Shopping…A New Experience

I’m not your typical girl that likes to go shopping.  But in Costa Rica, the shopping experience is taken to a whole other level.

Like paying $8 (not including tax) for two rolls of Seventh Generation paper towels. Or $9 for a cheap can opener.  Or buying a plastic colander, in the kitchen section, and then getting it home and it has a sticker on the bottom that says: “Not Touch With Food”.

I did bring a lot of my own kitchen supplies but there were some things that I didn’t bring, thinking I’d be able to easily find them and they wouldn’t be too expensive.  I was really wrong there.  I’m just so used to going into stores and having a huge selection to choose from.  Finding pots and pans was a challenge.  If the stores carried them, they usually only had really cheap ones (that probably wouldn’t last long and I also fear what they’re made out of) or they only had one type to choose from.  And then there is the cost.  There was a cheap set for $200.  I say cheap because I could tell they were poorly made but they still cost $200 for 3 pots and 2 pans.  Mixing bowls has also been a nightmare to find.  I bought two but they’re so cheaply made that I don’t know how long they’ll last and just like the pots and pans, the cost wasn’t cheap!

Pretty much any dry food needs to be stored in containers but I have yet to find any that aren’t plastic and flimsy.  I brought a really pretty ceramic container for salt from home but I’m learning that salt must be stored in an airtight container.  So I’ll have to find a reuse for the ceramic container.   Right now, it just looks pretty on the shelf.

One interesting aspect of shopping here is that I was told by several different people to negotiate on the price.  These stores are like mini (really mini) versions of a Target but my friends told me to ask for a discount if I purchased multiple items.  I only got 5% off  because I was using my credit card but if I had brought cash, they probably would have offered more.

Another strange part about the shopping experience in Costa Rica is you’re followed around by a store associate.  I’m told it’s not because they think you’re going to steal something, it’s more about giving a “concierge” type service.  Like just in case you have any questions, they’re there to help you.  I don’t really like it.  I just want to shop in peace and pick up the items I need. Again, it’s not like there’s a big selection to choose from so there aren’t that many questions a person could possibly have.

I ended up buying a lot of things at the Automercado (grocery store) which cost me a fortune but there was honestly a better selection to choose from there.  It sounds so strange to say but I suppose the Automercado is catering to a certain clientele (people who can afford their outrageous prices) and they know what we’re looking for.  Technically, I can’t afford their prices but I’d prefer to be broke with quality products than buy cheap products that are going to break quickly.

I haven’t yet decided if I want to buy a microwave or toaster oven.  Again, there’s a minimal selection available in the stores and the cost is extraordinary. My top priorities right now are to buy a hammock for my patio and a fan for my bedroom. The rest I’ll figure out later.

Pura vida…Chrissy

What I need from the States

You would think that with the 10 large bags of luggage I brought with me and the 4 boxes that I shipped, I’d have everything that I need.  But I’m finding that even while living at the hotel, there were still some things that I was missing from home.  Fortunately, I had an intern, Sean, coming from the States last week who kindly offered to bring me a few things.

The local yoga studio sold Prana yoga eco-mats ($60) but I shipped a Hugger Mugger cotton yoga rug to Sean.  Even in the air-conditioned studio, it is still hot and humid and downward dog is a lot easier if my hands and feet aren’t sliding around the mat.  I also shipped him an eye pillow since I can’t find those anywhere.  If I knew how to sew, I could probably make decent money selling them in the towns where yoga is popular.

Then, of course, there is the Q-tip issue that you may remember from a few weeks ago.  I haven’t found a reuse for the generic ones but I’m sure at some point, they will come in handy.  But never again are they going in my ear.

I am still looking for biodegradable softener and Sean brought me a stain remover.  The one I bought here is a large bottle of liquid which seems wasteful since it just pours out and I have no control over how much comes out of the bottle.  I also just found liquid dish soap (but it was expensive).  I’m still not sure how best to use the strange tub of hard soap that a friend talked me into buying when I first arrived.  He said that’s what he uses so I bought it, but it doesn’t seem to work as well as liquid soap!  I also desperately need a Downy softener ball.  It doesn’t seem like there is a tray to put softener into at the start of the wash cycle and since I’m line-drying, all my clothes, sheets and towels have a very rough texture to them.

The Automercado (which is like Costa Rica’s version of Whole Foods/Whole Paycheck) has more of what I was looking for and a better selection but it also costs you your entire paycheck, just like Whole Foods.  However, they do seem to have a nicer selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, they carry garbanzo beans and sundried tomatoes so I can make hummus (the other markets do not) and they even have Kashi cereal and Back to Nature products  But like I said, that all comes at a really big price.

I actually did find my cat’s special dry food at the local vet.  Although it was their only bag so, even though I brought a bag with me, I still bought it in case they don’t get another shipment in soon.  It was more expensive than what I paid at my vet in California ($24 for a small sized bag).  His wet food is another story – I seriously doubt I’ll be able to find him quality wet food and since that’s his primary source of nutrition, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  But I did plan for that and brought an entire plastic bin of canned wet food for him so I have time to figure it out.  I’m also having a difficult time finding cat litter.  One grocery store didn’t care it at all.

I also brought full size bottles of all my favorite toiletries (shampoo, moisturizer, etc) but at some point I’m going to run out and I’m not sure what I’ll do then.  I also don’t know what I’m going to do about makeup.  I don’t often wear makeup but I recently had to spend $50 on eye makeup at the pharmacy (the only place that seems to sell it) and it nearly killed me to spend that much since the brands were Maybelline and Max Factor!  The photo below is of the selection I had to choose from.  That’s it.  One small glass case.  I had Sean bring me a brown eyeliner because all the pharmacy had was black.

All the major brands of sunscreen are easily found here but it’s not cheap.  A bottle is about $20.  So thankfully Sean brought me one and hopefully that will last until my next friend visits.  I also had him bring me a pack of razors since my brand doesn’t seem to be carried here.

I’d also like someone to bring me either Skippy Peanut Butter or Trader Joe’s Crunchy Almond Butter (they only have Jif here and I’ve always been a Skippy girl).  Oh, and that really good trail mix from TJ’s that has the chocolate chips, almonds, peanuts, cranberries and butterscotch chips.  And I’d like a case of almond or soy milk.  Even with shipping fees, it will probably still be less expensive than buying it here at $5/carton.  I can make my own almond milk but I’m afraid to even look at what the cost of almonds is.  With the number of expats living here in Tamarindo, if they were to open a TJ’s here, it could potentially be their best selling store. : )

The one thing I almost purchased before moving but didn’t was a mattress cover.  I knew I’d have problems getting one here but it was just so huge and my luggage was already bulging at the seams!  The mattress cover at the hotel just wasn’t what I’m used to and the bed at the house didn’t even have a mattress cover.  Thankfully, I recently learned that Macy’s ships to Costa Rica and ordered a cover from them along with a fiberbed (like a featherbed but no geese were harmed in the production).  I did bring my own sheets, comforter and pillows but ordered a second set of sheets from Macy’s as there is no dryer in the new house and that means I have to sun dry my sheets.  Being in the rainy season, that could get a little complicated.  Things don’t dry here very quickly.  Actually, even after days of drying, clothes still have a tendency to feel wet.  And yes, they sell sheets in the stores here but the ones I saw were 180 thread count which could be compared to sleeping on sandpaper.

I’m also finding that with the ants and other interesting insects, I need more storage containers for food.  I have a few Pyrex and OXO pop containers but any time I open anything that’s not refrigerated, I have to put it into a container and I’m running out!

But the bigger question really is – do I miss all the conveniences that I had in the States?  Not really.  I’ll learn to make do with what I have and figure out workarounds along the way.  The customs fees that Macy’s tacked on were worth it as a one-time purchase but not something I can sustainably do in the future.  And hopefully more people will come to visit and they will just need to bring an extra bag to fit all of the bags of trail mix in.

Pura vida…Chrissy

The Grocery Store

Going to the grocery store here often times gives me a headache.  The Automercado because it’s so darn expensive and the 2001 Market because it’s so disorganized and is lacking so many items that I need.  I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the layout.

Like the flour is next to the Top Ramen and the Chinese food.  And the tortillas are next to the jam, dulce de leche and chocolate sauce.  It boggles my mind as to how they created the store and what they were thinking when they did it or how they restock.  I needed baking soda but all they had was baking powder.  Two different brands of powder and like 15 bottles!  But no soda.  Fortunately, I now have my iPhone and I quickly googled substitutes for baking soda.  My choices were triple the powder or mix the powder and cream of tartar together.  You want to guess which one I ended up with?  Only baking powder because there was no cream of tartar.  Tartar sauce, yes.  Cream of tartar, no.

It seems so odd that they don’t have baking soda but they have tahini.  I needed the tahini to make hummus so I was happy to find it but still odd.  And I have yet to find a yellow “limon”.  Contrary to popular belief here, there is a difference between limes and lemons.  Limon refers to both types.  But they’re totally different.  Like you put a green limon into Corona’s.  You put a yellow limon into hummus.  But I haven’t found any lemons.  Even at the Automercado.

Some things also surprise me.  Like the eggs aren’t refrigerated.  They’re not even near a refrigeration unit.  The other day as I was checking out, I asked the cashier, “isn’t it necessary to keep eggs cold?”  She smiled and laughed a little, “No not necessary”, she replied.  I really think eggs should be refrigerated.

And just a quick update on the scorpion encounter.  I am now totally paranoid and any time I reach for my folded sheets, a towel or any of my clothes (hanging or folded), I frantically shake them out at arm’s length first.  I’ve also been told to always check my shoes.  Although, that’s not so much of a worry.  I only have 3 pairs of shoes that are closed toed and I haven’t worn any of them in the entire time I’ve lived here.  I also haven’t worn socks.  Every time I tell someone that, I smile.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Scorpions, Spiders and Snakes

This week I’m moving into my new house,  I’ll write more about this sweet little place I found in a few days, once I’m settled in, but for now, I thought I’d write about what it’s like to live in a Zona Verde (Green Zone).

As I was unpacking yesterday, I had somewhat of a “little miss muffet” moment.  While I wasn’t eating curds and whey, I was sitting on the floor and next to me appeared a scorpion.  I’ve always wanted to see one but in my imagination, I would be walking through the beautiful shade grown organic coffee plantation at Finca Rosa Blanca and look down to see a little scorpion run past me.  It was not supposed to happen inside my house.

Fortunately, the night before, I had gone to Esquina Pizza and asked for a to-go menu.  While they didn’t have any, the owner gave me an old menu that was laminated.  So I grabbed one of my large coffee mugs and the laminated menu and went to capture the scorpion to release it back into the wild.  It took me 3 attempts because he was so quick, along with moving heavy furniture that he ran behind, but eventually I got him under the mug, slipped the laminated menu under it and took him outside.  And while I know that the venom in Costa Rican scorpions is not poisonous, I also know their sting still hurts and I didn’t want me, or my cat, to experience that pain.

There are also a number of spiders who have taken up residence in my house.  I’m hoping the geckos will handle those as well as the ants.  Last night, I had left a large trash bag on my patio and at about 8:00, I heard the raccoons getting into it.  There wasn’t even food in the bag!  There was also a fuzzy caterpillar making his way down the stairs from my bedroom so I used the laminated card trick on him.  And outside on my patio, I can find centipedes, garrobos, iguanas and birds, lots of birds.  There’s a really pretty woodpecker that likes my yard.

And while I haven’t run into any snakes, I’m sure that when I go out to collect the bananas from the tree in my backyard, I just may come across one or two, hanging out in the underbrush.

But on the bright side, early this morning I was hanging my laundry outside when I heard the sound of leaves rustling above me.  A big troop of howlers were passing through.  I stopped what I was doing, just to enjoy the moment and realize, I was home.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Alice and Waldo

Living here is like being in a live version of “Where’s Waldo”.  It is so amazing how much I can see, just from sitting at my “outdoor office”, next to my room at the hotel.  Admittedly, it can be rather distracting.  Every time I hear the hum of a hummingbird, a breaking branch from a monkey or an iguana (during the day) or raccoon (during the night) jumping on my patio roof from the trees, I look up to see if I can find where the sound is coming from and who is creating it.  I’ve had to force myself not to bring my camera outside with me when working as it becomes like an episode of Alice in Wonderland.  I end up following whatever catches my eye and can spend hours immersing myself in the natural world.  When I was on vacation, that was a great thing.  But now, living here, there is much work to be done and I can’t go following white rabbits down holes, as much as I’d like to.

Pura vida…Chrissy

No Guarantee on Mother Nature

I missed the Arribada at Ostional by one day.  See my cute little header above with the sloth?  One of my “to-do’s” is to see an Arribada at Ostional.  On Tuesday, Capitan Suizo‘s tour concierge called to say they had been told an Arribada was happening and did I want to go on the tour.  Yes, of course!

The Arribada’s normally happen in the last quarter of the moon.  So me and several other guests were picked up at 4 p.m. to head down to Ostional, about a 2 hour drive on a bumpy road.  Just for reference, Ostional is only about 10 km from where I was last week at Harmony Hotel.  However to get to Ostional, you generally take the coastal route which is 99% unpaved.  And the last 15km or so is really rough – several dirt hills, lots of ditches and rocks and even a river crossing at one point.  Unfortunately, the tour guide was told there would only be 10 people on the tour so he chose a smaller shuttle.  There were actually 11 people which meant I got to sit in the middle, front seat, next to the stick shift and it made for one really bumpy ride.  Just to make matters worse, our driver would swerve from one side of the road to the other in order to avoid the holes and rocks.

When we arrived at Ostional, we were told by the local guides that the turtles had actually arrived last night and they didn’t really expect more today.  They told us there were hundreds of turtles coming onto shore, digging their 2 foot holes and laying their eggs.  Hundreds.

We saw one.  But here’s the thing – first, and foremost, this is nature.  We can’t control her.  Second, by the time the turtles arrive, it’s often times dark and you cannot use flash so unless you have a really high tech camera, none of your photos will turn out.  But at least everyone who went on the tour got to experience what it’s like to see a turtle nesting – once you see one, it’s pretty much all the same.

So now I’ve seen turtles mate in the Pacific, two turtle nestings and one turtle die due to a fisherman’s hook.  Still waiting for the Arribada and the babies to be born…

On the way home, I remembered I had a Dramamine bottle stashed in my backpack from when I went to Maverick’s in January.  Oh thank goodness.  I usually don’t have an issue with motion sickness but I’ve learned this past year that 30 foot waves or a really bumpy car ride can both make me a little queasy.

To view the video of the turtle nesting, visit my Facebook page.  To read a few more of my thoughts about how to protect these beautiful animals, please read yesterday’s post on forHarmony.net.  Want to experience an Arribada?  Nature Air Vacations and the Harmony Hotel are offering a great promotion during the next few months in the last quarter of each moon.  Learn more here.  Just remember…there’s no guarantee on Mother Nature. : )

Pura vida…Chrissy

A visit to Harmony Hotel in Playa Guiones

I spent a few days last week at the Harmony Hotel in Playa Guiones, near Nosara.  It’s one of my favorite places in all of Costa Rica.  There’s just a certain vibe there that sometimes is lacking in other places.  It is also the a place I know I can go and have an exceptional meal.  No exaggeration, they prepare some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.  And what’s even more cool?  The head chef is a local girl who never attended a professional culinary program.   I think it’s pretty awesome to be given the opportunity to lead a team, be supported and given the tools to succeed.

They also have a juice bar with great food as well and a Healing Centre that offers massage, yoga, pilates and other spa services.

Getting to Nosara from Tamarindo is a challenge but so worth it, once you arrive.  I’d prefer to fly and only have about a 10 minute drive on a bumpy road from the airport to the hotel but being in Tamarindo, there are no direct flights.  So it’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive, the last 45 minutes are on a bumpy, rocky dirt road.  But like I said, it’s totally worth it.

The beach is one of the prettiest I’ve been to and offers great sunbathing, surfing and spectacular sunsets.  The town is low key, a few restaurants and shops and really laidback people.  If it wasn’t so expensive, this would have been my first choice of places to live.

For now, it’s a nice getaway to see friends, enjoy really healthy and good tasting meals and have a little downtime to relax and recharge.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Note: While I am now paid and/or receive comped services at many of the places I visit, I will always offer my unbiased opinion to you, my readers.  Fortunately, I almost always have experiences that exceed my expectations.

Tamarindo – The “Village”

Where I’m living, Hotel Capitan Suizo, started construction in 1992 and opened in 1995.   I’m told that back then, Tamarindo was a very different place.  Today, they still call it a “village” but a lot has changed in 20 years.  So I thought I’d share with you some photos of the town now and explain that back then, none of what exists today was here.  20 years ago, according to the Hotel’s info book, there was no “television, garbage collection, or banks.  There were only three telephones which by law had to be public telephones”.  I’m also told there was no pharmacy, doctor or other basic services.  Today, there are more shops and services but compared to the States, Tamarindo is definitely still a “village”.  There are really only 3 main streets in the entire town and one stop sign (which of course no one stops at).

But over time, this once sleepy little town has become an epicenter for travelers from around the world.  There are also permanent residents from different places on the globe who live here and have opened up restaurants of their native food or bring their culture to the town in other ways such as musicians and artists from Italy, Argentina, Switzerland, Germany, Brasil, just to name a few.  It’s one of the reasons I wanted to live here, because not only am I exposed to the Tico lifestyle but I also get to meet people from different cultures and learn who they are.  While I still want to travel the world, now being on such a small income, living here in a multi-cultural community is the workaround I’ve created to experience all that the world has to offer.

There are a few restaurants and hotels that have been around for many years, like Capitan Suizo and Nogui’s, but many have come and gone.  Just in the four years that I’ve been traveling to Tamarindo, I’ve seen many new shops and restaurants open and close.

Enjoy the slideshow…

[slideshow]

Pura vida…Chrissy

Time flies…

Where does the time go?  How could I have already been here for 30 days?  Because I work 6-7 days a week, I often cannot tell what day of the week it is.  Everything just seems to mesh together.  But what I do know is that I’m in this beautiful paradise, doing things that I love, living the good life.  Every waking moment is spent in pure bliss.  And not a day goes by without me expressing gratitude for all that I’ve been given.

It is still quite surreal, living here.  Walking on the beach every morning and watching the beautiful sunsets every night, I can’t help but smile and think…I’m finally Home.

Pura vida…Chrissy