Wednesday, December 17, 2008

¿Feliz Navidad?

Merry Christmas? I sure hope so. I could use some merriment right about now. 2008 has been a terrible year for my business. And this, in turn, has put pressure on my family life. Frankly, I'd like to forget the whole year.

But that's not reality. Reality is what happens - not what might have happened. Right now, I'm thankful to have my health and thankful that my wife and daughter have theirs. That's about all we have. That, and the love that binds. Which is what Christmas is all about.

So, Merry Christmas. Celebrate the love that you have with the ones you share it with.

Friday, November 14, 2008

El Verano

Spanish for "the Summer". Summer arrived about 2 weeks after my "Un Mes Duro" posting as if the Great Almighty flipped a gigantic earth switch. The rain simply stopped, the clouds parted and the sun has been shining (mostly) ever since. My mood has also shifted from wet and glum to scattered clouds and sun.

I've been taking advantage of the great weather to catch up on household chores. I put a new roof, door, hinges, latch and a poured concrete cover over the alcantaria (concrete pipe) that leads down to our well. The zinc was rusted, the pressure tank was about to fall into the well (propped up on a rotting wood cover), there was no door on the well house and the roosters and iguanas were alternatively using it as shelter. It wasn't the most sanitary of situations and I decided to do something about it.

My aleros (soffits) on the house are covered with mold. I had a roof leak fixed by the guy who painted the soffits, presumably with anti-hongo (anti-mold) paint, and pointed out the soffits. He had given me a verbal one-year warranty. I was braced for the excuse. But to my surprise, he said he'd come back after the rain subsided and re-paint at no charge. I talked to him the other day to remind him. He hadn't forgotten, but he hasn't showed up yet. Stay tuned...

"El Rebelde", my pickup, had its first washing in over a month. It was beyond belief. I even had the ceiling vacuumed. There wasn't a square inch of the interior that wasn't covered with sand, mud, dust, baby formula, mold or dog hair. El Rebelde seams much happier and has been running quite well since my mechanic fine-tuned the engine and turbo a few weeks ago. I hope it lasts. Pray Shiva, make it last!!

This weekend it's up on the ladder to replace all of my halogen bulbs on my motion sensor lights that provide a halo of illumination around the house at night. They're a pain in the ass because they need to be cleaned of bugs and spider webs. But the psychological anti-theft deterrent they provide is well worth it. The downside is that the bats have figured out how to dive-bomb the sensors to trigger the lights so they can feast on the smorgasbord of bugs that the lights attract. I still haven't figured out how to get rid of the bats. They seem to be moving around the attic to new locations. I can hear them at 3am crawling across the drywall and saw them the other day when I was tossing moth balls up there to make their bat condo a less desirable place to live. So far, it's all been in vain. They're absolutely fearless too - kinda like a flying rodent mafia.

Am applying for my wife's and daughter's travel visa to the US. This should be fun...

¡Pura vida!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Gringo Expats

Though there are many theories on the origin of the word "Gringo", none have been proven. Regardless of the origin, a Gringo is anyone hailing from the United States (Canada is not included). Expats is short for "Expatriots" - people who are citizens of one country but are residing in another. I'm a Gringo Expat.

A friend of mine sent me an email the other day that I thought was both funny and accurate. I'll quote directly:

"...if you’re in Costa Rica it’s because you’re wanted or your unwanted. Gringos in Costa Rica fall into five distinct categories:

1. Running a scam.
2. Failed at whatever business they were in in the U.S. (e.g. real estate sales) and think they have a better shot at it in the tropics.
3. Here for the legal chicas because they can’t get them back home.
4. Here for the illegal chicas (or chicos) because they’re less likely to be caught on camera by Dateline reporters here.
5. Settled down with one chica and working in a legitimate job."

I would say, based on my experience, that these categories are listed in order of prevalence. Thankfully, and by no accident, my friend and I both fall into category 5.

¡Pura vida!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Un Mes Duro

Spanish for, "A tough month" or "a hard month". That's what October has been, so far, here in Guanacaste. Typically, October is the wettest and slowest (tourism-wise) month of the year. In short, it's just plain dead. Many of the restaurants and hotels in the area simply close because it just doesn't make sense to stay open and operate at a loss. This month has been, and continues to be, especially painful.

It started raining here on Sunday
and hasn't stopped. Even my wife, "Pura Guanacasteca" (Pure Guanacastecan), is a bit amazed at the duration of this wet spell. On top of it, we have scheduled power outages every Thursday of this month from 8AM to 2PM. So today was wet and we had no power for 6 hours (more, actually, as the power didn't come back on until 2:30PM - it ALWAYS goes off on time but DOESN'T ALWAYS come back on on time). The reason for the power outages is simple: Coopeguanacaste is replacing old wooden telephone poles in the area with new concrete or steel poles and new cable. The reason for the rain, however, can't be explained.

And, of course, the A/C in "El Rebelde", is acting up by coming on and off whenever it wants. I use the A/C to defog my windows as defoggers are useless at this latitude. The cold, dry air keeps the windshield free of condensation. It's the only time I ever use the air when I'm not in the truck with my clients. I really don't like A/C. But, of course, now when I need it, it doesn't work. Not to mention the fact that one of my rear passenger windows rolls itself down at random moments, like some amphibious ghost is sitting in the back seat. I had to override it with the control in front and kill the engine to keep it from going down on its own while out at lunch at a restaurant that was supposed to have a backup generator, but didn't, and whose kitchen was closed because one of the cooks didn't show up today and the other was smoking ribs and couldn't handle the customers - all three of us.

I seem to have solved the flooding problem at my office caused by the torrential rain, its resulting runoff and the fact that the site engineers at the construction site next to us have dammed up the channel that lets water flowing past our property flow past their property. This has resulted in the dammed up water pooling against our building and making its way into our office. My partner and I have tried to be reasonable with these guys, to no avail. We then moved to playing "good cop, bad cop" to no avail. So I took the gloves off and did what any good Tico would do - I went passive-aggressive.

I dug a small trench at the low spot of the giant pool and sloped it toward the foundation of the future bank they're building. Now all of the water they have dammed up is pouring into their construction site and filling it to the point where they have to pump it out daily. It's SOOOOOOO SWEEEEEEET!!! But, more importantly, it has solved our problem.

I'm trying to replace the roof and add a door, latch and ventilation screening on my pump house over our well. It's an unglamorous cinder block structure that I plan on painting some art-deco Miami Beach color when the inundation subsides. Am also running the cable feeding the pump underground and putting a cover over the alcantaria (concrete pipe) that constitutes the shaft of the well and supports the pump and pressure tank. I had my handyman buy the materials 4 days ago. We're still waiting for the rain to let up.

My North American clients don't understand any of this. And, to tell you the truth, it's them who make me crazy, not all of what I've described above. For me, we just make a picnic out of it all. But it's difficult to balance the expectations of North Americans buying/selling real estate from their desk chair, having spent a total of one week in Costa Rica on vacation at an all-inclusive where everyone speaks English, with the reality of daily life down here. They don't get it. Sometimes I feel like asking them, "What the f*ck ever brought you here anyway?" But I bite my tongue and joke, "Hey, Costa Rica is for pioneers, not pussies!" Not a lie. But the underlying truth is lost on them.

Explorers "opened up" the Great West of the United States. The first ones, the mountain men and fur trappers, struck an accord with the native Americans and lived together in harmony with them, mostly. But then the California Gold Rush sent waves of "white men" over the plains and Rocky Mountains and the West was "tamed". Translation: a bunch of adventurers living the good life unwittingly created inroads for weak and worthless dolts to rape the land and people, and create vanilla suburbs. At least, that's the way I see it... when it's rainy and wet and I'm feeling curmudgeonly.

Gotta check my roof for leaks. Pura vida!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

El Rebelde

Spanish for "The Rebel" - the new nickname bestowed upon my pickup by my mechanic in Guardia. I got the truck back the day before my week long return to Chicago after 4 months of pura mierda (pure shit) dealing with the Mahindra agency in S. Jose over a warranty dispute on a turbo that lasted me only 3 days. It would probably take me about 4 months to tell the story in detail with veins popping out of my forehead like the young assassin in that Angelina Jolie super action flick filmed in Chicago. So here are some bullet points:

- One day, El Rebelde is smoking and revving. I kill the engine in front of my house and call my mechanic.
- My mechanic arrives that afternoon. Tells me the turbo is bad. 7 month old turbo is not under warranty.
- Next day he orders a new one.
- 3 days later I have to go to the bank to wire transfer money to the agency's bank account for them to release the turbo. They never called me to tell me this.
- A week later new turbo is installed and El Rebelde is purring like a kitten.
- 3 days and 130 kms. later, new turbo expires. See No Vale la Pena.
- Call to agency results in my having to spend $270 to send El Rebelde to S. Jose for them to "diagnose" the problem. The flatbed arrives to collect El Rebelde 3 days later - it's too late on a Friday and the soonest the driver can get to S. Jose is Monday.
- After 2 weeks, the agency diagnoses the problem as "a problem with the turbo" - duh! In order for them to confirm it's the turbo and not the engine, they tell me they have to replace the engine!!!!!!! Not being born yesterday, I tell them to send the turbo to a lab for diagnostics and an independent 3rd opinion. The agency agrees.
- 2 weeks later the turbo has yet to be removed from the truck and sent to a lab.
- 1 week later my mechanic and I go to S. Jose to have a sit-down with the agency's head mechanic and recover the truck. My mechanic is livid - the agency is also blaming him for faulty installation of the newer turbo. There is blood in his eyes.
- After much discussion, agency agrees that turbo can be removed by my mechanic in Guanacaste and sent to lab for diagnostics in S. Jose. Could have been done in the first place. We put El Rebelde on the flatbed and drive home. Cha-ching, $270 more.
- 2 weeks later results from lab come back - turbo bad from factory. Therefore, warranty of turbo is valid.
- Agency in uproar because my mechanic did not send turbo to one of "their laboratories". Geeze, that doesn't smell fishy, does it? Agency will not pay for laboratory diagnostics. They agree to honor warranty, but hold new turbo hostage until laboratory bill is paid.
- 1 week of phone calls to get to the head manager of the agency.
- 30 minutes on phone with head manager and my turbo is on a bus from S. Jose to my mechanic. Very nice lady. But she's a woman and her underlings are resentful. She's as furious as I am.
- 2 days later, turbo arrives from S. Jose. But parts for installation are still with the old turbo at the lab. Agency still refuses to pay lab bill. Lab will not release old turbo with parts. My mechanic pays the bill for me and we agree to settle up later.
- 1 week later my mechanic is still waiting for gaskets to arrive from the agency in S. Jose - they were not shipped with the new turbo. The ones that arrived a couple of days ago weren't the right size.
- 1 week later El Rebelde has a new turbo - and a new oil leak. My mechanic is baffled.
- 1 weeks later, oil leak mystery is resolved and El Rebelde is purring like a kitten. But passenger windows won't roll down. New relay ordered.
- 1 day later I go to Chicago with specifications on a fast computer I am to buy for my mechanic so he can run new diagnostic software without having to wait overnight for his computer to process results.
- 1 week later I return from Chicago with new computer and new attitude. My mechanic is like a kid on Christmas day. He pays me for the computer and writes off the cost of all of the work he's done!!! I want to kiss the guy.
- 1 day later engine is dying randomly, like it's running out of fuel. El Rebelde dies the next day.
- 1 day later my mechanic arrives at the beach where El Rebelde has died. My guess is that there's air or water in the diesel line.
- 2 hours later my mechanic asks me when was the last time I changed my fuel filters. I tell him 4000 km. ago. He smiles a pitiful smile. Turns out they weren't changed but I was charged anyway by Super Servicio a.k.a. Super Ripoff. My mechanic goes to Liberia to find filters.
- 2 hours later my mechanic calls. The only place that has my filters is closed - it's Saturday.
- 2 days later my mechanic arrives at the beach where El Rebelde has died. Replaces filters. El Rebelde purrs like a kitten.
- 2 nights later I cannot turn off my headlights. Must disconnect the battery. Have no tools. Return to house to get them. Leave house keys at the beach. Return to beach. Recover keys. Return to house. Recover tools. Disconnect battery.
- 1 day later I return to my mechanic's shop. He jiggles a switch and a cable and the lights work. El Rebelde purrs like a kitten.
- Today... life is good.

¡Pura vida!
-

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bar Restaurante Vallejos

My wife and sister-in-law have taken over the family restaurant on the beach in Playa Hermosa. Up until the first of August, my father-in-law had been running it. He now sits on the porch of his beach front house next door and naps in a rocking chair while he collects a ridiculous amount in rent from his children for the use of the beachfront Bar Restaurante Vallejos.

The place has been in the family for +30 years and is located in the zona publica of the zona terrestre maritíme (maritime land zone). For those of you not familiar with concession law in Costa Rica, I'll make it simple: the first 50 meters from the median tide mark is zona publica (public zone) and cannot be owned or occupied by anyone. The next 150 meters is concesión (concession) and one must apply for the concession with the municipalidad in order to occupy the land when/if the concession is granted. Concessions are typically granted for 20 years and are renewable. There are also height and density restrictions on construction in this area. Titled beach front property can be had, but is extremely rare.

In other words, the restaurant is an illegal construction in the public zone. This is fairly common in Costa Rica where, in the past, concession laws have been loosely enforced. Now, with the explosive development being experienced in what used to be cow towns, the municipalidad is enforcing the law and forcing owners to tear down or move illegal buildings in the zona publica. If the owner fails to comply, the municipalidad will demolish the building(s) for them, which is usually what happens.

So the clock is ticking on the Bar Restaurante Vallejos, and two other buildings next to it: My wife's grandmother's home where 15 children were born, and another family run restaurant next to it, Bar Laberinto. It could be 2 months or two years - no one knows.

In the mean time, you can enjoy an ice cold Pilsen, Bavaria, Rock Ice or Imperial (beers) over a plate of arroz con camarones or pollo (rice with shrimp or chicken), or a pargo entero (whole red snapper) with ensalada (salad) and papas (French fries) or frijoles (beans) and watch the sunset while taking in a rainbow (click here or on the image above to view a short phone video I took the other day). I'm also adding my famous pasta sauce and a chuleta (smoked pork chop) sandwich to the menu, if I can get my way.

The family uses the restaurant as a social hub to bond and connect with one another throughout the day and evening. I also use it for entertaining my real estate clients and doing business. The corner table is always occupied by someone telling of their day at school, the cock fights on Sunday, the chick-fight at the Pescado Loco, the surfing at Witch's Rock or Ollie's Point, the fishing that day, the price of real estate, gasoline, diesel, and all of the latest Playa Hermosa gossip in general.

My wife's family house is next door and is the perfect nursery for my 1 year old as there's always a family member who is able to babysit and help out. She plays with her cousins and the MANY other kids on the beach in the sand and loves to swim with her Papa in the evening at sunset. She sleeps in her stroller in the shade of the sala just outside the doorway to the back of the bar, oblivious to the frenzy of activity around her.

I will be sad to see the dilapidated shack go down when it does and am savoring every day I still have to enjoy it. My wife and I were married there and it will perpetually occupy a special place in my heart.

To the Bar Restaurante Vallejos: ¡Salud y pura vida! Te quiero...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Temblores

Spanish for "Tremors". Last night we had two pretty stiff earthquake tremors take place about 1/2 hour apart, and at almost the same time another one happened the night before. We had two others the week before at nearly the same time.

Last night, I was standing outside of the house when the second of the two hit and it threw me off balance. My wife rushed with my daughter in her arms downstairs. We're starting to become a bit preoccupied with these occurrences. These things feel like the ground is resting on a flatbed truck. The truck accelerates slowly, and then hits a pothole.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

No Vale la Pena

Spanish for, "It's not worth it". With the last couple of weeks I've had, I'm beginning to rethink whether it's worth it or not.

The new turbo on my truck the I spent $1600 on lasted 3 days. When I called the agency who sent the new turbo, they said they would not guarantee it unless they personally inspected the truck to determine if the turbo was at fault, or whether it was something else. So I had to spend andothe $270 to send it back to S. Jose.

The manager told me that the turbo was not at fault and that I needed a new engine. Yeah, right. I've made these guys rich and they see me coming.

I had the mechanic who installed the turbo here in Guanacaste call the mechanic in S. Jose. They said that in order to determine whether it was the turbo or the engine they would have to put a new engine in the truck! I'm no mechanic, but last I heard there were turbo labs that could determine what is/was wrong with a turbo. I asked my mechanic, "So if they determine that it's the turbo's fault after putting a new engine in my truck, will they remove the engine and put my old one back in - and then charge me for both?" He said, "Yes".

So I decided to have the truck picked up and delivered to my mechanic's place here in Gte., have him send the turbo to be refurbished, re-install it on my engine - which was fine when it left here. I'll ride with the flatbed guy on Monday at 5:30 AM. Can't wait to have a talk with the manager in S. Jose. Then I'll sell it and get a beater until September.

We've averaged 1.5 power outages each week for 1/2 to 1 day. Cable and ADSL internet has been the same or worse. Cell phones and land lines were out for an entire day 2 weeks ago, and 1/2 day last week. We've been forced to get both cable and ADSL services because one or the other is always down.

I cannot find a information technology expert who doesn't f*ck up more than he fixes on our office computers. The last guy didn't back up my partner's machine before "fixing" it and lost all of his emails and contact information.

We had to return our ADSL modem yesterday after only a week in operation as it was faulty. Of course, in order to determine whether or not it was faulty, the vendor needed an extra day to test it because he was out of the office. When we went to switch back to cable internet in the interim, there was no service. I had to walk across the street to Amnet to bitch because they wouldn't answer their phones. They blamed it on RACSA, as always.

My bats have returned to recolonize my attic. I searched high and low for naftalinas (moth balls) and couldn't find them. I went to the Do-It Center and two veterinarias (hardward stores for farmers and ranchers). I finally found them - guess where? The pharmacy!!!! I unloded three bags of 100 g.'s each to no avail. They're still there.

I just went out to shoot my pellet gun at four pigs that are loose in our woods who want to target my garden around my house. In one night they have wreaked havoc on any soft earth in the vicinity. And my dogs are going crazy, which is driving me crazy. The owner doesn't seem to care that they're loose. He may even prefer it. If I hit one in the eye, we might have a nice pig roast (always trying to look on the bright side).

I'm riding my motorcycle now for transportation. I ran out of gas the other day on my way to the gas station. Fortunately, it was as I was pulling in. It's been raining now, and I've rigged several protection systems for my computer bag, cell phone and wallet. So far, so good.

The price of gas is going through the roof, which is driving up the price of food and other items. A six-pack of beer, a quart of juice and milk, some American cheese and some cream cheese ran me about $12 at the mini-super yesterday.

No one is buying real estate. Business is very down.

¿Vale la pena? I'll get back to you.

¡Pura mierda!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

¿Vale la pena?

I originally meant to post this on 29 May but am just getting around to it now. The power finally came back on at 7:30 in the evening after 20-1/2 hours. It came on as I was opening the sliding glass doors to go to my brother-in-law's house to take a shower (he has a gravity tank), towel and dop kit in hand, after 2 days of not having done so. ¡Pura vida!

8:00 AM 29 May, 2008

Costa Rican for, "Is it worth it?", or "Is it worthwhile?" It's been raining now for 36 hours straight - compliments of tropical storm Alma (the first ever to form off of the Pacific coast of Costa Rica). The power went out at 11 PM last night and has not come back on. My daughter has been battling a temperature since yesterday afternoon that peeked at 40 degrees C during the night. I have no landline and my cell phone battery is about to die. Our private road looks like the Snake River - you could raft it.

My crippled pickup sits outside in the pouring rain undrivable until I get the new turbo. I finally located a new turbo yesterday at an agency in S. Jose - the only one in the country who supplies them. But in order to get it, I have to get to the bank to make a bank transfer directly from my account to their account - they do not accept credit cards. I can't drive my motorcycle to the bank in this rain to make the transfer so that they can put the turbo on a bus and get it to me, so that I can have my mechanic come by and install it and be driving again.

Without power, I have no water pressure and cannot bathe. I have not showered since day-before-yesterday (it's easy to skip a day when you're working at home). I can't get my morning cup of hot coffee. My office in Coco is without A/C, fax, lights and internet. But the land lines work.

Sometimes I ask myself, "Vale la pena?" - "Is it worth it?". Then I tune into an internet radio station from Chicago and listen to the local news for a few minutes. And I am immediately reminded of why I started a new life here. It's a little tough remembering this morning though, as I have no internet.

So it's off to the bank by taxi - unclean, unshaven and un-coffeed - and happy that IT IS ALL WORTH IT. ¡Pura vida!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

La Lluvia!

Spanish for "the rain". The green season finally arrived a few days ago in Playa Hermosa with a nice, slow soaking rain that gave my plants a much needed boost. Idiot that I am, I decided to try to root crotones along the fence line of my only neighbor to create a hedge of colors as a privacy screen. I decided to do this during the rainless summer here - not a good decision.

A little history: My neighbor rents his house out to some guys who work in the restaurant at Villas del Sueño. They're gay. But that's not what sucks, if that's what you were thinking that I was thinking. What sucks it that they're cochinos, or "pigs"! I have to be the only guy in the world with gay neighbors who aren't neat-freaks. In Chicago, it was always the gay community who took over shithole neighborhoods, planted flowers, opened chic restaurants and bars, and fixed up buildings, thus transitioning once-ghetto neighborhoods into urban oases. And they drove the values of my real estate investments through the roof.

Not these queers. These guys have a burn pile that takes up most of their back yard as their dogs raid unburned garbage and spread it all over the place. Ticos still burn their garbage, even though there are trash barrels 200 meters away on the main road. It's a cultural thing. Ticos also have never figured out that glass, aluminum, steel and ceramic tile do not burn. Hence, most of the burn piles you see around here turn out to be trash mounds of non-combustibles after a few burns.

Last time these guys had a really big burn they used so much gasoline to start it that they scorched my cacti and set my fence posts on fire. Which brings me back to the rain... Now that the rain has come, I don't have to spend an hour-and-a-half every morning with the hose and watering can motoring around the house and surrounding jungle to keep things alive. I've used native plants that don't require much water (it does not rain here in our summer for 5 months straight). But they need a year to get established. After that, no maintenenance.

Stupid me decided to plant during the 5 months without a drop of rain. Duh!! Now it's raining each day, or every other day, for an hour, though a cloud just missed us a minute ago. The jungle floor is coming alive with resurrection fern. My flor de itabos are leafing out. The crotones are happy. My poinsettias are beginning to leaf out after a season of being devoured by the garobos (iguanas). It turns out that poinsettia leaves are like garobo twinkies and are absulutely irresistible to them. But now that other food sources are leafing out, they'll start laying off.

I also planted a cactus garden in the aggregate pile next to our house that was used for the concrete mix that was used to build our house. My poor wife gave up trying to grow flowers there. I decided to start collecting cacti and other succulents (along with all of the other plants I collect when I'm visiting properties of real estate clients or am out walking in the jungle behind my house), like Spanish bayonet and aloe vera, and began planting them. The garden really looks cool. It's amazing how many different varieties of cacti there are here, and how fast they grow.

With the rain comes the "low season", or "green season", depending on whether or not you're a pessimist or optimist. Business in real estate has been slow as a result of the trickle-down from the US economy woes and the fact that we're heading into the "low season" anyway. So you work twice as hard for half as much, if anything. I should qualify the bad news for sellers by saying that the luxury market ($800k and above) continues to soar. Lots of sales out on Peninsula Papagayo out near The Four Seasons as those folks tend to have lots of money no matter what's going on with the economy, or how much gasoline or food costs. But the other markets are slow and prices are starting to adjust as gringos with balloon payments, or payment adjustments, due on adjustable rate mortgages they took out to buy property here are facing a tough payment reality and are liquidating their assets here in CR. IT'S A BUYER'S MARKET!! COME ON DOWN!!

Laila is crawling now and is the "doll" of Playa Hermosa. Literally, everyone calls her "muñequita", or "little doll". The kid's adorable and freakishly intelligent. It scares me sometimes. Carla is terrified. I mean, don't get me wrong: it's great to have a healthy, beautiful and intelligent child. But I still remember the head-games I played with my parents, and I fear my talents for these games will pale in comparison to my daughter's abilities to manipulate me like a string puppet. Yikes!!

The dogs, Garcia and Madona, continue to be inseparable, unless it means a ride on my motorcycle, in which case Garcia pounds Madona into the ground to deny her access to the bike. I've solved the problem by putting Garcia on the bike first, straddling the gas tank, tail in my crotch and paws over the faring. Then Madona goes on top of him, straddled over his back. They love it! Gets a lot of looks from oncoming traffic. These dogs love riding motorcycles! But their drool blowing in my face can be problematic at times for me.

Yesterday the turbo on my Mahindra pickup went again. It was replaced 7 months ago (see ¡Pura Mierda!). I'm done with this French and Indian J/V piece of shit. It's the French engine that's always the problem anyway. Am planning on buying a Toyota Prado in August and will either keep this one for Carla to toodle around in locally (first, we'll have to get her a driver's license) or sell it and take a vacation. I'm beyond getting angry or depressed anymore.

¡Pura vida!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Ayer nunca pasó, y mañana no existe."

I've been getting a lot of laughs, followed by sheepish grins when I sum up my take on Costa Rica in conversations with ticos with whom I'm talking casually or doing business.

The essence of Costa Rica, for me, may be summed up as follows:

Spanish: "Ayer nunca pasó, y mañana no existe."© 2008 Michael Poynton

English: "Yesterday never happened, and tomorrow doesn't exist."© Michael Poynton

Ticos laugh heartily, at first. ¡Pura vida! Then they think about it a little more - about what I'm really saying in so few words. And, without exception, they get a little embarrassed.

Living for the day is what it's all about here. No one thinks about yesterday, and no one thinks about tomorrow (unless it's a vacation day). You live in the moment. No future, no past. Every day is the first day.

Works well when you're on vacation. Doesn't work at all when you're trying to do business. You just get used to repeating yourself over and over again.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Marañónes

Spanish for "Cashews". The singular is marañón (mah-rah-NYON). It's a sure sign that semana santa (Easter week) is upon us when the pungent smell of cashew fruit permeates the air! Many people don't know that the roasted marañón is a fruit seed, not a nut. The fruit looks like a red bell pepper and is redish yellow in color. The cashew seed hangs in a pod on the outside of the fruit. You can eat both, but you have to remove the seed from the husk and roast it before eating. The fruit part is ready to go from the tree!

Pajaros (birds), loras (parrots), ardillas (squirrels), abejas (bees), avispas (wasps), garobos (iguanas) and pericos (parakeets) all go nuts (yes, it's a pun) this time of year when the marañón trees, branches heavily laden with ripened fruit, start emitting the irresistible smell that draws them all by the dozens. The fruit has a distinctive, pungent sweet/sour aroma that can be smelled for meters around the trees - especially when they fall to the ground and begin to rot and ferment. Many people don't really like the smell. But I do. I eat the fruit like an apple, though it's much softer, especially when it's really ripe. I usually need to take a shower after eating one, as the juice drips everywhere.

The smell of roasting marañónes (the seed part) is one of the richest, hunger inducing aromas in the tropics. It's pure Costa Rica for me. Vendors sell bags of them in different sizes on the beach and in town. Aproned, Nicaraguan women balance pallets of the neatly stacked and sorted bags on their heads as they walk the sand and streets selling them. They're everywhere right now and the prices are low.

To the marañón! One of the best "two-fers" nature has to offer!

¡Feliz Pascua! Happy Easter!

¡Pura vida!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Pura Mierda

Spanish for "Pure Shit". It's the negative take on Pura Vida (Pure Life).

First of all, I won't even get into the 5 weeks my truck was in S. Jose for "repairs" only to arrive on a flatbed, unstartable!

Monday, I was paying phone bills online and, in a mistake, I checked my cell phone number. Normally, my cell phone is paid via autopay by my bank. I noticed 4 months of unpaid bills. I was in awe that ICE had not disconnected my service.

Tuesday, I went to the bank to find out what the deal was. After several phone calls, the bank representative said that there was some error, but that the bills had been paid, excepting February, the current billing period. Fine. Peculiar, but fine.

After the bank I went to Liberia to drop my cell phone off for repair. I have a Motorola U6 and the LCD screen went black. Meaning I couldn't navigate menus, see incoming numbers, find numbers in my phone book, etc. I changed my voicemail message so that people would know to call me at my other cell number.

Wednesday, my cell phone service was cut. That meant that people who were calling it were not able to get my voicemail to know to call me at my other number. I had to pay all 4 months online. Unfortunately, my office has been experiencing serious Internet problems and maintaining any connection, let alone maintaining a stable one, has been impossible (this is a whole 'nother blog entry). I paid my bills while sitting at the bar at Vida Loca. To ICE's credit, my service was activated within about 5 minutes.

Yesterday, Coopeguanacaste showed up to turn off the electricity at our office. Another autopay failure, but with a different bank! I asked the guys to come into the office and enjoy the A/C while the power was still on, and while I tried to get to the bottom of it all. My secretary called Coopeguanacaste and, sure enough, the bills had not been paid. The solution was easy - pay the bill online. I would deal with the bank later.

But we had no internet connectivity at the office. So I had to grab my laptop, get in my truck and head down the road to Coconutz to mooch WiFi from a parking space in front of the bar. No connection. So I went to my buddy's Century 21 office and begged. No biggie. I logged on to the secretary's computer but soon realized I could not pay the bill from my corporate Banco Cuscatlan account - you can only pay Coopeguanacaste electric bills from a national bank.

So I logged into my persona BCR account and paid the first of two bills. I needed to print a receipt as proof. No paper in the printer. In the end I was able to get the two receipts as proof of payment so that the guys wouldn't shut off the power.

Today, I was planting a couple of palm trees in the yard. We're cleaning up some of the landscape in front of the office to make it more visible from the street and I took home some of the uprooted souvenirs home with me. My first swing with the pick axe resulted in neatly severing the underground conduit and wires that lead to the lighting at my entry gate. If I had been looking for the line, it would have taken me a week to find it. But I wasn't, and that's why I found it.

Also today, a technician came from S. Jose to fix our Internet problem. He left after not fixing it. Then he tried to charge us for the trip.

I will be planting more landscape tomorrow while I monitor the Internet from my house, where my good ol' DSL connection serves me just fine. This is killing my business.

But the weather's nice!

Pura vida!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oso Hormiguero

As it turns out, I was wrong about the termite nest the pericos were rehabbing to construct their own nest: It is NOT abandoned...

...Last night my wife and I were chatting on our lower porch after putting Laila down for the night, and we heard a sound in the trees in the general vicinity of the termite nest. It's difficult to describe the sound - like someone wielding a small hatchet on balsa wood - but it was clearly being made by something larger than a bird.
Garcia was locked on the treetops, and Madona was uneasy.
I grabbed a flashlight and my wife and I discovered an oso hormiguero intently focused on invading the nest with its massive claws, pick-axe head and arthroscopic tounge.

Oso hormiguero (OH-so-or-mee-GARE-oh) is Spanish for what gringos call an "anteater". Literally translated it means "Bear Ant-hunter". I like the Spanish better than the English. It makes more sense when you see one.

This thing operated as methodically as the pericos, with a behavioral instict that was poetry in motion. We were mesmerized. And that tounge made of pink linguini... talk about specialization!

I had already tied up the dogs as soon as I realized it was an hormiguero. Garcia's had two encounters with them and he came out on the losing end both times, nearly losing an eye the first time while receiving a deep puncture wound in his lower jowl the second when the hormiguero snagged it on a right hook - literally. I noticed he wasn't even barking this time, but wasn't taking any chances on a "third strike".

I grabbed my camera from the vault and, while my wife shined the dimming flashlight on the hormiguero and nest (batteries never come through when you need them), and did my best to focus and shoot. The four photos in this entry tell the story.
My biggest surprise was that oso hormigueros have prehensile tails - they're a fifth limb and can wrap tightly around branches. Equipped with this formidable adaptation, and working in conjunction with their massive front claws and powerful hind legs, these things are as at home in a tree as any species of monkey. It was pretty cool. I hadn't even seen this on Animal Planet. This thing was clearly familiar with its arboreal feeding station, slurping in the brown rice-like termites as if none of us was there. We (dogs and humans) were, for all intensive purposes, invisible.

After I was satisfied with the shots I had taken, we retired to the house to give the hormiguero a window of opportunity to go about his business and move on. After about another 20 minutes, the hormiguero disappeared into the night. I untied the dogs in the wee hours of the morning well after the hormiguero had moved on.

When the pericos arrived in the morning, they were distressed, to say the least. Nothing seemed to compute. They didn't know what to do.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. The hormiguero did not destroy the termite nest. Clearly, he plans on returning regularly for a periodic gorging on termites. How the pericos can live inside an active termite nest perplexes me. But they've started their work and they may return. Ojala.

¡Oso hormigueros! ¡Pura vida!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pericos

Spanish for "parakeets". We have a pair that appears to be constructing their nest in an abandoned termite nest in one of the trees next to our house. It's kinda cool sitting out on the porch drinking our Costa Rican coffee in the morning, and eating delicious Balocco Italian cake, while we watch this pair take turns hollowing out the termite nest.

They're quite deliberate in everything they do. One perico stands lookout while the other works on burrowing out a hollow in the nest. After awhile they switch.

The pair arrived a couple of months ago and have steadily been spending more and more time near the termite nest. This week, they finally "broke ground". It was like they were feeling out a new neighborhood before pulling the trigger on buying a home. They're quite chattery when they arrive in the morning, but hardly make a sound when they start work. They're language is fairly sophisticated, using a wide variety of calls to communicate different things.

As the hot, dry Guanacaste summer progresses, we'll keep you up to date on any chick sightings. I'm heading for the beach and a cold Pilsen. ¡Pura vida!