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Thursday, June 30, 2011

We Have a House!

No more living out of suitcases .... we found a pretty, yellow casa in an area not too far from Atenas - not walkable but a short taxi ride.

Thanks to the great guys - Roberto and Andrew - at Reimax Best Climate for finding this house for us. It has two bedrooms, one bath, kitchen, living/dining area, fenced yard with lime, orange and mango trees, two hammocks, and all furniture and appliances, indoors and out, right down to dishes, cutlery, pots and pans and all appliances. The rental price includes all utilities - electric, water, satellite, internet, phone and security system. All we have to pay extra for is the gardener and at $2 to $3 CAD an hour, that is hardly a huge expense.

I can tell you that we are saving a huge amount of money compared to what we paid for a leased house in Cloverdale. There we were responsible for the rent obviously, plus gas, hydro, phone and cable. The rent was considerably more than our new place in Costa Rica. We needed a car so there were car payments, gas and insurance. We may eventually buy a car here - we'll decide in a year. Car insurance in Costa Rica is so cheap compared to Canada. In the meantime, we can take an awful lot of taxis for what our vehicle in Canada cost us and taxis here are very reasonable. So is the bus system which goes all over the country - I think the fares are less than $2.00 CAD.

We get the keys tomorrow so we'll be moving in a day or two...and, hey! no need to pay for a big moving van - we'll just call a taxi 'cause all we have are suitcases and a cat!! I do like this style of living - not dragging heaps of stuff all over the place with us.

There is a very special type of washing machine at the new house - I'll tell you all about in after I try using it. And I'll post photos too once we move in.

Can't wait to try out a hammock and make some fresh, really fresh, orange juice.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Guard Dogs Out of Control

The three guard dogs here at Finca Huetares have become rather destructive since our arrival. First they stole my shoes - the right ones of two pairs. Magda found the sandal, but the blue shoe has never been found.

Then they moved on to bigger things. They stole the seat cushion from one of the wicker chairs in front of our cabina and tour it literally to shreds and left the mess at our front door. The next day it was the little mat in front of our door.

Now I leave nothing outside at night. No doubt ticked off that I've ruined their fun, they stole the newspapers left on top of an outdoor table and tore them to pulp (ha! get it?). A garbage pail was next.

The are penned during the day and let loose at night. They hang around our cabina, sleeping on the veranda. One is named Rex but we don't know the names of the other two. One is a Rotweiler and the other two are about the same size. They are really friendly - to us.

Unfortunately, they discovered Genny lives inside. She was foolishly ogling them through the California windows (screened), hissing and growling, and the dogs went crazy. Flung themselves at all the windows (3 of them) and, since they are so big, they can look right in. We closed the glass slats and drapes.

The noise was something else, all that barking and slamming. Genny went and hid in her storm cupboard. They eventually gave up but now we are extra careful before letting her outside. We go and check the pens to make sure they are really contained.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Atenas Park and Market

Here are a few photos I took when we went to the weekly farmers' market on Friday.

Part of the central park - green parrots in the trees.

What an amazing tree.

The Catholic church next to the park. It is beautiful inside - lots of local woods and stained glass.

Farmers' market - it also extends down another side street. Best place to buy eggs, cheese, meat, fruit, vegetables, tamales, flowers, etc.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I'm Back!

Well, I haven't actually been away anywhere but the keyboard on my iBook G4 has gradually been falling apart since we arrived in Costa Rica so it has been difficult to blog. I lost the "e" key first, followed by the "y", "h" and some numbers. Why couldn't it have been the "z"....

Anyway, today we bought a mini keyboard from an Atenas computer shop for $12 Cdn and it works just fine. It plugs into a port on the side of my laptop and it's small enough to sit on top of the non-working computer keyboard (with a piece of cardboard under it). Plus, it's a wonderful shade of red!  Here's a photo of my new arrangement ..

Friday, we took a taxi into Atenas and went to the Friday farmers' market. It was amazing - lots of venders with every kind of fruit and vegetable you could want. I managed to buy radishes (and they are really spicy), spinach, sausage, tamales, farmer's cheese and more. I'm starting to understand a teeny bit of the language ... sort of. At least I was able to buy food for us. Lance says I have to order the taxi next trip. I've figured out the paper bills, but the coins still confound me.

There is an elderly fellow who goes around Atenas selling home made flour tortillas stuffed with cheese. Apparently he's being doing this for years .... and often he has different things for sale in his basket. He was at the market on Saturday so I bought three packages of his still hot tortillas. We had some left over today so I made "Canuck Costa Rica Pizza", layering mustard, ham slices, spinach and cheese on each tortilla and then heating in the microwave for 2 minutes so the cheese would melt. Served with the last of Jose's mangos, it was a pretty good meal.

Here is a local cheese tortilla before going into the microwave:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

We've Been Here 21 Days Already?

I find it hard to believe we've been here twenty-one days. Seems like we just arrived.

On Sunday, we took a cab into Atenas and had brunch at Kay's Gringo Postres, located just west of the 24 hour  clinic in Atenas, past the Red Cross facility and heading towards Pica Flora (there are no street addresses in Costa Rica, you find your way around using landmarks). My favorite landmark is the bus stop at the Coca Cola bottling facility in San Jose. The business is long gone but it's still used as a descriptive landmark.

It was Father's Day so Kay and husband Tom were serving a selection of fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pinto gallo and the best biscuits and gravy I've had in a long time. Prices are very reasonable.

This was the second time we've eaten here and Kay remembered our names as soon as we walked in - amazing. Kay and Tom moved to Costa Rica from South Dakoka. This is a bakery and a library, as well as a restaurant. It's a meeting place for gringos and Ticos and a good place to make contacts. People come right over and introduce themselves. 

They also offer use of their internet. Two walls of books to borrow and share. The restaurant is open air, as are a lot of eating places here. Perfect for this climate.

Wow - just looked outside and the clouds have rolled right in to our mountain cabina. It's been thundering and raining a bit. Lance and Genny have gone off to have a siesta - a good thing to do here in the afternoons during the green season. I was going to walk down the road to the small corner store, about a 10 minute walk downhill and 20 uphill, but then the afternoon storm arrived. Maybe it will clear later.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pictures of Jose's Horse Farm

As promised a couple of days ago, here are some photos of Jose's horse and fruit farm.

Partial view of Jose's property - showing the horse barn.

Lance, Diana and Jose's Paso Fino stallion.


The three amigos.


Hen and her chicks.

Lance hauling home a huge stash of mangos, limes, apples, and oranges - thank you, Jose! The apples are not what we are familar with - but Jose called them that in English.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Daily Tropical Downpour

It is two fifty p.m. here in Atenas and we are enjoying the daily downpour. I love the sound of the heavy rain on the tin roofs, the air has cooled and smells wonderful. The usual thunder and lightning.

One thing I have learned, get your laundry done first thing in the morning! Nobody uses dryers here (why would they when they have the sun and fresh air to dry the clothes for free all year) so wet wash has to be hung out early enough to dry before the rains. Sometimes the lights flicker but we haven't lost power yet.

Genny never did like thunder storms and she doesn't like them any better here. We open a cupboard door for her and in she goes to hide away in her little nest until the all clear. Maybe over time she will adapt but she doesn't like loud noises of any kind so I sort of doubt it.

Magda, who owns this resort, sometimes offers dinners to her guests. We've had two so far and they were delicious - she's a great chef. Last week, at one of these dinners, she introduced us to two expat Canadians, Diane and John. They are from the Maritimes and have been living in Atenas for quite some time. They built the most beautiful house up in the hills.

Diane and John very graciously offered to drive us to the city of Alajuela yesterday because we think it is where we want to live. It has more amenities for us than the more rural town of Atenas. We had lunch in a Mexican restaurant - excellent - and went to a number of big grocery stores (love the names: Mega-Superstore, AutoMercado) and Price Smart, which is like WalMart. Also tried to find a new keyboard for my laptop, but no luck so far.

Walked around Alajuela - it's similar in some ways to San Jose, lots of noise and traffic, but also lots of restaurants! Interesting shops. We would like to find a house about a 10 minute taxi ride from the city, in a quiet area, all or partially furnished, and if I could have a pool that would be divine.

Two Ticas have rented the cabina next to us - Magda told them about us - and now they've offered to help find us a place to rent. The people here are amazing. Magda even said she'd drive us there. They know the good and bad areas and we don't. So there you go - word of mouth, it's who you know.

Bought some chicken breasts yesterday so I'm going to marinate them in oil with lime juice from the fresh limes we were given yesterday. No stove in our cabina, but four countertop burners and a microwave so I should be able to do something with them. I can make a salad from the tomatoes and mangos too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jose and His Horses

We received a special invitation to visit Jose's finca just down the road from where we are staying. Yesterday, we walked down the road to see his horses and his farm. He has a lovely property - house, horse barn, all kinds of fruit trees, and fields for the horses.

I believe the breed is what is called Paso Fino - I don't know a lot about them except they do have a distinct gait and they are a small breed.

We were privileged to be exposed to Tico hospitality - we were shown each and every horse, some with foals, picked fruit fresh from the trees - you haven't lived until you've peeled and eaten an orange two seconds off a tree branch - and Jose loaded up a big potato sack for us filled with mangoes, limes, oranges, and other fruit that I've never tasted or seen before. I was in heaven petting horses, stepping in horse poop and generally getting smelly and dirty.

We walked down the street to the local pulparia (spelling?) which is like a small mum 'n pop corner store.  Jose insisted on buying us some soft drinks and I also picked up a few items for our kitchen. Now that I know where this little shop is, I can walk down there myself when we need to pick up a few things.

Right now, we are sitting outside on our patio in the dark and the Ticas who have the cabina next to us started laughing so hard they had to run inside. We fear it was because Lance is taking photos of the big toads that come out at night!!

I'm using Lance's computer tonight because of my crappy keyboard which is gradually losing all it's keys, so I can't post any photos of Jose but will do so tomorrow on my own computer. Jose just stopped by and taught us how to say "big toad", "medium toad" and "small toad" in Spanish.

We are trying to find a new keyboard for my old Mac.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Some Photos

For today, I'll just post some photos I've been taking of this and that.

Genny looking out the door of her cabina.

A lot of products come packaged this way. 

Salamander? Newt? They are very cute.

That is a cashew on the right! and I thought they grew in tin cans with salt...

Cactus flower
I cannot get over the banana trees - they are everywhere. OOPS! I just realized this photo is upside down - even tho bananas grow upward like this. Huh, odd.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Learning About Costa Rica

Haven't been able to post for a few days. My computer seems to be gradually packing it in - the "e" and "y" keys are no longer working. I'm using my husband's Mac tonight.

Also, we had to move out of the house we were renting for a month because the internet service just would not work up there on the hill. We have taken a cabina down the hill at the same resort, Finca Huetares, where we have no internet problems. Although the cabina is smaller than the house, it is also much closer to the pools! So we are here for another 3 weeks while we look for a home for a longer period of time. We are also trying to decide if we want to stay in the Atenas area.

Finca Huetares is a lovely resort - we highly recommend it. We have the place almost to ourselves because it is the off season here. Magda Corrales Murphy owns it (I think) and she is amazing - non-stop from 4:00 am to 9:00 at night. This is also a fruit farm (mangoes, limes, pineapples, probably others) and there are also beautiful chickens who lay organic eggs. They have a large area to run around in and they cluck away happily, roll in the dust, live a good chicken life as chickens should. Don't buy battery eggs, please!

It is so absolutely gorgeous here, the town itself has good amenities. But it is a rural area and one really needs a car which is not on our list at the moment. We want to check out the Alajuela area soon.

This morning, we heard a tremendous crash on our roof. Ran out, and saw the biggest iguana we've ever seen (not that we've seen many) leaping off our roof and running for the pool deck. He must have leapt from the second story roof. All three of us nearly had heart stoppage from the noise because of the tin roof.

Yesterday was tiny lizards in the kitchen day, or maybe they are salamanders? We had two around the kitchen sink. Harmless but gave me a start when I picked up the pot scrubber.

The last several days in Atenas have been very hot and humid. Apparently, this is not the normal state of affairs. It cools down nicely at night and I'm sitting outside on our little patio writing this. The sun went down around 6:15 pm - it does get dark fast. I tried out the pool down the hill for a change - the one I usually use was being cleaned. Because of the temperatures, I'm in the pool about three times a day and it does help. We have a ceiling fan and a fan for the bedroom so we get along and usually need the blanket at night.

Genny is coping well - she is smart enough to just lie around during the day, which is normal for her come to think about it. She has tried venturing out but there is too much activity and noise for her so she just sits in the doorway. I have use of the laundry room but waited too long today to do our wash and had to bring it in early when a storm threatened. It will never dry overnight so will hang it out again tomorrow. You have to do your laundry first thing in the morning here - because at this time of year it can rain every afternoon for a few hours.

We watched a storm sweep across the valley around noon - lots of thunder and lightening, black skies - but we only got a few drops.

We have met a Canadian couple from the Maritimes who now call Atenas home. They are staying at the cottage at the very top of the hill but leave tomorrow. They have been here for quite some time and love it.

I have photos to post but will have to do that from my own computer so will get on with it tomorrow.

So far, there is nothing about Costa Rica that we do not like. Oh, did I mention the enormous toads that hop around at night?

Friday, June 10, 2011

I Stepped on a Lizard in My Bare Feet!

It wasn't my fault. It was dark out on the patio and I was headed back inside when I stepped on a little lizard. I went running into the shower to wash my feet and Lance went outside to mop up the poor little thing.

My computer isn't working well at all and it may be because of all the little teeny-weeny ants that we discovered crawling all over it. They are so small they could easily be crawling around inside. Ants are all over the place in Costa Rica - big ones, medium ones, small ones, microscopic ones. I've put all our food in the fridge.

We've vacated the house we had because the internet just would not work up there and Lance was walking up and down the really steep hill all the time so he could work down at the main part of the resort where the internet was working.

One of the cabinas was available and we took it. It's a one bedroom, bath, kitchen area where Lance can work. We have a nice patio area with large wicker chairs and that is where I am sitting now. We're listening to the Canucks hockey game while I blog on Lance's computer. It's been hot and humid the last few days but the evenings are cool so good for sleeping. One of the three pools is steps from our door so I've been spending a lot of time neck deep in the water.

There was a small green lizard floating upside down it the pool this afternoon. His little eyes were closed. I lifted him out of the water and turned him over on the deck, his eyes snapped open, he stood up on his hind feet and ran away! What an amazing country.

I've got behind in my blogs because of my computer not working very well but I'm hoping to get caught up in the next few days. Lots of pictures and more stories to tell. Genny has seemed to cope well with yet another move. I think as long as we are with her, she does okay.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

G nny Coms Hom

Th  lttr that coms aftr "D" on my computr is not working - I think it must b on its last lgs.

Anyway, w pickd Gnny up on Tusday - and it was grat to c hr again. I think sh was happy to s us too. Stoppd in at a pt shop and bought a littr box, littr, harnss & lash, xtra food.

This is a short ntry, w'r trying to solv th computr problm - will writ mor latr using Lanc's computr.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Last Night in San Jose

Today we finished up our residency business in Costa Rica. Went to the Canadian Embassy to get one last piece of paper which we took to our lawyer, and now we are free to roam around the country - no need to leave after 90 days. It might take up to a year to get our pensionado status.

Our lawyer is in the same office building as the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR).  Joining ARCR was one of the first things we did when we decided to move to CR. Their members have been a great source of information and help to us over this process. Today we arranged to have mail forwarding from Canada to their mail drop in Miami and then to ARCR in San Jose.

I want to stress that the best thing any Canadians thinking of immigrating to Costa Rica can do is hire a CR  lawyer who knows the process to handle their paperwork. If you think you can do it all yourself and save money, think again. You will just end up in that same lawyer's office at the end of all your aborted efforts.

Tomorrow morning, we check out of our San Jose hotel. We've hired a car and driver at the very reasonable price of $100 to drive us to Santa Ana to pick up Genny, stop at a pet shop to buy a litter box and litter, one stop at an Apple store to get a new mouse and battery for my computer, then on to Atenas.

My next post tomorrow should be interesting!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Another Day in Paradise

Today we finally met Genny's guardian angel, Becky, who has been visiting Genny and giving me updates. Not only that, Becky brings Genny catnip toys! Joining us also was Becky's friend, Tina, who lives around the area we are staying in.

We settled in at a local soda and these two were a font of good information for us. What wonderful tales they have to tell about some of the pecularities of Costa Rica - many of which are hilarious to us but can be frustrating when one is trying to deal with getting things done.

We've agreed to meet again in six months for another chin wag. By then, we'll no doubt have tales of our own.

Afterwards, Lance and I walked around the neighborhood a bit - found a new soda to try tonight. Here are a couple of photos of the area.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

We Found a Home in Atenas

Next Tuesday, we will be moving lock, stock and kitty to Atenas. We are renting a cabina for a month at Finca Huetares.

We'll decide which cabina we want when we get there. Finca Huetares has two very important features for us: high speed internet and kitty friendly. Each cabina is fully furnished, with bedroom, kitchen, living room, etc. And we have access to the restaurant and pools. Genny can go for a stroll outside, under close supervision, but she won't have a fenced yard. There is also a cottage available later on that is separate from the rest of the resort, has a fenced yard and might be good for us. It is currently booked but we can have a look at it once there.

It will be so nice to relax, unpack, and stay put for a while in the area we want to live in.

Today we again went into downtown San Jose to stroll around. Lance is becoming really proficient in giving the taxi driver our destination in Spanish and figuring out the fare. His head burnt rather badly yesterday so we got him a baseball cap today. With the sun straight overhead, we have to be really careful. I'm looking for a straw hat for me too.

Tomorrow we are meeting Genny's fairy godmother - the lovely Becky who has been visiting Genny in Santa Ana, playing with her and bringing her catnip mice.

It rains every afternoon at this time of year and what a pleasure it is to be sitting on the covered verandas while the rain falls on the tropical trees. Yesterday, we had a real downpour and the sound of the rain beating on the tin roofs makes one want to have a little siesta. Tonight for dinner we are going back to the soda we found yesterday. Since the Canucks game starts at 6:00 pm, we'll need to go eat at 5:00 pm.

By the way, a litre of Smirnoff vodka costs about $11 Cdn. here! See how much tax your Canadian government is mainlining out of the lot of you?

Our Third Day

Another amazing day, starting of course with the delicious buffet breakfast at our hotel. We were up early because we had an appointment with our lawyer, RĂ³mulo Pacheco Sibaja. He is handling our pensionado application and we were so impressed with the service he offers.

Took a cab to his office and were met by one of his assistants who drove us to Interpol to be fingerprinted. One thing that has blown me away about San Jose is the level of entreprenerial spirit that exists here. We needed to have passport sized photos taken and this was done by a fellow with a camera outside a church. We stood against the church wall, he took our photos, then we went around the corner of the church where he settled down on his large paint bucket and printed our photos off his really small printer that was also sitting on a paint bucket. I think our cost was two bucks U.S. He even trimmed the edges and put them in plastic holders.

Then we lined up to get through the Interpol gates - lots of police - Lance got the "magic wand" experience but I got two winks from one of the guards. We eventually entered and stood in another line....sat actually, because they did provide chairs outside. Everyone is so polite. Our personal assistant helped us all the way - even tho he did not speak much English and our Spanish is non-existent - a lot can be understood with hand waving and pointing.

Had the fingerprinting done and entering of information into a computer and that was it. I'm not sure if we were actually at an Interpol compound - it was definitely a large police station - and maybe the information gathered plus the fingerprints is sent to Interpol.

All that is left for us to do is go to the Canadian Embassy on Monday, get one last piece of paper and register there, pay some government fees, take the paper back to Romulo and that is that. Now we wait for our official pensionado status, could take up to a year, but we do not have to leave the country in 90 days like the tourists.

Last night we ate at a soda (a neighborhood restaurant) - this one was the Soda Isabel just a block or so from our hotel. They are everywhere, ma and pop operations, could be a tiny hole in the wall or a bigger place. These are the places to go for inexpensive home cooking. The portions are enormous. We had plates of fried chicken, rice and beans, vegetables, coke and a beer each and we couldn't finish half of what we were given. Total cost: 11,660 colones, or about $23 Cdn. 

It was my turn to go into a bank yesterday and change U.S. dollars into colones using my limited Spanish. I managed to say "dinero a colones, por favor" but forgot "quiero cambiar" (I'd like to change). Oh well, the effort is always appreciated and it's the only way to learn.

We're taking a lot of cabs around the city - so inexpensive. You have to keep a sharp eye out when walking on the sidewalks because of the deep gutters, broken and uneven pavement, unexpected holes ... real easy to trip and break something.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Great Day Becomes a Perfect Day

Why? Because of a terrific lady named Becky. I met her on the Association of Costa Rica Residents forums. ARCR is an organization of ex-pats living in Costa Rica and we joined a year ago. It's a terrific source of information on living in Costa Rica.

Becky recommended Veterinarios Asociados in Santa Ana as a good place for Genny to stay until we found a home to rent. She has boarded both her dog and cat there and would do it again. Their website showed very attractive condos for each cat. So I communicated with Veterinarios Asociados and World Pet Travel arranged to have Genny delivered there when she arrived on June 1st.

I phoned them today to see how she was coping and was told the vet wanted to talk to me, but was not in. So I got worried that something was wrong. Becky lives in Santa Ana and offered to go see Genny for me and send me a report.

As Becky said, Genny seemed muy tranquilo, was affectionate, and played with the toys Becky took to her. They were going to let her out of her condo for a while to get some exercise. She is eating well too. It seems there is now no rush for us to go see her, as Becky has offered to drop in again in a few more days. And this is a big help to us, as we are going to see our lawyer tomorrow to start the pensionado process and not sure how much of the day we will need and if we will have to stay on in San Jose for a few more days.

We can't thank you enough, Becky - you are a wonderful person and you can't imagine how relieved we were. Here are some photos Becky took of Genny today:

Oh, and Genny has a message for Tuffy: "Ha ha, I am in Costa Rica and you are not!"

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More First Day Excitement

Lance just said he can't believe he is sitting here in Costa Rica watching the Canucks playing the Bruins on the TV in our hotel room. He found the game on Sky Sports.

He also says he can't believe how temperate the climate is in San Jose here in the Central Valley. Shouldn't it be stinking hot so close to the equator? No doubt we will experience that at some point in CR.

Asked the front desk clerk for a dinner recommendation and he called a cab for us. Can't remember the name of the restaurant and I certainly could not find our way there again but it was as good as many restaurants we've eaten at in fact, the vegetables were way better.

We ordered hearts of palm salad, fried plantains, and rice with shrimp. The hearts of palm were super fresh, not out of a can, with lots of lettuce, tomato, cucumber....and fresh dill. I've tried cooking plantains before but they were never successful. These ones were so good, and served with what I think was a black bean dip. Rice with shrimp also ..... pause - the Canucks just won!!!

So anyway, fabulous dinner and another great taxi ride. Talk about wild - I wonder how many accidents occur every day.  

June 1, 2011

That's an easy date to remember the first day of our new life. We enjoyed the hotel's wonderful breakfast buffet this morning, eating out in one of the gardens. Lots of fruits to choose from, pinto gallo, eggs, breads, cheese, fresh fruit juices, and so on - plus really good black Costa Rican coffee.

While ogling all the plant life in the garden, I saw mangoes, bananas and limes growing....birds I do not recognize and their calls. It is just fabulous.

We jumped in with both feet this morning and took a stroll around a small part of San Jose. I love it - it's crazy, noisy, gridlocked with traffic, people on the streets and in the parks, horns honking. We even went shopping at an Auto Mercado and bought some things we had run out of - shaving cream, shampoo, etc., and two bottles of personal sized vodka. Lance paid with colones and did a good job figuring out the CR money.

Took a cab back to the hotel where our very honest driver gave us a lesson in how to pay with colones as we had tried to give him way more than the actual fare cost. I loved the cab ride - they drive the way I always wanted to but we have so many rules and regulations in Canada.

Just heard from Angela at World Pet Travel and she said Genny spent a peaceful night in Houston, and was on her way to San Jose. In fact, she should have landed by now and is clearing Customs. Then she'll be delivered to the vet in Santa Ana for boarding.

So, everything has come together as planned. Based on our half day here so far, I can't see us ever returning! I love this country already.