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.

The Costa Rica Diaries: The Adrenaline Rush

The last few days have been insanely busy. How I’ve managed to juggle classes, socialising, spending time with my host family, homework from the academy and sleep, I still don’t know.

I’m currently writing this while we’re driving on the bumpiest road in the entire universe, but I’m going to start from a few days ago when we hiked up Cerro de la Cruz.

The views from the top were spectacular, but the walk up was so steep and difficult that it was not for the faint hearted, or one who had been slacking at the gym in the last few weeks. Speaking of views, I’ve definitely not been short of them this weekend, but more on that later.

The following day we were pushed to the limit again during an afternoon at Samara beach. Here we kayaked to an island, which I found surprisingly easy after the hike, and then we went snorkelling. What I could see was incredible, but being short sighted it was difficult to identify anything amongst the merging coloured blobs. The surfing lessons later on proved to be more of a challenge too, however I ACTUALLY STOOD UP ON THE BOARD. I tried.

After a much more relaxing day Thursday, after that we jumped back onto the air conditioned minibus we all know and love and travelled to Monteverde, where we stayed in a hostel right in the midst of what they call a cloud forest. The views here were beautiful, and I found a swinging hammock where I read Hidden Figures (potential review material?) and later that night we went on a walk through the forest on the search for as many insects and snakes and other animals, which was also incredible until I got attacked by a million ants who had found their way into my walking shoes. However the guide was lovely and we were followed by a cat (which the others named Bella). That night I went to go and shower only to find a scorpion, and even though I’ve showered with a cockroach this week I was not ready to cause further injury to myself. Repellent is my new best friend.

This morning was just as intense, but in a different way. As a lover of heights and the views that come with it, I was so excited for the Zip Wire canopy tour, and it didn’t disappoint. I also got the opportunity to go on a Tarzan swing: a free fall drop into a swing that flew over a drop that gave me bonus views that were incredible to witness. These aren’t just mountains and trees- they truly are WONDERS.

Tonight I’m in Arenal and we’re going to hang out with some volcanoes for a bit, so Pura Vida and all that and I’ll catch y’all the next time I have wifi.

The Costa Rica Diaries: Today we got very lost 

Today was stressful.

Firstly we started classes, so to all the people who think I’m on a cute little holiday can now tone down the banter. I’m being productive, I swear!

It started off with two parrots flying into the electricity wire resulting in a lack of coffee in the morning, lights, and internet (the true disaster) but it was surprising how quickly it was switched back on again: cue a couple of minutes of us all staring at the ceiling exclaiming “Luz” in wonder as if we had never seen a light before in our lives, I’m guessing I’ll experience more of this as the weeks go by!

So we made it to the school in one piece, I managed to get my caffeine fix and everything fell back into place again. I was taught more grammar, which is probably a good thing as mine is shocking, and then we were released into the wild- by which I mean the small town of Nicoya.

It started off fine, we went on a little tour of Nicoya and one free ice cream later (with condensed milk inside???) we ended up at the pool. It was that warm, that the water in the pool was not cold at all, but it was still refreshing. We had a laugh, some people braved cannonballing into the pool and splashing us all, but it was nice to have a swim outside, and we were all under the happy illusion that you tan better in the pool, whether it’s true or not I don’t know.

I’ll tell you one thing though. I have burned. I don’t have sunstroke or anything, but no matter how much factor 50 I appply it does not seem to be enough. Apparently I’m a lovely shade of salmon, which is nice. I’m definitely covering up more for the next few days.

Then we decided to return home to do some work before our dance class, because they have given us HOMEWORK which is an absolute travesty. It took us two hours to get home.

Although the houses are all the colours under the sun, balamory style, the streets look the same, there are no road signs, and we’ve been brought up to never talk to strangers. We walked around in the blazing heat, with flip flops that shredded our feet and swimwear that was still slightly damp from the pool. It may not have been the best idea. (Sorry parents)

But it’s okay. We’re safely home, we got to explore Nicoya, our homestay family are still lovely and thanks to Mum I have every first aid item under the sun to tend to my wounds.

It’s going to get hotter, but I’m sure tomorrow will be better. Even if we do have a two hour long hike.

PS: No one can pronounce my name at all. The struggle is REAL.

The Costa Rica Diaries: Settling in

Somehow I, a girl who hasn’t ventured outside Europe ever or outside the UK in a very long time, has hacked an 11 hour flight and rocked up on the other side of the world. Customs didn’t make me want to die a death after the last disaster, I stayed awake for two solid days and now I’m pretty much settled in with the loveliest homestay family ever (to be fair this is my first but they’re great).

I’m staying in a little baby town at the moment and it’s so peaceful. The people here are so positive, literally everyone has a dog and I’m enjoying the food. One of my main missions here is to embrace the local culture and food as much as I can and so far, everything is aokay! I don’t think I’m going to eat any rice or beans after this trip- not out of dislike but out of the sheer amount of it!

There are some drastically different customs- I’m just about getting the hang of putting loo roll in the bin rather than the toilet itself, and they are so chill about bugs to the point where one was just placed in my hand by one of the girls I was staying with (it was completely harmless no one died). Tomorrow I start attending Spanish classes which could be completely disastrous, but yknow, there’s worse things.

They have Netflix, they have coffee, they have internet (for now), so I’m sure everything will fall into place, including my sleeping pattern.

For now, hasta pronto.

The Costa Rica Diaries: Expectations

I’m writing this in the comfort of my favourite armchair, my Mum is on the sofa about a couple of metres away from me, I’ve had a couple of cups of coffee and a curry is on the way.

Not to say that I won’t have any of these things at all this time tomorrow, but the change in environment will definitely not be what I’m used to. This time tomorrow I’m going to be in Costa Rica.

This is a big deal for me. Firstly, because I’ve never ventured outside of Europe. Secondly, because my parents will be stuck on the other side of the world. Thirdly, because this time last year I was in a completely different place mentally.

It’s going to be fun. I’m hoping to grow as a person, I’m ready to embrace the culture and the lifestyle, but it’s going to be a challenge.

But yes, I have nothing to expect, nothing to assume, and everything to learn.

How Power must equate to violence // The Power Review

I finished reading The Power last night, and oh my sweet lord riding a bike into the sunset this was a R I D E.  A good ride, and a ride I would recommend to a friend, but nonetheless a wild one.

This book, by Naomi Alderman, a woman who teaches in the university my best friend attends, explores a world in which women suddenly develop a genetic mutation which gives them the power to control electricity. This suddenly gives them the ability to overpower men, after centuries of patriarchy and specific gender roles. What starts off as a confusing novelty escalates into war and destruction, and in this story we follow several protagonists as they try and navigate their way through this new world.

These characters give us very diverse perspectives of this situation the world is suddenly thrusted into. There is the religious aspect of it, as Allie discovers the healing process and the community it can provide. There are also opportunities to exploit it, as Tunde dedicates his life to recording what will be a dramatic historical era. Furthermore, there is the aspect of power, of course, as Roxy develops an unstoppable strength and learns how to enhance this new power further. Finally, there’s the political side to it, as Margot attempts to being together a shattered society in a world that is being divided by gender in a way that no one has ever seen. What makes me sad is that any new power always seems to lead to violence in the end.

What I found interesting was my reaction. What shocked me upon reflection was the fact that when the women became sadistic, prejudiced and downright barbaric towards men (in ways that makes me shudder to describe), it made me very uncomfortable. The shocking thing is if this was inverted I would be nowhere near as surprised. Attacks against women are nowhere near as shocking anymore, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who reads yet another rape story on twitter with a sigh, rather than a gasp. This should not become second nature, this should not become commonplace. In women or men. Neither universe, this fictional one or our reality, is right. In an ideal world, RESPECT WOULD BE COMMONPLACE.

What gives a man the right to have power over a woman because he is physically stronger? What gives a woman the right to have power over a man just because she can? Regardless of gender, if one is violated in this way they become a victim, regardless of gender. There should be no loopholes, or exceptions, or excuses. People cannot assume they can dominate or control another person without their consent. Sure, we live in a world where people are unlikely to develop supernatural powers (or if we can, hover-boards should be a thing- like the sort I used to read in ‘futuristic’ books as a kid in the 00s), but if anyone thinks they have the power to manipulate another person, then they need to take a long hard look at themselves.

This book made me realise a lot of things. This, along with a gripping and intriguing plot, makes me want to recommend it to anyone with an eye for a dystopian thriller who is looking for something a little more eye opening.

Viva la revolución… again // Glass Sword Review

What is it with young adult novels and the need for a full on revolution?

Aaaaaaages ago I got around to reading the sequel to Red Queen, a novel which I loved, which is called Glass Sword. This book continues to follow the story of Mare, a teenager who doesn’t fit into society due to being brought up in a Red family of poverty whilst possessing magical powers that were originally only seen in the other class, the Silvers.

I loved the book, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a cheeky bit of romance and magic and all the wonders that young adult books continue to provide. However, I couldn’t help but compare this sequel to the sequel of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. So many young adult books have a revolution against the class system that is causing more issues than the more “perfect” parts of the society don’t want to admit. There always seems to be a corrupted government/ruler, and I suppose that could be seen as a good thing because it will make young people more aware of the political world that they can actively participate in once they’ve hit the age of 18, but the repetitive ideas takes away the poignancy of it.

Another thing that I always see in YA novels is the romance. More specifically: love triangles. Sure, it gives fans the chance to make their own interpretations based on who they prefer the protagonist to be with, but there’s always an obvious lover and then a long term best friend who will never fit into the mould (Although I was always team Gale in The Hunger Games to be honest). I believe it was poignant enough that Kilorn in this series was her best friend through everything, and his role was important and it didn’t need to be tarnished by feelings for her. On the other hand, THANK GOODNESS, it did not overshadow the overall plot.

It’s full of development, it’s progressive but leaves room for a climactic final novel, and Victoria Aveyard seems to set out to prove that Mare can’t do everything, and the powerful ending emphasises this.

Overall: I still very much enjoy this series, I’m planning on reading the third book soon, and although the repetition of ideas across young adult novels is frustrating, I haven’t been put off the genre just yet.

More broken than usual, but we’ll roll with it // Alicia Review

Naturally, because I haven’t had the chance to read lately, I’ve been sitting around this weekend doing nothing but read. Fuelled with caffeine and alcohol, I finally finished Alicia yesterday, a novel written by a friend of a university pal: D J Baldock.

This book is no normal superhero novel, and it’s also not set in a normal dystopian universe. Alicia, the eponymous protagonist, is a rogue and powerful woman who is hell-bent on revenge against the man who has forced her into a life of ruin and destruction. She meets a squeaky-clean superhero (Violet) who turns out to be her opposite with her own share of darkness. However, the wrath that follows extends beyond her personal vendettas and she must team up with fellow superheroes who are also fighting against this series of allegedly “coincidental” events, but of course, there’s more to it than just that. Somehow, he successfully combines powerful young women fresh out of their teen years with a perilous society without making it cliché, which is a feat that very much impressed me after reading many a predictable storyline over the years.

However, despite the whole young guns against the world thing going on, there is a dark side to this plot that makes it much more adult, and the very distinct lack of sugar-coating makes it refreshing (which completely juxtaposes the vibe of the story but I’m sure you’d know what I mean). Another thing to note is the language. As someone who has expanded their vocabulary through books, the complexity of the words used adds a flair to what could be just an ordinary sci-fi novel. Although it does seem like the author has swallowed a thesaurus, it’s nice to see some more sophisticated language for a change.

Another cool aspect is the realism. Every character is flawed to the point that you wouldn’t instantly gravitate to Alicia, Violet, Bethany, or any of the other characters, superhero or untempered (a rogue human with supernatural powers). Alicia is repeatedly described as broken to the point where you could lose faith in her, but she proves to be vital, and no one is safe from the whims of the author’s pen- although not to the extent of George R. R. Martin.

This book is underrated, and is available on Amazon, so if you’re looking for a superhero sci-fi novel with a bit more brutality and some unconventional twists, you’re welcome. 

Link to the paperback and kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Alicia-Ascendant-Untempered-D-Baldock/dp/0993323707/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491773629&sr=1-1&keywords=9780993323706

PS: This is the first of a series! I’m actually excited to read the next novel despite avoiding book series for a while due to life getting in the way. I need to stop rambling in the postscript- it must be time for a beer.

Darker than an angsty teen’s soul // Beside Myself Review

The exams are over, but the assignments are not, so my reading time is still very limited (Although I bet if my parents ever read this blog they’d be raising their eyebrows right now).

In the land of fewer assignments and more free time, I read Beside Myself, which was one of my more spontaneously chosen reads. The concept was intriguing, I’m drawn to a hardback and it’s discounted on Wordery right now which is always a win. I knew the plot wouldn’t be full of sunshine and roses, but the darkness almost seeped through the pages, and it stuck with me.

So here’s the thing. Helen and Ellie are twins. Like most duos, there is a leader and a follower, and they fit in these roles respectively. Until one day, aged 5, they pretend to swap as they are identical, which of course dooms Helen, who is now demoted to the sidekick role. Not only does Ellie refuse to switch back, but it results in a downward spiral of mental illness and trauma for Helen who slowly loses her identity as Ellie quite literally takes over her life. Not being a twin, I cannot relate obviously, but as harrowing as it was for me I cannot imagine how traumatising it would be if a twin was reading this.

You can’t help but feel frustrated and on edge throughout as the world seems to repeatedly turn its back on her. Her sister thrives and flourishes thanks to her upgraded identity and continues to shove Helen into the shadows, However, one of the most important factors that defends Ellie’s actions are in the prologue. In this introduction, we see that Helen pushes Ellie around, and some may suggest that she is bullying her. This could indicate why the roles get reversed so literally later on, however you can’t deny the horror of the consequences and how easy it is to just give up completely. Anne Morgan writes with such poignant accuracy resulting in even non-twins feeling shaken by the plot, and that’s why I liked it.

If you’ve got a spare fiver then thrill yourself a little, it’ll be worth it.