Category Archives: Life in Costa Rica

The Latest Greatest Granada Visa Run…

What a trip! Literally and in every way the easiest, smoothest, most relaxing Visa Run in 3.5 years. I always take Ticabus from downtown San Jose, Costa Rica because they take care of most of the border details when arriving or departing Nicaragua.

Changes at the border:
Before I get carried away with my enthusiastic response to this trip while in Granada, let me tell you that the Frontera has changed, physically. The Costa Rican entry/exit building is still there although the cafeteria is closed now. The Nicaraguan side has changed substantially. In the past the bus would pull up to a structure where all your carry on and stored under the bus bags were checked, and close by this structure was a middle covered area where vendors sold all kinds of things, including food. There was a separate building to the side with a Customs store where you could buy alcohol and other non-taxed items. And further beyond that middle vendor area another building with offices, an atm machine and a bathroom area. Not any more… That middle vendor area part has been remodeled into offices. The structure where bags were checked is now remodeled with a new roof and an adjacent new building of offices.

The building you pull up to on the Nica side now has an xray machine to check your bags inside at the back of the building. The area surrounding the parking for buses and private vehicles has also been set up with an organized area of vendors under cover, altho the sides are totally open. Some of the food vendors have tables and chairs under the awnings – a kind of little restaurant, if you will. There are covered areas under shade for standing while waiting for the Nica officials to stamp your passport, too, so you don’t have to stand in the sun. The wait certainly hasn’t changed…. Taking the 12:30 pm bus out of San Jose, we arrived around 6:30 pm and went through the entire border process in less than an hour; however, returning on the 7 am bus out of Grenada, our wait was almost two hours (which is darn good in comparison to past trips).

Why I loved this Visa Run specifically:
I usually stay in this area of downtown Grenada… it’s the Calzada.

photo credit: jenniferslifeinnicaragua.wordpress.com

photo credit: jenniferslifeinnicaragua.wordpress.com

This time I stayed half a block from here:

photo credit: tastingthewaves.wordpress.com

photo credit: tastingthewaves.wordpress.com

photo credit: gopixpic.com

photo credit: gopixpic.com

Through many requests that jumped from word of mouth and FB questions for a new place that was less expensive and had air conditioning (something I wouldn’t visit without as it’s very hot in Nicaragua) for less than $40,

I landed in a family home that rents out six rooms. One of those rooms has a/c. Yippee!

You walk into their entryway, which includes the living room:

RoomsforRentLivingRoom

 

I was greeted by Martin Morales, who is one of the son’s living there with their mother. They live in the front portion of the house and the rooms for rent are in the back of the house (Rooms For Rent on Facebook).  I paid $20/night for a clean room with private bath and a/c, cable tv and a comfortably servicible bed. But I got alot more for my buck here because Martin walked me around the neighborhood showing me good places to eat ($2 a meal) as well as telling me the best ways to travel and lounge by the lagoon and where to really shop for deals in Masaya (NOT the tourist market).

RoomsforRent

Don’t get me wrong. This was not a typical touristy place. This was a Nicaraguan family’s old, old, home. Well worn but clean. Usually they rent out their rooms by the week, but sometimes you can get lucky and get a room in-between those longer-term rentals.

Expenses: 
Ticabus: $78 round trip plus one other ticket out of Costa Rica within three months that you need to show when you are returning at the end of your trip.
Hotel:  $40 for 2 nights (I’m excluding the tip I gave Martin)
Food:  $6 total for 1 breakfast and 2 late lunches
Taxi:  $3 from Ticabus to Martin’s place cuz it was 8:30pm; otherwise I would have walked since it’s only about half a mile
Taxes: $27 total, including $9 for Ticabus/Costa Rica travel tax, and $14 entry Nica tax, and $4 departure Nica tax
Misc:  $20 spent at the border for water, nuts and candies, plus a postre and water on the bus home
Total Expenses:  $174
Quite a big difference from my past experiences staying close to the touristy center of town and the Calzada, where my expenses were between $350-$400, depending on which hotel I chose.

Interesting Gossip Gleaned in Misc Conversations:
… Regarding the new canal – Nicaragua does not have the machines necessary to move the earth and seas, so where are they going to get them? Through the Panama Canal (?) and then transported overland to Nicaragua? Just a question.
… Salaries at the Frontera are $2 a day. Not an hour. A day. I’m assuming part of the reason it takes so long for the Nica side to stamp your Visa is because 1) there’s no incentive to work very hard; and 2) it gives the vendors time to make more money than they would if the paperwork were expeditiously processed.
… Monthly salary for a call center dual language employee is $500, and I was told that was a REALLY GOOD income in Nicaragua.
… Taxis are actually licensed to charge 40 cordobas for a one way trip in Granada center, and 20 cordobas elsewhere one way in the city proper. The exchange rate right now is 27 cordobas to $1. In the past the taxis I’ve taken from Ticabus at night to my hotels charged me anywhere from 300 to 500 cordobas…. just sayin … negotiate from the instant you make eye contact.
… The border system is changing in Nicaragua to accommodate more trucks, cars and buses through separate areas in response to the new border up north, near Los Chiles. When Costa Rica gets it’s act together and formalizes it’s presence there (it’s in a construction trailer now; while the Nicaraguan side has formal offices) most big trucks will use that border as it’s a shorter trip  from the Limon port, instead of travelling the long way through Guanacaste to the Penas Blancas border. This ultimately is going to make the border runs a smoother operation… that’s what they say anyway… hope it’s true.

So, I had a wonderful time in Granada thanks to my host Martin Morales. Check out  his FB page, and consider utilizing his services as a Guide, Translator and as a person on the ground there with excellent English and understanding of the City, the country and cultural aspects of Nicaragua.

 

 

Coming and Going…. Playa Hermosa de Jaco

comingandgoing

 

Wow! I’ve spent the last three years going on day trips to Jaco (last week was my 3-year anniversary, thank you very much) because it was so simple to take the bus there and back for day trips. Well, I’ve got news for you… it’s just as simple (about $12 more with a cab back and forth from Jaco) to go to Playa Hermosa just down the beach.

A friend mentioned to me that it was now possible to buy and reserve bus tickets to Jaco online, so i tried it out and it was pretty easy, although since I don’t have a printer I needed to ask a friend to print them out for me. (transportesjacoruta655.com) The site is only in Spanish but pretty easy to follow the instructions. Use Google Translate if you want language support. You just hand the Jaco bus driver your printed tickets when you board at the Coca Cola Bus Terminal and all is well.

hermosatortugafrontbeach

Having never been to Playa  Hermosa, I was totally shocked, amazed and delighted at this little hamlet of Costa Rican loveliness. I just assumed all beaches here were as commercial as Jaco… not. A friend and I stayed at the Playa Hermosa Tortuga Hotel (tortugadelmar.net), a small 8-unit hotel with pool, a nice hammock, chairs almost immediately on the beach to either watch the surfers and large waves or to relax after long sets if you’re a surfer, and rooms equipped with small kitchen items (coffee maker, microwave, small fridge, eating bar, and all the dishes necessary to use when heating up leftovers from nearby hotel restaurants).

tortugawavestortugabalony

 

 

 

tortugapoolbeach

 

tortugahotel

 

 

 

 

There aren’t that many places to stay down by the beach, but they all look very nice and are about the same price. There was one beautiful place at the far north section of the beach that seemed to be primarily Ticos (Marea Brava … mareabravacostarica.com) that has two pools and about five buildings that is quite impressive and very family friendly. I’ll definitely consider staying here with family in the future. We ate at three different restaurants there and were pleased with the food and the service at each one. It was a blast to be sitting by ourselves watching the recent  Heredia and Alajuela match over dinner, surrounded by Europeans and/or gringos who could care less. We and the servers/cooks/security people were on our own and clashing with a fun rivalry. A nice night out for the really private stay-at-home person I am.

If you are a bus and taxi cab person, this is an easy getaway. I’ll continue to shop in Jaco, but for overnight trips and a quiet day under the palms, I’m definitely going to Playa Hermosa from now on.

tortugafronte

A Busy End To Summer Break…

vistaserena

I know for most of you North Americanos there’s alot of head scratching goin on with the title of this blog. The summer school break here in Costa Rica begins around the third week of November and ends next week. The time off of babysitting has flown by. I’ll be able to extend it, though, by connecting with friends who are visiting, and I’ll actually be acting as a tourist myself.

My first visit will be with friends from my last job in North America. They’re staying at the Los Suenos Marriot, located on the central pacific…

sjols_phototour124

As you can see, they won’t be suffering too much. It’s one of the premier 5 star resorts in the country.

Then, a couple of days later a friend arrives and we have a week of scheduled touristy delights to savor.. first stop: double decker bus tour of downtown San Jose…

San_Jose-Costa_Rica

I’m really looking forward to jumping on and off the bus during the day to see sights I haven’t gotten to yet, plus share those that I love… here’s one I haven’t been to: The Jade Museum, which is supposed to have the world’s largest collection of jade objects.

jade-museum-costa-rica

The next day is devoted to the LaPaz Waterfall Gardens, where we’ll see seven different large waterfalls, butterfly gardens, hold toucans and hummingbirds, and get alot of strenuous hill climbing back up the hill.

banner-lapaz01

Third day we’ll take a 4-hour bus trip to Manuel Antonio where the beaches in the park are supposed to be the most beautiful and clean in the country:

Manuel-Antonio-National-Park-Costa-Rica-11

The park is located at a particular geographic area called The Whales Tail:

Manuel-Antonio-Park

Fourth day we’ll begin our trek back home, stopping in Jaco for one night so my friend can go out and listen to live music and hang with the locals:

jaco_4

I can hardly wait to finally begin my time as a tourist in this beautiful country. So much of these past (almost) three years have been spent settling in, really. Every three months until I get my residency I’ve been on Visa Runs (leaving the country for Panama or Nicaragua) in order to receive another 3 month stamp. So, these Runs have been my opportunity to see a little bit of the country up until now…. and to get acquainted a bit with those two other countries as well (my fave is Nica land). If it weren’t for my familia here

favefamilia

and the opportunity to babysit my lovely granddaughters, I wouldn’t be as grounded as I’ve become… grounded enough to allow myself to be a tourist!

Some butterflies are gray…

graybutterfly

And although they are gray, they are as incredibly beautiful as those extremely colorful ones you see most often… this is a beautifully captured photo from Tom Murray I found at: http://www.pbase.com/tmurray74.

So…. haven’t been online with my blog for almost a year… and as I look back on the ‘why’s’ of that a gray butterfly came to mind. I wasn’t as vivacious, as motivated to communicate with others as I was with myself. But, it’s all good, right? Turns out that way every time… I moved three times within this last year and that plumb wore me out! And in each place I didn’t have a reliable internet connection…. but… NOW I DO!!!! Yippee, I’m Back!

I’ve been to central markets (centro mercados) where you could find almost anything you were looking for. Every mid-sized town has an indoor mercado where the fruits and veggies are enticing and endless:

centromercadoveggies

 

And to outdoor markets, called Ferias, where the focus on organic is paramount:

feria-verde-de-aranjuez

I’ve been on Visa Runs to Grenada Nicaragua four times and let me tell you, I enjoy it there much more than Panama, although it’s just as hot, if not hotter.

So, I’ve been busy expanding my horizons, but primarily my time has been spent babysitting my youngest granddaughter who is an absolute pistol, and experiencing the elder granddaughter emerge with her hormones and all that jazz that accompanies a young lady developing… yikes galore! Still, throughout all this downtime I’ve had from you faithful friends, I continue to live in a small barrio with roads like this:

santabarbararoad

And vistas like this everywhere:

barva

I continue to love this country every single day and wake up at 5:30 am, after most ticos have awakened, to watch the sun fill the valley behind my apartment, and the cows being delivered for the day to chomp down the chaff therein.

One of the reasons I think I’ve had this downtime was to discover a little knack for painting… purely whimsical representations:

pineappleposter14birdposter14butterflyposter14

And to develop a deeper relationship and understanding of my Journey process, of which you can find more information here.

So, I’m alive and very well and living in a 3-bedroom typical tico apartment two blocks from my kids and on the main drag between barrios, with a store next door and a Cafe Britt Outlet store across the street…. room for you to stay a coupla days… so, come on down and I’ll show you around! More to come…

 

Staying Busy in Costa Rica – Coffee Coasters

There’s alot of time on your hands when you retire, so finding a hobby or an activity that not only fills up the time but can actually feel like time doesn’t exist when you are doing it is imperative. I create coffee coasters.

Finished coasters

Finished coasters

A couple of people have asked how to make them, so today I’m sharing a step by step tutorial.

Supplies: poster board, paints, brushes, straight edge, ruler and lotsa patience

I use both tempera and acrylic paints

I use both tempera and acrylic paints

You will need a straight edge, ruler, a sized template for final product

You will need a straight edge, ruler, a sized template for final product

To get started, you need to paint the poster board, deciding whether you want a plain background or a colorful one. I do a colorful one, allowing the paint to thoroughly dry between each layer. I also use sponge brushes for this initial process, doing up to six layers of different colors.

In progress, this medium sized poster board has 4 layers of colors, but more to come.

In progress, this medium sized poster board has 4 layers of colors, but more to come.

Once the paint gets to where you want the background to be and it is totally dry, you’ll cut the poster board into strips, and then into individual coasters.

Here I'm showing you how a finished coaster is used to line up the ruler to cut a strip of painted poster board. Since these are handmade there are going to be some differences in final sizes.

Here I’m showing you how a finished coaster is used to line up the ruler to cut a strip of painted poster board. Since these are handmade there are going to be some differences in final sizes.

Use your primary template to line up your ruler, then very intentionally and with great concentration use the straight edge to cut a strip of poster board from the main painted piece. You then cut each individual coaster from that strip.

Use your primary template to line up your ruler, then very intentionally and with great concentration use the straight edge to cut a strip of poster board from the main painted piece. You then cut each individual coaster from that strip.

Determine now if you are ready to waterproof each coaster, or go onto the next step, which is drawing/tracing images onto each one.

Trace the outline of your image onto the backside of a cold cereal box and then cut it out and use a permanent marker around the edges.

Trace the outline of your image onto the backside of a cold cereal box and then cut it out and use a permanent marker around the edges on the coaster.

Use carbon paper to trace the images onto your coaster if your background is light enough or just one color.

Or use carbon paper to trace the images onto your coaster if your background is light enough or just one color.

Use your cardboard cutout and a permanent marker to outline the image.

Use your cardboard cutout and a permanent marker to outline the image.

This is your traced butterfly ready for decorating.

This is your traced butterfly ready for decorating.

Decorating the traced object is fun for me – and just like decorating Christmas Cookies, there are never two that turn out the same.

To finish the coasters I use the sponge brush again to paint around the coaster to give the illusion of a frame. Then I use a large brush to cover one side and then the other with polyurethane to waterproof them. Be sure and let them really, really dry at this point. You’re done! Be sure and look for my coasters in the Tico Pod Art Store when you’re next in Jaco!

A River Home in Costa Rica

Looking upriver from the vantage point immediately below my house.

Looking upriver from the vantage point immediately below my house.

Living in Costa Rica is a marvelous experience for many reasons, but for me the primary one is living with nature. I began by living on a farm on a mountain above a small town… pretty close to  my son and his family. That I had family here was a bonus for me and allowed my introduction to the Tico culture and the neighborhood/barrio I was living in a  smoother transition than for those who move here without a connection. Reputation, especially family reputation, has huge importance in this culture. Aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone is interconnected here, so just mentioning a name of someone leads to understanding which family you are from and, thus, who you are. It’s a valuable commodity. I bring up this type of connection because when those moving to this country don’t have family here, the creation of a network within the Tico community has to be dealt with consciously to ensure a comfortable living – and eventually a comfortable place to live. Getting close to the land within a Tico community is difficult without a viable network working on your behalf.

So, here is where I’m living after 2 years on the farm:

View of the front of my house from the river.

View of the front of my house from the river.

When I first moved to Costa Rica, I was lucky enough to find a place on craigslist.org and it worked out as I became acquainted with this new retirement lifestyle. I’d never envisioned living within another neighborhood where English was the primary language; the difference in cultures was alot of what drew me here (not to mention the inability to live on social security in the US or the fact that my son and his family lived here). What endears me to Costa Rica are 1) the people and 2) their connection to the Earth. There’s a respect here that is new to me between those that live with the land instead of on it.

It’s now the rainy season, and by that I mean monsooning every afternoon, so the river is roaring, swollen and loud…

This after days of monsoons... usually the water doesn't reach half the width seen here.

This after days of monsoons… usually the water doesn’t reach half the width seen here.

 

But one of the delights of living above or close to a river is the sound. It’s not white noise. Rivers have their own language, too. Their wildness and unrestrained movements are fascinating to sit and watch. And the birds! So many different types around a river. One day as I was having my morning coffee a young deer wandered into the property. A little later a hawk came charging right at my head through the trees with a baby bird in it’s claws, screeching at the mother bird hazing it from behind. And there are mot mot’s living just a bit of a drop from where I sit with my coffee, so I get to watch their blue and green feathers flitting through the forest most of the day. This is a very special place, and I wouldn’t be living here if it weren’t for the 2 years spent establishing myself in this community. I feel those 2 years were kind of like an initiation, a time during which I was observed and accepted.

View of the living room end of my house. Notice the windows... incredible, like living outside.

View of the living room end of my house. Notice the windows… incredible, like living outside.

So, I feel that I’ve earned this place. I feel that I’m living among the trees and birds and the river life. Living in a house close to the water like this is not all roses, though. Everything, even my clothes, are damp. I have to sweep and mop the floors every day because of the wind and walking in all kinds of detrius from the trees and grounds. It’s a bit moldy and there are bugs galore all day and especially at night around the lights even in the house because the house is old and not as plumb around the windows and doors as I’ve been used to… and there is wildlife that lives and then dies all around me. Squirrels who use an adjacent limb as a diving board to land on my tin roof, possums climbing over the roof at night moving from one set of trees to another, ants that are simply incessantly into everything. And then this:

Don't know if it's dead or resting and haven't had the guts to go back and see if it's still there or has slithered to parts unknown, hopefully not my yard..... the door is closed just in case!

Don’t know if it’s dead or resting and haven’t had the guts to go back and see if it’s still there or has slithered to parts unknown, hopefully not my yard….. the door is closed just in case!

It did turn out to be actually dead, so soon the vultures will gather and we’ll have a hellovatime keeping the dogs away from the carcass as well. But it’s all about the nature, the life of which includes so many wonderful surprises and mysteries and glowing fairy lights at night.

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.