Never a dull moment

There is always something happening here.  I’m not exaggerating. I could make a full time job out of just photographing the magical wonder that occurs here at the hotel as well as around town.  Last week, I had just returned from pilates and was eating my lunch at the bar when I saw one of the staff members carrying a large animal carrier.  He placed it in front of the pool and when they opened the door, all I could see was the gigantic beak of a pelican.

As it turns out, a local restaurant had seen the bird looking weak and shaky and had called the hotel to come pick it up.  While I can’t go into all the rescues that have taken place at the hotel for various reasons (you can read about some of them in my first book), I was told I could talk about this rescue and the rehabilitation efforts that followed.  I even posted a photo of the bird on the Hotel’s facebook page and asked people to help name him (we assumed it was a boy).  The winning name was Diego.

So Diego was a little shaken up but as soon as he saw the fish that the owner, Ursula, brought out for him, he immediately perked up.  The staff brought out a large bucket of water and we threw the pieces of fish into the bucket and Diego would put his large beak into the water and scoop out the fish, one by one.

Diego wandered around the pool a little and drank some of the water.  And after only a few days of rest and lots of lots of fish, Diego was strong enough to head out to the beach and fly again.  We hope he’ll be able to stay strong, soaring above the ocean and diving in for fish, living out his natural life with other pelicans.

Pura vida…Chrissy

My Daily Life

People often ask me if I’m lounging by the pool all day or playing in the ocean.  While I’d love to be doing those things, especially since I have very funny tan lines at the moment from when I went snorkeling a few weeks ago, that is just not the case.  Here’s what my daily schedule looks like:

4:30-5:30 Wake up to my morning alarm clock: the sounds of the howler monkeys and birds

5:30 Sunrise walk on the beach

6:30 get ready for the day, check emails

7:00 Breakfast: fresh slices of mango, papaya, cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon and of course, gallo pinto with Lizano and coffee

7:30 Bring my computer outside and begin work

12:00 Freshly prepared vegetarian lunch (changes daily, the chef prepares it for the owner of the Hotel who is also a vegetarian)

12:30 A short rest

1:00 More work

5:30-6 Sunset walk on the beach

Evening: A light dinner, check emails, finish up projects, short yoga practice (on my new Eco Prana mat bought at the local yoga studio!), fall asleep to the sounds of crickets and frogs

Throughout the week, I take private Spanish lessons, go to yoga, pilates and hang out with friends.  I’m trying to give myself a little extra rest time on Sunday’s – where I take a longer breakfast and don’t turn on the computer until mid-morning and only work for a few hours.  Personally, I really couldn’t ask for anything more.

I will admit to a little beach time early on Friday morning.  It was the first time in days that it wasn’t overcast in the morning and so after breakfast, I grabbed a beach towel and headed out to the sand for a pre-work tanning session.  It was 80 degrees AND sunny at 7:30 a.m. – how could I resist?

Pura vida…Chrissy

Welcoming Challenges

Life gets a whole lot easier when you sell almost everything you own.  At the moment, I have no bills.  My room at the hotel only has a mini-frig and coffeemaker so I also really don’t have any cooking to do, or for that matter, cleaning up after cooking.  Because it’s a small room, I also have very little general cleaning to do.  I like to say my biggest challenge right now is trying to figure out how to keep the sand out of my room.  Part of the problem is that unless I’m at the restaurant, in a meeting or going into town, I am pretty much barefoot at all times.

What else do I find challenging?  Do I put on sunscreen first or bug spray?  Are the clouds going to clear out so I can hang dry my clothes on the line or will it start raining and I need to use the dryer?  Where can I purchase biodegradable softener?  Do I go to yoga or pilates?  While burning a citronella candle – why are there still mosquitoes flying around my legs in my outdoor office?

Probably the most serious challenge though is how to keep the ants out of Harmony’s food and water bowls.  For the first week, I was having to try to force feed him as I could only leave the food out for a few minutes before these tiny (almost microscopic) ants would show up.  Hundreds of them.  Both because of my own philosophy as well as the hotel’s, I’m trying to find natural solutions.  But at the same time, I have to make sure Harmony eats (and contrary to what most people seem to think, he won’t eat with hundreds of bugs in his bowl eating his food).  The one solution that has worked thus far is rubbing olive oil around the outside of Harmony’s bowl.  While I haven’t seen it, I can imagine the ants attempting to crawl up the bowl and sliding down as they try.

Life has definitely gotten a whole lot easier these last few weeks and I’m so very grateful for that.  Besides finally being healthy, it’s nice to have a little break from the hectic life I led in the States.

Pura vida…Chrissy

A trip to the doctor

Well, it was only a matter of time before I did something stupid and ended up at the doctor.  Now that I’m living here, I’m trying to be so much more mindful of everything I do…whether it’s holding on to my camera (so it doesn’t end up in the river like it did last year and I know how difficult it will be to get a new one) or being careful not to hurt myself (because I no longer have health insurance), I’m really trying to be careful!  But, it was just inevitable that at some point, something would happen.

This afternoon, I put a cotton swab into my ear and when I took it out, the cotton was no longer attached to the stick. *&^% is all I could think about as I put my finger in my ear and poked around, hoping I could find the little piece of cotton and pull it out.  Nope.  I searched on the floor for it but it wasn’t there either.

It seemed like the cotton was expanding because within an hour, I could no longer hear out of my left ear.  So I hopped in a cab and went to the nearby emergency clinic.  No one there really spoke English so I tried out my Spanish in addition to using hand motions to describe what happened and fortunately, they understood.

The really funny part (besides the actual incident that brought me there) was that no one asked me for my name or to fill out any paperwork.  I didn’t have to sign any forms to release them from any liability.  No worries, right?

15 minutes later, the cotton was out of my ear and I went back to reception to pay.

It was high tide at the beach and the road was muddy from the storm so I took a taxi both ways.  No, I was not being lazy.  I could just imagine myself being swept into the ocean or slipping on the muddy road and hurting myself!

Cost for a taxi and emergency medical services: $59

I’ve started a list of things I need people to bring me from the States…I’m adding “Real Q-Tips” to the list.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

Like I mentioned in my last post, while I don’t always make it the twenty feet out to the beach other than at sunrise and sunset, I do actually spend about 90% of my waking hours outside.  I have a covered patio with an electrical outlet and the hotel provided me with a table and chairs to work at during the day.  I also have two lounge chairs but often find myself getting a little too comfortable in them when I’m trying to work (I revert back to vacation mode and a cold beer and siesta often calls out to me when I sit on them).  The hotel restaurant and lobby are also open-air so the only time I’m ever inside is when I’m in my room – which is hardly ever since even when it rains, it’s still warm and I can sit outside.

This is the opposite of my life the last few years.  Living in California, I was confined to my house.  I would often look at caged birds and understand their plight – neither of us had freedom to live the lives we were supposed to live.  When I tried to leave my house, I’d suffer from severe allergies.  Technically, it wasn’t actually an allergy but that was the only way to describe it so people could understand.  And even then, often they’d think I was just exaggerating, thinking “how bad could it really be, she just has allergies.”  The suffering I’ve experienced in my health over the last few years has been unbearable.  If I spent any  time outside, I would often spend days after with nonstop watering eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and ear aches.  It sometimes got so bad that I couldn’t even breathe out of my nose long enough to be able to eat with my mouth closed.  I would end up not only with a red and raw nose but also large red spots around my eyes from the nonstop watering.  My only reprieve was visiting tropical warm climates like Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Cuba.  Mentally, the confinement took its toll on me.  The only thing that kept me going this last year was knowing I was moving.

Now, I finally feel free…and happy.  I can sit outside all day and not have a single allergy (except, of course, to the darn mosquitoes and no-see-ums).  So I take walks on the beach every morning, walk into town, eat outside at every meal, socialize with guests (sometimes a little too much as there is work to be done!) and staff  and thoroughly enjoy every waking moment.  This is how life is supposed to be.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Settling in, being a tour guide, keeping busy

Tuesday was my first actual day to settle in to my room at Hotel Capitan Suizo.  It was the first time that I didn’t have any visitors staying with me or any plans like going to Customs.  Having been here over a week now, it was a little unsettling to me that I still didn’t have my bed put together or my cleaning supplies put away.  But, with any move, it just takes time.  And of course, I’ve been keeping myself busy.   While I like to think of myself as a Type B personality, I’m really a Type A.

Besides catching up with friends, there was the visit to customs on Monday and last week was a whirlwind with my friend who had helped me move.  We went snorkeling in 82 degree water last Wednesday and the following day, we took two guests to one of the many national parks in the area, Rincon de la Vieja.

I actually really enjoy being a tour guide, perhaps it’s another position I will add to my resume someday.  Last year while visiting Jicaro Island Ecolodge on Lake Nicaragua, I took two guests on a tour of Granada.  It’s so much fun to share what I’ve learned with others.

Speaking of sharing, this past Wednesday I flew to San Jose to give a presentation to the group, Small Distinctive Hotels, on how to manage and promote their hotels through Facebook.  I stayed at Hotel Grano de Oro, where the meeting was being held, and once again enjoyed several meals in their exceptional restaurant.

Thursday had a bit more settling in and Friday I was in meetings most of the day, both in person at the hotel and via Skype.  I’m finally starting to feel a little more caught up.  Even though the beach is my backyard, being so busy, the only time I’ve been able to enjoy it is during my 5:30 a.m. sunrise walks and the occasional sunset (when it’s not raining).

Pura vida…Chrissy

Spending the day at Customs

The picture above is everything I took with me on the plane.  But I also shipped a few small boxes from California to here, just things that I couldn’t fit into the suitcases but also didn’t want to give away or sell before leaving.  Unfortunately, of the 4 boxes shipped, 2 were caught in customs.  We received notice at the hotel that the boxes were at the El Roble Post Office in Puntarenas, about a 3 hour drive from where I live.

So I rented a car and drove down to El Roble on Monday, thinking I’d get there when they open at 10 and be home by 2.  I gave myself an hour just in case there was a line.  Well, there were only a few people in line in front of me but it was still an all day affair.  I had heard often about the red tape at the Costa Rican government agencies and only a week into living here, I have fully experienced it.

The boxes had to be opened and inspected at the post office.  The two people there wrote down on the form that all items were used (so I wouldn’t be charged taxes as I wouldn’t be selling the items).  From there, I had to get a copy of my passport at the copy shop down the road and then return it to the post office.  Then I had to drive a few miles down the road to the Customs Building where I waited for over an hour and a half even though there were only two people in front of me (but only one agent who was actually working).  When it was my turn, I handed the paperwork to the agent and he got up and walked to the back of the office.  Not a word was said.  About 30 minutes later, he returned.  I saw that he was charging me about $90 for the items (when it should have been free) but I didn’t care.  He was taking forever to fill out the information in his computer database and  I just wanted this day to be done.  From there, I had to drive back into town to the bank and pay the fee.  Then I had to return to the Customs Building and give them the receipt from the bank which they then gave me another receipt to take back to the post office, where I could finally claim my items.

When the post office rep saw how much I paid, he was in shock.  I told him that I know, I shouldn’t have paid, but I just didn’t care at that point and didn’t want to argue with the agent.  He shook his head and said the agents are like turtles, so slow, and they don’t do things correctly.

I finally left El Roble just after 3 and with one stop for gas, I returned home at 6:30.

I know there will be more days like this in the future as I try to open bank accounts, get a license, etc but for now, I’m just glad this day was done.  And for sure, I will be making a point to use all items in those two boxes.  The one saving grace was that on the drive home, even though it was pouring down rain, the old dirt road had been paved and that was like a small miracle for me.

Cost of a day at customs for car, gas and fees: $300; Plus an entire day lost of work.

Pura vida…Chrissy

My new living environment

I’ve stayed in many places in Costa Rica but probably one of my favorite hotels is the one I found in 2008 and have stayed at several times since.  Hotel Capitan Suizo is not just great because of its location (my backyard is the beach), the delicious breakfast buffet, the great staff and service and the beautiful rooms…they also have something that many others do not have, wild animals all around.  When they built the hotel twenty years ago, care was taken to preserve the trees so the wildlife in the area could continue to survive and thrive.

Not a day goes by without me seeing monkeys swinging from tree branches, magpies trying to eat someone’s breakfast, raccoons wandering around looking for food, iguanas sunning themselves, fireflies lighting up the night sky, squirrels eating the unripe almendra nuts.  They also have several cats who live on the property, all of whom have come by my room to befriend Harmony.   Supposedly, there is a porcupine that wanders around at night but I have yet to see him!

Pura vida…Chrissy

Home sweet home

I’d love to say getting through customs was a breeze but that wasn’t quite how it went.  Remember, I had 10 bags and a cat and the agents asked me to write down every single thing that was in the all 10 bags.  Really?  I couldn’t even remember what was in the bags at this point so I just starting writing down some generic things and eventually they gave up and let me through.  The commonly asked question by all the agents was…this is all yours?  I suppose they didn’t want me bringing in items to sell but yes, it was all mine, along with one entire box for Harmony.  Fortunately, getting Harmony through was a breeze.  The agent didn’t even look at him, just signed the paperwork and made a copy.

A friend was going to meet me at the airport but he had something come up so he sent another friend with a big sign that said, ‘Welcome Chrissy Gruninger’.  He had a big smile on his face and I knew…I was finally home.  The shuttle driver was also there so with help from a few guys, they loaded up the shuttle and we made our way to Playa Tamarindo.

After settling in Harmony, my friend and I got fruit drinks and headed out to the beach, which is about 20 feet from my room.

I’ll write more about where I’m staying and baby monkeys in my next post…

Pura vida…Chrissy

Flying iPhones, a kitty panic attack and lots of luggage

Traveling is never really easy.  Traveling when you’re picking up your life and moving to a foreign country is even harder, especially with the amount of luggage I was taking with me, much of which seemed to be electronics (even though I have no idea where my laptop charger is at the moment).  Then add in a cat and you have a whole other situation.

With my anxiety level somewhat high as I left my house, caravaning with two vehicles, 10 large bags (my friend’s and mine), a box of paintings, a cat, 5 people and an ice cream sundae (my friends’ brought me one thinking it would help my stress level…it did), I placed my house keys and my iphone on top of the car as I got situated and figured out how we should fit the luggage, cat and the three of us into the car.

Well, I’m sure you can figure out how this story progresses…we get in the car, start driving (I’m happily eating the sundae at this point) and as we enter the freeway onramp, we hear a little noise off the passenger side.  We didn’t think anything of it and kept driving.  It was a beautiful, clear day and as we approached the Golden Gate bridge, I thought I’d take a photo and reached for my phone…only to find out the phone was not in the car.

And it was then we figured out that little noise was my house keys and iPhone falling off the car onto Highway 101.  But the good news is I have incredible friends who, after they dropped me off, went back to the “scene of the accident” and searched.  And they found it…and it still works, amazingly.  They’ll Fedex it to me next week and another friend in Costa Rica has already purchased me a sim card and phone plan with a Costa Rican number.  So all is well, somewhat delayed, but still moving forward.

Then, before departing the plane on the first leg into Miami, I dropped my iPod onto my seat and, fortunately, the man sitting behind us flagged me to let me know he had it.  Based on the iPhone incident and then this, my friend traveling with me made the comment that perhaps I’m supposed to let go of my electronics on this move.  Perhaps she is right.

Now to the cat…Keeping a cat in a carrier for 20 hours is not an ideal situation.  He did alright until about 12:30 a.m. when we experienced turbulence and that sent him into what can only be described as a kitty panic attack.  He was literally trying to push his way out of his carrier.  It took me 90 minutes to calm him down (he has quite a set of lungs on him) and I can only imagine what parents go through when they travel with babies and young children.  At the Admiral’s Club in Miami, I tried to use one of the showers to give him time to stretch and eat but he didn’t want to eat, too many noises in such a strange place.

As far as the luggage, I had 5 bags that were over the weight limit but, fortunately again, I was only charged for 3 extra bags and no extra weight fees.  So perhaps I’m supposed to have all these things with me…we’ll just have to see if they all make it to Costa Rica and then make it through customs…for now, I’ll enjoy my free celebratory mimosa at the Admiral’s Club.

More to come as the story progresses…

Pura vida…Chrissy