This morning I prayed for Nashville, Tennessee which was devastated last night with a major overnight tornado.
For those who don’t know, I lived in Nashville for about 37 years (1977-2014, minus 3 in The Gambia) and lived in two of the neighborhoods hit by the tornado last night, Germantown and Hermitage, thus the destruction is very real to me plus I knew people in other areas hit bad, like East Nashville.
But I also know Nashvillians and that they will work together to get through this and be a stronger community because of it. Yet still, I send my sympathies to the many families who lost loved ones last night (19 at last report seen). Washington Post Article on Storm.
Is that a word? 🙂 Well, anyway, I finished my week of Spanish Language Immersion and can say that it was very good or helpful! The most effective language immersion class/living is when one does it for two months straight or longer, then you are more or less fluent, people tell me. If I had my move to Costa Rica to do over, I would have scheduled the first two months in language immersion, but I didn’t – so I will keep up my plodding along here in Atenas with a tutor two hours a week along with relating to locals in Spanish and I may go back to Heredia for some more one week experiences in the future. We will see. It is not as expensive as my birding trips but nor is it as much fun! 🙂
The featured photo is from my breakfast table back home in Atenas this morning (got in last night) with that pretty pink-blooming tree on the horizon. It is always good to “get back home” after a trip. And in a lesser sense, I still have a type of language immersion living in Atenas, just not in my house! Though I guess I could talk to myself in Spanish! 🙂 I use only Spanish here with taxistas, at the supermercado, mostly in restaurants & other business and with my tutor – so not bad – but still not quite like the full immersion of this past week.
I recommend the experience and really liked the folks at Tico Lingo which I recommend, though I can’t compare it to any of the many other such programs here or in other countries. My uncle and some friends had good experiences at a similar program in Antigua, Guatemala while I have known others to do it in various places in Mexico – thus there are many opportunities if you are interested! And remember that living in a local home that speaks only Spanish is maybe just as important as the several hours of class work in the school. 🙂 AND using the language when you leave! 🙂 And I just now found one website that compares 18 such schools mostly geared to youth also wanting a beach experience and it doesn’t even include Tico Lingo, but if interested check out: Language Schools. My relocation tour stopped at two of these schools for quick introductions and there are more than these!
Speaking in Spanish with other students was also helpful. I was at a lower level than the one group class during my week, thus I had a solo class or 3 hours of personal tutoring each morning which was definitely best for me, but I did go out to lunch with some others and practiced with them a little, though it’s too easy to relapse into English with other Americans! 🙂
And of course I have a “Trip Gallery” of photos from this week, titled:
Back in 2015 in a Post titled My LibraryI told you a tiny bit about the life-changing book I had just read titled Pay It Forward, by Catherine Ryan Hyde, about a little boy’s school project to change the world that actually did. And it was made into a movie that I cannot get here. If you have never read it, I encourage you to! I had learned about it from reading another book by her titled Electric God which was very good, just not as great at Pay It Forward!
Well, recently I have finished two more books by Catherine Ryan Hyde that also can be life changing for some people: Stay, about another boy, age 14, who helped three people in his life not commit suicide and thus changed his world, their world and the world of hundreds of other people.
Then tonight I finished my 4th book by her titled Heaven Adjacent.It is about a workaholic, divorced attorney woman whose best friend was also a workaholic saving for a “good retirement” when she suddenly dies of a stroke. Rosie realizes in the loss of her friend that money is not what was needed for real life. She then does an irrational thing, telling no one, she walks away from her law firm, driving to a tiny rural area in an adjacent state, buys a tiny little farm house, planning to live the rest of her life in quiet solitude away from the mad rush of the city, work, family and search for money. (Kind of like me coming to Costa Rica.) But you could never imagine the life-changing adventure her bizarre action creates. You have to read it to see! 🙂
Catherine Ryan Hyde novels are too emotionally moving for me to read any more for awhile. But I will eventually read more.
Now back to escape novels by Agatha Christie (I’m working on completing all the Poirot mysteries now) and then I have pre-ordered the book coming out next month The Adventurer’s Son, a memoir about the National Geographic Explorer’s son who came to Costa Rica after me as a college-age young man and hiked alone into the magnificent Corcovado National Park (one of my favorite places here) never to be seen again. I read news reports for a short time, then nothing. Now I will get the full story or as much as his father knows. Another possible life-changing book and very close to home for me! 🙂 Much better than TV!
Even though I am a legal resident of Costa Rica with a residential card or “Cedula” and thus a national ID number (which I have memorized), I am not a “citizen” which takes longer, is more complicated and is not one of my goals with no particular advantages for me (vote & CR Passport).
Thus I must retain my citizenship in the U.S. and that requires a valid U.S. Passport if “living abroad” (says the U.S.) though I no longer have to have a Costa Rica Visa stamped in it as a legal CR Resident. It just declares where I am a citizen (everyone must be a citizen somewhere), required by both countries, AND is required to travel internationally or even buy an international airline ticket. While I can travel domestically in Costa Rica with only my ID number or resident card, I used my U.S. Passport on those 3 trips I made to Nicaragua and Panama. A U.S. Passport is good for 10 years with my current one obtained in 2010, thus expiring in 2020, this year, on my birthday in July. And most countries require at least 6 months left on your passport to enter, thus needed now! Not as confusing as it may sound. But . . .
Process Before Going to Embassy
So, the first week of January I got on the U.S. Embassy Website to make an appointment for the renewal of my passport which they gave me for 28 January. No one can just walk into the embassy here – you MUST have an appointment first. It is like a huge military fortress of paranoid American bureaucrats surrounded by high concrete & steel walls and razor wire. Once you get in with an appointment, you are checked by dozens of armed guards, remove everything from your pockets and enter with no bag, purse, cellphone or anything but the cloths on your back and required paperwork. My two other experiences there were that once you finally get in, they are fairly efficient and rapid with whatever service you need. For us expats there are even IRS and Social Security offices inside the embassy. Passports are by the Department of State.
Required Paperwork Before Appointment
When I made the appointment on the embassy website I also downloaded and printed a 2-page form to fill out along with the 4 pages of detailed instructions (good grief!). I filled in the form with ink and went to a local Atenas photography shop for my passport photos, attaching one of them to the form as instructed. All of the above was before the actual appointment on 28 January and I will continue this saga after my appointment for which I’m hiring my local driver Walter to take me and wait on me while in the embassy, which shouldn’t take more than one hour. Then I will write the next paragraph and post this to the blog.
The Appointment – 28 January 2020
A Comedy of Errors
Walter picked me up at 8:30 AM this morning, saying that we would be early for my 10 AM appointment because it never takes him a full hour to get to San Jose (but I insisted on 8:30). Well, we zoomed up Ruta 27, our semi freeway to San Jose until about 5-7 km outside the city and we screeched to a halt or slow crawl of bumper to bumper traffic, assuming a wreck ahead and sure enough, about 45 minutes later there was a wreck on the opposite side of the freeway! Good grief! It was “rubber necking” or people slowing down to stare at the huge multi-car pile-up on the other side going in opposite direction! Whew! Then we sailed right into town pulling up in front of the embassy at exactly 10 AM, my appointment time! 🙂
But did I go straight in? No! The armed female guard with bullet-proof vest at door asked if I had a cell phone or any other electronic device? I said, “A cell phone which I expect to put in the locker inside.” (like I did last time there) She then tells me that they no longer have lockers, it was too much trouble and they have too many people entering. Walter was already gone and is not allowed to park near the U.S. Embassy, thus he goes somewhere else until I get out and call him for a pickup.
So I helplessly look at her and ask “There is no one here to give my phone to, so that means I cannot go in and renew my passport?” THEN she tells me that the Catholic church a half block down the street has lockers I can rent. So I hike down the street and after asking someone, find the little church building and go in among statues of Mary, pay my 1 mil colones and get locker #13 key (lucky 13!). I put in my phone and at her suggestion my coins and belt with big metal buckle, but keep my wallet because you have to pay for a passport! 🙂 By then this frustrated foreigner was feeling his two cups of coffee from breakfast and had to pay 600 colones to use the baño! (But my coins are in the locker!) Ohhhhhhh! I hate the American Embassy!
I rush back to the embassy, late for my appointment, feeling like I was entering the embassy in Afghanistan or Iraq with armed guards and bullet-proof vests, and finally, after a severe security check, I get inside and make it to the correct window for passport renewal (not labeled, just window 15), passing crowds of other people there for visas, and who knows what else? But I had an appointment! 🙂
Wow! No one else at the passport window! (In fact the worker there looked bored!) I give him all my paperwork and passport photos (left) which he stared at for a few moments and then said “These will not do. The photographer zoomed in too close to your face.” and he showed me how it was suppose to look. Then he said, “No problem! You can go back out into the lobby to the photo booth and get your photo made properly.” (Grrrrrrrrrr.)
So back out among the throngs of people in the huge open-air lobby with others, mostly Ticos getting U.S. Visas, also waiting to have their photos made. I finally get it and pay the dos mil (about $4 compared to $2 for the Atenas “zoomed in” version).
I take them back to the guy behind the passport window and he asks me, “Now aren’t these much better?” I wanted to say “No” but rather used the local non-committal “Mas o menas.”(more or less) and then asked “Cuanto cuesta?” And he says $110 and I give him my MasterCard and it is basically done. . .
. . . until he gives me a little slip of paper written totally in español explaining how it will be mailed to my AtenasCorreos (Post Office), but only after I go first to that post office and prepay them the equivalent of $7 for their postal services and email to the indicated U.S. Embassy email address a photo copy of the receipt I will receive, saved as a PDF file only. Then he explains in English that it takes them 2 weeks to get the new passport made and the post office 2 days to get it to Atenas. Then I can go pick up my new passport and the Post Office MIGHT even call or send an email when they have it. The embassy will not send it to my PO Box. I guess afraid of theft.
Oh Lord-y was I glad to get out of that place! I go directly across the street to a tiny coffee shop (Coco Cafe) and get a cup of coffee and 4 miniature cinnamon rolls, losrollitos de canela.I call Walter and by the time I’m finished, he is there for me. All total an hour at the armed fortress and about 2.5 hours on the road! But almost done! And Walter dropped me off downtown where I took care of the post office payment today AND I have already emailed the PDF photo copy of post office receipt to the embassy. Waiting is all that’s left to do.
One less thing to think about for the next 10 years! 🙂 So in 2030 I will do it again as a 90-year old (wiser & more experienced) for the passport that will get me to age 100! 🙂 Then I may need someone to go with me in 2040, but the embassy only allows one extra person who is not the applicant! 🙂 And who says retirement is boring?
I have a lot of new readers from around the world who may not know that I have spasmodically tried to write another blog on the Blogger.com platform in español, though never consistent in that effort. It is called ¡Aprendo español en Atenas! and if a Spanish-speaker you may want to follow it and see how elementary my Spanish really is! This blog will continue to be in English with an occasional Spanish word inbright red so you will know when I slip into español or a particular word (like tranquilo) just says something better! 🙂 The other blog is really just another effort to force me to learn Spanish! And hasn’t been very effective.
Though not exactly a New Year’s Resolution, my 5 year anniversary of living in Costa Rica plus not being anywhere close to fluent in Spanish, I am embarrassed and ashamed of myself for not working harder at it! Thus a new motivation, pushing myself to talk more in my bad Spanish with everyone locally as the best way to learn. Plus I also today started a new online brief course that supposedly helps with verbally practicing Spanish daily called One Month Spanish, maybe because it is 30 lessons, conversational, with online audio.
I expect it to take a lot longer than a month, but the 30 lessons will push me to talk more in Spanish locally which is what helps the most! And though I am still not very good, I refuse to be one of those Americans who says “I can’t learn it at my age.” and just not even try! I do well in basics, shopping, eating in restaurants, riding taxis and buses and even give directions all in Spanish, but have difficulty on the phone and with many fast-speaking locals in casual conversations plus medical and technical conversations. like internet customer service! 🙂
What I Would Do Different
If I were to do the big move to Costa Rica all over again: I would not move directly to where I wanted to settle down necessarily BUT first sign up for one of the Immersion Spanish Classes in San Jose or Heredia or I think in a few other Costa Rica places like some beaches and maybe Monteverde. Learn Spanish FIRST!
For X number of weeks or months I would have taken language classes daily Mon-Fri and the school puts you in a rental-room nearby, living with a Tico family that speak only Spanish in their home, day and night, 7 days a week. In six weeks to two months most younger people are speaking Spanish! Longer for some (like me probably). 🙂
I could still do it, but more difficult now and since I don’t want to give up my Atenas rental house, I would have to pay rent for two places for however long plus cost of classes. But I’m thinking about checking out the possibility even if it means canceling some trips. I really want to be fluent in Spanish and thinking that may be the only way! My Uncle J.C. who married a Guatemala girl did that in the more famous language schools of Antigua, Guatemala. Guess I could go there, but more practical for me to learn Costa Rica Spanish where I live! Stay tuned! There may be another adventure coming! 🙂 Just thinking out loud. 🙂
In Atenas the Post Office (la oficina de correos) is being remodeled or sort of freshened up with new mail boxes (apartados) that are not in numerical order (?go figure?!), new tile floor, new counter and paint on walls, etc.
The good rapid clerk (nice young man) no longer works there – with a new one being trained very slowly and she was the only one there yesterday when I go in line behind about 10 persons and waited more than an hour to mail one of my photo books to a hotel I visited recently. Though it is not always this slow, it kind of reminded me of waiting in line at the post offices in Nashville where I also remember some very long waits and similarly inefficient processes, especially around Christmas! Oh well, that’s life! Así es la vida!
Apdo. 441-4013, Atenas, Alajuela, 20501 Costa Rica
Letters take about a week, 10 days, from the states & almost as long in-country! 🙂
Packages take longer depending on Customs.
NEVER send anything to my street address! Carrier will stick it in the fence or gate if I’m not home and it could blow away or otherwise be lost! No home mail boxes here! What’s that? ¿Qué es eso? And most locals don’t have mailboxes like me but use “general delivery.” Part of that line is persons waiting to pick up general delivery mail, or get passport, cédula, visa, pay property tax, etc. I’ve seen a clerk dig through 3 big mail cartons of letters looking for someone’s general delivery letter and sometimes never find it.
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you have been researching a move to Costa Rica you have certainly run across Nadine’s series of books, all prefaced with “Happier Than a Billionaire!” She and her husband are one example of the young adults fleeing that evil empire to the north of here and their stories here represent somewhat different and somewhat similar reasons for moving to Costa Rica and the lifestyle chosen compared to the larger group of us Americans down here who are “Retired in Costa Rica.”
Also google her name or slogan “Happier Than a Billionaire” to learn of more books which tell her story and to find her other channels of communication. If you are a young adult moving here (more and more are showing up even here in Atenas!) then you will benefit from following Nadine on Facebook or some other way. 🙂
After waiting only a short time for a teller, she could not help with my problem, I was therefore sent to “la platforma” or set of desks with persons supposedly more knowledgeable than a teller. My problem was that I got an email, in Spanish of course, that told me the auto-debit of my TV/Internet Service monthly bill failed. Well, it was because they used my local bank debit card to get their money and this month my card was replaced with a new one to include “a chip” which also meant a new number. The teller did pay my TV/Internet bill with a transfer, so at least no disconnect for now! 🙂
After waiting nearly an hour (15th in line) for one of the three “specialists,” she worked and worked on her computer and called the cable company talking at least 10 minutes to someone there and finally used a translator on her computer to tell me in English that the only way CableTica would correct it was for me personally to respond to the email (in Spanish of course) with my new card number. They are not allowed to let the bank or anyone else speak for me! I came straight home and did that. Hope it works! 🙂 Just another little irritation of living in a modern society in any country! 🙂
But this is also another lesson in the importance of learning the local language! I’m doing much better and communicated with all in the bank in Spanish though understanding what they say back to me is more difficult! 🙂 To make me feel a little better, a French couple was at the next desk to mine and the man was going on and on about something in the French language, raising his voice and I felt sorry for the banker helping him. She too used her computer translator and a cell phone. It is disrespectful to not learn and use the local language and that was part of the reason our waits were so long at the bank!
“You live a new life for every language you speak. If you know only one language, you live only once.” – Czech proverb
Even though Costa Rica does not have all the “safety net” programs of the U.S. (though free medical care & education), plain ol’ regular daily life for Ticos (and most expats) is easier here for the poor than in the states. (And that is even with CR having the highest cost of living in Central America.) I’m first motivated to say this because of the latest article in the “Live in Costa Rica” blog:
Also because I know that there are people from the States living here on no other income than their monthly Social Security check. A person can live solo here on a thousand dollars a month, though very simply. For residency (like Green Card in States) you must prove income of at least $1,000 a month. I think it would be much more difficult to live on that in the states! (And by the way, I meet that requirement by having my SS Check auto-deposited in my Costa Rica bank account. )
In fact there is a whole website & tour/conference program here entitled Retire in Costa Rica on Social Security. George supposedly shows you how to do it. (Disclaimer: I have not participated in his tour/program but like his concepts and his Intro Video!) On his site he quickly refers you to another blog/website that I know from experience helps you with specific budgeting: Retire for Less in Costa Rica. I highly recommend their newsletter/blog as the best for someone retiring here on a tight budget. It just may be my favorite newsletter on retiring in Costa Rica!
Remember that a large number of Ticos live here on less than a thousand dollars a month (even families). They do not travel somewhere every month like me nor have some of the luxuries I have, nor eat out in restaurants, but they are very happy and live productive lives in one of the happiest countries in the world. And like me, most have no car! 🙂 That is one of my biggest savings and helps me to afford my monthly travels, thanks in part to affordable public transportation!
I do not talk budget/expenses much – not the focus of my blog – but it is the purpose of the two blogs linked above. If you are concerned about affording retirement in Costa Rica, you must subscribe to the Retire for Less in Costa Rica blog/newsletter and check out the social security one.
Then come experience the tranquil life of adventure and happiness in the land of Pura Vida – Rich or Poor! 🙂
The Feature Photois a current shot of the fading graffiti on the wall behind our public college-prep high school, Colegio Liceo Atenas. It may not have been intended to represent poverty, but it seems to fit for me. 🙂 The phrase written to the left of the face, No dejemos que los niños pierdan su sonrisa. is roughly translated: “Let’s not let the kids lose their smile.” And the schools along with the Catholic Church work hard to help those in poverty, especially children. I find happy children in the poorest neighborhoods I walk through. As my grandmother used to say, “In life you do the best you can with what ya’ got.” 🙂 And that is . . .
I encourage you to follow the above link to his original article and maybe get acquainted with his blog. BUT, I wanted to “update”or add my comments to the list in dark red thathe copied from Tico Bull below:
The following list is a generalization, though, so obviously doesn’t apply to all Americans and Canadians.
Not being able to pay a bill by mail (send in a cheque). In the past, you had to go to a particular business to pay a bill, now it can be paid online or at the bank or supermarket, but no check in the mail. Through my local bank I have all my regular bills “auto debit” paid automatically except my rent because my landlord uses a different bank.
Not being able to receive mail at your home, six days a week.
Not being able to send mail from your home, six days a week.
There is periodic home mail delivery in Atenas (and some other towns), but if you are not home the carrier will often just stick it in the gate and wind can blow it away, thus I have a moderately priced post office box for my mail address to avoid worrying about being home when the mail carrier comes. Plus I have a U.S. Address in Miami through Aeropost.com for some mail which I pickup at the Aeropost office in Alajuela when I am notified by email. Going there on a free bus.
Not having Amazon Prime. Similarly Netflix is hugely different here with not nearly as many movies included because Hollywood wants each country to pay some outlandish fee to “license” the showing of their movies in that country. Here you get lots of Spanish language movies with a limited number of usually older American films plus lots of TV shows and fortunately a lot of nature shows, Nat Geo stuff, etc. Some of it is in verbal Spanish with English subtitles available, though more is in the original English with Spanish subtitles available. My personal default setting on Netflix CR is verbal English with Spanish subtitles which helps me a little in learning to speak Spanish.
Knowing that even if you order something online, there is a good chance that someone in customs will decide they want it and confiscate it. Using a service like Aeropost.com for internet orders solves that problem as they walk it through customs and have insurance on your orders. It is expensive, but most of the cost is the customs charges or import taxes. Worth the cost to me. I order everything on the internet sent to my Miami address at Aeropost.
Having to pay very high import taxes on any package that gets through, including items confiscated out of it. Import taxes & Sales Taxes are high here, but there is no income tax nor much property tax, so it kind of evens out for most people.
High priced cars. I have no car here and walk or use taxis locally and buses to other towns which are free or discounted for a senior adult. I go to Alajuela regularly by bus totally free!
Towns and villages that have either dirt or gravel roads. This is changing rapidly! i.e. Atenas Central is all paved, though a few rural roads out of town are still gravel. “Backwoods” or out of the way places are still not paved and the popular tourist town of Monteverde is one example, but they are paving the highway to there as we speak! 🙂
The necessity to have very good home security, either through iron bars at the windows, high walls, dogs, security guards, or all of the above. Americans and Canadians typically don’t wall their properties; dogs are pets; and enjoy large, plate glass windows with no need for security bars over them. I’m in a “gated community” called Roca Verde with an entrance gate and 24 hour guard service and we rarely have a problem. I’m in a “casita” or little rent house on the fenced & gated property of a big house and I have no bars on my windows and no dog and have never activated the built-in burglar alarm. I used to leave everything open and unlocked even at night, but one evening someone walked into my house while I was there and grabbed my cell phone and left. That and a backpack being taken from the floor of a touristy sidewalk cafe in Puntarenas my first year here are my only two robberies. Common sense helps, like I lock my doors by nightfall now and hang on to my backpack.
The need for women to hold their purses at all times, never putting them on a bench or a chair beside you or it might get stolen.
The assumption that if a repairman comes to your home, he will speak to the man of the house, rather than the lady of the house—even if she knows more about what needs to be repaired than her husband. This is changing now with so-called chauvinism frowned upon by all generations, especially the younger. There is a high respect for women and all older people.
The extreme caution one must take before letting someone (repairman, employee, new acquaintance) into your home because he/she might come back and steal from you later.
If something is accidentally left somewhere, you can know that someone else took it. There is no going to lost and found to see if the item was turned in. Depends on the place or people there. I’ve returned to a business for an umbrella left and it was still there and once briefly left my wallet and got it back.
Each culture is different. American and Canadian culture has a few things that other cultures view negatively. But there are always reasons behind cultural differences.
As an Italian, for example, we are loud, especially among a group of friends. Americans and Canadians love their large personal space. Costa Ricans and most Latin Americans can’t understand stand. Nor Europeans for that matter.
In addition, the majority of Americans, Canadians and Europeans have a level of personal honesty and integrity not always seen in Costa Rica, despite Ticos adopting much of North American and European cultures. An example of that is eating at a mall food court, but ladies won’t hang their purse or he his backpack on the back of the chair.
Living in a home with huge windows with no bars is unheard of, unless living in a gated community, but even then it won’t be surprising that someone will put up bars. For example, as I write this, I am looking out of my big glass window onto my yard, about 30 meters from the street. The window has bars, but I refuse to put up razor wire on the metal fence. I have dogs.
In closing, generalizations can be helpful, but they need to be understood for their limitations. Each culture has beauty if you’ll take the time to look, adapt and adopt the “pura vida”. Maybe his most important statement!
Much of this sounds like a typical “negative American” who criticizes everything not American and thus really has no business living here. Most of the above is true to some degree, though the dishonesty and thievery by Ticos is greatly exaggerated and in my small town I find almost everyone to be honest and very helpful to or accommodating of foreigners. And remember that you are the foreigner, not them. 🙂
It is essential that one adapt to the local culture when they move to another place anywhere in the world and recognized that it is yourself that is “abnormal” not the locals. You try to speak the language and go with the culture and they will love you and help you in every way possible! I’m amazed at the many Americans who in the states expected Mexicans and Cubans to learn and speak English there, but they don’t even try to learn Spanish here! They become “The Ugly American” of the 1958 novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer. 🙂