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Monday, October 18, 2010

Life in Costa Rica: Birds, Bees and Other "Bugs"

         For the last week, we’ve been fighting off bugs around here, both the creepy-crawly type and the cold and sore throat type. Poor Layne came down with a horrid cold complete with the stuffed up head, sneezing and rattling cough. I hesitate to ramble on about such mundane matters but the experience taught us a few lessons about life here in Costa Rica and that, after all, is partly the purpose of this blog.
         It has been years since either of us had a cold so we were unprepared for this attack. My guess is that at the well-attended food festival last weekend Layne encountered a Costa Rican “bug” for which he had no immunity and it hit him hard. So for much of last week I played nursemaid, running into town day after day as I tried to find medicines that would give him some relief. This was no easy task because the brands we are used to in the States are either unavailable here, are sold under a different brand name, or as I learned, are very expensive due to the duties on imported goods.
         Last Tuesday, at the onset of Layne’s ailment, our housekeeper Cidia suggested a gel-capsule called Tabcin, a Costa Rican product that comes in two versions, one for daytime and one for night. Unfortunately, the first farmacia I stopped at sold me the daytime version so it didn’t do much to help him sleep. That night his cough was so severe our upstairs neighbor commented that she had been worried about him. The next day I went to another pharmacy and got the nighttime version so we all got some sleep that night. But when I asked for Afrin nasal spray, I was dismayed to pay $10 for a small bottle. Then at Layne’s request, I bought Claritin, known here as Clarityne, and had total sticker shock at the $2.40 per tablet price tag. Since pills are sold here individually or in packets of two, not in bottles of 50 or so, it makes you painfully aware of the per-pill price. It seems we need to find local brands for such products.
         The most effective cough medicine I found for him came from Macrobiotica, our favorite organic, health-food store here in Atenas. After doing some online research, I went there looking for slippery elm or horehound and was pleased when the English-speaking owner suggested an affordable Costa Rican-made syrup which included those ingredients as well as expectorant and immune-boosting products, such as ginger, Echinacea, and such.
         My own bout with the “bug” was short-lived, I’m happy to report. A few days into Layne’s illness, I felt the beginnings of a sore throat. Uh oh, I thought. But with massive doses of Vitamin C and Echinacea, plus some throat lozenges from Macrobiotica, I kicked it. We’re both almost back to normal.
         “Normal” here in the tropics, however, includes other kinds of bugs, namely, the flying or crawling types. As I’ve reported in other posts, we are blessed with many beautiful exotic birds, including some stunning rufous-tailed hummingbirds. (Thanks to Terry Thormin for this photo. These little guys are hard to photograph!) In an effort to attract those iridescent green and rusty-gold beauties to my back patio, we bought a small plastic feeder at the local pet store, also an expensive item since it was an import. But the problem now is the amazingly aggressive small bees, which hover around and even chase away the hummers when they try to feed. After some online research on this topic (what did we do before the Internet?), I tried some of the techniques recommended there, such as giving the bees their own yellow plate of nectar since they are attracted to that color, or just taking the hummingbird feeder down for a few days, on the theory that bugs are stupid and will forget, whereas hummers will keep checking a good feeding spot. None of that worked. Then our landlord came and destroyed what he thought was the bees’ nest, which does seem to have cut down on the sheer number of flying critters coming around, but they are still out there, driving me nuts! I swat them down by the dozens and still they flit around the feeder, intimidating the birds. My next step is to buy a bee-proof style feeder online and have a friend ship it down to me. Still, the hummers do show up, especially in morning and evening feeding times. Today one even flew into the house and got panicked behind the curtain trying to get out. Gently, I managed to catch the tiny thing in my hand and as I let him go, I hoped he was grateful and would come back to my feeder.
       Of course, we do have some lovely “bugs” here as well and indeed, I have been photographing them lately. My efforts were rewarded recently when a butterfly landed on my hand. Luckily, my camera hand was free and I snapped several pictures of the little beauty sitting there quite contentedly. Then this morning the gorgeous Turquoise-browed Motmot paid us another visit, but I failed to catch him in my camera and must rely again on the wealth of photos available online, this one by Noel Urena.  
         Not everything is as expensive here as medicines and bird feeders. When my hairdryer recently quit on me, I decided to take it to the local “Repuestos Electrodomesticos,” or repair shop for domestic electrical gadgets, to see if they could fix it for a reasonable price since I knew that a new imported one would be pricey. The man at the counter said of course, they could fix it. When I asked about price, he shrugged as if to say, “who knows until we look at it?” Then I said in my modest Spanish, “menos de nuevo, si?” meaning it would be less than a new one, right? He laughed and said yes, it would probably be about 2000 colones. That’s only $4! Where could you get a hairdryer repaired for that in the States? That’s part of why Americans have such a “disposable” society: It costs more to repair things there than it does to buy a new one! Here, it’s just the opposite and maybe that’s a good thing.
         P.S. Just as I was ready to post this story of “the birds and the bees,” I noticed a little work crew of ants efficiently carrying a dead moth across the living room floor, right out the front door! Pura Vida, I suppose. 


  1. We had the same problem with bees in our colibri feeders, though in our case they are the small black ones that don't sting, but they do bother the hummers. One thing you can do now is to put the feeder where it will get rained on. The bees disappear when it rains, but the hummers don't mind the rain. We ended up getting bee-proof feeders, called Hummzingers. The bees still come around, but they can't get to the nectar so there are far fewer of them.

    Yes, the prices of drugs here are generally higher, but you have to consider that you can get a free consultation with the doctor who owns the farmacia, which is a considerable savings! The other thing you can do for meds you need on an ongoing basis is to buy them online and have them shipped in. You're not supposed to do that, but I've never had a problem with a small box like that passing Customs.

    Thanks for your continuing to blog, always an enjoyable read.

    Pura vida!

  2. Hi Casey - Thanks for your comment. Where did you get your bee-proof feeders? I've thought of ordering from the States... but $$$ !!! Other spots to hang it are limited... concrete house.
    I also enjoy your Dull Roar blog... keep it up!

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