Tag Archives: Expat Abroad

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!

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!!

Enchantment…

For years I’ve awoken in the morning and with my first cup of coffee pulled one of the cards from Doreen Virtue’s Healing With The Angels Oracle Cards, asking as I shuffle them three times before cutting to the card I’m going to pull “What should I concentrate on for myself today.” Last week I pulled “Enchantment” and I’ve not pulled another card since because whenever I see or remember that card something wonderful has happened in my life that I’ve saved in my heart-centered treasure chest to share on this post…

heart-shaped-clouds

1. Thunderheads were forming over the mountains across the valley – huge, frothy white clouds expanding as I watched. All the sudden there was a darker cloud that floated in front and formed itself into a heart! that looked just like this. Took my breath away because of the simple awesomeness of the moment and the transcendent realization that you don’t have to look for Enchantment, just be willing to accept it as it occurs.

 

two butterflies2. Butterflies have been flying around me as I’m walking around the finca, or sitting on the patio just enjoying the birds, cats, nature… they’re so playful and exhuberant and incredible acrobats. Their ‘shows’ are fantastic when played against the myriad trees, bushes and plants around the yard. I’d give them a 10 if it was the Olympics, just gasping at their ability to flexibly adjust in mid-air, mid-flight, mid-ecstacy.

 

greenhummingbird3. Whenever I’m at my computer there is a hummingbird who looks like this picture that hovers immediately in front of the window above my desk… what is it thinking? It tries and tries to find a way into my casita – or me – or the energy that’s being promoted at the time – I don’t know.  For whatever reason, this hummingbird is pure enchantment to me because it’s a sign there’s something special happening that’s attracting it.  When it gets tired, it rests on the branch of a tree and simply watches me…

 

Resting with Evangeline 4 mos

4. And, again, here’s me with Evangeline… I don’t know if she’s just a big four month old, or if this picture is a true representation of how short I actually am. Whichever, I am truly at peace with her and having her sleep in my arms is a treat beyond measure, truly enchanting.

I’ve allowed enchantment to reach my heart lately…  and I think it’s a portion of feeling gratitude for a life I cherish. We’ve all been experiencing enough options for grief lately that we need the balance of incredulousness and giddy happiness for it’s own sake.  I’m consciously allowing these moments, these instances, of pure pleasure  to reach my heart and  lift my spirits. They happen all the time… I hope you’re experiencing them too!

 

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…