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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spoiled Americans

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Without a schedule to stick to on this blog, time does pass and things do happen without being recorded. Biggest news: We moved. After two pretty miserable nights, we found that the apart-hotel just didn’t quite cut it for our “spoiled American sensibilities,” as Layne put it on Facebook. I suppose that is accurate for the most part, although I’m a little embarrassed by it. But with Layne beginning to suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning (seriously!) from the endless train of cars, buses and motorcycles, all lacking the most basic of mufflers, plus with a “suicide” shower to contend with, no restaurants close by and a few more unpleasant challenges, we bit the bullet of more money and moved to the much nicer property owned by the same company.

Now this is more like it!

It’s really a house, set inside a park-like gated street with only 10 homes on it, mostly occupied by Gringos, it seems. So far we’ve only met one neighbor, a retired Canadian schoolteacher (science and art, of all things) who left minus-59 degree weather to come here! I’ll bet that was an easy decision. He says there’s a professor on sabbatical, and two constitutional attorneys in houses across from us. Other than that, we have no idea who the other residents are, although we have seen several children at play and have been visited by a well-fed grey cat and a cute grey kitten, both of which simply walked in through our open doors. The yards are full of flowering plants and trees, in shades of deep fuchsia, bright yellow, orange and pink. We have a few squirrels in the neighborhood and many birds. In contrast to our earlier digs, this place is quiet and peaceful and feels like the tropical paradise we were hoping for.

Our small backyard shares a fence line with a pasture containing some unusual-looking cattle. The larger white ones have massive backward-curving horns and a semi-hump behind the neck; the smaller brown and beige ones are short horned. I’ve managed to befriend a couple of these creatures, including the largest one. Out of curiosity, I suppose, he approached the fence where I was standing (and whistling) and when I felt I could safely reach through, I scratched his forehead and ear. He seemed to like that a lot. Layne kept warning me of the enormous horns but the big beast appeared quite gentle to me, his big brown eyes softly gazing at me as I talked to him.

Imagine our surprise yesterday when we went for an afternoon walk down a dirt road on one side of our villas and confronted our neighbor cows walking calmly up the street toward us, being gently herded by a man with nothing more than a small stick. The cows had obviously made this walk before because when they reached the top of the hill, the largest one leading the herd made a right turn as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Sadly, we had not brought our camera on the walk so we missed a great photo op, but we suspect this is a regular route for them and hope to still get that shot.

My Spanish is improving daily, out of necessity as much as effort. The Palm-based program I bought several years ago for only $9.95 has proven to be invaluable. With both Spanish-to-English and English-to-Spanish translations, I have been able to buy laundry detergent, Splenda, baking soda (for Layne’s “no-poo” shampoo needs) and salt and pepper, along with known items such as milk (leche), bananas (uh, bananas) and cerveza. Muy importante!

Today we will have lunch with our old friend and real estate guide from previous trips, Jean-Pierre Pfleuger, a charming German man married to a Tica woman. (BTW, for those of you who have asked, Tico is how the local people refer to themselves, with Gringo being the non-pejorative term for us foreigners.) We hope to learn from Jean-Pierre how to find good rentals in other areas that we wish to try, such as Grecia and possibly towns in the drier Guanacaste province up north. For my taste, this town, San Rafael de Heredia, is rather too cool, being situated at about the 4000’ elevation. The days are sunny and beautiful but not warm enough for me although the nights cool down nicely. But it’s quite a trek from here to the beach or the airport so we hope to find a more conveniently located city for our longer-term needs.

Mostly the people we see on the streets respond to our “Buenas” greeting with a friendly smile and a nod. On our walk through the park yesterday, an older Costa Rican gentleman smiled and said “Good morning” as we passed, stopping us in our tracks. He introduced himself as Fernando and we chatted with him for a few minutes, in both my broken Spanish and his limited English, and learned that he had spent six years in the United States. His niece is married to a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton and he also has relatives in New Jersey. He apparently had taken a cross-country trip from the east coast to the west and raved about what a beautiful land the US is. We hope to see him again on our strolls through the central park, which as in most Central American towns, is directly across from the huge white stone Catholic church.

Tomorrow we will go to this park for the weekly farmers’ market, where we hope to buy onion, papaya, mango, avocado and whatever else suits our fancy. Food is so inexpensive here, it helps to stretch our money considerably, thus allowing us to stay in this higher priced rental. Still, we hope to cut our costs when we move at the end of the month-long stay here.

The most troubling aspects for me so far are the hazardous sidewalks, which have unexpected holes here and there, including treacherous gutters one or two feet deep. We keep our eyes on the ground as we plot our course through town; a misstep could spell disaster. I am also distressed by the lack of care Costa Ricans show for keeping their beautiful country clean. The small river behind our villas is cluttered with trash, plastic bottles, old tires - even a computer monitor was visible from the bridge on our walk yesterday. Perhaps we will find a group in which to volunteer that is working to educate the population on the importance of trash disposal, recycling (of which there is precious little) and care of the environment. The government makes some efforts in these areas but apparently the message has yet to reach most people.


  1. oh, you'll have such fun at farmer's market tomorrow. I'm hungry just thinking about it. happy valentine's!

  2. Lovely posts. Cows, mangoes...I can just see you strolling along, chatting up your neighbors and eventually organizing that clean-up crew. Happy New Year (of the Tiger). New year, new life! xoxo

  3. When we were there, it seemed that grey miniature schnauzers were practically the national dog. They were everywhere! Perhaps in your area they are replaced by grey cats. The farmer's market will be wonderful, I bet. Keep those posts a' comin'!

  4. Keep the news coming and happy St. Valentine's Day to both of you! Carol