Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bicycle Racing in Costa Rica

On our walk to further investigate the local grocery stores, we noticed that several of "our" streets were blocked off - so, more investigations!

Just down our block was the end of the last leg of the International Tour of Costa Rica bicycle race! I got there just in time to see (probably) the last guy race to the finish, escorted by half a dozen motorcycle cops :-).

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Quiet Few Days

We just got home after a nice quiet visit with friends – just what we needed after our hectic first few weeks back!

We took several buses on the 24th, watched the fireworks that evening, spent the 25th watching the clouds flit through the blue sky,

and took more buses home again today.

We were forewarned that there would be no bus on the 25th, but completely forgot about the tope (horse parade) that would shut down Paséo Colón today – what a surprise! At least we are becoming used to surprises, and so when the bus turned the “wrong direction” in San José, we weren’t alarmed. But it did throw a monkey wrench into our “bus connection” plans :-S. We ended up walking the pedestrian boulevard instead of riding a bus for part of our return. Not a lot of fun with a guitar and two backpacks. Still, with a late lunch thrown in, we got home in 3 hours, none the worse for wear.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happiness Around the World

Sign seen while waiting in an office:
¨Gaiety takes you halfway to good health.¨

It reminded me of my quote (on the right) - ¨Every hour spent angry is 60 minutes of happiness wasted.¨

Nice to see this sentiment, wherever you are!

Fixing our Caja – Costa Rican Medical Insurance

One *big* thing we had on our ¨must do¨ list was to fix our Costa Rican medical insurance – the Caja. Rick was fine, but he was still affiliated with the Alajuela clinic (he registered there last year when we lived there). All he had to do was to change the affiliation to San Pedro. But *mine* - ugh! Last year, we didn´t have a recent marriage certificate, and so we couldn´t get my affiliation set up at all! So, this time we came armed :-). We had a marriage certificate, plus we got a copy of our translated and stamped marriage certificate from our residency package (now 3 years old). No problem!

Friday, we walked around asking people where the clinic was, and found it (after it was closed, of course) – it is only a block away!

This morning, we went in and changed Rick´s papers, and got mine started. I have to call after Thursday to find out when to come in and get my card (and this is Christmas week, when you don´t expect to get *anything* done)!

After we have our cards, we can make an appointment to see a doctor – but we have to do that by coming into the clinic at 6:00 a.m - SIX in the MORNING!

Friday, December 19, 2008

December 18, 2008 - Our Carrito!

We found a shopping cart! Here we were, all set to go on another hunt for the Cemaco in Zapote – find the right bus, find the store, look for the cart, get back home… Ugh! Sure, we’ll probably have to find the Cemaco eventually, but if it can wait a while, so much the better. What did we do to avoid this headache? We decided to just stroll through a couple of our local department stores – we have a Yamuni and a Muñoz y Nanne right down our street, so we looped through. And found it! They are quite a bit more expensive than those I had seen in the Target in California tho – Target = $10, MyN = c21,000 (about $38). Still, when you are talking about saving your hands and back from lugging groceries home, you don’t quibble so much.

While at MyN, we also found some *round* shower curtain rings – the “rings” on our curtain are oval, and not quite wide enough for the shower rod. Often, the shower rods here are pretty small – about ½ the diameter of those you can find in the states – so the smaller rings would work. But (of course) *our* shower rod is bigger. And yes, size *does* sometimes matter :-D.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Alajuela Living: Pros and Cons

I’ve been putting off posting a review of living in Alajuela, and I’ve finally figured out why. I didn’t want to write anything negative about it! Our rule for town reviews is to write pros *and* cons, and Alajuela has always felt good – I didn’t want to dig for bad.

Well, since our plan for Costa Rica is to live in several towns for several months each before deciding where to settle down, we have to try to stand back; we have to toss the rose-colored glasses. I struggled with the Orosí review as well.

During our visits, we have been trying to keep in mind that we are looking for the best place for us - this is difficult because it is so easy to focus on the positive and ignore or downplay any negatives. It is easy to say "Oh, we can live without that," etc.

We lived in Alajuela for 4 months, from the end of the rainy season until the end of the dry season. When we left, we kept it on our list as a possibility. We let our impressions settle for a while, then came up with this list of Pros and Cons.

Costa Rica update
  • Affordable: While still affordable, CR has gotten more expensive.
  • Safety: We believe CR is getting more violent.
  • Year-round living: We have our residency (no change in outlook)
  • Religion: We’ve seen many saints’ processionals, we’ve met more people who attend church, but are not fanatics. However, Alajuela central park often had yelling bible-thumpers. (no change in outlook)
  • Interesting (culture, activities): There are many universities, museums, theaters, and a symphony (but mostly only in San José). Music is a big part of life. Cowboys (sabañeros) are alive and well, contributing fancy horse-back riding, topes, and rodeos to the scene. A question we still have is how easy is it to get involved?
  • Dangerous diseases (few or none, please): Dengue fever is on the rise.
  • Medical care (accessible and good): We bought into the state-run medical insurance ($61/month for both of us). There are several excellent private and public hospitals, but the best ones are in San José. I had surgery – so far, so good.
  • Water – must be drinkable (bottled water is available, but too expensive and bothersome). Neither of us could drink the tap water without some degree of discomfort; we ended up using bottled or filtered water for drinking and for making soup and coffee. This has been true in every town so far, so we have decided that we will need a water filter for anywhere we live in Costa Rica. We found a faucet-mounted water filter at EPA in Escazú, and brought a large supply of the replacement filters from the states.

Alajuela Overview (see here - - for data**): Alajuela is a large city – it is the second largest city in Costa Rica, and has about 72,000 people. It is the city nearest the “San José” airport. It is about 17 km West of San José (560,000 people). It is in the central valley - a bit lower in elevation (918 m / 3015 ft) than San José (1146 m / 3763 ft).

  • Friendly people – Alajuela has some of the friendliest people! On our nearly daily walks, we exchange smiles and greetings with many people. We have met and become friends with many people there. Alajuela is on par with small towns in its friendliness. We felt much more welcomed than in Grecia (for example).
  • We fit in (purely a feeling): We are comfortable walking around Alajuela. The neighbourhoods make us feel energized.
  • Very few of the helpful people have ulterior motives (e.g., they genuinely want to help; they are not just trying to sell you something).
  • Alajuela is not a tourist town, but we saw a lot of travellers.
  • A Central Park – Alajuela has an excellent central park, as well as many others. We regularly walked through 3 on our short trip to the bus station; all are beautiful and relaxing.
  • Excellent central market; a lot to chose from. However, we didn’t shop there often enough to develop a sense of what were fair prices. There is also a weekly farmers market, verdurerías, and super markets.
  • Good doctors are available in town; there are both a clinic and a hospital. It is a decent bus ride (20-45 minutes) to San José for private hospitals and major public hospitals.
  • Easy to find things – it is a large town, and the provincial capital, so most items are available (shoemakers, tailors, spices, appliances, furniture, bedding, “unusual” medications). Specialty items (CPAP) are available in San José.
  • Many ethnic restaurants – Chinese, Columbian, Peruvian, Italian, Tex-Mex…
  • (Pro for Julie) ¨Good¨ climate - not too humid, a little bit too hot. “Hot” was 84-87 inside. A fan helped, and Julie got used to the heat. At the peak-heat time of day, there was usually a nice breeze, so going outside (like to a park:)) helped. Our apartment got pretty cold at night – 67 was not uncommon (a thicker blanket would have been welcome).

  • (Con for Rick) Climate – Rick needs a cooler elevation (perhaps 1200-1300 meters or higher); Alajuela’s elevation is about 900, and is on the hot side. Temperatures in the upper 80s were common. It was too hot for Rick.
  • Somewhat difficult to have a horse nearby, but there is a stable. We didn’t see any riders.
  • Not as affordable as smaller towns – rent was double; food was more expensive.
  • Few opportunities for social interactions and meeting new people. There were few events for such a large town (although the soccer stadium had games and a few concerts). Limited to “hang-outs” such as Jalapeño’s, and private parties.
  • Able to find housing within 10 blocks of the center of town – we found an apartment that was 5 blocks from the central park, but it is more expensive than in smaller towns. It was also hard to find!
  • Feels safe (emphasis in addition to above list) – safe enough that a woman can walk around alone at night? I used to do this in Alajuela, but now I would think twice about going by myself after dark.
  • Community – need to be part of an artist/music/movie community (how far away is too far?) – near UCR, or other center. Didn’t find this in Alajuela.
  • Entertainment / Mental Stimulation – we need a town with more than churches and bars (of course, parks are very entertaining) – Difficult to find.

** use some caution when looking at populations – this site counts the population within a 7 km circle. So, large towns are under-represented and small towns get more population than actually live in town.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sabana Cementerio Bus Route

The Sabana Cementerio has two routes in San José, and is c115.

The only part of route #1 that we know about so far is that it goes from the park near ARCR to the park near Clínica Bíblica, and ends at the CCSS (the central Caja).

Route #2 starts around the corner from the terminus of the San Pedro bus, near the East end of the pedestrian boulevard. It goes to the North of the Paséo Colón, past the central Banco National (at the North end of the pedestrian boulevard), past the Mercado Central, near Coca Cola (many bus terminals to other cities are here), then past the park near ARCR, and to the East end of La Sabana park – the stop is across the pista, next to the national gymnasium. Then it takes Avenida 10 (South of Paséo Colón) turns up Calle 5, goes past the CCSS (central Caja) on Avenida 2, then back to the starting point.

San Pedro Bus Route

We have another bus route to add to our repertoire. :-)

Although we haven’t yet ridden the bus through most of San Pedro, we take it *all* the time into San José! We catch it across the main street from the Outlet Mall (this isn’t full of outlet stores, it’s just the name of the mall). It is c185, and goes straight down Avenida Central to the terminus near the East end of the pedestrian boulevard.

The return takes you South one block, then East, following the old railroad tracks. This road curves back up to become Avenida Central again, where the route goes past the San Pedro Mall, the circunvalación, the Outlet Mall, and into San Pedro.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December 16, 2008 - Fixed!

Ahhh – today was a day of fixes.

Although the day was not pleasant *at all,* we did get a lot of long-standing items checked off.

We got up early, skipped breakfast, and took two buses to Clínica Bíblica for my surgery follow-up. I got blood tests, an endoscopy, and met with my doctor. All good news! I have a clean bill of health, I can stop taking medication, and have no more restrictions on what I can eat :-).

To top that off, when we got back to the apartment, we found the landlady working away! She was replacing the hot water system *and* the leaky sink faucet! AND I was able to put our water filter on the new faucet! Ahhh, life is good again!

Some costs (with 10% ARCR cash discount):
- complete hemogram = c10,400
- full lipid panel = c18,500
- fasting glucose = c3,600
- TSH = c18,500
- endoscopy = c58,500

Monday, December 15, 2008

December 15, 2008 - Apartment Woes

Apartment woes - or is that “Whoas”?!?

We lept a little fast this time – we keep learning lessons from our past visits, but sometimes they are the wrong lessons for the current visit… I guess that is a life-lesson :-P

We’ve been in the apartment for almost a week, and we still haven’t seen our landlady long enough to get a contract, pay the rent (wow! Really strange, since we expected to have to pay and sign before moving in.), get more than one set of keys, get the electric and phone bill (we need the phone bill to get internet started up), etc – certainly different than every time before…

So, our apartment has some drawbacks:
  • The sink is leaky, and too small to fit our water filter. On our past stays, we had discovered to our dismay that we can’t really handle too much of the water without filtering it – so we have a nice little filter that fits right on the faucet. And we brought down a year’s supply of replacement filters :-)
  • The water heater is a very small tank, not on-demand, and so it doesn’t quite last a shower – we are taking “Navy” showers – get wet, turn off the water, soap up, then rinse – and the rinse ends a bit cool…
  • The pila doesn’t get much sun, so clothes on the line take a couple of days to dry, even when there is no rain. (yes, that was a hint – I did do some laundry, by hand…).
  • We don’t have internet set up, but there is some hope here. Cable is available, and there is a landline. And the apartment has had internet before.

We called our landlady (Friday), and she said she would send someone to look at the hot water situation. Well, someone came out Monday, checked it out, and said that the water heater worked the way it was supposed to, but it just wasn’t big enough for us. He had some recommendations for replacing it with a bigger one. Hmmm – given our past experiences, we aren’t holding out any hope for anything to change.

What to do? We went through some possibilities – we decided that we couldn’t continue with the cold showers, so we got a newspaper and started looking at more apartment ads. We took our deep breath, and were just about to make some calls, when our landlady says she is sending someone the next morning to change the tank – WOW! Unheard of! We let a glimmer of hope through, and delayed our calls…

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 14, 2008 - Sunday in the Park with Friends

Today we caught up with some more friends! We met Norman, Isabel, and Nico in La Sabana park – Nico is now 2 years old! He didn’t quite remember us, but we didn’t scare him either :-).

We hadn’t been to La Sabana park before, just ridden buses past it, so it was nice to experience the park as well.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

December 13, 2008 - Festival de la Luz

Today is for celebrating! We have an apartment with a guest room, a set of warm blankets, and a parade with a friend!

Linda drove out to our side of things (she was our guest-room guinea pig :-D) – we went out to lunch at Machu Picchu (a Peruvian restaurant near our apartment), showed her around our neighbourhood a bit, then caught the bus into San José for the Festival de la Luz!

The Festival de la Luz is an evening parade with lighted floats and bands. It starts at 6:00 with a fireworks show.

And Santa arrives on a moto!

For us, it started at 5:30 with a light drizzle :-(. By 6:00, it was raining! We were soaked, and already tired of standing – we were at the end of the parade route, and knew that the parade would last several hours. So – we took a vote and left early. We watched the fireworks as we walked back to our bus, and watched the parade on the television as we dried off at an Italian restaurant (the pizza is good, and so is the pesto fettuccini). We did have some fun tho – “look at all that rain! I think that’s sleet, isn’t it?”

One thing that was so surprising – at least until you think about the culture – is that a 9-year old girl was sitting, waiting for the parade to start, and her father said “let’s go, there is a lot of rain” – and she went! Without a *bit* of complaining! Maybe she was miserable sitting there, but she didn’t show it. And parades are such a big thing for kids. Still, you see so few spoiled kids here.

Next year, we’re thinking we’ll try for a party room on the route – do the parade thing the grown-up (spoiled?) way…

Friday, December 12, 2008

December 12, 2008 - The Elusive Hypermás

Today we are on a mission – go to Hypermás, price some items, and get one of those hand-carts for bringing home groceries. Doesn’t sound like too much, does it? HAH!

Step #1 – find the right bus. Well, already we are hosed. We knew the Hypermás was in Curridabat (a nearby town), and we new the buses went right by our main street (1/2 a block a way). We also (almost) knew that we should be able to see Hypermás from the road. So, we go out and look – we get on the Curridabat bus, and start looking out the windows. No Hypermás. We’re at the end of the line, in Tirrases. No Hypermás. We ask the bus driver (who is very kind) – he says that “the muchacho” will drive us. When we ask “the muchacho” how much, he say c3,000 – yikes! Are you kidding!? We just got off a c250 bus (not the turnip truck, you know). So, we find out from more bus driver conversations that we need to take the same bus back to the main road, then take a different bus (one headed for Tres Ríos), and that will get us to Hypermás. Only we don’t quite absorb the bit about the second bus… So, we get the return bus, the other kind driver tells us where to get off, and we do. We walk around a lot, looking for The Elusive Hypermás. Finally, we compare notes about what we heard, and ask a group of people sitting at a bus stop – they confirm that we need to catch the next Tres Ríos bus. Ahhh – we *do* see Hypermás from the road, and the bus driver stops and points it out for us. We climb the grassy knoll, cross the pista (the freeway), and we’re there!

Step #2 – look for stuff. Not too bad – this is basically a really big store, full of groceries on one side, and housewares and sporting goods on the other. Some of the prices (@ approximately c550 per dollar):
- 21” TV c92,000
- Tico semi-automatic clothes washer c164,000 (this is 20” wide, and so would fit through our 26” pila doorway)
- Weight set c61,000
- Plates c390
We decided to buy a coverlet (king size, c25,000) – San Pedro nights are just a bit on the cool side for me; even three of our (thin) blankets weren’t warm enough. We also saw (amazing, since I had been looking for this *all* last year) foam mattress tops (the egg-crate kind) for about c7,000 (twin).

Step #3 – buy grocery cart. Hmmm – not a one in sight. We looked for one of these all last year, and finally (at the end of our stay, of course) someone said that Hypermás and Cemaco had them. Well, Hypermás does not! We finally asked the nice lady, and she said “try Cemaco” :-D. We went back and asked her what the right word was for the item, and she didn’t know – she said maybe “carrito” or “carretillo.”

Step #4 – get home. This wasn’t so bad at least. The nice lady pointed out the direction of the bus stop, and we went. Caught a likely-looking bus, and got off just a couple of blocks from our apartment.

Step #5 – relax!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

December 11, 2008 - Moving Day # 2

We finished our move today :-D.

We spent our last morning in our apartotel, finished our breakfast food, got our small remnants of suitcases together, and got a taxi to our new apartment. This was our first taxi ride since coming back (not counting the airport taxi on arrival). The base rate is now c470 – the few blocks ended up at c650. But at least we didn’t have to cross the circunvalación (this is the freeway-like, *very* busy street that circles San José) lugging suitcases!

I measured our apartment, just for curiosity’s sake – it is 525 square feet plus a 65 square-foot pila. Quite a bit smaller than our 1600 square-foot house in California!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

December 10, 2008 - Moving Day # 1

Today is Moving Day (well, day #1 anyway)!

While Rick went to the apartment to meet with the landlady, I went to meet our Taxi de Carga and move our stuff from our friend’s house. I caught the San Pedro bus into San José, then walked the pedestrian mall (the section of downtown that is open to pedestrians only) towards the Alajuela bus terminal. I had checked on my map, and the terminus was just a couple of blocks past the end of the pedestrian section. So, I didn’t worry about counting blocks, looking for landmarks, etc – all the things you normally do. Well! Lucky me – the pedestrian mall had been extended – it went a few blocks further, and so (of course) did I. Arg! I walked about 10 minutes longer, past the hospital (a veeery long block), and finally asked an Alajuela-San-José bus driver where the terminus was (it was a StationWagon bus). He started to tell me, but then said to just hop on and he would take me – whoo hooo! I did just what I had seen so many others do – I got on, but didn’t cross the bar (the light bar that counts passengers). We went *all* the way back to the end of the pedestrian mall, and turned one block. Geez. He pulled into the StationWagon terminus, and pointed to the directo bus – I thanked him (profusely!). The tough thing is that I needed the Tuasa directo bus – its terminus in Alajuela is just a few blocks from where I was to meet Arturo (our moving guy). The StationWagon terminus was *quite* a few blocks more. So, I ducked around a bus (out of sight of my so kind driver), and walked a block to the Tuasa bus. The bus left shortly, and I got to Alajuela with no problem (bus fare is now about c425). I walked to the Palí, but I was earlier than planned, so I bought some snacks for later. When I called Arturo, he picked me up and explained that there was *another* Palí – he was expecting me there :-(. I still don’t know where this is…

We drove to Bodegas (a small town between Grecia and Alajuela), and loaded up the truck. It looked like everything was well-padded and tied down, but at the end of the day, our bedframes got pretty dinged up – paint scratched off and some connections bent. Some of the bolts had come out, and we lost a nut – but Arturo had a replacement (and a wrench), so we at least got them working again.

It took us less than an hour and a half to drive to our apartment (including a stop in Los Yoses to pick up our monster suitcases from the apartotel), then just a short time (certainly less than an hour) to unload and set up.

Apartments in Costa Rica are not usually clean when you move in – often you can get the keys a day or two ahead and clean it yourself, but we had forgotten this. Besides, we were in a hurry to get into our own place :-D. So, we were very happy to unload some storage bags and find cleaning supplies! We had expected that our friend would use these, but she knew we would use them right away – she was soooo right! We spent some time doing a little bit of cleaning – we still don’t have a new broom or mop, so we were somewhat limited. But! we got the living room set up, bathroom necessities available, and the beds made – what more do you really need? The kitchen can wait for tomorrow!

All told, I left San Pedro at 10:15, and we were cleaned up and out for coffee and a snack by 3:30. The trip totalled c185 (bus) + c425 (bus) + c1500 (moving snacks) + c50,000 (mover).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cinema in Costa Rica!

We just got back from the movies! We saw James Bond – Quantum of Solace. If you don’t know, it is largely set in Bolivia (a Spanish-speaking country – remember that, it’s important…).

We got there a bit earlier than we needed to – it started at 6:40, and we were in our seats by 6:30 (us and another couple). At 6:40 on the dot, the lights dimmed, commercials were aired, more people came in… Reminded me of going to the movies in small-town USA (we once arrived a few minutes into the pre-movie commercial, and they offered to re-start it for us – can you see that happening now? Anywhere?). The price was reasonable - c1800, or about $3.25 each. I think the last time I saw a movie in California, it was $10 (and it was a matinee).

An e-friend (you know who you are) tells me that there is a cine in Curridabat where they bring your dinner and wine orders to your plush seat - just like a restaurant, but with big-screen entertainment - Now that sounds too good to be true!

Most live-action movies in Costa Rica are in the original language (usually English), with Spanish subtitles. Note that most *cartoon* movies are in Spanish. Sooo, if you really want to know if your Spanish is up to snuff, go see a movie in Costa Rica that is set in a Spanish-speaking country – like Bolivia… You will find that whenever the characters speak Italian, French, Spanish, or whatever-not-English, the usual I-depend-on-them-but-not-for-long English subtitles are (you guessed it) not *there!* They continue with the Spanish ones - *except* when the characters are speaking Spanish – then NONE!

I suggest starting with an action-adventure movie, where dialog isn’t really all that important anyway. This is in no way meant to slam these movies, which I like – they’re fun!

Festival de la Luz

This Saturday is the annual Festival de la Luz in San José!
Things are starting to ramp up for it - here is an article from Inside Costa Rica:

The Festival is an evening parade of lights down the main drag of the city - the city center is shut down to traffic for hours before.

San Jose Banco National Central

Yesterday we picked up our new bank cards! As we left, we made sure that the building we *thought* was the central Banco National really was the right one :-). (it was – the really tall building near the Mercado Central) We took the San Pedro bus to the terminus, then hopped on the cementerio bus to our bank. We went to customer service on the second floor, saw the line, and said “hmmm, let’s come back after lunch.” So, we walked down the pedestrian boulevard looking for cheap eats. These are amazingly difficult to find! We finally found a soda (cafeteria style) tucked in the back of a panaderia – after that, lunch was *fast!*

We got back to the bank, got our ticket, and sat down to wait. Well, I saw our number come up, and then – boom! – it went right past us! I looked around (with a good, confused look on my face – really, who could help it?), and the woman sitting next to me asked what was wrong? Well, she explained that they were only on the black numbers, and I had a green number – arg! I still had a *hundred* people in front of me! But then – I can *not* get over how *nice* people are here! – she handed me a black number! Said it was for me! She had two, and only needed one. (Note to self – next time, get two numbers and do the same for someone else.)

We had completely forgotten about getting a ticket first, then going to lunch. Another thing to remember…

So instead of god knows how long, we only spent an hour (including lunch) waiting. Then we spent 15 minutes getting our brand new bank cards – this is the branch of the bank that stamps the cards from blanks. We could have waited a couple more days and gotten them from our local branch, but we had no other good way to get cash. We immediately checked them at the ATM in the lobby of the bank – success!

Afterwards, we decided to see just how long a walk it was back to our San Pedro bus – not bad at all! The pedestrian boulevard goes all the way East to the bus terminus, and is an easy walk. It looks long on the map – but is only 6 short blocks, with lots to see on the way. We found a Pop’s (yummy ice cream) right before the end – did we stop? Of course!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Our Local Supermarket

I can’t *believe* our new “local supermarket” is the Auto-Mercado! This is *the* most expensive market around – it mainly carries high-end, hard-to-find products. The best example of this is a scant double-handful of cherries – you won’t believe this – is $25 (TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS)!

So, we didn’t buy cherries… We did ok – got some breakfast basics for about the same (if you count inflation) as in Alajuela. Skipped the $40 scotch too.

And after we move into our new apartment - yay! - we'll be closer to others - Más x Menos and another.

To be fair, Auto-Mercado is a great place to go when you have a yen for something you can’t find easily. They probably have it, and you can survive another few months :-D.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

House Hunting – Success!

House-hunting this time was much easier than last year in Alajuela! This is partly due to all those lessons we learned from our previous attempts, and partly because the economy is not so strong.

Last year, we were staying in Alajuela, and we started looking for an apartment or house in San Pedro. Since San Pedro is on the other side of the capital city from where we were staying, it was difficult to even know where to start looking. So lesson #1 – stay near where you want to live while you look. We were also looking exclusively for a furnished place. Even after we gave up on San Pedro, we found it very difficult to find a furnished place – so, lesson #2 – go for unfurnished if necessary, and buy the basics. We tried craigslist (online) and La Nación (a newspaper), but without exception, the advertised apartments were rented by the time we called – even on the same day! So, we started walking around the neighbourhoods asking people in the street about unoccupied apartments or houses; we looked for posts in ICE offices, internet cafes, and pulperias (small grocery stores). We put the word out to anyone who would listen, and finally found an apartment. Lesson #3 – walk around and ask *everyone* - don’t rely exclusively on advertisements.

This year, we stayed in Apartotel Los Yoses ( - we booked a week (lesson #1). Yesterday, while walking around the neighborhood, we went into two hostels to ask about housing. We decided to reserve a room at one of them ( for the following week, just in case. We asked (lesson #3) at the coffee shop in the mall, we asked the bank guard, we asked at the lunch counter down the street… I even posted for help on my favorite forums. The hostel folks pointed us in one direction, and on the way, we talked to the street guard. He kindly called his boss, who drove down, picked us up, and showed us his apartment for rent in Los Yoses. It was nice! 2 bedrooms, 1 ½ baths, Living room, dining room, kitchen, pila (laundry patio), and a maid’s room / bathroom. Unfurnished (lesson #2), for $400/month. The only real problem is that he required a year’s lease – and we aren’t certain enough of our plans to commit to that. So, when we got back to our hotel, we got out La Nación and Al Día and started calling. We got through to a couple of places, and made an appointment for today to see one.

Today, Paulina came by to pick us up and showed us an apartment in San Pedro – it is about a block off the main road, close to UCR, close to the outlet mall, close to… pretty much everything we need :-D. It is partly-furnished (lesson #2), has 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, kitchen, living room, and pila. Short-term is no problem, and the rent is $400/month – we look around the apartment some more, Paulina drives us around the neighborhood, pointing out grocery stores, dance classes, bus stops, the Monge, restaurants, etc. As she drops us off at our hotel, we say we’ll take it! Woo hoo! We move on Wednesday!

Now – to work! And play some – the James Bond movie is still playing at the mall…

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Unexpected Tasks – What Did You Expect?

I don’t think we really have “unexpected tasks” anymore – we pretty much expect that there will be things that we have to do (tasks) that we didn’t think we’d have to deal with (unexpected).

Friday (our first full day in Costa Rica) was full of these things. The first thing you always have to deal with in a new place is getting oriented. This one was pretty easy – we are right across the street from Mall San Pedro – we had been there before on a previous trip. This time, we found the pedestrian signal light – the *safe* way to cross the street.

Our first problem to deal with was money – we had left our small stash of colones in the states, as well as our single Costa Rican bank card. We had some dollars, but not a lot. And we had no breakfast. We cross to the mall, find several ATMs, but none are working for us. We find our bank, but it isn’t open until 1:00. We’re a bit cranky – no food, surrounded by restaurants! We finally decided to charge a sandwich – who’s picky at this point? Well, really, who’s *thinking* at this point! We go back to our hotel, ask about other banks, and find out that (duh!) there were several other banks in the mall. Shoot! We go back, change all our dollars to colones at a different bank, have a nice conversation with the bank guard about English, Spanish, and apartment-hunting, get some *wonderful* coffee, and decide to just wait until our bank opens.

We’re in line at 10 minutes till 1:00, and only have a short wait to see our banking expert. We should have thought of this before, but as it turns out, this was a more necessary trip than we thought! We needed to get a new bank card to replace the one left behind. But, because we got new passports, the number changed. Because the number changed, we had to update our account reference. So, we got all that taken care of – and I even got my own card this time :-D. It is amazing how much paperwork this sort of thing takes – we spent over an hour at the desk, and our guy was typing and stamping the entire time! It is a Friday, and so we can pick up our new cards on Monday (if we go to the central office. We would wait until Wednesday if we wanted to pick them up at the local branch). Meanwhile, we can’t do any transactions (online or in line) until we get our new cards. Contrast this a bit with our situation in Alajuela last year – the ATM ate our card, and the guy inside got us money using our passport. We got a new card in roughly the same amount of time.

Next stop – lunch (seems like we’re eating all the time!), then catch some buses to ARCR on the other side of town. *This* was *great!* We had planned to find out more about the bus system through San Jose – it seems so complicated, especially when you are coming from another city, and need to get to the other side of San Jose. Well, we took two buses, and it was *easy!* I think I’ll have to post separately about the details.

We got to ARCR about 3:30, and signed up for AeroCasillas so we can get mail forwarded from the states. Then we got the ball rolling on looking for an apartment.

We took the same 2 buses back to our hotel, and relaxed a bit – contacted some friends, got on the internet. It felt good to get so much accomplished, even if some of it was not on our original list :-)

Still Moving…

After a lovely week of visiting family and finalizing our address changes, shopping, re-packing, and doing all those infinitely-added-to list of thing to do, we are ready (almost!) to fly to Costa Rica.

We got up at 4 a.m., and threw the last items in our bags. Then (arg!) we weighed the final bag – 54 pounds! 4 pounds over! We hurriedly decide we don’t really need that toiletry bag, this item can go in carry-on, and that shirt can pad the banjo. We now have 3 bags at 50 lbs, one at 70 lbs, 2 max-sized carry-ons, a banjo, another carry-on, and a medical equipment bag that doesn’t count. Plus, we have coats and an umbrella (these count either). Are we the ugly travellers now, or what!?

We leave by 5:15, and notice the temperature is 36 degrees – okay! Time to start thinking about warm Costa Rica!

We get to the San Francisco airport in good time – 3 hours almost to the minute. We unload the car and say goodbye to Mom and Brother. We still don’t know when we will return, so it was a bit more difficult this time.

Well! So we get to the counter – no line! But (BUT!) OMG… I could have *sworn* I read the website correctly, but it must have been wishful thinking – San Jose (Costa Rica) flights don’t allow *overweight* bags! This is now (barely) peak season, so only 2 checked bags each, and only 50 lbs each bag. ARG! We sort through the heavy bag, looking for small, heavy items – succeed in pulling out 20 pounds, and re-distribute in carry-ons. I cannot get my sling bag zipped. Too bad. It’s going. (oh, soooo ugly!)

In all this chaos, we now can’t find our baggies of liquids. At least the line in security is also not bad – we keep telling people they can go around us – they didn’t seem too PO’d. We finally find one baggy – we figured we must have left the other one at the house. We proceed. We have to:
- take off shoes
- take out 2 laptops
- take out the CPAP
- take out the DVD player. Yes, we brought it – padded with 4 pounds of clothes :-)
- take out the baggy of liquids
- go back through the beep-beep machine, empty pockets…
Then we get to do the reverse! People *really* love us now, and it’s only gonna get better.

So, we get to our gate, relax, get some juice and a bit of food. Rick starts to look for his pack of important papers, and *CAN’T FIND THEM* - we’ve now used up our quota of panic. We find the USA cell phone and Mom’s cell phone number – call. They pull off the road and look – they find. They are 50 minutes away, and our flight boards in just about that amount of time. So – plan B. We’ll deal with all this later…

Now we get to make more friends – carrying on all that *stuff!* Some anxiety later, we are safely ensconced in our seats, “stuff” stowed. This time we fly through Houston, Texas – never done it before. Houston is *lovely* from the air! Trees all over the place, river and delta gleaming in the sunlight. The airport has *got* to have the longest taxi distance in the world! But our connecting flight is not very far, and there is a food court in between. After a little more anxiety, we again get all our stuff stowed, and away we went!

Got into the San Jose airport with no problem, about 10:00 pm. Went through the resident’s line at immigration and showed our old passports with the residency stamp, our copy of our cedula renewal appointment, and my cedula. Rick’s cedula is in the “pack of important papers,” but all the other documents we had seemed to suffice. We got our entry stamps in our new passports, and we’re off to collect our many suitcases!

What a line! We had no problem finding suitcases, but had to wait for 2 carts for them. Then the line for customs was all the way to the back of the baggage claim area – I stopped looking at the time… The lovely customs lady came down the line collecting our customs papers, we got all our bags through the viewing machine, and rolled on – no one seemed to be checking any bags other than that. So, pretty smooth.

We got our taxi to Los Yoses ($30). I had looked into using Interbus – it was advertised as $7 each to San Jose, but we would only be allowed one bag each. (something for others to keep in mind tho – you just need to reserve it 72 hrs ahead). Our taxi driver knew right where the hotel was – thankfully, since I had emailed for directions, but not yet received them (they were in my inbox when I checked it the next day – from the hotel - LOL).

Got checked in, and conked out a bit after midnight (75 degrees)…

On the Move Again!

We’re on the move again! This time, we packed up the house in California, and got it ready to rent out. We have been splitting our time for the past 3 years between California and Costa Rica, but keeping our base in California. Now it’s time to switch the pattern!

Our saga (this time) started a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving – our decision date for leaving or staying a while longer arrived, and it looked like the best thing to do was to go. So *bam!* we had to get crackin’ – we had already made plans to visit with my family for Thanksgiving, so that became our deadline for moving out of the house. We contacted a rental agent and set up the transfer of everything, got a moving van, and packed, packed, packed! Dad and Brother drove down early on “the day” and then we all spent SEVEN (7!) hours loading the van and finishing the packing. We finally got down to only a couple of “I don’t know” boxes (you know, those things that you just don’t know what to do with, so you toss them in a box, tape it up, and deal with it later). We had already had a couple of donation pick-ups earlier in the week, and couldn’t set up a final one (nor a final “large” garbage pick-up). So, we also had to load up quite a bit of stuff that we donated in my family’s town. It’s amazing what 13+ years of nooks and crannies can accumulate!

We finally got loaded, and took a small break before taping up the “final bathroom box” and heading out. This is now Tuesday evening of Thanksgiving week – and peak rush hour. We were a bit apprehensive, but it turned out that there was only an extra hour on the entire trip – a total of 4 hours driving, with the first hour and a half in stop-and-go traffic. I was driving the (26 foot) van, and noticed what could have been either really rough road, or really bad tire. So, I pulled off and checked – Dad was right behind me (yay! I’m not really alone!), and all the tires were good. Now to get back on the freeway – ouch! Can’t go back the way I came off – get directions, run up a curb. what fun…

Safe and sound at my folks’ home – we unload just what we need for the night and conk out. The next morning, we start unloading – a couple of hours to fill the carport and 2 rooms of Mom and Dad’s house with boxes of stuff (weren’t *they* happy!), then a few more unloading at the storage shed. Got the van gassed up and returned (one more check on the list!).

Thanksgiving day, we spent sorting through boxes for re-packing and donating – then took a truck load over to donate, and a few more items to storage. Whew! got the rooms (mostly) cleared in time for the family dinner on Friday. The stress level is going *down!*

Now we have a week to finish our “to do” list :-)