Thursday, March 31, 2011

Building a Cabin in the Hills of Costa Rica

We recently purchased 3000 square meters of land in the hills of Esparza, Costa Rica.  The cost to was approximately $32,000 U.S. dollars.  Now we'd like to build a few small cabin homes on this land that will hopefully eventually be rented out to people coming from the capital of Costa Rica in San Jose to spend time at the Pacific beaches out in our area.

Two weeks ago we attended the Home Expo Convention Show in San Jose and met a really nice Costa Rican architect that builds cabins and wood homes.  We have subsequently decided to do business with him because he, unlike any other builder we spoke to, was willing to come down and meet our budget.  We want to complete the first little cabin with no more than the $16,000 that we were able to borrow from the bank.  It's a small cabin, of course, that will probably only sleep 2 adults and perhaps 2 kids comfortably, but could no doubt house a group of young travellers who don't have any real need for privacy.  The cabin is pictured below.

Small Cabin We Will Be Building in the Hills of Costa Rica
The neighborhood where this land is located is called "Juanilama" and most of the land in these hills belongs to a former farm laborer who worked for a very rich landowner for many years slowly buying up this land from his boss.  There are areas in this community that offer stunning views of the surrounding hills, the port town of Puntarenas, and the beaches of the Pacific side of Costa Rica.  Lots being sold with these particularly gorgeous views will cost a whole lot more than what we paid for ours, of course. The large house, in the last picture below, was built by an American named "Jimmy" and is one of the homes that comes with these spectacular views.  The rumor is the house and land cost him less than $200,000 U.S. dollars.  Great price compared to what you'd pay in the U.S. for this, but still way out of our budget for now!;)

Lot Purchased in Hills of Esparza, Costa Rica

Another View of the Lot

Jimmy's House in the Hills of Costa Rica and His Amazing Views

Learn More:
Guide to Real Estate in Costa Rica

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Estadio Nacional - Costa Rica's National Stadium

Costa Rica just held the inauguration of their new National Stadium (El Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica).  I've been listening to all the hype surrounding the National Stadium on the radio, TV and in conversations with locals since I arrived here two months ago.  The National Stadium (pictured below) is really a thing of beauty, especially when you see it in first person.  It understandably makes Costa Ricans feel very proud to have this $105 million dollar magnificent piece of architecture built within their country. 

The Estadio Nacional of Costa Rica will mostly host soccer games (locally referred to as "futbol" matches).  Below are some of the more interesting facts I've learned about the National Stadium:

1.  The Estado Nacional was donated to Costa Rica by the Chinese government.  Costa Rica and China established diplomatic relations in 2007 and have since forged ahead in becoming increasingly intertwined in each other's economies and cultures.  Other Central American nations are said to be "jealous" of this relationship.

2.  Hundreds of Chinese laborers were brought in to build the National Stadium. Construction began in March 2009 and ended in early 2011.  Costa Rican locals now commonly joke about the efficiency and discipline of Chinese workers in comparison to Costa Rican laborers who are notoriously known to take forever with road repairs and building projects.  As the saying goes, if you send eight Costa Ricans to do a job, two might actually work and six will keep watch.

3.  The National Stadium can seat approximately 35,000 people, however, they only built 400 parking spaces for the grounds.  Why in the world you ask?  According to one local news report, the stadium administrators hope most people will come in by bus or taxi, or else that homeowners in the local La Sabana area will offer parking on their properties for a fee.  This is truly third world thinking at its best in my opinion.

4.  After the inaugural event held this past week, Stadium administrators noted that the general Costa Rican habit of littering could not be halted.  It is reported that some 20 tons of trash were left strewn throughout the National Stadium (this is on top of the 50 tons actually deposited in trash receptacles).

5.  The inauguaration festivities at the Estadio Nacional included a fireworks show and exhibitions by both Chinese and Costa Rican perforrmers.  I watched the whole thing on TV and was quite mesmerized by the Chinese "Buddha with a Thousands Hands Dance" performed that evening (you can see this beautiful dance in the Youtube video below).

I'm hoping the the new Estadio Nacional of Costa Rica will bring some great concert performances and sporting events (other than just soccer) to the country.  Although with the parking situation being what it is, I will probably think twice about rushing down there too often.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Beaches of Puntarenas and Paseo de las Turistas

The beaches of the Puntarenas peninsula have long been favored by Costa Ricans living in the capital of San Jose when they are looking for relaxation and fun in the sun.  These are brown-sand beaches, decorated with large pieces of driftwood.  The water is clean enough to bathe in and there are striking views of mountains in the far-off background.  There is a long pier that juts out to the sea along which you will find large cruise ships docked.  These ships bring tourists in for the day to walk along the beach area and enjoy the famous Paseo de las Turistas, a boulevard paralleling the beach area where you will find an assortment of souvenier and food vendors, beachcombers, and locals enjoying the water. Note that if you did not arrive on a ship, you will not be allowed to walk out on the pier while the cruise ships are docked.

Paseo de las Turistas

Puntarenas Beach

Looking out towards the pier and a docked cruiseship

Outdoor eatery along Paseo de las Turistas
On the north side of the Puntarenas peninsula, you will find an estuary lined with old fishing vessels and a variety of birds.  My boyfriend's grandfather, a shipbuilder who passed away 3 years ago, left behind the shells of two unfinished boats that still sit to this day in the estuary just rotting away.  I wouldn't recommend wandering too far off of the main beach and estuary areas, since I've been told that there are some pretty bad neighborhoods the further in you go to some of the side streets.

I really enjoy meandering down the Paseo de las Turistas in Puntarenas, stopping for a cold drink or plate of fresh fruits, people watching and just sitting on the sand looking out over the ocean.  If you decide to stay in this area, you'll find accomodations right across the street from the beach starting as low as $25 a night, going as high as $300 - $400 a night (for instance, the all-inclusive Doubletree Resort by Hilton Puntarenas which is a favorite with Tico families).  I think the beach area of Puntarenas is worth a stop, but would only recommend spending one or two nights along this strip before moving on to more interesting sights in Costa Rica.

Exercising in Puntarenas Costa Rica

Although fitness is not necessarily a craze for most of the Costa Rican living out here in Puntarenas, you will see a handful of Ticos walking, jogging or biking outdoors for exercise in the mornings and evenings (when the sun is still bearable).  There are also indoor gyms throughout Puntarenas, but for the most part, they are not air-conditioned.  It is a standard $2 a day charge to use most of these gyms if you don't have a membership.  You will not need to sign any forms or waivers to start using the equipment.

I've been wanting to jog outdoors since I got to Costa Rica, but have had some trouble acclimating myself to the loud and constant traffic on the main roads in Esparza and Miramar.  Trying to jog off the main roads has also been difficult since there are no real sidewalks in the housing areas (unless a homeowner decided to extend their driveway to meet the road), and you have a lot of loose dogs in these back roads.  I was, therefore, thrilled to learn about a jogging track that is within walking distance from the center of Esparza where I am currently staying (photos below).

The track appears to be regulation size (400 meters long) and I believe 4 laps around it equal a mile.  It is in a very peaceful area of Esparza where you can still enjoy the sounds of quiet and nature.  There is no lighting at night, so if you want to check it out, get there before it gets dark.  I walked the 10 minute walk back home by myself in the dark one night and did not have any problems, but better safe than sorry.

To get to the track, turn off Hwy 1 (which runs through the center of Esparza) towards the BCR bank.   Continue straight on this road until you see the King Chicken BBQ on your right and turn right.  Head towards the end of that road until you see the Liceo Emiliano Odio Madrigal school on your right.  The track is right next to the school.  Happy running!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Stroll Through Esparza Costa Rica

My boyfriend and I are staying with his mom for a few weeks in her home situated in Esparza, Costa Rica.  Esparza is about 20 minutes away from our studio apartment in Miramar, and is a much more developed area than Miramar.  A historic city, Esparza was sacked several times by English pirates, and is the oldest city in the country to remain in the spot where it was founded. Among its historical buildings are the Catholic Church and the Torres School near the town's central plaza.

I asked my boyfriend if we could explore the town a little by foot, so last night he and I walked from his mom's house, which is right off the main highway (Hwy. 1), in towards the center of the town.  The main highway area is a nonstop parade of autos and loud trucks, but as we turned off of it and started walking in towards the middle of town, a much quieter and quainter side of Esparza emerged.

In the center of the Esparza you will find the town's main plaza.  The locals sit outdoors in this large plaza for hours on end, just enjoying the outdoors while chatting, flirting and people-watching.  It was a breezy evening last night, which made it especially pleasant to be outdoors.  Across the street from the plaza sits a Catholic church which was erected during the Spanish Colonial days.  Some have described this church as one of the most impressive in the country, most notably because of its neoclassical facade and domed clock tower (photo below).

My boyfriend and I will soon begin building our home higher up in the hills surrounding Esparza.  Since it requires a car to reach this slightly remote part of town, it will offer us a much quieter alternative to the center of Esparza.

Esparza Costa Rica, Town Central Plaza

Esparza Town Plaza (church in background)

Looking out at the town from the middle of Esparza's Central Plaza

Spanish Colonial Catholic Church in Esparza Costa Rica

Monday, March 21, 2011

Los Toros Event in Miramar Puntarenas

This past Saturday I attended a "Los Toros" event held in Miramar, Puntarenas in Costa Rica.  As described in an earlier post, the Toros events are a mix between a U.S. Rodeo and the running of the bulls held in some parts of Europe.  Now that I've attended one of these very popular Costa Rican pastimes personally, I can add that there were also circus-like elements involved (including an array of popular costumed characters, midget bullfighting, and an amateur soccer game in the midst of an angry bull who had been let loose on the field).  Additionally, we were graced with a couple of "celebrity" appearances at this particular Toros event (one being a former political personality and the other an exotic male dancer from Brazil - I had his picture to share with you, but my boyfriend made me delete it).

Los Toros events are surprisingly popular here in Costa Rica.  The cost of a ticket for this particular function was 10,000 colones (about $20 per ticket). With all the advertisements throughout the year promoting these events there is obviously a good level of profit being made from them.

Since I am an animal-lover, I struggled a little with the look of some the bulls.  Many of them had open wounds on their bodies.  I'm not sure if this is caused by the bulls goring each, or if the animal-handlers themselves cut or burn the bulls right before they enter the arena just to get them to give a livelier performance for the crowd.  Interestingly, it seemed like some of the bulls were actually having a little fun with the whole thing and that  they innately knew when to stop before really hurting any of the 100 or so men inside the field.  One overweight man in the ring fell down in front of two different running bulls as he was attempting to climb up the white fence surrounding the perimeter of the field.  But both times, the bulls pulled back just before being able to actually gore him, and instead turned their attention to some of the other men on the field.

Admittedly, I did get a couple laughs from some of the costumed characters' antics and really enjoyed seeing the bullriding skills exhibited by a few of the riders. Also, the cowboys who lassoed in the bulls after each mini performance demonstrated impressive talent and grace in their art.  Despite the more entertaining facets, I'm pretty sure this will be the last Toros event I'll be attending here in Costa Rica.  I'd much rather spend my money on enjoying the country's natural wonders instead:)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Costa Rica and Nicaragua – “Ticos” versus “Nicas”

One of the things that really surprised me since moving to Costa Rica is the amount of hostility many Costa Ricans (often referred to as “Ticos”) have towards Nicaraguans (or “Nicas” for short).  Nicaragua is the country of Central America that borders Costa Rica to the north.  The two countries have been involved in border disputes for decades; the latest of which became so heated that is it now being settled by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Besides the political issues Costa Rica has with Nicaragua, many Ticos also hold a very disparaging view of the Nicaraguan people themselves.  It is estimated that there are somewhere between 600,000 to 1,000,000 Nicaraguans currently living in Costa Rica, a country whose entire population is only about 4.5 million.  Although most Ticos will only make jokes or poke fun at what they consider the inferiority of the Nicas, many others border on bigotry when expressing their sentiments.  The following are a few examples of comments made by Costa Ricans on comment threads discussing the subject:

“Nicas come to Costa Rica illegally and a lot of them just come to do bad things like robbery and murder.”
“They don't respect the Costa Rican laws, and if you watch the Costa Rican news channels you'll see that most of the bad things that happen in Costa Rica are because of Nicaraguans!!!”
“They take Costa Ricans' Jobs and the WORST of it all is that all the money they make in Costa Rica they send it to Nicaragua!! So they are making the Costa Rican Economy to go down... it's not balanced!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Why Are There So Many Nicaraguans in Costa Rica?

Many Nicaraguans are crossing into Costa Rica looking for jobs and access to better health and educational resources.  Someone made the comment to me that Nicaraguans chance crossing illegally into Costa Rica to find the “Costa Rican dream”, just like many Mexicans enter the U.S. illegally to find the “American dream”.

Of course, some Costa Ricans do see a benefit to having Nicaraguans in their country since, for the most part, the Nicaraguans are taking the jobs that the Costa Ricans really don’t want to do themselves.  Many maids and farm laborers, for instance, are Nicaraguan born.  Although Nicaraguans in Costa Rica suffer general derogatory treatment from Costa Ricans, and they often remain in a state of poverty even after arriving here, it is interesting to note that they continue to cross the border from Nicaragua into Costa Rica in large numbers.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Costa Rica "Toros" Pre-Party Celebration

Last night, as we were preparing to wind down and go to sleep, my boyfriend and I were abruptly startled by the loud sounds of a drumming band seeminly right outside our window.  Peeking out through the curtains, we realized that the main street through Miramar, off which we live, was lined with pedestrians on both sides and that there was a parade procession making its way down the street.

As we later found out, this is the "pre-party" to this weekend's local "Toros" event being held in Miramar, Puntarenas in Costa Rica.  "Toro" means bull in Spanish, and the Toros events which are popular here in Costa Rica are a mix between a U.S. style rodeo and the running of the bulls practice that takes place most famously in Spain.

The parade and the on-lookers were heading towards the actual grounds where the Toros event will be held, which much to my surprise, is right behind our apartment. So we decided to get dressed and follow the merriment into the event area.  There were food and drink vendors, mobile dancing stages, and plenty of liquor to go around.  The marching bands that had participated in the street parade further showcased their artistry in stationary mini-performances in front of the attentive crowd (see video below).  A couple of very drunk men from the audience felt compelled to join in with the dancers, often getting a little too close to these scantily-clad women, which resulted in them getting slapped more than a few times.

I really enjoyed the Toros pre-party atmosphere last night, even though the blaring music kept me up past one in the morning!  I will be attending the actual Toros event this Saturday so stay tuned for that posting.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Flowering Trees of Costa Rica in Bloom

I arrived in Costa Rica during the height of the “dry season” when very little rain falls (which lasts from November to March).  During this time of year, the countryside is covered in splashes of white, pink, yellow, and orange due to the abundant blossoms of the country’s flowering trees.

One of the most beautiful colors, in my opinion, comes from the pink blooms of the Tabebuia Rosea, known by locals as the “Roble de Sabana” (1st picture below).  These pastel pink blossoms can also appear as almost white or even lavender.  The Roble de Sabana blooms harmoniously across the Costa Rican landscape alongside an equally beautiful and related specimen, the vibrant yellow-flowering Corteza tree (Tabebuia Chrysantha - 2nd picture below).

Another tree with pink-colored flowers is the taller-growing Cassia Grandis. If you arrive in Costa Rica during the dry season you will see these trees in bloom lining both sides of the highway about midway between the airport and San José (the capital city).

The orange blossoms of the Erythrina Poeppigiana, locally referred to as the Poró tree, are another of my favorites (last picture below).   If you see a group of tall Poró trees together, it is most likely that there had once been a coffee plantation on that same spot, since these trees were used to provide optimal shade for the coffee beans allowing them to ripen more slowly and, in this way, produce a more flavorful tasting coffee.
Roble de Sabana (Pink Blossoms)
Corteza Tree (Yellow Blossoms)

Poro Tree (Orange Blossoms)

Learn More About Costa Rica's Trees:

Trees of Panama and Costa Rica (Princeton Field Guides)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hotel Villa Caletas Review – A Romantic Getaway in Costa Rica

My boyfriend surprised me this past Valentine’s Day with a romantic dinner at the Mirador Restaurant located at the Hotel Villa Caletas.   The Hotel itself is located on a rainforest hilltop in the Central Pacific coast of Costa Rica.  We arrived at about 5:30pm, but since the Mirador Restaurant didn’t open until 6p.m., we were able to enjoy cocktails from the Anfiteatro Sunset Restaurant & Bar, which is also on the Hotel’s premises.  We sipped our drinks in the adjacent Greek amphitheatre, an open area that offers truly breathtaking views of the Nicoya Gulf, the beaches of Jacó, the mountains and rainforests below, and one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever witnessed.

The Mirador Restaurant served us a five-course preset gourmet meal, which combined French and Central American cuisine.    I found every course to be delicious and well-prepared.  Their selection of wines was impressive as well. My only mistake was in filling up on their warm bread rolls, which left me unable finish my entre or even try one bite of my dessert.

Additional Onsite Amenities

If you prefer to dine in a more casual setting than the indoor Mirador Restaurant, outdoor dining is available in the Anfiteatro Restaurant.   In my opinion, the Hotel offers a truly romantic setting for a couple’s getaway.  Besides the restaurants and bar, there is a lush swimming pool area with bar and lunch service; a concierge desk to help you book local tours and transportation; spa services; and a Boutique where you can buy jewelry, souvenirs, and toiletries.

Offsite Amenities

One mile away, the Hotel has it own private beach for guests.   Known as Caletas beach, it is probably a little too rocky for swimming or walking, but is a relaxing place to sit under a tree or in the sun.  The beach is also equipped with lounge chairs, restrooms and showers.  There is an hourly shuttle to and from the hotel from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 pm.  The Pelicano Beach Snack Bar located at Caletas beach also offers drinks and snacks for guests.

To learn more about this romantic Hotel, and maybe even plan your next getaway there, be sure to visit the Hotel’s website. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Addresses and Mail in Costa Rica

I remember the first time I asked my boyfriend for the address I would be living at with him in Costa Rica. I was still in the United States, but I wanted to update the address on my resume before I left so I'd be ready to start looking for work as soon as I arrived.  He proceeded to tell me that it was, "50 meters west of the Beta de Oro Bar in Miramar, Puntarenas."  I said, "Ok, but I need a formal address to put on my resume."  To which he replied, "That's it. That's how Costa Ricans give their addresses."  I really didn't feel comfortable putting this address on my resume.  I mean, would my prospective employers think I'm some kind of a lush whose best way of locating my address was in relation to the position of a bar?

Having lived in Costa Rica for a few months now, I've come to understand that most Costa Rican addresses are expressed in the same way my boyfriend gave me my new address, that is, in relation to the closest landmarks.  This landmark can be anything from a church to a local bar, as in my case.  For the most part, there is no formalized system of street addresses here.  Even in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, where the streets have names and are laid out in a grid pattern, you will find that street signs are virtually non-existent and that most locals don't have any clue about these street names anyhow.  So you can be sure that anyone you talk to will give you the address you are looking  for based on a landmark. The real fun begins when the landmark you have been given is not even in existence anymore!  An example of this is the Coca Cola bottling plant which was turned into a bus station but the area is still referred to as "the Coca Cola".

Sending and Receiving Mail in Costa Rica

I knew I wouldn't be able to forward my U.S. mail to the landmark "Tico address" my boyfriend had given me.  He didn't understand why I kept pressing him for a proper mailing address since he receives absolutely no correspondence.  There is no such thing as "junk mail" here and the telephone and utility companies and other businesses handle their billing online or by allowing you to make your payments in person at various locations.  That said, there are Ticos who do need to send or receive mail in Costa Rica and, as such, these people will have a post office box at their local town post office (the sign in Spanish will read "Correos").  I was able to mail a letter there via "regular" delivery for about 70 cents for a delivery time frame of about 10-12 days per the attendant.  Rather than opening a post office box at the local post office, however, I prefer to pay a little more and receive my mail and packages through Aeropost International Services ("Aerocasillas"), a Miami based mail forwarding service to Latin America.  It costs me about $1.50 dollars U.S. per letter to receive my mail this way and packages start at about $6.00 dollars U.S. and go up from there based on weight.  Don't forget that you'll also be charged customs duties on most items that you are shipping into Costa Rica.  The Aerocasillas company will pay the duty to customs and then charge it to you when you come to pick up your package from their office.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Cabalgata – A Costa Rican Horse Trekking Adventure

Even in modern-day Costa Rica, the horse is an important part of the culture and many “Ticos”, even the city-dwellers, enjoy cross-country horse trekking adventures called “cabalgatas”.  These rides are usually held on Sundays from mid November through the end of August.

My boyfriend participated in a cabalgata on a large farm in San Carlos, Costa Rica this past November 2010 (photos below).  The entrance fee to the event was 5,000 colones (approximately $10 USD), and the horse rental was another 15,000 colones (approximately $30 USD). Oftentimes, these cabalgatas are hosted to raise money for a charity or for a particular community.

The cabalgata started early that morning with hundreds of participants registering at the entrance to the farm.  There were dozens of vendors lined up, selling food, soft drinks, and alcohol. Some people, in fact, were filling up their flasks with alcohol to take and enjoy along the way during the actual ride.

This cabalgata lasted approximately 3 hours from beginning to end.  After about 2 hours of riding through rivers, hills, and sometimes rough and muddy terrain, the group stopped for a lunch-break in another open area on the farm (this meal was included in the price of the entrance fee).  At the end of the cabalgata, the day’s celebration continued with a large tent-party where there was more food and drinks for purchase, music, dancing, raffling, and prize giveaways.

Participating in a cabalgata is a great way to enjoy an adventure in nature in Costa Rica.  The San Carlos cabalgata was hosted on acres of farmland.  However, other popular treks will take you along beach coastlines, through quaint towns, into forests, or up mountainous terrains.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Save Money by Buying in Golfito's "Deposito Libre"

I recently made the six hour car ride from Puntarenas, Costa Rica (where I live), to the port town of Golfito which is next to the border of Panama.  According to my boyfriend, Costa Ricans travel in droves to Golfito, mainly on the weekends, searching for huge savings on duty-free appliances, electronics or other such items at the famous "Deposito Libre".  Our mission on this trip was to find a large flat screen tv, a blu-ray disc player, a sound system, and some exercise equipment.

The town of Golfito itself is pretty small and has very little to offer in the way of entertainment. A single road runs for several kilometers through the center of the town.  Today, Golfito is mainly popular as a sportshfishing center.  It's pretty run-down in some areas, but you can see remnants of better times in the "Zona Americana", a more tranquil section of town with large two-story wooden houses built in the 1930's when the United Fruit Company had its headquarters here (this company pulled out of the area in the 1980's after a series of labor strikes).  In was in response to the economic decline resulting from United Fruit's retreat from the area that Costa Rica made Golfito a duty free port to keep the town alive.

We found a nice little restaurant called "Le Coquillage" to eat at.  It offered quaint views of the Golfo Dulce bay (see photos).
I thought the food was really good and inexpensive.  We ended up spending the night in "Las Gaviotas", which offered a modestly furnished room with cable TV, a small fridge, and a large tiled bathroom.  There was a pool and free internet as well.  This cost us about $52 for the night for both of us.

You may not understand why anyone would travel six hours just to save on some taxes.  The truth is, Costa Rica may add up to 40% of the cost of any item in value added taxes to certain items.  So it actually can make HUGE difference to save on these taxes.  When you enter the duty free shopping area there are about 50 shop locations, all pretty much selling the same kind of items and simlar brands.  However, shop around for a while and ask for written quotes at each store you enter. They will write down the price for you on a piece of paper which also shows the store # on it.  Later on you can sit down and compare your price slips and go back to the stores that made the best offer.

We were able to find a Panasonic 50" flat screen plasma TV for about $700.  This was comparable to what it is being sold for in the U.S.  We found the same TV in the capital of Costa Rica (San Jose) selling for $2000!  That one item alone made the 6 hour trip completely worth it even though we had to pay gas, an overnight hotel stay and meals.  If you're living in Costa Rica and are in need of electronics or appliances I definitely recommend checking out Golfito's Deposito Libre.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Stroll Through Miramar Costa Rica

This evening I decided to venture out on foot from our small one bedroom apartment in Miramar into the town's center.  I wanted to get a little exercise and feel the vibe of my new community.  Plus, I needed to pick up a couple medications at the pharmacy and get some eggs at the Chinese market.

The nice thing about walking around alone in Miramar is that is there's not a whole bunch of cat-calling going on if you're a lady walking by yourself (despite the fact that the women out in this part of the country are quite lovely).  I did have two older men make a few remarks at me as I passed by them on their bench, but it was not too uncomfortable.  I remember when I lived in Panama I'd often have to cross the street to get away from aggressive cat-callers who would get right up in your face.

Anyhow, back to Miramar.  My first stop was the pharmacy.  I asked the pharmacist for an allergy product similar to Zrytec D, which I have used in the States.  I also asked her if I'd be able to get my birth control pills and a couple other medications I take without getting a prescription from a doctor.  She confirmed that this was correct.  While some of the popular medications like Viagra and antidepressants may require prescriptions, a whole other list of common medications don't.  It's really amazing to me how unregulated medication dispensing is here as compared to the U.S.

I wandered on to the park at the center of town and sat on a cement bench for a while to watch the soccer players in the field across the street. I then made my way back down to the Chinese shop and picked up the eggs.  I always get nervous when they ring up the store total in colones (the local currency).  I do the quick math in my head to try to make sure it's reasonable to me in dollars, and then pay the cashier hoping that I don't make a complete fool of myself by giving her the wrong amount of coins or bills.

As I made my way back to the apartment, the sun was setting and its reddish glow in the sky was an awesome sight to behold.  Miramar is by no means a "quiet" town, as it's almost entirely built up along a main highway running through its center, so traffic can be pretty loud.  Still, it's a real taste of Costa Rican life and actually the town has a historic past, being that it was once a booming gold-mining town. Today, however, development here centers around agriculture.  Miramar is also very slowly venturing into tourism, mainly in its surrounding mountainous areas that offer sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

All in all it was a pretty great day.  There's something to be said for learning how to navigate on your own in a new country.

A Typical Sunset in the Mountains Around Miramar
Miramar's Town Center

Our apartment building in Miramar, Costa Rica

Getting a Permit to Work in Costa Rica

Today I travelled 2 hours from Miramar, Puntarenas (where I am currently living with my boyfriend) to Guachilpelin (a suburb right outside of San Jose) in order to interview with Emerson.  Emerson is a multi-national company who is in the process of creating a shared service center here in Costa Rica for all the finance and accounting functions needed for various of their companies.  I am a Certified Public Accountant in the U.S. and am only here in Costa Rica on a tourist visa at this point.

The question is, will Emerson really be able to  hire me?  Before moving down to Costa Rica, I had read several blogs and websites that made it seem like it was possible for a U.S. or multinational company to help a foreign candidate complete and submit all the necessary paperwork in order to apply for a work permit.  Of course, that person had to have a skill or ability that was not easily found in Costa Rica already.  The job I am applying for with Emerson requires 100% fluency in English, as well as a solid understanding of  U.S. GAAP accounting.  I applied for the job because I figured these were two things that would be hard to find in a Costa Rican trained accountant.  As the job has been open for 2 months now, I'm pretty sure I was correct in my assumption.

I can tell that the HR folks at Emerson are really anxious to hire me.  Despite this, my interview today ended with the words, "The only problem I foresee is getting you the work permit.  Immigration makes the process very difficult. We will have to consult with our lawyers."  I was already aware that it was not going to be an easy or short process since, after arriving in Costa Rica and consulting with an immigration lawyer, I was basically told it's next to impossible to get these work permits through company sponsorship and that my best bet was to get married as soon as possible with my boyfriend and just apply for residency.

I'd rather not rush into marriage just for work papers, but it's not completely out of the question if this is the only way to go. In the meantime I'm looking into some work-at-home opportunities and enjoying my free time exploring Costa Rica.  I'm hoping Emerson decides to go through the long and difficult process of helping me get the work permit.  But I'm not holding my breath at this point:(

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bringing My Cats to Costa Rica

Blackie and Sierra (my kitties)
I was at the Miami airport ready to fly to Costa Rica to start the next phase of my life with my new boyfriend (a Costa Rican national).  I was bringing my two cats with me on this adventure because, as any pet lover will tell you, there was no way I could leave my babies behind!

Despite covering all my bases to understand what was needed to bring the cats into the country (I called the Costa Rican Consulate in Georgia, the airline, and checked with an employee of the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture), the airline counter representative in Miami denied them boarding due to a "missing" permit.  Trusting this issue could be handled easily and remotely once I was in Costa Rica, I made the decision to leave the cats behind with my sister, while I got on the flight to Costa Rica that same day.

Upon arriving in Costa Rica, I was told by the Costa Rican agency known as SENASA (responsible for animal importation/exportation) that the cats should have never been denied boarding.  An import permit is not necessary if pets are travelling in the airplane cabin or as checked baggage.  I eventually was given a free flight voucher from American Airlines as compensation for the error made by their airline representative in denying my cats travel.  In the meantime, it has now been approximately one month, and I still can't get a straight answer on how to get my cats flown in as cargo. Between all the government offices you must visit, all the paperwork you must submit, all the payments you must make, and all the ridiculous deadlines you must meet, I'm beginning to believe that the process is actually not even really possible.

My cats have been with me for the last 12 years. Leaving them behind forever is just not an option!

UPDATE 6/2/11:  So I finally gave up on trying to get the cats into Costa Rica by any other means than flying them above in the cabin with me.  American Airlines and SENESA in Costa Rica, were giving me conflicting information about whether pets travelling as checked baggage on the same flight needed an import permit or not (American said yes, and SENASA said no).  I had looked into using Angela Passman's Guardian Angel Services, but her price quote to bring both cats to Costa Rica as cargo was $2,700 U.S. dollars.  Mind you, this is door to door service and if you have the money to use her services I say do it.  Dealing with the Costa Rican rules and bureaucracy is a major headache. In the end, however, I decided to just buy my sister a plane ticket and have her accompany me on the flight so she could bring my second cat as her hand baggage (1 pet allowed per passenger in the cabin).  This worked out cheaper than using Angela's services, even though I had to pay for my sister's plane ticket and also a fee of $125 for each pet. Unfortunately, it was a torturous event for one of my cats who cried for an entire 8 hours (from being packed in the crate back in Miami, through the entire plane ride, until being let out of the crate in our apartment here in Costa Rica). 

With one week in Miami before bringing them down to Costa Rica, I easily got them both checked out by a veterinarian who completed the APHIS international vet certificate for them, and then I proceeded to take that form and get it endorsed at the local USDA office (USDA-APHIS-VS, 6300 N.W. 36th Street, Miami, FL 33122, (305) 526-2926 Office).  I had read that the vaccines (other than the rabies shots) for pets travelling to Costa Rica must be given within 30 days of departure.  However, my two cats had their shots 3 months ago when I first attempted to bring them here, and the vet refused to give them the same shots again stating that it could be unsafe to vaccinate them again so soon.  With my fingers crossed, I agreed with his recommendation and prayed that this would not be a problem for the animal officer at the Costa Rica immigration counter. Perhaps due to a little flirtation by my sister, the animal officer barely looked at my vet paperwork, stamped what he had to, and let us pass on through.  Today my kitties are finally soaking up the good life in Costa Rica with me!

Sierra and Blackie in Costa Rica....Finally!
If your pet is too big to travel in the cabin, you will have to figure out a way to get the Costa Rica permit from SENASA.  Here are some links that might be useful.  I was never able to figure out the process, but you might have better luck:

1.  Costa Rica's SENASA requirements (you'll need to translate this website to English in your browser).

2.  You are going to need to work with a Costa Rican customs broker to get the paperwork needed here in Costa Rica completed, while you are handling the other side of the paperwork requirements in the U.S.  This is a listing of Costa Rican brokers (please note that not all of these agencies handle animal imports, so you may have to call around to a few of them).