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A River to be Crossed

“All you need is a bag with your towel, waterbottle, and camera. Those three things. That’s it. Nothing else,” instructed Luis.

It was the third and final day of our excursion to Montezuma and Curú with the tour company Tico Viajero, and we were about to take the trail to our next destination: Montezuma Waterfall. Little did we know that the trail was less of a traditional dirt path winding through the woods and more like an organic obstacle course.

I was glad I wore my hiking sandals.

 Victor, the other half of Tico Viajero, stayed at the back
of our group, watching to make sure no one got hurt.

I came to Costa Rica, because I wanted to learn, practice, and live the Spanish language, but during that weekend’s excursion, I was focused on something else: appreciating the green forests, delicious food, and warm weather that coastal Costa Rica has to offer. And I was feeling a little guilty about it.

24 days living in Costa Rica:  over 50 hours of Spanish class, 40 breakfast and dinner discussions with my Tico family, several hours of research and practicing for 3 PowerPoint presentations, 2 tandem language exchange sessions, 2 trips to artisan markets to barter for souvenirs, some very slow hours reading “La Mujer en el Espejo,” and I was still struggling to speak Spanish. But it was undeniable that I had improved immensely!

The most important lesson is that lessons are learned slowly. The language barrier does not instantaneously crumble at your feet and Spanish words do not suddenly flow forth from your lips with every thought in your head coherently translated.

Sometimes Spanish words in my mind feel like the jittering thoughts and shaky video taken during the hike to the waterfall as I followed my group across the clusters of colossal rocks, crouching to continue on to the next precipitous point along the route, gripping the horizontally-strung rope to traverse the rock face, and grabbing at branches and roots that dangled from impossibly tall trees.

 Following my group on the "trail" to the Montezuma Waterfall.

Sometimes Spanish, like that trek, makes my heart pound, because I’m both afraid and excited at once.

Sometimes Spanish, like every new obstacle on that trail, requires me to problem solve, makes me struggle to continue on my journey. But once past an obstacle, I use what I learned to do better next time.

Learning Spanish takes slow steps, like how I picked my way across the scattered rocks on the river that cut the trail in two: at first, I was unsure if I could cross, because I was too afraid I’d slip and fall, so why bother trying? So the first foot on a rock is tentative, but once I got two feet at mercy on the small rock over the rushing river, I was forced to become more confident in what I was doing. I paused to watch the water surge past, overwhelmed by how quickly everything moves around me. But I realized that only focusing on the next step helped me more quickly carry on, brought me one step closer to my goal.

And I stood on my rock flanked by a babbling brook but also at the center of a river of Spanish tongues. I got there with soft steps, slow steps, sometimes slipping, but always regaining my balance and carrying on. I’ve come too far now, I can’t go back. I’m somewhere in the middle, and I’ve learned so much I’ve lost track.

 Taken just moments before people began
climbing the rocks along either side of the waterfall
and jumping in to the water.

I speak a little faster and my thoughts are not so blank when I’m searching for a word to say. I’m not overwhelmed by a barrage of speech every time people talk to me. My Tico family listens so attentively to my slow sentences, and they encourage me to say what’s on my mind which, now and then, is amazingly, excitingly, and inspiringly in Spanish.

On that excursion, nearly everyone’s feet slipped into the river at least once, but we kept going. Sometimes we stepped on stones that led to a dead end, so we had to backtrack, but we kept going. We conquered the obstacles and enjoyed the adventure, because we were given the tools we needed (our water bottles, our towels, our cameras, and a tour guide), and we a beautiful destination in mind the whole time: the waterfall. But when we reached the end of the trail, I felt sad that the hike was over so soon. I think my favorite part of the trip was the journey, and I wanted to begin it all over again.

Gabriella Cisneros is the Fall 2015 CEA MOJO in San José, Costa Rica. She is currently a sophomore film student at UW-Milwaukee.

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