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 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


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.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Small Town Blues Part 2

Kind of a very sucky day today. Jim and I had a yelling knock down drag out disagreement in the streets of Copey.

Why? I think it was a couple of factors. First, by this evening it's pretty obvious that we're both trying to fight off a cold or virus. We both have hair triggers when we're not feeling well. Secondly, I heard from the company shipping our car that the pickup date and delivery date has been pushed back yet again.

Jim is demanding I cancel the delivery, get a refund and use someone else. I'm pretty much refusing, but I am getting a third round of quotes just to shut him up. The company I'm using is one of the biggest and they ship all over the world, good rep and the most reasonable. There went the entire morning.

Why the delay? I didn't have one of the documents they needed and had to order it from DVM, a title stating the fact that the car was fully paid for. When I finally got the right document and scheduled the pickup there was some miscommunication between the family member they are picking it up from and the representative. The misunderstanding delayed things a few weeks more.

I hate that this happened right in the middle of town because this is a small town. Small enough that everyone minds everyone else business, to the point that everyone knows what you buy at the one store in town, who goes to the town's sole bar and everything else you do.

More than anyone else I want that car here asap because the sooner the car gets here the sooner I can leave this town for somewhere warmer and less remote. I don't like that to get something as simple as Panadol for 'le grippe' -  Tylenol for colds, I literally have to take a bus 20 minutes.

Feeling my First World Problems attitude.

It rained miserably and hard most of yesterday and I tend to get moody and unhappy when that happens, trapped in the tiny room. Everything in the room is still damp. I think tomorrow I'm going to escape back to San Marcos to shop.

On the upside I did manage to trim my hair and did a decent job. There is that and I saved the usual fifty bucks I pay at the salon. I was worried about that because having decent looking hair has always been something I feel strongly about.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Small Town Blues

I have learned a lesson that translates from the Deep South of American to Costa Rica is that in small towns everyone knows your business, making it their business too.

It's no secret to anyone that reads here that I have struggled with the host family we were placed with. The mother does not understand 'Hand wash only' so I bought detergent and a drying rack. She serves piles of carbs, which for me and my borderline sugar levels is not a good thing. I've spoken to her repeatedly and it has done no good. If the food is not 85% carbs, it's processed or over-salted.  The food situation has been dire, to the point where I now keep fresh fruits and veggies in my room along with canned tuna, crackers I can eat, cheese and protein bars.

I can't have all those carbs. I cannot have very salty foods because it causes breast pain where I've had surgery in the past. I cannot have lots of processed things because many times the preservatives throw me right into an asthma attack. Like this morning. The host mother served the most delicious and super bad for you sweet rolls she made in her bakery. I should not have eaten one sliver of it because carbs and super sugary, but I did. I reacted and the only thing I can figure out that I reacted to was the prepared canned coconut filling she stuffed the rolls with. Wheezing and coughing coming right up.

The tiny room in the garage, the crappy health-impacting food and the lack of all privacy and warm water has started to get to me. So... when one of the young ladies also teaching here suggested we take a look at the rooms at the guesthouse she's staying at for the exact same price (picked up by the school) we went along. Walking on a late Friday afternoon up the hill and into the mountains for this guest house.

It was beautiful and the rooms much larger. The bath had continuous hot water, the grounds of the building was a lovely garden. Very nice. We looked at the rooms but did not commit, telling the owner we wanted to think about it for a few days. That's all we did. We did buy a few things from her small grocery store on site and walked down the hill in the rare afternoon sunshine. Nothing more.

We decided against it for a couple of reasons. It was a very steep climb up to the place and the owner didn't seem that eager to rent to us. Plus we didn't want to create ill will with the original host family, who have been good to us. It's just they really are living like people did a long time ago in America. It's not comfortable staying there. But even with the several extensions to Jim's contract we'll be out of here in late August. Our leaving date now is pushed back to August 24th to accommodate the lack of teachers at the learning center.

You can tolerate just about any type of situation for mere weeks, even bad food and no privacy. Less said, soonest mended. Right?

The day after we looked at the rooms I ran into a board member for the school who asked me why I was looking at different places to stay. I lied. I told her we'd just gone up there to see the other teacher's rooms and the guesthouse. Not totally a lie, we did want to see the place.

I noticed early in the week that our host family was acting odd and it's since come out to pretty much the entire town that we were looking to skedaddle to another place. Turned into a big big deal and we had to sit down and talk about the problems with the food, lack of privacy, et al. It's still not completely resolved clearly because the host did serve that delicious but toxic sweet rolls for breakfast and the lunch I got the day before was salad and a fried ham slice, clearly improvements over what she had been serving, but both were so salty I literally could not eat them.

We've started eating our evening meals at the one restaurant in town from Thursday through Sunday night because I can get a kale salad and a grilled chicken breast for very little and I've gone back to eating very little of the host mother's cooking when the restaurant is not open, preferring to eat what vegetables she serves and tuna and fruit in the room.

Damn, I've ranted so much about healthy foods I sound almost like deluded and eating disordered angry female cultural enforcer Lori Alexander now. The difference is that I have to eat a certain way to stay healthy, not because I'm blaming it on God.

But the food is the biggest issue for me. I've been having stomach troubles on top of this too. I think it's more to do with the issues of how the host mother stores her food and her hygiene. She made tamales the other day, a huge barrel full of them on the wood stove out back of our room. Our room filled with smoke, so we pretty much ditched for the day. I love tamales. I am all about tamales since I was little and my father and I used to go to a local tamale shop in New Orleans. I was excited she made all those tamales. But what I wasn't excited about was after the tamales were cooked she stored them in plastic crates unrefrigerated in her dining room. For days!

On the non-complaining front I've now taken the bus to San Marcos now and gotten enough yarn to start a much needed sweater for this area. It's beautiful hairpin lace and crochet I'm working with.

I can survive this, even if it means sneaking food in the room and taking the bus into town to get meals and supplies. This is just for a short season.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Just Roll With it, Baby

I was about to whine and cry about everything that has gone haywire, but I'm learning that I must be much more flexible. I was when I was a young Army wife, packing up and moving, sometimes internationally, on a regular basis.

What happened is that I got a panicked email from the company shipping our household goods wanting to know why we could not be reached at any of our phone numbers. Our things were in San Jose and we needed to pick an import specialist to deal with the inspection, import duties, etc, etc.

I've run into a number of difficulties. It's very hard to reach me because we're living in a town literally surrounded by mountains on all sides and there is exactly one spot in the village I can get more than one cell phone tower.

But, we're dealing with it. Picked someone to help out and they are doing their thing right now. I'm miffed that it looks like the government of Costa Rica is seizing three of my boxes because they contain otc drugs and pharmacy things and personal care items like shampoo. Apparently you cannot bring that. It was not listed anywhere on the forbidden list.

The other difficulty is that they want to seize the box containing all the masks, filters and supplies for my VPAP machine and my personal air filter, but I think they're going to accept my letter of medical necessity and allow me to have them. It's just now I have to register both machines with the Ministry of Health here, and pay more fees.

The car is finally going to be loaded onto the boat and shipped here. I finally have the right paperwork. There was some drama with my mama about it. The car is at her house, but I enlisted my aunt to help out. Fingers crossed this happens. The shipping contact had called my mother and she speaks no Spanish and his English is sparse. We communicate primarily in Spanglish.

Both of these things took piles of crying, screeching, hair-pulling phone calls and emails to accomplish.

Yesterday I finally developed some chill and started going back to my old it is what it is self, that long-ago Army wife that kicked ass and took numbers without stressing out. Yesterday morning we were both supposed to get on a bus for San Jose for a little trip to the American Embassy. Jim is trying to get the final power of attorney paperwork set up so that he can handle his mother's investments instead of the evil sister in law.

We took a taxi to the bus station in Santa Maria, arriving in plenty of time for our ride. It was only when we started to board the bus that things when into goat rodeo territory again. We discovered that the tickets for the express bus that Jim bought days before were for the 5 am bus, not the 7:45 am bus. We were told we could stand for the two hour ride.

Normally I would have panicked. Jim had to be there! It was important as you have to schedule these appointments with the Embassy four to six weeks in advance. But I just told Jim to go ahead, go ahead without me because they did have an extra seat for one person, and I'd find my way back to Copey and just go on with my day.

This is exactly what we ended up doing. I left Jim on the bus and went shopping, getting a few more towels, getting hand sewing needles, fruit and snacks for the room for the week. I walked all over Santa Maria, stopping to get coffee at the coffee cooperative cafe and going into many shops, talking to folks and shopping for the first time at the fruit and vegetable market.

Then I took a taxi back to Copey, paying the Tico price after scaring up enough Spanish to tell the taxi driver he better switch on the meter. The rest of the day involved taking long walks, reading and a little crochet while watching Netflix on my computer.

Jim returned at dinner time with a long tale of his own crazy just roll with it day spent getting this power of attorney done. We laughed over the crazy. I guess living here we're going to always have to be open, flexible and not married to one idea to the exclusion of everything else.

I do wish my Spanish was better and I'm starting to carry my conversational Spanish guide everywhere with me, which was how I knew what to say to get onto the taxi driver to turn on the meter and avoid paying Gringo price.

One of the big reasons I wish my Spanish was better is that I'm dying to know the back story of one lady I see every time I go to Santa Maria. An elderly lady with a beard. I think she's homeless because I always see her on the streets, literally living on the streets. But I've noticed she is always crocheting the most beautiful lace and other items, surrounded by plastic bags of her crochet supplies. I long to know her story, to ask her about her mad crochet skills. The lace is so beautiful.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Part 1 Feeling Like David Copperfield

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. And so it holds true for me.

When I last blogged Jim and I were at a resort in Arenal and on our way towards the beaches of Tamarindo, Playa Grande, Playa Hermosa, Manuel Antonio, and Matapalo. Quick rundown before I head into the goat rodeo of this last week since I've returned.

Warning: If you ever consider moving to Costa Rica be forewarned that every single thing you do to achieve that goal will take three times longer and three times more money that you are told. I have almost completely demolished my money market account in this dream of Jim's just getting everything done, from the house remodel to shipping our belongings and now just trying to get everything past customs. It's an expensive travail to get here. That's not even counting the thousands we're going to have to lay out to pay for residency. NO ONE tells you this. I researched all of this thoroughly, read books about moving here, talking to piles of Americans living here. Truthfully, it is a crap shoot sometimes depending upon the mood of whatever government official tells you.

Arenal: In Arenal we asked around about houses to our local friends there we've visited a couple of times, but there wasn't much open at the moment. Which turned out to be a good thing because although today was supposed to be Jim's last day teaching we got a call in Arenal begging him to stay another three weeks because his replacement teacher from the States flaked out and decided not to come. And now that we've returned from the trip the school is now begging him to stay at least until September. This puts us in an awkward situation because I'm not liking where we are at all. More on that later.

I did have a good and relaxing time in Arenal. We spoke to our pipe connection there and he's making us a special sample assortment to use on our website and in a sample case. This is for Jim's import business he's going to launch doing artisan made craft importing into the States. Beautiful things made here!

That left me time for birdwatching at the resort and I got to see toucans again, plus hummingbirds and a plethora of beautiful birds and flowers. The resort is really one of the most refreshing, soul-restoring places on the planet, no television, no cell phone reception and limited internet in a beautiful rainforest. A few photos.

When we left Arenal and drove to Tamarindo we stopped for lunch at a German bakery on Lake Arenal and had the best authentic German meal. It also gave us both the perfect opportunity to brush up on our lapsed German, which turned out to be a good thing..

Sadly I saw no monkeys at the 'Do Not Feed the Monkeys' place on the road. Here's the sign.

Tamarindo: On the way to Tamarindo Jim started to become fixated/obsessive with the idea that  we were going to live in Guanacaste near either Liberia or Tamarindo and spent a lot of our time where going first to universities and later to private schools to ask about a faculty position teaching English. I don't think it's a bad or unreasonable idea at all, but my patience was stretched pretty thin as he spent all three of our days there traipsing from school to school to apply. We were supposed to be looking for a house and spending some of our time on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The most we were at the beach was during breakfast and right afterward. Here's the view from our breakfast table every morning.

Here's the claim to fame for the restaurant at our hotel. Do they even realize how big that could be?
We did get to reconnect with friends we'd made on our last trip to Tamarindo and heard about an awesome house for rent about five minutes by car from Tamarindo beach proper. We went to take a look. Turns out it was owned by an elderly German couple and we spend a full afternoon with them speaking a mixture of German, English and Spanish.

I love the house! It's been vacant for five months now and smells musty. Needs a serious scrub down but those are things that can be easily overcome. It's octagon shaped and set in the most beautiful garden with stones and Costa Rican statuary. The inside was very nice, nicer than the usual Tico house and it had that rarity of rarities here - A DRYER!! An electric dryer. It has granite countertops, brand new stainless steel appliances, beautifully done granite bathrooms and most importantly of all, AIR CONDITIONING IN EVERY ROOM!!! and comes with a swimming pool. Can you tell I'm excited? It's $750 a month including utilities. A bargain.

The drawbacks. There is a loud Evangelical church right next door that was doing that rollicking Jesus rock when we were there. But that's nothing that cannot be overcome by having a shaker of martinis in the pool if it gets too annoying.

But... with Jim's extension here we have to put it off as a rental. They know we're interested and when we'll be free. But Jim wants to look at other places too.

Playa Grande:

We also went house hunting near the national ocean park there and there were plenty of rentals but all Gringo prices. The ocean was so wild and beautiful there. I got some photos of a bird I've never seen before - the magpie jay.

You cannot see it but this pretty blue bird has a quail-like curl of feathers on his head.

Playa Hermosa:
We left Tamarindo to house hunt in parts south along the coast. We stopped in Hermosa at the restaurant right along the beach to have a late lunch and started talking at the restaurant to the people we'd met there in January, asking about house rentals in the area. Turns out one of the houses right near the restaurant would be coming open in August. We toured it. Torn to shreds because the person living there now has ten dogs in it. Needs major fixing up. The owner swore he'd repaint it and fix all the problems and give us the bargain basement price of $1,700 a month plus utilities. I was so turned off by the dirty that we're not even considering this place.

I did get to see a huge flock of Scarlet Macaws, another of green parrots and some sort of pelicans during lunch. I would love to live near Hermosa, but that price is crazy. Pictures of the beach.

Manuel Antonio
Once we got to Manuel Antonio we had a huge fright. We weren't staying at any of the other hotels in that area we have before and didn't know where our hotel was. The GPS would not pick it up and the map only gave us a vague idea where it was. Raining down buckets, pitch black darkness on windy unlit roads. We came to this steep driveway marked with the name of our hotel and tried to get our tiny wheezing rental car up it. It took several tries before we got up the hill. Once we were there the hotel was dark, looked uninhabited like something out of a bad horror movie where people wandering into the place stand the risk of being added to the stew in the hotel kitchen. No one around, pitch black. Eventually a surfer climbed the hill clutching his surf board and pointed to the twisted tiled unlit path down to the registration office.

Now I'd already made a few corny jokes out of 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' during the drive and Jim tells me that this is one of those Brad and Janet situations walking up to the door of the mansion looking for help. During the long dim jungle walk I could not help but start singing 'There's a Ligt' from RHPS.

Yeah, like that exactly. But we did find the manager, get our room and get settled in. He let us park next to the office, a space closer to the road instead of high in the trees up that pitted driveway to heaven. The next morning we got up to the most spectacular view of the beach, worth the scariness and the muddy trek.

We looked at apartments, but they were not exactly what we had a mind plus located five minutes from the park and subject to hordes of tourist traffic. Hung out with friends and got a little toasted one afternoon in a bar overlooking the beach.

One of the days we went back to Matapalo to see if the house I loved in January was still up for long term rental. It is, right now it's being used as short term AirBnB house, but the owner is looking for someone to rent for a year because he's burned out on the work involved in turning the place around for a stream of visitors. The price is still doable. However they've since paved a road on the edge of the beach right in front of the house, making it much less attractive to stay it.

It is likely the only really good paved road in the area. The ride through Matapalo to get to the place was bone-jarring, much worst than last time and the town does not look like it's as prosperous as it was back in January. We stopped by a guesthouse on the beach owned by a guy we'd friended a couple of years ago and he told a tale of a very depressed economy in CR since Trump took office. He's having much less tourist traffic to the point where he does not know what he is going to do. It was sobering and quite depressing. Strike Matapalo off the list of possible places to live.

And then thing go really crazy... more later.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Escape From Nicaragua or We Rode the Tica Bus

This morning we very sadly had to leave the paradise behind at Playa Marsella, Nicaragua, leave the beautiful beach and the lovely cabina for a return to Costa Rica with renewed 90 day visas to stay in country. We took a last long look at the beach as we packed up and made our way down to the waiting taxi.

On the way back to town to catch the Tica Bus we both clearly saw that the area was lovely, no lurking French robbers on motorbikes, no dumped trash or anything else negative, at least until we came to the obstacle in the road, two large dogs merrily screwing and refusing to move over for our taxi. There were fields of horses, cattle, the occasional mule-drawn cart containing a farmer and lots of lovely countryside. Even the river we'd forded three days before had trickled back down to nothing.

We made it to town and caught that bourgeois Tica Bus, with the wifi and air conditioning. Because we had to leave so early we didn't get breakfast at the hotel and by the time we got to the bus we only had time to board. So no breakfast, and most importantly, no coffee for me. I distinctly do not do well without coffee, but I knew we'd soon be at the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border and the border had hordes of vendors, both junk and food. I'd just get coffee and food then. Not quite how it played out.

When we'd crossed three days before we'd walked, having plenty of time to do whatever we needed. Riding over in the Tica Bus we had to surrender our passports, 4 bucks each and an exit form, which the bus driver presented to the authorities while we wandered around for thirty minutes at the border. Oh sure, there were plenty of food vendors, but no one with coffee, save one elderly lady with instant coffee. After viewing the cooking food offerings I was afraid to buy anything, open grills cooking meats, every possible candy and prepackaged cooked chicken and plantains. But the cooking/serving areas were pretty filthy and the last thing I wanted was projectile diarrhea while riding another four hours on the bus. No fresh fruit, but plenty of cigarettes. I was reminded of my trips to Mexico many years ago so I decided to play it very safe and buy some baked goods from an elderly lady. These tiny pastries were supposed to be stuffed with a bean and cheese combo in a poppy seed pastry shell. Gross and disgusting tasting and hard a a brick. Literally could not eat more than a spoonful serving. So all I had for breakfast/lunch was a tiny piece of this stale pastry and a diet coke. Not enough if you suffer low blood sugars or high.

While I was puzzling over what to eat and what would make me sick as a dog (a real fear - you cannot drink the water in Nicaragua, even the hotel insists you only drink from their supply of bottled water) Jim spotted Leticia, our border crossing buddy. She was trying to get a free ride on any bus going back into Costa Rica. She told us what happened after we departed over the river to the hotel.

The taxi driver abandoned her on the riverside, telling her to get stuffed and she walked for miles in the dark before bedding down and sleeping by the side of the road. The next morning a local took pity on her, driving her back into the city where she'd ended up in the hospital. She mentioned nothing further about visiting her sister or having surgery in Nicaragua.

What I noticed today that I didn't on Wednesday evening is that Leticia had track marks on both arms. She's an addict of some substance and before we reboarded the Tica Bus she wanted money from us. Yeah, not happening after the crazy things she'd claimed and now turning up strung out with more crazy sounding stories. I wish her well, but once I found out she'd tried to claim to the hotel that she was with us and sleeping in our room I was done with her. I hope she gets off drugs, but I am not prepared or capable of dealing with another person in my life with substance abuse issues. I've fought that battle with loved ones too many times.

We got back on the bus and I told Jim I knew that the bus would stop again in the beautiful rest station that they'd stopped at on the way up and I'd get something to eat then. I had the shakes by then. Because the bus was running late it ended up bypassing the stop, but a local man got on the bus with Fantas, Cokes and sandwiches for sale.  Yeah, so I paid 4 dollars for a coke and a grilled cheese and baloney sandwich. It didn't help. Started developing nausea and a bad headache which spiraled into a migraine an hour later. The sandwich was delicious, but I'm still quite confused by baloney turning up randomly in things where you least expect it. The man selling the sandwiches said they were all grilled cheese.

By the time we got to the San Jose airport I was sicker still. Jim had some drama when the guys on the bus could not find his laptop case in the cargo hold for ten minutes and then we had to fight off a pack of taxi drivers fighting for our fare not knowing that when we emerged from the bus we were planning on taking an airport shuttle to the rental car company.

Picked up the rental car and now we're off to look for a place to live in areas of the country we love. Right now we're at our favorite resort in the Arenal area and we looked at a beautiful place on the way down here owned by one of the managers at the rental car company. We have some leads, it's going to take time. We're looking near Lake Arenal, the Atenas area, near the beaches of Guanacaste area and down near Quepas/Matapalo/Dominical.

Sadly enough Jim has decided to extend his teaching of English at the school in Copey for another three weeks beyond his contract ending in late July because his replacement flaked out on the school and they begged him to stay. So a few weeks longer in our pokey little room. I just hope it stops raining.

Friday, July 07, 2017

If It's Not One Thing, It's Nicaragua

So bright and early on Wednesday morn Jim and I left Copy, Costa Rica for three days beachside in Playa Marsella, Nicaragua. We got a beautiful beach cabina for a great price for our 72 hours outside of Costa Rica to meet our visa requirements.

While I haven't been here the 90 days you can stay Jim is getting close. We both qualify for residency in Costa Rica, we have the monthly income, etc, but I'm reluctant to file for permanent residency certification this soon. Quite frankly I'm not really loving life in Copey between the daily cold rain, shivering at night, substandard accommodations and food situation I'm reluctant to commit so soon and fork over the rumored 2,500 we're told we must pay before finding our new home and happiness.

So we decided to do what long lines of Americans here tend to do, take the bus into Nicaragua and have ourselves a little mini vacay. Boogie in, boogie out clutching new 90 tourist visas in our hot little hands.

We ended up taking a taxi through the mountains back to Santa Maria, then catching a bus into the capital city of San Jose, changing buses again into one going up to the border. Most Americans catch the official Tico bus in San Jose, taking a modern double-decker air conditioned bus with wifi up into their vacation destinations in Nicaragua. We could not. You have to buy your Tico Bus tickets a couple of days in advance, you cannot just wait until you show up at the bus station.

Didn't matter. You can get tickets pretty easily to what I call the local milk run buses. No wif, no air conditioning, but way way cheaper and about like our average bus ride into San Jose. There was just one problem, when we got into San Jose we discovered that the bus station we were at was the WRONG one. Taxied to the only bus station that had space for us on the bus, but were taken to the cleaners by the taxi driver. He drove us around the city of San Jose, running up the meter to over fifty bucks even as I kept protesting that he was driving us in circles. Tourist taxi, they see Americans coming and automatically assume we're rich, behaving accordingly.

Turns out we had a two hour wait for the next bus to the border, so we decided to get lunch at the only place to eat at the bus station. Jim had pizza that had the texture, colors and consistency of Playdough. My hamburgeusa wasn't much better. It had a thick slab of bologna on it with the ground meat, tomato and lettuce. Now I've had hamburgers in this country before and been surprised by things like a layer of cucumbers, but never bologna. This meal was something of a harbinger for the rest of the trip. It looks one way, but it's something else.

Once we bordered the bus we found a mother and toddler sitting in our assigned seats. I felt very guilty about having to kick a mother out of our seats. She stood with the child for the entire five hour journey. We found out later that she, and others standing in the bus, didn't have tickets. Apparently sometimes the poor ride these things and hope that there are seats for them.

I noticed that one of the ladies standing was crying and making a big scene over not having a seat, demanding a seat because she was disabled and had a letter of medical necessity. Later at the meal stop she asked me for money and I gave her enough so she could eat.

The bus ride was pretty miserable, back roads, bumpy riding and hot as hell even with the windows open in the rain. No way to even read because I don't do well on bus rides or cars because of motion sickness. Jim was so sick with a cold, was shivering and sweating against me in that tiny confined space.

As we got closer and closer to Penas Blanco, the Costa Rican bordertown, I noticed that the roads got worse. I didn't think that was even possible, but it was. All southbound traffic was routed on a detour and the southbound lanes closed. We arrived at the border at sunset, paying our Costa Rican exit fees, declaring we were exporting nothing beyond personal possessions. The bus dumped us out at the border and hightailed it out of there. The Costa Rican side seemed pretty normal, a big building, a restroom, a well lit fully staffed government building. But.... when we exited the building we had to trudge down a dirt road with our suitcases, dodging mud puddles and semi trucks about 300 meters in the pitch black dark.

While we were going through Costa Rican passport control the lady who'd been making a scene on the bus and who I'd given a few bucks approached us crying. She could not read and as a result could not fill out the customs form to leave the country. We helped her and she attached herself to us, going with us through the rest of the border crossing. Her name was Leticia. 

When we got to the Nicaraguan border control it was one lone guy in a paramilitary type uniform with an assault rifle slung over his back presiding over a wooden picnic table, who proceeded to search Jim's suitcase, seemingly disappointed that all Jim had was clothing in his bag.

This was repeated many times over a few hundred more meters, a picnic table or rough shelter like  bus stop, showing our passports again and again before getting to the actual visa and immigration office. I was seriously scared! Everyone had assault rifles and it was very clear we'd arrived in a third world country.

But the immigration office was modern and well lit. We had to each pay a buck as soon as we entered, it was never explained to us what this was for, but we got a stamped piece of paper showing we'd paid our buck before we had to pay another 12 bucks as an entrance fee each. They xrayed our luggage and we were off.

While all this was going on a young guy started pestering me, insisting that he would drive us to the town we were staying, San Juan Del Sur, for fifty American dollars. I kept telling him to talk to Jim, the Big Boss, the Jefe and he kept shouting lower and lower prices until he'd finally agreed to drive us to the hotel for 24 bucks. Leticia kept whimpering that she was coming with us and would get a room because the bus for her sister's town didn't leave until morning.

We took the taxi because we'd just missed the last Chicken bus for the night (old American school buses that are used in Nicaragua as local buses). Armed border patrol checked our passports one more time in the parking lot of the taxi area. There were a ton of what Jim terms 'Le Tourista Traps' at the border, chockablock filled with junk, but I didn't get a chance to check for a souvenir thimble. We left because it was well after dark and we had a forty minute ride ahead to the hotel.

I kept asking Jim if he'd given our driver the name of the hotel, the Mirasella Beach Hotel, and he said he had, but when we got in the middle of San Juan Del Sur the driver stopped, wanting to know what hotel we were staying at. Why, the Mirasella on Playa Mirasella. The driver went nuts, refusing to take us there except if we paid him another twenty bucks. He kept repeating how far away it was, how horrible the road and ranting about 'French robbers' on motorbikes on the back road. Jim and he had heated words with Leticia trying to translate/intervene.

What choice did we have? None. We agreed to pay him. The taxi driver pulled onto the beach access road and we were plunged into pitch blackness on the most rutted dirt road through the jungle. There were houses for sale along the road that looked like Italian palaces deserted and dark and we passed gated developments here and there while the driver muttered semi-hysterically about robbers in the woods and trash dumping illegally and other weird things and crimes as we rode around. At least that's what my pigeon Spanish and Leticia's translation was...

We were following the signs through the pitch black night to the Mirasella Hotel when we hit the weirdest obstacle yet, the road was washed out into a deep pit, half the road five feet deep into a sink hole and the road ended at a river bed, a river bed holding swiftly flowing water. The taxi driver refused, flat out refused for any amount of money to try and ferry us across.

It was about this time I came out of the taxi to try and access the situation, doing what I do best, tripping over my feet and face planting right into the mud and rock road.

Now the taxi driver was screaming about ghosts and robbers and calling on the powers of the Lord and Mother Mary while Leticia was freaking out too.

You can't see it well in this photo but there is a foaming river in the middle of this photo.

Finally Jim decided to call the hotel and beg for rescue while our driver was counting off and calling on all the saints in heaven and the manager said he would send someone down to pick us up and carry us over the river and the last 200 meters to the hotel.

We wait, and we wait, and we wait, in the darkness with a screaming praying Latin caricature of a cab driver, a woman also freaking out that looks like she might just be strung out on heavy drugs while she's somehow attached herself to us. I start wondering if this is some sort of shakedown and if we're going to die here, but eventually we hear the sounds of some vehicle missing a muffler and misfiring madly making it's slow way towards us. Hooray! It's the hotel manager and the handyman come to rescue us! They load the trunk with our suitcases while we climb in the back.

Leticia starts speaking rapidly with the manager, in Spanish, begging to stay at the hotel for free as far as I can tell. Later the manager tells me that she has insisted she is with us and will be staying in our room. No way did we ever discuss this! The manager rebuffs her, even after she claims that she's afraid of the cab driver possibly raping her (ha! He's too busy calling on JesusChristo and assorted Catholic deities to be thinking about that!) Later, he tells me he was pretty sure she was strung out on drugs and all sorts of trouble. Our last view of Leticia is her standing on the other side of the river with the cabby as we ford the river.  He's still calling out 'Dios Mios'

Hopefully he took her back to town and dropped her off at one of the very inexpensive hostels back in San Juan Del Sur.

We get to the hotel, get our room and flop into bed, exhausted by a crazy day where we thought we might die a couple times over. The room is all wooden, old fashioned but so clean and beautiful. We can hear, but not see the ocean mere steps from our front door.

And the next morning we're treated to the most beautiful private beach.......

For the last several days we're swam in the ocean, swam in the beautiful infinity edge pool. I've climbed the cliff over to the next beach, eaten squid and worn a swimsuit that Lori Alexander would so not approve of with a bikini bottom that's French cut showing off more of my lumpy booty than I have in years now. I've been wearing almost no clothes here and I don't care. This is paradise.

Sadly tomorrow we are returning to Costa Rica, but we're taking the spoiled entitled peoples bus with the wifi and air conditioning. Then we're picking up a rental car in San Jose and heading out to first Arenal, followed by Tamarindo, a few days in Playa Hermano before going down to Manuel Antonio. The official househunting in paradise has begun.

There's a house on this beach for sale but the asking price is over 700,000 bucks and it's repped by Sotherbys. Out of our price range. I did find a mountainside lot with water and electric hookups in a gated community with a view of this beach for the firesale price of 8 thousand. Might be perfect for a tiny home. Just not sure I want to live in Nicaragua.