Trial by fire

I feel like it’s been a month since our last post.  I guess that is because so much as happened in the last ten days or so.  Since the last post, I’ve chaperoned two field trips, we bought a car, we survived an earthquake, and we took our first mini-road trip.  It has been an exciting, stressful, and fulfilling week all at one time.  I’ll start at the beginning.

The week after we went to Jaco, I chaperoned my first field trip as a teacher. Rather than taking a little trip down to a park or a play at the local theater, I went with 47 middle schoolers on an overnight camping trip to a boy scout camp on the top of a mountain.  When I say on the top of a mountain, I mean on the top of a mountain.  When the clouds rolled in here, they weren’t above us – they were all around us. It was about a 20 minute drive to the base of the mountain and about 30 minutes straight up from there.  Road conditions in Costa Rica are notoriously awful.  This was one of those roads.  It was straight up with more twists and turns than I could count. I was in the front seat of the “mini-bus,” and at one time the driver and I just looked at each other and kind of laughed at how ridiculous it was trying to climb the mountain in that bus full of kids. Despite the treacherous climb, the trip was a success, and I got to see some beautiful scenery as we could see much of the Central Valley and surrounding mountains from our camp.  My job as a chaperon was pretty easy as we had camp counselors who led the activities with the kids both days we were there.

We got back to school on Friday to find out I was going on another trip the following Tuesday.  I didn’t have any classes, and the trip was to Escazu (the rich and famous section of the Central Valley) so I was excited.  I was a last-minute add-on, and all I was told was it was to a “body exhibit” in the mall…  I should have asked more questions.  We get to the mall, and while my Spanish is sub-par, I could make out “Real Corpses Inside.”  No, thank you.  Anyone who knows me well knows I was the absolute worst person they could have brought to an exhibit of chopped up corpses.  I decided it was best for all if I just sat that one out, so I just hung out in the mall while the kids went inside the exhibit.

If those two field trips weren’t enough excitement, Torie and I experienced our first earthquake.  Both of us were in the middle of teaching when our kids let us know what was going on – maybe it’s easier to feel it when you’re sitting down?  Anyway, the kids told us there was an earthquake then promptly told us to get under our desks.  I think we were the ones who should have been giving such instructions, but I can’t say we were really prepared for that.  Apparently there are minor earthquakes everyday in this region, usually they are not even noticeable, and when they are, they are usually quite minor and only last a few seconds.  Well, this was a 7.6 magnitude quake and it lasted about a minute.  One minute sounds so insignificant, but that is a long time for the ground to be swaying below you.  The sensation is hard to describe, but if I had to guess, it may be like having vertigo while on a boat out at sea.  There wasn’t much damage around our neighborhood, but the pictures from Guanacaste, where the epicenter was, show some extensive damage.  Our house was as we left it minus some books falling over and one of our landlord’s statues falling and shattering.

In the midst of all of this, we had been looking for a car.  We had been kicking around the idea, and we recently decided to go for it.  We were reluctant at first because they are extremely expensive here (most are about twice what you would expect to pay in the US).  Riding overflowing buses while carrying a week’s worth of groceries was strong motivation to just bite the bullet and get one.  We lucked out and found a local selling a little SUV which is exactly what we were looking for.  Because the roads can be so bad in the rainy season, we needed something with four-wheel drive, and because gas is so expensive (about $5 a gallon right now), we wanted something economical, and that is what we got. As I said, we found a local man selling one, but he doesn’t speak a lick of English.  We worked out a time for him to come to our house, and he took us for a test drive.  This test drive turned into about a two-hour jaunt around San Ramon de Tres Rios, including lunch at a “famous” chicharronera – a restaurant that sells chicharrones, which are fried pork rib meat – a popular food here. The food was delicious and the scenery was amazing.  Conversation, however, was slow going.  He then took us to his house to meet his family and share some more Costa Rican food with us.  Since he did not speak a word of English, our Spanish skills were put to the test over these two hours, and I’d say we did pretty well.  Thursday we signed the paperwork and made the payment for our very own 1990 Geo Tracker.

The new ride

Buying a car in Costa Rica is not nearly as easy as buying one back home.  Come to think of it, not much really is.  For one, you must have a lawyer to write up the paperwork and authenticate the transfer of the title and so on.  Luckily, one lives in our neighborhood, so that part was easy.

Did I mention the Tracker is a manual? And did I mention we live in the mountains?  And that neither Torie nor I have driven a stick shift since we were 16?  Like chaperoning the field trip, learning Spanish, and experiencing an earthquake, learning to drive has also been a trial by fire, but that’s going to have to wait till the next post.  We’ll update soon and let you know about our experiences learning to drive a stick in the mountains of Costa Rica…

*Sorry for the lack of pictures/picture quality.  Our memory card for our digital camera died and our pictures from the last two weeks went down with it, so the only ones we have are from my phone.

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