16 November 2019

¡Soy Tica! ... I'm Costa Rican!

I fell in love with Costa Rica more than 50 years ago. The romance began when I first arrived at the Peñas Blancas border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, thus ending what had been 10 day overland journey in a pickup truck, with a camper shell.

After living in Costa Rica for several years, circumstances required me to return to my homeland. When I left Costa Rica I left a big piece of my heart behind with the Ticos. For 35 years I dreamt of returning to Costa Rica permanently. During these years I traveled back to Costa Rica on as many of my vacations as I could. Then in 2006, John and I bought a piece of property in the mountain town of Atenas. We built a small casita to use as our vacation home for a few years, and finally, in 2011, my dream came true! We were able to quit our jobs, retire, and move to Costa Rica to live amongst the Ticos.
I am very proud to announce that Costa Rica has granted my request to become a Naturalized Citizen this week. ¡Pura Vida Costa Rica!

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01 August 2019

Corporatists strike again

That makes 5.
When I retired, I thought that my victimhood at the hands of corporatism was finally over. Four times, I was a prime mover behind the creation of great little corporations with great people. Four times, corporatists bought out those little companies, one after another, and promptly, each time, over 40 years, they ran "our" little company into the ground or screwed it up so much that it was no longer great.
Screw 'em. I got outa there. "They'll never touch me again."
Famous last words.
In retirement, I discovered a fun crowdsourcing activity known as Tomnod. Tomnod was a place where NGO's and governments could come for help after disasters or accidents or social upheavals to get thousands of sets of volunteer's eyes to pore over highly detailed satellite images, looking for something. Downed airliners**; slave quarters; illegal forest burning; housing and infrastructure destruction; or even tagging herds or flocks of wild animals. Fun combined with doing some good.
But it's the old story: A handful of people at UC San Diego have this cool idea for sat-images combined with crowdsourcing; they form Tomnod ("Big Eye" in Mongolian) and it's a pretty impressive success; the biggest supplier of sat images, Digital Globe, acquires Tomnod and it seems like a marriage made in heaven, for years.
Then it happened. A big corporate shark, Maxar Technologies, buys Digital Globe and Tomnod starts receiving the signals of "you don't fit our profit profile."
Today, the formal news hit the streets ... Tomnod is officially "retired." (So ... that's what you call murder today, assholes?)
So there's the story. Corporatists can get you, even retired, while hiding in Costa Rica. Comes the Revolution ...
** During the MH370 search, an estimated 100,000 volunteer searchers were looking at images, EVERY hour.C

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14 July 2018

Spanish style wrought iron bars on windows and doors

Wrought iron bars on windows and doors, a traditional element of Spanish culture and architecture, are called "Rejas", meaning grills. Rejas may well date back to the 15th century, long before the use of glass became widespread. They used to be made of wood, and provided a means to keep things in, or out. Through the years wood gave way to metal and they started to become more and more decorative. Back in a time without glass windows, the rejas were means of keeping livestock from sticking their heads through an open window and helping themselves to food, etc. Rejas allow windows to be opened in a temperate climate, providing for better air circulation, yet at the same time, offer a level of security.  Legend has it that rejas also allowed girls to be seen and courted without the need of a chaperone.

When we built our home seven years ago, it was understood that we would have rejas on our home, along with glass and screens on the windows. This was one of the best decisions we made. We haven't closed our windows since we moved in and the flow of fresh air, day and night, is wonderful.

Many folks complain about bars on windows and doors, stating they feel like they are in jail and fear they couldn't get out in an emergency. In our case, during the construction of the house we made sure there would always be at least two ways out of any room. We installed hinged rejas for the second exit on rooms with only one door. I can assure you, once you live in a home with rejas, you will get to a point that you don't even "see" them. I could never go back to opening and closing windows everyday. Just thinking about having to close up the house to run errands would make me crazy. If your home doesn't have rejas, think about investing in them. Decorative rejas can enhance the beauty of your home and offer the added security we all want.
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15 August 2017

Hand ground and fresh brewed coffee

The last time we visited the States we purchased this little gizmo to satisfy our craving for that early morning cup of coffee when we are without electricity. Today was that day. Just as we got out of bed this morning, the power went out and stayed off. After about an hour, it was well past time to make coffee and breakfast.

We know many folks keep ground coffee beans on hand, but we don't. We buy small quantities of freshly roasted coffee and grind just the amount we need to get us through the day. This works perfectly when one has electricity.

This little hand burr grinder is just the size needed to produce enough ground coffee for a full pot of Joe. I am pleased to report that between John and me, we have enough grinding stamina to get the job done in short order. The glass jar on the base of this unit broke during shipping, but it is properly threaded for a regular Mason jar. I attached the top of the grinder to a ½ pint jar and it works perfectly.

After we ground the coffee, we boiled a kettle of water on our gas stove and brewed our coffee with our Chorreador de Café, just like we do everyday. The coffee was delicious and needless to say, 15 minutes after we poured the first cup, the electricity was restored.

¡Pura Vida!

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12 July 2017

Happy 6th Retirement Anniversary to us!

Hard to believe that today is the sixth anniversary of our retirement and relocation to Costa Rica. Wow, looking back so much has happened in these 6 years. We are busier now than we have ever been. Our social life is so much fuller here than it ever could be in Texas. All through our working careers we were too busy to develop many relationships. Don't get me wrong, we have some amazing friends in the States that will always be there for us, as we will for them.

Then we have our beautiful family with 7 children, plus their spouses, 13 grandchildren, and one great granddaughter, plus all of our brothers and sisters. They are spread out among California, Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia. We love them all and miss them, but living in Costa Rica means that most of them are not much further from us than when we lived in Texas.

Looking back, this is a recap of just the highlights of the past 6 years.

We moved into our 300 square foot casita (vacation cottage) and quickly adopted our street dog, Gustavo as a companion for our Jack Russell Terrorist, Randy. Gus is a mini-pin/terrier mix and just a little love machine.
We built our Rancho to give us some outdoor living space and quickly followed with the construction of the main house.

My Costa Rican “Permanent Residency” was re-instated on September 19, 2011 and John immediately dove-tailed in behind me to get his. He was approved in June, 2012.

We moved into our new casa grande, about 60 meters from the casita, on May 30, 2012.

On September 3rd, 2012, we experienced our first major earthquake since our relocation from the States. It measured 7.6 on the Richter scales, with the epicenter about 70 miles from us. The entire house swayed, but we didn't find a single crack in the new construction. It's a testament to the building codes here in Costa Rica.

After we moved to Casa Wegner, we made our Casita Limón available to family and friends. We found there were too many months that the casita sat empty gathering dust and dead bugs. So, in April, 2013, we started offering it as a vacation rental. Since then we have had over 100 guests stay with us. In addition to family and friends, we have met folks from all over the world. Some have become dear friends, and you know who you are.

We have become involved in the community and social media. We manage a couple of Facebook groups for our town, Atenas. One FB group is for general info, and the other is for the local classifieds. We have also helped with fund raising for the local animal rescue group, Animales Atenas. Through them we found another street dog, Yoli, and she became an addition to our fur-family.

I started teaching an informal Spanish language learning class for a limited number of friends about a year ago. It has been fun watching their language skills progress, especially John's. I had to suspend classes in June when John broke his ankle, but I'll probably start them up again after our next big trip.

We have been stashing pennies for about 3 years now for our dream trip to Spain this October. We have arranged for friends to stay at Casa Wegner to care for our fur-kids while we are away. The plan is to meet our close friends, David and Norma Jean, in Madrid, rent a vehicle, and then travel around Spain for a couple of weeks. When we get to Barcelona, we'll take in the sights and cuisine, and then our friends will take a train back to Madrid to fly back home to the States. A couple of days later we will catch a transatlantic ocean cruise to Ft. Lauderdale. The ship stops in Cadiz, Tenerife, and one other stop in the Canary Island. We'll have a few relaxing days at sea and be back home in early November. We've talked about doing this for years and we're not getting any younger, so we just have to do it now, while we have the energy to get up and go.

Happy 6th Retirement Anniversary to us and to this "Pura Vida" lifestyle.

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05 October 2016

WATER! Never take for granted life's basic necessities..

This is day five without water in our little town of Atenas!

Last Friday night high winds knocked over a tree that broke the water main and the support below. The break is located over a local river and the only access is through a couple of farms on either side of the river. We currently have about 16,000 residents without water.

The national water company, AyA, has been delivering potable water to the various neighborhoods via tanker trucks with 4 or 5 spigots on the back end of the truck to fill multiple containers at once. Folks are toting water in every conceivable container they can find. I've seen 2 liter Coke bottles, buckets, pitchers, barrels and even trash cans lined with plastic bags.

There is also a new well in the central park where folks can go to get fresh water from 7 AM until 10 PM.

We are one of the lucky ones. We don’t have a well, but we decided to install a 660 gallon water storage tank when we built our house back in 2011. City water feeds our storage tank so we are always circulating fresh water through the tank. We’ve had a few water shortages over the past few years, but never anything that lasted more than a day, so we’ve hardly ever needed to ration water. This time, however, the situation is severe.

In 2014, we installed a saltwater pool, without knowing how handy it would become in an emergency like the one we face today. We have been able to use pool water for flushing toilets, washing dishes, and even bathing (without soap of course). On the bright side, we are in the middle of our rainy season, so the pool is getting re-filled with rainwater daily. The water is circulated through the pool’s filtration system every day, so it is always fresh. We’ve invited some of our neighbors over to fill buckets with pool water for their toilets, and they are getting their fresh drinking water from the daily tanker truck deliveries.

In spite of the dark clouds above us, there is one silver lining... The affected schools are closed due to sanitation issues and the kids are on an unexpected holiday.

There was an article in today’s paper quoting our local mayor, and he said we may not have city water until Thursday of next week. That's 8 days from now, so it looks like we will be rationing water in the coming days, until this situation is resolved.

Never take water, one of life's most basic necessities, for granted!

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18 August 2016

Nobody's Talking For A Reason

A member of the Facebook group Atenas Costa Rica Info asked about the veracity of an old book The Costa Rica Nobody Talks About.  I bought it online for $3.99 and read it today.  My thoughts about the book follow (I wasn't impressed).

Note: If you don't have this book, much of the following won't make much sense but I wouldn't recommend that anyone pay for this book.  

At the beginning of the book the author says:

"So I ask myself, how can I help the Ticos ... the answer is to write about the things I didn't like ... to help Ticos learn those behaviors and attitudes that are counterproductive." 

Is this guy a ghost writer for Donald Trump?

Chapter 2 Summary - I know exactly what those stupid Ticos need to do to make their country great.

God what an arrogant first-world-centric person. (trying to keep this G-rated)

Chapter 4 Summary - all the cops are crooked and prey on tourists.

Transito mgmt has really cracked down on tourist shakedowns. Re: the Transito vehicle being stolen and stuff disappearing: Don't leave any vehicle with the keys in the ignition; and, don't leave anything of any value in a car.

Local cops are a varied lot. Maybe some are dishonest. Some are just trying to get through another day, for meager pay, without getting hurt doing any stupid cop stuff.

Chapter 5 & 6 Summary - Customs is very corrupt. All (or most) of the government's Ministers are just taking the jobs to enrich themselves.

Neither we (40' container with car) nor anybody we know has lost anything of consequence, for certain, during shipping. 

The author's bribery "review" of the customs process and alleged extreme bribery is based on a single story by a single agent and the rest is total speculation.

The "you have 4 years to enrich yourself" claim is pretty thinly documented too. My wife was once married to one of these senior cabinet ministers and she will assure you that, at least back in those even more corrupt days, not everyone was goring the bull.

Potholes probably cause some accidents but locals know to slow down and stay alert. Horrid drivers and motos are responsible for way way more accidents.

Not driving at night, if possible, is a good idea. Not so much for potholes but because of the numerous pedestrians with no clue and no understanding of due care.

Chapter 7 Summary - You probably need something like a jacked up (high clearance) Toyota 4x4 pickup to survive the roads of CR. Importing will result in thefts. Insurance sucks.

If you stick to gravel or paved roads, you never need a high clearance vehicle or 4x4. Crappy old taxis go everywhere and almost none of them are 4x4. 

Our 2003 Subaru has now been on the roads here for 5 years and the only repairs have been tires (used when we got here), front brake pads (60k miles) and an air conditioner part.

We imported the Subaru, stuffed full of goods. Only a very very attractive hunting knife was missing. (Left in there by my stupidity.)

Yeah, the car insurance and accidents and locals having more luck in the courts than foreigners (surprised?) can all happen -- but the vast majority of gringos don't have many episodes.

Chapter 8 Summary - Honey attracts more bees than vinegar -- especially when dealing with bureaucrats.

Yes, chatting up the locals is almost mandatory in order to get things to go smoothly in bureaucracy transactions. Yes, doing anything with any part of government takes a long time. Bring your Kindle.

Chapter 9 Summary - Buying real estate is easy. Selling it is extremely hard

Unless you have lived in CR for at least two years and unless you're fluent in Spanish, NEVER BUY PROPERTY. Also "Realtor" means nothing in CR. It's not a trademarked "thing" here with requirements and ethics, etc.

Chapter 10 Summary - Everybody has one price for locals and a much higher price for gringos and retailers live and breath to rip off gringos.

Gringo pricing is very rare now with most prices published and automatic bar code checkout at almost all stores. Not sure but I don't think we've ever been charged gringo pricing, except at parks, and only until we got permanent residency.

Chapter 11 Summary - Ticos will screw you all the time.

Doesn't this guy watch his receipts and checkout clerks in Canada? Everywhere has people who will screw with oblivious customers.

Chapter 12 & 13 Summary - Bad guys are going to break into your house and take all your stuff.

Oh, yes, bad guys WILL break into an occupied home. Making your home unattractive to thieves and self-protection are the only solutions. Also the author's precious Nicoya area has recently had daylight armed robbery of tourists in their cars as they stopped to examine water fords on remote roads.

"It is very difficult to ... (be) going out (from your house) as you please and not having your house broken into in Costa Rica. Your house becomes your prison." 


"Purchase or rent in a gated community..." 

That makes you a target. Are the bad guys going to some poor little Tico-looking house or to that target-rich gringo enclave? All rashes of burglaries and home invasions that we know of have been in gated communities.

By U.S. or Canadian standards domestic help might be "inexpensive" but live-ins will cost you about $350 per month plus medical plus bonus (mandatory) plus food plus the room. Also, some live-in that you get "off the street" could very well be a relative of a crook or someone who talks to crooks.

The best recommendation (not very clearly stated) is to make friends with your neighbors; become an active part of the neighborhood. Then there are many eyes watching out for you.

Chapter 14 Summary - Tico justice for gringos sucks

Basic info is good, except for the story about the Kimberly Blackwell murder story. The author mentions that "She had frequent clashes with poachers" That's true. What was skipped by the author but mentioned in the local news is that she shot at them with a BB or pellet gun. Poachers. Armed guys. Angry at you for interfering with their source of income. 

And, the Jairo Mora accused are being re-tried (no double jeopardy immunity in CR). 

NOT to say that the police and courts are very good at putting away bad guys. They're not. 

Bottom line: Living in CR is a bit like the wild west days of the USA -- just with the internet and cell phones.

Chapter 15 Summary - A bunch of blather about Ticos wanting free stuff from gringos because, um, you won't believe the author's logic.

The leap of logic that U.S. international monetary policy and financial aid to Costa Rica's government resulted in teaching the average people on the street to expect gringos to give them money is astounding. All of the author's thoughts about the country's debt and suspicious stuff is simply speculation. Again, see remarks in about Chap 9. Don't buy or invest your fortune here unless you've been in-country for years, are good with Spanish and know the culture.

Chapter 16 Summary - There are a LOT of fraudsters in Costa Rica

Pretty much all true, which is yet another reason to wait years, until you build up a network of trusted Tico friends, before you buy real estate or a business.

Chapter 17 Summary - The author's grand theory of everything that everyone should do to make CR just like he wants it to be.

Peeing in the ocean. Nobody is listening (hopefully).

DAMN!  Why did I waste that $3.99?

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16 August 2016

Spanish Classes in the Barrio

About a year ago, John started taking Spanish classes with a group of about 20 expats. They met once a week and their instructor, a local Tica, who is a native Spanish speaker. Wouldn't you know it, this past February, just as everyone was getting in the grove, their teacher up and quits because she accepted a job out of town.

We were at FUF one afternoon, enjoying a beer, and several of John's classmates and friends were bemoaning the loss of their teacher. Everyone was disappointed and they weren't sure what to do to continue taking lessons. Before I knew it, I opened my mouth and volunteered to step up to try to fill their learning gap.

Mind you, I am NOT a teacher, I never studied Spanish, but I am pretty fluent, with a strong grasp of the language. I picked up my Spanish back in my 20's via the school of hard knocks. Consequently, my Spanish is full of colloquialisms, or "dichos," as we say in Costa Rica.

In March, I started teaching Spanish to a small group of 6 students in our Rancho, on Tuesday afternoons. The group has now grown to 12 students, and I've limited the class size due to table & chair space, and the size of my PC's monitor. The class is informal and everyone brings their beverage of choice, and sometimes snacks to share.

I'm spending several hours a week preparing lessons and finding new material to teach. The stuff available online is amazing. I've found some terrific websites, some with downloadable PowerPoint presentations, and games to help reinforce the lessons.

Folks appear to be learning and the feedback has been good. No matter how hard I try to keep it interesting, not everyone is into homework. My goal is not to get them to speak perfect Spanish. I just want them to understand what they hear and be able to participate in the conversation. Half the battle at our age is just not being afraid to speak. It doesn't matter if it's wrong. It's the effort that counts.

We have a 22" PC monitor that hadn't been used in the 5 years we've been here. We figured out how to use a number of connectors to attach the monitor's 9-pin VGA port to the HDMI port on my laptop. It works pretty well, but it's still hard for everyone to see from a distance. We've talked about getting a true video projector, but they are so expensive. Anything decent will run a least $400-$500.

Several folks have heard about my class and have asked to join, but there just isn't any room. I've started a waiting list for a second class and we'll see if there is enough interest in the community to make it worth my time.

On Wednesdays, when I'm not teaching Spanish, I switch gears and help a local doctor with her English pronunciation. Wow, is that an eye opener. I never realized how many English sounds simply do not exist in a native Spanish speaker's diction. Trying to explain how to use the muscles of the tongue to produce English sounds has been an interesting challenge.

I kid you not, being retired is hard work and we are busy all the time. I use my appointment calendar more now than I ever did in my working career, and maybe part of that is because my memory isn't what it used to be.

¡Pura vida, mae!

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