Yo Hablo Espanol

Trip Start Oct 07, 2013
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Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Puntarenas,
Saturday, November 9, 2013

Some time ago DH (where the D stands for 'Don't They Speak English') surprised me by announcing that she wanted to learn a second language- apparently this was triggered by some sort of Oprah-type show that announced with great fanfare that learning a second language would help stave off Alzheimers. I'm not sure how true this is, but whatever the Princess wants must be incorporated into our travel adventures post haste. As true maple-syrup Canadians we immediately looked at French but when we married up our near term travel plans with official languages, Spanish was going to be a much better choice. With the decision made, and not having seen a TV infomercial she didn't take at face value, DH immediately converted one of her many birthday gifts into a Rosetta Stone Spanish-For-Latin-America package...which remained largely unopened until we left on this latest adventure. And why didn't I make use of the CD's you ask? I was effectively informed that language-learning is a competitive body contact, blood sport and since I supposedly had a big advantage with my pedestrian French (and the fact I know how to say "yo no hablo espanol"), I was banned from reading or speaking Spanish until DH had decided that she had enough of a head-start (apparently somewhat unfamiliar with the concept that to gain a head-start you actually need to move forward)

That said, we have made a relatively big commitment to hablamos espanol. With our bearless stops in Manitoba in our rear-view mirror, we have made our way to Jaco, Costa Rica which sits in the middle of Spanish speaking Central America. We found a nice place to stay which, not accidentally, is positioned right across the street from the Spanish language school  we're going to use (I didn't want DH to have any negative schoolday flashbacks by picking up detentions for tardiness). We're planning on staying here for 3 months- we will be exploring Costa Rica but we're going to use Jaco as a base and we've already started our first month of school (although, to put this into context, the more serious university-credit types are putting in 6 hours a day along with homestays with Spanish speaking families- we're on the lite program with only 2 hours per day along with copious amounts of homework/tarea). For the last couple of years of traveling through Asia we rarely stayed in one place for more than a couple of days so this is a big change of pace for us.

Jaco (pronounced 'haco'- j sounds like h, e sounds like a, z sounds like s, v sounds like b, etc etc- the "v sounds like b rule" has largely rechristened me as Bic or BBB- Big Bad Bic) has a large American ex-pat community along with a plethora of tour offices and souvenir shops, so it's not exactly an authentic Costa Rican experience but it has the infrastructure we're looking for. In addition to Spanish schools, it has a lonely tennis court (so DH can continue to practice smashing balls/pelotas at me with an alarming viciousness), a nice selection of spas (mandatory for the Princess), a fitness centre (so I can stay buff- apparently the pec dance still makes Carol C weak in the knees), a dance studio for future salsa lessons, as well as numerous restaurants, bars, and shops. We bought ourselves a couple of 50's vintage bicycles and we're starting to explore. After just a few weeks here, Jaco is giving us some lasting memories:

1- Es muy dificil aprender espanol. Our Monday to Friday routine starts somewhat comically with our hand-holding walk to school (sometimes DH lets me carry her books). And if you've ever wondered what happened to those tiny desk-chair combos that were used by Elementary Schools years ago, apparently some were shipped to Costa Rica for a second life. After erasing the board, and turning on the fan, I squeeze into one of these furniture girdles only to have the entire contraption rise up with me when it's time to leave (Dave B is right- I really do need to shed some pounds). Johanna and Agusto of IPAI are charged with the unenviable task of taking us from zero to basic conversation in Spanish. At this point we've learned a lot of words and even more rules, but putting them together on the fly without sounding like you've just zip-lined headfirst into a tree/arbol is proving to be a little more difficult.

2- It's unrelentingly hot and humid here. Much of Asia was hot and humid but Costa Rica seems to be in another zone. Restaurants offer sweating and non-sweating sections. Part of our struggle is due to the many physical activities we're doing here- even the locals look at us with a sympathy usually reserved for wounded puppies when we schedule our tennis games from 1-2pm. Part is due to a complete lack of wind- I didn't think it was possible to be sitting on the Pacific coast and to be left cheering the lonely breezes that find their way inland. And part is due to the cost of electricity- it's very high and sits on a sliding scale that heavily penalizes the air conditioner types- at key moments of the day we huddle around the a/c in our room jostling for position- even our fitness centre, which advertises a/c only seems to turn it on for a few minutes a day (as the pools of sweat around each piece of equipment will attest- bring a towel people!!). 

3- It's one of the best places in the world to learn how to surf but... es muy difícil aprender el surf. Apparently between 2-3 hours before high tide the beaches of Jaco offer something of a surfing paradise for all those learning to surf. That might be true but it doesn't mean that we'll be "hanging ten" any time soon (at least, not on purpose). I'm not sure if it's a complete lack of flexibility, bad joints, or any discernible ability to balance on a moving board, but I'm giving new meaning to the term 'wipe-out'. DH is doing a little better but I'm sure it looks as though there's a sniper in the trees picking us off each time we try to stand. Each attempt at surfing is also followed by a thorough documentation of all new and recurring injuries (DH is winning that game but primarily because of a large bug that flew into her ear and never came out).

4- Playing tennis in Jaco offers up a series of unique challenges. There's really only 1 playable court in Jaco and we're down there most days. The distractions/viewing audience can be distracting. It's not unusual for Toucans and Macaws to fly over and perch in the trees around the court. And we always get a visit from a large pair of iguanas (Ricky and Lucy as named by DH) who enjoy watching from the trees or the patch of grass adjacent to the court. That part is great but what these critters do to the court is nothing short of toxic and dangerous. Who knew that that much poop could come from such relatively small critters at those heights- it will surprise no one that I am assigned the 'poop' side of the court. And with the court situated next to a small river that is apparently home to the odd crocodile, any balls hit over the fence are automatically forfeited.  

5- The storms of Jaco can be spectacular. We've gone through two small earthquakes and a couple of record-breaking thunderstorms that are so intense you expect to see the town washed out to sea. We came here during the last month of the rainy season and already the storms are lessening- too bad, they were powerful works of art. 

6- The dash for life. One of the many eco-things that Costa Rica is known for are the turtle habitats along both coasts. Female turtles return home to lay their eggs in holes they dig along the beach and the leave the soon-to-be tortuguitas to fend for themselves. These endangered critters face any number of hazards before and after making a dash for the ocean, and not many survive. Because we're not here at the right time of the year we didn't expect to see this miracle of nature but as we were starting a very early morning walk along Jaco beach, we happened upon a big number of these little dudes as they struggled to find the ocean. They didn't all make it but it was somewhat inspiring effort to watch.

7- There are an extraordinary number of prostitutes and eager customers in Jaco. During one of our first night forays through Jaco we stopped in at the Beatles Bar for a hamburger and fries It was only after I noticed the sign in behind DH that was advertising hourly rates for rooms in the attached hotel that we realized we were the only 'couple' in the entire place- others were either older American dudes (apparently referred to as 'grampas') or local girls in skimpy clothing that would give spandex a bad name. This was our introduction to the darker side of Jaco (although the hamburger was actually very tasty?). There's a couple of key spots you head to if you're looking for this activity and there's almost a floor-show quality to watching it play out from a distance. Prostitution exists all over the world but I don't think we had ever seen it this bold and brassy- there is only one hotel in all of Jaco that actually bans prostitutes and the rest (including ours unfortunately) have implemented a fairly formal check-in, check-out process (how drunk the dudes are seems to dictate how well the process is followed). We had 20-30 guys show up at our complex for a bachelor party weekend. By the end DH had visions of staking these guys out at the tennis court and allowing iguanas to poop on them continuously. I'm really not sure what the right answer is for prostitution but the Jaco model is definitely not one to follow.

DH has one of her BFFs coming down for a short visit around Xmas time. At least we think she's coming down- as our readers will know, Deb P is somewhat geographically challenged so we may be getting a quizzical phone call from Puerto Rico instead of Costa Rica. Assuming she gets on the right plane, we're going to explore some of the eco highlights of Costa Rica. We're both looking forward to this diversionary roadtrip before our second month of Spanish lessons. 
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Comments

Larry on

Great to have you back posting, I assume future posts will be higher in Spanish content!!

Elaine & Doug on

Blog muy divertido!

Terry on

Bueno amigos! I too am glad you are back blogging. I continue to live vicariously through you. Enjoy your travels!!!

Carol C on

Now I'm not sure about you Bic saying that you need to lose weight to fit in the desks at school. You have been working out so much I just think it is all those big muscles you have built that are making the desk stick to you!!! And yes I do love a good muscle dance!

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