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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A New Friend and Prawns

Today we met up with a friend new to Costa Rica - and she wins the Diana Miskell Special Award for reading my entire blog in one sitting. She read my entire blog dating from well before 2011 until now, 2018, in one go! In one night!

This marathon reader contacted us to say she was visiting Costa Rica for six months and would like to meet up with us. She was staying in Grecia, not far from us. So we picked her up this morning and had breakfast in Grecia. Then we went to the central market, which is huge. I had heard of a good place to buy seafood here ... the recommendation called it the Swordfish Guy, because he does sell swordfish and also speaks English.

We accidently found this place ... just by walking around. And when we were asked what we wanted in English, I figured that we were at the right place and we were. I bought a kilo of large prawns, really fresh.

I’m cooking them tonight with rice on the side. Here is the recipe I am following.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Eyes on Costa Rica and Weather Records - November 2018

During November, visits to this blog were received from 14 identified countries and 1 unidentified country in Europe:

The following is a summary of the weather for the month:

There are only two seasons in Costa Rica - the "green" or rainy season and the dry season. With significantly less rainfall than October, November has signaled the beginning of the dry season. There were fewer rainy days and more sunny days. The minimum overnight low temperature of 60 °F (15.6 °C) was the lowest we have encountered so far where we now live.

There is of course no "winter" season in Costa Rica. But that does not mean that Costa Ricans do not celebrate Christmas including not only with ornaments, lights, Santa Claus images, reindeer images and other visual trappings, but also with Christmas trees (Arboles de Navidad). At least some of the trees are real, not artificial. As reported by Q Costa Rica the real thing comes all the way from Eastern Canada.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Owning a Car in Costa Rica - Ongoing Saga With Our 2006 Subaru Forester

This may not be of much interest to those looking forward to travelling to Costa Rica as a tourist. But, it may be of interest to expats currently living in Costa Rica or others from any country who might be thinking about moving to Costa Rica - and who want to own their own vehicle.

A number of maintenance problems have recently arisen with respect to our 2006 Subaru Forester purchased about 1 year ago. Fortunately, they have been relatively minor and we have been able to deal with them at far less cost than we would expect in Canada or the U.S. Mechanical and electrical parts which have to be imported can be quite expensive in Costa Rica because of import duties and markups. But the cost of skilled labor is typically far less expensive than in Canada or the U.S.

Our Subaru is an AWD ("all wheel drive", not a "four wheel drive"). Lately, the rear end began making clunking noises suggesting to Lance a transmission or differential problem which could involve big bucks - even in Costa Rica. Fortunately, it turned out that Lance is not skilled at diagnosing automotive problems.

The problem became exacerbated when the vehicle simply pooped out while trying to drive up a relatively steep hill to our home in Hacienda El Paseo. It stalled and would not move forward in any gear even with the gas pedal fully depressed. In order to get up the hill, we had to back down and then take a high speed run at the hill. Actually, we had to take two runs because we did not back up far enough or gain enough momentum on the first run.

Question - where to get help for this sort of problem in Grecia, Costa Rica? I did a search on the ¿Qué Pasa, Grecia? website and found a glowing report about Carlos Morera Perez, the owner of Superior Automotriz. Carlos is fluent in English - far more so than our fluency in Spanish, particularly with respect to technical automotive matters. The official Subaru dealership in Costa Rica may or may not be the best place to go for older vehicle parts. If it is, then we would trust Carlos to go there for any parts that might be required.

Carlos had the car from the Saturday morning when we took it in (carefully avoiding steep hills along the way) until the following Wednesday morning when it was ready for pick up. His first step was to take it for a test drive with Lance and I on board. All the symptoms (clunking and pooping out) repeated themselves, but he did manage to avoid a complete stall on one relatively steep hill.

Carlos then explained a number of possible causes. In a nutshell they boiled down to a mechanical problem, an electrical problem, or both. As it turned out, there was no problem with the transmission itself (whew!). If Lance correctly understood Carlos the problem was with communications between two on board computers which together operate to control the workings of the transmission. A wiring harness or part of a wiring harness between the computers had become corroded and proper control signals were not getting to the transmission. 

Carlos worked very hard (up to 9 pm on one day) to diagnose and fix the problem. He was unable to find a Spanish language online repair manual for a 2006 Subaru Forester (the earliest being for 2010) and ultimately turned to an English language online manual available from the U.S. - making his understanding of English all the more important. 

Logically, the first step in making a diagnosis is not to imagine that there might be some problem with communications between the on board computers. The first step is to ensure that the computers are receiving proper input signals in the first place. This can be time consuming, but if the inputs aren't right, then the outputs can't possibly be right. The old adage "garbage in - garbage out" applies.

The last step was a final test drive with Lance as the driver, Carlos as a passenger, and me as a back seat driver. When all was said and done the total cost was 149,700 Colones or about USD $245 (CDN $320). Shudder to think what the same work might have cost in the U.S. or Canada.

As an aside, it is significant to note that there are useful Facebook information pages for expats that are not limited to Grecia in Costa Rica. Before we moved from Atenas to Grecia, we asked our expat connections about reliable mechanics in Atenas. Up popped the name of Freddy Castro in Atenas. He turned out to be first class: trustworthy, capable of dealing with a problem on a variety of vehicles, and not inventing problems which did not exist. In our view, the same is true of Carlos in Grecia. Apparently some mechanics in Canada and the U.S. have no problem identifying problems which do not exist - and they charge an arm and a leg for repairing a non-existent problem. With appropriate diligence, we have not yet encountered this problem in Costa Rica.

As a further aside, Freddy in Atenas was unable to find a source in Costa Rica which had on hand a replacement OEM air filter for a 2006 Subaru Forester. As a result, and with a caution to us, he substituted a different filter. It did not work well. It made a lot of noise. Ultimately, we located and purchased an OEM filter from a dealership in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It was purchased and brought down to Costa Rica by Canadian friends. There was a huge improvement in performance.

As a result, Freddy (with his cautions) in Atenas and Carlos in Grecia will be our preferred mechanics in Costa Rica.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Parking Ticket

We had to go to the Grecia municipal building recently to pay a parking ticket. Yes, bad me, I forgot to check my phone to see how much time was left on my elparking. Elparking is new to Grecia - it’s an app on my phone where I can reserve the parking space I am in, specify how much time I want to stay there and then immediately pay. The app will tell me when my time has run out and you can add as much time as you wish.

At the municipal building, I was treated like a queen - the sweet guard at the entrance took my ticket, sighed and said (my translation), oh no - a ticket, poor lady. He gave me a number, took me inside, found me a seat, showed me how to watch the tv screen to see my number come up. I was seated next to two Ticas.

Of course, I wasn’t paying attention when my number showed up and the two ladies took my ticket, looked at the number and told me what wicket to go to - smiling all the time. Of course I thanked them.

Even the ticket clerk was smiling. It was only 6,000 colones (roughly $12). I thanked the Ticas again when leaving. I thanked the guard, he smiled and said “luego” (later). I held up my receipt and said “no luego” (no later, not getting a ticket again!).

I’ve never had such a pleasurable experience paying a ticket before. So much politeness!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Losing Our Car and Eating at McDonald’s

Recently, we went to City Mall in Alajuela to pick up a few needed items at Office Depot. City Mall opened about three years or so ago, if memory serves me. It’s huge. Three levels of underground parking and I think maybe four levels of shops, services and a food court. Lots of North American style stores and brand names.

We parked in stall number 135 and went into the mall, wandered around looking for Office Depot, finally asking for directional assistance from people stationed around the mall just for that purpose. I needed bubble wrap and had forgot to translate it into Spanish. This is a fun part of living in a foreign country that uses a different language and your Spanish speaking skills are, well, lacking somewhat for some things - trying to describe what you want using gestures and facial expressions. The poor clerk went on the hunt for someone who could speak English. The fellow with English skills knew exactly what I wanted - he said the Spanish words for bubble wrap are “plástico de burbujas”.

Mission accomplished and, since it was near to lunch time, and because I had a craving for a McDonald’s cheese burger, we went to the food court and ordered cheese burgers, Cokes and fries. I made a pequeño ordering error in Spanish and we ended up with two cheese burgers each. Those cheese burgers are the best - small, not too much filling inside (beef patty, cheese slice, pickle and special sauce). I couldn’t eat both burgers so took one with me for a snack later in the day. Here’s one item on the Costa Rican McDonald’s menu, which I imagine isn’t available in Canada:

Then off we went to retrieve our vehicle and head for home. We went to the level where we thought we had parked our car - and stall number 135 was empty! We walked all over that level - no Subaru Forester. A word to the wise: remember your stall number, BUT also remember what level you are on. When you enter the underground parking, you are issued a ticket. When you leave and before you go to your car, you run the ticket through ticket machines located on each parking level and the amount you owe is displayed and you feed in your colones to pay for the parking. Then you feed that same ticket through another machine at the exit. But, each ticket has a time limit.

So we had done all that before looking for our vehicle but time was running out. We wandered through several levels. Have you ever seen that Seinfeld episode where Kramer can’t locate his car in an underground parking lot, Elaine has bought a live goldfish and, as time goes by, she fears for the life of the goldfish in the plastic bag? Well, that’s how I felt about my hamburger - what if it is getting too warm and I eat it at home and then get really sick?

Finally, we found our vehicle and headed home. Remember your stall number and your level!!!!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Eyes on Costa Rica and Weather Records - October 2018

As indicated in the following chart, visits to this blog were received from 17 different countries during October 2018:

The following is a summary of the weather for the month:

The overnight low temperatures, aggravated by accompanying high humidities, were quite chilly - at least in the area where we live. The daytime high temperatures were mitigated by clouds.

The day on which the maximum rainfall occurred (2.15 in / 5.46 cm) was a dark and dreary day of almost continuous drizzling rain - reminiscent of many days in the late fall and winter on the West Coast of Canada and Pacific Northwest in the USA. Nevertheless, there were many days with broken clouds and sunshine to accent the continuing green season.