A Typical Day?

Ate lunch around the corner from these trees at the Catholic Church Atenas

There probably is no such thing as a “typical” day in anyone’s life, never-the-less mine! But this relaxed Monday in Atenas, Costa Rica seems worth reporting as almost one for me.

As always, I was awakened early by the birds singing, but stayed in bed until about 6:30 when I got up for a shower, breakfast of fresh fruit, nuts, cereal, and some Costa Rica Coffee, while overlooking a vista of the Atenas Valley and mountains, and watching birds in my trees. I put all the trash in one big bag making it easier to take to the gate and put in our big metal basket where we place only bagged trash for pickup.

With a backpack of Spanish learning materials, sunglasses, and my Panama Hat today (David calls it my “bonita sombrero.”) I walk the 1.1 mile under a sunny blue sky at around 80 degrees to my Spanish class in town. It is always a fun 2+ hours with two new students today and the temporary loss of others who are traveling for awhile. After class I walk back to my old apartments, Hacienda La Jacaranda, to return two cups I accidentally packed with my stuff and pick up my last electric bill there.

Then I walk to the center of town to the Post Office to see if a letter has arrived that was sent 4 weeks ago from the states. It has not. Make a note to tell people to use the Miami PO Box to get mail to me quicker! Then two blocks away (or here we would say 200 meters) to the Vargas & Sons Hardware for a couple of items I need for the house. Then I decide to eat lunch out today since I have not in awhile, preparing most of my meals at home. I was going to try a new place but it is closed on Monday, so I go to my old standby Tico restaurant, La Carreta.

For a little over $5 I get a casado (plate lunch) of fish, beans, rice, mixed veggies, and instead of my usual green salad, I choose the Picadillo de vainica y zanahoria, (right click on site for English Translation) always liking to try something new and it was great! Its a green beans and carrots relish or salad with delicious seasoning, my favorite item on the plate today. As always here, the meal was served on a banana leaf in a tray. But of course that was not all for this sweet tooth guy! For just the second time for me I ordered a Lechemulla which is their version of the Horchata rice & milk drink, but they use vanilla ice cream instead of milk which adds to the cinnamon flavoring and wow is it good! During all this delicious eating, I’m both watching people walk down the street and reading more in the lengthy Lord of the Rings book. I finished both the Happier than a Billionaire books which were fun, but I’ve had enough of Nadine & Rob for awhile! And yes, the Rings books are heavy and lengthy, but also some great writing and story-telling! My Kindle Fire says the typical reading time for it is 27 hours and I’m about half-way through.

Then I walk all the way back past Su Espacio, where my Spanish class took place, to CoopeAtenas supermarket for my little shopping list and pay the electric bill. While finishing there it begins to rain really hard. So I call a cab for the trip home with enough groceries that walking would have been tough anyway. It was about $2 for the taxi.

It was a good long rain, more than usual, that I’m sure made my new flower garden happy. Sun is shining now. After writing this, I have some bookkeeping to do, then  may read or try to photograph birds from the balcony or walk with camera through the neighborhood. By then a sunset snack and more reading or time on the computer before bed. I haven’t watched a single TV show here and no Netflix movies since moving to new house. Real life is more fun! Plus I’m working on three different books and about to have my shipped boxes delivered, so never a dull moment! And I have done very little of the traveling around Costa Rica I expected to be doing by now. Maybe soon!

I’m looking at the Strangler Fig Tree outside my office window and continue to be amazed that I really am living in Costa Rica! It is not paradise or perfect by any means, but it brings me more joy and relaxation than any place I have ever lived. The rain just cooled it off, the birds are singing happily while I smile and think to myself what a wonderful decision it was to move to Costa Rica! Pura Vida!

A Colorful Day!

Colorful Dress Shop in Alajuela

Yalile came at 8 AM today to clean my apartment, my first time for a maid. I have scheduled her for every two weeks now. I’m pretty clean but she probably does more than me with dusting furniture, cleaning the floor and the bathrooms & kitchen. It makes me feel cleaner now.  🙂 The standard rate here is 2,000  colones per hour or $4. So for $8 I get 2 hours of cleaning! Spic and span clean! It is such a good deal I might even consider going weekly when I’m in town. But I’m not ready to give her a key yet, maybe in the future. Plus she is already helping me with my Spanish and I with her English learning. When you have to communicate is when you really learn a language!

After she left, I went to Alajuela again, which I always love and it is always a colorful place! I don’t think I will ever tire of walking around Alajuela! Especially with a camera! Just phone pix again. I’m tempted to take my camera bag and good cameras, but then you just call attention to yourself and its sometimes harder to do candid shots. I still don’t photograph many people which I’m afraid will be considered rude. But occasionally catch a candid like the umbrella guy below.

Methodist Church at the Alajuela Central Park
Made more colorful by the guy losing his umbrella to the wind!
A Fruit Stand on nearly every block in Alajuela.
Move Over South Beach! We have Art Deco too! In Alajuela Central. 
I finally found and ate at the raved-about Jalapenos Restaurant.
It is good and better prices than Tacontendo from yesterday,
but just Tex Mex food by a transplanted New Yorker serving mostly expats. 

“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.” 
― John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

“I have led a pretty colorful life.”
Corey Feldman


David Salas Castillo, My Spanish Teacher in Atenas

“Dah-veed” is how you pronounce my Spanish teacher’s name, David, in Spanish. All A’s are short and all I’s are like long E.

I’m in Beginner Spanish of course and we are going over much of the same material we went over in the TFL Beginner Spanish in Nashville, though he is introducing a lot more vocabulary and I have a lot more opportunity to practice here – but that is easier said than done! I speak so slow and without enough vocabulary to really communicate well.

Yesterday I ran into David near Central Park at lunch time, and we tried to talk in Spanish. Of course most other locals speak so fast I have trouble understanding. This will be a slow process for me. But in time I will be able to communicate – I hope!

How I Know I’m in Costa Rica

Peacock photographed at Rescate Animal Zooave – More about it tomorrow.


  1. The first week I used the washing machine and microwave with my Spanish-English Dictionary in one hand!
  2. People write emails of concern when I go 4 days without a blog post. (And Thanks!)
  3. I use Google Translate to write out questions and directions for bus drivers and taxi drivers before I leave for a trip! And still they don’t always understand me!
  4. Then when I still get lost or have trouble finding my bus stop there is always a friendly Tico to help me out. Like today a worker from Zooave stood out front with me to make sure I got on the right bus back to Atenas – Then when the bus zoomed by without stopping, he called the cab for me since after an hour I was tired of waiting. Still don’t quite have Tico patience yet!
  5. I’m averaging about 5 miles of walking per day with much of it uphill and feeling great!
  6. Have I mentioned that everything is in Spanish and I am still in Beginner 1.1 Spanish? Unlike the tourist towns where it pays locals to know English, a farming community has no motivation to learn English. (Can you imagine a farming community in Tennessee learning Spanish because a few migrant workers live there?) So communication is still the biggest challenge!
  7. I’m eating more fresh fruit and veggies than ever in my life and feeling great!
  8. I’m in shorts and T-shirt all day every day while sleeping under a comforter with the windows open at night.
  9. I already have two visits from Nashville scheduled on my calendar and I’ve only been here 4 weeks! And I’m excited about both! Though a little nervous about the first group that includes two Nashville restaurant owners who want me to take them to one of my little farm town restaurants. But . . . I think they’ll like it!   🙂
  10. The word I hear most often from the maintenance man here is “manana.”
  11. Today a letter was slipped under my door addressed to “Senor Charles Doggett, Apartado #3.”
I gave up on my Iolo System Mechanic support for my latest malware problem and went online to Geek Squad (since my new computer came from Best Buy with the geek service – I used Live Chat since calling them even with an 800 # is an international call.). They were wonderful! The poor guys spent 3 hours on my computer but everything is back to normal again. Think I wills stay with Geek Squad! And renew after my one year free subscription expires!
I’ll catch you up some more tomorrow and hey! Life is still good!


Su Espacio -Your Space

Su Espacio is located in that corner building by the white pickup.
It is across the street from our only gas station in town which is part of
the largest Super Mercado, Coopeatenas – an important intersection for me!

The Spanish words Su Espacio mean “Your Space” in English and is the name of the community center where I had my second Spanish lesson today, located in the building pictured above across from the closest super market for me and the only gas station in town also owned by the super market. Like in small-towns in the States, there are sometimes monopolies by one person or company, though Coopeatenas is technically a cooperative owned by local farmers. 

“Your Space” could also be the theme for my first bus ride yesterday. I walked the 8 or 9 blocks to the bus terminal in Atenas and waited in line for the Alajuela Bus. It was packed with people standing. The 25 to 30 mile ride cost about $1.50 with multiple stops along the highway with people getting on and off. In the city of Alajuela, second largest city in Costa Rica and home of the San Jose International Airport, I get off at their bus terminal in central district and catch a taxi ($2) to Aero Casillas to deliver my last paperwork to make my Miami address work here. It was a notarized form from the U.S. Post Office saying I give Aero Casillas permission to receive and deliver U.S. Mail. One package and two letters are still in Customs waiting for this document before they will release the items. Thus I could not pick them up yesterday. A very nice clerk, the only one to speak English, said she would email me when the mail was released and ready for pickup, possibly by Friday. So I may make another bus trip soon! While in town I took a taxi ($2 again) to Walmart where I ate lunch and checked out the store aisle by aisle. It is pretty much the way I remember it from the August visit. I bought only 4 items: 2 cereals, a big towel, and ice cream on a stick, plus lunch in their cafeteria with typical Tico food. I had fish, rice and guacamole! Weird combo, I know!
After class this morning, I walked back to the apartment first so I could use my bathroom. The water line to Atenas from Grecia is broken, so no water in town meaning public bathrooms don’t work like the one at Su Espacio! Our apartments have a deep well and pump, so we always have water except from 10 PM to 4 AM when they let the pump cool off. Then I walked back up the hill to town to look at a house for rent and eat lunch. La Trilla (my plan) was closed with no water as was Antano. But fortunately the owners of La Caretta have a friend that stores water and they were still operating. I had a chicken casado (plate lunch) and met a couple from Iowa – snow birds! I then went by Coopeatenas and got three cardboard boxes for my move upstairs tomorrow. My friends from the August trip, Mark and Tina are moving to Panama tomorrow to try out that country for four months. I’m getting their 3rd floor end unit with better view, more air flow, more privacy, screens on windows, two balconies and no millipedes!  🙂 I’m literally and figuratively moving up in the apartments! And some of Phons family members are getting my downstairs apartment tomorrow night. 
So I am packing the rest of today, plus friends are picking up me, Mark and Tina for Wednesday night church. I had quit going on Wednesday night in the States, but will start again here since that is the English service each week. I’ll normally walk, but Mark and Tina wanted to be picked up because they are going to finish their yard sale at the church. Me and some of the apartment neighbors have already bought a lot of their stuff. I got the printer, desk chair, bath mats and plastic coat hangers, all at garage sale prices! I let the ladies have the kitchen stuff. The younger couple from Switzerland was so excited to find the muffin tin. It is funny to watch American and European expats function in this culture!
In addition to learning basic Spanish, I’m learning local ways to say things. Only older people still say Buenos Dias, Buenas Tardes, and Buenas Noches. Most just say “Buenas” regardless what time of day it is. So I’m learning to do that. When asked how you are (Como esta usted) and you are just “so so,” as we say in English, you say “mas o menos” which is how Rudy the caretaker answered me today. That is opposed to saying “bien” (good) or “muy bien” (very good). And the teenager on the bus yesterday saw a friend, did a fist bump and said “mae” which is like “hey dude.” This is fun! And everyone is very friendly here, maybe like small towns everywhere. A good place to be and no regular tourists because we don’t have tourist sights here. 
For those few, if any, readers who live in Atenas or are familiar with it, I should add that the rental house I looked at today is where the famous Kay of “Kay’s Gringo Postres” lives and I got to meet her and her husband Tom. They have  been here 7 years, but health issues have caused them to move back to the states near their son in Phoenix which is why the house is about to be available. It was a fun visit and would be a good deal financially and space-wise, but simply not as nice as the apartments. So we will see what happens. A younger couple from Texas bought their restaurant and still operate it under the same name. I haven’t eaten there yet because it is a further walk, but I will soon! Well, got to start packing!

A Tragedy in Paradise – While Life Goes On . . .

We received a huge shock this morning. Phons von der Bom, from Holland, the owner of these apartments, Hacienda La Jacaranda,  living in the big house on the property was found yesterday by the grounds keeper dead in his big house of an apparent suicide. Police were here most of the day they said, while I was at church and the potluck lunch. He was quite depressed from the death of his wife to cancer followed quickly by the death of his father in Holland and missing his children who are now back in Holland. The holidays were especially depressing and lonely for him and he was drinking heavily. I had not seen him in a week or more. Some have said he is an alcoholic. Regardless of all the reasons, it is so very sad when someone takes their life. Rudy, the caretaker, and Patricia, the secretary or practically the manager are devastated and of course don’t know what will happen. I saw two men who looked like business men or lawyers in the office with another woman today. She might be the daughter who I think was already scheduled to arrive today. And of course those of us who are renters could be in limbo for awhile, expecting that the place will be sold. For us, that could be the silver lining to another cloud, since Phons was the reason for poor management and maintenance. So we who live here are both sad and hopeful for better management – but have no idea of what will happen now. Your prayers appreciated.

For a happier note, I photographed my bowl of cereal with pasas y manzas (raisins & apples) which I topped off with a banana and strawberries – much like my breakfasts back in the states.

Breakfast Today

This was followed by a cup of green tea and receipt of the bad news about Phons’ suicide. Then I walked to town with Camella to Su Espacio for my first Spanish Class and her signing up for Zumba. The class was an excellent beginning with 11 students for the young enthusiastic teacher David – pronounced “Day-Veed” here. He is going to try and split our class for more personal assistance. We will know by Wednesday, which is the second of the two days a week class. Then I walked around town exploring again and had an early lunch at La Caretta, desiring some Gallo Pinto, Costa Rica’s special black beans and rice with onions and peppers. Been here nearly two weeks and had none! They only served it with breakfast, so I had Gallo Pinto con huevo y bacon (with eggs & bacon.) While eating, my neighbor Jean Pierre showed up without his wife Elizabeth and joined me at my table. He had a steak! While I added Tres Leches y cafe negro. Another pleasant morning in Atenas except for the Phons shocker! I walked home via Coope for a few grocery items and there ran into one of the ladies from church. It is beginning to feel like home!

You possibly saw the latest thing going around on Facebook about Costa Rica as the Happiest Place on Earth or in the top 2 or 3 or 93% depending on which survey. One of the writers  for Tico Times gives her take on it with a nod to the MacGyver TV show which I don’t think I ever saw. It is titled: The real secret of the world’s happiest country: grapes and MacGyver . All this relaxed, easy-going happiness is in addition to living in the town with the “Perfect Climate.” It is always nice to have your decisions confirmed by other people and research!  🙂

Living the Pura Vida in Costa Rica!    -Carlitos 

Why Do “Easy Jobs” Get So Complicated?

Sunrise at Tortuguero by Charlie

In addition to continuing to sell things and/or arrange for the pre-sell of items like the washer/dryer (Sold!) and the car (Sold!), I have to deal with car dealers for appraisals and struggle with unanswered phone calls, etc.

BUT the biggest issue this week was the simple email that said “click here” to upgrade your system to Windows 8.1 (from just 8). Wish I had never clicked! I spent a good bit of two days dealing with all the problems like the sound not working, all drivers needed to be updated, by me of course! Why can’t they make that a part of an upgrade? Then I googled for help on the sound first and some company, implying they represented Microsoft, wanted $200 to get my computer working correctly again. After an hour of “Live Chat” I canceled and found a true Microsoft fix for the sound and downloaded the needed drivers myself. Grrr.

Then, knowing that the address the apartments gave me in Atenas may not be permanent and will not work for internet ordered packages, I spent several days signing up for an Aeropost mailbox and street address in Miami. ARCR would have handled it for me if I wanted to go to downtown San Jose to pickup my mail and packages, but they recommended that I have them delivered to a pickup station closer to where I live, which is the Aeropost Office in Alajuela (near airport). That meant working with the spanish-speaking employees of Aeropost, Aerocasillas in Espanol. After most of a week, getting a USPS Form 1583 notarized today, I now have everything done for my two Miami addresses, except for hand-delivering the notarized form and copies of passport and driver license to the Alajuela office on my first visit.

It is too early to give these addresses out right now, but I will publicize them by the first of December and send change of address cards for Christmas Cards. And make them pretty too!   🙂

And in Spanish Class we are trying to memorize the many versions of the verb “to be” -ser. My head is spinning, but for a good reason!  🙂 And at school yesterday, my tutoring was interrupted with an awards ceremony assembly to recognize perfect attendance and good citizenship, while my kindergarteners are still learning how to write their names and the sounds of the alphabet. Slow progress everywhere this week – but good and important progress! I feel that a lot of things are starting to “fall in place” (with a lot of help!).


Me llamo Carlito.

Part of the hilly rainforest I will be exploring between my house and the coast.
I shot this on my 2011 Panama Canal Cruise Excursion to Tarcoles River for a jungle river cruise. 

Today was my second Spanish Class and it looks like the Spanish name Chris Howard gave me is what my Nashville Spanish Class likes best as they are all calling me Carlito now. Fun! Just getting my feet wet in the language and I like it and our teacher Maya! By the way, Charles in Spanish is Carlos, and the closest to the Charlie nickname is Carlito, which literally means “little Charles,” which is okay with me.

The letter from Social Security arrived today, so all my papers are in order for my residential application. By next week I will send them to my attorney in Costa Rica and the process will begin.

Also today Jane and Scott came to my house to see what all I have to sell in their “Village Treasure Shop” on campus. We are no longer allowed to have yard sales because of traffic among the cottages, so the Treasures Shop is a substitute. I have so much stuff that they decided to give me a whole room in the former cottage used as the shop and let me operate it as my store each Saturday until December. I do my own pricing and they just get a percentage of whatever I make. So that is what I will be doing for the next few Saturdays. It will be kind of like an indoor yard sale one day a week. Hope to make some money!   🙂  Come see me some Saturday, beginning October 11, the Grand Opening! I’m also deciding what I will keep and put in storage during my first year in Costa Rica. A few pieces of furniture, books, art, etc. will stay here until I decide to either return to states or make Costa Rica my permanent home. If the latter, then I will ship it all to Costa Rica. As the old TV comedy soldier of fortune used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together!”

Thanks for reading my blog! And please comment or write!   -Carlito

Soy estudiante de español

Yes, I’m now a student of Spanish, having had my first class on Thursday where
we got acquainted and greeted in Spanish. Though we have a text, our homework this week is all on the internet where we listen to the alphabet, vowels, consonants, and of course sentences or conversations, trying to train our ears to hear and speak as a Spanish-speaker.

The class is conversational Spanish, meaning the emphasis is on talking more than reading or studying grammar, though it will all be included. 9 were pre-enrolled in the class and 5 showed up the first day, with me being the only Senor. This is going to be fun?!

I believe that learning a new language will help me fight off dementia and keep me younger! And no! 74 is not too old to learn a language! (I just might be a tad slower at it!) But everything is slower in the Latin culture!

This beginner class runs to the middle of December. Then I’ll go to Costa Rica and get a local class or teacher near where I live and move on from there. A big part of the adventure! I will not be the “Ugly American” who refuses to learn the local language. But for my American friends, I’ll keep this blog in English. 🙂

10 Qualities of Successful Expats

Some of my most practical research information comes from current expats in Costa Rica who write blogs, newsletters or even have websites. One of my newest discoveries is a site and newsletter by Paul & Gloria Yeatman with their website at www.retireforlessincostarica.com and I just signed up for their newsletter. By doing so I received a “free gift” of a linked document titled

The Top 10 Qualities of Successful Expats in Costa Rica

You might be able to see it at this link if not coded for subscribers only!  🙂

In case not, here are the ten characteristics without the wonderful, detailed discussion of each:

  1. Do your homework. 
  2. If you are married, both of you must agree.
  3. Rent for at least one year.
  4. Enjoy the simple things of life.
  5. Have a positive attitude!
  6. Learn to speak Spanish. 
  7. Join the Caja (national health care system).
  8. Hook into the local Tico culture. 
  9. Hook into the local Expat community. 
  10. Get involved . . . volunteer. 
Now if you have been reading my blog or know me, you know that these are all things I aspire too already, but it was encouraging to see them listed in this way. Hope you can get to the whole document with the above link! And isn’t my research a lot of fun!