Friday, June 29, 2012


"His answer trickled through my head like water through a sieve." - Lewis Carroll, Haddocks' Eyes

This is a photo someone took in Chile. Doesn't that look fun? I think so. Look at all that lake and sky water coming together in wetted bliss!

Last year in Costa Rica I returned home with lots of thoughts. Most of them were the serious type that leads to questioning everything you've come to know in your society, the hemisphere you live in, and its familiarity (or lack-thereof) to you. This year, there are still plenty of Big Questions driving bumper cars around upstairs, but one tiny thought has kept me buzzing almost all four weeks. I suppose I owe it to having near-full reserves of knowledge about Costa Rican life that allow me to steer thoughts elsewhere, but the element that I've pulled into focus here is just that: elemental. It's water. It's omnipresence has been bewildering, and my headspace has played host to the idea of agua much like a sloth's meticulous, steady appraisal of its current home branch.

Firstly, not all water is created equal. Home-water comes in waves of storms; here-water marches to time. Home-water bowls through; here-water comes to roost. Home-water goes pitter-patter, saying "hell-o, a little rain?"; here-water goes rrraaaaaaAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH on the tin roof. Home-trees bow and clap their hands; here-trees stare straight up at it. Home-water is a phenomenon of forecasts and radar; here-water is an all-orienting fact of life, like gravity. Is it raining? I will stay in today. Is it not raining? I will go out today. 

Here are some ways that Costa Ricans in San Ramón live with water:

Every corner needs a drain or four. There is always a downhill in San Ramón, and the water knows where to go: to the other water. In fact, the great conclusion that I think I've reached regarding water is very obvious but also very new to me. It is that water is always looking for the rest of the water. Where does it go from this gutter? To the pipes below, to the stream, to the river, to the ocean. It's terminus is always the rest of the water unless something intervenes in that flow. The entire city is built around being its usher, its butler.

Were you planning to build a university here? I'm sorry, but you'd better get your water canopy figured out. Also, you'll need megadeep drains along the side to escort the water from the premises.

You'll also need a giant channel once it finds its way out of the campus area. This will ensure that the water finds the other water outside of campus, so that together they can find the creek.

Is that a staircase? Ok. Just make sure to have running shoots for water along the side of it. This water needs shepherding in its quest.

At the top of a volcano? Yes, even here. This is where the journey begins. A journey of 9300 meters to sea-level where the rest of its family waits saltily.

Got babies in a stroller or a wheel chair? You must choose your route appropriately as only about 10% of the intersections offer a bridge like this. Just look at how much room they've left for water there! When I came to San Ramón last year, I thought that street repair meant simply putting asphalt on top of asphalt since their streets were at curb level and about 8 inches thick. This year I realized its all part of the water-steering process.

For your car to reach the garage you'd better design a way to get it over the waterway. We can't have lakes appearing where our houses were supposed to be--get the water out of here!

This is life in rainy season: 80% clear in the AM; 80% rain in the PM starting promptly at 1. Rain varies from light to crippling and back again over a dozen hours. This year we've had less rain than last.

I'm sorry, but there's just not going to be room for shoulders on the highways because we must, must plan for the daily water migration. You will have to find a driveway for your broken car.

Be extra careful parking on the street or you could find your car in a hellish gutter 12" or more below street level.

Sometimes it's terribly dangerous to not watch your feet. Here are three local words for rain, written in order of magnitude: temporalaguacero, and baldazo.

The world is disfigured by water's perpetual search for itself. San Ramón's infrastructure for dealing with The Wetness has given pause to many innocuous walks home, and for this small thought I am grateful.

Tomorrow we leave San Ramón for five days in the Caribbean. Water is sure to make an appearance. I will attend to my friendships in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí where our service project took place last year and then catch up with the rest of the crew in the other Puerto Viejo (en Limón) before my adventures turn further south to Panamá.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"So, are you fluent in Spanish?"

Las palabras no tienen sentido en sí; lo tiene la gente.
Words do not have meaning themselves; people do.
- A chilean friend

This image supposedly represents the variety of communication styles among European languages. You can see that someone out there thinks they have quite radical diversions in efficacy. I can only speak to two of those, but I can't say I agree nor disagree. The heading reads "Stereotypes of European Languages," so we know right away that we're dealing with loosely-woven perceptions and soft realities. As far as efficacy, I've always felt Spanish had the upper hand on English in the sense that has fewer deviations from grammar rules, a more intuitive structure, and actual pronunciation norms.

I'll offer a simple example, which is the negative answer to the question: "Will it rain today?" In both languages, the simplest is the best route: "No." That works just fine. Normally, though, we're more colorful in English, perhaps saying, "I don't think so." When we break down "I don't think so," we find that it is analogous to saying "I do not think the affirmative answer to your question is correct." It's a rather inside out way of saying No, which could mean it's a holdover from the courtly days, but it's still rather odd. Spanish has a more direct way: "Creo que no." "Creo que no" is essentially "I think not," and is not negating an affirmative. It's more direct and less cumbersome to understand. Just as common in Spanish would be to hear "No creo" as an answer to this question. "No creo" cannot be translated into English grammar without losing its simplicity, but you're saying "I think not" with one less word.

Does English not have a strange way of negating verbs ("eat" for example, as in "I do not eat fish.")? Spanish is way, way simpler: "No como pescado". In fact, that's two whole words simpler and in a really simple sentence. To be sure, Spanish has it's hangups ("Me gusta" is one of the bigger headaches to teach every semester), but overall I would argue it comes through much cleaner when sifted out next to English.

This is mostly related to the main thing I meant to blog about tonight: my Spanish versus my English. English is fully my language. I possess it. My first cries were heard in English. I cook in English. My closest friendships exist in English (occasionally, Ludaspeak). My dreams, contrary to some bilinguals I know, are painted in English. To this end, I've noticed in the last year or so that when I'm given a chance to talk freely and deeply about a topic in my language (teaching Service Learning courses at UNL, for example) I meander through a disorganized mess of ideas often disrupted by pausing strategies and searches for the exact words.

I know too much English for my own good; I know there is a better way to say everything I say in the moment I am saying it, and that knowledge leaves me tongue-tied. In contrast, I've found that in Spanish I am efficient and effortless far beyond my abilities in English. That I speak English with greater proficiency is of no consequence when it comes to articulating myself clearly. Efficiency in language isn't necessarily a universal positive--look at that Turkish elephant!--but positive aspects of it like directness, coherence, and fluidity had never occurred to me before in leiu of exactness or eloquence (my standard aims).

In some ways, I am more fluent in Spanish than in English, if by "fluent" I mean "fluidity." In others I am better in English, if we mean "amount of language on hand to use." When people ask me if I'm fluent in Spanish (which, as an aside, is kind of a strange question to ask a teacher of the language, but I kind of get it), I often have a hard time saying both Yes and No at the same time, because both answers are true: I can probably talk to any Spanish speaker in the world about anything, but I would struggle with the wide range of vocabulary and slang across 20+ countries. Shrug.

Q: "Are you fluent in Spanish?"
A: "I do(n't) think so."

Monday, June 18, 2012


Come, let us make music together, music which transcends ages and delights centuries.

Le Corbusier, Bogotá

I am continually amazed at the kindness of the Ticos and the music we make together. Here are some stories from the last week:

1.) Adriana and Carlos hosted a student last year for the final two weeks of our studies after said student left an unpleasant situation at her initial host family. They had been wanting to host students for a while and were thus elated to give it a go for an abbreviated period. This year they have full hosting duties, and going to their house every week to deliver payment is my favorite stop on the route. Last weekend on Sunday, I was off in neighboring town Sarchí at an craft market when I bumped into them. Adriana practically made me let them give me a ride back to San Ramón as she crammed herself and three other family members into the back seat of their Saab, leaving me to stare at the empty passenger seat with nothing needing to be spelled out. "Let's go to San Ramón" quickly became, when it was determined that I hadn't met the local family members, "Let's go to grandma's house." A couple hours later I was full of wonderful food and drink and engrossed in a conversation about Carlos's new job, the education system, and how many family members were buried across the street in the cemetery. A day later I was at their house for dinner and found myself asserting my skills as the best tortilla maker in the room (aside from Adriana) in a whir of finely-oiled padding and spinning. Knowing all eyes were on me, I gorged myself to their hearts' content, and still they laughed at how little I had eaten (exactly twice as much as anyone at the table).

2.) Fernando and Mauro were sitting in Bocaditos having themselves a few evening drinks with the Costa Rica national team cruising past lowly Guyana. I went up to the bar for a drink with the thought of possibly distancing myself from the accumulating throng of gringos at our table. As I approached the bar, I found two men sitting alone at the end in front of a smaller TV. Waiting to order, I floated a knowledgeable question their way: "How many more do you think they'll be able to put in tonight?" Costa Rica has been thin on goals lately--especially due to the impotence of their best (read: healthiest) striker, Saborío, who had just tallied the first goal on the night minutes before. It was a question that let them know that I knew, and they bit. We waxed Coaching Geniuses on the formation for that evening's match, threw out some speculations for Costa Rica's World Cup Qualifying chances, and then Fernando made known his prediction for our match: ¡Tres más! It was bold. We bet a beer on it--a beer I never got to pay for after Costa Rica won exactly 0-4, because over the next 3.5 hours my new friends replaced my empties before I could think to order another. Of course, they also got away with paying the entire tab, deaf to my knowingly futile protests. Fernando pulled a fast one on me in the anxious five minutes before the Guatelama-USA match could be put on the TV: "Oh no! It's already 2-0!" I stared back at him as his face rounded into laughter realizing he'd ribbed me good. I punched him in the shoulder a little harder than I intended, but that only added to our jovial mood. They also bought me a lottery ticket that today won me the equivalent of $20. It could have been any two nice guys at the bar; it just happened to be Fernando and Mauro.

3.) The woman behind the window at the Museo de Oro in San José handed me a receipt for the group visit that I charged to my account with a smile and two questions: (1) Are you from Costa Rica? -- a question I've discussed at length here (2) Are you related to Gene Chambers? -- This is Gene Chambers. The answer to both was obviously "no," but I still ended up with her hand-written note underlining Gene Chambers and the title of her favorite song of his. I joked with her later, when I needed her to stamp my ticket so that I could reenter after stepping out to an ATM, that I was on my way to my brother's concert. She didn't catch it, but it dawned across her face a couple seconds later in an eruption of laughter that I'm sure rose to dangerous decible levels in her glass booth. People love laughing.

4.) Today I sent the students out on El Gran Reto, an Amazing Race style competition to find certain prices in stores and places of historical interest. The idea is to ask people on the street where certain things are and then to try to find those places with the clearest Tico directions guiding them.

Example Q: Where is the post office and when does it open on Mondays?
Example A: 300 meters east of the park and 100 meters south. 8am.

I occupied the park shortly after sending them off, sitting down at a bench with a fruit smoothy in hand to cool me from the walking-bath humidity on the day. There was a group of older men sitting around a circular set of benches amicably discussing current social issues. I knew I needed to talk to them. They seemed like they would love an ignorant audience to share their wisdom with. I was also aware that this was the spot in the park where many retired people gather to play dominoes most afternoons and I wanted an in. So I came up with what I thought would be the perfect question that is both sensible to ask someone on the street and also loaded enough to trigger several older men's bickering happily about the answer: Do you know where I can buy a paper around here? They also happened to have several papers out on the benches, so the intricacies of each paper's political leanings, yellow journalism, and fluff was soon the reason for heated finger pointing. Returning from the store they sent me to I heard them say, "Oh, here he is," as if they'd been talking about me for the previous five minutes. I was immediately met with five hands to shake and detailed backstories for all of the day's headlines while I waited for the Amazing Racers to arrive. When they did, the conversations only became more friendly as my students' developing Spanish entered the equation. We looked like some kind of mentoring program for local gringos--each man was explaining to a different group about different elements of the scavenger hunt. They were a bit overwhelmed to have so many eager old men jumping at them, but their anxious smiles soon gave way to actual conversations, hand shakes, and pats on the back. They were Marco, Raymond, José and others, and I've all but officially canceled class on Wednesday to instead play dominoes for three hours in the park.

I saw several of the students walking around town with local Ticos who weren't content with simply giving them directions to the place they were looking for but instead took it upon themselves to actually guide them there. One guy was even waiting outside the post office for two of them to return so he could continue helping them along the way. To be clear, this is just a man on the street that they asked for directions. What's more, every single group shared similar stories from this morning. Statement: the Ticos (at least San Ramonenses) are the kindest people I've ever found.

Meeting People Is (so, so, so) Easy (and fun here).

Monday, June 11, 2012

Food, pt. 1

I eat a lot here. I suppose walking a few miles every day contributes to this, but I still push away from the table with what feel like stretch marks forming on internal organs after every meal. Costa Rica's main staple is rice, which you will see a lot of below. A typical dish combining rice, some meat and some veggie or fruit is called a "casado".

Here is a casado with chickpeas, carrot, and chicken. Hard-boiled eggs with kidney beans for a side.

Here is the same casado five minutes later.

Here is Profesora Sofi eating a casado with shrimp.

A different lunch today with pasta with a mild, creamy sauce, accompanied by a beet salad.

Brown rice with eggs and ham.

Classic gallo pinto for breakfast, complete with a fried egg and toasted garlic bread.

For lunch, casado with pescado al ajillo, puréed potatoes and rice. Fresh salad. 

For desert, cinnamon custard with bananas.

More gallo pinto with fresh fruit. Breakfast matters.

We have a joke in the house that I live in the best restaurant in the city. My mom owns a catering business, so it stands to reason that her food would be above average. After some field testing, I would say it stacks up against every host family I've eaten with. I'm tired tonight. Long Monday of classes and errand-running, following a long weekend of waterfall swimming, beach bumming, and artisan shopping.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Joy and Normalcy

That thing there is my bike. I say "thing," but "icon" might be a truer expression. Costa Ricans continue to astound with their generosity:

Today I embarked on the formidable task of paying each host family individually. Now, going to 11 houses in San Ramón may not seem very challenging. In fact, if it weren't for the Tico him/herself this task would be a simple 2-hour walk. But I know much better than that. There will be drinks. There will be food. There will be long conversations about how my family back home is (followed by the obligatory, "And your family?"). There will be talks about this weekend, next weekend, next year, next decade and so forth. each and every house visit. Last year, with only 5 houses to visit this took about three hours.

As you can imagine, I spent most of the walk to the first house trying to think of culturally appropriate ways of excusing myself in order to continue my rounds. At the first house I visited today, Doña Aleida and I got to talking about all of the above. I asked her if she knew of a bicycle place nearby because I had planned to buy the cheapest one they had today in order to ease my journey, but before I could explain why I needed one she was already leading me down to the garage where her son kept his when he lived there. "Come with me," she said. "He's not going to need this for a long while. Take it! Bring it back when you leave! Sound ok?"

"Mi casa es su casa" is the most common phrase I've heard from the host families. At this rate I have 12 homes in San Ramón, Costa Rica. Now I have a bicycle. Who knows how many I could have had just by introducing the topic at the other houses. The tires are in dire condition, the pedals are clipless, and the full suspension is bouncy, but it's my bike. I rolled back 20 years climbing the hill from her house back into downtown. The air was crisp and I was on a bicycle again. All of a sudden, the impossible route for the day, framed now in the context of my two new wheels, became a possibility and a joy.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Of Mirrors and Motorcycles

How do you share a piece of art that you love as deeply as some people with another who is free to feel whatever they will about it? It's a conundrum I bet most have dealt with: do I choose to extend this precious thing from me with the possibility that it return empty, spilt, devalued? Or, safer but understandable, do I hold it as mine and mine alone thereby preserving it for myself and preserving my world from the possibility of it being tarnished and, by extension, others being tarnished to me for their opinions of it.

I go through this thought process every time I loan out a certain couple of books, as well as every time I show The Motorcycle Diaries. I will have little to say about Ernesto Guevara here. The movie is about him, but its significance reaches much farther, and its relevance to the Costa Rica program could not be more emphatic. The moment is simply too opportune for me to keep it to myself.

Here you have two travelers on an adventure that undeniably serves as an axis point for both of their lives. Here you have ten students on an equally thrilling adventure, which could easily have a similar effect. The question is, are they ready to catch it flying by in the blur of class, homework, night clubs, and Guaro

Like most ideas that are "beyond us and this moment in time," a tangible source by which to cut through the abstractness can help understanding greatly. For this movie and this situation, my metaphor par excellence is the shower drain or the air filter. Because of the reality of being in a new country and studying a second language, the rushing stimulus of all this newness can be quite overwhelming. Not unlike nearsightedness, there is a world out there that I interact with but cannot fully ascertain. To help manage this hugeness I like to think of us as semipermeable objects that allow any number of substances to flow through us. We trap the big things. We hold onto the interactions that meant something to us. "Walk through your days with open hands ready to grab what is there to grab, and to merely touch what you do not need to hold close," I say.

And then we watch our heroes Alberto Granado and Ernesto Guevara, one of them significantly skilled in this practice and on display for two or so hours. Writing this just now I've realized that debriefing the movie with this kind of discussion before hand lessens the weight of the "OMG PLZ LOVE THIS!!!" feeling that I would otherwise have if I simply popped it in the DVD player for movie night with some friends. 

Digression, but on topic: looking in the mirror. Is it a positive action? Do we go to the mirror expecting greatness? To me it more often functions within the "Oh-geez, I hope I look ok!" mindset. So (and I may be leaping here), not loving what we see in the mirror is very much a common part of the human experience, but I think as long as we see what there is to see and really take it in, love it or not, then we are probably as much ourselves as we could hope to be. They don't have to love The Motorcycle Diaries, because whether or not they do isn't the point. The point is that they are it, and that they see themselves fully in this mirror.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

"¿Es que Ud. es Tico?"

Q: Who am I?
A: Where are you?

A man actually asked me that today. The question in the title, that is, and it felt as if he'd carefully wrapped the moment of silence just before around my head and then yanked the string off, leaving it spinning on my shoulders.

I've thought and read before that place defines identity to a large extent, and that personality and cultural norms are also deeply shaped by place. Place-identity theory is pretty much the central theme of a recent read of mine, Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson, which is highly regarded for its dissection of Nationalism and the growth of the corporate self (or nation) as an imaginary body of like-selves. I will never meet all of the people that are considered my countrymen, and yet we are bound invisibly, invincibly. We are from a place that we share.

The person in question was Melvin, a biology instructor whom I was sent to meet by current Lincoln Tico, John Vargas, a PhD student in Chemistry and lifelong resident of San Ramón's neighbor town Palmares. John made sure I would stop by the Biology department and say hello to his good friend and work partner for the last few years. After talking to Melvin for a few minutes about how I knew John and what I was doing on campus, he dropped the bomb: "So, are you Costa Rican?"

It's difficult to know what Melvin was trying to ask, but there are a few possibilities: (1) Were you born in Costa Rica? (2) Do you live in Costa Rica? (less likely) (3) Are you Costa Rican? Now, the difference between one and three is quite subtle, but significant. It's probable that he recognized my foreign heritage. This is an unconscious leap for most Ticos meeting a red-beard. The second leap, though (that I may actually be a fellow countryman), is the one keeping the gyroscope spinning. To get past the first leap and actually consider the second means that one reality (assumed origin based on observation - visual) must have been trumped by another (our conversation - verbal) in his mind. I guess I've felt today that my fluency had come back after a month out of UNL, but not to the extent that a Tico would think I was one of his own--that he would think perhaps we are bound by the Costa Rican imaginary community.

This is for an entirely different post, but I do think one of the more pleasing aspects of fluency in Spanish (and for that matter being in another country) is that I get to start over with myself. I can be almost any "Aaron" that I like. It's taken years to feel that way about myself in Spanish, but I certainly wouldn't have had the conversation that I had today with a girl in the hallway if we were in English. It wouldn't have felt right. My tone was different than the me I think I am. My mannerisms felt alien to me. I felt Tico. This came just after conversing with Melvin, so there's no telling how much his question influenced the next couple hours of my day (or the next several weeks?), but it feels significant for the moment.

It wouldn't surprise me if language and place were the two most indicative factors of a person's identity. In that case (and now I'm getting into even more future posts), have I been living split in two as a Spanish-speaker in Lincoln? No, I don't think so, but it does make me consider why I get such a release when I roll into and out of conversation after conversation with Ticos knowing I didn't miss a beat. It feels like something I've been carrying around in a box (academic environment) has finally been set free (real world).

Tonight is ripe for reading books. I shall keep digesting this day and expect its nutrients will feed me for many to come.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Por El Otro Lado

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.

Several moments of interest from today.

First, we had class in the jungle. There are some nice painted steps out in the jungle behind campus where we could all sit and have a little class this morning while the bugs scurried around us. There isn't really anything unusual about the place except that it's the jungle and no one holds class in the jungle. The juxtaposition was enough to startle their attention for the 1.5 hours that it was needed: "We thought we were just going for a hike!" "Yes. Yes, you did."

Second, I had my first two run-ins with drunk do-badders. They may be a thin group, but their gringo divining rods are refined, and with them they assail any and all fairer-skinned in their stumbling vicinity:

(1) This afternoon, three girls trailing the group were being hounded by a mostly gentle drunk who wanted to take our picture for us. This was clear because he kept sticking one arm up in the air for the flash while he ducked behind an invisible (except to him) cape to peer through the viewfinder."¡Púm! Yo les saco la foto. ¡Púm!" Written phonetically, it was a bit more like "¡Púm! Yer leh sagah leh fuhduh. ¡Púm!" The students went into the store behind us leaving me to dispense with the annoyance. Usually, my dealings with these people end quickly with a few Gracias, pero no. No queremos foto. Ya tenemos foto, señor. Vaya con Dios. Mucha suerte, señor. Que le vaya bien. Hasta luego. Et cetera. It tends to work quite well. You say goodbye as if you've been talking for hours, and they seem to think that's the case and leave politely. This caballero was much more persistent. My plan two is to start making them talk. Sometimes they forget what's even going on and just leave of their own accord. ¿Cómo se llama Ud.? ¿En dónde vive? ¿Ud. trae cámara? ¿Es fotógrafo Ud.? ¿Le gusta San Ramón? For the persistent, this apparently means a chance to have me share in the smell of his breath and hold his ID for proof of a name I never cared to know.  The employees of the store started to notice and were making passive-aggressive attempts at removing him from their door (like, slapping the cement wall right next to his head). After a couple whiffs of his breath and no progress from the workers, I had to change strategies again. So I told him to have a nice day and walked around the block. By the time I returned he must have been taken with clamoring after another pair of pinkish legs.

(2) The second happened immediately after leaving that store. Two men standing in the doorway of the bar ogled a couple of the girls with us, so I slid back through our group to make sure nothing was going to happen. One of them gave thumbs up, which is... unnerving but not exactly foul. The second stepped out and kind of bumped one of them, or at least made her step around him to keep walking. I would normally suggest ignoring his type, but I felt like this public rudeness needed calling out. I don't remember exactly what I said (something like, "this is not something men do to women, sir.") except that it was quite damning. After two or three shaming phrases, he appeared to lurch toward me. Figuring he was drunk enough to fight someone who pointed out his lowness, I caught up to the group.

Third, the kids in the barrio were out again, this time with a couple other friends I remembered well. Justin and I learned a street game called "Stop", pronounced "Eh-stope", in which you call out a name as you toss a ball in the air, and that person must catch the ball. If s/he drops the ball, s/he must collect it while all the other participants run and hide. Once s/he has it, s/he yells "STOP" and the rest of the players must freeze. Then, s/he gets three giant steps before s/he must try to hit another player with the ball. If s/he misses, s/he is out. If s/he hits someone, that person is out. We played for a half hour. We made plans to play Cops and Robbers next week in the barrio with as many of us as can come. Fútbol in the field down the hill is also in the works.

Fourth, laughter peeled the walls around the house today as I presented Yolanda (mom) with my gift from the USA, a Tingler Scalp Massager. There were escalofríos as giggles came unrestrained from the three sisters + mom as they each took their turn "melting". "The best gift we've ever gotten. Bring us a box of these and we will make you so much money," they said.

Maybe I've found my calling. Aaron Chambers (1982-20**): he tingled the Tico spine.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

¡Que Sí, Mae!

¿Qué es lo que se pierde al cruzar una frontera? Cada momento parece partido en dos, melancolía por lo que queda atrás, y por otro lado, todo el entusiasmo por entrar en tierras nuevas.
"What is lost when we cross a border? Each moment seems to split in two, melancholy for what is left behind, and on the other hand, great eagerness for entering new lands."
- The Motorcycle Diaries

These are the faces of borders crossed, of 8-hour layovers, and of unironic exuberance for the unknown. We touched down in San José 13 hours ago, and I can hardly believe today is the same set of 24 hours that saw us depart from the USA. As of this moment, I've tallied 4 legitimate attempts at sleep and 5 hours actually slept in the last 48, and I couldn't be more alive.

Sitting in bed right now, and miraculously more interested in getting this blog afloat than drifting off on another ship (sleep ship), I am wide-eyed before our world. Still, the most I can manage right now is a few sparse highlights. All of them are people, not surprisingly, because when you come to Costa Rica and only see the volcanoes, beaches, and nature reserves, you've missed its greatest treasure of all:

1. Julie, the hilariously self-aware woman with brain damage whom I sat with on the way to Denver. So excited about life in spite of all the half-finished sentences, instant amnesia, and fits of laughter. I can trace a clear line from her unapologetic, "This is me!" uniqueness to a reminder to be equally cheerful less serious about myself.

2. Seeing Eric, the two-fingered airport bag boy, who sat with us for three hours last summer while we waited for our ride to San Ramón. I always remembered him and the bits of insight he offered into the Tico lifestyle. He will always be the first Costa Rican I met, and seeing him standing there doing what he's done for 28 years with the same smile on his face was some kind of proclamation to me from the world that the good people keep smiling even when out of sight.

3. I've had the deepest pleasure of running into some 7-8 acquaintances from last summer that are now surely friends following screaming ("¡Qué alegría!"), hugging, and catching up when we saw each other again.

4. Luz, our old program director, honked like crazy, hollered out the window, pulled her car over on the side of the highway, jumped out and gave me the biggest hug. Or maybe it was I giving the biggest hug?

5. The 10-12 kids from the barrio remembered my name, called it out, and then gave me a giant group hug. I've been in group hugs before, but never when every person was trying to hug only me. Unforgettable.

The first thirteen hours are written. Sleep attempt 5 feels very promising. Pura dormida.