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Sunday, November 16

Final words

Saturday night, a new student arrived at Zeneida's house. Linda flew in from Switzerland around 9:30 PM, but I was so tired that I went to bed early and didn't get to meet her until the following morning. For her it was just a one-night stay in Heredia before heading off to Intercultura Sámara. She was an almost complete beginner, so when I finally met her at breakfast she was relieved to find out that I spoke English. I told her about the experiences I had in my last four weeks and wished her the best in her travels. I hugged Zeneida and Linda goodbye as they took off for the Empresa Alfaro bus station in San José. They left good and early around 10:15 even though the bus didn't leave until 12 noon. President Hu Jintao of China was about to arrive in the capital so they were anticipating heavy traffic or at least a few unexpected detours. As for myself, Zeneida's friend Maritza and her husband Jorge picked me up at Zeneida's and took me to the airport. I gave them 5,000 colones for their gas and time (which was still less than what I would've paid for a taxi). Thankfully, my flight left just about an hour before Hu's plane was scheduled to touch down, so we avoided much of the traffic that probably would've surrounded Juan Santamaría Airport upon his arrival.

As I write this, I'm at El Salvador International Airport waiting for my flight back to San Francisco. The accent is a little different here so it took a moment for me to get used to. Unfortunately, when I booked my flight home I had to choose between a 30-minute layover and a three-hour one. I chose the latter just to be safe, so I'm here for another hour and a half before my flight leaves. Thankfully, the wi-fi is free so I'm able to pass the time by pretty quickly. At this moment Linda, Melissa, Mireilla and Tara are probably at Intercultura Sámara getting ready for their tour of the town before settling into their homestays. I wish them, and all the other friends I left behind in Costa Rica, all the best in their travels. Many thanks to all the people who made this an unforgettable trip, including Monteverde Extremo, Jardines Arenal, Rinconcito Lodge, and all the tour guides, surf instructors and random people I met in between. Of course, I must give special thanks to Intercultura and my two Tica moms, as well as Amerispan, the study-abroad agency that helped me find the Spanish program that was right for me.

Thank you for tagging along with me during this wonderful journey. May your travels in life likewise take you to many unforgettable places. ¡Pura vida!

Saturday, November 15

Cultural notes, part 4

Yesterday after graduation, I hugged Mireilla and Melissa goodbye as they headed off into the rainforest and on to Sámara this weekend. I had lunch at Café Mambo with Ken and Ellie, the students I shared Zeneida's house with my first week in Costa Rica. They're living in an apartment now and have a knack for making gallo pinto and a few other local dishes. Tara and Alison, two of the girls I met my first week in Heredia, are off to Sámara tomorrow as well so we went out to La Rumba Disco last night to go dancing one last time. I wished all of them well and knew they'd have an amazing time on the beach.

A few parting cultural notes on this, my final Saturday afternoon in Costa Rica:

  • Tiquismos – local variations on Spanish that are unique to Costa Rica and/or Central America
    • usted – Though considered formal in standard Spanish, this is the everyday way of saying "you" in Costa Rica regardless of the relationship between the speaker and listener. Vos is highly familiar and usually reserved for long-time friendships. – which in most other dialects may be mildly familiar – is intimately familiar in Tico Spanish and traditionally used only with lovers and God. On the other hand, Silvia suggested to me one time that the continuing homogenization of Latin culture through mass media may have the power to change that, as young people grow up with pan-Latin television, movies and music which promote the non-Tico usage of .
    • ¿Cuánto vale? – the local variant of ¿Cuánto cuesta? ("How much does it cost?") which literally means "How much is it worth?"

    • Con (mucho) gusto – "You're welcome." It literally means, "With (great) pleasure" so it has a much warmer meaning than the standard de nada ("It's nothing") which I've never heard once in Costa Rica.
    • tranquil – I've heard this from many people, including Zeneida. It is a shortened form of tranquilo ("calm") and as an exclamation ("¡Tránquil!") is used to mean "No problem" or "Don't worry about it" as far as I can tell. This would make it roughly equivalent to No problema or possibly even No te preocupes or No se preocupe.
    • pulpería – a convenience store, roughly analogous to 7-Eleven

    • plata – another word for "money" that's much more common here and in other parts of Latin America than the standard dinero. It literally means "silver" and reflects the importance of silver currency in the history of many Latin American countries.
    • cien metros – "one hundred meters," the standard way of refering to a city block regardless of its actual length

    • mae – a tag word roughly equivalent to "dude" or "man," e.g., ¡Tuanis, mae! ("Cool, man!")
  • As with many rural towns, the population in Sámara is too small to support a dedicated high school. Norma's granddaughter Dailis thus rides to Nicoya two hours each way, every weekday, to go to school.
  • Even the dogs are friendly in Costa Rica. They walk the streets freely and never wear leashes. Not once has a dog barked at me while I've been here. Sometimes, a random dog will even follow you like he's your pet. So if you plan to visit Costa Rica, know that being a dog lover is practically a requirement!
  • Going to a salsa club is a different experience from the U.S. or other parts of the world. For one thing, the style of salsa dancing is completely different here and I've only started to get used to it. The clubs also tend to play a more even mix of different styles – salsa, reggaeton, merengue and cumbia. Lastly, it's typical for people to go out in groups and less typical to see people go by themselves, even though the latter is often the norm in the U.S. Asking someone to dance is probably the only situation in Costa Rica where I've ever encountered a cold shoulder.
  • Ticos have never heard of decaffeinated coffee. It's not supposed to exist.