Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A well-deserved break...

¡ Feliz Navidad! y ¡Próspero Año Nuevo! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!) Okay, so I’m a little late getting this blog out, but hey, I’ve been on a much-needed vacation for the past three weeks! (my only one in the past year) I’ll give you a little rundown of where I went and what I did.

I spent Christmas in Costa Rica with two friends who traveled from Sweden to visit. It was a little weird celebrating my first Christmas without snow, but it was nice to be on the beach on Christmas Day.

Although Costa Rica neighbors Nicaragua, sharing the same flora, fauna, climate and many of the same foods; there are some immense differences between the countries. Costa Rica is a much more politically neutral country than Nicaragua - they have no army and their main economic focus seems to be tourism (along with coffee and electronics exports). When I crossed over the border into Costa Rica by bus (it took eight hours total), I could almost instantly notice a difference. There was no trash littered on the sides of the road, and trees and plants were greener and healthier-looking. You could tell that Costa Rica takes care of their nature - they seemed to have a national park or wildlife reserve every few miles and you saw little exploitation of the land (in comparison to Nicaragua of course).

What you did see though was a lot of tourists – approximately 2 million tourists come to the country every year. From the moment we stepped foot into the capital of San José, to the beaches of the pacific, we were just a few more faces in crowds of countless Germans, Scandinavians, Australians, Canadians, Americans… But, tourists = money = development, and you saw that Costa Ricans had a much higher standard of living. Many Nicaraguans cross the border to come work in Costa Rica at low-paying jobs, and they send money back home, often to children and spouses they’ve left behind. Many people equate the relationship between Nicaragua and Costa Rica to that between Mexico and the United States.

I did enjoy Costa Rica – it was nice to see a place where the land was cared for and things like “customer service” weren’t just an afterthought. It was also great reuniting with my Swedish friend Mia who I hadn’t seen for over two years! We did a zip line canopy tour in the Cloud Forest, hung out at the beach, and even saw a leatherback sea turtle! On Christmas Eve enjoying a tropical drink :)

After Christmas, I headed from Costa Rica to Alaska. What a trip that was! I split it up into two days, so I wasn’t too jet-lagged. It was very nice to be able to see my family (including a new niece!) and friends again for New Years.

Alaska was as beautiful as ever, and I even go to see some snow! Being home, I relished in the little luxuries that I had always taken for granted before: hot water, potable tap water, carpets, wireless internet, a variety of food available at the grocery store… I definitely went through a bit of reverse culture shock when I first got back to the U.S., but I think my little Costa Rica trip sort of eased the transition a bit. The best part of being back in the U.S. was simply blending into the crowd. No one looked at me funny on the street, I didn’t get catcalls from rude men…I was surrounded by people who looked like me!
Above, the view from the flight into my town.
My family and I with Mt. Edgecumbe in the background.

I cooked my family a traditional Nicaraguan meal while I was home: red beans and rice, fried green plantains, steamed ripe plantains, steamed chayote squash, fresco cheese, avocado, corn tortilla and tomato and onion salad. I was giving them a preview of Nicaraguan food since they’re planning on visiting me this coming summer! My sister and I on a hike with our dog.

After I was in Alaska for a week, my family and I headed down to Portland, Oregon for my Grandma’s 90th birthday. It was a fun excuse to see family that had travelled from other states to celebrate together. My Grandma is an amazing woman. She is truly a world traveler. She picked up traveling after her husband died and has been to countless countries. Israel, China, Russia, South Africa, Egypt, Spain, France, Greece, Germany, Costa Rica, Philippines, Indonesia, Panama…and many more that I can’t remember. I’d love to have a list that long when I’m her age – and hopefully I can make it to 90 and still be as healthy as she is!

My cousins and I surrounding my Grandma with "spirit fingers"!

From Oregon, I returned to Nicaragua. This country is so small; on the flight from Houston to Managua I recognized like three people (an Embassy family and another Peace Corps volunteer). I just got in last night. It’s a little strange to be back and it will probably take me a couple weeks to fully adjust. I had to remember that you can’t throw toilet paper into the toilet bowl here…and I sort of miss hot showers, but oh well, my time here is so short (I have 14 months left) and those things won’t be bothering me in a few days.
More updates soon when I get back into the swing of things here. The new group of Peace Corps health volunteers comes next week! It was one year ago on January 22nd that my health group arrived! What a fast and crazy ride this past year has been…

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