Sunday, March 31, 2013

Another Month Comes to an End!

It truly is hard to believe that another month of our life has passed behind but given us so many great memories!! This journey has shown us how wonderful the world is, how awesome and kind people really are, how the world could really live in harmony, that money can't buy happiness, that people's hearts are truly in the right place, that there is beauty everywhere, and I could go on and on and on!!

Happy Easter, EVERYONE, on this truly beautiful warm, sunny day here in Grecia, Costa Rica!!

This past week, which was Semana Santa holy holiday week in Costa Rica, we have tried to enjoy as much as we could of the area while coming home every night. We visited Zarcero by bus, we had a private taxi that took us on an awesome day trip to Irazu Volcano, Jardin Botanical Lankester, and the Basilica Santa Angeles in Cartago, and, yesterday we made another day trip to San Jose. We threw in a day at the dentist and a day of travel planning to round it out.

Monday, Mike & I both had dentist appointments for getting our "new" teeth! The final product was installed in our mouths and we are both delighted!!  Another trip tomorrow morning for some tweeking and we're happy campers ready to move on! A BIG Thank You to Dr. Emilio BolaƱos at Bio Dental, Grecia, CR.  You're truly a gem of a find!!

As we hopped on the bus at the Grecia bus terminal Tuesday morning, I thought about the first time we did this in a foreign country - Boquette, Panama. We knew nothing about bus systems except what I had read - that they were easy, inexpensive, and very efficient! Yup, they sure are!! Especially when the bus routes, times, and connections are for the most part findable on line at  But, keep in mind, that these schedules are definitely NOT written in stone and each town/city has their own nuances that make figuring it out locally a MUST!

So off toward our first stop on this journey - Naranjo.  Part of the beauty of taking the bus is being able to enjoy the ride outside the window! The countryside between Grecia, through Sarchi, to Naranjo is no exception! Rolling farm land, beautiful hillside communities, pine forests, rows and rows of coffee, and people strolling everywhere!

In Naranjo, after asking around for where and when we catch the next bus to Zarcero, we decided we had time to walk up a block to see the church on the square along with the park. Oh, so glad we had time! What a beautiful church and park!!

Needing to grab a bite to eat, we stopped into the Panaderia across from the park to have a ham & cheese pastry. YUMMMMMY!! Warmed up, it melted into our mouths! And, we got to meet a wonderful "local" expat that's been in the area for 30 years, Michael Bresnan. He spent a few minutes with us giving us some great information about enjoying the life as an expat. Just sorry we won't be able to meet up with him again before we leave for the coast on Tuesday.

So we made it back to the bus stop with only a few minutes to spare and hopped on only to find for the very first time ever that we had to stand for the whole trip up the mountain to Zarcero! The bus was full of holiday travelers going further up the mountains into San Carlos and La Fortuna.  Didn't mind standing but it sure impedes being able to see much of the countryside. So, I decided to people watch. Love people watching!!

We got off the bus right in front of the square and there it was!! The beautiful church with the topiary gardens laid out before it!! Breathtaking!! I'd read much about them and was so excited to finally be standing in just the spot I wanted to bask in their glory! Along the meandering paths I spotted Juan Carlos Rojas Villegas, the gardener responsible for it all over these last 48 years! Yup, I even asked and he humbled me with a picture of us together!! Thank You, Juan, for all you do!!


Wednesday was a down day spent figuring out more travel plans.  It takes time and patience to figure the logistics of it all - 5 different locations, planes, autos, hotels/friends for mooching stays, and the hardest one of all has been figuring out car rental insurance so we don't have to pay the outrageous rates the companies charge.  It's no easy task when you don't own anything and have no insurance to "attach" a liability policy to.  We can get collision through our American Express card quite inexpensively but not liability. What to do, what to do?? More on that later....

After having tried to book a day trip to see Irazu Volcano and Lankester Botantical Gardens and failing because it meant we would have to leave Grecia at 4:30AM to get to San Jose to begin the tour, we decided to book a private taxi to go on Thursday. Roberto showed up at 8:30am, as scheduled! (That can be a hit or miss thing - actually, ANYWHERE!) What a delightful young man!! And, he speaks English very well! So, not only did we get a great ride but fabulous conversation including some Spanish lessons and made a good friend.

The drive through San Jose proved to be challenging because there were streets blocked. After stopping and asking people on the street several times, one taxi driver told Roberto to just follow him. We were able to enjoy a ride through a part of the city that none of us had ever been through, including Roberto! There is so much to this BIG beautiful city!

Again, after several wrong turns with no signs posted (very normal), we were heading up the mountain toward Irazu. Unfortunately, the further up we went the more cloudy it got and then the more mist and finally just plain rain!! The drive up is gorgeous though!  At the entrance, the guard told us before taking our entrance fee that there was no way we were going to see anything because of the nasty weather so we made the choice of not going in at all. We were quite impressed that we were given a choice at all. Thank You!!

As we had passed an interesting looking restaurant, Restaurante Linda Vista, on the way up, we decided to go there and enjoy lunch since it was now 11:30am, 3 hours since we had left home. Also, since it was Semana Santa week, many things were completely closed from Thursday through Sunday for the holidays, we wanted to take advantage of it being open.

Well, the place turned out to be quite a piece of art!! Still don't know how long its been there but its been a very long time!! The place was covered and I mean covered in business cards, napkins written on, money, copies of passports (we carry those all the time), and I even found non-mentionable items that were used by people to mark that they'd been there - yew!  All in all, a fascinating place but the food not worth mentioning.


Having struck out with the volcano and having driven 3 hours (which should have taken 2) to get there, we decided to go to the Lankester Botanical Gardens outside of Cartago, which we had to go through to get to the Volcano.  What a wonderful surprise! Beautiful, stunning, fabulous!! And, the best part too was that Roberto had never been there either and was having a great time!  We spent a couple of hours just meandering through and enjoying the whole garden.


On our way back, the Cartago church domes caught my eye and we asked Roberto to hang a right to go back. He was delighted!! As we pulled around the corner, the most beautiful church came into view!! Turns out this is the Basilica that I had read about but forgot it was in this town. This Basilica Santa Angeles is where every August 2nd people come on their knees, some as far as San Jose, to pay tribute to Santa Angeles. On Thursday, we saw many people walking on their knees down the aisle toward the alter. Beautiful!  Plus the mineral fountain behind the church where we "bathed", sure to have some goodness bestowed upon us!!

Friday turned out to be another down day. Town was completely shut down, sort of, due to it being Good Friday. Mike & I did walk into town and for the first time, had a dessert drink plus dessert!! We just don't imbibe but, oh what a treat!! Delicious at Delicias!!

Up early on Saturday so that we could have one more day to explore in San Jose! Another great bus ride and we actually knew where we were going! LOL  The town was not as busy as the week before but many shops were open and people were out and about enjoying the beautiful day!!  We walked in and out of shops while I looked for a special type of swim shorts, listened to some beautiful "old" Costa Rican folk music on the mall, walked and walked through the beautiful church and park, and then found out that the museums were closed for the holiday. Were we bummed!!
Video of Music!:


Plan B, find a movie theater and go to the movies.  At the theater in the center of town, there was nothing we wanted to see but they gave us directions to the bus to take us to San Pedro, a suburb of San Jose, and we went to that movie theater.  We decided to see OZ 3D, which we had been wanting to see. Turns out it was all in Spanish but, alas, it was good! Mike could definitely follow the story and I had no problem getting the gist since it's not a "deep" story. But what a fun movie!

We've been able to buy DVDs here that are of very current movies still in the theaters for only $2/ea, so we've been having movie nights! But, it's still fun to watch a movie in the theater. We bought Die Hard yesterday.

Today, I've actually spent most of the day trying to figure out about the Liability Insurance for us when we're back in the states and rent cars.  No easy task!!  Mike & I don't own a house or a car anymore, so we don't have insurance on anything so we can't get a Liability Policy because we don't have a policy to "attach" it to.

I put out the question to all of my expat sites in Panama, Costa Rica and Ecuador. I got a HUGE response and looks like what we really need doesn't exist. So we're off to Plan B.  Since we have goods in storage in the US, we are going to try and get a Renter's Policy on them and then have a liability Policy attached to it.

The reason for all of this, you ask?  Well, we don't want to pay through the nose for daily minimal liability insurance through the car rental companies. We all know they charge a ridiculous amount and it can be up to $14/day!! We need 62 days = $868!!! For JUST liability insurance! 

I know I'm going to hear about buying another car while in the US.  I'm trying not to be rude before it happens, but please don't.  We've gone through the numbers, the risk, the hassle factor of having a car - selling it or storing it - for a year at a time, etc, etc, etc.  Don't want it, don't need it! We have to be in 5 different locations from west coast to east coast, family strewn out all over. If worst comes to worst, we'll pay the rental car rate but think we can figure out a way that makes more sense all the way around.  Just takes time and patience!!

These are the exercises that you go through when you're trying to cut your expenses by moving to another country.  Making a decision to do what we're doing is not for sissies, not for those unprepared, and, certainly not for those with rose colored glasses on! Not trying to lecture, just giving you the facts!

So, by this time next week, we'll be in Tamarindo, Costa Rica on the beautiful white sand beaches of the middle Nicoya peninsula for our last month in Costa Rica before heading to the states for 2 months.  Where did it go?

Oh, and we did it AGAIN!!  Lived within our budget of $1,800 a month!!  This did not include expenses we incurred for dentist. This was replacement of teeth that had previously lasted for 20 years. So if I amortize that, it would come to an additional $100/month. So Hey! I guess we still came within our budget!!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The End of a Great Week!

In my haste to gush about the gift presented to Mike in Sarchi last Wednesday, I forgot to toot my own horn about being published for the very first time in my life! Mike's gift was way more wonderful for me but I'm pretty proud of my accomplishment, too.

I began a "conversation" on line with Dan Chambers, who lives in Heredia, Costa Rica. As the conversation progressed he revealed that he was the owner/publisher of, an online Gringo newspaper.  He then asked if I would write an article for the paper comparing Costa Rica to Panama.  I was hesitant because I've never written anything except school reports, business reports, and my blog. Well, I told him I'd give it a try.

On Monday, I sat down and just had the same mindset as if I was writing my blog. Before I knew it, my article was written. Mike did the honors of editing it for me before I submitted it for Dan's review. Well, I got the good news late Monday afternoon while having drinks overlooking the countryside of Grecia.  Not a word changed by Dan!! Voila, on Tuesday morning, I was one of three featured articles.  Who knows where this will lead!!

Thursday we spent the day doing some grocery shopping and working on reservations for our US trip. That's a job in and of itself!!

Friday morning was my appointment back at the clinic for my breast 3D sonogram. The clinic is a busy place, it's new, and they are striving to be a one stop one shopping experience for all medical, dental, and eye care needs, they are courteous, have English speaking staff and doctors, and are very reasonably priced.

Rather than the wait that they had me prepared for, I got right in and met the most professional technician! He was in his late 50s and spoke immaculate English, as he'd been trained in Houston.  The exam took only about 15 minutes but we chatted so much, I was in there for almost 45 minutes. He gave me the results immediately indicating that all is well with the girls for the present time.  Total for the exam, detailed pictures, and the great conversation was only $50!!

On our way back to the center of town, we passed a small storefront that was for a Chiropractor, hair stylist and a masseuse. Now that's entrepreneurship!!  We were feeling our backs were out of sorts due to our bed not being quite the comfort level we need, so we made back to back appointments for 4pm at a cost of $20/ea. The plan was to go next door to Saprissa for the evening and watch the Costa Rica vs. USA World Cup qualifying soccer game.

We arrived back and while Mike was having his massage, I decided to get my hair trimmed - $6.  I'd been toying with the idea for a while but had always chickened out because of the language barrier. But, am I glad I did!! She did exactly as I had asked and now my hair feels much healthier again.  I'm enjoying being able to pull my hair back and get it off my neck.

The massages were of a different type - not sure what it was called - but all I know is that it was the nicest beating I've ever had!!  LOL  This was truly not a massage where you closed your eyes and drifted off into your own thoughts. My thoughts were how deep was her elbow going to go before she came out the other side of me!  Oh, and I only had her do "medium" touch.  Mike had the "hard" touch and loved it!!  Me - not so much.

We had a fabulous evening at the bar - Saprissa!!  Visited with Ed and Dana, single men expats who've been here quite awhile from different parts of the US. If anyone was watching the game back in the states, you'd know that Denver was getting a blizzard that just continued to get worse as the game progressed. Despite the weather, we were quite impressed with all the players keeping their balance in the snow. The US ended up winning 1-0.  We did keep as much of a low profile as possible since we were the only 4 Gringos in the place.  Not to worry, we had met some locals who we watched most of the game with while talking and getting to know each other so we were cool!! LOL

Yesterday we decided to make our first trip into San Jose for the main purpose of going to the Orchid Exhibit.  By bus it was only about an hour and $2/ea. Unfortunately, I didn't go very well prepared for the location. We got off the bus a little early but that turned out to be a good thing. While stopping at a local soda to check our map and do some research, the owner offered to help us. I finally found the information and he showed us on the map where we needed to go. 

It looked to about 12 city blocks further, so we decided to walk rather than take another bus. We are glad we did because we walked right into the El Centro shopping district that is about 8 blocks long and 3 blocks wide and is ALL pedestrian!! A very bustling, vibrant area with street vendors, any type of shop you could imagine, street performers, locals with tons of children, and lots of tourists, as well.  

After walking through the shopping district, we headed over a couple of blocks and found park after park as we made our way up hill toward Parque Nacional - National Park. At the very end and just a couple more blocks was the Antigua Aduana -  Old Customs House. What a beautiful renovation was done to this building and we were delighted with the show!! Pictures, pictures and more pictures but they don't really do justice to the beauty and presentation of this exhibit!!


After leaving the Exhibit, we walked slowly back through the park and decided it was time to find a nice place to have dinner and a drink before heading back by bus.  El Patio on a balcony overlooking the main promenade is where we parked our bodies for a bit. A great place to people watch!!

We made the bus before dark and took short naps on our way back to Grecia.  A good, satisfying day in the BIG, BIG city of San Jose!!

Today is Palm Sunday and marks the beginning of Semana Santa - Easter Week. This is a week of holiday for many.  It's also a very serious time for being non sinners here, so the country made a law to not allow the sale of alcohol from Thursday through Sunday except in places like the beach where they depend on tourist business.  Grecia is not reliant on tourists so we know we'd better stock up on beer and wine. Don't know if they'll be serving liquor in any of our favorite restaurants. Another new adventure!!

Tomorrow is supposed to be our last day at the dentist, if all goes well, for both of us. Mike will have 2 new front teeth and I will have a new upper partial. The only reason we should have to go back is for minor adjustments. Fingers crossed!

We also want to fill our week by venturing out further by bus to a few more sites including a trip back into San Jose to see more museums. Stay tuned!!