CHAPTER TWO Costa Rica…how it began

It’s been a crazy 2017…planning our 3rd trip to Costa Rica, inviting my husband’s nephew from England to join us and my son, and this time, looking at houses and businesses while on our vacation.

We’ve visited Costa Rica a few times and always said we “could live here”. This visit, we were going to a new area (upon recommendation of my sister who married here in 2015) and we were looking at investment opportunities. After living in Virginia for almost 30 years, I knew I wanted to leave one day…but wasn’t sure where I (we) would go. We love the ocean but finding a job or launching our own business in a beach town in the U.S. seemed daunting. Having our own business was a vision for both of us..but WHAT would we do? Prior to each visit to Costa Rica, I peruse the real estate listings and look at the prices and availability of investment real estate in our upcoming destination area. This time, I noticed that the real estate companies also feature businesses for sale in Costa Rica, so why not look?

One month after our visit in February, we were back: meeting with a business owner, listing agent, attorney and negotiating our way to what I call “CHAPTER TWO”. Many things had to fall into place: 1) I had to be willing to give up my current career (the love for my job had prevented me thus far from considering a move) 2) We had to sell the house by owner 3) We had to find a place to live long term in Costa Rica 4) I needed my son to find a more stable job and a place to live (he’s 23) 5) I had to be able to take the dog and of course 6) the money needed to fall into place.

Needless to say, all of the requirements fell into place and on August 3, 2017, my husband, daughter, dog and I rolled into the Liberia airport (along with 18 suitcases) and journeyed to our new (but temporary) home in Tamarindo.

Costa Rica is not just paradise…it’s REALITY. It’s a “step back to simplicity” and definitely an adjustment (more so for the hubby). Everything seems different: the smells, the sounds, the weather, the atmosphere. The locals (Ticos) are very friendly and accommodating. The birds are all very different species from the ones my grandmother taught me to identify as a little girl. The howler monkeys sound like something off of Jurassic Park. Even my dog seems to think that things sound very different here. Oh yes…and the insects here are different….millipedes, centipedes, leaf-cutter ants, scorpions, and what all else is yet to be discovered…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What in the world are you talking about?

One of the most amusing parts about moving to a foreign speaking country is the confusion of the expats and tourists while trying to learn the language. In the USA, we have all run into the occasional foreigner trying to ask or tell us something in English and getting confused with a word or two…but some of the stories here are just laugh-out-loud funny.

Before I tell you a few stories, let me give you a few insights on Spanish. First of all, they don’t pronounce the letter “V”. Their words HAVE “V’s”, but they pronounce them with a soft “B” sound. So the name Victoria sounds like Bictoria. Secondly, Spanish is spoken VERY fast. It is the second fastest language spoken behind Japanese.

The great part of the Spanish language is that the vowels only have one sound. Where in the English language the vowels have both a “short and long” sound, the vowels in Spanish have only one sound:  A – sounds like the English short A (like ah), E – sounds like an English long A (like Amy), I – sounds like a long E (like eat), O – sounds like an English long O (as in over) and U – sounds like “OO” (as in the word moon). With that…everything should be pretty simple, right? Not necessarily…..

A favorite bartender  was telling me about a guy who was in his restaurant/ bar (sounds like the beginning of a joke)  sitting at the bar drinking beers.  He asked the bartender “Carlos” for a glass for his beer. Glass in Spanish is vaso (but they pronounce the “v as a “b” so it sounds like “baso”). The guy asked Carlos for a glass pronouncing it as “beso” (rhymes with queso). Carlos told him “No. Sorry. ” The customer was upset and asked again for a “beso”. Carlos told him “No. Man, if you were a woman, I maybe say ok, but not for you.” The customer looked obviously frustrated. Carlos told him, “Sir, “beso” is a kiss. I do not want to kiss you.” Luckily…the embarrassed customer only wanted a glass.

Another word commonly mispronounced here is “peine”. Peine is a comb. When spoken, it sounds like “pay nay”.  A fellow Gringo here asked a local Costa Rican woman for a date. He is from the USA and the girl he was taken with was a local who had very little knowledge of the English language. However, he’s been here a bit over a year and,   he has enough Spanish under his belt that he was comfortable in going out with her.  The night of his date with her, he couldn’t find his comb and was self-conscious of how his hair looked. (His hair is about shoulder length.) At dinner, he felt his hair looked totally unruly and apologized to her that he did not have a comb. She looked at him oddly, but told him not to worry.  After dinner, walking her back to her place,  he was so embarrassed about how his hair felt/looked, he apologized again and told her he was truly sorry that he didn’t have a comb. He said she gave him another awkward look and told him it was okay, not to worry.  The next day, he was telling one of his Tico friends about the date and the guy BUSTED out laughing. Comb is pronounced “pay nay”….but PENIS is pronounced “pen nay” which is how this guy had been pronouncing the word. Basically, he apologized all night to his date for not having a penis.

The same thing happens regarding a local restaurant named Pangas. It’s just down from my favorite pharmacy. My doctor friend in the  pharmacy told met that the tourists often stop in  asking where “penis” is. Sometimes you can be sooooo close….

The last story that was told to me from a favorite local shuttle driver. A woman dancing in a local bar one night and got super intoxicated. She was so drunk that she was dancing on the tables….until she fell. The bar staff  helped her up asking if she was okay. In her drunken wisdom, she explained she was fine just embarrassed. Now…I must tell you, there are MANY words that translate from English to Spanish easily: absolutely is absolutamente, possible is posible, final is final (pronounced fee’ nal). BUT embarrassed does not translate like that. So when she told them she was “embarazada” thinking that it probably translated to embarrassed, an ambulance arrived, and took her to the hospital. Apparently, she was so drunk she didn’t understand why…but embarazada is PREGNANT in Spanish, so they called medical help since she had fallen off the table.

So…if you’re a tourist that doesn’t speak Spanish…just use your English. If you DO speak SOME Spanish, my Spanish teacher here told me to USE my “V” ability and not pronounce the “V” with a “B” sound. Most of all, if you move here, make a good friend or two that will correct you when you misspeak. One of my local friends is a GREAT English speaker, but even he gets confused. Told me the ATVs they rent are safe because they have “harmlesses”. Now that I’ve told him the difference in “harmless” vs “harness”….we are each other’s best resource. We all make mistakes…most of them are harmless..but almost all of them are humorous.

 

some observations…

Last entry I mentioned the wildlife and the wonders of the VERY beautiful Costa Rica. I want to touch base on some thoughts I would give those thinking of moving to another (lesser developed) country. Obviously, these are my thoughts and opinions and not “advice” to sway anyone’s opinion, but things that stand out in my 14 months now of living here. This is also based upon living in the Guanacaste region. I would never recommend moving to San Jose unless for business or education San Jose holds 25-33% of the entire population of Costa Rica and is not like “living in Costa Rica”

  1. (a)You WILL miss your conveniences. There are no CVS’s, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Best Buy, Target and the like. There is a WalMart in Liberia and a number of that and other stores in San Jose…but the WalMart in Liberia is a POOR representation of what we consider WalMart in the USA. Side note…I don’t like WalMart anywhere. (b) HOWEVER….the local pharmacies are WONDERFUL. The “pharmacist” is actually a doctor, and the ones we have entered are VERY polite, helpful and informative. Prescriptions for us have been cheaper out–of-pocket here than what my copays were in the USA with insurance. All prescriptions are different, but what we get regularly has been easy and inexpensive.
  2. (a)The people are generally and genuinely nice. The Costa Ricans are family-oriented, spiritual, basic people as a whole. They are not extravagant and are mostly a happy and thankful group. Very many of them in the higher tourist areas also speak pretty decent – excellent English.                                      (b)HOWEVER….Costa Ricans don’t like to say no. If you ask them to do something, they will say yes. If you expected them today and they didn’t show up, they may tell you that you actually said tomorrow. Or, if you ask them to repair something and they actually cannot, they may tell you they can and either “not show up”, or service you with an “I think this will work”.
  3. (a)Learning a new language. This has actually been one of my favorite and most frustrating aspects of living here. I LOVE learning a new language and so many people are willing to help. Many Costa Ricans (especially in the heavy tourist areas) speak decent to excellent English.                                                                                          (b)What is FRUSTRATING is the language barrier when dealing with legal entities. As we own a business here, we deal with the government, “social security”, banks, etc and THAT  is frustrating. The government offices don’t necessarily have English speaking employees and not all bank personnel speak English either. My background included use of  documents that were legally prepared on a regular basis, and it is very frustrating for me to not be able to understand 100% of what they these documents mean. So glad I took 4 years of French…
  4. (a)Buy new or used? Depends upon what you are buying. Appliances? Buy new…but don’t buy fancy. If you need someone to come out for repairs, the fancier your gadget, the more unlikely it will be fixed appropriately. Cars? Personally, buy used. The roads throughout much of Costa Rica put on a lot of wear and tear. I cannot imagine worrying if someone scratched or dented my car here or if that pothole that came out of nowhere dented my front spoiler.                                          (b)However, when buying a used anything,  the trick question is “Does it work?”  If so, for how long? Heck…that seems to be the best question around here. Can I get new parts? Maybe not…but ifi so, it may take a while to get the parts. But even then…DOES IT WORK? Cars, tools, appliances, etc. If what you have WORKS….you are golden.
  5. (a)Banking 101. You cannot exchange dollars for colones without your passport. You cannot get change without your passport. You cannot make a deposit without your passport. Do NOT go to the bank without your passport. Most ATMs have a button you can push to convert the dialogue from Spanish to English. Many tourists, cannot figure that out. There are times when I am in the bank vestibule and end up helping all of the tourists that cannot figure out how to get it to reflect English, how much to get in colones vs dollars, etc. I feel like the guy with the happy face stickers at WalMart. Everyone is so relieved to have an English-speaking person available to show them what to do. It’s awesome when everyone is happy to see you…        (b)BUT I can use the bank-specific ATM (there are 4 ATMs in the vestibule) to make a deposit to our account. HOWEVER, there is a limit to how much I can deposit per month…..AND…NO ONE seems to know what that limit is. At some point, I go to make a deposit and it won’t take it. When I asked the people inside what the limit is per month….no one knew. Interesting.
  6. (a)FOOD. The fresh fish and fruits are amazing here. I am now a HUGE fan  of pineapple and mango. During the high season, the watermelon tastes like candy. (b)BUT I do miss a lot of foods.  I am not a fast-food person OR meat eater. But, as we live in a small town, the “same ole same ole”…becomes “same ole”. I cook most evenings, but the selection of foods, spices, vegetables here are different from the USA. Some grocery store items are VERY expensive and some are VERY inexpensive. The things that are notably very expensive compared to the USA include: peanut butter, bacon, cheeses, cereals, ice cream, chips, canned soups, seafood, frozen goods, etc. Anything imported…is at a premium.

Just some of the things noted over the past 14 months. If you plan to move here, scope out the country before you land. For a country only about the size of West Virginia, it is quite diverse in climate, topography, demographics and accessibility. You can live in areas that are third-world like or somewhere like the San Jose metropolitan area which is a major city and constitutes 1/3 of the entire country’s population.  Also be prepared to grasp simple…you will be happier. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” expands to just plain old “don’t sweat it”, as it won’t do you any good. De-clutter your world and mindset. Embrace the sunrises and sunsets. Relish that the demands of a fast/quick/hurry world don’t exist here. (“Hurry up and wait” is more appropriate.) Let go of the superficial importances and pressures  are unnecessary and sometimes ridiculous here (don’t need to “dress to the nines”, spend exorbitant amounts of time styling your hair, expensive make-up (it will run off your face), heels are impossible to wear here, etc) and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. PURA VIDA.

It’s a jungle out there…..here….

One of the benefits of living in Costa Rica is the daily exposure to nature and the environment. Granted, in the US, I have always been “in tune” with nature: the changing of the leaves, the rainbows, the sunrises and sunsets….but there is something different when you are in a more “low key” environment that really makes (or enables you) to take time to “smell the roses”.

I am at the beach almost daily and the sun, sky, sand and water never cease to amaze me. Each morning seems like IT is the most beautiful and each sunset is photo opportunity. Sometimes,  the sun glistening on the top of the water makes it breathtakingly  look like glass and I seem to take pictures every day. The trees, flowers and animals are more perks and I am thankful on a daily basis that I am capable of seeing this beauty.

As I’ve mentioned before, nature is definitely not limited here. Many wild animals are frequently spotted:  monkeys, anteaters, skunks, raccoons, crocodiles and those living in the mountainous region can see the sloths. There are also many of the “owned” animals roaming the land and the streets such as : goats, horses, dogs, cats, chickens.. to the point that sometimes I don’t know if I live on a farm or in a jungle.

The monkeys are a tourist favorite. In Tamarindo, we have a plethora of howler monkeys. At any given moment, and in no particular place, you will witness tourists standing around looking up at the trees with their cameras in hand. The howler monkeys that live in our area make crazy deep stretched-out sounds that cross the valleys and treetops sounding like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. The howler babies and females make these tiny squeaky-like noises that can only be heard if you are near to them. The monkeys are constantly on the move. They definitely have their favorite places and trees, but they do not stay in the same place all of the time. They are either eating or sleeping. It is very rare to see a monkey on the ground. A few months ago, there was one in the middle of the road as we were driving home from town. The car on the opposite side stopped and we did as well. I got out of the car and shooed it out of the street. The residents and natives both love the monkeys and generally do what they can to protect them. The monkey population has suffered over the years due to the increase in roadways, power lines and the number of vehicles now on the roads. Monkeys do not have the “street smarts” that some of the stray dogs have and cross roads when they feel like it, regardless. The increase in power lines has caused the pruning of trees to reduce the chance of downed lines and some monkeys have also been electrocuted from these lines as they will use them in place of the branches. An organization was created (Save the Monkeys Association) which provides monkey bridges to replace the downed trees. These are ropes (to simulate vines) which connect trees from one side of the roadway to the other so that the monkeys do not have to touch land to cross the roads. The electric company here will install them for free in areas needed. Referred to as “monkey bridges” cameras have photographed many different forms of wildlife using these bridges to cross the roads.

This time of year there are fewer tourists and more evidence of wildlife. It’s a shame that so many avoid Costa Rica in September and October. We had some clients last week talk about how beautiful it is here. However, Guanacaste is not beautiful year-round. The period from December through April is basically rain-free and all of  the lush greenery turns brown…or gold as tit’s so fondly referred here. Guancaste is the “Golden Province” of Costa Rica. This time of year, the greenery, the temperatures AND the fishing are so much better. One gets a better idea and feel of what Costa Rica is REALLY like when the low season is here and the towns and beaches are quiet and the vibe is low key.

Whenever you DO plan your visit , don’t look at the weather apps. It has been raining every day, all day for months here…according to the apps. This is totally untrue. So don’t believe everything you read or here..just come and enjoy the experience…but remember, it’s a jungle out here.

 

Don’t let it get your goat

I continue to think I’ve seen it all here ….and I continue to be proven wrong.

As I stated in my blog about 2 weeks ago, we blew the transmission in our car and have been borrowing someone else’s truck for weeks. WEEKS.  You can’t make this stuff up. When we decided not to not buy another car, but replace the transmission in the car we had (remember, we’re on our 3rd radiator, rebuilt starter motor, numerous of tire issues, etc)  we felt it was better to keep dealing with the Devil we knew and not inherit more unknown problems.  Each car here seems to have its own personality. The “personality” our car has features such benefits as: backseat windows you cannot control from the back seat;  an A/C that no longer works; a headlight that doesn’t always work;  a sunroof that leaks; a transmission (before the recent death) that doesn’t always go into reverse; and squeaks that would embarrass you if you were driving through suburbia America.

The car we were fortunate enough to borrow for an extended period of time has it’s  own personality as well.  Problem #1: my daughter cannot drive it as it’s a stick. She HAS driven a stick before, but she is not at all proficient in driving a stick. The trouble lies in the fact that if you stall this truck …it won’t restart without a jump. No kidding. Other “features” include: an A/C (which works) but leaks down to the floorboard; no inside dome light (hubby recently repaired this); you need a magnet to start the car. Yes…a magnet. You have to hold this magnet in a special location for the engine to turn. No kidding. In addition, the doors to the truck cannot be locked as the key in the ignition may break if you take it out. Good news is, no one would be able to steal the car as it won’t start without the magnet anyway…so there you have it.

Our car was supposed to be repaired within 2-3 weeks. We are going on 7 weeks.  Pura Vida means do not stress. Things here are done on “Tico Time”. Soon means “whenever”. “I’m on my way” means they will eventually arrive (maybe not that day). If you ask a question and get no answer, assume “no”. If you call them and they don’t answer, assume “no”. The Costa Ricans do not like to tell people no.

Our current home has a beautiful view of a hills on north and southern sides of the house. We live on top of a hill with a long winding driveway that leads to the house and awesome views. West of the house, we can see a glimpse of the ocean and enjoy beautiful sunsets. During this “green season”, first dawn is also beautiful as the mist and low-lying clouds sit at the top of the hills and reflect pinks and grays as the sun rises east of the mountains.  Wildlife on our lot has included monkeys, iguanas, various birds, an anteater, skunks and the occasional stray cat. In recent weeks, we were leaving the house and halfway down the driveway almost hit a chicken. No idea where it came from. The most recent “house guests” were goats. Yes. Goat(s). There were 4: a mama, daddy and 2 young goats. Goats are ADORABLE and these were friendly and hilarious. Daddy goat would jump up on benches and rocks and even jumped into the back of the car when I left the back door opened while loading. Someone told me that goats eat EVERYTHING including their own excrement…not these goats.

I had no idea of the speed of the metabolism of a goat and the amount of pellets and piles scattered across the yard, patio, walkways, etc soon outnumbered the amount of cement and grass. During evening storms, they would huddle in our carport under a small boat that is up on blocks and in the mornings would run to us like dogs after a long day at work. If we had a bag of any kind in our hand, Daddy goat would mow you down to get to it. Within a day, the house smelled like a barn and tip-toeing around the “presents” became a hassle. Without provocation, one morning three of the goats left and mama goat was left “protecting” our front door and bleating for attention. That lasted another 2 days. After that point, everyone was tired of her “mess” and (with 2 bags of popcorn in hand) we found the owners and walked her home. The place smells better already.

Everyone back home refers to where we live as “paradise”. In many ways it IS paradise. But paradise isn’t just picturesque views and salt, sun and sand.  Paradise means a change of pace. It may be waiting for weeks to get something repaired;  or waiting to find the piece/part you need for said repair; or maybe it’s  waiting for dogs, people, horses, cows or monkeys to cross the road; or waiting for the internet to come back up…..or maybe it is just sitting on the beach waiting for the sun to set.

Wherever you live and whatever you do…life happens. Things still break, sometimes it rains, sometimes you fall…. but the sun comes up every morning regardless. Paradise isn’t just where you live. It’s how you handle the stresses of life that defines whether you find paradise or not.

Life is an experience…..

It’s been a wild few weeks and, I tell you, Costa Rica is filled with deja vus.

The difference in living life and experiencing life has a lot to do with wait time and accessibility. When you are just “living” life, if you lose something, break something or need to replace something you can do so basically immediately. (Even Amazon delivers in a few hours now.) When one is having to  “experience” life…you are tested with inaccessibility,  lack of immediate gratification, extended waiting times, and utilizing your own creativity to solve or fix the problems.

Recently, we’ve encountered some more of these”experiences” that definitely present a new perspective and way of life.

There is an old saying “They come in threes”.  Um, how many? Three? I have actually lost count how many they come for us. We have had 9-10 flat tires, 4 home water pump issues, 2- 3 car radiators, etc. In February, we had a major engine problem on one of the boats. Unlike the USA where you can have a new part or replacement in a day…the boat was out of commission for 2 weeks.

Recently, we lost a starter motor on the same boat. Deja Vu.  Easy fix? Define “easy”. Easy accessibility to replace? Not quite. No one in our local area could provide what we needed. At this point in time, we also had the engine of our dinghy in the shop for repair, so why not add something to the list? The starter motor we needed was in San Jose (about 4 hours away). The easiest solution? We can have the guy in San Jose put the part on a bus and it should arrive within 2 days. Problem solved? Not quite. The following day was a holiday. So, hubby and I decided to take the drive to San Jose to retrieve the part ourselves.

Both dreading AND looking forward to the drive, I got up early in the morning ready for the drive I had yet to trek by car. Knowing it’s cooler in San Jose, I put on long sleeves (an exciting moment when you live in Tamarindo as it’s almost always hot) and we set off. The drive is along paved roads and goes through some  small villages and towns. The Costa Ricans love speed humps and they are spread out in various places that are apparently considered  “populous”.  These humps are often not marked. Sometimes there is a sign on the road warning of the approaching hump. Periodically, they will paint them bright yellow,  but the paint doesn’t last two months.  Those that are no longer painted are the ones that will send you 12 inches up in the air if you are going over 25mph.

About halfway between home and San Jose, the car began acting up (deja vu). It was as though the car was incapable of hitting all of the the gears.  Hubby and I pulled off the road (where I observed a mini-meltdown) and sat for about 20 minutes before attempting to journey onward. We made it a whopping 1/2 mile. Every time the car encountered any kind of slope, grade, hill or speed hump….the car stopped acceleration and  became a vehicle trying to “coast uphill”.  We pulled off again and made some phone calls. Maybe we can get a rental car somewhere?  Just make it to the next town of size.  We sit and wait about 15 minutes for the car to cool before trying again. As we head down the road,  we look for a sign indicating a nearby town so we can get a rental….28km.  Ugh. That deemed impossible,  we pull into a gas station and call the guy with the starter motor for the boat. It is 9:30am and we are in the middle of nowhere. He can bring the part, but it will take 2-2.5 hours to get to us. Another call to a friend who knows a tow truck operator and we begin our wait. We enter the restaurant that is adjacent to the gas station and enjoy some  delicious empanadas. Inside the restaurant, we meet a couple that are in the process of DRIVING from California to Argentina. DRIVING. CRAZY. In the middle of “nowhere Costa Rica” we meet some Americans driving from the USA to South America.

After eating, we sit in the parking lot to continue our wait. A group of bikers come through playing 1970s rock music and dressed in leather gear with bikes quite large and nice for what one typically sees in these parts of Costa Rica. I almost feel like I’m back “home”. We continue waiting…until 2pm when the guy with the part shows up. (Just a side note…9:30am to 2:00pm is longer than 2-2.5 hours.) At 2:30pm the tow truck arrives and we head home.  Summary for that day;  we never made it to San Jose, we sat for 5 hours in a gas station, we started the day with a boat problem and now we have a boat AND car problem,  and it is 90 degrees outside. Wise choice of wearing long sleeves too.

As of NOW, it has been 3 weeks and the car is still in the shop. Thanks to a dear friend allowing us to use his truck, we are not totally SOL. Our car was to be ready a week ago but – they ordered the wrong part. Seriously.  You need to understand that is NOT an uncommon happening here.  The car needs a new transmission. We debated whether to replace it or buy another car. However, new AND used cars in Costa Rica are expensive. If we buy another used car, we are acquiring another vehicle without knowing its history. Therefore, we decided to deal with the devil we know.  Since they could not find another transmission, our transmission is now in the process of being “rebuilt”. MANY mechanical things are rebuilt in Costa Rica as it is easier, cheaper and often quicker than finding a new part. We are still borrowing and still waiting.

Another obstacle to access is delivery. We do not have an address here unless we rent a  P.O. Box or have a commercial business location. We obtain many of the items we need through friends and clients from North America and Europe who “mule down”  things that we order and send to them before their departure from home. A Christmas card was mailed to us from Europe December 2017 and the arrival date is still TBD. We also had a client send us a box of trinkets in February that sat in customs for 4 months until customs returned the box to our client. There you have it…we are officially “off the grid” to the postal service.

We hit our One Year Anniversary living in Costa Rica this month. ONE YEAR! Crazy. Hubby is just now starting to relax a bit.  We live such a different lifestyle here as opposed to the corporate world we lived in the States. Personally, the corporate world had become a mental overload of needing to meet other’s expectations, fulfilling someone else’s goals and wondering if and when I would be replaced. The stress level here is very different….we still have our own stresses obviously, but most stresses seem to be caused by things…not people.  As humans, we often go through this crazy, (often flippantly referred to) thing we call Life, just living.  Sometimes, we forget to “experience” life. Let me tell you friends, we are “experiencing” life here. Even hubby said to me….as we sat for 5 hours in the gas station…. “If you ever have grandchildren, the stories you will have to tell them…..”

 

 

 

 

 

Wine and the good life…

Although I moved to Costa Rica from Virginia, I am originally from Tennessee.  My father was in the bottling/soft drink industry and we moved around a LOT.  (I had attended 13 schools by the time I graduated from high school.) Because I was “from Tennessee” (and moved about),  I was often teased that we were really moonshiners. Though we were definitely not in the “alcohol side” of the industry, I was always amused by those who made their own. Well, I continue to be amused. Costa Rica has their own “moonshine”.  Costa Rica’s moonshine is Vino de Coyol. The beverage is not really a “wine” as it comes from the sap of the Coyol tree. The Coyol is a type of palm tree whose trunk is covered with 4 inch spikes and commonly found in the Guanacaste region.  Once the tree is cut, a hole is cut about the size of a fist where the sap is extracted. Once cut, the trunk is left for the sap inside to ferment. Coyol is typically not clear, but actually milky in color.  It doesn’t really have a very high alcohol content, but it has enzymes and properties that have a similar effect as alcohol. I was told it is served in 1 of 3 stages: 1) immediately after cutting it is milky, sweet and not too potent; 2) after fermenting a bit, it could be a bit clearer, smoother and similar to Japanese sake in potency; or 3) a longer fermented, thicker, chalkier version. This latter version is the version that the Ticos like to talk about. The story around the Vino de Coyol is that with only a few glasses, you are “on the floor” drunk. One of the locals told me that Vino de Coyol was a “cheap” way to get drunk. It can produce one MEAN hangover, but a day out in the sun following a night of drinking it, you get drunk all over again.  I have not tried the Ticos version of  “nectar of the gods” ….but I eventually will…stay tuned.

June has proved to be truly beautiful in Guanacaste. The rains in that began in May have turned everything from scratchy and dry (including my skin) back to lush and rich (no skin comparison here). Some days it may be cloudy, but most days are sunny with a period of rain first thing in the morning or after sunset. The wildlife is very active again and the birds are singing and vibrant against the backdrop of the lush green foliage. The anoles and small lizards are out and are fun to watch..that is until…

I am a nature lover, but not the kind of nature lover that wants to watch the REAL survival techniques of nature. (I only watch the Shark Week episodes where the people get hit…not the baby seals.) These little lizards and anoles run out to sun themselves and puff up their chests in a funny manner. They are quick and funny to watch. They also RUN like the dickens when they sense a bird nearby. But the bird often outwits the lizard and they return to get more sun and then WHAM…it’s carried away. I think I would like nature even more if all other creatures just ate grass and insects. But as of late, we have witnessed both the lizards and beautiful moths devoured by the birds in a flash.

In addition to moths, we currently have butterflies EVERYWHERE. They are even spotted out at sea. There are a number of varieties spotted, but there is an abundance of yellow butterflies everywhere. Although the entire country of Costa Rica is only about the size of West Virginia, we have 1,300 – 1,500 species of butterflies in Costa Rica. In addition, there are currently a lot of caterpillars/centipedes/millipedes everywhere. Not sure what the “pedes” turn into, but most of them seem to just die on the sidewalk.

Almost everyone that comes for a visit asks me what I miss the most from the USA. Up until recently, I always answered “conveniences”. I mean TRULY we came from the “Land of Convenience”. Break something? Run to the store. Out of something? Run to the store. Need it by tomorrow? God Bless Amazon. But here…it’s going to take some time…IF you can ind it/buy it here. At this point though, I am getting used to not having the conveniences. If we need something, we have learned to ask people to bring it with them when they come. Amazon must now think I’m the most generous person in the world. I have gone from an account with 3 delivery addresses (self, parents, sister), to all over the USA and to a variety of names.  But the conveniences are no longer what I miss most or the “hardest part” of living here.

My son visited a few weeks ago. I had not seen him in 10 months. For the past 10 months, I have cried just talking about him. My daughter, who lives with us here, threatens t smack me when I tear-up. May finally came along and I could tell everyone he was coming “THIS MONTH”! The week prior to his arrival, I would cry just thinking about the fact that, in about 8 days, I would be sad again because he was gone. That was BEFORE he even arrived.  However, his trip was GREAT. We had the BEST week and had a blast zip-lining, mud buggy riding, surfing (he and his sister),  fishing, eating, and just hanging out together. The only way to let loved ones go without crumbing is to discuss and plan the next visit.  At the same time,  I need to plan a visit to see my folks, my hubby needs to get back to Europe to visit his family, and we have to run a business. Soooo I would say being INCONVENIENT to those you love is the hardest part about living here.

As I’ve stated many times, the BEST part of living here is the people and the overall vibe. Costa Rica’s mantra is PURA VIDA, which means pure life. Others translate it as good life or simple life. Anyway, you get the meaning. The phrase is heard EVERYWHERE. Some people replace the “hola”, “buenos dias” and other greetings with simply “Pura Vida”! To the Costa Ricans, it is not just a phrase, but a way of life. The phrase originated over 50 years ago, presumably from a Mexican movie in the 1950s with that same title. The character in the movie kept saying “Pura Vida” to keep optimistic and happy in spite of contradictory circumstances. The Costa Ricans have embraced “Pura Vida” to its fullest as a motto for life. The locals focus on living a stress-free, laid back lifestyle. The “don’t sweat the small stuff” is very much a Pura Vida mentality. Life is about focusing on and being grateful for what you have. Life is good. So PURA VIDA!

 

 

Rent or ride?

People often ask about renting a car vs taking shuttles and other local transportation options. If you are a bus rider…that is, by far, the cheapest way to go. You can take a bus from Tamarindo to San Jose for less than $6.00USD. It takes 6 hours and leaves at odd hours, but if cheap is your prerogative, it is the way to go. Be aware you are going to be packed like a sardine onto a bus making numerous stops….but it’s cheap.

Shuttles are available everywhere and for many purposes. You have shuttles for tours, shuttles for visa runs, shuttles to get from one part of Costa Rica to another, and shuttles from the airport. A shared shuttle to Tamarindo from Liberia airport is about $20-25 per person. A shared shuttle means you have to wait until all of the pre-registered guests  have landed and made it through customs before the shuttle will head to town. MOST of the time, the maximum wait is 45 minutes as most of the planes in Liberia land within a short window of time. Many times, you will leave almost immediately from clearing baggage claim and customs. A private shuttle can be reserved for up to 6 people for $90-100 USD.

However, if renting a car is your preference, expect to fork out some bucks. That is, if you get the agency’s recommended local insurance. The cost is almost double the daily rate just for the insurance. Once having paid over $1K for the rental car for the week, you will be best prepared if you have experience driving in NYC, LA, DC or Miami (or the Autobahn).  Driving in Costa Rica not only requires defensive driving skills, but OFFENSIVE driving skills. Hesitation will kill you…or the other guy…or the critter in the road.  Typical scenes while driving in Costa Rica include: People driving cars towards you on the other side; towards you on your side; passing you on the left; passing you on your right; stopping suddenly with emergency lights on to pick-up someone, drop someone off, talk to someone, text someone,  or just because; turning in front of you from the other lane, your lane, the emergency area, or out of nowhere. There are also NUMEROUS motorcycles on the road who will also do all of the above in addition to:  carrying a child in front; carrying one child in front and one on back; carrying a dog, groceries in their lap, surfboard, or a ladder; standing up; with helmets above their eyebrows; with no helmets (driver or child); helmets on their elbow (practical for that elbow road rash everyone hates); without mirrors on the bike; without lights on the bike (yes, even at night); and my favorites -also while texting or talking on the phone. When we originally moved here, the cyclists’ attire – or lack of, is what amused me. Forget that. Barefoot, shirtless, helmetless or not, Costa Rican motorcyclists are scary. Oh yeah, and for most of them, the speed limit is either just a number or a goal. They are either going like gangbusters or moving slower than I walk.  Just my opinion. Drive at your own risk, and be very careful. Finally, for goodness sake, make sure you’re not in an accident with a local unless you have a local witness in your favor. Ticos always win.

The weather is definitely a-changing. The rains are here and we get rain almost daily now. The rain is not so bad  that it ruins your plans. From May to September, it’s like living in Florida. During this time, we usually just have a quick morning shower, a quick afternoon shower, or an evening storm, and the temps are much more tolerable now. However, we do get the occasional downpour, but the weather tends to clear rather quickly. One of our guests last week (who’s from the DC area and has been here many times before), compared driving from the mountains to the beach in a Costa Rica storm akin to driving in Baton Rouge, La. The rain was a complete wall of darkness.  The kind of rain that you can’t see the road in front of your car. On top of that, most of the roads throughout the country are 2 lane roads (filled with motorcyclists and Tico drivers..and horses, dogs, cows, etc).

In conjunction with the rains,  everything is greening-up again and the animals are enjoying it. My dog (who apparently is half goat) is thrilled he has grass to eat again. The other animals are also migrating again (moving to areas with grass now…and we’ve witnessed the movement of monkeys, birds, and wandering horses, cows and goats. We witnessed a goat with a wooden triangle collar (used for keeping them from getting out of the fence (an apparent fail)) walking up the road the other day…. But not only the animals are on the move. Someone once described May in Tamarindo as “bug month”. Did not sound appealing. Had me not looking forward to May..along with the realization that “scorpions come inside the houses before the rains”. But we have not had too many scorpions as of yet (knock on wood). What we DO have are frogs. No…not just little toads..but FROGS. These are slimy-looking frogs that are the size of your fist. What we cannot figure out is how they are getting INSIDE. We have had one in the dog’s water bowl, one on the wall in the kitchen, and last night, one in the pantry. Other than that, what we’ve experienced, as of late, are little brown beetles everywhere and granddaddy longlegs. I can handle these.

Again, living in Costa Rica is about the vibe. The natives are friendly, helpful, pleasant and happy people. The expats here (for the most part) are chill, unselfish, unpretentious and friendly. The rest of the people here are tourists and visitors and are in “vacation mode”. These people tend to be mostly happy, relieved and excited (and often inebriated). Just the other day, while watching my daughter’s 3rd surf lesson, a group of 7 men walked onto the beach and put their stuff down close to me. These guys were obviously on vacation (usually obvious by the color of their skin….or lack of, their wristbands and Costa Rica t-shirts and hats). They had a cooler, towels and plenty of beverages. Next thing, I am listening to ABBA..(yes ABBA!) followed by Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell”. This group of SEVEN MIDDLE -AGED MEN are dancing, laughing, jerking their arms oddly, MOONWALKING and having a grand time. My first thought was “WHAT THE HELL?” Then I realized “WHY THE HELL NOT?” As we all come to realize,  “LIFE IS SHORT. ENJOY.  LAUGH MORE. RELAX MORE. We should all be spending our days making memories..