International Coffee Day

coffee beansHappy International Coffee Day!  Here in Costa Rica, we actually have a National Coffee Day on September 12th, but I figure why not celebrate both days since the coffee here is so good. Well, some of the coffee.  The best coffee has always been exported out but if you search and search and search some more, you will find a few notable brands to buy here.

My favorite is Dota.  Other people will tell you 1820 is the best but I’m thinking they’re basing that on price value not taste value.  1820 is an okay coffee to drink but if you have a few extra dollars and can find it, I’d splurge on Dota.  You don’t need to add milk or sugar – it’s perfectly good just black.  But it will set you back – less than 1 pound is about $11.00.

And in case you weren’t aware, there are actually some coffee brands that include up to 10% sugar in the coffee (you’ll see it noted in the ingredients).  I’ve been told it’s for two reasons.  One is that it’s a historical/traditional way to prepare coffee beans.  The other is that the sugar hides the fact that it’s a bad coffee.

A quick tip – you know you’re drinking a good brand of coffee if it still tastes good after it’s gone cold.

Pura vida…Chrissy

“The Rainy Season” in Costa Rica

Playtias beach, Manuel Antonio, Costa RicaI’ve decided that the whole “the worst months of the year to visit Costa Rica are September and October” is actually just a false statement created by Costa Rica to give us (people living here) a break from the tourism that happens throughout the rest of the year.  I may regret saying this going into October (supposedly the WORST month of the year) but I just don’t know what people are talking about when they say that it pours down rain constantly during these two months and that a day of sunshine is a rarity.

For the last few months, it’s rained from like 4-6 p.m., every other day.  A few days there was a big storm in the morning or in the middle of the night but nothing consistent that kept me from going outdoors for at least part of the day and enjoying the sunshine and blue skies.

Rain in Costa Rica

Last year, in September and October, no rain.  I was told to buy galoshes (which I thought were some type of eyewear for skiing but it appears it’s a type of rain boot – I’m a California girl, neither of those things were ever in my wardrobe) and stock up the pantry as I wouldn’t be able to go outside.  It rained like 9 days total in all of September and October last year.

Sure, we could say it’s global warming (which it probably is) but I tend to think that it’s just a way to keep tourists out of the country for a months.

To be honest though, I do hope we get some good rains throughout the country in this coming month.  Starting in December, we’ll go into another drought until May and that brings all kinds of problems with water shortages and hazardous fire conditions.

So bring on the rain!  My pantry is stocked and supposedly, the local liquor store delivers!

Pura vida…Chrissy

Happy Independence Day Costa Rica!

Independence Day in Costa Rica 1Last year, living in Tamagringo, September 15th was just like any other day.  But now, living in a town that has more than 2% Ticos, I did actually get to partake in the annual festivities.  The property owners of the apartment where I live invited me to join them in the Independence Eve festivities.  Grettel had made her kids the traditional faroles (lanterns) the week before, and just before 6 p.m., we headed into town for the annual festival.

The Faroles are a traditional part of Independence Day in Costa Rica.  And much work can go into creating them.  They are made of all kinds of materials and decorations (ranchos, turtles, traditional lanterns) and then mounted on sticks.  Either small lights or real candles (yikes!) are placed inside.

Unlike every other activity here in Costa Rica, it appears that Tico Time does not exist when it comes to the lighting of the torch and the evening’s events.  6 p.m. sharp the festivities began with the national anthem and traditional music, dancing, speeches and announcements.  This was followed by a band procession that led everyone through the streets of Quepos.  Kids (or more often than not), the parents carried the faroles as we walked through the town.

Faroles

Arriving back at the Malecon, the judging of the faroles began.  All the faroles were lifted up into the air in front of the main podium in order to be judged.  Music continued to play as the younger kids drifted off to sleep in their parents laps.

As things were beginning to die down, we sat down at a food vendor and Carlos offered me buy me an arroz con leche which appears to be a traditional dessert.  At least, I hope it’s a dessert as it was super sweet.

The next day, the streets were again shut down and the parade started promptly…I know because as I was leaving my house at 10, I could already hear the music.  Kids representing their schools walked through the streets, some playing instruments or waving batons or flags, others sitting on decorated trucks with palms and bananas hanging off of them.  Imagine the Rose Parade but with tropical fruits and plants.

Most everyone was dressed in the country’s colors of red, white and blue.  Little girls and boys were wearing traditional dresses and outfits.  Lots of red bandanas and soft white hats.  (I was even wishing I had a hat – it might be the middle of winter but the sun is still blazing hot overhead!).  As the parade was finishing, I ran into a friend who was there with his young family – one of his kids was marching in the parade and the other two were dressed up in traditional clothing.  It’s fun to see so much patriotism.

Costa Rica isn’t really known for its culture but if you visit during one of its holidays, you’ll get to experience a deep love of country amongst its people.  Weeks before, homes and businesses were already putting up festive decorations and flying the flag.  Even the Catholic church hung gigantic ribbons in red, white and blue off its front entrance.

Catholic Church in Quepos Costa Rica

Enjoy the slideshow.  This week, I’ll try to finish the video and upload it to YouTube…

[slideshow]

Pura vida…Chrissy

More on the Yellow Lemons in Costa Rica (or lack thereof)

Limon signIt’s been awhile since I wrote about how there are no yellow lemons in Costa Rica.  But just to prove my point that this is not a rant that only I am on…

On my blog’s daily stats, I can see how people arrived to my page and what pages they viewed.  Sometimes it’s facebook or through the email subscriptions but often times, it’s through a Google or Bing search.  And the stats give me not only the number of people who came through that channel but also the exact search term they were using when they landed on my page.

And at least once per week, there has been a search term that contains the words lemon and Costa Rica.  I’m not joking!  So I am not the only one that is confused by the lack of yellow lemons available here in this country.  I know some of you think I’m a little crazy for incessantly complaining about this issue but now you know…there are other people asking the same question!

Pura vida…Chrissy

A Visit to Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa RicaAs I mentioned in a recent post, I recently had a visit from an old California friend and his family.  While seeing the wildlife was possibly the most exciting thing for them, the most exciting part for me (besides seeing him and his family!) was the “gifts” he brought me from Amazon.com.  Yes, I can now happily say that I finally have a Downy softener ball.  Never thought that would be so exciting but trust me, it is.  I also now have, amongst other things, corers for pineapples and mangos.  YAY!   Life just got a little more simple.

Okay but onwards to our day at the park.  My Tico friend was also staying with me at the time so we met the family at a local soda for breakfast and then met our private tour guide, Johan Chaves, who would take us on an easy walk along the main trail of the park.  I’m always in awe of these expert guides who know where everything is.  I realize that much of the natural world doesn’t often move around too much, especially the little things like spiders, snakes and bats.  But still, they’re so good at finding even the tiniest of creatures.  I was really hoping we’d see the yellow pit viper that he had been seeing the last few weeks but no such luck.  No snakes whatsoever seen on the tour that morning.

What totally made my day though was not the big animals like the monkeys and sloths but seeing one small insect: the tiny rainbow grasshopper.  Oh wow, I have only seen photos of this little guy and was so excited when Johan found one.  It’s so beautiful with its many stunning colors!

Costa Rica Rainbow Grasshopper

We were also so lucky that the weather held out for us the entire day.  The day before, it had poured down rain all morning long.  And Matthew confirmed my sentiment that the rain here is different from that of California.  I thought maybe I was exaggerating when I say things like that but was pleased to know that he was in agreement.  It’s just different.  You have to experience it for yourself to fully understand.

The end of the tour landed us at the beach where we spent a little time exploring and cooling off in the tropical water.  The beach inside the park is very calm with almost no currents.  We also spent quite a bit of time shooing the raccoons and monkeys away from our belongings.  Never walk away from your belongings and leave your backpack open or food out!

Enjoy the slideshow…

[slideshow]

Pura vida…Chrissy

Never Never NEVER Feed Wild Animals

White faced monkey in Manuel Antonio, Costa RicaAn article came out this week in a Costa Rica online English newspaper that talked about searching for monkeys.  It was written by a non-Tico “freelance photographer” who is living in Costa Rica and I was just so horrified that I had to write this blog in order to counterbalance what he wrote.  I’m not going to give a link to the article because I don’t want to give any publicity to such a tale of wrong-doing.

In the article, the author was explaining how to find monkeys in Costa Rica.  He suggested the basics such as…looking for eaten pods on the ground and listening for breaking branches.  But what came next is just so shocking to me.  First that he wrote it as a photographer who should have some ethics when it comes to photographing in the wild but also just as an adult who should know better.

He said he brought a banana in order to entice the wild monkeys to him.  There are so many reasons that is so wrong.  Never, never, NEVER feed wild animals.  NEVER.  I don’t know how many more times I can say that.  One should not even suggest tempting them with food, even if you’re not going to give it to them to eat.

I recently had friends visit and after 4 days of not seeing any monkeys, they joked that they just don’t exist here in Costa Rica.  On the 5th day though, we did get to see them and enjoy, from a distance, their playful sweetness.

My ethics and philosophy are this: it’s such an incredible wonder if you get to see animals in the wild, in their natural habitat.  It’s special and unique.  But if you don’t get to see them, then that is just life.  The natural world is called “the wild” for a reason.  When we begin to interact with other species (by talking to them, trying to get their attention, feeding them, etc), problems ensue.

There are many public places and parks in Costa Rica where there are signs that say “Do not feed the animals” in both English and Spanish.  I always thought that was pretty much common sense but now I realize there’s a need for those signs.

What I will give credit to is an article that explains why one should never feed animals.  That is something that deserves to be read and shared: http://www.footprintscostarica.com/footprints_informacion_articulo.php?art=4.

Besides writing this blog post, other actions I took were posting a comment with the link above in the article as well as sending an email to the editors of the online news source, expressing my discontent with the article written and asking for it to be removed.  The editor-in-chief responded with the following:

“We allow freedom of speech and freedom to publish about anything to do with Costa Rica, given that it does not break the law, etc.”

I did a quick google search and couldn’t find any laws on feeding wildlife here in Costa Rica so I responded: Feeding wild animals then contributes to wild animals getting used to humans and being captured for the pet trade…which is illegal. 

The editor did respond again…with an offer to allow me to write for his online newspaper, share my viewpoints and have my business be seen by many, which I then responded that I only work with organizations who either already equal my values or are willing to learn and work towards a more sustainable and ethical system of values for all who live on our planet.

I was still unhappy though with the fact that this article would remain published for all those with internet to see.  And then this morning, I read an article about Jairo Mora, a young Costa Rican conversationist who was killed a few months ago because he was protecting turtles on the Caribbean coast.  In the article, it mentioned Wildlife Conservation Law 7317.  And by googling that phrase, I then came up with several articles that described the law which included this from the Costa Rican Times: “Wildlife Conservation Law 7317 mandates that you do not remove any plant life nor engage with any wild animal by feeding them or removing them from their habitat. Feeding animals leads to an unhealthy dependence on humans and hurts the animals.” (Click here for source and entire article).

I promptly emailed the law and the article to the editor who then replied that what he meant was – it’s not illegal for him to publish an article that talks about an illegal act being committed (by the author of the article).  He also said: There are laws for everything in Costa Rica, hardly any of them are enforced.

So what?  That makes it okay?  If the author had written about robbing a house, an obvious illegal act that also has very little enforcement in Costa Rica, would he have chosen to still publish the article?  Or it’s just that this particular article is about wildlife so who cares if it’s illegal and wrong to do even though it contributes to the destruction of our planet.

That old idiom plays in my head when presented with offers to work with companies that don’t share similar ethics: If you lie down with dogs, you’ll end up with fleas. Getting more business and being seen by more people is not worth it to me if it goes against my morals and values.  I’d rather live my values and stay true to what I believe in and hopefully, eventually, it will pay off.  : )

The author of the article has yet to respond to the comment I left on his post.

Sept 6, 2013 Update: The author has responded and informed me that the piece was done as a fluff piece and a disclaimer would be added to the top of the article. While I know he was trying to be pleasant, his email only infuriated me more since I abhor using animals for entertainment purposes. Additionally, it is still illegal to feed wild animals so the article still needs to be removed.

Pura vida…Chrissy

More Red Tape Stories from the Rich Coast

Canatico bar in Quepos, Costa RIcaIt’s been awhile since I wrote a “red tape” post so I thought I’d fill you in on the details of Friday’s outing in Quepos.  There’s a saying here that goes something like…if you have 5 things to accomplish in a day here in Costa Rica, expect to only get 2 of them done.  There’s another expression that is also quite fitting for the day: (Ticos) Make Easy Hard

I currently have a Tico friend staying with me for a few weeks (had yet another near break-in the other day so having someone at the house with me gives me a bit more security) and I thought I’d utilize his local skills to help me accomplish a few things I’ve been wanting to do for some time.

Here’s what was on my list:

  1. Open a safe deposit box at the bank
  2. Talk to the bank about getting a credit card so I can rent a car ($1,500 deposit is required and most rental agencies only accept credit cards for the deposit)
  3. Talk with ICE (cell phone/internet provider) about why they told me I could have unlimited internet on my cell phone’s prepaid service if I pay them $18/month but the internet isn’t actually unlimited)
  4. Go to the hardware store and get wooden dowels for my windows
  5. Try to return a phone to Gollo

Only 5 things right?  That seems like it can be accomplished in 2-3 hours, right?  And everything is centrally located in Quepos, almost right next to each other really.

So to begin, the first thing that took extra time is the argument I had with my friend when I asked him to measure the windows for the dowels.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Can you use this tape and measure the window sills for me?

Him: Chris, you live in the jungle.  I’ll just go find some wood and find a machete to cut it down to size.

Me: No, can you just use the tape and measure the window sills please?

Him: No Chris (now leaving the house and starting to search outside for sticks), I’m going to find something here. You don’t need to pay for this.

Me: I don’t care about the money.  Just measure the sills!

After a few more minutes of back and forth discussion, the sills eventually got measured and that is probably what started the original delay of the day in motion…

At the bank, we were next in line but there was only one person at the Special Services desk and it was 40 minutes later that it was finally our turn.  We told the man I wanted a safe deposit box and no joke, it took 2 hours to set up the file.  I cannot explain to you what took so long.  Really, I was present the entire time but for all I know, the guy was sitting on his computer chatting with a friend on Facebook while we waited.  At one point, he left the cubicle and I swear he went to take a coffee break.

By the time we got done with that, the girl who handles setting up credit cards had left for lunch (and it appears there’s only one girl who can set up a credit card).

So we left the bank and walked across the street to ICE to figure out why I was told less than a month ago that if I paid $18 each month, I could have unlimited internet access on my prepaid plan.  We were quickly seated in front of Allen who told us that about 2 months ago, they stopped offering unlimited data to prepaid plans.  So we asked why did I pay for something that no longer exists?  Of course, he had no answer.  And I didn’t have the name of the guy who originally helped me.

Then my friend asked if I could have a post paid account (which I already knew I couldn’t have since I’m not a resident, hence why I signed up for the $18 data plan 2 weeks ago).  So we decided that my friend would set up a post-paid plan for me in his name but…of course…I couldn’t keep my same phone number. The number that all of my clients and friends have.  Perfect.

An hour later, Allen presented me with a new phone number and a new phone (it came with the plan).  The plan offers unlimited data/internet but a minimal amount of minutes and texts. I don’t use the phone that much so it shouldn’t be a problem.  I hope.  Since I have this new phone, I decided to keep my old prepaid number and put the simcard into it so that I could periodically check it for messages.  But I first had to buy a new simcard since the new phone’s simcard size is larger than the iPhone simcard size.

Here’s where I get confused – they can transfer my number from my old simcard to the new simcard.  But they can’t transfer my old number into my friend’s name? With both of us sitting right there?  It just doesn’t make sense.

Anyways, we were starving at that point so we went to lunch, drank a beer and relaxed for a bit before having to return to the bank to open the credit card.  While we were setting up the safe deposit box, the clerk told us that I just needed to give the bank $200 as a security deposit and they would give me a $2,000 line of credit.  Seemed a bit odd but this is Costa Rica so I just went along with it.  I thought maybe the rules were more lax here.

And…of course…that wasn’t actually the case.  I had to give the bank $2,200 FOREVER (well, until I cancel the card) and they would give me a credit card with a $2,000 limit.  Because I only want the card to have the $1,500 deposit for the car rental, it just wasn’t worth it for me to give up $2,000.  Nor do I even really have that amount of money available right now to give up.  That process, just to discuss the options of how to set up the credit card, took almost an hour.

From there, we headed to the hardware store to get the window dowels.  More problems ensued when we showed up with the measurements in inches (since the tape I own is from the States) and had to figure out what size I needed in centimeters.  At least I think that’s what the guys were converting it to, I had lost interest at that point.  When we went to the lumber area to look for dowels (the clerk wasn’t really sure what we needed), all of the wood dowels were too large in diameter so we searched for other materials and found aluminum which then needed to be cut down to size.

Hardware store in Costa Rica

It was now after 4 and our day had started at 9. We decided to save the trip to Gollo for another day as it was beginning to rain and we were both tired. We did actually get 3 out of the 5 things accomplished which I suppose is quite impressive but I’m still dumbfounded as to why everything takes so long.  I don’t know if I’ll ever really understand.

Cost for the day:

  • Safety deposit box: $40/year
  • Post-paid phone plan: $20/month plus $25 to setup plus another $5 to buy a new simcard with my old number
  • Lunch: $25
  • Aluminum dowels: $2.50

Pura vida…Chrissy