Thursday, September 14, 2017

Costa Rican Math: 7 Beaches in 7 Minutes, 3 Times Longer and More Expensive and 5 Hookers and Blow in 5 Minutes

We've moved into the big house, but haven't been doing much. I've been felled by a cold that moved into my chest, spending most of my time horizontal either in the bedroom reading or laying on the sofa watching one of two television stations out of Miami when I'm not watching HBO. I've slept most of the last three days with the exception of yesterday morn when I staggered out to the nearby grocery store to get milk and juice. Our internet is down too until they show up to set up the new connection and equipment. Like I've stated before everything in Costa Rica takes three times longer and it three times more expensive than in the US.

I'd also run through my box of hard-won Kleenex with all the nose-blowing and coughing I've been doing. Getting Kleenex in CR isn't always easy either. The only reason I ended up with a box is that I was driving the nice Chinese man in the grocery store in Santa Maria nuts for it. I'd asked him twice a week like clockwork for a month before he finally stocked a couple of boxes. I bought one and when Mary showed up she bought the other one after complaining that she'd looked at the stores between San Jose and our tiny town for Kleenex on her trip down. Kleenex is rare here. But the advantage of being in a tourist town like Tamarindo is that you can find things like Kleenex, paper towels and other American things much easier.

We took a taxi back and it was all haggling with the pirata driver over the fare. We did discover that the piratas charge exactly the same from our house to the beach as the local bus. We're seven minutes from seven beaches in our new home. From our swimming pool I have a great view of the beachside mountains near Playa Grande and several national parks. It's beautiful here. Photos of the house coming soon.

Haven't been to the beach since we moved in on Monday, but I've been too sick. Jim has gone into town a couple of times now, to go to the sports bar to watch football. He came home from that first night of football shocked, immediately confessing to me that he'd been approached five times in five minutes to buy hookers and blow. Hookers and blow! LOL!!! Innocent, staid, white bread Jim, who I happen to love so much was approached for these things and it was mind-blowing shocking to him.

One of the funny things about being so sick that I cannot get off the sofa is that for the first time in many years I found myself watching the afternoon game shows on the Miami stations. I hadn't seen 'Wheel of Fortune' since the 1980s and I have to say I now wonder if they screen the contestants to find the stupidest ones. Watching was an exercise in frustration. Jeopardy is more my bag. Not that I could ever compete. While I can smugly call up the answers to the questions laying on my sofa with a snotty nose, I know if I ever tried to go on the show I would experience immediate brain-lock, staring into the camera like a bumper-stunned deer in the headlights. It would be a disaster. Likely I'd be ever worse on 'Wheel of Fortune' because once I got over the fear I'd be calling the other contestants naughty names and berating them for being so dull.

I'd not seen 'Dr. Phil' more than a handful of time through the years. What an exploitative, pompous, self-important gasbag that man is! Why on earth would anyone go on his show and air their extremely dirty laundry? Seeing Sinead O'Conner with him made me weep. There has to be a special place in hell for him. I was cringing for her the entire time. I know someone that was approached by his show several years ago and shut that down rapidly. I don't blame her as I have no doubt Phil would have put her ex on the show too.

Jim is sleeping in this morning because he was up all night dealing with his fantasy football lineups online. Yes, I am a fantasy football widow again this year. He always says he'll never play again at the end of the season, but he always does.

I had trouble sleeping last night because I was pissed off by a Realtor near our home in Virginia. It's been up for rent for six weeks now through a local property manager with lots of viewings but very few people who actually qualify to rent it. We knew going in that it might be awhile to rent because of the price. It's not a cheap rental, it has been beautifully remodeled, and our agent has a pretty strict set of requirements. We're prepared to wait for the right renter for three or so months.

Last night both Jim and I got emails and texts from a Realtor we do not know, with a rental application attached, begging us to rent our house to her client, who happens to have one of the lowest credit scores I've seen in one very long time. Working a just over minimum wage job for only a few months with a pile of teenagers and no references. This Realtor thought she'd bypass our agent and make a personal appeal to us to give her client a break.

While I might have given her a break if I was living locally and could check on the tenant frequently there's no way in hell living across the globe from the house I'm going to do that! This annoying spamming and begging is one of the very reasons I am paying for a property management company to do the day to day and thoroughly screen the potential tenants. I'm going to have to be a lot more desperate to even consider renting to someone with a credit score in the low 500s. Nope.

Damn, I'm starting to sound like a Trump supporter! But I'm worried there's no way she can afford the deposit, the rent and the utilities on the house and we'd have to eventually evict her and her teens. Would just be another enormous hassle. More math problems and I hate math. Hell, I cannot even balance my checkbook.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

If It's Not One Thing It's Another Gringo

My updates have been so sporadic this last month because I'm insanely busy here and I'm stuck in a sort of down mood.

Damn gringos! That's a big part of the bummer for me here.

The Monday night almost two weeks ago that I updated from was the beginning of my 'damn gringos' phase. Remember the last time I updated Jim and I were rushing about like the Keystone Kops, tripping over each other trying to figure out who we could bum a car off of to go fetch Jim's replacement from the airport. His replacement found her way to the person that was supposed to meet her and transport her up to the guesthouse before we could finish contacting folks to get to the airport.

She arrived very late, after 10 pm, in a farming community that goes to bed at 8pm. She showed up, we all welcomed her before the landlord showed her the her bedroom, and we all shuffled off to our beds and piles of warm blankets. She seemed quite nice on first glance.

The next morning Jim and I got up, did our morning routine and went to breakfast. The replacement teacher, Mary, finally came out of her room and we talked over breakfast. Once she opened her white entitled older Southern lady mouth it was pretty much insta-hatred on contact.

The guy that showed up at the same time to take over teacher Ferrari's slot is pretty awesome. We all just clicked, Gary (teacher), Jim, our Peace Corp volunteer Jon and I. Not so much with Mary.

That first morning I was gently prying as to what she'd brought with her just to make sure she had everything she needed. We were also trying to warn her about how to deal with things here, including the fact that her bathroom had no hot water, even offering to let her shower in our room because a month ago they'd installed a new hot water Suicide Showerhead and we had all the warm water you could need. She immediately told Jim and I that we were 'too negative' and she came here with zero expectations. She said she didn't bring a raincoat, umbrella or rain boots because she knew she wold not need them. That the water could not possibly be cold, the food bad, this or that.

We both shrugged and said, 'Well, suit yourself. We're going to the next town over later today and you're welcome to join us to check it out so you know where to get replacements or things you need.

Mary was snippy with us both, insisting she had everything she needed. The impression she gave was that she thought we were entitled ugly gringos. Which is pretty far from the truth. So many volunteers to this program lasted less than a week before going home. We'd been there quite some time. I only reached out to her because no one did to Jim or I and everything we learned was the hard way. Remember that letter I wrote and posted to her here last month? I didn't want her to flip out and get back on the plane. The best way to prevent that is to help her acclimate.

I'd say she's around late 60s, very opinionated and head strong. You do it her way or the highway. She's recently widowed and has 30 plus years experience teaching in the lower grades of elementary school. Which is really needed at the school, the teaching experience, not the attitude0.

Right after breakfast everyone converged on the school, and Mary and Gary went into training with the school head. I've never seen such a gratuitous display of ass-kissery and flattery going on since being involved with my old church. At one point they got the rich American that funds the school on Skype and she took her brown-nosing international.

Most of us there had to speak to the main donor/board president and most had offered a few suggestions on how things might be improved. There's a lot that needs to be improved at the school because it's very unorganized, chaotic and there is zero curriculum. Everything gets made up as they go along.

Turns out that the rich donor is close friends with Mary and asked her to go down to teach and figure out what needs improvement. She was running around bragging about it. She's decided to teach English to the kids by having them read aloud classic books, like 'The Diary of Anne Frank' and 'A Wrinkle In Time'. Good books, but I'm not sure that's the best way to teach the kids Jim has been working with – from 4th grade to young adults. He'd worked up a curriculum based around an English book we'd both studied in college 'Patterns of Exposition'. It's worked well and afforded Jim the opportunity to teach English grammar, critical thinking skills, spelling and vocabulary. His curriculum also allows him to break down what they are doing into chunks of time daily. Like ten minutes for reading, ten for looking at the new vocab words and grammar issues before moving on to discussing the story and the implications of the story. It's pretty interesting the way he keeps the kids moving through small chunks of learning, constantly shifting so that many subjects are covered over the ninety minutes, including writing, current events and impact. At the end he lets the kids do something fun, like DuoLingo on the computers.

When Mary started teaching after she sat in on a few of Jim's classes it's apparent that there are two big issues with her. 1- she's not flexible as she teaches. She expects preteens, elementary school kids and high schoolers to sit there learning by rote without varying the teaching. I saw a lot of kids just mentally checking out during her teaching. 2 – She is very strict and will not interact with the children outside of school. 3 – She's insisted that every student in her classes is going to learn crocheting whither they like it or not.

Yes, one of her three suitcases is filled with yarn that she raised charity funds to buy for a subject/need that no one in the school has ever expressed they wanted. Teaching it those that want to learn might be a good thing, outside of school hours, but not forcing it on these kids.

You'd think we would have bonded over the crochet. She looked at the project I was working (plarn being worked up into a storage basket for my sock yarn) and pronounced it a disaster. I tried not to take her words too seriously because, hey, it's just plastic yarn made from sliced up plastic bags, it's not fancy or important. It's utilitarian. I always crank out things I need with plarn. Right now I'm working on a shallow basket to put on the countertop to hold my fresh fruit - bananas and apples.

In some ways Mary reminds me of my sister in law that has been trying to isolate and control my mother in law while lining her pockets with money. I think it's the idea of her way is the only right way and the rest of us are shit. There are a million different ways to do things. I'm not a big believer of only one right way. I like experimentation too much.

It was interesting she tried to tattle on Jim the second day she was here to her rich American friend. One evening before the high school class started something happened to the village water system. We didn't have water and the landlord said she could not cook without water. Jim and Mary met the kids down at the school and most of them were complaining that they couldn't get a meal, just a few snacks because of the water outrage. For months some of them had been wanting to hold a class at the local pizza place two towns away and the school board said no. They wanted to do something special for Jim's last class with them.

Between that evening's flickering electricity and the lack of water in the town Jim decided to take the entire class to the restaurant at the edge of town, which was the only place to running water (well) and we'd all order and share a bunch of different appetizers and apple juice. We went and had a best time. The kids loved it. Much cutting up, joking and fun happened. Mary sat there as stiff as a ramrod and as silent as the grave in the midst of this and said maybe three whole sentences. Disapproval oozed from every pore. She told the kids not to expect this type of shenanigans in her class. Party pooper.

The next day she ran right to the director and the rich American to tattle on us. Which was funny because we called each parent to get permission to go to the restaurant and we picked up the entire costs.

Jim and I laughed over it because what were they going to do? Fire him? He's already extended his contract by six weeks. Plus he and the younger teacher Ferrari had been the only two teachers ever at the School that had exactly zero student or parent complaints against them.

I bit my tongue again and again and again over that week when things happened like Mary waking into the landlord's bakery just in time to see me sweating over kneading the King Cake dough and crusty French bread I was making for the host family. I was cooking that night, blood, sweat, tears and flour on every surface. Mary walked in, took one look at my dough splattered shirt and made a reference to Charlie Brown's friend Pig-Pen. I shot her a look and replied I was too busy cooking to make like a fashion plate, which is not me in the first place.

Even when Jim and Ferrari weren't good friends, in fact he thought she was pushy and shallow, everyone acted like adults and didn't verbally harass each other. Mary does. It made for a very long week.

By the third day there Mary regularly ending up every day during the daily deluge of monsoon like rain looking like a hen that had tumbled into the creek. Mary did ask how to get down to the nearest town to buy an umbrella. We went with her and Gary and we showed them around, where to buy what and the two most important places in town, the bank and the coffee cooperative coffee bar. She started complaining that there were no nail salons nearby because she never does her own nails. It's just not done! The teenage daughter of our host family and myself had to explain that's something you either have to do yourself there, or you take the bus to the mall in San Jose 90 minutes away.

Mary stayed scornful, sneery and cold until the day we left. Even through the wonderful goodbye party that the school threw for us to our get together with Jon at the restaurant and the copious amount of bourbon and rum shots even our landlord joined in on. She sat there not talking while we laughed and everyone joked and did shots until the very late hour of 9 pm. Late in agricultural areas that is.

I fear for the kids and did tell Jon and the school director that they might need to switch she and Gary because she's terrible with the ages they assigned her but she seems to be great with the 7 year old and younger classes.

I hope against hope that I'm wrong about this. But I think this Southern lady archetype might be problems for the school.

Onward to the future. I guess.

We took a series of buses from the school to the beach resort town Tamarindo, clutching 9 – count 'em 9 suitcases and assorted bags filled with things like local coffee and a plant I'd been given for my new home. We are staying at the cabinas (cabins) of the large estate owned by the German couple. Jim and I had come to an agreement that we were going to spend the week there, and continue to look for houses, but we'd already decided that if we got near Friday and nothing better turned up we'd be renting the smaller of the two homes on the property. There are six buildings here and a swimming pool. A two thousand square foot six sided house with all modern kitchen and unheard of luxuries lik a dryer and a dishwasher.

So this week has been all house hunting. We looked at an apartment within walking distance of the beach. Two bedrooms, very large model kitchen. Modern and clean, attractive. Jim is turned off on the idea of an apartment and there were a few drawbacks. First, the manager gave both of us the creeps. Second, the complex seemed noisy and filled with unsavory types. Third, there are zero parking spaces, meaning you have to park on the street. Fourth, no laundry facilities, only a drop off laundry service next door that would charge a good 30 or 40 dollars a week. There are no, not one, self service laundromats here. Expensive gringo-oriented drop off laundries only. So it's a no. It's on a rutted dirt road does not make it any more attractive.

We looked at a few smaller Tico houses but each had things wrong with it. Usually two or three rooms with a kitchen either outside or along one wall of the house, a big cement double sink outside as your washing machine. Cheap enough, between two and three hundred dollars a month. Again, this is a resort area and there's a huge selection of either very small local houses for little and many fancy houses in the two to five thousand a month range. Not a lot in our price range, right between those two extremes.

Yesterday we looked at three places, any one would be acceptable. The first was a tiny loft cottage, rent half of most everything we've looked at but definitely in the price point we wanted. Small place but well-designed with a bedroom in a loft overlooking the open living room. I like it a lot but it's pretty bare-bones furnished. I'd have to buy a desk, two night stands and a few other things, including one of those tiny washers Ticos use for their clothes. It is doable, but like I said we would have to add a few things to make it work for us. Adorable cottage. It is a maybe.

The same owner has an apartment building that is so close to being finished that if we sign the lease we can move in on Monday morning. Gorgeous, like something out of a dream. Modern design, accent walls painted beautiful shades of blues, turquoise, gray and white. New everything with top of the line washer and dryer plus kitchen. It has a swimming pool and they built exactly four units. It's at the very top of our price point, unlike the cottage which is the real amount we wanted. It's a definite maybe.

As we've been staying here we've looked a couple of times at the German house, and it's still number one pick. The problem is that two days ago, after the house being empty six months, another American couple is looking at it, and yeah, we're in competition with them for this place.

Here's the real rub, we've already gotten a local real estate lawyer to draw up an intent to buy letter, spelling out what needs to happen and giving us a length of time to line up the funds, either from our broker account, or from the big retirement fund we've not touched. The letter gives us time to decide if we like the property enough to buy it while we're renting the house. Having another couple looking at it makes this nerve wracking. I have cried a couple of times in the last few days because I'm worried about being homeless come Monday. We were so so close and now might not get the house. We want to run it as a vacation rental. The entire property is lovely. We would have upgraded all the buildings and rented them out. The people that own this place don't even list it online anywhere, so the cabins are rarely rented. I could have turned all of that around.

I'm mad at Jim over this because we'd decided this is what we wanted to do before leaving the school, yet he, as usual, took his time. It might have cost us this place. I'm going to devastated if it has because I urged him to negotiate as soon as we got here while looking at fall back places.

I absolutely hate living out of a suitcase.

And just as I'm verklempting about this I find out that the German owners have accepted our letter and we move into this big house on Sunday morn. Almost enough to make me go back to church.

We're without internet right at the moment because of the rainy season so I didn't get a chance to update NLQ. Last night we had our nightly thunderstorm and while I was laying in bed read I heard a sonic boom sound of thunder. So deep and resonant I knew it had hit nearby. Hair on my arms standing straight up, every appliance that runs on electricity in the apartment sounded off at once and the electricity blinked. Twice before I've come so close to it so I knew this was close. It hit our new landlord's house, sending a fireball down the drainpipe, but thankfully it was raining so hard that it didn't spark a fire. That house is entirely made of wood.

So today no internet. The lightening strike did fry the modem and router and do some electrical damage to the main house.

I spent my day off-line doing huge piles of laundry in the house we're renting starting Sunday. I schlepped back and forth from the cabina and the house laundry room, that's when I wasn't sulking in the swimming pool surrounded by an iguana, parrots, flocks of chickens and butterflies. See why I was eager to stay? That and the beach daily baby! We are seven minutes from seven beaches.

Jim spent the afternoon at an internet cafe and I didn't want to be anywhere near him because he's dealing with family dysfunction, ranting and angry outbursts while firing off emails. Financial chicanery over my maw in law's money yet again involving the new sister in law. She really is a piece of work. The new broker she picked out after we started moving maw in law's money to another broker is insisting that we fly immediately to Texas for a meeting with him. Like that's possible right now. Jim had to construct a long email to the new broker explaining his position. I'm still staying out of this deal, it's not my decision what needs to happen with the maw in law's money, the same money that the sis in law called 'chicken feed' back in March. I don't know about you but I do not consider a low seven figures balance 'chicken feed' or 'small potatoes' no matter how many times sis in law insists that it is.

In our recent discussions on housing one of the things we wanted badly was a two or three bedroom house so we can host family and friends comfortably. I made it plain to Jim that everyone in both families is welcome here, everyone but the sis in law. She can stay at a hotel.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

So, Does This Stuff Really Come In Threes?

We had a long frustrating ride from Tamarindo to San Jose to catch our bus back to Copey.

A word of caution using the GPS in Costa Rica. It does not always work right, sometimes has outdated data or cannot pick up the right place you want to go. We had a time with it on Thursday night when the people at Adobe car rental programmed in we wanted to go to the Tamarindo Condos in Escazu. We were seriously delayed getting on the road towards Guanacaste.

On the way back it kept malfunction whenever we asked for the closest gas station, twice trying to send us down a dirt road or a residential area a couple of miles away from the local gas station. It refused to take the programming to get us back to the car rental place so we ended up pulled off the highway in Escazu (yet again) with me crying and mashing buttons like a monkey on speed while Jim rotated between yelling and yelling into the phone at the rental car place.

This is all after I hit one of those car-swallowing pothole on a major highway and popped a tire first, meaning we had to change a flat in massive high speed traffic. I was sure we were about to be hit by another driver as the shoulder we were perched on was tiny.

After limping into the car rental place and a quick taxi to the bus station we got there just as our bus was departing. We ran up and the station held the bus at the gate so we could board. Whew, because we would have had a 2 and a half hour wait for the next one.

A pirata (pirate) taxi ride from Santa Maria and here we were. Our landlord was out and the house locked up, meaning we weren't going to get dinner, so we made plans to walk back down to the only restaurant in town, but by the time we'd unpacked our luggage and put away the suitcases the restaurant was locked up. Thankfully our landlady arrived and warmed up soup. Did I mention it was raining icy rain yet again? Quite the contrast from that morning swimming in Tamarindo.

Today hasn't been much better. Jim taught his classes while I tried to finish dealing with the paperwork to get our belongings here and appointments for this coming week in Tamarindo with a few realtors to see what else is available for rental. Jim is starting to come around to my way of thinking about the German house. Likely we'll end up renting it, but as Jim says, it's best to have a couple of options.

Before I could finish up printing out six months of the bank statements we needed for the Costa Rican bank to transfer money between our U.S bank and this we got another downpour. Regardless we still took the bus into San Marcos to the bank to finalize the ability to do a wire transfer. We thought we were going to be limited to transferring in $1.500 a month we were authorized to transfer up to five thousand a month which is way more than we'll ever need. That was a success and I'm set up now to transfer in the money to pay for our rental house. But, as everything 'official' here it took way too long. We tried to run for the bus back to the school but missed it by five minutes.

Jim had a class to teach at 3:30 pm and here we were stuck several towns away at 2:20. So we went around the Catholic cathedral and snagged another pirata taxi, a young extremely tattooed lady in an older car that seemed not in the bet shape. Still raining cats, dogs and ignuanas we took off for the extreme ups and downs in the mountains to the school. We got way up the mountain passes when the pirata taxi could no longer go up and down the twists, turns and grades. Stuck on one of the curviest road with no place to go, and the car sliding backwards. There were sheer sheets of water rolling down the mountain pass and the taxi was smoking and misfiring. Our driver backed down the mountain pass in reverse for a long way until she came to a turn around spot. Again I thought we might die.

When we got down to the town before our town we decided we should just give up and go get coffee and pastries at the coffee co-op shop and wait for the bus. Just as we were about to text the school that we were stuck in Santa Maria until the bus came Jim was contacted by the school director who said classes were cancelled because of the extreme rain. Coffee and pastries it was before a  little grocery shopping and the bus.

We got back to a house with no power or internet. Sometimes that happens when the weather is severe. More soup for dinner and Jim had to go teach his adult classes, because they weren't cancelled, just the middle school and high school classes.

Darn, the lights are flickering here now while I'm writing..

But he came back home in a panic. Someone was supposed to pick up two new teachers for the school from the San Jose airport and he'd gotten a frantic call around 8 pm from one of the teachers saying she got off the plane and there was no one waiting. While we scrambled around trying to find her a ride for the ninety minutes from San Jose to Copey her ride finally showed up. She showed up here around 10 pm and has settled in. Created quite the kerfluffle here because the landlord is usually in bed by 8 pm.

To quote Scarlett O'hara, Tomorrow is another day.

I did pick up and buy the funniest thing this afternoon in Santa Maria. A bag of cotton balls with a name that makes it a contender for the site Engrish.com. I'm still not sure what  'Fuxing' is and how you care for it.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Escaping - Hurried House Hunting in Guanacaste

I've barely written here this last month for a couple of reasons. I would still be whining copiously about the food situation at the guesthouse and ain't nobody got time for that. I have no wish to keep harping on the situation.

Secondly, unless something is actually happening, like the trip to Nicaragua, or the church burning down, it's pretty mundane, and sometimes, quite frankly a bit of a downer. Get up, eat breakfast that is either pancakes, toasted bread and jam or sweet rolls. Go down to the school to use the only decent internet. Come back around noon and eat either rice and beans, or some festival of unhealthy, take a nap because you're stunned by the carbs. Afternoon - raining profusely - either go back up to the school to work on something, huddle under the covers because you are cold and watch a movie on the lap top, or take the bus into town to try and get the pile of paperwork at the bank finished linking our American bank, our Costa Rican bank, our brokerage accounts and Jim's retirement income done. Have coffee at coffee cooperative. Take the bus back. Dinner at 5 pm is usually some amalgamation of leftovers from earlier or strange burgers from the landlord's snackbar. Sunset comes shortly after dinner since we're near the Equator. More rain, read or study or crochet. Or hang out with the guys down at the coffee house. Bedtime under five blankets, shivering with your socks on and a sweater over your night gown. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It's mostly peaceful but rather dull. Which is what I really needed over the stress of the house remodel and packing. The school has a set of bookshelves lining the wall with books anyone in town can read. I've been working my way through them.

We've started looking for houses recently. This weekend we were in Guanacaste looking for a place near the beach. Plus, we needed to get away for a few days.

So far the house round up.... Jim's idea was to get a place in the mountains and one by the beach. Some interesting possibilities have emerged. The landlady is selling her place, the place I've been living these past two months for the sum of 11,000. Chicken feed for a property. I almost fell off my chair when I heard the price. It has a professional bakery and kitchen, an outdoor kitchen, an indoor kitchen and a snack bar with a grill, six bedrooms, four bathrooms and assorted outbuildings. It would need an upgrade to two of the baths, painting inside and out, an entire kitchen remodel and a serious dejunking of the outdoor kitchen. But the school has it booked to house teachers for some months. We could also run it as an AirBnB for the other rooms. Labor is roughly two dollars an hour here and we could easily get help in for the snack bar/bakery and to do the cleaning. It's a possibility. There is money to be made here with minimal financial investment.

House #2 is also not too far away and is a plain but nice enough house in the middle of a so many hectares coffee farm. The owner is selling the place for a firesale price, or we can rent with the rent applied to purchase if we want for roughly $600 a month. It does not need remodeling or upgrading, it's peaceful and isolated. But I know nothing about coffee growing.

House #3 in a nearby town is nice, but plain house in the middle of the town. Perfectly adequate for $350 a month. However it, like the other two, is in the cold and rainy mountain area we're in and not in love with.

House #4 we looked at a month ago near the beach in Tamarindo. It is owned by the older German couple, needs some scrubbing but is centrally located, private, American style kitchen and laundry. It's a kitchen that would give Lori Alexander a wet dream with stainless new appliances and granite all over the kitchen. It's the most likely contender. In a week we're going to stay in one of the small cabins on the property to decide if this is the place. We've had some very good meetings with the owners and really clicked. Lots of possibilities for the house and adjoining buildings. Did I mention it has a pool? We're almost certain this is the place, but Jim wants to look at a few more places. It's 700 a month fully furnished, they came down a little in price.

House #5, or as I called it - a crime scene waiting to happen. Jim found this place through one of the guys here at the hotel we befriended back last year. He told us that a house had come up for rent in his gated neighborhood of six houses in the compound. Costa Rican style he called it. I didn't have high expectations, but Jim was keen to see it because the rent was less than 300 a month.

We get there, and the small village looked gritty, unclean and unsafe. The only thing it had going for it was the bullring. But the cluster of small homes in the compound looked nice enough, so we meet the owner and go in..... to something that could have been used as  meth-cooking house on 'Breaking Bad' The furniture had rips and tears and literally all of it was stained and worn out. The kitchen table was marred with cigarette burns. When we moved to the kitchen we discovered that while there was a sink and small countertop that the countertop had cigarette burns and there were literally no cabinets, no oven, no stove, no hot water and a fridge from the Mesozoic era. And then it gets worse...

There was a air conditioner in one of the bedrooms, but stains on the walls indicating there was a serious roof leak in that master front bedroom. The back bedroom had birds in it! Probably at least a dozen wild birds flying in and out through a hole in the roof out the windows that were missing panes in the kitchen.

We moved outside to the back porch where stood in place of the small primitive washers most Costa Ricans have an old cement sink with an old fashioned wash board in the sink and a single laundry line strung around between two porch supports that had serious visible termite damage. Between the long list of things that needed repair, the filth and the electrical wires strung in crazy ways it was definitely a no-good. The owner asked us how quickly we could move in and we had to find a way to tactfully tell her that we weren't going to rent the place.

I was really shocked because in all the homes here in CR that I've been in, and we have toured more places than these to rent, these were the ones we were considering as possibles before hitting house #5, I have never seen one that is not spotlessly immaculate, inside and out. Even our damp little suite in our guesthouse is kept very clean. I took over much of the cleaning after we moved in because I could clearly see our landlady is overburdened with work, but she is constantly cleaning. Even the homes of those in our area that are poor are scrubbed daily. Seeing this place was such a surprise! It was so completely out of character from what I've seen here. They might violate every U.S. safety code when they wire up the Suicide Showers but the shower itself is very clean and neat.

Tomorrow we take the bus back to the school and our rooms, but next Sunday we'll be moving here to Tamarindo, house or not. We just have to see a few more and make a final decision. Right now we're leaning towards the German house. The only possible issues are the loud rollicking Evangelical church next door and the fact that one of the main roads runs in front of the house. We shall see.

I am eager to settle down again and resume life, cook again. Having privacy will be huge!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Rashomon

I'm not sure if you've seen the Akira Kurosawa film 'Rashomon', but it fits my memories, recent events in my personal life and the ugliness going on with the White Supremacy riot in Charlottesvill.

Here's how Wikipedia describes the film, "The film is known for a plot device that involves various characters providing subjective, alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions of the same incident."

I've had a great deal of time today to ponder why it is that two or more different people can look at the same thing and come up with vastly different explanations. I made the discovery yesterday that not only am I allergic to hearts of palm and some types of palm oil, I'm also very allergic to palm being burned, the fumes that is. Our landlord decided to make a vast quantity of tamales and her tamale recipe calls for using seared palm leaves. She spent much of yesterday evening waving green palm leaves over the outdoor tile oven in the back of the house very close to the door of our apartment. The fumes were everywhere, but I didn't react very badly until I got up this morning. Sick and straining for every breath. My lungs are fucked right now, so I lay in the bed most of the day madly medicating, which got me started thinking about different interpretations of the same event.

Back well before I met and dated my husband Jim I dated a guy named Tony. Tony was a well to do chemical engineer at one of the big chemical plants in Louisiana. I wasn't interested in Tony when I first met him, but he pursued me relentlessly. We got engaged, but never married, breaking up a time or two before getting back together again. The last time we were together pretty much decisively ended the relationship. Tony had some quirks.

The last day we went to a friend's house to watch LSU football on the big screen. I'd asked my father to sit my young daughter because the party was no place for her. I knew there would be copious drinking. He said he could do it but I would have to pick up my daughter by 6 pm because he had plans. Fine.

As time went on at the party Tony got drunker and drunker. I was not exactly drunk, but I was feeling no pain. Tony started getting meaner and more belligerent as the afternoon wore on. LSU wasn't playing well and Tony started to gripe mightily about having to leave the party before it was over to pick up my daughter.

Eventually we did go out to the car, driving over to my father's home nearby. When we pulled into the driveway Tony jumped out of the car, kicked in the fence gate and the screen on the back door. Once he was inside he started screaming at my father in a drunken fury. My father didn't try to reason with him, he punched Tony. Dad had apparently been drinking too. The two men scuffled, with my dad wrenching off Tony's glasses and breaking them. Then Dad whipped out his gun and tried to shoot at Tony, who ran for his life back to his car, peeling out of the driveway leaving a trail of smoking rubber, abandoning my daughter and I.

Eventually the police showed up, took statements from everyone. No one was arrested, but they wrote a report so my father could sue Tony for damages to his gate and door. They kindly gave me a ride back to my apartment with my daughter after my father refused. I got a gentle lecture from the police, and I decided this was it. No more Tony. I never heard from Tony again.

My father didn't speak to me for six months over this.

But my father sued Tony and Tony counter sued for the destruction of his glasses and both men subpoenaed me. We went to court, Tony got up and told his side of the story, claiming that he walked calmly into the house and my father attacked him.

Dear old Dad told the judge that he'd been sitting on the sofa minding his own business when Tony kicked in the screen door while screaming (true) and proceeded to beat the shit out of my father. My father also claimed he never fired the gun, he just pulled it out to scare off Tony and he never touched Tony's glasses.

When I was called to the stand I told the judge a third story, that both men were drunk, yes Tony did kick in the door and gate before running in yelling at Dad. That Tony hadn't gotten more than two sentences out before Dad punched him, grabbed his glasses and stomped them into shards. That there was a physical fight between the two until the gun was pulled out and fired.

After the responding officer read his report and testified, with much of his report matching what I said the judge went off on both men. He awarded Tony two hundred dollars for his glasses and my father two hundred dollars to replace the kicked in screen on the door and fix the wooden gate. The judge also warned both that if they appeared ever any in his courtroom he would assumed they were guilty as charged and sentence them both to the maximum.

Four narratives, three different stories. What I took away from that shameful incident was that people love to tell their version of the truth that puts them in the best possible light, rather than what is legitimately true.

I have noticed this week that the white supremacists and Nazis from the Charlottesville rally are now doing the exact same thing, contradicting the reporting of CNN and other media outlets and the first person stories coming out of the protesters on the other side. They are now crying victim. I'm sorry, I'm not buying it. Like my father they threw the first punch, and like he and Tony they're going to have to take the consequences of what they've done.

This is one of the things I hate about Christian conservatives, they always spin a tale when things happen that holds only the slightest semblance of truth. We have to hold them to the truth and only say what is true.

During the last few weeks I've been watching lots of drama going down on Patheos blogs between two members of the Secular section. I cannot tell for sure which story is true between the two combatants, but I do know the one that came up with the Truth Pledge seems to be not exactly telling the truth, but a version of it that puts him in the innocent victim light.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

To the Next Volunteer at the CLC

In three short weeks we're going to be leaving this place for the warmer and sunny climes of the Tamarindo area of Costa Rica. The school has already recruited a replacement for Jim, who will have stayed more than a month more than he originally contracted for.

I wish I could contact this person and let them know all the things I had to learn the hard way in the last almost two months here. The school admin is not very good about helping people acclimate to the area, which is a shame. When we lived in Germany I worked for the USO doing just that, helping the wives settle in quickly, and providing information on everything from bus routes and costs to shopping, dealing with the utility company and navigating in a very different society.

The lady replacing my husband is older, recently widowed and leaving the U.S. to teach here just to do something different while dealing with her grief. I'm worried for this unknown woman.

This place is incredibly beautiful, at least in the morning before it rains. She needs to know what I didn't. Pack a raincoat, boots and a sturdy umbrella. You'll use them daily. I stupidly only packed a small folding umbrella after reading through the literature sent to us upon signing up.

I'd tell her that the most useful item I brought with me seems to be a  two dollar and fifty cent fleece blanket/throw I bought at Wal Mart. It works to wrap yourself up in under the copious bed covers you'll be cowering under when the rain makes the temps drop into the low 50s. It can be used as a dirty clothes bag by tying it like a hobos bindle. You can spread it on the beach to lay on instead of a beach towel. It's small and thin enough to fold and use as a makeshift scarf when you travel by bus and the driver is super enthusiastic about the bus air conditioning. On the colder nights I've used it as a quick wrap over my clothes.

Speaking of clothes... bring more than you ever dreamed you might need. I failed at that too, bringing 2 pairs of shorts I have yet to don, 2 pairs of jeans, a pair of capris, a pair of capri leggings, 2 long sleeved shirts, 4 sleeveless or tee shirts, 1 sweater and 4 dresses. Much of this stuff I cannot wear here, it's more suitable for the heat of Tamarindo, not the cool weather that dominates this area. I was advised to bring a sweater for chilly evenings, never dreaming that it would rain every afternoon and tank the temps for the afternoon and evening. Bring warm clothing, or at least more sweaters than I did.

Clothing brings up another point. All of the guesthouses here that host the teachers, while they do wash your clothing, use cold water and no pre-treating of spot. It's not unusual to have your clothing come out of the washer with undissolved detergent and still with the same dirty spots on them. I learned early on in late June that to keep my clothing very clean without spots you really need to buy upon arrival a small box of laundry soap, or a bar of laundry soap, a small scrub brush, a bottle of vinegar and a hanging drying rack to hang off the shower curtain bar. I have learned after ruining two shirts and an expensive new dress that you must spot treat any dirt on your clothing and hang it in the shower to dry before putting it into the laundry basket. There is no Spray n Wash here. You have to fight the spots old school style.

The other problem with the laundry is that pesky rain. If the landlady washes your things and places them under the covered part of the carport to dry they will dry in two days. If she puts it in the morning sun, and toddles off to do something else. Forgetting that hanging laundry it might be a week before she remembers and moves it to a shady spot out of the rain. 

The food. I have spent so much time talking here about the starchy carb-laden food that it's ridiculous and petty. I finally just shut up and went back on Metformin until I leave. It didn't dawn on me that this is a farming community and the 3 to 4 servings of carbs at every meal is how farming families sometimes eat until the last week. Just be prepared for rice and beans as a side at every meal and don't be surprised if you get a meal that is rice and beans, mashed potatoes, potato chips and some sort of pasta and tortillas. You cannot fight it, you cannot make them understand. What I do is keep tuna, cheese, fruits, veggies and whole wheat crackers in my room for those days when the meal is 'Carbs! Carbs! Carbs!'

They're not going to tell you but the bus goes into a bigger nearby city every 5:30 am, 12:30 pm and 5:30 pm. It only costs less than a buck and that you can go to one of the grocery stores to stock up on things in eat in your room. There are also many excellent fruit and vegetable stands, and a few discount stores to pick up things like cutting boards, knifes, etc. if you need to fix your own meals.

The good part of that is this is where some of the best coffee in the world is grown. The coffee shop connected to the local coffee farmers co-op has some of the most delicious coffee (some with delicious adult beverages poured into the coffee. They have pastries to die for at the same place. Try their que-que (pronounced kay-kay - it means 'cake') and the rollos. Just a short walk from the shopping district in the next town over.

The bus is very inexpensive and you can take it just about anywhere you can imagine. We even took a bus into Nicaragua! The bus station is right behind the coffee shop. But a word of caution - a ticket to big cities, like San Jose, or to the tourist areas like the volcano parks, you need to buy your ticket at least a day in advance, or you might find yourself standing the entire way. I stood all the way to San Jose once, several hours and it was no picnic.

The confusing thing about taking the bus is that there are a thousand different bus companies so if you take a bus into San Jose and need to get on another bus headed to Arenal or Quepas, you might have to take a taxi ride to another station. No one tells you that ahead of time. A word of caution about the taxis. Everyone tells you to take the official red taxis, but in the bigger cities I've had the experience of the driver driving around and around and around until I've asked him what the heck he's doing and ended up with a fifty buck taxi fee. Always insist that they turn on the meter when you get in 'Taxi metro'. I no longer use the official taxis unless forced to.  I have learned to look for the 'Piratas' - pirate taxis. They are usually a block or two from the bus station. You haggle with them, agreeing on the price before getting in. I now pay the Tico price from the shopping town to here of 3 thousand colonies - or just under 6 American dollars.

Cellphone service really sucks in this town. The only place besides the school where you can get decent cell tower coverage is down by the village soccer field. The internet is spotty everywhere you do and the speed is not fast. But it is fast enough for Netflix and Hulu, so you do have some entertainment options, which is good, because the nearest movie theater is over an hour away in Cartago.

I do recommend the mall at Cartago for clothing. I found the prices and quality to be very close to what we get in the US. Everywhere you go you see 'Ropa Americana', but I've found that most of those places sell very worn looking second hand clothing mixed with a few newer things.

This is already getting to long so here's a few other quick tips.

The people here are friendly and nice. People actually greet each other on the street. Most folks say 'Buenas' instead of 'Hola' because hola is used when you expect a conversation instead of a quick greeting.

Always, always, always try to speak at least a little Spanish when you can and say 'please' 'thank you' and 'I'm sorry'. People here are much more polite.

Bugs, big bugs are a reality here. Ignore them as much as possible and try not to stress over them.

The showerhead with the crazy electrical wires poking out will give you hot water if you adjust it just so.

You cannot flush toilet paper anywhere.

Washclothes are not a known thing here. Pack as many as you need. Also, you can make your bath and bedroom much more comfortable by the purchase of a few luxuries, like hand towels and bath mat, a rug by the bed, whatever it is you cannot live without.

Some of the guesthouses here do not use top sheets and only change the bedding every few weeks. I deal with this by using what I call the 'Norwegian Bachelor Scheme' - turning the sheet every week until the landlady gives me a new clean bottom sheet and blankets.

There are three things in every house, big or small, rich or poor, you can count on. 1 - there will be a satellite dish on the roof. 2 - Most of the yards will have beautiful flowers growing everything and 3 - there will be a display or alter to Jesus, Mary and God in the home.

But here's the biggest benefit of living here besides the adventure of figuring out how to deal with the culture shock and work arounds - there is virtually NO continual fear mongering news or constant drum beat of the awful shenanigan of our president. It's calm, it's relaxed and a much slower pace of life, at least when the church isn't burning down or you are not dealing with government red tape.

That's it! The kids at the school are wonderful and the community here really wants you here teaching their children English. There are so many fun things to do. Never turn down an opportunity to judge a spelling bee, or to share a holiday with a local family.

I wish you success and happiness here.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Long and Strange Night

Tonight the Catholic church in Copey, Costa Rica burned to the ground. Jim and I were sleeping when we started hearing panicked voices, screeching tires and shouts. For once I am very thankful that the walls here are paper thin.

I got up to see what was going on, thinking it might be a drunken fight spilling over from the local bar, the Kamakiri. We've been warned to stay away from the town's sole bar because of the occasional drunken fisticuffs. But the church was on fire, the church right across the street from our host family.

This is what I saw when I got up.

 We grabbed our passports and wallets, plus I grabbed my great grandmother's jewelry and asthma meds and we ran!

It's over now. Took 30 minutes for the fire department to get here and there wasn't much they could do besides wet down the roofs of nearby buildings, like the high school and our house.