More on the grocery store

The above photo is basically my selection for sort of dark, leafy greens at my local market.  This is as close as I can get to a dark, leafy green (no wonder I have shingles!).  Yes, most days I go in there and want to cry.  After the rainy season ends, I hope to plant my own veggies on my little balcony.

Here’s some prices for local and imported food: $8 for French’s Dijon.  $8 for a box of Kashi Cereal.  3 small heads of garlic is $0.37, a small piece of ginger is $0.17, and an onion is $0.20.  Bananas are $.06 each.

An egg ranges from $0.19-$.025 (not sure why the price changes).  Celery is charged by the stalk – yes, the individual stalk.  Each one is $0.25.  The girl thought I was crazy for buying the entire bunch.  And the bunch was pretty sad looking.  It had lost its crispness and it was only one of two so I chose the less soft of the two.

Surprisingly, a Red Delicious Apple only cost about $.90.  Well, it was surprising until I bit into it the next day and it was mealy.  I was also surprised at the $1.20 for an avocado.  They grow here!

I can’t find chocolate chips for my famous cookies at the local market.  And at Automercado, they cost about $6 for a 12 ounce bag (that felt like it had melted by the time I got them home).  My hopes and dreams of becoming “the Mrs. Field’s of Costa Rica” went out the window when I saw the cost of the items I needed to make the cookies.  I also made Chocolate Peanut Butter cups with the chips for my neighbors last week and they were a huge hit – it seems like you can’t easily get that particular candy here.

A guava is roughly $0.90.  A 400 gram bag of garbanzo beans is $1.40.

You always have to look at expiration dates because some of them have been well exceeded – it doesn’t seem like they have much turnover of certain products and they don’t often do inventory.   Which is probably why on any given day, they’re out of items.  I thought they didn’t carry sundried tomatoes but they do, just not always.  Even butter and wheat bread is sometimes not available.

Totally shocking was when I found Skippy at my dinky little market next to where I live.  Of course, it was the only jar and it cost $10, compared to $5 for Jif.

Only $10

And here are a few more photos…

Selection of cat food
Fruits, veggies and unrefrigerated eggs
A few more veggies

I really am trying to eat more locally but somehow I still leave the Automercado with $100 less in my bank account.  Even the little supermarket where these photos were taken averages me about $25.

Pura vida…Chrissy

A Visit from the Doctor

Last week I took an hour out in the sunshine and while I didn’t return home burned, there was a slightly pink color to my shoulders. I knew it would just turn to tan, which it did, but a few days later, I developed a rash on my neck. It didn’t itch…but it hurt. And I couldn’t tell if it was the rash causing the pain, if I had somehow pinched a nerve, or as a few friends told me at dinner one night, possibly it was the botfly that had burrowed into my skin and was laying its eggs. I’m so grateful to have such wonderful friends who put crazy thoughts into my head. ; )  And I urge you not to google botfly because the pictures will horrify you.  Just trust me, it’s not something you ever want to experience.

So I called the doctor and asked if he made house calls. I knew he lived in Langosta so figured he’d just come by when he was done with work for the day.  And I know I will sound incredibly lazy when I write this but really, the $10 extra dollars I paid to have the doctor come to my house was totally worth it.  Time is money here and either I have to pay $20 to the taxi driver to save on time or I have to take an hour to walk into town and back, which means I lose working time and in turn, lose money.  My neck was also in so much excruciating pain that the thought of walking was not something I could consider.

I had already been to the pharmacist earlier in the week and showed her the rash (since they’re somewhat trained here to make diagnoses and can offer me medication without a prescription) but she said it was just an allergy and sold me 1/2 ounce of hydrocortisone cream for $12 (seriously, next time you go to CVS, check out the size and prices and then be grateful).  But the pain in my neck was excruciating at times and I was having to take my prescription ibuprofen just to be able to function so I knew it couldn’t be an allergy, plus the cream wasn’t working.

The doctor told me I have shingles, that there’s no explanation for the cause and that since the rash was only a mild one, not to worry about it, just let it run its course and continue to take the ibuprofen for the pain.  I joked with him about how my friends said it was the botfly and he confirmed that it wasn’t but that just before coming over, he had removed a botfly (called tórsalo in Spanish) from a guy’s head.

Okay, I guess things could be a lot worse – at least I wasn’t having a fly and its eggs being pulled out of my head.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Letting Go of the Wine Snob in Me

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m a little bit of a wine snob.  I have a wine studies certificate from University of California, Irvine and worked at a high-end California winery for two harvests several years ago.  The photo above was one of my favorite vineyards to sample.

And it was only a few short months ago that I was in California, enjoying the last bottles from my collection of Silver Oak, Stag’s Leap, Domaine Carneros, Twomey, Frank’s Family…mmmmm, I miss them all.

Now, in Tamarindo, I feel like I’m paying Stag’s Leap prices for bottles of “2 Buck Chuck”.

I go to Automercado about once per month and will usually pick up a bottle or two of wine.  The store is air-conditioned so I figure the wine has to be okay, even if it does cost me a small fortune.  In contrast, the grocery store next to my house is about 90 degrees with no a/c and a few fans that only seem to spin the hot air around. Honestly, when I go in the store, I’m running through it, quickly grabbing whatever I need so I can get out of the heat.  I don’t understand how they can store wine, on shelves, at that temperature (or eggs, for that matter – to this day, that still freaks me out).

But one day I decided to let go of my wine snobbery and buy a $20 bottle of Pinot (that probably should have cost $7) at the little market.  I let it air out for about 2 hours and it still tasted bad.  It was somewhat drinkable but I could tell the heat had gotten to it.  You just cannot keep wine at that hot of a temperature!  But I’m going to have to get used to drinking bad wine if I want to be able to enjoy a bottle with the meals I create.

And of course, I could buy the Stag’s Leap at Automercado and be guaranteed an excellent wine experience…I just wouldn’t be able to buy food for the week.

Stags Leap Merlot $75

Pura vida…Chrissy

Electrical Outages

In the almost 5 months that I’ve been here, we haven’t had a power outage.  Sure, we’ve had a few times where the lights have flickered on and off but nothing that lasted more than a few seconds.  So of course the first big one happened earlier this week when I was making dinner for all my neighbors.  It only lasted about 10 minutes but it was at the crucial time of me putting the polenta into the boiling water and trying to wilt the spinach – and no longer do I have a gas range.

So I switched on my phone’s flashlight and my neighbor ran down the stairs to help me light candles and I continued to try to make the meal since the pans were already warm.

The electricity eventually came back on and overall, it was a fun evening.  While I did most of the cooking, my neighbors helped by bringing the drinks, some of the ingredients for the meal and one of the guys even made a really sweet treat for dessert – ice cream cookie sandwiches with dulce de leche.  We enjoyed good conversation and a really great lightning show.  Life is never boring here and you quickly learn how to make changes, adjusting to whatever life throws at you.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Life in Langosta

I’m all settled in to my new place in Playa Langosta.  I’ve met lots of people and really am enjoying myself.  The building where I live is so much more secure and the fact that all my neighbors are men probably helps a lot with that.  In college, I never lived in the dorms but I imagine my current living situation is a lot like that, just on a more mature level.  We leave our doors open and chat with each other throughout the day.  If someone’s going to the store, they ask others if they can pick up anything for them.

I love to cook and my neighbors are more than happy to try out my toaster oven creations.  With only 6 units in the building, smells easily waft down the breezeway and everyone knows when I’m cooking up something good. One of my neighbors joked that he’ll be one of my investors if I ever decide to open a bakery.  I still can’t believe I’m living in a house without an oven but I’m experimenting with the toaster oven and it seems to be working although everything takes 10 times longer.  I tried to make cookies last week for the guys and could only make 4 at a time since the oven is so small.  Another new favorite is watermelon gazpacho.  It’s refreshingly good on a hot day (which is almost every day here) and last night we decided to turn it into an alcoholic beverage, which was an interesting spin.

To end the day, we often go to the beach to watch the sunset.  It’s just gorgeous here with the tidepools.  I grew up near tidepools and love seeing all the sealife; it’s even more fun now that I have a waterproof camera.

My only complaint is the grocery store.  While it is next to my building which is so convenient, it has an even worse selection than the one I used to live near.  Honestly, Cuba had a better selection of fruits and vegetables than this store offers.  I am in desperate need of dark leafy greens and am seriously considering growing my own on the tiny little balcony that I have.

Enjoy the slideshow…

[slideshow]

Pura vida…Chrissy

Washing Machine Woes

I have the strangest washing machine,  it’s borderline manual.  To get the water into the machine, I have to turn on the valve (I think that’s what it’s called), then I add soap and clothes.  But I have to remember not to walk away at that point because otherwise, it would be like an I Love Lucy episode with soap suds and water spilling into my bathroom. I have to remember to turn off the water – which for me, who normally does 8 things at once, is somewhat of a challenge.  But it’s been two weeks and no suds on the floor…yet.

After you turn off the water,  you turn on the machine and after 15 minutes, an alarm sounds (which doesn’t stop until you turn it off).  From here, you twist one of the levers so that the water exits the machine.  Here’s another area that I often forget…because once the water is out of the machine, you then have to turn the water back on to fill it back up for the softener rinse.  But often times, I forget to twist the little lever and so the water continues to run out of the machine as I’m trying to put it in.  Eventually though, I hear the water draining in the shower and remember to close the valve.  So the water fills up again, I add softener, turn off the water, and select the number of minutes again.

Once the alarm rings, I then drain the water again and put the clothes in small batches into the little bucket next to the washer.  This is the spin cycle.  It’s bizarre but seems to work.  My clothes are clean and the rinse cycle makes them less of a sopping wet mess.  Then I grab my folding clothes line and hang everything to dry near the sunny window – which often times can take up to two days.

It’s not an ideal situation but it is what it is…I do know that if I ever move to a house that has a real washing machine and dryer, I will be so much more grateful.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Natural Disasters: A Way to Meet Your New Neighbors

Yesterday’s earthquake was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.  I lived in California all my life and none of the earthquakes I experienced there compare to what yesterday’s was like.  If you’ve never been in one, it’s difficult to explain but normally (in the small earthquakes we have all the time in California), earthquakes roll the ground a little and last 5-7 seconds.  Yesterday’s, from the reports I read, lasted 30 seconds.  And it was wild.

At first, I didn’t do anything.  I figured it was just one of those quick ones that would roll through.  But as things started to really shift around my house and the coffee mug fell off the table, shattering its handle into pieces across the floor, I realized I better get to someplace safe.  But in this house, there really isn’t a safe place, other than the front door.  Once I realized that though, I tried to walk to the door and found myself teetering back and forth – I couldn’t walk!  The building was moving so much.  I eventually did make it there, holding on to pieces of furniture along the way.  When I opened it, I could see one of my neighbors down the hall who yelled out to me – we gotta get out of here!

A few seconds later, the shaking stopped.  I went back inside and tried to gather a few things, as well as picking up the things that had fallen to the floor.  I then went outside and that’s when I met all my neighbors.  One neighbor had his bird and dog with him, another woman had been in a yoga class in Tamarindo and ran all the way home to get her baby (who was with the nanny), another neighbor had been holding onto his bag of trash for about 10 minutes, in a state of shock.  Others came up from the beach carrying their boards, not even knowing that an earthquake had happened.  Inside the market, there were lots of soda bottles that had fallen to the floor.  One of the locals had a battery operated radio so we listened in to see what the reports said.

Originally, it was a 7.9 based near Nicoya but that was then changed to a 7.6 in the Pacific outside of Samara, a beach town near Nosara where I have a lot of friends.  It’s about 60 miles south from where I live.  A tsunami warning was issued and we decided to hop in one of the trucks and head up to Eagle’s Nest, a hill above Tamarindo.  We weren’t the only ones – about 200 other people were already there and more were walking up the hill as we approached.

Once we learned the tsunami warning was lifted, we went back down the hill.  There were still aftershocks and tiles falling off the roof of our building when we arrived back to the building.

Still shaken up, and still no electricity, we decided we’d go with the owner of Lola’s (a popular beachfront restaurant in Avellanes) to their new location in Playa Danta to relax for the afternoon.  I quickly checked in on Harmony to make sure he was okay and to see if there was any further damage from the sizeable aftershocks that happened after we left.

It was an interesting way to meet the new neighbors and make a few new friends at Lola’s as well.  When I returned home, Harmony was under the kitchen table and I had to laugh since that was probably one of the safest places for him to be.  Instinctually, he must have known to go hide under a piece of furniture.

After a night of continuing aftershocks, it’s nice to wake up to blue skies and sunshine.

Life is never dull here on the Rich Coast.

Pura vida…Chrissy

A Different Rich Coast

This post is about a rich coast, but not Costa Rica.  I’m talking about the archipelago that makes up the small island country of Cuba.  I recently read that OFAC, the federal agency that grants licenses to travel to Cuba from the US, has stopped renewing and granting new licenses for the “people to people” trips to Cuba.  I read a few articles but couldn’t figure out if they’re just backlogged or if they’ve really stopped issuing the licenses.

It’s disappointing to read and it’s one of the reasons I was so adamant about going last year.  In addition to wanting to see Cuba before capitalism takes over (which eventually, someday, will happen), I also knew that the US government would eventually pull the legal licenses making it much more difficult to travel there.  Of course, now, I can just go to San Jose and take a flight on Taca, directly to Havana.  But I’m glad I can say I went there legally and experienced this amazing country.

Before moving to Costa Rica, people would ask me why I traveled here so much.  It was always difficult to explain because it wasn’t just one thing that pulled me here.  Cuba is like that as well.  Cuba is like this magical place that you really can’t put into words – you just have to experience it.  I love looking back at the photos and videos and re-living every moment.  Part of me feels like I got to see what it was like for my parents and grandparents as children.  It truly is like stepping back in time.  It’s not just the old cars that made me feel that way, it’s also a different way of life.  There’s a sense of place and community in Cuba that doesn’t really exist in today’s modern world.  Cuba’s lifestyle is even more simple than Costa Rica’s – I didn’t think that could be possible until I went there and experienced it for myself.

To watch a video of my trip to Cuba, click here.  To read about my experiences, click here.

And here’s a photo slideshow.  Enjoy.

[slideshow]

Pura vida…Chrissy

Moving Day x2 + Another Kitty Panic Attack

You know you’re no longer in a “Tipico” home when you have recessed lighting in your ceiling.  That’s contrary to the light bulbs that were dangling from wires, dropped down from the ceilings.  It’s been 3 weeks since the robbery and after many sleepless nights and being stalked by the police officer who took the report, I decided it was time to move.  I so loved my tipico home but it wasn’t secure enough for me and Harmony.

So I packed up everything on Friday, rented a large SUV and hired a few locals to help me.  During the week, I found a little place in Langosta and while it probably wouldn’t have been a longterm location for me, it was good enough for the time being.  But just as we were unloading the last item (a 70 pound trunk filled with books), the property owner called to tell me he had another unit become available about 20 feet up the road.  He met up with me and showed me the place and I knew this would be my new home.  Even though it meant moving everything again.  It was a very long, very tiring day.

The road to get to Langosta has gotten worse in the last few months and when I drove Harmony over at the end of the day, he was screaming mad.  It was a flashback to the flight here but instead of it being 1 a.m. in first class with a cat who was attempting to push his way out of his carrier, this time I was trying to soothe him while maneuvering a vehicle, in the rain, on a dirt road over ditches and rocks.  He really doesn’t like turbulence.  But hopefully it will be the last time he has to experience it for awhile.

This new house has its pros and cons.  I’ve lost all of my outdoor space but gained security and a better sense of well-being.  I’ve lost my pretty zona verde but out in the distance, past the buildings, I can see the low-lying hills.  It also doesn’t have an oven which is a huge bummer.  All the jungle sounds and animal sightings have now been replaced by people, TV’s and dogs.  The pros – it’s relatively new construction, is nicely furnished, has a large, floor to ceiling picturesque window, has cabinets, both in the kitchen and the bathrooms and high ceilings.  There’s a yoga studio directly below me which hopefully will send up some positive karmic energy.  Occasionally, I hear parritos and other small birds as well as frogs and crickets but there were no sounds of howlers this morning.  However, it’s a stone’s throw from Playa Langosta (photo above).  Being new construction, everything is really sealed up which means I probably won’t be seeing any geckos running around my walls but the pro is I probably won’t be seeing any scorpions either.

Langosta may only be less than a mile from Tamarindo but it’s like two totally different worlds.  For those of you who have known me for a long time, Langosta is similar to the area where I grew up and Tamarindo is like the city next to it where I lived for most of college.  As the rental car agent said to me – “Tamarindo is very dangerous, lots of problems there, Langosta is much better”.

Next time I’ll write about the laundry machine – which I’m still trying to figure out how to use.  It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before!

Pura vida…Chrissy