Friday, May 29, 2009

A beautiful beach wedding (aka: our whirlwind weekend in Guanacaste)

Last Saturday, our family breezed off on a long drive to Playa Real, a beach in Guanacaste (on the west coast of Costa Rica), to attend the wedding of our friends Norbell and Amalia.

Along the way we saw plenty of animals in and on the side of the road: cows, horses, dogs, pigs… it’s always like Wild Kingdom around here! Thankfully the traffic wasn’t too awful and we were able to stop for lunch at El Rinconcito de Doña Elda—a nice, open-air restaurant we’ve eaten at before with yummy food and (importantly—ha!) clean bathrooms.

We stayed at Bahia de los Pirates (Pirate’s Bay), about 10 kilometers down a gravel road, well off the beaten path. The bay got its name from the legend that Captain Morgan had a hideout in one of the islands right across from the beach. While I knew Morgan spent time in Central America, I thought he was strictly a Caribbean sailor … so who knows?

Our villa was near the top of the hill and we loved the views of the bay and the trees and birds. At one point a bright yellow bird (a tanager, I think) flew by and was absolutely brilliant.

It was so hot when we arrived, we quickly changed into swimsuits and spent a couple of hours at the pool with some friends until we had to shower and change for the wedding. (Notably, we left the pool before the groom, who was still in his swim trunks and bare-chested about an hour before the wedding was to start. Things are pretty laid back in this part of the country. ¡Pura vida, Norbell!)

Just around sunset, the beautiful bride and her handsome groom got married on the beach in a lovely ceremony. They couldn’t have picked a more appropriate setting, since Norbell is a surf addict and the couple has a house nearby.

The wedding was very nice (though still hot—whew!) and we had a lot of fun at the reception in the hotel restaurant. The food was good and the music was too. Lauren could barely keep her eyes open once the clock struck 9pm, so we took her back to the villa that we were sharing with our friends Carlos and Julie. Erin wasn’t ready to go and Julie—a very sweet Irish amiga—asked to keep our girl there for more dancing with the promise to have her back to us by 10:00. Erin was tickled to stay and headed up to the dance floor while Dan and I went to collapse in the A/C and get our little one to bed.

The beach was calling on Sunday morning and we headed out around 6:45 before the sun got high and the air grew too hot to enjoy a walk. We went south over some rough terrain and soft sand as we peered into tide pools, watched crabs scurry across the rocks, admired sea urchins hanging out in their watery holes, and watched for birds and lizards (saw both!). Eventually the girls started to wear out and we had breakfast and left for the four-hour return trip to the valley. We hated to leave so soon, but we knew it was best to beat the rain that was destined to fall on the Central Valley in the afternoon. (Thankfully we weren’t in it too long.)

Lastly, I would be remiss in not mentioning the beautiful shell sculpture we received as a remembrance of the wedding. Norbell’s mom made this amazing little portal (nativity scene) from shells found at the beach in Guanacaste. I’m contemplating carrying this to Wisconsin on the plane this summer and leaving it at my parents’ house because I’m so afraid it could break next year in the move. It’s too special and beautiful to risk having it damaged, and it reminds me of our friends and their wedding day—I love it!

¡Pura boda!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Don't call us ... we'll call you ...

And the saga continues! On May 18 I finally sprung for a new cordless phone (you don't wanna know how much I paid for it) and brought it home, all excited to finally have a landline after all this time. I read the phone's directions carefully, plugged that baby in, and threatened my family with something horrible if they picked up the receiver before 16 hours had passed. (Sixteen hours being the recommended time the phone needed to fully charge and work properly.)

The following morning I grabbed my cell phone and called our landline number, eagerly awaiting the ring. Which never came. And at this point, I just knew the idea of merely plugging in a new phone was too good to be true, and something had to go wrong with this venture. Sure enough, I picked up my brand-spankin'-new phone and found no dial tone. Zip, zilch, nada!

In sheer frustration I yanked out Dan's work phone (it took a lot of patience and effort just to untangle the cords behind the desk to figure out which phone I needed here) and plugged that in. As I suspected ... still nothing. The problem wasn't my new phone, it was something else altogether. And I steeled myself against the knowledge that this was going to require numerous phone calls and emails—in Spanish, of course, just to make it extra fun—to get the situation fixed.

I emailed my friend Eric, kind of a pseudo-landlord (since the real one is out of the country), and he called the phone company (ICE) and reported the problem. He then told me that ICE would be out to the house within a few days to check the line. I hardly thought this would happen, and here I am a week later and they never did show. Surprise!

Yesterday I called ICE and reported the problem again. They told me the issue is not with their installation, but rather a problem within the house: meaning, they couldn't help me. (The funny thing is, this morning my pseudo-landlord/friend called ICE again and they said they would look into it and send someone out. Good grief!)

Moving on ... I contacted the administrator for our housing area and she said I needed to have the construction guys come out and establish a connection between the phone line and the house for our landline to function. I had hoped she would get in touch with these guys, but instead she passed along an email address for me to use.

So yesterday I emailed the construction company, but I haven't heard back. So I just emailed them again and copied the administrator on this one. I will not be even remotely surprised if I have to continue bugging them for days to come, but if I keep cc'ing the administrator, maybe she'll get fed up and make a call, too.

Sooooooo ... two years from the initial request for a landline and here I sit, still using the 'ol cell phone for my national calls. Anyone want to place bets on whether I have a functioning line before I leave for Wisconsin in four weeks? I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

¿Aló? I've got phone frustrations...

Extra! Extra! We finally got a landline!

Unfortunately we don’t have a house phone for the line. While we have many phones in this casa—three cells and three Vonage phones on one system that are our lifeline to the United States—the sad, pathetic cordless we had in storage for our landline has met its demise. I suppose we’ll soon go to Hipermas and see if we can find a decent phone for a reasonable price. I'm ready to have a clear reception for national calls!

¿Puede hablar más despacio?
On the topic of phones … speaking with native Spanish speakers on the phone is probably the biggest communication challenge we face that has nothing to do with cultural understanding and everything to do with the often poor cell phone reception and fast-speaking people on the other end. On many occasions I’ve asked a caller to speak more slowly, please, only to have the person continue at a hasty mumble. I’ve been hung up on more than once which was surely a relief to both the caller and to me.

¿Quién es?
Now toss in common Tico phone mannerisms and cultural habits, and things really get confusing. For some reason Ticos tend to dial a lot of wrong numbers—and often continue to call the wrong numbers—and then still may want to talk. Here’s a typical conversation, in English for your reading pleasure:

Me: Hello?

Caller: Who is this?

Me: I’m sorry, who are you calling?

Caller: Who is this?

Me: You called me. Who are you looking for?

Caller: Is Carlos there?

Me: I’m sorry, you have the wrong number.

Caller: I’m looking for Carlos Zamora. Who am I talking to?

Me: I’m sorry, you have the wrong number. There is no Carlos here.

Caller: Do you know Carlos Zamora? What number is this?

Me: What number are you trying to reach?

Caller: I’m sorry. (Click.)

And then, often just a few minutes later, the phone rings again. Guess who! If I get desperate, often I’ll just start speaking quickly in English and that usually stops the madness.

¡Llamé, por fa!
Hands down the most frustrating phone situation I’ve found here in CR is the reluctance of people—even professional businesspeople—to return phone calls. This is especially maddening when I am waiting for a physician to call me back. If I’m calling the doctor, the question is usually urgent and requiring a timely response. What I’ve learned—with the doctors and anyone else I want to speak with here—is that one cannot be shy and must be persistent, calling and calling until lucky enough to finally get the desired person on the line. This is not considered rude but rather a cultural necessity.

Para recibir sus mensajes, marque uno …
Last week my cell phone went wacky and when I called to get my messages, the recorded woman’s voice kept telling me to dial 193 for customer service. The problem is, when I’d call 193 the voice would tell me that I couldn’t receive my messages and I needed to … wait for it … dial 193. ARGH! There were multiple theories concerning the problem with my phone, but after a day and a half it suddenly fixed itself. Patience is most definitely a virtue in Ticolandia.

Lave sus manos …
This isn’t a frustration but rather an observation. Every once in a while I get anonymous text messages about seemingly random things, and yesterday’s took the prize. My phone beeped at me and delivered a public health message: a reminder to wash my hands thoroughly and use a tissue to cough or to cough into my elbow. We’ve been inundated with information, cautions, and quarantines at work and school related to the H1N1 flu—and now even the phone company is in on instructing us of proper hygiene. Thanks for the tip, muchachos!

¡Pura vida!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Nine is fine!

Lauren has finally caught up to her favorite number; our little girl celebrated her 9th birthday last week! Instead of having a big party, she's having a couple of friends sleep over (on different nights, since we can't seem to coordinate with everyone's crazy schedules) and we're also planning on celebrating in Wisconsin this summer with my family.

Lauren got some fun gifts (plenty of Garfield stuff, yep), but her friend Isabel earned the biggest smile when she gave Lauren the desire of her little heart—a really terrific skateboard! Yesterday Lauren put on her volleyball uniform and went to have some fun on the newly installed, gentle speed bumps down the street.

¡Feliz cumpleaños, Lauren!