Learning Spanish, rule one: Smile and say Si!

I think that I have been truly blessed; my host family are so amazing. I am living with a single mum of three, Violetta, her youngest daughter, Paulina and her 19-year-old son, Jose Manuel; her eldest daughter, who I hear is very much like me, is presently in France for the year. I could not ask for a more hospitable set of people, they are really inclusive and are extremely patient, considering I do not speak any Spanish. On my first day in Copey Violetta and I started by trying to communicate in Spanish to each other, this was not very successful. Even when I did formulate enough Spanish to string together a question, I could not understand the answers she would give me.  In the end we resulted in making hand-gestures to each other and acting out certain words and questions. I feel we are both now masters of Charades. That evening I went to bed exhausted and anxious, how would I ever get through three months of this?
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                                                        (Paulina, Jose and I)
After a good lye-in I woke up on Friday with new energy and the determination to learn Spanish. I had breakfast and hit the books straight away. I wrote down lots of questions that I wanted to ask my ‘temporary mum’ and somehow communicated them to her through broken sentences and a  bad Spanish accent. Thanks to Jose, who I should nickname ‘the translator’ as he speaks good English, I managed to get through the day. I’m praying I begin to pick it up quickly, I know I am improving but the rate still does not seem fast enough for me.
Ok so aside from my inability to communicate with pretty much everyone, I really like Copey. Although I am used to London, I don’t think you could get anywhere further from it if you tried. Copey is a small VERY rural village in a valley surrounded by a protected forest. It is ridiculously beautiful. It has unreal mountains which I can’t wait to start hiking up (once I know them, don’t worry, no mountain rescue for me) and it has a big river with many streams running from it. The only buildings in the village are a small mini-mart,  two mini ‘poperia’s’ (shops),  a church, an elementary school, the learning centre and a police station, which is manned by only  one person at a time. I have heard that it is only still really there because they used to have a problem with drugs runs. The local entertainment is a football field, which is mainly only used on Sundays. There is no internet (OMG) and most houses do not have TV’s or radios; people literally visit each other for coffee and that’s it! By the end of Friday I could tell I would have a lot of time on my hands, Spanish books here I come.
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                (The Poperia)                                                (The local church)
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At the moment I am trying to integrate with my ‘family’ as much as possible, in the last couple of days I have been to Santa Maria to use the internet cafĂ© and to run errands with my ‘host’ uncle Daniel (Sedies husband) in Saint Marcos and to watch Jose play in a family game of football.  Although I have stayed relatively busy this week I know that after a few more days, when the boredom kicks in, I will be willing the start of term and my teaching to begin. Although the tranquillity is nice, bring on the 10th Feb!

First impressions, San Jose

 Biting my nails I approached the young lady at the customer’s desk. With a few short questions about where I was staying she waved me through, no hassle, I couldn’t believe it. WOOHOO!!! I headed for the exit, constantly nervous that someone was going to ask me to turn around and go back, but nothing.
As arranged, on the other side a taxi man was waiting to collect me and take me to my hostel, Traquilo Backpackers. As I drove through what seemed like a very quiet city I took in the banana trees and the city lights. What a fantastic contrast. It seemed I would like staying here a lot. I checked in to my room in which Rachael, another volunteer, was waiting, it was so good to vent on someone about my hectic journey.   
First thing on Saturday morning we rose early to walk to our first day of training at the Aliarse office (the company who have organised the volunteering). Throughout the week we went through a variety of easy teaching techniques and cultural differences between the UK/USA and Costa Rica; all fairly basic stuff to be honest.
As the week past I became more familiar with San Jose and found that, despite first impressions, it wasn’t actually what I expected.  Despite there being a lot of people downtown there wasn’t actually a lot to do; other third world African countries have more of a buzz then San Jose. The whole city feels dirty, with lots of cars and busses around ‘Central Avenue’. The city is also notorious and so therefor rife in prostitution; you see the local ‘Tico’ and the Western tourist opening up their doors as they pull up to a street corner. 
Luckily the week drew to a close quickly and on Thursday our local partners (the liaison between the company Aliarse and our host families) came to collect us to bring us to our villages. Sedie, my local partner and her husband Daniel were lovely. On the way through we stopped at a near town, Santos Maria, to sample some coffee, which may I add, was the best I have ever had. After we had finished we hopped back into the car and drove to the village. As we proceeded through the beautiful mountains I gazed in awe at diversity of rocks and trees contrasted with a perfect blue sky.  ‘Welcome to Copey de Dota, the real Costa Rica’ Sedie said as we pasted the borders. This is more like it I thought.  


Flying Delta
So one way the US are trying to help fund their economy is by charging $14 to every person entering, I couldn't believe it when I found out. I was told at the airport that I had to fill in a ESTA form and pay the fee before I could even check in. I dumped my luggage and Beth (my best friend) and I frantically filled out the form online…this is typical me; always rushing and un-prepared. After intense drilling by the airline team I was finally allowed to check in, 40 minutes after I had arrived.
I had just enough time to grab a quick cake and coffee at trusty costa with my family, before departing to the gate. We all stood up to say goodbye. Mum and Dad, my brother Mark and his two kids as well as my teenage sisters and my best friend. Tears as streaming down my face. Despite the hard work they create, I would thoroghly miss them.
I boarded the plane, thinking of my fifteen and a half hour travel ahead of me until I arrived in luxury Costa Rica. I know Delta airlines are no BA but let’s face it, service with a smile when the drinks trolley comes down probably wouldn’t have killed the staff. It even made the service that other budget airlines such as Ryan air and Easy Jet’ look fantastic. Never again will I fly Delta. Small seats, no leg room and while the first meal was satisfactory (chicken with roast veg) the second was a burnt piece of microwave pizza; clearly it takes a genius to correctly heat one of those bad boys.
However, when I reached my stop-over in Atlanta my biggest problem was still present; I had yet to book a flight out of Costa Rica. The majority of the time you have to have an outgoing trip, may it be train, coach or flight, out of the country within three months in order to gain initial admittance. Anyways, I had heard of a bus company called Tico busses, this is company that have a bus all the way from Nicoragna, through Costa Rica and down to Panama. I tried calling the company three times and no one answered. On the fourth and fifth time a man who did not understand any English shouted at me in Spanish and slammed down the phone. Right, I thought, I must find someone who speaks both Spanish and English who can book this ticket to Panama , looking around everyone only looked English apart from one tanned couple in the corner, they looked like traditional ‘Tico’s’ (Costa Rican’s). Ten minutes past and I was still trying to pluck up the courage to ask them to make the phone call for me, I finally approached them.
“What rude people” Mr Tico said as he handed me back my phone, unable to book me a ticket. “They told me you can’t book online you have to go to a depot in Costa Rica and then hung up the phone”.  Gracias Senor. I told him back (woohoo, using Spanish – the only words I knew mind). At that moment they called my flight to board. Time had run out, I would have to enter Costa Rica on a one way ticket with nothing booked coming out of the country. Customers are going to have a ball with me, I thought, here goes…. And I held my breath and stepped onto the plane.