Jill Streeten - Spanish in Costa Rica
After a wonderful month in Senegal last year improving my French, I decided to go to Costa Rica to learn Spanish. I had been speaking only French in the month before I went and it came as an immense shock to realise I couldn't pick up Spanish overnight! I had forgotten it had taken me 50 years to become reasonably fluent in French and panic seized me when I arrived at my home stay and for the next two weeks had to rely on miming to make my needs known.
Projects Abroad has a base in Liberia in the north of Costa Rica, a four hour journey by bus from the capital San Jose. It is a pleasant town and I immediately felt at home.
Mama made me very welcome and I had barely time to unpack before being thrust into the classroom every morning for four hours of lessons with one other beginner. Nuria was a relentless teacher and although I did my best to keep up with my fellow student, forty years my junior, I struggled!
There is a delightful park in the centre of the town where I went every afternoon doing my homework, listening to a band which played well known popular music, while I stuffed myself with delicious ice creams from the nearby ice cream parlour. I was so happy just to sit in the warm sun that I stayed there till the sun went down. As soon as the light began to fade, the sky became black with huge black birds who descended onto surrounding roofs and squawking and chirping they settled into the trees, each bird trying to secure the best position for a night of undisturbed sleep. At first I wondered what on earth was happening as the noise was unbelievable, but as quickly as it began, so they settled as day turned to dusk and all was peaceful again.
There are two seasons in Costa Rica, wet and dry. It is dry from October till May and the temperature is a pleasant 30 degrees centigrade. It is also the windy season and dust blows everywhere. On the outskirts of the town runs the main highway from Alaska down to South America. Enormous trucks thunder up and down and I was too terrified to cross the road alone to the hotel on the other side where there was a delightful swimming pool, frequented by most of the volunteers every afternoon.
Costa Rica is a wonderful country for the nature lover and photographer. There are rain forests, where there are many organised tours to include canopy walks, white water rafting and a chance to see a great diversity of wildlife. For the beach lover, there are beautiful beaches on the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts and several active volcanoes.
One weekend Projects Abroad organised a tour to the Arenal volcano the most notable in Costa Rica, surrounded by a national park. It was the one weekend during my stay when it chose to rain and we stood dripping as daylight faded, hoping to see sparks of lava shooting from the top, but were only rewarded by a couple of almost invisible red specks.
On other weekends I took myself around the countryside on cheap local buses, frequently got lost but enjoyed my exploration. At the end of my stay, although it was fiesta week and everyone told me it would be a shame to miss it, I bravely took myself to Nicaragua on my own. I planned to stay in the beautiful town of Grenada, which stands on the lake, the second largest in the world, but due to the muddle and confusion at the border crossing, I was exhausted, fell asleep and found myself in the capital, Managua. However, after spending the night there I returned to Grenada. I was impressed at how friendly the people were and glad I had worked hard to learn some Spanish as so many stopped to talk and I was thrilled to be able to reply.
In all, my month in Costa Rica was a wonderful experience, one I shall always remember, and I am delighted to have made the effort to learn a new language enabling me to have the confidence to venture further a field alone in South America.