Saturday, March 28, 2009

Costa Rica: Part Visitors

I wish everyone could join me down here for a few days, as several of my friends have done in the past 4 weeks.

I'm currently writing this at a research station located at the end of a remote dirt road off the Inter-American highway, partway between San José (the capital of Costa Rica where I'm attending language school) and Panama. I'm sitting outside on the porch watching the sun set over yonder mountain ridge, a mountain ridge which divides this privately owned eco-tourism community from the Quetzal National Park, the most recently designated national park land in Costa Rica. I'm looking out at a rushing brook cutting through the cloud forest jungle habitat outside our rooms, seriously considering the possibility of helping this research center set up an improved website to post student research and news about the center.

And why am I here this weekend? Nathanael and Laura, two of my best friends from NNU, chiseled out some spring break time to come visit me and see some of the beauty of Costa Rica. I took this opportunity to take up a friend's offer to visit him at the Quetzal Education and Research Center, where he's been working for the past year hosting research groups that come down from Nazarene colleges in the U.S. And so, en route to Manuel Antonio beach, Nathanael, Laura, and I have spent the day hiking through the cloud forest in search of the elusive Quetzal bird, arguably the most beautiful bird in the world, possibly a close tie to the Bird of Paradise.

We hit several cool spots during their time here - the Quetzal research Center at San Gerardo de Dota, where we saw 3 quetzals, summer tanagers and flame-colored tanagers, yellow-bellied siscanes, collared red starts, and listened to the melodic call of the black-faced soltaire. In Manuel Antonio we saw 6 sloths, over a dozen white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys (very few of these are left), two Jesus Christ lizards (named as such because they can walk on water), and an agouti. We sat watching what could have been a segment for the Discovery Channel as a family of about a dozen white-faced capuchins came literally within arm's reach of us, and began wrestling, fighting over water, and scared off an invading raccoon from their drinking spot. A little momma capuchin carried her baby on her back and came right up to a fellow hiker to steal food from him.

The week before I hit some of the same spots with Mark, Sarah, Josh, and Klara - including the Arenal Volcano, Cartago, and the ruins in the Orosi Valley. We visited "el Avión" in Manuel Antonio, an abandoned C125 cargo plane that's been remodeled into a restaurant and bar. More than just an old cargo plane, this huge thing is a piece of history. It was one of two planes purchased by the U.S. during the Iran-Contra affair to supply Nicaraguan rebels with weapons. The other plane was shot down, and this one was transported to Manuel Antonio to lure interested travelers. Like us.

Mark, Sarah, and I visited La Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles in Cartago, which has such a fascinating history and description than I'll describe it in more detail elsewhere. Suffice to say it's a Catholic cathedral with the reputation (and aura) of a theme park - except, somber and hallowed. People come from everywhere to wash wounds in the healing waters or fill up small bottles with the holy waters. You can buy all sorts of small charms to remind you of your religious pilgrimage to this location where a magical statue of the Virgin Mary appeared several centuries ago and refuses to leave. I'll describe it in more detail elsewhere - I ended up writing a paper on it as part of my Spanish class.

I forced my friends to experience some of my "normal life," not just galavant around the country :) Mark and Sarah joined me one day for a language class, as I had to carefully balance my time between traveling with friends and trying to keep up with classes. Nathanael and Laura got to come watch a presentation by a group of dancers composed of language students learning traditional Costa Rican dances, led by my grammar teacher Graziella. Within an hour of arriving, Nathanael and Laura went straight to La Carpio with the kids-group we work with there.

Props to both groups of friends who ventured out on their own to travel around by bus and take themselves to different parts of the city. Mark and Sarah visited more museums and places than I've even been to downtown, and Nathanael and Laura made it out to a coffee tour. Josh had already lived here for several months during college, so getting around was no problem for him.

So, such was Costa Rica, Part Visitors. There's so much I didn't even mention: canopy zip-lining, volcano hikes, ancient ruins. Like I said, I wish so many of you could join me here for a short time to experience in person the beauty of Costa Rica, to wind through the cloud forests, to scour the trees for a glimpse of the quetzal, to watch a nature-channel documentary take place before your eyes. I wish everyone could come meet the people who I'm so privilaged to learn from, to work with, and to serve. There's really no substitute for seeing it for yourself. However, time with friends in Costa Rica helped me look through my time here through a different lens, making it fresh and new and exciting all over again. Their time here enriched my experience, and I know they enjoyed it as well.

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