lunes, 31 de enero de 2011

The Gym

And now for a shot at actually meeting some Ticos. Well, that and taking the holiday pounds off. (In the land of perpetual summer, it is exceptionally poor form to be out of shape.)

Actually as a general athletic comment, I'm impressed by what physically active people Ticos generally are. Joggers are everywhere, there are several running clubs in town and I've seen road and mountain bikes that would put even the average Boulderite to shame. Just for one anecdote about the general athleticism of the group, the Mikes, Dylan and I were climbing up one of the mountains behind Colon a couple of weeks ago. About 2-3 miles and 1000 feet of elevation gain. As we were slowly slogging up, a mountain biker came up behind us and passed us, hauling it and not in a low gear either. It was pure quadriceps. As long as he was in sight of us, he didn't miss a beat. I know I was impressed.

But, back to the Diana Gym here in town. In addition to the fact that at least several of the folks I've seen there definitely bat for the fabulous team (in the words of Jon Stewart, we are a gym going people after all) but what I like even more is the music selection. Turns out Lady Gaga is just getting big down here...I heard at least 3 Lady Gaga songs today, none of which were chosen by me. Generally the music selection is from 3-5 years ago, but hey, it's all fun.

lunes, 24 de enero de 2011

It's like a state fair...on speed.

That's how Ellen described Palmares at least.

Palmares was one of the more interesting experiences I've had since I've been on Tico time. It's the Costa Rican national fair, which is like most of the state and county fairs you've been to in the US except take away the livestock (except for the bull fighting) and add an extraordinary amount of alcohol and other Central American party favors. There were tons of vendors selling everything from cowboy hats to Justin Bieber CDs to pot paraphernalia. There was also magnificent food (and by magnificent, I mean cheap and unhealthy but still quite delicious).

Really the most impressive part was the way that it was state fair by day, giant raging party by night. There were three clubs erected in the middle of the fairground, made basically out of scaffolding and plywood, that thousands of people filled at night. I'll admit, being on the third story of one of these scaffolding structures was a bit terrifying - if you stopped dancing for a second you could feel the entire structure shaking in time to the music. Fortunately it stayed together as long as I was inside.

But, I think the funniest part of the entire experience was the fact that I apparently was a fair attraction as well. I was definitely one of the tallest people there (I had a great view on the dance floor) and a number of random people asked to get there picture taken with me. Apparently I just look overwhelmingly American...

Sadly I don't have any pictures to share of this particular experience - Palmares is notorious for pickpockets, especially targeting gringos. While no one in our group experienced any problems (and were all overly cautious about tucking money in places that it would be exceedingly hard to get at) I still thought it best not to risk losing anything valuable. But if you want to see general photos from the event and see more what it's about, go to

lunes, 17 de enero de 2011

Now that's a knife.

Today, the Mikes and I decided to clear a trail up to the overlook above UPeace. The experience itself was one of the most manly things I have done in a while - I mean let's be real, it doesn't get much manlier than using machetes to chop things.

What amazed me more than anything was that when we went to the maintenance shop to get them, we weren't asked to provide identification, or asked why we wanted machetes, or asked whether we had any idea what we were doing. We were just asked "how many" and "do you want the big ones?" - with encouragement to go with the larger ones.

We of course went with the big ones (24" I believe) because we wouldn't want anyone to question our manhood.

sábado, 15 de enero de 2011

The first week at 9 degrees north

Sorry for the delay in a new post, lots has been going on so hopefully I don't ramble too much...

Week one flew by, as I suppose I should have guessed it would. Orientation at UPeace has come and gone, a few hikes have been had, a few adventures and educational experiences have transpired and overall I think I'm converting to "tico time" pretty well. I still lack both a watch and a cell phone, though I feel that the watch situation may need to be remedied at some point. (Though, "que hora es?" is one of the Spanish phrases I have mastered.)

I look forward to UPeace a great deal though. Every morning will start something like this:

But even after having coffee in a beautiful place, the program and people at UPeace are great. Unlike at American, we've really been welcomed on the red carpet. We had a lovely reception, at which I got to talk to our program coordinator about my substantive research project (I'm thinking of working on something related either to ecotourism and environmental attitudes or coastal development.)

But, in our relaxed first week, we've continued to take advantage of being in Costa Rica to do some hikes that are recommended by the guide books, and some that apparently don't have maps associated with them. First, we visiting the obligatory coffee plantation:

It was a bit touristy, but they had a fantastic coffee shop there. At least I know where everyone's coffee care packages will be coming from now...

The coffee stop was on the way to Poas Volcanom which I hate to say, was a bit disappointing. The hike was pretty short over a paved trail and apparently it is pretty hard to find a clear shot this time of year of the crater. Perhaps we should have done our homework a bit better to find out a good time to see it but once again, slightly mislead by a guide book. Here we are at the top anyway:

But, fortunately for us, there was a sign telling us we were close:

Interesting thing about the central valley of Costa Rica - the altitude here is approaching that of Denver. Something that is easy to forget when you're surrounded by tropical flora and fauna, but, when you go on a jog or something like that you remember that there still is in fact less oxygen.

Anyway, after a fairly unimpressive Poas hike (though I mean, you can google it, the crater is spectacular) we decided to do something ridiculously American (and chauvinistic) and went to Hooters. For the wings, you know.

Anyway, this morning, we hiked up one of the mountains surrounding Ciudad Colon, on the other side of the valley from UPeace. It was a great morning, about 2 miles each way with a thousand feet of elevation change. Nothing to brag about but a nice morning jaunt:

Along the way we stopped at a coffee plantation:

Kind of cool to see them pre roasting.

Anyway, that was this week, hope all is well wherever you find yourself!

martes, 11 de enero de 2011

The Simple Life

Today is the last day of relaxing and enjoying Ciudad Colon before we actually are forced to have responsibilities (not that I even remotely mind being "forced" to go to a stunningly beautiful campus and meet interesting people from around the world). But, as Nik and I were discussing last night, coming down here has been a great reminder of how nice it is to slow down.

I have no cell phone, and might keep it that way. I don't think I realized how much stress the crackberry adds to life, constantly seeing emails come in, texts, etc. Now, I can check email a couple of times a day and still be completely adequately plugged in to the rest of the world.

How long will this no cell phone resolve last? I mean let's be honest, probably until my Spanish gets good enough for me to successfully execute the purchase of a disposable one. (And I'm amazed at how quickly it is coming along, I'm far from intense political debates, but I can manage a lot of daily life pretty competently. The main challenge is not mixing with French which I have been doing a lot (especially with numbers for some reason).)

But, hopefully I'll maintain some of my simple life throughout the semester.

lunes, 10 de enero de 2011

A Day of Learning

No, school hasn't started, but life in Costa Rica was exceptionally educational today. I learned (and in some cases, re-learned) a number of good life lessons. Some of the lessons included:

1. As in Denver and the rockies, the weather in Ciudad Colon bears no resemblance whatsoever to the weather in the mountains.

2. Rain gear is useless when hanging in your closet.

3. Medical kits are also useless when sitting in your closet.

4. Guide books are not always accurate.

However, the most important lessons taken from the day were:

5. Old Tico ladies are more than happy to teach a befuddled young gringo a few words of spanish on the bus, and also to try to set said gringo up with her grand daughters.

6. When working together, NRSD folks are fairly resourceful, and;

7. The rainforest is beautiful, check out some photos:

sábado, 8 de enero de 2011

Bienvenidos a Casa de Ballin

Good morning!

Turns out my bedroom window faces east, so I was up with the sun. Which was fine, given that I fell asleep at about 9:30 last night after a day of traveling. (But it's ok, I read a couple of chapters of Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry - a going away present from Lily! (thanks Lil!))

But, being up early was great, I went out on a run and explored my neighborhood. While I didn't carry a camera with me, I figured I'd post a few pictures of the new place, affectionately named "casa de ballin" by Bryan.

Check out some photos for a virtual tour:


La sala de estar y cocina (Living room and kitchen):

El jardin:

Mi dormitorio:

viernes, 7 de enero de 2011

New Beginnings

For me, 2010 was a year of transition. Leaving Denver, stopping in Delaware for a few months then going back to DC to get a start on my grad program at AU in Washington DC. The last few weeks have been the most hectic transition ever - between an apartment move out, a re sorting at home and then an international move - life has been hectic.

Fortunately, that hectic pace is already starting to feel a bit more relaxed. I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica this afternoon and made my way (with the help of fellow UPeace student, Nora) to Ciudad Colon and ultimately my house. Other than a walk through Colon and a grocery store adventure, nothing much has happened.

That is, other than for me realizing that learning spanish is something I need to get on pronto.

I'll post occasional updates about my continuing adventure here. Please excuse any cultural insensitivity I may display, I am after all, a gringo.