It’s the holidays?

 

Well, this past week was a bit different. I left on Thanksgiving Day and flew back to the USA. I was going to visit family AND to mule back some things needed that we cannot get in Costa Rica…or get easily or affordably.  The thing I was MOST excited about bringing back was my griddle. I LOVE pancakes and they just don’t taste the same to me in a frying pan as they do on a griddle. That and some fishing stuff…and I was going to be SET.

When I arrived at the airport in Liberia, the process was easy and uneventful. As I sat down at my designated “Gate 6” (there are only a handful of gates at this airport), my phone informed me I was to now move to “Gate 3”. Most flights from the Liberia airport to the eastern U.S. seem to leave in the 1-2pm. Moments after being re-seated, the crew announces we are going to be delayed as our plane has just arrived and it needs to be serviced. (How much time do I have to connect in Atlanta?)  Literally, SECONDS later…they start the boarding process. Psych.  Must not have been a dirty group of previous passengers. During the boarding process, (as in many foreign countries), every few people are pulled aside for a more “thorough inspection”. Apparently, I won that ticket. Me? ((“Hey! (I’m thinking in my head). I’m ‘your people’ now. I live here!”)) Obviously, and possibly thankfully, they don’t hear the rant within my head. I had to take out my computer, take out my iPad, take out my phone, take out my plastic bag of liquids, take off my shoes…ugh. Sit down, swipe my palms, swipe my phone, swipe my computer bag handle…  Guess I was looking a bit shady….

Arriving in Atlanta, immigration is a breeze. The first thing I notice when exiting customs is the soldier with an AK-47 or something strapped across his chest. That REALLY felt odd to me. Costa Rica doesn’t have ANY form of military (since 1948). The country’s budget previously dedicated to the military is now used for security, education and culture. The literacy rate in Costa Rica is amazing. As of 2017, 97.8% of the people over the age of 15 can read and write. Education expenditures in the USA are about 3.5% of the GDP, In Costa Rica, education expenditures are about 7.6% of the GDP. Approximately 30% of Costa Rica’s national budget is spent on education. The students wear uniforms here in order to keep social and economic distinctions transparent.  Education is both free AND mandatory in Costa Rica.

So back to my trip….I check in at Atlanta, put my luggage back through and then pass through security. This is when I learn that apparently rhinestones and studs (which spell Hard Rock Cafe on the front of my shirt) are cause to get a feel-up from TSA. I mean FEEL UP. She rubbed her hands up and down my chest more than…. well you get the picture. All due to the studs and rhinestones…AND they are VISIBLY on the front of my shirt! Guess which shirt I did NOT wear back”?

The week in the States was awesome. I spent a number of days helping my parents put up their Christmas stuff. I’ve always I always thought it must be difficult to get into the Christmas spirit in FLORIDA. Doesn’t “feel” like Christmas…doesn’t “look” like a Christmas card. We didn’t really have “white” Christmases in Virginia, but at least it was cooler, the leaves were off the trees and you wore something besides shorts. Well….look what I did…I moved to Costa Rica.

Some things I have really missed…like the selection at the grocery store. Some things I really don’t miss….like the traffic. Observations while visiting the States…  I DON’T miss any of the restaurants; I DO miss the selections of  spices; I DO miss the selection and pricing of cleaning products; I DO miss the ease of access to these things; I DON’T miss wearing business attire (even my high heels), I DO miss AMAZON; I DO miss some of my winter clothes and boots; I DO miss our recliner leather sofas, I DON’T miss the taste of the USA drinking water; I DON’T miss the media/news; I DON’T miss driving in the USA. – While in Tampa, I drove on the interstate across town to get some items and  I was NOT comfortable! Albeit, I was also in a low-riding vehicle (Daddy’s vette)..but I haven’t driven over 30-35mph in 4 months! Felt like wuss….

So now, I’m back in Costa Rica. Christmas is going to be VERY different this year and I have VERY mixed emotions. Part of my journey back to the U.S. last week was to bring back some of my other ornaments, but I had too much stuff in my suitcases. I “muled” some items for our other fishing business friends here in Tamarindo and also wanted to bring back some spices and household things I have missed while here. For those who don’t know me or don’t know me well….I used to go ALL OUT at Christmas. Last year, I decorated our Virginia home with 14 Christmas trees, 65 nutcrackers, and various other decor. This year, I have 2 “skinny” trees I brought from the U.S., and a handful of ornaments. So other than that, some napkins and a Christmas Village item I brought from the States, that’s all I have. PLUS it DEFINITELY doesn’t feel “Christmasy” here. Heck…we are entering SUMMER.  The other REALLY difficult part of this move is not having my son around for the holidays for the VERY first time (he’s 23). I get emotional just thinking about it….

So here we are in a tropical paradise (no complaints), rains have gone, winds have picked up, no flat tires lately (knock on wood), ginormous grasshoppers have waned greatly (YEAH),  tourists are picking up, charters are picking up and we are finally getting into a rhythm….until we broke the glass coffee pot this week….now another scavenger hunt begins..   oh…by the way….I still don’t have my griddle

 

 

 

 

There it goes and here they come….

 

The rains are definitely ebbing and we are only seeing sporadic days with some rain. We still get a day or two where it is cloudy and rainy, but we can go days without rain again. I’m glad the “many days of rain” are behind us, but not looking forward to losing all of this greenery and turning into the “golden season” soon. But, as the rains subside, the people come. It’s odd to refer to the impending season as “summer”. All of my life, summer has been June, July and August. But here, we are just about to come into our summer.  Seems extremely weird to me as Christmas draws near, that we are also approaching summer.  Costa Rica only has 2 seasons….summer and winter. But the winter season is associated with the rains. From December through April, there is no rain. Guanacaste turns into what they call the “golden” state or province. All the greenery will turn gold or brown. Then the rains return in late April or May and we have lush greenery again.

As we are so close to the equator (Costa Rica lies between 8 and 11 degrees north of the equator), we have about 12 hours of sunlight year round. I cannot seem to sleep past 5:30am…regardless. On the other hand, we sit around the house waiting to see if it’s time for bed right after dinner! Lord have mercy, if we are home in the evening, we all start watching the clock and debating whether to turn in or not. It is PITCH by 5:30pm here….your mind tries to tell you it’s 11pm around 7pm…WTH. We also watch very little TV here. Before the US went back to Standard Time, it was even harder to stay awake in the evenings if we watched TV.  We would watch a “9pm” TV show at 7pm. When it was over….well…so were we. We watch a number of videos and Netflix, but not too much TV.

Around 3:30pm every day, the howler monkeys begin their “mating” calls. You can hear them first thing in the morning until about 9-10am, then they are rather silent until around 3:30-4:00pm in the afternoon and howl until dark. Only the males make that Jurassic Park-like sound. Around the same time each day, DOZENS of parrots fly up our hill and have multiple conversations with each other. They are a chatty bunch and apparently have much to say to each other. They come in droves, make a raucous for about 30-45 minutes, and then fly away….every single day.

As mentioned earlier, the number of tourists are increasing in town. What looked somewhat like a ghost town before is now building momentum. Restaurants and beaches are busier. The surfing crowd has really picked up and many of that crowd stay in the local hostels.  There are about 16 hostels in the Tamarindo area. These aren’t typically the people interested in sport fishing, but it is nice to see the variety of visitors. Although a hotel snob myself, and too high-maintenance for a hostel, they are quite popular…especially for the young people…and some are as cheap as $10/night during parts of the year.

Speaking of snobs….. So I spent 18 years + as a banker. A commercial/small business lender. When I started my career as a lender,  it was definitely a MAN’s job at the time. As a young woman (obviously many moons ago), I had to be resolutely professional, knowledgeable, and rather unflappable in order to be given ANY kind of credibility in the financial world. In the early years, many of the male business owners didn’t take me seriously and wouldn’t deal with me because I was a woman. Some would listen to my “pitch” and then tell me my accent was cute and that they would prefer to deal with someone else…you get the picture. Besides nixing the deep accent, I had to practice and master what I call the “appropriate” handshake. You know, the one that is firm; not too brief and not too long;  just enough grip to show you’re not weak…but also not pretending to be The Hulk. People talk about how other people shake hands! If it’s too long and very hammered…you know the person is going to be annoying and drone on and on about whatever. If a man shakes your hand too long, with the creepy grip and silly grin…ugh.  A handshake that is too firm of a grip and breaks your fingers, comes from the insanely competitive person or the one who’s trying to prove to you that they are REALLY macho. The limp and/or damp handshake (which are both gross) is just…gross. Funny how a handshake leaves one Hell of an impression. Back to my point….so…I’ve been very conscientious about the handshake because that IS the way you greet people….or it was.

Costa Rica is a different place in that regard. IF you get a handshake, it’s the quick shake/followed-by-a-fist-bump kind of handshake. But as a woman…you almost never get those. I saw my attorney the other day on the beach..(remember the one who I was pissed at when we closed on the business and then followed-up with a meeting to tell him I thought it was all handled unprofessionally?)…yes that one. He walks by and I say “Hello” (after all, he does resemble Antonio Banderas)..and he smiles (surprise) and walks up to me. So I FIRMLY and IMMEDIATELY put out my hand to shake his…as he is leaning in to kiss my cheek. YEP. That’s what they do here. EVERYONE. They kiss your right cheek (more of an air kiss). Every time you greet a familiar male..that’s how they greet you….and I keep forgetting. By the time it registers to me what’s going on, they are pulling back and looking at me “air kissing” nothing….

Have you ever seen a grasshopper as big as your hand? Welcome to Costa Rica. If you have small hands…you don’t get it. Imagine a hand the size of Yao Ming (retired 7’6″ basketball player from China). Yep. That’s the size of the grasshoppers who have the audacity to hang on our screens at night and scare the bejeesus out of me when I take the dog out at night. It’s fun (not really) to go to a cookout and watch the women (me included) scream, duck and flail arms around trying to avoid them. They are HUGE and red-winged….and DUMB. Fly into our windows all of the time. We’ve had a hard time with the translation of grasshopper to the Ticos here. They seem to call them “langostas”…which is “lobster”? But apparently also locust? So my family and I just refer t them as lobsters. Problem solved.

Remember the humidity I speak of every week? Well….it continues. I know it will diminish greatly when the dry season arrives. One last thing (Hell, probably won’t be the last) about this humidity is how my butt sticks to everything. All the chairs…all the car seats…all the toilet seats… yep. BANG. As soon as you stand up… If it’s a lightweight seat…it drops up and down and bounces like applause. If it’s a leather or vinyl seat….it sounds like someone let out gas every time you move or stand up. If it’s a heavy seat….sounds like a bomb. The things you notice…..

 

 

 

 

Piece of cake? Not so much…

Selling everything and moving to another country has been awesome…but not the easiest thing I have ever done. First of all, as stated before, getting rid of almost ALL of my stuff…was heartwrenching. Not having my son close by? Heartwrenching. Leaving my family and friends in the States? Heartwrenching. Leaving my job, the politics, the commercialism, the “keeping up with the Joneses”, the bitterness in today’s society, the extreme legalese, healthcare expense, and watching people who have dedicated their lives to employers lose their jobs? Not so much….”

HOWEVER, moving to another country who’s native language is NOT English, whose way of doing things seems so “yesterday” at times, figuring out what to do, where to go, etc”…is not a piece of cake. It’s by no means impossible…but seems like you have to always be prepared for the unexpected.

CASE IN POINT…..the driving experience. OMG. There are apparently no rules…yet…there are. Double lines down the middle of the road? Decoration. Pot holes and HUGE crevices in the road? Adventure. Passengers on motorcycles? Includes dogs.  Speed limit sign? Bird stopping area. It is CRAZY.  If they sent American driver’s-ed students to places like this to learn to drive, there would be a LOT less accidents in the USA. Defensive driving is learned FIRST and FOREMOST here. People will be coming at you on your side of the road (because they are passing…double line or not), cars are driving towards you on the right because they are pulling off the road and going to that place on the right.  Driving along side you in the oncoming lane? Yep, they are going to turn off to the left sometime soon. Motorcycles fly by with helmets on the back of their heads,  helmets on their bike,  helmets in their lap…or without helmets. They pass on the left, on the right, between lanes..  I’ve also seen people on motorcycles texting. Brilliant. Yesterday, a motorcycle passed by with a girl on the back wearing a Brazilian cut bathing suit. Her boyfriend better be a good driver because the road rash would be horrendous…..

That’s driving. Stopping? Yes….anywhere and everywhere is permitted. Just put on your hazard lights and you can block a lane talking to someone on the street, picking up someone, dropping off someone,  just because, whatever you choose. You can be driving down the road at a decent clip and then WHOA…hazards are on and they have stopped. Regardless of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” driving habits,  people are walking in the street, pushing baby strollers in the street, dogs are crossing the streets, (also cows, horses and chickens) people are stopping to take their babies out of the strollers IN THE STREETS, people are riding bicycles IN THE DARK in the streets, you name it. Realize all of the roads are 2 laned roads (at best) as well. Yes….this is defensive driving school’s best learning experience.

Don’t know if it’s the streets, the luck, or what…but I think we’ve had 7 flat tires since being here. Last week alone, we had 4. I believe they have all been repaired satisfactorily by now, but…like I said before…you have to always be prepared for the unexpected. Nothing like heading out to appointments for the morning and seeing a flat.  This week on top of another flat  tires,  the refrigerator died. Joy.

Things don’t really last long here. I know I’ve mentioned the humidity before…but Jiminy Christmas….  Things rust quickly here. Humidity + salt air. Crackers are even packaged here differently. A box of saltines is filled with 12 individually-wrapped sets of 6 crackers. Why? If you eat 1/2 a pack of those 6 saltines and return 30 minutes later to finish? They are already stale and soggy. THAT is how humid it is. Chewing gum? Don’t buy it unless it’s the “chicklet” kind. The sticks of gum? Turn to gross mush in a snap.

All that said, the vibe here is awesome. The locals are so friendly. We’ve met so many other expats here who have also left the USA for a different lifestyle. TV is watched so little here. Newspapers? Hardly read. Political drama? Only if you want to tune in to it. It’s not “thrown in your face on a second-by-second basis” like it is in the States.  I’ve thought a lot about “why” the vibe here is so attractive. Is it the lack of corporate pressure? The calm of the ocean? The laid-back lifestyle? The “not having to impress anyone” mentality? The “all of the visitors here are on VACATION or NEWLYWEDS or at least..”not working” environment?  The friendliness of the Costa Rican heart? All of the above? Many of our customers have stated that we are either “brave” or they “envy” what we have done.

No…packing up and moving to another country is not necessarily a piece of cake….but you get one chance at this game of life. Sometimes we forget our priorities and live in the corporate battle for success. Dog eat dog. Who’s going to get that raise…that promotion…how much harder do I have to work in order to get recognized….at a great expense. Before, my husband went to work at 6:45am and returned around 6:45pm. I brought work home. We both “stayed connected” even when on vacation. But now…we work our butts off to get this business to the next level…but still have time to take a dip in the pool at lunch or mid-afternoon. Grab a bit to eat or a drink at a local restaurant, or  walk along the beach. Quality of life….  Is it always a piece of cake? No. But, we don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. As my mother told me many times..”No one ever told you life was going to be easy.” No…it’s not always easy….but we sure are enjoying it….

 

 

 

americans visiting/ why they visit/why they want to get away

 

Monkey see….monkey do….do

This week has been a little bit more “low key”. Part of that was due to another front that moved in and we had rain for days.  One of the things that I have now discovered in the new house that needs to be changed, is our internet provider. We have satellite internet which apparently goes down every time it rains. This required a trip to the local restaurants a couple of days for us to use our laptops and get some work done. Not a “problem”…but definitely an inconvenience.

The first part of the week, we had a repeat customer (11th time fishing with our company) come down and fish for a day and a half. Was awesome to see someone who enjoys our captain so much and is loyal and generous to the captain. He is from the Atlanta area and has been coming to Tamarindo and fishing with this company sometimes a few times a year. Very cool to meet a loyal, repeat client. So many will only be here once…  Our captains have been with this company for over 20 years each and they are not only knowledgeable fishermen, but really great people.

One of the things that continues to crack me up is the number of people who don’t know where Costa Rica is or that it’s not an island. Now I can’t tell you that I could have perfectly outlined all of the Central and South American countries until a few years ago when I went to Venezuela, Belize and Costa Rica…but I DID know that Costa Rica was not an island. Many of us here have realized that many people (worldwide) confuse Costa Rica with Puerto Rico. People are constantly asking us (and the other Expats) “How is island life?” and assuming that we are in the path of the storms that hit the Virgin Islands, Jamaica and, devastatingly, Puerto Rico. As noted in a previous blog, we had one heck of a storm that hit Costa Rica the first part of October, but nothing as magnanimous and savage as the storm that hit Puerto Rico. But everyone thinks we’re on an island in the Caribbean… Not only am I not on an island, but we live on the Pacific Coast. FYI.

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My Spanish is coming along.  Sometimes I even surprise myself. When one is forced into a “have to” situation,  it’s amazing how even an old, crusty brain can be forced into remembering crap you were “sure” you had learned but usually can’t remember. I still have difficulty interpreting what is being said to me. Reading…not so difficult….speaking…more difficult….interpreting/listening….UGH. Sometimes…I just need more time to THINK a little bit longer than they give me so I can figure it out. By the time my lightbulb goes off, they’ve changed the subject.

The other day I was in a group conversation. One of the locals referred to me as the “Jefa”. For those of you who watch shows like Narcos, Orange is the New Black, Dexter, etc… (or actually took Spanish) you know that jefe means “boss” and jefa is a female boss. “Jefe” is pronounced “hef ay”. Now remember, my brain is on 78rpm and the Costa Ricans are playing a 45rpm when they speak.  (For those of you not born or knowledgeable of the types of vinyl records we used to have…my brain is on slo-mo and they talk really fast.) So in this conversation I am referred to as the jefa. They say “jefa”. I  hear “heifer”. Now…I know that the humidity is supposed to be plumping out my skin and wrinkles..but I am experiencing a bit of a stunned moment when I hear this man refer to me as a “heifer”..   I know I looked at him with a bit of shock on my face. Again, by the time it registered, he had moved on in conversation and I had no idea what the rest of the conversation was about.

The wildlife is one of my favorite parts of Costa Rica. Whether it’s the dolphins, whales iguanas, monkeys, sloths (though not in my region) or just the regular horse and cow walking the streets, I love animals. In Virginia, I had a feeding stand in the backyard where I fed raccoon, opossum and foxes.  I have been hoping to get the monkeys on video as the howler monkeys make a noise that sounds like something from Jurassic Park. (which, I discovered after making this analogy that their sounds WERE used in the Jurassic Park series). The other day, while we were at the beach, the howlers had come down to the trees overlooking the parking lot.  There were a number of young people looking up trying to get pictures. Well Ellie Mae here, decided that her Dr. Doolittle skills were going to get the monkeys over to me (proving to the young people my animal savvy)so I could get a video. I start calling to the monkeys and while looking through my phone (as I want to record their howl for the benefit of my American friends) trying to find the monkey to record him..and…WHAT?..what is that? Yep…that’s monkey shit rolling down my arm, hand, leg….  you get the picture…and it’s not pretty.  To “save face” I stand there like a bump on a log acting like I don’t see it and it didn’t hit me, while trying to move discreetly over to the big leaf area to get something to wipe it off my hand and arm. Yep…showed those kids that I’m a “natural” with the wildlife. Also assumed that since I stood there stoically, as though nothing happened, that they wouldn’t  notice. You should’ve seen their faces when I turned around.  Yep…they saw.

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Well…I showed them, or is it I gave them a show?

Do you remember the “Bo Derek” braids? (Don’t gasp, I didn’t do that.) Bo Derek wore these long, tight braids in the movie “10” years and years ago. Was the sexiest thing around at the time. Several years ago while in Mexico, my daughter and step-daughter got their hair braided like that on the beach.  One of the things I remember at the time was the lady who braided their hair that when we eventually took the braids out,  there would be a lot of hair that would come out. The reason for this is due to the lack of daily brushing of the hair and removal of the pieces that naturally fall out. When you don’t comb/brush daily, the loose hair will just hang there in the braids until brushed. Yes…I remembered that THEN. However, due to the EXTREME humidity here (did I tell you how HUMID it is here?)  I now wash my hair and then put it into a ponytail on the very top of my head. The following day, I just lean over, grab my hair and re-wrap the band, etc. No more brush, no more straight iron (what’s THAT point here?)…just wash and up. Well…I forgot that theory about not combing/brushing and the other day I decided to let my ponytail down and run my fingers through my hair. OMG. HOLY TOLEDO. For someone who has VERY thin hair…I was sure 1/2 of it was in my hands!  I thought something was WRONG with me.  Alopecia? Stress? New Diet? What the heck? Freaking out….I just knew I was on my way to bald…. Then I remembered. I actually brushed my hair last night.

Punctual / punctuality is not a thought or concept in Costa Rica. The expats (Gringos) refer to it as “Tico Time”.  Yep…”the refrigerator guy will be there tomorrow”. Nope. “The yard man will be there at 10am”. Psych. The gardener will be there on Sunday”. You meant Monday? It is crazy.  I initially tried to plan around these “appointments” and that only created frustration. But no one here is bothered.  It’s “normal”. The justification behind it is “something important must’ve come up”. Okay. Another aspect of re-conditioning when moving to Costa Rica. Everyone in the USA needs it “yesterday”. Here, you will get it “whenever”.  The locals are okay with that and it’s their way of life. It doesn’t “stress them out”….they don’t get agitated. Maybe they have it right….not sure. But if you can grasp the concept, it sure helps. Sure, you can get agitated by it, but it’s not going to change things. Embrace it? Not yet,  but what I do know is that I live in THEIR world now…

 

 

I thought I knew but I was wrong….

 

What a week! We finally moved into our new home. WHAT A DIFFERENCE. No longer are we in the dark, musty, dirty house we moved into in August. Internet pictures obviously did not paint a true portrayal of that house and we are relieved to be out. My hubby felt like we were in a prison. Even the dog is obviously happier…

We now live on a hill and we have breezes, cooler temps and the house is surrounded with screened windows and doors so we can keep the ventilation running through the house. Our infinity pool is salt-water and fill with dirt and nastiness like the last house’s pool did. The hubby’s nephew has now come and gone as well as some friends of our from Florida who came down to visit. It was great seeing some people from “home” and going fishing with them while they were here.

Now to return to a sore subject…BANKING. As I have mentioned in previous weeks…banking here continues to be a challenge. The national bank was not too difficult to get an account opened and just required a few papers from our CPA and attorney. The account with the private bank took a little over a month to get opened. This private bank required everything except for blood and after it was opened, it took another week-plus to get online banking, etc. Well…..the saga continues.

Last week, I logged into online banking and the dang thing said we had “no productos” (products)….(accounts)….NOTHING. I thought, “Well, that’s funny. Because most of our money is in this bank. Online banking must be down.” Next day…same thing. SO..we trek back to the bank. (By the way, I think I have been INSIDE a bank branch more times in 3 months than I had been in 18 years of being a banker in the USA…) When we get to see “our girl”..I tell her my accounts “seem” to be gone. Well. YES. They ARE. Why? Well, because they need ANOTHER sheet of paper with my hubby’s signature on it that is similar to the by-laws of a corporation in the USA. They need a document saying he is the only one to sign on the business even though they have most of that already and the account has been open a month. No notice, no request, just froze our funds. So…another trip upstairs to the lawyers office to ask them to produce what I feel should have ALREADY been provided…and now we wait for the people in San Jose (Costa Rica’s capital and the bank headquarters) to approve and allow us to utilize our funds again. NICE. Between that bank and our attorney’s office…..grrrrrr.

We also did our first “border run” or “VISA run” this week. With a tourist VISA, you are required to exit the country every 90 days in order to renew your VISA.  Once we have all of our business documents filed and completed, we will be applying for residency won’t have to exit. There are a number of companies that do regular “border runs” for the expats here on tourist VISAs.  Hubby and I went as my daughter is headed back to the states on November 1 will use that to renew her VISA.

Well, the morning started with a flat tire. We were meeting the shuttle about 10 minutes from our home. When planning the night before, my suggestion was to leave 15-20 minutes prior to departure as my hubby is not a good “sit around and wait” kind of guy and I’m not a morning person (conversationally)…so the less time we stood in a parking lot waiting for a shuttle..the better. HOWEVER…as we left that morning, it was discovered we had a FLAT. GREAT. Especially for the “non-conversationalist” and the “one who wanted to leave extra early anyway”…So kudos to my daughter who dropped us off and took the car to the station to get the spare put on…

The drive to Nicaragua is beautiful once you pass the city of Liberia and looks very much like Jurassic Park. Wild palms and large wild ferns are everywhere. Orange, red, fuschia and yellow flowers  are brilliant among the lush green foliage. Shrubs that look like small birds-of-paradise grow everywhere and everything looks so peaceful.  The trees are magnificently huge and tower above the roads blanketing them with shade and greenery.  As we approach Nicaragua’s border, there is a vehicle lane and a truck lane. There were MORE than sixty  18-wheeler trucks sitting along the highway waiting to get into Nicaragua.  I cannot imagine how long they must sit just to cross into the country. When we arrive, we sit in the shuttle van while the driver takes our passports into an office to pay our exit tax for Costa Rica ($7). We then exit the van and walk to building to pay $2 (for something or another) to exit Costa Rica.  We then walked along about a 100 yard stretch, passing vendors, military and people asking for money to provide you directions. Ahead is an old building housing Nicaragua immigration where you stand in line to lie to them that you are going to stay in their country for a number of days and then give them $12 to stamp your passport. After you exit the back of the building (and sending your bag/purse through a scanner)….let me interject….I may now wear a lot of shorts, sleeveless tops and flip flops…but I did keep 3 Kate Spade bags and a Coach bag …. Anyway, you exit the back of the building and re-enter the building 10 feet down to pay them another $2 for something and then stand in line to exit.

Here is where you are faced with (primarily in Spanish) the question, “how long were you in Nicaragua?” Which is a Catch-22 as you “supposedly were there/staying there 3-4 days” but your stamp is 15 minutes old… So I look at the guy and just grin. He says to me, “you just came for stamp?” which I honestly answer. Then they want to know your occupations before letting you out. Hubby answers that he is a BMW engineer. I told them my occupation was esposa…spouse. The immigration guy laughed. I then told him (IN SPANISH!) that it was a difficult job and that my husband was mean. (Of course, my husband didn’t understand a word of this…so I did explain it to him, as  hindsight made me fear that the immigration people would believe me and cart my husband off somewhere..). Thankfully, we leave with our stamps to walk back along the wired fences to enter Costa Rica again. I felt like those pictures of Syrian refugees that were all over the news a year or so ago.  There were a lot of people: buses of people, individuals dragging suitcases, all kinds of people. We were all walking from one country to another in a basic, existential yet purposeful way. At the Costa Rican border (we are now entering on the other side of THAT building), we stand in  a line similar to what you see at amusement parks and wait to get stamped back in. At the immigration counter, they want to know what we do, how long we are staying, where we are going, etc. It’s basically a lot of bulls*#* where you have to bull*#* to get where you need to be. You also have to show a ticket of some sort that you are exiting within 90 days.

It’s crazy what stuff has to be done aside from just “running your business”. I think of all of my previous small business owner banking customers and how much I felt like I understood their hardships, thoughts and processes. As a lender for 18+ years, I felt very sympathetic and, at times, even empathetic to their struggles from my experience working with so many small businesses. I was WRONG. There is a whole different dimension to understanding the trials and tribulations such as…where is business going to continue to come from? where did these additional costs come from? how do I make payroll? why is the bank so difficult (LOL)? how do I set myself apart from the competition? Kudos to all of you I thought I understood before….

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morning view from our new home

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we have a monthly newsletter going out now

 

That’s the night that the lights went out in….

Wow. What a week. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, hubby’s nephew came to visit and it was WONDERFUL to see a familiar face…especially one that is family.. We have heard from a number of friends and family that are “planning to visit” and we sincerely hope they come through with their promises. It truly is a brightener to see familiar faces.

This week we went out on one of our charters to experience it ourselves.  I can now take another “bucket list” item off of my list as I saw a whale. What a magnificent creature. You know they are big…but when you see them in their natural habitat…and realize that 1/2 of their tail fin is bigger than a marlin….well that puts things into perspective. As a nature lover, I love seeing the sea turtles and the many dolphins we see when we go out…but this whale was truly awesome. Another one who scratched a bucket list item off  of their list was my husband. He’s always wanted to hook a roosterfish and he got a beautiful one on this trip. We also caught some dorado and other fish..and it was just a great day for all.

My daughter and I did a pharmacy run  this week as well. We have been trying to figure out what we can and cannot get while living here. I tell you, as a woman who’s been on hormones for 11 years, I was dreading either a) going cold turkey or b) paying or refills in the USA without insurance. Well, not only can I get them here, but they are the more “natural” hormones vs the horse crap I was taking in the USA. It will cost me about $21.50/month and I don’t need a doctor’s appointment. Hallelujah. Hubby can get his cholesterol/blood pressure meds (hoping he doesn’t really need the BP meds much longer), and my daughter and I can get our migraine pills….so all is GOOD.

Speaking of health “ish” items…I have suffered for years from an eczema-type condition on the tips of my fingers. Once upon a time, my fingers used to crack on the ends (primarily index fingers and thumbs) during the winter months. Over the past 3-5 years, that timeframe has grown to be year-round. Well…guess who has the softest fingers and feet EVER? Yes friends, it is time to move the beach…..for health purposes. Oh my gosh…it is crazy how different it is. My skin feels smoother…especially fingers, feet and face.

I met my first deadly snake this past week. The nephew was thrilled…he’s a long-time snake person, having owned up to 3 at a time including some massive albino boa with a bad temper. (I know, why?) This snake is called a fer-de-lance. It is known as “one of the most dangerous creatures one can encounter in Costa Rica”.  Yep…that’s how I roll. My daughter and I were walking the dog one night and as we got to the house, I noticed a “big stick” that wasn’t there before. The dog then went to look at it and the freakin stick moved. Yep…raised it’s head up and started to move. However, it did not move as fast as I did by pushing the dog into the gate and running to get the nephew.  (Don’t worry, the snake did not move in my direction.) Apparently, the snake was shedding and so it was moving a little more slowly and blindly as the shedding skin was over its eyes. Wonder Nephew took a big stick (a real one) and moved it to another area.

Well to cap off the week..the Hurricane Nate came to the east coast of Costa Rica and then THE LIGHTS WENT OUT….we encountered what the locals referred to as the worst storm in over 10 years here. As October is already the rainiest month in the year, the storm came when the grounds were already terribly saturated.  It left the country with over 400,000 without water and 500,000 without power. That’s about 20-25% of the country’s population!  The President of Costa Rica referred to it as the “biggest crisis in Costa Rican history”.  At least 117 roads were affected with 40 impassable, and over 42 bridges collapsed. The main road through Costa Rica (the Inter-American Highway) was affected in more than 112 areas from potholes to complete structural failure.  So many MASSIVE trees came down due to the the all-too-saturated ground (and kept landing on power lines which exacerbated the problems). But through tragedy comes triumph and the community pulled together to help their people. The whole country has bounced back incredibly fast. Things are already back to normal almost everywhere.  This storm was unexpected and unprecedented.

We were very fortunate and I was very thankful we shipped the generator down. Funny, we bought it after a derecho hit Richmond in June one year and never got to use it….but boy did we here. I can tell you, I’m not a good “can’t get a shower” kind of girl. Three nights of playing cards by candlelight…no showers…carrying buckets of pool water in to flush the toilets, no ability to wash your hands or face…can’t wear contacts because your hands are dirty…no AC at night and can’t leave the windows open (this house has no screens and the bugs come in if you open the doors/windows)…yep…I was much more like bitchy Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie than I was precious and pleasant Laura Ingalls Wilder. Now mind you, I am perfectly okay with the quiet and reading and playing solitaire…but when the others around me are fidgety or miserable…there IS NO peace…regardless of the lack of sound. The generator was a saving grace in allowing us to recharge our phones,  salvage some things in the frig, make coffee and toast, and have periods of light at night. Again…thankful that the nephew was visiting…I may have been a planned widow without his presence.

It’s funny that when you live in a very small community (about 1,000-1,500 locals) you very soon start to run into people you know on a frequent basis. I left a community much larger, where I had lived almost 30 years. Due to business and social events, I ran into people that I knew all of the time (much to the chagrin of my kids). It really does makes you feel like you belong. In a small community, regardless of the country or the language, it’s easy to feel at home quickly. After all, you want to go where everybody knows your name…

 

 

 

Waiting for our mules…

No…it’s not what you are thinking. We are not now donkey farmers. We are not waiting for asses , as there are plenty of those already under roof (the smart kind, of course). “Mules” are those that come to Costa Rica (like friends and visitors) who can bring us some of the stuff we cannot get here or cannot get reasonably priced. Well, the first one arrived this week. Hubby’s nephew from England. We got some “real” tea!, suntan lotions and Quavers (British snack chips). Very exciting stuff. He also brought some fishing gear which has made the husband extremely happy. We have some more mules coming in a few weeks (friends from Florida) and then my daughter returns to the States the first of November . It will feel like Christmas for her as I excitedly re-acquaint myself with my dear friend Amazon to ship her supplies while there. (Christmas for me….)

The language transition remains my daily entertainment. I have begun Spanish lessons with a local friend, as I am the contact person (phone-wise) for the fishing business. He tells me I’m coming along great and I feel pumped…until I hear people speaking around me and can pick up very few words. It’s sad to see how many expats here who have no desire to learn the language. Why not? I HATE being in the dark. Some of the expats are embarrassing. Instead of learning Spanish, they have compromised their English and speak like uneducated children.  “I say to man at store. You come to my house. You help me. I call you tomorrow.” We’ve made a friend here who speaks like this. Nonstop. Even to US. We were in the pet food store the other day and he says to me, “You get treats for you dog? You buy these. My dog like these.” After already being with him the past 2 hours…my American lack of patience kicked in. I said to him “I speak English. You don’t have to talk to me like that.” (Not that he “has” to talk to anyone else like that.) Well….habits are hard to break. My suggestion went unnoticed.  He even emails me in the same sentence (or lack thereof) structure.  It drives me crazy. Today he told me “I taking nap”. Whatever…

Speaking of language barriers, it is also comical that we are now  doing some business matters with a local who has just as much trouble with his translation to English as I do to Spanish. When we met, he referred to himself as “Zero Zero Siete”. (007) He also calls himself Action Jackson. He is the one who is going to help us get some things filed with the municipalities, etc associated with corporate fishing licenses and permits that need to have the ownership information updated and changed. He emails me in English and I understand half of what he is requesting. After we get these things done, he has offered to help us get our residency. It is DEFINITELY a “who you know” world…everywhere. Case in point: if you are in an accident of ANY kind, you best have a local friend or local witness with you. The policia here (notice I threw in a Spanish term) listen to the locals (Ticos) and may not even ASK you (the Gringo) about your side of the incident. Haven’t experienced this personally, but have heard many stories.

We traveled to Santa Cruz to check out the markets there. Some of the locals refer to Santa Cruz as a “big city”. In that regard, it was very unfulfilling. To me, it was closer to Mayberry.  Consisted of a bunch of Goodwill -type stores advertising “Ropas Americana” (American clothes).  Also a number of markets, pharmacies, and small goods stores. We did come across some great deals in their grocery (as it isn’t a tourist area) and the butcher shop there is incredible…even to someone who doesn’t eat meat. It’s a bit of a step back into time. We witnessed our first Costa Rican funeral procession. They walk. Yes. WALK. The poor pallbearers, wearing their Sunday best, walking through the streets carrying a casket. Is was quite somber. In the States, you travel to the funeral in the privacy of your car. Here, you AND your emotions are walking down the street on display to the others at a very  personal and grievous time.

We had some great charters this past week and met some great people.  I love this part of the business. This week we met people from Massachusetts, California, Texas, Georgia, and Wisconsin. We had a group of 6 that travel the world together, annually.  We also had a honeymoon couple that were in their early 20s and had already been together for 9 years. October is supposed to be the slowest month of the year, so that will be challenging. However, we have a lot going on this month with the nephew’s 2 week  visit, our upcoming visit from friends, and our move from our current house into what we hope is our “forever home” while here in Costa Rica.

It’s amazing we’ve been here 2 months.  Half of the time, we are not even sure what day of the week it is without looking. We are truly “settling in” and hubby is even starting to look like a local…very tanned…long hair. Apparently, we are entering hippiedom. He with the long hair and deep tan..and I have the ponytail, no make-up and flip flop look….feeling like kids again…in our 50’s…..