Senior Audrey Reid Discusses Her Semester Abroad in Costa Rica

 SUNY Geneseo women's soccer senior forward Audrey Reid is studying abroad in Costa Rica for the 2018 spring semester. The spanish education major from Hilton, N.Y. will be studying at La Universidad Nacional Costa Rica, just outside the capital city, San Jose. Reid will be providing regular updates in the coming months on her studies, travels and life abroad while living the "Pura Vida".

Check back soon for the latest edition of "¡Pura Vida!" 

Entry 9 - Wednesday, May 16

These past two weeks have been jam packed with new experience. My boyfriend Stephen came to visit and has the energy of a five year old child, so we were constantly on the move. We were able to rent a car, which is super helpful with our spontaneous schedule, and check out northwestern Costa Rica. We began with a short three hour drive to Tamarindo which sits on the South Pacific Ocean. This town was beautiful, but clearly a tourists destination as it gave Stephen the wrong impression of Costa Rica: commercialized and mostly spoken in English. There we explored neighboring beaches such as Conchal which was our favorite. Conchal gets its name from the word shell in Spanish; concha, and is named this way because the sand isn't as fine as were used to, it consists of larger pieces of shells.

Concha Beach

Thanks to the large amount of coral in Conchal, the water is a brilliant blue as shown in the picture above. While in Puntarenas Province we surfed, took a boat ride through a river where we saw sixteen howler monkeys (one peed on Stephens shoulder), and an ATV ride through the mountains and beaches. Next we ventured to Rio Celeste, which is well known for its turquoise blue color due to a natural chemical reaction from Volcano Tenorio.

Rio Celeste

I still can't believe that water this color actually exists. The river starts out with typical river water, clean yet reflective of the dark river floor, then has a very dramatic and clean break of color where it reacts with minerals at the point of two rivers combining, both of which have different chemical characteristics in this volcano-rich region.

Aside from the river, this town offered a better feel of Costa Rica, accompanied by confused stares (we are aliens here), absolutely zero English spoken, typical tin-roofed houses, and the famous "soda" which is a small restaurant/convenience store in place of our beloved Wegman's.

At this point I am slowly dying of exhaustion, but naturally Stephen is ready to sprint a marathon. After roughly two hours, we landed in Arenal, well known for Volcano Arenal. This volcano hasn't erupted since 2011, but is still active so the peak rocks are extremely hot- fun little fact. We found a local water hole with a rope swing, cliff jumping and a little cave. After a few un-athletic belly flops, we zip lined over the jungle and lake Arenal. 

El Salto Watering Hole

Above is a snapshot of the waterhole "El Salto", a surprisingly 500 meters deep and 30 feet round.

Last but not least: Cahuita. Now we're on the Caribbean side, southeastern Costa Rica. On our way here we white water rafted in Pacuare River, more inland from the coast. Again, another body of water so clear and drinkable. The rafting ranges between levels three to five, through gorges and rocks one to two times bigger than your car.

Here's a pic of us being completely useless to our instructor. Another cool thing to note were the natives that live along the river. These natives speak both Spanish and their own language, cultivate their fruits and veggies, fish and hunt within the jungle and construct their huts out of wood, leaves, mud and bambu.

Rafting In Costa Rica

We also visited a black beach and a sloth sanctuary. Aside from the sanctuary, we were lucky enough to see three sloths and around twelve monkeys in the forest.

This is one of my favorite photos:

Howler Monkey and Baby

Entry 8 - Wednesday, April 25

Every year the university I attend hosts "Semana U", which is a week filled with activities the community can participate in. In the center of the campus there's a market that's offers fresh foods such as traditional tamales and cookies, plants, pottery and jewelry. What's great about this market is that almost everything is handmade, so it offers more of an authentic experience. I found the handmade jewelry most interesting because most of the necklaces, bracelet and earrings incorporate meaningful stones. One of the stones, which really reflects the community's spiritual faith, is told to become warmer when it encounters ominous spirits. On the other hand are the bands that rage from 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon to roughly 11:00 p.m. at night. It is actually hilarious at times how laid back the environment is here. I was even able to enjoy some heavy metal music during my 4:00 p.m. literature lecture. These people are loco, I love it.

As opposed to the myriad of different interesting weather patterns I keep hearing about in Geneseo, there are only two seasons here: sun and rain. The temperature seems to remain rather consistent throughout the year (a balmy 75-80) with the exception of a few temperature drop-offs during the rain period. We are now experiencing the transition between the two seasons, and it is not at all what I expected. Sunny season is exactly what it sounds like. But Rain season is different. When it rains here it POURS, to the point where a lot of people have to replace their umbrellas various times within these six months. The water level on a typical flat ground accumulates an average of four to six inches, easily enough to cover your foot.

Entry 7 - Thursday, April 12

While this weekend was spent studying for our midterms, we were able to escape to the capital city, San Jose and experience an art fair. There, we immersed ourselves in the Costa Rican culture full of flavorful foods, live music and art from various Latin American countries. We enjoyed learning how to dance from locals we met, of which each offered a different style depending on their origin. As always, our favorite take away was the food, whether it be from the endless fruit carts stationed throughout the city or the food trucks that filled the air with spicy aromas. We ended up eating a traditional plate in Costa Rica called "Casado", which is another word for lunch, consisting of rice, beans, shredded salad and either fish or chicken.

Here is an example of what "un casado" looks like, it is the most you can get for your dollar as the ingredients are cultivated year-round throughout the country and readily available.

Costa Rican Casado

This is one of many food carts, which are my favorite because they are guaranteed fresh and remind me of the tropical country I'm lucky to call home at the moment.

Costa Rican Street Food Cart

 

ENTRY 6 - Wednesday, April 4

Imagine Jurassic Park, except without the scary dinosaurs; dense forests, the shadows of monkeys swinging tree to tree, the peaceful song that animals and insects sing and the sticky, hot and humid climate. Located in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, on the pacific coast is Manuel Antonio.

Here we hiked through the national forest viewing reptiles, sloths, birds and, most importantly, monkeys! It was so weird being face to face with a monkey knowing that you are its relative. He pointed and curled his finger to reel us in, then rubbed his stomach to signify his hunger.... I grew up with dogs and squirrels and this was kind of like a mixture of the two. I thought it was cool that my dog would sit at my demand, but these monkeys were so smart! I admit I was amazed by their capabilities, but it still pissed me right off when they outsmarted us and robbed us of all of our food. Then, seemingly only to mock us, they perched themselves in the tree above our reach and made sure we watched them eat every sandwich, unwrap every granolas bar and drink every juice box. Here is evidence of their deceiving cute face:

Cariblanco - White-Faced Capuchin

This monkey is called a Cariblanco [White-Faced Capuchin] by the Ticos, and this is the approximate distance I stood from him.

Aside from this intrusion, the view that Playa Gemelas offered was breathtaking and could easily be compared to a pool. The beach is set back in a cove where there are hardly any waves, and the salty water is crystal blue and lukewarm.

Playa Gemelas - Lizard on Rock

ENTRY 5 - Monday, March 23

I'm on break from classes! Over break, a few classmates and I decided to head north into the countryside.

When you think of the term "Volcano," you immediately picture red lava, dry land and maybe a large deadly hole. We hiked Barva Volcano, located in Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo (Braulio Carrillo National Park) and it was the complete opposite. The trails leading up to this inactive volcano were wet, covered in rich green colored plants and tropical flowers. We were guided by old, thick tree roots and fallen leaves. I've found that most mountains in Costa Rica, like this one, always offer a refreshing mist throughout the hike, where the sky is bright blue or cloudy. Unfortunately we chose a cloudier day, so the views were...not quite as picturesque as I had imagined. Here is a photo found on the internet of the crater hole so you can visualize a bit better:

 Barva Volcano Crater Lake

This is the lagoon in the mountain that shapes the volcano's crater. Surprisingly, it doesn't contain any life, aside from plants, and is ice cold.

On the way back down the hill, outside of the park, we experienced the way of life in the mountains. We spoke with some of the Ticos there who educated us that they mostly live off their land with animals and gardens, and make a trip into the city for other needs once or twice a month. The climate is very similar to our fall in New York, but with higher air pressure. 

Below is an example of a home in the mountain where they raise chickens. Often times, these families each raise different animals or cultivate different crops so they can be of business to each other.

Barva Volcano Mountain Village   Barva Volcano Mountain View

 

ENTRY 4 - Monday, March 16

We are saving "el dinero" for our week off next week, so we went bargain-hunting at the local farmer's market!

Picture our cute little farmer's market on Main Street in Geneseo that we have during the spring and fall. Now multiply its size by 100 and the amount of people by about 300 and you have La Heredia. Contrary to the slow and mellow tico culture, everyone here is in a panic, stepping over each other while vendors yell out their deals relentlessly. Side note: as much as I am all for cultural experiences, the smell and sight of hanging animal corpses (chicken, pig, etc.) gets me every time. Anyway, this market, held every Saturday, is every broke student's dream. This event is rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, tomales, plants, handmade goods, incredibly nice people and most importantly, it is CHEAP! I never thought I'd encounter a world with reasonably priced health foods. Where am I? I was introduced to fruits and vegetables I've never heard of, mostly because they require the tropical climate in Central America, which sadly explains why we can't find them in the States. Example: Cashews are actually a seed derived from a fruit, known as a cashew apple.

Cashew Apple  

Pictured above is a cashew fruit. The shell that is shaped like a cashew and looks like a stem, is indeed the cashew! Fun fact: If you eat the cashew seed raw, before it is toasted/cooked, there is a toxin that will cause your face to go numb. Try this out from the safety of your own home!

This is a glimpse of the market, the tents run for roughly three quarters of a mile.

Farmer's Market 1   Farmer's Market 2

As far as my academic experience, I was given the opportunity to intern at a preschool this week. My days are full of preparation for my internship, which consists of adorable children, singing shapes and colors, lunch, recess and nap time… very difficult. I thought communicating with adults was difficult, now I face mumbling toddlers… speaking Spanish. With what little time we have to interact each day, it is well spent with them correcting my pronunciation and staring at me like I'm not human. Usually I just nod and smile. Above all, I am excited to make new little friends!

ENTRY 3 - Monday, March 9

This weekend was spent in the mountains of Guanacaste, one of the seven provinces of Costa Rica. Ticos here basically drive with their eyes closed, or it seems. The rules here aren't as tight as the states, so you can get away with a lot. While I think it's hilarious they zoom around like mad men, I was scared for my life on our bus ride up through the mountains. The paths are very thin and uneven, only consisting of dirt and rock. I woke up from my nap to a steep drop off out the window and immediately started sweating. Imagine driving up a mountain in the Adirondacks, that you otherwise wouldn't.  

Aside from the trip there, Monteverde was surreal. Everywhere we went felt like a scene pulled from a movie. The first time through Monteverde Cloud Forest we were lucky to see a few monkeys jump from tree to tree! The trails were breathtaking:

Forest Trail

This forest is called a cloud forest because you get to a point where you are literally in the clouds. It feels like there's a constant refreshing mist hitting your face, and when you look off the trail all you can see is white. It's crazy to think we were hiking at the elevation of a plane.

While animals are usually the focus, the insects really reminded me that I was not in New York anymore. Mind you, we encountered all of the following in a public trail during a night tour, not a zoo or enclosed community: scorpions, snakes, turantulas, clicker beatles, a toucan and a sloth.

Here is a photo of a turantula in a hole along the path. I was able to use flash while taking this because they are blind!

Turantula

On our way home, the four-and-a-half hour bus ride turned into six hours due to a flat tire. This surprisingly ended up being one of the high points of the trip. We saw thirteen monkeys, some of which were carrying their babies on their backs! It is so strange to see anything other than squirrels. They howled every time a car passed by. We figured it was time to let them be when they started throwing their - for lack of a better term - "numero dos" at us. I would like to thank intramural dodgeball in preparing me for this moment. Of course it was difficult to capture a photo with the sun, but this is the best I got.

Howler Monkey

 

ENTRY 2 - Friday, February 23

Hello! This week has been crazy, absolutely jammed with school work. While I decided to stay in Heredia this weekend to get things done, I still found time to check out the town's landmark: Monte de la Cruz. It is insane how much Costa Rica has to offer, check out this view, which mind you cost me just an hour of my day and three dollars out of my pocket:

View from Monte de la Cruz

Shown above is the entire city of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.

Found at the top of a mountain in San Rafael, This glorified park is a mixture of woods and forest. The trails are wrapped in bright green exotic plants, floored with an ancient rock path and sparkled with a consistent mist - yes, actually magical.

Walking Paths from Monte de la Cruz

Sunday, February 25

I joined the university soccer club expecting grass and cleats but here, there is no such thing. While professional teams may play in a stadium, university teams play on a wood floor- similar to our Merritt Gymnasium, but smaller. "Fútsala", as its called rather than "fútbol", consists of tactics I was always trained not to do, ironically, such as trapping the ball with the bottom of your foot. This style of soccer also requires only five people from each team on the "field" at once. While I was pretty awful at fútsala, I was also overwhelmed with a sense of home and community. We were able to communicate through laughter and love for the game. I finally felt integrated into the culture. As warm as that feeling was, I did a great job cutting it short by sliding into the concrete wall and busting my knee open- long story short, I kept the ball in!

Here is a panorama shot of the "sala" featuring some ticos.  

Sala, indoor futsal facility, Costa Rica

Some interesting takeaways for you:

  • Everywhere I go, there is always someone brushing their teeth. I once walked into a bathroom with five girls brushing their teeth. Yes, very interesting.

  • Speaking of bathrooms, the toilet paper is outside of all the stalls, you must grab it before-hand. I learned that the hard way.

  • Lastly, and certainly most important, all salad here is shredded like coleslaw.

 

ENTRY 1 - Feb 19: ¡Pura Vida! 

I have officially finished my first week of classes here at La Universidad Nacional Costa Rica. Like the rest of the "ticos" (Costa Ricans) I have met, all of my professors have gone out of their way to be nice, and are hilarious. I came here thinking I was prepared to carry on conversation in Spanish, but instead find myself mastering my delayed laugh when someone has apparently said something funny that I didn't quite catch. On the bright side, I was able to comprehend about seven minutes worth of a two-hour lecture on Wednesday! Woo!! Definitely getting somewhere. Although it has been an extreme culture shock so far, I have no worries as everyone here is extremely helpful and understanding.

Also - Americans need to chill. I am constantly told to "tranquila" (calm-down, have no worries) when in panic about my punctuality. Everyone here walks super slow and it's normal to arrive about 20 minutes late to all engagements- my professor being a prime example.

ANYWAY--

Saturday: 5:00 a.m. Departure for Jacó

Some friends of mine from the exchange-student program and I decided to venture to Jacó beach, on the Pacific side of Costa Rica (mind you that Costa Rica is close to the same size of New York state). The commute ended up being approximately 4 hours, and I lost my wallet along the way. You know you're not in Geneseo anymore when you can't count on a "Lost and Found" post via Facebook the next morning. We stayed at a hostel which was about $32/night, believe it or not- that is on the pricier side for a hostel, but it was super close to the beach. I shared a room with 8 other people, 5 of which were my friends. If you're not familiar with hostels, it's basically your first year of college again, sharing a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. They are popular for those backpacking, exploring and such, and they are extremely economical. We met people from Mexico, Australia, Germany and Denmark!  

AND THE WATER IS ACTUALLY WARM. So, naturally, I played in the sand and ocean like a child for 4 hours. After that, we hiked up a mountain to check out the view... 

Mountain View - Costa Rica

Here you can see it all- the water isn't crystal blue like it is on the other side of Costa Rica (el Caribe), but the temperature is lukewarm and refreshing. Also, we found that the air is thick and hot with little movement on the coast in comparison to the more comfortable Heredia (where we live). It is also essential to coat yourself with bug repellent 500 times because the mosquitoes at night are overwhelming due to the humid climate.

Avenido 2 (2nd Avenue) was overrun in patriotic colors and deafening music. We danced - which I should never be allowed to do in public - until our feet were bruised, then headed back to Isa's Hostel.   

Sunday: Madrugadores: Those who wake before 5 a.m.

I was so happy to be woken at the crack of dawn by the random people we shared our Hostel dormitory with (This is sarcasm). Sunday was a slow and easy day spent resting in the sun and fumbling in the water. I was still snow white at the time since I wore spf 70 sunscreen on Saturday, I decided I didn't need lotion at all - I mean, nine degrees from the equator isn't that close, right? I will never forget the shape of my bathing suit, as my bright red sunburn will outline it for the next 3 weeks. Our weekend getaway was over, and I was ready to start my 90-page reading assignment due Tuesday!

Pura Vida!!

   Jungle Landscape - Costa Rica

 

For more information about Geneseo's Study Abroad Programs, visit www.Geneseo.edu/study_abroad or follow @GeneseoAbroad on Twitter.