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We felt the heat with the start of classes Monday morning. Air conditioning just isn’t a thing here, not even in a palace-turned-university. Here we were, thinking we’d be escaping the scorching Florida Sun for the summer…we were wrong.
We opened the windows, and with a breeze it’s bearable. I now truly understand firsthand why UF’s AC is always blasting…you’re more likely to stay awake shivering than sweating.
But I mean — I go to school in a palace, I can’t complain. It’s just a significant difference between our daily lives and the daily lives of people who aren’t used to being any temperature they desire at any point in the day.
We each have two German classes a day, and were assigned interaction leaders to hang out around Mannheim and speak German with. Sabrina, Jason and I went to the Neckar Strand on Monday to meet our interaction leader, Mone.
We had refreshments with our toes in the sand and watched the sunset right over the Neckar, the northern of the two rivers that pass through Mannheim.
Jason and I got döner from a little place in the Turkish district on the way back to our dorms. It was a tad spicy compared to what I’m used to, but so good. I don’t know how to describe döner if you haven’t tried it. It’s sort of like a gyro, I suppose, but different, delicious and cheap.
Its easy while abroad to want to just eat all your meals out, to taste and experience what this new place has to offer in food — but that is a trap. I learned last year, and though the rationalizations come in full swing again, spending money on train tickets is worth more than good food and beer all the time, even if it is Deutschland.
Marisol, Ryan and I took the number 4 train and found the rock gym! It’s north of the Neckar, not a far trek at all, and totally awesome. I’ll admit, I sort of miss the convenience of the rock gym in Gainesville, though that might just be missing having a bike. When we’re not on trains we’re on foot, and that’s neat, too.
Friday night, the ladies in the program dressed up and wandered to Filmriss, a trying-to-be-indie sort of bar. A few of us made some friends and went to the S.U.I.T.E., a club with two rooms on each side that played different music, so chances are there was at least something alright on at any point in the night. It played all sorts though, within the past 20-30 years. The vibe was cool, and we stayed late.
Days are long here. The sun is up around 4:oo and doesn’t set until nearly 22:oo. Military time isn’t new to me, so I don’t mind the 24-hour clock…except for the next morning, when all clocks tick’d me off a teensy bit…we had to wake up a short time later for a bus-ride to Baden Baden, but we slept on the bus and lack of sleep certainly didn’t get me down.
We went to Casino Baden Baden and if I could only use the word luxurious once, this would be that time.
The place was so decked with a wealth of history and splendor, it made me seriously consider selling my soul to attain such riches for a playroom of wonder like this.
We wandered to see the Roman baths, right down the way from the real baths that people who come to vacation in this town spend on. Baden Baden is a spa town. It is beautiful and clean and full. One day, I would like to return.
We split for lunch, and I saw a crisp orange drink on a blue-checkered table and just had to have it. I ordered the Käse Spätzel as well, and it was mouth-meltingly good.
On the bus again, we turned and twisted along the Schwarzwaldhochstraße, a road that reminded me vividly of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, which I wound around in my Jeep earlier this summer. We could see the blues of the mountain ridges as we rode high above them. The evergreens grew higher than any tree I’d seen before, completely dwarfing the Christmas trees I’d picked from the snow-covered forest that grew from my great grandmother’s land as a child.
We had entered der Schwarzwald — the Black Forest.
We came to a glassy lake called Mummelsee. We were warned to resist the temptation to break its surface so as not to anger Neptune, the water nymph who lives in its depths. I’m not certain of the extent of her fury, as curious as I might have been, but legend has it she’d create a great storm.
Emma and I took off our shoes and let our bare feet feel the rich earth by the water. Mannheim is mostly gray and tree-less, so this was a much-needed natural refreshment.
We continued on to the Triberg waterfalls. It felt so good to be near waterfalls again, having just come from working as a white-water raft guide in the mountains of North Carolina. Since I couldn’t go down them (as I left my canoe thousands of miles west of here…) I climbed up.
For more adventures of UF students studying abroad, please check out the UFIC Blog from Abroad!
We arrived jet-lagged and exhausted Friday morning. Some of us caught the Fourth of July fireworks from the window seat during our evening flight out of America. I nibbled on airplane “food” and watched movies in German in an attempt to prepare for the next six weeks.
I flew out of Jacksonville, touching down in Newark, Boston, and Frankfurt before finally catching the train to my destination. Mid-afternoon, just about 24 hours after leaving, I walked along the streets of Mannheim, regretting the amount of luggage I brought from Florida. Luckily, the walk to the University of Mannheim wasn’t too far from from the Hauptbahnhoff (“train station” auf Deutsch).
I hadn’t realized I’d be attending classes in a palace(!!!)…As soon as I saw it I was reminded of Versailles in France, and our tour guide on Saturday said that’s exactly what it was based off of.
There’s 18 of us, split into two dorms in the center of the city and two German languages classes in the Schloss (“palace”). We received regional transportation tickets for the trains and buses, and a few of us decided to go on a little adventure our first Saturday here.
The next train out of the Mannheim Hauptbahnhoff was headed for Lampertheim. We hopped on. None of us knew anything about Lampertheim, but it sounded swell.
We got off the train and started walking.The streets were empty, bare of people and litter. It looked spacious even with the (huge) houses along the sides. Perhaps it was the width of the road itself, or just the cleanliness, but something about walking through the streets of this town was so surreal.
Lampertheim is a little town just north of Mannheim. It was a Saturday evening and nearly everything was closed, the only hoppin’ place was the ice cream cafe. We said nichts to that, we might as well continue on to Heidelberg, as there’s a bit more going on there…
Heidelberg ist sehr schön (is very pretty). A beautiful river runs along it with the town on one side and mountains on the other, the trees seem greener there somehow. Mannheim has a much more urban-vibe and much more grey than green.
For dinner, I ordered: “Ein paar Bratwurst mit sauerkraut, tagessuppe und kartoffelpuree” (a pair of Bratwursts, sauerkraut, soup, and mashed potatoes) — so good. German food is delicious.
We got the train back to Mannheim, as we’d be returning for a tour of Heidelberg the next morning, anyway.
A few of us went out to check out the scene that night. Not too far from our Studentenwohnheim (student dormitory) we walked right into one of the coolest bar/pubs I’ve been in, called the Blau. They played old school Sixties music (the Yardbirds, Rolling Stones, etc.). I’d known the Beatles had played one of their earlier shows in Frankfurt (and gotten kicked out because George was too young to be allowed in the bar…), so of course Germany can rock’n’roll, but it was really neat to see that young people in this culture can still dig and dance to an era of great tunes like I can.
We got breakfast at a fast-food chicken joint — yeah, you can’t escape those anywhere populated. We drank the water.
We spent most of the day on foot, the rides were the scarcest they’d been so far. I felt the road beneath my soles closer. There was nothing. The dripping sunscreen became welcome accompaniment.
We traveled more than a hundred kilometers that day.
A semi-truck stopped for us and took us to the border of Nicaragua. Another semi-truck took us a little further North, but we had to cut West. Our goal was a surfing hostel in Playa Madera that had hammocks to sleep in for cheap, it was supposedly just a bit north of San Juan del Sur.
By the time we got to the coast, the sun decided the day was over and began it’s descent. We continued on.
The road north wound away from the coast. The trees covered us, now. People began to slow down just to tell us to turn back. We didn’t. When they saw we weren’t going to, sometimes they’d let us get in the back of their pick-up trucks for a short spurt.
The warnings increased. We walked faster.
From the picture of the map on Mike’s cellphone didn’t show the hostel, just a vague label of where “Playa Madera” should be. We made left hand turns when they arose hoping this road will lead us to the coast, and on the coast, will be the surfing hostel.
The sketch-factor increased significantly. We walked up and down and started noticing shelters we could, if it came to it, sleep in. At one point, Mike was further ahead than I was and a man walked along the road in our direction. The glow in his eyes I could see as I looked in them and he passed close by.
Then we were winding downhill. It was fully black now. We had headlamps.
We stepped onto sand. We saw the ocean.
All was still dark.
“You guys need a place to stay tonight?” A man appeared to our left. Mike dropped his rock.
Yes. Yes, we do. We followed him under this building just yards away. A light came on, there were picnic tables. There were surfboards. We had found it.
The day’s journey was not over yet. We still had to make it back – somewhere – before nightfall. Getting a ride down the mountain was easy, though a little uncomfortable — we were in a nice, rented SUV and we’re pretty sure the couple in front were whispering about how we stunk… the sulfuric aroma of the hot springs didn’t do too much for the clothes we were sweating in all day to get there.
They took a different route down the mountain than the one we took up. They didn’t know where they were going either, but the route was much longer this way, and put us much further from Upala…
They dropped us off at the bottom of the mountain, and we set off down the road again.
We stumbled upon a hedge labyrinth, and a bunch of carved plants shaped into all sorts. It made having to walk right past it just that much more worth it. Whatever it was, it was pretty neat.
And we were back in Upala again.
We trekked to the northwestern side of the town and tried to hitch out, but the sun was setting and the dark came quickly. It was too late. We were stuck in Upala, Costa Rica, for yet another night.
We ran into the rest of the group the next morning, Upala isn’t a very big town. We set our destination as some waterfalls nearby, and set off on our route of unconventional transport yet again, walking as we saw them board a bus and roll away.
This time, though, it was a race. We knew it. They knew it.
Things were looking pretty dreary for a bit on our end. For one, we weren’t entirely sure where these mystical waterfalls were, and for another, it seemed like no one was out and about on rainy days — or at least, the ones who were didn’t want soggy hitch-hikers soaking their seats.
We eventually made it beyond the turn off point up the mountain. So we had to hitch back, and then forth again. Not everyone knew where these azul waterfalls were, so they’d take us to the turn off of where they were driving, cool with the company, and we’d not really have any clue how far off we were.
The rain stopped, and we made it off the main road. The azul waterfalls were up this mountain, we were told, we just had to follow the road. And so we began.
The roads had been fairly flat before, but after a few kilometers the slope of this one seemed to increase with every step. We walked up, and up. And up.
Vehicles were scarce on this road, and when a pick-up truck did happen to drive by, it did not stop. We reached a point that hurt just looking at it, looking straight ahead would mean looking at the road’s incline in front of your face – that’s how steep it was. And finally, someone stopped for us. We got in the back of the truck. These guys were booking it, too.
At one of the steepest parts, we see a group of people off to the left of us — it’s the rest ofour group! Jeff starts running up the mountain after the pick-up truck. So close! We ride onwards.
Not to endorse schadenfreude, but Mike and I were pleased with our timing for this one. If we had taken the bus directly to the bottom of the mountain, we would still be clawing upward, rather than cruising up to the finish.
We made it, we won, we wondered through the rainforest. We zigzagged bridges of pure blue water, and hiked up to the azul cascada. Natural minerals cause the blue color of the water.
The other group finally made it, too, and we relaxed in the natural hot springs. I jumped from the cool water to the warm, and reverse, to get the full spectrum of experience from this magical river. Mmm, rejuvenating.
57th Annual Florida Forest Festival
The backs of pick-up trucks aren’t the most comfortable, but they’re fun. And provide an excellent view.This was the first time I’d ever hitchhiked. The folks who picked us up were probably doing it more out of curiosity than anything else.
Why the hell would two Americans be traveling this way?
We made the mistake of telling someone our destination was a town on the way to Upala, to break up the distance and make it seem less of a drag. He took us there. We got out and saw him turn right. Right down the road toward Upala.
As the sun set, we rode into Upala.
Una cerveca, por favor.
We made it to shore and took a smaller boat through a rainforest-enshrouded waterway into Costa Rica. The seven of us wandered around the village a bit debating where to wander next, eventually settling on Upala.
Mike and I decided we could get there without spending the córdoba on the bus fare. He took out his phone and took a picture of the map. We started walking.
A few kilometers down that road and another, we learned people won’t stop if you’re still walking. Turn toward them, and you’re more likely to get picked up.
Our backpacks were school-sized, the weight was in the water. The landscape was flat and dry. Sand, brush, heat. Crumbling street beneath our feet, clay-colored. The smell of sunscreen and sweating dripping, foreboding red and peeling skin. Wheels turned hope, but not always rest.
As dangerous as people say Nicaragua is, the real concern was hydration. We didn’t stock up once we decided to take an alternative form of transportation. The uncertainty in the timing of our arrival at the next town paralleled the uncertainly in the next time we’d see bottled water.