Residency Woes

So the residency approval process continues. In the last blog, “Approved”, we described the process up until receiving our papers confirming that we are now “rentista” residents of Costa Rica and signing up for the nationalized health care program.

Next step was to head to the post office to have our photos taken for our “cedulas” – the actual I.D. cards. Laura, our immigration consultant, made an appointment for us on a Friday at 1:00 pm, at the Correo de Nicoya, about an hour drive from our house. She included a little map, although our local GPS Waze did an excellent job. We had driven through Nicoya before, on the way to a beautiful beach town Samara, so we were somewhat familiar with the streets. Once we arrived in the center of town, a helpful parking attendant was there to guide us to a spot on the street; he assured us he would look after our car. Many people don’t, but we are always mindful to tip these guys generously. They really do keep an eye out for the safety of your car. Of course, we know never to leave ANYTHING in plain sight in the car or the trunk, but it’s still nice to have an extra set of eyes around.

We get to the counter and I say in my grammatically-imperfect-Spanish that we have an appointment to have our photos taken for our cedulas. Although there are several people waiting, we are ushered into an office. I start to hand him the papers I think he needs; he just wants my whole file. I think I have brought everything – our original “expediente” showing we had applied May 2016, copies of our current resolutions granting us residency, marriage certificate, extra copies of our passports, our health cards, rental lease, receipts from the payments we made at the bank, and of course, Laura’s contact info. Rummaging through the folder, he can’t seem to find my resolution, and sure enough, I had already given out all the copies between the CAJA and the clinic. So only Gary can be processed today, while I sit there kicking myself repeatedly. He reads through Gary’s 3-page  resolution line by line – hasn’t he seen one of these before????  Then I hear him mention the word “confundido” under his breath……Wait – he’s confused???? Gary and I share that “Oh-no-what-now?” look. We were under the impression that we were here only to have our photos taken, not to have every document scrutinized and questioned.

Señor Confundido finds a how-to manual and between going through that manual and Gary’s resolution page by page, line by line, we sit and wait another 15 minutes. Finally, he brings up a form on the computer and starts to type information. Then Gary’s picture is taken. Then the arts and crafts every Costa Rican government agency seems so fond of — the passport photo has to be cut down to size. Then the photo-copying of the passport, receipts and who-knows-what-else. I find it so ironic that these agencies make so many copies of everything – I think Banco Nacional has about 15 copies of our passports by now – yet, when I am on the bank website and want to print out a payment, a little box pops up reminding me how many trees are cut down to make paper, and am I sure I want to waste another piece.

Anyway, Señor Confundido gets through all the paperwork and the computer form. Time for fingerprints. Whoa – he has a digital machine???? Way better than the old ink-and-pad routine we were subjected to last year in San Jose at the Investigation Department.  And lastly, signing the form electronically.

Everything is printed out and stapled in precise order. Gary now has a “Comprobante de Solicitud” and his ID card will be ready June 5th, and we can pick it up at the Santa Cruz post office, which is much closer to our house – only about a 35-minute drive.  Unfortunately, due to my slip-up, we have to come back on Monday with my resolution so I can complete the same process. Fortunately, it’s only an hour drive and we don’t need another appointment – the post office opens at 8:00 am.

On the way home, I happen to look through all the papers and notice that on our CAJA (health insurance) papers, I am listed as “single”. How is that possible? I distinctly remember checking off the “casado” (married) box. Concerned now that this might affect our payment or Gary’s status, we decide to stop at the CAJA office on the way home. 2:45 pm we arrive, but the office is closed.

So, Monday morning, on the way back to Nicoya, we stop at the CAJA office. There’s a nice young lady behind the desk. I explain that the form is incorrect – we are indeed married and I have papers to prove it. She just smiles, types something into the computer, and prints out another paper with my status corrected. Whew – that was the easiest business transaction we have EVER had.

On to Nicoya. Again, there are many people waiting, but we go right into the back office. Señor Confudido seems happy to see us again. This time, I have a hundred copies of my resolution – well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I went over every paper in that folder at least a dozen times.  I am processed quickly, my ID card will be ready June 6th, and off we go.

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On the way home, I remark how it is interesting that on Gary’s Comprobante, his employment is listed as “Unspecified Activity”. Mine also says the same, but in parentheses, it says “Ama de casa” meaning housewife. Vestiges of a male-dominated society.

Of course, our health insurance was only temporary for one-month and that will expire on May 24th. But we don’t get our cards until June 6th. We have to take those ID cards back to the clinic to get a permanent health care card – a “carnet”. So not sure how that gap will work. And I still haven’t figured out how to pay for the CAJA online. On every piece of paper we have received, there are numerous ID numbers. No clue as to which one is which. Well, we’ll worry about that later.

Needless to say, the cards weren’t ready on June 6th. We went all the way back to the Santa Cruz post office only to be told the government has about a two-month delay in printing the cards. Really???? I’m shown how to check online for the status of the cards, and diligently, every day, I look – hoping to see our cards have been delivered to the post office.

Here it is, July 13th – and we just picked up the cards today. Now, we have 30 days to get Costa Rican drivers’ licenses. Plus we still have to go back to the CAJA and straighten out our expired health insurance.

At this point, Kaia is the only one with all her papers in order. The saga continues.

Pura Vida indeed,

Cheryl, Gary and Kaia

 

p.s. Please feel free to share our blog with anyone who is considering relocating to Costa Rica. We are happy to answer any questions and share our experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a Dog’s World

Hello – my name is Kaia – and since it’s my 3rd birthday, I get to write today’s blog. It’s all about dogs in Costa Rica. And let me tell  you – if you’re a dog, Costa Rica is probably the best place to be. All the dogs run around free here,  they play all day in the streets and in the fields, run around on the beach, and then they go home at night.  There’s even a big dog park in the middle of the country – over 900 homeless dogs run around there. They even have their own Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8l-QocR_zg. I would love to go there someday, and maybe we could come home with a playmate for me.

There’s even an organization in our town called Hope for a Street Dog. They help a lot of dogs that don’t have a comfy bed to sleep in or good food to eat, like I do. They also get medical care for sick or injured dogs,  sponsor neutering clinics, and find good homes, here in Costa Rica or even in the United States. You should check out their Facebook page: Hope 4 a Street Dog, or their website: https://www.youcaring.com/hope-4-a-street-dog-453082.

I’m not sure why, but I’m not allowed to run outside all day with the neighborhood dogs – something to do with the words “You’re too wild”.  It’s okay – I don’t mind being home – I have lots of toys that I don’t have to share with anyone.Image may contain: dog

I have two Humans – a Man and a Woman. Man smells like patchouli. Woman smells like whatever she is cooking. That is my favorite smell. I help her cook all the time – I stand underneath her and catch whatever might drop to the floor. I get a lot of good snacks that way.

It was kind of difficult getting to Costa Rica. First, I had to get a really large crate. I was too big to go in the cabin, so I had to go in the cargo hold. The crate had to be 3 inches higher than the top of my head, since I was flying internationally. My humans bought the crate a few months before we left, so I could get used to it. Image may contain: dog

Then I had to see the vet twice before I could fly. She had to be a vet registered with APHIS – that’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Thirty days before we left, I had to take medicine to make sure I didn’t have fleas, ticks, worms or any other parasites – yuck. Then, I had to go back ten days before we left for a shot in the hiney for bordatella. I already had my rabies shot and my 5-in-1 booster from a couple of months before, so fortunately, I didn’t need those again. I hated that vet – my humans always made me wear the muzzle because I kept trying to bite her – I am so glad I will never see her again. I’m not sure why, but when we were done, my humans kept saying “How embarrassing” over and over.

Anyway, I finally got my Import Permit to leave the USA; my humans took it to the Department of Agriculture office at JFK Airport, paid more money, and got the okay to take me away.

We flew United Airlines because they have their own PetSafe program and are the easiest to deal with. They gave us the wrong address to go to at the airport. It took us over an hour to finally find the right place, where I was dropped off in my crate. It cost about $460 to ship me that way, but that’s a lot less than using a broker.

Some countries require the use of a customs broker to import dogs. If we were flying into San Jose, the capital city, we would have needed one, plus an examination by the vet at the airport. But, as it turns out, we were flying into Liberia, and a broker isn’t needed there. We spent a lot of time on the phone and emailing to make sure all the information was correct before we left. If all the papers are not in order, I would not have been allowed to leave the airport and I would have been stuck in that stupid crate for a long, long time.  SENASA is the government office that decides how dogs can come in: Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal. If you’re bringing your dog here, you need to contact them; their website is http://www.senasa.go.cr.

Now that I’m here, it’s taken a lot of adjusting. I had to learn about a lot of new animals, like cows, horses, monkeys, toads, bats and iguanas. This is Laser:  I chase him all over the backyard but wow, he is quick. Plus he can climb the trees and I can’t do that – yet.No automatic alt text available.

Dogs are welcome everywhere here in Costa Rica, even restaurants. Nina hangs out at the restaurant downstairs every night; they give her goodies at the end of the evening. I tried to talk to her, but she thought I was homing in on her food turf, so she growls at me whenever I pass by. She doesn’t understand I have my own food, and I just want to be friends.

They even have dog contests here. I thought this guy should have won 1st place for best costume. If I behave, my humans say I can enter the contest this summer. I’d like to go as Wonder Woman. Image may contain: dog and outdoor

Maya is another lucky dog living here in Costa Rica – she came from Canada. She doesn’t like dogs other than her brother Brutus, but I think she is so pretty, I am hoping one day we can run along the beach together. She has “issues” like me – not sure what they are, but I think it’s a good thing. I hear everybody has issues.Image may contain: dog and indoor

Paige is another friend – she came here from Arizona. She has long beautiful blond hair and has lots of stuffed animal toys. I love stuffed animals but I’m not allowed to have any more since I destroy them completely in less than 5 minutes. Paige must not know how good they taste; she doesn’t chew her toys up, at all.No automatic alt text available.

The only thing I don’t like about Costa Rica? That loud thunder – scares me to death. I have to put on my Thundershirt – I call it my Wonder Woman cape – but the Calming Chews are quite yummy and make me feel oh-so-woozy. I could eat them all day.Image may contain: dog

There’s still lots to do here. My favorite activities are licking my humans, eating,  and watching the cows across the street, not necessarily in that order. There’s a big backyard here where I get to run around and hunt for wildlife. There are a lot of small holes in the yard, and my humans are always yelling at me not to stick my nose in them. We don’t know what’s living down there. Could be crabs – could be scorpions or snakes – oooohhhh, maybe more playmates.

I also spend a lot of time on guard duty. Nobody can come near my humans, I take very good care of them.  I don’t understand why they don’t appreciate that, but they do let me sleep at the foot of the bed and feed me well. Guard duty on the patio: Image may contain: dog

Here I am, with my afternoon snack of carrot, apples, yellow pepper and string beans. Helps me keep my girlish figure.Image may contain: dog

And, after my snack, time to relax and work on my suntan.Image may contain: dog

Since I don’t like a lot of people or dogs – I’m somewhat anti-social – the vet comes to the house. Oh, how lucky am I.  She’s okay but the Man she is with – ugh, I hate him and tried to tear his leg off every chance I could get. Too bad I had that stupid muzzle on again. Another shot in the hiney – this seems like it’s going to be an ongoing thing. They think I’m dumb, but I understood what they were saying about me – I understand “behavior problems” and “aggressive” just fine. I even heard the Woman say something about “psycho” – I’ll have to look that word up.

As if English wasn’t hard enough, now I have to learn Spanish, as well. I only know two words about me – “loca” and “brava” – and I don’t think either of them are meant as compliments. Someone in the neighborhood lost her dog, and she posted on Facebook that her dog only speaks English – I thought that was funny. Maybe that’s why Nina doesn’t like me – she only speaks Spanish. Maybe I can brush up – I can listen in when the Spanish teacher comes. I have ambivalent feelings about him – sometimes I want to bite him, sometimes I want to lick him.

I really do miss my other human friends from New York – especially Thomas, Jerome and Robert. They used to come over and play with me all the time. Maybe they will come visit me here in Costa Rica someday.  Anyway, since today’s my birthday, my friend Brutus came over to play with me. It went well, until he got tired of me sniffing his hiney.  I hope he comes back again; he brought yummy treats.Image may contain: dog

Well, that’s it for my birthday blog. Going back to admiring myself in the mirror and dreaming about ice cream for dessert tonight. Since it’s my birthday, I just might get my own cone – yum.Image may contain: dog and indoor

 

Love and licks from Costa Rica,

Kaia Belle Elferis

 

Healthy choices

One of the questions I am asked frequently is about the availability of organic produce and specialty products. Or if you’re on a special diet, such as gluten-free or sugar-free, how easy is it to find foods?

Living in Costa Rica, we expected that we would be able to eat better and be healthier. And that has certainly been true. We buy our produce fresh from the growers, not through some middle-man where it has been sitting around for who-knows-how-long, or trucked in from who-knows-how-far.

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I cook with spices that have been air-dried, not heat-dried and stored on a supermarket shelf for six months or more.  I only have to use a pinch, since these are more concentrated and flavorful than any spices I have ever used.  Check out the website: http://www.spicemarketcostarica.com – they even ship to the U.S. Once you use these, you’ll wonder how you ever cooked without them. I stock up every week at the market.

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We’ve also discovered some new products that help us maintain good health. One is moringa – it comes in either pill, powder or liquid form. Gary likes the drink, but I prefer the powder – 1/2 teaspoon a day in fruit smoothies does the trick. Apparently, moringa has lots of benefits, including lowering lipid and glucose levels; contains antioxidants that fight free radicals; reduces inflammation; prevents plaque formation in arteries; helps detox the liver; has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties; helps wounds heal faster. It has way more vitamin A than carrots, potassium than bananas,  iron than spinach, vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk and more protein than yogurt.

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Another new friend of ours is the coconut. I use coconut sugar in place of regular sugar or artificial sweeteners in my coffee. Supposedly, it is lower-glycemic than other sugars, although not all nutritionists agree on that. I’m happy since it doesn’t taste so sweet and I use less. I did try baking cake and cookies with it, and didn’t really notice that much of a difference.  Our friend Manuela at the Saturday market sells the coconut sugar, along with home-made granola with almonds and dried fruits, and assorted nuts…we love the granola in yogurt.Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, food

Kaia gets coconut oil in her dog food every day; it helps with her digestion (did she just eat another bug??) and keeps her fur nice and shiny. Every once in a while, I smear some on my hair, as well. It can be used to replace vegetable oil in any recipe, although I haven’t really tried cooking with it, yet (except scrambled eggs for Kaia – her weekend treat). It does a great job of seasoning my grandmother’s cast iron skillet. Below: the sugar and the oil.Image may contain: drink

We’ve been hearing all this ranting and raving about turmeric – it’s the spice that gives the yellow color to curry. It has anti-flammatory effects and is a very strong anti-oxidant, so should help with increasing brain function, warding off Alzheimer’s and cancer, as well as arthitis. It has to be eaten in combination with black pepper for maximum effectiveness. Add a pinch to every cooked meal, and you don’t even taste it.

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Another great find is Spirulina – it is an antioxidant made of seaweed and algae, loaded with B6, B12, and minerals that heal and strengthen the immune system. Gary takes one pill a day for increased energy. I usually forget to take it.No automatic alt text available.

Also at the market, Natalie has organic meatballs (they also come in gluten-free!) and rack of lamb – delicious. And she has the chutneys and salsas to go with everything. We also buy our moringa and shredded coconut here.Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling

We buy sausage (no fillers or preservatives), bratwurst and mustards from our cheerful German friend, who reminds us “If you want good food in Costa Rica, you have to make it yourself”. Image may contain: 1 person, food and outdoor

Last week, we tried some home-made organic peanut butter – made with honey and not loaded with sugar. It wasn’t as sweet as the stuff in the jar, and very “peanut-y”, but it wasn’t bad – and it goes nicely with apples.Image may contain: food

Even Kaia has her healthy treat every afternoon: her toy is stuffed with apples, yellow or red peppers, carrots, and string beans. It keeps her busy for at least 10 minutes.Image may contain: dog

In Queens, there was only one really good seafood restaurant we used to frequent. And when the management changed hands, the quality just wasn’t the same. Here, whenever we eat out, I take the opportunity to order fish – snapper and mahi-mahi are my favorites. Tuna, sea bass and shrimp are also plentiful here, as well as whatever was caught that morning.  A delicious seafood dinner for $12.50 – you can’t beat that. Image may contain: people sitting and food

I can order organic produce from a local grower who will deliver it right to the house. I haven’t used the service yet, although a lot of other people swear by him. For now, what I get at the Saturday market will suffice. There are people who rant and rave about the pesticides used here; but I just wash everything well and don’t worry about it. In New York, I never knew what was on the food or how many people had handled and sneezed on it. I figure now is not the time to start worrying about that. As a former pastor of mine used to say: “Bless it and eat it”!

If you’re on a special diet, then it’s a little trickier, but not impossible. Vegetarians will be very happy here; every restaurant has meat-free options. The AutoMercado, a large supermarket in Tamarindo, has a fairly large gluten-free and sugar-free section, but you’re going to pay an arm and a leg for any item. As usual, most of it tastes like cardboard, but I did find some decent sugar-free chocolate cookies. No automatic alt text available.

Even our favorite coffee spot – Santa Rita Cafe in Tamarindo – has gluten-free goodies. But we usually splurge on a slice of their banana walnut bread with our coffee.Image may contain: food and indoor

Much harder to deal with: sugar-free options. The problem is, almost every product here is re-labeled in Spanish. Unlike the labels we are used to, sugar isn’t always listed separately; usually it’s just one line of total carbohydrates. That’s made it a little difficult to monitor my sugar intake, and I’ve suffered a few wicked migraines as a result of unsuspected sugar overload. There’s no half-and-half here, which only has 1 gram of sugar, as opposed to whole milk, which has 12. So I’ve had to use whole milk in my coffee — I can’t stand skim milk and I’m not crazy about almond or rice or whatever other strange kinds of milk are out there — so I just watch how much I use.  At least I can get decaf coffee — only Nescafe’s makes instant; it’s not anywhere as good as Costa Rican coffee. So on Saturdays, I splurge for regular coffee with foamy steamed milk – oh yum.

Bottom line: if you don’t mind traveling a bit and spending the money, you can find almost everything here. And, of course, that depends also on where you live. In the Central Valley (San Jose the capital city and the surrounding towns), you can find much more. Last time we went to San Jose, we took an extra suitcase just to stock up at the supermarkets, warehouse shopping (like Costco’s) and malls. But here, in Guanacaste, we really have to go to Liberia (about an hour drive) to get any specialty item or products in bulk. I have found some Oriental and other hard-to-find items at Kion’s in Santa Cruz – about  45-minute drive. Then again, we haven’t explored every nook and cranny in this area yet.

Of course, all this healthy eating leaves room for cheating now and then. Utopia, a fabulous French bakery in Tamarindo, has a stall at the Saturday market. You have to get there early, before the chocolate-iced eclairs and cream puffs (drizzled with caramel and nuts) are sold out. Delicious brioches, regular and chocolate croissants, and other yummy pastries, made with butter and not with lard or shortening, as so many other bakers here use. I dream about those cream puffs. I usually treat myself to two, and then spend the rest of the week atoning for the indulgence. I say atonement – it’s not really repentance – because I’m not sorry I ate them — and I’ll do it again next Saturday!!!!

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Happily eating our way through Costa Rica,

Gary, Cheryl and Kaia

P.S. Please feel free to share our blog with anyone you know who is considering visiting or relocating to Costa Rica; we are happy to share our experiences.

 

 

 

 

Critter-of-the-Month Club

Ah, you haven’t read a Bug-of-the-Month update in a while, and I’ll bet you were thinking, Oh thank goodness, no more bugs. Well, it’s been “dry” season here since mid-December, and with that, a surprising lack of insects. We hadn’t seen a mosquito or beetle in months. Not even one.

And then, on April 27th, we had our first downpour of the “green” season. And the very next day, to our amazement, every insect and critter had crawled out of whatever hole or crevice it had been hibernating in for the last four months. Little flying things stuck to the window screens; spiders building cobwebs in every corner; shiny beetles lined up at the front door, trying to sneak in; large ants roaming the house looking for crumbs. At night, hundreds of fireflies are lighting up the lawns. And not sure what these are, but yesterday morning, they decided to take over our patio, and Kaia did not like that one bit.Image may contain: outdoor

Almost all throughout the day now, we hear what sounds like thousands of crickets in the trees. Usually, they make their presence known only in the evening, but now even in the morning, they are chirping away.  The birds are all building nests; this morning, I watched a squirrel try to get into a nest, until the mother bird came back and chased him away.

Last night, Kaia encountered a good-sized frog in the back-yard, his grayish-brown camouflage blending in superbly with the gravel. He held his stance and stared her down, even as she got really close. They were almost nose-to-nose, and then he hopped away. Since then, every evening, we encounter several.No automatic alt text available.

A few weeks ago, we started seeing these wasp-like flying things, building these nests in the leaves of the palm trees. One is leaning dangerously near our patio. I asked the gardener about it, and his reply: “Just don’t touch it and they won’t bother you”. Uh, okay, if you say so. Nevertheless, I did get stung by one in the pool. Our biggest challenge is keeping Kaia from trying to eat them; not a snack I think she will enjoy. This nest is about the size of a large grapefruit.No automatic alt text available.

Also making their grand entrance of the season near the beach are hoards of these beautiful crabs. Too small to eat, too pretty to ignore.Image may contain: plant, outdoor and water

Fortunately, our resident population of iguanas – Brownzilla, Lizzie, Laser, Pinky and Greenie – have been VERY busy lately. We have a LOT of baby iguanas running around now. Hopefully, they will all stick around and keep the insect population to a minimum. Here’s Lizzie, posing for her picture…Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Any day now, we expect to see the “predators” show up; the large flying critter patrol that keep the insect population down: the grasshopper, dragonfly, praying mantis, stick-figure guy, and the usual large assortment of geckos. The only ones I am not looking forward to are those large locust-things, but if I recall correctly, they usually get out of hand around October and November. We also have a nice-sized bat population gliding around at night, but they seem pretty useless.  At least, you don’t have to worry about the bats hitting you in the head, like those locust-monsters do. These little bats (about 4 inches wide) spend the day sleeping in the eaves on our balcony.No automatic alt text available.

And why these little guys are so insistent on trying to get through our front door is beyond me. Every time you open the door, there they are, lined up like on a food line, climbing on each other’s backs to get through the door first. Someone must have sent out a notice that this is the place to hang out because I don’t see them congregating in front of anyone else’s door. These are black; their brown-shelled cousins will be here next month. No matter how vigorously you sweep, in an hour, they are back. Gary says it’s time to take up golf again. We take turns using the broom like a golf club; the goal is to get the bug off the balcony ledge about 30 feet away. Winner is the one who can get the most beetles over the ledge. Okay – I know it sounds crazy, but you have to find ways to amuse yourself here. And these guys have such hard shells, I’m pretty sure they survive the fall – we’re only on the second floor.No automatic alt text available.

So, as we brace ourselves for another few months of battling-with-the-bugs, we take consolation in the fact that we only have a few more months of living here among so much foliage. Our new house won’t be immediately surrounded by so many trees and brush, so we are hoping that will keep the insect population down. And the bushes that we will plant will include lavender and eucalyptus, which apparently insects don’t like.

The hardest part is keeping Kaia critter-free. Heavy duty flea-and-tick medicine, regular fur and ear checks, lavender drops on her neck and tail, wiping her feet clean after every walk, neem soap baths every week – all part of the routine.

In the meantime, we keep the broom, bug spray (woefully ineffective) and plenty of paper towels on hand.

But, in the end, we acquiesce. We are on their turf, after all.Image may contain: sky, tree, plant, cloud, outdoor and nature

 

Preparing for battle,

Gary, Cheryl and Kaia

P.S. If you know of anyone thinking of relocating to Costa Rica, please feel free to share our blog with them;  we are happy to share our experiences and answer any questions.

Permacation…

…a word you won’t find in Webster’s dictionary, but now a part of our daily vocabulary. Even though both of us are working, it’s as if we are on a “permanent vacation”. It feels like a huge burden has been lifted, and we are able to experience life as it was meant to be enjoyed. Image may contain: sky, tree, ocean, twilight, outdoor and nature

Our journey to Costa Rica and the path we are continuing to follow never ceases to amaze us. Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day we landed at Liberia Airport, with six overweight suitcases and Kaia in her crate. That was one of the longest and most stressful days of our lives; up at 3 am; the mix-up in where to drop Kaia off; the hassle with the overweight luggage; constantly checking to make sure I had all our paperwork, documents, passports, etc.. Upon arrival at Liberia, Kaia’s crate tipping over, not once, but twice; waiting in the unexpected heat for the driver (our flight landed early); Kaia whining constantly, wanting to be led out; the long drive to the condo; schlepping the suitcases and crate to the second floor (thank God there was an elevator!); unpacking and finding a place for EVERYTHING; and finally collapsing on the patio, almost unable to speak after the long ordeal.

And yet, every day since then, we still look at each other, and shake our heads in amazement that we are “still” here. The whole experience seems surreal, very difficult to explain. Others that have preceded us in this journey say that feeling may not go away for a few years. It hardly feels like we’ve been here a year already; at times, it seems like we just arrived last week.

Recently, a friend asked me what I didn’t like about Costa Rica. I had to think for about 5 minutes, and even then, I could only come up with one thing: I don’t like the locusts that seem to infest our hallway in October/November. She couldn’t believe that was the only negative thing I could think of. We do miss our friends, but we’re only a plane ride away. Sure, there is the lack of availability of some creature comforts, but we have learned to “make do” with the things we can get. In doing so, we have discovered some new foods, cooking methods, products, etc.  When the electric power or water is out for a long time, or we get a flat tire on the awful gravel roads, we shrug and say “Just another day in Paradise”.  We deal with a different kind of traffic jam now. When we get there, we get there. Image may contain: one or more people, sky, tree and outdoor

Gary and I have always been a firm believer that “Perspective is everything”. How you choose to look at any situation, whether it’s pleasant or a problem, determines how easily you will overcome and be able to move on. We’ve learned not to dwell on anything negative, and to enjoy each day to the fullest. Having escaped the rat-race, we’re able to slow down and cherish the moment. I think our perspective of time has changed the most. Every day feels like the movie “Groundhog Day”. If we weren’t working, I don’t think we would even know what day of the week it is. In the entire year, neither of us has put on a wristwatch. The only clock in the house is the one on the electric stove, and most of the times, it’s not even accurate, with the frequent power outages. Most afternoons, this is our new perspective:Image may contain: sky, tree, ocean, plant, outdoor and nature

In our little corner of Costa Rica, we no longer have access to museums, theaters and the cultural events that we were used to in New York. But we don’t miss any of  that – not one bit. Life is meant to be enjoyed in its simplicity; there’s a large, funny-sounding bird in the tree outside our patio, and all day he has been entertaining us and making us laugh with his cackling and singing. Listening to the clacking sound the swaying bamboo makes is more extraordinary than a concert at Lincoln Center. Or watching the monkeys lazing in the trees above is more amusing than the latest movie that’s out. We don’t dwell on the things we don’t have anymore; instead, we focus on all that we have gained.Image may contain: outdoor

Nevertheless, this lifestyle is not for everyone. If you’re not:

  • a nature lover, with all of its many reptilian and insect forms
  • comfortable making new friends easily
  • willing to give up your favorite foods or creature comforts
  • afraid to embrace change
  • okay with a “mañana” attitude
  • willing to learn Spanish
  • able to adapt to a new culture and new foods
  • going to take advice from people who have immigrated here
  • able to live without electricity or water for who-knows-how-long (could be minutes, could be hours, could be a day or two)
  • in fairly good health, not dependent on a lot of special medications

– then Costa Rica is definitely not for you.  Depending on the source, up to 50% of expats return home after being here 12-18 months. Their expectations were much different from the actual reality of calling this country “home”.  Some ignored repeated advice, such as rent before you buy. Prior to moving here, I belonged to several expat exchanges, in search of first-hand information. Quite often, I saw the comment: “If you wanted things to be the same as where you came from, you should have stayed there”. That pretty much sums it up. Moving to another country is not for the faint of heart, but we’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by many immigrants who have adapted quite well, and have come to love Costa Rica, despite any inconveniences. We’ve also befriended many Costa Ricans who, despite our communication difficulties, have embraced us and taught us much.

We anticipate our next year to be even more adventurous. We’re now officially temporary residents, and we are building a house in a sweet little town.  I want to be fluent in Spanish; progress is steady, but still slow – not as easy to memorize verb conjugations as it was 40 years ago.  Gary has his martial arts business up and running, and is working on his Spanish so he can converse better with students and new friends. And we want to explore more of this beautiful country.

Kaia’s contribution: “I love Costa Rica – there are a lot of animals for me to chase. I still don’t have many friends, and I have to wear my muzzle whenever anybody comes over, but I really am trying very hard to be nicer. My best friend, Christine, bought this for me. I’m not sure what “issues” are but Mommy says it’s okay – everybody has them.”Image may contain: sunglasses

Gary’s contribution: “Costa Rica is a wonderful experience; it’s where life happens at its own pace. It’s spiritual in nature, the people are lovely, I love being able to see the ocean. It’s the things you see that create a sense of harmony – those are the things I enjoy. Here, I can really be one with the universe.”

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing, ocean, sunglasses, sky, outdoor, water and nature

A friend of ours, who moved here last summer, went back to Canada last week to visit family and friends for a month. After being gone less than a week, she sent us a message: “Can’t wait to get home.” I thought maybe it was too cold or too busy for her in Canada. Her reply: “Neither really – just not home anymore”.  We can definitely relate.

Home at last,

Gary, Cheryl and Kaia

 

 

Approved!!

On March 27th, we received the wonderful news that we had been approved for temporary residency.  The actual date of our approval was February 27th, but somehow the notice fell through the cracks. Thanks to the diligence of our immigration consultant, Laura Gutierrez – who has stayed on top of the situation and guided us through every step – we finally did receive the resolution. This temporary status will be good for two years, after which we re-apply for two more years of temporary residency. In the fourth year, we can apply for permanent residency. I guess the Costa Rican government wants to make sure you really want to be here. Oh yeah, this was a one-way trip for us, and after being here almost a year, we are sure this is where we were meant to be. But it is a long process, and not an inexpensive one.

This process towards residency started last May when, with Laura’s help, we filed our applications with the Immigration Department in San Jose. You can read about that adventure in our blog entitled “Musical Chairs at Immigration” from May 12, 2016.

Anticipating no less of an adventure this time, Laura laid out the next steps for us. We printed out two copies of our 3-page resolution and were instructed to keep a copy with us at all times until we had our residency cards in hand. Up until now, we have just been walking around with photocopies of our passports.

First stop, Banco de Costa Rica in Tamarindo to pay these amounts for EACH of us.

  • $307 guarantee deposit – not sure exactly what that is supposed to guarantee – that we’re not going to change our minds????
  • $98 administration cost of the actual residency card, known as a cedula – seems like an awful lot for a little plastic card. PriceSmart gave us membership cards for free, but hey, this is the government, so we understand.
  • $25 Refugee Charity Fund – okay we don’t have a problem with that – happy to help.

Fortunately, the teller at the bank spoke a little English and with my poor Spanish, we were able to get through all the transactions, paying cash and getting two receipts for each of us. So that wasn’t so bad, just expensive.

Next step, obtaining health insurance through the CAJA. This is a government-run program; it’s not like you have a choice of health-care providers. Participation in the CAJA is mandatory for residency, so we have to sign up. There is optional private insurance, but we are healthy, not taking any prescription drugs, no pre-existing conditions, so we figured we would give this program a try.  We still have the option of going to a private doctor and paying out-of-pocket.

With receipts in hand, we head to the CAJA office nearest to where we live. For us, that is a few towns over in Veintisiete de Abril (yes, that’s the name of the town – April 27).  The full name of the office is Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (social insurance).  It’s health care and Social Security all rolled in one. We were told to bring a translator, and we enlisted the aid of our good friend Roger, who is fluently bi-lingual. And boy, did we need him. The employee at the desk mumbled so I could barely understand him. At first, he balked at our paperwork – for the life of him, he couldn’t fathom why everything was in my name and Gary was listed as the dependent. It’s a long story, but they only allow one name on a bank account here – someone else can have access – and my name is on it. Mr. Mumbles just didn’t like the idea that the woman was listed as the payor, and the husband was the dependent. “That’s not the way it’s done here”, he huffed in Spanish – that much I understood. So I had to have Roger patiently explain the reason why the account was set up that way, and finally, he acquiesced on that point. Then, although I swore I had every paper in our possession, somehow a copy of Gary’s passport was missing. Mr. Mumbles wanted us to go down the road and get a copy, but I guess he understood when I said “They must have a copier in this office”. And – imagine that – they did and we got the copy of Gary’s passport. Several forms to be filled out, with Roger translating every line. How much do we spend on food? Utilities? Rent? Do you own any property? It’s not like our payment is going to be determined on a sliding scale. For us, as “rentistas”, it’s based on $2500 per month, which is what the Costa Rican government expects us to live off every month. Everything I had read had said the cost of the insurance was 8% of the $2500, so when he slid a little paper over to us with the figure 199,513 colones, which is $359 USD per month, I nearly had a heart attack. That’s almost twice what we were expecting. I asked Roger to ask Mr. Mumbles how he came up with that number. “I don’t know – I put the numbers in the computer and that’s what it comes up with”. OK – deep breath. I’m thinking, well we just have to pay it, and maybe I can fight it later. But then it turns out, that of the whole amount due every month, $199 is for the medical insurance, which is what we were expecting. But the other $161 is for the pension plan: when we turn 65, we can collect a pension. Who knew??? We don’t even know how much we can collect. But if it’s even $100/month, that will put the roof over our head. In everything I read, nothing mentioned that we would be eligible for a pension, so that was a pleasant surprise. And $199 for complete medical coverage for the two of us with no copays and no deductibles – doctors, hospitals, prescriptions – is a steal, compared to rates in the USA.

Next – to the cashier’s window to pay. I slide my Costa Rica bank debit card. Oh, they don’t take credit or debit cards. But I can pay online, although the instructions sound very convoluted and I’m not following very well. In the meantime, Gary is rifling through his pockets and manages to come up with the amount in cash. We pay and get a receipt and more paperwork.

Next – to the clinic. When you sign up for insurance, you are assigned to a local clinic. These are known as EBAIS. It’s only a block away, so we walk over to a heavily gated, ugly cement building that looks like it could be Fort Knox.Image may contain: outdoor

There are a few people sitting in chairs, waiting to see a doctor, I guess. There’s a “farmacia” sign, and one other window. We are directed around to the back of the building, to an office with a woman who doesn’t seem to happy to see us. Roger explains that we are here to get our CAJA ID cards. She looks over our paperwork, and then says, we can’t get the CAJA cards until we have our cedulas from Immigration. Whoa, wait a minute – we need the CAJA cards to get the cedulas. Finally, after much going back and forth, Roger informs us that she is willing to “do us a favor” and process our applications. But we know better – there’s no favor involved here – this is what she is supposed to do. Then, we are told she will only give us a one-month temporary card. I get Laura on the phone immediately, and she is kind enough to speak with Miss Doing-Us-A-Favor. Laura says, all okay – take the one-month temporary card, and after we get our cedulas, we have to go back and get the date extended. Oh, gee, we are really looking forward to having to come back again. Can’t wait.Image may contain: 1 person, sitting

Finally, she is satisfied with a million copies of everything, and proceeds to type up our cards on an old Olympia typewriter. She says the printer is out-of-order, but as fast as she’s typing, I know she uses that old thing every day. Who is she kidding? Once the cards are typed up, then it’s back to arts and crafts. Those of you who read the earlier blog will know what I mean. The cards have to be cut to fit a small piece of heavy stock paper with a fill-in-the-blanks appointment – date/doctor, etc. Looks like that’s where they will record your visits to the clinic. We are told to carry this card with us everywhere. More receipts and paperwork and finally we are on our way.

Altogether, the whole process took less than 2 hours. Thanks to Roger, the translations and form-filling went smoothly. This definitely could not have been done without his help, and anyone who tells you that you can do this on your own if you don’t speak Spanish, is crazy.

Which brings me to another point. There are many who say that you can do this whole residency process on your own. Ask them if they will take your phone call when you run into a problem, or don’t have the right paperwork, or don’t understand the local Spanish. In December 2015, we retained the services of Laura Gutierrez, on the recommendation from http://www.welovecostarica.com. From the very beginning, we were impressed with Laura; she made us feel comfortable and confident. Without her help, we would still be fumbling around wondering if our police reports were valid. Or wiping our hands on our clothes after being finger-printed (she brought along baby wipes!!). Or not doing things in the right order. Her concise explanations and directions were always on-point. We can’t recommend her highly enough. Her website: http://costaricaresidencycard.com.

Now we are ready for the next step – getting our cedulas (residency cards). We’ll keep you posted!!

Pura Vida!

Gary and Cheryl

 

 

 

Semana Santa

This week is known as Semana Santa = Holy Week, leading up to Resurrection Sunday. In a country where almost 75% of the population is Catholic, and 13% other Christian denominations, this entire week is a reason to celebrate.

Last Sunday, we drove to Santa Cruz in a desperate attempt to find printer ink. Almost every store was closed; only the supermarkets and one or two other stores were open. Government offices are shut down; banks and most other offices will close starting Thursday. Even toll-workers at four bridges got a reprieve; no tolls will be collected from Thursday to Sunday.  Schools are closed, and families take advantage of the free time to take their holiday vacations. Public transportation is limited everywhere. Even our Saturday feria (market) was empty; no vendors today. Normally congested San Jose looks like a ghost town by Good Friday (photo from Tico Times).Avenida segunda free of cars on Good Friday.

Those who do stay behind participate in elaborate solemn Good Friday processions.Image result for semana santa in costa rica

Those who are not so religious head to vacation spots along the coasts. Our beach, normally sparsely populated for most of the day, is now filled with extended families enjoying the waves and the breeze. Hotels and campgrounds are full, and it looks like some have even pitched tents right on the beach.  The timing is perfect; rainy season will start soon, so for now, the days are bright and sunny, with clear moon-lit and starry skies at night.Image may contain: sky, tree, ocean, outdoor, nature and water

At one time, it was illegal to sell alcohol from midnight on Ash Wednesday to midnight on Good Friday. In 2001, the government allowed local municipalities to decide for themselves if they wanted to stay “dry” during this period. Today, in many parts of the country, it is still against the law to sell alcohol on Thursday and Good Friday. However, we are off the beaten path, and the supermarket downstairs is doing a thriving business, mostly beer.No automatic alt text available.

The parking lot is full of pick-up trucks loaded down with coolers and booze, all headed down to the beach. We’ve never seen so many cars and motorcycles on our road (only one road in/out of town). It’s also not illegal to drink and drive here – unless you are in an accident – then it’s a problem. Seat belts are also not widely used, unless people know in advance that the transit police are lurking around.Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, car and outdoor

Unfortunately, all day drinking in the sun tends to make people rowdy and not on their best behavior. Once the sun set, the mass exodus from the beach started — cars trying to speed down the bumpy roads, people standing and cheering from pick-ups, everyone in a hurry, tempers occasionally flaring. To make matters worse, every day this week we are reading of break-ins in the area. Hotels, cabins, homes – you name it – everyone is susceptible. It was actually posted in one of the local newspapers that this is the worst week for crime in Costa Rica, along with a warning to be vigilant. Most of the crime here is petty thievery and robbery. In the 12 months that we have been here, we have heard of only one gunshot going off — and that was in a bar fight at 4 in the morning in Tamarindo. Nevertheless, our little town is not used to such traffic and loud noise, and it is a bit unsettling……along with the beer and ice distributors making very noisy, late-night deliveries.

Hopefully, the rest of the week-end will pass peacefully. However you choose to celebrate, remember the reason….Image result for non copyrighted photos of jesus' cross

He is risen!

Gary, Cheryl and Kaia