Monday, August 21, 2006

Travelogue: La Fortuna


During a visit from a college buddy, we hit the grocery store at some obscene hour in search of ice cream. There was a display of stuffed animals featuring different "exotic" animals (part of the money went to the World Wildlife Fund, I think.) Each animal, if squeezed would make the sound the animal makes, and then give you a little background info. For example, the Florida manatee said "I am a Florida manatee - I like to eat, and sleep." (I told my friend that this described her perfectly :) ) The hammerhead shark, in comparison, didn't have a sound. It said "I am a hammerhead shark, I make NO sound."

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So. Here I am in La Fortuna staying with my host family. I can safely say, "I speak NO SPANISH, I make NO sound." Dude, I don't speak any Spanish - what the HELL was I thinking?? It's an odd situation all around - I can understand about 50% of what is being said, but I have no words. This is vaguely frustrating for me (understatement), but is exacerbated by my fear that it is frustrating for them. Yesterday, I went for a walk to explore "town" (i.e. all 4 blocks of it!) When I came back, my host "parents" left me in charge of two of their grandkids (the whole family lives more or less on the same street. At least I think so.) Let's go over this again: I speak no Spanish, and I'm babysitting two rambunctious kids. Good times, good times. We watched "Spiderman" and it was all good.

My host family is really treating me like family: my first conversation with my host mother began with her asking me if I was single. The follow-up was "Don't you WANT to get married??" I think she went on to tell me that I just hadn't met the right person, but Im not sure. As if that wasn't classic enough, the next day on a walk through town with my host mother, I saw two of the guys I shared a van with from San Jose. I introduced my host mother. As we walked away she told me "Your friends are cute." When I was noncommital, she said "Did you hear me?? Did you understand me??" I was impressed - usually my "I don't understand what you're getting at" schtick works.

When I am in a non-English speaking country, I always start to lose my English about two days in. This is particularly aggravating because there is not a concomittant gain of the local language. However, not speaking the language is oddly like being a child again - I can let conversations just wash over me and not pay attention at all.

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La Fortuna is a fairly small town centered around the tourist industry (mainly related to the nearby Arenal volcano.) Having said that, I have had a few unusual moments. I can safely say that I've never been hit on by a guy twirling a lovely purple parasol, nor have I had a guy ride by on horseback in full-on cowboy gear and tip his hat.

I went on a zipline tour Monday morning. It was fantastic, with view of the volcano and Lake Arenal (the largest man-made lake in Central America.) So far, everything I've done here, I'd do again. Yesterday, we went on a hike incorporating many of the hanging bridges in the area. The rainforest is surprisingly loud, full of cicada sounds and water rushing somewhere. It is so lush and verdant, it is hard to remember that it's all based on competition - for light, for water, for soil and nutrients.

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School has started and (shock of shocks) I am in the absolute beginner class. Speaking French, so far, seems to be pretty helpful in understanding the vocabulary we are learning. The real problem is that I need time to study everything we are learning. I have 4 hours of class a day, and maybe half an hour to an hour to study. I could skip some of the activities (for example, today we have dance class), but that seems like an unhappy compromise. I think I have resolved myself to having a lot of material to work through once I am home.

2 comments:

Emilie said...

I love this blog. I know how it feels to be in a place where nobody speaks English. I spent two weeks as a student of French in Hyeres, France, and my host parents didn't care whether I understood them at all. With sign language and sounds, we did get our messages through though.

terence said...

"However, not speaking the language is oddly like being a child again - I can let conversations just wash over me and not pay attention at all."

soooooooo true. i LOVE it. and yeah, CR is great. we unfortunately never got to see the top of arenal or the red bubbly coming down it... :(