Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Correos Part Three

So back on Tuesday as agreed. We actually got there a bit early, good or bad thing?

Official beurocrat, to be known from now on as Señor Correos, was there and remembered that we were coming, which was a good start. Paperwork given to us to fill out - we have filled out more forms this last eight weeks than in a year back home. Passport produced yet again, plus colour photocopy handed over: this is another marvel, our passports are requested as ID at almost all transactions. My passport has never been flashed so much! 

Anyway, forms all satisfactory on our side, leaving Señor Correos to fill out his bit. Apparently, according to the official, it is much easier to get a PO Box in Panama, less paperwork; good to know!! Searching for United Kingdom on his list of countries in order to state our nationalities, and it is absent, it can't be found anywhere! I can not be listed as a British citizen. DH reverts to Venezuelan, but me ... I have to be Scottish, or Irish! Señor Correos even manages to find Wales, but no Britain! I opt for Irish. 

Finally, after having been in the building for 45 minutes, and paying 10000 Colones for the pleasure, we are handled the key to our PO Box. We are now able to receive mail ... Well, until January when we have to pay another 10000 Colones, about £13, all for a small box in the wall. 

How reliable it is remains to be seen. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Giant Grasshopper.

Plans for an evening swim were ended extremely quickly when one of these beasts flew at my head, just as I was gingerly dipping my toe in the pool. Screaming, I abandoned the water and ran indoors thinking that perhaps a bat had landed on my head.

Watching television later, the creature flew to the fly screen. Some refer to it as a cricket, others as a locust. One thing is or sure, it is one of the biggest crickets you will ever see.

From the inside looking out.

Roughly the same length as an Ipad screen.

The next morning he was still there, attached to the fly screen. 

If I have done my research correctly, its Latin name is Tropidacris Dux

Maybe these were the inspiration for "Beginning of the End" a 1950's sci-fi film whereby giant locusts attacked Chicago? I sure as hell thought I was being attacked when it landed in my hair!

Friday, 25 October 2013

Huevos de Amor

 I have finally found somewhere to purchase Free Range Eggs. They are not readily available here in Costa Rica, or at least I have had trouble locating them. 

Perhaps there is little market for such eggs: the Tico's mostly seem to have chickens in their yards, so presumably do not need to buy eggs from the supermarkets or elsewhere. But what about other the egg eaters though? As there is little in the way of organic food on offer here either, maybe the general public are just not interested in such foodstuffs.

However, after a chance conversation with one of our neighbours, I was directed to Huevos de Amor San Jorge, a farm not too far away that raises chickens who in turn lay free range eggs. The owner, a Canadian lady called Donna, delivers once a week in Coco and we can buy directly from her, from the back of her Jeep. They cost £2.50 for 15 eggs, not especially cheap, but they are a lot larger than the battery farmed eggs that are sold for a similar price in the shops.

Cheese and grapefruit are also for sale, yet to be sampled by us. 

Next quest is to find organic meat. 

Correos Part 2 ...

An ongoing  example of 'manana' here in CR.

So back to the Correos on Wednesday at 10.30am to open the PO Box. Outside, someone is receiving a back massage!

Just like our first visit, we bring all the paperwork that has been requested.

The Hawaiian-shirted official greets us amicably; after all, we are probably the first customers of the day. All looks promising - yes he remembers us and also recalls that he told us to come back at this time on this day.

BUT ... of course, there is always a but! The hombre that issues the PO Box has had to go to Puntaneras today, a town over an hour away. Yes, he has had to go and collect a key, at this particular time on this particular day, the exact time of our scheduled meeting! Incredible. DH and I remain calm, hey we can organise another visit. Thursday at the same time? Not a problem.

Thursday finds us outside the Correos at the allotted time. No massages today. No queues either. Oh but look, the office is closed!!!!!

Today, Friday, we drive past about 4 pm, after picking up YS from the school bus, and try our luck for the fourth time. Good fortune shines upon us and the official that we need is actually available, hooray! Oh surprise, surprise, bad fortune reveals its ugly face and the bureaucrat is unable to issue a PO Box today. I really couldn't be bothered to try and translate the reason why, or even to ask DH to translate for me. Instead, the man behind the glass calls upon DH to return again next Tuesday between the exact hours of 10 and 11 am, no earlier and no later: he will then most definitely be able to assist us but only during that precise hour! We shall see.

To be continued ...

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Weather

When we Brits have nothing to say, we usually talk about the climate.

I thought then, that some of you may be interested in the impending weather conditions here in Coco.

It looks like more late afternoon / early evening storms are due, but at least we we see the sun all morning.

Costa Rica - Playa del Coco 15-Day Weather Forecasts

One Little Critter.

Found this little beauty, on the balcony yesterday, all curled up and sleeping.

Not being very good with predatory anthropods, DH came to my rescue with the insect spray.

Felt bad then, because rather than use its poisonous venom on either me or DH, it went on to sting itself so as not to suffer the slow and painful death induced by Baygon

Friday, 18 October 2013

Correos de Costa Rica

Took our first visit the the Correos yesterday.

The Correos in Playa del Coco
Sorry not a great picture, but I 'borrowed' it from Google Images.

Those that know me, will recall my love of visiting the Post Office in the UK. Trudging to the Wellington Centre in Aldershotweighed down with packages from our Ebay sales; a Santa's Sack of goodies for me to post (always with a miscalculation in the postage we charged, despite using both Ebay and the Post Office price charts).

No matter what time of day my pilgrimage took place, I would without fail be greeted with a queue. I would frequently joke with my office buddy that if I hadn't returned within the hour, to send out the search parties. However, time was always put to good use in those long lines, and I would ruminate over the books and magazines WHSmith so kindly displayed to illustrate where to stand and wait: surely the passage of people was a pointer? Why go to college to learn how to be a techy, when you can stand in the Post Office track and study from the enormous display of computer publications for free? MacUser, 3DWorld, PC Format, they are all there, ready to be thumbed and thumbed again by immovable people in an inert progression.

Therefore, I looked forward to our first trip to the Correos here in Costa Rica with great anticipation!!!! How long could it possibly take to set up a PO Box, being as it took a protracted four hours to get car insurance? Why bother with a PO Box at all, I hear you ask? Well, it appears that is the only relatively safe way to receive any mail! See in Costa Rica, there is a distinct lack of street names to where mail (or ambulances and so on) can be sent. When asking for directions from the Tico's, the responses always seem to be obtuse; you are informed that  "'s opposite the red house...",  "Turn left at the big tree" or even "300 metres south of ...". Now my navigation skills are not great, but if the sun is not shining, how am I supposed to know where south is? To add to the lack of street names, there appears to be a distinct absence of postie's too; not a Postman Pat and his Black and White Cat to be seen; no little red vans, no beaten-up bicycles, no abandoned elastic bands by your front door.

How then to secure a Post Office Box? Sometimes they are available and sometimes they are not. We were told by a friend that you had to wait until someone dies before the Correos would allocate a new one to a new customer.  Someone else told us they had a three year wait for theirs. Great! 

But hey, we had a few hours to spare before we picked the kids up from school, so why not try our luck? 

Low and behold, the place was empty. No people, no queue, no lingering body odour, no random publications, no advertising flyers.  Nothing. Nichts. Nada. An enterprise of nothingness.

DH and I approached the counter with apprehension; the Hawaiian-shirted cartero did not look best pleased that we were about to disturb his busy schedule. DH chatted to him for a while, buttering him up, before asking the big question. "Ocho Semanas" he tells us. I suppose eight weeks is better than waiting three years, but ever persisitent, DH goes in for the kill and appeals to him some more. A quick chat with his superior in an antechamber and we are told to come back next week, with our passports, and they will see what they can do. What day? Another consultation with the hidden bureaucrat and it is agreed that Wednesday would be a good day to return, as it's not so busy!!

All in all, a five minute visit. No PO Box, but then no queue. Result!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

October: The Wettest Month.

You know on an earlier post I said that October was supposedly the wettest month, and that we were collecting water in a bucket and had yet to catch any?

Today, things have changed!!!!!

It has now been raining non-stop for nearly three hours.

I can not even see Ocotal bay and the boats.

Stupidly, the bucket is inside this afternoon, so no savings on next months water bill!

For my running friends ...

First run on the open road today!

In fact first run on the open road or otherwise since about June 2012! 

Certainly my first run ever in 30 degrees Celsius, and it was only 8.30 in the morning!

As soon as I find the Garmin cables, I can download the route we took and you can see the gradients. But for now running enthusiasts, I can only share my stats with you ...

Apparently we are 130m above sea level. The round trip to the main road and back is about 3.5 km. Pretty damn hilly!!

DH and I ran at a nice steady pace the 2km downhill to sea level, taking 14 minutes; not too bad for a first attempt? Another 0.5km along the flat, at the base of Ocotal mountain, took 5 minutes more. The final stretch, which was of course uphill, was a killer; I really thought I was going to die and in fact I surrendered to walking for perhaps the initial (almost vertical!) 0.5 km. Time wise - well, who is really counting anyway? - was dreadful as it took a further 19 minutes!! Still had some energy in reserve as ended on a 100m sprint(ish).

Don't think I will be able to walk at all tomorrow.


Kayaking on Sunday in Playa Coco. My first time.

Good fun and remarkably my arms do not ache, even today, two days later.

The guy we rented the kayaks from, Felix, well he tagged along and went snorkeling with DH, ES and YS. Felix showed off and caught a small Grouper; he skinned and gutted it and then we all ate it raw!


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Eight Weeks of Anticipation.

Tico Time is taking a break. Real time is exerting its power. We are no longer slugs but snails as we have our shell. Yes, our container arrived today - we have paraphernalia again! Only one week longer than originally estimated. Plus its arrival came a day sooner that we were advised earlier this week!

Four weeks to sail the Pacific Ocean and four weeks to travel across Costa Rica.

First of all the ship docked at  Puerto Limon on the Caribbean coast. Then our container traveled on to San Jose, where it was subjected to two weeks of various checks and bureaucracy; naturally our container was one of the unlucky ones and was opened up. Amazingly, they looked at our crap, I mean chattels, and decided we didn't have any objects of any worth and charged us a relatively small amount of import tax. Funnily enough they didn't examine DH's three tool boxes, all full of Snap-on tools, otherwise the invoice would have been way higher!  

One hundred and fifty seven boxes of varying sizes were then transported in a lorry by Pickfords Costa Rican partners to our friend's yard in Playa del Coco. Unfortunately  it was agreed that the lorry would not make it up the mountain to Ocotal, which meant that we had to do the last leg of our containers' journey ourselves. So with the aid of the three Costa Rican removal men, two Nicaraguan labourers and one Colombian pick-up driver, DH and I (armed with a clipboard), took six trips up to the condo - three runs in the pick-up towing a large trailer of packages and three trips without the trailer.

Just over three hours later and all our boxed possessions are harboured in our garage, with a few exceptions. We did unpack, and thoroughly check about seven boxes; ES finally has his own bed, in his own room, which means he no longer has to share with YS. Two reasonably happy boys ... well not that happy as I foolishly didn't unpack the Xbox! Such a bad parent!

Only one hundred boxes left to empty tomorrow then? Oh joy of joys!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Water, water everywhere ...

Dios Mio! 

The first water bill came in today! 

OMG, what a shocker! 

One months water here in Coco has cost us almost the same as a year in the UK!!!!! How the hell did that happen? 

Admittedly water is more expensive here in the Guanacaste region, than in San Jose and the Central Valley, but seriously, there must be some sort of mistake. An acquaintance joked that perhaps we have paid the water invoice for the whole condo; ha, bloody ha! I think we have paid to supply the water for the entire f*****g Octotal mountain!!

A quick flash back to the summer of '76 (I was 5), and I try to recall all the water saving ideas that my Mother and Grandparents practiced. I can only really remember saving the washing up water to water the plants (and of course Bjorg won Wimbledon and I learnt to ride my bicycle without the stabilisers!).

But back to the present and the problem of the price of water. A new regime perhaps? We have to be more water efficient  Unlike the Costa Ricans, who don't appear to conserve their water even though they promote themselves as an environmentally sustainable county (more on that another day I think).

So, no more showering for us then!

In future, Mondays will be allocated as wash-day and all clothes will be laundered in the Pacific Ocean; I shall carry the basket on my head - 1km to the beach and 1km back again (uphill). Note to self, better get fit!

Maybe the rainwater can be saved to wash the dishes. October is the height of the rainy season and we have already been conducting an experiment; we have placed a bucket outside on the balcony, to see how much H2O we can catch - this has been going on for a week now and we have yet to catch a millimeter. 

Perhaps DH would like to lug the dishes to the sea daily to be washed? Part of his weight training programme??

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Let's not rush things ...

Car insurance sorted today.

Only took FOUR hours!!

Good job we have time on our hands at the moment!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Sunday Trip ToThe Beach

Well we have been here six weeks now!!

To celebrate, we packed up the ice box and took a trip to the seaside; firstly Tamarindo and then on to Playa Grande, both just under an hour further south from us.

Just thought I would share some photos of the wildlife that we saw.

Hunting for dinner.

More parakeets.

Another little Lizard.

Sunbathing on a log.
A Land Crab.

Watching the Surfing.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Feliz Cumpleaños San Jose.

San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, celebrates its 200th Birthday this month.

It appears that unlike many other bicentennial cities of the world, the government of Costa Rica has not arranged any birthday celebrations for its capital: not even a little pinata party.

Not being a local, I realise that I am not authorised to comment on such things. I will no doubt upset someone somewhere, but I am not sure if San Jose actually has anything to celebrate! It really is a very disappointing capital city. There are few attractions here for the visitor and most tourists just use it as a stop-over rather than an actual destination point. 

I have racked my brain to think of some positive facts to share about this city. I truly am sorry San Jose, but my list of your attributes is short, but hopefully over time I might be able to add to them:

  • the people are very friendly and helpful, as they are everywhere in Costa Rica so it seems;
  • it is relatively safe - in fact it is one of Latin America's safest cities;
  • there is a lovely park to enjoy a leisurely stroll or a game of football; 
  • the taxi's are red; well that makes a change, black is SO last year;
  • they have road signs - odd to list as a positive, but few places in Costa Rica have road signs!
  • and especially for Priya, there is a great Alessi store in the Escazu Multiplaza!

San José panorama

The Polar Bear.

All excited, we return to San Jose a week later to meet with the solicitor. Keen with anticipation about owning our first car in Costa Rica; looking forward to the long drive home in our truck!

Quelle surprise! The documents have not been completed! The seller, Fernanda, is blaming the solicitor for not contacting her and vice-versa. Who to believe? 

To cut a long story short, Fernanda was selling the truck on behalf of the architectural company that she works for: the employee whose truck it was recently passed away, so the company want to sell it on (superstitious lot these Latinos!). However, and this is where it gets complicated, the truck was a leased vehicle and nobody in the firm seems to have the power of attorney to sell! What a mess! We are advised by the solicitor that to get the paperwork in order, it could take at least another fortnight. Two more weeks??!!?? He recommends that we forget this car and look for another one.

Yet again, we leave the solicitors office feeling despondent!

What do we do now? Back to the drawing board. In other words, spending more time looking at cars, traipsing from one showroom to the other! How much more of this car-shopping can anyone of us withstand? I for one, and I am sure I speak for the kids, are at breaking point!


A week later and we are now the proud owners of a Nissan Navarra LE: we bit the bullet and bought a new one. After all, a week before the new 2014 models hit the streets, there were bargains to be had and we got the annual tax, about $1000, thrown in for free! 

We have christened it 'The Polar Bear'. Why, when you live in a hot country would you name your transport after an animal that will never be found in the Tropics? Obviously because ... the damn thing is white!!! 

Is it good luck when ...?

Why is it you never have a camera when you need one?

Just popped into Coco to try and get YS a pair of shoes. Hanging from the trees outside the shops were about ten black monkeys! There were even a few babies too. Just swinging from tree to tree, watching the people below in the streets, munching on a few leaves. Most probably howler monkeys. But this afternoon, they all were very quite, no howls could be heard: this usually only takes place either in the early morning or evening, when they are checking out the area for competitors. The beach-side boutiques in Coco are obviously not worthy of defending!

Really rather beautiful and quite fascinating creatures ... that is until they started pooping!!! Large splats of what looked like chocolate ice cream were falling from the branches onto the road below. "One scoop or two senor?".  Luckily, no Tico or turismo were in the line of fire!

It did make me wonder though, if monkey poop on your shoulder, like pigeon poop, is considered lucky? Google didn't throw up any answers, but it did lead me to a site where monkey poop beans make the best coffee - YUCK! Now I know why I prefer tea.

The Three Monkey Musketeers.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

"Any colour - so long as it's ..." Buying a Car, Part 1.

If a prospective buyer (lets call him Fred), wants to buy a car, how should he go about it?

Firstly he would have to answer a few questions such as:
  • what make and model?
  • new or used?
  • what is my budget?
Once these problems have been solved, Fred then starts on his his homework. This usually consists of spending his precious weekends visiting main dealer showrooms, possibly a test-drive or two, maybe a soft beverage offered whilst discussing the added extras available, like the decal on the wing-mirrors or the colour of the upholstery.  Next, Fred moves on to the second hand car sales-rooms, enduring the Del-boy techniques adopted by the slimy salesman in the camel coat "Part ex and finance is available guvnor". Poor Fred then suffers days of flicking through the Thames Valley Trader, Daltons weekly and the like, whilst the long evenings are spent searching through Ebay, making a bid here, retracting there, another bad report suffered. Still nothing. So Fred trawls the Classified in his local rag, -  "Oh look a puppy for sale, no wait, what about a 10 foot snake, a shelving unit, or even better some alloy wheels" - still looking for that hidden bargain, that dream machine, his very own 'Greased Light'ning'!

Eventually though a bargain is found. A decision is made. Oh, but wait a minute, what about those additional costs, those exciting elements called insurance, road tax, fuel consumption? All these things need to be accounted for, priced into the budget. The search continues a while longer.

To be honest, I am sure this is a world-wide phenomena; families across the world spend weekends traipsing from show room to show room, dreaming of owning a new car, but often in reality the budget only allows for second hand. In Costa Rica, in our case at least, it has been the same: DH has dragged us here there and everywhere, looking at new and used; hours he has spent looking at CR Autos, a bit like Auto Trader, trying to find that elusive motor vehicle - one that is suitable for work but will double as a family car: one that copes with dreadful roads and pot holes (yes believe it or not, there are worse pot holes than those that can be found along Gardeners Hill Road in Farnham!); one that will be able to pull a trailer that he will inevitably need for work. Much as I hate to say it, a 4x4 or a pick-up truck look the obvious vehicle of choice. 

However, unlike England, the second hand car market here in Costa Rica is unbelievable.  Used vehicles are really expensive, and I mean REALLY EXPENSIVE!! Generally there is only a few thousand dollars between a new vehicle and a six year old one that may have up to 100,000 miles on the clock! Yes just a few thousand dollars!! All of the little runabouts we used to have at the garage would be worth about £10,000 each here!! I think the cheapest second hand car DH found was an old Volvo 340 and it was $4000; it barely had wheels! I suppose its good news when you want to sell a car on; the residual value remains high.

So like 'Fred', DH has found the bargain and the decision has been made.  Disgustingly expensive in our opinion, but there is little choice here: to import a vehicle from UK, USA or anywhere in fact, well the taxes that have to be paid make it an unrealistic and even more expensive option. No point searching any longer; time is ticking; the hire car meter is ticking, ticking, ticking and running up a large bill. DH makes that call and arranges to view the vehicle in San Jose.

Having been in the country for just three weeks, over the course of a weekend, as a family unit, we all go to check out the nearly new Nissan Navarra pick up truck; one year old, one previous owner and only 9000 miles on the clock. Family and seller all embark on a test drive, which goes well. Moreover, there's a bonus as a few added extras are thrown in for free, such as the large tool box that fills half of the trunk. DH and kids are all teeth and smiling from ear to ear. So far so good.

Well not really. I don't like the colour. Yes, I know, petty thing, but I really do not like the colour. I have always disliked this colour car since I was a kid; we were lucky enough to have two cars whilst I was growing up, but  I thought having two cars of the same hue made us boring. Then as a teenager, all boy racers seemed to drive this shade of vehicle and now it is footballers and their wives). But  I am pleased to say that over time, as I have matured and without hours of therapy, I have managed to conquer my aversion to automobiles of this colouration, That is until TOWIE! Need I say more? Unlike Henry Ford's 'Model T', this truck is not black ... it is WHITE!!!!! Please, anything but WHITE.

Nevertheless, I am fairly wise and keep this fact to myself; after all everyone else is thrilled, and if needs be, I do know a paint sprayer. 

Happy bunnies, decision is made and a handshake seals the deal while we get the finances and paperwork sorted.  However, when you buy a second had car over here, all procedures must be dealt with by a solicitor. It is they who undertake all the financial checks, the HPI checks (or the equivalent), indeed all the administration that needs to be completed. They even have to be present when the exchange of money takes place between the the two parties. All this for a percentage of course! The solicitors' fees can range anything between 3.5 and 5% of the total sale of the vehicle - and we are back to those hidden costs! Of course, like everything else, this process will take some time. 

We are now no longer a happy family, but a despondent family. 

So we leave all the information with the solicitor and make an arrangement to return in a week.