By Elizabeth Yardley, Phylliburbs/QCostarica

Having been to Costa Rica so many times, I’ve grown used to the different culture, but I am always learning something new about the customs and traditions of the people.

Elizabeth on Cerro Negro in Nicaragua, the second youngest active volcano in the Americas

I discovered even more in the month I recently spent there. Everyone has two last names in Costa Rica. The first part is their father’s first last name, and the second part is their mother’s first last name. So children don’t have the same last name as either of their parents.

“Hora tica” is an acceptable excuse for being late for anything because everyone is always doing things on their own time. If you ask someone to meet you at a certain time, they say: “Si Dios quiere” (God willing).

One day while driving, we saw a father and his young son on a bicycle. The man was holding his son in one arm. It was nighttime and they had no lights on the bicycle. The little boy didn’t even have a seat. Neither had helmets, but his son did have a towel on his head because Costa Ricans are worried the dew will hurt babies.

In November, I also had the chance to visit Nicaragua for the first time and learn about life there. We went boating on Lake Nicaragua, which was huge! It’s the only lake in the world that has freshwater sharks. We saw the homes, restaurants and even the hospital on the islands in the lake, as well as the two island volcanoes in the distance.

We went to a town called Masaya and saw the celebrations of the saint San Jerónimo, which are held every Sunday for three months. There is traditional dancing and parties all over the city. Many people dress up in masks and typical clothing and dance in the streets, which is something you wouldn’t see in Costa Rica.

In León, a group of boys came by our hotel and put on a conventional street performance. A boy wearing a gigatona costume (giant lady) danced around with a little kid dressed as an enano (dwarf) with a huge head. The giant lady represents how the Nicaraguans viewed Spanish women when they came to Nicaragua. Big, fake and hollow. The dwarf represents how the Nicaraguans viewed themselves as having big heads because they were so full of knowledge. While the gigatona and enano danced, three boys played the drums and one recited poetry.

We went to Cerro Negro, the second-youngest active volcano in the Americas. We hiked up and saw beautiful views for miles. Then we traveled down the side of it on wooden sleds, dressed in a jumpsuit, elbow, knee pads and goggles. I was terrified, but it turned out to be so much fun. I never imagined myself in a thousand years sledding down the side of the most active volcano in Nicaragua.

Even though I’ve been going to Costa Rica since I was a baby, there is always something new to experience. Costa Rica and Nicaragua are right next to each other, but both have significantly different cultures.

In November, I learned even more about a country I’ve visited many times, and I discovered its neighboring country, too.

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