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! :)

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)