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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25 June 2016

"Socks-n-Sandals Man" strikes back

There are plenty of jokes on social media about "the socks and sandals set," generally disparagingly referring to what the writers think are wrong-headed funny old people who wear socks with sandals.  News flash Buford:  If you're not immediately headed for the sand on the beach, it is you that maybe should buy a clue.  Socks have been worn with sandals for millennia and if I have my way, they will be forever more.

First, socks have been around since the times of the Egyptian pharaohs.  The ones that have been found in tombs have a big ol' division right in the middle of the toe box, stuffing half the toes on one side and the others to the opposite side.  Why?  To better engage the sandal!  Socks.  With sandals.

But, alas ... socks were expensive so only the elite or royalty typically ran around in socks & sandals -- and armies.  It seems that a fair number of centurions were equipped with socks to protect their feet on the long marches.

That's one of the main reasons for socks now, with sandals.  So you don't get those hot spots just before getting blisters; so you don't get those raw spots where the straps have been rubbing dirt and abrasives into your skin; and, so you can quit stankin!

That's right, oh great sockless society.  Ever notice that green cloud down around your feet?  Stank!  Your nasty sweat has soaked into all of the sandal components and provided the moisture to grow all of that gross foot bacteria.  I hope you're parking those nasty things out on your porch at night.

Another benefit of the enlightened use of socks is that they give decent protection from mosquitos, ants and the bites of those spawn of satan -- noseeums.

Lastly, socks can be a fashion statement for you mavens of sartorial splendor.

I would address the deviants who run around in leather shoes with no socks but I figure they'll catch something from the breeding ground inside their shoes or the smell will get 'em sooner or later.

So, I decree that anyone (away from a beach) who is not wearing socks with their sandals shall be cited for their offense and may be sentenced to public shunning.

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12 May 2016

Rancho Improvement Project - Update #2

The new ceiling in the Rancho is coming along nicely. I took this picture a few minutes ago and the guys are down to the last 3 pieces that need to be fitted into a small triangular space.

Once they finish the ceiling, they will re-hang the ceiling fan and finish up by installing fascia boards between the roof line and the new ceiling. This will prevent critters (bats, geckos, birds, and iguanas) from nesting in the small space between the two.

So far it looks beautiful and the temperature drop is incredible with the new radiant barrier. Best guess, it is now at least 10°F cooler than before. Here are a couple of photos I took this past Sunday showing the work in progress. Can't wait to enjoy our outdoor living room again!

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27 April 2016

Rancho Improvement Project

We enjoy our outdoor living space in the Rancho all year long, but there are days when our spacious Rancho can get pretty warm in the afternoons.

On hot days we turn up the fans, and John sprays the roof for several minutes with cold water from the garden hose. This technique drops the temperature for an hour or two.

The roof is constructed with steel beams and color-coated corrugated metal roofing sheets that are made to resemble clay tile. During a rainstorm it sounds just like rain on a tin roof, and when the storm is intense, it is almost impossible to hear a conversation at the dinner table.

We decided to insulate the Rancho's ceiling with an infrared barrier using reflective polyethylene insulation. This should reduce the temperature and the sound of the rain significantly. Once this is in place we will install the pvc laminated ceiling panels pictured here.

The work will begin tomorrow and the contractor expects the job will be finished in a week. We'll post an update with photos of the finished project soon.

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23 March 2016

Social Media and Politics

I find the current political scene on social media somewhat fascinating.

Sure, Facebook.com has been around for years now, but it wasn’t really available to the general public until 2006. Most folks were slow to embrace social media. The teen set and 20-somethings were already using MySpace.com from back in 2003, but with the introduction of Facebook in 2006, membership in MySpace started a gradual decline as everyone started moving over to Facebook.

At first, just the younger generations made the move, but I quickly saw how cell phones, text messaging, and social networking were going to become the primary means of communication. If I had any hope of staying up to date with the lives of my children and grandchildren I had to adapt. So, just to keep in touch, I joined Facebook in 2009. My hunch was right about keeping informed. Most folks now turn to Facebook or Text Messaging before they even think about making a personal phone call. It even happened to me once. I found out about a health issues one my grandkids was facing through a Facebook status update.

Excuse me as I digress…

Nowadays, everyone, at every age beyond 12, is on Facebook. Facebook did not have the political impact it had back in the 2008 campaign for President, because I don’t think a lot of campaign managers and candidates really understood the power or social networking. They did a much better job campaigning in social media by 2012, but this year it’s phenomenal. Between the Facebook users sharing videos, memes (yes kids and grandkids, I actually know what a meme is… this old lady still can learn a thing or two), Presidential campaigning, news coverage, and focus groups, it is hard now to not be informed.

I am fascinated to see some of my Facebook friends and acquaintances are actually obsessed with election campaign rhetoric, poll results and news snippets. Some folks are making it a career of re-posting and sharing every single meme and news media article they can find that helps them re-enforce their views on the issues. I wonder if these posts are meant to make them feel better about their choice of a candidate, or if they really believe they are influencing the decisions of their Facebook followers.

I admit, I am following the polls and the political news coverage, but it is not an obsession. I read some of the Facebook posts by friends I follow, and other posts in some Facebook groups. It’s all interesting, but these posts will not influence my vote one way, or another.

Twitter is also in the mix, and 3 of the candidates, Clinton, Sanders, and Trump are tearing it up with their 140 character tweets. Just how much platform information can a candidate present in a tweet? It makes me wonder. I’d rather listen to a debate than read tweets.

The bottom line folks… stay informed about all sides of the issues and the candidates. Carefully weigh the words of the candidates and see if you believe their promises are even a possibility in today’s world. Look at their experience in this political landscape, and do what you can to prevent history from repeating itself.

The world is watching.

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25 February 2016

Meet my beautiful Aguacate tree I grew from a seed

Almost 5 years ago, our gardener gave me a couple of avocados from an old tree in his yard. At the time he told me he feared it would be the last harvest from this old tree since the annual yield had been diminishing over the past few years. Lucky for me, John doesn't like avocado, so I didn't have to share these two delicious avocados with anyone. I decided to try my hand at raising a tree from seed.

I let the seed dry for a couple of weeks and then carefully removed the brown paper-like skin from the seed, inserted 4 toothpicks and propped in over a glass of water so the water covered about ½ the seed. I changed the water frequently and was finally rewarded with a thin stem poking it's head up from the top of the seed. I continued to nurse it until the roots were nice and long the and stem was about 6 inches high and had started to leaf out. We planted the seed in rich soil in a small pot. It wasn't long before it outgrew the pot and we moved it to a larger pot. When my baby tree was about a meter tall, we decided it was time to plant it in the ground.

We picked a sunny spot in the garden, directly across from our terraza and bedroom window, and planted my baby avocado tree where I could watch it grow. The December winds of 2011 almost ripped my tree out of the ground, so John had to rig up some rope anchors just to keep it vertical.

My beautiful avocado tree has been growing for several years. It must be close to 8 meters tall (25 feet) now, and so healthy it can withstands any wind mother nature wants to whip up. I wasn't sure it would ever produce any actual fruit, but I never gave up hope. This month I was rewarded with hundreds of blossoms. If we get some help from mother nature, these blossoms will get pollinated, and we just might have some avocado fruit to share in a few months.

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10 February 2016

The Great Atenas Wed-In

Never in my wildest imagination did I ever envision being the wedding planner for more than 70 couples!

This all started as a way to work around the discriminatory practices of CAJA (Costa Rica's socialized medical system) toward foreign residents. First of all, it important to state that all resident expats are required by law to belong to the CAJA and pay a monthly affiliation fee. Every time an expat couple has to renew their residency, they also have renew their affiliation with the CAJA, and the dependent spouse has to prove once again they are still married. The proof has to be in the form and a new certified copy of the original Marriage Certificate and this certificate has to be sent to the Secretary of State where they were married to obtain the Apostille guaranteeing it's authenticity. When the certificate is presented as proof, it can't be more than 30 days since it's certification. This is very difficult for U.S. Citizens to pull it off in a 30 day window, and it is almost impossible for many expats from other countries around the world. The cost of this document and courier fees could easily exceed $100 USD,

Citizens of Costa Rica, also have to prove to the CAJA that they are married and eligible for dependent benefits. The difference for a Costa Rican is that they can order a certified copy of their marriage certificate online, and then they can pick it up at a convenient government office for the cost of about $0.10 USD.

So, it was time to find a permanent solution to this problem. We contacted an attorney here that has always been an advocate for the expat community. He researched the problem and confirmed the discriminatory practices. He agreed to accept the case pro bono, and he will be filing law suits with the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court to get the CAJA policy changed for the expats' benefit.

But before we can get a ruling, we decided to go ahead and re-marry each other so we can get the marriage registered here in Costa Rica's national registry. We had no idea when we invited a few friends to join us in renewing our vows, that so many couples would jump on this bandwagon. We now have more than 70 couples registered to get re-married in our Central Park, this Sunday, St. Valentine's Day, February 14, 2016.

If you're not doing anything, come out to the park and watch. It promises to be an historic event with a party at our place afterward.

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