Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Scooby Doo, I think I've found you..........

The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget. -- Thomas Szasz -- born April 15, 1920, is a psychiatrist and academic. Since 1990, he has been Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse, New York.

Did I ever tell you about my first night in Costa Rica? No? Yes? Well, if I did, too bad. I’m going to tell you again. And, if I didn’t, sit back, fill up your beer glass, or grab another from the ice chest……..

March, 1999…….Fern, the bro-in-law, had been talking about Costa Rica for some time, and over the Christmas holidays, in 1998, he invited me to make my first trip with him. So, we planned it out. It was set for sometime in March, of 1999. I flew from El Paso, where we were living at the time, to Dallas, where he lived. The next day, bright and early, we got a ride from a friend to DFW. When we got there, I realized that I had forgotten my birth certificate, and the airline refused to let me on the plane without it. This was TACA Air, by the way. So, I had to go back to Fern’s and get on the phone to El Paso, while he flew off to CR.

I called El Paso, and arranged for our daughter, Blanca (better known as Ikis), to send me my birth certificate. I think she came up with the idea, but what she did was this: she drove to the El Paso airport, and walked up to the Southwest Airlines counter, with my birth certificate in an envelope. The counter staff accepted it, along with a fee of only $30.00, and it was given over to the flight crew on the next flight out to Dallas. I went to Love Field, in Dallas, that afternoon, and picked it up. The same friend that had taken us to DFW that morning agreed to take me back there again the next morning. Fern called from Costa Rica that evening, to tell me to just get on the plane in the morning, and he would arrange for someone, like a taxi driver, to meet my plane the next evening. One thing I have never figured out is how this worked: the flights out of DFW left there very early in the morning, went through Guatemala City, and did not arrive in San Jose until around 8:30 or 9:30 at night. No long layover in Guatemala, or anything like that sticks out in my memory.

Oh, well, back to the story………

I did arrive in San Jose, after one of the best flights I think I have ever experienced. You see, TACA, and I’ve been told, other Latin American airlines, provide more in the way of service than we Americans have become accustomed to seeing. The drinks are served from a cart that contains real bottles of a wide variety of liquors. When you ask for a drink, they pour you a real drink! No limit. No charge. Of course, that was then. I think that as recently as February of this year, my brother told me that he experienced similar service on Copa Air, from Washington, D.C., to San Jose, via Panama City.

Upon arrival in San Jose, after clearing customs, and making my way out to the arrivals area, I began searching for someone with a placard with my name. After a bit of delay, I did indeed discover someone who actually had such a placard, and he even had my name spelled correctly. This individual introduced himself as Walter (pronounced Wall-tair, with the emphasis on the first syllable), and I gladly went with him to his taxi. This turned out to be a real, honest to God Datsun. No, not a Nissan, but a Datsun, about 1974, four doors, tiny motor, complete with old school 40-4 air conditioning system (This car may have originally had 55-4, but by that point in time, it couldn’t possibly go more than forty miles an hour, with all four windows open). The car was literally held together with spit, paper clips, bailing wire, duct tape, and a lot of prayer. Well, Wal-tair started talking very quickly, Tico style, and bombarded me with questions, the first of which was, “What part of Mexico are you from?” I was, of course, totally disarmed, and said the first thing that popped into my mind, “Chihuahua.” After a short while, his questions eased some, and we proceeded on our way towards the metropolis of San Jose. At that time, San Jose had a population of around a quarter million people.

(this is just a representation of Wal-tair's taxi. This is much cleaner, and more complete in appearance than was his)

Wal-tair took me along the main highway (not a freeway, ‘cause they charge – to this day – a toll, and ‘cause it is not a divided highway, especially when it comes to any bridges; the bridges were, and still are, only two lane, so each major bridge is a bottle neck) towards San Jose. He abruptly left the highway after about eight – ten miles, and pulled into a Best Western Motel/Hotel. This was – and remains to this day – the Best Western Irazu, truly a mainstay of Costa Rican tourism, having been in this location since at least the 70’s. Wal-tair left me off out front, and I carried my bag (traveling at Fern’s suggestion, lightly, with only a back pack, and a rolling carry on size suitcase) inside. At the front desk they did indeed have a reservation in my name, and I checked in. I went upstairs to my room, took a shower, and climbed into bed. I think it was shortly before ten in the evening.

Before I could drift off to sleep, the phone beside my bed rang. On the other end, what to my surprise, was, not Santa Claus, but Fern, who said, “Get your ass down here!” “Where is here?” says I. “Down stairs. In the bar!”

So, up I get. I got dressed, and headed on downstairs. The bar at that motel, at that time, was located kind of central to the lobby area, and off to the side. When I arrived, the first thing I saw on the bar, lined up in front of an empty stool, were about six beers, basically one of each brand available in Costa Rica at that time. Fern was next to the empty stool, of course, and he was not alone. Next to him was a Tico (my first Tico, if you don’t count Wal-tair)! Said Tico was introduced as Lucas, who has since become one of our great Tico friends. Fern says, “Those beers are for you. You might as well learn what’s what as far as beer goes here in Costa Rica.”

Well, while getting to know Lucas (surprisingly, my Mexican Spanish did then, and still does, serve me well in communicating with Ticos), we began to drink in earnest, especially when Fern spotted a bottle of Tequila on the back bar, and immediately demanded shots be poured. So, things moved along pretty quickly, until a lady in her late 30’s walked in accompanied by her teen-age daughter. It turned out that Lucas – as improbable as it now seems – knew this lady, so she and her daughter were invited to join our little party. And, we were five.

Group dynamics are a funny thing, you know. It wasn’t long before we had ourselves a little comedy of errors working, as Fern started looking at the young lady (the teen) with interest, and her mother started looking at Fern with interest. Lucas and I just continued to drink. It wasn’t long before Fern announced that he wanted to hear Mariachis. Somebody said that there were places in San Jose that had live Mariachis, so out front we go, looking for a taxi. As luck would have it, right outside the front doors was none other than my good friend, Wal-tair, with his Datsun. So, the five of us piled in, and off we headed, for downtown.

Conveniently, Wal-tair said he knew just the place, and drove us right downtown, not too far from a big Cathedral (it must have been a Cathedral, ‘cause it was so big), to a place called Garibaldi’s. Now, if you’ve never been to Costa Rica, you are not aware that most businesses that serve the public rarely have four complete walls, but are as open to the air as circumstances allow. This one, therefore, was completely open to the street, with some sort of railing across the front, and an opening in the middle of the railing. So, we made our way towards this opening, where there was a host, and at least one bouncer type standing. They smiled graciously, and welcomed us, one at a time, to their establishment. That is until they came to the last person in our party of five, the lady (mother of that teen ager). “Oh, no!” they said. “You may not come in.”

It turned out that she had been there just a few days or weeks before, and had caused a scene when some men had hit on her daughter, and they had therefore banned her from the premises, evidently for life. So, what were we to do? Personally, I didn’t care about the lady, or her daughter, because I was ready for the Mariachis, and I already had a beer in front of me, by this time. When I noticed that things were stalled, back at the entrance, I decided to mosey on back over there. A hasty conference was then held, just outside the entrance, and we looked around for inspiration, as Fern said things like, “I just want to hear some Mariachis.” Meanwhile, since we had joined up back at the motel, those group dynamics had led to this: Fern was circling girl, mother was circling Fern, and nobody was getting anywhere. But, that circling thing pretty much came to a screeching halt, with the news that mommy had caused a big scene.

As we stood there, talking, various musicians began to come up to us. They would say things like, “Why don’t you come with us? We’re Mariachis, and we’ll play for you.” Fern would look at them, and ask them how many in their group. We got different responses, 2, 3, 4, etc.

Finally, a man dressed like a real Mariachi, came up to Fern, and said, “Señor, vengen ustedes con nosotros. Somos El Mariachi Vera Cruz (or, Zacatecas, or Guadalajara, or some place in Mexico; I don’t really remember).” Fern asked him the magic question (how many in your group?), and got the best number yet: 7! “OK, vamanos, muchachos.” We followed the Mariachi (OUR Mariachi) out to the curb, where the rest of his group was already assembling. They said to follow them, and they would even give us a ride. We walked a short distance along the street to a by-gawd 1961 Ford Econoline van, painted a kind of a sickly institutional green. We stopped, and collectively did a double take. Immediately, Fern said, “You guys are not the Mariachi Vera whatever! You’re the Scooby Doo Mariachis, ‘cause your van looks just like the Mystery Machine!”

No photos exist to show our particular Mystery Machine's finer attributes, but this is close to what it looked like, other than the paint job could well have been done with a brush (a big brush).

So, they became El Mariachi Scooby Doo, and off we went, now twelve of us. At the time, it seemed like we drove some distance, but let’s not forget I had already had some shots, and I don’t know how many beers. At any rate, we eventually stopped near an intersection, and they said, “This is it.” We followed them (actually, they stood to one side, and waved us on ahead, into the doors of a corner establishment).

I don’t remember the name of the place, and I know I could never find it again. All I know is that it was a corner location, with the front doors located right in the corner, so as to catch traffic, from two directions. I stepped inside, and thought I’d just stepped back in time, and across the Atlantic Ocean, in that one step. I swear I was looking at a Bistro in Paris, and it was 1920 something. Hemingway, or one of those American Ex-pats was going to walk in any second. Besides a table or two of misplaced Americans, the place should have been peopled with local (as in, Parisienne) characters, with thin European mustaches, perhaps here and there, a kerchief around an unwashed neck. The air should have been filled with cigarette smoke, arising from off-white, unfiltered cigarettes, with long, long ashes, the cigarettes themselves languidly drooping from the mouths of locals and expats, alike.

Way in the back, mostly to the left, as you entered the doors, was the bar. The bar itself, and the back bar, other than the standard issue over-abundance of mirrors, was shiny zinc. The tables, scattered about the large room, had those little spindly legs, you know the kind, the ones that have those little dinky chairs that you just know can’t possibly support my weight, if I was able to actually fit my big, fat ass on one of them. Table cloths, a bit less than clean, sort of a dirty white, of course, covered the tables.

But, instead of any of the characters that had adorned those books I used to read about Europe after the Great War, and before WWII, the place was inhabited only by one couple at a table along the left (the street) wall, being serenaded by a trio of local musicians, and two or three young people, apparently gringos, back to the far right of the bar, at a table by the back wall. To further spoil the effect that my imagination had created, the waiters and the bartender didn’t sport any of those sexy (in their time, and in their place) pencil-thin mustaches that my imagination required. Instead, they had those great big Latin bigotes*, and they were short, swarthy, smiling Ticos.

We staked out a couple of tables together, near the front of the establishment, and then, looking around, Fern spotted the capper (for him, at least). Way up in the corner of the back bar, to the left, rested not one, but two bottles of Mexico’s most famous export, our old friend, Jose Cuervo, or maybe it was another brand. Either way, that is stuff that I should never touch, and I really think that idea should apply to most of us, since most Tequila drunks in my memory are clouded by mostly silly people doing pretty silly things. At any rate, the mere presence of those two bottles helped Fern reach an immediate decision, and he quickly yelled out for those two bottles to be brought to our tables, along with salt, lemon, and shot glasses.

As the Scooby Doo Mariachis began to unpack their instruments, there broke out a discussion, almost an argument. It seems that the trio of local musicians felt that the place belonged to them, and they resented the intrusion of our seven as yet unheard Chente* wannabes. After much intense debate, a compromise was worked out, no doubt assisted and lubricated, so to speak, by ample portions of Tequila shared by all. It was happily announced that the trio would play a piece for their customers, the couple over by the wall, and then, our guys would play one for us. We figured this wasn’t a bad deal at all, since we got – in a sense – two songs for the price of one.

So, things proceeded from there, all the way to the bottoms of those two bottles, helped along by liberal doses of local brew. Eventually, at some hour of the late night, or more likely, the early morning, we realized that we were getting just a bit peckish. Now, this would not be a problem if we were back in Texas, or better yet, in Northern Mexico. We’d just head off to the nearest Hamburger Inn/Happy Burger/Good Luck Café*, or any other establishment that might offer us some life-saving menudo*, with all the fixins’. But, alas, Ticos don’t know from menudo. We naturally bemoaned this fact, and discussed it with all still present. I believe that the lady and her daughter had by this time slipped off into the darkness, but my memory is just a bit clouded by ….uh, er…….time! yeah, that’s the ticket! Time! (All right, I had a lot to drink, and I simply have no recollection, your honor).

Well, it turned out that our Scoobys had a place in mind. So, we all piled back into the Mystery Machine, and they drove some more, until we stopped at a local eatery. I have no recollection of what we ate, but I know we did eat something, the musicians happily joining us. They hastily finished whatever it was that they ate, and picked up their instruments, and played us some more music, while we finished our meal. Then, they offered to take us all the way back to our motel, and this offer we gladly accepted. They hauled us all the way back to the Best Western Irazu, a not inconsiderable distance. Upon arrival there, we could not just head for bed, since there were three of us, so we asked for another bed to be placed in my room, and only then were we able to crash.

Somehow, we managed to get up by about ten the next morning, and after a hearty breakfast, we headed off to Arenal, the area where I now live. After a welcome night like that one, how could I not end up living in Costa Rica?
*bigotes – Spanish for mustaches

*Chente – a clever reference to Vicente “Chente” Fernandez, perhaps the very best Mariachi singer of all time, and loved all over Latin America.

*Hamburger Inn/Happy Burger/Good Luck Café – an inside joke, sort of; these are all sources of pretty damn good menudo in El Paso (“El Chuco”), Texas, where we lived for so many years.

*menudo – probably Mexico’s greatest single achievement, and a true gastronomical delight for the discerning palate. The world’s only bona fide, guaranteed, honest-to-God for real hangover preventive. The breakfast of champions. Menudo is a sort of soup made by first washing, scrubbing, cleaning, and almost disinfecting beef tripe (the actual stomach of a cow). This is then cut up into small, bite-size pieces, and put into a huge pot, with huge amounts of garlic, and salt, and lots and lots of water. Proper menudo should then be simmered for many hours, preferably overnight, which would be at least eight hours. Then, New Mexico Red chile, which has been boiled, nearly to a pulp, is run through a colander, so as to achieve a thick, viscous red sauce, that should be added to the now soft, but rather unappetizing (in appearance) pieces of tripe. Next, a large can of hominy, or, preferably, two packages of frozen hominy should be poured into that same large pot. This is all brought back to the boil, and then left at a simmer for as long as it takes to either feed all comers, or it runs out, whichever comes first. It is best if served with finely chopped onion, dried oregano, and lime (to be squeezed to taste into the individual’s bowl), all of which serve as garnishes. On the side is either sliced francesitos, or better yet, toasted halves of francesitos (francesitos are little bread rolls, made by hand in northern Mexico, and along the border. They are called francesitos because they resemble little loaves of French bread. Other places substitute bolillos, or other little pieces of bread, but nothing beats toasted francesitos. Some places make you go without or offer you a corn tortilla, but menudo is not the same without this bread).

Editor's Note: I composed this piece in Microsoft Word, and was able to create what I still call foot notes, but Word says are really endnotes for my clever little references. However, once pasted into the html composer on the blog's web site, those footnotes went away. So, I have had to settle for using asterisks instead. Sorry for that.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Another encounter with the nice folks at ICE

Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.
Elbert Hubbard (1856 - 1915)

How hard is it to get phone service in Costa Rica?

Not hard at all. But, time consuming? Frustrating? Silly? Ridiculous? Expensive?
In order, the correct answers (at least in our case) are: yes, yes, yes, yes, and not really.

First of all, one topic that I don’t think I’ve touched on before deals with how one goes about obtaining any service in Costa Rica, when one was not born here. This might be anything from ownership of a cell phone, to ownership of a home. I had heard for years that non-Ticos must (as in, you just gotta do this) form a legal corporation, or Sociedad Anónima, and put everything that you can think of into the name of that entity. This was supposedly to protect yourself from being sued for everything you might own, especially in case of something major like a motor vehicle accident.

Well, it is true that ICE won’t talk to you, nor will the Seguro Social, unless you have the paperwork that identifies you as a principle in such a legal entity, or unless you possess that precious cedula. What happened historically, and I’m sure this is still happening, is that many gringos rush to form a corporation before they even begin the process of applying for legal residence, and then they do get phones, lights, cars, homes, everything put into the name of that corporation. This, of course, entails a certain amount of cost, ‘cause you have to pay an attorney to set up the corporation, in the first place. As I understand it, this serves as a valuable tool for many gringos, especially those who don’t speak much Spanish. They evidently tend to use their attorney for more than legal issues, relying on them as well to translate for them.

All of that is neither here nor there, so back to the phone. We knew, while construction was going on, and while we were waiting for our cedulas, that we could not even think of asking for a phone. So, we didn’t. Once we got our cedulas, however, and even before we took our trip to Texas, I went to ICE to request a phone. I carefully explained that I already had undertaken to have the line run from our neighbor’s property, where they were to make the connection, on a pole, down to our property, underground. I also explained that we had a document prepared by our attorney, with all necessary signatures, that gave us – and ICE – permission to run any lines needed over the neighbor’s property.

They said there should be no problem, and upon accepting my deposit, they printed out a document that they said should be posted in a prominent location for their representatives to see when they go to the property to assess what is going to be needed for our connection. We then posted that notice on our house, explained everything to the caretaker, and took our trip. This notice was essentially to their representative/engineer, to see upon his arrival at our property, explaining to him that all fees had been paid, and even listing our eventual phone number. His job, as I understood it, was to simply look over the situation, walk the property as needed, and give the go ahead to their sub-contractor to go ahead and run the additional line (on existing poles, from the road, over the neighbor’s property, to the pole on her property where they were to connect to our line) required.

Upon our return from our trip, we were of course disappointed to pick up the phone, and to see that it still did not work. Timeline to this point, by the way, looks about like this: Request to ICE, in their office, was made by me, and a deposit paid, on or about September 15. We left for Texas on Sept. 20, and returned from Texas on Oct. 10. So, we’re only talking about three weeks and a couple of days.

We naturally asked our caretaker what had happened, and found that he really didn’t have a clue. He thought that someone had come from ICE, but wasn’t really sure (you should be aware that this is as much due to his less than bright mind, as to any actions on the part of any ICE representative). He just couldn’t tell us anything.

So, I went to ICE, and learned that they didn’t really know what had happened, so I asked them to please send their engineer, or whatever, back, so that I could actually talk to him. He came. I showed him my documents. I showed him where my line ran underground. I showed him where the pole is located on my neighbor’s property. I showed him where the line runs, on her property, from the road. He said he understood that ICE did indeed have her permission to run my line on her property, and he said that he would give the go ahead for the connection.

A week went by. Nothing. So, I went again to ICE’s local office. Now, I was told that the engineer, after talking to me, and after reading the documents that I had showed to him, and after being given a copy of said document, had reportedly gone to the trouble to speak directly to the neighbor, asking for her verbal OK. Again, reportedly, she had denied permission. So, I asked how could this be, and why did he feel that he had to talk to her, in the first place. In my presence the clerk placed a phone call. She told me that she was calling my neighbor personally (my neighbor happened to be in San Jose that day, so she called her on her cell). I, of course, only heard one side of the conversation. The clerk concludes her call and says the neighbor has just denied permission to her, yet again.

Ah……….Costa Rica…………gotta love it……..

So, here I am, truly pissed at my neighbor, with whom I haven’t spoken for a time, but who had recently, on the street in town, agreed with me that ICE could run my phone line through her property whenever they wanted to. So, next, a friend of ours, a Tica, and a truly lovely lady, went with Blanca, to talk to our neighbor. Again, she (our neighbor) couldn’t be nicer, and repeated that she had no problem with ICE running my line through her property. As a matter of fact, all agreed that this was the most logical way to hook us up.

So, what we finally figured out was that ICE wanted to run the line down the road, maybe fifty meters west of where our neighbor’s line runs, and make me pay for all of the posts that this would take, so that the line would then be ready for future use. I guess I should mention that we are on a public road (at least according to the municipalidad that has authority over our area. And, here we have yet another Costa Rican idea that is similar, yet very different from what gringos might be used to – municipality might mean a city government, but here it refers to what is more like a county-wide jurisdiction), and let’s face it, it is sort of logical for a public phone line to run along a public road. However, we were very much aware that we were the only ones on said public road, and that the shortest route between us and the nearest lines, was to go across private land, and that is all we were asking for in this instance. But, evidently the fine folks at ICE had decided that by stalling my request, I would eventually agree to pony up the significantly larger amount of money that it would take to do what they wanted, as opposed to simply acceding to my original request.

It only took a few more weeks before one day two guys showed up in a little truck, with a bunch of ladders and stuff, and in less than an hour, they routed wire from the road, along our neighbors existing poles, and hooked us up right where we had asked for it all those weeks before. And, it is still working, what……., about six months later!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Flat Stanley is home!

Just got this email this afternoon:

We received Flat Stanley at our school this week. The kids really enjoyed learning about Costa Rica and seeing the pictures of your volcano. Thanks for your hard work to make this project a success!

Have a great weekend!

Candi Tenbush
Blackland Prairie Elementary

We are so happy to learn that he made it home safely. You may recall that he left here on April 8. We were beginning to worry, but I guess that was for naught.

Maybe Dorothy thinks she is still in Kansas......

I had the weirdest experience/encounter yesterday in town. I went to Arenal on my beer wagon, ‘cause I had to go to the hardware store, to get some fittings for a project I am working on…….

Now, I prefer to go to town on the scooter, ‘cause it doesn’t use much gas, and it doesn’t need any parking space (like that is a big issue in a town as small as ours). As is usual, there weren’t any cars parked in front of the Colono (Almacenes Colono), our only hardware store. So, I did what I always do, and that is that I drive in parallel to the store front, and park so that my front wheel is headed in the same direction as the traffic flow on the street out front. Then, I went inside to do my business.

(And, now, I do hate to do it to you yet again, but I have to take you aside so I can explain another curiosity of Tico life):

Just in case I haven’t mentioned this before, shopping in a hardware store is a very different experience here. As God is my witness, the following is true: Say you want to buy one screw - just one. First, you must find a clerk to help you locate said screw. Generally, you can reach into bins, onto shelves, and take things from racks, to look at, read the label, whatever. But, if you should decide that you wish to purchase this screw (#8 wood screw, brass, say), you must hand it to the clerk. The clerk and you then walk over to a real, live computer station (circa 1997), where the clerk must find said screw in the inventory, so that the price may be determined.

Then, after entering the price information, and ascertaining your identify (for the actual bill, or receipt, known here as the factura), the clerk will usually ask you if this is a cash purchase. This is important, and you quickly learn to volunteer that this is indeed a cash transaction whenever the clerk neglects to ask you. That is because the cost is less for a cash transaction than it is for any use of plastic. Their position is that the bank charges them a fee for processing any plastic transaction, so they will pass that along to you. When you think about it, this is actually preferable to the system in common use in the states, because (just in case you didn’t know this) all merchants in the states have kicked up their sales prices an additional percentage (whatever U. S. banks charge them) on each and every item they sell. And, that additional percentage is cheerfully, if somewhat blithely, paid by one and all.

Next, the clerk tells you the total cost, including taxes. You then walk over to the cashier (caja), where the information that the clerk entered will print out. You wait (in case there are other customers; not too common at Colono) until the cashier calls your name (remember, the clerk asked you for that), and the cashier tells you how much; you pay her, and she gives you your change, along with two copies of the factura, or receipt.

You then take that receipt over to another desk, where yet another clerk double- and triple-checks your receipt against the merchandise which has been carried over by the original clerk (that’s right - one lousy wood screw), and bags your purchase, and gives you the original of the receipt. So, you have dealt with three people to handle one very complete screw, er, uh, small purchase. Talk about labor intensive!

(Back to our story):

Just so we’re clear, the manner in which I parked my little scooter did actually take up two parking spaces, because the store has maybe five spaces marked, facing the front of the building.

Now, I’m in the store, talking to a helpful clerk, describing in great detail what it is that I need to do, and asking for her to wrack her brain (‘cause two are better than one, you know) to see if we can’t come up with something to solve my little problem. A gringa came up to me, and smiling very big, sort of leaned back, as if unsure of herself, and asked, “Excuse me. Is that your little red thing out front?” Now, I’m used to receiving questions, comments, and compliments on my little beer wagon, so I very brightly replied, “Why yes indeed. That is my little red thing.”

She then says, “Well next time why don’t you park so that others can find a spot, too?!” And, she proceeded to rant for some time about how inconsiderate I was, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah……. I was totally and completely flabbergasted! I was speechless! I thought to myself, “Where am I? Am I in Costa Rica? Where the HELL did she come from? Has she not spent any time here in the land of pura vida? Who is she kidding? Obviously, she doesn’t live here.” And, of course, not a single quick retort was to be found, anywhere in my cluttered mind.

Now, here’s the thing. I freely admit that I would never park like this in Dallas (not that I would ever find that many empty spaces right in front of any store). But, I also have to say that if I was the one who found that one inconsiderate person had taken two spaces, and if I was so inclined, I would start out by asking them if they could please move their vehicle, so that someone else might park. I sure as hell would not accost them inside the store, interrupting their shopping experience (and, it IS an experience here), and loudly bawl them out. On the other hand, if someone was to ask me to please move, nicely, I would have been out the door, excusing my bad manners, and moving my little scooter.

But this situation was so absurd, her manner was so out of line (for Costa Rica) as to be downright rude (imho) that all I could do was laugh, and tell her that I was certainly sorry for having parked at all. The clerk was baffled, as was another clerk, who was passing by when the gringa went into her rant. They didn’t understand what she was so mad about. I continued to laugh, as I pretty much ignored the gringa, and explained to the clerks what I was guilty of, and what had so incensed this lady. They frankly did not understand the intensity of the anger, and the male clerk said that maybe she needed the plaza, up a couple of blocks, in order to have enough room to park.

And, no, I did not go move my scooter. And, yes, when I did exit the store, I saw that the lady had found a spot to park, two spaces over from me, because there still weren’t any other vehicles in front of the store. Pura vida, mae.

3g what?

Here's an update I didn't expect to be able to post:

Yesterday, while in town (Nuevo Arenal), a friend told me that he had just gone to the local ICE office and requested that he begin to receive the full high speed. He said that they have changed his plan, and by the time he arrived at home, he was expecting to have a full broad band connection. So, I went over there immediately, and was told by Yurbin, the young man who works alongside Sheila, that the reason we had not been receiving full speed, and the reason we had not been charged the higher cost we originally had agreed to was that there had been a pending court case that has now been resolved. Reportedly, the High Court had said that ICE could not have the different pricing tiers, for slower to fastest speeds, but they have now reversed themselves. I personally had not seen or heard anything about this, but I asked him to please switch me immediately to the fastest speed possible. (It might be remembered by some that the original promise we got from ICE was that we had a special introductory price because the highest speed just was not available yet. I, for one, was under the impression that they would automatically begin delivering the higher speed as soon as it was ready, but it turns out this was not the case).

At any rate, I will now be charged around $24.00 per month, and my first speed test upon returning home yesterday afternoon was indeed just over 1000Kbps. Upload still sucks, but wow..........what can I say? Maybe something like, "Get to the ICE office, and ask them to speed your connection up to the full deal?"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Now, I ask you. What would you do?

Let me tell you about ARCR (Association of Residents of Costa Rica). This group has existed for some time, with main offices in Miami, actually. They offer services to folks (as in, non-Ticos) who are thinking about moving to Costa Rica, and then continue to provide more services to those ex-pats who already do live here. When I began my research into the possibility of our moving here, one of the things I looked at was whether or not I thought this group might be of help to us. I decided that it did not make sense for us to pay them an annual membership fee, plus many hundreds more to assist with our obtaining legal residence. (Their membership costs for those who have not yet obtained legal residence are significantly higher, than for those who already have their cedulas).

If you’ve read this far, you should already be aware of some of the costs we did encounter during the long process. The point is, we did forge ahead on our own, and I think we did OK. We not only got our cedulas, but we also managed to sign up for the CAJA (a program similar to Medicare, but actually for all Costa Ricans, not just the elderly) on our own. Skip ahead a few months, and look at what I have now learned (and this is mostly because of all the talk over the last few months about changes in the immigration laws): we have been paying way more for our CAJA than we need to be paying!

When I thought about it, this all makes sense, and that is most unusual when speaking of anything Tico. You see, when we went to the local Social Security office to sign up for the CAJA, we went voluntarily, so that is how we were treated. As people who voluntarily paid for their own health insurance coverage, we had to pay a different rate than would workers, for instance, under their employer’s coverage.

I had actually become familiar with how insurance works here when our house was under construction. We had to pay a pretty hefty fee before construction began, to provide insurance coverage for the construction workers. Each month, I had to enter (actually did this online) into a planilla the names and information about all the construction workers. This went through the government’s insurance monopoly (INS).
Well, with all the recent discussion, in the local newspapers, online forums, and so on, I learned that members of ARCR are covered by a plan that allows them to pay much less than volunteers pay. So, here’s the math:

Our previous CAJA cost: ¢37,500 (Colones) per month
Annual Cost: ¢450,000 (Colones)
Annual Cost in Dollars: $868.72 (at today’s rate of exchange)

ARCR’s Annual membership fee: $60.00 ($50.00 me, $10.00 Blanca)
Monthly CAJA premium: $40.00
Total annual cost for the two of us: $540.00

Granted, that’s only about $320.00 a year. But, you have to look at it from my perspective. It currently costs me about $27.00 for a case of twenty-four bottles of my favorite brew. This means I can buy a case of beer each and every month for a year, out of that money! Talk about a health benefit! Now, that’s a switch worth making. And, I did.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Time to get some stuff off my chest.

Well, I guess the basic housekeeping is out of the way. Now, I can start to write about some of the things that bother me, and see where that leads us……..maybe a list, to start with:

1) Dishonesty in any form, wherever and whenever encountered.

2) Stupidity, even when masked by simple ignorance, that goes unchecked. Just so we’re clear here, imho, ignorance is correctable, and stupidity can only be helped by correcting one’s ignorance, and/or by pursuing some serious study.

3) People, especially expats, who bash the U. S. A. I mean, if you think your country is so bad, why didn’t you stay there and work to fix it?

4) People who have chosen to avoid real food, by becoming vegetarian, vegan, I-only- eat-organic-non-processed-natural-food, and then, who can’t stop trying to convince everyone else as to the rightness of their choices.

5) People who – without ever having visited, and without having done a smidgeon of research, suddenly announce their decision to move to Costa Rica, and demand feedback from those who came ahead of them, so as to make their decisions about where to live, etc.

6) A corollary of this last one: Newcomers to forums, who can’t be bothered to read any of the many, many links, suggestions, FAQ’s, directions, “READ-THIS-BEFORE-YOU-POST,” flags at the top of the page of any decent forum. Instead, they jump right in demanding answers to their questions, as if no one has ever asked that same stupid thing before (only about a thousand times, and if you took the time to follow the advice and directions at the top of the page, you’d already know the answer, $hithead!)

7) Gringos who assume that whatever their current profession or job title, they are so far superior to any Tico, that they can waltz right on down here and immediately find work, and demand to make a decent living here, just as they may have done there (Hint: Just as Americans tend to get a little sensitive about ‘wetbacks’ taking their jobs, Costa Rica doesn’t allow non-citizens and non-residents to work here, either. Isn’t that surprising? - - Another hint: average wage here, even for a professional, is very, very small; measured in a few hundred a month; well less than a thousand dollars, in other words)

8) Online forums about Costa Rica that have become so anal retentively P.C. that they won’t allow their members to freely express themselves

9) Online forums about Costa Rica that express their undying devotion to the country in the title of their forum, but then do nothing but bash the U. S. A., where a good many of them originated

10) Forum moderators who – for whatever reasons – appear to have nothing better to do with themselves than volunteer to be moderators on more than one forum, like there was a competition of some sort. This sort of moderator is dangerous to the integrity of whatever forum when s/he loses her/his objectivity because s/he thinks that being a moderator means s/he is free to post her/his own perspective on each and every thread of the forum s/he is supposed to be moderating

11) People who love to express their opinion, but refuse to allow others to do the same, quickly descending to personal insult, infantile name-calling, and worse

12) People who form opinions without ever having read a book, or even a newspaper (nowadays, this is unfortunately, very suspect), performed any sort of research, or even worked in a given field of endeavor

13) Perpetual Tourists who persist in trying to sell something to everyone in sight, often representing less than honest products, ventures, ideas, and schemes

Now, I suppose I should honestly disclose here that I have spent entirely too much time on internet forums, various web sites, and discussion panels over the last ten years, almost exclusively dealing with Costa Rica. This was initially excused as being part of my very serious research into what we needed to know in order to make our move to Costa Rica. But, I also freely admit that I can be a pain in the a$$, especially when my buttons are pushed (as in, it begins to look like I may have encountered one or more of the above mentioned).

I quickly became tired of the repetition, and rapidly established myself as a grouch, curmudgeon, mean old man, and all-around Pain in the A$$ on most forums when I tried to point the newbies towards the locations that showed them the answers to their questions, or actually had the audacity to suggest they might want to do some research on their own before asking their questions.

And, of course, if I encounter one of the folks listed above, I tend to get crotchety, and cranky, especially if I have taken the time (just as a ‘fer instance’) to advise someone where to find scientific fact to counter their claims that ‘organic is the only way to go,’ only to be told that I place too much reliance on Science, since “all scientists have sold out to big business.”

I was actually kicked off one forum when I got into an exchange with their exalted ‘moderator,’ off line, in PM’s. This occurred despite being encouraged to use that method for any statements that might be inflammatory, and to prevent the average forum user from being exposed to possibly controversial statements. I still don’t quite understand that action. I freely admit that I was – at the very least – contentious and any of the things I mentioned above (curmdgeonly, mean old man, etc.) - especially towards this particular ‘moderator’ - but I still contend that I kept any nasty comments to those aforementioned PM’s. So, from my perspective, I was excluded from that forum for saying something personal, privately, rather than in the open forum. Of course, after the fact I wish I had gone ahead and posted my statements online, so that all forum members could see what a chicken$hit this guy is.

I more recently got into it with several members of another forum, this one that claims – even in its name – to be all about how the members and the owner of the forum really, really, really are enamored of Costa Rica! (And, I got kicked off that one when I pointed out that the owner has an agenda, wherein he openly dislikes the U. S. A.)

Was I wrong? Of course I was. Were my actions less than well thought out? Of course they were. Meanwhile, I suppose the whole thing should serve as a lesson learned. First of all, it should always be remembered that internet based forums may be great places to exchange information and ideas, and even great places to learn new information, solve problems (can’t tell you how many times I have been able to find solutions for many computer and other kinds of problems by asking questions on forums). However, that said, it should also be remembered that free advice is pretty much worth what you pay for it.

Ultimately, I hope that if I can stick to this blog, it will take away wasted time spent on some of those forums, and maybe that will lead to something positive. By the way, this post has taken a long time to create, mostly because I guess I’m not too sure about its importance in the overall scheme of things, and partly because I wanted to try to make it as objective as I could (didn’t succeed very well at that, did I?). Oh, well, this is only part of how I feel, and what I believe. Stick around. This could get interesting. (or not)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

So, who might we be....

So, what’s next for this blog?
I guess I could flesh out the family picture. As you should know by now, Blanca was a classroom teacher, and I was a nurse. We have four adult children, all of whom still live in Texas.
Arthur (aka, AD, from his radio days) is the oldest, and is married to Anissa; they live in Austin, where they both work for the State of Texas. Arthur graduated from UT, and Anissa from Texas State University. They have been married for all of six months. We were there! See photos on Facebook, and other places.
John, Jr. (aka, Johnny), is next. He is married to Brenda, and they live in El Paso, where Brenda is a school nurse, and John is a Farmers’ Insurance Agent. He graduated from the University of Phoenix, just last year, and Brenda graduated from UTEP. They have four kids, Bryan (aka Boru), our oldest grandchild, very soon to be 17, then, Mikey, Kaela (soon to have her First Holy Communion), and Kirsten.
Our daughter, Blanca, Jr. (aka Ikis), is next, and she lives in Arlington, Texas, with her husband, Julio Castrellon, and their two daughters, Tristen and Aislynn. Julio is just about to graduate from University of Texas at Arlington, and Blanca hopes to continue her university education, very soon.
Our baby is Andrew (aka, Bucko), who is married to Cassandra (aka, Casey). She graduated from Texas State University, and Andrew has studied at ACC, and holds a bunch of the high tech certificates for computers and stuff (no, he’s not a geek). They live in Austin, where Andrew installs AT&T’s UVerse systems, and Casey sells real estate, when she’s not taking care of Baby O, Olivia, their one year daughter.
Commonalities here? Lots of nick names, huh? I should tell you that Blanca is known to her family as Pipis. I answer to Pops, Grandpa, and just about anything that ends with beer? (the question mark is important because that indicates that someone is likely offering me one). AD, Bucko, Casey, Ikis, and her two daughters have all been here to Costa Rica, at least once. Ikis and the girls are expected to be here again in June. We are also hoping to welcome Bryan for his first visit here, this coming summer.
Wow…….that’s us. Of course we each have siblings, and one of them you’ve already heard about (Fernie). More will be introduced as we go along, I’ll bet. Compadres, amigos, cousins/primos, and various and sundry others will be in and out, as well. And, we have made more friends here in our little community, and actually have a busier social life than we’ve experienced for many years. So, some of that will undoubtedly find its way in here.

As for the "picture," referred to, above, here it is:

Starting at Left, John, Jr., Aislynn (in Grandpa's arms), Grandpa, Tristen (sorta in front of Grandpa), AD, Bryan (in front of AD), Kirsten (in Grandma's arms), Grandma, Mikey (in front of Grandma), Kaela (between Bryan and Mikey), Bucko, and in front of him, Ikis.

A Quick 3g Update for Costa Rica

I have found this coverage map for the entire country. I think it may well explain why I don't have a stable or strong or fast internet experience. The full map is found here:

This is an insert showing my immediate area:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why are we living in Costa Rica?

So, how did we get here, anyway?
No, I don’t mean for this to be some deep philosophical, chase-your-tale-around-the-flagpole, which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg? what’s-it-all-about,Alphie? – was-it-evolution-or-intelligent-design? discussion. (How’s that for a convoluted sentence?)
What I mean is how did we – John and Blanca – get here to paradise? I’m sure you’re all dying to know. Well, it was like this…….
We never planned as well as we shoulda, coulda, woulda, but we always had this idea somewhere that the day would come when we no longer wanted to work for a living. Hopefully, that day might actually coincide with a day when we no longer had to work for a living. I mean, that would be sort of convenient, no? But, the reality is, we did not plan well, and we did not put aside money starting when we were in our 30’s, as we should have done, and as we have urged our children to do. We started and stopped a good number of IRA’s and annuities, and payroll savings plans, but they always got cashed in when we would change from one job to another. (I even made the mistake of cashing in a ten year pension, when I left the employ of the El Paso City County Health Department, in 1987. I could have left that money there (admittedly, not very much at all), and then added it to my later ten years of working with the State of Texas, for a twenty+ year pension).
Well, bottom line is, we didn’t……….so, we now go back to 1999. Blanca’s youngest brother, Fernando (aka, Fern, or Fernie), invited me to come with him on a trip to Costa Rica, from Dallas. He lived in Dallas at that time, and we still lived in El Paso. That trip was something of an eye-opener for me, and was the beginning of us getting serious about our future. I would have been about 53 at that time, and had already been working for the State of Texas for about seven years. We stayed at Chalet Nicholas Bed and Breakfast, in Nuevo Arenal, during that visit. Fern used most of his time traveling around the immediate area specifically looking for land to buy for his future. I went with him on several of his day trips, and was with him when he first saw the first property that he bought in Costa Rica (actually, it is less than two kilometers from where I am sitting right now).
I remember that I was not at all impressed with what Fern looked at, and was very skeptical when he announced that he was going to buy those approximately three acres (one hectare). The property, which today is known far and wide as El Galeron, or the Mexican’s place, is shaped very roughly like a wedge of pie, with the point of the triangle being the lowest part, and the wide edge of the wedge being at the top. It looked, quite frankly, like wasteland, the first time I saw it. The undergrowth had recently been cut, but not moved out of the way, so it was just lying there, decaying. This was March, kind of the normal ‘summer’ for this area, but I seem to remember quite a bit of rain that week. At any rate, Fern said this was going to work, and he made arrangements to buy the property (I think he basically stole it, the price was so low, but that’s OK).
His ideas and his money turned that place into a spot that is prettier than many National Parks, truly. And, ultimately, Fernie is either to blame, or he gets full credit for us now being here. He introduced me to this country, he talked of it all the time, and he showed us that there is a world outside Texas. It wasn’t long before we started boring everybody we knew by having only one topic of conversation wherever we went, and I now believe that constant talking about Costa Rica is a large part of why were able to actually get here to live. We literally turned it into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it was like one thing just led to another, and before we knew it, ten years (plus) went by, and guess were we live?
You already know the actual how, when, where, why, if you’ve read the rest of this blog, so now you know just a wee bit more. Stick around. I think I’m just getting started.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

This is too good not to share!

Talk about weird. After all my earlier ranting, this afternoon I received this email response from ICE. This is in response to a message that I left them, back on Jan. 15, 2010. I received it at 3:15 this afternoon. It comes, incidentally, and maybe just a little bit ironically, from their “Virtual Agency.” Really, the only link on their web site to anything remotely resembling help, questions, whatever, leads to a page called: Agencia Virtual.

My question to them, asked, in Spanish: Don’t you have a telephone number that I can call when I have problems with the internet of the 3g/Kolbi? A service department/technical department, something like that?

Their answer, today:

Excuse the delay in the answer, [due to] problems out of our control... I expect that your [question] consultation has been [misplaced until] an evacuee to today; but, perhaps because some of our other [functions] by now your service is functioning normally. We thank you again for your inquiry [consultation], if has some other comment or questions do not hesitate in contacting us.

what was the name of that creature from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?

Now, don't get me wrong. We really like our new life here in paradise, but there is one thing that constantly irritates me. That is the lack of a decent internet connection. It seems funny to think about it, but I got my first computer (and, it was already an old one) in late 1991, about 18-19 years ago. I think it measured internet connection speed in something called bauds, and I remember talking about baud rates, which was also discussed when talking about how fast a fax was sent and received. I know that the modem involved was very slow by today’s standards, but it was adequate for text-only bulletin boards, because that is about all I did on the ‘net, besides a few primitive and tentative emails.

My work at that time was from a home office, in my capacity as an investigator for the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners (I think they have since changed their name, but who really cares?). My next computer was provided by my employer, and as I recall was an early Dell, with color monitor, and a cheap printer. My connection to HQ (I lived in El Paso, and the Board’s offices were in Austin) was achieved by calling a telnet phone number at the University of Texas at El Paso, from which a miracle was created that connected me directly and securely with the mainframe in Austin. This was again mainly for email, interoffice communication, and submitting my reports.

Then, I remember modems went from maybe 28 kilobits per second (that’s Kbps, on a telephone dial up), then I got one (purchased myself, and installed it in the State’s computer; don’t tell them) rated at 33.6Kbps, and thought I was really moving. Then, of course, dial up peaked at 56Kbps, really, really fast compared to that old baud rate thing, that was probably hitting about 300 bits per second.

Next, I made a huge leap, and by this time it was pretty much necessary because the internet was no longer text-only, but graphics were being added, and more and more bandwidth (and, speed…arrrgh, arrrgh - a la Tim Allen) was needed. My huge leap was to cable, via Road Runner, and boy, did that puppy howl!

So, from about 1994/5, until we left Texas last year, I either had cable or DSL for my internet, and I was spoiled. The funny thing (funny curious, not funny ha-ha) was that I never really used my internet at its full potential, other than downloading some things here and there. What I mean is, I never tried to watch streaming video, ‘cause I had cable or satellite television. Now, here in Costa Rica, I want - very badly – to be able to use the Slingbox/Slingcatcher combination that I paid good money for, and now find that it does little more than collect dust. Why, you ask?

Actually, the answer is simple. I need a steady, reliable, consistent internet connection of only 500Kbps in order to stream video via this system ( – look it up). The very best I have been able to achieve, and this has not happened since maybe a short time in February, was 485-490Kbps. Just enough that we watched U. S. programming for about four nights, and since then, nothing……, zilch, nada, nariz boleada, bupkus.

Yesterday, when I started writing this update, I tried to run some speed tests online, just to illustrate my point. I have become a frequent visitor to these sites:,, and Hell, we are on a first name basis – I call them all speedy, and they call me sucker). I was able to complete the speed test on only one of these sites yesterday, and you can see the result here (but, unfortunately, not very clearly):

(the significant number is in red: 16K. That is slower than a 33.6Kbps dial up modem!)

Now, I ask you, is this at all logical? I pay for a service. I get no service. And, that leads me to my point, except that now I have to lead you down a side path, so as to provide you with just a little background information that you probably need, if you are not familiar with Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is a small country, both in terms of geography and population. Roughly the size of the state of West Virginia, and the total population is just a bit over four million, at least two of whom are legal residents, originally from the U. S. Geographically, Costa Rica is also a land of ups, downs, twists, and turns (I guess that same statement could easily apply to their politics, their way of doing business, and just generally, life its ownself, as one Dan Jenkins might say). I say that about the geography because this is a place of hills, mountains, valleys (deep, deep valleys), arroyos, gulches, river bottoms, and bigger mountains – not to mention at least seven, serious, for real volcanoes.

Now, the geography alone should be adequate to explain why this country has such bad roads, and such a crappy infrastructure. I mean, it is a truly magnificent engineering feat to construct a road from point A, to point B. Then, to put into place a working telephone system, an electrical grid (after finding the ways and means to actually produce electricity), and all the other things that Americans take for granted, was indeed an awesome accomplishment. Especially when you consider that this was necessary to provide for a very small population, spread all the hell and gone, up and down those mountains, valleys, gulches, and even some beaches.

But, as I said, then you have to consider politics and the way that business in general (and, don’t forget life its ownself) is done here in paradise. First of all, somebody had to pay to put these things in place, so logically it fell upon the government. Thus was born (now, understand, I don’t know any of this really; I’m just speculatin’) the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, better known as I. C. E., or simply, ICE, which is a government agency/business/monopoly/monster/beaurocracy-at-its-worst/entity dedicated to providing a minimum service/product, for a maximum return.

You see, ICE became, over time, a pestilence, a veritable cancer upon the land. They now are charged with providing electricity, telephone service, internet service, telegraph service, and a whole buncha other things, probably best left unmentioned. Think of an octopus that has been through a few battles over the years. It’s lost a few limbs, maybe half, and it has developed just a bit of an attitude. You know the kind I mean, surly, disgruntled, maybe hungry, feels unloved, and boy, is he pissed! That’s ICE.

I’ll tell you about my efforts to get electricity in my name another time, ‘cause it’s a story its ownself. This little rant is about my internet (or the lack therof) and the current state of the beast today, in the little rural area where we live. When we got here a year ago, I began inquiries as to the availability of any kind of internet service. I pretty much got one response, no matter where I asked: “No es disponible.” That means, it ain’t gonna happen, dude. Not for you. Not where you live (dummy). No how. No way. Uh, uh.

Now, Costa Rica, via one of the still-functioning long arms of that octopus, ICE, provides to the majority of its population internet services via telephone dial up, ADSL, and cable. OK, to be perfectly honest, there are two other companies, in San Jose, and some other cities, that provide the cable service, but they have to pay our friends over at ICE, for their access to it. If one lives too far from a switching station, or some such, there is simply no ADSL available. Likewise, if one is not in a major city, there is simply no cable, TV or otherwise available. That leaves dial up, and this is accomplished by means of paying through the nose to ICE, for a dial up account, or by purchasing – when and if one can find them – internet cards, that allow up to ten or fifteen hours of internet connection, for a pre-paid price. That is what I used from May of last year, up until December.

ICE, with very little advance notice, released a new system upon their unsuspecting populace, in late December. They entered the 20th century (I did indeed say, the 20th century, as opposed to the current epoch), technologically speaking, by introducing 3g cell phone service. Along with the 3g cell phones, they also announced a new and better internet experience, via the same 3g technology. They call it Kolbi, named after the national frog (I kid you not) of Costa Rica, and the frog has become something of a logo for this service. Now, on the service, this looked like the answer to my prayers. They promised a signal rated at 1.5Mbps, and the device itself is rated at 7.2Mbps. I eagerly, if somewhat stupidly, rushed to my nearest ICE office, and signed up – you should know that this necessitated a wait of nearly four hours, ‘cause that is pretty much standard in any office in the country, for just about any service – for the new device, known as a data card/modem, and the service that goes with it. Actually, the price wasn’t that bad, for Costa Rica: about $65 - $70 for the device, with a monthly fee of around $30.00. That was for the fastest speed offered. Other plans were cheaper per month, but offered a lower speed. Well, that seemed OK………

(This is what the Huawei E166 Data Card / modem looks like, by the way):

At first it was OK. I understood that this was a new service, and that there should have been bugs to work out, but........

As of late December, ICE said the signal was to increase by January, to the full 1.5Mbps, and until that time, the cost was going to be (do the words, “limited time offer” ring a bell?) only 3,500Colones per month, instead of the 15,000Colones for the highest speed. And, of course that amount does not include taxes, charges, fees, etc. Sounds like the states, huh? Well, it started out kinda spotty, in terms of consistency, with the speed going up and down all day long. Got so good in January, or maybe it was February, that we were able to watch TV from Austin, Texas, via the computer’s internet connection, for maybe three or four nights in a row. I still couldn’t use my SlingCatcher, because I didn’t have a router yet, to send the signal to that device.

By the time I got a router, and the necessary cable to hard wire the SlingCatcher to it, the 3g network went to hell…………..I mean, talk about inconsistent! Mostly too weak, and too slow, of course…..The program that comes with the device has a feature that shows its connection speed. That is mostly a flat line, at the very bottom, but every once in a while it will suddenly jump up as high as 500Kbps, just about where I need it to be. But, it never, ever stays up there. And, this has been going on now for over three months.

As I said, I bought a router, so that I could "share" my internet connection with other devices in my home (like the SlingCatcher), and it measures signal strength, on its web setup page. Lately, it is averaging less than 30%. The best I have achieved, and this has not happened for at least a week, was around 59%.

In short, I am thoroughly disgusted with this 'service,' because in addition to the fact that they have totally failed to deliver on what they promised, I have found that there is absolutely NO such thing as customer service, tech support, or anything else available to me. I have gone in person to my local ICE office on at least three times since I bought this damn thing, and just wasted even more of my time. I asked them at least twice to exchange it, but no luck. First they said that they were receiving lots of similar complaints, and that they needed my name and contact information so that they could report this to San Jose, and have an engineer come see for himself (like that was going to happen), then they said that there just aren't any more units in the country.

I have looked in vain for a coverage map (you know, like the real guys have on their websites in the real world?), a phone number for customer service, contact information of any kind. I did find a link, within the ICE online pages, to what they call the ‘controloria,’ kind of like an ombudsman. I sent them an inquiry, on Feb. 7, asking why the signal was so inconsistent, and slow, and weak……I finally got an email response on March 17:

Repuesta del responsable:
uenos días: la velocidad de conexión está sujeta a cobertura y saturación, es probable que en horas pico se le torne mas lenta por la cantidad de usuarios conectados. Muchas gracias

(essentially says: the speed of the connection is subject to coverage and saturation, probably at peak hours it is more slow due to the number of users connected. Thank you very much).

Agradecemos nuevamente su consulta, si tiene algún comentario o duda adicional, no dude en contactarnos.

(We are happy to receive your inquiries, and if you have any additional comments or questions or problems, don’t hesitate to contact us again, ya da ya da ya da ya da, blah, blah, blah, blah, here’s a quarter; call somebody who cares).

So, here I am. Creating this post in Word, since I can’t be sure my internet connection will be stable enough to allow me to write on the actual blog pages, still faced with adding my photos to this entry, so it will look all nice for whoever……..that is very time consuming when the upload speed is about 1-2Kbps, maybe on a good day, 10-12Kbps (whoopee). I guess the good news is that ICE has not yet increased the monthly bill. I’m still paying only 3,500Colones (plus taxes, fees, etc., for a total of around 5,500Colones). I have no idea of if or when this system might ever be improved because the people at the local office have not one single clue – about anything! I stick with it because it is still better than dial up.