Tuesday, August 29, 2017

So, Does This Stuff Really Come In Threes?

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

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 It does not always work right, sometimes has outdated data or cannot pick up the right place you want to go.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Escaping - Hurried House Hunting in Guanacaste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

Rashomon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

To the Next Volunteer at the CLC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You cannot flush toilet paper anywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

I wish you success and happiness here.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Long and Strange Night

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

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

This is what I saw when I got up.

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

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