Friday, March 26, 2010

On Love and Surfing........

photo: courtesy of photobucket

I’m a control freak. Make that a self-control freak. Okay, an emotional control freak. Some people prefer to control others unleashing a litany of passive-aggressive behavior in order to get their way. Me? I’m more of an eyes-on-your-own-paper kind of girl. When things get too sticky- code for “You’re getting too close to my emotional edges” - I shut down and head for the hills taking my vulnerability with me.

I’m not a coward, though. I push my limits in all other areas of life. I’m the girl, who travels to Mexico for a month, knowing not a soul. I’m the one who left a lucrative job in the corporate world to pursue my creative passions.

So, signing up for Surf School in Costa Rica was right up my alley. It was Winter; I was pale; and I always wanted to learn how to surf. For five days, I stuck close to my adorable, South American Surfing Instructor, Rodrigo, whose shouts of “P-AH-ddle! P-AH-ddle! Get Up!” rang in my ears long after school was over.

On the third day, I had a revelation. As I paddled out to Rodrigo, who was straddled on his board, sitting upright, feet dangling in the water, he gave me the usual, “You ready?” I was exhausted. The muscles in my arms were on fire, my nose running like a five-year old, and the waves seemed bigger that day than they had all week. But, I’m no slouch. I nodded and got into position.

As I lay there on the board, Rodrigo offered some last minute reminders. “Fit W-EYE-d. Bock foot fearst. Then front. Okay? Let’s go. P-AH-ddle! P-AH-ddle! Hard!”

Determination kicked in and I focused on everything he told me. As I waited on the board, face down and ready to paddle, I thought about how bizarre the whole experience was. I couldn’t see the waves coming and I was completely reliant upon Rodrigo’s judgment and direction. It was a total loss of control.

I thought of Rob. Tall, dark and beautifully chiseled Rob, whose deep voice alone could drive a woman to orgasm. We dated for almost a year. He was a Personal Trainer who liked his weed and his workouts – pretty simple. He loved my spirit and the fact that I spoke my mind. He was also a great listener.

“I have a fear of losing myself in relationship,” I told him early on. “I’m not sure I know how to be independent and committed.”

“I don’t want anything from you, Liz,” he said quietly, deep voice soothing my mental chatter. “Just, do you.”

Unfortunately, “doing me” consisted of bobbing and weaving like Muhammad Ali

And Rob was a good opponent, dipping left, when I went right, never doing that hug-thing boxers do when they want to stop the fight.

I tried, but I was terrified. What if I really let him in and actually got used to it? Then, what? What if he leaves? What if I couldn’t function without him?

I give him a lot of credit because he never pushed. Though, sometimes, I wonder if he had pushed a little harder, if we’d still be together, but, alas, we aren’t.

I just couldn’t let go – of myself.

In Costa Rica, I realized that learning to surf is a lot like love. Sitting there on my surfboard, I had to put myself in someone else’s hands. I had to let go and not only trust my instructor, but I had to trust the fact that when the time came for me to ride that wave, I could do it. I wondered how I could lay there, my back to the waves, with no idea of the height or the timing of the oncoming wave, waiting for that moment every surfer feels when the swell of the wave takes hold and challenges you to ride along with it.

Love is just like a wave – it swells, takes hold and the rest is just a ride. All you can do is remember to keep your feet planted properly and your focus on what’s in front of you. Sometimes, you fall – hard. Other times, you find that wave and everything slows down, as you truly feel like you are one with the ocean.

For me, I decided if I can ride the wave of Mother Nature, I can certainly give love a try.

As for Rob, he’s got a new girlfriend. I hear she’s teaching him how to surf.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Rinse and Spin

photos by julia aron

This morning, I said my final “Adios” to LAOra as today is the last day of school. Julia is finished with her classes for the day and has agreed to join me and my surfing peeps on the beach. She’s bringing her camera which is exciting to all as we’re all anxious to document our surfing progress.

I’ve got cramps, a condition not conducive to surfing; It takes almost half my energy to tolerate them – not a good thing, considering I need as much strength as possible to get my surf on.

At the beach, the waves are looking a lot like they did yesterday in Hermosa – a fact that still excites me today – in spite of my cramps. I’m ready to make my last day of surfing here, a memorable one. We do the usual splitting off – Ben, Mike and me with Rodriguo and the others with their respective Surf Instructors. Julia’s on the beach, camera in-hand, excited to take pictures of me riding the waves.

I give her a small wave as I make my way into the water and out to sea. Getting out proves to be fairly simple because the waves have died down for the moment. I paddle over to Rodriguo who’s already sitting on his board, legs straddled, dangling in the water. “You ready, Leez?” he asks, flashing me that sheepish smile I’ve come to appreciate over the past week. I want to tell him that I’m feeling less than 100% and that I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up, but that’s not really my style. Fake it ‘til ya make it, right? “I’m ready Rodriguo!” I say, mimicking his seated position on my board.

And then, we wait.

There’s a lot of waiting in surfing. Some of this has to do with the fact that I’m still an amateur and not ready to take every wave that comes. But, even the others who’ve been here much longer, don’t necessarily take every wave that comes. So, we spend the first hour waiting a lot. I try to catch a few waves, but they don’t really pan out. I imagine it looks like I’m descending down a flight of stairs from afar as I sink slowly down into the water, atop of my board.

Finally, Rodriguo calls out to me to get ready. I paddle closer to him and get into position. He reminds me to keep my “fit wEYEd” as he yells for me to “P-AH-ttle! P-AH-ttle!” With that, I can feel the wave coming up behind me, I try to steady my breath and focus on getting my feet wide on the board.

I’ve got good position and as I stand up to full height on the board, I instantly realize something – this wave is freakin’ HUGE! I am way the fuck up here! Maybe I’m not really cut out to surf, ‘cuz this doesn’t excite me – THIS SCARES ME! And with that, I panic, pretty much jumping right off my board and into the water. Doh!

I don’t even bother to look back at Rodriguo because I know he’s going to give me that familiar shrug of his shoulders, a silent gesture of “What happened?”

But, I’m not off the hook because Ricardo, the Head Instructor, calls out to me, “Why you jump off yer board?” I don’t even bother with an answer. I’m sure it would go over real well if I yelled back at him, “Because I got spooked!”

And like a chorus of hecklers, Carlos, Surf Instructor/Photography teacher calls over to me. “How beeg you think tha’ wave wuz?”

With my palms on the board and my feet still in the water, I lean forward and yell, “I dunno. 20 feet?”

This sends Carlos into a fit of laughter and I ignore him, getting back on my board to paddle back out to the others.

He calls out to me, “Four feet!” And I hear the laughter behind me as I make my way back to Rodriguo.

“You okay, Leez?” He asks, pulling my board closer to his.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. I just got a little scared.”

He tells me not to be scared, which, of course, is easy for him. He’s only been surfing a million times in his life.

After some more waiting, I try to take another wave. My footing is off and I barely get past a kneeling position, finally slipping off the board completely. The only problem is there are a few larger waves behind me and for what seems like an eternity, I am thrown around in the undertow like a rag doll, swallowing a ton of salt water. The good thing about having a leash is that you’ll never lose your board. The bad thing, that I quickly learn today is that while I’m being thrown around, it is too – pulling my right leg practically out of its socket.

I finally reemerge from the water and get my bearings. I’m a lot further in than I expected. I grab the leash and pull on the rubber tubing to retrieve my board. Mike’s about ten feet away from me and we shoot each other a quick, “Holy Shit, that was intense!” look before we begin the long paddle back out to the others.

As I paddle out, I take stock of my physical condition. I didn’t hurt myself on that last one, but I am completely exhausted. I think I’ll just chill for a bit when I get back out to Rodriguo. My arms are sore and tired from paddling and I feel like I’m not really getting anywhere.

The waves have picked up and they seem to be coming faster and harder than before. If I can just get past the point where they are breaking, I’ll be fine. The only problem is that I can’t. The wave coming toward me is a doozy and I know that I’m going to have to get under my board for this one. I just hope I can hold onto my board once the wave breaks.

I paddle vigorously towards it and as it breaks about five feet in front of me, I grasp my board, flip over and under the water, hugging it close to the front of my body. The wave is so strong that my board lurches upwards, pulling my arms and the rest of me with it. I learn later that, in this case, I should just let the board go, but right now, I hold on as if my life depends on it. Unfortunately, once the wave passes, the board comes back at me with a WHAP! - hitting me in the forehead. More swallowed salt water. Much more pain my body; and the sinking feeling that I’m not even close to reaching the others.

I pull myself together, get back on the board, and do it all over again. This time, I know what to expect and unfortunately, it creates more fear rather than less. As I see the next wave coming towards me, two things cross my mind – the first is the fear that I won’t be able to handle this and that I’m going to get seriously hurt. The second is to Carlos: Four feet my ass!

As expected, it’s more of the same, me flipping the board and getting whipped around like Raggedy Ann. Finally, I get back out to the others and Rodriguo tells me to “Take it EE-see for awhile.” No arguments here.

I must be feeling better because while I’m taking a timeout, the frustration starts to build. I don’t want to go out like this! I want my last day of surfing to be a success. I have to get up at least one more time. And with that, I tell Rodriguo I’m ready to get back in the game.

After more waiting, I’m finally ready to go. With my board facing the shore and my arms paddling as hard as they can, I feel the swell of the wave lurch me forward indicating the point at which I’m supposed to get up. I pull myself up and plant my feet on the board. It’s not a perfect plant, but I’m up and I try to cheat my feet outward a bit. Unfortunately, this screws up my balance and I go down – hard!

After more spinning and lurching, I get above water only to find that the entire left side of my body has gone numb. This can’t be good. I can barely hold onto my board as the waves continue to throw me around. It’s not like the ocean’s going to wait until I feel better. I look out to Rodriguo so I can let him know that I’m done, but he beats me to it and gives me the fingers across the neck sign, calling it a day.

The numbness in my body overtakes the disappointment of ending on not-such-a-great note and as I make my way to shore, I’m not sure what to do. Ben’s already on shore, wrapping the leash around his board. “You okay?” He calls out to me, as I stumble out of the water. “I don’t know. My whole left side is numb.” I say, struggling to hold the board while I unhook my leg from the leash.

I want to cry – mostly ‘cuz I’m scared. But, the numbness is now accompanied by a general pain in my left arm. I do my best to pack my board up, wrapping the leash around the back fins and dipping the front-end into the water to get the sand off.

Julia has no idea what’s going on and while I’m doing my best not to throw myself onto the sand screaming, “Ow! Ow! Help me!” she’s all about taking my picture. The sun is setting behind me and in spite of my pain, I know it’s a great shot. So, I move closer to the water to give her a better shot and give her a phony smile.

When I reach her, she’s all excited. “How was it? You looked great out there!”

I tell her about my pain and numbness.

“Oh shit, girl. Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure.” And I mean it.

Ben’s sweet and offers to load my board onto the van for me. Rodriguo and I pose for a picture and we all pile into the van and head back to school.

So, my last day of surfing wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be, but I loved the experience. And…call me crazy – but I’d do it again.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

St. Paddy's Day & Mutlitasking


photo courtesy of

Check out my friend, Matthew's blog about the madness of St. Patrick's Day.  He's a great friend and an even better writer.  ENJOY!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hermosa Beach

photos by julia aron

Hermosa Beach is more of the same – black sand and the greenery of the jungle at the shore’s edge. The big difference between here and Herradura is a couple of beach bars that sit on the near side of the beach as opposed to the ones in Herradura that sit on the far side of the dusty beach road.

I’m definitely feeling short-tempered today, so parking myself on the beach for a few hours, is a perfect remedy to my crankiness. We lay our towels on the hot, black sand about twenty feet our so from the tide line. Julia takes off for the water as I settle down onto my towel. The Sun is really hot as per usual and within ten minutes, I’m ready for a dip myself.

I like this beach. It feels a bit livelier, though we’re pretty much the only ones out here. Perhaps it’s the reggae coming from one of the beach bars. The waves are pretty big today and I can’t decide if I’m bummed out or relieved that I won’t be surfing this afternoon.

We spend a few hours on the beach, occasionally moving our towels further away from the water as the tide continues to creep towards us. The third time we move our stuff, Julia laughs, “We’ll probably have to move again in ten minutes.” I think we have a little more time, but true to her prediction, the tide comes in right up to our knees, catching us by surprise and soaking our towels! I’m sure we’re a sight as we both squeal out loud, leaping up to get our things out of the way, holding our untied bikini tops to our bodies as we drag our wet, heavy towels away from the water.

“I’m ready for a drink.” I say, wringing out the bottom half of my towel.

We head up to the Beach Bar with the reggae music. As we do, we’re followed by an adorable chocolate Lab, whose owner is out surfing. We’re not sure if he’s allowed in the bar however, he leads the way as if it’s his place. We order some nachos and margaritas and I’m pleased that the prices are fairly reasonable. Happy Hour doesn’t start for another 45 minutes and we agree that, if the margaritas are good, we’ll have some more.

It’s great, just sitting there, watching the ocean, the surfers and the sun sink slowly into the horizon. I feel a million miles away from Spanish and surfing and my earlier edginess, happy to be with Julia, sipping frozen margaritas.

Early on, we notice there’s an abundance of Americans in the place. Though, they don’t all seem to be tourists. Somehow or another we strike up a conversation with a very nice woman, Rochelle, who’s a transplant from San Francisco. She’s a little thing, probably in her thirties and it surprises me to hear that she’s a big surfer. If her tiny self can do it, I surely can! She tells us about her move to Costa Rica and how much she loves it. Finally! Julia and I have been looking to talk to people who live here and as we spend a few hours drinking and snacking, meeting a few others who’ve moved from the States.

One of the guys, Jason, is a transplant from Seattle. He runs Las Olas, a beachfront hotel just up the road. He invites us to have dinner at the hotel, offering a ride back to Jaco, since he and his buddies are heading that way to buy alcohol for the night. We’re game and looking forward to learning more about life as a local. As we wait for our change, Jason and his people leave the bar. “I guess we just lost our ride,” I point out to Julia, putting the change back into my purse.

Jason comes back into the restaurant as we’re gathering our stuff. “I thought you girls were already outside!” We follow him out and he’s in the lead, then Julia and then me. He’s walking pretty fast and he says something to Julia like, “Ya gotta keep up.” It feels kind of New York to me, but hey, a ride’s a ride, right?

On the way to Jaco, Jason’s friend, who’s visiting from Florida, is driving. We chat easily with him about his plans to move to Costa Rica and start a small construction business. Jason, who was so talkative at the Bar, is completely quiet up front. I don’t mind, but I do find it a little odd. As we enter Jaco, he finally speaks up asking where we’d like to be dropped. “You can just take us as far as your going,” I say. Rule number one about traveling as a female: NEVER let anyone know where you’re staying. We say our goodbyes at the Liquor Store and after the ride, I’m not so sure I want to hang out with these guys after all.

“That was a strange ride,” I say to Julia as we walk through town back towards the School. “I don’t know if I’m really interested in hanging out with them anymore.”

Julia laughs, “I know, right? He was all like, ‘So, where are you girls going tonight?’ And I’m thinking, ‘uh…weren’t we all hanging out together?’ In the end, I told him we might see him out later.”

Whatever. We decide to stay in, cook some dinner and make it an early night. Tomorrow is the last day of school and I want to be ready for my final showdown with the Pacific.

Friday, March 12, 2010

HAPPY Birthday to a truly wonderful soul!

My friend, Todd, is celebrating the big 4-0 today. He’s been a fixture in my life for more than ten years – as a chiropractor, boss, friend and confidante. Though he’s still the only guy I know who can put his hands on me without asking, the best part of knowing him is his friendship. Todd is the ultimate Giving Tree, no lie. He’s more than just a guy who runs a successful Wellness Center in midtown Manhattan, where, on any given day, when you visit the office, everyone is in a good mood. A complete extension of his innate positive energy.

I came to know Todd in the late 90’s, when my voice teacher recommended I see his father, Sheldon, for some bodywork. Sheldon Sinett was a legend of sorts. This guy could pretty much tell what was wrong just by looking at you. And the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree because Todd’s got the same gift. Only his gift goes beyond the physical. Over the years, I started seeing him regularly and he’d always know when I walked in the door whether I was having a good day or a bad one. A true gift to someone like me, who always chooses to pretend everything’s fine so as not to make others uncomfortable.

Todd’s seen me through some rough stuff and not once, did he ever judge, criticize or try to talk me out of whatever I was feeling. For that, I will always be grateful. He’s the epitome of a good soul and today, I want to recognize him and wish him the Happiest Birthday ever! It’s his love and support and sheer goodness that touches so many people’s lives – I can attest to that, personally.

Most of you don’t know him, but in honor of his birthday, why not reach out to one of your friends and let them know just how special they are?

The Best Laid Plans – “Pura Vida!!”

photo: courtesy of

It’s Thursday and suddenly, I’m very much aware of the fact that our vacation is nearing an end. School ends tomorrow evening and we’re off to Arenal early Saturday for the last two days of our trip. Time has moved slowly here – but in a good way. I feel like I’ve been in Costa Rica much longer than five days; a result, I suppose, of learning so many new things between Spanish class and surfing.

Speaking of Spanish class, LAOra combined Levels 2 and 3 yesterday for a trip to the Supermarket. In spite of her intensity and sometimes abrasive delivery, she’s a good teacher and I’m learning a lot – though it kind of sucks that everyone at school speaks English, not really an environment conducive to applying what I’ve learned! Yesterday, she gave us a ten or so questions to answer (in Spanish) based on our visit to Mas X Menos (translated as “More for Less”), the Supermarket in town.

I was paired up with Tia, a 31 year old girl, from Norway. I didn’t spend much time with her prior to our trip to the market and it was nice to get to know more about her. She works on a cruise ship – what is it with all of these people working on ships, and why didn’t I think of doing that in my younger years? She’s very quiet, almost timid, but in talking to her, I realized, she’s no mouse. I especially appreciated her drive to get to the store before everyone else, so “we can be first and not look stupid asking store employees the same questions as everyone else.”

We made a good team. Julia and I had been to the store a few times, so I knew it well and Tia’s Spanish is much better than mine. In the end, we got in and got out in less than 30 minutes.

Today, Julia and I are feeling the pinch of the final days in Jaco. We decide to skip classes in the afternoon, rent a car and visit Manuel Antonio, a national park located about an hour from Jaco. I’ve heard great things about the place and Carlos, Julia’s photography teacher, showed us some pictures. The place looks beautiful with waterfalls and lush plant life. Oh and there are monkeys too! Julia likes this.

We ask Hannah, the School’s Director about renting a car and she offers to call one of the places in town to get one. Kim’s going to join us as well, which will be fun. I like Kim. She’s very down to earth and quite interesting.

I’m excited to see something other than Jaco, so when Hannah informs us that all the cars are booked for the day, it’s hard to conceal my disappointment. “Well, maybe we can rent from somewhere else,” I suggest. Hannah then informs us that the park actually closes at 3pm. It is now 1pm. By the time we get a car, get on the road and get to the park, it will most likely be too late.
Now, I want to throw something. It’s so frustrating getting anything done here. The day we cut class, we walked around town asking all of the tour operators if there was anything we could do, but noooooooo, everything started at 7am! Grrrrrr. We ask Hannah if she’s got any other suggestions and at the same time, Julia mentions going to the local waterfalls. Hannah calls the tour company to check on that and of course, it’s too late for a waterfall tour too!

I’m not a big fan of tours and neither is Julia, so we ask about just doing it on our own. You’d think that between Carlos, who’s milling around taking pictures while this is going on, and Hannah – both people who live here – somebody would have a cool suggestion! But, they don’t and I’m not feeling inspired to do much of anything anymore.

In the end, Kim does her own thing and Julia and I decide to go to Hermosa, a small town to the north – right near the all-you-can-eat sushi place. It’s another hot one and as we walk towards the main road to hail a cab, we pass a cute looking restaurant/taco stand called Star Fruit – definitely a place to check out before we leave on Saturday.

In the cab on the way to Hermosa, our cab driver doesn’t say much except the token Costa Rican salutation, “Pura Vida.” This saying reminds me of “Prego” in some ways, where the Italians use it universally. Sometimes they say it instead of “You’re welcome.” Other times, it replaces, “Hello.”

“Pura Vida” means the good life and everyone in Costa Rica says it. However, it’s more of the way they say it, that we both find odd. Julia put it the best the other day when she said, “It’s this strange insider thing, like they drank the Kool-Aid or something and they’re all walking around saying, ‘Pura Vida’. Girl, imagine everyone walking around in New York, with this goofy look on their faces, greeting everyone with ‘I Love New York!’”

So, the cab driver’s continuous loop of “Pura Vida” adds to my already irritable vibe. Every time we ask him something, he smiles widely and replies, “Pura Vida.” It’s like we’re on Candid Camera or something.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

photos by Julia Aron (except for the one of us!)

Back at the school, I notice our names on the whiteboard by the pool announcing the all you can eat sushi night at 7pm. That’s strange, ‘cuz I doubt Julia signed us up. Maybe it’s a joke since Julia and I are always keeping to ourselves.

When I return to our room, I ask her about it.

She sighs. “Yeah, Carlos talked me into it.”

Carlos is her photography teacher and a surf instructor.

“He said, ‘Why you girls no go?’ He wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’m sorry girl.”

Her attempt at Carlos’ accent cracks me up; in fact all of Julia’s attempts at replicating accents are hilarious as they always end up sounding like an elderly Chinese woman.

I’m cool with going tonight, though I'm still not keen on eating the sushi, however, I’m ready to party a little.

After a hot shower, we'e ready to join the others for the big sushi night. Two taxis take us to a place in Hermosa Beach, just 10 minutes north of Jaco. On the way, everyone’s excited for sushi and Ladies' Night at The Backyard Bar which is next door. Julia and I are already agreed that we’ll skip the Ladies' Night festivities. It just screams of college night and that has no appeal to either one of us.

The buzz from one of Mike’s beers has me feeling pretty good, so when it’s time to pay the taxi, I hardly notice that it’s a lot more expensive than it should be. Kim, who’s with us, points it out and Julia’s not happy, especially because we’re not paying the taxi driver directly. One of the surf instructors, who was on the Crocodile Tour with us earlier, is collecting money. I didn’t like his energy this morning, but I just figured it was because I was cranky. As he’s asking for more money, I realize I still don’t like his energy, but I just want to get inside and keep my buzz going. I leave the details to Julia.

Inside, it’s immediately clear that we’re not at a Sushi Restaurant, but at a bar. Okay. Still not feeling that all-you-can-eat thing, but right now, I’m all about a buzz. Julia seems a bit peeved and when I ask her if she wants a drink, she declines. This is strange because she’s usually up for a drink, but I chalk it up to her wanting to be a bit cleaner on the trip.

Kim and I are chatting at the bar with our beers and I notice that Julia’s not really joining. This is a challenge for me. I know I’m more of an outward personality than Julia, but habit throws me into caretaking mode and I ask her if she’s okay and she says yes, but I know something’s up. I try to prod her into telling me, but she’s clearly not in the mood. I should just leave her alone, but I don’t. I can’t. I feel responsible for no logical reason at all – old habits die hard, I suppose. I continue to ask her things like, “Do you want to sit down and eat? Do you want to check out the other room?” She keeps shrugging her shoulders as if to say, “I don’t care.” Now, I’m frustrated because I get the sense that she doesn’t want to be here and what am I supposed to do? I’m not crazy about the majority of these people, but I wouldn’t mind socializing with them tonight to break it up a little. I can’t just leave her on her own – or at least I decide that I can’t leave her on her own. I’ve never been the person to say, “Okay, well, I’m going over there. You do what you want to do.”

It’s truly the only moment of frustration for me on the trip and I finally say something like, “Look. I don’t know what you want to do here. Clearly, there’s something wrong. If you don’t want to be here, that’s fine, we’ll go….but you’ve got to give me something here.” In hindsight, I realize that as I said, I’m more outward. If something’s bothering me, you’ll know it. The mistake I sometimes make with others is expecting them to be the same way.

In the end, we sit down and eventually, things start to flow. I later found out that she was very upset about the whole taxi thing, feeling the same thing I felt just before surfing – the frustration of the surf instructors and their attitudes.

Me and Kim showing off or long tongues

The sushi, on the other hand, is quite good and we definitely eat our money’s worth.

Rodriguo shows up and it's the first chance I get to really sit down and talk with him. I realize a few things about him. For one, he’s not a big joiner. There’s a shyness about him as well as a bit of a language barrier, which I took to be arrogance. Once again, I’m reminded of another one of my flaws – taking things personally, without all the information. I learn a lot about him:  He’s got a 1 and a half year old son; he loves house music and cooking. I don’t think he’s a big partier because when everyone is ready to move onto The Backyard Bar for Ladies’ Night, he stays behind.

Julia, Ben and me hitch a ride back to the School with Ricardo, another surf instructor. Julia spends the ride teaching Ben all of the Spanish slang she knows which is a far cry from what he and I are learning from LAOra.

Not a bad day today - Crocodiles, Surfing, Sushi and a few life lessons.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

photos by julia aron

It’s 2pm and time to surf.

We all gather in the front courtyard by the pool to get our boards out of the storage closet. I’m happy I was able to get a long-sleeve rash guard. After Monday’s surf experience, the more covered up I am, the less likely it will be to get another rash.

Who knew a rash guard was a shirt? I sure didn’t! Back in New York, the School sent me a list of stuff to bring and on it, was a “rash guard”. I just figured it was a cream or an ointment, so I went to Duane Reade looking for a tube. The guy at the store had no idea what I was talking about because he sent me to the baby section where they keep stuff for diaper rash. I kept explaining that I was going to surfing and I needed some rash guard and people kept sending me over to the Desitin and A and D ointment.

Later, I was at Paragon buying the required surf shorts when the saleswoman who was helping me asked, “Do you need a rash guard too?” “YES!” I breathed. “Do you carry that here?” “Of course!” she said, holding up a short-sleeved, spandex shirt that looked like something a cyclist might wear. Oops!  No wonder.

In the end, I decided to wait to get one – the ones Paragon didn’t match my navy and white little surf shorts and no matter how I do surfing, I need to look cute.

One of the girls at school lent me her rash guard on my fist day, but it kept riding up.  I ended up with a nice little rash on my stomach, just above my belly button. Plus, I was worried about tan lines. Hers was short-sleeved and I could just see myself showing up to model with a farmer’s tan.

So, today, I’ve got a new rash guard, with long sleeves and it matches my shorts – though, I’m over the fashion part – surfing is no joke. I’m happy to just get up, stay up and not hurt myself.

Carlos, an instructor is handing out boards. “Wheech board for yew?” he asks. I don’t know. He’s the instructor. Shouldn’t he know? I shrug my shoulders and he calls out to Rodriguo. They speak in Spanish for a few sentences. When they start laughing, it’s hard for me to not to feel all self-conscious and worried that they’re making fun of me.

That’s the thing about this place. None of the instructors are overly warm and friendly. I feel like a bother to them and if I don’t address them, they never say hello or acknowledge my presence. It’s hard on the confidence for sure. It’s also hard to be excited about surfing. Rodriguo’s a good teacher, but I don’t feel much of a bond there which is kind of a bummer.

I get a smaller board today which is good because the other one was difficult to carry. However, the smaller the board the harder it is to balance which obviously brings in a new set of challenges.

Julia, just out of yoga, stops by to see how I’m doing.

Holding the board under my arm, I lean in so nobody will hear me. “I’m okay. I’m just to over this bullshit with the instructors. They’re so freakin’ cocky and I feel like they only have eyes for the people that kiss their asses.”

Julia nods. “Yeah, I get it, girl. But you don’t want to necessarily go into today with a bad attitude – it’ll keep you from being open to learning.”

She’s totally right and as much as I want to bitch about all things that seem Junior High, her words remind me that I’m here to learn how to surf – friendship and bonding are secondary.

With that, I bid Julia good-bye and we all bring our boards out to the van. Rodriguo is standing on top as per usual, calling each of us to hand him our boards to stack on the roof. “Leez!” He calls. I hand my board up to him. “Am I with you today?” I ask. Hell, nobody tells you much around here – I might as well ask. He nods and gives me a sheepish smile, which in spite of his lack of verbiage puts me at ease.

At the beach, the waves are less than exciting. We do our usual warm-up, taking a run down the beach and back. I’m excited to do this. I’m determined to do this. I’m also hoping I won’t be as nervous as I was on Monday.

In the water, it’s business as usual. Mike, Ben and myself are with Rodriguo, though the guys seem to be able to hold their own, catching waves while we stay behind. It’s pretty funny because when big waves come, Rodriguo’s always like, “Leez. P-AH-ttle out! Mike, Ben, get ready.” Normally, I like to be included, or shall I say keep up, but in this case, I’m good with letting them take the big waves. I’ll just hang out on my board and wait for mine.

The new board is a challenge. It’s smaller and not as wide as Monday’s board. I’m having a problem balancing, just on my stomach. I can’t even imagine what it will be like to stand. It’s also very slippery. The first few times I try to get up, my back foot slips out from under me which puts me in a kneeling position – like I’m proposing marriage or something – just before I fall off the board completely. It’s very frustrating and each time I get back on the board and paddle out to Rodriguo, he says, “Wha happened Leez? You need to kip jour fit w-eye-d." He draws a line on my board, in the wax, to show me where my hands need to be.  This, I assume, is to help me to get my feet wider when I push up off the board.  "Fit w-eye-d. Okay?” 

Yeah, sure.  The board is waxed in two places – obviously the places where my feet need to be. That’s the purpose of the wax is to create traction. I wonder if my legs are too short because the distance between the wax is really wide. Mike even notices this and tells Rodriguo. But Rodriguo stands firm. “Fit W-EYE-d. Bock foot fearst. Then front. Okay? Let’s go.” He motions for me to paddle over to him. “Leez. Ready?”


Determination kicks in and I focus on everything he’s telling me. As I wait on the board, face down and ready to paddle, I think about how bizarre this whole experience is. I can’t see the waves coming. I’m completely reliant upon Rodriguo’s judgment and direction. It’s a total loss of control – no wonder why I’m having such difficulty. Julia’s words come back to me, just as Rodriguo’s yelling, “P-AH-ttle! P-AH-ttle! Hard!”

“You’ve got to be open to this Liz, or else it’s going to affect your learning……”   Julia’s words as the wave comes up from behind and takes me forward. I focus on my feet and getting them as wide as possible. Jumping up on the board, I tell myself, “I’m going to do this. It’s going to happen.” Pushing off the board with my arms, I hop up onto the board – legs wide – and I’m UP!!

As I gather my balance, things slow down and I begin to remember all of the stuff Rodriguo’s been teaching me. Knees pointed inward. Abs strong. Front arm out – back arm, loose. And just like that, I’m surfing! And just like that, I’m DOWN. But I don’t care, the minute or so that I was up made the falls, aches and pains and hard work totally worth it. 

I pull my board back to me by the leash, turn around, ready to go again.  Rodriguo, sitting on his board, legs straddled, raises his strong arm and give me the thumbs up.  A thrilling moment, for sure.

I just wish Julia was here to see it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Crocs and Sushi

photo by Julia Aron

After yesterday’s chill day in Herradura, today is going to be a busy one. Each week, the school organizes a trip for the students – last week was the Butterfly Farm – today, is a Crocodile Tour. I’ve never seen a crocodile live. We also have t be ready by 7:30am. Who knows if I’ll even be awake enough to see anything? Despite our bitching about the hour, we manage to get up.

Ricardo, one of the surf instructors is taking us to the boat in one of the vans. I’m still getting to know our fellow students but it’s way too early to engage in conversation and I’m grateful that they seem to understand, leaving me to my morning haze.

We arrive to the tour site, a small setup, with two canopied boats – the long ones, with plastic seats, two to a row. I’m glad the boat’s covered, because as usual, the sun’s strength feels like it should be noon as opposed to 8am!

Once on the boat, our guide, whose name escapes me, explains that we will be seeing many crocodiles most of which have names like, “George Bush” and “Monica Lewinsky”. The river is typical with murky waters and muddy shores. I like being in the boat, though. It’s soothing.

One of the amazing things about the climate in Costa Rica is the birds. At the beach yesterday, we saw hawks and the most colorful birds I’ve ever seen. Julia’s way more into that stuff and as much I make fun of her always excitedly pointing them out, I can’t help but take an interest. Here on the river, it’s no different. In fact a couple of birds, sparrows (thanks Julia!), join our group, sitting at the bow of the boat, keeping us company.

Our first crocodile sighting is a baby. It’s amazing how small it is! Not more than two feet, perhaps. I almost don’t see it as it blends into the mud on the shore so well. Next up is a larger bunch. I learn that the way to tell the difference between male and female crocodiles is by the head. The female has a longer, more pointed head, and it’s pretty cool to see them together to make the distinction.

We eventually run into “Osama Bin Laden” – the biggest of the bunch. Osama’s about 20 feet long. He’s 80 years old and as we approach him, he is still, with everything but his large head submerged in the water. His eyes are slightly open, watching us. We edge closer to him and the driver of the boat jumps onto shore, with a piece of raw chicken in his hand. I’m a little worried because from what we were told, crocodiles are territorial and this croc is on the move. What if he gulps that chicken and the instructor down in full swoop?

I remind myself that this guy’s a professional, however I can’t resist leaning into the guide, who’s now driving. “Has he ever been bitten?” The guide laughs, “Not Jet!” My eyes go back to the guide as he swings the chicken in front Osama’s face, goading him to come closer. Everyone on the boat is up and taking pictures. I’m just praying – something I don’t do much of, but have been doing a lot of since my arrival – thank you surfing!

After Osama’s breakfast, we head back to shore and then back to school. We’ve got a full day ahead of us, with Spanish and Photography class starting right when we get back. I like Spanish a lot, though it’s definitely challenging. When LAOra calls on me in class, my nerves take over and I automatically revert to French, the other language I know best answering, “Oui! I mean si!”

I also like the people in my class. Kim, 27, works on a private yacht based in St. Maarten. She’s from Australia and I’ve immediately taken to her. (In our skit, she and I were “the lovers”) Sami is really sweet and very young – 22 – but she’s got a maturity about her. Mike, whom I’ve mentioned before, continuously cracks me up. His imitation of the late Crocodile Hunter on the boat was hysterical – his accent sounding semi-Australian with a hint of mid-western in it.

I won’t see Julia until after surfing, because I go straight to it after Spanish class. My neck is a bit better today, so I will make another attempt at catching a few waves and not hurting myself further. Tonight, there is an “All you can Eat Sushi” party at some bar in Hermosa, the next town over. Most everyone is going, though Julia and I are still undecided.

The idea, of all you can eat Sushi is just scary. It’s pretty much a cardinal rule to never mix the two. All you can eat usually means, all we couldn’t sell – put sushi into that mix and well, you get the picture. Another reason we’re still on the fence about tonight is the whole joining-in factor. We’re both not really feeling the communal vibe, though I will say that I’m warming up to the dynamic a little more each day.

There’s definitely the “in” group which has no appeal to me, but I know that vibe when I see it. I noticed it on the first day of surfing. One girl in particular seems to try really hard to always be the center of attention. She continuously inserts herself into every conversation and it’s definitely a turn-off – being aware of someone competing with you when you don’t even want to be in the game.

We’ll play the sushi thing by ear.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Final Day of Surfing

all photos courtesy of Julia Aron

Ben and Me getting ready for our final day of surfing.

Some of my fellow surf students....Mike, Kim, Lily, Holly and Ben
Ricardo's in the middle - one of the surf instructors


Warming up

Goin' in

Rodriguo - the BEST instructor ever!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

all photos courtesy of Julia Aron



Playin' hooky on Herradura Beach

Crocodile Tour

Our guide feeding "Osama Bin Laden"

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cuttin' Class

Editors Note:  Sorry there are no pix today....I'm having problems with the internet connection...I'll post some when I can!

It’s day #2 of classes and I’ve decided to blow off surfing this afternoon. I totally expected to wake up today completely unable to lift my arms, after yesterday’s first-ever, surfing experience. However, it’s my neck that will keep me from the waves today.

I really want to go and I hate the idea of giving up though there’s a small part of me, to be honest, that’s a little intimidated by the idea of going out there again today. If fear were the only factor, I’d surely push through it, however, hurting myself further on just day 2 would ruin the entire trip, so after hemming and hawing out loud for way too long, it’s official – no surfing today.

This gives us the freedom to do some exploring after Spanish and photography class. I think we both need a bit of an adventure outside of the school. It’s definitely more of a camp environment at this place. Most people buy food, cook in the communal kitchen and all hang around chatting. While I’m no anti-social, I’m not crazy about being constantly surrounded by twenty-somethings, chatting on Facebook and discussing their drunken escapades from the previous night. A short break from this seems like a great idea.

After class, we walk into town to see about catching an afternoon tour to someplace close. Unfortunately, all the tours start early in the morning. The only remaining choices are Zip Line tours where you attach to a harness and zip around in the trees, somewhere in the Rain Forest, I suppose. Juila’s done it and I’ve had enough excitement from surfing. Frustrated, we’re both feeling a little trapped – like we’re all dressed up with no place to go. We contemplate our next move as we walk down the main road in Jaco to the south, going further than we did on our first day.

Walking by a cute little shop, I decide to pop in while Julia’s taking some pictures outside. The guy who runs the store is American and instinct prompts me to ask him about any cool places to go for the rest of the day.

Joey turns out to be a gem! He’s full of suggestions, most of which are hard to retain, but we settle on going to Herradura Beach, which is about a 15 minute cab ride from Jaco to the south. We read about some beautiful white-sand beaches here, however, Joey informs us the sand is shipped in and the better choice is to walk to the far end of the beach where the jungle meets the beach. It’s very secluded and there’s the possibility of shade if we want it – a good thing since the sun is out in full force, once again.

So, off we go, singing Joey’s praises! It feels good to be doing something independent and adventurous.

Herradura Beach is quite beautiful – dark sand and lush trees from the jungle surrounding the shore. There are also a few beach bar/restaurants along the road, perfect for a cold beer and a snack after some sun.

It’s a perfect day. The water is cool and refreshing; there’s no schedule. And, besides the couple under the trees to our right, we’re the only ones on the beach. It’s the first time since we arrived that I feel totally relaxed.

After a few hours of swimming and sunning, we pack up and head back to where we first landed, with that snack and a beer in mind. Our meals, thus far, have been underwhelming and overpriced, so we’re a bit skeptical about where to eat, asking to see a menu at one spot, The Pelican Restaurant. It’s pricey, as we figured - $10 for an appetizer and $15 for an entrĂ©e. We’re hungry, so we decide to share an appetizer and then get something when we go back to Jaco.

As we sit down, the waiter brings over the “lunch” menu – now we’re talkin’!! The prices are much better and I’m excited for some shrimp tacos while Julia’s excited for the salad bar that’s included. The food doesn’t disappoint (finally!) and we head back to Jaco, this time, opting for the bus.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Books & Boards

 photo courtesy of

Today is our first full day of school. Julia (aka “Hoolia”) has photography while I have Spanish class, so we both wake up at 8am. Class starts at 10am, so we decide to have some breakfast in town. The main road into town is about a ten minute walk from the school and we quickly realize there is no such thing as “morning sun” – ya know the kind that’s not so strong until it hits about noon? Nope. Even at 8:30, it is roasting hot!
Breakfast is good, though more expensive than we anticipated - $10 per person. We’re both surprised at how expensive things are here since we heard prior to our departure, that Costa Rica is relatively cheap.

Back at school, I arrive to class armed with my Spanish/English dictionary, a notebook and a pen. I’m still very much prepared to be “outed” as the Spanish moron I believe myself to really be.  However, I’m determined not to have to switch to the earlier class. In this class, there are four of us – 1 guy and 3 girls. Laura, our teacher (pronounced “LAOra”) is a small woman in her thirties with a muscular build, a raspy voice that squeaks from time to time, and a serious demeanor.

She begins class speaking in Spanish and I’m grateful for that month in Mexico in September because I’m able to follow along. She spends the first few minutes of the class explaining that, Kim, our fellow student, will catch us up on what we missed from the week before. The School of the World offers packages anywhere from a week-long stay to six months. I guess it’s hard to run a Spanish class if there’s a constant influx of new students, though Kim doesn’t look too thrilled to be appointed our tutor. As LAOra leaves the room, she makes a face, “I don’t know what I can teach you guys.” Her Australian accent seems to emphasize her confusion at being chosen to lead when clearly she’s not that far ahead of us. In the end, we just copy down her notes and chat amongst ourselves – in English.

LAOra comes back and we begin to go over the basics, mostly conversational stuff, like, “What’s your name? How old are you? Where are you from?” It’s stuff I’ve already learned, but the specifics of verb usage is certainly helpful. At one point, LAOra says to me, “Oh. I remember your test. You did everything in Italiano.” Surprised, I reply, “ I don’t think that was me. I don’t even know Italian that well.” LAOra waves her finger at me. “NO! It was you.” I decide right then that I’m not too fond of LAOra – but she teaches all the Spanish classes, so I’m stuck with her. She goes on to mention that if I don’t know a certain amount of stuff, I should be in Spanish 1. I can’t resist adding with a tinge of defense in my voice, “Y’all placed me here, so....." I trail off deciding it's best not to piss off the teacher.

Ole! School has begun!!

At the end of class, we’re given homework which consists of a skit that the four of us have to make up incorporating all of the conversational stuff we learned today. The theme of the skit is a party and all LAOra keeps saying to us is, “SOOprize me. SOOprize me!” I join my fellow classmates who are just as unenthused as I am, in the next room to brainstorm ideas for the skit. In the end, we create a silly little scene where two of us announce that we are lesbians, one of us claims to be bisexual, and Mike, the only guy in the bunch, gets to exclaim in a pervy voice, “Me gusto Las Lesbianas!” It all reads like an X-rated Dick, Jane and Spot book, but class is over and I’m anxious to relax a little before surfing at 4pm.

The problem I have already is that the classes are stretched out over the entire course of the day giving us no time to do other things like explore places close to Jaco. This is a major drawback for me as I like to see other places beyond my immediate surroundings. Julia shares my irritation and we’re already planning to blow some classes off later in the week to take a day trip somewhere.

After making egg salad and a medley of fruit for lunch, it’s time to surf. Juila has yoga at 7pm so she decides to catch a ride to the beach with me and my fellow surfing students. We gather in the front area near the pool and everyone is given a surfboard. Mine is the largest, which is best for learning, but it’s huge – like seven or eight feet huge! We all have to carry our boards to the van and hand them up to one of the instructors so he can fasten them to the roof. Since mine is biggest, I’m first. Trying to maneuver my board through the front gate without hitting anyone is like getting on the 4 or 5 train at rush hour with bags of groceries, a suitcase and a stroller. I almost hit the instructor when I hoist my board up to him and suddenly, I’m extremely grateful that Juila’s coming with because I’m starting to feel really out of place and awkward.

We pile into the van – literally pile in. I’m so nervous there won’t be enough room for Juila because at this point, I want to cling to her like a child does to her mom on the first day of kindergarten, for security. Thankfully, we manage to fit into the van and with our three instructors in front, we’re off to the beach!

The van is old, with sagging seats and a sliding door that can only be opened from the outside.  The muffler sounds like it’s seen better days, but I suppose it’s perfect for transport to and from the beach. Inside, there are about ten of us, plus the three instructors. The conversation is lively as most of these people have been at the school for a few weeks and they are clearly comfortable with one another. The problem is that the majority of them seem really young to me – in fact, most of the people I’ve met are in their twenties, so it’s no surprise when the conversation turns to text messaging and places to go where they offer all-you-can-drink specials.

Juila’s sitting across from me and she almost loses it when someone mentions Beer Pong. Mike, who’s 41, practically leaps out of his seat and raises his arms with excitement. “BEER PONG!! YES! Woohoo!” The look on Julia’s face is enough to make me pee in my pants as we’re both not big fans of the game best suited for college people. Frankly, I’m surprised at Mike whom I thought would be riding at more of mine and Julia’s speed, but I guess you never know.

photo courtesy of

At the beach, we pile out of the van, retrieve our boards and split into groups. I’m with Mike and Ben, a young, fair-skinned Canadian guy with a terrible sunburn on his legs. Our instructor, Rodriguo is originally from Argentina, but has lived in Costa Rica for the past seven years. His body is muscular and compact which I would imagine makes for good surfing.

We begin with our boards on the sand, practicing our positions. Each of us gets to lie facedown on the board, doing a simulated paddle with our hands in the sand and eventually popping up to our feet into full-on surf position. I’m worried about the “pop-up” as I’m not sure I have the upper body strength required to get up so quickly. The upright position is kind of like a lunge, with your hips square and your arms out. The main difference is that your knees fold inward, shifting the majority of your weight to your hips and abdominals. It’s awkward, for sure, but Rodriguo thinks we’re ready to get in the water.

To say that I’m freaking out would be an understatement. My surfboard is huge; I’m the only girl in my group; and I’m not so sure that popping up on my board three times ashore has left me fully equipped to surf. I remind myself to put my trust in Rodriguo even though he’s not the warmest guy – he’s still the expert here.

The waves are not very large, which is a relief to me. Apparently, it’s not to the others, but I don’t care. I’d surf in the mini-pool back at the school if I could right now. We all take our boards into the water and follow Rodriguo, who doesn’t have a board, out to sea. Fighting the waves with my humungous board, I’m sure, is giving Julia quite a show as I try to avoid getting hit in the face as the breaking waves smash the nose of the board back towards me as I do my best to keep up with the rest of the guys.

Once past the point where the waves break, it’s a bit easier to maneuver and it feels more like working a giant kickboard. We line up next to one another as per Rodriguo’s instruction. I’m first in line and it looks like I’ll be the first to surf. (Gasp!) He tells me to get up on my board – facedown, like we practiced. While I’m lying there, he gets behind me and the board, adjusting my “leash” – the cord attached to the back of the surfboard that fastens to your ankle with a Velcro collar. It’s important for the leash to be on the outside of your ankle and more importantly, it should be attached to the leg that shifts to the back when you’re up on the board. Otherwise, you're likely to get all tangled up each time you get off the board in the water.  The point of the leash is obvious. It gets pretty rough out there and I’m certainly not interested in losing my board.

With Rodriguo and the oncoming waves behind me, I feel completely out of control. I’m pretty sure this adds to my nerves which by now, are off the charts. My heart is beating and the anticipation feels similar to being on a rollercoaster, in the back row, inching upwards, unsure of when you’ll finally reach the top and that awful and exhilarating moment when you’re zooming downward, cheeks flapping, neck pressing into your shoulders and your stomach in your throat.

As I wait for his cue, I’m trying to remember all the things he told us which is futile because my heart and mind are racing so fast that I almost don’t hear him tell me to “Start paddling” in his thick Argentinean accent. I do as I’m told, and wait for his next command. “Get UP!” he yells from behind me. And that’s exactly what I do – for about 3 seconds. After that, I go down – hard. My first thought as my body crashes into the water and my neck turns in a way that’s definitely not natural is, “Shit. A person can really break their neck doing this.” My second thought is, “But, I didn’t break my neck! I was doing it! I was surfing!”

It’s all happening so fast – the thoughts, the pain, the realization that I have to pull my board back to me with the leash and finally, the harsh reality that I have to get back out there and do it all over again. And again and again – for about an hour and a half. At one point, I completely lose my steam. My hair is everywhere, my nose running like a five year-old and my eyes are burning so badly from the saltwater. As I reach the shore after yet another attempt at staying up on the board, I think about calling it quits. But, I’m the youngest of three – we never give up first.

In the end, I got up several times which is way more than I ever expected of myself. Towards the end of the lesson, I found myself more determined than ever to actually stay up, but the waves were dying out and I was exhausted. So much so, that when we finish, I can barely walk or talk. The experience, the adrenaline and exertion is overwhelming. Plus, the beach is super rocky, so walking with a 7+ foot board on my head, barefoot makes it even more difficult to drag my already, tired body back to the van.

On shore, Julia is waiting – all smiles – and excited for my triumph. “Girl, you did great!” she breathes. I could barely speak, so I just nod and give her a look that says, “HOLY SHIT that was hard!”

We get back in the van and head back to school. I am done – literally and figuratively – for the day. Julia still has yoga, which before surfing, I said I’d probably join. But, now, sitting in the old, sticky van, all I want to do is have an ice cold beer!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Surf's Up!!

photo courtesy of

Hello from Costa Rica!

"Hoolia" and I are hitting the books, or shall I say the waves, at the School of the World where we will spend the next six days - "Hoolia" in yoga and photography and me in Spanish and surfing.

We arrived yesterday late in the day, after not sleeping the night before. "Hoolia" worked until 3am and I decided to stay awake in solidarity and meet her at work. We had a smooth trip from LaGuardia to Houston and then onto San Jose, Costa Rica. Once we arrived, we waited to see if we could meet up with my friend, Mark, who was departing Costa Rica for New York, but unfortunately, we missed him.

The school is located in Playa Jaco, to the south of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. Our taxi driver, Christian, was very nice and had great insights into the best places to visit during our stay. He explained that the city of San Jose has a much higher elevation compared to Jaco which explained why it felt like the string winding around a yo-yo as we drove down and away from San Jose.

We arrived at the school around 4pm, local time. At one point during the trip, I struggled to keep my eyes open as the lack of sleep began to catch up. As we approached Jaco, though, my curiosity took over and I was twisting and turning in my seat trying to take in everything I could about the area. There wasn't much to see and as we pulled up to the school, we had to ask through the gate if this was The School of the World. A fresh-faced, blonde confirmed that we were, indeed, in the right place. Finally! We were at our destination.

Hannah, the Director of the school, met us upon arrival. Just inside the gate, there's a small seating area, with a hammock and a few swing-chairs. (Some of you may remember "Joolia's" obsession with hammocks from Mexico - so....yeah, she was psyched!) There's also a small pool to the right of the entrance which resembles more of a large bathtub. The girl who greeted us was taking some sun, by the pool.

We followed Hannah on a quick tour. The grounds are compact with large walls and locked gates all around, so I immediately felt safe. As we walked past the main area and through a large door, we passed two classrooms with glass-paned sliding doors on each side. A communal kitchen sits just past the classrooms with a several seating areas and high-counter where you can sit and check email while your fellow students prepare their meals. A large winding, stone staircase leads up to the office with a long walkway overlooking the garden area. The vibe seemed simple and airy in spite of the fact that it was really hot!

After the tour, she showed us to our room which, putting it mildly, was rustic. A couple of beds, one single and one queen, a few shelves, and a small, lone refrigerator next to the kitchen sink. The bathroom was clean, but not very interesting. I spotted a dead cockroach, feet up, on the floor near the window. The princess in me was less than thrilled with the accommodations, but I'd already prepared myself for this in advance. I was just happy there was A/C and it was clean.

Hannah gave us the schedule for the week and "Hoolia" read it aloud as I unpacked. "Girl, you're lucky you're in Spanish 2, because Spanish 1 starts at 8am," she said, keeping her eyes on the schedule as she read. "I don't have yoga until 7pm!" "Oh, that's good," I said, thinking that, as bartenders, we're not really the early-morning kind. "NO! That sucks," she practically whined. "I've got to wait the whole day for it."

I sensed that "Hoolia" shared my trepidation about being on a schedule, though I didn't express it as I was trying to remain open-minded. The truth was that all I could think about was surfing - and how nervous I was about trying it. And after hearing the schedule, I began to have that sneaking feeling of regret and worry. What if I hate it here and "Joolia" loves it? What if there's so much activity that I need a vacation from my vacation? What if hurt myself really badly while surfing? What the hell was I thinking? Damn, I miss Tulum. Sharing my thoughts seemed like a bad choice, so I suggested we head into town to see what Jaco had to offer.

We took the short walk from the school to the main road where the town sits. It had a nice, easy vibe at first glance and we decided to have some food at Taco Bar, a spot that Christian recommended. The menu sounded great, but unfortunately, the food failed to deliver. I'm no spice whore, but frankly, my food was really bland. "Hoolia", who loves her hot sauce, was equally disappointed and even more dissatisfied than me. We finished up, joking about finding more food somewhere else and began exploring the main road and all of its shops.

The first shop we ran into, Guacamole was fitting because I was bummed that Taco Bar didn't even serve guacamole! The clothes were really cool and I felt compelled to buy many things, however, I chose to control myself until I got a better sense of the exchange rate.

We continued on, milling in and out of shops filled with beautiful woodwork, footwear and cute little trinkets. Anywhere I travel, it's always those first few shops I like the most when I'm seeing things for the first time and I'm inspired by all of the handiwork. By the time we reached the end of the main road and made our way back on the other side, I was beginning to lose interest. It's a shame that after seeing the same stuff in all the shops that they lost some of their appeal, or maybe it was the fact that the shops didn't have A/C and my lack of sleep was slowing me down.

I suggested we take a detour to the beach which runs parallel to the main road. We're on the Pacific side, so the sand is black, which gives the water the same dark hue and a bit of an ominous feeling. The thing I liked about this beach at first glance was its vastness. It was high tide, so the walk from the shore to the water was quite long. The landscape of mountains and low clouds surrounding the beach only added to the expanse, and although, I prefer blue water and white sand, this beach was quite beautiful.

After the beach, we finished exploring the main road and made our way over to the supermarket to get some things for the next day. I suggested eggs and remembered from Mexico, that they are not refrigerated; however, I still couldn't find them. I dreaded asking for them because, apparently, when you ask if someone has eggs in Spanish - "tienes huevos?" - you're asking them if they have balls! I, of course, learned this after my last trip to Mexico, which explained the strange looks I got each time I asked. I couldn't remember the proper way to ask, so I just walked up to a man in the Supermarket and said, "Huevos? Dondes es?" He answered in Spanish of course, and I didn't understand, but eventually, we found the eggs.

After food shopping, we headed back to the school and decided we'd boil our eggs in the evening to save time. There were a few other students in the kitchen when we arrived and as tired as we both were, we engaged in the usual, "where are you from? How long are you staying?" formalities. One girl, Kim from Australia was in her second week at the school and she mentioned that the Spanish teacher gave her a really hard time about her limited knowledge of Spanish, eventually relegating her to the Level 1 class. This information didn't sit well with me because I was pretty surprised to have been placed in Spanish 2 in the first place. Great. More things to worry about - tomorrow, I'll be sent packing to the 8am class. Damn schoool.

By the time the eggs were cooked, we were too. So, we crawled into bed at 8pm and called it a night. After all, we had a big day ahead of us.