Tamarindo, Costa Rica: Day 2

At 6:00 am, Hannah and I jumped out of bed to make some breakfast at the Selina. We each had a fit full night of sleep as the air conditioner had made the room ice cold. With living in Costa Rica for roughly two months without air conditioning, cold air at night led to little sleep with only a little top sheet for warmth.

By 7:00 am, Hannah and I were waiting out front of the Selina to wait for our guide to pick us up for our sea kayak and snorkeling tour at Captain Island with Native’s Way. We chitt-chatted in Spanish for the short drive to the parking area near the beach.

While walking to the beach, our guide ran into a couple from New York that he knew. From what I could gather, the couple had purchased a hotel/bed and breakfast and seemed to have been completing renovations. The couple assured Hannah and I we were in good hands with our guide.

After having some water with lime in plastic wine glass (complimentary service), Hannah and I suited up in life vests. Our guide explained where we would be paddling too and the best route to take to avoid getting beat up by the waves. With paddles in hand, we walked to the ocean while our guide’s assistant carried the double-kayak. Once in the water, I hopped into the front seat and Hannah into the back. With a push from the assistant, she and I were off and paddling in the ocean following our guide who paddled on his paddle board.

The whole kayak experience was entirely relaxing and very fun! I typically kayak at the lake during the summer so I knew what I needed to do. However, I expected sea kayaking to be more difficult and different. Really, though, kayaking is kayaking as I found out!

Eventually, Hannah and I made it to Captain Island. We disembarked and were then given a tour of the small island. From the island, the guide pointed out the different areas of the coastline and named the beaches in the area. He also pointed out the different wildlife and explained their eating and living habits. I was most surprised to see and learn that the crabs on the island will push the bird eggs (cannot remember the name of the bird) out of the bird nest and try to roll them off an edge to crack the egg to eat them. Based on the size of the crab, I could not believe they have the strength to do so!

After a brief wildlife tour, the snorkeling portion of the tour began. Hannah and I were each given snorkels that covered our entire faces. With a snorkeling “headset,” you are able to breath normally while snorkeling. The masks make a person look absolutely bonkers, but even a normal snorkel set looks silly on a person. Hannah and I followed our guide around for a little bit and he picked up starfish for us to hold and pointed out specific species of fish and other sea creatures. Once he wrapped up showing us around the area, Hannah and I had free reign to snorkel to our hearts content. I had a fun time swimming around in my flippers looking at the fish and crabs. This was the first time I had snorkeled since studying abroad in Australia (5 years ago) on the Great Barrier Reef. For me, the activity took me back to seeing sea turtles and vibrant coral found along the Australian coastline. It’s crazy to reflect back to all of those years and look at my life now: three study abroad experiences, lots of adventures with exchange students and their families, and the acquisition of a second language.

Eventually, we had to wrap up our snorkel time. Hannah and I headed back to the island and our guide explained our path back to shore. But before paddling back, would we want to stop at the floating playground to go down the water slide and jump off the super high diving board? Of course! Hannah and I paddled through the water to the playground where our guide helped pull us and our kayak up out of the water.

For 15 minutes or so, Hannah and I went flying down the water slide and jumped off two different diving boards. Neither of us could muster up the courage to jump from the platform, to the trampoline, and then to the water. I felt like a child again while in the middle of the ocean going down the water slide and had an absolute blast!

Once we had our fill of jumping off and swimming around, Hannah and I got back into the kayak and paddled to shore. With a lot of “thank you’s” to our wonderful guide, Hannah and I walked along the beach to head back towards the Selina. Our plan for the rest of the day was to pack our lunch and head to a nearby beach, Playa Langosta, that my mama tica had recommended. For her, Playa Langosta was the most pretty in the area and her absolute favorite.

With peanut butter sandwiches and fruit packed, Hannah and I with the help of Google Maps, walked the short distance to this beautiful beach. When we finally arrived, we pleasantly surprised to see there were no people in the area! This meant both of us would be able to leave our personal belongings near the mangrove trees that lined the sand without having to worry too much about pickpockets.

So that’s exactly what we did, we found a great shaded area with a log to sit on, plopped our stuff down, and ran into the ocean. Unfortunately, we quickly realized this was an EXTREMELY rocky area with huge waves. Together, these can make a deadly combination. Hannah and I found ourselves swimming for a while, but also cognizant of diving down to avoid getting taken out by a huge wave.

We hung out in our little area for a while talking, relaxing, hopping back into the water for a few hours. Eventually, Hannah suggested we walk the length of the beach to explore for a while longer. We came to a spot that was super rocky where the tide had gone out and each of us took a turn to walk out.

Once we had each walked out to the rocky area, Hannah and I continued our walk. I screamed at the sight of a snake on the beach and Hannah screamed in response. Because Playa Langosta has a ton of resorts boarding the shore, a gentleman working for one of the hotels looked over and laughed at our frightened faces. Don’t worry, I won’t post the snake photo.

Eventually, Hannah and I discovered an even better spot with a larger log to sit and chat on together. Once again, we went in and out of the water, talked, and took seaside naps. Since we had spent the whole day at Playa Langosta and had found a perfect spot, Hannah and I decided to take in the sunset here, which was a fantastic decision.

When the sun slipped below the horizon, Hannah and I walked along the beach only to discover Playa Tamarindo connected to Playa Langosta. We realized we could have avoided the dirt road walk in the morning Google Maps had directed us earlier in the day. Oh well!

Hannah and I swung by the grocery store to pick up dinner supplies. What did we cook you may ask? Pancakes! We laughed while making everything because an Italian gentleman at the hostel was cooking a full-on homemade bolognese sauce, while Hannah and I were cooking pancakes from a box.

We spent the rest of our evening relaxing and chatting with our hostel friend who had attended IU and had friends near my hometown in Indiana and currently resided in Pennslyvania (where Hannah is from). It’s a small world! Hannah conducted research for a concrete plan for the following day, which was quite the adventure! More details in my next post.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Tamarindo, Costa Rica: Day 1

For the entire semester, the majority of Costa Ricans I have spoken with have asked me where I have traveled so far and what other trips I have planned. I of course rattle off the places I have visited. Without fail, the individual(s) always respond with “You must visit Guanacaste. The most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica are in Guanacaste.”

With roughly only one free weekend left of the semester, Hannah and I were trying to figure out where we wanted to go as the third member of our trio, Audrey, was going skydiving. Hannah and I searched Google trying to figure out a good place to visit in Costa Rica for a short weekend, as our last unplanned weekend of the semester only consisted of a Saturday and Sunday. Both of us REALLY wanted to visit Guanacaste to see the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. However, to make the 7-hour bus ride worthwhile, we would need a long weekend. Hannah and I tried our best to be happy with an alternate destination, but neither of us could imagine leaving Costa Rica without going to Guanacaste. So, we made the choice with the blessing of our professor to leave class early on Thursday to catch an 11:30 am bus to Tamarindo and skip Friday’s class.

In my head, I thought our bus to Tamarindo was direct meaning there were no random stops along the way. As I have learned from my travels here, buses that appear to be direct end up stopping anywhere and everywhere along the way for any person that manages to flag down the bus. However, Hannah and I were not super far into our journey when the bus stopped randomly along the rode to pick up passengers. Internally, both of us sighed because we knew the bus ride was going to be longer than anticipated.

After many stops along the way, Hannah and I eventually arrived in Tamarindo in the evening. We walked with some of our fellow bus passengers in the direction of our hostel, the Selina.

Upon arrival, Hannah and I got checked in and went to our room. With having studying abroad in Europe, I have had my fair share of hostels. The Selina is a hostel chain throughout the world. Friends in Sol had stayed at the Selina in Monteverde and highly recommended it. As a result, I decided to book our stay in Tamarindo at the Selina figuring the hostel would be as great as Monteverde. I have to say, though, I was less than thrilled with the cleanliness situation as my sheets were sandy even though they were clean. However, I reminded myself that Tamarindo is a beach town; therefore, the humidity is going to impact the infrastructure and sand is bound to be everywhere and anywhere.

Once Hannah and I settled in, we went off to the grocery store to purchase food for the next couple of days and at dinner. With the help of Google Maps, we found a small grocery store a short walk away. Since the grocery store was super small, the food prices were on the expensive side. Hannah suggested just purchasing what we needed and finding another store tomorrow. When I went for the butter, I said to Hannah, “The butter here tastes weird. I can taste it anytime my mama tica puts it on anything.” A gentleman overheard me speaking and responded in English, “That’s not butter, it’s margarine.” With this information, the light switch for the light bulb flipped on in my head. Ah ha! This is why I do not like the “butter” because in my family, we only eat salted butter.

After making our purchases, we walked back to the hostel and cooked our pasta with pesto. Then, Hannah and I headed to bed as we had a sea kayak and snorkeling tour bright and early the following day.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Dia de los Muertos

After a fun-filled day of city-hopping to Alajuela, Sarchi, and Grecia on Saturday, I headed to San Jose with Hannah and Audrey to check out the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Barrio Chino (

A little bit of context…

At school on Friday, we had discussed the meaning behind Dia de los Muertos and how the holiday is celebrated in countries in Latin American. The celebrations are the largest in Mexico where graves are decorated and lots of fiestas take place.

For homework, everyone brought in a photograph of a loved one who had passed away and in Spanish told a story about that person. We also tried Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead), which was coated in sugar and had a lemon flavor. To top it off, everyone had colored a sugar skull for a drawing contest. Everyone who participated received a chocolate.

All of the professors encouraged us to go to San Jose to check out the festivities. Because I Audrey, Hannah, and I did not have any plans, we boarded the public bus on Sunday to San Jose.

Once in San Jose, we headed in the direction of Barrio Chino and stumbled upon the famous artisan market in San Jose. Audrey, Hannah, and I stepped in to take a peak.

I personally was instantly overwhelmed. The shopkeepers in both English and Spanish urged us to come into their booths and look at their items. With so many souvenirs available for purchase, the aisle ways and booths seemed very cramped and claustrophobic. For me, it was sensory overload. I also am the type of person that when pressured to purchase an item by a salesperson, I instantly do not want to as it feels too pushy. With having traveled to Sarchi the day previous and purchased souvenirs at a store that works directly from artisans in the area, I could not even bring myself to purchase any items at the artisan market that were clearly marked up in price. 100% if I had not traveled to Sarchi, I would probably have a different impression of the artisan market. If you are pressed for time and are looking for a traditional Costa Rican souvenir, however, the artisan market is a place worth checking out.

After leaving the artisan market, we made our way to Barrio Chino. Our trio immediately was overwhelmed by the amount of people at the Dia de los Muertos celebration. As we tried to figure out what was going on, a mini parade began with participants dressed in traditional mascaras (masks) of Costa Rica, painted faces portraying Catrina, people walking on stilts in costume, and so much more!

Once the mini parade wrapped up, Audrey, Hannah, and I went up and down the whole street to check out what food was available and what other festivities were happening. There was a group of 6 Catrinas dancing in stilts dancing in the street to music and also a stage set up with a group of dancers performing a traditional Mexican dance. Vendors were selling little Catrinas and people could add candles or pictures to an alter set up. We found a beautifully dressed Catrina and asked for a photo.

Myself, “Catrina,” Audrey, and Hannah

By this time, it was early afternoon and I was starving and ready to eat tacos. We found a booth where three tacos were 1 mil (roughly $2 USD) and the line was super long. Since the line happened to be super long, the three of us took this as a good sign. Funnily enough, our Spanish professor also happened to be in the same line for the booth. She told us we had picked a great booth, which made everyone more excited for tacos. After waiting in line for 30+ minutes, Audrey, Hannah, and I finally made it to the front. In Spanish, the teenage boy working says in Spanish “We are out of tacos.” OUT OF TACOS?! WHAT?! I felt extremely sad. Still hungry, we walked to the booth next door, which had a shorter line. Hannah had made the comment, “If it’s a short line, maybe the tacos won’t be great?” However, we were all hungry and really wanted to eat some food as soon as possible. Needless to say, Hannah was correct in her assumption. Not only were these three tacos more expensive (3 mil; roughly $6 USD), they were not very tasty.

Eating are expensive and sub-par tacos

Once we finished eating our sub-par tacos, we went in search of the restaurant that had bubble waffles filled with ice cream that the three of us had kept seeing. This cute Asian restaurant also had a long line too. Hannah waited in line, while Audrey and I walked to the bus station so she could purchase bus tickets for her upcoming trip.

Side note: purchasing bus tickets in advance was another reason why we had come to San Jose. One thing all Sol students have learned is that if you cannot buy bus tickets online, you should either…

  1. Get to the bus station 1+ hours ahead of the bus you would like to take to purchase your tickets.
  2. Go to San Jose early to the bus station and purchase the tickets in advance.

By the time Audrey and I came back, Hannah had barely moved in line. The three of us decided to add this restaurant to our “come back and visit list” and headed to the bus station where Hannah and I needed to buy our bus tickets for our weekend trip.

With tickets in hand, we headed back to the Heredia bus stop to go back to our homes.

Despite having sub-par tacos, the day was fun and successful!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Alajuela, Sarchi, and Grecia

The weekend after Panama, Audrey, Hannah, and I wanted to stay close to Heredia. A long bus ride anywhere did not sound appealing. After doing some research on great day trips to do from San Jose, Hannah and I concocted a plan to city-hop to three nearby cities: Alajuela, Sarchi, and Grecia.

On Saturday morning, Audrey, Hannah, and I met at the train station. From there, we road the train for 30 minutes until reaching the end of the line in Alajuela. Upon arrival, the three of us explored the quaint city.

Bienvenido a Alajuela: Audrey, me, and Hannah

Collectively, we decided to cut our exploring short as we needed to find the bus that would take us to Sarchi because the bus ride to the artisanal town was around an hour.

After asking several different individuals for directions and hearing the words “only 100 meters more,” Audrey, Hannah, and I found the bus that would take us to Sarchi. Upon boarding, we were greeted with an interesting seating arrangement. On the left-hand side of the bus were two seats next to one another (normal) and on the right-hand side of the bus were three seats next to one another. Our little trio squeezed into a row together for our 1 hour bus ride. Funnily enough, Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” came on the radio, so we all sang along while smashed together like sardines.

When the bus stopped in Sarchi, we disembarked and headed towards the park with the large carreta.

The giant carreta in Sarchi!

Back in the day, carretas were used by boyeros (individuals who guide the carretas and oxen) in the Central Valley to transport coffee grains to the province of Puntarenas. The trip would take anywhere from 10-15 days. Originally, the carretas were painted with specific colors and patterns depending on the province of origin. However, artists eventually began to paint and design the carretas however they wished, which led to contests of “who has the best painted carreta.” Nowadays, the carreta and boyero is a dying art. Both are remembered during celebrations and are considered a part of Costa Rica’s history and culture.

After taking pictures with the giant carreta, we began to explore Sarchi. I had hoped there would be a lot of artisanal stores, however, there were not a whole lot in the quaint town. Surprisingly, handmade wood furniture seemed to be the hot item to purchase in Sarchi. However, the three of stumbled upon a huge souvenir shop that had classic Costa Rican souvenirs most of which were handmade and reasonably priced. I had been holding out on purchasing things from Costa Rica because I like to shop local whenever possible. At this particular store, I ended up purchasing a mini carreta and a hand-painted bookmark both of which I plan on using as Christmas ornaments.

With the large rueda (wheel) outside the souvenir shop: Hannah, me, and Audrey

Once the three of us wrapped up shopping, we headed back towards the carreta to see if there were anymore stores to check out. The sun had come out, which made this mint green church really stand out.

The mint green church across the street from the carreta

None of us saw any notable stores, so we decided to walk down the road to find a bus stop for Grecia. Along the way, the three of us stopped into another souvenir shop. Neither of us found anything we needed so we continued walking along the road. Eventually, one of us asked a family at a fruit stand where the bus stop was for Grecia. Funnily enough, the “bus stop” was the driveway of a furniture store. As Audrey, Hannah, and I stood waiting for the bus to come by, the owner came out and conversed with us in Spanish for a while.

When the bus rolled up, we once again crammed into a row of three seats again for the 30-minute drive to Grecia.

Once the bus dropped us off, we went ahead and explored. My favorite part was the park in the center of town with a beautiful sign, fountain, and church.

Bienvenido a Grecia!

Unfortunately, the Grecia was like any other city with commercialized stores, lots of traffic, and chain restaurants. The sun happened to be out in full force, so Audrey, Hannah, and I stopped into Pops, a Costa Rican ice cream chain. Then, we headed across the street back to the cute park.

Unbeknownst to me, Audrey and Hannah wanted to take a group selfie. After licking my ice cream cone, Audrey and Hannah were both laughing super hard as I had been completely oblivious to the photo. Hence, we have this lovely photo of me stuffing my face. I promise you there is a whole sequence of me going in for the lick, but I shall spare you the photos.

Audrey, Hannah, and I in the park eating ice cream

Once everyone finished eating their ice cream, we headed back to the bus stop to get on the bus for Alajuela. Then, once in Alajuela, the three of us went in search of the Heredia bus stop to head back home.

When I got to my house around 6:00 pm, I noticed a colorful disco-type light spinning around on the porch. I wondered if there was a party going on, but soon found out the whole house was decked out in Christmas decorations.

A fun-filled day of city-hopping!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

October 2019 Book Review

During the month of October, I managed to read four different books that all had completely different topics!

We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled by Wendy Pearlman

This particular book has been on my to-read list for years! My university has a club on campus, Scholars for Syria, that works to inform the public about the Syrian crisis by having Syrian students speak at local schools and bringing in speakers for an annual spring panel.

We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled covers the Syrian uprising in sections: before, during, and the now. Through interviews with Syrians, Pearlman pieces together experiences of citizens and their perspectives. Some are young activists who participated in marches, others are mothers and fathers who talk about what the Assad regime was like in the early years. All in all, I found the book to be informative about the Syrian crisis.

My heart absolute breaks for those who have perished or have had to uproot their lives and flee. If you are interested in learning more about why the Syria uprising occurred and how it has impacted citizens’ lives, I encourage you to pick up We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled.

The German Midwife by Mandy Robotham

Book number 2 for October was The German Midwife. This book follows the story of a German midwife and how she must provide care to Hitler’s lover and the future child. Hitler did not have any children, but this historical fiction novel brings in elements of the World War II time period. I enjoyed Robotham’s book overall; a solid three stars in my opinion.

Brave, Not Perfect by Reshama Saujani

After a historical fiction read, I turned to the nonfiction book Brave, Not Perfect by the Girls Who Code founder Reshama Saujani. Saujani writes about how society can better support and help girls be brave and not perfect. She points out bias and hurdles girls and women face because of their gender and how the hurdles can be surpassed.

Over the Top by Johnathan Van Ness

My final book of the month happened to be Queer Eye’s Johnathan Van Ness’ memoir Over the Top. Van Ness is a fan-favorite in Netflix’s Queer Eye with his flamboyant and confident personality. He delves into how he suffered from body issues, drug addiction, and bullying as an out and proud gay man. Most importantly, Van Ness covers his diagnosis with AIDS and debunks myths that the general public believes about the disease. Johnathan’s voice really shown through the book, which made it a quick read for me.

That’s all of my books for the month of October! Should I add anything to my to-read list?

To read about September 2019’s books click here. To follow or add me on Goodreads, click here.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Costa Rica Baking Class!

On the Tuesday following the Panama trip, Group B of the Sol students came to Sheri’s and my house to learn how to bake traditional Costa Rican desserts with my mama tica and abuela.

Our first dessert of the class was empanadas dulces. Essentially, empanadas are a circle of homemade pastry dough folded in half with a filling.

Next, we made cangrejitos and enchiladitas. These consisted of a savory potato filling inside of a square of pastry dough that you fold over (cangreja – crab) or that you fold into a square (enchiladitas.)

Hannah and I hard at work cutting the squares for the cangrejitos and enchiladitas

After our savory cangrejitos and enchiladitas were finished, we moved onto bizcocho casero. This recipe is a cheesy bread that can be folded or twisted into whichever shape your heart desires.

We rounded out the baking class by making pancito casero, which is a sweet bread. The Costa Ricans believe this tastes better the following day. I personally beg to differ. Hot, fresh and straight out of the oven is my favorite way to eat it!

Once our bellies were stuffed, the girls of Group B asked if the dogs could be brought out. Everyone was thrilled to meet our 6 dogs.

My favorite of the 6 dogs, Sven

It’s safe to say that I ended my day with a full belly and full heart!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Boquete, Panama: Day 3

For our third day in Panama, we started off with a traditional Panamanian breakfast. In my opinion, steak/beef for breakfast is always a fabulous idea!

Queso fresco, fried potato patty, sauteed steak and onions, and fluffy bread

Afterwards, everyone gathered to get on the bus to head into town where we would meet our guides for the hanging bridges and hiking tour.

Our bus driver dropped off everyone and we went and got our wristbands. Then, we loaded up onto a vehicle with benches to drive to the hanging bridges and hiking.

Most of the entire Sol group hiking in Panama

Because the Sol coordinators told us the hike was “very difficult,” I was expecting to go on a strenuous walk. However, I soon found out the hike did not even compare to my previous weekend at Cerro Chirripó. There was some slight uphill hiking, but for the most part the “very difficult” hike was a leisurely and scenic walk through the woods of Panama.

My favorite part, hands down, were the hanging bridges which traversed rivers and provided amazing scenic views of Boquete.

After the tour concluded, everyone had free time to explore and change before we boarded the truck transport to go back to Boquete.

When Audrey, Hannah, and I had stayed at Casa Mariposa in San Gerardo, we met a couple from England who had recently been in Boquete. They recommended checking out a honey tour.

The bus dropped those of off at Boquete Bees and Butterflies before heading back to the hotel. Our whole group bought our $7 tickets and settled in to learn all about the different types of honey and their flavors. Interestingly enough, a change in elevation and temperature influences the taste of honey. I tried a few different cream-based honeys, which I had never seen or heard of before. Everyone had so much fun sampling the honey!

All of the honey we tried! 20-some odd flavors for $7
Our whole honey-tasting group!

After killing our teeth with a ton of sugar, our plan was to go to the nearby strawberry castle restaurant for some strawberry dessert because Boquete is known for its strawberries. Of course, our beautiful sunny weather disappeared and a torrential downpour ensued. We found the strawberry castle closed sadly. However, everyone wanted to eat a late lunch/early dinner, so we continued into town before splitting up.

Hannah and I decided we would explore some other streets of Boquete that we missed our first day in Panama. As we wandered, Hannah and I made note of local restaurants that looked like they may be great for lunch/early dinner. It was so fun to watch the locals out and about and chatting with one another at fruit stands and artisan booths.

Eventually, she and I reached an intersection which took us back to the area of the town we had previously explored. By chance, we saw Audrey, Kyrek, and Catherina sitting down at a table. Hannah and I stopped by to say hello and have a peak at the menu. Both she and I came to the conclusion that the food was too expensive and we wanted to eat Panamanian food one last time, but invited our Sol friends to join us if they desired.

In the rain, we headed back to the local restaurant we had seen. The menu was VERY basic. Our lunch choices consisted of soup or “food of the day.” Hannah and I both opted for the “food of the day,” which allowed us to select hour our chicken would be cooked. After ordering, Audrey, Kyrek, and Catherine sat down at our table to join us for our mystery meal. Our Sol friends had the brilliant idea to ask about fruit juice, so I ended up ordering a fresh blueberry juice to go along with my mystery lunch.

Me trying to imagine what I am going to end up with for lunch/dinner
Panamanian food: pasta salad, white rice, plantains, chicken and lentils (in the bowl)

The food and blueberry juice was fantastic! For a drink and this huge plate of food, I spent $4.50. When traveling ALWAYS eat where the locals eat! Not only is the food inexpensive, but absolutely delicious.

Hannah after lunch wanted to search for strawberries as she had been the most excited out of the honey-tasting group to go to the strawberry castle. Alas, she and I were not successful in this endeavor, so we piled into the taxi with Kyrek, Audrey, and Catherine.

For a few hours, Audrey, Hannah, and I relaxed. Eventually, though, Hannah messaged me while in the same room (Audrey was sleeping.)

“Do you want to go to a different strawberry restaurant with me?” she asked.

I internally was laughing at the fact that she texted me while in the same room and still wanted to get strawberries. Of course, I said yes.

We said farewell to Audrey who was hanging back to prepare to head out with the other Sol students for Ladies Night at one of the local discotecas.

When Hannah and I got into the cab and told our driver where we wanted to go, he replied, “I am going to take you to a different strawberry restaurant that is closer and cheaper.” Hannah and I replied, “Okay!” Who doesn’t want to got to a local restaurant that is cheaper?! Our driver pointed out where he lived during our drive and eventually dropped us off where there was not one, but TWO strawberry restaurants across the street from one another!

Hannah and I headed into the first restaurant that had a cute little strawberry guy out front. Then, we headed inside to select what we wanted to order. The menu was huge and we eventually settled on strawberries with whipped cream and strawberries with chocolate. Funnily enough, the strawberries with chocolate ended up being Hershey’s chocolate syrup…not what we had envisioned!

The little strawberry man!
Strawberries with whipped cream and strawberries with “chocolate”

After our two strawberry desserts, we decided we may as well check out the other strawberry restaurant across the street because we had invested in a $6 USD cab ride. Hannah and I both decided the decor at the second restaurant was more fun. Visitors signed the walls and surfaces. The strawberry dessert too was a lot better! We ended up ordered a strawberry frozen yogurt-type dessert.

Strawberry restaurant #2!

However, the workers at restaurant number one were much kinder so we headed back over there to get the WiFi password, so we could contact the taxi driver.

The irony of this whole strawberry adventure? Our strawberry desserts were double if not triple the cost of our mystery lunch during the day AND Hannah and I both had upset stomachs the following morning from the strawberries. Thank goodness for medication! Otherwise, our 7-hour+ bus ride back to Heredia would have been miserable.

Panama (both literally and figuratively) was super sweet! The people were very kind, the food incredible, and the views magnificent! I will treasure the memories forever.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Boquete, Panama: Day 2

After a filling breakfast of over-easy eggs, toast, fresh fruit, and tea, our entire group boarded the bus to head to a farm for a tour.

At the farm, the owners introduced us to their various animals. A few students volunteered to feed the massive amount of chickens and other fowl. The farm was situated on a hill with an incredible view.

Views from the Panamanian farm

Once the birds had had their fill, it was time to milk the cow. Everyone took a turn milking. Eventually, we had a full pail of fresh milk to use to make queso fresco.

Everyone gathered on a small porch area to watch the process. First, a packet of thickner was added to the milk, which causes the milk to curdle. Once the milk combo sat for a little bit, one of the students began to scoop off the whey. After the majority of the whey was removed from the bowl, the cheese was placed into a strainer and the excess liquid strained off. From the strainer, the cheese is placed into rings on a plate and then put into the fridge. Our host, already had some prepared, so we skipped the “waiting stage.” Then, everyone gave the queso fresco a try with fresh cane sugar. The combination sounds crazy, but I can assure you it was absolutely divine!

After sampling the queso fresco, everyone gathered their things and walked to the other portion of the farm where the sugar cane is grown. There, we learned the importance of the crop and had the opportunity to “eat” sugarcane. You do not actually eat sugarcane, rather, you bite it and suck out the sweet juice.

Then, our guide and his uncle put stalks of sugar cane through a press to make sugarcane juice for everyone to try. To add acidity to the juice, we had the option to squeeze lime into the drink.

Once everyone was sugared up, we headed back to the farm where we ate our packed lunches. At this point in the day, the weather took a turn for the worse for a second time (during the cheese-making the sky opened up in a torrential downpour.) As a result, the whole group tried to wait out the rain for a while. Myself and Ky’shun fell asleep on the couch. All the great food wore me out!

Sleeping on our gracious hosts’ couch

After 30 or so minutes, the rain had not changed. Our bus driver (bless him) went and moved the bus to a nearby road. Everyone then sprinted to the bus in the torrential downpour.

For the rest of the rainy Thursday, I spent time lounging in our quaint cabin with Audrey and Hannah.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Boquete, Panama: Day 1

At 2:00 am on Wednesday, I bordered a charter bus with the other Sol students to head to Boquete, Panama.

Now, you maybe wondering. Why exactly Boquete? Why go to Panama for three days?

Well, in Costa Rica myself and the other Sol students are on tourist visas and not student visas. After 90 days, the tourist visas expire. Because our program surpasses the time frame of the tourist visa, Sol takes all of the students to Panama for a couple of days so we can receive a new tourist visa. Up until a few years ago, Sol took students to Nicaragua because the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border was much closer to Heredia. However, Nicaragua is currently in the midst of a civil war with a level 4 travel warning. As a result, Sol taking students to Panama is pretty recent.

I had really low expectations traveling to Panama and I have to say they were easily surpassed!

Around mid to late morning, our bus arrived at the Costa Rica-Panama border. Everyone had to disembark the bus and line up to receive their exit stamps. The border buildings were a real eye-opener for me. I kept thinking back to my time in Switzerland with my host sister Estelle and when we had drove to France to ski for the day (click here to read about that adventure). The ease of which people, goods, and services moved across borders in Europe is easy as a result of the European Union. Central America, however, is a whole different ball game.

In true Central American fashion, everything is beautiful chaos. There are street vendors trying to sell you fresh coconut juice while waiting in line. Random store fronts are along the road advertising that you can make copies there for a small fee. Bags are being unloaded from buses and searched by hand in a gated section of the complex. There is a lot going on in one place.

While waiting in line to receive my stamp, I could not stop thinking about the thousands of people who had made up the migrant caravan which dominated headlines last fall in the United States. I think what sparked this thought of mine happened to be a huge group of individuals who the Costa Rican officials had pulled aside on the opposite side of the baggage search area. From my spot in line, I could only see officials spouting off directions. Costa Rica by Central and South American standards is viewed as very advanced. With Nicaragua in the midst of a civil war and other countries in the region having stability issues with their economy or government, Costa Rica is viewed as a desirable country.

Our whole group luckily got through fairly quickly despite the line being long. A week prior, we had to turn in our exit tax money ($20 USD) along with other documentation. Since our program directors had processed some of the paperwork already, we only really needed our exit stamp from the Costa Rican border officials.

Everyone hopped onto the bus again. Before moving, we all made sure our passport stamps had the correct date on them. Then, our bus driver drove everyone to the Panama border control. There, everyone took all of their items off the bus.

I was surprised to find in this “free area” of sorts a bustling town with restaurants, stores, and taxis galore. Once again, beautiful chaos.

We each got our passport stamps and put our bags through a scanner. Then, the whole group bordered the bus. We were officially admitted to Panama! Our bus had to stop for a second time and a gentleman from the Panamanian military got on to check our passports once again. After he disembarked, we set off for a nearby gas station/rest stop. There, I was flabbergasted to see signs for a liter of gas for less than $1 USD (U.S. dollars are the official currency of Panama).

After our rest stop, we continued driving on ward until reaching the quaint town of Boquete. At the tourist information area, everyone took pictures with the sign, grabbed a snack at the cafe, and shopped for souvenirs.

Welcome to Boquete, Panama!

Our bus then continued to our hotel, which was located outside of the city of Boquete. We were greeted with some beautiful views.

Welcome to our hotel!

Once getting settled in, myself and some other students decided to take a couple of taxis into town to explore and grab some dinner. Split among 4 people, our cab ride only cost a $1 USD a person.

In town, we wandered in and out of souvenir shops and little markets. At a little market, myself and some of the other students talked a while with a gentleman named Fabio in Spanish. NOTHING is better than having someone tell you your Spanish is great and accent fabulous. Talk about a confidence booster! He explained that he makes everything in his shop by hand, so of course, I purchased a little Panamanian moccasin key chain from him to use as my ornament.

Then, we made our way to a local eatery for some dinner. We had asked the lovely employees at our hotel where we could find authentic food and also our cab driver. All three people recommended the restaurant we went to called El Sabrosón.

The restaurant was cafeteria-style. Basically, you selected your meat and then your sides. None of us knew the translations for anything on the board, so we all selected everything at random. Because the restaurant is cafeteria-style, some items were out for the day. I asked for a couple of different things and they didn’t have them. However, I ended up with a great meal of salad, rice, a beef and potato mixture, beans, candied plantains, and tres leches cake (separate of my main course). For everything you see (which is a LOT of food), I spend $5.50 USD. ALWAYS eat where the locals eat because the food is cheap and delicious! You also have the opportunity to mingle with locals or people watch, which is fun in my opinion. I loved sitting at the picnic tables with friends and chatting.

Panama meal #1

Once we had full bellies, we decided we were ready to head back to the hotel. Two people went in search of WiFi to contact the cab driver. Since there were 6 of us, we figured we needed to get two cabs. Much to our surprise, however, our cap driver said “hop on in!” So, 6 girls and a cab driver headed down the winding roads to our hotel jamming to some Spanish music.

A wonderful first day in Panama!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Wrapping up my second class in Costa Rica!

On Tuesday this week, I wrapped up my second class, Advanced II, in Costa Rica! This time, I finished with an A!

Advanced II primarily focused on conversation and not grammar. During the course of the past 4 weeks, I do believe my conversational skills have grown. They are not quite where I want them to be quite yet, but improvement is improvement!

To celebrate finishing our second module and also successfully climbing Cerro Chirripó, Hannah, Audrey, and I went with our sore bodies to the central part of Heredia. There, we went to an ice cream shop and bought Superconos. Best. Decision. Ever! Who doesn’t like an ice cream cone the size of their face?! Better yet, ice cream that costs 1700 colones the equivalent of $3. In anticipation of this venture, I did not eat any lunch.

Oh happy day! A girl and her Supercono!
Hannah and Sydney: ice cream fanatics
Supercono selfie: Hannah, me, and Audrey

I will have you know, I ate all of the ice cream in my Supercono and almost finished all of the cone. Towards the end, I started to feel a bit queasy. I decided to err on the side of caution and call it a day.

Now that I have had one Supercono, I do not think I see a second in my future. One is enough for me!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo