Monday, December 15, 2008

The Pool Boy

Our pool was completed about a week ago. Here's a record of the first dip-ding. Uhm, I mean dip, for posterity.
"I'm a proud pool owner. I own a quarter of this pool."
"Look at me, Mom! I'm going in."
"Yikes! It's cold."
"Oh yeah. This is the life. I'm a happy pool owner."

"Now this is relaxation!"

Monday, December 8, 2008

Vaqueros II

Bill’s unruly horse caused him to walk half way down the mountain to the next phase of our journey. We corralled the horses and began our walk into the jungle. It wasn’t long before we could hear rapids. We were approaching a river.

"Oh, good, the waterfall at last," I thought.

If only things in Costa Rica were that easy. Then again, if they were, I wouldn’t have any blog fodder.
We arrive at the river. Pretty river. No waterfall though. What was waiting for us would give anyone with acrophobia (like me) a pause - a hand-propelled hanging manual cable tram. Why not? You can’t be a stickler on safety regulations in Costa Rica. Hang on and enjoy the ride!

You mean to tell me we're crossing the river in that thing?


Smile! You're on Tram Cam.

Another short walk in the jungle and we are there. Incredible!

Thunder poured over the rocks.

The trip home was almost uneventful. The horses seemed to race each other back up the mountain. They moved faster going home. They must have been anticipating getting us off their backs.

I was alone at the back of pack again and every one else went up a muddy hill. (Remember I told you my horse didn’t like the mud?) Citron decided to stay on the rocky road. By this time, I’m thinking, "I’m almost home. I survived!" I’m also proudly thinking that I might make a vaquera after all. My tush was certainly not wanting the horse to lead me the long way home, so I turned the creature around and up the muddy path we went.

With Bill surviving a bucking horse and me showing my horse who’s the boss, you might just call us vaqueros after all.

Vaqueros I

On Thursday Bill and I played cowboys, or in Spanish, vaqueros. There were no Indians in sight though, just the beautiful, pastoral Costa Rican countryside with a spectacular waterfall as our destination.

It was Bill’s very first horsey ride. The only problem was that his horsey didn’t like him very much. These are trail animals that are supposed to be trained to follow the leader, be docile and put up with rookie riders like us. Luck of the draw, I guess, but Bill’s horse didn’t want anything to do with that.

My horse, on the other hand, was very much like me. Citron liked to eat a lot along the way and didn’t like walking through the mud. I spent the majority of the ride bringing up the rear. And hurting my own rear in the process. I’m having a painful time sitting on this hard chair writing.

Bringing up the Rear

Bill on the other hand is not so saddle sore. You see, about midway through the ride his horse decides that he would be better off without Bill’s dead weight. I’m plodding along behind the pack when Bill and his horse abruptly step off the trail, head up a bank and stop by a barbed wire fence.

“Whatcha doing, Bill?” I yell.

He perplexily replies, “ I don’t know. I just thought I’d let the horse choose his own path.”

Normally, it would have been a smart and reasonable answer, except that the horse didn’t want to be reasonable. The horse charged down the bank, began to twist and turn, and bucked his back legs. (Sorry, I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture of it.) Carlos, the trail guide, managed to grab Bill’s horse by the rein. The horse was still bucking. Although Carlos managed to calm the horse, Bill had had enough. “It’s downhill. I’ll walk."

Enough. I'll walk.

At some point I started envying Bill. By that time, I thought my legs were never going to be straight again and my haunches were aching with every stride of my horse. I’m no vaquero and have no plans to be again soon, but I could swear its much easier riding a horse uphill than down.

Monday, December 1, 2008

$100 Worth of Plants

The pool is coming along. In fact the pool is just about ready for its final hook-up and fill. The deck, however, is still being worked on. Every morning the workers arrive between 5:30AM and 6AM and the noise and shouting begin right outside our bedroom window. I think I’ve mentioned that the window is a mesh screen with a see-through bamboo shade. Another two more weeks, I think, and all will be done. Hopefully, just in time for my parents who are supposed to arrive mid December.

The cat is getting more comfortable here. Look at him check out the pool.

He also discovered dragonflies beside the pool. He looked very bedazzled as they flew around him. He’s used to birds that fly in one direction like an airplane. Dragonflies are like helicopters. They go all directions. They can fly forward, stop, stay still, and fly backwards. Mystery didn’t quite know what to make of that. He looked like a crazed cat with shifty little eyes trying to follow dragonflies. The silliest part of it all was his cat-chirpy-bird-call for the dragonflies. I wonder why that didn’t work, Mystery?

Well, I did my first garden planning and planting. I should say, I planned and purchased the plants. Our caretaker’s son actually planted the plants where I placed them. Here is my first landscaping on the property.

It’s on an area where the plants we don’t want the plants to grow very tall or they will block the beautiful view from the pool. Now I just have to wait for the plants to grow and fill in. Here I am, impatiently waiting, waiting, waiting…?

Grow! Will you grow?

For all the ladies of Totem Lake Garden Club back in Washington State, plants are reasonably priced down here. It’s hard not to go crazy over all the tropical beauties, but I’m sticking with the tried and true growers of the area. In other words, I just get what everyone else has.

Here is about $100 worth of tropical plants

From these pictures you might get an idea of the slippery red clay soil that we have here and why I will be so glad when all the construction of concrete walkways are completed. It will mean mudless shoes and much cleaner cabin. Honestly, folks, the mud around here will pull clasped sandals right of your feet.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I wish that the title of this blog referred to a CIA activity. Instead it refers to the creepy, crawly six to eight legged creatures that will probably survive on this planet long after humans.

Not if Bill has anything to do with it though! He’s on a personal mission every night to kill every bug in the cabin. His weapon of choice – the vacuum that we purchased at Golfito.

Bill's new de-bugging job

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I pulled another bone-headed move on Thanksgiving that leads me to believe that I’m too stupid to live in this country. We were driving home from San Jose. It’s a four-hour drive from heck that Bill hates because it’s so dangerous and stressful. There is no ‘delay of five vehicles law’ here. If you get stuck behind a truck going 20 miles per hour on the windy two-lane mountain highway, you’re simply out of luck. You have two choices. You can accept your fate and travel in a fast-as-snails caravan with who knows how many cars in front of you. Or you can tempt your fate by passing each car in front of you on the curvy road. Bill is not a snail, thus our harrowing and stressful drive.

I’m getting to the bone-headed part. We stopped at a grocery store about an hour from home. Bill waited in the car while I ran in and got stuff for a Thanksgiving party that we going to. Shopping here is not exactly as easily or orderly as in the US. You have to remember several things in order for the whole process to run smoothly. 1) Check in your bag. Each store has a bag check counter at its entrance. If you’re carrying a large bag or backpack, you give it to the bag checker and he gives you a numbered tag. I did that. After shopping as you leave the store, you redeem your tag and get your bag back. 2) If you buy produce, you have to have it weighed and priced in the produce area by the produce person. First hand experience has taught me that if you don’t do this, the Tico behind you in the checkout line is going to give you dirty looks. They must be thinking,"Dumb Gringo. You need to know the system." You’ll hold up the whole checkout process while they take your produce back to the produce department to weigh and price it. I did that. My potatoes were ready at check out.

It was only an hour later, within a half a kilometer from the property that I discovered my bag tag in my pocket. Oops! My mistake. Bill had had enough driving for the day, so I’m back in the car alone for another two hours just to pick up my backpack.

To spite my extra driving, we made it to Thanksgiving dinner and had a wonderful time with our neighbors. They know how to throw a party. In the eclectic style of the region, fall decorations glowed in the tropical sunshine. In case you’re wondering, Thanksgiving is a Gringo thing. Turkey isn’t readily available, so we made due with roasted chicken at our feast. There were Ticos at this party who thought the stuffing, bean casserole, quiche and pumpkin pie were very strange. We just thought it delicious.

We miss the friends and family not with us. You are in our thoughts and we hope that you had a Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jumper Cables & Coat Hangers

Something happened when I came to Costa Rica. I discovered that I left my brain behind in the states. It’s not a good thing to do because you always meet more challenges here than in the U.S., at least the Gringa part of me is. The Tica part of me has yet to find herself. It’s a learning process.

Three incidents cause me to believe that my brain goes on vacation down here without me.

Incident 1 – Out of Gas

Bill was working at home and I was driving home from San Isdiro after picking up the car from the shop and running a few errands. San Isdiro is 45 minutes away, up and down the mountain in between. Driving home, just over the top of the mountain, the dummy lights in the car came on. I was out of gas in a gas-hogging car about 30 kilometers from home. Although I had thought of checking the gas right before I picked up the car, I forgot once I had picked it up. Now, after dark, I was on a curvy and treacherous two-lane road with no gas stations between me and home. I frantically called Bill and wanted to blame the whole thing on everything but me. He says, "Sorry, there is nothing I can do for you, honey. There is no way that you’ll make it home without gas. Stop somewhere, ask around and try and find some place to get a few gallons of gas."

I’m frickin’ terrified. I’m at a roadside restaurant, a lone female patron, surrounded by men just starting to come into the bar for an evening of cervezas (beers). Luckily, there was one beautiful Tica barmaid. I asked her where I could get gas. No problem, she said, 1 kilometer down the road at the first little roadside store or pulperia they sell gas.

Sure enough, although it’s not advertised and you’d never know it unless you asked, this hole-in-the-wall grocery store sells gas by the hand-filled gallon jug from behind the counter. I bought 5 gallons. The proprietress and her pre-adolescent son poured the gas into the tank with a homemade Coca-Cola bottle funnel and hose. I was on my way home in a jiffy.

Only to have the car over heat on the gravel road up to the property …but that leads to the next story…

Incident 2 – Lights

Surprise! A few days later, the car’s in the shop again with a broken head gasket. In case you haven’t surmised, this country is hard on cars. I was driving a rental car this time. Since it gets misty and rainy on the mountain roads, plus the Tico driving style is erratic, I do the safe thing and drive with my lights on. I want other drivers to see whom they narrowly miss by centimeters when they pass me.

This time I stopped by a roadside souvenir stand to buy some art for the cabins. I was in there for less than an hour. I came out and the car was deader than a rock. Again, I was on my own. Bill was at home and had no car.

My panic call to Bill is answered with, "You left the lights on! Of course the car is dead. Can you bump start it?"

"No the car’s facing up hill on a curve."

"Well, try to flag someone down."

I tried. In this case, there are two things you should know about Ticos. 1) They will do anything they can to help you. 2) They do not use jumper cables in this country.

Help came from the husband of the shop owner who told me the latter and demonstrated the former. After about an hour of trying to start the car, he finally pulled the battery out of his own car, removed my battery, put his into my car and started my car with his battery. Then he had me keep the car running while he took out his battery and replaced mine. Talk about your helpful roadside mechanic. I begged the man to accept $10 for his trouble and drove home.

But the day wasn’t over yet…

Artistic Plate from Costa Rica

Incident 3 – Coat Hangers

I’m now home safely from my morning’s misadventure. Bill teased me for leaving the car lights on and gave me a conciliatory hug for the crummy morning I had. Pretty soon, I’m off again to a nursery about 30 minutes down the road.

No matter where you are in Costa Rica, I think it’s a good idea to lock your car up tight whenever you leave it. I arrived at the nursery and did just that. Only as soon as I slammed the car door I realized in horror that the keys were in the ignition and my cell phone was still in the car.

There could be no panic call to Bill this time. (For which Bill says he is eternally grateful.)

Almost in tears, I walked into the nursery. The nursery guy asked me the perfect question, "How are you doing today?"

To which I replied, "Horrible, I just locked my keys and cell phone in the car."

"No problem," the guy said. "We can fix that. Everything is possible." Then he proceeded to tell me how he was going to break into my car. Unbelievably, he went to his own car, pulled out a coat hanger and started to do his thing.

"I keep this because sometimes I have to break into my own car," he said.

I’m thinking, yeah, right. This country is strange. Hardly anyone has jumper cables, but I bet you everyone carries coat hangers.

At this point, I was tearing up in frustration with my own stupidity, and was beyond caring. I was just praying that he could break into my car. He did. I bought an exorbitant amount of plants from the nursery and I left thinking that maybe he was right. Everything is possible in this country.

On Sunday, we had a chance to go to the beach.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Mystery met a monster cockroach. In Bill’s own words, "That’s the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen!" This roach was about four inches long and 1.5 inches wide. You’d think the cat would have a little fun with it. He sure likes hunting and playing with birdies in the states. I guess he didn’t quite know what to make of this creature.

The cat traveled extremely well with hardly a howl out of him in the airport, the plane, the taxi and the extremely curvy and bumpy car ride to the property. There was even the stop over at my aunt’s house with three yippy miniature poodles and three other cats. Surprisingly, Mystery came out of his carrier and immediately started eating.

Mystery also proved to be our good luck charm as we breezed through immigration and customs faster than we ever have before. Of course, credit has to be given to the airport staff for improving their processing operations immensely.

For anyone thinking of bringing his or her cat into Costa Rica, I have to say it was fairly easy to do.

You have to make sure you have the cat’s shots are up to date and a USDA accredited veterinarian examines the cat within ten days of the trip. The shots have to be within a year, but not less than thirty days prior to entry into the country. As of our on Nov. 2, 2008, the customs official was looking for either the Official Small Animal Health Certificate (International) or a U.S. Interstate and International certificate of Health Examination. The latter needed to be signed by my vet and send to the state capital to be approved by the state’s USDA vet within ten days of the trip. (Keep in mind, regulations change all the time in Costa Rica. Find out the current regulations right before you leave.)

We can’t say that the cat really likes it here yet. He spends most of his time hiding behind a mirror or in a bucket under the bathroom sink. You might say he’s a bucket case. He hasn’t shown much interest in leaving the cabin, which is good because I have mixed feelings about him leaving the safety of the cabin. After all, it’s a jungle out there.

Our Front Jungle (Yard)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

We're Back

I better get back in blogging practice again because we are headed back to Pura Vida, the pure life, or so they call it in Costa Rica. I'm looking forward to sunshine, tropical fruits and fresh vegetables.

This time we're headed down to a neighborhood of friends with a new addition to the family - our cat. That in itself should be a frolicking good adventure. We all know how well cats adjust to new things. Mystery, or Misterio in Spanish, has already taken to excessive grooming and me to excessive worrying. Bill is certainly not helping the situation as he has nicknamed the cat "Boa Snack." It's all too probable for comfort. Maybe Karma will save the cat because we saved the dog last trip.

Here is the dog update: Squirt is now happily living on the property with our caretaker. The dog is being taken care of by the caretaker's 12 year old son who renamed her Copita, or little cup. We are looking forward to seeing them all.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Welcome to our waterfalls and jungle trails!

The last post had Bill supervising a crew to build trails down to Solrisa’s waterfalls. The exciting news is that the crew cleared the path and cut earth stairs to the pools, making the way much easier. Consequently, Bill, Squirt and I took a hike.

The waterfalls are not very far away, only about a 20-minute hike, but it’s a steep trail. It’s well worth the effort the effort though. We have an upper and lower set of falls. The upper fall quickly slides down rocks into three refreshing pools. We are thinking of calling the upper fall Tres Charcas or Three Pools. The lower fall is much taller and wider, with one big pool and gigantic tree below it. Sorry, no pictures of the lower fall, but believe me, it's spectacular. It's a toss up for me whether I like the fall or the tree better. Together, they are a personal natural wonder.

The trails reveal the true beauty of a secondary low land jungle that is trying to rejuvenate itself from partial clearing which took place years before we owned the property.

Our plan for Solrisa, is to have rustic nature trails weaving in and out of the jungle so people can experience the sights, sounds and ocean views of this park-like jungle property.
The first fall

The deep, crystal clear second pool with the third pool in the background

A jungle path

Surrounded by Green

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Quick Update

Sorry if I left you hanging after the last entry. Bill is better, not 100%, but better. It’s too hard to make an entertaining story out of all that’s happened since my last blog, so I’ll just give you an update.

First of all, a lot of work goes into living in style in paradise. Bill is working 30 hours for Fluke and doing the development. I’m trying to keep things clean in a dirty construction zone, arranging for laborers and communicating in Spanish. I’m functional but my business vocabulary needs much improvement. We are interviewing for a new caretaker and conducting employment interviews in Spanish is just barely effective. I miss the nuances that my native tongue affords me.

Our partners, Larry and Bunny, arrived two weeks ago and have since left. To spite all of our efforts, the second cabin wasn’t quite as complete and homey as we would have liked for them. I’ve found that in this country, some things are best let go, like all of my expectations for getting things done in a timely and convenient manner. Things move at their own flow here. Trying to speed up the flow usually leads to frustration and failure.

It’s a scorcher today. We have a crew of three workers building retaining walls around the cabins. Ticos are generally the hardest working people that you’ll ever meet. I have so much respect for the workers and their extreme endurance as they toil ten-hour days of hard labor in this climate. Bill is supervising a crew of two who are blazing trails in the jungle so the general public (and I) can walk to our waterfalls. Real jungle exploration is not for me. If there is a trail in the jungle, I will walk it, but I will not forge a new one by swinging a machete. It’s a useful one and a half to three-foot sheathed knife that you wear around your waste. I use a machete for my gardening.

Squirt, our adopted dog, is all tuckered out today after following Bill into the jungle. She is a valiant little trooper. We finally took her to the vet to get her spayed. She a jungle hiking dog with stitches right now. She gets them removed on Friday. The Junglemobile was out of commission for about three weeks. It’s back in now with a rebuilt engine. I’m not even going to go into the woe that not having a car for a week and a half caused us. Let’s just say that although I had a ton of stuff to do in San Jose, it looks like there is no way that I am going to get to San Jose and back to Dominical again during this trip. That means that light fixtures can’t be installed and cabinets for the bathroom and kitchen won’t be installed anytime soon. It’s a small country, but feels isolated at times.

With Bunny and Larry, we did manage a trip to the duty free zone in Golfito. Only Costa Rica could create such a strange and chaotic shopping experience. The duty free zone is a razor wired walled compound of mostly electronic, appliance and liquor stores that give you about a thirty percent discount from regular prices.

Each party is allowed $500 of duty-free goods every six months. To do this, each person goes to the customs office and picks up a ticket for the amount of $500. The ticket is good for three months. Married couples can combine their purchases for a value of $1000, if a single item that they want to purchase costs over $500, but they should tell the customs agent this when they get their tickets, so the proper paperwork can be processed. The next day, after customs process your paperwork, you can begin shopping. As you purchase things, the value of the items you purchase is removed from the ticket. To take full advantage of the Golfito process, purchase until your ticket value is zero.

We were told that you could get everything for half price at Golfito, but we didn’t find it to be true except for liquor and booze. Golfito is a great deal for alcohol. After we paid for transportation of goods back to Dominical and hotel accommodations while we were there, the discounts were only about ten to twenty percent. Golfito got me away from the torture of our construction zone. We stayed in an air-conditioned motel with a swimming pool (a luxurious pleasure) and came back with enough Bailey’s Irish Cream and Mint Irish Cream to last the rest of the trip.

Random Pictures

A Cusinga, a smaller more colorful bird than the toucan.

A disguised Praying Mantis on a leaf of a plant on our balcony. We never know whose going to drop in around here.

Squirt in her new bed. Exhausted and hammy.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

It’s a girl! – Puppy Update

Our temporarily adopted dog is coming along slowly but surely. She might steal our hearts yet. Her safety circle has been reduced to about three feet instead of twenty. She follows Bill around the property and has been all the way out to the end of the middle ridge with him, which is an amazing accomplishment for a dog whose legs are only six inches long. Other puppy-like behavior that she’s developed is that she occasionally carries away my slippers. We figure she’s not going to get much bigger. She is probably a toy Doberman mix.

She wants to be around us, but only on her own terms. She will sleep next to us in her box on the patio, yet she will not come to us of her own accord even with an encouraging, "Here girl!" On occasion, she will let us pet her, but she gets this tortured look on her face and runs away afterwards.

The electrician working on the cabins came up with a great name for the dog. Of course, there’s a story behind it.

Bill decided that the pooch needed a bath, so we prepared her tub - hose water in a wheel barrel with a little dish soap. Bill grabbed the unsuspecting dog while she was in her bed to carry her to the bath. Jorge, the electrician, was watching and laughing as the terrified dog proceeds to squeal like a pig and pee then poop all over Bill and the patio. As Jorge is witnessing the crazy gringos trying to help this dog that clearly doesn’t want to be helped, he yells out, "It’s a squirt!" We’ve been calling the dog Squirt ever since then. We both have to admit it is an apt name.

Isn't she cute? The Rescue Squirt Fund is accepting donations. Better yet, Squirt needs a home.

We’ve wanted to take Squirt to the vet to get her checked out and cleaned up for days now, but we haven’t had a car for a week! This is sometimes the most frustrating place. The barriers to getting things done around here are truly amazing. I’m beginning to think that the trick is to have no expectations of accomplishing anything. Then when you get something done, you’ll feel you’ve accomplished a small miracle.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Is It a Hospital or a Prison?

A word of warning -this is not a happy blog entry. All is not perfect in paradise. Stuff happens. I'm venting my frustration.

We’ve lived in a muddy, ugly construction zone for a month now, which is now becoming psychological torture. Constant loud noises are known torture techniques. So is a lack of privacy. We still have no door on our bedroom or bathroom. Every time I hear the high pitched circular saw, which is about a hundred times per day; I have to tell myself, "Go to your happy place." The workers start at about 5:30am and work till about 6:00pm. The rainy season has started. Sticky red clay gets tracked all over the house because the landscaper who we contacted two weeks ago is so busy that he can’t plant any erosion control for another three weeks. Mud about an inch thick gets caked onto shoes.

To top it off, there has been no escape. Our car has been in the shop for the last five days. I’m not going into the car problems we’ve had. Just that the Costa Rican way of car repair seem to be leave your car with mechanic for an unspecified amount of time and they will try to fix it. They really don’t know what’s wrong with your car, but if you leave it with them for long enough, eventually they are bound to fix the right thing. All of course while they are charging you everything they touch. Never mind that you have things to do. Never mind a taxi cost $10 every time you leave the mountain. Cost of the repairs? They don’t know. They can’t provide an estimate. They will just let you know when they prepare the final bill. Payment is in cash only, so if the bill is large enough you’re, certainly going to spend more time in the bank lines. Such easy targets, these gringos.

Bill has also been very sick for about two weeks. On Sunday morning, thankfully before the car was taken in for disrepair, he woke me up at 12:45 am gasping for air. Scary stuff. I call 911 to find out where the nearest 24-hour emergency clinic is. It’s about 45 minutes away down the Costanera highway. We have a gothic and nearly morbid experience as I’m speeding along the blacktop in the middle of the night with steam and mist rising from the damp and rainy road. We arrive in Cortez and find this expansive one-story complex surrounded on all sides by a hurricane fence topped with razor wire.

"Is this it?" I asked. "It could be the clinic."

"Or the prison." Bill replies.

With no signs or indication what kind of complex it was, it obviously fooled us. The only clue was a guy hanging out by the fence in dress in white. "Where is the Cortez emergency clinic?" I timidly asked. It turns out it was the hospital and emergency clinic, not the prison.

The word that summarizes the treatment Bill received there is interesting. The ratio of medical personnel to patients was Bill and the whole emergency staff, about 20. They very efficiently checked him in with a typewriter. He saw the doctor who was quite put out that we’d shown up at night instead of the day. Sorry, my husband couldn’t breath tonight. It was just a little impossible to have anticipated this during the day.
After a dose of oxygen, a shot in the arm, a shot in the butt and three allergy medications, we we’re released. No cultures. No diagnosis. Just treating the symptoms. Like the car, I guess if they throw enough medicine at a body, they’re bound to fix what ails it.

It’s Friday. Bill is not well yet. He still has scary moments of gasping for air. During the middle of the week we saw another doctor. The latest diagnosis is a bacterial infection. Bill is just thrilled with the treatment prescribed by the second doctor. Not one, but three antibiotic shots in the ass. One shot per day for three days. You did catch the fact that we have NO CAR yet. It’s been since Monday. A trip down and up the mountain is $20 and the shots are $40 each.

Aren’t prisoners in US jails treated better than this? To close on a positive note, prisoners don’t have the views we do.

There have been moments of fun. Here is Bill and I at my birthday celebration dinner.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Puppy Love

Bill and I have temporarily adopted a little puppy that was half-starved and hanging out under the cabin that is being constructed. Per our caretaker, people dump dogs along the road quite often. This guy, or girl, is probably about two months old. It has had no socialization, so it doesn’t even know how to act like a puppy.

We’ve been feeding it regularly for five days now. It seems less wobbly and in much better shape to run away from everyone now. He is so shy, if you look directly at him; he will run under the other cabin. Get within 6 feet of it and it will run. It’s frustrating. Especially since we know that without any social skills, no one is going to want this dog after we take it to the shelter. Our plan is to have patience and give it some forced puppy love and socialization. We have so little time to do this since we’re leaving in exactly a month. Chances are we are probably only fattening it up to be boa constrictor food.

We did corner it in the cabin one time. Since it ran my direction, I grabbed it. It squealed like a pig as it nipped me. Lucky for me, there have only been two reported cases of rabies in Costa Rica in the last ten years, per Bill’s Internet research.

After I washed off my very small wound. Bill carried the frozen scared pup back to our cabin, where I made a bed in a box for it out on our balcony. Bill fed it the last of our chicken and it finally had enough courage to eat. Stuck in the box, at first the pup wouldn’t even look at me. Then the pup and I had an eyeball to eyeball showdown and talk before I walked away and it ran away.

I guess socialization comes in small steps. I’m happy to say that for the last two nights, the little guy has slept in the bed we made for him, but will only do so after we turn out the lights and go to bed. It has to make sure the evil humans are always at a safe distance.

This morning I found the pup still in the box when I woke up and we had another face-to-face talk before I allowed it to bolt under the other cabin. It’s getting a little bolder, but for now, this is definitely a one-sided relationship and Bill and I are the meal ticket.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Crab Crunch

The Costanera is a stretch of highway that runs from Dominical to Palmar Sur, about 40 kilometers south of us. In a country renowned for having the worst roads in all of Central America, the Costanera is the exception to the rule. It is a beautiful two-lane American-quality road running along the coast that exposes a traveler to glimpses of the most beautiful blue water beaches in the world.

The beaches and coastlines of Costa Rica cannot be privately owned. The are all supposed to be public, so if you can find a way to reach the water, its yours to enjoy.

Every February the spectacular Costanera become a scene of death, devastation and carnage in which thousands of lives are lost. These unsuspecting lives are crushed out of mortal existence by cars traveling the highway after dark. It's a terrible nighttime battle between cars and crabs.

Halloween crabs are nocturnal land crabs that live in the jungle throughout Central America. They are adept tree climbers at night and live in underground boroughs during the day. Although they live in the jungle, they have to travel across the road to reproduce and lay their eggs on the beach. Where we live, their mass reproductive frenzy, thank heavens, seems to be limited in to the month of February. Honestly, folks, I have a hard time killing an ant and believe me there are a lot of ants around here. Killing a spider is almost sacrilegious for me, but crushing cute little crabs on the highway is devastating.

Imagine if you will Bill and I traveling down the road. If you’ve ever driven with him, you know his driving style can be described as aggressive at best. It’s safe and controlled, but usually on the fast side. This does not fair well for crabs trying to cross the road. Nor does fare well for his wife.

Bill’s driving along and I scare the pants off him by shouting, "There’s one!"

He replies, "I see it," and swerves out of the way. Disaster and carnage are averted.

The problem is that the little creatures travel in packs. Where there is one, there are soon whole bunches of them. Here is where the roller coaster ride begins. I’m shouting, "There’s one! .. There’s one! Did you see him? To the left! To the right! On the center line!" Bill is swerving all over the road in the middle of the night to avoid the crabs. Crunch!

"I’m trying, Tica." He says. I know that he is.

Swerve. Swerve. "Missed him!" "Missed him!" Crunch! Crunch! "Ooh! Ouch!" Swash. Swerve. "That was close. Missed him!"

Sometimes to spite all our efforts, the little guys just seem to line up right under the wheels, Crunch, crunch, crunch! Right in a row. Then there are the startled and confused crabs that won’t stay put so we swerve around them. Instead, they dodge right under the Junglemobile’s wheels. Crunch, once more.

Pretty soon I can’t take it anymore. I’m not doing the crabs or Bill any good by yelling, shouting and getting all excited. The crab splat on the road is too much for me. More than once I’ve put my hands over my eyes and said, "I can’t look anymore!"

At which point, I’ve got my eyes tightly closed in the passenger seat as Bill is driving down the road dodging the crabs without a lookout. Then I start with, "Is it over yet? Is it over? Can I look? Tell me when it’s over!"
I’m pretty sure Bill lets me hang on cringing a little longer before he finally says, "OK. You can open your eyes, until next time…."

When the whole carnage repeats itself with the next troop of horny crustaceans.

After writing this, a local Tica told me a sad commentary about the Halloween crab. Ten years ago there used to be many more crabs. At that time they were so thick, there was no way to dodge them. Whether the decline in numbers is due to man’s encroachment into their jungle habitat, the increased use of the Costanera highway or something else, it would be a shame to loose these colorful creatures.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

We're Connected

One of the biggest and most important challenges that we've faced since we've arrived is getting Internet connection on the property. We find that we do not miss the television or stereo, but not being connected at our leisure to the Internet is a real hardship for us as well as other non-Ticos here. Even as I write this blog, I miss the Internet. My content would be a lot richer if I could research some of the topics that I'm writing about. So far our Internet has been solely used for Bill's work.

Speaking of Bill working, below is a picture of Bill in his first on-site office. It is an OK set up for him except for the fire ants occasionally biting his sandaled feet. The picture is taken looking up at one of the higher plantels on the upper ridge. On the property we can get a good Internet connection just about everywhere except the cabins. That's why Bill was working on an upper plantel. His view from this office is superb and he is in the shade almost all day.

We are still working on getting reliable Internet in the cabins that are located in what I like to call the fish bowl. It's a concave dip looking out to sea in which the cabins, pool and garden are located at the bottom of the dip. Kind of explains the bad connect here. This morning Bill, who is very resourceful and never gives up, finally succeeded in getting Internet to the cabins. Below is a picture of his highly technical and complicated system.

Please keep in mind Bill is the techno geek, not me, but I'll try to explain how it works. What you are looking at is my Internet compatible cell phone in a white plastic bag attached to a bamboo pole that has been hoisted as high as he can get it into a dormant tree beside the cabins. From there, a wireless bluetooth connection from his computer picks up the Internet signal from the telephone in the bag. The connection speed is about 120 kbps. Hey, don't laugh. It works. Around here, we're learning to be highly resourceful with limited resources. (Bill wants you to know that he has already modified the system by adding an extension cord to keep the cell phone powered up all day.)

Resources around here sometimes come from the most unexpected places. Then there are places that you would expect to find resources and they aren't available. It's all part of the serendipity of Costa Rica and the roll-with-it attitude that you must have to live here. Don't expect that anything will happen in a hurry. If it does, count your blessings and be very happy. Case in point was the whole process of getting the phone and then the Internet service from ICE, currently Costa Rica's power and telecommunications monopoly.

Living Here Tip - Buying Cell Phones in Costa Rica (with a story for friends)

In order to get cell phone service in Costa Rica, you have to deal with 1) the cell phone vendor 2) ICE, the government service provider. Don't expect the vendor to know the service provider's policies, rules and service packages. Our experience is that the vendor can sell you any hardware you want for communication, but you better check with ICE before hand. Find out if ICE offers compatible service and what the bureaucratic process is to do what you want. If you don't do things ICE's way, you're hosed.

For example, when we bought our first phone a year plus ago, the vendors would happily sell us a GSM cell phone. What they wouldn't tell us was that ICE had no GSM lines available. If we had bought the phone, we wouldn't have been able to use it until a year or so later. That was then. Last week ICE recently added a digit to all phone numbers, doubling the amount of lines available, so hopefully lack of phone lines won't be a barrier to communication any longer.

ICE really is improving and making things easier all the time. However, there are some crazy hoops that you still have to jump through. You can't just buy the phone, take it to ICE and activate it. If you thought that - Dumb gringo!

To get a cellular phone, first you should go to ICE and get a numero de solicitation or a solicitation number. Depending on the efficiency of the person who helps you, you might even have to go through the extra step of waiting a week for them to call you back with a solicitation number. Once you have the solicitation number, guess what you do? If you guessed WAIT LONGER, you're right! You have to wait another 2 two 3 weeks before the solicitation number is processed and comes up in their computer system and they can work with it.

While you are waiting for your number to come up, is a good time to purchase the phone. Be sure to get one that has the features you need. We needed a GSM, Internet and bluetooth compatible phone. We paid 80,000 colones or about $160 for our phone. We had to walk all over San Isidro to find such a deal, visiting about ten stores before we found it. Tip to the frugal - in Costa Rica you'll often find the same chain store within sight and walking distance of each other, but don't count on same prices between branches. Most stores were offering phones for 160,000 colones to 240,00 colones. That's a high price of $480 for a cell phone! While it seems a lot by US standard, the actual service plan from ICE is very reasonable. For our basic phone, unlimited within country calling its under $5 per month.

So you've go your phone. KEEP THE RECEIPT! In Costa Rica they will often ask what name to put on the receipt. The name should be the same name as person who got the solicitation number. One you have the phone and you've waited out the solicitation, you're ready for the ICE office. Bring a lot of patience and the following: (subject to change at any time)

1) Original and copy of resident ID.
2) Original and copy of a the cell phone purchase receipt. (ICE will not accept a foreign purchased phone. You have to purchase and present an invoice for a phone purchased in the country.)
3) An electricity or water bill from the country (Any legitimate in-country bill will do. Borrow a friend's if you don't have one yet.)
4) You're phone must be charged when you bring it to ICE
5) 12,500 colones in Costa Rican cash

Chances are you'll wait and wait in line at ICE before getting up to the counter, but it's not such a bad thing. During that time, you'll meet a lot of other trapped and confused gringos who don't know what they are doing either. It's a good place to meet new people and make friends. I think we spent about 45 minutes sitting in the air-conditioned office, during that time we met several of our new neighbors. Since we don't have AC in the cabin, it was a treat to be so cool for a while. On the other side of the coin, sometimes you can wait an hour to get up to the counter, only to find out you're missing something. At which point you'll sulk away from counter in anger and frustration, realizing that you'll have to come back and wait in line to attempt the same feat again.

In our case, I got up to counter only to find out that my solicitation numbers hadn't come up yet and was told I should come back in a few days. I'm panicked thinking, "Bill really needs Internet. I have to use my charm. I'm too old to flirt, but I do have a charming smile." My smile coupled with much begging and pleading on behalf of my husband must have made the phone guy take pity on us. He made a few phone calls and a few computer entries. Was I almost done? "Of course," he informed me. He had it all set up, only I had to do one more thing - go to the bank and pay the 12,500 colones or $25 activation fee, then come back and bring the cancelled receipt. Then he would activate the SIM card in my phone so I could use it.

What? Why did they tell me to bring the money to ICE if they couldn't accept payment? What kind of line is at the bank? When I come back to ICE do I have to wait in line again? These were the questions that went through my gringa mind as all of this craziness is happening. But I don't dare ask them. Like the Tica that I am, I smile and patiently do as I'm told.

So we hop in the car and drive to the bank. It turns out the line at the bank was nonexistent. No problem there, but when I get back to ICE, there is a longer line than before. Once again, I'm stuck at ICE for social hour. After only a half-hour it's my turn. Phone guy takes the phone, activates it, hands it back to me and says it works, but where won't be any Internet till 3pm in the afternoon. Aarrgh! Then Bill chimes in, "What's the user name and password to access the Internet?" The guy gives us a deer in the headlight look and insists that there isn't one. It was probably a translation problem, or maybe he was thinking, "Gringos, just take the phone and the Internet will magically appear at 3 PM." I figured why press the point. Bill's smart. He'll figure it out.

Needless to say, the Internet didn't miraculously work, but very often in Costa Rica kindness from strangers works miracles. The next afternoon, since the Internet didn't work, Bill had to go to an Internet cafe to work. After work he stopped by the appliance store from which we had bought all our appliances. Keep in mind we didn't buy our phone there, but they do sell them. The place was empty except for Bill and the manager, who gave Bill ICE's Internet user name and password. Why the ICE phone guy didn't know that crucial information the day before, we'll never know. Together it took the manager and Bill about 45 minutes to get Internet on our phone working.

Here's my shameless plug for resulting from an act of unexpected kindness: Importadora Monge in Uvita, Costa Rica.

So we had Internet on the phone, but only in certain areas of the property and not at the cabin. Stalwart Bill is not giving up. In the morning, I was on the phone with the company who was delivering our bamboo furniture. Bill screams at me to have them throw in a really long piece of bamboo that he intends to use as an antenna. You've seen the picture of the pole they brought to us all the way down the mountain sticking out from behind the deliver truck. Our cost: $0

Another shameless plug for the best company that I have worked with in Costa Rica so far:

Sur Bambu in Pedregosito, P.Z.-They make beautiful bamboo furniture at reasonable prices and they offer exceptional customer service through Roy.

Serendipity Tico Style

To summarize the unique process of us getting connected:

It took the determination, perseverance and technical astuteness of Bill. The charm, patience and language skills of Carmen. ICE and the cell phone vendor. As well as help from individuals working at a furniture manufacturer and an appliance store. It's serendipity Tico style!

As I publish this post I'm grateful to all participants.

Signing of at sunset, TicaGringa

Monday, March 24, 2008

How do we start landscaping?

It's a little overwhelming living on 41 acres of tropical jungle. Our goal is to leave most of it alone and let the forest regrow and recover, perhaps planting a few tropical hardwoods down in the lowlands. However, on the ridges of Solrisa's homesites, my goal is to create a parklike setting with lookouts and gardens that everyone in the community and our neighbors can enjoy. It's a tall order since I have the vision, but no knowledge of tropical gardening.

I purchased a book called Tropical Plants of Costa Rica by Willow Zuchowski. It's helped me identify plants that will grow in this area. I've created a list and given it to a local nursery or vivero. Next week I hope to get a landscaping plan back from the vivero.

In the mean time, it's driving me crazy not having any plants to play with around the cabins. As you can see, I am surrounded by red dirt. They are still doing construction on the other cabin and we've just finished excavating for a small swimming pool. With more construction to come, it's doubtful that the cabins will be surrounded by lush tropical greenery anytime in the next few months. This is a shame since we really need some privacy plantings around the cabins.

One of the things that I would like to do is utilize, propagate and transplant native and ornamental plants already growing on the property. The picture above is me right before trekking around the property to find some suitable species. Not climatized yet, I find that it is so hot that my exploration is limited to early morning hours before 9am.

My first day yielded two finds.

Bromeliads from a fallen tree branch

A Verbenaceae or Lanatana camara or red sage which I dug out from the middle of the road and transplanted into the fish. A rather pretty find for the handsome fish, I think. In the wild this plant will usually grow into a 1 or 2 meter shub. We will see how it fares in the fish for a while. There is a wild red sage growing just below the cabin and we can testify that it does attract lovely butterflies.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Princess and the Pea

There is a fairytale that tells of a princess who was so delicate that she could feel the bump of a pea under a hundred mattresses. That fairytale princess must not have been a Tica. Our experience indicates that it is unlikely that there even exists a hundred queen mattresses in Costa Rica.

Bill and I are not even close to being royalty, but we did need a queen mattress to replace our make-do airbed, which was kind of like sleeping on a half-filled waterbed. We couldn’t cuddle in the middle because our weight needed to be evenly spaced on each side of the bed to keep the mattress flat. Any movement out of bed by either of us would cause a squeaky tsunami-like airwave and a tired flop into bed would practically launch the other sleeping partner into the ionosphere. Needless to say, the airbed was not working as well as we had hoped.

Our nearest big city is San Esidro de General which is about a forty-five minute drive away. Surely a city with several appliance and furniture store chains would have a mattress that we could pick up. Once again, how misguided we were to give ourselves only a few hours to find and pick up a mattress and several other things on our long shopping list. In Costa Rica, we’ve learned you should never expect to do things urgently. Sometimes even the simplest things require extraordinary patience and time.
Colchon (with an accent over the 2nd O) is the Spanish word for mattress

We should have known that we were going to have problems at the first and biggest store that we went to. The smiling and helpful sales clerk said that they had colchones and lead us to a forgotten corner of the store, which had a few tons of mattresses, stacked up in the corner. Things were looking good until he told us that none of them were queen sized. It turns out that Ticos prefer king or full mattresses. Queen sized mattresses are almost non-existent.

We needed one today, Bill informed him. No problem, the smiling and helpful sales clerk got on the telephone to try and locate a queen mattress for us. As so often happens in Costa Rica, the clerk disappeared from sight, to make some telephone calls on our behalf while we’re left standing around the store wondering how long its going to take. More often than not, the clerk comes back to tell you he can’t get what you want, as was the case here. Since you can no longer help us, "Can you recommend someplace else in town that might have queen mattresses?" we asked. At which point, the sales clerk ceases to be smiling and helpful. He’s probably lived in the town all his life and yet can’t tell us another store in town that sells mattresses.

It turns out there are a lot of stores that sell mattresses, just not queen mattresses, and we probably visited every one of them. Every time Bill was told they could special order a mattress and it would be here in a week or two, he became a man possessed and headed for another area of town. All of this was on foot, as I struggled to keep up with him. I should also mention that we were both carrying around twelve pound laptops on our shoulders, which got heavier as the afternoon wore on.

We were not sleeping on the rocket launcher air mattress another night. The stores we went to kept getting smaller, less catering to gringos and started becoming not much more than holes in the wall. Holes in the wall sometimes yield surprising treasures though. Finally, we were led up a dark, rickety flight of stairs to the last remaining queen mattress in San Isidro de General.

We bought it, strapped it to the Junglemobile with a little help and headed home for a restful night's sleep.


It’s a great orthopedic mattress. Sleeps fine and firm.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Jungle Greetings

On Sunday afternoon, we arrived at our jungle cabins. They are cute, charming and look out to beautiful views of the ocean and jungle. We couldn't be more happy with them. We even have our own staff. We were met on arrival by Lionel, our butler – a tarantula with a three inch wide leg span. We said hello then gently dismissed him from service by escorting him through the gaping hole in wall, that will one day be our front door, and tossing him off the balcony.

We spent an uneasy night sleeping on an airbed while the jungle noises raged around us. The next night was a little easier, because we were able to secure the door hole more effectively. However, not before Sting, the scorpion made an appearance. This happened right as I was reaching to turn off the bedside lamp switch. Sting was on the switch! I jerked my hand back quickly. Sting did not fare as well as Lionel. His exoskeleton was swept unceremoniously off the balcony the next morning after Bill’s speedy execution the previous evening.

A few more things that bugged us around the cabin were the centipedes in the shower and the grasshopper who landed on our new stove. Then there were the opportunistic fire ants that nibbled on Bill’s feet. You really couldn't blame them, because he pulled the not-so-smart move of walking outside after dark, without shoes. What did he expect?

At least none of new neighbors have eaten us yet.

The Arrival

We arrived in Costa Rica late Wednesday night. It’s Friday night now. (Or it was when I wrote this. This is the first time that I've had reliable access to the internet, thus the late post. )So far, everything has gone like clockwork for us, with only a few Costa Rican quirks in the retail sector that surprised us.

In Seattle we passed through our first obstacle at flight check-in. The airline allowed two checked bags per person with a weight limit of 50lbs or less. One-by-one our four suitcases loaded onto the scale. 48 pounds, 47.5 pounds, 49 pounds, 48 pounds. The customer service reps only comment was, "You guys like to live dangerously. Don’t you?" We breathed a sigh of relief and headed to security. No problems there either.
Our arrival in Costa Rica was a breeze. We were worried about what to declare and if our bags were going to be randomly chosen for search. It would be a pain, because we packed so much stuff. We were pretty sure everything we were bringing into the country was a personal good and not subject to taxes, but you never know. It turned out we, mainly me, worried needlessly. I’m pretty sure that I caught the customs guy snoring as our bags went through the x-ray and when we tried to give customs our paperwork, they refused to take it and waved us right through.

A quick cab ride to Guadeloupe and we arrived on my aunt’s doorstep – a friendly smile, hugs to go around and a clean bed awaiting us.

Thursday morning – car shopping.

Cars in Costa Rica are expensive. Very expensive. With taxes and shipping costs, expect to pay at least two times what you would pay in the US for a comparable used car. Unbelievably, you also need a lawyer to do the transaction. It’s not like the US in that the buyer pays the seller, you write a quick bill of sale and the title is transferred with a handshake and a signature.

In Costa Rica, the sale must be registered with the national register or "Registro." A lawyer must write a notarized account of the deal between the buyer and seller and submit the paperwork to the Registro. Here is the funny, or not so funny, part of Costa Rican law, whose nearest equivalent is "buyer beware". Tickets and infractions are attached to the car, not necessarily the person who drives it. Legally, if a car has any liens attached to it that have not been paid, rectified and removed from the Registro by any of the previous owners, the new owner is liable for them. This is weird, but more importantly it has the possibility of being costly for the buyer. In Costa Rica, make sure you have a lawyer when buying a used car.

To spite a minor hiccup with the aforementioned lesson, as of Friday we’re the proud owners of this junglemobile.

Inspecting the merchandise

Another peculiar practice that we discovered in Costa Rica is that some major stores expect you to inspect the merchandise that you buy before you purchase it or before it leaves the store. Case in point. How na├»ve of this gringa to simply place three boxes of dishes in my cart and head for the checkout line (caja). A young Tica who said something that I couldn’t understand with my limited Spanish kindly stopped me. She led a puzzled me back to the dishes. She proceeded to open the boxes that I had in my cart and together we inspected each and every piece for flaws. Forty-five minutes later with about twenty more opened boxes with reject dishes scattered around us; we repacked my original boxes with three complete sets of the least flawed dishes that we could find. All of this with Bill standing around in a complete state of frustration, disbelieve and exasperation.

You may think that this was an isolated case, but the very next store that we visited sold lighting fixtures. Sure enough, after we had made our purchase, before we they carried the merchandise out to our car, they lead us to the inspection area. Each and every boxed good was opened in front of us so we could inspect the goods.

Ticagringa’s Disclaimer

Please remember that I am merely an inquisitive gringa who is trying to learn the laws, customs and practices in a new county. I am an expert on nothing except my own opinions, thoughts and experiences. My observations may or may not be accurate. Conclusions that I drawn from the observations and experiences that I share on this blog should not be interpreted as facts. When living and doing business in Costa Rica you should always do your own research and consult your own team of professionals to guide you.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cabin Pictures

It occurred to me that you might want to see pictures of our cabins in Costa Rica, so here they are in the construction phase.

Oops! It’s a picture of my cat, Mystery, who we decided to leave behind this time. I’ll be missing my little buddy like crazy. Next time he’ll be given no reprieve. He’ll become a Tico cat and we’ll have to change his name to Misterio. He’s bilingual, but he ignores me in both languages.