Saturday, March 29, 2008

Friday is Market Day

Farmers’ markets here are called ferias.
Here in San Ramon the feria is held on Fridays starting at noon and Saturday mornings starting at six. We usually go on Friday afternoon. There are so many fruits and vegetables that we have yet to try, and do not have a clue as to what they are. I need Mary to go with me again and tell me how to prepare things, at least until I have some Spanish.

The flower lady recognizes us now, since this was our third week of halting and awkward communication. The first week I bought two dozen bird of paradise for under $4. Last week, a dozen sunflowers for $1.80. Yesterday two dozen calla lilies for $3.20. Bringing a bouquet of flowers to someone is always a joy

We kept track of the prices yesterday to give you an idea:
Large pineapple $1
Strawberries $4/Kg our most indulgent treat
Basil $.80 for 3 bunches
Celery $. 40 for 5-6 stalks
Bib Lettuce very large head $.40
Mangoes $.60/Kg
Potatoes $.80 per Kg
Tomatoes $.60/Kg
Carrots $.50/Kg
Broccoli $.40 for 2 beautiful heads (4-6 servings)
Strawberry yogurt $1/liter

A Kg (kilogram) is 2.2 pounds.

Wildlife sightings in our yard:
Rufous collared sparrow
Marine toads

White nosed coati (going for the compost)

Keel billed toucan

Silver throated tanager
Common bush tanager

Did we mention the cow in the driveway the other afternoon?


Friday, March 28, 2008

In search of Italian sausage

Being one half Italian, pasta is a staple in our diet. We can’t make Mama’s meatballs without an oven, so we have been in search of spicy sausage.

One of the Mercado’s has a large meat counter, so I looked up the word for sausage and asked for it: Salchicha? They understood and went to the large refrigerator and pulled out a package looking suspiciously like hot dogs. I shook my head and said no hot dogs, and repeated salchicha. They found a different package, but it still appeared to be hot dogs. Forgetting that the word for spicy is picante, I said caliente meaning hot. By then at least 5 or 6 store employees were behind the meat counter and another batch of customers were looking on. When I said caliente they looked at me quizzically and said frio! No caliente, frio! I think they thought I wanted them to cook the hot dogs. Finally I saw some chorizo sausage which is not called salchicha but chorizo! It was under my nose in the display case. I exclaimed as I pointed to it and hit my forehead to mock myself. Everyone had a good laugh

The chorizo was just that, with a Mexican flavor, not the Italian fennel and spicy flavors.
So the search continued. Next I searched the Costa Rica Living forum for Italian sausage and came upon a series of exchanges with a woman named Sharon who makes and sells sausage!

We went to Sharon & Dick’s finca and enjoyed a visit with them. She had promised to “ply us with sweet rolls and coffee”. They were home bound that day since an OB patient was coming from Monteverde. Sharon is a US trained MD and delivers babies for CR woman who do not want to go the hospital. They have several houses and the near term women stay in them. They typically stay for awhile after the delivery as well. Sharon says she hides the babies until the mother is truly recovered. Not ever having had a baby I cannot speak from experience, but Sharon says that there is a euphoric feeling that you can do anything and take on the world. But that soon passes and exhaustion is the norm. Hiding the baby is not to be taken literally, of course. When she found out that a friend and I are nurses she wanted us to work with her. Of course she rejected me because of my administrative bent all these past years. But Danielle, who is a recently employed ortho nurse at Northwest Hospital, was of great interest.

Sharon and Dick have lived here in CR since 1971. They are from Boston, but also have a grown child and grandchildren in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. They live right next to the troll! Sharon and Dick just bought a house in Concrete, so that their 18 year old daughter can go to Skagit Valley College.

Getting back to the sausage-----they raise one pig at a time and make sausage from him or her. We haven’t tried it yet, it is in the freezer. Hoping that it is what we were looking for. But no matter, it was an interesting little adventure. Not only did we enjoy their beautiful home nestled in giant trees and overlooking forest, but I received a small and valuable gift! I asked her if she’d found a place to buy pine nuts and she got a very funny look on her face, before announcing that she had all of the pine nuts in the country! She brings them in from the US. Although she didn’t want to sell me any, she gave me a small package of them. I have been dreaming about making pesto with them.

We had another lost in translation vignette at the post office when we went to open a post office box. We had to fill out an extensive form. The clerk didn’t speak English and of course our Spanish was almost non-existent. She said something about what we thought was time and Norm kept saying uno ano (one year) for how long we wanted to rent the box. After gesturing and not understanding, I saw that she was pointing to something on the form and I realized she needed our age. They had the typical boxes with age ranges.
When we understood we exclaimed Ah, and checked the right box. Norm had been telling her he was one year old. We all had a good laugh, but got the job done.

More fun in paradise!


Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The local WI-Max tech configured the antenna this morning and we’re back online!
At 512kb, we’re not breaking any speed records (we had 8 Mb in WA), but the connection is fast enough for Skype.

Yesterday we started Spanish lessons at a language school about 15 minutes from here. The instructor limits the class size to three people. It was Collie & I and a woman about our age from California. It was very good. We’ll be going for two hours twice a week. We’ve been getting by with what little Spanish that I know; everyone is so gracious and helpful, but it’ll be great to actually be able to have a conversation.

I’m pretty sure that our house plans will be ready to submit for approval next week, but a lot of additional paperwork is required to go in at the same time, so it may be a while longer.

Many of you have asked about the cats. For as much as the miss being outdoors, Jelly (Roll Morton) and Fred (Astaire) are loving having the run of the house. We’re often awakened by their nightly escapades. They love running up and down the circular stairway to the loft, and spend hours and hours cat-napping up there.

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Pura Vida!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Collie's Ramblings

Thought I would let you know what we are seeing and hearing from the patio and house.
Last night Jelly made a flying leap off of my lap and slammed into the glass door. There was a toad on the patio. The first we’ve seen.

Tropical Kingbird
Swallow tailed kites.
Turkey vultures
Great Kiskadee
Grey and Blue tanagers
Summer tanager
Wilson’s warbler
Brown jays feed on our fruit peels.
Black vultures
Unidentified hummingbirds, songbirds, hawks, falcons, wrens, sparrows and warblers.
This morning we briefly spotted a pair of Toucans flying by.
The comprehensive bird book on its way with our furniture..

Exquisite two tone orange orchids—wild, growing on dry banks.
Banana trees on the rental property and ours.
White Dutch-like iris.
Raspberry bush
Wild blackberries (smaller fruit and more of a ground-hugging plant).
Aloe, cactus, rhododendron, some fruit trees (not producing at present).
Coleus in bloom
Orange marigold looking flowers.
Blue ageratum looking plants, but a foot tall.
These are just on our property. However there are lots of anthuriums, bird of paradise, gingers, cannas, bougainvillea, and more.

Insects and Arachnids:
Moths large and beautiful.
Large beetles.
A 3-4 inch long caterpillar (don’t tell my mother)
Mangled scorpions are a common occurrence. Apparently the cats know how to handle them without being stung; same with some very big spiders.

We can hear howler monkeys in jungle like area far below us. They are called Congos here. We haven’t seen them yet.

The weather has been excellent. Cool at night around 60. Days are 80-85 at the warmest. We have a constant breeze here and it is much cooler than San Ramon which is about 1300 feet lower (we are at 4800 ft). The clouds and fog blow through and cover the steep hills and ocean view and then disappear to reveal a spectacular view. Every sunset is awe inspiring with the islands scattered across the golden colored gulf.

We purchased a BBQ with a rotisserie. Getting small propane tanks was a challenge. We delivered the tanks to the “gas man” who runs the business out of his garage. We dropped them off at 3:30 PM Thursday and he told us we wouldn’t get them until Saturday. At 7:30 Friday morning he called to let us know that they were filled and we could pick them up at his house or at the Cigar store. The cigar store is the really a cigar store, real estate office, and the house Pablo was born in 62 years ago.

The gas man’s wife is an artist and has an exhibit at a local restaurant. She has orchids, zinnia, and beautiful ferns in her yard. She has offered to give me starts.

We had a man come for the well. He and his son walked around our property and land bordering our lot. They use divining rods and GPS to assess for water. They buy their pipe, pumps and drilling equipment in the US and belong to the international association of well drillers. They think the water is deep and it sounds like our budget for a well will be too low. The man has a reputation for being honest and professional. We are going to get another opinion, but no matter, no one can accurately predict exactly where and how deep the water is. Since we do not yet have internet at home, I can’t Google divining rods.

House plans are done. On Monday afternoon (3/17) we review final electrical and plumbing. The plans should be submitted to the College of Architects this week. It typically takes about four week for approval. In the meantime we have an appt on Monday March 24 with the person who will be testing the soil for stability and also for perk for the drain field.

We have had some bureaucracy to deal with both US and Costa Rica. The Bainbridge post office lost our change of address notice that had to be submitted in person. Fortunately our newly acquired Uncle Rex acted as our proxy and was able to take care of it. We expect a ton of mail going to our mail service in Seattle. They scan the envelopes and on our instructions, will either shred, open and scan contents, or forward to us.

We now have a post office box in San Ramon. Collie mailed some cards to a few folks and hope they arrive. It will be the first test of the CR mail service.

Mario, our lawyer took us to the insurance company and the car registration place to finalize the last details of the transaction. We still have to get driver’s licenses which fortunately doesn’t include any exams since we have valid Washington licenses, but will still be an adventure.

Last week Marie accompanied me at the farmers market. I purchased several new vegetables and fruits, including a delicious yam like vegetables and a luscious fruit called mangosten in our Spanish picture book (but has another name here, promptly forgotten). Here are some examples of available produce and prices (not remembering all of the prices—still a bit slow on the conversion from collones to dollars).
Strawberries $1/lb
Basil 25 cents a bunch
Papaya 50 cents each
Mangos 50 cents each
Banana 50 cents for about a dozen
Radishes mild red and hot white
Pineapple less than a dollar
Tomatoes 60-70 cents per kg (2.2 lbs)
Red onions four for 60 cents
Yams 80 cents for a pound or more.
Bird of paradise on 3 foot stems 12/$2.50
Green beans 50 cents per pound or less

We haven’t purchased lettuce, red and green bell peppers, chili peppers, plantains, multiple melon varieties, squash, scallions, green onions, raspberries, apples, peaches, nectarines, grapes, tomatillas, broccoli, gerbera daisies, alstromaria, orchids, and dozens of other flowers and vegetables yet.

We haven’t found pine nuts yet, but the pesto queen can make the green gold with walnuts if necessary. Feta is available in the local grocery---but too expensive about $7 for less than a pound. I think it is more reasonable at Pricesmart (A Costco offshoot). Granola, mayonnaise, laundry soap, fruit pulp, liquid hand soap, shampoo, cereals like corn flakes, cocoa puffs, and many other items come in plastic bags. Hence there is a lot less packaging waste.

The cats like to perch on top of kitchen cabinets which are easily accessible from the loft. Fortunately we anticipated and removed Josee’s (our land lady) breakable knick-knacks.

The other morning we had two horses on our property. We overlook our lot. They were here most of the day. They belong down the road. Darrio, one of Eric’s (landlord) workers came to take them away, but by then they were gone. If we had known who to call, Norm had figured out how to say your horse is here in Spanish. Only thing is when we told Darrio, Norm was actually saying your “hair” is here. We start Spanish lessons on Tuesday morning and will be going twice a week. We are excited about the classes.

We saw some beautiful wrought iron chandeliers and wall sconces in someone’s home. Apparently there are three artisans in San Ramon alone that make them. We will be checking them out in the next few weeks.
There was a horse parade in San Ramon last weekend. We had to dodge it on the way to the architect on “Saturday afternoon. The horses do a parade step that I know has a name. But it is really just very loosely organized groups of friends riding together and drinking copious amounts of beer while on parade. When we were here in January, there was another fiesta going on in Palmares with horse parades there. Apparently it is the biggest such event and we saw car after car and bus after bus filled with cowboy hats and boobs heading to Palmares as we were driving back to Alajuela!

Our bank manager showed up on his ATV at 9 on Sunday morning. We had him and his friend in for coffee before they took off for the morning tour of the hills, coffee fields, and dirt roads surrounding us.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Our First Week in San Ramon

We’ve been in San Ramon for a week now and are really getting organized.

The flight to SJO was fairly uneventful except for the plane’s departure from Seattle. Checking the cats was easy, the American Airlines agent examined their medical certificates and escorted us and the cats to a special TSA window where the TSA agents courteously questioned us, examined the kennels and marked them as inspected. The agent then took them away for boarding.

The plane left the gate on time, taxied a short way, made a u-turn and returned to the gate. The captain apologized for the delay and explained that we’d depart as soon as they loaded some “critical baggage”. We couldn’t see it, and the flight attendants claimed not to know, but we’re convinced that they’d forgotten the cats! Whoever heard of a plane going back for baggage? When we boarded our connecting flight at Dallas/Fort Worth, I asked the captain if he’d check to be sure the cats were on board before he pulled away. He said he’d be happy to. As we were taxiing away from the gate, he announced that the cats were safely aboard that they’d keep them warm.

In San Jose, our 200 pounds of checked luggage were among the first bags on the carrousel Ten minutes later the cats arrived at the special luggage area. We all breezed though customs and immigration. The cats’ health and immunization certificates were closely examined, found to be in order, stamped and we were all in!

After a ten minute van taxi ride to Hotel Vida Tropical we were all safely in our room. We retrieved cat food, litter and a litter pan that we’d left there on our last trip, and released the cats after a long day in their kennels.

Getting the cats back into their kennels in the morning was quite a task, but we eventually got everything loaded into the rental car for the drive to San Ramon where Eric and Josee were waiting for us. We bought our land from them, and are renting their small house which is adjacent to our land.

When we arrived, Saturday afternoon, there were two problems. Eric and his two helpers were filling the water cistern with five gallon cans. Not a good omen! Water for the house is pumped to the cistern from a spring on the property The pump had broken that morning! The water in the cistern was fine to wash and cook with, but not suitable for drinking. By Monday afternoon, the pump was repaired, cistern cleaned and flushed and water fine to drink. Hooray!
The second issue was the refrigerator. Eric and Josee had just had it repaired, but it stopped working that evening. Uggh! The technician has been here several times, and has taken it to his shop twice, without success. He still has it today, but our friends Pablo and Maria have loaned us a small fridge to use until ours is finally repaired.
Our outside cats are adapting to life inside a new house, but keeping them off the furniture is a challenge.

This week was very busy for us, having fun grocery shopping, and discovering new restaurants. We accomplished quite a bit; getting settled in our new adopted country.
We finalized the purchase of our property.
We established accounts with check book and debit cards at the bank, a very simple 3 hour process!
We went to the US Embassy in San Jose to deal with Social Security paperwork and get a document certifying that we are in fact eligible for Social Security. This was the final document required to submit our residency application to the Costa Rican “Migracion”. In approximately six months (or more) we’ll get our official “cedula”, a card identifying us as legal residents.
Since San Ramon is approximately an hour and a half drive from the embassy, once our business was completed, we took advantage of being in the city and went to PriceSmart in nearby Escazu. Escazu has a large expat community with a lot of American stores. PriceSmart is an offshoot of Costco, so we joined, checked out the store and stocked up on some bulk items.
Yesterday we finalized the purchase of a car, a more complicated process than in Washington, that requires a lawyer and more forms. We’re now the proud owners of a 1995 Hyundai Galloper II. These cars are everywhere (and can go everywhere) in Costa Rica. They’re 4 x 4 tough, diesel powered and very practical. We blend right in.
Yesterday, we also went to the weekly farmer’s market in San Ramon. It’s huge, with beautiful produce at ridiculously low prices.

We still a few “must do” items to take care of. Next week, we hope to get a post office box, internet connection, and hopefully, a cell phone.

Everything is a little more complicate to do here than in the US, but we’ve found Ticos to be warm and helpful people. Everyone we meet is anxious to help and welcome us to their country.

It feels like home already.