Category Archives: Living Abroad

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.

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Visa Run to Panama… The Latest Info

pasocanoas3Just got back from a Visa Run and wanted to update the experience for those who are facing this experience in the near future… for, as you know, things change quickly here in Costa Rica and the border experience is a fine example of this core ingredient of living in a 3rd World Country…

The experience of getting your Visa stamped for you next set of 90 days while waiting for your Residency application to be accepted can be as chaotic as this photo!

I take a Tracopa bus out of San Jose at 7:30 am. It stops for five minutes for a potty break after about an hour, then continues on the new highway to Uvita where there’s a stop for half an hour for lunch. Uvita is the half way point of the trip – at about 4 hours. The country is astoundingly beautiful, the bus ride comfortable and usually quiet, and the weather increasingly warm to incredibly humid and warm the closer to Panama you get. Just saying… you might need a sweatshirt to start out in the morning, but by the time you hit the Frontera you’ll need a very light weight t-shirt or sleeveless shirt. Probably it will be raining or threatening to rain when you reach the border, so an umbrella is never a bad idea to carry during the rainy season, April through November.

The bus will drop you off at the Costa Rica border office where you will check out of the country – so look for the Costa Rica Departure window. If you have baggage being stored under the bus, it will be unloaded down the street a couple of blocks adjacent to the Panama Entry area. If you have taken your luggage with you on the bus, be sure and take it with you when you get off the bus.

The Costa Rica border office will want your Visa and the piece of paper the driver gives you to fill out. Behind this office there are bathrooms which cost 200 colones (be sure and get toilet paper when you pay!). Once you’ve been stamped on the Costa Rica side, you have to walk down a couple of blocks to the Panama Entry office for additional stamps. The place you are looking for is beyond this rounded welcome edifice. In the next photo you’ll see a bank of windows and when you enter Panama you use the right hand side windows.

pasocanoas4You’ll need your Visa again, plus an ATM statement from that morning before you left San Jose with your bank balance showing at least a $500 balance, PLUS proof of a flight out of Panama or Costa Rica to your home country. Make sure that your copy of the airline ticket has precise dates on it. I was lucky that the Panama agent accepted  my copy because as it turned out the printed email didn’t have the year on it anywhere…

pasocanoas1 This picture shows that bank of windows where you need to check into Panama – the ones on the right. The windows on the left are where you begin your re-entry into Costa Rica on the way back home.

Once you’ve gotten through these lines, you’ll be asked to fill out another form and proceed into the room in the rounded edifice as pictured above in order for officials to go through your luggage, and perhaps have a dog come in and sniff all the bags for drugs. As all of these steps are completed, the Tracopa bus will be waiting outside to restore your baggage to the undercarriage of the bus. Upon leaving the Frontera/Border your bus might be borded by more police with another check of your Visa. It seems they are looking for someone in particular at these times as their attention to your face is particularly important in their pass through with all the passengers.

granhotel1And, now for me, it was on to David, Panama – another hour south – to spend a couple of days at The Gran Hotel Nacional. My plan was to do some shopping as the prices there and at the border are infintesimal compared to Costa Rica. The hotel is beautiful, considered a 5-star there in David. It probably is one of two of the best hotels for amenities there. A huge pool that is hardly used, three restaurants, and elegant rooms. I was quite happy there and felt absolutely pampered.

granhotelroomThe first of the restaurants is the Cafeteria where breakfast and lunch are served. Be advised that their coffee is much like cream soup… you’ll need the condensed milk and sugar! Their food is fantastic; but I must say that I enjoyed the lunch the most. Meats are prepared by a chef and the rest of the choices are great. Breakfast is pretty much predictable but nice – and included in the price (which was $95 for a standard room).

granhotelcafeteriagranhotelpoolThe second of the restaurants is Italian. I was most interested in eating meat on this trip because the meat in Costa Rica is not what I was used to in the states… so here in the Italian place I ordered a filet mignon. My meal was delivered with gravy made from the drippings of the steak, which was wonderful. I enjoyed it, but can’t say I was ecstatic.  A pleasant enough meal. The third restaurant was BBQ and I ordered a t-bone steak which was cooked to my specifications and came with a baked potato and corn. Was delicious. But now let’s talk about the dessert… I ordered chocolate ice cream thinking that it would be like what I received in the Italian restaurant (fudge sauce and whipped cream)… but, lol, it was quite different. It turned out to be chocolate ice cream mixed with fresh pineapple chunks, topped with four soda crackers stuck in around the top and crunched up as a topping. Have to say I laughed out loud! Was surprised to discover that the combination wasn’t bad at all. The idea of soda crackers and chocolate ice cream was beyond me, I must say…

I want to mention that as we were arriving in David I asked a seat mate who lived there where the best place to shop was because there are a couple or three malls there. She pointed me to Conway, which is where I ended up shopping and I was incredibly blown away by the prices and happy to be shopping where the locals shopped. This was for clothing, so perhaps the other malls are better suited for small electronics.

On the return trip from David to San Jose it was already blisteringly hot upon departure at 8:30 am. The process at the Frontera was markedly different in that there was a preponderance of police and customs agents checking every darn thing… they checked the bus, they opened every bag and thoroughly unpacked every item that was still in it’s original container – like a blender of all things – and the dog came and we had to go into that room after getting our Visa stamped at the Panama side, and we had to have some type of ticket at the Costa Rica window that proved we had passage out of Costa Rica within 90 days. I used an open ended Tracopa bus ticket. Everyone got different days stamped. I was lucky to get a full 90 days as my paperwork indicated I lived in Costa Rica, but there were others who got only a few to a couple of days, so be sure to check the number of days given to you!

A couple more things to assure a smooth passage through both sides of the border – smile! be patient!! don’t lose your temper!!! And have some Spanish so you can understand what they are saying to you, or asking you… if you don’t have the language, go through the line with someone behind you that does that can help you out. Oh! And don’t travel on weekends – the lines in the heat can be terribly difficult in terms of holding your temper in check… lol…

I’m going to repeat this trip in January… anyone want to join me?

 

 

 

 

 

Visa Run to Grenada, Nicaragua…

Yes, it’s almost that time again… another Visa Run this coming October to extend my stay another 90 days.  This time I’m going to Grenada, which means the Penas Blancas border, hothothothot weather, and new adventures. I’ve not been through this border before. From what I’ve heard, I better be prepared with water on hand, a hat, and lots of patience.

I’m gofrontera-penas-blancas-460x270ing to take Tica Bus there and back. Since the earliest bus is at 3am, I’ll stay at their little hotel, located above the bus station, the night before. The cost is minimal, but you get a clean room with private bathroom for only about $20, so it’s worth it!  The trip has a couple of options – one of which is Executive Class and the other Tourist Class. I’m gonna take the Exec bus because it’s faster, they stop for breakfast, have a bathroom on board, and help you through Customs… well, at least they point you in the right direction.

photo of tica bus

As you can see, the bus is plenty plush and comfortable. Sometimes, though, they have the a/c cranked up to uncomfortable levels, so as hot as you know it’s going to be in Nicaragua – no matter where you go – it’s prudent to bring a sweatshirt, at least….. some people even travel with blankets!

I found an incredible site online as I was searching for potential places to stay in Grenada…. wikitravel.org/en/Grenada_(Nicaragua). It’s a thoughtful listing of lodgings, activities, eateries and asides regarding everything Granada broken down from budget to very comfortable options.

I’ve chosen Casa San Francisco Hotel which has a Visa Run special at 3 nights for $139/single and $159/double, which is an outstanding deal for this boutique hotel.

Casa San Francisco

hotelcasasanfrancisco.com. It looks like a great spot in a great location. With a pool, a/c, cable tv, wifi, and an ambiance that feels personal, I’m really looking forward to this vacation!

A Quick Tour of Beaches…

Jaco beyond the rocky shore

Jaco beyond the rocky shore

Last weekend I went to the beach and the weather cooperated in the midst of the rainy season…. which is actually a misnomer because during the rainy or green season the world is lush and breathtaking and it usually only rains for an hour or two in the afternoons, so the mornings and late afternoons are brilliant, sparkling and not to be missed.

I’d booked a tour with my friend Roberto, who does tours all over the country. He’s a gentleman with a fantastic sense of humor and gracious sensibiilty. If you need help creating an itinerary, or a pickup from the airport and/or transfers throughout the country, you couldn’t do better. And he speaks English fluently!

Tour Captain Roberto (roberto76543@yahoo.com)

Tour Captain Roberto (roberto76543@yahoo.com)

We were supposed to meet up early and go to Quepos, but my bus connections were slower than usual so I missed the first bus, the second bus was sold out standing room only and packed to the gills, so I waited for the third bus, which got me into Jaco too late to go as far as Quepos from Jaco within the time we had. So we went to Esterillos instead…

Esterillos beach - miles of beach and no one there

Esterillos beach – miles of beach and no one there

I took the pictures in this post and if you don’t agree this is a wonderful vision, then you’re not a tropical person… Esterillos comes in three different locations, actually and this place was the first we visited. It’s MILES of beach… deserted beach. It gets really busy during countrywide vacations when Tico families arrive to camp along the beachfront, and during surfing competitions. This is a pretty good place to surf if you know what you’re doing. The breaks are long here.

Esterillos beach, looking the other way

Esterillos beach, looking the other way

With a gleam in his eyes Roberto told me he wanted to show me The Mermaid of Esterillos, a very prestigious sight as it was only second to the mermaid found in one of the Netherland countries. He was very excited to show it to me. So, we drove for about a half hour or so, taking turns onto dirt roads and climbing and descending potholed sections with chickens in the way and macaws flying overhead, parrots screeching and the smell of salt air wafting around us, and ended up here:

My first introduction to the mermaid in Osterillos

My first introduction to the mermaid in Esterillos

Roberto had gone on and on about this mermaid and how excited he was to show it to me. How important it was to the community and a sight to behold and remember forever…. and this was IT? I have to admit that my first impulse was to hit the guy for tricking me into this seeming ridiculousness, but he just didn’t get it, he was so proud of the mermaid that I just couldn’t say ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, right?’  Well…. actually I did clowningly hit him on the arm and let him know I got the joke. ‘Since we’re here, let’s take a look at the beach,’ he said, so we parked and got out of the car and turned to the beach…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd there she was.

Evidently there was a sculptor who lived with his family here in town. He sculpted out of natural rock in the location in which it was found. He was working on a huge sculpture further down the beach when one day his daughter, who was around 16 or so, died in an accident. His way of grieving and honoring her was to create this sculpture of her. Her face is distinctive as it’s a true rendition of her beauty in life. Originally it was plated in brass and filled with concrete. Very impressive and poignant.

Me with the mermaid in Esterillos.

Me with the mermaid in Esterillos .Last look at Esterillos before going back up north to Herradura and Los Suenos Resort:

Where's the pilot?

Where’s the pilot?

Although the beach had lots of beautiful white sand, it was pocked with tidepools and rocky outcroppings easily walked along. Many hermit crabs and plant life and little fishes in the tide pools. There was even one large enough to accommodate a family who was using it like a swimming pool… which it was. The beauty of this part of the coast was incredible. The little burgs adjacent to the ocean were very very low key. But remember, these two spots were rural compared to the third Esterillos that had many hotels, bars and restaurants. We were in Esterillos West (I think… might have been East) and Esterillos Center.

Next we went to Los Suenos Resort and let me tell ya, it was a resort you could find almost anywhere in the world. It was put together like a village and was on rolling hills that went right into the bay. Very picturesque, very populated with wealthy people. Everything was top notch looking, including the harbor which catered to many many largish boats with on-board captains who saw their owners a couple of times a year… what a life, huh?

Los Suenos Harbor

Los Suenos Harbor

And then to Herradura Beach, which is on the other side of the bay from Los Suenos. Herradura is populated mainly by Ticos who work at resorts or hotels in Jaco and Los Suenos, or those who prefer the less glitzy access to the beauty of the area. We had lunch at a soda immediately across from the local beach lined with palm trees. It’s a safe place to swim, no undertow, no surfing; the bus stop is right there, and the food was delicious and very reasonably priced.

Herradura Beach

Herradura Beach

Another look at the beach before heading back to Jaco..

Herradura beach with Los Suenos across the bay

Herradura beach with Los Suenos across the bay

I’d built a blog for Roberto to advertise his tours of the country (robertoscostaricatours.wordpress.com) and invited him to come over to Hotel Catalina to review how to utilize it the next day. After meeting and shopping for lunch items we arrived back at the hotel and were told he couldn’t stay because the hotel didn’t allow guests or visitors on the property (!) Alas, that ends my enchantment with this hotel which is a real shame cuz I loved staying there, but as I’m making friends and wanting to share time with them there in Jaco, it’s just not a fit that works for management or for me… so, I must discover another wonderful place in Jaco to enjoy relaxing, and rejoicing, in paradise.

Early, early morning in Jaco... saying goodbye to Hotel Catalino

Early, early morning in Jaco… saying goodbye to Hotel Catalina

Antsy…

WARNING!!!

There are pictures of those damn kitchen ants in this post… As most of you know, I am a peaceful person who has learned to reign in an Irish temper ‘issue.’ Well, I thought I had, but these Costa Rican ants are really, excuse me – bugging me!

ants3This is not an uncommon site in my house if I forget to put a spoon in the sink after I’ve served myself a meal with it.  You’ll notice that the entire area around the spoon is spotless. It takes less than a minute for a swarm to show up and attempt to get away with the goods. These ants are smart, too… they’ve learned that when they ‘hear’ me or the vibrations of my using the counter they freeze, hoping I won’t see them I guess. Or maybe they’re hearing me say bad words and that’s the freeze trigger?

ants2This is not an unusual site, unfortunately, if I haven’t cleaned off the counter for an hour after fixing a meal.

This is the deal… most of my life I’ve not had to pay that much attention to keeping surfaces relatively clean – certainly picked up – but relative is, well, a relative word, isn’t it? Yep. Since I’ve not had to deal with pests of this type before my cleaning skills were passable to spontaneous people dropping by my house and having a cup of something in the kitchen while we chatted. But after a year and a half here on a farm in Costa Rica, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that deep cleaning is on the agenda following every single meal I make… or I’ll just continue to get crazier and crazier about the issue.

This is one of the trade offs when living in an original tico house where not every surface falls flush to another surface… nothing’s actually plumb: all window sashes show the sky around at least two of the edges;  there are holes drilled large enough to move piping into the sinks in the kitchen and bathroom, without sealing or caulking to finish the job; there are holes in the walls to run wiring that have not been sealed… you understand where I’m coming from by now. So, it’s either accommodate the ants – which to a certain extent I do by telling them over and over again “I love ya, but if you’re in my house, you’re DEAD!” (maybe that’s why they freeze on the counters …)

ants1So, for a year and a half I’ve lost my temper innumerable times with the ants, none of which survived I’m happy to report, but which also doesn’t mean much cuz there are torrents of them just waiting for the opportunity to replace those who have fallen in battle…

This morning I reached under the counter to pull out a pan to make breakfast and found it covered with dozens…. dozens of ants. That was the last straw. I am now going into bitter battle mode. Time for the boric acid solution which they will voraciously eat and take back to their leader wherever she is, and then the colony will die. Yippee she said dancing with her hands in the air to a happy beat!

At least I won’t have to inhale the ever-present Raid vapors anymore once I have a supply on hand and that’s the good part… the bad part is that I do have guilt about killing an animal, even if it is an ant. I guess that’s why I’ve waited so long to do something about it.  I know, I know, I live in Costa Rica, get over myself.. everyone here deals with ants in their coffee or juice once in a while, but this is just ridiculous. Time to grow some and welcome the Boric Acid Sword of Righteousness!!

Birthdays and Facebook Fatigue…

bbqbigpicLook at all those smiles… we had a marvelous birthday celebration for everyone in the family who had a birthday in July… I’m one! Here are two of the others… Laura, my daughter in law, and Alejandra who is married to Laura’s brother.

bbqcakeThe family came to my house for a barbeque. The weather held up, there was lots of good food, the kids running around having fun, and I felt a smile throughout my body as the day went on. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate with such a large group. As the kids get older maybe we’ll see some futbol out on the front lawn…. hope hope hope. It was so weird watching the US vs Costa Rica last night on tv… I’m just getting into futbol and really enjoying it.. the time just flies by… it reminds me of a game of chess, except in motion.

Before the party, my granddaughter Lorelei came over and we made cookies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuch a cute cookie… both of them! HA!! And so photogenic… Here’s another shot of the decorated goodies

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany were ‘left over’ at my house and I am sorry to report that they are now banashed into the gut of a newly 63 year old!! Loved every single bite.. but the party’s over, it’s time to go through sugar withdrawal and welcome the next 30 lb loss, while I learn the rules of futbol to replace my Facebook addiction.

Yes, sorry to say I now have too many friends on Facebook to leave it to an hour to peruse all the new posts… jeesh, too much of a good thing? Or time to cull the list of those who mysteriously have appeared as friends whom I’ve never heard of…

Morphos, Horses and Toucans…

Oh My! What an incredible experience I am having in the midst of a very humid paradise! Heh heh… it is so humid that after a walk with Lily I pour sweat for another twenty minutes and getting out of my clothes to shower is like peeling an orange….. I have more pictures for you!  Do you know the Lunesta commercial on tv where the butterfly is flying so weirdly… as if she’s swooping up then down then up then down… actually, that’s exactly how these morpho’s fly…. I was watching one at this site in the next photo where I always see them, and yelled out loud ‘It’s the Lunesta butterfly!’ with great glee I might add… even though it was just Lily and I on our Route 2 walk…

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And I have to add here that the horses, all the horses I’ve seen here are really pretty animals and once they know you, after you’ve acknowledged them, they don’t pay much more attention to you. I don’t care, I say HI! anyway… they probably think I’m a young puppy with the enthusiastic energy I’m exhibiting.

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But here’s my grand excitement of this house sitting trip thus far:

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Yep, toucans in a tree… can you believe it? I couldn’t. I just stopped in my tracks and felt like the heavens had opened and my heart with it and was totally bamboozled with joy. Never seen one, much less a treefull of toucans before… what a treat!

Lily and I on the Route 2 walk enjoyed the following sights along the way: Here she is on the rickety bridge that has steel beams under the rotting wood over a small raging river.

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And here is a picture of the local school.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yes, the following sign DOES say that you can buy this lot along the large river for $49.5k.

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And your final picture for today…. the mountains under a cloud… this is what the locals in Ojochal see each day… well, maybe not the clouds all the time by a longshot, but you can see in this picture how incredibly close and high they are,  and they’re topped by clouds in this one…. ah….. sure you don’t want to come and visit this most beautiful place and wander with me via local bus and on foot through paradise?

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