This is Alex Marbut posting a prototype update. I will be going to Costa Rica from June 1-July 1, 2017. I am very thankful for the help that the Honors College has given me through SAGA, and I am excited for my coming internship abroad.
I am posting this to familiarize myself with the website’s layout, and I look forward to updating you all weekly this summer.
This is Alex Marbut again. I am back for my first “official” blog post, as this post is to let everyone know that I have made it safe and sound to the beautiful Tico country of Costa Rica. I arrived on June 1st, but I have been immersed in orientation classes until now, and I am making the time to update everyone at the Honors College.
The topic of this post is an exposition of Costa Rican culture. Above, I called it “Tico country” because the people here call themselves “Ticos” like we call ourselves “Americans.” Tico comes from an archaic mode of speaking here; in olden times, they would end many adjectives with “tico” (e.g. “El chico es muy chiquitico” instead of “El chico es muy chiquito,” which is the broader diminutive of a Spanish word for “small.” For that reason, although it is not common to use that form of diminutive in Costa Rica anymore, Costa Ricans call themselves “Ticos.”
The food here is magnificent. One of the more common meals here is called a “casado,” which means “married man.” It is called that because a “casado” is a big meal consisting of a meat, white rice, black beans, a salad, and plantains. Also in olden days, when men would go to work you could always tell when one of them was married because his wife would cook him a big meal (while the unmarried men just had a sandwich or something very simple.) So, they started calling these big meals “casados” because you could tell a married man by them.
I can’t talk about Costa Rican culture without mentioning white rice and black beans. I know that might sound odd, but you have not seen a staple until you have been to Costa Rica and seen how they eat rice and black beans. A traditional Costa Rican won’t even call the food in front of him or her a meal unless it includes rice and black beans. There are Walmarts here, and I am sure everyone has seen the long isles that Walmart has. Well, there is an entire isle from one end to the other full of these staples: black beans on the left all the way down and white rice on the right all the way down. One of the most popular dishes here is a breakfast meal called “gallo pinto” or “piebald/spotted chicken.” The chicken part is as much a mystery to me as “pico de gallo” (chicken peck), but it is simply black beans and white rice mixed together with added cilantro, onion, and spices for flavor. The two staples are usually eaten separately, and this famous breakfast was created when people began to mix the leftover rice and beans from the night before together. It is commonly eaten with eggs with a side of coffee to drink. Important: I plead with anyone reading this to go to eBay and order a bag of Costa Rican coffee. It is the best in the world and no one will convince me otherwise.
I hope everyone has enjoyed my first blog post from Costa Rica. I will update everyone again next week. I apologize if my English slowly deteriorates as my posts continue, I even found this one hard to write. It appears that I am losing my English, but I am glad. That means I am well buried in the cognitive frame I’ve built for this language over the past seven years. I should get my English back when I come back to the United States…eventually. Does the Psychology Department at UAH accept graduate papers in Spanish? Ay dios mío…
Hi again all,
I’ve just gone through my first full week of work for my internship, and as always I have been quite busy, but I am glad to be back for my weekly update for the Honors College.
The topic for this week is natural dangers in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a tropical country bordered on either side by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. For this reason, there are only two real seasons here: the dry season and the rainy season. For those who do not know, tropical rains are sudden and dramatic. I work in a restaurant in the Old Market in Heredia. Due to all of the rain here, most of the roofs are made of metal because it is cheaper to make and repair–roofs like we have in the United States would fall apart from the weather. The Old Market has a metal roof, too, and when it starts raining you have to scream to the person standing next to you for him or her to be able to hear you. There is much flooding in Costa Rica due to this rain, and it is always important to carry an umbrella wherever you go, but you have to be careful opening it because if there is electricity in the air you could be struck by lightning.
Rain is one of the safer natural occurrences here. There are frequent earthquakes in Costa Rica. I haven’t experienced one yet, thankfully, but I was taught that I likely will at some point. They can be mild or fierce, but the most common cause of casualty during earthquakes is people panicking. I was taught in orientation that there is something called the “triangle of life.” For instance, you can place yourself beside a bed facing a wall. If the wall collapses inward, it will fall toward the bed but there will be a triangle where nothing falls (the wall is the hypotenuse, the bed one leg, and the floor the other.) This is a safe space if one is in a high floor in a building, but is safest to get out into an open space.
Due to these earthquakes and the platonic location of Costa Rica, there are also many volcanoes here. Many of these are dormant, but some of them are active. The ones that are active mostly belch smoke and ash up into the sky (I have allergies here, perhaps it is due to the ash.) At times it can be so bad that one can hardly breathe, but thankfully I haven’t had to experience that. This past weekend, I went on an excursion to the Arenal Volcano in the northeast portion of Costa Rica. This is one of the active volcanoes, but it was not dangerous at the time that my group was able to go. This volcano is known for being distinctively conic in shape. We could not go up to the top, but we were able to swim in magnificent hot springs, Baldi, near its base and visit an enormous waterfall in the tropical rain forest surrounding it. I would recommend these to anyone who went to Costa Rica at a time when Arenal was safe. The hot springs contain many pools that rise up (you can walk or swim), and they get hotter and hotter the higher you get until you reach the top of the hot springs and there is a waterfall called “Cascara del Infierno” (Waterfall from Hell.) This is a secret, so don’t tell anyone, but they have bars in the pools of these hot springs, with music and flat screen TV’s. Of course, I didn’t have anything to drink, but I imagine it would be quite nice to swim in a volcanic hot springs with some tropical beverages. The enormous waterfall that we went to near the volcano and hot springs was magnificent, but its water would easily tear one’s flesh off one’s bones. In comparison to the hot springs, the water surrounding this waterfall was quite cold, but it was incredibly refreshing, and there was a natural pool below it that at one point was easily 6.5 feet deep. It was easily one of the funnest times I’ve had in my life (just be careful of the current, this is no pool and there are hard rocks everywhere.) Also, if you look in the pictures below there is a picture of me at the top of the stairs leading down to the waterfall (the waterfall is tiny there.) Note how far away it is, and now know that the stairwell down to that waterfall is essentially straight down. I dare you to run up it (your thighs will thank you later, even if they threaten your life at the time.) I added photos of the old staircase and the new staircase, for your enjoyment. Oh, and as an explanation the photo of the sign with the sloth is on the staircase encouraging people to not give up on the hike back up.
There are natural dangers in Costa Rica, but they are beautiful (well, maybe not the earthquakes, but the others are quite magnificent.) The tropical rain is warm as it is fierce, the volcanoes are magnificent to visit, and the waterfalls make for a great swim. I hope everyone has enjoyed this week’s blog post! My apologies for the fault of pictures last week, I posted some pictures of a “casado” and a traditional coffee maker for all to enjoy as a visual demonstration from my last post, and I hope everyone enjoys the pictures below from this week!
This is Alex again for his third update from Costa Rica. This week’s topic will be Costa Rican politics, and the basis for this post is my recent visit to San Jose, the nation’s capitol city.
San Jose is a large city at the center of the country’s four largest provinces. It is similar to the Four Corners states in the US in that you can walk through four different provinces in a short time there. It is densely populated–the country hosts over four million people, and three million or so of them live in the San Jose area. For this reason, “la hora pico” or “rush hour” is nearly impassible in San Jose. This is a fun fact for my post, but in Costa Rica there is a police force specifically for traffic accidents. Here, if you are in a traffic accident you must remain where you are until the traffic police arrive to determine how the accident occurred. You can’t even move your car out of the way of traffic: if you do, your insurance won’t cover you. You must remain exactly where you landed at the end of the accident. For this reason, “presas” or “traffic jams” are quite common. Thankfully, the country runs on “Tico Time,” which is similar to “Hawaiian Time” in the United States; it is alright to be fashionably late.
There is a central street in San Jose. It is composed of two parts: a part for driving and a part for purely walking, where the only cars that are allowed to pass through are those of law enforcement. However it may be that one part of this street is for cars, on Sundays it is common for this part of San Jose to be closed off to vehicles, also, for special events such as political demonstrations. On the day that I visited San Jose, the street was closed off for just such an occasion. A hot topic in Costa Rica right now is animal rights. It is common here for people to train dogs or chickens to fight each other for bloody sport (there are poor psychological and evolutionary consequences to this; breeding violent animals produces further generations of even more viscous animals, whereas breeding peaceful animals produces further generations of more friendly animals.) There are two main faces for this political outreach against animal cruelty: the first is a dog whose snout was cut off, and the second is a toucan whose beak was broken when a group of kids threw a rock at it. There is a political effort in Costa Rica to pass a law to harshly punish incidences of animal cruelty, and this political demonstration was for the purpose of raising awareness of the issue and signing petitions to pass this law. People filled the street with their dogs–and one man even walked around with his rooster, letting the rooster sit on people’s heads.
The section of this main street that is only for traversing on foot is full of shops and restaurants of all kinds. In this area, you will find the three central banks of Costa Rica, along with the National Post Office. Of course, pictures of these are available for your viewing pleasure below. I will also mention this as a fun fact, but Costa Rica does not have addresses like the United States and so directions are harder to give. It is more common to give directions using landmarks. A famous example of one such landmark is a statue called “La Gorda” in this central area of San Jose. This is a state of a large woman constructed from Creole tradition, but the main two things to note about her are that she is a central landmark for giving directions in this area and that you can touch her large buttocks for good luck.
The National Theatre is another famous landmark in San Jose. It was constructed by the Costa Rican aristocracy long ago when Costa Rica first found its niche for coffee. The aristocratic plantation owners wanted some kind of entertainment, and they paid for the National Theatre to be built using a French design, as in its nascence Costa Rica had good relations with the French (this can also be seen in the colors of the Costa Rican flag, which is composed of the same three colors, red, white, and blue, in a horizontal rather than a vertical pattern.) The National Theatre was created so that anyone could enter, although of course there was a balcony where the aristocracy could sit separate from the commonfolk. On the second floor of the Theatre, there is a parlor where the aristocracy used to sit and converse. There is a large, elaborate central room that was intended for the men, and there are two smaller, simpler side rooms that were intended for women. Interestingly enough, there is a painting in one of these of a statue of a woman with no head; this was said to mean that women should be present in body but not to think or speak. Imagine sitting in that room! Talk about learned helplessness. On a more positive note, in the men’s room there is a painting on the ceiling that was created to produce an optical illusion similar to that of the Mona Lisa, in which the central figure follows you with her eyes as you walk. An entire essay could be written on the art in this Theatre, but to say the least I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the fine arts.
Finally, San Jose is also host to the National Museum. This is composed of four separate areas in what used to be a fortress when Costa Rica had a standing army years ago. That’s right, Costa Rica does not have a standing army, and it converted this old fortress into a National Museum. I love it! The first area is a greenhouse that houses all sorts of vegetation along with a species of butterfly only found in Costa Rica–the “morpho.” This is a humongous butterfly with shimmering blue wings that can potentially hold a span longer than an adult human’s hand. They are quite beautiful: and friendly! I had four butterflies, though not all of them morphos, land on me before I left. The second area of the National Museum is the prison, which was preserved for historical reasons. Inside, you can see old prisoners’ latrines, showers, cells (with graffiti), and a tower where soldiers would be stationed to fire their rifles at incoming enemies. The third portion of the Museum is dedicated to all sorts of traditional Costa Rican artwork, from statues to paintings. Two such examples are a painting that depicts astral space in traditional belief and a tomb marker that is bordered by engraved images of animals so that the buried body would be protected by the gods that those animals represented. The final section of the Museum was a historical walk-through of sorts. It began with examples of indigenous artifacts (e.g. graves, fruit, etc.) prior to the arrival of Europeans. Further on, there are artifacts from colonial times. This section ends with prominent contemporary figures. A highlight of this historical timeline is a statue that is intended to depict Costa Rica’s self-actualization. Even after independence from Spain, Costa Rica did not have much of a national identity. It was due to William Walker, a United States filibuster from Tennessee who, in the wake of the South’s losing its wealth of slaves in the American Emancipation, decided to attempt to enslave the newly ungoverned people of Central America. He succeeded in conquering Nicaragua, which is immediately to the north of Costa Rica, and naming himself its president, but Costa Ricans rallied against him and pushed him out before he could take over their nation. This was the moment in which Costa Rica gained its identity, similar to the signing of the Declaration of Independence for the United States. The statue that depicts this is of a group of women rallying together above a fleeing man. The group of women represent the nations of Central America, and in the center is a woman standing tall and holding another woman, who is weeping. The central woman represents Costa Rica, and the weeping woman represents the violated Nicaragua. Of course, the fleeing man represents Walker, who was later executed by Honduras. As a final note, both outside and inside the National Museum, you will find enormous boulders. These are in the shape of perfect spheres of varying sizes (the largest is taller than me), and they come from indigenous times. These are an anomaly, as they obviously mean something, but no one knows where they came from, who made them, or for what purpose.
I hope everyone has enjoyed my blog on Costa Rican politics and the nation’s capitol! I will be back next week, so stay tuned, and please enjoy the pictures provided for your entertainment below.
This is Alex back for his penultimate blog post. The topic of this week’s post is Costa Rican religion and beliefs.
Costa Rica is a Catholic nation. This can be seen in terms of Costa Rican politics, in which political parties even carry religious names (something politicians in the United States are more timid about.) However, the influence of religion here can been seen in everyday life, even in the layout of Costa Rican towns. Every single town here has the same central layout: in the center is the town church; in front of that church is a soccer field or park; and to the side of that park there is a bar. You will find those three things in the center of every town. This is a potent demonstration of the importance of the Catholic religion in Costa Rica, that everything in a town should spread out from the church at its heart. Compare this to the United States, where religious institutions are constructed wherever they happen to be.
I have always found churches to be fascinating in terms of their symbolism and architecture. I have never been to a Catholic church in the United States, so I am not sure how they compare, but here churches vary from simple to elaborate. In many churches you will find beautiful stained glass from Italy. Some churches even have paintings on their ceilings. Some symbols in these paintings that I have never seen (in one painting, God had a triangular halo; possibly this represents the Trinity.) I found that, at least in one church, there seemed to be a more diverse spectrum of angelology depicted than I have found in the United States. I saw paintings of traditional cherubim (angels with three animal heads, not the babies with wings) and even seraphim (angels with six wings.) Compare this to churches in the United States, where angels appear of a more similar type.
Needless to say, in terms of beliefs tradition is very important here. Political leftists here would still fall on the right hand side of the political spectrum in the United States, arguably due to the importance of the Catholic religion here. Being central left myself by United States political measures, I was not sure what it would be like to be in a country where beliefs trended as a whole to the right of what I am used to, but I have found here an argument for the saying “People are people all over.” Certainly, God is referenced more in everyday life than in the United States. “My God” here is not considered blasphemy but is a common saying. It is also a quotidian valediction to give a blessing to a person upon leaving, such as “Qué Dios lo acompañe (God be with you.)” Every morning, you will hear people saying “¿Cómo amaneció? (How did you wake up?/How did you sleep? How was your morning?)” The response to this is “Muy bien, gracias a Díos (Very good, thanks to God.)” However, these are manners of speech, and I can speak with the friends that I’ve made here just as I can in the United States. Talk in the kitchens here is just as crude as it is in the United States (gracias a Díos.) I am not sure if this is the case in all high schools, but in one of my neighboring high schools there is a uniform for the students. However, people’s clothing choices are also similar to those in the United States. I see people wearing band shirts from English speaking rock bands (there is an obvious grunge subculture here, as there is in the United States.) Conservative dress here is about as common as in the United States, too; people aren’t afraid to show skin. This is a fun note, but unlike in Alabama you will find that you can buy alcohol here on Sundays. Yes, even bars are open. In terms of beliefs, there is certainly no fear of alcohol here. All of this is to say, for those of you who might consider coming here someday who are left leaning in terms of your beliefs, you won’t be overwhelmed by cultural differences or religious differences. Remember, people are people. This has always been my belief, and now I have experiences to reify that belief.
I hope that you all have enjoyed my penultimate blog post on Costa Rican religion and beliefs.