By Selena Alvarado
San Jose, Costa Rica
There are two things that have taken me by surprise in Costa Rica. In the few hours after arrival I noticed Costa Ricans do not say "adios" or "hasta luego" as I would have guessed in a Central American country. Instead they use the word "ciao" as a salutation of farewell. I have a feeling I will be taking that word back with me to the States and using it often.
The other shocking thing is the driving. I felt I was close to death while in the car with our taxi man. Drivers in Costa Rica do not like speed limits, turn signals or stop signs. However there was no accident--in my short ride. I believe the reason behind this is that everyone is a crazy driver. In the U.S. you have your crazy drivers and your safe drivers. In Costa Rica they are all crazy drivers! Our taxi man was incredibly nice and helpful and he was a SAFE crazy driver.
Aside from culture shock, my traveling companion Hannah Lambert and I got to do a little exploring on our own once we finally arrived at our host family in one piece. We walked around the neighborhood which mainly consists of houses and a few restaurants and convenience stores. As we were walking, we found this beautiful alleyway formed by many trees and bushes. A man in a nearby house saw us admiring the beautiful landscaping. He asked if we wanted to see more plants, so we followed him deeper into the alley and uncovered a variety of different plants, from bamboo to bananas to plants with medicinal properties. There was also a plant that held a special place in my heart. There was a chayote vine which grows a vegetable that reminds me of a squash called chayote. The house I grew up in had a chayote vine alongside the gated fence. I remember when the chayote leaf would dry up, I would grab all the leaves I could and crumble them all up in my small hands. I do not know why I found this so amusing as a kid but I definitely remember enjoying it. I even was tempted to try that today, but I fought the urge to relive that precious childhood memory. It was definitely a little slice of home for me in Costa Rica.
We also got to see a banana tree with bananas growing. Unfortunately they were not ripe enough to eat so we couldn't get a bit of this tasty treat that is main crop in the country.
It's been a great first day in Costa Rica. Tomorrow we head out to Playa Blanca where we will be staying the rest of the week. We will be working on a sea turtle conservation project on the ocean. After a good night's rest I will be ready to take on the next journey in Costa Rica.