Differences (so far) – Part 2

A few posts ago I talked about things that were different here in Costa Rica compared to Seattle. Things that were better, easier, cheaper or just more exciting. I promised that I would mention some of the differences that were less great, more expensive, or harder. None of it detracts from the amazing experience of living here, however. It is all part of our new adventure.

At the risk of duplication, I will repeat a few caveats: these are coming from a former Seattleite, Chicagoan, and Californian who is living in a small town on the coast of Costa Rica, and not working. The comparison is clearly not “apples to apples”. And these are mine – I won’t speak here for Aidan, Vie or Debbie.

  • Cars
    I had mentioned in my previous post that auto mechanics were much cheaper here. It’s a good thing, because in most other respects, owning a car is much more expensive and difficult. I related a bit of this when I talked about getting our new family “member”,
    Moose, a 1990 Mitsubishi Montero. All cars are incredibly expensive here as are car parts, which isn’t really a huge surprise. It’s the other things that make it harder and more complicated.

    Japanese cars seem to be the ones the mechanics know best and the ones for which parts are easiest to get. If you have different types of car, you may wait weeks for a part to come in – assuming they can get it here.

    All cars have some complexities, particularly for expats. To buy a car, for example, we learned that you actually need a lawyer. The lawyer (about $114) creates the bill of sale submits the registration information. It takes a few weeks to get that back. Once you do, you go to the bank and pay the tax on the vehicle. It is a value-based tax, dependent on the value of the car, as we have in some states. In our case it was only $170.

    Then, there is a vehicle certification every car needs to go through, sort of like a very involved smog check. You do it in a month based on the last digit of your license plate. You need to get it done in special facilities, which are only in large cities. In our case, we have to go to Liberia, about an hour away. It’s a little tricky evidently. Some new vehicles haven’t even made the certification. Sometimes they find small things. Sometimes they find involved things. That means you get to travel back to where you live, get the car fixed, and take it back to get certified – paying again and hoping that it passes. We hear that there is a guy in the next town whom you can pay to take your car to get certified. We hear they always pass. Ironically, though, we are lucky having an old car. Certification is evidently much easier for cars over 20 years old. We’ll find out in March when it’s our turn.

    And one last thing. Even though our residency visa application (in the system queue) means that we don’t have to leave every 90 days as most expats do, in order for us to legally drive, our passports must show that our 90 tourist visa is valid. We are not allowed to get a Costa Rica driver’s license until our residency visa application is actually approved.

  • Scorpions and other poisonous critters
    I talked a bit about snakes last week as part of my
    “jungle” adventure. Fortunately, I didn’t see any. Scorpions, however, are a different thing. Deb (and it always seems to be Deb), found a dead one by her side of the bed. A few weeks ago she found a live one on the wall above Aidan’s bed. Scorpions stings aren’t lethal and don’t require treatment generally, but they evidently hurt. However, there seems to be a creepiness factor in the household – likely because we have almost no nasty critters in Seattle.
  • Some technology
    Technology here is not nearly as expensive as I would have expected. The few things we have acquired here – a TV, Android tablet for freelancing, printer – were about the same as the US or maybe a bit cheaper in the case of the TV. The harder things to find tend to be associated with newer technology, such as micro-HDMI to HDMI cables (for tablets connecting to TVs). Gaming systems are expensive. What makes it harder is that these cannot be shipped from US suppliers due to export restrictions.
  • Vegetable diversity
    Vegetables here tend to be very cheap – at least the local ones. You can pay about $10 for asparagus imported from the US if you really want it. The challenge with vegetables for us is the diversity. At least, I am comparing this to places in the US like Seattle where you can find huge vegetable and fruit sections in stores. In Costa Rica in most smaller stores you can reliably find things like potatoes, herbs, cruciferous vegetables, as well as plantains, tropical fruits, and root vegetables like Yucca.

    yucca

    The produce sections are small, though, as you can see below. In fact, most stores are the size of the typical produce section in QFC, Safeway, etc. I can tell you that we are very fortunate in places like Seattle to have the range of vegetables and fruit that we do. But, it gives me a new challenge to figure out what to make with what we have. We like challenges.

    produce aisle

  • Co-ed soccer
    This one is probably the most disappointing. Essentially, there is no co-ed soccer. Based on my last data point, Seattle had about 232 co-ed teams across 3-4 soccer leagues. I noted earlier that I had discovered a great pick-up soccer game here. I just expected that both Deb and I could play. It turns out that when Deb asked our friend, Fabricio, who told us of the game, whether women play soccer with the men here, he got a very shocked and horrified look on his face and responded with a stuttering “no, no, no mixto.” We learned that there are a few (yet to be discovered) women in the area who play…with other women. But no, women never play with the men.
  • Mail and Shipping
    We are learning the hard way about mail here. Mail takes a LONG time to get here, period. Packages are usually screened and opened and import duties applied – if you get the package. After about two months now, our first two packages sent from my parents – one with an iPhone replacement for Deb and the other with a Kindle for Vie – are still not here. Two others with clothing did come, however, as well as one shipped via DHL.

    We have since learned that you should not ship packages by the US Postal Service at all, even with a tracking number (which we did not have). We have heard stories of people getting packages 4-5 months after shipping. Many don’t arrive at all. DHL is the most reliable, but it is expensive. If you ship packages in soft (bubble-wrap type) envelopes, it usually comes quickly and easily. If it is a box then sometimes they are opened. However, they still make it here.

    All options though are usually so expensive that a very creative service has arisen: Aeropost. Essentially, you mail your packages to them to a virtual PO box. They fly them directly into the country (most of Latin America). Shipping is much cheaper but you still pay duties. A video game, for example, gets a 70% duty on it. Once here, they deliver them to your door. We think we will stick with having visitors bring us things or trips.

    And, I was wrong about Amazon. The few items (relatively speaking) they can ship internationally, costs a lot to ship and the prepaid duties are high. While they show $4.99 to Costa Rica, it is probably only for very thin books and doesn’t include duties.

  • Software downloads
    I expected that if we needed any software we hadn’t planned for, especially for unschooling, we could just download it. It turns out it is not so easy. Our region is Latin America now, identified by our IP addresses. Most sites can tell where you are connecting from (some even helpfully switch to Spanish). You can use a VPN service that makes it seem as if you are connecting from the US and we do have one of those. However, the one we have only works for things like Pandora and Netflix. So far it has been tricky to get things like Pimsleur language downloads and Xbox Live products. Again, we may have to just wait for a trip back to get some of these.
  • Movies
    We love movies. Unfortunately, there are no theaters near us (the closest is an hour away). Downloading movies from Xbox Live used to be fun, but that doesn’t work for us now. There are very few movie rental stores as far as we can tell and they are regionally encoded so they won’t work in our DVD player (our Xbox). They might work in a PC if we had a DVD drive. It isn’t a huge deal as it turns out. We have discovered torrents. I’ll let you explore that one on your own.
  • Racing bugwrath
    Each evening, the mosquitos and other biting, stinging, and eating insects come out and are really abundant around 6pm. Really. Abundant. This is about the time I finish soccer on Tuesdays. “Racing bugwrath” is when I get on my bike and try to make the 20 minute ride home more like 10 minutes. Even when I am fast, I still catch “bugwrath.” You know when you are in a car driving cross country and get out and see a storm of insects plastered on the front of your car? Same thing, except when I make it home the insects are alive and plastered to my sweaty body. I can run my hand across my chest and it is covered in black bugs. Fortunately, we have a hose and a swimming pool!
  • Ice cream
    Ice cream is (was) our guilty pleasure. At any time in Seattle, we’d have 7-10 pints of ice cream, usually Haagen Dazs, in our freezer. Really! Here, a pint costs about 4,000 colones or about $8 in the few big stores where we can find it. There are a few local brands but the ice cream is not as rich. More importantly for all the ice cream, it is usually so hot that the ice cream in the stores melts a bit and then gets refrozen, creating an “icy” consistency. Consequently, we are not eating ice cream.
  • Roses
    You’ve heard me mention this one in a previous post, A Rose By Any Other Name… After almost two months, no roses L I can’t even find the national flower, the guaria morada, where we are (good submitted idea, though). I did try origami…step-by-step directions, YouTube videos, and more. Sadly, I fall short here in my skills. I’m still working on it though!

But what about…?

  • Heat
    The young adults will differ with me on heat. It does tend to be consistently in the 80’s and 90’s for most of the year.

    weather
    Courtesy HolidayWeather.com.

    There does tend to be a lot of humidity here. But compared to Seattle, I’ll take the heat any day.

    seattle weather

    And notice that this is a rare week in Seattle where you can actually see appearances of the lovely yellow ball despite the cold.

  • Things take a long time
    Finally, one we were expecting, and were warned about, was that things take a long time here. They call it “Tico time.” Honestly, we have not seen it. Deb expected to spend half a day at the bank to pay the car tax based on what we heard. It took an hour. The main waterline for our town runs under our yard and burst last week. We expected no water for a few days. It was fixed (by Juan Carlos, who lives down the street) in a few hours. We had a small issue in the rental house. Hairo was here in 15 minutes to fix it. I wouldn’t expect responsiveness like that in Seattle. So, perhaps it is indeed an issue but maybe it’s just a way to keep the expat population down.

Happy Holidays and pura vida!

Differences (so far) – Part 1

Differences (so far) – Part 1

Day 50 of our new adventure in Costa Rica. It’s hard to believe it’s only been 50 days. In some ways, it feels like we have been here longer. In some ways, it still feels like a beginning, which it really is.

I’ve been writing down things over the last month or two that are different here compared at least to Seattle. Some are harder or more expensive. Some are easier, cheaper or better. I’m sure I will add more things as we go along but I thought it would be fun to share some of these, especially for those who are thinking about coming here for a trip or longer.

I’ll split the list in two and start with things that are better, easier, cheaper or just more exciting. A few caveats: these are coming from a former Seattleite, Chicagoan, and Californian who is living in a small town on the coast of Costa Rica, and not working. The comparison is clearly not “apples to apples”. And these are mine – I won’t speak here for Aidan, Vie or Debbie.

  • Sun
    I can’t even begin to say how energizing it is to see the sun and feel its warmth every day. Vitamin D is a wonderful thing too. I won’t belabor the point for our Seattle friends going through winter right now. 
  • Auto mechanics
    While cars and parts may be more expensive, auto mechanics are much cheaper. Tomás, our mechanic for Moose, is replacing shocks, engine valves, suspension struts, fixing all the electric windows, repairing the back door handle and adding new tires all for the price of about 3 hours (or less) labor in Seattle terms. It offsets the cost of owning a car a bit.
  • Produce (of the types that are available)
    On the up side, the types of produce you can find in Costa Rica are plentiful and cheap. We have a great local produce stand about 2 blocks away owned by Rafael. He’s such a nice guy and is always giving us a new interesting thing to try. One recent discovery – Peruvian cherries.
  • Futbol (soccer)
    Soccer on a grass field in the warm (OK, hot) sun at sunset playing with Ticos and learning their moves. In contrast, this last week it was 28 degrees at night when we would normally be playing soccer in Seattle. I don’t miss the rainy, cold, windy games (though I do miss our team immensely).
  • Medical professional access
    It is very easy to talk to your medical professionals here. We found great doctors. They gave us their email addresses so we can contact them through email if it was more convenient. What a concept! What is really surprising, though, is that they gave us their personal cell phone numbers as well.
  • No commute
    This one is low hanging fruit, I know, compared to Seattle and the Bay Area. While I loved my MINI Cooper Coupe, I don’t miss the quality time I spent with it every day in commute traffic in Seattle.
  • Beach volleyball
    I love beach volleyball. In Seattle, we had indoor volleyball, which was fun. We also had beach volley ball in a very cold indoor arena on imported sand. What can I say about getting back beach volleyball on a real beach in the sun. Like most activities here, though, you stop between 12 and 3 because the sand and the temperature are way too hot.
  • Speaking Spanish
    There is something very empowering about learning to speak another language. We are still working on fluency right now, but Deb and I have reasonable conversational skills. It’s been challenging at times, but very satisfying.
  • No American fast food
    The nearest American fast food chain is 90 minutes away in the closest big city, Liberia. No McDonalds, Burger King, Jack, KFC, etc. All the places here are local and we eat locally whenever we can. Of course, Vie does mourn the loss of access to Starbucks.
  • Soccer on TV
    It’s so great to see soccer on TV. Every night. And I don’t mean only during the World Cup on cable channels or the final World Cup matches on a major network. Almost every night we can choose from UEFA Champions or Europa league games, European premiere leagues, Mexican, South American, or Central American league games. The latter are usually live.
  • Not having to drive everywhere
    We only got a car to get to good surfing. Everything else – food, bars, grocery stores, the beach, yoga, soccer, haircuts, the doctor, etc. are all within walking or riding distance. We love not needing to burn gas every day.
  • Seeing Deb in her bikini every day
    This one is clearly personal, but I just had to list it. Life is good J
  • Surfing
    I never surfed in Washington. It was cold. More importantly, on northern Washington beaches you see trees thrown up on the shore from the surf, so that means as a surfer you’d be competing with trees! A more realistic comparison is snowboarding though. Surfing and snowboarding are nearly even. If I really had to pick one though, it would be surfing. Warm sun and warm ocean say it all. Oh yeah, and you can walk 10 feet to get a Margarita without having to take your equipment off compared to making it to a lodge on a ski slope.
  • Powdered Gatorade
    We do have powdered Gatorade in Seattle, but we had never tried it. We live by it here. Vie and I go through 6-7 bottles per day. Between the cost difference in powder vs. liquid and the fact that we grocery shop on bicycles, powdered Gatorade has become a necessity. One nice discovery is that you can make it a little sweeter. Sometime in the 2000’s I remember Gatorade tried out an “endurance” formula that was a bit sweeter and thicker. I loved it but they stopped producing it. I’m pretty sure was simply more concentrated and now we can make that ourselves.
  • Knowing a bunch of people in the area
    It is striking how quickly we have gotten to know a lot of people in our community. We walk down the street and see someone we know now and stop to chat. Whenever we go to one of our hangouts, like La Perla, The Shack, or Maxwell’s we know most of the folks there. It is a small community to be sure, but it is wonderful to have a community.
  • Pura Vida
    I’ll end with the most profound I think. Pura vida truly is a way of life here. It is one that we are loving every day. It’s difficult to describe just how completely different attitudes are here and how people approach life. Seattle and Silicon Valley, two places where I’ve lived a long time, tend to be very fast paced and intense. Yes, it can be exciting. It can also be complex, stressful, and overscheduled. I always felt behind no matter how much I got done. Time was a rare commodity and far too much of it seemed to be focused on work (including getting there and back). Going to and from places, we seemed to be focused on getting there; rarely saying “hi” to people and stopping to smell the roses. Even schooling is getting to be stressful and all-consuming.Here, everyone says “hi” to each other on the street (or “pura vida”). You get to know people quickly and easily. There is time to take time and smell the roses. One could argue that my comparison of my current and former lifestyle isn’t exactly fair, and it isn’t. But, I would argue that the “pura vida” attitude is that it is important to slow down and live life. It’s important to take the time. It’s important to enjoy doing things. It might be tough to make this work in a fast-paced, high-tech lifestyle, but I believe it is possible. I know “pura vida” is already having a welcome effect on me. And change is something to embrace.

Look for the List, part 2, coming soon.

Updates

We are settling into our new adventure here in Costa Rica. The bigger things in our lives are underway now, particularly our young adults’ unschooling journey. Amid the nooks and crannies of the last few weeks, we have some more mundane, but fun updates that we wanted to share.

We are now more mobile! We just got four bikes for all of us – three mountain bikes and one beach bike which we call the “grocery bike.” While in Tamarindo, we found a bike shop and got a great deal on them. This is a huge help for us since we had no other transportation and a very limited budget for car rental.

We had been walking everywhere, which is great to an extent. For some context, Surfside, where we live, is very small. It has a few fun bars, a grocery store or two, and a nice beach. Playa Potrero is the closest town. It’s about 20 minutes away and is also a small town. Playa Flamingo is bigger and has a hardware store, bank, rental car place, doctor and pharmacy, etc. It is about a 35 minute walk. Brasilito is about a 50 minute walk and Tamarindo (and surfing) is probably 3-4 hours walking.

The bikes give us convenient access not only to things like groceries but also our growing list of activities, starting with yoga. Deb and I found an amazing class in a huge cabana overlooking the beach. We go several days a week now. It’s not as challenging as P90X but it has its tough spots. We love it. And, well, you can’t beat the view!

I’m really excited about finally finding soccer! There is a pickup game in Playa Potrero Tuesdays and Saturdays. It starts late and ends when you can’t see the ball anymore. I’m the only gringo, though Deb will start going too.

Soccer here, as you might imagine, is very different from the league games we usually play in in Seattle. The group ranges in age from teenagers to someone else in their 50s besides me. Most are in their early 20s or 30s. And there are no women. The play is much more centered around fancy footwork, as you might expect. It is also very hot still late in the day and so this focus keeps the running more minimal. Of course, that’s not how I play. I play more like an American – lots of running and speed, far less on the fancy skills front. I was exhausted at the end of the game (not to mention the long walk home). But, I think I surprised a few of them. It was fun to hear a few whistles (more derision of someone who got “beat” than for the person who did it) when this 52 year old gringo beat several of the 20-somethings to the ball or took it from them and ran. J But, I’m looking at this as a great opportunity to learn the Tico way playing. Did I mention that I don’t miss the cold, freezing rain?

We found a gym in Flamingo so that Vie and I can start working out. Vie wants to start getting more toned. The bikes will make this much easier than the long walk there and back. It will be very hot working out there – so hot that they close from 12-3 every day. It should get us fit fast.

We also found some more hang-outs, each with their specialties. We initially found Maxwell’s and it is still our go-to hangout. It has karaoke Tuesdays, poker on Thursdays (yet to be tried) and the best dollar tacos on Fridays. La Perla, one of the oldest places, has karaoke on Saturdays and that’s a fun time. As an aside, karaoke seems big here. So do country songs (I better get my twang on before I try it). The Shack has really great food and gets local musicians in weekly. Our yoga class also eats breakfast there. It was started by a restaurateur from New York. On Sundays, El Coconut Beach Club has live music and dancing. We don’t go there for the food, though.

One of our most mundane, but fun activities is coming back from doing something hot and sweaty – which is pretty much everything here, including a bike ride to get groceries – and jumping straight into the pool. You can’t imagine how refreshing that is!

We’ve started finding a great rhythm here now. We’ve met a lot of fun people around town too and we see them everywhere (except soccer). It also underscores that Surfside/Playa Potrero is indeed a small town. Everyone knows everyone – and evidently everyone knows everyone’s business.

While we expect that we will mostly bike, we did have a transportation dilemma. Having no car means we can’t surf easily. Our beach really has no waves and isn’t even good for boogie boarding. Tamarindo and Playa Grande on the other hand are two of the best short wave long board surfing spots on the planet. Robert August (famous from Endless Summer) ranks Tamarindo as #1. And, Deb and I have become completely enraptured with surfing after we recently spend a few days learning to surf at the famous Witches Rock Surf Camp.

We have a budget for rental cars, but not enough to surf as frequently as we’d like. The rates also go up from $30/day to $150/a day in high season, December and January. Cars here are ridiculously expensive here – up to twice as expensive. One example: our yoga teacher is selling her 2006 Jeep Cherokee for $13,500. We can’t imagine though living here for a year and not surfing a lot. We love where we are and don’t want to move. Tamarindo is too touristy. What to do? Enter “Moose.”

Now everyone knows that if you find a dog (or rabbit, bird, etc.) that has no home, don’t name it. It is a sure sign you are going to keep it. Well, it works for cars too, evidently.

We found a car that looks like it belongs in the jungle, and that it’s been driving in the jungle for decades. It’s pretty beaten up. It has many beauty marks, missing pieces, and lots of character. We found it in a Facebook ad, took a test drive, had a mechanic check it out, and then, we kind-of named it.

moose

The picture we have here really shows Moose in his best light. Moose doesn’t have any computers (our MINI for example had 40), which means it is easy to fix. Moose is Japanese (a 1990 Mitsubishi Montero). In Costa Rica, Japanese cars/trucks are the best to own because the parts are easy to get, reasonably cheap, and the mechanics all know how to fix them. We expect to have to feed Moose many parts over time (in contrast, Jeep parts – and we love Jeeps – are crazy expensive). Moose was $3000. That’s actually less than what we budgeted for periodic rental cars, even when you add in needed repairs. And Moose comes with a mechanic, sort of. The person coordinating the purchase for the SUV is a fun Austrian mechanic named Tomas.

So, we are taking a plunge, and a risk, and buying Moose today. We have papers to transfer. In Costa Rica, that involves a lawyer. Then, Moose gets to go to the doctor and have a few things fixed. He probably needs a good bath after that as well. He’ll be our surf car. Once we have him back from the doc, add a few surf stickers, a surfboard rack, and some boards. Then, we’ll look like real surfers. We just need to get our skills on par with the look!

Pura Vida!