Costa Rica Rewind

Wow, I haven’t written for almost a month. I can’t say anything too exciting has happened in the past month. I’ve just been busying being an almost adult. I filed my own taxes fairly successfully. I purchased a couple of things for my trip to China. I’ve been working part-time at High Desert Rheumatology. Reading, watching tv (especially dramas in Chinese), and working on some small side projects fills in the rest of my time.

In just a little over two weeks I will be in China. But before I write in detail about that trip. I thought I would rewind a little and talk about Costa Rica. I realized that I haven’t shared much travel advice. So here’s how I went about planning my three months in Costa Rica.

The first thing I did was to look for an inexpensive way I could live in a country. That’s when I stumbled across workaway.info where you work in exchange for room and board. I had also looked into woofing (organic farming), but would have had to pay for individual countries/regions. The attraction of workaway is that there are other types of jobs, from teaching to being an au pair to house sitting all around the world for just one fee. It’s only 25 euros to have an account for two years.

In June and July, I looked through all the postings of farms in Costa Rica and chose maybe twenty favorites. Then I contacted about four of them. I received responses from two. I let them know that I was planning on going to Costa Rica in October. You can read about why I chose Costa Rica in my post “Venturing to Central America.”

In July I purchased roundtrip plane tickets for $780.07. $40 of that was for booking with a travel agent. Here’s the itinerary for that trip.

TRAVEL DATE AIRLINE DEPARTURE ARRIVAL
10Oct13 UNITED AIRLINES
UA 4938
DURANGO, CO
Time
9:47am
DENVER, CO
Time
11:01am

10Oct13 UNITED AIRLINES
UA 1516
DENVER, CO
Time
1:19pm
HOUSTON GEO BUSH, TX
Time
4:35pm
10Oct13 UNITED AIRLINES
UA 1565
HOUSTON GEO BUSH, TX
Time
6:04pm
SAN JOSE CR SJO, COSTA RICA
Time
8:47pm
08Jan14 UNITED AIRLINES
UA 1097
SAN JOSE CR SJO, COSTA RICA
Time
7:30am
HOUSTON GEO BUSH, TX
Time
11:25am
08Jan14 UNITED AIRLINES
UA 737
HOUSTON GEO BUSH, TX
Time
12:50pm
DENVER, CO
Time
2:19pm
08Jan14 UNITED AIRLINES
UA 4875
DENVER, CO
Time
3:43pm
DURANGO, CO
Time
4:57pm

Around that time I also booked a hotel with shuttle from the airport for my first night in Costa Rica. It was $116.39. A bit more than I had wanted to spend, but for my mom’s security and my own I decided it was better to be careful as this was my first time in foreign country on my own and I was getting in after dark.

I continued to work full-time at Animas Credit Union and was able to save up several thousand dollars. There wasn’t much else to do but wait. I quit working a couple of weeks before my flight. This gave me time to pack and take care of stuff around the house. I did not have to worry about applying for a visa because you can get up to 90 days in Costa Rica upon entry into the country with just a valid passport.

I had a successful flight into Costa Rica. I eventually made it to the first farm, Finca Chinchilla. Here I stayed for a month and a half. The first three weeks were free because I was staying long-term. I then paid four dollars a day. When I left at the end of November I paid $100.

I then did four days of vacationing. Food, hostels, buses, park fees, and a tour totaled about $135. I only ate at restaurants three times. The other food costs I split with friend. We just used the hostel’s kitchen.

I then went to the second farm, Villas Mastatal. This farm was considerably different from the first. The work was quite different as was the cost. Although I “volunteered,” I paid $12 a day to stay there. However, I worked fewer hours and really this was eco-tourism. It was the way in which the owners made a living. Basically it was like a hostel, but on an organic integral farm. I stayed here thirteen days and spent $180.

I returned to the first farm, Finca Chinchilla for the last part of my trip. I paid them another $56 for two weeks.

The final five days I was in Costa Rica, I went to a beach on last time and toured San Jose. I didn’t spend much because I couchsurfed for three nights.

In October 2013 I had $1288.94 in my checking account and about $220 cash. When I left January 8th I had $706.72 left in my banking account and about $30 cash. I had already paid for the Holiday Inn and airplane so I did not need extra for that in my checking account.

Here’s a breakdown of the costs of this trip:

Plane Tickets $780.07
Holiday Inn $116.39
ATM and money processing fees $6.22
Finca Chinchilla $156
Villas Mastatal $181 ($1 for an hour of internet)
Tucan Hotel-two nights $20
Backpackers Hostel-two nights $24
El Cactus Hostel-one night $18
Hotel de Mar-one night $12
Maleku Hostel-one night $15
Tours and entrance fees-$75
Food-$70
Transportation (mostly buses)- $55
Extras (gifts, souvenirs, donations, etc)-$100
Exit fee $26.80

Grand Total=$1665.48           excluding plane ticket=$885.41 (spent in country)          about $295 a month

Wow that took me way longer to catalog than I thought it would. This is an estimate. I can’t remember the exact amount of cash I took so I may be off by as much as $30.

Honesty I could have spent less if I hadn’t stayed in the Holiday Inn the first night, but now I know for next time. I don’t begrudge spending the money though. The hotel was really great, the staff was friendly, the breakfast was satisfying, and the ATM was right next door. I’ve included links for all the hostels I stayed in. I recommend all of them especially Maleku Hostel which is less than five minutes from the airport and includes a free airport shuttle. All hostels have free wifi, a kitchen, and book exchange. I hope that I’ve inspired someone else to travel. A few months of hard work and saving and you can go almost anywhere you desire. If you have questions, comment below or message me 🙂 I’d be happy to answer any questions.

Next I’ll be working on cataloging my expenses for China. This trip will be very different in nature. Therefore very different in cost. Happy traveling!

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Please Pass the Salsa Lizano

Well thankfully I didn’t gain any pounds while in Costa Rica, but it certainly wasn’t my diet that kept it that way. It’s a good thing I was working on farms, because for three months I dealt with “comida tipica.” Costa Rican food is good flavor wise (not sure if it’s very healthy) the first few times, but after a while everything started looking and tasting the same.

Breakfast

gallo pinto with fried eggs, bread, and ripe plantains

100_2028gallo pinto with scrambled eggs, fried plantains, and cream

100_2038Banana Pancake

Eating out: Lunch/Dinner 

Very typical plates that you can get at any Costa Rican restaurant or soda (basically a kitchen with a bar all over Costa Rica, in the countryside and city) are called casados (marriage). Generally you get rice, beans, salad, some sort of meat in a sauce, and a refresco for $3-$5. Continue reading

The Autobus

It’s time I write about buses, seeing as I spent many days worth of my life on buses while in Costa Rica.

Riding buses was really the only option I had to travel in Costa Rica. It was a good opportunity to see the countryside and immerse myself in the culture. At the same time it was a test in patience and waiting. I got really good at waiting and being content–a kind of meditation I suppose.

Technical Aspects
Transportation is cheap, and depending on the area fairly reliable. In three months of traveling around Costa Rica, I spent less than $50 on buses. For an hour bus ride to the farm from San Isidro de General I paid about 80 cents. I paid six to eight dollars for the bus ride from San Jose to San Isidro, a three-hour bus ride. In San Jose, buses are a bit more expensive though. 

There are many bus companies and many different bus stations. I spent an hour one day asking where one of the bus stations was. I asked about five people. A lot of people you ask don’t know. I asked at a hotel that was right across the street from the station and they said the station didn’t exist. Also all stations look a bit different and may not be well-marked. On the plus side, google maps is fairly accurate about where the bus stations are, so look it up in advance if you have a chance. Continue reading

Weather

Today is my last day in Costa Rica. It’s strange to think that tomorrow night at this time I should be home if all go as planned.

For a last trip I decided to go to visit a Poas Volcano. I checked into my hostel that’s close to the airport this morning and dropped off my luggage. Then I walked to the bus station and just barely made it onto the bus. I paid $2.50 for the bus.

After a little over an hour bus ride we arrived at Volcan Poas National Park. I paid the $10 entrance fee. The ticket guy asked if I spoke English. Maybe I could have lied and said I was a Costa Rican. Not that I would have, but it’s nice that they don’t immediately assume I’m a tourist. Someone one day asked if I was tica (I think my tan helps.).

Anyway, we hiked 400 meters to the crater viewing area. Here is a beautiful view of the crater we had.100_2620

Then we hiked 800 meters to the lagoon.100_2625

Continue reading

A morning solo

December 28, 2013
The entire family went to the beach today. I offered to stay back with Maria (the daughter who has a two and a half month son) to take care of the daily tasks.

I have to say I feel quite accomplished. The family and the other volunteers left at 4:30 this morning. I slept till 6.

At 6 I fed the four hundred chickens, cleaned their water, and collected eggs. I fed the chickens and chicks on the other side of the house. Then I went back to collect eggs.

I made myself breakfast. Collected eggs again.

At 7:30 I milked the cow all by myself. This was the biggest success of my day, as I have never milked this cow by myself. I gave the cows water.

Watered some flowers at the front of the house.

Went back to the chickens.

Finally had a chance to wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen.

Went back to collect eggs.

Cleaned some eggs. Got stung by a wasp.

Collected eggs for the 6th time.

Finished cleaning all 330+ eggs.

Started making lunch.

Fed the chickens around noon and collected the last bunch of eggs.

Took a shower and made myself a delicious lunch.

It took me until almost noon to finish all the daily tasks by myself. It was fun taking care of the house by myself for one day for the experience, but I don’t need to do it again. However after today, I feel I can call myself a semi-certified farmer.

 

Missing Christmas just a little

December 25
I’m wearing shorts and a tank top. It’s December and I have a tan. Humid and over 80 degrees. There are absolutely no Christmas songs stuck in my head. The decorations are minimal in the city and non-existent at the farm. Everyday of this month hasn’t felt like Christmas season to me. All the traditions I associate with Christmas just aren’t in Costa Rica. In the city there are some decorations, but it feels like it’s more for the tourists. The television has had some commercials about Christmas and some kid programs about Christmas, but it hardly compares to the bombardment of Christmas shows in the US. It is nice to have escaped the commercialism of Christmas here, but at the same it’s strange to have Christmas without it.

For Christmas Eve day a pig was killed to for meat to make tamales as is tradition in Costa Rica. In the afternoon we went to the river, swam, jumped off rocks while enjoying the perfect blue skies and sunshine. Then we came back and assembled over a hundred tamales. In the late afternoon there was short rain shower, which isn’t common this time of year, but I imagined it was Costa Rican snow. At 8:30 in the evening we went to Memo’s mom’s house to celebrate Christmas.

It was a fairly typical gathering. There were lots of family, food, visiting, some dancing, and some music. I didn’t find the food particularly special, but it was very typical. Yuca, green bananas, chicharones, pork, some chicken, gallo pinto (rice and black beans), corn tortillas. My Christmas Eve “gift” was internet, so I was able to call my mom and wish her Merry Christmas. At midnight we all said Feliz Navidad and proceeded to give a hug and kiss on a cheek to everyone at the house. There were more than twenty people to greet. We got back home a little before 1am. At home 1am is not that late, but in Costa Rica it’s like staying up till 4am.

We slept in a little today. Christmas day is considered a day of rest and vacation. After breakfast we headed to the river and walked to several waterfalls. Costa Rica has some of the best waterfalls in the world. I’m convinced. Lunch was typical Costa Rican fare. There were no exchange of gifts today, no Christmas carols, no Christmas movies, no snow, no eggnog, no Christmas desserts. I did have a mug of hot chocolate with breakfast though, and listened to the one Christmas album I happen to have on my iPod because I really miss Christmas carols.

I wanted to have the experience of holidays and special occasions in another country and now I have. It’s made me realize that traditions are a big part of holidays as are friends and family. I feel extremely fortunate to be with this family for Christmas, but at the same time it’s not my family. There are always family members coming to the house to visit and eat, but they’re all strangers to me.

I have now had my birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in Costa Rica. I have had good experiences for the three events, but I think I prefer them in the US. Yes I have friends here in Costa Rica and a few adopted families, but it’s not the same as celebrating with loved ones. I think at this point in my life I have associated these holidays with certain situations, so it was quite different to have them in Costa Rica.

December 28 side notes
Luz told me that this year was different for the whole family. Usually they have a tree and Christmas lights, but this year they just ran out of time.
Perhaps the decorations would have made if feel more like Christmas or perhaps not.
New Years is more important to the Chinchilla family because the entire family comes.
When I wrote this piece it didn’t feel like Christmas like I expected it to, but by the end of the day it did. I felt quite happy and satisfied. I watched a movie with a couple of new friends and ate part of a chocolate orange which helped immensely. Chocolate at Christmas always helps.

 

Villas Mastatal

Sometimes, some places take a while to adjust to and sometimes they don’t. The first few days of being here I felt a bit out of place, but as different volunteers started to come and go I really grew to love this place and the people.

There is always so much to do–for work and play.

15 people in 15 days

December 17

I have spent an unforgettable 15 days here at Villas Mastatal. It took me a few days to settle in and feel at home. I have met 15 volunteers from all around the world, each with unique stories to share. We have laughed and talked and worked together. I have known some people for only a few days and others for the entire time. It has been such an enriching experience in my life. I have learned so much more about people, the world, and farming. I have seen more birds here than anywhere else. I have watched the sun set and rise almost everyday. I have been to more waterfalls than I can count. I have learned to work hard but balance it with rest and relaxation. It has been such a neat experience living where the world comes together in one place. It has been paradise.