Sunday, August 31, 2008

Day Trippin’

We have a new car! My days of driving the big, blue, monster truck with its intimidating stick shift are over (the truck is probably as thrilled about this as I am!). We now have a shiny 2000 Montero Sport parked in our driveway. Unlike Washington, we don’t have hundreds of used car dealerships within a 30 mile radius, so it was a real labor of love to bring our new baby home.

The car was waiting for us in a suburb of San Jose, which is a difficult seven hour drive from where we live. Patrick and I determined that rather than driving both ways to collect our car (which would have required an overnight stay), we should fly to the capitol in the morning and drive the new car back together in the afternoon – it would be a day trip extraordinaire!

Our local airport in the coastal town of Golfito is difficult to describe, particularly to those accustomed to Skycap and X-ray machines. The airport is actually just a landing strip and outdoor waiting area – more like a bus stop than an airport. We arrived at 6:00 a.m. for a 6:40 flight and had plenty of time to spare (the ticket counter staff had not yet checked in for work). Instead of luggage, we sheepishly checked in an empty cooler for the grocery shopping we were looking forward to later in the day. Because the 12-seater prop planes are small and can carry only a limited load, each passenger must “weigh in”-- on the baggage scale no less! Maybe it’s me, but I much prefer the mandatory shoe-check.

Upon landing in San Jose after the scenic (and noisy) 45 minute flight, Patrick and I followed our normal routine and headed straight for the complimentary shuttle bus to Denny’s restaurant (which is connected to both a 24-hour casino and Best Western hotel). We must have looked famished (or maybe it was the empty cooler that gave us away), but the shuttle bus driver knew instantly that it wasn’t the hotel, but Denny’s we wanted. It may sound crazy, but when you’re deprived of normal breakfast food for an extended period, Denny’s hash browns, sausages, and pancakes actually taste good!

With full, happy stomachs, we took a taxi to the car dealership to finalize our purchase. After spending an hour signing legal papers (every major transaction here needs a lawyer’s stamp of approval), we were the proud owners of a used car from Alabama that cost $7,000 more than we would have paid for it in the States – and we were ecstatic! Considering taxes on car purchases here are upwards of 75%, we had actually found a pretty good deal.

We rolled off the lot and headed straight for – more food! With its large gringo population, San Jose has a number of high-quality grocery stores that could be confused for your neighborhood Safeway (well, almost). We strolled the aisles with mouths watering, filling our limited cooler space with a carefully made selection of goodies: English muffins, smoked salmon, strawberries, cheeses, granola, Eggo waffles, pine nuts, Rib eye steak, dried sausage, champagne…

Our drive back to San Gabriel in our new car was smooth, comfortable, cool (air conditioning – Hooray!), and tuneful (a stereo – Hooray!), and we arrived home to find everything still in working order (the running water is back – Hooray!!). In celebration of our most successful day trip, we held a festive mimosa and eggs-benedict brunch that even Denny’s would be hard-pressed to top :)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Bright Side

Here in Costa Rica, challenges arise almost daily that can become overwhelming if you don’t learn to look on the bright side (and put into action your sharpest problem-solving skills!). We’ve had plenty of opportunity recently to practice seeking out the silver lining.

A week ago, we took a trip to the capitol, San Jose, to purchase a car we had found in the newspaper. We had planned to take the “short” route over the mountains, which would have taken about 6 hours. The night before we left, we received a call from friends telling us that there had been a landslide across the mountain road, and it had been closed to traffic. Fortunately, there is another road to San Jose along the coast which we were able to take. We spent about three hours longer driving, but on the bright side, we were able to stop to show Luc his first wild crocodiles, and we also caught glimpses of sloths, monkeys, and scarlet macaws. Also, when we finally rolled into San Jose, the city had emptied of cars for the day, and we found our hotel relatively effortlessly. Driving in San Jose is never easy because there are absolutely no street signs, but the key is to speak enough Spanish to be able to ask taxi drivers for directions.

The next day when we went to inspect the new car, we found that it was in worse condition than we had expected. For the amount of money the guy was asking, we decided not to take it. Of course, I was disappointed, but on the bright side, the lawyer who was going to do the car transfer papers was also an immigration lawyer. We kept our appointment with him and discussed our different options for gaining Costa Rican residency.

We resumed our search for our car the next day in Grecia, a suburb of San Jose also known as Used Car Central. After a few hours of searching, we found a Mitsubishi Montero in good condition and low miles for about 5K less than the first car (Bright, Very Bright!!). We thought we would be able to pay by credit card, but between Visa’s security measures for large purchases and Costa Rican inexperience obtaining authorization codes, the transaction was just too difficult. Fortunately, the dealer said he would hold the car for us until we can get a wire transfer into our Costa Rican account. On the bright side, a second trip next week (by plane without Lucas) will allow us some extra time in the city to purchase some furniture we desperately need.

We left San Jose by way of the mountain road which was open, albeit a little messy. When we arrived home, we found that our water had been cut off. That happens around here rather frequently for one reason or another, so we just assumed it would be back on the following day. Pat left for work and stayed later than usual because we had been gone a few days. In the meantime, I had figured out that the water was cut because we had forgotten to pay the bill (which goes directly to the landlord’s house). By the time Pat came home, the water office was closed (no paying by phone here!), and we were facing a three day weekend -- who knew Mother’s Day was a national holiday?!

We’re now in our fifth day without potable water in the house. Living without hot water was one thing, but no water at all is a different ballgame altogether. On the bright side, I finally have a good excuse not to wash the floor, do the dishes, or cook rice and beans! Thankfully, we live next to a river in a tropical country at the beginning of rainy season. With a tank borrowed from friends to collect rain water from the roof, and a supply of drinking water donated from friendly neighbors, we’re muddling through. On the brightest side -- and one of the reasons we’re able to find any bright side at all, wine comes from a bottle and not the tap…

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


After just over a month here, we’ve made some decent progress on our mountain resort project. Patrick has been working at a frenetic pace to get all the necessary tasks completed so we can start building in December after rainy season ends. So far, so good, and, remarkably, we’re still on schedule (in a country famed for its loose sense of time!). So far, we have:

* Decided where our house, restaurant, spa, bungalows, and pool will be located on the property;
* Met with our Costa Rican architect who will oversee the construction of the project to determine what steps need to be taken before we break ground;
* Met with a topographer who will make a contour map of the construction sites and segregate the housing lots;
* Arranged with our American architect to come to Costa Rica in early September to design the various buildings;
* Met with a builder of suspended bridges and identified two large trees for hanging walkways;
* Received preliminary construction permits from the local municipality;
* Had our water source tested and determined safe for drinking;
* Started leveling construction sites with a bulldozer (once the truck that carried the bulldozer to our property became un-stuck from the mud in our entrance way—a three hour ordeal involving two Mack trucks and a chain that could have restrained King Kong...)
* Received quotes for gravel to put on the roads to the housing lots and mountain retreat;
* Bought 250 saplings from a local reforestation project for planting later this month;
* Decided upon an entry-gate design and contracted our local carpenter-friend to build it;
* Began negotiating the price of wood to buy and store until December;
* Identified a new car for me (Kate) that will also help transport customers to the resort next year.
* Started thinking about a catchy name for the business. Petit Paradis Mountain Resort and Spa is our current favorite. We’re open to thoughts and suggestions, though, so please feel free to comment!