On leaving Germany and moving to Costa Rica, and then to Ecuador

Comments, compliments... no complaints, with the exception of mosquitoes, but that's biodiversity for you! :)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mama in Costa Rica

I know this post is long overdue. Some time ago my brother called me at the office and asked me if I missed my mom and really, without a pause, then asked if I wanted her here, if it was a good time for me. Of course, when you're writing a thesis, it's either always a good time or never. I 'm glad he called. I'm glad she came.

Suddenly I started planning a two-week trip where I could show her as much of Costa Rica as I could without missing work but without boring her to death. I will copy/paste parts of a post I wrote for the CRL list, but without the details about prices and such. If you want that information, you can write me an e-mail.

"My dear brother surprised me about three weeks ago with a phone call. Somehow I get the feeling it was a combination of too many frequent flyer miles on his part and my mom commenting that she missed me. In any case, he called and said if you want her, she can be there in a week or so. For two weeks.
I have the Lonely Planet Costa Rica book, and I had a pretty good idea of what she "needed" to see.
Important information if you're still reading: My mom is 63 years old and not the most adventurous type.
On our first week (weekend, actually) we went to Punta Leona and Cataratas de La Paz. Both beautiful places.
I rented a car from Mapache Car Rental...very acceptable service. So, on Friday we left Alajuela around 10 am and got to the Jaco area in two hours, just because we were admiring the view and she wanted to take lots of pictures. I'd booked us a room at the Punta Leona hotel, just before Jaco. We got a double room, with breakfast, lunch and dinner included, and also the beach towels. The hotel is great, the food was not bad, the beach was beautiful. Not too crowded, just the right amount of people. It was a long weekend (this was on the weekend before July 30th) so they were full, but there was never a time when we thought there were too many people anywhere. Very enjoyable.
On our first day in the Punta Leona area we drove around, discovered a little restaurant (Steve & Lisa's) where we had a delicious lunch and after checking in at the hotel we showered, dressed up and went to have a drink at the Villa Caletas Hotel. I had found it in my Lonely Planet Book, where they mentioned that you could have a nice drink while watching the most amazing sunset on the Pacific side. They have an amphitheatre where they also have concerts on special occasions. It was really worth it! My mom took about 100 pictures as the sun changed colors. Truly amazing. Then we went back to the Punta Leona Hotel for dinner. They were serving Paella among other things. The most fun were the monkeys that climbed down from the trees and stole the napkins, salt and pepper shakers and anything that was not too heavy to take with them.
Since we had to check out at 12 on day 2, we got all our stuff ready and put it in the car so we could check out early. As we checked out, they said we could stay there for as long as we wanted on that day (as long as we never left, because they give you a little paper every time you want to leave the resort).
We then drove to the beach (Playa Blanca) after breakfast where we stayed until around 1 pm. We were able to shower at the beach facilities and then went to the buffet area to eat. After that, we visited some friends in the Playa Herradura area (we had a really enjoyable time) and drove back to Alajuela via the Cerro Aguacate. I think I might try some other route next time. Other than that, the weekend was a complete success.
Sunday morning we left Alajuela around 9 and after stopping everywhere mom wanted, for pictures and souvenirs, we got to La Paz Waterfalls Garden around 11. If you don't have time for visiting much in Costa Rica, La Paz is the place to see. You can visit the trout pool, aviary, butterfly area, hummingbirds, snakes and frogs, a little Tico house from the old times and THEN you can walk down to view 5 waterfalls. It's a good idea to bring a rain poncho, because it can get wet, especially during this time of year. After you've seen the last waterfall, you climb back a little and a shuttle will take you back to the park entrance. We got back home around 5 pm or so, so it's a full day adventure.On Tuesday we visited Sarchi. All kinds of nice tico (and Central American) souvenirs with mostly reasonable prices.
At some point during this week she cooked lots and lots of stuff so I could freeze it and have some of her cooking when she was gone. SOOOO delicious!

Second weekend: Arenal and Monteverde - WOW!
I did not rent a car for this after I heard the description of the road to Monteverde. We took a bus (Gray Line) at the Garden Court hotel in Alajuela across from the airport. Extremely pleasant ride, air conditioned mini buses with expert drivers. There's a stop at Limonal where you're offered a snack (juice or coffee with some pastry) courtesy of Gray Line. They will pick you up at your hotel and will take you to your hotel wherever you're going. They will also pick you up there for your next trip. Extremely convenient.
We left at around 9 am and reached Arenal around 12 or 12:30. Our hotel was the Arenal Paraiso. Beautiful little cabins with private bathroom and a little terrace with a view to the Arenal Volcano. The best part were the little hot spring pools. They had about 12 of them (plus 2 big ones and a normal pool with chlorine) but each hidden in all this vegetation. So you had the feeling of being all alone among the rocks and trees. She loved that. The hotel provides you with towels as well, so no need to carry those huge towels to lie on the chairs by the pool. We got to see the volcano without the clouds and even some lava at night.

Since our bus picked us up at 6:35 and breakfast was served at 6:30, they gave us our breakfast in boxes, so we got to snack on the way to Monteverde. In order to get there, we had to stop at Limonal, where all the other buses stop for about 30-40 minutes to refuel and exchange passengers. That's where we took the mini bus to Monteverde.

This deserves a new paragraph. The ride into Monteverde is EXTREMELY bumpy. Not only is it full of twists and turns, the road also goes up and down a lot but the worst part is that it's not paved! It's like someone poured sharp rocks on a semi-flat surface. So you feel like a Martini (either way) when you get to Monteverde. The view is amazing, though. The problem is, if the driver doesn't stop for you to take the pictures, you will most likely just have blurry pictures. Which is not so bad if you're into impressionist style. Our hotel is the last one before the entrance to the reserve. So, basically you walk less than a kilometer and you're in the reserve. Our hotel this time was the Trapp Family Lodge. Beautiful hotel. My mom liked this one best of all. The service was amazing, all meals were delicious, beds were HUGE, in summary, if Gray Line added a helicopter ride to its buses, I'd book there again immediately. As it is, I think I'll wait a while.

First night there, we took the Twilight Tour in the Cloud Forest. Not my mom's favorite because it started raining, it got dark, and she fell on her face (almost) after tripping over a root.
The next day we booked Selvatura for the canopy tour and the hanging bridges. I talked her into doing the canopy and now she thanks me. There's also a Tarzan swing with the canopy... it's kinda like a bungee cable that you hold on to and they attach it to your harness once you've climbed REALLY high. Then you jump into the emptiness. Pretty scary but lots of fun. Mom enjoyed that, too.
That day we came back to the hotel and all we wanted to do was shower and then eat and sleep. So we did just that.
The next day we were met by our two guides with an extra horse each. They took us from 11 am to 1 pm on a ride inside the Cloud Forest. Really amazing. We got back to the hotel, showered, had lunch, and waited for the mini bus to pick us up at 1:45. We made it to Alajuela around 7:00 pm."

Monday (the day before she left) we had plans to visit Cartago, where she could see the church and see the image of the miraculous black Virgin Mary. Unfortunately, we underestimated the "presas" (traffic jams) and only got to the other side of town (Tres Rios) in time for dinner with friends. She was ok with that because our friends gave her a little replica of the Virgin she wanted to see. And she loved that little detail. We also enjoyed ourselves at dinner that evening. And although we got lost in the middle of San Jose (I keep saying we, although I was the only one driving and making the decisions where to turn, etc) we got home safely. She packed that night so I could take her to the airport at 4 am the next day. YAWN!

I think she had a lot of fun here...and so did I!

Pura diversion!

June-September Update

It has been a REALLY long time since I last wrote...

In the meantime, I took a Sustainability Management course at INCAE (June), my brother sent my mom to visit me in July (lots of fun...more on that later), August and September were spent in a trance, frantically looking for the perfect model for my thesis, and planning the table of contents.

At some point in August I started 1. spinning sessions (for those of you who don't know what spinning is, it's really fast stationary cycling and most of the time without sitting down) 2. a slim fast/pop corn diet. This means I have a slim-fast shake (thanks to Cardy) as soon as I'm dressed, a cup of coffee and some whole wheat soda crackers around 9 at the office, 63 calories worth of dehydrated pineapple around 10, then eat all the salads and vegetables at the cafeteria plus whatever lean protein they have, and a bowl of fruit. When I come home I eat a whole bag of popcorn, drink lots of water, and if I'm hungry before bed, I like to eat a bowl of oatmeal with a little bit of milk. People have started noticing a change :) I have also started taking vitamins (One a Day, Women's) and I feel a change!

September was very sad because a family member passed away, so some of that time I just spent mourning...no energy for anything...so sad...

October started with a loud bang...the most unbelievable lightning hit my little house (and about 6 other houses near it). It fried my TV, cable modem, wireless router, study light...I hope that was all, haven't had time to check everything...my neighbors lost TVs and cable modems as well...one even lost a laptop in the storm...unbelievable! I really don't like this kind of weather, although thanks to the rain everything looks so bright and green...

As a consequence, I'm now glued to my desk...no more researching on the hammock, or chatting with the family while still in bed (God, I'm spoiled!). I have learned to not use the TV as an alarm clock, I am now able to fall asleep without watching TV (amazing how adaptable we are!), and I've discovered that I like it. All I do in order to relax before bed is watch a movie (I have many that I've collected but never watched) and I enjoy the luxury of being able to stop the movie whenever I feel like I'm too sleepy to go on, turn off the laptop and go to sleep. Amazing! :) One of the problems with this is that
1. I will go to sleep pretty early, which makes me wake up REALLY early (like 4:30 or 5 am, depending on what time I went to sleep, because my body can't handle more than 6 hours of sleep even on weekends, and it wakes up on its own).
2. Since I'm known for being a night owl, I WILL get phone calls in the "middle of the night" (which might be only 11 pm) and get scared to death thinking someone is calling me with more bad news.

So, now when the TV comes back (some genius technician will fix it for $30), it will be placed in the living room, where it should stay. I will go to bed at a decent time and not re-press the sleep button because the program I'm watching is too interesting. This almost sounds like New Year's resolutions towards the end of the year! :)

I'm also glad to report that I managed to buy (with the help of my nice new neighbor) three pairs of shoes size 10 (I swear I was convinced I'd never find shoes for me, ladies here wear dolls' shoes!): the pair for everyday office stuff, the weekend clogs and the nice shoes at Best Brands (SO thrilled they exist!) and contacts to replace my very worn old ones. I feel like a queen!

The above mentioned neighbor also has permission to drag me to spinning class (the bad thing is I don't go when she doesn't feel like going, she's the one with the car) and we also shop for groceries together. I also get to treat them to chupe and other gourmet Peruvian dishes when I've cooked too much. Glad they're here.

I'm glad we talked. I will try to be good and post more frequently. Please don't complain and threaten to quit reading my blog if I don't post regularly. I couldn't help it! I know it's not so much fun this way, lots of things get forgotten...I will do my best :)

Saturday, June 9, 2007

We have some catching up to do

This is wonderful! I know, I have to apologize, since I haven't posted for like another whole month, but I had no Internet at home, and, since the university is empty right now, there are no long hours for the library or even dinner...the two reasons why I could stay longer at the university. So I took many books out of the library, printed many articles and papers and brought them home. I know a lot more about world water supply than I ever thought I would!

I was in Lima for two weeks. I really hadn't planned it, the Peruvian Postal Services made me. When I left Germany, I packed 6 boxes: I sent two to Costa Rica and four to Peru, to my mom. The two Costa Rica boxes arrived without complications. For the four Peru boxes I received notices via my mom: It was illegal to import used clothes and shoes, my mom was not allowed to pick up the stuff...and the last straw: Unless I picked them up personally, they were going to incinerate my boxes!!! Mind you, everything that was in those boxes was carefully selected from all the stuff I had collected in my 4 years in Germany...so I was really angry!

At the same time, I received a message from this great website www.kayak.com, where they let me know that tickets San Jose - Lima were half price from May 8th until the 22nd...so I bought a ticket. This trip was really meant to be, since during those two weeks I was able to celebrate with my family: 4 birthdays - brother #2, brother #3, niece #7, and my own, plus Mother's day and the birth of my first nephew. Apart from all the abovementioned festivities, I was able to pick up some documents, necessary for my residency permit and I also renewed my driver's license. What this means is that I spent my mornings and many afternoons standing in line at the Peruvian National Bank, the Ministry of External Relations, Reniec, Lima Touring Club, Police Department, Police Headquarters, Medical Center, City Hall, etc. and some afternoons and evenings at birthdays parties or some other family celebration. Really busy, but I enjoyed myself. So, I can now rent a car in Costa Rica and drive anywhere I want! Yes!

No more excuses for not statying in touch now: I have wireless lan at home, which means I can be connected to the Internet and chat with family and friends even while I'm relaxing on the hammock or the sky chair. Of course it's also a big plus when I get inspired on the weekend and want to find information about water desalination via eolic reverse osmosis :) Now I don't have to wait until Monday!!!

I will be starting a course next week on sustainability management with emphasis on funding for power and water projects. I'm looking forward to it, since it will provide me with many contacts for my thesis. I'm really excited, although I will be out of touch for the next three weeks...I just got the course schedule: the organizers have planned our lives from 7 am to 10 pm, Monday through Sunday! Still, I'm looking forward to it...and I'm sure I will have plenty of pictures to publish on my next post. I think I will be writing again towards the end of June :)

Almost forgot to mention Paula doesn't live here anymore. Lili liked her too much...

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Long time no write...

I know, I disappeared and I apologize...it's been almost a month since I last posted, but I have a very good excuse. I was busy doing lots of things. First, I had to put a presentation together for a conference that's luckily over. I was under a lot of stress, because I had to read about 30 cases on Social Value Creation and try to somehow categorize them and rank them. That's next to impossible because there could be as many definitions as to what constitutes social value as there were cases for me to read. But I finally managed to somehow organize them in such a way that it ended up making sense. It also made sense to the professor I was doing this project with and also to the people in charge of the conference. So I'm proud of myself :)

Other things going on in my life: I will be researching deeper in the area of "water for the poor" from the consumer behavior point of view. So, I've been keeping myself busy reading all I can about the subject. And there is quite a bit.

I've also adopted a wild pet turtle who watches me exercise on my elliptical trainer. No, I didn't go to the pet shop and buy a turtle. A co-worker had bought it to instill some sense of responsibility in her two young boys. Hmmm...how can I put it? They lost the turtle. It ran away...whatever. When I was told this, I tried to imagine how long it took this tiny turtle to run away anywhere without anyone noticing it. When mom came back home, she noticed the empty aquarium and vowed that if they ever found the turtle again, they would give it to me.

Mind you, I had never said I needed a turtle...I just commented once that my brothers and I had lots of different pets growing up (four dogs, cats, a falcon, a goat, turtles, rabbits, canary birds, parrots, and I must be forgetting other kinds).

Anyway, one day I was working hard in my office and in comes this lady with a pool-like turtle aquarium, a bag of food and the tiniest turtle, whom I promptly named Paula. This is the reason: Here in Costa Rica there are giant turtles in Tortuguero and other parts of the country. These turtles are called Baulas. Since this one is so tiny she could never be a Baula, I named ber Paula. But she's wild! I realized after three weeks, that it was not the boys' fault that Paula ran away. She did that to me, too! Worse, because I had her on a high shelf...about 1.3 meters high...about the height of a tall six-year-old and she just jumped off!

I had no idea this was going on, because I had been invited to a party in San Jose and came back around 11 pm. I went to feed her and I couldn't find her in the aquarium...I looked everywhere and found her under my guest bed with her shell all dried up.

When I set her back in the water, she didn't move. After 10 minutes she started moving a little, then I fed her and everything went back to normal. But she doesn't have such a beautiful view anymore because she's on a lower, safer shelf now.

I have been asked this week to please adopt Lili, the neighbor's cat, for at least 2 months. I'm considering it, because Lili and I have shared a few tuna sandwiches. YUK! No, not like that. She came to me, meeowing loudly, so I gathered she was hungry, I opened a can of tuna, gave her half and made a tuna sandwich for me with the rest :) So, we've already bonded. The problem is, Lili likes shelves. And I don't know yet if she likes turtles...so, maybe Paula will be re-adopted by another co-worker who decided she'd also like to have a turtle watch her when she's exercising.

I'll keep you posted! :)

Thursday, April 5, 2007

My jungle :)

This is the view from my desk at home. So amazingly beautiful!

More later :)
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Thursday, March 22, 2007

SO busy...so, quiet

I had a busy week...an extremely quiet weekend...and again a very busy week, that's why I was so quiet.

I'm hoping to go rafting this weekend, but I don't know if I'm included in the final group (made up my mind in the last minute)...I'm still kinda apprehensive about it, but I think it'll be fun...so, we'll see...I'll keep you posted :)

Today is Ariana's birthday. She's my oldest niece and she's turned TEN! I cannot believe she's that old! Well beyond 1.50 m tall...She's celebrating with the dolphins today. Too bad I can't celebrate with her.

Happy Birthday, Ari Pollosa!

Monday, March 12, 2007

What a weekend!

What an amazing weekend! As already mentioned the plan was waterfalls on Saturday and canopying on Sunday. I was not prepared for having SO much fun! We left on Saturday around 10 am. In the rented car were Nellie from Belize (thanks for driving, Nellie!), Aneta from Poland, Paulina from Ecuador, and yours truly.

Left to right: me, Aneta, Nellie, Paulina

Before I continue, I have to say that it pays to take a small backpack wherever you go with a rain poncho or something similar, a warm jacket, and sandals if you’re wearing sneakers and vice-versa. It was really warm when we left Alajuela, but the closer we came to the waterfalls, the colder it got. Once we were there, it started raining, so, some of us got long-sleeved t-shirts, rain ponchos, t-shirts, etc. We spent a really long time in the souvenir shop as they were having a sale and we wanted to take advantage of it.

Also, they were offering free samples of Britt coffee beans dipped in chocolate, some banana chips with salsa dip and delicious coffee. Yum!

Drenched between the leaves

(It took us approximately an hour to get to the La Paz Waterfall Park. The view was amazing the whole way. And when we got there…What a place! I’ve already said pictures don’t show just how gorgeous everything is. Still, I took hundreds of them.)

The La Paz waterfall park is divided into areas such as Butterfly area, Hummingbird area, Snake area, and so on…then you get to the waterfalls, and a shuttle brings you back up. Except my extremely fitness-oriented companions decided to disorient the rest of the guests by taking the down-way up again (instead of the shuttle). It was great exercise, but we got some puzzled (and some angry) looks. Since I had the brilliant idea to wear my new trekking shoes for this occasion, I got blisters about half way to the waterfalls. Really great!

This is an artistic picture Paulina took of me almost under the waterfall...it looks kinda surreal, this is why I included it.

After walking for hours in the rain, we went to eat at a churrasqueria on the way back to Alajuela. It seems they’re famous for their baked bananas with cheese. And I can see why! Double Yum!

Getting up at 6 am Sunday morning was not fun at all. Most people (there were 150 of us) had partied all night and had just showered and changed clothes before getting on the bus, so it was a quiet ride. We took the same direction as the day before, but we stopped sooner. The place we went to is Las Colinas del Poas. I can highly recommend it for its extremely professional canopy tour as well as for the delicious lunch (fresh trout!).

The canopy tour was something I had been looking forward to doing ever since I found out I got the visa for Costa Rica. It was even fun getting all the gear from the Colinas guys…even the little tutorial was fun. I felt like I could handle it. Then we got on the first platform. Out of 15 people in our group (the first batch) three decided to drop out (as soon as they got the harness on the cable).

Getting hooked up to the harness

I kept going to the back of the line, because I could hear my heart, I was so scared …I could remember being this scared last January in Austria when I was supposed to throw myself down an icy hillside in the middle of the night no light except the moon and stars, on a sled track …on a tiny sled by myself (I had never been on a sled before!)…I figured if I did that, I can do this! Seems a lot safer! Plus, I’ve always finished everything I started…even bad movies and bad books, so I decided to go for it. It was FUN!!!

The only problem was that it had been raining, so the brakes (a leather thing on one of my gloves) did not brake as well as on dry days…this just meant I went faster and had to start braking sooner…still a lot of fun! I even used the brakes so soon, that I had to pull myself by hand (backwards) to one of the platforms for the last couple of meters.

I look like such an expert, don't I?

After all this physical activity, we were driven to San Jose, to a Cabaret. It was a fun show, we laughed a lot …although I really wanted to lie down, like the rest of the group…We finally got home at around 8pm. Shower, dinner and bed!

Like I said, AMAZING weekend!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Plans for the weekend, anyone?

I'm liking this a lot! Friday I have an appointment at the hairdresser's...you have no idea how terrible my hair looks, and I'm not posting any pictures of it until AFTER this weekend. Saturday, we're renting a car and we're driving to the waterfalls. I'm not driving (I left my driver's license at home)...I'll be the quiet passenger :) Sunday, I have been included in an outing (meant to be just for students) where we will go canopying!

I will be able to tell you all about it once I've been there. All I know is that they put you in some kind of harness and let you fly from tree to tree attached to cables...something like Tarzan on a leash! :)

In the meantime, I'm putting together the theoretical framework for my dissertation. There has to be some balance in my life...and this weekend sounds like a lot of fun!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

What I'm doing in Costa Rica and how I got here...

I was in Germany, about to get a semester off in order to be able to write my dissertation when the German university I had been doing my PhD with got a visitor. Since I speak Spanish, I was asked to take him on a little city tour. So, I did. He was the dean of an important Latin American university we had an exchange agreement with. I guess out of politeness, he asked during our tour what my dissertation was on and when I told him he got really excited. He said his university had all the experts on the subject, and I should consider finishing my dissertation there.

By the way, my dissertation is (loosely) about consumer behavior in poor countries.

All I remembered about this university was what my boss had told me: it's in the middle of the jungle and it costs $40 to get in and out of there by taxi (and there's no other way). So I politely said thank you (but was not really considering it). A little bit later, one of the exchange students we had from that school came into my office and I told her her school had invited me...and she got really excited and said: And you're going, right? And I said, no, unfortunately I don't have that kind of budget ($40 each way is a lot anywhere in this world!). She explained to me that it was not like that...that it's a lot cheaper to get out...that it's an opportunity I shouldn't miss...etc. She also said I would probably get a lot of support from the university because they were extremely student-oriented and that research was extremely encouraged. I'm not saying I didn't get this kind of support in Germany, but after that conversation, I started researching this university and discovered that she was right! I shouldn't pass up this opportunity...they really have the experts here! Wrapping up my story: I called the dean (it was really hard to find him as he's an extremely busy person) and told him I'd like to finish my dissertation here...could I do it. Well, he said yes, and here I am :)

And I soon discovered that everything else she said was true! It's a great place to work...if you've been reading my previous posts you already know how easy everything is over here, how beautiful, if I didn't have these two jobs to do (school project and dissertation) I'd feel like I was on permanent vacation!

Right now I'm working mornings for the school (otherwise I couldn't pay my rent and food) and I work on my dissertation in the afternoon, which is great because I can leave everything there, have dinner, and go back until 9:45 pm, which is when the library closes. I have to say, in that respect we had more support at the German school...library never closes there! I have reserved a corner in the library and spend there all afternoons and evenings. They're such a helpful bunch there (it makes up for the lack of long hours, plus, I don't think I'd like to spend the nights there), I really hope I can stay until I'm all done!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Ants and lizards and frogs, oh my!

Ok, I'm in the tropics, and I should expect a few of these critters every once in a while...but I was not prepared for some of them showing up on my BED in the middle of the night!

I had been talking to the maintenance department, saying that there were ants in my kitchen and bathroom, that I knew that there was a family of lizards living in my bedroom wall, and that I always discovered BIG spiders whenever I moved the furniture in the house (a gene I inherited from my mom...my dad once told her: Honey, next time you do this, please call me at the office, and let me know, just in case I have to come in through the window instead of the door -- this, after he came back after dark, and without turning on the light in the living room decided to go to the terrace and ended up on his bu ..uh behind with a strong pain on his leg...he'd bumped into a table that shouldn't have been there).

these ants are actually fun to watch, at first sight they look like a parade of leaves! I think they're cute...must be because I always encounter them on my favorite bridge FAR away from my house

So, they came and sprayed my house on Tuesday. I almost choked when I came back (I had the feeling someone would find me on my back like the cockroaches in Raid commercials when they came to clean the next day), the smell was unbearable...I expected to see dead ants and spiders everywhere, but only found three dead lizards...poor things! I was considering sleeping in the hammock, but it was too cold, so I slept in the living room with all windows open.

this lizard kinda looks like the ones that died at my house

On Thursday another team came (the exterminator type with this can type equipment...) ...Thursday evening I was getting ready to sleep around midnight (I'd just turned off the light after reading) when something crawled over my face. So I took the critter with my fingers, squeezed it and tried to sleep when another one crawled on my eyelashes...so I turned on the light and discovered HUNDREDS of these disgusting ants with wings on my bed!!! I guess they didn't like the exterminator stuff and decided it was cozier on my bed? Anyway, I spent the next two hours spraying them with some grease cutting spray I bought for the kitchen...

so-called urban termites

Needless to say I was extremely grumpy the next morning...went to maintenance, complained...so they're spraying my house again today...

About frogs, no, I didn't forget them. Last night as I was returning home, I thought I saw an extra stone by my terrace...so I came closer...and it moved...jumped, and jumped and then disappeared in the bushes!!! It was a HUGE frog...I'd never seen such an enormous kind!!! I guess I'd be scared if I saw one of those inside my house...just because it was so unexpected...but I really found it extremely cute :)

my frog was cuter, this one looks a little mean

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tico kindness...

I shouldn't be surprised, but I am...every day and in every single situation Costa Rican people show amazing kindness... Apart from poor Ana (my victim), the dean's secretary, who always patiently answers my questions and helps me with any request I might have, wherever I go, there's another person to remind me people in this country are extraodinarily helpful.

For example, I just ask at the library how do I get to town, and instead of telling me where the next bus stop is, the lady calls her friends (many of them) one by one and asks them if they'll be going to town soon, could they take me (a stranger) with them. So on that particular day I was looking for sheets and needed to know where this department store was. The lady who ended up giving me a ride (who had said she was NOT going to town, because she lives in the opposite direction - she could only take me to the bus stop) decided she'd drive me to the store, so I wouldn't get lost.

At the store I noticed I had a blister on my foot, and, what's worse, it had burst, so I had an open wound and the shoe kept rubbing on that spot...so I was limping a little bit as I selected my sheets...so the lady at the store asks what's wrong, I tell her and she goes and brings me a band-aid!!!

Another day, at the library, I couldn't find a book that the system said was there somewhere. Everyone looked and found nothing...so I just sat in one of the cubicles and read something else...an HOUR later comes the librarian with the book...she had been looking all that time!

Another day I said I needed to buy a blender and the lady (who was originally just going to the farmer's market) said she knew exactly where, arranged for transportation with her friends and then decided she'd go with me to show me the first time, and then I should also go to the farmer's market...this proved to be the best decision ever since, at this market I found THE HAMMOCK!!!

It's perfect, I think it must be at least Queen sized...perfect color, simply wonderful! And for less than half the price everyone had been telling me I would have to pay for it.

SO, I'm very happy here...nothing to complain about (except perhaps about ants, but that's another story).

Friday, February 23, 2007

Pressure...and relaxation (almost)

I managed to get to the blog before Monday next week! Amazing! I guess I ate too fast today...

I have been looking for information that is a little bit hard to find...I spend long afternoons in the library and very thoroughly check all sources. So far, I have managed to gather some information that I've forwarded to the professor here in Costa Rica...so far, no feedback, so I keep looking...
I did say, as a child, that I wanted to be a librarian...I think I spend as much time reading as the librarian himself

Somehow, with the last minute stress of the ski seminar minus power cable (it seems so far away now, and it was only, what...two or three weeks ago...) and the long trip, I managed to forget to send an important paper to Germany. So guess how I'll spend this weekend! I was supposed to make some changes during the ski seminar (we know why I couldn't do it) and then forward it before coming to Costa Rica. Somehow I managed to block it out of my mind and only remembered the professor in Germany saying that I should get in touch with him in March, once I got my bearings here...until I got an e-mail reminding me...oh well...
My faithful companions (laptop and Ipod)

Luckily, I have a semi-nice hammock now. So I can almost relax there and read. Why almost? Well, every single hammock I've ever known was a double...but I didn't know this until I bought mine without opening it...when I came home after work I tested it (the nice maintenance guys did a great job)...the problem was that it was not the kind of hammock you wrap around yourself when you want to sleep, but a very (extremely, to my taste) narrow one where I'm afraid I'll fall off if I fall asleep. So, I'm still looking for a hammock that's nice and wide (like a double or a family one) and if possible, made out of cotton and not of woven rope or string...So, wish me luck...so far I've been told they're hard to find, but I'm very persistent, and I intend to take it with me when I leave, so it needs to be a nice one.

I'm also enjoying the food at this cafeteria...no offense to the German Mensa, but this is delicious healthy food, with your fast food option, as well. And they have a book where you can write your comments. Some comments are really funny: "Why don't you offer the lunch food in the evening and vice-versa?" "It's really boring to wait in line for my food" Of course, people will always complain, but there is a great variety of dishes (all variations of chicken, fish or beef), always fresh vegetables for salads, and when vegetables are served with the meat, they're always al dente...never overcooked, which makes them really appetizing. Most days you have rice and beans in addition to all the rest. If you're into soups, you can have one as well, two kinds of fruit juices and water, dinner rolls, and for dessert your choice of fresh fruit or some cake or pie...
Recently they introduced at a separate table a sandwich (with chips) option, a gourmet salad option and a fresh fruit (with milk or yogurt and cereal) option. So, I think that book should be filled with compliments instead of complaints...I don't think I ever had so much variety for so little money!

Ok, my lunch hour is over, so I will have to report back another day...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


So now I'm used to everything...I have my routine, and I like it...So far I haven't needed to use and alarm clock...I wake up at 5 or 6 depending on how late I go to bed. I take about an hour and a half to shower, make my bed, make breakfast, iron my clothes, put everything in its place, do my hair (if I don't blow dry it, I look like a lion with a bad hair day in this weather!) and then I slowly start walking to work singing to the music stored in my shuffle Ipod (sometimes nice things happen to nice people...I got my Ipod because I helped two people open an account at a German bank...and it arrived just in time for my move to Costa Rica...kinda like a going away present from Germany - now we're inseparable!).

It's amazing how every day I find something beautiful to enjoy on the way to work. I will try to reduce the size of the pictures I've taken so I can post a few. I take a couple every day. Like I said before, everything here is green and very much alive. But as alive as everything is, luckily, I haven't had any more visitors of the insect persuasion in the last few days...and that's just the way it should be!

I just love this bridge!

I guess I learned to appreciate sunny weather during my time in Germany...Luciana, an Argentinian friend, had remarked we never even considered the weather as a conversation topic when we were in our own countries...we took it for granted...and it was mostly good! While in Germany, we would sometimes just talk on the phone excitedly about how great the weather forecast for the weekend sounded...we should plan something to celebrate! Well, I guess I'll have to celebrate every day here :)

The library (my home away from home)

Apart from my routine, working in an air conditioned office and then going to the library before joining all the students at the cafeteria in order to enjoy the delicious meals these people prepare every day...and then walking up the hill when I'm ready to go home, I've done a few exciting things. I guess exciting because they're new...I imagine at some point they could become routine, like the 3.5 hour train ride from Leipzig to Frankfurt...

The bridge on the way to school

Another part of my everyday life is asking questions to poor Ana. She's my guardian angel. If there's anything I don't understand, if I have a problem, if I need anything, I can always count on Ana. Of course, even though we speak the same language, sometimes we don't understand each other as we should. An example: One day I was telling her that no matter how many times I wiped the kitchen counter, the little ants would always reappear. I told her, this morning I even found seven ants who drowned in my coffee...and her answer was "Que torta!" meaning, I think, "What a bother!"...but I understood "Que tonta!" (what an idiot!) and I thought "but it wasn't my fault...and we're not even that close for her to be calling me names on my second day here...plus Ticos are supposed to be so nice and friendly!" this luckily clarified itself later when she repeated the expression...

On Saturday I went to San Jose for the first time. First, we took a taxi to Alajuela (about 5 USD) and got on the bus...the DIRECTO to San Jose. In total, and until we reached the Multiplaza Mall it took us 1 hour (one taxi and two buses). Of course, I was looking out of the window the whole time, paying attention to every detail. These are the times when I wish I had a video camera, because pictures just don't do justice to some beautiful things. After maybe 40 minutes we reached downtown San Jose, walked for a while and got on the second bus, that took us to Escazu, where the mall is. Bus tickets are amazingly cheap...a little over 50 US cents each way. Once you're inside the mall it's just like you're in the US, or Peru, or Germany...the same stores, but VERY different prices! :) I'm proud to say I did not succumb to temptation...I bought nothing there. Well, except for a day-runner, lunch and ice cream, but that doesn't count...I needed those things. They were on my list! :)

On the way back, Paulina (who had asked me to come with her so I could see how easy it was to get to San Jose) was nice enough to help me find a used books bookstore in Alajuela. So, we walked and walked until we found it. One of the funniest things in Costa Rica is the fact that addresses are not like the ones I'm used to...Nobody lives in Olive Tree Street 425 or Avenue John Smith 1298...addresses are more like: 200 meters north and 400 meters west of where the Old Coca Cola plant used to be. You can see how, if I just arrived here and I have no idea where the Old Coca Cola plant used to be, I can get easily lost in this country...never mind that I speak the language or that people are extremely helpful. In any case, we got there. Amazing! You'd never think it from looking at it from the outside, but this bookstore has around 9000 used books on all kinds of subjects. For a person like me, it's total paradise. So, what I didn't spend at the mall, I spent here. A book I really wanted to buy at the Multiplaza...just a simple paperback cost around 14 USD...I picked four used books here and paid exactly that! I went home with a big smile on my face! Another reason to smile: on the way back, we stopped at a little store on the side of the road and finally bought my hammock (and six pineapples)! The maintenance crew are supposed to be setting everything up as I'm writing this, so, I think I will enjoy an hour on the hammock this evening (with a cup of fresh pineapple - I know, life is tough!).

On Sunday there was a Mini World Cup soccer game at the University and some students were selling grilled steaks, beans and tortillas in order to raise money for their trip at the end of the program. So, as much as I "love" soccer, I joined them just to meet some people. It was a lot of fun! Afterwards I discovered my new hideout: There's a place up on the hill with a very powerful router where the wireless signal is always between "Excellent" and "Very Good"...it's supposed to be a place where people play billiards, ping-pong or watch tv. Absolutely no windows, I mean no glass...it has big openings...so the breeze just blows into the building. Hopefully every weekend it will be just as quiet as it was on Sunday. Everyone went home after the event, and I managed to talk to my family on the Internet phone...for HOURS!!! Forgot to mention, why this is so good: my neighbor's wireless signal is extremely weak ("Very Low" to "No Signal"), so, once I go home, I'm disconnected from the world, as I haven't got a TV set in there either. Friends and family are extremely encouraged to call...my home phone DOES work, you know!

Monday, February 12, 2007

My first days in Costa Rica

I arrived last Tuesday and hadn’t had the chance to update the blog…too much going on…

I did send all those boxes on Monday, but unfortunately was not able to visit my boss' wife in the hospital...my backpack decided to explode on me, so I freaked. I still called her and we talked for a while. My amazing boss fixed dinner and took me to the train station... AT MIDNIGHT!

At some point I realized this was going to be the last time I saw Leipzig...at least for a while, so I was a little sad...but I think the feeling of uncertainty of what was expecting me in the next couple of days somewhat diluted this feeling...

Although everything was planned in such a way that I would sleep on the train...I couldn't...so I arrived in Frankfurt slightly grumpy...the best part of this trip was that I was travelling on a Tuesday, so I got three seats for myself on each flight...this makes a great difference, since, although I couldn't sleep, I spent all this time with my legs stretched out, reading, watching films and enjoying how the Delta flight attendants try to spoil their passengers...

So I travelled for almost 30 hours (didn't fly that long, but travel time was that much between waiting, standing in line, etc.) and didn't sleep a wink! Luckily, the lady I had arranged housing with was waiting for me at the airport. So this part was the easiest one.

I managed to fall asleep around midnight and woke up at 4 am (my alarm clock had somehow reset itself for both time and alarm and it thought it was midnight!!!)...

Wednesday: Had an appointment at the University with the Professor I’ll be working for…really interesting talk…and now he’s left and I have to prepare some material for him. Had lunch with a former exchange student who let me have some food tickets and then went to the library in order to wait for my next meeting at 3 pm. Awful! I was falling asleep at the computer (I had only had four hours’ sleep, after 30 hours of being awake) and was afraid someone would find me under the table after I’d missed my appointments…so I gathered all my belongings and headed for the main building…I had a couple more meetings and a tour of the library, after which I decided I needed to go back and rest. Got the taxi driver’s number out and very boldly asked a person at the library to please call. Luckily everyone in Costa Rica does everything “con mucho gusto” (with great pleasure) :)

Thursday: I tried to experiment with public transportation (since I’m not on the kind of salary that would allow me to come to work by taxi…not even in Latin America). I waited at the apartments’ gate…finally a bus showed up. I didn’t have the correct change…he let me in anyway. The bus left me at almost a kilometer from the university security gate…this road has no sidewalks and people drive really fast almost not expecting to see pedestrians…so there I was, jumping on the bushes on the sides of the road every time I heard a car. Not good. It was also not good that I’d had a late start, which meant it was almost noon by then, the sun really high and me walking around with my backpack and hurt foot…Not good at all. I reached the gate and realized why I had been told there was no way I could ride my bike like I used to in Germany: The guards’ gate is at the top of a hill, with the university at the very bottom…which means, you might be able to ride your bike down the hill (if you're suicidal) but on the way back up you wouldn’t only have to push yourself up, but also your bike…
Campus housing
The view was gorgeous…it looked like I was entering some kind of resort. By the time I reached the offices it was time for lunch. I ate and then went to the dean’s secretary’s office: she’d written me an e-mail that I now had a cubicle as well as a telephone, computer and a new e-mail address. Amazing…I almost felt like a real person…except for the lack of sleep, everything was ok :) They also told me they had found a house on campus for me, and gave me the key. I came up to explore (of course it had to be the first one at the top of the hill where the guards are…I think I will lose weight here, whether I want it or not)…walked (or climbed, rather) for approximately 20-25 minutes. Really nice place, with a terrace where you could feel a nice breeze…the only things missing: a hammock and Internet. I hope not for long…

Friday: At some point during the night I must have made up my mind that I wanted to live on campus…so I called a taxi and moved all my stuff around 9 am, since I had a lunch appointment with one of the experts at the university. By 11:30 I had already organized the closet (it’s wonderful!) and was ready to meet this lady. Great conversation…also some insights for my thesis…Friday afternoon: I had to hurry and get a bunch of things done before everyone left for the weekend…I also arranged for someone to pick me up on Saturday morning to take me to Megasuper (big supermarket) were I would buy an iron, among other things. Met a few students at dinner one of whom told me that my neighbor had Internet and was willing to share (for a fee, of course). I had my first visitor: A big spider had decided to have a comfy sleep on my bedspread…I have to admit it startled me…but it was faster than me, so I don’t know where it went…hopefully far, far away…

Saturday: Went shopping until around noon, bought an amazing amount of fruit for a very small price. Also dishes, condiments, clothes hangers…everything you take for granted when you’ve been living somewhere for a long while… Spent the rest of the day rearranging the furniture in the house. Made a couple of friends in the process: a salamander and another spider had made their home under the dining room table, the salamander ran away (into the bedroom wall, I later noticed) and the spider is still trapped under a cup in the study…don’t know what to do with it. Moved the living room to the terrace and the desk to the living room. Now the study place is empty in case someone (human) decided to visit…I hope I can get a bed from the housing department. One thing about these houses on campus: Someone comes in Monday through Saturday and cleans the place, changes towels, throws away the garbage, washes dishes, fills the water pitcher in the fridge with fresh water, changes sheets once a week…they would probably make my bed if I let them…Maybe one of these days I will :)
View from my terrace

Sunday: Spent the whole day reading in my new outdoors living room. Also, tested the Tchibo pineapple cutter. AMAZING! You just cut off the top of the pineapple, insert this gadget and turn and turn until it stops. You pull the instrument out of the pineapple skin and you have a spiral of delicious pineapple with no pineapple eyes or core. Simply amazing! I think I’ll be eating a lot of pineapple here, since one of my biggest problems with said fruit was the hard work involved from the moment you bring the whole fruit home until you can actually eat it. Great invention!
My outdoors terrace
So now it’s Monday morning (5 am)…I had hoped to have conquered jetlag, but no such luck. I went to sleep at 9 pm last night and promptly woke up at 3 am. My usual 6 hours. Grrrr! Well, I hope things will change this week. One great thing: It will not affect my work since I can still work my normal hours and still crash at 9 pm :)The bridge on the way home

Sunday, February 4, 2007

A very productive weekend...

As planned, I managed to buy everything on my list...and, surprise, surprise, a little bit more...I also had my hair cut short...I figured, as long as I can pull it up in a ponytail, it will work.

Now all my suitcases are full...and weighed...all filled to the limit allowed...Hopefully my scales coincide with those at the airport, or I will have a problem.

I achieved a lot today as well...I had to get rid of a lot of paper (I swear it reproduces when you're not looking)...

So, tomorrow early...as early as the post office opens, I will be shipping those boxes...that's how my day will start...then I will just go through my last minute list until I meet with the office crew for a last coffee and cake (Kaffee und Kuchen), then I will try to visit my boss' wife in the hospital...she's so nice I could never leave Germany without saying goodbye to her... I think after having done that I'll be able to relax a little...

More later...

Friday, February 2, 2007

The presentation :) and the ride back to Leipzig

Before the presentation, Thursday night at dinner I told my colleagues that a big part of my presentation would be about my Table of Contents for the thesis...why I don't understand is why everyone promptly ordered a coffee to go...some even two :)

Ok, so I presented...got a lot of feedback...now I have to start writing! :) (the reasons I will be doing this in Costa Rica will be on another post).

After the presentation (around 11 pm) I managed to successfully disappear and SLEEP for seven whole hours! (although I knew that people were meeting at the bar for some drinks...but with all the forgotten-cable stress, lack of sleep in the previous nights, etc, etc. etc, I decided it would be a lot better if I just slept). Of course some people made a few remarks at breakfast about my disappearing act the night before...nice of them to notice :) Here is Lars telling us we're taking too long at the breakfast table.

I don't know if I even mentioned this but I have been attending these ski seminars for the last three years without knowing how to ski :) Until this year, there had been enough non-skiers to make it interesting and fun...this year none of my non-skiing partners were attending...so, for the first day it was ok (since I had to work on the presentation, anyway), but for the next day I was already planning to visit the nearby towns by myself, when Evelyn announced that she had taken so many falls the day before, she'd take it easy for a day. Lucky me, since she and her boyfriend have a car...we went to visit a nice castle and a nearby town (I will check the pictures later to see if any of them deserves posting).

Once we got back, I spent the rest of the afternoon in a very cosy sitting room in front of a fire with Nicola's computer, since I was so stressed with the upcoming train ride (stressed because I had no idea how I'd make it to the train station in the middle of the snow or where it was...plus I always get a little stressed when I travel) I decided not to do anything else.

Around 6:00 pm or so the other seminar participants arrived. LOTS of familiar faces...great to see them...at some point I realized it would probably be the last time I'd ever see many of them. I even had a sad moment :(

Then we had dinner...I was a little calmer because the AMAZING staff from the Schillingshof Hotel in Bad Kohlgrub offered to drive me to the station...so all I had to do was have dinner, say my goodbyes and get in the van.

Since I had no train ticket (as my decision to leave early was a spontaneous one) I decided to be at the station half an hour earlier than departure time so I could buy a ticket and a reservation for the night train (including the "extremely" comfortable easy chair where I was planning to spend the night)...once I got to the tiny station, I realized that I'd hurried for nothing...there was only one person at the station: the one in charge of switching the tracks for the trains...but nobody I could buy a ticket from...there was a machine where I could buy tickets, but only for the region...not to Leipzig...So I just got a ticket to Munich (about an hour and a half away) and hoped that I'd have enough time once I got there to get the ticket and reservation...if not, I'd buy them on the train...

The station in Munich is just what I'm used to (big city main station)...so it was very uncomplicated to buy the necessary tickets. I found my train and my reserved easy chair without problems, and started reading and listening to music...everything was fine until we reached Nuremberg around midnight...apparently Nuremberg had beat Munich in some football game, and, although the game had been over for a few hours, there were still people celebrating on the platforms drinking beer, singing loudly...everything fans do when their teams win. What I wasn't counting on was that some of these fans were planning to go to Leipzig. What's worse: on the easy chairs adjacent to mine...YUCK! Between the smell of alcohol and their NON-STOP chatter I thought I'd scream...no, I didn't because I must have fallen asleep out of desperation...well, I did sleep until the ticket lady came by and told them they had to pay 119 euros each because they had no ticket or reservation...(how happy do you think I was I got my tickets at the station...for 45 euros?) In any case, these people complained, yelled at the poor woman (I was really hoping she'd kick them out, but she didn't), but in the end, they paid for their tickets...By the time they were done yelling and screaming I think my nose had gotten used to the smell of alcohol and THEY had gotten so tired, so silence reigned until we reached Leipzig around 5 am.

I was SO happy to get home! Since I was supposed to turn in the key for this apartment on the 31st, and the only reason there's still furniture in here is because the guys who took over the apartment took over the furniture as well, I had a bed and sheets (but no comforter, which, I think, accounts for the fact that I slept just a couple of hours and started writing on this very long post...it's pretty cold without a comforter in Leipzig!).

So the plan for today is go downtown and pick up contact lenses (that should have arrived two weeks ago, and didn't...yes, this happens in Germany, too)...maybe get a decent outfit that I can wear for my first appointment at the university SEVEN hours after I've arrived in Costa Rica (I hope I'll be awake after 29 hours of travelling) and get everyting organized so I won't be so stressed on Monday before I leave (I know, that's wishful thinking, given my life history, but I can dream)...

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The ride to the seminar...and the presentation

What a mess! The only good thing is that I don't have to give up my apartment until Monday...so I get to relax a little there before the big trip.

I was supposed to meet a colleague and her boyfriend (thanks Kathrin and Steffen) at 5:22 pm in Riesa yesterday, about half an hour from Leipzig so they could drive me to Bavaria...so I hurried up and packed (too much, as usual) but forgot an extremely important thing: the power cable for my laptop. I realized this as the train was leaving Leipzig (in fact, the second the doors beeped and closed).

So I was in a funk the whole 6 plus hours to Bad Kohlgrub, Bavaria. Luckily I happen to work with extremely helpful people so by the time I got here I already had not one laptop offer, but two. You see, in all the preparations to give up my apartment, I had not yet finished my Powerpoint presentation...I had decided to do it today from 10 to 5 :) So I really had a big problem...but not anymore. Thanks, Evelyn and Nicola! (that's Evelyn on the left trying to take a bite off the chili Nicola (right) picked up at the buffet)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

'Twas the night before the ski seminar and all through the house...

So here I am, starting a Blog in the most unlikely of moments: I'm surrounded by suitcases and boxes waiting to be taped shut...I'm supposed to vacate this apartment in about 20 hours, and have to sleep at least 4 of those...

At 4 pm tomorrow I leave by train to my last seminar while being a PhD canditate...I will reach the hotel around midnight...

I've had to pack 4 suitcases: Two with all the summer stuff to take to Costa Rica, plus one that's supposed to be hand luggage, but Delta allows as much weight in hand luggage as Lufthansa in check-in luggage...and the last one is the one with the heavy-duty winter stuff that I'm taking to the ski seminar (this one will be shipped home later). The seminar is planned from Wednesday to Sunday...and I'm so stressed!!!

When I get back to Leipzig, I hope I can sleep a few hours, do all the last minute stuff on Monday, and be on time on the platform in order to catch my train to Frankfurt at nearly midnight, February 6th.

Lucklily I managed to get a bed on this train, so, if all goes well, I will be sleeping until I reach Frankfurt Airport at 7 am. I'll check in at 8, and the plane will leave at 11. I really hope to be able to sleep on the plane, although, knowing me, I doubt that I will... I will be arriving in Atlanta 10 hours later, and with a 4 hour layover I will be taking my plane to San Jose, Costa Rica, to arrive at around 10 pm. I did the math...I will be travelling for around 29 hours (a lot better than the time I chose to fly from Lima to London via Moscow, but that's a completely other story) :)

I hope to be picked up at the airport by the people I will be renting from...I hope I will sleep all day Wednesday (I know, it sounds as though I'm obsessed with sleeping...or like I sleep a lot -- not true...I always have the feeling I should sleep more than the 5 hours I always end up sleeping and I really and truly DO envy people who can sleep until 11 am without getting to bed at 6 or 7 after a party). I hope everything will go as planned...

And now, I have to go back to my boxes...

I will try to post from the hotel where the seminar is being held...I haven't even talked about my Powerpoint presentation...