Showing posts with label adventures in Costa Rica. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adventures in Costa Rica. Show all posts

Friday, December 25, 2015

Feliz Navidad from Costa Rica

We joined a group of Ticos and Gringos to distribute Christmas gifts to Nicaraguan kids who come to Costa Rica with their families to work in the coffee harvest.  Harvesters tie baskets around their waists. Full baskets bring about $2.00 — a little more for all-red (ripest) berries. The best harvesters can do up to 20 baskets a day — but the average is closer to six or seven.  (Paul and I tried this a while back — it took us about 45 minutes to fill one layer in the bottom of a basket!) The blond woman in red above is Debbie Rudd, who together with the polka-dotted “Minny Mouse” on the right, organized this event. “Minny Mouse” is Mary Ulate Cardenal, who is the amazing and loving teacher of these children.  As we went from house to house (some were tin sheds or crumbling wooden structures overflowing with families; there were a few government-built “apartments” about the size of small motel rooms), the children began clapping and jumping up and down with pure joy on their little faces. As I was distributing gifts, one barefooted man came up to me and asked if we were giving away “zapatos” — shoes. I had to say “no” but he still gave me a big grin.
Santa Claus is not a big deal in Costa Rica — you’ll see some images around, but Costa Rican kids are told that the Christ Child brings their gifts. Rather than dress up like Baby Jesus, we went the clown route.
Paul and I were both feeling a little homesick for family, friends and a White Christmas … but the gift we were given to participate in this wonderful activity helped us get over that … and reminded us how very blessed and fortunate we are.

 Author Author!!!
We belong to a great writers’ group, Salon Caj√≥n. This talented group of writers and poets encouraged us to complete and publish our first books in 2015 (available in paperback and e-books on—hint, hint). We’re both working on 2nd books that should be published in 2016.

Our Salon Cajon writers’ group (with our mascot Capo,
who doesn’t write, just begs for cheese and sausage).

Mucho Mascotas  (Spanish for “pets”)
Charlie was not quite sure what to make of his new “little brother.”
For the first time in nine years we have kitties One evening we were discussing the possibility of getting a cat again when we heard mewing outside. In the bushes was a tiny kitten who promptly adopted us. My students named him Umberto, but he’s Bert to us. When my friend Mary found out, she asked us to take one of the kitties she’d recently rescued from a washing machine (!!). So we took Bert down to meet the “girls” and he selected the grey tiger who we named Ernestina (Ernie).
Bert & Ernie
It took a while for the dogs, Lily and Charlie, to get used to the cats, including a scary moment when Lily thought Bert was a chew toy (3 nights at the vet and a month-long recovery!), but now it’s pretty much the Peaceable Kingdom, which also includes our filly Julia.
Lily bossing Julia

My friend and I had been caring for Julia and her mom and a gelding named Geronimo. I’d even started training Geronimo to be a therapy horse, but when the finca (farm) where they lived went up for sale, we could only bring Julia home to us.
I have been working with Julia since she was one day old and she’s becoming quite the young lady! Lily has taken on some of the “exercising” portion of the training, running Julia back and forth along the length of the paddock

Julia cruising her “trail” on our back ridge.

New Digs   In April we became caretakers of a small house on 2-1/2 acres at the end of a farm lane. Our closest neighbors are cows and coffee. It’s a great place for the dogs to get to be as “doggy” as they need to be — which includes barking from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. each morning at the “invading” birds — why we can never get good bird pictures here.
View to the next ridge looking at our
neighbor’s new house (with rainbow).

Kitchen with our “portable” cabinets

A few downsides of the property are that it’s too far from civilization to get a landline phone and our cellphones don’t work here — fortunately we have good internet, so we can use Skype for calling. Also, the property is for sale, which means we’d have to move with 60 days’ notice. When we moved in, the property had been vacant for 15 months. It was the end of the dry season so everything was brown and overgrown. Inside there were no appliances, no kitchen cabinets and no closets. 
We bought used appliances and Paul built totally portable cabinets that can move with us to our next house. We’ve spent the whole rainy season (May-November) planting and landscaping.

Our little finca’s “address” 400 meters south of the Matapalo Bridge,
 Calle Parrita, El Cajon de Grecia (nobody can find us)
We really love it here … sitting out on the porch with our morning coffee looking out into the forest, listening to cows lowing, roosters crowing and horses whinnying … watching hummingbirds and butterflies … Paul says he’d always considered himself an “urban kind of guy” but being retired right here is really pretty wonderful.

 Paul’s great workshop — another benefit of living here.

Here we are on the day we received our Cedulas (the magic residency cards).
We’re standing in our friends’ future backyard.
Behind us you can see the red roof of our house across the valley.
Pensionados !!!!  On September 9 we became official residents (pensionados) of Costa Rica. What that means is … we don’t have to leave the country ever 90 days to renew our Visa, we now have Costa Rica drivers’ licenses, we get all kinds of “resident discounts” at parks, museums and other attractions and we belong to the CAJA — Costa Rica’s socialized medical system (I’ve already taken advantage of several of the services available to us … lab work, EKG, medicines).

 In Other News …
So many other wonderful events …here are some highlights:
  • Paul and I are both volunteering as English teachers — he does a Saturday conversation class and I do tutoring every Wednesday. 

My students surprised me with cake 
and gifts for my birthday!
(with co-teacher Cheryle Pederson)
  • In October, we visited family and friends in Delaware and North Carolina. It was a blessing to see so many folks in two different states over a nine-day span … even though it felt too short. Highlights included going to Marilyn’s 50th 8th Grade Reunion (!!!) — what a treat; celebrating our grandson Matt’s 16th (!!!) birthday; shopping and jamming with granddaughter Kaylee; spending time with Marilyn’s sister, nieces and best friends; hanging with ALL of Paul’s sibs at his sister Deb’s house (and a really cool animal sanctuary)
  • Beatles’ medley with Kaylee and her Dzadzi (grandfather)

Hastings sibs: Phil, Bets, Don  (outlaw), Wendy, Paul, Marilyn (outlaw),
missing  Tom (outlaw) and Ingrid (outlaw and photographer)

Smile Matt! You just turned 16!!

    Phil and Paul, Ingrid and Marilyn
  • In November Paul’s brother Phil and wife Ingrid went on a nine-day tour of Costa Rica, culminating in a three-day visit with us. 

  • In addition to writing, when we’re not just enjoying our life here, Paul is working on his music, playing keyboard and guitar (including two winning gigs with our friend Irina at fundraisers for animal welfare), and Marilyn is working on art projects, mostly glass and ceramic mosaics.

Mariposa glass mosiac

Paul and Larry back up our friend Irina singing "Hallelujah"

Monday, June 2, 2014


I had several errands to run in downtown Grecia. I found a parking place on a side street and parallel parked with the help of a Watchiman (or Guachiman or Cuidacarro) one of many mostly older gentlemen who guard your car while you’re shopping. Watchimen, wearing official-looking Day-Glo vests, work for tips. (Realtor Ivo Henfling wrote a comprehensive article about Los Guachimanes click here.) The first two times I’d parked, I’d thought they worked for the city and I didn’t tip them. I know better now and have begun tipping between 500 and 1000 colones ($1-2), depending on how long I’m going to be.

Watchiman from Ivo's Blog
After about an hour of walking around town, loaded down with two large shopping bags, I returned to my car, only to find a flat tire. Before I even opened the way-back, I knew I wouldn’t find the lug nut wrench.

(A few months ago, we took our artist friend/neighbor and his monoprinting equipment down to the art festival in San Jose. Right before we arrived at the festival, he slapped his forehead. “I forgot the handle!”
Mi esposo Paul, always one to think on his feet, said, “You should be able to use our lug nut wrench.” He was right. The wrench made a perfect handle and our friend was able to do his demos. He promised to return the wrench once he got back to Grecia the next day. He didn’t. And we forgot to remind him.)

In the car’s way-back, not only was there no wrench, the jack was missing too. Then I thought back to a noise I’d heard several weeks earlier. I’d fallen asleep reading in bed and was partially awakened by what sounded like a car door opening and shutting outside of the bedroom window. The next morning, I asked Paul, “Did you open the car door sometime last night?”

“No,” he said.

“Well, I was sure I heard the car door open and close. I must have dreamed it.”

We didn’t think to check the car. We are really terrible about locking the car door; we rarely locked our cars in any of the places we lived in the states, so we never developed that habit. And because where we live now is basically a dead-end rural road, it didn’t seem that critical. But we’d heard that a few of our neighbors on the main road had had their jacks stolen recently. Apparently we had too. (Note to future thieves: we now lock our car -- mostly -- and we almost always take the keys out of the front door when we go to bed. So if you come to steal our new jack and the car is locked and the keys aren't in the front door, try again tomorrow.)

So now I was facing a flat tire with nothing available to fix it. The Watchiman seemed to think that a teenager who lived on the same street might be able to help. He couldn’t. So the Watchiman and the teenager and I walked a down the block to a lumber shop. The lumber guy couldn’t help either. A young man pulled up in Toyota Corolla. The Watchiman explained my dilemma. “I think I have a jack,” he said. In English. My day was looking up. Currently my Spanish works best at the butcher shop or the farmer’s market. I’ve focused my studies on grocery shopping, not car repairing.

Toyota Corolla guy dug around in his trunk and pulled out a Toyota Corolla-sized jack. We walked back to my vehicle, a Subaru Forester SUV. Toyota Corolla guy pumped the little jack all the way up. About four inches remained between the top of the jack and the bottom of the car. The jack was just too small. Moments later, the Toyota Corolla guy flagged down another guy in a shiny red Suzuki SUV. The Suzuki guy, who wore an official Municipalidad de Grecia shirt, had a much more substantial jack and it worked. Soon Toyota Corolla guy (whose name was David) was jacking up my car.

I hated to play the part of “helpless female” but all I could do was sit on the stoop of a small restaurant and watch.

The Suzuki guy stood on the sidewalk with the Watchiman. They watched.

The teenager who lived on the block watched.

Various neighbor-ladies watched. From a polite distance.

David removed the nuts on the tire. He tugged at the tire. It wouldn’t come off. He whacked the tire with the Corolla jack and it finally loosened. David rolled the flat tire over to me, pointing to a large nail head in the treads. “Well, that’s your problem,” he said.

“You are my guardian angel,” I said, all helpless female.

David picked up my spare and tried to line it up with the bolts. The car wasn’t jacked up high enough for the spare. The jack was pumped to its limit. So David sent the teenager down to the lumber shop for a block of wood. The teenager came back and David lowered the car and slipped the block of wood on the jack, re-jacking the car up. He tried to line up the spare on the bolts again. Still too low. He sent the teenager back to the lumber shop for more wood. The teenager came back with a meter-long piece of 2x4 with big nails sticking out of it.

David looked at me and shook his head. “Don’t cry,” he said, peering up at the ever-darkening sky, “the rain hasn’t arrived yet.” It being the rainy season and it being the afternoon when the rains typically came.

Waving the nail-studded 2x4 in the air, David spoke to the teenager in rapid Spanish that I couldn’t parse but figured it had something to do with the inappropriateness of the 2x4. The teenager took the 2x4 and headed back to the lumber shop. He returned with several chunks of wood of various thicknesses. David smiled. He turned to me, “Don’t cry,” he said for the second time. “This is going to work.”

I had no intention of crying. But I was grateful that someone who wasn’t me was handling all of this.
David slid the spare under the car and then stacked up the chunks of wood on the jack and began pumping. The parts of the jack handle that were supposed to connect to make the handle long enough were smashed in, so he couldn’t put them together. To get the proper leverage, he had to push the handle down with his foot and then pull it up with his hands. Slow going. Just as the car finally seemed high enough, the blocks slipped and the car came crashing down. Fortunately, the spare tucked under the frame kept the car from crashing to the street.

By now about 25 minutes had passed. David’s cell phone rang. He answered it and spoke again in rapid Spanish that I was unable to catch. He smiled at me, “If we’re lucky, the rain will come soon.”

 I moaned. “That’s supposed to be funny, right?” I said. He brushed the grit off his knees.

“My jeans are dirty,” he said.

“Lo siento,” I said. I’m sorry. “When you’re finished I’ll buy you a cervesa,” I said.

“Not necessary. Today you; tomorrow me,” said David. He smiled warmly. Very Pura Vida of him. 

An older man showed up, cigarette dangling from his lower lip. Without speaking, he took the little Toyota Corolla jack, grabbed a stack of wood blocks and slid everything under the back of the car. He laid down on the asphalt and carefully placed his lit cigarette on the ground next to him.

Now all I could think about was: there is a lit cigarette smoldering beneath my gas tank.

The little jack had a crank handle. Cigarette guy had to manipulate the crank handle from his position on the ground. It was very awkward. While he was doing that, David began re-pumping the larger jack. So now there were two guys pumping my car higher and higher. And one lit cigarette under the gas tank.

With both jacks holding the car up, David rolled the spare over again. This time it aligned perfectly with the bolts. “Not raining yet,” he said, turning to me with a grin.

Cigarette guy slid out from under the car, picking up the remainder of his smoke and replacing it on his lower lip.

“Gracias, muchas gracias,” I said. He nodded almost imperceptibly.

With the spare on, the guys picked up their various tools and wood blocks. I gave David a hug and slipped a 20 mil note into his hand. “Cervesas para todos,” I said.

“Forty-five minutes,” he said. He looked up at the sky. “No rain yet. Now,” he said, “drive very carefully and get your tire fixed right away.”

I thanked all the guys again and got into the car. I pulled away, blowing kisses to my guardian angels as the first big plops of rain hit my windshield.