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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