Thursday, April 29, 2010
(Click on photos to enlarge)
(Click on photos to enlarge)
With our days here dwindling down, Layne and I look wistfully at our three-month sojourn in Costa Rica, appreciating the verdant beauty, ecological diversity and affability of this tropical land even as we face the continuing challenges of the residency process. The last two days have been filled with meetings with our attorney Monika, (in photo below) obtaining forms, faxing documents to the US, standing in lines, making phone calls. Achieving legal status is an intimidating ordeal but it has been made more manageable because of Monika’s organization, thoroughness, patience and generosity with her time. How many attorneys in the U.S. would stand in line with you for nearly an hour to resolve an issue? And at no additional hourly charge! Well, Monika did that this week as we awaited our turn in the crowded Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social Clinica lobby.
Caja is the first-rate national medical system here in Costa Rica, a socialized program that covers everyone for everything. The new residency law requires foreigners applying for legal status to join Caja, paying a small monthly fee for coverage, a sliding scale based on income. In our case, Layne and I will both have medical insurance for $87 per month, no limit on pre-existing conditions, no annual maximums, and covering doctor visits, exams, hospitalization, dental and eyes. Of course, as we saw yesterday, lines can be long and we understand waits for appointments may be lengthy as well, which is why some people opt for the excellent private doctors also available. Still, for middle- and low-income people, the Caja is a wonderful national benefit.
So last week, Layne and I set out to get signed up. First, we went to the medical clinic where we expected to obtain the proper forms. The first office sent us down a different sidewalk to another large waiting room. With limited Spanish, I tried to ask the clerk where to get the application. My communication failed but he snagged a nurse who led us down the hall to still another office. There I tried to convey my needs to a kind senora who also could not understand what we needed. Finally, she called a doctor over who spoke English and I learned that we were in the wrong building! Around the corner was the Seguro Social and it was there we could obtain the application form. Off we went, only to find the building with a “Seguro Social” sign apparently abandoned. Luckily, it was adjacent to a Ropa Americana (American clothing) store where I had just bought a blouse the day before. The friendly Tica shop owner noticed my confusion and pointed to the correct entrance, which was set back off the sidewalk and hard to spot. To my dismay, my Tica friend also told me they had just closed for the day only 15 minutes earlier. Patience, patience, patience, I reminded myself.
The next day we returned and managed to acquire the right form. Alas, it was all in Spanish! But again Monika came to the rescue, patiently walking us through the application by phone. The following day, we returned to the Seguro Social offices to see Senor Sandoval, the inspector who would approve or deny our application. He looked over our papers - rental contract and electric bill proving we live here, a copy of our marriage certificate, Layne’s Social Security income statement which we had obtained from the U.S. Embassy, passports - then typed up a form with Layne’s Caja membership number on it and sent us on our way. No problema, we thought. But at the bank, as we inquired about opening a bank account, the English-speaking officer there noticed that Senor Sandoval had checked the wrong boxes -- one indicating Layne was a single man and another indicating we lived in a house we owned, instead of a rental! Back we went to see Senor Sandoval, and after only a short wait, we obtained a corrected Caja membership form. Still more patience required.
Next we returned to the Caja Clinica where I was to apply as Layne’s dependent. But the clerk was behind glass and spoke Spanish too softly for me to hear what he said. Monika, help! And she did at our next meeting at few days later, translating the papers the man had given me and waiting in line with us to complete the process. As you can tell, this rigmarole is not for the faint of heart! Still, everyone we deal with is friendly and helpful, sympathetic and yes, patient. The residency process will continue while we’re in the States this summer as we must obtain mandatory documents and have them authenticated by state officials or the Costa Rican Consulate; we will keep you posted on that.
But here in Costa Rica a sense of adventure seems to define our days, with some unexpected enchantment greeting us at every turn. Just recently, as we were entering the gate to our chalet, a few field workers walked by and we waved and said our “Buenas” greeting. One of the young men walked over to us and as he neared, we realized he had a large snake coiled around his neck and body. He and I chatted a moment in Spanish and I learned that it was perhaps a boa or a python and that the men planned to build a cage and keep it. We suspect these are Nicaraguan immigrant farm workers that we have seen camped in a dilapidated empty house nearby, their hand-washed clothes hanging on a line outside. We wished them “Buena suerte,” or good luck with their new pet. Sadly, we did not have the camera with us so the stunning exotic snake must remain in our memories only.
There are many things we love here, from the warm climate and laid-back lifestyle to the lush foliage. It seems everything grows here. On our walks and throughout Costa Rica we find “living fences,” built of cuttings from a particular ubiquitous tree. Ticos simply cut branches from the bigger trees and stick them in the ground where they immediately take root, then they string wire from branch to branch creating a sturdy and growing fence line. Creative and effective!
In our local Tico neighborhood, many animals roam free - chickens such as this beautiful rooster, dogs, cats, goats, even horses are sometimes let loose to graze along the roadside but more often are tied in a rich grazing spot. We often stop to pet these two as we take our daily hike. It’s all part of Pura Vida, a lifestyle that is pretty easy to adopt.