Emily in Costa Rica

Emily is a junior studying public relations and strategic communication in Meadows School of the Arts, with minors in Spanish and English in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. During summer 2013, she is participating in SMU-in-Costa Rica with SMU Abroad, an intensive Spanish program at the National State University.

Tirimbina, Costa Rica

After a long week of classes and presentations, Tirimbina was the perfect day trip and escape from our daily lives in Heredia!

A short two-hour drive from Heredia, we arrived just in time for our chocolate tour. However, to get to our chocolate tour, we had hike through the rainforest (seeing a Toucan was definitely a highlight) and cross the longest suspended bridge in the country, walking high above rivers and the rainforest.

Scary moments when the bridge would sway back and forth proved to be worth every minute when we came to the tiki hut set up for the chocolate demonstration (see photo to the right). The next hour and a half flew by as we learned about the history of chocolate, the importance of chocolate to the natives and even sampled a few different types and forms of chocolate. It was such a delicious (and informative!) way to start our trip.emily4

We crossed the bridge back to the restaurant, once again praying that the architects had paid attention in school and had constructed a sound bridge, where we had a traditional Tican lunch of chicken and rice. Just as the rain was setting in, we all piled back into the little white bus we have all become so fond of, and took off for our rafting adventure.

We would not let the daily storm rain on our parade and pressed forward with our rafting trip! Rafting down the river for over two hours proved to be one of the greatest experiences of the whole past five weeks. Not only is rafting an incredibly thrilling adventure, but as we rafted we saw every kind of Costa Rican wildlife, from birds to fish to insects. Halfway down the river, we floated to shore to enjoy some fresh fruit and jumped off one of the riverbanks.

Although at the end of the trip everyone was completely soaked, we couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a Friday! Don’t forget to put a stop in Tirimbina on your “To Do” list next time you’re in Costa Rica. The nature of Costa Rica is too beautiful to just experience it from afar- you have to completely immerse yourself in it! Pura Vida!

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Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

Have you ever been somewhere and felt like it was surreal? Like you were in a dream, and that there is no way this could be real life? Our trip to Manuel Antonio this past weekend was full of these experiences. If you’re considering a trip to Costa Rica, I would highly suggest adding a few nights in Quepos/Manuel Antonio to your “To Do” list.

We stayed at the Hotel Karahe, right next to the beach. While the rooms were a little dark and uninviting, the view and direct access to the beach were phenomenal. The hotel grounds are immaculate, flush with trees and wildlife. Monkeys swing from the trees right next to the pool. (Just make sure to stay far enough away that you don’t get pooped on, like one unlucky guy in our group.) And sloths cling to the branches.

The pool and hot tub are situated right next to the restaurant/bar, which looks out over the ocean. You can take the short, sandy path from the hotel grounds to the beach and catch a quick nap under the shade of the trees on the beach. Or you can play in the strong surf in the afternoons -there are plenty of boogie boards and other water sports for rent along the beach! Walking along the beach is an adventure itself, seeing the mixture of American and Tico families all splashing in the waves or laying in the sun.emily3

On Sunday, we went into Manuel Antonio National Park, only a short 10-minute drive from our hotel. The beach and inlet are decorated with trees and wildlife, like the iguanas that come running when you begin your picnic! A picnic is definitely the way to go if you’re going to be in the park during lunch. You can never go wrong with bocadillos (sandwiches), aguacate (avocado) and pan dulce! Make sure to look for sloths, monkeys and other animals hanging from the trees on your hike into the park.

While I’ve been on plenty of beach vacations in the United States, a trip to the Costa Rican beach takes the cake for the most scenic, wild experience. There’s nothing quite like splashing in the waves next to the Costa Rican mountains as monkeys swing from tree to tree!

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La Fortuna, Costa Rica

It is hard to believe that tomorrow marks the halfway point of my Costa Rican adventure!

Heredia is just starting to feel like home as we get into the routine of class, our families and exploring Costa Rica. This weekend was a particularly memorable part of our trip as we traveled to La Fortuna for two days and one night!

emily2The trip to La Fortuna is a scenic, four-hour drive through many mountains and valleys. Upon arriving at the Hotel del Silencio del Campo, it is difficult to miss the beauty of the volcano so near to the hotel grounds. Each luxury cabin houses four people, and the cabins are beautifully decorated and maintained. It’s hard to beat relaxing in a natural hot spring with a volcano as a backdrop, and we proceeded to spend the next five hours jumping from spring to spring.

Saturday morning we all woke up bright and early with the sun, just in time to head for our zipline adventure. A zipline newbie, I had no idea what to expect, except to expect something incredible. All of my zipline dreams and expectations came true. Nothing is quite like the adrenaline rush you get when flying through the Costa Rican jungle relying solely on a wire! It takes a few times to get used to the position, but the abdominal workout is worth the incredible views. After our incredible morning and traditional Costa Rican lunch of chicken and beans in the restaurant atop the mountain, we started the trek back to Heredia.

Our trip to La Fortuna was a wonderful way to spend the weekend and see more of Costa Rica. This weekend we venture to Manuel Antonio, a famous national park, to hit the Costa Rican beaches!

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San Jose and Cartago

What a crazy weekend it was here in Heredia! Despite the seemingly constant rain, we managed to pack our weekend full of interesting activities, rain or shine!

emily1Our weekend started on Friday, as we traveled to the province of Alajuela to have a day full of team-building activities in the beautiful mountains. Between scavenger hunts and learning the dance of the province of Limón, I came back to Heredia not only soaking wet, but amazed by the beauty of Alajuela.

On Saturday, we traveled by public bus to the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose. San Jose was bustling as people flocked to the central market and other historical sights. The central market had everything from fruits and vegetables to a new hammock, weaved for me by a native Costa Rican woman. After eating lunch in the Teatro Nacional and listening to a group practice for Sunday’s performance, we got a tour of the theater, including the box where the president of Costa Rica sits when she visits the theater. We then moved on to the Museo Nacional of Costa Rica, full of artifacts and information about Costa Rica’s history and future. The group hustled to get back to Heredia, as Saturday night was the final soccer match and Heredia faced Cartago. I joined my familia tica in watching the game with their friends at a local restaurant and then danced our way through the streets to the Parque Central when Heredia won in a shoot-out. It was such an amazing experience to see the influence of soccer throughout the whole country, and how unifying it is for the whole province.

Sunday, I headed to Cartago with my familia tica to see the beautiful mountains and ancient churches. With breath-taking views and hundreds of years of history, Cartago felt much less touristy and it was easy to enjoy the natural beauty of Costa Rica. We finished our day in Cartago as we attended mass at 5:30 in the Iglesida de la Virgen de las Angeles. Taking communion and worshipping in a church over 300 years old was an incredible experience.

This week it’s back to regular classes and homework at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia, until we go to the volcano and hot springs this Friday. It’s hard to believe one week has already passed!

Happy Memorial Day!


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Yo No Speak Americano: The Beginning of Pura Vida

Hola from the happiest girl on earth!

I could not have asked for a better past 24 hours as I traveled from Chicago to Dallas to San Jose to Heredia, Costa Rica. I won’t lie and say that the nerves weren’t getting the best of me, and that I didn’t feel nauseous when the captain announced that the flight attendants “should please prepare for landing in San Jose.” In that moment, although I could see the mountains and lights of Costa Rica from my plane window, I had no idea what I was thinking when I had signed up for the trip.

I was unable to function like a normal human as we proceeded through immigration and customs, getting tripped up on the most basic of questions from immigration: how long would I be in Costa Rica? Of all the questions, this one required a simple two-word response. Instead, I felt the need to elaborate about my program, which the officer was very obviously disinterested in.

We boarded the bus that would take us to meet our families in Heredia, and the excitement in the group built. What were our families like? Would they like us? Would I suddenly blank on my entire Spanish knowledge that I had built for 10 years when my family started talking to me? English was out, Spanish was in. Everything in Spanish, all the time. No Spanglish or English. It is just Spanish and me for the next 5 weeks.

After the first few hugs, I knew my family was meant to be. My family met me at the university and took me back to the house, where we feasted and talked for four hours about the trip, Costa Rica and America. I couldn’t be more blessed to be in such a loving, welcoming family with kids in their 20′s to show me around Costa Rica!

Today, we attended an orientation all about Costa Rica, with topics ranging from safety to the environment to the government. After being properly and throughly briefed, we were treated to a traditional Costa Rican lunch and Salsa Dancing lessons, which proved to be a hoot watching 15 Americans attempt to learn three new dances all in Spanish. I think we’re ready to hit the Salsa dance floor now, though!

The best part of the day is when I get to spend time with my family. After orientation, I ate dinner with my family and played board games until our eyes were closing shut. It’s the perfect combination of fun, family and, most importantly, Spanish. With each passing day, it will become easier to think and speak in Spanish. Hopefully, in 5 weeks, I’ll be dreaming in Spanish!

Spanish Word of the Day: “Tico” meaning Costa Rican

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