Living Arrangements in Costa Rica…

I just moved about a month ago. After two years in a rural setting in the mountains, I’m now in town..  in urban… in ticolandia. I’m paying less than half the rent in half the space and it’s an eye-opener. Don’t get me wrong. I like this new place, especially because it’s amongst locals and their lively lives. But I like it for alot of other reasons, the primary one being that I can save money at this place… which I need so that I can apply for Residency. Since it’s such a dramatic change, I thought I’d share with you the range of possible options for homes here in Costa Rica.

First of all, construction … concrete. It’s tropical here – hot and sweaty. For most of the country’s population, life in either the city or the country is fraught with not only the heat, but dust, bugs, next door neighbors, tin roofs and cats who like to hunt for birds on them.

Concrete construction.

Concrete construction.

I don’t know the ‘why’ of it, but concrete is not so much of a sound barrier… just sayin… My apartment is built onto the side of the owner’s home, which is behind a huge metal sliding garage door. Their house and my apartment are underneath a warehouse type roof structure. And the owner of the place built this little jewel himself. You can tell,  believe me. It’s a railroad apartment with myriad locks on the doors. Evidently at one point there were two different doors into the two primary rooms of the place, and these rooms shared the bathroom that was built between them. These rooms were rented separately. When I came to look at the place they were shocked I wanted both rooms, which turned into a living room and a bedroom… I guess there are many people who work so much here that having a room to simply crash in is common. I saw that in other places we looked at. I realized finally that I wasn’t seeing more than two rooms during our search, and no windows to outside. There is a law here that you cannot build a house that looks into another home, apartment, whatever. I’m sure that’s part of the reason why these places we were visiting were, to me, dismal. Sure, there are houses with plenty of windows here in Costa Rica, but most of them are covered. You can’t see in, you can’t see out. I’m sure this began with the idea that being in a sheltered concrete spot created protection from the sun. Another reason I was seeing smaller compact apartments had to do with the fact that I live alone, and how much space does one person need? That’s an interesting set of thoughts here in Costa Rica where familial generations live together in very tight spaces… In the US a 2-bedroom place usually means three or so people; here it could mean anywhere from 4-6. And did I mention concrete construction does not harbor secrets? No sound barriers? My place might be a bedroom with an open door in the owner’s house. Noise works both ways, and noises of all types.

But back to the original premise of this article… types of living spaces here in Costa Rica:

There are mansions here with fake lakes.

There are mansions here with fake lakes.

A colorful wooden house.... with a tin roof.

A colorful wooden house…. with a tin roof.

Adjacent homes in city/town spaces.

Adjacent homes in city/town spaces.

There's an out-of-country design influence here.

There’s an out-of-country design influence here.

Photo Courtesy of: helloimscott.com.  Family spending a day at the beach.

Photo Courtesy of: helloimscott.com.
Family spending a day at the beach.

All of these different types of places offer a living that’s comfortable in it’s own right. The European inspired designs are much more expensive, of course, since they’re inhabited by those who have considerably more money to spend than the ticos I know do. It’s the less generous spaces that intrigue me because they’re authentic to the country and the culture. I’m learning alot in this new space I’m living in and I’m proud to be sharing life in a neighborhood of diverse types of homes and living  arrangements. I feel like I’m in the soup of the country as a new spice for the rest of the folks who live around me here. It’s a responsibility I’m aware of to represent the expat in the midst of the locals.  One of these places is my new spot… can you figure out which one?

My new front door.

An exterior front door that’s actually interior.

 

Costa Rican condominiums.

Costa Rican condominiums.

Rural, colorful, along a dirt road.

Rural, colorful, along a dirt road.

There are colorful detached, concrete homes with tin roofs.

There are colorful detached, concrete homes with tin roofs.

Tortuguera, Costa Rica…

My second trip this month was with family to the Atlantic side of the country, into Tortuguera country… where you would expect a dinosaur to jump out from the jungle or a snake to fall from a tree at any moment.

It's wild Jurassic Park territory!

It’s wild Jurassic Park territory!

The weather is humid and hot, beautiful and wild. The Lodge we stayed at – Mawamba Lodge – (grupomawamba.com) offers round-trip bus transport to and from San Jose barrios and hotels, the last leg of which is by boat through the canals to the Lodge which is only accessible by boat or plane.

Boat that transports passengers from bus dock to lodge and back again.

Boat that transports passengers from bus dock to lodge and back again.

But let me introduce you to our guide, Frank. He met us on the bus as it left downtown San Jose and stayed with us the entire trip which lasted three days and two nights.

Frank Simms, our tour guide in Tortuguera. Find him at frank-simms.com, or call 506.8826.3305. Fully fluent English/Spanish, Costa Rican, heckofa nice guy.

Frank Simms, our tour guide in Tortuguera. Find him at frank-simms.com, or call 506.8826.3305. Fully fluent English/Spanish, Costa Rican, heckofa nice guy.

Known by all the locals, positive and totally fluent in English. He’s a Costa Rican tico with exemplary English skills and knows the country of Costa Rica inside and out. Frank’s available for private tours of all types and can hook you up for a tremendously comfortable tour of all or parts of the beauty found throughout the country (frank-simms.com) … but back to our trip…

Places to stay in Tortuguera. The little town is at the bottom.

Places to stay in Tortuguera. The little town is at the bottom.

Here you can see all the lodges located on this wonderful bank of land located between the ocean and the main canals of Tortuguera. Here’s an aerial picture of the Lodge:

Between the canal and the ocean.

Between the canal and the ocean.

It’s a large place and extremely well kept. Our itinerary on the first day included stopping for breakfast after pickup in San Jose; a look at banana plantations along the way; arrival at the dock where our boat delivered us to the Lodge after a 20-minute or so trip on the water; a get-acquainted with the property chat from the Lodge General Manager, lunch (way yummy food!); swimming in the huge pool; a boat ride to the little burg of Tortuguera with a walk back to the Lodge; and dinner.

Our second day included an early morning (optional) 5:30am tour of the local canals where lots of nature was seen and experienced in an open boat; an afternoon tour of the gardens, the turtle enclosure, butterfly enclosure and frog enclosure; and another open boat tour in the afternoon (included) of the canals…. where sunburn instead of the cold air during the morning tour was heartily enjoyed by all participants! Swimming, breakfast, lunch and dinner were included as well. Along the way during all of these activities, even in the restaurant, Frank was very busy answering questions, taking photos (of which you’ll see some of his work on his website), spoofing with the locals and other guides, and generally making everyone feel very comfortable. Here’s a picture of the kids enjoying one of the boat tours:

5:30am tour Tortuguera canals - Kids trying to stay warm in front, Frank the tour guide in back.

5:30am tour Tortuguera canals – Kids trying to stay warm in front, Frank the tour guide in back.

Interestingly, there were only those in our group who were actually Costa Rican… the Lodge was full of Europeans, people from Denmark, Germany, the US to name a few. So… Very popular international destination.

The ocean is wild, fierce and strong on this side of the country and particularly along this stretch of coastline. There are four types of huge turtles who come here to lay their eggs, so there are ecological outposts here to protect the turtles predators (including humans) and hatchlings as they make their way to the water after leaving the nest. Females return every four years to lay eggs and the males never return. We were told not to swim in the ocean as the undertows were particularly strong here.

The little village of Tortuguera is about five blocks long and two, maybe three, wide. Teensy, caribbean-like in the colors of people and buildings. You can find all kinds of souvenirs here, including fine jewelry and art. There are sodas and a couple of restaurants and a local school that serves all ages.  It’s provincial and the poverty is evident, and I hoped in my heart that the money spent in the little town helped those who looked less fortunate.

Our last day included breakfast (If I could have bought the bread back home, believe me, I would have…. I seriously considered stuffing my purse with it!) As it was I had two pieces of toast and then two pieces of french toast for breakfast… my syanara (sp!) to bread for a while – with memories I’ll cherish… After breakfast we gathered our luggage, got back on the boat, arrived at the dock to meet our bus, then stopped for lunch before arriving back in San Jose.

What a trip. What an incredible geographic and biological education. It was all busy and interesting enough to keep all of us entertained. Not expensive at all for the value received. Highly recommended. I’ll leave you with this last happy picture:

Fantastic Fun at Tortuguera!

Fantastic Fun at Tortuguera!

Recent Granada Nicaragua Visa Run…

Well friends, time for the big update on my recent Visa Run to Grenada, Nicaragua. It was SO much easier than the Panama border because I took Tica Bus who pretty much manages most of the process.

Nice, comfortable bus for an 8 to 9 hour ride.... brutal...

Nice, comfortable bus for an 8 to 9 hour ride…. brutal…

I took the tourist bus leaving San Jose at 12:30 in the afternoon. We arrived at the Nicaragua border about 5 pm. We got off the bus and into a line that included only those of us on the bus. I was sent immediately to the front of the line because I was obviously an older woman… the elderly are respected here in Latin America, and while it’s not fun being reminded that you are old, it is very nice to be given that type of respect. At any rate, I was stamped out of Costa Rica and back in my seat on the bus within three minutes. Next we were taken to the Nicaraguan side. Before we disembarked from the bus, we all gave our Visas plus the entrance fee to the driver who took them into the Nicaraguan Migracion office for stamping. While we waited for him we took all of our luggage and put it on a long table to be gone through by Migracion officials. There were many men at the door to the bus as we left it asking if we wanted help with our luggage. These guys would move your luggage to the table and back to the bus for a fee. There were also money changers there to exchange different denominations for a price. This part was the longest time spent waiting for the driver to get back with our paperwork. We probably waited close to an hour. When he returned he called out the name on the paperwork and each person retrieved theirs and re-entered the bus. This process was wonderful because we didn’t have to walk the long way between these two areas and we were in good hands. Since I don’t have very operable Spanish at this time, it was easy to simply follow the leader and carry on. Next stop: Granada, which took another hour and a half.

I stayed at La Islita Boutique Hotel, laislita.com,  located 2.5 blocks from the main tourist avenue loaded with restaurants, hotels and various types of stores, adjacent to the Cathedral Main Square.

La Islita Reception

La Islita Reception

This is a beautiful colonial hotel, as are many in Granada, built around a huge Mango tree. There are only 8 beautiful and spacious rooms. The rate includes a fantastic and bountiful breakfast. There are many hostels as well as hotels and if you do your research you can find some real deals. My decision to stay at La Islita was totally positive as it totally made me feel safe and secure. All the people working there were helpful about where to go and which tour company to use and where to eat. They don’t use the term “Boutique” loosely either. The entire place was an exquisite treat. Exploring was easy since Granada is not that large a city. The first morning I went for a walk at 6am and had a few surprises …  one of which was the kids sleeping in the middle of the street. I’m not talking adolescents, either. These were kids of 8 to 10 years of age. I don’t know the story there, but I did know that there would be quite a bit of begging and assumed these children were part of that scene. There were guards stationed all around the parks and tourist areas so I didn’t worry too much about them and continued wandering.  The main surprise for me was the colonial nature of the city -  it’s breathtaking; really amazing to glance into open front doors and see lush interior gardens. And the sidewalks are tiled beautifully as well.  At night there were many people who moved their chairs outside onto the sidewalks to catch a breeze. The temperature was pretty similar to Heredia and sometimes Alajuela, Costa Rica – probably hovered around the mid-80′s with humidity that had you swimming in your clothes at 9am. But. There are breezes off Lake Nicaragua that lighten that load pretty regularly, plus La Islita had a/c in the rooms and that helped. I can tell you that that humidity was not at all helpful to me when shopping for underwear I had forgotten to pack for the trip…. it was torture, but there were stores like Ropa Americana (new or second hand clothing from the US) that can be found along the street adjacent to the Central Market.

I found most of the information I needed for this trip at wikitravel.org/en/Granada_(Nicaragua). 

Places I shopped that I can heartily recommend include:

Soy Nica for leather goods – facebook.com/soynica.dk

and, Ole’ Ole’ for unusual pieces of art, clothing, ceramics, and furniture. Other wonderful finds included La Calzada Centro de Arte, where an expat teaches one on one art classes of all levels in an open studio adjacent to a restaurant. You can find her at: nicaragua-art.com. She provides canvases at cost plus lets you use the paints and brushes. Nice place. She’s a very generous person who really believes everyone should discover their inner artist and invite them to come out to play!

I went to three eateries while there: El Zaguen which serves the most mouthwatering, tender steak you’ll ever have; El Camello which has tremendous art and really good food and is only a block from La Islita; and Don Carlos Pizza which I was very happy with, located on the main tourist plaza.

El Camello Mediterranean restaurant one and a half blocks from La Islita Hotel... my go to place for late lunch/early dinner. Good prices and the food is marvelous.

El Camello Mediterranean restaurant one and a half blocks from La Islita Hotel… my go to place for late lunch/early dinner. Good prices and the food is marvelous.

I went on one tour to Masaya Volcano through Tierra Tours tierratour.com. It was about a 4 hour tour that included going through the Interpretive Center, arriving at the edge of the crater, then traveling to the  city of Masaya where we walked around and shopped at the Old Central Market, then off to a community center in an adjacent village where ceramic pots are made. It’s a fantastic place and was the highlight of the tour for me. The government supports the center and kids from the very impoverished community are encouraged to learn how to build these ceramics – from helping to gather the clay(s) of various colors – no artificial substances whatsoever – to learning to throw and bake the pots in the same way their ancestors did hundreds of years ago.

One afternoon was spent lazing by the pool here:

$7 for a day pass to hang out around and in the pool at Hotel Granada.

$7 for a day pass to hang out around and in the pool at Hotel Granada.

A final plug for Seeing Hands Blind Massage, located on that main tourist thoroughfare across from the blue school in Euro Cafe. The cost is very inexpensive for the professionalism and incredible work they do. I had one guy give me a massage for three days in a row – no, not really – just one hour-long massage on three consecutive days. Wow, WHEW, now that’s a kind of therapy I hadn’t expected and the breakthroughs for me emotionally were really powerful. Highly recommended. Fantastic service for those folks who learn to be practitioners of the art and really understand the body. I’ll go back to Granada just for massage!

After three nights and four days it was time to go back to San Jose. This time I left on the early bus, and this is what we bussed into:

No kidding folks... it's a busy border and this pic doesn't show you the line of people who are surrounding a large block waiting to get to this point.

No kidding folks… it’s a busy border and this pic doesn’t show you the line of people who are surrounding a large block waiting to get to this point.

First, the bus driver gathered all of our Visas as before, along with the price of departure, and we waited for his return to call out our names and re-board the bus to the Costa Rican Migracion building. The picture above is very close to what was actually waiting for us there. So many people I was disheartened. Since I’m considered an elder, I was again placed in the line for pregnant women, children and their parents along with us old folks. The Agent at the Costa Rican window wanted to see a departure from Costa Rica ticket – he didn’t say what kind of ticket, whether it was bus or plane. I had a plane ticket (make sure there are dates on your copy) and that appeased him. I noticed on the paperwork that it was asked if you’d been out of Costa Rica for three days. I hadn’t noticed that on previous border crossings. After he gave me my 90-day stamp I was processed out into an airline-like area where a big machine xrayed everything I was carrying. There were five militia guys surrounding a table next to where the baggage came out of the machine but cuz of my age and guilelessness I guess, I wasn’t asked to give up my baggage for review, so that was the end of that process. I did get through the entry more quickly because I was older, but then had to wait more than a couple of hours for those others on our bus who had to go to the end of the line at least a block away.

The trip to Granada was about the same amount of time on the bus both ways, but the process at the border crossing was much smoother and well organized then what I’d experienced at the border with Panama. And I enjoyed Granada so incredibly much more than I did in David or Boquete, Panama. I’ll definitely be a regular on this trip with Tica Bus to Granada!

Beware Poisonous Caterpillars in Costa Rica…

Crapola to the max, man…. I didn’t shake out the clothes on the line before bringing them into the house…

This is what died a month ago inside one of my blouses:

A poisonous caterpillar in Costa Rica

A poisonous caterpillar in Costa Rica

And this is what happenned when I put the blouse on without realizing there was a dead poisonous caterpillar inside the arm of the blouse…

Results of a poisonous caterpillar encounter

Results of a poisonous caterpillar encounter

The results are insidious… what started out as a major ‘ouchie’ cuz of the quills embedded in my skin, ended up continuing to move around my body with results akin to the above. Not pretty, certainly, and itchy painful besides. It happened yesterday afternoon and the pic above was taken this morning… it’s now 24 hours later from the event and I’m experiencing small blisters and peeling skin all over just this one side of my body… this is one of the things that you ‘learn’ and isn’t in any of the books I’ve read about Costa Rica… The lesson: keep away from spiny looking caterpillars! Jeesh. They’re pretty, but trechorous (sp)!

 

And You Thot All Recipes Were Created Equal…

Recipe_Box_LgThere are all kinds of recipes – for food, for life, for fun, for focus, for the heart…

I’ve come across a couple of opportunities recently where I’ve used different interpretations to reflect it’s meaning….

The first thing that comes to mind probably for most of us of course, is food…

So, here’s a food recipe for you that will tickle your taste buds. You can eat this salad as a side, put it between two pieces of buttered baguette, or add snap peas, walnuts and edamame, which is my favorite iteration… here’s a pic, you can find the recipe at: http://www.yummly.com/recipe/external/Carrot-salad-with-balsamic-dressing-323350

carrotswithbalsamic

The next iteration of the word ‘recipe’ is one that tickled my funny bone… and could be entitled ‘A Recipe For Bewilderment’

EvangelineonKuntaAnd, hopefully not ‘A Recipe For Disaster!’

Thirdly, there is the amalgam of experience that could be encapsulated as a ‘Recipe For The Heart.’ This type of experience has often looked like this for me:

recipeurduTrying to decipher this part of my life has been mystifying cuz I’m not all that traditional by nature and certainly not by inclination… a 60′s kinda gal, independent. Walking into my house is like being inside a kaleidoscope. My house isn’t quite the Volkswagen traveling bus of those good ole days, but parts of those days still reside for me… I still miss Jim Morrison of The Doors… I enjoyed the Age of Aquarius. I continue to be a bit (LOL!) of an anarchist with sprinklings of the mystic. So there hasn’t been alot of room in me to consider compromising any portion of my identity assumed as a bra-burning radical of that age. Imagine my attempt to acquit myself successfully in a prim apron. It never happened for me.. I never crossed that divide… Until I moved to Costa Rica, and discovered ….  a recipe for family…

3musketeersWhich has subsequently relaxed my vigilance in support of anarchy, and opened up possibilities for so many more iterations of sharing and community that had been outside of my experience. The raw sensuousness of this country of Costa Rica is evidenced in so many subtle (well, yeah, sometimes not so subtle) ways here. The way people dress (or don’t). The way people honor and respect nature. The way laughter drifts through the mountains on Saturday nights… or the sound of construction workers singing while they’re putting up a house.. In so many ways the closeness, the unconditional play amongst generational family gatherings.  Just sitting in the park and watching dads playing hide and seek with their kids – so much authentic joy… it’s all just melted the emotional defenses I’d utilized while in the US to protect my need to be separate. It’s pretty impossible to be separate here. It’s a small country and it’s a different kind of lack of privacy. It’s about community here. It seems the Costa Rican recipe for joy and meaning lies within the family.

As a woman living in a fairly small tico community I am known as a loca gringa due to my single status. I’ve been here for almost two years and even the taxi drivers and the girls in the bakery ask me why I continue to be alone… How can you live without love? How can you sleep alone at night? Initially I felt kinda insulted, but the longer I’ve experienced this culture, the more I understand where these friendly questions come from. The warmth, the joy, the relaxed atmosphere got me…

recipeinspired to consider the possibility that sharing might be an adventure I’d enjoy, a far horizon I just might achieve.

 

So I decided to welcome the possibility of a …

recipeforlove

into my life… and met an Aquarian of the Aquarian Age!

 

A tall Viking-looking guy who could easily grace the cover of a romance novel. While I’m not sure at this point if he’s a marauder looking for hostages, or a friendly guy looking for a companion, the fact that this culture has melted my defenses to this reality of potential enjoyment is something akin to miraculous. And I have Costa Rica, it’s people, and my family to thank.

So… I leave you a final Recipe, and a wish for each of you reading this – that you find your heart filled with more and more love.

recipehood

 

 

Incredible Transitions… these traditional gatherings in Costa Rica

fireworksNew Year’s Eve was an incredible, touching, noisy, loving surprise this year… My past year has been one of firsts, of understanding more and more of the traditions of this culture and the incredible personal awakenings shared with family and within my relationship with myself.

I’ve been caught up in ‘observation’ mode since I arrived here in Costa Rica: learning about the culture; learning about what family is really all about; learning, watching and participating in a new life; and welcoming and assimilating the many differences I’m glad/happy to adjust to here in this new country.

Last night – New Year’s Eve – I experienced the lastest traditional family gathering ritual. Family sharing a meal, children racing around, fireworks going off as if we were in the middle of a war zone… the dogs yelping and running in and out of the house for safety…while each adult opened their heart. This tradition was new to me. I hadn’t heard about this and I wasn’t prepared for the emotional tension. The very visceral nature of each person’s soliliquey  about what the past year with each person around the dinner table meant to them was powerful. I had a choice to ‘observe’ or to participate. Empathy moved in quickly. Participation followed.

Person after person held the floor. Person after person simply opened up their heart and threw it up all over the table as a gift for the family ‘song.’ Hurts, challenges, delights, thankfulness were revealed one by one around that table – each  shared how they were impacted and had grown this past year through their relationship with each of the others sitting there. By the time the 3rd person began their story, I was holding back sobs. This kind of authenticity overcame any resistance I had left to bonding with this family.

The previous New Year celebration I’d begged off attending, and instead spent it alone in the mountains listening to the fireworks as if they were popping popcorn. This year I sat in the midst of brutal, cleansing honesty without shame, sitting around a table of people who respected, loved, admired, had issues with, and truly loved one another. As if we were a fire lit to warm one another.

The Latest…

Sorry this is so late… I’ve been off-schedule due to preparation for an Art Bazaar in Atenas last Saturday… busy, busy! It was my first Sale and it was so successful I feel replete! Excited! Good affirmation for a time-consuming hobby/passion. I’m doing new art as well of indigenous flora and fauna. Here’s some pictures:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s beginning to be summer now. The rain is slacking off and the humidity is rising.  For me that means naps in the afternoon at the peak of the heat, or at least doing anything that involves not moving. One of the wonderful attributes of this change in climate are the incredible and large flowers:

Ginger something flower at least 6' tall in my yard.

Ginger something flower at least 6′ tall in my yard.

And here’s a pic of the incredible hydrangeas that I call ‘Sisters.’ With Evangeline at 8 months.

How large are hydrangeas in Costa Rica? BIG!

How large are hydrangeas in Costa Rica? BIG!

This coming weekend is Lorelei’s First Communion – a HUGE event here in Costa Rica. The tradition, of course, involves a very decorative party afterwards, with gifts of money to her. Should be fun and very colorful. More pictures on that and information on the tradition next week!