Sunday, June 30, 2013

La Pura Vida by Paul

La pura vida. That’s how the locals (los ticos) describe life here. Relaxed, friendly, helpful and beautiful. Our first night at the B&B, when the hot water wasn’t working and two light bulbs were out etc. I thought la pura vida meant “nothing works and nobody cares.” I have since tempered my outlook. As we used to say in the 60’s “go with the flow.” Being retired helps a lot, of course, since we don’t have to be anywhere at any specific time and we’re not on vacation where we have to cram in X number of things in a limited span of time.
            One thing I have figured out is how this country got its name, Costa Rica, which means “Rich Coast.” It has to do with colones, the money here. 500 colones equal one dollar US. They don’t have Costa Rican dollars, only colones. It’s as if the US only had pennies. A movie would cost you 700 cents. So, we filled the gas tank of our rented SUV and it was 37,000 colones. To convert, drop the three zeros and multiply by two. That’s $74.00 US. (Gas is expensive here, around $5.00 per gallon.) Anyhow, the smallest paper bill is a 1,000 colones note. (Worth $2.00 US) But let me get to the point: Why does Costa Rica feel “rich?” They have these big golden (actually bronze) coins: 500, 100, 50, and 25 colones. At first, we just handed them American money, which they accept here. But the change is in colones. After a day at the market and shopping around town, you have a pound of brass coins in your pocket.  I like to stack them on the table in our little rented efficiency. They make me feel like Blackbeard the pirate after pillaging a village. Har!
            Getting used to no-street-names is a challenge. That’s right; they don’t have street names. So, if you want to get to somebody’s house, you have to ask them “How do I tell a cab driver how to get to your house?” They write it down. Something like, “From the church in Grecia, drive out past the supermercado (the new one, not the original one), take the right fork, then the third left turn and go to the red house on the left.” So, to get from downtown Grecia (our little city) we know to drive from the cathedral at the town square about 3 km to a sign that reads El Quixote. Hang a sharp right and go past Hydrante 4 and take the gravel road to the right. Odd as it is, you do learn where things are. The GPS is invaluable. You have to buy one from here. Our US one won’t work, they say. The GPS calls all the roads “unnamed road” but you see the display of the roads and an English speaking GPS voice tells you to turn in so many miles. We have already made several friends here as a result of the tour and just meeting Ticos. So using the GPS, once you get to someone’s house the first time, you just enter “Juan’s house.” The GPS logs the coordinates and will show you how to get there next time.
            Costa Rica is a small country of more than 20 micro climates, depending on the elevation and the mountains. There are few flat places here. Everything is up and down, and your car knows it (especially if you have an automatic transmission) This is the rainy season throughout the country. Where we are, that means an afternoon shower every day and temperatures that stay in the 70’s year round. Two hours away from us on the Pacific Coast it gets to 100 degrees and humid at the beach. (Costa Rica is only 10 degrees north of the equator.)  The rain forests are always wet and humid. No thanks!
We are looking for a rental house, furnished, with some open land to have a garden, chickens, a goat, horses, Internet, etc. etc.. We should be able to find something like that for $500 a month. We looked at a beautiful new 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom house with an amazing view of the hills and coffee plantations and distant mountains -- for $850/month. That's more than we'd like to spend, but considering you never need heat or a/c, it's certainly not bad. Yesterday we looked at a place for $450 a month that would be called a Tico house. It was a masonry bungalow on a steep hillside in the country. It had no glass windows, only wooden shutters. Two of the three rooms had a ceiling. The third room was like a shed (but it was supposed to be a bedroom and it had a bed in it). No ceiling and no soffits, so it was open where the roof met the walls. A bird flew out in a panic when we stepped in.
And for that $450 a month, instead of pesky windows that you’d always be washing, the house came with … juro por Dios … BATS living in the bathroom (bat-room?). Oh, and birds too, but it was the bats that REALLY got our attention! So we're still looking. We're willing to rough it a bit but I draw the line at taking a shower with a row of bats hanging from the rafters.  We took pictures and said, “We’ll let you know.” The “landlord” -- a very nice young woman who is really only the sister-in-law of the sister who now lives at the beach and apparently owns the “house” will discover quickly enough that nobody will rent it at that price (maybe at any price.) There are too many other Ticos and Americans who have really nice properties available.
Interestingly, as more and more Americans move here, I fear that the McMansions will begin to take over the Tico houses; and the hillsides, instead of being dotted with little farmhouses, pasturelands and coffee bushes, will be a puzzle of interlocking housing developments with nothing to look at but other housing developments. Once we move here, we don’t want anyone else to come (well, unless it’s any of our friends or family, of course).

Ciao (adios) for now, friends all,

One Week Down by Paul

We are having a wonderful experience here. Three days at a horse resort in a rain forest at the foot of the Arenal volcano. Marilyn and the owner are thinking about ways Marilyn might do some of her horse therapy up there, depending on where we decide to live. Howler monkeys, parrots, lizards beautiful foliage and flowers … but way too much humidity for us to settle there. We took a half-day horseback ride through the dense greenery to a hidden waterfall, like the ones in the old Tarzan movies. We swam in the pool below trying not to break our feet on the boulders hidden in the water. 

We returned to our B & B near the airport and took off the next day for a 3-day tour. There were 3 couples, all retirement age and definitely not rich, plus George, our charismatic, friendly, knowledgeable bulldozer of a tour guide and Oscar, silent, intrepid driver who piloted our bus through rutted mountain roads and along steep precipices like a mountain goat. It was a terrific tour to many small cities in the central valley- San Ramon, Grecia, Baracoa de Puriscal (where George's mountain-top mansion is) Escazu (which is so developed with expats it's like Phoenix without the desert and heat) The Tico's(what they call Costa Ricans) are SOOO warm and friendly and helpful. It's wonderful practicing Spanish with them. Each night, we had get-togethers with people who had taken George's tour and had already moved to Costa Rica. Some were obviously people of means who built beautiful homes here, and others were renters (as we will be) We visited many homes and were especially knocked out by some of the beautiful rental homes( one for $500 per month) These are not tract homes. We saw none of those. They are nestled on steep hillsides with views of green valleys or in the distance, the Pacific Ocean.

Today, we are renting car and driving up to Grecia, where we will stay until we leave for the States on July 11. We plan to drive up to Guanacaste, the northwest corner, where it is hotter, lower elevation and drier and on the Pacific, plus some other areas. This is a country of mountains and valleys, so the driving is slow.

This is so different than a vacation. The excitement of planning where we want to live is invigorating. We have no doubt that what we have read is true. It is not cheap here, but cheaper than the US. If you insist on driving into the big city and shopping in the malls, it's just like the US. But, we can live easily for under $2,000 a month for everything, as several of the people we met are doing.