Published: May 2nd 2012May 1st 2012
Autumn’s plan had been achieved; albeit frustratingly. It had been two years since I had done any engineering work and I thought it wise not to stay out of the game for too long. Teaching English is fun but it has never felt like a career choice - rather an excuse to live and work abroad.
Constantly delayed start dates and an earlier than expected completion date, but too close to Christmas to get another job, meant I only worked for eight weeks out of the thirteen or so in between the Armenia, Georgia and Turkey trip and Christmas. I seemed to spend lots of time waiting around for decisions of others so I was determined to have less of that in 2012.
There is never a lot of construction work through the winter in the UK and even less so at the moment given the state of the economy. I did look for more work but there was nothing on the horizon until the days lengthen and the weather improves in the spring.
So what to do for three months? Once again, for about the fourth consecutive year, I had a
plan to go to India. Once again, for about the fourth consecutive year, that plan fell through. Once again, because the person I had planned to go with backed out (a different person every time). For some reason I don’t want to travel in India alone. Not due to any reasons of security but because I feel there would be so many magical experiences that I’d prefer to share.
I wasn’t in the mood for travelling alone for three months so I looked around for a short contract at an English school; somewhere I’d never been, such as South Korea, or Taiwan. Most of the schools I applied to were only interested in taking someone on for a whole year.
While all this was going on, and while I was equally unsuccessfully looking for engineering work in the UK, I was getting more and more messages from old pals in Costa Rica. My old partner in crime had moved back there, had found a cheap flat, furnished it, and had a spare room. He also reminded me that we were friends with the owners of three different language schools, so getting work wouldn’t be
a problem. Another recently married friend reminded me that he would soon be leaving Costa Rica while some more soon to be married friends may not be there much longer. In other words, I should visit now while everyone is in one place.
It was April 2009 when I left Costa Rica, having spent all of 2008 there and two months of the following year. I won’t repeat the reasons for moving there or for leaving, I’m sure that’s in a blog from a few years back. In the two and half years that I’d been away I had thought about Costa Rica a lot, perhaps I didn’t realise at the time just what a great life it was, with lots of fantastic friends. I knew I would return one day and knew a two week holiday wouldn’t be enough; however, I didn’t really have a desire to do another year there. About three months seemed about right.
So the omens won the day and on the 1st
January I got on the plane – I told you I didn’t intend to spend any time hanging around in 2012.
At midnight I arrived in Costa Rica got a lift with some old friends to the new flat and at 05:30 in the morning I was on a bus (the first of five that day) to the rainforest. Start as you mean to go on we thought.
I managed to teach a four or five classes a week at three different centres, all belonging to the same school, and run by old friends. I was working anything from 10 to 16 hours a week so not earning much but enough to pay the rent, the bills and food. Cheeky beers and weekends away came out of my pocket, but that was expected. As when I was in Costa Rica previously, my classes were great: keen, interested and fun students, who generally never do homework, arrive late and spend much of the class on the phone and/or won’t stop speaking Spanish, but great people. After teaching in lots of other countries I am bemused by the levels at English schools in Costa Rica. It is quite common to have an “advanced” class with students who can’t string a sentence together. It seems the aim is to
progress through the books as quickly as possible, whether or not you actually learn any English is incidental.
Most classes were in the evening leaving the daytime free. Given that my plan after Costa Rica was to work a lot to save money to do a pretty intensive Master’s I was quite content to not do much. Although not doing much included running every other day, pretty tough going given the bit of altitude, the heat and the hills; attending dance classes three days a week at the school where I used to work (I was mates with the dance teacher and the girls always well outnumber the boys so somebody had to give him a hand); reading lots of books; watching most of the England vs Sri Lanka cricket series; and spending longer planning lessons so doing away with using course books altogether (they get a bit boring).
A big difference between my life in Costa Rica in 2008-2009 and in 2012 was that I no longer had the large group of friends that I had before. Of course all of my Tico friends were still around and it was great
Costa Rica's oldest church - built in 1743.
to see them again. But many have wives, husbands, children, etc, so can’t at the last minute decide to go to the Caribbean for the weekend. Indeed many of my Gringo friends are now also married here so I had fewer friends willing to be spontaneous as in 2008 when I worked in a school of twenty-odd foreigners all new to the country and wanting adventure. Despite this I soon realized that the group of good friends I have in Costa Rica are actually some of the best friends that I have anywhere in the world. It’s a great feeling to have friends as close as that and I wish I could find those types of people wherever I end up.
I didn’t have as many weekends away as when I lived in Costa Rica previously. However, I now have more friends with cars so what would previously have been a weekend away could now be done as a day trip. Furthermore, I got the chance to visit lots of new national parks that are inaccessible by public transport.
As much as I like the beach, once again, the mountains, volcanoes and
Santa Lucia de Barva
What I woke up to every morning.
cloud forest, basically inland Costa Rica, turned out to be my favourite. It’s not just the scenery or the wildlife, though they are both wonderful, it’s the people. The Costa Rican coast is great but prices are hiked up, there are lots of tourists and it is assumed that you are rich. Up in the hills the people are much friendlier and have more time for you, plus the climate is fantastic.
I had a list of places that I wished to visit that I never got chance to last time - not through laziness, I would have been somewhere else instead. A number of these places eluded me once again; namely, the trek across Corcovado National Park, the trek up Volcan Rincon de la Vieja, and the beaches of Guanacaste such as Playa Conchal, Brasilito and Nosara. As in 2008 I was in telephone contact with a dive shop at Playa del Coco waiting for sufficient numbers to want to take the long boat ride to Islas Murcielagos to dive with the bull sharks and, as in 2008, I was only contacted midweek when I had to work.
Despite these failings I did
The Epic Hike
First beer of the day at 0730; about 10km covered already.
make it to many places that were on my list. Rio Celeste I had to visit twice because it was far from “celeste” the first time. The heavy rain meant Rio Café would have been a more fitting name. Second time around it was as magical as everyone describes. Quetzales National Park was a little disappointing - we didn’t see any quetzals, though the Orosi valley and Tapanti National Park may have been nicer than expected. I also managed a great side trip across the border to Nicaragua to visit El Castillo on the Rio San Juan. Unfortunately I won’t be able to write a blog about this due to my “one blog per country unless I live there” rule.
One ambition that was achieved as part of my three-week long birthday celebrations had been proposed back in 2008 when Justin and I woke up to a view of Volcan Barva from our balcony every morning. The typical way to the top involves a bus to San Jose de la Montaña, then a taxi to Sacramento, followed by a six kilometer hike to the crater lake at the summit. We often questioned the feasibility of hiking the
The Epic Hike
A great spot we found above Sacramento with a view of the whole Central Valley.
whole thing from Heredia; approximately 45km there and back and 1500m of ascent. Well we now know that it’s possible. We set off at 5am and it took six hours to get to the top. Getting down took ten hours but that’s because we stopped for a beer and chicharron in every bar on the way back. And there are quite a few bars – all taking advantage of the fantastic views of the Central Valley. It was the best part of a great birthday.
Was it a worthwhile way to spend the first three months of 2012? My Spanish improved a lot (very useful for what I unexpectedly did next – see a later blog), I reconnected with old and great friends as well as making some new ones (something on which you can’t ascribe a value), I got to spend a lot of time hiking up volcanoes and in rainforests (is there anything I’d rather be doing?), and I improved as a teacher (though I may never teach again). The alternatives would have been to stay in the UK trying to find work, that would have been very frustrating at that time of
The Epic Hike
At the summit of Volcan Barva,minus one team member. We found him lost in the cloud forest a few hours later.
year - not to mention the fact that I hate winter, or I could have gone travelling somewhere, which probably would have been great but I didn’t want to go just for the sake of it.
Overall I came away feeling good, that I’d made the right decision, and that now I was ready to crack on with my life. Satisfyingly, I’m now sure that Costa Rica will always be there and I will always feel welcome. I will always have great friends there and there are still things that I really want to do. Just someone please sort out the food.
There are more photos below