Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Wish

Please, New Year's Guy, give me back my pickup!

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

The New Year is nearly upon us. A time to reflect on the past and look ahead toward the future.

As I sit here on the porch now at Casa Jungla, close to midnight on Saturday night, drinking starting-to-ferment chicheme, or 'chicha' - a traditional Guanacasteco Christmas drink made from maiz, water, ginger and honey (I leave it out at room temperature for a day or so because it begins to naturally ferment adding a bit of a bubbly kick), listening to nothing but crickets, geckos, waves breaking on the beach beyond the woods, some fireworks and the occasional half-awake, bark/grunt of one of the dogs twitching away in a dream, I'm kinda at a loss for words.

I'm a very fortunate person, because I've had the best year of my life. This year was a pretty huge one for me, personally, filled to the brim with challenges and uncertainties, as well as accomplishments and blessings.

I've never been more happy in my life. Challenges turned into accomplishments (mostly) and uncertainties to blessings. It all feels so natural. I have both less and more than I've ever had in my life. I am both happy and content. And I am looking forward to the upcoming challenges and uncertainties that the new year will bring. And there are many looming on the horizon...

...We're expecting a baby this new year. Not taking anything for granted... I can't freakin' wait!!!

¡Feliz Año Nuevo! ¡Paz y amor!

Cochinos

Ticos have a name for people of ill manners - cochinos, or "swine". The beach is crowded with such people right now. Their most notable, ill-mannered characteristic is throwing their trash everywhere. Beer cans, plastic soda bottles, plastic bags, broken styrofoam coolers and dirty Pampers are a major eyesore on the beach this time of year. Not only are they an eyesore on the beach, but also along the roadside. Cochinos routinely and brazenly launch trash from the windows of their moving automobiles, or from the windows of buses. Trash cans (privately purchased, distributed and maintained because of the problem) are readily available, and a lot of trash gets to them. But an equal amount doesn't.

Cochinos also like to defecate in the ocean. The locals don't go swimming this time of year. They'll wait a week or two for things to clear up before the boogy board hits the surf again. If a cochino uses a public restroom, they routinely urinate and/or defecate on the floor, sink, walls and, sometimes, the toilet. They throw dirty toilet paper on the floor next to the empty trash can. They plug up sinks for a quick bath, then leave the water on to flood the restroom. They try to flush large objects down the toilet. Beach establishments typically lock up their bathrooms for customers only, or charge 300 colones for non-customers to use their bathrooms. This reduces problems as cochinos can't or won't pay the tariff.

Though far outnumbered by those possessing a modicum of self-respect, as well as respect for others and the environment, their impact is substantial. They really rain on everyone else's parade. There's nothing anyone can or is willing to do about them. I, personally, treat them like the pigs they are, to and in their face. I break the "no confrontation" rule here. I throw their trash back at them. I once followed a car containing a passenger who threw 3 empty 16 oz. beer cans from his car window - 2 of which nearly hit me on my motorcycle as they bounced on the pavement behind the car and in front of me. I pulled over and went back for the cans. I caught up with the car at an intersection and threw 2 of the 3 recovered beer cans back in the window of the car, screaming every Spanish language expletive I knew at all four occupants, and giving them the world-recognized 'finger'. They laughed at me.

Cochinos don't have a conscience, don't understand and, most of all, don't care. It's what they've always done and will continue to do.

So we just accept this and clean up after them.

Friday, December 29, 2006

SRD

I took my dogs to the vet Wednesday on my motorcycle - Apellido up front, The Virgin Mary in my day pack behind me. My pickup is STILL in S. Jose at the taller - everyone's on vacation and there's no one available to drive it back on a flatbed. Like me, my dogs love to ride!!! The Virgin Mary needed another round of vaccinations. They both needed worm pills (every three months). And I wanted the vet to look at the fungus on Apellido's face. The tea I made from the arbol madero has actually helped, but the fungus hasn't gone away completely. So the vet prescribed alternate days of applying a half-and-half mixture of water and vinegar on one day, and baking soda dissolved in water the next. The fungus will die if you can change the pH of the skin, she told me. We'll see.

There was one thing that I hadn't noticed before that caught my eye: on The Virgin's vaccination record card under 'raza' (race or breed), the vet wrote "SRD"...

...I'm not big on race. I really don't care what color you are or what you're heritage is. I hate listening to white people from the US or Canada, who are decendents of European immigrants, talk about being an eighth Norweigian, an eighth Irish and 3/4 Italian. In most cases you're in the US or Canada because your grandparents left the Old Country because life there sucked. Some of them may have even changed their names to hide their ethnicity. My black friends in the US, those who are descendents of slaves, never have this conversation. Their heritage was robbed from them. You never hear a black person say they're 1/4 Nigerian, 1/4 Ghanaian and half Congolese. They're just black (except in the office and media where they are "African American"), from Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama or Michigan. Their heritage starts in North America because the memory of wherever their forefathers were from before being loaded onto the slaver was erased.

But then there are those black folks who somehow derive their African lineage based on their facial structure, height, build, cup size, ass size or whatever. They like kinte cloth (like my white friends of Scottish or Irish descent love plaid, all having no idea of the significance of the patterns and colors). They've never been to any country in Africa, not even Morroco. In fact, Africa is a country in their minds, not a continent consisting of many countries. They can't identify Mali on a map of the world. They have no knowlege of the history of colonialization and how borders drawn by Europeans on a map to this day mean nothing, and everything, to those living over and between them. They've changed their names to names that sound African, but aren't. They give their kids the same names. The fact that black Africans and white Europeans were complicit in trading human lives - bodies for goods - is news to them. "Stolen from Africa"? More like, "Sold by my father-in-law". People thirst for money and power, no matter what color they are.

But I digress, and that's what blogs are for...

...So I noticed that the race/breed of my dogs is "SRD" - "Sin Raza Dominante". Which translates literally to, "Without a Dominant Race". In other words, they're mutts, zaguates - like me. When someone, usually a white person, asks me, "What's your background?", I always say, "I'm a white guy from North America." Deer in the headlights stare. End of inquiry. Their question is usually a segway into telling me THEIR heritage anyway. Who freakin' cares?! Like your Swedish blood somehow elevates the quality of your character?! We're living in the here and now. I'm more interested in whether or not you showered today because something smells a little ripe down there at the end of the bar.

Next time someone asks me that question, I'm going to tell them I'm "SRD" and let them figure it out. My friend, Blackie (yes, he's a very black Costa Rican and that's his real nickname - we're not uptight about that crap down here), loves the idea. We're thinking of selling t-shirts.

Friday, December 22, 2006

¡Feliz Navidad!

I've noticed...

...that old school, flip-flop, between-the-toe, no-heal-strap-style sandals rule here! Reef's are the best! I collect them like t-shirts. If you want to be immediately identified and stand out as a tourist, wear Teva's or Nike's. It's equivalent to wearing a sign that says, "Rob me!"

...that all ants are not alike. I can now tell you the name of 4 species of ants by the way they bite or sting me without having to look at them. I can also tell you whether it's an ant or a termite that is biting me.

...that termites rock!! Unbelievable creatures!!

...that I have developed an affinity for observing the sky and avoiding rain showers to stay dry when I'm riding my motorcycle in early and late rainy season. I've figured out when and where to stop and wait for clouds to pass over the route I will be following, when to gun it and outrun them before they get there, when to take an alternate route to avoid them, when to slow up and let them pass in front of me. And I've noticed that I'm not always right.

...that many smaller bugs hurt more than larger ones when you hit them at high velocity on your motorcycle. It's the construction of the exoskeleton. Hit a dragonfly and you feel it. Hit a beetle, a quarter of it's size, and you REALLY feel it. But then, there are the butterflies... Butterflies leave exciting and interesting colors.

...that mosquitos don't really bother me much.

...that when I eat lots of bananas mosquitos don't bother me at all.

...that eating lots of yogurt keeps me from contracting just about any sickness that makes me vomit.

...that I eat a lot of yogurt and bananas.

...that I pay alot more attention to my feet than I used to. I wear flip-flops. I've had more than a few toenails ripped off by someone taking a step backwards and catching a long nail. I now keep them closely trimmed. I also get a lot of cuts on top of my feet and ankles, and sometimes on the bottom. My feet get extremely dirty. So I do a morning and evening inspection every day and night and perform periodic maintenance and repairs as required.

...that the crappiest, lowest price, bottom of the bin, discount Costa Rican coffee I can possibly buy here en el culo del mundo, brewed with luke-warm tap water, through a tin can filter I made with a hammer and a bent, rusty 6-penny nail, blows away anything that Starbuck's or Seattle's Best Coffee has to offer on any day of the week, at any given moment!

...that anyone who says they're a tradesman and doesn't have tools and a truck, isn't.

...that I can sleep through the calls of a male howler monkey (congo) - the loudest land mammal on the planet - navigating the canopy outside of my house at the crack of dawn with every sliding glass door and window in the house open, but be awakened by the sound of a mosquito buzzing in the bathroom.

...that driving cattle is very much like driving a car - you prefer to do it on a paved road. The only difference is that cattle occupy all lanes in one direction.

...that ticos who have to pull their car over to pee while on a road trip take pride in doing so and do it unabashedly, in the open and while sometimes waving at passer's-by with their free cigarette/beer hand.

...that orange highway cones, road flares and roadside emergency reflectors must be expensive because everyone uses a tree branch instead.

...that horses are more stupid than Irish Setters.

...that a crab of a certain species here can breath air, travel many kilometers of horizontal and elevational distance away from anything remotely resembling their birth/spawning place at the beach, climb walls, glass or any other vertical surface that is not coated with Teflon or butter, and gain entry into just about any man-made structure that it wants to. And that I will never be able to figure out how it does so.

But most of all, I've noticed...

...that holiday's like Christmas and Easter in Costa Rica are less about shopping and giving gifts than about momentarily and completely disconnecting from everything else that's going on in your life and, for a couple of weeks, concentrating on having a great time with the people who matter most in your life: your friends and family. Sharing stories, laughing, helping each other out, walking the beach, fixing a flat, sharing recipes, babysitting, running errands, playing beach futbol, snoozing in the hammock, cooking, eating, eating, eating, eating!!

Merry Christmas to all of my friends and family reading this. I love you all very much and miss you. I wish you could be here this year to enjoy the sol, mar y playa we will be enjoying this Navidad - and the TAMALES!!!! I wish I could be there for some turkey and stuffing, home made cranberry orange preserve, bannana nut bread, English toffee and Italian zucharini's!!! I can taste them all now!

¡Feliz Navidad! ¡Pura vida! ¡Paz! ¡Amor!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dis 'n' Dat

My dog, Appellido, has some sort of fungus or skin thing going on below his eye and on his head. The vet gave me a cream for it but it's only gotten worse. The locals tell me it's sarna and vets don't know how to cure it. Judging by the dry bald spots that have continued to grow on him for the last month after daily applications of the vet's cream, I would be inclined to agree. The old ticos use a leaf from the arbol madero (madero tree) to make a tea and bathe the dog with it. Apparently, there's one on the property. But I have to have my father-in-law show me which one it is. They also use some sort of shoe cleaner for treating it - and athlete's foot too. I'll probably end up giving both a try.

Both of my dogs - to which I now reference as "the Bumpas' dogs" (from the Christmas classic "A Christmas Story"), are raiding my neighbors burn pile of trash. They have a special affinity for dirty Pampers. I'm about to kill them both and cremate them on the burn pile.

The cable company wants to charge me $850 for the beefier cable I'll need to get service to the house. They will not be able to use the poles I installed for the phone lines (ICE did give us a solicitud de servicio finally. When they will show up.... ???). Needless to say, I'm searching for other options for TV/Internet. Satellite comes to mind, but RACSA has a monopoly on broadband and only works with ICE and the local cable companies to provide broadband. Resourcefulness is Salvation here. Brainstorming... Perhaps DSL on my new phone lines.

Working on selling some of my family's property here to pick up some extra cash to fill the money pit. Between the sellers and the potential buyers, it's quite the challenge. It always amazes me how grown people can regress to a grade school playground mentality in matters of business. "I call no leads, outs on one bounce, no girls and the mine field of horse shit in left field out of bounds and an automatic out - or I'm taking my ball and going home!" Paaaleeease!

My pickup should be ready tomorrow. I should have it Thursday. Finally, I'll be able to start hauling some big items again and start getting things back on track for completing the interior of the house. I have to buy more PVC conduit to bury for ICE to get their line to the house from the pole at the gate too. I spent all day yesterday attacking the remains of burn piles, construction debris and raking the layer of crap that has built up around the house. Marked improvement. But will have to hire someone to haul off the piles of non-combustibles.

Am installing a safe closet beneath my stairway to secure valuables. It will need to be custom built. I had a gate maker come in the other day to measure and provide an estimate, which was supposed to arrive yesterday - not. But it's Navidad and the entire country went on vacation this week through New Year's week. Not holding my breath. A New Year's wish.

Am riding my motorcycle around Deadwood in the beautiful sunshine donning my Santa hat and Costa del Mar's. Get's a lot of looks, especially when Apellido is riding with me with paws over the crossbars.

Am starting my snake collection soon. More to come in a future post...

I'm enjoying our newfound privacy here at La Casa Jungla. It's quite peaceful when the kid next door isn't screaming and my dogs aren't terrorizing an armadillo or anteater. I found my iTrip and am back now playing on the boom box the 7000 songs in the palm of my hand I had so missed. The sounds of Ludacris, Hendrix and Sinatra fill the jungle. The monkey's dig it, baby! We're in old Guanacaste, a world away from the construction boom happening around us. Yet I only have to walk a max. of 200 meters to the mini-super, the fereteria, sports bar and now, Deadwood's first ATM machine!!!! Wooo hooo!!!! We've officially reached 2.5 World status!!!!

Gotta pay the electric and phone bills, and deliver a plano to the playground. Pura vida.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Esperando...

Waiting... Or Hoping. You usually do both together - hope you don't have to wait so long. It's a national pastime here. I've been waiting 40 minutes for a month for the A/C guy to get here to complete a job that should have taken a day or two.

1st day he shows up on a Sunday to do an install of 2 units. He shows up with his wife and 2 kids who are waiting for him to finish so they can go to the beach. Doesn't have the right tools. I lend him some of mine. Tries to run the condensate tubes between the jambs of my new windows and the wall. I tell him I don't want to see them - duh. Well then, I need condensate pumps. Fine, go to the beach with your family, order the pumps and call me when you're ready. 1 week later the pumps arrive. 110 v instead of 220 v. Reorder. 1 week later the pumps arrive. He comes back only to realize that he doesn't have the pumps in his truck. 3 days more of waiting 40 minutes. Calls me to tell me he's coming. But forgets the condesate tubing. 3 more days of waitng 40 minutes. Arrives yesterday and complete's the work. I awaken this AM to a noise coming from somewhere outside the house. The condensers have been running all night with the fans on the inside turned off. There is ice all over the tubing on the outside, up into the roof all the way to the fans. I throw the breakers. The thawing process starts. There are towels under the fans to collect the melting ice. The melting ice has soaked the ceiling. I will have to repaint. Am waiting now 40 minutes for 3 hours for them to come and fix the hookup so that when I turn the A/C off the A/C is turned off.

La Casa Jungla

My pickup broke down a couple of days b4 the move. It went 2 S. Jose on a flat bed. They've removed the entire engine. It overheated awhile back. There's oil everywhere now. Am losing sleep thinking abot the price tag.

My father-in-law lent me his pickup/mobile paint shaker. He's "muy tacaño" (really cheap) and didn't put any gas in it. I just figured the fuel guage was busted. Not. I ran out of gas en el culo del mundo. Hitched a ride to the nearest station and filled the gas can he, thankfully, had in back. Hitched a ride back and siphoned the gas into the tank with the hose he, thankfully, had in back (should have been a big clue). Gas tastes pretty good. It's the aftertaste that sucks. Motored back smelling like a Shell refinery.

The new house looks beautiful. We love it. We've named it Casa Jungla (Jungle House). We have very little furniture: a bed we have named "el hueco" (the hole) and a table and four chairs my father-in-law dropped off yesterday AM from the restaurant. That was nice. The dogs love the new place. They've figured out how to raid my neighbor's outdoor kitchen to steal empanadas when abuela isn't looking. They've also figured out how to raid the chicken coop for eggs. Had one very pissed off hen outside our place at 4AM yesterday.

My wife is at ICE 2day paying the 60 bucks it will take them 2 get out here to run a telephone line 2 the house on the 4 new 2-1/2" galvanized poles I bought and had installed the other day to get the line from the main road down or private road 2 the house. Am hoping the cable company can use the same poles. They were supposed 2 be here at 7 AM. It's 10:30 AM and I'm still waiting.

Am typing these last two entries sitting on a chair in the jungle mooching an open Wi-Fi channel from one of my neighbors. He's not quite close enough to the house so I have to mobilize my office. Leaves keep falling on my keyboard. But it's a beautiful day. We have a wedding to attend later on so I must sign off. Pura vida!

Friday, December 8, 2006

Hiatus

This could be my last post for awhile. My new house has no telephone or internet as of now, and only God knows how long it will be until it will. I have to buy galvanized poles for ICE, the telephone company, to run their wires down our private road from the main road. All of the fereteria's are out of 2.5" dia. poles. The cable guys will probably use the same poles once I have them installed, and once I buy the cable to get from the main road to the house. But who knows. They've been threatening to come out to take a look at how to get cable to the house for 3 weeks. But I'll be able to logon to a wireless network at the hotel of a friend of mine, so the hiatus might not be as long as I fear.

Today is D-day - the final moving wave. The A/C guy STILL isn't finished and is threatening to show up today to finally complete his work, just like the day before, and the day before that. We shall see... Pura vida!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Good Enough!

Lavadora/Secadora. Spanish for Washer/Dryer. I bought an over/under washer/dryer at Gollo. "El gallo mas gallo" is their slogan. Translates to "The rooster most rooster". I'm a gringo and don't understand. Most ticos don't either.

At first glance, Gollo appears to be a store franchise. But the prices and products vary from store to store. Turns out the company founder didn't trademark the company name or logo, so everyone uses it. If you're too unimaginative to come up with your own appliance/furniture/electronics store name, pirate the Gollo name. Everyone does it, and sign makers have the template in stock so you can save money hanging out your shingle.

Anyway, my electrician began the installation process and I finished it. A few things:

- In English, 'H' is for 'Hot; 'C' is for 'Cold'. It's not uncommon here for them to be reversed. You see this on imported shower and sink faucets all the time - you go for cold and get scalded. That's because, in Spanish, 'C' is for 'Caliente' ('Hot'). 'H'? Well it's just leftover so it must be for 'Frio' ('Cold'). I mean, it's only two letters after 'F' in the alphabet, which is pretty darn close. And darn close is good enough. So the guy reversed my hose hookups. Not a big deal.

- When making a hole through a masonry wall for the dryer vent, you typically drill a small hole through the wall from the inside to mark the center. Then core through the wall from both sides. If you can't core, you chisel from both sides. These guys chiseled from the inside all the way out, spalling the stucco off the wall on the outside. Had to be repaired. Cost me an extra 2 days for patching and painting. Not perfect, but good enough.

- The guys lined the vent hole in the wall up with the duct hookup on the W/D. But the W/D was sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, not where it would eventually sit in the corner of the room. The hole should have been about a foot toward the corner. It now sits centered on the wall with the hole dictating the location of the W/D instead of the reverse. Not the best placement, but good enough.

- Is it a man or a woman? The adjustable galvanized through-wall duct that hooks up to the louver plate on the outside, and the flex duct on the inside, has a male end and a female end. The female end receives the louver plate on the outside. The male end penetrates the flex duct to the dryer on the inside. These guys didn't know boys from girls and reversed the through-wall duct. I caught this in time before the pegamix the guys were smishing around the duct hardened. Had it hardened, it would have been good enough to live with.

- Rubber washers for hose hookups cost less than a nickel and are readily available, but you would think they were made of solid Molybdenum and mined on Neptune. People steal them all the time. My garden hose is constantly being violated. So when I turned on the water for the washer, the hookups leaked because they didn't have washers. Not good enough. Trip to the fereteria.

- All 220 volt hookups are not alike. My fault. The W/D's don't come with the hookup. You have to buy it separately. I bought the wrong one - the one with the 'L'-shaped ground prong. Not good enough. Another trip to the fereteria for the 'I'-shaped one.

Thus, a W/D hookup that should have taken about and hour or two, took about 3 days. Pretty typical of doing just about everything here.

I used to be a perfectionist. I'm recovered now. If someone asks me how something looks, I say, "Pura vida!". "Pura vida!" translates literally to "Pure life!". But to me it means, "Good enough!"

Moving

Today and tomorrow we're moving to our new house. My pickup is in S. Jose for repairs, just in time for the move. So I'll have to borrow my father-in-law's truck to haul stuff. Gracias a dios it's not far and we don't have much to move. Spent yesterday doing water pump repairs so we'd have water to clean the place. Got the pump repaired only to have the electricity go down, so no pump and no water. Luckily it wasn't down for long and we were able to make headway. Today it continues as we clean and move things in. Hopefully, the A/C guy will show up today to finish his work too. His half-day install has turned into 3 weeks.

It sounds like I'm complaining, but I'm not. I received an email from a friend of mine who flew back to North America the other day in flip flops and shorts only to arrive to 7 degrees F weather. Pura vida!

Monday, December 4, 2006

%#@*&!

Spent the entire %#@*&! day at the %#@*&! taller (repair shop - pronounced %#@*&! ta-YAIR). Took my pickup in to get the oil leak looked at. Arrived at 7:30AM and left at 6:30PM. Looks like the rings are shot. There's oil in the turbo and all of the hoses in and out of it. The car needs to go to S. Jose on a flatbed. I spent four hours on the phone with the dealer there who doesn't want to honor the warranty. I'm counting to 10... No 10,000. There will be plenty here for a future post when this is finished.

Yesterday, some %#@*&! thugs ran over a guy I know. He's less than popular with a local developer and his investors. The guy's tenacity shut down the developer's construction project. There was a confrontation in the street in front of the project. Five guys in two pickups - one of them wearing a t-shirt with the developer's company name on it - sandwiched his quad between their trucks, front to back. He jumped off the quad and one of the trucks backed up, sped forward and sandwiched him along side the other truck, then gunned it, rolled him like dough along the side of the truck while striking it, and then took off. The second truck took off with him lying in the street screaming in pain. I mean, the guy's not perfect, but gimme a %#@*&! break!

A friend of mine called 911 - no answer. She called the cops at the police station in the neighboring town - no answer. She then called Deadwood's finest rent-a-cops and finally got a response. The ambulance showed up 45 minutes later. He was released from the hospital today. I ran into him, his girlfriend, his lawyer and one of the witnesses on my lunch break from the taller. 2 broken ribs, a broken shoulder, a sprained neck and a lot of bruises.

The %#@*&! Soprano's have arrived in Deadwood.

The weather today was nice, though.

Los Gallos

Gallo is the Spanish word for rooster. There are lots of roosters here, and cock fighting, next to futbol, is the favorite pastime amongst my tico friends. Every Sunday afternoon at a finca nearby, after church with the family, the caballeros (it's a man's sport) go to a place to fight and bet on their gallos, and to drink. It's a Sunday tradition here. An illegal one, but a tradition nonetheless.

Today, on mayoral election day, there was a bigger competition at a different nearby venue. One might call it The Regionals. More roosters from a larger area with more competition, pride and a grand prize at stake. So I hopped on the bike and motored over to spectate the prestigious event.

A couple of friends of mine, along with my brother-in-law and the husband of my sister-in-law, raise game cocks. It's very serious stuff. The grooming, the clipping, the diet, etc. are taken very seriously. There's money and prestige at stake. Even fame. And a prize game cock can fetch a considerable price.

It's a cruel sport, for sure. Lots of blood, guts, pain and suffering for both animals, and sometimes death for the loser. Personally, I'm not sure whether I condemn or condone it. It's exploitation of an animal's natural instinct. But then, so is Spanish bull fighting, which many aficionados consider an "artform". Maybe that's because the human element is more directly involved in what transpires in the arena. I think that if the cocks were wild animals, I'd have a stronger opinion. Domesticated animals for me, especially livestock - stuff we eat - are kind of a perversion of nature. Yeah, I like dogs, so sue me for not being a fundamentalist. But I could really give a crap about domesticated cows, pigs, and chickens. They take up the space the wild animals used to occupy so we can enjoy a juicier steak or pork chop.

Anyway, I was the only gringo there. I always am (though there's a Canadian guy I know who sometimes shows). Most of the gringos in my community hang with other gringos. Few of them know Spanish well enough to have meaningful interaction with their tico neighbors. But there are some who overcome this with persona. I love these people. They can laugh at themselves. But the others... It's a shame. They're missing out. Most don't know and don't really care. There's a certain arrogance in it. Many would be the same people in US who would tell a Spanish speaking Mexican, "Speak English! This is America." It hasn't occured to them that they are that Mexican here.

I won't go into the bloody details of the fights I watched. You can get that somewhere else on the internet. I was there more to bond with my family and friends, and did so. I let my brother-in-law use my lucky lighter to melt the wax they use to adhere the fighting spikes to each his gallo's legs. In between fights I had a couple of beers with my wife's great uncle. He introduced me to more of the family tribe. We watched a couple more fights and drank a couple more beers. It was a great afternoon.

So fight on mutants! There, I said it.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Elecciones

There's a mayoral election in Carillo today. In Costa Rica, the sale of alcohol is prohibited during the 2 days prior to the election and on election day. I'm not really sure why this law was passed or what purpose it serves. Of course, I was never able to understand why I couldn't buy beer before noon on a Sunday. Puritanical hypocracy, I guess.

Anyway, the police visit all of the bars, hotels, restaurants and mini-super's in the area and put tape over the doors of all of the liquor cabinets and refrigerators with the words "Cerrado! Municipalidad de Carrillo. Blah, blah, blah!". If the tape is broken or missing, it is assumed that you have been selling alcohol and your establishment is fined. Or you just give the police money to go away, usually a better deal.

Which means it's the weekend and I can't get a drink! Well, almost. My sister-in-law runs the family restaurant at the beach. My brother-in-law has figured a way to get the tape off of the stainless steel Imperial fridge and be able to put it back without it's removal being detected. Why is it always so much more fun to drink when it's illegal?

See you at the beach! Pura vida! Salud!

P.S.: Ticos have their elections on Sunday - a day when no one works. You go to church, you go to the polls. Wake up USA!

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Criminales y Ladrones

(Winter is back and it's raining today. My painters got rained out. The A/C guy never showed. My pickup is leaking oil. The power is going on and off. So I'm blogging more than usual).

Crime has been escalating here in Deadwood. Not just the regular car breakins on busy weekends at the beach. But home invasions where people are bound, gagged and held at gun or knifepoint. A gringa was recently raped by her assailants while they cleaned out her house and stole her car. They drove it out the main gate, right by the night security guard. My wife will not walk the street to her parent's house at the beach at night - a street she's walked for her entire life until this year. Criminals and theives have been gaining the upper hand lately. The residents of Deadwood are afraid and angry. Someone will be shot - hopefully.

The epidemic has been mainly concentrated in a new gated community with several houses under construction. There's a lot of construction traffic through the gates. Lots of imported labor is part of that traffic - people who aren't part of the community, have no community relations, are unskilled, illiterate and have nothing to lose - mainly poor Nicaraguans. Nicaragua is the poorest country in the western hemisphere behind Haiti. 80% of its population lives in poverty. Many are immigrating to Costa Rica, and especially Guanacaste because if it's proximity, in search of a better life. But when you're unskilled and illiterate, the only job opportunities available are for maids and day laborers. Many find that the life here isn't much different than from whence they came.

Regardless of nationality, peones have all day to scope out the existing homes while they work: whether the home is occupied and if it is, when people come and go. One phone call to a friend and the heist is on. But lately it isn't just about stealing. People are being stabbed and raped. This is quite new for this area of Costa Rica. I, for one, believe our private police force is complicit in what's been happening lately. Too many coincidences. Smells fishy, more fishy than usual.

Deadwood has a crime problem it needs to effectively deal with before Frommer's and Lonely Planet start getting wind. If the trend continues in the direction it's heading, the tourism and real estate economy on which Deadwood is based will crash, causing a ripple effect that will destroy many peoples' livlihoods.

Growing pains, I guess. But I'm beginning to feel less safe than I did in the city of 3 million from whence I came.

Rumores

Small town gossip (rumores) is epidemic here in Deadwood. I've never been into gossip, and don't have a lot of respect for those who are. Which means I don't have a lot of respect for a lot of folks. In my opinion, spreading lies about people to make them look bad, or yourself look better, or both, shows weakness of character. Nonetheless, in Deadwood, gossip is the favorite pastime amongst many of its inhabitants. No cultural, gender or age stereotypes here: ticos, gringos, boys, girls, men and women alike all gossip. Real life is just a pale extension of high school.

Though rumors are spread primarily to hurt other people, I did have an opportunity to flip one around, get in a great laugh and gain some personal satisfaction in publicly humiliating a rumor monger. I was at my favorite watering hole having a cuba libre when I overheard my wife's name in a male conversation. She was my girlfriend at the time. I began to eavesdrop. A man whom I didn't know, and who didn't know me - or my girlfriend as it turned out - was ranting about how my girlfriend's gringo boyfriend (me) had abandoned her to return to the US. She was broken-hearted, didn't see it coming. The rant continued on: gringo's were here just to lure ticas into sex with their money, drugs and fast cars. They didn't care about ticas. They just wanted to use them. (Sad thing is, this is often true, but I was the gringo he was talking about in this instance).

I let him continue for a short while, but long enough for all of the people I knew at the watering hole to pick up on what was transpiring. I was enjoying this. You should have seen the look on this guy's face when I tossed the grenade and told him that I was the guy he was talking about. Huge laughter and caballero calls from the crowd around the bar after the pregnant pause when they realized I wouldn't beat the crap out of him. The public humiliation I dished on the guy gave me all the satisfaction I needed.

Never saw him again. Rumor has it that his family disowned him and he moved to a new province.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Puro Zaguate

I have two dogs. They are both mutts. In tico Spanish they are called zaguates. I like to joke that they are "puro zaguates", or "pure mutts". I'm thinking of selling t-shirts.

I acquired my first dog who was about 4-5 weeks old from my father-in-law, whose dog had a litter of puppies. "The bitch" had a litter of 9; one died. She was pure pit bull, not well taken care of, and getting on in years. She had 8 tits that almost touched the sand, was flea and tick infested and had only one eye with vision. The other eye was constantly infected and was the color of sour milk. The father was... well... everything else on the beach. The bitch stopped nursing, probably because she was malnourished, and my father-in-law started giving the pups away. He saved a special one for me.

But first... My first introduction to the bitch was when I first began dating the woman who would later become my wife. I stepped onto the porch of her family's house on the beach one night to pick her up for a night out. The bitch was there to greet me with a growl that set my primordial defensive freeze instinct immediately into action - or inaction. She advanced on me in a crouching position that I've only seen on Animal Planet's "Predators" series when those wild African dogs are featured. The recollection is giving me goose bumps as I type. My wife came to my rescue before the bitch locked on to my leg with the compressive force of a T-Rex (which, as I found out later, was her signature method of neutralizing home invaders).

With the proper introductions made, I made friends with the bitch almost immediately. She would follow us everywhere. She would sleep outside of my house while we were dating and after my future-wife moved in with me. She wanted to kill my gardener, for whom she had the utmost distaste (or perhaps a taste for). She should have, as time would reveal. I loved her. I really loved that ugly bitch.

But she was bad for business at the restaurant. She scared the hell out of ticos and gringos alike. And she was protective and would take a nip at someone every now and then. She would go up against any male on the beach, and any who encountered her had had his ass kicked at least once. So my father-in-law gave her to one of his brothers with a big finca down the peninsula. I miss her. I see her face in my dog's face. I see her actions and instincts in his. She was the ugliest bitch I ever loved (think country 'n' western song).

But unlike his mom, the bitch, my dog's not a biter. In fact, quite the opposite. He'll get in anyone's car for a ride or follow anyone down the beach and spend the day with them picnicking and swimming in the surf. He disappears for a week or two weeks at a time - five days last time. Each time I send out a message on the coconut telegraph to be on the look out for "Apellido" (I'll explain below). The first time Apellido disappeared, he returned to the beach two weeks later after being sighted in a town about 8 kms. away 3 days before his return. The second time, I got a call from a guy I know in the same town he was sighted in the previous time, who found him and tied him up. I went and picked him up. The last time he showed up after 5 days for a fogata we had in the woods behind our new house. I heard his bark, whistled, and he materialized from the darkness. In each instace he returned without a collar (stolen), and very well-fed. It was like he wasn't even gone. I now figure he gets tired of his dog food, gets pissed off and hits the road to visit the next family on the circuit. Hell, they've got REAL chicken, pork and gallo pinto, not this cereal crap!! He's now famous between here and this other town. Everyone's on the look out for the "bago" (short for "vagabundo", or vagabond).

The Spanish word for a last name, or family name, is apellido. My dog has a last name for a first name - like Jefferson. He's named after one of my favorite MLB pitchers. This confuses the living crap out of ticos. Having a last name as a first name does not compute. DOES NOT COMPUTE. It's a concept too far outside of the lines, envelope, box. They laugh nervously as they try to process this information when I tell them his name, thinking I'm messing with them, but maybe not. I ENJOY THIS IMMENSELY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

When Appellido was about 6 weeks old, he got parvo virus. I had had him vaccinated, and the vaccine set off the virus, which he had already contracted. His brother, the one pup my father-in-law kept, also contracted it. It's tough watching a 6 week old puppy puke his guts out every 20 minutes to the point of beef jerky-like dehydration. So I put him and his brother in the car and rushed them to the vet. My father-in-law sure as hell wasn't gonna spend the money on a vet for his dog - that's just not done in Costa Rica. I don't know how vets survive here. The vet, a Russian-Tica, was direct: "I think these dogs will die." She was wrong - to her credit. I worship this woman. Four days later after being on the brink of death they were well enough to come home, and they fully recovered after about 3 weeks. Two weeks ago the Apellido's brother got into a fight with a three-toed ant eater. He lost his eye when the ant eater planted one of it massive claws in the dog's face. No vet. Dog is recovering on his own - maybe. Last report was that he was vomiting puss. Pura vida!

When Appellido hit 7 months, I noticed something next to his peepee that looked like an infection. Russian-Tica was direct: "It's a tumor. He has cancer." I mean, he's still a puppy for Chrisake!!. And I'm getting married this week!! I immediately put up the emotional armor and came to grips with the fact that I would have to put him down. Russian-Tica suggested chemotherapy. Didn't know they had that for dogs. All I could see were colones signs in my head. She gave him 4 treatments - injections into the tumor - with a night or two of observation each time. Total cost for each treatment: $22. She didn't charge me for boarding him. He's a well-trained and very friendly dog. She kept him in her house. She liked him because he calmed the other dogs down and played with the old ones no one else would play with. He's fully recovered. He loves going to the vet, catching up with the old dogs. Of course, he usually leaves with a new rawhide chew too. He turns one on 3 January, 2007.

The second puro zaguate was reconnoitered with here sister from a trash can on the next beach up from us. Some tico tourists brought them to the restaurant to see if anyone would take them in. I was ambushed by my wife as I got out of my pickup after chopping jungle with the machete. I melted at the sight of that cute little face and put up no resistance. My mother-in-law took the sister (apparently, a good turtle nest hunter judging by the egg harvest this year). She is a small breed mix and she was in pretty bad shape - flea/tick infested, ear mites, malnourished and no hair on her tail. We de-wormed her, de-flead her and pumped her full of Purina Pro Plan and vitamins. She was 5 1/2 weeks old, according to the vet, when we found her. She weighed 1 kg. (2.2 lbs). A week later when we brought her back to the vet for her first round of vaccinations, she weighed 1.6 kg. She eats like a shark. She's named after the Virgin Mary, which is easier for ticos to process.

The two pooches are inseparable. The contrast between their sizes is of no importance. Apellido comes to the Virgin's rescue on the beach when one of the other dogs gets too rough with her. She returns the favor by devouring all of his food. Pura vida! Puro zaguate!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Errands and Fortune

My wife and I scored on an over/under washer dryer yesterday, saving about $240 US because it has a scratch on it. Like I'm not going to beat the crap out of it. We also purchased a range/oven (mini, for our mini kitchen) a refrigerator/freezer (small, but not mini), microwave, coffeemaker and the all-important rice cooker. They threw in a free toaster oven with the fridge. All for about $1750 US. I was very happy. Appliances are very expensive here due to high import taxes.

I had the option of having everyting delivered and splitting the delivery cost with the vendor. Having been through this before, I elected to pick the stuff up in my pickup. Vendors rarely have their own trucks. They hire a taxi driver with a pickup truck to deliver - usually a very used pickup truck - with no guarantees on delivery. I pictured the Nicaraguan taxista presenting a new kitchen to his gold-toothed wife and 12 kids. Didn't like what I saw.

The painters and stucco guys are coming to repair the bad stucco and interior paint today also. I have to find water for them to use as we've turned off the well pump. We're trying to evict people in the house next door to us (which is on the same pump), so we cut off power and water to the house they're in 10 days ago and changed the lock on the gate accessing the property (go around the problem, avoid confrontation). They're still there living there in darkness. I imagine they smell pretty bad too. The guy was selling cocaine out of the house. Many of his customers were Hollywood's finest private security cops. Hollywood recently hired private security to combat the increasing incidences of theft and, now, violent crime being experienced in some of the gated communities here. The police in the next town over were useless, if they even showed up. And they let everyone they caught go. Less paperwork, I guess. So now several local hotels and real estate brokers pay a private force to do the same.

So it's a day of roadtrips, heavy lifting and babysitting today. But we'll be closer to being able to move into the new place, which we have now privately dubbed "La Jungla" ("The Jungle").

EVENING UPDATE: The electricity went down this morning before I could publish this. Coopeguanacaste is doing a lot of work on poles and wires in the area. The electricity goes down about every other day on average, from about 8AMto 4PM. Public water's been out a lot lately too. You adjust.

One thing that struck me today... I managed to sandwich all three big appliances on the back of my pickup. While driving home, I noticed a lot of heads turning to stare at the payload as I went by; people waiting for buses or rides. Nearly all of them were women, drooling! These are luxury items for a lot of folks. Many women cook over an open fire in an outdoor kitchen. The washer is an outdoor sink. The dryer is a clothes line. Most people do have a fridge, however, but many use an Igloo cooler. I felt a little guilty - and very fortunate.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Palabras (Words)

There's an old gringo saying that "Talk is cheap". In Costa Rica, talk holds absolutely no value whatsoever (doctors and pharmacists excluded). Ticos are very polite people and are, and should be, very proud of this fact. But being polite here also means avoiding confrontation - at all costs. In order to avoid confrontation, you lie. Extrapolate, and lying = manners.

If someone tells you they will call you back in an hour or first thing in the morning, it's a lie. If someone tells you they will meet you at your house or at the jobsite at 9 AM, its a lie - but less of one if they actually show up some time on that day. If your appointment with your lawyer is at 1PM, assume your lawyer will be at lunch until 3PM and you will be waiting. I have a formula now: If they say it's an hour, it's three. If it's a day, it's 3 days. If it's a week, it's two weeks. If it's a month, they're being polite by giving you the brush-off without having to say so.

The phrase, "I don't know." does not exist here. If you're asking for directions and someone doesn't know, they will make something up rather than admit that they don't know. If the guy at the hardware store isn't sure the paint is right for the application, he will tell you that it is even though he has no clue. And if you flag someone on their lie - even if it's staring them and, god forbid, witnesses, in the face, you might as well have killed their mother. It will be taken personally. And it will be your fault.

Ticos cannot handle confrontation. Never confront. Do what they do: bury the problem, or go around it, but never confront it. For example, someone working construction on a house next door to me was stealing stuff off of my truck. I didn't know exactly who it was but I knew it was someone working there. Approaching the maestro de obra (job captain) with the problem wouldn't solve anything, because he'd end up taking it personally as me thinking he was stealing from me. So I removed the handle on the spigot on the hose bib on my house that every guy on the jobsite was using to fill their water bottles during the day. Things stopped disappearing from my truck.

Personal responsibility is a new concept here. No one is held responsible for one's actions or inaction. Except gringos. But don't take it personally.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Doctores, Clinicas y la Farmacia

Gringos can only dream of having the level of quality and access to health care that Costa Rican's enjoy. Life expectancy here is 3rd in the world behind Japan and France, and in front of the UK and US. Healthcare is available to all, whether you are a citizen, resident or visitor. Costa Ricans can join the national social security system for a minimal monthly cost. Foreigners can purchase health insurance through the national insurance company for about 1/5 the cost of equal coverage in the US. Or you can just pay as you go for private healthcare.

Even if you pay as you go here, the cost of drugs at the pharmacy, a visit to the doctor, injections in his office, independent laboratory tests or a trip to the emergency room is a fraction of the cost in the US or Canada (though still expensive for the average tico). And the service is as good or better. In fact, in my experience the level of health care service has always been better. ALWAYS!

Now, I haven't been deathly ill, gracias a dios, but I did pick up some sort of flesh eating bacteria a couple of times, and have been doubled over in so much pain with an intestinal infection that I couldn't walk. For the skin thing, I went to the farmacia (pharmacy). Pharmacies here work much differently than where I'm from. Most have a doctor on call in the pharmacy with whom you can consult and get a diagnosis (or, in my case, lift up your shirt to show him your flesh eating disease and watch him leap backward in horror while squealing, "Eewwww!" like a little school girl). Now, he's not going to diagnose a heart condition, diabetes or a brain parasite, but he can help you out with a lot of the more common ailments that affect people. He can then recommend medicine that you can purchase at the pharmacy on your way out of his office for an eighth of what it would cost in the US.

It's preventive health care at its finest and I find myself relying on it much more than I did in the US. I was in an HMO to which I and my employer paid a significant chunk of change each month. But every time something bothered me, I had to make an appointment with a 'primary care physician' to either get a diagnosis or a referral to see a specialist. It might be a week or two before he could see me. If he wrote me a prescription, I had to make a second trip to the drug store to fill it. If it was lab tests, it was a trip somewhere else and then I had to wait days or a week for the results to be delivered to my primary care physician for another trip back to his office. I found myself waiting until I was almost unconscious before going to the doctor in the US. I don't anymore. My pharmacist and I are good friends and I'm enjoying the best health of my life. So is my wife.

For the intestinal thing I went to a private clinic. I arrived with no appointment, gave the nurse my driver's license, sat down, waited a total of 10 minutes and was called into the doctor's office. He questioned me for a few minutes, examined me, gave me an i.v. to stop the contractions in my bowels that had me doubled over and gave me an injection of an antibiotic for the infection. He then prescribed three drugs for me: a mild pain killer, an antibiotic and a pill for parasites (just in case). So let's tally that: 1 office visit, 1 i.v., 1 injection, 3 prescription drugs. It was $45 for the first three and $30 for the prescription drugs that I purchased at the pharmacy in the same building! I went for lab tests at one clinic that included a urinalysis, stool analysis, and blood workup. For this I had made an appointment. I showed up at 10:00AM, was stuck with a needle at 10:10AM for the bloodwork and had the results in my hands at 2PM the same day!

An orthopedic surgeon friend of mine - a big skier from upstate NY who deals with a lot of sports injuries - was visiting me with his family and became ill. We'll call him Dr. Heal Thyself. After 3 days of misery with cramps, diarrhea, headaches, sleeplessness and dehydration, Dr. Heal Thyself decided it might be a good idea to see another doctor. He and his wife were a little leery of the level of healthcare that he would receive in this 2.5 World country. I told them not to worry. In the end, Dr. Heal Thyself's experience was the same as mine. He was impressed with the quality of health care delivery as well as the price tag.

But what Dr. Heal Thyself was most impressed with was the flavored tongue depressors the doctor used in his office for little kids. "These are great!! Where can I get these!!??"

Monday, November 27, 2006

Construcción

I've been renovating a house here in Hollywood. It's a 2 story house that my father-in-law began building for my wife about 3 years ago and never finished. Typical construction for Costa Rica: concrete, block, stucco, tile floors on the first floor, wood floors on the second, wood roof structure with a corrugated metal roof. What makes it atypical of a tico house is the amount of floor-to-ceiling glass, a bathroom for each bedroom, and the two huge balconies on the second floor - one of wood, the other of concrete. The money ran out, so the house sat in disrepair for quite awhile.

There were two circuit breakers for the entire house - one for the tiny kitchen and one for the rest of the house. So if you turned on a light and a blow dryer at the same time - pop! Nothing was grounded. The glass was thin and cheap and was installed with construction grade lumber that had warped and was breaking the glass panels. There were bats and rats taking up residence. The floors had warped. There were termites in the roof.

Nonetheless, I could see the house's potential and I couldn't stand to look at it in its current state. Not to mention the fact that it sits on a 3 hectare piece of jungle in the center of Hollywood. One of the last places howler monkeys can come to cruise the canopy without risk of getting hit by a car or electrocuted. It's very private. I like my privacy. So I decided that I'd finish it and my wife and I would move in at the end of the month. That was the first week of October, and it's still not done yet...

The project consisted (and consists) of completely trashing the old electrical system, putting in a 24 breaker box, pulling new grounded wire throughout, pulling cable and telephone wire, adding light switches and outlets including two 220 outlets for washer/dryer and and electric range and more for air conditioning, adding a meter and breaker at the pole (a real breaker, not the throw arm breaker). The old glass would be replaced by aluminum windows with sliding doors and screens to the balconies and terrace and glass swing doors with closers for the main entries. Stucco would be applied outside, all soffits would be reconstructed and a pediment constructed over the terrace over the main entry in front, all painted and succoed. The entire interior would be painted. The roof would be painted. Two airconditioning units would be installed upstairs in the room that would be my office, and our master "jungle vista" bedroom. Ceiling fans would be installed in every room. Interior and exterior light fixtures, including security lights with motion detectors, and globes for the gates, would be installed.

I hired a guy to do the stucco, paint and gypsum on a recommendation from another gringo friend of mine who lives here and builds homes. I had interviewed a couple more, but went with the recommendation even though he was more expensive. The stucco guy recommended an electrician. I had two estimates from other electrical guys and he was the middle, and I figured these guys knew each other and would be able to coordinate work better. And so it began.

Some notes and observations I've made over the last 6 weeks:

1. When selecting paint color, I'm used to being given the color wheel and selecting my colors over a day or two, or more. Not the case this time. Color wheels are too precious a commodity. In many places they don't exist and if they do people don't give them back. So the guy from the ferreteria comes over with the color wheel and waits 3 hours while I select colors for the interior paints and the exterior stuccos. I was pretty happy with myself for doing this in 3 hours and the colors look fantastic. But it was selection under pressure while the guy from the ferreteria snoozed in his pickup. Nothing else to do, I guess. Pura vida!

2. There is no "one stop shopping" here in Costa Rica. It's not like hiring a painter in the US who will give you a price for materials and labor, and guarantee it. Here, it's just mano de obra (labor). YOU buy the materials and pay for THEM to install them. I have no problem with being my own contractor. In fact I prefer it. But see 3., below.

3. When someone gives you a list of materials, quantities and prices for the stuff you will need to buy, you can be assured that it is pretty much basura (garbage). I ended up using and spending twice to two-and-a-half times the material estimate my stucco guy gave me. In reality, he had no clue. And he knew that once he started, I was going to pony up for whatever he needed if he ran out. This story is repeated by many I know who are in construction. There's really no way around this one. Plan on twice the estimate and you may not be disappointed.

4. Construction guys here expect YOU to buy THEIR tools. In this case, my stucco guy had NONE. I asked him how he could be in the business of drywall, paint and stucco and have no tools - no answer, deer in the headlights stare. I was looking for a hammer of mine one day that I had "leant" him and my guy says, "Oh, you mean the hammer you bought me?". I had to explain to him that any tools I bought were MINE, not his, and that I had the facturas (receipts) and would be checking at the end of the job for every single one. If it was missing, it came out of his pay. No deer in the headlights stare on that one. Money is the only thing that is understood. Praise Shiva that my electrician brought his own tools. He even went out and bought a car after the 2nd installment I paid him, with an eye on the future. The stucco guy was blowing his pay on guarro and putas, living for the day.

5. Constructing a muestra (mockup) of a small portion or sample of the the work before going ahead with the rest consists of doing all of the work, looking at it, and if it is not what you want, tearing it down and starting again. I drew a pediment in 3-dimensions from above and below, as well as a technical section through the materials. I took the entire team to another house being constructed nearby to explain to them what a pediment was, and what I wanted. Many nods of understanding.

Took three tries before they got it right, never constructing a mock-up to discuss before proceeding further. It was pedal to the floor, "How's that look?" "Not even close, do it again." (Repeat).

6. Never think ahead. If you know you are running out of nails, paint, cable or stucco, wait until you use the last nail and tell the dueño (owner) that you're out and you need more. This caused me countless headaches on stucco, as the two colors I was using were custom and had a 3-day lead time for mixing and shipping from S. Jose. These guys would wait until they hit the bottom of the bucket to tell me, "Hey, we need more!", every single time!

7. Make sure the guy you contract with will be there to oversee the work. My electrician was great! My stucco guy was taking theology classes in S. Jose and wasn't on the job 3 days a week. That meant I had to be there. When he tried to charge me for extras, I gave him a very expensive bill for the time I had to be there when he wasn't. He ended up owing me money.

8. Check backpacks of everyone before they leave for the day. Theft is sport here in Costa Rica. If you don't check bags, things sprout legs and disappear. Make sure everyone knows that it comes out of their pay. I got off relatively easy as only 3 of my light fixtures and a coil of cable were stolen, and the guy I suspected was the thief forgot his motorcycle helmet on his dash out. I'm holding on to it in case he comes back looking for it. He hasn't. It's always nice to have an extra.

9. Make a medium sized noise at the ferreteria when you have a problem. I had major problems with stucco not adhering to certain areas on the exterior walls. I ended up buying twice what should have covered. I made a medium sized stink over the phone one day, and then at the ferreteria the next. An engineer from the ferreteria came out to look at the house, ACKNOWLEGED THERE WAS A PROBLEM WITH THE STUCCO, then said there was nothing he could do! He didn't know that I had left the ferreteria the week before with seven, unpaid-for 5 gal. buckets of stucco when their computer system went down and they couldn't take payment. So I owed them. But I also owed them for four buckets more, that were delivered, but for which I hadn't yet paid. So I get a call the following day with a song and dance that there's a problem and they want me to pay full price for 11 buckets of bad stucco. I told them to work something out on the price and that I'd visit the ferreteria the next morning to resolve the dispute. I didn't want any trouble, but I wasn't going to pay full price.

So I hit them first thing in the AM the next day. I only spoke when spoken to and listened to the sob story of the guy who would be in trouble with his boss if I didn't pay, and that this was the best price he could give me. I spied a truck of one of the more prominent builders here in the area who only does expensive, complicated custom homes. Let's call him so-and-so. He's a friend of mine and one of the best clients the ferreteria has. I looked at the guy who was whining and wondered out loud, "I wonder if so-and-so might be able to advise me on how to fix this stucco?". The whiner's eyes awakened, the candle illuminated over his head (there was no electricity for a light bulb), he got on the phone to his boss. Boss showed up with 3 peones in 10 seconds. I paid THEIR cost for the stucco and got a 1 year, 100% guarantee that they would fix anything that went wrong with the stucco AND paint. They come back tomorrow to fix not only the stucco, but to repaint two bedrooms that have matte finish paint on the walls instead of the eg-shel I ordered.

10. All window screens are not alike. A window screen is anything that fits over a window opening, like a lid over a jar, but without the fit. Removable window screens do not exist. "That's the way it's done all over Costa Rica. Why are you complaining? I don't understand". I showed them what I meant, fitting the screen into the track above, in line with the window jamb on the sides, and only requiring a couple of screws below. The argument for the lid over the jar became more amplified. When a tico is backed into a corner and knows he/she is wrong, you can be assured that he/she will wrongly argue even more vehemently, even though the right argument is staring them in the face. There's absolutely no way I've found of getting around this surreality.

Just got off the phone with the A/C guy. The condensate pumps I've been waiting for did indeed arrive on Saturday. But they're 110v, not 220v. What a surprise. Maybe tomorrow. Haven't even gotten to doors and millwork. Pura mierda!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

El Verano

El verano, summer, has arrived here in Guanacaste. The rains of October and early November have subsided for the most part. The trees are beginning to change color and are just beginning to drop their leaves. The sky is deep blue with few clouds and the breezes have picked up a bit. The volcanoes have giant cloud waves breaking over their tops.

For those unfamiliar with the geography here, Guanacaste is the driest province in Costa Rica, located on the northwest Pacific side of the country, bordering with Nicaragua to the north. The rainy season, or green season, starts in May-June and lasts through October-November, with October being the wettest month. The tropical dry forest that covers the hills along the coast is deciduous jungle. When the rain stops, many of the trees shed their leaves to conserve energy over the long, dry summer. Some burst into bloom, covered in brilliant flowers with not a leaf on the tree. The hummingbirds swarm. It will not rain here at all for about 4 months or so! It's guaranteed sunshine for tourists seeking warmth from the harsh cold and short winter days up north. The hills turn brown to reveal the cactus growing beneath what was dense green canopy a month ago. My favorite time of year to hop on the motorcycle and take a ride.

It's also fire season. Burning is part of the culture here in Guanacaste. Ranchers traditionally burn to clear pasture for their horses and cattle. The grass roots, and some of the low, scrubby trees, are resistant to fire and turn green again when the rains return. It's becoming a bit controversial now with the ecotourism boom, population growth and the proximity of fincas (farms) to national parks. Sometimes when the pasture burns, it sets off fires in the parks. Now people in gated communities on what used to be a finca are becoming concerned about their property when the next door neighbor torches his pasture. Another one of those culture clashes we'll have to work through together.

Today is a beautiful day. Nothing but blue sky, blue water, green mountains and volcanoes. I hear the wahoo are running. The beach should be crowded with ticos and visitors alike. I have a big week coming up with a move to a new house so I'm going to live for the day and enjoy it with my tico family and friends. Maybe I'll get lucky and score a tamale or two, and spike my pipa with a bit of Centenario. Tuanis! Pura vida!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Donde Cada Dia es el Primer Dia

In many countries, we have sayings and cliche's that we often use to communicate ideas. Costa Rica is no exception. In fact, I feel like ticos use more 'dichos' than just about anyone else in the world. I have a dicho that I use a lot in good humor with visitors as well as ticos: "!Costa Rica, donde cada dia es el primer dia!" Which means, "Cost Rica, where every day is the first day!"

In nearly all human interactions here, whatever transpired, was discussed or was agreed upon the day before is forgotten the following day - it never happened. You start over again every single day. This is one of those yin/yang things: I love the way ticos live for the day/I hate the way ticos live for the day. There is something very fundamental, pure, honest, healthy and basic in living for the day. I used to live for the future, always thinking of tomorrow, and a good chunk of my life passed me by. I live for the day now, but with an eye on the future. But the norm here is both eyes on the day.

When you're on vacation, goofing off, living for the day is what it's all about. You may only have a week or two of vacation before heading back to the norm of everyday life in the place you're from. So this approach makes complete sense. Carpe diem!

But living for the day really doesn't work well when conducting business. Dejavu on the jobsite is counterproductive. Dejavu with your lawyer is counter productive. Dejavu with the utility company is counterproductive. In Costa Rica, you are your lawyer's lawyer, your doctor's doctor, your gardener's gardener, you pool guy's pool guy, your waiter's waiter, etc. Those with the eye on the future working with those living for the day must be vigilant and repetitive (the last of which is moot for those who live for the day with no eye on the future, as nothing repeats, so don't sweat it if you sound like a broken record).

Get used to do-overs. Plan on at least one for every task assigned to your lawyer, architect, maestro de obra, taxi driver, waiter, etc. Where I'm from, if someone has to do something over, they look bad and probably feel bad. Here, it's pretty much expected that there will be 2 or 3 drafts before the final publication. No one loses face when I tell them, "No. Otra vez, por favor." Build it into your schedule or, better yet, toss your schedule out the window. Calendars don't exist here - unless you have a day off of work coming up for an official government holiday.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Tamales

Tico tamales!! My favorite food here in Costa Rica. One of my wife's aunts makes these things every once in awhile and sells them to the locals for 400 colones each (about 75 cents US). I usually buy about 15 of them and freeze a bunch to last awhile. Their preparation is a bit time consuming.

You start with maize (corn flour) the day before, soaking it in water and cooking it with a little salt. After it's cooked, you wash it, change the water and let it stand overnight. The next day you knead the maize into dough. You then boil potatoes, carrots, pork or chicken, and bacon in separate pots to cook and season with black pepper, coriander, cumin and salt. You take the water from the meat and add it to the dough and knead it to an intermediate consistency. She also adds some of the potatoes, diced, to the dough.

Then you take a banana leaf and cut it into pieces, almost square, about 14 x 16 inches. Put a few of tablespoons of dough, a tablespoon or two of cooked rice, a piece of meat, some ground chicharon (fried pork skin) , a slice or two of carrots, some coriander and a strip of chile dulce (sweet pepper). You wrap it all up in the leaf in the shape of a rectangle and tie it up with string, making sure that none of the stuff inside is exposed (I'm not sure of the technique here. I guess I could find out by paying attention when I untie and unfold one, but I'm usually too preoccupied with getting at what's inside!). Then place them in salted boiling water and cook for about an hour.

My inlaws unwrap them and place the leaf and tamal in a soup bowl with the banana leaf sticking out over the edges of the bowl. It's a nice presentation.

I'm sure that if I had to eat one single meal for the rest of my life and never be tired of eating it, this would be it!! That's saying alot!! Tico tamales!! Buen provecho!!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

El Culo del Mundo

Directly translated from Spanish, it means "ass of the world". But the interpreted meaning is "the middle of nowhere". I live in a place that in many respects is el culo del mundo. Very rural, far away from the "big city" of San Jose. But because of its beautiful coastline, beaches, great fishing, volcanoes, warm people, and fantastic weather, it is rapidly being bought up and developed by wealthy North Americans into hotels, condos and large single family homes. Ticos call it 'Hollywood', and it seems so on the surface with all of the wealth and luxury being created. But scratch the veneer, and beneath the surface it's more like 'Deadwood' - that 19th century, frontier gold rush town featured in the HBO series, with the same places and characters, but at a different latitude. Substitute the word 'real estate' for 'gold' and you start to get more of the picture. This place is booming! And with the boom come many people from other places looking to prospect and profit, in addition to those who are already here and have been here for a long time. And with an influx of people and money come many benefits, but also many problems. The world ain't perfect, even here in Paradise.

I'd be remiss if I didn't say that I've profited from the boom. But I'm a little different than most gringos in that I actually live here and am part of the community. I live here year-round. I have learned Spanish and assume you know it too. I am married to a tica, and love her and her family very much. We are planning a family of our own. I will educate my children here. My ashes will be sprinkled over the Pacific Ocean off the beach near which I live. I'm here for the long term, not just for a 5-year 100% R.O.I. I'm idealistic.

I came to Costa Rica on vacation some years back, and after repeating the trip several times, I decided that I preferred the lifestyle here more than the one I had in the US. I despised the cold weather and short Winter days in the place where I'm from. I was just enduring the Winter for the two-and-a-half glorious months of Summer. Astrologically speaking, I'm a Sun sign. And if I had to 'prairie dog' out of an office cubicle one more time I would surely go insane, dash through the 20th floor office window and plummet to my death on the pavement below. I've always been very comfortable in the jungle - whether concrete ghetto or steamy rain forest. I despise the suburbs, where I grew up - the 'burbs are for copouts. The 'burbs are for people who want to Disney-fy the world. I took a risk, sold my condo, my Mercedes-Benz and almost everything else that I own, gave up a great career, my friends there, and baseball games. How I miss baseball. And I've never looked back. Tourists ask me almost every day how I did it because they're thinking of doing it too. I reply politely, "If you have to ask, you'll never do it, so why waste our time? Wanna beer?"

I love this culo del mundo. But as for how long it will remain so, I cannot foresee. My wife was born here and barely recognizes the place anymore. It's now a relatively expensive place to live, which is pricing out ticos who used to come to the beach with the family on the weekend for an inexpensive day of rest and relaxation. Neighbors are turning on neighbors, family members against family members in their lust for "gold".

Clearly, I'm not afraid of change. But I'm conflicted with the reality that change is not always for the better. People are laying waste to exactly the things that draw people here to Guanacaste in the first place. Not a month passes without a howler monkey electrocuting itself on an electrical wire or getting hit by a car because the trees that made "their road" have all been cut down - for some gringo's vista del mar and a pool with an infinity edge (and you MUST have an infinity edge!). The white-faced monkeys are all gone now - they don't do well with people, bulldozers and dump trucks around. The once lush mountains have been carved up and are denuded of vegetation to allow for houses and that all-important gringo vista del mar. Developers blast rock from the hillsides to eek out 100 more buildable square meters. They do it without permits. They've already bribed the municipality officials - chorizo, to look the other way. The rocks fall on the neighbors below. Uncontrolled growth is the mentality of the cancer cell.

The vista del mar is, indeed, incredibly beautiful. But go out on a boat and look back at Hollywood. Hollywood looks like a mining town, like Deadwood. In spite of it, I remain optimistic. I imagine this place after the construction boom, when the dust settles, the landscape recovers, the detritus that have moved here to work construction have left, when someone has figured out a way to manage storm and waste water, and it's a beautiful place. It has to be. I mean, you gotta get your 100% minimum R.O.I., and no one's gonna let that slide. Right?