Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Magical Monteverde

Looking back, I have mixed feelings about my experience in Monteverde the sixth week I was here. I thought it was a beautiful area, but it didn't have much that was within walking distance or budget-friendly. Monteverde is most known for its cloud forest biological reserve and for having the longest zip line in Latin America. That's what really brings tourists, the forest, the zip line, and bungee jumping. I got to do some pretty cool things, like hike in the cloud forest and go to an orchid garden, but the amount of time I stayed there was way too long considering I didn't bungee jump or go zip lining. I did some zip lining when I went canyoning in Arenal, so I was not about to pay $50 to do it here. Or the $60 to go bungee jumping. If I really wanted to do it, I probably would have, but I'm glad I didn't, because I would have done it more out of obligation, and financially speaking, it wasn't the best use of my money.

Friday, November 6

I left to the bus station not long after my Friday Spanish class ended for the day. Not wanting to stand like I did for the ride to Puerto Viejo, I made it to the bus station early, but unfortunately, I had to wait about an hour before the ticket vendor came back from lunch. I did get a seat, thankfully, and prepared myself for the 4 1/2 hour long bus ride. It was a bit inconvenient, because the bus didn't leave until 2:30pm and I had waited since around 12:30pm, but it was whatever. The bus only comes and leaves twice per day, once at 6:30am and once at 2:30pm. When I arrived in Monteverde, confused, I walked ten minutes in the wrong direction of my hostel until I finally went into a hotel and asked the front desk how to get to my hostel. I turned around, went down the giant hill I had just ascended, and finally got to my hostel. It was dark, so I was thankful that I found it quickly. Because it had rained earlier, the credit card machine wasn't working, so I had to walk a couple blocks to an ATM to pull out cash to pay the remainder of my balance. The hostel was pretty chill. It offered free breakfast, free coffee and tea, wifi, and the rooms weren't bad at all. They consisted of two bunk beds and a shared bathroom. I was okay with that for around $10 a night. Tired, I decided not to get dinner, and went straight to bed. I had planned to go hiking in the cloud forest the next day, and knew I would have to get up early for that, so I passed out, looking forward to the next day.

Saturday, November 7

I started off the morning enjoying the free breakfast provided by the hostel. And when they say free breakfast, they are not talking about some continental style thing -- they are talking about homemade plates of food and a separate plate just for fruit. I scarfed down the delicious food quickly and headed to the bus stop to go to the cloud forest, which was conveniently located right outside of my hostel.

My first adventure for the day was hiking in the cloud forest. Because it was a biological reserve with many trails, I figured I'd spend the whole day there, but that is not what happened. I arrived at the information desk to get my ticket, speaking Spanish as I should be. The man at the desk was very nice and complemented my Spanish skills. He highlighted the longest route he could find after I told him I'd like to stay there as long as I could. The route was supposed to take five hours, and near the end, provide me with a trail to see a waterfall. Ecstatic and happy to be in my hiking element, I set off on my journey. I saw a lot of nature, in terms of plants and trees, but not much wildlife. This is because most of the wildlife live in the canopy level of the forest, which makes sense. Regardless, the temperature was in the sixties, which was so refreshing. The path took me on various trails with varying levels of difficulty. There were several viewing points, a hanging bridge, and a waterfall along the path. Despite the fact it was supposed to take five hours, it took me about two and a half hours. Being 10:30am when I finished and not knowing what to do the rest of the day, I was disappointed, since I had planned to remain in the forest the whole day, I headed into the souvenir shop to wait for the return bus. I bought a postcard to send to the little girl I tutor at the Bridge Project and a gift for my brother. I boarded the bus and headed back to Santa Elena, the town that I was staying in.

I returned to my hostel and relaxed for a little while. I decided that I should go explore the town, since it wasn't that big and because I didn't know what else to do. I ended up running into some girls from my program, so I hung out with them and browsed the shops. We ended up going into a large souvenir shop where I purchased a couple of items. When they were ready to head back to their hostel, we parted ways and talked about meeting up for dinner. We didn't end up meeting, due to a lack of wifi on their end, but that was cool, and I ended up eating casado at one of the restaurants. They seated me at a table for four, which I found hilarious, but the food was good nonetheless. I headed back to my hostel to contemplate the rest of the evening.

That evening, bored while trying to maintain wifi, I managed to drop my phone off of my bed. Mind you, I had the top bunk. Never having damaged my phone before, I didn't worry, until I saw the screen. It was cracked. Of all the times I dropped it, it took a bunk bed to actually do some damage. I was pretty unhappy after that occurred. It pretty much ruined my evening, until I got a new roommate.

One thing that is really cool about hostels in particular is that you can meet people from all over the world. That weekend, I had done that. The first night, I roomed with a pair from Switzerland and a dude from Ireland. They were pretty chill, especially the Irish guy. I briefly chatted with him the night before about his travels and how he was planning on going zip lining and bungee jumping. The next night, I roomed with the pair again and a dude from Panama. We talked for a long time, and the next day, about his travels, and what Panama is like, and what he thought of Costa Rica. He was really chill too!

Sunday, November 8
My day started off early, jumping out of bed to eat the free breakfast and packing up my things. Unlike most hostels, whose check out time is around 11am, this hostel had a checkout time of 9:30am. Considering the earliest bus wasn't until 2:30pm, I was not very happy about this. I walked around the entire day with all of my belongings; though not much, they were bulky, and I was not a fan of that. Unlike the bulk of travelers who visit only to zip line or bungee jump, I thought my time would be better spent exploring to find cheaper and less touristy options and not spending $60+. Nothing wrong with doing the longest zip line in Latin America, but I couldn't justify it to myself, especially since it wasn't something I was yearning to do. But that decision didn't leave me with many options. Because of the few options that were affordable and did not require a reservation, I decided to wander to find what I could do for the next several hours.
"bailarinas de oro"

The first place I stopped by was an orchid garden right near my hostel. I paid the entrance and a guide walked me through the garden, giving his tour in Spanish as I had requested. I was so proud of myself for understanding the tour in its entirety! Back to the garden -- I learned so much about orchids that I would never have learned otherwise, like how to tell which orchids are natural and not created, how to tell a flower is an orchid, things that are interesting but not really talked about in regular conversation. I learned that most orchids are actually small, very small, and reside on the tops or bottoms of leaves. Hate to break it to ya, but most orchids in the US are not natural; they're likely hybrids and you wouldn't really find them in nature. I also had the opportunity to see the smallest orchid in the world, which you need a magnifying glass to see, and it also happens to be native to Monteverde and only found there.

hybrid; not natural

After wandering a while longer, I stopped into the herpentarium, which houses snakes, turtles, and frogs. Though it was great to learn about these animals and about their presence in Costa Rica, it felt like I was at a zoo, and zoo's aren't as great as they appear. Nonetheless, I got to see some pretty cool frogs, including one that is essentially invisible since it is see-though, some chill turtles, and some creepy snakes.

My last stop, after hours of wandering around the familiar with nothing left to do, was at a cheap restaurant where I ate a hamburger and fries. It was the cheapest restaurant there and I was so exhausted that I wasn't all that concerned that it wasn't traditional Costa Rican food. I had attempted to go to another restaurant earlier that advertised paninis, but as soon as I got the menu and saw that the food started at $12, and small beverages started at $4, I left right away; I felt kind of bad, but the prices were ridiculous for a traveler on a budget.

Note to future travelers: Santa Elena is tiny, and there is not much within walking distance, though there are many things to do if you have transportation and reservations. Also, know that there are only two buses each day, one at 6:30am and one at 2:30pm, so you could be stuck wandering waiting for the bus if you choose the later one with no actual plan for the day.

Santa Elena

Friday, December 18, 2015


Upon leaving the US and experiencing different holidays and celebrations here in Costa Rica, I decided to do some more research about holidays of the US, Costa Rica, and elsewhere, as they occur during my time here, and how they are celebrated around the world (if they are). Side note, I am not an expert on these holidays, just providing the information I've come across.


photo credit:

Diwali, also known as Deepvali or the "festival of lights," is an autumn Hindu festival signifying the triumph of light over darkness that usually takes place somewhere between mid-October and mid-November. The festival lasts for five-days, but the main night matches up with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika. Before the main evening, people essentially clean and renovate their offices and homes. The day of, Hindus dress up in their best clothes, light lamps and candles (diyas), pray with their families (puja), and feast and exchange gifts. Diwali is officially celebrated in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritus, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore, Fiji, and Pakistan.

Read more about Diwali here.

Costa Rica, being a Catholic nation, does not celebrate Diwali.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Día De Los Muertos

Upon leaving the US and experiencing different holidays and celebrations here in Costa Rica, I decided to do some more research about holidays of the US, Costa Rica, and elsewhere, as they occur during my time here, and how they are celebrated around the world (if they are). Side note, I am not an expert on these holidays, just providing the information I've come across.

Día De Los Muertos

Photo credit

Día de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, is a holiday of remembrance and tradition celebrated in Mexico, though other areas have begun to celebrate it as well. Friends and families gather to remember and pray for loved ones who have passed on. It begins October 31 and last through November 2, to match up with All Saints' Eve, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day. One important tradition is the construction of altars, also called ofrendas, that honor those who have passed on. These altars often feature sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. Another important tradition is visiting the graves of loved ones and gifting these possessions there. It has a historical connection to an indigenous festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. 
Read more about Día de los Muertos here.

Día de los Muertos is not celebrated in Costa Rica. Celebrations mostly take place in South and Central Mexico, as well as by folks of Mexican heritage the United States. Costa Rica does acknowledge and discuss it in local media and respects it as a tradition of Mexico, however.

Ridin' [the bus] solo

Traveling Solo

I am constantly being asked by others where my travel companions are, or if I am waiting on other people. I reply that I am traveling alone and many seem shocked by that concept. "By yourself?" "Why would you do that?" "Don't you have friends?" "It's not safe to travel alone." "Aren't you scared?" are some of the phrases that often follow the initial shock. Yes. I am traveling through Costa Rica by myself. Yes, I have friends, but I choose to travel alone, for many reasons. I've never felt unsafe traveling alone. And no, I'm not scared. The concept of traveling alone is foreign to many people and not very much understood, so I thought I'd at least attempt to explain why I choose to travel alone.

Why I Choose to Travel Alone

1. A Journey of Self
Traveling is a great time to get to know oneself and do some serious self-reflection. I've been able to better uncover my likes, my dislikes, what ticks me off, what I'm passionate about. It's allowed me to also reflect on how I fit into the world and allows me to just be. I don't need to have a reason for my existence when I'm traveling alone. I can just be out in nature and enjoy it for its inherent beauty. 

2. Doing What I Want to Do
Traveling alone allows you to do all the activities and go to all of the places you want to do without feeling held back by others. That's not to say that friends and fellow travelers are roadblocks; that's not the case at all. It's fun to travel with friends. But sometimes, you might come across something you really want to do, like hike in a national park, that maybe some of your friends are not down for. There's nothing wrong with going to do that on your own while your friends do something else that they want to do.

3. Learning to Be Alone
It's an important piece of your development to learn that it's okay to be alone sometimes. Growing up, I felt lonely because I thought the key to life was always having people around you. Yes, relationships with other people are important, but your relationship with your self, how you see yourself, that's extremely important as well. Traveling alone allows me to feel more comfortable about myself and to take time for self-reflection.

All The Right Fun in All The Right Places

These are not all of the amazing places I've been able to visit alone, just the ones I happen to have pictures of. This visual is not exhaustive of my adventures though. But traveling by myself has been pretty incredible.

San José, Costa Rica

Mall San Pedro, exploring downtown San José, Barrio China, Castillo Azul, Avenida Central, volunteering at el Hospicio de Huérfanos, Casa Amarilla, Catedral Metropolitana, Plaza de la Democracia, Plaza de la Libertad Electoral, Museo Nacional, Festival de la Luz, Parque Morazan, Parque España, Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo, Parque Nacional

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica

Playa Negra, Rocking Js (sleepin' in a hammock), Finca de la Isla Botanical Gardens, Luluberlu Art Gallery, a yellow sand beach, exploring Puerto Viejo

Monteverde, Costa Rica

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, Sloth Backpackers Hostel & Bed and Breakfast, Orchid Garden, Herpentarium, exploring Santa Elena

Jacó, Costa Rica

Playa Jacó

Volcán Poas, Costa Rica
what was supposed to be a crater selfie...

Saturday, November 28, 2015

All Hallows Eve

Upon leaving the US and experiencing different holidays and celebrations here in Costa Rica, I decided to do some more research about holidays of the US, Costa Rica, and elsewhere, as they occur during my time here, and how they are celebrated around the world (if they are).

Halloween - October 31

Photo credit:
Halloween is known by many different names, such as Hallowe'en, All Hallow's Evening, Allhalloween, All Hallow's Eve, and Saint's Eve. It's a celebration that occurs on the 31st of October, the evening of the Western Christian fest of All Hallow's day. The traditional focus of Halloween involves a theme of using "humor and ridicule to confront the power of death." Halloween has both Christian and Pagan roots. In modern days, activities include trick-or-treating, costume parties, decorating with scary items, carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, haunted houses, telling scary stories, and watching scary movies. In the religious observance of Halloween, church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead are the activities of choice. However, most areas that do celebrate Halloween celebrate the more commercialized and non-religious verison of it.
Read more about Halloween here:

In Costa Rica, Halloween is not really a holiday, but due to the increased influence of the US, many younger generations are beginning to adapt portions of the holiday, like costume parties.

Recognizing the Privilege that is Study Abroad

As a first generation college student, I never thought I would be able to afford college, let alone the University of Denver, that is until I was honored with the Daniels Fund scholarship in 2013, which completely changed my life. Because of the doors that have opened up the last two years, I have had the privilege of embarking on a new journey with my study abroad program in Costa Rica. Seeing as how my experience abroad is 3/4 over (though I'm trying not to think about that), I thought I'd reflect on the privileges that comes with studying abroad.

My First Times...

Growing up, I never imagined that I would make it out of Greeley, let alone the United States. Somehow, I did, and as a result, I got to experience so many firsts: 

First time stepping onto a beach and
 feeling the soft sand between my toes
First time seeing the deep blue ocean,
feeling the cool waves rush up
against my skin
First time taking a boat
through the open water,
without a care in the world,
enjoying the sun, the views,
and the breeze flowing
through my hair
First time canyoning

First time seeing a volcano
First time in a hammock.
And first hostel.

First time swimming in hot springs.
First waterfall

just to name a few....

Those firsts were unlike anything I have ever felt before (literally). The best first by far was seeing the ocean and feeling the sand for the first time. It's hard to explain my emotions as I felt the sand of the beach run between my toes and the crash of the waves upon my body as I made my way into the ocean for the first. Many children go to the beach when they're young, so they don't always have the memory of the first time they went. For others, it's so common for them to go to the beach that they don't have as much of the excitement each time they return. For me, being 21 years old and having just stepped foot on a beach for the first time two months ago, I was able to create a memory, filled with happiness and excitement and those rich sensations of touch, and I will be able to remember that moment vividly for the rest of my life.

With my first times comes some reflection and recognition that the fact that I have this opportunity is a privilege. Not many people get to study abroad, and many others don't get to have the first times that I was able to have during my time abroad. I am so thankful and have so much gratitude for everyone that has helped to get me here.

From the university ranked #1 in the nation...

I am also very privileged to be attending the University of Denver. DU ranks number one in the nation for its study abroad program. They highly encourage students to go abroad, making it a requirement of some majors and minors. With that push comes much assistance. DU is a direct bill institution with its various partner institutions, meaning you pay DU and they pay your study abroad program. It's a very streamlined process. Along with that, all DU aid, federal and state financial aid, and most private scholarships can be used to pay for study abroad. Along with that, if you have a 3.0 or above, DU will award you something called Cherrington Global Scholars. That funding reimburses you for your plane ticket and visa fees, and pays for all your application materials. It's pretty fantastic. For me, study abroad, at least the ability to participate, was basically free with all of my aid covering everything. Obviously travel and meals and all that is on my own, but not having to pay to go abroad and getting my money back from my plane ticket is amazing, and I am so thankful for that.

I am so thankful for all of that assistance, especially since so many students at other universities that do get the chance to study abroad don't have that. At other universities, study abroad offices are often small, students many not be able to use their financial aid, and nowhere else (that I've seen so far) has anything remotely similar to Cherrington Global Scholars. Other universities also don't have such an extensive application process that involves attending regional and general study abroad sessions. When I have told people I've met here how many students study abroad at my university (over 80%), they always have the same reaction: shock. They become even more shocked when I tell them about Cherrington Global Scholars. I am so grateful for the support given to me by DU and the Daniels Fund in order to pursue this opportunity, because for those that do get the opportunity, they often don't have such amazing support.

Daily Gratitude

Though I've probably experienced 500+ emotions during my time abroad, the one that is more poignant and the one I feel the most is gratitude. It's something I feel every day and take some time to reflect on every day.

Thank you to my teachers who always pushed me and never gave up on me. You always told me that I could reach whatever goal I set for myself, that I could rise above everything that has happened in my life and have a bright future. You told me that I needed to get out of Greeley and shoot for the stars. You told me that I could do whatever I set my mind to, and that I could be anything I wanted to be. You said that there were no limits. Thank you for that.

Thank you to my family and friends for being there, and everyone else I've met along the way. Without your support and encouragement, I wouldn't be where I am today.

Thank you to DU for working with me to make it possible for me to go on this journey. Without the Cherrington Global Scholar benefits and the transferring of all of my merit and need based aid, I would not be able to afford to go abroad. Also, thanks to OIE for all the support and help getting to this point.

Thank you so much to the Daniels Fund which has provided much much more than financial support. The Daniels Fund Scholarship is much more than a scholarship; it is a gift that keeps on giving. Thank you for the financial support that has allowed me to go to college, to go to DU specifically, and to study abroad. Thank you for the other types of support that have allowed me to stay afloat in college (I'm looking at you Laura!). Thank you for taking a chance on me in hopes that one day, I will go out there and change the world. I can never express just how much gratitude I have for that organization.