Friday, January 30, 2009

Why the electricity/cable/phone, etc. goes out

It might be something like this:

Oops. Truck knocks down electric pole into the street, taking electric and phone cables with it.

Next door, you can see how the cables have all been pulled down from the knocked-over pole.

Apparently, a truck took a corner too fast yesterday morning in my neighborhood and knocked over an electrical pole. I had been out most of the morning at my son's playgroup, where we went to the Santa Ana Conservation Area for a picnic (perfect weather, great day, Chris brought Doritos and Hershey Kisses, and really what more do you need in life?). If you haven't been to the Santa Ana Conservation Area, you might stop over some day for something nice to do outside. They used to have more animals there, but they still have a few deer, some peccary babies (I got to pet one on the snout -- so cute!), and a farm with lots of geese, ducks, chickens, turkeys, sheep, and goats for the kids to bother. I don't know what happened to the monkeys (there were capuchins there at one point), and apparently they do still have jaguars because a guide will take you to see them on the weekends. Mostly, though, it's just a nice little spot for a picnic, as there are barbecue grills and picnic tables, which are actually really clean. Not so much the public bathrooms, however...

But I digress. Back to not having electricity. As we pulled up to the driveway, I saw a real mess all over the street, wires laying all over the place for a good couple hundred meters, an electric pole lying halfway in the middle of the road... Oh no. This was one of those days I really needed to finish up some projects. But what are you going to do? This is part of life in Costa Rica. Sometimes you just have to roll with it. The electricity finally came back on at 9:30 p.m., by which point, of course, I was too tired to do any work whatsoever.

So this morning I got up nice and early, thinking I'd get some time on the computer before my boys got up, and what do you know, the internet was out. [insert grumbling obscenities here] There are still CNFL and ICE trucks out front, working on the new pole and new connections, so I wondered if they might have disconnected something. But no, a call to Cable Tica and we learned that a different truck had hit a different pole over in Santa Ana, and cable and internet were out in this area most of the morning. It's back now. :-)

One of the ICE guys came to the front gate this morning asking me what our house phone number was, because they had to replace the phone cables that were damaged. We don't have a house phone number, as someone let it expire before we even moved in here. Esposo asked the guy if they could just replace the cable anyway, as we're planning on getting the phone hooked back up if we can ever connect with the landlord about it (who is over in Europe somewhere), but no, he just removed the old cable and didn't put up a new one. Great. I wonder how difficult/time consuming it is going to be to get new cable up there when we finally do get our phone line hooked back up.

People often ask me how I like living here. My usual response is "Fine, I like it for the most part." These yesterday and today parts, however, are the parts I don't really care for so much.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I'm like, so psychic!

All morning I had the song "I Like Your Mom" going through my head. This afternoon, what do I read in the paper? That the Bouncing Souls are coming to Costa Rica on February 7th! I mean, seriously now. What are the chances?

Bummed, but only kinda sorta

The lovely Beto Cuevas is playing Palmares on Friday night. Tickets go on sale Friday morning. I really want to go see him again. However, I do not really want to go to Palmares.

I was trying to explain Palmares to a friend who was unclear on the concept. She asked it if was like a county fair or something. Ha. That would be giving it far more credit than it deserves. Palmares is, in my opinion, one big drunken fest. You can drink, you can drink some more, you can listen to music, drink, maybe go on some crappy fair rides, hang out with drunk people, and then start drinking again. Basically I liken it to Costa Rica's Oktoberfest, only the beer is terrible and it's in January. Oh I think they have bad fair food also.

There's a horse parade, a carnaval, some other stupid things, but mostly it's all about the drinking. And like half the freaking country descends upon the tiny town of Palmares every year to do this.

Here's a little secret about me: I'm one of those OCD hand washers. I kind of freak out if I can't wash my hands immediately after leaving a grocery store. The thought of being around thousands of germy people is a little more than I can handle. My skin crawls just thinking about it.

However. I want to go see Beto again. Maybe he'll come back down this way in a few months. Oh well. I don't think I can endure Palmares even for him. :-(

All is not quiet in the Central Valley

If you have never been here, you might imagine Costa Rica as one big jungle, stretching from the Nicaragua border to Panama, the only noise being from screeching monkeys and birds. You'd be oh so wrong, however. It is loud here.

It probably isn't loud everywhere, I should clarify. It is loud where I live, and everywhere I've lived in the Central Valley (Rhormoser, Escazu, Ciudad Colon, and now Santa Ana). It is varying shades of loud, but loud, nonetheless.

For example: There is an ice cream guy who pushes his cart every single mother f'ing day one street over, and I hear him yelling "helados, helados" all morning long. I'd like to strangle that guy. Isn't that what the bell on the cart is for? (Not for strangling irritating people, but for announcing your presence when you happen to be an ice cream man.)

Then you have the barking dogs. Everyone here has dogs. I am, of course, no exception, and if you happen to be in my neighborhood, it's most likely my dogs you hear barking. And even over the din of my own dogs, I hear dogs a few miles away in every direction barking, most hours of the day and night. In fact, I hear dogs that are not mine barking right now. No one seems to care. Except my jackhole of a neighbor across the street, who by now thoroughly hates my dogs (and probably me, too).

There are the fireworks. Well, actually you can't even call them fireworks, because there are no sparkly lights to accompany the sonic blasts that threaten to burst your eardrums. These happen on every major and minor holiday, saint's day, mayor's birthday, uncle's sister's cousin's wedding, etc. What better way to celebrate, for example, the birth and/or death of our Lord than with sonic blasts, I ask you? None better, none better indeed.

Of course, you have noisy cars. The ICE guys who fix the poles in our neighborhood not only drive like bats from hell, but screech their wheels around every turn. Annoying. Someone up the way is building a house, so we've got the lovely sound of dumptrucks going up and down the street all day. They are so loud that they set my car alarm off when they go down the hill. And let's not forget the ultra-irritating cars that drive around with loudspeakers mounted on their roofs, blasting some nonsense about some sale that's going on somewhere, or some fiesta taking place -- basically things you could give a shit less about. And they always drive really slowly. Though I am a nonviolent person by nature, I do have woman-with-AK47 fantasies when those things are driving around the hood... Don't get me wrong, I'd only shoot their tires, or maybe the speakers, you know. I think. Ahem.

The street over from ours has karaoke at the neighborhood center every weekend. Every. Weekend. Karaoke. Now, true, most people cannot sing karaoke to save their own lives. But Costa Ricans? I am pretty sure they are the worst karaoke singers on the world. And they all think they can sing wonderfully. Witness the weekend t.v. shows whereby people have to sing stupid songs to win things like rice cookers if you don't believe me. They stink. Anyone here remember A Todo Dar? Enough said. So when the night peace is broken by bad karaoke, you know you're in for a treat. Fun, fun, fun!

If you are thinking of moving anywhere in the Central Valley, you might want to invest in a nice pair of earplugs. Then again, after a few years of it, you might just tune it all out.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Escazu Farmers Market Photo Essay

Which is just a fancy way of saying, I took some pictures at the farmers market in Escazu today, here they are. :-)

A typical Saturday at the Farmers Market in Escazú.

If you've never been to a Farmers Market in Costa Rica, you're not missing out on much. The produce is fresh, and it's far less expensive than in the stores, but pretty much every stand sells the same kinds of things. In California, going to the farmers market was great for buying heirloom produce, organic produce... not so much here in Costa Rica.

Esposo bought some nice parsley and basil from this lady.

A good reason to go to a farmers market? Freshly made pupusas! Like the ones this friendly fellow is selling. He was kind enough to smile for my photo.

This man is selling copos from a street cart. Copos are basically shaved ice and flavored syrup, much like the ice cones we get in the States. Only here they also usually put dry milk powder or condensed milk on them. Yuck! My son wanted one anyway. I opted to let him have a basket of strawberries instead.

Even the street doggies know where to go on market day!

Esposo and son mull over which is the best bag of onions.

And what trip to the farmers market would be complete without the obligatory photo of shoes on an electrical line? This was taken across the street from where we parked our car. The Tico Times ran a "story" on shoes-on-a-line a while back, and basically came to the conclusion that no one really knows what the purpose is behind throwing the shoes up there, or if there even is a purpose (other than being silly). My vote is on silly.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fun with immigration

If you are a permanent resident here in Costa Rica, you have to renew your cedula, or i.d., every couple of years or so. Mine expired way back in December of 2005, but then fell under two amnesties, so I had a while until I had to officially renew it. I am at the point now where I have to officially renew it.

I asked Amy, who's been through this before, how to go about the whole thing. She gave me the phone number to call at immigration in order to make an appointment to get the thing renewed. That number, for your future reference, is 900-12345678. Couldn't be easier to remember! So I called first thing this morning, as I'm planning to hang out with Chris in Miami for a few days in March when she heads up there. I got the message "Su servicio ha temporalmente sido suspendido. Llame al 193." That means, "Your service has been suspended. Call 193." If you forget to pay your phone bill, you'll be familiar with this message. However, I was sure I paid my cell phone this month, so that couldn't be right. A couple of test calls (one to my mom, who never answers her phone anyway) showed that I was right. There was nothing wrong with my service. So we call 193, and find out that the phone has to be authorized to call 900 numbers.

Detour: This really made esposo mad, because he feels that you should not have to pay for government services, and in fact on the immigration website, they state that they do not charge for their services. I would say that paying 175 colones per minute to make an appointment is charging for services, though, and esposo swore he would file a complaint and take it all the way to Sala IV. I can't get that worked up about a few hundred colones myself.

Now, why does the message not say, "Your phone is unable to dial 900 numbers. Call 193." instead of "Your service has been suspended." It's the phone company, for the love of spaghetti! They haven't yet figured out how to make two different messages for different purposes? Así es, indeed. All right, so now esposo (because my phone is in his name) has to write a letter, sign it, send a copy of his i.d. card, and fax the whole thing to the ICE in order to unblock the 900# calling on my phone. No way this was getting done on a Friday morning, so dear Amy offered to call and make the appointment for me from her house.

Want to take a guess as to when my appointment might be? December 4, 2009! Yes, dear readers, that's almost 11 months from now. I can't honestly believe that they have a backload of 11 months worth of people renewing their cedulas, but whatever. I asked Amy if she knew of a way to get it done any faster, say, for example, if one wants to go shopping with her friend in Miami in March, and she said that you can get it renewed but it has to be an emergency. That is, if I go down there with plane ticket in hand, they would probably do it sooner, but you can't just go say, "I have an emergency and I need it sooner." Ok, now technically you may be thinking to yourself, shopping in Miami isn't exactly an emergency situation. What can I say. When a girl needs to shop, she needs to shop. And she needs her residency i.d. renewed as well.


Well, you know me! I hardly think I need to tell you why I'm posting this, except to say this may be my favorite song on his CD.

On raising kids in Costa Rica

The other day I was speaking with a friend of mine, who's pregnant and has by now left to go back to the States. She mentioned that she didn't want to raise her child in Costa Rica, because a lot of Costa Rican kids are brats. And, I had to agree with her that it's true: there are a lot of bratty kids here. But then again, there are a lot of bratty kids everywhere.

I think my kid is pretty good. He certainly has his bratty moments and days; he's not perfect. Who is? But as parents, we try to do the best we can to raise a child who is thoughtful of animals and other people, who is polite, who is self-directed without being self-centered. We give him a lot of leeway to do what he wants to do, as long as he isn't hurting anyone or anything. Some parents, and not just Costa Rican parents, hover over their children so much that they tend to get this "I can't do anything right" complex. I see this happening at times with my MIL, at which point I tell esposo to tell her to just leave him alone.

I also think some of it does have to do with culture. I love my son; heck, I adore my son, but I want him to grow up to be an independent person, to be able to think independently as well as to be able to do things for himself. So I don't pick up the dirty clothes or dishes he leaves around, but point out that they are not necessarily where they should be, and let him clean up after himself. Too many Costa Rican mothers -- I hate to say it, but it's true -- worship their sons and can't imagine letting them do much of anything for themselves. (And speaking on behalf of their future spouses, thanks. Thanks a lot. You are doing neither your sons nor us any favors.)

This is another reason I won't have a maid (besides the fact that the last one stole, among other things, my wedding ring). I don't think it's healthy for kids to think they can leave their crap everywhere and someone will come along and clean up after them. It's true, I hate to clean. Hate it. You should see the top of my desk! I admit to being a messy person, but I'm not a disgusting person. I wouldn't leave dirty dishes lying around, nor dirty clothes, and I've even been known to sweep the floor on occasion! But at least my son knows that no one around here is going to clean up after him. Surely not me! He is learning self-reliance, and that can only be a good thing.

I think the whole idea of doing things for children that they can perfectly well do for themselves engenders this sense of "the world revolves around me." Costa Ricans, in large part, are a very self-centered people. They don't tend to care much about the greater community, or their country, by and large, unless it has something directly to do with them personally. Sometimes them and their families, but that's about as far as it goes. Look at all the trash by the side of the road if you think I'm exaggerating. How many people have you seen throw crap out of a bus window? That's because they don't care, haven't learned to care about something other than themselves, and figure someone will come along and clean up after them. (I don't think I need to mention that I don't believe all Costa Ricans are self-centered people, but I am, so that you don't send me hate mail. I know that my readers are certainly not self-centered people. Also? My Tico esposo agrees with me on this point.)

Back to bratty kids. Yes, there are bratty kids here. There are bratty kids everywhere. Ever watched Supernanny? Those are not Costa Rican kids, but there are certainly Costa Rican kids that could be on that show. And Gringo kids living in Costa Rica. Some of the worst kids I've ever met were kids of Gringos living here. Brattiness can be traced squarely back to the parents. Those kids throwing their trash out of the bus window may never have learned why it's not right to do so. Kids that throw rocks at street dogs see their parents and grandparents doing exactly the same. How do you drive when the kids are in the car, taking in everything you say and do from the back seat? It's up to parents, and if they don't lead by example, well... así es. Don't blame it on their teachers or their friends. You can raise great kids anywhere, just as you can raise horrible, self-centered kids. I'm working on the former.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How to help earthquake victims

So far, the death toll has reached 15, with 100 people still missing. At least 1,000 people have lost everything. If you'd like to help, here are a few ways you can do so.
  1. The Costa Rica Red Cross is accepting donations of non-perishable food, bottled water, boxed and powdered milk, and personal care items (soap, toilet paper, etc.). You can drop off these items at any Red Cross within Costa Rica. They are asking at this time that you not donate clothing. They also have two accounts at Banco Nacional for monetary donations: 100100-7 (colones) and #68666-7 (dollars). You can read more on their site here.
  2. Tents, sleeping bags, warm clothes for both children and adults, and blankets may be dropped off at the Hotel San Gildar in Escazu the tent next to Teletica Channel 7 in Pavas and the Casa Presidencial in Zapote.
  3. When I was in Automercado in Escazu this afternoon, the Escazu Rotary Club (2289-8843) was taking donations of items like those above. Generally, stores like Automercado and PriceSmart have donation boxes set up right in the store so that you can purchase a few things and drop them off there, which is what I did.
  4. Help the animals! Christine Bork over at Pets y Mas magazine is coordinating the collection of pet food, blankets, monetary donations, etc. for animals that have survived the earthquake. They are also looking for foster homes (that may become permanent homes if you are interested!). You can drop off your donations at the Mucho Gusto/Pets y Mas offices next to Boliche Dent in San Pedro. Please give Christine a call at Mucho Gusto at 2283-0446 for more info (she speaks English, Spanish, and German).
  5. Another way to donate money from within Costa Rica is just by using your cell phone. Send a text message "APOYO" (SUPPORT in English) to the following numbers: 1423 for 1,000 colones, 2423 for 2,000 colones, 5423 for 5,000 colones, and 9423 for 9,000 colones. More info from La Nacion here.
  6. From the Tico Times:
  7. San José-based Transportes International Gash, said it was urgently seeking diapers, water, milk and non-perishable food items. They can be reached at 2232-0695.
Thank you for helping out.

Updated Jan. 13, 2008, to include info on helping animal earthquake victims and to remove San Gildar as a drop-off point, as they are no longer accepting donations there.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Shake, rattle and roll

We had a biggie yesterday; a 6.2 hit the Poas area yesterday at around 1:00. I didn't feel it, as I was heading over to the cafe with some friends and our kids in an old Land Rover (which pretty much always feels like there's an earthquake happening). Esposo felt it, however, and said it was pretty scary and seemed to last a while (30 seconds, perhaps). And when he says an earthquake is scary, it means something to me because he's usually the one sleeping through them or brushing them off with a wave and an "Eh."

At the cafe, we joked that things were probably crazy in the rest of Costa Rica while we were sitting there eating lunch. And that wasn't too far off the mark. Roads have fallen away in parts of the country, especially near Vara Blanca, houses were completely destroyed, and so far the death toll stands at 14 (two of those were little girls selling cajeta near the Poas volcano who got caught in a landslide, and 10 of those were killed near La Paz). My MIL is from San Pedro de Poas, and luckily she was on her way to Escazu when the earthquake hit (so she didn't feel it either). As we watched the news last night, we saw some of the damage to the town of Poas and she even knew some of the people they were interviewing on the news. Yikes.

Here at our house in Santa Ana, the only real casualty was a wooden chicken that had fallen from the top of a kitchen cabinet, though I think I can superglue his head back on. Various things fell off shelves, and immediately I blamed deaf cat Olivia, because she loves to push things off shelves, and then I realized, duh, it was probably the earthquake, not the cat. A few pictures skewed, another cat, Phoebe, was hiding under a blanket, and my little dog Roxy was nowhere to be found. I started freaking out looking for her, and ended up finding her hiding behind the toilet in my bathroom, afraid to come out. Poor baby! Otherwise we're okay. I hope everyone out there reading this from Costa Rica is okay, too.

It's strange, I lived through the Loma Prieta earthquake when I was in California, and that was seriously frightening enough. And I was in Monterey at the time, sitting on solid bedrock. Just down the road in Marina and Seaside, the ground was highly unstable, moving in what looked like giant ocean waves. I can't even imagine how scary it must have been up in Santa Cruz, or San Francisco and Oakland. There's something very, very unsettling about the earth moving underneath you; you expect that the ground is the one thing that should always remain solid (being "grounded" and all that). And personally, I can't even stand being in a boat. The rocking and swaying and moving water really nauseate me. Flying? Not my favorite thing to do, either. I really like my feet on the ground. Unless it's shaking, in which case I am really grateful to be in an old Land Rover.

P.S. A.M. Costa Rica has more thorough information about the quake in English, though they don't do permalinks immediately (sooooo annoying!), so I can only link to the home page right now. I'll update this in a couple of days.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A bit of shameless self-promotion

Esposo is a partner in a new cafe in Escazú called Oasis Coffee Shop and Fusion. It's a little bit like our old cafe, Earthly Delights, which was in Ciudad Colon a few years back. You'll find similar things on the menu, including lots of vegan and vegetarian dishes, plus some chicken and fish dishes. So unless you're a diehard meat-and-potatoes kind of person, I think you'll find something on the menu that you'll like! Please stop by if you're in Escazu, and let me know what you think!

P.S. I'll be uploading the menus in Spanish to the blog later this afternoon, or if you're on Facebook you can find them here.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Costa Rica traffic laws

To these I say, it's about time! I read or heard that Costa Rica is second in the entire world in number of traffic accidents (on average, one person dies each day here in a traffic accident). I can't imagine what driving in the number one country must be like. It's bad enough here.

So, the government has passed a whole slew of new laws, though for most of them, you won't actually get fined until August 2009, the exception being drunk driving. They've already been hauling people away for that. Good thing, that. Under these new laws, you start out with 0 points on your license. When you get up to 50 points, your license is suspended for two years and after two years, the points go down (not completely; after 2 years they go to 30 points, and so on every year you go without infractions). If you manage to get yourself a 30-point infraction, and after one year you have no more infractions, you can take a "good driver" course and have your points reduced 80%. There's a whole article at La Nacion, if you can read Spanish, or do a Google translate to read it badly in English. Otherwise, here's a rundown of the fines:
  • Running through a stop sign/light: ¢165.000 + 20 points
  • Passing on a double yellow line: ¢113.500 + 25 points
  • Parking your truck badly (hee hee): ¢227.000 + 25 points
  • Talking on your cell phone while driving (some Escazu byatches are going to be real upset about this one): ¢165.000 + 20 points
  • Making an illegal U-turn: ¢165.000 + 10 points
  • Driving without a license: ¢227.000 + 25 points (this seems like it should be a red card infraction; do it once and you're out!)
  • Attempting to bribe a transit official (again, hee hee, who hasn't?): ¢227.000 + 20 points
  • Driving a pirate (unofficial) taxi: ¢227.000 + 25 points
  • Driving a modified car (not entirely sure what this means, actually; esposo says like for street racing): ¢113.500 + 15 points
  • Driving without being inscribed as a driver (totally not sure what this one means, as in, what's the difference between this and driving without a license?): ¢227.000 + 50 points
  • Driving without a current marchamo (that's license tags to us Norteamericanos): ¢170.000 + 20 points
  • Drivers who make stops in spots where making stops is not allowed: ¢227.000 + 10 points
  • Motorcyclist who drives without a reflective vest: ¢90.800
  • Taxi or bus drivers who offend passengers (hee hee! this is a good one): ¢90.800
  • Taxi drivers who do not use the maria (taxi rate counter): ¢90.800
  • Damaging street lights or signs: ¢90.800
  • Blocking a roadway: ¢90.800
  • Damaging a roadway: ¢90.800
  • A licensed driver who forgets his or her license at home and gets caught without it: ¢45.400
  • Driving without your car's documents (registration, etc.): ¢45.400
  • Running through the toll booth without paying: ¢22.700
  • Making noise with loudspeakers (oh I thought this day would never come!): ¢22.700
Strangely, there was nothing in the La Nacion article about car seats, and I do know that car seats will be required of all children under 12. Which means that even if you take your friend and her kid home from playgroup one day, and you don't have a car seat for her kid, yes, you can get popped for that. Personally, I think it's a very, very good thing. There are far too many children here allowed to bounce all over the place without even a seat belt on. I don't know if parents just don't realize how vulnerable a young child's skull is, but if it goes through a windshield, chances are pretty grim. When I find out more about the car seat thing, I'll update you all.

UPDATE: You do need a child seat for all kids under 12, and the fine is ¢227.000 plus you lose your driver's license. So no more taking a friend and her kid home from playgroup until I get an additional car seat! Again from La Nacion.

UPDATE 2: Esposo says there are a whole bunch more laws that aren't in that La Nacion article. When all of the laws are published in La Gaceta is when they will be officially official.