Hints for Living Life in Costa Rica

The other day we drove to San Isidro de General, which is a about a 50 minute drive from where we live.  San Isidro is the closest “big” town; it has a McDonald’s and a shoe store on every corner.  Not sure what’s up with all the shoe stores, but I do know the Costa Rica women like their very high heeled shoes.  There were high heels with short shorts, which is quite a sight to see or maybe not 🙂  The Catholic Church is the local landmark as in most towns in CR and this one has a public parking lot, which is convenient.

We came into town to pick up some parts for our Toyota Hilux and to visit one of the Ferretería (hardware store). The hardware stores here aren’t anything like the ones in the U.S. You can’t just browse around…you go up to a counter and ask for what you want to buy.  If you don’t know exactly what you need, then you are escorted by an employee to find what you need.  Eddie wanted to buy some lumber to make some shelves for the closet. I decided to wait in the car.  Eddie was gone for a long time, which wasn’t a surprise. The people watching wasn’t the best on this street, so out of extreme boredom, I started reading the little phone book for the Southern Zone of CR. I discovered that it’s much more than a phone book!

In between the ads, there are little tidbits of advice – some practical and some very funny ones.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You’ve Adapted to Life Here When:  You were never considered a “morning person,” but the sun shining and the birds chirping wake you up quite consistently.  You stop assuming water and electricity are available every day.  Instead, when you wake up, you check to see if either or both are working.  You learn to keep an extra bottle of water (or five) handy.  Butterflies are a part of your bedroom decor.  Not the plastic ones or fabric kind; the flying, fluttering kind.  When you see a few ants floating in your tea, you don’t dump the tea; you spoon the ants out and keep drinking.
  • Getting Rid of Fire Ants:  Simply pour 2 cups of CLUB SODA directly in the center of a fire ant mound.  The carbon dioxide in the water is heavier than air, and displaces oxygen which suffocates the queen and the other ants.  The whole colony will be dead within about two days.  Each mound must be treated individually and a one liter bottle of club soda will kill 2 to 3 mounds.
  • You’ve Adapted to Life Here When:  When you wake up to an unknown insect crawling on your arm, you don’t shriek: you brush it off and go back to sleep.  You stop buying all your fruit from the store and start pulling it from the trees.  you stop expecting people to show up “on time” and you switch your eternal clock to Tico Time.  If you really need someone to meet you at a specific time, you tell them a time earlier than your actual meeting time.  You have more bug bites than freckles.  You always have rice ready.
  • Sunburn Remedies:  Living in the tropics means much more exposure to very harsh sun conditions.  Many people tend to forget that Costa Rica is only 9 degrees from the equator and the sun’s rays are that much more direct here, even on those cloudy days.  Some easy remedies: 1) The old favorite is vinegar – pour some vinegar into a bowl, then use a cloth to spread over the affected area. You will then smell like a salad for the rest of the day, though. 2) Egg whites- separate the white from the yolk of some eggs.  Place into a bowl, then use a cotton ball to spread over the affected areas.  3) Black tea – place a few bags of standard black tea into a mug of cold water.  Let stand until the water is dark, then use a cotton ball to spread over the affected area.  This remedy is the most effective, cheapest and easiest to find.
  • You’ve Adapted to Life Here When: You take your rain jacket or an umbrella everywhere, even when the sun is shining.  You stop cursing the rain and are actually grateful for it. It is, after all, the reason much of Costa Rica is such a gorgeous green.  You schedule outdoor activities from some time between 6 AM and 1 PM.  Instead of squashing the creepy crawlies you find in your house, you either let them be, chase them outside or capture and release them.  Advanced move: You lean in for a closer look to see what new creatures you are sharing hour home with. Your decision about what to wear involves this rule: If there are no visible stains on an article of clothing and you don’t cringe when smelling it, it’s clean.

Yesterday late afternoon, we decided to take a walk on the beach and we saw a gorgeous sunset!  Enjoy.

Beautiful beach time - only saw maybe 6 or 8 other people

Beautiful beach time – only saw maybe 6 or 8 other people

Enjoying a sunset walk on the beach

Enjoying a sunset walk on the beach

Sunset at Playa Linda

Sunset at Playa Linda

Murex Snails

This past Saturday, we had an awesome experience!  We had a once in a life time opportunity to see how the Borucans “milk” the Murex snails for their secretions.  The secretions produce a beautiful purple dye that the Borucan’s use in their woven crafts.

Eddie and I accompanied our friend Susie and Doña Marina (the matriarch of the Borucan group, Artesanos Naturales) to the treacherous rocks of Costa Ballena. It was a long and hot walk there and back, but definitely worth it!  There, we saw Marina and her son collecting the secretions of the snails to dye their yarn.  Eddie was right there with them on the rocks taking photographs!  The following is a brief description of the history and process:

The milking of the Murex snail, originating in the 4th century B.C. is a process passed down thru the generations. The Murex snail provides a milky-white secretion that upon the exposure to air and light, changes color, at first yellow, then greenish and finally after a day’s time in the hot sun, a pretty purple called Royal Tyrian purple. The women of the Borucan community use this special purple extract in the dyeing of their cotton yarn which will be used for the weaving of their beautiful products. During the waning moon (menguante), the Borucans visit the rockiest beaches of Costa Ballena in the months of January and February, knowing they will find the Murex snails hiding and mating along the rocks. It is dangerous and treacherous work to find and “milk” the snails.  Doña Marina and others pull the snails off of the slippery rocks.  Next, they softly blow on them so that the snails release their secretions, which drip onto the yarn that they are holding. The secretions cannot be stored; the yarn has to be dyed right there. The Borucans are one of two indigenous groups left in the world doing this process, but they are the only group keeping the snails alive by returning them back to the rocks.”

Marina pouring the snail secretions on her yarn.

Marina pouring the snail secretions on her yarn.

Marina's son collecting the snails.

Marina’s son collecting the snails.

Marina mixing her yarn with the snail secretions.

Marina mixing her yarn with the snail secretions.

Close up of the Murex snails. Notice the yarn is turning green.

Close up of the Murex snails. Notice the yarn is turning green.

Monkey Parade

On Friday (January 24), I was cleaning up after lunch when Lopez knocked on the door and motioned me to follow him quietly. I followed him outside around the pool and he pointed into the trees where there was a Spider monkey jumping from tree to tree! I ran back into the house to get my little camera. The monkey stopped on a tree not far from us and I managed to get a decent photo of him.  It’s amazing how the Spider monkeys swing around using their tails. They are a lot of fun to watch, that’s for sure.

Spider monkey

Spider monkey

Going in for bananas!

Going in for bananas!

It didn’t take us long to figure out that the Spider monkey was headed for the bunch of bananas that Lopez had hanging on the lower railing of the terrace across from the laundry room. Suddenly, I remembered that Eddie was taking a shower and I dashed into the house to alert him about the monkeys. Eddie had finished his shower and rushed to get his camera. We managed to take some wonderful photographs!!!

White-throated Capuchin

White-throated Capuchin

Before we knew it, more monkey’s were coming to eat the bananas! It was a large tribe of White-throated Capuchin monkeys and they chased the Spider monkeys away. The Capuchin are really cute! Not only that, they are very brave. Several of them including a mama with a baby on her back came right up onto the terrace and grabbed some bananas. They knew we were close by, but the temptation of food was too overwhelming and they took the risk to grab it. We really enjoy watching them…they were so close that we could see the expressions on their tiny faces!

Later in the day, when we were enjoying a swim in the pool, a Toucan (Chestnut-mandibled Toucan) landed on the Cecropia tree

Toucan perched in the tree by the pool

Toucan perched in the tree by the pool

close by. Fortunately, I had my little camera and got a great picture of him.  The Toucans like to eat the little berries that the Cecropia trees produce.

Stayed tuned for details of our exciting adventure with the Boruca…

Exploring the beach and shopping in San Isidro

Yesterday (Wednesday), I tried to post something new, but the Internet was very, very slow, which happens a lot around here especially in the late afternoon.  Anyway, tonight things seem to be working well.

A Fiery-billed Aracari in a tree next to our pool

A Fiery-billed Aracari in a tree next to our pool

On Monday morning, we decided to hike up the road a bit and we kept walking up and up and up…all the way to our lot!  It was quite a hike.  The photo at the top of our blog is the view from our lot.  It’s even more gorgeous in person. Round trip our walk took about an hour and a half.  It’s a very steep road!

In the afternoon, we decided to drive to a little town called Uvita where there are two grocery stores…more like little markets. You can find the basic essentials there.  We had lunch at the Dome restaurant before shopping and that was quite nice.  We arrive back home with enough food to last a couple of days.

Lunch at The Dome in Uvita

Lunch at The Dome in Uvita

Later that afternoon Mimo, a friend of our caretaker, arrived for a visit.  Turns out he is a tour guide who does a little bit of everything and knows many people including a builder friend of  Lopez.  The builder is Costa Rican and only speaks Spanish, but we agreed to meet with him the following morning.  Lopez has known Mimo for many years and Mimo spent the night in the main house. We invited them both to dinner letting them know beforehand that cheeseburgers were on the menu.  It was the best I could do on short notice!  Mimo really enjoyed the Comida Americana, but we weren’t’ so sure about Lopez. He ate it all, though!

Tuesday morning, Lopez, Mimo, Eddie and I had a Tico breakfast of Gallo Pinto (rice and beans) and eggs at a local soda…$10 for the four of us. Then the builder met up with us and we looked at several of his completed houses and met one of his clients.  He comes with excellent references.  Later on, he looked at our house plans and it will be interesting to see the price of his bid.

Yesterday morning, we visited another beach very close by and it was even more  beautiful than the other one!  Playa LInda was absolutely gorgeous and best of all, there wasn’t anyone around!  We found an abundance of sand dollars on the beach – some dead, some almost dead and a few very much alive.  The live ones we threw back into the ocean hoping they would survive. The others, we picked up.  I’m going to try to bleach them in the sun.

Ellen at Playa Linda with her find of sand dollars

Ellen at Playa Linda with her find of sand dollars

Playa Linda - truly a beautiful beach!

Playa Linda – truly a beautiful beach!

Just some of the sand dollars Ellen found at the beach

Just some of the sand dollars Ellen found at the beach

Ellen thought she found an empty shell for her collection - until the hermit crab popped out.

Ellen thought she found an empty shell for her collection – until the hermit crab popped out.

Today we drove to San Isidro de General, which is about an hour drive away. There is a farmer’s market (Feria in Spanish) every Thursday. There we found booth after booth of fruits and vegetables all fresh and inexpensive. We loaded up our cooler!  We also went to a store that sells kitchenware, plastic storage bins and other household goods for very reasonable prices…except for baking pans from the U.S. I splurged and bought one cookie sheet for $12, which is why I only bought one!  Some of the things we bought included a bucket, mop, plastic shelves for the closet and under the bathroom sink for a little more storage for toiletries. We needed more drinking glasses, too. All in all, we did well!

The San Isidro feria

The San Isidro feria

I must stay that it’s very time consuming to clean up all those fruits and veggies.  I put them in a Clorox bath and depending on the fruit or veggie, it’s anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to soak, then 10 minutes in clean water and then rinsing, drying and storing.  However, it’s all worth it as I don’t want to be as sick as I was earlier in our stay here. So far, so good!

Pura Vida!

After unpacking and getting organized Saturday morning, I called our friends George and Susie to see when we could come for a visit that afternoon.  I brought down some Tums for Susie and more importantly a nice sum of money from my Borucan home party that I had this past September. Susie suggested that we stop by between 3:30 and 4:00, which sounded good to us.

Let me back track a bit here…George and Susie have lived in Dominicalito (next door to Dominical) for about 20 years. They own a B&B Eco Lodge called Pacific Edge. We have been staying with them since 2007 when we bought our land. We have always stayed in cabin #2…they have four, but we think #2 is the best one for us. Their place is beautiful with a gorgeous ocean view! For the past 15 years, Susie has been helping the Borucans, one of the indigenous people of Costa Rica. The Borucans make gorgeous painted masks and woven goods – purses, coin bags, tote bags, place mats and much more. Susie has been trying very hard to broaden their market base. She created a website for them, has been teaching the matriarch Marina all about PayPal, etc. Marina’s group is called Artesanos Naturales. The following is a link to their website: www.borucacostarica.org.  On one of our trips, we accompanied Susie to Boruca and Marina showed us their entire process of creating their woven goods. Our visit to Boruca was the highlight of our trip. I volunteered to help by having a home party, which was very successful. So much so that Susie has lined up a few other friends in the States to have home parties, too!

OK, now back to seeing George and Susie on Saturday afternoon.  We had a couple hours until stopping by Pacific Edge and we decided to drive to the discount grocery called Maxi Pali just outside Quepos about a 30 minute drive. We needed to buy some groceries and a few household supplies. We had brought a cooler with ice (a necessity as it’s so hot). We had just enough time to shop and then drop things off at our rental house before going to Pacific Edge. Before we left, we had dutifully locked all the doors as Lopez has instructed. He had left earlier in the day and still wasn’t back when we arrived to unload our stuff.  Eddie put the key in gate to our pool area and tried to unlock the door. It wouldn’t budge…not only that, the key wouldn’t come out of the lock.  It was stuck in there! He twisted it and turned it for at least 15 minutes to no avail. The key stayed stuck in the lock.  This key was the one that opened our iron gate in front of the door to our little house!  So we were locked out and had no idea when Lopez would return. Well, I was freaking out big time! Not only were we going to be very late to Pacific Edge, I was worried about where we were going to sleep if Lopez wasn’t back when we returned.  I was giving Eddie some grief about it using some swear words, which I hardly even use, even though it wasn’t his fault at all.  Poor guy!

The gate into the pool area and where the key got stuck

The gate into the pool area and where the key got stuck

Our casita next to the pool.

Our casita next to the pool.

Arrived at Pacific Edge and it was great to see George and Susie once again!  Fortunately, I had Susie’s money with me, but not the Tums, so she will have to wait a little longer for them.  It’s a good thing she’s not in a hurry for them. While George was checking out our new truck with Eddie, I was telling Susie all about our being locked out of the house. (Unfortunately, they were all booked up. So no room at the inn for us.)  After chilling out with a glass of wine with Susie, I realized that the lower level of the main house was unlocked, so we did have a place to sleep if Lopez was gone all night. (This was a distinct possibility as he was out all night on Friday and didn’t get back until 4 a.m. on Saturday morning. I know this because his little dog barked and barked until he got home.)  Anyway, it was such a relief to have a plan B!

As it turned out, Lopez was waiting for us when we got back and he had taken the lock apart to get the key, which seemed to fix it. Thank goodness!!!

On a less stressful note, Sunday was a relaxing day!  We spent the morning at the beach. Then, Eddie caught up on work and I tried to catch up on emails. It was very hot, so we spent a good deal of the afternoon in the pool, which was very nice!  Pura vida!

A morning walk/swim at the beach...unfortunately it is a bit crowded!

A morning walk/swim at the beach…unfortunately it is a bit crowded!

Ellen enjoying a swim in our pool.

Ellen enjoying a swim in our pool.

Arrived at the Rental House

After stocking up with goods at Price Smart and a local grocery store, we left Margarita’s mid-afternoon with a full load…our new pickup was loaded to the max! Along the way, we stopped at a fruit stand and bought ripe mangoes, cantaloup, small watermelon, jack fruit, pineapple and something that looked good, but we don’t know what it is, yet. It all cost $10.00 (and that was most likely the gringo price). We barely managed to fit it into the truck!

IMG_0912 IMG_0914

It took us a little over 3 hours to arrive at our rental house. It’s an easy drive and we made great time!  Lopez, the caretaker, was ready for us. He is from Colombia and doesn’t speak English, but I can understand his Spanish quite well. He showed us around and helped us unload our many pieces of luggage.  I wonder what he thought about that. We started to settle in…hook up the computer, our Magic Jack phone and look around.  I was disappointed in the kitchen as there isn’t much there, but the ample closet and storage space makes up for it!  It was a long day, so we made do with a left over burrito for Eddie and PB&J sandwich for me for dinner.  We didn’t even bother trying to unpack much.

This morning after a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and scrambled eggs, I spent most of the time unpacking and getting organized. While I was doing this, Eddie was harvesting bananas!  I had no idea what he was doing until he called me from the front door wanting me to see his bounty. It was pretty impressive.

Eddie with his "catch" of bananas

Eddie with his “catch” of bananas

Bananas hanging to fully ripen

Bananas hanging to fully ripen

(From Eddie):  Knowing we had a dozen or so banana trees down the hill from our house, I was curious about how to take advantage of the delicious fruit.  So, of course, I Googled “How to harvest bananas” and soon became an expert on the subject.  I surveyed the trees and found a bunch that were mature and ready to be cut.  Needing a way to cut them down, I located a machete outside our caretaker’s casita and proceeded to whack at the stalk several times to free them from the tree.  Now, we have the bunch hanging under the eve of the house to fully ripen.  So, come on down to Costa Rica and I will give you a banana!

stay tuned….more to follow….

We have wheels!!!

Yesterday (January 15), was a busy day and a very productive one, too!  We had an early start as we had another appointment with our “guy” at ARCR who accompanied us to the bank. Our wire transfer was confirmed and we needed a special letter from the bank to be included in our residency application. All went well!  It only took an hour to complete, which is record time in Costa Rica.

After we left ARCR, Eddie called the used car guy to make an offer on the 2006 Hilux. After a bit of going back and forth, they came to an agreement. The next step was finding a mechanic and someone to help us close the deal. We were a little worried about the language barrier. So, we walked back to ARCR to ask for help and our attorney who is taking care of our residency was willing to help us buy the car. We didn’t have an appointment with him, but he saw us anyway. He called the used car guy for us and confirmed the price with him. Our attorney asked the guy a lot of questions about the car and to drive it to San Jose (from Cartago, an hour away) to the mechanic’s shop. We set up a mechanic appointment early the next day. Things were looking good!

Afterwards, we decided to drive to Escazú to the fancy MultiPlaza Mall for a delayed birthday shopping spree. We bought a gorgeous Rosewood hand carved bowl and a pair of sterling hoop earrings, which were a better price than we could have gotten in the States. We had a great celebratory dinner at a bar and grill on the way back to Margarita’s.

Today, we had a very early appointment at the mechanic shop to check out the Hilux. I stayed behind at Margarita’s. The Hilux checked out well!  No problems, so the sale was going ahead…our attorney called and we had an appointment for 3:00 to finalize the deal. Of course, we left well in advance as we needed to stop by the bank to get a cashier’s check (cheque de gerencia) to pay for the Hilux and to get cash to pay the transfer tax and the attorney. It took about an hour to complete. Next stop was the appointment with our attorney. The owner and used car guy met us there and we finalized the deal!  After that, we had to set up our auto insurance. Amazingly, that was pretty quick. Here is a photo of our pickup in the parking lot shortly after the papers were signed.

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Tomorrow (Friday, January 17) we are driving to our rental home in Hatillo near Dominical on the Pacific side. It’s about a 3-1/2 drive and a very pretty one, too! I t will be nice to get all settled in there. We may be off-line for a day or two until we get organized and figure out the wireless. (The caretaker only speaks Spanish and he will be explaining it all, so wish us luck!)

On the terrace outside our room at Margarita's B&B.

On the terrace outside our room at Margarita’s B&B.