Cactario!!!!

This is a cactus garden that I went to a couple weeks ago. My motivation for blogging right now is not very high, and I haven’t had batteries in my camera recently. I just bought new batteries and will be taking more pictures soon. This cactario, or cactus garden, is at my friend’s house in Quillota. His dad has planted every cactus in the picture from seed. They also have a cactus nursery. They’re generally plant freaks, which I really enjoy because I am too!! Cheers!!

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Hippy Gathering

Last weekend I went to a crazy awesome hippy gathering at my friend’s family’s property in Quillota where they have an avocado orchard, a ceramics workshop, a cactus garden, an ecological pool (a pool filtered by plants and fish), a sweatlodge, and various structures made out of cob. I spent most of my time helping out with the food preparation, set up, and vending of food, but also got the chance to make a bunch of new friends, lots of whom do bioconstruction (building with recycled or natural materials) en the cerros of Valparaíso for people whose houses were burnt down during the huge fire that happened in April of this year. Super buena onda! (In english, super good vibes!) I camped out in a nice stand of pine trees on the property for two nights and got some quality time away from the city and among the presence of wonderful, open, positive people. To make the situation even better, we all realized that I had actually heard about this place from a friend I met in Panama on Isla Pastor at the Maya Point Project, where my friend Daniel Cherniske was working at the time with Erick Meza. It turns out Erick had showed me photos of the same place when I had told him I was going to Chile, and I had wanted to ask him for contact info but decided I would find my own way in Chile. I found my way alright, right to the place that I had wanted to!!! I hope to go back and visit the family soon, as they are absolutely way too nice to not go back!!! Below is a picture of me, Brian and Pedro, in the midst of selling empanadas, hard boiled eggs, sandwiches, fresh juices, and various other delicious treats!

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Reserva Nacional Lago Peñuelas

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Yesterday I headed out of the city with a few friends from my program to the “National Reserve of Lake Peñuelas”. We were a little surprised when we arrived at the park to find out that the Lake had been sold by the government to a new property owner and that access was restricted, but that’s just how it sometimes is in countries that are perpetual privatizers of everything public. We had a few more surprises as well, not the least of which was a large herd of llamas that seemed rather suspicious of our presence in their territory, largely due to the fact that it seems as though this area doesn’t get a lot of visitors. This is largely due to the fact that it isn’t really a national park, it is more of a working tree farm where they plant eucalyptus and pine trees to be harvested every so often. The area that we went to had a couple of very short trails that were not in the tree farming area, and were full of trees called “espinos”, named so for their innumerable spines, and the whole area had an African savannah type feel to it. The trees belong to the acacia family, which is the same family of trees that exist in African savannahs, so needless to say we were all a little caught off guard by the area. 

Nonetheless, we had a wonderful day out of the city breathing a bit of fresh air, and we cooked a delicious lunch of Mexican vegan tacos that ended up more like a taco salad due to the learning curve involved in making tortillas from corn flour. Guacamole, beans and peppers, warm corn flour dough, a little bit of salsa, all mixed with the cold weather that encompassed us, and we were some happy travellers. After lunch we packed up and headed home, and I fell asleep by 9 o clock, knocked out from a full day’s worth of activities (and a lack of sleep from the night before)!!

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Today I am going to brave the rain and head to a town called Quillota to help a few friends set up for a meetup that is happening tomorrow. They have a wonderful piece of land called Jardín Botánico Paraíso Escalante, or “Rising Paradise Botanical Gardens” that includes an ecological pool (a pool filtered by aquatic plant life), a sweatlodge, a cactus garden, food forests with avocados and walnuts and other goodies, multiple cob structures, and tomorrow there will be music, poetry, workshops, artisan vendors, and all sorts of other wonderful stuff happening that I am grateful and lucky to be a part of. I will be camping out for 3 days and 2 nights, and honestly I wouldn’t mind if it rained the whole time, we have only had about 1 or 2 days of rain in the past month in what is normally the rainy season here, so the ground (and my soul) could use a little bit of moisture!!!

As always, I hope you are well, and thank you for reading!! 🙂

-Lee K-U

  nublado eucalipto caminando  

Palestinians in Chile

 

 

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Chile is the latin american country with the highest number of Palestinian refugees, around 500,000, which makes it very prone to (and accustomed to) pro-Palestinian propaganda. It is interesting though because just as the United States is accustomed to Israeli propaganda, Chile is accustomed to this, yet the tone of the propaganda is much, much different. Most is limited to calling for peace in Palestine instead of attempting to justify actions of Hamas like Israelis try to justify the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces. And while some of this activism fringes on what some would call anti-semitism, the vast majority of the pro-Palestine statements in this country are simply calling for peace. This sign says: “I am not indifferent, Palestine makes hurt. Enough already!” -Basta Ya! is an originally Italian anarchist group that has spread to many countries including the US and Chile, and carry out any number of different activist tactics from these sign hangings to street shutdowns and more direct actions.

Interesting realities about the culture here, thanks for reading!

-Lee K-U

 

 

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The graffiti here in Valparaiso is arguably what made this city famous, and for good reason. After they realized that it was such a tourist attraction, there have been various barrios (neighborhoods) that have had the equivalent of block parties, where they invite graffiti artists from all over the place to do murals on approved walls. As a tour guide told me, before the graffiti, Valparaiso was just a port town that was falling apart. Now it’s still a port town that is falling apart, but it has beautiful graffiti to accompany the chaos! 

I like this next one because it is almost Salvador Dali-esque and it gets at the theme of animals (that includes us!) connection with the land! Enjoy!

 

-Lee K-U

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Cupcakes and dependency!!

Cupcake with honey... and a book.... and some money... and yeah my table is a mess.

Cupcake with honey… and a book…. and some money… and yeah my table is a mess.

It may be a little difficult for some of you to understand the relevance of the title, but I assure you it makes sense. You see, the culture here in Chile is to spoil the kids, but that doesn’t mean giving them lots of sweets, it means doing everything for them. My host brother, 20 years old, has never done his own laundry, cooked for himself, or had chores of any kind. In addition to that, his mother bakes him these cupcakes so that he can go and sell them at school to his friends and keep the money for himself!!! She does all the work and sees none of the profit!! 

Now this is not to say that my parents don’t do wondrous things for me, especially my mother who has helped me financially in innumerable ways, but I feel like at the very least they both have helped me to understand the value of a dollar over the years and enabled me to take care of myself in ways that I don’t think my host brothers could possibly imagine. This is definitely a case of culture shock, but jeeesus the river runs deep, my other host brother who lives in Santiago alone, 25 years old, gets a weeks worth of food delivered to his apartment by my mom every week, and I assume it’s because he really just doesn’t know how to cook/is too lazy/has become accustomed to his mom doing everything for him. My question is, at what age is she going to stop and tell them that they’re on their own???

Adjusting to my host mom’s style of doing things is definitely difficult, I can barely walk out of the house without her trying to open the door for me… Culture shock to the maxxxx. 

Until next time, much love and thanks for reading!

-Lee K-U

Hiking with Lenore and MaryGlen!!!

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At the behest of my wonderful friend Mackinley, I am starting blogging in a style that involves less pressure, I’ll do one photo a day with a short little reflection on the day. It should be good for me, and for you, whoever you may be 😀

Reflection: Got a message from my friend Lenore at 11 pm last night asking if I wanted to go hiking today at 7 am, said yes, and there I was. We entered the park from an unknown route, and the bus dropped us 13 kilometers from the entrance… Hitchiked a little ways with two different rides (this was the countryside so it was pretty safe), walked about 4 kilometers, and there we were! I had joked earlier that we could climb over the mountains and exit the other side where the bus stop was 1 km from the park entrance, but dismissed the idea only to have the park ranger suggest it to us seriously since it was a 13 km hike to the nearest bus stop and only 15 km to the other side. We ended up doing it, hiking through the only existing endemic palm tree forest in Chile (most palms in other countries are african palms i think), and ended up doing around 25 km with all the public transit/confusion involved. My feet hurt (might need to buy actual hiking shoes instead of the 3 year old skateboard shoes I used today), I didn’t do my homework, but I had a wonderful time with two wonderful individuals, and I have no regrets!!

Love to you all,

Lee K-U

Palmas y montañas!!!!

Palmas y montañas!!!!

 

Aside

Travels and Robberies and Thoughts on Both Topics

So it has been quite a while since I have updated my blog, not really for any particular reason, just because life has been happening and my energy has been focused elsewhere. There is a lot that has happened in the time I’ve been here, and while it’s hard to believe that I have only been here a little over two months, it’s hard to believe that I will be leaving here in another two months or so. Image   One thing that happened recently was that my friend Maya came down to visit me for her spring break (thank you Maya, it was amazing having your company down here!), we travelled around  the country for a week, and snuck out of the country to see our friend Daniel in Panama on Isla Pastor near Bocas del Toro. She reminded me that when we don’t talk to someone in a while, when we finally get around to it, the conversation we need to have becomes increasingly long, and we can’t communicate everything we really want to. In the spirit of her wisdom, I’m going to try to catch up on my blogs here so that you all can know what’s up down here. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email letting me know what’s going on in your life, I would love to hear some stories!!!Image   The night that Maya came down, I took the bus to the airport and picked her up from the airport and we went to my host family’s house for dinner and to hang out for a little bit. She had a reservation at a hostel that is about 4 blocks from my house, and at around 11:30 we walked over together so she could check in and we could both get some sleep in order to get on the bus around 5 and go to Puerto Viejo. After dropping her off, as I walked back to my house, iPhone and wallet full of travelling money in my pockets, a few people passed me on the street, the last of which was a couple. As I continued to walk, I could hear them arguing, and the guy said that he was turn around, to the protests of the woman.   As I listened to the stream of crude street Spanish, it dawned on me that the guy was no longer addressing the woman, he was addressing me. I glanced over at him, and he was showing me a gun in his waistband; I was getting robbed. After I tried to push my phone at him to get him to leave, the woman, no longer protesting, searched a couple of my pockets, but didn’t find my wallet. The guy, growing angry (probably not an uncommon occurrence for him), yelled at me to give him the wallet, and when I tried to pull out my drivers license, he punched me in the face, knocking my glasses off, took my wallet, and told me to run.   This whole time, Maya was 100 feet away, checking into the hostel, oblivious to what was happening outside; I am extremely thankful that she was safe when this happened, and I can’t imagine how our trip would have turned out if she had lost both her bags before we even got on the road. I lost $70 or so, my glasses, and my iPhone, but it wasn’t a huge deal materially.   More so this has been a big deal psychologically, the trust that I had for Costa Rican society has been diminished, and I have to stop and consider whether or not I really want to continue riding my bike 10 kilometers home from places like the climbing gym at 11 pm. Unfortunately in this region, many thieves look for young gringos like me, thinking that we will have a bunch of valuables, and this time the thief was right, but I usually have under $20 on me, and now my phone is probably only worth the same amount, if that.   It has to be considered, the economic stratification in this world is such that white males like myself, especially when able to live outside of their own country, are on a more stable plane than the people who end up robbing targets with that same profile. I am not happy that I got robbed, but I have to stop and thank the forces that be that I am in a position where I’m more likely to get robbed than to be a robber. For a young Costa Rican man who grew up in relative poverty in a society that didn’t give him the opportunities or guidance for success that I have been provided, a person like me walking alone late at night is a perfect opportunity to redistribute the wealth. I couldn’t find the quote, but I think it was Saul Alinsky who pointed out that many of the most intelligent and resourceful young men and women in poverty use their skills to rob and steal, because other opportunities either aren’t available, or do not seem realistic or worth it.   A quote from Saul Alinsky that I do have is the following: “A major revolution to be won in the immediate future is the dissipation of man’s illusion that his own welfare can be separate from that of others. As long as man is shackled to this myth, so long will the human spirit languish.” Security is not barbed wire, fences, car alarms and concealed weapons, security is an environment of trust, and I would like to see the whole world extend the trust that most of us already extend to our loved ones. This reality cannot be achieved when 1% of the population lives in luxury as the bottom half of the world’s population live in squalor and scarcity. People can tell that the world is not fair, and some of those people are so fed up with it that the prowl the streets late at night with a gun, looking for unsuspecting people of slightly higher economic standing to prey on, yet doing nothing to change the status quo that will continue to deny them opportunities when they run out of whatever money they manage to steal. Image   I was overjoyed to be able to escape with Maya from the city after this unfortunate encounter, and find myself on Isla Pastor two days later, surrounded by vibrant human beings, brimming with positivity, hope, and vision. The project that our friend Daniel is involved in is called The Maya Point Project (http://mayapoint.wordpress.com/about/), and is essentially a tropical classroom for permaculture to be implemented in and experimented with. Image They are doing a number of different things all at once, growing cacao, fruits, yucca, beans, bananas, pineapple, squash, and a bunch of other stuff, while experimenting with tropical aquaponics (using fish to provide nutrients to a hydroponic growing system) to grow more veggies, and tropical mycology (the study of mushrooms) to grow Oyster mushrooms on the empty cacao pods. The community environment on the island is such that everybody helps out in some fashion, feelings are expressed openly, and meals are a communal ordeal. In addition to the travelers and volunteers that cycle through the project, some of the local residents on the island have been given jobs to provide various services, and these locals are welcomed into the community with open arms. The result is a wonderful experience for anyone who wants to wander through, with real actions being taking to fortify the sustainability of the community while giving anyone who comes through the information and inspiration to take similar ideas and employ them elsewhere. Image Image   Variety is the spice of life, and with such radically different experiences happening in close succession, my thirst for adventure and excitement was certainly satiated. We had hardly gotten done with our trip from Panama than we started another trip to Monteverde. We had spent 3 days between Puerto Viejo and Isla Pastor, and had one night back in Heredia, which we spent hanging out with some of my friends in this crazy student building on campus that is covered in graffiti on the inside, jammed some tunes with them, then went to our respective sleeping quarters (we took a taxi to the hostel and to my home after hanging out this time). We woke at 5 to get to Monteverde the next day, and arrived around 10:30 with the day ahead of us. ImageImageImage Image Image   We got lunch at a somewhat traditional Costa Rican place, then did a beastly hike up Cerro Amigos, encountering a French guy along the way, who I then later climbed a radio tower on top of the peak with. Looking out over the cloud forest from the top of that peak was powerful, seeing the hills rolling on and on, no patches touched by human development, only touched by the clouds as they rolled over the hills, somehow continually dissipating as they reached our perch on the peak. Image Image Image Image   The next day we did some more hiking around the region, saw some of my friends from the first week I spent in Monteverde, and got ready to head off to Montezuma. The travel day to Montezuma was pretty interesting, involving 2 busses and a ferry ride. On the ferry, we met a gringo who was all bandaged up on his knees and was wearing a very large, somewhat bloody shirt. When we were about to get off, we asked him what had happened, and he told (probably for the 10th time that day) us the story of how he had been shot the night before while walking alone in Santa Teresa. I asked him what he had on him, and he said all he had was an old ipod, and that they had forced him to his knees and shot him through the shoulder before he had even had a chance to give them what he had. Crazy, crazy, crazy!!! People from San Jose have apparently been making weekend trips to touristy areas like Santa Teresa in order to rob people, and it certainly didn’t do anything to calm my fears from what had just happened. Image   But we continued with the journey, and found ourselves at a hostel called Luz en el Cielo in Montezuma that was absolutely amazing. The employees were super awesome, they had locally brewed craft beer that was delicious, and our dormmates were super cool as well, one a 21 year old girl from England, Lucy, and one a 61 year old guy from Texas whose name I am blanking on (Maya if you’re reading this, help me out!). We went to the beach that day and chilled, cooked ourselves some pasta for dinner at the hostel, and headed to the waterfalls the next day. The waterfalls were friggin amazing, I don’t have any pictures because I decided I didn’t want to risk having my camera stolen, but I believe Maya does, and maybe she can send them to me to post here. Most of my other pictures are just of dogs from Montezuma because I’ve started a picture taking project for my friend Taylor to show her all the beautiful pups of this country!! There’s a couple crazy trees from the bus ride out as well, and we were thinking how cool it would be if all the dead grass in the pastures was instead those crazy huge trees we saw peppered among the dry grass. Image   ImageImageImageImage   At the waterfalls though, I met some locals, who were super cool at the start, and showed me a trail to get to some upper waterfalls, but near the end, I started to get strange vibes from them, and one of them tried to ask me where we were staying in Montezuma. He had also told me earlier that robberies almost never happen at the waterfall, and when I got back to the hostel and asked the Texan what his thoughts about that were, he said that it was a load of crap and that they happen all the time. I’m pretty sure he was trying to rob us as we were leaving, but luckily I caught on and we left without him, we left him with no useable information to find us. AAHHH this country is so crazy, I wish that we could just travel without worries, but people who have never left their home regions because of finances, and constantly see well-off travelers coming through are bound to try to profit off of it. If they can’t get a job in tourism, well, they just rob tourists.   So after 2 months of living here in Costa Rica with hardly a hint of trouble presenting itself, 3 times we were presented with the reality of this situation, once with my robbery, once with the dude on the ferry, and once with the close call at the waterfalls. I don’t know how that bad luck managed to materialize, but we had a great time in the face of it all, and we learned some valuable lessons about travelling in Latin America: keep your guard up, but keep your spirits high as well. It’s been kind of hard to not let this experience affect me, especially since it happened so close to where I currently sit typing this, but a similar event happened to me back in Olympia about 4 years ago, and I still love that place as well. At the end of the day, I must give thanks that my circumstances are such that not only can I survive after sustaining a financial loss, but I can also make sense of the seemingly senseless events in a social/historical context. I also know that these sort of things don’t have to happen, and only do so because of the current social arrangement; if anything this encounter has reinforced my belief that we need to work to restructure society so that people have equal opportunities to acquire resources in non-predatory manners, and so that at the end of the day, economic discrepancies are not so drastic that jealousy and anger are invoked by it.     A very nice friend of mine, who happens to be an editor of a newspaper for ex-pats here, upon hearing that I was robbed, told me that I could write an article about my experience and that she would pay me 20,000 colones, or $40, to help me recuperate my losses. Many of my Costa Rican friends, upon hearing about this event, have also expressed their disgust with the actions, and have done a great job of reminding me that this is not how most people here are. The fact that I’m actually going to get an article published in a real (albeit online) publication is actually quite an exciting outcome, and since that same friend is letting me write an article about a beer festival tomorrow as well, I should be able to recuperate the financial losses relatively soon. (http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/04/03/3rd-annual-craft-beer-festival-happening-saturday) Getting in difficult situations and having bad experiences always make me do some soul searching, but I am determined to continue having adventures in this country, and keep living life to the fullest. Thanks to all the people who have helped me through this, thanks to Maya for coming to brighten my week, thanks for Daniel for working towards amazing goals on Isla Pastor, and thanks to everyone who read this, even if you didn’t make it this far! 😉 Much love to all of you, and as always, feel free to leave me a comment if you’d like! Below is just a random picture I took today on my bike ride. Apparently this was a “road”, but I won’t believe it until I see a truck drive on it! Image

Puerto Viejo!!

I’m nearing the end of my first month here in Costa Rica (my how the time flies), and, I have already visited quite a few amazing places! Part of me feels bad because I am going somewhere every single weekend that I have been here and I am not here in Heredia to spend time with my host family, but I have been trying to make up for that by being ultra-present when I’m here at the house! It doesn’t always work, but today after dinner I had a 2 hour conversation with my host mom ranging from cockfights, how the cruelty in society reflects the cruelty that people experience, how females always tend to be the more resilient members of a species (we got on that topic because she was telling me about how sometimes people will put a pregnant female chicken into a cockfight and how it can really change the dynamic of a fight because of the survival instincts), and a bunch of other random, strange, but enjoyable topics. Anyways, I only have 4 more months or so here, which equates to 16 weekends for excursions, 4 of which are taken up by class field trips, a few more of which are taken up by program field trips, and 2 that will be spent with my mom when she comes to visit me. All in all, I have to make the most of the time I have here!

 

Two cocks, or gallos, going at each other, reflecting the cruelty that the galleros, or men that own the cocks, have likely experienced in their own lives. Another blog post will be coming soon with an in-depth look at cockfighting in Costa Rica based on my experiences here.

Two cocks, or gallos, going at each other, reflecting the cruelty that the galleros, or men that own the cocks, have likely experienced in their own lives. Another blog post will be coming soon with an in-depth look at cockfighting in Costa Rica based on my experiences here.

Last weekend (now two weekends ago I suppose, it’s taken me a while to get this written) I packed my bag and hopped on my bike at 5:15 in the morning on Friday to pedal into San Jose and catch a bus to Puerto Viejo. It was about a 4 or 5 hour bus journey, and as we got closer to the coast, it got hotter, and hotter, and more humid as well. I was pretty much drenched in sweat the whole weekend, especially after I got severely sunburnt the first day. But boy was it worth it!

A man walks with his son, probably headed in the direction of giving him a surfing lesson!

A man walks with his son, probably headed in the direction of giving him a surfing lesson!

The Carribean coast of Costa Rica is most definitely rica (rich), and has been heavily influenced by the Jamaicans and Afro-Carribeans that have immigrated to the area over the years. They speak a wonderful Creole of Spanish and Jamaican English, and for those of you who don’t listen to reggae music, it can be quite difficult to understand at some points. But as an avid reggae listener, it was music to my ears, especially with the Spanish thrown into the Jamaican accent. The food is also heavily influenced by the Afro-Carribean culture, with lots of coconut infusions and seafood. I had shrimp with rice and beans (which is actually rice and beans with coconut sauce) at a restuarant owned by a Rastafari with a fake leg, and it was pretty much one of the best meals I’ve had here in Costa Rica so far.

A bit overcast, but such a beautiful beach!

A bit overcast, but such a beautiful beach!

I went down on Friday with 4 girls, Abbi, Renee, McKenzie and Kirsten, and since we got there so early in the day we immediately went for the beach after getting settled in and having a meal. I rented a surf board and Abbi a skimboard, and together we had a blast! Additionally, I set about picking some coconuts from the innumerable amount of palm trees that were on the beach, laden with coconuts. What an endeavor!! The first tree I climbed was leaning way out over the beach, and I was able to shimmy up it on my stomach with a length of bamboo in my hand to knock coconuts out. I tried once, headed down because my feet started to cramp up from dehydration, took a breather, and headed up once again, more determined than ever. I crept out on the trunk of the tree and was maybe 20-30 feet off the ground when I was finally in reach of those tantalizing coconuts. I leaned closer to take aim with my bamboo, and all of a sudden I was surprised by the company of a swarm of bees! I got stung twice on the face, and had to do everything I could to block out the pain so as to not fall off the palm tree onto the sand below. I scooted down the tree as a concerned looking mother watched me, and assured her I was okay when I got to the ground. Still determined, I found another tree that was closer to the ground, and had a neighboring tree that I could climb with ease. I eventually got two large coconuts, but not without the help of a local who instructed me on which coconuts to get, and who also spent a good 5 minutes cutting open my first coconut so I could taste the fresh coconut water inside. I tried to offer him the first sip for his labors, but he laughed and assured me he had an ample supply of them at his house. The water had a slight fizz to it, and it was more delicious than I can describe with words. With the two bee stings on my face still reminding me of what I went through to pick them, I drank my fill of that coconut and shared the rest with my friends. Later I ate the meat of the coconut as well, which is not quite as delicious, but surprisingly filling and extremely healthy!

The two coconuts that I harvested. All that time I spent picking cherries and pears in an orchard didn't prepare me for picking coconuts! One coconut for each bee sting I got on my face in the process. Worth it!

The two coconuts that I harvested. All that time I spent picking cherries and pears in an orchard didn’t prepare me for picking coconuts! One coconut for each bee sting I got on my face in the process. Worth it!

The silhouette of one of the innumerable coconut palm trees lining the shore.

The silhouette of one of the innumerable coconut palm trees lining the shore.

 

The rest of the group filtered in throughout the day (this isn’t actually my group of exchange students, it is another group of Americans that go to the same University here in Costa Rica that invited me and McKenzie if we wanted to come with) but they didn’t have it in them to go to the beach that day, so we all settled in, wandered off to find a restaurant, and had a semi-early night.

Deep in the jungle, on a solitary path. I was disturbed only by butterflies and howling monkeys on this trips, but I have to admit that the howling monkeys gave me quite a fright having never heard them before. I thought I was going to be eaten by a jaguar at first!!

Deep in the jungle, on a solitary path. I was disturbed only by butterflies and howling monkeys on this trip, but I have to admit that the howling monkeys gave me quite a fright having never heard them before. I thought I was going to be eaten by a jaguar at first!!

My very own beach in Manzanillo!

My very own beach in the Manzanillo-Gandoca Reserve!

The next day though, I woke up moderately early and, with some stops along the way, rode my bike to Manzanillo, about 12 kilometers down the road from the hostel, and absolutely precious! I went past the normal beach in Manzanillo and found a trail that wound itself into the jungle and went along for a little while. I only ran into two people along the trail, and it was nice to decompress in nature after living in Heredia for a couple weeks. The decompression stopped for a minute when I heard a ghastly sound coming from above, and thought I was about to die. Someone later told me that film makers have recorded these specific monkeys to use as monster sounds in movies, and I initially did think that I was going to die at the claws of some animal, likely a jaguar. It would have been great to see a wild jaguar right before I died, however I was mildly relieved to find out that it was just howler monkeys trying to scare me from their turf. I disregarded them, and eventually I found a beach that was literally empty, and had a nice walk along it, the water swallowing my footprints as I went, and my thoughts drifting lazily out to sea. I headed back to Puerto Viejo after having the aforementioned lunch at the Rastafari restaurant, and couldn’t help but smile the whole way! The road is clearly populated by touristy areas, hotels, restaurants, butterfly reserves, and the like, but it was very low key compared to San Jose, and very low key compared to Jaco where most of the people from my program ended up that weekend.

Planting the Lee flag!

Planting the Lee flag!

Ducks and chickens that were hanging out at a homestead that was randomly placed in the jungle. I'm not sure if there were roads that met up with it, but it was definitely well out of the way.

Ducks and chickens that were hanging out at a homestead that was randomly placed in the jungle. I’m not sure if there were roads that met up with it, but it was definitely well out of the way.

The water washes away my footprints, and the mark that I left on that beach becomes nonexistent. Just passing through!

The water washes away my footprints, and the mark that I left on that beach becomes nonexistent. Just passing through!

 

So beautiful!!!

So beautiful!!!

I found my friends still on the beach where they had been all day, and set about swimming, skimboarding, and I eventually put up my slackline right as it was getting dark. I managed to attract a German guy (slacklines are usually magnets for people who want to know just what the hell you are doing) and we had a nice slacklining session as the sun set and the light faded. I wandered back to the hostel through the forest, enjoying the murmur of the bugs and the soft crash of the waves, and ventured out with my friends for a night on the town.

Biking home happily, Regon if you are reading this, this is pretty much the first selfie that I've taken the whole trip!! My picture taking is not diminishing my ability to enjoy my surroundings! ;)

Biking to the hostel happily, Regon if you are reading this, this is pretty much the first selfie that I’ve taken the whole trip!! My picture taking is not diminishing my ability to enjoy my surroundings! 😉

On Sunday, most people left at 11 in the morning to catch the bus back to San Jose, but I felt that it wasn’t enough time and so I caught the 4 o’clock bus in the afternoon. It was a decision I don’t regret. I wandered around with a couple guys I met at the hostel named Mercer and Grayson, and we explored this awesome cliff structure that had over 10 monkeys in the trees above our heads the whole time we were there. The cliffs were also right on the water and every now and then the spray would lash up at us, reminding us of our surroundings, and calming our elevated body temperatures in the midday sun.

Sitting on the cliffs edge, I'm not scared easily, but thinking about what would happen if the roots of that tree lost their grip was pretty nerve-wracking!

Sitting on the cliffs edge, I’m not scared easily, but thinking about what would happen if the roots of that tree lost their grip was pretty nerve-wracking!

Sloth!!!

Sloth!!!

 

Monkeys!!

Monkeys!!

 

Sloth!

Sloth!

 

Sloth!!

Sloth!!

 

Did you see the sloth yet??!!

Did you see the sloth yet??!!

Monkeys!!

Monkeys!!

 

They are so comfortable climbing around in the trees, it really makes me jealous!! I want a tail that can grab stuff!

They are so comfortable climbing around in the trees, it really makes me jealous!! I want a tail that can grab stuff!

 

Just in case you missed it, I saw a sloth!!!!!!!! :)

Just in case you missed it, I saw a sloth!!!!!!!! 🙂

 

On the way to the cliffs, someone had pointed out a sloth that was climbing around in the trees, and when we went back, a couple hours later, he had maybe gotten two trees over. Such progress! Yet, when I think about it, that pace of life is what we strive to achieve when we’re at the beach most of the time. We want to relax and take things slow like a sloth does. That’s what Grayson and Mercer were doing, along with a crazy German guy who had ridden his bike all the way from Cancun, Mexico to Puerto Viejo, braving the traffic, the weather and somehow smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

15 km, and no cigarettes smoked. I really don't know how that German guy does it.

15 km, and no cigarettes smoked. I really don’t know how that German guy does it.

Along with telling me that cigarettes and alcohol keep him young, which I didn’t believe, he told me, in regard to his plans to go to Chile, that he didn’t know how long it would take him because he doesn’t set a goal each day. He lets it unfold as it may, and it seems to be working well for him. Of course it seems that he has the money to just let things unfold, which many of us don’t, but there are many people with more money than he who are caught in the mindset that they always need more. His mindset was more experiences, more adventures, and less worrying. His only plans were to make it to South America, by bicycle of course, and he was looking to hire a guide to help him get through the thick jungle of the Darien Gap, which has only been crossed by a handful of people, is not mapped, and is controlled by various guerilla militias and drug cartels. I wish him luck and admire the example he is setting!!! Pedal power!!!

Puerto Viejo proved to be one of my favorite places here in Costa Rica that I have been to so far, but I am looking forward to my next excursion, probably to Dominical, and will write more when that happens!

 

A nice stream running out to the sea.

A nice stream running out to the sea.

 

A trail in the Manzanillo-Gandoca Preserve headed to an empty beach.

A trail in the Manzanillo-Gandoca Preserve headed to an empty beach.

I'm finishing this thing off with another picture of that sloth!!

I’m finishing this thing off with another picture of that sloth!!

 

Good Vibes to all of you out there reading this! Thanks for taking interest in my travels!!

 

 

Politics of Costa Rica, and Possible Parallels to the US

Here in Costa Rica, the recent government elections had no shortage of excitement, and indeed the excitement is lingering on. There were around five candidates considered to be serious contenders for the presidency, and three candidates that really stood out strongly, but overall there were 15 political parties to choose from, a dizzying quantity to an American like myself, used to the rigidity of a two party system.

This election was not the norm for Costa Rica however, as they have endured many years of Partido Liberacion Nacional (National Liberation Party or PLN) and Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (Social Christian Unity Party or PUSC), with presidents from only those two parties since 1974. Before that, Costa Ricans had only had presidents from PLN and the Partido Unificación Nacional (National Union Party or PUN) since 1948, PUN being the predecessor to PUSC. Essentially, the country was ready for more options.

Araya

Johnny Araya Monge, womanizer, thief, and presidential candidate.

This year they were flooded with options, but three parties came out ahead, PLN, Partido Accion Ciudadano (Citizen Action Party or PAC) and Frente Amplio (roughly translated to Broad Front, or FA).

PAC’s presidential candidate was Luis Guillermo Solis, a Professor of History and Political Science at the University of Costa Rica, and a Fullbright Scholar at the University of Michigan. He comes from a humble background, his mother an educator and his father an uneducated businessman, and he has done his best to stick to his roots. He was originally a member of PLN, but broke off in 2005 with other members of the party, citing corruption and lack of direction as his reasons. In 2009, he became affiliated with PAC, and has been on the campaign trail vying for this opportunity to become president ever since.

FA’s presidential candidate was José María Villalta, the youngest candidate by far at age 36, with an interesting history as a lawyer, environmentalist, and political activist. He has been very involved in student movements, protests, and social movements. My host mom claims that he has provoked young protesters into being violent against police who were being peaceful, and that he is openly a communist, however I have seen no corroboration for the former, and see no problem with the latter. Additionally, her sources of news range from the TV to gossiping with her friends, so I’m not sure her viewpoint can be valued too highly.

The new kid on the block, Jose Maria Villalta. Student activist, environmentalist, lawyer, and all around down to earth guy. The day of the elections, he still managed to squeeze in his afternoon jog!

The new kid on the block, Jose Maria Villalta. Student activist, environmentalist, lawyer, and all around down to earth guy. The day of the elections, he still managed to squeeze in his afternoon jog!

PLN’s presidential candidate was Johnny Araya Monge, an engineer and politician who is on his fifth wife, and seems to have more than 5 different charges of corruption against him, none of which, of course, have been followed up on too closely. He is accused of taking illegal payments, using his political contacts to get a contract for a municipal waste treatment plant, giving incorrect information about his home, and, as of 2012, he had 7 open cases with the Office of Probity, Transparency, and Anti-Corruption, mostly for illicit enrichment.

The night of the elections, all the votes were tallied up and Solis was announced to have gotten the majority of the vote, with 31% of the vote, Araya got 29.6% of the vote, and Villalta got 17.1% of the vote. Here in Costa Rica, a candidate needs to get at least 40% of the vote in order to win, so in a situation like the present one, the election is going to a second round, for which the voting will take place on April 6th.

All of this excitement here in Costa Rica made me stop and think about the current political paradigm we have in the United States, with the Tea Party noisily breaking off from the establishment conservatives, and the Progressives a little less noisily breaking away from establishment liberals. It is very rare to hear someone speak favorably about our choice-limiting two party system, and many people are looking for alternatives. Additionally, countless groups have sprung up recently in opposition to the Citizens United decision that reinforces the need to raise obscene amounts of money to have a chance at political success, subsequently reinforcing the need to stick with parties that people know and are comfortable with donating to. We are nearing a breaking point.

The government shutdown situation (it seems so long ago now!) illustrated my point quite clearly. We had a small faction of the conservative party make a radical power play that ended up pitting members of their own party against them, not to mention pretty much everybody in the country, and yet the faction held strong. They are very well funded (interested in how well funded? Check out this link: http://projects.propublica.org/graphics/koch) and they have a decent portion of the country convinced that the problem is unequivocally Obama, the Affordable Care Act, and “big government”.

However not everyone is convinced, and there are many cases of Republicans breaking off from the Republican party because they fear the direction that it is headed in. Additionally, there are even more cases of Tea Party members trying to drag unwilling Republicans in the direction of the radical right. The Senate Conservatives Fund, a Tea Party aligned group, is taking aim at two top ranking Republicans, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader and Speaker of the House, respectively, because they are apparently not conservative enough. The SCF, along with groups like Freedom Works, Madison Project and others are funding an effort to unseat the incumbent McConnell from Kentucky and install a new, more radical leader of the Senate Republicans. The SCF is also encouraging House Republicans to unseat Boehner, claiming “Unless we install a new leader who will actually go on offense, Democrats will never fear us and we will never have any leverage.”

The perspective that John Boehner hasn’t been on offense is one that I can understand coming from the SCF, but it is one that I certainly do not share. The SCF and other affiliated Tea Party groups are looking for someone who will come out and say “we want less government, and we won’t let a single thing happen until minimum wage standards, environmental protections, and taxes in general are done away with completely”. They have been working hard to produce rhetoric that conflates regulation with impediments to job creation, and, given some of the lesson materials I was given by my Economics professor last semester, they are certainly convincing smart people out there that this is exactly the case.

What do I foresee? What do I hope? They are one in the same, and that is the fall of the Republican Party, due to the breakoff of extreme-right Tea Party politicians, and the simultaneous radicalization of the Democratic Party. Already we have progressive members of Congress taking tough stands on key issues, like Elizabeth Warren and her crusade against Wall Street banks, Alan Greyson and his fight against drone strikes (among many other fights), and Raul Grijalva and his work for immigration reform among many others. Additionally, there are progressive, grassroots action organizations like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the Daily Kos, CREDO Action, Sum Of Us, Act Blue, and many others fighting to promote progressive candidates to office, and taking stances against pro-corporate policies like the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Act that is still in the works. Work is being done to provide more options for Democratic voters sick of the Democratic politicians being in bed with self-interested corporations.

Luis Guillermo Solis, future president of Costa Rica, Fullbright Scholar, professor, and  did I mention that he's the future president of Costa Rica? April 6th it will happen!

Luis Guillermo Solis, future president of Costa Rica, Fullbright Scholar, professor, and did I mention that he’s the future president of Costa Rica? April 6th it will happen!

Who really knows what will happen in the states, but I am confident that when the second round comes to Costa Rica in April, Partido Accion Ciudadano will win, and Luis Guillermo Solis will take the presidency. All the people who voted for Frente Amplio, Partido Unido Social Cristiana, and even a few who voted for the ultra-conservative candidate Otto Guevara, will definitely choose PAC because they know that they don’t want more of the same corruption. Just like we know the stalemate, corruption, and crony-capitalism that Democrats and Republicans both produce, Costa Ricans know the corruption and pro-corporate tendencies of Partido Liberacion Nacional. The difference between Americans and Costa Ricans? Well, this year Costa Ricans simply had more choices. Let’s hope we do too in 2016!!!

Thanks for reading, and feel free to call me out on any mistakes I made, or feel free to add your own assessment of the political situation yourself! I’m always interested to hear other perspectives! Also, the next blog post will have pictures of a sloth that I took, and a bunch of monkeys as well, so don’t think that this is going to be all serious talk! 🙂 Much love everybody!