Happy birthday to me. Sunday was my time to shine, so I copied my cousin Martin's concept of hosting an all-day open house where people could bring food and drinks fitting the time of day. As a fun addition to the concept, I decided to take a group picture of the party every hour:
The party went great, a lot of people came over, even people who had big papers due at midnight or the next day. That's love. Thanks guys.
More pictures from the birthday here (click to go to album):
The night before Sunday I came back from four days in Nicaragua. A few of our programmes were supposed to have gone there this week to monitor Sunday's elections, but Nicaragua cancelled the delegation so I had the week off instead. And on Tuesday, I decided to pack my stuff and go with my Ethiopian/Canadian classmate Atkilt to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.
As we didn't plan the trip properly, I didn't get to see a lot of Nicaragua's popular sights but we had a good time. Thursday night Atkilt left for a 6 hour bus ride and a 4 hour boat ride to the secluded Caribbean town of Bluefields to do research for a documentary he's doing with some of our other classmates. Luckily, we had met some nice backpackers with whom I hung out until I had to go back to Costa Rica on Saturday. The backpackers were called Josefine and Kerstin from Germany and Nick from Canada/Colombia. They look like this:
The big thingy in the background is a huge "acoustic shell" designed by the American Glen Howard. It was overlooking a huge square (Plaza de la Fé) filled with empty merry-go-rounds and other rides. We were let in by a lazy security guard and took some nice pictures.
More pictures from Nicaragua (click to go to album):
Kerstin, Josefine and NIck had rented a car and were going north west to the town of León where two of my UPEACE friends (Jasmine, US, and Dobrawa, Norway/Poland) were supposedly staying. So I caught a ride with them and wrote to my UPEACE friends that I was coming to León. Our Costa Rican phones didn't work in Nicaragua so when they never replied on Facebook, I didn't really know if I would even meet them there.
When we arrived in León, I checked into a hostel and stayed there a bit with the backpackers. Suddenly Jasmine and Dobrawa walk in the front door. They hadn't gotten my message, they just saw someone they knew. Unfortunately, they were on their way south, so I decided to hang out with the backpackers a bit longer and go to the beach for the night. We made it to a rustic beach cabin and spent a nice evening eating seafood and playing pool. Next morning I had to leave and travelled all of Saturday to make it home in the evening.
Nicaragua was interesting, and I will definitely go back. Next time with actual plans. It's more exotic than Costa Rica, in a good and a bad way. There's much more life around you and street stalls selling food but also a lot of begging and - reportedly - a lot more crime. I was paranoid about my nice big Canon EOS 60D D-SLR camera, and that's why I took so few pictures.
A last little anecdote. My friend Elizabeth (of former blog post fame) texted me that the last buses from San José to Ciudad Colón left the Coca-Cola bus station (yeah) around 10:30 pm. This was around 9:45 pm and I was still in the bus on the way to the Tica Bus terminal. (The bus was scheduled to leave Managua at 12 noon but left at 1:30 pm and took forever at the border.) So when the bus pulled up, I jumped out, waited impatiently for my luggage and jumped into a taxi. "Coca-Cola por favor," I said. The driver thought I was another tourist so he offered to take me all the way to Ciudad Colón. It would only be around 8,000 Colones. 8,000, I thought. "OK, let's go if you can do it for 8,000," I told him. In Spanish. But the guy didn't turn off the meter. "Are you going to leave that on? Because then it's going to be at least 16,000. I live there. Otherwise, let's go to Coca-Cola." After a few grimaces, he turned off the meter and took me all the way home to my casa for ... 8,000 Colones. Booyah.
Last night, the circumstances let me reflect on the pros and cons of not drinking alcohol, besides feeling better the next day and saving money when going out. This is my tale.
My talented American friend Elizabeth was asked to guest star for an up-and-coming local reggae/ska band, and a lot of UPEACE people showed up to support her and hear her sing. She was great, the best singer in the three bands that played that night.
The venue was a restaurant/bar called La Cueva (the cave) in the neighbouring town of Piedades de Santa Ana. There were four or five bartenders behind the bar and a fair selection of booze, beer and softdrinks. Two of my friends had already gotten their orders of Gin and Tonic and Vodka Tonic, respectively, so I was fairly confident that I could order a tonic water. I didn't feel like anything too sweet.
So I asked a girl behind the bar. The band was playing so loud that we both had to step on something and lean towards each other to hear anything at all. I started by asking for 'agua tónica'. I had noticed before what was written on the bottles in the supermarkets, and I was proud to remember the word in Spanish. The girl, on the other hand, understood nothing. So I had to explain.
- Es como un Gin Tonic, pero sin gin. No gin.
- Quiere un gin?
- No, sólo tonic. Agua tónica.
Her face was bursting with incredulity, so I stepped back down, smiled patiently, erased the conversation with a waving gesture and asked for a grapefruit soda. Problem solved. Or, as it was, postponed.
The next couple of hours I ordered club soda with lime and salt. It worked perfectly, and the staff were attentive enough to offer me alternative salt shakers when they saw me bang them against the table. I listened to music, talked to people, and even played some games of Costarican-rules pool (the 1 and 15 have assigned pockets (!)) with peers and locals.
After a while, my (non-alcoholic) spirits were high, and as an act of optimism and a belief in human beings, I ventured again. I carefully avoided the girl from before and asked a guy behind the bar. After a very similar exchange of words and a very similar lack of (mutual) understanding, he went to the fridge, talked to another guy, and the other guy now brought me a bottle of club soda. I wagged my finger and tried to repeat to the new guy that I wanted an 'agua tónica'.
The guy stared through me with absolutely no facial expression, and I decided to go straight to the top. I had noticed that all complex drinks (anything including more than one ingredient) were made by one specific woman, so I asked the guy to let me talk to her. Por favor.
He nodded, and went to talk to her. The drinkmaker came over.
- Hola, Quiero un tonic. Agua tónica.
- Gin Tonic?
- No no. No gin. Como un Gin Tonic, pero solo el refresco. Tonica.
She nodded with a notable air of reluctance and went to the back. I crossed my fingers and waited. After two minutes, the drinkmaker herself walks up to me behind the bar and presents me with a tumbler with tissue paper around it and a straw sticking out of it. My optimism reared its happy-go-lucky head again. With confidence, she presented the product.
- Gin Tonic.
My frustration was now in the red. I kindly declined the freshly made classic, this lasagna of alcoholic drinks, and decided on two things. One, I wouldn't order anything more at this bar. Two, they probably wouldn't serve me any more at this bar. It was late anyway, and I wasn't thirsty. How much easier it would have been if I could have just ordered a normal Gin and Tonic ...
About half an hour later, my housemate/friend/landlord Álvaro arrived at the bar. He'd been at a wedding with our Egyptian friend Marina, and both were in a good mood. A very good mood.
As the crowd started dissolving, I realised that my most logical choice for a ride home was drunk. I thought drunk Álvaro would probably get offended if I took a cab or went with someone else, but I was ready to do it. Until Shannon brought up a solution that hadn't even crossed my mind. Why didn't I just drive? Of course. I hadn't touched a drop of alcohol in 15 days. So we quickly persuaded Álvaro to give me his keys, and I drove Maj, Marina and ourselves home through the deserted streets of Piedades and Ciudad Colón. When we arrived, Álvaro was very grateful, and I felt good and responsible. Not only did I drive us all home safely, but I also managed not to harm Álvaro's uninsured Honda.
I'm starting to get used to this non-alcoholism.
Wow, it's been almost a week since my last post. I have been very busy, reading for my classes (we're all going through the Foundation Course right now) and getting to know my fellow students. Over the weekend I attended three different potluck meals.
There are two primary things to share in this post.
Firstly, I've decided to move. The place I live now is a spacious, chill house with a large living room area and a full kitchen. But it's a bit far away from Ciudad Colón where all the other students live, and as long as I don't have a scooter or anything (keep an eye on this blog for more news on that), it's a hassle to get between home and the town. We're four people living in this area, and after fighting for our rights for some days, we managed to get the UPEACE school bus to come to our house which is great in the morning but only one of the afternoon buses goes there.
The place I'm moving to is at my new pal Álvaro's house. It's in Ciudad Colón in a little gated community called Las Palmas. My new room will be a LOT smaller but the house is a lot neater and cleaner, and Bridgitt from Canada and Álvaro from Costa Rica who live there are very nice and cool people. (So are my current housemates by the way. Especially Gayatri from southern India is an amazing and generous cook and just loads of fun.) The new house has a few other advantages compared to my current house. It has hot water in the shower and in the faucets (and not an electric heater in the shower head), and it has an actual house number. Not that it matters much, but oddly, it comforts me.
Secondly, I have been stripped of my democratic rights. When I left Denmark, I decided to "emigrate" and not have a Danish postal address. This means that I can still receive my student grant (SU), I save 0,67% in (church) taxes, but I still pay income tax. To a system which I now have no influence on. That's right: I can't vote.
Maj and I have been talking to Martin Nielsen, the Danish honorary consul in Costa Rica, and because Maj kept an address in Denmark, she can vote. But I can't.
That's it for now. If you made it to this line, thanks for your patience and interest. Feel free to comment on my blog posts and ask questions.
Yesterday, a couple of people had the sympathetic idea of inviting everyone at school to go to a local bar in the nearby town of Piedades to have a few quiet beers on a Tuesday night.
Then some guy at the bar brought out party hats, plastic leis and whistles. Then this happened:
After a while, a local guy walked in. He was middle-aged and wearing a black hat, sunglasses and finger gloves. And even though we were all sure that he was Gaddafi (who had decided to escape to the only country without an army), he thought he was Michael Jackson:
I'm quite tired now. It's Saturday night, and I have just returned to my house after an afternoon in San José and watching an Argentinian movie without subtitles. Luckily, my American friend Elizabeth and I were accompanied by César from Mexico and Tito from Spain who willingly translated and explained what happened.
Wednesday was the first day of orientation at UPEACE. As overwhelming as it was to meet about 150 new people from all over the world, it has been three interesting, fun and exhausting days.
Since the last post, I have: taught some newbies to throw a frisbee, planted the seed for a local Peace Film Festival, bought a blazer for 10 colones (around 2 U.S. cents), partied, bought my lamp (but not yet a bulb, had a conversation in Vietnamese, spent a small fortune on taxis, tried both pizza places in Ciudad Colón, gone to see a Korean string quartet from Germany, witnessed an elementary school band and a samba group in the same day, eaten a bunch of rice and beans, and today I managed to hunt down an Asian store in San José where I could buy Vietnamese rice paper and fish sauce.
As a special service, I will elaborate on one (01) of the experiences mentioned above. Leave a comment and let me know which one tickles your curiosity.
Friday I didn't really go grocery shopping. But today I thought I should check out the little convenience store five minutes from my house. So after I had been sitting in the living room with my laptop with something inane on the TV (that's right, I feel at home already), I decided to take a cold shower (since the shower head's built-in heater isn't fixed yet), shampoo my hair, put some anti-Jewish-genes-tropical-humidi-fro gunk in it and venture out. I made it to the store all right, and their selection of soaps and snacks was much larger than of any other group of products. After having picked up some Bimbo bread and some eggs in a bag, the sky opened. I have experienced tropic rain many times before, but having lived far from the Equator and having spent summers in the Middle East, the impact and wetness of every raindrop still impressed me. I would usually never admit to actively thinking of a Coldplay song, but as I walked home with my phone in a plastic bag in my pocket and my grocery bag getting heavier by the second, I couldn't help thinking of 'Every Teardrop is a Waterfall'. Welcome to the tropics.