About 15 years ago, Darcie took a week-long Spanish language course in Samara Beach, Costa Rica and loved the experience. Dale had never visited the country. To continue our Spanish learning and explore Costa Rica as a potential future home, we flew to San Jose from Panama and stayed in Heredia, a town 10km outside of San Jose.
Instead of a hotel, we did a homestay, and were picked up at the airport by our Tica Mom, Jeanette. Arranged by the Spanish language school, homestay families only speak Spanish and host the students. This accelerates the Spanish learning process and provides income for local residents. Imagine getting to be a teenager again, with mom doing your cleaning, cooking and laundry, plus helping with schoolwork--that was our life for a week! Jeanette was also the cooking instructor at our school, so we had gourmet meals each morning and evening. Most importantly, she was an incredibly kind and friendly hostess.
On our first day in Heredia, Jeanette took us on a tour. Within minutes, we were watching the local Masquerade Parade downtown— Costa Ricans' celebration similar to our Halloween. She took us to their marketplace with all of the produce and meat stalls, where we shared a freshly cooked empanada, then we toured the cultural museum (where there was an exhibition on the masks). Later that night, we attended a free modern dance performance.
Heredia is a very walkable town. In fact, Heredia (and San Jose) have wonderfully straightforward grid organizations for their downtown streets. The center of town is at the intersection of Street 0 and Avenue 0. Streets run north-south, with even numbed streets to the west of 0 and odd numbered streets on the east side. Similarly, avenues run east-west, with odd numbered avenues on the north side of Avenue 0, and even to the south. Thus, no matter where you are, you are never lost, no matter how hard Darcie tried!
School was a short walk from “home,” and we attended school for 4 hours every morning. Our afternoons were free (except for the homework assignments). Including instructors, Dale’s class was all men and Darcie’s class was all women. As a result, by the end of Day One, Dale had learned most Spanish profanities and dirty phrases, whereas Darcie’s class learned past tense and how the machismo culture of Latin America was displayed in men’s behaviors.
One day we took a public bus to downtown San Jose. Like most of the big cities we’ve visited, San Jose has a pedestrian-only street with shops and restaurants. Along this street, we must have seen 30 shoe stores, since shoe-shopping is apparently a Costa Rican obsession. We also visited “China Town,” which appeared to be 1 Chinese restaurant. Nixing that option for dinner, we ate at a very good Asian fusion restaurant in a different neighborhood before heading back home on the public bus.
Another excursion was to Doka coffee plantation, where we learned how coffee was grown and processed. The “roasting” step of coffee-making produces an intoxicating smell, and of course this is the last part of the tour before the sampling and coffee store! There was also a butterfly preserve at this plantation.
Overall, we loved Costa Rica and would have loved to stay longer to see more of the country and keep learning Spanish, but we had a Galapagos tour looming. Thus, we flew into Quito, Ecuador on Saturday on a blissfully large Airbus A-319.