exploring, examining, exchanging, expressing
Saturday, March 31, 2007
The Greatest Thing
The local brand of sliced white bread is "Bimbo." This amuses me to no end. I giggle to myself every time a bread truck drives by or I see a loaf on a supermarket shelf.


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Thursday, March 29, 2007
First Class
It's a common theme for my time in Costa Rica: planning is worthwhile, but plans are generally worthless.

I had prepared a fairly comprehensive lesson on job interview skills for an intermediate English class. As I was being driven to the business location, I was informed that I should speak slowly. "Uno momento," I thought to myself. I shouldn't need to really slow down for an intermediate class. This group must be a little lower. The two hours of lively discussion I had envisioned was quickly turning into a bigger challenge.

My fears were confirmed when I launched into the lesson. My warm-up questions were met largely with blank stares. Tough crowd. Time to regroup and plan a new route of attack.

I have them do some reading aloud so that I can better judge their level. See, I'm at a disadvantage here for several reasons. This is my first attempt at solo teaching. I'm nervous myself. I can't let them know that, though. I've been introduced as the "business expert." And I've never worked with these students before. I'm not their normal teacher. I won't likely ever work with them again. I'm basically a glorified subsitute at this point. Remember how you treated subs in school? Yah. So I've got that going for me, too. Plus, they've all just come off a hard day's work. They're fading fast. I'm not going to get too many chances here. But, since I had them read out loud, I have a better idea of who the strong students are. They will help me keep things moving.

The two-team competition I'd planned turned into a flop. One group did great. The other group didn't understand the task. I begin to feel like a failure.

It's time to get to the meat of the lesson. We're going to work on actual interviews. This is make-or-break time. My timing is a little off. I still have too much time to kill. Timing is a skill that comes with experience. I need a lot of work on this. But, given their level, I have a feeling that this task might take a good long time. And it turns out I'm right, for once. We get off to a rough start. I have a hard time explaining the task. But I give them some leeway and let them use a little Spanish and they all get it eventually. We're asking questions! We're interviewing each other!

Time ticks away.

With about 20 minutes left in class, I finally start to feel comfortable. We're laughing and getting into a groove. It took awhile, but we got there. I try to recap a few key points before we finish. I know they're not ready to ace an interview in English yet, but hopefully I've laid a little groundwork. I hope they got something out of it, at least. They thank me, and the men shake my hand as they leave.

I suddenly wish I were a better teacher.

Then I realize I need to find my way home. One of the students offers to drop me off in San Jose, where I can catch my bus. Once again, I am saved by the kindness of strangers.

A few minutes of driving, and I have no idea where we are. I begin to worry that I am too trusting. What if she drops me off at the wrong place? What if I can't find my bus stop? It's very dark and very late and I'm a gringo in a tie - I won't make it too far on my own. Nothing looks familiar and we've been driving for awhile. I venture a question: "Parque Central?" It's just two blocks away. Whew! I'm dropped off and away I go.

And here I am. Safe and sound. Ready to teach another day.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Those Who Can't Do

I came to Costa Rica to teach English, in part, because I was burned out by the corporate lifestyle. I wanted to take a break from the rat race. I needed to get off the fast track for awhile.

In a delightful twist of irony, my first teaching gig here is to conduct a two-hour seminar on job interview skills. I am being billed as a "business specialist." I believe I may even wear a tie.

Wish me luck. I'll let you know how it goes.


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Monday, March 26, 2007

Based on the number of signs and advertisements, this is Costa Rica's king of beers. Billboards say that consuming Imperial will cause men to be surrounded by bikini-clad women. But I have to give the country credit on this: their most popular beer isn't a watered-down appeal to the lowest common palate. This is a creamy, robust lager with just a touch of bite (weighing in at 4.6% alcohol). This is the beer you want when you're just going to have a couple of tallboys after work. Or drink it while watching futbol and scarfing chicharron and other hearty bocas with the guys at the bar. The slightly roasty flavor should go well with pork and beef. There's also a light version, but I don't drink light beer if I can help it.


This is number two, based on signage. It's more of a typical "international-style" pilsner. Think of the stuff you get in green bottles. Light, easy to guzzle, with a smidge of hop sharpness and 5.1% alcohol. This is your session beer, your all-day drinker. If Costa Rica had any sort of spicy cuisine, this would be the drink to wash it down. As it is, I've yet to find anything hot here. I'm sure it goes well with rice and beans, though, too. I don't think there's a light variety. There is, however...

Pilsen 6.0

It's not just a clever name. This is the same beer, kicked up to 6.0% alcohol and sporting a snazzy red label. You might think it would be harsher, like a malt liquor. But this is no Schlitz. I actually find it to be smoother and a little sweeter than regular Pilsen. I think it's much better than the original. It goes down very easy, and it gets the job done nicely. What job? Well, we don't just drink beer for the taste, now do we? Bonus: it's on sale at Hipermas now.

Bavaria Gold

There must be Germans hiding in Costa Rica. And they're brewing beer. Good beer. Take this classic German lager, for example. It's full of flavor, with a nice balance of malty sweetness and hoppy bite. I'm not sure they're strictly following the Purity Laws, though, as I think I detect a hint of corn. I'll forgive the brewing faux pas, however, because this is still an easy drinker that's a cut above most corn-fed swill. There is a light version that I have yet to sample.

Bavaria Dark

As if the perfect weather and gorgeous beaches weren't enough, here is further proof that Costa Rica is a blessed country: a mass-produced, German-style, dark lager that actually tastes great. This one's a favorite. It boasts "maltas especialas" as an ingredient. You can really taste the especialas-ness! Seriously, for those that think "dark" means "heavy," this beer will change your mind. With a roasty bite and a creamy mouthfeel, it goes down smooth and easy. Not heavy at all, just a nice, rich flavor.

Rock Ice

I mentioned malt liquor earlier. This one has all the taste of Olde English; however, weighing in at only 5.2%, it doesn't quite have the kick. Harsh. Bitter. Sure, it's a little cheaper than the rest, but I would encourage anyone to spend the extra 10-20 cents for a superior brew. I believe it's geared toward the youth market. Billboards announce, "Rock Ice is different." True enough. But in a world of good beer, different isn't always better. Costa Rica could've skipped the "ice brewing" trend and been just fine.

Rock Ice Límon

If you like a little slice of lime in your beer, but can't be bothered to cut your own fruit, this might be the beer for you. The artificial tart, sour flavor just about covers the taste of standard Rock Ice. Almost. Served very, very cold, it could make a good chaser for a shot of guaro while strolling along the beach. I imagine.

A note on methodology: All beers were purchased in cans, despite the availability of bottles, because bags of glass aren't fun to carry on the bus. Tallboys were purchased when available because they provided a greater sample. This is all in the name of science, you know. For this article, I stuck with the major brands. There are other beers in Costa Rica, of course. I've seen a few Mexican, Argentinian, and German varieties that I never saw in the USA. They're a little more expensive, but perhaps will be reviewed at a later date. The ability to buy singles makes sampling easy and economical. And I've even seen Miller Lite on the shelves, but I don't think I'll waste my colones on that. The standard Costa Rican brews are far superior to the normal North American offerings, in my humble opinion.

You'll note a severe lack of ales, however. My guess is that there just isn't a demand for heavier flavors here. In the land of eternal Springtime, there's not much call for a Winter warmer, for instance. I've heard rumblings of a few microbreweries around, but I haven't seen them firsthand yet. The campaign for real ale hasn't made its way to Central America just yet. But, given the quality of the standard offerings here, I have high hopes that someday Costa Rica will get a taste for quality, craft brews. In fact, that's a potentially untapped (pardon the pun) opportunity. Today's American beer snobs will soon be retiring to this country. Their parents are already here, but I think they're content to swill fruity rum conconctions while lounging on the beach. I bet in the coming years, you'll see brewpubs popping up in the Americanized suburbs, like Escazu.


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Alone, Alone

We took my gracious hostess to the airport today, as she had to return to Ohio. Over the weekend, almost all of her very large family stopped by at various times to say goodbye. We had a little dinner party on Sunday. She made lasagna. And rice and beans. (Only in Costa Rica, I swear!) I've learned a neat trick for large gatherings. Someone will inevitably ask me how I'm enjoying my time here. I respond, loudly, with two big thumbs up, "Costa Rica es Pura Vida!" The crowd goes wild.

We were all quite sad to see her go, of course. And I, myself, was a little nervous. Her vacation is over. That means my unofficial vacation is over, too. I'm on my own now. I've lost my tour-guide / interpreter. The rest of her family is still around, sure. And some of them speak a little English. But this is where it gets real. I'm no longer a houseguest. I'm a rent-paying tennant, trying to make a go in a new country. There are certain things I still have no idea how to do with my limited linguistic ability. Like, getting a haircut, for instance. I may come back to the states with dreadlocks. Anyway, as a first course of business, I did what ever man must do for his first night in his apartment: I went out to stock my fridge...


My own family is on vacation this week. The kids are on spring break, so they've all packed up and hit the beach at Tybee Island. While I have my own beaches to look forward to, I'm more than a little sad that I'm missing the family outing.

For some good news, I'm getting some decent vibes about a teaching gig in San Jose. I'll find out more when I visit the school tomorrow. We'll see how it goes.


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Sunday, March 25, 2007
Little Green Bananas
I've finally discovered a food here that I don't like. That's saying a lot. I mean, for instance, I ate "lingua" - beef tongue - after suffering a week of stomach alements, and actually enjoyed it. There's not much here that isn't good. But boiled green bananas just don't do it for me. I'm not sure how to describe them. They're not sweet at all. They're just starchy and unflavorful. It's kind of like eating a raw, slightly mushy potato, maybe. They're served as a side dish, a filler for more flavorful offerings, like the fantastic fried talapia I had them with. But unlike other fillers, such as rice and beans, they just don't do it for me. I thought it was worth mentioning so you don't think I'm just raving about everything I eat here.


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Monday, March 19, 2007
No Muy Bueno
I have been sick for the past 4 days. I don't think this is a reflection on my cooking, because the rest of the family is fine. I will spare you the gory details. But I will tell you that I was forced to consume a cocktail of rice water and yucca starch as a home remedy. I tried to politely decline, but one does not refuse two generations of Costa Rican mothers.

On the upside, I'm feeling a bit better today.


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My Turn

I decided to try cooking lunch for the family today. Lunch is the big meal, rather than dinner. I wanted to cook up some typical Southern cuisine for them. It was a risky proposition for several reasons. These people take food very seriously; if I screwed it up, I would lose face and would likely never be trusted in the kitchen again. Shopping and cooking are rather difficult when you don't know the names of all the ingredients you're looking for. And not all the ingredients I'm used to are available.

After breakfast, I took the bus down to the Hipermas, Costa Rica's answer to Wal*Mart (in fact, it is now owned by the Wally family). Based on what I could find, I came up with the following menu:

  • Fried chicken
  • Cracklin' cornbread
  • Fried green tomatoes (I happened upon a few in the pile of ripe 'maters)
  • Skillet potatoes
  • Carmelized carrots (I thought this would go over well since they tend to like sweet foods)
  • Marinated veggie salad

The chicken was fine, but unremarkable because fried chicken is fairly common here. They seemed to like the cornbread. Marta admitted later that she'd told her mother, "Tony's going to try to make bread from cornmeal. I don't think it'll work." She asked for the recipe, and was intrigued by the use of cracklin' (called "chicharrón" here, it's a common bar snack) in bread. The real surprise was the fried green tomatoes. These were a novelty. Everyone gave me strange looks when they saw me dipping slices of tomato in egg and then breading them. But they ate them!

I made too much food, forgetting that 6 chicken leg quarters feeds 6 Americans, but 12 Ticos. And I also didn't think about the fact that some of the family (the men) wouldn't be adventurous enough to risk their main meal being cooked by a gringo. They ate ahead of time. So there are a lot of leftovers that will probably go to waste unless I eat them myself. They all exclaimed "Que rico!" at the meal (a polite compliment), but I don't think they'd choose to eat it again.

Still, I'm glad I got the chance to cook for them. I enjoyed sharing a little of my culture. And it was nice to spend an afternoon thinking of home.


My cornbread (there's no Costa Rican equivalent, so they call it "Pan de Tony") is officially a hit. It got the ultimate compliment: we had it again for coffee in the afternoon and nearly finished it off. I say "nearly" because nothing is ever completely finished here. I don't know if this is a Costa Rican habit or if it's limited to this household, but there are little baggies containing morsels of past meals everywhere, filling the fridge and covering the counter. Anyway, Marta and her niece both asked how to make the cornbread, and said it was great with coffee. The kids got a kick out of hunting for the bits of pork. When they bit into one, they would get excited and shout "Pura carne!"

I should've known that here, where there is a panadería on every corner, any type of bread would be appreciated.


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Tuesday, March 13, 2007
One of Life's Certainties
Since it is terribly difficult for foreigners to get work visas in Costa Rica, I've found that many schools treat teachers like independant contractors. Thus, teachers are required to submit receipts (facturas) for their hours. They also must get a tax ID number (cedula). Luckily, the nice lady at ULatina gave me detailed instructions on how to acquire this number. Since I had nothing better to do today, I decided to give it a shot. With instructions and maps in my pocket, I hopped on the bus to San Jose.

The Administracion Tributaria is in the west part of town, beyond where Avenida Central becomes Paseo Colon. I'd not explored this area yet. It's a bit seedier than other parts. Safe enough during the day, so long as you're careful, but I wouldn't hang around there after dusk. I got to see the area known as Coca-Cola, where many of the major bus stops are. Typical of Costa Rican addresses, the location really has nothing to do with Coca-Cola. A bottling plant existed there years and years ago, but no sign of the building remains.

The directions got me to the office, no problem. Now I had to see if they'd get me through a tangle of beaurocracy.

I stood in a relatively short line for the information desk. When it was my turn, I ventured a hopeful "Habla Ingles?" but was met with a negative shake of the head. I was prepared. I'd found a brochure in the lobby describing the registration process. I smiled and pointed to the name of the form I needed: "D-140 Declaración de Inscripción, modificación de datos y desinscripción - Registro de Contribuyentes." She gave it to me and marked the lines I had to complete. I was uncertain about one, but she described it and through process of elimination and a little guesswork, I figured it out. Keep in mind, this is all in Spanish. But government forms are the same everywhere.

Next I had to wait in a much longer line to get the form stamped. Luckily, there were seats for this wait. Each time the line moved, everyone shifted seats. It was the world's most depressing game of musical chairs. While I waited, I watched the clerks' interactions with other people submitting the same form. Some had long, involved conversations leading to frantic phone calls and shuffling of papers. Others were whisked right through. Based on my observations, I gave myself a 50/50 chance of making it through the process without having to give up due to lack of language understanding. If they started asking a lot of questions, I would have to bow out and come back with someone who could translate. I really didn't want to do that.

A little over an hour later, I was at the head of the line. I took my mostly-completed form and my passport over to the clerk, who looked it over and started typing away on her computer. Immediately, my name was an error that forced her to make some changes. People in Latin American countries use two last names (the mother's and the father's). No biggie. Clearly they've dealt with gringo names before. Then there was another glitch. I had been told to put "servicios professionales" for my economic activity. Apparently this wasn't specific enough for her. She started rattling off types of professions. I decided I might as well call myself a "profesor." More typing. Finally, she brought out the big stamp and made my documents official. She needed to explain something, so she asked if I understood any Spanish at all. I replied with my usual: "un poco." She said, in English, that she spoke no English. We smiled at each other and she began speaking in very slow, very clear Spanish. Even at that, I picked out about 5% of the words. She was explaining that I would need to have facturas printed with my tax number on them. I understood that much only because it was mentioned in the instructions I was given. She had me review my information and I was done! Whee... now I can pay taxes if I ever start earning money.

I'm going to include the instructions from ULatina here, because they were so helpful. Hopefully the university won't mind. Perhaps someone else will find them as useful as I did.

To be compensated for your services, all teachers must obtain a cedula number and have a book of receipts (facturas) printed with their name, address and cedula number. Getting this number allows you to pay taxes at the end of the fiscal year, which ends September 30 every year.

How to get Facturas: First you have to go to the Administración Tributaria. This is located in downtown San Jose. You head down Paseo Colon toward the Parque la Sabana. Address: Barrio Don Bosco, 400 meters south and east of the Pizza Hut on Paseo Colon.

After you pass Academia Europea, go a few more blocks to the west. You're going to turn left (south) at the corner where there's a bike shop called Piesa (There's a Pali store across the street too). Then you walk a few more blocks. There will be a chocolate shop on the right-hand side. Keep walking until you get to this tall government style building. It's on the right side and it takes up the whole block. The building has a red-brick facade. You have to walk to the end of the block past a parking lot, turn the corner to the right and there's a small set of stairs and an entrance. Just inside the door there was a woman at a desk who will give you the form.

You want to register for a cedula number. The paper you fill out should say "Declaración de Inscripción, modificación y desinscripción en el registro de
contribuyentes." You need your passport. And you need to write that your datos de la actividad economica begin sometime after the day you go to this office (you can't tell them that you've already started working). In the description of the type of economic activity, you write "servicios professionales." You also need your exact address (150 metros oeste del... blah, blah) and your telephone number.

Once you fill out the form you will need to go inside and get it stamped. They will tell you where to go and what to do. There is no cost to get a cedula number. Once that's stamped, they'll show you a list of authorized receipt printing stores.


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Monday, March 12, 2007

Aside from the language, city life in Costa Rica doesn't strike me as too different from city life in the US. I'm sure if I went to some of the more remote locations, I would be in for a bigger culture shock. But in and around San Jose, people carry on just like people everywhere. There are a few things worth mentioning:

  • Go before you go. Public restrooms aren't too common, and where they exist, they can be a little scary.
  • Speaking of toilets, there are little trash cans next to all of them. They're for your TP. Since there are septic tanks nearly everywhere, rather than sewers, it is important not to flush the paper so everything keeps a'flowin'.
  • Line, signs, and signals are all just suggestions on the road. I've hinted at the insanity of driving in Costa Rica, but I don't think I can truly do it justice with words. Where there are two lanes, people make three. And amidst those three crowded lanes, motorcycles, scooters, and bikes weave in and out. Pedestrians cross where they can. And they often have to walk along the street because sidewalks are either too full, unwalkable, or nonexistant. I was originally worried about crime in San Jose, but I think if anything happens to me here, it will be because of the traffic, not the criminals.
  • Let them do the driving. The bus systems here are fantastic. They are equally mysterious. You can get anywhere by bus. They're cheap. Inside the city, they run often. Around the greater San Jose area, they run 4-6 times an hour. I haven't had a chance to take a bus to a further destination yet. The trick, however, is finding the bus stop for where you want to go. The routes are unpublished. There is no central bus terminal. There are some signs, but most are misleading. The best way to find the right bus is to ask at least 3 different people.
  • Hail, hail. If you do happen to see the bus you need, you can hail it like a cab. Stick your arm out. Show a little leg. Flash some coins. Everyone has their own method. It's all about style, baby. Of course, if the bus is packed or the driver is feeling surly, he may not stop. If you are an attractive woman, however, you are guaranteed a lift anywhere, at any time.
  • Almost everyone here is friendly and helpful. About half of these friendly, helpful people would like to sell you something or get a handout. When you go to shake hands, keep your other hand on your wallet. Too cynical? Maybe a little.
  • You'll pay a Gringo Tax. Or rather, you'll pay the published price for most things. Locals, however, will often get a discount without the need to haggle. Or they'll get a few extras thrown in. It doesn't matter if you speak Spanish, either. Ticos know Ticos. And they take care of each other.


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Sunday, March 11, 2007
Each New Day

Morning is my favorite time here at the house in San Rafael Abajo. I never sleep in because I don't want to miss it. I sit on the porch, sip coffee, and just enjoy the view. It's fun to watch the mass of people wind their way down the hill to San Jose during the week. Today, Sunday, it's peaceful. There is little traffic since most folks are in church or relaxing with family on their day of rest. Even the wind is taking a break today, offering a gentle breeze compared to the gusts we've had lately. The Sun, too, is taking it easy, hiding behind clouds. Today I decide to sit in the back yard, amongst the sweet lemon trees. Here the city is hidden from my view, and I am in my own private paradise.

The mornings here are magical, but they are also dangerous. It is during this time, before I am occupied with the day's tasks, that my mind drifts. I get lost in thought. I dream of all of the things I want to see and do in Costa Rica. And then I realize that each of those things means more time here, away from my family and friends back home. I miss them. Family is so crucial to life here. Marta's family visits her often, if not daily. I may not understand their words, but their affection towards each other is clear.

And so, during these times when I am wallowing in my thoughts and memories, I feel guilty for leaving my family. I had been away from them for 7 years while I was in Ohio. I was only back for a month before I left them again. We were really just getting reacquainted. They were getting used to having me around. I was becoming a part of their lives, instead of just a visitor. And then I took off. I wish they could be here. I wish I could have this experience while still feeling like part of my family. If I stick with my plan, if I stay here for at least a year, then I will be a stranger to them all over again. I begin to wonder if I should shorten my trip. The peaceful morning seems to be growing darker, gloomy, and melancholy instead of calm. I do have a return ticket I could use. I linger on this thought.

But then my coffee cup is empty, and I hear a bustle of activity in the house. It's time to get out of my head and get the day started. I have much to do here.


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Thursday, March 08, 2007
Tonight, while the family was sitting around before dinner, amidst a sea of Spanish I heard a tidbit of English. My ears perked up. One of the kids was practicing a list of vocabulary words. She's in highschool, where English is taught to all the students. In fact, it's supposed to be taught in elementary schools too, but I've heard that in reality this isn't always the case. She was struggling with some words, so I went over to help with pronunciation. Then one of the younger kids came over, and we were all practicing numbers. "Thirteen" and "thirty" are especially tricky, but we got them. Eventually an older niece, who'd taken a beginner's English class at a university, joined in. They gave me Spanish words to practice. In turn, I gave them the English pronunciation. This carried on all through dinner and beyond. We listed words for things in the kitchen, body parts, furniture, and foods. We laughed at some language oddities (they have no special word for "thumb," and the word for "wrist" is the same as "babydoll") We practiced some greetings and questions. We quizzed each other. They did much better than me (curse my swiss-cheese memory). Hours later, they say "good night" to me, and I bid them "buenas noches."

I'm not sure how much I'll remember, or how useful it is to know the word for "toe." But we had fun. It was nice to make some sort of connection, to communicate, even at the most basic level.


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The Barrier

I regret not making more of an effort to learn Spanish before coming here. I'm able to get by with what little I do know. It's amazing how far you can get with just gestures and a few key phrases. I can buy food, get around by bus or taxi, and (obviously) use Internet cafes. I can survive. I learn a little bit more every day.But the lack of true human interaction is frustrating. I want to get to know people! I want to hear their stories. I want to tell them mine. I want to laugh at their jokes. I want to flirt! I want to just sit around and shoot the shit, like real people do.

There are people around me all the time. I'm hardly ever by myself. And still, I've never been more alone. I'm isolated by my ignorance.


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¡Que Categoría!

Thanks to a generous invitation from my ever-gracious host, I got to tag along on a trip to Playa Jaco. I couldn't pass up a weekend at the beach. I mean, this is why I came to Costa Rica! We piled into a van and hit the road by 6 AM. Juan, Marta's brother, made the two and a half hour drive into an adventure in and of itself. Driving in Costa Rica takes a mix of courage and insanity, and Juan is a pro. The road from San Jose to Jaco is narrow, steep, and curvacious. It provides a fantastic view of the mountains. We stopped along the way to look at a group of crocodiles laying in a stream beneath the road. Later we visited some fishermen and Juan talked them into selling us a bunch of red snapper. Fresh fish, right off the boat. We would eat well that night. The trip was off to a great start.

Getting Fresh Fish

A couple of hours later, and there we were - at the beach. The guidebooks all say Jaco has become "too touristy." Well, if it is, then I can't wait to see some of Costa Rica's more secluded spots, because I didn't think it was that bad at all. Sure, they've cleared some trees to develop the land and build some hotels and restaurants, but it's nothing like Myrtle Beach or any of the other tourist traps in the US. I was told that during the major holidays, like the upcoming Easter weekend, the beach is absolutely covered with people. But it wasn't very crowded while we were there.The water was perfect. It was so warm and comfortable. The Sun got to be a bit hot, but there was plenty of wind to cool us down. I went for a walk to enjoy the scenery. By the time I got back, the family was ready to get out of the heat for awhile, so we went back to our cabinas and lounged by the pool. That night, we had a magnificent feast of fish (with gallo pinto, of course). Afterwards, a few of us decided to check out Jaco's nightlife. We hopped from bar to bar, enjoying cheap cervezas and plenty of eye candy. Then we noticed something strange at one place. There were many beautiful women, which wasn't too odd; however, they were all hovering around old white men. In fact, they were leaving with these men. A waitress at another place confirmed our suspicion: The Beatle Bar is a notorious hangout for Jaco hookers. We moved on. I convinced a companion to join me in a shot of guaro, Costa Rica's unofficial national liquor. It wasn't as harsh as I expected. I'm still partial to bourbon, but I could get used to guaro. The local beer, however, was surprisingly good. Much, much better than the standard American beers. I'll describe them in more detail in a later post, but I can tell you with great certainty that they all go down quite smoothly.

Monkey Bar

Sunday, I decided to give the family some space and wandered around the beach by myself. There are few things in life that are better than laying on the beach, drinking a cold beer, and listening to the crash of waves. I stayed there all day so that I could watch the Sun set over the Pacific. At that moment, I realized: This makes it all worthwhile. All of the job interviews, all of the long bus rides around the city, all of the struggles to communicate, all of the hassles are so that I can enjoy times like this. Life is good. Pura Vida!

Wonderful View

I scoped out some hostels that I could possibly stay at for future trips. Most seem to be around 25 bucks for a private room. A bus ride from San Jose to Jaco is only about 3 hours and 3 dollars. I think that's very do-able for a weekend trip. I'm already looking forward to going back.

See the rest of the pictures here.


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Hunting for Schools

I'm discovering that the market for teachers in Costa Rica is something like the market was for tech workers when I first went to Ohio. Teachers are essentially treated like contractors and many of the schools I've visited are essentially temp agencies. There is no promise for steady work. They can only offer what the market demands. As there are more students, then there is a greater demand for teachers. Many teachers work for several different schools/agencies in order to build a livable schedule of 20-25 hours a week. And, since many of these "schools" actually send teachers out to business locations for their classes, this means a lot of traveling. I'm starting to get used to the idea that I won't have a regular job.I'm also getting more comfortable with San Jose. I'm starting to learn my way around, and actually took the bus all by myself finally. The city is growing on me. While it is rather dirty and crowded, it also has an interesting vibe. It's full of life. I think I'll try to find work in the greater San Jose area for now, rather than move out to the suburbs. I feel like I need to experience the capital city for awhile.

I did visit a couple of schools in Heredia, which is a college town northwest of San Jose. It's much cleaner and nicer. The streets are filled with students, and I'm sure it has the active nightlife that goes along with college kids. But it's too far to commute from my current housing. I'd have to find a (cheap) place closer. I'm still considering it as an option. Maybe after 4-6 months, I'll give it a shot.

Unless, of course, I somehow manage to land that elusive dreamjob of teaching at the beach.

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Friday, March 02, 2007
Agua, Augh!

Each morning, for the past few days, we have been without water. The utility company is working on something up the hill, tearing up the road and digging a big hole. So they shut off our water randomly and without warning. We were caught off-guard at first, and had to go without coffee one afternoon! That was a sad day. But we've learned to deal with the low pressure and occasional outage by saving water in any container we can find. This morning, for instance, I bathed out of a bucket of cold water.

I'm already used to icy showers. My bathroom doesn't have hot water. This is the Tico way. I think I earned a little respect by not complaining about it, too. For my first couple of mornings here, the family would laugh and ask me how I enjoyed my shower. I would grin and say, "Refreshing!" But really, when the sun beats down and the temperature is 70 - 80 degrees, a cold shower feels pretty good. I think it's a fair trade-off. Marta says if I decide to stay here, she will install a shower warmer for me. I've heard about these. They're also called "Suicide Showers" because it's an electric device that attaches to the showerhead to heat the water. Nobody has actually died from using one, though. At least, I don't think so.


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Thursday, March 01, 2007
They Call Me The Seeker
My Tico family is preparing me for slaughter. That's the only reason I can think that they are feeding me so much. We eat 4 or 5 meals a day. Each one involves at least rice, beans, and/or bread. Today, for example, I started my morning with coffee, pineapple, gallo pinto (black beans and rice), bread, and sour cream. The sour cream here is different - it's almost like cream cheese, but softer. Hard to describe, but absolutely delicious on bread. They didn't think I would like it. Since I do, they've decided I eat like a Tico. Then we had an early lunch since I had a job interview at noon. This time it was just sandwiches and a refresco made from fresh fruit (pineapple, banana, papaya) - a quick snack. Then when I got back, we had our real lunch. It was a stew of beef, rice, and various root vegetables (yucca, potatoes, cheyote, and other things I can't spell). They also made one of the veggies "con dulce" - with sugar (and vanilla and spices) - for dessert. So good. Muy rico. I managed to skip the afternoon coffee (which involves more bread and cakes) since I had a late lunch and wanted to walk to the internet cafe. But when I get back, I am sure there will be food. And then around 8 we will eat another meal.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. It's all wonderful. I am fat and happy. But at this rate I'm going to have to buy new pants.

When I'm not eating, I've been looking for a job. I'm trying not to stress out about the fact that I've been unemployed for almost two months now. I'm reminding myself that there is no rush to find a job here. I need to take my time, weigh my options, and find the best situation. Part of me is still clinging to the notion that my job is my identity, that I must work work work. But that's not why I'm here. So, this weekend, I'm going to take a break from the job hunt and go to the beach with my Tico family. They kindly invited me to go along with them to Jaco Beach for a few days. Their hospitality, like a bowl of gallo pinto, is never-ending.

I may be jobless, but I feel like a king. So, for now, life is good. What more could I look for?


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