Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Monday, May 31, 2010

A Close Encounter of the Kind you Don’t Want to Have…….

Gotta call it something, so I went with this title, 'cause I can't think of a one word description for the kind of encounter that would read like the movie title.

Well, we had our first encounter with a local Ladrone this morning at about 3:30. I heard a sound like metal hitting metal, like maybe the LPG tanks outside (we have two 100 lb. tanks for cooking), or maybe like the sound effects of sonar from one of those exciting undersea adventures, a la "The Hunt For Red October." So, I got up, and walked into the living room, where I noticed a dark corner of the front window (not normally present).

I went to the front door, threw it open, and turned on the light. That was when I noticed the screen door, on the right (the side of the house that parallels the road) was open. I yelled, "Hey!" and looked around the corner. Of course, by this time, whoever it was had left in a hurry, most likely running up the little road. I surmise that they fled up the road, because almost at once, the neighbor's dogs started barking, up the road. Then, I noticed the spare car jack was placed inside the metal window guard, where it had been used to try to pop the welds, and so gain access to the window.

Obviously, the sound I had heard was the strain of the metal, as he turned the jack in between bars. The good news is that he made too much noise, and woke me, so he only took one item. The bad news is that he cut the screen on that side door, to gain access to that door's lock, and he cut the screen on the front window, along with popping at least one weld, and bending a couple of the bars. Oh, and of course, he woke us up at 3:30 am!

We called the cops. Wait, that's not true. The cops didn't answer the phone number they had given us, so Blanca called Leti, Tulio's wife. She then called the cops in Tilaran, rather than the local number. Four of them showed up within about thirty minutes, one with what looked like a M-16, another with a small carbine, one with a big-assed flashlight, and the fourth, pretty much empty-handed. One of them we already knew, from a previous visit they had made to solicit a contribution to their building fund (that's another story, and if I haven't reported it, I will), and we welcomed them.

The guys with the weapons couldn't seem to stop messing with them, taking out the magazine, and replacing it, and clicking the safeties on and off. Three of them took a Coke, and basically they took our identifying information, and asked if anything seemed to be missing. We did not, at the time, see anything missing, so they discussed the situation among themselves, and with us. They wanted to know if I have a weapon, and of course, I do not, as I have been told that 'estranjeros' (strangers/foreigners) cannot – any longer - legally own a weapon here. We hadn't seen anything, and we didn't hear any motors, so the speculation is that the thief ran up to the road where they believe he had parked a car. They had seen two cars on the road on their way from Tilaran, and taken the license numbers of both. They speculated that our thief was driving one of the cars, and they think they know which one, since they associate it with a known thief.

They reassured us that he would not return the rest of the night, but he would likely be back at some point in time, to try again. So, we need to look more closely at our security, such as it is. I did notice a burned out light bulb in the fixture right over the door that the creep had used to enter the front porch, so that's an obvious fix. Of course, we need to get the screens replaced, and see if we can get the popped weld redone, and the bars straightened.

I guess this might soil that 'pura vida' vibe just a bit, but I'm not sure. I have certainly been aware for a long, long time that burglary is common here, and frankly, I'm just glad we haven't been hit before, and that nothing really important was taken or damaged this time. Hopefully, with some extra precautions here and there, we can prevent a recurrence of this event, and/or protect ourselves against anything worse happening.

Oh, the one thing that was taken? Go figure. We had these two pottery type wall hanging things, representing the sun and the moon that Blanca bought in Mexico some years ago. They used to be painted kind of an earth tone color when we had them hanging on outside walls in El Paso and in Farmers Branch. But, just a couple of weeks ago, we decided they needed to be brightened up a bit, so Blanca painted the sun a bright yellow, and the moon a royal blue. They hung just inside the screen door, on the front wall of the house, just as you entered the door. This morning, after we had gotten up the second time, Blanca noticed they were gone. She then saw the moon laying on the ground, just outside the barbed wire fence, face up, but there is no sign of the sun. I checked the road, going up to the highway this morning, when I took up the garbage, but saw no sign of it. So, I have to conclude that this sneak in the night needed something to remind him of his bravery. Oh, he did leave something in trade, though! We found one of those knit caps lying on the floor of the porch. You know the kind, similar to the old Navy watch caps, but smaller, like what the 'gangstas' wear in the hip-hop, rap crap videos (the style that, for some strange reason, they now call beanies). I would speculate that he realized that such a cap is not exactly de rigueur, or appropriate head gear in this climate, especially if one is exerting oneself trying to force entry into a private domicile. What do you think?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Just another encounter in paradise…..

Update:  Looks like little Suzy might have found my blog entry about her, as she got her chance and took it the other day.  A newbie, saying she and her husband are in their thirties, have at least one kid, posted a question about how they can come to CR, and live and work here.  I, of course, advised her to slow down, and make sure that she does things properly and legally.  Well, a lady named Mary came out in full support of this idea, and couldn't resist the opportunity to take this cheap shot at me:
"Just because it takes one uncreative person 10 years to figure it all out in NO WAY means that it cannot be done.  I have done it, we are all happy and love it here and get by just fine."

Of course, her very positive response to the newbie did not mention under what circumstances my friend Mary got here, or what her status really is.  I find that to be just a bit disengenuous, if not deliberately misleading.  I suspect that, in her case, she and her family are here because her husband found a job with an international company that happens to be here.  This makes her circumstances very unusual, not to mention unique.  Oh, well, I just thought I'd keep things up to date.  Oh, Mary only signs one thing to her posts now, naming her kids and their ages, as before, and still admonishing one and all to 'be what you want your children to be,' which is still a fascinating statement for such a person to be making (imho)......

I got in trouble yet again, recently.
I saw this post on that forum that I talked about not so long ago:
"Options – opinions please
WE ( husband and I ) are ready – literate ready to make the move –
We are in early 30t – looking to enroll in a PUBLIC University –
Fluent in Spanish
- Needless to say – Have no residency and no immediate means to obtain it
– other than having a baby – which is not in the near picture.
My big question is – would it be possible to apply for some sort of Student
visa? Or student permit—that would allow us to study and reside in CR while in
What about the University of Costa Rica? Please your thoughts and opinions are
more than welcome.
The first response to this inquiry was posted minutes before mine, so I didn't see it until after mine had been posted):
"The easiest way of coming to Costa Rica as a student is in an exchange program
from your local University in the US or other country. Then you would qualify
for a student VISA which would have to be renewed every year. There is a
department of Asuntos Internacionales y Extranjeros at UCR. You could go to
their website for more information about admission standards. They require an
admission test if applying from here. from there you could look thru their website for other
ideas. Every foreigner... student or professor has to have their VISA renewed
thru migracion once a year thru the office of Asuntos Internacionales. It is a
complicated process, but there are quite a few exchange students going to the
(My response to this question went like this):
"So, how do you propose to pay for study at the university level, especially i[f[ you're not a citizen or resident?
You say you are fluent in Spanish, so I would ask you why are you asking a question about something of this nature on an English language forum that is largely made up of expats, and the like, when you could be going direct to the website of the university in question?"
(There was a second response, after mine; the guy who posted this says his girlfriend is a Tica who is an attorney, and he is constantly touting her legal services):
"We do student VISAs a lot. They are pretty easy. I teach at a University. In
what city are you wanting to locate?"
Then, sometime later, I received this email, which began by quoting my post, from above, and then, went on to say:
Seriously, what the hell is your problem????  It is none of your business how they plan to pay for college and also totally rude and dismissive to hint at the fact that maybe they are unintelligent or lying about being bilingual.  This is a forum for help not putdowns!
mama to Chad (10), Brad (5 1/2) and Geo Bernard (3 1/2) - - - names and ages changed 'cause I'm a nice guy.
"Be who you want your children to be."    Unknown
"Each morning we are born again.  What we do today is what matters most."    Buddha
"Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."
    Denis Diderot
I swear to God, this is how she signs all her emails: listing her frickin' kids, as if they – at their tender ages – are something so special, that her only claim to fame is that she gave birth to them, I guess. Plus the three (count 'em, three) quotes from wherever, as if she has no original thoughts of her own. Well, I replied to her:
So, this is what you want your children to be?  Someone who jumps all over a stranger because you don't like the way I express myself?
pura vida
Then, she came back with (and, of course, still with her quotes, and her sole claim to fame):
What I want my children to be is someone who sticks up for others!!  It wasn't about not liking how you express yourself, it was about the fact that you were rude, dismissive, and unwelcoming to new people.  If I were a moderator I would ban you from posting, honestly, because people like you are why newbies don't ask questions or comment.  [The name of the forum] is hurt by people with your so called expression.
So, she's got my goat, and I came back with this:
I can and will take exception to almost everything you have to say, young lady.
First of all, who made you the sole determining factor as to the purpose of this, or any other forum?
Read the description of it for yourself (because apparently, you are not acquainted with this information):
(XXX is an………)  
Unmoderated, non-religious, non-political and non-commercial list, open to all members to exchange information about Costa Rica.
Members agree to refrain from:
1) Foul language, vulgarity and/or profanity.
2) Chat-room language.
3) Joke-forwards, Chain letters, Soliciting, Political opinions, and /or Religious opinions in any form.
4) Commercial ads/announcements; culling of addresses
5) Inclusion of message responded to (piggybacking).
Otherwise, anything about Costa Rica is accepted, with the goal of providing cross-feed among members.
Don't forget to check our archives ("messages" on the left side of this page) AND our EBOARD (xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx) where you'll find FAQs, medical,legal info, areas, recs., and more!!!!
SPECIAL NOTES: Members opinions are their own and are not the responsibility of list management. Messages and archives are NOT part of the public domain.

Frankly, I am tired of shallow people telling me that I am rude.  It strikes me that you, like so many of your ilk, do not know how to read for content.
Look at what the person said.  ("WE ( husband and I ) are ready – literate ready to make the move – We are in early 30t – looking to enroll in a PUBLIC University – Fluent in Spanish
- Needless to say – Have no residency and no immediate means to obtain it
– other than having a baby – which is not in the near picture.
My big question is – would it be possible to apply for some sort of Student
visa? Or student permit—that would allow us to study and reside in CR while in
What about the University of Costa Rica? Please your thoughts and opinions are
more than welcome."

The statements made, and the questions asked, tell me a lot about the person who posted those words: 
"Fluent in Spanish" means capable of reading a Spanish language website.
"looking to enroll in a Public university" – tells me that they have no knowledge of university level opportunities here, but they do know enough to know that public universities tend to cost less, and have lower admission standards than many private institutions.  Also leads me to question their motives.  I don't know about you, but I reside here and pay not only the common sales taxes that are part of life in CR, but also my property taxes, etc.  I don't think I like the idea of any gringo coming in to a public university that is partly supported by my taxes, taking a spot that should rightly belong to a Tico, and thinking that this is OK.
"have no residency, or means to obtain it"  tells me that they are aware that residency is important for attendance at a university (you are aware, aren't you that one must prove or establish residency in the U. S., no matter what state, in order to get into an institution of higher learning)?  So, I am speculating that this person is looking for something that might well be illegal, so, again, I question their motives.
They wanted to know about student visas, or permits…..this tells me that they are putting the cart before the horse.  It simply makes no sense for someone to ask about residence before they've answered the question of whether or not they can even get admitted to a university.
They're in the early 30's……….that tells me that they are old enough to know better.  This is a pipe dream, and I will be damned if I will encourage this kind of pipe dream.  And, ultimately, they are asking forum members to aid and abet their stated intention to circumvent the laws of the country where I reside.  I was brought up better than that, but maybe you weren't.
Look at what I said in response.  What did YOU say to them?  So, why are you concerned about what I said?  What business is it of yours what I say or think?  I am responsible for my statements, and as you can see from the management of this forum, they (the management) take none for me.
Now, take a look at yourself.  You don't seem to have an original thought, depending on others to say it for you (three separate quotes on one email?!)  And, what do those quotes say about you?  Let's see, you have no respect for authority, and you do not believe in organized religion.  You don't plan for the future, or learn from the past.  You're prone to violence.
She then sent this:
John,  I guess we just don't see the world the same at all.  XXX(the common name of the forum) to me should include helping others and not jumping to conclusions.  The original post did NOT offend me and really I did not see the same things that you saw.  I didn't think they were skirting the law or trying to rob you of your tax dollars.  In fact they were just trying to gather information.  I see no harm in it.  This is not the first time that I felt you were completely presumptuous and down right offensive in the way that you spoke to someone.  As for it not being specifically mentioned in the guidelines (you know the not being a total jerk part), I would have to say that it is probably not there because the people who set up the group felt it unnecessary to tell adults that they needed to be kind.  You, sir, are UNkind!  And yes that was meant to be patronizing!!  Gotta keep up with your "ilk":)
We won't be seeing eye to eye EVER, so I think I am all set with this conversation.  Until the next time I feel I should stick up for people being treated badly.......Ohhh I am a bad person.
Now, she's not getting off that easy:
(the subject of my email message to her was something like, "I know you want the last word, but" - - -)
not just yet........How you can see total innocence in that post, baffles my mind.  A person in the[ir] 30's should be out in the world making a living, and making it a better world!  What do you think they plan to study?  That post was such an obvious step in what they think is a new and unique scam.........
Yes, we certainly do see the world differently.  I view it with my eyes open, and with my years of experience.  You apparently are content wearing blinders that force you see the world through your rose-colored glasses.  You go on ahead and live your happy little life marked by terminal naiveté, defending all those other innocents out there.
I will continue to enjoy my little piece of paradise, while protecting me and mine from the scam artists that are out there.
You like quotes, so here's one for you:  "Everybody lies."  Gregg House, M. D.
And, then, she said:
You are protecting no one by assuming everyone is looking for a scam.  Why is it unacceptable to you for someone in their 30s to learn more and to have an adventure.  Maybe by learning a bit more and travelling they will make it a better place.  You can learn a lot about yourself and your world by exploring new countries.  You do not know these people or their motives!!  To me it is unfair to assume things and I simply did not see it as cut and dry as you apparently did.
I guess I will keep my rose colored glasses on (believe me I am not naive and they may be up to no good but it does no good to assume anything) rather then be a pessimistic fool.  I would think in ALL your years you would have learned that assumptions are almost always wrong!  Learn about people before just expecting that they are bad!
I do like quotes because I like to learn from others with more wisdom then I.  I find some to be very worthwhile and inspirational.  If that makes me a bad person then so be it!  Many people like the quotes that I post and go out of their way to tell me so.  Since we are swapping quotes, here's one you can learn from...."We must be as courteous to a man as we are to a picture, which we are willing to give the advantage of a good light."    Ralph Waldo Emerson  
So, I said:
First of all, when did I say that I have made assumptions about anything, or anyone?  I told you that their statements tell me something about them and their motives.  These are not assumptions on my part!

Why do you automatically assume that it is all right for someone in their thirties to be "looking for an adventure?"  I strongly suspect anyone's motives if they admit on the one hand that they cannot meet the requirements for legal residence, but still want to live here!  That is not an assumption! 

Speaking only for myself, I remember the first time it occurred to me that Costa Rica might be a nice place to live, and that I would in fact like to live here one day.  It never occurred to me, and I doubt that it would occur to you, to look for ways to circumvent the law.  What I did instead was look into the law, and seek to learn what it was that I needed to do in order to come here legally.  That meant that I had to wait, and work towards the goal.  What is wrong with that?  Nothing worthwhile in this life is a freebie.  Only by working for what we want can we truly appreciate what we achieve.  So, please don't expect me to believe that it is all right for someone to be looking for the easy way, and for someone else to ignore the law.
Believe me, I do not see anything as 'cut and dry.'  (Actually, the correct phrase is "cut and dried," but that is neither here nor there.  Again, I learned how to look at the evidence in front of me, and to never assume anything.
You have made a number of assumptions about me, but I know a lot about you, because, believe it or not, I do know how to read people, and your attitudes, as expressed in your emails, are very clear to me.
One more assumption you have made about me, and my ideas, is that you think that I must think you are a bad person.  I have not said any such thing, nor have I implied it.  I suspect you are a very good person, if a bit misguided.
And, then she said:
To me it was all assumptions that you made about those people and if they get a student visa and go to school here they are not breaking the law.  It doesn't matter how old you are either:)  I did make assumptions about you but it was after several emails on your part which in my mind were very distasteful!
On a side note I am also an RN, so alas we do have something in common:)  Buen dia John!
So, I told her:
You got the last word..........well, almost.........
And, she still didn't want to let it rest:
Ha, I win because I learned something from our conversation:)  Take care and maybe just try to tread more gently. It's true people lie and generally suck a lot of the time but every once in a while if you don't assume they will suck, they don't!
Last words aren't important, have a great day!
So, let me see if I understand any of this (while remembering that she has said that last words aren't important). I am a bad person because I don't accept strangers on a forum at face value. I am a bad person because I call them on questionable statements, to which, by the way, no one has yet responded (as in, the person of whom I asked my questions). Now, of course, my friend, Suzie, will say that is because my rudeness scared them off, but I suspect that the original poster lacks the courage of his or her convictions, and figured it was better to just slink off somewhere, to try to think up another scheme, rather than to pursue this one. Or, who knows, maybe they decided to take the advice that was offered, and look at the website for the University.
Meanwhile, maybe I took the wrong tack with this young lady. Maybe I should have proposed a hypothetical situation for her, thusly:
You are a young French citizen, in your early 30's, who has been hearing about and reading about a really neat place (you think). It is located in the U. S., and is called Houston (ed. Note: I picked Houston because it has a population roughly equivalent to that of Costa Rica). You speak and are actually pretty fluent in English. You begin to think that maybe you'd like to go to Houston, to try it out. (ed. Note: Here's where I naturally get into trouble, because this next part frankly makes no sense to me)
You announce that you want to find and enroll at a public university in Houston, Texas. Instead of googling 'Houston," "Universities," or, "Texas," "Public Universities," you decide to seek out an existing expat community of your fellow citizens, in that locale. See, this is where I got lost. Why in the world would someone who claims to be fluent in English seek out French speaking non-U.S. citizens, living in Texas, for information about an American/Texan/Houstonian institution?! I haven't done this yet, but I bet you that if I wanted to I could go online and find out all kinds of information about, say, the Sorbonne, that would pretty much answer all my questions, if I was a young American who wanted to enroll there. Don't you think? So, my attempt to present a hypothetical situation pretty much runs into a wall. From my perspective this person who asked the question on a forum for U. S. expats, was in the wrong place, and needed to be steered in another direction. I guess it's as simple as that.
Beyond that, as I tried to tell this young lady, why would someone in their early 30's feel that they have the time and the money to pursue such an endeavor? Why aren't they working? What could they possibly be expecting out of this? I mean, if they have the time and the money that would suggest that they also have resources, so why are they asking these questions of a bunch of expats? I'm sorry, but all I can see is that this is yet another gringo couple who don't want to work, who know enough to know that they can't qualify for legal residence in CR (they admitted that much, didn't they)?, but who are looking for a new wrinkle on how to become perpetual tourists. And, I'm sorry, but I do not accept this whole concept of perpetual tourism. (For the uninitiated, a perpetual tourist in Costa Rica is someone who lives here as long as his tourist visa allows him to remain, then runs across the nearest border just long enough to get his tourist visa renewed. U. S., Canadian, and most European passports historically got visas good for 90 days, and most everybody else only got 30 days. That is changing as I write these words, and most people only get 30 days, now. Some folks claim to have been doing this for years, taking trips mostly to Panama or Nicaragua every 90 days. They buy homes and businesses, and run those businesses, and generally immerse themselves into whatever local community they have chosen).
IMHO, this is wrong, and it leads to too many people who really are working illegally to sustain themselves, and too many of them wind up doing nothing but hustling everyone in sight for a buck. I believe that you either want to live in a foreign country, or you don't. If you cannot qualify for legal residence, find out what you need to do in order to so qualify, and then do it! I suspect many of these folks were as vocal as anyone else back in the states about 'wetbacks' coming into the U. S. and taking jobs away from Americans. Don't go around the intent of the law, and then don't whine to me when it goes sour on you.
Goes sour, you ask? How can it go sour? Well, at any time, while entering the country, any immigration official you encounter can take a look at you, and decide that maybe you've been leaving and entering all too often for just a tourist, and he/she can say, 'sorry, Charlie, we don't want you!' And, that is it. Denied entry. Stuck in another foreign country, where you have no assets, no friends, no contacts. Should you have managed to accumulate any assets in Costa Rica, without you there to care for them, who knows what will happen to them? And, on top of that, once you are denied re-entry, there will be a note placed in a file noting that your passport is denied entry to Costa Rica for a period of ten years. Who would want to risk this?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

It seemed like a small world, after all, but……..

Fools rush in where fools have been before.

Just the other day (actually by now, this was not just the other day, but was the first Wednesday in May), the strangest thing happened. It was Cinco de Mayo,
and we had decided not to join some friends for the celebration at a restaurant that was holding its re-opening on the same day (Margaritas were mentioned), because the get-together was not to take place until around 7 pm. That would have meant driving both ways in the dark, and we don't really like to drive after dark around here.

At any rate, I think Blanca was sewing in the other room, and I was most likely on the computer, as per usual, when I heard a car's wheels spinning on our little road. I went to the back door, and spied a little Suzuki Jimny, with the driver's door open, and a rather tall, slender man halfway out the door. I knew this had to be a tourist because the Jimny is a very common, basic, 4x4 rental here. He shouted out a question, in pretty bad Spanish, about whether or not I knew anything about the nearby hotel (Alturas de Arenal, which figures prominently in our home address), and if I spoke English. I couldn't really make out what it was he wanted to know about the hotel, so I just said, "Yes."

He had more questions, and as it was raining a bit (we had just had a pretty good little downpour), I told him to come on in out of the rain. So, he parked, and he and his companion came on in. I told him my name, called Blanca to come meet them, and they told us they were Renny (not sure how he spells it) and his girlfriend, Camara, or Tamara (it's hell getting old), and I did not get any last name. I invited him in for a beer, as he began to tell a story that verges on nothing short of incredible.

It seems that he was last here in Costa Rica some sixteen years ago. He stayed at the aforementioned hotel up above us at that time, and got drunk one night with Don Fernando Sanchez, who was the owner of the hotel at that time. Don Fernando happens to be living in the house nearest to us, actually our nearest neighbor. We have heard stories that all of the land around us once belonged to Don Fernando, and most of it was one big coffee plantation. Then, according to the stories we've heard, the bottom fell out of the coffee market, and it all went right on out the window, for this once-rich coffee planter. When Renny last visited, Don Fernando did still own the hotel, and the land around here, however. Well, Renny told us that during that night of drinking with Don Fernando, he (Renny) agreed to buy a parcel of land from Don Fernando, that happens to be located right across the road from us. He dealt with an attorney in San Jose, for the legal end of things, and over the years has paid a lot of money to this guy to keep an eye on his property (he thought). One thing he knew is that his taxes were kept up, but he learned a few months ago, that the attorney had never transferred the land to his name in the national registry.

(Time for another lame segue, which by now, you should be getting used to dealing with, whenever I try to tell one of these stories): I think the first expats I met in Costa Rica are John and Cathy Nicholas, who own and operate Chalet Nicholas, one of the neatest B&B's you'll ever have the pleasure to visit. I stayed with them on my first visit to Costa Rica, and on at least one subsequent visit to that one. We just had dinner with them a few nights ago, so we are still very close. Cathy has been involved in real estate around here for some years, an activity that, for her, pretty much grew out of all the inquiries she used to receive from her guests. About three months ago, I received an email from Cathy with an attachment. She had gotten an email inquiry from someone in the states (we thought at the time), who said he had bought a property down our road some fifteen years ago, and wanted to know if she could help him determine what its current value might be.

So, since she figured the vague description he had provided did have to fit something close to us, she shared the message, and his attached copy of a Costa Rican property description, with me, and asked if I could figure out where his property was located. Unfortunately, the description thus provided was pretty vague (the document from the National Register did not say where the property was actually located, and, for some reason, he used feet and inches in his measurements, and we, are of course accustomed to only the metric system when talking about land here), so I couldn't even begin to guess, and I told her so. Frankly, I think I told her that supposing he could prove his ownership, without having a better idea of exactly where his property was, my best guess was that it had little value to anyone, because it was undoubtedly a good distance from electric, water, and those kinds of basics can be expensive to install, no matter what country you are talking about. Also, I speculated that he was going to play hell proving anything unless he had better documentation (like a plano, or plan) that could place the property exactly. So, we both blew it (and him) pretty much off.

Now, back to the other night, and Renny's story: The more he told me, the more I realized that he was the guy we had rather cavalierly dismissed just a few months ago (long distance, so I suppose it really doesn't count). Well, we showed them our house, and took them out to the front porch, where we sat down, and had a few Bavarias. While I never learned Renny's last name, I did learn that they live in Vancouver, B. C., and that they are here in Costa Rica because they have finished their first book (no, I never did find out what kind of book, if they mean it has been accepted for publishing, is ready for publishing, or what), and this trip to Costa Rica is a celebration of that accomplishment (however vague my idea of it might be). He indicated that he now intends to build a retirement place on his land, and he has already managed to find another attorney in San Jose who has gotten his ownership properly registered, and who he believes is going to be honest with him.

We had a great visit, as we learned a whole lot of things that we have in common, and discovered all the things that have happened to assure us that this is, indeed a very small world. I was born and raised in Washington State, in case I haven't mentioned that before, and that means that I know a bit about their home, Vancouver. Tamara's got a brother in Seattle, where Blanca and I lived when I first got out of the Army all those many years ago. She also has a sister in San Antonio, and of course, we are from Texas. Their sense of humor seemed to fit very well with ours, and Tamara said she taught school (Blanca, as you should know, was a school teacher), and she paints and writes (Blanca has done her first painting here in Costa Rica, and, hell, I'm writing right now, aren't I?).

Blanca showed off her first renderings, and Tamara gave her some pointers. Renny and I pretty much drank and talked over one another in our excitement at his story, and all the commonalities we were busy discovering. We agreed that it is truly amazing that despite the conditions under which he purchased his property, and all the many things that could have happened (and those that actually did happen) during the intervening years, he was able to find it, lay claim to it, and have that claim acknowledged. In retrospect, I wonder now why I didn't get their last names, or their contact information, but they did get all of that from me………..hope this doesn't mean that we'll never hear from them again.

Well, as I've indicated, about three weeks have come and gone since that night. I have held back on publishing this post in the hope that this guy would be in touch by now, and that I could confirm at least his identity, and perhaps a bit more of his story. But, alas, there has been no word since that night, and now I have to wonder what the heck is going on. I do know that a short time before he showed up here, the man (all I know is that his name is Ronny) who was running cattle on that property moved his cattle, and we haven't seen Ronny except in town since then. So, I guess we're left with a mystery. Maybe one day I can post an update if we ever hear from this guy again.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I heard the news today, oh boy……

Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish. - - Euripides (484 BC - 406 BC), The Bacchae, circa 407 B.C.


So, what is a day in the life of a retired ex-pat like, anyway? I'm glad you asked.


Believe it or not, we do have some things that need doing, and some of those are just as repetitious as some of our duties back when we had to work for a living. Like, for instance, the Muni (short for Municipalidad, or municipality) truck comes along the Lake road on Mondays and Thursdays, so we have to make sure the garbage is up on the road in time for pick up on those mornings. Obviously, we need some necessities of life, like milk, bread, beer, toilet paper, coffee, meat, beer, gaseosas (read, soda pop), veggies, cereal, beer, butter, juice, (did I mention, beer?), and like that, so occasional trips to the store are called for. We have to pay the water (once a year), the lights, the phone, the internet, our mortgages, our health insurance (used to be monthly, now will be every three months), and so forth. And, once in a while, Blanca needs oil or acrylic paints for her new hobby, or sewing materials, so a trip to either Tilaran or Cañas might be called for. Occasionally, we need some hardware item that the local hardware store doesn't stock, or something to do with the car, like the annual inspection, or the trip to a mechanic which preceded that (can't get that done any closer than Cañas), so there is a need for a trip.


I also have to go to the bank around the end of the month, and the first of the month, so as to hit the ATM (Cajero Automatico) for cash. Now, this has turned into a routine that has been refined over time. I used to go to the bank just after the first of the month, and wait in line to go to one of the teller windows (Caja, where one deals with a live Cajero/a), present my debit card from our American bank, and ask for our Tico bank to move dollars from that American account into one of our Tico accounts. This involved fees for international transactions, and I don't know what all, totaling around $30.00 per transaction, and since Visa lowered the amount allowed per transaction after the first of the new year, this was becoming expensive. So, I hit on the idea of trying the ATM, and while time consuming, it saves me a ton of money. For some reason, my Tico bank does not charge me any ATM fees for cash withdrawals on my U. S. debit card. So, I hit the ATM for three quick transactions in a row, then take the cash inside the bank to deposit. Silly, but it is sure worth it to save maybe $60.00, or more each month.


Blanca has a trip to Tilaran every Tuesday, because she is volunteering at the Catholic School there, to assist the high school students with their English language skills, so that pretty much takes up her day. She also teaches Catechism at the local church on Saturday mornings, for a couple of hours. Other than that, she sews, she paints, and we always have the normal routine of a household anyway (laundry, cooking, dishes, etc.).


My morning routine starts with my coffee, while I sit down at the computer to go over email, read up on the news (mostly local CR news, via English language online sources, such as, check out my blog, and a couple other blogs to see what is going on there. I also look in on some internet forums dealing with Costa Rica, to see if there is any new argument going on (there usually is), and then I have to decide whether or not to get involved (I all too often do). I spend anywhere from minutes to hours on the computer, perhaps adding to my blog (actually, what I try to do is have more than one work in progress at any one time, writing and re-writing each post before I publish).


I am also trying to clean up all the music files I have on an external hard drive that was pretty much filled by my sons before we left Texas. Unfortunately, when I told AD to put all of his music on this drive, he took me seriously, and I've got tons and tons of electronic, disco, Club, Hip Hop, Rap, and other crap to get rid of. Also, some strange movies were put on the drive by Bucko, so I've been trying to sort those by eliminating those that are out of my league, or a number that won't play anyway, so that is taking time. (As a for instance, regarding music files alone, after waiting a day or two for Windows Media Player to sort files, I have discovered that I have 556 hours (that's right: Five Hundred Fifty-Six hours) worth of unknown music files, as in not classified by genre, song title, album title, or artist).


As I think I've mentioned elsewhere, and if I haven't, you should know, we have a busier social life than we have had for years. We go out to eat once in a while, also. Last week we had one gringo friend and his son over for dinner, twice. The gringo's wife is back in the states (would you believe working?), and his son stayed with him for a time. Now, the gringo has gone up there to spend a couple of weeks with her, and the two of them are to return in early June. Their son is house sitting meanwhile. We will have some friends over for dinner with us this afternoon, for which I'll try to improve on my recipe for saltimbocca (it does, sadly, need work).


I also still spend a lot of time reading, either in my Lazy Boy (which, by the way, is taking on an unpleasant odor due to the humidity; note to self: look into a fix for that), or in a lounge chair on the porch, or- better yet – at the beer table. Yesterday morning we had to go to the clinic in town for lab work (to hand over our urine samples that we collected first thing, and for them to draw blood; they do not furnish the container for urine samples, so we go to a local pharmacy a few days before our twice-a-year lab work, and buy the plastic cups for this purpose – cost was about 15 cents, U. S.), and we also went to the store.


A couple of days ago, believe it or not, I baked Italian bread. Unfortunately, the yeast didn't do its thing, and it came out pretty flat, but at least it tasted OK. I also prepared a pot of Oyster Stew that same day (Thank You, Mike and CJ - they brought me the oysters).


Update: the dinner went well. I may have the bugs worked out for my saltimbocca. As for how days end, usually, after we've done a number of the things mentioned above, the sun will be over the yard arm by then, somewhere, and it will no doubt be 5 o'clock somewhere, too, so…………..


And, yeah. One last thing: most nights, for the last couple of weeks, we are able to watch American TV, as the internet connection does seem to have improved enough to allow for that. It is still not as good as it could be, but we have watched a number of programs that we hadn't seen in more than a year.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cacophony in the Jungle.

"The first condition for making music is not to make a noise."
(Jose Bergamin (1895 - August 28, 1983) was a Spanish writer, essayist, poet, and playwright.)

Late last year, we noticed a poster on the wall at our favorite restaurant, Las Orquideas, announcing an upcoming appearance by La Sonora Dinamita*, a world famous group from Columbia, to be in a nearby village called Pejibaye. The date for this event just happened to be Blanca's birthday, so naturally, we had to go. The cost was very reasonable, so I gave money to Don Alfonso, and we arranged that he would get us tickets, and then, the night of the dance/show/appearance, we drove up to Cabanga. At the restaurant, we shared a quick beer, and met a couple of ladies, neighbors and friends of theirs, who were also going, and then we drove the three kilometers to Pejibaye. This was, to put it mildly, an experience. The road was just as bad as the road up to Cabanga (oh, I never told you that, even though the distance from us to Cabanga is only 8-9 kms, the time to travel that distance is at least 45 minutes – it used to be longer before they fixed the road!), so it was not really a short trip.

We arrived at the Pejibaye community center, as the 'warm-up' group was performing. This place, as are most public gathering places in our part of the country, was very rustic in appearance. The tables and stools were the crudest of hand-made rough-cut wooden furniture. The floor was polished cement. At one end, an area had been taken over for a sort of stage, and was occupied by the opening act, whose name I never learned. They were dwarfed by several giant speakers, on both sides of their 'stage' area. There was monstrously large sound mixer set up, with a myriad jumble of cables taped to the floor, from the stage area, along one edge of the dance area, to where what would usually be a sound engineer could control the mixer. Unfortunately, I don't think their 'sound engineer' had any concept of proper sound mixing, and I suspect his hearing is as bad as mine.

I really don't know how to describe this sound experience. I mean, it appeared to be a sound system to inspire any serious musician in 1980, or so (actually, it was a decent looking setup), but whoever paid for it evidently didn't think that it was necessary to put out any additional expense and actually train someone to run it. But, being the trusting sole that I am, I figured that maybe the opening act's sound was so bad because they were just the opening act. I mean, all I heard was bass and drums, lots of bass, with a lot of rhythm from the drums (not just a drum kit, but Congas, and stuff. Meanwhile, I could see some guys up there, singing into microphones, and, there were some other instruments, connected to amplifiers, but I couldn't hear any of them over that driving rhythm.

Actually, I have to give full credit to my having remembered to take along some old ear plugs to the fact that I can still hear the keys on my keyboard clicking as I write this. I do believe I could easily have gone deaf from the sheer volume of that sound system. As I said, though, I expected the overall quality of the sound to improve when the main act was introduced, since this is, after all, a long established professional act.

We did try dancing a couple of times, but I suggested we wait for the main act, and so we sat and watched the crowd grow for a bit. Then, I am saddened to report that, with the introduction of the main act, the sound did not improve at all. You should know that the group featured horns, guitars, two girl singers, and in total had to equal, what, six or eight persons?

– Actually, according to the photo you can see here, there should have been twelve of them - But, all I could hear, just as with the opening act, was drums and bass. I know there were people singing, 'cause I could see their lips moving, and their body language indicated that they were – at times – singing their hearts out. But, I never could tell what they were singing. Nor could I hear those horns, or the guitar, even though all indications were that the musicians were playing those instruments.

By the time La Sonora Dinamita got started, there was a surprisingly good-sized crowd present, and the tables were pretty much filled, while the bar was pushing out the suds (mostly Imperial, with some Pilsen) and gaseosas. And, the tables rapidly became depositories for purses and other personal belongings, as everybody hit the dance floor. And, man oh man, do those Ticos shine on the dance floor! I suppose most gringos might think of the Cumbia style of dancing as being like the Meringue, but I'm not really sure. All I know is that every song was so fast as to be almost frenetic, and every couple knew the same style of dancing. And, you should know that, even though the Spanish word for dance is baila (from the verb, a bailar, or, 'to dance'), and that sounds a lot like ballet to gringo ears, this is most definitely not, by any stretch of the imagination, a ballet. This is very serious, very complicated, very rapid movement to music that, to my ears at least, was mostly rhythm arising from the drums and bass.

It occurred to me while watching these really fine dancers, that while this involved a lot of very stylized (not to mention, very rapid) movement, it was very much directed by the Macho Latin males. This kind of dancing involves frequent spins, and intertwining of arms and limbs, with the male directing by, in some cases, literally slapping his partner on one shoulder area, or the other, to indicate the direction into which she was to spin. Other cases, it was much more subtle, and all you would see was a touch, from the male to the female, and that would direct her to turn one way or the other. Some couples were almost amusing to watch, as for instance, there was one short, squat man, dancing with a taller, thin girl. He still had the moves, though, and I was in awe of these people. I could have just watched them all night, if I could have put up with the sound. Again, we tried to dance a few times, but there is just no way I could hope to emulate the style of these people. I noticed that Don Alfonso and Yadira had the moves, but then, he is from Columbia, you know.

The floor was constantly full, and constantly moving. I could hardly tell one song from another, unfortunately, because of the, in my opinion, truly bad sound management. I normally like so-called salsa music, of which La Cumbia is but one example, but that is because I like the blending of horns, and guitars, and pianos, with voices, underscored by bass and drums, with the bass and drums driving the music, but from the background, as it were. This just did not suit my tastes, and it wasn't long before I started lobbying for an early departure.

I did feel bad about asking Don Alfonso and Yadira to leave so early, but I really couldn't see staying there any longer. I grant you that watching the Ticos dance can be fascinating, but I can only do that for so long, and then, it gets repetitious. So, it was best for us to leave, since we still had to drive back down the mountain, to get home.

Ultimately, I also have to wonder whether I might not just be getting a bit long in the tooth for events of this nature. What younger people cannot relate to is that (and, I noticed this phenomenon in myself sometime in the mid-90's, when I was around 50 years old) one's hearing changes, as one ages. What I remember noticing at first was that, in a music venue, or a sports bar setting, I couldn't hear conversation over the background noise, and I began to avoid such situations entirely. I am always a bit put off (I really don't know what term to put to this feeling; I guess I find it disappointing that the filmmaker thinks so little of his audience that he thinks this sort of scene looks real; I just don't know) when watching a movie or TV show, and they show a scene like a bar, a restaurant, an airplane, and the actors are conversing in a normal voice, even whispering, sometimes. Anyone who has been in any of these locales knows this is not possible, and for me, it is worse than impossible – it can be downright uncomfortable!

Well, I ruminated on these, and other ideas as we wended our way homeward, in very thick fog, and rain, back up the mountain, and down again, to our little piece of paradise. I hope that I don't have to repeat this experience at any future time, as I am quite content to listen to my home stereo, or the music that is on my computer, at a level that doesn't break my eardrums, and with a sound mix that allows me to hear (as best as my diminishing sense of hearing allows me to) all the instruments and voices on the recordings.

*La Sonora Dinamita – A musical group, formed in Columbia, in 1960. Their music has always featured a style known as Cumbia, and the group has been disbanded and reformed more than once, over the years. The biggest hit they had was called "Mi Cucu," and that was reportedly (according to Wikipedia) a Spanish language cover of a Creole/Zydeco hit originally penned by one Sidney Simien (Rockin' Sidney, or Count Rockin' Sidney), and known as "My Toot Toot." That English version, incidentally, has also been covered by various artists all over the world, not the least of which, and especially important to me, was Denise LaSalle, one very serious Bessie Smith wannabe. You should be able to hear "Mi Cucu" at this URL:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Is there something in the air over there in San Ramon?

"It does not prove a thing to be right because the majority say it is so."

Friedrich von Schiller

As I have said before, I spend entirely too much time reading and responding to online forums, mostly dealing with Costa Rica. The one that seems to have the most members, thus the most constant activity, is one associated with Yahoo, and is commonly called by initials (the real name has something to do with residing in a place like Costa Rica). If you really want to read it, I suggest you look it up. I can't honestly recommend it as truly worthwhile reading, since its moderators do so much more than moderate. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that this forum, which claims to be unmoderated, is actually micro-managed to the point of censorship. All posts are subject to review prior to the actual posting, and anything that might remotely be considered to be the least bit inflammatory (in the opinion of the 'moderator') is bounced. And, since I've already been kicked off one forum by one of these moderators, I really have to watch my P's and Q's. (and, I just have to say this: you just know a person has way too much time on their hands if they are 'moderating' two different internet forums).

To get to the point of this sad little story, here we go: A few days ago, someone posted an inquiry on XXX, as follows:

Does anyone know about home values in San Ramon? I was just there for a visit,but did not look at any homes. But, now I hear of what may be some good values. Are there any drawbacks to living in this area. Someone told me about a house
near the Musas waterfall

Now, I didn't want to say anything that might be construed as 'negative' by the censors, er, um, moderators, so rather than say what I know about the place, like the climate kinda sucks, I just decided to try a simple little referral, to someone that I believe would know, and who would be able to tell the inquirer the truth, thusly:

You might want to take a look at a web site called 'boomersoffshore.' Andy Browne, a very nice guy, began video chronicles of he and his wife, Fran's, adventure in applying for residency, preparing to move, and then, living in the
San Ramon area, for about a year.....they are no longer there, but living down at the beach......he provides some interesting insights into the good, the bad, and the ugly about that area.

I happen to maintain three or four email addresses besides my main gmail account, for all kinds of reasons, and obviously, since I follow a forum associated with Yahoo, one of them is a Yahoo address. While checking that email account a bit later that day, I found an incoming message from a person who shall remain nameless, but who obviously has some strong feelings.

(Received May 5, 1:15pm):

do you know this person? because if you watch video #33, that's my neighborhood he is talking about and the things he said were not only untrue but damaging. let's put it this way -- he left this neighborhood in a hurry lest there was a lynch mob after him. one person told him point blank "get the hell out of my neighborhood -- NOW!" we wanted to rename his website -- he is so full of himself. many people told him they were the epitome of the ugly americans, ugly gringos, and a lot of other things that aren't printable. do yourself a favor and don't promote this blowhard. i didn't have a problem with him until we requested that he either re-edit that video or take it down altogether, and he told us all to f___ [ed. Note: I really don't like the use of that word in mixed company] off -- literally -- that he didn't care what we thought and that he was telling the truth. bleeccck! there are some people threatening..............." ya da ya da ya da ya da......blah, blah, blah, blah..........

Now, as you've seen, all I did was suggest a place for the newbie to look for more information. I based my referral on having followed Andy's video productions (he's really gotten good at it) for the last couple of years. He began a video chronicle of their planned move about the same time that I began posting my written chronicle of our process. So, I knew we had a lot in common, because of that shared timeline, if you will. As a matter of fact, their move to Costa Rica was literally days from our own move. I think they had the movers at their former home in the Carolinas one or two days before or after we had movers at our former home in Texas. I believe that they actually arrived in Costa Rica as much as a month before we did, and, of course, I knew that they spent nearly one year living in the San Ramon area. That was partly because he had announced on at least one forum that they planned to rent for a year in one area, see how they liked it, and then, maybe try another part of the country.

Now, I don't see how my referring the inquiry to his web site can be construed to be any sort of promotion of anything, but this is what I have now been accused of doing. Beyond that, I felt like this was pretty strong language. "Lynch[sic] mobs," fa crissakes!? However, being the nice, reasonable fellow that I am, my reply was this:

Can't say I ever met him, but I guess what I was trying to say without hurting anyone's feelings is that San Ramon has to be experienced first hand, 'cause some folks can't take the fog and the rain......and, as I recall, Andy mentions it......

Well, I figured I have had my say, so that will be that. But, I have been wrong before, and boy, was I wrong this time:

(The next morning, this came): (May 6, 9:32am) yes, he mentions the fog and the rain, but a nice guy he ain't and there are members of my community who are going to file a denuncia against him with the ultimate goal of getting his fat ass kicked out of the country -- that's how many people he pissed off. he's an arrogant fool. we asked him to take out those comments, but he gave us all the finger. please don't promote him or what he does. some of his videos are downright stupid, and they both look like idiot gringos struggling to live in a foreign country. ugh! he's the kind of gringo who gives us all a bad name!!!!!!!

Now, this kind of bothered me, because one thing that had always impressed me in all of Andy's videos was his even-handedness, his attention to detail, and his constant disclaimers, focusing one's attention to the fact that any opinions he expressed were only his. I mean, to me, he's the voice of reason, and none of this diatribe sounded at all like the guy I have been observing. So, first I visited Andy's website to review the video in question, and there I saw that he had added an additional disclaimer to his initial information which had stated that this video deals with the question of renting vs. buying. His added disclaimer: "Examples of poor workmanship shown in this video are unique to the house in which I lived. Overall, Rancho Lobo is a fine development. The other homes in that community appear to be built to higher standards and their owners are not reporting any problems as seen in this video".

He also added a red tag to the list of his videos for this particular one, saying that one should read this disclaimer. So, after seeing his disclaimers, and watching the video in question, I sent a quick reply:

(I said): I'm sorry, I had not seen that video, but now I have, and I have to say I really don't understand what you are so upset about......I guess I missed something

Bam! Here comes another email:

(May 6, 10:58am) - - would you want some guy moving into your neighborhood and then making a video about how your house wasn't up to code, and how it would never pass inspection in the united states, or that your roads were s___ [ed. Note: don't much care for that word, either], and your this or that was s___ [ed.note: oops, there it is again], which is basically what he said. he said there were no amenities -- what does that mean -- no tennis court, no swimming pool, what? he was living in that house at the time he made the video, and the owner was trying to sell it. it did sell right after Andy Browne moved out, but basically what he said in the video just wasn't true. and it was a little drama-queenish for him to have the COO and then a big stamp clamping down on the certificate as though we are all living in shotgun shacks here. there were some people for whom their house represented their only investment and they resented that some interloper renter moved in and then made such disparaging comments. so for him to say there are no building codes here -- well, that is a goddamn lie. but then he is some city slicker who can't pound a nail, so what the heck would he know about construction in costa rica or anywhere else. it wasn't my house he was slamming; i just thought he made a total ass of himself with this know-it-all stance he took. once the criminal denuncia is filed with oij, it will go to immigration, and he won't be getting a cedula. the people who live in this community are gunning for him, mainly because they asked that he take those comments out and he flatly refused. arrogant drunk.

Wow! I guess s/he told me where the bear went in the buckwheat, huh? All you see, in all the forums about Costa Rica, and in all the newspapers – both English and Spanish, online and print – is a constant litany of complaints about the worst roads in the world! And, we all talk about it - All the time! As for observations (nay, complaints!) about construction methods and quality, that's also common here, since methods are so different from what gringos are used to. And, boy, you better believe that their electrical work sucks (they don't even know from Romex), and their plumbing! Don't get me started on the plumbing…….oh, and another thing. Andy said very clearly, in the video that was originally posted in December of 2009, that it was his intention to be moving very soon, as the end of their one year lease was approaching.

(So, I replied): I'm sorry, but I really didn't ask for this rant from you........I don't know you any more than I know Andy Browne, but I do know for a fact that he said nothing untrue in any of his videos, and he made very careful disclaimers over and for him leaving your area suddenly, I recall he announced that he would not be living in San Ramon permanently long before he ever got there!

As to building codes, and so forth, so what? My house (that I had built) has very bad electrical (and, I know because I used to be an electrician), and plumbing problems (no traps, no siphons, and no breathers on drains). So, again, he was correct in what he said.

I really don't know what your problem is, but I do know that I am going to view all of Andy's videos, and now I will recommend his web site to all and sundry.

Now, go ahead and bad mouth me all over the place.

This person wasn't done with me yet:

(May 6, 11:44am) - - our houses were built by a good contractor and we had none of the problems you describe. we have very strict building codes in san ramon. maybe not elsewhere in cr, but every stage of construction was inspected. we all discovered his video at the end of december. he was not planning on moving until april after his lease was up. the entire neighborhood ganged up on him and told him they didn't want his kind living here. he immediately started looking for another place to live and moved in early february forfeiting the remainder of his paid in full for a year lease agreement because nobody wanted him here, nobody would talk to him, and people told him point blank to LEAVE. go ahead and recommend him to all you know. CRL is the only board he hasn't been banned from. Even ARCR banned him, as did Scott. i give him less than a year before he leaves costa rica.

As I said, I have never met Andy Browne, or Fran, his wife. But, I have followed, with great interest, his work about their plan to move to Costa Rica, their efforts to obtain legal residence, and his reports of what they have encountered along the way. I have also, exchanged emails with him over the last couple of years. So, I did what seemed like the logical thing to me. I shared all of the foregoing with Andy. And, he very quickly responded. First, he attempted to post a response at XXX, essentially acknowledging my referral to him, but that was bounced, as you can see below:

Your message is piggybacked which is not allowed on XXX. Secondly it seems to be a personal reply to John and not really for the entire membership, but also has the effect of being a second promotion for your website and blog (see your post Message #xxxxxxxx of April 17, 2010).

We do allow one announcement of a new list or blog to the list, after which the member may tagline the name and URL to it when making an on-topic reply to members' questions. Your signature/tagblock, BTW, are perfectly within XXX guidelines. There is even a permitted fourth line left in it where you could add your Skype contact as I have seen elsewhere. So if you were just wanting to thank John for his kind bump of your website and blog, you of course may reply to him off-list.


I. M. Analretentive (name changed for the hell of it)


Andy had tried to post this:

Thanks for the kind words, John. While Fran and I do not pretend to be "know it all's" regarding Costa Rican life, the last 2 years hve taught us much about what it takes to retire and move to a foreign country. I feel we have developed a rather keen insight through our research and experiences that other gringos find informative and entertaining.

To set the record straight, we loved living in the San Ramon area. The first couple of month's there we experienced incredibly beautiful weather. However, renting there gave us the opportunity to see that area over the span of an entire year. For us... the weather was NOT to our liking and we moved on. But's that's the beauty of renting over buying.

Over the last year, we have received nearly a thousand emails from current and prospective expats who have seen our videos and truly appreciate the honest opinions we offer. However, no matter what you say, there will always be a few myopic pinheads who are going to take it the wrong way. Our decision to rent and not buy was the right one FOR US!

San Ramon is a great town. It has everything one could want in a medium sized Costa Rican village. There is a small and very vibrant expat community residing there and we are happy to say that we still keep in contact with many of them.

I would highly recommend anybody looking at the Central Valley as a place to move, give San Ramon and it's surrounding communities some serious thought.

Muchas gracias y tenga buen dia - Thank you and have a nice day!

OK. It is true that XXX is very specific about only one announcement of a personal blog or web site, and Andy had included (but, I have left it out of this post) my entire message in his reply ("piggy backing"). But, it is also true that what he had to say certainly looks politic to me, and should serve to quiet even the most rabid detractor (i.e., my correspondent).

For a bit more info, you should know that the laws here in Costa Rica dealing with libel, slander, and defamation of character differ greatly from the U. S. It is always a criminal matter here, and basically all the defamed, slandered, or libeled person has to do is make sure the authorities are aware of the crime (and electronic media, as in, the internet, are covered), and then, it is pretty much out of the hands of the injured party. So, basically, all gringos are warned through the print media, on internet web sites, etc., to be very careful of what they say about other people. Also, for the uninformed, a 'denuncia' is a formal complaint to the police, as in legal charges.

Finally, as to the identity of this person, you might find it interesting that Andy immediately knew who it was based on the screen name the person used both in her email, and on the forum in question. As a matter of fact, he had included a video on his website that is exclusively her speaking about her garden and the killing of leaf-cutter ants………….I won't say what number that video has, but if you look for the bug lady, you could get a glimpse of her.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A treasure in the jungle

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony".

(Fernand Point – (1897 – 1955) was a French restaurateur and is considered to be the father of modern French cuisine).

I have mentioned my favorite restaurant in all the world, on other websites. Years ago, like at least five, maybe more, I remember posting a report on the guest list for Pura Vida Hotel, in Alajuela, about this restaurant. (Which, by the way, is another very special place; check it out: ). To better set this up, however, let me provide just a small geographical note (maybe a map would help, but not really; unless you really know how to read a map, that can’t give you a real feeling for the ‘ups ‘n downs’ of driving up to the village where I want to take you).

You should, however, know a couple of things, first. Ticos have told me for years that the best cooks in Costa Rica are Columbians. I do believe this, based solely on our experience over the years at this place. The owner, chef, headwaiter, and all-around very nice guy is Don Alfonso Restrepo, who has been at the same location for as long as I’ve been coming to Costa Rica. And, he is from Columbia.

Now as to where, what, why, etc., read on……..

We live between the village of Aguacate de Tilaran, Guanacaste, and the small town of Nuevo Arenal, on the highway (highway is a very overblown term for this little road, but it is designated as such – actually, Ruta 142 – by the highway department of Costa Rica) that runs around the north side of Lake Arenal, between Tilaran, county seat of the Canton by that same name, and La Fortuna, Alajuela, county seat of another Canton, in that other province. Off this highway is a side road, that goes right up the mountains, over them, and down again, to the town of San Antonio de Guatuso, Alajuela. After the first 50 meters of cement, this road is mostly rocks - big ones - and at certain times of the year, a lot of mud, as well.

About 8 or 9 kilometers up this road is the village of Cabanga, a really interesting place. At one time Cabanga was noted for leather work, with at least two different families operating little store fronts, with saddles, belts, hats, just about anything you could ask for made of leather. It also had some renown for wood work, and one of the best native cabinet makers around is still there (Danila, the guy who did our kitchen cabinets and all of our doors, plus my bread making table, and Blanca’s sewing desk). There is, of course,

--------oops, excuse me! Had to go pick up and dispose of what Blanca called a giant cockroach! That sucker was at least three inches long, and shaped like a cucaracha, but it appeared to have wings. He was in the sink, where she was trying to wash dishes, and scared the podwaddin’ out of her. I had to put on gloves, mask, boots, and get a big stick just to coax him into stepping outside with me, where I promptly cold-cocked the SOB. It was a serious struggle, touch and go for a while there, but I easily outweighed him, and he went down (under my shoe, actually), and after that, I negotiated a removal fee with the local salvage company (little scavenger ants), and he’s on his way to a better place, as I write these words------------

--------where was I?.......oh, yeah:

a small pulperia, and one bar, Napos, a real rustic, less than sanitary place, that rarely has more than one or two beers in the whole place, and maybe one general gaseosa (soda pop), besides mostly the local guaro (cheap cane sugar liquor, refined much less than rum).

There is a town salon (like a ball room/meeting place), a soccer field, a small school, and a few houses scattered about. And, of course, there is Las Orquideas, a restaurant bar that is on the main road, and reached by walking through the car port of the owner’s home, around to the back. The restaurant features two levels, open on the west side, and the north, to a truly panoramic view, that, on a clear day, allows you to glimpse Lago Nicaragua, way off in the distance to the north. The north wall of the upper, entrance, level is screened, with a large variety of orchids placed all over the screen. The lower level is overflowing with potted plants, now featuring a wide variety of African Violets. The bar features a beautiful wood bas relief depicting a typical Costa Rican scene, and a pretty surprising selection of booze.

Don Alfonso also has one of the most unique karaoke setups you will ever encounter in any part of the world. This started out some years ago due mostly to his love of music, and he now has a truly remarkable selection of music, all on his computer, which is set up at the bar. He can put karaoke video up on the large TV screen that is behind the bar, and I have personally seen him, in his cups, as it were, singing his little heart out to Galy Galiano, one of Columbia’s leading Ranchera type singers.

As to the menu at Las Orquideas, usually there isn’t one. I think the only times I have ever been offered a menu have been those rare occasions when he is not there. But, since he usually is there, the routine we have followed for some years is this: As we enter, we greet any and all who might be present. This being Costa Rica, that does not usually mean very many people. If there are customers present, we usually seat ourselves. If not, then we go straight to the kitchen door, and greet Don Alfonso, his wife, Yadira, and her mother, whose name I don’t remember. If he is busy, then, as soon as he gets the chance, he comes to our table, and we exchange abrazos, and expressions of good will, bonhomie, and generally nice things. If he has run out of my favorite beer, he immediately begins to apologize, and lets me know what is available that day.

Once we have our beers, he comes back to our table, where we visit for a bit, before we get down to business. This means, it is time for him to tell us what he has available that day. Generally, he can offer beef (best would always be the Filet Mignon, with a mushroom sauce guaranteed to go right to the walls of your arteries), pollo (chicken), usually grilled, but he does one of the world’s best Cordon Bleu’s, with another sauce that makes my mouth water, just thinking about it, and usually either Tilapia or Corvina that he can bread and fry, or grill, or prepare with a garlic sauce. He almost always will suggest a preparation method, or an entré that is just a bit different from the normal, and his suggestions are usually well worth listening to, and even heeding. He also makes a great ceviche, usually with tilapia, but shrimp is also available.

Beyond the simple fact that his food is always exquisite, Don Alfonso’s old world manner, and his charm are guaranteed to impress you. He always makes our dining experience special, with his welcome, and his concern for our pleasure. We make it a point to take all of our visitors up there, which means, he sees a lot of us, because we try to get up there more than once a month, whether we have visitors or not. Also, I have seen him handle a group of 14 people, with total aplomb, not allowing the sheer numbers to upset him in the least, and he timed the preparation of all those different requests, so that he delivered everything at the same time, with universal acclaim. That’s not to mention that every single plate was thoroughly cleaned by all and sundry.

The reality of eating out in Costa Rica is that most places are comparable in price to eating establishments in the states, so it should be no surprise that a meal for two, with at least two beers does run about $25-30. However, what we get for that with Don Alfonso is the pleasure of his company, the opportunity to watch a master chef at work, a spectacular view, and some of the best food anywhere. More important, Alfonso and his wife, Yadira have become our friends. I’ll tell you about our first ‘date’ sometime later.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Memories of SXSW

Recorded live at AD's last post-SXSW yard party, on March 22, 2009. If anyone can please ID these fine musicians, I would greatly appreciate it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Let me introduce you..........

Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.

Friedrich von Schiller
German dramatist & poet (1759 - 1805)

I think it is about time to introduce all the folks back in the states to our Tico family. We have indeed met a lot of nice folks here, both Tico and Gringo, but most important to us, in so many ways, is Marco Tulio Rojas Castillo. Tulio is the man who built Fernie’s now famous Galeron, and he is the one who has served as a sort of informal (and, largely unappreciated and undercompensated) caretaker for Fernie, since about ten years ago. Tulio is married to Leti, and they have two children, Marcos Kenty (he’s an engineer with ICE, and married) and Jocelyn (she’s in high school, and now about 16).

This is a very special couple. Tulio is a contractor/builder, when he can find projects. The reality here is that there are more people ready, willing, and able to build anything from a house to a warehouse, than there are people looking to have such things built. So, Tulio has not had anything to actually build since he built our house last year, and that only took him ten weeks. Actually, that is not a problem for him in terms of making a living, because he is kept more than busy caring for his cattle, of which he has nearly one hundred head right now. He travels about 45 minutes one way, several times a week, because he can’t trust his worker to care for the cattle as well as he himself does. He also finds time to bring milk from one of his three cows to Leti several times a week, from which she makes cheese. In addition to raising cattle, Tulio also oversees the care of Fern’s two properties, as well as the property belonging to Carmen (Blanca’s baby sister) and her husband, Victor.

Since our house was built, Tulio has found the time to build my computer desk, which is really handy for me, and three separate storage ‘racks’ (for lack of a better word; these are about five feet long, with open shelves – lots of space between the boards, for air flow – that we use for storage) that sort of take the place of closets. We have two of these in our bedroom, and one in the wash room. He also made four little stools for Blanca, and they come in very handy. Let’s see, what else does he do……..? Oh, yeah, he makes the wooden frames that Blanca uses to stretch the canvases for her painting.

Pending are some pretty big projects: one will be a carport on the lot next door (the one that Blanca recently bought, that more than doubled our total land holding), and then, I want to close in part of the existing carport, so that I can store my tool chest, my compressor, the grill, and other tools. I also want to make a little fountain/waterfall thing in front of the house, and I know that he will have a lot to do with that creation. Incidentally, he says that will be a ‘cria de zapos,’ or ‘zapera.’ That is his description for nothing more than a place for toads to grow, because he says that is what my waterfall will attract. And, I say, so what? Toads eat insects, don’t they? How can that be bad?

Lety, Tulio’s wife, is a marvel. She is without question one of the hardest working women I think we have ever seen or met. She is a seamstress, making and selling clothing to a number of people in the local community. But, she is so completely independent seamstress to the point that whenever she has problems with one of her sewing machines, she just starts to tear it apart, saying that if she waited for Tulio to fix it, she’d never get any work done. Tulio, of course, says that the problem is when she takes things apart to fix them, she often ends of with left over parts, and sooner or later whatever item she tried to fix becomes unfixable. Blanca reports that Leti perseveres nevertheless, and she stands in awe of this marvelous lady. Lety raises chickens, has any number of things growing for all kinds of reasons – flowers, herbs, vegetables, whatever. She is, as I said, very independent, and not the least bit shy about expressing her very strong opinions, of which she has more than a few. She is a very small lady, maybe 4’ 9”, or a bit more. But, she rules Tulio with an iron fist. When she gets excited, she begins to speak faster and faster, and no one can follow her, not even a native Tico. We think she is very special, and Tulio knows she is.

Kenty is still in his twenties, and already has two kids, with Gabriela, his wife. They live in Alajuela. He commutes into San Jose, where he is working for ICE. She very recently decided that she wanted to be Catholic, and Blanca and I were happy to stand up as her Godparents. When she was baptized, we also stood as Godparents for their new baby, Mattias. The multiple baptizing just took place early last month. Kenty is moving up the ladder at ICE (personally, I suspect that this is not hard for an enterprising young man to do, since ICE, like so many bureaucracies in Latin America, is riddled with persons in positions of authority who have gone far beyond the levels they should have reached – remember the Peter Principle?), and may soon obtain a promotion that will relocate him and his family.

Jocelyn is in high school, and just changed schools this past year. Actually, her situation is strange to us from the states, but a sad reality of the truth about education in the country with the highest literacy rate in Latin America. You see, Jocelyn, like her brother before her, wants to go to university. Kenty was literally the only one of his classmates from the small school in Arenal to go to university. When Jocelyn was in her last year at that school, she learned that she would not be able to go on to university with their diploma, because she would be lacking certain essential science credits. This was because the only teacher who could teach the required course left before the school year really got started simply because the school could not afford to pay him/her.

So, in order to get the credits she needs, Jocelyn had to find another school that offered them. This required that she withdraw (in reality, she became a high school drop-out) from the school in Arenal, during the school year, last year. Since the school year had already begun, she could not immediately transfer to another school. However, meanwhile, she and Leti made several trips to nearby Tilaran (like our country seat) to ensure that Jocelyn could begin the next school year (the year that just began this past February) at a school there. She essentially sat out most of the last school year, waiting for the current year. Now, she has to take a bus to Tilaran every day to attend a Catholic School where she is getting not only those credits she will need for university, but also some classes in English.

As if that is not tough enough for her, Blanca has now become a volunteer at her school to assist the students with their English, and she now goes over there herself every Tuesday afternoon. Meanwhile, she is literally tutoring Jocelyn two or three days a week. So, Jocie is progressing well in her studies, and Blanca has more to do.

I think I said that this is our Tico family at the beginning of this little post, and that is exactly what they are. We have them come eat with us frequently, and we go to eat with them, as frequently. We take trips together, most recently going to see the Rio Celeste, so named because the water is almost sky blue in color, due to some mineral mixture up on the volcano where the river is born (Volcan Tenorio). Most of our trips turn into adventures, as Tulio is the one who decides where we should go, having been most places at least once before himself. The interesting thing is that, while he may have gone before, Leti and Jocie have not, so that Tulio acts as sort of a tour guide for all of us. He catches a lot of flack as well, since trips like this one don’t always turn out well (the road was particularly bad, we expected to find a restaurant at our destination that would serve fresh caught fish, the restaurant we did choose turned out to be a disappointment, and so on). At any rate, having these people in our lives has helped tremendously in our adjustment to life in paradise.