Thursday, September 24, 2009

Munching your morning coffee

If you're a coffee drinker in Costa Rica, you're in luck! From what I've been told (though I'd never know from personal experience), CR has some amazing coffee. We've seen it growing right on the mountainsides, and if Dan's coffee consumption is any indication, the joe is delicious.

Now, if you're an avid coffee drinker and a cereal lover ... well, I guess you've hit the jackpot if you're shopping at the local grocery store, all thanks to McCallum's Coffee Flakes. I have no idea if these corn flakes covered in java pack a wallop of caffeine, but at least they're low in sugar, and they're made right here in CR. Afficionados can choose from capuccino, mochaccino, and vanilla—all for about four bucks a box.

¡Pura café!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Morning hike at UPEACE

The Universidad para la Paz (University for Peace), about 20 kilometers southwest of San Jose, boasts a gorgeous natural reserve composed by a secondary forest and the last remnant of primary forest in Costa Rica's central valley. The area is protected and is home to mammals such as monkeys and deer, reptiles, and more than 300 species of birds. The forest also hosts approximately 100 varieties of trees and a whole lot of beautiful butterflies, including my favorite, the blue morpho.

We recently went with our Canadian friends the Derksens for a hike around the reserve. It was a dry morning, perfect for getting outside, and we had a wonderful time. Near the end of our hike was an obstacle course area. The girls had fun scaling the climbing wall, especially.

It was a bit hazy when I took this photo, but this looks down into the valley where we live. If you click on the photo to make it bigger, you can see a large green and brown patch in the middle of the picture with trees curving around it. Right above that is a cluster trees (where we live) and some large, cream-colored buildings, one of which is home to Dan's office.

We were all very hungry after our hike and stopped at Zompopa's—my favorite soda (traditional Costa Rican eatery)—for some chifrijo (oh, so good!), fried cheese dice, nachos, and yummy fruit drinks. The place was decked out in red, white and blue for Costa Rica's Independence Day (September 15), and you may be able to see a streamer and a bell in the bottom of the photo.

An afternoon swim followed our meal, and by the end of the day we were all good and tired. A great day to be in Costa Rica!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wild wheels

A groovy guy in this humdinger of a car pulled into the parking spot next to mine at the market. Erin and I thought it was so cool, she took these photos. Bet the owner never loses track of his wheels in a crowded parqueo!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

"Lady" Liberty

My friend Brenda and I saw these guys from way down the street and wondered, "Is that really someone dressed as the Statue of Liberty??"

Yep, it was! When they saw Brenda had pulled my camera out for a photo, they were happy to oblige with a wave.  I'm not sure if they were hoping for a big sale to a passing American or what the deal was with the costume and art, but it was funny and unusual to see a man dressed as a symbol of the United States on a busy street here in Santa Ana.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Licensed to drive

Before we knew we were staying an additional year in Santa Ana, I remember feeling relief that we’d never have to renew our driver’s licenses here in Costa Rica. And now? I guess the joke’s on me. About a week ago our licenses expired and we had to bite the bullet and have them renewed.

Maybe you’re thinking this shouldn’t be such a big deal. After all, in the US you head to the DMV, show a couple of forms of ID, pass a vision screening, lie about your weight (oh wait, is that just me?) pay your $25 and smile for the camera. It’s a hassle, sure, but really not that bad. Right?

Just pondering a morning spent with the Costa Rican bureaucracy filled me with dread, although renewing a license isn’t as bad as renewing residency. Regardless, it’s an evil necessity, and so Dan took off work on Wednesday morning and we were off to Uruca. Seriously, I’m not even going to discuss the experience that can be driving in Uruca—particularly when there is construction on the highway exits—other than to say it’s bad and it’s scary and we both hate it. Whew.

Our first stop was the “dictamen”—a “medical office” (note how loosely I use that term) a few blocks from the official licensing site. This is the biggest racket around. We stood in a long line to then pay about $30 each for the medical exam, which is basically answering questions about health, reading a row on the eye chart (in Spanish, so don’t mess it up!), getting blood pressure taken and … wait for it … getting a blood test to verify blood type. This is a new aspect of the licensing process. I’m guessing it was implemented to help the bazillions of people in CR traffic accidents each year receive the right type of blood at the hospital. Again, whew.

Gotta admit, I wasn’t too thrilled about this blood test business. I’m not afraid of needles, but I am afraid of dirty needles, unsanitary conditions, and getting something like this done at a dreary, government establishment. Dan and I know our blood types but didn’t have any official documents to prove it, so off to the little room we went.

I was relieved to see the laboratorio was clean (but still dreary—ha!), there were needles in sterile packages, plenty of alcohol wipes and a nurse with fresh gloves. Now, when I was in 7th grade science we tested ourselves to learn our blood types (I don’t even know if we had gloves—can you imagine?!) with just a finger prick. So I’m wondering why the government needs an entire vial of my blood. Are there other plans for this? And can you imagine the uproar regarding violation of civil liberties (hello, Big Brother!) if the US government required a vial of blood to be a legal, driver’s license-carrying American? Yeah, me neither!

After the blood draws we went to another room for the medical exams, then had to leave the room and wait for our blood test results. Once someone came out and found us (we were just kind of standing with a bunch of other people but are easily recognizable for our US-ness) we had to go back to the doctor so he could fill in the blood type on our medical form. Now we were ready to get in yet another line and pay the $22 a piece for the licenses. A hundred dollars for two new DLs. Good times, good times.

Papers in hand, we headed to COSEVI (Consejo de Seguridad Vial, the Council of Roadway Safety) a few blocks down the road. We got the last parking spot available—a red flag that there was gonna be a long line for the licensing, and we were not disappointed. I had paper ticket #09 and Dan was #10. The electronic sign showed person #77 had just been called. Time to take a seat for what I think is a rather amusing aspect of this entire process.

In this large waiting area are four long rows of about 20 black chairs. As each person enters the queue, he or she sits in the chair closest to the end, all the way in the back. Then, as each person from the front row is called into a cubicle to receive a license, everyone stands up, moves one chair over, and sits down again. And so on. And so forth. So Dan and I got to do this more than 30 times. Stand up, move one, sit down. It’s not a speedy process (especially when the licensing agents take a coffee break in the middle of the morning), but you know, it was relatively peaceful and cool in that room, and Dan and I took the opportunity to chat, laugh, note the big picture of Jesus hanging in the waiting area (not gonna see that in the US either) and just be together. Nothing like a little quality time between husband and wife, all while doing the COSEVI Driver’s License Shuffle.

(See the guy starting to stand? Gotta fill in that empty seat next to him! Thankfully I got this photo to demonstrate, plus you can see the Jesus picture above the plants.)

Eventually our numbers were up. We headed to separate cubicles, gave our pertinent info, and got our spankin’ new licenses. The process from start to finish took about three and a half hours, but we made it. These new licenses are good for another five years, meaning we’ll be back in the US long before they expire, but at least we’re legal now.

And you know what? They didn’t even ask us for our weights.

¡Pura licensia!