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…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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..

 

 

Adapting to new ways of eating…

My daughter and I recently had our first dental visit in Costa Rica. Initially, I was a bit wary of the experience, but we had received a number of referrals for this one dental office and I love the feeling of my teeth after they are cleaned.  The dentist we frequented is a solo-practice woman who only employees a receptionist. This made the experience much more intimate than the “typical” USA experience with the hygienist doing all of the work, followed by a quick “drop-in and review” from the actual doctor. Our dentist actually did all of the cleaning and EVERYTHING.

The dental office is small, having one cleaning/treatment room with a huge picture window overlooking a “zen” garden that she created. The treatment room is set-up with the old-fashioned “spittoon” sink next to the chair. I don’t think my daughter has ever seen one of these in person, but remember, it’s like living back in the 1950s/1960s here. The dentist DOES have the suction thing that she puts in your mouth so you don’t drool all down your face. She also uses an air-based tool to remove all of the plaque from your teeth instead of chiseling away at your teeth like Michelangelo creating the statue of David. Our dentist here doesn’t require x-rays every visit. Clients receive customized services based upon individual need. As I had x-rays last July,  I don’t require more x-rays now for another year (18 months from last x-ray). Nice. There were 4 flavors of toothpaste to pick from and the dentist gives you  a jaw/temple massage with essential oils (lavender and peppermint) between upper and lower cleanings. What a great experience. The cost was $62  per person for the cleaning. I can go 3 times a year for less cost than I paid to maintain dental insurance with my employer in the States to be limited to 2 visits.

We are still getting used to the currency conversion here. The currency is the Costa Rican colón.  It is  named after Christopher Columbus  (Cristóbal Colón) who actually explored Central and South America and never set foot on North American soil. The exchange rate is roughly 570 colones per $1 USD.  The easiest way to get an idea of how much you are paying is to round to 500 colones per dollar.  (As a former banker, I tend to round more to 600…the conservative side.) Currency comes in both bills and coins. The bank notes are in increments of 50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000 and 1,000. Coins are 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones.  The bank notes are much thicker than the USD and much more colorful.  There is a person featured on each bill along with a “nature item” related to Costa Rica. Our friends visiting a few weeks ago had me and stitches when paying for things. Conversation was “so I owe a sloth, a shark and 2 monkeys?” A lot of rounding actually takes place at the register as well. If you make a purchase that totals 2,347 CRC,  you will pay 2,350 CRC. If the transaction totals 1,004 CRC then you pay 1,000 CRC.  Since there are no “penny” type coins here, there is rounding. Not sure why anything is ever priced in an amount not divisible by 5, but maybe that makes too much sense. That being said, the discrepancy most often occurs when weighing food items.

Speaking of money… many locals AND visitors comment on the expense of food here. The things that are the most expensive are the items and brands we were accustomed to in North America.  Ground meat at 5% fat content is expensive. I pay about $9-9.50 for what is similar to a pound. Chicken is cheap, fresh, and not hormone-injected to the size of ostriches here. I can buy enough chicken to make chicken salad sandwiches for nine people for about $7.00.  Bacon is about $10 a pound and a jar of Jif or Peter Pan peanut butter is about $6.00. Cheese is also very high, with a block of Cabot Sharp Cheddar running almost $9.00. Yes…CHEDDAR. Liquor is exorbitant. (A regular bottle of Grey Goose is $33-35.) Personal hygiene items tend to be high here as well. Garnier Fructis shampoo is about $7.00 here. However, you can get different brands much cheaper and sometimes the “good stuff” goes on sale. Milk is cheap, eggs are cheap, fruit is cheap. I’ve become even more fond of watermelon as it is truly delicious here. Don’t see many of the oblong ones here. Almost all are round like a basketball. Mango is becoming my favorite fruit and tomato season is year-round.

I’ve discovered a new fruit here that I love. In Costa Rica, they call it Uchuva.  It is also known as goldenberry or groundcherry and Cape Gooseberry (among many other worldwide regional names). It is both sweet and tart. At first bite, it is a sweet cherry/berry but has a tart finish.  The berries are round, golden-colored, and cherry-textured that grow in a thin paper husk that looks similar to a Chinese lantern. The inside of it looks more like a golden tomatillo. Uchuvas are rich in fiber, B12, and Vitamins A and C. They are considered a “superfood”. The berries are grown near the coffee fields in Costa Rica; however, they are also grown in many other parts of the world (hence why there are so many names for the berry).

So, I’ve learned to stay away from much of the stuff I once ate only buy periodically as a “treat”.  We are always stocked up on fresh fruits and tomatoes. But of course, rice and beans are always cheap. 🙂

 

 

Yeah…it’s been a while….

I know… I fell off the planet. I have now learned what REALLY BUSY looks like. The past month or so has been a whirlwind.  After getting through the boat’s mechanical issues in early February, I had a former customer/friend….(now just friend <3) come to Tamarindo for a work conference and stayed a few extra days to check out Costa Rica. It was SO MUCH fun to see a familiar face. We had a great time. Seeing old friends and familiar faces is something I do miss here. I love that so many faces HERE are now familiar faces, but it’s a great emotional boost to have a visitor from home. It may seem odd, but when people come visit that you actually know in some capacity, (whether you were close or not) it is always hard when they leave.

We do meet lots of people from lots of places. The vibe in Tamarindo is what everyone loves when they visit: “the people are so friendly”, “it’s so chill here”, “it’s big enough to have something to do and enough places to check out, but it’s not BIG”, “the people are great here”, “wow, I see why you live here now”. The people here ARE chill…and happy. My husband and I were discussing yesterday how we never see the locals around here in a bad mood. REALLY. When we’re on the beach in the morning getting our trips ready, all of the other operators and crews are SO pleasant and upbeat. EVERYONE says “buenos dias” or “good morning”. Without fail.  Everyone is your amigo. To the Costa Ricans, it really is never a “bad” day.

Our car was up for its annual inspection in March. It’s called Riteve. No big deal in the States really…right? UGH. It’s MORE difficult here. Maybe I expected it to be a “breeze” because…well, we’re in a MUCH MORE unsophisticated country. WRONG.  We did everything we could to make it a simple process though… 1) We took our car to a local shop for them to do the “cursory review for what may fail inspection”. Yep…they came up with about $700 of need. So, hubby took the list (and as a long time BMW professional) and repaired a good chunk of it himself..at MUCH less expense. 2) We paid one of our captains to take the car for us. Riteve is performed in Nicoya for the Guanacaste residents. Only one facility. We figured most of the people there were primarily or totally Spanish speaking and we needed to use the benefit of a local for understanding what they said. We also hoped the Riteve people would not be as stringent on another Costa Rican.

So, we make an appointment (as you have to) for the car to be inspected and our captain drove it to Nicoya where it cost 12,000 CRC ($21-24 USD) to be inspected. At Riteve, the car goes through the following checkpoints:  Overall exterior check, basic interior check, shocks and struts check, brake testing, side-to-side testing, underbody check and emissions testing. FAILED. Problems with the headlights, emissions, and alignment. Hubby fixes the headlights and takes it back to the local shop for an alignment where he WAITS for almost 5 hours. We then added some kind of additive to the gasoline and the car goes back for a 2nd inspection at Riteve. (Successive appointments cost about $12 USD each.) FAILED. Emissions. Yep…need a catalytic converter. Third visit…on the last possible day to get it inspected before you are fined $533 for expired Riteve due to emissions…..we passed. Hallelujah! The new simple pleasures in life…

We’ve done yet ANOTHER border run and are clear until June. If you have kept up with the International/Central American news pieces, Nicaragua is going through a mess right now.  President Daniel Ortega had proposed changing their social security system by increasing taxes and contribution requirements, while at the same time, lowering beneficiary payout. Went over like a lead balloon. Surprise. Riots and protests ensued and the government responded with a police force using live ammunition and now as many as 45 are dead. News is there are quite a few more but the government is unwilling to release the bodies until the families sign disclaimers stating the police were not responsible.  Oddly enough, Nicaragua hasn’t been this violent since 1979 when Ortega helped overthrow the Somoza regime. Ortega has now rescinded his proposal. Hoping all is peaceful within a few weeks when my daughter is scheduled for a border run. Hubby and I are good until mid-June.

The weather is-a-changing. The winds that were supposed to die down in March…but continued throughout  2/3 of April are now gone (for the most part) and we had 2 rain storms in April. Had a storm one night in the first week of April and another a week after. Nothing since..no rain…only HUMIDITY and HEAT. It’s funny, some of the tenured expats have told me “this is unusual that we’ve had rain in April and it’s humid”…the locals, not surprised and say it’s completely normal.  Now that we’ve had two brief rains…some people have now decided we are in our  “rainy season”. Apparently, these people never lived in New Orleans or Florida. Granted, we have had 2 rains this month and they were they first rains we’ have had since December (except for 1 rare short rain the first week of January)…but we have not had rain now in over 2 weeks. However; it IS coming soon.  I was talking with one of our captains the other day. He says to me, “You know how you know when it is the rainy season?” Me, “Um…when it’s raining?” “No, the scorpions start moving into your house. They can feel it coming.”

Joy. Oh Joy. ….can’t wait.

The cost of playing Monopoly

 

No matter where you live, there are life’s ups and downs;  struggles and rewards; difficulties and eases of living. Living in “paradise” doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and unicorns. Once upon a time, my husband  wanted to move to Florida. My family has lived there for decades, but I have never wanted to actually live there. It took my husband several visits and many years to understand why. When you go on vacation, it’s easy to think “wow, I could live here”. However, at that point in time, you are on “vacation brain”. When considering moving to another country, you have to take your “vacation brain” and convert it into “practicality brain” in order to consider the reality aspect.  When you move within your own culture or country, your location may change, but you also may experience the same “stuff”: same type of employment, same laws, same media, same government, same accesses, same basic environment and same familiarities. We have moved to a whole new culture.

Costa Rica is very much of a “make do with what you have” world. Reminds me a bit of how my parents described the 1950s or how the Cleavers, the Bradys and the Flintstones (haha)  lived. They did not rush out to buy “new ones” every time something looked worn, weathered or broke.  There are “repuestos” everywhere here. These are replacement or part stores. Some of them look like salvage and junk yards, and some are repackaged items like older model phones, chargers, coffee pots, etc. It’s a way to find pieces and parts to things you need at a reasonable price. Especially for the locals. They depend upon them two-fold: this is how many make a living, and this is how others can afford to continue to operate.  My grandparents didn’t like to “waste anything” and that is how we live here. It’s funny, but living with what you have and “making do”  ads a different dynamic to life. It takes away the stress of worrying someone is going to “ding” your car, or “break your good stuff”, or “ruin something you just spent a lot of money on” and adds the value of “I fixed it!” or “it’s working again”….values that sadly, many don’t experience anymore.

For some of us, the “making do with what you have” is due to necessity. Accessibility is the key factor here. If you are here on vacation, or are here as a retiree, you may never notice. However, if you live here and run a business and/or drive a car, patience isn’t just a virtue.  We had a mechanical issue with one of our boats. We thought that we had the spare part and hubby spent the day trying to install/replace it. After trying to install it twice and unable to get all parts to fit, we realized it was the wrong part. A manufacturer’s expert happened to be in town and took the part with him to look for  a replacement.  No luck. After two weeks, six cancelled bookings and three anxiety attacks, we are back in business. I can’t tell you how many times my hubby said “if we were in the U.S., we could’ve had that part in hours”. So yes, accessibility is the most noticeable void here. However, it’s a Catch-22. The charm of the lifestyle here is the simplicity. We don’t have fast-food chains, no Lowe’s or Home Depot, no Target, no malls or department stores…no shoe stores. There is a Wal-Mart an hour from here, but it is a dismal Wal-Mart. It is small for a Wal-Mart and it’s stocked like a cross between Wal-Mart and Costco. Not that it has bulk quantity items, but the display of the grocery and electronic sections remind me more of Costco. You don’t have all of the “American selections” and there are many things I still don’t find.

As to our boat repair, the repair team took parts of another similar part and repaired using various pieces. He and his team “made do with what they had”. Not only is a new part expensive, but shipping a used replacement part from the U.S. is very costly and also takes 1-2 weeks to get here.

Visited the pharmacy again this week and have to say I LOVE the pharmacy here. Of course, there are a few of them, but I have chosen the original pharmacy in Tamarindo and the prices are cheaper as it’s not in the “center” of town. The ability to get medicines here are great. Some are very inexpensive, and others are exorbitant. My husband’s blood pressure medicine runs about $13/month. My hormones and my daughter’s birth control pills are about $20/month. Migraine pills? No…they ARE expensive. The migraine tablets cost about $30 for two pills.  However, it is nice that the other drugs are reasonable and don’t require a prescription.  Drugs requiring prescriptions are antibiotics, narcotics and psychotropics. Most pharmacies have a pharmacist, which is technically a doctor.  The pharmacist has the ability to prescribe something you may need for you.  Purchases can also be based upon quantity needed.  That includes things like ibuprofen.  If you have a headache and only want two tablets, then you can buy only the two. If you are traveling to Costa Rica or are not a resident, the one thing you cannot get? Tamiflu. Don’t even try. Just like all countries, Costa Rica gets a limited supply and their medical system reserves the supply just for them. Dr C. (my pharmacist) says that too many times, visitors are sure they have food poisoning when they actually have the flu. Most of the flu experienced in Costa Rica is brought in from the USA.

Besides medicines, there area a number of other things you have to purchase at the pharmacy.  The pharmacies are “behind the counter everything” shops. Saline solutions, make-up, lip balm, everything is behind the counter.I went in this week looking for ammonia. I have not been able to find it anywhere. Dr. C said I probably will not find any.  No one purchases it anymore. Due to the fact that ammonia can be used as a base for certain drugs, no one purchases it anymore. The amount of paperwork the store/distributor has to go through to purchase and register the product is not worth the hassle. Pharmacies and stores here also don’t sell isopropyl alcohol…rubbing alcohol. Same reason. The alcohol sold here is an ethanol based alcohol. Yep. Tequila is 60% and Costa Rican “rubbing alcohol” is 70%.

If you’ve been following my blog, you may recall that we’ve had “water problems” in the house we are currently living. Well, not problems with the “water”, it has been more of a problem learning how things are done. The water bill, (or so I was told) is due between the 18th and 22nd of the month. Each month, I go down the street to pay the water bill at the local elementary school. There is a lady there who is available for a week after school between 4-6pm and accepts payment for your water bill (factura). Payment is only accepted between 4-6pm and only for the week she is there. She works for the local water company and creates all of the facturas in duplicate and stamps a copy for your receipt and keeps the other copy as evidence of payment. In December and January, we had a few issues: 1) Our water was cutoff as the payment is actually due on the 15th of the month; 2) we ran out of water and had to fill up our water tank in its entirety; and 3) the pool maintenance people  left water running in the runoff section of the infinity pool which overflowed hundreds of gallons of water, overbearing the pump on the tank causing it to break.  SO… this month I was expecting a wallop of a water bill. Not only the problems we have had, but add in the fact that we have a pool, it’s dry season (so wehave to water the plants now), we have a commercial ice machine, etc. So, I withdrew $150 to pay the bill. (The other caveat to the water bill is you don’t know how much it’s going to be until you get there.) As the last bill was about $10 and some change, I was prepared for a doozy.  Well….$14.50. I was shocked. Happily shocked. I can tell you…I don’t understand it, but not looking that gift horse in the mouth.

On the flip side, electricity is NOT cheap in Costa Rica. Costa Rica’s energy rates are also billed at different rates during “peak hours”. Peak hours are 10am-12:30pm and 5:30-8:00pm. In 2016, a study on the cost of electricity in Central America listed the average cost per kWh (kilowatt) as 13.48 cents, while in Costa Rica it was 18.47 cents.  Costa Rican electricity is run by a MONOPOLY, the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE). Although the largest percentage of energy consumed in this country comes from renewable resources, the priced paid by consumers for the clean energy is apparently the most expensive in Central America.  The paradox to this is that the cost of clean energy to consumers discourages the replacement of energy from oil for the automotive and industrial sectors of the country. Why is it so expensive? From what I have read, it seems to be from poor state planning (yes, there are government deficiencies everywhere) and the fact that the country’s energy is run by a monopoly, preventing competitive pricing. However, as of November 2017, Costa Rica had run 300 days on 100% renewable energy. . In contrast, the U.S. meets about 15% of its energy needs from renewable resources. The United States still relies primarily on fossil fuels, with coal and natural gas making up most of the energy market and nuclear energy accounts for about 20 percent.

So how expensive is electricity? We don’t have central A/C. I have not been in a home that does have it. Each room has it’s own unit. This is done due to the cost. We do not run the A/C during the day when we are home. Nope. Never. We live with the sliding glass doors open so that the breeze can flow through the house. If we leave home and leave the dog, we will turn on the unit in the main room where he is, but that is the only unit we put on. However, in the evening, we put on the unit in the bedroom along with the ceiling fan. So other uses of electricity are the ice machine, refrigerator, outdoor freezers (2), washer & dryer (don’t dry anything but sheets and towels) and the oven (the stovetop is gas). Our electric bill runs $360-$375/month. Basically, the same price we paid for a three-story home in Virginia with two A/C units. We continue to look for ways to economize. Regardless of the price, I am happy knowing the resources we are using are renewable. Hopefully, one day they can get the price down so this mid-life woman can more affordably keep her cool….

 

 

 

Life is a journey

Doing business in Costa Rica is a different animal. I’ve always been an avid “refererer” in business. Working with small businesses for almost 20 years, businesses thrive on referrals. Back in the day, advertising was a HUGE expense for small biz and they depend upon word of mouth. Word of mouth is the BEST referral because you get someone’s opinion or buy-in that you trust. In Costa Rica, businesses also depend upon word of mouth. However, if someone refers business to you, they expect their “commission”.  A referral earns you (or costs you) 20% of the sale.  All referrals are appreciated, and paying out 20% for the referral is my now my new way of having a “phantom salesperson”.

People assume it’s “cheaper” to live in Costa Rica. Personally, it is to some extent. The groceries aren’t “cheap” if you are looking to shop and buy as you did in the USA, Canada or Europe. If you are into fresh produce, yes…much cheaper. We go to the produce stand and buy 5lbs of tomatoes, a bag of onions, eggs, 2 watermelons, 2 pineapples, limes, lettuce, avocados and herbs for about $20. That’s at the farmers market or fruit & veg stand. Costa Rican coffee we get for about $3-4 a bag. I can buy enough chicken to make 12 chicken salad sub sandwiches for under $20. A bag of flour is $1. Fresh baked french bread/baguette is $.78. But..if you are buying “American style” Ice cream runs $6-10 a pint,  4 sticks of butter is $5, liquor (name brand) is exorbitant, a bag (yes bag) of mayo is $4 and a bag of shredded cheese (like Sargento..but not that brand) is about $4.50-6.00 each.  It all depends upon what and how you buy. We definitely do not eat the same here. Part of it is based upon brand availability, part of it price, and part of it is access. However, we do eat more natural foods and fresh foods at a more affordable price here.

Another visit to the bank this week. This time, to pay our Social Security obligations for our employees. The Social Security system here is called CCSS or “Caja” for short. Employees are responsible for 10.34% of their wages in withholding and the employer contributes 25%. Eligibility for social security in Costa Rica is not based upon country of origin. Those who apply for and granted residency are also covered under the Caja, providing they participate in the system. The Caja is responsible for financing, purchasing and delivering most of the personal health services in Costa Rica. It is financed with contributions of its affiliates, employers and the state, and manages 3 regimes: maternity and illness insurance, disability,  and pension and death insurance. The Costa Rican healthcare system is a socialized healthcare system and is one of the few in Latin American offering almost complete universal coverage and is financed by contributions from workers, employers and the State.  The CCSS system includes 30 hospitals (10 general, 7 regional and 13 peripheral), 500 clinics and approximately 1,000 small units (kind of like a “doc in the box”).  There is a huge medical tourism market in Costa Rica due to proximity to North America and the fact that many of the professionals here were trained in the USA.  The most common “tourist” surgeries performed in Costa Rica include orthopaedic (hip, shoulder and knee replacement), bariatric and gastric bypass, plastic and dermatological procedures and significant dentistry procedures.

As to the bank…another thing that is interesting is what I call the “senior citizen rule”. This week my ticket number (remember you pull a ticket when entering a bank like the deli counter at the grocery) I got was 73. They were currently servicing 57. So we sit. And wait. UNLESS…you are elderly. The elderly can walk in at any time (not sure exactly what constitutes as “elderly”..but apparently that isn’t me yet) and they are then the next to be serviced. Yep. It’s an awesome act of respect and understanding for the elderly…but it does make the wait a bit longer.

Costa Rica had a presidential election last Sunday. Like the States, the polling areas are the schools. Political discord is spreading throughout the world and Costa Rica is not exempt. Once upon a time, the Costa Rican elections were referred to as “fiesta electoral” and citizens flew party flags and filled the streets with music, political colors and honking. But in 2017, there was a huge corruption case in Costa Rica referred to as “cementazo” where members of all 3 branches of the government were implicated regarding Chinese cement imports. Six senior execs at a state bank were arrested and members of the executive, judicial and legislative branches of the Costa Rican government were tied to providing $30 million in unsecured loans to bring in the cement.  Some facts about Costa Rican election campaigns:

  1. Campaign season is only 4 months. Kickoff is 4 months prior to the election. Three days before election, an electoral ban does into place and not paid propaganda can be disseminated.
  2. To win, the candidate must receive 40% of the total vote. There were 5 candidates, of which none won 40% of the vote, so there will be a runoff the first Sunday in April for the top two candidates.
  3. Elections are always on Sunday
  4. Some areas of Costa Rica still enforce a “dry law” on election day where alcohol cannot be purchased until after the polls close at 6pm

So life goes on… the weather is hot and dry and very windy.  We are settling in more comfortably and I have taken my first private Spanish lesson. My teacher (who is a teacher by profession) has told me I am intermediate and no longer a beginner. Yeah!!!

I received a call last week from a dear friend back home. It was a VERY happy day for me. The three of us spend all day together working and living (hubby and daughter are here with me). When any of us are reached out to by someone back home, it really makes our day. Of course, we already have our “regular” family members we speak to, but when one of our FRIENDS reach out to us, it’s huge. That’s the hardest part of the move. The people you miss. We think about them all the time. When others reach out to us, it is very special to us. Leaving family and friends…it’s definitely the hardest part of this journey…….