Small town life

There are so many things that I truly love about living in a small town in Costa Rica.  But today was awesome.  The area I live in, Sarapiqui, has been having lots of rain and flooding.  Many people are displaced and in need of help.  The husband and I went out today, I really needed to get out, and took a drive.  We were mainly on a mission to go to the eye doctor for a quick exam.  We had to travel a few towns over for this, not a big deal really; but along the way we could see the river was receding in our area.  We could see lots of trees washed up along the river banks, even saw a huge tree on its side in someone’s yard.  But you could also see people sitting at a soda having lunch and taking it easy.  People sitting on their porch with their family relaxing.  It was nice to see.  We got down to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, driving through town we noticed the Red Cross, there were so many people there working.  More ambulances than I have ever seen there, more people in uniform than ever before. Looked like everyone was working a double shift.  Police were out in full swing patrolling the streets.  You could see aid packages being unloaded from trucks.  It looked as if everyone was working together.  Police were talking to people on the streets, no one looked like they were in any confrontation with them either.  It was a relaxing atmosphere.

Well, we stopped by the post office and checked the mail.  Still didn’t get my package, it was probably confiscated.  Too bad, I was looking forward to making some really good chili with those spices.  After that we went to the eye doctor, she was supposed to open at one after lunch, it was 1:20 and she still wasn’t back…Tico time see previous post.  So we stopped into a soda and got a very yummy chicken empanada and a Coca-Cola.  Decided to check the eye doctor again; yup she was back.  We walk in without any appointment and ask about getting the husband and eye exam.  No problem, what’s his name and have a seat.  We wait a whole ten minutes and he is taken back and of course I have to go with him.  Poor hubby has hearing problems and hasn’t been able to learn Spanish no matter how hard he has tried.  He has really tried too.  I tell the doctor what has been going on, he had been getting headaches and thinks it is the glasses.  Well, we were right.  The doctor was very awesome, super friendly, constantly smiling.  She knew very little English, but we got through everything.  We discussed our options with the glasses and which type of bifocals he wanted.  I let her know that he really loves the frames that he already has because they actually fit him perfect and are in great shape.  No problem using them again and just getting new lenses.  The cost of the eye exam was 2,000 colones, under $4 right now.  Cost of the new lenses for lined bifocals, 17,000 colones, under $34.  We will take that!  For no line bifocals it would have been 34,000 colones, under $68.  But we are trying to save a few colones here and there.  (Last time we got our eyes checked we were in a bigger town and the cost was 5,000 colones.)

I don’t think this eye doctor gets very many gringo patients because she seemed super excited to work with us.  She has a very simple office, nothing fancy, could definitely use a paint job.  But her professionalism was above and beyond what I expected.  She used the old glasses type apparatus to get your prescription, so she is manually picking up different lenses to insert into the glasses instead of just flipping them.  This is a much harder and longer process.  Hubby loved the prescription and was reading things perfectly clear.  No shadows or blurs when she was done.  I will be going back to get my eyes checked with her soon also.  I would also recommend her anyone in this area.  She was an absolute joy to be around.  Pura Vida!

Tico Time

Now this is something that really took some getting used to because where I am from everyone is always early.  Here, we have what is called Tico Time.  Tico Time is getting things done and/or being somewhere whenever they get done or whenever they get there.  It is no specific time, they are always late.  If you invite someone to your house and you want them there at three, tell them to be there at two and they might be on time.  Ticos are never in a hurry to get things done, unless they are driving.  They are the most laid back and relaxed people I have ever met, unless they are driving.  That is a whole other blog post.  Also, when it comes to having something installed, like internet, just be patient and be prepared to wait.  They will eventually get there, don’t plan anything for the week of the appointment and plan on being close to home so you can get there when they show up.  Another thing, they will tell you mañana, which literally means tomorrow, but here that could mean next week.  Sometimes it can mean next month, or I will eventually get to it when I can.  It is almost as if time does not exist or is even important to most people.  Things get done when things get done.  You have to learn to be patient and go with the flow.  Now, there are times when this can be a serious problem like in cases of an emergency.  But don’t get angry, just relax and be nice, this will get things done much easier.  If you are unpleasant with them, they will not want to be around you and will push you away and make you wait even longer.  You can kindly let them know of your disappointment in the situation, but don’t yell, scream, or cuss them out, that will just get you kicked out of somewhere.  I have met some of the sweetest, kindest, and wonderful people since moving here.  Friends that I consider to be my family now.  You just have to remember to be patient and kind.  Every time I go out I am smiling, and they smile back.  So, until mañana, Pura Vida!

The medical system

Now, I can only comment and tell you my personal experiences when it comes to healthcare in Costa Rica.  So, keep that in mind.  Someone again today asked me to explain how our system works here and I thought I would just share a little more on that topic.  My husband and I are on the Pensionado residency status, so we pay based off of our income.  We pay just under $100 a month right now for both of us.  This covers everything, medical, dental, vision, and specialists.  We have no co-pays or deductibles to meet, no out of pocket expenses.  Then I always hear, well someone is paying for it.  Yes, we all pay for it, just like you do in the United States with your insurance premiums.  If you think that your insurance premiums are just for you, then you are sadly mistaken.  Your premiums are pooled together to help someone else pay their medical bills.  You do not just pay for yourself, you pay for everyone that is signed up with that insurance provider.  I love it when people say that they shouldn’t have to pay for someone else to have medical coverage, well, you already do.  Get over it.

People ask, can it take a while to get into to see a specialist, yes.  Just like it can in the States sometimes.  I know of one specialist in Colorado that has a six month waiting list to get in to see him.  So, it happens there too.  Does it take a while to get into see your doctor, no.  I can go in the morning and make an appointment for the same day.  If it is an emergency, I go down to the ER clinic and get in there.  Does it take a long time to have surgery, it can.  Just depends on what is going on.  Yes, I had a very long wait for my surgery, but it was done the same day.  They saved my life.  They saved the life of my daughter also.  She had to have an emergency surgery while visiting.  She was under 18, so still a minor.  There was no charge for minors, they believe in caring for ALL children no matter where they are from.  I almost broke down in tears, as we are on a fixed income and was worried about the cost.  We both had great care in a public hospital, many doctors and nurses spoke English.  I even had a doctor the other day ask me if I could teach her English because she wanted to learn.  Amazing people here.

So, how is it paid for?  This is where we help each other.  Everyone who has a job, the insurance comes out automatically, just like where you pay into medicare and medicaid in the US.  We do have a higher sales tax, like many European countries.  We do have a very high import tax also.  But, I don’t mind paying these if it is going to help my neighbor get her cancer treatment.  She is now enjoying her time with her first grandson.  She is cancer free.  Is our system in trouble, yes.  I won’t lie about it.  Could it be better, yes of course.  It is not perfect.  One thing I have noticed about being here, the money that is invested into our local hospitals and clinics through the public system is about care.  It is not about making the building look beautiful and perfect.  You can go to my clinic here and think this place looks like a dump, but once you get to know the staff you feel the love and care and the pride they take in their job.  I hobbled in the other day, I saw the pharmacist and she waved and said hello to me.  The receptionist came out and brought me a wheelchair.  So, the wheelchair didn’t have leg rests, who cares, I was sitting and off of my ankle.  I am not too picky and I have worked in the medical field in the States.  I am more concerned about my quality of care, not what it looks like.  They do keep it very clean there.  The lady who cleans the clinic, cleans all day and everyday.  She is always sweeping and mopping the floors, wiping down walls and counters, and cleaning the bathrooms.  They love to clean.  There is paint coming off the walls, no screens in the windows, only a few rooms with A/C.  But I am always made to feel comfortable and relaxed about being there.  You can have the most beautiful clinic there is, but without the care it means nothing.  I have worked in a very nice clinic in the US and the people there were ugly, they told patients lies.  They had no integrity.  I feel very lucky to be here where I am at in the beautiful country.  Pura Vida!

Back to the emergency clinic

I finally broke down and went to the clinic yesterday.  I kept putting it off for almost a week.  I have a very weak left ankle that I have sprained several times over the years.  I thought I had just done the same.  After a few days I noticed that the pain didn’t feel like a normal sprain so the hubby wrapped it up for me and I went about my business.  Then I drove Sunday morning, we have a standard shift.  Got home and was in incredible pain.  Took some ibuprofen and tried to rest it.  That wasn’t helping things.  The limping got worse which was starting to cause my right hip to hurt.  Finally I said the heck with it and decided to go.  It was in the afternoon after going to the supermarket that I really said I have to go.

We went down to our local clinic, which is very close to our house.  The doctor was already getting ready to leave at 3 pm.  This is about the normal time for the clinic to close here.  So, they sent us down to the emergency clinic that is a few towns over. Not a big deal for us.  We get there and I go up to the window, show them my ID, insurance card, and proof that we have paid the insurance.  I take a seat and in a few minutes they take me back to get my vitals and to find out what was going on.  The nurse was very nice and patient with me as my Spanish still needs improving.  I get that done and take another seat in the waiting area which is actually outside; at least it was covered.

We waited a while and the doctor finally called me back.  She was a young doctor and super sweet.  She could understand my Spanglish and actually asked me if I could teach her English.  I don’t think I could really teach an adult English; it is easier to teach kids a foreign language.  She examined my foot and ankle and decided it was tendinitis of the Achilles.  No bruising or swelling so it was obvious that nothing is broken; I also have a medical degree.  She ordered me up an injection for pain and swelling, wrote me a prescription for anti-inflammatory’s and a steroid.

We left our house yesterday around 3 pm.  We were out of the emergency clinic around 5 pm, don’t forget the 30 minute drive to get there.  So, all in all, we were probably only at the clinic for just over an hour, that included getting my prescriptions right there at the clinic too.  All clinics have a pharmacy in them, this way you don’t have to go and find one.  Total cost of yesterdays adventure, $0.  Everything was completely covered by the CAJA, which is the Costa Rican Social Security.  The cost of the CAJA is based off of your income.  We are pensioners so we pay just under $100 a month.  If you get another type of residency it is different.  I can only give you information on what it is like to be a pensioner here.

So, still got the ankle wrapped up, taking my medication like a good girl, and trying to rest it.  I keep smiling though and loving life.  Pura Vida!

Rain and more rain

Sorry it has been so long since I posted.  I finally got a new laptop and can type again!  I was actually able to find one here that was already programmed in English and has an English keyboard.  This was hard to find in the area that I live in because I live in a very rural community without a lot of other Gringos.  It is a very local community.  Also, the term gringo is perfectly fine to use down here in Costa Rica, it has no negative connotation to it.  Just if someone asks you where you are from, never tell them America.  You tell the you are from the United States, as they consider everyone on these two continents to be Americans; and they are correct.  But I am very glad to be back on here and writing again.

Well, a lot has been going on lately.  We have had some serious rain for this time of year.  I know it is a rainforest and that I have said before get used to it.  But this has been ridiculous.  But we have had widespread flooding.  Many rivers have come over their banks and taken out homes and businesses.  Several bridges and roads have been washed out too.  For a while, our community was pretty much an island.  There was no way to get out of our area.  Sunday morning I was awoken to the sound of the siren going off at 4:50.  I had one cat look at me with huge eyes and a scared look, my other cat started growling, and the dog just laid there like nothing was happening.  This is the first time I have ever heard the siren go off and it is very close to my house.  I got up and turned the radio on and heard nothing about it.  So I knew it wasn’t anything national and that it was only for local.  I stumble out of bed, in the dark, and look out the window which faces the main road.  I could see police lights and a spot light in the trees.  That is when I think I woke up enough to hear the  noise.  It was the river.  Now, we live up on a hill and back off the main road and the river is on the other side of the main road.  If I had to guess how far the river is from the house I would probably say about 1,000 feet.  You could just hear the rushing sound of the water coming down from the mountains.  All I could think of was all the people who live close to it, including a friend of mine who is from the States.  There being nothing I could do, I crawled back into bed and waited until I could call someone who could really tell me what was going on.

I did a lot of texting and calling that morning.  Found out there was a landslide up the mountain on the river and it sent a huge wave of water rushing downstream.  We had people on the way to visit us for a few nights and didn’t know if they would be able to stay or not as our water main broke.  They were quick about it and had it repaired in under two hours.  I was very impressed with that.  There was an entire community stranded on the other side of one of the bridges as the water washed out part of the road by the bridge.  As of right now there are at least 450 people in shelters in and around our canton, that is like a county in the US.  So many businesses had to close because of all the rain, tourist places were closed because of fallen trees and flooding.  It was really a scary couple of days here.  We are hoping that the worst is over.  I did see a rainbow yesterday and the sun is out now.  Our company only stayed for one night because there was nothing to do in our area with everything being shutdown.  We completely understood.  It is times like this that Facebook really comes in handy.  There are a lot of pages for our area to keep people up to date on what is happening in and around the area.  I was able to see photos and get lots of information about the outlying areas about road closures and where the worst is to help my friends get around and to pass information along to others.  Glad we are through this now.  Just hope that we have at least of week of no rain.  We need the sunshine.

The first photo is in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, a few towns over from where I live.  Normally this walking bridge is 15 feet above the water, there was a bridge below that you could drive across.

 

 

PV

 

These photos are here in my town of La Virgen de Sarapiqui.  The first one is where the river has washed out part of the road leaving an entire community stranded.  I would estimate there are probably close to 1,000 people who live back there.  The next two are of the Rio Saraipiqui.  This is a common river to use for rafting, but it is too dangerous now.  Normally there is a little beach on the right hand side of the second photo, that is where a lot of people go to go swimming.  The beach is gone.  On the third photo, the little island in the middle usually goes almost all the way across the river with just a little stream on each side of it.  There is normally a good 20 feet between the river and the bridge, this day there were only a couple of feet between the two.  Luckily, it is going down now and life will return to normal, it will just take a little time.  The community is coming together to help everyone out, it is like one big family and they care for each other.  It will take a long time though to get many of the roads open and the bridges repaired.  One such road they are saying it will take three months to fix and clear out because of a landslide.  Mother nature is a serious force and not to be messed with.  This river came up quick and deadly.  A simple reminder not to mess around with water and rain and to always be careful.  Pura Vida!

 

 

 

RS1 - Copy RS2 RS3

changing residency status

Today was a day filled with getting things done.  For starters, we finally got all of our stickers for our car.  We got the inspection sticker and the INS sticker; the INS is like a government mandatory insurance.  For our car it’s about $130 a year.  It doesn’t really cover much, I don’t even know what it actually covers.  To me it is the equivalent of just getting your plates renewed every year.  You can purchase real coverage for very cheap here.   The inspection you have to have done once a year also.  They are very thorough with it too.  It’s not just an emissions check.  If you are old enough you may remember something from some states called the safety lane inspection.  It is very similar to those.  They check everything on your car.

So, about immigration today.  When we first got our residency we were told that we needed to pay separately for the medical insurance coverage.  This is not the case.  I am my husbands dependent and should be covered under him.  So, for three years I have been paying when I shouldn’t have been.  I am not going to complain about it though.  I had emergency surgery done and so did my daughter and we didn’t have to pay anything out of pocket for it.  I was in the hospital for 6 days and my daughter just overnight.  I am sure that if we would have been in the States it would have cost more just for my daughter than what I have paid over the past three years.  So I am not going to complain.  Turns out years ago there was a mis-communication about how immigrants were suppose to pay their insurance.  It is finally getting straightened out.  But for us to get this changed I had to get a copy of our marriage certificate from immigration with all the stamps and translations.

I had originally contacted an attorney about this.  He said he could do it for $50 with no problem.  I was thinking why not.  But for us $50 is a lot of money.  So today while we were in San Carlos we stopped by immigration.  This is the office we used to get our residency and they have always been super nice.  Just always be nice to them first.  I asked the gentlemen at the counter if I could get a copy of our marriage certificate and why.  He understood and knew what was going on and got it for me right away.  It is officially stamped from the office so all I have to do is take it to my local clinic and get a new card from them stating that I am a dependent and then take it to my local CAJA office and they change it in the system and we are all set.  Nothing is ever done in the same office, it is a lot of back and forth, but that is just the way it is done here.  If you want to live here and enjoy it, you either must be patient or learn patients.

My second question I asked at immigration was about changing our residency from temporary to permanent.  I had again asked an attorney about doing this for us, he was going to charge us over $1000 to do the paperwork.  There are only three things you need to change it over.

1) A letter stating why you want to be a permanent resident

2) Make a deposit in the bank for $200 per person

3) Submit copies of your cedula card that you already have (residency card)

That is it.  We still have to pay for our new cards which is about $125 per person.  With temporary residency we pay for a new card every two years.  With permanent we will have to get new cards every 5 years.  We are definitely going this route. So, that is all there is to it.  Saving us $1,000 and doing it myself.  I did our original paperwork for residency without an attorney too.  I figure why not try it again.

We are still here

It’s been kind of crazy here lately.  The volcano has been spewing ash into the air, we finally bought a car, and I started doing some volunteer work.

When it comes to mother nature, you never know what to expect.  No matter where you live in the world, you have something to deal with.  We used to live in Ohio and dealt with tornadoes in the spring, summer, and fall.  During the winter we had ice storms.  When we lived in Colorado it was snow and more snow and then some more snow.  Oh, and blizzards.  Did I mention the snow?  We also had tornadoes there.  Here, we have earthquakes and volcanoes.  Even in the US you have earthquakes.  We are lucky with where we are though, we don’t get hurricanes.  Just this past week we had a few small quakes but nothing too serious and no damage.  Today one of our many volcanoes decided that it needed to burp really good and spew some more ash into the air.  You have good and bad where ever you go in the world when it comes to nature.  You just have to decide for yourself what you can live with.  I look at it this way, at least I am not freezing my butt off anymore.

Buying a car was an experience to say the least.  Here, cars are not cheap at all.  They hold their value a heck of a lot better than in the US.  A big reason for that is because of the extremely high import tax.  We just bought a 2002 model car and it cost us around $8,000.  We couldn’t go through a regular dealership though because we don’t have permanent residency yet.   We just reached the point to where we can change over though.  Also, for a down payment, you need at least 20% down, some places require 25% down.  So, don’t think you are going to come here and pick up a car cheap with a zero down payment like you would in the States…not happening.  If you have the money feel free to pay for it outright; it is better that way.  We just couldn’t go any longer without one, my back was really hurting on the bus, plus it was getting difficult getting on and off the bus. It is so much quicker getting to where we need to go now.  They say time is money, the bus is very cheap but takes a long time; gas is very expensive but you get there so much quicker.  Plus my back doesn’t hurt as bad from riding or driving in a car like it does on the bus.

How I got suckered into volunteering; I have a soft spot for animals and little kids.  A friend of mine asked me if I knew anyone that could volunteer one day a week to teach English at one of the elementary schools, of course I don’t know of anyone but why can’t I try it?  So here I am trying to teach kids who barely know two words of it.  Although there are a couple that know a bit and most know numbers.  I find it easier to work with the real little ones that know nothing; with them I can just start at the very beginning and go from there and not worry about them getting bored.  They are great kids and I really like them.  Although it is costing me some money.  I don’t get paid for this, it is completely voluntary and I had to buy my own program to teach from, plus I have to make all of my own copies.  I have about 100 kids I teach from pre-school to 6th grade; which means close to 200 copies a week I have to make.  Not sure how long I can keep it up, but we are going to try and my husband is a great supporter of this.  The school that I am at is in a very rural area and they are having trouble finding teachers for this school, that is why I am there.  Including me there are a total of four teachers, including the principal too, and I am only there one day a week.  I do enjoy being there though and the kids are great, they really make me feel welcome and appreciated.

Utilites

I have been seeing on different pages about the cost of utilities here in Costa Rica.  Some people saying it is really high and then there are people like me who say it is really cheap.  It depends on a lot of factors.

How big is your house?

How many people are in your household?

Do you have an air conditioner?

Do you have a clothes dryer?

Do you have a dishwasher?

How big are your appliances?

Do you leave everything plugged in when you are not using it?

I have a small house, around 613 sq ft.  Most of the time it is just the two of us, but we do have lots of overnight company.  In December we had a guest that was here for almost the entire month, my electric bill was only $32.  We do not have an air conditioner, we use fans.  I do have a clothes dryer that I use when I do laundry.  My dishwasher is my husband.  He’s a good man.  Most of our other appliances are small, our refrigerator would be considered small by US standards; but it would be average for a small apartment.  The only things that are left plugged in all the time are the refrigerator, obviously, and the washer and dryer.  When I am not using something, it is unplugged.  The reason for that, even though it is turned off it will still draw on the electrical current.  At night, I even unplug the internet modem.  After all, I am asleep and we are not using it.  Why let it stay on and waste electricity and run up my bill?  If I am not in a room, the light is turned off.  In the evening I will turn on one patio light, that is too keep the bugs outside and not attracted to the light inside.  We use all energy saver light bulbs.

When I was in the States, I started this experiment, by unplugging things when I wasn’t using them.  My utility bill dropped drastically.  They say, in the States, that by just leaving your cell phone charger always plugged in is costing you about $7 a month; that’s $84 a year.  Think about all the other things you leave plugged in when not using.  I even unplug my TV, I don’t DVR anything.  The game consul is unplugged when not in use also, think about all those little lights on them that are always on.  It’s little things like this that run up your bill.  This is for everywhere, not just here.  Just some helpful advice for you all to help you save some money, no matter where you are at.

The great debate

There is a huge debate about the cost of living here in Costa Rica.  It has been going on for a while.  Yes, Costa Rica is the most expensive country in Central America.  There is no debate about that.  Costa Rica is also the safest country in Central America to live in.  That is a fact.  You can easily look these up.  The cost of living is going to vary greatly on where you live and how you want to live.  If you live in an area that has lots of tourists and expats, then it is going to be expensive.  If you come down here and think you are going to live the same as you did in the States, then it is not going to be any cheaper.  Products imported from the States are more here than they are there.  Import taxes and cost of shipping.  Cars are more expensive here also, but we do have a great public transportation system that is much cheaper than the US, and it is very reliable.  I have used the public transit for three and a half years now.  We are looking at getting a car because of my back problems; it can be difficult getting on and off the bus for me.  Gas prices are higher here than there too; but not as high as what they are in Europe.  Right now, gas is down to around $4 a gallon, it was $5.  I know in some European countries it can go as high as $11 a gallon; so please stop complaining.

The area I live in, isn’t too bad on the cost.  You can rent a 45 m2 house for around $100 a month.  Granted, it’s not a big house, but it is a house.  With all that money you are saving you can afford to do more things around the country.  Think about it.  Big house and stay home all the time, little house and travel.  My house is around 57 m2, that’s a little over 600 sq ft.  I like it, I have everything that I need here.I have heard some people saying their electric bill is around $100 a month.  Not sure what they are doing because mine is around $30 a month.  I don’t have A/C either.  I am very conscious about my electric bill.  I unplug everything if I am not using it.  I even unplug the modem at night, I’m not using it and leaving it on just wastes electricity.  The only things that stay plugged in when not in use is the washer and dryer.  Seriously, if you unplug stuff when you are not using it, your utility bill will go down because it still draws on the power even when off.  My water bill runs under $8 a month, we don’t have a sewage system in the area I live in so that cuts back on the cost.  All we have are holding tanks.  Now the internet.  I got a slower speed internet including my home phone for $30 a month.  I have no problem streaming movies on Netflix or watching videos on youtube.  Now, if you have several people at the same time trying to watch movies and videos I would recommend a faster speed.  For us, this is fine.

The cost of food.  It really depends on what you want to buy.  If you buy local brands it can be very reasonable.  Except diary products, they are expensive no matter what.  A half gallon of milk is around $2.  I get a big bag of local brand cereal for around $5.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are very cheap as long as they are not imported; all apples are imported.  You can get three pineapples on a road side stand for around $2.  Bananas are extremely cheap here as they grow everywhere, I even have some in my yard.  Also, we have the biggest carrots I have ever seen in my life here.  Don’t waste your time and money on buying the baby carrots that are already pealed and in a bag.  Buy a real fresh carrot and peal it yourself, it doesn’t take long to do.  On average when I go to the supermarket I spend around $100 a week, I will have to go through the week and get some milk because we do drink a lot of it, but that is for three people including a carton of cigarettes.  I plan my meals out before shopping and make a list, it really helps.

So the point being, if you come down here don’t expect to live like you did in the US.  This is a completely different lifestyle.  It is relaxing and very laid back.  You need to come down here with an open mind and an open heart.  Learn the ways of the locals and embrace it.  It will be worth it.  Leave your old life behind, it’s in the past.  If you have any questions about anything feel free to ask.

Pura Vida!