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Plan B – retire or retool in Costa Rica

best place to retireWe, who are transplanted to Costa Rica from the north, celebrated Canada Day (2 July) and US Independence Day (4th of July) together in one beach brawl.  With barbecues, appetizers, and anthems, we enjoyed a beach-front sunset view.  The singing of the national anthems was a little weak – Canadians can’t remember the words and “Americans” can’t hold a tune – but Winnie gave it her all.  The Canadians flew the bigger flag, again.

Don't you just love fresh mango?  Super food!  I can taste the vitamins and minerals.  I am filling my freezer with delicious ripe mangos from the tree outside the school at Santo Domingo. We'll have smoothies all year.  I made some ice cream fo my english students - I suspect they'd rather have chocolate, but for me there's nothing better than Mango.  Might even be better than Washington peaches and Oregon raspberries.

Since leaving our day jobs, Steve and I both feel a bit extraneous. We’re no longer movers and shakers. We’re barely relevant. Nobody cares what we think. Our votes don’t matter. But occasionally we’re useful. Today I provided a safe harbor, shelter from the storm.

This afternoon, 85 year old Blanche, who had stayed in Casa Papaya several weeks earlier, showed up at my gate. She was delivered by a Tico family that had collected her wandering soul from the beach. They were really the nicest people. They had a baby. Blanche had been on the beach where her daughter had left her, installed on a lounge chair in the shade. Shirley went off to do some internet work. Blanche went to cool her feet off in the ocean.

clinica biblicaThere are at least 3 private hospitals in San Jose and I recently had the opportunity to spend some time at one of them.  When my uncle had surgery at Clinica Biblica, I hung out with him for a week. We were both impressed with the facilities, staff, and service.  In all we were very pleased with the care he received.

costa rican tourism

Hospital Clinica Biblica is modern and clean, with none of the peeling paint and sagging ceiling tiles we’ve grown used to on the Peninsula.  Hand sinks lined the halls of each ward, encouraging everyone to fight infection  – the 21st century scourge of hospitals everywhere.  There is wif-fi throughout, which helped me keep busy during my vigil. My uncle’s room was furnished with a recliner, which he preferred to his bed as soon as he could get out of it.  A futon was made up for me tosleep the first night.  It really was comforting for both us, to have that option.

clinica biblica costa ricaThe thing that struck me about this Costa Rican hospital was the number of staff – the sheer quantity of care-providers around.  For me, it reflects the whole Tico culture and philosophy, which is civil, in the best sense of the word, and personable.  Everyone, from the cashier in the café to the taxi stand attendant to the nursing staff was friendly, helpful, and service-oriented.  The aides helped my uncle with a shower each day.  (Myself, I’ve only experienced a brief stay in a US hospital, but I wasn’t offered a shower.)  The concierge at the exit door flagged me a taxi each evening, checking-out the driver before opening the door for me.  There was always a nurse around to answer our questions, even when the wing filled up with other patients.

hospitales en costa ricaOne of the original buildings of Clinica Biblica has been attentively restored.  With the interior painted lemon and white, it now houses a trendy café with Panini and wraps.

medical tourismA new parking structure will be finished this year and will connect with a bridge to the hospital.  A roof-top heliport  will eliminate the 40 minute ambulance  ride from the airport in Pavas.  Another bridge, that I never found, connects to the Omega Medical Office Tower.

Now, my uncle has returned to the Samara Beach to recuperate beside his pool.  It couldn’t have been a better experience if we’d been “up north”.

My uncle treated me to a helicopter ride last week. And I had the better view. He was med-evacuated from Samara to Hospital Clinica Biblica in San Jose, where we spent a week.  After surgery, he's home again and doing fine. But, let’s get back to the flight. We headed (a little north of) east from the football field in Samara, crossed the peninsula and the Gulf of Nicoya, skirting Puntarenas and then headed through the hills towards the Meseta Central. We veered a little south as we approached San Jose, crossing the new highway and hugging the hills above Santa Anna and Escazu. We then re-crossed the river to land at the airport in Pavas. Read More

A lot of our guests at Casa Mango and Casa Papaya ask us how they can help the people here in Costa Rica. When they want to volunteer, I send them to CREAR the afterschool program in Samara or they come to Santo Domingo with me where I teach English once a week to school children. There’s often an organized beach cleanup to help out with.

But if they don’t want to give up a precious vacation day, there are ways to contribute cash. I just found the website for KIVA who make micro-loans to “working poor” around the world. You can loan – yes, you’ll be paid back – as little as $25.00 to individuals and groups who are starting or growing businesses and improving their lives and those of their children. After 15 minutes of reading through the loan requests, I selected 4 in Costa Rica and for $100 I feel better about the day.

First Friday is tradition in Samara.  Essentially cocktail hour at a local bar, the venue changes each month.  Everyone is welcome but truthfully it’s an English-speaking crowd.  Living in a Spanish-speaking country can be exhausting – David Sedaris said it best with “Me Talk Pretty One Day” – and  sometimes you just need the comfort of a common tongue, where you can express yourself clearly, where your puns are understood.  I can only guess that the Italian, German, and French speakers in our community get together somewhere else for gnocchi, schnitzel and brie.

Yesterday we met at Hacienda del Mar, in their open restaurant facing the courtyard garden and pool.  The deep overhangs protected us from the rain showers that persist off and on through the first half of this month.  Conversation was accompanied by a good blues duo.  The first week of November brings a lot of snowbirds back from the north so yesterday showed a nice crowd of nearly 50.  We were about 50/50 full-time residents and part-timers.  Mostly retired but a few business owners like us.

First Friday is a chance to catch up on the latest news (the Arts & Crafts Fair is scheduled for 10 December), to share opinions (there’s a new tax proposed by CR government), and to meet new people (Lisa and Heather have just moved to Carrillo).

But really, it’s just an excuse to dress up.  Polished nails and jeweled sandals.  That’s about the limit here.  And some folks don’t even go that far.

Furnishing a home in Costa Rica is a very hands-on and time-consuming task.  We don’t have big box furniture warehouse stores on every block.  (In this economy, maybe you don’t either.)  There are a few boutique stores in San Jose but that’s 6 hours away for us here on the Nicoya Peninsula.  There are some amazing craftsmen in and around Sarchí but it’s also 6 hours away.  In that traditional wood workers’ haven, the streets of town are lined with showrooms of beautiful locally made wood pieces.  You can go from shop to shop, collecting the pieces you need and if they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, they can probably order it.  But commissioning furniture takes time and a leap of faith.  Then, there’s transportation and, surprisingly, many showrooms don’t have trucks of their own.  You have to find the truck, called a “taxi carga”, and have the driver retrieve your furniture from the various shops and deliver to your home, 6 hours away.  There are some great wood workers in and around Samara – see “Yens works wood” – but again that takes time, Spanish language proficiency, and good drawing skills to explain what you want.

But, if your taste runs to Indonesian style, you’re in luck.  In the village of 28 de Abril, near Tamarindo and just 1 ½ hours from Samara, sits a warehouse store packed with beautiful pieces of hardwood furniture imported from South East Asia. Tropical House Interiors has nearly everything you need for the bedroom, living room, and dining area.  Most of the furniture is made of solid teak but some other tropical hardwoods are present.  I didn’t see anything that was veneered.  Many of the pieces are carved with scroll work or have solid brass hardware.  Bamboo side chairs match drawered consoles and coffee tables.  The stock includes mirrors, doors, lamps, pillows and fabrics.  There is even some tropical, albeit fairly uninteresting and mass-produced, artwork to brighten up a big wall.  Garden furniture is shown outside.  Because they personally source the pieces from hand-selected crafts people , they offer fair prices to both consumers and artisans.  The owner, Paul Demming, will arrange delivery of all your pieces at once.

        Tropical House is a great resource for new home owners in the Guanacaste.  it’s a little difficult to find and hours are inconsistent, so call ahead – 2653-4828.  It can be a one stop shop on the right day for the right home.