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?