Volcano Turrialba

Volcano Turrialba has erupted twice in the last two weeks. The most recent, on 5/20/16, was so intense that the ash made its way into the Central Valley /San Jose area. The ash plumes were 2-3 miles  high! On the evening of the explosion the streets in my community were filled with what appeared to be a thick fog.  Those who live closest to the volcano are worried about the heavy accumulation of ash on their crops and livestock; if the eruptions continue the ash could affect the quality of their livelihood.  There are also health concerns for those closest to the volcano – they were encouraged to stay indoors following the eruption.  Here in the San Jose area those with respiratory issues are using masks to cover their faces when they are outside.  I have not had any major health issues – just some heavy breathing the day after the explosion and some allergies – nothing major.  Flights were delayed, cancelled and re-routed over the weekend as a result of the heavy ash on the SJO runway. Five days later and ash is still falling over the Central Valley, I still wake to find ash on the herbs in my herb garden.  Occurrences like these make it hard to ignore that I am living in Central America!  I have never experienced anything like this in my life.  It is an intense act of nature!

volcano discovery

Photo Credit:
Volcano Discovery. http://www.volcanodiscovery.com/turrialba/news.html. “Explosion of Turrialba today (OVSICORI-UNA webcam)”

turrialba ticotimes

Photo Credit:
The Tico Times News. http://www.ticotimes.net/2016/05/20/flight-delays-cancellations-latest-turrialba-eruptions. “Turrialba Volcano erupts on Friday, May 20, 2016 -Via Comisión Nacional de Emergencias Facebook”



English Conversation

Last month I found a library in my community. It is a quaint building on the edge of town. I think my heart exploded into happiness when I found it; I love libraries. I spoke with the librarian and made two major accomplishments that day: I discovered the books that non-locals can check out and I left my contact information for volunteer opportunities. Within two days I was reading a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and I had received a call from the Library Director regarding a teaching opportunity. 

I teach English Conversation for two hours every Wednesday evening. I researched and reached out to some certified ESL/EFL folks to obtain the ideal direction and needed tools for my class. I studied International Studies and the Spanish Language in college, not Education, but my students are learning and I love teaching them so this seems to be working! My class is a mix of ages and most are beginners. I lead the class in Spanish but I want them to hear as much English as possible and to practice speaking in English.  It’s an interactive, bilingual approach.

Tonight I finalized my lesson on the simple present tense for tomorrow’s class.  For a tense that has the word ‘simple’ in the title, it is not so simple!  I’m sure they will love to hear that if the verb ends in “SS”, “SH”, “CH”, “O” or “X” they must add an “ES” to the end of the verb in order to form the third person affirmative form.  If the verb ends in a “Y” and is preceded by a consonant they must add an “IE” to the end of the verb in order to form the third person affirmative form. Oh, and of course some verbs are very strange such as ‘to be’, ‘to have’ and ‘to do’ – they change in form and pronunciation so they must be memorized.  Really!?  When you look at these rules you realize it’s not so simple. I know there are exceptions in the Spanish language as well but English is so random!  (Or maybe I have just been looking at all of this for far too long tonight and it’s time to go to bed).

My class outline usually includes a review from the previous lesson, the lesson for the day, a quick break, an interactive class activity based on our lesson of the day, a game,  an explanation of two idioms and at the end I add some United States culture that we can discuss. They love anything related to U.S. culture so both the idioms and the discussion is a great way to keep them engaged. Last week the idioms I taught them were “You look like a million bucks!” and “To go cold turkey”.  The library closed early (for unknown reasons) so I didn’t have a lot of time to explain the idioms.  There were a lot of confused faces at the end of class; I’ll make sure I explain the idioms tomorrow! The U.S. culture section of the outline depends on upcoming holidays or interesting pop culture. Last week I was going to talk about Easter customs.  I was going to explain that in the States many children paint Easter eggs, have Easter egg hunts and receive treats in their Easter baskets from the Easter bunny.  I was going to mention that we do not have a ‘Burning of Judas’ like they do here in Costa Rica.  Yes, you read that correctly!  A burning of Judas, you ask?  Well the custom here is that on the Saturday before Easter Sunday the town gathers together and burns Judas effigies. Yes, that was plural, as in multiple Judas’ go up in flames! Apparently Costa Ricans do not take kindly to traitors!   I could make an entire post on this Easter customs!

My students are inquisitive and very eager to learn; they are also so humble and kindhearted.  I look forward to Wednesdays.

Sipping on Cacique


Last night I sat outside and sipped on Cacique and Lime. Cacique Guaro is a liquor distilled from sugar cane juices. High in alcohol by volume, 1-2 is usually my personal limit.  It was a beautiful evening; the moon was hiding but the stars were so bright. I’ve been told by locals that it is risky to sit outside like this because the ‘sereno’ (evening dew) can cause trouble sleeping. Until I moved to Costa Rica I had never heard so many myths! Well, after my two Caciques with lime I slept like a baby. That’s another myth that I will put to rest (no pun was intended but It made me laugh so I’ll keep it here!).

I am patiently awaiting winter season, the time of the year when afternoon showers are guaranteed.   Currently we are in the summer/dry season which means that rain showers are few and far between. This weekend water service was turned off for several areas as a conservation effort. I have heard that the current water supply is down to 70% for the country. When that happens the areas that consume the most are shut off – usually for a few hours but sometimes it could last days.

Costa Rica has taught me so much, especially about conservation. Here you read it in the paper, see it on the news and hear it in daily conservation: we need to conserve water. This is a country that is almost entirely supported by clean, renewable energy.  I am talking about wind and water, not coal and nuclear.  The largest source of energy is hydroelectric, hydroelectric dams provide more than 82% of the country’s electricity.  In Costa Rica you won’t hear about mountaintop removal or fracking. There is a strong connection to the environment, an understanding that our actions greatly impact our environment and affect our future.




De sus tonteras se acuerda


Living in Costa Rica has changed my world view and my self-perception.

I can see beneath the tourism; I understand the economic realities and humanistic struggles at play in this humble country.  I remember the moment I grasped that I live in a 3rd world country, there are moments when the awareness truly strikes you.

Recently I found a journal entry that I wrote many months ago. I laugh to myself because it brings back so many memories; I remember my fear to turn on the shower, the hours I spent locked out of the house, my fear of lettuce and of course the afternoon I ran home from the grocery soaking wet from a Costa Rican afternoon downpour.  There is a phrase I learned in Spanish that applies so perfectly to this moment: El que solo se ríe, de sus tonteras se acuerda.  In English this phrase would translate to: He who laughs alone remembers his silly acts. 

It is so easy to forget our initial impressions of new surroundings. I don’t want to lose track of that moment when something is extraordinary and new. There is humor in my daily life but there are also painfully eye-opening experiences and I want to share it all.


When you come to visit I will give you an entire list of things to know. Here is the beginning of the list; I will add more as I learn:

  1. DO NOT TOUCH THE SHOWER HEAD.  If you touch the shower head you will be shocked.
  2. Make sure you do not receive fake money; there are ways to check for legitimacy and I will show you.
  3. Always wash your fruits and veggies- ESPECIALLY the lettuce. Costa Rican slugs love lettuce and their slime is poisonous to humans.
  4. The doors here will lock behind you so keep your keys with you to avoid a lock out.
  5. During the rainy season it will rain in the afternoon by 1pm – you can bet on it – keep an umbrella with you if you go out. You will regret forgetting this!
  6. Costa Ricans (that I have talked to) think that you can get sick from drinking something warm and then something cold.  I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m just saying I personally don’t agree since I have been drinking warm and cold (and vice versa) my entire life and it does not get me sick. They, however, strongly believe this so just humor them and agree.
  7. Costa Ricans (that I have talked to) think that you can get (deadly) ill if a window or door is opened while you are ironing.  Once again I’m not saying they’re wrong, but I’m pretty sure I have opened a window or door in my lifetime while ironing and I am still alive to talk about it.  Of course they strongly believe this so don’t joke around with the topic, just humor them and agree. 
  8. Water goes out at least 1x/month so it’s a good idea to store extra water to use to wash dishes, flush toilet, etc.
  9. Electric goes out at least 1x/month as well so keep candles on hand.
  10.  In Costa Rica they use the ‘usted’ form much more commonly than the ‘tu’ form. Even for animals- they address the dog with usted!
  11. Dishes are sealed up in containers to avoid contamination from bugs (cockroaches, flies or slugs).  It’s not that it is dirty here it’s just a precaution to avoid any contamination or illness.
  12. Floors are swept once a day, more during the rainy season. 
  13. Floors are mopped once a week, more during the rainy season.
  14. All floors are tile and a disinfectant spray is used to clean them.
  15. Gas can range from $6-$10 gallon, sold in liters (obviously) not gallons. Gasoline is regulated countrywide and is the same in every gas station throughout Costa Rica.  Gas Stations are called “Bombas”…this literally translates to “bombs”…this seems a bit concerning to me (!)