Residency and the Big Fish

After receiving notice that our residency application had been approved, we had to take care of a few more paperwork steps towards finalizing our residency – joining Costa Rica’s socialized medicine system and receiving our Carnet medical cards.  We had to go to the nearest office in our canton (like a county).  So last week, we drove to Quepos to visit the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social office (CCSS, the Costa Rican Social Security System, which is commonly know as the CAJA).  We brought copies of our residency approval called Resoluciones, our marriage certificate, passports and an electric bill.  Our first visit to the CAJA was late Friday morning and we discovered the person who had to help us had already left for the day.  The fellow at the window told us to return on Monday morning.  He also gave us an application with directions, which was very helpful.  We discovered that we needed the most recent copy of our electric bill that we didn’t have with us.  When we returned to the casita, we asked Lopez if he could obtain a copy of the electric bill for us on Monday morning before we had to return.  Lopez is a great guy!  He left very early Monday morning to pick up a copy of the electric bill.  He had to wait an hour in line to do it!  Shortly after Lopez returned, we drove to Quepos for another visit to the CAJA office.  Amazingly, things went very well.  We didn’t have to wait in line very long, all our paperwork was in order and we were able to communicate in Spanish!  The CAJA official calculated our monthly payment, completed the paperwork and told us we had to go elsewhere to make our payment.

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There are many places to make payments and we chose the nearest one within walking distance which happened to be the BCR Bank.  Things went smoothly here, too.  We were feeling pretty good about it all.  Even though it was almost noontime, we decided to try to get our medical cards.  For these, we needed to visit the hospital in Quepos.  We arrived at lunch break, so we decided to get a quick bite ourselves and return a little later.  We returned about an hour later and this is where things get interesting!  The place was rather crowded and we were the only gringos.  There weren’t any signs that we could see that would give us a clue as to where we should check-in.  We asked a receptionist and she pointed to the desk around the corner.  We walked up to this young man sitting at the desk.  Eddie showed him our paperwork and asked if we were in the right place.  The man nodded and motioned us to take a seat.  He looked things over and asked us for our passports.  Then he disappeared for a bit.

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When he returned, he had copies of our passports and told Eddie to come back when he had copies of all the rest of the paperwork.  Eddie told him that all the papers were already copies for him.  He didn’t look all that happy to hear that…we guessed he didn’t want to spend the time to set up new accounts.  The man then asked to see our Cedulas (residency cards).  Well, we don’t have the Cedulas just yet.  That’s the next step.  We first have to join the CAJA, obtain the medical cards, pay for the Cedulas and government fees, then our attorney can request an appointment with immigration.  Using my very best Spanish, I told this fellow exactly what our attorney told us.  I was really pleased that he understood me!

He left us again and when he returned he sat at the computer and started to type.  He would only get a few words typed and then we had to wait and wait and wait.  The computer was so slow.  While we waited, we talked with him a little bit and he started to warm up to us.  By the time we left, he was very pleasant.  Meanwhile the line was growing.  An impatient lady walked up to the desk and demanded to know how long she had to wait.  Well, our fellow didn’t like her attitude at all and told her it would take as long as it would take since the computer was so slow.  Then, he told everyone to leave and come back another time.  Not long afterwards, the computer started to work again and we ended up with temporary medical cards, which he typed up on an old fashioned typewriter.  Once we receive our Cedulas, we will receive the regular medical cards.  Now we are waiting for the immigration appointment and we really hope that we will get one before we leave for the U.S. on September 16!  We don’t want to have to change our trip plans, that’s for sure.  This process at the hospital only took us about one hour…really good for Costa Rica!

Leaving the Quepos hospital with our Caja medical cards!

Leaving the Quepos hospital with our Caja medical cards!

By now, you are probably wondering about the BIG fish!  Well, this afternoon, Lopez came running into the rancho area shouting, “Look, look!”  He was holding up a huge Red Snapper that he caught on the beach using a simple hand line (without a pole).  Lopez told me that he was standing in the water up to his hips when he hooked the fish.  There have been so many times when he returned from fishing without ever catching anything.  So this was a big deal for him!

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He told Eddie that he didn’t know how to fillet it.  Good thing Eddie knows how to do it…from many years of fishing with his Dad.  Eddie did a great job without having a fillet knife.  Guess we had better get one!  Lopez gave us one of the fillets, so we are planning to cook it tomorrow.  I am sure it will be awesome!

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The pets helped clean up after fileting the Red Snapper.

The pets helped clean up after preparing the Red Snapper.

Monkey Business

It was a lazy Sunday morning…we slept in just a little bit longer than usual.  After a while, Eddie fixed a fabulous breakfast of fruit, smoothies and his famous omelets!  We ate out on our terrace and enjoyed the beautiful view.  It wasn’t long after cleaning up the breakfast remains when we heard the trees rustling near the laundry room area.  Eddie peeked through the sliding glass door and noticed that the hammock was swaying back and forth.  Then, he saw the white-faced monkey on the clothes line reaching for the rack of bananas we had hanging close by.  Of course, Eddie grabbed our little camera that we always have handy.

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The monkeys are very entertaining and we really enjoy watching them.  This little guy was particularly fun to watch!  The following is a link to the video of his visit.

On another note, our caretaker Lopez now has three dogs (and one cat)!  Yesterday afternoon while he was visiting a friend in our little town of Hatillo, he found his dog (or maybe the dog found him?) that disappeared two years ago!!!  Her name is Paloma and she is so very sweet.  She has settled in very well.  I think Chiquita is thrilled to have another female to keep her company as Lucas tends to wander off especially on the weekends.  Chiquita and Paloma have been staying close to each other, which is very cute.  Lopez told us that he adopted Paloma when she was about four months old or so and that he had her for three years.  One day she disappeared without a clue, which seems to happen a lot in Costa Rica.  It’s almost like a dog exchange here…if your dog wanders off too far from home, someone may think it’s a stray and take it in.  Then, at some point, the dog finds its way back to you.  Well, at least that is the fairy tale version and sometimes fairy tales do come true.  Yesterday, Paloma magically returned to Lopez and she appears to have been taken care of quite well.  She is very happy to be back home!

Paloma

Paloma – What have you been up to these past two years??

Paloma and Pacho the cat (sometimes he rolls over and falls in the pool!)

Paloma and Pacho the cat (sometimes he rolls over and falls in the pool!)

Paloma and Chiquita

Paloma and Chiquita

 

Exploring Panama

Since we needed to renew our Costa Rica visas (another 90 day stamp in our passports), we decided it would be fun to explore Panama beyond the border at Paso Canoas, which is the nearest border crossing for us.  (We took a day trip to Paso Canoas on May 9th.  See previous post titled “Day Trip to Panama” posted on May 11.)  Instead of flying to Panama City, which might have been a little easier, we wanted to drive across so that we could do some major shopping.  Panama does have a better variety of American goods and the prices on most things are lower than in Costa Rica.

Panama Map

To drive across the border, we needed to obtain a permit to take the truck out of the country, which required us to drive to San Isidro to the National Registry.  For a fee of $15 and proof of ownership, we received the permit.  Also, we had to pay $7 each exit tax at Bancredito Bank.  You can pay the exit tax at the border, but we wanted to do as much as we could ahead of time to get through the border crossing faster.  We got lucky and the lines in Costa Rica Immigration and Customs were short.  We breezed through them in about 15 minutes total.

Panama Boarder Control building

Panama Boarder Control building

There was a long line of trucks queued up waiting to get through the border

There was a long line of trucks queued up waiting to get through the border

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Then, we drove about 100 yards to the Panama side.  It took us a little longer here as we needed to buy car insurance, which cost $15.  Once we had that paper, we were able to go to Panama Immigration.  According to all our research and from what we had been told by others, to get through Panama Immigration, we needed to have an airline ticket from Panama City to our home country (even though we were driving…it makes no sense, but evidently that’s the law) and proof of at least $500 in our checking account.  We weren’t asked for either documents…again, guess we were lucky!  After immigration, we walked over to customs.  We also had to pay $1 for fumigation of the truck.  After the customs officer checked our vehicle paperwork and inspected the truck, we drove through this huge tent-like building where the truck was sprayed.  Getting through the Panama side took us about 30 minutes.  We were really amazed that we had been able to cross in only 45 minutes.  We’ve heard some stories of it taking a total of three hours to check out of Costa Rica and into Panama.  Guess we got lucky!

Not long after we left the border, we were stopped at a checkpoint by Panama National Police with automatic weapons and had to show our passports and the vehicle paperwork, which allowed us to legally drive our truck in Panama.  After that, we were on our way to spend one night in the small town of Boquete and two nights in the city of David. (Leaving Tuesday, July 8 and returning Friday, July 11)

The drive to Boquete from the border was about an hour.  It’s located in the mountains, so it was much cooler and dryer there, which felt so good to us, but maybe a bit chilly for the locals.  We saw many of them wearing winter jackets!  In Boquete, we stayed in a small hotel (30 rooms or so) called Valle del Río.  It was a lovely place and quiet, too.  The hotel is within walking distance of downtown Boquete, which was nice.  We had a lot of fun exploring the area and checking out the restaurants and shops.

Relaxing at our hotel in Boquete

Relaxing at our hotel in Boquete

Getting ready to walk downtown Boquete from our hotel

Getting ready to walk to downtown Boquete from our hotel

Downtown Boquete

Downtown Boquete

We left Boquete at noontime the next day and drove to David, which took us around a half hour.  Since it was too early to check into our hotel, we stopped at the shopping mall where there is a good sized grocery store, a Conway department store (owned by Target), a Fix-It store (like Home Depot), a huge pharmacy, several small clothing shops, etc.  We went into a liquor store there to check out the prices and we found Eddie’s favorite salad dressing, Wishbone Russian, which I haven’t been able to find in Chapel Hill for a long time.  We also found gluten free crackers and Fritos.  The clerks thought it was strange that we bought only food and no booze!  Before we knew it, it was well past time for lunch and all the shopping made us hungry.  Good thing there was a TGI Fridays right there!  We had a nice lunch while watching Argentina and the Netherlands play soccer (or as it known in this part of the world, fútbol).  It surprised us that almost everyone in the restaurant was rooting for the Netherlands.  Go figure!

David Conway

In David, we stayed at a fabulous hotel called Cuidad de David.  It was a large hotel with six floors!  They had a gorgeous pool on the 3rd level, which we didn’t have a chance to use.  We spent most of our time walking around the city and shopping!  Poor Eddie…shopping is NOT one of his favorite pastimes.  Believe it or not, we shopped so much that even I had had enough…for a couple of months anyway!

Ciudad de David Hotel

Ciudad de David Hotel

At our hotel in David after a hard day of shopping!

At our hotel in David after a hard day of shopping!

On our travels around David we spotted a Blockbuster Video store.  We stopped to take a picture of it since our son, Erik, worked at Blockbuster in Chapel Hill for a couple of years until they went out of business (at least in the USA).

Ellen in front of an OPEN Blockbuster in David

Ellen in front of an OPEN Blockbuster in David

During our trip, we ate at some really good restaurants.  The food was fabulous there!  Good thing we walked everywhere since we ate so much.

Eating at El Fagon in David

Eating at El Fagon in David

We left fairly early Friday morning as we didn’t know how long it would take us to get through the border crossing from Panama to Costa Rica.  Checking out of Panama was easy, a quick stop through immigration and customs.  We drove the short distance to Costa Rica.  It’s not a big place and we had trouble finding somewhere to park as there were two big tour buses blocking several parking spaces.  The line for immigration was short, though.  We had to fill out the same form as when we left Costa Rica, provide our passports and have a return ticket within 90 days to our native country, which we do have as we are returning to Chapel Hill in September.  But, wouldn’t you know, we weren’t asked for the return ticket!  This had to be the easiest border run ever.  Our new friends will be so envious when they learn about it!

The Costa Rica Border Control station

The Costa Rica Immigration & Customs building

Instead of leaving Paso Canoas right away, we decided to do some shopping there, too.  We stopped by the liquor store and bought quite a bit; they have the best prices.  It takes a while to get out of the liquor store.  You place your order, pay for it and then wait for the clerk to find the items in the back room, bring them out front and pack them up.  Definitely not like home.  Next stop was a grocery store where I was hoping to find some hummus.  While I was inside the grocery, Eddie was re-packing the suitcases to add some of the liquor in them.  We were concerned about the Costa Rica Border Control (customs) that we would encounter about  20 minutes from the Paso Canoas border.  Again, we have heard some stories about liquor and other things being confiscated at border control.  Well, we didn’t have any trouble at all!  The customs guy was all excited that we were from the United States…so he let us pass without even looking in the truck.  Awesome!

Paso Canoas duty free zone

Paso Canoas duty free zone

Visiting Panama was great fun.  Next time, we would like to visit the Panama Canal.  The best way would be to take a cruise, so that we could go through the locks.  Eddie has always been resistant to going on a cruise.  I’m not sure why.  I’ve been on two cruises with my sister-in-law, Linda and we had a blast.  However, Eddie is changing his opinion about it; I may get him to go on a cruise soon!

P.S. We think we have solved our slow internet issues…so we are good to go!

The Amazing Tree Climber

When our landlord visited a couple of weeks ago, he arranged for Lopez, our caretaker, to have three large trees taken down so that the property would have a better view of the ocean.  Very nice of him!  Due to rain, the tree guy had to come on two separate days…yesterday was the second day.   On both days, Eddie and I watched him for several hours!  We didn’t even realize how long we were watching him because this man was so absolutely amazing.  Words really can’t describe how he shimmied up those very tall trees barefoot and then started chopping branches with his machete.  It was incredible!

Clearing his way with his machete as he climbs up the tree

Clearing his way with his machete as he climbs up the tree

He's made his way to the top and is preparing to start chopping

He’s made his way to the top and is preparing to start chopping

Chopping a limb with his machete

Chopping a limb with his machete

Here a limb is dropping and gets lowered by a rope

Here a limb is dropping and gets lowered by a rope

Plotting his next move

Plotting his next move

The trees were probably 75 feet tall!  The tree guy showed no hesitation or fear…he just climbed up those trees like a monkey.  As if he was on firm ground, he took several cigarette breaks and answered his cell phone.  He had a flimsy rope tied around his waist a few times, but not the entire time that we were watching him.  At one point, I asked Eddie if he thought the tree climber had ever fallen from a tree that tall.  Eddie replied that he had never fallen from a tree that high or he would be dead.  Later in the day, we found out the tree climber was 61 years old!  And, his fee for all three trees was only $100.00.

Here is a video of the Tree Climber.

Now, we have a much better view of the ocean and it’s fabulous!

The view after the few trees have been removed

The view after the few trees have been removed

On Saturday after watching the tree guy for several hours, we decided to take a walk on the beach.  This weekend there were high surf warnings and we wanted to see just how big those waves were going to be.  So, we drove to the beach in Dominical.  That beach is a favorite with the surfers and we usually see many of them surfing the waves.  They are fun to watch, too!  Today, however, there weren’t any surfers…just a surf class that was staying very close to shore.  Even the professionals were respecting the high surf warnings.  This beach and others on the Pacific Coast are notorious for strong currents and riptides.  Each year, there are several drownings resulting from them as there aren’t life guards on most of the beaches.  It’s swim at your own risk.

3 to 4 meter waves breaking at Playa Dominical

3 to 4 meter waves breaking at Playa Dominical

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After our walk on the beach, we had lunch at San Clemente Bar and Restaurant in Dominical.  They have great chicken tacos and quesadillas there!  Enjoy the photos!!!

Great Mexican food at San Clemente in Dominical

Great Mexican food at San Clemente in Dominical

Building Project Update

Back in March, we decided to have some work done on our lot to enlarge the flat area for building and improve the stability of the dirt.  If you missed it, you can see the previous post about it (Improving our Lot – March 29).  The next step after re-grading the lot is to confirm that the work done resulted in more stable soil.  In order to determine whether the soil is more stable, engineers have to perform a Standard Penetration Test and take soil samples for analysis.  This past Saturday, we had this test performed.  It was an interesting process which consisted of erecting a large tripod and driving a pipe into the soil with a large weight supported by the tripod.  The number of blows of the weight required to drive the pipe a certain distance into the soil is counted and recorded.  The pipe is driven down until very hard soil is reached.  The pipe also brings up a sample of the soil which gets collected and analyzed for composition.

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We haven’t received the official report yet, but from what the engineer told us, the soil is very stable.  This will reduce the cost of the foundation of the house and pool significantly.  The next step is to adjust our house plans as they have changed based upon what we have learned from living here as well as the changes to the lot.  Then, we will need to chose a builder.  We have been talking to several since we arrived in January.  Once we have firm house plans, we can start getting bids.  We are hopeful that the cost of building will be more reasonable now that we have changed and improved the lot, and adjusted our house plans.  Wish us luck!!!

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Celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary with the bottle of champagne that we bought in Panama.  The hard fall on the concrete drive didn’t affect the taste at all!