A few quick updates

Remember when I was having that really bad week last month? Well, here are some updates…

The protein powder finally arrived – 2 weeks after I wrote the blog and a month after I had ordered it.  It was shipped next day so it was held hostage in Miami and then in San Jose by the Ministry of Health for 4 weeks.  I understand that vegetables are not very common here but please, I am not shipping in pea flavored cocaine disguised as protein powder.  And what was even more frustrating was none of it was even opened!  So they just sat on it for several weeks for no reason other than to get more money out of me (as I also had to pay the Ministry of Health a “fee”).

The accountant who wanted to charge me $500 for year-end tax preparation contacted me about 2 weeks after I told him that I would not pay that much and offered to do it for $300.  What would that mean exactly?  That he knew he was overcharging me to begin with and just wanted to see if I was a naive gringa who would pay it?  Just last week I had another similar situation where I was flat out told I would have to pay more than the Ticos pay for the same services.  This wasn’t a situation like…trying to get into the National Park at the resident rate or getting a resident fare on Nature Air.  In this situation, it wouldn’t have mattered if I had my residency or not (which, yes, is still pending), it was purely based on the color of my skin. To say I was infuriated would be an understatement.

I maybe shouldn’t have complained that there hadn’t been much rain…because we have had some intense storms and I ended up with several leaks in my apartment.  One in my kitchen through the light/fan combo which means I no longer have a light or fan in the kitchen (not great when it’s 80 degrees and 80% humidity inside the kitchen), one over my yoga mat (and that is the only place my yoga mat fits in my small house), three next to my coffee table, two dripping down the wall between my apartment and the studio next to me, five on the sofa and two on opposite sides of my bed. So I couldn’t even move my bed over a few inches to one side to get out of the dripping drops of water.

The owners had attempted a patch repair of the roof:

roof 1

But when that didn’t work, they then decided to construct a new roof over the terrace.  Which then led to more problems because of course there was limited funds and the workers didn’t always show up.  Plus, the municipality showed up because she didn’t have permits for the structure.

When we eventually tried to turn the light back on in the kitchen (just to check it), sparks flew, the owner grabbed her 3 year old son out of fear and there was the smell of fire.  Her husband told me…maybe another few days.  They did kindly offer me one of their other units that was available but I just figured, I’ll deal with the leaks.  At this point, I’m used to life being totally awry.  The roof was put on the next day and with the exception of one random leak over my sofa, it has now stopped raining in my house.

roof 2

My internet speed is still non-existent.  They finally told us (after calling every day for 2 weeks and being told “mañana”) that the “cable they installed to the house is only suited for 2mbs.  It can’t sustain a higher speed and they will try to do something to remedy that.” Who knows when it will be remedied…

I never went back to the bank.  I’ll do it at some point (probably the next time I need to make a transfer) but if you’ve read other posts, you know I really dislike going into the bank.

My computer died again, this time it just wouldn’t start.  Thankfully, after talking really nicely to it, it eventually worked.  Now just the period key doesn’t want to work without a little extra coaxing.

And finally, one of my clients actually paid me on the day I sent her the invoice. And since other clients still hadn’t paid me for September (and it was October 20), my bank account did a little happy dance when the money was received.

One of my friends in Canada recently asked me – how are you not a raging alcoholic?

Good question.  One that I think deeply about every day.

Chrissy

A day at Sábalo

One of the things that I feel really blessed with is the flexibility of my job which enables me to participate in activities that, if I had a “real” job, I wouldn’t be able to do.

Equilibrium at Sabalo school 2

I’ve mentioned Sábalo and Equilibrium in the past but normally I’m off on my own when I do this volunteer work.  So it was really special for me to actually get to take part in the program and see my friends from San Jose at the same time.

On this particular day, we left at 7 a.m. and returned at about 2 p.m.  Sábalo is a very small village about 30 minutes southeast from where I live in Manuel Antonio.  We passed through African palm plantations and drove along dirt roads with small homes popping up every once  in a while and the occasional cow slowly eating its breakfast beside the road.  One of the most frustrating moments of the day was when I was told they couldn’t get tourists at the Manuel Antonio hotels to go there because, the reason they thought was, “it was too far”.  Tourists go zip lining in an area that is at least 30 minutes away (if not more) from the Manuel Antonio area. So I don’t think it has anything to do with the amount of time it takes to get there.  And if it’s because it’s a 4 hour program, then why not just plan a 2 hour day where they leave after the first break?  Immersing yourself into the local community is a major part of eco travel and since many of the hotels in my area are considered “sustainable”, you’d think they’d try a little harder to encourage guests to participate and learn about the country and its people. (just one of my many frustrations, can you tell?).

It was a partly cloudy day and Michelle told me to be grateful as most days it had been blazing hot and there are no fans or air conditioning in the one room schoolhouse.  At Sábalo, there are just two buildings and a set of bathrooms plus a large grassy area.  One room is the kitchen/dining area for the kids and the other is the schoolhouse.  About 15 local kids take part in daily studies until noon.  There is one teacher for all 15, and the ages range from 6-15.  There is no principal or nurse on site.  The only adults are the teacher (who actually lives in Guanacaste and commutes home every weekend) and the cook who comes in just before noon to prepare lunch for the kids.

Equilibrium at Sabalo school, environmental education in Costa Rica

Equilibrium visits the school every Thursday and is responsible for that day’s curriculum.  They provide the kids with learning activities and lectures on environmental education and teach them their role in protecting the planet.  They started off with a meditation in which Michelle read aloud what each child was grateful for (one of their assignments was to draw on small pieces of paper and write a gratitude letter).

Equilibrium has designed such a beautiful program and you can see the kids are not only engaged but learning and understanding the concepts being presented.  Which will hopefully cause a ripple effect as they take these concepts home and talk about it with their families. I was happy to learn that they’ve received additional funding and will be expanding the program to other cities and schools in Costa Rica.

As an aside however, it’s always a bit difficult for me to understand how kids can learn in that type of environment.  Not the environmental education, per se, but just day-to-day schooling.  I can’t imagine having attended a school where I was 6 and there was someone else who was 15 in my class.  You can tell that a lot of these kids are so very smart but they’re in an unfair situation.  The teacher does his best but they don’t even go to school for an entire day.  I asked how much homework the kids are sent home with and was told…very little.

And then there are the social inequalities and the lack of resources to teach other subjects like health education.  One of the girls was pregnant (at 14 years old) and appeared completely miserable and depressed.  Several of her friends were touching her belly throughout the morning and all I could think was…oh dear, with no health education, they’re all going to think this is so cool and all get pregnant.  I was told that when she has the baby, she can no longer live with her parents and will go to live with her 17 year old boyfriend.  Another girl who is 15 but only at the 5th grade level said that she would live with her boyfriend when she gets into 6th grade.

It’s so disheartening.  This little village is out in the middle of nowhere, and it’s almost like it’s forgotten (except, of course, by the people at Equilibrium).  And I wonder how many other little villages are like this one throughout the country?  Education is supposedly so important here.  It’s one of the reasons Costa Rica doesn’t have a military – because the money is supposed to be diverted to free education and health care for all.  So why are these kids drawing the short end of the stick?

I’m really grateful for the work that Equilibrium is doing but I also wish there was an all together different setup that they could work in.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Living consciously in Costa Rica {Part 2}

animal friendly signs in Costa Rica

It’s been almost 2 years since I wrote this post about becoming more intentional in my daily life here in Costa Rica.  Geez.  2 years.  Where have those 2 years gone?  Part of the problem has been, as a new business owner, working many many long 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week.  The other part is still just trying to feel settled into living in a foreign country where nothing seems “normal”.  And accepting the fact that it probably never will feel normal.

But then two things happened that triggered the memory of this list and that feeling that I needed to get my a** in gear as there was really no reason that I couldn’t be more sustainable at this point, living here in Costa Rica.

  1. During my visit to Tamarindo in June, I had dinner with Kevin at my favorite pizza place. To be totally honest, I was still a little hungover from the day before (not something I’m super proud of at nearly 40 years of age but my business coach was quite happy that I finally took a day off and enjoyed myself) so I just ordered a salad but the salad had a hardboiled egg on it. He asked me…why aren’t you vegan?

I really had no good reason to give him at this point.  Before, in Tamarindo, it was because getting to Automercado was such a hassle (and consumed my entire paycheck).  And even then, I couldn’t always find what I needed.  Now living in Quepos where everything is so easily walkable (and much cheaper taxis than Tamarindo) and with a weekly farmer’s market year round, I just didn’t have a good reason other than…I like grilled cheese sandwiches. Especially after finding the vendor with the freshly made sourdough bread at the farmer’s market and another vendor with the artisan cheese. That being said, while there’s still a lot of products that I can’t find, I’ve started to learn the workarounds and am now 99% vegan.  The only time I eat butter, cheese or eggs is if I go out with friends.  And even that is rare because I am still working more often than not…something I’m diligently working on reducing!

  1. As I briefly mentioned in a recent post, I happened to have a conversation with someone who told me that his actions have no impact on anything else in the world. To say that I was stunned would be an understatement. A BIG understatement. He proceeded to explain to me that it was just me and my “little clique of friends” who think that we need to be more sustainable in our daily lives.  At the time, I just couldn’t think of any response to tell him other than: “With that mentality, you probably picked the wrong country to live in”.  Okay, I admit, that may have been a little harsh.

But really, Costa Rica is an eco country.  It’s not perfect, it’s definitely got its problems of greenwashing.  But overall, the country as a whole is trying to make a difference.  The majority of the people here respect the environment and understand what’s at stake if we don’t.  When you go to Automercado and don’t have a bag, they try to sell you a reusable one.  All over the country are signs asking people to slow down in their cars because of animal crossings.  There are signs not to feed the wildlife. 25% of the land is protected and can’t be built on (compare that to just 8% in El Salvador of which 2% is primary forest).

animal friendly signs in Costa Rica

So here’s a quick update to the list I created originally in November 2012:

Positive Expressions – 2012 Needs Improvement – 2012 September 2014 Update
No car I have shipped a lot of products from the States here Still no car (although some days I really wish I had one), and now finding very nice “mules” to bring me items from the States
I don’t use the air conditioning in my home.  Fans and fresh air only Food choices – a lot of what I eat is not grown locally No air conditioning in my home now but my fans are never turned off (mold will grow rapidly if I turn them off). Most everything is fresh and local.
Preparing and sharing healthy, vegetarian meals with friends Since the move, started eating eggs and cheese again I’ve gone back to being 99% vegan (only eating eggs/cheese when I go out socially). And most items come from the Saturday farmer’s market and the local vegetable market
Supporting locals: restaurants and artisans Finding other ways to give back to the local community Working with a few nonprofits at reduced rates
Using my hemp napkins for water glasses (since the cold water melts all over the place) People should buy stock in paper towels as I’ve gone through more   rolls in 6 months than I did in a few years of living in California Still have my hemp napkins and my Circle of Life reusable bag that goes with me everywhere. A lot less paper towel usage since I have now just learned to live with the ants
Saved a garrobo from drowning in the pool A lot of ants have died on my watch (hence the extreme paper towel   usage) There’s very little killing in my house now that the ants have become roommates. It’s gotta be a gigantic cockroach or monster spider to get me to whack it with my shoe and even then, I sometimes still manage to let them live
Only doing large loads of laundry so as to not waste electricity and water Having to wash clothes more often, even when they haven’t been worn   because everything gets a funky smell here from the humidity With the fans and leaving my windows open at all times, there’s a lot better circulation in my home. Plus, I don’t have a dryer so everything is dried by the sun (even if it does sometimes take 3 days)
Buying local, organic, shade grown coffee Not being able to find much organic produce Some of the farmer’s at the feria are organic but most is still conventionally grown
Sharing the beauty of Costa Rica/Nicaragua with others through photos and writing Not being able to really spend time on my personal projects, writing   and sorting through the hundreds of photos I take each month Having hired an assistant, I’m working less nowadays which has freed up my time to both work on my personal projects.
Paying an above average wage to my housekeeper Getting back on the yoga mat With my new found free time, I exercise more and still pay a living wage to my housekeeper…now I just wish I could pay her to come more frequently!

 

My goal is to continue to provide you with updates on living more intentionally in Costa Rica.  I want this blog to not just be about the crazy backwards upside down not-normal things that happen here.  My hope is to lead by example and that by choosing to live simply, sustainably, ecofriendly — whatever you want to call it, we can each find the beauty of simplicity and pura vida in our daily lives.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Venturing to the lesser known areas of Costa Rica

sunset at Rio Magnolia, Costa Rica

One of the things that I did often in college was take off for a few days to really focus on my studies (especially when I was living at the sorority house…god help me, it’s not easy to admit I was part of a sorority!).  I normally didn’t go very far, just to a local Marriott usually for one or two nights.  I’d hole up in the room, have all my books laid out in front of me and order room service.  It was my way of decompressing AND focusing on what I needed to get done.

And recently, I needed that again.  I needed to focus and take some time, just for myself.  Plus, I have wanderlust running through my blood (seriously, I think it’s in my DNA) and I often feel so trapped in Quepos.  Not having a car, I often have an underlying sense of disconnection and feeling stuck. In California, I’d take off on road trips and day trips, all over the place.  That was my outlet.  And while I live in the jungle and have a view of the ocean, it’s just not the same.  As much as I love living in Quepos, I need to experience more than just my little town.

Since I’ve been to almost all the well known places, I decided to venture out to one of the lesser known areas of Costa Rica.  I went to the little tiny town (well, not even really a town – more like a village) of La Alfombra.  I know, you’re asking me: Where?  It’s actually only about 90 minutes from my house, halfway to San Isidro, and is considered one of the lower lying cloud forests at about 800 meters.  Not high enough for the quetzal (that I wrote about here) but far enough up the mountain to have a few different plant and animal species than what I’m used to in the rainforest of Manuel Antonio.

As we entered the property (on a very dirt road), I knew I was in not only a cloud forest but also a primary forest.  Such immense beauty, like the tall redwoods in California.  Rio Magnolia Nature Lodge is a stunning property that was at one time a farm.  The owners, from Canada, purchased the property and have since begun to reforest it as well as planting many types of fruit trees (including cacao!) and coffee.

Rio Magnolia, Costa Rica

It’s a B&B style home that the owners designed themselves, with luxurious accommodations, thoughtful details and views of the cascading green mountains that eventually lead out to the Pacific Ocean.  And the owners, Maureen and John, are just beautiful people (along with their four sweet dogs).  While I was there to work on personal projects, they also always invited me to join them for vegetarian meals and it was so much fun to talk with them and share our experiences of living in Costa Rica.

It’s also a sustainable hotel and for ease (because I can’t explain it better), this next part is from their website: “…electrical power is produced by a renewable energy source, the river Magnolia, which runs through our property. A 12 kW hydro-electric system provides all of the electricity to the Lodge and is distributed to the various buildings by buried cable, thus protecting the wildlife from harm.”

Don’t you just love that?  They also hire from the local community, started a recycling program in the town, compost their food waste, and so much more.  Another thing that I loved (and that I’m again extracting from their website) is how humble they are and open to new ideas and new ways of doing things:

“Most of the Costa Ricans in the area are farmers with modest income. They are extremely good at re-purposing food and beverage packaging and have taught us many things about reducing our garbage.”

While I was there, I sat outside on my terrace, listening to the birds sing in the nearby trees.  I watched the sunrise and the sunset.  I walked around the property, going down to the little river that runs alongside it and just meditated there as the sunshine filtered through the towering trees.  I saw so many birds, caterpillars and butterflies and took moments of time to just simply watch the fog roll in and out, over the dense green forest surrounding me.

cloud forest

The only downside (for me) is that it was cold.  And if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile now, you know that I’m seriously allergic to the cold.  So my eyes were watering and my nose was running most of the weekend.  But I made the best of it and enjoyed the brief moments when the sun did shine and warmed up the earth (and my body).  Knowing that I would be back in the warmth of Manuel Antonio in just a few short days makes the cold (and the ensuing illness) much more tolerable  for me. **I should note here that it was really only 70 degrees at its coolest during the day which yes, I know, is not technically cold…but it is for me!**

Chrissy Gruninger

It was exactly the break that I needed.  I got much deserved rest and was able to not only work on my projects but meet new friends as well.  I so hope that if you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, you will visit Rio Magnolia and feel the warmth and love that is found there, from the owners, staff, delicious food and tranquil surroundings.

Enjoy the slideshow…

[slideshow]

Pura vida…Chrissy

I get by with a little help from my friends…

It’s been one of those weeks.  It actually started going downhill about a week ago when I decided I wanted to buy some bread and chose to go to a Panaderia that had been recommended to me by a friend.  I’ve pretty much given up on eating bread, not just for health reasons but because it’s really terribly made in Costa Rica.  I got a whole wheat ciabatta and it was hard on the outside and total air on the inside.  I can’t understand why there are bread shops if they can’t make a decent loaf of bread (and my sourdough girl at the farmer’s market disappeared a few months ago).

I realize bread is a silly thing to complain about but it’s just one piece of the abnormal puzzle that I live in.

So then came Monday/Tuesday and it was like one massive tropical snowball was hitting me.  First, I broke my Bodum coffeemaker…the glass part.  Fortunately, my first housekeeper in Tamarindo broke the original bodum’s plunger part so I had saved the glass (again, why you never, ever throw anything away).

Then, the Costa Rica tax year ends on September 30th, and I’ve been trying to find a new accountant as I wasn’t really confident in the abilities of the one I was referred to last year.  The one that I found wanted to charge me $500, twice what I paid last year.  Now listen, I have a tiny little business here that barely has any income or expenses.  The accountant knew that.  But I’m assuming he also knew I’m a gringa so might as well try to rip me off.

On the bright side, when I told my property owner of the problem, she told me she knew of an accountant that works out of his house, across from the church, in one of the 3 little homes near the little bridge. (yes, that’s how we give directions here).  She volunteered to walk me down there (with her two children) so I could meet him and discuss his services.  He turned out to be very nice and much cheaper than any of the other quotes I had received.  But he needed all my expenses printed out which is how I spent all of Tuesday afternoon (and yes, I said a little prayer for all the trees I was destroying in this “eco” country that requires paper copies).

And, just as a quick note, we were able to go down to meet the accountant because my housekeeper had canceled on me…again

We had also called ICE on Monday to try to increase my internet speed (as it was, it felt like I was on dial up from 20 years ago).  They told us it would take 24 hours to activate.  But of course, 24 hours later, that wasn’t done and I called again, had to deal with an incredibly incompetent woman who insisted that I only had placed the order 20 minutes ago (it was now Tuesday afternoon and my property owner had called ICE on Monday) and when I asked to speak with a manager, she hung up on me.  Then I called back and was told, by a manager, it would take at least 3-4 days to activate.  I swear, they can never get their stories straight.

Also, on Monday afternoon, I got a call from a friend, whose shipping account I had used, telling me that the vitamins and protein powder which had been stuck in Miami for the last 2 weeks would require a note from a doctor.  And he was at the doctor and the doctor wanted $85 for the “office consult” and to write the note.

Fine.  I’ll flipping pay the $85.  Then I’m told that another girl’s parents ships her vitamins all the time through the post office and she doesn’t even have to pay customs taxes or fees.  God help me.  I try to follow the rules and I get screwed.

Next comes trying to transfer the money to my friend’s account.  His account is with BCR.  My account is with BNCR.  BNCR will allow me to make transfers to other BNCR accounts but not to BCR accounts without a special code…which they tell me on Tuesday morning that I’ll have to go to immigration in San Jose to get the code.  I decide that’s crazy and to try to circumvent the waste of time in San Jose.  So on Tuesday morning, I go to the bank to see if they can put my online banking account into my company name, with my company’s identification number…as the entire problem stems around the fact that the online banking account is accessed through my passport number.  I get there, wait 45 minutes for a bank rep, I tell him what I want and he looks at me totally confused but is willing to try (normally, they just say no but I know this rep has a little crush on me).  We almost get through the process when he tells me that in order to set up the account, we’ll need to type my business debit card PIN code into the computer.  Which of course, since I never withdraw money from the debit card, I have no idea what the PIN is.  So, another waste of time which I will now have to find the piece of paper with the PIN code in my house and then return to the bank to try to set this up once again (and hopefully get the same rep).

Then twice in the last week, my computer has died.  You know, that scary blue “death” screen.  My entire life is dependent on having a computer and if this one dies, well, I’m pretty screwed.  I don’ t have any visitors coming until March…the computer has got to stay alive until then.

And last but not least, I just cannot seem to get my clients in Costa Rica to pay me on time.  All of my clients in the US and even those abroad who pay me through PayPal, all pay me by the due date or more often than not, on the day I send them the invoice. And I never have to ask twice. That is NEVER the case with the clients in Costa Rica and is a gigantic pet peeve of mine.  The work has been done, it’s been done well.  Now it is time to pay me.  I shouldn’t have to send reminders every month on the last day of the month.  I shouldn’t be wasting my time contacting every client here, tracking down payment.  The electric company doesn’t send reminders and yet they remember to pay their electric bill.  Geez, the electric company doesn’t even send bills!  At least I send a bill with plenty of time to pay.  And the other problem is many of them pay me through other banks which means 3-4 days of processing time before it gets into my bank account.  So when they wait until the last minute, it means I don’t have the money to pay my rent and utilities. Technically, the money is supposed to be in my account on the last day of the month.

On the bright side, I’ve got some really great projects that I’m working on for clients in the US and that’s keeping me {somewhat} happy and sane.

Emilio from Mini Price (my little Costco) offered to have the 42 pound bag of Fresh Step litter delivered to my house at no charge.

And a special note of thanks for a friend who’s been checking in on my all week.  I don’t know if it was a little birdie who told him or my less than positive facebook posts but somehow he knew I was on the verge of a meltdown and stepped up to make sure I was okay.

So I’m grateful for my friends this week who have helped me with the various problems that I’ve run into.  Mental breakdown avoided…at least for the moment.

(and I promise you all that next week’s post will be a little happier…but this is real life on the rich coast, thanks for bearing with me and letting me vent)

Pura vida…Chrissy