Hola guilas! (that's the Costa Rican slang word for kids, pronounced gwee-la).
I hope you are all working hard and learning lots of new things every day. I know that I am!
I just returned from a trip to Nicaragua, which is the country right above Costa Rica. There are not as many jobs in Nicaragua as there are in Costa Rica, so many Nicaraguans try to come to Costa Rica to work. Some of them need jobs so badly that they try to come into Costa Rica without permission, which is illegal.
Because of this problem, it is difficult to cross the border from Nicaragua into Costa Rica. I traveled by bus, and there were many immigration stops where police officers boarded the bus and looked at everyone's passports or papers. Just crossing the border took three hours to travel a mile!
People in Nicaragua also speak Spanish, and the culture is very similar to Costa Rica. Nicaragua is not as wealthy of a country, so things are very cheap there. You can buy a big dinner of chicken, salad, rice, beans and a drink for a $1.50. If you were to come to Costa Rica, the same meal would cost about $3.50. In our country, it would cost at least $5, but probably more if you didn't want to risk food poisoning.
Why is there such a difference in prices for the same meal? The truth is that to Costa Ricans, $3.50 seems like the same amount of money that $5 seems to us. In countries where the economies (or how many things they are making to sell to other people and how much money they have to buy things that other people are making to sell) are not as good as our economy in the United States, the money people make doesn't have as much value outside of their own country.
This is because of something called exchange rates. Pretend that you have two quarters, Mrs. Cardinal has two dimes, and Mrs. Pederson has two pennies. Each one of you owns a store. If you want to shop in Mrs. Cardinal's store, you have to use dimes. If you want to shop in Mrs. Pederson's store, you have to use pennies. If you cash in your two quarters, you end up with five dimes or 50 pennies. You can buy a lot of things at Mrs. Cardinal's store and even more things at Mrs. Pederson's store. But if Mrs. Pederson wants to shop at your store, she can only trade in her two pennies for a fraction of a quarter. She might not be able to afford anything in your store because you are used to customers who get paid in quarters, and she only gets paid in pennies. Mrs. Cardinal almost has one quarter, but she might only be able to afford a candy bar in your store.
Now pretend that the United States is your store with the quarters, Costa Rica is Mrs. Cardinal's store with the dimes, and Nicaragua is Mrs. Pederson's store with the pennies. That's exchange rates in a nutshell.
The highlight of my trip to Nicaragua was my visit to Isla Ometepe, one of 400 islands in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. Lake Nicaragua is the third largest lake in Lain America. It's also home to the world's only freshwater sharks. Can you imagine what it would be like if sharks lived in Lake Tahoe? Would you still swim there? There is a river that connects Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean, and scientists think that the sharks swam in from the ocean and became specially adapted to live outside saltwater. Some of them are more than 9 feet long, but I didn't see any.
Ometepe is the biggest island in the lake, and it has two volcanoes. The biggest, Volcan Concepcion, is still active, but hasn't exploded since 1957. I climbed the smaller volcano, Volcan Madera.
Isla Ometepe is famous for its petroglyphs, or very old carvings on rocks. Ancient civilizations lived on Ometepe, and visitors can see the carvings and statues of people, animals and shapes that they left behind.
I am sending you a picture of a petroglyph that I saw while I was climbing Volcan Madera. What do you think the carving meant to the people who made it? What do you think we might leave behind for people in the future to find? What do you think the things we leave behind will tell people about us and our way of life?
At the top of the volcano, there is a lake in the crater. The entire volcano is covered by rain forest, which was lucky because Nicaragua is very hot and the hike would have been unbearable without the trees. The jungle at the top of the volcano is always covered with a mist like a light rain, which is called cloud forest. Even though I was hiking during the dry season, I was hiking through mud up to my shins near the top. During the wet season, people wade through mud over their knees!
I hope you are all enjoying the beginning of spring, and let me know if you have any questions!