It’s a jungle out there…..here….

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Don’t let it get your goat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is an experience…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Wine and the good life…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Rent or ride?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.