Kids coding in Costa Rica

We’ve mentioned Abriendo Mentes in a couple of previous posts. They are a local non-profit working here in Potrero. Their goal is to help enhance educational opportunities for the local children. The local public school available for children is only 3 hours per day. Abriendo Mentes provides additional programs such as art, team sports, English, and computer skills. Most of the children here do not have computers in their homes. Having computer skills and being able to speak English will open up many more income possibilities for these children when they reach working age. I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to temporarily take on running the computer classroom/lab. Aidan is also helping me with the class and serving as my Minecraft expert.

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I was a little unsure what type of curriculum to provide. I’m used to being around children that have grown up with computers as part of everyday life. After getting a sense for what the previous person had set up, I spent the first few days watching and learning what the kids already seemed to know and enjoy. It was interesting to watch these children use the computer.

Here are a few observations:

  • I noticed that many of the sites they like to use for games are only available in English and so they miss a lot of the subtleties of the story etc.
  • I was surprised to see that because of their lack of experience, there are certain patterns of interactions that they just don’t understand. The “radio button” selection for example. It is an interaction convention that provides a list of options from which you can only select one. This part they understand. What they don’t understand is the “commit” or “submit” requirement after that selection.
  • Another one I noticed is the use of the same button for 2 purposes (a dual state button). You also see this every time you use a video player on YouTube where the play and pause button is the same button. There are a couple of places that they have encountered this and have trouble. The first is the video player example. The second in the coding tool where they need to “run” something and then need to “reset” it to start over.
  • They have recently been introduced to Minecraft. They play differently than the U.S. kids that I know. The most interesting differences are what they build and how they play in the world. They build replicas of their local physical environment – small houses (Costa Rican Casitas) with lots of horses, cows, dogs, and chickens. They run and play with their horses and put them in a corral at night. They put little signs in their small 2 room homes with their name or sometimes their name along with a friend’s name. The materials that they use are all very simple and the same as what they see in their environment e.g. stone and wood. When they do play together in the same world, they do not create/build together but will build complimentary structures – neighboring houses or a corral for the house that the other is building. This is almost exactly opposite of the way I’ve seen kids in the U.S. play. Those kids collaborate to create elaborate structures from their imaginations and search diligently to find and use a variety of resources/materials.
  • There is a large disparity in the games that the girls play and the boys play. Girls will choose to play fashion (clothes, hair, make-up) games or Disney princess games. The Boys will choose to play Minecraft, soccer, or driving games. This isn’t 100%. I’ve seen a couple of boys play videos of songs from the movie “Frozen” and I’ve seen a couple of the girls choose to play Minecraft together, but not regularly.

Based on some of these observations I decided to try a couple of things with the kids, with some mixed results.

With Minecraft I tried to introduce them to a couple of concepts – creating larger environments from the real world and creating things from their imagination. The first thing was to put a group of 4 students into a world together. I then tried to help them to visualize and build the Potrero town square. This is not very large. The town center is the soccer field. Around this are the community center (where they take English and art classes), a church, a market, and a few houses. This proved to be incredibly difficult for them and ultimately they lost interest because it was so challenging.

Next I had Aidan create one of his favorite things to build – an enormous and elaborate roller coaster as a demonstration of imagined things and explain how you make it. This didn’t inspire too much creativity or interest. Then Aidan created a large thing that used a lot of “red stone” which are really circuits. I thought that maybe the cause and effect would be interesting. Nope.

AidanComputerLab

Next I tried something that seems to be working. My own children have used code.org with success. I was concerned about trying this or Gamestar Mechanic because of the large amount of English required. Then I discovered a beta section on code.org that was visual programming for early readers. This meant that the tools were mostly using only arrows rather than written English to describe the actions. It worked very well and the kids enjoy it. Many of them seem to really seem get the underlying concepts and enjoy the thinking involved in moving the Angry Bird along to catch the bad pig without running into walls or blowing himself up. I see sparks of that joy of the success of making something happen with a sequence of things you put together on the computer. I’m hoping that this base understanding will help them move along without too much trouble to the coding that involves some English paired with the arrows.

I’m enjoying the opportunity to meet and interact with these kids. They are all bright and friendly and I get a little different view on Costa Rican life than just interacting with adults. They teach me some Spanish and laugh when I make conjugation mistakes. I think Aidan is enjoying the experience of working with me and being the “expert” in something. Without a doubt it will be something we remember about our Costa Rican adventure.

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Giving back

Wherever you live there are opportunities to become involved in helping your community. Our community here in CostaRica is no exception. My current project is working with a group of local residents to plan and host a fundraising event, called Books and Barks, to benefit two organizations that consistently improve the community here – Abriendo Mentes  & Costa Rica Pet Care.

Our party will be held June 21. A local restaurant, Oasis, is donating the whole restaurant and kitchen. Many, many businesses – from restaurants, resorts, and bars, to markets, ice suppliers, and musicians – are donating food, drinks, supplies, and musical entertainment. It should be a very fun event with 4 bands confirmed. We have a core team of local folks headed by our fearless local yoga instructor, who are planning, coordinating volunteers, advertising, selling tickets, and procuring. Fortunately, I have our fabulous UCoop school auctions to look to for models of how to run very fun and successful fundraising events.

Here is a little bit about our awesome local organizations/funding beneficiaries:

Abriendo Mentes provides a safe, constructive, and vibrant place for children to go after school where they learn invaluable computer and English language skills. The local economy has shifted from agriculture and fishing to tourism jobs, leading to roughly 40% unemployment. The regional state elementary schools operate only about 3 hours per day for 85 days per year and only about 13% graduate from high school. Abriendo Mentes provides a foundation that prepares local children to one day become successful, economically stable adults.

Costa Rica Pet Care has been working tirelessly for 12 years to help our local pets. And by Costa Rica Pet Care, I largely mean the founder, Dawn. Her work includes sterilizing over roughly 12,500 dogs and cats. Dawn coordinates with veterinarians all over Costa Rica who donate their services for 1 weekend per month doing spay and neuter clinics. She tirelessly drives through the rural regions, finding sick and injured animals and provides medical care for these animals. This work helps to keep diseases from spreading at alarming rates through the community.

Dawn

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Some before and after medical care photos:

 

Spay and neuter clinic photos

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I know that most of you reading this blog don’t live here and cannot attend our fabulous fundraising fiesta. However, I do hope that you would consider helping by donating a few dollars (via PayPal) through the link below. Any money you send will be split equally between the two organizations. A little bit goes a long way.

  • $10 can provide deworming or distemper shot
  • $25 can provide 1 year of school supplies for a child OR feed a dog for a month
  • $30 can spay or neuter 2 pets
  • $50 provides art materials for a month of creative projects
  • $100 funds ESL and technology education for one child for a whole year
  • $500 can provide a (much needed) computer for the lab

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Guanacaste Literacy Inc, (DBA: Abriendo Mentes) is a 501(c)3 organization in the state of Texas. Tax ID: 27-1427847 Address: 3310 Crosspark Lane, Houston, TX  77007          

 

 

 

 

Girls Gone Beaching

I recently returned from a girls’ 4-day weekend in the Nicoya Peninsula. Specifically, we spent time in Montezuma, Santa Teresa, and Malpaís. There were 4 ladies on this trip. Our primary purpose: investigate/evaluate 2 yoga instructor training courses (not for me obviously – one of the other ladies on the trip). I was particularly excited to go because this area of Costa Rica was on my short list for where we might live during our year here.

 

Montezuma

If you do a tiny bit of internet searching on Montezuma you generally find some description like – a quiet, eclectic, remote hippy town that has grown up in recent years to include some tasty restaurants run by expats and a local organic farmers market. Sounds like just the place you might expect us to land right? I ended up not choosing Montezuma because of the distance from the airport, hospital, and because of reports of very strong rip currents. I was excited to see first-hand the path not taken.

The beach here turned out to be beautiful, but with a lot of lava rock.

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Montezuma beach across from Montezuma Yoga studio

 

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Katie and a fabulous piece of driftwood

 

Ultimately, I’m pleased with my decision not to live here, though it was certainly worth the visit. We did manage to find one pretty good restaurant with a nice location on the beach. But for the most part the restaurants, bars, markets, buildings, and street vendors were pretty uninspiring. Everything was easily walkable. We all agreed that we enjoyed the people and the town more during the day than the evening. It’s a little rougher crowd in the evening.  The town does have a couple of very beautiful yoga studios. One is the Montezuma Yoga studio. It was here that I met my first white-faced/capuchin monkeys. I learned that they like to throw mangos at people. Charming.

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Montezuma does have some impressive waterfalls.  There are 3 along the same river and range in hiking distance from about 30 minutes to about 2 hours. We chose the 30-minute trip to the first falls. This decision was based primarily on the fact that we each only had one pair of shoes and these were, of course, flip flops. The hike is up a rocky riverbed, which meant that we actually hiked it barefoot. It was a fun hike. However, much to my disappointment the pool at the bottom of the waterfall was quite brown and murky. It is typically clear but as this is just the beginning of rainy season (re-named by the tourist industry marketers to Green Season) the dirt was just getting stirred up and not yet cleared out by enough rain.

 

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Santa Teresa and Malpaís

Post waterfall adventure, we drove off on a bumpy jungle road to Malpaís and Santa Teresa.  These two towns are very close together, as in you can’t actually tell where one stops and the other starts. First stop after a hike is always food. Fortunately, Katie knew about one restaurant The Bakery.  This place was awesome! We ended up eating there 4 times. It’s not just pastries of course.

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Santa Teresa was also on my short list for places to live. It is a surfing town. Apparently for a long time it was a “secret surfer paradise.” I ended up not choosing this town and am a little bit sad about this one. It turns out that the Santa Teresa information found during my research phase was at least 2 years old. I read a number of articles that described the area as over-run with tourists to the detriment of the locals and un-walkable because the main road created so much dust that everyone had to wear dust masks just to walk down the street or get to the beach. The truth is that the road is paved and has been for roughly 2 years. There are definitely some tourists, but it’s also clearly a town of residents from a variety of countries. We even saw a guy with the word “local” tattooed on his arm (sorry no photo). We of course debated about whether he was really trying to identify as a local resident or if possibly he was just that into local food/farming. We ended up staying an extra day because we loved our lodging and its easy walk to the beach – Casas Villas Soleil.  I highly recommend it if you are ever in the area. We didn’t eat every meal at The Bakery. We also had incredible butterflied, grilled Red Snapper at a restaurant called…The Red Snapper.  This town seems very livable. It is quite a drive to an airport or a hospital though – roughly 5 hours to those services. We were also warned not to go on the beach after dark. Not really sure how seriously to take that.

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As we lounged and chatted about Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Malpaís and other Costa Rican beach towns with which we are familiar, we designed our perfect Costa Rican beach town. Our mythical town has a host of features like The Bakery, a weekly organic farmer’s market, a good grocery market, a few good restaurants and bars of course, with live music, just the right amount of rain, a main paved road, safe bridges across the rivers, tourists but not too many, and other things I’m forgetting right now. I’m sure you can imagine your own list. In the end we came to realize that retail offerings serve to make a richer experience, but it really is the community/the people that define a small town. You need diversity of experience, skill, opinion, background, etc, and of course not everyone will get along with everyone all of the time, but the secret ingredient to these small towns is people who want to work together to create a thriving community. Our little town of Potrero may be odd in its layout and sadly lacking in quality French pastries, but the community does work together to help each other, to solve local infrastructure challenges, to welcome new people, and to build relationships. For that, (and the paved road) I am happy.

 

Addresses in Costa Rica

In our new adventure in Costa Rica, we’ve discovered several interesting things about Costa Rican culture. In some previous posts I wrote about some things that were better here in Costa Rica and also some things that were not as great. One big difference that I haven’t talked about yet is addresses. The way mailing addresses are handled here is unique – at least to me in all my worldwide travels. They make for some very interesting unintended consequences.

Here is our street address in Playa Potrero:

Del Bar La Perla
200 metros sur y 300 metros este
en la esquina de Avenida Cuatro y Calle Mango
Surfside Estates, Playa Potrero, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Here’s the translation for those of you who don’t speak Spanish:

From the bar La Perla
200 meters south and 300 meters east
at the corner of 4th Avenue and Mango Street
Surfside Estates, Playa Potrero, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

You can see a few key features right away. There is no house number. It uses a landmark for reference (the bar La Perla in this case). It provides distances from the landmark almost like a pirate map. And most subtly, it doesn’t fully differentiate the address from other addresses that might also fit the directional criteria. It does, however, seem to work here. Mail gets delivered. Mostly.

Before I get deeper into some interesting things about addresses here, you might think that these sorts of addresses are primarily in the outer or lower population areas. That’s not the case. This last week I gave a colloquium at the Interaction Design Department at University Veritas in San Jose. I stayed at a cute little pensione-style hotel called Casa Voltaire. Here is its address:

De la Casa Italia
50 al este y 75 al norte.
Calle sin salida. Avenida 8 y calle 31,
San José, Costa Rica.

Or:

From the Casa Italia
50 to the east and 75 to the north.
Dead-end street. 8th Avenue and 31st Street,
San José, Costa Rica.

This particular address was interesting in that it was indeed at the end of a dead-end street, along with 6-7 others, including one other pensione. Fortunately, there was a sign out front so you could differentiate it from the 6-7 other buildings with the same address.

I didn’t survey many addresses in San Jose, but the ones I did – my pensione, the Interaction Design School, the restaurant where I ate, the hotel where I caught my bus – all had addresses like this. According to locals, it works this way throughout San Jose and elsewhere in Costa Rica.

These addresses may seem a bit challenging as is. However, add to it the fact that at least in most of the small towns in the Guanacaste area where we live, there are no street signs. We have nothing around us that would tell you where Calle Mango or Avenida 8 are, except a GPS (which few locals have).

Imagine being a mailperson here. You’d have to have an incredible amount of knowledge of the town. You could probably double as a tour guide.

There are some fun, interesting, and possibly frustrating implications in an address system like this, not the least of which is that you learn quickly how long measurements in meters are (for our metrically-challenged American friends).

For example, most addresses seem to rely on a landmark. Well, what’s the landmark’s address then? Or, do they “daisy chain” landmark addresses? Is the La Perla bar a certain distance from, say, the Super Wendy grocery store? It turns out that in most of the cases I’ve seen the answer is “no.” La Perla’s address is:

Calle principal,
Playa Potrero, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Basically, this tells you that La Perla is on the “main street” running through Playa Potrero. You’d have to know where on main street.

Another interesting thing we’ve seen is how people “augment” the system. Our Spanish teacher, Ivette, for example, brilliantly has people put her phone number at the bottom of her address. There are several houses that have the same address as hers. I can imagine folks adding “blue house” or other additions to their addresses. If we actually used ours for mail I would.

Consider what might be a very frustrating event if your local landmark changed its name or just went away. If La Perla changed their name, it would affect a large number of street addresses in Surfside. As in the U.S. these addresses are in all your legal documents as well as address books of friends, etc. If your address changes here, you need to get a new title for your car and that involves a lawyer. It’s very good incentive to keep the local landmark places thriving.

This system evidently grew out of the agrarian nature of Costa Rica and the fact that many cities are small. It is pure “Tico.” I think it says something incredibly powerful about small towns and tight-knit communities. Everyone seems to know everyone and people don’t tend to move around much. I’m sure if they did, the mailperson would be able to give them the history of their place.

Of course, there are downsides to living in a small town. Everyone does indeed seem to know your business. But then again, if you are a visitor in town trying to find a friend’s address, you may just find that people here can direct you. It’s a stark contrast for us compared to Seattle where few people seem to want to know their neighbors. It’s also a charming reminder of why people form communities in the first place. We are social creatures after all.

I understand that Costa Rica is now moving toward real street addresses. The two towns of Moravia and Coronado have evidently completed the transformation. San Jose is starting the process by getting street signs up. Can you imagine what it will be like to transform a city that large?

Playa Potrero will likely be far down the list and that’s okay with us. Addresses are just one of the odder endearing qualities of this place. I’m sure there are a few expats here who get frustrated with all of this. I think we are with the locals, though. It’s just one more aspect of “pura vida.” I know there are a lot of us who can use more of that. Pura Vida!

Border Run

As part of our new adventure, I got to do what the local ex-pats here call a “border run” this last Sunday. This post will probably be more interesting to ex-pats in Costa Rica but if you want to see what it takes to live here, read on.

Generally in Costa Rica you can stay 90 days as a tourist and then you have to exit the country and return. Most of the ex-pats do this. Deb and I applied for a “rentista visa” (which I described a few posts back) and that means that we don’t have to exit and return every 90 days.

However, we now have a car and that adds some complications. For us to be able to drive here with a foreign driver’s license, we need to exit and return every 90 days, just like the other ex-pats.

I had planned to detail the whole process, but as I was looking for photos of the various forms, I found Gord and Elisha’s wonderful blog post (In Nica Now). They documented the entire process from the Nicaraguan ex-pat view and had lots of good photographs. Instead of recreating their detail here, I’ll focus on some perspectives on the people and process from a first-timer.

In Playa Potrero, we are pretty close to the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, so most folks choose to do a border run to Nicaragua at Penas Blancas (“white plains”) 153K (95 miles) away. It takes about 3 hours to get there. I had originally planned to drive up to the border crossing alone since Deb was already flying back to Seattle for work and would get her new entry stamp that way. I wasn’t looking forward to driving poor Moose all the way there and back and really didn’t want to burn all that gas. As I pinged a few friends to see if they also wanted to go, I learned from my friend Dusty that Tamarindo Transfers and Tours has a crazy good deal on border runs: $35 round trip in an air conditioned bus.

Moose gets a whopping 12 miles per gallon so that would take about 16 gallons of gas. At ~$5.50/gallon that’s $88. Moose also doesn’t have air conditioning or a busload full of adventure.

10 folks started in the bus in Tamarindo at 7am and they picked me up in Huacas, which was mid-way between Tamarindo and where I live. The bus was full to the brim. We dropped 3 folks off at Liberia Airport on the way to Nicaragua. That’s where we had expected to pay this mysterious exit tax for Costa Rica. They put it in place a month or so ago, but they had no way to collect money for it at the border. The blogosphere, locals, expats, and travel agencies all had different opinions about whether it was being collected at all and where to actually pay it (not at the border). Our driver dropped the rest of us at Liberia Airport and gave each of us (back) our prepaid $10 for the tax. He suggested we go inside the airport to pay.

Inside, you can indeed pay an exit tax, but only the one when you leave Costa Rica by air. We drove around a bit to find what look to be the immigration police station, but it was closed on Sunday. We then took our chances and just drove to the border. Luck was with us and no one asked us to pay the tax. Afterward, I heard from several folks that they stopped trying to collect it after all the confusion at the border.

On the way up, folks were trading stories about how many days they were given to stay. The usual is 90 days. A few ex-pats that had been here awhile got 60 days. Evidently, it seems to depend on the border agent and maybe the moon, stars, time of the week, etc. One particular woman was very grumpy about the last time she went up and only got 60 days. She seemed to have a lot in general to complain about and it extended to Costa Rica, the US, Canada, her employer and several other things.

Normally on these runs, they simply go up, you cross into Nicaragua and then come right back. This particular woman was certain that the reason she only got 60 days was because last time she turned right around and so she refused to come back in anything less than two hours. Therefore, the entire bus had to spend two hours in Nicaragua.

Getting through the exit point in Costa Rica was pretty easy. It only took 20 minutes or so. Likewise, getting entry into Nicaragua was easy. It only took about 30 minutes. This is where I learned several tips for the next time.

Tip 1: Bring about $20 in $1 (USD) bills.
Things at the crossing and in Nicaragua are very cheap in general, including the fees. There are a lot of fees that cost $1-2 and change is a bit hard to come by. As an aside, Debbie read on the internet that you need to enter Nicaragua with at least $500 cash in USD. They only work with US dollars at the border and generally in Nicaragua. Well, at least she had the US dollar part right J I didn’t need $500 in $20’s. I did need $1 bills desperately.

I paid $1 when I first entered Nicaragua for an Alcadia Municipal “Contribucion Especial” (special contribution) ticket. Then $12 to get the entry stamp. On the way out, you have to pay the “Contribucion Especial” again.

With two hours before we left, we didn’t have time to catch a cab to Rivas (30 minutes away) or San Juan del Sur (45 minutes away), so Dusty and I just found a local restaurant – a shack really – and had a $1 beer. It was Toña, the Nicaraguan national beer. I had a good chance to watch a lot of the activity around the border and saw some fascinating things (more later).

Tip 2: Bring several custom forms with you or get them all at once.
Evidently Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and perhaps all of Central America uses the same customs form. At least, it is labeled as a Central American customs form. Also, evidently, when you first get into Nicaragua, you have to go to a special place to get these forms (a different line to stand in). Fortunately, there are tens of people there handing these forms out for a small fee – $1 USD. I would recommend buying 4 because you need them to leave Costa Rica, enter Nicaragua, leave Nicaragua, and enter Costa Rica. There are no tables in the customs area with stacks of these so you need to find a source. We forgot when we were entering Costa Rica again. Fortunately, we were able to get one from the agent (who didn’t look particularly pleased – and you definitely do not want to displease them).

Tip 3: Pick a good “dealer.”
This is Dusty’s term and he hit it spot on. It is a bit like going to Las Vegas and looking for a good dealer for blackjack. Yu want someone who is not grumpy, not a hard-ass, and ideally has a good sense of humor. The same seems to hold true of border agents. You’ll have several lines to choose from, so pick well. Afterward, I heard a story about one border agent in particular that the ex-pats seem to recognize and who consistently does not give 90 days. I don’t have his picture, sorry.

Our first two agents leaving CR and entering Nicaragua were great. They were both women and very friendly. Leaving Nicaragua, we had a guy who was friendly, but then started to ask questions. We were really only out of Costa Rica for two hours after all. They like folks staying and spending some money. Dusty talked to him about his home town and we sailed through. Our final one was a young guy who seemed serious but was very efficient and friendly. We got 90 days. Of course, we were also friendly.

Tip 4: Bring patience and a sense of humor – or at least a good book.
Some of the lines are long. Your passport gets look at 7-8 times. It’s hot and dusty. Our final line back into Costa Rica was 2+ hours. The two hours we stayed before returning evidently put us in the window of when all the tour buses from Nicaragua were coming through (about 1pm). Ideally, you’d want to get through before all of that. If you are stuck in a long line though, being grumpy probably won’t help you out much in the end. Remember pura vida? This is a good place to channel it.

Between my wait in Nicaragua having a beer and this two hour line, I actually noticed something quite remarkable. There is an entire ecosystem and economy built up around this need for ex-pats in both countries to head to the border and renew their entry stamp. As with many rich human ecosystems, you can see signs of inefficiency, but then also enterprising ways to work within the system. You can see innovation and creativity, as well as boredom and “just do what everyone else does” mentality.

As I mentioned, there are many folks handing out customs form for a tip (eliminating the need for you to stand in a line to get them). There are folks whom you can tip and get to the front of the line. It looks like the people at the front, only locals from what I saw, are willing to sell their place in line and then start over. There are folks selling cold drinks and mobile phone cards.

And of course, there is a whole bank of booths selling bus tickets. When you enter Costa Rica, you need to have proof that you will be exiting the country within 90 days. This can be an airline ticket (and that seems to have some advantages). Most ex-pats, though, buy a bus ticket (every 90 days) that they never use but that shows that they have a ticket out of Costa Rica. So, conveniently, if you forget your proof of departure, or are just someone who likes to do things last minute, you can easily buy one at the border.

One could look at all of this and suggest that it could be more efficient, better, and easier. I hear lots of complaints about the exit taxes, etc. From my perspective, I’m rather impressed. It’s got to be a hard life living in Costa Rica and Nicaragua in general given the average daily salary and unemployment. Enterprising people seem to be making some extra $ in this ecosystem. I don’t mind paying someone a tip for a form. It’s only a dollar and that seems to go a very long way in Nicaragua. I love seeing creative thinking emerge in ecosystems like this.

At the end of our long lines, we hopped back on the bus for the ride home. Most folks got 90 days. Our friend who was a bit grumpy only got 60 days again. Perhaps she didn’t pick a “good dealer.” Perhaps, it was her passport full of entry/exit stamps from Costa Rica (and Nicaragua). Maybe it was the fact that she had a bus ticket vs. a plane ticket to show proof of exit. Maybe she got that “one” border agent. It could have indeed been the moon, the time of the week, or any one of a number of reasons. She certainly seemed to be the exception.

For my part, I think it may go back to how you come across to people. Grumpiness, entitlement, continuous complaining can’t make a good case for getting anything. Costa Rica is the land of “pura vida.” Perhaps, the border agents look for that and welcome it back into Costa Rica and reward those who show it. We are guests here after all. Maybe a 60 day stamp is a good “teaching moment” – a reminder both of pura vida and how we should try to embrace it. At least, it seems as plausible as any other theory I’ve heard 🙂

Pura vida!

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!

Vacation

We are now two weeks into our new adventure. A few days ago, one of our young adults said something about us still being on “vacation” – i.e., before we dig deep into unschooling. It was a really interesting comment in general about what we are doing and it made me think about what is “vacation” really.

Of course there is the dictionary definition, which leaves me a bit unsatisfied. We are indeed taking time away from home, school and business…but that’s only the tip of a very big iceberg. I know everyone has a different perspective on vacation, but for me, I’ve always thought about it not as what you are doing but rather what the outcome is. In my case, the outcome in vacationing I seek is rejuvenation, recharge, and perspective.

I’ve been on many trips, or “vacations”, to see relatives, to go to a wedding, etc. that were not any of those things. I’ve also been on business trips (usually overseas) in which I found all of the elements I look for. Even most date nights feel like a vacation to me in this sense. So then, am I on vacation now?

I find myself moving between vacation and non-vacation (“unvacation”) day to day, even though I’m in an incredible tropical vacation spot.

This last week has seen a lot of set up – things we needed to do both mundane and effort-intensive. We got all of our technology set up, including local cell phones and SIMs for everyone tied to their Windows IDs (at least in 3 cases), VPN service, and a new Android tablet for some freelance work Deb and I are doing. We also got our cooking staples and some other basic things before we gave up our rental car (and access to bigger super markets, or “super compros” – AKA “gringo stores”).

On the big effort front, we took a trip to San Jose, the capital, to go through the process of applying for our “rentista” residency visa. It was a long process involving first finding a place to keep the dogs (a wonderful place named Isabel’s Friends), a 5 hour drive to get there, getting photos and fingerprints for all of us and then spending some time with lawyers and forms. Fortunately, our lawyer made it as painless as possible. We ended it all with one of the most harrowing drives we’ve ever had on the way back at night with roadway construction, aggressive truck drivers, and a massive tropical downpour. Oh, and a little fog to boot.

Interspersed with all of the necessary activities on a daily basis are activities that are much more “vacation” for me. These are things like the incredibly fun karaoke Halloween we spent at our favorite place, Maxwell’s. It was very different than our typical Halloween where we prep our house for several months. We had to come up with some costumes, but Deb brilliantly came up with us going as Seattle Sounders.

halloween costa rica

Another great activity was boogie boarding at Playa Grande, one of the top surfing spots in Costa Rica – and the world for that matter. Vie and Aidan loved it. Aidan declares he’s ready for surfing now!

SONY DSC

After two weeks of settling in, it does feel a bit more like home. At the same time, we are clearly not “home.” We are starting to develop some routines and we hope to ramp this next week as we do a “warm up” with Vie and Aidan for unschooling. And with a freelance project, I’ll definitely dip back into my tech focus.

None of this detracts from the daily “vacation” activities. I personally feel rejuvenated almost every day. Every day especially brings rich opportunities for new perspectives. Stress is nearly non-existent where we are as near as we can tell, for example. Even simple activities like grocery shopping both make me appreciate what we had in Seattle and also how fun it is to be living somewhere new and different. I feel very creative and we haven’t even started unschooling yet. I even “just relax”, something that is (has been) pretty unusual for me.

This “between” state is a new experience for me. It certainly emphasizes “working to live” vs. “living to work” – something Deb and I very much believe in. I think it needs its own name. If I take a long view though, I’m sure I’ll find that the whole adventure gives me a “vacation” outcome. Getting there will be priceless in so many ways.