Monday, January 28, 2008

January 28, 2008 - Missing My Car

OK, I admit it - I miss my car! I even miss my old college car - the old beat up Datsun 510 station wagon with 300,000 miles on it...

Yesterday we were kinda bored, kinda tired, kinda wanted to do something, but didn´t want to go to any effort. A perfect day for a drive! Except we don´t have a car :(

I know, you say ¨get a life!¨ and I say ¨gimme a car!¨

We specifically got an apartment in the center of town so that we could walk wherever we need to - buses, restaurants, internet cafés, parks, mall, groceries, ICE - you name it, it´s within 10 blocks. But it is also 3 bus-rides to go to visit friends in Orosí - who can take a deep breath and say they will do *that* all in one day? By car, it is less than an hour and a half - a long day, but still plenty of time to drive, visit a while, and be home - I´d do it at least once (I used to do almost that much to get to and from work!).

Most of the time (so far, *all* of the time, but who wants to push it?), we take a bus to somewhere near a friend, then they drive down and pick us up - we have a nice visit, then catch the bus home. Sometimes, another friend will swing by and give us a lift, or others will bring us home (you know, its on the way) after a party. And even though I know I would be happy to do the same thing for others, wouldn´t it be a relief all around if we just had our own car?

Then I look back on our original plans - HAH! Something tells me we´re going to end up living pretty much like we did in the states (house, car, all the accessories) - except our lives will be our own. And that´s really what it´s all about.

Monday, January 21, 2008

January 21, 2008 – Blogging Info - how I moved

A few people have asked how I moved my posts from my old blog site to this one, so I´ll just put a quick note right here – sorry, this has nothing whatsoever to do with Costa Rica

The process was pretty simple, if somewhat painful. I moved every single post by hand (keeping the correct time-order). I did a search first – I couldn´t find a single blogsite that provided a way to import a batch of posts and still keep the old post dates, comments, and so on.

I was able to get all my old posts copied to the new site within one month, so now they all show up archived together in December 2007. Then I added a text note to the top of the archive element to (hopefully) avoid confusion. Of course, it looks like I did an awful lot of travel in December – a full year of posts all have December dates. But, where it made sense, I tried to put the original post date in the title of the moved post.

I didn´t try too hard to copy comments over – that would really have looked strange (like I was the only person to comment on my own posts – so, no)

Then I put a link from my old blogsite to the new one. I kept about a month of overlap, where I posted the same to both sites.

(of course, the first step was to create a new blog site, but blogger makes that very easy – just follow the directions)

January 21, 2008 – Feelin´ Human (I mean groovy)

I guess I have to admit it – parents can give good advice, even when you are a full-fledged adult (sigh). A few weeks ago, we used our kitchen to poison ourselves (not recommended) – we were over the worst in a couple of days, but it seemed like we would *never* get back to a real life. Well, when we got our phones (yay! – still excited about *that*!), we phoned home. There is nothing like talking to family, especially when you are feeling under the weather. That is when the parental advice kicked in – ¨you gotta replace those good bacteria – eat some yogurt!¨ So we did! And it worked!

We had spent a couple of weeks dragging around, barely getting through the necessary chores of getting groceries and so on. We were planning to go to the Palmares tope last Thursday, but that fell through – I am admitting now (and frankly admitted it half way through that day), I am relieved. I can´t imagine lasting in the heat, with the crowds, given how weak we were feeling just walking to the corner!

Well, the very next day, we started the yogurt cure – had some for every meal for a couple of days, and felt better immediately.

Saturday, we ran into some friends, and felt well enough to go to a dinner party that night – we took the guitar and played and sang a bit. We met some new people – always a fun thing, especially when they are on an adventure themselves. :)

Then Sunday! We really took this day as it came. We went with a friend to Escazú, to the Café de Artistas – there we had brunch while listening to a jazz combo (our new friend Joe Anello was playing drums). (RC folks – guess what I got to have – Eggs Benedict! And it wasn´t even Friday!). After brunch, we went to visit more friends – Jim and Ann-Marie just had their baby! So we got to see her, and get caught up on what everyone was doing and planning. Then, since we were nearby anyway, we stopped at EPA (it´s a lot like Home Depot) and found a water filter – whew! No more lugging bottled water** home! And *then* (I know, I know – don´t overdo it, you´re still recovering) we stopped at the Automercado (this is a high-end supermarket, where you can likely find foods you can´t find anywhere else). Rick was on a mission to find black olives – mission accomplished! (this mission really was accomplished – ok, that is my only tiny contribution to the political discussion)

And now we are – Feelin´ Human… (sung to Feeling Groovy)
Speed up, you´ve been too slow
You get to last the whole day now…

Feelin´ Huuuuuman...

** I know, you are supposed to be able to drink the water in Costa Rica. And most people can! Just not us…

Monday, January 14, 2008

January 14, 2008 – Growing up Tico

Sometimes when you get together with other gringos in Costa Rica, you exchange war stories; these are usually about how someone got ripped off, taken advantage of, or just felt *way* out of place. But when we thought about it, we decided that the number of ¨bad¨ experiences was far outweighed by the good ones. Even those that, on the surface, seem sorta bad, then maybe not quite good end up leaving me with a ¨familiar¨ feeling.

The other day, a bunch of neighborhood kids were playing soccer in the courtyard of our apartment building. We were home all day, and enjoyed hearing the sounds of fun. Later that evening, I headed out for groceries, and found a note in our door. Well, it was not a nice note – it was one of those things that bored kids play around with, letting their imaginations run wild. It was obviously written by a kid. So, Rick took it over to our neighbor (they had previously said to let them know if they could help in any way). Rick showed him the note, explained how we thought it was a kid, and asked the neighbor if he would mention to the kids in the street that, while it was a joke, it was not a nice thing. The man nodded, and we figured that would be the end of it. Not so! About a half hour later, knock, knock… There is a kid (about 7) at our door, looking pretty embarrassed, and behind him is his father (as it turned out, it was the neighbor we had talked to) – arms crossed, looking stern. The father prompted his son – well? Then the boy said that he was sorry. The father said ¨speak up¨ and tell him why you´re sorry.¨ (Wow! Major flashbacks…) The son spelled it out, and then Rick said (very formally) that he accepted his apology. And they shook hands.

So, while this could have left a bad taste in our mouths, it ended up making us feel like the Ticos grow up a lot like we do – we make mistakes, and good parents make us own up to them…

Friday, January 11, 2008

January 11, 2008 - We Got Phones!

I feel like I am obsessing over *phones*! Which seems so ridiculous to me - I’m not a talkaholic, and I often let the answering machine pick up instead of answering. But!!! When you don’t *have* one - yikes! These are useful tools to have around!

What it is like with no phone:
1 It is difficult to arrange visits with anyone - using email means you have to really plan ahead, and if something comes up, you can’t communicate.
2 You have to walk a block or two to call anyone - either a public phone in the park (you need coins or phone card, and a finger in your ear) or you pester a friend.
3 You can't get food delivered, even when you are sick...
4 Almost any form you fill out requires a telephone number (again, pester a friend…)
5 If you split up, you start to panic - what if he’s hurt? He can’t call for help! Oh, whew! There he is…
6 No one can call you just to chat - it gets a little lonely sometimes.
7 And you worry a bit about family not being able to contact you if an emergency comes up.

On the other hand, perfect strangers understand your dilemma - I have been offered the use of phones in bars, restaurants, wherever - and no one seems to think twice about it.

So I guess if you can get over the anal “what if” stuff, and can get over the idea that you are imposing on people for using their phone once in a while, then a few months without a phone of your own won’t kill you.

But I do feel sooo much better now…

Our experience:
We decided to wait for our residency before getting a phone. There are ways to get one without a residency (use a corporation, use a friend, buy a line - somewhat black market, rent a line), but it was a bit low on our priority list, and there was a chance we would rent an apartment with a line included (this didn’t happen for us, but it does for many). On our Orosí trip, we asked around a bit (not officially), and found that there were no lines available, *and* ICE was not even taking names for a waiting list. :( So we put it off until this trip.

Once we got settled in Alajuela (the apartment does not have a telephone included), we
1 November 30 - went to the ICE office, and got on the waiting list for cell phone lines/numbers. The process for this was *easy* - We showed our cedulas, gave a phone number where we could be reached (a friend’s), they entered information, and gave us a reference number and info on what we will need when we pick *up* the phone (line/number).
2 December and early January - watched the newspapers for our reference numbers to show up, and waited to hear from ICE
3 January 6 - saw *our* reference number in the paper!! It says we are scheduled to get our lines on Friday!
4 January 10 - check out cell phones, buy the cheapest GSM phone at Monge for c37,000 ($74). Get 1 copy of my cedula, a copy of our electric bill, 1 copy of Rick’s cedula (beneficiary), two copies of the receipt from buying the phone.
5 January 11 - Take the copies and originals, plus the phone and c12,500 to ICE, and get connected!

ICE wasn’t too bad at all. Here was our timeline:
10:45 – 11:00: get in line #1 (standing), show our reservation numbers, get our documents checked and get our place in line (a number)
11:00 – 11:50: sit in line #2 :) and wait for our number to be displayed – ours is 50 more than the one up when we got there
11:50 – 12:05: our number is displayed, so we go to the cube indicated, show our reservation numbers, get our request processed, and get our chips put in our phones.
12:05 – 12:20: Rick goes to the caja line (standing) to pay our deposits, while I wait at the cube; the ICE person fiddles with the phones.

Now, *my* phone is done! Yay!!!! But (there is always a “but”)… Rick’s phone was one we brought from the states, and it didn’t work. So, we head back to buy another cell phone :(. We also got lunch…

2:15 – 2:25: back at ICE, to line #1. Rick explains what happened, and they nice fellow at the desk nodded and gave us a number for the *fast* line! And it was!
2:27: our number came up!
2:28: we got Rick’s phone switched, and we’re out the door! Once outside, we sat down and Rick changed the SIM chip to the new phone. YAY!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

January 10, 2008 - Palmares Plans

We missed all the rodeos and bullfights so far this season (that’s what I get for not paying attention), but the Palmares Fiesta is coming up! ( It starts January 16, and ends the 28th. The big tope (huge parade of horses and oxcarts) is scheduled for the 17th.
I can’t wait to see how a big, well-known fiesta compares to the small one we attended in Nosara.

January 9, 2008 - Changing Food Rules

We all get our rules for handling food from somewhere - our parents, grocery store wrapping, trial and error… Well, after a miserable couple of days, we have decided on some *new* rules.

1) Find a butcher you can trust.
2) When you buy meat, rinse it as soon as you get home. Most butchers keep their meat on ice, and you can’t count on what else has been there - rinse it off.
3) Either cook the meat and eat it that day, or freeze it - *that same day*
4) After rinsing the meat, rinse down all surfaces with a bleach solution. Let it stand for at least 3 minutes, then rinse with water.
5) Keep leftover beans or rice for no more than 3 days. Keep any other leftovers for no more than *one* day - make less, eat it the next day, or toss it.
6) Put leftovers in the fridge right away - within half an hour of eating.

For those who were wondering *where* has she been!?!? Now you know. I was sick. Poisoned in my own kitchen. Making up new rules…

January 6, 2008 - Trucker’s Day

Sunday (January 6, also epiphany) was “Trucker’s Day” in Alajuela. We live right off the Calle Ancha (that’s the “wide street” that circles the central 10 blocks or so of town - it is the boundary where the one-way streets turn into 2-way streets). Calle Ancha was basically the trucker parade route. So, from quarter till eleven in the morning, for an hour and a half, we could see and *hear* the trucks - slowly and noisily honking along.

I remember as a kid, we used to give the sign (your fist grabbing an imaginary air horn in the air and pulling) to truckers whenever we saw one, and they would honk just for us - this was as if a whole town of kids was giving the sign to an *entire* factory of trucks! For *hours*!

It also reminded me of weddings - everyone used to convoy over from the wedding ceremony to the reception; we would all line up, take off, and honk like crazy the whole way. I once nearly burned out a horn doing that - it ended up making these little meee-ee-eep mee-ee-eep sounds…

I don’t know if this was a special day for Truckers only in Alajuela, or if it was all around the country. In Orosí, we encountered a similar parade, but it was right before Labor Day (May 1st).

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

January 5, 2008 – Farmer’s Market

This morning we finally made it to the weekly Alajuela Farmer’s Market! It is on the other side of town, so it was quite a walk for us – but what a *nice* day!

The Feria (Farmer’s Market) is about a block-sized covered area just outside the center of town. It is open on Friday afternoons and evenings, and Saturdays until 2:30. Most people bring bags, totes, and those little carts with two wheels. We took our huge tote (it is the size of the maximum carry-on for an airplane) – I haven’t yet been able to fill it and still carry it… Anyway, there are stands where you can borrow a shopping cart (don’t know if you have to pay, but you can’t take it out), and other stands where you can buy bags. There is a parking lot, and a handy taxi stand too.

We were concentrating on buying produce, but there are also stands that sell eggs, fish, and meat. There are also places to buy shoes, hair ribbons, and other hard goods. There was at least one soda (a stand-and-eat restaurant). I swear, someone could make a *fortune* if they opened a soda with actual seats (or even simple crates!) – there was *no where* to just sit! Well, we did sit on a raised section of sidewalk near the parking lot – but it was right next to a gutter, and smelled something fierce (but it was in the shade).

Well, after taking a load off, we walked a few aisles and started buying. You need a lot of coins when you go to the Feria – almost everything is 200 colones. I made a list below of a lot of the items we saw. I remember looking all over the place for prices of food and other basics when we first considered moving here. If you’re in the same boat, well, now you have some info…

Since we were now loaded down with lots of fresh produce, we took a taxi back. There is a taxi stand right there – we were about to get in the taxi, when we saw Don Oscar a few cabs back – so we did a reverse cut :) and got into his taxi instead. Not exactly kosher, but no one seemed to mind. When we got to our apartment, we invited him in to see what we ended up with (Oscar is the taxi driver who helped me look for a place to live one afternoon. He is also one of the trusted “call him first” taxi drivers; very old school.)

ITEMS (cost in colones (current rate is approximately c500 = $1; weight is in kilograms):

Avocado – 1000 / bag of 8
Cilantro – 100 / bunch
Pineapple (medium) – 300 each (I got a large one yesterday at the supermarket for less, but on special)
Mango (small, ripe) – 300 each
Tomatoes – 250 / kilo
Onions (small!) – 400 / half kilo bag
Cucumbers – 150 / bag of 3
Carrots – 200 / kilo
Camote – 200 / bag
Chili (sweet red) – 250 / small bag
Flowers – bunches ranged from 800 to 1800; singles (don’t know the names) went for 100 each
Eggs – 1200 / kilo (white); 1300 / kilo (brown); 15 eggs is usually about a kilo
Celery – 500 / large bunch
Bananas – 400 / kilo
Green beans – 400 / kilo
Ayote (large squash used in soups) – 400 / quarter
Mora (blackberries) – 500 / big bag; 250 / small bag
“brain” fruit (don’t know the name, but we think the inside looks like a brain – tastes good) – 500 / bag of 11

January 5, 2008 – Now What?

Today the wind stopped - *now* what am I supposed to sing?!?

Friday, January 4, 2008

January 4, 2008 - Everyone Knows It´s Windy

And it has been *WINDY* every single day this year! (I just love saying that).

*Immediately* after the New Year´s Eve party, the wind picked up. Roofs are flapping, stuff is blowing in under the door, windows are slamming shut (and open). It is non-stop!

We saw a towel (some poor unfortunate´s laundry) hanging in the telephone wires. So I immediately started using 3 clips for each shirt, and constantly looking out the window to make sure none of my laundry had blown away. It didn´t, but it sure did twist and turn (and I´m glad I did use extra clips – several had come loose!).

It is getting easier to get to sleep – we are starting to take the racket for granted. I think if it suddenly stopped, I would as suddenly awaken not knowing what was going on.

I sure don´t envy anyone trying to fly in or out of San José these days. A friend´s parents flew out yesterday – I think I would have tried to delay… (ok, call me a wimp. I would have at the *very* least gotten all drugged up for it).

The good news - I am stuck on songs like "Everyone Knows it's Windy" and "Blue Skies."

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

January 2, 2008 - House-buying Frenzy?

House-buying Frenzy

One thing that is guaranteed to happen when you get a bunch of people in Costa Rica together from the USA - you talk about housing. Actually, you talk about buying and/or building a house. It’s easy to see why so many people think there is a buying frenzy here. “I gotta get mine before they’re all gone!”

Two years ago, when we went to the ARCR seminar on living in Costa Rica, the old-timers had advice on renting vs buying. The laws here highly favor the renter, and rents were pretty cheap. The rule-of-thumb (for a house with a mortgage, which is actually very unusual here) is that rents should be about 1% of the total worth of the house. Well, rents were running at about 0.65% - quite a deal! And renters can usually lock in a rate for 3 years.

At about the same time, all of the books we had read on moving to Costa Rica stated that it was very easy to find a nice place to live at a very reasonable cost (e.g., a basic, furnished smallish 1-bedroom apartment in a nice neighborhood of San Jose for $250/month).

We spent the next two years watching (just casually, since we really aren’t ready to settle on a place yet) real estate ads - and we saw a good half of the houses for sale languish for over 6 months (many for over a year). Then we met a friend who wasn’t sure whether Costa Rica would be right for her, so she decided to buy a house and live here for a while. This was to be *less* of a commitment than going through the residency procedures, and somehow better than renting… Well, within a few months, she knew that she wanted to move on. She put her house up for sale, and left. Six months later, it still has not sold.

All this was a pretty good case for renting - forever!


More and more often we talk to people who bought property 3 or 4 years ago, and say that they wouldn’t be able to afford that same property now.

Others talk about neighbors who sold their houses within days. They calculate that their house has increased by 15% (or $40,000, or some other nice figure).

Housing tours are getting to be big business. The latest tour that we heard about had 14 people in it - in 10 days, they were shown various properties around Costa Rica, and by the end, *eight* people had bought houses!

Mortgages for houses were unheard of in Costa Rica only a few short years ago. They are still very uncommon, but we are starting to see ads for them. They are hard to get, with a lot of hoops to jump through (e.g., you need to get life insurance to cover the loan in case you croak), and the interest rates are *high*!

So, perhaps it is getting to be less true that it is easy to buy, but hard to sell. Perhaps the housing bubble is moving from the states to Costa Rica. Perhaps the baby boomers will turn it into a solid market.

Whether there is a “valid” frenzy or not, it is still difficult to know who to trust - “buyer beware” is the watchword, and plenty of things can go wrong - adding unexpected costs and anxiety to the experience (buying *or* building).

And you still need to know *where* you want to live.

January 1, 2008 - Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Last night (new year's eve) we went to a lovely party! We met some new people and caught up with some old friends, too :). There was plenty of talking, laughing, and joking. We took the guitar and banjo, and spent a little while playing and singing. All through the evening, but especially at midnight, there were a *lot* of fireworks! It seemed that each house had a gathering, and each gathering had its own fireworks display! These are the kind that shoot up into the sky and burst - the kind we only get at community events in the states. They were *great*! Several rained debris (fortunately, not on fire) on the roof of the house - that is how close they were!

Also at midnight, we all opened our package of grapes. This is a Costa Rican tradition - you pack up 12 grapes and tie it with something red, and attach flowers that you gather from in front of a rich person's house. Then at midnight on New Year's Eve, you eat all twelve grapes. And you keep the flowers and red binding. This is how you make sure you have a prosperous new year. We joked that since our flowers were gathered from in front of the alcoholics anonymous building, we would have a drunken year...

Today, we followed at least one of my family's traditions - we had soup. It wasn't stone soup, but it was good anyway. And we didn't hike up the mountain, but we *did* "hike" to the central park. We saw a lot of Ticos doing the same, so we got a good mix of traditions :).

We saw a clown performing for a crowd in the park, and I took a couple of pictures...

I even delayed posting this because we were just too exhausted to do too much - and all the internet cafes are closed on the first... What a good excuse!