Saturday, May 17, 2008

Excavating!

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For the last couple of weeks, A LOT of dirt has been moved to improve our building site. Our house will be larger than the available flat area on the hill side, and, the soils engineer recommended that we place the house back from the edge of the slope on stable ground
We’ve lost count of the number of truck loads removed, but it is probably in the low hundreds.. We finally have the site ready. Today, the backhoe dug the holes for the footings. Leo, the backhoe operator, is the 17 year old son of Santiago, the owner of the company. His control is very quick and deft, probably as a result of playing video games. Backhoe controls are quite similar to game joysticks.
The backhoe bucket is a little bit narrower than the trenches need to be, so the final work will be done by men with shovels. We’re lucky that Juan Carlos, our Architect/Engineer agreed with us to use the backhoe to do most of the digging. The standard method here is for all the digging to be done by hand. We know of a couple other house under construction where it took a crew of men with shovels two weeks to dig the footings! We should have a crew of men here in a few days to begin work in earnest. I’ll try to post frequent updates as the work progresses.

Norm

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cell Phones in Costa Rica

Everyone in Costa Rica seems to have a cell phone. They’re everywhere; folks driving while on the phone, teens walking down the street on the phone. Cell phones everywhere. Cell phone stores on every block with all the latest phones. Anyone can buy a phone for prices similar to the US.

So, no problem getting a phone, right? Not quite!

In Costa Rica, the government monopoly, ICE controls all
electric service, telephone, and cell phone services. If you want phone SERVICE, you need to talk to ICE. In person. And, you need to have a cedula (resident ID).

At this point, we‘re definitely here legally. We have a document showing that our application for a cedula has been accepted, which changes our status so that we are no longer tourists here on a 90 day visa. However, we’re not quite residents either, that’ll take another six months or so.

So what are we expats to do to get a phone?

We can buy/rent a phone from a resident, but ICE will not transfer service, so the bill and ownership of the number stays with whoever established the service in the first place. Not the best idea, since if the person you buy the phone from doesn’t pay the monthly ICE bill, your phone goes dead and you’re pretty much out of luck.

Fortunately, Costa Rican corporations can have cell phones, and, we have a corporation! We own our major assets (land and car) here through our corporation, so getting cell service in the corporation’s name should be a piece of cake. Well...not quite, but do-able.

About six weeks ago, I went to ICE’s office with a folder full of forms and legal documents. After much scrutiny and consultation, the folks at ICE accepted my application for a GSM line (a type of cell service protocol) though our corporation, and gave me a form with an order number on it. They told me that it’d take about a week to process, and I should come back then with a phone. COOL!

I bought a phone, returned in a week, and was informed that the line wasn’t ready yet, try again in a week. I returned weekly and got the same story. Friday, the lovely young woman who’s been answering my weekly queries sadly informed me that, there were no more GSM lines available, and no-one knows when more will become available. She was nice enough to further inform me that they did have TDMA lines (a different type of protocol) available and they could give me that service immediately. COOL!

Well, not quite, cool, since the phone I bought (non-returnable) for the GSM service is not compatible with TDMA service. So I bought another phone, but of course, it needed to charge overnight.

This morning, at 8:45, I brought my new phone and all my paperwork back to ICE ready for action! I waited only a few minutes to see my young friend…she is recognizing this old gringo by now. She greeted me warmly, and after closely examining all my paperwork, discovered that I needed one more critical document which my attorney would need to create.

So off to our attorney, Mario. Fortunately, he’s only minutes away, and was in. No problem, It’ll only take a few minutes to create the form. Unfortunately, he’s out of the required tax stamps that the form will require…About 75 cents worth. So, while he’s creating the form, off I go to a store downtown to buy the stamps. When I returned to Mario’s the document was ready, he affixed the stamps, collected his fee for the document ($20), and I returned to ICE.
Once again, the wait was brief to see my young friend. She verified that I was now good to go! COOL!

Not quite….she doesn’t actually set up the service. She screens the paperwork and gives out numbers if everything is in order.

Have a seat, they are now serving number 47. My number is 53

40 minutes later, it’s my turn and another young lady examines all of my documents. She spends what seems to be an inordinate amount of time on Mario’s new document, but eventually is satisfied that everything is in order. She programs my phone and hands me a bill. It is for a deposit of about $25. No credit check or credit card required (or accepted) here, just a deposit. But they can’t accept the cash deposit here. I need to go around the corner and 75 meters down the street to Camera Comercio to pay.

So I hoof it down the road, pay the fee, get the receipt, and return to the same young woman who’s been waiting for me. She closely examines my receipt, smiles and hands me my now activated cell phone. Mucho Gracias! Mucho Gusto!

Only two hours, start to finish!

When I was researching about what it take to move to Costa Rica, I read over and over that the most important thing to bring is patience, lots of patience. Fortunately, I’m retired, and I have the time so didn’t mind the process. It’s just an experience. Of course, the fact that my phone bill will be about $6 per month makes the whole process more fun. Pura Vida!

Norm

Friday, May 2, 2008

Bernardo and Louise Angela get their driver’s licenses

Getting a driver’s license in Costa Rica is realitvely easy if you have a valid driver’s license from the US, and haven’t overstayed your tourist visa. Many expats use a guide to get them through the process which can be confusing due to the multiple steps. You need a medical exam, copies of your passport, driver’s license, have to pay at the bank and have 3 separate forms filled out. Each of the steps is at different locations outside of the licensing complex and at different desks within the complex. All of these steps are to be completed before you get to the last stop for your photo and finger print.


We missed a chance to go with several gringo couples last week, so went on our own this week. Thank goodness for the GPS, since it got us right to the Consejo de Seguridad Vial or COSEVI office campus in La Uruca, San Jose. The traffic on that street was horrendous, the worst we have seen, incredibly noisy, horns blasting, air filled with diesel fumes, and cars and trucks everywhere. Have we mentioned that lanes are optional?


The first step is to walk to the very back of the complex, approximately 2 city blocks. The man at the door directed us gringos upstairs where a young woman asked us to have a seat. We didn’t have to wait long. The first official filled out forms with information from our passports and driver’s licenses and placed an official stamp and seal on the documents.

The young woman then escorted us downstairs and turned us over to the man in charge of the section. . He said “hi” in English and took our papers from us. He asked Norm his name while reading “Bonin” from the form. He repeated Bonin, and then said “Bernardo” for the first name. Norm said no, pointing to Norman on the form. He said “For today your name is Bernardo.” After examining our documents, he sent us to get our medical exam located a couple of blocks away and instructed us to return to his office when we were done. The medical exam consisted of a young English speaking doctor taking very cursory medical history, blood pressure, and eye chart reading. We then had our blood drawn for a blood type test. The exam was 10,000 colones each and the blood typing was 4000 each. The total in dollars was $28 each. Turns out we have the same type blood, and we never knew!

We then returned to the licensing office, our new friend escorted us to his subordinates with our medical exam and blood type documents. He had Bernardo go first and once another agent opened he had me.
He soon returned with a container of sliced mangos that he passed around to us and the other workers while our paper work was processed through the next step. At that point he asked me if I was married. I said yes. He asked if I was married to Bernardo (looking disappointed) as I replied yes. Then I asked him why I didn’t have a special name for the day. He said you do, it is Louise Angela.

Normally there is a bank teller within the licensing complex, but not that day. We had to walk the two blocks out off the campus, then another block or so down the street and wait in line at the Banco National. The security guard allowed three people through the door at one time. We were waned and stood in line over 30 minutes to pay our 4000 colones ($8) each for the license. The bank line was the longest wait, since there was only one teller for this process. The other four tellers kept busy with the bank’s regular customers.

Back to the office and more stamps on our forms. At last we were ready for our photos and finger print. Our friend called me to his booth and starting singing an old romantic ballad to me in English. He was very particular about my position in front of the camera and made me laugh and smile for the photo, which is remarkably good. Once my photo and prints were done, he asked Bernardo to sit for his photo. He asked Bernardo to fix his collar and took two photos before he was satisfied.

We signed the register and left with our licenses. A two hour process. Not bad!


Collie & Norm

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Day to Day

We recently had a book case built in the nearby town of Sarchi, which is known for furniture. They specialize in producing knock-offs of name brand furniture for a fraction of the cost. We emailed them a picture of what we wanted and they built it using Guanacaste, a beautiful tropical lumber.

Spanish lessons are going well. We are starting to pick up words in conversation. Norm is better, since he already has a second language (French) and studied quite a bit before we left Bainbridge. At the farmer’s market, we understand spoken prices the first or second time they tell us. We haven’t needed to have them write it down for us for a few weeks now. I’ve been buying different flowers each week. Last Friday, I bought a dozen anthuriums ($1.75/ dozen) and this week, flowers very similar to Bird of Paradise.
The flower lady knows us now and greets us warmly when we approach her stall.
The strawberry man shakes our hands at the beginning and the end of our transaction. The basil guy is less friendly, but does always nod his hello.

We are now enrolled in the Costa Rican medical insurance system. Our friend Pablo took Norm to the Social Security office and peeked into all the offices until he found his friend. Our application was facilitated and completed in record time. We will be enrolled on May 1st, at a cost of about $44 per month for both of us for FULL medical coverage. Doctors, hospital, lab tests, prescriptions, etc.

We plan to get driver’s licenses this coming week, supposedly an easy process. No tests with a valid US license. We’ll see!

Col (& Norm)