Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Summer Break

I obviously haven't posted much lately. For those of you still checking, I just want to let you know that I'll be taking a break from this site for a while since Azure is out of school right now and we don't have internet.

Please check back in early August.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Replacing the muffler- vehicle inspection part 2

As most people know, if a business is busy they probably sell a good product. Patrick and I always keep this in mind especially when looking for new restaurants to try. We actually spent an entire vacation in Germany just eating from the busy street vendors instead of spending a fortune at sit-down places. But I am getting off topic aren’t I? I should be telling you about picking a place to get our muffler replaced. Every day we drive by this tiny hole in the wall shop with a sign hanging out front that says “muflas”. This garage always has cars parked outside and people pulling in and out. Therefore, I knew when we needed to get our muffler replaced that Patrick should stop by this place.

As is his practice lately, Patrick asked a couple locals for recommendations for a mechanic anyway. Both guys he asked recommended this tiny no-named garage. So, a couple days later on the way back from dropping Azure off at school, Patrick pulled up to the muffler shop and asked the guy when he could work on our car. The guy told Patrick 30 minutes so we had time to get gas and then Patrick drove me home. He left me alone about 8:35am and I figured I had some time to read and then get housework done. Boy was I wrong!

Patrick drove up to the house at 9:20am with a huge smile on his face. He made it back so quickly I thought for sure there was a problem but he said the guy actually replaced the muffler and tailpipe. Plus, he was second in line since by the time he got back to the shop a tourist bus had pulled in before him! I couldn’t believe it. Nothing ever happens that quickly here in Costa Rica. The mechanic charged him about $60 which we realize is probably a gringo price but then again probably cheaper than going to a more Americanized garage with English speaking mechanics. Patrick thinks the guy intended to also keep the old muffler to fix and then sell to another customer but he threw it back into the car when the guy wasn’t looking.

I also found out later that we have a used muffler which seems typical around here to buy used products since the hot water heater we bought back in Sept. turned out to be old also but since they are cheaper and work fine I'm not complaining!

(Not sure what we’ll do with this rusty old muffler?)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Vehicle Inspection -Part One

As lucky owners of a vehicle in Costa Rica, we need to have our car inspected yearly by the MOPT (not sure what this stands for but translates into the government’s transportation dept). We’d heard stories about how difficult it can be to pass the inspection so Patrick decided to go a couple weeks early in case we fail we would have time to make the repairs and test again. Inspections are designated by the number of your license plate and ours needed to be completed by end of June.

So, a few weeks ago, we drove to the inspection center near Tibas. About a twenty minute drive through mostly rural area. I love this drive. We arrived slightly before 10:30 in the morning to find a woman sitting outside at a folding table under a canopy. She checked our paperwork against a list of license plates she had typed and attached to a clipboard. Apparently we were supposed to have scheduled a time for our visit. Despite the fact that we didn’t have an appointment, she handed us some papers and sent us into an office. We again handed a woman our paperwork and a few minutes later she handed us an inspection sheet and told us to pay at the next window. The gentleman charged our Visa about $20 and told us to drive around the building and get in line.

Once to the far side of the building, we were unsure which line we should wait in so we just picked the first (and longest line). Luckily, an inspector walked up and told Patrick to go to an empty lane (I think there were six altogether). These lines went through a long garage and appeared to have several “stations” each. I figured I didn’t want to sit in the car during the inspection so I hopped out to read a book at a nearby cement table/bench.

I hadn’t even finished reading one paragraph when I saw Patrick driving around the building. I hopped in the car and waited for him to tell me how in the world he had finished so quickly.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have good news. The car failed the very first part of the inspection –the visual part. He had been told that the car needed a new muffler and tailpipe. Also, the car’s tires were wide and needed to be covered with fenders –this posed a hazard according to Costa Rican laws.

After being told how long of a process this whole thing could be I was quite surprised that we were back home only 70 minutes later. Granted we had work to do on the car and had to go back but like I said – I love the drive!

Next time: replacing the muffler and adding fenders

Friday, June 6, 2008

Type of Tree?

I know it’s been a while since I last posted to this blog. We continue to have bad weather here. Lots of thunder and lightning accompanied by several inches of rain per day. Luckily this happens mostly in the afternoons and evenings with our mornings be somewhat “dry”. But it’s still impacting our use of the computer and internet connections.

I’m hoping someone can help me identify this tree. The branches and even the trunk are not very wide –I can almost get my hands around it. The tree is very spongy reminding me of cork yet I’m almost sure it’s not. Last month the tree started to flower and now it’s covered in tiny clumps orange berries (green when not ripe). I have no idea what this could be but the bees love the flowers and birds & squirrels love the berries. I’ve noticed in my bird book that some of the birds say they enjoy mistletoe and the photo shows them eating what appear to be these same orange berries…

Monday, May 26, 2008

Rainy Season is here!

I think it started sometime last week because ever since then we have been averaging about an inch of rain each day. Today it’s really coming down. Our rain gauge is reading 1½ inches already in just the last half hour!

Patrick says that the weather men are predicting more than the usual number of hurricanes to hit this summer so we are sure to have lots more rain to come (Costa Rica never actually gets hit by hurricanes but we get the effects of the rain). Patrick made sure he went down into the trench and removed all the fallen tress from last season’s storms. He also did some more trenching around our house and cleaned the gutters a few times. Hopefully we’re prepared…


I wrote this post on Friday but due to internet connection problems couldn't post it until today. We ended up with 2 1/2 inches of rain on Friday and both Saturday and Sunday we received about the same amount. "They" blame tropical storms...
The photo shows the run off from our gutters into a barrel to help slow the erosion.

Monday, May 19, 2008

First movie in Costa Rica

We attended our first movie in Costa Rica yesterday! We met some of Azure’s friends and their parents in Escazu to see the new Narnia movie –Prince Caspian. We were lucky enough that Cinemark was showing the movie both subtitled and dubbed since the Flores mall only had the dubbed version. The movie was busier than we expected and we didn’t get the best of seats but we all enjoyed the movie very much and I’m sure we’ll do it again.

I liked seeing the Spanish subtitles –it actually helped me understand the movie more since I’m slightly hard of hearing. The best part had to be ticket prices. At approximately $3.40 we can’t stay away anymore.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New "toy"

Patrick finally bought himself a machete yesterday. He’s been jealous of the men in town that walk around proud to have a machete slung around their shoulder or hanging from their waist. Of course, we went the cheap route and Patrick didn’t get the scabbard…

As soon as we arrived home from the store, Patrick was outside wailing on the dead banana trees (after they produce fruit, the tree dies and a new one springs up in it’s place). To his delight, the blade was too dull to use. I watched him a few minutes later sparks flying everywhere as he used an electric grinding stone to sharpen the blade. I didn’t even realize he had brought my Grandfather’s grinding stone but I know he was loving every minute of it. Then he really went to town on the trees.

Now we need to mulch some of the trees and we’ll have some great fertilizer. Then hope some of the new trees grow quickly to fill in some gaps (the trees mature after only one year!).

Anyone need a haircut?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fire at Paseo de las Flores Mall

Yesterday we needed to make a school payment so we drove to our bank (which happens to be in the local mall). When we arrived around 3pm, we noticed several fire trucks. Then we saw that many store employees were gathered outside the mall. Next we were unable to even enter the mall parking lot because the gates were closed and chained.

Unsure what had happened but sensing it not a huge emergency due to the laid back attitude of the fire dept., we parked outside the gates waiting to get in. Eventually (about 30 minutes later), a security guard told us that the mall would not be opening until the next day so left to pick Azure up from soccer practice still unsure what had happened at the mall.

When we arrived home, we didn’t have any water. We did the usual troubleshooting by checking the guest house and the meters but found no water available and the meters on. We waited to make dinner until 6pm and with still no water finally decided on simple peanut butter sandwiches. We still didn’t have any water when we went to bed to read at 9pm but fortunately about 9:30 we heard a faucet that Azure had left on dribbling. Yeah! We had water again! I quickly took advantage and filled an empty pitcher and the coffee pot with water just in case the water was off again in the morning. But luckily we had water when we woke up this morning.

I still don’t know why we didn’t have water last night, but I was able to find out about the mall online. One of the local papers, La Nacion, posted an article about a fire at the mall that started at 12:20pm yesterday. Apparently the fire started in a storage area and burned out 3 stores. No one was hurt and the fire dept is investigating the cause of the fire.

We still need to make our school payment so hopefully the bank is open today. At least I feel better knowing what happened at the mall since normally I feel in the dark about the things happening around me.
(photo from La Nacion)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Baby Robin

We've had a lot of baby Robins in our yard lately. Ilike watching the Mom and Dad feed the babies.

This morning I heard a thump in the kitchen window. I found a baby Robin just sitting there staring at me. I think he was stunned but he flew away soon after I shot this picture.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Poas Volcano

It's been a while since we traveled around Costa Rica but I would finally like to post some pictures from our trip to Poas Volcano. We went in January with my Mom and brother. Although we didn't see any wildlife other than some squirrels and a few birds, I really loved it and will definitely take more visitors there to view the active volcano.

The chilly breeze made beautiful ripples on the lake!

My Mom and Azure were happy to have warm clothes for our hike that day.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Spiders in and around our house

This post is dedicated to my cousin, Heather. I know you hate spiders but that shouldn't stop you from visiting us!

They are so cute!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wearable Art

Last week Wednesday Azure's entire school performed what they called Wearable Arts Program. Patrick and I asked Azure to keep the details a secret so we would be surprised during the performance.

I loved the program and thought everyone did wonderful and looked amazing!

Basically, each class designed costumes and a few props to act out the elements and how they evolved to create the plants and animals. Other than the 3rd-6th grade principal as narrator, the classes only used music and action to convey their part of the program.

I know my pictures don't do justice to the time and energy spent but hopefully you'll see some of the beauty of this program.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sharing the road in Costa Rica

Most roads are two car widths wide but it can choke down to 1 ½ car widths in places without warning (especially rural towns). Also, you will be sharing the road with not just other cars and trucks but also motorcycles, scooters, bikes, pedestrians, dogs, chickens, ox carts, and the occasional runaway cow. And be aware that no one uses the sidewalk. Considering cars have the right away here in Costa Rica, it’s surprising that the pedestrians don’t move out of the way. Often we see groups of six or more in the middle of the road walking side by side (and cars forced to go around them)!

There are pretty views all around you. But if you’re the driver, please keep your eyes on the road because there is a homeless dog wandering around every blind corner.

Oh yea, and just one pet peeve (of Patrick’s). I like the fact that many people pull over when they are talking on their cell phone but can they please pull all the way over and not just stop in the middle of the lane?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Squirrels Gone Wild

No, I don’t mean naked squirrels at Mardi gras. Everybody knows that squirrels never wear clothes- duh! I’m talking about the squirrels in our yard going crazy. Figure this one out.

Last week Patrick told me he heard a noise at our front door so he went to check and said he saw the squirrel in between the gate and the wooden door. We tried to figure out what he would be doing there. Chewing? Tunneling? Trying to pick the lock? What could he be doing?

A few days later, I’m in the shower and Patrick peeks his head in the door to grab some mouthwash. Then I hear a shriek. Well, it sounded like MMMPHH! I holler out to ask him if he’s okay and he yells back telling me the squirrel was sitting in our bedroom window just staring inside. Is he a voyeur or what? How did he get in the window and why? Then we realized he was really just sitting on the patio chair sitting outside the window. Still, what in the world is this crazy squirrel up to now?

Today, we’re sitting on the couch and I heard another funny sound from the front door. I slowly unlock the door (we always use the side door) and yank it open. There was the squirrel again -sitting right on the middle bar of the gate door. I expected him to be there somewhere yet I think he scared me as much as I had scared him (if at all). He jumped down and dashed to the nearest tree and up into the canopy of our “jungle” while I slammed the door shut and jumped around. Like I said, I really did expect to see him but then again my adrenaline level skyrocketed since he was at eye level and he could easily have jumped at my face instead of the ground! I always have that darn Christmas Vacation movie in my head when I think about the squirrel.

So, what’s next with this silly thing? And how do I know it’s only one squirrel gone crazy and not the lot of them?

What's so exciting about this door?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Power Problems in Costa Rica

Most of you know about the power problems is Costa Rica. The country relies on a hydro-electric power source which is great but the problem occurs during the dry season when a lot of the rivers just trickle. We tried to prepare ourselves by buying a crank system radio and stocking up on flashlights and candles. The radio turned out to be worthless and we’ve only used the flashlights a couple times now.

I can’t speak for everyone in Costa Rica but let me tell you about our experiences with the power issues here. First off, mostly they are brownouts not blackouts. We generally only lose power for 5-10 minutes. This occurred more when we first moved here. Then we received a newsletter from the water and electric company stating that they were working on a new substation to relieve the outages in San Rafael and it would be completed by January.

Well, I didn’t believe the news but sure enough sometime around January we stopped experiencing so many brownouts. BUT we were warned by some people that during the dry season the water would be turned off for many hours during the days to help conserve. Then I read in the Tico Times that the government was trying to prepare for the water/electric problems during the dry season by purchasing more generators.

So, now it’s April and the dry season should be ending soon. The last two Sundays our power has been out from 2-3 hours. I kind of liked the quiet but this past Sunday when the power wasn’t on by 5pm and the sun was setting, Patrick started to worry a bit. The power did come back on by 5:30 so all was well.

Now I would suppose these were planned outages but since we don’t read the local newspaper in Spanish and the Tico Times doesn’t carry this kind of news, I can only guess. The outages don’t bother me as long as they are during the day. The thing that did concern me happened Wednesday when the power kept turning off and on again for several minutes. That can not be good for the appliances! As a matter of fact, I’m sure this is why our computer died last fall.

I hope the country can figure out a good solution to this power problem.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Does this mean caution fat kids running?No wonder the kids are fat if the park is locked all the time!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Stop sign update -ALTO

Do you think someone at the San Rafael Municipality reads our blog? Sometime over the weekend someone painted the intersection we posted about on Friday afternoon. I would guess this means someone really did steal the signs so this is the solution.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Patrick’s thoughts on Road Rules in Costa Rica

We noticed something different last week at an ordinary 4 way intersection. Normally we have the right of way turning left because the other direction has stop signs. At least that was the case.

So starting last week, people were blowing through the intersection (not always uncommon) but it was happening all the time now and right in front of us. Twice we were almost hit by cars turning in front of us and missing by what seemed like inches. A few days later when we took a closer look, we realized that the intersection only has one stop sign left and that one is barely hanging on by one screw.

We wondered what happened to the other sign and in fact, the whole post is gone too! Maybe someone scrapped it for the 28 cents that they could get from the metal buyers? Maybe the city took it to make sure people were paying attention? Or they had a different intersection that it was needed at more?

That started me thinking, who makes the street signs here? No one is put in prison long enough to make a sign. Maybe that’s why there are so few signs around?

**UPDATE** We went back this afternoon with camera in hand to take a picture of the upside down stop sign and someone has taken it already! You can see the last remaining post in the photo but no sign.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hostile Hummingbirds

I love hummingbirds and Costa Rica is a great place to see many varieties. I knew we would have hummingbirds in our yard before moving here. Sure enough, Patrick and I spotted them moving from flower to flower quite often but they were always so quick that it didn’t quite satisfy my desire to see them more often.

So in October I bought two hummingbird feeders. I purposely had Patrick place one directly outside our living room window and the other one I hung from a shepherds hook outside our bedroom window but further into the yard. I had read that hummingbirds are very territorial so I knew I had to place the feeders at least 10 feet apart.

It took a couple weeks before the first hummingbird started using the feeder located in the garden and then maybe a week after that and he was using the one in front of the living room window. Then a week or so later another larger hummingbird (almost twice as large and of a different variety) found the feeders and decided they were his (or hers). So when the smaller hummingbird would try to drink from the feeder the larger one would chase it away.

At first this was kind of funny but the chases became more violent. The birds would literally slam into one another and then the chase was on. One day while sitting in the living room, one of the hummingbirds smacked the other one into the window! We heard a thump and looked to see the hummingbird trapped between the glass and bars. He did find his way out after a several seconds as we watched in shock.

I don’t see the tiny hummingbird in our yard so much anymore but when he does show up he seems to win the battle which I love since he was here first. The larger hummingbird actually sits in a couple different trees in our yard from which he has a view of both feeders. When he sees another hummingbird at a feeder he immediately chases it away. I hate the violence but sometimes these antics can be quite amusing! Recently the large hummingbird would allow another bird to drink from the feeder while he (or she) watched and I only believe this happened because the other bird was either its mate or an offspring.

I do want to mention that I’m not worried that I am upsetting the ecosystem by having a feeder because I do still see several hummingbirds going from flower to flower. It also seems they like to eat bugs that are trapped in spider webs which I had never heard of before but Patrick and I do enjoy watching them scout for bugs.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Another scorpion sighting!

A few weeks ago we spotted a scorpion and this time I was able to get a picture before Patrick flattened the scary thing. I had just finished clapping Azure's shoes together and Patrick spotted the scorpion scurrying for cover. I guess the scorpion was in a shoe again and good thing I was prepared for it this time!

Friday, April 4, 2008

3 quarters down, one to go

Yesterday was the end of Azure's third quarter of school. Today we met with her teacher for a conference. Unlike the States, teacher conferences are mandatory at the end of each quarter. I like this method. We always have things to discuss with Azure's teachers!

For those interested, most of Azure's grades have gone up. Most importantly, she has been doing better in Spanish. Her teachers say she understands enough but needs to put her knowledge to use because she just doesn't want to speak Spanish (I wonder where she gets that from?) LOL!

Alll in all, things are good!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Field Trip

Azure has a field trip today. Both 6th grade classes will be going to Los Chorros de Tacares. I can’t say I know anything about this location. I checked my Lonely Planet guide and there isn’t any information inside.

I do know they are going hiking then a picnic lunch and swimming in a river. Other than the two teachers, I’m not even sure if there will be other chaperones. But I trust that the kids will have fun! I like that the European School allows for frequent interesting and educational field trips. I think this will be her 6th field trip this school year including the Israel Museum and a working farm.

There is no way the public school system in Big Lake would permit so many field trips let alone a potentially unsafe one such as an unsupervised swim in a river!

The Big Lake Schools took the kids to the MN Zoo every spring as a special treat! Poor kids were divided into small groups of four per adult. The kids were told they needed to stay with the adult for the duration of the time at the zoo which amounted to less than 2 hours including lunch! They could have left earlier in the morning and spent more time at the zoo but decided against it for one reason or another –it probably cut into the total of the amount of time spent in class so they would be shy the allotted time they needed to get their federal funding or some nonsense (maybe they shouldn’t have had so many days off during the school year for supposed teacher workshops!). Anyway, Azure missed most of the animals at the zoo including the dolphin show because the mother she was assigned decided she would rather shop and eat ice cream in the food court! I don’t know why they didn’t give the kids some more freedom? They could have had an adult stationed at each area of the zoo and allow the kids to wander a bit more. But I guess I am too trusting…

All I have to say is that I am glad we left Minnesota!

Thank you European School for giving the students more responsibility!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Financial Advice for moving to Costa Rica from Patrick

For those of you thinking of moving to Costa Rica, be advised that financially it is getting harder to live here. First, the US dollar is falling as a currency across most other currencies including the Costa Rican Colon. Since the Costa Rican’s tie their money to the US dollar in hopes of keeping the Colon stable, they are buying the excess US dollars in circulation causing inflation here. The government is reporting about 11-12% annual inflation but on some items it is closer to 20%. Last but not least, if your invested money is in the US, which should offer more stability, you have seen a fall in your portfolio value or you are locked in at 2.5%. So there are three things working against you on your potential move: the falling US dollar, inflation in Costa Rica, and a lower return on your investment. All of these might affect your standard of living in Costa Rica. These things may eventually change, but in the short term it could be a big concern.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Grocery store concierge

Something I find funny here in Costa Rica is when you’re grocery shopping and women stand in the aisles and try to sell you certain products. Patrick used to always be convinced they were there as a form of theft prevention.

One day in December while in the Escazu Hipermas, I wanted to try some different coffee and two women were in the aisle pushing different brands. I had one brand in my hand but it seemed more expensive than other brands even though it was on sale. The woman trying to sell it only spoke Spanish and I didn’t care enough to try to translate so I politely ignored her. Another woman pushing a different brand spoke some English. She was more aggressive and eventually convinced me to buy the brand she was selling. I put back the original bag of the sale brand I had in my hand and grabbed two of the other brand.

When we left the coffee aisle, Patrick said the woman that couldn’t speak English was so upset I didn’t buy her brand of coffee that she was nearly in tears. I thought he was kidding but when we got home that afternoon he was snickering as he put the coffee away. I asked him what was so funny and he said he didn’t know why I didn’t just get that more expensive coffee so the woman wouldn’t be so upset. I was furious and feeling horrible because I really thought he was joking while we were at the store. If I knew I had made that woman cry, I would have at least bought one of each coffee.

I guess they must work on commission? Did I mention they sometimes give samples of alcohol in the middle of the weekday?

As a side note, after Patrick read this post he pointed out that he still thinks the women are there to prevent theft.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Patrick and I always try to coax Azure outside to play. She usually complains that it’s too hot (at 95 degrees this week I hardly blame her). But some days we are lucky enough to find something outside to interest her. Yesterday happened to be one of those happy days.

I noticed two walking sticks on the side of the guest house and knew immediately that Azure would love them. As soon as she arrived home, she rushed to grab them. I made her pose for a few photos and then she let them crawl all over her. I took a few more shots but they were quick devils! I hope the pictures give you an idea how large these things are here. I have seen walking sticks before but the one we found yesterday was gigantic. Plus, I’ve never seen a green one before. Azure said the green one was cooler because it felt squishy like a baggie full of Jell-O.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sliding Gate Installed - New Gate Part Five (finally the conclusion!)

We felt pretty silly (and even more unsecured!) having a new cement wall in front of our property for two weeks but still having a huge gap where anyone could walk or even drive right up to our home. After the crew finished the wall after the first week of work, we thought for sure our gate would be up quickly. We were dead wrong.

On the following Monday (the beginning of work week two), only two of the three men crew arrived. They spent the entire week building the side walls and then covering the cement block in a second cement coating for texture. The men kind of stalled toward the end of the week but we knew the money was coming out of our contractor’s pocket not ours since we were paying by the project not the hour. Friday around noon Enrique came by and inspected the work. He paid the two men and said he would be back on Sunday to install the actual gate which was fine by us since we had a school picnic to attend on Saturday. Please note that we had not paid Enrique a penny yet (we did pay for the supplies) although he paid his crew for two weeks worth of work!

Sunday went by with a no show from Enrique and finally Monday evening he arrived around 6PM with two of his sons. This surprised me since it gets dark here in Costa Rica by 6PM but I knew we had a streetlight right above our driveway which provided pretty good light. Around 9PM we started to become nervous that they were still out there welding and making various grinder noises since most of our neighbors (and even us) go to bed early on weeknights! Finally at 10PM, Patrick discreetly asked them to leave.

Enrique said he didn’t have much left to finish and he would return the next day by 2PM. Around 4PM Patrick told Enrique we really needed to leave so we could pick up Azure from soccer. He had mostly finished and actually gave us a set of keys for the gate. When we returned, Enrique was gone and I opened our new gate for the first time! How sweet and well worth the wait!

The following day Enrique arrived to pick up some of his tools and receive payment. I thought for sure he would change the amount due to him based on the length and added hassle of the project but Patrick said he paid him exactly the amount agreed upon. So, after four months of hoping to have a new wall and gate, the project was completed without too much stress –yeah right!

Oh, by the way, after the crew left and the project was “completed”. We spent a day cleaning up the mess. Supposedly their plan included throwing all the debris including old boards and left over cement into the river! Patrick told them we would handle the clean up “thank you”. We still don’t know where to take some of the refuse and looking at other homes that have been remodeling lately the common practice is to leave everything next to their home until “someone” takes it away.?

Notice in the photo that Patrick even sanded and painted the mailbox so it looks like new-thanks, sweetie!

Next step is painting the wall but we’re still indecisive about the color since typically the wall matches the house but we really don’t want pink!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Construction begins – New Gate Part Four

Thursday afternoon before construction was scheduled to begin, Patrick and I haphazardly found our way to the correct “hardware store” to purchase the supplies for our new wall and gate. After we paid for everything, we needed to explain that we wanted everything delivered. We drew a map to our home and gave the cashier our contractor’s phone number. As we departed, the owner of the establishment approached us for more details about the delivery. After much discussion, I think I made it clear to him that he should call our contractor, Enrique, whom he assured us he knew. I guess everything worked out ok because Friday afternoon the hardware store dumped a load of rocks –one pile of small rocks and one pile of crushed rocks- in front of our driveway (as seen in photo). We heard the next load of supplies would be delivered Monday morning.

Bright and early Monday morning (7AM) Enrique arrived with his crew of three men! I expected two but maybe three meant the gate would be completed sooner. Patrick and I had spent a few hours on both Saturday and Sunday cutting back the garden and transplanting a few of the larger nicer plants. I guess we didn’t quite grasp the scope of the project because within a few hours of working on Monday the small crew had the entire garden ripped up and trenches dug so they could begin pouring cement. Oh well, I think roses are somewhat over-rated anyway (both photos show the pile of leaves that had once been in a nice garden).

The supplies were actually delivered by 8:30AM Monday morning (seemed unusual to me for an on time delivery!) and the guys made a ton of progress. The crew of three men (Enrique still had his other project to work on) worked daily from 7AM to approximately 5PM with an hour lunch and a couple short breaks in between. They had the entire wall built by the end of the week but no mention of the gate going up.

The only problem so far with the construction happened to be the destruction of the natural fence that already existed. We originally only asked Enrique’s crew to build a front wall since we had plenty of trees and flowers and barb wire fence on the sides. BUT because in the hacking of plants to build the wall the crew destroyed the natural fence and now we had six feet gaps on both sides of our property. This was not the security we were looking for at all! So, we spoke to Enrique and ended up purchasing more supplies and requiring his crew to build sides to the wall. In the end with the sides to the walls and repositioning of some plants and trees all worked out almost better than originally planned.

We still needed a front gate, though, so one last installment to this long story should provide my Mom with THE photo of the finished wall and gate she has been waiting so patiently to see!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Squirrel Shenanigans

I’m interrupting my story about our new wall and gate (which I know must be killing my Mom since she’s dying to see photos – sorry Mom!) to wish everyone a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

As many of you know, we have dozens of banana trees in our yard. We continue to cut bunches down but mostly the bunches of bananas on our trees tend to be too heavy for the trees and eventually the entire bunch falls or the tree tumbles (we’re talking at least 50 bananas per bunch). This tends to happen before the bananas are ripe so we have taken to leaving the unripe bananas under our car port to ripen. We hose down the bunch to ensure there are no spiders then cut the large bunch into smaller bunches of 5 or 6 bananas.

Several times we have been overwhelmed with too many ripe bananas at once so I would leave some out for the birds to enjoy. Eventually, the squirrels noticed all the bananas sitting around under the car port ready for the taking. We would wake in the morning to find an entire bunch of five or six bananas missing! At first we found this hilarious but as our banana supply would dwindle we decided we should hang some from the car port to keep the squirrels out. Besides, it’s not like we’re starving the squirrels since I watch them eat green bananas right from the tree all day long. They don’t really need to take our ripe bananas too!

Of course, being squirrels, they can’t be satisfied until they eat everything. In other words, the squirrels have figured out how to get into the hanging bags of bananas under the car port. Patrick and I have observed all their acrobatics from hanging upside down and grabbing from the top of the bag to jumping from a cross beam onto the bag in order to rip it and enjoy the entire bag’s contents!

Even though the squirrels can very entertaining - one day they even employed a diversion tactic! I watched one squirrel jump around from branch to branch while another swooped in from the other direction to jump at the bag of bananas! – I find I must often scare them to discourage them from eating my “special hoard”.

Darn squirrels! They have even started to fight back! One day they dropped an orange on Patrick’s head when he walked under a tree. Saturday they pelted the roof of the carport with pits from some unknown fruit. Patrick said next they’ll learn to use tools and then we’re really in trouble!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Paperwork - New Gate Part Three

If you recall from the last post, an unknown man sauntered up our driveway and scared the bejeebers out of me. He seemed friendly enough with a huge smile on his face but I still didn’t appreciate the fact that he didn’t wait by the “gate” for us to walk down and meet him. So, who would do such a thing? The guy our friend, Rafael, sent by in early December to build our gate. It was now the beginning of February and he thought he would stop by with some other ideas for our wall and gate. How nice of him to think of us finally! Patrick told him we still weren’t interested in an electric gate and to please get us an estimate of costs.

By Friday of that week, Enrique (the contractor referred to us by our contact at Azure’s school, Bob) had gotten us an estimate which seemed reasonable. He said work could begin the following Monday and the work would take one week. We agreed to the terms and requested that we pay for the materials with our credit card and the balance in cash.

On Tuesday we realized the work on the gate would begin the following week because our contractor, Enrique, needed to file paperwork with the city of San Rafael to get a permit. Originally Enrique asked Patrick to fill out the paperwork and file everything himself. After discussing this with Bob, he agreed Enrique should file the paperwork since he understood the requirements more than us. Especially since we can’t read Spanish easily. Although, we were expected to come up with several official government papers we supposedly received after purchasing the house. It took us a while to sort everything out and we still aren’t positive we gave Enrique the correct papers since everyone we spoke to had a difference of opinion on what was mandatory, but we made several copies and handed them over. We did go to the local municipal building to try to get some of the official documents we needed but they handed us another pile of forms to fill out. Plus, on top of everything else, we needed a signature from an engineer. I thought that meant Enrique our contractor but Bob just laughed at the mention of that and said “engineers in this country don’t work. It is very hard to find an engineer.” Bob made some calls and informed us that his engineer would sign the paperwork for us and that Enrique would handle that for us also. Of course the engineer never had to see the project.

WHEW! What a hassle! After more conversations with Bob, he admitted that Enrique probably wouldn’t even submit the paperwork to get the permit. Bob told us that here in Costa Rica they don’t worry so much about permits. He said the municipality would probably never even notice and if they did all they could do was warn us the permit needed to be posted. He said that if that happens we should just say that the paperwork is already filed and everything was “in process”. If it came down to a fine, it would be no higher than 1% of the cost of getting the permit (in other words 50 cents!). Okay we can handle that so what’s the point of getting the permit?

Well, our gate is done and we still have no idea if Enrique ever did get the permit. BUT we did have an inspector stop by during the project and give us a five day notice. Again, Bob and Enrique told us not to worry because once work is completed here in Costa Rica the municipality can’t fine you for never filing for a permit. How ridiculous! No wonder this country has no money!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Finding a contractor -New Gate Part Two

In late September we started discussing the necessity of a stronger gate but didn’t know how to go about the process of hiring someone. By late October we felt ready to invest in the gate so by early November we actually started talking to people about getting the right crew to build the wall and gate.

We don’t know that many people and our Spanish isn’t strong enough to fully understand everyone so this whole idea was easier said then done. We did ask our neighbors if they knew anyone to help but with no results. We asked a local Tico we met at Azure’s school, Rafael, and he said he knew a few good men and would send them over to discuss the project.

After 2 weeks and no show from the recommended Tico, Patrick again asked Rafael for a suggestion. Rafael assured us he knew another guy and would bring him by since he didn’t own a car. Another week went by and when quizzed, Rafael claimed he brought his friend by 3 times and we were never home. What? We are ALWAYS home unless taking Azure to and from school or picking up groceries. So, we made a definite plan for a date and time to meet his friend about the gate.

This time his friend showed up and actually took measurements. He said he would return the following day with an estimate. Of course he never showed. Later the next week we questioned Rafael and he said it was too close to Christmas and his friend would come by again after the holidays. Note that this was mid-December already –six weeks had past since we started looking for someone to build the wall and gate. We joked about it with our contact at Azure’s school (let’s call him Bob). Bob confirmed that no one ever wanted to work in December and probably someone would be able to help us in mid-January since that’s when bills were due again.

January 15th came and went with no one accepting our proposal to build a wall and gate. Finally in February, Bob said he knew a contractor that would probably agree to build our wall and gate. Bob knew this contractor could do the job right and would charge us fairly but he was already involved in a project. Bob would ask this contractor, Enrique, to see if he was interested. The next day, Bob told us Enrique would stop by at 6pm to discuss the logistics and costs.

Wow! Enrique really did show. He measured and discussed what we were interested in with Patrick. He said he would give us a quote the next day. The next day Patrick and I were sitting in the house enjoying a salad for lunch when a man walked up to the house and scared the heck out of me! Usually we hear when someone is by the gate at the lower house because they will holler up “UPE!” (anyone home?). This guy just hopped the gate and strolled right up the driveway!

Stay tuned for the next post to find out who our visitor turned out to be.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Choosing our new home - new gate part one

I know those of you reading this post that knows anything about living in Costa Rica will find my next statement absurd. When choosing our home here in CR, I mostly declined to look at homes that were part of a gated community. I didn’t want to live in one of the new cookie cutter complexes and I didn’t (and possibly still don’t) see an advantage to having a guard shack only to allow every Tom, Dick, and Harry to drive through. It seems like a false sense of security when truly these neighborhoods seem to be the first ones targeted for theft. All Ticos know if you can afford to live behind a wall with a guard you obviously have something that would be worth stealing.

But the real reason I didn’t want to live in a gated community like most gringos and rich Ticos related to small yards and no privacy. I wanted a large yard with fruit trees and a sense of ownership. I wasn’t looking for a spectacularly large yard which would need to be maintained by gardeners or a tiny plot surrounded by a brick wall. I wanted something that I could fumble around in trying to learn how take care of the plants since I’ve never had a real garden before and I find fruit trees fascinating. I wanted a tropical feel to the yard not a manicured niceness. That’s just not me.

I spent hours and hours searching the internet and narrowing down our choices. We were looking for something “special” but yet affordable. Plus, all the schools we chose for Azure were in the Central Valley. I thought this task would be easy but it turned out I was wrong for several reasons. One reason being that most Ticos don’t list their home with a gringo therefore their home could not be found on the internet. Another reason related to one of our realtors not grasping our requirements for a home and he insisted on showing us homes in gated communities or ones with walls around a small yard. I’m sure he thought we were crazy (and maybe we are!). One last problem seemed to be timing. The real estate market here was/is on the upswing and people selling to gringos know they can ask more for their home than the gringos would pay (this is nothing new) but more gringos are moving here and prices were moving higher (that seems to be different again depending on the location of the home). So, a lot of the homes fitting our requirements were now out of our price bracket.

What is my point here? I found a home that would work (it’s not perfect so we’re already planning some remodeling) but our security factors are lacking. Our plot of land is literally wedged between two coffee plantations. It seems someone “dug” out a triangle which has high slopes on both sides. Our western plot line actually has a deep ditch which flows with water during rainy season while our eastern plot line is not so pronounced. But it does mean trying to access our property from the back or sides is not easy and even trickier during rainy season when the ground is slick. But the access from the front of the house at the driveway was hilarious. The previous owner had a small white fence (desperately in need of paint) with a tiny metal gate connecting the two sides with a chain and no lock. All you needed to do to access the house was step over the chain or if you wanted to drive up, unhook the clasp. Needless to say, after moving in we did not feel very safe. We would wake at all hours of the night to check noises certain someone wanted to rob us. The good part of the scenario is that we do not live near enough to town to make us a huge target since most gringos in our area live up a different hill altogether and they have target written all over them since there is even a country club up that way. BUT we know everyone is a target and determined to build a stronger gate to make us feel more secure.

See my next post for a follow up on the gate.

By the way, I LOVE my yard! Patrick doesn’t like the fact that it’s on a hill which makes it difficult to mow and not much flat area so we can’t play Frisbee. But boy do we have fruit trees.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spring has sprung

I admit I still don’t quite grasp this season thing here in Costa Rica. Everyone refers to the current season as summer. Now I do understand that this is the dry season as opposed to the rainy season but that still doesn’t translate for me. Let me explain why.

Last year in October I posted how it felt like fall. The weather turned a bit cooler and the leaves on the trees started turning color and falling gently to the ground. Just like Fall back in Minnesota. Now don’t get me wrong, the daytime temperature still hovered in the 70’s and at the same time some of the trees in our yard were losing their leaves others were budding (but I think that may be due to the fact that the caterpillars ate all their leaves –I’ll fill you in on that phenomena in another post).

So, on to my point. This entire week has so felt like spring I’m just a “smiley button” as Patrick puts it. We received a few light rains this week and two full inches on Wednesday afternoon. The mornings have been gorgeous. I generally sit outside and read in the mornings but this week I have been busy trying to identify the new bird songs and catching glimpses of birds mating (including owls and hummingbirds). All the trees in the yard are budding, flowering, or fruiting. Even the coffee plants flowered into a beautiful white “puffball” which made the fields around us look like it had snowed (top photo). Plus we have been noticing more/different butterflies floating around.

Spring never held the appeal for me that fall offered while in the States because I enjoyed the color of the leaves and spring always meant dirty puddles of melted snow. But this year I’d have to say that this has been my favorite spring and I am happy it’s not over yet especially given that the rainy season will be upon us soon and I can start planting more flowers in my gardens.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Uninvited visitor

Late yesterday afternoon Patrick and I heard a loud sound which seemed to have occurred right outside the living room window. Since moving here, we have become accustomed to strange sounds but we still check into the source and besides this one definitely was peculiar.

Patrick offered to do the “walkabout”. Our version of walking the yard to see what we find. Several minutes later he hollered in through the window “you have to come out here AND bring your camera”. I love hearing that familiar yell. It’s becoming a hobby in the family to find something odd or fun to watch.

At first I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Then Patrick tells me to look under the chair. OMG!

I snapped some quick photos and then informed Azure she wouldn’t want to miss this one. When she ran out we told her to make sure she had her glasses on.

She begged us to hold the enormous toad. At first we figured it probably wasn’t a good idea but eventually she wore us down.

She played with her new “pet” for at least 30 minutes before we insisted she finish her homework. She begged to keep him but of course we said a firm “NO!”.

He’s no where to be seen today but he’s definitely invited back anytime!