A Global Community

It’s really fun to have readers from all around the world.  The photo above is of some recent stats from this blog that shows where my readers are coming from.

Blogs make this big world feel a little smaller, bringing us closer to each other and giving us the opportunity to stay in touch and follow along in someone’s life.  I’m so glad you’ve all subscribed to this blog and want to receive my fun updates of living here on the Rich Coast.

So just a quick note of gratitude.  And if you happen to know of someone who might enjoy this blog, I hope you’ll forward this to them and ask them to subscribe!  My goal for the end of the year is to add 10 more countries, reading my blog!!

Pura vida…Chrissy

Community Management in Costa Rica

Working while at Jicaro Island Ecolodge

After the last post, I thought I’d write about something a little more lighthearted and fun.  I purposefully chose the title for this post just to shock some people who don’t understand exactly what my job is, while living here in Costa Rica.  I can hear them now…WHAT!!!  You’re doing community management there? That’s your job? Why in the world would you return to that god awful job that beat you down for 7 very long years?

Not to worry, everyone calm down…I’m not managing board of directors who think they’re running the world or crazy homeowners who call me names and scream at me all day.  Saying that there were pitchforks and torches at monthly meetings is really not too far from the truth.  But now, while I am managing “communities”, they’re all online and the people I interact with all want to live vicariously through what I post.

So what is it that I’m doing?  I’ve entered the new and ever-changing world of social media.  When I want to joke about my job, I tell people, “I play on Facebook all day”.  It’s somewhat true.  And while it is a lot of fun and I get to engage with lots of people who love the places I work for, it’s also a lot of work.

When I’m visiting the hotels and I meet guests, they always ask me the same question – what do you do for the hotel?  And when I tell them, you can actually see the faint hint of jealousy come across their face.  Which is almost always followed by the question: How in the world did you get that job and do you need an assistant?

The nice thing about my job?  I can work for anyone, anywhere and do it anywhere in the world.  I’ve chosen Costa Rica as my home base but as long as I have an internet connection and either my laptop or iPad, I’m good to go.

I have also somehow landed with honestly the best company to work for on the planet.  I’ve been working since I was 14 and over the last 23 years, have worked for many different companies.  But with the exception of this one and one other, the companies I’ve worked for have all been, in one way or another, abusive, harassing, unethical, chaotic, inefficient and just plain crazy.

In contrast, this company actually cares about its employees.  They want their team to succeed, both individually and collectively as well as both professionally and personally.  They listen and they really want to hear what we have to say.  They want our ideas.  They don’t go off and hide in meeting rooms all day and then never tell anyone what was decided.  And oh, decisions actually get made and things get accomplished.  That’s a new one for me.  They give their employees freedom and space to be creative along with the tools and support to get the job done and do it well.  Yes, we all work a lot and we work hard.  But the truth is, it’s not really work when you love what you’re doing and the people you’re working with.  And the icing on top, it’s a company that truly talks the talk and walks the walk when it comes to sustainability.  Just this week, we were awarded with our second World Saver Award from Conde Nast Traveler.  I’m so proud to be able to work for a company that truly lives up to its mission and vision and is an inspiration and role model for others.

While I do wish we’d come up with a different title for me since every time I hear it, I cringe, thinking of my seven years of hell and being called, amongst other names, a nazi fascist…I’m alright with it for now.  Honestly, there isn’t anything that I can complain about in this job.

One final note: Whoever came up with the idea that a job requires 4 walls and a desk must not have been very openminded…or tan.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Both Sunshine and Rain are Needed for a Rainbow

Rainbow over the Rich Coast

Technically, this post isn’t about sunshine, rain or rainbows.  I wish it was.  It’s more about accepting that there is always equal amounts of light and dark, good and bad.  And hopefully, a balance of the two will create something beautiful like a rainbow.

I was hopefully optimistic that I’d never have to write this post.  This blog is supposed to be about funny and positive things that happen to me while living on the Rich Coast.  But unfortunately, at the 100 day mark, my house was robbed.  There were lessons learned, a lot of stupid mistakes on my part and a reality check that bad things can happen anywhere at any time.

I slept through the whole event, thankfully, and it doesn’t seem like they came upstairs to my bedroom.  That night I was up late, having had a friend come over for dinner and with a few beers in me and some medicine that always put me to sleep, I didn’t hear them break into the house.  When I came down the stairs just before 7 a.m. the next morning, the first thing I saw was my back door, wide open.  Now, I know I had a few beers but I was only slightly buzzed when I locked up for the night.  And I’d never leave the door open.   Then I noticed my backpack was gone and my laptop bag and throughout the day, I’d figure out other things were missing as well.  My box of business cards was gone, my iced tea pitcher filled with tamarindo juice that was in my frig was gone, all of my camera chargers were gone that were in the electrical strip.  Inside the backpack was my wallet, passport, driver’s license, $200 cash, my debit cards for both my US bank and my Costa Rica bank, my new iPod, and the 2nd worse thing next to my passport…my good Sony camera.  My waterproof Sony was in the safe, thankfully, but its charger was in the strip.

Devastated and scared do not begin to describe how I felt those first few days.  I’ve befriended a taxi driver here and after calling my boss who helped me figure out what my next steps would be, I called the taxi driver who took me to the police station.  He knew I didn’t have any money or any way to get any money since the bank wasn’t open but he told me not to worry about it.  He also said that often times, thieves try to sell things they’ve stolen on the streets in town so he’d be on the lookout for any of the items that were stolen.

I called the US Embassy in San Jose and made an appointment for the following week to get a new passport.  I learned you can have your picture taken there so that was one less thing to have to do.  I called Nature Air to confirm that they’d let me on the plane with just a copy of my passport and the police report.  I also began researching how to get a Costa Rica driver’s license since the only way to get a duplicate copy of my license is to go to the DMV in California.

The next day, I went to the bank.  And of course, there were more complications (did you expect anything less from the bank?).  I needed to get a new debit card but the girl wanted my real passport even though I told her it was stolen and showed her the police report.  So she had to get approval from her boss.  And she could see in her computer that I had called and reported the card stolen!  Then I wanted to withdraw money but you can’t withdraw money without your real passport so again, I had to talk with her supervisor.  It’s so strange – it’s a small bank branch and all these people know who I am and my passport copy has my photo ID on it but still they insist that I must have the real thing.  The supervisor gave me the cash though and from there I asked him the dreaded question…”Since my passport number is associated with my bank account number, what happens now that my passport is invalid?”  I already knew the answer – I’d have to get a new bank account and a new “key” for online access.  But he said I might not have to pay for the key since I have the police report.  And since my clients pay me via my bank account, I’d also have to advise them all of the change.

But then, a little miracle happened.  A few days later, my housekeeper was taking out the trash when she noticed my wallet in the dirt next to a palm tree.  She brought it to me and while it wasn’t my camera or $200 cash, my license and passport were inside and that was such a relief.  My bank account could remain as is, I just needed to get a new debit card.  I’ll probably still try to get a Costa Rican driver’s license, but thankfully it’s not such an urgent issue now.

It was an exhausting few days.  I’m so grateful for everyone who helped me.  And I know, I know…the fact that both me and my cat are safe is what’s most important but being on such a limited income and having lost about $2,000 in items, of which much needs to be replaced, it really makes me nauseous.  I actually didn’t eat for the first two days.  I had no appetite, thinking about how much trouble this was causing me.  Pero, asi es la vida (but, such is life).

Pura vida…Chrissy

Contractors in Costa Rica

Surprisingly, contractors work very quickly here in Costa Rica.  I was shocked that on the same day that I got the estimate, there were guys here later that afternoon to install a screen door (which was custom made), fix the door’s wheels and latch, install screens on 2 windows and put in a new piece of glass in one of the windows.

Also within a day, I had electricians at my property fixing various issues and installing outlets (remember, the bathroom had no outlet – at all!) and there was only one 3 prong outlet in the entire house which was in the living room.  I also got my toilet fixed and a new seat installed.

All in one day!  Now if only the banks, customs and other governmental agencies could work that fast!

Another interesting thing is how you pay contractors here.  One contractor handed me his business card and on the back of the card was his bank account number and Cedula ((which is like a social security number).  He asked me to transfer the money into his account rather than paying by cash or credit card.    Of course, when I went to the bank, there were more complications (did you expect anything less?).  First, I was told that I had to have my real passport (not a paper copy) to transfer money or withdraw money (even though I can do both from the ATM with just my PIN).  Then she told me she must include a reason for the transfer of funds.  WHY???  It’s so very big brother here and I can’t understand it.  I thought I only had to explain why for dollar amounts over $1,000 but this was nowhere that amount.   I just have to accept that nothing is easy here when it comes to the bank or the government.

I have also learned that sometimes, you just have to make adjustments to what you currently have.  Take for example the leaking freezer.  Since it wasn’t working and the contractor couldn’t find the rubber thingie that goes around the edge to fix it, I was temporarily given the frig/freezer from the owner’s house (who lives in Italy).  But the frig had a three prong outlet and the owner and manager had refused to spend the less than $20 to install a 3 prong outlet in the kitchen for me.  I had previously asked because the tea kettle I purchased at a local Costa Rica store came with a 3 prong plug.  But instead of replacing the outlet when the frig was brought over, the contractor just broke off the 3rd piece of the plug.  Simple as that.  The frig seems to work so I guess it’s okay.  And it’s not my frig so if that’s how they want to treat their belongings, then so be it!

Since the house has no cabinets – none, not a single one – and since there really are no nearby furniture stores, I’ve had two pieces custom made for me.  One was a medicine cabinet (photo above) and one was a nightstand and the other is a nightstand.  At least when I move, I can take both of these with me.

I also recently had a flashback to the 80’s…remember when we used to get the huge catalogs from Best (I think that was the name of the department store) and maybe it was either Sears or JC Penny?  And then you’d flip through them and pick out all the things you wanted (for me, being a kid, I always went straight for the toy section).  Well, I was doing just that recently when a friend’s cousin brought me a catalog of furniture.  I desperately need a sofa and haven’t been able to find one that was reasonably priced and in which the delivery fee wasn’t extraordinary.  And once again, I was surprised to learn that my sofa would be delivered 3 days after ordering.  And just like the others, I paid her via her bank account and Cedula.  I guess identity theft doesn’t exist here because in the States, you’d never give out either of those pieces of information to others!

Pura vida…Chrissy

Scorpions and Mosquitoes in Costa Rica

Well, we just learn new things every day, don’t we?  I recently posted the photo of the scorpion on my Facebook page and two people, one from the States and one from Costa Rica, told me to plant lavender around the house because scorpions don’t like it.  So I went to the vivero (plant nursery).

Me: Do you have any lavender?

Rolando: No, maybe next month.

Me: Do you have any other plants that scorpions don’t like?

Rolando, smiling now and kind of laughing: No, nothing stops scorpions, including lavender.

Me – now with a look of total panic

Rolando: Don’t worry, scorpions are totally safe…unless you’re allergic.  Are you allergic to bees?  They like to hang out on curtains, underneath pillows and really like wood – what is your house made of?

Me: I don’t know, I haven’t ever been stung by bees or scorpions!  And my house is mostly wood!

Rolando: Well, don’t worry, you’ll be okay.  It’s the little scorpions that have the most venom as it’s a lot more potent and fresh than the older scorpions which hurt less if they sting you.  But what you really have to worry about here is dengue.

Great.  Dengue.  A new problem to add to my growing list of things that are pretty much out of my control.  So I hired Rolando to come to my house and spray for scorpions and hopefully that might keep the mosquitos, and the resulting Dengue, at bay as well.  And maybe it will also help with the growing population of spiders in my house.  I don’t understand why they can’t be outside – that’s where their food is!  Why do they like my home so much!?

I still look under my pillows every night, shake out my sheets, towels and clothes and am always mindful when I open and close the doors of my house to make sure no scorpions run inside or are hanging on to the curtains.

And an update on the termites…I went away for two days and it appears they found my cork mat for one of my pots and built a tunnel around it.  Unbelieveable.  The pot used to have an almost 30 year old jade plant inside it but one very cold winter in Sonoma, the frost killed it and it never recovered.  Rolando said that he might be able to get jade for me…next month.  But he warned me that the heat here in summer might kill it as well.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Maybe I’m supposed to build an Ark…

Okay, so have you seen the movie, Evan Almighty?  Where God tells Evan he needs to build an Ark and all of the animals start to follow him around?  After the last two weeks, that’s how I’m starting to feel.  And I know, the rainy season is coming and I’m aware that it’s probably something I’ve never experienced before and just may need an Ark in order to survive.  Last year, just before I traveled here at the end of October, Costa Rica had had two solid weeks of rain, nonstop.  Massive flooding was happening all around the country and no one saw sunlight for those two weeks.  That’s when the Automercado grocery store delivery service is really going to come in handy.  Living on a dirt road, it’s nearly impossible to walk on it when it rains.

So adding to my animal stories of the week, I was recently visited by a capuchin (white faced monkey).  Capuchin’s aren’t commonly seen in Tamarindo and it was by itself but it seemed healthy and enjoying the trees so I left it alone.  I’ve seen how capuchins and howlers interact when together in a rehabilitation setting and they really don’t engage with each other.  It’s very clear that they are different species.  But there really aren’t any capuchins in this area and so I hope he eventually finds his way to a troop.

But again, weird animal encounters at my house and I really am wondering if I need to build that Ark…

Pura vida…Chrissy

More Animal Stories from the Rich Coast

If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I’ve had all kinds of crazy animal encounters recently.  Besides the garrobo in the pool (which people here have told me is not normal) and the ants, the other day I also had a dog at my front gate, injured and bleeding which was followed up by a hawk, sitting on top of the pool’s patio cover and acting funny.  It started off by flying to one of the trees which is how I noticed it since it was so large and I normally only have smaller birds here.  But then it flew to the roof of the patio cover and I thought, hmmmm, something doesn’t seem right about this.  Birds belong in trees, not patio cover roofs.

I sent a video of it to my friend, and expert guide, Ersel at Arenas del Mar who told me it was a juvenile black hawk.   Here’s a video he took of one at the Arenas del Mar reserve: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaGxU5oHOL0.  I also pointed it out to my gardener and he said he’s seen a few of those in the trees behind the property so perhaps there is a family living nearby.  He then proceeded to tell me that they eat the little birds in the area.  Really?  My cute little birds?  Why can’t they eat the scorpions and snakes?  And not my cute little birds!

But I do wonder…what does it mean that all these animals are suddenly coming to my house?

It seems to be bird season in my zona verde because in the last few days, I’ve been visited by several birds that I haven’t seen on the property in the last two months of living here:  a very pretty mot mot, along with two sweet cuddling doves, a kiskadee and a black headed trogon.  Living next to a zona verde is so cool, everyday brings something new and different.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Under Attack in the Tropics

The other day, I was standing outside, holding my cat as we watched two black birds that were squawking, making all kinds of noise.  As I looked around my back patio, I noticed hundreds of extra large black ants scurrying around (really, for an ant, they were huge).  I followed the path but they seemed to be coming from all different directions; they were moving so fast and I couldn’t figure out where they were going or what they were doing!  They were just acting crazy mad!

It was at dusk and honestly, I couldn’t figure out what they were doing and didn’t want to deal with them swarming my house so I grabbed my scorpion spray (yes, I broke down and bought some, but didn’t buy ant spray because my local market didn’t have any – nor did they have any whole wheat bread, but that’s another post) and sprayed the perimeter of my house, hoping that the spray wouldn’t hurt the little baby garrobo that’s been hanging out on my patio these last few weeks (he’s so cute!).

That seemed to scare the ants and they eventually dissipated.  About an hour later, the rain started.  I don’t know…can ants predict rain? (google it and learn that yes, they can)  I texted a friend who, after laughing at me for a few minutes, told me it could have been the oncoming rain or something dead that was in the area.  I told her about the ants in my washing machine and she said that they may be looking for a warm place to nest since it’s winter.  And even though I told her I didn’t want to know, she told me the big, oval, cream-colored things in my soap dispenser were ant eggs.  Oh god help me!!  It’s one thing to deal with ants…but eggs!  Ewwwwww!  Laughing at me more, she then once again said, Welcome to the Tropics!

Most mornings, I come downstairs to find ants sleeping on my kitchen counter.  I’m totally serious, they’re asleep.  Living here is so wild.  Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

And because I always try to find the positive, I then googled symbolism of ants.  Last year, when I awoke to a tarantula in one of my hotel rooms just a few feet from my bed, my friend told me that they symbolize the ability to shed one’s skin, transformation and creativity.  So that made me feel better about this gigantic, furry spider in my room as I could put a positive spin on it.

Trying to shoo him out the door

So what do ants symbolize: patience, stamina, planning, storing for the future, perseverance…but really, I think it was because of the rain.

The photo at the top is not of that particular day but another day when ants decided to build a nest outside of my back door.  Honestly, every day, there is something new going on at my house.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Never a Dull Moment Part 2

Last Sunday I was working at my kitchen table when I heard a garrobo climb up the pool wall from the green zone behind it.  They’re not the most graceful creatures and tend to make quite a lot of noise.  Within seconds, the giant lizard had jumped from the wall (which is about 7 feet tall) into the pool, which was about 5 feet away.  It made a huge splash but as I looked out the glass windows of my kitchen, I couldn’t see it.  I thought it might be swimming around so I grabbed my camera, thinking it would make a cool video.  But it was at the bottom of the pool and not moving.  I don’t know how long it takes for a small creature like that to drown but I took a photo and then assessed the situation.

The pool cleaners don’t come again until Thursday.  Which would mean I’d have a dead garrobo at the bottom of my pool for almost a week.  That didn’t sound pleasant and it would mean I couldn’t go in the pool for that entire week; considering my issue with germs, I’d have to make sure I was here when they cleaned to ask them to put additional chlorine in the pool!

I could call one of my Tico friends and see if he could fish it out of the water for me.  I couldn’t bring myself to touch it – it’s just so scaly…and big…and dead.

Then I remembered there was one of those large nets that they use to clean the pool with near the wall.  So I grabbed it, put it in the pool and tried to scoop up the dead garrobo.  But then the garrobo moved and swam into the middle of the pool (but still at the bottom).  I again tried to scoop it up.  And it moved to the other side.  I’m happy that the garrobo is alive but now its life is in my hands!  If I can’t get it into the net, it will surely drown.  That’s a lot of pressure to be under!

Several minutes go by of me trying to get the animal into the net and it squirming around, avoiding being captured.  At one point I yelled out, “I’m trying to help you, get into the net!”.  To make matters worse, it was like 95 degrees and I was standing in full sun while trying to save this animal.  Eventually I got it into the net, brought it out of the water and laid it on the ground.  But it didn’t leave the net.  Oh *&^%, I tried to rescue it and it died anyways.  So once again, I’m looking at this dead garrobo and wondering what am I going to do with it.

I take the pole, extend the net over the wall and try to dump it out.  After all, that’s what I see the pool cleaners do with all of the leaf debris they collect each week.  But for whatever reason, it was stuck in the net.  So now I’m trying to get the garrobo out of the net.  After several attempts, it falls out of the net to the ground…and Hooray…I hear it scurry off into the underbrush.  It must have just been playing opossum with me.

I don’t know what the garrobo was thinking.  I mean, I literally saw it dive from the wall into the pool.  Perhaps he was trying to emulate Michael Phelps?  Perhaps, it just wanted to cool off from the insanely hot day.  I don’t know…I’m just glad I was able to get it out of the pool before it drowned.  I’m also hoping it learned its lesson and I don’t have to add lifeguard to the list of things I’m responsible for around here!

Pura vida…Chrissy

Pure Bliss at Los Altos de Eros

Los Altos de Eros Pool

Last weekend I went to Los Altos de Eros for a spa day.  The first thing I appreciated…Tico Time does not exist at this Inn.  Their driver promptly arrived at my house at 9:00 a.m.  The Inn is located about 30 minutes outside of Tamarindo, on top of a mountain.  The drive was just the start of the experience…as you turn onto the road that takes you up the mountain, you’re instantly greeted by the serenity of the jungle, with elegant teak trees lining the road.  You can’t help but feel more relaxed as you continue to drive up to the Inn.  A sense of tranquility really.

The first thing I noticed at the Inn was the open kitchen with two women preparing breakfast for their guests.  Immediately, I felt at home.  Then I saw the pool with a view that extended out over the green jungle, taking in all of its different layers of green, and eventually my eyes followed the treeline down to the blue Pacific.

Walking down a few stairs, I was taken to the Spa de Eros, “Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth in Costa Rica”.  I was asked to choose from three of their eight spa treatments.  I chose a massage, a honey, oatmeal and milk scrub and volcanic mud mask.  The girl checking me in then asked, “Would you like something to drink?  Water, Iced Tea, white wine?”.  I smiled and said water would be good.  Wine would be nice but I hadn’t slept much the night before and I didn’t want to pass out during the treatments!

She told me to take a seat on one of the lounge chairs and to enjoy the jacuzzi while they prepared my treatment room.  I didn’t bring my swimsuit but just sitting on the lounge chair, looking out at the majestic view, I could feel my body begin to relax.

Spa de Eros Lounge Area

My therapist then brought me into an open-air treatment room made from teak and bamboo.  The view is something I’m still thinking about today.  And while they did have soft music playing in the background, what I liked the most were the natural sounds – the frogs, birds, monkeys and soft breeze rustling the leaves of the trees just a few feet away.

Treatment Room View

The massage, scrub and mask treatments took about 3 hours and after, I took a shower, slipped on a robe and went back to the lounge chairs to enjoy a delicious, freshly prepared lunch.  And yes, I did indulge in a glass of wine at that point.  I spent another hour there, acknowledging how at peace my body, mind and spirit felt.  There really are no words that can properly express the treatment experience, you just have to go and try it for yourself!

Los Altos de Eros Massage Table
Los Altos de Eros Honey, Milk and Oatmeal Scrub
Los Altos de Eros Volcanic Mud Wrap
Los Altos de Eros Lunch

This was definitely a day I could easily repeat.  Returning down the mountain and to reality, I smiled.  I thought about the two guests I met during lunch who were returning to reality the next day – going home to Norway.  I’m sure Norway is nice but reality for me means a few minutes walk to a tropical beach…I am one lucky girl.

Driving Home
Tamarindo Beach

To learn more about Los Altos de Eros, its spa and 5 room Inn with a 3-1 staff-guest ratio, please click here.

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.