Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Paying water and electric bills

I love the process of paying bills here in Costa Rica. I guess when you only receive one bill a month it’s not so bad. Well, actually we receive two water and electric bills since we own two houses on separate meters but they arrive on the same day so I sometimes consider it only one bill.

Like almost everything else in Costa Rica, the water and electric company is run by the government. We receive our bills in what I assume is our mailbox (a little black metal “box” with a rusty door at the bottom) but since we have never seen a mailperson in our area we aren’t quite sure mail delivery is an option in our neighborhood. Anyway, the bill generally covers 28 days of service and for both houses our highest total in charges has been this past month for a cost of $54!

So, onto paying the bill. I know it’s possible to pay online but since we don’t have internet service this seems like a ridiculous process for us. We prefer the “in person” payment method. Payment made simple means when we go to one of our larger grocery stores like AutoMercado or Pali we just hand the bill to the cashier and it’s handled immediately. Mas X Menos stores have a separate window for payments which can be easier if timed right but sometimes the lines outweigh the benefit.

For Life in the Slow Lane, I am shocked at the ease of payment. Way to go Costa Rica!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Car accident confusion

Last night there was a car accident on the hill outside our house. This happens to be the third one since we moved in and all have been only fender benders and seem silly. Let me explain.

In Costa Rica when you hit someone’s car, the law states you must leave the cars where they stopped and wait there until the police arrive. This seems logical enough except when you consider the implications.

Each accident near us occurred after dark but quite early in the evening –usually around 7pm. The first accident didn’t cause nearly the commotion as the following two but each consecutive accident literally stopped traffic.

Last months incident probably involved a drunk driver since the car heading west took the blind turn wide and tagged the car heading east going up the hill. Considering the location of the cars after the accident, I was shocked no one else hit the parked cars especially after they turned off their lights! With no street lights nearby, the cars were almost impossible to see until right next to them. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t at least use their flashers. Then about 30 minutes later the police showed up and eventually even they turned off their lights! In the mean time, cars would fly up and down the road notice the accident at the last possible second then slam on their brakes and slowly drive into the ditch past the two cars and continue on their way. I kept thinking how lucky those passing drivers were to be able to use the new concrete ditch to be able to get past the accident. Patrick and I chuckled at the stupidity of the accident victims and the police for not leaving their lights on but all worked out ok in the end.

Last night’s incident took the cake. The cars must not have believed the sign stating the bridge was narrow because neither vehicle appeared to stop to let the other pass (the bridge is only wide enough for a single car and cars headed west are supposed to yield). They hit on the west side of the bridge. After we noticed traffic stopped for 15 minutes, cars began to back up and head back the direction they had come. I’m not sure where they went since our road happens to be the only one I know of that goes east/west for miles. Anyway, an hour later and the police still had not arrived. Patrick noticed a bus parked at the top of the hill and several minutes later huge groups of people were walking down one hill across the bridge and up the other hill presumably to catch another bus on the other side since their bus had no way to continue on its route. Soon I noticed a car passing the accident victims on the north side of the road. I was certain the car would get stuck since the ditch on that side happens to be very deep. Somehow the car completed the pass and more cars followed. Now the lines of cars on both side of the bridge seemed long but at least they figured a way around the vehicles. Another bus came down the hill and I felt compelled to watch even though I had a bad feeling the driver couldn’t make the pass. Moments later the driver put on his flashers and started to back up the hill in the direction he had come. I knew he couldn’t make that pass but backing up the hill didn’t seem like the best idea either. Two hours later, the police finally showed. Immediately the owners of the cars pulled over to the side of the road. Traffic started flowing almost normally again. I’m not sure how long they stayed there since I finally went to bed but I did see and hear a group of men pushing a jeep up the hill as a tow truck flew past with no intention of stopping to help. I don’t know why the police took so long to get here and I never will since there is no communication regarding local news in this country (that I know of anyway).

As far as the law to leave the cars exactly where they are after an accident, it’s not clear how that helps the police. It’s not like I ever see them taking photos or anything. When we were in St. Petersburg, Russia we observed the police measuring skid marks after an accident. Now that makes sense. But here it seems like people do it for no apparent reason. Especially when there is only one government run insurance agency and most drivers don’t even own insurance in the first place!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Photos -ditch upgrade

I intended to add photos to yesterdays blog about the ditch upgrade but I experienced laptop problems. So, here's what you missed.
Here's the ditch and cut line.

As you can see, this new culvert already has become a garbage dump of sorts. How will this help the run-off?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Update to our ditch upgrade

Soon after the completion of the ditch upgrade, a manager of the project stopped by to speak to us. He explained that they would be ripping up our driveway to place a new wider culvert underneath. I immediately worried we would be stuck either in or out of our driveway since I know that government workers here don’t tend to be in a hurry to complete their work. The manager assured us they would be completed in one day.

The following week they started work (on a Monday). They seemed to work quickly and I thought they may actually finish in a day. Every time we wanted to leave or enter the driveway, the crew would move all their equipment to make room for us. They did have the tube placed in a day (Tuesday) but the entire project took four days.

The very first day, they dug some big holes and severed our water line. Water sprayed everywhere. I kept waiting for them to fix the leak but no one seemed to care. I managed to calm down since we still had running water and we determined the leak was not affecting our water meter so the city was taking a beating but we weren’t paying. They actually left the cut line as is, over night. Something else I found odd was that this was not a pipe like I would expect to see in the States but a black plastic tube about 1 ½ inches wide.

Tuesday morning I watched as a couple guys jumped into the hole which had filled ankle deep in water and attempt to stop the leak. I don’t know what they did or if they even fixed the leak, but soon the front end loader brought the cement tube for the new culvert. They had it placed and covered by the end of the day. Wednesday and Thursday they spent connecting the new cement ditch (which I described in an earlier blog) to the new culvert and finishing off the unfinished west side of the culvert using wood forms.

Late Thursday afternoon after picking Azure up at school we noticed we didn’t have any water! The entire crew had already left for the day. We weren’t pleased but the water at the lower level house still worked. We figured they had actually shut off the water at the meter to complete their work and then forgot to turn it back on.

Friday morning none of the crew showed up to the house as usual. We wanted our water turned back on so Patrick walked up the hill to hunt them down figuring they had returned to finish the upper portion of the ditch. Sure enough, he found the crew and explained we had no water. Of course, they didn’t seem surprised! Patrick waited while one of the crew workers called the city water and electric company to report the problem. The crew worker mentioned it was an emergency and then wrote a report number down for Patrick so he would know the city had the problem logged.

We waited all morning and part of the afternoon until we realized no one would be coming to turn the water on. We decided to take the matter into our own hands and go directly to the water company. Unfortunately, it wasn’t located where I thought I had seen the building. We stopped in town to speak to one of the gringos we know thinking we would get directions. He actually had a better solution for us. He described to Patrick how to make a “key” so Patrick would be able to open the cement closure covering our water meter and then turn our water back on by ourselves. He said people here do it all the time. Besides, our water happened to be off by mistake not because we weren’t paying our bill.

Once we arrived back home, Patrick immediately found a piece of rebar he could bend into a “key”. He pulled off the cement piece over the meter and the two of us tested the on/off situation of the meter. Unfortunately again, we determined the meter was on and that our lack of water at the main house must be a severed line. Just our luck. We waited out the rest of Friday and still no one from the water company showed up.

By Saturday, we were all tired of using the lower house to shower and wash dishes. The worst part of the misfortune of having our water turned off occurred in the middle of the night when I had to use the toilet at the lower house. I know we were lucky enough to have any water and I shouldn’t complain but since the city screwed up and should fix the situation I became determined to make them resolve the problem.

At 10am Patrick and I walked next door and asked our neighbors to call the water company for us explaining we had been out of water since Thursday. Vicky called them and after only a few minutes on the phone told us the water company would be right over. Well, we’re in Costa Rica so we knew “right over” meant maybe by Monday. :-)

Fifteen minutes later we were shocked to see a water and electric truck in our driveway! Patrick discussed the work crew and subsequent leak with the lead man and the other two men started to dig. We know they were not happy to be digging at 11am on a Saturday but by noon they had the problem solved and our water restored.

Azure wasn’t completely happy because she arrived at her friend’s party almost an hour late but we had water again and who could complain about that? So, the moral of the story, if you want something done right, ask a woman!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Scorpion Sightings

I have read many people’s blogs stating that they have problems with ants and spiders in their home. Most people even mention a scorpion or two. I had never seen a real scorpion before so I wasn’t sure what to expect- I only know they are dangerous. One evening shortly after the dry season began in December, I witnessed this tiny little thing running across our patio. I followed it trying to get a better look until it scurried into a crack in the cement. I became excited and told Azure and Patrick how tiny the thing was and mentioned I thought looked like a scorpion but I thought it would be larger.

A few nights later, Patrick found a much larger scorpion outside under the car port. He smacked it with his shoe and showed me but it was quite dark. We decided to leave it there and inspect it further in the morning. That turned out to be a bad plan. By morning, the only thing left of the scorpion appeared as a shadow that the ants left behind. The ants completely devoured the scorpion over night.

Several weeks later, my Mom and brother came to visit. My mom happens to be slightly squeamish so we didn’t want to tell her about the scorpions until after we picked her up at the airport. We figured we should at least warn her to keep an eye out just in case because I’m always of the philosophy better safe than sorry. She didn’t seem too shocked about scorpions in the area so we left it at that.

The next morning, we prepared to leave for an outing to Britt CafĂ©. I put on my most comfortable walking shoes and while tying the laces noticed something black sticking out of the tongue of the shoe. Nothing felt out of the ordinary, but I am pretty particular about tying my shoes tightly so I decided to take the shoe off and find out what object impeded my shoe laces. Next thing you know I am screaming as I realize a scorpion just fell out of my shoe. I jump around and Patrick whacks the thing. It all happened so quickly that I don’t know how large of a scorpion almost stung me but it sure appeared to be the largest one I’ve ever seen. Of course everyone laughs and says “oh, so that’s what we do if we find a scorpion!” Ha ha.

Since that day, we are all vigilant about checking our shoes before we put them on. I’ve seen a few more scorpions in the house but the good news to point out is that they always seem slow and easy to kill. Also, we verified that Costa Rica does not have any dangerous scorpions –nothing fatal anyway.

I found this remedy for a scorpion sting on a website that I thought would be good to share:

Make a paste from water and baking soda on a soft cloth or kleenex, apply it firmly to the sting and leave it on for 30 minutes to an hour. It will stop the stinging and itching and draw the venom out -- you will see a yellow spot of venom in the soda when you remove the patch. This works for wasp, yellowjacket and non-poisonous scorpion stings."

I haven’t had the need to try this out yet but I will let everyone know if I do and if it works.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Have you ever seen it rain while the sun shines? We are lucky lately to experience days like this a lot during the “dry” season. The most unusual part is there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Granted the rain is more like a light mist which Patrick describes as wispy snow. But the best part would be the beautiful rainbows!

Wish I had a photo :-(

Friday, February 8, 2008

Passing Parrots

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Costa Rica was the huge flocks of birds flying over our property. They were hard to miss since the birds constantly made so much noise you could hardly hear the person next to you speak. Sometimes these flocks consisted of well over 50 birds.

One day I finally was able to get a good look at one of the birds in the flock and was surprised to see that it was bright green. I immediately knew it was a parrot and began to hope that they would land in our trees so I could get a closer look. Several weeks later I received my wish and boy was it something. Green parrots everywhere. They blended right into the background of our “jungle” but I did get a few pictures. The flock ate their fill of fruit and haven’t been back since.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Update to leaf cutter ants

During our break, we were able to find more information regarding leaf cutter ants. We queried a scientist at INBIO Park and a naturalist at the Rain Forest Aerial Tram. The scientist at INBIO explained that leaf cutter ants as a whole are indestructible. The only way to wipe them out would be to kill the queen but since she is hidden in the nest that would be impossible (I knew this already). Basically he said the only way to keep the ants from a garden area would be to create a moat around the garden. I don’t think I want to go to that extreme but I will keep it in mind. According to the naturalist, ants use a sense of smell to find their way around. I used this information along with something I read previously about them not liking citrus to come up with a new plan. I cut a lime in half and simultaneously squeezed and scraped the lime along the bark of a tree the ants had been destroying. I made an entire circuit around the tree trunk heavily spreading both the juice and pulp everywhere –it took to limes. The ants immediately became lost going back up the tree instead of down. By the next day the ants were gone entirely. It’s been two weeks since I spread the lime juice and I haven’t seen any ants on the tree since. Patrick says it’s a fluke but I plan to try this process on another tree this week. It can’t hurt, right?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Coffee Picking Season

I really enjoy learning about traditions in other countries and one that happens to be close at hand here in Costa Rica is the coffee picking season. The season begins around November and continues through February for most plantation owners although we learned that those plantations at higher altitudes can extend the season until May.

Before we had moved to our new home, the only thing I knew about coffee I learned from reading the labels on all the different brands I bought and watching a special on the Discovery Channel. Being here in Costa Rica and living amongst the coffee fields, I now understand a whole lot more but I still feel I have a ton more to learn.

Towards the end of October, I became anxious to see the coffee pickers in action. Every time we would be near a coffee field I would stare at the beans and wonder when they would be red. I know that only the red beans are considered ripe but the beans in our area never seemed to turn red. Most appeared to still be green while a few would be yellow.

I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that on early morning on November 1st I heard singing and family chatter outside our bedroom window. I looked outside to see an entire family in the coffee field. A father, mother, and two young children were walking between the plants. While the parents picked beans, the children would run around and play. They weren’t there long, for as I said not many beans were ripe.

As November progressed I began to see trucks full of people driving past the house in the morning and then back again in the afternoon. I knew these people must be picking coffee somewhere but still didn’t see them in the fields next to us. I wish I had a picture to post of these trucks full of people but I never happen to have my camera in hand when I see them. They are quite a sight to see, though. Imagine a truck with a large back end and fencing around the sides. Now fill that truck full of people usually packed in like sardines. Now imagine seeing trucks similar to this one several times a day (one day we even saw one in a downpour and the people wore everything from nice raincoats to garbage bags). Also picture these same trucks late in the day filled with coffee beans. Amazing!

Eventually one day, the entire field next to us teamed with pickers of all ages (Patrick said kids are allowed to pick at age twelve but some parents bring younger kids and allow them to play as I mentioned before). I enjoyed watching them pick. Some obviously handled the plants much quicker than others. The faster pickers used one hand to hold the plant sideways while the other hand would fly through the branches pulling all the beans into their basket. Others seemed to use both hands to pick. The baskets they used generally were ordinary laundry baskets tied around their necks and/or waists. Then we would watch some of them hike up the hill to another field possibly to pick more or to get paid for their baskets. All the pickers also carried a bag of one sort another presumably full of their clothes since the majority of pickers in Costa Rica come here from Nicaragua.

We personally have coffee plantations on two sides of our property and the pickers have been to both fields several times now. Each time they come only some of the beans are ripe so the process takes several trips to each field. As a matter of fact, the field to the east of us was being picked this morning. They started around 6AM and seemed to be finished by 9AM. I never know quite how many pickers there are at any given time but each time they’ve picked they have been done by noon.

I find it quite interesting that the pickers always seem to be happy. They sing loudly, whistle while they work, and joke and laugh with one another. It always makes me giggle. Anyway, I’m glad to see them smiling even at the end of the day they will wave to me from the truck as they pass. I’m sure it’s not the best job in the world but they are with their family so things could be worse!

I really didn’t want to pry and take pictures of the families picking but one day a young boy thought he was being wickedly funny by throwing handfuls of green coffee beans onto the roof of the lower house. The sound of beans hitting the tin roof echoed throughout the valley. He and his buddy would laugh and throw another handful. But since no one lives there I guess the joke was on them. Also, since the young boy didn’t mind being destructive, I felt okay about sneaking photos of him while I stood on the balcony watching him throw the beans. Eventually his buddy noticed me taking photos and the boy started making rude gestures but since I have pictures to capture the event, I think I got the last laugh