'Costa Rica' Needs No Translation

The author, right, with her Spanish-immersion host family at their house in Dominicalito, Costa Rica.
The author, right, with her Spanish-immersion host family at their house in Dominicalito, Costa Rica. (Provided By Amanda Koman)
Sunday, November 26, 2006

Amanda Koman of Manassas is the latest contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip can be the next guy's day-maker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near-miss. To file your own trip report -- and to become eligible to win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: Spanish-language immersion school in Costa Rica.

WHEN: August 2006

WHY: I'm a prosecutor in Prince William County and wanted to learn Spanish in order to better communicate with the county's growing Hispanic population. Because this trip was also my vacation -- note, no county taxpayer money funded it! -- I chose a school in Playa Dominical, a Costa Rica beach town.

HOW: I enrolled in the Adventure Education Center's Spanish school (800-237-2730, in Dominical for two weeks, staying with a Costa Rican family in the nearby small town of Dominicalito. Included in my program fees of $1,005 were Spanish classes, lodging, meals, laundry service and tours.

GETTING THERE WAS . . . an adventure. I flew out of Dulles the morning that liquids and gels were banned from carry-ons. Because of extra security, my flight was delayed. Once in Costa Rica's capital of San Jose, I took a public bus and then a cab to Dominical for a total of four hours on winding mountain roads. Definitely not recommended for someone prone to carsickness.

BIGGEST CULTURE SHOCK: Meeting my host family and discovering that they spoke no English. At that time I spoke no Spanish. My first night at their home was very long and awkward.

BEST PART OF THE TRIP: My host family was wonderful. They spoiled me. My Tica (Costa Rican) mom served delicious fresh fruit -- watermelon, papayas, bananas, pineapples -- at all my meals. She cooked everything herself -- omelets, fish, steak, chicken with rice and beans. Despite the extreme humidity, which made my hair frizz and my beach towel never dry, Tica Mom amazingly managed to get my clothes super-clean and dry using a washing machine that looked like something out of the 1940s, after which she line-dried them.

WORST PART OF THE TRIP: The mosquitoes. They seemed to love gringos.

CHEAPEST THRILL: Spanish class took place from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. When it wasn't raining (which was not that often, considering that I visited during the rainy season), I relaxed on the beach after class, soaking in the sun and bodysurfing in the powerful waves.

I CAN'T BELIEVE I . . . slept in a house with a tin roof. When it rained at night, I kept singing the B-52's song "Love Shack" in my head: "Tin roof, rusted !" I went to sleep to the sounds of monkeys howling and frogs croaking outside my window, and awoke to roosters crowing at 5:30 a.m.

COOLEST ATTRACTION: Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge, where I flew like a toucan through the rain forest, harnessed and hooked to a zip line.

FAVORITE SOUVENIR: Yo hablo español.

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Want to see your own vacation in lights? We'll highlight one report, along with a photo from the trip, on the last Sunday of the month.

To enter, use the categories above as a guide (use as many as you wish, or add your own; for a complete list, go to and send your report to Your Vacation in Lights, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071; or e-mail

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