Don’t worry, this post isn’t actually about letters of recommendation. I wouldn’t put you through that snooze-fest. But this post is the indirect result of several months spent writing letters of recommendation for my students. You see, just like last fall, letter writing (among other things) crept up on me in September and took over my life. And during those months of constant writing, it’s just impossible for me to come home from work and feel even remotely inspired to spend my evenings writing on my blog.
So, consequently, it’s been awhile since I posted anything substantial. In fact, the last post that was really about my adventures in Costa-Rica-and-beyond was back in May. And seriously, so much has happened since then! I had visitors in Costa Rica. I traveled a ton over the summer break. I had a wicked-cool October break. I went home for a wedding. And then again for Christmas. There’s a lot to catch up on!
I invite you to enjoy this (mostly) pictorial recap of the last eight months 🙂
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May brought the graduation of my first class at UWC Costa Rica–and sending them off to their futures (university and otherwise) all over the world. A beautiful ceremony and a great way to end my first year at the school.
UWC Costa Rica graduating class of 2015
The graduating members of my tutor group
Two spectacular ladies
Just a couple weeks after graduation, my friend Lance from back home came to visit me in Costa Rica. We made the most of it, spending a relaxing week on the Caribbean side of the country. First we went to the ultra-chill beach town of Puerto Viejo where we rented a great little AirBNB casita right by Playa Cocles (Sarava Place–I highly recommend it for those visiting the area). We visited several beaches in the area, ate lots of tasty Caribbean food, and spent a lot of time just relaxing in the hammocks. A highlight was our tour of the Jaguar Rescue Center, a rehabilitation center for hurt and abandoned animals. We got to see everything from snakes and sloths to monkeys and anteaters. Absolutely awesome, and such a worthwhile organization to support!
After Puerto Viejo, we made the seemingly daunting trek to Tortuguero–which really didn’t turn out to be too bad. We had a rental car, which we had to drive on many dusty dirt roads to a small town where you then catch a boat to the town. Tortuguero, the town, is situated on a very narrow isthmus (I think? Geography’s really not my thing…) amidst the stunning Tortuguero National Park. It’s surrounded by water, and the town is basically a narrow strip consisting of one main street that runs the length of the isthmus. It was wet and isolated and quiet and all-around fantastic. We took a boat tour around the canals in the misty morning, spotting lots of wildlife. And we took a (unfortunately) failed night tour along the beach hoping to spot some sea turtles laying their eggs. No such luck. Alas, a good excuse to go back!
Enjoying an Imperial with Lance
Immediately after Lance’s visit came my crazy-insane-travel-filled summer. First up: Two weeks of much-needed time at home in St. Louis. In addition to spending time with family and friends, I just happened to be home for Pride weekend in St. Louis–which coincided with the historic Supreme Court decision bringing marriage equality to the entire country (and there was much rejoicing). Following this came my first-ever trip to San Francisco as a prelude to some work-related travel out on the west coast. My days in SF were spent with my dear friend Courtney who manages the AWESOME Pacific Tradewinds Hostel and who also just happens to be one of the Castro neighborhood’s most bitchin’ tour guides. Fun times all around! Then I made my way up to Oregon to visit a couple university campuses and attend the OACAC conference, followed by a jaunt down to southern California for another tour of university campuses. I capped off the trip with a visit to my dad’s side of the family in the LA area, including some quality time with my Grandma. All-in-all, a very successful and enjoyable (albeit hectic) summer break.
Friends that are family
Pride in St. Louis
First-ever trip to San Francisco!
Spent some quality time with Grandma
Just a few days after returning to Costa Rica, I got a long-anticipated visit from my sister and two of her friends. It was a trip full of many firsts for all of us, and it was a blast! First we headed off to La Fortuna to visit Arenal Volcano and the surrounding area. Hiking, wildlife spotting, ziplining. We went ziplining with Ecoglide which features the infamous Tarzan Swing. If you are up for a thrill, DOOOO IT!! I was scared out of my mind, and then I loved every second of it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat (see the video at the end of this post). Then we made our way to Puerto Viejo for a visit that, in many ways, mirrored my earlier trip to Puerto Viejo with Lance. We stayed in the same casita, visited many of the same beaches, and even went back to the Jaguar Rescue Center. However, this time we paid the extra cost to take the private tour which meant four hours with our own tour guide, getting to see the animals out and about on the grounds before any other tours came through, AND getting to play with baby monkeys!!! Highlight of my LIFE, if I’m being honest. This was all planned because Carolyn had a bucketlist dream of getting to hold a monkey (a dream which I shared), and so we made it come true–and it was unbelievable. Not to mention all of the adorable animals, of which the pictures below only show a fraction. Seriously, if you’re ever in the area, go support the Jaguar Rescue Center. They’re great.
The start of the new school year brought new friends in the form of new teachers at the school–a wonderful cohort of people…many of whom I coerced into performing my one-and-only party trick–N’Sync’s Bye Bye Bye–at our students’ orientation camp (if coerced means all you have to do is suggest something and then people jump at it eagerly!). Then, at the end of August, I ushered in a new decade as I celebrated my 30th birthday. The highlight: A FRIENDS-themed birthday cake ordered by my sister and coordinated in secret with the help of a friend from work. A huge surprise, and one that left me speechless! It said, “The One Where Stephen Turns 30” and was decorated with a series of items from the show (my favorites being the lobster and Smelly Cat). A couple weeks later I attended my first-ever professional football (read: soccer) game. And then in mid-September our students once again participated in our local annual Independence Day parade. This is one of my favorite activities of the year as it celebrates the crazy-awesome diversity of our student body–and it’s so fun to see everyone show their pride in their national costume. I don’t even own anything in red, white, and blue–so I decided to represent India this year in my Om kurta shirt 🙂
One dear friend I made in my first year in Costa Rica was Gaby–originally from Mexico–who was living here with her mom’s side of the family while completing her master’s degree. Ultimately, she moved back to Mexico–so of course we had to go visit her! A group of us made our way to the DF (Distrito Federal–aka Mexico City) during my October Break. This was my first time to Mexico, and what a fantastic introduction to the country! Rich culture, friendly people, and AMAZING food! We toured Frida Kahlo’s house, visited the stunning pyramids at Teotihuacan, danced in Zona Rosa, saw lots of beautiful art, and basically ate our way through the city. I can’t wait to go back!
Immediately upon returning from Mexico, some friends and I went to the highly-anticipated Katy Perry concert right here in Costa Rica. I don’t normally spend my money on concerts because I prefer to go see live theatre–but if Costa Rica managed to score such a big name (and one whom I love), I wasn’t about to miss the chance to see her. This was Katy’s very last show on her year-and-a-half long Prismatic tour. SO much fun, high energy, and I’m fairly certain the entire gay population of Costa Rica was inside that one venue. I’m only half kidding….
Just one week later I headed back home to St. Louis again for one of my best friend’s wedding. You’ve never seen anything like it. A Back to the Future-themed celebration, everything was styled after the Enchantment Under the Sea dance from the first film–and we even had a visit from Doc Brown in a legit DoLorean. This was one of the visits that just confirmed all the reasons why I love my friends, my family, and my city. It was beautiful.
In November, I participated in our annual Social Responsibility Day service project alongside my students. We went to a small community not far from the school to paint a new mural on the wall of their football field. The students planned and designed the mural, a fun and colorful line of marching cows. The next week, my friends from work and I celebrated with not one, but two, Thanksgiving dinners–the first hosted at a colleague’s house and the other on a beautiful coffee farm owned by one of our colleague’s family. I’m not one to complain about two days of gluttonous eating!
As is tradition, our school threw a themed end-of-year party for all staff to celebrate before taking a month off for the holidays. This year’s theme: Comic Books. Needless to say, we had a fun time. Then, just before leaving for Christmas, I finally made my way up to the wind turbines on the mountains overlooking the valley where I live. This is an excursion I’ve been wanting to take as long as I’ve been living here, and I finally did it (with the help of Armando who stuck it out despite the challenge of getting his car up some VERY steep roads to get to the summit). It was well worth it for some beautiful views and a great sunset.
After a very busy fall (remember those letters of recommendation I mentioned at the beginning?), I made it home for three weeks to celebrate Christmas and New Years. Once again, some much-needed time spent with family and friends. Not to mention getting to see the new Star Wars film with my dad!
Back in Costa Rica for one day, and then I turned immediately back around for a bit of pura vida exploration before school started back up again. My friend and colleague, Sierra, and I made our way down to the Osa Peninsula–one of the more isolated parts of the country. While it is possible to make it there by land (via a bus followed by taxi followed by boat), we made the oh-so-wise decision to fly instead. Not only were we the ONLY two people on our small 12-seater plane on the outbound journey, but the flight also afforded us some amazing views of the Costa Rican landscape. Once in Osa, we stayed at Casa Miriam–a set of small cabinas–in Drake Bay. The family was so friendly and took care of all our scheduling needs for our five days there. The beautiful thing is that the Osa Peninsula is largely untouched–it’s isolated, hard to get to, and quiet. The perfect spot for a truly relaxing vacation. We spent a lot of time on the beach, went kayaking and horseback riding, read books, played cards. It was fantastic. But the highlight of Osa is Corcovado National Park. Corcovado was designated by National Geographic Magazine as “the most biologically intense place on Earth” as it is home to something like 6% of the entire world’s biodiversity. In just a few hours of hiking, we saw all four of Costa Rica’s monkey species, an adolescent tapir, tons of birds, bats, spiders, and more–plus, around Drake Bay we got to see a TON of Scarlet Macaws, which for me was the highlight of the trip. They. Are. Gorgeous!
Now that we’re back and school is in session, this second term is already speeding by (is it seriously February 1st!?). Our students started the new term with Asia-Pacific Week, which they kicked off with a simulation off India’s annual Holi celebration. It was a colorful affair and left everyone with a lot of energy to finish out the year strong!
Whewww…that was a lot! But hopefully you enjoyed all the pictures. I leave you with this video of me on the Tarzan Swing in Arenal–trust me, it’s even more intense in real life than it seems on video:
And a video of our monkey friends because, well, I just can’t get enough…