The Intermission

I have known I was going to embark on a year abroad as soon as I decided I wanted to study Spanish, which was a fair few years ago. However, this inevitable adventure is no longer blissfully out of sight (although nothing is ever out of mind in my world). I’m leaving next month.

Everyone talks about their life lessons/profound realisations/regrets during or after any travels, but I rarely see any reference to the anticipation beforehand. Still to this day I am reminded that the best part of any good thing is looking forward to it. At this point, everyone is stuck in an interval of their lives, looking into the unknown of moving to a different country, and none of us know what to expect.

One of the most important things to be aware of is that no year abroad experience has ever been the same. Comparison is unavoidable when all your course mates are having similar experiences, and issues like finding accommodation, admin, the culture shock and being completely submerged in the deep end can be generic. They cannot be limited to individual experiences, which can blur the line between a unique and common venture.

Now we’re in the intermission, the intermission which no one seems to talk about. You can only prepare so much, so the time is now spent watching dog documentaries and and discovering a new love of craft beer.

My main piece of advice to future travellers in this position is do not be afraid to reach out to people. Email your lecturers if you’re unsure about something, or even if it is to point you towards the person that you actually should have contacted. If you have an opportunity to talk to students, message them. Embrace the benefits of the internet and make connections if you can.

There are so many things that could go wrong, but there are also so many things that could go right.

The Thing about Scotland

When we went to Aberdeen yesterday the city could only be described as grey. There was the grey of the buildings, the grey of the sky, the grey of the paths, and the grey mood of the people walking on those grey paths.

Scotland in general, however, is quite the opposite.

We’re staying literally a stone’s throw away from the North Sea, and after spending a month surrounded by the Pacific Ocean it was familiar and welcoming (although it was much colder). The pub is around the corner and the alcohol is plentiful, and once again I’ve read far too many books in a short space of time.

Scotland hasn’t changed much since I was last here three or four year ago. There are still views to be marvelled at, and castles to explore, and I’m looking forward to the peace and tranquility that accompanies this country. It’s so easy to relax here, and even though i have WiFi unlike previous adventures, I still feel at peace. I feel removed from it enough that I don’t depend on it (until a group chat suddenly comes to life out of nowhere).

Scotland reminds me of Wales. There’s a sense of individuality to it. You can pick out the Scottish from the non Scottish by accents alone and they have a patriotic pride that is absent in England. They accept the tourists, and they’ve embraced the fact that they are unique, and have welcomed it into their livelihood.

It is beautiful. It is interesting. It is calm.

I’m looking forward to what the next couple of weeks bring.

The Costa Rica Diaries: The Thing about San José

The past day or two has been quite emotional. Little by little we’re leaving San José- some to move on to the Nicaragua extension, some back to Chester and others, including me, return to their homelands.

Naturally we’ve been quite sentimental. We’ll be going from spending five weeks around the same 14 other people on a daily basis to never seeing eachother again in the same way. Most of us go on our year abroad in September and a few are going on to complete their final year of university. Memories have been made, memes have been created and I’ll never be able to hear certain songs in the same way ever again.

Yesterday a few of us went to explore San José. Thanks to us leaving the hotel ridiculously early we got to see the city become more lively and bustling as the day progressed. Souvenir shops were visited, coffees were drank and I got to re-experience the Chai Frappuchinos I used to get custom made in my first year of university.

There was no rush for us. Most of us had done our souvenir shopping by this point so we were free to wander and absorb the culture, unlike when we were here at the beginning due to our jet lag and anxiety about being in a completely new environment. People selling any item under the sun littered the streets and men never failed to stare at my legs in a creepy way.

Despite that, this trip has been such a laugh. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t always been comfortable (especially where my digestive system is concerned). However I’ve adapted, and it just goes to show that you get out of an experience what you put into it.

I would like to thank Jack, Austen, Becca, Ellie, Lauren, Rosie, Ethan, Adam, Tom, Colette, Sabrina, Ella, Beth and Alyssa for the top notch bants and although we go our separate ways, I hope the memories will always remain.

Pura Vida, for the last time<3

The Costa Rica Diaries: Laguna del Lagarto and the absence of WiFi

The shock, right? The time finally came when the internet was cruelly snatched away from us poor millennials and we were forced to live like cavemen in an eco lodge in the middle of a rainforest.

None of us were prepared, emails were unread, texts couldn’t be sent, and the most horrific of all: I lost all my snapchat streaks.   Suddenly we were off the grid for five days of actual peace.

Rumours spread that if you stood in one specific corner of the lodge you could get a couple of bars of wifi, the few of us that actually got round to buying Costa Rican SIM cards weren’t even getting signal, and we were truly in the middle of nowhere.

The reality is- it was fine. No one died (although I did feel violently ill a few days ago but I feel like that was due to my digestive system crying over the rice and beans, and not my inability to see if anyone had liked my latest photo on Instagram), and we ended up bonding more as a group.

There was a different vibe to Ostional though, for sure. To start it was a lot cooler, we didn’t have as many excursions or obligations and there was a bar in order to satisfy my need for a few Pilsens after finally finishing my report.

I definitely spent a lot of time reading, of course. I spent so much time in one hammock that I’ve definitely strained my calves from spending so much time lying in one position, if that was possible. We also could canoe around the lagoons, and we met many crocodiles (including Jason and Frisbee). We planted 250 trees one morning, and we painted a church which was one of the funniest and most rewarding experiences of the trip- even if we did end up with more paint on us than on the church (I know who I’m blaming).

So, to conclude, and as much as this may shock my parents, I don’t need the internet to have a good time, and I had never felt more relaxed and at peace with myself.

That was until our British Council emails came with our fate sealed for September, but that’s a different story.

The Costa Rica Diaries: The False Alarm and the return to Nicoya

I was talking to a friend this morning and she asked if it is next weekend that I return home. My flight home has seemed blissfully far away up until this point, and it’s crazy to think we only have a week and a half left. I’ve already requested a roast dinner for when I get back to Wales.

ANYWAY, it turned out that the arribada was a false alarm. It just happened to be a large group of turtles that decided to nest together, and that combined with the fact that the crocodile lake has overflowed and joined the sea has caused further problems. Patrolling was interesting after, since we were forced to go through the river to get to the rest of the beach. It sucks that we didn’t get to see it, but we’ve been very fortunate to see so many turtles including a leatherback, and it’s definitely been an eye opening, humble and thrilling adventure.

In the meantime, due to the confusion we ended up with more free time than we had planned. One truck ride later and we found ourselves at yet another beach, this one littered with souvenir stores. One of the things I loved about our stay in Ostional is the amount of time we’ve been able to spend in the ocean. Sure there’s the risk of rip tides, but as long as you keep an eye on which direction the water is pulling you it’s perfectly okay. Waves were jumped, sand ended up everywhere and skin got burned. Standard day trip really.

Today I had my last portion of rice and beans (hopefully for the foreseeable future) and hopped on our favourite air conditioned bus to return to Nicoya. Back in the best homestay house ever, I had a plate of pancakes in front of me in minutes and later on we had chicken with a chinese style sauce and MASHED POTATO. Most of the past week has consisted of us fantasisting over the home comforts we wanted as soon as we land on British soil, and as much as I’m in favour of exploring new cultures, I feel like rice and beans three times a day may potentially shred my digestive system if it continues, I don’t know how some of the others have managed.

Tomorrow we have a seven hour bus journey to look forward to in order to get to Laguna del Lagarto. My Spotify playlist is ready and I’ve had two naps today, so what could go wrong? (Hopefully no one will vomit down the side of the bus again).

The Costa Rica Diaries: The calm before the storm

The number of turtles arriving in Ostional has been increasing.

We knew a series of sleepless nights were impending, despite the fact we were worn out, getting irritable due to the heat and each of us bearing an impressive number of insect bites. If our original plan had followed through, I would currently be lounging by a pool, definitely with yet another book (how I’ve got through ten already I don’t know) and hopefully a cocktail.

However, with more turtles deciding to lay their eggs and the quarter moon looming, we knew the chance to have a weekend away was slipping through our fingers. Luckily we were offered a compromise and instead we were told to have the afternoon off to have some downtime before a potentially busy weekend and we all trotted off to a neighbouring beach.

That day’s form of transport was not the minibus we have all grown to know and love (mainly for the aircon) but the back of a truck. The thrill seeker in me loves the more relaxed attitude down here, as we felt the wind in our hair and we braved sitting on the edge of the trailer until my pins and needles got unbearable after we all rammed ourselves in. Growing up I spent most of my time in cars that repeatedly beeped at you until you had your seatbelt on, so the stark difference was astounding, and much more fun. (Sorry Mum)

We got to the beach, had a couple of beers, and a couple of us braved the much more fierce waves of this part of Costa Rica. We got to chill, laugh and enjoy each other’s company after a tense few days and we returned feeling much more elated and calm.

So when we heard that the arribada could happen that evening, we were sent into disarray. No one knew what procedures followed, us folks in homestays had no idea when we would need to be at the research station, and it was an even worse scenario for those without internet. We woke up tentatively the next day to find that nothing had changed and we had another day to ourselves other than the usual night patrol.

Yesterday we ended up playing football on the beach. I discovered a hidden goalkeeping talent, we bonded with the other volunteers that hadn’t come from the university and I accidentally injured an Italian guy’s shin defending my goalposts.

This morning, people who aren’t ridiculously heavy sleepers like me were woken to a siren at 5am, announcing the arrival of more turtles, announcing that eggs can now be collected. Families rushed out of their houses to make the most of the opportunity and locals offered their help in the event that is what Ostional is known for. I woke up three hours later to a series of messages in our group chat.

Today we woke up to an arribada.

The Costa Rica Diaries: The Great Turtle Sighting

Let’s paint a picture first. With words. On a website. With no paint or pictures involved (actually I lie, there’s one on the header).

It’s 7 in the evening. You’re already hot from Ostional in general, you probably haven’t packed enough clothes and there’s so many insects you could repopulate the universe with just mosquitos. It’s heat like you’ve never felt before, but here you are- clad in black (and probably sweat) ready for your first shift volunteering at the turtle conservation centre.

You get assigned a group and off you trot, trying to power walk down a beach when you’ve done very few gym sessions beforehand and you’re continuing to regret it. You feel the burn in your calves and your thighs, as you also regret having legs the size of a T-Rex’s arm. You continue speeding along anyway, constantly on edge in fear of birds, animals you haven’t seen before and just things in general appearing from nowhere, especially since you’re only permitted to use dim red lights to protect the turtles.

Morale was low, some people were feeling ill, others had a really grim homestay to deal with (but that is not my story to tell) and we were dreading the next ten days.

But then we saw a turtle.

Excitement escalated faster than my sprint to the kitchen when food has been cooked. The more experienced volunteers immediately set to work handing out books to record data, tape measurements to… measure, I guess, and a stop watch along with various other gadgets- all while we stood around flustered, excited, and unsure about what to do.

Everything fell into place. We counted eggs, measured her shell, tagged her and recorded data from the climate outside to the area that we were in. It was incredible to witness. It reminded me of being in Monteverde on the night walk with the animals and the tour guide saying “It’s okay to take photos, but you must first take a photo with your eyes”. 

We saw a second turtle, a more cheeky one this time who decided after ten minutes of digging that it didn’t want to lay any eggs and dashed off down the beach away from us before we had the chance to take measurements. A chase ensued, but there was a chase to come that would make that seem like Baby Park on the DS Version (and maybe the Wii?) of Mario Kart.

Next thing we knew, a guy had legged it over to inform us that there was a leatherback turtle on the beach. However, it was right at the other end of the beach. Many kilometres away. If we didn’t move quickly we would miss it. We legged it like the guy before us.

We powerwalked, we tried to jog, and at this point I was definitely more swear than human. Half an hour later we made it, and we were just in time to see a LEATHERBACK TURTLE LAY SOME EGGS.

She was about my entire height in length and much wider than me, and it reminded me how I’ve been able to experience more things this month than most people get to see in a lifetime. She took a long time to lay, which gave me a chance to recover from the trek down the beach, and then took even longer to turn around and return to her true home: the ocean.

I feel so fortunate to have experienced this on my first day, and I’m very much ready for the next week or so, even if my limbs will disagree.

Pura Vida ❤

The Costa Rica Diaries: Turns out we do have WiFi in Ostional

Before I talk turtles to y’all, I want to talk about last night, my last night in Nicoya.

All of us were feeling a wee bit emosh after we were given our diplomas for spending two weeks procrastinating revising the subjunctive by gabbling in Spanish about our new favourite meal: rice and beans (I joke) and what sort of thing we were feeling for lunch that day (usually Chinese food). They also gave us a Costa Rican hipflask, and on that adorable note I would like to extend my thanks to the wonderful, inspiring and amusing teachers at the Academia Español Nicoya.

The next day us 15 groggy, tired, and in some cases hungover students once again jumped on a bus and were driven for a million hours on yet another bumpy road: this time, to Ostional. We were very wary about this stage in the trip as we were told there would be very little internet, the houses were much more basic and we had ten long days of volunteering ahead of us.

I was pleasantly surprised to have exceeded my quite low expectations, and here I am, sat on my bed under my mosquito net tent surrounded by a Chester Zoo’s worth of farm animals. Although I’m probably about to hit peak levels of the number of bites I’ll have on my limbs, I’m sweating off most of my body weight and I can hear literally everything within a 100m radius, everything is going to be okay.

Thus begins a new chapter, and with an open mind it’ll all fall into place.

Pura Vida amigos

The Costa Rica Diaries: Don’t fear the ball, be the ball

The past few days have consisted of a lot of anxiety for me. Yesterday we had a meeting about the second stage of our adventure and if I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses people would clearly be able to see how overwhelmed I felt. There was so much to do in so little time. I didn’t think I would cope. I didn’t think I was coping. I didn’t think my Spanish would be good enough. I wanted to sleep for a few days and recharge.

Today we went to Nosarita, a tiny town where we played football with the locals and we were encouraged to interact, and I have noticed how doing something together which involves actions rather than words can be just as effective as communication. Especially since, upon arrival, it started pouring down with rain.

We’re accustomed to rain, of course. However, we’re also accustomed to scurrying indoors as soon as the first raindrop comes into contact with our heads, retreating to the warmth and safety of our home comforts. Here we embraced the rain. Here, we played football (and by “played” I mean I walked up and down the pitch many times and I hit the ball once) as if the rain didn’t exist. The ridiculousness of the event broke the ice between us and the locals, and also us as a group. Only a handful of us had any actual skill, so of course we were completely thrashed, but I don’t think there was a point where I stopped laughing- or being bitten.

However while we were squirming due to the ants and other insects, and complaining about the rain squelching in our shoes and flattening our hair, the locals carried on. They weren’t wearing shoes, they were laughing with us (or more likely at us), and lived the lives that they always had done. We’re so reserved, and fearful, and scared of taking risks.

There’s also the impending lack of wifi in Ostional that is looming over us. Although I’ve embraced the peace that comes with disconnecting, the fact that my first port of call when I’m in a pickle is to message a friend is now going to be the one thing I won’t be able to do. I won’t have that safety net, and as much as proper super official adults will tut and reminisce on the times when mobiles didn’t exist, I’ve grown up, especially in my teenage years, with the internet as a constant part of my life.

Sometimes you just need to let go and live- and you know what? I’m going to do just that.

The Costa Rica Diaries: On the topic of water

These days, whenever any of my friends have a problem my go to response is “have a drink of water and rehydrate” and it seems to be effective. Here, obviously it’s even more important to have water on hand 24/7 as we’re constantly hot and sweaty. Very attractive I know.

So armed with our bottles of water, this weekend we went on a trip to see the more renewable, eco-friendly and green side of Costa Rica. As I mentioned in the last update, on Friday night we stayed in Monteverde, but then on Saturday I left the reading spot I had become incredibly attached to and we went to Arenal.

What we were about to experience was one of the most traumatic journeys ever for our naïve little student selves. The roads were bumpier than ever, like a three hour long drive down my back lane at home, and then we had to travel on a boat across a lake in order to reach the hotel. It was pouring down with rain, we couldn’t sit anywhere and stay dry and although the views were again wonderful, we were all feeling quite tired and grumpy.

Obviously what we needed was an evening in a luxury spa resort next to a volcano. With 8 pools to drink cocktails and splash eachother in, we all got to relax and truly unwind after a very long and busy first week. As someone who rarely feels fully relaxed, I savoured it, and it felt wonderful. I feel like I’m definitely a water baby, even though my hands were more pruned than a prune itself it felt very much like luxury and I would happily return again. Although it wouldn’t be the same without the 14 people I’ve spent all my time with this week, and will do in weeks to come.

This morning we had a different water related experience, and something that would be much more difficult to replicate anywhere else. We left our second hotel in two days and after a breakfast which sadly didn’t involve any hash browns, we trotted off to the La Fortuna Waterfall and Lagoon. Unlike yesterday, the water was incredibly cold, however for me it was a nice change from the heat that we’re slowly getting accustomed to. Although there were signs that said that you shouldn’t get too close to the waterfall, it was almost impossible to get near it anyway, as I kept getting buffetted towards the rocks whenever I tried to get anywhere and water was spraying in my face- splattering my sunglasses and obscuring my vision. However the biggest challenge we were to face (along with climbing up the gazillion steps after) was getting over the rocks in order to be reunited with our things. My T-Rex arms and stumpy legs weren’t much of a match for the giant rocks and if it wasn’t for the help of other people I would have been destined to be trapped there forever.

Do not fret though, one touristy tshirt later I am back in Nicoya with the best homestay tico fam, ready for an early night.