(Sept 2014 – August 2015)
Palmer Family Blog: Living in Costa Rica For a Year
(Mar 6) – The Kids are Alright: Activities to Keep Them Busy
Ok, so you’re thinking of moving (or visiting) to the rain forests down here but you’re nervous that after you’ve unglued your kids from their internet/screen-filled lives, there won’t be enough activities to keep them occupied. And you’d rather eat broken glass than hear, “We’re bored!” a dozen times a day. What’cha gonna do?!? Not to worry… there’s more to this place than just beaches and trees. Nosara is a unique community with much to offer when trying to channel the kids’ energies:
(kids on a trail ride)
- Skateboard Park – I had to see it to believe it when we first arrived back in Sept. A huge concrete skateboard park in the middle of nowhere, underneath the palm trees with ramps, half-pipes, etc.?? Yup! It’s a popular hang-out for the kids and, in addition, you’ll often see the monkeys eating fruit off the trees from above. But watch out! They’ve been known to throw mango cores at people at times… I’ve seen it happen! Crazy critters
- Horseback riding – just 10 minutes from our house… everything in Nosara is 10 minutes from the house. lol $20/lesson/child for 1 ½ hrs… a seriously good value (horses are well taken care of and the instructors are awesome). Our kids ride weekly
- Karate/boxing – tucked away in a studio up on a hill (our kids aren’t in these activities but I’ve heard good things about them)
- Tennis – with a few clay and green courts in the area, it’s all good! And our neighbor, an Aussie, is a tennis pro. About $25/hr for a one-on-one session (less when it’s a group). Excellent value
- Surfboarding – everyone seemingly surfs down here! Good, solid boards for beginners (kids) can be anywhere from $200 used to $500 new… all you need are some waves – and Nosara has consistent waves hitting Guiones Beach 24/7 whether there’s wind or not
- Boogie boarding – kids love it!
- Hikes – lots of ‘em around! Just watch out for the snakes
- Paddleboarding – no problem. Rentals are everywhere. Just watch out for the crocs in the Nosara river
- Kayaking – ditto
- Yoga – Nosara is a world-renown mecca for yoga. With the highly touted Yoga Institute temple situated here (not to mention other studios dotting the area… and beach/paddleboard yoga), there’s always a class available… and “yoga retreat” programs
- Soccer – they are as crazy for futbol here as we Canucks are about hockey back in the Great White North
- Turtles – 20 minutes up the coast at Ostional Beach you’ll find thousands of Ridley turtles (during various monthly cycles). The mom’s are either laying eggs or the babies are making a run for the water after breaking free of their shells. This life cycle is certainly an emotional event to observe
- Dance – lots of classes available
- Animal Refuge – we haven’t been there yet but lots of animals to see
- Chilling with Smoothies – healthy fruit smoothies are served EVERYWHERE here! So yummy
- ATV’ing – one of Andrew’s favorite hobbies (next to surfing)… you can buy them $4000 used or just rent them for the day for $40-$50… lots of trails
- Snorkeling/swimming/beach – gorgeous 4+ beaches within 30 mins either way. What more could you ask for? And there are coral reefs in spots for the snorkelers
- Climbing walls – check! They got a huge one next to the Del Mar Academy school where our kids go (we haven’t been there yet, tho)
- Pools – they’re a dime a dozen down here! Most everyone’s got one. Always fun for a group of kids
- After-school sanctioned activities – crafts/arts, chess club, soccer, computer programming (there’s more… just can’t think of them off the top of my head)
- Deep-sea fishing – can be pricey but it’s a fun experience when the big fish are biting
- Zip-lining – they are all over the place in Costa Rica and there’s one here in the Nosara hills too! Again, can be pricey but it’s a serious adrenaline rush
- Checking out the wildlife/fauna – whether you’re at the beach or in the forests, it’s easy to get mesmerized by the wildlife and fauna around you… Nosara is teeming with it
I know I’ve missed some, but there should be more than enough listed here to keep the kidlets (and parents) busy!
(Ryan enjoying the waves!)
(Mar 4) Episode VI – Dude Where’s My Car(s)?
Another freakish Twilight Zone moment (we really need normalcy back… seriously. What is normal? I don’t know). Within the last 24 hours, we’ve had our vehicle broken into at the beach (but nothing stolen b/c we had nothing in it…. suckers!) and 3 of our cars (theoretically) are in getting repairs simultaneously. To clarify… we’ve only owned/rented one vehicle “at a time”… sooooo (this … is a bit of a mind-bender… use the force) – the SUV (Hyundai) we owned last week is still in the shop getting repaired (we sold this vehicle only days ago… but if we did still own it, it would be getting repaired)… the first rental vehicle (Toyota Mondero) we got after selling the Hyundai is in the garage currently because the AC and keylock (on driver’s side) are both broken (not to mention the rearview mirror keeps falling off and a tire replacement – slow leak)… and then a new replacement rental (Toyota 4Runner… given to us yesterday) was in the shop today because a gas attendant filled it up with regular gas instead of diesel (they had to take the whole tank apart to flush the liquids out)… and while this replacement rental was in the shop (and with our original rental still in the shop), the rental company only had one last vehicle left to give us as a second replacement in lieu of the first replacement (keeping track of all this?!?)… which wasn’t even a rental… the owner owned this vehicle privately – a 10-seater shuttle van/bus for tourists! (with the official “Tourismo” labels on the side! Hahaha I’ll post a pic of this soon) So we’re now driving this thing around. Andrew always wanted to rent a shuttle van… ta da! Done!! (no one obviously rents a shuttle vehicle… but – as with other Palmer Hallmark moments, this experience has magically transpired… it would just be too easy, otherwise). Because all this might be confusing to digest for the brain, I’ll end it here.
- Yes, the pace of life is much, much slower, (so laid back which is heavenly at times) but there are minimal conveniences which can be so frustrating to deal with each day. You can’t just walk down the road to a nearby Starbucks, movie theatre, Superstore, bank, etc. It takes a while to come to grips with this
- And, yes, it’s warmer than Canada which we’ve certainly enjoyed but there is hardly a break from the heat and humidity. It’s omnipresent and you really have to come to terms with this – it takes a while for your body to adjust to the temperatures (especially for me… I must have some serious Nordic blood coursing through my veins! Lol)
- And then there’s the local food – a different palette to get used to (no Superstores in the area to pick and choose a myriad of different food from). But once you get used to it, it’s yum
- Dealing with our kids’ food allergies… finding substitutes for gluten and dairy in a place that is very lean on food diversity? Takes some serious leg-work (thanks to the better half on this!)
- The rains – the rain storms in the monsoon season makes the thunder showers back in Canada feel like mist. Everything gets wet
- The ATM machine – only one within a 1-hr radius that services the whole village and surrounding area… and it’s often out of order/out of funds
- The language barriers – but I’m slowly getting better at sign language (but not Spanish)
- The harsh dirt roads and dust that can quickly reduce a car to spare parts in only a few seasons (or for us, within 4 months… our car caught fire just before Christmas… one of our bigger stresses)
- The creepy crawlies – when we first arrived, they freaked us out. But now, six months later, they’re like pets
- The kids’ acclimations – they just didn’t land here and think it was all happyland. There were plenty of moods and attitudes to manage, let me tell you (me included… lol)
- Personal Space – Back in Calgary, I was at an office for 50-60 hours/week on avg. Here in C. America, Catharine and I are in the same space constantly – with both of us sharing the same work space (home) with the internet. This would be one of our biggest hurdles to overcome
- And lastly, establishing boundaries. We live such a controlled environment back in the city with schedules up the ying-yang but here in the rain forest, most everything is “uncontrolled” (very easy to get caught up into doing nothing with the laissez-fair, surfer-dude/beach mentality). Boundaries need to get established and adhered to in this extreme environment for an effective work/life balance and harmonious coexistence with your spouse and kids otherwise, things fly off the rails quickly. Are we there yet? Nope! Lol Still working on it
(my office – zero politics, $0 overhead… just have to watch out for snakes and scorpions)
Considering all these things and more, “growth” HAD to happen to survive (I’m not embellishing here… mental survival). You have to learn to roll with it. We’ve overheard some transplanted locals (expats who’ve lived here for 5+ years) say that Nosara, “… will either chew you up and spit you out or take you on an enlightening and challenging ride of serious growth”. I’m sure we’ve felt both so far. There were some days when I thought, “Get me the hell out of here!” I would surmise that most people who move to such extreme environments have these moments. And then there are the days when I’m thinking, “This is what life is all about!” (re: the beautiful sunsets, the animals, stargazing at night, food health, social connections, nature connections, family re-connections… back to basics and away from the “artificial noise”)
Once you’re able to manage the challenges (in general, overcoming the “controlled” vs “uncontrolled”, living beyond your comfort zone), a more beautiful and bigger picture begins to emerge. The “noise” doesn’t distract you as much (save the internet and Facebook… my precioussss. Still working out the kinks in that area! J) and you become tuned in to the more important things in life: Family/nature/simplicity/social connections/food and body health.
Growth is still happening (does it ever end? Nope). Our worldly adventure is far from over. We are going to be serving up some crazy stuff within the next few months. Stay tuned!
Jan 13 (Owning a Vehicle in Costa Rica – a risky business!)
Freddie Krueger, poisonous snakes, spiders, the CRA (aka the Taxman for our American friends!), Richard Simmons… I know, I know… scary stuff! Such things can grab hold of our fears without mercy. Such is the case when owning a vehicle in Costa Rica. Sure, the country is beautiful in so many ways – gorgeous sunsets, beautiful rain forests, endless wild life, sun, sun and more sun, beaches, the friendliest people. Costa Rica’s got it all. Yup, sure does. But I gotta tell ya, our vehicle has caused the equivalent pain of many a root canal during parts of our tenure. And such vehicular headaches are the norm for most people living here, whether you’re a local or expat.
Before I get into our story, some perspectives.
(on Catharine’s birthday back in November – around the time when the rainy season ended and the dry season started… just beautiful)
The jungle surrounds the coastal community (Nosara) where we live. All the roads in the vicinity are dirt with potholes dotting the arteries like a moonscape. Most people moving here buy 10+ year old SUVs or trucks because cars just don’t cut it (nor do new vehicles for most people! The roads are too rough on them). The locals typically have quads or dirt bikes.
In the dry season the dirt on the roads get blown around ‘til the air is a blur and you can’t see past ten feet. In such conditions, people on quads or bikes (motor/peddle) wear goggles and handkerchiefs. In the rainy season the salty moisture, humidity and water gets into everything. And throughout all seasons, the unrelenting heat of the sun beats down hard (thank God for pools and the ocean!). The elements are harsh on the metal beasts, no doubt about it.
All things considered, it’s not uncommon for problems to happen. Getting your vehicle serviced yearly is the norm – replacing suspensions, filters, brakes, tires, etc. However, such servicing can start to weigh heavily on the pockets over time with the cash “outflow” – not to mention the time that’s chewed up admining for maintenance and rental vehicles.
Case-in-point – our vehicle’s story so far: we bought a 2006 Hyundai Terracan SUV from a family when we arrived here in the summer of 2014 (they were moving back to the U.S.). “We got wheels!” I remember blurting out in the beginning, excited (in hindsight, that’s all that probably worked efficiently <lol>). Within a month I could feel the brakes giving out. No biggie… replacing brake pads is easy. Done! Then there were flat tires… again, not the end of the world. Replaced. Then the vehicle wouldn’t accelerate at times. “I’ll get to it…!” I said. But because it didn’t happen often, I just pushed that task into the future. And then by late November it started feeling like the suspension was giving way. Okay, so some extra money to replace the suspension. After that, everything should be good, I thought. What else could go wrong? (famous last words, as they say) We got our vehicle back from the garage in early December and then the unthinkable happened four days later.
(our kids and the Berry family who were visiting us)
We drove the kids to school that day (a 15-min drive) like we always did and parked the SUV before walking the kidlets into their classrooms. “Beautiful day!” I said to Catharine. “Certainly is!” she replied. I breathed in the lushness of the jungle. Birds were singing… snakes were hissing (okay… I didn’t hear the hissing)… everything was feeling so fresh. Beautiful. Just beautiful.
“Is that smoke coming from the parking lot?” Catharine asked a parent, curious. At this point, I had already left her and was in the school office checking something on the internet (I wasn’t on Facebook, though, I swear). Before long, she realized it was OUR SUV going up in smoke. A Cheech and Chong moment, I suppose – minus the weed.
She rushed to the office. “Hon… it’s okay,” I reassured her. “Probably just some steam.” “It’s not freakin’ steam!” she replied. At which point I grabbed our water bottle (500 ml… it wouldn’t do much on an engine fire but I couldn’t think straight. I recall it was half full) and rushed toward the parking lot like a cheetah. A damaged cheetah. Okay, a 3-legged dog (I hadn’t worked out in months). There was already a dad on the scene trying to put it out but he couldn’t get the hood up (no flames were visible at this point… just lots of black smoke billowing through the cracks). The principle and groundskeeper came running with fire extinguishers and after I jostled with the hood, it popped open and flames began shooting up. “Holy-” well, you don’t want to know what I was spewing out. The good news – we were able to unload 5 fire extinguishers on the engine to put it out – and it was contained to just the engine. And no one was hurt! And I saved all my ‘80s CDs. <whew> The bad news – the engine was toast, obviously.
(J working on a farm… never too young for morning chores!)
Overall – we had been driving the Hyundai for about 3½ months (before we had flown back to Canada for Xmas in Dec). As of mid-Jan, we’ve spent $6.5K in maintenance and rental cars. And we haven’t even paid for the maintenance/labour on getting the engine fixed from the fire damage yet (plus you have to pay for towing to get it to San Jose, 4 hrs away… and future rentals for 4+ weeks during the maintenance time).
Interesting enough, everyone around the area seems to have some type of vehicular “horror” story. You learn the ropes quickly after living here for awhile… and you start getting sick of throwing money away on repairs and rentals. I mean, you just want to vomit. Seriously… it’s a moneypit at times with the vehicles.
And the mechanics… oh boy. Another story. Hard to trust their workmanship. Not that their bad people – most seem friendly and genuine enough but most of them in the village are not professionally certified. Hence, after you’ve tried going the “local” route (to “save” money when, ironically, it’ll cost you more in the long run), you end up realizing you have to send your vehicle away to either Nicoya (a town 45 mins away) or to San Jose (capital… 4 hrs away) for the professionals. But even they can be hit-or-miss. They don’t follow the same regulations as in Canada… not by a long shot! And note that you’re on “Costa Rican” time… the process is typically sloooooow.
So what have we learned? In a nutshell – from what the long-term locals have told me – Toyotas work best on the roads in Nosara… and you’d better put on special suspensions too (the locals will know what I mean). If not, anticipate a few thousand dollars in maintenance and vehicle rentals per year… and carry a fire extinguisher! Maybe a few! And keep a bucket of Bam Boo beer nearby… to keep the stress levels low.
I’ll dive right into the topic of schooling. In essence, one of the main reasons we chose Nosara, Costa Rica (aside from the climate and the beauty of the land) was because of the school – Del Mar Academy (www.delmaracademy.com). It’s a bilingual Montessori international school created about 7-8 yrs ago. Initially it started out with 16 students then grew over the years to 160-ish for the 2014-15 academic year. From what the principal and other academics have said, the jungle location for this type of school is rare. Usually Montessori-type schools are situated in urban settings around the globe but in Nosara, it’s smack-dab in the rain forest. Nature and beauty abounds, nurturing both students and faculty. Speaking of which, with a wealth of wonderful teachers and parental volunteers, the academic establishment thrives very effectively.
And the open-air concept doesn’t hurt! All the classrooms lack outside walls so that the fresh air from the forest flows freely through the classrooms. It really brings the kids back to nature every day which is in contrast to most North America schools where student populations are bundled up within the air-regulated catacombs of concrete rooms and hallways.
At Del Mar, the population is heavy on international students but there are also locals… a nice mix. And because the student population is small, friendly relationships form easy for most! Lots of great school spirit.
It’s an, “… eco-conscious school which is committed to diversity” and committed toward fostering healthy diets for the students. Most sugar-based foods (and associated toxic treats) are not permitted on the school grounds (ie – pop, bars, chips, etc.). It’s all about health for the child’s body and mind. “You are what you eat”. If North American schools adopted the same stance on food diets, what a huuuuge step forward that would be! Obesity is such a growing concern.
From what I’ve been told, Del Mar is often looked upon as being one of the top schools in Costa Rica – but it doesn’t come cheap. To enroll a child for one year, you’re looking at shelling out at least $10.4K (US$) / child. And that doesn’t include meals which are offered at the school (if parents are interested in paying $5/meal/day, then tack on another $600).
So what does the $10.4K include? (not including “pre school-season” Spanish lessons $170… optional)
- Application fee ($100)
- Investment fund fee ($1000)
- Matriculation fee ($825)
- Uniforms ($100)
- Spanish lessons ($300)
- Tuition ($8,100)
And then it costs some more if you’re from the Great White North! 18% more… accounting for the current US/Cdn dollar exchange rate. So: ($10.4K + $600) x 18% = $12,980/child (cdn$).
Is it worth it? We think it is…
This is a continuation from my last blog entry in Oct (re: cost of living expenses and tips on saving money while living/travelling in Costa Rica). But before I get into it – a quote by Virginia Satir: “We need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 for maintenance and 12 for growth.” It’s been 68 days since we’ve had a dishwasher. Before you go to bed tonight, give your dishwasher a biiiiig hug. What an invention it is… I miss ours so much… a little tired of the dishpan hands and slogging through piles of dishes nightly.
And a little episode I had on a recent “San Jose” food-run (for my relatives/family/friends with heart conditions – skip this part!).
So I was driving solo to San Jose (4-hr ride, one way) to fill up our vehicle with food. I stayed overnight in the capital and on the way back at the mid-way mark, I encounter a series of line-ups and accidents along a three-kilometer stretch. The “Policia” are everywhere! I mean, everywhere. guns drawn, swat-teams running about in neighboring fields and ravines, doing checks with travellers (including me), etc. I didn’t know what the heck was going on but I was a wee bit unnerved. Turns out – within the hour, 4 men dressed as cops were impersonating officers by pulling over and hijacking trucks on the road! Aiyiyi…! (it was in the newspaper the next day) They could’ve been eating for 4 weeks straight if they had taken my vehicle but I think they were after bigger fish (no pun intended). The accidents were all a result of the ensuing high-speed chase… with the men’s vehicle crashing into either the ravine or a field (smashed up cars in both). Needless to say, I kept my doors locked for the remainder of the trip and hauled out a frozen steak just in case. Tough as steel it was, but I didn’t really want to have to use it.
Okay – money (continued from my most recent blog entry in Oct):
(Surf’s up! Getting ready for some waves)
- Capital Gains: If anyone moving here is entertaining the thought of buying a home (instead of renting), capital gains are not taxed… yahoo! But you’d have to consult a tax expert to figure out how the reporting is done back in Canada (or other respective countries of origin)
- Vehicles: Vehicles are on par with costs back in North America (they are all imported – tons of import taxes)… but if you have problems with your vehicle, labour is cheap, cheap, cheap. I had a guy spend an hour on our Hyundai filling up the oil, various fluids, etc. and it only cost me $25 (and he gave me the rest of the fluids in their respective containers. That alone would have cost me $100 easy in Canada) Had another guy spend 30 mins on a flat tire… $20. And when our suspension went on one of our front wheels – $25 for an hours’ work. (roads are horrendous here on vehicles… yearly repairs are the norm). Gas for a vehicle is comparable to North America
- General labour: (not just vehicular) inexpensive
- Eating out: can be expensive (if at a touristy joint… comparable to prices in Canada)… can be inexpensive at a “locals” joint (tico food)… you’re looking at $6-$8/person for a typical Costa Rican meal
- Psychological Aspect: We’ve been spending more down here in general because, psychologically, it feels like we’re on a permanent vacation (to paraphrase Aerosmith) in this place of endless summers. When on holidays, people typically spend more. So much to do here!
- Phone plan: cheap (for local calls, anyway)! Phone is free, about $2 for a sim card and then a few cents / minute for local calls and $0.60/minute for international
- Chef: you can get your own personal chef for as little as $8 / hr. Gardeners are similar
- General foods: some expensive stuff involve chocolate, nuts, coconut oil, certain meats like sausages, packaged frozen berries. The inexpensive ones = many fruits and veggies, rice, beans. In a nutshell – anything imported is expensive. Anything domestic, inexpensive
- Medical coverage: can range from $250/mo to thousands depending upon the plan
- Dental: cheap… no need for a monthly plan. Cheaper to just show up and get your teeth done (except for emergency work… ditto for medical)
- Beer: comparable to Canadian prices for some brands – a bit cheaper for others
- Hi Speed Internet/land-line phone: you can get both at a house for close to $40/mo
That’s all for now. My next topic: The ins and outs of schooling
I like to think there’s always good in bad… I’m turning into quite the mime due to my severe handicap with the Spanish language (will come in handy if I ever want to busker on the Calgary streets after our return). The way my arms and hands flail about with my questions for the locals… a thing of beauty.
Anyway – for this entry, I think I’ll take a break from all the life-and-death situations we’ve been dealing with (lol). I’ll go with a topic that’s a bit easier on the heart: Cost-of-living expenses while travelling in Costa Rica (and how to save money)! Just in case any of you are thinking about such a move down here and are trying to hammer out a budget ($$).
Unfortunately, we aren’t saving much money (lol) – but you can learn from our mistakes.
(Catharine and kids… beautiful sunset on Playa Guiones, Nosara… Pacific side)
In essence, the levels of spending and saving money all depends upon where you are living in this country. The main factor is “location”. If you’re living in-land in a village or in San Jose (capital city), things can be very cheap! But most people travelling here stick to the coastal communities (where we are) because of the gorgeous coastlines/beaches and water sports. Living in these locations can, in many ways, be just as expensive as living at home. But there are ways to streamline the costs, yet, live a fruitful, wonderful existence in this Shangri-la. Here are some basic costs to be aware of:
1. Exchange rate. The Costa Rican Colone is tied to the U.S. dollar – so when the Canadian dollar is sub-par with the U.S. greenback, you’re losing currency valuation. Currently, the dollar is around the 89 cent mark… not good for travelling abroad if you’re keen to save on the currency! You’re losing 11% for every dollar spent
2. Housing. This can range from extremely cheap to outrageously expensive. There are canopy homes along the coast (within a few kms of the coast) that can rent for below $1K/mo (plus utilities). And then there are huge mansions for thousands of dollars/mo! The sizes and styles are all jumbled together in Nosara (where we’re living) which makes for an interesting collection. Bear in mind, in our case we’re renting our house out in Calgary for around $3K per month and we’ve settled into a gorgeous home here (brand new with all new furniture) about a km or two from the coast with access to pools and tennis courts for about $1,800 + power. So we’re actually making money just on rental revenue alone!
3. Power. I mention “power” in #2 above because electricity is extremely expensive down here. If a person were to run their AC units most of the time in their homes during a month (not uncommon for tourists who have trouble dealing with the heat/humidity), a bill for a 1,500 sq ft home could be upwards of $400-$500… so, EVERYONE living here watches their usage of AC power down here
4. Transaction Fees. In our case, every time we use a Mastercard/Visa, we get dinged 2.5%. It all adds up quickly over time. So we actually decided to just use cash for “most” things (as our banking institution only charges us a $3 transaction fee for every withdrawal… we just max out our withdrawals each time to save). A person could get a U.S. account set up before travelling which would eliminate such transaction fees… there are different strategies with this
5. Taxes. Lots of taxes down here! Be wary of the 13% sales tax and when you go out to a restaurant, don’t be surprised when you look at the bill and see 10-15% (tip) already added on to your bill. It happens in these parts about 90% of the time
(“cost-of-living/savings” topic to be continued on next blog)
The typical saying down here in the rain forest is that most every task/errand usually turns into an adventure! I can believe it. In the span of a week, I’ve gotten lost in the jungle, we’ve gotten a flat tire, we rented a 6-seater golf cart and almost got swept away in it during a monsoon rainstorm (had to get a guy to rope it up and pull it out of a river), another huge tree toppled over near our house during another rainstorm (a half-km away)… and we found another scorpion in our house. And did we mention we’re moving homes this weekend?
I loved watching the TV show “Lost” a few years ago. Never thought I’d be living it. Okay, it wasn’t that extreme, but it was (as expected) during a monsoon rainstorm. We had gone out for supper and upon our return home (a few kms away from the restaurant), we realized we had forgotten Ryan’s retainer. I drove back through the storm… and it was the most freakish storm since our arrival! The dirt roads were fast becoming the rivers. Wild stuff… I could hardly see out the window.
I arrived at the restaurant safely enough and picked up the retainer but on the way back to our house, another tree had toppled over across the road (couldn’t get around it… couldn’t get home) – so I had to drive up and down a mountain basically, to get to our house from the south (instead of the north). The problem – I wasn’t too sure of the route because I had only travelled along it once before… and it was now pitch black with water rushing across the roads in parts… just nightmarish. But I had to get home and I didn’t have a phone on me.
(Up early! Catharine into the yoga before the day gets going)
For an hour I was lost in the rain forest – going up this road and that road – water gushing all over the place… almost got stuck in one area… almost drove our SUV right off the road in another (hard to see). Lightning all over the place. I finally just threw the vehicle in park and sat there, wondering where the heck I was… with the water rising on the roads. Then out of the blue, I see a light way off in the distance. I drive toward it (always drive toward “the light” when you’re lost! Except when you’re in a train tunnel) and it’s a guy walking his dog in the middle of nowhere (but he’s been living there for 10+ years so he knows the area). After some directions, he guides me out and I make it home. <whew>
The flat tire – well, a nail was the cause. But you gotta love the labour costs down here! $6 for a mechanic to fix it. And yesterday I brought our vehicle in to get all the tires pumped up and various fluids topped up (steering fluid, oil, transmission fluid, etc.)… he spent close to 30 minutes on it for the price of $10. Nice! (and he gave me all the bottles of fluid for next time). And a car wash (it’s not the type of car wash you’d find back in Canada.. lol) – basically a local guy with a hose, soap and a vacuum which he operates out of his house… $8 and he spends an hour on your vehicle, inside and out. Tireless worker. These locals are such friendly, hard-working people. There are expensive things here, though, too. More on that in a future blog.
The “golf cart incident” (I swear, our kids are all going to need therapy when we move back to Canada) – well, locals around these village areas typically travel by old golf carts, ATVs, pedal bikes or motor/dirt bikes. It’s not uncommon to see a family of 4 on a dirtbike. Seriously. They just don’t have the money. The expats (from Europe/North America) typically have used SUVs because they have a bit more money to throw around (and you need 4W drive to navigate certain roads during the rainy season). Anyway – in nearby parts, there are some “touristy” areas. So I decided to rent a 6-person golf cart for the kids and I to enjoy in the rain (it’s covered with a plastic roof… but interestingly enough, Catharine wasn’t too keen to travel with us. Smart, smart, smart). So we’re travelling through the sun and rain (comes and goes on a dime), and then we’re a few kms from our house. And the rain comes on like a freakshow. So we’re making our way back through some back roads (mind you, ALL the roads here are backroads… lol) and a HUGE puddle/road-washed out stream looms up in front of us. Ryan (our middle child who is much more mature than me… the voice of reason, he is), looks at me and says, “Dad… don’t even think about it,” He talks like an old sage. “Ryan,” I said. “You live once… this beast can handle it,” Even Andrew chimes in and says “Don’t do it!” and he’s a bit of a risk-taker. I gun the cart with a big smile. It’s only water I reassure myself… it’s not deep. Our kids need to take more risks in life, I thought.
Half-way through the “puddle”, the cart sinks above the wheels and there’s no more traction. I gun the engine more – there’s steam rising off the engine. it’s not moving… Ryan unbuckles himself (safety first, I always say!) and jumps/trudges through the water/muck until he reaches the higher elevation of the road. Andrew begins to hyperventilate and does the same. Jenna screams and jumps on my back with her nails sticking into my skin. We abandon ship and I take her to the side of the road. The water is rising from the nearby stream (which is flowing across the road now)… we race back and find someone who can get a vehicle and rope.
We all come back and luckily the cart hasn’t been swept away yet (that would be a $5k bill…! Yikes)… he pulls it out, thank god. We thank him… and the cart comes to life! I kiss the muck on the ground (as we’re still a few kms from home). We keep going but on dry roads… and then the engine conks out a km away. Luckily it was right beside a restaurant. The owner there takes pity on us and give us some cookies – I try and pay… oops… forgot my wallet at home. I issue an IOU and she orders us a cab (and when I say cab, I’m talkin’ a 3-wheeled machine with a piece of tin metal for a roof… but it moves!)… which eventually gets us home. I kissed the mat in front of our front door. Catharine looked at me, shaking her head (“I told you not to drive that thing in the rain!”).
After we shook off the terror, we’re one big happy family again… whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? But Costa Rica is beautiful! I’ll get to those good things in later blogs…
Almost hit a snake and a 3-foot iguana while driving the kids to their Spanish lessons at the school a few days ago! It’s a 5-minute drive between our house and the school along a dirt road through the rain forest. We also came across a duck and nine ducklings alongside the road on a different day… what they were doing in the jungle is beyond me (couldn’t see any ponds or lakes around). You never know what you’ll encounter day-to-day out there.And we saw our first scorpion – in our house! Yikes… I threw a bowl over him and we got him out the door. Needless to say, the kids were hanging off the ceiling fans, scared – and now they sleep with us in our bed for now… (darn)My trials and tribulations with the Spanish language continues. For many days I’ve been saying “por favor” thinking it means “good day” when it really means “please”. I’ve been wondering about the strange looks from the locals! Lol A person can get by with English here, but it’s much more effective to know Spanish.Our sugar levels (mine especially) are waaaaay off now… a good thing! It’s all just melting off our bodies as we continue with a heavily-laced organic diet (lots of organic markets here). The organic food is very affordable because it’s all locally-grown. On the flip-side, all the processed crap is actually quite expensive because it’s imported but there isn’t much of that to choose from anyway… no Superstores nearby!Regarding routines – well, we’re still trying to find our footing in that dept! We’ve only been here since Sept 1st and I thought it would be easy to slip things into first gear and relax a little. But at this point, I’m finding myself trying to put things back into 5th gear, to get productive on many fronts. But I have to be careful with this because one of our main goals was to ease our minds out of the “rat race” mentality… to “smell the coffee” each morning and really breathe in the culture and the slow pace. Nonetheless, we’re making headway. At this point, here’s a typical day for us:Monkeys wake us up around 6am
Get the breaky on the go – drive the kids to school by 8am
Visit some organic markets afterward or a café and chat while sipping on a smoothie
Go for a 20-30 min walk on one of the beaches (there are about 4 beaches within 20 minutes of our place)
Arrive home – Catharine might do some yoga in the outdoor studio above the pool, I might do some laps in the pool… I mean, lap… I mean, I’m thinking of doing laps as I lounge poolside (not into an exercise regime yet… it’ll come)… or I might do some writings or a bit of work/internet up in the studio too for an hour or two
Take a stroll around the village
Pick up kids at 3pm
Pool again – with kids this time (or playdates with other families)
Hang with kids
BedOne thing’s for sure – there is much more family bonding happening here then has ever happened back in Calgary! Just because we had a million schedules going on back home.Overall, we’re loving it here! We’ve been meeting lots of wonderful families from Canada and the U.S. (and a few from Europe) which makes for an easier transition.
Maybe it was another mid-life crisis hitting us… or maybe we’re getting sick of Canadian winters (are we growing cranky in our older age?)… or maybe we’ve just been living a very predictable existence in the city… all of the above? So – after experiencing one of the busiest summers on record, we couldn’t wait to get on the plane and move from Calgary, Canada, to our new life in Costa Rica on Sept 1st! We’re planning to be here for at least a year – we’ll see how things unfold.Our goals: reduce the crazy fast pace of a bazillion schedules with our 3 kids; more family bonding; back to nature (off the freakin’ screens!); living a minimally cluttered existence; more R&R.The plane ride itself was rather uneventful – we had a 2-hr layover in Houston and then moved on to San Jose (capital of Costa Rica). We were so relieved to be out of the plane! And our 15 pieces of luggage arrived too! <whew>Everyone was starving and we wanted to jump right into the many styles of the Costa Rican culture – so, off to Denny’s we trekked where the music of Herbie Hancock, Culture Club and other 80s groups played on the overhead speakers… lol Not quite the inaugural Costa Rican experience we were hoping for on the first night but it was the only restaurant within walking distance of the airport hotel and we were desperate.The next day we embarked upon a 5-hr shuttle to the rain forest village of Nosara on the Pacific Coast where we’d be living.We landed smack dab in the middle of a huge monsoon rainstorm (in Costa Rica, the “rainy” season = June – November… “dry” season = December – May). Basically, take the craziest thunder and lightning storm you’ve ever experienced in Canada and multiply it by three… (and we’ve had about 2 other, similar storms in the past week since our arrival! Crazy)After settling into our new abode, many things become quickly apparent:
1. Lack of chocolate here in the jungle… I’m in serious withdrawal without my Toblerone bars and Cherry Blossoms
2. Lack of conveniences in comparison to the city life (where are you Starbucks? And grapefruit knives… I bent one of our normal knives… you have to think like Rambo down here sometimes – it’s the only way to survive)
3. Because we’re in the jungles, you quickly become one with the animals (and the creepy crawlies!)… they become part of your day in many respects and that can be a good thing. For example – we’ve got a family of monkeys living in a tree right beside our house… very cool! And a gecko roams our interior walls taking care of our insect issues. The kids wanted to annihilate him initially – but we’ve grown to love him. The kids now call him Sir Gecko Von Schweetz (re: Wreck it Ralph)
4. Everyone here operate on very “relaxed” schedules (ie – you ask someone, even a professional, to get something done and it might take a week or weeks for things to happen)Luckily, the pros outweigh the cons: gorgeous scenery (we’ve about 1 km from the coast and a beautiful beach – plus the lush rain forest), very friendly locals, lots of American/Canadian expats in the area, beautiful weather (although freakin’ humid in the rainy season), a refreshing pool and private/outdoor yoga studio in our backyard, AC if it gets too hot and lots of organic food (we’re trying to get away from much of the processed crap in the stores back in North America)That’s all for now…! The pool beckons…