Costa Rica’s address system (Part 22?)

I don’t know how many times I’ve mentioned the postal system here but I know it’s a lot. Finally however, I have made some rhyme and reason of it all. Or at least I understand better the PO Box system.

My US bank debit card was about to expire and I had to find a way to get a new card mailed to me.  Knowing that the mailman would never be able to find my house, I asked my property owner if it would be okay if I used their PO Box at the Correos (post office) in order for my bank to send me the card.  She was happy to oblige and sent me the address.  I was super confused though as this is basically the gist of what she emailed me: Apartado: 123-4567 (I’ve changed it to protect her privacy).

I wrote her back and asked her if I should include her name above the address and the city/province below. She told me no, that was not necessary…and here’s why:

  • Name (not necessary)
  • 123 means the box that belongs to her husband at Correos
  • 4567 means Quepos, Puntarenas, Costa Rica

I’m still laughing thinking about that.  I mean really, there is no way I could have a PO Box in the United States and just give out the number with no name, city, state or zip code!

That’s what it’s like to live in a small town…and country. And a few weeks later, the new card had arrived.

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

Getting a new internet line installed in Costa Rica

phone lines wrapped around a tree

I’ve mentioned a few times that I now have my own internet connection in my apartment (YAY!) and no longer share it with the rest of the building (YIPPEE!).  But I haven’t yet told the story of how it got installed.  Which, of course, this being Costa Rica, is a story worth sharing…

So Grettel, my property owner, had to put the line in her name since I am still pending residency (at this point, I’m beginning to wonder if getting a Costa Rican citizenship would be easier and faster).  When I asked her when the installation appointment was, she told me: between 1-10 days.

Ah, it appears they don’t make appointments.  You just have to hope you’re home when they show up.  Seems like a totally efficient way to handle the situation, yes?  Then Grettel printed off a sign that had a number on it and taped it to the window of my apartment.  Remember from the photo in my Life in a Shoebox post, I live at the end of the street, up against a mountain.  But supposedly, whenever the installers decide to show up, they will be able to find the location by looking for that sign.  It sounds a little wacko to me but remember we don’t have addresses here so I guess a tiny sign is as good as anything.

Around Day 7, they did arrive but there were, of course, complications.  They were an outsourced company and, wanting to do a good job, told Grettel that they would not install the phone/internet lines around the tree.  Instead, a pole must be installed.  Somehow Grettel talked with someone else and convinced them to install the lines using the tree to hold them in place and then they got to work.

phone lines wrapped around a tree

As they were leaving, they told me that it would take about 10 minutes for it to start working.  Of course…it didn’t.  I got on the phone with ICE and while it was only 3:00, they said they wouldn’t do anything about it until the next day. They wouldn’t even put in a service request and told me to call back the next day! But somehow, miraculously, the guys showed up again and fixed the connection problem.

There’s really no rhyme or reason to living here and the complications that occur on a regular basis…you just gotta keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope that it all works out.

Pura vida…Chrissy

My version of paradise

It’s been just over a year and a half now of living in Costa Rica. Here’s what I’ve learned…what I love and what I’ve learned to live with.

Let’s start with what I’ve learned to live with:

  • Your clothes will smell from June – October. They also won’t dry (unless you’re one of the few fortunate people to actually have a dryer). But even after you dry them, give them a day and they’ll be wet again. You may also find dirty hand prints on them…

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  • The geckos will be your alarm clock. Mine wake me up between 5 and 5:45 every morning.  Unless the rooster wakes up first.
  • You may be told the following while on the phone: It’s really hard to hear you over those beeping noises. It will take you a moment to realize the “beeping noises” are the tiny cicadas outside. And all of your doors and windows are closed and your walls are made of concrete. Yes, they are that loud.
  • I’ve met tourists who also told me the birds were too loud. Really?  You’re kind of in a tropical jungle…is that something you really should be complaining about?  That’s like complaining that there are mosquitoes.  Or that the ocean is too loud.

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  • You will live with giant cockroaches. It doesn’t matter how clean your house is. They will be your roommates.
  • You change your Oral B electric toothbrush heads not based on a quarterly cycle but instead when a gigantic cockroach decides to hang out on it

cockroach on my toothbrush

  • You will also live with ants.  And if you can’t tell if you’re having an ant infestation or termite infestation, supposedly you can smush it and depending on the smell, determine which type of insect it is. (we can add that to the list of things I never needed to learn)
  • 2 day express guaranteed insured mail within Costa Rica is not guaranteed. Don’t pay extra for this service
  • Don’t be attached to your material items – they will probably get stolen unless you live in a guarded house. Even then, the guards can be paid off. And the police are paid off so don’t bother filing a report as nothing will happen. You will also never be able to sleep through the night again without taking some type of sleeping pills. And even then you worry that by being knocked out on pills, it will make you sleep through the next robbery (which is both a bad and good thing).
  • However…you might get an anonymous phone call from someone who thinks they may have your stuff and would you like to come and buy it back? Only when you arrive, you realize it’s someone else’s camera and laptop that were stolen.
  • You might also be advised to go to the local drug dealers house and just see if they have your stuff, then offer to buy it back. This was an actual recommendation for me to do after the first robbery
  • Your housekeeper will probably show up late. Or not show up at all. And not call.
  • You will not find coconut oil in the stores. If you see someone on the road selling it, stop and buy it. There are an abundance of reasons why coconut oil is amazing to have as a staple in one’s home.
  • Mango season only runs from May – November-ish. No, they do not grow all year round here. Yes, it’s a bummer.
  • The internet likes to go out frequently, especially when I’m on a skype call.  Which is why I always keep my phone handy to use its 3G as a personal hotspot. You may also have to wander around the house trying to find the best signal. While the router never moves, it seems like somehow the wifi signal strength does.
  • The electricity will go out on occasion and unless you’re fortunate enough to have a water tank, when the lights go out, so does your access to water. Fill up a pitcher as quickly as possible. And hopefully you’re not in the shower with shampoo in your hair.
  • Also, disconnect everything from their wall sockets (I’ve learned this the hard way and have already burned out 1 router and 2 laptop adaptors).  I now have a basket of broken, unfixable items at my door.  I’m hoping if I get robbed again, they’ll just grab that and go!  But I do hope they leave the basket…I really like it. + an added bonus that it’s resistant to mold.

broken items

  • Because you never know when the electricity will go out, you also need to have all your most important technological devices charged. At all times. Buy a MyCharge and keep that charged as well.
  • A 20 year old car will cost you $10,000. At least.
  • You will miss your grocery store and cry from an overwhelming inexplicable feeling when you go into the San Jose Wal-Mart (a store you never would have stepped foot into while living in the States).

Walmart in Costa Rica

  • You might go to a restaurant and they tell you they don’t have lettuce. Or bread. Or avocados.
  • Your local market will probably not have the food you’re looking for on any given day. Stock up when you find what you’re looking for. And know that you may have to go to 3 different markets to get what you need for dinner that night. I once had to visit 4 markets just to find 3 bananas (which were more black than yellow – thankfully I was just trying to make banana bread).
  • Most of your food will need to be kept in the frig or freezer. This is because either those gross black bugs will devour it or the humidity will ruin it.
  • You tell your neighbor you have a headache and he offers you a Percocet.
  • You’re having a really bad day and your friend hands you a cookie…if you don’t use drugs, always ask what’s in the cookie before popping it into your mouth.
  • Everything is held together by duct tape and super glue – even the airplanes.

duct tape on airplanes

  • I am still trying to open a business account at the bank where my personal account is. It’s been over 6 months now of dealing with red tape.
  • You will not receive mail as you have no real address (although this could be a positive). When you send mail, it can take weeks for it to arrive at its destination (even when sending domestically). And mail that is received at your local post office appears to be sorted by hand. Welcome to the 1950’s.

Costa Rica post office correos

  • But…I recently had a package put on a bus from a cacao producer in central Costa Rica to the “encomienda” in Quepos. All they wrote was my name and city on the box. And somehow, without a tracking number or an address (return or addressee), we eventually found the box in the warehouse.  It only took two return trips (the first 2 trips, I was told it wasn’t there when I knew it was).  So on the 3rd trip, I went into the warehouse to search for it myself and the employee finally walked over to exactly where it was and handed it to me.
  • Yellow lemons don’t exist (I will keep repeating that one until I die or until lemons start being mass produced here).
  • Procrastination.  I really have no words for this other than “mañana” (re-read the cacao and bank account stories above). Your contractors will often tell you “mañana”, every day. It can be days, weeks or even months before work actually gets done.
  • Learn to accept the national motto – which you will learn is not “pura vida”. It’s “make easy hard” (pura vida does come in a close second however)

The bright side:

  • It really doesn’t rain as much as everyone thinks and we’re not in a hurricane zone. But when it does rain…

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  • The weather is warm every day with only a little humidity (as long as you’re at the beach. Don’t go inland – it’s way too cold).  77F now requires me to find socks and drink hot tea.
  • The sunsets are spectacular
  • We have palm tree lined beaches and your choice of either black or white sand
  • The air is clean
  • There’s no daylight savings
  • Monday morning traffic is caused by cows, not cars.

cows in the road in Costa Rica

  • You’ll become friends with strangers as they turn into mules to bring you new items and avoid a visit to customs and their ridiculous “taxes”. That is, if your items ever actually arrive. Sometimes, they just “disappear”.
  • You can buy prescription meds without seeing a doctor. Self diagnosis can be interesting. And you’ll probably have to tell the pharmacist what dosage you need.
  • You can live near the beach for relatively inexpensive compared to other places in the world. A bonus is that there tends to be a lot of hot guys walking around with surfboards and no t-shirts. Who will also happily get you a coconut out of a tree.

getting a coconut out of a palm tree

  • You will almost always have blue skies and sunshine in the morning
  • If you can get over the noise, the birds are spectacular (over 800 species call Costa Rica home)
  • Not to mention the incredible wildlife that exists here. Costa Rica is about the size of West Virgina but is home to more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity.
  • There are so many different regions in Costa Rica to explore. Including cloud forests, rainforests (there is a difference between the two), volcanic zones, dry tropical forest (yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron) and different climate patterns/seasons depending on where you are.

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  • Over 25% of the country is protected land with an almost pristine coastline and vast jungle.

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  • There will be muddy roads, river crossings and roads that become rivers (yes, this is a positive thing – not only is it exciting and adventurous but it also means there’s still a few somewhat untouched areas to appreciate)

River crossing in Nosara Costa Rica

  • There are lots of weird and interesting fruits and veggies – some I’ve never seen but have grown to like. A lot.
  • The water is safe to drink almost everywhere. **So please stop buying bottled water when you visit…We don’t have landfills for your plastic waste**
  • Markets will often give discounts if you pay with cash. Super helpful when shaving cream costs $12.
  • I have learned how to make my own peanut butter cups, vegan ice cream and pita bread. Next up on the list is pasta (I figure since my flour is frozen, fresh pasta will curtail the problem with the black bugs).
  • We grow coffee AND chocolate AND mangoes here – do I really need to say more?

Costa Rica is my happy placeYou put all of these things together, the good and the bad, and you get my version of paradise. It might not be yours. But it is mine. It is my happy place.

Sure, there are days when I feel like I’m having a total mental breakdown. But it is still 110% better than my life before in California. So I smile and laugh, knowing tomorrow is a new day. And there will most likely be blue skies, chirping geckos and fresh Dota coffee to wake up to.

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

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

Welcome to Costa Rica

The title of this post may be what my new book title becomes.  It is one of the most common phrases I’ve heard since arriving.  But it’s not exactly said in a warm and welcoming way, it’s instead said in a funny, sarcastic way.  Other suggested book titles have been: “Real Life in Costa Rica”, “The Real Costa Rica”, “The Downsides of the Rich Coast”.  All would totally fit into how this last month has been for me, adjusting to life here on the Rich Coast.  I’m not complaining, I knew there would be a lot of red tape, and all I can do is laugh at it and go about my day.

The latest was on Friday when I rented a car ($130) and had planned on spending the day in Liberia.  Since I still don’t have my cell phone from the States and I really feel much safer having one, I decided to buy a cheap one in a shop called Gollo in Villa Real, before going to Liberia.  The cheapest one they had was $64.  I then needed a “pre-pago chip” (pre-paid simcard). The store did sell them but I was told their internet was not working so they couldn’t give one to me as they weren’t able to set it up.

Since I was going to Liberia, I decided to go to the Gollo there.  The two Gollo’s I visited were both just a little larger than a 7-11 and have all kinds of electronics and large and small appliances.  It’s amazing how much stuff they can fit into one small store.

Driving in Liberia can be equated to driving in San Jose, only on a much smaller scale.  But it’s still chaotic.  It was 10:30 but there were tons of people and cars in the streets (why aren’t these people working!?).  I found the Gollo (gracias a dios for my GPS) but the only parking was next to a yellow curb.  I noticed that there were lots of other cars parked in the same area, next to a yellow curb, and there were no signs so I thought, I guess I can park there.  Later I’d find out that parking next to a yellow curb is like parking next to a red curb in the States.  Fortunately, nothing happened to my car.

In Gollo, I asked for a pre-pago and the man went into a back room.  When he returned he told me that the woman who sells them was not here and he wasn’t sure when she was returning.  I know you can buy these chips in many places so back in my car, I tried to search for ICE (the electrical company in Costa Rica who is the primary distributor) on my GPS.  But it couldn’t find ICE.  There were lots of police officers around so I asked one and he tried to give me directions but it seemed very complicated.  So I asked him where else could I buy a pre-pago and he sent me to Jimbo, a grocery store.

Now at Jimbo, I asked for a pre-pago and the woman said I’d have to go to ICE.  But she pointed to a store in the shopping center and I walked over towards where she pointed.  I found the store (although it was a Kolbi, not ICE – which is the same thing but Kolbi’s only sell electronics and ICE is the actual electrical company) but when I approached the woman and (in Spanish) asked her for a pre-pago, she shook her head and motioned her hand towards the door, like I needed to leave – she didn’t want to deal with me.  She wouldn’t even speak to me and barely looked up from the magazine she was reading!

But across the courtyard was a Movistar and I knew they also sold pre-pagos.  And fortunately, the man at the counter was very nice and sold me a chip ($6) and put it in my phone.  Success…I now had a working phone.  And it worked fine…until I got home to Tamarindo.  It turns out Movistar chips don’t work in Tamarindo.  Only Kolbi/ICE chips.

So then I went to the Supermercado 2001 as I remember people buying chips there and it was near the hotel.  But they only do recharges and she sent me to a store next to Subway (yes, sadly, Tamarindo has a Subway and a TCBY).  However, like the Gollo earlier that morning, that store’s internet was also not working and the man there told me to go to the Automercado.  However the Automercado only does recharges as well and they sent me to ICE in Huacus.  Which is where I finally got a Kolbi/ICE chip and when I returned to Tamarindo, I still had a signal (or “sign” as the Tico’s call it).

It was about half a day (not including travel time to Liberia) spent trying to get a cell phone and a simcard and when I told the story to a friend later that night, she said, “Superb…1/2 a day is almost record time…Welcome to Costa Rica!!”

Pura vida…Chrissy

Side note: While this blog will focus on my life here in Costa Rica, I will be continue to post other stories on my blog.  To read the latest one on monkey troubles, click here.

Spending the day at Customs

The picture above is everything I took with me on the plane.  But I also shipped a few small boxes from California to here, just things that I couldn’t fit into the suitcases but also didn’t want to give away or sell before leaving.  Unfortunately, of the 4 boxes shipped, 2 were caught in customs.  We received notice at the hotel that the boxes were at the El Roble Post Office in Puntarenas, about a 3 hour drive from where I live.

So I rented a car and drove down to El Roble on Monday, thinking I’d get there when they open at 10 and be home by 2.  I gave myself an hour just in case there was a line.  Well, there were only a few people in line in front of me but it was still an all day affair.  I had heard often about the red tape at the Costa Rican government agencies and only a week into living here, I have fully experienced it.

The boxes had to be opened and inspected at the post office.  The two people there wrote down on the form that all items were used (so I wouldn’t be charged taxes as I wouldn’t be selling the items).  From there, I had to get a copy of my passport at the copy shop down the road and then return it to the post office.  Then I had to drive a few miles down the road to the Customs Building where I waited for over an hour and a half even though there were only two people in front of me (but only one agent who was actually working).  When it was my turn, I handed the paperwork to the agent and he got up and walked to the back of the office.  Not a word was said.  About 30 minutes later, he returned.  I saw that he was charging me about $90 for the items (when it should have been free) but I didn’t care.  He was taking forever to fill out the information in his computer database and  I just wanted this day to be done.  From there, I had to drive back into town to the bank and pay the fee.  Then I had to return to the Customs Building and give them the receipt from the bank which they then gave me another receipt to take back to the post office, where I could finally claim my items.

When the post office rep saw how much I paid, he was in shock.  I told him that I know, I shouldn’t have paid, but I just didn’t care at that point and didn’t want to argue with the agent.  He shook his head and said the agents are like turtles, so slow, and they don’t do things correctly.

I finally left El Roble just after 3 and with one stop for gas, I returned home at 6:30.

I know there will be more days like this in the future as I try to open bank accounts, get a license, etc but for now, I’m just glad this day was done.  And for sure, I will be making a point to use all items in those two boxes.  The one saving grace was that on the drive home, even though it was pouring down rain, the old dirt road had been paved and that was like a small miracle for me.

Cost of a day at customs for car, gas and fees: $300; Plus an entire day lost of work.

Pura vida…Chrissy