Sunday, February 26, 2012

Costa Rica 1: Santa Cruz

When I first thought about going on a trip after my senior year at BYU, I really wanted to do something meaningful. I thought about taking 6 months off of life and doing service in Nepal. I figured there had to be some way I could see the world and make a difference in it at the same time. What I didn't realize about traveling is that the world changes ME. 

I decided to go to Costa Rica on a whim. I had a friend who has served a mission there for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and said January was the perfect time of year. Plus, it's easy to travel and fairly safe. Since I decided not to travel with a group, those were the things I had to consider. So I grabbed my friend Rachel and we backpacked through this beautiful country. Of course it was great to relax on the beaches and play in the lush tropics of Central America, but that's not what I took away from Costa Rica. When you really dig deep into a country (which we really couldn't do, we could only just skim the surface), you start to see things through new eyes. Along the way we had the chance to meet people from all over the world. My biggest regret is that I don't have very many pictures of them! But I had some of the best experiences because of the individuals we met along the way.

There is a lot of world out there, but it would be nothing if we didn't live in it. I got a tiny drop of travel to wet my tongue. And now my thirst is raging! But for now I will let the happiness of this trip soak into my sun-kissed skin (that's right, I got a tan in the middle of winter!) 

I have too many pictures to put in one post, so I have separated it into 7 chapters. I'll try to do one a day for a week and see if I can't overwhelm the heck out of you. I'll do a little explaining along the way, but mostly the pictures do the best talking. Enjoy the journey!

We flew into Liberia and took a little rickity bus for 2 hours to our first landing place. Tamarindo and Santa Cruz!

We stayed our first night with the Branch President of the Santa Cruz ward. He lived far away from any restaurants, so we had to get a taxi to go to the grocery store. This was our first meal: bread, jam, chips, salsa, ramen soup, cookies, and apples (for good measure).

On Sunday we had the chance to go to church with President Sancho and his adorable family. I am so sad that we did not get any pictures of the family, the branch members, or even the church! But we are so grateful for their kindness and hospitality. They welcomed us like family even though we could barely understand each other.

After church, we were lucky enough to experience the week-long festival held in Santa Cruz each year. It is called the Fiesta de Alajuelita and they honor a patron saint, "Santo Cristo de Esquipulas," with bull fights, music, parades, parties and - of course - alcohol. 

We stopped by to check out the bull fights. We didn't want to pay, so we followed the rest of the Ticos (the nickname of the native Costa Ricans) and watched from under the stadium behind the wood fence. The bull fights are great! Basically what happens is a bunch of daredevil Ticos (and some white guys as you can see below) run around taunting bulls just to see if the bull will rip off their heads. Some of these guys get lucky (and you'd be surprised at their version of lucky). 

Eventually a Tico "offered" me a seat on top of the wood fence and I was able to get these great videos. In the first video you see some Ticos getting mauled by the bull. In the second video you see some cowboys ropin' the bull in. And in the third video you see the bull rush me! I wasn't even on the ground but I was afraid for my life! Luckily I lived to tell the tale.

We had a great time in Santa Cruz with parties and street life galore. We even saw our first "muhombre" (mujer+hombre... or basically a Tico cross-dresser), but I'll save you from that image. And just to save you some embarrassment, that is not a native spanish term. So don't go around Costa Rica asking people about muhombres!! I'd get in big "do-do." ...The bull fights were definitely the highlight anyway. 

After we finished out stay in Santa Cruz, we decided it was time to head to the Beach. Since we wanted to do things the cheap way, public buses were our mode of travel. We knew we had a long trip ahead of us, so we opted to stay one night on the beach in Tamarindo - about 5 km away from the Branch Presidents house. We had our first plate of Cassado (traditional Costa Rica dish) and got our very first sunburns!

Chicken, beans, rice, salad and PLATANOS! Our favorite :) I think half of the meals we ate in Costa Rica were some version of cassado. But hey, who doesn't want a well rounded meal for breakfast lunch and dinner!?

We didn't stay in Tamarindo long because we knew we had other beaches to attend to. Luckily we were able to come back to Tamarindo in the end, but that is another part of the journey. So off to Nosara we go!

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