When I saw this Spanish immersion school website yesterday, I couldn’t help but remember the two months I spent in Costa Rica about ten years ago. The grainy pictures on there could have been pulled straight from my memory archives. That flashback– combined with a promise I made to post more about different Spanish-speaking places where you can study Spanish and have fun at the same time– prompted me to start writing. This immersion school site, called Learn Spanish and Surf (go ahead– check out the surfing part of your studies), is typical of the laid-back fun-loving Costa Rican lifestyle, which can be summed up with the Tico’s trademark greeting Pura Vida. The best I can translate that, is if someone asks how you are– Hey what’s up?– you answer “Life is awesome!”
Some of my best memories are the food. I’d eat a plateful of french fries slathered in mayonnaise, ketchup and melted cheese. I still remember the tangy taste of a 4 x 4— a hamburger piled high with slightly fermented, shredded cabbage. The gallo pinto is a typical (at least that’s what they tell tourists) breakfast dish that consists of fried rice peppered with whole black beans, topped with a sunny-side-up fried egg.
Walking into Grecia, Alajuela, you’ll see a huge red cathedral that towers over the town square. It’s quite an impressive and imposing structure, that would be even more imposing if you didn’t know it is made of sheets of steel. That’s right, no metre-thick stone walls. The outer skin of this thing is made of steel sheets imported from– if memory serves me– England in the 18th century.
If you go out of Grecia and head north, you’ll soon enter into real, live jungle, with monkeys swinging in the trees and lots of eyes belonging to unidentified animals staring at you from under the huge tropical leaves. On one outing we rented a wooden boat outfitted with a motor and went where there are no roads. We went downstream on a wide, deep, slow-moving muddy river. For lunch I had iguana meat, which, like any meat you aren’t familiar with, predictably tasted like chicken.
The memories blur. Gardens of bushes carved into the shape of animals. A dairy farm on top of a mountain so high that there was still neblina at mediodía. Walking in a park at dusk, among sentinel-like trees whose trunks are painted white. The lights, tastes, colors and even the smell of concentrated vehicle exhaust that won’t dissipate because the cars’ catalytic converters haven’t worked since 1988. The beat-up green Willys Jeep from about 1940 that I drove a couple of times. I had a great time, learned how to think pura vida, and went from second-year Spanish to communicative fluency. My only regret is I don’t have 3GB of digital photos to prove it all.