Now as you read the title of this blog entry...some of you might be a little surprised because some of you know that I was not exactly home for the holidays. But at the same time, I was "home" for the holidays.
It has been five months since I have been down here in Costa Rica... wow right! How time flies! Throughout those five months I have been able to form relationships and take part in experiences that I never thought I would have. Over these past 5 months or so, I have been able to to call this place "My Home" No it cannot replace my loving family, great friends and my actually home back in MN, but it has become a place I have felt comfortable enough to feel at "Home." Feeling this made it a lot easier when I decided to spend my Christmas here with in my "Costa Rican Home" with my "Costa Rican Family." As well as spending my New Years in my "Guatemalan Home" with my "Guatemalan Family." Not going to lie... it was a tad bit sad knowing that I wasn't there to eat Grandma's stuffing or remind her the corn was still in the microwave as we were pretty much done eating. Or not taking part in opening gifts from youngest to oldest, as we would play a little wrapping paper basketball with Grandpa as he held the bag open for our incoming shot... maybe "accidently" missing! Yea.. it was a bummer missing out on these traditions but then again... with my "Home" here I was able to take part in some new traditions! Here is a little insight:
For Christmas Eve and Christmas I was invited to stay with the Friars here in Moravia. They set me up with a room, or more like a suite, in the Friary. I accepted the invitation glady, just because I didn't want to hear it from Brittany as she told me I couldn't wake up on Christmas morning alone...nah only joking because I didn't either. That night, Christmas Eve or Noche Buena (Good Night) as they call it, I headed off to mass and a beautiful mass it was as they carried in Baby Jesus and placed him on the foot of the alter. I was then invited over one of the Friar's Family house for the nightly celebration...and boy was it a fiesta!
As soon as I entered the house, I was greeted with open arms and a lot of smiles! I knew it would be a good night. I was soon sitting in the middle of the living room with lively conversation flowing around me, a drink in hand and tasty hors d'oeuvres calling my name. Good thing Fray Jorge gave me a prep class on all their names before hand because it made it a lot easier to feel right at home. As soon as 12:00 a.m. struck the clock, we gathered around the manger scene as little Arturo carried in Baby Jesus with a few of his cousins holding some sparklers. A passage was read from the bible and a few petitions were read. Fray Jorge bless the stable and all of us and our families. This was truly an amazing experience to be part of.
After the blessing we were handed our plates which would soon be covered with a beautiful Christmas dinner of pork, potatoes, and salad. The chefs for the night definitely got two thumbs up from me. I would have gone back for seconds but I was forewarned that we would be eating another meal of Tamales shortly after. I could risk being full for tamales so I paced myself.
After everyone finished their plates, we gathered around the Christmas tree as Manuel, Fray Jorge's Brother, played Santa and handed out the gifts. The family has "Invisible Friends", like our version of secret Santa and they all had three guesses to figure out who had who. With chanting for the person to open their gifts right there on spot, to the laughter that filled the room, it was a pretty lively event. I even received a few gifts from Niños Dios.
Soon after the gifts were all handed out, plates of tamales were being spread about. Tamales are a traditional plate during Christmas in Costa Rica as well as other Central American countries. I was still a little full from the first plate, but I couldn't go without my Christmas Tamale. Shortly after the tamale, came dessert and I couldn't pass up the wonderfully prepared pudding/banana/strawberry/whip cream concoction that Nader had designed. My stomach definitely agreed to it too! After dessert, a couple delicious plates of Christmas food, a few drinks, great conversation, it was about that time to head home. At about 4:00 a.m. I was finally all snugged in my bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. What a great Christmas Eve!
Christmas Morning came pretty fast. I woke up around 8 and had to do a little preparation for my trip to Guatemala the next day. After a few loads of laundry, a a chat with the family, I gethered with the Friars for a Sea Food Medley Lunch. From shrimp to lobster and everything between it was truly a feast. After lunch the Friars gathered around their Christmas tree to exchange their Invisible friend gifts. I felt pretty privileged that they allowed me to celebrate Christmas with them. That night was able to connect with the family back home over skype and virtually participate in the opening of Christmas Gifts at Grandma Jane and Grandpa Ernies's. Between this and the Christmas at the Friary... I definitely felt at home!
The next morning came pretty fast as well. I made sure everything was packed up and prepared for my travels to Guatemala. It wasn't too long after that I was saying good bye to Costa Rica and say hello to Guatemala. After a wonderful flight, I landed, hailed a taxi, jumped on a bus and headed to Xela. I was greeted by a good friend of mine, Pedro who I played rugby with, as he agreed to meet since it was late and a dark. We grabbed a burger and beer and chatted it up for a while before I headed to my host families where I would once again stay.
Knock on the door and was greeted by my host brother Jordan who had grown quite a bit since the last time I saw them. They welcomed me and showed me to my room once again where memories from two ago came flowing back.
Over the next nine days, I enrolled in Spanish lessons at Celas Maya where I had the privalage to take spanish lessons with Tania! She was an absolutely amazing teacher even though most of the time I would try to get her off the subject of subjunctive and just talk about random things. We had many laughs and made memories that I will again never forget! She was amazing. This also gave me the chance to reunite with all the rest of the teachers. We went out to have coffee, lunch, ice cream, BakeShoppee... all the good stuff that we used to do. I cannot thank them enough for their kind hospitality and friendship! I cannot wait to go back and see them all!
Here I also was able to take in a Guatemalan New Year. It is normal to shoot off fireworks for New Years here so I went out and bought some for me and my host brother... with permission of course from my host mom. Soon enough the clock struck 12:00 again and you could hear and see for miles, the fireworks lighting up the night sky. Jordan and I, along with some of his cousins, scurried around the roof of our house, joining in on the nighttime fun. After we finished we all gathered in the living room to greet everything with a hug and Happy New Year Greeting. We dressed Baby Jesus and placed him in the Manager and headed to the kitchen to have the New Year's dinner.... Tamales! Being the honored guest, I had to pour the Quetzalteca shots for everyone. Again with good conversation and good food, the night had started off with a bang.
After dinner I headed out to meet up with some friends to continue the celebration. Hit up good old La Rumba like the old days. It has changed a little bit but same atmosphere as before. I actually called it an early night... 4:00 a.m. since I had a wake up call at 7:30... why?
Because I met a few other students at the school from around the world. They had talked me into climbing Volcan Tajumluco with them. The highest point in Central America... call me crazy... yes! I wasn't too prepared but I did it anyways. It took us about 3 1/2-4 hours to climb the first day to our camping grounds. It wasn't the warmest as I had to use socks for gloves, used every layer of clothing that I had brought with me to Guatemala, and the fire in front of us, I still managed to have a good time and stay warm.
The morning came soon as we woke at 4:30 to start our climb to the top. We started early so we could catch the the sunrise and man did we catch it! Even though it was again freezing with winds blowing at tremendous speeds and frost forming on the rocks, it was one of the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. With hot chocolate on the burner and a sleeping bag for warmth we watch the sun rise over the landscape until it was in full view.. .man what a sight!
That same day we made out descend. The trip back was kinda horrible... after an hour or two descend, we caught a Chicken Bus and headed back to Xela. We couldn't take it so we stopped at a bus stop. After waiting for about an half hours, some bags almost getting shoved onto another bus by some crazy, we hopped on a microbus and finished our journey back. I made it back just in time for Sunday lunch with my host family, and the new students from CSB/SJU that were doing their study abroad. Ate some, talked some, and did some sleeping!
Time was closing in on the end of my journey in Guatemala which was sad because I had to say goodbye to those people I love once again. The teachers prepared a dinner for me and another students because we both would be leaving soon. It was absolutely delicious but what was even better was the company! I couldn't have ended my time better in Guatemala as I felt right at home. That night before I fell asleep I made sure to thank God for all the wonderful people in my life!
The next morning came fast again as I woke at 3:00a.m. to catch my bus at 4:00 to Guate City. Now this is where it gets interesting. My plane leaves at 12:25 that same day and Jordan thinks he has enough time since it only take about 4 hours to get to the city in bus. 1) Well my bus arrives an hour late, which isn't too bad since I still have some time to make my flight. 2) The driver decideds to make stops along the way which I didn't calculate. 3) The worst of all, we get a flat tire. It is about 9:30 when this happened and we basically have an 1 1/2 left on this trip. I was going crazy! This is when I started prayer for a NASCAR team to come in and change the tire, but no the bus driver lights up a cig and take his time. After about 3 cigs, the tire is changed and we are again on the road. Luckily I had had about an hour left before we arrived in Guatemala city. I jumped off the bus, hailed a taxi and was in the airport by 11:00. Enough time to relax little bit, grab a coke and wake for my plane to leave.
Soon enough they called us onto the plane, I was watching Glee, and eating pretzels. I landed safely in Costa Rica ahout two hours later and back in my home greeted by Jelly, Mateo and Brittany all snuggled in their beds talking about their vacations. I ran and jumped on them as we normally do and I thought to myself...
Man did it feel great to be back Home!