The winds of change

The busy season continues (yeah!) and we are very thankful that we missed the coldest temperatures in many years that hit the eastern U.S. In the 30 years I lived in Virginia, it NEVER got as cold as it did this year.  We did have a bit of rain here in the past week which is NOT “common” for this time of year, although not a phenomenon. This is still the season of the Papagayo winds which brings wind gusts up to 30+ knots and we have had to cancel a few charters due to the weather.

My love of some of the banks (or lack thereof) has not totally changed. Let me tell you what I miss—-ATM’s that accept cash deposits. DANG. As I have explained before, when going to the bank , you get a ticket number (similar to the meat counter at Fresh Market or at the DMV).  Currently, we have a relationship with 2 banks. One of them (BAC), the lines are usually not too long, but their ATM’s don’t always have cash. BAC allows you the largest cash withdrawal of all of the other banks so I prefer their ATMs. In addition, our payroll is run through this bank.  I don’t really mind going to BAC anymore although this was the hardest bank to establish a relationship with initially.

Our other bank is BCR (Banco de Costa Rica).  I believe this is the bank that is most popular with the locals. It is not unusual to go to the bank, be given a number by the guard (who won’t let you inside if the bank is full), and wait outside for an extended period. There are 4 cajas (teller stations) in BCR and usually only 2 are operating. Inside the bank, there are about 12 chairs in the lobby and they blow the A/C on FREEZING COLD while you wait. That is, until they will turn it completely off. The A/C will then stay off  until it smells like a locker room and then the guard will turn it back on to freeze you out again. The last time I went to the local BCR, they were serving number 67. My number was 94. Yep. 94. I waited over an hour just to make a deposit. When they called my number, my complete transaction was under 2 minutes. I absolutely DESPISE going to this bank.  Hubby and I had to go to a BCR branch in Liberia last week which was MUCH MORE efficient…and comical. This branch was not using their ticket kiosk. The branch is about twice the size of the one in Tamarindo. We walked in and saw the people sitting in the chairs and took a seat. I had no idea what “the system” was, but we sat and waited. Then we figured out that when a station opened…you moved up a chair. It went MUCH faster (due to more workers), but it was like playing musical chairs. Every few seconds or minutes, you jumped up to sit down. ….So why were we at THIS branch????…

We got a phone call last week from the previous owner who happened to be in Liberia (it’s the “major” city near here where many of the government offices are, airport, “good stores”, etc. He called to tell us he had the bills for our boat taxes that were due and happy to bring them to us. What? Boat taxes due? When? Yep…they are due NOW.  Love the forewarning and the help that I suppose the closing attorney and CPA don’t help to prepare. This is the process: travel to Liberia to the Hacienda (government office); get a 4 copy document (complete with carbon papers) of your Impuestas Factura (tax bill);  take the tax bill to a BCR branch and pay them on the SAME DAY you receive your bill; fax/scan a copy of the bill back to the Hacienda…SAME DAY.  If all of this is not completed in the same day, return another day for a new bill. The bills are dated with current taxes due. If you wait a day, you accrue additional interest and apparently no one can calculate a per diem…..

Not knowing ALL of these details, hubby goes to the previous owner’s house that afternoon to get the paperwork and other some other business things. At about 3:45pm, hubby is told…”oh yeah, these bills HAVE to be paid today.” So, hubby rushes to the bank which closes at 4:00pm and arrives at 4:02pm…so can’t get in. Therein, is the reason we had to drive (about an hour drive) to Liberia to get another copy to pay on that date. The things we are still having to learn…..

When you move to another country you make a lot of observations and comparisons. Many prove to be significant learning lessons. The things I thought I would “need” while here…haven’t been so “needed”.  I wish I could have truly understood that before coming. I am rarely out of flip flops and shorts. I never wear my hair down. I rarely wear any type of make-up. The pieces of furniture we brought because I “hated to let them go” have proven insignificant in a country whose housing is almost always “pre-furnished”.  The make-up, the toiletries, some of the clothes….but how do you get rid of EVERYTHING?

When I first arrived, I viewed some of the locals here as “poor souls” who must struggle at a living. I was wrong. Yes, some people struggle and need help (as anywhere) but some of the people who “appear” to live in an impoverished style are not poor at all. Sometimes I think we have had it all wrong…at least in my eyes. Many of the Costa Ricans have everything they need. They do not live like “kings” but they have everything they need. They are devout, loving people who are dedicated to God and their families. Their families are units that function as a whole. They have a roof over their heads, food, education, healthcare and transportation (for some it is a scooter, horse, bicycle or by foot). They have everything they  need and, as a whole,  are not an unhappy culture.  I often wonder if  the reason that so many are unhappy living in the more developed cultures is because they don’t have everything they want.

I have been a contributor and player in this ugly cycle of want and continue to listen to my US friends and family still speak of the things they “need” to get their kids and what else they need to “buy” for their kids. “I only got them this 1 significant gift and they need SOMETHING else because I can’t just get them only one thing”…or “their friend had a great party, I HAVE to do SOMETHING”…often at the parents’ detriment. Who are we benefiting in these situations? The kids/friends/whoever that didn’t really “NEED” this? The parent(s) who exhaust their funds trying to please them? People all over the world are talking about the masses of young people who no longer respect so many things and the young “entitled” behaviors.  And we wonder why….. Here, you see the children  running around playing with each other, no cell phones or iPads in hand (or in an inattentive parent’s hands). The kids are expected to help their parents DAILY with chores and jobs. They all seem so much happier. I am not trying to stereotype EVERYONE into these 2 categories, but it IS an observation I have made between living in a country as grand, sophisticated and accessible as the US and living in a 3rd world country. The problems of the masses…yep…we created.

On that same note, living in a situation such as ours (new owners of a seasonal business in a 3rd world country), some other perceptions have really come to light. After spending 10 years as a single mom, it was sometimes hard to swallow when my hubby would look at certain things and refer to them as “cheap” and they were…I don’t know…$100 or so. I lost the concept of “cheap” when I was a single mom. What some deemed as “cheap”…I considered “potentially affordable”. But since married, we have shopped for various things and it was always funny what he found “cheap” (also based on how bad he did or didn’t want it). Well….we are now back to living like our 20’s!!  Remember when you DID look at the price tag of EVERYTHING to determine whether affordable or not? Yep…we are living like our 20s. Two reasons for this: 1) we moved here in the off-season so have spent 4 months spending without much income 2) some things here are NOT affordable due to the fact they were imported. I always wished I could live like I was young again….be careful of what you wish for….LOL.

And lastly…along with the winds coming in and the rains waning, the humidity has also plummeted…which originally, I was looking forward to. Well….welcome to hag hair.

 

 

The Year of Change – 2017

Well…it’s been quite the year, hasn’t it? I can’t believe 2017 is over. It’s been quite a life-changing year! Hubby changed jobs in early part of the year….we came to Costa Rica in February and by April had signed paperwork to buy what is now,  our sportfishing business. Sold my brand new car in April; sold the house in June; quit my job in July; sold almost everything else we had in July; trekked to Florida for a week or so and arrived here August 3rd. Now, just about everything in my life is different.

There was a rodeo near town last weekend. The “rodeo” (they don’t call it that, but I can’t remember what they call it) here is very different from those in the USA or Spain.  The Costa Ricans are very humane to the bulls…more so than the “cowboys”. Funny to see the riders that aren’t always “in condition” to ride a bull. Falling off…getting stepped upon…and limping off of the field. The stadium/arena is built by hand. Takes about 2-2.5 weeks to build and about 3 days to take down. Interesting to watch things constructed like “the good ole days”. No metal….everything is constructed of wood. Around the arena were carnival vendors selling various foods and wares. There was SO MUCH TRASH in the mornings…but the people cleaned up everything early and prepared for the next night of activities. People either love it or avoid it….

In December, we  had to pay our employees their “aguinaldo”. The workers of Costa Rica get 13 months of pay per year. The aguinaldo is like a Christmas bonus. The employees are paid 1/12 of their monthly wages earned January-November 30 as a 13th month payment. Whatever the total of all of those months of pay are, you divide by 12 and they receive that bonus no later than December 20th. It is paid to every salaried employee, whether employed by private company or the government. It is not taken lightly here either as it is obligatory. Failure to pay the aguinaldo brings the Ministry of Labour immediately in to intervene. The fine for not paying is anywhere from 7 to 23 months of the employee’s basic salary.

We had a HUGE frog in the house. The question we are stuck with is HOW did he get in here? He was as big as my entire hand!! Got up in the morning (I get up between 5-5:45 am on days we don’t have charters going out in the morning), and went downstairs with the dog to let him out and feed him. I go to grab his water bowl and the ENTIRE bowl is filled with a FROG. AGGHHH!! Now, I don’t mind frogs at all..(unlike my sister who is dreadfully afraid of them….I mean DREADFULLY), but this frog was HUGE. Just hanging out in the water bowl. How does THAT get into the house unnoticed? We don’t leave the doors open. We have screens when the glass doors are open. Not only that…but he found the water bowl! Crazy! Thank goodness he wasn’t in the toilet!!! I saw a small frog going down the drain of my sink one day…but can you imagine sitting on the toilet in the middle of the night and finding THAT?…. I have become much more aware in the middle of the night than I used to be….

I remember having conversations with a friend of mine in Virginia YEARS ago about men and cologne. As I was in my 40s and single, I was really curious as to why men hardly ever wore cologne. I don’t know about everyone else,  but a man that smells good is  a HUGE asset! Think about how your sense of smell dictates so much…whether you will enter a room/restaurant, whether you will eat it or throw it away, whether you will stand next to him/her or not, whether you feel nauseated or not… but it also plays a huge part in the law of attraction. So many U.S. men don’t wear cologne any more. Some of them only wear it to “hide” smells. (I remember the teenage boys in middle school who didn’t bring home their gym clothes to be washed and sprayed them with AXE instead.) Gross… not the same. Well…guess what the men wear in Costa Rica? Cologne. A LOT OF IT. I mean, they must go through a bottle a week. OMG. Sometimes I can smell them coming from 6 feet away.  It’s like they rolled around and slept in the Brut warehouse all night. As with many things…there CAN be TOO MUCH of a good thing…

TRASH. It is definitely an issue here in many ways. First of all, I never know what day they are picking up the trash. Apparently, it is different everywhere. One of the other fishing charter owners gets his trash picked up 3 times a week. There are weeks we’ve gone without a single one. Most residences have these metal bins/boxes which are on a metal stand that are at the road where they throw their trash. Most places have one specifically for that home or complex (doesn’t mean others don’t throw their crap into it). The garbage people will only take what is properly secured in a plastic bag of some sort. So if people throw in cups, or other loose objects, they are likely to stay there until you add them to one of your bags. The house we are renting does not have one of these receptacles at the end of the driveway and so we hang ours in a tree. (as the owner has done since he built the house). It has to be off the ground to not get destroyed   by the raccoons, possums, etc. Ours hangs in a tree that has 4 inch spines growing along it’s trunk and branches…so I’m guessing that is why this tree was chosen. It’s a bit unnerving to pull up to the driveway and see 4 big black plastic trash bags hanging from the tree. The owner is a single man, so I’m assuming his trash load was quite different. We are a home of 3 and also bring home the trash created by our customers on the charters. Basically,  our tree looks like a spindly tree of black plastic pinatas.  I have no idea who the trash company is, no idea when they are coming (usually Thursday),  and no idea what time of day. We were giving the yard guy $20/month to pay the trash people until they showed up at the house the end of November demanding payment for April-December. (Remember, we had just moved in the end of October.)…so much for giving the yard guy the money.

If the trash wasn’t a big enough problem, we had another experience with having no water. When the yard guy showed up on the Saturday before New Year’s  spewing off some Spanish to me about the water being turned off and me not paying the bill. NOPE. I paid it. November AND December. Mind you, here… we don’t get bills. No mail. No bills. You either look up how much you owe online (through your online banking which connects you to services need to be paid) or you go to the office of the supplier and ask how much you owe and pay it. I pay my water bill at the local school. They accept payments  between the 20th and 23rd of the month (or was indicated in written instructions from the owner) from  4-6pm. Since we move in late October, I paid November. I paid December. Saturday, when Jose (the yard guy) tells me my water has been turned off, I freak… AND I don’t understand why. As Jose speaks NO ENGLISH WHATSOEVER…I am trying my best to understand why it’s turned off. He thinks I didn’t pay. I show him my receipt.  So he walked to the house of the ladyn charge of receiving the payments at the school and comes back and tells me it’s an error. They will turn it back on by the end of the day. GREAT. It’s Saturday. Tomorrow is Sunday and they won’t do it then….Monday is New Year’s Day and the Ticos must celebrate the CRAP out of New Year’s as they have cleaned out the grocery stores and invited every family member they have to celebrate with them.

Saturday comes and goes and no water. We drive around trying to find the lady’s house where Jose went to ask for assistance. to no avail. Great. We had spent the afternoon at the beach, and the sand grit in my hair and ears feels great. Nevermind the sticky oil on my torso and the sand grit stuck to the nape of my neck and hairline.  Out of desperation, we go back to the house looking for the water meter to see if there is a valve or something we can turn on.  We find it! Hubby  looks at me and says “should I turn it on or do you think we will get in trouble?”  My response, “HELL YES turn it on”.  So, he gets a wrench and turns it on…and it starts filling up the hole and overflowing where we are…..wait…it’s not getting to the tank!?!?!?!? It looks like that “bubbling crude” coming up in the pre-empt of the Beverly Hillbillies TV show except it’s not “black gold” it’s “brown muddy water”. UGH. How the heck to get it turned off? So after much cussing, bug crawling, scooping, panic and turning of the wrench (yes…now it’s now dark outside and his hand is in this muddy hole that is filled with water and trying to close the valve)…he gets it closed again.  Well..Hell. That didn’t work. So he feels around a bit. (something I wouldn’t do in a scorpion, cockroach, tarantula laden country)Why didn’t it work? Because they have REMOVED the meter/pipe connector that ties the municipality water line to our water line. We are SCREWED. Crap. Bathing will apparently consist of a dip in the salt-water pool….ugh.

The next morning, through connections on the beach, we are told where this woman lives. We go to her house trying to figure out why they have cut us off. There are MANY days I wish I had taken 4 years of Spanish and not 4 years of French. To make a longer story short. The bills we paid in November in December only brought the water bill current to October. Yep. The owner was behind. THANKS for that. We will take it out of the rent. And the instructions to pay from the 20th-23rd? No bueno. It’s due on the 15th. PERIOD. After that, you pay late charges. After the 20th, they may cut you off. Duh. Another Costa Rican adventure….

That is how 2017 ended. What a year. As I previously stated, APPARENTLY the Costa Ricans like the New Year. The town was FILLED with people. I mean FILLED. Not just foreigners..but every land-locked 20-30 something year-old Costa Rican must’ve come to the beach ready to PAR-TAY into the New Year. New Year’s Eve morning at 5am…they were boom-boxing electronica on the beach. Dancing, smoking, drinking, gyrating. Mad house. It was crazy and difficult to get  our vehicle through the parking lot to get the supplies to the boats for our scheduled charters.  We had 2 charters heading out in the morning and we had to arrive extra-early. By 7am…the BOOM BOOM BOOM of the beat (which carried the same base-line through every tune) was about to drive me bonkers. One of our guests said they had heard it going on all night long. The beaches were PACKED. And the grocery stores utilized primarily by the locals was PACKED. We had been told that Christmas-New Year’s is the busiest week of the year..and now I believe it.  Heck, we had 17 charters in 7 days! Wall-to-wall traffic and people lined our little town…many of them Costa Ricans. The trash they produced was immense.  Hoping the trash pick-up in town is more dependable  than they are in the outskirts….

 

 

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

As everyone seems to wonder at this point of the year…”Where did the year go?” I can’t believe we’ve already been here 4 1/2 months.  I can’t believe it’s the end to another year. However,  it seems it was FOREVER ago that I had my Virginia home decorated (to the nines) for Christmas. Last year, we had 14 Christmas trees, 65 nutcrackers, outside decor, inside decor extravaganza, festive music playing, house lit-up inside and out,  tons of packages under the tree. This year, we have 2 skinny trees…one without a topper neither have a skirt… almost no ornaments, don’t turn them on…no Christmas nutcrackers…no other decorations… It just doesn’t feel like Christmas here. Christmas has always been filled with family and friends…and they aren’t here. Not to dismiss my husband and daughter, but it just emphasizes that Christmas Day will feel like any other day here.

Instead, I have chosen to view the “Christmas Spirit” differently here. Christmas means tourists in Tamarindo and tourists mean business. We have been anxiously awaiting “Season” to happen, and I’d rather have that than anything else. Christmas week is one of the busiest weeks here AND it’s the “real” kick-off for the busy season. For the past month or so the hostels and surf camps have had an increase in business. Now the hotels, boutique inns, and fishing charters are reaping some of the rewards. We are all hoping that the tourist season will be especially strong after the hurricanes in the Caribbean this year. Time will tell!

GONE is the rain. We are officially in SUMMER. Yes…no more rain…until May. I mean NO MORE. No sprinkles, showers, spitting, nothing. Crazy to imagine. All of this lush, beautiful greenery is going to turn brown. (Or they call it Golden here) With the dry season, we are now experiencing the Papagayo winds…which are tremendous. Last night, it sounded like a hurricane. We had a number of days last week that had extreme wind (which are not good for a fishing business) and we had to do some re-scheduling in order to accommodate our guests. The winds are crazy. You can wake up in the morning and there is no movement in the trees whatsoever. Two hours later, a light breeze comes flows through. Shortly after that, you are closing doors and chasing little pieces paper around your house because the gusts are huge. Lamps falling over, placemats flying through the room, margarita glasses blowing off the table… (

 

As it IS the “most wonderful time of the year”, this also means it is  time to pay your marchamo . The marchamo is the annual road tax that has to be paid on every vehicle circulating in the country of Costa Rica.  This tax HAS to be paid by the 31st of December or you risk fines, licenses plates being confiscated, and/or impound of your car or motorcycle. The glorious social media platform Facebook alerted me of the need to pay our marchamo.  Fortuitously,  I have joined a number of Costa Rica expat groups and saw a posting of the marchamo payment window.  There are a number of places where you can pay, but I went to the bank. Yes. the bank. Again. However, it was a very simple process. I took in a picture (on my phone) of our license plate and the teller took the money and provided me with the decal required for 2018 and a receipt. Easy Peasy.  The amount due is based upon the value of your vehicle, of which 69.5% of that amount goes to the Ministerio de Hacienda (tax department), 18.8% goes to the INS which is a mandatory insurance department/policy covering your vehicle and the 11.7% balance goes to institutional and municipality highway safety agencies.

Another new experience this past week was our first visit with a veterinarian. I reached out to one of the 2 local veterinarians that had been highly recommended. Last Sunday, my pup wasn’t himself…shaking, needy..different. On top of that, I had recently noticed some fatty tumor growing on his chest. Although not a young pup, (9 1/2 years), I wanted to make sure it wasn’t anything serious…especially after finding another small one under one of his front legs. He also has had some ear irritation. So last Sunday, I sent a Facebook messenger AND a WhatsApp message to the vet. Guess what? She responded that day! Sunday! AND made an appointment for Monday! The BEST part? She comes to YOU….at YOUR HOUSE. No kidding! She is another expat from Montana, came to Costa Rica several years ago on a vacation, met a guy (now her husband) and has a mobile vet practice. She came to us, took samples from his ear and both fatty tumors…spent about 40 minutes talking with us and then charged us…oh wait maybe THIS is the BEST part…$45. Needless to say…I love this vet now.

The recent tragedy experienced in our household has been the death of our coffee pot. Not the coffee maker/machine….but the glass pot that goes with it. I am desperately trying to not have to drive to Liberia to find one and we have spent the last few weeks trying to find a more local replacement. First, we drove to Santa Cruz to a recommended store..on a Sunday. Closed. Then, we tried another store…where our only option was to d buy a  new machine. Desperate for something, we returned to that store (about to relinquish in a purchase of the whole shebang) and the young man told me of a store in nearby Huacas that had what I needed. Yahtzee! So, the following day, we drove to Huacas. The store in Huacas…Closed. Funny..said it should be open. A man in the parking lot told me to come back Monday. Open Monday 8:30-Noon.   Monday…I drove back to Huacas at 10am. Closed. So here I sit… Somethings aren’t as easy here as they are in the States….

And now for a “head’s up” for those considering moving here. What you think may be important in the States…you probably won’t find so important here. Even personal things. Last time I got my hair cut? July. Last time I colored it? July. All my favorite make-up I bought lots of because I knew I couldn’t find it here? Stupid. Haven’t really touched it. Sometimes…SOMETIMES…I will use some eyeshadow, eyeliner and bronzer powder. Period. No foundation. No blush. No setting powder. No contour powder. Almost never on the mascara. Nope…don’t use it. Clothes? I think I wear the same 5 things over and over (feel like a guy). Sometimes, when we go out to dinner…I wear something else..but that seems to still be a rotation of the same 4 outfits. I will do anything to avoid wearing a traditional bra. Sports bra? Okay…but wearing some of the tight-fitting or traditional things worn in the USA that you are going to sweat in here….not so much. It’s all about practicality and comfort here….. but a huge tip  and recent discovery for those aghast at my lack of caring about make-up, clothes, shoes and haircolor…. If you pull your hair into a TIGHT bun on the top of your head…it pulls out a number of the wrinkles in your forehead and crow’s feet. Just a makeover tip for you….no charge.

 

 

 

 

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…