Pura Marisa

Thoughts, stories and reflections of my journey living "la pura vida" in Costa Rica


My street in San Jose near the courthouse. Very secure, somewhat convenient, just a little too green on the inside.

I’ll admit it. I have completely been holding back in the last month about a pretty amusing situation which has been on my mind, and influencing my day-to-day activities since I moved last month. Aside from a few close friends and family, few know much about the character I just shared an apartment with for 6 weeks–6 weeks too long!

As implied, my roommate (we’ll call her Holly), no longer lives with me around the corner from the Courthouse. In fact, she and her very sweet, but muchtoolargeforanapartment retriever, Mattie, went back to the States on Saturday in hopes of sorting out her “quarter-life crisis” as she explained it to me exactly a week ago as she delivered the news.

Now, I’ve had numerous roommates in my life up until now and have managed all kinds of odd or incompatible roommate personalities. It started with my childhood spent in matching Phoenix Suns bunks with my tomboy sister Val; a year with my infant brother’s crib at the foot of my bed (one of my favorites to date); a shared freshman dorm with a painfully shy pre-med/biology major; another dorm apartment shared with an unhygienic headcase, a serious shopaholic, and one other normal girl; a close-knit Argentine family; a sweet old Spanish madre; three of my close girlfriends in our palace/apartment in our last year of college; my sister Valerie again, this time as adults in Chicago, sans bunks; a brief stint playing mom/housewife at my Dad’s, and of course two months with Zaida and one with my friend, Greg. All had their quirks, ups and occasional downs, but I would definitely repeat living with a handful of them. Though, I don’t think I could say the same for Holly.

There were really two dogs in the apartment; the live one, and the smaller version I swept up once a week. Gross. *Note the lovely green wall., not my choice!

Holly wasn’t all bad, of course. She was a nice person, my same age, and was here teaching English just like myself. In fact, we nicknamed her Holly because she had quite a bit in common with Miss Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. For example, she was decently charming and had friends, liked to party the night away with said friends, sleep in and wake up living the remainder of the next day contentedly amongst the liquor bottles and empty food containers from last night’s party, as if they had become part of the decor.

She also called her dog “dog”,  which sealed the deal on the nickname–unbeknownst to her. However, trying to care for a big, hairy dog in an apartment without a yard, while wanting to party as much as possible, and live a life free of cleaning duties and ever experiencing morning made living with her, a dirty and smelly hell. So, in case you ever wondered why Holly Golightly lived alone, I believe I’ve just answered your question!

Her defense was that she lacked the sense of smell due to nerve damage caused by some freak fainting episode. A story I’m not sure I completely believe occurred while sober, but I can’t imagine anyone with olfactory nerves intact would be able to handle the overwhelming smell of dog she lived in quite happily.

Now, I can’t say I’ve always been the perfect, most neat roommate. My former roommates would ALL attest to that! Folding and putting away clothes just happens to be my least favorite chore, and that’s obvious! However, nothing could be more disgusting than the entire dog I swept up at the end of every week, and am still finding in cushions, clothes, shoes, and yes, even food. The distinct hamster smell that emanated from her bathroom towels still haunts me. I swear, if we lived in a cartoon, those towels would have a swirly, bright green cloud of stink around them!

To be fair, I’m sure she didn’t enjoy me very much either. My morning workouts in my room, and requests for low noise after 10pm would be really annoying for anyone set in her type of late morning/late night schedule.

Lesson learned: Never again live with someone I don’t know very well whose hygienic standards are far below those of, well, the general public. Even if my rent is cheap! You can’t really put a price on cleanliness.

Though those six weeks were nothing less than interesting, I can still think of many upsides to the situation. First, without my daily decision to dine at Dan and Liam’s, we wouldn’t have our family dinner tradition. It also reinforced my decision to never own  dogs while living in an apartment–ever–it’s not fair to anyone. Finally, got to spend plenty of time at the beach!

So, here I am living alone (5 minutes away from friends, no worries) for the first time ever, and in a foreign country. If I didn’t feel like a big girl before, I definitely feel like one now.

Last weekend's beach escape back in Santa Teresa. Poor Liam fell in a hammock, though he did say seconds beforehand that, "You really haven't lived life until you've fallen out of a hammock." So, Liam's definitely lived.


Family Time

My first sunset in Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula. I'm heading back this weekend for the third time in just over a month!

Now, contrary to what you might think, I did not set out to avoid my blog nearly all of last month–I promise! My life has settled into a busy routine since I moved to my third and final apartment (yes!), which makes finding long spans of time to creatively reflect hard to pin down at times, and at others just doesn’t compete with the other fun things I could be doing like spending weekends “disconnected” on the beach, market browsing for new fruits, watching a movie on a rainy afternoon, or playing (and losing) card games with Dan and my buddy Liam with vino tinto on the balcony overlooking parque nacional.

The Three Musketeers+Val snuck by a bull to get to the big tree on the Escazu hike. No swords. Pure guts.

Liam and I became friends years ago while studying in Argentina and hadn’t seen each other since 2007, until he joined me teaching a month ago. He now lives next door to Dan, and I’m just a five minute walk away. So now, we’re like the Three Musketeers, working for the same company and cooking family dinners together most nights of the week. Adorable, I know. I haven’t really thought of which of the Musketeers we’d each be, but I would definitely be the one to always lose at any and every card game the other two teach me. I’m what one would call a perpetual asshole!

Anyway, the highlight of last month was that I  FINALLY had a visitor! Valerie, one of my sisters, arrived late Friday the 13th to my new humble abode near the Court House in San José. After four months of being away from my sister I was so excited to see her, as well as my adorable stolen jumper she was wearing that just barely didn’t make my “practical items to bring to Costa Rica” list. Shocker. You better believe I made her leave it! Anyways, having her here for 10 days was  quite an adventure.

Val and my tica sister (missing Elena) keeping me company while I mixed the cookie dough by hand. I was so desperate for cookies I didn't care. Life without an oven=no homemade baked good=edgy Marisa dying for cookies!

First on the list was for her to meet Zaida and my tico family that I’ve raved so much about. So Valerie, Dan, Liam and I made the journey up the mountain and through the rain for what was easily one of the best evenings of the trip. Everyone contributed to dinner somehow; Dan manned the grill, Zaida cooked the sides, I mixed the margaritas and baked cookies, Liam played with Luna and Santi, and Valerie documented it all.

That night we sat at the table for hours, sipping wine, telling stories and jokes while trying to translate between languages for Shirley and Carlos. Some don’t really translate, of course, while others need no translation. It was so special for me to sit back and watch my tico family, my “family”, and my sister all mixed together at a table, laughing and enjoying one another. There are no words for that kind of contentment; when the people you love that have come into your life at different points, and know slightly different versions of you can enjoy each others company, and probably would do so even if you weren’t there.

Good times with the family -Zaida who was taking the picture. I'd say Dan won the funny face contest, hands down!

The next day, Dan the tour guide took us on the beautiful, slightly rigorous hike through Escazu. I was a little worried about Val not being accustomed to the altitude, but she skipped and hopped her way back down the mountain. Then the storm hit a few hours later. Not an actual storm, but Val’s illness rolled in as quickly and forcefully as the afternoon rains and didn’t really let up for the rest of her trip. She’s quite the trooper though.

Chilaxin on the beach with my sis

After a few days of rest in San Jose, we left for the beach in Santa Teresa where we stayed in an adorable yoga hostel and made quick friends with two English girls, Jordana and Lucy. I had gone to Santa Teresa just a week or so before with friends and fell in love with the beach, the relaxed, non-touristy beach town atmosphere, and the little restaurants all run by the Israeli families that have settled there who make the most delicious food. Especially a little place called Burger Rancho that makes not only amazing burgers, but the perfect mint iced-lemonade to go with anything on the menu! It’s no wonder Mel Gibson has a home there–the guy may be crazy, but he knows a good thing when he sees it! Finally, the yoga at our hostel proved to be fantastic as all of the reviews boasted and was the perfect warmup for a surf day!

Though I would have been perfectly happy just spending the time with my sister, it’s always fun to make new friends. The two traveled all over Asia together before starting uni in England and are kicking off their six months post-undergrad traveling together again through Central and South America. Apart from growing up together, they share so many memories and bonding experiences that they’re as good as sisters.

Val's first surfing lesson, a success!

The four of us spent most of the time together, lounging on the beach, and gabbing over guaro sours (the go-to tico cocktail) about our favorite Glee episodes and laughing through every crazy travel story we could remember. In fact, the only time we weren’t all together was just before that cocktail hour when I was attacked by a stray dog on the beach–kid you not! I was just walking from the surf shop in my new beach dress when a dog jumped on me from behind, tearing my dress and trying to do the same to my arms. No skin was broken, thank goodness, but I’d never felt the need to defend myself from a dog before and I’d say the worst part was knowing that I had to kick and hit and animal to keep myself safe. And it got violent! After we struggled for a good five minutes just around the corner from the beach bar, I joined the girls, quite shaken up, but nothing a good cry, a laugh and stiff cocktail couldn’t fix.

Val and I, no stray dogs in sight, not wanting to leave my favorite little paradise.

We spent the next day surfing, or shall I say Val and Lucy took a lesson with Shloamie, one of the many Israeli residents in Santa Teresa and Lucy’s quick crush. I surfed, and Jordana took photos of it all as she’s terrified of the water–understandably so since riptides are strong and tough to get out of without a board attached. We were also joined by another girl traveling solo for a week, though maybe I should say we were trying to dodge her for at least half of the time. Sounds terrible, I know, but she was a piece of work, to say the least, and I’m not someone to allow anyone to put a damper on my vacation!

Lucy and Jordana, the gems of our Santa Teresa trip!

We returned to San Jose the next day, tanned, relaxed and happy. Val’s trip flew by too fast. It was so sad to see her go, but I’m so happy she came to visit what has become my home. We lived it up, despite illness, and made the most of every moment together.

Man, all of this writing about Santa Teresa makes me so excited to return this weekend! I’ve become a beach bum, but a beach bum with friends! On a quick trip back to San Jose last Friday, Lucy and Jordana convinced Dan, Liam and I to head back tomorrow for their last weekend in Costa Rica. Let’s be real though, it took no convincing!

And so, another weekend, another adventure, more fun I promise I’ll fill you in on sooner rather than later. 🙂

Next Stop: Panama!

The Escazú mountains outside of San José after a day-long hike with my new hiking buddy on Palm Sunday.

So much has happened in my life since my last post, and I apologize for not keeping up my blog as well as I have intended. But last month was insane! Between moving places AGAIN, spending semana santa in Panama with friends and Abuelo rum, working, beginning a new relationship, reuniting with a buddy I haven’t seen in four years AND meeting new relationship guy’s friends–I’m physically exhausted. And you think you’re exhausted just from reading that last sentence! I feel like one of those poor Saturday morning cartoon characters who falls off a cliff, or gets trampled by the Roadrunner, and stands back up dizzily with a moving halo of stars around the head. It’s no wonder I’m in bed, missing my classes and a perfectly beautiful day outside–one of the last of dry season–in a room with only half of my clothes, all dirty, as most are still in my former apartment, hoping I keep down the banana I just ate. Though, I am a seeker of positives, and in this case they are my Panama pictures and (illegal?) movie downloading.

Friends enjoying the clear beach on Zapatilla in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Now, I’m not going to unload every single detail of the trip, however there were many firsts. I snorkeled and touched starfish, came within arms-reach of coral and later cut myself on it, stayed in a house built over water, accidentally walked out on a $2 beer bill, and slept under a mosquito net.

Even just the bus ride to Bocas provided some entertainment other than the crossword puzzle book Dan and I have relied on to combat bus-ride boredom. And I will say, you really do learn a lot about someone doing crosswords together! There’s always a story behind why someone knows the answer to hints like, “Chief Norse god”. Anyway, the 6am bus ride began eventfully as our group consisted of three girls, three guys, and one still drunk tico from the night before boarded the bus. Though, Armando, the less than sober, but not quite hungover tico had to talk the driver into letting him on the sold-out bus to sleep on the floor. And he slept like a baby!

Shortly into the ride, Federico, Armando’s cousin and our friend, had a panic attack. Bus drivers here, like Chicago cab drivers, are in no way sensitive to sick people…up until the point it gets messy. Well, poor Freddy reached that point quickly, someone gave him a bag, and he proceeded to dry-heave in the isle just inches from me. A tough situation to find yourself in when you’re one of those people who laughs at the most inappropriate times…me! I wasn’t laughing because Freddy’s pain is funny, but that a guy is passed out cold on the bus floor just inches away from where another is losing his breakfast, and for the first time in my life I’m friends with both of these people!

About to head over the bridge to Panama, the scariest bridge I've ever walked on. Fall through the rickety wooden planks and you're crocodile food.

After crossing the Panamanian border and squeezing twelve people into a van or “cab” coyote-style, and a water taxi, we finally arrived in Bocas del Toro, a gorgeous archipelago of islands on the Caribbean side of Panama. The crystal clear water was warm enough to be comfortable, yet cool enough to be refreshing in the arid and dramatically warmer Panamanian sun.

We spent the week  traveling from beach-to-beach and boat-to-boat with a chest full of ice, rum, mixers, and sandwiches with snorkeling gear in tow. We treaded in the waveless water for hours on end, marveling at this paradise we still couldn’t believe we were in. We saw starfish, and other colorful fish whose names I don’t know. Yet, as soon as we reached one of the best places to snorkel, I dove into the slightly too shallow water and gashed my foot on the coral I only ever wanted to look at. Ouch! Salt water doesn’t exactly numb that pain.

Freddy and the guys on Starfish Beach, just moments away from splashing enough water on my camera to claim it. Luckily, my camera survived to show the tale.

The house we stayed in was perfect, well, aside from the “environmentally friendly” compost toilet that leaked onto the kitchen sink our third day there. But the two deck hammocks, kayak, geckos, pre-leaked on kitchen and blender for rum concoctions were all we needed to keep entertained. Though the rail-less walkway over the feces tainted water on our side of the island always kept us on our toes during nighttime walks home.

Now, about the walk out on a beer tab, I can assure you it was an accident! One night, while in search of a Wi-FI hotspot, Dan and I came across a sign for it at the first restaurant we had all stopped for lunch on arrival, La Buga. Great! We sat down, ordered a beer and split time with his handy-dandy iTouch. Somehow between updating one another on lives of friends–who remain simply names, family news, and other new inbox goodies, we completely forgot to pay for the beer before leaving to meet friends at dinner. Not something myself, a former waitress has EVER done! We didn’t even realize it until after dinner at another restaurant when La Buga had already closed. It was also closed the next day when we went by on our way back on the journey  to Costa Rica. So, short of sliding a note under the door with $2, we did what we could.

The Real World: Bocas house

Panama was stunning, yet I was ready to leave and spend a few days back in the country I’ve called home for now three months. I brought back with me memories with friends I could have only made here, and in a house full of unknown travel stories shared by people from all around the world over bottles of Abuelo rum left behind on the shelves as trophies. I didn’t even buy anything to bring back as nothing really won me over–unless you count the sarong I bought on the way back in Puerto Viejo. However, I did bring back some free souvenirs: 70-some sand-fly and mosquito bites all over my lightly burned body!

The Bocas crew: Freddy, Jessi, Dan, Martin, Armando, Martin and Autumn. Little girl not included, though I would have gladly taken her!

Puerto Viejo was the perfect stop-off just an hour over the border into Costa Rica on our way back to reality in San José. We lucked out Easter weekend with a small aparthotel run by a French couple who cooked a delicious breakfast, a very humble sense of hospitality, and the two sweetest dogs I’ve come across in Costa Rica. I even woke up in bed one morning with one snuggled up next to me in the same nook in my curled-up torso that Cooper, my childhood dog, always preferred.

A few more days relaxing in the sun and water, eating delicious food and enjoying company while shaving time off of our trip back to San José was ideal. I don’t think I’ve ever come back from a vacation that relaxed! Maybe I was too relaxed to really handle the eventful week ahead in which the most sleep I got in one night was 5 hours? Maybe all that rum and sun was just a bad idea? Who knows?

All I know is that this week is finally over, my classes are going well, I’ve recovered from my little ’bout of exhaustion, I’ve got friends waiting for me in Santa Teresa and I’m back to the beach on a surf board in T-3 hours!

Hang loose until next time 🙂

Gorgeous panamanian sunset

Gorgeous Panamanian sunset

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

IknowIknowIknowIknowIknow! I know what you’re thinking, “Miss Marisa….Why haven’t you written in so long? I thought this move meant more time to write? What have you been up to?” My answer–It’s a long story, I know, and everything BUT blogging! So I’m sorry, I have not one good answer, though I have some great excuses!

Surfing in Manuel Antonio...Big excuse!

Don’t get me wrong, I love writing. I really do. Though in the last two weeks I needed to spend my free time settling into a new place, with a new roommate. I needed to find my bearings in a new neighborhood (a very safe one with a 24-hour guard–so no worries), get my new routines together, enjoy my (exponentially!) shorter commutes, spend time in the afternoons figuring out how to cook in a kitchen without an oven or microwave–imagine that for a moment–and take advantage of the hammock conveniently located on the front patio.

Very different from my former tranquil home in the rainforest, my new, temporary place is in La Uruca; a neighborhood tucked away just 5 minutes outside of San José. Temporary, because my friend Annie is away for 5 weeks, so I’m holding the fort down with her roommate Greg until next month. Different, because there are more people around and nightly noises of cats fighting have replaced coyote feeding time. Oddly enough, these cats sound more vicious and scary than the coyotes!

I now rise and shine at 5:50am on my early days, which was the time I began my trek up the steep hill to head across the city from San Ramon at sunrise. I miss the view of the sun rising over the mountains onto the city, though I have a gorgeous view of the northern mountains in the morning here that my more lucid morning self appreciates just as much.

To top it off, we have an egg man, and a fruit/veggie man who come around shouting out of big trucks to advertise their fresh food for sale. Like the ice cream man, only without the candy and creepy music. Last Saturday was the first time I was actually here to take advantage of this little luxury. I woke up to the sound of “huevos, huevos, huevos!” I jumped out of bed and bought 30 eggs for $2! I was so excited, I forgot that I was standing on the street, barefoot, in pajamas, with some of the craziest bed-head I’ve had here yet–Annie’s bed is comfortable!

Oh, oven and chorreador...how I miss you guys!

A few adjustments have had to be made, yet they’re small. I’m back to making coffee in a machine rather than the chorreador that became an essential part of my morning coffee ritual at Zaida’s house. I need to make a special trip to the market for one soon, as even coffee made from the same brand is much less enjoyable from a machine. Nightly girl chats are just not the same since cinnamon tea isn’t really a “thing” in this apartment and…well…Greg is not a girl. Though he’s a great listener! God bless him…

I have also seen many more roaches on this side of town.  A roach the length of my index finger escaped my running shoe in the kitchen the other night, so I’m pretty sure she sent one of her babies into my book-bag for revenge. I can only speculate, of course, but the timing seems perfect since the next day one scurried out of my books and across the desk at the beginning of my class of “ricos suaves” at Dole. I screamed as I jumped on my chair. One Luis tried to kill it, the other Luis laughed, and innocent little Jordan looked (up) at me and asked, “where is it you live again, teacher?”

Needless to say I now leave an extra two minutes to shake my bags and books before I leave in the morning. Just in case.

Now for another excuse. I spent the weekend before last in Manuel Antonio with a few teacher friends. This picturesque beach town and national park is a short 3-hour bus ride from San José. It’s full of diverse wildlife and boasts a gorgeous beach filled with pool temperature water and waves perfect for a beginner surfer, like yours truly!

My last photo with my favorite $10 sunglasses. Diving into waves with them was a bad idea.

I’m sad to say I have no photos or videos of my very first surfing lesson, but I did stand up on my first try and on many of my other attempts. I also fell in every possible direction every time I stood up, with a different scream for each wipeout. I even managed to fall on the board itself, which is not an easy thing to do according to my fellow teacher and surf instructor, Dan. But of course, the girl known to slip on the bowling alley lanes and fall going upstairs is guaranteed to fall on top of the surf board!

Sandy surf shirts out to dry. Can you spot the "hang ten" sign?

I loved every minute of it. We laughed the entire day and completely deserved the huge seafood dinner we all splurged for later. I don’t think I’ve slept so hard the whole time I’ve been here nor woken up with so many battle wounds on my legs. I can’t wait to do it again!

As for my final excuse. I’m not going to lie, and this is going to sound like a cheesy cliché, but I’m owning up to it humbly. It’s safe to assume I’ve read the book Eat.Pray.Love, right? I came here with a very strict Eat.Pray.Love-ish outlook on how this whole adventure was going to pan out, according to Marisa. At least 6 more months of singledom, as if that’s a difficult rule to keep. Well, apparently it is, and that whole plan may have just been chucked in the basura!


Roots are planted, and it’s time to grow from here.

Morning dew on one of my favorite flowers that grows on the front gate.

Yesterday was the first morning that Carolina, my morning student, sent me a text to cancel class and I was not already up and drinking coffee. I had been so exhausted, not so much from working, but commuting, that instead of jumping at my alarm set for 4:55am, I turned it off in my sleep and Carolina’s text woke me 10 minutes later. Never have I been so elated to see that she had to cancel class that I dropped my phone as my groggy fingers failed to reach the stand next to me, and fell back to sleep. I still haven’t checked to see if my return message was coherent or not, but I didn’t care much at the time, I needed sleep.

As teaching has become part of my routine, so also has commuting. And I don’t mean for an hour or so, but hours. Hours of everyday spent on buses, while a book I have been meaning to finish has remained dog-eared in almost the same place as it was a month ago (the thought of reading on buses makes me sick), and the lush mountain streets I used to run on, almost daily, miss my light pounding and killer running playlist–or at least I’d like to think so. Though really, the semi trucks, or men in any vehicle for that matter that travel regularly to San Ramon may wonder where the girl they would always stun with their honks has run off to now.

Sunrise over the valley as I wait for my morning bus

As much as I love living in the peaceful rainforest outside of the city, I have forced myself to realize that it is no longer practical and sucks hours away from my day that could be spent doing other, much more fun things. Just as I began to warm up to the idea of moving to the west side of the city, closer to work, my friend, Annie offered me her room for five weeks while she takes a vacation. So, this weekend I will pack up my bags and make a temporary new home with her roommate, and my friend Greg, while I begin looking for a new place to hang my… dirty shoes.

I know what you’re thinking–what about Zaida?

This was all I thought about two weeks ago when I knew I had to tell her that I was leaving. I was so afraid she would be upset with me for some reason, though I know her well enough to know she is a very rational woman. As I told her that I had to move, and wept (of course I did), she gave me the tightest hug and assured me that she completely understood and that I was welcome to come over at any time.

We have become sisters, and just as I cherish my own sisters do I treasure my tica sister. We will see one another often, of that I have no doubt. Not to mention we still have a yoga retreat in Santa Teresa to do over a weekend, at some point!

Aside from Zaida, I will miss so much about this place I have called home for almost two months. Everyday scenes from a life I have quickly become so used to. I will miss the morning light peaking through the forest casting leafy shadows across the kitchen floor, the colorful flowers that grow like weeds in the neighborhood, even the steep hill I rely on for a quick booty lift on days that working out is simply out of the question.

Zaida perusing the wine outside of the teatro nacional last Friday night before the opening flamenco performance of 'La Llorona'.

I’ll miss randomly meeting Carlos on a packed evening bus, which has always meant great company, a free ride, and mystical views of glowing fireflies in the forest on the dim walk home–not normally seen from a cab I would always take if alone.

I’ll miss Dove dark chocolates and wine with Shirley and Zaida. I still think they have it right, living next door to one another. In my dreams, my sisters and I would eventually take over a cul-de-sac! If we could only decide on a state…

I’ll miss stepping over toys in the front yard after arriving home from work. I’ll miss playing tag, and hide-and-go-seek with Santi attached to my hip like a little monkey–the cutest you’ll ever see. Even playing Luna’s imaginary game in which we fight the big dinosaur/monster, “Bilgax.” How she came up with that name, I’ll never know, however the awkward sound of it coming from her mouth always makes me laugh. Mostly, I’ll miss their excited little voices yell my name as they run to greet me with the kind of unconditional hugs and kisses children are best at giving.

Even, some small part of me will miss Santi’s crying about God knows what most of the time! He usually times it perfectly to when I’m trying to concentrate on lesson plans.

Zaida teaching Luna how to ask questions in English. I will soon post video of them practicing numbers, Luna's laughter is infectious!

Most of all, I will miss my time with Zaida. I’ll miss catching up on our days while cooking dinner and taking mental notes of the way she cooks some of the most delicious meals. I’ll miss the way we take care of one another in the same natural, unspoken way my sister and I did in Chicago. I’ll miss our late night chats about life over cinnamon tea to warm us up before bed. I’ll even miss watering the rainforest late at night with buckets of used water from the washer and giggling every time we end up just soaking ourselves–which is often!

I’ll miss seeing her play with her niece and nephew, and loving them the same way I would be my own niece if I could be near her now.

I will miss my new family, but it is important to remind myself that they are family. They are always here for me and I for them no matter where I live.

P.S. I did finally learn how to make corn tortillas! Of course, mine is the one on the right, so I have some work to do as far as shaping. Though, we concluded that the secret is all in the shape of the corn masa balls, for lack of a better phrase.

Time, Please Slow Down, Okay? Thanks.

My brain feels like a backed up toilet. No joke. A week is too long to go without writing and I don’t want to throw too much at you (like I did at my sister today), and essentially clog your toilet too. No one likes those. (You’re welcome, for the visual!)

Quick note: I got my first haircut in Costa Rica. Everyone has their hangups and hair is one of mine. I did my research and found the perfect guy to do my hair just 20 minutes away in Curridabat. Only, he had other ideas in mind than the trim I very clearly asked for. He saw a head of fine hair–very nontica-like–and gave me back the “posh-spice” pixie I had been trying my best to grow out for the sake of change. Oh well, he was happy, I’m happy. Though I’m slightly missing the tickle of hair on my neck I was becoming used to.

An unusually empty bus, also known as my office, where I spend a good chunk of my days. Please note: there are no men accompanied by chickens or goats–see Jackie?

Anyway, my life in San José has quickly picked up in the last few weeks, and I can actually consider myself ‘busy’ for the first time since I arrived in January. Granted, I’m still waiting to pick up an extra class or two to complete my desired 24 hour-per-week teaching schedule, which sounds like very little, but actually requires more work than you think. Planning, of course, but the bulk of the work is actually getting to work!

With the addition of three classes in the last two weeks, I now spend four hours–at the very least–traveling between classes and home. It’s safe to say that this city did not plan its streets for efficiency during high traffic hours and distances that would take about 20 minutes in Arizona, for example, here take about an hour if not more. This is really my only complaint, but my students make it all so worth it.

A much-needed, relaxing Sunday in Sabana park with my teacher friends.

My teaching highlight of the week came Wednesday with my class of “ticos suaves”, as I now like to refer to my class of 6 men. Before Wednesday, the most I had ever taught in this class at once was four, and that’s after the last sauntered in around 45 minutes after class began. So, that morning I decided to crack the whip in an email:

Good morning,
I hope your day has started well! I know everyone is very busy around lunchtime, however, I would like for everyone to arrive to class on time. If you are trying your best to be on time, but arrive 5-15 minutes late on occasion, I understand. However, it is difficult for me to conduct an effective class when people arrive very late. This takes away useful information for those of you that do arrive on time, which is not fair.
I understand issues come up, which may keep you from coming to class for longer than 10 minutes. In these cases, please send me a text message, letting me know when you will arrive. After all, some English practice is better than none at all. Yet, if this happens often, it will affect your monthly report.
I look forward to seeing you all today!
The result? Five men sitting in their chairs, ready to go with their homework all printed out at 12:02pm–success! Though still missing one, I was so excited just like any dorky teacher would be, and continued refining their skills in the present continuous tense with extra spunk. Of course, leave it to Luis P, the one full of one-liners to find his in while discussing the word “kidding”. One of the students had asked for the definition, so I described it in English. Emanuel interjected, “Is like ‘bromeando.'” To which I agreed and repeated the word, bromeando. I saw Luis’s eyes light up and knew something was coming.
“Teacher, that conjunction of the letters “ea” in bromeando, is sounds good in your mouth,” announced Luis, with his signature wink.
Of course, I laughed and felt the inevitable red flush travel from my chest to my face in seconds.
“Look he’s turning red!” Said Luis, so proud of himself.
“‘She’, Luis, I’m a ‘she’!” I continued laughing along with the rest of the guys.  I finally caught my breath, and continued,”and you mean ‘dipthong’, not ‘conjunction’.”
Later, I collected the paragraphs about their daily lives they were to have written for homework, and perused them quickly after class. I don’t feel right quoting any of them without their permission, of course, but we’ll just say I got a sufficient ab workout from the laughter that followed reading them. As every beginner-intermediate in any language sounds on paper, they were like children writing about humorous aspects of their adult daily lives, sometimes giving me a little bit too much information! The whole thing just made my day.

Feeling good in my neighborhood with a new, non-disastrous haircut.

I’m so rewarded by this job. I feel such a responsibility to my students. I love witnessing even the slightest improvements and getting to know them as individuals. I have not been paid this little to work since I folded panties and fitted women for bras for a (very) brief stint while working at Victoria’s Secret in college. Yet, I have never felt so fulfilled and happy doing anything else. In fact, while walking with another teacher to lunch after class the other day, we swapped funny anecdotes about our students comments in class. To anyone else, we would have sounded like two nerds too excited to share endless variations of the same teaching story to be normal, relatively cool people. Sadly, he happens to be leaving tropical Costa Rica soon to return home and pursue other teaching opportunities with children.

“Aren’t you going to miss this?” I asked.
An immediate, and deeply felt, “yes,” escaped him.
I’m hoping time learns to slow down a bit, I thought. I’m just not ready to miss all this.

As If I Wasn’t Already a Fruit Addict…

There's not anything much better than a sunny Friday afternoon spent by the pool with friends, eating fresh everything: salsa, guacamole and margaritas.

In preparation for our National Margarita Day pool party last week, which was a hit by the way, I spent a few hours walking around the food market in downtown San José. Anything from veggies and fruit, to meat and fish, even wooden cookware and handmade trinkets–or junk, in most cases–can be found at the mercado central. The stingy traveler inside of me wishes I could get past the lingering stench of fish flesh and take advantage of a killer deal on mahi mahi. Yet, my better judgment and past experience with bad fish say, “Marisa, don’t even think about it, your stomach and weekend plans are worth more than taking a risk with questionable fish!” True that! So, I just stuck to the fruit and veggies.

I wet my feet a bit, just outside of the market and bought four perfectly large mature avocados. By large, I mean just less than twice the size of those you find in the grocery store in the States and cost $1 each. The man was originally selling two for ¢1500 (or $3). I must have been really on my bartering game that day because I left his stand having doubled his offer and paid ¢1500 for four beautiful avocados. A smile also never hurts. 😉

“Perfect!” I thought. Guacamole, done!

The fruit guy gave me a generous sample of the guanábana–Sold!

I quickly walked across the road into the mercado central, dodging people handing out flyers and selling lottery tickets every few feet. Holding my breath, I darted through the fish stands and to the first large fruit stand I could find–no sense in messing around at the smaller ones, I was a woman on a mission! I needed to get white onions, green onions, jalapeños, and tomatoes before I got carried away with the fruits. I quickly found all, except for the jalapeños, which I never found after searching three other supermarkets.

The man at the stand tried to convince me that fresh panameño peppers were just as spicy. Not believing him, I convinced him to let me try one as he watched in horror, expecting my tongue to explode. Sure enough, it tasted about as spicy as a bell pepper–and I’m no bad ass when it comes to spice. Apparently, they are spicy when cooked–we’ll see about that. So, despite my best efforts, I had to settle for canned jalapeños. Not the same, but in the end they did the job.

As a consolation prize, I allowed myself to buy whatever fruit I wanted. Since I have been here, I’ve made it a priority to buy fruits I’ve never tried before. First, it was the manzana de agua, a red-skinned fruit with white flesh that tastes like a combination of an apple, star fruit and roses. Yes, roses. They have deliciously replaced my daily granny smith apple habit, at least most days. Also, I recently fell in love with guanábana-flavored yogurt. So I just had to try the actual fruit. Imagine a pineapple, strawberry and banana fused together with juicy white flesh and texture like a white fish. Are you thinking about it? It’s heaven-in-your-mouth!

On a whim, I tried a manguito. It’s a green baby mango with a more tart flesh that is cut in half, sprinkled with lime juice and salt, and eaten–skin and all. The lemon-lime Lucas loving kid inside of me went crazy at the first bite. Remember that white salty/sour stuff that only the Mexican kids bought at the candy store? Yeah, I was one of them, and this fruit takes me back to those days. So, I bought a whole bag of 20!

Manguitos and manzanas de agua...delicious!

With my vegetables, avocados, nectarines, bananas, manzanas de agua, guanábana, manguitos all loaded up in one big bag, I happily bartered again. He said ¢5500, I said ¢4500 and we met somewhere around ¢5000. Good enough! I left having only paid about $11 for fresh produce that would have cost about 3x more at home. So proud that I worked up the cajones to barter too, I walked away a happy camper… a happy camper with two seriously sore shoulders and a few smooshed avocados when I arrived home. Oh well, so I got a little head start on the guacamole. 🙂

One Month In, and I’m ALL In

A month ago today, I arrived in the madness of San José’s early morning traffic, barely knowing my right hand from my left in this quirky, unplanned city I now happily call home. While lost in thought about how much has changed over the past month on the bus yesterday, the young man next to me politely broke my trance, and asked for directions to a little supermarket near my home.

Avenida Central

My newspaper man on Avenida Central where I walk between bus rides every morning.

He held up a square of paper that simply showed a road that splits with a few names of landmarks, not at all to scale, at various points on the scribbled “map”. As soon as he sensed my slight accent–still not perfect–he turned his head away as if to say, “oh, you wouldn’t know.” Funny, since knowledge of direction clearly has nothing to do with language fluency. I, on the other hand, knew exactly about that particular fork in the road. On my return from the beach Monday, I had taken a falsely marked bus down the wrong path of that fork and climbed back up that very steep road carrying my huge backpack, hoping to meet the right bus at the top. I didn’t, and ended up hiking a good 3.5 miles up the hill to get home.

He  trusted my directions, thanked me sincerely, and left the bus to the super de todo he had been certain I didn’t know about–silly guy! A humble little wave of pride came over me, the same one I felt walking out of the Banco Nacional the other day after opening my first foreign bank account. These little events are reassurances that I know exactly where I am now, I am committed, and sublimely content with those realities.

Though my routine changes day-to-day according to my class times, it usually begins with my pre-sunrise coffee (still just as delicious as the first), two bus rides with a walking break across town when I pick up a freshly pressed La Nacion, which is satisfying to have, even though I may not find time to actually read. I then spend the day teaching/laughing with my students, and the time between hanging out at little restaurants, called sodas with my teacher friends refueling on the highly addictive $2 gallopinto and eggs. Then, I make the trek back home where I burn off said gallopinto with a trail run and yoga before Zaida gets home, and girl time commences. Life is generally steady and comes at a much more manageable pace than I’m accustomed to in other places I’ve lived. In short, I’m in love!

That said, this week has been a little crazy for everyone around here. The company we were all working for went bust late last week after some shady mismanagement from the very top forced my bosses to break away and create their own company. A long-awaited hope of theirs forced into reality over the span of a few days. Our classes all followed them as they have been the sole representation of the former company for years, and are an exceptionally sincere team of veteran English teachers. Aside from a new office location, everything has remained the same for most.

Santa Lucia

Santa Lucia flowers grow like weeds around my home. Ticos superstitiously put them in their wallets to ensure fortune. Needless to say I have many a shriveled santa lucia floating around my purses.

I came out of the week with a new class of 6 students, all men between 19 and about 40. Though I have not met all of them yet, I can tell this will be a comical bunch, with a mild flirtatious undertone, of course. In fact, mild is an understatement.

One of the men, Luis, sauntered into class an hour late, introduced himself, leaned in slightly and said. “Oh yes, I saw you walk in when I go to lunch (wink).” A part of me wondered if he also saw me almost break an ankle and eat the pavement about a half block before I reached the building–Chicagoans have almost no room to complain about their streets, by the way. I laughed, I couldn’t help it–he went to lunch right when class was supposed to start. I introduced myself, smiled and replied. “Nice to meet you Luis, I hope you weren’t too attached to that book in your hand because I’m changing it.” Past tense irregular verbs may also be a good place to start!

My life experience around similarly flirty latinos, along with too much experience waiting tables will no doubt serve me well as a young female authority figure in the classroom. And I use the terms, “authority figure,” loosely because I don’t conduct my classes in a very serious way. However, I always have my sassy latina attitude to unleash if necessary, which is as good as any quick whip of a ruler. At least I hope?

There is still so much to tell, but it’s 9pm and I have a serious batch of our Flores family salsa and guacamole to make for a well deserved pool party with my friends tomorrow. According to the Food Network, Tuesday was “National Margarita Day.” A completely legitimate excuse to fire up the weekend with a Mexican-themed pool party, with yours truly shaking the margaritas behind the bar!


Everyone has their pet-peeves–those tiny annoyances that may not be a big deal to some, but simply drive you insane! I can’t say I have many, though I can quickly think of a few.

For instance, it’s well-known to those I’ve lived with that I can’t handle the smacking noise people make when eating anything. Whether you know you’re doing it or not, I have no patience for listening to the sound of open-mouthed mastication that usually comes with cereal eating, especially cereal eating. My brother makes it a point to annoy me with his chewing noises at the breakfast table, when my patience is shortest. Still groggy before my mandatory morning coffee has taken effect, I usually end up far away on the couch with my coffee, toast and eggs, watching the ‘Today’ show as loudly as possible to mask his victory laughter. It gets to me EVERY time.

People who love to interrupt, or constantly “one-up” others in conversation are right up there on my list as well. I’ve zero tolerance for that and usually end up tuning the person out altogether. If the “interrupter” happens to be a family member or close friend I’ll usually utter some version of, “Seriously? Should I continue with what I was saying or is what you’re saying that much more important?” Right Mom, sisters? 😉

Having been here for almost a month now–which I still can’t believe–I’ve discovered a new pet-peeve: “tsch!”

The best way I can describe this noise is that it sounds just like Dr. Evil in this scene clip–classic by the way–yet with an even sharper and shorter execution. This noise is cutting, and enough to send chills up my back, like forks to a plate. I have no idea why exactly. Yet, it seems to replace the more soothing “shhh” sound here.

I realized this last week when Zaida’s mother came to visit. She’s one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever met with the constant compulsion to clean, and cook de-licious beans. This “tsch” noise also happens to be right up there among her compulsions. While playing with the kids outside, “tsch!” To the birds in the trees, “tsch!” If Curua even thought about barking, out came a preemptive “tsch!” ALL the time. “Tsch, tsch, TSCH!”

At some point, I wondered if it could be a tick. Maybe Touretts? No. Then I thought, maybe it’s just a tico thing? It could very well be the latter. However, I’d rather avoid making a stereotype and boil it down to the fact that this woman raised 9 children. When you have that many children, a loud, terse, repetitive, and bone-chilling “tsch” might go a long way in discipline and noise management. For some reason, a spanking and/or bar of soap in the mouth doesn’t seem as terrible to me as that awful sound–over and over again. I specify bar soap because nothing lasts as long as the stinging taste of liquid soap in the mouth. This, I know!

Now, it’s off to the beach for a hopefully “tsch-less” weekend!

What a Difference a Year Makes…

At some point in my four-hour commute to and from my sub-classes this afternoon, I thought about what I was doing exactly a year ago today. I could picture it perfectly. I had spent the day secretly annoyed, yet smiling, and waiting on various types of couples. Some lovey-dovey to a sickening point, and some simply going through the motions, while one couple even broke up during dinner at my table and paid separately in tears–I kid you not! I was frustrated, not only because I was spending the day in a hideous uniform that included a tie and dress pants, which reeked of “fine” Mexican food and hid all of my feminine qualities, but I was also very unhappily in love. I had put all of my energies toward a seemingly fairytale relationship, which I knew even in the weeks leading up to that one day, would soon end.

It did, and it hurt. Yet, today I feel completely different. I won’t go so far as to say that I feel like a brand new person–I’m not a cliché. However, being in a new country, void of any past memories, with new friends and unpredictable experiences ahead of me has created a brand new horizon in my life.

Playa Hermosa- My very first visit to a black sand beach experience

I thought life would be starkly different today than it has turned out to be. I remember watching ‘Father of the Bride’ as a little girl and thinking I would be just like the daughter, Annie, in the movie. I imagined that by 22, I would be either married or well on my way to a family life, and have a blossoming career I would feel perfectly content with until retirement. What 10-year-old girl didn’t think that?

Here I am, 24, single, working a six month contract as an English teacher in a developing country with no clear idea as to what will follow. Everything about my everyday life screams “uncertain”, “unattached”, and “wide open.”  Those words have never seemed so exciting until now.

I don’t mean to put anyone down who has committed themselves to another at a young age, not by any means. It’s just that in going through with this experience I have realized that more “me-time”, and quite a bit more of it, is essential for my own happiness. You can call it selfish, but I’d say it’s a brilliant self-realization that, for me, will (hopefully) prevent any future regret about not living out my 20’s the way I really wanted to.

That said, I had a fantastically random weekend visiting a beach, Playa Hermosa, with a hodgepodge of my fellow teacher friends. We decided Friday that we’d drive out on Saturday morning. We spent the day relaxing in the sun and darting over fiery-hot black sand into the lukewarm Pacific. We watched the sun set while eating a fresh seafood dinner, and drove back in time for a birthday celebration that went well into the morning hours. Basically, we’re rockstars.

Still can't get over the black sand

After recovering from the weekend yesterday, I planned a Valentine’s Day themed lesson for the classes I substitute taught today. I had visions of being a sassy subsitute teacher  like Gwyneth Paltrow on ‘Glee’, naturally, minus the singing and dancing–didn’t want to scare the students away. We read an article about “The 5 Rules of Dating,” according to eHarmony, and practiced past tenses by telling stories about personal dating disasters while eating copious amounts of chocolate.

It was an awesome day, not only because it was fun, but I chose not to pity myself for not having male company to spend it with like too many young women are guilty of at one point or another. Maybe the change of mindset wasn’t so difficult because historically, Valentine’s hasn’t always been “flowers and candy” for me. My poor little 13-year-old heart was shattered one year when my real “winner” of a first boyfriend chose this day to dump me. Last year seemed only a more subtle version of the same. Don’t get me wrong, I have had some great ones as well, but this year it was all me. I’ve loved myself enough to gift myself this time for me. I’m technically my own Valentine because in the end, I really can only count on myself. This idea would have seemed depressing before now, but it’s actually really empowering at the moment because I trust myself now more than I ever have before. No better way to celebrate that than over chocolate and a glass of red wine with my other Valentine, and fellow single gal, Zaida.

Officially beginning operation "Get Tan"!