the top. Then the pulp is removed, leaving behind only the seed (or bean). Only 20% of the fruit is used to make coffee, the other 80% is recycled into fertilizer and paper.

Then the coffee seeds are spread out to dry. With traditional patio drying, they are raked consistently every hour across a patio all day (at least during daylight). Or they are dried in African style drying beds.

This map shows where different types of coffee are grown. Some types of coffee are made by combining different types to get the benefits of different growing areas.

From there, the seeds are roasted. This red roasting machine is the one machine they used when the plantation first opened. The seeds are dropped down through the top, and are roasted in the metal cylinder. After the right amount of time, they are dropped down into the round cooling rack. If the beans roast for too long, the coffee is bitter.

This wall showed how roasting the coffee for different time periods ended up with coffee of different tastes.

This is the packaging area where the beans are packaged, or ground up and then packaged. This is the only area we could not go in because it is a food processing area.

Then we were taken into an auditorium where volunteers got to do a coffee tasting. She showed us the best way to prepare coffee, and explained how professionals do coffee tasting.

After the tour, we were able to go through the gift shop and sample all of the different types of coffee and chocolate they make in the plantation. I "sampled" a lot of pineapple chocolate. Also we got a free lunch and then it started pouring and we went back to San Jose. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Manuel Antonio National Park (aka, my first live sloth)

We spent our last morning in Manuel Antonio visiting the national park. The national park in Manuel Antonio is one of the smallest national parks, but has many different plants and animals and beaches. This was the trip I was most looking forward to because they really talked up all the animals that we would see in the park but we didn't see very many!!
A SLOTH! This was the first (of 2) sloths that I have seen in Costa Rica. I am very disappointed by the lack of sloths, but look! It’s a sloth!

A little crab, there were lots of these.

The beaches were super beautiful here, as they’re tucked away into little coves. It was a very nice, sunny day for the beach and I was able to dry off quickly after swimming (instead of getting caught in the rain!)

Here is proof that I was here. There are also tons of raccoons on the beach, but they are too fast and I didn’t get a clear picture. They are exactly like the raccoons we have in the northern U.S. but they are not nocturnal here. They have learned to be out in the day so that they can rummage through the bags of tourists looking for food. You can’t leave your stuff left alone at the beach, but it’s funny to watch them go through other people’s stuff!

Lizard! I loved this guy.

I believe he is some sort of iguana but I’m not sure.

I took a million pictures of him, and he actually let us get pretty close.

Then we walked up a billion stairs to get to a lookout point.

This is my “I climbed all this way and there aren't any sloths up here” face. (Again, a realistic view of how hot and sweaty I am all day every day)

More stairs! Once you got to the end you had to turn around and come back. On the way back we counted 364 stairs, so double that and that’s what we climbed up and down and up and down.

Monkey! We were warned that monkeys would be everywhere and would come right up to you and try to take your stuff. This was the closest we got to one and we only saw a couple. They didn’t seem to care about us whatsoever. The park was a little disappointing because it had been talked up so much, but it was still a nice way to spend our last day on the coast.