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.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Finally Adjusting

Well my oxygen levels finally came back up again to low-normal and it's helped with the mood I've been in. Yesterday when I talked to Cindy Kunsman I described what I'd been feeling since arriving in Copey as 'Cranky as fuck' Not so cranky now and it's not just the oxygen levels.

Jim has a cold and is rather cranky himself. Right before the cold manifested he picked several rather dumb fights with me over my mother, her plans for her estate and the fact that I refused to pay a high price in Culpeper to get my will notarized. The will is the only one I have any real control over and I was told that since we're likely going to be staying in Costa Rica that I need to have it notarized at the Embassy in San Jose. It would certainly be cheaper. Not sweating it because it's pretty simple and I think my children would divide everything the way I listed anyway.

After a morning of working on NLQ and trying to take care of various things we took the bus into Santa Maria after lunch, back to the bank in order to pick up the debit card for our colones account. The funny thing is that the bank makes you keep your accounts separate if you use colones (local currency) and dollars. So we have a dollar account and a colones account. Seems redundant to me.

The interesting thing about the bank is that it took forever and we were shuttled between departments just to get the debit card for the colones account, get online banking and to add my name to both accounts. In the states doing these things at our local bank would have taken mere minutes. Here in the CR it took well over two hours and I had to fill out the same damn forms again and again for each thing we did. A lot of hurry up and wait.

It was pouring down raining during our day too, complicating matters by soaking both of our feet, in leather hiking shoes no less and soaking our clothing even with umbrellas.

After the bank we managed to catch a ride up to Larry's house. Larry is a local American living here and he and his wife graciously agreed to meet with us, as we both had a million questions about relocating here. Over coffee an marzipan cake they answered our questions and I started to feel just a little bit better about our decision to relocate here. Jim had been agonizing over the fact that I shipped 35 boxes of household goods here, but they told me that I should have shipped everything. Apparently we're not going to be hit with very high tax rates on household goods and it's impossible to get many of the things we're shipping.

Also they gave us contact information to those that can help us navigate the complex residency maze to get our residency approval. For now we'll have to leave for 3 days out of the country in Nicaragua to keep on the right side of the immigration tourist rules. We're going to leave in a few minutes to purchase bus tickets, on the Tico bus up to the resort area in Nicaragua. I've booked a beachfront room for three days there. Excited to add another country to my world map.

After a taxi ride back into Santa Maria proper after a long visit with our new friends we dashed around in the monsoon like rain to get Jim some cold medicine, using Spanlish and a few other things we needed. Took the bus back from Santa Maria and ended up very sick to my stomach from the twists and turns of the road combined with the fogged in windows of the bus. I've always had motion sickness problems

One shower using the suicide shower method of jumping in when the water is warm and leaping out the second we heard the heater conks out and a pile of Panadol cold medicines for Jim we got into the bed to cuddle and read as soon as it got true dark outside and the temperatures dropped again. We didn't stay in the bed long because as I was reading a spider almost as big as my Ipad leapt into the bed, between Jim and I and landed right on the screen of the Ipad. We both screamed and leapt from the bed.

Our bedroom here:

And the plastic paneled bath:

Thankfully only our home until July 23 and we'll be traveling the next two weeks. Photos and stories from on the road coming.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

More First World Problems

Friday we managed to catch the bus into Santa Maria and change money. After I did a little shopping. Things I ended up with:
  • Hand towels (apparently the landlord does not use these?)
  • Thread
  • Bathmat
  • Drying rack to dry my underwear in the shower 
  • Basket to hold toiletries
  • Assorted yummy snacks
What I could not find no matter how I looked or looked up item in in English-Spanish dictionary.
  • Wash cloths - Everyone was puzzled by my requests for these and our landlord does not have them. I'm not sure why no one here uses washcloths, but I had to sacrifice a half skein of nice yarn I'd brought with me to finish up a scarf and now have yarn crocheted washcloths. 
  • Yarn - Again something that puzzled the shopkeepers even if I brought a sample. It was my fall back for turning out a few washcloths. Turned out to be easier just to use what I had with me.
We had the most delicious iced coffee at a cafe connected to the local coffee co-op before spending some time in the park before the bus hauled us back up the mountains.

Yesterday evening we went with our hosts/landlord to a restaurant a few towns over.. Learned on the way there that the constant rain we've had this last week has knocked out power in many areas of Costa Rica, including San Jose, and in large swathes of Central America.

The ride to the restaurant was sort of terrifying, we were riding over those narrow windy mountain roads with our driver driving RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROADS at a high clip of speed. Between the crazy ride and the fact that I started having an asthma attack because of the driver's huge amount of cologne I wasn't in the best of moods when we arrived.

The restaurant was an interesting place. The guy that runs it kept bringing us shot glasses of some sort of secret liquor he makes that tastes like a combination of Kalua, cherries and chocolate. I had some problems with the food because they mostly serve huge racks of ribs and I'm not really a ribs kind of gal. Ended up with a burrito, filled with rib meat. Tasty, but not at all what I wanted. While I was ordering the landlord jumped in and ordered it for me. Uh! But the array of homemade candies and pastries made up for my distaste over the meal.

Today has been all day myself engaged in trying to rectify Jim's dying laptop. Literally, all day spend updating software and tweaking the damn thing. Not like we can replace it easily or cheaply here.

Tomorrow, more bus rides to Santa Maria, visits to the bank and store and planning out the next two weeks traveling around the country and a possible side trip up into Nicaragua. Thankfully it seems to have cut back on the rain now. And napping, still lots and lots of napping.

The clouds creeping down into the mountains around Copey.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Coping With Copey

Today was evidence of some of the glaring challenges of living in Costa Rica. I awoke when the electricity hiccuped and shut off my VPAP machine. Little did I know that small electrical skip-jump-hop also meant that the telephone and internet died suddenly in the tiny town of Copey.

I've been here a week today and I have to admit it hasn't been as easy and charming as I fantasized in my frenzied rush to remodel the house and get here. Copey is lovely, a tiny town of tin-roofed ramshackle houses painted a fantastical array of pastel pinks, blues, yellows and every other shade suitable for the grand Victorian homes in San Franciso. It sits in a valley, surrounded by mountains so steep that the clouds obscure the mountain tops. There's a beautifully landscaped community soccer field, an antique Catholic church wearing peeling yellow paint the same shade as butter, there are terraced apple orchards on the mountain slopes and even farm animals on those tilted meadows.

Most of the locals I've met seem to be very nice, if devoid of much English. I am forced to use more Spanish than I anticipated every single day. There's a small store, the contents of which would not be out of place in an American 7-11. We stop there daily for fruit juice and snacks as we wander the town on foot since our car is being shipped overseas right now. There's one nice restaurant we visit daily for freshly squeezed local apple juice, that is when it's actually open and not on the distinctive Tico Time.

Tico Time is a tricky thing. It means that people here don't always stick with posted times, preferring to operate their lives and businesses when they feel like it instead of on schedule.

Stray dogs wander the streets and it's not unusual to see roaming cows, chickens, horses and the rare cat. The streets are rutted and patched, but still nowhere near as awful as those leading up into the mountains out of town. We took a treacherous ride with a local teacher twice upon twisting, winding roads filled with potholes up into the mountain communities in the clouds to judge at school spelling bees.

Twice now Jim and I have judged at local community school spelling bees on the grand round leading to the area spelling champ and we're slated to judge the regional and finals at the end of next month. The spelling bees have been a lot more fun that I anticipated, smiling school children wearing a grand array of elaborate hairstyles and pretty starched uniforms. We're both treated like celebrities at these things, asked to get up and speak about our lives briefly before being given beautiful gift baskets stuffed with local fruits, candy and houseplants.

Jim has been teaching his classes religiously, sometimes for long hours. I usually come with him to the school, sitting in another part of the lone classroom working on posting for No Longer Quivering since the english language school has the strongest internet connection in town.

We're going to Santa Maria today, a much bigger town, to convert dollars to colones, make a bank deposit and for me to get a few extras we need in our tiny apartment in the local guesthouse. That means a bus ride up over these mountains over hairpin curves, steep dropoffs into the valley and past a beautiful waterfall.

The apartment isn't much. It's bare bones, one medium sized room with a closet, a bed, a nightstand and a desk. We do have a private bath, with what I always laughingly refer to as the 'Suicide Shower', one of those Latin American horror shows with electrical wires affixed to the showerhead so that if you time it exactly right you might get a few minutes of lukewarm water instead of bone-chilling icy needles pouring onto you.

Costa Rican Suicide Shower....

And it's cold here at night. Very cold, like maybe in the 40s or 50s degree range. We sleep under a pile of blankets, six or so, huddling together like little puppies trying to steal each others body heat to stay warm. I didn't bring enough warm clothing since my only experiences with Costa Rica is the tropical heat, so I'm wearing my lone pair of jeans, unwashed, every single day with my lone sweater.

The food here has been a continuing problem for me, our landlady, who also fixes all our meals, has no idea about nutrition and carbs. Since having all those bouts of MRSA and having to find ways to control my blood sugar flares I've been vigilant in what I eat. I did well our last trip here, but had much more control over what we were eating and were eating clean, no processes foods. Our landlady is all processed foods and uber-carbs. I saw the family and noticed that everyone is pretty large, figured out quickly that it's the way they eat. I had to have several conversations with her about what I need to keep well.

She tries, but it's been frustrating when you explain to her more than once that you cannot have french fries, noodles, beans and rice all at the same time and she immediately serves you soup containing a sliver of chicken, two types of noodles, potatoes and rice at the same time. This family is eating meals that are comprised of perhaps 90 percent carbs! I see this as the terrible eating habits of America infiltrating another culture.

It kind of shocks me how incredibly bad for you most of the food here is. Our guesthouse host also runs a bakery, a soda (small snack bar) and has apple orchards plus avocado orchards here, yet she virtually never serves us anything like avocado, apples or bread. I've had a few bad reactions to some of the processed things, like something she served one night that tasted like strawberry flavored Nestle Quik powder.

I have had a number of things when I go out and about I've never had before, like fresh passion fruit, the best fried fish ever, raw sugar cane juice, every type of juice imaginable. Some of the fruit I have back at our apartment are things I don't even know the name for. So the food here isn't entirely bad, there are some great things to eat, just not where we're staying.

I'm still struggling with my asthma because of the high altitudes and the fact that it has literally rained for days here. The rains are affecting my moods, it's depressing and since the house and nowhere else has anything like heaters or air conditioning when it rains here for hours on end everything you own is quite damp. I've had underwear that's been washed and hanging to dry for three days now in the shower. Speaking of which, the bathroom is constructed of all corrugated plastic panels, sort of a sturdy version of those huge political signs that sprout on American lawns during voting season.

But this is just temporary. There is light at the end of the tunnel, we leave for a few weeks on Monday, going to house hunt near the beach. It will be warm, there will be better meals and I can wear the pile of thin cotton beach dresses and shorts I packed. When we get back to Copey it will be only for a week